Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How a pink slip, a video game, and a little bit of luck led me back to horses

Life works in mysterious, amazing ways.    I had given up horses after my favorite horse, Royal Edition, passed away.  I felt the guilt of not being there (I was living elsewhere at the time), and I felt like it was my fault.   I felt like it was time to move on in life.  

And so I did.   I got older, went to college, graduated, got my first teaching job.  I hadn't really thought about horses at all.   I had the "grown up" life to live.  

But life does work in mysterious ways.  

Three years after I got my first teaching job, I was let go due to overstaffing.  It was not because of my performance; we just had too many teachers and not enough students.  I thought my life was over, and that this was the worst thing that could ever happen to me.   I loved teaching at that school, and I still cherish the memories I made there.   I was completely devastated when I had to leave.  

My first year at my new teaching job was rough; I didn't have my own classroom and had to travel on a cart to use someone else's room each period.  I had an "office" which was really a windowless closet on the second floor.   I wondered why I was there.  Why I had to leave my dream teaching job.   I wondered when it would get better.  

One day as I was walking through the guidance office, I noticed a quote on the wall.  It read, "obstacles are opportunities in disguise."   I kept this as my motto, and kept telling myself that there was a reason why I was here.  

There was a reason, and I promise it leads to horses.  Bear with me!

For Christmas that year, I received a copy of the Sims 3 Pets.   I remember loading it up on my computer for the first time, and adding a horse to my household (of course, who wouldn't).   But something just stopped me in my tracks.   The sound of the horses in the game-the sound of hoofbeats and tack that jangles when you place it on the horse.   The sighs and snorts and all of those familiar sounds that I hadn't heard in so long were so accurate on this game that I literally sat there and cried for about thirty minutes.  Yep, a grown adult crying over a video game.   I'm not even ashamed.

But still, I figured that my time was up.  I mean, a horse wasn't going to fit in my backyard.   But I couldn't shake it.   I felt like there was a part of me missing, and I needed to get it back.  

And on January the 5th, 2014 I sent out a tweet.

I had asked if anyone knew where I could ride, and one of my students was quick to respond. She recommended the LEC.  when I checked the map location, I discovered that it was just a few minutes from my work.  If you all know me you know I don't like to drive to places I don't know.  This small distance from a familiar location seemed manageable.   And so that day I sent an email to schedule a lesson.  

And my life has never been better.

If it weren't for me losing my job, I would not have been teaching at a new location that is close to the barn, which means I wouldn't have felt comfortable driving there that first lesson.  If it weren't for my new job and these new students, one of them would not have recommended the LEC.  If it weren't for the video game, I never would have heard all of those familiar sounds that drove me back to horses quicker than I ever had imagined.

So why do I tell you this?   Sometimes, these obstacles in front of us seem so insurmountable that we are not sure how we will move on.  We focus on the difficulties that lie in front of us.  We focus on the sadness and pain.  

but life has an incredible way of working out, and will surprise you when you need it the most.

Monday, October 31, 2016

SIX Important Things I Learned This Show Season

  1. Sometimes your happiest moments come from the most unexpected circumstances:   My favorite memory of this show season was when we took the half-arabian, half-hackney horse, Halle Berry, to the Lawrenceburg Horse Show.   We didn’t have time to warm up, and we were literally pulling out a half a bale of hay out of her mouth as we were rushing her to the ring.   I didn’t have the best equitation in that class, but I can honestly say I laughed all the way around the ring because I couldn’t believe that we actually took this horse to the show-it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.   Most of my happiest moments were not associated with ribbons. To be honest, I can't even remember what place we got at the show. I remember my happiest moment at nationals was not when I won 3rd place in the qualifying class (which was a tough split), but it was when I ran to meet my friend after she finally qualified for the next day.  I was happier in that moment than when they announced my own number.   
  2. The world is not fair.   I remember looking at the judges cards after the second round at nationals.  Two of the three judges had me within the top 10- what I needed to place in order to move on.  The third judge, however, didn’t place me at all.   If he had, I would have been competing on Sunday.   I pouted and complained for a long while, but at this point I think that I shouldn’t have made it that close.  Is it fair that someone cantered into me while another stopped in front of me, leaving me with nowhere to go?  Nope.   Can I do anything about it?  Nope.   It hurts worse because it happened at a national horse show, but it happens to everyone.  
  3. Your failures and successes this year do not determine what you do next year.   One of the riders who won the championship on Sunday didn’t even get a ribbon the year before.   If we constantly keep ourselves in the past, someone else is going to move forward.   And while I am so severely disappointed in myself, I am doing my best to move on and grow.   Here’s to no stirrup November!   
  4. Just because someone else doesn’t notice it, you do have successes to celebrate.   I celebrate the fact that I can’t even remember the last time I didn’t get the correct lead or didn’t pick up the canter on Lucy.   This is a pretty big deal, because she is one of the hardest horses in the barn to get to canter.    I celebrate the fact that I kept going, despite some terrible circumstances.   I celebrate the fact that I competed with a wonky allergy-affected eye.   I celebrate that I got to show some of the most challenging horses in the barn this year-Trix, Halle, Henry, Lucy.
  5. It’s ok to be sad, disappointed, or a little mad.   It is ok to blame someone else or something else.  It’s ok to get frustrated at the people who shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes when they get third-or second-place.   For a little while.   I am kind of over it at this point, but it took a lot of alone time and a lot of tears.   These emotions mean that you put your heart and soul into what you do-and that is a good thing.   But if you make excuses for yourself you will never grow.   
  6. Don’t let the cost magnify the disappointment.   I beat myself up HARD after this horse show.   Why?   Because this one cost exponentially more than the other shows.  I mean, I could’ve taken a pretty good vacation for that money.   I am not rolling in the dollars, either, so I felt like I had wasted a ton of money.   But a horse show is just a horse show, whether it be 30 minutes down the road or three hours or three states away.   Disappointment, victory, tears, happiness can happen anywhere.   I am trying to understand that it was a learning experience, even though it was a really expensive one.   

