This one was harder than I though it would be. I ended up just going to my local library website and performing a search with the keyword THE thinking it would bring int he most hits and restricting the search to those published this year. Then I looked through the results for something that sounded interesting and with multiple copies available.
A book published in 2017: The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace
Lives merge, expand and contract when a young girl shows up in a small sea side New England town with an infant in her arms watching the man who brought her drive away to never return. Her own past is littered with heart break and enduring and has left her standing by the side of the road fearful of her present.
Mabel, who owns the rental cottages where she is dropped at, takes her in and gives her a home until they close down for the winter season. Mabel is grieving the loss of her husband by staunchly refusing to let go of his memory and effects and not letting anyone new in. Once the cottages are closed, she transfer the girl and her baby to her friend Iris, a hermit who enclosed herself into a secret garden at the passing of her own husband, although this was done out of hate and not love.
Their lives intersect with others as June and Luke settle into their new life helping Iris as best they can to take care of the grounds and then herself as she ages quicker than expected with a medical condition she won’t admit to having.
The book is a slice of life style novel that follows groups of people who are brought together and learn to heal from past scars through the arrival of June. Each chapter focuses on a different character although it is written in the third person throughout. This gives the reader a unique perspective of the same events through the lens of each character.
The writing style is easy to follow and modern day although quite a few run on sentences continued for an entire paragraph. The characters were what I consider ultra realistic: meaning they could exist and had all facets of real people but their stories were inflated and the arc of their eventual emotion recovery too swift and all inclusive.
I found the themes of trust and love to be intriguing and how the author showed the response to loss in such extremes as Mabel wearing her husband’s shoes every night to feel the imprint of his feet versus Iris who shut herself in and disowned the world. Both women locked themselves in their grief, not allowing life to move on but each did it in their own way. Each found freedom in the end, but this also differed for each.
Overall the themes are sad: loss, loneliness, abandonment, unrequited love. The story arc is beautifully written though and I found myself wishing for more pages at the end with so many open ended questions that I will never find an answer to.
Traffic can be really finicky which puts me at the barn either an hour early or barely on time depending on if I leave 15 minutes earlier or later from work. Growing up 15 minutes early was on time and anything after was late, so I always err on the side of way too early and Wednesday was no exception. It was 85F and sunny when I pulled into a crazy busy barn and I really enjoyed getting to sit in the grass and watch the lesson ahead of me. They were working on a really cool jumping exercise that I hope to someday be good enough to get a shot at: four cross rails were set creating an inner 20 meter circle. The girls would jump into the circle at the trot, maintain the canter after the jump and circle depending on which direction the instructor told them as they jumped in, and eventually she would tell them which jump to exit the circle on. It was all about maintaining a rhythm and rideable canter and planning ahead. It looked really hard and really fun!
But that wasn’t what my lesson was about.
I tacked up Ralphie, the Welsh-Arab cross gelding I rode the first time, and Trainer J told me we were going into the dressage arena. I was a little disappointed to not get to jump, but that soon evaporated in the lovely weather and good horse under me. Any time spent riding is good by me.
She explained the inner workings of the large dressage court I would be riding in which was all new to me having never been in an actual legal size one before and she put me to work riding down the long side on the quarter line, making a sharp and direct turn and back down the opposite quarter line. The goal was to work on straightness. I failed. When I turned down the other short side and headed back down my original quarter line I saw my woefully drunken sailor line I had previously made. Straightness is not my friend. We did it again and this time I worked really hard at keeping my horse between my legs and gong straight. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much improved.
Dusty and Wyatt showed up around the time we began a series of exercises that really helped me 1000% and I actually got some pictures to show you!!!
In order to better figure out both my own and Ralphie’s body, Trainer created a 20 meter circle at C placing a cone at the pinnacle f my circle at the center of the arena (no clue what letter belongs there, but it was a 20 meter circle at C). She asked me how many corners are on a circle: none. Then why was I adding 4? Oh.
It was pretty difficult at the walk to get Ralphie to actually bend and I wasn’t riding it right anyway. I wasn’t preparing far enough ahead and was making more of a flat tire at every single point of the circle.
