Winds of Change

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So this time, it really has been a long gap between updates. I had to take a step back from here. I went through a complete and total down spiral through the remainder of the winter and start of the spring. It wasn’t even anything really to do with Cowboy. I had a lot of personal factors hit me all at once that I needed to sort out and work on to get myself back to a spot where I could feel better and get my head back into all aspects of life. Now, I’m back and feeling stronger than before and although it was a really rough patch I am thankful that it happened.

I’ve never been shy about admitting that I have a slew of health issues. I’ve been struggling for years to get my diabetes under proper control. Something that is really not an easy task when 1. you have shit benefits and pay for most of your medications out of pocket 8 months of the year 2. when you work weird shifts such as midnights with swing shifts between and 3. when you have mental health issues as well. Coming into the New Year, I had to start seeing a new Endocrinologist and for as much as I dreaded the appointment and was a total mess going into it, it was actually a really positive experience. We are finding out that it’s possible I may not actually be Type 2. Based on my early age of onset and history of other weird medical problems that should have been explored at like the age of 8, they’re thinking it’s more likely that I’m actually Type 1.5. It’s a weird thing that acts like a mix of Type 1 and Type 2 and would explain how and why my blood sugar can sometimes do really wonky things that make NO sense based on my carb counting and correction factors. I’ll know more about my status with that closer to my next appointment and I’m actually interested to see what the tests show. Because my one job still can’t manage to get it’s shit together and hold down staff, I was working insane hours. There were multiple pay periods where my “part time” job had me scheduled for over 80 hours, ON TOP of my full time position. That caused weight gain, not even so much from poor eating habits, but more likely from lack of sleep causing stress, which in turn raised cortisol levels and led to weight gain. I gained roughly 20lbs throughout the winter. That caused a massive melt down for me. It trickled over to my riding – I felt huge and tight in my saddle and it made me feel like I could not ride effectively. It spurred on my eating disorder brain. It stirred up a bunch of my self harm demons as well.  With the help of a couple close friends I have since been able to create some goals and get myself back on track. I’ve really changed my mind set around in regards to my diabetes, food and weight goals. I’m staying off the scale as much as possible, choosing only CERTAIN scales to use. I’ve had measurements taken that will be updated roughly monthly. I’m going back to the gym, this time with someone who is helping keep me motivated and positive. I’m changing eating habits again. I’m more or less following macro counts. I’ve been seeing positive trends in my blood sugars. I’m feeling more positive with an even stronger support network now. And the mindset changes are starting to diffuse themselves into all other aspects of my life.

Throughout the winter, Cowboy and I made a lot of steady progress. I was blessed to not have a full on “Winter Cowboy” all season. He was actually REALLY good.  I mean we still had to lunge before every ride and we dealt with spooky business at the back end and what not. But in all reality he really impressed me. With the jumper series in my sights we did spend a good deal of time working on over fences work. We still did lots of flat work (considering I don’t like jump schooling outside of a lesson). Overall he’s moving great, he’s looking good and together our jumping is getting far better. I’m feeling confident over fences and not getting as nervous as I used to. I’ve also really realized I’ve totally changed how I deal with his behaviour again. Where things like the “what if” of him bolting would get under my skin. Now, I’ve figured out to just deal with it with much more of a “well… here we go” type mentality. I’ve gotten better at riding through and “ignoring” his spooks. My reaction time to some of his antics has gotten better. I also started to get him going decently in a snaffle bit again. I found that he goes okay in a french link hanging cheek snaffle. He’s by no means perfect and still goes better in some sort of curb bit, but its something else for us to continue working with. Overall there are just so many positives! I don’t feel like I’m doing them all justice right now.

20190519_134355.jpgWhile we were working towards the jumper series, we caught wind that Montasola was going to be hosting another OXC race. So based on my interests and such, it made sense that the two of us would be riding in it. This time around it was a really interesting experience. We found out just a month before race day, so we switched gears for a bit and worked two lessons a week on obstacles and race components. We were going REALLY well. Cowboy picked back up on the obstacles as if he had never stopped doing them. We were starting to be able to build up some speed and such. I really was happy with him. We decided to do the Green Horse division and to give it our best shot. Going into race day I was actually feeling pretty confident, all things told. I knew there was going to be a couple things he might look at and such but I wasn’t feeling all that bothered. Until the course that was supposed to be identical to the Novice class, changed. There were things that myself, along with other competitors did not feel should have been in a Green Horse class…. examples included 3ft tall stuff brown bears…. large stuffed monkeys hiding under the bridges… a side pass around a curve (that most of the pro horses could barely do!). That admittedly got my anxiety up, but with the help of my WONDERFUL Team Cowboy members (a HUGE shout out to Brooke, Angie, Lauren and Chris!) I was able to get a grip of it and actually kept myself amazingly calm before going into the ring. Once in the ring… things fell apart a bit. Cowboy was scared of the sod on the jump (which i expected), the stupid bear and going up to our first obstacle – a simple pedestal that he SHOULD of been fine with, he was overwhelmed and tried to exit stage left with a lovely bolt to the front of the ring. I got him back under control and marched him right back to the pedestal. I didn’t manage to get him to stand on it but I at least got him back up to it. He was surprisingly good with the gate, and a bunch of the other obstacles. I couldn’t get him over the one ground pole right by the stuffed bear and couldn’t get him over the second of our required bridges due to the dumb monkey troll. But. I didn’t hit the dirt and we managed to navigate our course. I was definitely crestfallen with finishing last in the class and it took a good kick in the pants from Chris and Brooke to find the wins out of it. However, although it may have looked like a cluster fuck, there were lots of wins that surfaced from that day. I was calm and relaxed while sitting on him waiting for my turn. I didn’t throw in the towel when he bolted. I tuned out my anxiety over the crowd. I got him back under control. 2 years ago, he was going after other horses while we were waiting to go into the ring. This time he walked around a bit and grazed. My mental health was 1000x better than it had been in the past prior to going into the show ring. Another HUGE thing about that day, was that I was actually rehabbing from a wrist injury which left me out of the saddle for almost a full week prior to the race. Even day of, I was riding with my elbow and wrist both taped AND braced in order to make it through. The fact is, I would have had more than enough reason to scratch but I still got on and competed anyways. Those are all the things that were the actual wins from that day. It may not have gone as planned but there were still positives to take home.

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received_1038640889859199.jpegThe following weekend, we had our first jumper show of the season. After some discussion, Brooke and I determined that it would best if we stuck to the 15 inch division. Now, in lessons, I had gotten up to jumping 2ft., but we hadn’t done so consistently, and considering that we hadn’t even really jumped a full course until 2 days prior to the show, it just wasn’t fair for either of us to go into the ring and bumble through the 2ft course. My biggest goal for the day was to just go in and have quiet rounds. I remained remarkably calm outside of the ring and in my warm up time, especially considering that Angie, who normally comes along as my “groom” and moral support person, couldn’t make it that day. While waiting for our turn, I even jumped the large cross country log while warming up – I had NEVER done that before. Getting into the ring, for our classes we had clean rounds, we did pull a rail in our gambler’s choice after I decided to try to pull a tight turn to a line but he tried his best for me. We were both tired as jumping a total of 4 courses plus a jump off was A LOT for us. The day for us though, was a HUGE success. Cowboy and I really exceeded my expectations for the day. We ended up placing 3rd in table C, 1st in Table A and 3rd in Gamblers Choice…. and here is the surprising part… we even managed to get Reserve Champion for the entire division! It was so neat to have actually earned that! There was lots of positive feedback from people watching, the most common being that Cowboy looks really happy while out there and I should probably switch to being a jumper! I’m still not sure I’m sold on that idea!

Right now, Cowboy feels a bit sticky and is having Equibow done on Saturday. I figure after two big weekends and kind of getting drilled a bit harder than I would have liked in order to be ready for both events, he deserves the body work. I have a feeling he’s a bit muscle sore as any of us would be with a sudden increase in physical activity.  From here on we’ll continue working towards each jumper show and do the best we can. I have faith in my little painted horse and myself. We have grown and continue to grow so much and it leaves me excited to see what the rest of the show season will bring. I’m enjoying the fact that I’m starting to be able to get into a showing environment with him and keep my nerves in check and that I’m actually beginning to have fun doing it. I wish I could have felt this way about it as a kid and teen.

Otherwise, I’m still working towards all my own health and wellness goals. I’m hoping there are some other changes that will come about to help keep me on a good pathway. I’ve got the momentum up, now I just have to keep it up. And I know that I can!

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Ebb

January is over. Thank goodness. I’ve seen a bunch of memes floating around the internet about how “It’s only been a year but January is finally over!” and I have to say that I couldn’t agree more. Between work and hardcore weather changes, it’s been tough. I spent a good portion of January working the equivalent of two full time jobs and Canada finally decided that winter could rear its ugly head. We had extreme cold and a ton of snow came down in a short period of time. It meant that Cowboy spent a lot of time inside. It meant that I didn’t want to ride. Work meant that I didn’t have time to ride and so together, we’ve had almost a week and a half off and I feel like I’m paying hell for it now. Granted, I need to also remember that right now we have had another wicked weather change with a couple of days of unseasonably warm temperatures (I mean, we have gone from -18 to +13 in like the span of 4 days) and so that really isn’t helping the situation at all.

