Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Compromise...

I was schooled by a 14 year old Belgian boy.  Now, I've dated several Belgians and should have remembered that the ones I've encountered (don't want to generalize too much here) have been intelligent and opinionated.  Might be something in the water...seems to me that Belgian horses are like Belgian humans.

I was told he made my mare look motivated (Sug is known to be quite lazy until you put a fence in front of her.)  OK, I thought to myself, lazy ain't new to me.  I strolled out to his field and he ambled right up to me and let me get his halter on.  Off to a good start, I'm thinking to myself.  HAH! The second I get him through the gate and turn to close it, he stuck his head down to graze. Let me tell you, he had no intention of letting me pull his head up and walk him to the barn, and odds are we'd still be out there if I hadn't resorted to bribing him with the peppermints I had in my pocket.

We had quite the discussion on the way into the barn, with me trying to announce my presence with authority as the Alpha and him telling me how wrong I was.  We discussed the issue the whole time I was grooming him, with him turning his head to supervise and let me know which parts I was to concentrate on and which were off limits.  He tested me a bit when I tried to get his bridle on, but gave in gracefully when I finally convinced him I was gonna push the issue, and off we went into the indoor ring.

Now, as he's known to be lazy, I was told to equip myself with spurs and a crop, which I did, planning to use them only if necessary.  Didn't think I would need to use them as he moved off as soon as I mounted and had no problems moving into a trot after we'd warmed up a bit.  All went well until I decided warm up was over and added leg and a touch of hand to ask him for a little more frame.  Instead of moving forward into contact, we went backwards.  The more leg I applied, the more backwards we went.  At one point, he stopped dead and did his best statue imitation.  Crop and spurs did nothing.  Now what?

I'd be damned if I was gonna let him take root in the middle of the arena, so I got him to turn and start walking by pulling his head around.  Decided to try asking very quietly for a trot, and surprisingly, he moved off at a nice pace.  However, the second I tried adding leg or hand again, he slowed down.  Thought to myself, "Self, this horse is a hunter, and he knows his job, maybe I should back off the hand/leg thing." Damned if the old boy didn't pick up his pace and round up nicely the second I did.

Well, I'm not known as a bit of a control queen for nothing, so we repeated our little experiment several times in each direction and at each gait, with me asking him to do things my way and him telling me which way his particular parade was going.  Some issues were deal breakers for me.  I absolutely could not allow the stopping and pretending to be a statue routine, so we argued over this until he eventually agreed to humor me.  He finally got me to agree that micromanaging him was not going to work, and I did my best to sit up there as quietly as I could, "thinking" what I wanted him to do before asking oh-so-nicely for it, and staying out of the way while letting him do his job. 

I had a blast on him, and hope I get to ride him again, as I know I'm gonna need a lot of repetition for this life lesson to sink in.  It's an appropriate one for horses as well as people -- sometimes you gotta let go of your own agenda and try someone else's, or at the very least, see if a compromise between the two will create a better way of doing things.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

High maintenance...

When I think of someone who is high maintenance, I think of someone who who gets their hair done as often as others change their underwear. I think of someone who gets their nails manicured,whose wardrobe is chosen with more thought than many of us gave to choosing our college majors. Another thing that comes to mind is a religious care of one's self - massage, chiropractic, acupuncture - all that kind of stuff.

I have occasionally been called high maintenance, which cracks me up because I'm most often found wearing jeans or sweats, get my hair done ply when I need to travel for business or can't see where I'm going, and keep my nails cut short because otherwise I poke my eyeballs out when I put my contacts in.

I'm a big fan of massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture. As a woman of a certain age who has experienced a couple serious car accidents (none of which I caused) and more than a few falls off a horse, I need a lot of "work" to keep me going. However, much of the time I neglect to take care of myself this way because, frankly, who has the time? Most of the time I just wash a few muscle relaxants down with a glass of wine.

Now, my horse, she's high maintenance. I can't remember to take my vitamin, yet she's on enough supplements to fill a GNC franchise. When I make time to work out, I have only enough time for some cardio, forget stretching. Sugar gets stretched before and after our workouts. If I have the time or the cash for a massage once a season, it's a big deal. Sugar gets a massage every other week. Don't even ask me about the chiropractic and acupuncture...

Yes, she's high maintenance. Why? Number one, she's a woman of a certain age and she functions a lot better when she's well taken care of. This is important as she's the only equine athlete I can afford, and more importantly, she deserves it all as she gives so much more back to me. Number two, I figure she's an athlete, and as such, should be treated as one. I just wish I treated myself as well as I treat her.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's WEG Time, Baby!

The Alltech World Equestrian Games started this past Saturday and I for one am outta my mind with excitement about it.  I mean, yeah, if you're a horse geek this is kinda like the Olympics crossed with Christmas and the advent of a weight loss pill with no side effects.  Seriously, it's THAT big a deal. 

What makes it an even bigger deal is that I'M GOIN', BABY!!!!!!!!!!!  Yup, no lie, I'm heading to Lexington.   Got me my plane tickets, event tickets, a hotel and a rental car.  That'll be me, the old bag standing on the rail with the 12 year olds as the riders do their course walks. 

I'm going with a barn buddy of mine.  Bless her heart, she's probably going to feel somewhat like the person who holds the balloon during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  I will try my best to tone myself down, but no doubt she will be subjected to incessant babble about the rider, the horses, their histories, yadda yadda yadda. 

My husband dealt with a very similar situation when we went to the World Cup last year.  Poor dude got a bit schnookered with that one.  Presented the trip idea as "How would you like to go to Vegas for your birthday present, and oh by the way, do you mind if we go the week of the World Cup?"  Horses are not his favorite thing (not even close, really) but he was away from home and the office, there were adult beverages and slot machines, so he figured he could put up with some horsey stuff. 

He was actually kinda funny.  Fairly quickly after the start of the competition he began picking out favorites, and some combinations he was not such a fan of.  I'm not sure at which point he began a running ESPN commentary, but he actually had some accurate calls.  "Nope, they're not going to make the oxer, he doesn't have enough speed to get over the back rail" was one of his successful predictions.  "She's so worried about looking pretty she's stiffing her horse in the mouth and doesn't have room to jump. That's gonna catch up to her," was another. 

His favorite horse and rider combo was Irish rider Darragh Kenney on the diminutive Night Train.  Joe's from a blue collar Philly background, and scrappy underdogs of any kind get his vote.  He loved the way that little horse with the intimidating name tried his guts out every round.

The best part was when I asked him if he'd mind getting me something to eat.  I was starving, but didn't want to go because some of my favorite riders were close to their trips.  He looked at me incredulously and tells me, "Do you realize Darragh and Rich (Fellers) are up soon and Beezie (Madden) is about six out??  Can you wait until they're done?  I don't want to miss their rounds."  Whoops, created a bit of a monster, didn't I?

I'm looking forward to seeing some more amazing show jumping in Kentucky.  Am also excited about spending time touring some of the bourbon production facilities -- just as a Quality Assurance thing, really, to make sure they're as good as everyone says they are.  I'm also planning to meet up with an industry colleague from Kentucky who is involved in Thoroughbred racing.  He's going to attend the opening of the Keeneland fall race meet and suggested I come along to see some of the behind the scenes stuff tourists normally don't have access to.

I'm fairly confident this trip will result in a big old dent in the credit card.  I've got some of my favorite vendors' booth nmbers marked down in my calendar.  There are a few hospitality receptions being held where I'm sure my purchasing power will be of vital importance.  I'll have to drink a lot of free booze to offset what I spend, don't you think??  Maybe I should call and warn them to set a little extra aside, just in case...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banner day...

It doesn't take much to make me happy, although my husband and boss might try to tell you differently.  Coffee, Oreos, (any kind of chocolate, really) my kids (most of the time) a long stretch of empty highway and a speed limit of 70 or more -- any of these things can do it for me. 

