Sunday, June 29, 2008

Full Circle

I feel like my lessons at Other Barn have, in a sense, come full circle. When I first signed up for the group lessons there last year, they didn't give me a test ride but instead asked me a bunch of questions about my riding history. Based on my answers, the fact that I grew up riding and owned a horse, my schedule, etc. they put me in one of the most advanced group classes they had. I had years of riding experience and could hold my own, so no sweat, right?

Reality check! I had a really rough start. I was super rusty, had forgotten a lot of simple things, and was just plumb out of practice. I guess I thought hopping back on a horse after taking more than a decade off from real, serious riding (minus a string of a half dozen lessons about 5 years ago and the occasional vacation trail ride) wouldn't be that hard and that everything would come back. Lesson #1 in humility!

That first ride was hard. Besides being physically and mentally challenging, it was humiliating. These kids were riding circles around me (figuratively and literally, when I had to pull to the inside of the ring because I was having trouble and needed to get out of their way) and I felt I was holding up the entire class. I felt horrible, and worst of all, it wasn't even fun. I actually counted down how many of these prepaid lessons I'd have to endure before the session would be over and I could go back to not riding.

But it got better. Sure, in the beginning I still had a rough time and felt I didn't belong in the class, and was embarrassed I was riding so poorly when I knew I'd once been capable of so much more, but I did improve. Soon, I started to have fun, and I even looked forward to the lesson every week instead of praying for it to be over. And by the end of that session of classes, I even felt I deserved to be in one of the advanced classes. I told my instructor I was fine if she felt I should move down a level, but she encouraged me to stick with it and so I stayed with the advanced riders for my second session. And for my third. Things were looking up.

But now, based on a schedule change on my part, I moved to another class. It's still advanced (or intermediate/advanced) and for the most part, there's not much of a difference except that we don't jump as much (which does make me kind of sad). Now, however, we have a couple new riders in this class who are not as experienced as the rest of us. They've really struggled, one girl in particular, and I see so much of myself last year in her now. She gets frustrated, surely feels embarrassed for messing up or riding poorly, sometimes has to pull the horse in the center and let us ride around her, feels bad for holding us up, etc.

The only difference is that last year, when I went through that rough patch and wasn't having fun, the other girls in the class didn't offer me any encouragement or even a kind word. I felt like I was totally on my own. So I've made an effort to speak to this girl, tell her when I notice she did something well, or just ask her questions about how it's going, how the ride was, etc. I notice she tends to kind of blame the horse for her problems. I admit to doing this last year, too, thinking "If only they wouldn't keep assigning me the difficult horses!" until I finally had to wise up and accept it was my issue, not the horse's.

I hope she starts having fun in class soon. I also hope she gets her riding muscles back ASAP, because those first few times back in the saddle made for some VERY painful next days, ha. But mostly I believe that if she sticks with it and works on her riding, she can improve, just like I did.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mean Girls

So I had my lesson at Other Barn tonight, and seriously. What is up with the other girls who ride there? Why are they so damn unfriendly (or at least not receptive at all to someone else being friendly)? I'm referring to girls who are probably between the ages of 14 and 17, for the most part. I realize I'm an adult, so they don't exactly view me as one of their peers. But I am at least a young adult and I'm riding right along with them in the lesson program, so it's not like I'm an alien.

I was very shy as a child and young teenager. So okay, I probably wouldn't have walked up to an adult in my riding class and chatted her up. But you know what? If that person approached me and struck up a friendly conversation, asking questions about ME and my riding and my horse, I'd at least respond in a likewise friendly manner. With these chicks, I get nothing. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are still young or socially inept, but come on. Learn how to interact and not be rude!

On my very first lesson at Other Barn, I asked two of the girls a few really simple, duh questions -- "Have you guys ridden here long?" and "Can you tell me something about this school horse I'm riding?" You could hear crickets chirping in the background. I think I saw a tumbleweed roll by. HELLO. Eventually they kind of grunted one-word responses, so at least I knew no one slipped an invisibility potion into my lunch.

After that first ride, I was leading my schoolie into the barn when Girl Rider #1 told me, "Just stop him right there and untack him in the cross-ties." Oh, sweet, someone spoke to me. So I parked my schoolie, took off his bridle and slipped on his halter, and reached for the cross tie. And he flipped out. He practically mowed me down and I was lucky I managed to stop him from either trampling me or running out of the barn. At this point, Girl Rider #2 passes by, watching my entire struggle with him and clearly not even considering trying to help me. "Yeah," she said, "You can't cross-tie him. He flips out." Then she left while I was still trying to calm him down.

WTF. Girl Rider #1 must have known this about him since she'd been riding at Other Barn for years and had logged quite a few dozen rides on this very horse. So what's up with her trying to kill me? When I was a kid, I read those Saddle Club books. You know what I'm talking about. In the beginning of the series, didn't the girls play mean tricks on the new rider? (Lisa? OMG how do I remember these things?) Like they'd give her a bridle without reins or a saddle without stirrups or something and watch her squirm. That is how I felt on that day.

