Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Other people's horses...

Horses are expensive, and can be unpredictable, dangerous, and expensive (did I say that already??). But they are such noble, beautiful, majestic creatures, that I can't help myself loving them so much. Any kind, all kinds (well, except maybe the ones who clearly would like to kill me....but even then...).

I have always wanted one, all my life, even as other things took precedence, and the horse-craziness seemed to fade. It never did. Even though my dad recently told my middle (horse-crazy) daughter that, "Your mom was crazy for horses, too, when she was your age, but it went away after a while".

(haha, not so much, Dad!)

I've never NOT wanted to ride, to have a horse of my own, but I wanted other things, too, so horses just lurked on the edges of my passions for a long time. I've never really had a horse of my very own, not even when I married into a family with horses. I wasn't allowed to have my own, when there were already horses there for me to ride.

Me, and Alwasmi Dancer, 1995 or 1996
She was the closest I had to 'mine', a 4 year old OTTB. My riding skills were not quite up to her at the time.

And by "my own", I mean a horse that really suited me, in temperament, in skills, in work ethic and talent to do the kinds of things I wanted to do. And who was forgiving enough to put up with my (many) beginner mistakes.

I've been a beginner rider for a very, very long time. I'm still a beginner rider, sadly.

I cannot explain the odd mix of frustration and longing and cautious joy that comes from loving other people's horses. There have been so many that I have loved, from Orion and Swaps, who took me across the hunting territory of the Genesee Valley Hunt when I was in college, to Marquesa, my ex-husband's prized Trakhener mare, and to Floriana, the little chestnut mare who would have been perfect for me, except I couldn't buy her.

Me, and Marquesa, at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, VA
Novice Level, 1996

Now there's Turk, a horse I will probably never ride with ANY sort of regularity, he being of 18 hands and given to walking and trotting, mostly. But he and my (formerly terrified of horses) husband have developed such a fabulous and special bond over the last year, and it's so thrilling and wonderful to watch Travis work with Turkey. The big gelding even comes running when Travis goes out to the pasture to visit. We chip in to have Turk's feet trimmed, I bought him a flymask for keeping the bugs out of his ears, and we supply him with all the treats and hand-grazing and love we've got. I shaved his unruly, heavy mane off this summer to make him more comfortable, and Travis gave him a bath a week ago.

I admit I want this horse more than I want one for myself at this point. I already know how we'd costume him for medieval games and take silly family photos with him at Christmas. He's big, but he's the gentlest big horse I've ever met. I wish with all my heart that he was ours.

Turk's family doesn't come to visit really often, they are not "horse people" really, they just really like owning a horse. But last weekend, they came out to visit, just as we were finishing up and leaving the barn. Because we are paranoid, all we could think was that they were going to tell our trainer that they were going to move Turkey to another, or their own, barn, or that they were going to sell him, or otherwise make him unavailable to us anymore. It turned out that Travis and I were just nutty, and Turk's family had no such plans to take him anywhere. BIG sigh.

Loving Other People's Horses means having that occasional worry that something will happen and "your" horse (that isn't really yours and that you really have no claim over) will no longer be there. You want to, and sometimes you do, buy halters and grooming tools, and saddle pads in your riding colors, and bring treats and love to Not-Your-Horse, but you have only so much say as the actual owner says you can have. You have to work around riding schedules, and show schedules, and there might be differences of opinion about equipment choices and nutrition, and really, you can't always win those discussions. It's not your horse.

Someday, though, someday, in the hopefully not too distant future, there will be a farm. And it will be ours, and we will fill the pastures with Our Horses, and we will be looking for horsesitters, and mucking stalls, and arranging for hay and sawdust deliveries, and picking up grain from the feed store....and we will be thrilled, even at 3am when one of Our Horses needs the vet and several hours of continuous handwalking to avoid a colic. I am looking forward to it (except the part about the colic...), even as now it seems like only a dream on the far horizon.

For now, though, if I had to choose between having no horses, or loving Other People's Horses, I think it's pretty clear which way I'd lean.

On Turkey.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Just unloading

As Wren gets better and more confident, I get less and less so, even as I know I have gotten stronger. Sometimes I think, what with the new Pony Club chapter and everything, it would just be easier and better for me to devote myself to helping Wren and the kids ride, and skip focusing on my own riding for a while. It certainly would save me heartbreak and frustration, and having to re-learn and un-learn everything I thought I knew about riding. But that would feel like quitting, and I waited SO LONG -- fourteen years! -- to be in a position to ride again that I just don't want to let it go.

I'm confused about everything -- my body position, how to use my aids, equipment choices for the horse I am riding, even some horsemanship choices. I don't know if what I remember from riding and having horses is actually correct, or if I am misunderstanding or misremembering what I used to know. Sometimes I feel as though I am doing everything wrong, because it feels like a conflict between what I used to know, and what I am supposed to do now.

