Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

I know, I know… its been another long gap between my updates. I promise I haven’t forgotten about you all and I haven’t lost interest in this blogs upkeep. It’s just been an tough time period to try to actually sit down and write. First, I was away in Alberta from July 16th – July 23rd, came home, had 2 days off and then back to the grind at work…. followed promptly by a viral infection in my eyes which has really kicked my butt. To be perfectly honest today is the first day since the infection really reared its ugly head that I’ve spent most of the day with my vision more or less in focus. It’s had its bobbles periodically through out the day but for the most part my vision has been on par with normal and even the blurry moments weren’t as horrible as they have been. That being said, prior to this it meant that staring at a computer screen long enough to update the blog was basically impossible.

I had a g20180719_122133.jpgreat time out in Alberta. I didn’t ride at all (I thought I might get up the gumption to try to catch my friends gelding and hop on him… but that didn’t happen) but I really did enjoy myself just relaxing, taking photos and just hanging around with my friend, her daughter and nature. I definitely came back with a MUCH clearer mind and in far better spirits and at the very least with my work with Cowboy it has definitely shown. I missed him like crazy while I was gone and resisted the urge to pester Brooke for daily updates (although she specifically told me to not worry about him, turn my phone off and enjoy my time away). Of course I did come home with only 3 things… a birthday gift for my mom, a mug for my dad and of course an awesomely pretty and good quality headstall for Cowboy!

While I was gone, Cowboy got another equibow session done. We expected to find some hind end stiffness/restriction at first as he had been a bit sticky with his canter leads previously. Instead we found a lot of stuff going on in his shoulders, neck and jaw. We figure it was from his tendency to tuck himself past the vertical. Also while I was away, Brooke worked him a couple of times and also started to work on some of his stall anxiety. I had also started him on a new supplement from a local woman that is supposed to help support better cognitive functioning and balance him out. Brooke also moved him closer to the front of the barn where her “constants” are, figuring that part of the issue may be that in the section of the barn he had been in, there was a lot of constant change with horses coming, horses going and horses getting shuffled around. We know that Cowboy doesn’t do well with sudden change as it is, and wondered if maybe that wasn’t just frying his brain more than it needed to. So far the change has been working very well. He’s calm when in his stall (at least while other horses are in) again, and is even starting to not panic when others leave… which is something that he was doing even if others were still in the barn. We haven’t had him in completely alone much yet. Brooke has been letting me bring in at least one of her horses so he has someone. I did, however, try having him in alone the one day. It wasn’t the most relaxing moment for him, but we still got things accomplished. He ate all of his meal, even if it took twice as long as normal and remained relatively in check. I started out by feeding him and then getting my grooming tools. I groomed him while he ate for a bit and then stepped out of the stall. He ate for a couple more minutes and then had a bit of a temper tantrum that he was in alone and I wasn’t right by him (I was puttering around doing other things). He’d pace a bit and call. He did rear up in a couple instances. But instead of yelling at him in attempts to correct him. I just watched quietly. And then once he settled down and remained calm for a short period of time I’d bring him a bit more of his favourite grain to sprinkle into his bucket. We had to repeat this a few times before he finally just settled and finished his meal. The biggest thing to note about this though, is that overall his tantrums were far less explosive as they had been. His patience and calmness in the cross ties has also began to improve again.

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Under saddle, I can say the improvement I saw coming back and riding was nothing short of phenomenal. Whatever was restricting him before his equibow definitely made a huge difference! His flat work has improved ten fold. He’s REALLY using himself, we’re getting the long, swinging trot, a consistent walk and even our walk to halt transitions are far better (although the transition work comes from another lesson with the Western Dressage coach where we literally spent an entire lesson working on transitions). I mean I actually feel him round up under me, come up into frame and track up. It’s still a little bit rushed, we need to work on some more relaxation and tempo but it’s still a tremendous start! Then, to change things up a bit and keep it exciting we’ve also been putting some effort into jumping again. Of course I’m still in my western saddle and only jumping small fences, but it’s fun for both of us.

The jumping we’ve been doing is where I’ve noticed a MASSIVE improvement in my confidence right now! I mean I know I’ve talked about it before and how I’m far more confident jumping in my western saddle than I am in an English saddle.

But when I say I’ve noticed an improvement I mean just overall. I have far fewer moments where I hesitate before a fence, but I still always take it, rather than try to pull up or avoid. I’ve gotten far better at problem solving and reacting on the fly if needed and I don’t freeze if something doesn’t go quite as planned. I’ve determined what part of jumping scares me the most….and that’s the approach. I’m not afraid of the feeling of jumping or worrying about what will happen on the landing. I get worried about if my mount is going to pull a dirty stop – something my first mare was fantastic at (seriously…. this mare could stop in the middle of a bounce). This fear is where I’ve definitely gave Cowboy my trust. Cowboy has never stopped at a fence for me. Even when we first started jumping and I was way more terrified than I am now. So now I’m getting better at just taking a deep breath, saying “fuck it” and just going. Although I’m not always the biggest fan of cantering into a fence still, I resist my urge to pull him up if he does break into a canter between or up to a fence and am also getting up the courage to canter into fences that are a bit more “scary” for me, realizing I need to pace to get a better jump out of him. I’ve also started to branch out and allow us to start working on combinations! So far we’ve conquered a double and a triple combo! At the canter as well! I’ve literally been over the moon with our progress in that department.

Cowboy and I schooling the triple combination!

Despite the fact that I’ve been saying I don’t have any show plans for this summer, between Brooke and I, we’ve decided that I can take Cowboy into the Intro to Jumpers 15 inch clear round class at one of my barns next jumper schooling shows. I was hoping for the one on the 19th, however Cowboy is having an issue (which I’ll discuss below) that means we might not get there. But there is still one in September. My biggest reason for attempting this is to just get into the ring and in front of an audience. Over this summer, I’ve gotten SO much better at handling my nerves with other people and horses around. Actually, my last dressage lesson, the outdoor ring was out of commission due to rain and the indoor was busy with another lesson going on…. I managed to ride my entire lesson with 4 other horses in the ring and an audience, ontop of new and scary things at the back end of the arena… and guess what! We completed our ride with minimal issues, no freak outs on either parts and even had the 4 horses leave on us…. with both the man door and the front gap open without Cowboy or I noticing and without Cowboy trying to bolt. The day before OXC in July I rode in a lesson with a ton of strange people and horses milling about without issue and have also successfully rode at other times with other people around and audiences and not have my nerves get to me. So, it just seems logical to add onto this. Another baby step. The fences are small enough we can trot them if I need to and really it’s about getting into the ring at a show without any huge amounts of pressure on my shoulders. I’m still a bit nervous about handling him outside of the ring around all the other horses, but we’ve got a game plan for that. I’ll warm him up in the indoor and then dismount and walk him over to the main ring and get on right before my class, be walked into the ring and do my thing. I know it sounds good on paper and might not go as planned in the ring, but at least it feels like a solid enough game plan for me to try!

Right now though, the poor guy is sore on his hind right. It looks like its a bruise or an abscess in his heel bulb. Or worst case scenario some sort of mild strain. He’s off for a few days with Epsom salt water soaks and poultices. My farrier couldn’t find an abscess, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still buried deep in there. I’m just the sappy horse mom that wants my boy to feel better! Even though I can rest assured it’s nothing serious. We just never like to see our animals not feeling up to par.

Another short but cool update! Brooke has given me the opportunity to ride one of her horses, a lovely little haflinger named Lindy, for some extra saddle time, especially while Cowboy is off. screenshot_20180810-233949_video-player.jpgBasically she’s offered me to ride Lindy a couple times a week if I feel like it to help keep her in shape and working properly. Lindy hasn’t been being used as frequently recently and can stand to be kept into shape. What’s awesome about it is that she’s definitely more finished than Cowboy is, so it’s helping Brooke out, helping Lindy out and helping me out because it gives me some time to work on ME! So keep your eyes peeled for more of me and the blonde bombshell!

So that’s all right now folks! Again, things are all kind of in a nutshell because I’ve had such a long gap between posts! But now that I’m no longer struggling with my vision, I hope to get more up!

 

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Look Who’s Back… Back Again!

