Mighty Lessons: If at first you don’t succeed…

Horse ar19366339_10103410558575495_3188574504284643412_ne great teachers of humility. When your ego shows up they will squish it without a doubt, but on a quieter side, they also teach you a different lesson in humility and enlightenment in how they go about their interaction with humans.

I brought Mia home on June 17, 2017. I did almost nothing with her for the first couple of weeks for a variety of reasons.. At the top of my list was the overwhelming buyers remorse.. Can I do this? What WAS I thinking? What if I can’t do it? I should have gotten an OTTB.  She hates dogs!? I can’t sell a horse that hates dogs?! Can I? What if.. What if.. What if…  Well, what if comes from anxiety and fear of the unknown and you don’t know until you try , right? Well it also comes from money, hauling a horse trailer through Cape Cod bound, Boston traffic, hauling a, “formerly” wild, horse who’s only been trailered twice in her life back north through Boston. That anxiety comes from the knowledge that this horse doesn’t lead well and who 30 minutes post travel, kicks my dog in the face, after-hours emergency OF Course. HOWEVER.. If you can calm those lil voices; the haters in your mind that literally come from no one else, you will see that things are not what they seem.

As it turns out, dogs can eat without a few less teeth and still catch a ball (THANK GOD!), A horse that can’t lead is just looking for some leadership, money comes every other Friday and you do not have to haul another trailer through Boston ever, if you don’t want to!

Fast forward to July. Mia has a chance to settle in, I have a chance to let it go.. let it goooo… Day one, Keep in mind that I have no round pen. We have solid round pen panels set up as fencing right now to ensure safety. The fencing is connected to the run-in. Mia dragged me all over the place., Reared and almost flipped over, Broke a lead snap. She ran back to her stall. The train left the station and I immediately sat down in the Unicorn’s stall, Is defeat an option? I couldn’t for the life of me remember how to do this or where to start.

Round two.. Adjust the fence. Make the area smaller, Use the one extra round pen panel as a fence.  Stand back and enjoy the view of a small step in the right direction!

Step one: Bring Mia into the improvised pen, shut the gate. Let Mia free. No halter, no lead rope. Use ALLLL that energy and send the horse forward, from behind the drive line. DONE. Oh my Lord, Did I just do that? Yep. WELL S*&#. OK.  QUIT WHILE YOU ARE AHEAD AND LET YOURSELF ENJOY IT.

Step two: Go back the next time and do the same thing… Wait…. She actually turned into me and walked a few steps towards me, instead of standing and facing me but waiting, unsure of what I want. WOW.. BIG small steps. Will she stand if I touch her foot? NOPE. .. How about her shoulder… ok? How about your leg? OK! Now see how easy that was?! Done.  

So you see.. Sometimes all you need to do is remember that A. The world is not actually ON your shoulders. If it seems like you can’t do it, you’re actually trying too hard and making everything too big, including your energy, which apparently wild horses are very sensitive to.

Flash forward..

June 29: Circles… Um yaaahh, if you could just keep going past that one spot that would be great.  Can I please touch your foot again? Thank you! Such a lil smahtie. How about some target training?! This is a fly spray bottle, if you touch it with your nose I will give you a treat… SEEEEEE… IT’S GOOOODDDD. Now touch the saddle pad. Now touch the pool noodle. GREAT JOB! 

July 6: Circles… Could you please just keep going forward? Thank you. FINALLY. All these fricken circles… Ok can I have one foot? Thankkkk you!!  Touch the pool noodle. OK, Now can I touch you with it? Thank yooouuuu!! See, YOU’RE SO SMART!

July 7: Circles; Control the pace. Yield haunches.. Yield Shoulders.. Pick up both front feet.. Can I trim? No..? OK.. Moooore circles.. Now? ok, one foot? two feet?  Great, that’s amazing. 

July 9: Circles; Control the pace. CHECK. A change in direction? Yes?! AWESOME Yield the shoulders with smaaaall energy.. Yield Haunches.. Small energy.. Check.Check,  Add Saddle. Walk with a saddle, in a circle or two… Trot in a saddle for a couple circles? YES.

