Thursday, January 28, 2016

Clinic Report: Sally Cousins, 1/17/16

This post is super late, I'm aware. Part of it was um editing videos sucks and I hate doing it but I like it being done so there you have it. But the real part is I have 4 partially written drafts of this entry because I had no idea what I wanted to say, and I take everything really seriously. Too seriously, in fact. So I finally wrote this and it's a bit of a word dump but there you have it. Enjoy!


It's amazing to me that even after almost twenty five years of riding, I still need to pay someone to tell me to put my heels down.

But apparently I do.

One of my coworkers was at my desk when I was packing my things up at the end of the day. She asked what I was doing after work and I said "I have a riding lesson," without thinking. And she responded, "But haven't you been doing this forever? I thought you'd be a pro by now."

Not quite yet.
That thought didn't depress me. It might have when I was a teenager, but we've already determined teenage Megan was an ass. I told her in this sport, you never ever stop learning and internally I added that I wouldn't have it any other way. How boring would it be if I mastered this sport in twenty five years? I'd be done with it and moved on to something else. But what I love about riding is it's this insatiable beast that no matter how many horses a day you ride, or how many people you teach or how many years you've been toiling at it there's always something new out there.

Or you just have to relearn the same thing over and over, like keeping your heels down.

Sally loved Runkle (of course, who doesn't). But what she immediately honed in on was me. Having a baby horse has been great for my knowledge but my own riding has suffered. I'm a little more defensive and incorrect than I used to be, which I think is just the nature of babies.

So lately I've been working on rudimentary things like keeping my lower leg back on the flat and my heels down when I jump. He's got quite a kick on the ground and Sally immediately saw the potential for disaster.

Which I demonstrated perfectly when we had a miscommunication to a jump and I took a graceful swan dive off his back when he stopped. At like, the world's tiniest vertical.

I was mortified. Which brought me to another important point that I need to remember: to stop taking myself so goddamn seriously. In all my fervor to accomplish my goals I forgot my every day goal. Love my pony and be happy. I have it written right here! On the internet! Which is pretty much a binding contract. I get caught up in goals and trying to impress people I forget that the only person who's opinion matters is me (and Runkle's, of course. Runkle is king).

So I don't want to impress people with how cute he is, and what a nice jumper he is. I want people to be impressed by the size of the smile on my face and how well we get on. It started last night when I was grooming him and he was so in love with being curried that when I paused to clean my brush or talk to someone he would inch closer so his shoulder was right under the curry comb and then twist his head to look at me.

He's beautiful and cute and when I get drunk god forbid one of my coworkers asks me about him at happy hour because I launch into a diatribe about how he's the love of my life and I want to drive through a blizzard just to smoosh his little nose and provide scratches.

Not what I was expecting to get from the clinic. But it was well, well worth the money. Thanks Sally for a wonderful ride, and hopefully I'll see more of her when she's migrated back north for the summer! See below for a video of him doing a couple courses, including his VERY FIRST chevron and our first fall as a couple ;)

Sorry it's portrait, I'm just dumping this and I might post
a better version that's edited later. Or, you know. Not.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How to Ride in the Winter

In case you haven't noticed, because you're a bear and in hibernation, it is winter. It gave us the slip for most of December but when the calendar rolled over so did temperatures down in the teens.

But I don't WANT it to be winter.
I'm more okay with it than you would think, although part of that definitely has to do with the fact that I love my winter gear because most of it is cute and purple. It's also warmer than it could be. I went to school in upstate New York where we only cancelled polo practice if it was below 12* (without wind chill). Lower than that and we were worried about the horse's lungs. It's all about the horse. Of course.

Tip #1: Layers.
You've got this one down. Wear ALL the clothes. When I was prepping to have practice in sub twenties temperatures I had a clothing system. My dresser had three drawers separated by layer; some kind of thin base layer, a thicker long sleeved shirt, and a short sleeve shirt. After that I'd top it off with a sweatshirt, a vest, and then a jacket. Typically I wore leggings or tights underneath sweatpants (yep) and then full chaps on top of that. I'm a weenie in the cold, and I'm not kidding around when I say it was cold as hell in New York. And when you're practicing for two hours at night and then feeding/watering horses after you have to be serious or you're going to get chilblains and patches of numbness. When I started warming up I took the jacket off. Just like with horses, sweat is the enemy. The second you get sweaty is probably ten minutes before you're freezing.

But I just wanted to do late night check...

Tip #2: Don't layer
"What?" you ask, incredulous. "But what about Tip #1?" Ah, yes. It's important to layer over your body but you do not want to layer on your hands and feet. If you can't move your toes they won't be able to stay warm and you'll get frostbite. Trust me, I know. Invest in a nice pair of winter gloves. I like these, the SSG 10 Below.

I love feeling my fingers!!

They're waterproof so you can wash the bit off after you ride without losing a pinky. Also they have these awesome wrist straps so if you do need to take the glove off it can just dangle by your wrist so it's easy to slip back on after you're done adjusting your girth/bridle/wiping your nose/what have you. Before you put them on, breath warm air into them so they're not little caskets of frigid air to put your fingers in.

Also, go get Smartwool socks and probably footwarmers. You like your toes, right?