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I know I’m overdue for an update. I’ve been so here, there and everywhere the last little while I really haven’t had the gumption to sit down and write. Heck. I’ve barely had the motivation to ride. But, here we are. Time to fill everyone in on what has been going on. The good, the okay and the needs improvement. I kind of like that… instead of saying the good, the bad and the ugly. It helps keep with the positive trajectory that I’m been working on keeping. To be honest, I thought about scraping the blog. I’m not sure how many people actually read it, how to better advertise and if it’s really doing what I hoped it would… help other people. So if you have any feedback, comments, suggestions, motivations please drop me a line!

In the last few entries, I commented on work. And work is still a thorn in my side as we speak. Let me get this straight. Overall I enjoy my jobs, I enjoy the people I work with (clients as well as staff). What’s not okay right now though, is the hours of work. I work full-time midnights at the one and the other is supposed to be part time…. supposed to be…. Since January, we’ve had 1 person go on maternity leave and 3 others quit. We are running a 24 hour staffed group home with 4 staff members and some small amounts of help from other houses. What does this mean? It means that per pay period I’m basically working the equivalent of 2 part time jobs with many of those hours being mid day shifts between my midnight shifts. Many days I’m lucky if I’m getting 3 hours of sleep before doing the routine all over again. This is also leading to me missing days out at the barn (thank goodness for Brooke) and declining motivation and mood surrounding our work. I’m really struggling and am really finding my mental health beginning to suffer from it. As well as my physical health. I’m achy all the time due to lack of honest rest, my blood sugar is having a hard time staying regulated because my body is in a constant state of physical stress. My temper is getting shorter, I’m getting grumpier and I’m more or less feeling generally foggy and out of it. Something has got to give and right now I’m not sure how I want to handle it. Giving up permanent full time employment is not an option and besides, other than being midnights I’m okay where I am. I don’t WANT to quit the other job, but after conversations surrounding the hours, my fitness to work and the layout of shifts nothing really seems to change and is only getting worse as we take hit after hit staffing wise….. I just don’t know if I can stay. There needs to be things looked at as to why we struggle to keep people, how to boost overall morale and other bigger agency changes.

On a plus side, I’m leaving tomorrow to visit a dear friend of mine out in Alberta until the 23rd. We have no set plans, and I fully intend on shutting out anything work related while I’m there. I’m so looking forward to SLEEP, nature, open space and my friend. Our biggest plan is to spend a day up in Jasper which will be totally awesome. But really, I’m just looking forward to getting away from all this shit and just relaxing. I want to come back with a clearer head and make some decisions.

In respects to the above and Cowboy, it wasn’t until I was touching base with Brenda that I sat back and realized just how much of a saint he has been in the last bit. Despite my short fuse, wavering confidence and motivation he really has been so wonderful for me. That’s not to say we haven’t had our bad rides, or our difficult times. But when I look at when I was feeling this way last year to now. he REALLY is tolerating me, and humouring me really. I know this may seem like I’m humanizing him to some degree, but I really do feel like he recognizes that I need him to come through for me right now and he really is. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have his moments where he reminds me that I need to check myself or days where he can’t handle my baggage but he’s still trying. We are still generally on a positive trajectory and making progress… even if its a bit slow.

I’ve taken to liking the saying “progress not perfection”. It is so completely applicable to where Cowboy and I have came from and where we are going. I’m still keeping a great deal of pressure off of us with no huge plans for the summer. I’m starting to plan a bit for next summer, and there is nothing wrong with that. But this method is working wonders. We have really gotten him to a point where he is moving consistently well, in a frame 85% of the time, bending, using his back and really tracking up under himself. We’ve gotten him from where he was racing and unbalanced to where he almost needs more motivation to maintain himself while cantering. I’ve developed a much steadier, lighter contact, more awareness of seat and body mechanics and that has in turn helped develop a greater amount of trust and understanding between us.

The barn hosted the first OXC/EXCA Race of the season as well as a Peter Fraser judging clinic last month. I played photographer for both days and got tons of great feedback from the riders in regards to my shots. I even had a chance to be mentored by another photographer in the area and learned some new tips and tricks to better my work. It was a blast and it was so amazing to network some more. This weekend also gave me a bit of the OXC bug again. It’s nice to change it up out of our normal dressage based frame work. Gets him and I thinking some more, keeps our brains sharp and works on our trust. I declined to participate in the clinic, due to cost and sticking with my “no big events this summer” mentality. In hindsight, I kind of regret not doing it. I probably could have handled the clinic, none of the obstacles were over the top and Cowboy and I had done a bunch of them prior. But needless to say, I’ve been practicing some components of it just for fun. Another highlight of this weekend though, was I managed to score myself a specific western dressage lesson from another friend who competes at at least 3rd level. We got some awesome feedback, mostly that if we were to get into the intro tests right now we’d probably clean up because he travels more consistently and prettier than a lot of competitors right now. That was a  total ego boost.
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Other wise, we’ve been working on pushing some boundaries. I’ve managed to successfully have a couple of lessons out on the grass ring, riding walk/trot/canter without any wicked mishaps. Although the cows still have him uneasy in some of those areas, we’ve been able to get closer and closer to them without as much of a reaction. He’s also getting better at controlling his reaction and keeping at least 30% of his brain between his ears in those instances. We’ve been jumping a little bit and even jumped the highest we’ve jumped yet which was pretty cool!

I think the biggest struggle with him in particular right now is his separation anxiety. With the hot summer months here now, our barn is a bit like a sauna and so Brooke is keeping the majority of her horses outside. The empty barn is creating a worsening issue for Cowboy. His anxiety while being inside alone is growing so much that he’s not really capable of learning that he can be okay. Liken it to a panic attack. Once you hit the full peak of the attack there is no rationale thinking. The world is ending and nothing anyone says or does will tell you otherwise. That’s kind of what’s happening to him. He cycles so high so fast that he just completely melts down. Rears. Throws himself against the walls. Spins. Paces. Calls. Pushes the door. Leaving him in to “puzzle it out” isn’t working or helping. He’s even anxious in the cross ties. If I walk any real distance from him he begins to panic, thinking I’m going to leave him alone. We’ve been working in this with praise and treats. If he begins to panic when I walk away. I stop and wait for him to calm and then praise him. When I return and he’s remained calm he gets a treat. It’s very slow progress. But he’s starting to calm a bit. And he doesn’t stay as heightened as long as he did prior. In terms of the stall. I’ve reached out for some help with some other supplements to help nervous system functioning and ease anxiety to see if we can start working on that again. In the mean time, he’s been getting fed away from other horses and in his own confined “space”… just not in his stall. Be it a round pen, or like today, in one of the outdoor stalls where he couldn’t REALLY see other horses. He managed to stay fairly calm and ate all his grain.

So thats us in a nutshell right now. Sorry it’s not overly descriptive.  But stay tuned for more to come!

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Rant: Trouble On The Roads Ahead

horse-traffic-sign-x-w11-7The onset of spring and summer are great times for us equestrians. After getting through the unavoidable spring fever in our mounts we are then able to get outside of the indoor arenas and into our outdoors and surrounding areas. For a lot of us means we can finally get back into consistent work. Some of us are lucky enough to have areas where we can spend a great deal of time hacking out or trail riding, whichever term you prefer, if adventure is their cup of tea. There are enough of us though, that aren’t so lucky and if getting out of the rings for a change of scenery is what we are looking for, are delegated to the shoulder of usually country roads. It’s fun but still not without its challenges.

