Wednesday, December 11, 2013

That Bitch Kicked Me!

I've always said that it seems to be the more experienced horse people that get injured around horses and last Friday I decided to prove it! We were in the midst of a week long cold snap in our area. Temperatures were in the teens and 20's the arena was frozen and I get home too late for a trail ride so both horses had been sitting. I decided to take Grace out for a  hand walk. All was well until we were on our way back down to the barn. Grace got sassy with me and stood up on her hind end. She then leaped forward and kicked out on the second jump. She caught me in the thigh. It took a second to register that she actually kicked me and then the pain hit. It was so bad it brought me to the ground. Grace ate grass around my head as I was laying there in agony. I was able to text Sarah who found me and nursed me back to health. I spent Friday night with my leg iced and elevated. I was really lucky that Grace didn't get me any higher or lower on the leg. 

Hindsight is of course 20/20 and I know that I should have taken control of her when she first acted up. I also haven't exactly been in the moment lately and I know that I need to be present around the horses especially when they have sat for a week! Lesson learned!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Something About A Nice Horse

We’ve heard Winston Churchill’s quote many times “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man” I’d like to add that “There is something about the outside of a WELL BRED BROKE HORSE that is good for Melissa!”  I walk away from every ride on Joe saying the same thing “Wow that is a really nice horse!” I spend the entire ride realizing that I don’t totally suck as a rider. Joe has a lope that I could sit for days. With Grace I was pretty well convinced that I wasn’t capable of properly loping a horse. Don’t get me wrong – I love Grace and everything she has taught me, but damn it is a real treat to ride a horse that is bred for the job I am asking him to do! I’ve been asking myself for the last 2 years what the other competitors in the show ring are doing differently. Why do their horses go so much nicer than mine? I am starting to understand – they are sitting on nicer horses to begin with. 

All of the lessons on Grace are coming into play on Joe. He is an easier ride and is super responsive. When I close my leg, he lifts his back and pushes up into the bridle. If I need more contact all I need to do is to close my fingers on the rein while adding more leg. If I tense my back I feel him change underneath me as if to say “where did you go” but he doesn’t hollow his back and throw his head like Grace. Joe has allowed me to find the stability in my body again under saddle. I’ve ridden Grace a few times when she didn’t have lessons scheduled and I will say our rides are much better – I give her the same ride I’ve been giving Joe – working on the same exercises. Grace is a Super Star in the lesson program – she now has more than one little girl that is in love with her. Grace loves the extra grooming time and treats that come her way from her little people.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Settling into Barn Life

Grace is doing really well in her new life at the barn. She quickly settled into the herd and has her two favorite boys that she nickers to and calls for when they are out of their stalls. I don’t think that I could move her out to be on her own again if I wanted to. Right now she is teaching one lesson a week but I anticipate that she will be taking on another little girl within the next week. If I take Grace into the arena and another horse is teaching a lunch line lesson she just stares at the other horse as if to say “hey that’s my job!” She still amazes me with just how good she is with the little people! Most days I work her on the lunge line with a trail ride and an arena ride or two per week. She has a stall with a nice sized paddock and occasionally gets pasture turnout. She isn’t complaining one bit about the less intense work schedule. 

I’ve been riding Joe as often as I can and have added one day a week of Peggy Cummings ground work. I may have said this before but Joe is an absolute joy to ride! I could sit his lope all day long. Once again I am finding out that I am actually a good rider but Grace wasn’t doing me any favors. It’s been a really nice experience to add leg to a horse and have him pick up his back, to ask him to move his hip and he just moves it, to ask him to pick up a shoulder and he just picks it up. I also find that when I get back on Grace I ride her with less emotion and put up with less of her attitude. I am no longer preparing for the show ring but working towards a goal of having her soft and quiet for the kids that will be riding her.

I have the opportunity to show Joe this winter at the indoor show series we attend and as much as I would love to I need to take a step back financially. I am getting ready to move into my own place and need add the grown up word of “budget” to my vocabulary. I also need to find out just how much the divorce is going to cost me. I had hoped to avoid involving an attorney but it is starting to look like I will need one. Last week my husband threatened to take Grace but then settled down and said he wasn’t going to do that. I pointed out to him that she is an older horse that won’t pass a vet check so whatever price tag he think he has on her is overinflated. This is the part of the process I wasn’t looking forward to.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

