Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Heart of a Champion

WHAT a good day I had today.  The inspiration I gain from being a part of the development of my students and my horses are just a pure shot of awesomeness, straight into my veins.

It's not even New Years yet but I have already made one resolution, for me to get lessons next year, starting in January, once a month.  For years I just keep telling myself that I need to get back into competition or do something with my horses outside of just schooling them in the arena, but since I never have an actual event that I work towards, I just never really get around to actually competing because I'm never "ready" in my mind.  So I figured I'd call my own bluff and make myself go out there and get a lesson, work on those things for the month and then actually make progress.  I have so, so, so much talent in my barn and I am such a fool if I let it go to waste while I wait for that "someday" crap.  So, I contacted Karen Sykes who is the girls' IEA coach, who is an Olympic Event rider and I'm going to take my first lesson with Sammy and work on developing my areas of weakness and discovering what I'm SURE has been in his heart to do since the day he was born.  More about him later. 

It's in the little things.  They make all the difference!  Magdalene has been riding Raz once a week on a day when Eryn doesn't come out, because he's the bomb when it comes to being able to ride a very correct horse while you work on you.  The stuff that the youngs or the greens struggle with or don't recognize, he can literally do in his sleep (and he doesn't mind letting you know that, either, haha).  Last week we did a little exercise where you ride a square, at a canter, and in the corners we collected the canter, rode a 90-degree corner and then rode out back to a working canter and then collected for the next 90*.  It takes an enormous amount of ability to coordinate all the aids and to juggle the transitions smoothly while processing a substantial amount of information along the way.  Your aids have to be available for use whether or not they are on the forefront of your mind and the other aids have to be working in the background.

Magdalene rides so much of her time in the saddle as a Hunter-style rider, so her idea of sitting up straight or riding with a deep seat is still more forwards and lighter than Raz would require of her in order to get his 90-degree corners accomplished.  So when I say for her to sit up more, you can see that she's like, "I AM!" and yet her back is not vertical.  Also when she got ready to collect the canter and ride the corner, she would sort of lean forwards in the anticipation of the corner, her shoulders would come forwards and her heels would draw up as she closed her legs on him, at which point he would promptly drop out of the collected canter because he couldn't maintain the drive-from-behind with his rider getting in front of him. 

And when I say that her shoulders came forwards or her legs drew up, I mean barely.  I can give you the names of 10 other random equestrians who would kill to have her "faults", haha.  (Which is how I feel of all my kids, although this particular story is about M, I watch ALL my kids show and ride and then I watch the other kids next to them ride and I just thank the good Lord above that my kids have their basics-and then some-DOWN!)

Eryn and Raz, accomplished pair!

Magdalene and Gallery, rocking the Hunters

Ansley and Starbucks, Pleasure!

But Raz knows these things and he can feel exactly when the rider's shoulders collapsed in, he feels like the rider is too forward on his neck and he won't do what is being asked of him until the rider gets themselves RIGHT, which is one of those things you just don't get from any other inexperienced horse.  He is SUCH a school master.  

So each time he collapsed down into the walk we'd go back through the list, shoulders back, stay behind him, keep him active, don't let your legs draw up which will then tilt you forwards.  Collected work has a center of balance that can be very finicky to find and it requires you to be behind, creating the energy into UP and while remaining active. 

So on that blessed moment where all her aids came together at the right time and he completed a beautiful 90* corner, or more loosely a quarter pirouette, and she felt where it was at, she GOT it.  And this week we went back and did more 90's and then one successful 180 or half pirouette.  It's the little things! 

I worked Drama today mainly on the counterbend canter circle, about 30-40 meters.  And when warming up and then cooling off we focused on keeping the walk active, because oh does he love to do the "bom-buh-de-dum" meaaaaaaaandering... even I know and fully realize that walk work can be quite boring and frustrating because it is so hard to get impulsion at the walk, but geeze, he just would looove to fall asleep.

Big Bird was a total ham tonight and gosh he was good.  I did a few rides a couple of weeks ago about the overbending to the inside and when I added my inside leg waiting for his ear to come back in recognition and for him to have bend through his barrel... tonight, he was all over it. He was so full of energy (as always) but I could really relax and I did not have to work hard to communicate to him, he knew exactly what I was asking for and he was totally eager to receive and execute my requests.  He demonstrated enormous self-restraint too yet never hiding his silly humor... I get so encouraged when I see that at least something I do every once and a while is right!  When a horse is able to be fully free to be themselves at the same time enjoying the harmony in relationship to the rider, this is exactly my goal with training, as well as in parenting, based off of why I adore Jesus so much, because of how perfectly he allows me to be who he made ME while I live in understanding with who he is. 

Big Bird on the longe this past weekend

Because after two rides my legs are fairly toast anyhow, but that coupled with having ran for the first time last night in about a month and a half, three horses just wasn't going to happen today.  So I went out to longe Sammy, and since he is excellent on the longe and I have nothing to do besides stand there and watch him do his thing, I had time to reflect on him.  He moves with such inexplicable power, yet he glides across the ground in absolute effortlessness.  I thought about the circumstances with which he came to me and how he never had been meant to actually be my horse, it was more like one of those things that I just happened to be that person there at that moment and at that time... and now here we were.  I haven't always liked him; he's not the type of horse that immediately grew on me and he certainly wasn't in love with me either, me forever erring on the "type-A" dominating personality-style and him being of the more delicate and sensitive nature, who, when pushed or bullied or emotionally terrorized, uses all his power against you.  Unstoppable force meets immovable object, type of thing. 

Even though I have this personality type and I am not embarrassed or ashamed of it in any way, and I love God's passion for individuality and rejoice in my strengths, I still also recognize that for every strength there still are plenty of weaknesses, and Sammy definitely needed me to address my areas of weakness of listening to him, empathizing with him and learning how to live with his personality, strengths and weakness. 

In all fairness to him, I realize I have spent the last few years, regardless of how well-intentioned it was, trying to conform him in various ways to my idea of excellence instead of asking him what he thought about it.  Sounds about like a marriage, huh?

So here he is, going around and around me tonight while I mull all this over in my mind, and even though over the years I have learned bits and pieces of this, it sort of became more of a solid conglomeration to me tonight, as far as a plan of action goes.  This links back to my resolution for lessons, having someone who understands horses like him so much better than I do, working on addressing my areas of weakness so that I can be better able to help him achieve what has been in his heart to do all along.  I know very little about eventing but the more I see in Sammy and the more I put it all together, I really think this horse was simply born to excel at doing this and he has been dying for someone to help him achieve his potential.  If I can see anything but him absolutely killing it out there... I don't know what I'm talking about.  :) 

Sammy on a hunter pace, anticipation and excitement!

He's something around 16 years old next year.  This whole time he's been putting up with me and arena work and whatever else we've concocted for him to do... generously serving, while inside having the heart of a champion, patiently waiting for someone to help him reach his potential. 

Ashlee and Sammy, who believe in each other!

I pray we all will have a person in our lives who will help us reach our individual potential despite the odds AND that someday we will be a person who helps another reach thiers, too.  

Can't wait.  This next year is gonna be GREAT!!

"Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ's return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless." Phil. 2:16

Gallery and Drama, full speed ahead!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Published Author Status!

I sent copies of my article on horse slaughter to two major national magazines, and just days ago I received an email from one of them, Horse Illustrated, asking permission to use my submission for an article they wanted to do on the subject.  And they paid me for it too!  So I will soon be able to say that I am a published writer/author!  One more step in the right direction towards getting my book about Blazer on track, and a definite boost in the arm. 

James and I have been working evenings, after he gets home and after my stuff in the barn is done, up in the shop on some woodworking projects.  I really do like working on projects and it has been a good feeling to see some "to do" items being scratched off the list. 

As far as my horses are going, after having finally, mostly, gotten rid of this bug I've been plagued with, I've been able to squeeze in a few rides.  The cool front we had this week definitely spiced things up with BB, because he certainly felt the need to be self-expressive as he responded to the temperature drop.  I have found that literally counting to myself, "One... two... one... two... one... two..." in my head or slightly whispering it, has helped steady my body rhythm and has definitely influenced him to respond with stability in his own rhythm.  Which in turn helps him to relax.  I also find that my aids will seem clearer and my brain is more organized as I school him. 

Today as I rode, I began to overbend him to the inside as I added my inside leg, and I waited until he brought his nose/face to the inside (since he will try to turn his nose to the outside so as to avoid relaxation or vulnerability) and for his inside ear to come back as recognition of the aid.  I rode him like this both directions and at the walk and trot.  After about 20 minutes, with which he at first (typical) tried avoidance tactics and tossing out behavioral bombs as a distraction, he actually began to focus and respond, and when his neck finally over-bent to the inside, his nose came in and his ear came back, he softened, and his strides became softer instead of the jerking/jolting/pounding ones he always starts with. The counting thing kept me more rhythmic despite his attempts to throw me off rhythm in the beginning and then later he was just responsive to the consistency.  And then I noticed that as he began to get "up" or tight or to go back to his ADD-tactics, I just added my inside leg and overbent him to the inside and he settled right back down and went back to more elastic rhythm.  It was really a great ride.  The only major behavioral I got was during one of our trot circles; Rhonda, who was sitting beside the arena, went to crumple up her Chick-Fil-A bag and I made the mistake of looking over at her as we rode by.  He knows just when I take my focus elsewhere besides him, and had I not looked, and thereby suggested to him that it was something he should focus on too, he probably wouldn't have responded to it.  But because I did he went ahead and did a quick bolt for about two strides, and then it took about a half circle to re-settle him, and then a couple more circles to get him to pass that area again without any physical response to the frightening bag. 

