Friday, July 29, 2011

It Ain't The Heat

It's the sun!

I'm a fairly heat tolerant person.  I grew up in the South, it gets disgusting, sticky, oppressive hot down there.  Heat and humidity are my friends.  It's the sun I can't stand.

It doesn't help that I'm also very fair skinned.  I have no protective layer of melanin to protect me, I just turn red and miserable as the sun cooks my innards like a microwave.  

Spider, on the other hand, seems utterly unaffected by the heat.  Which is a good thing, but it's also really, really annoying. I'm starting him back into work slowly after our extended, heat induced hiatus.  Currently, we're working every other day and just the basics: forward, round, relaxed.  He doesn't really get "slowly", though.  Thoroughbreds just don't do "slow".  They're not so good at "relaxed", either.

Because it's still hot (with no end in sight), I've taken a cue from from other animals and become crepuscular.  That means active at dawn and dusk.  It's a fun word to say.  Try throwing it into your next normal conversation and see what kind of reactions you get.

Normal friend:  "Hey, how 'bout this crazy weather?!"

You:  "Yeah, I've totally become crepuscular"

*watch with glee as normal friend splutters and tries to figure out how to end this awkward conversation in a dignified way*

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sheep Attack!!!!!!!!!

Horses are odd creatures. 

I am always amazed at the things they tolerate from us: noisy trucks and tractors, being hauled around in trailers, bridles, bits and saddles  (not to mention the bouncy, flopping ape in the saddle).  Horses are truly tolerant creatures.  We put them through so many confusing, frightening scenarios and they never bat an eyelash.  Which is why I'm always surprised at the completely random things that set my horses off.

My horses frequently spook at other animals.  Particularly Spider.  Vinny and Matilda would much rather eat grass than worry about the goings on outside their pasture, but Spider is always on the alert.    He vigilantly protects his herd from the masses of turkey, deer, squirrels and small songbirds waiting to attack.  And by "protects", I mean that he runs around like an idiot, blowing and trumpeting, while "his herd" ignores him.  Sometimes Vinny joins in the running and blowing, but only if he doesn't have anything better to do right then. 

But, every once in awhile, a truly scary animal shows up.  Like when Spider first saw the neighbor's goats. He spent the rest of the day pacing the fenceline, trumpeting a "challenge" to his new rivals and and circling his herd.  The goats ignored him (because goats are smart), and he eventually gave up.  He had Vinny and Matilda all riled up for most of the day, though.  Or the time another neighbor's pet steer showed up in the front yard.  Even Matilda was scared of that, and nothing scares Matilda.  Truly, non-equine domestic livestock are monsters to be feared.

Today, we barely survived a sheep attack.  That's right.  A sheep attack.

Let's back up.... so as to begin this story at the beginning.

When I got up this morning, I looked out the front window and noted: "Hey, the neighbor across the street got some sheep.  Neat."  I thought nothing more of it.  It is brutally hot here.  My days are consumed with hosing down horses, dumping and then refilling water buckets (my horses prefer cool water directly from the well and I'm a big, giant sucker) and trying desperately to stay cool.  The heat index here is 120 F. It's just ridiculous.  The horses are barely moving, and they're still dripping with sweat.  Imagine my surprise when I look out the window and see them running around like idiots.  Why are they running?!?  It's a million degrees, do they have a death wish?!?

I ran out onto the porch to see what had them so riled up.  Nuclear holocaust?  Alien invasion army?  Zombie apocalypse!?  I saw nothing.  Oh wait, I saw sheep.....

It is over 100 degrees and I am standing on my front porch, sweating profusely, while my idiot horses run, blow and snort at fluffy sheep across the street.  Annoyed, I yell out, "Boys!" (Matilda, being more intelligent, has realized that sheep are no threat and is no longer running)  "Boys!!  It's friggin' sheep.  Stop being stupid and settle down.  Easy!".  Vinny, hearing me yell, stops running and turns to face me.  He snorts one more time, but the fun of it is over.  So, he resumes grazing.  Spider is unconvinced.  He stands at full alert, watching the sheep.  Every so often he looks at me, then back at the sheep, as if to say: "Do you see that?!?!  Do you see those things?!?  They are going to come over here and eat us!  Why are you not concerned?!?!"