New Beginings

When I first moved Grace to Sarah's I offered her up for the lesson program. I figured Grace could help earn her keep and I could have a day or two a week that I didn't ride her. Grace taught her first lesson this past Saturday. I knew that Grace would be good on the lunge line - it is a routine she's had down since she was 3 years old. What I didn't know was how she would react to being ridden by children. Grace was an absolute super star, the little girl that rode her is an experienced rider with very good balance. She packed the little girl around with her head down the entire time like she was carrying precious cargo. When I heard Holly the instructor mention the canter I stopped what I was doing and immediately tensed knowing that Grace has a tendency to act out in the canter departure and they were going to the left which is her difficult lead. Much to my surprise Grace stepped up into the most beautiful rhythmic left lead canter. At the end of her lesson her little person leaned forward to wrap her arms around Grace's neck. At this time I still plan to ride and work with Grace but I will be open to the possibility of sharing her with a little person if the opportunity is there.

This handsome boy is Joe! He is one of Sarah's rehab horses that she owns - one that she has vowed to hold onto. He doesn't currently have someone riding him consistently and my saddle just so happens to fit him perfectly! Joe is very deep hocked and has the most lovely lope! I'm really enjoying riding him and I swear I could sit his lope all day! I'm still living day to day right now with my living situation and am not sure what my ability to show this winter will be but I would love to sit on Joe in the show ring. It would also take the pressure off Grace and I to preform at that level.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Life Changes

I’m not even sure how to start this post but to come right out and say it – I left my husband. The reasons why are not something I want to hash out on the Internet. I will say it was a very big, scary much needed step for me. The important thing for this blog is to know that Grace is safe and I am able to hold on to her. I am bouncing from place to place right now and hope to have a more permanent residence starting in November. In the meantime I am living out of the truck with a weeks’ worth of clothes. I had planned to return to the rental house on October 1st with Grace but my husband will be staying there instead with our dog Belle. It breaks my heart that I had to walk away from Belle, but I had to take care of myself first and foremost. Hopefully we can work out some sort of a partial custody agreement when the divorce is final. 

Grace and I are at a horse show this weekend, the last one of the season. I debated going once I left but my entry was already sent in, I’d put in for the time off of work and I really could use some time away. After this show I’m not sure what the future holds for Grace and I. I will do everything I can to hold on to her just like I have for the last 13 years. I know the decision I made is the right one and that we will both be better off for it in the end. I just wish I didn’t feel so lost right now.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Meet My Boyfriend Max

The week after the horse show Sarah experienced a pulmonary embolism. She was rushed to the emergency room in time and is doing well now, but she is on anticoagulants and blood thinners and is very limited to what she can do with the horses. When she was still in the hospital she asked me if I would consider riding her 4 year old gelding that the Finals show which is at the end of September. My first thought was “No Way!” this is the horse that Sarah started as a yearling and the last thing I wanted to do was to mess him up. But then I thought about all the times that I’ve ridden other horses and how much better it is for Grace; I’ve always increased my expectations of her after sitting on something that is a little more respectful. I agreed to come out and ride Max with Sarah last Friday which would be followed by a lesson with Edward who was visiting on Monday. 

Max is just dreamy! He is a joy to ride and seems so much less complicated than Grace. When I put leg on him he pushes up into the bridle. When I sit deeper he rocks back on his hock and slows down. When I ask him to move his hip, he moves it! What a difference from the sassy little mare who questions me each time I ask her to do something. I was nervous about riding him in front of Sarah but ended up having a really good ride. I then had an excellent lesson with Edward on Monday during which I had a moment when I realized that I am actually a good rider! I could feel when I needed to move Max’s shoulder or hip even before Edward would tell me to do it. Edward gave me some really good exercises for keeping Max on his hind end and helped me to learn to stop driving with my seat and allow Max to carry himself. At the end of the ride I told Sarah that I was pretty sure she gave herself a blood clot on purpose! She’s been telling me for 6 months now that I need to ride Max, even going as far as calling him my new horse. I kept putting her off but after sitting on him I see what all the fuss was about. I told Sarah that when I ride Max I feel like I can actually ride and she pointed out that Grace is not doing me any favors. 

I have a very emotional relationship with Grace; she’s been my only horse for the last 13 years and many times I have made sacrifices in order to hold onto her. I’ve always wanted for her to have the chance to shine, I think she is an amazing horse and I’ve wanted the chance to shine with her in competition. I still think she is an amazing horse, but I also am well aware of her limitations, this became very clear after having such good rides on Max. I had a lesson that afternoon on Grace with Edward; the ride was much more of a workout than the ride on Max. We did get some good lope strides in and Edward once again gave me some really good exercises to keep Grace back on her hind end. Sarah let me know that if I want to back off on showing Grace that I am more than welcome to show Max. It is a thought that I am putting at the back of my mind as I am still not ready to give up on Grace. 

