Friday, December 25, 2015

The 12 Days Of Christmas, Farm Style

I usually do a ridiculous picture of my horses in Christmas costumes this time of year, but it's 70 degrees and storming here in NJ and I'm terrified of lightning. So, you get a terrible rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas instead!

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me:

12 Poops to pick
11 Bags of feed
10 Bales of hay
9 Different boo-boos
8 Muddy boots
7 Ducks a swimmin'
6 Hens not layin'
5 Stalls to clean!
4 Wheel drive
3 Broken pitchforks
2 Stalled tractors
And a dead rodent on the door step!!

Merry Christmas!!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ride Journal Week 2: Accepting My New Normal

This week's ride summary is super easy: I didn't.

I had a bit of a cold, and I was tired. Every day I said to myself, "I'll just let myself rest today... Tomorrow I'll feel better." Then tomorrow would come around and I didn't feel better, because being tired and getting colds is part of the side effects of my new immune suppressant drugs. 

It's time to accept that tired and sniffly are my "normal". "Better" isn't going to come with rest and time off, this is probably as good as it gets. "Better" is something I will have to make for myself, by getting up off the couch and continuing on with my life no matter how tired and sniffly I am. 

So, I'll go do that now. I mean, it's 70 degrees in NJ in December, you can't really get a more clear signal from the universe to get your ass outside.

Plus, this tiny potato has got my back.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Imposter Syndrome

In my couch-bound web surfing last week, I found out that Imposter Syndrome is a thing. It's defined as, "Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved".  

That pretty much sums up my life, and I was dumbstruck that there is a word for this and it's a thing that other people feel. 

If you were to ask me how I have achieved all the things I have, I would, honestly, tell you that I was very lucky. If you were to ask me how I keep going in the face of my disease and its limitations, I'd tell you, honestly, that I'm just too stupid to quit. If you were to ask me why my horses are so well-behaved and good at what I ask them to do, I'd tell you, honestly, that I just have good horses. 

I've done a lot in my 35 years, but I'm always afraid that people will see what a fraud I really am. It was luck, being in the right place at the right time, and just being too damned stupid to see that I was in over my head that got me this far. And someday, someone is going to figure that out, right?

But people still call me up to see if I'll come take care of their horses, and people still ask me for advice about their horses, and they still want me to organize their shows and clinics. I guess they didn't get the memo that I'm a big fraud.

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine, a Grand Prix rider, who was just given the go-ahead to show a GP horse that they trained, but haven't shown yet. My friend laughed, and said that they'd go into the ring just like I do. My friend meant that they were heading into the ring without having a damn clue what was going to happen, but they were going to roll with it and have fun.  And that's when I realized that people who have trained Grand Prix horses feel the same way I do, like they don't know what the hell they're doing and they're just going to roll with it.

So, maybe I'm not an imposter. I've put on plenty of shows and clinics that people really enjoyed. I've been everything from a groom, to a barn manager, to an assistant trainer. I've been riding and caring for horses my whole life in many different disciplines and styles. I turned a Thoroughbred, that Arthur Kottas himself called "very difficult", from a soured jumper into a horse that my kids can ride, a horse that can go on Hunter Paces and Trail Rides as a "babysitter" for young horses, and can occasionally put in a semi-decent 3rd Level Test. 

Oh, wait... Nope. Probably still an imposter based on this picture.

I don't think I'll ever silence the little voice in my head that tells me that I'm a big fraud and someday everyone will figure that out. What I do instead is to tell that little voice to shut the fuck up, because I'm going to do whatever the fuck I want, anyway. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Accountability, Or Something: Ride Journal Week 1

"Saturday: Hunter Pace: Did the "fun division". Forgot to turn on map app, but it was about 3 miles at walk, then an hour or so of putzing around the winery. 

The winery had a ride up wine bar, hence the hour or so spent putzing around the grounds. There was a food truck, too, but the food truck owner got a little nervous when I rode up to them and Spider started trying to eat things. 

Sunday: recovering from cold from hell, hunter pace and general slug-like state. No riding, but I did exercise!"

So, Austen over at Guinea For A Guinness had a great idea to start posting a weekly ride journal. I decided to shamelessly steal that idea, and the above is as far as I got. On Monday my IBD decided to rear it's ugly head again, and I spent Monday through Wednesday on my couch. I got nothing done, other than writing a hilarious post about drama. (I tend to spend a lot of time on social media when I'm couch-bound.)

On Thursday I started to perk up, and I got a text from my trainer asking if I wanted a lesson Friday (that would be yesterday).

Now, the thing about my trainer is that he isn't local and he's kind of a BNT, so I dont just tell him when I want a lesson, he tells me when he's down here and either I jump on the wagon or I wait for him to come around again. Unless I'm actively dying, I jump on the wagon. 

I did warn him that the only things I'd done since my last lesson (several weeks ago) were hunter paces, trail rides and a jumping clinic, and that I'd been pretty sick, so he shouldn't expect much. 

I also texted him this picture of us from the Hunter Pace, to illustrate exactly what I meant by "don't expect much".

So, I had my dressage lesson yesterday. Even after weeks of screwing around and half-assing it, Spider remembered his dressage training and we did a good job. My trainer said my riding looked great, despite me feeling like a ridiculously out of shape blob of suck, and he said Spider looked very nice and relaxed after his little "vacation" from dressage. 

We're not as put together as before, it will take a little bit of discipline to get back to consistently producing 3rd Level work again, but we didn't slide as far back as I thought we had.  I also need to start exercising regularly, because I'm really out of shape. Dressage takes a lot more core strength than trail rides. 

Moral: Even if you feel like a big bag of suck, get out there and do it. Even if all you can do is something completely out of your discipline and you can only muster the energy to do it once a week, it's better than nothing. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Beginning Again

I've ridden for as long as I can remember. I don't recall learning to ride, it's just something that I've always done. I've started babies, finished greenies, retrained horses from just about every discipline and sent them into just about every other discipline.

Now I'm faced with a new dilemma: How to start myself over. I've been sick as hell for the last few years, and my riding skills have slipped. I'm not as fit as I once was, my reflexes and reaction times are terrible, the ingrained muscle memory from years spent in the saddle is slipping away, and I don't know where to begin in getting it back.

So, I guess I'll begin at the beginning. Just get on. Just ride like I'm a kid again, like I'm just learning how to do this. No expectations, no "But I used to be able to do that". Just friggen' ride. 

I have three horses at three different levels of training to ride, which is a hell of a lot better than what most "re-riders" are working with. I've also got a good trainer who understands my weaknesses and helps me remember my strengths. He's always reminding me that my biggest strengths are my willingness to work and learn and my ability to adapt, so I'll be putting those skills to work in order to get myself back where I want to be. It's really not about having the perfect body or the best horse, it's about educating yourself and working your ass off. (Don't believe me? Look up videos of Hilda Gurney on Keen.)

For next year, my goals are simple: ride more, get better. I could set more extravagant goals: take Spider to PSG, Jack to 1st and Spots to 3rd, but I don't need to. If I ride more, I'll get better and the levels will come organically from that. 

But that's next year. We're still in this year, and my only goal for this year is to continue chillin' on this beach. 