One of the things that can really send me over the edge of bliss is opening my mailbox to find one of my many equine publications.  I wait with bated breath each week for my issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.  The night my issue arrives I curl up in my snugglies with a glass of wine and read from cover to cover.  I've tried to ration it and read one article at a time to make it last longer.  I have about as much success doing that as I do rationing a bag of Oreos.  Just can't do it.  Hello, my name is Amy, and I'm an addict.

Some days are  better than good.  Some days I get a Chronicle AND a Practical Horseman or a copy of IDS International, the publication of the KWPN.  The only downside, if it can be called a downside, is that a choice is necessitated.  Do I read PH or COTH first?  Do I read one article in one publication, then one in the other?   I usually page through them, taking in the pictures and assessing the article summaries, and then decide which one to start with, and then alternate. 

There are even times I go in search of my fix, and I'll drop by one of the tack stores to pick up a copy of my favorite regional publications, Today's Equestrian or Horse News.  It could be worse.  Of all the things I do in excess, this one ain't gone wind up with me in a huggy jacket and my very own bed at Betty Ford's place.  Too much horse stuff does not equal a stint at the Betty, right?

And then there are the days beyond price....Those are the days where I find the trifecta, the Holy Grail of  equine publishing, in my mailbox.  Those are the days I get the Chronicle, Practical Horseman, AND the Dover catalog.  My husband will attest that by now I should have the Dover catalog memorized.  I can spend HOURS with the Dover catalog.  I make LISTS with the Dover catalog.  My Christmas list, things Sugar needs, things I want, things for the kids, things I will buy when Iwin the lottery...

I know. It's over the top.  What can I say?  My name is Amy, and I'm an addict.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Password, schmassword.......

OK, another rant in the offing.  On any given day I think many Americans feel they are about 3 tasks behind where they should be at that point in the day.  Perhaps that's why we freak out when we're forced to wait in lines, or are stuck in traffic, because we know how much we still have to do and how little time we have to do it in.  We can already feel 2 or 3 to-do's sliding into tomorrow's to-do list...

That's why senseless wasted time drives me insane.  Take mandatory password changing, for instance.  Clearly I don't do my travel expenses enough, as inevitably my password has expired by the next time I try to enter expenses.  I figure this out after about 10 minutes of futile typing, changing cases, cycling through any number of password permutations and while emitting a string of colloquial language.  (It helps me focus better.)

The wonderful thing (heavy sarcasm here) is that my work passwords don't talk to each other, although I think they are supposed to.  My understanding was that every several months I need to change the main password, which would change the other ones.  It doesn't, so now I have a new password, and have to remember the old ones, and what accounts they go to.  Give me a frikkin' break! I'm up to the Z in Alzheimer's, people!!!!!!!  Some days I can barely remember to pull up my fly (ask anyone, I'm THAT easily distracted) much less which password belongs where.

There are too many damn many password accounts -- why can't the evil IT trolls leave well enough alone and let me keep the same damn user name and password??  Are that many people really trying to access my work email, intranet, or Blogger account??  I just waited half an hour for my expense system to generate a new password, and then spent 20 minutes coming up with one it would accept.  Apparently you can't use any passwords you've used in the last 3 years.  Again, those would be the ones I REMEMBER. 

I finally come up with a new password I have a really good shot at remembering.  Did not expect the system to take it, as it's a string of my favorite cuss words that I use when am pushed beyond my limit.  I entered it, then had to re-enter it as the system felt strongly that I needed at least one capital letter and a number.  Added the Capital letter and number, still expecting to be rejected because of the graphic language, but at this point too annoyed by the process to stop.

Bulls eye!  Success!  And now, half an hour later, I can be productive.  I could have been finished with my T&E's by now, but instead, I've gotten another latte, spent some time on FaceBook, and therapized myself with a little rant here.  Still behind in the to-do list, but at least feeling a bit better about it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fasten your seat belts........

I'm blessed.  I know that.  Beautiful, healthy family. Roof over my head.  I'm employed.  I'm blessed.  I get that. 

Now that I've said that, I'm gonna go on a little rant. 

Who the hell died and made me responsible for the whole damn universe, at least as it pertains to my little corner?  I can barely walk upright half the time! Given that handicap, how is it that I am the only one who knows that the youngest child needs to take a shower after she comes home from a 2 hour soccer practice?  How is it that I am the only one who is capable of picking crap up off the floor/couch/counter/vanity/car seat?? More importantly, why is it that I am the only one who can SEE the layer of crumbs and other detritus that has accumulated on the counter/floor/vanity/car seat??

What set this off, you might ask?  Nothing unusual.  Same pressures that a gazillion other women face.  Trying to work a full time job and be a mom. (Seriously, now is NOT the time for comment about how we wanted equality and the vote. Not if you want to live.)  That, and my 9 year old's birthday party.

I was away most of last week on a business trip.  Had to present at our industry's largest conference.  No pressure there.  Add that to the stress of going nonstop at breakfast, lunch, drinks, and dinner meetings.  In the midst of all that my husband sends a text --"Where are you with Sophie's party?  Have you called so-and-so yet? Who's coming?"  This sent me postal.  Probably shouldn't have, but it did. 

He's the one at home, I'm in Dallas -- maybe he should be the one picking up the damn phone book and calling people! In all fairness he probably would have, but I would have had to have left a spreadsheet with names and phone numbers and I was a little preoccupied with the aforementioned presentation/setting up appointments/closing an issue of the magazine I work for.

From my hotel room, I send a ration of texts to my daughter's friends' mothers.  I make lists of things to do while I'm trapped on a US Airways jet en route to Newark. (Did I mention it's Thursday now and the party is Friday?)  On the way home from the airport I make calls to mothers that I couldn't reach via text, as well as the local dairy and pizzeria to set up the evening's refreshments.  I also call the library to have them set aside a bunch of  princess movies (Princess Diaries 1 & 2, The Prince and Me, The Frog Princess).

I spent Friday sending follow up notes to clients I'd seen at the show, and running around picking up stuff for goodie bags, refreshments, decorations, the ice cream cake.  I also frantically wiped down toilets, vacuumed  and mopped floors (Seriously, did no one notice they were STICKING to the kitchen floor??)

The appointed time came and went.  Eight 9 year old girls are louder than an entire stadium full of vuvuzela braying soccer fans.  They sound like a herd of Clydesdales as they run through the house.  They are messier than a platoon of soldiers. My husband had to forcibly stop me from following them around with a container of Clorox wipes.  He very wisely distracted me with a glass of wine.  Several, actually.  And he very wisely served pizza and ice cream cake, and cleaned up (mostly...at least the really obvious stuff). 

It's 4 days later and we've still not finished digging out of the carnage.  I've been picking the Doritos out of the couches, empty (or not so empty) pouches of Capri Sun out of the toy bins, and returning hair scrunchies/t-shirts/stuffed animals to their rightful owners.  Could I have saved myself some stress by planning ahead better?  Yes, but I challenge you to try to do that when dealing with U-9 travel soccer and it's variable time tables.

OK, rant over.  I've run out of steam.  Bless your heart if you've stuck with it this long.  And bless my horse (you knew it had to come back to the horse, right?) because after the merry go round of the last week, the first moment I was able to draw a deep breath was when I got to the barn, heard her deep rumble of greeting, and leaned my forehead against hers.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Good Grief, They're Starting Them Young...

As if I did not have enough age related issues in my life (affects of gravity and middle age spread, random hair growth, memory loss) now I need to worry that at any moment I may be mowed down by one of the damn near fetal creatures that share space on the planet with me. 

Seriously, it started on the ski slopes.  All those motocross helmeted little amoeba-creatures sans ski poles that bulleted past me, causing at best momentary heart failure or at worst, immediate contact with the ground.  Then I see it in the pool -- 8 year olds swimming faster times than I did at 21! (Mind you, I maintain that's because I had huge boobs at 21.  For that matter, I had boobs at 8 -- maybe I should have skipped swimming as a sport altogether.)

