Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Finding My Happy Place

I have these long lists of things I should be doing. I have a list for my barn job, a list for my office job, and a list for my housework. That isn't even counting the list of stuff I really want to do like "read a book" or "actually finish writing something".

I've even been procrastinating on blogging because I have a list of things I ought to do here that I haven't even touched. The lists are so long at this point that I've just kind of mentally shut down. I'm vacillating between apathy and irritation and I'm over it.

In the spirit of just trying to move forward, here is a post things I am enjoying right now (no lists need apply).

New hacking trail last week that led to some cool cliffs. Pretty sweet ride and Cuna led the whole way on our first trot set of the year. 18 is the new 6. ;-)

Happy corgi loves doggy funland aka "the barn". Here he is, waiting to go and being charming.

The beagle has actually run off less times than I would have expected for a hound and he loves every minute of being a barn dog. After the snow, he found some giant popsicles that entertained him for quite a while.

And today. The snow is slowing melting off, but the arena is still pretty frozen in the mornings (think lake). He had Monday and Tuesday off, so I tacked up, hopped on, and took him down the road. He went on the buckle most of the way and was just his usual lovely self.

I swear, it doesn't matter how bad the day has been, a hack on this boy can fix almost anything.

Maybe a longer hack with some hills would persuade me to start on one of those gnarly looking lists. Anyone else stuck in a winter funk?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Honesty and Horsemanship

By C.W. Anderson
Growing up, I had more access to books than real horses, so I spent hours and hours reading. I lived and breathed C.W. Anderson and Marguerite Henry and a host of others. From them, I gleaned some of my most basic riding principles: "Always the rider, never the horse." I internalized it so deeply that I didn't even realize how much it affected me.

When I was struggling with Izzy, I kept beating myself up. "I'm not good enough", "I'm just bad at this", "I'm too out of shape", whatever. It had to be my fault, every time. Part of selling her was letting go of that and realizing that while I have my shortcomings, she also had hers. It wasn't that I needed to just get better--it was that it was never going to work for us.

Cuna really was the one who let me see that I actually can ride and I've mostly moved on. As I was reading today, I ran across a quote that just resonated with me.

"One of the most common mistakes I see riders make is to accept total responsibility for a refusal. It is the rider’s responsibility to remember the course, compete at the ­appropriate level for the horse’s experience and training, approach in a rhythm and not ask for impossible angles or efforts. The rest is up to the horse. The horse’s response cannot be to say to his rider, “You blinked. I can’t jump when you blink. I can’t work under these conditions!” Oh, no. The fact that you needed three-sixteenths of an ounce more pressure with your reins or that your heels could have been down ­another five ­degrees has nothing to do with it. He knows how to jump. You arranged an ­obstacle in his path, and his job is to jump—first time, every time." 
-god (aka Jimmy Wofford), whole article here.

The stunning Izzy mare
I realize there is a balance here. The horse must be taught, but to acknowledge that the horse also has responsibilities is just freeing for me. I know I'm not the only one who struggles with that, "Is it me? What am I doing wrong?" when the truth is, there are two sides to every discussion.
I'm going to stand on my happy horse soapbox for a minute here and just say that this sport is entirely too dangerous and expensive to not love every second. Really. Especially if you're an ammy owner type who just has one horse to ride most of the time, it's not worth it to fight it out with an animal you don't enjoy. 

Cutest horse ever. Even lets me dress him.
You doubt? I am all mushy goo goo over a certain 18 year old OTTB gelding who is the sweetest, crankiest, most mean bastard horse I know. And I'm not a mushy goo goo person. Just ask Rinsie.

Here's what I'm trying to say: we need to be the best riders we can be and not blame our horses for out shortcomings. We need to couple that with an understanding that horses aren't perfect. They have personalities. Not every horse is a match for every rider and that is ok.

