Friday, September 30, 2011

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Maybe You Should Keep Your Day Job, Malin...

Malin Baryard Johnsson
A friend of mine just sent me the link to this video, apparently an attempt from Swedish showjumping star Malin Baryard Johnsson to jump from the equestrian arena into the world of music with Swedish collective Spånka NKPG.

Umm, I don't know what to say.  Forget that, yes I do: I'm flabbergasted. Gobsmacked. Horrified.  Malin, sweetie, what in the name of heaven were you thinking??  Were you sniffing Absorbine fumes??  Hitting the Brännvin a little too hard?? (Note: I am by no means insinuating that Malin has any substance issues.  This is an attempt at humor, for heaven's sake. Really though, something had to be behind a dubious decision like this!)

I love this woman's riding, and have enjoyed watching her re-emergence at the top after the retirement of the wonderful Butterfly Flip with her new partner, the Lux Z stallion H&M Tornesch.  Her singing, if one can call it that, I'm not a fan of.

At first impression, based on the fashions, I thought this was an ad for her sponsor H&M.  I mean really, who mucks a stall wearing all white???  Then the penny dropped -- this was no ad.  This was supposed to be music!! 

Entitled Do You Wanna Ride, it's got a bit of a dance hall/bad elevator music feel to it. The lyrics are a crack-up: "Do you wanna ride, Do you wanna ride, Do you wanna ride, I love horse."  And who could forget that transcendent line, "Horse are my fetish."  Honestly, I would kill to ride any of her her horses, although I'm relatively certain that's not what the lyrics are really alluding to.  I would also love to find a browband like the one on the gray in the beginning of the video. 

Malin, I love ya -- I'd give my eyeteeth to ride with the style you do.  A word of advice, though: If you wanna sing, do it in the car, preferrably with the windows up.  Just saying...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Lawn Dart Speaks...

T-Shirt, Anyone??
I fell off the other day.  Spectacularly.  At a show.  With lots of witnesses. I have the road rash and aches and pains to prove it.  I also have a lovely video, courtesy of my husband, which shows my breech clad behind going up...uP...UP aaaaannnnnd OVER the fence and sees me faceplant heavily on the other side.
The day after the fall I had to go on a business trip.  Many of my clients noticed my stiffness and the scrapes on my face and asked what had happened.  I told them, and even showed a few the video, which by this point seemed kind of funny to me.

Clearly the video is more impressive than I'd thought, as quite a few gasped with horror and then asked me if I ever thought I'd ride again.

HUH?  Not ride again?  The thought never crossed my mind.  I mean, I do get it -- the fall could easily have been catastrophic.  Thankfully, it wasn't.  However, I'd wager I've had more potentially dangerous "close calls" on the highway.  Seriously, has anyone been on the road in Jersey lately??

When I said that I planned to get back on as soon as possible, some asked if I was really comfortable risking myself when I had a family and kids to consider.  While I concede my well meaning acquaintances have a point, I know for a fact that some of them have habits and/or passions that can have adverse affects on one's health.  Mountain climbing and mountain biking come to mind.  Skydiving, too.  Heck, drinking, smoking and eating lots of rich food (prevalent trade show behavior) has been said to shorten one's life span.  Granted, I get the short term versus long term differences between impaling one's self headfirst into the dirt as opposed to overindulging, but let's face it, either one poses risks.

So I've been thinking:  Would I ever stop riding?  Probably not.  Anyone who knows me and cares about me knows I'm much happier (and thus much easier to live with!) when I'm riding, and no one close to me has asked me to give it up.  Of course, I don't want to put my family in a situation tat would upset them, either.

Certainly countless other riders, most of whom better riders than I, have had horrific falls and suffered grave injuries, only to rebound and ride successfully again.  I know what I did wrong, and will take all possible steps to eradicate the habit. Can we agree that riding possesses inherent risk, but when all precautions are taken, is not drastically more risky than driving, flying, or many other sports activities?

What WOULD make me hang up my helmet?  Age and decrepitude, I hope, although recent stories in the Chronicle of the Horse and Dressage Today give me hope that I'll be riding into my advanced old age. 

