Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Time to stare at my horse

Have you ever had one of those days?  One of those horrible, wretched, unseen-forces-plotting-against-you kind of days?  All forms of technology failing on you?  Random people inadvertently impeding your progress?  Superiors starting to wonder how you possibly could have gotten this far in life while suffering from this level of incompetence?  Peers feeling relieved that they aren't you?  Things progressing from stressful, to difficult, to unbearable, to where-are-the-hidden-cameras-awful?  As a brief glimpse into how bad today was, it culminated with me being the last one in the office, setting off the alarms, having to call the managing partner -- at home, probably mid-way through his dinner -- for the alarm code, and then having to convince the local police department, who clearly have nothing better to do, that I did in fact belong there and hadn't broken in for the purpose of stealing staples and post-its.  

Once the interrogation concluded, I got in my truck, stared incredulously at the steering wheel for a few minutes, and then started driving, without thinking, in the direction of the farm.  Changed out of my heels, untucked my shirt and rolled up my sleeves, and grabbed the horse.  Took him to a good grazing spot and then just stood there.  And stared at him.  For about half an hour.  Waiting for my brain to stop spinning around in overdrive, watching him peacefully munching away, occasionally giving me a sniff, "hey, uh, you okay there?  you're kinda lookin' like a zombie... ."  The sun was setting, the crickets were humming, a couple of baby deer went romping through the field....  And, exhale. 

Suddenly I realized I was calmly patting his smooth glossy coat, my head had stopped pounding, my back had stopped aching, and I was actually smiling, in spite of having one of the worst days I've had in a long time.  And it's moments like that when I realize that he's worth every red cent I spend on him (what else would I buy?), worth giving up all my free time (like I'd rather be anywhere else anyway), and completely worth my insanely stressful career so I can afford to keep him and his sister. 

The horse shows are fun, the rides where I feel like he's trying so hard for me are awesome, the times when we've jumped something big and the sense of accomplishment that goes with that are amazing.  But what's really meaningful to me, and what I could never give up, are those solitary moments when just being around him makes me feel calm and peaceful even in the middle of total chaos.  He's had that inexplicable power over me for the past 8 years, from the time he was a gangly, wobbly, goofy little weanling.  Having these two beautiful horses in my life makes me feel like my life is headed in the right direction.  Even if, some days, I feel like I'm on some kind of disastrous detour. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

The best thing that's ever been mine

Okay little confession....  when I hear love songs on the radio, they remind me of my horse.  I was driving home from HITS and heard "I love you more today than yesterday" and I was singing along and gazing adoringly in my rearview mirror at the front window of the trailer.  (Yes of course I'm in therapy.)  The latest one is that adorable little Taylor Swift singing "you are the best thing that's ever been mine."  That's precisely how I feel about my lovely horse....

We had a fantastic horse show yesterday.  I got to the farm around 6 a.m., brought him in from turnout, fed him his breakfast, and gave him a bath (which he found completely humiliating and offensive, as always).  Just as I was finishing his bath, in walked Kathleen and her sister, Elizabeth from She Rides, I Pay (plus Elizabeth's daughter, the "she" who "rides").  Don't you love when your blogger world crosses paths with your real life world?  So fun.  I love Elizabeth's blog and I've been dying to meet her.  Made this weekend extra fun.  Then I braided Tucker while everyone else loaded up the jumpers and headed out to the horse show.  I really must take a picture of Tucker's braided tail with his tail extension.  So beautiful. 

The show was running slowly so I took my time getting there.  When I got there, we all sat down and had lunch and a few laughs.  Then I took Tucker off the trailer for a little lunge (awwww mo-om not the circle game it's soooo stuuuupid...), which he actually seemed like he really needed!  There was some squealing and head shaking and even a couple of little broncs.  Once his head returned from drama llama height and his eyes returned to their rightful place inside their sockets, we headed back to the trailer.  I grazed him for a bit and then tacked him up to go for a quick hack to warm up.  He was really relaxed and quiet, we did some transitions to get him connected and listening, and then just let him stretch long and low for a few minutes. 

Then we went back to the trailer and I cleaned him up again, got myself dressed, and tacked him up to show.  Alicia had to finish up in the jumper ring first so Tucker and I parked ourselves under a tree and hung out for a while.  Then Alicia got on and did one Low Hunter round to school him before I got on.  He was good, very soft and quiet, missed one lead change but we think it was because he had some, er, bathroom business to attend to and couldn't quite coordinate everything at the same time. I got on and trotted and cantered a couple of times around the little schooling area and then we jumped about 4 jumps.  He felt great, very responsive, really relaxed, jumping well. 