As we all know, gone are the days where horses were considered major modes of transportation. However, at least here in Ontario, they are still written into our Highway Traffic Act and therefore still do have rights on the road. It’s this time of year that I see so many friends of mine posting reminders to drivers of how to safely share the road with horses and riders and often see such pleas met with so much backlash from non-equestrians. It’s so frustrating to all of us, and also a HUGE safety hazard to everyone involved.

received_10157466608043135.jpegThe other day I went out for a ride with my friend Angie and borrowed Teddy, an old, retired been-there-done-that quarter horse gelding. First off, the time we ventured out was around the 4:30/5pm mark which meant the normally fairly quiet country roads still had an influx of traffic of people getting home from work. I am glad to say that the majority of drivers we came across were respectful and decent with us. We even had a couple cyclists take into consideration that they could spook our horses and gave us warning well enough in advance before passing us. This isn’t to say that we didn’t come across some real gems… enough so that I am highly considering investing in a GoPro, helmet cam type thing for the future off property rides. I’m hoping to catch some of the behavior on camera and crusade against it. Anyways there were a few that sped past us at speeds that definitely were not appropriate, but there are three specific examples that upset us the most and I figured I’d address here. First and foremost, let me say that we were riding as respectfully as we could. Both Teddy and Cody are super quiet about traffic and not easily startled. We also made sure that we were staying as far over on the shoulder as possible and if we did drift over, moved back over to the shoulder at the first sound of a car. The first example was a young male, probably no older than 25 in some sort of gold coloured sedan. He was approaching us the opposite direction we were travelling.  On a road where the speed limit is about 60 km/hr, he was easily doing 75-80 km/hr, and coming off a winding portion of the road. As he got closer I yelled for him to slow down, and not only does he speed up, continue blasting past us, he blares his horn at us as he goes by. Second, on another section of road, we had some on coming traffic, and a van behind us. The van had slowed down and was waiting for the oncoming traffic to pass so that he could continue past us with extra space, which was fantastic. The red crossover behind him (again another male driver, this time slightly older), however, was impatient and as soon as the van moved over to pass us decided to accelerate behind and beside us and race past. The last example of motor vehicle idiocy involved a work van that although was not speeding, passed us so close enough I could have easily kicked the side of his vehicle without much effort from the saddle…. with the opposite lane wide open and no oncoming traffic insight. Thankfully our horses are pretty unflappable with stuff like that!

I saw another friend post a general PSA on a community group after her and a couple friends nearly got hit by a teenager while out on a ride. Some of the comments from people floored me. In particular from a family member of my own. Now, this family member did have a good general point, however his way of delivery and inability to absorb the fact that no horse is completely bombproof and that there is ALWAYS a chance that even the quietest horse may spook at something, and usually it may not even be the associated traffic. The point brought forth was that as riders, we should have mounts on the road that are decently trained and sensible in traffic. This is true, but most of us working with horses have enough sense to not take a horse on the road who is not ready for it. In some cases they’re ready but just need a bit more exposure, which is why we plan our routes and do a bunch of work at home to get them used to things. And again, it is not feasibly possible to guarantee our mounts will NEVER act up or spook. We are on living, breathing animals that have minds of their own. The funniest thing about the person who was giving my friend the hardest of times… they had horses and ponies growing up. One horse in particular didn’t have great road manners and at one point tossed them on the road, knocking them out and then promptly galloped home. Hi pot. Meet Kettle.  I also will not buy the complaint that we need to come and pick up manure because “we have to pick up our dog’s poop”… yeah because the general version of picking up dog crap is to put it in a plastic bag and then toss it into a ditch or someone elses yard/bushes? May as well just let it biodegrade?

Regardless, it’s not like we are asking for drivers to make HUGE changes in order to work with us. We’re just asking them to follow the law. We’re asking for them to shift over even just a foot. I know it’s still a struggle to get drivers to properly share the road with cyclists, but it makes no sense how the mentality is that it’s okay to give cyclists space but horses don’t deserve it? Lastly we’re asking for a slight reduction in speed… especially when the majority of people are driving easily 10-20 km over the limit to begin with! And again, this isn’t a request we’re making just to make and try to be a pain in the ass! It’s actually part of the law!

167 Every person having the control or charge of a motor vehicle or motor assisted bicycle on a highway, when approaching a horse or other animal that is drawing a vehicle or being driven, led or ridden, shall operate, manage and control the motor vehicle or motor assisted bicycle so as to exercise every reasonable precaution to prevent the frightening of the horse or other animal and to ensure the safety and protection of any person driving, leading or riding upon the horse or other animal or being in any vehicle drawn by the horse or other animal.  R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 167. Ontario Highway Traffic Act

Key points from the above post. Every reasonable precaution to prevent frightening. Ensure safety and protect of the person riding, leading or driving the horse or other animal. We, as a rule, (because I can’t speak for every rider out there, and I’m SURE there are some that don’t think or really care) try our best to give drivers as much respect and space as we can, so we deserve it back. Please, please, please don’t put all of our lives (yours, ours, our horses) at risk simply because you’ll get to your destination a mere 10-30 seconds later than you would if were not travelling. Not only that, but outside of the fact that LIVES ARE BEING PUT AT RISK, even think about the amount of damage a 1,000 lb could do if it came smashing into your windshield? Sounds like fun eh? Could you live with the blood on your hands? Everyone thinks its all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

I think that in the day and age where we all have technology glued to our hands and with how accessible cameras and the such are, us equestrians should start taking a greater stand and when riding in the public and around traffic, document what we can (while remaining safe), and start reporting drivers who are putting us all in danger. If we can gather video or photographic evidence we are able to report it and maybe start doing something! This being said, I do need to strongly caution that we need to take every precaution to also make sure that we are maintaining our own safety and following general rules of the road too. We need to be part of the solution as well. Stick to the shoulders where available, make sure our mounts are as okay with traffic as they can be, wear visible clothing, use hand signals, be alert.

Really it all comes down to safety and everyone can play their part. Respect, safety and sharing the road is definitely a two way street (no pun intended!)

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Bits Of “Don’t Forget!”

Long overdue for an update, I know, but here we are. I suppose I didn’t want to write because I felt like everyone would just get bored with the ups and downs and my over emotional, “I feel like I can’t do this!” tone. Then, taking a step back and thinking about why I started this blog in the first place, I remembered…. I came here to be transparent and open. To talk about the bad along side the good. To document the journey that we are on and to hopefully inspire some people who face similar challenges to keep going and to keep trying because the end result will be worth it. So. Again. Here we are. screenshot_20180607-025357.jpg

Right now, I think we’re on a bit of a plateau. It’s not so much the plateau that’s the issue though (I guess…. I mean the issue is coming FROM the plateau…. but yeah….). It’s more or less how Cowboy and I collectively deal with said plateau. Again, we’re on a constant ebb and flow pattern and things were going SO well, that I did kind of see us stalling out on the horizon. Cowboy has really came so far in the last little bit. Overall, he’s got a much stronger walk, his trots is REALLY coming along. He’s carrying himself and actually starting to round through the topline, track up and keep himself in a decent frame with only a little bit of “play” on the inside here and there to remind him to keep on the vertical. Our canter/lope is (or at least was) coming along well too! Instead of being strung out and quick due to lack of balance he had really started to again use himself and develop a more “uphill” gait that was smooth and so easy to ride. We even messed around here and there with some small jumps, hacking around the property and dealing with the cows! So really in the last month there have been HUGE strides, and although I’m going to vent (or whine I guess) in the next little bit, I am still overall proud of our progress.

I think we went through such a huge and fast positive climb, it only really makes sense that we’re somewhat stuck right now. And it’s these periods of being “stuck” where we figure things out and then push through. I’ve started to demand more out of the both of us and it’s just taking us some time to get used to the new expectations. This I have no issue with. The hard part about it though, is it really does start to bring out the “hate” part of our “love/hate relationship”. I mean I love Cowboy, but right now I sum up my feelings as that I just don’t really like him right at the moment. He’s been irritable and so have I, meaning we have been butting heads far more often then I would personally like. Him, I’m sure its the sudden weather changes, the fact that our new regime is hard right now, and that I, myself, haven’t been 100%. We went from winter to more or less summer in the span of a week. That lasted a couple weeks, and now we’re back to more normal seasonal temperatures. With it has came a bunch of storm systems which likely have been causing him to get headaches (the lovely lady that does his equibow established he is prone to weather headaches). I know the very same systems have been causing nagging, stubborn headaches for me too. And now that it’s not muggy and gross, he’s also probably feeling his oats some. With our rides being difficult too, there is likely frustration and some physical fatigue from using muscles and moving in a different way. It just makes sense. I mean when I incorporate new things into my gym routine I find myself sore too.

Me, I’ve been getting jerked around again with work shifts so I’ve been running on little sleep, headaches and some other just general medical issues. I’ve been struggling a lot with some mental health issues around my food and weight. They’ve been getting better, especially with some encouraging news from my doctor (my A1C blood glucose is down 2 full points from my last visit!! and my blood pressure and cholesterol are normal!). And lastly I’ve been recovering from a Cowboy inflicted leg injury. Long story short is that he managed to step on my leg, leaving it bruised  and sore. It’s been just over a week and the black/blue type bruising is finally starting to come up, in the areas my doctor predicted. Which really, means that it’s getting better and I’ve finally been able to ride without pain directly to the affected area… just means that my left side is getting tired much quicker because I’m compensating for my injured right, and my right side is getting tired quicker than usual because the ability to flex my heel down and hold position is compromised. I’m stubborn and keep pushing through, but I KNOW that Cowboy can feel that I’m not 100% strong enough and although he really hasn’t been as bad as he could be, he’s been using this “gap” to see what he can get away with.

