Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In Which Indy Meets Marilyn Payne, And Things Go Well

"Dis is mah cute face!"
When you have someone like eventer and international eventing/dressage judge Marilyn Payne practically in your back yard, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to take the opportunity to learn from her.  Regardless of which equestrian discipline you actually practice.  So when a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook showing her and her horse at a recent jumping clinic with Marilyn, I asked her if she knew of future events I could participate in.  As luck would have it, there was another scheduled for the end of March.

I signed up for the clinic, and then begged my wonderful friend Marissa to come along for help and moral support.  As a card carrying neurotic and doomsayer, I'm better at looking at what could go wrong, rather than what could go right.  Emergencies and upheavals are always easier to deal with when you have someone calm and reasonable with you, and Marissa is the voice of reason in my equestrian life.  She may not ever come out with me again, as I no doubt drove her nuts with my crazy texts about various what if scenarios. The poor woman had to deal with stuff like this:

Me: Is it the worst thing in the world if we just load Indy on the left side of the trailer?  We're only going 10 minutes down the road. He's smaller than Mooch but loads better on the left and I don't want to make loading a big production.  We're working on it and he's improved so much but I don't want to push it....
Marissa: That's fine.

Me: Parking is in a field. It's supposed to rain.  What if I get stuck?  Do you think the Tahoe will get stuck?  It should be fine, right?  Should I go to Home Depot and get wooden boards just in case?  Would that help?
Marissa: Do you have 4-wheel drive? I think it should be ok but I guess it couldn't hurt.

Me: Do you think hanging a lickit or something in the trailer would keep Indy from screaming when he's in the trailer by himself?
Marissa: Worth a try. But I'd hang it after you park.   (In my defense, I did intend to hang it only after we arrived, but after all my other texts you can't blame the girl for wondering what level my crazy was at.)

Indy loaded perfectly. (Good Boy!)   We got there early, so there was plenty of room for me to roll in and do a big turn so I was facing the exit. (I suck at backing up.)  Since we were so ridiculously early (helloooo, neurotic!) we had plenty of time to get the lay of the land and check out the class before us.   Shockingly, Indy remained quietly munching his hay in the trailer while we were gone. (Good Boy!)

"What?? I'm fine. I'm a big boy now. Nothing to see here."

The first jump I saw when we entered the area was a black and white pole set over 2 black and white barrels painted to look like cows.  There was a 2' plastic cow in front of the standards on either side.  I thought Indy was gonna plotz, but he barely registered it.

Marilyn called me over to ask for some background on Indy and our training together. "He's quite cute," she said when we got close.  Indy, sensing a potential friend, stuck his nose out to give her a friendly bump.

Indy: Hi Marilyn! You're cute too!  I like your place.  There are lots of jumps. I like jumping!  What's with the cows? I've never seen a cow jump before!  Can we start jumping now?

We started over poles set in a circle like a clock, with the poles on 12, 3, 6, and 9, spiraling in and out in the trot and canter. We did that fairly well.  Then we progressed to the actual jumping.  Marilyn told us we would jump each element individually before tackling the entire course.  OK, no problem, we've got this, I thought.

I was wrong.  "Where do you think your focus point should be? Where would you jump this fence?"" she asked as she pointed to the first fence.  My brain blanked.  "Wait, what?? There's a quiz?"  Each jump followed the same process; we were asked where we should focus our eyes (not just the last window, but the bottom right corner of the last window) and what part of the fence we should jump (the high part of a Swedish oxer and the corner of a corner jump.)  It was good exercise for me, as my mind tends to be in a "What Am I Jumping Thank God I Survived Holy Shit Where Do I Go Now?" jumble and the way we were approaching things forced me be more thoughtful and also built in a pause/reset moment after every fence.   Indy was totally fine with the repetition, which surprised me as normally he gets annoyed at having to do something more than a couple times.  He very clearly feels "I did what you asked, now let's move on."

