Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Post-Clip Photo Shoot

This weekend in New Jersey it was over 70 degrees on Sunday, so while I hadn't planned to clip my horse that day, it seemed like the only logical thing to do. What's that saying? Sun's out, clippers out?

Tucker apparently found the day exhausting.  

Ohhhhh. Em. Gee.
So.  Freakin'. Tired.
HOLY CRAP I didn't know the camera was out
HOLD ON I'LL POSE!  There.  How's that?
Yeah, perfect.  You look like a llama bred to a mule.

Yes but I am YOUR llama-mule

P.S. - If you are about to comment about how you don't believe in clipping or you never clip your horse, congratulations. And, respectfully, save it. Most nights I finish my rides between 8:30-9 pm. Waiting around for a horse to dry at that hour in those temps is both unpleasant for me and unhealthy for him. So he's clipped and blanketed and we're both very happy about it, thankyouverymuch.

P.P.S. - My heartfelt congratulations to everyone on surviving the first holiday of the gauntlet. (I, like Tucker, do not like to be spooked, and spent this one at the office/at home.) Just three more to go. All we have to do now is spend all day overcooking a turkey, try to keep our cats from pulling down a tree and destroying the living room, practice our fake smiles for opening presents, and do something with yule tide whatever the hell that is. We can do this.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Ride Worth Blogging About

I've been thinking about blogging, really, I have.  Especially when people say things like, "so, um, that really sad and depressing post about your birthday is still the latest thing on your blog."  At which point I feel the full shame of being melodramatic for the entire internet to see.  And then remember I'm supposed to be honest and I'm allowed to blog about whatever I want and I should be more gentle with myself and blah-blah-blah-see-therapy-is-really-helping.  

Tucker has been going well lately.  One of the excuses reasons I haven't been blogging lately is that what I've been working on is slow and tedious.  I've been trying REALLY hard to find my seat and fix the position of my pelvis, and focusing a lot on my hands, in an attempt to get Tucker steadier in the contact and using his back better.  If I blogged about all those rides, where I went around repeating in my head, "left hand steady, close your right fingers, right elbow down, right shoulder back, sit down, lift your shoulders, soften your lower back, use your core..."  Well.  That makes for very dull blog fodder.  

The good news is that Tucker is getting steadier and steadier in the contact.  He is starting to get to the point where if I send my hands forward, he follows the bit and reaches down/out instead of just letting the rein go slack.  It's incremental, but it's getting there.  Most of the time I have equal weight on both reins, which is huge.  He is rarely behind the vertical these days, so his neck muscles look like they're supposed to, and he's starting to lift at the wither when I really get it right.

The dip in front of his shark fin is basically gone, and he's got a long muscle along the length of his neck, instead of a short muscle bulging at the top (the shadow below his mane in the photo above used to be only a couple of inches long, near his ears). And I love the round butt, in spite of his roach back.  I'm not sure if he'll ever halt square on his own, however.  He doesn't seem to feel the need.

I can actually sit the collected trot pretty well now, though I still bounce and flail if I try to lengthen. (So sorry Tucker, I am trying.)  Part of it is a core strength issue, part of it is that I need a new saddle, with a deeper seat and a block that fits my leg better.  (Again, sorry Tucker, I am working on it.) When I can actually manage to sit, then I can lengthen through my leg and not pinch and grip. Stretching up through my torso takes a whole lot of core strength but I'm making progress.  I see light at the end of the tunnel.

Anyway.  Back to this weekend's ride, the thing I actually wanted to write about.  It was really windy and cold and officially Fall in New Jersey this weekend.  Since it had poured rain the day before, they had been in for a day, so everyone was fresh.  Tucker started off in "vintage Tucker" mode.  And by that I mean lots of spooking, at everything that moved.  And some things that didn't move.  And some things that were imaginary.  

I decided I need to ride him as though he were someone else's horse, like he was a horse I didn't have a deeply anthropomorphic relationship with, as though I didn't feel 100 emotions in response to all of his behaviors, and wonder if I needed to do absolutely everything differently for him (supplements, tack, shoes, program, chiro, injections, signs of the zodiac) and possibly if that last spook just meant I had failed as a human being entirely.  It forced me to stay calm and methodical in response to a very melodramatic gelding.

I did some lateral work but when Tucker demonstrated he could just as easily do his road runner impression ("meep meep!" zooooooom) out of a shoulder-in, I scrapped that.  I reevaluated.  He was both spooky and on his forehand, so I needed him to focus and re-balance.  So, I started doing a million transitions.  Walk-trot, collected trot-lengthened trot, stretchy trot, sitting trot, posting trot, stretchy walk, collected walk, halt, trot.  You get the idea.  I tried to do a trot-canter but his response was to fart, scare himself, and leap through the air.  We went back to walk-trot.  (Bonus is he now farts on command.)  

