Monday, March 26, 2012

Small Steps Equal Big Victories!

I suppose that sums it up in a nutshell.  The first and biggest victory by far is the sale of our first project pony, Jonah.  Oh, how hard it was to let him go, but at the same time I think we found him the most amazing home possible.  His new owner is an 18 year old girl, and this is her first horse.  She is ecstatic by far, and we signed the papers to make it official this weekend.  I have to admit, I kind of miss his snuggly little personality, but it does take a little weight off my shoulders in terms of how many mouths depend on my pocketbook to feed an extra mouth!

The weekend was chaotic but wonderful.  It started on Friday, when we had our manure pile removed by tractor so we could finish the front paddock.  Then Saturday was a heavy workday - we finished two fencing projects; learned how to trench coated wire underground and connect to existing power to run a charge to the new fencing; ended up replacing some rotten fenceposts - which required a huge load of trash to be taken to the dump....I feel as if we did even more but can't even remember every little thing we accomplished!

Sunday brought a little rain, but it wasn't enough to stop me from hauling April over to have Ivy put a ride in on her before leaving for Germany this week.  It turned out to be a really affirming trip - she said she felt a massive difference in the way the mare is going, and she can tell I am riding her much more balanced than before, and her rhythm tempo is markedly improved as well.  It only re-establishes that we are getting on the right track, and need to keep down the current path of figuring her out!  She told me twice that she is so happy that I ended up with April, to which I responded what a roller coaster it has been.  We had a great little chat about how every horse and every ride are that way to a certain extent, and how if you are truly listening and paying attention, you will learn something every single day from them.  There is so much truth in that, and I continue to discover it on a daily basis.

I am throwing in a couple pictures of Jonah from the day of his vet check with his new "momma" on board.  It was exactly five weeks later to the day that we found him his new home.  Our little gamble actually paid off!!!

Friday, March 23, 2012


Okay, I'm a little fired up, and my blog tends to get the bitter end of the stick when it comes to my venting.  But hey - if it keeps me sane, it's a good outlet in my opinion.

This has been the strangest week.  I have been racking my brain on ways to expand the horse business to a point that I can someday do it full-time and not have to work full time on top of running the business.  One of the ideas I came up with is to try my hand at some actual paying equine photography.  It's a total gamble, especially considering I have no real training or experience to speak of, but I figure it would be worth a shot.  I have a fairly decent eye for capturing pictures, and the thing that really helps me is the knowledge of horses.  That is half the battle in shooting equine events - knowing how horses move and when to snap the shutter accordingly.  So I make that decision, put a little album together on the farm page, and decide I might start working to advertise it at some point in the near future if I get any interest.

Lo and behold, I have found two websites this month with my show photography that was used without my permission.  One of these sites is an actual income-generating site.  And it was obviously done deceptively, because the photo was cropped dramatically to try to hide the fact that it was used without my permission. 

The lack of professionalism in this industry can be astounding.  There is something wrong when you can't simply ASK the photographer for permission, and then do something as simple as give them photo credits.  Kelsey listed her mare for sale this week and used one of my shots to advertise her, and even though I had GIVEN her all my digital files of the mare, she STILL gave me photo credits of her own accord.  I would have never even asked for that from her.  But to steal a photo knowingly, crop it, and post it - that is copyright infringement.  It is illegal. 

Now, even though this is obviously and glaringly unprofessional, I will more than likely let sleeping dogs lie and let it be.  The horse world is too small to start something that could end up far bigger and more dramatic than I would like it to.  It really isn't THAT big of a deal...but it is extremely irritating.  So take note, photo stealers....what you are doing is ILLEGAL.  If you didn't snap the shutter, it is not your photo.  The moment my finger recorded that image, it was legally copyrighted by me.  That's how it works in the world of photography.  So I would highly suggest you slap my name on that photo to at least cover half your tracks....

Well, I suppose that is all on that topic for now.  I feel better already.

