exploring my (cereal) box

I’m going to dive right into how the Mary Wanless Workshop last week changed my biomechanics. I rode as a demo rider, not a student, so the “lessons” I got weren’t necessarily focused on major problem solving or making me and the horse improve a great deal. They were focused on demonstrating to the other instructors and riders there how biomechanics can influence the horse and rider both generally (everyone should have a good cereal box) and specifically (Nicole has a funny wobble to the right that isn’t present to the left). But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get a lot of great information about my riding and how to improve myself.

(You can see more on the general structure of the workshop in Megan’s posts, and L’s posts, and a bit more about what it’s like to be a demo rider in Kate’s posts.)


it’s very exciting being a demo rider, that’s what Floundy thinks

After asking the first two big questions (“Is it safe?” and “Who is taking whom?”), the instructors pretty quickly turned their attention to our cereal boxes, known in common parlance as “the torso”. Instantly, my cereal box was identified as lacking. To which I cheerfully responded, “yes, I’ve often lamented that I don’t really have a cereal box, I have one of those big bulk bags of cereal you buy at the hippie store”. (It got a laugh, which you know I live for, and a compliment on my good attitude from Mary.) Alexis said that my torso is a classic “soap in the bathtub problem”, and has been very challenging to organize. Don’t I know it.

When we later discussed what each of our bodies would be stuffed with if our skin were just a bag (as if it isn’t), the teenaged demo rider was given “an excellent tonal quality”, the young adult demo rider was considered a little overstuffed/rigid, and I was deemed bimodal. Someone said it was like my legs were stuffed with putty — an excellent, excellent quality, putty is firm but yielding — but my torso was… squashy. One instructor said “it’s like she has a shifting layer of sand above her pelvis. Mary suggested my torso was full of polystyrene beads: amorphous, shifting against one another, not inclined to hold any one shape.


I appear to be stretching up somewhat here, but alltogether not too terrible

All of this is completely true and a problem I’ve been working on ever since my first biomechanics lesson. I’m not sure what my torso felt like before I started thinking about biomechanics (this is an important point — I’ll circle back to this in a later post), but I know that as soon as I started to think about my torso, I’ve felt its weaknesses. It doesn’t want to be a box. It wants to flap back and forth and side to side. Once, Timer pulled on me in a down transition and I felt my seat stay in the saddle and my shoulders go forward and I literally folded in half right above my hip bones. And part of the strategy I was given to combat that is to make my torso shorter and wider; to make it a less-tall rectangle so that it can be a stronger rectangle. And it made perfect sense. I can see in old pictures that I used to stretch up like crazy, so we needed to bring it all back down a bit.


holy stretch up batman

Somewhere along the line I did what everyone does: I made the solution into the problem. Someone told me to bring my ribcage down closer to my pelvis, so I brought it down to my pelvis so good, so good, that I didn’t have any torso left. But it still wasn’t a strong, stable core.

At the end of the first day’s ride, Mary and two other experienced instructors realigned each of the demo riders. Mary worked on me, and focused in on three things right away. 1) I sit too far back on my seat bones, 2) I put those seatbones too far forward in the saddle, and 3) that darn cereal box. The changes for 1 and 2 were pretty simple, but 3 was the real project. Mary first told me to stretch up, “I don’t tell many riders to stretch up,” she said. “You’re one of them. Congratulations.”

I took it as a compliment, obviously.


holy shit look how good i am at squashing my ribs into my pelvis – and this was before i’d even been told to do it!!!!

But simply stretching up wasn’t really satisfactory to Mary. She was standing on a step stool next to me and put her hands on either side of my ribs firmly, with just her thumb and a couple of fingers held together like a little point. She said she wanted to “pull” me up by the ribcage. After wiggling my ribcage up with her hands, Mary said “can you feel like your pelvis is hung in a harness?” I have heard and read that image from Mary several times before, but have never really managed to wrap my head around it. Hung in a harness? From where? With what? I said as much to Mary, “but,” I added, “I do feel like my pelvis is hanging down from my ribs right now.” “That’s good,” she responded. “Keep that.”

Atlas kindly let me volunteer my old position on him on Monday, complete with my inability to carry my own forearms.
note: seatbones pushed forward, no curve to spine (lower back too far back),
sitting too far back on seatbones

Mary pulled my low spine back a little bit — stretching up and moving my seat back had rocked me too far forward on my seatbones — and added a little bit of curve to the top of my spine. She put her fingers on my low back above my pelvis and encouraged me to lengthen my back, between my ribs and my pelvis, without tipping forward — just pulling my front line down a bit, and pushing up my back line. (Almost like how TC wants to go – with his chest plate shoved forward and down.) Mary also had me bear down, on the sides, and in my low down bear down, which was a pretty different feeling after having bear-down-ed through such a crushed torso for so long. She prodded me in the 2-pack and asked me to bear down into those abs specifically, but not to let them fall out beyond my ribs. With a little more poking and prodding and resisting her push, it felt like I had two boards of wood running down my spine, like the two long muscles in my back were finally turned on. (Only about two hundred more to go!)

