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When I Go

There has been another tragic death in the equestrian community, a life taken doing what she loved – this time an Australian eventer. I didn’t know this young woman personally, but I know who she likely was at the core of her being – someone who had such passion for horses and this sport that she pushed herself every single day. Someone I can relate to. As I read the comments on a Facebook page lamenting this loss, it was a mix of “this sport is too dangerous” to “she died doing what she loved most.” I choose the latter. Which inspired this piece. 

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When I Go

When I go let it be with no regrets. Let it be with a sense of risk and reward, living life to the fullest and without fear.

When I go let it be due to pushing myself to those limits I may not have thought possible. Let it be with a sense of accomplishment and belief in myself that I could achieve all I once thought unattainable.

When I go please be proud. Proud that I tried and at times succeeded and at times failed. Proud I gave it my all every time out.

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When I go let it be with love. Let those who care about me celebrate my life, my passion, my commitment. Let them never wonder if I led a complacent life, wishing I would have done more.

When I go let there be no question I did my best. Never ask if I wanted it too much, because that is not in my vocabulary.

When I go please know the answer is yes – yes I loved with all too often reckless abandon. Yes I knew the danger. And yes, I choose the freedom which comes with it.

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When I go do not let them mourn. Instead let me inspire. Inspire to greatness, in whatever form it may take.

When I go do not place blame. Do not think of what may have been if only. Instead know it was from you I drew the strength to believe in myself to try and for that I am forever grateful.

When I go hold him close. Cherish him the way I have. Keep him safe and love him with a full heart, as he is a part of me.

When I go, let me be with my horse.

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Free-range your pony kid

 

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Jorge enjoys a dandelion snack from Leah

When I was a kid we were basically like free-range chickens at the barn. Our parents dropped us off early in the morning and we spent the day pecking all around the farm – looking for ponies to ride, horse shows to put on, trainers to annoy and junk food to eat – so what if we weren’t exactly the organic kind. Then at night they would pick us up, put us back in our respective coops at home so we could sleep, then do it all over again the next day.

It was pony kid bliss.

Maybe it wasn’t fair to our trainers – the barn isn’t exactly a day care – but instead of complaining they just put us to work sweeping, watering, picking rocks and (half heartedly) cleaning tack for the promise of french fries from McDonalds.

When I look back on my horsey life, those same chickens are still my best friends to this day. Those little girls whom I challenged to bareback match races and ran amok through Ledges or Lamplight are the same women in my life now using a pool stick for a limbo bar on a Saturday night out.

Among these women many have their own budding pony kids now, who range from ages 4 – 16. What I appreciate the most – and why I sincerely enjoy having their children around – is their same approach to free-range barn parenting. A few of these women are trainers themselves. More of them grew up working just as hard as I did to excel at our chosen sport. Other pony mom friends came to this late in life or don’t ride at all but understand the inherent value in supporting this immensely expensive habit.

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20+ years later, pony kids still show together

You could have knocked my 16 year old self over with a feather if you told her that eventually she would willingly pass up rides on her very own horse to watch a kid trot his legs off for hours. You might have needed to call 911 had you suggested I would ever buy a horse that was all around “useful” rather than frothing at the mouth with wild eyes but could jump a mountain. You most definitely would have stopped my heart to even suggest that one day I would be yelling about tack getting cleaned and horses being properly brushed before the two-legged horse show reconvened next to the barn.

Watching two young ladies in my life delight in taking turns riding my green, yet steady-eddy Reno last weekend was the best time I had not riding in a long while. They both rode with a saddle, then without, and nearly an hour and a half later, I finally pried the reins from their hands. However, they quickly went missing and were found dragging my broken thoroughbred in from the pasture to make him “dance” and traipse through an orange cone course strewn across the indoor.

I love having these horse-crazed teens & pre-teens around because I clearly see myself in them. I want them to have every experience that I had, every opportunity I was afforded, every victory and disappointment and struggle realized.

What these parents know, and what I didn’t realize for many, many years is that we learn significant and invaluable life lessons being afforded the chance to be a free-range pony kid.

I learned early on how to do things for myself, or devise a way to get it done. If my pony held its head up and I couldn’t get a bridle on, I had to find a stool or stand on a trunk – no one was going to do it for me, that was a given. Unless I couldn’t remember where I left my bridle the day before… which was a regular occurrence and meant halters & lead ropes for me!

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Six year old Emmeline on Reno

I discovered that sometimes no matter how hard you work, you still get dumped in the dirt. It is in those times you have to pull it together and literally get back on the horse. And in my case, you better not cry in front of your trainer unless something was broken or you’d be getting back on without your stirrups.

I found out that my parents weren’t going to protect me from myself and shield me from criticism around every turn. When I didn’t do something right, or I wasn’t paying attention, I got yelled at. And never once did my mom intervene to make it easier on me because that’s life. In return, I wanted to become a good rider for me, always trying to do my best to live up to my high expectations.