I’m pretty sure she was about to just give up on me when we started to trot and it just hit me. I began to sit taller, and actually look ahead. Once I figured out to look one full marker ahead of where we were and turn my entire body to reach that point, Ralphie’s body bent around my inside leg and we maintained bend around the entire circle.
It was like a light bulb cam eon and it felt amazing to ride him like that!
She then took us to the very far end and we repeated this going the other way. It took e a few revolutions to get back to where I ended before, but we got it and I saw her grinning just as much as I was. I wasn’t a lost cause after all. We finished this exercise by adding a third circle in the center.
After that was done and we took a short walk break, she had me string it all together in a steady serpentine along those same circles. This was my favorite exercise to date. I’ve done serpentine exercises with Gem, but apparently never really correctly as I always squared mine off. This time I had to keep on those same 20 m circle tracks I made earlier and really plan as they came up quickly in the large dressage court.
We did this at the trot mostly and everything really clicked for me here. I had to be constantly changing the bend n my body to allow Ralphie to bend too and it forced me to really open up my shoulders and relax my body. Trainer was being gracious and mentioned that I try to sit so still to be quiet which makes me stiff. I replied that I am really just that stiff of a person. Seriously, you should watch me try to dance. I look like Frankenstein. Loose doesn;t come easily to me.
I thought we were over at this point having accomplished a lot, but she said it was time to work on the canter. My stomach knotted up a little. I was doing so well. Why end it with so much horror?
We went back down to the circle at C and did a few revolutions (pretty sure that isn’t how you describe it in dressage terms, but oh well) to get the feeling back and then she told me to sit two strides and cue the canter.
And I did. And he did. AND IT WAS AMAZING!!!
We just cantered. Trainer let out a whoop of joy and clapped. WE WERE CANTERING. In a calm, easy and bent manner around the circle while I continued to steer. It was SO MUCH FUN!
Ralphie dropped to a trot without me meaning to and all I did was sit and ask again. No fuss. No theatrics. No taking 3/4 of a turn to do it. He cantered immediately. And on the correct lead. We repeated it the other direction and the wheels fell off a little as he was now super racey in the trot and it took me a while to gather him back up, but once I asked to canter he did again. I was grinning like a fool by the end.
We called it a night after that and I was on cloud 9 the entire way home.
Things that went well:
She didn’t have to tell me to fix my lower position at all. I’ve dialed in what she calls a neutral seat since she had me fix myself two lessons ago and it has already become second nature
My circle were circles and we actually bent around them
Things to work on:
Relax those elbows and bring my arms into my body. Ugh. Will this ever happen?
Plan ahead more. Quit riding one step ahead and ride three or four. Planning makes everything better
Be greedy with my posture. Don’t let Ralphie pull me out of position in a down transition and don’t throw myself at him during an up transition
My hopes to get a lesson on Gem this weekend didn’t work out: something about Trainer sending her own horse through his first 1* event got in the way. How dare she! 😉 Plan B was to get a sitter and take a date day on Gem and Pete on the trail. Dusty and I haven’t been on a Wyatt free date since our anniversary last October. That got squashed with thunderstorms in the forecast for all day Sunday.
Saturday afternoon was warm and sunny though, so I hopped on up in the hay field to see what I could accomplish. My aim was to work on canter transitions since that is my current worst skill.
I don’t have any pictures from the ride because my phone took a swim in the toilet that morning and was sitting in a bag of rice (useless by the way) until Sunday morning when I gave up and entered one of Dante’s circle’s of Hell…aka Verizon…to see what could be done which was nothing short of paying a crap ton of money and leaving with a new phone I didn’t want. Ugh.
It was warm enough that I rode in a tank top which generally never happens. My blood is like ice most of the time and I rarely go out in anything short of two layers when it is under 85, but it was super sunny and just felt really good. I dragged Gemmie over to the hay field and clambered aboard in the dressage saddle.
Right away things were crap. Gem either wanted to throw her head down to eat or throw it in the air and zoom around tense and distracted. All I wanted to do was walk. For about 5-7 minutes we fought each other. I cursed her name and eventually told her I should sell her to an endurance home and get a horse that can do the simple things I enjoy doing…like walking, trotting and cantering safely and pleasantly at home.
