Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Newton's a Bitch

Let's just take a moment to appreciate how I rode through C's antics for FOUR YEARS and never really even came that close to falling off.
hm that's sky

is it douchy to post screen shots? maybe? 

After the clinic that completely kicked my ass, I spent a day crippling around not going to my barn. Then yesterday I thought a fun idea would be to toodle bareback (despite clinician being like MARCHING WALK NOT TOODLE NO) (whatever) (#toodle4lyf). 

So we toodled and chatted.

Helped trainer teach lessons.
I was feeling all happy and confident and comfortable and like lalalala not paying attention.

Annnnnnd I thought Zoe saw the nice lady walk up to the arena gate, but she did not.

So she stepped slightly to the left like O HAI LADY I IS ZB.
comfy comfy couch
And between me having zero tone in my muscles and Zoe being roughly couch-shaped, I slid off the side.

Landed on my feet.

Grabbed mane to catch my balance.

Tripped over a ground pole.

Fell on my ass.
shame selfie. Zoe not impressed.


The lady was absolutely mortified (for existing, apparently) and I was dying laughing.

Zoe was pretty confused why I was not on her anymore. I smooshed her smooshy face, then got back on.
So there you go. Apparently bolting OTTB doesn't begin to unseat me, but slightly side stepping baby draftie is my undoing.

And yes, if I was sitting up and riding and MARCH NOT TOODLE and ONETWOTHREEFOUR, I probably wouldn't have fallen off. Oh well. Had to happen sometime. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Zoëbird Goes to a Clinic

I signed Zoë up for her first-ever fancy dressage clinic for last weekend. I mean. The mare is W/T/barely C so it seemed a bit preemptive to be like "yeah totes I'll pay $$$ to have someone tell me she's not broke", but I'm really, Really, REALLY picky about instructors I'll ride with and I wanted to support the clinician coming in. (Background: last time she came, a friend who has a hot, sensitive off-breed horse rode with her and the clinician went through stuff it took me MONTHS to work out on my own with C in about 30 seconds. WUT TAKE MY MONEY.)
tired clinic baby

Anyways. I went to audit/check out the route and parking conditions on Friday and watched lovely riders on lovely horses have lovely rides and while I still liked the clinician, I was kinda like, "What am I doing here?" 

I mean. As much I as love my smooshy mare, a finished dressage horse she is not. We like toodling and adventures. We aren't super cool and good at stuff. 

The organizer kindly offered to let me come a couple hours early so Zoë could hang out and acclimate before our ride. 
open bars=social hour

I need to start getting used to this, but Zoë was so low-drama that it was absurd. She's all O HAI EVERYONE IM ZB and that's that. Literally put her in the stall with hay and didn't hear a peep out of her. 

It was the first off-property "work" outing for both of us and one of us was definitely having some OTTB PTSD (me) and so got ready plenty early just in case there was shit to be lost (also me). 

Zoë was all "O HAI CHICKENS IM ZB" and "O HAI HORSES" and that was pretty much it. I did put her on the lunge line and then I saw ZOEWILD.

Which means.

She cantered TWO CIRCLES with her tail up. 

Then was am "AM TIRED WALKIN NOW".

Time to go! I hopped on and was having an almost out of body experience like OMFG AM I DEAD BUZZING AHHHH and Zoë was like "Y R THIS EXCITING WE R WALKIN". 

Giggle. Baby mare. 

The instructor had us doing some interesting stuff:

1) Diamond shape - circles, especially on babies, kinda get all over the place and aren't super useful. Instead she set out 4 markers and had us make a diamond shape around them. This made me be very honest about where we were and where I was placing her feet. Leaning in/out was super obvious and the straight lines between the markers were telling. 
go around markers

2) Following her nose - Zoë isn't trained/balanced enough to really understand moving off my leg to correct straightness issues at this point, so instead, I had to keep Zoe's body in line with her nose all the time. If we leaned in, then point her nose out and steer out. Or the reverse. The diamond shape was helpful for this. If you're bulldozing cones, you're leaning in. FYI. 

3) Shoulders up - At this point in her development, ZB is a bit downhill and pulls herself around with her shoulders. To help her overcome this, it is critical to keep her poll the highest point. If I ask her to stretch down at this point, she'll just trip over her own head (it's... happened) and run downhill. The stretch will come after she learns to lift the base of her neck. For now, head up. 

4) Giving - at the halt ONLY because of aforementioned tripping-over-own-head issue, we did a cool exercise where I'd ask Zoë to halt, then hold one rein steady and give the other forward. This isn't a seesaw on the mouth thing or whatever--just give one rein and wait for her to soften. If she went backwards, I'd ask her to step up and halt again because we never pull or go backwards onto the bit. If she lost ambition, I would "fluff" her with my leg but not have her step forward. Once she gave on one rein, we'd switch to the other. 

