Crystallizing Moment

I forgot Smileworthy this week (I am the worst) but I wanted to introduce a new feature which I hope to be a regular theme on the blog.

Crystallizing moment. It could be as simple as wearing yoga pants to Thanksgiving dinner (BLESS) or as complex as synthetic aperture radar (ask for my personal blog for an explanation of that one).

With horses, I have a lot of these. As my over-analytical mind likes to assess each and every action, lightning-rod moments occasionally strike my brain and make everything clearer. I am thankful when my excessive reflection occasionally amounts to a productive perspective, because that is not always the case.

This time though, I was riding the big guy (who, by the way, is still for sale). Riding a simple course of outside-angle-outside, I realized I was constantly agonizing about the next jump.

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His face… the size of my torso…

Not innately a bad thing, but I had been completely letting everything slip into a meh description while I desperately worried about finding a distance to a jump 25 strides away.

This realization I had – which I have been told before by countless trainers – is that jumping is flatwork. You cannot have a good course without having good flatwork, which is a saying I will tattoo on my back one day (kidding, probably would get a tasteful neon butterfly).

After realizing, huh, maybe this whole between the jumps thing is the part I need to be focusing on, I did the course again. This time, I corrected our balance, turns, consistency of pace, and watered-down my two-point.

And to the surprise of no one at all, the course was more refined and, dare I say, quite good.

My mantra the last two lessons has been ride your canter, focus on basics. By and large, the jumps have come up way better as a result of that.

We are the Lucky Ones

I am so grateful.

Thanksgiving is one of those underrated holidays that sneaks in without much fanfare, but brings warm feelings. I am leaving its questionable origin out of the equation when lauding the day for its whole-hearted moments with family and appreciation for life’s blessings.

Since I primarily write about horses and riding here, I will keep my list to a strict equestrian theme.

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Exceptionally thankful for this peeking derp.

This year, I am thankful for –

  1. Riding Regularly. I get to spend time with these magnificent and kind creatures that center me and generate giddiness.
  2. Good Education. I am so happy with the instruction I am receiving. Objectively, I am doing more simple work, but focusing on so many details that I had let slip. It feels good to progress.
  3. Bystander Support. My friends and family, bless all of them, will continually ask me how my “horse races” are going, and I love them dearly for inquiring about my passions.
  4. Online Reading. These days, you can learn so much about horses and horseback riding online. Whenever I feel stuck, it seems like someone online had a similar problem and mapped out solutions.
  5. Happy Horses. All of the horses I ride have not been over-worked or unsound. They have guardians aside from myself looking after them and that can be elusive in certain areas.
  6. Black Friday Deals. Okay, I know we are thankful for what we have and all… but it doesn’t hurt to get some deals too!

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What are y’all thankful for?

Go Big or Go Home

As a female giant, I often feel like I miss out on some of the more fun aspects of riding. Mostly ponies. I wish I could ride ponies and spitfire smaller horses. Of course, I can do these things now, but I feel like a real squishing evil villain when I do.

And, as is now well-documented, my continuing journey to fight my over-active shoulders does not help small ponies. Apparently it’s not advised to push your nose beyond a pony’s ears in a two-point. I cannot imagine why…

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Why am I wearing bicycle shorts? Why is there no saddle? Why do I have a fanny pack? Unimportant – look at the pony squishing.

I finally got to reap some benefits of this unasked for height though. This weekend, I got to ride a super fun 18 hand (ish) horse.

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Le sigh…. Also note his withers are taller than me (5’9″).

At times you get on these big guys and they ride like a pick-up truck. Hard to turn, brake, and lacking of “sporty” features. This guy was a total exception, would ride around engaged, easy to bend, and light in the hand. Super fun to jump.

He’s for sale. I need a sponsor.

Although, given his height, I worry about soundness and trailering, guy that big cannot go in any old trailer.

All you nice people out there with money, please buy him and do awesome things.

Maturity Settles In

I like to think horseback riding has made me more asking and accepting of feedback than the average joe off the street.

Also do a lot more strolling than the average joe.

When someone has screamed about the angle of your toe, while in a crowded schooling ring, two trips away from jumping a 1.10m course, and – to top it all off – you are paying thousands of dollars for this treatment, you grow thick skin and nerves.

In my sensitive teenage years, I took every piece of criticism to heart. Each correction drove a dagger into my back, and I would walk around carrying the luggage of not being good enough constantly. I’d focus and replay things my trainer said relentlessly. Instead of focusing on the content, I narrowed in on the tone. Angry and disappointed.

At the time, there were a lot of other factors and circumstances that led to this somewhat-unhealthy environment, but I also had a problem myself. I wanted to compete and do well. I wanted my horse to succeed and for me to not get in his way of doing that.

But part of me just wanted to be told I was good.

This is what we want to achieve, right?!

