Thursday, March 30, 2017

Stress management

From what TV and the internet has told me, most people handle stress by eating lots of junk food, buying stuff, and driving everyone around them nuts.

I handle it a little bit differently.

I officially submitted my resignation to the current job and am managing the background check for the new job.  Apparently the background check company can't handle asking my current company how long I've worked there, so I had to send them a bunch of W2s, pay stubs, and instructions on how to do their jobs.  I had to send a W2 from 2005 for pity's sake.  Knowing that this background check could leave me completely unemployed if it fails means that my ulcer is in full attack mode.  My Fitbit says my resting heart rate is up about 5 bpm this week.  I'm a walking ball of stress and anxiety.  I think the hubby is considering buying a blow gun and some tranq darts.

I've hit the point where panic attacks are a daily event.  Fortunately I can manage this with OTC remedies.  My rule of thumb is if the FEI bans a substance, it probably works.  My cocktail of choice to fall asleep at night is GABA, tryptophan, and valerian root, washed down with chamomile tea.  All banned substances.

My other treatment is Theo.  Thank goodness this horse enjoys grooming.  I left work early (what are they going to do, fire me?) so I could enjoy a sunny, 50* afternoon.  I spent about an hour completely removing mud and bringing him to as much of a shine as possible when he's still shedding out.  Pulled his mane, completely brushed out his tail, the works.  I dressed him up in his azalea colored saddle pad, matching browband, and white boots.  I wore my tall boots, my favorite breeches (with the rhinestone detail on the pocket), a pink shirt, my gorgeous Arista vest, put my air up, even put on gloves.  We looked like the perfect definition of a DQ and her spoiled brat of a horse.  So, so over dressed for a dressage school followed by a trail ride.

The clothes make the horse.  Theo was just wonderful.  We had to have a firm talk about me putting on my left leg doesn't mean swing your haunches left in preparation to evade using yourself correctly.  The twenty minutes of discussion and a couple of pops with the whip were worth it when he finally sighed and cooperated.  Ohhhh, so that's what submission to the bend means!  It's really a different feeling when your horse finally gives through the ribs and wraps around your leg instead of pushing against it to see if you'll get tired before him.

Trainer A was impressed enough with the improved self carriage to interrupt her own lesson to watch him go.  It was a breakthrough moment for me, I could feel him correctly pressing into my outside rein and could really manage his shoulders because they were on the correct side of the bend!  It really does make everything suddenly pop into place. 

I was so pleased with him that he got extra cookies and a nice walk outside.  He appreciated the chance to go play in the sun.  We got to school some water when we found part of the trail flooded.  I didn't realize how deep it was until we were in it.  Almost to his knees!  Good thing his fancy boots are washable.  I probably looked ridiculous trotting back up to the barn, dressed to the nines in my dressage gear and covered in mud.

But my heart rate was back down to it's usually rate.  Three hours of being forced to stay in the immediate here and now broke the cycle of anxiety.  You can't worry about paperwork and abstract fears when you're handling horses.  Even helping sweep up the barn keeps you focused and grounded.  I really wish we weren't getting a winter storm tomorrow morning because I would go hide at the barn all weekend if I could.  I would school all of the naughty ponies and sweep the loft that really, really needs it.  Instead I will have to manage my stress with tea, bubble baths, and craft projects.

Yes.  Winter storm.  I am so, so, so done with the snow.  IT'S SPRING DAMN IT.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A good day

So my day started out with the best news I could hope for.  I got a job offer!  The job has an almost identical package of salary and benefits to the job I currently have but is better in one, very crucial way.  The office is just under 20 minutes away from my barn.  I pass right by the barn on the commute, so while my commute total is 40 minutes, the barn is right smack dab in the middle of that.  So I'm only adding 40 minutes in the car total to my average day.  I can work with that!

It's also work from home one day a week or as needed for weather or real life.  Unlimited vacation time so I don't have to cancel my show plans because I won't have enough vacation time earned.  And the manager is really nice.  It's a small office of 20 people, so the complete opposite of my huge Fortune 30 job.  It's still tentative, the background check needs to be completed, but the offer has been accepted.  Yay!  Now I just sit around and wait for the last of the uncertainty to end.