Then I did something I have never done…I got firm. Not angry. Not rough. Not mean. Not unfair. Just firm. When I said halt I meant halt now, not in 20 feet when she decided to. When I said walk, I meant walk. Not jig, not trot, not stop and eat. Walk. Bend. Turn. Simple things that a 19 year old horse, having been ridden consistently and fairly for the last 7 years, should be able to do without issue. She isn’t green. She isn’t young.
I realized, up there on her while having no fun at all in those first minutes of the ride, that I no longer have the same horse under me as I did 7 years ago. She isn’t a delicate little egg that will crack and lose the last 2 months of trust I built up if I do one single thing wrong. She can handle the amount of pressure asking her to freaking halt puts on her without losing it. She just doesn’t want to because she has never had to. And that is my fault. I didn’t make the necessary shift in our relationship when it was time, likely 2+ years ago, and have been letting her get away with behaviors she shouldn’t have.
When I became firm with her, informed her that I do mean what I ask, she responded by fighting a bit but then listening. She halted. She walked off. She relaxed. When I finally decided it was time to trot, she picked it up and went around my 20ish meter circle nicely. If she tried to speed up, my half halt and sitting tall told her to slow it back down and maintain her rhythm. All I had to do was be clear, firm and consistent.
The next 40 minutes were a blast!
She floated around the hay field nicely and while she would get distracted at times by traffic or some such, she kept her pace, kept being relaxed and kept being rideable. We did figure 8s, 20 meter circles and larger circles around the perimeter of the area I was working in. She lowered her head, blew out and was a joy.
Just when I was beginning to think about working on that canter, she began to turn her head and bite at my leg. I asked her to move on, but she was clearly trying to tell me something. I listen to my horse when able and she is very honest about her feelings, so abnormal behavior such as this is typically her telling me something is off.
I hopped down worried that the girth was pinching her and noted that she was slathered in white foamy sweat. If there is one thing that my Princess hates, it is to be sweaty and here she was lathered! I chuckled at her sad expression and disdain for sweat and called it a day. We had been working pretty hard for 45 minutes and were both hot and sweaty. She had been fantastic and I had learned a valuable lesson.
It is time to hold Gem more accountable for her actions under saddle and quit thinking of her the way I did when she was mentally breakable. Being fair, but firm really helped change the dynamic we had Saturday afternoon.
Thankfully my mom was up next and she almost always picks a winner.
A book with a subtitle: Saving Simon: How a rescue donkey taught me the meaning of compassion by Jon Katz
Simon is living in a filthy pen made for a pig with wire mesh walls and a pallet shelter only a foot or two off the ground. One day he lays down and puts his head under it for shelter against a cold rain and can’t get back up. His owner ignores him hoping he will die and it is only the love of the farmer’s son who throws handfuls of stolen hay by his head and eventually calls animal rescue that saves his life.
Jon acquires Simon from the rescue the day after he is freed from his prison and takes on the rule of physician, therapist and owner. Jon owns 90 acres in upstate New York, writes about animals for a living and has two other donkeys. He works hard at bringing Simon back from the brink and together they tackle the world.
This novel is an easy read and took two sittings to get it done. It wasn’t as heart wrenching as I feared it would be and actually has a happy ending – all good things.
While on the outside the book is about bringing a rescue donkey in, the narrative is really about Jon’s wrestling with the conception of compassion and mercy. His questions are thought provoking.
Why is it so easy to be compassionate towards a cute animal, say a donkey, but not an ugly one like an alligator?
Why are so many people who are in the business of animal rescue so incredibly cruel to fellow humans?
Are you truly a compassionate person if you extend it only towards those you like, agree with or need?
Does the farmer, fallen on hard times and unable to feed the donkey, in as much need of compassion as the donkey himself? Should we quickly condemn him?
What is mercy? In today’s world of increasing life spans and holding on tightly, is it more merciful to just let go?
These questions come up time and again and his own answers are at times surprising. I found my self disagreeing with him on quite a few points although I enjoyed seeing things from his point of view as well.
