Thursday, October 23, 2014

Baby Steps...

Tiki's "Paparazzi Pose"
I'm very happy to report that through the kindness of friends we were able to find a new barn and a new trainer.  The kids wanted to stick with the hunter/jumper discipline, and this trainer is one that I'd been aware of for years as a very equitation-focused trainer.  I'd been under the impression he only coached really serious juniors looking to do the big eq, so I'd never thought to approach him in the past.  In any case, a friend who'd trained with him as a junior and knew we were looking introduced us. The kids and I took a couple of lessons with him, really enjoyed them, and lo and behold, found ourselves with a new trainer and a barn to call home.

Our new trainer knew our story and that we were homeless and horseless. He told us he felt that we needed to take our time and really look around to find the perfect horses, and not feel pressured to buy the first thing we see.  He had a horse that had been taking a vacation from the big eq and jumper rings, and he thought that teaching the kids would be a good way to give this horse a new, relatively stress-free job and get the kids back in the saddle at the same time.  So the kids took a couple of lessons on the horse, Tiki. He seemed to like them, they liked him, so now we've got one problem solved for the time being.  They still miss James, but getting to know Tiki has been therapeutic for them.

Tiki is a jewel.  An absolute jewel.  He's got all the "buttons", so the kids have an opportunity to learn from a horse that really knows his stuff.  Quite honestly, we're extremely lucky, as he's a way more accomplished horse than I'd ever thought my kids would be on - talk about being in the right place at the right time! Sadly he's short-term solution, as Noah is so tall that he's practically too big for Tiki already, but for the next few months the kids are getting to ride an equine master.

A horse at the end of the rainbow
Tiki is ridiculously smart, incredibly inquisitive, and loves to be very engaged with his people.  This big boy has personality to spare, and man, does he have presence.  When he walks into a ring, you know it!  I love watching the kids on him - he goes around the ring with his ears pricked all the time. When he canters, he looks like he could be a medieval knight's battle charger - you can picture him with all the armor and everything, cantering majestically off to defend the kingdom.

He does what I call his "Paparazzi Pose," where something catches his eye and he brings himself to his full height, head high and ears fully forward.  You can almost hear him saying, "How's this angle?  Are you getting me from my good side?"  He has a hatred for arborvitae, possibly a relic from his equitation days, and eyes them with deep suspicion.  He is keenly observant, and knows where everything in the barn or ring should be.  If you so much as move one of the mums decorating the jumps, he knows it, and you can tell he's wondering why no one sent him a memo alerting him to the change.

Tiki is also gray, which has been an education in and of itself.  We've never had a gray before, and are finding that everything said about keeping them clean is no exaggeration.  Especially as Tiki seems to make it his mission to roll in every pile of poop he comes across.  I am buying Cowboy Magic Greenspot remover by the gallon.  And the hair!  I know that we came home covered in horse hair after a trip to the barn, but it was brown, and not very noticeable. Spending any time around a gray means you come home looking like a dandelion that has gone to seed, and that gray hair gets on everything!

So while things are getting back on track for the kids, they are not quite there yet with me.  I thought I'd found a horse, but right before he was scheduled to be vetted the owner decided not to sell.  I'm really disappointed, as I liked him a lot and was really excited to learn from him and give him a good home.  He was another one with personality to spare, with a great attitude. He went around the ring with ears pricked, ready to do whatever you asked of him.  "You want to trot? Super, let's trot.  Oh, you'd like to canter?  Off we go!  You want me to jump from underneath the fence? Sure.  You 'd like to leave out a stride and a half?  Okay, hang on!" He was also fun on the ground, kind of like an impish 6 year old boy that noodges you for constant attention, the kind you can't resist because they are so gosh-darn cute.  I'm really bummed it didn't work out, but we all know that's they way of things sometimes.

As much as I'm happy for the kids and love being around horses again, I do have to confess it's been a bit rough emotionally.  It's odd, as I so love watching the kids on Tiki, and really enjoy seeing how they are enjoying their lessons, and I love grooming him and kissing on him.  I'm happy for the kids, but at the same time it's hard to be in a barn and not see Sug's face waiting for me.  It's weird not to be saddling her up for my own lesson.  It's funny, I'll be driving the kids to a lesson and I'll be looking forward to it, and then suddenly I'm blinking back tears.  Someone who I respect greatly told me it took her about a year before she could think of her beloved boy without getting choked up, so I'm using this as a benchmark.

