Friday, May 6, 2016

The Four Words I Never Thought I'd Say...

I like jumping these things, Mom. 
If you've followed this blog at all you know I consider myself a big old chicken when it comes to
jumping. I would never have called myself a particularly bold or confident jumper, but at one point in my life I was jumping 3'. Then I channeled my inner lawn dart and tried to force my head through the first level of the Earth's crust while at a horse show. I've been working on finding my missing mojo ever since.

Some might ask why I continue jumping.  Hell, I ask myself that all the time.  Especially since I love flatting.  I've always loved it. I love trying to make a round, rather than oblong, circle.  Seeing if I can get a shoulder-in that is actually on three tracks, rather than a shoulder-vaguely-moving-in-the-right-direction.  I love that moment when you can feel the horse's back come up and the hind legs swing through.  I love all that stuff.

But I continue the jumping thing to challenge myself.  Because I don't want to give up yet. Because I want to get my mojo back.  Because I want to prove to myself that I can do it, dammit.

So here's the thing: I.Love.Jumping.Indy.  Love it.  He has this stride that makes finding distances feel easier.  Or maybe he's just smart enough to find the distances for us.  Probably a little bit of both.  I don't know how to explain it.

When we're flatting, his stride is long and not as adjustable as I'd like.

Me: Indy, we're shortening your stride now.
Indy: I have a 12' stride.  Why should I shorten it?
Me: Because sometimes we'll need to.
Indy: I'm a hunter. We do 12' strides. 
Me: Noooooo. You're a hunter/jumper/equitation/dressage/hunter pace/all-around horse and sometimes you will need to shorten your stride.
Indy: Pfffftttt. I have a 12' stride. I'm a hunter. Relax, Mom. I've got this.

When we're jumping, I can shorten his stride effortlessly. Or lengthen it. No discussion.

I don't do that control freak/ micromanage him like I've done in the past. I mean, yeah, I do it sometimes, but nowhere near as often.  Not every fence.  Has your trainer ever told you to just let go and "melt" to the distance?  Before Indy the only way I'd have been able to melt to a fence would be by wearing a parka while riding at noon in 90 degree heat.  Let go?  No chance in hell of that happening. Apparently with Indy I've found I can "Let go and melt."  Or "Let go and let God." Kinda feels like the same thing at times.

And Mr. ADD does not see any trolls, dragons, ring gnomes or other nasties when he's jumping.  Nope, all he sees are the fences in front of him.  Mr. ADD becomes Mr. FOCUS.

Who are you calling Mr. ADD? 
So now I don't dread that portion of the lesson when the flatting becomes the jumping.  And if my trainer asks if I want to do something again, or do another course, I do it.  Most of the time without that little voice in my head asking, "Are you sure that's a good idea? We survived the last course, maybe we shouldn't tempt fate."

I'm not saying we're gonna be doing the high performance hunters or the 1.20 jumpers any time soon, but I am definitely saying I love jumping Indy.  Which is a pretty big step for me.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What's In A Name...Or Nickname

 Of course I'm paying attention to you.
Like the Shakespeare reference in the title?  Makes me sound edu-ma-cated, doesn't it?  Am experiencing
the need to feel I know something about something, because I am learning I know squat about horses.  Indy has been a great teacher in that respect, and every day I learn something new from him. Kinda like when you have kids and after they leave the toddler stage you think you've gotten the whole parenting thing down and then they become teenagers and you find you are pretty much just bobbing and weaving and trying to stay on your feet.

Anyway, the name thing.  We're big on them around here.  We name our cars, my trailer, the house, even the panini maker (Aunt Gilda, if you must know. Long story.)  Not only does everything have a name, but it usually possesses at least 2 or 3 nicknames.  This can often confuse people who don't know us that well, as evidenced by one of Noah's interactions with his kindergarten teacher.  She asked everyone in the class to tell her their parents' names.  One by one the kids said Jane, Bob, Bill, James, Susan, Nadim, etc.  When it was Noah's turn he piped up with, "Jackass and Hun."  Which resulted in our first experience with parent-teacher conferences...