Things Marilyn had me working on:

  • Straightness
  • Picking focus spots and actually using them (Marilyn: "Amy, where were you looking on the approach to that fence?"  Me: "Ummmm, at B?"  Marilyn: "Were you really looking at B?" Me: Ummmm, no." Marilyn: "Do you know where you were looking?" Me: "Ummm, not really.")
  • Being more mindful. Not just about where to look and how to jump each obstacle but about how I rode in between them and how that sets me up for the next fence.
  • Opening the outside rein for a counter bend and adding a strong inside leg (almost thinking leg yield) around the corners as Indy tends to lean on the inside shoulder around turns.  This was so  different than what I've always done it was damn near an impossible task.  My mind was sending out instructions and my body was adamantly ignoring them.  I finally managed to do this somewhat successfully on the last course. 

Oddly enough, the task I found the most difficult during the clinic is probably my most important take away.  Indy does not like the ends of the ring, as there are large doors and he feels there are BAD THINGS on the other side of those doors.  He often will drop his inside shoulder and duck to the inside, porpoising around the short side of the arena.  Which I find a bit nerve-wracking, to say the least.  The other day I could feel him getting ready to do it and I opened my outside rein to counter bend him and held my inside leg against his side like it was a steel column.  Lo and behold, no porpoising!

I liked working with Marilyn a lot, and am going to try to see if we can set up something once a month or so. I'd love to get help from her on our flatwork as well as our jumping.  Will keep you posted...

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Neverthess, She Persisted...The Memes

"Nevertheless, she persisted" has become an overnight battle cry and the subject of a gazillion tweets (#LetLizSpeak, #ShePersisted), memes, and t-shirts since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said while defending of his silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren during her speech criticizing attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions.

The other day I shamelessly used it as a metaphor for my personal holy grail, my crusade to become a better rider in the face of much mediocrity.

So I figured what the heck, it'd be fun to create a few memes showcasing some of my greatest awkward equestrian moments.  I'm on Sug in all of them.  I guess I haven't had enough photo ops with Indy yet, although God knows there have been meme-worthy moments with him.
Note that The Sainted Mare literally jumped out of her shoe when I asked her for a little extra effort over this oxer. (It's by her nose.)

The Sainted One was a bit behind the leg this day and I felt we needed a little extra oomph to jump this oxer.  Apparently I was a little over-zealous in my request. Oxers were our nemesis, for some reason.  The "Oh Shit!" look on my face is priceless.  And you can't tell in this photo, but I jumped this entire round with my fly down.  (The photographer was kind enough to point that out to me after I finished.)

Yet another oxer.  Sug opted for the Rider Override and went for the flyer here.  I'm pretty sure I dropped a very audible F-bomb as we took off.  Nothing like keeping it G-rated at the horse show, what with the kids 40 feet to the left of me and all....

So there you have it.  Despite many, many awkward moments I persist at trying to get better at this riding thing.  Thank God for the patience and fortitude of my equine partners.

Feel free to share any of your "Nevertheless, she persisted" equestrian moments. It'd be fun to make a gallery, don't you think?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Nevertheless, She Persisted...

No, this is not a political post. Apologies to Elizabeth Warren, but I've decided that phrase neatly summarizes my efforts to become a good rider.  Okay, maybe I should really say "adequate rider."  Right now "good rider" feels like I'd be setting the bar too high.

Have you ever had those "I suck at this and should be banned from ever throwing my leg across a horse's back" rides?  The kind where you feel that your brain is telling your body parts what to do and those body parts are replying  "No comprende."

I've had several of those rides recently.  Some nights I just give up and say "Tonight's just a fitness night, Indy.  We're going to do trot and canter sets with you on the buckle and Mommy in a two-point so I can say I'm building strength and doing something productive."

It's not all bad. I have had some successes.  Instead of being Queen Calculator (adding strides to Every.Single.Fence) I have been riding boldly to fences, almost like I did when I was a kid.  Mind you, I feel like an unbalanced sack of potatoes cowboying her way around a course, but at least I'm doing the numbers.  I yearn for the day when I can actually produce a smooth round, but lately that day feels more like a fantasy than a potential reality.