So there we are.  Getting back in the groove. Moving in the right direction, one baby step at a time.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ISO: Saddle Time

True.  Sad, but true.
I need to start riding again. Soon.  Or bad things will happen.  Seriously.  The kids agree. No horse time is making us all cranky.

I thought not going to the barn would give me all kinds of time to do projects I'd been meaning to around the house.  Nope.  Not working out that way.  Redecorate the basement family room?  Nah.  I walk into a Homegoods or a furniture store, look at all the options and go fetal.  I would love to pay someone with taste to decorate for me, but really, any extra money I have is going toward a horse.

I meant to organize my closet.  I didn't. It still looks like a FEMA site. Same thing with the Tupperware cabinet.  I also thought maybe I'd work around the yard, spruce things up, maybe put some Fall decorations up.  Hasn't happened.  Yard still looks like crap, and there are no seasonal decorations to hide that fact.

My husband is the only one that's happy.  He's excited that we are spending more "together" time.  That pretty much means we are all going to the gym with him at night.  I get on the elliptical and do weights, the kids go do their thing, and my husband gets on a bike for an hour.  Together, my butt!  Which, by the way, has not gotten any smaller, gym time notwithstanding.  (I did start taking a belly dancing class again. I'm hoping that'll strengthen my core for when I get back in the saddle.  Plus it's good for a laugh.)

My husband is also happy that I am home cooking dinner every night again.  The man likes a good meal, and when we were riding he got home cooked meals only on weekends, and was left with leftovers or a crockpot creation the rest of the week.   I used to love cooking before.  Now?  Not so much. Figuring out what to cook every night has become a chore.  Tonight, in desperation, I did something with Ramen noodles that I haven't done since college.  Don't ask.  It wasn't pretty.

This Betty Crocker/June Cleaver thing ain't working out so well.  It's getting to the point where I'm ready to strap on my helmet, hop on my bike and ride around the neighborhood making horse noises.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Equestrians at the Gym...

I can get on from this side...
Now that my head is somewhat better and I can do light exercise without getting a splitting headache (concussions are so much fun!) I've been getting back to the gym.  While I was there and getting on the elliptical machine, I realized I have what might be considered an odd behavior.  I "mount" from the left.  And I get off on the left as well. No lie.   I also do this when I get on the stationary bike.

I kept an eye on my fellow exercisers while they got on and off their machines.  Most seemed to be able to mount and dismount from either side.  Hmmmmmm.  At this point I flashed back to our family vacation this summer.  I had noticed then that my kids and I, the family equestrians, all got on our bikes from the left. Only my husband got on from either side.  I also remembered that I'd tried to get on the bike from the right side once, and it was awkward as heck.  Kinda like a penguin attempting a pole vault.

Fellow equestrians - do you do this??

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Emotional Pinball

Lots of love.
It's been a month and a half since I lost Sug.  I still cry every day, though not as often as I did at first. Remember how you felt in high school or college after a bad break-up?  When you curled up in your room and read romance novels and watched movies on the Lifetime channel, ate 30 pounds of chocolate and made depressing mixed tapes with songs by Sinead O'Connor, Natalie Merchant, and the Smiths? Except instead of making mixed tapes, it's making playlists on an iPhone.  That's pretty much me right now.

August did not improve as the month progressed.  My Mom was hospitalized unexpectedly and we were told she needed to have open-heart surgery.  She had the surgery and is now home and recuperating, but things were scary for a while. On top of that, the day she was supposed to have the surgery we found out our lease on James, the OTTB the kids rode, was not being renewed. It was like the hits kept coming. You know the book Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events? I felt August should be renamed Amy's Month of Craptastic Events.  

What has kept me going through all of this has been the kindness of friends, family, and the wonderful people who have known Sug and I or followed us through this blog or Horse Junkies United.  Each card or comment on Facebook or on the blog brought a smile to my face, and a moment of peace.  It probably sounds corny as heck, but reading the sympathetic words someone took time out of their day to write gave me the strength to continue doing what I needed to do to get through the day during a time when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and wail. Some friends went so far as to send flowers, and my work team sent a tree to bury her ashes under as well as a donation to Mylestone Equine Rescue, the horse rescue I often support. All of the love and support was humbling as well as healing.