Cuna is the walking definition of a schoolmaster and he understands his job. The reason I can jump a giant oxer with no reins on him is because he knows that if he's pointed at a fence, he is to jump it. When I make mistakes, he points them out to me, but he's never mean, dirty, or scary. Because Cuna holds up his end of the deal, CW Anderson's mantra rings true: it is always me, never him (usually).

If you're struggling with a horse that tests your limits as a rider and that you don't look forward to seeing, consider that maybe, just maybe, you should look for your very own Cuna instead of blame yourself for what just won't work.

I know I'm not the only one out there who has worked through this and I love connecting with other people on this issue. Anyone else have a Cuna? Think they need one? Walking through the process now?

PS Original Cuna is not available.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


You all know this horse. He's the cutest, sweetest, smartest, and most fun jumping horse. Sometimes we torment each other with dressage, but never very much.

I'd been hoping that our dressage lesson would let us work on cool dressage tricks so I could expand my sad and limited repertoire, but instead we worried about position and accuracy. Good things, but not what I had in mind.

Today I busted out the dressage saddle again so we could practice stuff from our lesson. We engaged our core, activated our dressage position, cantered and counter cantered.

After finishing our canter work to one direction, Cuna wanted to putter to a stop. I kept him going on principle. We did a 15 meter circle to get him soft and on my outside aids.

As we came out of the turn, I asked him to hold his gait but lengthen his stride down the longside. He sort of tried, I sorted of stayed balanced, it was ok.

Another circle at the end to collect. We stayed balanced around the short side. Circle to prepare, and we went in to the wind.

It was magical. I could practically hover above him I had so much hang time. Boom! Boom! Boom! We just flew down the longside.

We cantered the other direction, then came back to trot and tried again. This time? No hesitating, fussing about the contact, or wondering what I wanted. Not gonna lie--I can't wipe the smile off my face.

That's ride folks: Cuna has lengthenings. Watch out dressagers--we have arrived.
All your ribbon are belong to us

We're on track for our goal of doing Training 3 and First 1 at a dressage show this summer. Who else is working towards goals?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Loving February

Pony friends
I know I've been quiet, but I've been too busy with horse-y awesome to blog a whole lot. Cuna and I celebrated Valentine's by going on our first trail ride of the year. We went with his bestie Max the Trakehner. Max is six years old, running training and getting ready to move up to prelim. He walked on the buckle. Cuna pranced and passaged his way up and down the mountains and was quite a ham. I loved every minute.

We also had our first day "over fences" for the year. Yes, I set an 18" crossrail to trot and canter over. Mr. Spry himself hauled my arms out of their sockets and galloped like a racehorse. We had some quality work, but I definitely needed the bigger bit.

Evidence of dressage Cuna
Sunday we had our first dressage lesson in six months. Our instructor was pleasantly surprised by our progress. I was expecting a thorough reaming and an hour of well-deserved torture, but she talked me through some things I'd been having trouble with and made Cuna work his well-muscled butt off. I learned a ton, but I can hardly walk.

So naturally, today was jumping day! We strapped on the pelham and did a related distance (of crossrails) and some little crossrails with placing poles out of the trot and canter. My position is feeling stronger and Cuna was awesome. At the end I wanted to put the fences up to jump size (or at least 2'6") and string a course together, but I thought it was better to end feeling confident than to push my still dressage-sore legs.

He's already less fuzzy than this.
Whew. I'm trying to wring all the possible fun out of this weather, because it's supposed to rain and snow for the rest of the week. I have exciting plans like "re-clip Cuna" and "practice wrapping" for when it's cold and horrid again. Here's to summer!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ammy Hour: Meet Amy!!

Welcome to another round of the Ammy Hour series, where we spotlight some of the hardworking adult amateurs who make this whole 'horse thing' happen one day at a time, with real lives, real jobs, real problems, and real successes. This week I'm talking to Amy of Slow and Steady Wins the Race about how she rocks the awesome in her corner of the world. I've followed Amy's blog for a long time and she is an incredible woman. It is so fun to get a little deeper into how she makes her crazy life work.

