Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jesus Take The Wheel: Adventures In Learning to Trailer (Part Two)

Practice makes perfect.
In a previous post I shared that I'd bought a trailer and was learning to drive it, and was relying on the help of friends to help get me road-ready.  The second time I took the trailer out I asked Dad to help, as he had lots of experience trailering boats and motorcycles and other stuff.  Plus the man had once taught me how to drive a car, so this seemed like a logical idea. We'd already been there, done that, so to speak. Clearly I'd forgotten how some of those early driving lessons had played out. More on that later...

My parents live across from a church. So I figured I'd drive out there on a Saturday afternoon, get some more highway experience on the way over, and then Dad and I could practice backing up and three-point turns in the empty church parking lot.  You know, since there was a lot of room to maneuver and all that.  I don't mind sharing that I was hoping for a little heavenly guidance as well. Jesus take the wheel in the literal sense and all that.

Saturday morning Dad called and told me he was worried about me negotiating the turn at the bottom of the highway's off ramp.  "Ummm, okaaaaaaayyy," I said, thinking I'd practiced a few the week before and it was a simple stop at the light at the bottom of the ramp and go left after you get three-quarters of the way through the intersection kind of thing.  "I think I should come to the barn and drive back with you," Dad told me.   Here's the thing: My Dad is the wonderful kind of person who lives to help people.  He loves to feel like he's been instrumental in making someone's day better. What am I going to do, say no to making my Dad happy?  Nuh-uh.  "Sure Dad, Noah and I will get the trailer hooked up and be ready to leave when you get here."

He called me from the road 15 minutes later. "I spoke with Father Chester," he told me. "He says it's fine that we use the church parking lot and he wishes you good luck and God bless."  Well, alrighty then. Not only did we have a special dispensation and a blessing from a priest,  we were going to be in God's parking lot.  I'm thinking that in terms of good mojo it doesn't get much better than that.  Confidence was high.

Trailering over from the barn went well.  Dad was a font of helpful advice and info such as what to watch out for when stuck next to a tractor trailer, what trailer behaviors/sounds were normal, and how certain things would feel once the trailer was loaded.  That all changed when we got to the church and started working on backing up.  It was then that I remembered something about learning to drive with Dad. He tells you what to do, and if you don't/can't do it he loses patience quickly. (I started flashing back to the catastrophe that was him teaching me to do hill starts in my Mom's manual Jetta.  It took years of therapy to get over that.)

It was 85 degrees and even hotter on the blacktop.  Noah, Dad, and I were all sweating like hookers in church. I had to pee, and Dad was yelling at me, "You gotta get the feel! You gotta feel the wheel!" In all honesty, I couldn't get mad at him.  It was hot as hell and he'd had open heart surgery 4 months prior. But I can't concentrate for shit when I have to pee, nevermind when I have to pee and someone is yelling at me.  I made an executive decision to take a brief break. I jumped out of the truck, told Dad to sit in it with the AC on while I ran across to their house to go to the bathroom. When I was done using the facilities I grabbed one of my parent's jumbo travel mugs and filled it with his favorite summertime adult beverage, apple cider and vodka, and brought it back to him. 

Confused Labrador face
While Dad happily worked on hydration, I asked him to take on a supervisory role while Noah gave me instructions.  The Boy actually understands the whole backing up thing and can explain it pretty well, so I figured we had nothing to lose.   I was ready to start again when Noah came up to me and said, "You understand how this process works, right?  It's basically a pivot.  The hitch ball is the fulcrum, or central point in the rotational system."  Bless his heart, he actually pulled out a piece of paper from the glove box and began drawing a truck and trailer on it. I took this all in with a blank look on my face.  You know the one, looks kinda like a confused Labrador? That was what I looked like. "Sweetie, that's great," I said,  "Here's the thing, though. Right now Mom doesn't need a physics lesson, Mom needs to know which way to turn the damn wheel."

So we persisted. Dad was initially a bit put out about being replaced as Advisor in Chief but Noah buttered him up by very strategically  "consulting" Dad before giving me advice.  Plus Dad had his libation, which certainly helped make taking a managerial role more palatable.  I'm not going to lie and say I did well. There were a lot of failed attempts, a lot of backing and straightening and backing and straightening some more. There was a lot of cussing and several appeals to my Higher Power for assistance. (None was forthcoming).  Several times I got so creative with my language I half expected to be struck by lightning, especially given the fact that this was God's parking lot.  (That may have been why the aforementioned assistance was not forthcoming).

