Thursday, November 26, 2015


Yes, it's trite. And overdone. But it's topical and I'm all about keeping up and in with the kidz these days, you know? So here are three things I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving.

1. Zippers in tall boots.

It dawned on me that the teenagers that ride at my barn will not know a life without zippered tall boots. Even some people closer to my age never experienced this. They don't know that boot socks exist not to be adorable and colorful but to help grease your leg up a bit so you can stuff it in the sausage casing of a tall boot. Breaking in tall boots now is a cinch because with zippers, they don't drop nearly as much. Pre-drop, appropriately fitting tall boots were usually so tall the stiff leather was like a knife severing the tendons behind your knee.

They also won't experience the sheer ecstacy of finally taking said boots off at the end of a long day of competing. Although that didn't come without a price.

I had a pair of pull on tall boots that I got when I was fifteen and wore until I was eighteen. In that time I went through puberty, so fitting into the boots became more and more of a stretch (pun intended) until one show halfway through warm-up my right leg went completely numb. And back then that was sort of... normal. You had tall boots. If your leg swelled because it was hot and you were riding a 1200 pound animal you boot would cut the circulation off and that would kind of be that.

At the end of that show the boot jack couldn't dislodge my boot off my foot and I was contemplating cutting my own leg off it hurt so badly. At the end of the day I sat in the trunk of my dad's car, holding on to the handles in the back while my dad leaned his full body weight against the boot. It finally did come flying off, landing him in the grass.

2.  Eventing has ride times

If I had heard of this I may have switched over from hunter jumper land earlier. When I was a teenager and had a horseshow, I had cryptic ride times such as: 87th in the class. 10th after the break. You don't know when the class starts. You don't know when the break is. Any number of people could scratch and bump you up in the order. It's hard to know how long to give yourself to warm up. Ten rides? Five? Ten rides could be anywhere from ten minutes to forty five. If you have a horse that's picky about warmup it's hard to judge when you should even get on.

But eventing I know exactly when I'm riding. And not even the day of, the THURSDAY before I can have a tack up, mounting, and warm up plan. Which, for someone with anxiety, is amazing.

3.  The internet

I realize this is SUPER broad but I mean this with respect to horses. With the internet, you can stream clinics from your favorite big name riders. I also streamed Rolex from London this year. You can watch helmet cams of four star. Or you'll watch helmet cams of places and think holy shit I need to compete there. Like now I want to go to Rebecca Farm, and I would never think of going all the way to Montana on my own.

You can also sign up for events online. Because you know what's annoying? Using a fax machine. I used to use the one at work because I don't have a fax machine at home (WHO DOES). I always got funny looks as I struggled to dial out and get the 'fax successful' confirmation and then pray that someone picked it up out of the faxing tray. And then you had to put your check in the mail and pray it didn't get lost and watch your bank account like a hawk for the withdrawal that signified your entry was accepted.

Now I can have all my information preloaded onto Eventing Entries, including the Coggins, and pay easily with a credit card. Entry MAGIC. Plus you can watch live scores so even if you're not at the event you can see how your friends and big name riders are doing.

But for every light side, there is also a dark side. Because the internet has also exacerbated my horse spending habit. I can easily order gorgeous bridles from Britain, find the best deal or most unique bit that my local tack store doesn't stock, and don't forget about Tack of the Day. That's my favorite thing about lunch actually.

And let's not forget I found Runkle on the internet, so we would literally not be here (on this webpage) without the internet. Well, I mean we're using the internet to log onto it. Nevermind, you know what I mean.

But in all seriousness, I'm thankful for so much this year. My family for supporting me and my horse obsession hobby. My trainer for helping find the right horse. And Runkle for... being Runkle.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bro, Do You Even Lift?

I don't want to believe cross training is important for horseback riding. I don't think anyone does, if we're all being honest with each other. You scrape together the barest amount of free time that you have to get to the barn and then collapse into bed at the end of a long day. Forget about making it to the gym. And running? You want me to run? When? At lunch? At the crack of dawn? No, no and thrice no. When I was younger I 'did' pilates. In that I laid next to my mom and flailed around while she did pilates.