Tonight, I’m tired and sensitive and therefore things are probably feeling worse than they are… and in all reality I am likely reading too much into the situation at hand. And once again, I need to remember that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel with me and Cowboy. Even when life is throwing us a wicked curveball. Although, honestly right now I’m nervous. I’m fearing that the dreaded “winter Cowboy” is starting to surface and I’m mentally not ready to handle it. Trying to keep things on a positive note, maybe we just have to change up our routine some, I also know that both of us are getting sick and tired of that indoor arena.  I also know that we ebb and flow naturally. Go through highs and lows and that we always bounce back. But pairing with the long drawn out month of January, this current “ebb” is really starting to push me down. I hate having constant periods of struggle and just feeling like I’m hitting a brick wall every way I turn. Things all seemed to take a nose dive not long after a jumping lesson we did. He was so, so, so good during that lesson! And then after that it just seemed like everything started to crumble. The next ride he was avoiding contact, hollowed out, jumpy, and just not himself. We had a couple okay rides in between, I had changed over back into my western tack for a few rides. But overall things just haven’t really bounced back.

Overall, I’m frustrated. I’m not sure what exactly is going on. I’ve had equibow done and there wasn’t anything really glaring that popped up. There was some tightness and stiffness in his poll, hyoid and tmj. His lats were a bit tight and general stiffness along his right side. All tack still fits. His teeth should still be good to go for a little bit longer. So I don’t think there is anything phsyical really going on. So, as per usual, that leaves me to blame. Or at least that is what my brain is trying to tell me. It’s not totally me, and I know its not totally him. There are things that are setting him off, which in turn are setting me off and its turning into one big clusterfuck. So that means I need to dig deep, grit my teeth and push through, depsite just how much I REALLY want to throw in the towel at the moment. It’ll sort itself out and I know that. I need to remember there is our “normal” pattern. I think I’m just bothered more by it as this is the longest rough streak we have had for quite a while. I’ve been doing pretty good at keeping myself on a positive trajectory but after yet another rough go yesterday I’m having a hard time keeping that up today.

So stay posted as I try to figure this out and go from there. I’ll find out what is going on in both of our brains and why we just aren’t clicking right now. Maybe I’ll have more insight. Maybe something will come to me that make a bit more sense. Things will come around. I know they will. They have to.

New Year, New Goals, New Motivation

20181225_111516.jpgI’ve been meaning to sit down and write for a bit now. In all reality, things have been going amazingly well and overall, as far as Cowboy and I go, I really don’t have much to complain about right now! On a mental check in, things have been a bit wavy, but for how much of a rollercoaster things have been, I really have managed to keep myself together and have actually ended up coming out for the better of it – I think anyways. Admittedly tonight, as I write this, I’m grappling with feelings of being ridiculously lonely. Am I? No. I’ve got a great group of friends underneath of me. But regardless, I feel lonely. Usually, I’ve got an idea as to why feelings like this creep up. Tonight, I’m not really sure. It might come to me as I write, it might not, I guess we’ll see.

I’m still struggling with winter motivation, with more often then not feeling content NOT riding, however I’ve got some goals and things in the works right now to hopefully keep me going and get both Cowboy and I back into decent shape. Since my last entry, I managed to find myself an older Wintec dressage saddle that came with all the needed accessories. I’ve been wanting a dressage saddle for ages in general so when I saw the price of it, I jumped at the chance, not even sure if it would fit Cowboy or not. Thankfully my gamble paid off and it actually fits Cowboy like a glove. My reasoning for wanting a dressage saddle? Partially so that if I decide I want to ride/show traditional style dressage, I have the tack available to do so. The other bit, is that I still enjoy jumping and still want to take part in our in barn jumper shows. Last season I was allowed to jump in the 15 inch intro division in my western tack, however there was some drama that came along with it. So, in order to avoid some drama this season and still get myself some more showing experience in a comfortable environment, a dressage saddle is the next best thing. With western saddles, its not the horn that makes me feel secure. It’s the deeper seat that they give that helps me feel centered and secure. Dressage saddles put you in a similar positon and I actually feel and LOOK okay riding in it! So for the time being, to change things up some, I’m more or less riding in my English tack. Having the goal to do the jumper series this summer AND jump 2ft rather than the 15 inch is helping to keep me going and motivated as well. The game plan is to start now. We are focusing more on jumping in my lessons and here and there during my other rides, but still keeping a predominant basis in my dressage and flat work so that we don’t burn him out with fence work. I’m lucky. Cowboy really does enjoy jumping, but the constant change and “newness” of it, burns him out if we do it ALL the time. So we figure if we still mostly work on our flat work, it will keep it exciting enough for him.

Screenshot_20190114-013208_Video Player.jpgJust after Christmas I had the opportunity to have a lesson with a different coach in my area. It was a solely dressage focused lesson and I was amazed with it. In just one lesson, the different set of eyes and view points helped me have a couple breakthrough moments with Cowboy! Catherine had seen a lot of my posted videos on Facebook and Instagram but she had not yet seen me actually ride and work with Cowboy in person. In our lesson, we tackled some of our canter issues (clean, concise transitions, leads and “dragon head” at the start of our transition) and in order to do this, began to start schooling leg yields. I had attempted to ride leg yields at the walk in the past without much luck. However, we managed to have success riding them at both the walk and the trot! I was so absolutely amazed and proud of myself. It was so awesome to feel something like that click and have Cowboy get it! It also brings me one step closer to a huge long term goal of riding a half pass (although we are still a long way off of it!). Through this, it was giving me better control of his body, a better feel of where his legs were and helped to improve my timing in my aids. This then also translated into getting better transitions. They still need a lot of work but they are definitely getting better. He really is such a fancy horse and I can definitely still see great things on our horizon. I’m looking forward to working with Catherine more in the future, especially as we get ourselves closer to show seasons and competition. Since this lesson I have been keeping up on the skills we learned in hopes of building onto them the next time I can have Catherine out.

Between my last entry and now, I had a bunch of changes going on in my personal life. I don’t know how much I want to totally touch on it, and if I do how I want to describe it. But basically my mind went through a huge whirlwind of emotions and changes – good and “bad” (really, I use the word bad loosely because at the time they felt not so great, but in the long run there was positive that came from them soooooo is mediocre a better way to describe it?). Overall, I came out of it having had a good lesson about vulnerability and feeling a bit better about myself in terms of self-esteem and confidence. I was reminded that it’s okay to be vulnerable and that just because it’s and uncomfortable feeling, it doesn’t always end badly – contrary to my previous belief. Now all of this was completely unrelated to my time in the saddle, but it has trickled over to my riding too. It has helped garner some motivation to challenge myself and step my game up. It’s got me trying things that I may not be 100% on and it’s paying off. I am also actually feeling strong and capable with what I’m doing in the tack. I feel like the rider that I know I am. Everything also really showed me a lot about the connection Cowboy and I have forged. For as all over the map as my brain was, Cowboy handled me like a champ and I was able to keep myself together and have some fantastic rides, despite being internally frazzled (again…. “frazzled” refers to a wide array of emotions from excitement, elation to nerves, anxiety and heartache). On a particularly hard day, I was even able to get on him with minimal lunging, minimal working before heading out and rode him half way down the barn driveway. We haven’t hacked outside of the main property area in over a year. I tried to get him back to the barn, but he was getting a bit hyped up and anxious with it. So I’d try to get him back and when he got anxious we’d turn around and head back away from the barn. I did this until we made it a quarter of the way back. However at this point a bunch of people were coming to the barn and there were a lot of cars heading down the driveway. I played it smart and dismounted to have better control over the situation. I made him wait until he was calm and such before walking back to the barn. Overall, I was ecstatic with how we did. For as uppity as he was and as frazzled as I was we did okay. It’s the little victories and allowing myself to be open to being vulnerable and taking risks that really matters.

Screenshot_20190111-201656_Video Player.jpgAs mentioned above, we’ve got some jumping goals in our future and so my last lesson was very much jumping focused. And, it was amazing. Was it perfect? Hell no, far from it actually. But, I got into that ring, I jumped with a confidence I don’t think I’ve ever really felt before. I was still a bit nervous jumping towards the back of the arena, but a conversation with Brooke about how thinking about things tend to manifest it I was able to shake that fear and be successful. We weren’t jumping anything huge or different, just a cross rail and a vertical caveletti. I managed to get over both at a trot and a canter. I rode a couple long spots as well as a couple awkward jumps without getting scared and wanting to bail on the idea like I used to. Brooke even commented on how impressed she was with the change in my riding and attitude towards jumping. Really, for not having jumped since early October, we were amazing. It’s something that definitely has me feeling positive about our summer show goals.