So what now?  I keep asking myself this.   I guess I’ll keep working, keep riding, and maybe try again next year.   

Monday, September 5, 2016

Making the INCREDIBLE the INEVITABLE: Why You Need to Practice Until You Cannot Get it Wrong

So, a few days ago, I saw a this Gatorade commercial on TV.
You say "insane", I say "I train"
You say "freakish", I say "frequent"
You say "ridiculous", I say "meticulous"
You say "incredible", I say "inevitable"

Something about this video just stuck with me.   So much, in fact, that it inspired an entire post (which you are reading this very second).  

I think a lot of times we see something amazing, like a person walking a tightrope across two buildings or someone who swallows swords without a single injury.  We see football teams make amazing catches that require forty thousand replays.  We wallow in the wonder of these incredible individuals.   Such the same is for horses,

But, while these acts and amazing rides are quite incredible, they all have something in common: they were inevitable.   Someone, somewhere worked and practiced until they couldn't get it wrong.   Until the incredible was inevitable.   Sometimes we get so jealous of others that are seemingly "perfect" that we fail to realize that this was not a fluke, or some stroke of amazing luck.   This was carefully crafted in hot, scorching summers.  It was crafted in long, dark winters when no one else was around.   The shows, the performances--these are all just the public displays of this hard work.  

We won't all be perfect.   I know I won't be.  I have a list of all the things I HAVE to improve on if I want to be as good as I can be.   But I am not waiting around for good luck to hand me a ribbon--I'm gonna work for it.   

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Are You Ready to Work at the Barn?(Quiz)

With so many of our seasoned workers running off to college, our barn has been looking for workers to take the open shifts.   This decision should not be taken lightly, so I made a handy test that will let you know if you have what it takes to work at the barn.  

Here's how this works:  For every "yes" you answer, you get two points.   For every "no", you receive one point.  Add them up at the end and see how you do!

  1. Can you tack up a horse without assistance?
    • (2 points) YES
    • (1 point) NO
  2. Are you willing to work really, really hard?  Even when it is raining and you have to swim through the outdoor arena to feed the ponies?
    • (2 points) YES
    • (1 point) NO
  3. Are you willing to take demands from instructors, clients, and diva-mare horses?
    • (2 points) YES
    • (1 point) NO
  4. Have you made peace with the fact that you will always be covered in mud, hay, etc.  and that sometimes even after you shower, you will find hay in your hair---especially when you are out in public places?
    • (2 points) YES
    • (1 point) NO
  5. Do you know where to locate the leftover cookies, popsicles, and three year old (but still good) camp candy?
    • (2 points) YES
    • (1 point) NO
  6. Do you know of at least three hiding spots in the barn in case you want to avoid doing any kind of work?
    • (2 points) YES
    • (1 point) NO
  7. Can you name at least three "no no pet" horses?
    • (2 points) YES
    • (1 point) NO
  8. Are you willing to eat candy corn and Gatorade for dinner because you are too tired to fix (or pick up) food after working?
    • (2 points) YES
    • (1 point) NO
  9. Have you prepared your mind and  body for a permanent state of exhaustion?
    • (2 points) YES
    • (1 point) NO
  10. Are you willing to answer questions from children that include but are not limited to: Is it full grown? where's it's mom? Is it pregnant? is it a boy or a girl?
    • (2 points) YES
    • (1 point) NO
Now, calculate your results!   
20 points: WOW!  You are SO ready to work at the barn.  In fact, go on and put your work boots on and get to the barn right now.   
17-19 points:   You might not realize exactly what you are getting yourself into, and you might need a little help along the way, but you can be whipped into shape in no time.  
15-16 points:  You've got a long way to go, but I have faith in you.   Even though you have no idea what you're getting yourself into, I think if you brush up on your list of hiding spaces and no no pet horses you will be good to go.    
Less than 15 points:  No.   Just don't.  You are better off trying to help with the mechanical horse at Wal-mart than the real ones at the barn.... here's a quarter. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Setting Examples... and Why it's Been So Quiet on the Blog

I am not going to lie... Summer show season 2016 hasn't gone exactly how I had planned.   I had high expectations after winning blue after blue at the winter tournaments, and I had some of those similar expectations for myself this summer.  After all, I would be competing against some of those same people.   It's been tough, but I still come to work my shifts.   I still show up the day after the show to practice.  There have been so many times I have felt like giving up, like no one believes in me, and that maybe this isn't "my thing" after all.   I had stopped writing for the blog, and instead started formulating my "speech" for why I wouldn't be coming to lessons anymore.   This is real talk, people.

But at the last show, something miraculous happened.  And no, I am not talking about a ribbon.   I am not even talking about how I had to finish the second class minus one front shoe.