What, if anything, would make you stop riding?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

In Which I Attempt to Impersonate a Lawn Dart...

Official Footing Analyst...
If you, like me, subscribe to Practical Horseman magazine, odds are you might also be a devotee of George Morris' monthly column called Jumping Clinic. Each month, readers faithfully turn the pages to see which four riders he picks and what he has to say about their equitation, their horse's jumping ability, and their turnout.

Just about every month one finds George bemoaning the prevalent habit today's riders have of jumping ahead of their horses. Come to think of it, the great eventer Denny Emerson recently did a column devoted to this topic in an issue of the Chronicle of the Horse.  I've been told the thinking behind this trend is that throwing one's hands up by your mount's ears and flopping down on it's neck indicates to the judge that your horse has such a superlative jump you were jumped out of the tack, and that he's such a solid citizen you can throw the reins at him and still have a great round.

George (and others) tells us every month that this way of riding is a BAD HABIT, and UNSAFE, and A VERY BAD THING to boot. Not only does the weight of your body on the neck impede your horse's jumping effort, you potentially run the risk of serious injury as you can become a victim of momentum and are hurled, sans equine partner, over the fence. Basically, you become a human shot put. It ain't pretty, and can be downright painful.  At it's worst, it can be catastrophic.

I am offering my recent experience as a Public Service Announcement to all who may have this habit. During a recent show, after two successful clean rounds and jump offs, I experience an unplanned dismount in my third class. Basically, I jumped the first fence OK, but lost momentum coming into the second fence, an oxer. We managed to scramble over that, and headed off to the next element with no discernible increase in pace. A long distance showed up, and I asked my mare to take off.

The horse knew she did not have enough pace and was too far away to navigate the jump successfully, so she wisely put down on me and added a stride before then attempting the jump. We might have gotten over it successfully, had I not been perched up by her ears. You see, I got out of the saddle when I thought we were jumping, instead of waiting for her effort to throw me out of the tack. She did her best to try and get us over the fence, but couldn't, as she had an extra 140+ lbs of excess baggage on her neck.

So, I did my best impersonation of a lawn dart.  Flung head first into the dirt, I had a unique opportunity to test the footing at that venue first-hand.  Personally, I prefer a sand/textile blend to stone dust.  It just tastes better, and the finer grit leaves less road rash. 

Maybe you should try to ride with your mouth closed. 

Thanks, Sug.  Adding to the indignity of dirt consumption was the fact that I was wearing my sunglasses, and had that instantaneous moment of panic, that reversion back to childhood where I thought, "Oh no, I broke my glasses!"  Not, "I've broken my fool neck!"  For a moment I felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story.  Luckily the glasses were okay. (Thank God I was wearing them or I'd have no doubt scraped up my corneas pretty well.)

About this time, approximately 2 seconds after impact, I noticed Sug's bridle hit the dust in front of us, and Sug decided to hop on over to my side of the fence to inquire as to my health.  She clambered over very carefully as not to disturb me and stood next to me, waiting for my trainer to come and clear up the carnage.

You looked as though you might be meditating.  I didn't wish to interrupt.

Thank you, Sug.  Anyway, my trainer came over, and while she was getting Sug's bridle back on we did a quick status check and determined I had all my teeth (although they were black with grit) and that I knew what year it was and who the President was.  Thankfully no one asked me to name a Cabinet member, as I don't think I've ever been able to do that.  On our way out of the ring, I did a quick Ta-Da to acknowledge the support from the folks clapping at ringside,  accepted an ice bag and a Popsicle from the medics, and got Sug back to the trailer.

I was lucky this time, but you can be darn sure we'll be going back to the drawing board and working on eradicating that bad habit of jumping ahead.  Am guessing I've got lots more no stirrup work -- which is going to be good for that fitness challenge I gave myself.

Oh yeah, and darn good thing I had my helmet on.  The brim and front part of the helmet absorbed some of the impact and prevented my face from hitting the ground harder than it did, and the back padding that covers the nape of the neck prevented my head from snapping back as far as it could have.

