Saturday, December 31, 2011

Funk-adelic

I've been trying for the past few days to sit down and write a post that looks forward eagerly to the new year, with goals and dreams and potential plans of attack. It's been a happy tradition of the past few years, and has brought me into the new year feeling bright and hopeful. Even last year when faced with a long six months ahead with no horses at all, I still doodled some goals and set them aside for the second half of the year. (though I never put them on the blog).

(In unrelated news, we made it to the beach yesterday! Enjoy as these very happy photos decorate what is otherwise a kind of depressing post)

But this year, I'm having some trouble. Honestly, I feel like I'm in a big funk. It mostly has to do with Kiki and what I want to do with her, but Ringo is tied in too. I've been enjoying the dressage, but is it a direction I really want to move in more seriously? I'm excited to be showing Ringo again but it's hard to get as excited for pure dressage shows as I used to for events. I'd like to think that this means I'm still an eventer at heart... right?

(Me and Mom)


But the problem is, I didn't really enjoy eventing this fall either. Granted, I only went to two shows, and both had some highlights, but I found the whole process more stressful and an opportunity to beat myself up than I'm happy with.


It was this feeling that led me to think that I should sell Kiki this fall. On paper, this still seems like the best idea. But part of me has also come to realize that the things that were making me so stressed out and unhappy didn't really have much to do directly with Kiki. Over the past break I've done some reflecting, and have been able put together a timeline in place that explains a very different explanation of my current feelings.


Basically, I started riding Kiki right at a time when my own confidence and my confidence in/ability to trust my trainer was severely shaken. Even though I stopped riding with that instructor, my misgivings and low self-esteem remained (not that it was particularly great to start!). I felt like I improved Kiki very significantly pretty much on my own over the spring and summer of 2010, and then left her in the care of a trainer I trusted very much and departed for my six month leave with high, high hopes of her continued improvement.


I came back in March to check on her and was shocked to have her feel as bad as when I first got her, unable to pick up both leads or canter over a pile of poles on the ground. The explanation I was given was that I was riding her too poorly, which left me feeling rather unconfident and mistrustful of my (different) trainer. Again. For the second time in a year. When I got her back she was basically unrideable for the first week I had her, and generally felt awful. Added with some other information I learned, I now felt VERY mistrustful of my trainer (again), and gritted my teeth to try to get Kiki looking and going better again.

With this 'vendetta'-style approach (which was completely subconscious at the time; it's only looking back that I realize that was what was going on), every slight against Kiki felt like a slight against me and my attempts to improve her. And since she wasn't going that well, there were a lot of slights. They built up and built up, and suddenly I reached the end of the fall and realized, when I almost went to pieces jumping a school horse over an 18" vertical, that my confidence was totally gone basically without me even realizing.


I had self-sabotaged myself into misery by making everything to do with Kiki into a me-versus-trainer/me-versus-the-world type ultimatum. I am already such a perfectionist that this was a pretty deadly set up. Mistakes are already almost the end of the world for me (and I normally work very hard to make them not a big deal), and now they couldn't be anything but the end of the world, because they implied not only that I'd made a mistake at that given moment but had also ruined my horse, completely devalued myself as a rider/trainer, and 'lost' this stupid conflict I'd set up for myself.

I also felt hard done by because I honestly felt (and feel) that the reason she was going so badly was because of the program she'd been in while I was away and I was just doing everything in my power to right the ship, and not getting any acknowledgement of that. How I expected people to know that when they just met me for the first time in August or September, I couldn't tell you. I was completely to blame for these feelings, and the ensuing bitterness merely contributed to the mistrustful me-versus-trainer ultimatum stated above.

Sigh. A real recipe for success, right??


So now that I've pieced this all together, I'm at a real loss as to what I should do moving forward. It doesn't seem like Kiki herself is the problem. It's just the completely toxic tangle I've gotten myself into surrounding Kiki and my progress together. I don't know a good way out. She needs more training and I don't really have time for her and Ringo and my 80 million other commitments at Stanford, but I am honestly terrified of entering into another professional training nightmare the likes of 2010 and 2011.

