Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Courage: The Aftermath

I saw Courage the other day.
creeper status
Teresa was here and we drove past his owner's place. He was out in the field with a buddy. He was as stunning as ever.

The thing that struck me the most was his topline.
on-track thoroughbred
3 years post-track thoroughbred
Courage was short coupled and upright and always SO TIGHT through his neck and back. I became the subject matter expect on suppling the anxious horse who held tension right in front of his withers. We did dressage exercises and trail exercises. I learned to use poles and terrain and lateral work and all kinds of things to help him. 

I did everything I knew how to do. I used all my resources to find new ways to help him. 

He built a fantastic neck for a thoroughbred and had a lot of cool buttons, but he was always .05 seconds away from an up-periscope and hard spin/bolt.
you've all seen enough photos of that so let's look at this adorable smoosh instead
So the other day, I saw Courage for the first time in two years. He's a trail horse now--he'll never have to go in a frame and be under pressure again. He spends most of his days out in a big, grassy pasture.

And after two years, that tension is gone.

He looked like a horse.


yup we're back to zb pictures
It was a strangely harmonious moment for me--not just because a horse I cared about for so long is absolutely thriving, but because of what it meant.

I'm a classic overachiever and so much of the past couple years for me has been learning to let go and accept what happens, even if it's messy.
definitely messy

Letting go of Courage felt like giving up in so many ways.

Both of us are in a better place now because of it.

We were never going to get there and pushing and struggling and training and drilling and trying.

I let him go.

A horse that suited me better came my way.

A series of dominos cascaded that I never could have planned.

Sometimes I ask myself if I fought too hard and tried for too long. If asking that was fair to him. If I should have let go sooner. If I shouldn't have posted those fail photos. If there was something else that would have just made it work. If someone else could have done it better.

If I did him a disservice.

I'll never know.

I know that some people try that hard and go that far and they succeed. I know some horses come back from the brink. They grow into lovely performance horses and their people are applauded for what they accomplished.

But I also know that sometimes they don't. Sometimes the struggle isn't worth it. Sometimes the mountain wasn't meant to be overcome. Sometimes the pasture in the valley really is the destination.

Sometimes, failing is the best thing you can do for both of you.

I failed.

Because of that failure, Courage looks better than he ever has. He's living his best life now and he's free to be the horse I always believed he could be.

Because I failed, I spend my time with the smooshiest baby horse who I absolutely adore. We jump and we trail ride and we toodle and we dressage and we play barbies and we laugh.

I'll never be the person I was before Courage. 

I'll never be able to thank him enough for what he taught me.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Achievement Unlocked

There's no question that my smooshy baby horse is a very special horse. The whole point of that "ruthlessly exclude" ethos and enlisting particular people to help me find her was to find the creature who fits my life right now.

And like. 
the only reason she didn't buck me off is cookies

I thought I knew what I was doing, but life is never quite what I expect. The little lady went from twice a week training backed up by 2-3 days a week with me to not anything. I dropped her out of training (because money is a thing) and quit showing up to the barn (because jobs are a thing) and since early this spring, she's been on a 1-2 toodles a month schedule. 
can you even with the cuteness level here?

But then September came around and I a little bit got my shit together. 

For the past 3ish weeks, I've been riding 3-4 days a week. Which, if you know how math works, you know is not very many rides. And also--those rides were things like "toodle bareback", "meet Teresa", "practice trotting on a loose rein in the field", and "JOMPING TIME". 

Which, whatever. Reality is a thing I live in and hey, drafties are supposed to grow until they're 8 and she's 6 so no rush here. 

I guess to me, that makes it even more cool to watch what a ZB can do on this schedule. 

Once this spring, I got a wild hair and popped Zoe over some crossrails. And she was adorable. 

Then a few weeks ago, I was like "what fun, let's do that again".
remember summer?
And she was adorable again. 

And then last week, I was like "yeah let's have this be a thing" because y'know. Variety. Fun. 
So yeah, that's Zoe jumping like... her 15th jump ever. Seriously. When we jump, I just put up a crossrail, pop over it, tell her she's wonderful, and move on. And by move on, I mean the first time we jumped, it was over the same crossrail like 3 times. The second time it was a different crossrail maybe 4 times, and the latest time was TWO crossrails, a total of about 7 jumping efforts.

It's fun. It's easy. It's simple. And then we leave it alone.

Remember dressage? 

I sort of do. After we'd had a couple rides this fall, I tried picking up the reins and doing that whole "riding" thing. 
in a jump saddle because reasons

She was rusty. I was rusty. Canter is definitely a work in progress because oh yeah, fitness is a thing.
maybe next year i'll learn to sit the canter
Then we left it alone, again. Next ride was a bareback toodle with no goals or agenda. Primary skills worked on were "eating cookies" and "smooshing".

We're back on our winter schedule of late night rides with my best barn buddy and the other night, before she got on, I chucked my phone at her to grab some video and hopefully get a screenshot with our fancy boots on. 

