Monday, December 30, 2013

That didn't go as planned

Trainer K. helped me moved Maiden today to the pasture by my house where Girlfriend has been living.  I've been reading up on introducing new horses to each other and figured I had it all figured out.  And Trainer K was there.  Surely it would go smoothly.   And I had a feeling that Girl and Maiden would like each other - which turned out to be the only thing I was right about.

We took Maiden out of the trailer and Girlfriend got all excited and ran up to the fence to see her.  Maiden got out of the trailer and was so excited she was shaking and hopping up and down.  I took her over closer to the fence and she was bouncing around, then would eat grass really fast, then bounce around a little more with grass hanging out of her mouth, then eat grass really fast.  It's like I brought her to paradise and she wasn't sure what to do first and was afraid she'd have to leave soon so she'd better eat as fast as she could.

The big back pasture where I keep Girlfriend had been blocked off into two halves, so I figure for the first couple hours we'd keep Maiden in the south half by the street so the horses could get used to each other over the fence.  Unfortunately, I'd never noticed before that the fencing between those two parts of the pasture were barbed wire with hot wire over the top.  The hot wire was fine but I'd thought I'd checked to make sure there wasn't any barbed wire and wasn't sure how I'd missed that little bunch.  I figured I'd ask the owner if I could come out and replace it tomorrow or the next day just to be safe and for the time being the hot wire would keep them away from the barbed wire below.

So, I put Maiden in her half of the pasture and took her halter off and she bounced around a little, ate some big mouthfuls of grass as fast as she could, then raised her tail way up in the air and took off in a big circle, then ran toward the street, skidded to a stop and spun around and then galloped as fast as she could and despite me screaming at her to stop ran straight through the barbed wire fence!  I completely froze and watched her until she turned around to see how badly she was injured but surprisingly I couldn't see any blood from where I was - and since she's a black and white pinto I knew running that fast if she had a bad cut she'd have blood all over her white patches.  But that didn't fix the fact that she had run through the fence and caused a couple hundred feet of barbed wire and hot wire to go flying up in the air and it was now splayed all over the pasture.

Trainer K helped me gather it up and put it all in one place and I called the property owner to tell him what happened. We agreed we'd just take down the barbed wire fence and pull out the t-posts and open it up to one big pasture.   We cut down the barbed wire and put it in a big pile outside the pasture to be taken to recycle then pulled the t-posts out with the tractor.   And I got to drive the tractor!  It was way cooler than it probably should've been!  I drove it up to each t-post and the property owner wrapped a chain attached to the shovel around the t-post and I lifted the shovel and it pulled the t-post right out of the ground.  It was so cool.  When we someday have our own farm I am so getting a tractor.  They're handy little devices!

I never did catch Maiden to put medicine on her cuts or put her blanket back on.  She'll just have to be cold tonight.  Every time I'd go near her she'd look at me like "I think I should go up to mom ..." then Girlfriend would trot by and nudge her and say "No, gallop with me instead!" and Maiden would say "Sure thing!" and they'd both gallop off to the other end of the property.  She can have her blanket back tomorrow.  I'm just glad the girls love each other so much.  Now my new dilemna is what am I going to do when March rolls around and Maiden is supposed to leave?  Poor Girl will be devastated.  If we had our own property I swear I'd just keep Maiden.  Sigh.

View from the tractor.  I so want a tractor!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Couch to 5k

I've wanted to run a 5k with my husband for a few years now because running is one of his things the way rock climbing is one of my things.  Not like horses because I'm obsessed with them.  It's more like something he really likes to do but doesn't have a lot of time to do it and wants to do it more - which is what rock climbing is to me.  For rock climbing it is lack of time and money and for running for him it is lack of time and decent weather to run in.

I haven't had the motivation to really stick to getting in shape with running on my own, so I finally decided to download a running app.  I chose the Couch to 5k app although I've heard there are others which are just as good.  I'm kind of regretting it but I'm also proud of myself for starting it and am going to stick to it.  After all pilates seriously sucked the first couple times I did it and now I am hooked, so hopefully running will be the same way.  Right now it's not.  In fact on my first little training run yesterday by the fourth round of that happy little voice announcing, "Now jog!" I found myself muttering to my iPhone "evil f-ing b--ch".  But I did it.  And now I'm sore.  But I'm going to keep doing it because I've never had good cardio endurance and now that I'm a (choke) middle-aged lady I imagine for my own health I'd better get with it.

My daughter went out with me to ride her new horse Geir for the second time yesterday.  She was nervous about it because he wasn't listening well the first time she rode him a month ago because he wanted to chase the other horses in the arena.   They did so much better together yesterday but then two of the school's previous instructors came out to exercise a couple of our lesson horses who are on break and my daughter got scared and didn't want to ride any more.  Plus, her dad forgot to make her wear her warm coat so she was cold so I sent her home with him and stayed and rode for a bit with the two former instructors.

They don't work there anymore because they went off to college and I must say it's too bad because I think there is a special connection for kids with older teens that they don't get with adults.  But I think we have a pretty good team right now even if we are all adults.  Miss C. is in her late twenties and Miss T. is in her thirties but we're all on the same page about teaching and have similar experience with enough differences that I think we can compliment each others styles with our little bit of differences.  So, I'm happy with our little team but the energy the two former instructors bring when they're home from college is pretty cool too.

I had never ridden Bandit and I use him in some of my classes so I asked to swap horses after my daughter left so I could ride him.  I've been wondering about him because he's a horse who the younger kids I work with have had trouble getting to trot and he also can be a challenge in group classes with some of the beginners when he decides he wants to not listen and go heckle other horses in the class.  He tried that once with me and I gave him a strong (but fair) correction and then he didn't try it again.  And the other two instructors sat in the middle of the arena and chatted on their horses and I trotted Bandit around the outside of the arena a few times - something some of the kids have struggled with because he wants to dive into the middle and hang with his friends.  But it appears you just have to make it clear to him once that you will not put up with it and you are in charge and then he's a perfect dream.  So, with my students that ride him at least, we'll work on "gentle assertiveness" - not that any of my students who ride him are capable of being mean - they more need to work on the "assertive" part.  But I want to make it clear in my lessons that assertive means "firm" and "authoratative" but not "angry" or "mean".  There is a fine line and I know for a lot of people understanding that line takes some time.  It did for me at least.

As far as difficulty in getting him to trot, he's a sweet, old babysitter like so many of our other lesson horses.  And he trotted just fine for me  - a beautiful, slow, rhythmic trot that was kind of surprising for such a big guy.  But the sense I get from him is that if you are at all unsure of yourself or nervous or unbalanced he's not going to trot because he's being very cautious of the situation.  So, now that I was able to see that for myself - that he's not lazy or stubborn about it but just cautious - it gives me more of a framework to work from.  My horse, Geir on the other hand is lazy.  Or more appropriately out of shape from getting to have the last couple years not having to do more than trot a couple times around the arena under saddle maybe three times a week at most.  So, I don't fault Geir for that, it just means he and I are on the same page for getting in shape.  I thought of him throughout my first training run yesterday and made a point to give him some treats yesterday and tell him "I feel your pain, Brother."

A sadly blurry shot of my daughter and her pony yesterday.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


 I got up this morning and thought about how I have two weeks that I don't have to go to work starting today and instead of feeling thrilled I felt kind of sad.  Well, that's a new one!  Could it be I'm actually starting to get a little attached to my students?  I think I am.  Especially now that most of them have been with me for about four months now and I'm really starting to see some big improvements.  That's exciting! Especially because I still have a gnawing feeling that someone is going to come out of the woodwork and announce to the world that I don't know enough to be an instructor.

What I'm also really surprised about is that I thought this would be something I would do on the side while I'm learning equine massage and then it would end up falling away eventually as a transitional hobby.  But I'm thinking it may end up being a half and half career and that I want to keep this up permanently.  I'm finding that I want to study riding instruction and how to improve on that just as much as I want to study equine massage.  And the two seem to compliment each other so that is nice. And there's nothing like seeing that lightbulb moment where you push a kid just a little past their comfort zone and suddenly they realize they can do something new you can see what a positive change that made for them.

One of my students has been really struggling getting one of our big horses, Bandit to listen to her.  He's a sweetheart, but if you're not clear with your aids he will go and stand in the middle of the arena and take a nap, or follow me around like there are magnets attaching him to my back.  We've been working on her balanced seat and her steering but I can't do that while he's following behind me so I've been leading him with a longe whip so that I can watch what she's doing and help her along - it's like a lesson on a longe line only without a longe line because Bandit listens to well to my commands and the movement of the longe whip it's just like having him on one even without it.  Her balance has been improving and she's been breaking habits like letting her hands drift over the middle of his neck so when she asked why I didn't bring in the lunge whip I said I thought she was ready to start riding him alone and getting him to listen to her instead of me.

At first she was hesitant and said she was sure he wouldn't and I pulled out the old "if you don't believe you can do it,  you won't be able to do it" (which is true).  It started out pretty rough at first with Bandit continuing to follow right behind me and I had to coach her through how to make corrections and remind her to remember the balance and steering aids we'd been working on, and after a few minutes she was out walking him in a circle around the wall all by herself without me giving him commands and she was even able to take him through some of the obstacles! It was so cool to see how after just a couple months she went from him not understanding her at all to being able to ride him at a walk all by herself without my intervention!  I think I got just as excited as she did.