I practiced “hanging myself” throughout the weekend, poking my fingers into my own ribs and “pulling” up to let my pelvis “hang down” from my abdominal muscles. On day two I walked in with my new seat and torso alignment. One of the participants commented that it looked like I was about 3″ taller. I got to spend the next two days’ rides practicing this feeling, and of all the changes Mary put on me, it’s probably the one with the strongest “memory”. It’s also got a great physical cue and verbal cue, which makes it easier to get back to. By day three I didn’t have to think about hanging myself constantly, I was starting to automate it (probably prematurely, but oh well).

new position. much lighter, much more “meringue”.
could probably use a little less length in the front line and a little more length in the back line.d

I’m not “fixed” by any means, but I now have some much better muscle patterns to build on and improve from.

It’s like I started out with a somewhat crumpled cereal box, and in an attempt to make it stronger and give it some proper edges I was cramming it down as hard as I possibly could. As if pressure would turn my crumpled cereal box into a diamond, since it was clearly never going to be a box. And then Mary came along and was like, well why don’t we stretch this crumpled cardboard out a little bit so its edges can do their jobs and make it like — you know — a box.

a superlative weekend with mary wanless

Last weekend I had the great joy of spending three days at the Mary Wanless workshop held at American Sport Horse. Even better — I got to be a demo rider. This caused a bit of scrambling and panic as I didn’t know I was a demo rider until the Monday before the workshop, so I had to plan to get the hell down to Dodge much earlier than I thought, and Kate had to figure out what horse she was going to sacrifice to three days of torturing me in front of a crowd.

we both love purple we are clearly meant to be soulmates

It was Flounder. Of course it was Flounder.

This was a bit of a cause for trepidation for me, as Flounder has a serious habit of bullying me. He sees me coming, knows I have treats, approximates my weight as not terribly more than that of a 14 year old girl, and pulls out his authenticated LessonHorse™ moves upon me. He loses steering, rushes, balks, throws his head up, throws his head down, and generally behaves as if he’s never even thought about going on the bit before, much less been shown successfully by an actually 14 year old girl. And the worst part? IT WORKS. Fortunately for me, I begged Kate to let me ride a much nicer and smaller pony she has right before I got on Flounder, and in the small-pony ride Kate gave me some tools that I immediately put to use on Captain Flounderpants to prevent him from taking such terrible advantage of me. I cackled the whole time and Flounder, reluctantly, gave up.


yellowhorse in his natural habitat, snoozin in shavings

Torturing myself and learning more about my weaknesses is kinda my jam, so I was very, very excited to be a demo rider. I have some crazy asymmetries and the world’s least box-like torso and I was pumped to have them addressed in front of a crowd. As a demo ride you are not allowed to change what you’re doing until you’re specifically told to, or told to experiment with changing it. So you really get used to the uncomfortable.

Over the course of the weekend, many delightful things were said about me. Things like, “you have a great attitude about this,” and “she has a great tonal quality to her legs, like putty” and “the stuffing doesn’t fade from her legs partway down, I wish I had that” and “you want to see that tendon, which she has in spades”. Those were really awesome things to hear. I’ve been working on the quality of my leg position and tonality all year long, ever since last year’s workshop. So to hear that it’s been paying off was obviously wonderful.


super casual GP rider olympic long list saddle club times

But I also got to hear many other delightful things about me. Things like, “I almost never tell riders to stretch up. You’re one of them. Congratulations.”, and “can you hang yourself in a harness? Good, now hang yourself some more,” and “Nicole’s torso is one of the hardest I’ve worked to align, it’s a total soap in the bathtub.” Also, “she has a layer of shifting sand above her pelvis”, and “have you had a serious head injury at some point in your life?”  and “keep working on hanging yourself over there!” Additionally, “I think Nicole has the squashiest middle I’ve ever seen on a rider. Congratulations! You’ve given me a new challenge!”

To say that I’m pleased I could be one of the few riders Mary has ever told to stretch up and the squashiest middle she’s ever seen would be a vast understatement. I’m fucking delighted.

But my delight isn’t just in Tanya Vik naming me most likely to have organs made out of shifty sand (or Mary’s suggestion – tiny polystyrene balls) or having Anne Howard complimenting the putty-like quality of my leg or Heidi Chote telling me that I did a good job through Floundy’s ridiculous head-swishing or Agi Yother saying my resistance is strong or Joan Bolton telling me my following mechanic is quite good. Yes, obviously I’m happy to brag ad nauseum about those things, because they made my chest puff up. And it wasn’t even getting to watch GP riders heckle one another about their biomechanical flaws. (“You look like the type of people we make fun of. And I don’t want to have to make fun of you!”)

The real delight is the whole environment. Everything taken together. First time learners, second time learners, old-timer-learners, returning learners. All of us working together on a puzzle and trying to put it together into its most whole and accurate form. Some of us have more pieces than others, some of us are the pieces, some pieces disappear after you find them, and some of us don’t even know about the existence of certain pieces yet — we’re just starting to learning that maybe there’s something missing in our puzzle because all the pieces we do have don’t fit together quite right and there’s a kindof puzzle-piece-shaped-hole right in the middle there.

we reviewed footage of the canter. flounder did not approve of canter.

It’s learning. It’s learning and discovery about riding and learning, in an environment full of people who love to learn about riding and learning. And I got to be right in the middle of it. A beginning learner riding okay-ish on a LessonHorse™ listening people to talk about my greatest and most obvious flaws, none of which I knew existed before that moment.

It was awesome.

