Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Things You Can Do That Require NO Talent and NO Money.

I get it all the time.  From fellow riders, parents, and others who might be interested in riding for the first time.   It's so expensive. Well, you DO get what you pay for.   And while not all of us can afford to ride as much as others, or buy as much gear, or even own our own horse, there are things that we call can do that require no talent and no money.

Be on Time.  This does not mean strolling into the barn five minutes after your lesson has started toting a new saddle or helmet that needs time to be fitted properly before the lesson.  It means arriving a few minutes early to check your equipment and your horse's tack.   Check to see that the run downs are velcroed and shin boots fitted properly.  Make sure that your horse's hooves are picked out.  If you know your horse will need a bath after the lesson, prepare a bucket of water for after your ride.

Work Ethic. Volunteer.  Do extra.  If you see trash around the stall, pick it up.   put your tack away yourself (yes, we have lesson helpers but they have enough to do).   Notice that your horse is out of water?  We have hoses conveniently located around the barn.  Fill up the bucket.   Offer to help if a younger rider needs help getting their horse put away.  don't expect others to do something for you.  When I have to ask for help, my favorite phrase is "I don't know to ____ but if you show me/teach me how I can do it from now on".

Effort. Be willing to work for what you want.   If you know your legs or upper body needs improvement, don't wait for your instructor to remind you.   work on this from the moment your butt hits the saddle and make the most of every minute of your lesson.   Three half-hearted lessons are not worth nearly as much as one lesson where you give it your all.

Body Language.  This is important, both on and off the horse.  If you roll into the barn, shoulders hunched and looking like you are dreading your lesson, you will ride like that.   If you look like you are confident, ready to work and excited to be there, you will be a LOT more coachable and you'll have a better ride.

Energy. Have a willing mindset.  Work hard, with everything you've got.   Got a little cold?  Don't cancel your lesson.  Instead, use that as a teachable moment for finding energy even when you don't think you can.  You won't always show at 100% health or in 100% perfect weather, so prepare for it!

Attitude. If you think you are going to fail, you will.   Be positive and you will notice changes in your riding.   If you had a bad show, or lesson, or week of lessons, take those as a teachable moment.  No time was wasted if you learned something.   Most importantly, be honest with yourself.  Blaming judges or other competitors will get you nowhere.  Find ways to overcome adversity-one time I swore that the only way I was going to win is if I rode in lane 2 almost the whole time, blocking another competitor from view.  it worked, and I won 1st place in a very large class.

Passion. Stay informed.  Learn.   Ask questions.  Stay later or come early to watch lessons so that you can learn.  All of these things show that you have a passion for what you do.

Be Coachable. When your instructor yells at you for the 1000th time that your legs are not in the right position, avoid the temptation to roll your eyes.  Fix it, or at least try your best to.  Never say "I Can't" unless you feel you are in danger.   Trust your instructor.  I promise, they DO know what they are doing.

Do Extra. Volunteer. Sign up to work a shift or a pony party.  Groom your favorite horse, even if it wasn't the one you rode that day.   Help someone else bathe their horse.  Straighten up the tack room.  clean tack.  Take out the trash.  And most importantly, do it without expecting anything in return.

Be Prepared. Make sure you have all of your gear before you leave for the barn.   Ensure that your horse is tacked properly, and then take a second before your lesson to center yourself.  Think about what you want to focus on for the lesson.   Talk to the horse (or give them a very stern pep talk if you need to).   Drink water and make sure you're not riding on an empty (or really full) stomach.   Take a second to breathe and prepare your mind and body for what you're about to do.

There you go, folks.   No money out of pocket and no "special, born-with-it talent" required.  Everything you want is already there-- you just have to work for it.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Why I REALLY chose to lose weight

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an impulsive person.   One morning, I woke up and decided that I wanted to run a half marathon-and I had zero running experience.  I trained hard and ended up reaching that goal.   One morning, I decided that I wanted to learn how to crochet.  Another time, I decided that I would teach myself how to decorate cookies for my wedding instead of buying them.  All of these decisions were made in less than a day.

So was the decision to lose weight.

I knew for a while that I had been a *little* overweight, but I had refused to buy or step on a scale in five years.  Even when I was running on a regular basis, I still did not seem to lose any weight-in fact, I gained weight while training for the half marathon.

It was last May, a little over a year since I returned to riding, when I read this article from Horse Channel.   Essentially, the article discusses how rider weight can affect the horse.   My first thought was well, I'm not really a beginner so I think I don't ride as *heavy* as someone who doesn't know what they're doing.  However, that same OSU study used experienced equestrians who were told to ride as lightly as possible.   Even still, riders who weighed more caused more stress on the horse.  I won't go into details too much here, but you can click this link to view the article:

There are barns who have a strict weight limit under 200 pounds, and will not allow any riders over this weight.  Our barn does not have this policy, and I am thankful, a little, for this.  I would have been turned down before the first lesson.  I am also thankful that we have a wide variety of horses to ride, from Haflinger horses to stocky Saddlebreds and Morgans.

Even though I knew that we had horses for all rider types, I also knew that rider weight ultimately affects the horse, no matter how "strong" the horse.

So I bought a scale.

I was floored.