5) Forward - I love toodling and it showed. "Walk to the rhythm of the trot" was something I head a lot. Also MARCH and ONETWOTHREEFOUR. At this point, I need to be very concerned with rhythm for Zoe and that rhythm needs to be CONSISTENT and GOING FORWARD. --This one is kind of funny for me because I have so much baggage with C that I had some anxiety about really moving out. In the context of this lesson though, I got tools to manage the forward (HANDS UP REINS SHORT) and it all felt really comfortable. 

6) Half Stop - at a more polished stage, it would be a half halt. At this point, we want Zoë with me and listening to me so when it feels like she's lost her balance forward or is pulling down on the reins, ask her to stop and then the moment I feel her slow down, go on again. This was tricky for me, because again, I'm used to hot horses so I kept asking for a BIG stop and she'd stop. And then we were stopped. Ooops. I definitely need to get more sensitive and release AS SOON AS she gives vs getting too excited about whoa. 

7) GoStopGO - Clinician had us canter left HANDS UP GOING FORWARD and it actually felt really good. Then she's like CANTER RIGHT and I definitely did not tell her we'd never cantered right before. Zoë gave the same effort she's given at home--plowing forward at the trot and almost falling down, but not quite cantering. Clinician wanted her quicker off the leg with her hind end going quicker. Aka. Make her hotter. This is something I DEFINITELY would NOT have done on my own because again, OTTB PTSD. But instead, we did a series of very crisp, prompt W/T/W/T/W and revved the engine, creating a desire to go forward. Then we attempted to go W/T/C in about 5 strides and if she didn't get it right away, came back and revved the engine a little more. It took a little bit (mostly for me to accept that this wasn't a scary idea) and then BAM canter right. What's more, with the front end lifted and the forward moving thing, it was actually a super fun canter to ride. 
After the first canter right, we did the giving exercise again. Zoë had a full-blown Zoëmeltdown. 

Which is to say. 

She stood there and flipped her head for a while. And then she was like FINE and stopped. 
#zoewild meltdown

When we finished, we were both completely exhausted but Zoë had a big, soft learning eye and my little mind was blown. It was so good to push ourselves a little and find out what we were capable of and working towards. I needed someone to a little bit hold my hand and a little bit kick my butt to move us forward. Plus, Zoë is just such a different horse from anything I've ever had--it was so good to get more input on how to ride her more effectively. 

And because I am just so proud of my baby mare, here are things the clinician said about her:
Oh, she's really smart. 
She's going to be so easy to get on the bit.
She moves forward so nicely! 
She is going to be a really fun one.

Oh yeah. That's just a grand prix dressage trainer saying lovely things about lil Ms. ZB. 

It was a great experience for both of us and I'm excited to do our homework to get ready for next time. 
and now we are so tired

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


I knew when this year started that it wasn't going to be normal. I was going to try to make the jump (ha...) to second level with Courage and I knew showing wasn't going to be a big part of that. We were exploring new horizons and instead of creating a show fund, I tapped one of my favorite local photographers and started setting up a really cool photo shoot. 
love this
As anyone who's read this blog knows, this year didn't go down the way I expected. Instead of working towards bigger and better things, I dumped money into vets and treatments and ultimately concluded that Courage would be better suited by a different career.
love this
It took what seemed like years at the time, but the little man found his perfect upgrade home and Ms. Zoebird found me.

I wish the next part of this story was like, "and the birds were singing and everything was beautiful", but the truth is that Zoe has been a very bright spot in an otherwise very challenging year.
love this
I've been running myself ragged with no energy left for creativity and adventures.

But the great thing about horses like Zoe and friends like Alyssa is that they're ready when you need them.
love this
And when I said, "let's do this thing", they made it happen.
love this
While things aren't all coming up roses, I think we're finally on the upswing. 
love this
Through it all, I've been so lucky to be surrounded by absolutely the best people (and creatures) that anyone could ask for.
super love this
I know I'm going to be a stronger, better version of myself because of that.
love this
I'm not quite sure where everything is going to shake out. 
love this
I have no idea what next year will bring me, but I know that with all the challenges of this year, I still came through with a Zoebird. 

And sometimes, a Zoebird is exactly what I needed the most. 

[All stunning photographs and edits by the inestimable Alyssa. She has limited availability for local photography jobs. Contact her for details.] 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Doing It Different

Possibly you remember last month, when I ran my first ever half marathon with, uh, "limited" training and had some takeaways

Don't worry! This is not going to be a fitness blog, because that seems like a super boring thing to write. 

That said. Since said race, I actually have been training (better late than never, amiright), so it was less of a terrible idea when Nadia was like "let's do a 10k!" 
i love medals. also stella needs to up her selfie game.
I hope most of you are familiar with blogger Nadia--she's a badass distance-running, animal-welfare-working, TED-talking, all-around-awesome person with her own super cool baby horse that is basically Zoe's super-talented little sister. 