1) You’re at dinner with your peers. How do you introduce yourself?
Hi my name is Amy, I am 32 years old, I am married to Ryan and we just celebrated our 11th anniversary.  I have 3 beautiful little girls ages 9, 7 and 6.  I love horses.


2) But what you really meant to say was this:

I am Amy, I am 32, I am married with 3 kids and for the next few hours I am going to try my best to pretend that your conversations over the latest Twilight movie, your love for shopping and book club don't make me want to die a slow and painful death.  I would much rather be out shoveling horse crap, moving hay bales, fixing fences or maintaining pastures than wait in line to watch a movie with some strange mid 30's women obsessed with pale faced teenage vampires.  (as you can see I don't fit in well with  my peers) 

3) Tell us about your horse:

To sum up a horse like Steady Smiler in a few short sentences is impossible.  He has been, done and seen more things in his 13 years than I have in my 32.  He is a thoroughbred and he raced until he was 10 years old with 75 starts and winning $322,980.  8 firsts, 9 seconds and 10 thirds.  Yes you read that right he raced for 8 years!  And more amazing he came off of the track sound.  

He became mine in April 2010 and for as much as his world changed that day from a life at the track to a family pet in my backyard, he changed my life even more.  He has an unforgettable presence about him and he has impacted peoples lives all over the continent.

4) How did you meet him/her?
I found him scouring  I was specifically looking for a gelding off the track and he fit the bill.  I went and saw him and within minutes new he would be mine.

5) What have you done together?

We spent a year trotting, yes an entire year.  I had never taken a horse off the track before and this would be my first experience retraining and OTTB.  We took it very slow with the main goal of just enjoying the journey.  That first year served us both well I dropped 50 lbs and he was going through his off track changes. The end of 2010 we competed at our first schooling event at Starter.  

From that moment on I was hooked on Eventing.  2011 we started to train and compete more.  2012 was our eventing debut.  I did not consider myself an eventer until we competed in our first recognized horse trial.  We finished 3rd among solid competition in Beginner Novice division.  Together we have competed in many schooling shows and a couple recognized and have had good days and bad days.  Everything from championships, many blue ribbons to big E's on the show results.  More than anything he keeps me grounded, humble and makes me work for every success but in turn he gives me his whole heart and what more could a girl want from her horse?
6) Where are you going together?
I used to set limits on where we were headed together.  Or first limit was Beginner Novice, the second was Novice and now Training does not seem all that far off.  Prelim?  Who knows.   This year we will go Novice and after that we will see.  What I do know, that no matter how far Steady goes or doesn't go is that he WILL be treated with the love and respect that he deserves until the day he crosses that rainbow bridge.  To me it is not really about how far we go or what we accomplish than it is the journey we take and giving that horse the same amount of my heart that he has given to me.

7) How do you finance the addiction?

Ha!  Loaded quiestion right there.  I have been a stay at home mom for nearly 9 years.  Up until the last few months I have become a substitute teacher in the local schools.  So with one income, 3 kids, a morgatge on our farm, truck payment and  all of lifes other expenses finances have proven to be a challenge.  I have I mentioned that my husband who brings in that one income does NOT like horses and does NOT get the point in the expensiveness of it all.  

The ways I have helped provide is to cut costs anywhere I can.  I cook at home and from scratch, I garden and can and freeze most of my families food, I raise some of our meat, I have a milking goat, I breed and sell goats each year, I have had many small business ventures I have done everything from pony rides for parties, summer farm camps for kids, baking bread and making homemade pasta and selling it at the farmers market.  Yes I could have gone out and gotten a job but my family and raising my girls is my first priority so I found ways to make a little extra yet still be home for my family.  

