Monday, January 30, 2012

All Together Now

Do you remember when you first started riding back in the dark ages a while ago for some us? I'm sure most of you know some version of the mantra "heels down, eyes up, shoulders back!" You get your heels down only to realize you are leaning forward. You get your shoulders back only to realize you are posting with your hands and on it goes. I've recently re-discovered that riding is basically a series of learning how to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time (only much more complicated). When you first start trying this little trick it is not easy as demonstrated by my 5 and 3 year old. (I have no explanation for their version of sound effects.)

You'll notice neither one of them managed to pat and rub at the same time.  

Dusty, one of those "great" lesson ponies. (OMG! What was I wearing!?!)
I don't think there are too many of us who get on a horse and just get it from the beginning. It takes lots and lots of time in the saddle to get all our body parts working together. This is why solid lesson ponies are worth their weight in gold. I mean the really good lesson ponies who put up with beginners pulling on their faces and bouncing on their backs but still have good attitudes. Those are hard to come by.

I thought I had all this independent body stuff down ages ago but this weekend made me realize that I still have a ways to go. I can pat my head and rub my tummy all day long but now I need to pat my head keeping a 3/4 beat while rubbing my tummy 15.4 times a minute all while climbing a set of crowded stairs.

What do you mean I need to relax my hips to follow the motion but still support with my leg to get that canter transition??? This was the issue I was having this past weekend. Canter transitions, really? I should have these by now. (It's so easy to get frustrated when things that should be simple turn out to be hard.) Sky, the horse I was riding, is not a good beginner's lesson horse but it turns out he is an AWESOME advanced/intermediate lesson horse. He would not settle for halfway aids. Precision is the key to this guy. This made me realize how much I'd been getting away with on other horses. We use fancy terms now like independent seat but really it's just another version of rubbing your tummy and patting your head.

One thing I did discover is that I actually do better when I don't think about it. When we were "working on" the canter transitions in my lesson they were terrible but when we moved on to some grid work suddenly I had perfect (okay maybe not perfect but certainly better and smoother) transitions because I was thinking about the jumps coming up and not about the transition.

So you know, now I just need to remember NOT to think (so much) about what I'm doing. Sure no problem.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

The View From Here

So it turns out the weather was pretty much perfect for my lesson and it was wonderful with lots learned and lots to think about. (I'll have more on that later.) For now I just thought you might like to see what the view is like from the other side of the world.

First of all here is my ride while over on this little island:
What a grand will get you in a car over here.
This is the view as I turned onto the street where the barn is located:

Yes, that is the Pacific Ocean you are seeing.
The sign for the barn:

And here is a view from the saddle:
Not bad, right?
And the view from on the way home:

Sorry the lighting was bad but that is the Eastern China Sea reflecting the sun
So, you may find yourself thinking what's so bad about being stuck in Okinawa for a little while. I guess the answer is some days, maybe even more than I want to admit, it's not too bad. On days like today it can be pretty nice. I'm sure someday I'll look back on this time and realize it was a great experience. I just hope it isn't too long of an experience!

Also, it really is great to have a place to ride over here. You do have to keep in mind that things are different here. The barn is owned by a local couple and they very kindly allow us Americans to run a lesson program using their horses. There are NO horse vets or professional farriers on the entire island (that I know of). ((UPDATE: I have now gotten to observe several of the vets at the farm for various reasons and while they may not be "horse" vets they certainly seem more than competent.) So the care these horses receive is not always at the same level we are used to in the states, but the owners do the best that they can and their pride and love for these horses is pretty easy to see. It seems that the "horse bug" does not discriminate based on language or culture. I've seen just as many Japanese girls riding around with huge grins plastered on their faces as American ones. We all ride the same horses and can communicate with them the same no matter what our language. It's kind of cool when you think about it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Things I Miss

It's raining outside and I'm sitting here wondering if I'll be able to ride tomorrow. Saturdays are my favorite days right now because it is the one day a week I get to ride for one hour. Last summer I was riding anywhere from 3 to 7 days a week. I know I should be thankful for this one day a week I get but sometimes it's tough.

