Blog .:. January 2007 17 Entries

Barbaro

31 January 2007 Comments

I hate racing. Love TBs, but hate racing. It makes me cringe and leaves me feeling ill, and I just can’t watch it. I admire the legends who succeed at it in a general sort of way, the way I admire any athlete who is at the top of their game. But I’m not emotionally invested in them. So I may be the only horse person who will say this, but Barbaro the Racing Legend doesn’t captivate me. You won’t find me bidding $300 for a Breyer model of him anytime soon.

However. However.

I have followed the story of his recovery—not because he was a great race horse, but because… because of Super Saint, really.

The year before I bought Super Saint, he had a horrible accident at a show. I wasn’t there, but I heard it was heart-rending to see him immediately after. I had sort-of imagined the scene, but seeing the pictures of Barbaro was, in a way, like “seeing” Super Saint’s injury. Not that their injuries were the same, by any means—but that the situation was similar. I think many people in the area expected Super Saint would be euthanized.

Super Saint’s owners made the decision Barbaro’s owners did: give the horse a chance, every chance they could. We were in the same barn, and I spent the next year watching Super Saint and his recovery. We were all affected by it, even if we weren’t directly involved in his care or (obviously) any of the decisions.

I appreciated Super Saint while I owned him, but watching Barbaro this past year has brought home to me how close I came to not having that chance.

And as a result of all this, what drew me to Barbaro had nothing to do with his status as a legendary racehorse, although I acknowledge his story would never have been what it was without that status (how’s that for a conundrum?)—the powerful part of the story, for me, was that relationship between vet, owner, and horse. I think most horse owners have been through this at some point, to some degree—if not personally, at least on the edges of someone else’s experience. At the very least, most of us have at least given it serious thought:

What would you do to save your horse? What should you do? And when is it too much, so that the best choice you can make is to give the horse a peaceful ending?

Behind all the fame, and hype, and publicity, and money, Barbaro’s story was one we all worry we’ll face. In some cases, already have faced.

I followed his recovery not because I thought he was a great race horse who “deserved” to survive more than any other horse, but because here were owners trying their hardest to save their horse. That’s a story I’m emotionally invested in.

I am happy there are others who will celebrate Barbaro for his accomplishments as a race horse—I think he deserves that. And I know I’m not the only one thinking of his owners. But I can’t help but see Barbaro’s recovery without thinking of Super Saint—of how lucky I was his owners gave him a chance, and how doubly lucky that he recovered, and, eventually, the decision I had to make for him.

It’s a bittersweet mix of emotions that has very little to do with a race track and quite a bit to do with the simple joy and risk of owning a horse. Any horse.

Tagged: Horses, Horses - Super Saint

Fix It and Forget It

25 January 2007 Comments

I woke up this morning with all three cats staring at me. At my jugular, to be precise. Tweedledee was perched very vulture-like on the night stand. The other two were practically tying bibs around their necks. I woke up because Tweedledumb raked his claws against the wall and the sound was not unlike that made when sharpening a knife.

They ran out of food yesterday, you see, and missed dinner. That’s completely my fault, but let’s be honest: they’re all a bit fat and missing one meal wasn’t going to kill them. I never thought that missing one meal might kill me, but perhaps I should have: these are the Mob Cats who Disappeared Nessie, after all.

I am reconsidering my plan to be the Crazy Lady who lives alone on the hill with her cats. I think I’ll be the Crazy Lady who lives alone on the hill with her goldfish, instead. It’d take some really determined goldfish to murder me in my bed.

This anecdote was supposed to transition smoothly into the topic I really want to talk about, but it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. Don’t you hate it when you can’t articulate the train of thought that led you to a certain subject? I’m just a bit unsettled by the cats.

They were drooling. Aren’t you supposed to die of natural causes before you get eaten by your pets?

Anyway.

I have a habit of agonizing over things I can’t do anything about, especially if they are things in the future that will probably never come to pass. But I don’t pass up a good chance to agonize over something that already happened if it presents itself.

Chocolate helps with the first problem, but it was riding that helped me sort out the second.

One of my biggest challenges at shows was understanding that if something goes wrong in the middle of a course or test, it was not the end of the world. You fix whatever the problem was and then forget it—and ride the rest of the course like everything was perfect. I didn’t really believe in the “fix it and forget it” mentality until I started riding Dressage.

