Friday, June 21, 2013

Month One....

“It won't be like this for long,
One day we'll look back laughing at the week we brought her home,
This phase is gonna fly by,
so baby just hold on,
It won't be like this for long
                   Darius Rucker

Hard to believe it has already been a month and hard to believe it has only been a month. B'sheret has been at Woodloch with me now for 4 weeks and 1 day. It has been crazy and amazing all at once.

We got off to a little bit of a bumpy start together, he had a medical issue the first week, his stifle locked up and we spent a day getting it unstuck. But from the moment Dr. Ed got him moving again we have been going non-stop and it has been a really great experience.

B' has come so far in the last month, once again my regret is I didn't videotape more of it, especially his first few days. When we brought him home and backed him off the trailer he looked around like he had moved to another planet (and in ways he had). He went from living with 4 or 5 horses on a very quiet controlled farm to living with 100+ on a very active, sometimes chaotic farm. He went from lots of inside time to outside 12 hours a day. He went from his nice quiet arenas to sharing arenas with lessons, and training and day camp and horses and ponies of every shape, size, color and breed.

But for all that change, he has handled it far better than I could have ever expected from a 4 year old. He is a sweet, calm, loving, level headed horse who wants to work hard and wants to learn and do what you ask of him. He is a super fast learner and watching him learn new things has been my favorite part of this month.

The newest thing we have taught him in the last month is showmanship (something he had not done previously). In a few short days he learned to walk with me, to trot with me, and in the last month his pivots are coming along really well and he has learned to square his feet. He has already been shown twice in this first month in showmanship and did great.

He has also learned to take in all the new sounds, smells and sights at Woodloch (and at the show grounds) and each day I see something else he is no longer concerned by. His courage and his trust in me and his trainer to take care of him has grown a lot. Even how he reacts when something does make him nervous has changed. When he first joined us his immediate reaction was "I am outta here, and good luck to my rider on not getting eaten". Today when he was worried about a paint pony who walked through the arena, you could tell he put a lot more thought into staying under me and thinking about what we should do it about it together, he much more wanted to keep his eyes on it than to escape from it. It's a lot of fun watching him mature and gain that confidence.

He is not the only one who has learned this month, he is teaching me a lot too, both in and out of the saddle. On the ground he has taught me about patience, taking time to teach and explore and just the value of simple things like going for a walk. Between needing to introduce him to WL and also trying to strengthen his stifle we have gone on many walks to different parts of the farm, time we wouldn't have had together under other circumstances, and they are some of my favorite memories from the last month. We have played in puddles, we have walked through the woods, we have explored, we have discussed Bob the cat and we have just hung out on those walks. Since I have traveled a lot this month and not been with him every day, those moments I have had alone with him walking around are precious memories.

In the saddle he is teaching me a very different way of riding than I had with Joker. He has different cues, more advanced cues such as a "spur stop" and so it is taking me being open to retraining my habits and learning him as much as him learning me. Another process I am really enjoying. He is making me grow as a rider every time I mount.

Part of the reason I bought a horse was to be able to start showing at the breed show level, in his case AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) shows. It was something I had never done with Joker and being able to do that for the first time with my own horse was a great day. He showed really well, both for me and Etta and handled it all like an old pro.

I was asked today if I could go back and do it over if I would buy him again, a fair question. The answer is unequivocally yes. Did I learn a couple things this month about some questions you should take into consideration when buying a horse (such as will your existing tack fit the horse, is the environment you are taking the horse from and too similar) but even if I had asked those questions and got the answers I have learned this month, I would not change my decision. He is the exact right horse for me in so many ways. He fits me where I need him to fit right now, and we will grow together in so many other ways. He is the horse I was destined to be with right now, my B'sheret, and I wouldn't change that in the least. While I will admit I have had some days recently of doubting if I am worthy of him, if I am a good enough rider to rise to his abilities, I have never once doubted if he is the right horse for me and what I want/need in a riding partner and best friend.

I can't end this post without thanking Etta (my riding coach/B's trainer) and Theo (my

farrier and go to person for a ton of little things). I could NOT have done this month without the two of them. So much of B's growth is from the outstanding training he is receiving, and a lot of my sanity is coming from the fact that every time I get over my head the two of them are there to catch me (and often are out in front of me before I even know I need the help). They have treated B'sheret with the same love and concern they would have given one of their own horses and that has meant the world to me.

The biggest lesson for me in these 4 weeks is no one does this alone, as much as I like to hide from the world and do it on my own, I have watched over the last month as I have become closer to the other boarders, our barn crew, my teammates on the show team, Etta and Theo. I have not only had to let them all in at times, but have also found I wanted to at times. That having B' has made me more a part of the community at our barn and has pulled me out of my shell a little.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Permission to fall....

