Thursday, April 25, 2013

It's my hands

Today's lesson was.....frustrating.

Ever since the horse trials, Champ has been increasingly resistant to going forward, to working with me in the ring, to doing any kind of upward transition. Tuesday morning was so bad, I gave up and went back to the barn after twenty exceedingly frustrating minutes of trying to get him to move straight, to go from walk to trot, to go from walk OR trot to canter. Nothing.

My trainer checked him over, we talked about the issues, and she said that it was possibly his teeth. The last time he had his teeth done was two years ago, so maybe his mouth is bothering him. She called the dentist to get an appointment set up for Champ and a few other horses at the barn. We decided that we'd try to see what the deal was at my lesson on Thursday, which was today.

When I got out to the barn this morning, Kathy told me that one of the little girls rode Champ yesterday -- walk, trot, canter, jump, no problem. What was wrong with Champ Specifically, it was probably that my hands were too heavy, that I was using too much rein, and trying to hard to make this Quarter Horse into a dressage champion. He isn't going to move like the big Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods I have ridden, and I can't make him. Okay, right. So, lighter hands. Less half-halting, less playing with the bit, less of everything. Fine, not a problem.

I got on and he was okay. But then we started working on trot work -- serpentines, circles, stuff like that. I let my hands be as light as I could and still have *some* collection for the increased speed of the trot. I felt like I was barely hanging on at all. But it was like slogging through wet cement. He wouldn't stay going at the trot, even with a serious amount of leg, some crop, and a lot of seat.

My lesson partner and I swapped horses. I have ridden Sailor (17h Belgian/TB) before, and he is like riding a freight train. He takes a lot of leg, too, but he definitely can go and stay going when he wants to. The trot was wonderful, so smooth and bouncy and so energetic compared to Champ. After a while, though, I had a hard time staying in the saddle and was flopping all over the place. Couldn't stay sitting up, couldn't get my balance, couldn't use my leg independent of the rest of my body. It was like I'd never ridden before. I COULD NOT get him to canter. Could. Not. My trainer had to break out the longe line and I had to use a crop before I even got him going. Ugh.

Meanwhile, Champ was jumping around a course of fences like his tail was on fire, making his turns, jumping everything without a problem.

When I got back on him, we cantered, and then galloped like a bat out of hell, and then we went in. I couldn't even think about jumping him myself. I don't know what mental or physical block is screwing me up here, or what the deal is, but I am just unhappy. I'm sure I'll get over it, but it sure isn't fun right now.

Maybe I'm just destined to be a trail rider.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Ponies and People

It's starting to feel like a Norse saga, this quest to help Wren learn to ride horses.

Series of scary falls this winter = slightly fearful-in-the-saddle child. Venerable pony who teaches all new little kids passes away in March. A few weeks later, new ponies come who can teach the little kids to ride. Wren falls in love with one of them, an aged paint mare who is super-quiet, and clearly knows her job. She even halts square without being asked. Wren is delighted. Wren decides we will buy said ancient pony and build a barn.

Wren tries to ride in the small barn show this past weekend, but can only muster the courage for two classes and the vaulting. She rides Champ in one class (and freaks out afterward and has to put Champ away), and then is persuaded to ride Candy (aged pony mare) in the Trail class. She vaults on Beau, the 17h Belgian Draft gelding, and gets anxious and cries when she sits on a pony and walks around. I know this is a phase -- she loves horses probably more than I did at her age -- but it's sad and frustrating and disheartening to watch your child struggle this way.

And then. And THEN, the twentysomething year old owner of said new ponies (and two other horses) defaults on the co-op boarding arrangement she had with our trainer, and has to come and take her ponies back. So now there are no dead-quiet ponies to ride.

Now we are struggling with the decision to buy a quiet, older pony for Wren to learn on, or just tough it out and see what happens over the summer with the school ponies that are already in the barn. Ancient pony, Candy, is twenty, and needs some groceries and some care, but seems otherwise healthy. She certainly knows her job. Check out this square halt in the Trail class on Sunday:

Seriously. I mean, look at that.

We don't know what to do. I asked our trainer for her input and advice, so I am waiting to hear back from her on the subject. Summer's coming, which should easily equal more time out at the barn, riding, for both of us, but it's such a big risk, I feel almost paralyzed by the choices and options.

And, then there is Boston.

