Monday, April 21, 2014

Dragons and Pixies and Trolls - Oh My!

Are those trolls over there??
I know my Mom mostly writes stuff here and sometimes Sug has something to say, but I feel I've been under-represented and I've decided to take things into my own hooves and add my two cents to this blog.

I'm really glad winter is over, but we've done well despite the weather.  Sophie (my girl) and Noah (my boy) have been working hard and improving.  We continued to have fun together. Sometimes instead of riding they just played with me in the indoor arena, running around with me and leading me through obstacle courses, which  was fun.  Sometimes when it was too cold to ride they just groomed me or clipped me or did what they call a "Spa Day."

Now that the weather has gotten nicer we get to come out of the ring and play outside.  I like trail rides a lot, but I'm not a huge fan of our outdoor ring.  Others may disagree, but I swear dragons and trolls run rampant in that place!  Mom and I went out there the other day, and yeah, it was a bit brisk and there was a breeze, and it was the first time we'd been outside, so I was feeling pretty happy.

As we walked down the wooded path to the ring, I swear I saw a troll come out from under a pile of leaves, and I bolted forward to get us out of harm's way.  You'd think Mom would have been happy that I saved our bacon, but oddly enough she was less than thrilled.  She put me into a shoulder-in and said "That's not a troll, you goofball, it's a squirrel!"   I feel a simple thank you would have been more in order.

We passed through the rest of Troll Path unscathed and entered the outdoor.  There were some new jumps in there, so I felt the need to go over and investigate, as it's common knowledge that pixies inhabit jump standards and will jump out and bite you at any opportunity.  I snorted loudly at the standards to scare away any pixies that may have been hiding there, and just to be on the safe side I snorted the next several times we passed in order to discourage them from returning.  Mom called me a boobie and made me shoulder-in past it in both directions.

I could not understand why Mom was not impressed by my diligent attention to our safety.  For example, when when approached the mounting block I very clearly saw a dragon hiding behind it, waiting to pounce.  I did everything I could to convince mom it was not safe to advance: I snorted, side passed, planted myself and then reversed field rapidly.  "James, you eejit, that's no dragon.  That's a chihuahua!"  We did a shoulder-in past the mounting block in both directions.

I was starting to notice a pattern.

Mom remained calm and chatted to me the entire time we rode, telling me that we were safe and there were no horse-eating beasties about and if by some chance they appeared she said she'd take care of me.  She told me I was a brave boy when I managed to control my fear and pass whatever demon I saw.  (I don't see how I was brave - the woman didn't give me much choice!)  She babbled on to the point where finally I relaxed and began to believe that either she was supremely confident in her dragon fighting abilities, or she was dumber than a box of rocks and completely oblivious to her surroundings.   I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and  put my mind to the job at hand, but I remained ever vigilant just in case she was wrong.

Chief Safety Officer James relaxing after a tough shift.
Thankfully we finished our session without incident and returned to the barn unscathed and ready to fight another day.  Mom gave me a carrot and a mint for overcoming my anxieties and bravely facing down my demons.  I know she was patronizing me, but I can overlook that because of the treats.  She put me back in my stall with my hay and I heaved a sigh of relief, thankful the ordeals of the day were done.


Friday, April 18, 2014


Love th view.
Last Saturday morning was my last chance to ride before heading out on a five day business trip.  My head told me I should get the most out of our time together by working on our lateral work and my fitness/level of comfort in the saddle.  My heart, however, had other ideas.  "Let's go out and play in the fields," it said. The sky was overcast, it was windy, and the ground was slightly damp due to rain the night before - not the most ideal conditions. Prudence told me that it was a bad idea - we'd only been outside a couple of times due to the harsh winter we'd had, the cool temperature and the wind pretty much guaranteed I'd be sitting on a fresh horse, and we'd be alone.

So of course I decided to ride outside.  I wanted my last ride before leaving to be fun, something Sug and I could both enjoy.  We set off, and as soon as we left the barn Sug's head went up, her ears went forward, and off she set in a very forward and purposeful trot.  I let her go, knowing that trying to curb her enthusiasm would only serve to amp her up more.  Off we went, trotting up a fence line and then down the opposite hedge row. Sug tossed her head and snorted several times, letting me know she was enjoying herself. 

"Wheee!  This is fun!  Check out my extended trot!"

Very impressive, Sug. Can we take it down a notch?

"Nope, I'm channeling my inner dressage horse. Totilas, eat my dust!"