Even after typing all that, for the most part, I really don't think the girls at Other Barn are malicious. I think they're just a little self-absorbed and haven't yet learned how to talk to people. Still frustrating, though.

There was one teenager -- ONE -- out of all the girls I've had lessons with who acted like a human being and smiled back at me and actually joined the conversation. She and I aren't in the same class anymore but she still makes a point to smile and say hi when we pass each other. Other girls I rode with for months take on this stony I-can't-see-you expression when we cross paths in the barn. What's up with that?

It's not like I'm trying to become friends with these girls, or to fool myself into thinking I'm a teenager, too. (Yikes, who would want to relive THOSE years?) I just don't see why we should all be in a class together and not be friendly or support one another. You know?

Man, I feel old. And cranky. No wonder snooty teenage equestrians won't give me the time of day!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Non-Horsey SOs and Stirrupless Triumph

My non-horsey SO came out to the stable with me yesterday to take pictures and meet Mae. He's an excellent photographer but doesn't know anything about horses. I was cantering Mae in the outdoor ring and he was in the middle taking pictures, and once he lunged at us at run to try to get in a better position and I was like " cannot move that quickly around horses!" Mae, bless her heart, seemed pretty sleepy and didn't seem to mind his quick and jerky actions. Freaked me out, though. But he did get some really good pictures, which I wanted mostly to check out my form and how Mae and I look together since the trainer is MIA and I seem to be on my own with Mae. (BTW I hope you don't mind I'm not posting these photos. I feel kind of weird about putting up pictures of Mae because she's not my horse. If she was mine, you'd see pictures galore, but I just feel weird about it so am not posting pics at this time.)

My SO likes animals in general but I can tell he doesn't "get" the horse thing. He did some work on his laptop while I finished up my ride.

When I was a kid, my mom and I were completely into horses and my brother and dad were most definitely not. When Mom and I started yammering on about horses they couldn't get out of the room fast enough. (I also remember once when my oh-so-tough brother came to the stable with me and watched me groom my horse. He stared at her in wonder and was like, "She is just a WALL of hair." And yesterday, my SO looked at reasonably-sized 15.1-hand Mae and was like, "That is one BIG horse." So funny.)

I never liked boring non-horsey relatives with horse talk, but now that I'm into riding again it's so hard not to talk about it. My SO is very sweet and I can tell he tries hard not to let on how boring he finds it all. I just found out by reading The Eventing Percheron that Daun's SO is horsey. How lucky! I can't even imagine.

Anyone else have a horsey spouse/SO? I assume many of us are in the same boat with a non-horsey spouse who does his or her best to smile through our horse chatter.

In other news, yesterday was also the first time I officially trotted around on Mae without stirrups. Every other time I'd abandon the effort from the start when she got weird and off balance and I could envision myself falling off. This time, I stuck with it and trotting around, both posting and sitting. I knew I could do it. It wasn't pretty, but I figure I'll do a little bit every time I ride. I also spent some time in two-point position, which went just fine.

I've got plans lined up for almost every day after work this week, but I'm already antsy to ride again. I'm also realizing that I truly can't do it all. Some of my activities/hobbies are going to suffer. I just can't work full time, go to yoga class regularly, write fiction, ride Mae and have a life all at once. The yoga has been suffering, and I haven't really been writing much, but I'm trying not to pressure myself to do everything at once. Right now, I'm really interested in riding, so I'm going with it!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Taking the Leap

I had a really good ride on Mae the other day. Our cantering is going soooo much better, and I think it's because I'm really carrying over the instruction I'm getting at Other Barn. Of course, before every ride I have a mental list of like three dozen things I need to remember to fix/control/pay attention to in my riding, but then when I'm in the saddle it's so hard to manage any of those things!

Anyway, since our ride went so well, I started thinking of jumping. Mae's owner said she's totally fine if I want to jump her. (Mae's owner might be too trusting, I think, ha.) I'm a beginner jumper. I did some when I was a kid (as in when I was about nine years old!) and in the last year I've jumped low fences in my classes at Other Barn. I'm talking 2' tops. I absolutely love it but I know I'm not experienced and haven't really planned on jumping Mae. There is one jump at her barn and I guess I could set it up at like 12 inches and pop over it a few times. But is even that safe? I still haven't been able to secure the trainer in coming out to give me lessons (ugh, don't get me started). Plus, while I was told Mae jumps and is fine, I don't think the owner has jumped her recently. And it just feels weird and unsafe for me to take a horse I've never jumped and point her at a jump (tiny as it may be) when I'm inexperienced and don't have an instructor on hand. I don't know. Am I overthinking this? I guess I could start with a ground pole (the barn has one "jump" with only one pole) and then raise it so she'd barely have to pick up her feet to go over it. I can't imagine that would be too unsafe if I'm careful, but I don't want to be like one of those asshats on YouTube. :)