I’ve never been much into goal setting and following, preferring to give myself the flexibility to work within reality and jump on new opportunities as they come. I was in a major funk at the end of 2016 though, so I set myself up some goals. No point in having goals if you don’t ever check in on them, so here is a look on how I am doing after 1/4 of the year has gone by.
Gemmie Life Goals
FOCUS – With Gem it is going to be all about finding the right balance of being with her and not being away from the family too much. I’d say this has been a big success. I am seeing her every day, have spa days and while I am not riding her as much I am also having more fun.
1.) Bring her and Pete home. Move in date for us is 1/15 and we are hoping to bring them home the following weekend. Fencing needs installed and we need to build a shelter for them as there is no barn or tree cover. I have the DIY plans already selected and the materials bought, just need to find time. Success! They are happily at home and doing well.
2.) Start riding consistently 2 days a week. There is a hay field I can ride in during non cutting times and I plan to use this regularly. Dusty has built me jumps in the past and will be working on some new ones once life settles back down again. Not so much. I’ve been getting in 1 day but not always on Gem. Daylight Savings Time and spring weather should hopefully make this easier moving forward.
3.) 1-2 long trail rides a month, preferably with friends. I’ve ridden solo enough to know we can do it and that it is no where near as fun as riding with someone else. It is hard to ride with others though when you need to be on the horse by 7 am to make it home in time for lunch with the kiddo, so we will see. Yup! So far I’ve gone at least once a month and always with someone. Its been a lot of fun.
4.) Make it to 1 lesson a month. If I can find someone who can come to me and deal with not having a true arena then I’d like to do 2 a month, if I have to trailer out it will likely only be once a month. I’ve been lessoning every other week and it is a good schedule for me.
Gemmie Competition Goals
1.) Complete a 50 mile endurance ride towards our decade team award. I’d really like this to be a multi day ride so that I get as much as I can into a single weekend away. Eh. endurance really isn’t on my radar at the moment.
2.)Complete a Ride and Tie of any length. Again eh. I don’t really care so much about this. 3.) Make a decision on what to do about her 100 mile bronze medal. She only needs two more 100s and I know she has it in her. The question is do I? If not, could I let someone else ride her even though I’d still have been the one to put all the conditioning miles on, spent all the money for the ride (the entry is the cheapest part of it all: hay, alfalfa, elytes, extra grain, gas to get there, time off work…), and likely need to be present to crew? Seems silly to plop someone else in the saddle to ride it. But….I really hated riding in the dark and I don’t know if I want to do it again. Lots of soul searching to do. I’ve decided. I don’t care if she ever gets a bronze medal, completes another 100 or does nothing but eat grass in my front yard. As long as she is healthy and happy and I am having fun, its winning in my book.
4.) Make it to a dressage show and not make a complete fool out of ourselves. Not this quarter, but still working towards it.
Me: Life Goals
FOCUS – For me it is going to be all about striking a better balance in life. Currently, I feel guilty when I don’t ride and guilty when I do. I haven’t taken an actual vacation longer than a long weekend since 2007.I haven’t seen a doctor in 4 years. Having Gem at home has released any and all guilt I previously held. It has been liberating. We have a trip coming up in early April. Still not established with a doc, but I have plans to get that settled this summer.
1.) Stop feeling guilty about self care time. Riding and running not only make me feel better equipped to deal with life’s stresses but it also will help me live a longer and better life. I need to stop beating myself up when I take time to do it. I have found ways to do this and am feeling better about myself and my life. Its been a great 1st quarter
2.) Run 2 days a week minimum. Treadmill or outside, both work as long as I am getting my butt moving. I quit running, but substituted working out at the Y. I go 2 times a week an vary the classes although Body Combat and Kettlebells are my favorite. I sprinkle in some yoga and dance based classes as well.
