Thursday, March 15, 2018

Horses and Kids: Expensive Therapy or Lasting Legacy of Love?

Sophie on Cookie and Noah on Sugar.
When I was younger I didn't want kids.  Not because I didn't like them. More like I thought I didn't have the right skill sets to be a good parent and I didn't feel it was a good idea to potentially screw up  perfectly good little humans.  So it came as a bit of a surprise to me that at some point I changed my mind and decided reproduction sounded like a good idea.  And a few years later it was even more surprising to me that something I started doing again as a means of gaining some time away from my kids actually turned into one of the best things I could have done for them as a parent.

I starting riding again when my kids were five and seven years old, needing some time to re-connect with myself outside of my role as mom and wife.  I'm an only child, and need alone time to re-charge my batteries.  I loved my kids to distraction, but having two small creatures with constant needs sometimes just sucks the life right out of a girl.  So I started taking riding lessons again.  Life and schedules being what they were, sometimes I'd need to take the kids with me. (Ask me how easy it is to concentrate on inside-leg-to-outside-hand when you've realized the kids have chewed through the duct tape used to affix them to the viewing room chairs and are now wandering unsupervised through the barn.)

Fast forward a bit to the point where both my kids had begun taking lessons with me and I now had a horse of my own.  Mommy-time now had a new meaning.  It meant teaching them how to be safe around 1200 lb animals. It meant teaching them how to communicate with the horses and to listen to what the horses were communicating back to them.  It meant spending hours commuting back and forth to the barn and then hours at the barn together, which meant we had a lot of time to talk to each other, laugh with each other, sing together, or just 'Be' together.  With the kids' other sports I dropped them off, cheered them on, picked them up and then brought them home again.  Sure, we talked about the soccer practice, or the lacrosse game, or what the coach had said, but with the kids' sports my husband and I were largely onlookers.   The riding was something the kids and I did as a unit.

Noah and James
As my children grew their love of riding and horses stayed constant.  They both participated in school sports as well as their equestrian endeavors.  More than once they'd tell me the horses were their therapy, that time spent with their equine friends made handling all the other challenges they faced easier.  One memorable dinner conversation saw my daughter telling us how she felt having the riding in her life kept her from getting into trouble (makes spending the gross national product of Kenya totally worth it!)

My son started his freshman year at college this past Fall.  Like any other mother, I worried that he'd be overwhelmed, that he would have a hard time adjusting and making friends, that he'd have a hard time without the safety net of family and friends.  I shouldn't have worried so much.  Shortly after school started Noah called home and told me he tried out for and made the Northeastern University Equestrian team.

Husky Equestrian Team member and Proud Mom

Bonding with his steed
Over the course of the first semester he told me several times how spending time with the horses helped him deal with the challenges of being away from home and being a first-year engineering student.  He'd call home and tell me about his lessons on the team horses, or send texts with pics of the horses he'd ridden at shows.  When he was home on break recently we were having a quiet breakfast together and he told me again how much the riding had been his anchor while adjusting to his new life.  The he told me, "I think I'm going to be like you.  I think I'm going to always need the horses in my life."

A lot of being a parent is just bobbing and weaving and hoping you've done more to build them up than screw them up.  I may have spent the gross national product of Kenya for several years running, but after hearing what his experiences with horses meant to my kid, well, it pretty much made it all worthwhile.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

I Finally Bit The Bullet...

The last time I showed. With Sug in October 2013.
I went to a horse show. Which I've done before. To watch other people show. However, this time I was the one that horse showed.  Me. On Indy.  The two of us together.

To give you an idea of what a BIG DEAL this is, let me share this factoid with you: The last time I horse showed was on the Sainted Mare almost 4 years ago.  So yeah, there was a lot of rust to shake off.  Like a 1963 Chevy pickup truck that's been left unloved in the back yard for 30 years worth of rust.

I've waited almost 2 years to show Indy because when I got him he hadn't had a lot of experience and tended to get a whopping case of Baby Brain/ADD at shows (BBADD?? Bwahahaha!)  So, being the excellent mother that I am,  I let my daughter show him, as Sophie's a better rider and bounces better than I do.  (Ah yes, a true Mother of the Year moment right there).  In his defense, we don't have a big show budget so we typically don't get to show much. However, Indy has been getting better and better each time out. (Thank you, Sophie!) Earlier this spring my trainer showed him and Indy was a rock star and champion in his division.  As it seemed my youngun was growing up I figured that maybe it was time for me for me to put on my BGPs and take a crack at showing myself.