I was finally able to manage a smooth 3-point turn and we decided to quit on that high note. Noah and I took the trailer back to the barn and then headed home, where we met my parents and I made a nice dinner to thank Dad for his assistance.

I've since practiced trailering several more times, taking longer and longer trips on back roads, state routes and interstates.  I've driven over to the local horse park,  practicing backing and three-point turns between the large farm equipment parked there. (That might be worthy of a post. I haven't decided yet).  The kids keep me company, and we're having fun with the whole experience.  Pretty soon I think I'll be ready to actually haul a live animal. I'm thinking maybe a guinea pig or something small.  You know, baby steps and all that.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Driving Lessons, Equestrian Style...

My son Noah recently turned 16, and in New Jersey that means you can get your driver's learning permit.  Which basically means that the parent of the fledgeling driver needs either a bucket of valium to remain calm while instructing the newbie, or a damn good stylist to cover the gray hairs earned during practice sessions.

Noah has been practicing in my truck, which is good because we'e in a lovely large cocoon of metal, and bad because it's my new truck and I know it's going to get dinged up and of course I want my baby boy protected but I'd really still like to keep my new truck dent free.  Deeeeeeep breath.

Today I let him drive home from the barn, which is a half hour trip, much of it on the highway.  It was after 8 on a Friday night, so traffic was very light.  I buckled into the passenger seat, took a deep, cleansing breath,  and prepared to be a calm and collected font of driving knowledge.

Here is some of the advice I gave him:

When we were merging onto the highway: "You're gonna need to give it more leg." (No kidding, that actually came out of my mouth).

When going up a hill: "More impulsion!" (I even clucked for good measure. Again, totally unintentional).

Coming in to a downhill turn: "Whoa. Whoa. WHOA!"

Before a dog-leg turn: "You're gonna want to half halt and balance up before entering the turn."

During the dog-leg turn: "You're bulging to the outside - what do you need to do?" (Thank God he didn't say to apply stronger outside aids).

Again, this stuff was just coming out of my mouth, 100% live streaming.  No lie.  I wasn't planning any of it.  You know how it is. When you're a horse person every other aspect of life is seen through the equestrian filter.

To give the kid credit, he didn't bat an eyelash and he didn't need me to translate a thing.  He did fairly well for a newbie.  Has a bit of an issue with keeping the pace consistent - he tends to rush or back off a lot.  There's no middle ground with him.  He has the same tendency when riding, so maybe if he improves one he'll improve the other.

PSA - If you live in Northern NJ and are on Routes 78 or 287,  you may want to avoid a champagne colored Chevy Tahoe. Just saying.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Jesus Take The Wheel: Adventures In Learning to Trailer (Part One)

Hide your women and children!

So I have this trailer now.  It’s no longer mired in ice, so I’ve begun taking it out to practice, with the idea being that I should get as many mistakes as I can out of the way before I actually put live animals in there. 

A few folks told me to just hook the thing up and go out and practice. That wasn’t going to work for me. The way I saw it, that’s not how I learned to drive in the first place. (Here are the keys, Aim. Have at it! The highway’s just down the road on your right.)  I wanted someone who knew what they were doing with me for the first few times. 
My friend Mary-Ann went with me the first time, bless her brave heart.  The kids and I had been practicing hooking the trailer, so by the time she got to the barn Noah and I had hooked up and ready to go.  We made it down and out of the long driveway with no trouble (kinda weird not to be able to see anything but white metal in your rear view mirror) and out on to the closest main road.  I was busy congratulating myself for making the sharp uphill turn it and when I heard Mary-Ann say, “The speed limit’s 50. You have to do at least 50.”

Now, I’ve never had that kind of issue with speed limits before.  Mostly I have to slow down to get to the posted limit. I don’ recall ever needing to speed up.  However, dragging a big box around made me a little conservative, so every now and then you’d hear Noah or Mary-Ann remind me to speed up until finally Mary-Ann said in a tone that brooked no argument, “No, really.  You have to go 50. Now. Step on the gas pedal.”
We drove over to a local office campus with several large parking lots, figuring since it was a Saturday there would be ample room to practice backing and turning without too many casualties. The lot was wide open so I worked on backing up into parking spots. We were just about to start with K-turns when a little white-haired man in possession of a uniform and a very official attitude came out and asked us to leave the premises. I’m not sure why, but this struck us as hysterical for some reason. 