"Drama Free"

I'll admit that I spend way too much time on the internet, particularly on equine related sites, but it's totally because I'm marketing clinics and shows for my local USDF GMO and not because I'm addicted to the daily soap opera that is social media.

*cough, cough*

I've noticed an interesting trend: If someone specifically states they "don't want drama", they're always the first ones to start with the drama.

"zOMG! Sooooo, I'm not like, a dramatic person, but I was at this barn and they don't feed the feed I like, should I call ASPCA?"

"Looking for a new barn for the third time this month because all these barn owners suck! This one wouldn't let me throw all the other boarders out of the arena and barn aisle when I needed to use them and refused to feed my horse 16 times a day! Ugh!! So much drama! Need suggestions for a DRAMA FREE barn!

"I have a 2 yr old  mare with navicular, kissing spine, cow hocks and a club foot. She's not rideable, so I'm going to breed her. Looking for a good stallion, no drama, only nice posts please!"

"What do you guys think about putting draw reins on a gag bit? Not looking for drama, no negative comments, plz!!!!!!"

Having been working with horses since before the internet was a thing, I can tell you that this is not just an internet manifestation. It's always been there, and there's always been a lot of it, it's just that now we can see all of the drama, in all its bat shit crazy glory, because we're all more connected than we used to be. Back in the stone age, I only had to deal with 1 or 2 drama llamas on a daily basis, but now I get to see it magnified 100 fold because everybody's Daily Drama Llama is posting on the internet.

Now, I'm not exactly complaining about that. My circle of people that I can interact with on a daily basis has also increased 100 fold thanks to social media, and therefore I can reach more people and ideas than I ever could before. That's really awesome! But, I still could do with less Drama Llama. So, here's a handy guide to help all the "drama free" people actually be drama free on the internet and in life:

1) If you have to apply the statement, "No drama, please!" in any form (this includes the phrases: "I don't want to start trouble/a thing/make anybody mad", "I'm not a dramatic/confrontational/judgmental person"and "I'm just saying"),  you already know damn well that whatever you're saying is going to start shit and you're just stirring the pot. Either own the fact that you're going to start shit, or don't post/say it.

2) Don't Vaguebook. For those of you who are normal, well-adjusted and don't know what this is, it's when you post something intentionally vague like, "I guess I know who my real friends are now", or "Some people are SO stupid". (Bonus points for sad face emoticons and stating multiple times in the comments that you don't want to talk about it, even though you posted it to your 2000 Facebook friends.) Social media is not your diary, if you don't want to name names or talk about it because "it's private", don't friggen' post it! It doesn't matter who or what it's about, a whole bunch of the people who see it are going to think it's about them and be mad at you. Everyone else who sees it is going to think you're a Drama Llama.

3) Not everyone has to have the same opinion as you, and they are not personally insulting you when they do something differently. So, you changed your horse's blankets 13 times today? Great! Your friend who posted that Instagram pic of her horse frolicking naked in the snow is not abusing her horse, nor is she insinuating that you abuse your horse by blanketing it. Don't go to her page and post 30 links about blankets.

4) Learn to ignore stuff. Say you come home from a busy indoor schooling session and you see some girl from the barn has just posted: "Ugh! Wish SOME people would learn to ride." Was she talking about you? Maybe. Does it matter? Nope, see item #2.  Your friend shared a coupon for Big Name feed. Doesn't she know that your other friend's roommate's cousin's brother in law had a friend whose horse died while it was eating Big Name feed? Nope, and she probably doesn't care, see # 3.

And finally.....

5) If you think everyone else is an asshole, crazy or an idiot, you are probably an asshole, crazy or an idiot. There are a lot of great people in the world, and if you can't find any of them then you are the problem. Act accordingly.

Did I miss anything?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

May you enjoy your meal surrounded by family and friends. 

But hopefully end up wearing less of it. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Flax And Plague, Or: What I've Been Up To For The Last Few Weeks

My new meds make me tired all the time, and it feels like I haven't been doing anything. And I haven't been doing anything as far as training my horses up the levels in dressage goes, but when I sat down to write up what I have been doing it was actually kind of a lot.

"G'day, mate."

I bought an Australian Stock Saddle. It was a steal of a deal, and a real Brisbane made one, so I couldn't pass it up. I've been trailering Spider out to the local State Parks with a friend of mine almost every week to trail ride, and I needed something that wasn't my super expensive dressage saddle to trail ride in. Also, dressage saddles are really hard on the knees if you're spending several hours on a trail ride, and that gets ouchie for me. The Aussie is way more comfortable. It seems to fit Spider well, or at least he doesn't complain. Although, Spider loves to trail ride, so I don't think he'd complain about anything, really.

Spider trying on his Halloween costume. Jack was not part of the costume, even though he really wanted to be.

For Halloween, we went on a costumed Hunter Pace! Spider and I dressed as Nazgul (the bad guys) from Lord of the Rings, because I am a giant nerd. Two of my friends also went, one dressed as Eowyn (also from LOTR) and the other dressed as Melisandre from A Song Of Ice And Fire. It was a totally awesome nerd mashup.

Spider and I are in the back being "menacing", AKA: putzing around.
Despite our nerdly awesomeness, we ended up coming in 3rd in the costume contest. We lost to children in princess costumes and adorable ponies. You can't beat adorable princess ponies, especially as a group of 30 yr old geeks. But, my Nazgul costume did manage to spook several horses and make a small child cry, so I consider that a win.


As far as the actual Hunter Pacing went, we came in 17th of 27. That's actually not bad, considering we were dressed like idiots and had no clue starting out that it was an 8 mile Hunter Pace. They're usually 3-4 miles, and we were so not prepared for 8 miles! (We would have brought snacks and wine) But, we survived intact and did totally mediocre, so that was cool.

Then I got the cold from hell, that I still have. I'm not sure if the cold is actually worse because of the immune suppressant drugs or if it's just a really bad cold, but I've been out of commission for about two weeks. I had to have bloodwork run when I got sick, because apparently that's a thing you have to do when you get sick on immune suppressant drugs, and the blood work came back "not going to die, this time", so that's all good. Now if I could just stop making snot....

While I recover, I'm spending my free time grinding flax. It's even less interesting than it sounds. 

Why am I grinding flax? Because I bought the wrong bag at the feed store while hopped up on cold meds, and ended up with whole flax instead of ground, that's why. I thought it would be OK, I'd just throw it in the big food processor and it'd be quick work.  Turns out the food processor just stirs the flax up, so I'm stuck using the little tiny coffee grinder. It holds 1/3 of a cup. I have to grind 50lbs. 

1/3 cup is this many pounds. 

And that's why there's a 50lb bag of flax seed and a bucket in my kitchen. 

New rule: Everyone who comes over has to grind some flax.

On Sunday, Spider and I are going to a jumping clinic, if we can tear ourselves away from the fascinating process that is grinding flax 1/3 of a cup at a time. I've only ever had two formal jumping lessons, and they were about 15 years and even more beers ago, so I don't actually remember them. Well, I do remember that the instructor said I should probably stick with dressage, but I don't remember how I was supposed to jump. (Those two things might be related) Anyway, it should be pretty fun, because the clinic is all dressage riders with little to no formal jumping experience.  