I feel like if I could just take a deep breath, get some positive juices flowing, and get into a positive groove, everything would be fine again. New Years Wish, anyone??

(Ma, Pa, Acorn, and Duck all enjoying an awesome day at Cranes Beach)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Boxing Day Lesson with Kim

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas or other holiday of choice. I had a great day with my family, feeding the horses and even getting a few flakes of snow (!!!) in the otherwise weirdly mild and warm December we've been having. I got some great gifts, including three beautiful photo books that I've been dreaming about recently that deal with my favorite genre: rural America. I even got one that I'd been positively lusting over but hadn't told anyone in my family about, so I was totally blown away that my brother got it for me. I'm such a lucky girl.

(River of No Return, by Laura McPhee, a book that I've admired for a long time about life in one of the most rural areas of the US: the River of No Return Wilderness Area in Idaho)


(Sawdust Mountain, by Eirik Johnson, a book I'd never heard of but am really enjoying about the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest)

(A Road Divided, by Todd Hido, the book I've been drooling over recently; it's about rural landscapes seen through car windows (a way of looking at the world that I'm all too familiar with by now!))

I also got a real treat riding wise: a Boxing Day lesson with my dressage instructor from the summer, Kim! It was freezing cold (30º) but totally worth it. I really love Kim's instruction and have missed her very much this fall (not that I've had a bad substitute in Rachel!) and it was great to take another lesson with her on Kiki. I've only ridden Kiki a few times now since she went to Dayna's, and I've been very impressed overall with how well she's been feeling. They clearly did a good job with her.

When I got to the indoor for our lesson, Kiki was quite high. Because of this, our lesson was mostly focused on getting her more relaxed, which was a bit frustrating as she's been so relaxed and rideable at home recently. Kim was still able to give me some really good tools to carry forward, most notably:

-Counter bend: Kiki tends to get stuck and stabbing in her hind end at the same time that she's bouncing off the contact. Recently I (and Dayna and Shannon too) have been doing a lot of shoulder in work to try to get her more confirmed in the outside rein. This has been very useful, but Kim suggested I also think about a reverse exercise: bring the shoulders to the inside not by going into shoulder in but by suggesting a whisper of counter bend. This had the same straightening effect of a moderate shoulder in without allowing her to start pivoting and escaping with her hind end, which is a common evasion for her. This was by far the biggest help of the lesson and was really influential in improving Kiki's relaxation and quality of trot.

-Quiet Shoulders, Straight Body: pursuant to the counter bend work, Kim really had me focus on keeping my shoulders quiet and back, instead of leaning or twisting around corners as I'm naturally inclined to do. I even got to the point where, when I got to a corner, I thought about turning with only with seat while very consciously not moving my shoulders. For a horse as sensitive as Kiki, something as seemingly small as this made a huge difference in her balance and relaxation.

-Counting the Rhythm: Kiki has a tendency to quicken, and I'm always on the lookout for new strategies to help slow her down without tensing. Kim suggested a seemingly obvious solution that I've been overlooking: counting. Just counting the rhythm ('one-two-one-two-one-two') made a big difference.

I have videos, too! Here is some of our trotwork in either direction. As you can see, the good moments don't last very long, but they are definitely there! Kiki is such a star =)




I have a jump lesson on Thursday, and then am trying to get organized to go to the beach on Friday - fingers crossed!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas! And Ringo Looking Fancy

From me, Ringo, Kiki, and all the animals at Black Brook Farm...

Merry Christmas!

As this year comes to a close, I've been doing a lot of reflecting. I have such an incredibly large amount to be thankful for, and still can hardly believe my luck in getting many of the opportunities that came my way in the past twelve months.

