Monday, August 24, 2015

Adventures in Learning to Trailer: The Maiden Voyage of the HMS Valium

RJ is not convinced this is a good idea.
If you've followed this blog you may remember that sometime back in February I bought a trailer. You can read about it here.
I didn't have a horse, but bought a trailer anyway, because, well, why the heck not?

Once the weather turned nicer and the glacier that had formed over the trailer had melted (thank you, Mother Nature!) I began with the business of learning to actually drive the thing.  Because taking a couple practice runs with an empty trailer before putting an actual horse in it seemed like a pretty reasonable course of action. If you're so inclined, you can read about some of those adventures here. And here.

This weekend I decided it was time to take my first trip with an actual horse in the trailer.  Mary-Ann, my friend who'd bravely accompanied me on my first test drive, asked if I wanted to meet her at a local park where there are miles of trails and cross-country obstacles.  Sounded like a good idea, so we settled on a time and I went into planning mode.  Because that's what I do.

I made a list of what I needed to do to get the trailer ready.  I made a list of what I needed to have in the trailer.  I made a list of what I needed to do with RJ before putting him in the trailer. Then I checked my copy of Cherry Hill's Trailering Your Horse to see if I was forgetting anything.  Then I went to the barn and did everything on my lists.  My son was amazed by all the effort I was putting in for, as he put it, "a 10 minute drive."  He also jokingly suggested that I should consider taking a valium before setting out. BAM!  The trailer now had a name, the HMS Valium. (We name our vehicles in this family. Doesn't everybody?)

I got to the barn about an hour and a half before I was supposed to leave, as I am paranoid and figured that there would be a million last minute details to take care of.  I hooked up, checked and re-checked and re-re-checked things, and then loaded RJ.  RJ, bless his heart, looked highly skeptical of the morning's goings on but climbed willingly into the trailer despite any misgivings he may have had.  I'll admit I was nervous - the 10 minute drive has a really big hill with a twisty-turny road. I was having visions that my truck wouldn't  make it up, that the brakes would go on the way back down, or that my driving would be so bad that I'd get to the park and find RJ with multiple wounds from scrambling to stay on his feet.

Am I a bit neurotic?  Yes.  Without a doubt.  To ease my neuroses I turned to my phone and searched through my music until I found something inspirational.  Normally I'd go for a little AC/DC, but in this case I chose Wagner.  Yep, you read that right. Wagner.  I chose his Ride of the Valkyries, because if that doesn't give you a kick-ass "ride off to battle feeling" nothing will. Plus, I figured if I was pretending to be a Valkyrie I wouldn't be all in a twitter about driving the damn trailer. So off I went, the strains of Wagner wafting out of my open windows. I got some odd looks as I went through town, and a few more when I pulled into the park, but none of that mattered as the first part of the journey had gone without a hitch.

Thing went easily on the way home as well.  The parking area at the park is large, and there is rarely any need to back up.  All I needed to do was drive in and do a big loop so I was facing the drive out, and then pull out straight to leave.  Easy-peasy. When we left for the park the road was wide open and I had no cars following me on the way over.  On the way back it looked as though I had a funeral procession behind me, there were so many cars. I didn't let it bother me,  I just concentrated on keeping things slow and smooth for RJ. The only hiccup came when I turned on the small country road the farm is on.  The road is narrow, and there are some blind turns and rises. I  around a bend and was faced with 2 aged bikers in full Tour de France regalia teeter-tottering along as they tried to make it up the slight incline.

Seriously, these two were 75 if they were a day, so God bless 'em for doing what they were doing, but they gave me fits!  They were riding one-third of the way into the road, just wobbling away, and clearly had no idea I was behind them.  I was trying to figure out if I should just stay behind them and risk getting plowed into  if a car came around the blind bend. Or if I tried to pass and accidentally whacked one or both of them with the trailer and send them hurtling into the roadside brush.  Then I thought maybe I should hit the horn and alert them to my presence so they could move over and let me pass.  Then I worried that beeping might cause one or both of them to drop dead of a heart attack. So I stayed behind them, inching along at snail's pace, hoping they didn't stroke out in the 100 yards it was going to take to get to the driveway.

I'm happy to say the HMS Valium and her crew arrived home safely (as, I'm hoping, the septuagenarian bikers did as well). I was feeling such a sense of accomplishment I took my daughter over to our favorite local restaurant for a little celebration. Driving one's horse in a trailer may be no big deal to some, and I'm guessing those folks may have been doing it for so long they don't remember what the first time felt like.  To me it felt a bit like when I had my first child and had to take him home from the hospital.  Number one, I was amazed that anyone was stupid enough to trust me with this poor innocent soul's life. Number two, I was suddenly aware of all that can go wrong on the road.  Driving suddenly became WAY. MORE. SERIOUS.

So there you have it.  Trip #1 is in the books, and I'm looking forward to many more successful outings in the future.

