Tuesday, May 31, 2016

wherein i get to play groom!

Well. Sorta, kinda. Maybe the type of groom who really doesn't do all that much work. But I can be a cheerleader! And provide transportation!! (Tho actually Brita is getting quite confident behind the wheel and we split the driving up).

So, maybe in other words, I went to a horse show this weekend with exactly zero intentions of riding myself. And it was actually kinda nice!

al fresco bathing
Tho it was also kinda sad in some ways too... I love horse showing and I especially love horse showing with Brita and Wick. And we were off to Olde Hope - site of our first (triumphant) novice last year. And also the site of Oktoberfest, where I foolishly chose to crutch around all day less than 24hrs after breaking my leg.

It's a fun venue with a fantastic party-like atmosphere - tho I was oh so very grateful to be sans crutches this time around haha.

this mare was not invited
And actually it was nice to not have to worry about anything at all. I could keep busy helping get the horse tacked and untacked, walking courses, or making sure Brita stayed hydrated (it was HOT!).

Or... I could also kinda just sit around not doing anything if I so chose. After all, we've got a well-practiced routine down for the trailer, and Brita had a pretty good handle on everything.

party city!
Our farm's lesson program director had a couple students riding too, so it was a regular party. We may not be a very large or very fancy program, but it's still awfully fun to set up the little caravan of trailers. And we've all collected a nice assortment of gear to make the scene extra enjoyable - from camp chairs to coolers and just about everything in between. Ooh, except one of those canopy tent thingys.

A parent brought one along and it definitely improved the entire experience. Methinks that is a purchase worth making in the near future. Any recommendations?

people friends and horse friends - all three equines happened to be field buddies too
Brita's rides went very well too. Wick was lovely in dressage warm up, but maybe fell asleep on the way to actually ride his test and never really brightened up. But true to form, their jumping was fantastic and more than enough to move them right up the leader-board to finish 5th.

not sure what's happening in the saddle, but the background is unbeatable!
I should probably be taking some notes from them haha. Isabel might often be well-positioned after dressage... but damn if I don't struggle to cling on to that position through the jumping phases. Our three outings so far this year have netted us 24 penalty points in stadium alone (8 from refusals, and 8 from near refusals). Ouch.

feeling extra fancy with our newly acquired interchangeable bridle tags!
So.... yea maybe not too sad to be missing the show after all haha. It's a real shame timing-wise, tho. My upcoming work and travel schedule, combined with not entering anything until our jumping issues are repaired, means we can expect June to be a total loss for competing. And July is usually a mid-season lull for starter trials - fine for me, given the heat.

Oh well. At least that gives us a nice long time horizon to smooth things out and get back on the same page, right?

goofy horses. i love 'em all
And in the meantime, this show weekend wasn't without it's own grief - a reminder that pretty much anything can happen with horses. Especially when jumping horses. And especially jumping horses cross country. Alas a couple riders and horses parted ways, and another wasn't able to complete bc changes in footing are apparently very scary (Isabel relates).

Fortunately tho, everyone is fine and in one piece(ish), and will be back to try again another day. So I will be right there with them, working to come back better and stronger.

And other events from this long holiday weekend served as step 1 in laying that foundation. More to come later, but rest assured - just because Isabel got left behind on show day doesn't mean she didn't get her own share of excitement too!

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Not to keep beating a dead horse (haha, Isabel ain't dead yet, let the beatings continue! kidding.... sorta) - but seriously guys. Thank you. All of you. All of you who left supportive comments, patiently carried on through ridiculous gchat conversations, parried back and forth with emails, or who maybe even only read along but nodded in understanding.

scenic card. and. guys. it has a HORN.
I can't really express how much it has meant to me. We already know that horses are a luxury and that we should just shut up and be grateful for the opportunity to fuck up and feel humiliated and disappointed and disproportionately lost when things go badly...

ear plugs to drown out the rail birds. chocolate and flying pig duct tape bc obviously
But goddamit, sometimes it's just hard. And perhaps this rough spot with Isabel is hitting me harder bc my life has recently undergone a drastic sea change. I love the new job and feel happy and energized by the new challenges. It's an adjustment tho - one of those passive kinds of stress. Not just learning about the new job, but also learning things like "where is the bathroom?"

aaaaaaaaaaaand also booze. yasssss. 
So perhaps that's why I feel so deflated by the first world luxury problem of my pet horse not wanting to jump the sticks.

OG had to investigate too. ya know, had to make sure it was safe
We're working through it though. I have felt closer than ever before to wanting to give up. But I'm a bit too stubborn for that. Thank god tho, bc this weekend isn't even half way finished and the mare has proved why she's worth fighting for. There's hope yet.