When the fateful weekend arrived Noah and I packed up the HMS Valium the night before just to make sure we had everything in order.   I prepped my show bag and then checked it 5 times to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything.  Shirt, jacket, breeches, belt? Yep.  Ibuprofen? Check.  Extra contact lenses? Check. Sunscreen because I'm a pasty white chick that burns easily? Yep.  Band-aids? Tums and Imodium in case of gastrointestinal distress?  Yes and Yes.  Valium? HELL YES! (Hey, Indy gets his Perfect Prep, I get mine).

I set two alarms for 4AM, even thought I always wake up every hour on the hour when I know I have to be somewhere.  I visualized my rounds, which I found difficult because I didn't know the courses.  Yes, I'm insane.  Of course I didn't know the courses and my stupid mind gets hung up on the fact that without knowing I can't visualize accurately and then I have an internal dialogue telling myself it doesn't matter and to just make one up for the love of GAWD! (If you've ever seen the Lord of the Rings movies, picture Gollum talking to himself. Seriously, that's how my mind works. It's exhausting.)

Thankfully when we got to the show there was plenty of parking where I could park head-in and drive straight out (because I'm still neurotic about backing up). I got my number and by the time I got back to the trailer it was time to get on and school.  We schooled, looked over the courses, and before I could overthink things my trainer shoved me into the ring.

Me when I don't need to back up the trailer

I biffed the first fence.  "Well," I thought, "got that out of the way! Might as well kick on and see what we can get from here."  The rest of the course actually went pretty well, except from the flyer on the way out of the diagonal line.  I came out of the ring and my trainer was smiling ear to ear and bouncing up and down with excitement.  "That was awesome!  I'm so proud of you!"  I laughed because of course it wasn't awesome, but it was a pretty decent start. We briefly covered the 'learning moments' from round one, planned the next course and then he shoved me back in the ring.  (Smart man - he knows not to give me time to overthink things).  The second round went less well than the first but I came out of the ring smiling anyway. "Not what we hoped for but we still got around in one peice!" was what I said to my trainer.  He didn't seem phased by my mistakes at all. Quite frankly, I think he was so excited and proud that I was finally horse showing my actual performance didn't matter.

Indy was being such a good boy despite my mistakes, no tension or ADD moments, just doing his job and taking care of me.  Our last round was fabulous.  I mean, it was the kind of round I'd dreamed of having.  Was it perfect? No.  But it was smooth and we did the numbers and the right distances showed themselves and I think I smiled the whole way around. When Indy and I left the ring the smile on my trainer's face made the day for me.  "That was wonderful! Amy, you should be so proud of yourself!  Look what you did today! You haven't shown in years and you came out and you rode so well!"

Our last round. (Apologies for the finger).

After we finished it was my son Noah's turn to ride Mooch in the 3' jumpers.  There were a lot of entries in the class, so it took forever.  Shortly after thier first round Indy let us know he was ready to go home.  He started loudly voicing his displeasure and we could hear his hollering all the way up at the jumper ring.  He started with the occassional whinny, then the frequency and decible level gradually increased. I went to check on him, offered him water, gave him a treat and fussed over him a bit, and then turned to go back to Noah and Mooch.

I got about 10 feet from the trailer when he shrieked again. "Mom-mmeeeeeeeeee! Don't go! I'm bored!"  He hollered throughout the entire second class.  "Mommy! Mommy!  Mom-meeeeeeee! Mom! Momma! Dammit woman, I'm talking to you!"  At some point in the third class he started pawing as well.  And not just regular pawing, but the kind where he brings his leg up until it's parallel to the floor and then slams his hoof down so hard it sounds like he's gonna bust a hole in the floor.

So I went back to the trailer again.  He saw me and immediately stopped yelling and pawing, and I swear the little turd smiled at me.  "You're back!! I missed you! Is Mooch done? Can we go home now? I'm bored."  I hung out with him, offered him more water, played with him a bit and when I thought he would behave went back to jumperland to wath Noah. I was barely gone a minute before the little booger started up again.

I (bam!) Want (bam!) To (bam!) Go (bam!) Home! (bam!)

Aaaaannnnnddd that continued until Mooch and Noah finished and went back to the trailer.  He finally shut up once Mooch was on the trailer and we were ready to pull out.  By that point I think my ears were bleeding.

