Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sometimes I Ride Too

If you're sitting over there like "yes SB is shopping and thinking thoughts about horses, BUT WHAT IS A ZB DOING PRECIOUS?", well, this post is for you.

When we left off, Zoebird had just figured out cavaletti and I took a lesson her.

 That's pretty much where we are.


Before all y'all Zoebird fans riot on me, the little lady is doing fantastic.

We're in the middle of a streak of unseasonably warm weather, which means we got to put in record-early first rides outside the tiny dark indoor.

Full disclosure: every time I rode C-rage outside the indoor the first time, he bolted with me. Baggage much? YES.

I am pleased to inform you that ZB was a freaking CHAMPION OF OUTSIDE and like.
Yeah one of our best rides lately and she didn't put a foot wrong. What's more, I'm starting to trust her and expect that and I was actually able to keep my stupid brain stuffed in it's head and things were good.

Then we had our second ride outside, so like honeymoon's over.
pic actually from first ride, but is representative
Yup still a champion. The one big thing I'm learning is that if I want to work her hard when it's above 40f, I will definitely need to clip her. I'd been avoiding clipping because I was so much enjoying not blanketing and she seemed super happy with our mild winter buuuuut that's just going to have to happen.

I do make an effort to mix things up, so I set a wee tiny jump for her.


It's a work in progress.
10/10 cutest horse
I definitely wondered how it would be to start with a baby draftie type. Would the training be boring? Would my brain get on board?

What I've found is that my favorite part of horse training is learning to communicate with the horse, which I am already doing with Zoe on a basic level and she certainly has no shortage of things to communicate right back.


I cannot say enough about how fun this little lady is. She shows up and tries her hardest every single day. She wants to do the right thing. She's sassy and opinionated and just a darn cool creature.

Friday, January 12, 2018

On Why

I think a lot about the why of horses in my life. They've been a constant since I was quite young, despite never having property or much in the way of horsey friends.


What incited the passion? What stokes the flame?

Why do I, an otherwise reasonable, responsible adult person who isn't given to flights of fancy, spend my time and my money and my energy on a wildly impractical, giant, fragile flight animal?

I've always just assumed it was correlated with being a marginalized member of society, infatuated with mastering the power and nobility and elegance of horses. Or something.

Except see, anyone who spends more than a couple hours around horses knows that those reasons have precious little to do with reality. Nothing takes the shine off abstract ideas of "nobility" like a horse spooking at it's own fart.
In the last year, I've become fascinated by horses as a mirror of our true selves. They aren't distracted by pomp and circumstance. They're pure, reactive creatures. They respond to what we carry with us. We may lie to ourselves, but we cannot lie to our horses.

They see through a pretender.

They speak a simple language that has no words, but holds all the meaning in the world.

If we let them, they will teach us.

That's not to assign magical qualities to a barnyard animal. Horses are biologically a prey animal. They stay alive by being aware of what passes around them, living in the moment, understanding the universal language of living creatures, and reacting appropriately.

In a world where most of us live in highly artificial environments and never need to interact with a another species unless we actively seek it out, horses bring a psychological grounding. No hiding behind a keyboard or burying our meaning in words--we speak a common language where every muscle twitch is a unique volume. It goes beyond mechanically demanding obedience in a series of schooling exercises.

Each horse is an individual and the dialect can vary from speaker to speaker, but the elements are the same. That's why books on horsemanship written thousands of years ago still carry weight today. Humans might be taller, horses more specially bred, but neither one has really changed.

Without uttering a syllable, a horse speaks truth about our deepest selves.

That clarity demands that we reflect on who we are.



The best of them teach us to be the best version of ourselves.

For me, that's why.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Hos Gonna Ho (Part 582,671)



A lot of you are being all "frugal" and "admirable" and "responsible" and saying shit like "oh yeah totes not shopping because of [insert adulty reason here]".