As far as the farm goes, things are chugging along beautifully!  Jonah leaves today for a three week trial with his new Momma.  The vet check went well and nothing came up that we didn't already know.  They are going to put shoes on him and spend another three weeks getting him fit, then recheck and make a final decision. 

My husband, bless his heart, was a tremendous help around the farm this week.  He got our two new gates hung, and even took the time to adjust an existing one that was dragging.  He fixed the tire on the manure spreader, got the mower running again, and several other miscellaneous projects.  The manure pile is being taken away today, so we should have another paddock completed by tomorrow!

I had a great ride on April last night.  It started going badly, but we bounced back beautifully.  I HAVE to keep reminding myself that "forward is our friend."  It clicked in my brain the other weekend that she has got to be allowed to go forward, otherwise she shuts down like she did in front of a fence at my lesson.  I think that I am starting to piece together the fact that if she feels held or shut down in any way, that is when the issues start to crank up.  It can be the most minute thing that causes her to feel that way - as simple as not enough "give" in my elbows.  So I am focusing on relaxing my arms as much as possible to allow her to go forward into the contact, and trying to hold more with my seat and core to keep her from running through it.  Once I put all those pieces together, we ended on a great note, and I was very pleased with how quickly we worked through it.

This weekend will be project day on Saturday, and then we are doing a lesson on Sunday.  I am praying the weather holds out so everything will fall into place!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chiro Night

We had such a blast at the barn last night.  We invited Sarah (Jonah's possible new owner!) out to ride him again since she is overflowing with excitement and has several more days before his vet check.  Caroline was out for Rosie's chiro appointment as well, so it was ladies' night at the barn.  I tried to hook the new 4-wheeler up to the manure spreader to continue working on spreading our pile, but discovered the tire was not only flat, it had come completely off the rim.  Sigh....  Then I puttered around trying to start a fire and quickly gave up on that.  My caveman skills failed me yet again.... So finally I plopped down on a trunk to hang out with the girls.

Susan Chandler, who is a legend in the area for her magic hands, arrived shortly after to do Linkin and Rosie.  It didn't take long to discover why she is so well-liked in the horse world.  She is warm, personable, and extremely knowledgeable.  And she doesn't hesitate to love on the horses, which is always reassuring.  Linkin was extremely out on his left side, just as we had guessed.  By the end of the appointment he was half asleep, and no longer reacted to any pressure along his spine or ribs.  April was not on the schedule, but I had her run a hand along her to see if she looked like she was out anywhere.  Sure enough, she was a "twisted sister" in Susan's words...pretty dramatically out in her poll.  So I am looking forward to seeing how she goes after her day off to let the adjustment settle.

I am looking forward to the weekend.  We hammered out some alternate pasture arrangements so we can get seed and lime down this week, and will put those in place tomorrow.  I am going to take April over to Ivy's on Saturday to have her hop on and put a ride on her.  Hopefully we can also squeeze in making a new paddock or two, and some clearing....I am so thankful that daylight savings time is here.  I feel more productive already!!!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Foxhunting, Galloping, Flatwork and Fences!!!!!!!

It was a jam packed weekend, full of all kinds of successes and new experiences.  Saturday morning came bright and early.  I was out of bed at 5:45 to jump in the shower, dress in hunt clothes, and then put the obligatory layer of pj pants on top to keep myself clean.  Off to the farm to feed horses, throw hay, and turn everybody out; and then off to Jeanine's farm to finish getting ready for the hunt.  Momma DeVaney lined us up, pinned our stock ties, and Tommy doled out the freshly loaded flasks.  It looked like I was in line for the full foxhunting experience!

After a minor boot mishap (I spent plenty of time breaking them in, but the few pounds I've packed on plus the extra layer of thicker breeches was too much to overcome....) I gratefully accepted a pair of paddock boots and half chaps with the assurance that I would be far more comfortable with the ability to actually FEEL my feet over a three hour ride....  Everybody put my mind to rest that it would be no big deal, as MHI is one of the more laid-back hunts, so we loaded up and shipped out to the old steeplechase field.