This past weekend was a weekend of firsts and hopefully a harbinger of better times.  Noah and I went to look at a potential barn (for when we find new equine family members) and he got to ride while we were there. It was his first ride since the lease on James ended and he rode Weed, a Haflinger with so much personality it was practically coming out of his ears.  That little horse was a riot, and, in Noah's words, clearly wanted a rider to continually be engaged in conversation with him. Noah got off that little guy with an ear to ear grin.

I also rode for the first time since the accident.  A wonderfully kindhearted friend let me ride her horse, a lovely chestnut boy named Wesley.  It was obvious I'd been out of the saddle a while, although Wesley very graciously forgave my mistakes and did his best to stay underneath me while I fumbled around on his back.  It still felt wonderful to be riding, and to be grooming and kissing on a horse again.  To my way of thinking it's the best kind of therapy there is.

I'm so glad I had that therapeutic weekend, as Sug's ashes arrived yesterday.  I'd be lying if I said it didn't knock the breath out of me. I didn't want to open the big UPS package.  When I finally did, I was taken aback by how large and heavy the wooden box holding the ashes was.  I guess I'd thought it would be some sort of medium sized vase/urn-type thing.  When I expressed my surprise, my son says, "Mom, think about it.  She was a half-ton animal, a lot bigger than Great-Grandpa." That shocked a laugh from me, bless my son's heart.  It just seems so weird to think of her as being reduced to something that could fit in that box, that she'd been transformed into what looked like ashes from a fireplace. I can't quite wrap my head around it.

I have to figure out where I'm going to plant her tree, and where I will keep her ashes in the meantime.  I'm terrified we might inadvertently have a recreation of the Meet the Parents urn scene.  God help me, that would be my luck.

So it's been a month and a half of emotional pinball, banging around, going in one direction only to be spun around in another.  Things are getting easier, and I know that moving forward there will be more good moments than bad ones.  Baby steps, right?

As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Function VS. Fashion...

I had to take Sophie to DSW to exchange a pair of shoes that she got for her birthday.  Shoe shopping is normally about the only kind of shopping I can stand, aside from shopping for horsie stuff at the tack shop.  However, one step inside any shoe store selling stuff for fall and I start to twitch.  Maybe it's me (and I'm willing to concede it probably is) but when they position some of the boots they are trying to sell as "Riding Boots.", well, my eyes cross and I get a little squirrely.

This is the result of this afternoon's trip.  I'm kinda proud of it, if I do say so myself. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Goodbye, My Sweet Girl

    Godspeed, sweet mare.
On Friday, August 1st, I lost Sugar. We were taking a lesson, and had just jumped a combination.  We had cantered three or four strides away from the out element when she caught a toe and we went down.  Sug was pretty surefooted, and I could probably count on one hand the times it had happened over the 6 years I'd had her.  She'd always recovered.  This time she didn't.

It happened so quickly.  One second we were cantering, and the next we were on the ground.  I went off her left shoulder, head first into the dirt.  There was a nanosecond where I thought she was going to land on me, and then she didn't.  She landed to my right, landed awkwardly, with her head under her body.  The second I got up I knew it was bad, and when the vet finally arrived he confirmed there was too much trauma to her spinal column for us to do anything but put her out of her pain.

I walked away from the accident with only a concussion.  People tell me I was lucky, and rationally I know they're right.  I don't feel lucky, though.  I feel heartbroken, the way you feel when you've lost your best friend.  My mind replays the accident over and over, and I get mired down in all the what-ifs.  What if I'd just hacked that night?  What if I hadn't jumped that last course?  Was there something I missed, some little sign that said maybe something was bothering her and I didn't feel it?  I know that this kind of thinking is not helpful, and I try to redirect my thoughts, but it's hard.  It's helpful that my instructor saw nothing wrong with her, said she had looked great and it was just a freak accident.  Considering this woman has been a 4* eventer and ridden internationally for the USET, I know she knows what she was seeing.

There's one thing I'd like to share with you as a result of my experience: If your horse is insured, always have your insurance information handy.  Keep one of the cards that comes with your policy in your tack trunk, and make sure your insurance agent, the emergency claims number and your policy number are in your phone.  This will save you valuable time and help your horse get the help they need faster.