I learned if you tried hard, practiced a lot and never said no to a new opportunity, you got to do totally awesome things. For me, it was (and still is) an incredible compliment from someone if you were asked to ride their horse, and particularly if you had the chance to show it for them. I’m in awe of horses and I can rattle off hundreds, if not thousands, of rides I’ve had in the past 35 years from people who trusted me enough with their pride and joy.

There will be times when you have given it your all but it wasn’t good enough. And that you cannot under any circumstance let that defeat you. When I had a bad show, or even just a bad lesson or ride at home, it never made me want to quit. (Though from time to time there may have been temporary pouting or anger – I never said I was perfect.) Instead, my resolve became stronger and I worked harder to overcome the issue to gain whatever skill or level I want to reach. It is why I love being an equitation queen!

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Pony moms like mine can’t help but to find  pony kids in need at shows!

I want all the kids that come to the barn to have this experience, to learn these lessons, to try and fail and try and succeed. And to have more fun than they could ever imagine.

I want to see them ride the ponies and horses for hours. Then do it again. And again. I love seeing them give each other lessons or playing (safe) games on horseback. I want to kick the two-legged horse show to the other end of the arena so I can hack. I feel the need to have a gaggle of 4’ minions surrounding our horses at the in-gate, learning how to post for a class, wipe boots, tell each other their courses and be good ambassadors for our barn – whether they are showing that weekend or not.

I want the parents to back off – let the trainers train, let the kids run free and ignore the dirt, bumps and bruises. I want them to feign ignorance at tears of frustration just one time and watch their child start to blossom into a determined and resourceful young woman or man. I need non-horse parents to understand that us horsey kind are kindred spirits and we won’t let anything happen to your child, trust us. You can watch your child ride, but do it from the lounge behind closed doors or put duct tape on your mouth if you can’t keep it shut! Let your kid learn how I did – through the school of hard horse knocks.

Because there is no Participation Award (or there shouldn’t be) when it comes to riding horses. You show up to become a better version of your self for you and your horse – he’s counting on it.

So who would have guessed that I would ever love kids. Certainly not anyone who knew me as a terrible teen. Still, I’m doing my best to pay back all the great experiences I had to these pony kids so that they do the same some day. It seems the least I can do to instill responsibility, respect and determination in them, as we share this passion for horses.

Finally, I’m asking parents of all types to put some faith in those your child looks up to at the barn – the trainers, the teens, the *cough cough* older amateur who just yelled at them to stop running in the aisle. For the most part, we turned out all right. And the good among us are in this with the best of intentions to groom the next generation of truly educated and sophisticated riders, well versed in good horsemanship and life skills.

Yeah, your child may come home tonight and tell you that she fell off my horse while jumping – but that will be the afterthought, because what she’s really trying to tell you is I trusted and liked her enough to let her ride my horse today.

Which is a life lesson that, believe me when I say this, you do not have enough money to buy for her! 🙂

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Jorge’s friend Sophia was the last person to ride him before  he broke this summer. 

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Girls trotting the legs off ponies together 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Mad Skillz

I am super great at selfies

I am super great at selfies

Some may say I’ve got mad horse show skillz. Otherworldly, even.

Skills that apparently are so incredibly unique among certain subsets of my hunter/jumper world that they require, no demand, a myriad of articles, blog posts and Facebook comment accolades. And if I’m being honest, which we all know I’m prone to do, it annoys me to no end that many seemingly simple and brainless tasks are cause celebre.

Because…

I know how to clip my horses.

I am able to pull a proper mane.

I can wrap, poultice, pull a shoe, take a temperature and most importantly- call the vet because my fragile flower has a hangnail.

I know how to longe. And longe. And… longe.

I even know what my horses eat every day and make informed choices to change up their diets as necessary because we are at a show. I lack this same life skill for my self.

I am fully capable of preparing for a horse show on my own. I am the best over-packer that lives. You can bet the farm that I will bring ample chairs, clothes, dog pillows, rain gear, sunscreen and advil for everyone. And xanax. But that’s just for me, especially if I’m showing in the jumpers. *shudder*

I can navigate my way to and from the dry cleaners to ensure my hunt coat and show breeches are ready like a boss. .While there, I am super awesome at neglecting to leave that Jack Russell hair covered work suit I’ll need for the Monday morning meeting after the show. And then I will ensure that my show clothes are properly ensconced in my clean, overstuffed, monogrammed, barn colored garment bag for safe keeping.

I will never forget my lucky socks. Number string. Belt. And yes, underwear.

I will make sure that we have snacks, sometimes I’ll even get it together in time to make a crockpot of soup or lasagna, if I know the concessions won’t be open on schooling day. I am definitely able to go to the liquor store to pick up beer. #necessities

I not only can send in my own entry form before the show, along with my coggins, USEF number, and horse ID, but also fill it out in the office AND attach my very own check to pay for it. Sometimes I pray it won’t be deposited for a few days.