A few days ago another instructor (not at the school - just some random guy) made a comment to me about how I only know formulaic riding and will never be a good rider until I break out of that.  Since he's never taught me a lesson in my life and has never seen me teach anyone and barely knows anything about me or how I ride (except for I go to the same shows and clinics as him) I thought that was awfully presumptious and actually totally wrong.  If anything I worry I am not following "the rules" enough.  I'm all for constructive criticism but it'd be like someone coming up to me and saying, "You need to act more like your age of twenty-two"   You know ... something that I am completely not.  I wonder how many people's minds he's messed with by just assuming he has a monopoly on certain ideas and everyone else is an idiot.  What if I actually valued his opinion? I'd be running around obsessed with how to not be "formulaic" when that is the last thing I am.  Still a beginner instructor, still needing to learn a lot about theory and technique and all that, but definitely NOT formulaic.  Thankfully, I know myself well enough to know when crackpots just don't know when to stop spouting off.  Although twenty years ago I'd have been all sorts of worried and confused trying to figure out why all this time I thought was 46 years old when it turns out I'm really 22 years old.

I'll leave you with an interesting version of one our family's absolute favorite Christmas Carols (or just plain ole winter song really)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Why is parenting so easy for some and hard for others?

In one month I will have been a parent for ten years.  This never ceases to boggle my mind to be honest.  Most of my life I swore I would not have children because I did not want to be responsible for messing up another human's life.  Then in a fit of madness I decided what the heck? Let's give it a go and see what happens.  Then the first three weeks after my daughter was born I would find myself lying awake at night frantically trying to figure out who would be the best person to raise her because surely there was no way I wasn't going to mess this up horribly.

Infancy was stressful for me because I had read way to many books about raising children and the extreme threat of creating an attachment disorder which would result in a sociopathic child loomed over my head every time my husband suggested we let her "cry it out" or that we didn't co-sleep.  We didn't by the way co-sleep because our bed is tall with a big gap between the mattress and the wall because of the headboard and I sleep with the blankets up around my ears - so that is just a set-up for smothering the baby on accident with blankets or something like that.  There were plenty of moms in the city who were hell-bent on telling me I wasn't doing "attachment parenting" right (cause they "read the book" apparently) and my child was doomed.

What I took from attachment parenting theory was that you put the child's individual needs before your personal agenda.  I didn't take away that there are "rules" (ie: must wear baby in pouch at all times, can't ever use a babysitting, must co-sleep, must breastfeed to three years old, etc).  So, that simple idea of putting my daughter's individual needs above my own personal agenda is what has fueled my entire parenting philosophy ever since.  That's it.  No rules or restrictions, just try to think in every situation that is confusing "what does she need?"  It helps to think back to how did I feel as a child?

I guess you need to think to about what does a child need as opposed to want.  And what has really helped me with that is learning about handling horses.  Young kids and horses need pretty much the same thing - structure (which includes discipline), understanding and approval of their general being, and to know they belong.  So, when a sticky situation comes up, I step back and think "what is my agenda? Ok - throw that away" and then "How do I meet the three basic needs?"  And that's it.  And honestly, it's been pretty easy.  And apparently it has been working because my daughter is turning out to be fairly happy and confident.

I think what screws parents up so much is this idea that they need to do more than that.  Or that they aren't allowed to meet the first need of structure (with discipline) because it will "inhibit the child's natural spirit" or some other such nonsense.  And I'm sure they got that from some book.  And they can't praise good behavior because that is "controlling" and will make for a weak willed, praise-hungry child.  And they have to make everything a democracy with the child (often as young as toddlers) having a vote in what happens to them.  Can you imagine?  "I vote never to go to the dentist!" and mom votes to go to the dentist. Well, how will you break that tie?  Structure! There is no choice - you are going to the dentist and you'll be fine. Let's go.  But theories and books and some random study that wasn't even scientifically executed has said that that kind of control is damaging and anyways Mom hated her parents for making them do stuff so maybe that's why Mom is insecure now as an adult? So maybe little Johnny shouldn't have to go to the dentist?  And then it just spirals and little Johnny will know next time he doesn't want to do something he just needs to looks sad and say he doesn't want to do it and why is mom so mean?! And mom won't make him and a whole pattern of control by the child has now been established and the mom is baffled so reads MORE books with lots of theories and poorly done studies that all contradict each other and boom! Parenting is super hard.

I remember a story my brother (who is considered a "guru" in his field of child psychology and is flown around the world to lecture and has written "important books" - all of which  I think is weird, especially the hero-worship part from his students - but that's another story ...) once told me a story about saying "No!" to toddlers.  He was out walking dogs by the lake with a colleague and the colleagues dog kept trying to chase the ducks.  His colleague would gently explain to the dog, "You don't need to chase the ducks.  We have plenty of toys and good food at home.  If you think about that you won't need to chase the ducks.  And chasing the ducks just causes the leash to become tighter on your neck so the outcome is not what you were hoping for ..."  yet the dog continued to chase the ducks until my brother finally snapped, "Good God, man! He's a dog! Just tell him no!"  He told me the same applies to very young children because they just don't have the reasoning abilities (nor the focus) to listen to you rattle on about how to reason out good choices.  When they're older and they have the frame work ingrained in them subconsciously about what is "right" and "wrong" then you can start helping them reason out their choices - but if they are cognitively incapable of doing that why would you try to make them?

I think a lot of it is that we are so disconnected from animals in our society.  If people have never seen a mama dog or cat or horse with their babies they have no idea how other mammals raise their young.  They don't over-think it.  They don't attribute cognitive abilities to their infants and toddlers that the kids don't have and then not understand why the kids aren't using those abilities.  They don't worry about if their three-year-old will be a confident, popular teenager or if their two year old will go to an Ivy League School.  They deal with who their baby is and what their baby needs right now in the moment and because they are animals they don't have an agenda other than "keep baby alive, keep baby in line".   Why humans think that is an unevolved bad thing is beyond me.  It seems to me the most reasonable way of going about things.  But we as a species overthink things so much and worry so much that we mold and shape this perfect little human (that we are actively doing things not to mold and shape because that would be wrong - but in reality we are trying to mold and shape him to be the perfect, empathetic, happy, child who more than anything doesn't hate us ...).

So, as one of the people who thinks being a mom is pretty easy and is having a great time of it my advice is don't read any books on child rearing,  get rid of your personal agenda for your child (go the therapy if you have to for that) and provide the three basic needs: structure, understanding and let them know they belong and are part of your herd.  And relax!  (of course this is all different if your child has special needs - in that case add in professional help but do lots of research and make sure the professional is not a quack and has strong scientific evidence to back his/her practices - not a bunch of flimsy theories and fly-by-night attempts at studies that are most likely fabricated).

And with that my theme song (again - I just posted it a few months ago) for my daughter:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Why is Santa so mean?

We're watching the obligatory every year Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Christmas special and as I've thought every year since we started watching it again with my daughter years ago, I am continually surprised at what a jerk Santa is portrayed as.  I was just mentioning it to my husband and he said "Well, we don't know what was going on with Santa. He may have had marital problems or he was feeling the pressure of Amazon encroaching on his business ..."  Regardless, if it was indicative of the societal norms of the 60's it explains why I am the way I am having been born at the end of the 60's.  Yep.

Something I always remember about this show too is that when my daughter war around three years old she was terrified of the Abominable Snowman character so we got her a stuffed toy version of him to see if it would make her less afraid.  But it did not and next time the show was on was on she ran and hid in the hallway, then ran to her room, grabbed her stuff toy and held it around the corner facing the tv (with her other hand covering her eyes) and said, "Look! There's your dad!"

Work continues to be fun and is much more fun when it's not 14 degrees out.  Our new horse, Geir is doing well and is listening to me consistently now when I ride him..  He just gets used to the absolute beginner very young kids being on him who don't do anything but sit there and wave their feet around and fling their hands all over the place so he tunes out and doesn't realize people are actually riding him at first when they are.  Actually,  I have a student riding him in one of my classes now who does know the basics (and can apply them - it's hard sometimes for a four or five year old to focus enough to use the aids consistently and some of them are more at the age of being on leadline pony rides to help them learn balance and body movements and that's what's age-appropriate for them) and he's listening to her very well (I'm so proud of him!)

I had a horrifying realization on Saturday during one of my classes though.  One of my younger kids had just started her lesson and passed some horse poo on the ground and said, "I know that's not from my horse because we just started and hadn't been in this corner yet," and I said, "You're right.  That actually looks like Mason's poo."  Then realized - oh my god! I'm starting to recognize whose poo is whose.  That is just weird.