If you want a good giggle, my stellar dismount was caught on film.  I think it deserves a 10!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dealing With Stress, Equine Style....

Fuzzy Dice - The Latest Equine Accessory!

The past couple weeks have been a bit insane, between trying to suck water out of the basement rug (thank you, Hurricanes Irene & Lee),  my dad's recent heart attack, surgery, subsequent doctoring, and back-to-school craziness. 

Frankly, it's a miracle we've gotten through the past few weeks without anyone killing each other.

Here's how we added some horse fun to alleviate stress build-up:
One day recently Noah's buddy Will joined us at the barn.  He'd come with us once before, and as a confirmed animal lover, wanted to spend some more time with the horses, donkey, and dogs.  Noah showed Will how to groom Sug, and after Noah was done riding her we put Will up on her on the longe line.  Noah had indicated Will was hoping to try a trot, and after doing some basic prep work with Will I signaled Sug to move into a slow trot.  Let's just say that Will was incredibly game, but Sug's a lot bouncier the coin operated pony in front of the Walgreen's! Will had a blast, but noted that "this riding thing is a lot harder than it looks!"

We also watched our favorite Cairn Terrier in his very first Agility Match.  Kudos to Perzival for doing such a spectacular job, and to all  the amazing dogs and their handlers. 

After agility we headed off to the barn to hack the girls.  It was such a nice day we decided to cool them out on the trails, so off we tromped through the neighboring fields. We must've been a sight: A horse, a pony, a boy, and a donkey.  Sug and I took point, Cookie tried to keep up, and Noah did his best to let us know when the donkey was doing a dive bomb run from behind. A little chaotic to say the least, but good fun.

Another day we just relaxed and hacked the girls, with no agenda other than relaxation for horse and rider.  Sophie and her buddy Bella also did some pony/girl bonding.  Really, not much is cuter than two little girls and their adored ponies.  Unless it's a much-loved and infinitely patient mare putting up with a little adornment from her kids.

And of course, (unfortunately for the cats) a lot of horsie time whetted the kid's appetite for cat jumping, so the poor cats were shanghaied into a little cat steeplechasing.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Official Horse Geek Status and the FEI European Championships...

As you may know, the FEI European Jumping Championships are currently being held at the Club de Campo in Madrid, Spain.  A total of 16 nations will be competing, with the Swiss hoping to defend last year's Team Championship title and Individual Champion Kevin Staut looking to add to a very good year by repeating as Individual Champion. Additionally, countries like Ireland, Spain, and the Netherlands still looking to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.

I do my best to watch as much of the big championships as I can when they are on, and  most of my access to them is via my laptop.  At this point you might be thinking, So What?  Where's the geek connection? 

If you've been reading AWIP recently, you know I've been on a fitness kick in order to improve my riding.  Typically I get in a workout after my kids leave for school at 8 and before I need to start work at 9.  With the Europeans starting during that time frame the past two mornings, I needed to figure out a way to be able to workout and indulge my horse fix simultaneously.

My solution to my dilemma?  I decided to use my treadmill, and using some of my kid's toys and a couple pillows, I was able to prop my laptop in a (relatively) safe position where I'd be able to run and watch the rounds from Madrid.  WINNING!!!

I think this qualifies me for Horse Geek Club membership, don't you?  Just please, I beg you, don't tell my IT department what I did!

Results after Day One:
Individual:  Lord de Theize, Ridden by Olivier Guillon of France.
Team:  1. France  2. Germany  3. Sweden

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remebering September 11, 2001.

That day, I was holding my brand new baby girl, just home from the hospital. 

Today, as on every other day, I will fly an American flag that was once flown in remembrance of my family over Bagram Airfield.  We are honored to fly this flag, and to have befriended the soldier who sent it us while he was deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom.

On that day, we didn't know if there would be many more days to come, or many more flags to fly.  Today, I remember those who were lost, and give thanks for those who have fought for this country, our freedom, and for our right to live life without terror. 

