Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Horse People Aren't Like Other People...

This was originally posted on Horse Junkies United, but I figured I'd post it here as well.
Rearing Horse and Rider
When horse people talk with each other, we often find ourselves laughing at how we view the world versus how non-equestrians see it. For instance, other people see the spacers in sidewalks, we see them as cavaletti. Non-equestrians note the mile markers on highways, we count the number of "strides" between them.  Other people simply get on the moving sidewalks at airports.  When my son misjudged how to get on one, he turned to me and said he "chipped in." Most people politely wait for others to move out of their way.  Equestrians poke the person in the side, cluck, and say "Over!" (I'm not joking. One day while traveling for business I absent-mindedly did that to someone in the TSA line at La Guardia. The poor man I poked was so shocked he just grabbed his stuff and hurried off.)
I was reminded of this when my son was on a school trip in New York touring the Body Worlds exhibition in Discovery Times Square.  The exhibit is composed of preserved human and animal bodies and body parts that are preserved using a technique called plastination, which shows the inner structures, muscles and tendons and ligaments, as they would appear without the covering of skin. Pretty cool, seeing how everything under the skin works while performing a task, right? While other kids were noticing the various muscle groups in action, my son saw something completely different. He sent me the picture to the right in a text with the comment, "His heels aren't down."
Later in the day he sent a text from the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center: "Watching the skaters at Rockefeller Center.  They look like they're doing spiral-ins and leg yields. Excellent crossover of the hind legs."  That little observation caused me to spit my coffee all over my laptop keyboard.
A few days later we found ourselves at our favorite Christmas tree farm for our annual evergreen sacrifice to the gods of Yule (Or Amazon, depending on your viewpoint.)  Now, anyone else might look at discarded evergreen branches as garbage.  Others might look at them as greenery for wreaths or garland.  An equestrian, however, sees nothing quite so mundane.  Nope, an equestrian sees that pile of evergreen branches as a brush jump, specifically fence #1 in the Cherryville Farms 2014 Hunter Derby.

 And of course, there are the hay bales, which to most people might appear to be outlining the parking area for Christmas tree patrons, but to an equestrian is clearly fence #2.
Yep.  We're equestrians.  When your viewfinder in life is between two furry ears, you just see things differently.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Giving Back Update...

Just wanted to give a little status report on this so you all don't think I'm slacking over here.  So far I've donated every day this month.  Well, if I'm being honest, while I was traveling for business it got difficult so on several days I've had to donate a couple of times to make up.

This isn't a complete list (just what I can remember off the top of my head), but so far I've given to:

Mane Stream Therapeutic Riding
New Vocations
Second Call
CANTER MidAtlantic
Land Conservancy of NJ
St. Jude's
Make A Wish
Midwest Horse Welfare
Victory Reins
Nowzad Dogs
A Cup of Joe for a Joe
Wounded Warriors
A Horse Tale
Mylestone Equine Rescue

So there you have it.  Just wanted to let y'all know I'm keeping my promise. :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Giving Back...

Luck is kindof a relative thing.  (Yes, Mom, if you're reading, I know kindof is not a real word!)  What might seem an unlucky negative at first might actually wind up being a very lucky good thing in retrospect.  The only example I can think of right now is missing your flight only to find out later that the plane crashed.  Okay, that's maybe a little extreme but that's all I can come up with and since I actually should be working right now I'm gonna run with it.

My point here is that it's all too easy to get into the mindset where you think your luck's been crap, you've been dealt a few unlucky breaks, or you're due for some good luck.  There's no judgment here, we all do it, right?  Just a fact of life.  It's often too easy to focus on the crap that's gone wrong instead of the stuff that's gone right.

I've been guilty of that.  Yeah, the second half of 2014 has not been blissful, to say the least, but you know what?  It could have been worse.  I'm reminded of that every time I read the paper, watch the news, or talk to people and find out what kind of crap they're dealing with.  So, instead of focusing on the bad luck, I'm gonna try to make some good luck.

We just had Thanksgiving, the holiday where we give thanks for what we have.  We are now heading into the season of giving, or the season of credit card debt, however you want to look at it.  With that in mind, and as a means of recognizing how truly lucky I am and honoring that, I am donating to a worthy cause every day during the month of December.  The donation may not be much, because I'm no Bill Gates (seriously, if I was, I probably wouldn't be writing this blog post, I'd be out playing with my 500 horses on my farm the size of Long Island) but every little bit helps, right? 

I'm asking for your help.  Not to give money, but to offer a suggestion if you know of a worthy cause, one where the money actually goes those who need it.  Doesn't have to be horse related.  I mean, there are a lot of well known organizations that I can think of to donate to - RED, Habitat for Humanity, Water.org,  and Heifer International come to mind ( I cannot WAIT to say I've given someone a goat!)  However, I'd like to support some of the organizations close to the hearts of the folks who have supported me (that'd include you guys, just in case you missed that).  So if you know of something, please pass it along in the COMMENT section below.  I can't guarantee I'll be donating to every organization that's suggested, but it would be good to know of as many options as possible.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Monday, November 24, 2014

The New Normal...

Meet Mooch
Good grief, it's been a while since I've posted!  Good thing y'all aren't holding your breath waiting for me!

It seems we left off with the kids and Tiki.  They are really enjoying getting to know him, as he's a way different horse than we've all been used to.  Sug and James were characters, but of a quieter sort, if that makes sense.  If he were a person, Tiki would be the one who walked into a room and everyone knew it immediately. He'd sit down next to you and engage you in a conversation about your feelings on Eastern mysticism, ask you to go skydiving the next day, and invite you to a class on painting watercolors the next.  

