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Where’s all the hair?!?

I’ve competed before, up the yard, but never with my white jodhs on. The addition of them, for the first riding club competition of the year, seemed to make a huge difference to my attitude. Previously, I had simply rocked up in my usual whatever, but the degree of planning required to ferry the white clothes up there unscathed, and to keeping them pristine… it was extreme. I had a plan and it mainly worked, and after all was said and done, my clothes  did indeed had as much to do with the whole shootin’ match as did the actual dressage test and the showjumping course.

In fact, I think that the riding part is only about 20%. So here’s my breakdown

20% RIDER PREP: Not just learning the test or practicing jumping a variety of combinations of fences. I had the famous white jodhs for years and due to The Injury never even took them out of their plastic cover. I didn’t even try them on until about two hours before I left for the yard. Luckily, no unfortunate surprises there. I had a white blouse and jacket, and the blouse was fine, but I couldn’t even move my arms in the jacket (neither of those had ever been worn in practice, either.) I got a white V-neck T shirt and called it good.

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#CLEAAAAAAAN

My sports bra is black, though, so sure, I’ll just wear a white bra, I thought. Except that when I started riding, the support was, er, less than excellent and the bra straps kept slipping down my arms. A large part of my warm up was devoted to yanking them back into place.

20% HORSE PREP: I solved this problem by asking the pony girls to plait Connell.

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Excellent job, pony girls!

I made zero effort to figure this out. I had no elastics, and didn’t take the time to find a Youtube tutorial. I wish I had a shot of his tail, it was spectacular. Anyway, I’ll have to find out how long this took and work out how to do it for myself.

Also: grooming, which had already been done, and which saved me time + pristineness of jodhs.

20% WHAT TIME IS IT: When should I mount? Should I bring him up to the arena? Do I have time to stop sweating before I even bother doing any of the above? Should I wear my body protector or just wait? How many people can I ask all these questions until I actually have to do something?

20% WARM UP: How much is too much? How much is not enough? Connell was sticky AF during this section, distracted by all the activity, which is unlike him — so it must have been me. It was hot, to be fair — and as an actor knows how to find her light, Con knew how to find his shade. I kept a good, strong contact in the last few passes I took with him, through transitions, until it was our time to go, to let him know we both needed to stay on our toes. That was maybe the only thing I did right in this per cent.

20% ACTUAL RIDING: The dressage went well, even though I realised that I had never actually ridden the whole test from start to finish. Our riding club clinic had broken it down into its constituent parts and I hadn’t the chance in either of my intervening lessons to put it all together.

I wasn’t worried, because we are both happy with enough with riding tests. He continued sticky for the first half — as reflected in the notes, we had such a good judge — but we got there in the end. I felt the things we did incorrectly, or not as well as we could, and just kept moving. Hit an excellent transition into canter and knew that as well, and had a good halt at the end. Horse and rider got equal marks! A first!

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Speaking of percentages: 72.86

Spoiler alert: we came second because the showing jumping portion, only eight fences, was not great. I stayed on, and got round, but had 8 faults, mainly due to a) psyching myself out because the fences suddenly looked too high and b) not even bothering to take a few practice fences.

Why? Because it felt like we’d been there, up in the arena, in the heat and the dust for about a million hours and I was done. So somewhere, maybe in the rider prep, is the psychological/mental toughness required to pace one’s own thoughts and energy — or something.

Also, there is the extra 10% that is pulling out the plaits when your horse just wants to hit the fields and is therefore throwing his head all over the place with impatience, and then untacking and putting the tack away, and that’s the end of your blinding white jodhpurs.

The competition was a smashing success, not only because of the actual opportunity to do an event like this in the proper clothing, but also because of all the other stuff I learned…

***

Oh! The judge asked, when we were riding the test, whether Con and I were a regular pair. When told yes, she said she could tell, we really looked like we knew each other well. Or something! It was a real justification for all the work I’ve put in with him!

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A couple of weeks ago, after I turned Connell out following our Wednesday night hour, I stood around and watched while the rest of my lesson mates brought down their trusty steeds. It was hot, hot even if it wasn’t Ireland, like the kind of hot you might find as normal anywhere else in the world, and we’d had an excellent and thorough jumping lesson.

Connell was standing in front of me as though he could conjure yet another Polo mint out of my pocket, and the other horses milled over to the automatic water thing. I stepped back after one last pat and a sincere vow that I hadn’t any more treats; Connell turned towards the water, and I noticed something interesting.

One of the horses had been drinking and backed off as soon as Con moved, even though he was nowhere near the water yet. Two more stood back, looking like they were pretending they weren’t all that thirsty, thanks very much. One stood in between Connell and the water, his body blocking the way forward, but he kept looking over his shoulder and twitching — defiant, but nervous with it.

Connell put one big foot in front the other and strolled on over. The horse that was blocking him backed off sharpish and the one who had been drinking sloped off down the field.

Connell drank; he looked up and around and the two patient ones were like, Nothing to see here and the cowardly-bold one twitched his tail and pinned his ears but didn’t move either. Connell drank again — little lift of his head — all the horses twitched now — one more slurp and Connell decided he was done and walked away; all three went for the trough, noses and hindquarters jostling for the uisce.