In any case, I'm not about to run out and try jumping her tomorrow. I want to spend more time just riding around in two-point position and gaining strength and security. I've been doing a lot of double posting and riding in two-point position, but for some reason riding Mae without stirrups isn't working for me! I can ride the schoolies at Other Barn without stirrups, but when I try it with Mae it's a disaster. One my feet are out of the stirrups and we try to trot, she freaks out. Her head goes up in the air and she starts going super fast and I have to bring her back to a walk so I don't fall off. I guess she can tell I'm tense/unbalanced, or maybe it's the stirrups hitting her sides. (When I pull them up and cross them over her withers, they poke into my legs and I can't trot that way.) I still suspect the saddle is not a good fit for me, but who knows. I just feel that if I can't ride her properly without stirrups, then I have no business attempting even baby jumps.

Anyway, I'm off to the stable soon. I hope you all have a lovely Sunday and get to see your horses!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Getting Off My High Horse

So I'm at work, dutifully fulfilling my 8 million duties, when my cell phone rings. It's the barn manager from Other Barn, saying I can come out and test ride the new horse. Yay! I ran over there right after work and gave him a go.

Let me tell you about this horse. He is huge. HUGE. About 17 hands. For me, that is quite large. I grew up riding a 14.3 hand Arab, and Mae is about 15.1. He is also very forward moving and strong and sometimes feels the tiniest bit like he can snap through the reins like the Incredible Hulk and take off with me at a wild gallop. Hmmm.

But the ride went okay. The first time I cantered him I was kind of nervous, but we pulled it together. We had a few challenging moments but otherwise seemed to work well together. To my surprise, the barn manager was pleased and said I did very well. She told me I'd be a good lease rider for him that I should just keep her updated on my situation. He isn't spoken for at the moment, so maybe I'll get lucky and he'll still be available in the coming months.

I'm going to think about it. I did like him, and I think with some hard work, he and I might make a good team. I think part of me is just a little afraid of his hugeness and speed, so I'm not going to rush into anything. I'm sticking with Mae for now, and maybe I'll decide later in the summer to switch over to the huge Thoroughbred terror. Oh, and he doesn't seem like he'd be an ideal trail horse -- it's hard to imagine trucking along on this mammoth, feisty Thoroughbred through the woods -- so the enticing trails at Other Barn aren't really factoring into my decision here.

So we'll see. For now, I feel grateful for Mae.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

So how do you live on a farm, anyway?

On Monday, I had to attend the weekly big-deal business meeting at work. Since I'm one of the "creatives," I usually am exempt from such meetings, but now that the economy is going down the tubes, I'm required to start going. We learned that we all need to "pull together" and "work really, really hard" so that we don't, you know, "get wiped out in the extensive corporate layoff everyone knows is coming but refuses to admit out loud."

Basically, I spent the first part of the meeting (which lasted foreeeeeeever) thinking about all the work piled on my desk and how I couldn't do it because I was stuck in a room with sales people speaking in acronymns and totally foreign business lingo. Then I switched to thinking about lunch for awhile. After that, I started to daydream about what would happen if I did get laid off (which is unlikely for several reasons).

Then I decided, layoff or no, that something was seriously wrong with my life. Why was I sitting there listening to all this corporate garbage when I could be, you know, living? Yeah, I know, it's not the most original thought, but there's nothing like a bland-yet-pressure-filled business meeting to remind you that working in the corpo world sucks. Hard. The thing is, I don't even hate my job. I often kind of like it. I can be creative, the hours are flexible, and so on. But weekly business meetings like this have a way of changing my perspective.

So I started thinking that what I really want out of life -- what I've wanted since I was a kid, really -- is to live in the country somewhere on enough land to support a few horses. Not a lot. Just two. Or three. Okay, three horses and one draft mule for my significant other. (He is totally non-horsey, but we've decided that if we ever do live out somewhere more rural and I have horses, he's getting a mule and will ride Western. But he will let the mule stop and eat grass whenever it wants. I tried to explain that if he did this, he would never get to ride anywhere at all, but I don't think he cared.)

Why am I not taking steps to do this? I'm a smart person. If I somehow managed to mold my very non-corporate self into a job like this, then surely I can do anything I put my mind to. Right now, the only way I can imagine this happening is if I continue to rack up experience in my field and eventually pursue a freelance career. But freelancing full time would be a lot of work, probably even more than working this office job, and I'm not sure if that is how I envision my rural lifestyle, either.

So the more I thought about it, the more I wondered: How exactly do you go about living on a farm and surviving financially? I know, I know, I'm really exposing myself as the city slicker I am. Do you just suck it up and drive super long distances to get to a "normal" job? Try to get some income from, uh, farm work somehow? (NOT backyard breeding, I hope!) It just seems that with the economy tanking like it is, it would be more difficult than ever to live in a rural environment. Or am I just totally clueless? Well, obviously. But I'd still like to know.