After our eviction we got on the highway for a bit, and then popped off to go to a road that Mary-Ann said was perfect for working on K-turns. It was basically shaped like a T, and Mary-Ann had me stop on the top-left side of the T and back the trailer down the long stem of the T, then pull up to the right so I was straight on the top right side of the T, and then back the trailer down from that way.  This did not go well. At all.  I sucked.  I think I might have tried to do this about 20 times in each direction to no avail. Which made me tense.   And flustered.  And irritable.  My vocabulary was getting more colorful by the second, and I was incorporating my Higher Power’s name in expressions that could have gotten me smoked by a lightning bolt had said Higher Power been paying attention. Mary-Ann did her best to remain patient with me and Noah did his best to avoid laughing. (Smart Boy).
Finally I half-assed it in a way that we could call marginally successful and we left it at that.  We got back to the barn, unhooked the trailer, and heaved huge sighs of relief. Mary-Ann headed home ( and probably poured herself a large adult beverage) and Noah and I drove home, feeling that we had a good number of successes and knew what we needed to do to get better.

More about the 'getting better' stuff to come.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Truly Fabulous Horse Show Swag...

Whoa!  Two posts in one week!  Can you stand it?  Must be some new record or something.

Today's blathering is on the topic of prizes.  You know, the ones you or your spawn get if you happen to have a good day and you wind up with a $1.00 piece of blue nylon telling you, "You done GOOD!"

Coolers or silver plated whatnots (plates/frames/cups) are awesome, but a: they kids and I don't typically show at that level, and b: if we did, I'm not so sure we'd be getting those kinds of ribbons.  So we play at the more local level, for the most part, and I'm really happy with the direction the prizes are going.

I mean, shows have a hard time making money, so I'm gonna say that the fact that they give prizes at all is pretty damn fantastic.  Because a ribbon may fade, but a coffee cup or candy jar can go off to college with you.  No joke.  Both my kids will go off to college with a full set of coffee cups.  I'm thinking they can use a couple for their intended use, then repurpose the others into pen holders, hair tie organizers, or flower pots.  (Whatever, the last one could happen, although they better not be growing anything funky in them!)

Anyways, I've noticed that show management has gone and seen the light.  Yeah, kids make up a good portion of the active show population, it's true.  But if you look carefully at the folks who are sitting on top of horses, sweating from activity and nerves, and looking as if they are going to vomit, you're going to see a lot of adults.  What's the connection here?  The age thing.

Who is paying for the horse show?  An adult.  The adult who is parenting or the adult who is riding.  What do adults who are paying for the whole galactic ally expensive horse thing do?  They drink!  They drink to exacerbate the pain of writing astronomical checks, or to alleviate nerves or because that night's lesson (or any of them in recent memory) didn't go to plan.  Or just because hanging at the barn/show with the other inmates at the horse-crazy asylum and sharing an adult beverages is a good thing.

Crap, this post was not supposed to be so log.  Here's the point: Horse show management is finally recognizing who pays the bills, and is tailoring the prizes to them. PREACH!!!!! Sing Hallelujah!

I offer as evidence....

Yay!  Bring on the vino!
We went to a show where they were giving the wine glasses above as prizes for winning a class.  I told the Boy, "No pressure, honey, but Momma needs a new set of wine glasses."  Luckily the Boy had a very good show, and I got my wine glasses.  SCORE!!!!

Mommy's sippy cup

One of my favorite shows is right up the road and one of the masterminds behind it is a very cool lady who actually reads this blog (Hi, Lena!!).  Lena is a true genius.  She has great stuff for the ponies and kiddos, but she also knows that Mom and Dad (aka The Bank) need a little recognition as well.  The Child did well at one of the shows, and after she won a class Lena walked over to Sophie to hand her the blue, and on her way over she handed me the wondrous invention you see above.  SWEEEEEEEETTTT!  (See, I told you she read the blog!)

And to further expound upon Lena's brilliance, look at what she gave to the series Reserve Champions.  A chair!!  Seriously, this is great on so may levels.  As a parent of a rider, you need something to sit in during the hours of "hurry up and wait" until the spawn goes in the ring for the 2-5 minutes they actually spend showing.  Or, if you are the person that is showing, you need something to catch you as you slide bonelessly off your horse, as well as something that will hold you as you a: suck deeply from an oxygen tank or b: hydrate yourself with an adult beverage. (In which case, see above).  And it comes in handy if you have multiple children with activities, or the equestrian child participates in other sports.  The little beauty above has come in handy at several soccer/lacrosse games.