Horses in the wild employed hierarchy in order to keep the herd from being a drive-through for predators, and it’s a learned behaviour that has carried over into domesticity. From the top down, in a herd that has representations of all these types, are: stallions, matures mares, then mature geldings, then yearlings and weanlings, with fillies of both these latter sorts being the lowest in the power structure. As well, size matters, depending upon other factors like seniority, and degree of aggression and persistence.*

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Butter wouldn’t melt, in fairness…

All the horses that Con cruised by were of a size to him, if not larger, but all were relatively new to the yard as compared to him, and the mare who was undoubtedly the alpha, Delilah, trotted over the Rainbow Bridge a couple of years ago. She and Connell were pals, so I suppose he learned his dominance techniques from an undisputed mistress. However: he wasn’t nasty, didn’t kick or bite; he simply had the assurance that he was meant to be first and that was that.

I suppose I didn’t expect Connell to be the boss because he is generally so chill; he can be bold when going after a piece of apple in my hand, and often tries to scratch himself on me, which I don’t allow. He also follows behind me when I walk out of the indoor after dismounting for a lesson and only gets distracted when — wait for it — he thinks there’s something delicious that he might get in his mouth, like the hay that often makes its way out of someone’s stall.

He got what he wanted without, basically, being a jerk about it, and I wonder if there is comfort for the others in the predictability of a reliable boss horse? Hmmm, time to go for spin round the internet and learn more about herd dynamics — and how such techniques may apply to human life…

***

*Reference here.

2017 was a wash-out regarding showjumping. I entered the three day event again, in the minis class, again, went clear in the cross country, crashed and burned in the showjumping, and crushed the dressage.

I tried another round, later in the summer, and once again, no luck: couldn’t even get round or stay on. In late autumn, I hit the dirt two weeks running and so didn’t take part in the winter league.

What was going on? I was going backwards so fast it was like I was in that film, what was it — Inception. Then, for the third time that year, I had an awful blockage in my ear that olive drops and hot compresses could not shift… Hmmm.

The GP was like, How long has it been like this? Eh, a couple days? I replied.

Yeah: no.

I was aware that the inner ear had more than a little bit to do with balance — my dad couldn’t do certain amusements at the carnival because he got stung in the ear by a jellyfish when he was a child — and sure enough, once I did my course of antibiotic drops, the ear infection that had been lingering, disappeared, and all systems were go again.

I decided to jump last Friday in the spring league mainly because we had a meeting for the newly reinvigorated riding club after the jumping. Remembering those crashes and burns, though, I went back to zero and decided to do the course of 60s. Just me and the munchkins, thanks very much.

There was ample side-eye as Connell and I joined the group. We warmed up together because seriously, these kids were only small, and then jumped the course as a ride. Almost: the yard invested in some fancy-shamancy new standards and rails, all kinds of shapes and colours, and by the time we got the lattice-work double Connell was like, Nah.

We went last. I circled him round to pick up a good canter; he squealed his way to the first fence, which thankfully no longer makes me panic but laugh; we made it out of the pocket and over the fourth fence, a tricky proposition with him, always. He landed, disunited, and ran out of the fifth. I took him straight back to it and over, and we finished clean.

So… when we lined up at the end, Paul had a handful of rosettes and he was like, Okay Sue, all the children get these, but you didn’t go clear, and I said, Nope, give me that.

FIRST OF 2018

Something red for both of us.

LOL. No way all the kids were getting one and I wasn’t. I have an absolute… bloodlust when it comes to these things, and if it’s merely a ‘participation’ rosette, then so be it.

Also, the munchkins were duly impressed by Connell even going round at all, much less keeping the canter the whole time — he has a terrible reputation [that he has earned] amongst the infantry — so that was satisfying; I like surprising people with what we can do together. There was so much going on: first time in the upper arena, first time going over a course of those flashy new jumps, Connell amongst the ponies which was nearly a recipe for disaster when we did our victory lap and they all thought they were running for the roses… [It was fun.]

As the next class gathered, I looked at the 70s, but decided against it. There’s always this week!

***

There are changes happening here, at Flying Changes as was.

The blog that is the cornerstone of my story of codependency recovery through equestrianism will slowly morph into a proper website-looking piece of internet real estate; until it’s closer to the time that Many Brave Fools will hit bookshops and eReaders via Trafalgar Square Books, it’ll look like this. [Like, I can’t change the blue text to red, which I cannot dwell upon lest it drive me round the bend.]

The banner is loosely based on the beautiful cover that I can’t wait to share, along with pre-order information and all sorts of other good stuff. Yay!

Would never have imagined a better official tenth anniversary post. It’s a bit tl; but please do read.

***

‘Are you going to do the eventing?’

Eventing? As in ‘three day’? It was the first I’d heard of it and I had to think twice, to be honest, before I said ‘Yes’. Despite the usual trepidation about doing something horsey I’d never done before, any excuse to be up at the yard is a good one, and I really wasn’t ever going to say no.

Three day eventing is comprised of dressage, cross country and showjumping, and was originally developed to test the cavalry for mastery in all three disciplines. Taken as a whole, it’s daunting, and the variables of each, in terms of riding Connell, were fodder for the sort of mind games I could play to psyche myself out. Taken over three separate weekends, one event each Sunday, there was way too much time in between to get lost in my head — or, if I was choosing to be optimistic, loads of time to focus in my weekly lessons in between disciplines, and psyche myself in.