I'm planning on doing a few more recaps in the next few days, along with some goal setting and looking ahead to 2012, but in the meantime, enjoy these awesome pictures my friend Fallon took of me and Ringo on our last ride together of the year just before I left for Christmas break. I think he looks so good; more than anything else, the biggest thrill of 2011 was getting to have this amazing horse back in my life:










Monday, December 19, 2011

The Trip So Far

Greetings from Amarillo! This will be brief as we have a very early morning tomorrow, but the trip back home so far is going very well (especially given its totally last minute nature!). The big thing is that we've been experiencing some crazy weather, and in fact are getting up extra early tomorrow to try to outrun the BLIZZARD that's supposed to sweep through northeast New Mexico and into the Amarillo area tomorrow. Yikes! Here's some of the crazy (and beautiful!) weather we've experienced so far:


(First off, beautiful but COLD! (28º) and frosty in Pacheco Pass outside Gilroy)


(but still very, very lovely)


(then, so foggy it completely blocked out the sun shortly after this picture was taken and forced us to drive super slowly in fear of wandering blindly into a 70 car pile up)


(then, so bright Pa had to resort to wearing two pairs of sunglasses)


(then perfect!)


(then cool and rainy in the desert east of Barstow)


(then snowy?! It actually snowed a lot harder than this-- in places the road was completely washed out in white and there were drifts on the sides of the road)

(then, beautiful again... for now)


Kiki and her last minute travel companion Cooper (who belongs to a friend and is heading to Pennsylvania) are both taking all the changes in stride so far. Fingers crossed for three more smooth days on the road!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stressopalooza

Today I went down to visit Kiki, watch Shannon jump her again, and get a read on her progress and potential future at Flying Tail Farm. I'm not sure if I mentioned this specifically last time, but we decided when I dropped her off that Shannon and Dayna would think on her for two weeks and then give me their appraisal of how easy it would be able for them to sell her. If it looked like it might take more time in training than we could afford, I was going to bring her home to Massachusetts to try some different sales options (I know folks willing to market her as a jumper and a foxhunter, respectively).

I've been so thankful for how up front, kind, and honest both Shannon and Dayna have been through this entire process. They've been just wonderful, and it was great to see Kiki so happy and well taken care of when I arrived.

(Happy Kiki)

Shannon got on Kiki and starting warming up, and I definitely noticed a difference in her way of going and rideability. Her trot looked much looser and in general she was very settled with few 'arguments.' Excellent! Shannon also agreed that she had improved much in her flatwork in even the short ten days she had been there, and thought that she had the potential to have a very nice trot especially.

After a brief go on the flat they started jumping. Kiki was quite fresh when I dropped her off a week and a half ago (can you blame her? It was her first time jumping in two months!), so it was a real thrill to get to watch her go in her more regular form. I've actually never seen her jump, except for when she was very young, as Suzi didn't believe in jumping her too much and I've done most of the rest of the work on her myself. She's so cute!! We put the jumps up a bit and she showed great bravery and general technique. Here are some videos I took:





At the end, Shannon agreed that when Kiki goes her best, she really is quite fun to ride. She thought that Kiki could easily do Preliminary/CCI* in the coming season if she was tuned up for it properly. This was encouraging to hear, as the price we'd like to get for her ($25,000) would put her on the very reasonable end of that type of horse.

The downside of that positive is that, to be marketed as a CCI* prospect, she really needs to complete a few Preliminaries. This would require a very large investment of both time and financial resources on our part, and would mean that she wouldn't be truly marketable until probably at least April of next year. Unfortunately, that's not a realistic option for my family right now, so we've had to make the decision to bring her home. As I've already said, I'm so, so thankful for Shannon and Dayna for being so up front and honest. They clearly like Kiki (how could you not??) and I think they would do a great job selling her; it's just not realistic for me to have Ringo at the Red Barn, Kiki in full sales training for an extended period, and be paying for school at the same time. Oh well...