Martini is satisfied to survey from a distance haha
And while I work on processing her recent behavior and what it means for me in adjusting myself to the path forward, I'm very fortunate to have these newly delivered resources to fall back on. Specifically: this baller ass care package courtesy of Teresa. Talk about knowing exactly how to lift a girl's spirits!!!! (literally lol!). THANK YOU!!! You will never know how much this helps me right now!

not as pretty as the aurigan...but pretty is as pretty does, right?
Other new things in our life include this Herm Sprenger Duo bit - what I understand to be their approximation of a nathe bit. Trainer P from OF has been encouraging me to try a nathe for basically forever, with the idea that it's the kind of bit that Isabel can really push into and carry forward, rather than getting backed off of and stuck behind.

trailer also underwent it's bi-annual face lift: all the plexi came off for the season
I've never been super convinced or tempted by the idea... The KK is basically my favorite bit ever and Isabel has gone very well in it. But as a gesture of good faith and an indication that I'm willing to go where my trainer wants me to go to fix a potential problem, I got the bit. So we're gonna roll with it for a little while.

sleeping cats!
I told Isabel that if she wasn't careful, it might be the last thing I ever buy for her. She.... maybe took that one to heart. Details to come later, but I feel positive.

chillin with Austen, Brita and Kaitlyn (spot the schooling Tillie down in the ring?)
So we will see. So far so good. I am starting to feel better, and starting to see signs of improvement. Optimism, ever hopeful, right?

And when all else fails, there are always the new born Shetlands at OF:

Austen's hint: look for the "fly mask"
Baby was passed the fuck out when I went back to snag a picture. Too cute!!

Anyway, happy holiday weekend everyone (in the States, at least, lol)! Today is show day for quite a few of you out there - so Good luck!!! And stay tuned for more updates to come :)

Friday, May 27, 2016

friday fails: healing with humor

Because I have shit else to write about (turns out the mare still isn't that fun to ride right now!), and my friends are often funnier than I am, here are some photographs Austen meme-ified to cheer me up. Maybe. Haha. I mean, we can't let Aimee have all the fun with words on pictures!!


Bonus non-Isabel meme - Teresa found this gem somewhere in the dark recesses of the internet and immediately recognized it as relevant to my interests. Yes. That moment. Indeed.

Happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

what comes next

So basically you all are just the nicest, most supportive and compassionate people ever. Thank you. Seriously. Way to go, internet strangers!! You have legitimately lifted my spirits!

Your comments here and the emails and texts offline have improved my outlook and attitude immensely.

It's funny how deeply an issue with our horses can upset us. Obviously in the grand scheme of things, it's supposedly just a hobby or whatever - but still. I don't think I'm the only one who considers horses an inextricable part of my identity.

And so many of you know exactly what I mean by that - and have struggled with this exact same set of frustrations and disappointments. Solidarity, y'all.

strange but true: isabel LOVES my mother. i've never seen her act so affectionate to any individual above the age of 7. this pic is from fair hill a couple weeks ago - right before we headed up to jump.
And so I'm feeling better about looking forward. About making plans. Honestly I can't help myself. I'm a planner by nature. What can I say?

i inadvertently interrupted a moment here. horse and cat were in deep conversation. you can almost hear them hissing at each other "shhhhh! be cooool, she's watching!!"
But the "all pressure is off" rule is sticking. Yes to making plans - but they can't all be dependent on each other. Like, if I plan a show, then I would also need to plan schooling and conditioning and lessons that all add up to a successful competitive experience. Yea. Fuck that right now. None of that noise.

I would like to stick to a regular riding schedule tho, just for my and the mare's physical benefit and enjoyment - but not for any reason beyond that.

perhaps the cat wishes i would butt out?
I will also be sticking with the same regular lesson program. The fact of the matter is that this training issue stems from a lack of discipline. No amount of hacking out and trail riding can fix that. (Of course, we <3 trail riding so there will still be plenty of that all the same!)

But with no competitions on the horizon - no external pressures - we can just focus on breaking it all down, piece by piece. Sometimes focusing on me, sometimes on the mare. I haven't decided what role training rides will play either. Mostly bc my own opportunities for saddle time are limited and I have a couple lessons to learn here too.