B'sheret and I did our first show last together last weekend, an open show at our home saddle club. It was a really great day. He was a real pro and I was so proud of him. This was an outdoor show with a lot of new for him to absorb. He stood at the trailer so politely and calmly, he was great in our showmanship class (we placed 4th, which was awesome since he has never done that class before) and he handled three riding classes despite all the "scary stuff" around the arena. I could not have been happier with him. I spent a lot of the day just looking at him thinking if day 1 was this good how great will it be in a year to show him.

I can't say the day went off without a hitch, when we were warming up outside the arena a dog ran at us and B' was surpised by it, he tried to escape and I didn't go with him as well as I should have, and hit the ground. It was my first fall from a horse, a moment I have been dreading for 2 years. In my mind when I eventually would fall off (with horses it is when not if) it would mark failure. That despite it happening to everyone, usually many times, that for me it would mean all those insecurities I carry around would finally be proven true. That I am not a good rider and people were just humoring me, that my trainer would finally realize I am a waste of her time and would desert me,  that people would decide I don't deserve my horse. For me fear of falling has been much more emotional baggage than physical fear. And in a lot of ways I am glad it happened. Because when the dust settled all that stupidity in my head was proven wrong. I got up, dusted myself off and the world went on. I was banged up and bruised, but my trainer was still right there by my side, my horse was standing there waiting for me and when I got back in the saddle and headed into our class 5 minutes later my friends were still standing there cheering for me. The world didn't end because  I was less than perfect. Those ghosts I carry with me from my parents growing up didn't swallow me up like I had imagined they would.

I think that is a big part of the lesson B'sheret has crossed my path to teach me, that I don't have to always strive to be perfect and have all the answers. Through having to take the time to let him grow and mature at his pace I am having to also allow myself that space too, and as foreign a feeling as it is, it is also really liberating. Especially when it comes to showing.

Last year I felt this terrible burden all the time. That if I didnt show in every class possible right away, if I didnt place in every class I went into, I was failing. That if I only did walk trot I was less than everyone expected. That if I picked and chose what I felt ready to do I would be looked down on. I enjoyed showing last year, but I can't say I ever relaxed doing it or felt at ease. I put myself under this constant pressure to do more, be more, accomplish more and it took a lot of the fun out of it. I never felt safe enough to admit I needed to go slower, to tell anyone that there were times I wanted to do less for no reason other than I felt overwhelmed, that I needed more space to take it at a student's pace instead of trying to keep up with others. And I have no one to blame for that than myself, because the pressure all came from me and no one else.

This show season I feel like I am in a very different place, and a big part of that is due to B'sheret. Having a younger horse with so much we need to work on has really helped me find a different pace for myself. In giving HIM permission to be less than perfect and accepting his learning curve I have made some peace with my own too. In allowing him to take things slowly so he can acclimate and adjust I am allowing myself the same. And in doing that I am opening myself up to all kinds of new experiences. The biggest of which is showing at the breed (AQHA) level. Had I tried this last year, or even this year with Joker, I would have expected way more out of myself than I am ready for. I would have expected myself to compete in riding classes above what I am prepared for (especially at the lope), I would have overloaded myself with the number of classes, I would have beat myself up for not placing and I would have stressed myself to the point of misery. But with B'sheret, I have found comfort in trying just to do it. That if all we do is a class or two it is still success because we had the experience together, that if we are having a day where all that makes us both comfortable is a halter and showmanship class that is still us moving forward and if we walk away without a ribbon that is ok too, those will come, but for now it is about gaining arena time and time together. We have nothing to prove and no one to prove it to, he is my horse, I only have him and I to keep happy. No one can decide I am not worthy of him or take him from me so I can go at a pace that makes me comfortable.

I also am finding this new freedom is changing how I interact with my riding coach/trainer and others around me. In needing to have people help B'sheret, I am learning to let them help me. I feel like I am finally finding comfort in saying "I don't get it" or "I need help", phrases which used to terrify me. Back to the ghosts of the past, that showing vulnerability was setting myself up as a target. In doing what is best for my horse I have had to let that go. I cant do it all alone for him, or as I am learning, for me.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Road to B'sheret is never easy.....

"But I don't want good and I don't want good enough,
I want can't sleep, can't breathe without your love,
Front porch and one more kiss, it doesn't make sense to anybody else,
Who cares if you're all I think about,
I've searched the world and I know now,
It ain't right if you ain't lost your mind,
Yea I don't want easy, I want crazy,
Are you with me baby? Let's be crazy"

Back to the blog again, trying to find a way to work out the flurry in my head...writing is my great solace. To catch everyone up, the horse I had been to looking at in my last post, is now mine. Vested Vitals, or B'sheret (his new barn name) came home to Woodloch 12 days ago. B'sheret means fate, destiny or meant to be. And I do believe that is what he was, meant to be. Buying him and bringing him home went so easily and I have great new friends in his previous owners. I belong on this journey right now.