3.) Ride 2 days a week. Once typically. 4.) Establish with a primary care doctor and get a physical. Still hasn’t happened. Hoping to this summer. 5.) Figure out just what I want with my relationship with Gem. Is it okay to back off and just putz around? Do I need to have some set competition/training plans to feel satisfied? I’m still putzing with this one, but so far just having fun is enough. 6.) Continue with my pen pals. Add two new ones from new countries. I added a new one, but she is from Colorado. 7.) Create a smashbook for Wyatt. I have the smashbook, but it is still MIA from the move so nothing has been added to it. 8.) Find a trainer that I can work well with in regards to approach, personality and scheduling. I love trainer J!
Me: Competition Goals
1.) Complete a half marathon. Not yet and unlikely since I hung up my running shoes 2.) Complete a full marathon. Nope 3) Host a Ride and Tie. I have one in the works that I am really excited about. This is still up in the air.
In each one of my exam rooms is a canvas 16 x 20 photo of Dusty, Wyatt and Myself. They are two of my favorite pictures of us and do the job of providing a conversation starter for times when I am doing an in office procedure and need to do small talk as well as for those appointments where I am providing nail care for the older population.
My head will be bent over someone’s feet and they will look to their right, spy the picture and inevitably ask “is that your family?”
I look up and can feel the grin splitting my face as I too look at it and say ” Yep! Those are my boys!”
I put the picture there for that exact purpose and I love talking about my family. I could talk about Wyatt for hours when invited to do so, and often times even when not, and I like the ability to connect with my patients on this level.
Unfortunately, this often times goes beyond this though. Several times a day the person will then ask “Is he your only one?”
I’ve perfected my answer over the last 3 years: “Yep! I love my little family. It is perfect”
Thankfully, most times that ends the line of questioning and we move on to other subjects or I get back to talking about their foot condition. A handful of times a day though, the person persists “you don’t want any more?”
What I want to do is look them straight in the eye and tell them “It isn’t about wanting. What I want doesn’t seem to matter in this regard. After 2 years of unprotected and very planned sex often times with pills, injections and invasive tests involved there was never a pregnancy and never an answer as to why since all tests came back perfectly normal and healthy. After we adopted there has been 4 more years of unprotected sex without a resultant pregnancy, so no wanting has nothing to do with any of it”
Instead I have learned to just repeat my above answer “I love my little family. It is perfect the way it is”.
Some persist though. “Don’t you want a daughter?”
My mind reels. Why pester a complete stranger with such personal questions? What would they say if I said “no…I would hate to have a daughter!” I’d love to tell them that getting pregnant doesn’t ensure a daughter and I don’t have another $47,000 to spend on adopting one. We still haven’t paid off half that from Wyatt.
I repeat my answer “I love my family just the way it is”
“You really should have a sibling for him. He would be happier”
Are you kidding me?! Now the person is telling me I am a bad mother for not having another child. If you don’t think this happens, guess again. I go through this multiple times a day. My answer to this one has always shut down any and all additional questions: “A lot of siblings don’t get along. He wouldn’t be better off if he hated his sibling”
I could take down the pictures. I could tell them I adopted Wyatt. But the thing is that it is none of their business. This is an extremely personal question and one I would never ask any person unless I was incredibly close to them to the point of sharing such information. I don’t like explaining that Wyatt is adopted 20 times a day and don’t feel like I should have to. People tend not to think about problems they never had to face. To many people getting pregnant just happens, whether it is wanted or not, and so they never dream that for someone else it wasn’t so and that their line of inquisition could be hurtful.
I won’t take the pictures down. I love them. I love talking about my boys and I love giving my patients an easy way to connect with me and come up with small talk which can be awkward. I don’t mind being asked if he is my only child and I don’t mind the follow up about having more, but once it gets beyond that it is crossing a line.
One of the new blogs I am following is about life with a small child and she wrote a day in the life type post last week. I found it interesting and decided to bore you all with a look at my own, but on a more general basis since I am pretty boring. Just thinking about it opened my eyes to why my house is messy, my errands don’t always get done and I have little energy to ride most days.
6:30 am is wake up time. Typically Wyatt is in our bed having joined us around 3 am or so and Dusty has already been up, showered and served breakfast to our herd. I help get him dressed and shower while they get out to door around 7:10am
I then make my own breakfast, drink a cup of tea and catch up on blogs until its time to go to work.