So, while I haven't been doing anything to move my horses forward in their dressage careers, I'm still getting out there and putzing around. We'll get back to dressage one of these days, but for now I'm just putting one foot in front of the other.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sometimes It's The Little Things

You've probably noticed that I don't blog as much as I used to. I've been pretty sick the last two years. Nothing new, just my usual auto-immune disease rearing it's ugly head. I've been more consistently sick the last two years than I have in the entire 10 years I've had my diagnosis. 

Auto-immune diseases are assholes like that. You go through periods of remission where you feel pretty normal, and then your body rebels, the meds stop working, and you're right back to being sick. 

My particular auto-immune disease is Crohn's disease. The usual treatment is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as maintenance, and steroids when things get out of control.

Because my disease was getting out of control all the time, the doctors would try courses of steroids to get the inflammation back under control. If you're not familiar with steroids, they tend to make you swell up. Especially your extremities. If you've ever worn a pair of dressage tall boots, you know there is just no room for swelling in those things. 

Since I was taking steroids so frequently, my tall dressage boots haven't fit me in a long time. Because of that, I haven't shown in a recognized show in over two years. I suppose I could have just bought a new pair of boots, but I'm cheap and I refuse to spend my money on a new pair of boots to fit my steroid-swollen legs. It's much easier to just say, "I'll show when my boots fit again."

A few months ago my doctors decided that my disease had advanced to the point where the standard NSAID treatment would never be therapeutic. I was steroid dependent, in that it was the only way to get my disease under control. So, they went for the big guns: Immune suppressants.

Not gonna lie, I was scared. The immune suppressant drugs have some pretty rotten side effects. But, Crohn's has even worse side effects, so maybe the drugs aren't so bad.

I'm a few weeks into my immune suppressant treatment, and so far I'm OK. I haven't noticed any side effects from it, but I'll have to have routine bloodwork for the rest of my life to make sure the immune suppressant drugs are behaving themselves. 

The best part: I'm a week and a half steroid free, and my tall boots fit again.

They need a serious cleaning, but at least they fit.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Back To The Snaffle

I've never been one of those people who gets all into equipment. I'm sort of old school. I can remember when saddles only had two sizes, "regular" and "fat school pony", and every horse had to make do with that. There weren't six pages of bits in every catalog, because the bits were just bits without different "anatomical" mouth shapes or crazy alloys. Things were more one size fits all, and we made do. Now the equipment has as many variables as a graduate calculus course and is just as confusing. Do I need a specially shaped snaffle made of pure unobtanium alloy? I don't know, and for $300 I'm not going to find out.

Years ago I found that Spider preferred to go in a curb instead of just a snaffle, so he's been ridden in the double bridle since. It's not a "forcing the head down" thing, I ride with the curb rein loose. He's just more willing to seek the contact when the curb bit is in. I never put much thought into the "why", it works so I went with it.

Jack, being an ex-racehorse and a mouthy baby, likes to go in a mullen mouth bit. (I hesitate to call it a snaffle, because doesn't "snaffle" refer to the joint in the mouth piece? I don't know. Discuss.) The lack of a joint gives him less stuff to dick around with in his mouth while I'm trying to teach him to take the contact, which is why many people start horses in bits like this.

Yes, Jack's bridle is dirty. Go call ASPCA.

The other day I had taken Spider's double bridle apart to clean it and hadn't put it back together. Because I was feeling far too lazy to put the bridle back together,  I grabbed Jack's bridle with the mullen mouth bit off the rack to ride Spider in instead.  What's the worst that could happen, right?

Spider went like a million bucks. I mean, he was just *BOOM* in the contact. Like a damn Schoolmaster. I was floored.

So, I rode him in it again. And then again and again.... and every time he went perfectly. It was as though he actually did know how to do this dressage thing and had always been resistant because of the bit. I had always assumed it was lack of training or fitness or simple rider error.

The big test was riding him in front of my trainer in the mullen bit. My trainer was just as impressed.

Why does Spider go better in this bit? I don't know. I'm no bitting expert. You might as well ask, "Why do some people feel more comfortable in sneakers and others prefer flip-flops?" I think some of it just boils down to a personal preference and there's no reason a horse can't feel the same about bits.

I do know that Spider has an overbite (aka "parrot-mouthed"), so maybe the joint in a snaffle does something with that. I know he goes worse in double jointed bits than he does single jointed, and he goes best in no joint at all. Feel free to discuss this in the comments.

I did decide to change up the bit in his double bridle based on his love of the mullen mouth. They make curb bits with a mullen mouth, and I found this one on Amazon for $40! And the eggbutt bradoon was included!! And it was on Prime, so I got free shipping!!!

Pretty sweet.

Here's his old curb compared to the new curb:

Yes, it's dirty. Call ASPCA.

I haven't actually tried the new bit yet because I'm kind of lazy and changing bits is a pain. Plus, he's going so well in the other bit that I might just keep him in that forever. You only need a double for CDIs now, and it's unlikely we'll ever compete in a CDI, so there's no pressure. Right now I'm just enjoying not fighting with my horse about the contact. 

If only there were a bit that would convince him to do his changes when I say to do them, not when he thinks he should do them......

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


When I was a little girl, our local feed store had this sign posted:

I have remembered that quote throughout my life, and I'm always willing to pay a fair price. But, after running shows and clinics for a few years, I hear many people bitching about the cost. I think a lot of people don't really understand what goes into these types of events and why it's a fair price. So, I figure I'll give a breakdown of what actually goes into putting on a show or a clinic.


First off, we pay the clinician. Clinicians don't charge by the ride, they charge by the day and that's usually around $1000 a day.

Then, we pay the clinician's travel, hotel and other expenses. Those expenses depend on where the clinician comes from and how long they're staying. Domestic flights can be anywhere from $250 to $500, international flights start at $1000 for a round trip ticket (you do have to return your clinician to his or her home). Hotels are $100 a night. And then you still have to feed your clinician.

Oh! And then you have to pay for the venue. Maybe you get lucky and somebody offers up a suitable place for free, but usually the venue owner wants a fee or a few free rides.

And then you also have to pay for breakfast and lunch for all the auditors and clinic riders and grooms.

These are all "up front" costs. We spend this money before we even know if we're going to fill the clinic.

So, adding it all up, and assuming that the clinician is on the cheaper and geographically closer side of things and you get a free venue and a food fairy, that's:

$1000 for the clinician per day.
$250 for the flights.
$100 per night for the clinician's hotel. (That's an East Coast price. You can probably get cheaper hotels in Arkansas.)

That's $135 a ride if the clinician does 10 rides a day. Some only do 8, that's $169 a ride. That's for a "cheap" clinician. If we're getting into international flights and Olympians or SRS instructors, that price is going up!

And we haven't even factored in the cost of the venue, food and the amenities that people want for clinics.

Now, there are auditing fees, and that can help offset costs, but every auditor also ups our food bill. Generally speaking, the audit fees are where we pay for the amenities and potentially make a profit. In my club, audit fees pay for some of our members who couldn't otherwise afford it to ride in our Big Name clinics.

