Thursday, January 30, 2020

Sneaky anxiety

CW:  Mental health and anxiety

The problem with generalized anxiety is that it can be so insidious.  It's not a single thing, at least not in my case.  It's a little spike of inappropriate fear, an obtrusive thought while driving, a little tightening of the chest when checking email.  When you've lived with it for a long time it becomes normal.  It's fascinating to me to talk to people that don't have generalized anxiety and realize that opening my email at work should, in fact, be a non-issue.  Huh.  Who knew?

Like most people I know, my generalized anxiety gets better and worse. Often things are good and I barely notice.  It's just how I am.  I prefer to not take medication most of the time due to the charming side effects and that's fine.  I'm the picture of high functioning and I've been taught lots of coping strategies.  Running and horses are really good for anxiety and accompanying insomnia. 

Then something happens and things are not okay.  I'm guessing this time it was the stress of the holidays, year end deploys at work, and my trip home to Minnesota that set me off.  I got back with a bad upper respiratory infection that kept me at home for awhile.  When I went back out into the world, I was freaked about everything.  Seriously, every little thing.  Every time I drove my new car I would swear I could hear something wrong with the engine and I'd spend my drive with the music off, trying to find that noise.  But I didn't notice that I was unusually anxious.

Problem is that when you're always freaked out about everything, it doesn't register as something being wrong!  It wasn't until my hubby noticed me reaching for something with a shaking hand that he raised the red flag.  I shouldn't be shaking just sitting in my living room.

Long story short, I'm on medication until further notice.

Why is this on my equestrian blog?  Couple reasons.  One, this has a major impact on Theo.  I have to imagine some of my avoidance of the barn is related to my anxiety about getting hurt.  Logically I know I can ride absolutely anything that horse throws at me but in the moment, I am out of scale terrified.  He's not even trying to unload me, it's just protest bucks.  I should be mildly annoyed, not looking to dismount.  It's also hard on Theo when I'm riding scared since I am less consistent and he feeds off of my emotional state.  There's a reason he's been so nervous in the 'spooky' end of the ring.  Because I've been tensing and waiting for the spin.

What are you spooking at, mom?

Two, visibility.  I don't see my anxiety as something to hide.  I have a chemical imbalance that sometimes gets away from me and I need to take medication to get things back in place.  Some folks need their medication every day, some are like me and don't always need it.  It's all very individual, just like most things we choose for ourselves.  I know other equestrians have similar battles to fight.  Just putting it out there that I'm fighting it too and how it's going for me.

And how is it going?  Better.  I didn't notice how tense I was until it started to ease.  It's crazy how quickly people can normalize something.  I signed up to ride Theo in a jumping clinic so that's a good sign.  And I'm most of the way through the email backlog I let build up.  I'll just keep plugging along, pay more attention to my stress levels, and give myself all the support I need.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Rounding the bend

Trainer Z's visits are always memorable.

"He's holding you hostage up there!"

"I know you feel like you're about to die but trust me, you can ride this."

"Get it done or this is never going to stop!"

"I don't care if he bucks, gallop!"  "Of course you don't care, you're not on him!"  "Don't make me chase you because I will!"

"Feel that?  That is throughness!"

Potato vision!  But at least I have some media

The plan today was to pick up the pieces after our introduction to flying changes.  Theo was so far behind my leg he might as well have been in another state.  He weaponized his changes to keep me from getting him in front of my leg.  Swapping leads all over the place and bucking kept me from kicking him back up into the bridle.  Trainer Z was right, he was holding me hostage.  And I did not want to do what was needed to kick through this.  I don't particularly enjoy riding Theo's tantrums, he's quite powerful.  But as she said, if I don't do something, it will never stop.  So I sat up, sat back, took a deep breath, and kept kicking.  I ignored all of the drama going on underneath me and just kept kicking.  I'm back in my snaffle bridle full time while we pick up the pieces and rebuild.

It was a very sucky 30 minutes of convincing him that I was no longer going to back off due to his theatrics followed by a very productive 30 minutes with quality trot and canter work.  I got my pony back.  The one that has a rock solid counter canter and easy transitions.  The one that takes the bit with confidence and fills up the bridle.