Some examples:

Sophie: Toots, Soph, The Child, Soapy Grapes
Noah: Bud, Curmudgeon, The Boy, Sheldon Jr.
RJ: Big Man (because, at 17.2 hh, what else?), Moose, and (when he's being a boob) The Great Git

Jackass, Hun, Toots, & Sheldon Jr.
My husband's car is German, and we call it Otto.  Mine is a Chevy Tahoe, which felt so monstrously big when I got it I started calling it Sully, after the monster in Monsters, Inc.  Sully is also frequently called Da 'Hoe, which makes The Boy cringe, which is half my reason for calling it that. My trailer is called the HMS Valium.

And then there's Indy.  Indy has picked up several monikers in his short time with us.  He is called Baby Grey, Monkey Face (no idea where this one came from), Momma's Boy (in the good way), Little Man, and Stinky (again, no idea why as he smells quite nice).  Depending on the day and his behavior he's also been called Turd, Lackwit, DammitHorse, Little F**k and Dickhead. After our past several rides he's probably sure his name has been officially changed to Dickhead.

When my vet was doing Indy's PPE, he commented, "A bit ADD, isn't he?"  I tend to agree.  Indy's attention span is all over the place and his impulse control often leaves much to be desired. And while it can be tempting to interpret these behaviors as indicating lack of intelligence, it's really the opposite. Indy is one smart cookie, and I'm learning it's my job to figure out ways to keep his agile mind busy and focused on me.

Brain games for Indy

Anyway, clearly I was doing a crap job of it this past weekend, as the ADD was in full force, which meant there was a lot of "AAACKKK, a troll!" or "EEEK, my shadow!" or "OH NO! Horse-eating water trough!"  Which meant there was much neck-riding and cussing from Mom.  Hence Indy's name change. 

I can't wait to hear it announced at horse shows. Can you imagine? "Joining us now is Dickhead, owned and shown by Amy Vodraska."

He's so darn cute it's impossible to stay mad, though. 

Future posts will be focusing on How Amy Is Learning to Positively Parent Her Precocious Pony.  Stay tuned.

Such a cute face

Thursday, March 31, 2016

I Had A Kick A$$ Lesson!

Why you think so much, Momma? 
It not good for you!
Quite frankly, I wasn't expecting a lot from tonight's lesson because I'd missed a few days of riding
because of a business trip, and my back was killing me from lots of windshield time and trying to wedge myself into the little rental roller skate I was driving.  Great attitude, right?? Way to start off on a good note.

Inner Me: Let's set the bar low, Aim. If we use survival as the goal, anything better is icing on the cake, right?? HOO-RAH! Positive thinking in action, girl!

I had some time to watch some of the lessons before me and some of the riders were finding some of their courses challenging. 

Inner Me: Well, crap.  If the good riders are having a rough time, what they heck is my lesson going to look like?  Maybe I should pull the aging adult ammie card and suggest a flat lesson today.

Yep, that's me.  Just BRIMMING with confidence.

Given the crappy inner monologue going on in my head, it's amazing I even got on Indy, who was being a bit more ADD than usual.  Which I took as a sign that maybe we really should just do a flat lesson.

I don't know what changed.  Maybe that I just stopped overanalyzing it.  Before I got on I made the decision to take Indy aside so that I could do some groundwork and get him focused on me.  Then I got in the ring, warmed up with lots of lateral work and transitions to keep him listening and thinking about my aids. I also thought about what I was doing every stride.

Inner Me: Make sure you keep the rhythm steady.  Inside leg to push him in the corner.  That didn't work well, more inside leg next time.  Try a transition to trot. Hmm, no response off the leg.  Add more leg. Still doesn't work.  Add spur. Whoops, that worked!! Ok, let's do more trot-walk-trot transitions so we can get him thinking more forward from the leg. 

The flat part of the lesson went very well.  He's getting stronger and more balanced, and I'm feeling stronger and more balanced.  The lateral work is getting better; when we leg yield his shoulder doesn't get to the track 10 minutes before his butt does.

All that was good, but the part that jazzed me the most was the jumping.  We've been doing lots of cavaletti work and today's jump session started off the same.  We were doing well with those, maintaining a rhythm and jumping out of stride.  The my trainer told me to catch one of the "real" fences after the cavaletti.

Inner Me:  Wait!  What???  No, we do cavaletti. ONLY cavaletti. No real jumps!  (I know, hard to believe that I once jumped 3', huh?) 