It may seem crazy but I miss the snow. When I really think about it I realize that winter and snow is a big pain in the neck but to me snow is what makes the cold and dark of winter worth it. A few years ago my husband introduced me to downhill skiing and it is such a blast. I've liked snow so much more since then. It does not snow in Okinawa but it does rain frequently.

I miss turning my radio on in the car and flipping through the stations to find something I want to listen to. We have one station here. It's really great as long as you like country and pop and rap and hard rock and pretty much everything in between.

Chipotle! Man, I miss Chipotle. If you've never been to a Chipotle restaurant you are really missing out. Heck, I miss real Mexican food period.

I miss my family. Even when we lived away from home before I could always call my Mom or my sister when I really needed to. With the invention of all this modern technology I can still call home via my magic jack but now everyone is asleep when I'm awake and I'm asleep when they are awake. That makes the distance really sink it's teeth in.

I miss my Expedition. Okay, I don't miss all the gas it guzzled but I miss the room inside. And I really miss going faster than 35 miles per hour and driving on the right side of the road and being able to read road signs! All the things you never think of are suddenly like big holes in my personal galaxy!

My Best Friend

I miss my dog, Sassy. She is my princess and my shadow most of the time. She is 12 years old and not in the best of health and I was too afraid for her to take the plane ride over here so she is staying with my folks. But God I really miss her in some ways more than anything else.

I miss the barn. It's always felt like my personal haven. The ability to just go and get away from my life for a while even if I wasn't riding the smell and the peace always helped me to relax and find myself again.

There are so many things I miss way more than I have listed here and these things aren't in any kind of order. I have approximately 17 weeks until I get to (HOPEFULLY!!) go home for the summer. I will never take living in America for granted again!

(I started this post last night and now the sun is somewhat shining so hopefully I'll get my lesson in after all. That is a very happy thought!) Happy Weekend Everyone!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Let's Talk About Anxiety

For some reason I've had the song, "Let's Talk About Sex" from Salt-n-Pepa stuck in my head all day. I have no idea how or why this song is in my head. To my knowledge I haven't heard it recently. So when I wrote the title of this post I had that melody in my head. Yeah, I don't know why that's relevant.

Anyways, I think anyone who competes in anything in any way shape or form has dealt with anxiety on some level. I have witnessed riders who have let their anxiety completely keep them from even trying to compete and I have also met riders who seem to be fearless. I would say I fall somewhere in the middle. I haven't to date ever let my anxiety stop me from competing but I have certainly let it interfere. My favorite example is from the first schooling show that I competed in with Chief. This is the only photo I have of that first show. We had camera operator errors that day.

I think Chief was just hoping to get out of there!
I have learned that the way I deal with anxiety is by "retreating." What I mean by that is while my body is there my brain is nowhere to be found. (I'm pretty sure it's off in the corner singing "la la la la" with it's fingers in it's ears.) So at this show we had two pretty simple courses to learn. The arena was pretty small so there were a limited number of jumps. I've drawn a little diagram to show you. :)

The first course was very straight forward. Outside line of A to B followed by diagonal F to A and the other diagonal E to B and finally the other outside line of D to C. (Obviously my little diagram is not to scale but I think you get the idea.) The second course was also pretty simple. It started with the outside line of D to C and then went to diagonal A to F. I would tell you the rest of the course but sadly I don't remember it because I never got past that first diagonal.

So what happened? Well, I was riding but I wasn't thinking. I had let my anxiety completely shut down my brain. When I got to jump A my eyes went straight ahead to jump B and since I was on autopilot and since I had just ridden that outside line in my last class I just kept going. I did this not just once but twice! The second I jumped the wrong fence my brain suddenly said "oops" and I realized what I'd done but by then it was too late.