The biggest issues we’ve been running into recently consist of wanting to canter around with our head in the air like a llama, sucking back into a gait that is far more up than forward, resisting the half halt, or just wanting to rush. We’re pretty certain the sucking back and head in the air is more of a trying to get MY goat thing, because previously, behavior like that would get me to get him to halt, back up, and then try to go forward again. Essentially before it was a way for him to get out of having to canter. So right now, while I’m not as physically solid with my aids and support, he’s trying to push the envelope again.  We’re working through it by pushing him on and once he gets put into place a couple times he’s more or less giving that ghost up. Resisting the half halt is probably more a me issue. I’m probably balancing a bit more on my hands because my seat is a bit off. It’s something I’m trying to be conscious of and making sure to soften when he starts bobbing the head/nose around. As for the wanting to rush, mainly at the canter is another small ghost that crops up here and there. I think it is partially a balance issue as he’s still getting accustomed to me wanting him to use himself on a regular basis now, rather than just getting moments of it and praise it. I still do praise good performance but now that he’s learning it, I’m pushing it for longer durations and such to build up the endurance. However, the wanting to rush is mostly when going down the long wall towards “home”, and is something that is not foreign to Cowboy and his way of going. It’s something I just need to keep riding through and working with and we’ll get out of it again.

The biggest issue with all of this stuff really does come down to me though, as much as I don’t want to admit it. I’m letting myself get too focused on the negative and losing sight of the positive. I’m focusing so much on the “why are all these things going wrong” in the moment and I’m allowing it to build up some resentment that I’m sure he feels through me even when I’m trying to push it down. I’m losing sight that we’re just in a plateau and that we’ll make it out to the other side. I’m forgetting these plateaus are where things are solidifying and coming together and that this is part of the process. This being said, I need to switch my brain around again, and have faith in both of us and remember that without struggle there is no progress. We’ve got this and really it shouldn’t even be a question in my mind. And in all reality, he’s probably just more or less telling me to get my head back into the game. It’s funny how horses have a tendency to tell us these things without the ability to actually say anything at all. We just need to actually sit back and think about it.

On a positive note though, although my lesson started on a rocky note yesterday we managed to get some lovely trot work in and even managed to get our left lead walk to canter bang on, which is GREAT. Then I got on today and really did just focus on bScreenshot_20180607-025532.jpgeing quiet and non-reactive, and giving tons of praise for positive things and we really did have a good ride. We also finished outside of the ring, cooling out with a walk around some of the property which I really do think goes a long way in keeping up a good morale.

 

Moving forward, there is always light at the end of the tunnel and I’m NOT the horrible rider I’ve been convincing myself that I am. If I was, I wouldn’t of made it this far and we wouldn’t be progressing as well as we have been. If I was, I also wouldn’t be able to listen to my horse and realize where I need to make adjustments in myself. I’ve just been hard on myself and need to remember steps to self care and being gentle with myself. We have all the time in the world.

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The problem with plus size shopping

I find the same things in Canada too. It’s so frustrating trying to find clothing that fits and doesn’t look like stores are trying to dress us in bags!

The Big F Word

Hi everyone, I hope you are all well and having a great start to the week! Can you believe it’s April already? I’m just back from a fab few days in Portugal for my friend’s hen party, and I’m feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.

This week’s blog post is a little different and something I think is really important.

One of my best friends, Eilish, is a fab plus size gal, and has never let it hold her back in anyway. She’s confident in her own skin and beautiful on the inside, as well as out.

One thing we would often chat about is shopping and she would ask me for help when trying to find an outfit for a night out or a special occasion. She would have complained that there are very few high street shops that cater for plus size girls but I never believed her until I…

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Days Like Today

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Well. I’m glad to say that for the most part and over the last little bit, things have actually been progressing amazingly well. Both between Cowboy and I, and myself and my weight. I’ve been working hard to get to the gym as tolerated and I’ve been using the MyFitnessPal app to help better track and manage my food. I’m able to be completely honest with myself about what I’ve eaten without any wicked freakouts and I’ve been able to stay under more than I’ve been over. So progress is as progress does and it’s showing. According to my scale at work, I’m down 5 lbs from the 15 that I had gained. Coming up within the next couple weeks I’m going to have measurements done again to see if I’ve lost any inches (hell…. I’d be happy with millimeters haha).

Today though, was a rough day. I haven’t had a day at the barn where by the time my ride and such is done that I’m sobbing in ages. Now, is it possible that some of it is fueled by the ever evil hormones? Definitely. But it was definitely one of those days that has left me feeling discouraged and feeling blue. To put it into perspective, its days like today that: make me wonder why I even bother. Make me feel like I’m perhaps the worst rider/horse person on the planet. Why I keep pushing onwards. Like I’m never going to get anywhere. That I have no clue what I’m doing. That my horse hates me. That he’s just batshit crazy. Makes me want to throw in the white flag.

Now, that list is more or less the perfectionist side of my brain making me criticize myself and telling me that I’m simply not good enough. Which, is definitely not the case. In all those statements, I’m speaking out of frustration and know that I’ll be able to come out of things on the other side stronger than we are now. And usually, when I have rides and days such as this, as I’ve mentioned multiple times before, it’s that we are on the cusp of some sort of break through. And in all reality, the strides and improvements that have came about just since the weather has turned, it looks like a major break through may be in the midst. But why was today so rough? Because we were fighting. Cowboy had real “cowboy moment” a couple of days ago (of course after a WONDERFUL ride… seriously!) and his separation anxiety paired with his attention seeking caused him to have one of the worse meltdowns I have seen him have in his stall! He was rearing, trying to hook his front legs over the wall, throwing himself at the walls, the door, pacing, calling, pawing, and whipping his hay bags around. The worst part? I wasn’t even trying to leave him in. We had finished our ride and I untacked, and went to finish up his grain to feed him when this started. All I wanted was for him to eat his grain….may I also mention, he WAS NOT alone. There were two other horses in the barn. But to him, he was alone because he couldn’t see them (although, I’m no horse psychologist, but I would think that sound and smell of them would at least account for something?).  At one point he was really close to getting his foreleg caught and so I went to check on him to make sure he didn’t cut or skin it, and he bolted for the door, got out and galloped down to his paddock where he quietly stopped to graze and allow me to catch him, before brining him back. I ended up putting him back in and left, asking Brooke to toss him out for me if he was quiet when she got back, in hopes that he could or would sort some of his anxiety out. I guess he was fairly quiet when she got there but started to kick up a bit of a fuss. Once he settled again, she then put him outside. We have also discovered that he’ll only really fuss if its her or I around, probably because we are the two that handle him the most.

Anyways, he’s seemed to be on edge for the last couple of days since that happened. Today was our lesson and it’s also rained a fair bit, leaving the outdoor too wet to ride in so we were delegated to the indoor. Since the last time we actually rode in there, more equipment for all the cow activities have been added so I spent time yesterday getting him in there and looking at things, and spent some time at the start again letting him look. But, I think both of us are far more comfortable in outdoor. Regardless. He was having an off day. Not only did he have energy coming out of his eyeballs, he was also in the sort of mood to challenge and argue over every little thing. He was trying to start a war and I worked really hard to not give him one. Did my best to ride him as soft and quiet as I could but definitely had a few areas where he needed to be put into place. As hard as I tried to not let him get under my skin there were definitely moments where he did. Was it as bad as it would have been before? No. But for as hard as I’ve worked at keeping my emotionality out of it, I feel like I let both of us down and failed. Then after when I went to untack him, even stepping to the side and slightly behind him to set my saddle down caused him to attempt acrobatics in the cross ties. I ended up walking to the front of the barn (he was in the front set of ties, maybe 10 feet from me) to try to get him to settle and such but he wasn’t and, I guess based on his mood, where I was, so forth, I was just making things worse. At this point I was beyond frustrated because I don’t know why or how this behavior really started. I used to have a horse who could stand in cross ties for hours and not move, almost sleep. Again… I know we’ll fix it and we’ll figure it out. We always do. But for today, I’m admitting it made me feel extremely discouraged. Screenshot_20180524-001853.png

On the plus side, for as much of a fight as today’s ride was, he had moments where he definitely looked damn good going around. And he even attempted a couple flying changes for me, considering we did lots of fast work to blow off the energy today. Also, the day of his melt down in the stall, I had decided to push my own boundaries some. Again, we’ve gotten a fair amount of rain and the outdoor was too wet. It was too warm in the indoor and so I decided that I would take a leap of faith and ride in our grass ring. The grass ring has no fences around it, there were horses being hand grazed and led around, and it’s still around his sometimes scary cows. So needless to say, I was admittedly scared. But we did it. He remained calm and collected for me and I could actually feel him more or less supporting me through my anxiety, which was a HUGE thing. He IS starting to learn that we can both support each other and we do have these odd moments where he really does shine through for me. We even did have an awesome session going up and around the cattle. He got SO close to them and didn’t have a “omg get me out of here!” moment when we turned to leave!