After accepting the offer, I zipped out to the barn for my first jumping lesson in a couple of weeks.  The adulting and job hunting has been very disruptive of my afternoon lesson, but today I was free!  Trainer A decided we needed to do some course work since the show season starts in two weeks.  I won't be doing any jumping until May, but I'm the odd ball.  The rest of the crew will be jumping from the start of the season and need to get ready.

Theo's so ridiculously steady to fences now.  Trainer A said she could shut her eyes and just follow us around the course.  She bumped them up to 2'6" and he barely noticed.  We've started to figure out how to have him use himself to a fence consistently which means he doesn't get near them.  He even saved my bacon when we got to a perfect half stride and I froze.  When I didn't pick and grabbed his grab strap, he made the call for me and got me through the one stride with barely a rattle.

I love my new grab strap.  It's a barrel racing rein I picked up at Tractor Supply for $16. 

I'm also a terrible mom.

So today was just about perfect.  Looks like I get a job that lets me keep my equestrian life style and my horse jumped four courses where the only error we had was one rattled rail because he braced his neck.  It really doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Second opinions

Here's a fun quandry.

I contacted a farm about 1.5 hours away from me because they have an adult dressage summer camp.  Three days with other adults that love dressage?  Sounds like fun!  The trainer was happy to hear from me, sent me the dates, but had a suggestion for me.  In my introductory email I mentioned that I was trying to make the leap from First to Second.  While I'd be at the right level for her camp, she thought that I might get more of what I wanted if I just came out for some focused training over two or three days.  A lesson on Theo, a lesson on her confirmed Second level horse, and possibly a lunge lesson if I can handle three rides in a day.

She's a PSG level rider, as in scoring mid 60's at PSG on her horse she brought up through the levels.  I looked up her scores for 2016 and she had a good season.  She's got the credentials.  She also trains eventers so I might even be able to go out to school jumping to clear mi papi's brain.  Her references check out, the adult ammies in the area love her.  She knows her stuff and knows how to teach.

I could, theoretically, go up to visit her on a semi-regular basis for tune ups if we jive.

But that would be me shipping out to train with another local trainer while training with someone.  That starts to skim a line.  When I hauled out for three days with Mary Wanless, that was for a clinic with a trainer that's based in the UK.  It feels different to haul out to a trainer's barn for intensive training.

Am I being paranoid?  Is this cool? Do other riders do this?

As much as I love Trainer A, and she's done amazing work with us, I feel like we're going to need more experienced help as we move up the ranks.  I want that Second Level.  Theo gives me glimpses of what he can do and I know he's knocking on the door.  But we're not there.  He's not an easy horse when it comes to technical things, he's the king of evasion.  I can shoulder in, but it's only going to get me a 6.  Or a 5 if he's distracted since we're at a show and the aliens are going to land any second. Love that horse but he's obsessed with the aliens.


I haven't done this.  I haven't tried to branch out for more specialist training.  I'm not sure what the etiquette is.  Of course Trainer A will say everything is fine, she's a professional and Theo is my horse.  But I worry that I'm being rude.

Is this a thing people do?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cure for what ails you

Adulting is terrible and I want no more of it.

But I got to see my pony!  That makes so many things better.

I don't know if it really counts as a training update, but we've gone back to doing very long and low to build up the base of his neck.  The muscles he needs to lift up for the canter-walk-canter transitions need a bit more work and we're spending about fifteen minutes each ride encouraging him to trot and canter around with his nose around his knees and his back in a nice bow.  He's not really a fan, it's hard work!  It's so much easier to fling his head up and use that to get his shoulders up.  But we're getting results.

It's been far too long since I posted a shot of his progress.


Just look at that neck.  It's going the right way!

Overall I think he looks great, especially for coming out of the dead of winter.  It should be all downhill from here with warmer weather making it easier to go for conditioning rides and giving him all of the work and variety he needs.

But goodness me does he look like a dressage horse.  He didn't really ride like one today, he was kind of pissy about our latest cold snap.  Not that I blame him, I'm kind of pissy about the whole thing myself.  I shouldn't have to get his heavy out at the end of March.