Do you see a pattern? When things are broken down it’s easy to do it and it’s easy to do it right. When you add all those small things up suddenly you’ve done a lot, and you did it right, and it’s amazing, you’re amazing, you feel amazing, you’re horse is amazing and your whole world is amazing and you forget why you were feeling crappy about it.

Onward and Upward

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It has been many months. As an AA, last September I hit a high.. and a wall. After such a great summer and the first competition season with The Unicorn, and finally feeling like I was getting this thing together- YOU KNOW- The JUGGLE; work, work, work, Ride, Lesson?, Ride?, Flu, Work, Family, time to relax.. Wait.. What?! Nope. If anyone had told me when I was 18 that this is where I would be I would have laughed outright.. Ok maybe not outright because my parents raised me to be respectful, but on the inside I’d be all like, “Hell no, Lady, All I’m gonna do is Ride and to heck with rent!” Funny.  Good sense of humor, Kid. 

So I hit that wall, I was tired and burnt out. Sunburned, exhausted, sick of driving a trailer, sick of remembering the tests. I was sick of always being on the run and I was honestly tired of riding. It’s hard to accept that, I really loved having the time to snuggle Grafton and sit in his stall after work, which I might ad was usually 3:00am or some other ungodly hour, and just breathe but that’s really hard to admit, right? You know someone is always in the background.. “You just don’t love it enough,” “I’ve been doing all that for years, some people just can’t keep up.”  You want to scream and tell people to mind their own business and leave you alone because you are your own person and no one else is walking in these breeches. Sometimes it’s difficult to be at a boarding farm because there’s always someone trying to one-up you and prove they’re better and I know that. Heck I’ve been in this most of my life, I’d have to be blind if I didn’t see it, and deaf if I didn’t hear it, but I’ve had to dig deep. I mean REALLY, FRICKEN, DEEP, to overcome that call of Ego. Let’s get real- I am not over it.. but I’m working on it. Channeling some Dr. Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra. BIG TIME.

We all have our lives. We have families, and other pets, car troubles, vet bills, jobs that suck, jobs that are amazing, and boyfriends and girlfriends, significant others, school and all of that adult stuff.  It’s stupid to deny that all of that can never get out of balance and it’s really stupid to let other opinions break you down or sway your opinion of yourself. Everyone that is close to me is amazingly supportive and they point all of these beautiful things about me out and hang it in my face, but still.. I get swept up in my own insecurities, anxiety, personal goals and garbage until I can’t see straight and I continue my downward spiral to the depths of self-pity.

So now it is July. Grafty took most of the winter off and started back up in April/May and I have just entered my first show of the season.. July 21-23. I moved my beautiful Unicorn up to my mother’s farm, an hour and a half away, and I go up after I get out of work at 7am every Wednesday and I stay til Saturday.. Sometimes more days if I can swing some days off and some days less if I have to pick up that good ‘ol Over Time. I have been saving in board and spending it all on lessons twice weekly with a fabulous trainer, Laura Noyes (no, she did not pay for this endorsement.. ) I have struggled a lot lately with self doubt, feelings of failure and resentment.  THIS IS RIDICULOUS!? RIGHT?! I mean seriously– I am trying and I am doing it! It’s not always pretty or perfect but I have had my first real big medium trots and the the first few steps of the Canter Pirouette! WHAT is wrong with me right? Gals and Girls- I am here to tell you that you are not alone in your struggles and we are DEFINITELY our own worst critics!

I would like to announce that I am back and I am going to try really hard to put into words my successes and my failures and I hope it hits a nerve with you because someone times we just need to know we are understood. So, pull that piece of hay out of your bra, and get up in that saddle and just do your best because that’s all we can do and as long as we do our best every day, there’s no room for regrets.

Good Luck in all of your endeavors ❤

Moving forward

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I realize it’s been a while. I had full intentions to make this a weekly or bi-weekly blog but, as the reasons for this blog, the life of AA’s is usually side tracked with everyday stuff and priorities that lead us astray from our original map of plans.

