Throwback Thursday: Stylin’ & profilin’

As you can see, I was a very stylish child. This is a picture my mom snapped of me as I was headed off to ride. It’s not dated, but I’m hazarding a guess that it was taken around 1997 or 1998, based on the van, the braces, and the helmet. 
Stray Observations
  • Was this before I had riding breeches? I can’t remember the last time I wore jeans to ride my own horses. (It was probably whenever this picture was taken.)
  • You can see our half-constructed arena fence in the background. It stayed that way for several years, before my dad gave up on finishing it. (I never bothered to ride in the arena, because I am an ungrateful child.)
  • I grew up as an only child (I have a half-sister who’s nine yeas older than me and didn’t live with us growing up), so I have no idea why my parents bought a giant van. It was just me and them. We took it on vacation once, found some blue plastic barrels for sale, bought them, and crammed all 4 of them into the back of the van to take them home. They were the best for jumps!
  • To this day, I have the same problem of polo shirt sleeves coming almost to my elbows. I have T-Rex arms, y’all. :'(


There’s horses out there, I promise.

I went to the barn to ride both horses late yesterday afternoon. I saw my student, who was headed out on her pony. She returned a half hour later to tell me she had dutifully done the lateral exercises I’d given her as homework and she was certain her horse had taken a true sideways step in each direction. I was inspired by her success, so I grabbed Gina and decided to do some dressagin’.

Gina’s bruise was nearly gone when I checked it; the ground was nice and soft from Monday’s rain, so I felt pretty good about riding her. Gina must have felt pretty good about it too, because I had the loveliest, softest, happiest ride ever. Okay, maybe not ever, but in a long time!

I called it quits pretty early (after about 30 minutes) since she was being so good; Gina is a horse with whom I do not like to push my luck. Then I trimmed up her face, bridle path, and fetlocks while stuffing her face with granola bars.

I kicked Gina back into the pasture and caught Moe, who was loitering around the gate in hopes of also receiving a granola bar (or five). I intended to only spray him with fly spray and put his fly mask back on, but something compelled me to throw his bridle on and head out bareback.

So we piddled around the pasture for half an hour, mostly at a walk. We cantered a little bit and jumped the log pile. I managed not to fall off, while I remembered why I don’t usually ride Moe bareback. (High withers, uncomfortably jarring trot.) 
But you know what? It was pretty fun to just piddle around, appreciating the weather and the scenery and the sleek little red gelding beneath me. It was nice not to have a plan or work on anything in particular. I jumped off Moe in the pasture and took his bridle off, but instead of taking off to join his horse friends, he walked with me back to the barn. I let him through the gate, and he walked himself into the barn and into a stall, where he waited for me to hang up his bridle, feed him more granola bars, put on his fly mask, and spray him down. Then he went back out to the pasture, waited until I got into my car, and wandered back over to the rest of the herd.
What a good horse.

Workin’ on my fitness

At the Glow Run last August with a friend, her sister, and Johnny.
I’m in the orange.

Riding has been my primary source of exercise for most of my life. In elementary school, my parents enrolled me in dance, gymnastics, and soccer in addition to riding lessons. I had a brief stint of competitive swimming in middle school, which was given up when it conflicted in both time and money with riding. I was on my school’s track team in high school, but only so I could have a school-sponsored sport to put on my college applications. I ran 400M hurdles and threw shotput; I was terrible at both.