I'm very tired today because for some reason I kept having nightmares last night.  One of them I actually apparently cried out something because my husband woke me up and asked me if I was ok.  It wasn't that scary of a dream in translation - I was going into my apartment where I lived alone and had no pitbulls (like in real life) to let me know when I got home that the house was all clear and safe - and the front door of the apartment was different than how I'd left it.  So, I was going through the apartment checking in each room to make sure there was no one there, and I got to the kitchen (the last room) and saw the door to a huge pantry slightly ajar and I just knew that was where the intruder was hiding, so I flung the door open and screamed to scare the intruder and just as I was seeing in the dream that there was no one there my husband woke me up.  Then I had an even weirder dream that I was riding in the car with family friends (and was a teenager) on Halloween and all the trick-or-treaters were actually zombies.  Then I was pushed out of the car and had to run to a particular  space on the sidewalk (about five feet by five feet) the zombie couldn't enter but they kept trying to and the space kept getting smaller.  One of the zombies was an ex-boyfriend (kind of a mixture of a bunch of real life ex's) and was trying to apologize for being a jerk in our relationship and I started to feel sympathetic toward him, then realized I was still going to have to kill him because he was a zombie.  Then my daughter woke me up.  Not sure why I'm having zombie dreams when that is my daughter and husband's schtick.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pony Down!

Yesterday I didn't have to work, I canceled on pilates because I didn't know if my daughter would be well enough to go to school, but she ended up going so I had a whole day to catch up on all the "things I have to do" (ie: pay bills, change the battery in the Subaru, take care of my horses, put up the outside x-mas lights, clean the house, etc. ad nauseum).  I was dragging myself around doing stuff and wishing I could lie on the couch and read my latest library book (because I've been working outside in the freezing cold and I deserve a day off!) when my co-worker called and asked if I could sub for her because a pipe had burst in her barn.

I went and picked my daughter up from school (since I had no last minute after school care) and went to work, set the girl up in the heated classroom with homework and her iPad and got the pony all ready for his lesson.  Then waited. And waited.  And waited some more.  Until another instructor came out to the barn to get ready for her class and said, "No way! You rushed out here to sub for T. and now her student didn't show up?!"  So I went and got my daughter and asked her if she wanted to ride a pony for the remaining time of the class since he was all tacked up.

We've been having the kids ride bareback because not only is it super cold out and that feels good, but also because it helps their balance and we've got quite a few new little kids right now who are not balancing well and are taking their saddles with them when they start to slide - which is very hard on the ponies' backs.  Bareback really gives little kids the opportunity to rely on their own balance instead of relying on pushing their feet into stirrups or holding onto the saddle.

But my daughter has only ridden bareback twice and the first time was horrible because she got bucked off an angry little pony owned by a crazy drunk woman who I finally forbid my daughter from riding her ponies anymore.  The second time was fine but a few months after that I went flying off my horse bareback and broke myself so that was stuck in her head and making her worried.  She was definitely far more affected by my accident in January than I was when it comes to fear.  But part of that is because I knew if I didn't start riding again as soon as I could that I would never ride again.  So the doctor told me I could ride quietly at a walk by six weeks if I felt better, so I hopped on at 5.5 weeks (ok - "hop" is not really the right word - I painfully struggled on with a lot of stiffness and "oofs").  Then I rode around at a slow walk for ten minutes crying my eyes and shaking because I was so terrified but I knew if I didn't do it my days of riding were over and I'd never get back on a horse.  But I wasn't going to force my little girl to do that.  I'm a tough mom but I'm not mean and there was no way I was going to put her kicking and screaming on a horse against her will.

After working at pony camp last summer though she got back her confidence and she was taking riding lessons until it got really cold and now she wants to wait until it's warm again.  But she did ride her new horse, Geir and loves him.  And I was happy she wanted to go ride the pony even though it was bareback.

So, she gets on and the pony was feeling pretty peppy and walked off at a fast walk with her.  She was still getting herself settled and trying to calm down her own apprehensions about riding, but I figured she had enough experience if she wanted him to stop she could or I could talk her through it if she wanted - I didn't need to go intervene.  Unfortunately, as he was walking off he was going straight for the ground poles and my daughter decided she wanted to stop him right when he got to them which diverted his attention from where he was going and he caught his foot on a ground pole and next thing I know he's doing some sort of cartoon "front legs scrambling" to try and regain his balance and bam! He goes down with his butt up in the air into a face plant and my daughter rolls off and lands right on a ground pole.  Ouch!

Much as I was horrified that my daughter had just lived her worst fear after already being so scared -  which is falling off - it was so funny seeing this fat little pony face plant I couldn't stop myself from laughing.  I asked her if she was OK and between laughing and groaning and she said she was fine but her hip hurt where she fell on the ground pole.  I helped her up and brushed her off and was glad she was still laughing.  But when I told her to get back on she refused saying her hip hurt too much.  In this case I was mean and I told her she had no choice and she was getting back on.  She got back on with a very sour expression and was shaking a little so I said I'd lead her around for a bit until she felt better and the movement would help her hip (ok - that was a lie but I didn't want her to never ride again).  To my relief, after about ten minutes she said, "I'm fine now, I'm just going to walk around a little with the pony and you don't have to be with me," and wandered off across the arena with him. Yay!

On the way home she talked about how she was lucky she didn't break her hip and I explained she did not fall far enough or hard enough and the ground poles are hollow plastic and it's unlikely she'd break anything falling on them.  She said if she was riding Geir (who is taller) she would've broken something.  And I told her she still wouldn't break anything and explained I had fallen on frozen ground that was as hard as asphalt from a horse that was quite a bit taller than any of the pony school horses and that I was also unlucky because of the angle I fell and that it's really not that common to break stuff when you fall off your horse.  Especially not in the good footing they have at the school.  So maybe this was a good thing and it has helped her feel a little bit safer knowing that it's really not common when riding in a well maintained arena (which I wasn't riding in in January) to break stuff and get carted away in an ambulance.

After we put the pony away I gave her one of our purple heart necklaces we give out if a student falls off and when she told her dad about it later in the evening she couldn't stop laughing about the pony's face plant and how she thought he was just bucking until his face went into the ground.

Just to make sure I took the pony back to the arena later and made sure he actually stepping over ground poles and hadn't stumbled because he was sore somewhere and couldn't pick up his feet.  He followed me around stepping over poles for ten minutes and never stumbled once so it was definitely a fluke of an accident where he just stumbled because my daughter was asking him to stop right when he would've been picking his feet up to step over the pole.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Posting without stirrups

One of the things I've been doing because I'm new to this teaching riding thing therefore I've had a lot of new students in the last few months (since I never had students before then!) is to ask them how to do something before we work on (assuming they already have taken lessons).  Of course I don't do that with brand new students, but the best way for me to know what kids have been learning is on their first lesson to say "Show me how to so x-y-z".  Well, first I have them "warm up" by walking the horse along the outside of the arena and then I can see what their seat is like and how they steer and know if we need to work on that first, or if I can ask them what they want to work on if they've got a fairly balanced seat and are steering without yanking the poor horse's head around.

So, yesterday I asked one of the girls "How do you post without stirrups?"  because she said she'd done that in lessons before.  To my horror, she put her fists down on the withers of he horse and pushed herself up for the upward part of the post and then sat back down.  She was actually using her legs somewhat correctly, but the main upward motion was pushing herself up with her fist from the withers.  I asked "How do you do the two-point without stirrups?" and she put her fists down on the base of the poor horse's neck and pushed herself up.  Ouch!  I was getting sympathy neck pain just thinking about it.

So, since it was not at all her fault that she was taught how to do it that way I smiled and told her I was going to make her do something a whole lot harder and she would hate me by the end of the lesson but it would be worth it.  She thought that challenge sounded good and was all for trying (she's an awesome student!).  And in fact afterward she laughed to her friends about how much her legs hurt and how mean and awful I am and what I made her do - all the while sounding very proud of herself that she was able to do it.  I thought she did a good job too.  Anyway, I had her lift and lower herself the same way only with her arms up and balanced at the neck but not at all pushing on the neck.  It helped to have her hands on either side of the horse's neck so she couldn't fall back on pushing down on the horse's neck.  And of course that is nearly impossible when the horse is standing still, but when the horse trots the movement (on the correct diagonal) will push/bounce the rider up a little and then the leg strength comes in handy when you gently lower yourself so you don't slam down on the horse's back.  I also explained to her *why* we post, why we make sure to be on the correct diagonal and why I didn't want her pushing herself up with her fists.   Which is cool that I have teens I can teach because they can understand it, unlike my poor five and six year olds that if I slip up and start talking theory and horse anatomy look at me like I'm speaking to them in a crazy moon language.

So, since yesterday I've been thinking a lot about that whole pushing yourself up with your fists to post without stirrups things.  I don't know who taught her that and that part doesn't really matter, what I'm wondering is if it is a normal and readily accepted way of teaching people to learn how to post without stirrups or go into their two-point without stirrups?  I've been of course perusing the internet and can not find anything specifically relating to that particular teaching method.

But my first thought is that it's not a good idea because it is not teaching beginners how to use their body correctly from the start.  Sure, they'll go up farther, but they'll go up at a forward diagonal which throws them off balance (unless the forward diagonal is very slight and you have a very balance hunt seat which is quite different than pitching forward) but it also teaches them to use their arms to push themselves up and not use the movement of the horse to push them up, and then their thighs and core to stabilize them while they're coming down.   And using that to go into the two-point also doesn't teach that the stability and balance are coming from your thighs and core, not from your arms holding you up.