In the past few weeks I entered my first competition in nearly a decade. This will also be my debut in public on the Unicorn, and our first public debut at Second Level. These milestones make me proud of our accomplishments as a team. I never thought I would be going to another show when my former horse passed. I never thought I would do anything competitive with another horse and I certainly didn’t expect to find another partnership.

I am sure each of us has that moment in our lives that we lose that one special horse with which we have built a bond greater than any bond we have ever had with any other living being. I am also sure that when we lost that beast it broke our hearts and we swore that was it; (sighs..) Never again. We would hang up our helmets and sit back with our attentions on our other priorities only to daydream incessantly and to wake from sleep thinking about how great it felt to be on a horse, meandering happily down a trail. You can almost feel the horse’s back lift as it springs in to the canter and you shift your weight to prepare for the canter to walk transition. You count the strides and half halt before you feel that horse come up over that oxer.. It’s heartbreaking; literally painful. Then one day something might change and you find yourself with a horse that’s completely new to you. Yu have a few epic melt downs in the privacy of your horse’s stall or mane, your shower; you don’t want to start over, you don’t want a new horse, and what the HECK, I just want my horse back. Of course there are a million other thoughts and feelings, waves of grief and guilt and anger, but little by little this new horse does something to you.  The sun catches his eye and his mane glows in the dawn’s early hues. Your heart melts a tiny bit. This beast relentlessly licks you in search of treats.  Every. Single.Time. .. He finally starts to move correctly, accepting your leg and hand and seat and he actually isn’t crow hopping every time you get on because you have learned that his deal is a few minutes on the lunge to shake the crazies. He’s quirky and it’s actually kind of funny.  Flash forward and he gets half halts, and he starts to recognize and think about his feet, and your seat. He is listening! This new horse will never replace that one special being that you shared your soul with before but now maybe you can share a different piece of yourself and your life with this new creature is showing you a different avenue, different idiosyncrasies and new joys. He actually becomes the new partner for the new you, because let’s face it, we will never be the old being we were with that special friend before, though change is usually for good and maybe we can be a better person for our new friend.; More there , more humble, more patient, more confident. It has taken a long time but after nearly 4 years I am a different person than I was, and I can recognize my “new” horse as a partner. I can read his body language and it makes me proud of him and myself.

Grafton used to be very fidgety at girthing time. He wasn’t an outright jerk, but just wouldn’t stand completely still. I was frustrated because I’m not an aggressive person and I’m more of a feeler and I ask a lot of questions. A lot of people would say “just make him stand.” But why is he so obnoxious? He stands to be groomed so why doesn’t he like the girth? I was using a synthetic, slightly contoured, dressage girth and I happened upon an Ovation girth that was super squishy, very contoured and more elastic. That horse hasn’t moved a muscle due to girthing since. You see? With new horses we ask different questions, if we are open to looking for the answers we may not have needed to learn before.
So over the past few months I’ve been kicking our butts into gear. This has gone really well and then I had to move and had a ton of crap to do for work, and I ended up moving too, so we had a few backslides- Story of our lives, right? So anyways, I was feeling particularly cheery about our progress over a couple of weeks and with the show season around the corner I had been thinking about the shows and the levels and what I could do well, really set us up for success. So I picked a USDF recognized show and I chose First Level test three and Second Level Test three. I am very confident in our skills on the movements in these tests and while there are a couple things that render themselves a little sticky, I thought, why not? Of course in the last month I have experienced some buyer’s/rider’s  remorse, waves of nausea, and sheer panic but I talk myself down pretty easily, and if I am still doubtful of myself, I go and ride and they disappear.