As Mary always says: rosebud is no worse than a rose.

new found glory

The first time I laid eyes on Fergus I was a little taken aback by the funny little face on this funny little horse coming up to me in the wash rack. This little bay thing had the flattest face I’d ever seen on a horse, but without the refinement that lends elegance to other horses. With his eyes slightly bugged out sideways and a little whale-eye showing, he had a vaguely Anuran look to him. Which is absolutely not to say I didn’t think he was cute — I thought he was adorable! But not, perhaps, handsome.

Fergus is a 13-year-old 15.2 (or 3? or 1?)-ish appendix (TB x paint technically, but all of those paint horses have QH parents). He was picked up by TrJ in Kentucky some years ago when she was there for Rolex. She has a knack for picking up very neat horses — though in reality I think that knack is knowing a lot of people and knowing exactly what she will and won’t compromise on in a horse. When he came home he was slated for one rider, but that didn’t quite work out, and then got passed around like the town barn bicycle for a while: teaching a lesson here, pitching in at a show there, generally being a good guy.


both my boys together – Samwell and Fergus

In late 2018, Fergus sold to someone within the barn who was looking to transition from fun, non-serious riding to still fun, slightly more serious competing in lower level eventing. And that’s when I started to get really familiar with Fergus, because he showed up in the BN jump group with his owner, A, from week to week to week. He was always a good boy; I don’t think I saw him quit on a fence once. But he was prone to getting a little bunchy and zippy, and ducking behind the contact instead of pushing into it.

um that’s an interesting view….

When TrJ first suggested I give Fergus a try I was intrigued, but cautious. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take on such a “project” in the contact, and I was still butthurt that I wouldn’t be getting in some 3′ miles with Harry. I’m so glad I was wrong.

I had a little tester lesson on Ferg before we made the lease official, and in that one ride I was totally smitten. He is a bit of a project in the contact, but TrJ was totally up front about it. We focused on getting Fergus to stretch down and lean into the bridle for much of our lesson. It’s not that he won’t go there, it’s just not his first choice.


I just really love this pole it tastes soooo gooooood

And his canter? It got me like woah. He stepped into it and I was all :heart_eyes_emoji: It’s such a smooth, easy stride. It feels so niiiiiiiice.

Ferg’s been happily cruising around BN for the last few years, stepping in when people needed a catch ride, but I don’t think there’s anything stopping him from running around a novice or two. In the last year A has become a good barn friend (another vet, surprise surprise — I have a type!), and she’s been so kind and accommodating about my desire to show. We’re working on a show schedule together so that she and I both get to go to the shows we want and Fergwyn doesn’t get tired out. (I mean there’s really not much of a risk of that since we’re both so busy.)


he’s the perfect size for me – and also, look! we can do trot poles!

Also, he’s so easy going. Sure, he has opinions. When we go into the arena he immediately knocks over TrJ’s “secret” cookie jar and insists on being rewarded for his cleverness. And yes, one day he riled up every single horse in his pasture in an attempt to avoid being caught. Okay, he also gets a bit tense under saddle — that’s something we can work on. But for the most part he takes a joke well, ground ties, and is a quiet, sensible creature. It’s lovely.

also, we canter! and i, apparently, look at the ground?

So that’s the Fergus. And yes, I’m already low-key planning to steal him and if A suddenly goes mysteriously missing you know it wasn’t me, even though I’d totally take home her two incredibly adorable little dogs as well as her horse. Oh and did I mention that he’s the PERFECT size for me? Oh and that he has a GREAT registered name? New Found Glory. It’s cute AF.

Yeah so for my future horse I need Fergus a small, well-schooled, fun, gelding who will take me on All The Adventures.


also I was wrong, he’s not a butterface at all he’s so fucking cute and he loves food

leasing: the struggle is… medium

The last year of leasing has been an interesting one. And, to be totally honest, when I first started thinking about this post two weeks ago, my outlook was much less positive. So far, things have pretty much worked out for me — but things could absolutely not have swung my way, and I’d almost certainly be a bit more mopey right now.

When I first started leasing, I was just looking for something to sit on. Hence, #reboundpony. I’m not the sort to just kinda plod along, plus I was getting a lot of encouragement about the weißwurst from the sidelines, so of course I immediately started working on transforming the pony into something a little more sport-pony-y. But I also thought I would probably only be leasing in the short-term, and so I wasn’t looking for anything in my lease. If that makes sense. I wasn’t trying to find a horse I could progress with, necessarily, just one to help keep me in shape. Samwell was perfect.


I am very cute, now give me cookies

Then Timer literally fell into my lap. Big, fancy, a ton of fun to ride, and opinionated as shit. After working one another out through many lessons and lots of long, romantic walks where I thought deeply about what I was doing, we really started making progress. For sure, I had to do thing on Timer’s terms, but since he was pretty knowledgeable, it wasn’t always a bad thing. I started to think about showing T  at Novice in 2020, and tentatively leveraging his athletic ability and confidence to move up to Training when we were ready. Then in October, T’s owner told me that she would be taking him back at the end of the year. He’d been going so well that she wanted to think about moving him up to Prelim in 2020, and wanted to have more personal control over his jumping schedule.

I was both devastated and completely understood her decision process and needs. If he were my horse, I wouldn’t be sharing him! After taking a minute to wallow and think about impulsively buying something for myself, I put my head to thinking about a solution to my problem. I truly became a schooled-horse convert while riding T. It was the classically simple opportunity to work on myself. And I realized that I’d do a lot more for myself and my riding and my goals to keep riding horses with a higher baseline than I have so I can more easily and effectively level up my skills.