So if you live on a farm (by "farm" I mean even just that you have a stable and your own horses on the property) how do you do it? And do you have any kind of apprentice program that teaches city slicker corpo slaves how to exist down home on the farm? If so, sign me up. I'm willing to trade 15 lanyards covered with various business logos, a box of nice black pens, the stapler from my desk, and about a million paper clips. Deal?

Sunday, June 15, 2008


So after my stunning debut at the schooling show yesterday at Other Barn (haha), the barn manager came up to me. "Good news!" she said. "We finally have a horse that you might be able to lease." Geez. Talk about bad timing, lady.

Since I started riding at Other Barn last year, I put in a request to half lease a horse. This is the first time anything has come up. Of course, I immediately told the barn manager I was already leasing another horse at a different barn. We chatted about Mae for a while and that was it.

But I've been thinking about it ever since and now I'm conflicted. And feeling guilty for feeling conflicted! You see, Other Barn is super close to where I live, a 10-minute drive at most. On nice days I can even ride my bike there. Mae's barn, meanwhile, is at least a 30-35 minute drive away. That's far for me. I'm one of those tree hugger types who takes public transportation to work and tries to walk or bike to the store whenever possible. Since I've been leasing Mae, my car has seen waaay more miles than it has in a long time. Before the lease, I almost didn't care about gas prices because I only had to fill my tank maybe every 4-5 weeks. Now it's more like once a week.

But more than that, Other Barn has way better riding facilities. A huge indoor, nice outdoor, jumps, and awesome trails. (I LOVE trail riding.) So now I find myself pining for a lease at this barn instead of having to drive all the way out to see Mae and ride in so-so rings with limited trail access. And today I went out to ride Mae and I have to tell you -- the drive put me in a really bad mood. Ten minutes in, I was thinking, "I'd be at Other Barn by now!" and it only got worse from there. Besides gas money and guilt over spewing ozone-eating fumes, the drive also eats into my time, which lately I have been scarily protective of.

So obviously, a lease at Other Barn would work better for me. But how can I consider abandoning Mae? She has no one else to ride her this summer. I'm not tied down and can stop the lease at any time, but the thought of her losing the one person who comes out just for her is sad. Almost every boarder I've met at the stable says something to me like, "It's so good to finally see Mae get some attention and exercise." Not to mention my internal dialogue of, "Hey, I even started that blog and named it after Mae. How the heck am I going to explain myself if I ditch her??" LOL.

I know that there is already some interest from riders at Other Barn in leasing this new horse. The lease options go really fast at Other Barn, which is why I feel so sick about this. It took almost a year for this one to become available, and who knows when the next one might come along. I think what I'll do is ask to try out this horse -- I don't even know anything about him, but the barn manager is very careful about matching lease horses to appropriate riders -- and go from there. I won't drop Mae tomorrow or anything, but maybe I could try a lease at Other Barn starting in August or so.

What do you think? Am I horrible for being tempted by this new offer? That's part of leasing that attracted me in the first place, after all...minimal commitment, can stop at any time. But poor Mae. Don't worry, I won't let her go just yet.

So speaking of Mae, I rode her today and it went fairly well. She didn't do any of that weird bit-grabbing like she did last week, so that's a relief.

After we rode in the indoor, I decided to cool her off by taking a walk on the trail. Mae's owner told me that she shouldn't go out on the trail without another horse, but I've come to realize Mae's owner is kind of scared of her. I'm not sure, but I don't think the owner has ever taken Mae on the trail, period. And I feel I'm getting to know her well enough to trust that she won't randomly go batshit once she's out of a ring. So we took a very quick ride through a few fields. She definitely seemed interested and excited to be out in the open. Her ears were pricked and she was bouncing along with quite a long of energy. She spooked once when an animal made some noise in behind us, but other than that was fine. I think I'll try a longer trail ride with her soon (well, as long as we can go...the trails at this stable aren't so hot) and maybe I can even con one of the other boarders into going along with me.

So that's all for now. I'll keep you updated on this lease situation at Other Barn as I get more info. Although I wouldn't be surprised if the horse was already spoken for!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Luck Be an Old Lady

So today was the schooling show at Other Barn. Overall, it was fun and I'm glad I did it, but I still managed to feel kind of humiliated. Or do I mean humbled? No, humiliated. And apparently, I am old. I'm only hovering around the age 30 range, but apparently I am ANCIENT compared to every other rider at Other Barn.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a schooling show only for the stable's extensive lesson program. The riders just have to show up and are handed their groomed, braided, tacked-up horses all ready to go. They get on, compete in the class, and then pass the school horse off to the next person assigned to the horse. So it's obviously not a very big deal show, just a way for the lesson riders to compete in a fun environment.