We will see tho. No pressure, one way or another.

mare looks like she might have something to say tho. i can see it now: "Dear Diary, Today she...."
And actually - this coming holiday weekend is already looking fantastic from a horsey perspective (again, I owe that sentence and the fact that I'm actually looking forward to riding this weekend all to you - because two days ago I had zero inclination to ride. so again - THANK YOU).

our dressage test from Jenny Camp. pretty solid, nicely consistent! i especially love the "cute" comment at the top. and fun fact - the judge popped out of the booth after i finished to ask if isabel is an Ann McKay horse, bc, in fact, this judge happens to have an Enzio baby too. same age as isabel - her horse and mine very likely grew up in the same paddocks together. so funny - this is such a small little horse community and isabel is so recognizable within it.... if only we could stop embarrassing ourselves in the show jumping ring!!

Working from home today and tomorrow always helps, and we miiiiiight just be sneaking in a lesson with our favorite dressage trainer who we haven't seen in a while. Plus a lesson with trainer P at OF. Because Dan's training ride did in fact give me a couple ideas for how to improve my ride over fences with Isabel.

Sunday is show day for Brita and I am not in the slightest bit disappointed to be spectating instead of riding. It's oddly relieving.

i may be satisfied with isabel's solid dressage prowess. the jumping tho... no haha.
also, handihorse, is that you?!?
And then Monday is very conveniently a holiday, AND a paper chase at Tranquility. So yea. We are gonna do that. Funnily enough, when my barn mate asked if I wanted to go, she offered me the ride on a different horse so I could just sit back, have fun, and enjoy the ride.

And my immediate response? Ain't no better paper chase horse out there than Isabel!! I can already feel the wind whipping past us when we open up into a flat out gallop through the fields....

an oldie, but goodie. this pic takes me back to another time when we couldn't show... for... different reasons.
So. Essentially what I'm trying to say here is that while we are in some ways stepping back - especially from competitions - I'm mentally preparing myself to step up to the plate for this whole jumping problem.

And rest assured - I'll likely have plenty to report back on, especially for those of you who deal with similar issues!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"not very committed"

Scheduling this week's Dan lesson got screwy bc of Seattle last week, his own competition schedule, and then ultimately losing my resolve after Jenny Camp. I waffled and wept, then texted asking to cancel at the eleventh hour. Basically saying I just didn't have it in me to keep trying yet.

Guys. That is hard for me to admit. And more than a little melodramatic. But it's the truth. So... yea.

Sad facts aside, he had already invited Kaitlyn to join the lesson and would therefore be driving the hour to the farm anyway. So he offered to school Isabel himself. It took a little more waffling on my part (selfishly, I just wanted approximately 357 more beers and a morning spent in a foggy stupor rather than facing the 7am lesson time...) but ultimately I accepted.

surprise, you're on candid camera!
This might not be obvious just by reading along, given the ridiculous number of lessons I take, but Isabel and I don't actually have trainers at our barn. There aren't pro riders, training rides are not a thing you can just tack onto the monthly board check.

Sure, I haul out to trainer P at OF and dressage trainer C at TM (we miss you C!!! and hope to see you soon!!), and trainer Dan hikes down to us from PA. And all of these trainers are qualified to school the horse, and would certainly bring her along better and faster than I can.

But generally we are a pretty teachable pair and are happy to muddle through at whatever speed it takes me to learn and apply. Isabel isn't complicated, and I work hard to study and understand and follow directions and learn from one lesson to the next. So none of these trainers have ever felt compelled to get on to solve a problem, or feel for themselves what might be happening.

This stopping thing tho... This is a new one for us. I'm undoubtedly part of the problem, and my will to carry on is flagging. I'm wilting a little (again with the melodrama, emma!). So a training ride sounded like a wise choice.

surreptitiously snapping pics from my lap while concentrating on the ride does not make for very nice composition...

Anyway. I don't exactly feel any more clarity after the watching the ride. But it was a useful exercise. Perhaps worth repeating. Maybe regularly. Idk. We will see. I have thinking to do.

Some details from the ride: 

Let's start with Question #1: The mare does not present as uncomfortable. It appears to be a training issue. Specifically, a flat work issue.

And Question #2: Yes she stopped with him too. Only once - and farther into the ride than I would have expected. But the same deal. A last minute decision that nobody sees coming. Despite being shaped into a perfect canter and piloted to a very precise distance to the fence.

Basically, Dan described her as "not very committed" to the fences. He didn't explicitly call her dishonest... but the implication was there in how he compared her to other horses he knew.

His action plan didn't deviate at all from what we've been working on in our lessons - only his application was better (read: professional). Essentially:

-   The mare must be in front of the leg.
-   But she does not accept or respect leg.
-   Every time he half halted, she would spit out the bit and drop her back.
-   She.... Well. She got taken to school for this.
-   Dan focused on straightness, and collecting the canter then riding forward.
-   He achieved a much higher degree of collection (obvi). It took work tho, and she still broke.
-   He also got after her every time she sucked back when he put his leg on. EVERY time.
-   Even including when he asked her to walk out of the arena to leave.
-   Vigilance is apparently the name of that game.

jumping jumps too

He jumped her from a very collected canter, and from a forward canter. From a deep spot and a long spot. All very precise tho.