He keeps me on my toes, this one. 

Drama also did well.  I did bend/counterbend circles at the walk and then the trot, and lastly the canter.  They helped really loosen him and helped to drop him more reliably on the bit. 

I spent yesterday trimming most of the horses, I still have Sammy and BB to finish and I did not get to them today. 

James got another job offer AND a "raise" (because a few weeks ago he had declined the offer on the account of not enough pay) but even after looking into it again, we figure that we'll be just scraping by because this new company doesn't offer health insurance at this time, and from what we've found with purchasing private insurance... it will nearly be rape.  Perhaps if I got a job at say, Starbucks, I could get the health insurance and he could work for the company because of it being a good career move and better hourly pay.  We don't know for sure what we are going to do.  I have thought about getting a PT job in the evenings long before this, because of how badly we are doing in the income department and how seriously stressed out we are because of it.  I just wish it wasn't like comparing apples to oranges and not being very clear-cut as a *definite* improvement of our financial situation.  So we mull it over and ask God lots of questions, add in a few whinings about why does life have to consist of such greyish matter instead of black and white lines and clear signs, and wait and see.  Actively wait, that is. 

Now this, this is something that makes me go crazy.   

This I would give just about anything to be able to go see, since so many of them are my absolute idols in the Dressage world.  But alas, tickets are $250 and that is a significant deposit into my boot fund, which I also absolutely need for next season.  Sigh. Because these are what I'm saving up for:  Sergio Grasso, the Imperia.  Custom-made that will last me for, probably, the rest of my life.  $800-900.  (*cough*)


While I agree with you that that is just way too much for boots, I have to also clue you in, that non-custom but decently-made boots that will *only* last 2-3 years tops if they are not worked in, but just for show, are around $500.  So it doesn't seem like that much when considered that they will fit like a glove, last for work and hold up for 20 or more years.  

I have a long list of things I would like, and they are all grossly expensive, which is also why I would be considering the PT job.  :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

After my post on the issue of horse slaughter here in the states, I've had 128 views and multiple re-posts from horse professionals I am friends of.  Feeling a little bolstered by some late-afternoon coffee and adrenaline from a subject that I'm very passionate about, I took the blog post and re-worked it and submitted it to two national equestrian publications.  I would really like to get a regular job as a writer or get paid to write or blog somehow in areas of my expertise and passion.  So I figured, let's start somewhere.  :)

I've had very little energy lately during the recuperation phase after being sick, so even the little things are exhausting to me.  I did spend time in the barn this afternoon getting some horses clipped.  While clipping Sammy one could almost sing, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!" for the sheer amount of white hair that the clippers were slicing away from the backs of his legs, fetlocks, and from under his chin.  Winter hair is a beast and I do not enjoy any part of it.

On the other end of the spectrum, Drama and BB who grow virtually no winter coat at all just needed some touching-up.  BB and I are still working through the clipping issues, and he's coming along marvelously.  

After my lessons with Eryn, Magdalene and Ansley I longed BB out in the arena and then the girls offered to help ride Drama and Sammy because my stamina was shot for the day.  Rhonda was out in the barn all day putting up a beautiful Christmas tree in the tack room and hanging lights and other decorations.  I'm not in any way a fan of the holiday festivities and decor, but as long as someone else is doing it, it's okay.  My one favorite Christmas t-shirt says, "Bah-hum-bug" on it.  :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Horse Slaughter

The ruckus that has emerged from every horse lover I know over FB and all across the internet, equestrian blogs, etc., about lifiting the ban for horse slaughter in the US is quite something else.  What makes horses so different than cows or chickens is their iconic symbolism they have provided for us in our country's development.  People are outraged over the legalization of horse slaughter and I would like to explain my opinion.

I am a lifelong horse lover, I spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to ensure my horses' (and the horses who belong to my clients) health, well-being and safety.  I care for every need... every physical, emotional, nutritional, educational, medicinal, psychological need... you name it.  I am a horse owner, trainer, riding instructor, coach, farrier, groom and clinician, and I personally have rescued or taken in unwanted horses more than I have ever purchased a horse, and rehabilitated them or re-educated and then re-homed to good homes or kept them personally.  I have had everything from OTTBs to geriatric warmbloods to ponies to BLM Mustangs to grade horses of unknown history to horses who nobody else could do anything with.  And I have held the heads of some of those horses as they were euthanized due to founder or puncture wounds through the skull.  I know the heartache of losing a horse, I have shed countless amounts of tears over the agony of such losses.  And I work 24-7-365 to care for these horses in my care without paid vacation or health benefits.  I do this because I want to do this and because I love it. 

So lest you think I haven't a heart, think again.

Yet, I am in 100% support of the legalization of horse slaughter.  How can this be, you ask?

It saddens me to know that horses are getting slaughtered.  Indeed it does.  It saddens me to put myself in their shoes, to be unwanted, uncared for, treated without kindness and have my life ended by someone else's hands without a say-so.

I have encountered thousands of horses in my career.  And most of these horses have had happy stories and successful careers.  But I have also come across the gross and unforgettable neglected ones, the ones who couldn't walk or stand due to gross malnutrition or injury, who were out in a small dirt enclosure without clean water or any edible food whatsoever.  I was one of those persons who helped physically hold up, along with six other adults, this starving horse to walk him across the street to my barn.  He was across the street the whole time in the neighbors' back yard, starving to death, and we never knew until one day by chance we happened to see him at exactly the right time through the bushes.  He was beyond skin and bones and could barely stand or walk.  We physically held up this horse and helped him move, step by painfully slow step, across the road into our property where he was finally properly cared for.

And this sort of thing is everywhere.  You people who are in outrage over slaughter; have you ever driven by one of these situations and wanted to end the lives of these miserable horses yourself?  It changes you.  It makes you realize the necessity of giving people an option to eliminate their unwanted horses.  And no, you can't save them all yourself.

I for one have done my part, and will continue to do my part, for rescues.  But many of you who would willingly put your name on a anti-slaughter petition won't go to an auction and take a horse off the slaughter-bound truck yourself because YOU KNOW how much risk there is and how much money it will take to rehabilitate one.  And if you won't, who will? 

Horse rescues across the US are full.  Horse rescues (some, not all) are some of the worst with cases of neglect because they simply cant afford the cost of care!  This is what happens when the supply exceeds the demand.  And unlike cars or other objects, they can't just be stored in warehouses. Obviously there are other answers out there for helping to not increase supply.  However, this is also assuming that people should be responsible and reasonable, and we know that just isn't always the case. 

And for those of you who have done one rescue, can you do two?  Or three?  Any more and you run the risk of not being able to adequately care for the needs of your animals yourself.

The bottom line is that people need a means, an effective, legal means and a right to choose how to dispose of their animals.  Having a vet humanely euthanize a horse costs money.  I know.  There aren't many places where you can properly or effectively bury a horse.  I know.  Having a horses' carcass hauled away or incinerated costs money.  Again, I know.  And trust me, very few people who do love their horse and want a humane means to end a horses life wouldn't go out and put a bullet behind the ear themselves.  Again, I know this.  I held a horse late one night whose owner ended his life with a shotgun due to a injury that could not be healed.  It's not that I'm an extra-tough person; it's because I knew it was the right and humane thing to do regardless of how painful it was to experience.  We as responsible owners need to be prepared to make these tough decisions, and to help the people who might not be responsible to also make the right decision.  And people who already don't have money to care for this horse in their backyard certainly can't afford to go down the road of euthanasia or incineration.

Where there is a law or ban, there is a way around the law or ban.  Last year statistics were shown that just as many horses were sold in the US for slaughter; however, they were shipped across the borders to our neighbors.  I don't know about you but I would think that having access to horse slaughter locally would cut down on a lot of this inhumane business we're always hearing about, especially in the hauling/shipping process.  And Canada and Mexico don't have near the regulations that we have in the US as far as where "humane" treatment is concerned.  Think about it. 

So make it available for them to sell their horse for meat value and we now have people who might do the responsible thing instead of leaving a horse to slowly die out in the backyard.  But if we make it illegal for these people then we sure as heck won't have anybody being responsible out there. 

Legalizing slaughter still won't completely solve the neglect issue, but it will certainly help.  For we all know that there are just sick, sick people out there who cannot do right by their own families and children, or even another human being, let alone an animal, regardless of what is legal or illegal.

If horse meat is legalized in the US it will also cut costs down on care for other pets and animals, such as zoos and dog food.

I never plan on eating horse meat myself.  If I were truly starving at any point later in life I might consider it, but as it stands now, I choose not to.  Horses are too close to my heart.  However, I can't afford to rescue any more horses right now and I can't tolerate the gross neglect I have seen growing due to the economy and the lack of means of disposal.

So I vote YES to the legalization, bottom line!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sick again!

JJ has left with Pop and Goey for Indiana for the entire month of December and are still en route.  They left early Sunday morning, soon after which I fell sick with the bug that everyone else has had and that I already had a few weeks ago, although this time it was far more brutal including a fever and pressure in my head so great it felt as if my ears were bleeding at times.  So I am inside alternating between sleeping, watching movies and posting items we want to sell on craigslist. What a life. 