The first course was a single diagonal vertical coming straight toward the in gate, off the left lead.  I went in and picked up a good canter rhythm and then just counted all the way to the jump.  Remembered to step left in the air and he landed right.  Then the next fence was a single oxer on the other diagonal, off the right lead.  He started bulging through his left shoulder (always tough on a long approach to a single diagonal off the right lead).  So I closed my left leg and felt the left rein a little, then realized I was slowing his pace down so I softened my left hand again.  He went a little more forward then and made up the ground we lost, but the distance did end up being a little bit longer than it would have been as a result.  He jumped it well though and made it look pretty smooth. 

The next fence was yet another long approach to a single oxer on the outside, off the left lead.  The pace was good coming in, but about five strides out I saw nothing... then three strides out I still saw nothing... so I just kind of looked up at the horizon and hoped for the best.  Thankfully I was on St. Tucker who just added another stride in and took care of us.  Alicia told me when we discussed the course afterward that if I don't see anything, it's fine to just look up and let him figure it out, but make sure I don't take my leg off when I do that.  Had I kept a supporting leg, it probably would have ended up working out without the add.  He landed right and did his right to left change, though it was a pretty dramatic one (he gets stiff, does this little hop with his front end, and sort of strikes out with a front leg sometimes.  Still trying to figure out how to avoid that). 

The next line was seven strides across the diagonal, going away from the in gate.  We jumped in a little forward so I had to sit up and balance a little in the line but he was very responsive and listened really well.  I remembered to step left in the air over the second fence so he landed right.  The last line was a triple (three to a three) coming down the outside toward the in gate.  We jumped in a little forward, so he got a little bold and I had to really woah to fit the strides in.  It worked out, but it just felt (and looked) a little rushed.  But, he did a nice soft lead change in the corner, and all in all it was a good round. 

The second course had some really lovely moments and one big yikes.  First fence was another single diagonal vertical off the right lead going toward home.  We got a great canter and found a perfect distance, right out of stride, and I remembered to step right in the air so he landed left.  Then the seven across the diagonal.  He slowed a little coming away from the in gate this time, so we jumped in quietly, but then I just softened and closed my leg and the seven worked out perfectly.  Then the triple, and this time I remembered to collect him around the corner so we'd get a quieter distance in, which we did.  I remembered to say woah over the second fence, which slowed him down just enough.  That was probably our best effort in the show ring over a triple.  He was soft, and collected, and kept his canter consistent, and I kept riding through the whole thing (amazing how that helps). 

Then it was all the way around the ring again for the long approach to the single oxer off the right lead.  Things were going very well until three strides out, when he squealed.  In hindsight, he was probably talking back to someone outside the ring.  When he knows he shouldn't be talking, he makes this squeaky little suppressed whinny.  Either way, he's never done that before and in my brain I thought he was squealing and being fresh and I totally overreacted, tensed up, and he ended up scooting forward and then totally three-legging the oxer.  So. Completely. Embarrassing.  Oh well, no big deal right?  It's not like some really well-respected, successful, accoladed trainer and judge was watching or anything.  Oh wait,... that's right.  Sigh.  The only saving grace was that this oxer happened to be facing away from the judge's stand, so Mr. Conroy didn't have to see the ridiculous look on my face... the cross between fear, horror, and sheer mortification.  On a personal level, humiliation aside, I landed from the fence, took a deep breath, and the last jump -- long approach to the single oxer on the outside, was just right.  So, I redeemed myself a little.  I came out of the ring and Alicia said "you kind of freaked out in front of that oxer huh?"  Hahaha... ya think?  Of course, no one could hear the squeak from the sidelines, which made it appear as though I just spazzed out for no reason at all (which, for those that know me, isn't really out of the realm of possibility anyway).  Ah well, live and learn.  Maybe next time he makes sounds like he's got a puppy toy in his mouth I won't react quite so strongly....