But the first show of the season is in sight, less than a month away.  I better start practicing those First level tests.  Here's to hoping he still knows how to do a lead change through the trot.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Blog Hop: What makes you, you?

First time doing a blog hop of my very own!

This is in tribute to all of the quirks and shenanigans that bloggers are famous for and gives everyone a shot to really document what defines their unique flavor of horse crazy.

What makes someone at the barn (or your trainer) think of you immediately?

For me?  People immediately think of me when they see three things:

1.  Blingy browbands

Part of my collection

Yeah, I have a calling card, and it's having blinged out browbands that I change to match my horse's outfit.  I'm not ashamed.  He feels very pretty with his tiaras.

2.  Treats

The usual staples found in my locker

Everyone knows I always have a treat available if they need it.  I usually have several kinds of treats stashed in my locker with a policy that they're free for the grabbing for my fellow boarders or anyone that rides Theo.  You must pay the pony his dues.

3.  Intentionally doing things that make the trainer say 'get out of my ring'

Yeah, I did that.  All of that.  And the hearts saddle pad.  Every time someone sees something that's just outrageously over the top, I get a message on FB with a link and the expectation that poor Trainer A will be subjected to it in the near future.

So blogosphere, what makes you, you?  Post a link in the comments and I'll add you to the list of fame!

Saturday, March 18, 2017


I might be expanding Theo's circle of friends a bit.  My friend that's been sharing Theo with me in her lessons is interested in a quarter lease on him.  She'd ride him in one lesson and one free ride a week.  She'd also have the option to do some shows.  She wants to do 18" hunters and Intro/Training level dressage.  This came up after Trainer A watched her canter all the way around the ring, completely focusing on herself, and Theo marching along like a trooper.  They were both content, relaxed, and having a good time. 

My friend did get a bit of a caution since she found Theo's second gear today.  She usually keeps Theo in first gear (plopping pony) since she rides with no spurs, no whip, and no real desire to get after him.  In her canter work, she was working on pushing more with her seat and less with her legs.  That's how I ride my canter so when she got it, he shifted gears.  Nothing dirty, just lifted his shoulders up and stretched out.  She enjoyed it, but Trainer A suggested she stay in second and not try for third just yet.  Third is a lot of pony.  I love third gear, but I'm weird.

So what was I doing while she was cantering around my saint of a horse?  I was riding my new paint friend, Buddy.

It's a rare horse that I actually call by name, but with a name like Buddy, what else do you need?  Buddy is very handsome, super smart, and can be a bit of trouble.  He's a former western pleasure horse that joined the lesson program when I bought Theo.  He was actually purchased using the funds from Theo and he took on the students that needed a w/t/c horse.  He's got super smooth gaits, is solid on the trails, and though he's just started jumping with me, he's figuring it out fast and is good with his shoulders.

The problem with being a smart horse is that they learn bad things as quickly as they learn good things.  His canter was never very strong and he had some bad rides that left him with a bucking canter depart.  It's kind of alarming watching him fling himself into a racing, downhill canter with some bucks thrown in.  And then he starts racing around at the trot, trying to canter in every corner.  Ugh.  Beginners freak and stop asking, so he wins.  He doesn't have to canter if he acts up like that.  I think he was feeling fresh one cold day and figured out that he could be scary.  So Trainer A has been throwing some advanced riders on him, including me, to straighten that out.

The bucking to start has been easy enough.  I lift my hands up high enough to almost shove the reins up my nose during the transition.  He's not agile enough to bronc with his head up.  After a couple of transitions where he had no choice but to be a gentleman, he got the idea and I could start bringing my hands back down.  The other trick was to show him that he can in fact go around a corner without falling on his face, panicking, and racing.  The first couple of half halts weren't pretty, but he's so darn smart.  He figured it out on our second pass and settled in to a quiet rhythm.  We ended with him calmly stepping into his canter, going around the ring twice with a quiet, steady rhythm, and then trotting when told.  I jumped off of him, shoved a cookie in his mouth, and called it a day.

He's a smart boy, he'll remember that.  I never give Buddy treats because his leaser spoils him rotten and his ground manners can be terrible.  It's a good thing he's so handsome and really quite sweet because man oh man, the smart ones are such pains in the butt!

