Q3: If you could go back to your past and buy ONE horse, which would it be?
If this question is a real horse, I would honestly say I have no regrets. I’ve learned so much from each horse I’ve owned. Buying Marley was also a huge risk and while it has not been easy I would change nothing.
If we’re talking Fantasy Land… I wish I’d been able to afford a less green horse as a kid. There was a striking grey gelding that I tried a few times and we just could not figure out a way to agree on a price, and I had active fantasies about purchasing one of my trainer’s incredible Warmbloods. When I had the opportunity to ride horses with more training it definitely change my riding for the better. I think the time to really focus on just me – vs. me plus the strong-willed beast I was trying to convince to, you know, do advanced maneuvers like stay in the dressage court or move forward into the contact – could have accelerated my (still ongoing!) journey toward developing a really great seat and hands.
Oh, I did it all. I started riding at 6 in local lesson programs and by the time I was 8 we had acquired an extremely opinionated chestnut mare who for the first year or so we rode mostly in a Western saddle because (a) it’s all we had and (b) she liked to bolt and buck so that horn came in handy.
Eventually I got a little more serious, started working with a trainer, and joined Pony Club. In addition to Pony Club I did a lot of trail riding, participated in local 4H shows, did hunter paces, was a member of a state champion Drill Team (really!) and played polo into high school.
Competition-wise I was never part of a really serious or elite group – we lived in a pretty rural area and travel to recognized events was significant, not to mention expensive. Thanks to Pony Club I mostly evented – I was always mystified by the hunter and eq rings, probably in part because I rode whatever I could get my hands on and that was often a small, opinionated horse with questionable breeding and no capital-M-movement to speak of.
Q1: Why horses? Why not a sane sport, like soccer or softball or curling?
I’m sure my husband wonders this ALL the time. To be honest, I ask myself this question occasionally as well, most often when it’s freezing cold outside, my horse is having a panic attack because he can smell the pigs that are more than a football field away, or I’m thinking about what I could do with my hard-earned money if I didn’t have to buy / repair / clean / buy and endless parade of winter blankets and fly sheets.
I’ve also been lucky to have the opportunity to do a lot beyond horses. I played lacrosse and soccer, I’ve traveled a bit, I do a lot of hiking and backpacking, I was a very serious flautist for nearly 20 years, I’m still very involved with CrossFit. There are many things in life that are fun and fulfilling.
The simple answer, though, is that nothing brings me more joy than horses. Even my husband says often that I “glow” when coming back from the barn – and that’s consistent whether I had a great ride, a tough ride, or no ride at all. I find the process of horse ownership incredibly rewarding, and I just love being around these big, stupid animals.
I love the “25 Questions” post that’s been floating around the blogosphere but let me be real – in no way do I have time to write answers to all 25 of those questions in one sitting.
So – I’m going to turn this into a question-per-post type of deal and try to get to all 25 between now and the end of the year. This may seem like the slacker’s way out but let us all remember that I have posted a grand total of, uh, two times so far in 2018 so if I hit 25 posts in the next month and a half I will consider this a tremendous victory. Deal? Deal.
It’s funny to reflect on my 2017 Goals post from 12 months ago, not in the least because there is some definite foreshadowing about what the year would bring.
Take this paragraph:
Part of the reason I’ve struggled since moving back to NYC is that in some ways I feel as though I lost my horse-y identity. I of course enjoy taking lessons and spending any and all time at a barn – but I’ve come to get a tremendous amount of satisfaction and pride out of horse ownership. Obviously I knew this was a big part of my life, but I underestimated what a gaping hole it would leave. It’s been a challenge to find a new normal and start to navigate what my horse life can and should look like now.
Of course, I didn’t anticipate that I would fill that gaping M-shaped hole with Marley himself, but life is funny!
Here were my goals from last year, and my grades for each:
Lesson 1x / Week
This is almost an A! Some weeks it just doesn’t happen, but I’m lessoning regularly and feel as though I’m progressing steadily. That’s sufficient for me. As a bonus, those weeks I don’t lesson Marley is getting a training ride – at this rate he’ll know more about riding than me in about two months.
Ride Anything and Everything
Even though I’ve basically only ridden Marley since shipping him out here, I’m still giving myself an A because I’ve been in the saddle more than I anticipated last January – and for the first half of the year I did enjoy spending time on different horses at the barn.
Participate in One Event or Schooling Show
I set this goal while I was still just considering maybe leasing, and let’s be honest – leasing is a LOT cheaper than owning. We did make it off-property once last year, but ultimately my work schedule and budget were not conducive to official shows. Maybe this year!
Move Them Hips!
Ugh, tight hips. The struggle is real. I do feel as though I’ve made solid progress here, and believe my out-of-saddle fitness efforts are paying off.