We've also found a pony for me to play with.  His name is Presidential, and he's a great big bay lovebug. I'm not 100% sure of his story, other than he was a Big Eq horse.  I think he had a small injury and needed to be brought back with a lighter job until he's ready to go back to 3' 6" land, but I may be wrong.  All I know is I am super lucky to have him for however long that turns out to be.

He's a big softie, and loves kisses and cuddles.  I've taken to calling him Mooch, as he reminds me of a guy I used to know; he was a big ol' football player, nicest guy you ever met, always had a small for everyone.  Not the brightest crayon in the box, but not the dullest.  Just an all-around good doobie.  And that's what this big bay boy is, so I'm calling him Mooch.  Or Moochie.  Or Smoochie-Moochie, because he likes to give kisses.  Seriously, I can't help but baby talk him, he's such a big mush.

Making out with Mooch
He's wonderful to ride, so well trained.  I feel a bit sorry for him, actually, as he's used to some pretty good riders giving him some pretty precise clues, and carting me around must be like going back to kindergarten for him.  He's such a love though, he tries his best to give me what he thinks I want.  The other night in a lesson my trainer asked me to drop my stirrups and sit the trot.  Well, as you know I've not been riding for a while, and my fitness level was pretty nonexistent to start with.  So basically I was bouncing all around up there like a total hot mess, and he was wiggling all over the place underneath me.  I mean wiggling like he had ants in his pants, which wasn't helping my efforts to sit the trot.  It took me a couple minutes to realize what was happening: He was desperately trying to figure out what I wanted, bless his heart!  He was giving me shoulder-in, haunches in, haunches out, everything he could think of in response to my rapidly shifting weight.

So Mooch is my new babysitter, and I'm so lucky to be able to experience what this wonderful boy has to offer.  That being said, it does feel weird and somewhat disconcerting to have a new partner.  On one hand it feels so good to be able to ride, to be able to groom and play with and just  "be" with a horse of my "own."  On the other hand, it's different, as I'm learning a whole new language as he and I navigate our way towards a partnership, and that language has a lot of different vocabulary.   And I miss the easiness of the old language, but at the same time enjoying learning the new one. Does that make any sense?

So that's where we're at.  Back to normal, or, perhaps more accurately, the new normal.

Mooch loves his treats!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Baby Steps...

Tiki's "Paparazzi Pose"
I'm very happy to report that through the kindness of friends we were able to find a new barn and a new trainer.  The kids wanted to stick with the hunter/jumper discipline, and this trainer is one that I'd been aware of for years as a very equitation-focused trainer.  I'd been under the impression he only coached really serious juniors looking to do the big eq, so I'd never thought to approach him in the past.  In any case, a friend who'd trained with him as a junior and knew we were looking introduced us. The kids and I took a couple of lessons with him, really enjoyed them, and lo and behold, found ourselves with a new trainer and a barn to call home.

Our new trainer knew our story and that we were homeless and horseless. He told us he felt that we needed to take our time and really look around to find the perfect horses, and not feel pressured to buy the first thing we see.  He had a horse that had been taking a vacation from the big eq and jumper rings, and he thought that teaching the kids would be a good way to give this horse a new, relatively stress-free job and get the kids back in the saddle at the same time.  So the kids took a couple of lessons on the horse, Tiki. He seemed to like them, they liked him, so now we've got one problem solved for the time being.  They still miss James, but getting to know Tiki has been therapeutic for them.

Tiki is a jewel.  An absolute jewel.  He's got all the "buttons", so the kids have an opportunity to learn from a horse that really knows his stuff.  Quite honestly, we're extremely lucky, as he's a way more accomplished horse than I'd ever thought my kids would be on - talk about being in the right place at the right time! Sadly he's short-term solution, as Noah is so tall that he's practically too big for Tiki already, but for the next few months the kids are getting to ride an equine master.

A horse at the end of the rainbow
Tiki is ridiculously smart, incredibly inquisitive, and loves to be very engaged with his people.  This big boy has personality to spare, and man, does he have presence.  When he walks into a ring, you know it!  I love watching the kids on him - he goes around the ring with his ears pricked all the time. When he canters, he looks like he could be a medieval knight's battle charger - you can picture him with all the armor and everything, cantering majestically off to defend the kingdom.

He does what I call his "Paparazzi Pose," where something catches his eye and he brings himself to his full height, head high and ears fully forward.  You can almost hear him saying, "How's this angle?  Are you getting me from my good side?"  He has a hatred for arborvitae, possibly a relic from his equitation days, and eyes them with deep suspicion.  He is keenly observant, and knows where everything in the barn or ring should be.  If you so much as move one of the mums decorating the jumps, he knows it, and you can tell he's wondering why no one sent him a memo alerting him to the change.

Tiki is also gray, which has been an education in and of itself.  We've never had a gray before, and are finding that everything said about keeping them clean is no exaggeration.  Especially as Tiki seems to make it his mission to roll in every pile of poop he comes across.  I am buying Cowboy Magic Greenspot remover by the gallon.  And the hair!  I know that we came home covered in horse hair after a trip to the barn, but it was brown, and not very noticeable. Spending any time around a gray means you come home looking like a dandelion that has gone to seed, and that gray hair gets on everything!