Today’s ride was tough. That’s the only way I can really describe it. It wasn’t bad as we still managed to get some positive progress. But Cowboy was tense, looky, jumpy and just difficult. It took just about everything in me to keep him together and to foster that positive progress. He did bolt spook on me, but I was able to ride it out and then put him right to work after doing so. I honestly think it was probably a day I should of just decided not to ride, even though I felt good and WANTED to ride. When I got there he was pretty anxious himself. I think it was because his routine was a bit thrown off with Brooke being away and such. Then, as I was bringing him out to the arena there were three cows that were loose on the grass ring that he was focused on. Then in the arena, there was a lesson going on so I wasn’t able to lunge him out as I normally would before getting on him. And lastly, the back end of the arena was configured differently once again. So really, I think it was just a “clusterfuck” of a day and his brain just wasn’t on the task at hand. You win, you lose some I guess. I felt like he was going around like an absolute camel, but Ashley said he really didn’t look that bad throughout the ride, so I guess that’s a win?

I’m thinking that’s part of what is triggering the lonely feeling tonight? I don’t know for sure, but I know that I tend to get caught up on the tough rides. I also didn’t get nearly as much sleep as I would of liked between my night shifts, so I’m sure that’s making me even more sensitive at the moment. It could be some misplaced anxiety as I started the day off in a pretty anxious state for no real reason. Who knows. All I know is that tomorrow is a new day, a new page, a blank slate. I’ve got this. We’ve got this. Onwards and upwards from here!

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Winter Is Coming…

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Updates have been slow recently, and I know that. I honestly just haven’t had a lot to cover in terms of updates. That’s not to say that Cowboy and I have hit a plateau or anything. We’ve been maintaining a fairly consistent trajectory in terms of progress. There just hasn’t been anything extremely good or bad to comment on. But, there is nothing wrong with that. They say that good training is often repetitive and boring, but that’s where the biggest break through’s come from.

We’ve still been doing a lot of flat work, focusing on fine tuning our existing skills and slowly (very slowly) building new skills. For example, in a bit of an impromtu lesson on Monday, we decided we would start trying to work on some extension in the trot. I don’t think we managed to get it first go, but I do know that we managed to get him to step out a bit more without breaking into a canter. A HUGE thing I’ve noticed is that he isn’t nearly as “explosive” when he gets frustrated now. Granted that could be because I’ve gotten better at not pushing him beyond his limits and am far better at reading his body language and “tells” of an impending breakdown. On Monday, another spot that I have noticed improvement in myself was dealing with some of Cowboy’s testy behaviour. Aaron and his mother had came into the ring while I was riding and Cowboy was fairly well behaved about them coming in with Buddy and Lindy. However, when I asked him to do some canter work. the first time by he had attempted to throw a hard left to make a run for Buddy and Lindy. I was able to open my inside rein and get my leg on to regain control of his direction and push him onwards. Then, when that didn’t work he started throwing his head up to try to get the upper hand in that respects, but I gave away contact for a split second before taking it back and foiled his plans again. All of this occurred without really missing a beat or changing our tempo. I’ve also, once again, re-evaluated how I handle some things on the ground. Right now we are still working on his reactivity to the things at the back of the arena. I feel like a broken record commenting on this so frequently, but it is something that is still a bit of a “road block” even if we are slowly beginning to break it down. Actually, on that note, last week, for the first time, he hardly reacted to changes in the arena. I was over the moon happy with him that day! And then of course, the next day he was spooking away from the only part that hadn’t moved or changed. But regardless, I’ve learned to redirect him when he tries to wheel around and bolt the opposite direction while on the ground and to more or less ignore any minor spooks so that he learns that there is nothing really to be scared of – if my energy level raises about it, he’ll interpret as reason to be scared.

Screenshot_20181116-200146_Instagram.jpgSo it’s fair to say that there is more progress on my end than his right at this moment, but that is okay! Overall it’s all coming together and surprisingly we are starting to winter very well! I had a rough couple of weeks when we first realized that it was the time of the year that we have to stay in the indoor arena but after that I’ve been able to buck up and have the mentality that it is what it is, and it really has helped. I’ve had another rough spot with a bunch of snow that had came down and then having mother nature decide that we needed to have one last day of spring, causing snow to be sliding off the arena roof. It’s the “horizontal teleport” type of spook that would be paired with falling snow that unsettles me. In a lesson last week, I managed to sit and ride a really hard spook in relation to a chunk of snow that came down. He wheeled and was going to bolt, but I stopped the bolt, but then he was going to step on some ground poles so he popped up a couple times to avoid coming down on them, before I was completely able to get the motion stopped. It scared the crap out of both of us, but we came back from that without another hitch.

I think the biggest struggle I have right now is motivation. My motivation to ride at the moment isn’t what I’d like it to be. There’s multiple reasons for that – ranging from the cold, my mood, physical fatigue, lack of day light etc. How to fix this? I don’t really have any good response to it. One thing I do, is even if I think I just want to do ground work (key word is think. There are some days where I KNOW that I shouldn’t sit my butt in the saddle. These days are usually the ones where I’m like “ehhhh I want to but I don’t want to ride”) I will put my saddle on and judge the session from there. I’m attempting to make game plans for each lesson. Mostly we don’t stick to them but if I say I want to change things up a bit, it helps keep things exciting. We are also making some plans to hopefully get off property to school and such. I would like to see if there are some clinics I could partake in, even if just to audit. I am also hoping to take a few lessons with a coach that focuses more directly on dressage all in hopes to help us get prepped and ready for the summer. I don’t know if we will accomplish all of it, but it’s things to help me get ready and work to try to keep the fire under my butt lit and raring to go. I’m also considering upping my D3 supplement to combat the lack of sunlight. During the winter we have such a narrow window of daylight and paired with the fact that I work night shifts, it means I only get a small fraction of the required Vitamin D. So I’m hoping if I up my dosage that it’ll help with some of my mood and motivation. I may also look into investing in therapeutic sun lamp to help with this. Really, another key component to all of this and rekindling my motivation is that I do need to better invest time into self care. Part of the physical fatigue is from overextending myself in other areas of my life. Right now, I’m not exactly sure how this is going to look. Especially because it appears that there may be some other changes coming along. And in all reality, I can’t give my best to my painted beast if I’m not first taking care of myself.  Overall, its just a matter of keeping my end goals in sight, and remembering that if I spend more time on the ground this winter than I do in the saddle, it’s still working on our goals and our relationship and that is completely okay.

So again, a short and sweet update to let everyone know that we are still alive and working hard! I’m hoping to get some more up for ya’ll soon with hopefully a bit more content to talk about. I should mention though, that Cowboy really is starting to look and move like a dressage pony! That in itself really does make me look forward to what’s to come this winter!

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Catching Up!

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I’m so long over due for an update, its not even funny. Life has just gotten away with me and keeping focus on any one thing for any period of time has been beyond difficult. Really though, this has been a rough patch for me personally rather than a rough patch specifically for Cowboy and I. In all reality we have made some HUGE strides (even with a couple set backs) and I am prouder than I can even express about it! In the last little bit it really seems like I’m starting to cultivate a decent little dressage horse who just keeps getting better and better every ride. It is really, really rewarding to finally see things starting to come together.

We’ve still been working more so walk/trot in the last little bit. Not saying we aren’t doing canter work. But I’m working on building him up to better develop self carriage and muscle. FB_IMG_1540128221107.jpgThat also means that the canter is coming along as well. Actually, Brooke worked him for me last week as I was 1. injured and 2. had a busy week and said that his canter has really come along. I notice it too, now that we are more or less back to working in the indoor arena (more on that later). Last year he had a hard time balancing through the arena but now he can hold himself quite well! Overall his downward transitions are improving with less head tossing and gaping. We do need to revisit backing though as he’s gotten a bit stubborn about them. But it’ll come back. It’s just a matter of needing to brush up on it. He’s striding up and more often than not carrying himself in frame, with very little encouragement on my end and his bending has greatly improved. We’re also finding that he’s carrying himself straighter down the long walls. Skill set wise, I’ve gotten a lot better at holding my shoulders rather than rounding them, especially at the canter. I’ve gotten far more confident overall and my reaction time in terms of correction and feel has gotten better. I do, however, still have to work on my not grabbing with my right rein. Being right hand dominant I have a tendency to want to ride with my right rein shorter, regardless of what direction I am going.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment we’ve had in the last little bit was competing in the Montasola Halloween show. First and foremost, we paraded around in our costume class. I dressed us up as flying pigs… with the costume premise of “When Pigs Fly”. It was adorable and won us a wonderful bottle of wine! I stayed out of the tack for that one and used it as our time to warm up and get a good look at things. received_698173327248783.jpegI then rode in the barrels, poles and pairs jumper course. Our barrel round definitely had much to be desired for. We took our first barrel, but coming up to the second one something along the rail spooked him. I had to take him down to a walk but at least we kept forward momentum and didn’t have a complete explosion. Our poles class was way better, even if I couldn’t quite get him into a decent canter. But the pairs jumper class went quite well. Brooke entered it with me. The fences were only cross rails and although he was a bit sluggish we still rode quiet and clean and ended up placing 4th! The entire day he was a champ. He stayed relaxed and calm the entire time  and we even jumped a cross country fence we never jumped before. I was so epically happy with him that day. By the end of the day he was getting a little bit ornery, but since we were done our last class I got him calm and then untacked him for the day. It’s got me feeling a bit better about getting into the ring with him now. This is now the second show we’ve done this summer that was more or less a success. Even if it had a few hiccups along the way! Hiccups are okay though, they’re still learning experiences and the fact that we were able to work through them is really what matters.