 I can't even get away from the whippersnappers in the equestrian arena.  Not only are my kids barreling around, showing a decent amount of talent and jumping courses at what looks like breakneck speed with no regard for their Mother's health (I have a large supply of Xanax at the barn for days when I watch them lesson). Now I have to compete against pony-tailed, pre-pubescent future Grand National jockeys in the lower jumper levels.  I have to screw my courage to the bone, take a deep breath, and FORCE myself into the ring, a chorus of  prayerful imprecations (OHMYGODOHMYGOD) shrieking in my head as I negotiate the course, do my best to ride it according to the plan my trainer has devised,  and attempt to come out alive. 

As I leave the ring, hyperventilating and gratefully thanking all manner of deities that my life has been spared, I am inevitably passed by some be-ribboned and bowed 8 year old whiz kid on her freakishly fast pony.  Gasping for air, I watch as the adorable little future USET member speeds around the course at Mach 1 (and no Alzheimer's fueled GPS moments for her, no sirree Bob!) and breaks the final buzzer on average of 10 seconds faster than my round.

As I can't prevent these precocious talents from entering the classes I do ( note to self -- put on big girl pants and start jumping bigger fences where tubby little Thelwell ponies can't compete) and I can't very well duct-tape them inside their trailers, I will have to resort to what all older competitors do when faced with young upstarts: MINDGAMES!  I've come across some motorcross helmets with modifications that I plan to add to my riding helmet.  These modifications will make me look fierce, and hopefully give the baby barnstormers a moment's pause, something that may slow them up a bit.  Something to make them worry that the old bag might be competition, after all.

In case you're wondering what started me on this rant, here you go.  A client of mine sent me this link to her cousin's website.  Jaxson is two, and is riding motorcross.  Not only is the kid SERIOUSLY cute, he's got serious talent.  I mean, let's not kid ourselves, most two year olds can barely walk, much less motocross.  Check it out the website: http://www.jaxonxtremeracing.com/.  Here's a video of the little tyke out practicing -- see where I got the helmet idea?!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Umm, ChaperOWNed, anyone....

Came across a term on my girlfriend's blog that seemed to sum my life up in a nutshell.  The term was "ChaperOWNed."  As in, I am in the Mom Taxi phase of this gig they call parenting.  As in, yes, my ass spends a LOT of time in the (thankfully heated and plush) leather seat of my car.  Sometimes it's for my job, but most of the time it's for my other job, the Mom job. The job where I am schlepping Child One or Child Two, or sometimes both, to various activities. 

In the not too distant past, I thought I had things under control.  Prided myself on having home cooked family dinners 5 nights a week.  How frikkin' delusional was I???? That was a blip in time, my friend.  Now I can barely find the stove, much less turn it on or cobble something together to actually cook on the hulking stainless steel behemoth.  I don't even want to tell you what my kids eat, though I will cover my butt and tell you they are vaccinated and taking vitamins.

Now I spend 5 nights a week driving the kids to riding, lacrosse, or travel soccer. Warning: If you are thinking of letting your child do travel soccer, or travel anything for that matter, think again.  You'd better like driving - a lot.  You'd better like soccer- a lot. You'd better have free time -- a lot.  Get the trend here????? And the odds that your little darling is the next Mia Hamm/Landon Donovan are slim to freakin none, so get over that fact and realize that your best shot is some pissant scholarship money to a second tier institute of higher learning.  Not that I'm bitter, it's just a simple math problem -- less than 1% of the population make it.  Really? You think your little Johnny or Jessica is that child? Pffffttttttt.) 

I bring the same amount of crap with me (books, magazines, laptop, drinks, snacks) to a practice as I do on a transcontinental business trip.  The only thing I don't bring with me on a business trip is my own chair, though the fold-able jobbie I take to soccer is a damn sight more comfortable than half the seats I wedge myself into on Continental these days.

Oh, and my own activity?  The riding thing??  That's becoming a fit in when I'm not out of town or dragging children all over God's half acre.  Thankfully the kids ride too, or else I'd be sending board checks and asking my trainer to kiss my horse for me in the Comments section.

Friday, August 27, 2010

This Pretty Much Sums It Up...

You know when you find yourself saying, "I couldn't have said it better myself?"  Well, that's how I feel about these videos.  Pretty much sums up in a few minutes what I've been trying to explain to people for years about my need for horses and what I get out of my time with them. 


BTW - If you like the music, it's Rising Empire, by Immediate Music. :)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Training Day...

I am so proud of my kids I could just bust with it.  We had a horse show this past weekend, and wait...I know you're ready for me to provide a list of their accomplishments.  Well, I can't, at least not in the sense of blue ribbons and championships.  Sophie did get a 6th, but that wasn't what made the day a special one.

The kids were showing Betty, a ridiculously adorable Norwegian Fjord pony that my trainer and her partners own.  Betty is young, and pretty green, usually quite sensible, but occasionally apt to get up to the kind of naughtiness ponies are known to.  Betty is learning to be a hunter pony; although her personal inclination is to be a pony jumper, her
abilities lie more towards the hunter ring. 
The kids have been riding Betty for a month or so, and showed her at the Sussex County Horse Show in Augusta, NJ.  There they shared the ride on her in the Pony Pleasure division, and were Reserve Champion.  They were excited to show her again at Monmouth County, even though they know it's not reasonable to expect the same kind of success they had at Sussex.

Good thing they didn't have those expectations, because Betty's age, or lack thereof, showed.  So did the kids' inexperience.  Things started off well, with Sophie doing well in both flat classes.  The wheels started to fall off in her over fences class -- Betty picked up speed and by the time they came around the top of the ring towards the diagonal they were going Mach 1.  Betty did a "drive by" on the in element, and the two of them hurtled around the ring as Soph brought her back for a second attempt at the combination. 

The rest of the course went by in a blur, perhaps because I had my hands over my eyes. The two rollbacks at the end of the course (in a short stirrup class???) were pulled off only by the grace of God, and both contestants were winded as they trotted (still quite briskly) out of the ring to meet the by now gray-haired trainer and mom.  A year ago my daughter would have been in tears.  This year she smiled down at us as she patted her pony enthusiastically, exclaiming, "Did you see how fast we went??? Can we do another one?" 

My son, normally the cool one, had his knickers in a complete twist.  He was so worried that Betty would attempt a "drive by" with him, that of course it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I think he and the pony did about 5 laps around the ring before he finally got her over the combination. My usually unflappable trainer was reaching the upper limits of her voice as she kept exhorting him to "WHOA!"  Sometime around his 5th swing around the ring she gave up on whoa and told him to just "slow down come out of the ring!"  Noah didn't hear her, maybe because he was in a trance or because the wind was roaring in his ears.  He finished the course, careening around the rest of the course at a pace a Formula One driver would be comfortable at, and managed to bring the pony to a trot after about 6 ending circles.

By the time he came out of the ring, Annabel and I were in shock.  At least I thought we were.  Apparently only I was.  Annabel, in her inimitable style, sidled alongside Betty and got a firm grip on her reins, saying, "I really liked your ride to the first fence; two and three were really good too, and then she got a bit quick...." I goggled as she calmly dissected the debacle for him, then worked with him to assemble a plan for the next trip.  Next trip?  Before we recover from this one??? It was necessary at this point, as I knew he needed to get back out there, to walk my momma nerves far away from their little conclave.

Noah went back out there and, for the most part, kept to the plan and kept Betty to the trot.  I don't think I breathed the whole time he was in there; I know Annabel did because she kept reminding him to "TROOOOTTTTT!"  Out of the ring the boy came with a huge smile on his face; Annabel and I deflated like pin-poked balloons.  As Annabel pointed out, had we been smokers, we'd have gone through a whole carton!

Although neither child was successful in the conventional way we define success at these things, they were thrilled with their outings.  They'd gotten a young pony around the course, and provided her with what Annabel called "training moments" when she veered off plan.  Both never lost their patience or their temper with the pony, and fussed over her as much at the end of the day as they had at the beginning. 

