Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rough Patch

I'm going through a rough patch with my riding. At first I thought it was because the show is over and I don't have anything specific to work toward. Yeah, working on certain aspects of my riding so as not to embarrass myself in the show ring gave me direction, but my riding has never been driven by showing. (Hello, in like 12 or whatever years total of riding I've done in my life, I've been in a grand total 4 shows.)

My current not-so-hot riding might be a reflection of feeling stressed and worn down in my other life. I haven't been doing the things that previously mattered so much to me -- writing (fiction) and yoga. I admit it, riding more and getting more involved in general horse care is taking time away from other activities, ones that make me feel whole. I need to find a balance. Or quit my job and convince my SO to support me. Just kidding. Kinda. (It's amazing how fast my young feminist self who declared she would NEVER rely on a man or have him support her changes when the day job starts wearing her down...ha.)

Anyway, there are other factors, too. Sometimes I compare my childhood/teen years with horses to what I have now, and obviously it's very different. Back then, my mother and I would travel through beautiful rolling-hill landscapes to get to the stable, where our horses would be frolicking outside in a big pasture...then we'd tool around, maybe go for a trail ride, just ride around and explore and have fun.

I don't have the opportunity to do any of that stuff now. I ride in the ring and the ring only, working mostly on dressage and sometimes a little on jumping. There are no opportunities to go out for a hack. There are trails, but Marve has been declared non-trail safe, and frankly he isn't the horse I'd want to ride alone out on the trails with anyway. (More on that soon.) The stable doesn't even have pastures, and sometimes it feels like a factory, what with the dozens of young girls coming in and out to ride, almost everyone focused on dressage and getting ready for shows. It's just not the bucolic horsey life I envision for myself.

Plus, there's some fear. Maybe it's the cold weather, but Marve has been downright scaring me sometimes when I ride him outside. He's bolted, he's bucked, he's spooked hard enough to freak me out. I haven't fallen (dare I say yet) but it's gotten to the point where I only ride him inside now. He's fine inside, but sometimes I start thinking, "What if he freaked out right now, just like he did on Sunday when we were outside, but this time he slams me into the arena wall?" These thoughts are not good, I know, but I can't help having some fear creeping in. It just takes one bad bolt or buck to remind you that these animals are powerful and can freaking kill you with one misstep.

Don't worry, I'm not going to stop riding or anything like that. And really, I am happy with this lease -- happier than I was with the one with Mae (though I do miss her, sweet girl). I figure this experience is just another step in the direction of my figuring out exactly what I am looking for, horse-wise, so when the day comes that I feel settled and ready and financially secure enough to buy my own horse, I'll know exactly what to do.

Happy riding, everyone.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I Feel Like She's Judging Me

Whoa, where'd I go? What happened? Sorry bout that. But I am here now to blog about the show!

The Day Before:
I got at the stable as early as I could, thinking I'd ride, clean the tack, braid and get home within a reasonable amount of time. Ha! Well, first I rode. We did not have a very good ride and I think I was just trying to go through the motions and give him enough exercise so he wouldn't be a raging beast at the show. At this point I was exhausted and just not in the mood to work on any more stirrupless exercises and or any of that stuff. Which I think is okay.

After I rode and cooled him off, the barn owner told me there were several school horses who didn't have riders that day, so would I mind riding a few of them? Well, okay. So I rode two school horses, and even though I only meant to go about 30 minutes on each, the whole process ended up taking nearly two hours.

After that, I started cleaning tack. As I cleaned, all the stable girls were going on and on about the showmanship class and how everything had to be perfectly, disgustingly clean. This is about when I knew I shouldn't have entered showmanship. Marve's bridle is old and crappy and I was cleaning the heck out of it, but it still didn't look so hot. And how in the world could I get his gray coat shiny enough for the judge? I had been under the impression that showmanship was as much about how you handled the horse as the appearance...but apparently, in this show, it almost all comes down to appearance. And I'm just not into that. So I knew it was a mistake but it was too late.

Anyway, after cleaning the tack I washed Marve's legs and tail and groomed the heck out of him. I have to say, by the time I was done he looked pretty darn good. He was practically glowing, he looked so white.

