Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Communication, fear, control, perfectionism

I cried at my last lesson.

My face scrunched up, my tongue grew thick, I lost my speaking voice completely.

We were outdoors.

It was windy.

There was a new mare in the paddock.

Eli was under me but also 100 miles away.

I was doing everything—everything!—the instructor said. I was fighting through my usual worries about bolting and falling on a distracted horse. I was tamping down the fear and doing the requested movements. Eli remained miles away.

We went from thinking this would be another lesson on haunches-in to downgrading to a lesson about walking forward and turning when asked. That is all.

And even that, apparently, was too much to ask of Eli that day.

There had been little testing spooks and general defiance. But then, out of nowhere, a ducking, hollow, skiddering teleport of a spook. 

Like this, I'm guessing.

I don’t know about you, but for me there is no halfway in crying. Either my face is studiedly, icily neutral… or I am bawling my eyes out for at least a half an hour. This was the latter.

I feel bad for my instructor, who saw right away that I had lost control of myself as soon as I lost control of Eli. She diagnosed this as a fear issue and proceeded to talk about that. She assumed I had Blue-related PTSD (nope!) and that fear made me cry (not really). And she talked about it at length, while I sat there and listened. She built wrong assumption on top of wrong assumption about my riding experience, my horse history and my needs in this situation.

And all the time she was talking, I wanted to stop her and explain what was really going on. But my voice was clogged with emotion. I was sitting in the saddle, perfectly upright and unhurt, but absolutely unable to speak up for myself or defend Blue's honor from the onslaught of assumptions she heaped onto the situation.

She said I should channel my fear into anger and determination. But what she didn’t know was that fear was not the feeling that overwhelmed my stony facade. She didn’t know that, in fact, anger and determination were the culprits.

The lesson ended without me saying another word.

So on Thursday, I will have to try to talk to her about this without breaking down again. This monologue is too long for real life, but it's what I wish I could say.

[Teacher], I want to talk about what happened at the last lesson. I am sorry I wasn’t able to talk at the time, but I want to be clear about what was happening so that we can communicate better going forward. Crying under stress is a physical reaction that I can't control. It's frustrating and annoying but it's a part of me.

I cried because I was frustrated with myself and with Eli. I was trying my hardest and it wasn’t working. I have been close to tears in our lessons before when we are working on something I struggle with. I was disappointed in myself and embarrassed about not being able to get Eli’s attention.

When he jumped, it proved that I couldn’t handle him. He is a 20-something-year-old lesson horse. A child could have handled him better than I did that day. That spook wasn’t very scary; it was very humiliating. It was me failing to excel and blaming myself.

The most helpful thing you can do for me in a situation like that is give me a new task to focus on, preferably something you know I’m good at. I would rather trot endless figure-eights than sit still and listen to you analyze what’s going wrong.

There is a time for analyzing my failures, but that time is when I have myself under control. I can't get under control until I am moving forward.

Just like a horse, I guess.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Human bodywork: Yay! or Neigh?

I am loving the dressage lessons. Both the instructor and the horse are bottomlessly patient with my over-analytical style.

But we've hit a bit of a plateau with the haunches-in. Namely, when I shift my weight to my left hip, I basically lose control of my legs. My lovely instructor came and physically *put* my leg where it needs to be. I can hold it there once it is there, but I can't move it there myself.

Image stolen from this helpful page.

Even now, sitting at my desk, I can feel that my right side is working harder than my left. And I'm crooked—so very crooked. And, to get a little PG-13 with you, when I get out of the shower and stand in front of the mirror in my altogether, some parts of me are pointed every-which-way but forward.

Obviously developing a core will help (see that helpful link), but what else can I do to get straightened out?

Could a chiropractor help... potentially? I get a set number of "free" sessions in my health plan, so I might as well use them if they could benefit me.

Friday, July 31, 2015

North and South: A Regionalist/Jingoist Rant.

Part I: Geopolitics

So there’s this movie (miniseries really) on Netflix that I just love. It’s called North & South and stars Richard Armitage. You may remember him from the Hobbit movies, but after you see him in North and South, you will remember him for North and South.