Another bright moment was the other daywhen one of my trainers was riding Indy and said that Indy was becoming more fun to ride, as he was more broke and balanced.  That was nice to hear.  My trainer does the occasional training ride on Indy, but 90% of his training over the year I've had him has been done by my daughter and me.  So that made me feel that I can't suck too badly, as at least he'd improved.  And of course I ruined that moment by thinking, "Imagine what he'd feel like now if he'd gotten more training rides."  Sometimes I wish I could tell my mind to just shut the hell up for once.  I try, but it never listens.

Despite feeling that I will never be more than an adequate rider at best, I still try.  I take regular lessons when I'm not traveling.  I do my best to ride five days a week.  I read books and try to incorporate what I've learned into my riding.

So while I may never be a good rider, there is one thing I feel I can say about myself. Whether its folly, stubborn bullheadedness, or sheer determination, at least I've persisted.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Christmas Miracle...

I figured that was an apt title given the last time I posted.

It's not for lack of ideas. I have ideas all the time.  Something will happen and I start composing a post in my head.  It just never gets actually written down.  Mostly because of the whole work-life balance thing.  Which will be another post altogether.

I hope you're doing something fun for the day. Like celebrating with family, dysfunctional or not.  My family is entertainingly dysfunctional, like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get. So I will be celebrating with wine.  Wine adds another level of interesting to things, don't you think?


We do a family holiday card every year.  I started out including Sug the year we got her. Made her wear antlers and a Santa hat, which she handled with her usual equanimity.  Each year we did a new card, adding new equine family members as the kids grew from ponies to horses.  Past cards included Cookie, the wonderful pony we borrowed from my dearest friend, James, Tiki, Mooch, and RJ.  As the kids grew taller, so did the horses.

The year Sug passed the holiday card featured Tiki, the unicorn we were fortunate to lease, and Mooch, the first horse to have the job of babysitting me after I lost Sug.  Last year was Indy's first appearance. Mooch had left to go to another family, so we had RJ, a wonderful, gentle soul who had become mostly Noah's partner. Neither would subject themselves to the indignity of wearing holiday headgear of any kind.

This year's card has Indy, who has just celebrated a full year with us, and Mooch.  RJ sustained an injury and is now retired and living the good life in North Carolina.  In a stroke of good fortune, Mooch's family was looking for a new home for him so we bought him and he's been with us since June.

Yeah, there's a lot to catch you guys up on.

So here's this year's holiday card, and a few pics from our photo shoot (which is a fancy term for freezing your a$$ off while some poor soul from the barn you've coerced into becoming a photographer takes a few pictures.)

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and just general wishes of good times and happiness to you!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Wait. What?!? Does He What? -- The Follow Up

What?  I'm a guy. It's what we do.
Just wanted to give you all an update on how Indy's been doing since we'd found blood in his urine. While the vet felt the issue was due to excessive 'self-pleasuring,' we still took the precaution of taking urine a week later just to make sure there was no infection.

Rather than have the vet come again I elected to get the specimen myself.  I mean, how hard can it be to get a urine sample, right?

Harder than you might think, it seems.  Indy normally pees as soon as I put him in his stall after we ride. He grabs a bite of hay, takes a swig or two of water, circles a couple of times and pees in the upper left corner of his stall.  So after we rode I went in his stall with him, little plastic cup in hand.

Indy was very happy to have me in his stall.  He was not interested in dropping trou, however. Rather, he wanted to give me a tour of his stall.

Indy: Mom! (nudge) Mom! (nudge) Look!  This is where I keep my hay.  See? That's my hay.  All mine. I love my hay. NomNomNomNom.

Me: It looks like very yummy hay, sweetie.  Can you pee for Mommy?

Indy: Mom! (nudge) Mom! (nudge) Look!  This is my water.  See?  I have two buckets.  I like to swish some of my hay in my water so it tastes better.  

