Dress to Impress

I’ve never been too fussed about the gear my horse goes in. As long as horse is happy and the equipment is functionally safe, brand or the look of what we were wearing never even entered my radar of importance. Mostly because, as a kid, functional and not ugly were the two required checkboxes – horses were expensive enough as is, and I was not super *cool* to know what was trending on the circuit.

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Absolutely shocking to think I wasn’t cool growing up.

My perspective has shifted somewhat. Now, I care less about the ribbons (nice, but not need to have) and more about pictures I get to remember the memories. And because I love photos, I also care about how we (really, how the mare) look(s) in photos, and thus the quality of the gear that the horse wears does, in a small way, complete the picture.

Not in the sense that I would throw a “most leather wins” contest. I’ve seen those, and drowning a horse in gadgets does not look nice or make much sense oftentimes. But having a bridle that is not plastic-material and a square pad that has seen a washing machine in the last 6 months is more of a requirement for me now.

Imagine my pleasure of seeing mare in brand new and BEAUTIFUL gear. She looks really nice, and I was mega-impressed with the quality of the leather given the affordable pricepoint. Dang, she looks good in grey.

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“Why are you walking away from me with that light-up box?”

In a short two weeks, she will be wearing it again at our first horse show (holy mackerel, stress). Luckily it’s a venue she has shown at extensively. I do not get too nervous anymore (stay tuned for the next post) but it would be nice if I was not a completely absent driver.

My preparation thus far has been to admire the horse in her new gear and eat Girl Scout cookies. As far as I know, the road to success is paved with delicious packaged treats.

(K)Night Rider

Working during the day and living in a metropolitan city makes night riding  unavoidable. Usually this is a good thing, the ring is less crowded and the barn is more peaceful. My car spends less time sitting in non-moving traffic on a highway. There is, of course, no amount of maturity that can turn off feeling like my axe murderer might be around every barn corner (mid-twenties and still afraid of the dark).

I also am given the freedom to redecorate the ring with copious trot poles without getting in anyone’s way. Because we are in the phase of butt muscle building but still mostly confined to the indoor (spring, get with the program), it looks like a game of pick-up-sticks at times.

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Patiently waiting…

Riding at night also affords me the freedom to do those embarrassing self-torture equitation exercises. I prefer the light of day not see me ride in driving reins with one stirrup in a two-point with eyes closed. Kidding, but I do like to ride a fair bit without stirrups and a lot of times the world does not need to see that.

As silly of a problem as it is, I do sometimes wish there was at least one other person in the ring. Past me would react violently to this confession; a large part of my history includes delicately riding a landmine horse who was hypersensitive to his surroundings. Barn cat? Spook. Another horse? Spook. Pole drops? Spook. Lights turn on? Spook. Chair scraping sound in viewing area? You better pray to a higher power that you will survive that spook.

That horse, all the time.

The mare is not that type of horse (thank HEAVENS). We do have a really minor “I am so happy to canter” issue sometimes in large groups, but it is more caused by excitement than fear. It would be excellent if we could work on it more often, hence why riding alone is not always the most helpful.

Another reason why I do not like to ride alone at night is because of show preparation. There is a tiny detail about showing that is the bane of my existence called “warm up rings”. It is absolute and utter stress. I do horribly in warm up rings. I would rather walk in after a quick walk/trot/canter than try to bob and weave my way to a shared jump in a warm up ring. Riding while distracted is me trying to play chess while running on a treadmill and dodging paintballs being shot at me. No thought – all panic.

This is contrasted greatly with the calm, quiet ring at night when no one else is around. We get to work on relaxation, lengthening/shortening, straightness, pace, lateral movements, self-carriage, etc. without worrying about other people. Real life is other people being there, and it would be nice if we could practice doing all those things with others around too.

Oh so amused.

I am trying to remember the grass is always greener on the other side. I will take the quiet for now, because surely it will not last.

Bring on April Showers

There comes a point at the end of winter where everyone is just done. Done with the cold, done with the indoor ring, done with blanketing…. Surprisingly in Canada, the winter is not as bad as advertised because everyone seems so well-equipped (snow tires are a real game changer, folks).

But I admit, my enjoyment of this sport is affected when I can no longer feel my fingers, and no amount of preparedness for winter can take away my love of summer. And summer is coming.

I chanced it this weekend to take the mare outside for the first time. Riding outdoors for the first time in a season has always been risky. I never really owned the safe and steady type, and I often find myself riding… spirited… horses.

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I don’t even know where to begin…this photo gives me stress.

For instance, in university, I took the horse I leased to walk out along an outdoor path after hacking in the indoor ring with a friend. Mind you, the horse I leased was 18 (a fit and fiery 18, but damn he was 18). Holding the reins at the buckle, we were replaying a particularly wild university night and my horse spooks, gallops (bucking, broncing, farting — pure explosion), and hightails it across an open field back to his barn stall.