As a member of the collegiate equestrian team, I had a rigorous gym and riding schedule that kept me reasonably fit. I also did Muay Thai/MMA for the last two years of college, swam a couple times a week, and dutifully played on many of my sorority’s intramural sports teams. After college, I lost most of that fitness and gained some weight after I discovered that when you live in a city, you can get Chinese food delivered to your apartment. (This was a revelation, y’all.) My workplace in Wichita had a gym onsite that I rarely used (because I wanted to get away from work as quickly as possible), and though I played polo a couple of times a week, I was definitely feeling tubby and lethargic.
Now, I’ve never been a svelte person; as a kid, I dominated the top of the height and healthy weight charts. (True story: my dad, who I love very much, used to tell me “You ought to play basketball, you’re good and stout! Those other girls won’t knock you down!” Thanks, Dad, all teenage girls want to be called stout.) But I’ve always managed to be mostly happy with how I looked and felt. I’m also 5’9, which is a pretty forgiving height. 
For the better part of the last three years, I worked as a therapeutic riding instructor, which required a lot of walking. (We’re talking 20,000+ steps per day.) It also required some low-activity level riding. I also did self-care on my horses three days a week, which meant more walking, hay bale carrying, stall mucking, etc. However, I didn’t lose much weight and I still felt out of shape. 
Johnny was in a similar boat- in college, he played Ultimate Frisbee, jogged, and walked everywhere. Now working 40+ hours a week at a desk job, he’d put on about 40 pounds since 2009 and felt miserable. (We won’t mention his out-of-control sweets addiction.) At 6’6, he still looked pretty skinny, but he was definitely feeling bad. 
So starting on March 1, Johnny and I completed a Whole 30. We didn’t buy or read the book; we just read the website, thought it sounded doable, and jumped right in. Whole 30 is an eating program that strips away foods that may potentially have a detrimental effect on your health. For 30 days, we ate no added sugar (no honey, maple syrup, etc.), no alcohol, no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no white potatoes, and no ingredients we couldn’t pronounce/weren’t sure what they were. Basically, we ate meat and vegetables for every meal for 30 days.
We both felt way better after completing the program; I lost 8 pounds and my skin (which has been doing this weird, rosacea-like thing) has cleared up. I stopped feeling so lethargic and bloated. Both Johnny and I found reserves of willpower we didn’t know we had. As a result, we’ve loosely stuck with eating that way. (We now eat small amounts of dairy and grains sometimes; we also indulge in giant cheeseburgers every now and then.)
Doing the Whole 30 sent me off on kind of a fitness rampage. I’ve realized that just riding isn’t enough for me to stay fit and healthy. So I’ve taken up Couch to 5K for what feels like the millionth time. Running isn’t my favorite form of exercise, but it’s reasonably cheap, widely available, and thanks to RunDouble’s Couch to 5K app, I don’t even really have to think about it- I just have to listen to the little voice in my headphones tell me when to walk and when to run. Johnny and I will be running the Rainbow Run in Tulsa in June and the Porter Peach Festival 5K in July. I am a terribly slow runner who gets side stitches constantly, but when I think about giving up, I tell myself that I went a whole month without eating any cheese. If I can do that, I can do anything.
In addition to the (very slow) running, I’ve started doing a little bit of strength training at home. I’m mostly doing stuff like pushups, situps, squats, lunges, bicep curls, and tricep extensions. I realize strength training is important; I feel a little lost with establishing a routine, though, so any advice is welcome! 
I’ve also started doing a yoga video once a week; I enjoy stretching and I love the soothing voices all yoga instructors seem to have! 
I can already tell a difference in my riding- I can stay in two-point longer, I don’t lose my breath as quickly, and I feel way, way better. I’d like to think the horses appreciate the the 8 pounds I lost, too. 
What kind of workout routine do y’all have? Any advice on strength training at home? 

Can’t we all just get along?

My student on my horse.

For the last month or so, I’ve been giving riding lessons to a 12 year old whose horse is stabled at the barn. She is an enthusiastic pupil with a good foundation who devours any and all horse-related knowledge. (She’s been studying my copy of the USPC Manual of Horsemanship (D-Level) for the better part of two weeks.) She idolizes Moe, though she doggedly perseveres on her own short POA gelding who’s coming off a stint as a police horse/sitting in a field.

The other day, I asked her if she was out of school for the summer yet. She frowned, said no, and said, “I can’t wait to be out for the summer, ’cause there’s this group of girls who are really mean at school.”
I asked her what they were doing. I was the subject of frequent jeers by my high school peers for being the “smart kid” (when really I just test well), made fun of for riding horses (because it’s not a “real” sport), and a variety of other things. I thought maybe I could offer some guidance or comfort; at the worst, I could at least empathize. 
My student told me girls at her school were writing “WE HATE [STUDENT’S NAME” on the bathroom walls, prank calling her almost every night (to either hang up or call her a bitch or a cunt, according to her mother), and making fun of her for anything they could think of. This girl is in seventh grade! I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear ‘cunt’ until I was at least in tenth! What!
But what seemed to bother her the most was a girl who also rides horses and takes lessons at one of the nice hunter/jumper barns in the area. This girl was apparently needling my student about her “ugly little horse” and the fact that my student has never jumped more than 2′. 

I offered what support I could and we turned our attention to the task at hand (convincing her horse that he is, in fact, capable of cantering), but I’ve been thinking about the hows and whys of why horse people can be so hateful to one another; moreso, what would possess a child to belittle another about what kind of horse they have or how high they’re jumping.