So while things are getting back on track for the kids, they are not quite there yet with me.  I thought I'd found a horse, but right before he was scheduled to be vetted the owner decided not to sell.  I'm really disappointed, as I liked him a lot and was really excited to learn from him and give him a good home.  He was another one with personality to spare, with a great attitude. He went around the ring with ears pricked, ready to do whatever you asked of him.  "You want to trot? Super, let's trot.  Oh, you'd like to canter?  Off we go!  You want me to jump from underneath the fence? Sure.  You 'd like to leave out a stride and a half?  Okay, hang on!" He was also fun on the ground, kind of like an impish 6 year old boy that noodges you for constant attention, the kind you can't resist because they are so gosh-darn cute.  I'm really bummed it didn't work out, but we all know that's they way of things sometimes.

As much as I'm happy for the kids and love being around horses again, I do have to confess it's been a bit rough emotionally.  It's odd, as I so love watching the kids on Tiki, and really enjoy seeing how they are enjoying their lessons, and I love grooming him and kissing on him.  I'm happy for the kids, but at the same time it's hard to be in a barn and not see Sug's face waiting for me.  It's weird not to be saddling her up for my own lesson.  It's funny, I'll be driving the kids to a lesson and I'll be looking forward to it, and then suddenly I'm blinking back tears.  Someone who I respect greatly told me it took her about a year before she could think of her beloved boy without getting choked up, so I'm using this as a benchmark.

So there we are.  Getting back in the groove. Moving in the right direction, one baby step at a time.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ISO: Saddle Time

True.  Sad, but true.
I need to start riding again. Soon.  Or bad things will happen.  Seriously.  The kids agree. No horse time is making us all cranky.

I thought not going to the barn would give me all kinds of time to do projects I'd been meaning to around the house.  Nope.  Not working out that way.  Redecorate the basement family room?  Nah.  I walk into a Homegoods or a furniture store, look at all the options and go fetal.  I would love to pay someone with taste to decorate for me, but really, any extra money I have is going toward a horse.

I meant to organize my closet.  I didn't. It still looks like a FEMA site. Same thing with the Tupperware cabinet.  I also thought maybe I'd work around the yard, spruce things up, maybe put some Fall decorations up.  Hasn't happened.  Yard still looks like crap, and there are no seasonal decorations to hide that fact.

My husband is the only one that's happy.  He's excited that we are spending more "together" time.  That pretty much means we are all going to the gym with him at night.  I get on the elliptical and do weights, the kids go do their thing, and my husband gets on a bike for an hour.  Together, my butt!  Which, by the way, has not gotten any smaller, gym time notwithstanding.  (I did start taking a belly dancing class again. I'm hoping that'll strengthen my core for when I get back in the saddle.  Plus it's good for a laugh.)

My husband is also happy that I am home cooking dinner every night again.  The man likes a good meal, and when we were riding he got home cooked meals only on weekends, and was left with leftovers or a crockpot creation the rest of the week.   I used to love cooking before.  Now?  Not so much. Figuring out what to cook every night has become a chore.  Tonight, in desperation, I did something with Ramen noodles that I haven't done since college.  Don't ask.  It wasn't pretty.

This Betty Crocker/June Cleaver thing ain't working out so well.  It's getting to the point where I'm ready to strap on my helmet, hop on my bike and ride around the neighborhood making horse noises.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Equestrians at the Gym...

I can get on from this side...
Now that my head is somewhat better and I can do light exercise without getting a splitting headache (concussions are so much fun!) I've been getting back to the gym.  While I was there and getting on the elliptical machine, I realized I have what might be considered an odd behavior.  I "mount" from the left.  And I get off on the left as well. No lie.   I also do this when I get on the stationary bike.

I kept an eye on my fellow exercisers while they got on and off their machines.  Most seemed to be able to mount and dismount from either side.  Hmmmmmm.  At this point I flashed back to our family vacation this summer.  I had noticed then that my kids and I, the family equestrians, all got on our bikes from the left. Only my husband got on from either side.  I also remembered that I'd tried to get on the bike from the right side once, and it was awkward as heck.  Kinda like a penguin attempting a pole vault.

Fellow equestrians - do you do this??

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Emotional Pinball

Lots of love.
It's been a month and a half since I lost Sug.  I still cry every day, though not as often as I did at first. Remember how you felt in high school or college after a bad break-up?  When you curled up in your room and read romance novels and watched movies on the Lifetime channel, ate 30 pounds of chocolate and made depressing mixed tapes with songs by Sinead O'Connor, Natalie Merchant, and the Smiths? Except instead of making mixed tapes, it's making playlists on an iPhone.  That's pretty much me right now.

August did not improve as the month progressed.  My Mom was hospitalized unexpectedly and we were told she needed to have open-heart surgery.  She had the surgery and is now home and recuperating, but things were scary for a while. On top of that, the day she was supposed to have the surgery we found out our lease on James, the OTTB the kids rode, was not being renewed. It was like the hits kept coming. You know the book Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events? I felt August should be renamed Amy's Month of Craptastic Events.  

What has kept me going through all of this has been the kindness of friends, family, and the wonderful people who have known Sug and I or followed us through this blog or Horse Junkies United.  Each card or comment on Facebook or on the blog brought a smile to my face, and a moment of peace.  It probably sounds corny as heck, but reading the sympathetic words someone took time out of their day to write gave me the strength to continue doing what I needed to do to get through the day during a time when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and wail. Some friends went so far as to send flowers, and my work team sent a tree to bury her ashes under as well as a donation to Mylestone Equine Rescue, the horse rescue I often support. All of the love and support was humbling as well as healing.

This past weekend was a weekend of firsts and hopefully a harbinger of better times.  Noah and I went to look at a potential barn (for when we find new equine family members) and he got to ride while we were there. It was his first ride since the lease on James ended and he rode Weed, a Haflinger with so much personality it was practically coming out of his ears.  That little horse was a riot, and, in Noah's words, clearly wanted a rider to continually be engaged in conversation with him. Noah got off that little guy with an ear to ear grin.