And this is not to minimize or reduce all the lessons that my green horse, and many green horses, have taught me. But I’m not going to get better at coursing 3′-3’3″ by teaching another OTTB how to jump cross rails and trot around the ring with a bit of connection.


this is totally fun, and I want to keep doing it. but I need to develop my own skills, too!

The problem with this plan? I don’t have the money to buy something going, and I don’t have the money to pay for a lease. I was pretty much looking for a care lease of some kind. Even more specifically, a super-flexible-and-or-half-time one — because my schedule is crazy and dumb at times.

Luckily for me, there was another horse at my barn who was almost exactly what I was looking for. Harry: a former Training level horse who didn’t really like jumping Big. So I checked in with the owner and TrJ and we all thought it might work. Harry’s current leaser was backing down to a half lease, so it was a great opportunity for me to slot right in there and pick up the other days in his work week. I took a lesson on him and he was fun! Not super easy on the flat and a bit of a tricker in an oh-I’m-really-quite-poky kind of way, but enthusiastic and happy about jumping. A weird additional perk was that I would be the more knowledgeable of his two leasers, so I felt like I’d be able to really make some progress with his dressage without feeling like I was messing up what his owner had carefully tuned to herself.

speaking of carefully tuned
(now I’m just going back through all my favourite pictures)

When I got back to the barn in January though, things with Harry had changed. His other leaser wanted to up her days on him again, and a teenager moving up from a pony had been taking lessons on him on his other days. And so Harry’s work week was accounted for, and suddenly I found myself up in the air about what I would ride again.

How could I complain? I’m not going to demand that people bend their leases or lessons around my riding desires, especially when I’m not in a position to pay for what I really right now. I’m in the position of begging and being unable to choose, and I’m not the type of person to complain about how unfair that is. I mean, not endlessly anyway. I reserve the right to complain about it once or twice when feeling sorry for myself.

A tiny part of me felt butthurt that TrJ hadn’t prioritized my riding development as much as the teen’s or Harry’s leaser. But I knew logically that TrJ was absolutely not trying to leave me out with her decision. And that’s the rub with leasing, isn’t it? So much of it isn’t your decision as the leaser. You aren’t just negotiating with the horse, you’re negotiating with the owner and any other riders hopping in on the horse. Which, I’ve learned, can totally suck — like if the horse is used to being ridden *just so* by his very talented owner, it’s going to be hard for you to get the same results from him as she does because you aren’t her. Or if the kid wants to take the pony to a show on your lease day and it happens to be the only day that week you can ride and you can’t change your schedule to change that…. what you gonna do? Be a dick and smash the kid’s opportunity to take the pony out? I guess maybe. I’m just not that big of a dick though. *shrug*

remember when I could kinda ride? (wow this fence looks small. how? I’m not jumping bigger than this right now.)

Oh, and the time period before you’ve figured out how to balance and ride the new horse after coming off something you could ride pretty well and you feel like the most incompetent rider in the world? Duuuude I’ve felt it hard this year. On a pony who I totally thought was going to be a breeze to ride. On a horse whose owner makes him look so straightforward. On a horse who has packed his leaser around from her first show to being the 4th placing adult rider in her division for 2019. I couldn’t ride any of those horses satisfactorily when I first got on them.

In short, leasing kinda sucks.

But it’s also amazing! Because as much as I couldn’t ride those horses in the beginning of my lease (or the middle, at times), I gained a ton of skills from them. Both specific skills for that horse, and more generalizable skills that I could bring to other horses. I stopped being so entrained in just one way of going or balancing or weight in the reins, and learned even more about problem solving.

And luckily for me, TrJ pulled through with a fantastic new lease plan for me. So I don’t need to wallow in the frustrating things about leasing and maybe not getting my riding needs-desires met this year. It doesn’t change the fact that leasing can still absolutely be a struggle, it just skews my outlook to the positive.

Enter: Fergus. I already totally adore him.

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Made a sweet new friend this week 😍

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slow and steady wins 2020

I’m still adjusting to making goals without having my own horse. Making goals with horses always has a — sometimes pretty big — element of uncertainty around it. Leasing and catch riding adds a whole ‘nother layer of shifty, unstable, precarious sand to my skills-castle-building. So it took me a while to figure out how I could make concrete and actionable goals that still point me in the trajectory of my big picture goals.

Long term I’m still working toward making the step up to Training, hopefully eventually Prelim, and beyond that — we will see. This isn’t something that will happen this year, and probably not even by the end of next year. But there are absolutely skills I can chip away at to achieve this goal: developing my seat, leg, and feel; becoming a more tactful rider overall; improving my jumping position; breaking down old bad habits (pulling, shutting down gaits); getting more comfortable in more forward gaits; etc. I refuse to let my horselessness hold me back from these things. I’m considering 2020 a development year, and I’m going to try to take a really whole-istic view on improving myself as a rider.

With that in mind, my biggest goal is to journal every ride. I started blogging as an extension of my riding journal. And when I stopped blogging much last year, and had long stopped keeping a physical ride journal, I lost a lot of my deep-thinking-about-riding space. Even just a couple of bullets about a ride is valuable, and keeps me thinking about how I’m going to move forward.