You see this kind of thing in the adult world, too. Eventers make snide comments about how those hunter princesses wouldn’t last a minute on a real foxhunt or make fun of their big dopey warmbloods who couldn’t keep up with a hunt field if their life depended on it. Rodeo competitors have nothing but disdain for English riders who pamper their delicate, hot-blooded horses and think neither horse nor rider have ever done a day’s work in their lives.

We’re all equestrians together. We all love our horses; they work hard for us, and we do our best by them. Everyone has a different way of doing things, but by and large, there’s no one true way to do anything. Of course, neglectful or abusive owners, riders, and trainers exist. But they aren’t the focus of this post. Average, everyday horse people are.

There’s something to be learned from everyone. I learned the rope-halter-to-fix-a-pulling-back-habit trick from my very rodeo oriented coworkers. I learned the value of a steady, rhythmic pace around a jumping course from my days on the equestrian team. I learned how gag bits, when used properly, don’t have to be harsh from my polo instructor.

The horse blogging community is a great place for support. The blogs I read are full of interesting ideas, good advice, thought-provoking opinions, and a healthy sense of humor. We cheer one another’s successes, empathize and strategize failures, and offer sympathy in tragedy. Let’s take that attitude to the real world. Let’s be good examples for riders our own age as well as for young people. Let’s show good sportsmanship and civility at competitions; let’s offer to help a fellow equestrian in need. Let’s try to learn from people who are different from us, and stop making fun of each other.

Except for minis. We can still make fun of minis, because this is just too silly.


Moe the jumping machine

Both horses had their regularly schedule trims today. The farrier discovered a small bruise on Gina’s right hind heel; it’s nearly healed, but he recommended I give her a few days off anyway. So I embarked on a jumping adventure with Moe.

The part of the property I typically use as a jumping area is being used for a wedding next weekend. Setup starts Wednesday, so I figured I’d get in a jump school before I hauled my jumps elsewhere.

The jumps were set up nearly identically to the way they were when I last schooled Gina over a small course, except instead of a 4 stride line, it was a 2 stride line. I had the isolated vertical set as a crossrail with a pole on top at about 2’7. One of the jumps on the line was at 3′, the other at 2’9.


Moe was acting totally bonkers while we warmed up; he refused to trot and would only walk and canter. “Canter” is a term I’m using loosely, as it was a hand gallop at its slowest point and a nearly-out-of-control “I just came off the track yesterday” gallop at its fastest.

While Fruitcake got his willies out, I attempted to use the neckstrap I’d finally remembered to affix to my horse. I have a terrible habit of over-releasing. I like to think this is a better alternative than constantly hitting my horse in the mouth by not releasing, but it makes a lot of things difficult. Turning in the air. Turning rapidly after a jump. You get the idea. The neckstrap is an old belt; I practiced reaching forward and grabbing it while we were zooming round at Mach 10. It went okay.

I took him over the isolated vertical a few times before recruiting the farrier’s wife to take a video of us jumping and running around like the maniacs we are. One of my favorite things about Moe is that I never worry about if he’s going to go over a jump. He’s very reliable. So over the vertical, I concentrated on staying out of his way, grabbing the neckstrap, and finding a distance. It went pretty well; we had good distances every time. Twice, they were spot-on. Once, we were long, but I saw it, took it, and things were fine.

Now, of course, as soon as someone was recording our ride, I forgot how to ride. Moe forgot he knew any speeds other than light-speed.


We took the vertical nicely, took a very long turn to the line, and promptly had the ugliest distance ever to the first jump. He pulled it with his hind legs; whether that is from our hideous approach or because I did something like sit on him in the air, I don’t know. I’ll have to watch the video again. We squeezed a very awkward two strides into the line, Moe wrenched around like a hooked fish over the second jump, and we landed without incident.

I sent him on to the vertical again. He enthusiastically galloped around, ignoring my requests for a turn, until he belatedly realized “Oh, what? OH! Pulling on the right rein means turn right!” We took a decent distance to it and managed to slow down to a walk within half a mile of landing. Success?
I’ve apparently forgot how to jump. At least the horse remembers.
I didn’t want to keep the farrier’s wife waiting around taking videos while I attempted to get a few less ugly jumps in, so I thanked her profusely, stuck my phone in my boot, and took Moe around a couple more times. We improved on the line and made better turns before we called it quits. 
I think Moe would have happily jumped a dozen more times, but yours truly was sweating bullets and desperately needed to use the ladies’ room/stall. He cooled out quickly, got brushed, smothered in fly ointment, and kicked out in the pasture. 
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that fearless jumping horse is 19. Shouldn’t the arthritis be kicking in now?