Koelber’s Corner – Why do we do this??? We love horses, we love horses, we love horses!

 

We’ve all had them. Those horse show days that seem never ending from the very start. The day that you cannot wait until it is over. The day you tell yourself over and over again why you are doing it.

I love horses. I love horses. I love horses.

This past weekend, I attended a qualifying horse show for the state 4-H horse show coming up in September along with my friends and fellow 4-H club members Meg and Elizabeth.  In order to qualify for the state finals, there are several requirements to do throughout the year, one of which is attending a horse show that is a qualifying event.  Only one class is required, so usually the qualifying show is just a quick in and out, and most of the time it is fairly simple to accomplish.

So Saturday morning, we came into the barn to get packed up and ready for the day. To start us off, my mare Giggles came in from the field with her right hind shoe gone. The show we were headed for was the last qualifying event in our district.  We checked Giggles out, jogged her, and she was perfectly sound, just a pulled shoe. So we made the decision to scratch the pleasure horse division and just take her in showmanship, where I wouldn’t have to ride her.

Okay, minor mishap. She’d still get in and out of the ring, all good, easy peasy.

Meg gave her horse Snappy a bath, and then I gave Giggles a bath and wrapped her foot up. Then I bathed my pony Deno, as he is my backup for the state show (you still have to qualify your backup project horse.) Loading on the trailer was smooth sailing. Giggles, who is not always an easy loader, walked right on.  It looked like the day would be alright after all!

The drive to the show in Front Royal was a bit longer than expected. We weren’t terribly late, but we weren’t making great time.  We arrived at the show grounds and realized there are multiple entrances. We drove down a road that we thought was the way to get to parking (the GPS led us there) and then we reached a super narrow road, and it was super difficult to turn around. My incredibly skilled trailer-driving Mom was able to back up her huge gooseneck up a driveway up a hill in a super tight space. Unfortunately, this ate up another 20 minutes of time. A VDOT worker was driving by in his huge vehicle and he even told my Mom he was impressed!

So we finally made it to the correct entrance at the show. It was a long, narrow driveway up a hill. We were doing fine until the rear trailer tire got on the grass, and due to the wet conditions (it’s been raining like crazy here in Virginia for weeks!) we were stuck. That “oh crap” moment sunk in.

We are stuck.

On a hill.

With 3 horses in the trailer AND we are running late.

So the only way we can possibly go is backwards. Mom backs up, but the opening was narrow. The truck and trailer backed up right next to the fence and gets jammed. There is little room to navigate it out since we couldn’t get on the grass.

So sorry, the fence suffered a bit of injury, but STILL we are jammed in that spot.

Then we’re left with no choice but to get out and unload the horses. The Showmanship class was starting soon and we couldn’t miss it. It was the only class Giggles could go in! My Mom and I are holding horses and Meg goes to the tack room of the trailer to get Giggles’ bridle. She walks back looking a bit concerned. “Ummmm, Auntie Bud, I hate to say it but the door won’t open. It’s right up against the fence.”

NOOOO. We love horses. We love horses. We love horses.

We walked down and tried to figure out what to do. I gave my Mom a bit of a panicked, worried look. “Just need a bridle. For showmanship. C’mon,” she said. Here is one reason I love 4-H. EVERYBODY will gladly assist you, lend you a hand, an item, and be incredibly kind. A very kind lady lent us her bridle for Giggles to wear in showmanship. But then we realized another problem. Meg and Snappy were going to ride in the pleasure division, but we still can’t get to her saddle or bridle.

We met up with our friends Elizabeth, Katie, and Nicole and they immediately jumped in to help. One of many reasons we LOVE them. Meg and Snappy were going to have to jump into showmanship. They lent Snappy another bridle and away we went. We went up to the ring to watch the showmanship pattern (since we had no clue) and then we winged it. Giggles was pretty wild so that was probably interesting to watch!! Haha, she was not at all having it. But Meg did a great job with Snappy and their qualifying box was checked, as was Giggles’. But we still had yet another issue. My backup pony Deno would have to be ridden, and we had no saddle (ha and still no bridle.)

We love horses. We love horses. We love horses.

So our friends the Coopers, yet again saving the day jumped in to help us!  Snappy’s borrowed bridle fit Deno like a glove, and the Coopers lent me Elizabeth’s 14” saddle (which did NOT fit me like a glove, but it worked and that’s all that mattered!) But we had yet another issue. Elizabeth’s stirrup leathers were WAY too short for me. So short I could not possibly ride with them. Jockey short! As I hand-grazed Giggles my Mom had Deno in tow and I saw them walking back and forth, and back and forth asking if anybody could lend spare stirrup leathers. She had no luck, since my class was pretty large and the majority of the people there were also riding in it.

Meg caught the eye of a girl sitting down to eat lunch next to a saddle. She handed Snappy to me and darted over to her. The way she presented her request was quite amusing. “Ummm, so my friend over here is borrowing a really little girl’s saddle since our trailer is stuck and we have no access to the tack room, and the stirrup leathers are way too short, as you can see she’s pretty tall. Would you mind if we borrowed your leathers for the senior equitation on the flat?” The girl generously lent us her leathers and we were on our way!  My Mom and Katie worked to wedge the adult sized stirrup leathers into the tiny gap of  the stirrup bars on the little saddle. Katie grabbed a stray jump cup and used the pin to widen the opening. “You are a WARRIOR PRINCESS! You don’t mess around!!” My mom said laughing. So that became Katie and Nicole’s nicknames. The Warrior Princesses!

