Friday, October 9, 2015

My Favorite Moment

I have a favorite moment with Tucker, it happens just about every time I see him.

When I ride after work, I've usually just come from at least 9 or so hours of almost non-stop tension, mixed with a little anxiety, sometimes interrupted with some boredom, peppered with the occasional full-blown panic attack.  I am almost never in a good mood when I leave the office.  

And then I sit in traffic.  So, you can imagine that does wonders for the psyche.  (New Jersey drivers have a special kind of road rage.)

I get to the barn, it smells like horses and fresh air.  There are usually cars in the driveway of people I like.  Sometimes there is wine waiting in the fridge.  I change out of work clothes into breeches and start feeling a bit better.

And then I take a walk out to catch my horse, and I start feeling a little buzz of anticipation, knowing in moments I will see his sweet face.  

I get to his field and grab his halter from the hook, the worn leather and the weight of it feels familiar as I toss it onto my shoulder.  The rattle of the chain breaks the silence as I go through the gate.  It's even better this time of year because it's completely dark when I get there.  The air is cool, it's completely quiet except for crickets chirping and leaves rustling.

I wander farther into his field until I spot two little hind white socks emerging from the darkness. Sometimes he sees me coming and starts walking toward me, sometimes he stands facing me, head in the air, waiting for me to approach, and sometimes he keeps eating with one ear pointed in my direction. 

Then I get to him, and I reach my hand out.  The tips of my fingers touch his velvety nose and then he lowers his head and gently pushes forward against my palm, so my hand slides all the way up over the smooth hair of his face and into his soft forelock.  We do this every time we greet each other.  It's become as familiar a gesture as between any other people.  I stand for a minute and stroke over his eyes and scratch behind his ears before holding his halter under his nose for him to slip his head into it.

And for that one quiet moment, everything is right with the world.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I've Got a Girl Crush...

... on this mare.  These photos are gorgeous but honestly they don't even do her justice.  In person she is positively stunning.

Seriously, I'm in love.

I wasn't sure if I would make it to Dressage at Devon this year, because there was this whole hurricane thing, but I really wanted to see Amy ride and I guess the Universe decided to just take it easy on me for once, so the storm blew out to sea and although it was gray and a little windy, it turned out to be a nice afternoon.

Despite the chill and wind, which was making a lot of the horses more tense than usual, Amy put in a really great test.  And this mare, you guys.  I was keeping a close eye on the warm-up so I wouldn't miss her, but there was no chance of that.  This girl stands out in a crowd.  

I took a video of the test, which I uploaded and deleted from my phone... and then YouTube ate it.  I really wanted you all to see what a lovely rider Amy is (she sits so still), but for now you'll have to settle for these screen shots.  

Such eye candy!  I have a major case of grabby hands for this mare.

Also, given that I have been a bit morose about my love life on the blog as of late, it's worth mentioning that Ethan came to Devon with me and we had a great day together, so things are looking up. Which just proves what I've been saying for years, that Devon is a magical place.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Life Lessons I've Learned from Horses

1.  No matter what the problem is, keep going forward.

2.  It's important to have a Plan A and a Plan B, and sometimes a Plan C.  And equally important to accept that someone could lose a shoe at the last second and Plans A through C will go out the window.

3.  When you are struggling with something, taking a day off to do something more fun and enjoyable can be more productive than continuing to struggle through it.

4.  When you aren't sure what to do, treat the issue conservatively and give it a few days.

5.  Sometimes "bravery" just means fighting the instinct to run like hell.

6.  It is possible to do something the wrong way for a long time, without making it impossible to do it the right way in the future.

7.  Safety in numbers is a real thing. The right friends can get you through just about anything.

8.  Getting frustrated or angry will not get you what you want.  Being clear about what you want will eventually lead to the right results.

9.  Success is not linear, and a set-back or a mistake does not equal failure.  (I've said this before, but it bears repeating. I should probably have this written down in several places.)

10.  A sense of humor always helps.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Kaley Cuoco Might Be My Spirit Animal

Horse Collaborative posted an article about Kaley Cuoco (she plays Penny on the Bing Bang Theory), called "A Barn Girl's Guide to Breaking Up." I know those feels.

So, you know, at least I'm not alone.

I really appreciate all your comments, and the checking up on me, and especially all the offers for places to stay, because I need them.  This is going to sound really lame - but I just about tear up every time someone loosely throws around the word "home," like "you should bring this home," or "when will you be home?" or "call me on your way home."  Because right now even though I have a very nice place to stay, I don't know where home is, or will be, or more importantly should be.  And I kind of don't want it to be a sad little apartment where I live out my days surrounded by cats.  But on the other hand I am an invincible single woman who doesn't need a man around to be happy so maybe I'll just love myself if no one else will.