Bottom line: Clinics ain't cheap, we aren't gouging you on that price.


First, we pay the judge. That's usually about $300 for an "L", $350-400 for an "r", exponentially more for anything higher than that.

Each ribbon is about $2 apiece. The first place prizes are 5-$10.

The food is about $50 for the day, and that's if we cheap out and serve you muffins and hot dogs.

So, lets say we have 20 rides in a show (That's our minimum, if we have less we cancel the show) and we've got an "L" grad for the judge. That's:

$300 for the judge.
$40 for ribbons (we go to 6th place)
$50 for prizes (I'll assume 5 classes based on how my classes usually go, we split Jrs and Open)
$50 for food
$100 for the venue

That's a total cost of $27 per ride. We charge $25 per ride at our shows. Not gouging you there, either.

If we have more rides, then our profit does go up. But, it's paying for stuff like better prizes and fancier ribbons, our Youth Team going to Dressage For Kids with Lendon Gray and sponsoring cash prizes to our Adult Amateurs to pay for training. We aren't bathing in your cash while cackling maniacally. We'd like to, don't get me wrong, but that's just not in our budget.

Shit! I forgot to add in our insurance. We have to have insurance on all our shows and clinics, and I don't even know what that costs because it's not my job in the GMO.

And, I definitely didn't add in the amount of money we should be paying all the volunteers who make our shows and clinics happen. We'd be sunk without them, these events can't happen without our volunteers.

Bottom line: Quit yer bitchin'! A lot of hard work goes into these events, and we aren't motivated by money when we put them on. We want to bring great clinicians, shows, experiences and opportunities to our community, and our "profit" is when you have a good time and learn something. The price we charge is really just what it costs us to put on events of this caliber.

I suppose we could charge less, but quality is like oats....

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Well, We Got That Out Of The Way

Spider and I achieved a milestone last Sunday. I received my very first "0" on a movement.

In 20 years of showing horses in dressage, I have never gotten a 0, until last Sunday. 

This is also the first time I've ever received the comment, "rearing".
Here's what happens when you receive a "0" in a movement: The test just keeps going, the world keeps spinning, and life goes on. Huh. Didn't see that one coming.

The movement in question was only the fourth movement in the test, but it didn't ruin the whole test. Honestly, I didn't even know it was "0" until I got my results. It was supposed to have been a shoulder-in, and there was definitely some shoulder-in in between the rearing. I was too busy trying to get my all my horse's feet back on the ground to really worry about nit-picky details like scores, anyway. We did somewhat salvage the test, as evidenced by the scores for the rest. I mean, the 4s and 5s aren't great, but look at all those 6s, 7s and 8s!

This is actually what a normal test looks like on Spider. When we're good we're awesome, the rest of the time it's three steps from disaster.
So, what happened? 

Hell if I know.  It was a new venue, a show ground we had never been to before. Spider hates that. I probably should have realized something was amiss when Spider pranced sideways all the way to the warm up. But, I'm sort of immune to that behavior from Spider. Then we got into the warmup and everyone else immediately left, which should maybe have been another warning sign. I heard the word "fractious" used as they all left, but they were probably talking about someone else's horse, because Spider wasn't being fractious, he was just being Spider.

By the time we got to the actual arena, Spider was in full "Spider" mode. We did get through the whole test without being eliminated, and we ended up with a 54%. That's not bad for a test that includes a 0 and rearing. 

This is the judge's way of saying, "Your horse is a talented jerk and you're a pretty idiot".

Luckily, I had a friend there who doesn't know anything about dressage, or horses, and she cheered me up after my test by saying, "I really liked that jumpy thing he was doing. It looked really cool!"

And that's why you always take a non-horsey friend with you to shows, because they will think that jumpy thing you did was awesome!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Difficult Horses

They say you "tell a gelding, ask a stallion and discuss it with a mare." If it's Spider, you file a motion, present peer reviewed evidence, form a committee, and then defend yourself. 

I've always known this about him, he is very sensitive and far too smart for his own good. One barn owner, who didn't like him very much, described him as "needy and co-dependant". Another, who liked him better, would say "Everything has to be all about Spider". My trainer says, "You have to make him think it was his idea."

Spider does not trust easily. There are certain people he (randomly) decides he doesn't like and he's an absolute terror for them. I've had to stop using perfectly good farriers, saddlers, vets and barn help because Spider wouldn't let them near him. I've had to have the Technical Delegate follow me back to the trailer at shows because Spider wouldn't let the bit checker near him.  I've had him come completely unglued at shows and clinics because something on the property didn't meet his stringent expectations.

Spider requires a level of tact and sensitivity from his riders and handlers that would probably make Podhajsky himself swear. Anything less results in a fight, and a fight is not something you want to get into with Spider. He fights to win, and will try to win no matter the cost.

Some might call this a "difficult" personality, and I suppose it is. He doesn't feel difficult to me, partly because I know him and all his odd little quirks, and partly because he does trust me and puts up with more from me than he does from others. Plus, I'm a little difficult myself, so my perception might be a bit skewed.

In my last lesson, and in many other lessons, my trainer has made a point to say, "He is not a Schoolmaster!" He means that I have to ride every step, train every step, treat every movement like it's the first time Spider has ever done it. Spider is not a Schoolmaster who will do every movement on a shift of seat and a wish, and he never will be. That is not in his makeup, not in his personality. Spider has to be convinced of every step, but when he is convinced he is brilliant.

His moments of brilliance usually cause me to think that it's all my fault that he isn't always brilliant. I see the potential in him, and blame myself for not realizing his potential. "If I were a better rider, he would be a better horse." "My seat must be bad, my hands must be wrong."  "I'm too stiff, not stiff enough, too fat, too skinny, too out of shape." "If I just rode better, he would be better."

I think that's something a lot of dressage riders do, we blame ourselves for the horse's training problems without ever stopping to think about the horse underneath us. Maybe, just maybe, the problem isn't just with us. Maybe, just maybe, you are riding a difficult horse, a horse with a problem that transcends the best Classical Horsemanship Dogma. That is what I have in Spider.

That doesn't mean that I should abandon the Classical Horsemanship Dogma. I keep right at it, making sure that my riding is correct at all times. But now, when Spider resists, I don't automatically think, "I'm wrong". Instead, I think, "I'm riding a difficult horse" and I persevere. Spider will never be a Schoolmaster, but he will teach me tact, sensitivity, and confidence if I let him.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Kottas Experience: Day 3, Just Too Tired

I don't remember much about my ride on Day 3. It was a Monday, so there weren't many auditors. I wisely decided to leave Spider at home and go back to get him for our ride time. I did get to audit more, which was very nice. But I was so, so tired.

The standout from my third ride is that Arthur explained to me how to ride a centerline. Somehow, in 20 years of riding dressage and many trainers, I have never managed to learn that. I always over shoot the centerline and then have to correct and then it's a mess. Arthur finally put it into words I could understand: "Ride it like a 10m circle". Oh.... Duh. It seems really obvious in retrospect, but it honestly never occurred to me before.