It’s based on the book of the same name by Elizabeth Gaskell. But I digress.

The “North” and “South” of this story are not the ones that Americans think of. This is not a Civil War movie, it’s an industrial revolution movie that takes place in England. And in this case the north means Manchester (they call it Milton, but trust, it is Manchester) and the South means the New Forest, Oxford, or London, depending on who’s talking. At most, we’re talking about a distance of about 250 miles. Yet every character in the story believes that the places are so far apart geographically and culturally that their people could never be compatible.

America is a really BIG country. How would the characters in North and South react to learn that Portland is as close to South Carolina as Moscow is to Morocco?*

This is something I have had plenty of opportunities to ponder lately when talk to turns to a certain flag, presidential candidate, Supreme Court or whatever mass shooting is in the latest news. Sure, nationwide media networks and The Facebook are homogenizing culture. Very, verrrrrrrrrry gradually. In a lot of ways, The North is still The North and The South is still The South.

Part 2: Tennessee

With 2,000 miles between the Northwest and Southeast of our country, it only stands to reason that there would be cultural differences. One of the big ones that drives me crazy (and believe me, there are lots of things about The South that drive me crazy) is the old-boy culture around gaited horses.

Of course, this is #NotAllSoutherners. There are tons of decent, educated, caring people raising gaited horses in the Deep South. Also, there are probably some real shitbags raising gaited horses in Oregon. All kinds of people live in all kinds of places, blah blah blah.

But as a member of several gaited horse sales groups on Facebook, I have seen some really appalling things, and the worst of them seem to be concentrated in the cluster of horribleness that extends along southern TN into northern MS and AL.

I happened to live in that area one summer. (At the corner of Central and Lamar in Memphis, to be specific.) And two or three times that summer I drove four hours down highway 72 to visit a friend in Huntsville, Alabama.

Now for all my book learnin’ and long-distance family vacations and a generally high opinion of myself and my worldliness, I have no idea how I survived that summer. I look back at it now with kind of a fond disbelief. I was 22 but I might as well have been a chick that just emerged from the egg. What I really needed was a grizzled old broad or maybe a fading southern dandy to spell things out to me. 

Part 3: Real horses

I mean, even for a 22-year-old from central Nebraska, my naivety was pretty staggering. I was very, VERY lucky that social media was in its infancy so the audience for my idiocy was small.

Whenever I get frustrated with some young person being ignorant on Facebook, all I have to do is think of the summer of ‘04 and remember that I, too, was a garbage person until I was 27 or 28 at least.

Below is one such ignorant young garbage person.

The photo was the first thing I saw. Glancing as I scrolled, my eyes and brain said “Ugh, I hate that awkward phase yearlings go through.”

Then, double take. “I wonder what they do with all that green grass he’s standing in since the horse clearly isn’t eating it.”

Then, triple take when I read the actual ad.

I wish I had been able to get another screen shot of the ongoing conversation before the owner took down the ad. The basic story is this: She is a student at a certain institution of higher learning in Knoxville and is starving and ruining the legs of baby horses** (she currently has 3 for sale on FB) in order to pay her tuition at vet school.


Part 4: Model horses

So the other thing I want to draw your attention to is this whole notion of how wonderful it is that our little tobiano friend’s grandsire was a World Champion at The Celebration.

You’ll only need to watch the video once, if at all.

(If you'd rather go to YouTube)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkyC1Fq6Msg

In short, The Celebration celebrates horse abuse. Hooray! *sarcasm*

There isn't much I can do about this from my deep left-coast location. But one opportunity presented itself recently: A little model horse activism on the topic of big lick TWH. From their Facebook site: 
The Sound TWH Challenge is a project where model horse artists will be taking on the challenge of turning an equine mold that depicts the "Big Lick" gait and turns it into a sound and flat shod Tennessee Walking Horse. These beautiful works of art will then be auctioned off on My Auction Barn where 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to FOSH (Friends of Sound Horses).

