Thursday, January 28, 2010

Last Week in Pictures

My camera has been without a lens for a while now (but I ordered one a few days ago! A straight 50mm, like I had back in high school =D), and I've been going crazy not being able to take pictures. So, a week ago, I picked up a crappy disposable one; with it I could document the gross rain we got last week, Kiki's first full day in California, Hearst Castle, and Kiki's one week anniversary. Happily, they turned out better than expected! (Given the mysterious "X" brand of the camera and the fact that it was held together by a flimsy cardboard cover, my expectations were low).

(Ringo says: "Umm, there's a river running through the barnyard! Doesn't that mean I can come in???")

(The big guy himself)

(Kiki's full day in California; she's probably very confused that she went from her pampered life in VT to some mud hole with that random girl who used to visit every now and then)


(The Pacific from The Enchanted Hill at Hearst Castle)

(The main house at Hearst Castle)

(The beautiful hills on 46 heading back from San Simeon)

(Kiki's one week anniversary!! What a cutie)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kiki's One Week Anniversary in California!

How in love am I with this little chica? =)

Kiki has settled in wonderfully and is a pleasure to go out and ride every day. She is such a champion on the ground; I don't think I've seen her even bat an eye at anything we've encountered yet, and I love how she lets me rub her all over her forehead and and actually enjoys it! (I've always had rather aloof horses in this department). After lunging her before her first ride ever at Rancho del Rio, she's been checked out to just tack up and go and has been super well behaved. A few spooks here and there and a little bit of baby distraction but in general she is so hard working and eager to please. She is still pretty young in her balance and strength but no one can deny that she is CUTE AS A BUTTON!! I also can't help but smile when I ride her because it reminds me so much of being back on the Connemara ponies, just sized up enough to fit my adult-sized legs =).

In other news, I had a very positive and productive day today on every horse I got on. Yay!

Demons of January

There's something about January (and most of this dreary middle winter, honestly) that gets to me. I don't really know what it is, but I've just always been a lot more prone to funks and emotional setbacks this time of year than any other. I used to think, growing up in New England, that it was seasonal affective disorder: the low light and grey weather merely turning up the volume on my already fairly difficult-to-manage clinical depression. On my year off (in relatively balmy South Carolina) and since moving to California, however, I've still not been able to escape the demons of January even with the help of warm weather and blue skies.

On my year off, my winter depression, coupled with some already low confidence stemming from a bad late summer and autumn (and chronic pain that would turn out later to be an undiagnosed neck fracture), made me hit my lowest low and not only endanger myself personally but also seriously consider giving up riding forever. Last year at Stanford, I enjoyed riding Dually but did so in an extremely recreational way; I remember vividly wondering if I would ever feel like competing again (whereas normally I CANNOT WAIT to get out on my next cross country course!). And this year... well, the demons of January are back.

I just hate myself at times like this. Whenever anything goes wrong, I feel myself start to go to pieces and this little rational voice in my brain is thinking to itself, "Oh God, there she goes again..." but there's nothing that rational voice can do to make things better and instead I weep, I tremble, I gnash my teeth, I sob. My peers and instructors, meanwhile, back away in fear and write me off as spoiled, short-tempered, and unwilling to try; I can't really blame them for doing so (who would want to teach someone that melts down at the drop of a hat? I know I wouldn't) but it just makes my hate myself even more when it happens.

I've gone to pieces in my last two lessons, one over fences and the other on the flat. The things I am struggling with are the same things I've always struggled with, which makes it doubly frustrating: I can't recall how many times I've been told to stay tall with my upper body and get the horse bending around my inside leg in the jumping, and how many countless times I've been brought into the middle of the ring to discuss the mechanics of the seat at the sitting trot: how the hip angles should be open, the shoulders back, the hands forward and carrying, and the core strong. And still I can't seem to do any of those things. It makes me want to scream in frustration when I ask my body, over and over again, to do what my mind knows is right, and to get absolutely nothing in response. It's the kind of situation where, I think, if I weren't in such a funk, I could mostly just shrug it off and keep doggedly trying to get a little bit better every time out, but at the moment every failure seems cataclysmic.

I feel so bad for Gina in all of this, because of course she has no idea why I'm reacting this way: she's only known me for just over a year, and I took no lessons from her last January, so she could never know about the extreme Negative Nancy-ism that comes over me this time of year. I've also never been a good dressage rider, especially by her very high standards, so I don't blame her for thinking that I may honestly have never learned the basic mechanics of the seat before (how, in fact, I have literally been working on this exact same issue, with the exact same exercises we did today, for eight years now).