Time to celebrate!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

One Year Later...

My sweet girl.
Saturday, August 1st marked the one-year anniversary of losing Sugar.  I could feel anxiety creeping
in as we inexorably moved toward that particular square on the calendar.  I'm not sure when the apprehension started.  Probably in May or June.  It was tension at that point, but by July it was emotional roller coaster time.  I'd be fine, then I'd be on the verge of tears.  I'd wake up in tears, or feel them start up as I tried to fall asleep.

The sense of impending doom that I'd felt in the months after the accident returned.  If the family rode bikes, I was sure a car would hit one of us.  When I traveled for business I was positive the plane was going to fall out of the sky.  Every trip down the highway felt like it would be the last; that we'd end up in a heap of twisted metal.  (That probably wasn't helped by the fact that my son had gotten his driver's permit and I was typically the one who was with him when he practiced.  In hindsight, perhaps I should have delegated that duty to his father.  That would have meant less practice for the Boy, but might have prevented the permanent crescent shaped dents in my passenger side door panel.)

Fear of imminent catastrophe aside, in general I was improving.  I didn't go to pieces every time the horse I was riding tripped.  I was jumping courses, not 2 or 3 fences at a time.  While I didn't know if I'd ever get my mojo back, I was starting to think it was a possibility. A woman I think a great deal of told me that when she lost her heart-horse it took about a year for her to really feel better.  It wasn't that she stopped missing her boy, I think it was more that things stopped hurting so badly and it felt okay to move forward towards a new normal.  At least that's what I took her words to mean.  I could relate. Although  I still missed Sug terribly, I was starting to feel that I was ready to begin the next phase of my equestrian life.

A wonderful gift from some
wonderful people.
I started seriously looking for another horse. For a long time I'd kind of half-heartedly kept an eye out for something, but now I was searching in earnest.  I was sending links to horses I was interested in to my trainer, and reaching out to people online when I saw something that looked appealing. At one point I had it in my head that I needed to find my next partner by the anniversary date, but thankfully realized that putting a deadline on finding a horse was like trying to put a deadline on finding your life-partner.  Just doesn't work. Still, I was looking. That was progress.

My trainer has been a rock throughout this whole process.  He's found two lovely, safe, and forgiving horses for me to borrow until I find the right horse.  I've worried that he'll get sick of looking for me, but I really shouldn't have.  He's almost more picky about finding the right fit than I am.  We've found a couple that have looked right "on paper" but were not right, for one reason or another. He won't allow me to settle when I see something that could maybe work, he's adamant that we look until we find the right one.  For example, he found one that I tried and felt very comfortable on, even though he was more of a hunter ride than I can normally pull off.  When we asked if the horse was good on trails or on hunter paces the answer was an emphatic "NO."

I wavered, thinking that he was a very nice horse and I was comfortable on him and enjoyed riding him, so maybe I should make an offer. My trainer set me straight, saying that we could not compromise, that finding a horse that could horse show, trail ride, go on hunter paces, and forgive my ammy blunders was possible and we would search as long as necessary to find it.  "Your horses are your children," he said.  "This is really important for you. We look until we find the right one."  I'm so thankful for him, not just because he's found great horses for me to continue riding, but for his patience and understanding while we look for the right horse and try to rebuild my confidence.

I think what kept me sane the last few days before the anniversary was that the kids and I were away for several days at a horse show.  Finding the money in the budget for an away show does not often happen, so if we can do one it's a big deal.  Being away with our barn and spending entire days with the horses was therapeutic for me.  Watching Sophie and Noah compete, as well as supporting the other riders who showed, kept me busy and my mind away from sad memories. When I did have a sad moment, I'd go spend some time loving on Tiki or RJ until the heartache passed.

Sophie and Tiki

Noah and RJ

The kids did well at the show.  Soph rode Tiki, and they were Champion in two divisions.  She won the first championship on Saturday, the anniversary, which felt right, almost as if Sug was helping from above. She won her second on Sunday.  Noah rode my horse, RJ, who he'd only ridden 5 times before showing him.  He got a 4th in a big class on Saturday, and a 4th and an 8th on Sunday.  He also won an over fences class with 48 entries.

Sure, the weekend had its sad moments. The last time I'd been to that show was with Sug, so that tugged at my heart.  Memories of the accident and the aftermath would suddenly surface, and I'd have to concentrate to push them away.  Watching the kids, seeing their happiness and pride in their horses and accomplishments, helped to push sadness aside.  If I'm honest, I also felt Sug's presence so strongly all weekend.  Feeling she was there in spirit helped me so much, and I think it helped the kids as well. She had always taken such good care of "her" kids, and I could feel that she was continuing to watch over them.