I am in my element once at the horse show. I learn my own course because I don’t trust you to tell me. I post myself for my classes then show up at the gate 15 rounds early. I tack up while fully dressed and get covered in green slobber from doing so.

I take pictures of the courses with my phone so I can study in peace.

I take pictures of the courses with my phone so I can study in peace.

Ask me (or don’t) and I will always be able to tell you what class they are on in multiple rings. Why there’s a hold on Ring One. And why I’m annoyed because I just know it is that same trainer who did the same thing last horse show. It’s like I’m a psychic or something…  or, trainers are just predictable.

I will confidently tack up most of the horses from our barn in the proper equipment if necessary – usually because I cannot stand to see you get your show clothes dirty, and hell, what else do I have to do other than wait around to go watch. And, if you ride at my barn I probably braided your horse, so I am great at screaming vile things across the aisle while he desperately attempts to destroy my late night work. All of which has made it nearly impossible to hold a cup of coffee but miraculously I will hold the reins long enough to jump around an equitation course.

I can tell you what is in each of the equipment trunks, but that’s usually because I repacked them before we left for the show. I know if we are going to run out of hoof pack or liniment or fly spray – the answer is yes, yes we will.

I brought an extra hose. It is in the back of the Honda. Under that shavings-covered stinky dog pillow that should probably be thrown away.

I know how to adequately zip tie the 1×2’s together to frame the farm banner and then not staple gun my finger to it. Though I’ve had some pretty close calls, those things pack a punch and should probably require professional training and a license to carry.

I hang ribbons on that banner like a pro. No, really, it is a gift. And can interpret the unintelligible crackling of the announcer over the loudspeaker to know exactly what you got in each class. Which I promptly collected from the in-gates of your rings.

I have mastered the art of not missing a single one of your rounds, videoing them like a rabid stalker, and knowing your score from the first round of the classic. Sure, there have been some exceptions, but if I’ve slept after braiding all night you can bet I’ll be there to cheer for you. I’m even more fun if I haven’t.

I can yell at your pony rider. I can yell your junior – in fact, I enjoy that. Hell, I can even yell at you, the amateur, without feeling guilty. Your hands are not broken, you can pick up a hose and fill everyone’s buckets.

I find it best not to yell at the trainer.

I love the pony kids!

I love the pony kids!

I find macabre joy in sitting ringside with our pony kids and the novice junior riders, then annoying them to death with a series of pop quizzes – how many strides did she get down that line, why did she miss a lead change, how would you pin this class.

Or, my personal favorite – WHY HAVEN’T YOU POLISHED YOUR BOOTS YET?! They always answer this one incorrectly. Always.

I will counsel your pony rider, your junior, or you. I will listen to you melt down. Or, if I think you are being unreasonable, give you wide berth until you work through it. I suggest you do the same for me, and red wine helps me get over it more quickly, fyi.

Not only can I help pack and unpack the trailer before the show, but also repack and unpack back at the barn after we are done. And you bet your ass I complain to anyone who will listen that you didn’t – so don’t be that person!

I am a rockstar at facebooking. And tagging you in statuses chronicling your triumphs. I’m also super at liking your status about how awesome you and your horse were that weekend, even if there’s no accompanying picture. But I’d like it twice if there were a picture.

I am a part of the team. Whether you like it or not, I’m going to be one of your biggest cheerleaders. Unless you beat me in the equitation on the flat 🙂

Some might say I have a PhD in horse showing. I mean, I’ve spent more time doing this than I have doing anything else in my life. Including work. No, especially work. (Don’t tell my boss)

I do all of these things, know all of these things, get all up in everyone’s business not because I get paid or I’m a working student. I do it because I think these (and so, so much more) are all important things for me to know to be a good member of my barn’s team, to understand my wholly complicated sport, and much more importantly, be an equally contributing partner to my horse.

You know what I take away from all of this?

Joy. Friendship. A feeling of accomplishment.

Jorge gets joy out of jelly donuts.

Jorge gets joy out of jelly donuts.

Maybe some A-type control-freak satisfaction, too. Or maybe a lot of that. Yeah…

If you don’t trailer your own horse, that’s okay. I won’t think you aren’t working hard to be a good rider. At the same time, I do not expect that you put me on some pedestal because I braid to pay for my show. When it comes down to it, no amount of boot polishing is going to keep you in the tack over a 3’6” natural oxer, trust me. (I’ve tried)

So while I may dream of actually showing at indoors rather than obsessively streaming it online, I know nothing would change my behaviors.

I’d still be all up in the in-gate of the National Horse Show, annoying the gatekeeper about how many out ‘til the flat, carrying a backpack full of peppermints and extra spurs.

And then rather than having a lovely article written about how independent and helpful I am, I’d become fodder for the Chronicle Forums – and nobody wants those armchair quarterbacks judging their ride!

There's no I in team but there is a ME and all my friends!

There’s no I in team but there is a ME and all my friends!