Katie and Nicole, the “Warrior Princesses”!

We thought “hallelujah” because we were SO CLOSE to being done…. But yet we were still so far!

Of course Deno being the perfect pony he is was a super star and we successfully made it in and out of the sloppy, soupy arena. I was so proud of him, he has not been in much work lately and he cantered his chubby body around the ring like the gentleman he is.

After that we thought we were in the clear. Now our only obstacle (or so we thought), was getting the trailer out. But oh wait. Jumping the truck. In the hurry to get to the showmanship class, my Mom accidentally left on the truck’s lights. As you could probably guess it was dead.

We love horses. We love horses. We love horses.

My Mom had Giggles, Meg had Snappy, and I had Deno. We were grazing them while Elizabeth waited with her horse Cimmie for their last couple classes. All of a sudden it began to MONSOON. A torrential downpour. The wind picked up like crazy. My Mom yelled to Meg and I, “To the trailer!!” Meg and Snappy disappeared behind the other side of the show stalls and trailers, while my Mom and I were struggling to keep Giggles and Deno from going crazy. (At the same time tents were blowing away and people were trying to take them down.)  Mom, Giggles, Deno, and I were not going to make it back in one piece all the way to the trailer. So multiple horses, including Cimmie, Deno, and Giggles, were all squished under the roof attached to the show stalls on a concrete slab.

All I was thinking was, WHERE ARE MEG AND SNAPPY?!?!!!

Suddenly through the sheets of rain I could see Snappy lightly jogging, pretty much leading Meg! They cautiously walked down a steep hill/ditch thing to get to us. Then we all waited for the monsoon-like weather to pass. We were SO close to being done.

We love horses. We love horses. We love horses.

Once the crazy weather passed classes resumed. But we ended up not being able to wait because the realization sank in that the trailer needed to come out soon since people needed to leave and we were blocking them in! We went down to the road and booted up the horses. Nicole brought down her car to jump-start the dually. But miraculously it didn’t end up needing a jump. Things were looking up!! While Meg held Snappy and I did double duty with Giggles and Deno, Nicole and my Mom skillfully got the trailer out after a bit. Nicole the Warrior Princess saved us again! All I can say is we would not have survived without them and the help of our fellow 4-Hers!!

Thankfully the drive home was smooth and easy, with a pit stop to Sheetz since we hadn’t had time to eat all day!  When we got home, the only further mishap that occurred was Giggles’ OTHER hind shoe was loose, and needed to be pulled. So within a couple minutes it was pulled and wrapped, we cared for the horses, unpacked, and cleaned. The long, crazy day was over. At 10 p.m. we arrived home, exhausted. (After a trip to McDonalds 😉 ) I crawled into bed, getting some sleep to get ready to go to the barn in the morning.

But this crazy day was a day every single horse person has. Lots of mishaps. Lots of dumb luck. Lots of suckiness. But one thing was truly special. Well, two things.

1. The MEMORIES. What funny stories it gave us!! All the way home, (well, even while all this was happening), we laughed and laughed. And,

2. The most important. What a wonderful community we have. I cannot say enough good things about the Virginia 4-H Horse Program. I am so grateful to all the fellow 4-Hers and their help and generosity. And to Elizabeth and the Warrior Princesses!! We couldn’t have made it without you all. And the horses were such troopers!  We are so incredibly blessed. Sometimes it forces us to remind ourselves why we do all this.

And it’s because we really, really love horses.

Meg and Snappy Photo credit Kristie Torline McCary

 

 

“Permission to Screw Up, Sir!!!”

I would not exactly describe myself as a perfectionist.  Anyone who has seen the inside of my car would definitely agree with me, and I have managed to bumble through life without ever bothering to balance my bank account, taking the attitude that “close enough” is a legitimate approach to topics involving decimal points.

But there are some things in my life to which I attach the maddening importance of success.  Riding is one of those things.  Writing is another.  I want very much to be GOOD at these things and it bothers me when I fall short of my own expectations.  It bothers me a lot.

I come by this honestly.  I was raised with a father who insisted that the only acceptable grade in school was an “A” and the only measure of value to participation in a sport is to win.  (I was once grounded from watching television for six weeks in middle school because I brought home a “C” in Home Economics.  Apparently I was quite average at cooking and sewing in the eighth grade!  There has been little discernible improvement in these subjects since then.)

Despite my early lack of interest in mastering the domestic arts or understanding calculus, I nevertheless absorbed the lesson well that being average at something is simply not good enough.

What a shame.

Don’t get me wrong, achievement is a wonderful thing.  Striving for a win is a powerful motivation to do what is necessary to grow and improve.  But if you believe that perfection is the only acceptable end result, then mere mortals like you and me are doomed to failure. And if you believe that winning is the only thing that makes an endeavor worthwhile, it becomes very easy to justify not even trying.

You need to give yourself permission to screw up.

I was recently reminded of this during a lesson on my horse Rainy.  I’ve been riding for 45 years and I still meet with a trainer as often as possible so I can continue getting better.  At this point in my riding career, my lessons are less about making physical improvements than they are about making improvements in my mental game.  During my lesson last week, circumstances seemed to be conspiring to set me up for failure.  I was preparing for a horse show, so I felt that I needed my schooling session to be perfect to get us ready for the upcoming weekend.  The weather was unusually chilly and my horse started out fresh and unfocused.  The zipper on one of my boots broke near the beginning of my ride.  I had to stop and change into paddock boots and wrap my calves in polo wraps before continuing on to my jump school.  (Embrace The Suck!)

