Monday, June 17, 2013

"These kind of things happen to everyone sooner or later."

Well, FUCK.
We have been introducing Firefly to a saddle, with the hope she could pack our 3yro around in a leadline class at the next show.  The idea is to make the show a family affair--have my older son show Firefly in halter, then the younger can be led about on her while the older son is led on Tril, then I can do a couple of classes on Tril.  Sounds great; still does.  Especially when Firefly has been doing so well.
Typical, "Don't really give a crap" attitude.

"I give a crap only in that you're making me work.  Boo work."

"No work = no crap given."

And not a crap was given that day.  Little dude sure loved it, though.
The problem is our trailer--it's a slant-load, with a divider that doesn't go all the way to the floor.  How do I transport a full sized horse and a 36" mini safely?  Well, step one is...bring the trailer over and see what we can figure out.  
Well--while it wasn't as bad as it could have been, I could see it from there, which is enough to scare the shit out of me while also make me angry at myself. Everyone's okay, at least physically.
I loaded Tril first, and like how he's been when we've loaded him on a friend's trailer for our joint riding lessons, he wouldn't go in unless hubby got behind and pushed him on the butt. But then, we got him in and he snacked on the alfalfa while I shut the divider.
After a few moments to let him adjust, I brought up Firefly. She marched right in, and I was hopeful as she seemed just taller enough not to fit under the divider. I thought about tying her to a post in the back corner where there is more space, but there was no good place to tie (hubby pointed to an ideal location and said if he knew how, he'd weld a hook there for her). So I stood next to her while she was alongside Tril, and was just checking for position and safety, her lead rope in my hand. 
Then, somehow, she got her butt just a hair under that divider, found her butt a bit wedged which made her worry, felt Tril which made her spook, and kicked in surprise. Tril freaked and kicked back a few times, throwing his confined body against the divider that mercifully held. The whole thing was maybe 2 seconds at most, but it was two seconds of loud and kicking hooves. Hubby yelled, "Get out of there!" and I jumped out, Firefly still in hand. Hubby took her, and I hopped back in to soothe Tril, who was shaking all over and definitely feeling stuck. He didn't completely freak out, though he was certainly frightened. I wasn't about to undo the divider with him that scared, though, and risk him bolting over or past me. So, I just stayed with him and gently touched his rump, talking softly until his eyes softened a bit and he stopped quivering. After a few minutes, when I felt the adrenalin had passed, I undid the divider to lead him out. While he was eager to exit, he had enough sense to listen and walk carefully and respectfully, if quickly, out.
I looked him over and lunged him and saw nothing obvious, though he'll probably be somehow sore from the whole ordeal so I gave him some Bute regardless.
I figured...fuck. Now, whereas before he was reluctant to get on a trailer, now his attitude is "Fuck no." Not, "FUCK YOU AND FUCK NO AND FUCK OFF!" Just...planting his feet, refusing to go forward, and "Fuck no." I wanted immediately to replace this negative event with a positive experience and tried to get him back on the trailer for maybe 30-45min or wasn't happening, at least not in that time frame. The boys (who had accompanied us--hitching up the trailer is very exciting for them, and we thought this would be brief) were restless and hubby was understandably losing patience with restless boys, so there wasn't time to completely correct my mistake.
I found if I pulled on him at all to try and get him in, he'd throw his head straight back. I wasn't about to have him flip over on me, so part of what I worked on with him was just not throwing back his head and not freezing in fear as we approached. I tried bribing him with Mrs. Pastures cookies, and that was successful in getting him near--but not in--the trailer. Hubby pushing behind now has Tril going sideways. Eventually, I just sat at the edge of the trailer, and found it interesting that when I did that, Tril was relaxed to just stand there with me. The closest I could get him to the inside of the trailer was when I'd be sitting there. But if I'd stand up, he'd get a little worried.
I needed a positive experience to end with, and time wasn't allowing for it to be getting him on the trailer. I had to settle with it being me standing up in the trailer, lead rope pulling his head gently in, and him accepting a cookie as far into the trailer as his neck would reach (those feet were NOT moving). *sigh*
Firefly, meanwhile, was also a bit shaken up but over it quickly. She also had zero problem marching right in. Though a bit concerned at first, she was thrilled to see Tril's alfalfa still there, and relaxed as I let her dive into it for a few bites. Well, so at least that's good.
So everyone is physically fine, as far as I can tell, and half the involved equines doesn't seem any worse for wear mentally. The
I'm unnerved by this, angry I did this, and embarrassed if not ashamed.  An experienced horseperson acknowledged what I knew--Tril had just trained me and now his trailer problems will likely be worse--but she also comforted me with the words that titled this blog post:  "These kind of things happen to everyone sooner or later."  I would prefer not to ever, though, thankyouverymuch.  Dammit.
I battle anxiety, self-doubt, and emotional discomfort with knowledge.  In the days since, I dove into various books and instructional videos, and am focusing on the common theme:  this is not a trailer problem, this is a leading problem.  I found many trainers, some unknown, some nationally-known, had the same idea: control the horse's feet.  Don't bribe, don't use a second person, don't go in first, don't force--work on the ground to build up relationships, and then work on controlling the horse's feet, then work on telling the horse where to take those feet.  Take my time.  Use a dressage whip (or similar) to reinforce requests.
I'm not mentioning trainers by name because, honestly, I don't think there's any one right way--the right way is the one that works for that horse.  I find some trainers a bit dubious, particularly when they start pushing their brand of a product, but that doesn't mean I toss out their approaches completely.  I don't want to get into a battle of this person vs. that person, or a pro-her or anti-him.  I just look for something that seems to make sense in my situation.  "Try it.  If it doesn't work, I try something else."  Best advice anyone in the horse world ever gave me.
Today, instead of just lunging Tril, I did some round pen and groundwork with him.  While at first confused, he quickly learned and was eager to perform and please.  I found myself wishing I'd brought my trailer because within 10min, I felt he was ready to try.  But that will be tomorrow.
My goal is he will be better at loading into a trailer than he was before the heart attack moment once this is all said and done--we'll see how it goes.