I also rode for the first time since the accident.  A wonderfully kindhearted friend let me ride her horse, a lovely chestnut boy named Wesley.  It was obvious I'd been out of the saddle a while, although Wesley very graciously forgave my mistakes and did his best to stay underneath me while I fumbled around on his back.  It still felt wonderful to be riding, and to be grooming and kissing on a horse again.  To my way of thinking it's the best kind of therapy there is.

I'm so glad I had that therapeutic weekend, as Sug's ashes arrived yesterday.  I'd be lying if I said it didn't knock the breath out of me. I didn't want to open the big UPS package.  When I finally did, I was taken aback by how large and heavy the wooden box holding the ashes was.  I guess I'd thought it would be some sort of medium sized vase/urn-type thing.  When I expressed my surprise, my son says, "Mom, think about it.  She was a half-ton animal, a lot bigger than Great-Grandpa." That shocked a laugh from me, bless my son's heart.  It just seems so weird to think of her as being reduced to something that could fit in that box, that she'd been transformed into what looked like ashes from a fireplace. I can't quite wrap my head around it.

I have to figure out where I'm going to plant her tree, and where I will keep her ashes in the meantime.  I'm terrified we might inadvertently have a recreation of the Meet the Parents urn scene.  God help me, that would be my luck.

So it's been a month and a half of emotional pinball, banging around, going in one direction only to be spun around in another.  Things are getting easier, and I know that moving forward there will be more good moments than bad ones.  Baby steps, right?

As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Function VS. Fashion...

I had to take Sophie to DSW to exchange a pair of shoes that she got for her birthday.  Shoe shopping is normally about the only kind of shopping I can stand, aside from shopping for horsie stuff at the tack shop.  However, one step inside any shoe store selling stuff for fall and I start to twitch.  Maybe it's me (and I'm willing to concede it probably is) but when they position some of the boots they are trying to sell as "Riding Boots.", well, my eyes cross and I get a little squirrely.

This is the result of this afternoon's trip.  I'm kinda proud of it, if I do say so myself. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Goodbye, My Sweet Girl

    Godspeed, sweet mare.
On Friday, August 1st, I lost Sugar. We were taking a lesson, and had just jumped a combination.  We had cantered three or four strides away from the out element when she caught a toe and we went down.  Sug was pretty surefooted, and I could probably count on one hand the times it had happened over the 6 years I'd had her.  She'd always recovered.  This time she didn't.

It happened so quickly.  One second we were cantering, and the next we were on the ground.  I went off her left shoulder, head first into the dirt.  There was a nanosecond where I thought she was going to land on me, and then she didn't.  She landed to my right, landed awkwardly, with her head under her body.  The second I got up I knew it was bad, and when the vet finally arrived he confirmed there was too much trauma to her spinal column for us to do anything but put her out of her pain.

I walked away from the accident with only a concussion.  People tell me I was lucky, and rationally I know they're right.  I don't feel lucky, though.  I feel heartbroken, the way you feel when you've lost your best friend.  My mind replays the accident over and over, and I get mired down in all the what-ifs.  What if I'd just hacked that night?  What if I hadn't jumped that last course?  Was there something I missed, some little sign that said maybe something was bothering her and I didn't feel it?  I know that this kind of thinking is not helpful, and I try to redirect my thoughts, but it's hard.  It's helpful that my instructor saw nothing wrong with her, said she had looked great and it was just a freak accident.  Considering this woman has been a 4* eventer and ridden internationally for the USET, I know she knows what she was seeing.

There's one thing I'd like to share with you as a result of my experience: If your horse is insured, always have your insurance information handy.  Keep one of the cards that comes with your policy in your tack trunk, and make sure your insurance agent, the emergency claims number and your policy number are in your phone.  This will save you valuable time and help your horse get the help they need faster.

Although Sug was 18, I can't help feeling we should have had a few more years together.  She should have had the chance to retire to a life of leisure in a field before she passed. I do take comfort in the fact that she was happy, healthy, sound, and still enjoying her job.  The last few weeks of her life we had taken a few cross country lessons, and she had clearly enjoyed them very much. She all but dragged me to the fences, jumping them easily and exuberantly. We even got her to go through the water complex, and to jump in and out of it, which was a major miracle considering her dislike of even the smallest puddle.

I miss her like crazy.  I miss the deep rumble of her nicker, and the adorable faces she made when she was begging for a treat.  I miss the way she'd lick me when I went in to her stall, and the way she'd groom me when I massaged her or scratched her itches.  I miss the way she loved the kids, always sticking her big face in theirs and licking them, as if she were their second mother and was checking to see that they were clean and presentable.  She took such good care of them when they rode her, just like she took care of me when I was on her back.  Mostly, I just miss being with her.

I have no idea what will happen going forward.  I guess that for the time being I will ride James, the kids' OTTB, when they aren't able to ride.  As for AWIP, I'm not sure what what's going to happen.  I imagine that when I'm in a better frame of mind I'll continue posting about the kids and their adventures. As for anything else, well, we'll see what happens.

I'd like to thank you all for coming along for the ride, for reaching out and commenting and sharing your experiences with us.  I can't even begin to tell you how amazing it's been to feel I have connections with people from all over because of this blog.

I've put together a little video containing some pictures from the six wonderful years we were privileged to have with Sug.  Some of them you may have seen, some may be new to you.  I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Flirting With the Dark Side: Sug and I Try Schooling Cross Country

Warning: You know I tend to be wordy, but this one goes on and on and on.  You might want to get another cup of coffee or some wine (depending on where you are in your day) before settling in to read this. Just sayin'.