Ugh. Anyway. To try to combat all the negative feelings I've been getting at the barn recently, I've been making a very concentrated effort to do other things that make me happy. I've cooked dinner the last two nights in a row (one night pasta with homemade red sauce and "Tom Toast," homemade garlic bread made on hamburger buns; the next homemade mac 'n' cheese), which is something that I seriously enjoy, and so have gotten to go to the grocery store both days as well (a total personal treat... there's something about wandering those aisles of goodies that puts my heart at ease). I curled up and read a book one afternoon (and have read the entirety of Cake Wrecks in two days) and, in a big treat, went to Hearst Castle today. It was awesome!!

Hearst castle, looking much sunnier than the way I saw it!
(Source: blog/)

For those of you who haven't heard of Hearst Castle, it is the obscenely large mansion (and inspiration for Xanadu in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane) belonging to early 20th Century newspaper magnate William Hearst. At one point his estate totaled over 300 square MILES of land, including over 50 miles of coastline in the dazzlingly beautiful central coast. Today his house and the remaining 80,000 acres of the surrounding land have been converted into a state park; the grounds are used as a working cattle ranch and the house is open for tours.

I went in with pretty high expectations and was still blown away. I was nowhere near prepared for the quality and depth of Hearst's collections, from a faux-temple recreated from authentic Roman spoglia to the lusciously luminous real carrera marble statues that he had had carved new specifically for his home. I went on the most basic tour of the house and left still eager to see more - fortunately there are 4 other tours that do just that. I will have to be planning a return visit soon!

The drive to and from Hearst Castle was also probably one of the best I've ever had in California. The skies had cleared enough for the sunset to shaft mistily across waves that crashed on rugged black rocks in plumes of purple and white. Further home on 46, hills were so lush, green, and endless that they reminded me achingly of the scene at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where they see the land beyond of the end of the world and it is a mountain that extends, impossibly green and lush, infinitely upwards and beyond. Unfortunately I don't currently have a camera, so I was furiously taking pictures with my mind the entire way home.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kiki is in California!

Very quick post as I just got back and am exhausted from a looong and ridiculously rainy day on the road, but Kiki is safe and sound in California!! She got picked up at midnight from home, drove down to Newark, hopped on a FedEx, and was in LAX by 5pm! The wonders of modern technology. I was there to pick her up (to reiterate, after slogging through some of the craziest rain I've ever seen, let alone drive in... it was right up there with the time I drove through that tornado that hit Aiken, except stretched out over 5 hours instead of 30 minutes) and she was an absolute STAR the entire way home. The shippers were also very complementary of her good behavior on the flight - good girl Kiki! She was pretty tired by the time we got to Rancho del Rio (she'd been on the road for 25+ hours!!) but settled into her new stall very well with a roll and a big drink of water. What a champ! She'll get some nice settle in time for the next few days (and try not to get washed away with the insane rainfall we're supposed to keep getting through the end of the week) and then the real fun will begin. I'm so excited to have her here!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First Week Back in California and Twin Rivers Combined Test

Holy crap it's been a wild first week back on the left coast! I got back, drove straight down to Atascadero, and jumped in the saddle. Ringo feels wonderful after his month of professional leg-up... though I wish I could say the same about his jockey! I was definitely feeling pretty rusty and spent most of the first week trying to kick the rust off. After flatting on Tuesday, we jumped on Wednesday, went for a gallop on Thursday, jumped again on Friday, and had a serious flat lesson on Saturday. Add that in with riding several other horses each of those days, and I was pretty cooked! It's so great to be back riding again, even if I did feel pretty out of the groove a few times this week.

We topped it all off with a trip over to Twin Rivers on Sunday to do a combined test. I did a modified program where I did an Intermediate dressage test and a preliminary show jumping round. I thought it was one of our best dressage tests yet in terms of Ringo's obedience, though I knew that it wouldn't score too high because I made a lot of careless mistakes. I was pretty bummed when I got the sheet back because not only did the judge agree with me on our numerous errors but also took issue with some more basic things like Ringo's outline and shape, which I had been pretty happy with. I also got a 6 on rider which was a bit disappointing, rustiness and all. I guess it's back to the drawing board...

