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Reflecting on January

Returning to journaling has reminded me how important reflection is to help set the path you want to be on. I only made one goal for 2019, live more, and I’m doing my best to let go of work and chores and enjoy this ride while I’m able to.

Monthly reflections will be a new feature for me and I hope to use them to not only look back, but to make small plans for the next month in order to continue getting more out of myself.

Waggy has no energy for reflection

At the beginning of 2019, I brought back some habits I had tossed aside in 2018 in favor of less stress. However, these activities turned out to be pretty essential to my overall well being. Wyatt will always be my first priority and I’ve made no specific goals beyond “doing the thing”, but even with that loose guideline I’ve found myself finding the time to fit these in now that I’m back to tracking them. Let’s take a look at how January went.

Riding

I rode 7 times breaking down into 4 flat and 3 jump schools. Zero lessons happened but I’m currently without a trainer and not worried about it. This number may seem paltry compared to most who ride 6 days in a single week, but for me and my life this is a big win right now.

I’m starting to really enjoy the view from between these orange ears. 

H’Appy started off not particularly enthused with heading back into more consistent work but every ride he improved and now his typical first 10 minute temper tantrum has disappeared completely. A big yay for that nonsense to be gone. It does rear its head again once he gets fatigued or if I give him too long of a walk break and he thinks he is done, but as we move towards spring and the weather becomes more temperate again I should be able to build his fitness which should reduce this.

Heading into next month I’d like to start stringing small courses together with an eye towards a schooling jumper show March 23rd.

Running

9 runs for a total of 16.98 miles.

Things were starting off really well with a nice run/walk balance until an old injury showed back up. When I was running in 2017 I suffered through some nasty left buttock pain and cramping which I thought was piriformis syndrome but all the stretching and strengthening didn’t touch it. When I began running this month, I was happy to note that there wasn’t even a twinge but my last several runs ended up with me feeling crippled into the next day. I’ve set up a PT appointment with my favorite therapist so hopefully it can be fixed for good since a year of rest didn’t resolve the issue.

Spent a misty cold Saturday creating a race track in the arena for Wyatt’s hot wheels cars to race on. 

Heading into next month I’m excited to get into PT  and make a game plan on how to fix me.

Work/Life Balance

Zero days off but I did force myself to leave work on Fridays at 330 so I could sneak in a ride before getting Wyatt. It’s only 90 minutes early but it really made a big difference in how I viewed the work week.

I found yoga videos on the treadmill and have added 20 minutes of yoga after each run. Wyatt and Dusty joined me one night and it made me so so so happy

I’ve got case submissions for the second part of my surgical boards so February may not look the same as January but I plan to head into the month with some scheduled hours off to help avoid burning out.

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Tracking sugar may seem silly, but when you work in an office where people are constantly dropping off donuts, cookies, brownies etc…it is easy to pig out on the daily. Only splurging 4 days, and those occurred mostly on the weekend, was really good. 

Living Life

We went on 2 new adventures this month, both requiring me to take a deep breath, put aside my type A tendencies and ignore a whole lot of chores/work that needed done.

Snow tubing adventures in NC. Left a 45F and sunny day and drove to the mountains where it was 27F and windy. It was a blast!

It was 100% worth it and had a huge impact on me not feeling like all I do is work: work at work and work at home.

Heading into next month I’d like to continue to look for opportunities to walk away and ignore my responsibilities a couple of days and solidify some travel ideas for the summer.

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Also tracking water consumption. I’m terribly dehydrated 90% of the time and it makes me tired and feel punky. I have a 750 mL bottle at work and each water drop is drinking one of those. I’m getting better about it. 

Favorite part of the month

Hands down the best part was the trail ride with Wyatt on Gem and me on H’Appy. It was perfection.

The best day

Overall Feeling

January was a great month which feels odd to say since the weather was absolute crap with more rain and gloom and an overall soggy atmosphere. Had I not done the things above it really would have been a bad month full of feeling unfulfilled and listless, so I’m really pleased to see to the impact that these little activities had.