The Eleventh Of September

We mourn their loss this day this year

Those now with God, no danger near

So many loved ones left do stand

Confronting loss throughout our land

My heart goes out to those who do

No one can fathom what they view

I firmly pray for peace of mind

Dear God please help each one to find

And to our soldiers now at war

God guide above, at sea, on shore

They are the best, I have no doubt

Our country’s pride, complete, devout

The finest force you’ll ever see

All freedom grown through liberty

One final thought comes clear to me

For what must live in infamy

Absolutely - We’ll Remember

The Eleventh - Of September

Written by Roger J. Robicheau ©2002

In Memory of Frank Spinelli.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Confession Time: Fell Off The Wagon Already...

I TOTALLY Want To Find This In A T-Shirt!
And by that I am referring to the fitness wagon.  Or, rather, treadmill.  I suppose that's a more accurate metaphor.  I'm not sure.  I'm not thinking too well at the moment.  Sigh....

I have a good excuse.  Don't we always have good excuses?  Rationales?  Reasons?  I have a doozy.  See, my Dad had himself a mild heart attack on Thursday and I've been spending most of the last several days at the hospital.  He's doing well now, thankfully. Doctors found a 99% blockage in one artery, an 80% blockage in another, and 50% blockage in a third, and decided to perform an angioplasty to insert a balloon tipped catheter into an artery in his groin.  They snaked the catheter up through the veins to his cardiac artery, used the balloon tip to widen the clogged artery and then inserted a stent (kind of a mesh frame that looks like the spring in a pen) to act as scaffolding to keep the vein open for blood flow.

Pretty cool stuff, huh?  Way more than I ever wanted to know about this kind of thing, really.  Anywhoooo,  with all the excitement, there wasn't a lot of time for serious exercise. I did manage to hop on the treadmill for a bit each day, but there was no time for riding, weights, or anything else.  I'm pretty sure trips to and from the last possible parking spot and up and down the cardiac wing's stairs don't count.

Not only did I NOT exercise like I wanted to, I ate darn near everything in sight.  Including most of my daughter's birthday cake.  At one point I made a family member hide it.  Really.  I'm a compulsive stress eater.  Thank God there were no Oreos in the house.  Add a couple glasses of wine (liguid de-stresser!) a night to the all the crap I was eating, and let's just say I'm gonna be climbing out of a big hole!

And believe me, even though this fitness thing started as a way to gain strength to ride better, after seeing what my Dad went through, and what others in the cardiac wing were going through, it's become much more.  Maybe I'm having a knee jerk reaction, but seeing how much a poor diet, lack of exercise, and excess weight has compromised my father's health, I'm a little scared of my own bad habits.  We have similar demons that way, Dad and I.

The good news is I did get some exercise in.  The "other" news (I'd rather not look at it as bad news) is that, like my Dad,  I need to get a more organized fitness plan in place, and coping mechanisms other than food for when things get rough.

Am not 100% sure what those will be, but I'll be thinking about it while I'm doing my 5 minutes of two point, up-up-down posting, and posting without stirrups tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On Rider Fitness...Or Lack Thereof

My Rule of Thumb:
If My Tush is Smaller Than My Horse's Tush, Life Is Good!
Recently a couple of people I respect have told me that my riding would probably improve if my fitness improved. One of the more memorable moments came during a clinic I participated in. I'd been cantering my mare in circles for what seemed like forever, trying valiantly to get her to elevate more as well as engage her hind end enough to find that magical bouncy canter that would make one feel like one was capable of jumping a 5 foot vertical with no reservations.

Add strenuous work to the fact that I've been known to hold my breath when concentrating, and I was red-faced and blowing like a bellows when we were finally allowed to walk. The clinician, who happens to be someone I've worked in the past and whose dry sense of humor I greatly appreciate, mentioned that I'd do well with a little time spent on the treadmill. I burst out laughing, and told him I already spent 45 minutes at least five days a week on the treadmill. If memory serves, "Try 60, and go faster," was the response.