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Jorge & the #bummersummer

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Some people don’t believe in love at first sight. And frankly, neither do I.

But from the very first moment he was brought in from the pasture and promptly attempted to chew through the cross-ties on his way to freedom, I have been in love with my horse.

I can be a finicky, picky and discerning horsewoman. One with 35 years of experience in the tack. One able to objectively look at a horse and consider the pros and cons of its ability for the task at hand. That doesn’t mean that I won’t overlook a fault or two… or three or four… but generally I can force informed decisions using reason and years of practice. Only to throw all wisdom out the window because “(s)he’s so pretty!!!”

There was no reasoning with Jorge – and there still isn’t to this day. He could have been lame in all four legs, bucked me off and kicked my shins and he was still coming home with me. Because it truly was love at first bite – err, sight.

My beautiful, strong willed, intelligent, full of personality (and then some!) thoroughbred came into my life not even three weeks after I lost my “heart horse” as some call it. My beloved Mouse had unexpectedly died in the pasture from an aneurysm. For a

The day I brought him home.

The day I brought him home.

few days I considered calling it quits, but thanks to the overwhelming love and support I received from friends and family, I decided that a Jorna without a horse was like a Presidential debate without gaffes.

Or more appropriately, a girl without her soul.

So I looked at Jorge, a then 4-year old thoroughbred, under the guise of “I’m shopping for my next 3′ horse,” implying that I had been schooling and showing bigger jumps on my 14.3h paint with no spots. In reality, I was pretty sure I would never jump 3′ ever again. But the lies we tell ourselves come out so very easily to unsuspecting people we don’t know!

I was living in Virginia at the time and shopping online for horses – I was hoping to use my Amazon Prime account for free shipping 🙂 No photo accompanied his two or three line description on virginiaequestrian.com. yet for some reason I was drawn to the ad and shortly thereafter I was headed two hours north to see him.

There was no question we were meant to be, at least in my mind, and a few days later I trailered him home as a hurricane was approaching the east coast. Over the next few months I found my new friend to be kind, bratty, brave, amusing, playful and an all-around great guy who was incredibly fun to ride. He went trail riding, he hacked out alone, he went cross-country schooling, he chewed on his pasture mates, he broke nearly a halter a week.

He was AWESOME.

So now to finally get to the point of why this has become the #bummersummer.

My best friend Jodie and I have decided to tag this as #bummersummer because her five year old daughter demonstrated acute understanding of the course of events and stated the other day, “All the horses seem to keep getting hurt. That’s a bummer!” Well said, my dear, very well said.

It all started in April. After a pretty decent winter (for Wisconsin), Jodie’s thoroughbred came up with a ruptured ligament in his

Bar time braiding selfies

Bar time braiding selfies

right hind, requiring six months stall rest. Then came May when our beautiful hunter/jumper barn was sold to people who are starting a llama breeding program. Yep, our gorgeous 40 acres of mown bridle paths, two ginormous outdoor rings, and breathtaking barn itself now houses llamas. Llame. They gave us 30 days to find a new home for 25 horses and the 25 hoarders who love them.

So immediately following our first outdoor show of the season, we packed up approximately ten million pounds of stuff and shoved it into a ten pound sack, moving in to our new digs. To say we were a bit unsettled is an understatement, but we are a wily bunch and were generally excited for another fun-filled summer on the local circuit.

After a great first outdoor competition, I was looking forward to moving up a division this year with my seven year old thoroughbred hunter and enjoying my favorite season – sun, sweat and dust – with the greatest group of barn and show friends you could find.

But then he went lame, and as a result, so did I. A week before the next show we had Jorge’s best friend – Dr. Nicky the vet- come out, and she pulled fluid off his tendon, injected some steroids into it, and away we went. Another good show, another reason to celebrate and shake off the funk that had been following us around like a cloud. Between the move and lameness and general disarray we were due for some fun.

Or so I thought…

Not even ten days later, Jorge pulls up lame again. At the same time, Jodie’s horse develops lymphangitis in his other hind leg. After a few weeks of trying rest and home remedy, I had the vet back out to do an ultrasound. Her report left me inconsolable IMG_0780for a few days thereafter. My beautiful, bratty, full of vim & vigor horse has multiple tears in his tendon, some calcification in that right hind, and needs about a year off to rehab. The gut punch? He may not jump again. To say I was devastated is accurate.

However, then I realized something. The most important part of this story is that he is still with me. While his injury may be hunter-career ending, it was not a death sentence. There was no hard choice I had to make for his quality of life. I will get to ride my big, strong, amazing best friend again at some point, and in the meantime he will be happy to gnaw on anyone in his path in an effort to hustle them for treats.

Jorge is my heart and soul. He’s my personal brand of xanax. He’s the reason he has nice things and I wear Target flip flops while swilling cheap red wine. And, like you, I’d have it no other way.