On the plus side, Indy seems to have a good understanding of how the actual showing part of the experience should go.  Clearly we're gonna have to do some serious work on his trailer manners, though.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In Which Indy Meets Marilyn Payne, And Things Go Well

"Dis is mah cute face!"
When you have someone like eventer and international eventing/dressage judge Marilyn Payne practically in your back yard, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to take the opportunity to learn from her.  Regardless of which equestrian discipline you actually practice.  So when a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook showing her and her horse at a recent jumping clinic with Marilyn, I asked her if she knew of future events I could participate in.  As luck would have it, there was another scheduled for the end of March.

I signed up for the clinic, and then begged my wonderful friend Marissa to come along for help and moral support.  As a card carrying neurotic and doomsayer, I'm better at looking at what could go wrong, rather than what could go right.  Emergencies and upheavals are always easier to deal with when you have someone calm and reasonable with you, and Marissa is the voice of reason in my equestrian life.  She may not ever come out with me again, as I no doubt drove her nuts with my crazy texts about various what if scenarios. The poor woman had to deal with stuff like this:

Me: Is it the worst thing in the world if we just load Indy on the left side of the trailer?  We're only going 10 minutes down the road. He's smaller than Mooch but loads better on the left and I don't want to make loading a big production.  We're working on it and he's improved so much but I don't want to push it....
Marissa: That's fine.

Me: Parking is in a field. It's supposed to rain.  What if I get stuck?  Do you think the Tahoe will get stuck?  It should be fine, right?  Should I go to Home Depot and get wooden boards just in case?  Would that help?
Marissa: Do you have 4-wheel drive? I think it should be ok but I guess it couldn't hurt.

Me: Do you think hanging a lickit or something in the trailer would keep Indy from screaming when he's in the trailer by himself?
Marissa: Worth a try. But I'd hang it after you park.   (In my defense, I did intend to hang it only after we arrived, but after all my other texts you can't blame the girl for wondering what level my crazy was at.)

Indy loaded perfectly. (Good Boy!)   We got there early, so there was plenty of room for me to roll in and do a big turn so I was facing the exit. (I suck at backing up.)  Since we were so ridiculously early (helloooo, neurotic!) we had plenty of time to get the lay of the land and check out the class before us.   Shockingly, Indy remained quietly munching his hay in the trailer while we were gone. (Good Boy!)

"What?? I'm fine. I'm a big boy now. Nothing to see here."

The first jump I saw when we entered the area was a black and white pole set over 2 black and white barrels painted to look like cows.  There was a 2' plastic cow in front of the standards on either side.  I thought Indy was gonna plotz, but he barely registered it.

Marilyn called me over to ask for some background on Indy and our training together. "He's quite cute," she said when we got close.  Indy, sensing a potential friend, stuck his nose out to give her a friendly bump.

Indy: Hi Marilyn! You're cute too!  I like your place.  There are lots of jumps. I like jumping!  What's with the cows? I've never seen a cow jump before!  Can we start jumping now?

We started over poles set in a circle like a clock, with the poles on 12, 3, 6, and 9, spiraling in and out in the trot and canter. We did that fairly well.  Then we progressed to the actual jumping.  Marilyn told us we would jump each element individually before tackling the entire course.  OK, no problem, we've got this, I thought.

I was wrong.  "Where do you think your focus point should be? Where would you jump this fence?"" she asked as she pointed to the first fence.  My brain blanked.  "Wait, what?? There's a quiz?"  Each jump followed the same process; we were asked where we should focus our eyes (not just the last window, but the bottom right corner of the last window) and what part of the fence we should jump (the high part of a Swedish oxer and the corner of a corner jump.)  It was good exercise for me, as my mind tends to be in a "What Am I Jumping Thank God I Survived Holy Shit Where Do I Go Now?" jumble and the way we were approaching things forced me be more thoughtful and also built in a pause/reset moment after every fence.   Indy was totally fine with the repetition, which surprised me as normally he gets annoyed at having to do something more than a couple times.  He very clearly feels "I did what you asked, now let's move on."

Things Marilyn had me working on:

  • Straightness
  • Picking focus spots and actually using them (Marilyn: "Amy, where were you looking on the approach to that fence?"  Me: "Ummmm, at B?"  Marilyn: "Were you really looking at B?" Me: Ummmm, no." Marilyn: "Do you know where you were looking?" Me: "Ummm, not really.")
  • Being more mindful. Not just about where to look and how to jump each obstacle but about how I rode in between them and how that sets me up for the next fence.
  • Opening the outside rein for a counter bend and adding a strong inside leg (almost thinking leg yield) around the corners as Indy tends to lean on the inside shoulder around turns.  This was so  different than what I've always done it was damn near an impossible task.  My mind was sending out instructions and my body was adamantly ignoring them.  I finally managed to do this somewhat successfully on the last course. 