As a runner, and a parent, and a spouse, and hell, as a person in the world, I am beyond appalled by the horrible acts of deranged people. I have crossed the finish line of a few races, including the Monument Avenue 10K, which regularly has tens of thousands of walkers and runners. Crossing that line was one of the most exhilarating, empowering, emotional experiences I've ever had. I can't even fathom what it would be like to forever have the terror of a bombing attached to that experience. When I went out for what ended up being a fairly crummy run last night, it was all I could think about -- what it was like to run for miles, and then, come within sight of the finish, people cheering, your friends and family cheering, waiting to fold you in their arms and celebrate a significant accomplishment with you...and then to have it all taken away by horror and pain and destruction wrought by some bottom-feeding asshole with fucked-up internal wiring.

I thought about the thousands of runners who were competing in their first Boston Marathon who didn't get to finish, who were stopped a mile or so before the end and told the race was over, because of aforementioned Bottom-Feeding Asshole. Or the people who will now never run again because BFA fixed it so they had their legs blown off while watching and cheering from the sidelines. Their legs. When they went down to watch the runners, they had their legs, and they used them to get to the best vantage point for watching the finish. And then, by 3pm, they were amputees. I can't even...

And that one, completely devastated family whose father/husband ran the marathon, and who has now lost a son, and has a daughter and wife/mother critically injured, and a daughter who witnessed the horror.

I am so very tired of horrible people. I am so very tired of people sometimes.

I wonder what races and sporting events will look like now. Will I have to forgo my husband and kids cheering for me from the sidelines at the finish in order to be safe while I compete? What will we do as a society about whatever is causing people to lose their minds and inflict this kind of craziness? What IS causing this sort of thing to happen?

Conspiracy theorists and tea party people need not comment. There's nothing you have to say that I am willing to listen to.

I guess for now, the best thing to do is.....carry on. I am pledged to run 26.2 for Boston, and my goal is to complete that as quickly as possible without injuring myself. I think it will take me two and a half weeks, tops. I'm not going to stop running. Or riding, or going out or being at concerts or fairs or street festivals or sporting events. To do that gives the BFA's of this world power that they are not entitled to.

Tomorrow, I will run.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Yesterday was our school district's kindergarten registration day. Noah is now five years old. He will be starting kindergarten this September.

I'm not sure I am quite fully cognizant of the fact that in a few months, I will be putting my youngest child on the school bus every morning with his sister.

I will be the only one left standing in the yard, waving.

As much as I protest, I know I am ready to move to this next stage of life -- with all school-aged children. They will all have the same days off, the same schedule (essentially, except for the teen), and I will no longer be paying for preschool tuition. Wow.

I worry about my baby, though. He's so precise, so routine-bound, so very smart in a different way than his sisters. I wonder if I will have three children for whom traditional school is a bit of a struggle. Or will he thrive in the structured atmosphere? Will he enjoy school, or will he be bored?

Will he miss me?

Actually, I think he will be excited, but apprehensive. I think he will find his niche, and some friends, and be happy. He has grown from a relatively insecure, change-fearing child into a little boy with more social reserves than I thought he had, who is actually ready to try new challenges and be in new places. He has always had strong language skills, and strong analytical and visual-motor skills, but now he is really starting to shine.

A few weeks ago, he explained to me how the seat belt latch in the car works. "It has a spring in it, Mommy, so when you put the buckle in, it snaps and holds it there".

Oh. Why, yes it does.

I am looking forward to a more regular schedule, with more time in the day for me to do the things that I need to do and want to do -- my day job work, touring at the museum, riding Champ. I won't have to plan everything to happen between the hours of 9am and 1pm so I will have enough time to get home for some lunch before running to the preschool to pick him up. The bus will drop him off in front of our house, with Wren, every afternoon.

I imagine he'll come running, like Wren does, backpack flying, straight into my arms.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Happy trails

Spring has sprung here in Central Virginia, and just like winter hanging on with a vengeance, spring has apparently decided to ramp right up into summer this year. It was 90 degrees yesterday. Two weeks ago, it snowed.

Today was glorious, though. Seventy-five degrees, slightly breezy, and totally and completely sunny. I wore shorts and flip flops out to the barn, which I almost never do, and reveled in being in the sun without five layers of clothing and my big winter coat. This past winter, I definitely felt the cold more than I usually do, and so I was determined to soak up as much sun as possible. I sure do need the Vitamin D anyway.