One of many reasons I love him

One of many reasons I love him

So we will make the best of our situation. He’s under the rehabbing care of our trainer, Lane. He has started on a new voodoo diet designed to have minerals work in his body more effectively to aid the healing process. He will have limited space to run in the paddock, as it seemed incredibly unfair to lock him in a stall and drug him for the next however long. He has great vet care. And we both have a tremendous support team behind us, ensuring a successful return to the ring. Accordingly, Lane has also been instructed to rehab me through this process, though likely she won’t need to soak my xanax in my wine to get me to take it.

I will do whatever is (nearly beyond) financially feasible for me to do right by my best friend, Jorge. I’d like to think he would do it for me, though I’m a bit concerned he’d be more likely to put me in a home in my old age!

I’m blessed to have friends who have already offered up multiple mounts to ride, show and torture. For this, I am forever grateful and humbled by their generosity as I am feeling a bit empty inside without saddle time. And who knows what opportunities may arise in the future for me, as we all know I’ve adopted a motto of “Just Say YES!”

And in a year or so Jorge and I will ride again. It may be a different kind of relationship and career path for him, but I will his

His friend Sophia was the last person to ride him, and it was such a joy to watch the two of them!

His friend Sophia was the last person to ride him, and it was such a joy to watch the two of them!

lovely rhythmic canter across the ground. Perhaps he will teach young riders in the future. Maybe we will try dressage in the future (wait – who am I trying to kid?!)  I can only hope he may come back at full capacity. Or maybe we will just enjoy our favorite activity, hacking the field and taking selfies.

The worst part will be the waiting, however no matter what, we will be together and that is all I really need.

And with time, a solid program and a little luck, I will once again enjoy the best view from the best seat in the house. Which will make it all the sweeter to see.

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Amateurs Like Me

Amateurs like me wearing riding helmets on their bikes because they have a higher safety rating.

Amateurs like me wear riding helmets on their bikes because they have a higher safety rating.

There is a series that The Chronicle of the Horse does called “Amateurs Like Us” and it is designed to put real faces to the elite world of hunters & jumpers. Some of them I can relate to – like the women who clearly change in their car on the way from work to the barn so they can squeeze in a lesson before dark. But others play a bit out of my league, like those who have managed to eat ramen noodles long enough to pay for Devon. I applaud the effort and appreciate a more realistic take on life from those of us struggling to live it.

However, I also feel like there are a whole bunch of “Amateurs Like Me” whose greatest accomplishment in a year may be winning an equitation on the flat at a local circuit show, or moving up from the 2’6” division to the 2’9” without scaring themselves half to death! (Not to mention their loved ones, horse and trainer.)

Now, I don’t mean to negate the accomplishments of anyone. Ever. Heck, this is one seriously complicated sport that requires perseverance, dedication and the utmost trust in another living being to get you safely to the other side. So I do not in any way make light of the hard work every single rider of every single discipline puts in.

Every. Single. Day.

BUT…. I know there are a bunch of amateurs just like me out there, who may be able to relate to my trials, tribulations and triumphs. Riders who tonight picked between heading to the grocery store to get the fixings for a healthy salad or to stop at Chipotle on the way home from the barn, as it is right next to the liquor store where you can grab a bottle of cheap red wine… I always seem to write more when I’m drinking, funny how that works!

Still, I want to share some of the things I love about being an amateur – a hard working, dedicated to my sport but need to pay for it kind of amateur. An amateur who puts her horse before her self and loves every minute of it. And hopefully you relate to a thing or two .

This was for one horse.For one overnight.

This was for one horse.For one overnight.

Amateurs like me are planners. Maybe we have become proper preppers in our older age, but more likely we are just nervous and need to put that energy to good use somewhere and it sure isn’t going to be cleaning the house (perhaps the tack room, and some stalls). Still, we start packing for the show no later than two weeks before the trailer pulls out of the drive. We arrive at the horse show with rolled wraps and organization that is borderline OCD because what if our horse is wild and we need a lunge line STAT. Trust us, we know exactly where it is.

Speaking of planning, amateurs like me are uber-prepared. By this I mean we take absolutely everything we own. From horse clothing to human outfits, we are ready for anything. Weather forecast says it will be 95 in the scorching sun for the next 10 days? Don’t worry, we brought that 20 year old wool cooler for the horse, just in case. And a rain sheet. And mid-weight. Someone forgot a hunter show pad? We can lend you one of our five, even though the show is only two days. From poultice to fly spray to an extra show shirt for equitation (in three sizes), we will always have you covered. And then some.

One of the best things about being an amateur like me is having a trainer that understands my horse. I mean me. No, really, its my horse. Trainers will look at a schooling ring full of crazed pony kids and frantic junior jumpers – yes, at the same time, dear lord! – and suggest that perhaps we don’t want to “have a bad experience” for the old schoolmaster and let us go hack in the empty ring alone for hours until its quiet enough to navigate toward a jump. Then have us do one course to practice and call it a day.

We won the equitation finals in 2014. It felt SO GOOD!

