Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tough Week

Sorry I've been so quiet over the past few days. It's been a tougher week than I'd like to admit in many ways, and I've been throwing all my energy into trying to remain positive and focused.

Obviously, the most frightening part of the last few days have surrounded Rachel's illness. Though she is now back at home she is still not out of the woods yet. Fortunately she has a great support team on her side and hopefully she will be back to her normal self in no time, but I've still been very worried.

Besides that, I've also been dealing with some very difficult decisions in my own life. After much grappling I think I've settled in my choices, and feel confident that they are the right ones for me, but that does not make them any easier.

Firstly, I've decided to graduate from Stanford at the end of this year. Originally I had planned to stay on an extra year to finish a second major, but after much weighing of positives and negatives it has not ultimately seemed worth it. I will still graduate in 4 years with a major, two minors and a good GPA (hopefully, if things continue as they have). Part of me would love to stay at Stanford for as long as I possibly could, not only because I love it so dearly but also because I think it would take that long to actually take advantage of all the things I've wanted to do while I was here, but I'm also feeling very ready to start the next adventure in my life.

Pursuant to that, I've also started thinking about jobs and have decided to move back to New England. This isn't so much news, as I've always planned on coming back to the homeland, but it now seems a lot closer and more real. I have a few leads on jobs but will wait to discuss those until they're a bit more finalized.

Lastly, and most important to this blog, I've decided to sell Kiki. This was by far the most difficult of the three decisions I had to make this week, and the most painful. I love Kiki very, very dearly and feel like she's not only a member of a family but that she's my own child. I've had more than one idle day dream of us growing up to be old biddies together, still enjoying each others' company 10, 20 years down the road. I don't think I've ever met a horse I get along with in terms of personality more; we're like peas and carrots.

(Kiki showing off her cracking good jumping form)

And yet if I'm perfectly honest with myself, I know that, as a riding match, we're not quite a perfect fit. Kiki is so talented and special that I want her to be with someone that is that perfect fit, because she deserves that. Also, as I move forward and see myself phasing more into dressage, I know that that is not a road that Kiki would enjoy going down: she has improved unrecognizably on the flat, and I believe has the potential to be quite competitive, but jumping is always where her true interests lie and I would always feel like I wasn't using her to the best of her abilities if I took her down that route.

(Getting a 22 at Millbrook, my best ever dressage score by a country mile!)

Of course, that decision has come with many more sub-decisions, and a fair amount of headache already. What should we sell her as? Eventer? Jumper? Foxhunter? I think she could excel in any of the three, and all have pros and cons and their own details to be worked out. How much should we ask for her? That I still don't know yet, so I'm bringing her down to Dayna's in the coming week for Shannon Lilley (her assistant trainer and recent Pan Am gold medalist!!) to ride, assess, and help me come up with a price. Where should we sell her? I could either leave her in California or bring her back east. Where should she stay in the meantime? I'd like to not have to pay for an empty stall at the Red Barn a day longer than I'd have to, so figuring out when/where she should go while she's being sold has been probably the most complicated dance so far, with no end in sight yet. It looks, though, like she will probably be going down to Dayna's as early as the 1st, which feels very soon.

(Kiki is one of the most solid-feeling cross country horses I've ever ridden. It feels absurdly natural and easy to her)

I'm so thankful to have had this amazing horse in my life. It will be hard, but I know that it will feel good to have her make someone else as happy as she's made me.


So anyway, if you know someone who is interested and would like to try her, let me know at k.m.erickso@gmail.com. I will put her complete ad up when we finalize the details, but she will be reasonably priced.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Excellent News

Rachel is doing much better and is set to be released from the hospital this afternoon or evening. Though it sounds like her recovery may be a slow one, there doesn't seem to be any reason that she won't be able to return to full health. Yay!! Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts =)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Keep Rachel in Your Thoughts

I am too stressed/worried/overwhelmed to go into details, but my dressage coach and dear friend Rachel is very sick. She collapsed at a team dinner she hosted for us at her house last night and is currently in stable but very serious condition at the hospital. Please keep her in your thoughts.