There were quite a few trailers already there, each with multiple horses it seemed.  Before long, someone was shoving a silver tray with glasses of port in my face, and weird as it seemed to down alcohol at 9 am, I obliged in a last ditch effort to ease any nerves I may have still had. 

Okay, okay...I ended up having two shots of port.  Nevertheless, I felt ready to go as we mounted up and the hounds were let out. 

The first thing I have to say is that there is something innately magical about foxhunting.  Walking through a dewy field, seeing the sun beam off the red coat of the huntsman, the hounds milling about, tails whipping a million miles an hour, and the long line of horses and impeccably dressed riders (except for me, with my ever-so-tacky half chaps, which I tried desperately to hide....)  I felt as though I had stumbled into a century-old painting, and the air of tradition was absolutely spellbinding.  I had little more than a few minutes to absorb this before the chase began, and suddenly the line took off at a fierce canter. 

I remember thinking ten minutes into the experience that I would never physically make it for three hours.  I was already panting a bit, and the borrowed wool canary vest made me feel like I was in a sweatbox.  After the first few stretches of canter though, I began to forget the aching legs as the adrenaline started to kick in.  We crossed creeks, jumped up and down ditches, walked through rocky ledges, hopped logs and was such an incredible feeling.  One minute you are walking peaceably, and the next moment you are tearing through the trees in hot pursuit, trusting your horse to remain surefooted and carry you through to the other side.  At one point, three horses behind me ended up moving up, and we literally all jumped a wide creek at the same time, spread four horses wide. 

The best part of the morning by far was the tail end of the hunt.  I had ridden second field (which really ended up being first field, as Jeanine was the fieldmaster and does NOT like to be left behind!) but at the end of the hunt, most of the first field riders split off to go to the old steeplechase field.  I honestly didn't know what we were going for when I made the last minute decision to go with them, but it didn't take long to discover they wanted to experience the steeplechase field at the only speed meant for a steeplechase track....a full blown gallop.  Before I knew it, our easy canter had turned into a full out gallop, seven or eight horses in our little pack, breezing around the track in a blur.  Tears started streaming out of my eyes, and all I could do was focus on staying deep in my heel and soft in the elbow to allow Leo the room to run, and oh, how he ran.  I still vividly remember the moment I felt his body drop toward the ground and flatten out as he galloped away.  We went from the back of the pack and caught up the several lengths of distance between us and the fieldmaster, and I had to hold him back to keep him from cruising past them.  I had a vivid remembrance of an old friend commented about horses galloping, and why they run around the way they do.  This person had looked at us and said, "because they CAN!"  I have felt a gallop before, but it has been so incredibly long ago, and it was nothing like the experience of going full out on an open track.  It was hands down the most magical thing I have done in an incredibly long time.  We slowed up, went for another gallop, then retired back to the trailering area to cool out the horses and have a quick lunch.

After the foxhunt we headed home for powernaps before the evening festivities - the black tie hunt ball.  I finally got to take the tags off the most incredible Donna Karen black label dress from Bergdorf Goodman, and slip into it before heading to the event.  It was comical to watch Robyn and I trying to hop up into the truck in our slim-fitting evening wear, and I'm sure at least one of the neighbors got a good laugh.  The hunt ball was a blast, and we were joined by Jamey and Kelsey, who brought out a stunning red dress that she last wore in Ireland for a hunt ball.  We had a great time hanging out, eating, and watching the awards ceremony. 

Back to the more horsey-things though!  Sunday arrived bright and early with us meeting a client to try Jonah for the first time.  Robyn hopped on and showed him first, then she hopped on to try him out.  She rode him very well, and seemed to figure him out pretty quickly.  We then headed off to breakfast to sit and talk about it some more, and I think there may be the potential for a good match there in the very near future!  Kelsey is going to hop on him today and see what she thinks, and we will hopefully move forward from there.