Sometimes I feel really emotionally mature, and tell myself I'm just going to guide this ship with a steady hand back to calmer waters, and everything will be just fine and I'll be so thankful I took this time to really reflect on my needs, and my flaws, and my dreams.  I picture myself wearing lots of flowing garments and reading a lot, probably on a window seat, in these scenarios. Moments later I will feel the opposite of that, which is that I'm fighting for something that doesn't exist anymore, and nothing will work out, and it's a complete waste of energy, because I'm not emotionally mature at all, and I won't be able to make it work, and no one loves me, blah blah blah more sad stuff pass the wine.

Sometimes I feel like writing this blog is really cathartic and good for me and maybe I'm getting some really good stuff out here by including this.  And then I feel like I'm being an egomaniac and wonder why anyone would ever read this inane, depressing, useless drivel.  Sometimes I feel like it's completely inappropriate for me to be blogging about personal matters on a blog that is supposed to be about horses. But then I remind myself that he doesn't read the blog anyway (and then that cruel little voice in my head reminds me that this is proof that he never cared about me anyway).  I feel really bad for the couple of internet strangers who started following me last week. You've walked in at a bad time, and I do apologize for the mess.  I promise I will at some point return to talking about the intricacies of shoulder-ins and the joys of alcoholic trail rides.

Sometimes I feel like if I just talk to the right person, and get just a slightly different perspective, this will all make sense and I'll know what to do.  And if I'm feeling particularly grumpy, I feel like no one knows anything and I can't stand anyone. Unfortunately, no one has any right answers. My grandfather called me at work to check up on me, and he admitted that after 92 years he still can't tell me what I should do. I burst into tears, because how else can you respond to that?

Tears have been showing up way too often, and I am supposed to be a tough horse chick who drives a pick-up truck and practices law and doesn't get all girlie and emotional. But yesterday I picked up a friend at the airport, and I kid you not, when I pulled up there was a couple kissing each other goodbye over and over and over. Like a scene from the most laughably predictable rom-com. And I could not look away, and before I could even process what emotions I was feeling, tears were streaming down my face. Was I jealous? Was I sad because he wouldn't have kissed me goodbye that way? Do I just miss him? Am I afraid I won't have that again? Who knows. But I could do without this face-leaking b.s.

There is also a great deal of feeling sorry for myself -- which is ridiculous, because I'm the one that left. But I can't help feeling like this was supposed to be my happily ever after, and I blew it.  All my life I have been telling myself that it only has to work out once, and yet I still can't seem to work it out at all. I should have just sucked it up. I shouldn't have put up such a fuss about things that upset me. But then I think, NO dammit - I deserve to be treated better, and this is not all my fault. And that nasty little self-doubting voice in my head is ready and willing to point out all the reasons why I'm not worth the trouble. Maybe if I cared half as much about my own appearance as I do about my horse's. And then I remind myself I'm being insecure -- which is yet another unattractive quality.  In a nutshell, the voice inside my head is super annoying right now.

Of course all of this wallowing is followed by the swift realization that there are much bigger problems in the world.  People are fleeing their home countries by plastic boat for fear of torture and persecution, and watching their loved ones drown along the way.  There are people in this country who are suffering unspeakable atrocities. Some of my own friends are dealing with personal tragedies that I cannot even fathom. And I'm whining about a break up?  I need to get over myself.

So... yeah. I'm doing that over-analyzing thing that I do a lot.  (Apparently I'm also making really obvious statements a lot.)  Because I don't know the "right" answer to any of the questions I'm asking, and I make different decisions about my life and therefore experience a ridiculous spectrum of emotions by the hour.  Which makes me feel a lot of things, all at once, and mostly that I'm crazy.

Yeah, not really.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Immeasurable Worth of Horses

So Lauren did a post today about Simon and how awesome he is... and how the emotional connection she has with him makes it impossible to set a value on him.

If I had to set a value on Tucker, I'd probably say it's a million dollars.  Because if I had a million dollars, I could invest it, so that when this foolish buyer realized he's not actually worth a million dollars, I could just buy him right back.  Because that's how that would go.  I could not stand to be without him for any sum.  And luckily, horses, unlike people, can't just decide they don't want to be with you anymore.  Well, I mean I guess he could just wander off in the middle of the night, but he's afraid to be alone, and he likes food, so...  I digress.