I take lessons and ride clinics when the money is available and I try to video and write down information so that I can keep it fresh in my mind and keep working on those things until we 'get it'.  I read and watch as much as I can of training information.  I audit clinics when I can't afford to ride in them.  I volunteer when I can't afford to compete.  All of which I firmly believe have made me better and more educated on training, horses and my sport.  Anytime I do anything I give myself 100% to it and it does pay off.  We may meet our goals slower than others who have more resources but goals are something to work toward but my reward is in the process.

8) You balance a combination of kids, running a farm, and competing while maintaining an adult relationship. What top three things help you stay focused?

We can add in there that I work 2-3 days a week now too.  Never getting my priorities out of whack no matter how hard that may be.  I am a very driven and focused person which is a great trait but has it's down sides.  I want to do everything that I do 100% and that just can't always happen  because we are only capable of so much in life and many things are out of our control.  I have found that always keeping my priorities in line with my actions that most of the time things do work out.  

I love my horses but they are not my #1 priority my family is and that balance can feel like spinning 10 plates on sticks just waiting for one to come crashing down.  Which they WILL come crashing down at times.  I find that if I just go back and realign my priorities that everything can work but it takes patience and purpose.  It is not all just going to fall into place.  With a shit load of hard work, compromise and dedication and you CAN have it all!  A rewarding and happy relationship, beautiful, respectful and amazing children, a farm, training and competing and fulfilling my dreams.  That is my dream though you never see in the dream all the downright, hard, dirty and sometimes ugly work it will take.

9) How often do you ride?

Right now?  Like never.  I am a slave to the bipolar northern weather and I find I have to take a break for part of the year.  So normally December-February I don't ride much.  If Steady was capable of relaxed hacks when he is out of work then I would keep up with that a couple times each week.  But he cannot behave himself properly without work so my safest place is choosing to stay on the ground during this time.  If I had an indoor then it would be a different story but for now it is what it is.  But during the months of March-November I ride 3-5 days a week.

10) What’s the single biggest thing that helps you achieve your goals?


11) If there was one thing you could say to people getting ready to join the ranks of riding (or re-riding) adults, what would it be? 
Do IT!  Follow your dream but don't do it half assed.  Make goals, keep focused but be realistic  Don't sacrifice the people you love to follow your dream, that is the easy way out.  Instead find a way, no matter how hard, to enjoy the journey with them.  I said it once and I'll say it again it is about the journey so make the best of it!

 12) Bottom line: I am just a woman with a super cool horse who both love to event!

Many thanks to Amy for participating. If you don't already follow her, hop on over to her blog here. I love that Amy works her butt off and is completely honest about it on her blog. Good and bad, she always tells it how it is. 

Like this series? Want to participate or know someone who should? Contact me through the comments or by email on the 'contact me' page of the blog. I love your comments and suggestions! It's always fun to meet new people.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Barn Dogs, Round One

I've been working long days at the barn. Every day, I feel guilty about leaving my little dogs at home for so long. I wish I had time (and ambition) to take them running with me again.

Cuna sniffs the tiny pet
And then Monday, I decided it was time for a change.

That's right. Lewis the corgi and Chaucer the beagle are now barn dogs in training. It's finally warm (ish) enough and dry enough that it's not completely disgusting.

Lewis (herding group, not a surprise), took to it like... well, like a herding dog to a ranch. He monitored everything, did as he was told, and learned to watch out for the horses without causing trouble. He was friendly when clients showed up and generally got along well.

And then there's the beagle... Beagles are hounds, and I describe mine as a low functioning autistic. He's absolutely brilliant at what he was bred to do--I've never seen a better, more intuitive hunting dog. At everything else, he's socially awkward and very, very unaware. I was pleased with his barn performance. He only wandered off once and managed to stay out of the way. When he got really tired at the end of the day, he was actually very good.

And then they came home and slept for two days.

Today we try again. Wish us luck!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

One Year and One Day

2/6/12 - Our first day together
Febuary 6, 2012 an old red horse waltzed into my life and stole my heart. He's kind and grumpy, forward and lazy, smart and goofy, handsome and adorable. He took me so far so fast that looking back doesn't even seem real any more. I'm not the rider I was, I'm not the person I was before I met him.

