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 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!" much are helmet cams????