I’m also planning to shut up and just do what my trainer tells me to. Yes, I am that dumbass who needs to remind herself to do what her trainer — to whom she pays good money for quality instruction — tells her to do, because she overthinks everything and is being a dummy.

let me distract you from my foolishness with my first stab at a black-background portrait

I’m also going to do another 12 month of position fixes. I liked it so much last year, it’s back.

  • January – seatbones vertical & close back of armpits
  • February – seatbones vertical & close back of armpits (a twofer since it’s a short two months)
  • March –
  • April –
  • May –
  • June –
  • July –
  • August –
  • September –
  • October –
  • November –
  • December –

The horse plan is to keep leasing. There are changes afoot in that realm that I’ll probably dive more into later. Riding not-my-horse has made me feel like an utterly incompetent rider in a way I haven’t felt in years. But it’s also taught me skills I would never have learned if I  just kept riding my-horse. Leasing experienced horses? It’s good for growth. I’m going to keep doing it. The second half of the horse plan is to not buy a horse. This is absolutely a cheater goal. If I don’t buy a horse, I succeeded in my goal. If I do buy a horse, this is not a goal I’m sad to fail at. Cheaters always prosper.

I’d also like to just ride more horses. I want to keep expanding my skills by riding more horses, which is something I had the opportunity to do in the past but hasn’t been as available to me lately. But as I become more of a fixture at my barn, I’ve had a couple of offers to ride other ponies, and I’d like to make sure I say “yes” to this more often! Take some of those lessons I learn in my, you know, lessons, and see how I can make them work on other horses.

oh man this was such an awesome doggo. i feel like if i just keep snuggling up to strange doggos eventually one will follow me home and then the dinglehopper i married will be forced to let me keep it.

I’m still thinking about my next horse though, and I’d like to get a better idea of what I’m looking for in a partner so I can narrow down the search parameters. I have some long thoughts on this, too. And since what I’m going to be looking for is outside of my current budget, saving for new horse is back on the table. With steadier income and a better life-schedule, though, this should actually be possible this year.

On the blog front, I’m committing to make time and space in my life to blog at least once a week (on average). There will be weeks this doesn’t happen, but that’s what averages are for!

Personally, I’m working toward no zero days. I’d like to make some tangible progress on my very long, very complicated, very eclectic to-do list every day. Even if this means taking just 15 minutes and sweeping the floor of the workshop so that the next time I head in there it’s safer to work, or lengthing a pile of logs so that we can split and stack more efficiently the next time husband and I get some free time together on the weekend.

love my little space hog

I’m also going to work on 12 months of personal improvement as well. But uhhh, January is off to a slow start so we’ll have to put a pin in those details for now.

My garden goal this year is to grow all the produce I need for Thanksgiving. I’m so excited for this! I don’t garden because I’m obsessed with organic food or because it saves money (actually it kinda does, which is neato) or because I fetishize living off-the-grid and independently of the massive agricultural waste machine that exists in this country (it is very wasteful). I garden because it brings me an absurd amount of joy to spend time watching things grow and then to cook and eat something and be like “I grew that!” However, except for a few notable exceptions (tomatoes and cucumbers), I’ve always gardened without much structure. Want to grow more tomatoes? Plant more tomatoes! Not sure what kind of green beans to grow? Grow them all! Don’t know how many peas to plant? Who cares! This year I’m trying to calculate how much of each item to plant so that I’ll have enough of them at Thanksgiving to fill out all of the produce needs for the meal. Also this goal involves more planning and probably color-coding and seed selection AND I LOVE PLANNING AND COLOR-CODING AND SEED SELECTING!!!!!!

I also rediscovered my crazy love of reading this year. Some nights I just sat down with a book instead of the TV and suddenly I caught myself staying up way too late trying to finish things, ignoring my husband, and generally reverting to my amazing teenage habits about reading. This year I’d like read 40 books (I’m already one down!).

And finally a big one, which is going to be a massive multi-part-er-multi-year-er in my life. This winter our show team faced some hard decisions about how we want to continue with our shows. We’ve been plugging along at a subsistence level, running an okay show and barely covering our costs. We’ve made some really big improvements, but none of us was satisfied with the effort-to-payoff ratio that was going into the shows. So we decided that we need to either majorly step up our game and push our shows to the next level or call it quits. We decided to push. We’re doubling down on improvements, adding fences, cutting new tracks, hiring new officials, increasing our staff team, improving our social media presence, and making a huge effort to turn the horse trials and dressage shows at WSS into something that people love to come to. This year I’d like to focus on three things:

  • delegate more tasks to trusted team members
  • develop a weekly social media presence for the shows
  • come in under-budget

With any luck, we’ll get more entries than previous years and run an even more amazing show than ever before!

whoop, there goes gravity

I want to say “how the fork did so much time pass since I last wrote something?!” but that would be disingenuous. I know how that happens. You get home from work or riding or errands and it’s dark at 4:30 PM (because, it turns out, Portland is north of Toronto, and basically on the same latitude as Montreal and Ottawa) and because it’s already dark you light a fire to make it nice and cozy inside and once you’ve lit the fire you’d better sit by the fireplace and watch tv to appreciate the warmth of the fire and your dinglehopper husband has this thing about not tiptaptyping away on your laptop when you’re watching tv “together” so your laptop goes ignored from 4:30 PM until next week even though you totally have things to write about.