Oddly enough, the task I found the most difficult during the clinic is probably my most important take away.  Indy does not like the ends of the ring, as there are large doors and he feels there are BAD THINGS on the other side of those doors.  He often will drop his inside shoulder and duck to the inside, porpoising around the short side of the arena.  Which I find a bit nerve-wracking, to say the least.  The other day I could feel him getting ready to do it and I opened my outside rein to counter bend him and held my inside leg against his side like it was a steel column.  Lo and behold, no porpoising!

I liked working with Marilyn a lot, and am going to try to see if we can set up something once a month or so. I'd love to get help from her on our flatwork as well as our jumping.  Will keep you posted...

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Neverthess, She Persisted...The Memes

"Nevertheless, she persisted" has become an overnight battle cry and the subject of a gazillion tweets (#LetLizSpeak, #ShePersisted), memes, and t-shirts since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said while defending of his silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren during her speech criticizing attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions.

The other day I shamelessly used it as a metaphor for my personal holy grail, my crusade to become a better rider in the face of much mediocrity.

So I figured what the heck, it'd be fun to create a few memes showcasing some of my greatest awkward equestrian moments.  I'm on Sug in all of them.  I guess I haven't had enough photo ops with Indy yet, although God knows there have been meme-worthy moments with him.
Note that The Sainted Mare literally jumped out of her shoe when I asked her for a little extra effort over this oxer. (It's by her nose.)

The Sainted One was a bit behind the leg this day and I felt we needed a little extra oomph to jump this oxer.  Apparently I was a little over-zealous in my request. Oxers were our nemesis, for some reason.  The "Oh Shit!" look on my face is priceless.  And you can't tell in this photo, but I jumped this entire round with my fly down.  (The photographer was kind enough to point that out to me after I finished.)

Yet another oxer.  Sug opted for the Rider Override and went for the flyer here.  I'm pretty sure I dropped a very audible F-bomb as we took off.  Nothing like keeping it G-rated at the horse show, what with the kids 40 feet to the left of me and all....

So there you have it.  Despite many, many awkward moments I persist at trying to get better at this riding thing.  Thank God for the patience and fortitude of my equine partners.

Feel free to share any of your "Nevertheless, she persisted" equestrian moments. It'd be fun to make a gallery, don't you think?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Nevertheless, She Persisted...

No, this is not a political post. Apologies to Elizabeth Warren, but I've decided that phrase neatly summarizes my efforts to become a good rider.  Okay, maybe I should really say "adequate rider."  Right now "good rider" feels like I'd be setting the bar too high.

Have you ever had those "I suck at this and should be banned from ever throwing my leg across a horse's back" rides?  The kind where you feel that your brain is telling your body parts what to do and those body parts are replying  "No comprende."

I've had several of those rides recently.  Some nights I just give up and say "Tonight's just a fitness night, Indy.  We're going to do trot and canter sets with you on the buckle and Mommy in a two-point so I can say I'm building strength and doing something productive."

It's not all bad. I have had some successes.  Instead of being Queen Calculator (adding strides to Every.Single.Fence) I have been riding boldly to fences, almost like I did when I was a kid.  Mind you, I feel like an unbalanced sack of potatoes cowboying her way around a course, but at least I'm doing the numbers.  I yearn for the day when I can actually produce a smooth round, but lately that day feels more like a fantasy than a potential reality.

Another bright moment was the other daywhen one of my trainers was riding Indy and said that Indy was becoming more fun to ride, as he was more broke and balanced.  That was nice to hear.  My trainer does the occasional training ride on Indy, but 90% of his training over the year I've had him has been done by my daughter and me.  So that made me feel that I can't suck too badly, as at least he'd improved.  And of course I ruined that moment by thinking, "Imagine what he'd feel like now if he'd gotten more training rides."  Sometimes I wish I could tell my mind to just shut the hell up for once.  I try, but it never listens.

Despite feeling that I will never be more than an adequate rider at best, I still try.  I take regular lessons when I'm not traveling.  I do my best to ride five days a week.  I read books and try to incorporate what I've learned into my riding.