Rachel has been an unbelievable mentor to me over the past three years. She is the first person EVER who actually made me enjoy dressage, realize that it could be fun, and that I might actually be not terrible at it (she has still has to work pretty hard to convince me of that last one...!). When I came back to Stanford after my disastrous time off in the early months of 2010 she was the first person to dust me off and get me back on my feet and enjoying riding again. I owe so, so, so much to her and know that there's no way I'd be the rider I am today without her.

(Rachel with the Stanford Dressage Team at our first show of the year at Cal Poly a few weeks ago)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Five Years of Record Keeping

This November marks a strange but special milestone for me: I've now kept daily records of my riding for five continuous years.

(The book itself, recently upgraded this year to a fatter binder because it was overflowing the old one, with an old favorite for a cover: an illustrated feed card I made for Dually back when I left him at a friend's house a few years ago. The artistry is really stunning, right??)

I've never been a diary keeper (well, I guess except for this blog!) so to have a written log of such a long period of time is pretty unprecedented for me. It's weird to look back at those first months back in the late autumn of 2006 and think about how much has changed since then: except for horses, and this record of my time with them, there is very little about my life then that corresponds to my life now. I lived in Massachusetts, was a senior at Middlesex, still entertained (quickly fading) hopes of running competitively after high school, was trying to figure out what colleges to apply to (Stanford being only my wildest dream), had never lived away from home, never done a CCI*, never been to Young Riders, never broken my neck, never met Ringo or Kiki, was only just getting introduced to the subject that I would eventually major in (Art History), and could only speculate as to where I might find myself in a year's time, let alone five.

(My first month: November 2006. Then as now I always have one sheet for my horses (in this case, Dually), and then the reverse is another sheet with all other horses)

Now, I'm as unsure about the future as ever (maybe even more so, without the stable prospect of college ahead), but everything else feels very different. Except the horses. The horses, though the names have changed, the competitions have come and gone, and the disciplines have shifted and come full circle again, have always been the guiding force by which my life has moved forward. There have been some unbelievable highs and some very crushing lows, but not a day passes where I don't feel thankful to have horses and riding in my life.

(July 2011: A great month because it marked getting back in the saddle after six long months in England!!)

(Not all months are as exciting, unfortunately. Here's October 2010, when Ringo was at home rehabbing from his bowed tendon and Kiki was laid up at Stanford with a mystery lameness we never fully diagnosed. It's a bummer when you get more "0 minutes" than rides!)

As college has gone on and many of my friends have slowly grown out of riding and I still jump out of bed every morning between 5:30 and 7 so that I can get to the barn, even if it's just to see the horses on days when I'm not riding, I've realized that being with the horses is one of the only times when I feel completely myself.

(March 2010 was a crappy month for my self-confidence and my relationship with my trainer. But look at the pretty colors!!!)

Now, here are some stats. In the past five years:

I've...
-ridden 2,122 horses (an average of 1.16/day)-
-ridden my own horses 1,367 times-
-spent 1,490.5 hours in the saddle (over 62 days!)-

-my most active year for riding was Nov '09-Oct '10, where I rode 541 times-

-I spent the most hours in the saddle in the period from Nov '08-Oct '09, where I logged 401 hours (almost 17 days)-

-this past year (Nov '10 - Oct '11) was my lightest year on record at 328 rides, but all but 25 of those came in the last four months of the period (Jul '11 - Oct '11)-

There is a saying that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to completely master something. If we assumed I had roughly 1,500 hours of practice before I began keeping records, then, at the rate I'm currently going, I would have about 23 years to go to reach that milestone! I guess that's why they call riding a lifetime commitment...

(March 2007: as far as I can tell, the only month that uses the same pen/pencil from start to finish. This was the month I took extra time off on either side of my senior spring break in high school to be a working student for Suzi Gornall in Aiken, my first working student experience ever!)