Tip #3: Get these pants.
But don't buy them at Kohl's. I went to TJ Maxx (or any similar style store) and got them for $10. I've had them two winter seasons and they've pilled a bit but otherwise have held up brilliantly. They're warm and fleecy on the inside, higher rise so you don't get a slice of cold back when you bend over. They've far exceeded my expectations.

Tip #4: Invest in a cooler.
I'm sure you're wondering where the pony stuff is. Besides having an arsenal of blankets, I also have this cooler. I'd love a nice wool cooler but that isn't quite in the budget yet, but fleece still works. I like this one more than most others because it covers the neck but isn't as bulky and flappy as traditional square coolers are. If I could change anything about it I'd add a belly surcingle and make it come in at least small, medium and large. The 'one size fits all' is pretty big on Runkle, so I don't know that I'd get it for a horse much smaller than him (but he's a pretty dainty little TB). It would definitely fit on a larger horse. If you wait for a sale you'll find it cheap at Dover. I also have a matching quarter sheet.

Tip #5: Don't.
Look, I won't tell if you won't. And until we can all afford to bugger off to Ocala for the winter we'll have to get creative and buy these:

Warm with a desensitizing bonus!

Stay warm!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What They Taught Me: Nitro

One day, when I'm competing at preliminary (hopefully), I will think of this horse and dedicate crossing the finish flags at least partially to him.

Majestic as hell.
In autumn of 2012 I had a bad fall.  I've fallen off probably a hundred times, but this one was definitely the worst. My horse and I careened into a cross country jump and luckily knocked it over, or it would've been a rotational fall. I cracked my head pretty good and finished the show in the ER. While I got some excellent pain meds out of the ordeal, it definitely put the scare in me like nothing else had.

Unfortunately a few months later, we had to put my horse down for completely unrelated reasons. Even though we had competed in another event I felt like I hadn't properly faced down my fears. I had been too scared to even jump him over a crossrail without clutching at his face and for the first time in my life I really didn't want to jump.

I think everyone goes through this at one point. Eventually you have a bad accident. Whether you fall off or not you ask yourself: do I really need to do this? Is this still fun for me? And with any luck the answer continues to be yes. But even if it's not this experience taught me that's okay too. As a young idiot thirteen year old I scoffed at the middle aged women who 'only did dressage' because they were too scared. And some of them rode when they were younger and were fantastic competitors and they were, in my opinion, a shadow of their former selves.

But in one day I learned that it wasn't giving up to take a step back. It wasn't my time to take a step back, but I came to terms with the fact that one day it might be, and that was okay. Also my thirteen year old self was an ignorant asshole.

My trainer, Megan, didn't give up on me though. The women I train with at Bit O Woods amaze me. They seem to know what's in my head even when I don't. I felt like giving up, but she knew deep down I wouldn't be happy yet only in the sandbox. So she started by making me remember that I was not only good at jumping but I loved it.

Enter Nitro.

Nitro with another student in the irons.
Nitro is a little palomino lesson pony at my barn. He is grumpy and stiff and very hard to flat but he is a saint over fences and has quite a pop to his jump once he gets going and ridden correctly. He has a big horse's jump in a little horse's body. She also put me in a semi private lesson with one of my best friends (let's call her A), who was training her green horse to jump and thus was only jumping pretty small stuff.

The first few lessons I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. We would successfully navigate four jumps and I wanted to stop before something awful happened. But we had time left, and my friend was ... exuberant, to say the least. I thought Megan had put us together for convenience's sake; we carpooled so it made sense we rode together. But later on I realized it wasn't convenience but genius on her part. It was hard not to have fun when A was running around in excitement making mistakes left, right and center but not caring and it ultimately not mattering.

No sweat.
As winter wore on I got bolder and bolder. I no longer shit my pants when she put the jump up a hole after warm up. I jumped the chevron and was happy about it. I think we even jumped the liverpool. We went out into the jump field and I jumped everything in Nitro's height range. Even when he was sassy and porpoised his back like the cheeky pony he is, I just laughed and dropped my weight into my heels and waited it out. Instead of being petrified when he jumped four foot over the ditch I had a good laugh. We had ugly jumps and I made mistakes but I felt safe and more importantly, I was having fun again.

It culminated with what ended up being my last ride on him. I hadn't been off the farm and jumped anything bigger than about two foot since my fall. I had begun riding a more size appropriate lease candidate and was confidently jumping her. But I think Megan felt I needed one more test: Nitro and I went to Fair Hill to go cross country schooling.

The idea didn't initially scare me, but we got off to an auspicious start when Nitro panicked at the parking lot full of trailers. But once we got into the woods he settled and from then on it felt like I was just on a fun trail ride. Again, A's exuberance paved the way but I happily led greener horses over the ditch, over some smaller fences and through the water. I felt like I knew what I was doing again and it was SO FUN.

A and I, having an absolute blast.
I haven't ridden him in years but every once in awhile I visit him. He pins his ears at me, and then realizes I have a cookie and becomes very sweet. Without him, I would never have found the courage to jump again. I would never have gone training level, or jumped around 3'6" with a smile on my face. I would not have bought Runkle.

So thank you Megan, for putting me on Nitro and knowing exactly what you were doing. And thank you Nitro, for giving me my hops back. I owe you one, buddy. Every time Runkle and I leave the ground.