Friday, January 29, 2010

Stuck in the Saddle

I'm lucky to board Champ at a barn that has the most diverse but amazing boarders.  There is a special kin-ship amongst us.  We help and look out for each other and our horses.  We encourage each other. 

Yet we are very different in our disciplines of riding.  For instance, many of my barn pals are Dressage riders.  They are very neat and tidy.  Their tack is spotless, their personal attire is well kept and their horses are the same.  I've watched them ride and I equate their discipline to ballet, very beautiful and moving.  Maybe someday I can learn how to ride like that.

I'm currently a Western Pleasure/Trail rider.  My tack is kinda dusty.  I'm usually dressed in my Lady Wranglers and my University of Puget Sound sweatshirt, compliments of the school our daughter attends.  And my horse...well, thankfully he isn't light colored.

On a recent visit to the barn, I shared my reservation in riding Champ with one of my Dressage barn pals as I went to saddle him up.  Being a true buddy, she hopped right in to help me.

She (kindly) looked me up and down and told me I needed half-chaps.  She said I'd stay on better if I had some security in my legs.  She then produced a pair from her well organized tack box and told me to stick out my legs as she zipped them up over my jeans.  The soft leather felt lovely and my legs started feeling toasty warm.  Ummm, I could get used to that.

She then ran her hand over my new western saddle and pronounced the seat slippery.  She headed to the tack room and returned with a spray can.  She told me that the spray would make my saddle sticky.  She proceeded to liberally spray the seat and fenders of my saddle with this fluid, assuring me that there was no way that Champ would be able to toss me off.

I was so touched that she took the effort to make sure I'd have a good ride.  Off Champ and I went, me in my borrowed half-chaps and sticky saddle, to have our ride.

The first thing I found when I climbed on was that I was literally stuck in the saddle.  I realized that if anything did go wrong, I had no option to get off, I wasn't going anywhere.  The next thing I realized was that the half-chaps, for as warm and comfy as they were, felt like huge cotton wads against Champ's side.  My leg aids were muffled for a better word.

I took my ride on Champ and as I rode I started contemplating how in the world I was going to get off.  When the time came to dismount, I had a hard time swinging my leg over Champ's rear.  I then found myself literally stuck to the side of the saddle. 

I recall being on the side of the saddle, holding both of my arms out away from me and still sticking there.  Wow I thought, this is really free-form!  I recall Champ turning his head back to see what in the world was going on.  I finally released myself but almost took the saddle with me (sorry about that Champ)!

After Champ was back in his stall and the half-chaps were returned, my husband and I headed to the grocery store.  I climbed into our truck which has leather seats and found myself stuck to the seat. 

At the grocery store I wiggled and bumped to get out of the truck.  Walking through the store I could feel the legs of my jeans sticking to each other, not to mention cheeks (that are not on the face)! 

Yes, our barn has awesome boarders.  We help each other out and please don't think I'm not touched by my neighbor's generosity, because I am!  I loved wearing the half-chaps.  I eventually found my leg aids and my legs were warm and toasty.  I'm planning on getting a pair.

But as for the sticky spray, although I don't think I've ever ridden so securely, next time I think I'll pass.  :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

+/- Confidence

I've learned a hard lesson.  When you are older and ride, your confidence must be continually nurtured to retain it's high level. 

Trying to get back into the swing of things after the holidays has been difficult.  Last week I woke up on the morning of my lesson and that old familiar feeling of dread was with me.  I came up with numerous excuses to NOT go out and ride, worried about what 'mood' my horse would be in.

Recently Champ has been plain nasty.  My barn pals tell me all the horses are fresh, but Champ's behavior outshines them all.  Bucking, nipping, kicking, you name it.  Being around Champ recently has not been any fun.  I'm afraid to ride him, I'm afraid I'm going to get hurt.

I got myself so worked up before my lesson that when I brought Champ into the arena to greet Hero Trainer, it was all I could do to keep from bursting into tears.  In a choking voice I told Hero Trainer how I mourn the loss of my hard-won/yet fun-won confidence, coupled with the fresh loss of Cisco who I could always count on to help me rebuild any doubtful times. 

She has seen how nasty Champ can be and she listened quietly while I got it all out of my system.  I was an absolute emotional mess, standing there next to Champ, barely able to breath because I was so choked up with emotion and fear.

Hero Trainer was kind but she was also direct - something I appreciate about her.  She told me that Champ is the type of horse that you can't peg on any day.  You will never know what you are going to get when you come to ride him.  She told me I need to be prepared for anything when I ride and she suggested that perhaps he isn't the right horse for me. 

That was hard to swallow.  I explained how he was our 'family horse' who we'd had for over seven years.  How we'd invested not only money, but so many emotions into him and our daughter's riding career.  I just didn't know how we'd part with something that was so much a part of us and was doubtful my family would even consider it.