But it also seems like a really bad idea for the horse.  The horse uses movement of his head to balance at all gaits - with more movement for some gaits than others.  And movement of the head is directly related to movement of the neck and the base of the neck is the withers - and the withers are the transverse processes of the spine meeting the scapula (shoulder blade)- which needs to be free for movement at the trot the same way our scapula needs freedom of movement when we swing our arms.  Can you imagine trying to swing your arms while someone is pushing down with all their weight with their fists on your scapula?

So, even if that is a readily accepted way of teaching beginners to post and do two-point without stirrups I think it is a tradition that needs to end.  Just like heels down just for the sake of heels down without any thought to a relaxed leg, that is something that is more damaging (in my opinion) to teach than to not teach it at all -both for the horse's body mechanics and the rider's balance.

Here is a video that shows the movement of the horse's bones at a trot.  The big rectangle-ish shaped bone above the front legs that stretches to the base of the neck is the horses scapula.  Imagine pushing down on that with your fists with all your weight while the horse is trotting.  Or pushing down at the base of the neck right on the spine, and imagine what that would do to the horse's movement.  Not a good idea.

Canceling everything today

My daughter is sick so I'm canceling everything I had planned today.  I can't say I'm that disappointed about it because I'm looking forward to spending a day inside.  Well, except for when I go out to break up the ice off Girlfriend's water.  The tank heater I ordered from Amazon which it had said was estimated to be here by today at the latest has been upgraded to getting here next Friday.  Grrrr.  That means I have to drag myself out to Dayville and get one in person which is going to cost me twice as much.  But we can't keep it from freezing over all day unless we go out every hour with buckets of hot water and that's not practical.

I was dreading my full day of work yesterday in the sub-freezing temperatures but it went just fine.  In fact, the cold wasn't a problem.  That I woke up with a horrible headache that didn't go away all day and was accompanied by little momentary bouts of dizziness (which thankfully went away quickly) was more annoying.  But I wore many layers - ski pants, long underwear, a thermal shirt, thermal sweatshirt, fleece sweater and my ski coat, along with a scarf around my head, a wool hat and two pairs of gloves.  Surprisingly after an hour or so I was too hot and changed from my ski coat to my regular work coat.

I got the obligatory, "Oh my gaaaaawd! Are you wearing ski pants at the barn???" from some of the teen volunteers, but by mid-day when they were complaining about being cold I would walk by and say, "I am so warm ... I could stay out here all day!"  I imagine if they all weren't going to ride horses at some point that day they would've been wishing they were wearing ski pants too.  For those of you who don't ride horses, ski pants are extremely slippery and even those with the best balance are going to make their life miserable if they try to ride in them. Especially if they were riding in a slippery, leather English saddle.  It'd be like trying to balance on a round saw horse made of ice that kept tipping back and forth.  Or like trying to ride a horse in ski pants.

So, when one of my afternoon students - who conveniently was supposed to be riding my horse, Geir, didn't show up, the school's owner said, "Well, you have a few free minutes it looks like, go ride your horse."  Thankfully, I'd brought sweat pants with me and ran and changed and went out to ride my horse for about fifteen minutes before the next group class started.  We rode bareback because that's how he was tacked up and once again it was really good for me.  Second bareback ride since my accident in January and it's really helping my confidence.   Geir is not as big and wide as Jesse so it's not quite as non-scary and relaxing for those of us with some issues around riding bareback.  But we did very well and he has such a nice, smooth trot that we did fine with that too.  I couldn't help thinking while we were out there riding around and stretching our legs (which was helping my headache) "How many other jobs do you get to take a break by riding your horse?!"

My daughter had a stomach ache night before last but it mostly went away by morning and apparently was up and running around and eating a lot all day.   I had figured part of it was she got really upset watching the memorial episode of Glee for the actor who died.  I have to admit, it was pretty hardcore and had me crying too.  I'd warned her it was about death and would be really sad but she wanted to power through.  I figured with all the friends I've had who've died in my four decades of life a tv show was a lot easier education on death to prepare one for the real thing than actually experiencing the real thing without any exposure to it.  But it was still an extremely realistic episode which surprised me because well - it's Glee afterall.

Probably the most heart-wrenching scene was when Santana was singing a song for her ex-boyfriend, Finn and part way through the song she starts crying really hard and chokes out "I can't do this," and a couple of her friends come down to hug her and she says "No, no, I'm fine," and they keep trying to hug her and she starts screaming hysterically and runs out of the room.   I related to that far too much.  It reminded me of when the first of my best friends, Todd, died when I was 27 and how I was in such shock that when the girl who called me (who I couldn't stand) said, "I wanted you to know Todd Nelson died" I said, "Who?" and she said, "Todd ... Nelson?" and I said, "Who?" again and she said, "You know, Todd? Jon's friend?" and everything in me just shut down completely and I calmly said, "Ok."  And then finished the conversation like it was no big deal and the minute I hung up the phone I went completely hysterical and was crying and screaming and calling one of my friends but unable to talk so she just hung up the phone and came to my apartment.   It also reminded me of three years ago when another very close friend, Terrel died (this one wasn't such a shock because she had cancer but it was still devastating) and I couldn't go to the funeral.  I couldn't talk to anyone about it.  If anyone tried I got extremely angry.  In fact the day she died I didn't even want my husband around me, I just wanted to be at the barn with my horse and have everyone stay away from me and cry by myself.  Terrel's husband was angry with me for not going to the funeral and it wasn't until a year later that I explained to him what was going on and how I literally could not be around anyone talking about her for months because it hurt too much to stand.

But it turns out emotional stuff wasn't the cause of my daughter's stomach pains because it came back last night and she was also very nauseous and almost threw up a couple times.  So, off to the doctor we go since stomach pains are not something to mess with.

I had a local woman coming to meet Maiden today but it's probably for the best that we rescheduled because it is so cold out.  My friend in Montana would like her and I would like her to have her too, but I need to find out more about the place she'd be boarded (which may or may not have barbed wire which is a deal-breaker) and what the equestrian team is like at the school my friend is transferring to next year.  The equestrian team at her current school has an awful coach who makes the kids ride in draw reins and has no apparent understanding of proper training for horses and yanks their bodies around in a way that Maiden has already had to suffer and I won't make her suffer again.  So, we'll have to see what comes from that.  I'd feel safer with the local woman because she actually takes lessons from a woman I used to take lessons from.  But I'd need to check out that whole situation too.  It is very hard to part with her because she's been through so much and she's such a sweet girl I feel extremely protective of what happens to her the rest of her life.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I'm really not that nice ...

I took my daughter to the book fair yesterday after school because she'd made a wish list of books she wanted to buy with some of the money she'd earned working at pony camp last summer.  She was allowed to use half the money to buy stuff and had to put the other half in savings. 

Anyway, she was browsing the books and I was hanging out with the PTA moms that I never see anymore because I'm working and didn't even remember to join PTA this year.   They were asking where I'd been and I briefly explained, making sure not to say more than a couple sentences lest their eyes glaze over while I ramble on about horses.  Then they started talking about the universal favorite subject of PTA moms - dieting.  I feel very strongly about dieting and am about as anti-dieting as I am anti-anything.  I learned my lesson a few years ago when I did Jenny Craig to lose my extra 20 pounds from pregnancy and my hair and nails got really brittle and my skin got weird because of eating so much "fake food".  And a year after losing that twenty pounds I came down with subacute thyroiditis and gained 10 pounds back because of hypothyroid, then soon after getting over that broke my sacrum/back and gained 10 pounds lying around the house doing next to nothing for a few months.  So screw it.  No more dieting.  I'll just be healthy and make sure my pants still fit and otherwise I'm going to be 47 years old in a couple months - I really don't need frat boys (or overgrown middle age frat boys) thinking I'm hot.

I explained this to the PTA moms and they said how inspiring my attitude was.  But they still needed to diet.  To which I said (honestly) "No you don't.  You look fine.  Are you healthy? Is your cholesterol and blood pressure ok? Do you get exercise? Then you're fine.  You look great!" (they do - they're in their 40's also and a little chubby like me but certainly not fat by any means).  To which I got the "Ooooh, you're so sweet! Ooooh, isn't she nice! I want her around all the time!"  To which I said, "I'm really not nice at all." And they went back to talking about dieting and which one they're going to spend oodles of money on.

It amused me and horrified me at the same time.  It amused me because I'm really not that nice.  I have a very hard time putting on a poker face when someone is pissing me off and you should hear me go off to my husband when I'm pissed off at someone for doing what I deem to be "something stupid".   The last thing I'm going to do is tell a bunch of PTA moms they look good when they don't.  It made me feel very disconnected because I felt like shaking them and saying "Stop it! Go out and have some fun and enjoy life! Stop this ridiculous obsession with how you look!" 