I started adding in some lateral work again because he was completely locked on the left side, mostly big left-to-right leg yields where I tried to get him to take big steps and stay loose through his top line.  I tried to focus more on getting him to give through the left side of his rib cage and step under himself, and ignore the death grip he held on the left side of the bit, which actually worked.  He started taking deep breaths and letting go of some tension, and got more even on the reins.

He didn't have a magic moment where he suddenly became rideable.  But he became incrementally, almost imperceptibly better, as we worked.  We cantered three balanced circles to the right (his harder lead), where all I had to do was stretch tall and sit back and keep my leg supporting and he stayed round and soft, didn't spook, didn't root, didn't stick his tail between his legs and flee or do his best springbok impression.

The Springbok
I did a downward transition to trot and he stayed balanced, and trotted forward but in a relaxed way.  I hadn't really planned to end there, but after a difficult ride, a few minutes of quality seemed like a good place to quit.  On another day, that canter would have been what I'd expect at the end of the warm-up, but on that day it was a sign of a lot of progress.

When we were done, he stood on the cross ties licking and chewing and yawning while I groomed him.  And I realized that this was a major change from how he was on the cross ties before the ride, dancing around and pawing and spooking and snorting.  

And that is when I realized that this is why you should ride on the days you really don't want to.  This is why you should force yourself to get on when it's windy and cold and you know you're bound for a difficult ride.  Because if you can work through it, you can leave the horse feeling better than he did when you arrived.  And that's the best thing for both of you.

And that's something to blog about.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Tuesday with Tucker

So my birthday was yesterday.  Which turned what would have been an ordinary Tuesday (make the bed, feed the cats, sit in traffic, go to work, be annoyed by everything, sit in traffic, ride the horse, pour the wine) into a Tuesday that stuck me with the sort of melancholy that only comes with an occasion that forces you to reflect on your past year and take stock of your life and count your chickens every other dangerous metaphor you want to throw in there (New Years can also do this.  Be forewarned).  As Anne Lamott says, "The worst part about celebrating another birthday is the shock that you're only as well as you are."

I don't particularly like my birthday, because let's face it, adult birthdays are let downs.  If you're not a four-year-old in a party dress waiting for the ponies to arrive, it's kind of inevitably disappointing. It's what I've come to recognize as my birthday malaise.  I think forcing myself to be happy and chipper and in a good mood all day because people are wishing you happy birthday so that's how you're supposed to react kind of zaps all my energy, and leaves me longing to climb back under the covers and wait for the day to pass.  Compound that with certain people who made sure that I felt as unspecial as possible yesterday and I was feeling pretty down.  I wanted to tell them that I already felt pretty unspecial, so they really needn't bother, but I didn't.  (Side note.  It amazes me that adult women can be as mean as middle-schoolers.  I can't be the only one who still encounters this as I get older.)

Birthdays, like Valentine's Day and all other holidays, create this expectation that you're supposed to have special plans and have a really fun day planned and get treated like someone who's really important.  But when that's not the case, when your day is just an ordinary Tuesday, those well-meaning comments can feel like digs. Even though they're not.  Even though people are just saying exactly what they've been conditioned to say when they say, "so, any special plans this evening?"

But it made me feel like snapping at people.  I wanted to remind them that I'm single and I live alone and I've had kind of a crappy year, so of course I don't have special plans.  Yes, as I said in my last post, I'm figuring out how to be happy and grateful and content with my new life, and in honest moments (as opposed to morbid, self-pitying moments) I have zero desire for marriage or a family and I love my quiet little cottage.  But yesterday... although externally I was humming right along, liking all the facebook posts and cheerfully answering texts and eating my birthday cupcake, inside I was throwing a major pity party for myself.  Despite the 100+ people saying nice things to me via text and social media, I was barely holding it together.

These flowers prompted many remarks.
All of which were met with a grumpy "no they're not from a boy."
But then I got to the barn, and my friends were waiting with wine and flowers, and I shared a carrot cake cupcake with Tucker and Goose.  And I had my first genuine laughs of the day, without even a hint of awkward fake laughter that's barely covering up the sheer existential dread. What would we do without horses?  And horse girls!