I decided to participate in the challenge as soon as I read the blurb. What’s more, I want to create a barefoot distance horse.
All credit to Emily, who used Photoshop to show how easily you could turn this:

Into this:

But I’m a little more ambitious than that. So I’m working on something more like THIS:

Dr. Garlinghouse and John Henry (who are at Tevis this very moment!)

I haven’t decided on a color yet, but I was thinking maybe a portrait of a certain former big-lick turned 100-mile mare?

That mare came from the South but is thriving in the West (as is her owner, as far as I can tell. :) ). If there is hope for Dixie (the horse), I think there is also hope for Dixie (the place).


*Call it about 2,400 miles. Google Maps is one of the great wonders of our time. Don’t take it for granted.

** I didn't link to his sale video because I'm letting this young garbage person's audience stay small. Sam does indeed have a cute little gait. Also, his age (2.5) perfectly matches his body score (2.5). It's kind of amazing he has the strength to gait at all. He might not be so gentle and easygoing if he were fed.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Falling with style

First off, that movie is 20 years old.


I am four weeks into weekly English equitation lessons with a dressage trainer. 

In these four weeks I have learned that all of those miles we did, I wasn’t really riding. To put it in standardized test terms…

Falling : flying :: “riding”: riding

So in three weeks of intensive work, I am just about able to make a passable circle at the walk and perform something akin to a leg yield at the trot. 

Moreover, I come out of lessons sweaty and sore.

My dance partner is Eli, a 20-something thoroughbred lesson horse who is lazy, grumpy and cantankerous. Obviously I adore him. He spooks at everything. He constantly tests. He won’t do anything unless You Really Mean It with the aids. He is always behind the leg and has a lofty trot that goes nowhere. He could not be less of an endurance prospect.

Being good

Giraffe mode

Of course, I think about how fun it would have been to be doing these lessons with Blue. Eli knows a lot more movements, but Blue and I could be learning them together.
Alas, I can’t afford to do all the things I want to do at the same time.

Blue update!

Blue is doing OK with the trainer. They had planned to do a 7-mile trail ride at Still Memorial on Sunday but something serious came up at the last minute and they couldn't go. 

On the training front, she’s working on getting him to collect up and use himself better, but mostly just getting him in shape to be a useful horse this summer. She said he throws the occasional tantrum when she asks him to work, but they are mild and resolve quickly. She says you can tell he is a horse that has some training and some work in his past, which is absolutely true. The guy who taught him the basics turned a wild animal into a really nice horse.

On the lameness front, on the other hand, not much progress. She is beginning to suspect that the problem is not the feet. Or at least not JUST the feet. BOO. She says he’s fine most of the time but there is just *something* sometimes that isn’t quite right. Yep. Sounds very familiar to me.

I really hope we can find someone who will love him in spite of his not being suitable for actively competing in a sport that judges based on soundness.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Shadow of Smith Rock

(Photo shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia)

Yesterday was kind of a hard day.

For almost two years, I’ve been mulling over a simple question: Can I continue with Blue?

For the first half of that time it was just a financial question. Since last May, it has also been an ethical question.

Last year, Blue he had one completion in three tries. He was lame most of the summer into the fall. This spring, as my career continues to demand more and more of my available cognitive load, I looked for a part-lease to keep Blue active and help cover my board costs.

The first lessee lasted almost two months, but she had to drive an hour to get to my barn and decided it wasn’t worth it. The second person who came to see him was a more serious rider with bigger ambitions. On the first day she came to try him out, he was visibly lame. Again. Somehow she saw it in he heart to give him a second chance… and he promptly showed her his lazy, arena sour side that has come out since we haven’t been able to get out and do distance.

I have talked to a lot of people. I have talked to trimmers, traditional farriers, vets, nutrition experts and my endurance mentors. I have read books and websites until my eyes burn. I put Blue on a low-sugar, low-carb, low-iron diet. I keep him in a sand-and-gravel drylot with no access to grass—the driest, hoof-friendliest possible environment in our region short of him literally living indoors on a treadmill made of bentonite.

Still, his feet reek of thrush and are tender to the touch.