Dressage: boom. No worries there. In fact, I was keen to show off how good he is at it, how well he listens to the aids, how we actually manage to do this pretty well, together.

Cross country: eh. He has his moments, which do not run on a spectrum but are either 0 or 60. I prefer the latter because we are at least going at speed and I needn’t break a rib trying to get him to go, and I was pretty sure that there was a time factor involved in this aspect — we’d need all the help we could get.

Showjumping: *sigh*. This leg of the competition was bound to be in the upper arena, and we had yet to even get round a course up there, much less me staying aboard. Okay, we were improving in the latter aspect, but despite my intellectual awareness of what was needed to get him to stay a course, I had yet to bring this to fruition physically.

Ah sure, feck it. What did I have to lose?

DAY ONE
We got the test on the Wednesday, to learn by the Sunday. Two years ago, maybe even as little as one, this would have felt utterly impossible. But like anything else, the more you learn a technique the easier it gets. I have a method that has to do with drawing the test out over and over until I ‘know’ it — but knowing it in my mind is not enough. I tried some of the transitions in warming up before my Saturday lesson, and that helped — but the ‘knowing’ comes from the doing. I wouldn’t be doing it until the actual moment on the day.

No pressure.

On the day, everyone was in their proper clothes — jackets, white jodhs, even ties and shite, like the hairnets. Dammit! I have all that stuff but have never worn any of it, because things are generally low key up at the yard. Was I going to lose points for wearing the wrong thing? I was assured I would not, and frankly I hadn’t ever ridden in the jacket and had no idea of how it actually fits in action and wouldn’t want to test it out at the last minute. (Note to self: wear that jacket sometime when actually on a horse.)

I shook it off, and went and groomed Connell, stopping short of trying to plait his mane. I reckoned I could use about half an hour to warm him up. Up in the arena, I felt pretty good: he was awake, aware, perhaps happy to have gotten a good brushing before setting out to work.

The white boundary markers were down, there was a stranger in a Jeep parked at C, the whole thing was utterly official and I managed to be excited by this rather than intimidated. I knew the time for my test but hadn’t bothered to note who was in front of me so I could figure out when I was meant to go. I wanted to make sure we had just enough time to chill before going in, but not so much that Connell (or I, in fairness) would lose focus. At some stage, after doing a bunch of transition and some moves that I thought we might not do so well, it became clear that I could go at any time, so I went.

I introduced us to lady in the Jeep. I brought Connell up to trot, waited for the honk of the horn (my signal to start), got the beep and began.

Well, overall it felt pretty good. We entered, and I thought That entrance was not great, but just kept going, one transition at a time, just went forward into one thing after the next, feeling when something went well, realising when things could have been better, forward, forward until the end, which came as a relief and a paradox: every 20 metre circle felt like it took about 20 hours, but then all of a sudden we were done. Madness.

I got my sheet: 114 out 220, mainly 6.5s and 7s. I also got the insight that what I feel may not match up to what it looks like: I earned a 7 for that entrance, which had felt pretty wobbly. Peeks at other participants’ marks revealed that Con and I were pretty much in the middle of the class; I had hoped to do better, but felt like the pressure was off.

Until showjumping day.

DAY TWO
This ought to have been cross country day, but due to the possibility of rainy weather, the showjumping was moved up.

In my Wednesday lesson, we had jumped in the upper arena. Connell ran out once, up the side of the hilly verge at the edge of the arena, and tanked off to the back of the ride. I stayed on, kept him under control, and tried again. We got over the fence. Later, he tried to run out again, I prevented it, we got over, he tanked off, I stayed on, and… yeah. What an amazing confidence-building exercise.

I woke up on the Sunday feeling actually nauseous and I didn’t want to go. What difference did it make if I didn’t continue? I wouldn’t look like an fool, that was for sure. I wouldn’t look like I didn’t know how to ride a horse. I wouldn’t look like I had some nerve even joining in at all. I kept up this equally amazing confidence-building monologue as I dressed, got on the the bus, walked up the laneway of despair to the hill of death… and as much as I hate that quarter mile uphill, it served to get me out of my head, into my body and onto the horse.

It also served to help me start repeating different thoughts. I am staying on that horse today. Connell and I are going to get round. If I have to take him down to walk in between each fence so he doesn’t tank off, I will do that. I am going to stick to the 70s and stay the course. One fence at a time.

I am going to ride this course one fence at a time.

I walked the course with another rider, went and got Connell, warmed up, popped a few fences. There weren’t too many other participants up in the arena, but we got cracking anyway. I went third. Leg on, head up, heels down, canter, fence one, two, three… He wasn’t fighting me and after a while, maybe around the sixth fence, I didn’t feel the need to bring him down to trot after every element… we went clear through the first round and went for the second, a repeat of fences one to six — and I got into my head before fence three and tried to prevent him running out even though he’d given me no indication he was going to, and he knocked it — but we got over the last three, only four faults, the first time he hadn’t managed to get me off, put in a dirty stop, run out of a fence. We got round, and while I berated myself a bit for that fallen fence, as far as I was concerned, it had been a triumph.

