Monday, November 24, 2014

The New Normal...

Meet Mooch
Good grief, it's been a while since I've posted!  Good thing y'all aren't holding your breath waiting for me!

It seems we left off with the kids and Tiki.  They are really enjoying getting to know him, as he's a way different horse than we've all been used to.  Sug and James were characters, but of a quieter sort, if that makes sense.  If he were a person, Tiki would be the one who walked into a room and everyone knew it immediately. He'd sit down next to you and engage you in a conversation about your feelings on Eastern mysticism, ask you to go skydiving the next day, and invite you to a class on painting watercolors the next.  

We've also found a pony for me to play with.  His name is Presidential, and he's a great big bay lovebug. I'm not 100% sure of his story, other than he was a Big Eq horse.  I think he had a small injury and needed to be brought back with a lighter job until he's ready to go back to 3' 6" land, but I may be wrong.  All I know is I am super lucky to have him for however long that turns out to be.

He's a big softie, and loves kisses and cuddles.  I've taken to calling him Mooch, as he reminds me of a guy I used to know; he was a big ol' football player, nicest guy you ever met, always had a small for everyone.  Not the brightest crayon in the box, but not the dullest.  Just an all-around good doobie.  And that's what this big bay boy is, so I'm calling him Mooch.  Or Moochie.  Or Smoochie-Moochie, because he likes to give kisses.  Seriously, I can't help but baby talk him, he's such a big mush.

Making out with Mooch
He's wonderful to ride, so well trained.  I feel a bit sorry for him, actually, as he's used to some pretty good riders giving him some pretty precise clues, and carting me around must be like going back to kindergarten for him.  He's such a love though, he tries his best to give me what he thinks I want.  The other night in a lesson my trainer asked me to drop my stirrups and sit the trot.  Well, as you know I've not been riding for a while, and my fitness level was pretty nonexistent to start with.  So basically I was bouncing all around up there like a total hot mess, and he was wiggling all over the place underneath me.  I mean wiggling like he had ants in his pants, which wasn't helping my efforts to sit the trot.  It took me a couple minutes to realize what was happening: He was desperately trying to figure out what I wanted, bless his heart!  He was giving me shoulder-in, haunches in, haunches out, everything he could think of in response to my rapidly shifting weight.

So Mooch is my new babysitter, and I'm so lucky to be able to experience what this wonderful boy has to offer.  That being said, it does feel weird and somewhat disconcerting to have a new partner.  On one hand it feels so good to be able to ride, to be able to groom and play with and just  "be" with a horse of my "own."  On the other hand, it's different, as I'm learning a whole new language as he and I navigate our way towards a partnership, and that language has a lot of different vocabulary.   And I miss the easiness of the old language, but at the same time enjoying learning the new one. Does that make any sense?

So that's where we're at.  Back to normal, or, perhaps more accurately, the new normal.

Mooch loves his treats!

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.