I retreat to the air conditioned comfort of the house.  I also make a mental note, "Note to self:  A certain bay horse is bored and needs more work.  Obviously, the heat is not really effecting him."

Really, I don't know what I'd do without him to protect me from the marauding gangs of sheep that torment our neighborhood...

Sheep. Can you see them?  

Seriously, that is the best image that I can get of the offending ungulates.  We live in the country.  "Across the street" means across a highway, plus some acreage.  So, that greyish, sort of sheep shaped blob is the offending creature.  There's a couple more sheep, but they're hidden by tall grass (lying in wait for their attack!).  It's not something I'd be getting upset by, but what do I know?  I'm just a floppy ape with a saddle!


Sheep are still super scary.  It's hard to tell from this fuzzy footage, but they are wreaking havoc on the neighborhood.  Havoc!

Sheep!!!! Do you see them, now?!?

Run Away!!!!!!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Blip In The Radar


I was all excited to be done with showing, so that I could get back to training.  Except I made a slight miscalculation.  You see, I stopped showing because the last show I went to was hot and buggy and I was like "I am so not dealing with that, or putting my horse through that."  Unfortunately, Mother Nature heard me and she was all like  "Oh, you're gonna puss out because it's 90 degrees?  Well, here's 100 degrees!  How do you like that, Hon'?"


Here I sit, melting, not riding my horse.  But, I'm reflecting!  So, that's good.

I got a book, a really good book, recommended by Muriel (a regular commentator here, and a good horseman*, too).  The book is "The Rider's Pain Free Back" by James Warson, MD.  I got it yesterday, and I read it yesterday.  It was just that good.

For years, I've been hearing the same thing from doctors:  "Stop riding."  "Riding is bad for your back."  Well.... thanks, Sherlock!  Riding is what got me into this mess in the first place, obviously I know it's not good for my back.  But it's my heroin, it's my drug, my addiction. It isn't optional.

Do you think for a hot second that I would have a farm if horses weren't my everything? Why the heck would I get up and clean stalls every morning if this was optional?  Why would I seed and mow pastures, drag arenas, pick up poop and bust my ass riding if this "riding" thing were just a hobby?  Why would I spend my time following every veterinary journal's publication on equine physiology and behavior?  Why would I spend my money bringing in the best trainer I know to teach me horsemanship?  Why on earth would I expose my children to the hot mess that is the horse world if I didn't think that it was wonderful, fulfilling, and one of the greatest endeavors that any human can undertake?

But, the doctors who have worked on me don't see that.  They don't see the addiction that is horsemanship, and they don't see the positives of my lifestyle.   They see a battered 30 year old woman.  A woman who has more aches and pains than they can address.  They see a patient, falling apart in front of their eyes.  They can only see the physical aspect of me: the spine that is degenerating, the arthritis, the muscle spasms.  They don't see the soul of me, the psyche of me:  the person who rides through the pain, the person who is strong and capable and tough, the person who has learned the greatest lessons of her life on the back of a horse.  The person who knows that every single good thing about her personality was taught to her by a horse.

James Warson sees that.  He is a horseman, himself.  He understands that this lifestyle is not something that is optional.  And so, he does not lecture on what we should and should not do.  He simply illuminates our anatomy, he talks about the types of injuries we sustain as riders and how this effects our riding.  He talks about different disciplines, and how that effects riding.  He talks about the horse's conformation, and how that effects a rider's pathologies.  He gives many examples of exercises to help alleviate and strengthen a rider's weak points.  But, he never says:  "Don't ride."

Most of the book was not new to me.  I have a background in anatomy and physiology, so I understand how our bodies work.  I know the exercises I need to do to keep myself fit, I know what I'm working against, biomechanically, with my injuries.  But it is just so nice to hear an actual expert confirm that!  And, I did learn a few new stretches to try for my specific issues.  I also learned how my specific injuries relate to riding, biomechanically.  That is invaluable information.