And I found out Baby Pony is being leased by my copilot starting next month!  He hit the jackpot!  They'll be flying around at three phases this summer, I'm certain.  She really wants to be an eventer and Baby Pony is everything sensible and steady.  After jumping him through some grids and feeling for myself how clever he is with his feet, I think they'll be a match made in heaven.  I'm so happy for the both of them.

All of this reminds me that show season is just around the corner.  Everyone is picking out their dance partners for the summer.  I went shopping at the tack shop and the show stuff is out while the winter stuff is on clearance.  YES!

We're getting more snow tonight.  NOOOOOOOOOO!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Gone ponying

Adulting is dumb.  Between the snow and the job hunting, I missed out on seeing my pony for most of the week.  Not that he minded since we had a cold snap and he was bundled up in his heavy.  Some days it's better to just leave him to his own devices.

Today I blew out of work early and headed out to the barn.  It was about 40*, sunny, and glorious. 

I have a policy of not pushing Theo after several days off, so it was just trotting around for the most part.  A lot of walking, some cantering, popped over some cross rails when a lesson finished using them because mi papi was completely convinced they were for him.  He got excited and pricked his ears every time they were reset.

Then we cuddled and I got all of the itchy spots that he can't reach under his heavy blankets.  He's finally shedding and we had a pretty good pile of fuzz.  I also treated his mane with MTG to encourage it to grow back in.  He's really thin in the mane from about the middle of his neck back.  I'm pretty sure his neck rug is rubbing out his mane.  It didn't do that last year, but last year, he didn't have that bulge of muscle in front of his withers.  Oh, the price of a developing topline.

So long as the weather is decent, I'll let him go out with a naked neck and try to preserve what's left of his mane. He appreciated my choice.

Even with all of the extra grooming, I must have missed some spots.  He wallowed and dug his bare neck into the snow.  Probably managed to rub out all of the chemicals I'd just used on him.  Thanks, papi.

Yes, that's about 20" of snow in his field from our Tuesday blizzard.  It's been cold enough that there's been very little melt.  We're supposed to have another system this weekend.  And just when we were able to see half of the outdoor and had started considering riding outside.

Tomorrow morning we have a makeup lesson from the blizzard.  I'm banning myself from doing any adulting this weekend.  It's all about brunches and shopping and quality time at the barn.  I've had enough stress to start eyeballing Theo's ulcer supplements.  I need to unwind this weekend.  Unwind = tack cleaning and locker clean out and pony cuddles.  I might have to try another trail ride in the snow.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cross over

I take back what I said about equestrian fashion never being acceptable for life outside the barn.  I'm prepping for a video interview and needed a coat.  What did I grab?

Yes, that is my spiffy new RJ Classics dressage frock.  For a video interview where they won't even see my jeans, it's perfect.  It's stretchy, it's comfy, it's a conservative color.  It's way more comfy than my actual blazers.  So yes, I am interviewing with a big company for a senior manager role wearing my dressage coat.

Equestrian chic.  I'm doing it right.  I hope.  Now lets work on my voice holding out for the full 45 minutes and the blizzard not disrupting my connection at a crucial moment.

Adulting sucks.  I want to go pony.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Bomb proof

Another day, another bombproofing clinic.

After our first two sessions, no one really expected Theo to react to anything.  He barely flinched at everything that had been brought out before.  But I saw the pool noodles going up and I saw the pole with streamers being propped up on the wall and knew that Theo wasn't going to have as easy of a day.

Sure enough, he wanted NOTHING to do with the cowboy curtain.  He was introduced to it in hand and was fine with the streamers.  Tried to eat them and everything.  But go underneath?  Um, no, he can just go around, thank you very much.  It took a lot of pressure and convincing and waving the lead rope at his butt.

Mistake on me:  Do not try to force Theo to step under something.  Just wait until he gets bored and does it on his own.  Driving him forward put him in ugly Theo mode and for most of the group, it was something they hadn't seen before.  He was biting the air and snapping at his lead rope he was so angry.  Once I finally managed to drive him underneath it, he bolted through and got loose.  He made it one half lap before the clinican stepped in front of him and he came to a very prompt halt.   Someone had been naughty.  I led him through a couple of times but he made it very dramatic and was pissed off.