I warmed up over a few fences and I was riding very conservatively.  It was OK, but I know well the difference between jumping that is micromanaged by the rider and jumping that flows naturally without overt interference.  The more I focused on trying to make each jump perfect, the more I got in my own way.

I stopped.

My trainer and I have known each other a long time. She looked at me and said simply “Give yourself permission to make mistakes.”

You know that feeling when your brain cracks open and you get a clear vision of understanding a problem?

I started over.  I literally let go of my horse physically while I also let go of caring whether or not the result was perfect.  And guess what?  The result was, well, pretty much perfect.

Here’s how it works.  Our bodies are programmed to manifest in reality the images we carry in our minds.  If we worry and stress about making mistakes in our performance, then that is where our mind is focused.  And our bodies do their best to make those mental bloopers come to life.  Worried about missing the distance to the single oxer across the diagonal?  Let it go.  Give yourself permission to be less than perfect (maybe FAR less than perfect), and you give yourself the freedom to focus on positive images and work with whatever you’ve got.  So instead of thinking “I need to nail that distance to the oxer or my round is ruined”, instead you’re telling yourself “I need to maintain a good rhythm and a good canter and whatever distance is there will be fine.” And it WILL be fine.

As a friend once told me right before I walked into the ring, obviously nervous, “Oh my gawd Tosh, it’s not as if you’re trying to cure cancer!”

Exactly. We do this for fun, right?

I continued this mental exercise through the remainder of the week.  At the horse show on Sunday, once again the universe tried to play with me.  My experienced, well prepared horse was WILD when he got off the trailer. I borrowed a lunge line from my trainer and Rainy spent 15 minutes bucking, snorting, and squealing as he circled around me.  The new boots I ordered after my zipper failure on Tuesday did not arrive in time for the show, so I carefully wrapped black duct tape around one ankle, holding the broken zipper closed.

But I refused to allow these challenges to derail my attitude. I was relentlessly positive and wore my less than perfect circumstances like a crown.  I was determined to show the universe what I thought of her sense of humor.  As I rode around the schooling ring, I repeated over and over to myself statements that fit into my “permission to screw up” mantra.

My horse settled nicely and the duct tape held.  And most interestingly, I had no nerves whatsoever.  All I felt was a calm focus and simple happiness at being there. While my results in the show ring on Sunday were not as “perfect” as they had been in my lesson, they were still pretty darn good.  For one reason and another, it’s been three years since I’ve shown this horse over fences and I am nothing but thrilled at his comeback so far.

But my bigger thrill is the new tool I’ve put in my mental toolbox.  In fact, I’m using that tool as I write this blog post.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I hope you like it and find it useful!  If not, let me know why and I’ll try again in a week or two.  😉

 

Let’s ride!

Embrace the Suck

“Obstacles do not block the path, they are the path.”

I love this proverb.  It speaks to an attitude of mind that is applicable to everything we are trying to do.  We can face challenges with frustration and disappointment, or we can understand that the challenges are what make the journey worthwhile.

There’s another phrase I like that captures the same sentiment, in a little more straightforward language.

Embrace the suck.

Think about it. Reaching our goals is hard. Pushing ourselves physically and mentally is hard.  Reaching outside of our comfort zone is HARD.

Embrace the suck.

Are you trying to improve some particular aspect of your riding?  Maybe your leg is a little weak and your sadistic trainer has suggested riding without stirrups.  But riding without stirrups makes you feel even more weak and insecure and has your thigh and calf muscles screaming.  EMBRACE THAT SUCK.

Maybe you are having trouble staying off your horse’s back when landing from a jump and your (surely evil) trainer has suggested riding more in 2-point position to strengthen your base.  But practicing 2-point makes it hard for you to walk the next day.  WALLOW IN THAT SUCK.

Maybe your riding skills are strong but competing in a horse show in front of an audience and actually paying money to have someone judge you makes you feel like you’d rather throw yourself out of an airplane without a parachute. CELEBRATE THAT SUCK AND BAKE IT A CAKE.

I’m serious. We have willingly chosen to participate in a sport that is littered with uncontrollable variables and dependent upon the cooperation of a large fragile animal that is genetically predisposed to leave the scene.  Riding is very challenging and requires years of concentrated effort to achieve a moderate level of skill.

In other words, you could work hard at riding for a long long time and still not be very good at it!

EMBRACE THE SUCK.

By accepting and even welcoming that which is hard and frustrating, by recognizing that setbacks and disappointments are the path, and not a deviation, by embracing failure as a necessary component of success, we are then open to seeing and appreciating our moments of brilliance.

Our brief, focused, intense pinpoints of perfection.

I was at a horse show this weekend and the conditions were less than ideal.  It was blustery, cold, and drizzly on and off throughout the day, and my horse Rainy was fresh and enthusiastic about showing off his athletic ability. There was bucking involved.  And squealing.  I spent a ridiculous amount of time in the schooling ring, just cantering.  Lots of cantering.  Cantering is wonderfully rhythmic and calming, and for my horse it’s a great way to blow off extra steam and settle into a zen space.