Carrot cake is delicious
The frosting not so much
But - and this is important.  Do not go feeling bad for me. I did plenty of feeling bad enough for myself yesterday to cover all of us.  And for my facebook friends, don't regret wishing me a happy birthday or telling me to have fun or any of the other lovely things you said.  I loved them.  They made the day palatable.  They reminded me not to be so glum.  You all reminded me that I have no reason not to be happy about my life-stock and the number of my chickens.

I love this photo
Remember Eeyore's birthday party?  When Eeyore is all gloomy because he can't sing and dance on his birthday, and then Pooh and Piglet give him an empty honey jar and a popped balloon and he's happy again?  It was basically that, only slightly less adorable.  And ended with an empty wine bottle, rather than an empty honey pot.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My Summer

I know, I've been away just about all summer.  Allow me to explain.

I deliberately put competing and training (and sometimes even horses in general) on the back burner, for possibly the first time in my life.  I needed a pressure release valve, and that was it (since I can't exactly not work all summer, or not pay bills all summer, or not move to a new town, or avoid any of my usual sources of stress). I needed something that was easy to take off my plate, something that wouldn't really have any consequences if I just didn't do it.  Since Tucker had a little time off for his aforementioned injecting-all-the-things situation, and since we are right smack in the middle of First and Second levels in terms of our skills, this was a pretty easy choice.  

Not the least bit worried about his summer curriculum
It gave me the freedom not to feel guilty if I had a few days in a row where I didn't make it to the barn, or if I had social, non-horse plans on the weekend, and to go on a week's vacation to the beach. I needed it.  Things I did instead of showing:

Hung out with my nieces 
Took beach selfies
Saw lots of pretty sunsets
Went camping in the rain
Went swimming with baby dogs
Of course, it also meant that I didn't have much material for blogging, but I kind of figured that would happen.  The good news is that I'm still a crazy horse girl and even though I told myself I was under no obligation to do so, I still wanted to ride and work on our goals and spend as much time as humanly possible with this guy.  

I mean, look at him.
So, I did.  And even though we weren't really chasing goals, he has continued to thrive, and we have made tiny incremental progress toward the skills we need for Second Level.  Shoulder-in is coming right along.  I'm figuring out what a collected trot should feel like.  His counter-canter is getting better and better.  I'm struggling a little bit less with sitting his trot (but barely).

We've been working on canter-walk-canter transitions. Progress is very, very slow.  A month ago, if I practiced them two days in a row, Tucker either threatened to rear or threw his head in the air and took off like a terrified camel.  This past weekend, we did them Sunday and Monday, and Monday's transitions were better than Sunday's.  So, he's slowly figuring it out.  The next step is convincing him that after a canter-walk-canter transition, he can go forward again.  Since the test will require him to do three in a row and then do a medium canter.  Gulp.

We can now get through 2-1.  It's pretty messy and not ready for public viewing yet and requires some extra circles on occasion, and we walk for way more steps than we will once we start showing in the canter-walk-canter transitions.  But that means we'll be ready by next Spring when I'm going to pick up showing again.  (See, even when I don't have goals, I still have goals.  It's the blessing and curse of being Type-A.)

Three musketeers
The other reason I haven't been blogging is that I started writing in my journal again.  I had stopped writing when I was with Ethan, and I used to write almost every night.  One of the signs of trouble in that relationship is that I was never allowed to be alone.  I couldn't go sit in the other room and read, or write for a bit before bed, or just be by myself for a while, without causing a massive fight. Time to myself is something I've learned that I will always need, and will be non-negotiable in every relationship from now on.  

I had a lot of things that I needed to write privately about.  I needed to write about how the heck I ended up in the situation I found myself in last Spring. How did I turn into that person? How did I lose touch with all my friends? How did my life turn into constantly taking care of someone else, and forgetting to take care of myself? Where did my self-esteem run off to? Where did all this anxiety come from?  Why did I always think everyone was mad at me?

My alone time has been my most favorite thing about this summer. I forgot how much I like my own company. But my mind can get a little too busy sometimes, so writing (especially before bed) helps me quiet it down. I write about Ethan, sometimes things that I wouldn't want to admit to anyone out loud, sometimes things that are a little too melodramatic for public consumption. I write about stuff from way back in my childhood and I'm making connections between old patterns and current patterns. You know, all that emotional/mental hard work it takes to be a just barely functional human.

Fully functional cat.  Complete lack of mental anguish.
And I needed to write about a new someone, but this thing is so new that I can't really say anything about it here.  All I will tell you is that I cannot even say his name without smiling. It's new and it's fun but I also have a truckload of baggage to work through.  Trust me when I tell you that I needed to write about that privately. 