740 am I leave for the office and spend the day seeing patients, writing notes and putting out fires
5:15 pm and I can finally leave. Mon, Tue, Thur, Fri I pick Wyatt up from preschool/day care. This puts me home right around 5:45 or 5:50 and I let Einstein out to pee. If it is a Thursday I pick Einstein up a few doors down from Wyatt from his doggie day care day.
Two days a week I head to the YMCA for a work out. On these days I throw the horses their hay and give them their grain and stand to make sure Pete doesn’t eat Gemmie’s snickers instead of his kale. Then I change, put Wyatt back in the car and head to a 6:15 class. Thankfully I live only 5 miles from the Y so this works.
Dusty gets home at pretty much any time. On time puts him at home by 5:45 and if he is there then Wyatt stays home with him. Lately, he has been so slammed at work that he is getting home who knows when and will just come to the YMCA instead.
Wyatt either plays with kids at the Y or hangs with his dad, whichever he prefers to do until my class ends at 7:15 at which time we will either eat at the Y’s diner (soooo good!!) or head home to eat left overs.
8:00 starts the bed time ritual and Wyatt finally crashes around 8:30 or 8:45. At that point I read a book in bed until 9:30 when I crash myself.
On days I don’t go to the YMCA, I cook dinner while Wyatt plays outside with Einstein or he helps me cook. He really loves helping me cook and gets to measure, stir and dump things in. We eat when Dusty gets home and then have about an hour or 90 minutes before bed time to read, wrestle and play.
You’ll notice the absence of any TV time. We don’t have cable or netflix and Wyatt gets no screen time on a school day, so really the TV only gets turned on Friday night for family movie night and a little bit for sat/sun morning cartoons.
On Wednesdays I work outside my office at a local Wound Center which means I leave the house 30 minutes earlier. I head off straight from there to ride when I can and when I don’t I go straight home getting there around 6:30 pm and then see the above.
So…all told I get about 2.5-3 hours of awake time at home during each week day. I struggle with my inability to keep the house tidier, ride more on week nights and do chores like rotate the compost or pick the pasture. Truth is I just don’t have the time since one of those hours is spent getting ready for work in the morning.
Dusty works every other Saturday morning. Either way he generally gets up when Watt does around 6:30 am and I get to sleep in until 7.
I use the Saturday’s that he works to clean the house in between playing with Wyatt and we have a good system of when I take a break from vacuuming, washing the floor, doing dishes etc…
Once that is done we play until Dusty gets home.
The rest of the weekend is typically spent grocery shopping, doing laundry and running errands that didn’t get done during the week.We also always try to do something fun for Wyatt. This past weekend I introduced him to Pokemon Go since he has gotten really big into Pokemon and we went downtown hunting. He had a blast.
So anyway…there it is. A look into my life. It is busy and hectic and I mostly love it although I’d love to find a better balance and be home more. Some day.
Give me a wide open access road or an inviting single track or even a meadow and you’ll find me cantering down it like a boss. A slight uphill grade on an inviting trail is almost always going to be taken at a canter, hand gallop, or if the stars align and Gem is in the mood, a full blown racing gallop. I love cantering. In fact, Gem prefers to canter at anything above 10 mph and we quite literally cantered about 80% of the first 34 miles at our last endurance ride.
I can canter.
Or so I thought.
Put me in an arena and it all goes to crap extremely quickly. Turns out that while I can canter and my seat is good (light but solid and flowing with the horse) I can’t actually steer for crap. So in an arena where there are actually rails and turns are a must, things start to flail quickly.
Someone fix me, please.
When I rode Ralphie, I thought I was just dealing with some Gemmie PTSD. You see, the mare couldn’t/wouldn’t canter the entire first year I had her. When we moved to WI and had an indoor, I spent the first winter (winter of 2010-2011) focused on her canter. Any time my leg hit her side she would either kick, buck or rear. Not good. I backed off and started on the lunge and taught her word commands. Then I used those same verbal commands under saddle keeping my leg steady. Then I began oh so slightly introducing my leg along with it and by the time spring came we were able to perform a canter transition with a leg aide only without dying.