A couple hour wait and I was back on to do my show jump round. Ringo and I have definitely struggled in the show jumping warmup in the past, where he has gotten a little wild and then I've gotten nervous and tense, in turn making Ringo even more wild (and me more nervous!). This time, I was really proud of myself because when he got tense I just stretched up, sat back, and gave him a strong half-halt supported by leg. And it really worked! Ringo was stellar in the warmup and then really good in the ring as well. I went to my hand a little bit too much on course, causing him to get a little bit behind my leg, but all in all was really pleased. My only major regret was wearing my big yellow work gloves, which in the steady rain we had gotten all day had become slick as snot, making it impossible for me to even keep a hold on the reins!

It's supposed to rain hard the next few days, so I think the plan is to take it pretty easy before gearing up for Thermal in two weeks. Excited!!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Last Ride in Massachusetts for a while

I just got back from my last ride on Dually for a good few months as I am heading back to California later this afternoon. For a treat, I decided to go out to the cranberry bogs and the Curve Street field for a nice trot and canter. Dually was, as always, a star, and the footing was absolutely perfect in the Curve Street field such that we could really get moving. The dude is pretty out of shape (me too) but we had a couple good spurts of speed! It was so much fun.

I'm so excited to get back to Ringo and get into the new season, but I'm also feeling very sad to leave home. I've had a great visit!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Area I Annual Meeting

Today I went to my very first Area I Annual Meeting, all the way out in Springfield, MA. I was very apprehensive because I was going without my usual safety blanket (Pa, who is universally well-known and well-liked) but was very happily surprised with the good time I had! It was nice to finally meet up face to face with a lot of the young riders I that I compete against often when I'm home in Area I (and who I may, fingers crossed, go to Young Riders with next year), hear what the plan is for fundraising for the coming year, and learn more specifically how I could fit into those ideas.

It was also, as always, really nice to catch up with some of my riding friends who I rarely get to see out of season. Since I don't really live or compete in Area I anymore, it was especially nice to see and make future plans with some old friends, some of whom I haven't seen in a year or more. My only disappointment was missing Andrea from Eventing-A-Gogo, who I was looking forward to introducing myself to; I spotted her at a moment when I was unfortunately tied up with two other conversations, and then never saw her again. Bummer.

The biggest take away from the meeting was how excited I am to be heading back to the saddle soon. I'm so excited for the new season, come good fortune or bad, and can't wait to get started!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tufts Adventure

Yesterday I made a trip that I really despise making: I went down to the Tufts University Large Animal Hospital in Grafton, Mass. It's not a hard drive, nor a particularly long one, but the connotations of going down there are never good, as we usually only go down there in the very worst of equine emergencies. Yesterday, however, was mostly an exception to the rule. I went down with our homebred, Jack, to get a bone scan done on his back to try to help explain his unpredictable and dangerous behavior under saddle that developed suddenly a year ago.

The trip went very uneventfully (besides taking an hour to get the little dude on the trailer!), and once we got there I actually got to enjoy and marvel at the quality of this facility without the grey dread that usually accompanies visits there. It really is an impressive clinic, with a labyrinth of heated horse-sized corridors connecting quarantine with stabling, various surgery theaters, examination areas, and treatment rooms. Jack was a very good boy for the whole process, even for his is brief imprisonment in the very frightening and tiny quarantine stall.

The vets did find some serious sensitivity in his lower back and decided to keep him overnight to do some bone scans. Today, they found some interesting irregularities in his C6 vertebrae (strangely, very little in the low back!) and decided to keep him longer to do more tests. It appears he has a lesion somewhere in his neck that is interfering with his neck vertebrae, though only ultrasounds (which unfortunately can't occur until Monday) will confirm.

Fingers crossed for Jackie!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Oh Qu'il Neige en Nouvelle Angleterre!

So I've been blogging up a storm these past few days... probably in response to the real storm of snow that's been going on outside! We've gotten about 10" since New Years Eve, with the white stuff finally letting off late this morning. For the most part I've been cooped up inside (being a distinctly wussy hothouse flower when it comes to cold weather), but today Papa and I took all the dogs and Dually outside for a romp in the snow. It was so much fun! Dually was ├╝ber frisky but well behaved. Papa had the new lens on the camera that we got for Mom for christmas, and got some pretty beautiful pictures.