So, unless they publish my memoirs posthumously, you'll probably never get to read all that stuff. But it was helpful for me to write, even if it never gets read.  I missed you all though, as I always do when I take a break from blogging.  And now the missing-you feeling has taken over the needing-to-be-alone feeling that I had a couple months ago.  So you can expect that I'll be back to posting and reading and commenting. And telling you all about this boy.  Who is still my heart and soul, wrapped up in a big brown package.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Tending My Own Acre

The radio silence around here is not because things are boring and uninteresting, or because I have things I can't blog about (although I do have some wonderful secrets these days!), or because I'm not riding.  Just the opposite, actually.

I've been tending my own acre.  I stole this idea from a post I read on Anne Lamott's facebook page a couple of weeks ago.  (Anyone else follow her?  She's awesome.  I found her in a TED talk a few years ago and just adore her.)  Somehow, after 35 years of life, I looked around and realized that I was working really hard on helping other people with their acres.  I can look back on childhood and adolescence and early adulthood and find a lot of stops along the way that lead to this.  I will probably always do this to some extent.  I am a fixer, to a fault.  

But lately I have been doing things that make me happy more often.  I've been spending quiet evenings at home in my lovely cottage with my adorable cat, watching whatever I want to watch, reading whatever I want to read, listening to the music I like, eating whatever I feel like cooking (or not cooking!).  Sitting in the hammock listening to the cows.  At first it felt selfish, but now it feels good.

I've had lovely weekends lately.  I farm-sat for a friend a couple of weeks ago and it felt like a mini-vacation.  Her place is beautiful, and all her animals are just so sweet and easy to be with.  



Tucker and Fuzzy
best buds
DQ invades H/J barn

I have been cuddling every dog I can get my hands on.  I swear lately they all seem to just know I need love.

Sammy & Linus
Thea & Milo
I have been spending quality time with some of my favorite people, doing fun things, and not letting myself feel too guilty if that means Tucker gets an extra day off.

Camden Yards
This man has been sick, which is terrifying, because I cannot yet fathom the world without him in it.

But like the Superhero I've always believed him to be, he is recovering and strong and in good spirits, and amazing his doctors.  I sat in the hospital waiting for him to go into surgery, and my grandmother nudged me to wheel her chair closer to his bedside.  So I did, and they held hands.  "There, that's what he wanted," she said.  And I was in that moment so thankful to have this example of true love in my life.

I had a great ride this week.  It was drizzly and humid and gross out, but I dragged myself to the barn anyway and climbed on.  Tucker started off rooting the reins out of my hands and I had this moment of panic because I had no idea what the "right" way to fix it was.  I decided to just keep going on with my ride and talk to Amy about it in my upcoming lesson.  And the more I worked him, concentrating on getting him straight and forward and trying to feel where that errant right hind leg was at all times, the rooting went away.  

We ended on true, solid, correct contact.  Moving off my leg, between my hands, taking the bit, in balance.  And I realized the problem just went away on its own and there was no need to panic in the first place about what the "right" way to fix it was.  And then I realized there were much larger lessons there to be learned, and I once again thanked the heavens that I have this horse in my life to teach me these things.

I'm tending my acre.  And it's beautiful. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Game Changer (or, Why Everybody Wants to Be Us)

There comes a time in everyone's life where an idea comes along that changes everything. Sometimes, that idea takes flight, and turns itself into a plan.  And then that plan gets legs, and becomes action.

By way of background, for those of you who may be new to the blog or new to my life, the Wine and Pony Club is a thing.  Well, I mean, it's not really a thing, there's no official club.  It's just that I love wine and I love ponies and whenever possible I try to combine those two things.  And it turns out I'm not alone in this.  Hence, Wine and Pony club.  Membership is free, voluntary, and open to all who like wine and/or ponies.  You're welcome to join.  Or start your own local chapter.

As I've mentioned on the blog before, mimosas and trail rides go perfectly together.  And here is where the game changer comes into play. This past weekend we decided to seriously up our mimosa game.  With on the go pouches.  Filled with the breakfast beverage of champions, orange juice and prosecco.

My barn friend Alyssa found them on the internet and they clipped perfectly to the d-rings on our saddles.  I used a double-end snap for mine to make it easier to get to.

The weather in NJ was perfect this weekend for a trail ride, sunny, breezy, just hot enough that you didn't really feel like working them.  I managed to recruit a fourth person to join us in the driveway with "do you want to come on a trail ride?  We have mimosas."  (Which, incidentally, is the best pick-up line in the world.)

Look at these views!

Snack/mimosa break

On the way home again
If this isn't living the good life, I don't know what is.  These days I am just so happy.