In other news I have had minimal interest in Maiden from a couple people but nothing that is going to pan out.  I gave my notice for her to leave the barn she's boarded at at the end of the month and I guess worse case scenario I board her at the pasture where Girlfriend is living.  That will be problematic because there is really no where to ride if someone does decide to come meet her, but I don't know what else to do.  I'm hoping I didn't make a foolish choose buying Geir and now having three horses (which I really can't afford).  Of course, Geir is such a perfect family horse and it works so well keeping him at the school of course that makes sense.  And I don't think it helps that every time I'm with Maiden now I feel like crying because I love her so much and want to keep her too.  She really is the perfect horse just for me - it's just not practical anymore now that my daughter is older and riding just to have a horse for me and not her too.  Ah ... to be rich.  Or at least have property.  One day.  I just need to have faith that as long as I keep trying and keep my options open everything will turn out just fine.

I'm filling in for Miss T.  at work today because she is at a seminar for becoming an equine assisted therapist.  I'm vicariously excited for her and I can't wait to hear how it goes.  I am not excited to be teaching out in 20-something degree weather today. But I've got an unbelievable amount of layers of North Face clothes that I'm hoping will keep me warm.  Now all I need is a little nose-warmer to strap across my face and I think I'll be happy.  Maybe my kids won't show up because their moms will think it's too cold ... hmmm ...  probably not.  They're more likely to show up wearing nothing but a sweatshirt and I'll have to make them trot the whole time to keep them from getting hypothermia.  The kids that showed up at the bus stop in sweatshirts and shorts today blew my mind.  I don't understand this "I've got to show up this other guy on how stupid I can be" mentality of little boys.  I guess they're thinking "tough" while all us moms are thinking "stupid".

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A good decision

We made the decision to buy one of the pony school horse's for my daughter a few days ago.  He went up for sale and I just could not pass up buying him.  This means I need to sell Maiden which makes me very sad, but I think it's for the best.  Geir, the horse we bought, has an extremely safe temperament and is very sweet and is a horse both me, my daughter and my husband can safely ride.

Our first ride with him was Monday after school.  He was definitely a little "beginner lesson sour" and has learned to ignore aids for his own sanity (imagine trying to figure out what someone was saying if they just kept making garbling gibberish noises to you while making it clear they expected you to follow their specific instructions.  You would eventually stop listening to keep yourself sane.  Because he's wide and sweet and bigger than the ponies he's been used for the bigger kids who have horrible balance and thus it's been easier for him just to follow the other horses and ignore the rider.

But he wants to do what's right so after awhile he and I started to form some communication and he started to listen to me.  I had to pull out the dressage whip and after two whacks each time the minute he spun to go the other direction to follow a horse, he stopped trying to spin and go a different way or run off to talk to a horse standing on the other side of the arena fence, and he actually relaxed and started listening to me.  My daughter had a difficult time getting him to listen to her but she says she still wants him and still really likes him.  Since the school is closed this week some of the other instructors were there exercising horses and one of them worked with my daughter (after assessing the situation and correctly assuming kids listen to other instructors better than their parents) and she told her the same thing I just explained, that Geir just needs to be reminded to listen to his rider and have some positive rides where he sees it is ok to listen to your rider and it will be easier. 

I didn't ride him yesterday as planned because I was getting over an acute RA flare-up that apparently came on when I overdid it riding one of the other instructor's horses.  He's a big guy and a very big mover and has a very bouncy trot and like a dork I wanted to experience his canter too, which was better but also pretty bouncy compared to what I'm used to.  Apparently, I need to be careful not to bounce like that because it messed me up for a day.  Ooops.  He was such a fun horse though I didn't use good judgement and wanted to keep riding him.

So, today I went back to see Geir and went a little early compared to the other instructors so we could have some time doing some ground work together.  First he impressed me by coming right up to me in the field even though he had only been turned out about ten minutes previously and was happily eating grass.  Then he impressed me by trying to do everything I asked him to on the lunge line.  He had been trained to turn and walk in toward his person I think because he kept doing that with every "Whoa" but after I showed him how I wanted him to stop without turning in, he got it quickly and then was thrilled when I told him what a good boy he was.

Our ride was much better today although I was concerned about his back and whether or not it was sore so I was riding him at a trot in my two-point (which I'm out of practice) and having another instructor watch him trot for me when he decided to pull one of his "spin around to follow the other horse" moves and I'm a little shocked I didn't go flying off of him!  But I didn't so yay me.  After our ride I gave him a hug around his neck and he reciprocated by nuzzling his head on my shoulder and chest.  I think he's going to enjoy being someone's special family pony!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Riding Horses is Supposed to be Fun

At one of my classes recently a new student asked at her second class, "Do you still want me to relax this week or are we done with that?"  She was totally serious but I couldn't help but laugh.  Not at her, but at our culture and how so much of what we do is supposed to be focused on "achieving results for an external image" as opposed to learning and having fun.  What else can you do but laugh?  Anyway, I told her I will always want her to relax and said that one of my other older students had joked that by the time she's done with a session with me she'll be sleeping on her horse.  Ok, I don't want anyone sleeping on their horse because you need to be actively riding at all times in order to be safe, but this bracing and posturing that is pushed in so much of our society just doesn't fly with riding horses.  Can you imagine two ballroom dancers if both of them were bracing themselves in a specific posture while they were trying to dance?  It's the same with riding horses, it is very much like dancing and you the rider are the lead - you're moving with your partner and directing and physically supporting their body movements.  Imagine if Fred Astaire was constantly pulling his shoulders back and positioning his body while trying to dance at the same time!

I love the discipline of dressage and I will be training in it as long as I can to go as far as I can, but I have to admit that there are plenty of trainers in our discipline who really perpetuate this braced, hard, posed way of riding.  Well, they do it in all disciplines so I may just see it more because this is the one I'm most involved in.  It's so sad because in reality dressage is about training both you and your horse to use your bodies correctly to receive your best results for "dancing together" when you're riding.  And the last thing that's going to help is the rider bracing and holding tension in their body. 
Here's an example of relaxed riding (by a cowboy nonetheless!) with contact on the reins, but not pulling on the horses face.  This is something that I feel like I'm constantly harping on is that dressage is NOT pulling on a horse's face and that you should NOT pull on a horse's face if you are riding properly.  Not only do I have to constantly tell that to beginner English riders, but the other riders with no experience with dressage who believe that is how we control our horses - yanking on their head and that is it.  Anyway- relaxed cowboy (with legs more forward than I would ride but that's a reining seat which is done differently than my dressage seat)

Here's another example of relaxed riding.  These are some of the best riders in the world who train every single day for decades on end to become the riders they are.  One thing you do not see is any of them bracing their bodies, pushing their heels down, or pulling on their horse's faces.  They have firm contact with the horse's mouth, but if they let go of the reins the horse will still be able to hold his head in that position because if he couldn't he would not be conditioned enough to do these moves correctly.  And you'll see that in some Grand Prix tests (sadly) where the rider is yanking the horse's head down but the horse has not been trained or conditioned enough for proper confirmation but not at the Spanish Riding School.

I can understand how people can look at that and think "They're barely moving and the horse's movements are so exact - they must be holding themselves so rigidly!"  But back to dancing, you are not going to look quiet and still and like it is easy if you are holding a lot of tension in your body.  And as you can see in the second video nobody's heels were down.  Hmmm ... blasphemous! But then these riders have learned to relax their leg and in much of the ride they were using their heel to give cues to the horse on how to move his body so having their heels pushed down hard would've kept them from being able to do that.  For me, riding is a lifelong education on how to have a relaxed body with support and control by certain muscles (especially my core), but not have tension and bracing.

In short, most everything we do with our bodies is better executed and a lot more fun if we are relaxed and not braced.  Riding horses is the same way. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

pilates is a cruel mistress ... and why I don't want you to put your heels down

I think it's been a month since I've been to pilates so today was painful.  I felt very marshmellow.  After a half hour I had one of those moments where I looked at the clock and thought, "Oh no, I can't make it another half hour!"  I made it through though and felt actually proud of myself for that.  My daughter's piano teacher said she had never tried pilates but it sounded interesting so I described some of the moves (like the plank on the exercise ball where you put your calves on the ball - with your back on the floor - lift yourself up into a plank and then gently bend your arms at your elbow and lift them off the ground).  She looked horrified and said "That's intense." To which all I could say was "Yes. Yes it is."  But it definitely helps my riding.  And my posture.

Something has been coming up with some of my older students that I've been thinking about a lot.  When I had my few years off from riding and couldn't remember much of anything when I came back to it, the one thing I still remembered was "keep your heels down".  It's like the holy grail of riding this whole "your heels have to be down". 

When I ride with stirrups my heels are naturally down because my leg is hanging there with my toe propped up in my stirrup so of course my heel goes down.  If your heel is up in your stirrups then your balance/seat is off or you are gripping with your legs or your stirrups are super long and you are reaching your toe down to touch it - which in that case you just need to either not ride with stirrups or put your stirrups higher.  So, I can see why an instructor seeing your heel down would help them to recognize that things are going fairly well with your seat - although as I've been learning I'm realizing you have to look at far more than just what the heels doing.  You need to look at how the pelvis is situated, the tension being held in the leg, etc.  And that's not even getting into what's going on above the waist! 