So again, days like today are tough and they really do seem to get me down, if at least for the remainder of the day. But I guess an important point to remember is that still, we have came SO far and are still constantly progressing. I have to remind myself of progress, not perfection and that we WILL get there. Today is a day where I’m being exceptionally hard on myself and really, its not necessary. Again. We all have bad days, and a bad day will never be the end all to the journey. It’s just a matter of picking up and pushing forward. And what lesson did I learn from today? As much as horses don’t hold grudges, I learned that Cowboy, just like me, doesn’t always easily let go of his anxiety and that anxiety really does bleed into so many aspects of his life. Just like it does for me. Hey. At least we have that understanding! Screenshot_20180524-001928.png

The Great Weight Debate

20180510_121229.jpgI’ve been putting thought into other things I can write about to keep things fresh and interesting (not that the daily training regimes and updates aren’t interesting 😛 ) and this topic is something that’s been starting to somewhat weigh on my mind as something I want to speak to. It comes from a place that is slightly difficult for me to talk about in a public forum such as this, but I really do strive to be as transparent as possible in my writing, so please, please bear with me.

As I’ve mentioned previously, with the spring well under way and the weather staying pretty consistently nice, it’s time for Cowboy and I to get back to the grind and together, get back into shape. I commented in my last post about how the time we spent on the ground throughout the winter did us a world of good, in terms of relationship and trust, it’s meant that we’ve both fallen somewhat out of shape and now need to work it back up. Admittedly, between the dwindling activity, my lack of motivation, busy work schedule (meaning quick, on the fly meals) and stress I managed to gain 15 lbs or so. So…. I’ve got some work to do. Cowboy has been getting tons of compliments about how good he looks in the last little bit, but he needs to rebuild some of his stamina and endurance back up. He’s not used to working for a full lesson any more, even if he’s still fairly fit looking. I’m on board and dedicated to get myself into a better physical state for him and I WILL get there. Things right now, however, are…complicated. I’m fairly distressed about my weight gain, even if it’s not a HUGE increase… but it’s an increase none the less and it’s hitting roughly on my food and weight issues. I’m trying to get myself back on board with the eating plan I had previously and keeping up my resolve to get to the gym. I struggle though when I need to pay close attention to calories and carbs etc as it starts to pull up some of my idiosyncrasies. I’m finding myself being “scared” of carbs. I don’t even want to eat fruit due to the sugars in them. I have been feeling ridiculous guilt if I eat something that’s more than a certain number of calories per meal (although its nothing ridiculously low), bad enough to sometimes leads to panic attacks. I’m finding myself fidgeting way more in hopes of burning more calories etc. So….. I admit that I’m a bit off kilter right at this moment, but I know I will even back out, even if it takes a little bit to sort itself out. I had a friend take my measurements so that I can focus on those, rather than the number on the scale, which I’m hoping will help take some of the anxiety away from it. And on a plus side, I really do see positive changes in my blood sugar readings when I tighten up on my food guidelines. But, admitting that I’m struggling right now is the first step to getting myself back to stable, happy ground (and anyways, I’ve got lots of GOOD going on to help me get there too!).

One of our first outdoor rides of the season, Cowboy and I both came out of our lesson fairly sweaty and tired and in my usual after ride reflections I found myself questioning if I had perhaps worked him too hard. Or if it was just that it suddenly got warm and he wasn’t fully shed out yet. In the back of my mind though, I also had the nagging thoughts that it was because of my weight gain. Now, I know, in my heart that it wasn’t my weight gain. Besides, I weighed more than what I am now when I first got Cowboy and he was in lesser shape than he is now. Greater likelihood is that he had to work harder than he had in a while and was reacting to the sudden warm snap (and it wasn’t until a few days later that he really started to blow his winter coat…. dang Canadian genetics). When watching videos of our rides, I generally pay more attention to Cowboy than I do myself, mostly because I don’t think I look “good” in the saddle. Being heavier I think I look clunky and so am more concerned about his way of going. I also have the memories of the multiple times I’ve been criticized as a rider due to my size….

All of the above got my thinking about this topic. The 20% Rule. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s the generally accepted idea that a horse should only carry 20% of their mass. This includes rider weight and the weight of the tack as that 20%. As a larger rider, I’ve always been very conscious of how my weight can affect my horse (such as I won’t mount from the ground and when at all possible I get someone to hold my off stirrup so my saddle doesn’t twist on their back), but with my current weight, I sit at about 24% of Cowboy’s mass, and that’s not including my saddle. However, he works well underneath me, and is about as sound as a horse can be. SO, does that mean that the 20% Rule is a hard fast rule? Maybe not.

When researching weight limitations and the 20% rule, there’s really not a lot of hard, fast scientific research to back it up. That’s not to say there isn’t some research base behind it. I mean the equation had to of came up in some way or another. But there are also other variations that liken it something like the BMI. It’s a good general guideline but doesn’t take into account other factors that can influence the horses ability to carry a heavier load. I remember a time when I was being asked by a coach to ride a smaller 14.2hh Arabian cross gelding and having a melt down because I felt like I would be too big (read: heavy) for him. I believed that being the weight I was, I should only be riding large, drafts or draft crosses. The coach explained it to me that he was built quite well and that for what he was asking me to do, it was no different than me carrying a heavy backpack for a bit. All day, every day, might not be okay, but for every now and then for a bit wasn’t going to hurt. Thing is, said gelding had characteristics that had him built well enough to carry me. Factors that aren’t covered by the 20% rule. Conformation, bone structure, feet condition and fitness. Generally speaking, horses with shorter backs, wider loins, and thicker canon bones will have an easier time carrying a heavier load. And just like us humans, their fitness level for what they’re being asked to do also plays a huge factor. For example, a short, stocky foundation type quarter horse, or a horse built like Cowboy with a shorter, wide back, thicker cannons and good feet could potentially handle a 200+lb rider more adequately than say finely built, 16.2hh Thoroughbred.

Now, as I said above, there has been some physiological research done showing that horses carrying a total of 20% of their mass generally had the same heart rate and respiration rate as if they were working sans rider. And these would go up as the percentage of mass went up as well. At 30% of their total mass, there was also a greater instance of soreness and tightness the next day. There was no evidence of any real injury however. The findings suggested that although 20% of their total mass is ideal, higher percentages can and will be tolerated, but that the horses could definitely benefit from further care in terms of chiropractic, massage, other forms of body work to address any prolonged soreness or tightness. When questioned about the rule and how steadfast it should be, most vets will say to use it as a guideline, but at a higher percentage, it’s really that the horse has to work a bit harder, which isn’t always a bad thing. So long as it’s been properly conditioned for it. Much like a human athlete. None of us could go from sitting around all winter to running a 5k marathon with no prep work. It’s often suggested that, particularly if the horse and rider are going to be a long-term pair, that doing some slow conditioning work, with gradually introducing faster paces of a longer period of time. Also to make sure to stretch and warm up the back well, for example by doing trot work over poles, to help warm up and strengthen the supporting muscles.

A couple of other points that will affect how well the horse can handle heavier rider weights is the balance and biomechanics of the rider. It’s suggested that a 250 lb rider who has a balanced seat and is aware of what their body is doing and how to hold their core will feel lighter and be less stressful to the horse than a 120 lb rider who is flopping around like a sack of potatoes on their back. Granted, heavier riders do have to work a lot harder to keep themselves centered and balanced, as our mass can shift us off-balance and we might not even notice. But with practice and building up our cores we can still ride lightly and effectively. This is why you can see 250+ lb cowboys riding these short little quarter horses without any real issue.

