Tag Archives: amateur

Pull Up the Big Girl Pants

I’m brimming with confidence. blog_article_big-girl-pants1My rides are non-eventful steps up the learning curve ladder. Remember the game Chutes and Ladders? Each leg yield like on a square in the board game progresses up the ladder to, let’s say a lovely bend in a corner. The sky is the limit, largely because of Mulligan’s wonderful attitude and enthusiasm for everything labeled Learning. I am believing I can raise his jumping level by year end. I’ve mastered our partnership and we can dance with the stars.

And suddenly we land on a square that sends us spiraling down a winding chute. Mulligan and I had an argument and I feared the honeymoon was over.

Key words in that last sentence. . . I feared. Interesting how fear can change a person from an insightful horsewoman to a 50-something amateur old bitty with brittle bones, a neophyte whose horse doesn’t love her anymore. I was certain I couldn’t train a plant to grow.

My fall from grace started around lead changes, Mulligan rejected my leg after a jump and moved into it rather than away from it. I increased the pressure and he bucked. HUH? What happened to the meticulous groundwork, the sensitization exercises, the flatwork building blocks of leg yielding and turns on the forehand, the strong foundation I thought were in place?

Now my supple well-prepared thoroughbred was grinding his teeth and we weren’t best friends in La-La land anymore. Furthering the proof of my launch from the pedestal I envisioned he had me on, he started rushing his fences, defiantly throwing his shoulder inward in the corners. Like a puppy whose tail I had accidently stepped on, I wasn’t his cool mommy anymore.

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Here’s where the Voice of Reason rolls his eyes, and steps in with what I need to do:

Step One: STOP IT RIGHT NOW! Take a breath and let him take a breath. Collect your thoughts.

Step Two: OMG, GET REAL! Get your head out of your you-know-what and Pull Up the Big Girl Pants!  Making a career out of beating yourself up is utterly useless. No one got murdered, no need for a lifetime sentence of guilt. In an era where journalists are getting beheaded by terrorists, no need to cut your own off because your ride is not going as planned. Get a perspective, Sistah!

Step Three: Resume training, taking each component separately. He’s a different horse right now, and an angry, confused horse cannot learn, so bring him back slowly to the point where he can. In this case, that’s a quiet halt after a fence or a simple change at the end of the line.

Good grief, it’s one thing to have humility, listen to your horse, have a sense of justice. It’s another thing entirely to self-deprecate yourself to worthless-human-being-ness.

Horses have taught me that every challenge, problem, weakness throws a magnifying glass on what I need to work on – that could be physical – like posture and conditioning;  it could be mental – focus or knowledge; or it could be emotional – containment, praise, etc.  That’s the beauty of the process, there are no failures because each challenge leads to an Aha moment, which leads to future success. Cool huh?

The Person who makes no mistakes is unlikely to make ANYTHING.

We all hear the cowboys say “reward the try” when training horses something new.  How about rewarding your own try?

~ kw

Taking a Mulligan – Part 2

< < Part 1 

Our second horse show, Mulligan walked flat footed into the arena for his flat class. Honestly, I could have called it a day right there. I was busting the buttons off my riding coat and I tried to act nonchalant and cool. He stood in his lineup like a statue. Mr. Canon documented the experience and played it back for us a hundred times.

Mulligan was relaxing. He cantered his cross rails in the jumping class like a hunter. When he did his first immaculate lead change in the arena, Dana from the rail was so happy that Mr. Canon trembled. Mulligan handled the flowers, the fences, and the announcer with aplomb. Mulligan appropriately won second place.

To hear our celebration and the applause, the praise and the carrots, you would have thought Mulligan just won a USHJA Hunter Derby.

A trainer would have arrived on the grounds on schooling day, stabled the horse for two days, and had him ready for us and his amateur rider by Sunday. But we would have missed Mulligan’s transition from pawing at the trailer to standing quietly, from nervous wheeling around, to eating hay and drinking water. No one would have told us when his frantic neigh for help became a nicker of hello. I would not have experienced the moment his heart pounding between my legs turned to a sigh of acceptance.

Dana and I watched Mulligan process and learn. We rode every fence right there with him (from the rail and on his back), calmed him through his nervousness, prepped him, fed him, groomed him, schooled him, posted him and showed him. Mulligan made us proud and Mr. Canon was right there with us every minute.

Anyone that has had any experience bringing along a young horse, riding any horse for that matter, accomplishing any endeavor of worthiness, knows that it is rarely an uphill progression. There are pitfalls, disappointments, setbacks. Handsome (he’s Mulligan at the shows but Handsome at home) had pulled a shoe and bruised his sole so he got some time off the next weeks. We soaked him in Epsom salts, poulticed, cold hosed, massaged his muscles, pine-tarred his soft feet and let him mow the edge of the arena. When we started him back, Handsome received his first lunge lesson.

A training barn’s groom would have done all that. Would he have told me how Handsome loves the attention? I would have missed how Handsome stoically stood for poulticing, blog_article_mulligan2_smilesand the dexterity with which he pulls carrots out of my back pocket while I painted his hooves.
It is a joy to be Handsome’s teacher, his part-time nurse and his friend. Hearing his whinny lifts my spirits. Handsome is getting more confident at the same time he is building mine.