My lessons with Arthur Kottas were not world changing experiences of a lifetime where flights of dressage angels sung to me of enlightenment and Spider and I floated away on perfectly classical unicorn farts, but they were very good confirmations of things I already knew (other than how to hit the centerline). What I learned was more about myself, and that I am on the right track and I'm receiving good training. Almost everything Arthur said was something I have already heard from my own trainer, just with a different accent. That's a very good thing.

Probably the most important thing, and the most world-changing thing, Arthur said to me wasn't during any of my rides. It was while I was driving him to the airport after the clinic. We were chit-chatting, as one does on an hour-long car ride. I was pointing out the various fascinating South Jersey sights: "That's the landfill where they buried the dead whale that washed up on the Shore a couple years ago. That's a peach orchard. That's a soybean field. There's the Sewage Treatment Plant.", but the subject came back to horses because apparently Arthur doesn't find dead whales and sewage treatment as fascinating as I do. So, we were talking about his approach to clinics when he suddenly said, "Your horse is very difficult."  *record scratch*

Not gonna lie, I damn near threw his ass out of the car into a soybean field. Nobody, I mean nobody, not even Arthur Kottas, gets to say anything bad about my favorite horse. But I controlled myself, artfully glossed over that part of the conversation, and delivered him safely to the airport.

I then related that story to a few people, who all agreed with him. My trainer even said, "You should take that as a compliment.", and then followed it up with, "If he were easy, you'd be doing Grand Prix by now."  I realized that I can't abandon all my friends in a soybean field, because someone might miss them and then get suspicious, so I eventually just started to accept that maybe Spider is a just a smidge difficult and maybe I'm not that bad of a rider.

I'm not sure if I'll ride with Arthur again. I will definitely host another clinic with him, it was a wonderful experience, but riding and hosting is just too much for me. If I ride again, it will be only for one or two days. Really though, I learned the most by sitting and listening to him teach. As much as I want to people to ride in clinics, because I need riders to fill my clinics, I really think that auditing is the best bang for your money. Being able to sit there and listen to him teach riders and horses of all ages and levels is a truly sublime experience. If you do ride, bring along someone to video or take notes for you, because you probably won't remember a thing!

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Kottas Experience: Day 2, Redemption

After Day 1 I came to several important realizations: Arthur was basically saying all the same things my trainer says, this was not new material and I know this stuff. Arthur wasn't going to give me any step by step instructions on how to ride, I already know how to ride and I needed to actually ride my horse so he could give me some useful feedback. Most importantly, I realized I didn't really give a rat's ass what Arthur or the auditors thought about me or my horse, they're only here for three days. I was just going to go out there, ride my horse and have fun.

The whole " will never ride past First Level" statement from Day 1 actually didn't bother me that much. Arthur Kottas doesn't know me or my horse and I had honestly presented some spectacularly shitty work on Day 1. It's no different from a judge or a railbird watching one crappy ride: they don't know you, they don't know your horse. They can only judge what they're seeing right now. I know I can ride past First Level, because my horse has shown at Third Level and is ridden and trained exclusively by me. So, what I needed to do was just ride my horse the way I know how to ride my horse and to hell with the rest of it. 

It doesn't hurt that I'm pretty stubborn and contrary. 

Now, I will say I made one mistake again: I brought Spider with me for the whole day. (Isn't the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?)  Spider was even worse on Day 2, the running and screaming started as soon as I put him in his paddock. Since the clinic hadn't started yet, Arthur wandered over and said, "Isn't that your horse? He's so stressed. Why is he so stressed? He has a lovely paddock and is surrounded by other horses." I had to be like, "Yeah, he's.... uh... special....".

I didn't let Spider's stress level get to me on Day 2, though. Instead, I took him out of the paddock, walked him around and just hung out with him for most of the day. The second day of a clinic is always less chaotic, so I was able to do that for him. Yes, I missed auditing a lot of the clinic, but my horse, no matter how clingy, needy and generally crazy he might be, is more important to me than auditing any clinic.

I also remembered to take my pills and I washed them down with a beer. Better living through chemistry, right?

When our turn to ride came, I went in and rode the crap out of my horse. I now knew Arthur's style, that he was just going to call off exercises and critique, so I just rode the hell out of those exercises. Spider started out tense and resistant, but I kept calm and focused on my horse and my riding. Instead of getting flustered if I didn't understand something or messed up, I just asked if I could try it again. And guess what? He let me have do-overs! I only heard, "Your riding is bad." once, and it was in some canter work where my riding was actually bad. I had failed to set Spider up for the transition properly, and that's straight up bad riding.

At one point Arthur said, "Ah! You can do this!". Sweet Redemption! Arthur even said at the end, "He started out very shitty, but you ended well." Yes, that's right, my horse inspired Arthur Kottas to call him "shitty"! (He was talking about his temperament, not his overall quality. Spider threw a couple temper tantrums at the beginning.)

And then we all had a BBQ that may or may not have involved stolen corn and I went home and went to bed to prepare for Day 3.......

Oh! And to answer redheadlins' question about the rodeo from Day 1, Arthur loved the rodeo! He videoed everything and asked a ton of questions about the different events, which I answered as best I could considering I haven't been involved with rodeo stuff in 20 years. Between the four of us DQs who went with him, we managed to come up with fairly decent answers to most of his questions (I think). He especially liked the bull and bronc riding, but thought all the events were great. Honestly, it was at this point that I realized that I didn't need to be a fancy DQ on a push-button horse to ride for Arthur Kottas. A guy that likes bronc riding that much is probably going to be cool with me kicking the shit out of my horse in a clinic.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Kottas Experience: Day 1, Trainwreck

So, as I mentioned before, I was the one organizing this clinic. I did have loads of help and a wonderful venue to work with, but I still had to get there early to set up and register auditors, make sure riders got into the ring on time, get breakfast and lunch put out, etc.


Clinic set up is always a royal PITA, but this one was made far worse by the fact I had to bring my crazy horse with me. This is worse than bringing my children with me, because Spider is about 100x more needy, clingy and loud than my children. Still, I decided it was preferable to having to drive back and get him for my ride. (Mistake #1, I know he doesn't do well with away trips, even short ones, where he isn't The Center Of The Universe.)

So, I got there at 7:30 am with Spider in tow. My ride wasn't until 4:15 pm, but the farm owner was awesome and had graciously offered me a paddock for Spider to stay in. Spider hates being in a stall, and will scream and thrash around if he has to be in one, so that was not an option. The paddock seemed like a great alternative. There were other horses around him, plenty of grass and a shady spot  under some trees to nap. It was absolutely perfect, but not to Spider. He was actually OK for about an hour, then he realized no one was paying attention to him and we weren't going home any time soon and started throwing a fit. We had to turn up the PA system so poor Arthur could be heard over the crazy in the paddock. Auditors kept peering outside to see what was going on. I tried to pretend that I didn't know him, but eventually had to fess up that he belonged to me.  (Mistake #2, I let myself get stressed because Spider was stressed.)