We have a number of plans this month to get a lot done and try to pull ourselves out of this pit we find that we occasionally trip and fall into.  Mass household purging and organization is the name of the game.  I am also going to try to get some writing done and work on my dressage presentation for Feb. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


It's the day before Thanksgiving.  Joe and Macy are coming over early tomorrow morning, James and I will do chores and then leave for my sister's in Melbourne.  JJ is already over there with Goey and Pop.  Since he has been gone I have had the house quiet and to myself for the last two days and it has been a welcome break from all the craziness that is holidays.  Although we have the smallest house of all, we find that we can fit an incredible amount of people inside, who happily trip over each other on their way to and from and shove things around to make themselves comfortable.  It's amazing. 

I have this ability to push and push and push, but then when I find myself crashing, it comes on hard and fast.  Today was one of those days.  I wrestled with myself for a substantial amount of time about getting outside and getting some horses ridden, or, to sit inside and watch movies.  The movies almost won out, the TV was even on and ready to go, but I did end up getting Drama and Big Bird ridden today, with whom I had really good rides all the way around.  I finished chores with Eryn, and then came inside and watched movies.

I have a gigantic pot of leftover spaghetti that is calling my name.  And some eggnog.  And possibly more movies. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Aching, breaking muscles

You know that time when you have so much to say, so very much to say indeed, but you feel as if nothing can come out in any form of logic or rationale whatsoever?  So you shun the computer and push away the keyboard because you simply cannot bring yourself to just start.  

Well I'm here, I'm starting.  Now for a break, need to go grab some iced peppermint green tea with honey.  Local honey.  Yum.  

... and after more interruptions of phone calls and other insanity, we are back.  Goodness.  Even the serene and beautiful solo piano music in the background is having a hard time calming my overly stressed spirit tonight. 

I have been teetering on the edge of complete and total shutdown, back and forth, for quite a few days now.  Thoughts of spending the rest of our savings on renting a one-way u-haul, packing up what little we have of the house that we actually want to keep, packing up our family and all the four-leggeds and just driving... and wherever we run out of gas or money or food whichever comes soonest, is the place we stay. Just a complete and total start-over, anew. Haha. What ridiculousness, I know, but at some point even that level of desperation sounds attractive in comparison to what I feel I have been going though lately. Good thing we don't actually have the money to really do that, because in my time of quietness, I know it would not be the right thing, so once again, God is good and knows how to keep us within the "aids". 

The list is very long of things that are stressing me and none of them are really worth getting into, because regardless of the exact circumstances in my life, we all know the feeling when you get to the point where you say, there is one thing, one last thing that simply cannot happen, and if that one thing happens, I am absolutely going to QUIT IT ALL!  And yet how very scary it is that that one thing could actually happen. 

I was unable to find peace in my spirit for several days in a row.  I found myself on the edge of pure rage over things that should never incite my rage.  But I was there.  Right there.  I knew it, but I could do nothing to find peace.  I found myself believing the subtle lies... "*I* should NEVER have to put up with this.  *I* am SO ABOVE having to deal with this.  *I* am SO TIRED of bending over and taking it up the behind for other people's lack of (-whatever-) and I FINALLY GOING TO STAND UP FOR MYSELF AND LET THE WORLD KNOW THAT I. AM. DONE. WITH BEING TREATED LIKE LIKE THIS!!"

Yet the Spirit would bring me back and tell me to stay.  Stay.  Stay in the pressure and not to escape.  He wouldn't say why.  He wouldn't give a reason.  He would just say, stay.  And for that brief moment I would say, yes Lord, I will stay.  And about 30 minutes later something else would happen and I would find myself choking back the rage that about to spew forth from my mouth in a violent display of self preservation because once again I would lose sight of what was actually happening. 

I was in pain, yes, oh, so much pain.  My physical muscles were to the point of exhaustion, but my spiritual muscles were in pure agony.  And it would seem to anyone standing by that if I did blow up and finally let those circumstances and those people HAVE IT, that I would have been beyond fully justified.  How could ANYONE be expected to take all this pressure and submit to it with humility?  It was beyond reasonable expectation. 

But yes, those were more lies.  And again I would say to the Spirit, I submit my will to you.  And responding in humility is always the right answer. 

And this is why you need to develop your ability to hear the Spirit talking.  Because he does not talk loud and he does not prevent you from making the wrong choice.  He talks quietly, softly, and when you are this close to breaking out in rage, he is hard to hear.  And even harder to believe that what he says to do is the right way to respond. 

My horses even knew my heart was in turbulence, because they each responded to me accordingly.  Sammy disconnected.  Big Bird became fractious.  The kids at the barn stayed out my way.  I realized I could not ride until I found peace because no matter how trained my physical body was, it could not fool them for my tumultuous emotions were speaking far too loudly. 

When I rode Drama one evening, I knew nothing was really going to get accomplished but he needed the exercise, so while I sat on his back and walked around the arena, with the dusk settling in and nobody around, I cried.  I just cried.  And I let out everything that was on my heart.  From the loss of my two precious babies (of which I am reminded that I would have been 8 months pregnant with baby 3 this month) to the hopeless situation that is our finances and our future of having a place of our own. 

However, it was during my ride on Big Bird that I began to put the pieces together to see a glimpse of the bigger picture.  God spoke to me using the picture I have always been able to understand and receive, from the back of a horse, an analogy perfectly painted for me. 

I have watched BB struggle to let loose of his anxiety and pride, to trust me as his rider, and have watched him grow and develop as I have been able to cultivate his ability to respond to aids and boundaries.  As his rider I want to control more of his body to empower him to use himself in a way he doesn't yet fully realize or understand.  While at some point in his life he may have gloried in his strength and speed and ability to hold his own in a world of racehorses, he now feels as if he is losing himself and all his past to a future that is confusing, frightening and unknown.  Yet I desire to bring him more peace and empowerment than he ever thought possible with a new career.  And in doing so I place pressure appropriate for his ability, a little more each time.  But at each new stage with new pressures and new confinements he cries out and reacts in ways to let me know that he is uncomfortable and doesn't understand.  Did he not do enough before?  Has he not shown himself to be smart, capable, talented?  What is all this new pressure about?  How much more can I really expect of him?  When is enough, enough? 

And yet how little does he know that what I have with him now is only a drop in the bucket to what I have hopes for in the future.

And these are exactly the words my heart is crying out to the Lord.  When is enough, enough?  Have I not shown you, Lord, to be faithful, obedient?  Have I not proven myself in the past to submit to you, even when it is hard, and have I not seen your release?  Where is your release this time?

My releases on BB were quick and easily given at first.  They were for simple things.  Now things are more difficult, more complex.  And the release is not given as quickly because instead of one step, I want three.  And then after three I would like five, and so forth.  It is hard work and I admire him, even in his struggle, how much he is trying to learn how to keep searching for the release and to stay within the pressure.  

Jesus is cultivating more of me, utilizing more of me, and that is why the tremendous pressure.  That is why I feel as if I am being surrounded by rocks and hard places everywhere I turn, and that is why I feel my rage come to a head so easily because I am being squeeeezzzzeeeeedd...... but like I don't want BB to burst and say I QUIT, I want him to submit with more intensity, more diligence, more energy... because I want more of his body, soul and spirit captivated with my plan, just as the Lord wants me to be with Him.  When the pressure is on, I give more deeply, yes, stretching those spiritual ligaments and muscles right to the point of breaking and back again.  Because I have asked him to do something wondrous with my life.  And even though at the time it may seem as if certain "people" "problems" or "cirumstances" are the issue, they are only the unique ways God is using to develop me. And I have to keep my eyes on that. 

Here I am, Lord.  Use me.   I choose not to quit and I purpose to take this unbelieveable amount of pressure from every angle I find myself in, as opportunities to say YES to you with more passion, energy, and dilligence. 

Peace.  Amidst the pressure.  Within the pain. 


Tuesday, November 15, 2011


JJ has been sick the last three days; he never got a fever and it didn't really knock him down but he has a wet cough and is as stuffed up as can be.  Because of that his breathing has sounded more like a chainsaw motor during the night, which makes it a little hard to sleep.  One night I had to go out to the sofa because he was so loud, I literally could not drown him out enough to fall asleep.  And then last night even though it was a bit better, he went to bed late, I went to bed even later, and he woke up early, way too early, so I told him to lay back down and close his eyes.  So he wiggled and squirmed for a LOT longer before he fell back asleep, so being as dog tired and still sick as I was, it made me quite cranky.  A couple of times he reached over and kissed me, so even though my body was screaming at me how much more sleep I needed, my heart felt warm and fuzzy.  So we snuggled until he fell back alseep again and when I awoke later, I did not feel quite as bad. 

Since I had not been able to sleep until about 1:30am, I worked on the computer some, and put together a list of upcoming shows from all the different organizations we have shown with before.  It got me going a little crazy looking at all the opportunities we have ahead of us.  I also realized that I practically need another part-time job just to pay for entry fees, memberships and stall fees when I start getting involved in competition again for myself.  The FL Horse Park in Ocala has some 3-phase schooling shows that I am particularly excited about for Sammy.  