Maximize Out-of-Saddle Fitness
This is a solid, solid A. I do CrossFit and LOVE it – like to the point where if I had to give up riding or CrossFit, it would be a difficult choice. My gym in particular is amazing and has a balanced, holistic approach to fitness that has changed my life. I’ve dabbled with other CF gyms that just pale in comparison. I started regularly CrossFitting again last February, and have kept up a consistent 4-5 days per week schedule throughout the year. I am so much stronger and more flexible than I was 12 months ago, and it definitely translates to being on the back of a horse. My core is still not as strong as it ultimately needs to be, and of course there is no substitute for actually spending time in the saddle – but while I’m living 90+ minutes from the barn, this is a worthwhile and satisfying thing to focus on.
Bonus: Ship Heart Horse to NYC
Shocker, this wasn’t on my original list of 2017 goals but I sort of have to mention it, right? Bringing Marley to the East Coast was both one of the most wildly unpractical and one of the best things I’ve ever done. He’s just a special horse and I’m so thankful for every opportunity I have to spend time with him.
I’ve been SO terrible at blogging, ya’ll. I don’t even know what happened – it was mid-November, then suddenly it was Q4 at work plus Thanksgiving plus a family trip plus the holidays and here we are in mid (!!) January of 2018 (!!!!).
Aaaaanywho…. now that the holiday hangover has resolved itself somewhat, let’s get this thing back up and running! I actually have several draft posts queued up, and I’m going to go back and finish up some of the more intriguing NaBloPoMo prompts as well.
Finally, don’t worry, the Red Monster is as freaking adorbs as ever.
I love researching barns. Even as a kid, when – save for a few particularly brutal winters – I kept my horses at home, I was obsessed with researching local barns and thinking about what it would be like to board at them. I’ve been working on a “boarding barn must-haves” post on and off for months, and have pretty strong opinions about the kind of facilities I (a) trust with my horse and (b) don’t feel grumpy about pouring money into.
When we moved back to NYC last fall, I spend weeks on end researching what felt like every barn within a 90-mile radius of Brooklyn. I took lessons at several, and eventually settled on a place in Northern NJ. It’s not the closest to my house by a long shot, but it is worth the extra time in the car.
Specific things I love about it:
Finding a good trainer is kind of like finding a good therapist – not everyone works well together, so in addition to finding someone who knows what they’re doing and treats horses well, a good personality match is important. Sarah really checks all the boxes and I’m lucky to have found her. I appreciate her straightforward teaching style, and she’s very correct and focused in her work with the horses. It means a lot to have someone I trust to hop on my horse for a training ride or, you know, mid-lesson if I’m having one of those “I’ve forgotten how to ride” days.
Incredible horse care
I live an hour from the barn on a good day, and there are almost no good days in NYC. I also work full-time and run a nonprofit in my “spare” hours (lolol) so I currently get to the barn only a few times per week. This means that wherever I board needs to really pay attention to their horses. I’ve boarded at places in the past where I knew that if my horse came in from turnout with a puffy leg or gave himself a minor scrape, I would be the one to find it. That’s not a problem when you’re at the barn 5 to 7 days a week, but it wouldn’t work for me now.
The trainer and managers at my current barn really treat every horse as if its their own. I also appreciate that things like grain, blanketing and basic first aid are just taken care of and factored into board – particularly after coming from California, where literally everything beyond “toss the horse no more than 4 flakes of hay per day and sometimes give him turnout” required $5 fee after $5 fee – before you know what’s happened you’re paying an extra $500 a month for your horse to sometimes be fed grain.
Just the right size
I don’t like riding totally alone, sharing an arena with tumbleweeds and horse-eating monsters; Marley is steady and I trust him, but horses are large, spooky animals and accidents happen. That said, I also don’t like riding in overly-crowded arenas, jockeying for space with a lesson, someone trying to jump a course, and fiery Grand Prix dressage horses (this was my last barn in California).
My current barn is really just right, size-wise. There are between 20 and 25 horses on property, and only one trainer. This means that lessons are easy to work around, and I’ve rarely shared an arena with more than two other people. It also means that unless I’m at the barn at really crazy hours, there is generally at least one other person around. It’s a great balance.
Fun, no-drama barn family
I grew up keeping horses in my backyard, doing Pony Club, and generally riding in every scrappy, random way possible. I honestly didn’t realize that there were lesson barns where you just showed up and had a perfectly groomed, tacked up horse waiting for you until I moved to California and started looking for barns. I also didn’t realize just how much drama could exist at barns.
Different strokes for different folks and all that, but this sport is too time-consuming and way too expensive for me to be stressing about barn politics on top of stressing about the fact that I have forgotten how to ride. I’m so grateful that Sarah keeps us all in line and runs a tight ship focused on the things that matter most, namely good horsemanship.
Lots of turnout
Marley spends way more time at whatever barn we board at than I do, so his happiness is pretty critical. He’s not a hot horse, but he’s extremely social and loves being a part of things.
(adorable side story: my barn held a gymkhana last weekend that I had to miss due to a work commitment. Marley was in his stall while all the hubbub was going on and was so upset to be missing the action that they actually pulled him out so he could participate in the carrot challenge. I love this horse and his weirdness so much.)
