Tuesday, April 26, 2016

To Diva;

With a very heavy heart, I write today about a mare that we loved dearly. Diva suffered from a severe impaction colic this weekend, and after over 24 hours in struggle, her colon ruptured and she had to be euthanized.

I write about this because it is a tragic thing, huge and terrible that this six year old mare suffered and had to pass. And I am caught in the throes of the futility of all of this.

But I need to write about this because writing lends clarity to my thoughts. And my thoughts are this:

This thing we do, this equestrian sport, is a sacrifice. A sacrifice of time, and money, and sweat, and sometimes blood, and every so often healing broken bones.

It's not futile. Not any more than life itself is. The love is the point. The love is the journey. Every ounce of energy put into this contributes to the next horse. To the next lesson. The ripples of our education, and our love, and our effort, they go beyond the naked eye.

My heart is broken for this horse and for her owner, for those of us who have loved her and go on without her.

But I know well that Diva was loved so completely. I know that the journeys she took with us have changed my heart and her riders hearts in ways that we'll never totally know.

I know that these lessons she shared with us will only serve to benefit every horse we touch, every person we meet. I also know that maybe, in it's own way, this grief too will serve as a powerful lesson to us.

To the blue-eyed, red-headed mare who stole lunches from campers, bravely jumped (almost) everything she was ever pointed at, wore every type of saddle under the sun and went with it, climbed all sorts of hills and challenges, and taught her students more about this art of riding: thank you.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Get A Better Magnifying Glass

I've spent the last few days on vacation and I don't totally know what to do with myself. I haven't been on a horse since Monday. (Not that long, true...)

However! I've been having some amazing conversations with Ivan from Running In Systems in Portland.

I've gleaned a lot of insight from him and I'm looking forward to processing it more thoroughly, but he shared this image with me this morning while we were discussing passion and boredom.

All of you are deeply passionate about horses; you love the way they smell and the shape of their bodies, the ways in which they move, their goofy mannerisms, the challenges they face us with and the heights to which we can rise with them. And at times, all of you have faced the prospect of not wanting to go to the barn. Or a wave of exhaustion when faced with mounting up.

I'm extrapolating from my experiences, but conversations with many riders lead me to believe that this is a fairly universal experience.

Ivan says (this is deeply paraphrased, so do forgive me), "when you get good enough at playing piano, eventually you will get on stage and no longer be excited to play. The challenge is gone. But if you zoom in on any surface, no matter how smooth, you will see a mess. You will see the roughness and the patches and the true shape of the surface."

When we get on and think we've accomplished all our most recent goals, if we upgrade our "magnifying glass" so to speak and focus in on the next layer of smoothness, we will find an infinite challenge and fascination.

I firmly believe it can go the other way, that we can see so many things we need to fix that we feel overwhelmed and lose the delight in our rides the other way. In this case, we need to swap our magnifying glass out for one less powerful in order to appreciate the progress we have made.

How do we 'upgrade our magnifying glass'? We can develop more self-awareness, deepen our proprioception, study movement, get an instructor to give us new exercises, we can watch our horse move and really analyze the asymmetries and go through the mental acrobatics of asking ourselves how we can help the horse solve these issues. We can watch videos of ourselves riding and select one or two (just one or two!) things we want to focus on in our next ride and deeply think about how it changes our feel.

And how do we 'downgrade our magnifying glass'? We appreciate the journey, we watch old videos, we take some moments to be grateful for what we've seen and what we've smoothed out.

Both of these are important mental skills.

Do you have the right magnifying glass right now? What would it take for you and your horse to reach a level where you need the next level of magnifying glass?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

JK Presents: Tango is growing up

We had a bunch of horses at the JK show this past weekend, and it was awesome. My students rode wonderfully. I'm super happy.

I'm going to telescope in on my experience at this show with my Thoroughbred who has finally decided to install a brain.

First of all, he did not want to get in the trailer at 5:30am. So. That was disappointing. We had a bit of an accident a few weeks ago wherein the chest bar broke while he was trailering and ever since then he's been a bit of a skeptic about the trailer. Oh well, he's such a good boy that he got over himself eventually, just put me a bit behind my planned schedule. 

We arrived at the show grounds, abandoned Diva and Tango to their hay in the trailer for a while and went off to begin our day - feed the other horses, acquire all the students numbers, stare at the courses, lunge a Bertasaurus Rex before the arrival of his rider, talk students through the courses, warm Kat up for a student, bark orders in the warm up, eyeball fancy horses longingly, realize what time it is, wonder how long I'll have to wait to get into the ring, attempt to soothe a crying student (who later went on to two 2nds in dressage and FOUR CLEAR ROUNDS so let's just give her mad props for pulling through), and then finally my TB arrived tacked up with the girl who was riding him in dressage. 

Tango was being a little fruity because she was holding her reins too short, so I took him from her and just walked around on a super long rein while coaching and wandering about the show grounds for nearly 45 minutes before realizing that I was 10 minutes out from being in the ring.  Crap. 

The arenas up top at Woodside were soupy and the footing was a little sketchy, so after I watched one of my girls jump around down below I borrowed that warmup with better footing to canter. We cantered two laps around and Tango was wired. He did not want to focus on me. There were too many other people doing random things like wiggling around and jumping and talking. It was a lot of the TB. 