I did get to sit and watch Arthur teach everyone else in between my hostess duties and making sure my horse hadn't exploded, which was absolutely wonderful! (The watching part, not the "I hope my horse didn't explode" part.) I highly recommend auditing an Arthur Kottas clinic if the opportunity presents itself. I listened as closely as I could and took note of how he teaches and what he was asking people to do, with the intent of being better prepared for my own ride. (Mistake #3, Like you can ever be prepared for your first ride with THE Arthur Kottas!)

By the time my ride came around, I was exhausted both mentally and physically and my back hurt. Usually when my back is bothering me and I need to ride I take something for it, but this time I just forgot. It never even occurred to me, actually. I was too busy trying to get ready. (Mistake #4, and one I'll never make again.)

Spider warmed up really well in the outdoor arena and I was pretty happy. I knew my back was really bothering me, but I figured I could handle it. It was too late to take anything by then, anyway. Into the clinic I went....

A friend of mine described what happened next the best, so I'll quote her: "You careened around like a drunken sailor." Between my back, the rapid-fire way Arthur calls off exercises, many of which were combinations I had never heard of, let alone ridden before, and the fact that I don't usually ride in a full size arena with letters, I was absolutely careening around like a drunken sailor. Actually, I was a drunken sailor without a rudder. In retrospect, it's hilarious. At the time, I just got flustered. (Mistake #5, I let myself get flustered.)

Because my back was hurting, my position wasn't great. And by, "wasn't great", I mean I looked like a drunken monkey with palsy. My hands were bouncing everywhere because I couldn't use my back well and get my hips properly aligned in the saddle. Arthur is a big stickler for position, so I heard "Your riding is bad." more times than I can even count. Eventually he stopped me and tried to explain that I needed to fix my position in order to ride correctly. And then I had a dilemma....

I have become much more open about my health problems in recent years. I started talking about it more because I want people to see past the stigma of "invisible" disabilities and realize that they probably know people with these problems who might just be afraid to talk about it, and also so that other people with disabilities like mine can see that it's OK to talk about it and be "out" about it. But, for every person I tell about my health problems who is totally cool and supportive, there are many more who feel the need to tell me I'm just using my chronic health problems as an "excuse" and if I just saw a chiropractor/massage therapist/faith healer and ate that yogurt Jamie Lee Curtis shills I'd be totally cured because their father's brother's nephew's cousin's roommate, who totally had the same thing they think I might have, was totally cured by that.  So, in certain situations, like a clinic where there are auditors I don't know and I don't really know the trainer, I tend to keep my mouth shut. I've heard, "Well, if you're that sick, how can you ride horses and go to shows and clinics?" way too many times. I was willing to just let my shitty riding be shitty riding and fix it the next day.  

Unfortunately, my decision not to say anything was a poor one. Arthur decided to take hold of my right leg and physically put it where it belonged. I wasn't expecting that, he's quick! I jumped several inches out of the saddle as pain went searing through my back and screamed, "Don't touch my leg! You can't just grab my leg!" into the face of the former Director of the Spanish Riding School. Surprisingly, he did not beat me to death with an in-hand whip. But, I then had to explain my back problems to him. He was very kind and asked several questions about my abilities and lack there-of, all of which I answered. I'm not sure if he was more taken aback by the yelling or my crippled-ness, but he very quietly said, "With this position you will never ride past First Level. Maybe you can trail ride."

At this point, my brain totally checked out. My back was a knot of agony and Athur Kottas had just told me I should take up trail riding. I finished the lesson as best I could, but I don't remember much of it. I will say that Arthur was never unkind in anything he said, and he was always 100% truthful about everything I presented to him.  He did say that some of my work was good, when I presented good work, and that my horse was very much able to do the work that was being asked of him.

After my lesson, my very good friend helped me get off my horse and get him untacked, loaded in the trailer and home, then we went out to the Cowtown Rodeo with Arthur. (He wanted to go to the rodeo, and who says "no" to taking Arthur Kottas to the rodeo?)

Then I went to bed and prepared for Day 2..........

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Kottas Experience: Preliminary Thoughts

Only one word can properly describe riding with Arthur Kottas: Intense. It's been three days, and I'm still wrapping my brain around it. This may end up as a multiple-post series, because I'm not sure I can write the whole experience in one post.

It took me about three days to recover, and also to catch up on my own neglected farm and house work. Note to self: Do not ever try to ride and organize a three day Arthur Kottas clinic ever again.  I'll definitely organize another one, but I won't ride all three days. It's just too much.

Arthur (Yes, I can call him "Arthur" now. Be jealous.) does not pull any punches. He is brutally honest, but not in a mean way. When Arthur says, "Your riding is bad.", it's not condescending or rude. It is a simple statement of fact and he just expects you to fix it. And, yes, he really says that.... I think he said it to me at least 20 times in three days (more on that later).  He holds the rider responsible for every single fault, and praises the horse when things go right.

His teaching style is to call off exercises and critique as you ride them. Nothing is drilled, even if you do the exercise completely wrong and never get it right he will move on to another exercise after only a couple of tries. He expects you to fix them later, he calls this, "homework".  I have lots of "homework", only some of which I remember. I highly recommend that anyone riding with Arthur drag along a friend to audit and take notes on your ride. Being in the lesson is pretty overwhelming, and you're going to forget or not even hear at least half of what he says.

Auditing is really the way to go, although I'd obviously prefer people ride because I need to fill clinics. You learn a lot auditing, because you can sit on the sidelines watching multiple rides at many varying levels and you can scribble down notes and absorb it all without the distraction of having to actually ride. And don't just watch the Grand Prix rides, watch all the rides. You're going to learn a lot more watching the AA on the 15 year old QH or even the Pro on the 4 year old green bean struggle through 1st Level than you are watching the BNT float through Grand Prix on The Perfect Horse.

I took a lot of time to write up bios of rider and horse so the auditors would have background information and I scheduled rides so that there were various levels, breeds and ages represented each day. I wanted auditors to be able to take something home from their day watching Arthur and apply it to their own riding and training. Yet, I heard several complaints that there weren't enough "experienced" riders and higher levels. Seriously, if you're riding Training Level at home, you do not need to see Arthur Kottas teaching a Pro rider at GP. You need to be there for the 1st and 2nd Level rides so you can learn something you can use. (Whoops, that got ranty..... let's move on)

My three days of riding can be summed up as follows: Trainwreck, Redemption, Too Tired To Even Give A Shit.

But, I'll have to leave that for another post before I end up with a novel. Stay tuned......

Monday, July 27, 2015

So, This Is Happening

I am simultaneously giddy and terrified. I have ridden in front of many Big Name Trainers, my usual trainer is what many would consider a BNT. But Arthur Kottas is not just a BNT, he's a living Master, a legend.

And not only am I riding, but I'm also organizing the clinic. So, I get to meet Arthur Kottas personally and drive him around. I probably need to clean out my pickup for that.  It simply wouldn't do to make him ride around in a vehicle that smells like stinky horse and has random sticky patches from my children.

It's like double jeopardy, not only do I have to not look like an idiot while riding, but I have to not look like an idiot while organizing the event. Right now my thoughts are waffling between, "WTF was I thinking?!" and "OMG! I get to meet Arthur Kottas!!!"