We did trot sets in a neighboring field to build our base of fitness.  At one point we startled a deer, provoking it into leaping from the hedgerow out into our path (showing again why deer are dumb - what prey animal actually jumps into the path of a potential predator????)  Sug executed a high-speed leg yield, then stood glaring and snorting at the offender.  (I guess we got to practice our lateral work after all.) Thankfully I stayed on during this little maneuver, though I will admit to patting my pocket and making sure my cell phone was in my pocket.  

You'd think I'd take that little bit of excitement as a sign to cut our losses and head back to the barn.  Nope, I decided to continue on, just because I'm a) stubborn and pigheaded and b) dumb as a box of rocks.  It even started to mist a little bit, which a more intelligent being would have considered a sign from the gods to go back to the barn.  Nah, I figured that at some point we might need to show in adverse conditions and that this was a great opportunity to practice dealing with this kind of a situation.  Rationalization, much?

So off we headed into the next field, which was larger and better suited for longer trot sets.  Sug was stilling feeling spry, and bounded up the slight grade like she was on a mission, ears perked and head swiveling back and forth.  We were both enjoying the hell out of ourselves, and she kept trying to break into the canter.  I held her to the trot until I was certain the ground was good and there were no holes, and then let her go.

"Finally!  Hang on!" 

I'm always surprised at how quick she is.  She jumped into the canter and about three strides in I felt her back drop out from under me as she accelerated into a higher gear.  Damn, the sound of her hooves as she ate up the ground and the feel of her powerful muscles bunching and uncoiling under me was exhilarating!  I can only imagine what jockeys feel like.  The wind forced tears from my eyes and made my hood flap like a flag in high winds, and I just sat up there, going with her and laughing like a loon.  We repeated our efforts, running up the one long side and finishing on the short side at the top of the field, then walking down the other long side before galloping off again.

We did this a couple times until I decided to call it a day, wanting to end on a good note and before she got tired and we risked a potential injury.  Madame Mare was all kinds of full of herself as we jogged back to the barn. (I wanted to walk, but Sug used the power of the Rider Override to veto my request). 

"Did you see me back there??  Did you see how fast I was going?  I was on fire!!!   Suck my dust, suckers! Can't catch The Sug, baby!"

Madame Mare trash- talked the entire way back to the barn, shaking her head and breaking into the occasional passage as she kept up with her own ESPN highlight reel, completely forgetting she was an 18-year-old warmblood and not a three-year-old Kentucky Derby prospect.  I have to admit, I was feeling pretty darn good about my world as well. 

Sure, we all need those days of serious ring work, but there's definitely something to be said for 'cowboying up' and going out for a good old-fashioned pipe-cleaner.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

To Lesson or Not to Lesson: Training Update

If you've been following AWIP at all you may remember that I was having a difficult time adjusting the interim trainer my barn owner/trainer brought in to give lessons while she was in Florida for the winter.  To make a long story short, I was not adjusting well to the new trainer's style.  

Ears up and forward - how I like to see them.
I felt she was extremely critical of me. I felt (and I'm trying to make clear this is what a felt, not necessarily what may have been happening) like a couldn't go around a 20 meter circle without hearing a correction every other stride.  Criticism, if expressed constructively, is not a bad thing.  I've always been told that if you are managing people, for every negative comment it helps to make a couple positive comments if you wish to keep the person you're dealing with motivated.

However, in this case, I was hearing 5 negative comments, a less negative comment, and then 5 more negative comments.  She seemed to be softer and less critical with my kids, and I told myself I was being paranoid and there'd be no reason for her to be harder on me than the kids.  That being said, some of my barn-mates who were present during my lessons did mention that they felt she was being extremely critical with me, more so than she was with the kids.

I also felt she was not understanding of some of the conformational and health issues I face.  My heels do not go down.  They just don't.  It's a conformational thing.  It's not the achilles tendon, so it's nothing I can fix with stretching.  It's the way the shinbone and the ankle joint are constructed. I've asked chiropractors and orthopedics about it and they say there's nothing I can do, it's just the way I'm made.  T2 tried to accept that, but still asked me to try and get my heels down and toe facing up and out, forcing my foot and ankle into a position that I could not maintain.  This activated the nerve condition I have so badly that after 15 minutes of riding I'd have to stop, as my leg and ankle would completely go neurological and give out.