We definitely went into the ring without ever jumping anything in the warm up. (Oops.) The hunter course was the BEST SET UP EVER. Quarterline, six stride diagonal, five stride outside, single oxer on the diagonal, six stride outside. And the ring was huge with great corners. So I thought about all the things Trainer N has been talking to us about and decided that my primary goal was to give him a boring round. We trotted the first fence and he didn't even look at it.

This is actually the last jump of the day.

I brought him back to the trot on the straight line and rode all the way to the rail, all the way through my corner (okay, small victories for the eventer over here, alright?!), and trotted in to the diagonal. My intention had been to bring him back to the trot in the line, but he was so quiet. And the canter was balanced. So I let him canter through, I kept my eye up, I jumped the middle of the fence (I maintain the importance of small victories, people), and we rode ALL THE WAY INTO THE CORNER.

Anyone else noticing a theme?

And I sat up, exhaled, and gently closed my fingers. I'll be damned, the thoroughbred came back to me. As in, I could have walked right then and there. We cantered across the short side and into our line, where I was so ecstatic about how quietly we jumped the first fence that I forgot to ride the line and we sort of galloped down the line. 

But the arena was so large, and my corners so good that I remembered to ride at some point and brought him back to the trot, allowing him to canter a few strides from the single oxer.

We cantered down our last line, foot perfect, and he came down to the walk when I sat up and exhaled and said woah.

Tango looks hella awkward here but what I would like to highlight is the fact that his rider remembered to sit up and ride.
The resulting jump from that approach. Good on me for not catching him in the face like I like to do.

It was a schooling round in every sense of the word, but my heart was seriously bursting with pride. Holy crap. I didn't panic. My thoroughbred didn't panic. A horse that I literally couldn't trot over a pole without him rearing not 18 months ago just jumped around a 2'3" hunter course in a quiet fashion. And lots of people could have gotten him here way faster, but if we're being clear here, we have not spent that much time working on Tango's jumping.

Next we zipped around the .70m jumper ring, which was a super fun course. I should have photographed it. Lines 1 & 2 were funky bending lines with a bunch of different tracks to ride, line 3 was a four stride, with a single on the end, then jumps 8 and 9 were a sort of rollback. The track from fence three to four (so coming out of one bending line around to the second bending line) I found very difficult to ride, so I came through very underpowered and Tango floated to a refusal. (drat).

I then proceeded to override the fence and Tango panicked and overjumped enough to mess with my position and punch me in the chest with his withers. Whoops!

Then the second time we rode the course, we somehow lost a shoe while coming over fence 4, and the shoe hit the standard. Hard. KA-TING! I thought we'd crashed, even though the effort felt good, so I turn around to look at it (never do that) and see the shoe on the ground. How did you even do that, dude?

Recognize my mare over there? Also yes I am still in the ring and I am coaching another rider.

Our final round was in the 2'6" hunter ring (same course as earlier) and we cantered the whole thing. It was balanced. It was quiet. 

I am in love with this photo because of how soft you can see Tango's expression is.
I'm really pleased with this outing. The photos show that I'm consistently piloting him to better distances (aka not burying him every damn time we jump) and that my focus on my release is paying off. It's not perfect, but it's at least more consistent now, allowing Tango to know what to expect a bit better.

I was supposed to show Kat on Sunday, but the show got rained out. :( All photos (c) EllieRiz

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Babysitting Dori

I spent Monday night with a premature foal who is not allowed to stand up until her joints ossify.

She is so sweet and funny, she nibbles on everything she can get her face on

And she enthusiastically LOVES scratches

She used me as a pillow for the rare moments she actually wanted to sleep

And she actually slept the best in this position, the goober.

The cat kept moving in on her milk. 
The clinic is still looking for volunteers to watch her, especially overnight. I don't think I'll be able to do another overnight for a while, it turns out that I'm not in college and it REALLY messes your schedule up, but if you're local and able, the poor exhausted veterinary students would really appreciate the help!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Recapping trail rides sounds more fun in my head than it is to write about

The past few weeks I've had the AMAZING opportunity to go on several trail rides in new places. (I love owning a truck. Seriously the best decision I've ever made. I don't even care if I can't afford to show very much this year. LOVE THE TRUCK.)

First I took Tango, Indiana, and The Boy to somewhere in Morgan Hill. I don't really know, it was back behind the Target? But there was a river crossing! And it was big and open and flat. There was a lovely orchard to ride through that we all opted not to because it was heavy on the bees and I didn't have my epi pen in the truck. (Still don't. Should fix that.)

I admit that Indiana did take off with him... twice. The Boy came back laughing and did not fall, so that's a good thing. 
The river was so fun, and I couldn't be more proud of Tango's developing trail skills. I think he's going to be very fun to event... someday....

Then the next week I took one of my students out for a ride in Quicksilver Park. This place is not for the unfit horse, nor for the weak of spirit, but we had an amazing time on Kat and Tango.

I am legitimately in love with this park. We rode perhaps a total of five miles, lots of up and down and most of it at the walk. I got us a little lost and we scrambled down what was little more than a deer-trail. Kat was a boss after the first mile, there was plenty of jigging at first.

I was describing this ride to one of my farrier-friends, and she told me that it sounded like the beginning of a bad romance novel. And maybe it was. But there was something SO magical about having my two horses out on the trail, being well-behaved and fantastic, the weather being perfect with the clouds and the sun...

Anyways. Have two humorous videos from the second trail ride:

As an aside, the beginning of that second video catches me saying, "do as I say, not as I do..." as I proceed to wish for a helmet cam and we canter up a hill.