The nice thing is, all that groundwork seemed to help set up a very nice ride.  So, yaaaaaay.

Meanwhile, it looks like trailering both at the same time is out.  Oof.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Our first show together: We did it! Now, please dip me in ibuprofen

It's been a few days since Trilogy and I had our first show together, and it's taken a few days for me to recover, because holy crap that was exhausting.  Monday I just became one with the couch for half the day while my body hummed in fatigue.  

I actually enjoy doing all the prep myself--the bathing, the Show Sheening, the tack cleaning--there is comfort in the routine and ritual.  But, as I get older (and more specifically, as my life has become busier), I spread it out over the days before the show.

I never get manicures and rarely buy new shoes.  Tril, on the other hand... 
All clean and ShowSheened, showing off his manly maroon now-don't-go-lie-in-your-piss-puddle sheet.

Now, this show honestly was not really well suited for Tril and me.  While it was a hunter show and Tril is a huntseat pleasure horse, it was a hunter show--which means the rings were full of warmbloods, thoroughbreds, and thoroughbred-type other breeds brought by trainers bringing their clients along.  When I filled out the online pre-registration for the show, I was vexed by all the names I had to enter that were all, essentially, me:  Owner, Rider, Recipient of Award Money (??), Trainer.  Um...yeah, no. I have a riding lesson instructor, sure, but at this point I had had precisely three lessons on him, the most recent a month before.  But looking at the other pre-entries, everyone else there had a trainer, and a whoooooole lot of people were riding a horse owned by someone else.  Doh.  Welllll...let's just go do this thing anyway.

I gotta say first of all--I have amazing friends.  A-MAZE-ing friends.  One friend had already volunteered to be my groom for me that morning, but two others who happened to be at the barn that morning to care for their horses also stepped in to help wherever and whenever they could, as well as to be my cheerleaders.  They also calmed my nerves during a brain-fart-induced panic of, "OMG Where is the other rein??  I look home my schooling and show bridle to clean and oil them; how do I now only have ONE rein for each bridle?!"  GAH.  Worry, stress, beginnings of frazzle...then my friend, looking at the reins, said, "Are they split reins?"  Me:  "Oh.  I forgot, I didn't unbuckle the reins when I cleaned them so it looks like one long rein."

HowEVER, there was an "Aw, CRAP!" moment when I went to put on my freshly cleaned and oiled show girth.  It fell so short with my saddle, it didn't even reach the billets--like, was 2-3" away from the billets.  That's when I remembered--while I rode Tril in my old 46" schooling girth, I had stopped using it on Ana because it had become so stretched out it didn't fit her anymore.  The 46" show girth had not stretched out, and Tril is a big beefy boy compared to dainty Ana.  Her blanket size: 68.  His: 76-78.  That truly 46" girth was not happening.  But, oh crud (literally)--my schooling girth was misshapen from years of use and stained with sweat salt--I mean, ew.  And of course, all my leather cleaning products were at home.  But my friend came to the rescue when she ran--literally ran!--back to her barn to get some leather cleaner and a rag.  And I gotta say--that stuff was miraculous.  That girth actually looked, well, not like crap on the leather parts.  (The elastic--feh, but the saddle flaps covered that.)