Then I set about braiding his mane. Even though sometimes practicing didn't always feel like it was getting me anywhwere, I'm so glad I spent all those late nights at the barn braiding. At the least, I had a set plan in my head of how exactly I was going to braid, and I wasn't going to deviate from it. The braiding went so much more quickly than I had expected, and I think I did a fairly decent job. Nothing spectacular, but surely enough to get by in this little show (or so I thought).

Even with the relatively painless braiding experience, it was still really late when I finally left the barn. I was exhausted and just wanted to go home, have a pumpkin beer, and fall asleep.

Show Day: I dutifully arrived at the barn at the agreed upon 1.5 hours before my class. I entered Marve's stall and was pleased to see his face and front legs seemed just as glowingly white as they had the night before. Then I took off his blanket and discovered a HUGE splotch of manure and dirt. Argghgh!

I started currying and currying and used some special cleaner stuff to try to get the dirt out. I must have been delirious from the exhausting day before, because when I was all ready to go into the showmanship class, I felt relatively confident that he looked good. His braids had stayed in and I had gotten rid of the brown spot (or so I thought). It was time for showmanship. Piece of cake! Right?

Showmanship: Oh dear lord. What a disaster! I guess it could have gone worse. Like, I guess Marve could have had explosive diarrhea all over the judge. Or I guess I could have had explosive diarrhea all over the judge. I don't think we did anything right. The first thing I had to do was lead Marve through super simple pattern, get him to trot a little, stop, and then back up before we took our place in line for "the inspection." I had practiced this stuff so wasn't concerned at all.

Well, clearly I should have been. While walking through the pattern, Marve started rubbing his head on me. Okay, so I got him to stop that. Then he decided he would not trot. AT ALL. And this is something I did work out with him to the point where I thought it would be easy. But not only would he not trot, but he jerked his head up and I almost lost the reins. Then, when I tried to back him up, he briefly bolted out to the side and I again almost lost the reins.

I lined him up to wait for the others to finish so the judge could come inspect everyone's grooming. I was super embarrassed. Obviously I would not get a ribbon in this class, and I just wanted it to be over. But as I stood there, trying to look nonchalant like I didn't just humiliate myself (everyone else was perfect, by the way) I noticed that the manure spot had magically reappeared on Marve's side! WTF? I think the lighting in the barn must be different from the lighting in the arena, because it was totally visible in there. Ugh.

But I didn't even get to wait out the failure in peace. When the judge got to us and conducted her "inspection," I thought she'd take pity on my already dismal performance and leave me be. Um, no. She started harping on the fact that Marve's bridle didn't look clean enough (I swear, I scrubbed and polished that bitch like no's an old crappy bridle), I didn't have the right kind of helmet (wtf???), his braids could be better, and, of course, he had a faint manure stain on him the size of Texas.

I felt like a little kid being scolded for a loose pigtail or something. I know it's my fault because I decided to enter this class, and I clearly didn't prepare to the extent I needed to, but it just seems silly to me. Sure, you should have your horse looking his best on a show day, but I personally don't find it worth my time to kill myself getting him to look ridiculously perfect all for a class where you stand there and judge circles you, searching for stray hairs. I also wasn't expecting the other girls to be soooo serious about this class. They were really into it. Me? Not so much.

When they finally announced the last ribbon winner, I was more than happy to get Marve the heck out of there and focus on my "real" classes.

Equitation: After showmanship, I mounted and got to warm up a little more before my advanced equitation class. At this point, I started to get really nervous. I watched some of my competition and felt pretty discouraged...a lot of these girls are very, very good. I felt so out of place and decided I probably should have just done intermediate again. At the last show, the advanced class had to do some pretty serious moves, and I just didn't know if I could cut it. Plus, the judge this time apparently was being harder on everyone and challenging them more than the judge at the show a few months ago. What if I couldn't control Marve? What if I fell off? I was really starting to stress. My last words to my SO before riding into the ring were, I believe, "I don't want to do this!!"