For me the big thing I've started looking for is bracing and tension because that is what I don't want to see.  I especially see it when my students are riding bareback and they are bracing their leg to force their heels down.  So, I've had to tell them when they're bareback to forget about their heels.  I want to see relaxed legs moving with their horse and heels be damned (Ok - I don't say that last part cause they're kids but you know what I mean).  One of my students I even yelled out during my instructions to her "Relax your leg! Deep breath! I don't want to see that heel down!"   She looked at me like I just told her "Go murder that kitten over there!"  But she did it and I was super proud of how well she did once she relaxed!

Ironically, recently the school director said she didn't think she'd asked me some of the interview questions last Spring and told me what they were, one of which was something like - what are the two most important aspects of riding you focus on (or something like that) and I said "Balance and light hands" and she said something in different wording that was about the same.  Then she added, "If someone says "heels down" that is a red flag for me." 

And because "keep your heels down" was such a huge deal when I was a kid too I've been thinking about it a lot.  I finally told Trainer K. how I felt blasphemous for telling my bareback riders to have a relaxed leg more than forcing their heel down and flexing their foot and asked her "Why do people focus so much on just putting your heels down when flexing your foot and forcing your heels down doesn't help your riding?"  And she explained that it's one of those things - like a myth - that gets passed down from generation to generation.  In the ideal leg position your leg is relaxed and your toe is in the stirrup and your heel drops down - just like if you relaxed your leg with a toe resting on a step and your heel automatically drops down.  But somewhere along the line some people forgot to add in the theory behind why your heel drops down in the stirrup and started just focusing on pushing your heel down whether you are riding with stirrups or not.

So now my kids are hearing a lot more about "relax your leg" and less about "put your heels down" and it still feels blasphemous.  But it also feels like an allegory for society - how the real reasons behind an action are often lost and the useless surface image is what is pushed to be passed on.  And with that I must cut this short and go give a pony a massage.

Monday, November 18, 2013

New challenges

This session at pony school we're teaching  Western riding complete with neck reining.  Seeing as I have never actually ridden Western and don't know a thing about it I was pretty worried.  Obviously I've ridden in Western saddles - I even had a lovely one for trail riding at one point.  But I was justified in that fear when I went out on a horse with no knowledge but a Western saddle, Western bridle and reins and all I knew was "hold the reins in one hand instead of two and otherwise it's the same".  So of course it was a train wreck.  I was holding the reins in one hand the same way I would hold dressage reins (only with one hand instead of two), and turning my body in this tiny, barely perceivable movements one does in dressage (which you can get away with because you have this tiny, thin, little slip of leather saddle and the horse can feel every tiny movement and twitch of your muscles).  And I was using dressage leg aids which were going nowhere except to confuse the horse.  I was so frustrated I was ready to quit my job because there's no way I'm going to teach something I can't do myself.

Luckily, the school director offered to give me a lesson before I had to teach my little kids.  I was surprised at how different it is.  Same concepts but quite a different presentation.  For one thing, when you first get on the horse if you've ridden English for years it is very disconcerting to only be able to feel really thick leather under your butt instead of the horse's back.  But after a few minutes of riding I realized that you actually can feel the movement of the horse, just in a different way than I'm used to.  And the leg aids are different.  Instead of using an inside leg on the turn as a pivot point for the horse to bend around and the outside leg being the supporting leg, you are focusing more on the outside leg to support and push the shoulder into the turn and the inside leg is the supporting leg.  And the body turns are much bigger. This "did you actually turn  -  I couldn't see it" stuff doesn't fly in that kind of saddle.  Also, you keep your arm straight and rest your hand on the mane which is also completely different.  It was a big learning curve for my body to do something different but I started to get it by the end and that was really cool.  I need a lot more practice before I try riding like that without the school director there to instruct me but it's really fun to learn something new. 

Maiden has a new lease on life now that she has shoes on her front feet.  It used to be really hard to get her moving on the lunge line or get her to do an energetic transition to a trot under saddle but now the minute she gets out in the arena she's all excited and as soon as I send her out on the circle she takes off at a fast trot and I have to let her trot it out for a few minutes before I'd even think of getting a walk out of her.  She's also not so pissy about doing the lateral work and working on bending a little to loosen and strengthen her topline muscles.  I'm actually a bit surprised how much her front feet and the soreness were bothering her.  I knew they were sore but I'm really seeing the extent of it now.  So, I'm happy for that.  And massage has really helped to loosen up her loin area.  It's still far too tight and her illiopsoas and TFL are still like hard, concrete bands (which is impeding her ability to really use impulsion from her hind end) but they are better than they were a month ago before I started really working on them once a week.

BuddyCat is amazingly still alive and continues to forge ahead toward his 19th birthday coming up in February.  Last week he was not eating and was very weak for two days and we were sure he would need to be put down, but we held off because he was social and purring when we were near him.  He bounced back a little (again) and is eating again, but he's still weaker than he has been.  But he's happy.  He's also totally skin and bones but there's not much we can do at this point for that.  He can eat one kind of food and that's it, all others send his stomach off into a very bad place which would kill him faster than being so skinny.  We're just keeping an eye on him and the minute he seems unhappy and is not eating we're going to put him down so he doesn't suffer.  But he's awfully tough and he's still enjoying life.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Watching Buck Brannaman and Charlotte's Web

No, I did not watch Charlotte's Web and the Buck Brannaman clinic at the same time.  That would be weird.

A couple night's ago my daughter chose the live-action film of Charlotte's Web as our Friday evening movie. It was very true to the first movie and the book - both of which were favorites of mine.  It reminds me again that I want the rest of EJ's childhood to be being raised on a farm.  Or at least a small piece of land with more gardens and livestock.

But it didn't endear me to spiders as I assume was supposed to be the case.  The commuter animated Charlotte was super creepy and seemed like it belonged in Arachnophobia (although apparently they only used real spiders in that).  Which to segue reminds me of a story I saw on Hollywood animal wranglers about getting Jeff Daniels to agree to have spiders walk on him.  The wrangler said it's all in how you present the animal.  It works a lot better if you introduce the spider as "Charlie will be crawling across your shoulder, please be careful with him, he's delicate," as opposed to, "This is Death Rides a White Horse.  He's going to crawl on you." (I paraphrase because I saw that show 18 years ago)

Friday during the day I went with Miss T. from work to the Buck Brannaman clinic in Spanaway.  I was looking forward to hopefully learning a little something but I also was looking forward to seeing a friend from Chehalis ride in the clinic.  Unfortunately, Miss T. had a bad cold and I had a headache-bordering-on-migraine-level-pain so we went a little late and left a little early.  I saw his assistant, Nathan out and about a couple times and thought about saying hi after we had such a good talk last year at the Cle Elum clinic, but he didn't initially recognize me and I just didn't have a lot of energy and didn't feel like doing much except hunching up under my two jackets and talking to Miss T.

This clinic had a much smaller spectator base and the arena was smaller so we were closer to the riders and Buck which was nice because we could actually hear some of the questions the riders asked.  Buck usually paraphrases the question in the answer but it was still nice to be able to hear all of it.  And, as a happy surprise to me, the audience was open to asking questions.  So, I got to ask him a question I've wondered about since the last clinic.

I almost didn't ask it though because just down the bleachers from us a strange little woman with fashionable blond hair and a beautiful, expensive winter jacket asked, "When doing the piaffe in dressage how do you ..." then some sort of "WTF did she just say question?"  I said to Miss T. "That question was over my head," to which she agreed.  Buck looked a little perplexed at the question too and answered in a way that made sense to me although I can't remember what it was - in a nutshell a horse can't do those moves until they're strong enough and understand impulsion. Then she asked something about the passage and should a horse really do such and such during a passage and how do you get them to do such and such correctly.  I can't remember exactly what she said but I realized "She doesn't know what she's talking about and just wants to sound impressive.  She asked about one more dressage move and Buck looked perplexed and answered again with standard Buck-theory (which is the same as Classical theory) that a horse needs strength and impulsion and it's not as simple as moving just one leg, etc.  Then she said, "What about the Levade?" and I accidentally let out a snort of derision (which luckily neither she nor Buck heard) and Miss T.  asked, "What's a Levade?" and I said, "It's an Airs Above Ground move and it's rarely taught because very few horses truly have the natural physical ability to do it well and without hurting themselves."  I loved Buck's answer which was, "You know, I'm not really interested in that.  I mean, when am I going to use that when I'm out on the range with my cattle?"  then he followed up with, "And that's not something all horses can do," and the woman actually said, "Really? Because I've seen your horses on video and they look like they could ..."  That's when I swear I felt a giant word bubble appear above the heads of all the spectators that said, "Shut the hell up, Lady! Let's just go on with the clinic!"  (I asked Miss T. if she felt that too and she said "Oh yes,").

