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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…

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*Reference here.

I’m on one of my thrice-yearly tears, throwing stuff away, giving stuff away — clearing out. Someone looking round the place might be surprised by this, because even I’m a bit ‘Eh, really?’ but there have been three large bin bags that have made their way out the door. We’ll see, there may be more to come.

And then I find something like this and hope I haven’t thrown out anything I may like to come across at some future date.

PRIX CAPRILLI

This was one of those tests for which we did a dry run in our lesson and never got around to ‘doing’ properly, with the white boundary markers and the marking. It is so old that I was riding Delilah at the time — so this is like, 2007 — I am pretty sure I moved on to Rebel at some stage that year as well, so it must have been winter.

I also remember how good Delilah was at this particular test, and thinking that maybe she liked doing it, without really being sure why. Now I think that horses ‘like’ dressage because the rider {me} is giving the aids clearly — the way they should always be given, whether or not one {me, again!} is being given a number grade for every transition.

I remember coming over the jump #2 and leg-yielding her over to M, and thinking, ‘She’s actually letting me leg-yield her over to M!’ — and also the way she really went for the last change of rein over #3, from H to F.

I can’t predict how Connell will approach those fences — and I immediately stop myself from visualising anything but a strong result. Let’s do this!

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For those who like a nice cross-reference: that nail polish is spoken of here.

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‘WHAT DID I JUST SAY?’ As a media professional, I should probably know more about Jurassic World than I do, which is mainly not much, which is because I squealed and jumped and hid my eyes so much during Jurassic Park that I am maybe too scared to go see it.

Then the internet lead me down the garden path via the clip of Pratt ‘doing’ his acting faces in the movie [funny] to the trailer itself [okay, so, that lady that got snatched up by a flying thing? Ahhhhhh] to a featurette [boring] to a scene in which Owen Grady [Irish!] rescues somebody who’s fallen into the raptor pit.

I had no idea Pratt was playing a dino whisperer. The scene is like, basically every day with horses: don’t do something bad that they’ll remember, but don’t taken any sh*t from them either. Use firm, declarative sentences, don’t be afraid, and don’t leave on a bad note. This is like Monty Roberts for prehistoric reptiles. Cool!

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Hey – hey!

^ And then he says, ‘I see you over there!’ to the cheeky one that’s trying to sneak up on him. It’s like me and Connell every time.

I may go see this now, but maybe by myself so only I know how many times I dropped my popcorn.

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Clip is here.

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Last night, Rebel was strong again, but it was the manageable kind of fizz; even though he was literally lunging at the fences — taking off from waaay out, and then unable to get his stride for the second face of the double — it wasn’t a big deal. I got to do that thing with my butt again, the pinching thing that makes him shorten up his stride. It is fun! And it makes me laugh, the way it works, just tensing up my arse, and suddenly everything changes.

In the car to the LUAS, we chatted about the lesson, as we do. My horsey friend said how she trusted the horse she’s currently riding — and maybe that was a mistake? And I said that I didn’t think so: ‘Because since you trust him, you’re relaxed, and he feels your relaxation, and then he relaxes, and the whole situation just feeds on itself, in a good way.’

So what’s the opposite of a vicious circle? I initially thought ‘precious circle’ and criiiiiinged. This from someone who makes smoochy noises at Connell, in the barn, in front of everyone! Seriously, though, as words go, ‘precious’ is just one of the worst. Sorry, it just is.*

Luckily, Wiki offered up a legitimate antonym to ‘vicious’ in ‘virtuous’ and this pleases me, not least on an alliterative level. This also allows me to go down a dictionary/thesaurus rabbit hole. Virtuous has mainly to do with morals, is what I conclude, and I think… I think that the virtuous circle with the horses goes back to that state of trust.

The more I trust someone/something/somehorse, the less I worry. The less I worry, the more present I am. The more present I am, the less I worry, and then trust is a foregone conclusion, because I am confident and relaxed [because I am not worrying!] It’s like when we’re jumping a series of fences as we did last night: double at B and a crosspole roughly at X, on the right rein. Now, I don’t trust Rebel on the right rein, it seems to make him fizzier and fightier, but since we had so much to do, and I had so much to think about, I mostly just left him to it and focused on getting us around the place. Now, I do trust that once Rebel at least sees the fence, he’s going to go over it. I know that much. Since I trusted him to do that, the fact that he was taking off really early on that first fence — well, I just went with it.