Right now, we’re getting into the fall/winter season and admittedly, it’s something that is hard for me. For as far along as we have come, this time of year is still anxiety provoking for me. I’m having a hard time trusting him not to revert back to “winter Cowboy” where he is always ready for a fight and ready to shit bricks at everything that moves or makes a sound…. not to mention that we are now getting stuck to the indoor. We are getting better, but together Cowboy and I still have issues with the arena, especially the back end. We’re working on it and he’s getting more and more relaxed with the back. But Cowboy is still overall edgy. He spooks at things he would never spook at on our way up from the paddock or for example the other day he caught sight of something outside of the arena, wheeled and all out bolted on me down to the “scary” end. Then, once I got him stopped, he realized he was panicked and in the “scary” end and then wanted to bolt again. I managed to get off and doing some ground work in both the back end and at the front, until he stopped wanting to run by the window like a god damn loon and then got back on. He was in edgy, fight mode after that, but I did manage to finish our ride on a good note. There has been a couple rides in the last month too where he’s spooked at random things and basically teleported out from under me. These falls really fried me mentally. Basically because it made me feel like we were back tracking and really didn’t give me a great “start” to the fall/winter season. Brooke has really had to drill into my head that in all reality Cowboy is a completely different horse from last winter and a complete 360 from our first winter. That and the fact that the more I focus on how much I hate this season and “winter Cowboy” the more I’ll be manifesting the behaviour I don’t want to have happen. Sooooooo the challenge for right now? Let it go. Not always easy, but I’ve got to do it to move past this. I need to acknowledge that this time can be challenging but its these challenges that help us grow. I also need to rely on the skills I’ve built on over the last year. As much as he’s not the same horse, I’m not the same rider. So in all reality we have the potential to fly through this winter.

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On a personal level… I try not to complain and have really been trying to look at life through a brighter lens…. but it’s really been trying. I’ve had a real rough streak of luck and I’m just hoping things can start to climb back up. Work has been an ongoing issue, and I’ve really been run down with that. I’ve managed to flush my $400+ car key down the toilet at work….the kicker there was we had Roto Router come in and try to rescue it. They could see them and were trying to get them but then someone flushed a toilet elsewhere in the house and so the pipes filled and they had to end up just clearing it anyways. I had the two pretty bad falls off of Cowboy that put me out of the saddle for almost a week each time. I had lost my debit card which made everything so much more complicated as the bank gave me a temp card that could ONLY be used in RBC ATM’s. After retracing my steps the day I lost it, I had asked Tim Hortons if they had found it and they stated they had not. A week after the fact I go through drive thru to pick up tea for Brooke and I and they staff informs me they had my card the whole time. I had applied for a couple of positions at my one job to hopefully progress and get off of nights only to not be successful…. and then the last big one. I ended up getting sick just a couple of days ago with a condition called Diabetic Ketoacidosis. Basically due to a multitude of factors the ketones in my blood raised and more or less turned my blood acidic. I ended up spending 36 hours in the hospital correcting my blood chemistry. I started off as an ICU patient but of course the crap hospital in my town didn’t have a bed for me and I spent the entire time in the ER. Ontop of how absolutely crappy I felt, I really don’t want to relive that experience again. The triage nurse was difficult and instead of fully listening to me at first basically told me I probably just had a stomach bug and should go home because I had “only been puking for 3 hours and stomach bugs usually last 24 hours and that I would just get sicker there”. It wasn’t until I told him I was diabetic that his tune changed. I bashed heads with my initial nurse, waited 3-4 hours for a glass of water etc. And the lack of communication was maddening. It’s all behind me now, I’m still on the mend but I’m doing well. Just was a really eye opening experience and motivation to not let it happen again….and that I need to make some changes. Thankfully this coming week I’ve got a “half vacation” (aka off of one of my jobs) and a couple interviews for other positions within the one agency. So I’ve got my fingers crossed. Send me some jingles?

So this is really the coles notes version of things. But I promise I’ll try to keep you guys in the loop more frequently again!

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Mission: Accomplished!

My last post, I was talking about how I had made the decision to show Cowboy this past weekend and just how bad my anxiety and self-doubt were in regards to it. I was admittedly holding on too tightly to the past and prior to the day of wasn’t letting myself reflect enough on just how far we have came as a team.

However, we DID make it into the ring on Sunday. We rode in the Beginner Division, albeit as an exhibition run, and you know what? We did great! It was super hot, which in all reality probably only helped my case some haha. But really, I couldn’t be happier with how we did. He listened to me, he tried his best for me and didn’t exhibit any of his usual anxieties in regards to horses leaving or being in the ring with multiple horses at the same time. My friend Angie so kindly came between her night shifts to come and help me out. In the past when we’ve attempted any shows, she’s been there more or less as my therapist first and groom second. I am so appreciative of her company!

Show morning did start with quite the bundle of nerves in respect to myself though. Generally speaking, I’m not as bad once I’m mounted and focused on my horse but waiting has a tendency to kill me – it gives my brain time to spin. And that day was no exception. By the time they gave the 10 minutes call for my division I was just stating that things just needed to get going because I was starting to work myself up. Thankfully I got there early enough after work to get Cowboy inside to chill out and eat before I had to get him ready. So when we were finally ready and starting to walk out to the ring, he was still fairly relaxed. Seeing that he wasn’t being incredibly looky and huffy about the setting it helped bring my anxiety down some. Angie walked out with me and agreed not to leave my side until we were ready. I had opted to not warm him up in the indoor ring. We both don’t like the indoor and I didn’t want to work either of us up more than we might already be. But I got on out by the outdoor ring and he was wonderful. I was able to ride him walk/trot around the cross country course, going towards and away from the other horses and he barely even flicked an ear. Before, if I had tried to ride him away he would have lost his mind and wanted to bolt back to them. Having this behavior made me feel so much better and instantly I wasn’t super nervous any more.

I was still a bit hesitant about the ring, not being sure how Cowboy would react to the judges stand and on top of that, the speakers. He’s been giving me “omg mom its scary!” issues with the judges stand for the last few weeks so I was almost expecting some issues. 20180916_091134.jpgThankfully they let the first flight of the walk/trot class into the ring before we were to all be on the rail at a walk. He marched right past everything like a champ. When we were being judged he was wonderful. His sitting trot was a bit tough to ride as we were going through the new sand of the arena. But otherwise I got generally good feedback from my flat classes. I was told my sitting trot was well balanced, and that in my rising trot I look light in my tack. In our walk/trot/canter class, we got to canter individually and he was great about waiting and going out alone. I was told my canter transition was lovely. The “to work on” bits I got were my diagonal going to the right. I know I usually pick that one up incorrectly at first. That class was no exception to the rule. However, I attempted to switch, but his striding through the deep sand got me discombobulated so I was totally on the wrong diagonal. Other than that, it was that my heels don’t stay down enough and pop up a bit. This was partially because of how western saddles sit you. You don’t jam your heels down as much as English tack and also because Cowboy was being pokey and I needed lots of leg to keep him going. That’s something we’ve been noticing and might be beneficial to introduce some small, rounded spurs as motivation. Our trot pole class was great. They wanted us to two point over them. However, considering I wasn’t even in it for points/ribbons and that two point isn’t the same in a western saddle, I chose to just post over them. Lastly our four cross rails, they weren’t the prettiest because he was lacking energy but we did it without any complaint!

I really think I was smiling from ear to ear once we were done. I know I am still so happy with how we performed. I kept my cool and therefore helped him keep his cool and we managed to have completely clean and quiet rides. FB_IMG_1537248126277.jpgHe didn’t even flinch when the speakers went off as we were going by! The beast has definitely earned a couple days off (especially because we worked 5/7 days leading up to the show!). I learned that it’s okay to be nervous but its all how you act on it! And even Angie commented on how she’s never seen me that calm on show day. I didn’t even have any tears as usually I’m quick to cry whether I’m nervous, upset, angry, frustrated. It’s just my go to reaction. But not that day!