Heading into next month I want to continue tracking my habits, riding, running and moving into a healthier version than I’ve let myself sink into last year. I’ve got a bit of a hole to dig out of to get there, but I think I’m on the right path.

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A Good Example

You know what I was trying to explain yesterday? Well, last night proved a good example.

It was cold. Extremely cold by SC standards with a nasty wind on top of it but I wanted to get a ride in before the five solid days of rain in the forecast. I didn’t really have much of a plan going in likely just continuing to get comfortable with his canter and transitions into and out of it.

Preparing for five days of flooding rain. At least it will be almost 70F

I wasn’t even thinking as I brought everyone in for dinner and then threw Gem and Pete hay while I took H’Appy out to ride in the arena. He was perfectly fine until we entered and he looked around realizing they weren’t in sight.

It’s been a long time since I’ve left them inside while I rode and it didn’t even dawn on me it would be an issue. As he spun around the mounting block it quickly sunk in that I had my hands full.

After working a while to reinstall that standing still was not negotiable, I mounted up and we walked off. He was tense and felt ready to explode but I knew it was just being nervous out all alone in the world. I didn’t agree that he should feel that way, but I understood.

The footing may suck but at least I have lights

I forced myself to remain as calm as possible, making sure my weight was in my heels and my hips were open and allowing him to relax instead of getting tense and creating more tension in his back. One piece of advice I got a long, long time ago and stuck with me was that the rider and horse should always equal 10. When he comes out at a 2 I need to bring the energy in myself up to an 8. Last night he was already a 9, so mine needed to be a calm and quiet 1.

We walked. He cried out for his friends a few times. He curled behind the bit and shook his head. I thought about how to react and how to help him.

Circles. Bend. Square turns. Walking over ground poles. Halting a million times. Always keeping him moving. Always making him check in to see what we would do next.

Gem says she is sick of dark winter nights too

It took a while but eventually he started to halt when I asked with a light squeeze on the reins. Lots of praise.

A while later he started to walk off again without a tantrum. Lots of praise.

A while later he lowered his head and relaxed.

Ride over.

Dusty worked hard with the help of my dad to get this stump out. It was nice to get rid of it

It wasn’t the ride I had planned or really even wanted. I wanted to canter. I wanted to trot. More importantly though I wanted yet another positive experience to continue to build his trust in me. I wanted him to continue to learn that I’m fair and I’ll reward good behavior.

I’ll hop back on him again Friday after work. I haven’t decided yet if the horses will go in the barn or not. I need to work on him being able to ride all alone, but I also don’t want to blow his mind so I think I’ll leave them out and maybe try an every other ride situation.

I’d also love to trailer out to my old Trainer’s barn to string together some jumps in a small course. It would test his brain off property which is something I haven’t done since July, so hopefully I can squeeze that in between Dusty working Saturday and celebrating his birthday Sunday.

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A More Mental Ride

Not this type of mental…though he has plenty of that too

Gem was a pretty straight forward ride. Okay…those of you who have met her can stop laughing now. Seriously. I’ll wait.

Done? Good. Lets move on.

Honestly though, while she was a twisty, turny pretzel and was OPINIONATED about literally everything she could formulate an opinion about, the actual act of riding her didn’t take up a whole lot of my grey matter. A huge part of this was due to the fact that I had been riding her for almost a decade and knew exactly how she would respond to any stimulus, or lack of one, but most of it was due to the fact that Gem had one response: get tense, hollow and speed up. Put leg on? Speed up. Take it off? Speed up. Ask for bend? How about we speed up instead. Point to a jump? Lets go faster! You get the point. I had to focus a lot on what my body was doing and how I was asking for things, but it wasn’t what I would call a puzzling ride. A frustrating one, mostly, but not mentally challenging.

Don’t listen to her lies. I’m easy like a Sunday morning.

Maybe it will make more sense as I start talking about the Big Orange Butthead.


So apparently I call him Butthead a bit too much. Last night Wyatt was hanging out with H’Appy along the fence after dinner and I hear him say “Hey, Butthead, how are you tonight?” Oops.