I've done this in dressage too. On my beginner novice test I was riding along and had just completed my 20 m trot circle at A when all the sudden I realized I had NO idea where I was in my test and what I was supposed to do next. (I actually have video evidence from this one but I'm way too embarrassed to show it.) And if you've ever seen the Beginner Novice tests then you know how simple they are. If I ever make it past Novice I really will be in trouble!

My point to this post, I guess, is that one of my plans for this journal is to write down and have a record of the different ways I've tried to deal with my show anxiety. I think the process of typing it out will hopefully solidify the methods that have worked for me. And if anyone reads this along the way and gets something out of it that will just be a bonus!

Love This

Eventing Nation posted this video on their blog this morning (for me) and I just had to share!
It amazes me how so many horses will keep going even without a rider. Do you think he loves his job?  (I'm glad no one was hurt, though! Those reins could have so easily slipped over a front leg. It made me cringe.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You Can Only Go Up From Here

Pippin the wonder (lesson) pony
Right after I sold Bugs we had to move again. Now we were on the other side of the country. For several months I didn't even ride and when I did start riding again it was just school horses and as for the jumping I basically started back over from the beginning literally just jumping poles and little 18" jumps.

When we got the news that we were going to be stationed in Japan I was very upset (to put it mildly!). Don't get me wrong the chance to travel was one of the temptations of a military life but Japan??? That was not on my agenda! Well, my wonderful DH compromised with me and while he left for Japan in May of 2011 I got to go home and spend the summer with my family. Once again I found myself with extra time and money. This time I was determined to use it wisely!

My sister had started taking lessons from L at this point and she let me know that L had a horse available for lease. When she sent me the picture of "Chief" the horse for lease I had a horrible sense of deja vu. 

Not another paint!

But leasing certainly seemed like my best option. Chief was an experienced eventer up to the training level. He was a bit out of shape when I first started riding him but he turned out to be a wonderful packer and a huge help for my shaky confidence.

When I first started taking lessons with L I was amazed at how low my confidence had actually gotten. On a new horse small cross rails suddenly seemed huge and menacing. I admit it I was a mess. The great thing about L is she is really good at challenging you. She pushes you just enough. It took most of the summer but by the end of the summer we were doing things like this:

Ugh! my lower leg is crap but at least Chief looks nice! I'm a work in progress!
and this:

I got to ride in four events (three of them sanctioned) including one at the Kentucky Horse Park! We even got in the ribbons a couple of times. It was truly a dream summer.

Now that I am taking lessons again in Japan I am realizing how much that summer has helped me. I've been able to jump on strange horses and take them right over a few jumps without the huge panic attacks I used to have. I can't think L and Chief enough for that. I still have SO MUCH TO LEARN! but I couldn't have gotten this far without them. I would have bought Chief if I'd had enough money but sadly he was out of my price range. He has since gone on to a new home. He deserves to have his own girl. As sad as I am that I won't get to compete with Chief again I have to admit I am really looking forward to bringing my own horse along someday (maybe this summer???). I know it will be challenging and we'll start from the ground up but what an amazing adventure it will be.

Along Came a Bug(s)

When you are married to someone in the military deployments are a fact of life. Deployments suck. However, there are a few upsides to deployment. For me the best thing about it was being able to live close to home for a year something I hadn't done in several years. The other nice thing is you do make a little extra money what with the separation pay and hazard pay, etc. So basically I had extra time (provided by my parents and in-laws) and extra money. What's a girl to do? Why buy a new horse of course!

How could I say no to that face?
The ad said he had a year of dressage training and previous training as a jumper. He was listed as sweet and easy to work with and he was definitely striking to look at. (I suppose now is the time I should confess that I am a complete sucker for a pretty face.) So I went to go look at him. He was a pretty cute mover and certainly seemed very friendly on the ground. He even let his previous owner shave his ears while we were watching. Since my Arab still hates to have clippers near his ears I was suitably impressed. I watched his owner ride him and he was a cute mover although he seemed a little anxious. I rode him and he felt a little anxious but then again I was super nervous so maybe it was just me. That's what I told myself.