As an Adult Amateur, riding mostly solo, learning from Videos (.. LOVE Catherine Hadaad Staller..)  and watching other people ride,  reading articles, etc., it’s easy to get down on my weaknesses, or doubt my position or style. Last year I had a lesson with Marty Stoddard and she asked me what my weakness was and what I wanted to do with my Unicorn (She called him a horse..)?  I explained that I would like to move up the levels but my biggest issue was that I always felt like my body needed to be tweaked and that I didn’t feel solid in my position. I saw her smile and I swear she almost laughed but became very serious and told me, “That is common in every rider, but if we focused on that as our biggest drawback we would never move forward. Don’t let that hold you back.”  This was so amazing for me to hear. I tend to be a perfectionist and I will focus on fixing something so much that sometimes I make it worse, or it just becomes a chore.  So with that I moved forward, letting myself stop nagging my poor unicorn and enjoy the ride- Literally.

Fast forward a year and im in a lesson working on cleaning up the lines. My trainer says I look stronger than I ever have (YAY!), Grafton looks stronger than he ever has and we’re working on downward transitions, sitting trot (my nemesis), and my three loop canter serpentine. She asks about my turn on haunches. CRAP.  I have been focusing so much on transitions within the gaits, straightness and lateral work I forgot about THAT one, so back to the drawing board. This has shaken me a little bit, with the show 14 days away, but we have a solid foundation and this is just the way it is: Work our butts off when we can, make it a priority, and do our best. The truth is, I am so excited to be going to the show, that we are in it for the experience of getting out and hopefully getting some good scores but most important is just having a good time and doing the best we can.

A dream is a wish your heart makes..

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The weather this year (Shrugs..)

I spoke on the phone recently with a lovely sales rep in Georgia who informed me in a sweet southern drawl, muffled with a cold, that the weather had just been so weird this year, that they, down in Georgia, are just all sick! I thought to myself.. Lady, You haven’t a clue.

I know that here in the Northeast, we live here because we can. I am not complaining. We opt to embrace, or suffer, through a cold winters, muddy spring, buggy summers, and beautiful fall, and care for our four-legged partners no matter if it’s 40 below zero in the middle of the night or 100 degrees with 6 million percent humidity. It is just what we do. However.. Every once in a while we have a lapse and we find ourselves pondering southern living..

Case and point:

Last night, 35 degrees.. Not bad right? Nah, not for a New Hampshire in March. It was however, even better, last week at 50 degrees. My unicorn, Grafton, was quite satisfied with that. Now listen;  I come from a place where my horses growing up didn’t seem to care what the weather was, like the rest of us, they shuffled through until the clouds made way for warmer skies in April.. or May.. or June.  When I brought my newest trusty steed home, I learned that those horses of my youth were the actual Unicorns and my newer model of Unicorn, while easily trainable, flexible, supple and level headed in mild temperatures, is a stiff, yet very athletic, circus creature who enjoys flipping around on a lunge line for anywhere from 10-20 minutes each way, if the temperature dips below 45. We have a nice appreciation for each other at this point and so I accept his need to attempt to fly and do horse-y yoga in the air, as long as he attempts to half-pass when his shenanigans are up. He starts out on the lunge a silly beast and he does, every time, without fail, calm into the horse I know and love, and appreciate, with all of his, “quirks.” After several months of this routine I have settled in and it just is what it is. I accept it and continue on. Sometimes I think It can’t get worse, even though I know I am still quite spoiled. One day, by some miracle, the sun comes out, it turns into spring for a day and my horse graciously stands at the mounting block, sans lunge line, and I mount up. I adjust my position, imagining myself as Lisa Wilcox, and we walk on. There is not one ear flicker or back hunch that suggests devilish thoughts coming from my impish brute. It’s like a Hallelujah moment. When you ask for Half Pass and you feel the hind end stepping under your seat, he is light and supple, and amazing. You actually remember why you love it SO much, and you think, It’s possible, I can do this, we can do this, and holy crap; Those goals are actually achievable.. You actually believe it.

… And then it’s 18 degrees overnight,  warms up to 35 during the day, and he goes back on the lunge line and the corners start to harbor horse-eating ghosts, and …  Hello? Southern Pines? Are you there?.. Because wouldn’t it be nice to train like this year round?!