I've been intrigued by eventing since I was a little girl.  I think when I was around 11 or 12 my parents brought me to see the Essex Horse Trials at the USET headquarters in Gladstone.  I can still remember seeing Bruce Davidson and being completely starstruck.  I can also remember having mononucleosis the summer of 1984 and being glad of it because it meant I could watch TV all day and that meant I saw almost all of the limited equestrian coverage.  I remember watching the eventing and thinking, "Dang, that looks really cool, " at the same time I thought, "Dang, that looks scary as heck."

I started riding in the hunter and equitation divisions as a kid, and then when I became a re-rider several years ago, that's what I went back to.  I got involved in the jumper divisions because Sugar was a jumper when I got her.  She was the right horse for me, so I just decided to do what she was good at.

That being said, I've always believed in taking the horses out of the ring. I love galloping or schooling in fields, and exploring trails.  I think it's good for the horses, both mentally and physically, and it's good for riders to learn how to function outside of a perfectly manicured environment.

So when I had an opportunity to go cross country schooling with the evening trainer at my barn the other day, I took it.  Virginia Jenkins Rowsell is an Advanced eventer, who was part of the winning 1993 team gold at NAYRC as well as winner of the individual gold there.  She's also won the Essex horse trials and at Morvnn Park, and probably a bunch of other places that Google hasn't told me about.  In any case, if anyone could get me around a cross country course, even a small one, she could. So I got myself a vest, rationalizing the expense by telling myself it was also a good safety measure considering all the hunter paces I do.  I felt pretty Xena Warrior Princess as I wore it around to break it in, telling friends and family to "Go ahead! Hit me!"  Some of them were only to happy to oblige...

Getting fitted for a vest by Sarah Jane at my local Dover Saddlery.
Do they come with a "No Muffin Top" option?
As the appointed day got closer, I began to over-analyze things.  What the hell was I thinking?  I'm 44 and the Sainted Mare is 18. Were we the proverbial dogs trying to learn new tricks?  I can barely find a distance in the aforementioned manicured ring over featherweight poles - what in God's name made me think I could do so over varied terrain with solid obstacles?? I have a crisis of confidence each time I approach an oxer, what would I do when faced with a Trakehner?

Then (and this was the height of stupidity) for some reason I decided to watch the footage of the 1976 Montreal Olympic eventing competition at Bromont.   I watched that with one eye closed, wincing and cringing and occasionally gasping loudly as one by one horse and rider teams came to grief at various obstacles.   

However, despite serious misgivings and fears of grievous bodily harm when the day came I found myself loading Sugar on my friend Mary-Ann's trailer and heading over to the farm we were schooling at.  This farm was seriously gorgeous, to the point that when we turned down the drive both our jaws fell open in shocked appreciation (Jealousy? Lust?)  I mean, the barn was bigger than my house.  Hell, the tack room was bigger than my house.  Sug came off the trailer and looked around with interest. Once she'd done a quick perusal and noted that everything met her standards, she pricked her ears and studied the field with the cross country course, almost as if she was trying to figure what wild hair Mom had gone and grown now.

Let me tell you, the Sainted Mare was jazzed to be out in that field.  Her head was up, her ears were up, and she moved out in the brilliant floating trot she gets when she's having fun and feeling good. we trotted around, getting a good gander at the fences, and then picked up the canter to do a large loop around the field.  Her Majesty was feeling sassy, shaking her head a bit and threatening to throw in a happy buck or two.

We started jumping over a little vertical, then going down a small incline then galloping down to a log, turning around and galloping back up the incline to pop over an oxer.  Okay, sounds easy, but if you're used to going on flat, perfectly manicured footing, well then, galloping on grass and going up and down hills is a whole 'nother thing altogether!  Then we went up the oxer, down the vertical and the log, then around and up another hill to jump another log that set right up on the lip of the hill.   Again, you don't see a lot of this stuff in show jumping (unless of you spend lots of time in Spruce Meadows or Hamburg) so I was operating on a wing and a prayer. Sug, bless her heart, thought this was all great fun and figured things out despite whatever I was doing on her back.

We went up and down hills, and jumped things going both and down.  We jumped logs, both singly and in stacks.  We slalomed in and out of trees as we navigated through the courses we were given. We even jumped a ditch, which went a heck of a lot better than I thought it would.  The ditch came in the middle of the course and I'd wanted to jump it by itself first. "Nope, you can do it, " said Virginia as she told me to sit back and slip the reins.  At least, I think she said that - she told me to lean back and slip the reins a few times.  That's another thing -- she kept telling me to go with a longer rein, which went totally against my jumper training.  Virginia said if I didn't I might end up on Sug's neck or falling out the front door if she pecked or needed to put her head down to balance herself, so out of the sheer will to live I figured I'd listen to Virginia.

The most entertaining part of the afternoon came when we got to the water obstacle.  If you've been following AWIP at all, you might recall that the Sainted Mare is highly aquaphobic.  She's been known to go wheels-up if there's a puddle in the wash stall, so I was anticipating a discussion at the water. Sug didn't disappoint. She refused to get within 10 feet of it at first, wheeling and backing and hopping up and down.  We tried for about 5 minutes to convince her to get close, but she wasn't having it.

This was taken after we had a 20 minute discussion.
Clearly she still thinks there are alligators in there....