I can't remember what got her to shut up (possibly her companions asking her to) but I had that moment of "Now I don't want to ask my question because everyone will wish all the questions were just over!"  But Buck asked, "Anymore questions?" and my hand flew up and I asked, "You look so light and balanced when you ride, what do you suggest for those of us who struggle with balance and a light seat?" (I didn't want to say "suggest for the people I know or students I may have in the future with unbalanced and heavy seats but I'm fine" which would sound pompous).  First, he looked right at me to answer me which surprisingly made me feel a little starstruck and flustered.  I had expected him to tell me exercises like he has for suppling and helping horses move but instead he said he has chosen not to talk about equitation because he wants people to learn their own balance and way of being on a horse.  He said "When your horse looks good, you will look good," and I said, "I'm not worried about looking good, I'm worried about hurting the horse," and he looked right at me and Miss T. and said, "Oh, I wouldn't worry about that if I were you."  Then went on to tell a Ray Hunt story that I liked about being yourself.  If we had been alone or in a small group and talking and not at a clinic I would've said "It's not me I'm worried about," since he was looking at me who weighs 150 pounds and he correctly assumes is riding at least a 1,000 pound horse and Miss T. who is quite a bit skinnier than me - no we're not probably going to hurt our full size horses much.  But I was thinking about riders who are 200+ lbs who are riding really unbalanced and heavy and I've seen the effects on horses who are not working cow horses with super strong toplines.  But a clinic is not the place to discuss that and suggest he add that to his repertoire of light hands, light aids never pull on their face with the reins, etc.  Still, one thing he said was very helpful to "stay out of the horse's way and don't limit their movement".  I decided that was a really good phrase to use with my students when explaining why I wanted them to find good balance.  Not only was it for their own good to say on the horse but also to help the horse by not restricting movement.

Yesterday was back to my full day of work complete with 13 Girl Scouts in the late afternoon for a pony party.  It was an exceptionally fun day actually and although my weird-bad-headache was still trying to linger.  The kids just continue to entertain me and inspire me.  My friend who I've known for years who used to work there stopped by and asked how it was going working there and I couldn't really explain to her how much more at home I felt there than any of my previous jobs.  I said, "I think it's my calling," but that just sounded hollow and cheesy compared to how I feel.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Biding my time

I'm sitting in front of our fireplace hoping my jeans will dry before I have to leave to go grocery shopping, take care of my horse and volunteer at my daughter's school.  November weather has hit our region and this morning was one big dump of rain.  The bus was late so all the kids were huddled under two umbrellas with the pitbull trying to squeeze in under one of the them, so I just put my raincoat hood up and sucked it up.

Then suddenly a little fluffy, white dog came tearing out of the yard of the house across the street from the bus stop that has been empty since we moved here (it was foreclosed and then just never sold).  The poor little dog had no clue about cars and froze right in the middle of the road where cars were stopping and trying to go around it and one car which was driving way too fast and not paying attention almost hit it.  The kids were traumatized but what could I do when I've got my two dogs?  And there was not way I was handing the pitbull's leash to one of the little kids in case the stupid neighbor with the big black dog walked by (the one who won't cross the street when the pitbull goes crazy and insists on walking right by us anyway - because our dogs fighting in the middle of group of little children is no big fucking deal? Aaaagh).

After the kids got on the bus I took my dogs up and "herded" the little dog back to his house.  This of course was a challenge because he'd made it across the street and decided in all his fluffy, ten-pound glory he was going to take down my pitbull and ran at us barking and snarling in his little high pitched voice which sent the pitbull into an "I'm going to eat you frenzy" of lunging, barking and snarling.  Luckily, this is what the little dog needed to convince him to cross the street and after making sure no cars were coming I took my dogs closer to him to encourage him to run back across the street to his house.  Luckily, that worked and he ended up running circles in his front yard and barking like crazy.  There was a trailer and big truck in the driveway and a ton of boxes in the front room so I knocked on the door and sure enough a man with two identical little fluffy dogs answered (both of whom also wanted to kill the pitbull) and he came out and retrieved his little dog before he got run over.  Phwew!  Of course, during all this it was pouring down rain and when I got home my jeans were as soaking as if I'd taken a shower in them.

Lots of houses are selling in my neighborhood.  So this is probably a good time to sell our house and buy a farm.  We just haven't found the right one.  I found a wonderful one in our price range down in Enumclaw just a couple miles from Donida Farm but I don't think I can convince my husband to move South.  It reminds me of the farm my Godmother lived on that we'd go visit in Enumclaw when I was a kid.  I loved that farm! This one even has a silo.  Not that I know what to do with a silo but I could learn.  My husband asked "A missile silo????"  and I said, "Yes, the CIA is downsizing Shield's program and it was secretly one of their bases."  He'd buy it in a second if that were true.

My pants aren't even remotely dry but I need to head out and get started on my errands.  Sigh.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

(Mis)adventures in cooking

Despite my life long claim of "I don't know how to cook" I've managed to pull off some fairly good easy Indian dishes thanks to my two friends from India.  My favorite is one of their stand-by easy "Indian-equivalent of tuna casserole" type dish where you cook up some red rice, then saute some vegetables with some kind of meet, then mix in plain yogurt, cumin, tumeric, coriander, and ginger along with something hot - I've been using Siracha sauce which is my new favorite thing for everything.   Apparently, food here in the U.S. is painfully bland for my friends from India, even when we all went out to a Mexican restaurant the other day (with our friend from Nigeria in tow who also prefers spice).  I knew my friends from India were too polite so I asked the waiter to throw a little hot sauce on their enchiladas.  He looked confused and I said, "Like Siracha sauce?" and he said, "Oh!" and came back with a bowl of hot sauce (which actually wasn't as hot as I expected) for us to add.  I ended up adding it to mine too.  They're a bad influence on me because now I want everything to be spicy and have gotten addicted to among other things Mama Lil's Kick Butt peppers on my sandwiches and salads.

Anyway, I tried to make home made mac & cheese last night since that's a popular kid meal in these parts and Kraft puts a lot of nasty shit in theirs.  Unfortunately, the recipe I tried had too much flour in it so it was kind of gritty and I made a mistake of putting garlic in it when I cooked it so my daughter didn't like it.  She likes some spices and she does like hot red peppers (like in Andouille sausage) but she doesn't like garlic or oregano.  Basil is ok as is thyme.  So, I need to remember not to fill up dishes with garlic until I've taken out her portion.  So, no garlic, less flour.  And I need to get some soy milk because goat milk is expensive to use in mac & cheese! And now that I'm old I can't drink milk anymore (or eat anything with a dairy cream base).  The recipe with my changes is really simple:

8 oz. store bought macaroni noodles (so far I'm a big failure at trying to make my own pasta)
1.5 cups some sort of milk type thing - it's tastier if you can drink cow milk to make the .5 cream
2 cups shredded cheese
2 tbsp flour
4 tbsp butter
salt to taste (which in my case is always a lot)
(if you're not cooking for my daughter, add in sauted garlic onion, and black pepper, paprika and cayenne pepper)   Melt the butter in a sauce pan, add flour and stir until melted, add milk and stir at boiling for a couple minutes, then turn the heat down and let it cook (not at an active boil) for about 10 minutes, stirring constanty.  Slowly add cheese and stir constantly until melted.  Let sit for a few minutes then stir in pre-cooked macaroni. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes in a buttered casserole dish.

It's not gourmet but it's yummy.  If you're not my daughter or I don't add any spices.  Next I'm going to try it with bacon.

I also came up with a good flax seed bread recipe finally after tweaking together a bunch of different bread recipes.  Of course it's a bread machine recipe since kneading bread is not such an easy thing for me (I know - we all forget I have RA except in certain situations like kneading bread where it's a reminder that I have severe joint damage and fit the "disabled" bill.  Luckily, those times of remembering that are few and far between!).

In other news, I watched Cesear Milan for the first time ever last night.  I've read articles here and there by him and I think he sounds like he knows what he's doing and I'm pretty much on board with his theories.  But I've been having trouble with the pitbull lately when we're out for walks and although I'm generally really good with dogs this problem is out of my league.  She's always been defensive when she's out on a leash when it comes to other dogs or people who are in the least bit "sketchy" with their energy.  But it's gotten a lot worse now because she's out with my daughter a lot more now and she's super protective of her.  And it's even worse when we're up at the bus stop in the morning and she has a whole group of kids to protect.

The first time I really saw the full carnage of it was a three years ago when I worked in Pioneer Square.  I took the pitbull to work with me so she wouldn't be home alone all day and on school holidays I would take my daughter to work with me too.  At that time she was about six years old.  One day I let her hold the leash to walk the pitbull and we were passing through the cobblestone square area where all the homeless drunk guys hang out between 1st & 3rd Ave and Main and Yesler.  All was well until a really drunk guy stood up and started staggering toward us and I'm pretty sure he was so drunk he just didn't see my daughter and the pitbull and he almost ran right into her and next thing I knew the pitbull had launched herself at him with the most vicious snarling I'd ever heard from her and if I hadn't been standing right there and instantly reached over and grabbed the leash to pull her back, I'm certain she would've mauled the guy.  I had to drag her away snarling and lunging at the guy, who had fallen over and was muttering, "What's going on?"

Apparently, I am the alpha in the house and around the yard, but not when she's on the leash.  So, today we started a new thing where she always has to walk next to or behind me and is not allowed to walk in front of me.  And when she tried to snarl at a dog in a neighbor's yard I stepped in front of her to her attention and backed her up the same way we back up horses to show them we're in charge and she actually submitted to me.  She wanted to bark and snarl and made these little high-pitched "please let me snarl!" noises as we walked by the yard, but she didn't bark or snarl.  So, now we just need to do this every time we take walks from now on.  Sigh.