I rode BB first, he has had the last four days off, which does him no good.  I am convinced more and more that he doesn't need, or want, any time off.  So my new experiment is to ride him 7 days a week until I can detect that he'd like a day off.  I can always tell when the other horses are asking for time, but not him!  And today we really had a good ride.  We didn't ride for long, but he was being pretty relaxed at the trot and was in a good state of mind, so I asked for the canter first on the right lead, which he responded to promptly, and we cantered several very large circles with a great amount of relaxation, a soft rein, and a lot of good energy!  He made me smile because I haven't really had a on-purpose canter that was this good before.  Gosh I love that horse.  I then tried for the left lead but didn't get it in the first two attempts, and not desiring to make a issue over the lead, wanting him just to enjoy a controlled canter which I already got, we ended and went back to the barn for a bath.  He is so fun!

The girls had a lesson next, Magdalene looked really, really good with Gallery today.  She was very round and engaged, her canter was very nice quality, you could see her using a lot of strength from her behind and back that has not yet been there.  And with that came a more consistent willingness to drop a little more deeply into the bit.  It really looked great. 

Ansley and Starbucks still working on canter departs and correct leads.  Starbucks gets them right when Ansley makes him bend correctly prior to depart, but when she doesn't, he just throws out guesses as to which lead he thinks she wants.  His sidepassing is looking good.  He doesn't always get his fore and hind ends moving together at the same time, but every once and a while they come together and he can take a few steps with absolute coordination. 

With Drama we worked on a consistent walk, with consistent contact on the bit.  He is more hollow at the walk because it's easier for him to be than the trot.  I think that is probably true for most horses, anyhow.  But his trot work was good and his leg yeilds were really good. 

Kendall had her lesson on Abbey tonight, her first time cantering on her own, off the longe.  She was really scared to canter for the first time, I spent weeks and weeks, probably months, prepping her, and last week was the first time she cantered on the longe... as soon as Abbey picked up the canter, Kendall pretty much threw herself off.  I have seen kids sabotage themselves before but this was pretty funny.  We ended up successfully cantering after I picked her up and put her back on... and then after that she grew exponentially in confidence to the point where she did her all by herself today with a huge smile.  She is such a cute kid. 

James took JJ out to buy a wireless router tonight, I had some time alone for a while.  Nice. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


This is the time change I love.  When I wake up in the morning with that extra hour of sleep, even though the clock will say it's only 9am I feel as if it's a whole lot later, which makes me happy that I feel so rested and that it's still so early in the morning.  And then because it gets darker earlier, everything going on outside has to be wrapped up sooner, and when I come inside feeling like it's really late, I look at the clock and rejoice that I have the whole evening ahead of me. 

When JJ crawled in bed with me this morning to snuggle, I said, "Hi sweet boy."  He replied with a knowing sigh, "I am."  So then he got tickle tortured instead of snuggles.

I started off the morning with Drama.  Magdalene had worked him a little bit last night for me because my legs were shot after having ridden BB and Sammy, she just essentially exercised him and let him do his stretches, but even with that I could tell that he wasn't starting off fresh and stiff from a whole weekend off, in other words, he felt ready to go, his muscles were there, his framework was ready to go.  We went over first and checked out the new fence that is going up on the East side of the arena.  Because when he's fresh and not yet in the "zone" with you, he can be a spook, so we check out our surroundings when they've changed where possible.  It helps.  He was satisfied nothing was going to jump out and get him so then we went right to work with stretching the topline.  After nearly three weeks of constant work, I can finally start to feel that his body is loosening and becoming more supple, instead of being that tight and contracted horse that his summer off due to injury left him.  Which helps then when I put him to work in his working gaits, I actually have consistent contact with his mouth.  Lateral work does the best.  After I've put him through an exercise of leg-yeilds, his haunches have come forward, his back comes up and his mouth comes down well into my hands and wishes to stay there.  Because I had him so solidly inside of all my aids, I asked him for a medium trot and he lengthened nicely as he powered forward for several strides.  It really encouraged me to see this developing in him; lengthening is NOT his strength.

Sammy was absolutely a charm yesterday; he worked hard and was mentally "there" and we stayed communicating the entire time, through the easy things and even still  through the more difficult things.  Today, on the contrary, I felt he didn't ever show up for work.  He wasn't spooked by the new fence and the guys who were putting it up or anything, but during our ride they were packing up to leave and they were driving trucks around the arena as they exited the gate, so he was always aware of their presence.  It was a distraction and he wasn't willing to let it go.  Also, the cows were moving up towards the arena, so he had his eye on them and their whereabouts as well, and then when the trucks left, the cows came up into the arena to check out the fence.  He was also keenly aware of their every move.  So this is the ride where the lights are on, but nobody was home, because his focus was elsewhere.  Finally after tying to work around it for too long, I parked Sammy and yelled at the cows to scoot on out, with the help of Tipper and her herding expertise.  Once the arena was clear and we were all by ourselves, I finally got a little of something from him.  He never does anything "wrong" when he's distracted, he doesn't prance, jig, spook, stop or anything like that, he just stonewalls me from affecting him in any way.  He wears a hollow frame just in case he wants a quick exit, and keeps the corner of his eye on whatever he wants to keep in his sights and doesn't drop his nose down onto contact; there is no bend and his back is nowhere to be found, making his strides short.  Everything about his body, frame and stride shout self-preservation.  And this is precisely the moment when I ask myself, do I power through it or clear the arena and try to reset the scene.  I chose to reset today.  And I got a little work from him at the end, however, nothing near what I got yesterday.  We got a few fantastic shoulder-ins, a lot of good engagement from the hindquarters.  I didn't do any canter work though, I knew that was going to be a road I didn't want to go down today. 

I gleaned a little nugget into Sammy's psyche this weekend from coach Karen.  I was helping her to warm-up her mare, Pixie, a little, petite TB.  I've only ever seen Pixie ridden by Magdalene during one of her IEA lessons and have heard a few things here and there through the grapevine about this horse.  When I got on her to warm up and to have her go over some crossrails, Karen told me she likes a lot of leg, and she doesn't like traffic coming at her face.  We were in a very crowded arena with everyone going here and there and everywhere, so it was really hard to keep her out of traffic.  Me and my dressage arena are pretty much empty... I've not been accustomed to for some time having to vie for rail space.  So when I thought "traffic", I thought to myself just not to try to thread the needle or something between two oncoming horses.  Turns out this meant any horse coming at her, even if we were 15 feet apart.  So the first time I had her pass a horse, to the inside of this horse, she did a sudden veer towards the inside of the arena and left me hanging over her outside shoulder for a moment.  So then, lesson learned, I kept her as best as I could from any head-on traffic.  Then a younger rider with obvious lack of arena etiquette came cantering down a line of fences and decided to pull a u-turn right behind Pixie's butt... I didn't see her coming when Pixie launched into a buck and I heard the girl exclaim, "sorry!" I made another mental note that rear traffic wasn't exactly welcome, either.

James Lane Photography
To make a long story short, coach Karen said in passing that Pixie was "self-preserving", which is what made her an excellent event horse.  I literally dwelt on that statement all weekend because, to me, it seems like "self preserving" and "excellent event horse" was an oxymoron.  This mare and my Sammy have that same keen sense of self-preservation.  Sammy exemplifies it in other ways.  For some reason it was just easier for me to see with her. 

Pixie didn't know me and I certainly didn't know her and she communicated to me as clearly as she could that she needed to a have generous amount of room around her in order for her to feel safe and quiet in this warm-up arena. The second time I rode her for warm-up, I watched around me like a hawk and when horse ahead was approaching me on the rail, I checked my "rearview mirrors" first, and then turned her well to the inside of the arena until we had clear airspace back on the rail again.  This second ride was much different, she knew I was watching out for her and she completely relaxed.

So as I have mulled this over and over in my head, I started to see where my approach with Sammy, ie "If I say it's good enough for you to be here, it is, so suck it up and deal with it!" obviously is not helping comfort him.  Although I have never beaten him or roughly handled him in any way, I certainly think somebody has in his way-past, and he is reminded of that during my strong leg aid or rein aid during a moment of correction.  I don't like it when I ride past another horse head-on, and he veers to the side.  I want the horse to be so focused on my aids that there simply isn't another horse passing.

Drama is that way.  I could literally run Drama through a fence or over the edge of a cliff because he becomes so engaged in the little things he just simply doesn't look around. He's a very secure horse with his rider.  But also on the flip side, Drama just is a terrible (as in, not a natural) jumper, he second-guesses himself and then second-guesses his second-guessing.  And when the rider isn't right there telling him which distance to take and how to take it, he takes a wild stab in the dark (which is different every time) and I swear if he jumped things that were solid objects he'd kill himself.

Now that I'm connecting the dots here, I remember trail riding years ago, the difference between him and Blazer, I used to tell this story many times and had nearly forgotten it until now.  We'd be along on a trail, just chilling, and there would be a puddle ahead that would take up 9/10ths of the width of the trail.  From as far back as we could see it, Blazer was already communicating to me, "There's a puddle up ahead.  Just so you know."  I would respond, "I know" and continue riding.  When we'd get a little closer, he'd start it up again, "So, this puddle.  You do see it, right?  Just so you know."  I'd reply, "I know" and we'd keep going.  Then when we'd get right up to this puddle, the conversation would continue, "We're here at this puddle.  Would you like me to go through the puddle or around to the side?"