We won the equitation finals in 2014. It felt SO GOOD!

Amateurs like me love beating the kids. I mean, seriously, they deserve it. Because amateurs like me remember when they were just like those kids who scoffed at the outrageous possibility someone so old could even stay on the horse. It’s a miracle! Let alone that we could ever equitate. So those snotty juniors on their fancy horses that they ride every day, often without stirrups and sometimes even without a saddle – yeah, we just totally schooled you in the warm up so take that.

Amateurs like me don’t mind that the laundry load of underwear and socks got thrown in right after the standing wraps and schooling pads. Why does it matter, we used some bleach to get the stains out, seems good enough. Now, in fairness, juniors like me didn’t care either, but that’s because we didn’t do our own laundry. And likely fathers like mine were a little less thrilled about the prospect, but mothers like mine didn’t care 🙂

Sometimes amateurs just like me go to the barn and never get on their horse. And that’s okay. As a full-fledged adult, there are days when it is more important to putter around grooming him and shoveling treats down his gullet with some twisted sense of guilt (like he is some how insulted that you are there but not riding – ha!). Because we all know that the real world catches up with you at times and as much as the ride can be an escape, the mental fortitude it takes to change into your breeches and haul all your tack out is just too much. It’s too much. You get me.

Amateurs like me are terrified of courses. For some it may be the fence heights, but for the rest of us it is the pattern. A regular hunter round that throws in a single on the quarter line is cause for a light sweat, but dear-god-why-does-the-classic-round-go-on-forever?! At the last horse show I went off course because there were two singles on the diagonal across the middle. Course designers can be such sadists. A medal course? Ack – hopefully there is a flat test. And jumper courses. Just stop. Give us at least an hour head start and do not expect us to memorize anything more than our first round. Please know that all bets are off should we somehow be lucky enough to make it to the jump off.

Yeah, that's right - I rocked the jumpers like a boss!

Yeah, that’s right – I rocked the jumpers like a boss!

If you are an amateur like me, you hold on tightly to small bastions of your youthful equestrian days. For me, I sport two nameplate bracelets just about every day in the office. It is a conversation starter, to be sure, but somehow wearing my horse’s name on my wrist reminds me of my happy place, where I’ll be as soon as I’m out of whatever boring meeting or have completed whatever mindless task in front of me. As if the bay hair covering my white dress and arena sand in my favorite flats wasn’t enough.

Amateurs like me love other amateurs who are like us – the ones who post hundreds of photos on facebook of their horse show. The ones who chronicle the ups and downs of their horsey filled life. I find satisfaction in publicly admitting defeat or posting that picture where I nearly fell off. Why? Because it makes it all real and if one other person sees that and can relate to my struggle, therefore is more forgiving of herself, well then it is all worth it. Let’s face it, not every ride is blue ribbon. In fact, many of them are not in the ribbons at all. So amateurs like me have to have a serious sense of humor, because we spend way too much money to hate what we do.

Speaking of money, amateurs like me never begrudge a single penny spent on this incredibly expensive sport. Even the repeated vet bills, monthly farrier, supplements, equipment, lessons… while we may bemoan our bank account levels, we never actually consider it money down the drain. Amateurs like me have a choice and we choose the happiness, well being and quality of outfits for our equine partners every time over our own. Every. Single. Time.

But amateurs like me are probably your biggest cheering squad ringside. Yes, even for you juniors looking down your noses at us (we remember being you… longingly…because that hot dog and fries we just ate from the food stand is not going to help us fit in to our new breeches). We are so grateful to have figured out how to keep doing this sport we love, at every level. We are masters at juggling career and family and all sorts of adult obligations. Sure, we dream of winning the lottery and doing nothing else but showing horses, however, until that day comes we are elated just to be there in the moment. We will always have a kind word for you as you come out of the ring, no matter what happened. And all we ask is that you do the same for us.

So bring on the rain, dust, schooling rings, yapping dogs, people with umbrellas, masochistic judges who ask for an extended sitting trot both ways… oh wait, where was I…

Anyway, just know that at the end of the day, amateurs just like me, and just like you, are going to gleefully collect their ribbon with a huge smile on their face. Because today we managed to do what we love and we did not die.

And that’s more than enough. For an amateur like me.

Amateurs like me still love it when their moms and dads come to see them ride. No matter how old they are!

Amateurs like me still love it when their moms and dads come to see them ride. No matter how old they are!

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Broken

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This is how I feel this week – just leave me alone and let me sleep…

I can’t stand to be around me.

I am short tempered and irritable. I hate just about everyone. I have been indulging far too often and regularly to excess.

I have not exercised in a week, unless you count riding my bike less than a mile to the bar yesterday.

My house is a disaster, there are dishes in the sink, I cannot recall the last time I did laundry. And I really don’t care.

Even my dog steers clear of my reign of terror.