At one point I cantered across the ring to change direction and without hesitation or any break in rhythm my lovely horse changed his lead at the same moment that I formed the thought of a lead change in my head.  No big deal, right?  Every well-trained horse should have a nice lead change.  But this horse is returning to work and competition after a long lay-off.  One of the challenges we are facing in his return to real work is that he has seemingly “lost” his lead changes.  They used to be easy, almost automatic, and now they’re not.

I am embracing that small suck.  I am relishing the opportunity to work through the step by step training process to reinstall the lead change.  As Rainy is reliving his youth through a revitalized energy level (there was actual BUCKING AND SQUEALING), I am reliving the happiness I felt the first time he and I went through this stage together.  Of course I have felt frustration about it.  But the obstacle is the path, and how grateful I am to be going down this path again.

 

“The Flying Change”

      Henry Taylor

 1

The canter has two stride patterns, one on the right lead and one on the left, each a mirror image of the other. The leading foreleg is the last to touch the ground before the moment of suspension in the air. On cantered curves, the horse tends to lead with the inside leg. Turning at liberty, he can change leads without effort during the moment of suspension, but a rider’s weight makes this more difficult. The aim of teaching a horse to move beneath you is to remind him how he moved when he was free.

2

A single leaf turns sideways in the wind in time to save a remnant of the day; I am lifted like a whipcrack to the moves I studied on that barbered stretch of ground, before I schooled myself to drift away

from skills I still possess, but must outlive. Sometimes when I cup water in my hands and watch it slip away and disappear, I see that age will make my hands a sieve; but for a moment the shifting world suspends

its flight and leans toward the sun once more, as if to interrupt its mindless plunge through works and days that will not come again. I hold myself immobile in bright air, sustained in time astride the flying change.

 

 

Let’s ride! 

Koelber’s Corner – My OTTB Babies!

Thoroughbreds.

In my opinion they are one of the most fascinating and incredible breeds. They have tons of heart, versatility, and athleticism. They are eager and have a willingness to learn and to please. The two horses I am working with are both off track Thoroughbreds (OTTB): Tosh’s gelding Sterling and my mare Giggles. They are two of my best friends and my amazing partners.

I’m going to go ahead and ramble about my babies, so be prepared!

Sterling is a drop dead gorgeous 16.2 hand gelding by Too Much Bling and out of Sonsearay, and he was born on April 26th, 2011. He is an elegant bay with lots of chrome.  His star and stripe form a perfect long-necked “goose” like shape.   His racing name was Culous Way, and his show name is Sterling Thomas (I like to give my horses fun middle names…lol).  He has a mellow, relaxed disposition and is for the most part a sweet, cuddly gentleman.  He does have a tendency to be quite grumpy in his stall, probably due to his previous track life.

Under saddle, Sterling is weirdly quiet and he is SUPER lazy for a TB. I have to wear spurs to ride him even in cold weather!  I find that comical since he raced 20 times and he had won twice!  He loves to go hack out in the field and always has a willing attitude to try new things. One day I got on him outside the ring, bareback and just in a halter, and he had never been sat on without a saddle. He did not bat an eye!  He has such a nonchalant, chill attitude, which I very much admire.

Although Sterling is green, he is coming along great. I absolutely adore working with him, and we have already started showing in a winter show series. I loooooooveeee his floaty trot and canter and beautiful jump. I can hardly wait for the year to come!  He is going to make up to be quite a fancy show hunter, and I am so excited! Here is a little video of Sterlie with Ms. Tosh…video

My other OTTB, my baby girl, is Giggles Marie and she is a 15.3ish, beautiful little chestnut mare. She too, has lots of chrome, and beautiful doe eyes. She is by Street Magician, and out of The Unforgivable and she was born on May 4th, 2012. She has a fantastic, careful, stylish jump and is a very cute mover.  Her racing name was Its Smokin Mirrors, and her show name is Laugh Out Loud (which is why her barn name is Giggles!)

Giggles only raced one time, which I find so funny, because she is much more sensitive and forward going than Sterling. She has a BIG personality and can be sassy sometimes. She always makes me laugh, and she is very sweet and loves to cuddle and “give kisses”.

Unfortunately my girl has faced a lot of difficulties and challenges. I have had her since she was a 3 year old but we haven’t yet done very much. She has faced a few injuries, a surgery, and a frightful, horrible high fever and infection of unknown origin, which kept her in the hospital for two weeks. She has been through a lot, as well as having a lot of pain and stiffness with her neck. With lots of good care and support from our vets, we are finally breaking through and I have started to ride her again. We’re only walking and trotting, but it’s a start!

It’s felt like all we have done with Giggles is go backwards, but I’m looking forward to all the cool things I hope to accomplish with her. I really would like to try eventing her, which will be interesting since neither she nor I have done it before.  Eventing is a horse sport that has a dressage test, a cross-country phase with solid jumps, and a show jumping test in the arena.  I am hoping to take Giggles to a low level eventing competition in March, where the jumps will just be 18”. (Only if she’s ready!)

I’m not sure what is to expect for the coming year, but whatever it is I will be content. Just having Giggles is such a blessing, for she is one of my best friends. She brings me so much joy and I’m just so happy to have her. With all the difficulties that have arisen with her I have learned to have more patience and to be a better horsewoman.

Now you guys have some background about my OTTB babies, I am hopefully going to be writing soon about my journey with them and write about some training rides and things like that. Thanks for reading!