I can accept that I need a lot of work, but have found that I learn best if we concentrate on one or two major issues at a time.  Any more and it becomes overwhelming.  I fought through the difficulties, knowing that there's an adjustment period with any change.  I sucked it up for just over two months, and I did have some lessons that were marginally better, but most left me upset and tense.  It got to the point where I did not even want to ride, and on lesson days I would feel anxious all day.  I was so tense and over-thinking everything I was doing that I was riding horribly - I couldn't even pick up the right diagonal!  I do want to make one point clear -- I like this woman.  I like speaking with her, she's funny and extremely knowledgeable about horses and riding.  It really bothered (in fact, still bothers) me that I could not seem to work well in her system.

To add to all my worries and woes, Sug was not happy.  She'd always gone nice and round and happy.  Now her head was up, and instead of being round her back was inverted.  Instead of happy forward and relaxed ears, hers were now tense.  I may not be the best rider in the world, but before my horse seemed happy, and now she seemed as anxious as I was.

The confusing part of the whole thing was that I felt a lot of what T2 said made sense, and again, I liked her, and the kids were certainly improving under her tutelage.  I gave it a couple of months, and finally just decided I needed to stop lessoning with her.  I'm looking at it this way:  There are a lot of good teachers in the world, but if they can't get their message to you in a way that you can process and act on it, they are not the teacher for you.  For example, my kids have had a lot of the same teachers over their years in the school systems.  Teachers that Noah has worked well with are not necessarily teachers that Sophie has understood.  George Morris is one of the most venerated horsemen of our age, and has a lot of great experience to pass along.  That being said, his way of passing that message along might not work for everybody.

So for the most part I've been working on my own, just trying to get out of my self-critical mode and get back to a feeling of riding with confidence and feeling.  I've taken a couple of lessons with an eventing trainer at the barn, and have had a blast working with her.  It was amazing, the difference between being absolutely miserable in a lesson and feeling invigorated and joyful.  The eventing trainer concentrated more on being effective in the tack, and less on perfect form.

I said before that a lot of stuff T2 has said made sense, and I find myself consciously paying attention to some of the things she had me work on while I was riding with her.  I'm more conscious of not leaning in around turns, and Sug feels more balanced and less like she's falling in on the turns.  I'm also more alert to the fact that I tend to drop my inside hand on turns, so now I'm trying to raise it a bit, which is also helping my turns.  I'm trying to keep my hands quieter in general.  I'm also trying to keep my body more still as we go over a jump, doing my best not to throw my body forward when taking off and then have it fall back at landing.

So that's it.  While the content of T2's lessons had value; the way that content was delivered made it difficult to absorb.  I'm much happier now, although I feel my riding took a definite step backwards. Sug is much happier now, and back to being round and bendy. There's a part of me that feels like a quitter: I've never been a quitter, always trying to tough things out.  I've certainly been criticized before, professionally and in my riding life.  I've had trainers get frustrated with me, I've gotten frustrated with them, and been frustrated with myself when I can't execute.   I've never faced anything like this, and I tell myself that I gave it a good effort, and really tried to make it work, but it wasn't a fit.  I tell myself it's not a bad thing to decide a situation isn't working for you and you need something different.  I still find it really hard to deal with, because part of me feels that because I like her as a person I should be able to work with her.  Part of me feels relieved to have made the decision and to be giving myself permission to make this decision, part of me feels guilty and like a quitter for not being able to make it work.  Overall, though, the relieved part is the more dominant feeling.

So that's where things stand.  We'll see how things progress moving forward.

I hope things are well with you and your equine partner!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Playtime for Ponies...

Snuzzles with James
When we were about to leave for the barn I asked Sophie to tell me how cold it was out, as I'd been holed up in my office all day.  She replied that it was "about 60-ish." HUH?  In March, in the coldest winter we've had in ages, all of a sudden it's "60ish?"  I wasn't buying it.  So of course I went down to look at the thermometer and lo and behold, the child was right.  More specifically, it was 63 degrees.

You know how the first warm day makes you feel like putting on shorts and a t-shirt, playing hooky and taking an impromptu road trip to the beach?  Okay, maybe that's not the exact thing you'd do, but you get the point.  You just want to get giddy and throw away the rules for a while.

Soph and I were both feeling this way when we got to the barn.  It was so nice we thought we'd get the horses out of the ring and maybe go for a trail ride. The time change meant we had some light for a while, but the area was still covered in melting snow and ice in some places, and everything else was a mud bog.  Scratch that idea.

We groomed Sug and James while pondering what Plan B should be. We didn't feel like riding, and we were pretty sure the horses could use a change of pace.  After a while we came up with the idea of just going in the ring and simply playing with the .  If you rode as a kid, you may have memories of dragging your horse around, him following like a big old dog, while you tried to get him to jump over jumps with you, walk over obstacles, or play a game of ring tag.