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I never put any solid thought into those comments like, “My horse hates cold weather,” “My horse is crazy in cold weather,” “I’m moving south specifically to make my horse happier.” I have since been humbled, and I have bowed down to the other AA’s whom I may have thought were crazy in the past. I have crossed over and I now add myself, rather proudly, to the category that certain riders, those, “Bad Ass,” riders, if you will, deem us to be overly sensitive and high maintenance.  Except that I know the truth and I have seen the light: You have only never experienced it and I am ok with that because one day you will and we will welcome you into our club, but you’re paying for the drinks.

Trust your gut and let go

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This past year was full of lessons for me. I learned a lot about letting go of things that are out of my control and a lot about just going for it; The moment, the day, the coffee, the TRAIL RIDE.. It takes a lot of courage for us to move on. It’s so weird because life is just moving on in repetition and I wonder if it should be that hard and it shouldn’t and honestly, it really isn’t. The difficult issue is letting yourself let it go. That control loss is a huge deal, but I is also a huge relief!

Like most AA’s that I know of, finances have always been a huge issue and balancing act when you mix the love of horses; the intermingle with that little dance is board.

I  moved to New Hampshire in May of 2014. I had my horse at home for a while, decided to kick my butt in gear and board and with much research and visiting and interviewing, I settled on a farm nearby with a big outdoor, lots of space, an indoor and run-ins. I thought we would be very happy here.  The problem is that you can control all of those aspects but the quality of work you get from the people taking care of your horse may suck, and it turned out to be the case in this scenario. I am talking laziness, lack of attention to the weather In relation to blanketing, etc. I grew up as a working student and I understand someone people can seem overly sensitive and “picky.” I don’t consider myself over sensitive but I am picky. I and I know you are too and I understand, and what others think of us and our picky ways is not our business.  We need to be that way because these horses are our children that we leave in someone else’s care 24/7 and if we aren’t on top of their shit it is very likely that someone, somewhere, will miss something and we could lose our partner at the worst.  I am diligent and I recognize things that make or break relationships in the barn and if someone is paying for you to change blankets, you change the darn things… And you change them to match the weather. A rain sheet in a snow storm on a clipped horse is not appropriate; So anyways, moving on. . .

I brought my horse home and found my working student position at a lovely farm in New Hampshire with a beautiful facility, small-ish, and with great instruction.  When my student position had to come to a close, due to my big-girl responsibilities like school loans and car payments, I had to find a new place for my trusty steed to rest his rump. I moved to a small place with much the laziness of the past, where I listened closer to my gut and lasted 30 days. I moved to a fabulous place that was right down the street but the farm eventually had shut down after I was there about 9 months. I moved again to a ritzy place with all of the crazy you would only find in a blog- SERIOUSLY?! My horse wasn’t eating, was acting colicky, and you sent me a text message instead of calling me at work? You didn’t temp him? WHAT THE FLIPPING FLIP! So..*DEEP BREATH**Move number 5 in that last year two years and I have landed at a nice place. The people are pretty attentive and they’re very nice, however there is a fair amount of ‘drama,’ the ring is too small and it is always crowded with jumps or riders hanging out for social hour on the quarter lines. I am a dressage rider and I am serious about it. I am not in any way, shape or form bashing someone who is not in training or who doesn’t have aspirations to compete or who are, I find no issue with jumps or jumpers or hunters, lesson horses, kids, older folks or anyone elsr, but I need space for my leg yields. I need to practice my half pass, and I need serpentines. I have no interest in jumping outside of small cross training cavetti and ground poles, and that is just the way it is. So I am again on the hunt.

I am looking at the big picture, and I keep reminding myself THAT IS OK. To do what is best for you and your horse is not always easy but I have learned that if I am not 100% satisfied I am constantly worrying, making adjustments and it is like having restless leg syndrome! Right!? So I have a choice between a bigger, possibly more busy place, but with two rings and a XC field to work with, and its 3.5 miles from home.. But its a bit more pricey. The other is a place I have been before which I LOVE, is affordable, but it would require a little bit of side work- It is a tight barn and everyone shares in the evening chores. It is about 20 minutes away.  There is an upside and a down side so I am going to weigh my options carefully but if it doesn’t work out; I will just change my options. I think it’s a huge issue that we face also, that thought that if we make the wrong decision we might screw it up! But guess what? We can change it, if we screw it up it’s just a different decision! NOT A BIG DEAL! It will be ok and we will find the perfect barn, for right now, and our horses will be ok, as long as we continue to be strong and courageous and stand for them, we stand for ourselves too! Really empathetic people who are caring for your horse will understand, and may even praise you for it, not that it really matter: Just do what you feel deep down is best and you’ll thank yourself.