I went back out to Sarah’s on Tuesday to ride Max but got home too late to also ride Grace. I made sure to put her back on the priority list on Wednesday. Grace was different from the moment I sat in the saddle. Her walk was slower and more thoughtful. Edward had told me to ride her in draw reins, something that I haven’t trusted my hands to do in the past but after getting a good feel for it during our lesson I felt confident. This time when I asked Grace to move her hip she just moved it, no head tossing, back hollowing or grunting. She was oddly respectful throughout the entire ride. Her lope was the biggest surprise of all, it was an actual lope! We worked on a counter canter exercise from our lesson and I could feel her load her hock the entire time. I then had the same ride tonight on Grace after riding Max at Sarah’s. The only change in the last week is that I am riding Max. If I had known this would be the result I would have started seeing other horse’s much sooner!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Jan Perry Gleason

I received an email just over a month ago with an announcement for a memorial service for my first horse trainer. After the initial shock that she had passed on – she was in her late 60’s, I made plans to attend the service. I hadn’t seen Jan in over 20 years but she made a huge impact on my life, one that I never had the chance to thank her for. 

My parents really had no clue what to do when we acquired our first horses. They were city folk that moved to the country to raise their kids. Luckily we had good neighbors that bred Quarter Horses. After being entertained by our beginner antics they would often lean over the fence and give us advice. I was on my second pony when the neighbors suggested that I start taking lessons with Jan Perry – the lady that had a barn down the street. They had watched me get bucked off my first pony time and time again and didn’t want to see the pattern repeated. I was only 8 years old at the time but I will never forget what a big deal it was to get to ride with Jan. The neighbors told me that I would have to mind my Ps and Qs while on Jan’s property. My pony would have to arrive brushed and my tack had to be clean and I was to listen to Jan and do what she said. Most of all I was not to embarrass then since they had put in the good word. 

Jan was recently divorced when I started riding with her and was running a full care boarding facility and training barn on her own. She also drove a big dually truck, she was by far the coolest woman that 8 year old me had ever met! She had breed and shown Appaloosa’s with her ex-husband, the tack room walls were plastered in ribbons, plaques and trophies. Jan was a stickler for equitation and good horsemanship. She was in no hurry to teach me to jump but made me ride in two point forever in order to strengthen my legs and seat. She took me to my first horse shows at the saddle club; I still have the ribbons I won in the walk jog classes on my pony. Jan ran a tight ship and I always knew I had to follow the rules when I was with her. I had to ride by her place on my way to the saddle club and she made it clear that if she ever caught me trotting or cantering my pony on the road that she wouldn’t teach me anymore. Jan taught me to put my horse first which meant skipping out on more than one ride with the girls down the street who liked to run their horses on the road. 

I was given the opportunity to share my stories of Jan at her memorial service. I only rode with her for a few years; she wasn’t able to keep the farm afloat on her own so she went to work for Washington State Ferries and eventually sold the farm. She walked away from the horse world and moved onto the next chapter of her life. I was blown away at the service hearing about all the different pursuits in her life and all the people she inspired along the way. After the service I was approached by her family and asked if I would come take a look at the horse related items she left behind. She had held on to 4 trunks of select items but rarely spoke of her time as a horse trainer. I finally made the trip out yesterday to pick up the tack. 

It is amazing to see what one holds onto when they walk away from horses. There are quality bridles, reins, romels, halters and a few bits.  My plan is to hold on to a few select pieces and donate the rest to a horse related nonprofit. I have no interest in making money off of Jan’s possessions; instead I want to find a way to honor her legacy through them. The pieces that I am keeping are the show halters and head stalls all of which need a good polishing. The silver has turned black and I’m hoping I can bring it back. I have Jan’s show saddle which I am unable to part with. If it doesn’t fit my horse I plan to hold onto it as a show piece. The custom saddle is also in need of a good polish, but I am just in awe of the quality of it. Clearly this was something she treasured. The timing of this is interesting as I am in the process of making some changes in my personal life and wasn’t looking to acquire more stuff.  What it has done is to cause me to reflect on the quality of my life and how I want to live each day. What legacy do I want to leave behind to those 8 year old little girls that might look up to me?