That's what this is supposed to be about, right?  The experience and the learning?  Yeah, the winning is nice, but we all know that training moments tend to happen a heck of a lot more often than wins do.  That's why I'm so proud of my kids.  Because they made the most of some difficult moments, and handled themselves with maturity and their pony with compassion.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On confidence....

"It takes a good deal of physical courage to ride a horse. This, however, I have. I get it at about forty cents a flask, and take it as required."  Stephen Leacock

To my mind, the quote is about obtaining courage, or confidence, by whatever means available - and affordable. I can empathize with Mr. Leacock, and while I'm known to imbibe and adult beverage or three, I wait until after I ride, as riding can be challenging enough without adding impaired judgement and lack of balance into the equation. 

According to Wikipedia, confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. 

I find that confidence often eludes me when I'm riding.  Eludes me in the sense that I am not always certain I am applying the correct aids, doing the right exercise, or most often, that when I am cantering down to a jump that the horse and I are going to make it to the other side of that jump in one piece.  Basically, I often question the hypothesis that I will indeed get from the vertical to the oxer in a flowing 5, and of course, when that happens, I don't.

This frustrates the hell out of my trainer no end.  I think if we could figure out a way to lobotomize me for the duration of my lessons, we would.  She tells me I am a good rider, but I need to stop over-thinking things too much.  Welcome to the club, Annabel, you are not the first to notice this!  In my first clinic with Irish Olympian Eric Horgan, he sussed onto that element of my personality immediately.  I think it was my first time through the second exercise when he said to the other participants, "Watch this.  She's psyching herself out already and she hasn't even turned down to the fence yet."

I'm not even jumping large fences.  I jump (or rather, my horse jumps) fences in the neighborhood of 3' or a little higher.  My horse can do this easily.  I am quite capable of jumping multiple 3' obstacles in succession on occasion, although not as consistently as I'd like.  What I need to figure out is why do I sometimes get that crippling lack of confidence (fear?) that we're going to wind up in  a heap, and on other occasions, power around a course with abandon.

I need to be able to think on course.  One has to be able to remember the plan (stay out on the turn and slant across the planks, turn again come down the line in a slow 4) and execute it, or make adjustments when things change.  If I try to think, I seem to over-think and ride indecisively.  If I don't think and just ride off my gut, I generally have pretty good outcomes, but I'm concerned I'll get into trouble by not sticking to the plan.eventually  For example, getting to a fence short because I didn't bell my bending line enough and being so deep she can't take off.

Perfect example from last night's lesson.  I did an exercise with 3 verticals on a semi-circle.  Did those a couple of times really nicely.  The Annabel added on a circle to a 5 stride line with a vertical to an oxer.  I over-thought the approach to the vertical so much we had to take off from practically underneath it, which meant I had to kick her into high gear to make it over the oxer in one piece.  I wanted to keep riding the line until I got it right, Annabel nixed that and added 6 more fences to the course, complete with rollbacks and slices.  I was so befuddled I had to have her repeat it twice, then walk it for me.  Needless to say, neither of us was anticipating a good outcome.

Off Sug and I went.  Not only did we make it through the entire course, we did it really well.  Go figure.

So what's the trick?  How can I be decisive and confident some times, and a marshmallow puff of insecurity others?  I do this in my personal life as well.  I can make certain decisions regarding work and the kids in an eye blink -- I just know what to do.  Other times I waffle myself into paralysis.

If you have any ideas, send them my way!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An absolutely GLORIOUS evening...

Yes, the superlative is warranted.  The night did not start out in a way that hinted at what it would become.  I picked up my son from the sitter's a bit early so we could head down to the barn.  His sister was heading off to soccer practice, so the idea was to have some quality mom/son time.  However, the boy wanted to stay and play "Combat" with his buddies, so we had to have a brief conversation about commitment and responsibility - he had promised to ride the pony, she needed exercise, and now it was too late to find someone else to ride her.  Needless to say, neither of us was in a good mood as we started off.

He didn't want the McDonald's I'd gotten for dinner (Shoot me, we were rushed!) and 10 minutes into the trip he started to complain that his stomach was bugging him.  I cannot begin to tell you how many sudden swerves I've made across three lanes of highway to get to the shoulder before Vesuvius (aka Noah) erupts.  We drove from New Jersey to New Hampshire once, and he threw up in every state we passed though.  Luckily, I was able to manage the situation with deft application of sips of water, lowered windows, and air conditioning set on the "morgue" setting.  By the time we got to the barn and he got the pony from her stall he was fine.

We decided to take Betty, the pony, and Sugar, my mare, on a trail ride.  It was gorgeous out; not too hot, bit of a breeze, not too buggy.  As we set off, it was immediately clear that Betty was happiest in the lead, playing trail boss.  That is, until something scary appeared.  Then the pony would slide in behind Sugar, sensibly deciding that if anyone was going to get eaten by whatever bad thing threatened us, it would be  my voluptuous mare.  She's no dope, that pony. 

We rode all over hill and dale, chatting about this and that, while the horses snorted and snuffled and sighed contentedly.  On the way home there's a large hill, an ideal workout for the horses.  I let Sugar set off into a trot, keeping my leg on and hands closed to ask her to engage her core and hind end.  She moved off in the most AMAZING trot I've ever felt in my life!  It was as if her withers and back were coming up beneath me like a bow, and her legs were sproinging off the ground like a coiled spring.  She powered up that hill so damn beautifully and effortlessly, legs reaching and back swinging. I was almost scared to breathe, I was so afraid to send her off balance.  She felt as if she could have done anything -- jumped the moon, or done a gazillion one tempis. I just tried to stay in the middle of her back and not get in her way, and sat up there with what my dad calls a "shit eating" grin on my face the whole way up that hill.

When we got to the top of the hill I asked her to come to a walk and remain engaged. She did, and it felt as if she almost sprung into this beautiful, free flowing, yet powerful walk.  I was absolutely thrilled by her. She was clearly pretty impressed with herself as well; when I loosened the reins she snaked her neck and tossed her head, snorting and blowing and telling the world what a big deal she was. 

The ride ended with us just meandering through the fields, and the night ended with us chatting away about random things as we fussed over the girls; toweling them dry, brushing them off, and giving them carrots and kisses. 

So, a night that looked less than promising turned absolutely glorious, all because of a boy and a couple of horses.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Being a mom isn't easy.  Some, however, find it easier than others.  Those are the "naturals," the ones who home school, spend all day doing creative crafts or other brain building activities with their kids.  Sadly, I am not one of those moms. I fall into the category of the-kids-are-alive-at-the-end-of-the-day-what-more-do-you-want?  I aspire to more, and occasionally reach it, but that's pretty much where I fall on a day to day basis. 
I envy men, who seem to have (and I realize I am generalizing here -sue me!) an innate ability to compartmentalize their lives.  Work in this box, kids in this box, any other activities over here in the other box. I'm so envious of that skill I could puke.  All aspects of my life intersect and crash all over each other, kind of like the stuff in my closet-- a  crazy big mashed up mess of kidshusbandworklifefamilyhorsefriendsblahblahblah that could at any moment overflow and suffocate me underneath it.

I got back into the horse thing because I needed some "Mom" time and missed the joy I'd always felt around horses.  However, Mom (solo) time became MOM (with kids) time when first my daughter, then my son, expressed a desire to ride as well.  Since then there have been many moments when my mothering skills have been tested, not to mention my patience (iffy at best), sanity (same) and triage skills (better).  Watching my kids master the skills necessary to ride, watching them overcome their own issues, and spending time with them at the barn has been endearing, empowering, frustrating, heartbreaking, and joyful all at once. 