I would never presume to denigrate that sentiment because we are all on different journeys and your path might not be isn't mine.

I do respect your choices though, and I want to demonstrate that to you by sending all the things I thought about lately and REALLY WANTED but DID NOT ACTUALLY BUY. (Well ok I mean not "all the things" because that list would be daunting, but here's a good sampling of things I wanted to pull the trigger on BUT IN FACT DID NOT).
This TOTES GORG blue stripe set from PS of Sweden
This BLOODY BRILLIANT set by Le Mieux
This trophy I clearly deserved
This horse statue

this to-die-for OS purple double ombre patent leather Otto Schumacher browband

Or the thoughtfully-detailed matching custom purple Otto Schumacher bridle

Even though there was a DROOL WORTHY Mattes pad to match

and none of these hats
not this jackalope
nor these highly-appropriate socks
I know you're sitting there like "omfg SB! You are a model of frugality and moderation!", to which I'd say in the face of such temptations, I did pretty damn well. Particularly given how bad I wanted everything Otto.

One or two of you might be like "but think of poor ZB! She has almost no things at all and she probably doesn't even think you love her and and DIDNT I SEE A SWAG BRAG PIC ON SOCIAL MEDIA?"

Well yes. I just wanted to be sure you understood that however much money I may or may not have spent at a tack store, it was still far, far less than it might have been. (Particularly if Otto had just jumped off the rack into my pile.)

yeah this pic

I traveled to a city with a big local tack store. I knew I kind of wanted a particular set of boots for ZB and I kind of had an inkling that I wanted to touch halters. I took my (total shopper) sister with me. Girl doesn't know horses but she knows shopping and quality.

That escalated quickly.

I mean, it started pretty innocuously. I found a pair of Kerrits gloves on clearance for like $10.

Put it in the pile.
also pictured: excellent taste in socks

Plus then there was a $90 pair of Majyk Equipe hind dressage boots in white on sale for $25, and I'd be stupid not to get them. (Pro tip: admitting the truth to yourself that your drafty baby needs large front boots and XL hinds might sting initially, but you can find killer deals on dinosaur sizes.)

So they went in the pile. 
...don't overanalyze this
Then it was grooming basics--hard to say no to a purple tail brush and matching curry mitt. Just a couple of bucks, right? 


I touched saddles (they comically topped out at a wide, which like, giggle snort, ZB could maybe wear as a hat except her brain is real big too) and taught non-horsey sister about French vs German vs English leather. She is now a French snob. 

Then we played with bridles and I DID NOT buy the loooooovely edgewood that was screaming my name. I waltzed right past it into the leather halter section. 

(See how many things have not gone in a pile?) 
this was tasty

I'll be honest and admit I've never had a Walsh halter and that I've been drooling on them for years and that I have a massive tack boner for flat raised fancy stitch nosebands and that havana leather is my favorite color of leather and that I hate adjustable chins and love nice halters. 

And I don't know, a fancy stitch Walsh halter just sort of fell into my hands. 

You guys. 

It was real beautiful. 

I was just trying to keep the drool off it and sort of stumbling back towards the rack to hang it up and newly-converted-leather-snob sister snatched it out of my hands and was like PUT IT IN THE PILE. 

And I was like "but $!" and sister was like "EVALUATE PILE LATER", so we moved on to the boot section. 
spoiler alert
I touched some things, and then I saw what I really needed. 

I've been in love with those Equillibrium bumpy polo boot thingys since... hahaha. Well. I had mixed feelings on them until I got to play with Karen's and then T and Leah can tell you that I won't shut up about them the lately. 

And remember how I'm learning to accept that my baby horse is kinda giant and needs dinosaur clothes? 

It puts the boots in the pile or it gets the hose again. 
spoiler alert #2
I WILL HAVE YOU KNOW that I then looked at polos and bell boots and helmets and breeches and human clothes etc and added NOTHING ELSE to the pile (that I currently remember). I mean, this was when I spotted purple Otto and browband, but I didn't even let myself touch that for fairly obvious reasons. (Plus leather-snob-sister probably would have had to point out that Otto bridles are way too much $$$ for the quality. Killjoy.) 