Similar conversations have come up during my lessons. My trainer has mentioned how my normally lazy mare had been "almost wild" off her leg during a training ride, and she attributed it her stronger leg. She went on to say how you wanted a horse to be"electric" off your leg, even though some horses were more sensitive to leg aids and others (like my phlegmatic mare and my trainer's young jumper) needed much stronger leg aids. Fair enough, I thought, thinking that the only thing that would make Sug electric off my leg is if I attached cattle prods to my paddock boots. In any case, this has gone beyond "I need to keep fit enough to keep my back from going out" to "time for boot camp."

I'm going to take a brief moment to say that this is not a post about the need to be as thin as stick insect in order to ride, or a sizist indictment of anyone who happens to wear breeches above size 2. I'm 5'6", 41 years old, and wear a size that ranges between single and low double digits, depending on the day and the manufacturer. I'm a little below the "average" size for American women, and like to think I fall somewhere between "Step away from the Tastycakes, ma'am" and Demi Moore. Let's just say common adjectives (the printable ones) used to describe me are statuesque, curvy, or voluptuous. To paraphrase my favorite mule, Fenway Bartholomule, I try not to think of it as a hay belly, but rather as insurance against famine. (Thanks, Fen!)

Again, let me be clear: This is about my desire to be a better rider, not a commentary on the size/fitness/weight issues of the American riding public or a "I wanna look good in skinny jeans" rant. The former I'll leave to George Morris, the latter we'll just leave well enough alone.

The (admittedly somewhat vague) plan, which began tonight:

# 1. Ride without spurs. Sug's a lazy beast unless she's got a fence in front of her. No spurs means I don't have my pony prods to use as a crutch. I did cheat a bit and carry a dressage whip because who are we kidding? I'm no martyr! Anyway, the point is, I really had to WORK for any impulsion we had!

#2. Warm up trotting in two point. Start off with 5 minutes and increase. I had the barn to myself tonight, so thankfully no one was there to see the inauspicious start to Boot Camp. I made it through 5 minutes of two point at the trot, although I'll admit I was clock watching from the outset and praying to my Higher Power by Minute Two. (Let's face it, I was praying to all the deities I could think of by the third minute. Buddha, Krishna, Macha; I wasn't picky.)

#3. Five minutes Up-Up-Down posting. Not so bad. Was sweating like a pig, though.

#4. Five minute trot and canter sets incorporating basic suppling work, working on getting her in front of my leg (Leg? What leg?) and maintaining a consistent rhythm. Let's just say both of us were sucking air by the end of this exercise.

Note- both horse and rider benefited from generous walk breaks between sets.

I disagree. The walk breaks were not generous, they were egregiously short. I want to speak to my union representative.

Thanks, Sug. Your opinion is always appreciated.

#5. Just for kicks and grins, I decided to see how many laps I could do while posting without stirrups. I've always entertained the fantasy of doing a month of riding without stirrups. Kind of seems like one of those Holy Grail of riding things. Let's just say this is an ambitious goal, as the last time my trainer had me post without stirrups in a lesson she offered me this feedback, "Um, your ass actually has to leave the saddle." I'm not kidding. My butt certainly left the saddle after that comment, as I laughed so hard I almost came off.

I made it around. A couple of times. With breaks. It wasn't pretty.

I agree. It wasn't pretty. At all. I peeked in the mirrors a couple of times and had to avert my eyes.

Nobody likes a smart aleck, Sug. You might want to remember who buys the carrots around here.


So, a decent enough start to the program, but I can honestly say I'm glad no one was around to see how jelly-like my legs were when I slid off. The good news is there's no where to go but up from here, and the bar is certainly set low. I won't be riding for a couple of days, so will have to do some cardio and weight work in the interim. I've been doing some, but clearly need a more ambitious program. Maybe leave the comfort of my basement and wander over to the gym to get reacquainted with the elliptical machine and the rower?

Dare I throw in some Pilates? More to come...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bulldogs and Horses - Will This Relationship Work?

My Mom always told me to marry a good Catholic boy, as marriage was tough enough without adding extra stress factors into the mix. If interfaith relationships can be hard enough to sustain, one can only imagine how difficult an interspecies relationship might be. 

Apparently, easier than you think.  Maybe we can take a lesson from Potato and Eddie and just try to all get a long a little better, no matter what our outsides look like.