Frustrating, when I have to ask for the 100th time, "Is that how you bridle that pony?" when they've been doing it for 2 years now.  Endearing, when they reach around the pony's neck to hug her and tell her she's the best pony in the world.  Empowering, when I see them face their fears and conquer new skills, which gives me motivation to conquer mine.  Heartbreaking, when they see for the first time that life inevitably ends in death as one of their favorite ponies succumbs to colic.  And joyful, because even when I make mistakes or lose my patience and have a less-than-perfect mom moment, we have those moments (some funny, some sad) of shared time together.

So, this horse thing  it ain't what it started out to be, it's turned into something better for me. And thankfully, we're still all in one piece at the end of the day.  Well, mostly.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reason # 385 why I love my mare....

My roommate from college recently came back East from Minnesota, and she brought her 2 kids and niece to come visit me and see my horse.  They helped me groom her and then watched me take an hour long lesson. Well, they watched some of the lesson, mostly they were being entertained by my daughter and the barn's mini donkey.  Who can blame them?  Fun donkey trumps trot gymnastics lesson any day.

Anyway, after the lesson, the kids were hoping to have a little ride on Sugar. It was hot, the horse was sweaty and tired, but Lord love her, the big gal accommodated as sweetly as can be.  She did try to roll in the new arena sand before the kids got over to her (thankfully they were in transit and missed this!) but stood sweetly and quietly while one by one they swung their legs over her back and plopped into the saddle.

With each prospective jockey I held the reins until I'd fully explained the rudimentary steering, acceleration, and braking techniques.  Then, when each child was comfortable, I let go and let them test drive the mare.  Sug plodded placidly around, rolling her eyes at me if a kick or tug was more emphatic than necessary, but that is all the reaction she gave, aside from turning, walking on, and halting when cued.  That's what I love about her, that she can be trusted so far as to have any child on her back.  When they bobble, she shifts underneath them so they stay on top of her, rather than underneath.  Lord knows she's done that for me on several occasions when she's been sure I was planning an unscheduled dismount.

It's not like she's without opinions of her own. She is opinionated, and shares them accordingly when she feels strongly about something, but again, she's never malicious. She's tested me, but has been careful never to test me beyond my limits.  Which is reason #385 why I love her.  She leaves me with the same kind of smile on my face that Colin has on his, the kind of smile that means you feel like you've just conquered a new world.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Reason #355: Why I Love My Mare....

You can tell that Sug was a mommy in her previous life, and that she looks upon my children as her foals.  She takes such care of them when they are on her back or around her on the ground; she's always gentle with them and careful of them.  She's also been known to scold them in her deep voiced rumble when she thinks they are getting out of line.  Now, I know that she is an animal and as such, is unpredictable.  That's why I take care to supervise the kids' interactions with her and mitigate any situations that might pose more than the danger inherent in hanging out with 1000lb animals.  However, one look at this video and you can see why I absolutely adore this creature, and trust her as much as I do with my children.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Need a life, much????

Last Friday afternoon I went to the barn, rode two horses, and then drove 4.5 hours to Connecticut through Friday night beach traffic on I-95 (need I say any more??) to spend the better part of this weekend watching my friend's daughter compete in a horse show.

Got to Connecticut around 8pm (effing Connecticut traffic!!), had a quick but enjoyable dinner (love ya, Alforno!) and then went to the show for night check.  Got up at o'dark hundred the next morning to head to the horse show (Venti triple shot latte, anyone) and spent the day in the hurry-up-and-wait mode associated with horse shows. 

At some point during the day we escaped to have lunch and hit the outlet mall.  Let me just say that clothes shopping gives me fits.  I get twitchy about 5 minutes into any shopping trip, and quite frankly, am completely overwhelmed in most retail situations.  I will buy 12 different colors of the same shirt if it fits just to make life easier. 

Horse shopping, however, is a horse of a different color.  (Sorry, had to do it).  I hit the horse show's tack shop at least 4 times, and must've picked up and touched every darn thing in the store.  I can spend HOURS shopping for my horse.  I don't have the cashola to do serious damage, but if I did, she'd be the best dressed equine on the block.  Dress sheets make me swoon, leather goods sent me into fits of ecstasy, and I can debate the merits of various types of boots until the cows come home.  Bought a completely un-needed wool dress sheet that was on sale for a ridiculous amount, just because my angel looks pretty in navy and lavender.

Another trek down I-95 and I'm home.  What do I do once the kids go to sleep?  I cruise some of my favorite horsey web sites, read the latest issue of Chronicle of the Horse (I always mean to savor it, never can muster the willpower and ALWAYS read it in one sitting) and crawled into bed with, you guessed it, a horse book. 

A friend of mine suggested I've got an obsessive-autistic issue. (?????!!!!!!????)  Really??  Dr. Phil much? Another suggested I need a life.  As she does nothing but watch Court TV all day, her opinion doesn't weigh much. 

Frankly, I don't care.  I'm good with it.  The kids are fed, the house is standing, no science projects in the fridge, and no one seems to be getting hurt.  I'm thinking that in the scheme of things, I'm ahead of the crack whores.  Nothing like setting the bar high.....

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Looking good...or maybe not

It's probably a good thing that I'm married, because there's no way I'd be able to attract another potential mate at this point, even if I'd wanted to.  Most days I am dressed in an old t-shirt picked up at a concert/pub/sports event.  Usually said t-shirt is covered in horse slobber or whatever I've been cooking and have absentmindedly wiped on myself.  I've been known to run out to Cumberland Farms in my rubber duckie pj's if there's no milk for my morning latte.  Add to all of this the fact that I rarely wear makeup and leave the car windows open so my hair sticks up like Heat Miser's, and I think you get where I'm going with this.

However, I think I hit a new high (low?) the other night.  It was a gajillion degrees in the shade, and I went down to the barn to hose down my sweaty mare and a friend's horse.  By the time I got to the barn, the heat had dropped a bit and I decided it would be fun to channel my inner child and hop up on my horse bareback and have a nice relaxing ride.

We played around, working on lateral movements and over some ground poles.  I hopped off after about 15 minutes and hosed her off, then grazed her.  I then grabbed my friend's horse and hopped on him for more of the same.

After I was done with the second horse I hosed him off, paying cursory attention to hosing off my legs, which had taken on quite a bit of hair from each horse -- a lovely, itchy mix of gray and brown.  However, I forgot one key area of my anatomy that had been in contact with the horses. Apparently my ass was COVERED in horse hair, a fact which largely escaped me even when I wandered in to the local Kings in search of a beverage for the ride home.  I noticed quite a few people staring, many of them smiling, and a few outright laughing.  Didn't really think much of it (again, I go to the store in my pj's) until I got home and the aforementioned husband fell down laughing, pointing to my butt and choking out a word that sounded vaguely like Sasquatch in between gales of laughter.

Oh well, the cats thought I looked pretty good.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Minor rant...

Just got back from a business trip.  Now, I don't sleep very well when in hotels so by the time I get home I'm usually seriously sleep deprived and, yes, this makes my already colorful personality a tad more colorful.  I know this.  My family knows this.  So you'd think they would do anything to avoid creating situations that would cause any potentially "colorful" outbreaks, right. (Before I go on, note, no one, human or animal, is harmed when I get colorful. Unless you count their ears -- I can get loud.)

Things that send me over that very thin edge I hover on:

1) Granite is not camouflage.  Just because it is difficult to see the glob of jelly on the counter does NOT mean it isn't there.  If you've done anything on the counter -- prepared food, eaten food, created crafts -- CLEAN THE DAMN COUNTER OFF!  'Nuff said. 

2) Cleaning the counter off does not mean sweeping the crumbs on the counter off onto the floor.  This is cheating, and will be penalized accordingly.  If there's one thing that peeves Mom off more than sticking to the counter, it's walking through the kitchen and sticking to the floor (or feeling the crunch of crumbs underfoot).

3) If you open the fridge door and something growls at you, do not just close the door and move to the pantry in search of food.  Remove the offender from the fridge. If it's old enough to grow hair and mutate, you can't eat it and it must be thrown out.  Good rule of thumb: If Mom is gone more than 3 days, any leftover item/sandwich/doggie bag that was in the fridge before Mom left is too old to be safely ingested.  Throw it away. 