So that's what we did.  We played Tug o' War with lead ropes.  James really enjoys this game, Sug gave two half-hearted tugs and couldn't be bothered any more.  We unfolded a cooler and practiced walking them over it.  We thought it would take a while for Sug and James to trust us enough to walk over it. Nope.  Apparently they trust us, as both just gave us odd looks and then walked right over the cooler.

Walk on cooler?I got this. Easy-peasy. 
Then we set up an L-shaped chute for them to back up through.  That was a giggle, especially as Sug was so sure this exercise would result in treat opportunities that she was overachieving. You could see the wheels turning in her brain, "You want me to step back? Okay.  How about right? You want right?  I can do right. Or left?  Did you want left? I can do that too!  Or did you want back again? Check- I'm on it!"  I only had to back her through it once and on the second time through she zoomed backwards like she was shot from a cannon, stopping only when she got to the other end of the chute, at which point she gave me a look that clearly said, "Ta-Da!  Treat me!"

We did turns on the forehand, turns on the hind end, we trotted over trot poles. James, Sugar and Sophie all did much better at this than I did.  I got tripped up and went ass-over-elbow.  Sug just stood there patiently while I spit out dirt.

You'd think my lack of ability to stay vertical would inhibit me from trying other mildly athletic activities.  Nope.  I'm one of those people you'll see winning a Darwin Award one day.  If this were caveman times, let's just say natural selection would have gotten me a long time ago.  So when Sophie decided to set up a bunch of jumps, well, I figured Sug and I could handle a bunch of cross rails and small verticals.

You know that fancy footing in your arena?  That stuff is HARD to run in!  Seriously, try running the full length of the arena while leaping over a few obstacles and tell me you don't pull up gasping for an oxygen tank to suck on.   Sug thought this was good fun.  As soon as we started trotting Ms. Mare started tossing her head and snaking it back and forth like she does when she's feeling sassy, with the occasional hop-skip just to put a fine point on things.

While The Sainted Mare and I warmed up at the trot, Sophie was tearing around the arena with poor old James trotting doggedly behind, the lead rope stretched to it's full length.  She'd get to a jump and leap over like a gazelle. James would get to the base of the fence, stall out, and then sorta scramble over as if he'd just realized what his role in the situation was.  James was clearly a bit bemused by the situation. "Umm, Soph? I'm confused.  Aren't you supposed to be on top of me when we're jumping?"

Sug and I took our turn.  I was slightly less gazelle-like.  I lumbered towards the fence, figuring I had about 7 strides before takeoff. As I got closer the distance didn't show itself and I started doubting my ability to clear the fence. I managed to get over it, but let's just say I won't be jumping in any hunter derbies anytime soon.  We jumped a few more just for shits and giggles and then wisely called it a night before I got hurt.

Sophie took this video of one of our efforts.  I've always told her she has a pretty skewed outlook on life.  The angle of this video proves that.  BTW, feel free to giggle.  No hard feelings on this end.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Madame Mare's Special Month...

February is a big month in our lives.

On February 18th of 2008, The Sainted Mare stepped off the trailer and into our lives.  She's brought joy and laughter to us every day since.  We sometimes look at life as BS (Before Sugar) and AS (After Sugar).  The kids and I prefer the AS portion of our lives, while I'm pretty sure my husband longs for the BS days.

Our first photo together, taken the day she arrived.

Additionally, the 26th marked the 18th anniversary of The Sainted Mare's birth, a day which, to my way of thinking, ranks up there with other big days like Christmas, 4th of July, and the first Saturday in May (aka the day on which the Kentucky Derby is run).  Coincidentally, Sug shares her birthday with George Morris, so I think February 26th should be memorialized as an Equestrian High Holiday.  (Who does one talk to about those things?  USEF?  The FEI?)

Sug didn't want us to make a big fuss about her birthday. (To be honest, I think the Big 18 is hitting her a bit like the Big 50 hits some humans).  In other words, she wasn't wanting any of this silliness:

We did, however, celebrate a bit.  She was treated to a chiropractic/ acupuncture treatment.  She's been feted with a boatload of carrots and mints, and a massage from yours truly.  She had easy duty this week, as she was ridden by Sophie (who at 70lbs is a much lighter load than Mom!)  To cap off the week on a good note, we've made her favorite Bailey's Chocolate Chip cookies and will bring them to the barn today.

As I've said before, it's good to be the Queen.  Happy birthday, Sug - here's to spending many more together!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Why I Drink...