(Wiley looking FIERCE)

(Pretty Boy)

(So much fun!)

(Yeehaw! Dually reacts to some demons in the woods)

(Enjoying the deep stuff)

(Wiley being possibly not as helpful as he could be)

(SUCH a good boy)

SWOT analysis and January Goals

This is an idea I got from reading Eventing-A-Gogo, a blog that I really enjoy following (and admire for its author's organization!). In the coming year, I really hope to make very specific and achievable (if sometimes ambitious) goals for each month. Every sports psychology book I've ever read has named this breaking down of big goals into manageable smaller goals as a key to larger success, but it's not something that I've ever really done or followed through on. I often set some pretty big goals for the year, but then proceed to forget about them and wander through the year until the next November where I dig them out and see how I did. I have no idea whether being more goal-specific will actually help me in getting to my ultimate dreams, but I'm excited to give it a try.

First, a SWOT analysis for me and Ringo for 2010:

- Ringo's experience
- Instruction from Gina Miles
- Living/Training in a competitive environment
- My cross country riding
- A good end to the 2009 season to work off of
- Strong financial and emotional backing from parents
- A great support crew in GME and Mom and Dad
- Ringo's textbook jumping form and excellent dressage potential
- My determination and drive
- My basic riding mechanics and form
- Friends at Stanford
- Resources at Stanford
- Truck and trailer for personal transportation
- Ringo's soundness record
- My riding experience
- My experience living on my own
- My intelligence, my strength as a student
- Sports psychology consultations with Abigail

- The newness of the partnership
- My show jumping and dressage nerves
- My layoff these past few weeks
- The relative distance still left to be covered to achieve major 2010 goals
- The brevity of the California eventing season
- The current bitting issue
- My warmup nerves
- My stubbornness
- My dressage seat
- My transitions from two point to jumping position
- Distance from home area
- Relative weakness of home area's YR program
- My disorganization
- My lack of knowledge of actual self management
- My cerebral and over-analytical qualities
- My current physical condition
- My lack of international experience
- My lack of high pressure experience

- Daily training from Gina Miles
- Cross Country schooling at Twin
- Galloping at Rainbow
- Help from Bec
- Coaching at shows,
- Time and financial support to go to shows
- Vet care on site
- Clinics
- Can start budgeting and working while still enjoying financial backing
- Can go to Stanford for emotional escape
- Continued growth mentally with Abigail

- Left front tendon
- Cellulitis
- Mystery soundness
- Unforeseen unsoundness
- Personal injury
- Loss of confidence
- Burnout
- Economic difficulties
- Natural/Political disasters
- Acts of God
- Competition
- Bad judging
- Bad weather
- Bad luck

Of the Weaknesses and Threats, the following are in my control:

- My show jumping and dressage nerves
- The current bitting issue
- My warmup nerves
- My stubbornness
- My dressage seat
- My transitions from two point to jumping position
- My disorganization
- My lack of knowledge of actual self management
- My cerebral and over-analytical qualities
- My current physical condition
- Loss of confidence
- Burnout

These are the major things I personally need to focus on for the best possible 2010. Some of them will be harder to control than others (loss of confidence, for example), but I think that if I'm being really careful, I can minimize the damage of bad rides and maximize the positive of good rides. I was proud of my work in that department over the past year and hope 2010 will be a continuation of the confidence-building process.

For the disorganization and self-management, that is merely a matter of self-discipline. Am I enough of an adult to actually step up to the plate and start really managing myself? I've taken baby steps before but have always fallen back on my parents when push came to shove; I think more than anything else if I could become more independent and self-reliant this year then I will have achieved a huge success, regardless of how my season of riding actually goes. My procrastination, messiness, and forgetfulness are my least favorite qualities about myself and I am committed to focus on overcoming these vices in 2010.

As for the riding goals, I know that if I'm able to play the game mentally then my body will be able to physically perform well enough. I am a good rider with a good seat and good instincts that can only get better with a good attitude; it's my nerves that get in the way, not only in the show ring but even in lessons and in schooling. If I am able to remain confident, then I know my riding will improve by leaps and bounds.

My current physical condition is probably the easiest for me to manage; I've gotten myself back into shape many times now and know that I have the self control and the toughness to do it; it's just a matter of getting it done.