4)  Leaving the toilet seat cover up so the cats can drink is not okay.  Fill their water bowls.  Clean out the litter box while you are at it. 

5) Do not leave wet towels/clothes/blankets/toys strewn on floor.  You know where these things belong. Put whatever-it-is wherever it belongs.

Following these well known and oft-communicated guidelines will ensure that Mom's return to the bosom of her family will be less eventful for everyone.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Hedgerow of Death.

The outdoor arena at my barn is bordered by a driveway and paddocks on the long sides, the barn and picnic/viewing area on one short side, and a hedgerow separating it from a cornfield on the other short side.  For some reason, this hedgerow is a constant cause of consternation for most of the horses, despite the fact that most of them are ridden past it darn near every day.

I was riding my friend's horse, an 8 year old gelding named Stratego (Strah-teh-go, like the Greek word for general, not Struh-tee-go,  like the game).  Stratego is a behemoth of a horse, somewhere around 18 hands.  Now, you might think that this would make him, like many larger people, fairly confident about his size and ability to deal with any threats.  Not so.  Apparently, to Stratego, his size makes him a cougar's gourmet fantasy, and he is not about to forget this fact for a moment.  Doesn't matter that Stratego lives in a comfy stall, has never had to forage for a meal, and has never seen a predator (cranky Corgis not withstanding). Evolution be damned, in Stratego's mind he is one moment away from being some predator's breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

So, it's a breezy morning, and I'm riding Stratego in the outdoor arena.  The breeze is rustling the hedgerow, and Stratego is clearly convinced that something is about to leap out at him.  He is determined to avoid the end of the arena, and I am determined that we are not.  I am trying to distract him by asking him to shoulder-in, with the hope that the difficulty of the exercise will cause him to forget about the distraction of the potential horse killer in the bushes.  Ain't working.  I circle him and try again.

Ten minutes later I was sweating like a pig and accomplishing nothing. We'd taken several quick trips down the long side when Stratego decided, unilaterally, that escape was the better option.  By this time I was hell bent and determined that I would get one trip through the evil bush-laden short side with the horse correctly bent to the inside, rather than with his great big schnoz pointed outwards like a rubbernecker passing a fender-bender. 

At this point I was cussing like a sailor/trucker/sleep-deprived mother all rolled in to one.  However, I was careful to speak my curses in dulcet tones, as horses respond to calm, soothing words, not hissed threats to turn them into dog meat.  Actually, I was cussing AND huffing and puffing like a steam train, because convincing Baby Huey (think smallish tractor trailer) to do something he most definitely did not want to do was sending me into serious oxygen deprivation.  Note to self: Must increase cardio training.

Finally, Stratego gave in.  Most likely he came to the conclusion that being eaten by a cougar was preferable than dealing any longer with the crazed woman on his back, and we went through the short side with the correct bend AND without rushing.  Mission accomplished.

I wish I could say the adventure ended on that success.  Sadly, it did not.  We got to the other end of the arena and the other short side, where the barn owner had set out extra chairs, tables, and umbrellas in preparation for the barn barbecue.  Stratego took exception to this, and before I knew it, I was continuing northbound while the horse was going westbound.  Sigh.

I belly flopped, and, like a water skier that falls and forgets to let go of the tow rope, stupidly held on to the reins.  I think my reasoning (?!?) was that if I held on, the horse would realize that it would be too difficult to drag a dead weight and reconsider escape.  I also did not want to have to call my friend and tell her that her horse had left the barn and was halfway to Pennsylvania.  Luckily Stratego stopped dragging me after only a few feet.  That, however, was enough to accrue about 5 pounds of sand down my shirt and breeches.

Needless to say, I needed to get back on the horse and re-educate him.  Commenced shoulder-in, circling, and cussing exercise until submission was achieved.  Horse and rider were covered in sweat, and rider was covered in an additional layer of dirt and sand (somewhat like grout). 

When I got home, I undressed in the shower.  Result was somewhat like being small child after day at beach - 5 pound pile of sand at bottom of shower and grit in unmentionable places.

Remind me why this riding thing is fun??

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why having a horse IS good for the family...

Today was not a great day.  Started out with the working  mother guilt as I sent the kids off to camp the day after school ended.  Work was one crisis after another, and no matter how many items I crossed off the to-do list, more seemed to pile on.  By the time I picked the kids up (later than I'd planned to) I felt as if my chest was constricted and I was one step away from a full blown mini-breakdown, or at least a really good crying jag.  The last thing I wanted to do was drive 45 minutes to the barn.  It was one of those nights when i questioned why I had the horse.  If I didn't, would I be working?  Would the kids be in camp?  Would we have more family time and be less over-scheduled? 

Somehow, I managed to keep it together without barking at the kids as I herded them through McDonalds, and slogged through rush hour traffic.  At some point, we started to chat about the kids' day; the new friends they'd made at camp, their counselors, the games they played.  Sophie shared a joke they'd learned, and before I knew it, we were all giggling.  That joke led to more, and we all got a case of the sillies that lasted until we pulled into the barn.  Mini-miracle #1. Long drives to the barn often result in good conversations with the kids.

When we got to the barn, we saw a fox and a young deer in the field, playing with each other, just like the scene from the movie "Milo and Otis."  We watched nature at play until both animals went back into the woods, at which point the kids raced off to play with the barn donkey and I went to get my mare.  Her nicker made me smile, and the vice around my chest began to subside.  Going into her stall, I just stood and scratched her as she licked me and checked me for treats.  The kids came in to see her and she spent a few minutes snuffling at them and licking them while they hugged her.  Mini-miracle #2.  I can feel my blood pressure dropping.

I'd already decided that today was to be an easy day; she'd been in her stall for a few days and why push things when I was not in a good frame of mind.  The ring was empty, as everyone was away at a show.  It didn't remain that way for long; about halfway through our warm up Billie Jean, the donkey, decided to join us.

Now, Sugar is not overly enamored of Billie Jean, and Billie Jean loves nothing better than to torment Sug.  The little imp decided to trot along next to us, causing Sug to snake her head and snort, but bless the mare, that's all she did.  An imp came over me, and as Billie tore off and ran away, kicking her heels as she went, I let Sugar take off after her. 

What ensued for the next 20 minutes was a series of donkey races and donkey herding.  We'd race Billie from one end of the ring to the other, both horse and donkey shaking heads, kicking up heels and squealing.  If Billie swerved, Sug would channel her inner cow pony and swerve after her, with me clinging like a burr to the saddle.  The kids came into the ring, and we all ran around like a pack of idiots, laughing and carrying on and having an absolute blast.  The donkey slalomed through the kids, the kids chased the donkey, and the horse trotted and cantered around clearly wishing she were smaller and more mobile, but enjoying herself immensely.

We stopped the games before anyone got too tired, gave the mare a bath and took both mare and donkey out for a nice long craze in the clover patch, replaying the events of the last half hour and laughing over the highlights as the sun set over our heads.  We tucked Billie and Sug in for the night, kissed both soft noses, and headed on the log ride home, exhausted and exhilarated, and still chatting. 

Mini-miracle #3: Maybe I would be working and would not be stressed and would be able to relax and enjoy my children despite excessive stress levels if I did not have the horse, but quite frankly, I'm not 100% sure I would.  She's my therapy; my friend and confidant.  She's a wonderful teacher for me and my kids, and our time together with each other and with her is irreplaceable.  It's hard to feel guilty about having her when having her brings so much to our lives.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Primary relationships...

Perhaps it's unhealthy, but if I could spend most of my day with my horse, I probably would.  The other major players in my life (husband, kids, friends, employer) would not be thrilled if I decided to go in this direction.  No doubt they all think I spend too much time with the horse as it is.