Over the years the records have run through many different pens, gone through periods of neat handwriting and chicken scratches, and measured more steps forward and steps back than I can count. Here's to five, ten, fifty more years of fun with horses!

(Ringo is getting dapples!! What a handsome Prowler)

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Heart Mondays

After the CRUSHING DISAPPOINTMENT that was the Stanford-Oregon football game this weekend, made bearable only by the fact that my dad was there to soften the blow for me, I needed some cheering up. The perfect cure? A little case of the Mondays. Monday gets such a bad rap, but it's one of my favorite days of the week this quarter. Why? Well, let's see:

5:30 - Wake Up

Ok, that might sound a little miserable to a lot of people, and it normally would for me too, but since Sunday is the one day of the week where I'm generally able to sleep in/nap in the afternoon, Monday is the only morning where waking up early doesn't seem so bad. I'm also a morning person so the earlier I can get feeling fresh and going the better the day seems.

6 - Move car back to the barn


I don't have permit parking this year, so I can only park my car on campus on the weekends when there's no ticketing. I may have to get up early on Monday mornings to move my car back to the barn where it lives during the week, but it's the only time all week that I get to drive to the barn with the heat blasting and not feel like my thumbs were going to get frostbite from gripping the handles of my bike on frosty mornings.

6:15 - first ride of the day


This is always my favorite ride of the day. It's still dark when I grab my horse (it's usually Kiki) and the sun only peaks in fully when I'm about half way through. It's crisp, cool, and unbelievably peaceful. I always have the arena completely to myself and the footing is always pristine and fresh dragged from the night before. Kiki is usually on her best behavior, and life is very, very good.

8 - Team Dressage lesson

This week I rode Dreamer, who is one of my favorite team horses but certainly not the easiest. The team lessons are very position oriented and I always feel like they get the week off on the right foot, with me thinking about being the most effective rider I can be.

9:30 - third ride of the day


Now it's Ringo's turn. By now the morning is cooking right along and I'm usually in a pretty good groove. We usually just do some stretching stuff today as I often work harder over the weekend, and then Tuesday is Ringo's day off, so I want to get him feeling as loose and supple as possible so he can make the most of his rest day.

10:45 - done! Feed, clean tack, and bike back to the dorm

I usually get back around 11 and have an hour to shower and then either take a nap, browse the Interwebz, or watch tv (or some combination of the above!). After getting so much done already, it's one of the few times all week that I feel totally guiltless in slacking off for a while.

12 noon - lunch


nom nom nom nom nom nom nom

1pm - work/chill time

Usually I head to the library after lunch to get a start on the piles of reading that I have to do every week, though this week I'm actually ahead so I think I'll take the opportunity to catch up on lost sleep (a perennial favorite activity).

3:15 - class

I only have one class on Monday, and it's my favorite: photography. Mondays are almost always lab days, which means that we're given two and a half hours pretty much left to our own devices to work on our term projects in any way we see fit. I'm currently working on stuff like this:




Heaven.

6 - dinner

again: nom nom nom nom nom nom

7 - Equestrian Team meeting

We have our team meetings every Monday night at the barn. I realized one week this fall as I was biking over that this is probably the longest running single tradition that I've had in my four years at Stanford: class schedules, lesson times, and and my personal routines have all fluctuated and changed, but every single Monday night I find myself biking out to the barn for team meeting. There's something kind of comforting in that.

After that, it's studying/chilling until bed. What's not to love??

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Grrrumph

Well. I've had quite the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day! Ok, maybe I exaggerate a bit, but I definitely did walk out of the barn today wanting to tear my hair out.

After a good team dressage lesson this morning, I got on Ringo. We did our normal 15 minute walk and then headed into the ring to begin our planned stretchy ride. After the first few strides of trot, I immediately knew something was wrong. S*%T!! I jumped off at once and asked my friend to jog him out for me. Sure enough: dead. lame. Head bobbing. I felt my heart literally drop out of my body. I had been talking with a friend just over the weekend that you never know when your last ride with any given horse might be, and all of sudden I had a grim vision of this happening to me right then.