If I survive, this will be the awesomest thing I've ever done.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Lessons In Perseverance

I won't sugar coat this: I feel like ass covered ass with ass sauce.

My IBD has reared its ugly head again, and my usual meds aren't working. I'm on steroids again.

If you've never been on steroids, the first sentence of this post pretty much sums up what it's like. I'm exhausted all the time. Not the good exhausted, like after a workout or doing something important... yesterday I had to go lay down after I took a shower because taking a shower was just too much. It's that kind of exhausted.

When my trainer texted me that he would be in the area and asked if would I like to take a lesson, I still said "yes", because I need things like that. I need them to get myself up off the couch and out doing the things that I love.

I warned him not to expect anything spectacular, because I'd been so sick.

About half-way through my lesson he stopped and said, "If this is you riding sick and weak, you can be sick and weak all the time. This is good work."

I laughed, then I had to fess up: "I've only ridden twice since my last lesson. I've probably only ridden 10 times in the last month, but every time I ride I make it count."

I'm not sharing that story for sympathy, or for pats on the back. I share it because we've all got something that we think is holding us back.

Today I learned that if you just get yourself out there, get on the horse and ride like you mean it, you can accomplish great things.

I also learned some really great exercises and stuff, but I'm too damn tired to write them up. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

From Pigpen to Piaffe

In an attempt to blog more consistently, I've decided to start summing up my lessons. Theoretically, this will also help me remember them, which should help my trainer do less face palming and screaming in my lessons. Theoretically....

Yesterday's lesson started like all my lessons, with a random text from my trainer that he'd be there in 20 minutes. He likes to keep me on my toes.

We'd been having rain storms all day, and my horse looked like this when I brought him in from the pasture:

It's like he had a premonition....

Luckily, the 20 minute warning was in Trainer Standard Time and not Real Time, so I had an additional 15 minutes to get most of the mud off my horse.

*Side note: I never trust a Trainer, Farrier or Veterinarian who always shows up on time. The very nature of their business makes it difficult for a good one to adhere to a strict timetable. A consistently punctual Trainer, Farrier or Veterinarian is one that has nothing else to do and that means they either don't have any other clients, or they are half-assing their job. It's not a good sign.

Back to the lesson: It started well, in that he was pleased with my warm-up process and didn't find anything to yell at me about with it. (This is not usually the case, I am a notoriously bad warmer-upper. My usual warm up is done outside of the arena and consists of a quick trail ride and then a gallop through the neighbor's hay fields. That's an awesome warm-up process, but not really feasible at dressage shows or anywhere outside of my farm, which is why I enlist the help of my trainer in my lesson warm up. I'm trying to develop a better warm up strategy for shows and clinics and stuff.)

From the warm up we moved into collected work. I wish I could say that this involved half passes and tempis and Very Fancy Dressage Things, but the reality of training the upper levels is that you're basically doing the same circles you were doing at the lower levels, but with shorter reins and more sweating and cursing.

So we did a lot of 20, 15 and 10 meter circles while my trainer shouted at me to flex him, counter-flex him, put his haunches in, put his haunches out, and shake him all about. Basically, what he's trying to tell me is to never stop riding the horse.  This is another bad habit of mine... I swear the Dressage Brochure I read before taking up this sport said that I was supposed to be able to just sit there and look pretty while the horse did all the work. They lied! Turns out the higher you train your horse, the harder you have to ride. So much for the indolent Dressage Queen image....

And then my trainer introduced a new exercise: he asked me to leg yield at walk with my horse's haunches in. Not gonna lie, it took me a couple tries to get this one right. Leg yields are usually done with the horse straight, and wrapping my head around keeping his haunches in took some concentration. Once I had it down in both directions, he asked us to do zig-zags up and down the arena. It got Spider working into the outside rein nicely and really reaching under with his inside hind, as well as getting my brain working (always a plus). I'll be using it frequently from now on.

From there, we went back to our circles. Endless circles of flexing and half halting and remembering to ride every step........ until my trainer randomly shouted, "Now piaffe steps".

*Record scratch*

Spider does not know piaffe steps. I mean, he's offered them up accidentally, but this is not something he's trained to do. But, when your trainer says "Now piaffe steps", you piaffe steps! It took us about two rounds on a 20 meter circle to figure it out, with my trainer yelling encouragement in the form of, "Ride him like a Grand Prix horse" and "No, too much hand", "More leg", "Too tense", "Relax!!!". And then we got it! It wasn't good, it was only just the very beginning of beginning steps, but to ride it, when asked for, on a horse that I have trained myself was better than any time I have ridden it on a Grand Prix horse.

I could have ended the lesson there and died happy, but instead we went on to some more canter work. Not gonna lie, it was a blur because I was still thinking about my little baby half piaffe steps. So friggin' cool. Maybe those damned circles aren't so bad after all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"What Are You Doing With That Big Red Horse?"

I get asked this question all the time by people who have seen Jack. You'd think I've got the next Totalis standing in my yard by how people react to him. If I had a nickel for every time somebody asked me what I'm doing with him, I could probably afford the next Totalis. But, nobody pays me to ask questions, so I've got Jack. Honestly, I sometimes think they're just asking because they wonder if he's getting ready to kill me or if I've given up on him.

He isn't, I haven't, and the answer to the question is that he isn't doing much. That's why he isn't trying to kill me and I haven't given up on him.

Here's a quick rundown of what's been going on in the World of Jack for this year:

We came off a crummy winter and started out with light trail riding. Then he ran into an (open) gate and injured himself (and destroyed the gate, not even sure how that happens), so he got a couple weeks off. That was in March. We went back to trail riding and doing short stints in the arena in April, but the weather was crummy and so we didn't do much. Now it's May and the weather is getting better and we're back to nothing much, but it's a much more consistent nothing much. A friend of mine has come to ride him a few times so I could watch and gauge his progress, and I'm happy with it.

Those legs!

Wait... What?! How can I be happy with nothing much?

I'm happy with nothing much because of what Jack is. He's an OTTB, and not a successful one. Jack had three starts as a 2 year old, came in dead last every time, and retired. Yes, I know there are many stories all over the internet from people who took a horse straight from the track to a winning show horse in 6 months or less and those are very nice stories, but they aren't the norm and they aren't realistic for most racehorses. I could post a whole rant about the reality of taking on an OTTB vs. what you see on the internet, but this post is about Jack. I'll file the rant away for another day.

In Jack's first career as a racehorse, he was a complete failure. Like I said before: he had three starts as a two year old, came in dead last every time, then retired. Let's put it another way: At the time most sport horses are just beginning to learn that bridles and saddles are a thing, Jack had already been trained to his sport, failed spectacularly, and then been retired. What do you think that does to a horse's confidence?

Jack is an inquisitive, intelligent and sweet guy. He loves to work, he loves to be with people, and he loves to learn new things, but he suffers from a serious lack of confidence and maturity. His lack of confidence means that when he doesn't understand something, he gets very frustrated very quickly. His lack of maturity and his sheer size (Jack is about 17h) means that expressing his frustration, even mildly, can make things dangerous for an average sized human fairly quickly.