I leave you with a recent picture of Spider.  I think he looks pretty good:

If you remember, I had a couple of posts about following his physical progress this year, and I'm pretty pleased.  Here he is from earlier this year:

* I always say "horseman", regardless of actual gender.  I detest the term "horsewoman".  It's misogynistic.  I do not need a separate category.  I can compete with the men, we are equal.  And, really, "horseperson" just sounds dumb and PC.  My autocorrect software doesn't even recognize the word.  We are all horsemen.  Don't you pat my head and call me a "horsewoman", because I guarantee you that I've got bigger balls than you, anyway.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

This whole "show" thing has really derailed my blogging.  Which is unfortunate, because I've had some really good "Aha!" moments in the last few weeks.  Luckily, I'm pretty sure I'm done with showing for this year, so we'll get back to training and I'll have more time to ramble incoherently discuss that.

I know there are those out there who are pretty "anti-competitive dressage".  Hell, I'm one of them!  I hate showing.  Absolutely loathe it.... I never think a show is an accurate representation of my horse or my horsemanship at all.  In a show, I have just a few minutes to display everything me and my horse have worked on together.  I have a few minutes, and a few movements, to display our story together.  I can't do it.  I just can't condense all my work into those moments and movements.

And that's why I'm happy every single time I go down the centerline.  The judge doesn't know my backstory.  The judge doesn't know I'm riding a 16 year old Thoroughbred ex-Jumper that I re-trained myself.  The judge doesn't know that I'm trying to come back to competition after breaking my back.  All the judge knows is what I present in those few moments in the ring.  I will be scored on those moments and movements that I present, right then.  And I am so damn happy to be there.  Every time I ride down centerline, I am proud of what I have accomplished.  The judge might give me a bad score, but I earned that score, and I am so proud of it.

A show is exactly what it proclaims to be:  You're showing off.  You're showing off your horse and your skill at that moment.  And I think that's how people should go into it.  It's not about "winning" or even getting "good" scores.  There will always be someone there who is better than you.  Someone will have a nicer horse, a more expensive trainer, fancier gear, maybe they take training shortcuts to get better scores.  It doesn't matter.  You're there to show off your horse, your partner.  It just isn't about what other people are doing.

Even though I hate showing, and I'm pretty terrible at it, I still recognize that it's an important part of horse training.  I don't want to ride around in my own arena tooting my own horn forever.  I want to be able to take my horse to other farms and show him off.  And, I know he isn't everyone's "ideal" of the perfect dressage horse.  I'm not everyone's "ideal" of the perfect dressage rider.  So what?  Why should I let ideals define me? 

I'm doing the best I can with what I've got.  And I'm really proud of that.

So, get yourselves out there, show off what you've got, and be proud of every single score you get.  Because you earned it.  You earned it through blood, sweat and tears.  You earned it through training your horse to the best of your abilities and, no matter what that score is, you should be proud of it.  Because only you know what you did to get there.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Since my performance at the last show was less than stellar, I decided I needed a do-over.  My do-over was yesterday, and I'm pleased to say that it was much better, although still not great.  I received a 60%.  My ultimate goal is to get my USDF Bronze Medal, and 60% is good enough to count towards that, so I am satisfied.

Still, it was not an ideal performance.  I was actually surprised at my score, I thought we had done much worse.  Spider was tense and sucked back behind my aids.  The entire ride felt forced and chaotic.  But, I guess that didn't show through in our ride as much as I thought it did.  A friend who was also showing that day even commented on how relaxed Spider seemed.  Ha!  He felt like a balloon full of rocket fuel and squirmy snakes.  I suppose that goes to show how different "look" and "feel" are.  The comments I received from the judge reflect the tension, although not in those words:

"more bend"
And her final remark: "Well suited pair, but often needs more secure connection and more organization throughout."

That sentence sums it up pretty succinctly.  I have no idea why Spider decided he just didn't want to be there that day.  I could argue that it was hot and buggy (he hates bugs), or that the warm up ring at that particular farm is an indoor (he hates indoors), or that he was just having a bad day.  That's the nature of equestrian sports: two animals who speak different languages have to get it together and perform 100% correctly, at the same time, on the spot with no second chances.  Some times you do this better than others.  I'm very proud that Spider held it together in spite of the fact that he was upset and performed for me well enough to get a 60%, though.  And he didn't do any flying lead changes, either.  He was a good boy!

Still no pictures, I was all by myself this time.  It's really quite difficult to take pictures of yourself riding!


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