It was a big class for the arena, about 12 riders. And somehow, Marve and I didn't totally suck! He didn't run away from me. I didn't do anything stupid. I was nervous and couldn't get him to bend/relax/stretch, which stunk, but that was it. And while I did have to do some exercises without stirrups, it wasn't anything nearly as difficult as what I had been practicing on my own. So when the judge called for us to line up, I was like, "Already?" I couldn't believe she didn't throw anything trickier at us. Also, that I stayed on. :)

I still wasn't expecting a ribbon, because I don't have the best equitation in the world and assumed I couldn't compete with those girls. But I got 5th place! Awesome. Maybe all my practice paid off, after all. I know 5th might seem lame to some people, but trust me, in that class and with that many people, I was thrilled with it.

Pleasure: I was just relieved equitation was behind me, but I should have been more concerned with this class. This is where Marve and I lost our shit. I don't know if he finally got wound up from cantering around the small ring with all those horses or what, but he became a nutcase. During one of the first cantering sessions, he started to run away with me. Oh, joy. I will never forget that powerful surge in his shoulders/neck and he started to take off. Fab-u-lous.

I turned him in a circle and managed to prevent us from, you know, dying, but he was all excited. I had to canter him in practically a 10 meter circle to get him to calm down. Thankfully, we were asked to trot again, which was a relief. Then we switched directions and started cantering again almost immediately, and he tried to run off with me again. He ran right up behind another horse, and I didn't have room to turn him across because another horse was already we were basically in a three-way traffic jam and Marve did not want to stop. I managed to pull him into a trot, thank god, and would have stayed trotting even if the they hadn't called for a downward transition anyway. Then, a minute later, we were told to canter again. Usually they only ask for a canter once in a direction, so what was the deal?? Well, we had a few normal strides of cantering, so I thought things were cool, but then a little girl in the audience made a sudden move and Marve spooked to the inside of the arena. I held on desperately and was mostly okay and kept my balance, but my shirt came untucked and my jacket flew up a little so I think it's possible I exposed my tummy.

Anyway, not long after that the evil pleasure class was over. Do I really need to tell you whether I got a ribbon? I'm just lucky I didn't die.

So overall, not an exactly encouraging show report. Despite the disasters that were showmanship and pleasure, I really am not that upset with it. Overall, Marve was okay, and even when he freaked out in pleasure I managed to bring him back under control. So it's not hopeless.

I have to say that I really don't "blame" Marve for anything. I truly think it's my weaknesses as a rider that contribute to these problems. I have no doubt that a better, more confident rider would have gotten better results in the show with him than I did. But I am doing my best, I'm working hard, and that is all I can ask for.

Positives: Learning to braid, realizing showmanship (or "extreme grooming" as I now call it) is just not for me, handling the stirrupless stuff like a pro, and getting 5th in equitation. Yay me! I think I deserve a cookie.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Out of My Gourd

My SO said my pumpkin beer bowl idea would result in beer that tastes horrible.

"Maybe you could line the pumpkin with something," he says.

"How about beer?" I say.

"Or maybe you could use a real ladle," he suggests.

Yeah....or how about one made from a gourd?

At this point he totally abandons his gentle approach and says: "Why not just go all out and mull it into a warm, skunky, pumpkin-rot brew?"

Whatev!!! I'd drink it. And it would rule. Also, I'd add some toasted pumpkin seeds on the top for decoration.

Everyone knows visionaries have to suffer from others putting down their ideas and saying it will never work. You just have to be strong and stick to the plan. And my plan = pumpkin beer bowl extravaganza!

Also, the little schooling show happened, so no more of my whining about it. Huzzah! I am tempted to call it a disaster, but a disaster would entail me falling off or getting hurt (or getting someone else hurt) which thankfully didn't happen. But we came close!

Naa, it wasn't a total failure, and I had fun, but I also had moments of terror and shame. Oh, the terror and shame. What else should I expect from a schooling show? Update coming soon!

ETA: I am fully aware that my pumpkin beer bowl idea very likely already exists. But I choose not to google it for fear that I will see it executed in reality even better than what I had imagined. For now, I will stay in the dark. When I feel strong enough, I will look it up and see what's out there. No one ever said visionaries had to do their research, right?