Well needless to say it didn't take me long to convince myself that I just needed this horse. He was sweet, he was gorgeous, he was sound and young. What could possibly go wrong?

Our first show
He had the rather uninspired name of Blaze so I rechristened him Jitterbug or Bugs for short. Perhaps even then my subconscious was trying to tell me something. Everything went pretty well in the beginning. I took things pretty slow and we were just jumping plain white cross rails and working a little on dressage. I even took him to a schooling show where the judge absolutely loved him. Things felt pretty darn near perfect.

After the DH got back from his deployment I had to move pretty much across the country away from my then current trainer. It took me several months to find someone I could work with in my new state of Washington. At that point I'd started to realize that I needed help with Bugs. No matter how much I worked with him on the ground and in the saddle I could not get him to relax. He was never really bad but he always had that feeling of a contained tornado just ready to get out. The worst thing was his canter. It was completely unbalanced and rushed. I had started dreading even trying to canter him. I needed help!

Bugs and I warming up for some XC schooling
I found a wonderful trainer. P was an up and coming eventer in the area. Young and super smart and talented. She took on Bugs and for quite a while things again seemed great. Bugs was still anxious when I rode but he could canter balanced and even slow. He was super sensitive, though and if you just barely bumped him with your leg he would switch leads but we were making progress.

I'm realizing that this story is too long to really do it justice and keep anyone's attention. So let me just summarize that after an emotional roller coaster of some highs and many more lows I finally came to the conclusion that Bugs would just never work for me. This horse was truly athletic in spite of his not so perfect conformation. If we could have somehow figured out how to get him to relax he would have done very well with eventing at least to the prelim level is what my trainer guessed. Unfortunately his anxiety got to the point where he was becoming dangerous. I had tried calming supplements and many other things but nothing seemed to work. He was just unhappy in the arena. He did pretty well on the trails but I already had a trail horse. The real deciding factor came when he reared on me in a lesson. After that I just decided it wasn't worth it.

I was able to find him a home with a teenage girl who had full disclosure of his issues. I imagine that if I had been younger I might have been more willing to try and work through his trouble so I am hopeful that this young lady will be able to do something with him.

As for me I was pretty heartbroken. I really loved Bugs and had bought him with every intention of keeping him forever just like Ghazal. I felt like a failure and my goal to event felt more like a mostly forgotten dream. Not only that but my confidence in riding took a really big knock as well. At this point in my life things were not looking great.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Blast From the Past

I figured it would be nice to share a little bit about how I got to this point in my "horsey" life. Like so many other equestrians I was bitten by the "horse fever" bug long before I can remember. Every Christmas I would plead with God to please let there be a pony in my backyard when I woke up. That wish finally came true when I was 15 and my Mom bought me my first horse. (Although, he wasn't in my backyard when I woke up but it was close enough!)

Now most horse people can tell you that a green rider and a green horse equals a very bad idea. Well no one told my Mom that so my very first horse was a 3 year old, unbroke, gray Arabian gelding named Vanity's Ghazal. Amazingly Ghazal and I both survived our first years together and I still have him. I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. He's 22 years old now and mostly retired living on my sister's farm. I miss him so much!

Yes, I really did wear that in public!  
Our first years together we mostly just trail rode and had fun. We got into Competitive Trail Riding but I was never seriously competitive. I just loved to ride. Looking back I do wish I could have gotten involved in a Pony Club or even 4H but my Mom was single and didn't have the extra money or time. But still, at least I had a horse and I was riding. We did parades and even a couple of shows here and there. What more could a girl ask?

Christmas Parade in S.C.

I never had any "real" lessons until I was much older. Unfortunately by then I had a whole slew of bad habits that I had to unlearn. I'm still working on some of them.

After high school I went to college and got married. Horses weren't forgotten but they weren't first and foremost on my mind at that time. It wasn't until several years later after I'd had three kids that I would start getting really serious about riding again.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Where For Art Thou Romeo?

Actually the title for this post should really be "Who For Art Thou Romeo?"