Here's what happened:

I had been working all morning at the barn,  trying to preserve my makeup while getting all of the show horses brushed and tacked and ready to compete for the day.   I was tired before I even mounted my horse for the first class.   To me, this was just another "eh" show, with minimal expectations because I had done so horribly this summer at the other shows.  

But as I was leaving the warm up ring and heading to the outdoor arena, so many of the little children stopped and said "good luck" to me.  Their eyes were wide with excitement and I could tell that the well wishes were very much genuine.  I started to chortle my usual sarcastic "yeah I will need it".   But instead of my sarcasm, I smiled back and said thank you.  

When we were in the line up in the second class, all of the children were packed into the "crow's nest", the area where our announcer sits.   I saw them peek at the numbers of the winning entries and immediately saw jaws drop and huge smiles--and they were looking right at me.   It was at that moment that I realized how much the younger riders look to us older riders and parents and friends, and how much of an example we can be.   it is not fair to myself or to them to be negative.   Because at some point, if I keep being negative, the number of children wishing me luck will diminish to zero and all I will have accomplished is teaching others that you don't ever need to believe in yourself, especially when times are tough.  

I am not perfect, and I never will be.   I have faults--especially like when I ride around the arena like I am in a toilet bowl and accidentally forget to switch my whip when we reverse and sometimes I even lose my stirrups going into the lineup.  
When it comes to who is watching you, the judge isn't the only one who matters.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

How Working at the Barn Will Make You A Better Rider

I am writing this blog post now, after working or riding or being with horses every day since I have been out of school (that's June 1)... except for maybe two days.   Today, I worked our annual non-profit HOOF (Horses Offering Opportunities for the Future) camp, and then I took a lesson today.  So. Much. Sweat.  I am exhausted.

But, even though I am exhausted, I will do it again and again.  Why?   Because working at the barn WILL make you a better rider.   Here's how.

1. Endurance.  If you are able to have a successful ride after working a blugillion hours at the barn, you will be able to handle any weather at a horse show.   We can't quit simply because we are tired.  We are not guaranteed 100% health on the day we show, so we have to prepare as best as we can.   By working, riding, and working some more, we are building muscles in our legs, arms, back, and even our little brains are getting a workout.  And guess what?  You can use those muscles while riding.  The barn is the ultimate workout, people!

2. Patience.  Sometimes, lessons don't start on time.  Sometimes, you are trying to help a child put away their horse and all you can think about is how you have five horses to get ready and only an hour to do it in.   Sometimes, forty people are telling you to do forty different things.  You have to be patient.  Not only when you work, but when you ride as well.  I don't get as frustrated as I used to when I am riding and a horse spooks--in fact, I find it hilarious and I try to be patient and understand that the horse is just trying to be a horse (which means hide from all real and imagined predators at all times).

3. Awareness.  One of the coolest things about working is that you get to see other people ride the horse(s) you ride.  Often times, I will watch lessons while I water, or as I am carrying tack to a horse's stall.  It's nice to see other riders (especially really skilled ones) ride a horse you ride; it helps you see what works and doesn't work and lets you apply that to your own riding.  It also lets you see how really dang cute your favorite horse is, which is also pretty nice.

4. Connection. The more time you spend with the horses, the more you get to know them and what makes them "tick".   There are horses in the barn that I can tell are extra grumpy without even getting close to the stall.  I can tell by the body language, the way they move around the stall, how alert they are, etc.   The more we know about a horse, the better we can ride it.

5. Appreciation.  Let me tell you, You appreciate a lesson 1000x more when you have to work for one.   I think I value every minute that I am in the saddle, because I know how hard I work to be able to ride as much as I do.    You do what you have to do for the things you love.  I think everyone at some point should have to work to pay for one lesson; it definitely gives you a better perspective.

Friday, June 17, 2016

5 Ways to Tell Your Barn/Lesson Workers "Thank You"

Since I have been out of school (I am a teacher), I think I have spent every day either working or riding (or both) at the barn... except for maybe like two days.  During this time, I've thought a lot about how hard a lot of us work at the barn, and I have felt so thankful for those people who find ways to say "thank you" to all of us who do our best to keep things running smoothly at the barn.   This post is mostly about the lesson workers (or "lesson helpers" or "working students" as they are sometimes called).   These kiddos often get overlooked and in my experience some of the hardest working people I have ever known.   So here it goes--in case you are wondering how you can say "thank you!"   

1. Clean up after yourself and your horse. I get it.  We are done riding, and especially in this super hot weather (the heat index has been close to 100), it is so tempting just to leave all of your saddles, blankets, etc. for someone else to pick up.  I will tell you, it means a LOT to us when you take the time to put everything away before you leave.   We don't even mind if you have to ask us where it goes, or ask us to help you.  That's what we're here for!

2. Arrive Early.  If you can.  Some of us have jobs that leave us racing to the barn, or we are stuck in traffic a mile long.  but if you can, come early.   I like to come early to get my own horse ready even when I am not working.  This not only helps the lesson workers, but it also gives me time to connect with my horse before the lesson.   Also, if you come early, it gives you time to check that the girth is fitted properly and make any last minute adjustments before your lesson.  When us workers tack up approximately 2948294890900 horses in one shift, mistakes DO happen and sometimes things need to be adjusted.  