And that's not even bringing up food. It's hard to eat healthy at horseshows when you're tempted by fried chicken, french fries, fried oreos, fried breakfast sandwiches. When I was lucky enough to compete at the Winter Equestrian Festival I was on a first name basis with the crêpe truck. Even if you're not at a show you tell yourself it doesn't matter what you eat, you're fit enough to ride your horse, and you went riding today so that was your exercise.

I didn't appreciate the value of cross training until this year. While I was in London I did get to go to a riding yard once a week but it was nothing compared to when I was in the States. Since I didn't have the opportunity to ride, I did other things; I got to play rugby, learn to powerlift and do a lot of yoga.

Sumo deadlift of 65kgs (about 150lbs). 
PR'ed at 85kg that day!

I planned a one week riding trip in Spain during my time abroad. It was one of the first trips I planned, when I was still in riding shape. Sure, I can control a spirited horse in open country. Of course I can handle 6-8 hours a day in the saddle. I didn't factor in that I planned the trip for the end of May, not in January while I was in riding shape.

We did the red route. NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.

I was prepared for the trip to be a huge disaster for my body. I bought a ton of ibuprofen, icy hot patches and even a heating pad to help my dead legs and back deal with the fact that I hadn't ridden steadily in five months. I figured Spanish wine would help the rest.

But every day of the trip I was shocked (by many things, but for the purpose of this entry, my fitness). I was sore, but no more so than usual. In some aspects I was stronger than I had been before. There was lots of saddling and unsaddling, tying up saddlebags, carrying buckets of water and grain or lugging baggage up hills. None of it was an issue. Sure on the last day my butt was more sore than I can express in words, but even on the day where we spent a solid 8 hours in the saddle, galloping and climbing mountains, I felt fresh and in control.

Before lunch, halfway through our eight hour day. Still smiling!

Despite not riding, the rest of my work had paid off.

I recently started working again remotely with my old trainer in London (Kevin). We're working on diet as well as an exercise program that compliments riding. He was quick to notice the excellent strength and body control that horses have given me, and was eager to compliment it. Runkle is very fit and talented and I do no service to him by flopping around on his back or requesting breaks when it's really important that we keep going.

I don't like the term amateur. I'm proudly a Professional Unprofessional. Amateur sounds like someone who doesn't know what they're doing, who is just dabbling and isn't serious. I know there are some amateurs who are happy there, and that is fine. But for some amateurs, just because we are not 'professionals' in the legal sense doesn't mean we should take it any less seriously. We can be serious and dedicated, albeit on a smaller scale. Whether you have FEI aspirations or just want to do walk-trot dressage tests, it shouldn't make a difference in the rider's attitude. Our horses deserve the best, from tack to feed and everything in between. Why shouldn't they have the best version of their rider as well?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Baby's First Show

I've been taking things slow with Runkle. I'm not in a hurry, he's so young yet, and I want him to be restarted really correctly and not be burned out or scared. Some people might be frustrated by this, but the last horse I leased I spent 3 months just walking and trotting so I'm no stranger to patience. I find that the more patient you are the more the horse will pay you back.

I'm lucky enough to ride somewhere that has four in-house shows a year so I have the opportunity to ride in a dressage ring in front of a registered judge and practice. The last show of the season is usually the first full weekend in November so I tentatively 'aimed' Runkle at it. There's not a ton of atmosphere at these shows, but there is a warm up area and a mix of green horses and riders learning the ropes.

Runkle was very quiet and well behaved from the time I brought him in from the field until he was fully tacked. I had given myself a lot of time to warm up, figuring worst case scenario I'd just walk him around.

I'm glad I left myself that much time, because boy did I need it.

Warm up was 'busy', for a Bit O Woods show. There were four horses quietly warming up in the grassy area next to the indoor arena, at various stages of warmup. He saw the other horses, heard them cantering around, and his poor baby mind exploded. When I got on I could feel his heart pounding against my calves.

I'm not sure why, but I wasn't afraid in a situation that would've had me high tailing it back to the trailer for sure. I didn't feel the burn of shame as people ran to get out of his way when I lost steering control and veered all over the warm-up like a drunk driver trying to make it to Taco Bell before it closes.

I just kept asking him to go forward over and over and when he finally did he got lots of pats. I did have to dismount a few times; at one point he hurtled backwards towards the arena drag and my feet hit the ground before I think he even registered what was happening. And again when I heard my trainer shout at me to jump off while he casually moonwalked dangerously close to a Cadillac.