As you can imagine, I've been lobbying our trainer and barn manager to go to these shows as often as possible.  You can never have too many wine glasses.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Role Models...

Soph doing her thing.
You know, having a kid is a complicated thing.  As a parent you're supposed to teach your kid right from wrong even as you continue to make your own mistakes.  You  try to lead by example and hope that in the end you've done more good than bad and that you've raised a decent human being.  Notice I'm not setting the bar overly high here.  I said decent. I'm not expecting the next Bill Gates or Mia Hamm (Although that would be nice. Think of the horses they could buy me!)  I just want them to be good, happy people.

Sophie is now 13, a tricky age at best. Some days we're besties. Others?  Not so much.  Those are the days of  the eye rolling/foot stomping/aggrieved sighing variety where you start to think piercing your nipples and pulling your lower lip over your head would be less painful.  (Yeah, I went there. My blog, my rules.) To paraphrase a friend of mine, many days we're like boxers, punch drunk and just bobbing and weaving and praying to make it to the end of the round.

I think Soph and I really do like each other (Yeah, that bold statement is probably going to swing back and bite me in the ass somehow).  I am continually amazed by her. One second she's a somewhat goofy 13 year-old freckled chatterbox.  On a soccer pitch she's laser-focused and a fierce competitor. Heaven help you if you think you're taking that ball from her.  She's a strong field general, communicating with her team, setting up plays. She has growing pains in her joints that that sometimes leave her hobbling when she walks on the pitch, but she plays through the pain and when she runs down the field you'd never know she was hurting. 

Same thing happens when she rides.  The goofball goes away and she has the intense focus of someone years older. She analyses every move she and her horse make, and rides as if she's thinking five steps ahead all the time.  Me? I'm just thrilled to get to the other side of each jump alive.  If I were to be honest, on one hand I'm totally in awe of her ability to do that, and on the flipside I'm just a bit envious. (Okay, more than just a bit.)

I tell her how she impresses me quite often. 

At the World Cup 
with show jumper  Marco Kutscher.  Squeeeeeee!

Last Sunday were on the way to a soccer match and had stopped at a highway rest station for a Starbucks fix.  As we were climbing back in the truck Sophie says, "Mom, I'm so proud of you for getting this big truck and learning how to drive the trailer.  You are not afraid to try new things, even if you're scared."  She then went on to say how cool it was that I worked so hard to be able to afford to ride, and that I'd started my blog and parlayed that into writing for Horse Junkies United.  She thinks I'm cool because the HJU connection has allowed me to cover competitions like Devon and the Zoetis Million and most recently the Longines FEI World Cup in Las Vegas. She thinks that the fact that I get to talk to and interview famous riders that we watch on live streaming and FEITV "is, like, totally awesome!!"

She inspires me to be stronger, physically and mentally, to go forward even when it hurts.  She's watched me get an EMBA, do I think from that understands the importance that education offers in terms of getting to a place where you can afford to realize a dream. I think she sees from watching me that you can be a woman that succeeds at work in a man's world.  That you can have a family, a passion, and a career, but that it takes a lot of  hard work and you have to go after it, not wait for it to come to you. That you can try new things, even if they scare you, at any point in your life.

Her comments absolutely floored me. ( And damn, did I wish I'd recorded them!) They also got me to thinking: So often we think of sports figures, business tycoons, or other famous folks as role models. I think it's pretty cool that my kid and I found role models a little closer to home.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Horseless Horse Show...

What do you do when it's a gorgeous Spring day, you're finished with your homework and it's the one day a week when you don't have soccer and/or riding? 

If you're my daughter, you set up some jumps in the front yard and spend an hour pretending you're a famous show jumper.  I think she pictures herself as McLain Ward's Rothchild, because they are both small and feisty and damn good jumpers.

I call this clip "The Jump-Off" as it's clearly a shortened course. The fences are 3'9" and 3'6".  No big deal if you're on a world class show jumper.  More of a big deal if you are a 5'2" girl, albeit one with springs for legs.  "Don't video!" she said to me. "I'm not at my maximum height."  (In case you are wondering, so far that's been just over 4'."

What do you do when you're bored with jumping the high stuff?  You start asking yourself some technical questions, of course.  Can you lengthen and shorten?  Are you quick enough with your legs?
Clearly it's time to set up some gymnastics.  Jim Wofford would be proud.

"The Bounce"

"Bounce to a One Stride"

"Going the Other Way"

Seriously, the kid never stops, bless her heart.  If she were a dog, she'd totally be a Jack Russell. No joke. She asked if I wanted to try a course or two.  Uh-uh. Nope. Taking a pass on that one.  The kid got me to do a cartwheel the other day and I damn near killed myself. 