So now it's a flurry of activity trying to get everything organized to bring Kiki home at the beginning of winter break. Fortunately we had semi-planned for this eventuality and Pa already has his plane ticket ready to come out and help me make the drive back. We just need to get ahold of places to stay, get the truck all outfitted and ready, pick Kiki up and bring her back to Stanford for a day or so, and (unrelatedly) get completely moved out of my dorm room as I am moving to a different room next quarter. Oh, and... school? That too? Fortunately I only have one very doable final left, but it's still another thing to worry about.

In a case of excellent timing, my back has also decided to completely flake out on me recently, to the point where my physical therapist today constructed a crude back brace out of tape to keep me in a semi-correct posture despite my constant neck and back spasms that try to pull me into a Quasimodo-esque hunchback. It's a sexy look, clearly.

One major upside, of course, is that I'm really excited to have Kiki home with me over winter break!! Beach ride, here we come!! =D

Monday, December 12, 2011

My favorite Horse Photos of 2011

If you've been following this blog over the past year, you know that I take a lot of pictures of horses. In fact, 'a lot' is an understatement. I took over 10,000 pictures of horses in my 6 months in England alone, and live for the days when I get to turn the lens toward my all-time favorite subjects.

But what isn't as obvious is the amount of time I spend looking at other people's pictures of horses, too. I'm always browsing for the best equine photographers and photographs I can find, both for inspiration and just for pure enjoyment. I have some definite idols (Nico Morgan, who I got to meet at Badminton this year, and Kat Netzler of the Chronicle are the first two that pop to mind) and I not only can't get enough of their pictures but also hope that if I look enough, my eye might some day end up as good as theirs =)

Generally, whenever I find a photograph on the internet that I like, I save it on my computer for later enjoyment/perusal. Now that the year has come to a close, I thought I would share some of my favorite finds from 2011. These photos come almost exclusively from The Chronicle of the Horse, Eventing Nation, and the great mystery of The Facebooks. Enjoy!

Crazy Athleticism
(aka: why horses are AWESOME)

(Nina Ligon and Fernhill Fearless showing some serious hops at the Jersey Fresh CCI*** - via Chronicle)

(Neville Bardos showing the incredible scope needed at the CCI**** level - via Eventing Nation)

(Jumping a car??! via Facebook)

(Jennie Brannigan and No Objection jump over 6' bareback - via Chronicle)

(A Grand Prix horse shows some extra enthusiasm during the CDI at Saugerties - via Chronicle)

(Athena is officially one of the coolest little horses on the planet - via Chronicle)

Special Moments
(aka: why a life with horses is the best life of all)

(Sapphire with her fans (ok, this is from 2010, sue me) - via Chronicle)

(Sinead Halpin crosses the finish line at her storybook Rolex debut - via facebook)

(Caroline Powell looks delighted with Lenamore after their test at Burghley - via Eventing Nation)


(18 year-old Lenamore completes another Burghley clear inside the time - just another day at the office for one of the best horses in eventing today - via Eventing Nation)

(Friend and fellow New Englander Kylie Lyman finally gets the recognition she deserves as one of the best up and coming riders in the US by winning the Fair Hill CCI** - via Chronicle)

(The Chronicle did a tribute to Kingston, who passed away this year, and this photo from the '04 olympic selection trials was by far my favorite - via Chronicle)

(Hickstead doing what he did best: winning - via Chronicle)

(Cold, wet, rainy, and triumphant: the victory parade at Burghley, the competition I would love to complete far more than any other - via Eventing Nation)

(Clark Montgomery looks proud but reflective after winning the 2011 Bromont CCI*** - via Chronicle)

(Boyd lives the eventer's dream: hacking in front of Burghley House at one of the biggest equine competitions in the world with his country's flag on his arm - via Boyd's blog)

(Toytown retires - via Facebook)

(Texting and riding: why not?? - via Eventing Nation)

(Winning the World Cup IN STYLE - via Chronicle)

Here's to a 2012 with many more pictures and moments with horses!
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