So there you have it. One day turns into two days turns into November turns into 2020. And you’ve watched all of Dark and The Crown and Rick and Morty and read a big old pile of books on top of that and somehow haven’t written anything on the blog. Even though you totally have thought-vomit to share!

But it’s all priorities, right? And I can’t — and don’t — expect my priorities to be the same as they were in grad school. It’s still taking me a bit to adjust to the idea that my life doesn’t leave as much time for blogging as I had in the past, even though I’m obviously living the reality of it.  I have a little bit of inner turmoil about it, but since there’s not much I can do to change my schedule, I don’t dwell on it too much.


i met this dog at Rebecca. his name is Dwight.

One of the repercussions of not blogging as much is not having a good record of my thoughts and learnings after rides and lessons. And when I sat down to think about goals for this  year, I was like “well, I’ll just skip the 2019 goals recap, no big deal.” But then I looked back and saw that I skipped my 2018 goals recap and the last one I did was in January of 18! I was slightly horrified, that is forever ago. THAT WAS LAST DECADE! I’m willing to give myself a pass on the 2018 goals recap since I was still wallowing in the misery of retiring Murray at that point.

Things keep changing in my life, and this year is no exception. So here’s what we got through last year, and we’ll just have to wait and see what 2020 brings us.

 

12 months of position fixes – I’m giving myself a 6/10 for this. I know I only have 6/12 months of position fixes on there, but May, June, and December were basically a wash for me in terms of riding — I was out of town more than I was in. These weren’t perfect fixes, but having something to think about and tie my rides together each month was good for me.

  • January – twist right! specifically, right hand to the right of the neck always
  • February – heel-hip-shoulder alignment, check with a whip periodically during
  • March – internal thigh rotation
  • April – tone up left leg
  • May –
  • June – firm up left oblique
  • July –
  • August –
  • September –
  • October – turn on backline
  • November –
  • December –

Lease for 4 months (before buying)10/10! I’m still leasing and will be doing so for a while yet, I think.

Lessons 3x a month (as the schedule allows) Giving myself a 7/10 on this one. There were a lot of months (see above) when I didn’t lesson at all, but if I was around and T was feeling good, we lessoned on the weekends for sure! And I even got a few private lessons in there.

and look how good at riding i am after all those lessons!

Take the pony to one show 0/10 here — womp womp. The timing just never worked out.

Start looking for a new horse Um. Does window shopping count? More realistically, I cancelled this goal when I saw that it wasn’t in the (mostly financial, but also time-constraint) cards for me this year.

Save for a new horseI didn’t get to this, thus no shopping. My income has been super spotty and variable since I moved to Oregon, which makes saving hard. 0/10. Got an awesome rooster though.

12 months of good habits This did not go as well as the position fixes. Once again, I was gone a lot, but many of these habits just didn’t stick (bummer). I’m halfway there on a few of them, they just need more time and reinforcement history to become real habits. 1/10

Complete twelve house projects I did not get as many big house projects done as I wanted, but I got a lot of important stuff finished up. We put in a massive garden (um, that we may need to re-chip this winter, ah well), cleaned out the dining room, removed the obsolete technology shelf, finished a chicken coop, finished the incubator (and used it with great success!), installed the solar coop door, made gravity-fed chicken feed and water tubs that supply a month’s worth of food…. I’m seeing now that most of these goals had to do with chickens but WHATEVER. 10/10. Chickens rule.

Run once a week (on average) LOL Oh man. Not sure when I will just give up on running goals? The thing is, the more you run, the easier it is to run. I just… don’t like running and don’t make time for it. But it is winter, and I do need to stay fit so… I guess this one will go back on the table this year. 0/10.

Work on the SO regarding a second dog After extensive discussions this goal was really scrapped. I mean, I worked on him for sure. That part was successful. But my need for a second dog diminished as the year went on. When an awesome dog falls into my lap, I’ll be ready for them. For now, I have Queen Jellinore (and future foster dogs I hope!).

Do more goodDoes running horse trials and getting more dressage shows in my region count as doing more good? 2/10

Write more science-based blogs Didn’t happen. Time is hard to come by in my life. I keep playing with chickens instead of doing other stuff.

Meet more bloggers! I did this! It was awesome! 8/10 ’cause I could have worked harder and met a few more. However, in addition to meeting some new bloggers, I met some awesome new people and made some amazing new friends. Mostly through running the horse trials. It really warms my heart when amazing people show up to help you and love working on your project and just keep coming back and supporting you and being useful. Those people are the best people. I love you, awesome people.

Murray still gets his own category here! Just ’cause he’s retired doesn’t mean he can’t better himself. But, really, he has only one goal:

Do not get kicked out of his cushy retirement situation. This year Murray was the KING of achieving his goals and got 100%! He did get kicked off of Wonder Farrier’s list for trying to kick her, but her assistant is happy to trim him every 12 weeks (he’s on an every-other cycle trim plan) with the help of some WonderDrugz(TM). The damn smackie threatens to kick as soon as the farrier gets to his hind feet, and we’ve tried working through it but he just gets rude. He will, however, stand perfectly still for a little IV injection and then happily submits to hind trims. The bastard. HOWEVER, he’s good with his pasture buddy, he keeps weight on well, doesn’t even wear a blanket, and he’s not expensive. He can have all the drugs he wants.

(PS: The post title references from from this Eminem song. It always springs into my head when people say “Back to reality,” which happens a lot at this time of year.)

Gosh it’s been a minute.