Sometimes I try to step back and examine how much time I really do spend at the barn, and compare that with time spent with the kids, with my husband, or at work.  Sadly, I think work wins, at least in terms of total time spent.  Then the kids, and the long suffering hubby takes whatever crumbs are left.

It's harder to look at time spent with the kids vs. horse time objectively.  For example, tonight I picked the kids up a little after 5pm, then they helped me cook dinner before we all rushed off to the first night of Rugby practice.  Roughly, the hours between 5 and 9 were with the family. 

Tomorrow I'll be bringing the kids to their barn for their riding lessons; that's another 4 hours I'll be with them.  At least one night this week and one weekend morning they'll be at my barn with me.  Am not sure that counts, though, as it's not like I'm interacting with them that much when I'm riding.  Does it count if we're together, even if we're not actually interacting?  Am not 100% sure on this one.  Anyway, I'm not even factoring in more rugby practice time, rugby game time (substitute lacrosse or gymnastics time if you'd like) and pool time.  If I think about it, I guess that time I DO spend with them does outweigh the time spent at the barn or when I'm travelling.

The horse time is my sanity time.  It rejuvenates me and gives me the patience I normally don't always have as readily accessible as I'd like to.  As much as I love the other people I'm blessed to have in my life, the constant refrain of, "Mom, Mom, Mom, Hun, Mom, Hun, Amy, Hun, Mom, Amy!" can suck the life out of a girl.  Sug is happy to see me, but is just as happy if I don't show up.  She doesn't ask me how much I love her, or tell me she thinks that I love the kids more, or am too tired to really "connect" with her. 

All I know is that when she rests her head on my shoulder and blows a sweet sigh into my ear, everything in my world is as right as rain.   I can just sigh back at her, put her back in her stall, and go back off to my "primary relationships" in a much better place and better equipped to do right by them.

Friday, June 11, 2010

How it was supposed to go...

The warm-up fences went well.  Sug was feeling good; really up in the bridle, adjustable and jumping well.  I was feeling good; judging her stride accurately, seeing distances well.  There are times when it feels as though I see things in what was called "wide angle vision" at the wilderness survival school I used to work at.  I think it's similar to what Sally Swift means when she says "soft eyes", but basically, it's when I'm relaxed and I can see everything around me in the periphery and react to it without focusing intently on one thing, getting tense, over thinking, and then over-riding.

So anyway, all was going swimmingly.  Then came the course.  Went from 1-3 warm-up fences to a full course.  Which shouldn't be a problem, but since I've had most of a year off and only been jumping my recently un-broken horse for the better part of a month, this almost put me in the fetal position.  However, I have a healthy helping of pride, so I was going to be damned if I was going to whine in front of my trainer.

Here's how it was SUPPOSED to go: Vertical out of the turn, turning right to a steady long approach (9 strides) to an oxer to the turn and the liverpool on the diagonal.  Stay out in the turn going left in the top of the ring and come around, catch the vertical of the combination and then bend to the left to go 6 forward strides to the triple.  Hang a sharp right to catch the combo going the other way, come around to the right and catch the slant across the middle and then turn hard left to the rock wall, 5 stride bending line. 

The vertical was good, but I started over thinking things a bit on the way to the oxer and got a tad deep.  No big deal - YET. Things began unravelling when Sug, feeling quite good about life and happy to be back at her job, decided to buck and ripsnort her way around the turn, which made us a bit wide to the liverpool and fouled up the approach so we wound up leaving from Newark and landing somewhere near Chicago. 

Sugar commenced frolicking immediately upon landing and we discussed the situation around the turn and on the entire approach to the next vertical, which came up rather quickly and awkwardly.  We landed straighter than we'd anticipated, so had a bit of a steering issue and darn near jumped the "out" of the combo (Sug's vote) until I managed to haul her left and get her pointed at the triple bar.  Annabel had wanted us to get fairly deep to that one, and I can say we made her happy on that front.  Bars stayed up though. 

(Sidebar:  In her post-mortem Annabel told me to ask the horse to land more to the left.  Hello!!!!!!!!  Rank amateur here -- how does one do that???  She gave me a look that suggested I'd just fallen off the short bus and said, "Duh, with your reins.  How else do you get a horse to change direction?"  Well, I'm thinking leg, seat, weight....and, oh by the way, I can barely get the mare to TAKE OFF from where I want her to, I've never given much thought to where we land!  NOT that I say ANY of this out loud. For once.)

We romped around the next turn (really, I'm thrilled she's sound and over the moon that she feels so good, but really, this is getting ridiculous) and came to the combo with our hair on fire.  Actually caught the in at a good distance but I folded too quickly on her neck and she caught it, but landed well and we cleared the out with no problem.  I was able to anticipate her antics and bent her around my inside leg in a shoulder in around the turn, which kept her busy enough that we had a good approach to the slant.

That is, until I realized how easy it would be to land wrong and hit the out of the combo, at which point I rethought everything, half-halted the heck out of her, and choked up on her till she had no choice but to falter at the base of the slant.  Bless her honest heart, she took it from a standstill and darn near jumped me out of the tack, and somehow I hung on well enough to turn her to the the rock wall, which we actually jumped beautifully. 

I was happy to survive.  That's the difference between 40 and getting back into riding and being young.  Maybe even being 40 and having ridden your whole life.  Annabel was not happy with just survival, so she made me do it again.  In stages, and then once we got those right, as a whole.

That worked out much better.  Annabel happy, horse happy, everybody happy. However, being the over-analyzing retentive control freak that I am, I'm a bit concerned that it seems I ride better when in "wide angle" mode and not thinking about the plan/striding but just doing it.  I think I'm supposed to be 'riding my plan.' Though I'm not about to bring this up to Annabel.  There's only so much she can deal with in one day.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

This is why I love the horse world...

Took this at the recent Garden State Horse Show.  I just felt this picture encapsulates what this horsey life is all about.  

A boy and his goat -- does life really get any better than this?  

I still think I'd rather have a mini donkey, although I'm not confident they'd lead as well.

Run Henny Run!!!

Watched the www.runhennyrun.com footage of Peter Atkin's round at Rolex on HJ Hampton.

First thought? HOLY CRAP those fences are big!! I did know that, but facing the reality when viewing through helmet cam almost resulted in a need to change underwear.  

(Annabel, I will never cavil again when you raise the rails.)

Second thought -- is this horse a good doobie or what?? Look at his ears as he gets a bead on the fence, when he checks in with Peter, and when Peter praises him. You can see him thinking, "Hot damn, I AM a good boy, Dad!"

Hmmm...how much are helmet cams????

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Libby is a dear friend of mine.  We became friends when she started taking lessons at the barn where I was boarding.  On many levels we are completely different people.  I over-communicate, Libby tends to say only what she feels is necessary.  I tend to over-emote, Libby has to give thought to what she feels.  Because of and despite our differences, our friendship works.  Here are a few examples of what it's like in our world:

At Hunter Farm's Princeton Show Jumping:

Me: Holy Cow!  I just bumped into Frank Chapot - literally bumped into him!
Libby: Who?
Me: Frank Chapot! (I go into longwinded recitiation of Mr. Chapot's accomplishments).
Libby: Oh. That's nice.

At Garden State Horse Show:

Me: Libby, look! There's Anne Kursinski!
Libby: Who?
Me: Anne Kursinski! (Libby calmly listens to me as I recount some of Ms. Kursinski's resume).
Libby: Oh. That's exciting.  Where is she?

Me: Libby, that's Peter Leone going into the ring! I audited his clinic at Equine Affaire!  He's (again, Libby listens as I blather on about yet another equestrian).
Libby: Right, I remember that.  That was where you got that tip on getting the horse to come off the fence on the correct lead by blocking with the inside leg, or something?

From the FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas:

Me: Hello Libby? Guess what? I'm watching the course walk at the World Cup and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum is only about 30 feet from me. And there's Ludger, and Marcus, and Steve Geurdat!  And McLain Ward!!!! 
Libby: Who? 
Me: She's ranked world's # one, her horse is Shutterfly! And he's ........... (you know what's happening by now, right?)
Libby: You must be having a blast!