I didn't stop question my trainer.  I just went and did it, and it went well.  Before I could congratulate myself on coming through unscathed my trainer told me to do the cavaletti, the real jump, and then two more real jumps, set as  a 7 stride bending line.  (In the interest of full disclosure I should tell you the jumps were the height that the ponies were jumping, 2'6". Maybe not real jumps for most folks, but I'm writing the blog so I get to call 'em real jumps.)

I nailed it.  I mean, was I Medal or Maclay perfect?  HELL no!  But I did the numbers and made my distances.  I'd no sooner finished that course than my trainer gave me another, adding one more jump.  We did that well, too.  I even managed to make a couple decisions about pace and line without dithering and ruining our momentum.

Inner Me:  Shit!  This is the 5 stride line! Need to move up. LEG!!!! Ooohhh, that worked well.  Amy! Concentrate on the next fence, you dope!  It's the 7. Aaack, came in a touch too strong, bending out should help. Oh, yay, that worked too!

Again, was it like watching Amanda Steege or Tori Colvin?  Not by a long shot.  It was pretty much Get 'Er Done riding.  But I got it done without feeling like the wheels were going to fall off and I was going to die throughout the whole thing. 

My brain is a funny thing. It either works for me or against me.  (Sometimes I think a pre-ride lobotomy would be helpful.?  Today it worked for me.  Now I just gotta figure out how to get it to do that again.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Indy Update

Indy and Noah out for a stroll
The trouble with only being able to post once in a blue moon is that there seems to be sooo many

stories to tell. Which I find overwhelming.  Which makes me put off writing.  Which means more stuff happens and there is more to write about.  And then I can't think of what to say, even though there is no rule that says every post needs to be funny/witty/interesting/ earth-shaking/moving/motivational. If you've been following for a while, you've figured out that my brain goes like a crack-high hamster on its spinning wheel, loop after endless loop.  If you're new to this blog, now you know.

Anyway, enough about me. Let's catch up with what's ben going on with Indy.   We've been doing some trailer loading practice and ground work with him.  He loads, but sometimes it's a big production and if I'm going to hunter paces or lessons on my own, I want him to be able to self load. I don't want it to be a long, drawn out conversation, and I don't want to have to bribe him on.  It's not that he's afraid of the trailer, it's more of an "I don't wanna do that" kind of thing.  So we've been working on that with a trainer named Dom from Thumbs Up Horsemanship, and he's doing extremely well.  We haven't had a ton of practice time due to crazy schedules and short winter days, but now that it's light longer I anticipate some more chances to get better.

The ground work has been super fun. I figured it was a great way to get to know Indy, and to bond with him outside the riding and grooming thing.   He's done groundwork before with his previous Mom, and he clearly loves it.  You can tell he thinks he's playing with you. We've worked through some of the basic stuff on the leadline, with Dom doing the work initially and then letting me try.  Our last session we went out in a square pen and did some at-liberty stuff, and it was amazing to seem Dom get him to the point where a small shift of her body got him to change direction, come to her, go away. 

It's like she's doing some Vulcan mind meld thing and the two of them are communicating telepathically.  When I try it's obviously not as good, but the feeling I get is really cool.  It really is like Indy and I are so focused together, so connected.  It's like that feeling you get occasionally when you ride and you and your horse are on the same page and everything you do feels effortless, like you are thinking something and your horse is already doing it.  My hope is that bonding this way on the ground will build the kind of relationship that translates to our under-saddle efforts.

Dom and Indy: A meeting of the minds

As far as the actual riding thing goes, Indy continues to get stronger and more balanced.  RJ, the horse the kids had been riding, has been injured so Indy has been doing triple duty, which is not something I'd normally want to do for a young horse, but he's handling it brilliantly.  We're gradually adding more lateral work and asking him to accept shortening his gaits.  Yhe lengthening part he's fine with, the shortening?  Not so much.  We're exposing him to more and more questions in his jumping so we're keeping the fences low and easy for now.  He seems to love Sophie, which doesn't surprise me, since she's so tiny and light and "flow-y." (Is it horrible if I admit I'd give an eyeball to be able to "flow" like she does?)  If this sharing thing keeps up much longer I think he's going to become her horse, not mine.