On a personal point, and not one that I’ve seen discussed on this topic, I think it’s extremely important to also emphasis tack fit for those of us who are on the heftier side. Proper tack fit is essential overall for the health, soundness and happiness of our mounts, but I really do believe that it’s even more imperative for plus sized riders. Flaws in saddle fit that might be able to be over looked with a lighter rider will be a far bigger deal for us. For example a saddle that may be slightly too narrow in the shoulder will likely pinch more with our added weight sitting on it than it may with a rider who weighs substantially less.

I guess my point to this is that really, the proper weight limitation for a horse is such a loaded question and really does rely on so many more factors than just a proportion of mass. I think as riders, we all tend to be pretty in sync with our equine partners and can know and/or feel when things may be wrong. Trust your gut and listen to your horse to know if you’re properly matched and if they need anything else to do their best for you. I know that sitting back and looking at everything I just wrote, Cowboy is suited to me and is okay with me being where I’m at currently. He’s got the build to be able to support me, my saddle fits well and I’ve got a fairly quiet, balanced seat. Is there room for improvement on my end? Definitely. But I’m in the middle zone. And to make myself feel better, we’ll do some more conditioning work (both him and I!) so we can get back into tip-top shape.

Now, I’m not saying that if we are overweight or plus sized that we shouldn’t be doing anything to get ourselves to a lighter body weight. Our horses are only as good as we are, and with how hard they try for us, we really do owe it to them to make their part of the relationship as easy as possible. But I am trying to reach out and raise awareness that just because we may be heavier we are NOT chained to draft horses and can’t work towards a competitive discipline. We can still be successful in our chosen disciplines and aren’t chained to a relationship with our horses solely on the ground. RemembeFB_IMG_1525475679001.jpgr that the healthier we can be is a plus for both us and our horses. It may not be easy, but lasting effects rarely ever come easy. And besides, if we don’t have to work for it, is it really worth it?  If ever in doubt of your horses suitability for you (from a physical standpoint) always consult with your vet or equine body work practitioner. Just remember,  you are NOT alone and if you have the courage to begin, you have the courage to succeed. Your horse will thank you, and you’ll thank yourself too. Feel free to message or comment if you need some support. Us plus sized riders find strength in numbers!

 

Rising From The Snow

20180509_171621.jpgAnother gap between updates and I do extend my apologies. I want to get back into the swing of more regular updates, but I suppose I’m still getting at least one post a week. I am still looking for topic ideas, so please, please, please comment with what you’d like me to write about!

I’ve still been working like mad between jobs, but things are starting to even out some now. We just hired two new staff at my part time job, so once all the training and stuff is done and over with, my schedule will definitely lighten up some. Just in time for the nice weather!

For the most part, I have nothing but good to say about Cowboy and I’s relationship and progress. I’m sure right now he’s not overly enthused about getting back into shape now that the nice weather is here, but overall, he’s a pretty happy guy too. First and foremost, I cannot comment enough on how much stronger we are coming out of the winter this year. Taking a step back and spending more time on the ground than in the saddle REALLY did wonders for us. We’re now moving forward with more confidence and focus than ever before and especially this past week I’m starting to feel more and more things starting to just come together. This isn’t to say that we still don’t have bad days, because we do, but we are seeming to blow past them way quicker than we used to. Even our bad days aren’t completely bad rides. There is always some sort of positive end note and rarely do we ever head back to the barn begrudging each other.

Between my last post and now, I’ve probably rode roughly 8 times, so I’m not able to give a ride by ride playback. However, we are still putting a focus on a stronger dressage-type foundation – meaning we are working on suppleness, stretching through the back, bend, circles….circles… and more circles. I’ve been working on riding more through my seat then I ever have before (I’ve really started to pay attention to how my movements/positions influence his movement) and I’ve noticed just how responsive he’s been getting to my aids. Some days he still likes to pretend he can’t feel my leg/seat cues but even that is getting further between.  I took a lesson with one of the other coaches on property this past weekend and she pointed out some things that really helped me remember to use my seat more. I was amazed to figure out just how much I can actually rate him with just the angle of my pelvis. I could ride a canter circle and push/extend his stride or collect/slow him just by opening and closing the angle. We also started introducing “riding a square” to help work on that bend and control over the shoulders.

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Cowboy and I are coming off of a four day stretch, so tomorrow (Thursday), he’s going to get a day off and we’re just going to hang out. And really, after today’s lesson, words cannot describe how much he deserves it. I really feel like tonight’s ride just exemplifies how far my change of focus over the winter really helped us. The nicer weather has meant that we’ve been able to take our rides to the outdoor ring. There’s more space and we’re not butting heads with everyone fighting for time in the indoor now. Today’s ride started out with a somewhat crowded outdoor ring though. There was a clinic happening in the indoor so boarders were riding in the outdoor. The outdoor ring is quite generous, but does have some jumps up in it and we had four other horses in with us. Previously, this would have fried my mind and got behaviours out of Cowboy. It still gave me some focusing issues at first but instead of getting worked up and grumpy about it, I was able to get down to work and when I did feel overwhelmed some would come back for a quick walk break, with a few deep breaths to regroup and push on. Secondly, there was LOTS going on around today. The roof was being done on one of the barns, there were horses on the track, the ever-so-scary moo cows are visible, there was bustle with the clinic and then the other horses in the ring. Despite everything, Cowboy was able to keep his focus on our task at hand. He went around listening and responsive to me, usually he would have been focused on anything but what I was asking. Slowly throughout the ride, people began to filter out. First horse left, no response from Cowboy. Second horse left and went out to the Cross Country course. Nothing. Third horse left? I even loped him towards the in gate as the rider was exiting and he just carried on around the ring as if nothing was happening. This alone made my heart burst. Then, after we attempted a left lead walk to canter transition (which we are FINALLY starting to be able to nail!), I decided to cool him out with a walk down the paddocks. After I left the ring, I noticed a friend and one of her clients walking down the track. I rode over to them, said hello and rode back towards the outdoor. When we got back to the outdoor, they went into it and I continued on my way down towards the paddock lane. Cowboy didn’t even hesitate at parting ways. This time last year, we would have been wheel and careening back to the outdoor ring to be with “friends”. The interesting thing about it too, is that for me, I didn’t even have any hesitation or fear of my own. I’ve really started to trust him more and be confident in my ability to problem solve, ride through issues, and shut him down when needed.

In an out of saddle respect, he’s also growing in leaps and bounds. Going into the winter we were starting to have stall issues. He’d pace and call to no end if horses would come in and go out. In general his stall manners had just declined. With some patience, and me learning to let him sort it out, I now have a horse that can stay in for the day/night. Can have horses walk past without too much of a fuss and doesn’t totally destroy his bedding! We’re still working on being in there alone, but even now so long as there is at least hay, he settles down  WAY quicker than he used to and will actually relax and eat. He is also starting to come back up and greet me in the paddock again, and will walk beside me back to the barn at liberty (although I make sure I’m close enough to grab the lead if needed).

We are also starting to explore the property again, now that we’re not going to tear it up. We’re riding around the grass ring, the paddock lane, around the track. I’ll eventually venture back out to the cross country field and we are slowly (VERY slowly) working more on getting over the fear of the big bad cows. He’s still not totally happy about it  but I can get him right up the to pens now. Riding past them on the track he still needs some encouragement and wants to stop and watch but we’ll get it, bit by bit and with some help from Brooke and/or her husband!

The subject of showing is starting to creep up again and everyone is starting to ask what our plans are for the summer. I’m still holding steadfast. We’re not showing this summer. There is NO need to put any undue pressure on us for the sake of a couple ribbons. I still want to aim to school off property this summer, but I’m okay with that being my goal. I do hope to have some shows/clinics in next summer’s plans. But we’re taking it day by day, ride by ride and really, I’m finding so much more joy in what I’m doing again. I still call it “work”, but its met with a completely different air and attitude.

So for as anxiety provoking and frustrating as the winter was, I am actually so thankful that it convinced me to take a step back and work on relationship building. I wouldn’t change it for the world, because right now, rising out of the snow feels like together we’re a phoenix rising out for the ashes, bold, fresh and reborn.