May 2012
For me, he is the right horse at the right time. Buying him was a risk--he was 17 and had been in inconsistent work the past couple of years. I couldn't seem to keep him sound the first few months as he decided he needed new boots, a more expensive farrier, and some solid ($$$) hock maintenance, but he made it worth every penny as he taught me cool new skills and made every day a fun learning experience.

July 2012
We conquered cross country together--he took me from my panic-stricken first ride back since the wreck to learning how to appreciate a horse who loves his job in one of the best sports in the world. He did in a couple of days what I thought would take years to change--he let me enjoy the ride.

August 2012
Once he brought me back to being a functioning member of the team, we were able to compete in a horse trials and show some of the potential that a been-there-done-that rocking event horse and his favorite person are capable of. We surprised even ourselves with an accurate test and he brought me through some show nerves to a clean stadium round and the best XC trip of my life to date.

Winter 2012
Through it all, he's been an absolute joy. I love his silly grumpy face, his "I'm a bastard" attitude, and his silly, kind personality. He's learned to pose for pictures and milk photo sessions for all the peppermints I own. I've learned that I can do absolutely anything with this horse, and there's no reason to be afraid.

Winter 2012
Together we've reached new heights of competence and confidence, and he's turned me into a "happy horse evangelist". There's no prize for sticking it out the longest, folks--if you're scared or not having a good time, just move on. Life is too short to be having anything other than the time of your life 9 rides out of 10.

366 days with Cuna are just the beginning of our journey together. I don't know what this year is going to bring, but I know that whatever Cuna and I tackle together will be more fun just because he's there with me. He's carried me through some serious character building and helped me be a stronger, better person. Because of him, I've overcome obstacles I would have given up on. Because of him, I get out there and push myself, every day.

He made 2012 amazing. I don't know what I'd be without him.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Smoke Coming out my Ears

Photo by Alyssa
You might remember this picture if you've been around for a while. This is Cuna and I in the dressage phase of our last horse trial. I was determined to improve my score from the 39 at our first derby. People who knew Cuna thought a five point improvement in a month was too ambitious, but we NAILED a 29. Booyah.

So why am I bragging now? Because once again, I have my nose to the dressage grindstone. The arena is mostly rideable and S (who gave us a few thorough butt kickings last summer) occasionally gives me some pointers.

Yesterday I really focused on getting Cuna on my outside aids. I like to sit uselessly and brace my inside rein to fake some bend. To remedy that, I held my outside rein steady (MORE LEG! MORE CORE! SHORTER REINS!! Thanks S), but took my inside rein as a driving rein to make myself more aware of how I used it.

Then, because I know dressage makes Cuna anxious, I focused on giving with the inside rein for a neck pat, particularly during transitions. This gives him somewhere to go and assures him he is still the best horse in the universe.

Of course, then I noticed that I like to take my inside leg off every time I give the inside rein. Oops.

We took plenty of walk breaks since we're both coming back into condition, but my head still nearly exploded. Steady, short outside. Confused by inside hand. Both thumbs up. Inside leg. Oops, and outside. Give rein. STEADY LEG ACK WHERE IS HAND and transition.

Again and again. Watch out novice competitors--we are going to rock your world.

Oh, and we need lessons. Ha.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Wicked Good Fun

After a long day at the barn on Saturday, I went and hung out with some of my favorite horse ladies for dinner and drinks. Let's hear it for redheadlins and her mom cooking dinner, YUM. One of the guests present was 'the girl with the biggest camera' from our horse trials this summer.

Photo by Wicked Equine Designs

She took gorgeous shots like this. She's one of those rare people with an eye for horses and an eye for art, and the combination can be breathtaking.

Anyways. She's on the race scene more than the horse show scene and something about Cuna's story piqued her interest.