But after I got on?  No big deal at all.  I'm pretty sure he just didn't think he could fit while I was leading him, it was a narrow opening.  His shoulder hit me each time he passed through.  It's the same thing I see horses do when loading on a trailer and they don't want to trample their human.  They won't get on if you're standing in their spot.  But once I was on his back?  Plenty of room, no need to bolt through it like a lunatic.

He's such a weird horse.  We also walked through the pool noodles touching his belly, worked around a popping open umbrella, and jumped a big pile of flowers.  Oh, and tried to steal the squeaky dog toy.

After our success over the three sessions, my group decided that we want to keep going and our clinician will be back to do an advanced series for us.  Empty water bottles!  Helium balloons!  Cap guns!  Because clearly, this is the kind of training every dressage horse needs.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Real life

I've been scarce for a single, simple reason:  For the first time in nine years, I'm job hunting.  It's really quite scary and it's even worse when you've got an all consuming hobby like horses.  How do you explain to your potential management that you have something like a child, but he's about one thousand pounds?

Things at work went in a less than best case way, so my resume has been winging it's way around the state.  The good news is that I got some hits.  Today I talked to two companies, Monday I talk to a third.  For the two I've talked to, I get to move on past the HR gatekeepers.  Yay?  I'll just keep my fingers crossed that I continue on to the point where I need to dress up nice.  I need to buy a new suit for interviews.

But papi continues to march on as steady as a drum.  We're working on developing a big trot to go with his big canter.  He's not entirely sure he enjoys this new level of expectation when he trots, but he's getting on board.  We've been hopping over a lot of little jumps to keep him engaged as the weather continues to act in a demented manner.  50* one day, 0* another, we just can't keep up.

I've been trying to keep my work drama away from the barn, since a certain someone does not cooperate with me deciding I should take control of something.

He's been very patient with my frazzled attention.  He ignores me in alien mode and happily accepts the cookies that come with my apologies when I realize I'm taking my frustrations and turning them into unrealistic expectations of our rides.  My rides are my therapy and with stress levels running this high, therapy is essential.

I just want this chaos to be done all ready.  I can't plan on a show season when I don't know if/where I'll be working!  So inconsiderate of these companies to mess with my show schedule.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Gotcha day

I mentioned on FB that  I bought Theo one year ago today and a friend replied that it was his Gotcha Day!  For most horses, I'd have to say nope, anniversary of purchase is a better name.  But for the horse that I had to work months to acquire, Gotcha Day seems very appropriate.

Believe it or not, Theo's been legally stuck with me for a whole year now.  It seems to be agreeing with him.  He's fat and sassy and enjoying life.  He gave me a very good ride yesterday, working on our big trot that we'll need to go out and do First level this summer and potentially do Second at a schooling show (Trainer A is on board with that timeline!).  He's so darn sassy these days, giving me a head shake and a little buck while cantering.  Trainer A didn't care, she was far more occupied with the fact his stifles were actually working.  Did you know stifles can bend and become engaged?  I was shocked!

Today I lent him to a different adult rider that hasn't jumped in a long time and was very nervous.  He jumped that crossrail ten times and every one was identical.  All she had to do was grab mane and hang on, Theo managed the rest.  He's so perfect for that first jumping lesson.  Even when the rider was having second thoughts, once Theo was locked on, he was going over. 

I sat on a school horse that had just given me a very hard time about cantering and watched with a big dumb grin as mi papi showed someone that jumping isn't a big deal.  Point, squeeze, hang on.  He was crabby about me riding another horse, I'll have some making up to do tomorrow, but he was a saint for the nervous rider.  He didn't take advantage of her at all and I was very proud of him.  Trainer A is right, he's definitely a one person horse, but he's willing to help others in limited doses. 

Tomorrow will be a no bridle/no saddle kind of a day to make up for three dressage rides in a row, followed by a lesson with someone else.  He'll need to flop and chill.  Then it's our last bomb proofing clinic this weekend. 

I've made a lot of decisions in my life that I regret.  Theo is not one of them.