Somebody said, ‘Well done, Sue!’ and I babbled a bit about how this was the first time we’d got round and they said, ‘Yeah, but you’re also in fourth place.’

Whaaaaaaaat. I immediately took a picture of the standings and Insta’d it. If this was as far as I got, I couldn’t have been more pleased.

DAY THREE
Woke up feeling not quite as nauseous because we’d gone out into the fields the day before in my lesson (yaas); got a lift halfway up the laneway of despair, felt pretty good… then saw that there were flags up at the elements in the tyre field, like a proper legit cross country event and got breathless all over again.

I had somehow managed not to Google ‘three day eventing scoring’ throughout the week. Had those four faults knocked me out of the standings entirely? All the other adults went double clear, or only had four faults as well, how would it work, even if they had done the 80s and I had only done the 70s? There wasn’t an updated list… hmm, maybe I needed to concentrate on my course.

I wasn’t going to walk it but realised I ought to because the fence markers were a jumble of numbers and letters. I was going to do the minis which comprised two fields, starting downhill — hate jumping downhill! — in the four jump field into the tyre field and then back to the four jump field, which was now more of a six jump. New logs were down on the ground, and even though I knew to look for the red flag to be on my right, it was helpful to the nerves to have an idea of where I would be going. Anyone in a position of authority was pelted with questions, and one glance at the sheet laying out the fences for the other courses cured me of any notions of doing the midis.

So, the children and I got ready to go. We warmed up in the upper arena, followed the leader down the gate, and went in the order we just happened to be in, in the ride.

Some of the kids looked peaky. ‘I’ve never done this before — gone over these logs by ourselves,’ I said. ‘I’m nervous.’ And the girls exploded with agreement: none of us had ever ridden in the fields basically alone, we all knew how the ponies were, chasing each other, what if we went too fast/what if we went too slow? ‘We are all going to be great!’ I said, and the girls (and I) took a deep breath.

Connell and I were fourth. At the start of the warm up, he felt a bit sticky, a bit distracted by the ponies, a bit bolshy, but I worked through it slowly, mainly because I felt mostly okay. When it was time for us to go after our ‘three… two… one…’, he gave desultory hop over the first log, and then started to trot down the hill after the pony ahead. I wanted to keep him going, but I didn’t want to get up the pony’s butt, so we took it easy — and it became easy. Once we got over the downhill log, it was smooth sailing — he even waited calmly with me until we let the ponies go ahead, and then went from 0 to 60 properly as we trotted through the break in the hedge to fly over the last elements.

‘How’d you do?’ ask the scorekeeper. ‘Clear!’ I replied; I brought Connell down to the walk, patted him heartily on the neck, and the watchers at the gate cheered.

Delirious with relief, I put Connell back up, gave him his well-deserved Pink Lady, and hung around and watched the midis and maxis, standing on the highest hill freezing to death but feeling so well in myself. I had given it a bash. I hadn’t given up. I learned so much: how to gauge how Con and I were doing and how to either do something about it or take advantage of it; how to move forward through something like that challenging pre-showjumping lesson and leave it behind; how to do the thing one event at at time, one transition/fence/log at a time… which is what horseriding is all about, if you ask me. It’s about learning from your mistakes and building on your successes without clinging to either; about moving through the rubbish self talk and overriding it with activity and action; about setting manageable goals and of not over-facing myself due to pride and ego.

After the last rider went, I debated legging it down the hill to the laneway to the bus stop. I put on my rucksack and wondered if I could get a lift from someone, but I was asked if I was leaving? ‘Eh, no?’ I said, and leaned on the windowsill. Everyone had gathered and I guessed that ribbons were being given out? Maybe I got a ribbon?

The first place winner in the minis was announced: me.

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I accepted my rosette and trophy, euphoric and humbled. I couldn’t have predicted this and wouldn’t have experienced it if I had based future events on past challenges.

For every fence I fail to get over, I learn how to change something so that my chances of success increase.

For every time I think I may not bother trying, I find myself moving through the thought to take an action.

Next time when I think I have to do a whole thing all at once, I hope I recall this and break the thing down into smaller parts.

Ten years may seem like a long time, but in horse years it equals about a minute. Okay, maybe an hour. Whatever it adds up to, at bottom it’s all about intention. The only intention I had when I got up there on Mercury in 2006 was to stay up and not end up, ignominiously, on the ground. The intention I have now is to keep going forward, forward, forward. And to go double clear in the upper arena*. And from there, who knows? I may even get my own horse one day.

Until then, I’ll just keep showing up, one day, one lesson, one fence at a time. And I’ll keep my trophy in the loo, I think — I hear that’s where Kate Winslet keeps her Oscar.

***

*Which I did do! And then the next week got decanted onto my face! That’s horses!

I went and completely re-wrote the epilogue to my book because of this event. It only made sense, as the title — Many Brave Fools — happened because of the mnemonic that one my instructors used, and it applies so perfectly to the themes involved. Just one of those things maybe, or what happens when you’re paying attention. The experience is teased out in the manuscript (I am happily inviting literary representation, btw), but the essence of it is below: that good marks are good, but knowing why we got them is even better.