And it wouldn't matter where or how I asked Blazer to navigate the puddle, he was fine with it, but we just had to go through this whole process of communicating about it from as far back as could be seen.  It wasn't a good or bad thing, it just was the way it was, he liked to have all this communication/conversation going on the whole time.

Then the next day I took out Drama, same trail, same puddle, he was very young at this time.  We'd be chilling, going along, he was practically on auto-pilot as he moseyed along, and I could see this puddle up ahead.  First time encounter, same as with Blazer.  He did not notice the puddle.  We got closer, still no response from Drama, he was just cruising.  We came right up to the puddle and only when he actually stepped in it, tripped and nearly fell on his face did he acknowledge that the puddle existed.  It was like he woke up and exclaimed, "Oh look!  It's a puddle!"

And nothing has changed about his personality to this day.  He is completely secure and relaxed when someone else is in control, he is very trusting, almost overly-so.  However, just because he's trusting, doesn't make him a simple or straightforward plod.  The horse is fascinatingly complex, and he does notice a thousand things at once, which is why he's hard to ride, because he's hard to completely capture.  He's like water, and needs all this precisely engineered framework to contain it.  When you (as the rider) spring a leak in that framework, he all comes gushing out.  I compare him often to the complexity of driving a Formula One car. 

Sammy could not be more opposite.  Sammy doesn't necessarily trust you, he just allows you to be on his back.  If you ask for something reasonable, he doesn't necessarily mind giving it to you.  But if you start barking orders, making demands, or in general doing all the talking and no listening, you can just forget it.  And while he's trained to the point where he knows he can't misbehave, he settles with the stonewall approach.  So you end up with... nothing, hence, the-lights-are-on-but-no-one-answers-the-door kind of thing.

So, all this information is overwhelming my system as I try to process it into what it actually looks like to work with him.  And I mean to talk to Karen at a later time to have her explain more in depth what she meant and how that works. 

Moving on, my last ride was Big Bird, who was quite relaxed for most of the time.  We leg-yeilded a little here and there on the circle.  There was something that startled him in one of the corners of the arena and he shot forwards and to the inside, so I used an inside rein to bring him back to earth and circled around to that same spot again.  He startled again and did the very same thing, I exclaimed, "You whippersnapper!" before I could catch myself... it just came out.  I must be getting old.

As Magdalene rode Gallery tonight, we have been teaching her the shoulder-in, which she is just barely beginning to comprehend the concept that the haunches begin to push and carry instead of just trail somewhere behind.  As Magdalene began to ask for engagement from those baby hindquarters of hers, you could see the dispute happening up at Gallery's face as she tried to throw out her nose and pop up into the canter.  Magdalene said, "She thinks I want her to canter."  So I reminded her that as long as she knows she is not giving the aids for the canter, Gallery's job is to listen to the aids that she knows and to consistently respond to them.  If the inside leg meant bend, it still means bend, so dropping her shoulder in and throwing up her nose isn't the right answer.  So go back to reestablishing that the inside leg means bend.

Ansley has some of the same problem with Starbucks, but with going up into the canter, he loves to counter-bend and trot-trot-trot-trottrottrot into it instead of a crisp depart.  Same thing with the inside leg.  If it meant bend back in the trot, and it means bend at the canter, it means stay bent through the transition. 

And Kendle, poor Kendle.  Abbey has been feeling a little too much of her oats lately and after once or twice of a kid falling off purely on accident, she has now taken to the idea that she can quicken the process and just dump the kid and run off.  So at precisely the moment Kendle asked for the trot, Abbey bolts forwards and leaves the arena, Kendle stayed on until they turned the corner up at the barn.  I took Abbey back out and longed her, she was really worked up until she realized that she really wasn't in trouble, just more along the lines that she needed to work until she was settled and back to her steady self, once that was accomplished I took her back to the barn.  Kendle rode her for a few more minutes while I led her around the barn, and then I told her later I would plan on longeing Abbey in the future first and then keep Abbey on the longe until we got the rest of the arena fence put up.

Cool weather.  It turns completely steady school horses into Preakness wannabes.  Sigh, can I please have summer back now?

Lastly, my evening still not yet over, I drive over to the Weiss' to trim Luna.  It was dark and we worked by flashlight, but got the job done.  My first time trimming her since I learned the new trim from the AANHCP certified practitioner, I can definitely see how it will work.  I am loving the progress it is making on all of mine.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Eyes are always watching

Ashlee spent the night over so this morning she could help with barn chores and then ride with me to the IEA show in Sumpter.  It got really cold again, down to 47 so we had to blanket.  We woke up around 8am to get the chores rolling, and then left for the show grounds at 10.  On the way up there we stopped at Starbucks for coffee, a Walmart for a big needle and some fishing line to repair Sammy's leg strap on his blanket that ripped overnight, and then a Chick-Fil-A for lunch, picking up some food also for Rhonda and Magdalene who were already there.

I am still in almost awe with the way Magdalene's IEA coach, Karen Sykes, promotes such good camaraderie and healthy sportsmanship and values in her students.  It's not that my barn and students are lacking in that department, either, because my kids are simply some of the best when it comes to personal values and ethics even in the face of criticism or adversity, and that's not just my completely biased opinion either.  But rarely, and I mean rarely, do I see it elsewhere.  I see all the other things I wish I never had to see, and then what's worse, the parents or instructor/coaches encouraging it with their own personal irresponsibility.  But coach Karen, she's a complete gem and I ever have a barn big enough to invite her to come and stay, I will. 

So watching the events around the show today really made me dwell on the absolute need there is for adults with values to be passing these values along to the next generation.  It's not about chasing the almighty blue ribbon while demoralizing or mocking another competitor.  It's about the success of hard work, perseverance, the willingness to learn and benefit from these opportunities we have with horses.  I think competition is great, having someone judge you on your performance or skills keeps you digging deeper for that inner excellence that you might never have known was there.  But when it comes down to expecting to win and taking sickeningly irresponsible measures to ensure that the blue ribbon is within your grasp... no, thanks.

And I am super proud of my kids.  I can not say enough about how much I admire them taking the harder road, the road that doesn't always come with a fanfare or a parade, but that they choose to deepen and develop themselves in the quiet, the lonely and the difficult ways.  And if you ever doubt that that is the road worth taking, I pray that God will clearly show you the demise of the wicked who trample upon others to get what they think they want. They won't stand forever, they will fall.

Magdalene did very well, placing first in her flat class and I think 5th in her over fences class, which was also a very large class.  Very consistent and she is utilizing her training more and more.

Ashlee and I left around 5 to get home and finish up some chores, also hoping to ride before dark.  However, once getting to the barn I really was starting to feel fatigued and decided against riding.  Ashlee, however, rode Sammy and Ansley who was also there rode Starbucks; Ashlee reported the best ride she's *ever* had on Sammy, cantering several circles with good control and only light contact.  I am glad to see them doing better, and hopefully my riding him more consistently is helping him to offer her more support as he does his job with more finesse and understanding.

So, now I am waiting on my husband to bring home chinese food.  I am pert near famished.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Work all day, and get nothing done

James cannot comprehend why it is that I can work all day and yet get nothing done.  Today I had a classic example of why this is.  I was out in the barn sometime early afternoon getting ready to get on another horse, and I hear JJ calling, "Help!  Help!"  So I go out behind the barn to see him stuck about halfway down his slide.  As I walk closer I realize that he had attached the hook end of a bungee cord to the back of his underwear elastic and the opposite end somewhere to his play house, so when he slid down, about halfway the bungee cord was taut, giving him a monster wedgie and leaving him, well, stuck.  So I had to detach the bungee from his underwear and his underwear from his butt crack, the whole time asking myself, "Why?  Why?" 

This is precisely the reason I work all day and get nothing done. 

Between the accidents in the pants, answering the thousands of "why?" questions, (most of which are irrelevant to the tasks at hand) cleaning up spilled juice from the kitchen floor and having to mop it twice (the first time was before the juice spilled) to the emergency situations of having mud inside his shoes, (Lord have mercy, there is MUD inside his shoes!  Imagine that!) or just the random boo-boos that just happen all at the most inconvenient times, a woman just can't get anything else done.  So yes, I feel a little bit of resentment towards the hubs when he complains about how mind-numbing his day job is.  He has no idea how a little bit of "mind-numbness" in my daily life would be welcome.  And then when I come home from the gym late in the evening to find them both sitting on their butts in front of a movie, child unbathed, neither of them fed, as if nothing can get done around the house unless *I* am there to do it.  Right. 

Oh, and my washing machine literally went up in smoke this morning. Now we have that to get fixed. 

So back to my day.  It wasn't all spinning my wheels.  That's just what happens most of the time. 

I rode Drama first and had an excellent ride.  Mostly the same as yesterday with a better canter and better stretch through the topline at all gaits.  Magdalene came out with Frosty and I traded Drama out for Big Bird, who, was being as cute as can be today and a complete show-off.  I have this thing with him, where I say, "Wanna go trot?" and as soon as he hears the "trot" he bounces right up into it, no leg or other aids given.  I showed Rhonda how he listens for that word and he took right off.  Then before I knew it he was up into the canter, right lead.  I let him bounce around the arena in a big, frisky canter, I could tell he was feeling his oats and just wanted some self-expression time.  Then when we came down from the canter he gave me a humongous trot like he had a couple of days ago, and instead of trying to reel him back in I just let him fly around with these gigantic strides, I could see his front hooves extending waaay out in front of his shoulders.  Then we went up into the canter, left lead, for a few big circles, again, him shaking his head and exulting in the spunk he was feeling.  And then another humongous trot.  I thought to myself, "tell me this horse doesn't want to do Dressage!" with that freaking huge extended trot.  Of course it needs a lot of cleaning up, but none of my other horses just float across the ground like that for the heck of it!  He was really having fun, and I love to see him exploring his talents, even as rough-around-the-edges as they are. 