Asides from riding Cowboy in the beginner division, Lindy and I took a stab at the full 15 inch divison this time! And to be honest, for cowgirl me and for trotting most of the courses we really did kick some butt! I felt a bit discouraged with our jumping from the night before so I was a bit nervous going in and for some reason was really “scared” of a two stride consisting of our wishing well jump and a skinny multicoloured jump. We had jumped two strides before but it just looked a lot tighter. But we did it! In our clear round we missed a fence, but that’s okay. Clear round is mostly there for a warm up. In our Table C with Jump Off we went double clear! Our Table A speed we went clear, even if I ALMSOT forgot the same jump again and had to do a really slow and sloppy approach to not count as a refusal but we made it. And lastly we did Gambler’s Choice where each fence is assigned a certain number of points and the goal is to get as many points as you can in 45 seconds. I didn’t even look at the point values of the fences and just decided to go in and find some jumps. I opted for a couple ballsy turns. Doing one broken line with a tight roll back to a second broken line to a tight turn to our Canada jump and then two regular lines. We cantered what we could between fences but having to trot the approach meant we weren’t as quick but hey, I was still so happy with myself and making the turns I was aiming for. Overall we finished 3rd in Table C and 4th in both Table A and Gambler’s Choice. I love that little mare she takes such good care of me and really does help me feel so much more confident over fences!

So where does this leave us? The jumper shows are done for the season. We do have a Halloween fun show happening next month. I’m working sleep nights that weekend, so I think that I’ll aim to get Cowboy into some of the Halloween things that day. If anyone has costume ideas that would be fantastic! Last year we went as Asylum Escapees. I might do some work with Lindy under English tack to try to be a bit more competitive next season with the jumpers. With Cowboy, we’ll see what happens throughout the winter. I really would like to try to do some western dressage shows with him. However, we might need to have a few more practice shows closer to home first. Even if I have to do some actual English work with him to get there. We had a really good experience which helps to push past the negative of last year. Again, I’m in no real hurry with it. We’ve got tons of time and if we make it to a western dressage class next year cool. If we stick to close to home stuff, that’s cool too. Right now I’m just relishing in the fact that I had SUCH a good go. It makes me feel so much more confident in the process I’m using and just how much progress we are actually making.

I’m also so thankful to have such an amazing and supportive team behind me. From Brooke and the others that I take lessons with, to my friends who have unwavering support and faith in me and that painted beast of mine and for having found a safe place to land at a great barn. As a rule everyone at Montasola is so helpful and supportive and generally want to see each other succeed. It’s magical what can happen when all the important pieces of the puzzle come together once and for all.

So, with the end of the official show season, here’s to celebrating this HUGE victory for Cowboy and myself, my overall confidence through Lindy and looking forward to what the next season can bring! I finish with a fire in my belly and more knowledge and trust than I had going into this summer. I am truly blessed.

 

The Demons Next Door

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So although the title of this post may seem to preface it as something that’s going to be fairly dark and such, it’s not. I’ve just had a rough couple of days in terms of my anxiety and self-esteem and it’s really influencing what’s going on “upstairs” right now. And I’ve definitely learned that things like this are better out than in. So here we go.

I haven’t been overly public about my plans for this weekend. More or less I was attempting to keep it a bit more covert in order to not get a ton of attention drawn to it. But, Cowboy and I are showing this Sunday. Ben added in a “Beginner” division into this upcoming show. It consists of 2 flat classes (walk/trot and walk/trot/canter) as well as a trot pole class and a 4 cross rail class. I’d be more or less entering as an exhibition round as I’d be riding against young riders just starting out. My skill level, far surpasses them, so not being allowed to pin in the classes is totally fine with me. Really, all I want to do is get Cowboy and I into the ring, navigate our classes and try to have fun. Seems like a simple task eh? I also have the previous jumper show with Lindy under my belt so I know I can get into the ring in front of a bunch of people and not choke. But. Lindy isn’t Cowboy.

I’ve been sticking to Brooke’s advice and I’m not changing anything this week. Cowboy is so sensitive to change that if I pushed him too much this week in efforts to “prep” for Sunday, he would pick up on the change and know something is up. So I’m sticking to what we normally do… with the exception being that we’ve been confined to the indoor arena due to weather conditions. THANKFULLY that has given something for me to focus on, rather than our “big day” looming around the corner. 20180912_122645.jpgWe’ve had some greatly successful rides and I’m happy to say he has bounced back from his injury with flying colours. We’ve started to get him back up and jumping again and his movement is wonderful so we definitely have that going for us. He’s been really willing and handling his own anxiety in stride. Even when mine has been a bit up, considering neither of us are confident in the indoor, and stir up a vicious cycle of reactiveness. But we’re working through it! In fact, I lunged him today (I really honestly wasn’t “there” mentally enough to ride him today. And that is okay) and he was a champ around the scary stuff and even chilled with his “monsters” in the scary end. I’ve ridden him bareback a fair bit as well. Mostly back out to the paddock and than instances like today where we puttered around walk/trot and lateral on the grass ring before continuing on our way. He’s been so completely non reactive to passing by other horses while on our way out, even when his lady (aka Lindy) is being walked past him. So overall we’ve had great progress and I really, in all reality couldn’t be happier with him!

So why “The Demon’s Next Door”? The past two days has been tough, I couldn’t sleep last night and it gave my mind ample time to start getting the one up on me. I try my best to come off as brave and confident. But really, I’m not. The amount of times I’m honestly scared to try something with Cowboy etc is far more than I like to admit. Usually when I have statements like “I’m proud of myself” when I discuss my rides it usually means that I wasn’t completely confident in what we were doing. Sometimes it means that I literally am impressed with something but yeah. Usually its associated with fear. I’ve been really excited to get into this ring at this show, especially knowing that I don’t have to ask Cowboy to jump a full course when we haven’t done much of it since his injury. We’ve had multiple GREAT rides with other horses and riders. We’ve walk/trot/cantered as a group and he’s stayed totally focused on me and what we were doing. I wrote about it before, but we rode in a lesson with horses, people and trailers swimming around the farm the weekend I photographed OXC. We have tackled so many previous issues and passed them with flying colours that I should be feeling totally set…. and I was… until last night. Now, in general, I’ve been sitting with a fairly high level of general anxiety the last couple of days and have felt really run down in terms of energy. I’m positive that these factors really aren’t helping right at this exact moment. But anyways. Not being able to sleep last night really allowed for my mind to get away from me and do some damage. I spent today doubting this milestone ahead of me.

I know full well that I’m able to ride and handle most of what he throws at me anymore. Right now though, I’m having a hard time shaking the doubt I’m felling in regards to my skill level. I’m also letting previous issues get under my skin and derail my positive through process. All I could think of was the Bertie and Port show last summer and having him bolt, threaten to rear and basically go after other horses in the ring. I remember him bolting, my saddle slipping and falling off in front of everyone. I also remember OXC and him trying to run down Smurf and Ellie…. bolting after Jess and Aaron (just to specify a couple instances) and spooking at absolutely everything.  As positive as everything really has been, he’s been giving me issues with the judges booth some days. Most day’s he’s fine but other days there is something lurking around it that is a horse eating monster. So I’m stressing about show day and people, tables, and speakers around there…. But I know that thinking about it ultimately will impact what really will happen. I’m also stressing because as of today they were widening the outdoor ring. Which is really, actually super awesome. I’m just hoping that it will be done and stay dry enough to work in it prior to the weekend. Now its closer to the track. It’s closer to the cows and the bushes. All things he can also be spooky about. Again. Another thing that really shouldn’t be a big deal… because as a rule he is way better outdoors anyways.

The hardest part is that right now all these doubts are hitting me like a ton of bricks and is making me really focus on how so far we’ve had almost nothing but negative experiences trying something like this….and I’m having a hard time putting my faith and trust in him to do it. I am definitely ready to try. I mean I’ve been saying that I’m at a point where I’m ready to start pushing outside of my comfort zones. But I’m admitting that I’m kind of scared right now. Better that it surfaces NOW so that I have some time to puzzle it out and push past it rather than it all hitting the morning of. I just really wish that these “demons” would just stay the hell out of my head and that my own brain could just not try to sabotage me for a change. I’m trying to take this and use it as fire in my belly to prove myself wrong. Because really when it comes down to it, I have nothing to prove to anyone. What I’m attempting to do is between Cowboy and I. Whether we go out and have a flawless rounds or have some hiccups…. it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we get out there and we try.

If I don’t try, it’ll be just another excuse in the books. And I’m really trying not to make excuses as to why we can’t do things. In all reality we can do anything we put our minds to… even if it takes longer than most or needs to be approached in a different manner. But we can do it. Discussing all this with Angie today, she re-iterated a few key points – we have came SO FAR since the Bertie and Port show. That day I was absolutely TERRFIED and Cowboy definitely wasn’t at a point where he could handle it. All he knew was that I was on his back, a complete wreck and he didn’t know why. And fight or flight kicked in. I still don’t think he could keep his cool if I was THAT terrified again…. but I’ve been getting SO SO SO much better at keeping my anxiety and nerves in check. And he’s getting better at dealing with me when I do have a bit more of a heightened day. Rather than being crazy uncontrollable he just gets a bit uppity and “opinionated” but we make it work. My seat has gotten a ton better so I can handle his spooks way better (unless you know… we’re bareback and he startles and takes a step sideways… THEN I fall off and rope burn my hand… but he can do a total duck and twirl in the tack and I’m fine) and I have better figured out how to “shut him down” if he does get away from me. And again… whats the worst that can happen… he bolts, I fall off and hurt myself. As another good friend said…. that’s a risk I take EVERY TIME I get on ANY horse. Why should this one day be any different.  We’ve accomplished things that after that Bertie show I never thought we’d do (riding down the paddocks with just a halter and lead).