I already knew going into it that I'd be one of the oldest riders, but oh man. While waiting in line for my number, I was surrounding by nervous giggling little girls who swirled all around me. Fabulous. Then the woman working the booth just stands up and hands me my number. She and I have never met but she knew who I was because all the riders' ages are listed on her sheet. Since I was the only one there over, say, 16, she knew it was me. Yegads!

Actually, there was at least one other adult rider in the intermediate division (my division). But they split up the intermediate riders into two sections, and she was in the other one. Why?? Were they trying to spread the oldness around? Didn't it occur to them that we both might have been more comfortable with another adult rider in the ring? Ah, well.

Oh, and attire. I was also the ONLY one at the entire show who wasn't decked out in full-on show attire. Even the novice riders all had jackets. Excuse my abbreviated language, but WTF? It's not like these girls are going around to the local shows all summer. They only ride at this barn, on these school horses, so this little schooling show is it for them for the summer. I guess their parents run out and buy them full-blown show attire anyway. It boggles my mind. I'm an adult with a job and could easily afford to buy a nice jacket and new breeches, but I don't see the point in buying all that stuff now because, you know, I don't actually show. Anyway, I knew I wouldn't be penalized for not wearing perfect show attire because the stable sent out an email last week discussing what is acceptable attire for this show. I wore dark grey breeches, high boots, and a white polo shirt. I kept my appearance neat and tidy, but I definitely stuck out as the only person in the entire show not wearing a jacket. Or $200 breeches.

But on to the show. First was the walk-trot class. There were a whopping 14 riders in this class. I was riding a school horse who generally is a good old guy, but sometimes he gets really excited and quick and wants to go super fast. We did really well in this class, though, and I was pleased...up until we were walking by the rail on the side near the audience, and a little girl called out in her loud little girl voice: "Mommy, why is that grown up riding with all the little kids?" Ha ha! Yes, little girl. Why indeed.

Anyway, we didn't get a ribbon in walk-trot, but with 6 ribbons and 14 riders I wasn't exactly expecting one. On to equitation, which I was kind of nervous about, because the judge was making everyone go through individual exercises and ride without stirrups, etc. Somehow, though, old Mr. School Horse and I did really well! He was attentive and calm and didn't try to trot at the speed of light or anything. I managed to post without stirrups without wheezing or falling off, and he picked up the correct lead every time (he is famous for often refusing to pick up the left lead). So I was feeling pretty proud of myself, and I knew we did well. We ended up getting third place out of about 10 riders, which I consider pretty darn good. Of course, being a "grown up" has its advantages. During the individual exercises I was able to, you know, listen to the judge and do what she asked me, but I noticed some fo the kids made a few mistakes. Either way, I figure I did pretty well and am happy with the yellow.

Then came the pleasure class, which basically was 10 minutes of me riding around in circles on a turbo-charged horse, just praying for it all to end. I don't know if I relaxed and stopping trying because we did well in the first two classes, or if my schoolie decided he had enough of this "calm, even stride" thing, but we were zooming around there and nothing I tried would slow him down. He also missed the left lead once or twice. I also lost my stirrup once at the canter and that resulted in a really wobbly, off-balanced panicked rush of me trying to get it back without falling off while Mr. School Horse tried to cut through the center of the ring....and this all happened right in front of the judge. Did she see us cantering around perfectly before and after that incident? Of course not! We did not, obviously, get a ribbon in this class.

So three classes and only one ribbon, but since it was a third place in equitation, I'm pretty happy with it. And it was just fun overall. I love (low pressure, schooling) shows, and I wish I could ride in them more. Mae and I have had some tough rides recently, so I'm not trying to get my hopes up in that department, but maybe somehow it can work out.

I know I said I'd give Mae the weekend off, but my upcoming week looks really busy so I think I'll sneak a ride in tomorrow. She's still getting a two day break, so I think that's good enough. I also need to write about the offer that came up at Other Barn today after the show. But that will have to wait until tomorrow because it's Saturday night and I need to go out and have a few drinks and forget just how old I apparently am!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Riding Overkill

I think I overdid it yesterday. I left work early and rode Mae. I forgot to bring my watch, and there’s no clock in the indoor, so I just tried to estimate a half hour for riding and about 10 minutes for a cool down. By the time we left the arena and I could find a clock, I saw we’d been in there for almost an hour and a half. Oops! Poor Mae. I think I need to give her a few days off. She’s been grabbing at the bit and I’m trying to work on that and find out what exactly is going on – if the bit doesn’t fit her or if she’s just tired and cranky. I might have a lesson on her next Tuesday or Wednesday, and I really hope the trainer can look at me and go, “Ah-ha! Here’s what’s wrong, and here’s how to fix it” for absolutely everything I do. (Don’t worry, I’m not deluded enough to think it will be that easy.)

So after riding Mae for way longer than I intended, I grabbed some dinner and then headed over to the Other Barn for my riding lesson. It went really well! I’m so used to riding Mae, though, that it was weird riding a different horse. And I hate to admit it, but he felt so much more solid, balanced and steady than Mae. I guess she and I still have a lot more work ahead of us.