Since our ring was running so slowly, the third trip was being run in the other hunter ring.  So we made our way over there, I learned a new course, and watched two people go.  We got in the ring and since he hadn't been in it before, his head came up at the end of the ring and he wanted to stare off into the sunset, but I just took a deep breath and opened my inside rein a little to guide him back to the task at hand.  Once he got his eye on the first fence though, I never lost his focus for a second.  We were in the zone.  The first fence was a single vertical on the diagonal off the left lead, coming toward home.  I could feel that he wanted to move up so I just remembered to be elastic with my arms and follow along without chasing him.  We found it right out of stride, I remembered to step left so he landed right.  Then it was a long approach to a single oxer on the other diagonal, off the right lead, going away from home.  I looked for my line, lined it up just right, and then just stayed patient all the way down the diagonal and it was a beautiful jump.  Remembered to step right, he landed left, and then it was a five stride outside line coming home.  He jumped in a little forward so I had to sit up and sit down, but I remembered to lift my hand, not bury my hand, so he came right back to me, and then I was able to soften the last stride so he wasn't jumping into my hand.  The next line was a six stride diagonal off the left lead going away from home.  I was a little quick with my body and he rubbed the first fence just slightly.  We jumped in right out of stride though, so I really didn't have to do much for the six to work out just right.  Stepped in my left stirrup in the air, and he landed right.

So there was only one line left, a two stride on the outside coming toward home.  I gave myself a big pep talk... Okay, you can do this, just one more line, just don't screw this up, think it through, we got this Tucker.  [Cue Barry White in my head:  We got it together baby didn't we... We definitely got our thing together don't we baby... ]  I came out of the corner, sat down and collected the canter, because the two stride was set just a hair short.  It worked.  He jumped in quietly, stayed collected, and stepped out.  But I was concentrating so hard on the two stride that I forgot all about asking him to land his lead.  So he landed left.  No!  Don't tell me we're going to blow this perfect course on a lead change!  Nope, don't worry mom, I got it!  He gave me a perfect, soft, relaxed lead change left to right without me even asking for it.  Yay!  He's learning his job!  I was so incredibly happy with him.  Big, big pats all around.  Nailed it!  My cheering squad was so awesome -- they were all just as happy as I was.

Then we headed back over to our other ring for our hack.  There were so many beautiful movers in there that I didn't know if we'd get a ribbon, but he hacked beautifully.  Soft, and relaxed, and stretching down.  Very pleasant to ride, I barely had to do a thing but steer.

And now... drumroll please... Moon River's official Results for the day.  So proud of him!!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Pics of the Julie Girl!!

In a stunning reminder that this really is a small world, one of Golden's friends is working at Stones Throw where Julie lives.  And thanks to the wonders of facebook, I got to see some new pics of Julie!  I figured it was high time I share them with you.  I've spent the past 20 minutes or so cooing to my computer screen and telling her pretty little black and white face how pretty she is and how big she's getting.  So lovely! 

Julie is the one on the right in this one (compare with this one [scroll down] to see how much she's changed):

And she's the one in the middle in these two:

She's not in this one (I think might be a younger herd) but it was so cute I had to share it too!  Don't you love their happy little romping feet?

And here's one more of her in all her spotted splendor... I assume trotting toward the food cart...

A big, big thank you to Golden for making this connection for me.  So happy to see my little girl looking good!  She's certainly turning into a very nice looking mare.  Can't wait to see her again!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Funny

First -- THANK YOU for all the "Wows" on my last post!  You guys made us all feel very special.  It was a great week, full of some great memories:  some we'll be smiling about, some we'll be cringing about, and a lot we'll be laughing about for a long time. 

My hiaitus has been due to the fact that I'm working through some things with Tucker and not quite sure what I want to say about them yet.  Might be training issues, might be physical issues, could be some combination thereof, but until I figure out what's what, I might have to keep it to myself for a little bit.  If so, I'll try to be entertaining nonetheless.  On the other hand, in my quest to figure out what's going on, I may have to blog about it.  I don't like keeping things from my readers (the devoted handful of you that there are), and sometimes writing really helps me sort things out, particularly when I know someone's going to read it.  We shall see.  Please try to bear with me as I muddle through like always.

So... on that note...  Please see below, and be prepared to snort.  Of course, I take no credit for this, it was pulled from Tack of the Day at some point (a site you should bookmark, if you don't know about it already)... but some of it could have been pulled right out of my stream-of-consciousness as I go around a course.  It does poke some serious fun at Hunter Princesses like myself, but you have to laugh at yourself right? 

I wish I could credit the original author of this but unfortunately I can't find it online.  I think it might have appeared originally in Practical Horseman?  Anyway, suffice it to say that I found it online, am not claiming it as my own, and would greatly like to credit the creator if only they hadn't shared it publicly without expressing their ownership of it.  (Do you think that disclaimer would protect me from the angry copyright gods?)