Anywho – I believe turnout is really important for horses’ mental health. In California this was constantly a struggle – at many barns you’d pay a ridiculous upcharge for your horse to be “turned out” in a 20′ x 20′ sand lot for two hours each day. I’ve found that Marley is much happier and more rideable if he’s stretching his legs and getting to interact with other horses. At our current barn he’s on day turnout and goes out from around 7am to 4ish in the afternoon daily as long as the weather isn’t miserable.
PSA: In an effort to stay current, I’m skipping ahead to the “correct” day of this blogging challenge, and then as time allows will go back and address the prompts from previous days. Day 07 asks…
“What was your favorite ribbon you won at a show and why?”
I haven’t showed extensively since descending back into horse ownership a few years ago; in part this is due to time and budget constraints, but it’s also indicative of where my focus is right now. I spent a lot of time and energy as a teenager and young adult competing, but at this point in my life the most important thing for me is really to continue evolving into a better rider and make my horse the best partner he can be.
There are many eventing and Pony Club rally ribbons I could detail, but my favorite ever was probably for winning the state championship in drill team as a teenager. I honestly don’t remember what the ribbon itself looked like, but the experience of participating in drill team was pretty formative. The level of teamwork that was required of a group of opinionated teenage girls and their even more opinionated horses was insane, and the process was not without drama. That said, we competed throughout the year, practiced long hours, pushed each other, and eventually got to a point where I do believe we achieved something special.
I think my mom probably has a VHS recording of our performance somewhere… maybe I’ll try to rustle it up when I’m Upstate for the holidays! Good laugh for all, no doubt.
Since I’m a bit late to the National Blog Post Month party, I’m going to be playing a bit of catchup for a day or two. The prompt for Day 02 of NaBloPoMo is…
“The last time you rode and what you did”
Conveniently, I had a lesson yesterday so this is a nice forcing mechanism for me to write a lesson recap and continue contributing to NaBloPoMo.
The past few weeks have been bonkers life-wise, and I’m definitely struggling to balance everything. As a result I’ve been spending less time at the barn than usual and that showed up in my riding yesterday. Marley was ridding on Tuesday and Wednesday, but unexpectedly got Thursday off since I got stuck at work. He then also got Friday and Saturday off because I was helping run a big product management conference in NYC. Needless to say, neither of us were in top form yesterday.
Marley is not one of those horses that needs to be lunged if he’s had time off, particularly if he’s been getting turnout. He is, however, a horse that can get a little lazy and behind your leg if he’s feeling rusty. The combination of him being a little sassy and me being kind of tense and frustrated made for a less-than-stellar ride. Since getting back into riding I occasionally have these rides that are incredibly frustrating – I intellectually know what needs to be done and understand that what I’m doing is wrong, but I cannot make my body do the right thing. Very frustrating.
To illustrate the above – Marley likes to fall in when tracking to the right, and I like to hang on my left rein no matter what direction we’re going. I know that when pony man starts to pop his shoulder, I need to stay steady with my hands, and use my inside leg to fix his straightness before worrying about his head or really anything else. Despite knowing this, for some inexplicable reason when Marley starts to fall in I nag with my inside leg and weirdly twist my upper body out to the left while also nagging with my left rein. Spoiler alert: this is not a recipe for success.
After watching me ride the struggle bus for a while, my trainer actually hopped on for a little W/T/C work to help Marley unstick himself and show me what I should be doing with my body. The frustrating part was that I knew what I was doing wasn’t right, but I somehow couldn’t make it happen.
We did end the lesson with some acceptable if not spectacular trot work and then headed out to the front hill for some power walking. It had been a while since I’d had a truly frustrating ride so I was probably due, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
All that said – any time with horses is good time, as far as I’m concerned. Every ride isn’t going to be smooth sailing, and I walked away from yesterday’s lesson with much to work on during the week.
Seems appropriate to kick off National Blog Posting Month with “When and why did you start riding?”
I was 6 or 7 when I started riding and began taking lessons for reasons I honest cannot recall. I don’t yet have kids, but I think parents often try a bunch of activities with kids to (a) get them out of the house and (b) see what might stick. My mom shares my love of animals and grew up riding horses, so I’m sure she was excited for an excuse to spend more time around them.
My first forays into “real” riding were at a small, local farm where a very nice lady ran what I would call a boutique lesson program. Her horses were lovely, well-schooled, and nicely cared for. I’m pretty sure I went riding once or twice per week, and recall being extremely excited about cantering. It seemed pretty fast and badass at the time – and depending on the horse, sometimes it still does!
Hilariously, one of my most prominent memories about this particular barn was that the tack room contained a small library of horse-related books, which was for a horse- and book-crazy kid something akin to heaven on Earth. I became particularly obsessed with the Blue Ribbon series, which I honestly thought I might have imagined until Internet Magic allowed me to rustle up the titles via Amazon. Could there be a more wonderfully eighties book cover? I don’t think so. The blonde, feathered hair… the turtleneck… the oversized sweater. So much to love about this.