***

You Gotta Start Somewhere: My Very First Dressage Test Ever

Ever done correctly, that is, with the white things down on the ground, and the silence.

There have been any number of times in which instructors have tried to incorporate a dressage test into a lesson. Sure, we do loads of flat work in the warm up, but the flat work never gets its own time to shine, unless we try to do a test. ‘Try’, because what happens is, we get the test, we go away, we come back the next week and all get a chance to do it with the instructor correcting us as we go along… except one or two haven’t shown up that week. So we resolve to do it all over again the next week — and those one or two show up, but the weather is dreadful, so it has to be put off.

And then one or two others don’t show up the next week, or all the arenas are booked for something else, so the white things can’t be laid out properly — and then the week after that, there’s a course still set up from pony camp and we’d all rather do that

So it never gets done.

We had a test, a simple pre-novice sheet, and we did the thing where we all did it in the lesson, and the ones that hadn’t gotten it, got it, and we were all meant to do it the next week; cue all of the above, and after IDK, six weeks, we forgot about it. I had the sheet folded up into eighths in my pocket, and then gave up and left it home. That very Wednesday, as we all mounted for our evening lesson, our instructor said, “Head on out to the upper arena, we’re doing the test.”

Ah, seriously? Everyone looked at me, because I always had the sheet, and I said, “I don’t have the sheet!” and we moaned, communally. As we warmed up, we asked each other if we remembered what happened after the walk from F to H on the loose rein? Or: what happened after that last canter, did we just head straight up from A to C for the final halt or did we have to go around and change the rein and then halt?

Gahhhhhhhhhhh.

The test was simple, and I had spent a lot of time during my commute drawing it on my palm: enter at A, track left at C, 20 metre circle at B, etc. There was always a bit where it felt like my brain went on hold, after the canter — when do I walk? — and the picture in my head went all fuzzy the way TVs used to do when the signal went out. And then I’d somehow pick up the signal again, which luckily I did on the night.

It was exactly the way I imagine a proper competition to be. We didn’t warm up as a ride, we had to cope with the nerves, we had to line up outside the 20×40 metre area and trot around before we entered… I was going second and I was glad I was getting it over with. The night was warm, Connell is ‘black’, the sun was glarey — oh, the excuses were mounting!

Honestly, though, I felt confident. Connell had been surprisingly good when we practiced, even though he tried to hare off every now and again when he felt like it. His circles were nice and round, even in the canter, and that was quite a feat, since I remembered the very first circle I’d tried to get him to canter, which was more in the shape of a fried egg. I also found that his transitions were really spot on. I was raring to go, in fact, because I thought we’d do pretty well.

The first rider did her test and left the boundary, and I moved Connell away from the other horses and asked for the trot. Off we went, which proved to be too early because I had no idea that it would take that much time to mark up the previous rider’s test. Was he going to tire? I brought him back down to walk, but then thought, Am I confusing him? so I asked for trot again — if he wasn’t confused before, he certainly was now — and soon enough we were trotting in at A.

All I could hear was my breath and the beat of Connell’s hooves. The space felt super-extra-small, since we’ve never ridden within the proper dimensions before. For all I knew, he could have spooked at the white things and just walked all over them; this inspired some if the best outside leg I’ve ever applied. I had to do all the thinking since no one was hollering advice or correction from the ground, and I think we both liked that. There were a couple of times I felt like we’d messed up — at once stage, he did almost step on the white things [from the brain to the rein, Sue!] and I wasn’t crazy about the way we got into the canter on the left rein between A-F, but otherwise: delighted with the circles, especially the ones in canter, we both kept those going smoothly, and that halt at X was a combination of precision and relief.

And then we got our sheets at the end, and it was all I could to wait to add up my marks. When I saw those 10s, though: OMG.

MY FIRST TEST
The perfectionist in me is always going to respond to a good score [177], but the rider in me was purely ecstatic about the progress Connell and I have made. I’ve been riding him for the guts of four years now, and I remember a time when he wouldn’t even canter past the ride, much less in a 20 metre circle, much less halt square. I know that my riding is improving when he does what I ask, because I am finally asking properly. Added to this, I can feel my legs back from last year’s injury, maybe at 90% at this stage, and that physical strength informs my mental toughness.

Connell was getting one anyway, but that night’s Pink Lady apple was very well earned.

I want to do a Prix Caprilli next…

***

Two years later, still haven’t replaced the rucksack or The Fat Coat™… and naturally, there is a reference to that ultimately ill-fated long stick. #OBSESSED

***

photo 1It’s almost time for the Dublin Horse Show, the annual trip to Nirvana for Irish horse people — not that there aren’t other shows in the country, I thoroughly enjoyed Tattersalls last year — but this is the biggie, and people attend from all round the nation, and indeed, the world, and there is so much stuff to buy.

I bought the above at last year’s show, and they are already falling apart.

1} This is good, because despite the two month hiatus, I am obviously riding loads.
2} Not so good, because it’s only been one year.

It may just be the bad luck of the draw. I mainly get my half chaps from justchaps.com, and am in fact in expectation of a happy event, being the delivery of a pair of mesh-y summer weight chaps*, an exercise in optimism if ever there was one. One hopes, anyway, given the way the weather has actually been summery, that they will come in useful.