Fortunately, my pile-analyzing skills are super fly, so I carefully went through item-by-item and then was like #YOLO and bought the whole thing. I mean. I thought about passing on the lonely pair of ME boots, but it seemed irresponsible not to buy them. 
plus they fit so nicely in the cat bag
And that is the story about how while it might LOOK like I spent a shit ton of money at a tack store, it was really WAY LESS than it could have been. 

Plus omg. The pretties. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Training the Not-Hot Horse: Again

Courage challenged me every day and left me with a huge amount of baggage, but one thing I credit to him is the leaps and bounds forward I made as a thinking horseman. I don't mean technical riding skills and the "looking pretty" polish that wins the show ring, but the day-to-day intelligence, flexibility, and introspection that makes a horseman.

Now I have a horse that is decidedly not-Courage. I can't get over how relatively easy she is to work with, but at the same time, the skills that Courage brought me are the skills that are going to shape Zoe. While she is a horse that would let me "get away with" more, I think she is going to be that much better of a horse because I can be more educated in how I approach her.
definitely not courage
For example. Zoebird is a baby. She's nearly doubled in size in the last few months. She's still growing. And yeah, sometimes she's not real sure where all her legs are going. In the present, I want to help develop her body awareness and teach her to carry her front end. In the future, I would like her to jump small courses safely.
such a cute lil buffalo

In pursuit of that, we do cavaletti from time to time. Because Zoebird is her own sort of lady and not mindlessly hot, I've had to adapt how I work with her. She's very intelligent and doesn't require many repetitions to figure something out, which is good, because her idea of a good time is not just running for an hour.

However. Sometimes you introduce multiple cavaletti in a row and you get something that looks like this:
(video here if interested)
We worked on it a couple different ways and things just weren't improving consistently. I rewarded good tries with immediate breaks. Kept her trotting if things weren't right. Kept things calm and simple.

It just wasn't her day.

But you know what? The next day, I set cavaletti again (snow was sliding off the roof and I didn't want to ride. sue me). (And yeah, ZS ZB gives the amount of shits you would expect. It's my brain that's the problem.)

The little lady had thought things through and her very first pass, she slowed her cadence, lifted her shoulders, and freakin' cavaletti'ed like a champion.
This weekend, I got my first lesson on Zoe since she started training. I'm riding consistently on my own and I verbally check in with the trainer after pretty much every ride, but I'm not able to be present for them and I haven't have the time for a lesson until now. My rides look like what you'd expect from an ammy rider on a sweet but clueless baby mare (video here if you're super interested).

It was so valuable to me to have my trainer stand there and put the disjointed thoughts I've had about our rides into coherent sentences that make sense and then give me strategies to address our weaknesses. For example, I've noticed that Zoe sort of goes NEEEROOOOOOOOM down the long side with mirrors, but when we come back on the other side, she piddles around and I can barely keep her going. I've been trying to kick her forward in the slow moments and slow my posting when we're zooming with ah "mixed results".
not related but stinking adorable

Trainer said right off the bat: "Your horse doesn't have good natural rhythm so you need to post definitively and SET THE RHYTHM FOR HER."


Yeah that's a good idea.

It super worked too. Huh. Trainers are magic.

Because see. Courage was a horse with a very light touch--he'd baaaaaarely take a contact and overreact to every tiny thing. Zoe is intelligent and sensitive and lovely (and I adore her), but learning to ride her is a whole new world. On her, I can pick up the reins and have a little contact. I can post definitively. I can actually think about what my body is doing and work on myself (even now!) because her default is to slow down and take a break.
so lovely

And again--I am not the anti-Courage committee. That horse taught me a lot of things, but riding him was and had to be very intuitive and instinctual because there was not time to think in the saddle.