Hero Rider responded very simply with straight talk.  If I am to continue to ride Champ, something must immediately change. 

She brought up what I already knew - you can't build your confidence if you aren't out there with your horse, and I've been very absent.

She suggested I introduce ground work to our routine noting there is an issue regarding respect.  She said I need to be out with Champ every day, now that I'm retired and have the time, and she warned me if I was to continue down this road that she will be holding my feet to the fire. 

So her expectactions were simple;  (1) Show up every day; (2) Utilize ground work every day; (3) Ride at least four times every week (noting commitments, etc., that may come up) and even if it's a short ride, RIDE.

Back at home I grabbed my pile of Horse and Rider Magazines and found I have all the copies of the sequential articles from Clinton Anderson regarding Lunging for Respect.

I found my 'stick' in the tack room, grabbed my leather gloves and lunge line.  And starting the following day and every day since for seven days now, I am proceeding down the road of becoming Champ's leader and gaining his full respect.

I've always felt part of the joy of being around horses is that there's always something more to learn.  In this case, I'm errant in not bringing ground work into our routine prior to this and I'm now paying that price.

My first few days were pretty wild and we still encounter some rodeo on the lunge line.  BUT I'm encouraged to see a positive change in our relationship with me now coming out as the leader.  No more nipping, kicking, head bumping.  Champ now stands quietly at the cross ties and respects my space at all times.  The 'gleam' in his eyes is still there when we start, but it's leaving quicker every day and the licking/chewing is replacing it.

I'm off for my first lesson since I had my melt down last week.  I feel better today about going out to ride and am actually looking forward to my interaction with Champ and Hero Trainer.  My confidence is higher from seven days of ground work.

I'll report out on my next blog how things went.  But leave with you with these thoughts because if you are like me and have lost your confidence but still have that need to ride perhaps they may be helpful:

I must earn my right back to a great ride and this is how I'm achieving it, through respect via consistant ground work. 

The return in my investment of this time will be a better behaved horse (already is after 7 days) who looks to me as his leader - and that equals a higher level of confidence for me.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Come Visit My New Workplace!

Now that I've retired and started my part-time job from home, I have an office in the tackroom of our barn.

Here's my new commute to work:

Here's my new commute home:

Instead of formal pictures on the walls of my office, I have an array of "hangings".

I call it Equine Art.

But the best part of my new office is the view from outside my window:

And while I was writing this, I looked up to see someone watching me.

It's nice to have friends at work!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Should Have, Could Have, Would Have

I'm still reeling from the sudden loss of Cisco this last Tuesday night.  Our vet and many friends have told me that there have been a high number of colics this year.  The understanding responses of my fellow bloggers have been greatly appreciated.  Thank you all, you have no idea how much it means to me to hear from you.

After Cisco was out of his pain and everybody had left, we headed into our house to try to gather what threads we could of the evening.  We heard the coyotes out in the field next to where his body waited to be picked up the following day.  I worried the coyotes would disturb him so I grabbed my husband's 30-30, my hat/gloves and heavy coat.  NOBODY was going to mess with my horse.

Leaving my dog Hank behind cuz I'd already lost one loved one that night and didn't want to take any chances on losing another to coyotes, I left him (unhappily) inside.  My husband didn't offer to come with me.  I was grateful that he understood I needed to do this alone.

Heading out to the barn I turned the radio up full blast on my favorite country/western station.  I lit up the barn with every light inside and out.  I drug my favorite seat in the barn, the mounting block, out next to the blue tarp that covered my little Confidence Booster Horse, now removed from his pain. 

I sat there holding vigil to the blue tarp.  I wasn't alone.  The neighbor's Anatolian Sheppard, Trika, joined me shortly after I sat down.  Our dog Hank's best friend, Trika is also a friend to all of our horses and protects my family as if we were her own. 

It's not uncommon to see her out in the field sleeping next to the horses or on our covered front porch.  We are all part of her pack and it was her barking that had warned us about the approaching coyotes this evening. 

As I sat there Trika leaned against my legs.  Her fury coat kept me warm while I tried to absorb the shock of the evening.  I absently petted her while I cried at sad songs and smiled at others, remembering my times with Cisco. 

It seemed that she understood my sadness and leaned in closer to me.  I could sense she was also sad, as were the other horses, standing watch by the fence.  Sunny, our rescue Belgian and Cisco's best buddy had such a sadness in his eyes, it almost broke my heart.  Gus, a younger Belgian was confused. 

There we spent many hours, me and my rifle, the neighbor's dog, and my two remaining horses.  While we sat there I thought over and over about what I could have done to prevent this. 