So there you have it.  This is where I am.  Moving forward, slowly but surely.  Missing my girl, but comforted in the knowledge that she is still with me, even if it's only in spirit.  Feeling that I will find the right horse, and knowing that while my new friend won't be Sug, that will be okay.  She took care of me while she was here, and I truly feel that she takes care of me still, just in a different way.  And when I find my new friend, I feel she'll help me to know it, and she'll let me know it's okay to go forward.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Reality Bites...

I woke up this morning and my first conscious thought was, "Oh crap, it's only Tuesday."

Score one for the Power of Positive Thinking.


My next thought was, "How long until I can leave for the barn?"

OK, moving towards the positive spectrum, in the sense that I am working towards achieving a positive goal.  Makes sense, yes?

New idea for a t-shirt: "Work, the speed bump between waking and getting to the barn."

Must get working on that.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Best Damn Show Shirt Ever!

Cute, right?
The other night after riding I was turning the horses out and realized I'd run out of fly spray. I'd thought I had more, but as per Murphy's Law, I didn't. Cue last minute dash to try and make it to the tack store before they close.  My local Dover Saddlery is often open until 8pm, so that's where I headed.  Even gave them a call to let them know I was coming and what I needed so it could be waiting and I could get out of their way by closing. (I've worked retail and know what it's like when you want to go home and someone comes in at 7:59 and you close at 8:00).

I had literally just walked in the door when Sarah Jane, one of my Dover BFFs, yelled to one of the other associates to "Get Amy that shirt!"  (Is it just me, or does everyone get attached to the folks that work at the tack shops they go to?  I swear I love and rely on mine like I did my Labor & Delivery nurses.

The girl brought over what looked like a very nice wrap collar show shirt with contrasting fabric inside the collar and cuffs.  I couldn't tell what the pattern was - it looked vaguely Vineyard Vines-y,  until Sarah held it up.  That's when I went nuts.  Wine bottles and glasses!! Red and white!!!  On navy or purple backgrounds, with matching contrast stitching.  AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!  What a perfect blend of  two of my favorite things, horses and wine!!!  Honestly, I think I may have been jumping up and down with excitement.  Or doing the pee pee dance. At my age it's a toss-up.

Seriously, how perfect are these shirts???


They are part of the Essex Classics Talent Yarn collection, and are made of high-tech fabric with mesh panels for ventilation and contrasting stitching for a subtle pop of color. They have anti-bacterial and deodorant magic to help you avoid show-stink, and UV sun protection.  Even better, they come with Scotchgard stain resistance - less slobber stains, yay! They also have collar snap repositioning. I have no idea what that even is.  Kinda like when you're buying a car and you don't know half the stuff the salesperson is telling you it has, let alone if you'd ever have a need for any of it.

The shirts are fitted, so keep that in mind if you choose to order.  If you like a looser fit, you'll probably want to order up a size.  At $129 they're a bit of an investment, but if you're addicted to horses and wine, there really couldn't be a more perfect show shirt. 

I'm not showing at the moment, so I don't really need one.  Other than the fact that I neeeeed one because, really, they're perfect. 

Conundrum.  Maybe I can wear it to work...

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Shades of Dances with Wolves...

Kissy-face with Cantissimo
OK, I couldn't think of a better headline than that.  I suck at stuff like that.  I may be in Publishing, but I'm lucky to have editors that come up with the catchy phrases.

Moving on....If you're older than 30 you may remember a Kevin Costner movie called Dances With Wolves.  Costner plays a Civil War hero that is sent to a remote Western outpost with nothing more than his horse for company.  (After seeing the movie, 90% of the female population would have given their right ovary for the privilege of accompanying him, civilization and creature comforts be damned). While he's working to rebuild the abandoned fort he becomes somewhat of a curiosity to a local wolf, and Costner, devoid of companionship, begins to develop a relationship with the animal.

A local tribe of Lakota Sioux on a buffalo hunt spot Costner interacting with the wolf and are intrigued by the lone soldier.  Knowing that one soldier inevitably means more, they try to befriend Costner to find out what the US Army plans, and by the way, had he seen any buffalo recently? Costner becomes a friend to the tribe and they give him a Lakota name, "Dances With Wolves." Much to the chagrin of the female movie watching public, Costner's character then falls in love with a white woman taken by the Lakota as a child, called Stands With a Fist.

Sorry for the lengthy babble, you know how I tend to blather on. Anyway, one of the things that become popular at that time was trying to come up with a Native American for yourself.  You know, 'cause what the hell, right?  We take Buzzfeed quizzes to find out what Disney character we would be, why not try to figure out what our Native American name would be?

What made me think of this was the other night when I was at the barn with friends I was loving on a new horse who had just arrived. He kept putting his nose up to mine and I would kiss it every time he did.  My friend laughed and told me to stop making out with the horse. That reminded me that several other folks have made comments like that over the years,  that made me flash back to the whole Native American name thing.

Mine would be "Makes Out With Horses."

Bumping muzzles with Junior

Smoochies with Moochie

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.