Back to the point!  So what kind of emotional value does Tucker have?

Well, when I feel helpless, he gives me a chance to help him not be afraid of the cat killing a bird under a bush.  (Which actually happened this weekend.  We were on pavement, and for a moment I thought, "So. This is how it ends.")

When I am sad, he will take me galloping through an open field as fast as we can go, and he never acts naughty, so I can just enjoy feeling free.

When I am happy, he is happy.  He's pretty much always happy, actually.  

When I feel like I can't do anything right, he'll help me get an 8.0 on a perfectly square halt.

When I need comfort, he will let me cry, or think, or even ramble on like a nut, and just be "there" for me in a quiet, comfortable way that most people can't.

When I feel like I don't really matter, he hears my voice and comes happily strolling up to the gate with his ears up because I'm his person.

When I need to have some fun, he is up for a mimosa and a trail ride.

When I feel like a failure, he gives me all these accomplishments to look back on.

When I feel like I'm giving and not getting in return, he shows up for me tenfold and I'm reminded that sometimes those efforts do get rewarded.

When my self-esteem tanks, he reminds me to be proud of myself.

When I need to feel like I've accomplished something, he gives me plenty of things to work on.  And sometimes that's all you need in order to feel better.

He teaches me that sometimes you have to be softer and gentler in order to get what you really want.

He teaches me that there is always something to be happy about, even if it's pouring rain.

He teaches me that our world is a beautiful place, and that getting out and feeling the sunshine on your face can really turn your day around.

He teaches me that success is not linear, and a setback does not equal failure.

He makes me feel stronger, and taller, and faster, and braver, and better than I am.

Someone said to me recently, "you've said your horse is your number one priority."  It was said with a negative connotation, but I said "Yes, he is," without hesitation or apology.  His happiness, his health, his soundness, his well being, and his comfort will always come first.  And maybe that makes me a little bit crazy, but it's part of who I am.  How could you put a dollar value on something that important?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

How Nicholas Sparks Ruined My Life

If you heard what sounded like a sonic boom emitting from New Jersey last Sunday, it was the sound of my heart breaking.

Ethan and I had a fight on Sunday morning, which are becoming more and more frequent. It centered around a horse care dispute, in which I thought he was being entirely ungrateful for my advice (that he asked for), and he thought I was being a condescending know-it-all and speaking to him like he's an idiot (my brother gave me that look that says "well, you can be a condescending know-it-all" when I retold this to him, so you don't have to take my side 100% here). 

After I had a fantastic ride and Tucker soothed my nerves and reassured me that all will always be okay so long as I can get a good, round, forward left lead canter, I went back home to deal with the situation, feeling confident that I'd turn this around into a teaching moment and I'd help Ethan learn some horse care stuff that he should know how to do anyway, as a horse owner, and I'd be helpful and patient and he'd be appreciative and we'd have a positive outcome from all this.

Ethan wasn't around so I settled down to watch some TV.  Ah, The Longest Ride.  I had initially avoided this movie because Nicholas Sparks is insipid (just ask Lauren), but maybe a good cowboy-themed Rom Com is just what I need to get myself into the mindset of being a loving and sweet girlfriend to my quasi-cowboy boyfriend.

Except NO.

Nicholas Sparks is a f***ing life ruiner.  You know what Nicholas Sparks and his ilk do?  They lead you to believe that real men should behave like the scripted men in these stupid movies.  That real men might actually waltz into the house with flowers, literally hat in hand, and say something charming.

That is not what happens in real life.  Did you know that?

What happens in real life is that when you piss a real man off, he stays pissed off.  He doesn't bring flowers, he brings a fight.  A fight that will make you jump out of your chair, angrily hitting the OFF button on the remote because you can't stand to hear another word of this Sparks-inspired idiocy, leaving the room in sudden darkness.  A fight that will send you storming through the house -- the house you love, by the way, the house you once looked at and saw your entire future spilling out around you like some stupid fairytale.  A fight that will leave you both standing in an empty kitchen screaming at each other, and finally, a fight that will end with you uttering the words "I'm done."

Those words will result in you packing all your worldly belongings into your truck in the middle of the night.  You'll be thankful, at the time, that you are a pick-up kind of girl, because you'll do it all in one trip, so he'll come home from work and find you and all your things gone.  And at the time you'll get some satisfaction from that image.  And you'll feel like a country song come to life and think about really ridiculous metaphors regarding tail lights and rear view mirrors, and at the time these will seem very profound.