So she drew his picture. She put him in a race bridle and even captured funny little details like his tiny poofy forelock and his flyaway mane.

And then? She gave it to me. :-) I now have an absolutely gorgeous drawing of the best old man horse that I'm going to frame and hang on my wall.

If you're thinking, "wow, that's really good, how can I get one?" then you are on the right track. She's on facebook at Wicked Equine Designs and word on the street is that she will trade artwork for tack if you're not in the 'feeling well endowed financially' boat. She also works on commission and take it from me, she does a lovely, lovely job. My sad little phone photo of the Cuna picture doesn't begin to capture how much I love it.

PS You can follow her blog at Four Mares. No Money.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Winter Activities

I know I haven't done many updates on what the Cunafish and I are up to. Guess why.

Because we have done nothing. After three straight weeks of highs in the single digits (Fahrenheit), we got snow dumped on us, which then melted. Then massive amounts of rain on top of the melted snow, all of which froze solid and we got another snow on top.

At that point, I said, "Snow on top of ice=TRACTION!!! Let's go for a ride.

So we did.

It only worked because Cuna is officially the Best Horse Ever. He always takes care of Cuna first and he never loses his mind or does silly things. At one point, I nearly had heart failure because I realized we were literally in the middle of a huge sheet of ice with a couple inches of snow on top with no actual grit or dirt to help him.

He just calmly walked along.

Love him.

We did have one day post massive snow pre-torrential rains where the arena was quite nice. I braided Cuna's mane to get it respectable again and we had a lovely dressage ride.

I even got to work on my sitting trot a little, since he was so lovely and connected. :)

After the ride, I checked and he had slobbers! So huge for us. Given that he doesn't like dressage and I have no ambition to change that, we don't push to had here usually.

Except as it benefits our jumping, or course. The more we jump, the more concentrated our flatwork is.

We haven't been jumping. Not really a safe "on a sheet of ice" activity.

When it was really and truly unride-able, even for Cuna, we played dress up. I snagged another client's five point breastplate and tried it on Cuna. I think he looks pretty great.

We didn't actually ride in it due to the aforementioned sheet of ice.

Now, due to the temperatures interacting with the water and all, we've been having some pretty intense fog. The fog keeps the sun from shinning enough to melt all the ice and let the arena drain.

Cuna and I have been merrily riding in our foggy slush lake in the afternoons. We don't trot much, but it is SO GOOD to be back in the saddle.

This winter can go die in a hole. Seiously. 2nd coldest January ever here. Hope February is better.

I can't be the only one without an indoor. Anyone else still trying to ride through this sort of crap?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cuna Pictures (and some history)

I hung out with one of Cuna's former owners the other day and she gave me a whole disc of Cuna pictures, YAY!! They aren't necessarily in chronological order, but here's some shots of the younger Cuna. I think she had him from age 12-17 or thereabouts.
Hanging out with bff Denali

Running XC at a local facility
More local XC
Schooling at Herron Park (I think)
More schooling
It's water Cuna!! ;) Mr Sensitive seems to have a special pad.
Horse show Cuna! Some things never change.
Cuna at Rebecca
Galloping at Rebecca
Jumping! Note his always-tidy hind end.
Another gallop
This jump scares me. So giant.
Doing Christmas pics with his old owner at home
Dressage Cuna at a horse trial
Running XC

Showjumping Cuna!
His USEA records indicate that he usually finished in the middle of the pack at recognized events, but I like to think it's because he's such a jumping machine that no one worried to much about dressage. :p Nothing to do with conformation/interest level whatsoever.

I've also found a show photographer with some sweet pics I plan on getting eventually. You guys will have to wait for legal copies, though. It's how I roll.

No recent progress on giant red bambi baby pics, but I'm hoping to catch a break. I know Cuna was in the Fresno area before his previous owner had him, so if you know of a giant red bambi horse there in the early 2000s, let me know. :)

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