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Struggles and Self-Care

20180423_105542So, I know that I’ve been slacking the last week. I think it’s been a full… 8 days? Since my last update. For those of you who actually read and care about what I ramble on about day in and day out, don’t fear! I haven’t lost interest in the blog or keeping you all updated. I’ve just been… struggling… for lack of a better word. Usually struggling involves trials and tribulations concerned with Cowboy and the progress we’re making. This time, however, it’s not. In fact he’s really been my rock through the last week and a half… or well… month and I cannot describe how much it has made my heart complete. For the first time, probably since I’ve had him, I’ve been able to go through a really rocky mental health phase, and be able to keep my wits enough to still be able to work with him. On the flip side, it’s also been the first time he’s been able to carry me through it, without taking total advantage of the situation.

That all being said, my mental wellness has been wavering a bit this last month. It’s normal that I go through regular ups and downs, it comes with the territory of living with depression and anxiety, but at times it is definitely far worse than others. Exceptionally stressful times generally tend to bring out the bigger beasts that I have a hard time taming but even them, over time, have began to dull their roars… a bit a least. I’ve talked a lot about hectic work schedules, family life and so forth in previous posts and although a lot of what is going on is much of the same, I’m just finally hitting a point of burn out. I honestly cannot remember the last time I had a complete day off, where my day did not start or finish at one of my two places of employment. I’ve had “days off” where I leave one job anywhere between 8 and 10 am… or start at 11 pm. So although, on the surface it looks like a day off, its still not. I’ve gotten better at not jamming my schedule full of things with what downtime I do have, but its hard. I’m going so often that when I do have a bit of time here and there I find it busy with errands and general health and upkeep so I often feel like I’m just barely keeping my head above water. I’ve also been struggling intensely with feeling extremely isolated and alone. I’m working so much with the staffing issues at my part time job, training at my full time ontop of my normal full time shifts, that I’m generally working, doing things with Cowboy and sleeping that I don’t have much time to even really see my parents let alone friends. Even communication is hard because its a time of year everyone is busy or feeling mildly antisocial. All of this has been leading me to be over emotional and extremely irritable, especially in situations that usually don’t get me going this badly. It’s also putting a very blue/dark set of glasses on and I’m finding that even though I’m trying REALLY hard not to I’m seeing things through a more pessimistic lens. So far, I’ve been fairly able to keep my disordered eating tendencies in check, even though it’s been extremely difficult. I don’t even want to think about what it would be like if I didn’t have the help my medication gives me. I’ve also added some vitamin D3 into my daily regime to see if that helps, especially with my sleep/wake cycles all messed up on a regular basis. Again, this is all an accumulation of stress brought on by some pretty intense burn out. However, this too shall pass, and always there is light.

I’m hoping to get back into a regular routine soon. We’ve had some interviews at the part time job so hopefully we’ll have some more bodies in there soon and some of my hours there will be alleviated, which will help tremendously. Until then, I’ve got my rock and the support of Brooke and a couple close friends. Through this cloak of irritability and emotions I had even gone through a few days where I didn’t even feel like riding or even really doing much with Cowboy as I was being greatly over sensitive to the feeling of CONSTANTLY having an audience around me. Read: My social anxiety and fear of judgment was definitely getting the best of me. It seems that I’m slowly working out of it though.

We haven’t had any huge break through moments or any huge leaps or bounds to report. However, we’re not at a stalemate either. We’ve spent some time working in our Full Cheek French Link snaffle again, trying to encourage him to stretch through is back and lengthen his stride, rather than just quickening it. He’s been getting it slowly. He really goes god awful in that bit. Because of where it works in his mouth, he seems to know how to set his neck/jaw to just pull against it, or opens his mouth a gapes to avoid it. I mean regardless we were still making progress, even if the in between has been ugly. Granted, how heavy he is in the snaffle has really made me realize and appreciate how light he and my hands can be when in either of the two curbs we use. We’ve also been working a bit on the arena door, horses leaving, people leaving etc. The last couple times I’ve had people/horses leave he hasn’t been horrible, although I still am yet to have everyone leave me and remain in the tack. I can generally stay up there if one person is leaving and I still have some one in with me. Or if I’ve been riding on my own and someone is coming in and out, for example, getting Brooke to leave at the end of a lesson and then come back in to see what his response is. But I’m still trying to get up the confidence to sit it when the last horse leaves. I’ll get there, but it’s still a personal work in progress.

Thankfully the nice weather is starting to set in upon us… even if the last couple days have been rainy and gross. At least we don’t have snow or ice right now. I was actually able to get Cowboy out into the outdoor ring and ride the other day. We lunged briefly in the different spots just to give him a good look around and then I hoped on. He really was a champ for that ride. Although a bit alert to the cattle you can see in the one corner, he didn’t spook or care too much about them, he didn’t spook at the judges stand like he normally would and didn’t react to horses being worked on the track beside him (well.. except for one spook when one came around the corner and startled him). He was so light and easy to ride. I kept it fairly short because I didn’t want to push too much of a good thing. I did ride the following day as well, although back in the indoor because of the weather. I rode with a couple other girls and he again, was great. He didn’t react when Flex left the ring and went really well after, he even FINALLY got a walk to canter transition on his left lead!

Brooke schooled him for me today and he wasn’t bad by any means but was very distracted. But again, there was a lot going on. Two other people in the ring, the sound of rain on the coverall, birds in the frenzy of mating and nest building and being asked to work harder than usual. He had a few “spooks of opportunity” but still worked decently, despite his lack of focus. I’ve also done some work on the ground, taking him over by the cows and trying to introduce him a bit more. This time we managed to get over the culvert that separates the track from the infield without any major blow outs. I used an approach and retreat method. Would approach until I could feel his anxiety start to rise. Make him stand for a  few more seconds and then retreat. We got where he’d be head up, and very alert but not jumping or trying to wheel and bolt away. The bigger issue was when we’d go to retreat. He’d know I was giving him an out and would want to scoot off. I was able to keep him in check and by the last time I brought him by, he wasn’t too bad leaving. Even if he did still give me a few dragon snorts to express his feelings on the situation.

There were other rides and sessions in between but again, nothing super remarkable to report on. Really, I wanted to speak more from a transparency and self care point of view. I’m really realizing that even the smallest quiet moments doing something that I absolutely love go miles in terms of self care and keeping my pieces together. Even when I feel like I want to come completely undone. And right now, I really think Cowboy is trying to “repay” the favour I’ve done for him…. being his rock as we work through some of his baggage. I don’t know if it really works like that, or if I’m just anthropomorphizing the situation but really, he’s being the strong one for me right now and I’m so very thankful. In terms of self care, as well…even writing this and being open and honest about how I’m not doing so well at the moment helps. I’ve never been one to be able to bottle up and keep it in. It ends up doing more harm than good if I do. I’m pushing to get back on track with the gym as I really was finding that it was helping keep the brain on an even keel. I’m also keeping up my mantras… I can justify myself as a valuable human being, I understand that its okay to not be okay at times, and to be gentle with myself.

So, a fairly quick update, but an update all the least. Considering some of the topics in this post. I feel I should end with some resources if anyone is struggling with any sort of mental health problems at the moment. It seems to be a rough time of year for everyone. (Please excuse the fact that I’m pulling mostly Canadian Resources)

Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) enables callers anywhere in Canada to access crisis support using the technology of their choice (phone, text or chat), in French or English:
Phone: toll-free 1-833-456-4566
Text: 45645
Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca

National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC)  www.nedic.ca

ConnexOntario: Access to Addiction, Mental Health and Problem Gambling Services
Phone: toll-free 1-866-531-2600
www.connexontario.ca

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Progress, Progress, Progress

I can’t believe it’s been an exact week since my last post! It’s been a busy week though, and in all reality I haven’t had a lot of time to even really work with Cowboy, let alone post. But as I’ve said before, you win some and you lose some, and you can only do your best day in and day out. Some personal updates, we’ve had someone quit at my part time job. So between my full time and that I’m working the rough equivalent of 80 hours a week. This has also meant that I’ve worked a few “back to backs” where I finish my full time night shift and go in for a day shift at my part time. Actually, I’m currently working one as we speak. I’ll finish at 8am, go to my part time job for 10am-3pm and be back here for 10pm. It’s days like that, that I’m so thankful that Brooke will help me out and take care of Cowboy for me! In other news, I turned 30 on Monday! I don’t really feel any older or feel like I need to have some sort of mild “mid life crisis” but if everyone else could stop saying that now I’m getting old and so forth, it would be lovely. Anyways, I didn’t really celebrate much, I was more or less a zombie, coming off of a back to back streak. But mom brought home a great dinner and a lovely birthday cake for me, and my friend Michelle treated me to breakfast.  So overall, I can’t complain! And lastly, I could use some positive thoughts and vibes from all of you. One of my aunts had been in the hospital from a heart attack that required a quadruple bypass. In that surgery they were only able to do a triple bypass due to calcification and she had been recovering at home. Then we got the news that she’s back in the hospital with an MSSA infection that had gone septic. From my understanding she is beginning to bounce back, but is still in a very touch and go sort of situation and is very scared. So I’ll try to keep everyone posted.