ETA #2: BTW I have made a conscious decision to use "google" as a verb. My SO isn't a huge fan of that trend, either, but I've decided to go with it. I should add that he is very supportive in other areas...he followed me around all day at the show with a damp rag to wipe away Marve's drool and once, he even shoveled away the poop when Marve lost it for the 9th time in the aisle. He's a good fellow, that SO. Just needs to be more open-minded when it comes to all things pumpkin. And NOW I return to doing actual work at my job. Hopefully.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I Turn to Pumpkin Crafts in Times of Stress

I'm sitting here drinking a Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale (shoutout to Daun!) and trying to unwind from my uber stressful last few days. I don't write about my personal life on here much, but the last few days have been very trying for me. Family issues. I don't really feel like getting into it, but I've been anxious and worried and stressed for two and a half days straight. Thankfully, I got some relief tonight, and I think things will be okay. But it really put everything into perspective, and I can't say I'm freaking out over the show anymore...what happens will happen!

As for the beer, I like it. It wasn't love at first sip, but it is spicy and more pumpkiny than some of the others I've tried. There's still a few more for me to try before the season is up, so maybe I'll have a verdict by then. Idea! How cool would it be at a Halloween party to fill a huge hollowed-out pumpkin with pumpkin beer and serve it with a gourd ladle? Or is that just me?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen (or Braiders in the Barn)

My braiding practice has been frustrating not just because I never have the time to actually braid the whole mane, but also because I keep getting conflicting advice and therefore am continuously starting over. First, I started braiding one way, but a girl came and gave me advice for doing it another way. The braids looked different with her way of tying them off, but they were tighter, so I thought that must be good. So I scrapped my first attempts and started braiding the new way. Then someone else came and showed me how to do it in a way that was similar to my first technique. Every time this happened I felt like my previous practice was no good and I had relearn it. Ahhh!

But I have made a decision to stick with the original way. Besides being slightly easier for me (I admit it!) it also just looks better with Marve's mane. So even if the braids aren't as tiny and tight-looking as others, I figure a neat-looking appearance is better than really tight and crooked.

It is still so hard, though. I can see why so much practice is necessary. And I can tell you that I'm looking forward to the show being over so I can stop spending late nights braiding at the barn, or obsessing over how I'm possibly going to get him clean enough for showmanship. My life seems to have been consumed by this teeny little show. I'm driving a million miles to the tack shop again today to pick up some last minute supplies, and I'll probably try to practice braiding again if I have time. It will be a relief when it's all over and I don't need to freak out about a stain on his coat.

The stains are still there, by the way, and I fear they will be there on show day, too. This is a struggle for me, because at heart I am a perfectionist. I want to be able to make him totally clean and glowing for show day. I'm willing to put in the work. But I a) probably won't have enough time and b) seem to lack the ability to get a gray horse clean.

Well, despite my excitement (I can't believe the show is only days away now!) I also can't wait until I can relax after Saturday and it's all over.

Oh, on the plus side, the stirrupless exercises are still going falling off! I hope that means my heart won't explode with terror at the show when the judge tells us to lose the stirrups and start cantering around.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I am so stressed and overwhelmed. I have a ton of high-pressure work projects coming up, with no end in sight. I'm going to a few writers' groups and trying to push myself to write more. I've totally been neglecting any and all domestic duties, so the place is a mess and my SO has been doing all the cooking. And it seems that every time I go to the stable, it magically takes me longer and longer to even just groom Marve or tack him up. I haven't had time to practice braiding; between grooming his filthy gray coat, tacking up, riding, cooling him down, hosing him off, cleaning him up, sweeping the aisle, etc. etc. the stable is about ready to close for the night. But I still desperately need to practice braiding.

The show is coming up next weekend (or this weekend, since I seem to be writing this after midnight on Sunday night) and I'm just starting to realize how crunched for time I'll be on show day. Even though I'm not competing until the afternoon (pre-beginner, beginner, intermediate classes go first) this is going to be a very busy show (they're opening it up for the first time for outside people to trailer in), so riders/groomers aren't allowed to show up until certain times. I can't come to start cleaning Marve and tacking him up until an hour and a half before my ride time. This seems ridiculous to me, but there's going to be so much activity, so many horses being moved around, and so many spectators that they want to keep things as structured as possible. I can come out the night before to wash him, braid him, etc, but lord knows he's going to be a mess by the time the afternoon of show day comes along. Not to mention that I also need to clean all his tack the night before the show....I just don't know how I'm going to have time to do all this.