Is it my saddle? Am I too fat now? Am I just out of shape? Are the horse and I not getting along? Are we not a good match? Is this a "mare thing" rearing it's head? Is it really an equipment issue that I am too uneducated to realize?

Worse, am I too impatient (probably)? Is this just the way it goes, and was I incredibly spoiled by my previous horses (also likely)?

I don't like being frustrated. It's not that I want to quit, it's that I want to FIX. Solve the problem, be sure I am on the right track, even if all the pieces of the puzzle are still in the box. I'm most competitive with myself, especially now, and I just want to get better at this. I was not a fabulous rider before, but I would like to at least be fairly competent. But I have this awful feeling of a lack of myself and my horse, in my ability, in the process, in whether or not I am progressing the way I want to go.

I guess I just need to sit with it and be patient.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Post-Show Glow

The little schooling horse show we took the kids to on Tuesday night turned out to be an awesome experience.
Champ and Lily and Gabby

We did get there with plenty of time to spare, and got a good parking spot right near the ring. Lots of time to unload and tack up, do a little schooling, and relax before heading into the ring. Hooray! Just the way I like it!

The Hunter's Ridge kids and ponies!

Noah took his first blue ribbon in the leadline class (and so did the other six kids, but hey, it's leadline!). The look on his face was absolutely priceless when the 'ribbon girl' came to hand him his very own horse show ribbon! "And it's the color I wanted, too!"

He had a hard time waiting outside the ring for people to finish schooling so the class could start, and he declared, "I don't wanna ride! You wanted me to ride!" We all laughed and reminded him that he cried at the last show because he could not ride in it. Upon entering the ring, though, he stretched up tall, held the reins, and looked around...."Ooh! I *like* this!"

Wren...well, she had a lesson that morning, and was spectacular. She was determined to trot, and she did, bolstered by her incredible performance on Sunday (which I did not yet write about) that included trot circles and taking her pony over the tiny cross-rail in the indoor ring. Such bravery as I have not seen from that child in a long time.

But it got better.

At the show, I had registered her to participate in the leadline class, and the walk/two-point class only. No trotting, as she was not solid yet in getting her correct diagonal, and also had not even trotted her pony all the way around the ring at our trainer's barn. Given that you should show your horse at a level below that which you school at home, it was a good idea not to push her. The ring at Summerhill is huge, and there is lots of space for an energetic show pony to get wild ideas about going faster.

But after the walk/two-point class (she placed third of five), she was DETERMINED to enter in the walk/trot class. She begged. She swore she could do it. Kathy and I relented. She went in. Travis took up his spot on the rail and took pictures.

We held our breath. Wild Wings the Show Pony definitely knew her job. She got a little quick at the trot in one spot, but Wren was on it, and things were under control. She didn't always have her correct diagonal when posting, and she didn't use and maintain her space in the ring well, but she accomplished something HUGE.

She decided being afraid of this was for other people.

Now she's making little jump courses for her play horses, and talking about all the fences she will do once she can canter. I may have encouraged the creation of a monster, but I don't care. She told me after her lesson on Tuesday morning that she wished she could just keep riding and didn't have to go in.

I am so proud of her.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Will she ever stop talking about horses?



Seriously, I can't help myself. And I adore that my family has all gotten into something I love so much, so it's easy to spend so much blog space talking about it. It makes up a decent portion of our family activities, of course.

Wren AND Noah are getting ready for a horse show this week. Tonight, in fact. It's part of the same show series as the one we did back in June, at the same farm. This time, Noah is joining his sister in the leadline class, and Wren will do an additional walk/2 point class. Noah will ride Champ in the ring, and Wren will stick with her trusty pony mare, Gabby. I'll probably lead one kid or the other.

And we WILL be on time this time. My plan for that includes washing that pony, and loading up every single bit of tack, equipment, and tools, right after the morning lessons. Including haynets for all three animals. Nothing will be left but to hook up the truck and load those ponies.

In other horse-related news, I am definitely going to be half-leasing Promise come September first. I . Am. So. Excited!! I don't even want to speculate on all the possibilities, because I don't want to jinx our partnership, but I am really really hoping some solid dressage work is in my future. And new riding boots. Mine are completely trashed.

In other, other horse-related news, I am the DC of the River City Pony Club.

We just got started, we don't even have actual registered members yet, but we are approved by the USPC and are ready to get going as soon as the 'official' notice comes through. We definitely are accepting new members, so let me know if you have (or know) a horse crazy kid ages 5 through 25 who wants to join!

Travis is more in love with Turkey every day, and the feeling is mutual. Turk even got a nice bubble bath Sunday afternoon, which Travis handled all by himself.

He sure is gorgeous, and he seems to love the attention.