A Cadillac can't stop me because I'm a smooth criminal

I hand walked him awhile and I didn't feel frustrated so much as a little sad at the prospective loss of my entry fee. But luckily the home shows are really cheap, so really the experience was worth it even if we never made it into the ring. After fifteen minutes of handwalking and doing a little ground work he seemed to remember he was a riding horse and I was his rider, so I got back on. He was good at the walk at ten minutes until my test. I asked for a little trot probably forty five seconds before I went in the ring and he did that too.

I decided to wing it. Worst case scenario: he'd get tangled up in the chain and drag me out of the arena screaming by my feet.

The familiarity of the indoor and quietness of being alone settled him. The bell to mark the start of my test didn't bother him, nor did the chains and potted plants. I warned the judge that he was young and might not have all his mental faculties together so she wouldn't tut disapprovingly if I had to leap off.

It wasn't his best flatwork, not by a long shot, but he did each movement I asked in the order that I asked it. What impressed me the most was his ability to calm down and listen to me after becoming unglued. And even his unglued is more tame than most horses. He never tried to leave the zipcode or do improvise any airs above the ground. He just did his best Michael Jackson impression into unfortunately placed solid objects and innocent passers-by.

Excuse me I don't do dressage. I must leave.

After the test I continued riding him around the warm up area. I sat on him and watched some of the other students jump in the outdoor arena. Runkle stood calmly if not a little impatiently, watching other people jump big boy jumps and warm up in crunchy, loud fallen leaves. The show photographer got such sweet pictures of him anyway, because his face is so cute he can't take a bad picture.

In the end we got second place (out of two, but I won't tell him that). And the ribbon could've been any color but I'm glad we got one. I am so proud that both of us went in there and got it done. I'm happy he's learning to trust me and I'm proud that I can keep myself together even when my horse isn't. I have tons of ribbons from competing all over the east coast, but I feel like this little red last place ribbon is my favorite, and the first one that's really mine.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Baby's First Autumn (With Me, Anyway)

It's been a few weeks since I've updated specifically about Runkle. Mostly because what we're doing right now hardly requires weekly updates.

But when I think about our progress over the last few months I'm not just amazed at how much more he knows but how much more we know each other. Most of the horses I've ridden were someone else's baby, and I was just an add on very late in their career. What Runkle knows about his new life is purely me. I've been riding far longer than he's even been alive and watching him get to know me and his new career has made me happier than I thought it could.

For example, I've watched him become a total treat hound. This horse has learned alarmingly quickly that pockets almost always have food in them. The day I bought him I tried to give him a mint and he had no idea what to do with it. Carrots were a bit easier for him to grasp. But now he knows if I have something in my hand or my pocket it is not only probably edible, but definitely for him. He even meandered over to the garbage can while I was clipping my helmet once to inspect the not quite empty donut box sitting on top.

The patent-pending 'cookie face'

When he's in a grumpy, petulant mood he 'forgets' how to turn left. Usually I'm responsible and do some counter bending to prevent any accidents but I'll admit that on at least one occasion I've kept my leg on and been like "FINE, if you don't want to turn you'll find out yourself that there's a wall there."

Which brings me to point three, which is when I do this he usually stops at the wall and admires his own reflection in the mirror. He actually does this quite a lot. I'm not sure if he thinks it's a cool new friend or if he's just checking out how great he looks with a topline but I definitely have to keep his mind on the ball or he'll just trot around staring at himself.

I don't think scope is going to be a problem.

If I hadn't seen footage of this horse doing hurdles I would never have guessed it. He doesn't drag me around to the jumps. I can actually put an astounding amount of leg on him and even then I still have to give him a little tap with the stick to convince him to actually move out and not bounce up and down like a carousel horse. And then one day he refused a tiny two foot stone wall because I asked for a slightly long distance! "Nope," he told me politely. "I don't have to do that anymore. I get right up under the jump, thank you very much."

Still only an amateur grazer, but working on his full license.

But mostly it's just beautiful having my own horse. The other day I turned him out and after he was done getting fantastically muddy, instead of buck-farting and running off to his friends he meandered back to the gate where I stood watching him. He wanted head scratches. He stood there for ages with me, turning his head and neck every way possible so I could get all the itchiest, muddiest, places. And it made my heart swell to know that I chose him and he is mine, and he is beginning to choose me.