Friday, January 23, 2015

A new year with a new focus

"Hard work spotlights the character of people: some people turn up their sleeves, some people turn up their noses, and some people don't turn up at all."

I saw this on quote on an Instagram post by @officalaqha today while scrolling through the endless internet pages of photos of people riding their horses. I love Instagram, not so much for my abilities to gain followers and post photos, but for the inspiration that I gain from the photos of others chasing their dreams and doing what they love.

As a grown woman who is now graduated, married and working a "real" job, I've found myself in an endless struggle to balance my new role as wife, homemaker and equestrian. It's a struggle that I'm sure I am not the first, nor the last, to traverse alone. The ongoing question remains though: how do I do it?

I've spent my whole life "gearing up" for the next big thing; the next horse show, the next job, the next big life hurdle to tackle. Of course, previous to tying the knot with my husband, the only person that I really had to worry about was myself. Now, I have dishes to wash, dinner to make, and a house to clean. I have a job that I spent 9 hours a day at, working 8am-6pm at a vet clinic. At the end of the day, I find myself dreading even having to clean my horses stalls, let alone find the time to saddle them up and ride them.

While sitting on my lunch break today, I was on my cell phone, chatting with my friend S, lamenting over this very subject. S is getting ready to graduate from college, has two horses and works her tail off to pay her way in this world. Although she's still "independent" of a significant other, she still struggles with the same challenges that I find myself faced with: how do we excel with our horses and find the time to commit to aspiring to our dreams amidst the daily chaos of every day life?

I took a visit back in time tonight to try and reconnect with that spark of ambition that seemed to be so abundant in my youth. By paging back through old riding journals, blog entries and computer files, I found a few things that I think are inspirational enough to either revisit, or share for the first time with the general public. Many of these things revolve around date, he has been the most inspirational horse that I have ever worked with.

The excerpt below is from an article called "John Cooper on Fitness." I have no idea where I originally found it, so my sincere apologies for the lack of publishing credit. I'm sure that it came from some type of online article collection, such as or something similar. I've had the text copied into my computer for years. I still enjoy reading what the article has to say. This is just a small section of a six page document.

"Not only do you have to assess your horse but you need to be realistic about your own situation. If you work full time and you are preparing for a 3DE then you may decide to work your horse twice a day instead of one long session, which is hard to fit in either before work or at the end of the day.
For the actual canter work the terrain plays a big part. Most people like a hill as it is challenging enough to the horse's heart, lungs and muscles over a shorter distance, thereby putting less strain on the horse's legs. If you live in a flat area obviously you will have to do longer distances to equal the same amount of work.
When I was living in Hay, NSW, where there is not a hill in sight I managed to get horses fit for 3DE's by riding 6 miles before work, swimming them, usually at lunchtime, and then working them on the flat or jumping after work. Where there's a will there's a way, but what I wouldn't have given for just one hill."

Nice inspiration for the working adult rider, huh? Where there's a will, there IS a way.
The next expert is from this very blog, from February 25, 2010. It's amazing to think that I wrote this almost 5 years ago. You can search to that date to find the entire post. I like what I wrote here, I think that often times, as we progress as riders, we begin to think more in terms of facts and less in terms of feeling. Many of the problems that I encountered with Johnny were problems that I've run into again in other horses. He was such a different type of ride from Emmy...and each time I read back through my own musings over his training, I realize just how much my current horses actually take after him. It's difficult to break a lifetime of riding habits, but its important to remember that, the most effective riders are those who can put their horses into a position where they can perform to the best of their abilities.

'Form=Function: Finding the "Neutral Position"  
When I came to college and started riding with a different trainer, I began to understand more of the hunter aspect of position...of what she called a "neutral position" in which the rider did not interfere with the horse's natural movement and in doing so, allowed the horse to move freely underneath the rider. This was a concept that I understood well in theory, but could never quite transfer over to my rides with Johnny. Granted, I rarely rode Johnny under the watchful eye of trainer, and although I soon learned how to best influence his trot, I could not find the same happy medium in canter and I could rarely find it to a jump, because I rarely saw a distance on him. If I micro-managed, we chipped. If got into my half seat and left him alone, we went long. There seemed to be no in between. For a long time, I attributed it to his green-ness over fences. His own inability to judge the distance to the jump, his lack of athletic ability and maybe just lack of experience to adjust his stride. In reality, that was only part of the problem. The main problem was that I couldn't find that neutral balance where I could best let him do his job.'

And here is another, even older post from October 16, 2009...six years ago. I still remember the day that I made this realization, as simple and stupid as it seems, but it was like a light bulb came on in my never-ending journey as a horsewoman.

'And as I stood there watching Erin ride, I realized that there were a lot of things in life that Johnny had also never done. When I got him, he had never been ridden. He had never cantered, he had never jumped, he had never been clipped or shown or had his mane pulled and braided...

Who was I to say that this horse could and couldn't do?' 

So, while I sat at the folding table in the breakroom today, stirring my microwave macaroni and cheese with my cell phone pressed to my ear, I thought about all of these things. I thought about all of the research that I had done...the books and magazines I had read, the hours that I had spent pouring over internet articles and reading forums and blogs as I stumbled down the path of horsemanship. I thought about the late nights and early mornings that I spent at the barn, even after a long day working on the horse show circuit, to make sure that my horses got ridden...groomed...fussed over. I though about how I borrowed arenas and equipment to prepare for competition only to have jump refusals or meltdowns in the show ring. I thought about how much I had learned from those mistakes, how it pushed me to ride better, think clearer and come up with a better strategy. I thought about how often I used to video myself, even when there was no one around to help me, just so that I could critique my days ride. I thought about the extra ten minutes that I spent before each ride stretching Johnny or rubbing him down with liniment after...I thought about how much of a difference those extra minutes had made to his overall comfort, condition, and most importantly, our bond. And mainly, I thought about Cool and Gus, about the drive and the fire that still burns in my soul to see their training through to whatever end. 

Then and there I made myself a pact, that no matter what, I am going to make this up coming show season work for them. I don't know how...but I'm going find a way to make it work. I'll spend money smarter, I'll wake up a little earlier, I'll try a littler harder. Because at the end of the day, one certainty still rings true:

The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.

Happy preparation my friends :)


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