So while I may never be a good rider, there is one thing I feel I can say about myself. Whether its folly, stubborn bullheadedness, or sheer determination, at least I've persisted.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Christmas Miracle...

I figured that was an apt title given the last time I posted.

It's not for lack of ideas. I have ideas all the time.  Something will happen and I start composing a post in my head.  It just never gets actually written down.  Mostly because of the whole work-life balance thing.  Which will be another post altogether.

I hope you're doing something fun for the day. Like celebrating with family, dysfunctional or not.  My family is entertainingly dysfunctional, like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get. So I will be celebrating with wine.  Wine adds another level of interesting to things, don't you think?


We do a family holiday card every year.  I started out including Sug the year we got her. Made her wear antlers and a Santa hat, which she handled with her usual equanimity.  Each year we did a new card, adding new equine family members as the kids grew from ponies to horses.  Past cards included Cookie, the wonderful pony we borrowed from my dearest friend, James, Tiki, Mooch, and RJ.  As the kids grew taller, so did the horses.

The year Sug passed the holiday card featured Tiki, the unicorn we were fortunate to lease, and Mooch, the first horse to have the job of babysitting me after I lost Sug.  Last year was Indy's first appearance. Mooch had left to go to another family, so we had RJ, a wonderful, gentle soul who had become mostly Noah's partner. Neither would subject themselves to the indignity of wearing holiday headgear of any kind.

This year's card has Indy, who has just celebrated a full year with us, and Mooch.  RJ sustained an injury and is now retired and living the good life in North Carolina.  In a stroke of good fortune, Mooch's family was looking for a new home for him so we bought him and he's been with us since June.

Yeah, there's a lot to catch you guys up on.

So here's this year's holiday card, and a few pics from our photo shoot (which is a fancy term for freezing your a$$ off while some poor soul from the barn you've coerced into becoming a photographer takes a few pictures.)

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and just general wishes of good times and happiness to you!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Wait. What?!? Does He What? -- The Follow Up

What?  I'm a guy. It's what we do.
Just wanted to give you all an update on how Indy's been doing since we'd found blood in his urine. While the vet felt the issue was due to excessive 'self-pleasuring,' we still took the precaution of taking urine a week later just to make sure there was no infection.

Rather than have the vet come again I elected to get the specimen myself.  I mean, how hard can it be to get a urine sample, right?

Harder than you might think, it seems.  Indy normally pees as soon as I put him in his stall after we ride. He grabs a bite of hay, takes a swig or two of water, circles a couple of times and pees in the upper left corner of his stall.  So after we rode I went in his stall with him, little plastic cup in hand.

Indy was very happy to have me in his stall.  He was not interested in dropping trou, however. Rather, he wanted to give me a tour of his stall.

Indy: Mom! (nudge) Mom! (nudge) Look!  This is where I keep my hay.  See? That's my hay.  All mine. I love my hay. NomNomNomNom.

Me: It looks like very yummy hay, sweetie.  Can you pee for Mommy?

Indy: Mom! (nudge) Mom! (nudge) Look!  This is my water.  See?  I have two buckets.  I like to swish some of my hay in my water so it tastes better.  

Me:  That does look refreshing, sweetie.  Like when Mommy makes tea. How about you drink some water and then pee, okay?

Indy:  Okay. Sure.  Look over here!  Here is my feed bucket.  Sadly, it's empty.  Maybe you could get some more grain for me?  I love grain.  No? Okay. Look what I can do with my bucket.  I can bang it against the wall. Bang! Bang! Bang!  Man, that's fun!

Me: That's amazing, Indy.  You are such a smart boy.  Now can you show Mommy how smart you are by peeing in the cup?

Indy: Sure. No problem.  This is the corner I like to pee in.  See, I circle three times, then I put my butt against the back wall and my head against the side wall and then I pee.  Hey. Wait.  What's with the cup?  What are you doing back there?  That's a bit personal, Mom.  You need to respect my space, remember?  I respect your space, you respect mine, right?

Me: I know, sweetie, but this is an exception.  I need you to pee in the cup so Doc can make sure you're healthy.

Indy:  Oh, okay.  Why didn't you say that earlier? Here you go!

I think it says something about the the kind of day you had when the high point of that day is successfully catching your horse's pee.  Really, you would have thought I'd climbed Annapurna, I was that chuffed with myself.

The tests came back normal so there's no infection.  The vet's conclusion to the whole incident was that the blood in Indy's urine came from my boy getting excessively jiggy with his man-bits.

Geldings.  Sheesh.