We continue to learn about him.  For instance, he needs his turnout.  Over the winter there were a lot of days when turnout was impossible, or there was limited time outside. Time on the merry-go-round (walker) doesn't cut it.  He needs outdoor horse time.  A cooped-up Indy, not surprisingly, is a very fresh and silly and dragon-spotting Indy, on the cross-ties and in the ring. All horses need their turnout, but with Indy it seems to be a night and day difference kind of thing.  No turnout = crazy pony. Turnout = totally chill pony.

He has a definite "I'm done" button.  If we have to wait for someone to jump a course a couple times or if my trainer and I discuss something for several minutes he'll think he's done and will complain when I send him out to go again.  I need to leave the ring in the middle of a ride because I need to pee (hello, middle aged woman with two kids, thank you!) he lets me know he has no intention of going back into the ring.

Indy: "Wait, what?  You want to go back in?  No. we're done.  We came out. You got off. That means we're done." 

Me: "No, it just means Mom had to pee.  It happens.  Quite frequently.  You need to get used to it.  Now we are going back into the ring and we're going to jump over stuff."

Indy: "I want to speak with my Union representative."

We've been working on it and he's learning that he's learning he doesn't call the shots. Sometimes you can absolutely tell he's thinking he went from a pretty cushy life to boot camp, but he's such a sweetheart and really so eager to please the little hiccups are really non-issues.

So that's it.  That's what we've been up to.  The 5 minute recap of the last couple of months. Nothing earth-shaking, just your day -to-day horse stuff. Which is fun. And good.  And, to many of us, as necessary as oxygen.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Pics I Thought I'd Never Send...

Okay, I'm going to go on record as saying I do not get why people send naked photos of  their junk to other people.  I mean, really?  Let's count the ways that could come back and bite you in your (very exposed) ass.

FACT: Amy is not a fan of dick pics.

I bet you're scratching your head and wondering how in the hell this will circle around to something about horses.  Don't worry, we'll get there.

This is the story in a nutshell (BWHAHAHAHA! Sorry. Had to do it.): RJ, the big bay the kids ride, hurt his hock.  As a result I have to cold hose him, wrap the hock, and apply a standing bandage to that leg every day.  Which means I'm spending a lot of time in the general vicinity of his man bits.  It's not that I'm staring at them, mind you, but, well, they're there!

Anyway, one night I was wrapping RJ's boo-boo and I happened to glance up. His nether-region looked a bit more prominent than usual, but again, it's not like I spend time staring at it so I wasn't really sure.  So I went back to the wrapping, glancing up at his sheath every now and then.  Here's a bit of  the internal monologue running through my head:

"Geez, that looks big. Oh Good Gawd, I'm checking out my horse's junk. GACK!. No seriously, that doesn't look right.  He doesn't seem uncomfortable, though. Hang on, is the right side larger than the left side?  Is that normal for him?  How the heck would I know that? It's not like I've measured the damn thing!"

At this point I'd decided that it did look bigger than normal and was trying to figure out next steps.  Should I call the barn manager or the vet, or both?  Then I realized that either would be likely to ask for more information, such as if there was heat or if the swelling was hard to the touch, for example.

"RJ, don't take this the wrong way, but Mom needs to grope your grapes for a second."  RJ turned and raised an eyebrow at me as I palpated his package, but didn't give any indication that he felt violated in any way. 

More internal monologue: "OK, it's not painful.  That's good. It's warm, but not hot. It's firm, but not hard. Good grief, I sound like I'm buying a damn melon!"

I decided to reach out to the barn manager first.  Before I pressed the call button it occurred to me that describing what I was seeing would not be as effective as showing her. Moments later I was under RJ's belly with my phone and  telling his boy-parts to say cheese. (Note: If you ever find yourself in this position, do yourself a favor and click the flash on first.  Makes a difference. You're welcome.)

I sent her a couple photos with a text that went something like this: "I never thought I'd be sending anyone pictures like these. I'm not that girl. But do you think RJ's sheath looks swollen?  And does the one side look bigger than the other?"

Can you imagine sitting at home and getting a text like that?  Zoinks.

So that's how I wound up sending my first (and last, God willing) dick pics. 