I think it was the time I blew a movement and scored… oh… a two… and then regrouped and scored an eight in the next movement that finally convinced me one mistake was not the end of the world. My trainer had been telling me that for ages, but it was seeing the 2 and 8 next to each other on the score sheet that convinced me.

After that, I was better in the hunter ring, too. We just didn’t realize how much better I’d gotten at moving on—until one Eq on the Flat class.

Generally, the eq classes were dominated by two riders and the rest of us scrapped for third and fourth. But I went into the ring that day and I knew I was on—everything was perfect. (If this were a TV show, things would go all cloudy and wavy and then you’d get a gold-tinted view of Perfect Me with even the buckles on my spur straps sparkling and orchestral music in the background. Aren’t you glad this isn’t TV?) As we lined up, I allowed myself to hope I’d actually won the class.

As they called ribbons (starting with eighth), I became more and more confident. Finally, three of us were left and the first place ribbon was going to be called. I knew there was no way I could have been out of the ribbons with that ride, and I almost started walking out of the lineup when the announcer called “In first place…”

I was that confident.

Good thing I didn’t actually walk out of line. I didn’t place.

I exited the ring, expecting my trainer to explain what had happened. She asked me what had happened. Two other trainers came over to ask what happened, because they had me pegged as the winner. The girl who won wanted to know what happened because, from what she had seen, she thought I had the class too.

Later in the day, my trainer came over to me and said, “So, why didn’t you tell me you lost a stirrup in the eq class?”

“I what?” I said, now even more confused than before.

“You dropped your stirrup. That’s why you lost.”

I had, in fact, dropped my stirrup. My outside stirrup. As we went into the corner by the judge’s stand. For half a stride. I don’t think I even consciously registered it—I picked it back up and just kept riding.

I looked at my trainer, slightly horrified. “I forgot,” I said, trying to explain why I hadn’t been able to explain what went wrong. After all, I knew losing a stirrup in an eq class is auto elimination, so I should have come out of the ring knowing exactly what went wrong. “I really did. I fixed it, and then I forgot all about it.”

In the end, the placing in that class is irrelevant. I have other blue ribbons on my wall and, frankly, I couldn’t give you any details about the ride that won them, beyond what class it was in. And only that because it’s written on the back. But I do remember that eq ride—not just the hubbub afterward, but the feeling of the ride itself. That’s memory is better than a blue ribbon.

Plus, I learned valuable lessons that day. Like: When you are winning a class, the judge has nothing better to do than watch you and wait for you to screw up. Also: “Forget it” does not actually mean “forget it.” It means “Move on, but take note so we can discuss what happened later.”

Ah. Nuances. Someone should have said.

Tagged: Horse Shows, Horses

A New Approach

24 January 2007 Comments

Kelly has an interesting post on fear and riding (thanks to LearningHorses for the link). As we all know, the thought of jumping makes me want to pull the covers over my head and cry myself to sleep. Between Kelly’s post and my own thoughts on the fear issue, I’ve reached some tentative conclusions:

  1. I’m afraid of getting hurt again. [This is where you look sympathetic and say, “So, you must have had a really bad fall and broken a lot of bones or something, right?” And I look sheepish and say, “No, not exactly.” And then, figuratively speaking, I start doodling on a napkin and refusing to meet your eyes while I try to figure out what I’m supposed to say now. And then my eyes brighten and I say, “But I did crack my knuckles once!” because while I hate to justify the constant small but naggingly painful muscle injury periods I went through, everyone understands a broken bone. And how many people can say they cracked all their knuckles, anyway?]
  2. The fear is not the problem. Anyone who thought twice about jumping would be afraid because… really, now. While my degree of fear is probably a bit irrational, there’s nothing particularly shameful in admitting that jumping is dangerous.
  3. The problem is that I don’t address that fear. During the three years I took off riding after college, I spent a lot of time thinking of all the could-have-beens and what-ifs. And there was nothing to counteract that—I wasn’t on a horse and riding and having good experiences to reassure me. I wasn’t even on a horse and having bad experiences, which would at least have alerted me to my onrushing fear. Instead, I focused on the negative aspects of my injuries and didn’t even admit that I was letting fear grow.
  4. And now that I’m back riding, I’m still not convinced I want to address my fear of jumping—although I do (obviously) realize it’s there. You see? The fear itself is not my problem. My reluctance to address it is.