Miraculously I stayed on. The iPhone in my breeches pocket was never seen again.

You live and learn. I spent many rides working with that horse to bring down the level of spook from OH MY GOD THE WIND, IT BURNS to I am slightly more excited to be out here. Also at the time of the incident it may have been a good idea to be, oh, I don’t know, paying attention up there instead of gabbing.

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The offending fart-rocket… He is truly an awesome horse.

When Tango is in the outdoor ring, I happily only have to worry about brief outbursts, where she might get strong, but will not do anything too malicious. That is not too say I am not cautious (see, I can be taught). The first couple of times around the outdoor ring, my heels pushed so far forward I looked like I was riding a Harley.

Tango acted like a perfect lady; I was super proud. The only questionable moment happened when a horse in a nearby paddock made an offending sound. We had a brief “Weeeee” moment but quickly came back down to Earth.

Here’s hoping to many more outdoor rides.

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Accurate depiction of her head to body ratio 😉

Honeymooning

While the introductory post to this blog made me off as a complete clown, I can say with some confidence that I am a pleasantly mediocre rider with a very talented horse. My American roots have given me a good foundation, which I have inserted into a lot of different coaching scenarios and disciplines. The mare has been around for a bit of time, so not much fazes her at this point.

The entire arena foliage on one jump.

We even have moments of discernible teamwork, where we are communicating seamlessly and neither of us are cranky/hungry/otherwise preoccupied.

The nature of riding makes it so that you are always reflecting on what you could do better for yourself and your partner. This is not unlike other sports, except our partner does not speak English (or any verbal language), is fearful of most things, and could kill us fairly easily.

Riding is almost as much of a thinking exercise as it is actually doing. This introspection can sometimes sneak into other areas of life (cough, work), but the humility and hunger for progression is a good thing… until it isn’t, but that is another post.

The Mare and I have had a backwards relationship that started with a lackluster phase and has transitioned to more of honeymoon.

The honeymoon stage is why most horseback riders love the sport, you are totally in sync with the animal and the connection/partnership built is effortless. Often fleeting because we are dealing with two sets of personalities, moods, and physical capabilities.

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In search of some velcro pants

Albeit foolish to rely on an animal that will bolt at a plastic bag, there is something unspeakably validating. You know it’s against their ingrained nature to trust you, and yet they do it anyways. There is a bit of faith on their part, that sometimes is difficult for even a “rational” human to do.

For now, Mare and I are kicking it, figuring each other out, and bootcamping for show season.

 

 

Starts off with a bang… Or is it a bomb?

The journey truly began with a failure. Aside from hopping on Tango bareback when we were rehabbing her, the first lessons I had with her were rough, to say the least.

Tubby, but so cute

She was really excited to be back to jumping. I was attempting to lasso this energy for good in some way. For a while it worked. That is, until this energy stopped suddenly.

And that is how I fell off Tango twice within the first couple weeks of riding her. Aside from the occasional fall, I really do not come off that much, which is a credit to my spindly spider legs and a true hate for getting sand in all the crevasses.

The first time Tango hit the ejector seat was arguably the second-most pitiful of my life (the most pitiful fall happened about a year ago when a stubborn lesson pony that I was WARM UP RIDING for a collegiate catch-riding refused an 10″ crossrail. Hur, dur, dur – be like me and you too can embarrass yourself when in front of large and attentive crowds).

It’s almost like I have a history of doing this…

We were jumping an end jump on a circle, maybe 2 feet tall. At that time, we were not the most balanced, which was partially due to her unfitness and mostly due to me trying to do 1,000 things at once (straightness, pace, oh, hey look, there’s a cat over there, maybe I should look at that instead of the jump). The brakes on her were working that day, and I crashed and burned.

The second fall I was suspicious of her reindeer games, but she had urgency that day greater than the Tom Hanks in the Polar Express. We had a long approach to a 2’9″ vertical and from 6 strides out, Tango was locked and loaded. Noticing our stride was getting longer and downhill, our nice spot that I saw was disappearing fast. I asked to slow it down and rock back into more of an uphill canter in the most polite and ineffective way possible. I saw the stop coming but we were Titanic headed for the iceberg– the ship was sinking and there was nothing I could do about it. In my defense, I put up a better fight to stay on, but ended up landing on my butt.

Insert laugh track.

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No that blob flying through the air isn’t me… Why do you ask?

Luckily we have come very far from those first couple of rides over fences, and now I can say we are a burgeoning pair. She puts up with me riding entirely off my inside rein and I put up with her dislike of the pigs. The mare is one of the most patient horses I have met, and I am lucky to have found her and her truly wonderful owner.

So it may have started with a bomb, but hopefully it will end in a bang? Or perhaps we should be going for something less destructive entirely.