I thought about my day and how ordinary it had been until evening feeding time.  My husband had gone out as usual to feed in the morning.  As I do every morning, I asked him from the comfort of the warm bed (usually it's 5AM and I'm not up yet cuz I'm officially retired and frankly unless the house burns down, I'm NOT getting up that early anymore) "How are the boys?"   He responded, as usual that all was well.

I had glanced out the window that morning to see the horses all out grazing in pouring down rain.  Nothing unusual.  Our daughter, home on college break, and I had left for a lunch date, I'd returned and headed up to the barn to see Champ.  I'd come home and had gone to do the nightly feeding.  That is when I'd found Cisco in the stages of colic.

I realize we all can't be home to spot check our horses.  I realize that some of us only get to see our horses in the daylight hours, and I realize being newly retired that I'm lucky to have the luxury to see them all day long.  So why hadn't I taken advantage of that?  I kept thinking if I had checked them during the day and not taken it for granted, perhaps this story would have ended better. 

I should have not taken for granted that all was well and checked on the horses more often.  I could have possibly saved Cisco if I'd noticed earlier in the day that he was ill.  I would have had the vet out much quicker and in the very least, saved him from suffering.

Should have, could have, would have.  As I sat there with all the animals around me, next to that blue tarp, I made a pact with myself that I would never take it for granted that all was well in the pasture.

I can only do what I can do and I won't beat myself up for what has already happened because it's a moot point now.  But I can incorporate a small, tiny task into my daily routine that might make a difference.

Where the heavens had cleared and stars had accompanied Cisco as he left us, around 2AM it started to pour down rain.  No sign of coyotes for many hours prompted me to head into the house, knowing the blue tarp was just across the barn yard from our bedroom window.

Before I left I kissed all of my animal friends holding vigil with me.  I told them I loved them and thanked them for being with me those long hours.  I was the only one in the group to leave, the rest remained as they'd been.

Didn't sleep much that night and was up at daybreak, a warm bed and retirement the last thing in my mind that morning.  When I looked out the bedroom window to check on the blue tarp, this is what I found:

Trika had stayed on guard all night long next to her friend.  She remained there until they came and removed Cisco.  Then slowly with her tail low, she walked away.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Sad Day

Yesterday, because it's after midnight, actually closer to 3AM has been terrible.  But I need to write this because my boy, my Cisco, is gone, downed by colic earlier this evening.

Cisco came to me almost three years ago.  Hero Rider suggested I purchase him to boost my confidence.  He didn't cost much.  He was already 20 years old and had a crooked lower jaw.  Not much to look at I guess.

But he knew his job and he did it well.  He came to me from Eastern Washington, in the area that grew apples.  He hated apples, guess he had enough of them from whence he came.

Cisco could sit idle for a year and yet one could climb on him and he was right there with you, ready to do whatever you asked.  What a gem of a horse!

True he was the little Sargent in the pasture, bossing around everybody else.  But he did it kindly.  And last summer, when a Tornado touched down about 4 miles from our place, it was Cisco who hustled our older Belgian, Sunny into the loafing shed for protection multiple times that day.

I'll always think of Sunny and Cisco, standing at the end of our back pasture, a BIG Belgian standing next to a small Quarter Horse, both of them watching the neighbor's chickens for hours.

It has been raining here for days.  Yet, as Cisco went to leave us tonight the sky cleared and you could see the stars. 

I told him that he was free to go and join the herd of horses in heaven that includes Bosc and Sunshine.  I told him that he could now eat all the grain he ever wanted and run free as the wind. 

And I thanked him for the gift he gave me, confidence to ride.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

You're Only as Old as You Think You Are!

I tend to be a pretty happy person with a bounce in my step and on particularly happy days I tend to do this little jig that has raised a smile (and some eyes) of those who have encountered me.   I have always believed that you're only as old as you think you are. 

But recently I've been going through times where my bounce and jig have been missing a few beats.  I contribute this to the crummy weather, my holiday eating and transitioning my work load/life to 'retirement'.

Due to those events I've been spending a lot of time off my horse.  It seems as I've approached 'retirement' I've felt myself get older each time I've used that word.

My horse, Champ is onto it.  He's become a bully, testing me all the time.  He surely feels my loss of confidence and I bet he also feels the loss of my physical condition.  I worked so hard to tune both up during last year for my first horse show.  Sadly, they have both taken a hit.

Today is Day #2 of 'retirement'.  As I sat on the couch this morning, looking out at the gray drizzle and drinking my one cup of coffee I allow myself (I tend to talk fast and two cups put me into speed speaker mode), I decided to thumb through the January edition of one of my favorite magazines, Horse and Rider, newly picked up at the mailbox yesterday.