So although right now I’m sitting in uncomfortable company with my demons, I will be able to push them out and into the streets. Cowboy and I will be okay and everything will come together. Sunday will be just like any other day. If anything I have to think of it like the ride I had a couple weeks ago now, where I rode during one of Ashley’s lesson with 5 other horses and he was a champ. Or think of that lesson I had with Wynn the day before OXC…. or when I was jumping Lindy and came off in front of everyone and got back on and went right back to what we were doing. There is far more positive riding on my shoulders this time around than my brain is trying to tell me I have. Cowboy and I are both very different individuals than we were this time last year. We’re ready to start letting our changes and relationship start to shine through and we ARE ready to start moving on to some sort of next level. Demons be damned.

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Today Was A Hard “No!”

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I wish I had gotten the chance to sit down and write a couple of days ago. At that point, I was in a very different headspace and things were going well. In all reality, I hate sitting down and venting about the negatives of this so called journey I’m on. I often feel like I’m just being whiney or annoying. Or that what seems like a HUGE deal to me might just be something miniscule that I’m over-reacting about. But I’ve been dedicated to sharing all aspects of our progress so here goes nothing. If anything I’m hoping that writing this will help hash out my emotions and help me tackle tomorrow with a breath of fresh air.

Cowboy’s finally come sound enough that we are bringing him back into work. We are figuring that he sprained/strained something in or around his fetlock on the hind leg that was bothering. He’s moving nicely now, tracking up again and not blowing his leads. But none the less, we are still taking it slow. Lots of breaks, sticking to mostly walk/trot work with a bit of canter work near the end, going both directions. I’ve also picked up some Thermal Therapy hind boots to help increase the circulation to the area while we work in hopes to keep them limber and reduce the chances of him hurting himself again.

The first couple of rides back were fantastic. The first, although a bit forward and excited to be out and doing “stuff” he was respectful and worked really well. The next ride was a lesson and I couldn’t of asked for a better ride. He was quiet, worked hard, gave me his heart, was responsive and respectful. He was even great when I let my friend do a little bit of walk/trot on him at the end of her lesson. The next couple of days I just meandered around bareback. We had some small milestones. I was able to ride around some of the cross country course without issue, in the grass ring at a walk/trot even with other horses around, rode in and out of the round pen, even closing the gate etc. And then another day I was able to get on him bareback using the paddock gate with just my lead rope clipped to the one side of the halter and ride him back up to the barn. No spook at the front of the main barn and no issue when Cory led a couple of horses by. Overall, we had a really good few goes!

Equestrian-George-Lucas-Quote.jpgThen. Fast forward to Monday. Even that ride wasn’t as bad as it could be. It was on and off rainy, Ben and Ashley were doing some work with posts around the outdoor arena and so I decided to do some work in the indoor arena. Neither of us are very confident in the indoor still. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. Cowboy doesn’t deal well with “new” and it still seems like the arena changes every time we’re in there. So he’s jumpy. I’m tense because I’m expecting him to spook. And then my energy and tenseness amps him up and we just kind of play off of each other like that. So needless to say, he was forward, difficult and distracted over everything that ride. I wasn’t pushing him hard and realized that part of it was definitely me. So I worked until we accomplished some of what I wanted and he was able to settle into some relaxed canter work…. even if he still more or less wanted to travel around like a camel.

Tuesday I didn’t ride. Didn’t really have the time, the energy and it was super hot out. Instead we went for a bit of walk to check out the new fencing additions to the outdoor ring and then walk down the track to visit the cows. Cowboy still has issues with the cows so it’s something I don’t drill him on daily. But that day it seemed as if we were right back to square one with it. He completely lost his marbles over them. I got him to a point where he would stand and just look without completely melting down and then called it quits, let him graze a bit and then walked him to the paddock.

Today we had lesson with Wynn, to help focus a bit more on our western dressage skills. Needless to say it was an epic disaster. I haven’t had a lesson where I was in tears by the end and felt my confidence fall to the bottom of my stomach in absolute ages. I had him in the outdoor trying to warm up and our warm up started with an attempt to spook, wheel and bolt way from the judges stand (those damn blue planks… you know they’re going to eat you…). We utilized a one rein stop and hip overs to get the brain back between the ears and then proceeded. Picked up a trot and every time we went past the judges stand, he’d go completely inverted, try to skitter sideways and race past it all. On the opposite long wall he’d want to suck back. Then Wynn was walking across the grass ring to us and he spooked at her and attempted to bolt again. I tried to get his brain back to me with circles and transitions and stuff but it just wasn’t working. So instead I decided to attempt to use the energy and get some canter work out to hopefully get him to expend some of  the energy overflow. This resulted in attempts to bolt, with the jaw locked to the bit, head up and just not wanting to listen. Trying to trot, he then had “canter” on his mind and kept trying to break stride. To this, we did more transitions and some long, hard back ups. At this point were just starting to fight with each other. He was acting like an ass and it was working to get under my skin. Next lap around we attempted a canter transition again, this time he winged his head up, tried to run through the contact and so when I got him back and he stopped, the moment his movement ceased, he reared up. Mostly vertical. Enough I lost my stirrup but didn’t come off. As soon as he landed I booted him off, but then got off myself and immediately started some ground work. Drove him forward into a very forward canter until I said stop, both directions. After this Wynn and I decided to try to start our lesson and see what we could get out of it. We focused mostly on transitions this time around, again. Our mindset was that it would get his mind busy so he wouldn’t think about everything else going around. He actually worked really well for 15 to 20 minutes! We had super walk to trot transitions, with him moving off  in frame and in an active working trot. Our downward transitions weren’t fantastic. He was getting better with doing them when asked but still wanted to brace and pop his nose out. So we were working on picking up his belly so he moved into the contact as he came down. He was starting to get it… and then we started to lose him again. If we asked for a halt he wanted to keep backing or “dancing” under me. And again, he was starting to lock his jaw to “ignore” cues. So we worked at a halt, asking him to just bend ever so slightly to more or less “unlock the jaw”. To the left he was alright with it. To the right, all we were asking was a bit of bend through the nose and poll but he’d keep resisting. Backing up, spinning out of it and if I tried to push him forwards (because backing up was NOT what we were asking), he’d get light on the forehand and threaten to rear once again. Eventually we got him to yield his nose a few times and then tried to end it there. At this point, Ben and Cory had the ATV pulling the dummy cow behind it so that Cory could get a new horse started on cattle, in the grass ring. And Cowboy’s brain was leaving us again. I managed to get a couple decently calm laps at walk but he was still being somewhat jumpy and at this point I was more or less mentally spent and my confidence was just dwindled down to nothing. I ended my ride after one more successful, mostly quiet circle at the walk. I was in tears. Went back to the barn, untacked, hosed him off and did some other chores while he cooled down some more before feeding him. Then left for my doctors appointment and the rest of my day.

I haven’t been this frustrated in I honestly don’t know how long. I honestly don’t know what was happening today and why we were fighting each other so badly. I mean there’s multiple things that could have caused this outcome. Usually we think teeth, feet, tack. Tack hasn’t changed and it all still fits well. His teeth don’t need to be done yet and his feet were trimmed today. It could of been the weather. It was windy. It was warm and sticky. We also have storm systems going on. So, that could of had part of it. Especially if he had a headache. He’s also just coming back into work. So maybe he was protesting the end to his vacation. I do know that it escalated to the rear and such because I let him get under my skin and let him egg on my own fight. There was also lots of “new” out there today. Even if we did go and check out the fencing the day before. But they had moved some of the jumps around to harrow the ring before my ride. The wave planks were on the judges stand. The Montasola jumps were lining the “scary wall”. There was new fencing, the STUPID new sunshade built out there flapping in the wind like Marilyn Monroe’s skirt over the sewer vent… paired with the wind etc. Really. It probably was a combination of everything. Overstimulation on both of our ends. I mean even though I didn’t feel frazzled going into the ride… I guess I was. My morning was a rush and plans changed a couple of times. Plus some of my usual stress regarding doctors appointments. Wasn’t feeling any of it when I was in the saddle, but I’m sure having those resources expended probably didn’t help once I had to deal with some challenging behavior.