We also rearranged my thigh blocks.  It never really occurred to me that my short thighs mean that my knees jam into my blocks at entirely the wrong spot.  She pulled them loose and twisted them so they don't force my knee back.  We then shortened my stirrups by a half hole and my legs settled in against his sides.  Well, that's a thing.  It's not a total fix but it did stop my saddle from forcing my knee off of his barrel and my heels into his sides.  I'm planning to pull my blocks completely off my saddle for a couple rides.  Assuming that's a step forward, I'll look into getting some smaller thigh blocks.  I'm also going to borrow a Prestige saddle from Trainer Z and I'm talking to EQ Science about a test ride.

I needed this lesson to start to rebuild my confidence.  And Theo's.  Trainer Z said something similar during our lesson.  We had to introduce the changes because he was so dang good at the counter canter.  Fine, that's done, now we go back and pick up all the mess we made.  He learned a lot and it changed his canter for the better.  Now I need to find some of the joy again and kick my way through all of the nonsense we've picked up along the way.

Mid-level dressage is hard.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Perfect timing

I rode two days in a row!  One day was a 30 minute ride in my western gear, one day was a shortened jumping lesson, but it's a start.  Theo was ridden three days in a row and he was slightly disgruntled about the whole thing, but he likes the treats.

While slacking off chatting during my lesson, I mentioned to Trainer D the struggle I've been having keeping up this winter.  I asked if she had anyone that needed some saddle time that would be a match for Theo.  As the fates have it, she has an advanced student without a partner right now.  Her two horses are retired and the horse she'd been riding just went on stall rest for soundness issues.  She's been catch riding a senior QH and a stinky pony.  Trainer D wants to put her on a horse that she can really enjoy and jump.  She's also got a very good seat so the occasional spook won't be an issue.  I know her and I've seen her ride several times on different horses, she's got really good hands and a soothing personality.

It's perfect timing.  I'll get two days a week where I know my horse is being worked in a controlled, professionally supervised way.  Theo gets to have an experienced rider jump him which he loves to do.  The student gets a horse that is safe and fun to jump so she can do things that are more fun than cross rails and trying to install brakes on naughty ponies.  Trainer D gets to work with Theo three times a week (2 lessons and 1 training ride).  Apparently Trainer D and Theo have been getting along like peas in a pod.

It's a weight off of my shoulders.  Theo is a horse that needs to be kept busy, now I can share that work with two other people.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


It's not really a training struggle this time, or a Theo struggle.  This time it's all me.  I don't want to go to the barn.

There, I said it.  I don't want to go to the barn.

A large part of it is the weather.  We had a nasty cold snap with a high of 8*, about 6 inches of snow, and most of a week where temps are at 15* or lower when I'm able to get out to ride.  I have a policy of not making my horse breathe hard at 15* or lower, so no real point in riding.  And it's just freaking cold.  I went out for his massage and my fingers hurt after spending 1.5 hours in the 10* weather.  Rather than ride, I went home to have a hot cocoa.

I'm trying to make this okay in my head.  I usually take a week or two off in the winter due to the stupid weather.  This time is a bit different as I technically could be out there riding.  I just don't want to.  So Theo is enjoying a vacation where's he's been ridden about 4 times in two weeks.  Two of those rides were with Trainer D.

I'm hoping my motivation will come back with the sun.  Right now, I'm being a total introvert and barely leaving the house.  On the positive side, it's given me a bunch of time I don't usually have so I got caught up on the vacuuming and I've had more time to cook, which I love doing.

Strip steak, butterfly lobster tail, asparagus, and sauteed wild mushrooms

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about my complete lack of desire to go ride.  I've got plenty of interest in doing other things, just not going to the barn.  I may have stumbled onto all the things I miss out on when I'm riding five days a week and how relaxing it is to come home from work, putter around the house, hit the treadmill, and be done with my day.  Riding takes up at least 2.5 hours each day.  I can get a lot of vacuuming done in that time. 