Mary-Ann and her horse Bene then tried to give us a lead.  We tried this from a standstill near the water, then following at a trot and then approaching the water.  Nothing doing.  Just when we were about to call it a day and watch while Mary-Ann and Bene schooled the water, Sug decided she'd better go ahead and humor us and leapt into the middle of the water, gathered herself, and leapt out of it.  There was much fussing and patting and we then went back and forth through the water until we could do it without any fussing.  Then we tried jumping a stack of logs, followed by a slight back and then down through the water and then up a small hill to a log.  The first time we attempted it Sug saw the water on the other side of the logs and said, "Oh, HELL no!"  I circled her, sat in the back seat and rode defensively as I was told, and we went up, over, throughout the water and up over the log like we did it every day.

This is how we looked:

Not too shabby, huh?? (Can I tell you how may times I've watched this video?  Like, a thousand!)  Doesn't she look like a good eventing pony??  After we confirmed her at the water, we tried jumping up and down banks, starting with little ones and getting a little bigger each time.  The first time she jumped up we were both a little shocked, and she kinda got caught up and I got my teeth rattled a bit. We recovered and managed to jump down the down side, which went fairly well.  Virginia and I expected her to give a great big old leap out into space, but she just popped down that bank, easy peasy, which Virginia said shows how smart she is. (Virginia was promoted to Most Favored Person after that comment.)

So that was it.  Our big foray over to the eventing side of the equestrian world.  I'm so glad I tried it. Screwing up my courage and jumping cross country obstacles made me feel all kinds of badass, which will hopefully make me more confident in my show jumping.  Plus, learning how to ride and jump over varied terrain is really good for you- I felt super solid in the tack the next time I popped over some fences in our ring.

Who knows - this may be the start of something special.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blissed Out By Botanicals...

The yummy new Absorbine Botanicals line.
photo by Malin Fredriksen
You know when you find a product that you really love?  You wanna tell everyone how cool it is, spread the word and evangelize a bit.  You know what I mean?  

So I found this new favorite product that has been making the summer heat more bearable - the new Absorbine Botanicals line.  I've tried both the Body Rinse and the Massage Foam, and I LOOOOOVVVVVE them.  I have to be honest and admit that while I was immediately on board with the idea of the Body Rinse, I was not quite as sure if I’d like the Massage Foam.  My first thought was, "Massage Foam?  For horses??"  It just didn't compute.  For people, sure.  For horses?? Couldn't see it.  Well, consider me converted.

Product #1 - Massage Foam 
I love to massage Sug and James, and I also have a certified massage therapist do them once or twice a month.  I've never used any product when massaging, nor have I seen the massage therapist use anything either.  I was confused, so I read the label for a little more direction.  Aaaa-hah!  The light dawned.  While it could be used for sore muscles, it could also be used on legs, much like any other liniment brace.  So I used it on Sug after a couple of hard workouts, and when we went to our away show in Pennsylvania I used it every day before I wrapped James' legs for the night. The best thing about the Massage Foam (other than the heavenly aroma) was the fact that the foam made it easier to get the product where it belonged - on James.  The biggest frustration I have with liquid liniment is that it seems like 80% goes on the floor and only 20% gets on the horse's legs.  Which is pretty expensive when you think about it.

I decided to give it a go while massaging Sug after two consecutive rides; One day I applied the foam while her coat was dry, the next day I used the foam while she was wet after I'd used the Body Rinse on her.  Sug carries a lot of tension in her brachiocephalicus muscle, the muscle which attaches at one end at the base of the skull and at the other end to the humerus.  I found that using the foam while she was wet allowed my fingers or the heel of my hand to slide down the muscle more smoothly, which seemed to result in more blinking, chewing, sighs and yawns (all signs of muscle release) than I normally see.  
She also gets sore at the base of the neck and by the shoulder. There's a kind of groove that runs right in front of the scapula where it joins the neck, and any time I massage in there she is ecstatic. (I think these may be the trapezius and deep pectorals, maybe?  I'm not sure.I found that while using the foam when she was wet my hands felt like they were gliding through that groove better, which again resulted in more yawning, chewing, blinking and sighing from Sug.  Using the foam while she was dry worked well, too.  I just really thought in our experience it seemed to work better when she was wet,
Product #2 - Body Rinse
I adore this product.  Again, it smells divine!  Not that it's important that your horse smell nice, but hey, it doesn't hurt.  It's refreshing and cooling. You mix the rinse with a bucket of water (check the label for the proper ratio) and sponge away! My hand and forearm felt wonderfully cool and tingly (in a good, refreshed kind of way) when I was sponging it on Sug, so I could only imagine it was having the same effect on her.  There's a wonderful additional benefit to the product that Absorbine doesn't mention on the product's label -  the peppermint and rosemary oils also act as an insect repellent.  When I took Sug out to graze while drying she was barely even bothered by the bugs, and normally she's notoriously annoyed by them. 

Feeling cool and refreshed with no bugs = happy Sug.

The Rinse can also be diluted and used as a cooling spray.  A blogger buddy mentioned she did this for her horse,  and loves using it this way.  I was speaking to my friend, who happens to be an associate at my local Dover Saddlery store, and she was raving about the Botanicals line and how it's been flying off the shelves and how people were also loving it as a spray.  I haven't tried making it into a spray yet, but only because I've been so in love with using it as a rinse after a workout.  
So you might be thinking that the whole "botanicals" thing is a way to go all green and sustainable and hippy and to separate horse owners from their money by making them feel all earth-friendly, but you'd be wrong.  There's a lot of science and experiential knowledge behind the choosing of the ingredients in these products.  In my younger days I worked at a wilderness survival school, as well as for a company that made naturally, organically and ethically-based beauty products, so I'm familiar with many of the ingredients and have used them on myself.  Here's a brief summary of some of the key ingredients and what they do:

Arnica ExtractArnica is commonly used to clean, heal, and relieve pain from minor cuts and abrasions.  I've used it on bruises and sore muscles for ages.