I won't say exactly how much I saw on that little screen on the scale, but I will say that I weighed myself about fifteen times, even trying to move the scale to a different spot on the floor for a different result.   Without revealing my initial weight, I can say that, according to that article, I was "too heavy to ride".

So I made changes.   Slow changes, changes that I knew I could keep up with.  I laughed it off when people asked why I was losing weight, or when people snubbed at my choice to eat something healthy over my usual choice.   Sometimes, I even joked and responded with "well, I am losing weight so I can win more blue ribbons".  

Now it is January and I have lost over 55 pounds.  I am no longer "too heavy to ride".    I have had to deal with some unexpeced (and sometimes hilarious) "changes" which include:

1. Having to ride in a smaller saddle but loving it.
2. Having to work extra hard to sit further back in the saddle- I was used to all of me filling up the seat!
3. Not feeling secure in the saddle after losing weight-it is amazing how much your balance is affected.
4. Not being winded and exhausted during the lesson.
5. Being able to ride a lot more (and different) horses because I am not limited by horses that can carry my weight.
6. More blue ribbons.  OBVIOUSLY.
7. Feeling more confident in the show ring.   Yes I WILL stare down a judge if I need to.
8. More clothing options!   It's a lot easier to find work and show attire when you are a smaller size.

So, there you have it.   The REAL reason why I chose to lose weight.

I didn't do it for the blue ribbons, or the clothes, or even the chance to feel so dang confident that I stare down a judge.

I did it for the horses.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Choices... AKA Riding *THAT* Horse Again

So, there's this horse in the barn that I have only ridden twice until tonight.   Both of those times were utter disasters, and I left feeling like I had no idea what I was doing.  Like, "you should only be riding the horse in front of the Wal-Mart" bad.  After those rides, I had been so busy preparing for the summer classic show at our barn and then the winter tournaments that I had forgotten about this horse.  

Until tonight. 

I picked up a shift to work, and like I usually do when I work, I ride as well.   When I came to the barn, I had the opportunity to "choose" my mount for the lesson.   Within reason, of course.   Several of my choices were out, either because they had been ridden already or were not being used for the day, so I was left with either the "easy" horses, or the horse that I had only ridden (not so gracefully) twice.   

I made a choice.   It wasn't an easy choice, and I didn't know exactly how it would work out.  I've felt like I have been stuck in a rut lately, and I haven't been able to notice any progress at all.   This has left me feeling unconfident and frustrated.   

I made this choice because I wanted to see how much I have progressed as a rider.   I know that this particular horse needs a rider with steady, quiet hands and that wasn't something I could give him completely the last time I rode him months ago.  But I wanted to see if I could do it tonight. 

So tonight, I didn't make an easy decision, and I am thankful that I made that choice.   The lesson went well, with a few minor hiccups, but I credit most of those to learning a new horse.   At the end of the day, I left a more confident rider and that would not have happened if I would have chosen one of the easier horses.   

We all have that horse in the barn.  The one that feels just a little out of reach, for whatever reason.  the one that always seems to have our number, and makes us just a little nervous when we get on.   Sometimes, it is okay to take a step back and ride that same horse a few months later.   

You may not be able to notice a difference in your weekly lessons, but horses don't lie.   Trust your instincts, and always make the choice that will better you as a person, even if it isn't the easiest.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Why You Need a Barn With a Really Rad Cheering Section

There I was, standing in the lineup, after my first ever class in the Walk-Trot-Canter division.   I can't say that this first class was a success (well, I didn't die, so there's that), because I engaged in all of the following activities while the judge was looking: cantered incorrectly the first direction, forgot to change my whip when we reversed, forgot that we had to canter again after the reverse, and lost my stirrup going into the lineup.   I guess that's what I get for not participating in #nostirrupnovember, but I digress...

Anyway, I had just had the most-um-interesting start to the world of Walk-Trot-Canter classes, and I was just glad it was over.  I had cried at least three times before the show, and couldn't sleep the night before.   I was disappointed in myself for making so many mistakes, and I was ready for them to hand me my last place ribbon and let me get the heck outta that ring.  I think at that point I was trying my best to come up with a really good excuse as to why I couldn't go back into the next class.   I was avoiding eye contact with my instructor so much that I think the other competitor next to me was convinced I was giving her the stink eye.  They called my number.  Third. 

Then, I heard the cheers.   

You would have thought I had won the dang thing, and you could hear cheering from multiple sides of the arena.    Even though I had one of the hardest, most stressful rides of my life, this melted away when I remembered that I had a whole group of riders there to support me and cheer me on, no matter what place I received.

In the next class, I got second- still not a blue ribbon ride, but the cheers were even louder this time.   

This is what happened for all of our riders at our barn.   We cheered on each other, even if it wasn't a blue ribbon ride.   We hugged each other.   We shared words of advice and last minute preparations.  We loaned our stirrups, saddles, gloves, and hands and hearts when others needed them.   

This is why it is so incredibly important to have a barn with a really rad cheering section.   Cheering on each other doesn't mean that you forget the rivalries.  It doesn't mean that you'll never be jealous of someone, and might have to try a little harder to offer congratulations. 

But sometimes, you'll forget.   Sometimes, you'll be swept away in your own victories or defeat that you'll forget, but if you're a member of a barn with a really rad cheering section, you'll be reminded of why it is important.  

Because at our barn, we don't just build riders.  We build people.