I put my leg on.

Zoe went forward.

I picked up the reins. 

Zoe moved softly into the contact. 
We stepped up into the trot. 
there actually is video buuuut guess who hasn't done anything with it
I finished that ride grinning like an idiot. 

It is so cool to be on this journey with her. To focus on the relationship and having fun and being realistic about our trajectory. To give her time to grow up and me space to live life and then start to understand that the panicked flailing and pressure and struggles of past horses really just don't matter.

Not to her and not to me. 

She's the nicest horse I've ever had. 

We're doing better than we've ever done. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Here We Are

It's been a weird year. I used to be such a compulsive, 5-7 days a week, all-horses-all-the-time sort of person. 
I'm not anymore.

I'm ok with that about myself.
she's not exactly suffering
except from a lack of cwd boots
we fixed that problem
I've come to realize, that for me, filling my time with horses was distracting me from things I needed to address. Accomplishments with horses were making up for serious failings in my personal life. Relationships swirling around horses filled a void of loneliness that I couldn't acknowledge existed.

I've had to address all those things head on.

0/10 recommend on the process, but 10/10 on the outcome.

I have never ridden less.

I have never understood more.
this view
Zoe is amazing for so many reasons, and I have never needed her more. Instead of the horse that caters to my neurosis, she's the one that meets me in the middle. She whinnies at me when I show up and she's game for anything, whether I'm out every day or once a month.

We tried a couple lease situations and found out that while for me, Zoe is the Best Horse Ever (tm), she's not into sharing. I dropped her out of training and found out that while training is nice (and fitness is not a thing she holds on her own), life is a thing we can do together without professional help.
also sunset shots ftw
I'm committed to my career right now, so horses take a back burner. I don't have all the latest and greatest toys (uhhhhh I mean more on that later). I travel a lot, I work a lot, I ride very little.

My focus has changed--instead of my emotional health every day hinging on whether a caged flight animal performs to my subjective expectations, I take a step back. I can love my horse and be ok if we have bad days.
or if our day is "play king of the mountain" on new footing
If we don't show.

If we don't lesson.

If things aren't perfect.
pats for the best mare
To me, a good day is showing up to see my adorable baby horse. Laughing at the goofy faces she makes when I curry her. Brushing her long mane. Sitting on her broad back and knowing we're both going to be ok.

She's the nicest horse I've ever owned.

I do less with her than any horse I've ever had.
awww baby mare <3
I'm more at peace than I've ever been.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Horse Pictures Everywhere

Deep breath. Here goes "ammy horse ownership, round 347". 
I was kinda coasting along with training rides and not going to the barn, but as discussed, that got prohibitively expensive and then the whole lease option did not pan out.

The current plan is that I'll just create time in my schedule to ride 3x a week.

Yes by magic.

JK. I'm working with a supportive SO and a constant level of high-functioning anxiety, coupled with a lucky break about not having to travel for work as much lately.
Straight up, I cannot (CANNOT) do the 6-7x a week rides and lessons and shows and clinics and all the shit I used to. It's just not a thing. I also cannot spend $$$ to buy custom Ottos from Germany tho my strong suit has always been bargain hunting and my weakness has always been collecting horse shit.


We're finding a new normal.

I picked three days a week to make an appearance.

I have a fantastic barn buddy who can meet me out there more often than not to help motivate both of us.

I'm mixing it up. We jumped for the first time the other day. Zoe LOVED it. LOVED. Like. Forward going. Taking me to the fences. So honest. So adorbs.

Seriously guys. This mare. If I had any other horse right now, I'd just admit the timing in life is bad right now and I can't do it all, but she's the once in a lifetime sort of horse that literally makes everything easy, so here we are.
oh hi jumping position. cool you're still around.
I've been playing in the jump saddle because I feel more successful that way and less like an abject failure. (Dressage is brutal, ok?) Today I threw the dressage saddle on to see if my sad, non-existent riding muscles wanted a workout. 

Fun fact: I actually rode better than expected.
lil baby mare starting to grow up
That's not to say it was great, but more that I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to stay balanced and hold my position and ride accurately based on a decent baseline level of fitness, even though said fitness is not from riding horses. 

It's all a work in progress. 

I literally couldn't be getting through it with a better mare and hey, any day that ends like this:
Really can't be all bad. 

My phone is full of horse pictures again.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Here Goes

After an embarrassing number of months in a row in which I absolutely swore I'd make the time and ride my own horse and get my shit together, I finally realized I couldn't keep making a mortgage payment a month to ride bareback for 20 minutes once every 30 days. 

It doesn't make any sense. 


Zoe is such a foundational part of my life that there's no way I'm letting her go. 

I did the reasonable adulty thing and reached out to a trainer I trust and set up a lease situation with a fancy legal agreement and everything

Not gonna lie, the day I put her on the trailer and watched her drive away was really shitty for me. I told myself it was a two week trial and it might go ok and it might not.