And then when it was all done, he went back to the walk, snorted and put his head down to the ground and completely relaxed again.  Magdalene took Frosty out of the arena and he got a little worked up over that, but we trotted a few circles, and when he gave me something good and brought his focus back to his work rather than on the fact that he was alone in the arena, then we walked out and went on a short cool-down walk through the cow pasture. 

I had lessons with Ansley and Magdalene today, Ansley is working with Starbucks to improve his canter departs and to nail down his leads (which are about 8 out of 10 times correct) and Magdalene took Gallery over a crossrail a few times to work on her position over the fence.  She has an IEA show this weekend where they are judged solely on equitation, on the flat, and over fences.  She also took the crossrail also a few times without stirrups.  I noticed that when I had pulled her stirrups, when she asked for Gallery to go up into a canter from the walk, that not only was Gallery's canter depart quite clean and prompt, but Gallery almost had an expression of surprise because Magdalene was using much more contact through her legs than normal, because of being stirrup-less.  Gallery hasn't necessarily been taught how to depart to the canter from the walk, but when asked, she will tend to dribble through the quick trot.  I mentioned that to her afterwards, that the stirrups often allow Magdalene to "cheat" in a sense and not use her aids to create the clean and prompt transitions.  We are working on helping her to learn how to ride her aids effectively through all the way and not just to add them here and there.  Having your aids "there" cleans up a lot of things for the horse, their balance and regularity of gaits, clean transitions, etc.  This was a perfect example. 

I did not get a ride on Sammy, even though I had him tacked up and everything, because I had to hook up the truck and trailer to meet James so that he could leave right from work to get to the Hay Depot before they closed at 5:30.  JJ went with him so I went ahead and went straight to the gym to swim.  I barely got in 2/3 of a mile before I noticed the pool area was filling up with old people and a radio was playing.  Figures I would get there just in time to get kicked out for the water aerobics class... here I thought I was finally getting ahead of schedule and getting my workout done early! 

Nevertheless I went home and cleaned the house, made dinner, folded laundry, gave JJ a bath... it's almost 10 and I have more to do, but I am determined to get to bed early tonight because I have another long day tomorrow.  :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


If I could unscrew my tired, worn-out legs and pop on a fresh pair halfway through the day, it'd be great.  I'd get so much more done!  A modern day "Mister Potato Head", so to speak. 

My first horse to ride for the day was BB, the ride was great and uneventful, we just worked w/t on leg yeilding and staying more connected to my hands.  He's very irregular in his rhythm and bounces on and off of contact with the bit a lot, so I work on communication through my legs and seat to settle and regulate his stride a little and then I can sometimes have a more stable contact with his mouth.  Sometimes.  We have a long way to go but he's really doing awesome. He experimented at times with seeing how deeply he could get a stretch through his topline, which I rewarded generously.  I love seeing his confidence growing.  At the trot, I also insisted on him giving to my leg before I "helped" him over with the reins, and he responded to the insistence easily, without frustration. 

I rode in the dressage saddle and I had pulled out a very old pair of full seat breeches and thought I'd give them a go.  I haven't really fit into them since I was 19 or 20.  They were snug but they were snug back then, too.  I bought them when I showed Blazer in dressage back in the day, I remember just about passing out because they were so stiff.  Then mom accidently bleached them shortly after the show, leaving large "white" blotches on the khaki, so I never wore them much after than.  Then a kid and, well, seven years later...

I usually ride in knee patch or just plain tights which have plenty of slip in the saddle, but these things were like velcro in comparison, and I found myself "stuck" at times in a wrong leg position and would have to pull my leg off and away from the saddle and re-place it back where I wanted it to be.  It was a little awkward readjusting to the sensation. 

Next I rode Sammy.  Sammy can be a total champ at times and at other times he can be a real pain in the butt.  He is kind of a very hyper-sensitive personality and over thinks everything.  He already knows what emotional state you are in, even before you do.  He is literally anywhere between one to ten steps ahead of you, at any given time, so it's really hard to get him "with" you, he doesn't particularly love being directed on every footfall, he likes to get around quickly and efficiently, which isn't always the beautiful way.  I have to work very patiently to get him to settle down and relax so that he can really "float", and using strong aids on him, even when he's deliberately being a turd, makes him get all worked up and then really bull-headed and headstrong.  It's hard to decide which approach works better on him, if I back off and let him re-settle, or if I ride him strongly through until he softens and submits and then release my aids.  I have done both and both have worked at times, and neither have worked at times. 

For instance, if you point him towards a jump, you'd better be serious because whether or not you're ready, he's going over it, with or without you.  I don't like it when a horse decides he wants to charge the fence going 90mph and then take off 11 feet in front of a crossrail.  No, I would much rather regulate the stride, and take off at a reasonable place.  So we have arguments about how to do the fence, or the canter circle, or the shoulder-in... again, the horse is extremely powerful and bold and I am in awe of him when he can just muscle over a 4x4-ft oxer with another 12 inches to spare in height clearance, he's incredible.  But on how to approach that same fence, I'd like it a whole lot better if he'd listen to a few of my ideas.  So we go round and round.  He really doesn't like flat work all that much but I am making him do it because I want him to have a basic understanding of what my aids are and how I want him to respond before we go flying through a cross country course, which is what I'm working him up to be able to do, since I know he'd absolutely, freaking love it.  I just want to have some reasonable control. 

So back to today, it was one of those days I decided to ride my aids through to the other side and wait for him to be the first to give.  We leg-yielded a bunch and I waited every time for him to drop his nose and lift his back, to create a rounder frame than the hollower one he prefers to travel in.  Then when I picked up the canter, I did not take my seat out from his back in a half-seat like I sometimes do, I kept my inside leg on him and waited until he backed off my hands and lifted his inside shoulder around our circle.  It took a while.  He drug me around for a while like a freight train but I waited until there was something.  When I get tough-love on him like this he starts getting real bullheaded, dragging the reins out of my hands and the likes.  And then when he does finally stay behind my hands, I have the distinct feeling he is locked up and holding grudges, not moving freely and relaxed, like he cannot wait to get out of that arena.  It's hard, I've only gotten just a handful of really "together" rides, on which I lavish, lavish the praise and we both feel sky-high.  But even then the very next day he can be a hardhead again, taking advantage of my niceness.  Then after a few frank discussions for a few days he will one ride give me everything in a very valiant effort to be straightforward and honest, allowing me to help frame in better in all the gaits and transitions... and around and around we go. 

Either way, knowing he's holding out on me even though his body 'might' be doing what I'd like, I gave him a big head hug back in the barn and held him there until I could feel him soften. For as much as I can "push", I can only to as far as to the extent he knows I believe in him. 

Then after lessons, I rode Drama and had a very productive ride with him.  We pulled his shoes a couple of months ago after I learned some new information from the AANHCP (American Association for Natural Hoof Care Practices) and I was struggling with him and Bird with lameness and laminitis issues.  I took a clinic with one of their certified practitioners and began to see real healing in all of my horses after trimming them a new way, so Drama is still working out his sensitivity as he grows accustomed to being barefoot again.  He is sound and his feet are in SO much better shape than they were, but he still has a slightly shorter stride length and is very sensitive to the ground surface being uneven.  I usually try to ride him at the beginning of the day when the arena is freshly raked, but this morning he was taking a snooze in the sunshine out in his runout, so today he was the last to be ridden. 

I try to get him stretching and using his back with as much engagement as I can, but he still can't quite put the "push" from behind with those long, reaching strides quite yet.  I really am just focused on helping him use his back and use it consistently, because the horse is like Jello and can wiggle and bend every part of his body in almost any direction he chooses, except for the correct one.  I am distinctly aware that even if I were a spider, I still wouldn't have enough limbs to help frame him correctly.  Drama's willingness to try is as large as the ocean is vast, he is too innocent to be purposefully dishonest in any way, and he will give you 110% anywhere you ask for it, any time, but he doesn't always do it right, so when you try to help him correct himself, you have to be careful on how you approach it with him or he gets defeated and depressed. But boy, when he knows he's nailed something, you can absolutely see him beaming.  Whenever you scratch him with your fingertips on his withers while you're riding, he shakes his head as he glories in the praise.  He is a riot.  Even though he has an 8-year old body, do not be fooled, his brain is still only 2, and he's quite happy to stay that way!    

This is why at the end of the day my brain sometimes hurts more than my body.  I am so keenly aware of my own inadequacies as a rider/trainer/instructor every day, and I am far harder on myself than I am of any of my horses or students.  I often re-ride things in my mind and over-analyze them to the minute degree, picking apart the why's and wherefore's of each problem.  I get so bogged down with all my analysis that I have to really make an effort to try to keep things light, on myself, my students and my horses, or we all take a plunge into the abyss of hopelessness. 

Anyhow, now for decompression time, I'm going to go to the gym to go swimming.  And I think the hot tub is calling my name. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

That Rascal!