Dilettante Dressage: The Beginning

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We are horse people. We are not people with horses; which is how you found this blog. You have spent years in the saddle, years in the stalls and thousands to keep up with your love affair for a beast like ours.  We have bled, and cried, and triumphed. We have shared in each other’s joy and sorrow in a way that is unlike any other “Sport.”  We are a united, collective group of people who once upon a time were born with an obvious chromosomal defect that has caused us to rest our eyes on horses, rather than a baseball, a football or dance.  Who knows why, but here we are.

I am 30 years old. The short version is that I grew up with my horses in my back yard. My mother is a queen of grace, in that no matter what, I always had a horse, and she never complained; She mucked stalls and paddocks, broke frozen water buckets open and kept pushing me further.  My father got me started on the road with lessons and while I think he at times (possibly a lot of times..) thinks this is a crazy business that costs too much and gives too little, he has come to the conclusion that it’s a lifetime affliction and it’s better to assume that when he asks how I am doing, he is also asking how my horse, Grafton (…the wonder horse) is doing.  As a young kid and a teenager  I worked for my lessons, I absorbed all I could read or audit and I have a lot of cool stories, fun memories and friends that I would never have met if it were not for the very small, Dressage, horse world.

I went to college with a major in Equine Business. My goal was to be a dressage trainer. . . or sport horse breeder.. or a Morgan Sport horse breeder.. Oh who knows. I had a lot of ideas. I taught basic dressage to children and adults, taught therapeutic riding lessons and I worked with young horses.  I experimented with Equine Massage and I started a great business in overnight pet care and that is what I did for almost ten years.  And then I quit.

I think I am not unlike a lot of horse people. We love our horses and we grow up and we still love them but we want to see more of the world so we try different jobs, different disciplines, different states and lives; But we come back. We just cannot kick that desire, the longing and the late nights dreaming about a time when we were good at something that we loved to do.  So now I am here.

It has been one and a half years since my reemergence in the dressage world after nearly ten years without formal training. I have had my most recent horse and partner, Grafton, for 3 years and I am so proud to tell you that Grafton the wonder horse, is a hulk. He has turned into a muscular man-horse athlete. We are schooling half pass and counter canter, and working diligently towards this show season, our first together, where we hope to earn my USDF Bronze Medal and he wants his Horse of The Year, which we both agree that he deserves!

Nothing in this business is easy, whether you’re a professional in the horse industry or an Adult Amateur just trying to balance the life. We work really hard.  We balance budgets and full time jobs and bills, families and goals. Sometimes we have to push some to the side or the back of the train to make room for a higher priority or the other adult crap we just have to do.  It’s a difficult balance and I don’t mind saying sometimes I wonder what the heck I do this for but then I look at that beast. He sure is something else, especially with his lead rope hanging out of his mouth, or when he’s snapping the drawstrings on my fleece.  You just cannot fault a horse with a sense of humor.

Dilettante is a synonym for “an amateur sportsman.” While in more recent history the term doesn’t have the most positive connotation, it was derived in the mid- 18th century Italy for dilettare, a beautiful word meaning delight.  It was a word reserved for those in love with the arts; A person who delved into a realm of the subject of their passion. This blog is for us. The you and me that spend all night in the barn with a colic and then go to work. We wash our wraps and saddle pads in our own laundry and we spend thousands on our horses but we eat what we can to get by. It is for those of us who bleed the horse hair into the industry and support each other in our respective disciplines, where we may not agree on the modality, but we sure do care about the horses.  This is my account and a public diary of my road to being a successful competing Adult Amateur in the Dressage world.