3. Be patient.  Some shifts don't start until 4 and there will be a group of 7 horses going at 4:30.  We are doing the best we can.  In fact, when we are riding during our shifts, we will leave our own horse until last to ensure that YOUR lesson will start on time and your horse will be ready for when you arrive.   But life happens sometimes.   Sometimes, it takes 30 minutes to catch a horse in the field.  Sometimes, the electricity goes off in the middle of a lesson.  Sometimes, three unannounced riders show up.   We're doing the best we can.  I promise.

4. We like snacks... Just kidding.  Once, Betsy bribed us with a package of Oreos in exchange for cleaning tack.  I cleaned that tack SO HARD for those Oreos.  It was the best day ever.

5.  Say, "Thank you!" I love all of the riders who take time out of their day to thank us for getting their horse ready, or for turning them loose in the stall, or remembering to put their gear in a specific place.   It means a lot.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The 5 Stages of Getting Over A Really Bad Ride

Welp, this isn't a happy post, y'all.   I think I wouldn't be so hard on myself if I had truly done my best and had a clean ride and still lost--the competition was tough.   It's been a tough few weeks, and an even tougher weekend.   So here you go, people.  Here's how you get over a bad ride.

1. Cry.  Yep.  I've done that a lot this weekend.  No shame here.  Here is a list of all of the things I have cried about this weekend:
             1. Feeling like I let myself down.
             2. Feeling like I let my friends down.
             3. Feeling like I disappointed my instructor and that she will never want to coach me again because it isn't worth it.
             4. When I remembered all the bad things I did in front of the judge in both classes.
             5. Feeling embarrassed about #5.
             6. Thinking about what my instructor said after the class which also made me feel sad.
             7. Feeling like I will never be good enough or prepared enough.
             10. Wondering which horse I will have to ride next
             11. Thinking that nationals will probably not happen this year after my crapstorm debut.
             12. Knowing that no matter what anyone says, it WAS my fault.
             13. Knowing that I didn't do my best, no matter what anyone says.
             14. Thinking that I might have moved up to the WTC division too soon.
             15. Feeling bad because I blamed the horse for things that were my fault.
             16. Wishing that I had my own stupid horse to ride all the time for consistency
             17.  Feeling that all of the money and time that I spent was a waste.
2. Analyze.  What did you do differently that day?   I will tell you, I will never wear mismatched socks again. Did you visualize the ride?   Did you mentally and physically prepare yourself?   How did you warm up?   One thing I know was different is that because the classes were structured a little odd, I only got to trot around the warm-up ring once before going int he class.   I didn't get to canter, and I really felt unprepared (even though I shouldn't have been).

3. Take ownership.  Did the horse stop cantering?  what were you doing to ensure the next step was a canter? I admit, I don't think I was that focused. Did you pick up the wrong diagonal or the wrong lead?   It wasn't the horse's fault--you didn't pay attention enough to set him (or yourself) up correctly.  As much as we think so, the horses aren't out to get us.   We have to stop blaming others, blaming the weather, blaming the horse, and blaming the judge.  we need to look to ourselves to be better.  
4. Remember that you got EXACTLY what you paid for.  Not once on the sign-up sheet did it say that I was guaranteed anything.  The fee that I paid included board, transport, and entry and coaching fees. Ribbons are not included in this cost.  Remember that you are paying money for someone to judge you and rank you among the others in the group.

5. Ride. To be honest, I am not at that stage yet.  Right now, I think I am in stage 3 or 4, but I don't really know if I am ready to ride again.  I work on Tuesday, and even then I might not ask to ride.   This is the toughest thing to do.  Even when you do well at a show, the first ride back is always the hardest.   I am not sure why I feel this way, but it is especially tough to get back on and sit up straight and do it all over again.   But you do.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

While you are saying "I CAN'T," someone else is saying "I CAN".

Let's just start this out by saying this:  I had a horrible ride on Thursday.  I mean, the kind that make you cry in the car on the way home, and question why you are even putting yourself though all of the stress in the first place.   I usually look forward to my Saturday morning shift at the barn, but even I was dreading it today.   I was in such a bad mood, I didn't even want to think about anything with hooves.

But I went to work anyway.  And somewhere along the way, I realized that I can choose to mope and blame the weather, or the horse, or the saddle, or my own (perceived) inabilities.  I absolutely have the freedom to choose to say "I can't".   No one is forcing me to do anything.   

But everyone has their own struggle.   Maybe it is a horse that won't walk, or a horse that will really only get the correct lead 60% of the time.  Struggles can be personal, like health  or family issues.   Either way, everyone is fighting some sort of a battle.  

So you can choose to say "I can't".   You can choose to say that the struggle is too great to overcome.  

But somewhere, someone else is looking at that same struggle and is saying "I can".   

By saying "I can", you do not guarantee yourself success.   By believing in yourself, you are not guaranteed the blue ribbon ride.   Sometimes, that horse will pick up the wrong lead in front of the judge.  It happens.   

But by saying "I can", you are giving yourself permission to succeed.  You are saying to yourself that success is possible, and even probable.   You are allowing yourself to dream bigger than before.   

And so I said "I can" today, and decided to ride that same horse that I rode two days ago.  I didn't want to wait until my normal lesson tomorrow, because I didn't want this negativity to take up any more of my time.   

And I succeeded.   It wasn't perfect, but it was a vast improvement from a couple of days ago.  but I succeeded because I gave myself permission to do so.  I didn't let the "I can't" take control.   

Does this mean that I will only be blessed with good rides?   Probably not.   I can guarantee that at some point between now and the show I will come galloping through the center of the ring just trying to keep my life together.   But I can guarantee that I will also have good rides, too.  