I did have an unfortunate experience with a previous pair I’d bought from the above, but they were totally cool about the whole thing and replaced the faulty set. Faulty, you say? Did my legs, like, not work in them or something? Nope: the tab on one of the zips snapped right off after almost no time at all. I got a replacement pair with no fuss, and continue to buy from them because their customer service is so good.

I got to thinking about the way I wear out my equestrian wear. And also: how much I have.

Hats: three on the go. Wow, wut? Seriously, okay, so, there’s the one that is perfectly fine except that I don’t like the nylon straps. I use that one for when I’m volunteering for the RDA [Riding for the Disabled Association} because I don’t ride that much, maybe just 20 minutes to get the horse worked in, and so there’s not enough time for the scratchiness to annoy me.

Then there’s my new Harry Hall, which I wear on Saturdays, because I’m trying to get a good run out of it and want to keep it nice. On Wednesdays I wear my other Harry Hall hat because I wear make up on Wednesdays, because I work in an office and so I ‘do’ make up, perhaps to — ha, ha — make up for the fact that I wear my jodhs, oh yes indeed and my half chaps, too, in the office. So, then, when I ride and sweat, the foundation on my forehead gets all over the inside of the hat. Which I don’t want to happen on my new one.

Still with me? Let’s not even talk about jodhs. My current favourites are the ones I got in Canada, which were 30% off the original Canadian dollar price, which was already 40% off in regard to my euros, so they were basically free. And they have a front zip pocket, because I hate the inside tuck-y pocket, out of which everything falls when I get them home and fold them up.

This post could actually go on forever. I’ve got The Fat Coat™, christened thus in honour of my nephew Thomas, who christened his own down jacket thusly — I’ve had mine for at least seven years now, and it is in bits, but it is warm, it has a hood, and it goes down over my bum. What more could a gal ask for? I don’t think I’ve had the same coat for seven years since… ever.

The rucksack! Actually falling apart from the inside out:
THE RUCKSACK
It used to have two inner compartments, and now it is one big one. I’ve also mended the place where the straps meet the top, twice.

I also got to thinking about all of this because someone finally made off with my long stick, which I had hidden successfully for three years. It had lost the flicky bit at the end probably five years ago, and the weave was starting to wear off in places, and sure, it was crappy — but it was my crappy long stick, and no one should steal things. But, if you picked something up that was clearly abandoned, that’s a different story…

Anyway! I’ve had a new long stick sitting around the place, which I haven’t bothered with because it is red — what was I thinking? — and sure, I didn’t need to use it because the other one was just fine. It’s now in rotation, but only on Saturdays because my pal has custody of it since she drives and can keep it safe in her car. On Wednesdays, I snoop around and do the thing where you pick up a long stick lying about and then you put it back where you found it, and hope it’s in the same general area next week.

I have to say, I’m delighted that I am getting the full use, and beyond, out of all this gear. I don’t know that it’s necessarily a product of the Current Economic Climate or not, but it’s so satisfying to have things that have been giving good service for a length of time. It may be because when I began, I had no idea I would to take to the horse riding as much as I have. So: sentiment? Maybe. I was going to replace my jodh boots because one of the pull-it-on-tabs snapped off the other week, but they’re so comfortable I forget I’ve even got boots on, so why would I want to mess around?

If it ain’t broken in, don’t fix it.

***

*Two years on from that purchase and they are falling apart, but I bet I can get one more year out of them.

Another year of little blogging as my dad passed away in March of 2013. This happened directly I got back from the funeral, so it feels even more meaningful than it was at the time.

***

Acting As If: Lady Of Livery

I knew something was up, that something was out of joint: I have been out of ‘real’ time for the last while, between bereavement and jet lag — a lethal combo, do try to avoid it as best you can, is my advice to you — so I knew I was in trouble the moment I opened my eyes Tuesday morning.

I woke up, and immediately began worrying about how I was going to get to the yard later than day.

I had a launch to attend in town and I knew I’d have to do a drive-by as it was far enough away from the LUAS to be an issue; but the 44 bus has a stop near the hotel in which the launch was being held, so maybe I could grab the bus there and then get a taxi? But that was a total waste of money, even if it was going to save me a few steps. ‘Steps’ entered into it, as I am back on shanks mare {ha, ha} and walking up the laneway again; ugh, but having to walk alllll the way from the LUAS? That’s like 20 minutes, up a gradual incline of despair, which I was not in the mood for; if I skipped the launch, I could just get the bus to the end of the lane; but I said I would meet some pals at said launch; but; but; but —

Then I considered skipping the horses altogether, but I had overslept on Saturday, and missed the bus, and missed the lesson, and I really needed to go, to have a go, to move myself forward in some fashion.

Even once I decided to head into town and figure it out as I went along, well, I kept figuring out all the variables, and it was exhausting, and I couldn’t even imagine how I was going to have the energy to ride the horse. Which horse? Ha! Add this into the equation. I was fed up with Connell when last we met, and had gone back to Simba, but I still felt wobbly, and reckoned I’d rather have Connell if we were doing flat, but was not going to jump him, no way, in which case I would take Simba — or maybe even Delilah, because she knows when you’re a bit off and can take good care of you, but only if she’s in the mood —

So: I raced through the launch, got to the LUAS, used my Hailo app to get a taxi from Ballyogan to up-the-lane, rocked up to the office to pay for the term, only to discover that my usual lesson was cancelled.