I may be generally cynical about a good many things, but I’m also a pretty happy person. I’ve had a stressful couple of weeks with our entire barn moving to a new facility (stupid llamas), working my first PrideFest weekend as an official Board member (an all-volunteer festival hosting 32,000 people over three days), and helping a dear friend run for an elected position (ultimately unsuccessfully).

Though as Taylor Swift puts it, I’m usually able to just “shake shake shake it off.” Yet I’ve been struggling to figure out why I’m so damn ornery .

Then it hit me – Jorge is broken and I haven’t ridden in TWO WEEKS!

Two weeks. 14 days. 336 hours. Basically an eternity if we are being honest. Or over-dramatic. Or both. Yeah, both.

IMG_0946We had a great horse show at the end of May where we cleaned up in all our divisions. I was proud of my horse as we had been on tenuous terms going in to that competition because schooling at home led me to conclude he was bound for an extended stay with the cowboy who doesn’t believe in Jorge-Jorna style negotiations. My confidence was back and I was excited to start an illustrious career in older amateur medal classes. Not to mention, it was outdoor summer show season, so of course I was totally pumped.

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We are being courted for the show “Hoarders.”

A few days after the show we spent a week moving 25 horses and ALL their stuff – from tack and buckets to mats and feed – to a new barn, as our gorgeous old home had been sold. To people who are going to raise llamas. Yes, you read that right – llamas.

llame.

I snuck in one really fun ride right before we left, not knowing that would be the last time my foot would hit a stirrup for what may amount to more than three weeks.

Jorge arrived at our wonderful new barn sassy, fat and sound. I was looking forward to breaking in the new digs with a couple of hacks and a quick lesson before a five day break to attend to other over-commitments of PrideFest and the State Democratic Party Convention. Jorge would be fine under the care of Jess, Lane and Jodie, and the world would keep turning even if I wasn’t going to be at the barn every single day. Somehow. Just barely, though 🙂

I arrived at the barn on a Wednesday early eve. The bad news is he was three-legged lame. The good news is our vet was already on the way to stitch up another unfortunate soul who had gashed his shoulder. Nicky the vet suggested non-invasive treatment for fluid on his right hind flexor before we took more dramatic measures. While I absolutely appreciate that she is not quick to stick them with needles or order expensive tests without exploring our options, I had a sneaking suspicion that she’d be back. If Jorge were a person, he’d definitely abuse the health care system with hypochondria and out-patient surgeries.

Okay, so this was pretty bad timing for me with a hectic weekend, not to mention I’m terrible at asking for help. I could feel my anxiety rising to dangerous levels. I had to believe that he would make it through with some stall rest and I could get back to annoying the bejeesus out of him the following week. Besides, there wasn’t much I could do.

But there was. At least according to my crazy train reasoning.

Obsessing, as only a horse owner can do, I raced at break-neck speed to the barn the next day between events to dote on my horse. I was obviously convinced that 1) his leg was likely going to fall off and 2) I was the only one who could properly apply a wrap to it in an attempt to avoid said amputation. Already near a breaking point, I tore into the aisle sporting barn-appropriate TV interview attire of a black dress and heels to slather Jorge’s leg in “sweat” before binding it with saran wrap and a bandage.

I didn’t want to wrap him in his stall, and we didn’t have cross ties set up yet in the new barn, seeing that we’d been there a total of four days. And that is when I made a fatal error. A lapse in 35 years of quality horsemanship. A really stupid decision.

I tied him to the outside of his stall.

Yeah, you guessed it. My usually docile equine, whom I can leave for hours in the cross-ties while I have a beer or chat with friends, chose that moment to halter pull so hard he ripped the bar right off the front of his stall. I should be slapped for such an err in typically good judgement.

After bursting in to tears, I wrapped my horse and headed back to the chaos of my non-equestrian life, determined to focus on the things I felt I could control for the next few days, as clearly I could not do a damn thing to help my lame horse. Whom I hadn’t ridden now in seven days.

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Part of my weekend of crazy!

The events of the next three days were a bit of a blur – I worked really hard, I bounced from place to place in an attempt to handle everything as I do, I ate too little and drank waaaay too much, and I exchanged endless text messages with the barn ladies about my horse.

Monday came and I was poised to see Jorge and assess his soundness to determine suitability to attend the horse show next weekend. And I was really really looking forward to some naughty pony antics to make me laugh.

Then during my last meeting of the day I spilled a soda on my computer.

Mayday, mayday! We are dangerously close to a nuclear melt-down!

So to make an incredibly long story about my inability to manage my life short, today marks the 14th day of not riding. And I’m so cranky I can’t stand it.

Because I’m broken, too.

I usually ride no less than five days every week. I’d probably ride six if the barn was open on Mondays. This means my non-work time is spoken for – I don’t drink as much, I cram more in to less space in the day and I somehow manage to precariously balance my over commitments with my inherent need to be at the barn.

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At horse shows we share jelly donuts.

Because when I don’t ride, when I don’t have that outlet, I’m a horrible person.