Because right now, the only four words in my vocabulary are:
                 I can.   
                 Whoa, walk.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Three Reasons Why Dreams Are Different As Adults

We have lost a little of the "magic".   I think, as a child, I imagined that one day I would wake up on Christmas morning and find a horse in my front yard.  I spent years playing pretend in my yard and begging my parents over and over again.  I did get a horse (finally) when I was younger, and it was everything I had hoped for.   Unfortunately, I gave up riding for a long time (over eight years) after his passing.  Coming back as an adult, the "magic" and possibilities are now so severely limited.  There is no one to buy me a horse for Christmas, and no more "surprises".   In a way, that is a good thing, because I don't waste my time on dreams I know won't happen, but it still is much different than those big-eyed children that frolic through the barn happily dreaming of Christmas ponies. 

Everything seems so "pressing" right now, because we know that each ride could be our last.   As adults, our bodies are older, more worn out.   We know that there are so many life obstacles and events that could take away this dream in an instant.   We count the rides, and savor each moment.   We know that at any time, this dream could be over.   We force ourselves to try to advance quickly, ride as many horses as possible, just in case we never get to do this again.   

We feel guilty for sacrificing for our dream.  We have bills to pay, families to support, repairs to complete on our homes, the list goes on and on.   There are times when we see how much time and money we have spent and we feel guilty for doing it.  We sacrifice time with our own families to practice, work, and show.  We wonder why we are even here in the first place.  

But the beautiful thing is that, despite all of these obstacles...

we do still dream.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why Adults Need Horse Show Moms Too

I am an adult.

Yes, I know I look like one of the little teen barn children as I bounce through the barn, laughing and joking, but I am an adult.   I have a job, I pay bills, I take care of my house.   I am, altogether, independent.  

However, this flies out the window once I get to a show.  I read somewhere that "the brain is a miraculous thing... It starts working from the moment it is developed until the time you enter the show ring".  I think it should be revised to "...until you reach the horse show grounds", because it seems like we are all rushing like mad and forgetting things and making bad decisions out of anxiousness, excitement, and plain fear.  

Thankfully, many barns (including mine) have their share of horse show moms.  You know, the ones sporting their child's name on the back of a tie-dye t-shirt or the ones faithfully lugging a blinged-out show trunk.  These are the moms that wake at unreasonable hours and endure summers in the long, hot sun.   These are the moms that would do anything for their child.  

But these are also the moms who "adopt" us older riders.  They are the ones who notice us in the corner, nervous and unsure.  They share tips and tricks, and make us feel welcome.   They are also the ones who help us tape our gloves and boots, and repair those pesky helmet straps or straighten our ties.  They cheer for us when we win, and comfort us when we lose.  

And what is miraculous is that they don't have to do any of this.  We are not their children.  There is nothing "at stake" for them if we win or lose.   But they do it because they are the "real" horse show moms, the caretakers of the barn.

So here's to all of you moms who go out of your way for us older riders and make us feel like one of your own.

We love ya!  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Stop making EXCUSES and start making OPPORTUNITIES

I think there is this notion that opportunities are given to us and that there is nothing we can do to control these events that seem to happen by chance.   So many times we spend our time making excuses for ourselves that we fail to see the opportunities right in front of our faces.  I read a quote once from Thomas Edison, which reads:

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

This is true, even in a barn environment.   You want an opportunity?  Work for it!   Come to the barn.  You are ten times more likely to find an “opportunity” at the barn than you are at home on the couch.   This doesn’t mean you need to spend money to ride.   Come out and help with pony parties, offer to clean tack, come out and watch your friend ride, or groom your favorite horse.  Offer your help without expectation of something in return.  

One Saturday, a few weeks ago I was working my morning shift.   One rider rode SIX TIMES in just one day.   And I am sure the haters will begin to hate and complain and make excuses. They always do.  But what a lot of people don’t know is that rider tacked up, bathed, and cared for all of those horses except the one or two she was scheduled to ride.   She didn’t expect anyone else to do it for her.  She didn’t make excuses as to why she couldn’t.   SHE made the opportunity for herself.    I am not saying that we all can ride six times in one day (wouldn’t we all love to?), but we need to understand that opportunities come from hard work, instead of by chance.  

Another rider “caught” a ride on a really cool horse last year, and ended up winning the class after only riding the horse for (I think) a total of fifteen minutes.   Again, it is easy to say something along the lines of “well if I had ____ horse I would win too”, but the truth of the matter is that this rider worked hard to be one of the best in the barn, and she makes it look pretty effortless.   She didn’t “accidentally” win the class.

So, stop making excuses for yourself.   These are just barriers between you and your dreams.   Come out to the barn, volunteer, work hard, and improve your own mind and body.  