We still took him to Ivy's in the afternoon for her to try him out, give us her opinion, and see if she might be interested.  If our first possible option doesn't work out, she has a few options in mind for him as well and will help us market him.  She watched Robyn ride him, then hopped on to try him over a few combinations.  He did really well, and ended up jumping nicer than we have ever seen him go.  He definitely jumps much nicer over a little bit of height, and he seemed to pick up on things quickly.  Ivy seemed to really enjoy him which was really exciting.  There is something really rewarding about having a little validation, especially when you take a totally blind gamble like picking up a completely unknown horse....

My lesson on April was next, and it was so incredible.  She started us out with a relaxed but forward walk on a completely loose rein.  She had me working on a little extra weight in the outside stirrup to move her out, and a gentle feel of the outside rein to balance her.  As we went into the trot, we had the most relaxed and rhythmic trot work that we have had in a very long time.  Ivy commented that my hands were incredibly soft yesterday, even more so than usual, and I know that had to have played into how wells things went.  She still had to work on me to relax in the elbows, especially the inside elbow.  I have a terrible time of shutting down the relaxed feel in the elbows, and I think April ends up feeling trapped as a result, because she feels like she has nowhere to GO.  We worked on a little shoulder fore down the long side of the arena, and balancing in the turns by putting a little weight in the outside stirrup and taking a little feel on the outside rein to balance the hind end. 

As I am writing all of this, I am also realizing that Ivy never even hopped on my mare at this lesson...I actually did everything myself, which is pretty huge considering we had a REALLY bad ride only a few days prior.  I talked through that with Ivy during the lesson as well, and she told me I need to be careful about not overthinking things and not trying to micro-manage too much in the saddle.  And not to beat myself up as well.  It was a really positive and encouraging lesson, which was something I needed after the mini meltdown of the previous week.  (Long story, but it involved a really bad ride, lots of tears, and maybe even a helmet being thrown....I know, I know, full-blown 12 year old hunter princess temper tantrum.  Sometimes it happens to the best of us....)

We did some canter work on the flat, and she worked with me on turning out my toe a little to get off of my knee and keep my calf on consistently.  When I ride off of my knee, I end up being thrown back onto my butt which drives my mare forward,, which starts a whole vicious chain reaction of things that are not particularly pretty....

Then it was time for a little work over fences.  I think we had a good bit of improvement since our last jump session, because we quickly moved past the crossrail stage and onto the oxer.  From there she added in a bending line to a pretty good sized oxer, and we discovered my immense need to work on using my outside aids.  Again, same line, and this time April ratted me out on trying to hold her too much in my hands...she stopped dead four strides out and refused to move.  Again, to the same line, this time SOFT in the elbow and ALLOWING with the hands.  Jumped it beautifully, in stride, but tore away to the bending oxer like a freight train.  We made it in the correct five strides, but the landing was awkward because I didn't balance her enough on the approach, and she ended up snatching a front shoe.  It was really disappointing, because I felt like one more time and we would have nailed the line correctly.  Nevertheless, the lesson ended with me feeling really positive and excited about trying to remember all the little things I need to keep working on.

Sadly I have to take tonight off, because we probably won't get her shoe put back on until Tuesday.  I suppose my muscles could probably use a day or two off though...I do kind of feel like I was hit by a bus....Oh well.  This weekend was TOTALLY worth it!!!!!!!!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Happy Place

It never fails...I can be in the foulest mood, and the barn always works it's magic to turn things around.  I was having a bit of a pity party yesterday.  Yes, I admit it - I was a little down in the dumps, and admittedly, pouting a bit about having to go out and ride.  I had decided it might be better to boycott riding in general for the evening, since I had such a foul attitude going into things.