It’s been a lot of years since I held that mentality, and I no longer need that validation. Of course, it can be frustrating to invest time and money into this sport and to felt like it has not “paid off”.

However, people who can ride perfectly do not exist. John Madden Sales’s Instagram reminded us that even my queen, Beezie Madden, chips.

Beezie Freakin’ Madden.

To involve animals in this sport is to accept that we are fallible, and so are they. There will always be room for instruction, correction, and progression, that’s part of the reason these connections are engaging.

In recent years, I resolve criticism, rather than allow it stir up negative emotions, I can deconstruct what is being said to me and actually think logically about how to address my weaknesses (for which I have are many, and that will continue to be the case throughout my time in this sport).

For instance, I need to control my shoulders better over fences, they are too quick, forward, and snap back too quickly.

What should I do about that? Practice two point at the walk, trot, canter, all gaits (no, I am not too proud to do this even at a halt). Jump without stirrups. Actively work on my faults, and not get upset about anyone who points them out. (Holler at me if you got tips, this shoulder thing has plagued me for a while).

I am not sure if everyone experiences this cycle if their entry into the sport is earlier in their life, but this shift in perspective was a game-changer for me. Of course, it’s a no-brainer, but still a lesson I needed to learn.

Him: Patiently waiting for me to grow that brain…

I’d be curious if anyone else has gone through a similar internal battle.

 

What Makes a Good Barn Manager?

Though my job does not involve horses, it is pretty heavy on management. Organizing people, activities, thinking future, and making sure everyone is happy. Managing a barn is a quasi-dream of mine, but I fully recognize it is a challenging undertaking.

There are many types of “barn managers”. At my new barn, each trainer that leases space at this facility runs their own barn and then there is overall facility maintenance, which is probably nice for the type of trainer that wants to focus on their clients and horses.

Other barns I have ridden out of had one true barn manager, in charge of ordering hay, fixing fences, putting blankets on Dobbin, and billing boarders. She/he is a jack of all trades (and master of MANY).

Spend enough time in the horse industry, you see a share of good and bad barn managers. I’ve been blessed that, to the large majority, I’ve met mostly good ones.

Though in my recent experiences, I have elected not to ride at a place because the barn manager rubbed me the wrong way. It is probably an underrated and thankless role at times, one that rarely gets praise when everything is running smoothly and gets a lot of flack when things go wrong.

But their responsibilities are so important to the success of the business, environment, and health of horses and humans alike.

In my estimation, a good manager is made of many parts.

  • Sense of humor
    • Required. Horse people are crazy, and there are times when you have to laugh of the day.
  • Compassion
    • These animals need our eyes looking after them, and who better to watch over and care for them then someone who sees them on a daily basis? If you think about it, your barn manager sees your horse more than you do and will be the first many times to know something is wrong.
  • Detail-Oriented
    • Especially given the size of some facilities, it helps to remember all the intricacies of each member.
  • Authoritative
    • There is a fine line between too harsh and being a push-over. This is a challenging road to walk, especially if there is a staff of people to oversee and rogue boarders to deal with. Barns need rules for the safety of all, and someone needs to enforce them equally.
  • Energetic
    • Barns tend to deteriorate at a shocking rate, and horses get themselves into trouble. Someone needs to not give up on fixing things and putting it all back together.

My favorite barn manager also happened to be a life role model. A mix of people-person, thoughtful, and flexible. I say here, here to all our wonderful barn managers out there.

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What are your favorite qualities in a barn manager?

Q’rusing

This will not be the end of Q-related wordplay. If that bothers you, I feel like this is not the right blog for you anyway…

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But, like, this view though.

It’s been a while since I have written something of substance. Partially due to life and its busyness, but also a lot of my riding with Q lately is about consistency.

For me, I am getting back into the regular riding game. I need to remember all my tips and tricks, not become a useless sack of potatoes if things go wrong, and ride consistently. I am definitely getting it back, but it helps to have good eyes on the ground.

For Q, he needs lot of help tracking left, where he struggles with a weaker hind end and hard drift. Like I said in an earlier post, shoes have helped with some of his most obvious gaps.

Much of my riding has been targeting my and Q’s weaknesses, and that can be repetitive. I am riding him in a way where he is thinking about what I am asking (transitions, changes of directions, shoulder-ins, extensions/collections). I am careful to not to over-ask and to have “light” days that complement our heavier days as he gets back up to speed.

Right now, our goals for him are to be comfortable, even on both sides, and happy to work.

With that in mind, we will not be going to the Olympics next year (shocking, because if there was a pee-wee division, he’d be great for it).

But there is a fair bit of strengthening in our agenda. And he is progressing well, which also tells me it is working, slowly but surely.

I will really look forward to the next couple months when the quality of his gaits become even better. We need more balance, a buff butt, and good feet.

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Riding outside in the moonlight in mid-November? California, you win.