(FYI: Apparently it's not uncommon for a gelding's sheath to swell while he's on stall rest. You learn something new every day!)

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Happy birthday, Mama.
Yesterday, 2/26,  would have been Sug's 20th birthday.  It's been a year and 7 months since I lost her, and the anniversary days are still hard.  Now that I think of it, I guess they always will be. 

So it was kind of a bittersweet day.  I was sad because I missed her, but happy that she'd been in my life.

Not that things haven't gotten better. They have.  I still cry, mostly when I see pictures or remember a special moment, but the tears are not as frequent as they used to be, so that's good. (I know it is good, but I still feel a bit guilty. God, I wish I could shut my brain off sometimes.)

The Boys, Indy and RJ, have been so good to be around, bless their sweet hearts.  Spending time with them and learning their quirks and personalities has been so healing.  Their personalities are nothing like hers, which is good.  I don't feel like I'm tempted apples to apples comparison.  Kinda like when you're a parent; you just can't compare one child to the other. 

I do notice the differences. You can't NOT notice them. For example, riding and working with Indy, a relatively young and inexperienced horse, is completely different that working with an older horse like Sug, who knew her job down to the ground.  It's a different journey altogether, and that's what's been so healing.

So I'm just going to add this little video, a silly little one that shows why this unflappable girl was such a special part of our lives.  You could just do things like this with her, which was only one of the reasons why she was so special.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Paying for the Ponies: The Importance of BSIH

I found myself writing out checks this morning. One check for monthly board, one to the farrier, one to the vet, yadda yadda yadda.  Each time I wrote another check I found myself gulping at the amount, and by the time I was done writing checks and tallying up the damage to my checkbook I was feeling rather faint.

Financing this ridiculously expensive sport is no easy task, and God knows many people (partners, friends, parents, strangers) wonder why we are so comfortable spending such obscene amounts of money.  My husband I were swimmers in college; I know he wishes on a daily basis that the kids had taken up our sport.  My justification is that I finance my horse habit myself.  When my husband and I got married, he wanted to do what his parents did with their finances; he wanted a joint account for all our joint expenses, and then separate accounts for our special interests. His Dad has a boat and loves to fish, and his Mom loves to go to the casinos. They each take a bit out of each paycheck to put towards their hobbies.  So that's what we do.

As it turned out, when we got married neither of us had a hobby.  It wasn't until years later when I started to ride again and got Sugar that I needed to have a "boat fund" of my own. I promptly named my new account the Sugar Stash. (Cute, right??)  I manage the account myself, which is dicey at best since numbers and I aren't exactly sympatico. (You'd know this if you ever saw me trying to count strides in a line).  To make matters less stressful, I went back to relying on a method I learned from my college roommate, one she called BSIH.

BSIH got me through most of my college career with no issues. When we started dating back in college, my husband was an accounting major. Once we'd been together a few months I decided to take shameless advantage of that fact and asked him to balance my checkbook, a chore I hated with a passion.  While he did so I sat on a nearby chair and watched TV.  Every now and then he'd make a noise and I'd look over to see his eyebrows raised, and an incredulous look on his face.  As time progressed I noticed the noises were more emphatic, his face was getting redder and redder, the vein in his temple was pulsing, and his eyebrows were practically meeting his hairline.

Finally he turned to me and said, ""

"Oh," I said, quite proud of myself. "That's Bank Says I Have."

He was beyond words. His face clearly showed that such a thing was completely incomprehensible to him. Honestly, the poor man was speechless for a couple minutes, just stared at me with his mouth opening and closing like a guppy, as if he wanted to say something but just couldn't figure out what it was.

"How? What? How?" he stuttered. Finally he got control of himself  and managed to ask how exactly BSIH worked.

"I enter in each deposit or debit and add or subtract accordingly.  Then every now and then I check to see that everything matches up.  After several transactions I compare what I have to what the bank  says I have.  Whichever is the lower number is the one I go with. I haven't bounced a check yet!"

We've been together 25 years, and the man still hasn't quite recovered from the shock of that revelation.

I've been back in the horse world for 8 years now, paying my horse-related bills from my own Sugar Stash. I've successfully used the tried and true BSIH method of accounting for all of those 8 years.  And I haven't bounced a check yet!