The idea of not paying $$$ to not ride was nice. 

The truth was that I didn't have time to ride if I had wanted to. 

And yeah when I got the text that she wasn't quite the right fit for the situation, I was definitely not sad she was coming home. 

So now she's back.

And now I'm definitely going to ride this time. 

Just you watch.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Horses are my Therapy, A Follow Up

Lauren is a fantastic human and blogger who wrote the Plaid Horse post, "Horses Can't Be Our Only Therapy". It's good. You should read it.
a world in contrast

I wanted to append her thoughts just a little bit because they're a topic that strikes very close to home for me. 

I loathe the "horses are my therapy" sentiment. 

beyond side eye
Horses are amazing. Many things to many people. I've invested years of my life into them and I will 100% tell you they (and the people I met through them) shaped me into the person I am today and I will forever be grateful for that. 

I'm going to be very personal for a minute and tell you I was raised in a shitty environment where there were a lot of unhealthy expectations and that I was never allowed to think for myself or have an emotion or respond to anything and as a very young human, I learned to choke everything down. By the time I turned 18, I literally didn't have emotional responses to anything. Ever. If that sounds weird AF, it fucking is. 
smoosh weird
You know why I kept that fucking hellmare for so long?

Because I literally didn't know how to feel fear. Couldn't process it. Didn't have a space in my head for it. 

It took three deeply unhealthy years of me trying everything and doing everything and being unable to process a goddamn basic concept like fear before I was able to be like "ho shit the reason my stomach feels weird every time I go to get on this animal is an emotion called FEAR and that is a normal and rational response to being wildly overhorsed and hey, it's an important red flag that your brain is trying to keep you from actually dying". 
hellmare glory
If that sounds weird AF, it fucking is. 

And if you think it might have been smarter/safer/cheaper to address all that in the confines of a therapist's office, you're probably right. If you think it was unfair to drag a horse along with me through that particular puddle of shit, you're also right.
when does this story get a zb?
I'd like to say the story has a happy ending there, right? I learned that fear is a thing and that life is better without fear and that fear means you might actually die and you should pay attention when you feel fear. And then I met Cuna. And everything was great.

From him, I learned another super-elementary concept: love. For the first time in my life, there was someone I couldn't wait to see. Wanted to be with all the time. This connection that no one else got but it was just the two of us against the world and I never cared that he was this goofy old red horse and he never cared that I was this weirdly damaged oddball who desperately tried to look normal. 
As you all know, the next step after that was learning to lose him. 

And then Courage, with every cheesy implication you can think of. I think the most important thing I learned from him was that no matter how far down I thought I'd stuffed my emotions and how hidden every response was, I still had to acknowledge them. They still mattered. 
it was a complicated relationship

I still fucking mattered. 

It didn't matter one iota if no other human on the face of the planet knew I was a fucking wreck who was going through hell. 

He knew. 

He called me on it. 

It was zero fun. Do not recommend.

If that sounds weird AF, it fucking is.  
and yet we still looked magical

Because see. I vividly remember showing up to ride because y'know horses are therapy or whatever bullshit. The moment I stepped out of the car, he knew what was up. 

I literally couldn't catch him in his stall. 


Standing there. Crying. Because the one thing that was supposed to be "my therapy", the "fun thing" in my life, was no fun at all. 

I learned a lot. I learned that I have emotions. That those emotions matter. That sensitive creatures can call us out on those emotions even when humans can't or won't or don't care.

But you know what else I learned?
a better way
Horses have emotions too. They respond to us on a very innate level. It is completely and totally unfair to them to show up and dump our stress and our shit and our negativity into their otherwise placid lives and then blame them for their responses. We are responsible for their well-being, not the other way around. 

If I can't meet my horse in a calm, understanding frame of mind and be in that moment with them, I need to not be there. 
I cringe when I watch people take their shit out on their horses and their dogs and their kids. It bothers me on a very visceral level when I hear people assign intention to an action by an animal. The horse isn't being a jerk. He doesn't care one way or another about your right leg or your left rein or the jump in front of him or whatever stupid bullshit you're blaming him for. 

All the horse is doing is responding to what you don't even know you brought with you. 
Some are like Zoe and they're golden through and through and will tolerate a lot more. Some are like Courage and won't. 

It doesn't matter though. 

It's still our responsibility to be better than that. 

We owe it to them. 
baby mare
I spend less time with Zoe on a weekly basis than any other horse I've had. 

Every time I'm with her, I am able to breathe in and breathe out and be part of that moment. 

Not dragging my shit behind me.

Not blaming her for what I brought with me. 

Not taking out on her things she has nothing to do with. 

sunshine and grass
And you know what? 

We're stronger for it. Time spent together, no matter what we're doing, is positive for both of us. 
also bareback dressage
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