No, it is true. I live to ride horses. Sliding into the saddle allows me to leave everything else behind – there’s nothing but you and a thousand pound flight animal that could kill you any moment. It is glorious and it keeps me sane, and therefore not a threat to the general public.

And I live to ride my horse. Even when he’s a total jerk, he’s my partner in crime, my confidant, the only one who will ever understand me. He just “gets” me and makes me smile despite whatever else may try to distract us from a lovely hack in the field, such as wind or rogue cats, or perhaps just a day ending in Y…

Yes, friends have been incredibly generous and offered up numerous horses to ride. But all of you who ride know it isn’t the same. From that moment when you pick up the reins of your favorite bridle and feel the electricity and comfort of your horse, the outside world ceases to exist. It is only you and his hoofbeats across the sand, a sound so soothing you can feel the stress drain from your body.

At least until your trainer walks in to the ring, snapping you out of your trance.

So I’m broken right now along with my horse. And I know we will both be better when we can get back in the ring – together. It will happen, and I know it will be soon, but not soon enough for the likes of anyone who gets within 20 feet of me until that time!

When an essential part of your life revolves around such a unique relationship with a horse, it is easy to come undone in its absence. And to not even realize that’s what has happened until you are crawling out of your own skin.

I look forward to being whole again, and salvaging any friendships and work interactions that I can. But until then, Jorge and I remain broken and make no promises to anyone to cross our paths! 🙂

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Photo by Katie Mejchar

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Phases of loving horses

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It took at least 4 pony kids to wash one Lucky pony.

Phase 1:  Pony! Pony! Pony! Dress it up in pink! No, I don’t want the blue ribbon, I want the PINK one. Yay pony, you’re my bestest friend!!!

Phase 2:  Mom, we rode our ponies and then went swimming and then we rode again and then we played horse show and then helped pick rocks in the outdoor and then we rode our ponies and … Where’s my saddle? I don’t know, I didn’t use it today.

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I worked hard to win pony medals.

Phase 3:  Just a few more minutes and then I promise I’ll get off. But my trainer said that if I wanted to go to the show next month I had to ride without stirrups for at least 10 minutes every day.

Phase 4:  I will probably die without the trendy new helmet and saddle that everyone has. If you don’t buy it for me I’ll be the laughing stock of the circuit. It will ruin my life!

Phase 5:  Yeah, I’m probably going to forgo college and just turn pro after I age out of the Juniors in a year. I mean, I’ve been riding since I was like, born, and my trainer makes a good living riding horses all day, so I’m pretty much going to be moving to Florida with a string at WEF next year.

Phase 6:  What do you mean you won’t pay for my horse shows anymore? And he can’t live at A-show trainer’s barn? Focus on getting a degree in something useful and SELL HIM?!?! But…but… Oh look – college boys!

Phase 7:  I just spent all my tip money from this week on a lesson at this barn whose Facebook page was a gross exaggeration of their customers. The trainer didn’t even know my saddle was a County, even if it is an older model, and wouldn’t let me jump higher than 2′. I really need a new job that actually uses this stupid degree.

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My little 14.3h backyard Paint turned show pony.

Phase 8:  Mom, I just got this awesome off the track Thoroughbred for really cheap! He needs a little time off, some weight and a lot of work but I just know he’s a diamond in the rough. I’m excited to do all the work myself and then flip him for a serious profit. So, could I borrow a few bucks to get him a new blanket and wraps? I’ll pay you back, promise.

Phase 9:  I just picked up this awesome show coat and a pair of breeches at the resale shop- they hardly even look used. I’m glad I bought a pick up rather than that compact car so I can borrow my friend’s trailer and take him to the schooling show this weekend.

Phase 10:  Trainer, would you ride my horse this week? I have to travel again for work and I don’t want him to sit before the show. Besides, he always goes better when you’ve been on him a few times!

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The Jorge.

Phase 11:  Here’s a bag of carrots, horse friend. Sorry I don’t have time to ride today, but I’ve got to get the kids to soccer and put dinner on the table before bedtime. I promise I’ll ride next week.

Phase 12:  So this year we are heading down to Kentucky for a few weeks before heading over to Traders Point. Then we’ll try to make it to at least one of the indoors shows if she qualifies in the Big Eq. My horse? Yeah, we had a lovely hack in the field the other day and I popped him over a few X’s about a month ago, but I haven’t had much time to ride and he’s serviceably sound on a  good day now.

Phase 13:  There’s an entire bag of carrots in it for you if you don’t spook while giving pony rides to the grandkids…

Phase 14:  Thank you, dear friend, for everything. Let’s just rest here by this tree a while and share an apple before walking back to the barn. Then I’ll brush your coat ’til it gleams, pick your stall again and make a nice warm bran mash. Maybe by the time we get there the pony kids will be done racing around bareback in their swimsuits…

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Mom and Dancer. Happier to hang out on the trail while the pony kids make a mess in the barn!

 

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