I may need to start looking for a half leaser again.  There's life outside the barn and I've missed it.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Riding the beast you made

Well hello there, it's been awhile. 

After my lesson with Trainer Z, we had an ice storm.  Whelp, day off for Theo.  Then I tried to ride him on New Year's Eve and instead we ended up cowering in the arena while ice and snow fell off the roof for about 20 minutes straight.  Thank goodness I'd planned on lunging so I wasn't sitting on him when it started.  It sounded like constant thunder right over our heads and things were falling by the windows.  I gave up (poor Theo was shaking, it was so bad) and warned Trainer D to lunge him before his Wednesday training ride.  

I flew home to Minnesota to surprise my mom for her birthday and while I was there, my brother so kindly gave me an upper respiratory infection.  I flew back and then spent a couple days doing nothing but keeping the couch from flying away while my lungs tried to leave my body via hacking coughing fits.  Disgusting.  Trainer D was kind enough to keep Theo in work while all this was going on and he even gave the barn manager a jumping lesson.  He was a saint.

Also got a massage, lucky pony

I finally made it back to the saddle on Friday after over a week off.  It was a jumping lesson and I had to keep stopping because I couldn't freaking breathe.  Theo was a good packer pony and added strides as needed to keep me safely on top.  I was like a sack of potatoes with overcooked noodles for legs.  We did nothing more technical than a four stride line.

Trainer Z returned yesterday (Sunday) and I was dreading my lesson.  I'd barely been able to ride and Theo was very snorty and wide eyed with our crazy windy weather.  Everyone was telling me how sassy and wound up all the horses were being.  I went into the arena like someone facing a firing squad.  Trainer Z is a nice trainer but she does not suffer fools gladly and I was feeling very foolish.

We decided to work on canter but not flying changes.  He's got the idea, time to focus on something else and not set off Theo's winter brain.  I got read the riot act on my newly found contact problems in the canter.  Theo's dramatics have led to me giving up the contact completely in an attempt to keep him from losing his mind.  So he flails and guesses at what I want, which makes me give it up more in an attempt to keep him chill.  Trainer Z spent probably 20 minutes getting us to canter forward on a straight line down the quarter line.  My contact was all loosey goosey and he was hanging out behind my leg badly.

We couldn't do a freaking collected canter around the ring.  It was both embarrassing and enlightening.

My glitter boots, however, are not embarrassing.

Even without trying we got probably a dozen clean changes so it seems he has the mechanics figured out.  Now we can do something else with our time.  Like getting him back in front of my leg and back in the bridle.  I had managed to wrap myself up in so many knots that I was trying to touch nothing to prevent the bucking and jumping about behavior.  Nope, that's not how that works.  Kick him up into the bridle and show him what I want.  I can't spend years making him strong, fit, and sensitive only to quit riding when he gets frazzled.  I made a mid-level dressage horse, now I need to ride it.

We did get our forward, straight canter back and that felt fantastic.  We also got what I dare say was our first two steps of a more than medium trot while he was still wound up from the canter work.  I had him trotting as big as he could and I asked for a bit more and this other gear showed up for a split second.  Like I felt his back shift as he ate up more ground and Trainer Z started cheering.  I don't think even Theo knew he could do that as he had to shorten up again almost immediately but he was quite proud of himself and ready to do it again.  I stuffed him full of sugar.

Theo has managed to land in the role of schoolmaster which is crazy considering he is learning along with me.  Trainer Z has said a couple times now that he's just like teaching on a school master.  I get it right, I get a nice movement.  I screw up, he does something else.  I keep worrying about ruining him but the reality is that he's getting this faster than me.  He learns it, then waits for me to catch up.

I'm under strict orders to refocus on the fundamentals for two weeks and fix our contact problems.  I'm also on the market for a new saddle as it appears I'm moving past what my current saddle can help me with.  The more I sit, the more Trainer Z thinks my saddle is fighting my short thigh confirmation.  So joy and bliss, I'm going back on the saddle market.

Didn't I just finish with saddle shopping?