I find H’Appy to be the polar opposite of Gem in nearly every way. Which was sorta the point of getting him. Where she was physically challenging to stay with, he is a pretty easy and comfortable couch to sit on. But where she was a bit of a mental coast, he requires me to call in to service tiny neurons that have been hibernating for a long, long time.

My rides of late have been a lot of mental checking in with myself and trying to figure out the pieces to his puzzle and not only in a “is he lame again or just being lazy?” scenario. It took me a long while to figure out the best plan of attack, and then actually convince myself to do it, during his early ride temper tantrums. I need to sit silently, calmly and ignore the bejeesus out of him while expecting him to do what I am asking. When I do that and ignore all his evasions and keep on carrying on like he is behaving under me, he very quickly settles down and does what I ask of him. Not letting myself get bated into a tug of war game I can’t win is hard, but worth the self restraint.

As I ride him and he starts to shift his reactions under me, I am always having to think “Okay, he is now doing this so what can I do?” He gets both easily distracted and easily bored, so I can’t just power around the arena at the trot for an hour and call it a good ride. Transitions are a must. Changing geometry, different patterns, new shapes are a must.

Blurry jump photo because I’m proud that we are jumping again

I’m not really articulating my point very well here and it is frustrating me as I try to write this. With Gem I got on and I rode. Not always pretty and not always well, but I rode and I checked out on my life and it was easy in that regard. With H’Appy I end the rides feeling a bit mentally tired from always checking in with my position, my aides and then coming up with solutions to keep him engaged and working. With him this shifts throughout the ride multiple times as his energy levels and dedication to the effort waxes and wanes which keeps me always thinking, planning and changing it as it progresses.

Sure, having a trainer would help relieve me of some of this, but I am really enjoying this new to me part of riding I never had before. When Gem was new to me I was a lot less educated than I am now and I just fuddled through it. With H’Appy I’m really trying to approach him more systematically and make new mistakes rather than repeating old ones. It means I’m a bit more fatigued at the end of the ride and having to do more research on exercises to work through, but it also means that my comfort level with him is expanding and I am learning a lot about both of us.

I feel deep down in my gut that H’Appy could turn out to be an amazing horse for me. Just enough difficulty to keep me learning, growing and not getting complacent, but easy enough to regain my confidence and feel able to explore new adventures. I also have a nagging and very depressing sensation that he will not be sound enough for long enough to ever reach that potential, but I am trying to drown that voice out. Time will tell how all this plays out, but for now I ‘m enjoying the mental workout he gives me even when our rides last all of 25 minutes.

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Wow…It Has Been Awhile

I’m sitting outside my work having locked my keys inside the building with no way to get home or back in. Editing may suck on this because I’m using my phone with frozen fingers.

That gives you a bit of insight on how crazy life has been for me lately. My brain isn’t functioning very well.

But I’m still here as are the horses. At least 90% of the horses. H’Appy keeps losing pieces of himself in an attempt to drive me to my grave.

I rode him Friday when I saw the above and I think he was ever so slightly off in that hoof. I texted the farrier who had no idea how he could have managed it but there isn’t anything to do so I’m mindfully ignoring it while squirting Thrush Buster up there and painting the hoof with keratex. He is either going to live until he is 50 to plague me or die in the next year. It’s a toss up.

The ride itself was pretty good despite my concerns over the hoof. I added a 2′ vertical along the opposite rail of the cross rail and managed to clobber it a few times before making it over. Typically he is pretty careful and excited to jump and the times he hasn’t wanted to leave the ground were when he was hurting which is why I think the hoof hurt him. Dusty said it wasn’t there that morning so whatever he hit it on happened during the day.

Anyway. I continue to be pleased that he never says no to a jump or takes a second look and our rides have followed the same theme of late. Namely his early ride temper tantrum continues to be a thing of the past but will show up once he gets fatigued which I understand. More conditioning work once weather allows will help that. Even when it does show up he isn’t as committed to the effort as he once was and I’m quick to end it as soon as he caves in so hopefully he is learning that good things happen to good ponies.