Although Sug was 18, I can't help feeling we should have had a few more years together.  She should have had the chance to retire to a life of leisure in a field before she passed. I do take comfort in the fact that she was happy, healthy, sound, and still enjoying her job.  The last few weeks of her life we had taken a few cross country lessons, and she had clearly enjoyed them very much. She all but dragged me to the fences, jumping them easily and exuberantly. We even got her to go through the water complex, and to jump in and out of it, which was a major miracle considering her dislike of even the smallest puddle.

I miss her like crazy.  I miss the deep rumble of her nicker, and the adorable faces she made when she was begging for a treat.  I miss the way she'd lick me when I went in to her stall, and the way she'd groom me when I massaged her or scratched her itches.  I miss the way she loved the kids, always sticking her big face in theirs and licking them, as if she were their second mother and was checking to see that they were clean and presentable.  She took such good care of them when they rode her, just like she took care of me when I was on her back.  Mostly, I just miss being with her.

I have no idea what will happen going forward.  I guess that for the time being I will ride James, the kids' OTTB, when they aren't able to ride.  As for AWIP, I'm not sure what what's going to happen.  I imagine that when I'm in a better frame of mind I'll continue posting about the kids and their adventures. As for anything else, well, we'll see what happens.

I'd like to thank you all for coming along for the ride, for reaching out and commenting and sharing your experiences with us.  I can't even begin to tell you how amazing it's been to feel I have connections with people from all over because of this blog.

I've put together a little video containing some pictures from the six wonderful years we were privileged to have with Sug.  Some of them you may have seen, some may be new to you.  I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Flirting With the Dark Side: Sug and I Try Schooling Cross Country

Warning: You know I tend to be wordy, but this one goes on and on and on.  You might want to get another cup of coffee or some wine (depending on where you are in your day) before settling in to read this. Just sayin'.

I've been intrigued by eventing since I was a little girl.  I think when I was around 11 or 12 my parents brought me to see the Essex Horse Trials at the USET headquarters in Gladstone.  I can still remember seeing Bruce Davidson and being completely starstruck.  I can also remember having mononucleosis the summer of 1984 and being glad of it because it meant I could watch TV all day and that meant I saw almost all of the limited equestrian coverage.  I remember watching the eventing and thinking, "Dang, that looks really cool, " at the same time I thought, "Dang, that looks scary as heck."

I started riding in the hunter and equitation divisions as a kid, and then when I became a re-rider several years ago, that's what I went back to.  I got involved in the jumper divisions because Sugar was a jumper when I got her.  She was the right horse for me, so I just decided to do what she was good at.

That being said, I've always believed in taking the horses out of the ring. I love galloping or schooling in fields, and exploring trails.  I think it's good for the horses, both mentally and physically, and it's good for riders to learn how to function outside of a perfectly manicured environment.

So when I had an opportunity to go cross country schooling with the evening trainer at my barn the other day, I took it.  Virginia Jenkins Rowsell is an Advanced eventer, who was part of the winning 1993 team gold at NAYRC as well as winner of the individual gold there.  She's also won the Essex horse trials and at Morvnn Park, and probably a bunch of other places that Google hasn't told me about.  In any case, if anyone could get me around a cross country course, even a small one, she could. So I got myself a vest, rationalizing the expense by telling myself it was also a good safety measure considering all the hunter paces I do.  I felt pretty Xena Warrior Princess as I wore it around to break it in, telling friends and family to "Go ahead! Hit me!"  Some of them were only to happy to oblige...

Getting fitted for a vest by Sarah Jane at my local Dover Saddlery.
Do they come with a "No Muffin Top" option?
As the appointed day got closer, I began to over-analyze things.  What the hell was I thinking?  I'm 44 and the Sainted Mare is 18. Were we the proverbial dogs trying to learn new tricks?  I can barely find a distance in the aforementioned manicured ring over featherweight poles - what in God's name made me think I could do so over varied terrain with solid obstacles?? I have a crisis of confidence each time I approach an oxer, what would I do when faced with a Trakehner?

Then (and this was the height of stupidity) for some reason I decided to watch the footage of the 1976 Montreal Olympic eventing competition at Bromont.   I watched that with one eye closed, wincing and cringing and occasionally gasping loudly as one by one horse and rider teams came to grief at various obstacles.   