Oh! And! I’m looking for ideas on what else I can write about, outside of just my regular updates, lessons and anecdotes. So! Please drop me a line on here, or wherever you got the link from with some feedback as to what you would like to see, or if you have any ideas on how to get this blog noticed more! Thanks!

So with everything up above, I haven’t done a WHOLE lot with Cowboy this week. But we’ve still gotten stuff in and made some strides. And sitting back and looking at it, I am still beyond amazed with how well we’ve done just since the start of January and how I’ve really managed to make a lot of these mindset changes routine and how they’re affecting our relationship. This week alone I’ve managed to get quite a few compliments on how there is a huge improvement in us since the summer and how we’re both looking good. I’ve also gotten some truly useful advice from another coach who focuses greatly on western dressage and working equitation that Brooke and I are starting to put into practice. I’m hoping to get a lesson in with said coach at some point as well, just to get a better basis as to where we are and what to work on in the moment. IF the weather holds out, I’ll be going up to audit a ride a test clinic where she coaches out of to see some western dressage tests in person too. I’m really keeping my fingers crossed. I’ve never been to a true clinic before, riding or auditing so it would be a neat experience.

My days are a bit jumbled so I might not be completely accurate in terms of what happened on what day since my last post, but I’ll do the best I can to update. In between the time we lunged in the outdoor ring and my next lesson I had gotten on him for a ride in the indoor. That ride started out wonderfully, he felt great and we were going really well, and then when I went back to do some more canter work to the right, it kind of fell apart. I don’t know if it was how I was setting him up or how my contact was but when I’d ask for the gait, he’d pick up the correct lead but was almost locking his left shoulder out and leaning enough and then swapping his back end that he felt like he was on the wrong lead. It took me a few attempts at the “right lead” to realize that he was actually on the right lead (on the front at least). But, because I kept asking, he was getting frustrated and we ended up in a mini war. As soon as I realized what happened though, I changed some things up in terms of how I was asking and being more aware of what I was doing with my reins when asking, got him to give me a couple nice, flowing circles and then cooled him out with lots of praise for fixing the problem. Thankfully we haven’t had this happen since! It really was a case of the two of us just miscommunicating with each other.

My next ride was a lesson. There was some weather coming in and the wind was starting to pick up. I had also had a really bad ending to my shift at work, so I admittedly got there kind of frazzled and stressed out. As per usual, I started with some ground work, except I decided to keep the door open while on the line, considering the whole not making a mad dash for the door is something we’ve been working on. Things were going swell, until we got down into the “scary end” and even then he was doing WONDERFULLY…. until… a gust of wind caused the back tarp to flap a bit. He wheeled around, bolted, and it happened so quickly that I wasn’t ready for it and he pulled the line from my hands, which caused me to lose my balance and fall, as he went gallivanting out the door and part way down the lane towards his paddock. Thankfully he stopped on his own accord and just kind of stood there while Brooke’s husband grabbed him for me. This really wasn’t a good start to our lesson. But I brought him back into the arena and back down to the back end and worked through it some more until Brooke got into the arena and then started my lesson. I admitted to her that I had a crap day and so I was a bit off and would be avoiding the back end while in the tack as I couldn’t mentally handle the potential hijinx with it. I had decided to attempt to ride him in my Full Cheek French Link just to see how he’d go, as we hadn’t used it since earlier in the summer. I can say that, that lesson was by no means a bad ride, however it WAS one of the ugliest rides I’ve had in a long time. I later quipped that “Camel. Cowboy’s theme for our lesson was camel”. He fought the bit, fought the contact, and generally carted himself around the ring like a camel or giraffe, despite my efforts to get him working how he normally works. A lot of this is just him not being used to how that bit works any more, where the pressure comes from in comparison to his curb etc. That and I also needed to re figure out my own hands and contact as well. But regardless, for as normally frustrating as that sort of ride would have been for me, I was able to really keep my emotions under wraps and make the most of out of it. We eventually hit a point where he started to relax and stretch down some and then used that as our good note to end on.

Monday was my birthday, and all I did was lunge and do some ground work. I had other people in the ring with me, and really, he was great. As I mentioned above, I was a bit of a zombie and he seemed to mirror me with how he felt as well. He was pokey and just kind of went along. Some highlights though, was that when another horse left the ring, he watched them leave but didn’t get hyper or antsy about it. His ears were perked but he just stood quietly beside me. I was so happy just with that. One other neat thing, the pen panels at the back of the ring had been moved around again, and now there is almost like a chute for a horse and rider back there. I managed to get him to stand in there, ground tied, as I walked about half the length of the arena without him moving a muscle. It was so nice to see him relaxed, especially in the back corner of the arena, right beside the cattle chute.

Tuesday was another lesson day, as my normal lesson times/days are busy this week. Really, I have nothing but good to say about that ride! One of the other coaches at the barn hadn’t checked the schedule and had a couple lessons going on. At first it had me a bit off my game but I was able to over come it. We kept to the back end of the ring and really worked on suppleness, working through the back and moving forward. We could still stand to get a bit more pace behind us though. We had horses leave the ring and Cowboy didn’t even pay attention to it, and we had a couple great moments where he actually stretched down and into the bits contact and strode out well underneath of me. I was so happy with it! And I was really happy with myself too, in a situation where we had at least 3 other horses in the ring, and 5 or 6 people in there “watching” I managed to keep myself together, calm, cool and collected. Its a HUGE thing for me. Instances like that before would of had me completely shut down. We finished the lesson off with a walk down the paddocks to cool out.

I rode this morning. It was a short ride and by far not our best ride. But there’s a wicked weather system coming in and of course as I went to tack up the wind started ripping again. Its to be suspected. We’ve got a warm front starting to come in and every time there’s a change like that it usually comes with higher winds. Going into the arena today though, he was super jumpy about the flapping, creaking and rumbling that the structure was making, which in turn had me nervous. I did force myself to get on and work him a bit, but because we were both on edge we were back to being a camel and my mind just wasn’t in the game enough to get a full working ride in. He did attempt a wheel and bolt at one point when the back end flapped, and I was able to ride it out, as well as a bit of a spooked bolt while attempting some canter work. In that instance I was able to get him turned and shut down and then carried back on with our work. After a few more minutes of trying to push us, I was starting to decide to just pick my battle and cool out when another coach and a couple horses came into the ring. At this point we did a few more laps at a trot/canter and then I decided to take him down the paddocks. As soon as we were out of the ring and walking outside both of us seemed to instantly come down a few notches. We relaxed down the lane. On our way back up, I decided to test the waters with starting to walk out towards the track. The big thing about this, is that the cows are in the infield of the track and Cowboy still is not a fan of them. As you’re walking towards the track, right now with no leaves of the trees, you can see them quite clearly. Cowboy was definitely alert to them being out there but kept up a relaxed, even pace. I managed to walk him up to just past the 2nd round pen. Got him to halt for a moment and then I turned him and walked him back to the barn. I was so impressed with how he reacted to that task. And I’m so glad I decided to pick my battle and call the “working ride” quits.

So again, its’ been a successful week. Even if it’s been kind of out of the ordinary. We had ups and downs, but I still wouldn’t consider these rides to be “bad rides” especially in terms of what USED to be a bad ride for us. Or maybe that’s just testament to how much I’ve changed my outlook. I really have taken a lot of pressure off of us. I enjoy having goals to work towards and things always on the go. But I’m really not attaching a time line onto anything, and I REALLY do think that’s helping. We’ll figure stuff out in our own time and that time is what will help build us up as a team. And really, that strength of our bond and relationship is WAY more worth it than any show ring or ribbon will ever be!