Last night was Halloween.  We asked JJ if he wanted to go trick or treating, and explained it to him earier in the month.  He said he wanted to go, but then when we told him he had to dress up as something, he wasn't too keen on the idea.  Later he was at a store and came into contact with a battery-operated witch, which completely freaked him out, and then a short time later a talking ghost, and he lost it again.  We decided after that we weren't taking him trick or treating just to have him freaked out the entire time.  So a big church in new Tampa had a festival thing with bounce houses and candy, we went ahead and took him there.  James and I were bored out of our brains, it was pretty lame on the adult end of things, just standing there watching him jump around with the other kids for an hour and a half, and having to put up with all the other crazed kids on a sugar high, but we were glad he at least had fun.  We were pretty proud of him for some of the things he tackled, climbing his way through some obstacle courses and sliding down some pretty huge slides. 

I decided right then and there that if Halloween is the devil's holiday, it is for the reason that we supposedly celebrate young kids who are allowed to go crazy with sugar and sleep deprivation on a weeknight. 

Right as soon as we left the church and pulled out onto the road, it being already after dark, we saw this dog wandering through the cars ahead of us, on the road.  James, driving, already knew the drill: when there's a loose/stray dog he has to pull over for me to jump out to try and save it.  The big dog came over to me when I squatted on the road and called to him, and he had a piece of broken leash attached to his collar with, thankfully, a tag with a phone number on it.  We called the number, got no answer, so we waited a few minutes to see if anybody was going to come running down the road holding the other end of the broken leash or something, but no.  We put him in the back of the Mountaineer to start driving home, but shortly after he jumped into the back seat with JJ.  He rested his big head on the console between James and I and just sat there politely the whole ride home. 

We tried calling like a dozen more times, leaving voicemails, but for the night we stuck him out in the utility room in the barn with Tipper, who was not happy having to babysit for the night.  I would have let him stay inside but he stunk pretty bad and I had just spent 5 hours cleaning the whole house and didn't feel like giving this huge dog a bath at 9:30 at night. 

This morning he was pretty happy to see me and Tipper was pissed, haha, but I didn't get a hold of anyone until early afternoon, having googled the guy's name and finding out where he worked.  Turns out he was the owner of an International shipyard and he had left this morning for a flight, his secretary was so happy to be able to tell him that his dog, Rascal, had been found. 

Meanwhile, this lovely dog stayed with us for the afternoon and boy he was a nice guy.  We accidentally discovered he loved to play fetch when JJ had kicked a ball, so then he and JJ played ball literally all afternoon.  The dog would barely take a break for water, he went after that ball for hours and JJ freaking loved it.  JJ has no clue dogs can actually be fun because Tipper is too much of a prima donna and thinks playing fetch is stupid.  I loved seeing JJ running around with this big dog following his every move, totally engaged in playing with him. 

The people, friends of the owner, showed up tonight to get him and gave us a $200 reward, which we tried to wave off until they practically shoved it into James' hand.  JJ was sad to see him go, and we learned that Rascal was a very rare breed to come by, a Drahthaar, (pronounced droth-hauer) a German imported breed from the pointer family.  He was really cool.  I told the owner's secretary to tell him when he got back that if the dog ever produced puppies, I wanted one!

I only had time to ride Drama today for myself and the rest of the day was filled with other lessons and whatnot.  Drama's work was more stretching the topline at all three gaits and then trying to extend the trot slightly while staying reliably on the bit.  He's a bit of a wiggle worm; you'll learn more about him later. 

Then I ran tonight, 6-something miles on the treadmill.  I had rearranged my music on my iPod because I was getting bored of the current workout mix.  I added some new songs and brought some old music back to the top.  While I was running, which I felt pretty unmotivated when I got started, I realized that the switch-up with the music really helped to engage my senses, and I finished really wanting to run longer because I felt energized.  I think perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there in horse training as well, doing the same thing too much really doesn't foster an engaging atmosphere; we should make more of an effort to mix it up a bit, help revitalize the senses. 

It's nice to be a big fish every once and a while, even if it's in a little pond...

Horses have taught me sooo many things.  And I keep learning, every day.  More about myself, more about them and how to work with them, and more about life's principles and the things that work (or not) in relationships in general.  The specifics are even more rare and exciting jewels when they are discovered.  And you only find them in a partnership that has been given a lot of time and attention.  Not for the casual observer, that is.

Let me start by telling you about my "newest", Big Bird, who is an OTTB (or "Off the Track Thoroughbred", meaning a Thoroughbred horse who has been raced) has been with me nearly a year, since January.  He is a huge horse, standing at 17.3 hands (71 inches at the withers) and nearly 1,700lbs.  I have worked with OTTB's and Thoroughbreds in general and it truly is a love/hate relationship, because they are temperamentally very hot and excitable, adding that to the sometimes traumatized state they come with after their life at the track.  They are full of adrenaline, which sometimes leads to a lot of anxiety and panic, competitive but sometimes spastic, smart but often hyper-sensitive and hyperactive, and extremely athletic.  They are the hot bloods of the horse world.  I haven't always loved TB's.  I've admired their qualities, sure, but I don't always love the amount of work and talent it takes to truly work with one effectively.  Every horse, no matter what type, has it's difficulties as well as it's abilities, and it's just kinda your choice as to what you want to love and what you are willing to put up with.  So, at a distance I've always kept these horses, because their "hotness" drove me nuts.

However, I think over the years as I've gained skills and abilities, (and yes, deepened perspectives and understanding) I've found them to be more of a challenge and less of a pain.  And when I got Big Bird, not only was he hotter than snot and all the qualities that belong to the Thoroughbred department, he had also spent nearly 8 years on a race track and boy did he have a lot of baggage from that.

I saw him for the first time in person and I didn't think he was particularly impressive until I stood next to him.  Out in the pasture his proportions don't strike you as huge until you stand next to him.  I am 5'6" and I cannot see over the top of his back, barely if I stand on tip toes.  He has the longest legs of any horse I've ever seen.  His body is not particularly thick and massive, (another trait of TB's, they are usually sleeker and more refined) but those legs of his go on forever.  I watched him move and even though I could see the blaring stiffness and obvious lack of condition he was in at the time, I saw deeper into the pure athleticism in his movement, so I said I'd take him.

I don't think my heart was really ready to open up to and truly love another horse after the passing of the former love of my life and soul mate almost three years ago.  And it certainly wasn't like I "needed" another horse, I already owned three, he made four.  But in the first few months of dealing constantly with all the ugly blackness, massive anxiety and traumatized state that he was in, having to pour sweat, blood and tears into this horse helped me slowly open my heart up.  I will talk more in depth about this whole process later.  It grieved me to no end because I wanted to help heal his heart, his emotions and his body.   Yet he resisted and fought, and with everything that was in him, he clung to his safeguards and his skills at keeping anyone or anything from getting too close to that very soft, very vulnerable areas of his heart.

Imagine all that power and pure might that a racehorse puts out on the track... now imagine all that power and might being used to keep you far, far away from those precious, sensitive areas.  It's intimidating.  He was not a violent or aggressive horse, but since he trusted no one but himself, his anxiety would rise whenever he was worked with or ridden, and the anxiety would build and build until he was in a full blown spastic panic attack, and no matter what I tried to do, or "knew" to do, it didn't work and he would never just relax and calm.  Riding a horse means having to develop a relationship, and he wanted nothing to do with it.  Even when there were the smallest moments of relaxation, if I dared praise him or reach out to encourage him, he would drop a behavioral bomb as if to threaten me not to reach out to him again.  He literally stiffened his body to my touches, I could not hug him or kiss his face, and when riding him, if I would pet him or stroke his neck, he would try to dump me or run off with me, his body as tense and taught as a tightrope and his mind and emotions frazzled, crazed and fried.  It was exhausting.  I was making no progress, none, whatsoever.

Over the course of the first few months, he had dumped me at one point where I had landed flat on my back from his towering height and at nearly a gallop so that I couldn't move for two days and couldn't ride for two weeks more.  We went back to longing for a few more weeks while I waited on my back to heal.  He had bitten me in the face when I had tried to kiss his nose one afternoon.  He broke three brand new halters, and tore down an entire tie rail, so then I bought him a breakaway halter so that all I would have to replace were the leather straps instead of the whole dang thing, knowing that it would probably happen again during this transitional and emotional time.  I had had my hands burned from the longeline many times in the beginning months before I started to ride him, and after I began riding him, I had soft tissue injuries in my neck from the whiplash effect of him bolting forwards every time he got spooked or panicked over something. 

No matter how frenzied or anxious he was, I never raised my voice, used strong aids, never did anything other than just praise him for anything good I could find.  I literally had stomach issues (er, diarrhea) the first few months of riding him because he scared the crap out of me, no pun intended, with how huge and unstable emotionally he was, the adrenaline constantly flooding my system made me feel nauseous after I would get off.  I had to leave all emotions, minus praise, behind, and set my expectations at zero when I showed up for work with him.  Easier said than done. 

Being the largest horse in my barn, riding from that high off the ground simply made me aware of how faaaaarrrr a fall would be from him, so in order to try to keep myself as relaxed as possible (so as not to add to his nervousness) I had to visualize myself riding a pony, and stick that image in my head and keep it there until my senses became accustomed to seeing things from that high up.  My skin would feel flashes of tingling and cold sweat whenever we were working and he would do something sort of well, I'd reach down to pet him and I knew he was going to tense up and lunge forwards to try to launch me.  But I had to praise him, he needed it even though he didn't want it. 