Canter work is also a priority for me. I really really want to start cantering courses but in order to do that I need to get a whole lot better at steering and controlling my body in the canter on the flat. I think once I get more comfortable in the canter itself and learn to set the poop down instead of bracing through the stirrup, the course work won’t seem so intimidating.

In other not news, Pete and H’Appy continue to play much to the annoyance of No Fun Gem.

And really that is all. Life is boring around here folks. I’m currently gathering my surgery cases for case submission as the final part of my boards certification process and that is about all the stress I can manage.

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In Search Of

Shopping is my nemesis. I’m cheap and prefer used to new, but I like high quality goods that will last long enough to delay the shopping experience a good healthy while. I’ve already dumped more into H’Appy’s current tack set up than I did in total over 10 years with Gem, ugh.

There are a few more pieces I’d like to change out though which means more shopping and spending more money. Before hitting the various online and app based used tack places to search through crappy ads with bad pictures and important information missing , I thought I’d hit up the blogging community. You all are much better tack hoarders than I am and I was hoping to snag some used items from one of you instead of a complete stranger.

The two items I’d really like to snag right now are new irons and a set of iron covers. Seems like I need to do a better job protecting my new precious saddle with its luxe leather. The iron covers are nicely priced on Etsy and I am fine ordering from there, but maybe one of you makes them and wants some side hustle money? I’d buy the Bates ones, but they are purple and I’ve already sunk low enough to use navy. Purple is not going to happen. Seems like once you start down the purple road your brain turns to a purplish mush and you go insane.

Not this color or pattern, but something soft and fleecy like this to protect the flaps when my irons are run up.

Irons are more difficult to figure out. The Bates saddle I took on trial before ordering mine had wonderful stirrups on them. Unfortunately I wasn’t smart enough to take a picture or ask the brand before returning the saddle. I’ve done some research and I believe they were the Compositi wide bed with shock absorber like below:

The ones I tried were silver but they had the wide foot bed with the arrow to show which side the iron belonged on. Of note, they were on backwards.

I’m not set necessarily on that specific brand, but I really liked the wide foot bed, the aggressive tread and the slight give it had. The only two things I wished it had were a 90 degree eye so it laid correctly on the leathers and were a bit heavier than the plastic composition.

They aren’t even that expensive online, but again maybe a blogger has a pair they aren’t using and want some cash with show season around the corner. Anyone have anything similar they want to sell before I buy new?

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Changing Expectations

For the past several months, the very thought of riding H’Appy brought about much trepidation. Bringing him in from the field was never an issue, much unlike his predecessor who hid behind trees on the regular, but once in the cross ties a fight to keep all my appendages in functioning order and attached to my body would ensue.

He would paw. He would eat the cross ties. He would whip that big orange head of his around and try to bite me. He would weave side to side trying to squash me against the wall. He would try to step on me. Tightening up the girth was an adventure always leading to pinned ears, angry faces and homicidal ideations on his part. You can imagine how that set the tone for what was to come on both our parts.

Don’t listen to her! She is telling lies!! Lies I say!

Last night was the perfect night to ride. The day had been sunny, warm and dry. The arena is still partly under water from the deluge earlier this week, but it was workable. I wanted to ride. It gave me pause though because the timing was not right. I’d have to bring them in for dinner and let the others out while I tacked him up. Or I could bring only him in and tack up before feeding but then the others would be hanging by the gate. The last time they did that, H’Appy started rearing in the cross ties so bad I threw him in his stall.

But I wanted to ride and a quick check of the weather showed rain today through the weekend. This would be my only chance this week and Hubby had agreed to cook dinner so I could ride. I drew in a deep breath, changed into riding clothes, grabbed his halter and decided I was not going to tip toe around his schedule. I was going to ride.

I told the hubby to take a video and I’d grab stills, but he didn’t remember so you get blurry pictures in the dark again.