I treated this show like a fresh start: new horse, right?  And in a way, a new body.  So let's have some new show clothes.  My hunt coats and nearly all of my show shirts had both been purchased over 10 years ago and tailored to fit my pre-baby body--and while I can still get them on, they don't look or feel all that great.  Certain things have changed since those babies were born, and I accept certain things just ain't ever going back to the way they were before.  (My neck is thicker--WTF?--and that makes those hideous collars regular choke chains.) So, I exchanged some really nice but really unnecessary for me $120 breeches I'd won in a raffle at a local tack shop for store credit, and used the bulk of that credit for a new hunt coat and a few other goodies.

I put on my new show clothes, put Tril in his German martingale for some schooling, and was off to DO THIS THING.  (eeek)

First, the warm up ring.
Oh yeah, smiling now.  No other pics of me smiling, sadly.  That's notsomuch because I was that bummed, but that tired.
My friend who volunteered to be my groom also served as trainer and videographer, while the leather-cleaner-to-the-rescue friend was photographer.

My friend-trainer rides hunter/jumper on the A circuit, so she is well versed in all the doings and needs to be dones.  She schooled me and I got my feel, and Tril was dang professional.  My friend commented how much she liked Tril, especially for me--he was just doing his job.

Sadly, warm up had to end and The Real Thing had to start.

I think I started holding my breath here.

Our first class was walk-trot equitation, which is the most torturous of all as it's all about ME and not the horse.  Deep breath, and...

Breathe. we went.

Now, lemme tell yah.  In my many years of showing on the local open circuit, walk-trot classes were nearly always small.  Sometimes as many as ten, but nearly always under five.  Not this time.  Oh, crap.

No really, breathe.
The ring was busy with various bodies as well as various jumps scattered about, and this was as much a lesson in steering as anything.

Honestly, these classes are a blur because they went for FREAKING EVER.  I cannot remember ever doing that much trotting in a class.  EVER.  First of all, walk-trot tended to use just half the arena, but because of the number of entries, we used to full circumference of that massive ring.  Second of all, we rarely would trot more than once, maaaaybe twice, that full circumference.  Not with this judge.  I realized I was passing my friends at least three times in each direction.  I was a panting, shaking mess after just the first class.

These photos were taken in the first two, I believe--Walk/Trot Equitation and Walk/trot Obedience.

Not too bad, if I-the-ever-self-critical do say so myself.

Ooh, even nicer.

"And riders, return to the walk."  OH THANK GOD

Pretty boy knows his job

Sometimes I think it looks like I'm riding a Breyer model.


Tril was such a dutiful boy--except on the straightaways, he wanted to go straight away a WHOLE lot faster.  It didn't get out of hand, but it sure as hell couldn't have looked good.

Finally, the time came to line up.  That's when I looked to my left and right and counted.

I can't believe I haven't asphyxiated yet from lack of oxygen. 
 Oh, CRAP.  There are 13 of us in here.  That means my likilihood of getting a single token ribbon (given only 1st-6th) is approximately NOT.  Seven of us were going to be unplaced and have no clue if we were 7th or 13th.
Nope, not me.  Cute hunter paint pony though.
I originally cropped this image thinking it might be a nice Facebook profile photo--until the crop revealed the complete "Aw, CRAP!"-iness of my expression and mood.

Aw, it's okay.  You might feel better if you breathe.

I exited the arena dejected, but my friends were now in cheerleader mode and were having none of it.  "You did great!  Nobody even came close to dying!"

The next class was Hunter Under Saddle, and I withdrew figuring the writing was on the wall--my high neckset Arab was not going to be competitive against these long and low hunters.  I debated scratching out of the Walk/Trot Over Rails class--basically trotting over poles--but my friends encouraged, cheered, comforted, and encouraged some more. 

Know what was even more super-awesome?  The show organizers encouraged me to go in.  I was noticeably dejected and felt a bit out of place, but they gently sprinkled me with their positive words and energy and I took a breath and accepted it.  You gotta love a show run by people like that, especially when the day of the show has to be so darn stressful to them.

I sat back, letting the others go before me so I could both watch them do the pattern as well as catch my breath.  I realized--wait, this won't be so bad!  The whole class would only last about a minute for me.  I can do that!  Then I can sit and rest some more! YES.

So, we went in, and my super excited friends forgot to take photos and video--but that's okay.

And it was just...wonderful.  FUN, even.