Anyway, I feel all ridden out. I thought it might be fun to make Thursdays my “riding day,” where I go right from Mae to my lesson, but maybe it’s just too much. I didn’t get home till late at night and was exhausted. I’ll give Mae the weekend off, but tomorrow I’m heading back to Other Barn for the little schooling show. Yikes. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Brave Mae

Wow. Can I just say that Mae was awesome yesterday? She had so many reasons to be spooky and jumpy (CRAZY wind, a stallion parading around at the neighboring barn, some scary rattling tarp, and a random herding dog who decided to chase us around the outdoor arena) and she was, for the most part, fine. I was half worried about taking her outside in the wind in the first place, but I'm sick of the little indoor and thought I'd go for it.

I was nervous at first. Mae is by no means flighty, but sometimes she gets to be a bit of a handful and definitely has some spirit. Add that to the fact that I grew up riding Arabs who would prance around on their dainty toes with every breeze, and pull that special type of spook where one second you have a horse under you and the next second she's halfway to Kansas and you're hovering midair like the Wile E. Coyote or something. (I love Arabs, and I LOVED my Arab. But she sure loved to spook.)

But she was fine. By the end of the ride I felt much more confident and I trusted her not to freak out on me. What a good girl.

After I cooled her down and fed her, I turned Mae out in the pasture with her favorite gelding buddy. She doesn't get out every day, so I was happy to see her outside. After I unclipped her lead and watched her canter away so she could eat grass with her buddy, I couldn't stop smiling. It's been a long, long time since I turned out a horse after a ride and watched her playing in the pasture. It brought back a lot of nice memories, I guess.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Love is in the Air

I've noticed from my regular blog stalkings that horses are pairing up left and right. Well, maybe now Mae can join the club. A new gelding recently arrived at the stable. He is GORGEOUS. Dare I say he may now rival Mae for the prettiest horse in the barn? Yesterday, when I took her to the cross-ties right by his stall, they kept trying to nose each other through the bars. Mae often doesn't get along with other horses, so I was touched by their little moment. Of course, her previous boyfriend, a rather homely but sweet old guy, was watching sullenly from his own stall.

I don't know the new gelding's name yet, and I haven't met his owner, but I'm already half hoping that if he and Mae get along, we can take some trail rides together. Mae doesn't do trail rides alone and so far we haven't found a suitable riding buddy. I can only hope she won't figure out that he is challenging her for the title of Most Beautiful Horse in the Barn, because then it'll all go to hell.

In other news, I finally caved and agreed to ride in the schooling show at the stable where I take lessons next weekend. I've always been kind of obsessed with shows, but I was reluctant about this one because I'm half afraid I'll be the only adult. It's only a show for the lesson program, so no outside riders or horses. Since I believe 90% or more of the students are between the ages of like 7 and 14, I didn't want to be that one pathetic grown woman in the bunch. But my instructor told me I was being silly. Actually, what she said when I asked her whether any adults would be riding was: "Oh, sure! Well, um, some really good teenagers at least. 15- and 16-year-olds." Ha ha!

She gave me the option of competing in either the intermediate or advanced division. I chose intermediate after considering whether my instructor was smoking crack. I would probably enter the novice if she'd let me. :) I'll be in the intermediate walk-trot class (which is used as kind of a warm up for nervous kids, I think) equitation and pleasure. I also considered entering a beginning jumping class but decided my jumping skills weren't up for it. I never jumped during my younger riding years and am pretty new at it now. I was also stoked about entering a dressage class, because I think I still have the Training Level Test 1 test memorized from when I was 11 years old, but they decided to scrap the dressage portion and make the show only one day long instead. So anyway, I'm sure I'll have some sort of humiliating show tale for you after next weekend!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Take my stirrups and reins – please!

So yesterday I was riding Mae and we were off to a good start. I actually felt really secure and steady in the saddle. Mae was responsive, had her head down and on the bit, and seemed happy to work with me. I was thrilled. I thought, maybe I’ve been too hard on myself. We’re doing just fine.

Fast forward twenty minutes later, when Mae was rushing around the ring with her head up in the air, flicking her face toward every noise, bird, etc. Her focus just went out the window and suddenly it was like 2pm on the last day or school or something. Sigh.

I keep telling myself that every ride, every opportunity to work her, is a step in the right direction. Before I started leasing Mae, she spent a lot of time standing around her stall, bored and unused. Her owner was very consumed with her job and probably only rode Mae an average of once every two weeks. Mae is only turned out every other day, and usually only for several hours at a time, so this girl needs exercise!

I have also come to the conclusion that I am in dire need of lessons on Mae. I’ve known this from the start but it’s time to make it happen. There is no instructor or trainer at Mae’s stable. I checked with the instructors at the other stable (where I currently take lessons – so I am getting instruction, just not on Mae) but they won’t come out to teach me. They’re pretty tied down to the other facility and teach TONS of lessons, so I guess I understand why they won’t drive all the way out to this other place.