Some mother/daughter quality time.
Normally I look at the time I spend at the barn as my downtime.  You know, my happy place.  The place where I relax and unwind after a long day at work.  The place where I get to share my love of horses and riding with my children.  Blissful perfection, yes?


The night started out well.  We got out of the house on-time. There was very little traffic.    Sophie rode Sugar and I rode James.  We both had good rides.

Then it started to unravel.  Soph finished first, and when I brought James in, Soph had put Sug back in her stall and was busy cleaning tack.  As I walked over to Soph she got a weird look on her face and then immediately looked away from me.

"What's up?" I asked.

"Nothing," was her reply.  Oh-kaaaaaaay. My Mom-dar was pinging but I decided not to push the issue.

While I untacked James I looked over at Soph and said, "I'd like to get out of here early, so can you clean my tack?"

And there it was.  The big eye-roll, the big drawn-out sigh, and then, "I knew you were going to ask me that.  You always make us clean your tack. What-everrrrrrrr."

3...2...1...BLASTOFF!!!!!  My vision went red, my blood pressure spiked, steam came out of my ears, and I'm pretty sure my head exploded.

Yes, I could have chosen to let this slide, shrugged it off, or simply reiterated my request. That would have been the mature thing to do.  (Just for the record, I do plenty of tack cleaning.  My own, and the kids.')

I did not go the mature route. I proceeded, in clipped tones, to remind Sophie of how many times I'd cleaned her tack, rolled her wraps, picked up her horse's stall, run back to the truck at horse shows to retrieve forgotten bows/garters/gloves, cleaned up the wash stall after she made a mess out of it, put away her grooming kit, wrapped her horse's legs, tacked her horse up, and helped her groom. I ticked off each bullet point in rapid fire succession, my voice getting louder as I made each point.  I even decided to list all the things I'd ever done for her, starting at conception, because yeah, I was on that kind of a roll.

Oh yeah, I was playing the guilt card.  You bet I was.  There was a point to be proved, dammit.

She stared at me, mouth open and eyes wide, as I delivered the coup de grace, "Now you can clean my tack AND pick out both horse's stalls."

We finished the barn chores in silence, which continued on the ride home.  At one point I considered throwing out a conversational peace offering, then thought better of it.  "Let her stew," I thought.  I had nothing to apologize for, and I can play the silence game as well as anybody. (Yep, that's me, a model of maturity. NOT!)

Soph cracked first.  She asked me how my ride was. "Fine."  A mile further down the road she asked if I was hungry. "Nope." About 10 minutes later she caved and apologized, which I accepted gracefully, the model of parental grace and maturity.  She then proceeded to go into a dissertation on her thoughts regarding the afterlife, major religious dogmas, and her hair (should she cut it, straighten it, get anti-frizz serum or a conditioning mask?)  I just drove, trying desperately to keep up with the wildly vacillating topics of conversation.

At one point she looked at me out of the corner of her eye and said, "I'm why you drink wine, aren't I?"

"You're a big part of the reason, sweetie," I replied.

I believe honesty is important in child-rearing.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It's Good To Be The Queen...

Sug loooooves when Aunt Carolyn visits!

Sug would like everyone think she has a rough life.  That's a load of horse-hooey.  Bless her heart, she does have to put up with a lot from the kids and I.  Heaven knows she's had to save our bacon many times, whether its doing her best Superman impression when we find yet another long spot or just staying beneath us when we decide we want to take off before she does and jump ahead of her.

However, no one who know her is buying what she's trying to sell.  Anyone who has bordered with us knows Sug's Aunt Carolyn, who comes to massage and laser away her ouchies.  She's got Ryan, her favorite farrier, giving her mani/pedis every couple of weeks.  Her Aunt Amy stops by from time to time to adjust her spine and administer some acupuncture - Sug absolutely loves the pointy feel-good needles!  Sooooo relaxing and they take all the aches away.

And, of course, there are the treats.  The Sainted Mare gets her special Kool Aid (a bucket of water with some grain and electrolytes in it) after a ride to keep her hydrated.  She gets plenty of carrots from us and from her Aunt Maryalice.  Then there are the special treats: Sug goes absolutely nuts for Boston Creme donuts, chocolate chip cookies, Oreos, pears, grapes, and popcorn.  She puts her special cute face on so you know how very much she would like to share your snack with you.

Are you gonna share that popcorn, Sophie?

So yeah, it's good to be the Queen.  We should all have it so good.

What do you do to spoil your precious pony?