As for the other weaknesses and threats? They are there, and I certainly have to keep them in mind at all times and work to avoid them as much as I can. However, many of these weaknesses are not directly (or even indirectly) in my control. For example, while I certainly can monitor the progress of his left front tendon and ride soberly and make the best decisions available to me in regards to his care, I can't protect him from every foreseeable problem that might arise with it in a competitive atmosphere. I also can't protect him (or me) from earthquakes, tornados, or civil wars, any more than I can predict the future. I can keep myself as safe as possible, but I have to know that there are some parts of my life that I can't really influence... this is something that I really struggle with, and hopefully going into 2010 armed with the knowledge of the things I can't control will help me not go insane when they (inevitably will) occur.

All in all, it doesn't look that bad. Ringo and I have a LOT of strengths and opportunities that will serve us well in the coming year, especially if I work hard to take full advantage of every strength and opportunity on that list, and all those that I didn't even know were on the list as well. Our weaknesses and threats are many, but a large number of them are in my control and I have confidence that, with hard work, they can minimized or even turned into strengths and opportunities.


From this SWOT analysis, along with my goals that I outlined a week or so ago here, I think these are some pretty big but doable goals for January:

January 2010
- Get back in the saddle
- start learning Intermediate test
- start jumping again
- feel confident jumping 3'6" on any given day
- whip my own ass into gear
- resolve bitting issue for sj and xc
- kick my own position, on flat and over fences, into gear
- get out cross country schooling
- sort out living arrangements
- sort out work arrangements

Bring it on!

And, to finish... a totally unrelated photograph!

(Dually and I at NAYRC in 2007, looking very serious getting ready to head up to dressage)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Up to See the Little Chica

Papa and I battled wind and snow this morning to make it up to Norwich, VT, to see Kiki one time before I head back to California. I know I'm not supposed to ride until the second week of January, but I've been feeling so good physically that I just couldn't help myself. I did for sure feel a little apprehensive on the way up, though, because I haven't ridden seriously in (what has felt like!) ages and the last time I rode Kiki I definitely had to be on my toes.

When we got there, the farm was looking pretty as a postcard all bundled up in snow - it was a great day to appreciate the lovely attached indoor and heated tack room! After struggling a bit to extract Kiki from her paddock (where she had situated herself in the absolute farthest corner from the gate, of course), I brought her in to try on all of the awesome stuff we got her for christmas! Everything fit really well, even my old saddle - yay! She's going to be such a fancy little princess with all of her new stuff.

After fussing over her for a while I got on and was immediately happy to be back in the saddle. Kiki was an absolute star and felt night and day on the flat from the last time I rode her. Her trotwork really is coming along well and while her canter is still pretty babyish her stride length has gotten much longer and I think its only a matter of time until she starts feeling really really good. I felt pretty green for the first few minutes and have definitely larded up a bit over the past month (it's been one month to the day since I fell!) but in general thought I did an ok job. I'm really excited to start riding her more regularly; she's an interestingly composite ride of some of my favorite horses I've had before: a little ponyish like Dually and a little hot like Ringo, with a little bit of marish sensitivity like the connemaras thrown in. I get a vibe from her that reminds me a lot of Lady, one of my favorite connemara broodmares from my childhood, and that really excites me; if she turns out anywhere near as awesome as Lady, I'll be a very happy girl.

(Me looking wicked rusty but Kiki looking super cute nonetheless.)

(This picture isn't very technically correct for either of us, but there's something about it that I like)

(Cute girl!)

After some good flatwork, Jane started walking around and setting some fences and talking about a course for me to jump. I was pretty agog, and I think even said something along the lines of, "You mean today???" I definitely was not planning on jumping my first day back in the saddle! Jane just laughed and told me to get going. I figured that if Jane thought it was an ok idea, it must be fine, and set off with a smile. I was definitely a little rusty!! But had an awesome time. Kiki was bold and put up really well with me being not as strong as I should have been with my upper body at the base of the fence. She's got a great little jump! She does bid a little bit but doesn't feel scary at all. I just was embarrassed that I could barely stay with her in the air!

(Yikes! Thanks for putting up with me, Kiki!)

(Looking pretty darn cute)

Kiki will come out to California at the end of the month. I think she's looking forward to being a California girl! I certainly hope she'll enjoying not having to wade through cannon-high snow to get around her field =).

Friday, January 1, 2010

Yay Dually!

Dually was just named the reserve champion horse in Area I for Young Rider Intermediate in 2009! YAY DUALLY!!
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