I brought him back into the barn and rechecked the legs that I though I'd deemed acceptable before I got on. Sure enough, everything still looked as tight and cool as normal. What could be wrong? And then I noticed a small cut on the inside of his left front ankle. It was so small and scabbed over looking that I could hardly believe that it was the source of the problem. When I prodded it, however, Ringo immediately whipped his hoof out of the way. Ah ha. I think we found the situation. I scrubbed, dressed, and wrapped the wound up, and set Ringo back in his stall for the day. Okay. Crisis 1 of the day: averted.

After a brief pause to go to class (wait what? school? I know, I'm surprised too), it was back to the barn again to ride Kiki. I've been feeling really at ends with Kiki over the past few days: she's been in heat, not happy with the weather change, and feeling pressure from the increase in work I've been trying to ask of her. Last night I just had a nightmare of the ride, and was determined to do something positive.

(Cute thing)

I decided to let her let out some extra energy in the round pen before I got on in hopes that she might be a little more relaxed and loose in her back from the beginning. She LOVED it and immediately took off squealing and bucking. She never really bucks or does anything in the round pen. Wahoo! I was just starting to pat myself on the back for hopefully getting the ride off on the right foot when, to my horror, she took an extra big buck, stumbled, and proceeded to completely wipe out, down on her side and everything. WHAT. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. She looked a little surprised for a second to be on the ground, then got up and set off again at a nice, bright, forward, sound trot. Okay. Perhaps not all was lost.

(a few minutes pre-fall)

I gathered her up and brought her back in to tack her up. As I was brushing her leg, I stopped. Her left knee was swollen to almost twice its normal size. S*%T!! Yet again, I grabbed a friend to jog her for me. Fortunately she seemed totally sound, so I decided to give the ride a try. I went out and did about 15 minutes of work but was so paranoid that I had to call it pretty quickly. We came back to the barn and the knee was still swollen. I cold hosed it, could not figure out a way to wrap it with the materials I had, and so just gave her some bute and put her away for the night.

I'm supposed to have a lesson tomorrow morning with Brian Sabo that I've ridiculously looking forward to. In classic form, it's looking very likely that I'll have two horses and nothing to ride. Sigh. Such is life.

(Also, I got pictures from the IDA show! Here's me on Saturday - I wish my position was a little more secure looking...)

(Good girl Olivia!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Some Housekeeping

As you probably will have noticed from the new header, I've been doing some small revamps to the blog to get ready for the incoming year. The big progress of today was that I finally finished constructing all the pages that appear right below the header (and which have all said 'coming soon!' for about 4 months now.. whoopsiedoodle). Check them out!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dressage in the Redwoods - Success!!

What a great end to the season! We survived (primary mission objective), we didn't make fools ourselves (close second), and we even ended up doing well - bonus!!!

I was lucky to not ride until almost 2pm, so I was able to get up, feed, bathe, and pack the trailer and still have time to go out to breakfast with my mother, who had been in town but had to leave that morning. If only every horse show could be this laid back! I came back, braided, and then we were off.

(Prowler looking too cute for words as I was tacking him up)

I checked in and managed to find Heidi and apologize for my flakiness, which she was very gracious about. Unfortunately, however, she was riding right before I was, and so wouldn't be able to help me. Instead, she offered to have her mother, who is also a trainer and judge, warm me up for me. I was a little nervous as I'd never met her mother, but I really wanted some help just in case everything crashed and burned in warmup, so I agreed.

