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!

 

 

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.

My Heart Horse

Manderley.

Her name came from an iconic Daphne du Maurier story, the first line of which reads “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Her barn name was Maddie, and she was the most amazing combination of elegance and bravery I’ve ever seen in a horse. She never once said “no” to anything I asked her to do, and together we horse showed, evented, and foxhunted. She was a racehorse before I bought her, at an auction, for $2500. Our first year together she was the Virginia Horse Show Association Associate year-end reserve champion in Green Hunters, and our second year competing she was the Commonwealth Dressage and Combined Training Association year-end champion at Baby Novice.

The year after that, she escorted my young son and his pony Clever out on their first excursions in the hunt field.

She made me a much better rider. Not just in technique, which is important, but in empathy, feel, and communication, which is even more important. She convinced me we could try anything.

Her life ended suddenly and without explanation. When Maddie was 17, I found her dead in the field. Just a day or so before, I had galloped her bareback across that field in a way that I have never since been able to duplicate with any other horse. I miss that about her more than anything else.

Before she left this earth, Maddie gave me her baby, a colt I named Rainy.  I cherish him for his own unique awesomeness and also because of his connection to my heart.

 

 

Just getting started…

Well hello there!

 

Just a quick note to myself to help me get started.  It’s late and I’ve been playing around with WordPress all evening 🙂

Tomorrow I’ll work some more on making this site look pretty, but today all I want to do is force myself to click “publish”.

We’ll chat more later!

Tosh