But as with any journey that I have been on in my life, meant to be never meant easy or simple. I had to laugh when my vet yesterday was talking about different horse superstitions and pointed out the two whorls on his face (horse version of cowlicks) and that when you have a horse with two of them everything is going to be more of a challenge. Well of course, what else would I have. If it comes easy why bother, right?

Our first week together was pretty straight forward, we had a few lessons, we got to know each other and we were planning for our first show. We'll call that the honeymoon *smile*. Then Friday morning my phone rang way too early, B' had locked up one of his hind legs  (locked stifle) and we needed to call the vet. This became the scariest 12 hour day of my life. Walking in and seeing my new baby dragging his back foot and walking on the top of his hoof and not knowing if everything I had dreamed about was about to fall in on me. I will spare everyone all the technical explanation but if you want to learn more about what went on this article is really great. . The only thing that got me through the day intact was the amazing people around me. Our barn crew, my trainer (Etta), Theo (my farrier), the other boarders, and friends near and far. I was blessed to be so far from alone in it. And thanks to two amazing vets the day ended well. B's stifle was put back in place and he walked off like it never happened. He was all better, me not so much. No one call tell whether it will happen again or not and so I am holding my breath.

The best way to lower the odds of a relapse is as much exercise for him as possible, to strengthen the ligaments. So we have spent every day since going on long long walks together. This has been the silver lining in what happened. I have gotten to take him on "field trips" to parts of Woodloch he hasn't seen, through the forest, out to the fields, down different roads and we have gotten to know each other so much better. I love just hanging out with him. He is a smart horse and watching him process new things is a lot of fun. I am learning his fears, his strengths and how we can work together better as a team. We missed our first show, but we are much closer for it.

Yesterday the vet came back and we did the routine stuff we had planned...teeth, sheath (boy parts), shots, chiropractic/acupuncture and shoes. It was a good appointment (I adore his vet, very straightforward, very intelligent but also very disarming and humorous) but there were lots of little things that came up - he has an overbite, he is tight in the neck, he has thin hoof walls, just little things. But I have to admit it set me spinning. I think it was the culmination of the days before it. I just feel overwhelmed and lost.

I have scientifically understood everything that I have heard and learned in the last 5 days, I have a medical background, I can talk the talk, but I don't have a horse background and I am realizing how much that hurts me. Because while I can tell you physiologically what it all means, I cant tell you what (if any of it) matters to my future (and his) and what doesn't. And that plays with my insecurities. I am drowning in my own doubts. Do any of these things change our goals? Do they change our future? Should I have caught them before I bought him? Would I have made a different decision? Did I rush into this? What do I need to do to make sure we have a long long time together?  I don't know what I don't know and that space is where I stop breathing.

I had to take today off from the barn and regroup (thank god I have a trainer who can keep an eye on him and exercise him so I can say I need a break). This is my baby, my horse, and no matter what we are in it together so I need to get myself together and back to moving forward!!!! He deserves no less from me.

In trying to make sense of the last few days for myself my head and more importantly my heart has been thinking a lot about human parents, specifically those who give birth to a child who quickly falls ill and how their lives fall apart in a heart beat. How you look at this great promise and dream that has come into your world and in a breath your future freezes and becomes a gray unknown. Before this week I could not understand that suffocating feeling, but now I get it. And it is a horrible place. You are in the middle of an angst beyond words and are being pummeled with facts and statistics and terminology that overwhelms you, you want to freeze, you want the world to stop until you can make sense of what is happening, but it only spins faster, you have decisions to make, decisions about things you know nothing about. Your heart is paralyzed yet your brain is expected to function in overdrive. You are responsible for choices you are ill equipped to make, but which will determine the future of a being you would trade your life for. All you want is someone to wake you from the nightmare and they can't.

I was lucky, we don't know if B'sheret's issue will return, I don't fully understand if anything from his vet visit will be a concern down the road, but at this moment he is happy, healthy and we move forward together. But I am changed, I am in some ways harder for it, in some ways my heart has grown. I have found a new compassion for a group of people I never shared commonality with. I have a new goal, I would like to find a way to be part of a charity that helps parents with ill newborns, I want to give back some of what was given back to me this week! I don't want what happened this week to be forgotten, I want it to better the world.

B'sheret has already changed where my life will go, and I sure hope it is just the beginning....