This summer has been a whirlwind. Which you can probably understand by the fact that we’re most of the way through fall and I’m still talking about summer. Oops.

Sally photbombs with reckless abandon

Farming is so much work. I didn’t move here thinking it would be easy, I’m not a complete dullard. And there are things that are hard that I totally expected to be hard. But there are so many utterly unexpected hard things. And so many things that aren’t actually that hard, they just all need to be done right now this week this day this minute and there’s only one of me to do it and suddenly the day is gone and I still have seventeen things that needed to be done yesterday on my list for tomorrow and oh things could die if I don’t get my act together and do it.

(I know I didn’t post about this explicitly, but our move to Oregon was inspired by a need for someone to manage our family farm. It’s a long story — quite literally, as the farm was founded in 1921 — but suffice to say, I wanted the job and the in laws were willing to take a risk on me doing it.)

But it’s been a magnificent summer nonetheless.

I rode an elefante.

I went to Rebecca Farms with the Gallops Saddlery team and had the most wonderful time.

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I suddenly understand why they call it Big Sky Country

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I went to a dopeasfuck wedding.

I ran another horse trials and it was even better than the first two.


We set the dressage courts with a laser level and it was LIFE CHANGING

Timer and I have been working together better than ever. There were lots of days I had to skip rides this summer and even this fall, but he’s a champ. He’s teaching me a ton. It’s fabulous.

I have many learnings to share. They will have to come later.

I hatched chicks!


I learned that 2 is the maximum number of freshly hatched peeps I can fit in my tiny hand

And we had a power outage the day they hatched so I spent most of a night with them stuffed in my robe desperately trying to figure out how to keep them in 95*F+ temps until we got power back.

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Let me tell you about last night. . At 1:36 am the incubator low temperature alarm wakes me up. I'm annoyed about it because I'm super tired and had a hard time falling asleep. I'm also pretty sure the last egg in the incubator is dead, so I don't really care if the incubator cools down. I fumble through the dark to get to the thermometers and turn the alarm off, and the hallway light won't come on. Power outage. . Then it hits me. No power, no heat lamp on the chicks in the brooder. . I rush over to the brooder and put my hands on the chicks – they are peeping loudly and are cool to the touch, but not huddling together for some reason. Immediately I'm like fuck fuck what do I do? The only things that generate heat in this house right now are me and Ellie. So I throw on my thick robe, sit down next to the brooder box, and tuck the chicks into my bosom. They are annoyed and loud at first, but as they warm up they settle down and fall asleep. They are sooooo soft. . For some magical reason, in my house that is typically a black hole of reception, I have three glorificent bars of LTE. I start looking up what other people have done in this scenario. Disposable hand warmers? Don't have them. Candles? Are you nuts?! A bean/rice bag warmed in the microwave. I don't have power, Karen, the microwave is NOT a solution! . Fortunately, what I do have is a lot of Mason jars and plenty of hot-as-fuck water. I make the chicks a "huddle box" – a small box packed with a towel to trap as much of their own body heat in as possible. Seven chicks are *still* in my bosom at this point. I tuck the chicks into their box and then start filling jars with hot water. I pack the huddle box into a cooler then pack warm jars of water around it. I throw a jar in the box with the chicks for good measure – they can't get burns from skin contact with 135*F glass, right? . Then I trudge outside in the wind and rain and dark, grab an armful of wood, and start building a big fire in the wood stove. And when I say big fire I mean I build a fucking conflagration. I baby it along with a lot of pages from last year's seed catalogs and a whole cardboard box. (cont.)

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We pressed and fermented 20 gallons of cider. (Theresa, my door is open to you. Bring some growlers.)

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Cider pressing weekend

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And canned 42 quarts of tomatoes.

And those were all the things I somehow managed to squeeze in around farm work. I’ve never wished for rain so badly in my life. Which, more than anything, I think, solidifies my status as a farmer now.

So writing fell to the wayside, unfortunately. And so did reading. Though I squeezed blog reading in on many water runs this summer, and it was wonderful to be able to satisfy the horsey itch a tiny bit in those brief times. But I have some thoughts, accumulated from a few months of sitting. And I should have some time to write here soon. I keep thinking the time when I’ll have time is just around the corner, but hopefully I’m right this time.

cooling off

When Murray first decided I first realized that Murray needed to be retired, I was interested in getting a new horse right away. Interested doesn’t even cover it, really. I was desperate. It was like I didn’t know what I would do without a horsey project to call my own. When I went to see that horse back in December (who ultimately didn’t work out) I had spent plenty of time stalking him online and was already imagining what my life would be like with his fabulous show name. I found all of his old sale videos, watched his current sale videos relentlessly, and when he didn’t work out, I was back to scouring the internet, looking for a good deal.


a certain extremely cute pony’s begging behavior is so firmly ingrained that he even begs for treats in the field

It’s a good thing that horse didn’t work out, because the reality is that I didn’t have the money for another horse just then — not the cash up front, and not the cash flow to pay for all the horsey expenses. And I’m still not in the financial or work position where I’d feel comfortable taking on a full-time horse — owned or otherwise.

In January when I posted about my thoughts on future horsey-dom, I had come to terms with the fact that I didn’t really have the money for a new horse yet, but I was still medium-key bummed about it. Sure, pony lessons were fun, but I couldn’t help but think about how much progress I could be making with my new horse in that time. And also heavily window shopping for said horse in the mean time. If a great deal had fallen into my lap in March, I don’t think I would have turned it down.