Nevertheless, a few things happened in sequence.  First, I start getting comments on my blog post yesterday of encouragement and advice.  Robyn and Suzanne, I appreciate your encouragement and wisdom, and have to give you a special shout-out for the support on a pretty blue day.  I have taken all of your words to heart, and Suzanne, I am actively planning to act on your specific advice!  Next, I had a potential boarder start emailing me that sounded like the perfect fit for our farm, and she wanted to come take a look that evening. 

Now, I have to say, I was a bit worried since I was having a slightly "off" day, that I might not be my chipper happy self to be showing someone around the farm.  I knew, however, that my pride in our endeavor would eventually work it's way through, and in the meantime I could lean on Robyn to take the wheel if necessary.

So the potential client comes out, walks through the barn to the back field, and immediately recognizes a boarder's horse.  It turns out, she knows every single boarder at our barn already, and knew Kelsey when she popped in for a visit as well.  The horse world is SUCH a small world.  Once again, it only reassures the importance of professionalism and not burning bridges.  You see, ironically, I had met her once before at a previous farm too.  We never hooked up again after meeting that first time, but did recognize each other last night.  It took awhile to put the pieces together, but we eventually figured out how we had met each other once before.

The pieces seem to fall into place so perfectly at times.  It was one of those things that seemed so cosmically perfect that the irony was astounding.  So many nights of worry about our farm endeavor, wondering if we were doing the right thing, wondering if we would make it....brushing off the inevitable criticism that comes with the territory...yet here we are, standing tall, with our little endeavor taking off in a very big way.

Needless to say, my "off" mood was turned around, as always seems the case with the horses or the barn.  I swear, one or the other can remedy even the worst of days.  It is my happy place, my little slice of heaven, and I am so grateful to have it.  I am thankful for the best boarders in the WORLD - and I truly mean that.  I can pick up the phone any day and call any of them for anything, and we are all there for each other.  We have completely open lines of communication, not a slice of drama, and solid friendships in the making as a result.  Thalia Farm has become the perfect barn I had hoped for from the beginning, and I am so eternally grateful to everyone for taking a chance on us and becoming a part of our little family.

Today is "vet day" for Rosie, and Jonah is going to get his coggins pulled to officially record his new ownership, even if only temporarily.  He makes the trip on Sunday to Ivy's for her to try him and see what she thinks.  Saturday is the hunt ball, and now we have added in the additional excitement of my first foxhunt!  I am excited to be mixing things up a bit, and stretching my comfort zone a little.  Robyn and I are looking at some inexpensive show options to set some goals to strive for in the near future as well.  One day at a time, we will get there!!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

One Day at a Time

I have kind of been having one of those weeks.  Just sort of slogging through the routine, nothing particularly big on the horizon at the moment.  I rode the bike into work today, and I realized something funny.  When I need to clear my head about life, I tend to resort to riding my horse.  When I need to clear my head about my horse, it seems the motorcycle is my next best escape.  There is something about the sense of freedom that comes with it, not to mention the odd feeling that you are somewhat invincible.  It's a strange paradox, because in all reality, you are the furthest thing from invincible.  There is probably little more of a vulnerable position to be in, than on the back of a motorcycle whipping down the interstate.  Yet somehow it feels that way.

This morning was one of those days where I needed to clear my head.  And I tried, for the forty-five minute commute to work, yet I am still slightly muddled.  I am frustrated with my riding.  I keep struggling with the same issues, and I can't seem to get everything to click.  It does every once in awhile, but I don't seem to have the ability to put the pieces together and repeat it the next ride.  Sometimes I feel like I am so far behind the power curve because I got such a late start in this.  Taking care of horses is something I know I can do.  I have a decent base of knowledge and good instincts, and that is something I can continue to increase easily.  Riding, however, is not.  I wish I didn't have to work, so I could ship myself off to be a working slave to a trainer until I figure out the basics.  I find myself so resentful that I wasted two and half years with a horse that did very little to increase my ability.  I was told for so long that the horse wasn't the problem, but rather I was the problem, and it beat my confidence into the basement.  Well,  now I have a horse that I know is not the problem.  The only issue with that is that it points the big fat finger right back at me.