So put on those overalls and make opportunities for yourself

...and you will succeed.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

An Open Letter to Riders Before the Upcoming Show Season

Dear Rider,

The show season is just about to begin, and I know you are jittery with anticipation.  The world seems to glitter before your eyes, and your dreams are grand and gorgeous.   Your clothes are neatly pressed, waiting for the first ride.   You’ve peeked at them at least a thousand times, and tried them on “just to see” a thousand times more.   
You expect success--that is what all of those winter rides were for.   Those winter rides when you couldn’t feel your fingers and your breath loomed over your head in puffy clouds of exhaustion.   You imagined the warm rays of summer.   You imagined the freshly bathed horses and shiny tack and polished boots.  They seemed so far away, then.  But now, they are just on the edge, like the dreams that hang on the tip of your tongue like sweet candies.  
And so, on this eve of a show season, you dream big, beautiful dreams.   You dream of victory passes and the traditional organ music.  You dream of funnel cakes and cotton candy fingers.   You dream of friendships.   You dream of your favorite horse and the perfect class.   You dream of a cheering section that erupts into thunderous applause whenever you pass.    You dream of all of these things, and much more.   
And you will have those moments.  You will bounce around the showgrounds sporting your newly-acquired ribbons.  You’ll huddle around the dark screens of the photographer’s booths, trying to catch a glimpse of that perfect ride.  You’ll think about these moments for hours, days, or even weeks after.  You will be elated to see the smiles in your instructors’ faces as they congratulate you afterwards.   You’ll swarm social media with positive, dreamy posts.  
But sometimes you will forget.  Not everything can glitter forever, and it sometimes needs polishing.   You will cry.  You will feel defeated.  You will make mistakes.   You will avoid eye contact as you leave the show ring with nothing but yourself and your horse.   
But you, rider, will not give in.  You will not give up.  You will work harder, stronger, smarter than ever before.  You will know that defeat is not temporary.   You will know that defeat will not define you.    And so you will continue on, despite your hardships... And you will rise again.   
So on this evening, rider, cherish this moment.  Sit in the silence and think about those big, beautiful dreams.    Let your mind have a chance to imagine these dreams rich in color because you have no room for doubt.   You have no room for fear.   You are capable of great, wonderful things.

Sincerely (and good luck),
An adult who has big, beautiful dreams, too.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What's in My Caboodle- The ULTIMATE Summer Academy Horse Show Supply List

Makeup: If you are a guy, you might ignore this section!     Just bring everything.  Even if you do your makeup before you get to the show, no one can guarantee that there won't be a sudden downpour, or a horse that wants to use you as his personal towel.   It is also a good idea to buy a make-up sealer (it is a spray) that will protect your make-up from smudges and humidity.  

Click here for the product: ELF make-up setting spray

Whip: You can purchase them from a ton of places, but a good starter whip that looks nice and is cost effective is this whip from Hartmeyer Saddlery: Saddle Seat Show Whip
Helmet: Many instructors do not like colorful or really bulky helmets in the ring.   Choose a helmet that fits close to your head, and stays in place when you move your head from side to side.   Don't order these online!   Go to a tack store and try them on- even with a fitting chart, it is difficult to anticipate whether a helmet will fit or not.  Do not buy used!  Try this helmet (available in most tack stores):  Ovation Deluxe Schooler Helmet
Stirrups/Saddle : for stirrups, choose the shortest length (even if you are an adult).   I purchased mine from Amazon.  Make sure when purchasing stirrups, you are buying a PAIR.  Some sellers offer them individually (yeah, I don't understand it either).   For leathers, get REAL LEATHER, or else they will stretch and be unusable.   You can google how to measure for stirrup iron size.  
             Stirrup leathers: Gatsby Stirrup Leathers
             Stirrup Irons: Coronet Premium Fillis Stirrup Irons
Show Shirt and Vest: Talk to your instructor.   Do not buy anything online without careful consideration!   It is so hard to guarantee fit when you purchase online.  some places, like Commotion Consignment Riding Apparel  will ship items to you to try on.  That way, you can get your instructor's permission before purchasing the items.  
Jods and Underpasses: Your instructor can help you find jods (pants) if you need them, but make sure you get underpasses as well.  These hold your pants down and keep them from riding up as you show.  Buy an extra pair!  These do not last forever and will break at some point-it is better to be prepared.  
             Underpasses: Single Button Underpasses from Hartmeyer
Change of Clothes: This is pretty self explanatory.  You could be rained on, slobbered on, or even covered in sweat or funnel cake crumbs-- bring extra clothes just in case.   
Rain Riding Gear: It's going to rain at some point in your show season.   Just accept your fate. Bring rain riding gear!
            Rain riding jacket:  Schneider's Clear Rain Coat
Gloves: My favorite are the SSG pro show gloves.  They look nice, they are breathable, and they are easy to wear.   
            Gloves: SSG Leather Pro Show Gloves (Amazon)
Jod Savers: These are inexpensive but SUPER important!  They are what keep your jods from being dragged through the dirt.   They come in cute or plain styles. 
              Jod Savers: Colorful Cuff Straps from Hartmeyer
Tie:find them at any clothing store, or specially made with bling from etsy or any show consignment store. 
Boots:most instructors prefer the pull-on style.   You can get either patent leather (which is TOUGH to keep in great shape) or normal jod paddock boots.   
              here are some affordable boots that I love: Ovation Finalist Elastic Side Jodphur Boots
Earrings: The bigger the better.  Hey, you do what you can to distract the judge from your horrible legs. 
Tie Bar: It is also called a "collar bar".   This is what makes your tie look nice and neat with your show shirt.  
              Collar bar: show Ring Outfitters Collar Bar Collection
Bun Bows : you can make them or buy them.   There are so many styles out there!   
              Bun Bows: Bun Bows on Etsy
              Want to make your own? Purchase this PDF from etsy: Bun Bow Tutorial
Lapel Pin: This makes you look more put together as a rider.  Get the magnetic ones so it won't ruin your vest. 
               Lapel pin: Double row Magnetic Horsehoe Lapel Pin
Number Pins/Magnets: You don't want to damage your nice show clothes, so number magnets keep you from having to put a pin through your vest.   Some places, like Show Ring Outfitters, sell sets that include earrings, a collar bar, number magnets, and a bun bow in matching styles and colors.
              Bow, collar bar, magnet, earring, and lapel pin set: "Lucky" show set, 5 colors  
Hair Nets: I get mine at Sally's Beauty Supply and always have at least two on hand in case one gets torn.  
           Hair Net:  Ultra Invisible Hair Net
Flat Bobby Pins:These are your regular, run-of-the-mill bobby pins.   Buy a few packs and stash them in your caboodle.  
           You can buy an ENTIRE POUND of these for around $8:  Mairanna Bobby Pins, 1lb.
V-Shaped bobby pins: These bobby pins are a little harder to find (I get mine at Sally's).  They are v-shaped, and these are what give your bun its shape.  It is almost impossible to make your bun appear seamless and polished without these things.  Get the smaller sized ones, though--the large ones are HUGE.  
           V-shaped bobby pins: Sta-Rite Assorted Hair Pins
Hair Brush: I think it is nice to have a brush only for horse shows.   Nothing is worse than handing someone a crusty three year old hairbrush and expecting them to do your hair with it.  
hair Spray:Think "how they hold their hair together in the 80s".   Get the strongest stuff you can find. 
            Hairspray that holds: Aqua Net Super Hold Unscented Hair Spray
Hair Ties: Bring extra!   It really sucks to have one break and to have to search around for a replacement. 
Electrical Tape: We use this to tape gloves and boots to make them appear seamless under your riding clothes.  Bring lots of tape!
             Electrical tape: Industrial Grade Electrical Tape, 10pk.
Clothes Pins: Just in case you forgot your magnets and need to pin a number, or for those unexpected wardrobe malfunctions. 
Sewing Kit: To repair minor tears and holes in your clothing.  
Snacks: I like to stash CLIF bars in my bag; they are easy to eat, full of carbs (for energy) and lots of protein.  Plus, they're super tasty.  
Lysol Wipes: Use these or the "wet ones" wipes.   It's great for getting dirt off your hands (if you decide to pet your horse and then get slobber on you) or to freshen up before you change into your "go home" clothes. 
Money/Cash: Many of us use mostly card, instead of cash.  But many shows charge for parking, or offer really tasty fair food that you just can't resist and you will need cash in order to purchase these things. 
Lint Roller: this is one of my most important items!   Do you know how much hair can get on jods when you are around a horse?   It is enough to make papyrus, I am sure.  
Shoe Polish: There are lots of mini size shoe polishes that come with the applicator sponge already attached.   It is nice to have on hand in case you accidentally scuff your boots and need a quick fix. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Riding to Achieve VS. Riding to Beat Others