And you know what? He came up to me in the pasture and led in quietly. He stood int he cross ties while Gem and Pete stared into the barn feeling starved and deprived. He let me brush him all over with a cocked hind leg. I grabbed the saddle and he looked at me, but didn’t move. I tightened the girth and saw nary an ear flick in my direction. We waked off to the arena, through the gate and past his friends, and he never once planted his feet, pinned his ears or tried to eat me.

This was the third ride in a row where he was a GOOD BOY.

This one turned out really good though!

I went into this ride wanting to work on the canter. I hate the canter. My entire riding life has lived in the trot and I am very comfortable there at 12 mph flying down twisting, single track trails, up and down hills and over streams. I’m not so comfortable at a 6 mph canter in a flat arena. Time to fix that. He was already in a listening mood, so I worked a while at the walk to loosen us both up and working really hard on my seat.

My seat has two modes: rigidly braced and loosely driving. Neither are good. I really want to correct this and focus on a light, following seat at all gaits so that I am more neutral in the saddle unless I am asking for something instead of either blocking or yelling. So at the walk, I really concentrated on this. I’ve gotten pretty good at not being rigid and braced at the walk, but it has recently swung to me trying to move for him and that drives us both crazy. Last night I really allowed my hips and lower back to relax while sitting tall and sucking my navel in and just moving with him.

Canter zoomies…go fast…but hey at least I have proof that I look up and look at that hind leg reaching under him. If he was being ridden by someone who knew how to ride, he’d be a pretty fancy little chunk.

This will be super shocking to you all, so brace yourselves here. By doing this, H’Appy gave me a wonderful forward, marching walk that was in front of my leg without me forcing it and he even began to stretch down into the contact. It was a baby stretch down, but man did it feel good! I completely messed it up by not having contact to reach into, but baby steps here folks.

He is trying to reach for a contact that isn’t there. Sorry, buddy! On the plus, my leg is actually beneath me instead of lock kneed and toes in front of his shoulder. Progress!

After a brief trot tour to see how he was going to react to transition work, a bit of head tossing but nothing major, and it was on to the work of the night: the canter.

His canter button is really amazing. Sitting a few steps of the trot, bringing my heel ever so slightly back and a light graze on his side and he is off! I focused hard on having a quality trot before asking for the canter and some times managed it and sometimes not. Over all though he was ok. I forgot to steer the first few times and ended up nearly plowing into the arena fence, but he was game to keep trying. I worked him left and then right concentrating on forcing myself to sit deep in the saddle versus being braced and rising ever so slight out of the saddle, lowering my hands that want to come up to my chin, letting my legs hand loosely but on so as not to nag him…oh and that whole steering thing.

I think I’ll keep him. He may not think the same about me, but such is the lot of a horse.

I’d give myself a B- overall. Nothing horrendous happened, we picked up the correct lead every time, and I managed to keep his flubby body in the canter until I asked to trot at which point he told me to screw off and halted instead. Steering needs a lot of work. Sitting deep needs a lot of work. Not letting him plow onto the forehand or go flying off into the distance needs a lot of work.

But I kept my head screwed on, thought about my position, planned somewhat ahead on my track of progression and had fun.

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Removing Pressure

In the interestingly ironic and yet predictable way that life works, I made the same mistake with H’Appy as I did with Gem that I swore I would not do.

Namely, I ignored the fact that we didn’t know each other and jumped in head first only to land on that head in short order, figuratively speaking.

Super weird confession time. I never used to make my bed. Didn’t see the point if I was just going to get in it again. Ever since cleaning lady has started coming and making the bed I can’t go to sleep in a messy one any more. Apparently Smokey Cat agrees. She has claimed this sunny spot for her afternoon naps

With Gem, I was bold, brave and stupid. She was green, lacked confidence and intelligent. It led to a lot of fights, tears and declarations of a sale that never happened. Things didn’t improve with her until I moved to WI, had her in my back yard and was forced to slow way down due to 90+ hour work weeks and no sleep.

When I unloaded H’Appy I was timid, cautious and a lot smarter. He was bold, brave and wicked intelligent. It led to a lot of fights, a few tears and a declaration of a sale a time or two. Thankfully I’m extremely stubborn and hate giving up, so he is still with me.