I love how connected all this is--last time I ran, I talked about emotional awareness for myself as a rider and how my (lack of) training affected me. And see, this time, I trained. It was not enough, but it was more than before. 
def wore blerch shirt
When I knew what to expect and I knew that I was ready to take it on, the whole race was so much smoother. 

And I know that sounds like a super dumb thing to say, because like... obviously? 

It's the same philosophy I used with Zoe--go slow. Do tiny increments. Set her up for success. Never, ever surprise her. Just simple, methodical horsemanship.
one toodle at a time
 The difference the preparation makes is monumental.

I can't overstate that.


Because a 10k is such a friendly distance (SO SHORT) and because I (omg) actually trained, I finished and only felt about a quarter like death so I was like OMG LETS GO PLAY WITH ZOE WHAT A GOOD IDEA.

And Nadia is like "but I have no riding clothes"
And I am like "soooooo?"
post race stretches!
Because one of the absolutely coolest things about Zoe is I can literally show up and put a bridle on her and we're off on a toodle.
and that's how we did a whole weekend in like half of one day
Because she knows I'll never ask more than she can give. 

And she knows that because I set her up to succeed every single day. 


I have bigger goals for myself than just finishing a given run and I have bigger goals for Zoe than just "getting around" a show.

Our path to get there is slow.


And so, so deliberate.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


I've probably mentioned this, but in case you do something with your life other than obsess over my Zoebird, here's the background:

She's four. She spent six months last year being a driving horse, which is fantastic in terms of being low-impact while engaging her brain and showing her the world. However, as a baby driving horse, she was asked not to canter. And as a baby draft horse, cantering on her own wasn't a high priority. 

When she came home in July, we had lots and lots to tackle and one of those things was learning to canter. We started in the round pen. She could only do a few strides at a time. It was not coordinated. 

awwww babeh zozo

When she got more coordinated, we moved to the big arena! 
sunset lunging picture. yup. 
First I was just thrilled if she got a canter. Didn't matter if it was crossfiring, wrong lead, whatever. 

Then over the course of a few weeks, I upped my expectations to a WHOLE HALF CIRCLE and she had to do it EACH DIRECTION. 

As she got more comfortable, I upped the distance until she was doing 2-3 upward canter transitions each direction for a total 2.5 circles each way at the canter. 

All that was on the lunge line. 

And like.
safety first, kids!

Lunging a Zoebird is a real stupid thing. This is the horse I get on bareback with no prep to toodle and I don't want her to think running is a prerequisite to riding. 

Hence, we've been backing off the lunging but I want her to keep cantering and improving and building strength and muscle memory. 

Which means.

Prolly it's time to try that shit under saddle. 
good thing i don't have a shit ton of canter baggage.
Soooooo. I seriously considered farming out the cantering process. 

But I have to do it eventually, and after several months of watching a Zoebird canter on a lunge line, I knew she wasn't going to be naughty. 

Last week, I was trotting around. I thought canter might be a good idea, so I asked Zoe to go. She went OH HAI BIG TROT and I was like HO SHIT DEATH NOPE. Plus we didn't have a media person, so even success would have been undocumented, which is clearly the most important issue. 
and then we went on the ditch bank and she was real wild
or like
But earlier this week, I was having a real nice ride. We'd done transitions and figure eights and Zoe was being a super lady.

And I thought.

What the hell.
plus media person obv
We got big trot, but instead of panicking, I giggled. 

And then I thought about farming out the process again. 

And then I thought let's do this thing.

If you're a video hater, here's the relevant still:
You can't really see it from this angle, but I have a stupid grin on my face because Zoe is so fun. You can see in the video that she sort of four beats and then is like SMOOSH GOES WOOSH (credit to AA with RA for my new slogan).

It's cute. It's fun. It's SUPER to ride.
I should probably have a cooler wrap-up than, "it was real fun and I can't wait to do it some more", but that's where it's at.

Ms. Zoebird.

The wonder baby. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sisterhood of the Traveling Tack

Some of you remember my amazing old man horse, Cuna.
hopefully you forgot my over-editing-photos phase
He had a very complex head--big, soft eyes, teacup muzzle, broad forehead. It wasn't until the last few months of his life that I finally found a bridle I really liked on his face. It wasn't even that expensive--a Mark Todd model from the UK that is now discontinued.

It's a lovely piece. I did put it on Courage once or (maybe) twice, but it was so wrong for his face that it wasn't even funny.
Unfortunately, there was an era before google photos and the truly horrible shots are lost to the internet. It also didn't really fit him at all.

So I had this bridle. And it was special to me. But I also had no particular use for it.

And then a friend of mine got her own horse.
The lovely Ms. G
And see, this friend is someone who has meant a lot to me over the years and was really more of a co-owner with me on Cuna than anything.

It was only right that the bridle went to her.

Life changes and my friend ended up horseless.

But when I saw her last, she handed me a bridle bag and said to try it on Zoe and that if it didn't fit, she wanted it back.
It fits.

I'm rarely weird and sentimental.

Today, I'm weird and sentimental.
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