So I should just address it right? Ah. But there’s a catch. A Catch 22, in fact:

I am afraid to jump because I never address that fear and make myself take that first step towards jumping again, no matter how small that step is.

I am afraid to jump because my back cannot handle it, physically, and I inevitably end up injured. This is not a possibility; this is a certainty.

So… if I force myself to address my fear and jump, I’m going to end up hurt because of my back. Thus confirming that I was right to be afraid and setting me back where I started. Or, I do not jump and keep trying to make my back stronger, hoping that eventually I’ll be able to handle jumping physically… but in the meantime, I continue my passive non-addressing of my fear issues, which leaves me exactly where I am now.

The third possibility, of course, is that I overthink these things and I’m a psychologist’s dream come true. Just think of all the tropical vacations my phobia could finance!

I"d love to say that I don’t really care if I can’t jump and it’s not important to me and la-de-da Dressage. That’s true, at one level: I do prefer Dressage to jumping, and I always have, and a large part of me doesn’t mind the thought of never jumping. But I can’t say all of me is ok with that, because if I were, I wouldn’t keep bringing it up here, would I? (Hmm… I’m going to have to start paying my blog for the therapy sessions. I wonder where computers go on vacation?)

Several years ago, I was in a jumping clinic with a more advanced group than I’d normally be in. I was used to jumping 3’. Everyone else was used to jumping much higher. We were supposed to jump around at 3’3”, but you know how things go in the heat of the moment. Three times I turned a corner to an oxer on the diagonal—it was probably 3’9” and reasonably wide. Three times I fluffed the distance. Isn’t fluffed a great word? It sounds so… soft. Massacred would probably be a better choice—the only reason we got over the fence was that the horse I was riding was very scopy, far more honest than he should have been in that situation, and willing to bail me out every time.

But after the third jump, the clinician called me over and reamed me. Did the path I took to the jump work the first time, he asked. No, I said. Did it work the second time? he asked. No, I said. So what on God’s green earth was I doing riding the same friggin’ path a third time? he asked. Well, in all honesty there wasn’t so much asking going on as there was screaming—but I will never forget what he said next:

When the approach you’re taking isn’t working, find a new approach.

We took a new approach on our next go. We hit the proper distance. Amazing.

Since I started riding last year, I’ve been taking one (failed) approach to my fear of jumping: I can’t address the issue in the saddle for physical reasons, and so I’ve assumed there was nothing I could do except sort-of ignore it and hope it would go away.

That approach, clearly, isn’t working. That fact that I’m afraid irritates and bothers me. So if my approach isn’t working… I need a new approach.

Perhaps reading the book Kelly mentions on her blog would be a start. Or there’s another book title that I see floating around frequently—I want to say it’s The Winning Way by Jane Savoie or something like that. At least by reading I’ll be doing something about my fear, instead of letting myself settle into a rut of inaction.

Tagged: Horses, Horses - AKA, Riding - Clinics

Why I Learned to Ride Bareback

20 January 2007 Comments

I rode bareback today. It’s not something I get much opportunity to do, but I enjoy it. Back in the day, with Super Saint, I couldn’t have ridden bareback. Well, “could have” in the sense that it was, yes, possible. But Super Saint, bless his TB heart, had TB shark withers. I didn’t want to ride him bareback.

I didn’t discover the joys of bareback until a year or two ago. I was staying with my grandmother to help her for a few months, and one of my cousins has several horses. He offered to let me ride one of them, and I took him up on it.

I went out one day for the grand tour of the farm: here’s the saddle, here’s the bridle, here’s how to manage the electric fence, here’s the field you can ride in, Tibi’s ok on the roads if you prefer that, have fun, I have to go to work.

It had been eighteen months since I was on a horse, and even then I’d been lucky to ride twice a month. I was, to put it nicely, out of shape. Still: I saddled Tibi up with a nice, comfy-looking Aussie saddle and headed out for a trail ride. What could possibly go wrong with that?