Then she would flail around the arena at 100 miles an hour and even wiped out on her side once. I stopped asking to canter indoors.
My next thought was to use jumps. We would trot in and she would pick up a canter on the landing and would typically be pretty steady. I would then let her canter a few strides and bring her back to a trot. That seemed to work better and we settled on that for the rest of spring until I could go out on the trails and work her outside.
Cantering on trails came easily and naturally and we spent the summer eating up the trails. The following winter we were stuck indoors and the cycle repeated although she no longer reacted negatively to my leg aid.
All that to say that I have some serious baggage.
Flash back to the present. With Ralphie, I would ask to canter but then tense up and grab with my hands preparing for some major zoomy flailing that never came. He quickly got angry with me though and trying to get him to canter was a mess.
On Misty, I had zero fear. She was fun and safe, yet I could not get her into a canter for the life of me. I was using so much leg to get her to even trot that when Trainer said to canter, I tried to bring my leg back to ask and she would immediately slow down and all would be lost.
When I finally managed to get the canter, we would make it a few strides and I would lose it back to a trot and have to suffer the humiliation of trying to get my caner back all over again. It seriously took me the entire width of the very large outdoor arena (we worked in one end only) to get her to canter.
Trainer would tell me to sit two trot strides then ask for the canter but I never felt organized enough to do so. I am much better from a rising trot, but she insists on using a few sits to make it work.
Then…if I do manage to get into a canter and maintain it longer than a few strides, I am completely incompetent at guiding my horse anywhere. How do you all do it all day long around a course?
Its frustrating to be so horrible at such a very basic thing that I know I can do in a different setting yet seem to be a sack of half rotting potatoes inside the arena. And I can’t really progress much in terms of jumping anything meaningful until I can at least canter around the arena.
I was really excited about this prompt. One of my favorite books is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I find it hilarious and so very real. When I saw the prompt, I took to the internet and searched “books similar to A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson” and was encouraged when I found an entire forum thread dedicated to this exact question.
Scrolling through the comments, I saw two books come up frequently and went to my library website to find out if they had either. They had one of them and I quickly put in my hold request and texted the selection to my mom.
A book about travel- The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Eric, a former journalist who has toured the most negative time sand places in the worked during his career, is a self proclaimed unhappy person. His newest project is to research those places on Earth that are considered happy and create his own atlas.
His travel takes him first to the pioneer of happiness research where he spends time reading data banks of information to determine his route of travel. From there he begins by heading first to Switzerland, one of the happiest countries on Earth.
Each chapter of the book is dedicated to a new country where he describes the landscape, culture and what defines happiness in that locale. Eric interviews both locals to the region as well as transplanted Americans to see what they think about being happy.
I really, really wanted to like this book. I just couldn’t. I’m not sure how so many people likened it to Bill Bryson on any level other than the basic “its a book about travel” because the two couldn’t be less similar than if they were of two separate genres. There was no humor, no travel gone awry story.
I did enjoy the look he provided at countries I had not even heard of or knew very ittle about such as Qatar, but once the initial descriptive passages were over the book quickly got burdened down in the writers own…well…I’m not sure exactly how to explain it…cynicism, pessimism. Either way it wasn’t a happy or light hearted book.
My other complaint is how much quoted research he had. Nearly every other sentence was a quoted text from some research and while I understood his attempt to put some science behind his work, it was over done and slowed the narrative down to a halt. It also broke up the text in a way that was displeasing.
Another failed pick on my part, I do not recommend reading it.
Trainer J texted me Wednesday that I was to ride Misty. Her description: the fat grey pony with a horse sized head.
I didn’t think much of it until I arrived and wandered the barn aisle looking for a horse that matched this description. It really didn’t dawn on me that she meant an actual pony until I saw her.
I stood and stared a bit. I’ve never actually ridden a real pony, of pony height, before. She was so short! Where were her legs?
She was sweet although a bit cranky that I pulled her away from her hay pile and striped her naked in the 30 degree temps. Misty has shown First Level Dressage, shown up to 2’6″ and gone cross country. She knew more than I did and right now that is what I am looking for, so I was game to hop on up and get to know her.