I really try not to internalize bad days like this. We all have them and the next day is always a fresh start. But sometimes my “support system” outside of the barn really DOES NOT help. At dinner tonight, my parents and I were talking and both of them had gone through their day’s frustrations. Mom knew I had, had a bad day with Cowboy as well as at my doctors appointment – we had talked earlier. But at this point she encouraged me to share my “bad day” I started to talk about it and my dad attempted to make a joke…. his joke consisted of the following statement “we get that your horse is an asshole. What makes today any different?”. This just really set me off. In fact, over the last little bit I had been talking about how proud of him I had been and how well we’d been doing… that he was earning “good pony awards”…. and I talk about a bad day and that was the response I get? Joke or not it was poorly timed and poorly worded. I mean I try SO HARD with that horse and I’m allowed to be frustrated when days like today happen because I just so happen to think that MAYBE, just MAYBE we’ve finally gotten past this bullshit behavior. To make it worse he then says “it’s like he’s retarded and has to be taught all over again when he takes time off”. I’m tired of people saying that he’s dumb or a “horse of low intelligence”. He’s extremely smart. This is why we have some of the issues we do. I just don’t know if he understands just how much I care and how much of my heart and soul I pour into this journey. That horse is my everything and ALL of this matters to me.

So needless to say. Tonight I feel broken. Partially because I’ve just internalized too much of everything. Partially because I’m just embarrassed and disappointed with what happened today. Although I problem solved and rode through everything (even Wynn said that she knew a ton of other people who would have called it quits long before I did), I hate having to get tough on him in front of people and his behavior embarrasses me because I feel like it’s a reflection of me and my training. Like I feel like him behaving like that shows that I’m fucking up somewhere. I’m frustrated because today’s crap just came out of no where and I don’t know why. I’m hurt that my dad said what he said even if it was supposed to be a joke. I just wish he would in someway celebrate my accomplishments with Cowboy…. heck he didn’t even say good job when I came home elated about the jumper show with Lindy.

I’m allowed to feel like I want to throw in the towel. I won’t. But I’m getting the feelings off my chest. On ward and upwards to tomorrow….. blank page. blank arena. New day, new ride.

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Comfort Zones

20180818_184348.jpgBack when I first started keeping this blog, I was dealing with a HUGE amount of fear and an even bigger lack in self-confidence. In fact when I finally realized we needed more consistent help, I remember him bolting and the only way I could get him to stop was to run him towards the wall and when he did stop, with both just stood there huffing, and I could feel his heart pounding in his chest just as hard as mine was – he was just as terrified as I was in that moment. It was in that moment that I made the decision that things needed to change. My fear and anxiety needed to be addressed in order to help him, and we’d have to do some work on rebuilding the relationship we had.

By nature I’m a problem solver and an avid learner. If I’m curious about something I will research it, if I think I’m sick or have some sort of medical ailment, I’ll Google it to get a rough idea if its something I can tough out on my own or if I really should go to my doctor. I’ll look for differing veins of knowledge on topics etc. So one of this first, logical things I did was search something on the lines of “how to overcome fear when horseback riding”. For the sake of this post, I tried to find the site that I found the most useful, but so far haven’t had much luck.  What I found was a site that suggested a self-help route by journaling and discussing different topics and goal setting to unearth your fear triggers and help build goal oriented solutions to over come it. I’ll post a link to a Horse and Rider article that sums up the same process at the end as a resource. One of the most intriguing things that I read in the original site, was a piece on how fear can actually be a learning tool. Basically, it talked about comfort zones and how if we continuously ride in our under our comfort zone, no learning or growth occurs. To learn or grow, we need our comfort zone challenged which naturally produces some level of fear or anxiety. However, if the level of fear/anxiety gets too high it becomes dysfunctional and in some respects dangerous. The original article had it laid out as a bit of a sliding scale with a visual that made great sense.  In reflection, there have definitely been times where my fear/anxiety level has been in the dangerous dysfunctional end of the spectrum. I’ve also been able to often stop and think about the same scale with Cowboy. If he’s a bit anxious but its a positive experience in the long run, learning will occur, but if he’s peaked he’s a point where his anxiety is so high he will just shut down and learning will not occur.

I can also definitely pick out situations where I have stepped just a bit too far out of our comfort zone to be overly productive. The Bertie/Port show I mentioned in my last post being one example. Granted, I also put way too much pressure on us as a pair, but I was also scared crapless going into it. One of my best friends was in the arena with me as I was warming up and crying because I was so anxious. Logical me should have scratched my entries. Stubborn me was determined to go out and try. Needless to say, its was more or less a disaster and did set us back some. I did learn valuable lessons about too much pressure and “less is more” in the long run. But in that moment, nothing was accomplished.

Fast forward to now. Keeping this continuum in mind, Cowboy and I have came so far! Winters are still tough, and I’m still not 100% sure how well pushing some of our comfort zones will go, but I’m getting to a point where I want to start trying. I’ve definitely scaled back on the magnitude of what I want to try, but I finally feel like I’m at a point in my current comfort zones to start working upwards. And this doesn’t even have to be with Cowboy to be exact. Earlier this summer, I had it set in my mind that I wanted to take some extra lessons and borrow a horse from one of the other coaches on the Montasola property and show some a couple hunter shows. The way I saw it, I wanted to start tackling my own show anxiety, because without that, there is no way I can expect Cowboy to handle it – he gets his confidence from me. To this I figured that I could ride a horse that wouldn’t react as badly to my nerves, then I would also be “out of my element” in the hunter ring. More or less, “flooding” myself like some therapists do in phobia cases. Then, work and financial issues got in the way and that didn’t materialize. In hindsight, it’s probably better that I didn’t push myself to do it in such a quick manner. Although on paper things sounded like a good plan, the goals weren’t completely realistic.

As I mentioned in my last post, Cowboy and I had been doing some jumping and were hoping to do the 15 inch clear round at the Montasola show this past weekend. Ben was going to let me go in under my western tack. He understood that I just wanted to get the ring experience. But sadly, Cowboy had been sore. I have also been riding Lindy the last bit (and will continue to do so, even once Cowboy is sound again) and its been really great to be able to focus on myself. I had a lesson with her Saturday night and Brooke decided to put out a few jumps for us to just mess around with and once she saw that Lindy and I could navigate them in a controlled manner, she told me that she would be comfortable if I rode Lindy the following day at the show. I confirmed that Ben was still okay with my western tack and made the decision to at least do the clear round, and if that went well I’d try my hand in some of the other classes. After Brooke gave that option we changed the jumps from cross rails to verticals and worked on those. Then. I fell off. Lindy was a bit quick between a line and I panicked a bit. Wasn’t ready for the take off and subsequently not ready for the landing and just lost my balance. But yea. I fell off. In front of at least 6 people. What happened next though, is a sign that it’s time to start pushing out of my current comfort zone…. I got up. I brushed myself off (with some help), got back on Lindy and jumped my course again. I didn’t become overwhelmed with embarrassment that I just ate the dirt in front of a bunch of people. I didn’t let the fall scare me off of trying again. I just handled it. The next day, I admittedly had some wicked show nerves driving to the barn from work. I could feel them sitting in my stomach, and decided that as much as I wanted a coffee that morning – caffeine probably was NOT a good mix with my anxiety. But even for as nervous as I was, I was actually able to eat something, which is an improvement on its own. I saw the course, got a bit leery of an in and out combination on the long wall, a couple tighter turns and our wishing well jump (because you know its sooooooooo “wide”). Usually this would have me wound up to no end, but I was easily talked down this time by Brooke, with some simple reassurance that Lindy would take good care of me, if I rode her just like I did the night before I’d be fine and that in respect to the wishing well fence,  if I could ride Cowboy over it, I could handle Lindy – Cowboy puts more effort into the jumps. Once I got on, warmed up and popped over the warmup fences a couple times, it was neat to actually feel my nerves start to melt away.

Getting into the ring for my first course, it was as if nothing else was really around. I “took back my power” by stating that I was taking my time getting down the ring towards the start timer, and then was on my way. I may have only trotted the course but Lindy and I had a quiet course, with only one fence that “popped” me a bit. I simply got her into it a bit too deep and she tucked up funny. BUT we went clear! My only goal for the day was accomplished. I got into the ring in front of a rather large amount of strangers. I jumped a course (something I haven’t done in competition in YEARS… literally….. like since I was 17?) AND we went clear!! It was kind of comical to hear Ben say “That’s a clear round Justine. You can breathe now!”. FB_IMG_1534714866043.jpgFrom there I decided to do the Table A course. Its a speed round, and I knew I likely wouldn’t be very fast (as I was still only trotting my fences), but I did that one simply because I didn’t have to remember a jump off course as well if we went clear. In the ring for Table A we had another quiet round. I almost forgot my 5th fence but managed to circle back around to it without getting flustered and shutting down about it. I even got up enough confidence to take a couple tighter turns and “make up some time” by cantering Lindy between a couple of the longer stretches. Again we finished with a clear round! Words cannot describe how proud and happy I was with myself. I really don’t think I could stop beaming outside of the ring. As expected, I didn’t pin in that class and you know what, I was seriously okay with that. My high was simply from the fact that I rode a double clear, and didn’t melt down over it! I also actually had FUN! And really, finding out that I actually DID NOT place dead last was just icing on the cake.