The thing is that even promising myself I wouldn’t push things too fast, I still did. Here I was with this new orange horse who I paid way too much money for and I felt this internal pressure to now do all the things with him. I bought him specifically to do all the things, he was purported to be able to do the things, and I had a bit of a need to prove to myself that some issues were truly a Gem issue and that I wasn’t the worlds worst rider.

This handsome fella with his professional side eye and crazy mohawk.

So I pushed this new to me horse in a new to him environment to do things. It didn’t go very well.

I’m a slow learner, but I can learn and so right now as we get back under saddle and moving forward again, I’m taking all the pressure I have placed on us off.

I’m riding as able and working on what feels right to me in the moment. Some days that is jumping. Others it is simply walking with a few trot transitions thrown in. If he is listening well and calm, I canter. If he isn’t, we walk and halt and work on square turns and halting off my seat.

I want him to learn that I am fair, predictable in my requests yet persistent and a voice that can’t be tuned out. I want him to trust me not to get himself killed and I want him to continue to be bold and brave, two characteristics that made me choose him over others.

It means a lot of small rides with small questions scattered with bigger demands and higher standards.

To that point I went to ride Friday afternoon and found a compliant gelding in my cross ties. He had new shoes put on Thursday and I’ve learned to give him bute in his dinner the day the farrier comes to help with any soreness from the procedure. Of note, farrier is much happier with the status of his feet these days and thinks we may get him out of pads eventually.

Love my farrier. He comes while I’m at work which relieves more stress than I can describe here. He shows up, texts with me, then offers to put them out after he is done. He is never allowed to move or retired. Ever.

I had one thing I wanted to really work on: the backside of the fence. You see, I have this annoying habit of being so insanely happy to just get over a fence that I celebrate and throw riding right out the window as soon as we get over. When I jumped earlier in the week, I found myself careening around the arena going nowhere and I thought “hmmm…maybe I should do something about that”

So Friday I kept the small cross rail and added a single ground pole 180 degrees opposite of it on the rail. I wanted to trot over the jump and the pole and by adding this I not only had something to aim for (helping my lack of steering) but also something to make me come back to a trot.

H’Appy was feeling good and argued that cantering was both more fun and easier than trotting politely. This translated to more work for him but that’s his fault. After warming up using the arena at large, I started going right taking the crossrail at the trot, cantering away keeping my eyes on the ground pole, bringing him to a trot before it, trotting over, trotting to the crossrail and repeating. They were far enough apart to be taken straight and then bending after versus creating a circle including both elements.

A ground pole. Thrilling media I know. I really need a solo shot for my birthday this year.

Or at least that is what I tried to do. He thought launching over the ground pole and trying to fly off into the distance was a better plan.

It took a while but eventually he was trotting the pole and the crossrail going right. His canter felt so amazing though that I let him canter the exercise a time or two before taking a walk break and switching directions.

Guys, that was the first time I cantered a fence with him. It felt AMAZING! That’s a whole other post though because I have a lot to say about it.

Going back to the left was once again a discussion that we can’t rush to the good part and canter the entire thing. It took a long while to get him trotting it and once we had it down I trotted around three times and called it quits.

He was starting to get that horse sweat smell and was breathing pretty hard at this point so it was the perfect time to end it. I gave him a ton of praise as we walked back to the barn.

Such a handsome guy.

It was super fun and rewarding. I’m learning to be a lot more strict with him and planning ahead really helps that. I don’t want to drill him with the exercise but I think the idea of it is something we will continue to work on for a while to help us both out.

I also think that while I’m missing having lessons, for right now I’m not going to sign up for any. For one, chubby wouldn’t be able to handle an hour long session right now at his fitness level and I don’t want to cause injury or stress by asking him to do something he isn’t physically prepared for. I’m also liking having the ability to adjust on my own per how we are both feeling. This ensures a positive outcome versus riding with someone who wants us to do x even though we just aren’t able that day.

I’m really starting to enjoy this orange beastie of mine and looking forward to the future.