I never really realized the difference between "achieving" versus "beating others" until I returned to school and one of my students asked me how I did at the horse show this past weekend.

I laughed, and told him that I didn't place in the first two classes and that I got 7th out of 13 in the third class.   He looked down and said "I'm sorry".  I wish I would have had twenty more minutes to explain to him that even though I hadn't beaten many people, I still achieved a lot that day.   

I think we measure our successes and failures based on a ribbon.  and while they are great (and I am staring at a ton of them on my wall right now), it doesn't necessarily show exactly what we accomplished.  It is only a placement from a judge.  A judge that is different every time, or one that prefers taller people, or higher-stepping horses, or even certain barns.  

While it is okay to have healthy competition, your main goal shouldn't be "beating others".   Because when you have that mindset, you are putting your attention, communication, and effort on something other than you and your horse.   You should ride to "achieve" instead.   

As I look back at my ribbons, I am reminded of all of the things that I have achieved this year:

I survived my first ever saddle seat show.
I won my first blue ribbon on a horse I had only ridden a couple of times.
I got to take my first victory lap.
I anticipated a "spook" and stopped it from happening.
I rode in another class, despite getting last place in the first class.
And then I won that second class.
I was able to quickly recover a wrong lead before the judge saw me.
I competed for the first time at walk, trot, and canter. 
I showed one of the most challenging horses in the barn.
I didn't win.
But I showed him again, and won. 
I kept on, despite a break in gait, or losing a stirrup going into the lineup.
I learned how to cheer on a teammate, even the ones that are my toughest competition.
I learned how to trust my instructor, even when I was afraid.
I competed against a group of some of the 13 most talented riders in the barn.
I survived my first workout/pattern class.
I rode in the mud.
I rode in the scorching sun.
I learned how to google my competition.
I rode, despite being sick.  
I didn't win, but I learned how to push through and do my best.
I learned how to be humble.
I learned how to accept defeat. 

And now, as I look again at the ribbons and ask myself, who did I beat in each class? I can only remember a few.   In fact, on the back of each ribbon I always write what horse I rode and how many people were in each class.  I struggle to recall the names, the different barns, the different horses and trainers. 

Be competitive.   Go for the blue.   

But remember, your biggest competition is YOU.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Adult Riding Weekend 2016: Push Yourself to COMMUNICATE

As many of you who follow my page on facebook already know, I spent this past weekend at our barn.  Every year, we have an adult riding weekend where we focus on theory, skill-mastery, and new learning.