Happy rides  🙂

– Koelber

#horseshowmom

We have all seen her at the horse shows.  Her ever-present form may seem to just be part of the scenery, but she acts as an essential cornerstone in the horse show infrastructure.  She is a horse show mom.

She comes in every age and variation of individual appearance (and they are all beautiful), but she shares so many common traits with her sisters that they can almost be counted as their own demographic.

The horse show mom is instantly recognizable.  She is wearing a hat to protect her from the sun or rain and her shoes are sturdy, comfortable, and broken in.  Despite the sensibility of her outfit, she is always understatedly stylish and appears just as tidy at the end of the day as she did at 5 a.m. when the ponies were loaded in the trailer.

Her first notable accomplishment may go unnoticed in the early morning show preparations.  Seemingly effortlessly, all horse show moms manage to stage themselves strategically ringside with a large cup of coffee in one hand and a Corgi puppy in the other, while also carrying a folding chair, a grooming box with all essentials (brushes, towel, hoof pick, hoof oil, fly spray, baby wipes, extra hairnets, extra crop, extra gloves, extra ear stuffs, extra spurs….), a cooler filled with drinks, fruit, and sandwiches, and pockets armed with pony treats, more baby wipes, and cell phones (both her own and her rider’s).  She sets up her camp with exact calculations, knowing precisely how far she is from the porta potty, the show secretary’s office, and the concession stand, and if there is the benefit of shade available she will offer to pay (bribe) the show manager with a yearly subscription fee to be assured of maintaining her territory.

Her job for the day is offering unrelenting support.  She will wipe boots and apply hoof oil countless times throughout the day.  She will record every step her child takes in the ring.  She offers treats to the pony (always happily accepted) and water or snacks to the child (sometimes welcome, sometimes not).  She can fix a pony’s braids while walking backwards and is an expert at removing green stains from a white pony with nothing but her own spit and the tail of her polo shirt.

She can spot stray hair escaping from a hairnet at 200 yards and can discreetly pass a crop to her child in the schooling ring while the naughty pony canters by.  She memorizes every course and can be seen sympathetically jumping each fence along with her child while watching from the ingate.

If she has more than one child showing, her feats of organization multiply exponentially.  I have known of one legendary horse show mom who often had three different children showing in three different rings at a show simultaneously, and she still managed to be standing smiling at the appropriate gate as each one exited from their class.  To be fair though, this particular horse show mom was assisted by the addition of not one, but two, Corgi puppies, as well as a golf cart.

The horse show mom is understandably competitive and wants her own child to win, but that doesn’t stop her from generously offering her services to other riders as needed if their own mother is regrettably absent due to unavoidable scheduling conflicts like childbirth or a soccer game with a non-horse-showing sibling.  In these unfortunate circumstances, horse show mothers will rally around the show orphan like momma elephants and supply drinks, take pictures, and provide encouragement while keeping the missing mom up to date via social media.

Jackie Kennedy was a model horse show mom.

Despite all of this attention to her children, the horse show mom is not known for excessive protectiveness.  If her child gets dumped by the naughty pony, the experienced horse show mom worries more about dusting off the show jacket than checking for broken bones, assuming that the trainer will jog the child for soundness before putting her back in the saddle.

And while every horse show mom can perfectly recite the biographical details of their ponies, including lifetime USEF recording number, exact measurement (“14.1 and 7/8 with shoes and ¾ inch heel”), and breeding (“He is by that lovely Welsh stallion Rollinginthehay Party Time and out of the Hollingsworth’s former junior hunter mare Straight Arrow….so of course his show name is Conflicted but we call him Flicker in the barn, isn’t that adorable?”), they may be a bit vague about similar details concerning their human children.

If you ask a horse show mom the age or birthdate of her child, you are likely to be met with a slightly confused look and the answer “Collins shows in the 14-and-under equitation”.  Since riders compete for the entire show season (December 1 – November 30) at whatever age they are on December 1st, truly savvy horse show moms know the advantages of having their child’s birthdate as close to the beginning of the year as possible and plan their pregnancies accordingly.

Such are the lengths that horse show moms will go to for their children.

All kidding aside, every rider I know has some story or two about their own irreplaceable horse show moms and the special joy experienced by sharing the tears and the triumphs over the years.  THANKS MOM!!!

Just Keep Moving!

There are three topics that are the most popular and widely read on internet blogs.

Personal finance, cooking/recipes, and health/fitness.

I know practically nothing about finance (beyond how to keep a horse and show on a limited budget, which might be a good blog topic later), and my cooking prowess is laughable (which is why I asked for a subscription to a meal delivery plan for Christmas – I still like to eat decent food even though I can’t cook – and that might be another good topic for a later blog post).  But one thing I can discuss from a rider’s point of view is fitness.

Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a fitness guru, and I am certainly not a doctor, so….

Disclaimer: Please consult the advice of a physician before starting or changing a fitness routine.

Although if you tell your doctor that you ride 1200-pound flight animals over uneven terrain and random obstacles, they are likely to tell you that you’re crazy.  So there’s that.

And let’s get one thing straight.  When I talk about fitness, I am not talking about the size of your body or the number on your bathroom scale.  There are good riders of all sizes and shapes in just about every riding discipline and there are suitable horses out there for riders of all sizes and shapes.

But in order for us to be the best riders we want to be, and DO EPIC SHIT like we want to do with our horses, then we need to achieve and maintain some minimum level of fitness to allow that to happen.

For the sake of our own physical and mental health, we need to be at least fit enough to be able to do the things we are passionate about.