{Cue laughter, somewhat demented.}

Would I just go in the 8pm lesson? Uh, no: it was 6.20.

Could I just mooch around on Connell? Yes, okay.

And thus began my very first time as a lady who is on her own, on a horse.

***

The very first time ever in my life that I had to get up on a horse all by myself was when I showjumped, also for the very first time; that was a lot of ‘firsts’ in one go. I can get up on Connell on my own, so that wasn’t the issue. The issue was: what was I gonna do? Mooch, as I had said, up and down the infamous laneway? Go down to the outdoor arena, and then mooch? It was perfect mooching weather, bright and clear, and not too cold, as excellent a spring evening as one could conjure.

But Connell can be a real slowcoach on a walk, and I didn’t fancy the outdoor, even though it was gorgeous out. I didn’t really know WTF I was doing, and I didn’t want to make a big show of it.

Except I found that I did know what to do.

Connell greeted me with perked ears; I rubbed my face all over his neck and he thought that was hilarious, and demonstrated this by nipping me on the bum. He was saddled, I bridled him, I joined a Livery Lass in the indoor, I got up there, and I started going.

I decided to practice riding a little longer in the stirrup than I have been. I mean to do this every lesson, but then I feel the pressure of being in the lesson, so I don’t. The thing is, a longer leg means better aids, and better response, and better posture, but I always feel too wobbly. So I took the time to do a longer leg, at my own speed, and worked on my balance, and we went great. Then I did a whole bunch of transitions, and then I did the reining-back-into-canter thing, and then the Livery Lass, who’d put her horse back up, came in again and asked did I want to jump, and I said yes.

So I jumped, and he only stopped once, which is still enormously irritating, but in the main, we did really well. There was no one there to tell me what to do to get him to do something, so I had to do the things myself, and it was incredibly satisfying, to be able to do something — anything! — because I thought of it myself.

Then he was so sweaty and steamy that I took him for a walk, in hand.

It was still gorgeous out, maybe even better since the sun was starting to set, a misty red haze in the west. We both took our time, and both stopped at one stage to look at something. I can’t even tell you what, I mean, the mountains are always there to be looked at, so I guess we both stopped at the same exact time and looked at the exact same mountain? It was the most peaceful thing ever. Just standing, shoulder to shoulder, setting sun, brisk air, green fields.

I chatted with other riders along the way, and it was like… it was like I was Livery Lady, doing the Livery Lady thing.

I rode for the guts of forty minutes. Now, when I warm up the Big Horse of a Monday, when I volunteer for Riding for the Disabled Ireland, I am only getting warmed up in my own brain after fifteen minutes, then it’s time for me to get down and hand him over. Just as I am beginning to understand what might be good to do — leg yielding, maybe? Work on that wonky rein back? Canter transitions? — there’s no more time to do it in. This was the perfect amount of time to do an amount of work that added up to a good work out.

Le repertoire, though, she is limited:  I would need to be stocking up on things to do, on my own. Swot a dressage test, maybe? I’ve got a book of jumping exercises, with many, many things to do with poles on the ground, working your way up to actual jumps… There’s a mental fitness that you get, I am thinking, when you have to think for yourself. I am sure that there is a many a day when you just want to hang out with your horse, and do some serious mooching, but there’s also all sorts of planning that enters into it, which I hadn’t known.

If you had told me, seven years ago, when I wasn’t even able to get up into the saddle by myself, when I didn’t even know how to pull the stirrups down the leathers, that I would have gotten to this stage — well, I don’t know what I would have said. Not out loud anyway — but in my heart I know I would have been shouting Yes, pleeeeeease! How soon? Is it now yet?!? I would have immediately begun worrying about whether or not I’d ever be good enough, and how long it would take, and how could I get there more quickly and easily — and as it transpires, it took no ‘time’ at all. It’s now, now, and it feels like it hasn’t taken that long, after all.

***

The essence of this post made into the horse book, mainly because this was the very first time — after six years of learning to horseride — that I made a decision all by myself. Up to then I had been doing the work of listening to instruction, thinking I was taking it on board, realising that I hadn’t gotten it right at all, or hadn’t executed it to the desired effect… basically: learning but not yet ready to actually act on what I’d learned without prompting. I needed no prompting here — and perhaps, now would be able to stay on and manage, but that’s a thought for another time.

***

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Reb wasn’t tacked when I went into the barn. Funnily enough, he’d damaged his ligament sometime last year, and here I was again, limping — was he himself limping again?

Apparently not… and I tacked him up with no worries, led him to the indoor, mounted, lead the ride down to the outdoor, not a bother on us…

And things were mostly okay until I went to pull him in behind Spuddie, after open order. It was only two strides, maybe three, but he belted for the queue, like, galloped to catch up to Spud, and I thought, Uh oh.

Yeah. Around and around we went, and he was absolutely focused on running up Spuddie’s arse. I was sitting back, massaging the bit, and the reins were so short that my fingers were practically in his mouth.