I've decided that somebody needs to blindfold me and put me on a lunge line for the next decade, until I can figure out what the heck is going on underneath me.  I have this innate ability to feel absolutely nothing.  Unless it is extremely dramatic, I have no idea when a shoulder is falling in, when hindquarters are bulging outside the circle, or when their back is properly engaged.  You see, there is the frustration again - because that part of riding is about FEELING.  You can't read it in a book, or watch it in a video.  You have to figure it out through feeling it.  And apparently, my senses for feeling these things are as dead as a doorpost.

Sigh.  I know that this is a process, and I know that I have to take it one ride at a time.  But there are days that I do feel like throwing in the towel because I don't see myself progressing at ALL.  Then I hear my mother's voice in my head, telling me that I can use my stubborn streak (which is a mile long, for those who don't really know me) to my advantage if I just choose to apply it properly.  Obviously, that's what I have been doing, since I keep climbing back on, ride after ride, trying to figure it all out.

Then you couple all the riding issues with life issues, and at some points you hit a bit of overwhelm.  Work has been extremely stressful this month.  Finances are weighing heavily on me at the moment.  The first year of owning a business is very tough.  Yet with that being said, I wouldn't trade it for the world.  I love what I do, and I wouldn't trade it for anything, even with all the work and pressure that it involves. 

I'm hoping to set some goals to get things moving.  It's tough though, because the riding goals require me to get my tail to more regular lessons, which involves money, so it turns into a double-edged sword.  I know I will figure it out, and the key is to take it a day at a time.  After all, Rome wasn't built in a day....right?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I'd Rather Be Tired than Broke....

I remember listening to a Dave Ramsey CD, and hearing him preach about working 2, even 3 jobs if necessary to put yourself in a better financial position.  His words spin through my brain to this day - "I'd rather be tired than BROKE!" 

I was reflecting on this the other morning, when I started thinking about exactly how many hours I have been working lately.  My day starts at 6:30 am, when I get ready for work and head to the barn for the morning feeding.  It takes a half hour or so by the time I feed, throw hay, and turn out.  Then it is off to work for an 8 hour day as a Property Manager.  Then, time to switch gears again, and head back to the barn.  Ride 2 horses, one of which will hopefully be a good sale prospect, then do chores.  Usually make it home by 8 or so, and have an hour or two of my own before collapsing into bed.

It is madness!  But I love every moment of it.  I am working my butt off to accomplish my dream, one day at a time.  And though I may be exhausted, in the words of Dave - I'd rather be TIRED than BROKE! 

I have a few exciting things coming up in the near future.  Saturday is lesson day, and I am excited to hopefully get in some work over fences.  Sunday I am hoping to spread the rest of the manure pile and hopefully aerate the back pasture as well, in preparation for seeding next weekend.  Then the following weekend is closing hunt with the Mecklenburg Hounds, and I have been invited to try my hand at my first foxhunt, as well as attend the Hunt Ball!  Finally - a chance to take out the Donna Karen black label dress that has been hanging in my closet BEGGING for a chance to be worn!  HUGE thanks to my precious Carmela who gifted me with such an AMAZING dress - I promise not to wear it at the barn!!!!

The farm is full - overflowing, actually - and it is a great feeling.  I would so much rather be a little tired from extra work than stressing about finances.  We have a couple of appointments to show the farm this weekend as well, since we are crossing our fingers about a gorgeous pasture we are hoping to acquire....I don't want to jinx it, but it would be an amazing opportunity to keep expanding the business since it is apparently taking off now!

Jonah has already gained weight, and had a mini-makeover last night, thanks to Robyn and her adept abillities to tame a crazy mane.  I am throwing in a few photos from his first week and second week, even though the recent ones are pretty bad cell phone quality.

Week One

Week Two - Not the greatest picture, but showing some improvement!