Oil:  This stuff is fantastic for the horse's coat (or hair in general).  It is believed to stimulate follicles to promote hair growth, and is also helpful with dry, flaky skin.  Rosemary oil has also been used to relieve muscle pain.

Lavender OilThis essential oil is known to assist with pain relief, improve the skin, and enhance blood circulation.

Peppermint Oil: Peppermint Oil is known for it's ability to provide pain relief, as well as help the respiratory and digestive systems.

So there you have it, my two cents on tow great new products to help keep our horses feeling good. Sorry about blathering on forever, I just assume folks are like me and like to know every little detail before spending money on something. (And, quite honestly, we know I just tend to over-communicate. LOL.)  I hope that if you were considering either of these products that my review helped you.   If you try them, let me know what you think!  I’d love to hear what worked for you and your horse.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Horse Showing in Happy Valley: Part Two

Couldn't help thinking of that movie Children of the Corn...
Hello again.  I thought I'd give an update on the rest of our away show adventures at the Lion Country Horse Show.

On the second day of showing Noah was slated to do a derby class, which he'd never done before.  Our trainer knew we were trying to make the most of our show experience, so after Noah did well on the first day she asked if we wanted to give the derby on the following day a try.  What the heck, we figured.  Pfffffftttt.  Had I known what it cost to enter the class, I would have given it a pass.  This is where our lack of show experience came in -- I had no idea the class fee for a derby was waaaaaayyyyyy more than for a normal hunter division.  Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

Because this was his first attempt, we had no expectations whatsoever, which translated to absolutely no nerves.  We got to the show early and took James out for a good graze, then a nice long hack around the grounds and some neighboring fields.  When it got close to class time they did a relaxed warm up and then headed off to the in-gate to memorize their courses.  As it was the Fourth of July and Crazy Hat Day, the girls from our barn had decorated each other's and Noah's helmets, so as he headed up to the ring Noah looked like a bedazzled General Patton.  (I was really surprised he let the girls do that because he's kind of a keep-it-under-the-radar kind of dude, but I could tell he felt very happy to be included.)

The new Captain America model riding helmet...
Noah and James went in to the ring and proceeded to lay down the best round I've ever seen them do. (I'm actually lucky I saw it.  I had every intention of taking pictures but then realized I couldn't see a damn thing so ditched the camera and just took memory pictures with my eyes.) Their rhythm was relaxed, their distances spot on, and they nailed all the high options to score some bonus points.  Noah was light and following with his hands (something he's been working on) and this translated into a very happy, relaxed James.  Noah left the ring absolutely beaming and patting James profusely. His smile got even bigger when their score was announced as an 82, putting them in second place.

We had a moment or two of anxiety over the handy round, as it required them to do a trot fence, which they'd not practiced that much at home.  Their handy round was not quite as smooth as the previous round (dang trot jump!) but they still scored well enough to remain in second.  Holy crap!!  The kid had just completed his first derby (admittedly a baby one - not the height of the national or international derbies) and had gotten a second place!  He actually got to be in a victory lap, which was way cool.  Needless to say there was much rejoicing, and James was given many treats and pats, another long graze and an extra long massage from Mom.  What made the day extra special is that our barn-mate Carly and her wonder-mare Kalifornia Dreamin' won the National Derby later that afternoon - it was an abundance of awesomeness!

So proud of my boys!!
Carly, her mom Kathy, and Kalifornia Dreamin'
The rest of our week was wonderful.  Noah went to the lake with the rest of the kids, we spent a night making s'mores around the hotel's fire pit.  We did dinner with our barn family almost every night.  Noah did a couple classes Saturday and Sunday, and he did well.  He didn't have another round like he did in the derby, but there was a good mix of good moments and teaching moments.  Most importantly, he was spending a ton of bonding time with his horse, and learning all kinds of things about grooming and horse management.

Mom! Please! Put the camera away.
S'mores! (The dog in the pic is actually named S'mores!)
Inspecting the course

I was loving life too.  You know what it's like when you spend most of your day working and running around with the kids and then running to spend what precious free time you can steal with your horse.   It was so wonderful to have my whole entire day be about spending time with our horse, and with people who felt the same way as we do about horses.  It's kinda like wandering around lost and then finally finding your tribe.  OK, maybe that was a bit melodramatic, but you know what I mean.

So there you have it.  Noah's first big away show.  We had a blast, a lot of laughs, and a ton of mother/son bonding time.  Who knows, it may be another 3 years before we can do something like this again.  Heck, we may never get to do another away show again, so I'm glad that both the kids and I have had the experience once. I'm most proud of the fact that we spent each moment of the experience taking it in and enjoying every moment of it, and thanking James profusely for his part in making it happen.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Horse Showing in Happy Valley

This is a very exciting week for Noah and I.  We are out at Kocher Farm in Pennsylvania Furnace,  Pennsylvania, at the Lion Country Horse Show. The show is held just a stone's throw from State College, the home of Penn State University. The bucolic valley the college is situated in has been called Happy Valley since a study in the late 1980's listed the area as one of the least stressful places in the US to live.

This could be why:
Blue skies, farms and cornfields. Bye-bye stress.
A few years ago Sophie and I went to HITS Saugerties together, which the very first away show for us both.  Now it's Noah's turn. (I was supposed to show too, but Sug decided she'd rather have her coffin joints injected.) So this week all the focus is on Noah and James. 