On the plus side, I can get Marve to trot in hand now. And I've been working on some possible exercises the judge might make us do in equitation without stirrups. Even though I have ridden Marve without stirrups before, for some reason I was so scared that if I tried a certain exercise at the canter without my stirrups, I'd fall off. This weekend I spent nearly an hour riding around, trying to get up the courage to ask for a canter w/out stirrups while doing this exercise. When I finally did it and he started cantering, I realized, oh, this isn't hard at all! It's actually way easier to canter this without stirrups than to deal with his bouncy trot!

Of course, the second time I tried it without stirrups, I couldn't get him to stop cantering. That will go over nicely in the show during the individual exercises!

I am still set for the advanced division, which still makes me nervous. But at least I will be competing with older teens and adults (and, apparently, some outsiders trailering in) instead of kids. And I keep reminding myself that there is a difference between feeling embarrassed for not being able to execute all the elements perfectly and getting hurt. So maybe I won't get a ribbon all day, but so what? At least I'll (hopefully) learn a lot.

That's not to say that I don't still feel so old. I should have learned to do all this stuff -- braiding, what to do in a showmanship class, and so on -- when I was a teen, not now as an adult. But I guess you have to learn some time, and if I ever want to go to shows one day when I own a horse, it's good I learned now.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Testing, Testing

This week I went through a "mock show" with Marve. We were alone in the arena and I went through the basic motions of the classes we'll be entering. So basically, we just walked, trotted, and cantered large. I worked on my sitting trot, which is getting better. Then we worked on some simple patterns, both with and without stirrups, for equitation.

You might think it's good I'm practicing, but this process ended up making me feel frustrated. Marve felt like he was going a million miles an hour. When he goes large, he gets fast. It's nothing I can't handle but I know it's going to be a problem in the show when he runs up behind other horses. And here he was going that fast when we were alone! By the end, after cantering, I had a difficult time pulling him back to a trot and then a walk in a timely fashion. That is going to be a problem for equitation.

I'd like to stress that I'm so nervous about this show not because I'm worried about which ribbon I'll get. I couldn't care less about that. (And frankly, since I'm riding in the advanced division now, I don't even expect to get a ribbon at all.) My concerns are entirely safety related. What if I can't slow him down and he freaks out the other horses? What if he freaks out himself? What if I freak out and am not riding very well and I contribute to this big mess? I just want to get through this show and be safe without falling off, running into another horse, or causing an accident.

And yeah, I know entering a pleasure class and equitation class at a schooling show isn't exactly rocket science. But I actually wish this could be a dressage show, instead. Then we'd be riding alone and riding a test with circles, etc. which Marve is way better at than just being allowed to run around the full arena and get all fired up.

Oh, and braiding. I practiced a few times, but still haven't done the entire mane because I haven't had the time. I finally understand the technical side of braiding, which trust me, is a big step. Before I was like, "Is yarn really necessary? Why do I need some little hook thingy to pull the yarn through? Pfffft." So at least I know the basics of how to do it, but now I am struggling with stuff like getting the braids tight enough, keeping them spaced evenly, and so on.

The first time I tried braiding, I ended up totally tangled up in yarn. Each hand felt like it consisted of 5 thumbs and I could not for the life of me get a hold of the yarn to braid it in. Thank goodness one of the teenage girls noticed and was nice enough to come over and show me a simpler way of getting organized to start braiding the yarn. It helped immensely. Yay teenage girl!

The reactions from the other teenagers have been pretty funny. One girl stopped and watched me for a moment, and I explained this was my first time braiding and I was just trying to practice. She said, "Oh, you're doing great! Most of the braids you'll see in this show are pretty bad...yours right there already look like they could be some of the best. You have nothing to worry about."

So I felt a little puffed up and proud about that...until later, two girls on completely separate occasions came up to me. It went like this:

It's my first time braiding, so I obviously don't know what I'm doing. But I'll work on it.
Girl: Hey, it's not too bad. As long as you're not entering showmanship, you'll be fine!
Me: Actually, I am entering showmanship.
Girl: ........Oh.