The lesson was once again very basic – we worked on my seat and position a lot, worked on walk and trot without stirrups, sitting trot and then the canter which I am horrible at and need to write an entire post on because ugh. From there we strung together a small course of three cross rails all set to around 2′. It was a fun little course for me because it really made me focus on my weakest point: planning ahead and riding with purpose. It began with a cross rail on a right turn off the rail going across the width of the arena, then make a right turn at the rail and cut back on a diagonal to hit fence #2, after it was a sharp left hand turn back all the way around the arena at the rail and past fence #1 to get to fence #3.
It made me really have to plan my path and helped me keep things in focus. I’ll do my usual what I did well and what I need to improve at the end, but I want to talk first about my first ever ride on a pony. It was really, really different. To begin with, she is a kick ride. Her natural tendency is to stop whenever she can and holy crap did it take so much leg to get her moving at more than a snails pace. I even used a dressage whip. I am so used to my hyper reactive mare, that this was a totally new world for me. She would trot when asked but it was so slow and I had to keep applying more leg to keep her in the trot and the same was true in the canter. My legs were exhausted!
The other thing I noticed was how quickly her legs turned over and how short her stride was. I was posting at a million miles an hour which on Gem relates to about a 10 mph trot, but on Misty was more like a 4 mph trot. In the canter, it was the same. My seat had to move with her so much more quickly even though we were not going very fast. It was hard work for sure and required me to be much more relaxed so I could keep up with her.
Being so close to the ground gave me a whole new boost of confidence. I got up on her and looked down and thought “huh..the ground is so close that even if I do fall off it won’t hurt so much” and you know what? All my tension was gone. I didn’t fight myself at all with grabby hands. i asked her to go and let her do it. It was amazing! If Trainer J had built a 5′ fence and told me to jump it, I would have. I was not scared one single moment on her. It was a new feeling.
She also was incredibly well trained. All I would do was sit tall, tighten my abs and she would down transition. I learned what a real contact felt like and barely had to squeeze the reins to get her to respond. It was really nice to ride something so well trained. I loved her by the end of it all.
What I did well:
My position was 1000x better and more stable right from the start.
I actually got a canter transition without pulling on her face and asking her to stop right away
Trainer continues to like my jumping position and I never lost a stirrup or caught Misty in the face over the jumps
My shoulders twisted in the circle and the mare’s body bent around me instead of being a surf board going around the turn
I didn’t mess up my jump course and planned my turns according to our pace.
I had fun!
What needs work:
My right leg goes all rogue on me. The left hangs nicely right where it should, but the right tends to want to toe out which put the zipper of my boot on her side and caused my hip angle to be way too open. Part of it is my own biomechanics. That ankle has had surgery and it doesn’t flex very well. so when I try to sink that heel down it toes out to get more flexion. Sorta cheating my way through it. It stretched out a lot by the end of the hour, so it is possible to fix it. It will just take time.
Cantering is my nemesis. I’m terrible at the transition, great once in it, but then I can’t seem to keep the horse in it. Going to write a whole post on this.
Figuring out a way to keep my leg on for forward momentum yet still be able to use that leg to apply aids. If anyone has any great tips, I’d love t hear them. I was using all I had to just keep the horse moving forward, that I had no way to use my inside leg in the turns to balance her or my outside leg to push her away from the rail.
Keeping contact. Every time Trainer would tell me to shorten my reins, I would then extend my elbows so I had shorter reins but I cheated and kept the contact thrown away because my arms were so long. Oops.
I really want to take Gem up there for a lesson. We discussed possibly doing back to back lessons with one hour on a lesson horse and the second on Gem. She thinks it would be really beneficial to jump on Gem right after and apply the same principles to her. I will be missing a lesson due to travel here shortly, so I am thinking of piggybacking next weekend.
Potentially a fun jumper show in June. They do $10 classes and she said I can use Misty or Ralphie in it to do the 18″ and 2′ classes if I am feeling up to it. She also offered Misty for lead line classes for Wyatt which I am all for. Imagine the pictures!