Monday, August 24, 2015

Adventures in Learning to Trailer: The Maiden Voyage of the HMS Valium

RJ is not convinced this is a good idea.
If you've followed this blog you may remember that sometime back in February I bought a trailer. You can read about it here.
I didn't have a horse, but bought a trailer anyway, because, well, why the heck not?

Once the weather turned nicer and the glacier that had formed over the trailer had melted (thank you, Mother Nature!) I began with the business of learning to actually drive the thing.  Because taking a couple practice runs with an empty trailer before putting an actual horse in it seemed like a pretty reasonable course of action. If you're so inclined, you can read about some of those adventures here. And here.

This weekend I decided it was time to take my first trip with an actual horse in the trailer.  Mary-Ann, my friend who'd bravely accompanied me on my first test drive, asked if I wanted to meet her at a local park where there are miles of trails and cross-country obstacles.  Sounded like a good idea, so we settled on a time and I went into planning mode.  Because that's what I do.

I made a list of what I needed to do to get the trailer ready.  I made a list of what I needed to have in the trailer.  I made a list of what I needed to do with RJ before putting him in the trailer. Then I checked my copy of Cherry Hill's Trailering Your Horse to see if I was forgetting anything.  Then I went to the barn and did everything on my lists.  My son was amazed by all the effort I was putting in for, as he put it, "a 10 minute drive."  He also jokingly suggested that I should consider taking a valium before setting out. BAM!  The trailer now had a name, the HMS Valium. (We name our vehicles in this family. Doesn't everybody?)

I got to the barn about an hour and a half before I was supposed to leave, as I am paranoid and figured that there would be a million last minute details to take care of.  I hooked up, checked and re-checked and re-re-checked things, and then loaded RJ.  RJ, bless his heart, looked highly skeptical of the morning's goings on but climbed willingly into the trailer despite any misgivings he may have had.  I'll admit I was nervous - the 10 minute drive has a really big hill with a twisty-turny road. I was having visions that my truck wouldn't  make it up, that the brakes would go on the way back down, or that my driving would be so bad that I'd get to the park and find RJ with multiple wounds from scrambling to stay on his feet.

Am I a bit neurotic?  Yes.  Without a doubt.  To ease my neuroses I turned to my phone and searched through my music until I found something inspirational.  Normally I'd go for a little AC/DC, but in this case I chose Wagner.  Yep, you read that right. Wagner.  I chose his Ride of the Valkyries, because if that doesn't give you a kick-ass "ride off to battle feeling" nothing will. Plus, I figured if I was pretending to be a Valkyrie I wouldn't be all in a twitter about driving the damn trailer. So off I went, the strains of Wagner wafting out of my open windows. I got some odd looks as I went through town, and a few more when I pulled into the park, but none of that mattered as the first part of the journey had gone without a hitch.

Thing went easily on the way home as well.  The parking area at the park is large, and there is rarely any need to back up.  All I needed to do was drive in and do a big loop so I was facing the drive out, and then pull out straight to leave.  Easy-peasy. When we left for the park the road was wide open and I had no cars following me on the way over.  On the way back it looked as though I had a funeral procession behind me, there were so many cars. I didn't let it bother me,  I just concentrated on keeping things slow and smooth for RJ. The only hiccup came when I turned on the small country road the farm is on.  The road is narrow, and there are some blind turns and rises. I  around a bend and was faced with 2 aged bikers in full Tour de France regalia teeter-tottering along as they tried to make it up the slight incline.

Seriously, these two were 75 if they were a day, so God bless 'em for doing what they were doing, but they gave me fits!  They were riding one-third of the way into the road, just wobbling away, and clearly had no idea I was behind them.  I was trying to figure out if I should just stay behind them and risk getting plowed into  if a car came around the blind bend. Or if I tried to pass and accidentally whacked one or both of them with the trailer and send them hurtling into the roadside brush.  Then I thought maybe I should hit the horn and alert them to my presence so they could move over and let me pass.  Then I worried that beeping might cause one or both of them to drop dead of a heart attack. So I stayed behind them, inching along at snail's pace, hoping they didn't stroke out in the 100 yards it was going to take to get to the driveway.

I'm happy to say the HMS Valium and her crew arrived home safely (as, I'm hoping, the septuagenarian bikers did as well). I was feeling such a sense of accomplishment I took my daughter over to our favorite local restaurant for a little celebration. Driving one's horse in a trailer may be no big deal to some, and I'm guessing those folks may have been doing it for so long they don't remember what the first time felt like.  To me it felt a bit like when I had my first child and had to take him home from the hospital.  Number one, I was amazed that anyone was stupid enough to trust me with this poor innocent soul's life. Number two, I was suddenly aware of all that can go wrong on the road.  Driving suddenly became WAY. MORE. SERIOUS.

So there you have it.  Trip #1 is in the books, and I'm looking forward to many more successful outings in the future.

Time to celebrate!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

One Year Later...