I’m currently in the process of working something out with another instructor. I’ve never had a lesson with him so I don’t know how it will be. I am vaguely dreading it, like he’ll take one look at my riding and declare me an unfit partner for Mae. But that’s not very realistic, right? Right?

What I’d love – maybe not at first, but eventually – is for an instructor to pull out the longe line (lunge, longe? I remember it as longe, but now I see lunge all over the place) and take away my stirrups and my reins. I realized that I haven’t ridden without stirrups AND reins since I was an 8-year-old kid in my first year of lessons. The thought scares the crap out of me, actually, especially since I suspect I rely on my hands way too much. I have ridden without stirrups recently in my other lessons, and I was shocked by how difficult it is. Once again, it comes down to me thinking I know more than I do/am better than I really am all because once upon the time I had a horse and was an avid rider.

You see, when I was younger, I went through a bareback stage. I rode my mare on the trail, galloped up hills, and went around and around the ring at a posting trot, all bareback. I guess I thought my leg strength/balance must have stuck with me from all those years ago. Ha ha. Think again. I tried riding Mae without stirrups once last week and let’s just say it didn’t go well. I am still half-convinced it has something to do with the saddle (excuses, excuses) but I felt so incredibly insecure I stopped and reached for the irons within like 20 seconds.

So anyway, wish me luck on finding a good instructor who is kind enough to not tell me I’m ridiculous for riding Mae and cruel enough to take away my stirrups and reins. And if anyone has any advice or stories about riding sans stirrups/reins, I’m all ears!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Owning vs. Leasing

Since I’m so new to the horse blogosphere, I’m still stumbling on some pretty cool blogs, like Dressage Princess. I found this post by her and can relate since I don’t own Mae. I have a partial lease. This means I get to ride 4 days a week and can choose the days since no one else is leasing Mae. I could technically ride every day if I wanted to, but I’m frankly too busy to take advantage of that situation.

In some cases, maybe leasing isn’t such a great deal – like when you have to pay 100% of the board, vet bills, farrier bills, etc. and then at the end of the day still don’t own the horse. But in my case, it’s pretty good. Here’s my list of pros and cons:


  • It’s super cheap. I pay a very low monthly fee for my partial lease of Mae. I am not responsible for any vet or farrier bills.

  • Equipment is supplied. Mae comes complete with a tack box, grooming supplies, bridle, super expensive saddle, lunge line, lunge whip, and so on. So aside from the occasional misc. item (not to mention carrots and horse treats) I’m off the hook.

  • The freedom to end the lease at any time. I’m not tied down. If I decide it’s not fun, I stop. If I lose my job or fall into a financial crisis, I stop, and I don’t have to worry about Mae not being provided for.

  • Minimal responsibility. Now, I’m not the type of person to shy from responsibility…and that’s exactly why this situation is awesome. I have so much responsibility in every other area of my life that not having much when it comes to riding is pretty sweet.

  • Did I mention it’s cheap? For example, I pay the same amount every month to ride Mae 4x a week as I do for one month of weekly lessons that I take at another stable. That means 4 hour-long lessons = 16 rides on Mae. Crazy!

  • Guilt-free. If I get really busy and can’t ride for nearly a week, I’ll feel bad about not exercising Mae, but I won’t feel bad about all the wasted board money, etc.

  • Land of make-believe. Since I’m the only one riding Mae and her owner isn’t even on the same continent, it’s pretty much like I have a free horse for the summer. I can at least pretend she’s mine for now.


  • No choice of boarding stable. In many ways, Mae’s stable is a great place and I really can’t complain. I’ve been to lots of stables in the area and it seems like most of them are run by asshats and feature dangerous, dirty, and scary conditions. (In fact, last year I turned down an excellent lease situation because the stable was such a train wreck.) This stable is very nice and run by friendly, knowledgeable people. But if I owned a horse, I’d choose a stable closer to where I live, and with better riding facilities. I haven’t done the math, but I’m pretty sure I pay more on gas driving to and from the stable every month than I do on the actual lease.

  • No showing opportunities. I absolutely love horse shows, but I don’t see this an option with Mae. (Of course, if you read this blog you can probably see I’m not ready to be showing Mae, but I’m talking about fun shows, schooling shows, walk-trot classes to start, etc.) The owner hasn’t strictly forbidden me from participating in any shows, but I think I’d feel weird asking. Since I don’t know how I’d work out the trailering issues and since I don’t have any show buddies who could help me, I’m not even going to bother considering it. If I owned a horse, I might try.

  • Limited choice of horse. Let’s face it. Usually, when you lease, you have to settle for the horse that is available. I by no means intend to say that I’m “settling” for Mae. She’s an amazing horse and probably deserves a better rider than me. But if I were buying a horse and came across an ad for Mae, I might pass her by. While Mae is gorgeous and kind of flashy, I’d be fine buying an older horse who might be fugly but who is gentle, steady and wise. I’d recognize that a horse like Mae might do better with a more ambitious or show circuit-oriented rider.