Haha! Gotta love the stable girls.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Happiest Summers

I'm taking a break from my typical worrying over the schooling show (brief update: I apparently am capable of maneuvering three parts of hair into a braid; making it pretty, however, is something else) to reminisce a little over some of the best summers of my life. When I look back, these are the three summers that stick out in my mind:

The summer after college graduation. After I got my degree I took off on a backpacking trip around the western states and Canada. It was a blast! I went by myself, lived off spaghetti and peanut butter, stayed in youth hostels or crashed with long-lost friends, met awesome people, hiked in national amazing summer, all around. This was my last "free" summer before starting my first professional job, which was all lined up in an East coast city with an autumn starting date. So I had the freedom of traveling around like a wandering hippie, but the security of knowing I had a stable, professional job with a 401k waiting for me when I was done traveling.

The summer I was 16. This was the year my friends and I all got our driver's licenses and discovered we could do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. This was basically just a happy time of girlie friendships and good old-fashioned fun. It was also the last summer before my mother's cancer diagnosis, so in many ways it was my last carefree one.

The summer I was 11. This was the year my mom started to trust me riding on the trail without her. (She was very protective and safety-conscious when it came to riding.) So for that summer, I partnered up with a slightly older girl named Trudy and her saint of a quarter horse, Domino. We hit the trails together, explored, and had an amazing time. For me, it was a novelty to be out on horseback without my mom's protective watch. And there was something so deliciously grown up about being dropped off at the stable to groom, tack up and take care of my horse truly all on my own.

I look back at these summers and notice the theme of freedom and independence. I can still remember the thrill of moments in my childhood/teen years when I realized I did not have to rely on anybody else, but could just do what I wanted. Like when I was 12 and on vacation with my family. I really wanted to go ice skating, but no one would take me, and I realized the rink was within walking distance of our hotel and I could just go on my own! Or when suburbs-raised me stayed with a family member in a more urban area for a few weeks, and I figured out that (gasp!) I could take the public bus instead of relying on adults to drive me around. Every time something like that happened I had a little epiphany that this was my life and I could handle things on my own.

I think I'm doing a pretty good job of carrying that independent spirit into my current life. And that includes the three loves represented in those summers past: horses, good friends and an adventurous, exploring spirit.

And yes, it does kind of depress me that since that first post-college summer, I've been hard at work in an office job every summer since. I wish I had the calling to be a teacher, because that would be sweet. But I can't complain about my life, and right now I feel pretty grateful for all that I have.

Even if I do suck at braiding.

Monday, October 6, 2008


I seem to be having trouble getting back into a consistent blog posting mode. Maybe it's because my riding hasn't been going so well lately. There's nothing particularly wrong, things just aren't going as well as I'd like. Plus, my instructor just told me she thinks I belong in the advanced division in the show, not intermediate. While I'm glad she thinks I'm up to that level, I haven't exactly been feeling it myself. This puts new pressure on me, and it means I can expect some individual patterns without stirrups in the equitation class. I've been practicing without stirrups and I feel secure, but it doesn't look pretty. Also, I haven't had time to work on trotting in hand for showmanship, and also haven't had much progress getting Marve to chill out and not rush up to the horses in front of him.

Oh yeah, and I haven't practicing braiding yet, either. The barn owner overheard me telling someone I've never braided a mane and I thought she'd have a heart attack. She said I better start practicing like, yesterday. So tonight I'm going to the stable to start braiding. They are telling me to use yarn? That seems weird to me...won't yarn be too bulky? I thought it was more like thread or skinny yarn, but what they showed me was regular old yarn. So I clearly am clueless and am going to search around online for good braiding instructions before I give it a go. If you have any tips or resources, please post! I'm guessing I section off his mane first with rubber bands, then braid and start braiding the yarn in right away or halfway down? Then pull it through and tie it off? See, I am clueless. I will read about it and hopefully get an idea of how this works.

Bottom line, I don't feel ready for this show and there are only a few weeks left. But as long as I don't fall off or take out half the horses in the ring with a galloping Marve, I guess I'll be happy. And hey, being in the advanced division might severely limit my ability to get a decent ribbon, but at least I might not be riding around with 11-year-olds!