To be frank, the math just isn’t practical anymore. At best I am seeing him once or twice a week and not doing any distance work. Half the time he is off on the front end anyway. The west side board bills are right on the edge of what I can afford before we even start talking about vets and fancy diet and remedial farriery.

HE is not the problem. HE is my all-time number one favorite horse—more beloved than even the saintly Topper, who I trained from babyhood.

On Facebook (most of my social life), Becky asked how people can afford multiple horses. The answers fell into two categories pretty much: own land and don’t have other hobbies.

If I owned land, I could postpone my decision. Blue would have a year or two of rest. Maybe he’d become a permanent pasture pet with occasional trail and camping duty or maybe he would finally adjust to the wet climate and recover his soundness.  And then, when he was 17 or 18 years old, we might be able to do two or three more years of LD—if things went well. Then full retirement as a much-loved but broken down old friend and a mentor to my next horse.

Since I don’t own land, that's all just pointless fantasy. Blue’s going to summer camp.

A nice trainer, fairly new to the area but highly recommended, is going to work with Blue. She lives in Terrebonne, (almost literally) in the shadow of Smith Rock, with the driest, grittiest sand-and-lava turnouts and arena I have seen in a long time. A cinder road takes her straight to one of the horse-fords at Smith Rock Park. No trailer needed. I am SERIOUSLY jealous of her place.

She will continue the strict diet and start him on a serious exercise regimen (you might see him at Grizzly or Still Memorial—say hi!). She is a trimmer and will keep fighting the good fight on his long toes.

And, a month from now, if the dry ground and wide-open spaces have done what I fear/expect them to do, she will help me find Blue a new home on the dry side of the mountains. She will help me make sure they are the kind of people who are thoughtful enough to do right by him.

Here's the bottom line for me after more than three years in the swampland: If all signs point to him being healthy and sound as a dry-side horse, then he needs to go back to being a dry-side horse. My emotional attachment to him is mostly irrelevant when the ultimate question is his physical well-being.

So yesterday I left with a full trailer and came home with an empty one. I'm optimistic that the dry climate will make the difference. And if Blue ends up an active, sound confidence-builder for some lucky Central Oregonian (and maybe I occasionally get to see him at rides) I'm going to call it a win.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Check your privilege

“There's that saying...something like ‘if you want it bad enough, you find a way, otherwise you just find excuses.” 

Somebody I like and respect said this yesterday in a Facebook conversation. And I get it, it's a platitude that we've all heard versions of. It's just a thing you say. Follow your dream. You can do anything you want. Where there's a will, there's a way. 

What a ridiculous sentiment.

If I could change one thing about the way people think, this pernicious belief in the power of lifting by your own bootstraps would be it. Yes, with hard work and dedication, you can sometimes achieve your goals. But also, sometimes, with hard work and dedication, you can fall flat on your face.

(…And then someone will kick you when you’re down by saying that you just didn’t want it badly enough to succeed.)

Sometimes a person with cancer who wants to live bad enough will still die.

Sometimes a person who wants to be famous bad enough will never get their big break.

Sometimes a person who wants to leave their dangerous neighborhood bad enough will have to stay behind and care for their family.

And if you can’t see this, maybe you should try harder to find a way to see it

You can't always "find a way." Sometimes there isn't a way. Sometimes there might be a way but the costs are too high and the obstacles are insurmountable. Sometimes finding a way to get what you want means hurting other people. 

A world where everyone does whatever it takes to get what they want is a horrifying place. Equally horrifying is a world where people who don't get what they want are assumed to be excuse-making failures. I'm also not sure there is much to be said for a life where what you want never changes.

And while I'm ranting, when did having an excuse become a bad thing? The whole idea of an excuse is that it explains behavior that seems negative. Isn't that a good thing? Isn't it nice to know that people have thoughtful reasons for making the choices they do—especially when you don't agree with those choices?

What I'm working up to saying is this:  I'm trying out a new set of goals for this year, with endurance very low on the list. There are a lot of things I need to do and want to achieve and I can't find a way to do all of them in a world where time and money are finite. 

You know how sometimes you are cleaning your house, and it has to get worse before it gets better? Well, that's me this year. I'm cleaning house. That's my excuse.