I understand intellectually that I need to ride with my fingers closed, thumbs up, and elbows mobile. I can explain biologically that there is a tendon running through my arm that is locked when my hands are flat and mobile when my thumbs are up. I KNOW that open fingers just mean useless reins bouncing on the horse's mouth and closed fingers with mobile elbows is the route to steady, soft contact.

I know those things.

But when trotting my nice little mare (who doesn't even go on the bit yet), trainer got us to a place with good balance for a few strides and in those strides, I actually felt the reason why all those things mattered. It's hard to explain. I'm not saying we became dressage pros or magically better, but just her limited acceptance of the contact was still light years better than I've been on in a while and it was this sort of blinding flash of like OH I GET IT NOW.

And then it was gone, because that's the nature of things right now, but like.

Just that one moment was enough to excite me.

Zoe is going to keep teaching me about how to learn, but the places she will take me?

Cannot. Wait.

What a stellar lady.
very tired. can wait.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2018 Goals

I'm having a hard time setting goals with Zoe, just because the whole plan with her is to have fun, which I am already doing. She's so easy going. She's fun to take places. She'd be an easy one to get stuck in a performance rut with just because she doesn't tell me no.

But why waste all that fun and try in the sandbox? This year, I want to focus on creating a well-rounded equine citizen with a lot of different life experiences.

Zoe Goals

1) Show unrecognized training level dressage.

I think paying for recognized training level is a little silly. Zoe isn't going to be competitive with fancy, big-moving warmbloods who are also good at steering. However, I want to get out and help her learn the game with a view of showing recognized in 2019.

2) Get exposure to XC elements ditches/banks/water.

I don't know if I want to event. I don't know if I think Zoe is mentally/physically ready to jump with a rider up.


I think getting early exposure to these basic elements is critical to developing a solid citizen. Plus water is just fun.

3) Go trail riding with friends three times.

I've already got tentative plans with Nadia and I want to see if Roxie's mom and I can make something happen. I have local friends who trail ride. I love getting out in the mountains and I have a horse who can make it happen. Let's do it.

4) Develop ZB management plan with vet/BO for long term health.

Zoe is fit and fabulous, but she's a whole different type of creature for me and I want to work with the team of professionals I have on hand to make sure I'm giving her absolutely the best life possible.

Horse Goals

5) Focus on outings that are fun.

Outings with Courage were so hit and miss that I have kind of a lot of anxiety about hauling places. I want to sign up for things that sound fun and then have fun and drop kick this stupid demon.

6) Identify (and participate?) in non-sporthorse events of some stripe.

I'm not quite sure what this is going to be. There are some local ranch clinics I've been itching to try. A cool local NH type trainer runs an equine kindergarten and I'd like to work with him. Mounted shooting sounds cool. I mean. Guys. I have a purpose-bred ranch horse. LETS DO THE THING. (Plus I don't have a western saddle. Shopping? MAYBE.)

7) Attend 3 different types of equestrian competition.

It's a big horse world. I'm pretty familiar with my side of it, but I want to see what else is out there.

Personal Goals

8) TRAIN FOR and run another half marathon

I've already picked my race and enlisted a running buddy. (RIGHT RENA?) I want to seriously pursue this, beat my time from last year, and become a fitter/better partner for Zoe.

9) Say yes to new adventures.

I'm the worst about being stuck in my own stupid rut. I live in a cool place surrounded by cool people and I want to explore the possibilities.

Stretch Goal

10) Expand a creative outlet.

I'm not sure what this means right now. I want to pick up something I'm passionate about and become better at it. That might mean finding a new hobby. It might be finishing writing a book. Getting an actual camera and picking up photography?

I'm not really sure, but I'm hoping #9 helps build into a solid #10 and I'm excited to see what it ends up being.

There you go. 10 tidy, defined goals. Let's see what happens.
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