Poor Champ, along with the rest of the horses, still retains a winter coat, and although he is shedding, it's not happening fast enough for the weather. We don't clip the horses, either, so he was one hot Quarter Horse.

I noticed he was acting weird and not really wanting to work for me on Tuesday -- he takes a good bit of leg to get going and keep him going, but this was ridiculous! I had to completely hose him off afterward, because he was soaked in sweat, the poor guy. Today was shaping up to be the same.

He walked out of the barn toward the ring after we tacked up, and then he just stopped. Stood there like a bronze statue in the driveway and would. not. move.

I got a lunge whip to urge him along, but it still took me ten minutes to get him about 30 yards. I should have known. He just did not want to work.

The lesson plan for myself and Allison, who rides with me, was to work on dressage and then jump a little at least. But after about fifteen minutes of half-assing our way around the ring, and the horses getting sweatier and sweatier, Kathy said that we should just go trail ride.


And we did.

I haven't been on a trail ride in at least fourteen years, and I haven't been on a GOOD trail ride in more than that. Champ was just wonderful to ride out with -- he crossed the road, rode on the shoulder and across gravel driveways, and into and out of the woods without even batting an eye.

When I say it was a joy to be in the saddle today, I mean it with the whole of my heart. I could ride like I did today every single day and be happy.

Chatting with my companions, the swing and sway of the horses walking along, and sun on my shoulders and arms, the occasional trot.....seeing the trees in bloom and the sapphire sky...just glorious. My heart was full to overflowing, and my mind was calm. The peacefulness settled deep into my soul, and I still feel it, even hours later. I want to go back and do it again. I wanted to stay out longer and go farther.

My time was limited -- the 2pm preschool pickup constrained me today -- but there will be more rides out, this season, into the summer, and into the fall, for sure.

I am so proud of myself for being comfortable, for trusting Champ to not freak out (not even close), for just enjoying the walk and the company and the horses. THIS is what owning and riding horses is about for me. If I never went to another competition, if I never did anything but had my weekly lesson and then trail rode all over the place, then I could be happy for the rest of my riding life.

I'm already pretty happy.

See? Even Champ is smiling!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Barn Day!

Sundays are usually 'barn days', in that Wren usually has her riding lesson in the afternoon. Since Travis has started studying photography at school, the whole family typically goes to the lesson to watch and hang out with the horses so Travis can take pictures.

Yesterday was a GORGEOUS day, and I planned to ride Champ while Wren and the other little girls rode in their lesson. The ring is big enough for me to do my thing at one end (as long as I don't canter and get the ponies worked up!), and the girls ride at the other end with our trainer. Because Travis had his birthday on Saturday, my trainer asked him if he would like to ride Turkey in a lesson after the girls as a birthday gift.

Naturally, I was not going to let that pass without taking as many pictures as possible. Plus, that meant I got to try out the new camera!

Travis took a bunch of pictures for a school project, and then snapped a bunch while the girls and I rode.

Wren seems to love Candy, although she tells me she gets scared because Candy "walks fast". Uh, no. I think it's more she moves differently than Keepsake, and wants to move faster. Kathy (our trainer) told Wren that Candy was practically taking a nap! I hope Candy (who is 20 years old) will be the confidence-builder Wren needs, much like Champ is the confidence-builder *I* need.

After lessons and my ride, it was time for Travis' birthday present from Kathy. He got a lesson on Turkey!

Noah wanted to help, too, so after the ride, he got out the brush box so he could groom Turkey with Daddy. Turkey measured out at exactly 18 hands at the withers (Kathy got out the stick), so Noah looked particularly teeny next to the massive Clydesdale!

Turkey really seems to love Travis. The feeling is mutual.

All in all, it was a great day. Beautiful weather, beautiful horses, and a fun time. Just the way I like my 'barn days'.

Friday, April 5, 2013

An Adventurous Week

It's not called 'Adventures in Living!' for nothing, you know.

Monday found us enjoying the start of Spring Break for all three kids. The weather was gorgeous, for a change, and the kids played outside. Wren decided she was ready to learn to ride a two-wheeler bike without training wheels, so after about an hour of my teaching her progressively to balance the bike at rest, then coasting down the driveway, she was able to pedal it successfully! I took the little kids and their bikes over to Wren's elementary school where they rode and rode and rode in the bus loop. Wren was positively exuberant!