I’m not talking about running marathons here.  Although, If you are passionate about running marathons, ROCK ON YOU ARE A BEAST AND I SALUTE YOU.

I’m also not necessarily talking about riding competitively at some upper level of the sport, although that too is definitely something to be admired. But let’s face it, the vast majority of us just want to ride and enjoy our horses in any way we can.  Maybe you want to show every weekend or maybe you want to gallop out in the fields or maybe you want to hook your little mini horse up to a cart and go for a drive.  All of that is awesome!

One of the most inspirational people I have ever met was a woman in her 70’s who still managed her own farm by herself and every day tacked up her equally elderly horse for a walking-little bit of trotting-trail ride around the property.  She was DOING EPIC SHIT.

That’s how I want to be. I am 51 years old, and it’s not unusual for me to be the oldest competitor riding at a horse show, and twenty years from now I still want to be doing it.  And I want there to be enough of us oldsters out there doing it that they have to create a division just for us.  We’ll call it the “Adults Who Qualify to Collect Social Security” division.  Or “Adults Who Wore Rust Breeches Before It Was Trendy.”

But how?

Just. Keep. Moving.

I truly believe this is the key.  Barring injury or infirmity or other circumstances beyond your control, JUST KEEP MOVING.

And if you have horses in your life, the horses can be both the means to follow that directive and the incentive as well.

The best way to make fitness easier to achieve is to make movement a part of your regular life routine.

I keep my horses at home and I have for years and years. I hate, loathe, and despise going to the gym and I won’t do it.  But I’ve never needed to!  I clean stalls, stack hay bales, move jumps, unload feed bags. I walk horses in from the field and turn them back out.  I dump water buckets, repair fences, and shovel sawdust.  Who needs CrossFit?

You can do it too and you don’t need to live on a farm.  If you own a horse and keep it at a boarding barn, offer to clean your own stall.  Help turn horses in and out.  Set jumps for your trainer.  At the end of your ride, get off and walk your horse for ten minutes in hand.  If there are trails on the property, walk the trails and do some cleanup and maintenance.

If you don’t own a horse but ride at a lesson barn, ask if you can groom and tack up the horse yourself instead of having it done for you.  Offer to assist with beginner lessons as a leader on foot, jogging alongside the ponies as their little riders learn how to post or walking with them as they learn how to steer.  Volunteer to help with hand raking the ring and jump repair.

Just. Keep. Moving.

Walk everywhere that you can.  Get a dog and walk it.  Get your neighbor’s dog and walk it too.  Get your neighbor and power walk the neighborhood while you discuss the world’s problems and solve them one by one.  All of this will make you feel better and will support your goal of becoming a better or stronger rider.

And of course, you get stronger as a rider, by riding.

A few years ago I was riding in a hack class at a horse show, and for whatever reason the class went on, and on, and on.  It felt like we never stopped trotting, and then we cantered for a few more miles.  I was out of breath, and furious with myself.  It’s hard to show your horse off to his best advantage when you can’t breathe, and it’s not very nice to be hoping that someone will fall off so that the endless cantering will stop.

After that, I changed my riding routine to specifically address fitness, both mine and the horse’s.  In the ring, after a suitable warmup, I spend a continuous 20-30 minutes on solid flatwork.  Mostly trotting, but also including good, engaged walk work and a mix of forward, medium, and collected cantering, with lots of transitions, lateral exercises, and changes of direction.  Outside of the ring I have a long, moderately sloped hill where I alternately trot up the hill and walk down or canter up and trot down, again keeping my horse engaged, on the aids, and interested.

This type of routine works to improve the fitness of me AND my horse and helps me to reach my goals.

We went from this:

To this:

Let’s ride!

 

Where are you going with this? Goals for 2018.

I am a planner.  I’m really good at bouncing all sorts of plans around in my head, especially when I’m cleaning stalls or running the puppy dog Reagan out in the fields, or doing pretty much anything that doesn’t require concentrated attention.

What I am NOT so good at is organizing those brilliant ideas into a logical progressive plan.  So I’ve learned to write them down with sequential steps or at least an outline to help me get from Point A to Point B without getting sidelined along the way.  Sometimes once I’ve written down my plan, I abandon the idea entirely and move on to something else.  Or maybe I will put the plan on a mental shelf and leave it there for awhile, until circumstances seem right to dust it off and try again.

Writing my plans down also helps me with accountability, even if the only person holding me accountable is, well, me.  Normally I don’t share my plans with anybody until I’m ready to turn the plan from ideas into action and launch it full blown into the universe, which might make it seem that I am acting impulsively.

On the contrary.

By the time one of my schemes reaches the light of day, I have probably spent weeks obsessing about it first.  Considering all the various possibilities. Rejecting this or that or another version.  Trying to figure out how to overcome the obstacles.  Practicing actual conversations in my head with other people who might be involved.

If you see me walking around at a horse show, scowling and muttering to myself, now you know why.

My young friend Koelber recently sent me her own written list of her 2018 Riding Goals.  What a great idea!

 

Knowing where you want to end up is essential to formulating a plan for how to get there.

 

 

 

So I am going to completely run counter to the rules set in The Manual for Introverts (kidding, although there probably is such a thing) and publish my own list of Horse Related Goals for 2018:

  1.  Write a horsey blog.  (Yay!  2018 is a success already!)
  2.  Work to obtain my horse show judge’s license.
  3.  Get Rainy back to showing at 3′.
  4.  Get Divot started and going under saddle.
  5.  Teach at least one clinic geared to young or novice riders.