For one: Tibi is a big, broad Quarter Horse–not a narrow TB like I was used to. For another: the saddle had stirrups that couldn’t be adjusted. They were custom-made for my cousin. My cousin is a good deal taller than I am. While the stirrup length was great for mounting from the ground, once in the saddle I couldn’t get my feet to reach the irons, much less put any weight on them. For a third thing: we set out and it was quickly clear Tibi wanted to trot, not walk. Well, ok. He has a nice, smooth trot and I was quite comfortable in that big Aussie saddle. No problem.

No problem until quite a bit later, when I realized my groin muscles were dying and we were a couple miles from home. Have I mentioned I was a bit out of shape?

By the time we got back to the barn, well… Tibi and I stood in the yard for at least five minutes while I contemplated my situation.

I couldn’t lift my right leg over the saddle. My muscles just… weren’t playing that game. I couldn’t push down on the left stirrup to help me gain leverage, because I couldn’t get my foot in the stirrup. And the bigger question: even if I managed to dismount, eventually my feet were going to hit the ground. And then my legs would collapse and I would fall down. Who wants to do that?

Eventually, I figured a way out of the saddle. It’s called physics. Actually, it’s called, “Well, if I push my weight up with my arms, I can leverage my leg over the saddle… let’s see… ooomph… oh, no, that’s halfway over the saddle. And now my balance is all off and I’m leaning to the left. And more left. And, oh, there we go! My right leg is un-stuck! And here comes Gravity. [thump] Alrighty then. I’m on the ground. This is progress.”

Not very dignified, but effective.

I gimped back into the barn, got Tibi squared away, and headed home. My grandmother took one look at me and laughed. She has an artificial hip and uses a walker to get around, and if we’d entered a 10 meter footrace together she could have given me a head start, played a game of cards, finished her race, and gotten her hair done before I crossed the finish line.

Kids, remember: when you are out of shape, going on a miles-long trail ride at the sitting trot without stirrups is Not A Good Idea.

After that, I decided to ride bareback. For one thing, when it came time to get off, there’d be no saddle to swing my legs up and over. For another, if I had to resort to falling off accidentally fell off again, I could blame it on being bareback. There’s no shame in falling off bareback, right? It’s practically expected.

Despite the less-than… classical? noble? admirable? logic behind the decision, it was a good one for both Tibi and I. My muscles quickly got used to the situation, Tibi was extremely comfortable, and I discovered the joys of riding a horse bareback.

The increased ability to feel the horse. The immediate feedback if I lost balance or tensed. The way he kept my legs warm on cold days.

And, of course, the easy dismount.

Tagged: Horses

Before the lights go out

18 January 2007 Comments

Murphy’s Law was written by a horse owner. Probably by a barn owner. Not necessarily a big-time owner with thirty stalls, three arenas, and a decent training program.

Murphy probably kept his horses in a field behind his house, with a three-wall run-in. He took them trail riding occasionally and mostly just enjoyed having them around. But eventually he would have learned, as we all do, that the moment he started thinking work was “done” on his little farmette, the field gate would fall off its hinges. Or Dobbin would throw a shoe, leaving Murphy to try and explain to his mother-in-law that he didn’t, in fact, stand her up for lunch–he had to stay home and hold the horse for the farrier. Or just when he thought he’d finish up barn chores in time to catch the last twenty minutes of a TV show, he’d blithely push the (full) feed cart down the hill and pop! the wheel goes spinning off, the cart goes slewing onto its side, and the feed… well… the birds are going to love his farm in the morning.

After enough of these instances, anyone would coin Murphy’s Law.

But despite Murphy and his spilled feed cart, there’s something satisfying about closing up the barn for the night: hanging all the halters and lead ropes neatly for the next day, making sure brushes are all returned to the tack room, rolling up stray polo wraps, hanging up spare blankets.

I love that last moment before I switch the last light off–standing there in the semi-dark, listening to the horses eat their hay, knowing their stalls are clean, their water is clean, the barn aisle is swept and cross ties are tidy, the feed carts are prepped for the morning feeder, and–for this moment, at least–you realize Everything. Is. Done. It’s a good moment to be in, don’t you think?

Tagged: Horses

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