We trotted in, trotted our courtesy circle, and approached the first pole.  Tril pricked his ears like a happy little jumper and then happily jumped it at dead center.  I laughed, then approached the next three poles--and he trotted right over them, dead center, ears pricked, me lifted up in a two-point like my body remembered from when I was a fearless jumper in my teenage years.  I still remembered my training from all that time ago--eyes up, look at center, hands forward, eyes on the next "jump."  And Tril, unlike the lesson horses I'd ridden as a kid, LOVED it.  When we finished and did our final courtesy circle, we at one time were in front of the first pole, and he pricked his ears and readied his body--hee, he wanted to go over that one too.  Sorry, boy, fun is over.  

We left the arena and I was exuberant--it had simply been fun.  Then I choked up remembering--this had been the last class I ever rode Ana in.  She had jumped the first pole, causing me to burst out laughing--and Tril had done the same.  Tril, whose back was sprinkled in white hairs from the show pad that refuses to shed them all despite washing.   Tril, who wore Ana's retired tail bag when I couldn't find his during all the show prep.  

Then, we placed--I yelped with pleasure when I heard we were fourth.  Fourth!  Of eleven!  Even when Ana had won the class, we were just first of three.  Tril and I actually defeated more competition.  

I grinned like an idiot and wore than ribbon on my hunt coat like most horse show moms do with their kids' ribbons.  I was so proud of him and me both, and so relieved, it made the rest of the day's stress melt away.

I confess, I'm totally bribing him with a carrot here.  Yes, I gave it (and a ton more) to him.
We rode in one more class, hunter pleasure, and were blanked in it as I anticipated.  That was okay.  Honestly, it was.  At that point I was more focused on just getting him to maintain his rhythm at the trot without racing away.  I shortened my reins considerably, which is really the opposite of what you want in a pleasure class, but again my goal was to maintain his focus.  (And not die.  My friend said it was the longest flat class she ever saw.  GAH.)

When I came home and reflected on the day, I realized what a wonderfully good boy Tril had been.  Despite all the chaos of the show--EZ Up Tents all along the arena fence, folding chairs everywhere (both on the ground and being moved about), buckets and towels everywhere, a grill under the judge's booth spewing steam and smoke during the class, a dog that trotted into the arena (on leash, at least, and he only went a few steps) right in front of us, trailers everywhere, stuff and activity everywhere--he just didn't care.  Not a flicked ear, not even the beginning of a spook, nothing.  Even though we normally ride alone, he didn't give a hoot about sharing the arena with a dozen other horses.  Not when they were to his inside, not to his outside, not when they came up a bit close on his butt, nothing.  He was completely professional.  

This excited, excites, me for the next show.  I can't wait.

What a good boy.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

This weekend: First show in 2 years and UTTERLY TERRIFIED

I confess.  I love showing.

I confess.  I'm utterly terrified at getting back in the ring.

To clarify, I don't show the upper-echelon "A" circuit--I do the local open and schooling shows.  And I do find great pleasure in them--as much the prep as the show itself.  I loved grooming Ana to gleaming white, getting dressed in that torturous outfit, and going in and strutting our stuff however well or poorly.  We did very well in our little local circuit, bringing home multiple championships in the walk-trot division.

Ten years together, lots of pretty colors

Why walk-trot?  Well, at first we were newbies.

Then I had a baby.  Then I had back surgery.  (Her canter was brutal on my spine...ugh, I can still feel it just recalling the pain.)  Then I had another back surgery.

My absolute favorite-favorite show pic of us.  This was our first show after my second back surgery.  That time around, the pain and damage was so bad, I faced a very real fear that I may never walk, work, or ride again.  But...I did.  Eventually, I did. This show was just my sixth time back in the saddle and I was sloppy and weak, but Ana took care of me.  This photo captures the moment our names were called as division champions.

Then I had another baby.  Then she went semi-permanently lame behind due to arthritis.

Then...she was gone.

Taken at our last show together, two years ago this month.  We would lose her just three months later.

 It was fun making such a graceful, delicate girl look awkward and goofy.  Still miss her.

This Sunday, June 9, I will once again be in the show ring, putzing about in the walk-trot division.

Why walk trot?  Well, because Tril and I are newbies as partners.

His hind end is still recovering and he isn't to canter under saddle yet.  I actually have never cantered him except during the trial ride--over a year ago.

My busted ankle has finally recovered--after 14mos--to where it is only vaguely, occasionally stiff.

But mostly, because we are newbies as partners, I've done two shows in five years (and nothing in the last two), and I am terrified of going back in.  This is a local schooling show, but it has seriously professional attendance.