Sickeningly precise ugh. Like - telling me about how she is so careful with her knees, so tidy up front, that I don't need to hold her off a deep distance. That I can keep riding her forward to the deep spot (meaning my entire body language needs to say forward, not just my legs).

And then naturally he just went and demonstrated it. Perfect close distance, with perfectly even strides in approach. Oh to be that accurate one day...

That's besides the point tho. Actually, I'm not even sure what the point is. He schooled the horse, and I think the horse learned a couple lessons.

It... did not necessarily look easy tho. It's possible that he was riding very strongly to give that mare a run for her money... but again it was all just the same things that I've been working on, that I've been trying so hard to master. But that I'm just not doing well enough.

this may not be the answer to all my questions, but.... oh who am i kidding, add a beer to the pic and who needs horses anyway?? 

So idk. I still feel incredibly demoralized. More than I've felt maybe... ever. It's ok tho. I'm one stubborn bitch, and ponies still make my heart go pitter patter. 

And luckily for Isabel, she may be putting me through the emotional wringer right now, but I'm not even close to being emotionally prepared to answer some of the questions that arise should I toy with imagining a horse world beyond her. 

The path forward remains unclear. All competitions are off the table for the foreseeable future (haha thanks captain obvious!). All pressure is off too. When even stonewall, deadpan Dan reminds you that it's supposed to be fun... well. It's maybe time to re-calibrate the parameters. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

a very long-suffering mare's perspective

So Isabel would like to set the record straight. She would like you to know that showing with me is truly a traumatic experience.

The things she endures... really, the poor Princess - she has it quite rough. Having to tolerate sharing her refined air with the likes of uncouth Wick. Being seen in public with the rest of us unwashed masses. Exposing herself to the indignities of a stock trailer.

Really, it's no wonder she doesn't always want to play along! She's got a reputation to protect, after all!

"Hey guys? Um GUYS. He is touching meeeeeeeee. Halp!!!! Stranger Danger!!!!!!" - Isabel

"this is not the champagne i ordered"

"ugh, PBR?!? peasants....."


"maybe if I whinny into this small device she's always sticking in my face, maybe somebody will come rescue me? Or at least buy me a halter that fits?!?"

"This is such an embarrassment - must hide my head in shame!!"
"Oooh but damn it smells good in here!"
("Grazing is so plebeian anyway....")

Monday, May 23, 2016

houston, we have a (stopping) problem

Basically we can't make it through a jump course lately. I am not entirely sure how to write this post, or what exactly there is to say (beyond that I am just very sad right now).

But I've been stringing you along and here we are, with a couple lessons and two more shows under out belts and still no real definitive outcomes. And a blogger has gotta blog so.... yea.

maybe figuring the selfie game out tho haha
So. To catch you up (on the off chance you haven't been perched on the edge of your seat, chewing your finger nails into tatters), last I wrote we had laid down a marginally successful lesson with Dan. Reestablishing FORWARD FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST and using the forward pace to carry us through dicier moments.

Next was lesson day with trainer P at OF (source of the arena jumping pics in this post). As previously mentioned, it was a net positive experience. But not without low moments.

pictured: fugly distance but still jumping
We coursed around 3' with mostly no problem. A couple fugly distances, but only two crashes. (I say "only" bc the crash is literally that common now...). And when it was good it was GOOD.

who said oxers were problems?
The crashes tho... I'm kinda stuck in this mindset of assigning 'fault' for a stop. Like, 'oh ok mare, fair enough, that was my fault.' The first stop fell into that category. Trainer P wants me to break out of that mindset tho. She says the horse needs to figure out how to get over the fence, even when circumstances aren't perfect.

And... while originally I wasn't sure I agreed, I'm starting to see her point. Because now Isabel is taking the "Ehhh this isn't quite right, we didn't get where I needed to be, so, NO, no jump for you" answer more and more often.

I get that this angle isn't perfect. But I have watched the full size video and studied the stills. We GOT THERE for this fence. The spot was there. The pace was there. Everything was there. And Isabel just straight up noped it. Had already jumped it once, jumped it again fine after that. But this time? Nope, sorry, triple bar is declined.

pop quiz: is that an event horse or a reiner?
(also, this is the hilarious picture i kept promising. funny, right? ...hahaha?)
All the same, tho, I left this lesson feeling positive. Sure, certain issues persisted - but I felt prepared to keep riding through them.