Me:  That does look refreshing, sweetie.  Like when Mommy makes tea. How about you drink some water and then pee, okay?

Indy:  Okay. Sure.  Look over here!  Here is my feed bucket.  Sadly, it's empty.  Maybe you could get some more grain for me?  I love grain.  No? Okay. Look what I can do with my bucket.  I can bang it against the wall. Bang! Bang! Bang!  Man, that's fun!

Me: That's amazing, Indy.  You are such a smart boy.  Now can you show Mommy how smart you are by peeing in the cup?

Indy: Sure. No problem.  This is the corner I like to pee in.  See, I circle three times, then I put my butt against the back wall and my head against the side wall and then I pee.  Hey. Wait.  What's with the cup?  What are you doing back there?  That's a bit personal, Mom.  You need to respect my space, remember?  I respect your space, you respect mine, right?

Me: I know, sweetie, but this is an exception.  I need you to pee in the cup so Doc can make sure you're healthy.

Indy:  Oh, okay.  Why didn't you say that earlier? Here you go!

I think it says something about the the kind of day you had when the high point of that day is successfully catching your horse's pee.  Really, you would have thought I'd climbed Annapurna, I was that chuffed with myself.

The tests came back normal so there's no infection.  The vet's conclusion to the whole incident was that the blood in Indy's urine came from my boy getting excessively jiggy with his man-bits.

Geldings.  Sheesh.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Wait. What?!? Does He What?!?!?!?

Post-ride selfie
Life with Indy is never dull.  Every time I think things are rolling along smoothly, we hit a metaphorical speed bump.

Sophie and I were at the barn the other evening and were putting the horses away after a nice, uneventful ride.

Indy has a post-ride routine.  He goes in to his stall, takes a long drink, and then goes into the top left corner of his stall. He circles a couple times, positions his butt on the back wall and his front end on the side wall so he's sort of cattywumpus across the back corner, and pees.  He does this every time. Without fail.

I was putting his halter on the hook by the stall and just happened to look up when he was peeing and my eyes damn near bugged out of my head.  His pee was a muddyish red in color.  My first thought was that maybe he was dehydrated, and was making a mental note to reach out to the vet and check in with the barn manager about any changes in his drinking habits when I looked down at the shavings and saw they were bright red.

I rushed into the stall to get a closer look and it was definitely blood, so I called the vet.  He asked me if I was sure it was blood. Seriously?? I'm female. We're pretty much experts at the whole "blood coming from the genital region" thing.  I texted him a picture of the shavings and waited for him to call back, feeling much like I did when RJ's junk had swelled to 3x its normal size (refer to my dick pics post.).

Yep, that's blood

Meanwhile, Indy was quite happy that I was in his stall and came over to chat and search for treats.  Then he positioned himself so I would scratch his withers, noodging me with his shoulder and turning his head to look at me as if to say, "Mom, stop standing there.  I itch. Scratch me."  He'd just peed blood, and I was expecting him to at least look uncomfortable, but here he was, bright eyed, eating hay, and shoving me with his nose for attention.

The vet didn't think it was an emergency and came out the next day to observe Indy and take some blood and urine for testing.  There was no blood in his urine and he was still acting normally, with no indications of discomfort whatsoever.  'Carry on like you normally would," was the vet's advice. "I'll call you tomorrow with the results."

I was already at the barn when the vet called the next day.  "The blood work is fine," he told me. "There is a slightly elevated level of protein in the urine and it is a bit concentrated, but nothing that points to anything alarming.  The white cell count isn't elevated so most probably it's not an infection.  No signs of kidney stones either."

I was heaving a sigh of relief when he asked "Does he masturbate often?"

My brain short-circuited. Just went completely blank. WHAT.THE.HELL?  When my brain clicked back on thoughts started spinning through at a million miles an hour.  My first thought: How would that even be possible?  Followed quickly by: He doesn't even have opposable thumbs!  Then: Has that tarty mare down the aisle been teasing my innocent little boy?