My solution to this is to take things very, very slowly with Jack. Every single thing he does with me has to be an unmitigated success. That requires a ton of planning on my part, and then I have to have the presence of mind to be able to completely change the plan when it falls apart (and the "plan" falls apart frequently). This means that Jack doesn't get worked when I'm tired, angry or stressed out, because I can't be cranky or distracted when I work with him. I have to give him 100%, so that he can learn to give me 100%. He has to learn that we're equal partners in his new life and that failure is OK, but he can't learn that until I've shown him that he can be successful.

Right now, success is in the smallest things. Jack is learning to ground tie, because it's an easy thing for a horse to learn and nothing catastrophic happens if he screws it up.

You can see from the expression on his face that he takes all his work very, very seriously.

He's also learning to work in long lines and in hand, and he's learning to free longe. He's learning that bits aren't things to chomp down and lean on. Most importantly, he's learning that when he's with me I will always have his back and I'll never ask him for something he can't do.

Working with Jack brings me back to my other "failed" horse. Spider was a soured Jumper before I bought him. I did the same thing with Spider: I just spent time with him doing simple things like ground tying and trail riding. I built up his confidence, and now I have a horse that will do anything for me. Jack will be the same, but it's gonna take a lot of time.

I don't expect great things from Jack today, or even tomorrow. I have time, Jack has time, and one day he will be one hell of a horse.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


Inspiration can come from a lot of places. Most people are talking about World Cup and Rolex when they talk about inspiration right now, and that's all well and good. We should be watching the people at the top of our sport to see how they ride and train, but inspiration doesn't always have to come from such lofty sources.

Last weekend I scribed for one of the first USEF shows of the season here in my corner of Region 1. April is pretty early for us, most of the Really Big Names are still in Wellington or just coming back up, so the show was filled with just the Regular Joes. Since I'm just one of the Regular Joes, too, I really enjoyed scribing this one.

I saw flubbed changes, bucking and kicking out in transitions, errors galore, refusals, some wild careening around the ring and at least two "Oh, SHIT!" moments.

Why is that inspiring? Because it's what we all go through. Most of the competitors at the show were Adult Amateurs, and the Pros who were there were not riding Valegro. I learned a lot more scribing that show than I could ever learn watching the World Cup.

It's good to watch people at the top of the sport, but don't forget to watch the regular people, too. The people at the top of the sport started out as regular people, and they got to the top by getting out there and doing it in spite of all their screw ups. All those Big Names had their days as Regular Joes who flubbed changes, had bucking and kicking in transitions, made errors galore, careened around the ring and thought, "Oh SHIT!" many times.

For me, my inspiration was that the PSG isn't so scary anymore. I scribed several PSG tests and saw the best and the worst of that level, sometimes in the same test.

What I took away from it was, "Hey, I can do this, too!"

And I highly recommend scribing for shows as a great way to make everything about shows less scary. I have scribed many shows of all levels and have never met a judge who was mean or scary. I've worked with a lot of judges, from "Learner (L)" judges to FEI, and they were all very kind and positive.

Scribing has taught me that the judge really wants to see the competitor do their best, and they'll reward a gung-ho try that falls short over a half-assed attempt at coasting through a movement. It's taught me that the judge really wants you to just ride your test correctly. It's also taught me that the judge really can't tell a damn thing about you or your horse when you ride your test, they're judging this ride in this moment.

Leave your baggage at A and ride your test.

But try not to do this.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I'm Not As Good As I Once Was

I'm currently standing halfway between my kitchen and my living room with a glass of wine in one hand and three lidocaine patches on my back. I'm stuck here, because I can't make it any further until either the lidocaine or the wine kicks in. How did I end up stuck here? Well, that's the story....

I got tossed yesterday. Tossed right off a horse. Launched through the air like a crash test dummy. It wasn't any of those "crazy" Thoroughbreds, either. It was that damned little pony. 

The pony my kid rides bareback with no problems.

Spots has been a model citizen for pretty much everything we have ever asked of him, but yesterday he was just not feeling it. He was balking and spooking while we groomed and tacked him up, and I knew I couldn't let my daughter ride him. But, I also didn't want to let him learn he could act like that and get out of work. 

So, I got on him. It was all good for a little bit. He was still balking and spooking, but I used circles and transitions to keep him steady. Then he decided he'd really had enough and went full bronc on me. The thing about those little guys is that they can buck and twist like nobody's business.

I made my 8 seconds and then some, but eventually he launched me. I made a good landing, just like I've always been taught. I tucked and rolled right back up onto my feet and caught the little bastard, and then the adrenalin wore off and I realized I'd tweaked my back something fierce. That's the thing about having a bad back, it's always a bad back and one wrong move can set it off. Especially wrong moves like being bucked off a sulky little pony. 

I knew I had to get back on, but I couldn't. I wasn't angry or scared, I just couldn't physically lift my left leg higher than a few inches without sending searing pain through my sciatic nerve. I made a heroic (and probably somewhat comical) effort, but I just couldn't heave myself back up there. So, I sent my daughter back to the tack room for the lunge line. If I couldn't ride him, I'd at least lunge the snot out of him. He had to do something so that he knew he couldn't just toss me.

That didn't go so well either. I couldn't manage to shuffle around well enough to be anything close to effective at lunging him. At this point it all hit me, the feeling of being old and broken and useless, and I burst into big, fat, self-pitying tears. I stood in the middle of the arena and sobbed like an idiot for I don't even know how long. It was long enough and pathetic enough that even the pony felt bad for me and came over to put his head my shoulder. I believe he was trying to tell me, "Geez, lady, get it together." 

Eventually I got it together, got him untacked and put him away. I may not have been able to work the snot out of him like I wanted to, but I figure having to stand in the arena with a sobbing lunatic was probably punishment enough for him. 

When I got back in the house I texted my trainer to tell him what a broken old failure I was. He responded with, "No you're not. Every fall is a lesson. What did you learn?"

I replied, "I learned I'm not 20 anymore and next time the pony is acting uncharacteristically  assholish don't get on."

His response: "That you are not 20 is old news. The second is the lesson."

I hate it when he's right about things like that. In my mind I'm still the 20-something bulldog who could ride the nastiest, rankest horses in the barn and laugh, but I suppose it's getting about time that I grew up. My back certainly thinks so.

For what it's worth, I'm not actually injured from the fall, no bruises or sprains, not even any sore muscles or tender spots. It's just that when you have chronic back problems anything can set it off. Yesterday it was falling off a pony, but some days it's been something as mundane as going up the stairs too fast or leaning over to get a spoon out of the dishwasher. I'll be fine in a day or two and ready to get back in the saddle, walk up the stairs, and retrieve my own spoons.

As far as what set the pony off, I'm sure the internet is frothing out the mouth to tell me that he has EPM, magnesium deficiency, chronic depression, a saddle that doesn't fit, rotten teeth, terrible feet, bad training, rabies, alien probes and/or some combination of all those things, but since this is one single incident in an entire year, I'm going to chalk it up to just having a bad day. I have bad days, you have bad days, and our horses are allowed to have bad days, too. If it continues, then we'll have him worked up and checked for alien probes. I can also assure you that next time he's having a bad day, I will just lunge him.


(I'm not renowned for making great decisions.)


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