Our turn to canter: he’s wobbly, and he’s fighting me, and I tap him up — and he bucks like he means it.

Now, Rebel mainly bucks the way that a child might stick out her tongue. It’s cheeky, and annoying, and somewhat disrespectful, but it’s easily corrected, and everybody moves on.

This was different. I was thrown fully forward, and a little to the right, and for a second I saw the arena’s fence and thought, Crap, there I go, over the fence — and hauled myself upright, left stirrup lost. Rebel fulfilled the promise of those earlier gallop-y strides, and took off;  I heard the instructor say, ‘Sit baaaa-aaack’, really gently, like she’d talk to a horse, and I sat baaaaaack and dropped my leg, and leaned back, massaging the bit, and then what happened?

Oh, yeah, then I got the stirrup back, and brought him back to canter for the short end of the arena, and then we stopped. We trotted whilst everyone else in the ride cantered, and just as we were about to change rein and canter on the right —

I pulled him in the centre and sat there. And then I got down.

In that moment, I knew the difference. I knew the difference between what happened here, and what was happening last night. I knew that he was going to take any and every opportunity to explode. I acted on that awareness, and went up and put him away.

I brought Connell down, who was also fairly fizzy, and managed to jump him handily over a couple of fences, and to stay aboard when he refused one of them < which was all down to me anyway, I knew I wasn’t riding the approach properly.

Frankly? That was one of the best lessons I’ve had in while. I’ve only realised that now. I felt like crap all the way home, worse when I was limping to the second bus, but now, I understand that I made independent decisions and was completely aware of how I was affecting my own experience. I got off Rebel. I knew that Connell refused because I hadn’t kept my leg on. I also asked to take the fences again, really quick, just so that in my own head I could know what to do correctly. I was not psyched out, because I could see how my own behaviour had contributed to the result [or non-result], and therefore, I could do it again because I knew what I had to keep in my awareness [everything.]

I am resting and icing and writing — the best way to heal, as far I can tell.

***

Here’s Many Brave Fools in a nutshell! 

***

Keeping an Open Heart

I was talking to a pal the other day, about a bunch of things that are going on for me at the moment, and in conclusion I said, ‘Well, I’m keeping an open heart.’

The thing is, I know I was going to say that I was keeping an open mind, and… I didn’t. I mean, I could feel the word on my tongue. It almost made it all the way out, but then this other word slipped out of my mouth, and I realised that this it was a good thing to say, and a good way to live.

This concept has been on my mind for the last week or so. I’m working on what I’ve been calling my ‘horsey-divorcey’ book, a post-divorce, pony-mad, codependency-recovery memoir. I’ve been working on it for the last forever, or at least it feels that way, and it’s another reason that I wasn’t posting very often in the last year or so. I was having a hard time switching from blog-brain to book-brain, and I feel that since I’m halfway done, and have also nailed down the memoir’s raison d’etre, I can do both at once.

One feeds the other. Each chapter features a number of posts culled from here; this post is inspired by some things I’ve been thinking about lately that have come up from the book writing. In one chapter, the main thrust of which is falling, I talk about how much I wanted to be a rider and I recount the first seven falls that were meant to ‘make’ me a rider. [All seven posts can be found in the Catalogue of Falls category.] Someone had told me that it took seven falls to make a rider; I had some fear around falling, and the notion of turning it into a goal kind of took the sting out of it.

It occurred to me that there was no way in heaven or hell that I wanted to call myself codependent, and I couldn’t imagine how I was going to take the sting out of that. I have done so by mainly turning it — the concept of it, my reality of it — into a hook in a book. By extension though, through that kind of distancing, it’s easier for me to hold the notion at a healthy distance, from which I gain perspective. It makes it easier for me to look at my behaviour in my unsuccessful marriage see how I can heal, and move forward.

But was it unsuccessful? On Saturday, I woke up a bit tired, and what with my ligament thingie still bothering me, by the time I got to my lesson, I had already reckoned on the kind of lesson I was going to have. And I had exactly the lesson I thought I’d have: not stellar, largely featuring inconsistent jumping on Connell, who wasn’t doing anything but giving back to me exactly what I was giving to him, an hour in which I went in and out of focus, in which I corrected something only to let something else go by the wayside. A lesson in which, at the end when the instructor gave us all feedback, I was literally and figuratively often unbalanced.

I was not fully ‘successful’ in that lesson, but I can look at it and realise that it was successful in that I knew what was happening going in, and got what I thought I was going to get. I now, completely and utterly, understand that I bring myself to this horseriding lark, and that it’s not up to the horse to ‘make’ it go well. In this way, I can look at the things I am looking at, as regards my codependency, how it manifested in my former marriage, think about what I’ve learned and how I’ve used that knowledge, has enabled me to sit here right now, a horsewoman-in-progress, pulling all the bits of my life together and bringing it all forward.

That’s the only kind of enabling I’ll be doing now, but even as to that, who knows? I’ll do my best, and I’ll keep an open heart.

***

FIGURES OF EIGHT

Twelve years on from my first ever riding lesson, these posts are still wandering round and round, a figure of eight starting with today, probably, and yesterday, definitely. It’s the antithesis of how I usually do things, but… that’s horses for ya.

TACK ROOM

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