No thanks, kiddo. I choose life.  You jump, I'll video.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

F*&%k Winter. No, Seriously, F*&%k Winter. C'mon Spring!

No riding.  It's too cold and I already have my pajamas on.
Ok, so yeah, I know winter's almost over and Spring is coming and we had Daylight Savings Time and the days are longer and blah blah blah.  (Spring ahead, my ass. All I know is I lost an hour of sleep that day.)  Almost over doesn't quite cut it for me, because saying something is "almost over" means it is still here.

Why am I in such a strop?  Because winter is not quite gone, it's still cold, and for the umpteenth time I damn near killed myself trying to get out of my Under Armour. You know what I mean, the base layer you wear in the vain hope that you won't freeze your ass off. . You come home from a ride and you're all sweaty and you have to be a flipping contortionist to get out of  your sweaty Under Armour.  It's bad enough trying to get into it in the first place, but getting out of sweaty Under Armour requires the skills of a Chinese acrobat. Seriously, when I try to take my winter weight turtle neck off the neck hole is so tight I feel like I'm trying to hang myself.  Inevitably during the struggle to get my top off I trip on something and go down like a box of rocks. So then I am writhing on the floor, still trying to extricate myself  and swearing like a sailor. Cue the inevitable trip to the chiropractor, where I feel like I need to make something up because saying I threw my back out while trying to get out of my workout gear just sounds wrong.

My winter riding apparel usually consists of a base layer (Under Armour or something similar) and then a long sleeve technical shirt and a 1/4 zip pullover, which is usually made of fleece or technical fabric. Which brings me to another issue.  Why does every piece of technical/workout clothing make a mildly-fluffy middle aged women look like the Michelin tire dude?? Seriously?  We're trying to deal with work, the kids' schedules and the onset of hot flashes and hormone changes and you want to piss us off by making us feel fat?  You know one day we're gonna crack and force those skinny stick figures who design this stuff to eat dozens of donuts. An hour.  For a month.  And then we'll make them wedge
Not a good look.
Another issue riders who spend their winters in the frozen tundra face is shrinkage. As in, when you put on a base layer under breeches and a top, it feels like everything is a little bit smaller.  If you are already shoehorning yourself into a pair of breeches that are a size smaller than you really need (because dammit, you're not going to go out and buy the bigger size, you'll duct tape your mouth shut before you'll go there) this can be difficult.  As in, Chinese acrobat difficult.
For example, ever try to go to the bathroom with 2 layers on?  You can't wait until the situation is dire, because you know it's gonna take five minutes to wiggle out of your layers.  Then when you're done, you have to wiggle struggle back into them. This is why I hate wearing side-zip breeches in the winter. Everything's tight, so I have to suck my stomach in. Then I have to turn to the left side while trying to use my arm to push my boob out of the way so I can see the hooks and zipper.  Then comes the suck-in-shimmy-curse-pull-say-heartfelt-prayer-last-yank-before-you-pass-out maneuver and for a moment I'm giddy with success.  That lasts for a split second until I realize that I've given myself the mother of all wedgies and my underwear is halfway up my digestive track.  Sigh.
Then there's the whole temperature management thing that happens when getting the horse ready.  You curry, you brush, you comb, and suddenly things are getting a bit warm, so you take off your jacket.  You're fine for a few minutes until you actually get on the horse.  While warming up at the walk you start to feel the chill again, so you put your jacket back on.  That doesn't last long, because after five minutes of trotting you're breaking a sweat.  Off comes the jacket. Although it's never that easy. Nope, because you try to pull the jacket sleeve off over the glove, where it gets stuck. So then you're holding the reins with one hand while trying to pull the glove off with your teeth.  You get the first arm off and proceed to the second one.  This involves additional contortions where you then find yourself blinded because you've gotten your jacket caught over your head and the other sleeve is stuck on your glove and you're pulling and swearing and praying to God that your horse doesn't decide to spook at the cooler that's laying over the edge of the arena wall.  And now you've given yourself another wedgie.
So you've groomed and ridden and groomed again and where does that leave you?  If you're me, on the floor of my bedroom, kicking and pulling and yanking and cursing as I try to remove my sweaty Under Amour/sausage casing.  So yeah, I'm looking forward to Spring, mostly because my breeches will fit better without the extra layer underneath and I can indulge in the fantasy that I've lost weight.