Bread Maker Flax Seed Bread recipe that I've finally perfected to my liking:
3/4 cup room temperature water
1 tbsp vegetable oil or melted butter
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp ground flax seeds
1 tbsp dry milk powder
2 eggs
1/4 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup sugar (brown sugar is better for this recipe but regular sugar works too)
(don't substitute sugar with a fruit product or leave it out because you're worried about sugar - the yeast needs sugar to activate (and fruit won't provide enough) and sugar really isn't as evil as people make it out to be)
1 3/4 cup bread flour
3/4 cup wheat flour
1 1/2 tbsp active yeast
(if you've never made bread in a bread maker before, put the liquid in first and the dry ingredients second, and make a little indentation in the flour to pour the yeast in as the last ingredient so that it doesn't contact the liquid until the mixing process)
Use the "Basic" setting on most bread machines.

My two girls at Ocean Shores last year.  My daughter and her pitbull:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why I don't need to look like Maria Kang

I posted this on Facebook a couple weeks ago but then I thought I'd repost it in my blog.  Especially after seeing so many of the comments on Maria Kang's Facebook page.  In case you were lucky enough to miss that momentary blip in shallow news, she made it into national news after she posted a photo of herself in a bikini with her three children with the caption "What's Your Excuse?"  That was just another post by a shallow, narcissistic woman by itself, but what was horrifying were all the comments (literally 10's of thousands) by men saying stuff like "I'd hit that - twice!" and "Fatties are just jealous!" and lots of women telling her how empowered she is that she's able to be hot despite having three kids.

Wait? WTF?  A woman is empowered because she makes how she looks her main focus? I admit, I do primp and I do worry about bad hair days like everyone who's human, but there is a lot more in my life to focus on than looking like some sort of bullshit American consumerism ideal of airbrushed.  And to hold someone up as hero because they spend as much energy as they can achieving that ideal and then putting down other women because they don't bother doing wasting their lives on it is offensive.  And then to say that Maria "takes such good care of herself" - another WTF?  She was a bulimic beauty pageant contestant and now instead of being bulimic she compulsively exercises (and most likely diets) and is still obsessed with "looking better than you"  - how is that "taking care of yourself"?

Anyway, this is what I posted in response to that on Facebook:

This is in response to Maria Kang's "What's Your Excuse" debacle on Facebook. I'm a 46 year old mother of one tween girl. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and have had it since I was 12 years old. I'm 10 pounds overweight according to the BMI (but too healthy to need to lose any weight according to my family physician). I am 40 pounds over what the fashion industry says I should be. I eat healthy, have a very active lifestyle and my husband thinks I'm super hot. So, why would I waste my energy trying to lose weight to look like Maria Kang? My excuse for not looking like her? I have no excuse cause I'm totally not interested.

Here's my question - what's your excuse for not following what's truly in your heart? I am extremely lucky that my husband can financially afford to support our family so that earlier this year I could have a "mid-life crisis" and quit for good my career in the accounting field and devote my time to following my dream of working with horses. Not everyone is that lucky but we can all find out what our true heart's dream is. I can guarantee your heart's true dream is not to be the hottest girl who looks like what plastic surgeons, diet companies and gyms tell you you need to look like so you'll buy their product. That might be your insecurity's true dream, but not your heart.

I challenge all women to start today - if you don't already know - allowing yourself to imagine what is your biggest dream for yourself in your heart (not in your insecurity!). Maybe today you don't have the resources to drop everything and jump into it, but once you realize what that is, give yourself a few minutes a day to cultivate that dream, even if that just means daydreaming or writing down what the impossible would look like. And please, don't have that dream be about how you look. Have it be about creativity and passion, whether that is working with animals, art, science, math, history, being the best Mom to your kids, or even something that
sounds crazy to your friends like being a mortician or owning your own janitorial service. What does your heart want you to be doing instead of wasting your time worrying about how you look and whether your clothes are fashionable enough?

I had an eating disorder (anorexia) when I was in my teens and twenties. Many people have said over the years "I wish I could be anorexic". No, no you don't. Anorexia is not about being "beautiful" it is about sitting in a dark room chain smoking cigarettes and cutting yourself because you are so hateful of your body and so ashamed that you broke down and ate half a piece of bread. Anorexia is about crying yourself to sleep because you can't get out of this hideous body that gained two pounds (despite being 20 pounds underweight). It's about self-hatred and has nothing to do with "taking care of yourself". Advertisers have bastardized that phrase to mean putting all your energy into how you look and try to sell "self care" as making yourself look better. That's not what it is at all and if you've bought into that mindset it's time to separate yourself from it.

There is nothing healthy about thinking you are ugly. No matter what weight you are or what your features look like, thinking you are ugly does nothing, and having someone tell you you're not good enough as you are does nothing and does not promote self-care. If you truly want to "take care of yourself" be kind to yourself. Eat healthy foods without a lot of additive and preservatives (ie: no Cheetos or Coke), find something active you enjoy doing. I used to like to lift weights but let's be honest - most people don't. So don't do it if you don't like it. Find something you enjoy doing that is active. Now I get my exercise mucking stalls, wrangling horses and doing chores I enjoy. Find a sport or chore you enjoy and get active doing that. And find your heart's passion. 

So I'll end with this question - what's your excuse for ignoring your heart and focusing on being something that large corporations tell you you have to be in order to sell you stuff? Think about it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Life in General

I worked Thurs, Fri, all day Saturday then filled in for another shift yesterday (Monday) and now I have two days off so I'm having a little trouble getting out of my pj's and off the couch.  I was actually pretty nervous about the shift I was filling in for yesterday because I had three group classes and I'm really only confident about teaching private lessons and only have one group class per week which is only four students.  So, two back to back group classes, each one with six kids I didn't know at all sounded really overwhelming.  Well, the first class only had five kids I didn't know because my daughter is in that class.  And I actually knew a couple of the kids from when they came to camp over the summer.

As it is it turned out fine and I think I did a lot better than I thought.  The aunt of one of the tweens who volunteers came and volunteered to help with chores and classes too and for the first class one of the other instructors came and helped so it was much less overwhelming.  The second class was older girls and another staff member was available to assist because she was done with watering/feeding chores so that went better than planned to.  The first two classes I didn't feel like I was very effective - I never do with large groups because it's just not what I'm used to.  It is very different than one-on-one and the other instructors who do teach the groups do it all the time so they've learned how to be effective whereas I just feel very out-of-place and disoriented because it's so wildly different than what I'm used to. 

My last class was a lot of fun because it was only three adults who were all very self-sufficient and honestly I didn't feel like I was really any better of a rider than a couple of them.  So I did what I do with my kids but amped it up to a little more complicated concepts - I taught what Trainer K and Beth Glosten have been teaching me.  I even told them that, I said that everything I was telling them was literally being parroted by me from them because I don't feel like I can take credit.  I feel like I'm literally telling my students word-for-word what Trainer K and Beth tell me.  Regardless, they said they got something out of it so yay Beth and Trainer K!  The director of the school had made some suggestions too but we didn't get to that because first we had to work on relaxation and balance, the former of which is hard to get adults to embarace when they're riding.  It's a lot easier to get a 9 year old to relax on a horse than an adult.  Myself included! 

One of the students from that class is switching over to private lessons with me next session because we're getting rid of the 7pm lessons now that winter is coming (thank God - it was so cold by the time the sun went down!).  She made a joke, "A few more sessions with her (me) and I'm going to be sleeping on my horse!"

At the end of class the staff member who was riding the director's Mustang, Kiddo asked me if I would ride him for a few minutes because she's only seen kids ride him and she'd like to see an adult with a little more experience ride him.  After a few minutes of debate with myself (the director has implied I can ride any of the horses who are big enough for me - obviously not the ponies - and had already briefed me on what you need to ride her horse - but I still worry about riding other people's horses without their permission right there and then).   Anyway, we decided it was probably ok, and the other two students were more than happy to ride an extra few minutes.

Kiddo was a wild mustang when he was young and after being gentled went straight to the director and her horse trainer.  But I've never used him in a lesson, never handled or even really met him, so when his rider handed him to me, he looked at her with a lot of fear like, "Where are you going? Who is this lady?"  And when I put the reins over his head he backed up a little and his eyes looked really terrified so I told them to just give me five minutes with him so we could get to know each other before I rode him.  I asked him to walk with and he refused to move.  The staff member tried to jump in and make him walk with me, but I asked her to let us work it out together - it's part of getting to know each other.

So, basically we just stood next to each for five minutes and got used to each other's energy.  I scratched his withers and just stood there and eventually he started to lick and chew (a sign of relaxed submission) and tried to bonk me in the stomach with his nose (a sign of playing) and sure enough, when I asked him to walk on he happily followed me all around the arena like we were best buds.   After that riding him was great.  He prefers little to no rein contact and just riding with your leg and seat.  And although I was able to do that just fine, when we'd change gaits like go from walk to trot I would unconsciously pick up rein contact and a minute later remember "Oh that's right! No contact for him!" and let it go - but amazingly he didn't react at all to that, I'm not sure he really noticed and if he did he didn't care.  Once again, another horse I've ridden there who is so incredibly sweet and willing and just all around a good heart.