Well there you go!  That hardly hurt a bit!  Feel free to comment and share your own goals for the coming year 🙂

 

Let’s ride!

 

 

Koelber’s Corner – My Once in a Lifetime Pony

Unlike many, I am quite fortunate to say that I still have my first pony of my very own. A unique kind soul, one of my dearest friends, who is affectionately known as Deno.

It all began when I was at the ripe age of 10, and at that time in my life my main priority in my riding was how many times a week I could go ride outside bareback. I was not very focused on being a serious competitor, all I wanted to do was have fun. But I was getting to the point where I was beginning to think about incorporating “having fun” into becoming more serious in my riding.

My family could not afford to buy a pony, so we searched for something inexpensive that I could learn on, but something reliable enough that I could do fun things with, like hop on just with a halter and leadrope and play around on the farm.  One day I was searching around on the computer and on the screen appeared the most adorable, unique looking pony.

At that moment, I knew he was the one. This was the pony of my dreams.

My Mom called up his wonderful owner, Rachael, and they discussed times that we could try Deno. It was in late October, which fed into the time period where the annual Virginia Horse Shows Association Finals was approaching. Rachael was taking her young mare Lily, along with Deno’s primary rider of five years, Chelsea, (who I have come to have a great, lifelong friendship with) so she said she would bring along Deno for us to try. I still remember the feeling I experienced when I first saw that beautiful white face, pricking his ears at me. I felt as if I had just met a movie star!

So of course I fell in love with everything about him. Deno is known for his big, comical personality, and how he will do absolutely ANYTHING for food. My mom was outside of the barn where the horses were stabled, and just as my Mom was explaining how safe and knowledgeable we were, Deno comes jogging loose down the barn aisle!! I had been filling his water buckets, and despite the fact I carefully closed his door all the way, he managed to butt his head against the door, shove it open, and began to trot off! Luckily he just jogged into another horse’s empty stall and began to eat their leftovers. Luckily Rachael just laughed about what a goofball he is. She told us that if we leased him for 3 years, then we would own him, and of course we took her up on that offer!

Through our journey there were many ups and downs, not just in the tack, but we faced many inevitable setbacks. The first summer I had Deno he strained his deep digital flexor tendon, and as you may know soft tissue injuries take what feel like eons to heal, even just strains. But that just made our relationship stronger through all the hand-walking and hand-grazing, and all the care involved.  But he came back sound!

Deno taught me how to be a more strong, effective rider, and really made me work, which I am incredibly grateful for. My last year consistently showing him was in 2015. I had big goals at the beginning of the season. I wanted to attempt at dipping my toe in the Regular “A” rated Large Pony Hunter. It was a long shot, and he was no longer eligible for green status, so we were faced with the daunting 3’, and let me tell you, a 3′ jump looks really big on a  pony.

I have to admit, I’m a pretty big dreamer, and I really had an even bigger goal I wanted to accomplish. I really wanted to qualify for Pony Finals.

For Pony Finals you just need one Champion or Reserve Championship in your division at a rated show to qualify. I knew I couldn’t afford to do a bunch of rated shows, and I knew I would most likely not qualify in one show, even though that was the way it had to be done to reach my goal. Athletically, I knew it was quite a reach. My pony is perfect the way he is, and I could care less that he is not as fancy and athletic as the ponies competing in that division. So even if I got to do the rated Large Pony division, the likelihood of qualifying was pretty low due to the quality of the other ponies being so high.

But I persisted.

We were preparing the week before a show and I thought we were going to try it. But then as the week went on, I realized Deno was struggling, and that putting together that many large jumps was just too much of a stretch, and it wasn’t worth the risk of getting him injured, or making him uncomfortable.

Of course I was heartbroken, because that had been my goal for such a long time. But it made me really reflect on how when I got Deno, I was just the horse crazy little girl with not a whole lot of focus on horse shows and tri-colored ribbons. Pony Finals was no longer important to me. I realized I had a treasure far greater than Pony Finals.

I had Deno.

So Deno and I continued to horse show, doing the large ponies on the local level. We had a lot of success and a whole lot of fun.

Then it all came full circle at VHSA Finals 2015, our last competitive excursion together. We had one of those jumping trips that make you feel thrilled inside for a lifetime. It was the best trip we ever had. It made me cry tears of pure joy.

We jogged in 6th out of 29 ponies, most of them far fancier than my perfect, chunky little Painted pony. That moment is instilled in me forever. The pride I felt for my pony. How good it felt, to prove wrong all of the people who told me he wasn’t fancy or athletic enough, or that he wasn’t suitable for the job. It all came out in the wash. It seemed like, once I became less focused on competitive achievements, I actually got results.

I watched a few young riders and their high quality ponies around the horse show, and realized that Deno and I had, and still do, something that sadly they did not possess. Unlike them we have not only a partnership, but a deep and understanding friendship.

We galloped (well, really fast….ish cantering) in fields, rode bareback, did costume classes, I cried on his shoulder, read books in his stall, and sat in wonder of how incredibly lucky I was, and am blessed to still be. I am thrilled today he’s still in the barn, teaching other kids and being leased by my dear friend Emma. I envision him being my children’s first pony one day. I may be slightly biased, but I strongly feel he’s the best pony to walk this planet. I am truly blessed to have a once in a lifetime pony, and to have received so many lessons from him, in and out of the saddle.