Not to be outdone by his big sister, Noah has already asked me to teach him to ride, too. We haven't gotten to it yet (more on that in a minute), but it will be part of the plan this summer, for sure.

Tuesday found Wren and I making a quick run out to the barn to see the farrier work on the horses, and to pay the first bit of the lease fees. In the afternoon, we got together with friends for more bike riding in the church parking lot, and playground time. Then, my friend Sara graciously offered to keep the kids overnight for a sleepover so I could work on a big museum tour I was giving on Wednesday.

Travis and I got to go out for dinner in the middle of the week. By ourselves. That almost never happens.

After a supremely decadent Tuesday evening and the utter silence of Wednesday morning, I gave a fabulous tour to a group of Art Therapy graduate students. The topic was one of my very most favorites, 'Symbolism in Medieval/Renaissance/Baroque Art'. Oh yeah, right up my alley! It was fascinating research that I wish I could have done more of, and it was a terrific group of students and their professors, who asked great, thought-provoking questions, and had enough background art and history knowledge that it made for an excellent interaction.

I'm in the process of researching the answer to a question one of the students had that I was unable to answer -- which, by the way, do any of my readers/friends have any citations for the origin of the use of 'Madonna' to describe the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child? I can find a general answer -- that it probably originated with Italian Renaissance painters ('madonna' means 'my lady'), but I have nothing besides Wikipedia to cite, and I'd like to do better.

Wednesday night was a terrific lesson on Champ. I feel so much better about my jumping. We worked on one jump on a circle and practiced timing, position, and the canter lead change. I can't always get the change behind, but he does it pretty well up front. He was a good boy, though, and I showed Kathy his new skill of closing the ring gate when we leave. I say "Shut it, Champ" and he pushes the gate closed with his nose. Quarter Horses are so smart!

By early Thursday morning, things got interesting when I spent most of the night up with Noah, who we thought had a serious GI bug, poor kid. Lots of vomiting and a really high fever with chills. Yuck. Thankfully, Travis was able to stay home and help me. Wren went to riding camp in the morning, and I came home to take a nap after another museum tour for college students. Then I came home to find this beautiful scene in our living room.

Wren had a spectacular day at camp, and she was thrilled to get to see and ride one of the new ponies. She made no bones about the fact that paint ponies are her favorite and that she was going to buy one of the two of them as soon as possible. I told her she was going to have to be able to ride at the trot at least before we'd even think about buying a pony.

An uneventful evening was followed by a nail-biter of a Friday morning, in which Noah woke up seemingly worse -- fever, sore throat, headache, NECK PAIN, holy crap....any of those things without the neck pain, and I would have been less stressed, but when your five-year-old is whimpering and looks like hell, and won't bend his neck, AND had hallucinated a couple times during the night....well, thoughts start to bend toward meningitis. Especially when the supposed GI bug doesn't manifest itself like it was supposed to. And then you peek under the jammies and find a red rash all over the little body....needless to say, it was a bit of a scare. Travis took him straight to the pediatrician, although he wanted to go to the ER (I told him better to go thru the doc's office to avoid the all-day ER wait), and I gathered Wren up and took her to riding camp.

Waiting for the information from the doctor's office was hard. I tried to think of all the possibilities for his symptoms that didn't include viral or bacterial meningitis. And then I remembered that the only sure way to diagnose it would be with a lumbar puncture, and then I started wondering if my morning was going to include holding my child down while someone stuck a needle in his back. Ugh. By the time we got to the barn, I was kind of a mess. Thankfully, I got a text from Travis almost immediately, in which he said the doctor was positive it was strep. Oh! Thank GOD! The one possibility that never even entered my mind! Seriously, I have never been so happy to hear a strep diagnosis in my life.

Antibiotics, rest, comfy jammies, and lots of ice cream were today's priorities. He looks a little better now, but is definitely still sick, poor guy.

Travis and I feel like we have been hit by trucks and run through the wringer. I see a beer in my future, after the kids are in bed, and Kira has been delivered to her father.

Life IS an adventure, to be sure. Sometimes it would be nice if some of the adventures weren't so intense!

The weather is supposed to seriously improve in the next day or so....let's hope I can carve out some time to spend with Champ.