I don't have my competition horse yet but that doesn't keep me from wondering who he will be. (Obviously since I've already named him!) I even have some ideas. My wonderful trainer back in Ohio has a new OTTB right now that she is very excited for me to check out. Right now he goes by the barn name of Monte but hey Monte and Loki that really isn't too different. He might not even notice the change!

The Sweet Monte

Of course I have heard nothing but good things about Monte. L, my trainer really likes him. According to her he naturally wants to carry himself round and he is going to be super easy to jump. And of course I can't help but think that with no white on him at all the name Keep It Low Key will be a perfect fit.

I do have a couple of concerns, though. For one thing he is only 3 or will be 4 by the time I get to meet him. Am I really ready to ride a 4 year old? Even with the help of my trainer? My other concern is that he is probably going to be pretty tall. Maybe as big as 16.1hh. I know for most of my riding friends that would actually be a plus and not a bad thing but I am only 5'0" tall! I tend to prefer horses more in the range of 15-15.2 hands so this will be a stretch for me. But I am most definitely game to try him out. In fact I can hardly wait!

A couple of years ago I made the mistake of buying a horse without the help or advice of a professional. It didn't end well so one thing I know for sure is that my next "Romeo" will have to meet the full approval of my trainer. I rode with L all summer last summer and she knows me pretty well by now. She knows my strengths and weaknesses as a rider and I am confident one way or another she will be able to help me find my new partner.

Oh and in case you were wondering why I always refer to my next horse as he and Romeo it's because I am definitely biased towards geldings. I would prefer a gelding but of course the right horse may actually end up being a mare. I have a good friend who is very biased towards mares and she has been working hard on pointing out all the good things about mares. She may even be making some headway but for now I prefer to think of my next horse as a he. After all, I'm not sure I could name a mare Loki!

What's In a Name?

Today I just wanted to jot down a little bit about the meaning behind the name of this blog.

Aside from the obvious reason which would be my desire to learn how to NOT stress out during competition (and any other times for that matter) there is more. You see I don't own a competition horse yet but I do have the PERFECT name for him. I want his competition name to be Keep It Low Key and his barn name to be Loki. I love it because every time I say his name I will be reminding myself to stay low key. Just take it easy and don't stress! The barn name is a little twist on things with Loki being the name of the Norse god of mischief. It's not that I want my next horse to be malicious or even to be (too) mischievous but I do want him to have some personality.

Of course what are the chances that I'll get to use this name? I don't know but that is partly why I am keeping this journal so that someday I can look back and see what I was thinking.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dream a little Dream

Blogging is not as easy as so many people make it seem.

My biggest challenge is where do you start? Well, I guess the beginning would be the smart alec thing to say.

Since this is really just for myself I guess I'll make this short and sweet. I want to event. That is my dream. (Okay, it is just one of my dreams but for the purpose of this blog it is the one I want to write about.)

I got my first real taste of eventing this past summer on a very sweet paint cross named Chief (show name New York Times). I'm not entirely sure when I got hit by the eventing bug. It sort of just snuck up on me. I've been riding for a long time and got my start riding Arabians in Competitive Trail. For several years life, marriage, college, kids, etc got in the way. I still loved horses but they were more of a background thing. I guess in many ways I could blame my sister, Mindee Arnett, for my current obsession. You see her and her husband decided to do something entirely crazy and buy a very large boarding farm a few years ago. The boarding farm ultimately didn't work out for them but during the time they were there I got caught with the horse fever bug again this time in the form of eventing.

Unfortunately life has once again gotten in the way. You see I am married to a military man, basically I am married to the Army and right now the Army says we must live in Okinawa Japan. Yeah, not a lot of horse opportunities on this tiny little island. I have managed to find a little barn where I can at least take riding lessons once a week but compared to what I would like to be doing it isn't much. So while I am stuck here I do a lot of dreaming. I decided to start writing about it because I hope someday in the not so far future I will be able to look back at this and see how far I've come.