 – Koelber

How badly do you want it?

“How bad do you want it?”

“How bad do you want it?”

“HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT?”

I repeated these words to myself over and over again as I walked across the field in the dark.  It was 4:30 in the morning, and I was bringing the horses in to be fed before I had to leave for work.

(My mother is reading this and internally shuddering at my improper grammar.  It was cold, dark, and 4:30 in the freaking morning.  Sorry Mom.)

It was 2006 and I had just started back to work full-time after a two-year stint working a 20-hours per week flexible schedule with my department.  The part-time shifts were great and allowed me the time to ride and train and show much more often than I had in the past. But it tightened my budget and kept me competing strictly at the local level, on local quality horses.

Then an opportunity fell into my lap.  The trainer I was working with had a fabulous horse for sale that was at a bargain basement price due to the owners’ divorce.  He was a jumper turned hunter with plenty of scope and the experience to walk right into the 3’6″ ring.  He was also gorgeous.

I wanted him.  Bad.

I knew he could help me scratch a big item off my bucket list: competing in the 3’6″ Amateur/Owner division at USEF rated shows.

So I came up with a plan.  I sold or leased all of the horses I then owned, except for Maddie‘s baby Rainy who was just a yearling at the time.  I put in for a full-time position that had just opened up at my work, knowing it would give me the added income I needed to afford showing at the rated level (although still on a limited scale and doing my own braiding, grooming, and hauling).  And I committed to selling the new horse after two seasons, regardless of whether or not I reached my competitive goals.

The plan fell into place.  I named him “Strategic Move” in recognition of the calculation involved in my two-year undertaking.  His barn name “Stash” was in honor of the savings account that went toward his purchase.

And every morning I woke up at 4:00 a.m., fed the horses and the kids, and got to my job at six sharp.  My shift ended at 2 p.m.  I picked up the kids from school on my way home, cleaned stalls, rode, made dinner, helped with homework, and headed to bed early so I could get up the next morning and do it again.

I trailered over to my trainer’s place once a week for lessons and I met him at the horse shows, arranging my leave and vacation schedule around my targeted show dates.

I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

“How badly do you want it?”

I learned so much.

He exceeded my expectations.  At the end of our first season, we won the year-end series Championship at HITS Culpeper in both the Adult Amateur Hunter division and the Adult Equitation division.  We qualified for Zone 3 Finals and won some ribbons there too.  We moved up to 3’6″.

He was such a gentleman.  He was so good at his job that we almost never jumped at home, preferring to trail ride in the fields around the farm.

In our second season we showed consistently in the Amateur/Owner division and won ribbons at The Barracks, Keswick, James River, Rose Mount, and back at HITS Culpeper. At the end of the year, we ended up overall sixth place in the division with the Virginia Horse Shows Association.

But by then, he was already living in someone else’s barn.

I wish I could say that after executing my plan perfectly, I would recommend the same strategy for other riders in similar circumstances.  But the truth is… I have regretted selling Stash every single day.  Despite my years of experience buying and selling horses of all types, I failed to anticipate how much I would miss him.

My partner became my friend.

“How badly do you want it?”

Monogamy and horses…..

I have a confession to make. I am deeply involved in two different relationships, and I need help. I’m not going to name names here, in order to protect the privacy of those who have been drawn into this drama through no fault of their own.

Horse A: tall, dark , and handsome. Not really my “type” physically, as he is a bit lankier than I am normally attracted to, but let’s face it, he was really a rebound relationship. I had just sold my A/O horse and I was hurting. I wanted something to fill my empty hours. Horse A has been very good to me and he has a lot to offer, but there’s something missing. You know, “that spark”, it’s just not there. Is it fair to just get what I need from the relationship even though I’m not in love with him? Because the one I am really in love with…………

Horse B: built like a tank and what a looker. Seriously, sometimes I just stand there staring at him and feel all mushy inside. He’s been in my life for a while, sort of in the background (I knew his mother well), and it’s only recently that I have realized that I have fallen for him like a ton of bricks. Every moment we spend together is sheer joy. I know it sounds corny, but just going for a walk in the woods together leaves me smiling for hours. And he is much more affectionate than Horse A. He always looks genuinely happy to see me, loves to touch and be touched and give kisses. But Horse B is still an unknown quantity. Loads of potential but he hasn’t proven himself yet. But I find myself resenting the time I spend with Horse A, even doing fun things!, and thinking about the day I will be able to do the same things with Horse B, and comparing the two. I know it’s not fair.

My friends are divided on the issue. Some say I should let Horse A go now and allow him to find a relationship with someone who will appreciate his great qualities and love him for who he is. That way I could devote my energies to strengthening my bond with Horse B and developing our relationship. Other friends say I should continue getting what I need from Horse A (using him! ) until I am absolutely positively sure that Horse B is going to live up to my expectations. Notably, none of my friends suggest that I should end my relationship with Horse B, because they can all see how much he means to me.

Advice please!!! I know it’s hard to imagine, but what would you do if you found yourself in this predicament?
And please please, try not to be too judgmental.

🙂

 

Author’s note:

This piece was written several years ago when I was debating between two horses and which one I should keep. (The news at that time was full of stories about the then-Governor of South Carolina, who “disappeared into the woods” as he followed his lover across the world.)

Happily, I made the right choice.