So I had what honestly were not unrealistic hopes for our h/j show the following day. Just get around the 2'6" division focusing on moving forward to the fences. Seriously. Guys. I do not think it is too much to ask that this legitimately schooled mare and I at least survive a trip at 2'6".

it's not like we haven't been working on it forever, or anything
It was not to be tho. The show was an unmitigated disaster. Sure - external forces added to it... And I can come up with excuses all day long. It was windy out... There were fewer entries than I expected; classes ran fast and we were super late.... I didn't have enough time to warm up...

Whatever. Does it even matter? It was a shit show. And I fell off a whole bunch of times. Because these jumps had an awful lot of fill, and I had been oh-so-clever and put open front boots on this mare who has learned to crash through stadium fences.

Only took a bloody blow or two to her cannons to decide that she doesn't like crashing through all that fill after all. And her answer: Stop faster. Stop harder. And.... I can't stick that.

there is zero media from that h/j show (bc miracles DO happen), so enjoy a similar view of crashing over even tinier fences at this weekend's show
We were officially that horse/rider pair. And literally every single rail bird had (UNWELCOME) advice for us.

"Go slower."   "Maybe try trotting your fences."   "Show jumping is about track and balance."

Idk, I can't even really remember what all everyone said because I was trying to as graciously as possible ask them to please keep their opinions to their goddamn selves. This is a small horse world, and obviously these folks only meant the best... plus we were very clearly struggling (hard to claim otherwise when you're literally covered in arena sand, jumping the jump all by your lonesome)... But damn. People. Cut me a break, please?

this is not the face of a mare who cares what you think, m'kay?
Anyway. Then I was off quite unexpectedly to Seattle for most of the week. Meaning I had to cancel on Dan pretty much immediately after begging to be penciled in for a lesson asap. Fortunately Brita kept the mare ridden for me while I was away.

Brita is pretty much just the best.
Then lesson day again with trainer P at OF. Trainer P had participated in much back and forth texting to brainstorm an APB game plan, from as holistic as possible a perspective. Including plugging the mare up to her eyeballs in feel good candy.

The basic premise being that Isabel has lost confidence. And I was ready to raise my flag for the "mare must be uncomfortable" hypothesis.

Our lesson initially supported this theory when Isabel thought hard about stopping going into a grid, but kept on jumping anyway. "Aha!" I thought. "It's the bute - she feels good and now will keep jumping!"   "Now just to convince her owner to inject all the things!!!"

So we decided to keep the bute train rolling and go to our event this weekend as planned. (And if you want to judge me for illegally dosing my mare with bute at a starter trial... well... have at it).

opinionated mares, cold cheap beer, and friends who know all about struggling through adversity. yup. we were prepared!
Dressage was lovely, per usual. Mare was soft, easy, willing, got us tied for second, blah blah fucking blah. We know this story already. The mare is talented at training level dressage and quite pleasant to ride in it. Cool story bro, but will she jump?

Nah. Not really. Jumps were tiny too. It' been raining for something ridiculous like 20 days out of the last 25 or 30 and everything is just waterlogged. The ground is no exception. Footing actually held up pretty well - but they kept the jumps super soft all the same.

Cross country was modified too - literally only 8 jumps in a field. The true test of the day was stadium and they built a lovely course for us. And I got about 5 fences into the 11 and started thinking "Hey wow we are actually doing it!! We might actually make it!!"

Then... refusal at 6. That stupid tiny ass little red and white vertical in the earlier gif that she stopped at when I closed my leg to go. But I'm a good little monkey and only need to learn my lesson once, and waited for the judge to honk me back on course to continue.

Took another rail but mostly finished the course kinda ok-ish. Ok, except for this beauty at the final fence:

believe it or not, this did not constitute a refusal.
Like. Isabel. Jump that god damn mother fucking fence. Just jump it. It is right there. You are on top of it. JUMP IT. Ughhhhh.

Oh, and yes, I did in fact circle back to get through the finish flags....

Needless to say, I did not proceed to cross country. It's hard to verbalize just how frustrating and disappointing this is. Why won't she jump?!?

Lucky me, tho - because of the modified xc situation, they were technically running it as a combined test. So despite thinking I withdrew after my 12 penalties in stadium, I in fact only dropped to the bottom of the bunch and got a sweet ass pity ribbon (tho the 2nd place ribbon for just dressage was admittedly pretty nice).

best horse show prize evar?
And the MCTA stayed true to their nature as pretty much the best organization ever, recognizing our deep need for awesome prizes. Among my bucket of 8th place swag was this incredible HANDIHORSE ... thing!!!!!!

So. Perhaps it was all worth it after all?