  • That saddle I get to use for free? I don’t think it fits me very well. I’ve looked into buying a cheap or used alternative, but for now I’m trying to make do with a saddle purchased with someone else in mind.

  • Saying goodbye. As of right now my lease is supposed to go through the end of August, with an option to extend if the owner wants to. In any case, Mae and I will have to part ways at some point. And the owner very well might decide to up and sell her, which means goodbye for good. So I better not get attached.

When it comes down to it, I really do want my own horse. But for now, leasing Mae is the perfect option for me. Even though I technically could afford a horse, I’m not ready to buy one – but that’s a post for another time. Right now, I’m happy with my partial-lease of Mae.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Round is a Shape

At this time two years ago, I was in probably the best shape of my life. I was eating super healthy food (and loving it) and getting tons of exercise. The exercise fit in perfectly with my lifestyle and I felt weird if I went longer than a day without exercising (running, biking, yoga, etc.).

And then, a little over a year ago, I got a new job. This job was more corporate, more time-consuming, and definitely more mentally draining. (On the plus side, it was in a field I truly was interested in, paid a heck of a lot more, actually challenged me, came with great perks, and so on.) In that year, I’ve been slowly and steadily gaining weight – at least 10 pounds, maybe 15 or even more. I don’t own a scale so I can’t say for sure, but some of my clothes don’t fit and I can tell just by looking that I’ve chunked up.

Back before I had the new job, I wondered why people with super busy, corporate jobs complained of gaining weight and being too busy to take care of themselves. If you’re that busy, wouldn’t you just not have as much time to eat? Yes, I actually thought that. Now I know that after a mentally draining day at work, it’s way easier to grab a prepared meal than to spend the time and energy cooking something from scratch, which is what I always used to do BNJ – Before New Job.

Plus, my old office was located in the middle of nowhere, so I had to pack my own lunch or go hungry. Now, I’m surrounded by vending machines, cafes, grab-n-go lunch places, etc. And even though I still have almost as much free time as I did while working my other job, it seems to be harder to make myself get out there and go for a jog, or a bike ride, or the yoga studio. What’s up with that?

I started riding again roughly around the same time I started my new job. I remember, even back then when I was lighter, that I wanted to lose some weight for the sake of the horses and my own fitness and riding. Not only has this not happened, but I’ve been gaining weight.

I could definitely stand to drop about 20 pounds. Maybe 25. Maybe more? This might not sound like a whole lot, but it’s still a significant amount of weight and I think it could make a difference in my riding. I don’t think I’ll suddenly be blessed with perfect equitation and balance if I drop 25 pounds, but it can’t hurt. And now that I’m riding Mae I want to be good to her – and that means not putting extra weight on her.

This is all easy to say, and it’s something I’ve been telling myself for a long time now. The question is, can I actually make it happen?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bad Habits

Yesterday's ride went fairly well. I can definitely see improvement in just the short amount of time I've been riding Mae. Her balance is still a little iffy when cantering clockwise, and I think it's because I stiffen up and get nervous. She has a very energetic, fast canter, and I tend to worry she's running away from me. I need to remember that I can bring her back to a more controlled pace, just like when she tries to go super fast at the trot. The only difference is that when I feel a really fast canter, I tend to panic because it takes me back to Charlie, the very first pony I rode. Charlie was great, but every now and then when cantering he'd decide to take off at a gallop and refuse to stop. He'd go around and around the ring (while I pulled back on the reins, sawed on the reins, yelled WHOA and basically panicked and made everything worse) until he typically stumbled on a turn and I'd go popping off. So I guess you can say I'm sometimes still worried about having a horse take off with me at the canter.

Anyway, one of my worst bad habits is leaning forward as Mae starts to canter. When I ask for the transition, whether from the walk or trot, she really lunges into it full-force like she's trying to chase down Big Brown or something. She takes several fast strides and then literally lunges into the canter. It's kind of awkward and I assume this somehow must be my fault. It certainly doesn't help that I often end up leaning forward to urge her into the canter. I try my best to sit back, but during her "lunging" moment it feels like she might just go faster and faster without breaking into a canter, and so without trying I end up leaning forward until she canters and then sitting back again.

I know this can't be good, and I'm trying to break myself of it. It doesn't help that often, in the split second before I ask her to canter, a little voice in my head says, "OMG this is the time you're going to fall off her!" It's worse when we're going clockwise, and again, I think it's because of me and because I'm psyching myself out in that direction. This is definitely something I'll be working on a lot this summer.

My other bad habits include letting my fingers become too loose on the reins, sometimes shifting my outside leg back when there's really no reason to do so, stiffening my arms, focusing too much on one spot instead of having "soft eyes" and probably a million other things.

What about you? What are some of your worst riding habits?