Tril's the seasoned show pro--so at least we both aren't Perpetual Newbies--but, GAH.

Our first class is equitation, so I have to focus on keeping my left shoulder from trying to migrate to the right side as it collapses in twisted resignation, a lingering effect of the severe back injuries (the pain radiated down the left side) that I cannot seem to retrain my body out of.  But at least after that class, I don't have to think about me--I just have to think about Tril.

Schooling the other week and sitting the trot.  Um...Laura...get your hands out of your crotch.  NOT attractive.

Since this ride, I've been focusing on lifting my collapsed left side and using my legs to push him more into the frame.  He's lazy, so out of shape me means rubbernecking him, German martingale or not.

Double butt shot


Work in progress
I'd like to do all five classes in the division, but don't know if I have the stamina.  I also don't know if Tril will maintain his focus--he gets bored easily and that's when he does things like put his tongue over the bit (and thus all but cover his ears and say "LA LA LA LA!" to cues from my hands).  Lately, we seem to have "gotten" each other, but I fear it being just a big mess otherwise.  I think I'll just go in and see how long I last.

The show is at our home facility, so we don't have to trailer anywhere, and I have a friend who is going to come help be my groom.  Since hubby has to wrangle the 7yro and 3yro, I knew he couldn't help me out, but I was prepared to go alone.  I've done it before--it's exhausting, but doable.  But I do much prefer company.  (Hmm...maybe I can get a babysitter to stay home with the boys so hubby can go?)

I love showing, I've missed showing, I want to show, but GAH.  However, putting it in the blog makes it official--no chickening out now.  Forward!


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Baby snakes on the way! On purpose! SUHWEET!

Yeah, I know, it's been a while.  So much of a while, a lot has happened and I'm not sure how to encapsulate everything in one blog post, and thus, I have delayed said blog post.  Then I wonder--why am I stressing?  This is MY blog, not a paper for a class.  It's not like there's some content requirement or due date.  I get to write about what I want to write about--and end a clause with a preposition if I want to!  SO THERE.

School is out for summer, which means I've been at the barn practically nonstop already.  I has the horse crazies.


That's mah girl!  And her babies-to-be!
Thirteen fertile, one obvious dud.  SWEET!
That's right.  1) I have a pet snake.  On purpose.  2) I bred my pet snake.  On purpose.  3) I will soon have 13 baby snakes.  On purpose.  YES. 

I'm so excited I can hardly stand it.  I've had my corn snake Cleo since she was two weeks old and 10" long.  She's now 11 years old and almost exactly five feet long, and the last two years, she has laid a clutch of infertile eggs.  Realizing her breeding potential, hubby and I found a mate for her and bred the eager pair over our spring break.  The male, Dr. Zaius, now resides in hubby's classroom.  Cleo stayed in mine until egg laying was imminent.  

Cleo is a gentle, docile snake, and I use her in class for a multitude of topics and instructional purposes.  One of the first lessons I do with her is about examining attitudes and prejudices, myths versus realities, as so many people assume so much about snakes to the latter species great detriment.  She isn't venomous--only 10% of species are, and they are illegal in the pet trade (seriously, #1 question I get asked is "Is she poisonous?"--Do people really think I'd have a venomous snake in the classroom??).  She also doesn't bite and has never bitten anyone in the 11 years I've had her.  I tell my students, every other pet I own is far more likely to hurt you. Cute Mija kitty would like to scratch your face off, Floyd kitty will probably gouge claws into you when he jumps off your lap, Firefly will push past you, Trilogy will bust an ankle in a goofy moment.  Cleo?  Nothing.  Ever.  

I then extend the lesson to inviting the students to share their own personal myths vs. realities; those things so many assume about them that isn't true and their corrections.  I've gotten things like "People think I'm Mexican, but I'm Guatemalan;" "People think just because I'm Asian I get straight As;" "People think I'm a nerd because I wear glasses;" "People think I like pink because I'm a girl;" "People think I speak Spanish just because of my last name"--I could go on.  It's a fascinating reveal, every year.  And after a lesson like that, Cleo (and her ball python classmate Seymour) become true mascots of the classroom.

Cleo, head at the left, and her baby-daddy Dr. Zaius, right
I knew I had achieved the goal of dispelling myths when the same kids who would have yelped and "Ew!"ed their horror instead squealed with delight at pictures of baby corn snakes.
Like this one
The eggs should hatch at the end of July.  And yes, I'll be back with pictures of the babies here.  SO THERE.

I'll be back with a multitude of horsey-type updates and photos later.  Enjoy this serpentine one for now.