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.