And then you'll wake up in a strange bed every day for a week, alone except for a fluffy cat, whose terror at being in a new place will exponentially compound the guilt you feel (congratulations, you ruined your cat's life too).  And every single morning of that week will start the same way.  As you stir into consciousness, you'll have this vague feeling that something terrible happened.  And then as your senses pick up on the unfamiliar surroundings, you'll remember that your heart is broken and you just took a wrecking ball to the life you had been building.  And you will get up and drink coffee instead of laying there crying, because the rest of the world is oblivious to all of this, and you still have deadlines and responsibilities.

After a week of feeling this way, you will realize that you must try to fix this.  You will realize all the ways in which you played a hand in the demise of your relationship.  You will realize that you've mistreated the one person in this world that you cannot live without, and you will desperately fear the possibility that it can't be remedied.  

I am trying to fix it.  I am trying to figure out how to change and improve, the same way you'd try to figure out how to change and improve when a horse is not responding the way you had hoped.  And I am wishing that I believed more strongly in the power of prayer.  And since I don't, I am spending a lot of time with Tucker, working on things like our left lead canter.

Monday, September 21, 2015

In Which I Unlock the Secrets of the Universe

So lately we've been trying to find a good turnout group for Tucker because he has worn out his welcome after several relatively happy months with his turnout buddies (this happens when you are a 17hh obnoxious nudge), and I finally pulled the plug when the bites started becoming more frequent and more brutal (although I am totally fine with little nips, even if they are a regular thing, because boys will be boys).  So my (very patient) barn manager has been trying to find him a new group.  First try was a fail, and resulted in a very swollen and painful-to-the-touch kick in the neck.  He quite literally appears to have stuck his nose where it doesn't belong.

So that resulted in a lot of bareback in a halter with a glass of wine rides this week.  Because what else do you do with a horse who says he can barely turn his head?  

The lumpy view from above
(Tucker wasn't sure why his neck wasn't stabilized while we ruled out a spinal injury, and why I didn't order an x-ray, a cat scan, and a full cardio work-up, because he's pretty sure he felt his blood pressure spike when it happened, and you can never be too careful. He's been self-monitoring for signs of more serious injury -- dizziness, poor coordination, tingling, numbness, balance issues, etc.)

Less lumpy.  Still needed wine though.
He was finally back to his old self this weekend, so we had a jump school on Saturday (cause I'm the worst DQ ever) and a brilliant dressage ride on Sunday (cause I really want to be a DQ let's face it). Brace yourselves, I'm about to dork out on you pretty hard.

After reviewing the photos of my last show, I decided to focus solely on my left wrist.  I have a habit of breaking at the wrist, so my wrist is pointed up and my knuckles are down.  (This is another one of those times where my trainer mentioned this in a lesson and I fixed it for about thirty seconds and then got distracted and didn't think of it again, until I saw the photos and realized "OH that's what she's talking about. I need to fix that.")

And here's the thing -- while it takes literally constant vigilance to fix this habit, because I'm not really consciously doing it to begin with -- if I fix only that one thing, it actually changes everything else.  If I straighten my wrist, I have no choice but to bring my elbows to my side if I want to maintain contact on the reins.  And if my elbows are at my sides, I can't really lean forward.  And when there's a straight line from bit to elbow, I don't give Tucker anything to lean on, so he doesn't brace against my left hand and fall out of my right rein.  

It felt like I was unlocking the secrets of the Universe.  When he ducked behind the vertical and tried to avoid the contact, I could lift my hands a little and close my leg and get him to take the contact back, instead of fidgeting with my hands, which never really works.  Every time I felt like I was losing the connection on the right side or he was starting to lean on my hand, or bulge out through his left shoulder, I'd look down to see what my unruly left hand was up to, fix my wrist, and the problem would solve itself.  Amazing!

We had the most beautiful left lead canter work in recent memory.  I didn't break in the wrist, he stayed solidly connected on my right rein, and got nice and round and perfectly straight, no throwing his haunches out or resisting the inside bend.  He did some of his best collection work to date, as well as some great lengthenings where he didn't flatten out but kept that round bouncy feeling when he opened up.  It may not have looked all that impressive, but it felt like heaven.

Who knew something as simple as a little break in your wrist could change all that?  Oh, right, everyone knows that.  That's why all of us try to hard to improve our positions and fix weird little quirks like this.  

So you guys, dressage is hard (like really, really hard, it is so much more than just longer stirrups, boy was I naive, lolz) but rides like this are so satisfying!  I think I might be addicted.  Is there a support group?  Twelve step program?  No?  Just a training scale?  Ok then, I'll just be here trying to get by until my next fix....