You can imagine how I was thanking God for every stinking, rotten horse that I'd ever worked with over the course of my career that taught me skills like a deep, secure seat, strong legs, and soft, consistent hands that I was employing the use of on every ride on Big Bird, and then some.  I was barely, and I mean barely, the skilled-enough rider to work with this horse.  I knew very keenly before every ride, that if I misjudged one move or I made one wrong call or had one unbalanced movement, that a fall from him would hurt, and hurt bad.  He was quite willing to take advantage of any inconsistencies he found in my riding abilities.  Yet, through all of this I knew he was just so damaged and my heart just ached for him, but he just did everything in his might and power to keep me out of his life, even though I knew behind all this was a very starving heart that wanted to be nourished.  And quite literally, somedays, knowing that was the only thing I could cling to and hold on for.

The timing of getting him and working with him was interesting, though, because at the same time James and I were also going through a class, required by the state, to learn how to parent the unique needs of an adopted child.  James and I, someday, wish to add to our family through adoption.  As we sat in class for the next 10 weeks and learned about these children who have been through trauma and how it rears its ugly head with behaviors and symptoms and lack of ability to attach, (and on and on the list goes) I found myself applying these principles of parenting to this horse as we learned them.  Trauma doesn't necessarily just mean physical abuse.  It can be neglect or emotional abuse, too, or anything the victim perceives as traumatizing, which varies from one to another.  Some horses love to race and love the racing atmosphere.  I had a pretty good feeling that Big Bird did not.  Although the application of these parenting skills while I rode didn't necessarily change the way he behaved immediately, if at all, it gave me a deepened and more empathetic understanding of how he was acting out because of the pain inside of him.  I began to feel his pain and identify with it in areas in my own life.  I found myself feeling strengthened in my resolve and commitment to him, and my prayer life was definitely deepened as while I rode, I prayed for my future adopted child and my ability to parent him or her, which practicing these principles on this horse.  Even though to the outside viewer there was little progress to be seen, the seeds of hope were definitely planted, and even after days, weeks and months of getting beat the crap up by this horse, my soul was strong and I found myself more confident with him as each day I tried yet again. 

Then one night while out on a date with James, we were at a bookstore and I picked up a human psychology book about panic disorders and anxiety attacks.  And what I learned just by that hour of flipping through that book completely inspired the course of my work with him.  I learned that when in the event of an actual anxiety attack (which is brought about by trauma, whether emotional of physical) the "chatter" in his mind is so loud and so frenzied, the mind is not able to sort out the real from the irrational.  So, when in that state, he could not productively learn, anything.  The principle was, "the neurons that fire together, wire together."  In Big Bird's past, the very effect of a human on his back brought about nervousness and anxiety to a great extent.  So regardless of my desires to help calm and soothe him, the very essence of my weight on his back launched a neurological response that he literally couldn't control, being so ingrained as it was.  (Person on my back = anxiety.)  I had to help re-wire his brain, so that the pleasure/calming/soothing sensors were the ones that fired when I put my foot in the stirrup.  (Person on my back = enjoyment/relationship.)  But how?

So still I was puzzled because there was just nothing the horse loved.  Verbally praising him had negative effects.  Touching his body even with the softest, most tender strokes made him rigid and tense.  He didn't even love treats.  The only time he was semi-calm was when he was in his stall with no one messing with him.  To be completely fair, I had seen some minor progress, because when I first got him he would even start to sweat and get anxious when I groomed him, and at this point in the game I could groom him and have him stay relaxed.  The first time I turned on a pair of clippers, he shot backwards, broke his halter and ran out of the barn.  Now, I could clip him without much trouble.  Sometimes, I could even get him tacked up without soliciting an anxious response and there were a few, very sporadic days when I could take him out on the longe line and have him stay at a walk, albeit a fast one, for several minutes.  But still, when I was on his back, he was was tense and unhappy, rigid and very anxious.  There had to be SOMETHING he loved.

So I stumbled across it, or maybe somehow just connected the dots.  He loved carrots.  Duh, doesn't every horse?  Yes, I would guess most horses do, but out of an ever-growing list of things he completely rejected, it was the only thing he would eat from my hand and after I worked with him I usually gave him one or two, which he would happily eat.  I knew it was a stretch and that I was groping for straws, but literally it was the only thing that caused him to connect to a happy feeling.  So on my very next ride, I literally loaded my pockets and waistband with carrots, even stuffing a large one down each half chap.  So I mounted him in the barn, and before he was able to move off, I immediately reached forward and showed him a carrot out of the corner of his eye, keeping the reins short in my other hand.  He startled for a moment but with some surprise, instead of annoyance, he reached his neck around and took the carrot piece from my hand.  And his feet did not move!  You have to realize that for months of being in hand and under saddle, his feet were constantly moving, and when he was required to stay stationary for any period of time, some other part of his body was wringing with the adrenaline coursing through his veins.  So he gladly munched the carrot, and when he walked forwards nicely out of the barn, I whoaed him and gave him another one, rotating sides so that he would have to bend his neck in both directions, also in an effort to help stretch and limber his stiff back.  It was hanging by a thread and noticeable only under a microscope, but I had the more relaxed and productive ride I'd had on him in literally 6 months.

So I kept up with the carrot thing for weeks, and comparatively speaking, we grew in leaps and bounds.  I associated the carrot with even me petting him or praising him.  If he accepted my hands rubbing his neck or my verbal, "good boys!" without stiffening or bracing, he got another carrot piece.  It literally worked.  He bloomed.  He would do something well, he'd hear the "snap" of me biting off a carrot piece with my teeth, and he'd practically stop himself and turn around to wait for me to get it to his mouth.  I loved it.  He was so cute because he was actually asking me for the affirmation that he knew he could receive.  And the happy neurons began to wire with the association of me riding him, we really did have a lot of fun with this.  After several weeks of the carrots, I stopped using them during the ride because he no longer needed them, he had begun to respond to my verbal praise or physical affection, and he had developed the ability to come "down" off an anxious "up" without me having to get off.  To be sure, we still had a lot of anxious "ups" throughout the ride, but never before had he been able to work through them with any kind of logic or rationale, he always just escalated and escalated until he was out of control and was worked up into a white hot frenzy.  The carrots had kept him from going over the edge, and now he could spook and get rattled, and then with a few simple leg yields and some verbal affirmation, he could work his way back down into the low-headed sigh of contentedness.  That is, until the next episode, but even those began to become fewer and farther apart.

Once he could relax under me, he could also start to hear and listen to what I was saying and then his attention would be on me instead of on all the 'monsters'.  And it compounded; the more he could listen, the more he could relax, the more he could relax, the more peace he would feel, and the more peace he would feel, the more he really liked that feeling and wanted to go there again! 

So, now at almost 11 months, I am having the best time on him I've ever had.  Not only does he enjoy going out for a ride, we are even able to connect "brain to brain" for several consecutive minutes, where we both can enjoy the sensation of tuning everything out around us and just having a two-way conversation about where we're going to go and how we're going to get there.  The conversation is, granted, very simple, but he is extremely bright and oh my gosh so smart.  He feels happy when we're out, he is very keen on finding the things that please me and he is very excited about life.  Instead of nervous, frenzied movements, he is energetic and eager.  We still can only really walk and trot, but last week we did get the canter twice, which was reasonably controlled and he quickly came down to a relaxed and cadenced trot.  There are things that still spook him, but for the most part, only his skin jumps instead of his whole body.  I can relax on his back, (for real!), give him the long rein to the buckle and he will walk calmly, with good energy instead of frantic energy.  He has a monster overstride, one afternoon I measured 11 inches between prints, which none of my other horses are nearly capable of, the *best* I've gotten before was barely 7 or 8.  Once, he even experimented with being lazy, which I nearly welcomed!  Sometimes he'll sniff the ground or check out the surroundings, and I always affirm the relaxation I find, regardless of the form it presents itself in.  We have plenty of time left for the fine tuning, nobody is in any hurry here!

I really enjoy him, my problem child as he is, because it's always been inside of me to love the unlovable and breathe life into the things that anyone else might leave for dead.  Plus he's just huge and gorgeous. That's always a plus.  ;)

Speaking of gorgeous, this past Sunday we had a SDCTA schooling show at Keystone Sporthorse Center in Odessa. The barn and facilities were simply fantastic. Magdalene showed Gallery in all three of the Intro tests and stayed consistent with her scoring, not only winning yet another Grand Championship in her class, but also winning high point rider of the entire day.  As I watched the other kids and their horses, I should be clear that I was not in any way feeling critical or judgmental of their lack of skill or ability, but I did really embrace the realization with pride that I had the most highly skilled jyr rider there, as well as a young horse who exemplified very correct and thorough training.  Gallery is a real gem who is a total girl but with a gigantic, contented heart, and she just loves to please.  Also, a lady friend of the Valido's who had come for the day to watch the show, mentioned to Magdalene that with all of the other riders, she found herself either watching the rider or the horse, but with Magdalene, she found herself watching them together as an entire picture.  What a fantastic compliment!  So for just the day at least, I got to feel like a big fish in a little pond.  And it was a good feeling.  :)