Once Handsome/Mulligan is healed, and if the stars collide, schedules coincide and we feel he is ready, he will be added to the show calendar amidst the other horses’ schedules. Our adrenalin will get us through our regular work days, evening rides and a tireless summer. We trust our program but remain flexible for the unexpected. Plan B is right around the corner with C waiting in the wings. Mulligans don’t care about plans.

In a world where two country “dumb asses” win the Kentucky Derby, I bet they would say that the deepest rewards come not despite their background but because of it. The “wins” are embedded in the process. Few horses become champions but taking a mulligan can bring out the champion in all of us.

~ kw

< < Part 1 

Taking a Mulligan – Part 1

“Take a mulligan,” instructed my golf teacher after I topped a drive off the tee. Immersing myself in golf lessons seemed like the right distraction after the passing of my 23-year old thoroughbred. And once I turned 50, I was reluctant to go the green horse route again.

But golf wasn’t horses.

Enter Handsome, an appropriately named gray OTTB gelding owned by Dana whom I met through a horse ad online. She had allowed him months of rest after his racing, starting him in his hunter career slowly, with light hacks and cross rails at a schooling show or two.
Through Dana’s generosity, now I ride Handsome as often as possible. Handsome lives on Dana’s ranch along with two other horses that Dana shows, and several more retired horses and ponies, dogs and cats.

We do not have the deep pockets to show the A circuit, the cash flow to pay trainers, the time-off-work to stable all week at horse shows, the extra twenties lying around to tip grooms. We do have our years of expert advice from good trainers, and our own experiences of horse care, training, vetting, shoeing (Dana shoes her own), hauling, braiding, schooling and showing.

At the shows we are known as an “Independent.” Be kind to us Independents, we were up at 4 a.m. While I am not an advocate of riding trainer-less, it just works for us right now. A bevy of good hunter-jumper instructors reside in our area, available to assist at a moment’s notice. Because we are Independents, we appreciate even more the many hats trainers wear.

Our days are marathons. Both of us work full time, have family commitments and juggle our schedules to accommodate the horses.

But the rewards run deep and the lessons are profound.

I soon discovered that Handsome has a forgiving attitude when his amateur (that’s me) misses a distance or makes a mistake. Maybe it has to do with the carrots I bring him, the scratches behind the ears and the conversations we have while grooming. After a few months of trotting over grids and cantering simple lines, Handsome and I were ready for our first horse show together.

Handsome’s second career as a hunter compelled us to come up with the show name Mulligan.

To help us assess our progress, Mr. Canon travels with us to horse shows. blog_article_mulligan1_canonHe is there for every round including the flat classes. He communicates our mistakes so they are obvious and he never dwells on the negative. Only sometimes does Mr. Canon lose his focus, but the big picture is always there. He is accurate, handy, and affordable. We observe our performances against the professional hunter rides that we watch carefully with Mr. Canon at our side.

Mr. Canon mirrors our mistakes and we have instant replays when we need reminders.

So at our first local show together, Handsome now Mulligan asked questions all day long. Why are horses everywhere? Why are horses tied to trailers? Why are we riding then resting, then riding then resting? Why are we not going the same direction? Why is that horse jumping in the arena next door when we are just standing? Why are we lined up but those three horses are leaving, can’t we leave too?

We answered his questions patiently, through continual exposure and quiet rides, words of praise, lots of petting and boatloads of carrots. Mulligan settled down in his cross rails class, jumping every fence the first time. He had a flashback from the race track when he heard the announcer on the loudspeaker but he came through the experience no worse for wear.

Dana and I were exhausted.

~ kw

Part 2 >> 

My Valentine

It’s Valentine’s Day month.  Let me count the ways I love my life:

  • My Mom gives me carrots and pats me a lot saying Good boy Handsome over and over.  My heart swells.

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  • She likes to give me an extra flake of hay when she puts me to bed, just to make sure my tummy is happy.
  • My Mom LIKES to put me to bed.  One time she had a stupid appointment and so she hastily sponged me off, stuffed a carrot in my mouth, and gave her friend Dana a checklist of tasks (boy, that ‘s the last time Dana will offer).  The list included my various ointments, hoof remedies, flysprays.  The point is that My Mom was pissy all night because she wasn’t able to do it herself.
  • My life includes grass turnout whenever possible.
  • I have friends to talk to across the paddock fences; we hold court in the corner where the paddocks meet.
  • My Mom works me often but not hard… enough to keep me learning.  She likes to change the course often.
  • Our trail walks at the end of our rides with the girth loosened is when my Mom really feels thankful I am around.
  • I tell my Mom when I’m hurting and she listens, even if she doesn’t understand where exactly the pain is.
  • She tells me a Fourth place ribbon is better than blue because it matches my coat, and what green horse wouldn’t want a green ribbon?   My Mom swells as we walk out of the arena… it doesn’t take much to get a 50+ person to swell (in more ways than one).
  • My Mom truly loves spending time with me, and if I am hurt, the number of visits I get does not decrease, it only means she goes into Nurse Mode, cancelling all business trips, certain I cannot mend without her loving TLC.  I can, but don’t tell her that.

~ kw