My sweet girl.
Saturday, August 1st marked the one-year anniversary of losing Sugar.  I could feel anxiety creeping
in as we inexorably moved toward that particular square on the calendar.  I'm not sure when the apprehension started.  Probably in May or June.  It was tension at that point, but by July it was emotional roller coaster time.  I'd be fine, then I'd be on the verge of tears.  I'd wake up in tears, or feel them start up as I tried to fall asleep.

The sense of impending doom that I'd felt in the months after the accident returned.  If the family rode bikes, I was sure a car would hit one of us.  When I traveled for business I was positive the plane was going to fall out of the sky.  Every trip down the highway felt like it would be the last; that we'd end up in a heap of twisted metal.  (That probably wasn't helped by the fact that my son had gotten his driver's permit and I was typically the one who was with him when he practiced.  In hindsight, perhaps I should have delegated that duty to his father.  That would have meant less practice for the Boy, but might have prevented the permanent crescent shaped dents in my passenger side door panel.)

Fear of imminent catastrophe aside, in general I was improving.  I didn't go to pieces every time the horse I was riding tripped.  I was jumping courses, not 2 or 3 fences at a time.  While I didn't know if I'd ever get my mojo back, I was starting to think it was a possibility. A woman I think a great deal of told me that when she lost her heart-horse it took about a year for her to really feel better.  It wasn't that she stopped missing her boy, I think it was more that things stopped hurting so badly and it felt okay to move forward towards a new normal.  At least that's what I took her words to mean.  I could relate. Although  I still missed Sug terribly, I was starting to feel that I was ready to begin the next phase of my equestrian life.

A wonderful gift from some
wonderful people.
I started seriously looking for another horse. For a long time I'd kind of half-heartedly kept an eye out for something, but now I was searching in earnest.  I was sending links to horses I was interested in to my trainer, and reaching out to people online when I saw something that looked appealing. At one point I had it in my head that I needed to find my next partner by the anniversary date, but thankfully realized that putting a deadline on finding a horse was like trying to put a deadline on finding your life-partner.  Just doesn't work. Still, I was looking. That was progress.

My trainer has been a rock throughout this whole process.  He's found two lovely, safe, and forgiving horses for me to borrow until I find the right horse.  I've worried that he'll get sick of looking for me, but I really shouldn't have.  He's almost more picky about finding the right fit than I am.  We've found a couple that have looked right "on paper" but were not right, for one reason or another. He won't allow me to settle when I see something that could maybe work, he's adamant that we look until we find the right one.  For example, he found one that I tried and felt very comfortable on, even though he was more of a hunter ride than I can normally pull off.  When we asked if the horse was good on trails or on hunter paces the answer was an emphatic "NO."

I wavered, thinking that he was a very nice horse and I was comfortable on him and enjoyed riding him, so maybe I should make an offer. My trainer set me straight, saying that we could not compromise, that finding a horse that could horse show, trail ride, go on hunter paces, and forgive my ammy blunders was possible and we would search as long as necessary to find it.  "Your horses are your children," he said.  "This is really important for you. We look until we find the right one."  I'm so thankful for him, not just because he's found great horses for me to continue riding, but for his patience and understanding while we look for the right horse and try to rebuild my confidence.

I think what kept me sane the last few days before the anniversary was that the kids and I were away for several days at a horse show.  Finding the money in the budget for an away show does not often happen, so if we can do one it's a big deal.  Being away with our barn and spending entire days with the horses was therapeutic for me.  Watching Sophie and Noah compete, as well as supporting the other riders who showed, kept me busy and my mind away from sad memories. When I did have a sad moment, I'd go spend some time loving on Tiki or RJ until the heartache passed.

Sophie and Tiki

Noah and RJ

The kids did well at the show.  Soph rode Tiki, and they were Champion in two divisions.  She won the first championship on Saturday, the anniversary, which felt right, almost as if Sug was helping from above. She won her second on Sunday.  Noah rode my horse, RJ, who he'd only ridden 5 times before showing him.  He got a 4th in a big class on Saturday, and a 4th and an 8th on Sunday.  He also won an over fences class with 48 entries.

Sure, the weekend had its sad moments. The last time I'd been to that show was with Sug, so that tugged at my heart.  Memories of the accident and the aftermath would suddenly surface, and I'd have to concentrate to push them away.  Watching the kids, seeing their happiness and pride in their horses and accomplishments, helped to push sadness aside.  If I'm honest, I also felt Sug's presence so strongly all weekend.  Feeling she was there in spirit helped me so much, and I think it helped the kids as well. She had always taken such good care of "her" kids, and I could feel that she was continuing to watch over them.

So there you have it.  This is where I am.  Moving forward, slowly but surely.  Missing my girl, but comforted in the knowledge that she is still with me, even if it's only in spirit.  Feeling that I will find the right horse, and knowing that while my new friend won't be Sug, that will be okay.  She took care of me while she was here, and I truly feel that she takes care of me still, just in a different way.  And when I find my new friend, I feel she'll help me to know it, and she'll let me know it's okay to go forward.