And on that note, I am off to the barn.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


When you are a dancer, you work closely with your partner, getting to know the choreography and each other so closely that the movement partnership you both create seems as one liquid entity sliding through space and time accompanied by music. There is danger in the underdeveloped partnership, a risk for falls and injury, a risk of not creating the necessary magic that makes two humans seem like one. With a good partner, forging a good partnership, the seamless transition takes place. Communication, movement, respiration, even cognition, become effortless and synchronized. The dancers become the dance.

It's like that with riding, too.

I have been riding for a little over a year now, after a fourteen year break. In that time, I've ridden maybe seven different horses. One, I thought would become my partner -- Champ -- but ultimately, he and I have parted ways. A good decision, I think, if only because "working together" was increasingly becoming "fighting together", and whatever the reason for it, it definitely was not good. He gave me confidence to jump again, and took me through a beginner's horse trials without dumping me off, even though I rode like an idiot because I was so nervous. After that, the potential partnership just drifted away. We (I) struggled. He and I did not seem to want the same things anymore, so I let him go.

I had a lesson the other night, and one of the girls Wren rides with rode Champ in the lesson. He was not nearly as argumentative with her as he had been with me, but his sour stubbornness was definitely there.

I, however, rode Promise again. This time, my husband was there and he took some pictures. It was not a spectacularly great lesson -- not as awesome as the one I had last week in the indoor ring -- but nonetheless, it was good.

I did kind of lose it at the canter, though. Too far forward, and off balance. My brain (and my trainer) was going "sit down, sit down, sit down and RELAX" and my body was all "Oh holy shit! This is a racehorse!". Those pictures are not so great. Also remind me to never wear that shirt again while it's so humid. I think that thing stretched like three sizes.

Regardless, it was a lot of fun. I already know what Promise and I would practice, if I had practice time on her. Lots of bending. Lots of circles. Lots of transitions. And straightness. Halt at X seems more like a suggestion lately. But I feel better overall, riding her. Jumping? Is a little nerve-wracking, although she seems to really enjoy it, doesn't rush the fences, doesn't refuse. I just need to get over myself and LET her jump. She only schools 2' 6", which is perfect, because so do I!

Yep.....must adjust stirrups before we try that again! At least until I can handle the dressage-length stirrups at the canter (and by that I mean, sit on my butt like I'm supposed to and relax into it!).

And the kids HAD to ride, too, especially when Travis took Turkey out of the pasture for some attention and grooming.

Wren was ready to break out the vaulting surcingle, but we opted for her pony saddle and the leadline. Noah was kind of nervous up there, but he handled it. Turk is such a great guy, so very gentle, and patient.

I'm going to get him a bridle and bit so that Travis can ride him. Then we are going to try to find an Australian stock saddle for him to ride in. And then, maybe some medieval games!

Promise is still available for half lease, and the company that I have been doing some writing for has asked me to take on a few more hours, so my "horse money" has increased slightly. I so badly want to ride more regularly, but I also know that this last month of summer will not include enough time for me to do that, with the kids being around all day. The probability is fairly high that I will go ahead with the lease on Promise starting at the beginning of September. Once the kids are back in school, and are both gone til later in the afternoon, I think it would be more feasible. I can be disciplined enough to get my work done, the house stuff done, and get out to the barn at least three days a week to ride by myself.

For now, I'm hanging out in the holding pattern. It's working so far, and I am much happier than I was a couple of months ago.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


He is small, but growing, into a little boy with the colt-like legs and the rough and tumble way of moving from one place to another that occasionally results in a faceplant on the floor.

Still little enough to hold my hand everywhere we go, he hangs on to me at night, telling me stories about his day, or random bits of information he feels a burning need to communicate. "But I have so much to tell you, Mommy!"

He stepped into a new preschool halfway through  last year, with just about no hesitation and no negative thought. None of the girls' worry -- will they like me? Will I have friends? Will I be okay all day?
He has never been that self-assured before, ever.

Last week, I put him on the school bus for his first 'big-school' experience -- a summer school-readiness program for rising kindergarteners.

After three children, this I know is true: once they enter school, the years flip by with increasing speed, blurring from one to the next like a time-lapse video. One day, you are snapping a shot of a shiny new kindergartener proudly wearing his backpack and carrying a new lunchbox, and then like magic, you look through the lens of your camera to find a young man in a cap and gown.

He is fascinated by the way things work. He identified the mechanics of a car seatbelt buckle when he was four, and has created large Rube-Goldberg-esque machines in the living room that he pretends can make coffee, or ice cream, or dispense any manner of toys or books or other trinkets.

He is starting to read. He can do some simple math. He questions everything, and wants to know how all the machines work. He is constantly chasing, and failing to catch, his big sisters.

He wants so badly to be big.

But he climbs into my lap when I sit on the couch, or the porch, and he slips into my bed in the dark early-morning and pets my arm or touches my cheek. He wants to be with me wherever we go, or he wants to go nowhere and stay at home all day.

He is my last, my baby, and the little boy I didn't know I wanted so much.