The thing was, he needs to be able to trust me to do my job, too, which was to notice that, hey, he’s taking off really early and not getting his stride, so therefore perhaps I should pinch up my butt. We did the double again, with me pulling up my arse muscles, and it was perfect. [This was not an independent decision, just to be precise, my instructor reminded me to do it.] So maybe he trusts me, now, to be paying attention and making adjustments?

I don’t know that I trust Rebel in the pure sense of the word. I know I can rely on him to be stroppy, frustrating, and moody. ‘Rely’ means many things, but ‘count on’ seems to work here, in a less than positive sense. But! I suppose the answer here is to be able to rely on myself, to know that I will be present, in the moment, in every moment that makes up the lesson, and that I will flex as necessary.

I am finally in the place where I understand [acknowledge, know, be aware of, be conscious of] that I have to be there, every single second. Even more than I already have been. Which I had thought was a lot, but apparently, there’s even more Now to be experienced. I’m very juiced up to be experiencing this, and am going to be seriously experimenting with this virtuous circle thing — without being too precious about it.

*Some words I do like.

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 that… 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 middle-aged lady, post-divorce, equine conversion, 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 proceed to 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 horse people said 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 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 work, 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.

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… Read the rest of this entry »

In response to having injured my lower left leg in mid-2010, in the winter of 2010/11 I pulled the medial ligament in my right knee, which is kind of on the inside and around the back. After that healed, I then pulled a tendon or something in my left knee area. I simply switched my stretchy support bandage from one side to the other.

Yesterday, before I left the house for my lesson, I felt like my right knee was acting up again. Read the rest of this entry »

I am inured to my own stink, so when I noticed that something particularly pungent was wafting in and out of my notice, on the way home after Saturday’s lesson… I naturally assumed, okay, that yes: I reek.

This was little something extra.

What happened was: It was really cold yesterday. Cold enough that I thought I might take off my light jacket halfway through the lesson and decided against it; cold enough that I was wearing a light jacket at all. I remember a period of time, early on, during which there was a more experienced girl in my Saturday lesson. This is going back… five years, maybe. There I was in my layers of outerwear, and there she was in a button-down top. I’ve toughened up over the intervening years and often ride in the winter in a long-sleeved top, and that’s it for protection from the elements. And my body protector, sure, but even so. I think I even wore a scarf one time, early on? Sheesh.

So, Saturday was pretty chilly. We worked hard, non-stop, on the flat, and Con worked up a sweat, so much so that he had white stuff all over his jowls, and near the girth. It was too cold to hose him down, and I couldn’t bear to leave him like that… so I took off my jacket, dipped a section of it into his water bowl, and wiped him down as best I could. And then dried him off, again as best I could, with the jacket.

I balled it up, stuffed in into my rucksack, and thought nothing of it.

Until I sat there on the bus, wondering what in holy hell stank.

In fairness, even as I asked the question of the general Consciousness, I knew full well that it was me that was the source of the pong. I felt a little self-conscious, but also a little bit proud. I worked so hard in that lesson that I stink to high heaven. <It’s almost lyrical, that.

I also felt a little dubious. Surely I can’t be smelling as bad as this?! Could I have sweat that much in so much cold? Then I remembered the jacket, and how I had wiped all that sweaty white stuff onto it, and then, weirdly, I was a little embarrassed. I don’t even know what that is about. Why would I be more conscious of the stinky jacket and not the stinky bod? I haven’t got a notion. I think because I really don’t think that I smell that bad, but whooo, man, the reek of this jacket was noticeable even through the rucksack.

Ah, sure. I forgot about it, mostly, after I identified it as the source of all things smelly. I even took it food shopping. I only hope that it helped to prevent Connell feeling too much discomfort. If it did, it was well worth the the looks from my fellow commuters. Sorry, people! The comfort of the horse wins.

I forgot to be nervous on my first day back in the saddle. Read the rest of this entry »

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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