Well, everything did NOT crash and burn in warmup. In fact, except for a small almost-rearing episode on the way down to the collecting ring and a moment about half way through where I asked for medium canter and Ringo went explosively running away with me down the long side (probably the first time I've ever actually used the curb rein on my double bridle in earnest!), he was PERFECT. After I'd been trotting a while and was just transitioning into my sitting work, Heidi's mother Pam introduced herself to me (I'd been too nervous to initiate conversation) and asked if I needed any help. I said that I would love help and she smiled and said, "Well, I've been watching you since the beginning and so far I don't have much to tell you because it all looks very good." Needless to say I blushed a little bit, and was very very pleased! Pam helped me with a few things like the angle of my half pass and my medium trot (which actually felt good!! WHAT?!) and in general was very complimentary of Ringo. Yay!

Before I felt totally ready, it was my turn to head in. The one thing I didn't really like about the venue was that we warmed up in a very secluded, non-atmospheric outdoor arena, and then had to walk down a hill a short distance into a very spooky, highly atmospheric indoor to do our test. Not ideal for looky ponies like Ringo. Sure enough, our first tour of the arena was riddled with spooking and snorting. I was really happy, then, when I was able to buckle down, keep riding, and for the most part bring his attention back to me. The test wasn't our most relaxed, for sure, but there were no major spook-related blow ups either.

In general I was really pleased. We got good marks on all the things I knew we could do well: medium canter (7s, judge's comment: 'brave!'), flying changes (7s), shoulder-in (7s), half-pass (one 7, the other a 6 because I messed up the angle), medium and extended walk (7s). We also were correctly marked down in the places I was thinking wouldn't go so well and didn't, mainly the turn on the haunches (5, 'stuck') and the halt and reinback (5, 'stiff and braced'). The good marks fortunately covered not only those but also the one big bobble of the test, which was a break in our first medium trot that resulted in a 4. Whoops.

I also got two 7s and a 6 on rider, which is good, though definite incentive for improvement. The collective marks were very encouraging, commenting specifically on my good riding, and touched on some of the general homework that I know is an issue: getting him slower and more cadenced at the trot and canter, and getting him more relaxed and not braced against the hand. In other words, it was exactly what I was hoping for: a positive experience that simultaneously pointed the way towards what we should work on this winter. Hooray!

The icing on the cake, of course, was that we won (in our giant class of 2) and, more importantly, walked away with a pretty darn respectable score! 64.2% is the highest score Ringo has ever gotten at 3rd level, even when he was ridden by a famous professional rider back in his pre-eventing youth. It is a full 5% higher than the best of Ringo's and my attempts at 3rd level back in May of 2010, and makes me feel good about the progress we've made since then, injury and all.

Ringo will now get a few more weeks of medium level work (and hopefully a lesson or two) before getting most of December off on vacation while I go home for the holidays. I've already starting looking at the 2012 season and can honestly say that I'm the most excited I've been about a new season of showing in a long, long time. Here's to sound and happy ponies along the way!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I am a Fool

I have my last horse show of the year tomorrow with Ringo, something that I should have been meticulously arranging and getting ready for for the past few weeks. Instead I feel totally out to lunch and unprepared. So unprepared, in fact, that I haven't even arranged my coaching yet.

Heidi Gaian kindly offered to coach me over a month ago when I took a lesson with her, and then sent out a follow up email about ten days ago asking to set something up beforehand. I kept putting off getting back to her... and putting it off, and putting it off, until suddenly it was 6pm tonight and I realized that it was far too late to email her and I didn't have her phone number. Clearly, I am dumb. Hopefully I can just get to the show early enough tomorrow to find her, apologize profusely, and maybe slip into the schedule at the last minute (and hopefully try to come off as not too much of a flake... whoops).

In general, I'm feeling pretty good, though I definitely did have a run through of the test with Rachel on Thursday that went so atrociously that I started getting green around the gills. Fortunately Rachel gave me some great pointers that will hopefully help me save points in some key places: the rein back, turn on the haunches, and medium trot. I'm hoping that, armed with that advice and a good healthy dose of adrenaline, we'll be able to put in a non-embarrassing performance tomorrow. Fingers crossed!
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