I wish growing up, showing had been like this. I “liked” showing as a teen, but hated it too. I got such performance anxiety and put FAR too much pressure on myself. I’d fight with my parents because I’d be upset that I didn’t pin again and internalized it so much. Instead of taking into consideration things like 98% of the time my mare at the time wouldn’t pick up the right lead, and would hold her head like a camel to evade the bit. She was in her late teens and had been used as a trail horse for her entire life previously. She didn’t have the training under her. I can sit back and look at that now, but at the time, I generally left the show grounds feeling pretty crappy about myself. But at the jumper show this past weekend. I actually had fun. I came out of the ring feeling confident and inflated. It really goes to show how much environments can make a huge difference. I really don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where I feel as supported as I do at Montasola. The people there and the people it attracts are generally wonderful and encouraging. Especially at our jumper shows. Everyone (mostly) has the idea that it’s a fun schooling show and schooling means learning.

I am also so thankful to have Brooke, who supports and encourages my goals. Even if we get to them in an unconventional way (ie western jumper classes haha). She has put up with a lot from me, in terms of my emotional instability. My total lack of self esteem and confidence. My feelings of giving up and throwing in the towel, my frustration, the days where I get out there and just CAN’T mentally do it. All the crap I can throw and hasn’t given up on me. I really think that the stability I’ve gotten from her in this journey has helped build me up to the point I am at now. And in this specific instance, I’m sure she’s probably tired of hearing me say thank you already, but I really am so grateful that I had the opportunity to ride Lindy this weekend. Having a horse that more or less baby sat me, did her job and took good care of me was something I REALLY needed to help progress through this comfort zone and start building towards the next. Next smaller goal in sight? See if I can do a class or two with her at the next show… this time in English irons.

It’s amazing what you can do when harness different ways of thinking and looking at things and it’s so rewarding to have instances where you can REALLY see just how much you’ve grown especially when they come from things that are definitely outside of your normal. Here’s to breaking through some comfort zones and moving into another chapter!

Lindy and I’s Table A Round

Horse and Rider – Face Your Riding Fears

Holding Steadfast

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I think perhaps one of the hardest parts of being at a “lesson barn” (even if it’s not a super busy one) and having the majority of your social media full of people in the horse industry in one way or another, is show season. Especially when you’re not a part of it. Even more so when you really WOULD like to be part of it. Now, I’m by no means complaining about my decision to mostly keep Cowboy and myself out of the show ring this summer. I mean the progress and strength the two of us have gained just from spending the time together without “pressure” so to say, is phenomenal and I wouldn’t change it for the world. However, it’s still fair to acknowledge and discuss feelings, be them positive or negative.

I was looking forward to taking Cowboy into the clear round class in the intro jumper this coming weekend at the Montasola Show. He is still, however sore, and had equibow done this morning in hopes to address whatever was bothering him. So Cowboy is off until at least Sunday anyways, and we haven’t done much other than some light free lunging in the last week. That means that a show is out of the question. It’s not the end of the world, there is still one more in September (that I hope I’m not working for), and I’m by no means torn up about it. I am however feeling a tad bit crestfallen. I was looking forward to it. But, as Brooke said, maybe it is a blessing in disguise. If anything, it gives us more time to prepare. Also, injury wise, I would never want to risk pushing him and making whatever is bothering him worse. It’s completely not worth it for a bit of exposure, especially when there are other things on the horizon.

What does make watching show season go by hard for me is a bit of a compounded issue. First and foremost, as a rider I’m extremely goal oriented. I’m always striving to do better and work towards things. Although I’ve had a major long terhalt.jpgm goal for this year – to work on the relationship and trust between Cowboy and I – I’ve been feeling kind of “stuck” in general the last little bit. I haven’t had any smaller milestones to look towards and so I feel like I’m just more or less treading water. Everyone around me are all working towards the next show date and getting feedback from their classes on where to work and where to grow next. I kind of just feel like it would be good to have some sort of venue to check up on my skills etc. It’s not about winning and its not about ribbons. It’s about wanting to see where we have improved since I’ve gotten him and especially over the last year. That’s the most important piece to it all… having a blank calendar so to say, at times makes it hard for me to keep focused. I mean I fully realize that last summer although we had some wins (such as OXC… the 2nd time through), we also did have a major lose with the Bertie/Port show and that shows generally cause me more stress than they are worth…. but I’ve had so much progress with myself, my nerves and how I handle situations I really do want to try to challenge myself again and see if *I* have made progress in that department.

Now, there are the more emotional reasons about why this time of year can be hard on me too. These are areas I still need to work on overall, and really does show where my self esteem actually still does need to grow some. One of the biggest “emotional reasons” I struggle with not taking part in events and such is that I still feel like I need to prove to OTHER people that Cowboy and I are doing okay. To show everyone who has ever doubted us that although our progress is slow and steady, we are doing it! The second “emotional reason” is that I want to feel like people are proud of me. Show season is a time you see everyone working hard, lots of praise floating around and parents and coaches telling riders that they are proud of them etc. Praise and being told that people were proud of me really isn’t something that has ever came regularly to me, really in any aspect of life, and so I won’t lie and say that I don’t have a bit of complex about seeking approval.

In evaluating everything above. The reason of missing the feeling of having smaller, more obtainable goals to work towards is really quite practical. Really, it just means that I need to break things down a bit more and even through lessons set up smaller things to work towards. Even if it means, for example, pulling up some of the WSDAC tests and working through them. Or focus on our jumping, or obstacles for a bit. Change things up a bit in order to keep up our positive work! The other reasons, I just need to give myself a bit of a pick me up and remind myself what I’m working towards and why I’m doing it. In all reality, I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Cowboy and I are making it simply because of the sheer will power, determination and dedication I have to him. Which is far more than can be said for many other horse and rider combinations. I don’t have it easy, and I have to work for every ounce of progress we make, but in the long run that’s what makes us a phenomenal pair. And really, if people don’t want to believe we are progressing or want to establish a lasting opinion on prior performance, that’s their issue. Not mine. I know where we’ve came from and where we are going and that is what is important. In respects to my approval complex. I’m getting better able at squashing that one. I know that my close friends, Brooke, etc are proud of me and what I’m doing with Cowboy. I’m admired for sticking with him and for the hours I put in the saddle to keep working towards my goals. It’s not something that always needs to be said but are things that I have actually heard come out of people’s mouths. And that is what I need to hold onto. Just because I grew up feeling like I was NEVER good enough in all aspects (always too fat, too dumb, too slow, not smart enough, not this enough. Not that enough), and that I would never amount to anything doesn’t mean I need constant approval and appreciation now. What should and does matter more is how I feel about myself and my relationship with Cowboy. And to put it simply, I am proud of us. Is there always more we can do? Definitely. But if someone told me back when I first got him, that we’d be doing even half of what we are doing now, I would have laughed in their face. I am incredibly proud of where we’ve come from and where we are going and that is what I’m holding onto. That is all I really do need.

So all this being said, although tonight is a night where I’m feeling a bit stagnant and frustrated because I’m not out there every other weekend competing in some ring, I am NOT devastated or even really upset about my lack of participation this year. It’s one of those things, I’ll get there. I just need to keep insight the fact that there is NO pressure for it to be this year… or next year… or the year after that, for that matter. The more of a focus and pressure I put on it, the more both C and I will resent it. The fact is, we will get there in our own time. And once we are there, we will kick ass. I think I’ve just been dwelling on it so much the last few days because I honestly really was looking forward to challenging myself this weekend. I was finally feeling comfortable about the idea of getting into the ring infront of an audience. I had a game plan set for how to deal with it all in a calm and collected manner and just REALLY wanted to try. I wasn’t putting pressure on myself like I did last year to try and do a full series or division. I just wanted to go out, step slightly out of my comfort zone, have fun and come out stronger for it. But again, there is still another one next month… and if we get to it cool… if we don’t, there is always next year.

For the time being, I’m remaining steadfast and confident in my decision to wait for the most part. With all the growth we’ve had, there’s still only more to go. I’ve also got to look forward to some of the other things going on, and find satisfaction from them. Brooke trusts me enough to help condition Lindy and to take her out, outside of lessons to work with her, which helps her with Lindy’s fitness and helps me because Lindy is an extremely honest horse who will help fine tune my riding. I’ve got people more refined in dressage (and western dressage) wanting to give me a hand. Cowboy’s stall and barn manners are improving again! And although he is sidelined at the moment – that is okay. What’s more important is to have a sound and happy horse, rather than pushing him and ending up with a bigger mess. So, in all reality, I’m really not in a bad spot at all. Things are slowly coming together and when it’s our time to really shine we will. Where there is a will there is always a will, and the time to achieve it.

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