We've been having a blast together.  We had loads of good conversations and laughs on the 4 hour drive out.  I love hanging with the Boy - our senses of humor are very similar and we are both okay either spending time together or giving each other space when necessary.

One of the highlights of the drive out?  Electric Avenue!!  Now I know where it is!  Pennsylvania!

We're gonna rock down to....
We've been having a blast spending the last two days with James and the gang from the barn. James is not used to so much stall time, so we've taken him out for hacks around the show grounds and fields and for lots of grazing time.  Some of the others have done lots of these away shows and are used to them; Noah and I are new to the whole thing and we're like kids in a candy store.  Time to pick out stalls?  Great!! Time to hay?  We're in!  Night check? Yay!  Torrential downpour and we have to lower the tent flaps in sideways rain? Good times!

James rocking the braided look

Does Charles Owen offer this model?

The first day we got organized and Noah had a lesson, then we hung out and watched some of the others show. Today (Day 2) was Noah's first actual show day. It was sunny and gorgeous when Noah took James out for his morning hack, but as we got closer to his class, things got ominous.  Just as we were ready to go to the ring all hell broke loose.  The show organizers got on the loudspeaker and order everyone back to the barns and told us to lower the tent flaps.  Thunder and lightning shook the tents, making James uneasy, so we stayed with him.  Luckily the storm lasted only about 35 minutes, but they were pretty intense minutes.  When the storm front petered out a bit, we hurried to the ring so the class could be run before the skies opened up again.


Batten down the hatches

Noah and James did well.  Noah had a GPS issue in the first class, which was a shame as they were doing so well.  It began to rain in the second round, so that was not quite as smooth but they wound up pinning third.  By the time they did the hack it was raining a bit stronger and James was not pleased.  He held himself together, but his handsome face showed he was not happy about the situation.  Despite that they got fifth.  Noah was not thrilled with his riding, but he was happy to have spent so much of the day with his horse.

And now I'm ready to crash face-first into my bed.  This horse-showing stuff ain't easy.  ;)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Video Cuteness Alert: Sugar Says Hello

I travel for business a lot, and while of course I miss my family (I do, I swear it!) I reeeaallllly miss Sugar.  You know how that is. Not only are our horses our dear friends, but let's face it, they're also our sanity.

I've been away on business trips a lot this year, and my husband has taken to texting me pics of Sug with little messages saying "hello" or that she misses me.  This week he outdid himself.  Check it out:

OK, I know darn well she's not nickering to say hello to me. She's happy to see "Daddy" because he gives her treats and takes her grazing and never makes her work. I don't care, though, because when I'm away I can watch this video and see those beautiful eyes and hear that throaty rumble of a nicker and all will be right in my world.

Thanks for reading!  Hope all is well in your world with your family - both two-legged and four-legged.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

James and the Evil SuckMonster

So the umbrella isn't an issue, but the vacuum is. Go figure.
My kids' OTTB James is the equine version of the Peanuts character "Pig-Pen."  He lives for a good roll that will grind and cake mud into every nook and cranny he possesses.  James loooooooves looking like a four-legged Swamp Thing; although his riders are less enthusiastic about his hygienic practices.

It's rained for the past couple of days, which means James has been in high heaven, no doubt finding every patch of dirt in his field.  My son and I knew what we were going to find when we got to the barn, and James didn't disappoint.  He was covered stem to stern, his forelock sticking up like a Mohawk and the only things not covered in dried mud were the eyes that were gazing gleefully out at us.  James looked like a kid who'd gotten into the cookie jar and ate every last one, clearly very pleased with himself.

Sadly for James, his pleasure was not to last long.  Noah curried, curried some more, and yet even more.  Currying and a couple passes with the stiff brush didn't do much against the muck - if you tapped his croup a mushroom cloud of dust came up - so it was decided it was time to break out the vacuum.  Have I ever mentioned that James does not like the vacuum?  Nope, not even a little bit.  To James, the vacuum is the source of all evil in this world.

Noah dragged the vacuum over to James, who had pulled his head back and was eyeing Noah with obvious misgivings.  "You brought this on yourself," Noah told his horse.  He then walked up to James and held the vacuum cleaner head under his nose, saying "You know what this is.  You know how this works. I turn it on and it makes a  WHHHOOOOOOOSSSSSSHHHH noise and I put it on and it sucks all the dirt out."  James sniffed the end of the vacuum, his eyes going from machine to boy and back again.  Noah then rubbed the head along James' neck and shoulders, talking to him the whole time.

He cleans up quite nicely!

Sugar and I watched this whole exchange with great interest and many giggles from our vantage point across the aisle.  Sug loves the vacuum, and clearly had no idea why James was apprehensive.  As we watched, Noah turned the vacuum on and poor James' eyes damn near goggled out of his head!  He startled, braced his legs out like he was Bambi on the ice, snorted, and whipped his head over to look at me as if to say, "I want to speak with Management! I'd like to file a formal protest!"  He then swiveled his head to give Noah the hairy eyeball and snorted emphatically.

Noah kept talking to James, praising his bravery (???) and making glacially slow, sweeping movements with the vacuum.  This eventually relaxed James, and he reduced his Terror Alert Status from High to Guarded, his ears tracking back and forth in case anybody decided to try any more funny business.

When Noah finished, James let out a HUUUUUUGE sigh and hung his head on the cross-ties, his demeanor indicating he felt highly put-upon by the indignities of being subjected to such a traumatic experience. Noah went over and grabbed a carrot for James, who brightened and scarfed it down,  immediately forgetting his encounter with the Evil SuckMonster.