Poor Libby, scenes like these have played out more often than either she or I care to remember.  Bless her heart, she lets me go on endlessly, no doubt sounding like an E! Online correspondent devoted solely to all things equine.  I truly hope that I listen even half as attentively when she speaks about pathology and rat complements!

Friday, May 21, 2010

My son was home sick from school the past few days.  I work from home when I'm not travelling, so it's not that difficult logistically when one of the kids is sick.  I normally hop on the treadmill after getting them off to school, and usually watch my horse releated DVDs, or, as my husband calls them, "game tapes" while working out.   Noah decided to crash on the couch and watch with me while he was home.

Our video of choice was from the ShowJumping Clinic series, one of Ian Millar's.  I like his style; as he says, he's all about repetition, rather than escalation, which is something I think we can all work on.  I like to think learn something new each time I watch my tapes, however, it's a new experience when one is watching with an  11 year old budding equestrian with a penchant for asking questions. 

Let me tell you, you really know how much you understand something when you try to explain it to a kid.  I've had several aneurysms (usually driving in rush hour traffic) while trying to explain the mysteries of the universe to my kids.  "How does water get up into water towers?  Pipes, valves, pressure....No?  Okay, you know how the earth revolves?  Yeah?  Well, when the earth turns upsided down every night the water goes up into the tower and then the shut a door and it keeps the water in.  That work for you?  Excellent!"

Ian was trying to explain the striding and how he was planning to ride it, and Noah asked me to help explain why Ian said some lines were more of a forward ride and some more conservative.  Well, maybe it's easy for you to multitask, but walking, talking, and trying not to go bassackwards off the back off the treadmill while translating Olympian to middle school darn near killed me.  Somehow, I must've said something that made sense to the kid, becasue he got it.  Was a beautiful moment, and a very special one for me as a Mom.

Was even better the next night when he put it into practice in his riding lesson.  No if I could just get him to put away his clothes....

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Weekend thoughts...

It's been a great weekend. 

Friday night the kids and I drove to the barn, where they played tag with Billie Jean, the mini donkey, and Perzy and Stan, the dogs, while I rode.  At one point Sug and I were being chased down the arena long side by 2 kids, 2 dogs and a donkey -- was hysterical to watch in the arena mirrors!  Thank heaven's for my rock-solid, sweet tempered mare!  She wasn't thrilled with these shenanigans, as she hates the donkey, but she's a good sport and willing to put up with most anything if the kids or I ask her.  Our friend Christine joined my barn pal Libby and I for a few post-ride gab session, and the big kids watched the smaller kids play.  Libby, a most stupendous Adopted Auntie if there ever was one, taught the kids her pencil trick and we all giggled as the kids tried to master that, and then the loon call (easier said than done, and very messy!)

Saturday was back to the barn for the kids and I.  They played commando in the fields with their animal pals; I had a group lesson with Libby and her horse Stratego. Considering I've only taken a few lessons since Sug's been back in action, it went fairly well.  We actually jumped - YIPPEE!!!!  Sug was sooooooooo excited to be jumping again (she fancies herself quite the Grand Prix mare) that she cavorted around the ring, bucking and snorting ans snaking her head.  The jumping-on-a-circle-and-counting-strides exercise became more of a Jump-one-two-WHOA-four-EASY, Sug-six-giggle-WHOA, Sugar- Jump - Dangit horse!- two - for the love of Pete, mare! - four - five- HORSE!!!  

I couldn't get mad at her, as she was clearly just so excited to have a job again after almost a year in her stall recuperating, and I was just so happy she was feeling so good.  Not to mention, I was also pretty darn happy I stayed on through all her shenanigans.  I'm at the age where involuntary dismounts and unwanted contact with terra firma hurt significantly more than they used to and require more than band-aids to fix.

This morning was fairly ideal, as mornings go.  I got up, made myself a double strength latte and headed down to the barn (by myself!) for some quality time with Sug and a trail ride with a barn buddy.  We took our girls all over God's Half Acre, and the mares loved it (except for the scary bridges, clearly there were mare eating trolls underneath those bridges.)  We trotted down dirt roads and cantered through fields in the manner I remembered doing when I was a kid.  A couple of times I was tempted to hop off and take her playing in some of the watering holes we passed. Only the knowledge that I might not be able to get back in the saddle and the fact that she HATES the water prevented me. 

When we got back I gave her a bit of a spa treatment -- clipped her muzzle and ears and gave her a massage.  One of my good friends is an equine massage therapist, and has shown me some ways to help relieve Sug's stress points.  I love spending that kind of time with my mare, taking care of her, learning what makes her feel good, and just bonding with her. 

All of this had me thinking about how lucky I am.  I have two beautiful children that share my love of horses and animals with me.  We have such special times at the barn together, something I hope holds us in good stead during the turbulent teen times to come.  I have wonderful friends that I've met through my horse and the barns that I've been at, friends who have become family.  I have a wonderful friend in my mare, a creature whose love I treasure and strive to continue to deserve.  My love of horses has created a wonderful extended family for me and my family. 

All in all, you can't get much better than that.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rockband as it relates to riding...

Spent some time as a family playing Rockband on the Wii tonight.  The kids shared singing duties (Mommy does NOT sing) and Joe and I swapped turns on the drums and guitar.  Well, if I'm honest, I mostly played drums and occasionally relented and let Joe take a turn.

One thing that is painfully obvious is my utter lack of musical talent.  I flat out suck.  The kids despair of my ever scoring over 50% or getting more than 9 notes in a row.  My husband now calls me Animal, after the drummer on the Muppets.  As this is not something my kids are familiar with, we had to employ another means of technology , YouTube, to show them what we were referring to.  Once we pulled the kids off the floor and got them to stop laughing, it was decided that yes, Mom was not having a seizure, she was just channeling her inner Animal.  (Seriously, I'm about tapped out on family time).

Picture me, arms flailing, leg flapping, mouth opening and closing like a trout gasping for air.  Joe thought the mouth thing was analogous to someone who has to move their lips while reading.  A regular crackup, isn't he.  Despite all the ineptitude, I did have moments where things started to gel.  Those moments seemed to happen when, of all things, I stopped trying so hard.  When I just let go, it seemed that all of a sudden the gods of coordination were my friends.  At least for a few seconds.

This is similar to my riding these days.  Sugar and I are getting back into a groove, getting back into shape, and I'm on her 4-5 times a week.  However, I have to admit I feel a lot like Animal -- flailing arms, flapping legs and all.  The mind knows what the aids for a shoulder in may be, but heaven help me when I try to implement them.  It feels as if my inside leg is hooked back over her hip, my outside leg is tickling her ear, my inside hand is back by my hip and waggling like mad and my outside hand is halfway across and up her neck.

We approached a cavaletti the other day, and for some unknown reason it seemed like it was a good idea to go over it.  Mind you, Sug thinks any piece of timber on the ground means she needs to access her inner jumper, and since my balance is non-existent, you can imagine how this exercise went.  We approached at a fairly good pace with a lot of leg on my part. Why would I do that if I had reason to assume she'd jump it like the Head of the Lake at Rolex?  Excellent question.  I realized my error, tried a half halt, which, given my crappy balance and Sug's general lack of motivation, was more like a 3/4 halt.  We skidded to the base of the cavaletti, flailed around a bit, and then went up and over.  Picture me on her tail, then on her ears, then her tail again. 

My trainer assured me things are not looking quite as bad as they feel (she's laughing while she says it, though).  However, I'm betting she and my family are looking for Animal t-shirts on the Internet.  In the meantime, I'm riding without stirrups, begging my friends to longe me, and checking my umpteen hundred riding manuals to see what exercises will help me get my mojo back.  Because really, it's fun to access your inner Animal, but only when you want to.