This year’s theme was “Push Yourself”, but I feel like there was an even more important theme present.   Every time we did an exercise or listened to lecture, there was always a common theme:


Communication with the horse
Probably the most common type of communication we think of when it comes to riding is the communication with the horse.  We do this through aids, like our voice and seat.   I think sometimes, we see this as a one-way street; we think that if we tell the horse to do something in just the right way we can get whatever we want.  

This is partially true.   

Just like my instructor told us, “if you do not get the correct lead it is your fault”.  And it is.  Horses do not know that you’re about to attempt a figure eight, or straight-line lead changes.   They just know how to “horse”.   

However, communication is more than that.  One of the greatest learning experiences was when we practiced the straight-line lead changes, and I stood between the cones, ready to go.   I began to give the signals, and at first I didn’t quite get the response I wanted.  I thought I was giving the right signal, but I realized that the horse was trying to tell me that he wasn’t quite ready to go yet.  Sometimes, he was trying to tell me that I should have let him canter earlier, or that I was sitting unbalanced and he couldn’t pick up the right lead.   We are constantly giving signals to our horses, but we are also listening at the same time.  It is a conversation between rider and horse.  It is not, and never will be an order.  

Communication with others
It is also important to communicate with others.  We cannot go this road alone, as much as some of us introverts (like myself) would like to believe.  One of our first tasks for the weekend was to see who could name the most horses at the LEC.  Since I have worked quite a bit at the barn, I was confident in my ability to name all 51 horses.  However, there is something to be learned from this experience.  Sure, I could name all of the horses and be the “winner”, but I could also help others and they could leave learning even more.  Sometimes, we do not need to  make something a competition when it doesn’t need to be.  On the second day, we briefly got to ride in pairs through the arena.  Since most of us had never participated in drill team-style riding, this was a new experience and definitely a learning curve.  We had to communicate with our partner in order to stay together, or else we would break the formation and fail at the task.   

Communication with yourself.
On the very first day, my instructor told us that “knowledge ends where frustration begins”.  I had never considered this until now, but communication with yourself is extremely important.  We constantly tell ourselves that we are not good enough, we question if we are in the right division, riding the right horse, or even if we should be in this sport at all.   We are frustrated when we fail.   We let our victories blind us.   

We have to learn to communicate with ourselves.  I remember criticising myself after trying (and failing to complete) the two straight-line lead changes.   But I also remembered that I would get nowhere and accomplish nothing if I let my frustrations take over.   I took a deep breath, told myself I could do it this time.

And I tried one more time.

And I succeeded.  

And I think that this is what communication is all about.  It is about giving the horse, yourself, and others permission to try one more time.   We do this despite frustration, pride, and fear.  

So, push yourself to be a better communicator.  Because no one else is going to do it for you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Young Voices (guest post): The Cost of Riding

One of my goals when I first created this blog was to showcase how much of a family and close community our barn actually is.   I don't think I ever had the intention of the posts on this blog being solely about me, or even authored by me.   So I've decided to do monthly guest posts, from some of our younger riders.   I'll call this "Young Voices", and I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy riding and working and interacting with these people.    We can learn so much from these people, and great care must be taken because they really are the future of this industry.

Today's post comes to you from a very talented Emily Brown, a fourteen-year-old Academy rider.  I love this post, most importantly because it shows how important learning is in our barn.  The instructors here truly do work within your budget and take every opportunity to teach you.

The True Cost of Riding
by Emily Brown

Equestrianism is not a cheap sport. It’s not a flat, one-time fee sort of deal that pays for your uniform and for you to be bused around for games. This is pretty much fact to anyone who has heard of horseback riding at all.
Now, for those of us who actually participate in this hobby (I use the term hobby lightly), we have all heard at one point, “I hate how riding uses so much money, you can’t get anywhere without money or connections!” This is partially true in my opinion.
The factor they forget is arguably the most important and organic factor of this lifestyle: Hard Work. I am proud to have paid for a good portion of events I attended in 2015, and plan to continue paying for as much as I can. The problem I have with the statement ‘you can’t get anywhere without money’, is that it implies the instructors and trainers are just in it for the money, and that’s all they want from you. That not only is an insult to trainers and instructors, but it’s highly unlikely if someone wanted to make a quick buck they’d enter the horse industry. It also implicates that hard work just isn’t effective anymore, which is just plain false.
I believe part of this is the extreme competitiveness of equestrianism… especially in the Juvenile divisions. Another more humorous root to this line, in my opinion, is the unrealistic expectations we get from horse movies.  Unfortunately, not everyone gets to buy an unrideable barrel prospect for $4 and then suddenly ride it in the 1D with no riding experience at all.
It’s a lot easier to complain about how you’re not getting there than thinking about what you could be doing to get there. A couple of years ago, I was honored with an invitation to the National Academy Finals. I couldn’t go due to lack of money. I pouted. I got upset, more than a few times. Now I can see why that didn’t happen for me, because in my opinion, had I gone that year, I probably wouldn’t have made it past Friday. Sometimes it’s just a matter of you’re not there yet.
So sure, riding can cost a lot, but realizing you can decide how you pay for it can be one of the most rewarding perspective changes you have in your riding career. I know I show a lot harder when I am working or paying for it than when someone else is, and part of that is just learning the power of the ‘almighty dollar’. I can’t speak for your barn, but at my barn, we have people who work full time at the barn because they have to pay board. We have people who work two or three shifts a week so they can lease a show horse and be ready for college.
The moral of the story is- you can get to where you need to be with a little less complaining and a little more work.