Belatedly I realized my vet was still speaking to me.  I shook my head to clear it and asked, "Wait. What?  Does he what???"

My vet: "Does he masturbate often?  Does he get an erection and whack it against his stomach?"

Me: "Ummmm, nooooo.  I mean, I've never seen him do that."

My vet: "Oh, he did it several times while I was in his stall." 

Me: "I guess he just finds you more attractive."

The vet thinks the issue may be caused by something called a urethral rent. He explained that is a "blowout" tear in the urethra cause by high pressure in the penis. (Yes, I totally giggled when he said "blowout" because I am mentally a thirteen-year-old).  The rent can heal on its own, or in some cases require surgery.  Since Indy hasn't had any recurrences, we're hoping it will heal on its own.

I did a little Googling on urethral rents and some of the results referenced equine masturbation.  Apparently stallions pop wood around 18 times a day, and geldings around 12-13 times.  I also learned that at one time there was an electrical device designed to prevent stallions and geldings from bopping their baloney. I'm not even kidding. Check out the picture below. (Is it me, or does it look  a little bit like Pessoa lunging rig?)


Who knew, right?  So what now?  Why do I feel I need to have "The Talk" with Indy?  And how would that even work?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Effing Cavaletti and the Bleeping Oval of Despair...

Instruments of Satan
Ever have something you just suck at?  Just flat out, no holds barred suck at?  I mean, you try and try and try again and despite a herculean amount of effort you find yourself reaching the Ninja Master Level of Suckitude.  (Yes, I know,  I'm not exactly Peggy Positive all wrapped up in buckets of sunbeams right now. I'm having myself a good wallow. Don't worry, it'll be over soon and we'll be back to our regular programming).

Anyway, cavaletti.  The point of this rant and the bane of my existence.  For some reason these dinky little white poles supported on x's rattle my cage something fierce.  Despite the fact that they are only a foot off the ground I feel compelled to ride down to them as if they were a 4' oxer.  Prone to overthinking and overdoing, much? Guilty as charged.

The jumping portion of our last lesson started with my trainer asking me to canter in a circle over two cavaletti, one set at 12 o'clock, one at 6 o'clock. (First of all, my circle was more like an oblong.
Did I mention I sucked at geometry, too?)

I totally chipped the first one, leaning so far up Indy's neck my chin rested on his poll.  "No worries, kid! You'll nail the next one," I told myself.  Nope.  Chipped that one, too.  And the next one.  And the one after that. And the one after that.

Indy, bless his heart, soldiered through without comment.  My trainer did not.

"Amy, stop leaning at him."


"You leaned at him again."


"Lean away."


"If you continue coming at it like a freight train and then climb up his neck you're always going to chip."

Leaves long, like from a mile away. Just for the sake of variety

"Amy, it's not even a real jump, it's a canter stride!  Just find a rhythm and let him canter over it. Stop trying to find a distance."

I felt like this...

When we stopped for a breather Indy looked back at me and his look clearly said, "Ma, just sit there.  Do nothing. Enjoy the scenery. I got this. If we do it your way we'll be here all night."

It took 8 hours (or at least it felt like it was that long) before I finally got two of them correct.  HUZZAH!!! Sound the trumpets!  My trainer wisely decided to call that portion of the lesson a wrap.

After that we built up to jumping courses.  Which went pretty well.  Apparently I can't jump anything 1' high set on a circle, but can jump things that are 2' - 2'6"and set at different points around the ring (For the most part. We had a couple of whoopsies).  Indy and I even ROCKED an inside turn back to some planks.  We weren't supposed to do the inside turn, we were supposed to do a roll back. Small GPS issue brought on by on-course brainfart. The fact that we weren't actually supposed to do it was probably way it went so well.

So you know how a couple posts ago I made a joke about Indy's show name being changed to Dickhead?  Well, it looks like my new nickname is gonna be "Chip."

I can hear it now: "Now entering the ring, Dickhead, owned and shown by Chip Vodraska."