However, despite serious misgivings and fears of grievous bodily harm when the day came I found myself loading Sugar on my friend Mary-Ann's trailer and heading over to the farm we were schooling at.  This farm was seriously gorgeous, to the point that when we turned down the drive both our jaws fell open in shocked appreciation (Jealousy? Lust?)  I mean, the barn was bigger than my house.  Hell, the tack room was bigger than my house.  Sug came off the trailer and looked around with interest. Once she'd done a quick perusal and noted that everything met her standards, she pricked her ears and studied the field with the cross country course, almost as if she was trying to figure what wild hair Mom had gone and grown now.

Let me tell you, the Sainted Mare was jazzed to be out in that field.  Her head was up, her ears were up, and she moved out in the brilliant floating trot she gets when she's having fun and feeling good. we trotted around, getting a good gander at the fences, and then picked up the canter to do a large loop around the field.  Her Majesty was feeling sassy, shaking her head a bit and threatening to throw in a happy buck or two.

We started jumping over a little vertical, then going down a small incline then galloping down to a log, turning around and galloping back up the incline to pop over an oxer.  Okay, sounds easy, but if you're used to going on flat, perfectly manicured footing, well then, galloping on grass and going up and down hills is a whole 'nother thing altogether!  Then we went up the oxer, down the vertical and the log, then around and up another hill to jump another log that set right up on the lip of the hill.   Again, you don't see a lot of this stuff in show jumping (unless of you spend lots of time in Spruce Meadows or Hamburg) so I was operating on a wing and a prayer. Sug, bless her heart, thought this was all great fun and figured things out despite whatever I was doing on her back.

We went up and down hills, and jumped things going both and down.  We jumped logs, both singly and in stacks.  We slalomed in and out of trees as we navigated through the courses we were given. We even jumped a ditch, which went a heck of a lot better than I thought it would.  The ditch came in the middle of the course and I'd wanted to jump it by itself first. "Nope, you can do it, " said Virginia as she told me to sit back and slip the reins.  At least, I think she said that - she told me to lean back and slip the reins a few times.  That's another thing -- she kept telling me to go with a longer rein, which went totally against my jumper training.  Virginia said if I didn't I might end up on Sug's neck or falling out the front door if she pecked or needed to put her head down to balance herself, so out of the sheer will to live I figured I'd listen to Virginia.

The most entertaining part of the afternoon came when we got to the water obstacle.  If you've been following AWIP at all, you might recall that the Sainted Mare is highly aquaphobic.  She's been known to go wheels-up if there's a puddle in the wash stall, so I was anticipating a discussion at the water. Sug didn't disappoint. She refused to get within 10 feet of it at first, wheeling and backing and hopping up and down.  We tried for about 5 minutes to convince her to get close, but she wasn't having it.

This was taken after we had a 20 minute discussion.
Clearly she still thinks there are alligators in there....

Mary-Ann and her horse Bene then tried to give us a lead.  We tried this from a standstill near the water, then following at a trot and then approaching the water.  Nothing doing.  Just when we were about to call it a day and watch while Mary-Ann and Bene schooled the water, Sug decided she'd better go ahead and humor us and leapt into the middle of the water, gathered herself, and leapt out of it.  There was much fussing and patting and we then went back and forth through the water until we could do it without any fussing.  Then we tried jumping a stack of logs, followed by a slight back and then down through the water and then up a small hill to a log.  The first time we attempted it Sug saw the water on the other side of the logs and said, "Oh, HELL no!"  I circled her, sat in the back seat and rode defensively as I was told, and we went up, over, throughout the water and up over the log like we did it every day.

This is how we looked:

Not too shabby, huh?? (Can I tell you how may times I've watched this video?  Like, a thousand!)  Doesn't she look like a good eventing pony??  After we confirmed her at the water, we tried jumping up and down banks, starting with little ones and getting a little bigger each time.  The first time she jumped up we were both a little shocked, and she kinda got caught up and I got my teeth rattled a bit. We recovered and managed to jump down the down side, which went fairly well.  Virginia and I expected her to give a great big old leap out into space, but she just popped down that bank, easy peasy, which Virginia said shows how smart she is. (Virginia was promoted to Most Favored Person after that comment.)

So that was it.  Our big foray over to the eventing side of the equestrian world.  I'm so glad I tried it. Screwing up my courage and jumping cross country obstacles made me feel all kinds of badass, which will hopefully make me more confident in my show jumping.  Plus, learning how to ride and jump over varied terrain is really good for you- I felt super solid in the tack the next time I popped over some fences in our ring.

Who knows - this may be the start of something special.

Thanks for reading!