I could barely turn from the front cover.  I sat there looking at the front page which shows a SUNNY day, a SMILING, ASSURED women dressed in a BEAUTIFUL eye catching black and white show outfit, leading a HAPPY, CLEAN white horse.  I could feel the warmth of that sun, the thrill of being at a show and being in tune with your horse.  I remember those feelings from my first horse show this past October.  I started to feel the desire to ride in another horse show building within me.

When I did turn to the features page, I was torn between reading an article about Get Going Showing or one of my monthly favorite's on Confidence Boosters.  Feeling concerned about my low level of confidence, I went here first.  Wow!  This article is about me!  It made me feel better and told me to quit beating myself up, how to get my level up again by riding in my comfort zone and how to push your level of confidence higher.

I then turned the page and alas, here was the article on Get Going Showing!  As I read it, I felt my riding engine being jump started out of this 'retirement' oblivion and back into who I am.  I could feel it reving inside of me, waking back up, ready to get out there and ride again.

Gosh, I felt all this after reading the first column of this article.  I surely didn't expect to see my blog referred to in the second column!  How cool is that?!  Seeing my blog noted in one of my favorite magazines validated my last year of riding, where I started, where I got to and where I am now.

This morning was an omen to pick myself up by the boot straps and get back on track.  I'm going to grab it's brass ring and take full advantage of it!  I need to get back to another show.  I need to test my abilities against my peers, visit with friends and ride around the ring with that silly smile on my face again. 

I recall how high my confidence level was after that show, how great it was to climb on my horse without a moment's hesitation and feel that when I was out there riding that the sky was the limit, I could try it all.   Yup, I need to get back to another show.

I'm back!  I once again feel that I'm only as old as I think I am!!!  My bounce and jig are back in my step.  I'm off to the barn to get my confidence back and start on the road to my second horse show! 

Stay tuned!  :)

Friday, January 1, 2010

50+Horses and Goals for 2010

In the late winter/early spring of last year I set out ride our daughter's former horse, Champ (aka Want My Autograph).  My goals were:

1.  To gain the confidence to ride Champ, an intermediate level horse. 
2.  To learn how to ride correctly.
3.  To ride all gaits.
4.  To ride Champ at a horse show.

Although they can all use improvement, I achieved my 2009 goals and had a great time doing it!  Now it's time to set my goals for 2010.

For starters, the year 2010 brings life changes to this 50+ rider.  I am now officially retired and although I'll still work part time, I'll have more time to focus on my riding.  As a result, I've broken my goals into seasons:

1.  Winter 2010: 

Ugh, brrrr, cold temperatures impact both Champ and I.  My first priority will be to improve my new tool, ground work/lunging for respect with Champ.  This guy is a warm-weather horse.  From spring through early fall, I can bring him out of his stall and climb right on without any issues.  But during the cold season he turns into an NFR contender.  I'll continue to refine my new-found tool before I commit to getting on.

Depending on weather conditions (I don't care for hauling horses or riding in cold/ice/snow), I'll ride in the Western classes at the local schooling shows.

I'll focus on slowing down at the walk, jog and refining the lope.  It felt all I did (confirmed in pictures) at my first horse show was to yank, yank, yank on Champ's mouth to slow him down.  I hate yanking on him!  My goal is to have him slow down without it being noticeable. 

2.  Spring 2010: 

Ahh, warmer weather and longer days will finally be on it's way!  I want to get Champ exposed to trails.  I'll start with riding outside whenever weather permits.  I'll ask Hero Rider to take Champ out for his first few trail rides and then I'll sandwich myself between two calm, experienced trail horses on my first few rides, probably more for my confidence then Champ's. 

I'll join our local Paint Horse Club.  I'll ride all gaits (vs walk/trot only) in their Spring Open Show and lend a helping hand to make "our" show a success.

3.  Summer 2010:

Ahhh, warm weather will be here and the snow will be gone at Cabin Creek, located on the east side of the Cascade Mountains!  I'll haul my horses to the cabin and spend time up there with family and friends.  I'll hang out at the creek during the warmest parts of the day, ride in the cool early evenings and join in the nightly potluck dinners.

I'll join my friends in hauling our horses to the sorting clinics on Thursday nights, held close to our place.  I'll expose Champ to cows and eventually try my hand at the sport.

I'll help out and ride at the the Summer Open Paint Show my club will be hosting.  I'll ride in the western classes.

4.  Fall 2010:

Indian summer, one of my favorite times of the year!

I'll start my exposure to English riding.  I'll invest in the pants, boots and see if Champ's English saddle fits my larger rear end (maybe it will be smaller by fall)?  :)

I'll ask Hero Trainer to give me some guidance on English riding, hoping I will get my posts on the right diagonal, etc.

I'll lend a helping hand and ride in the Fall Open Paint Show sponsored by our club.  If I've come far enough, I'll do a few English classes along with Western.

I am looking forward to this new year and the fun it will bring.  Happy New Year!  :)