Murray was never into selfies pre-retirement

More than six months down the line, I’ve no longer got my-own-horse FOMO and I’m very glad I didn’t rush into anything with a new horse. Completely ignoring the money issue — I think we can all take that limitation to its logical conclusion — there are so many things about my current life that make horse ownership impractical. Especially green horse ownership! The glaring issue is the time. All that time I spent driving back and forth to California would not be doing my new (inevitably green) horse any favors. Even when I’m home, the farm isn’t exactly a low-key and undemanding job. I’ve spent more than a few days sitting in the truck or on the tractor for eight hours at a time, doing water runs, prepping fields, checking trees. And those are absolutely not things that I can just ditch to go riding (unlike constantly skipping out on writing up my thesis, lollll).

Also, if I’d bought a horse right after retiring Murray, you bet I would have rushed into it somewhat. Like, sure. I had a list and all that, but I’m also a sucker for a cute face and even more of a sucker for a good price. Emotionally/mentally compromised Nicole is not necessarily logical Nicole — and who knows how much TrJ would have been able to hold me back. That would very possibly have led to me being in a Murray-like position again because I think horses with a lot of “personality” are super funny and adorable. But it could also have led to a not-so-great fit between me and the horse, and then I’d be in the position of trying to sell a young, green horse. Which I know would suck. It absolutely would have led to me being back in the position of riding a green horse and trying to teach a green horse the basics of connection and dressage and jumping and not in the position to grow my skills where Murray and I left off. If I had my own horse, I wouldn’t have the lease on Timer right now.


me with every cute horse I see on the internet: I love you so much and you will be mine

Ultimately, this cooling off period was really good for me. I would never have asked for it at first, but I am so glad it happened. Time really was what I needed to chill out, but having great horses to ride in the interim certainly helped. At this point, I’m completely willing to wait on horse buying — for 6 more months, for a year, for two years — I’m no longer in a rush at all. My new dream situation is to pick up my second horse while maintaining my lease on Timer, so I can keep building my skills on T while new horse settles into the routine and gets with the program.

A few months ago, I was worried that not having my own horse would expedite losing my identity as a rider and someone who loves to learn about and improve my riding. But I’m not worried about that any more. Clearly I’m able to fit riding into my weird and wacky schedule given enough horsey enough flexibility. And even if riding isn’t my seven-day-a-week-all-day-at-the-barn-whenever-I-can-make-it-work hobby obsession of 2014/2015, that doesn’t make me any less able to work hard and grow in the time I do get to spend there. I’d love to get back to riding every day or even multiple horses a day in the future, but it’s just not in the cards right now. And that’s way more okay than I realised back in December.


more idyllic trail rides in my future, please!

bay ears again

Back in February, one of the ladies at the barn (J, not to be confused with Trainer J/TrJ) floated a really interesting idea to me at TrJ’s birthday party. J and I were talking about her two horses, and she said she needed to find a leaser for her gelding now that he was back in full work, and then said “you should lease him!”

who would not want to play with this adorable snoot

I was just a month into the pony lease at this point, and didn’t want to offend my new trainer further (after the offense of having to deal with Murray while I was gone in Australia) by dumping her pony for a lease that doesn’t really benefit her. Plus, I was deep into being poor and having not very much time, so I wasn’t in a rush to make any changes. I told J as much, and she thought that was totally reasonable.

As the pony and I continued to work together, and I accumulated a bit more money, the full-size-horse bug came back. Sammy is awesome, and he’s a ton of fun. But riding a pony is not the same as riding a horse, and there was always a part of me that felt like I would struggle with showing him even at BN. Maybe it was totally mental — 2’7″ fences do look pretty big from the back of a 13.2 hand pony — but I just felt weird about taking him out and galloping him XC. Plus, my ability to grow my skills at Novice were definitely curtailed with the pony. So when J and I talked one day about my concerns with showing the pony, she asked again if I wanted to lease her gelding. And I was definitely interested.


the forking cutest

We figured out a way to present this idea to TrJ in the most appealing way possible, and luckily for us, she thought it was a good idea too! So in mid May, I got to swing a leg over this adorable brown lug: Timer. (The pony has not been abandoned, he’s enjoying a full lease from the kid who half-leases him during the school year.)

he has the sweetest face

Timer was pulled from the track by TrJ when he was 8, after racing nearly 50 times and winning around $40,000. (Which is actually not a lot of money for a horse who spent so long on the track.) T took a long while to adjust to being off the track — he was strong and opinionated and liked things to be just so. J bought him a few years after he came off the track, and with TrJ did much of his training. Timer and J were competing at training level when he injured his suspensory (about 3 years ago, I think). The tear itself was straightforward, but the vets were not optimistic about his prognosis because Timer hated stall rest and behaved very poorly in there. So J opted to throw him out in pasture and just let him do his own thing. Three years later, he’s healed up and back in full work, but J has a second horse and not enough time for both of them. Which means that I’m lucky enough to get to half lease him!

also cannot wait to tackle our 1200m gallop track with him!

It works out perfectly for both me and J. She’s busy, and I’m flexible. If she can’t make it out, she just lets me know and I’m happy to make the time to ride him. If she wants to show him, it’s not a big deal for me to cancel a couple of rides, and she’s been great about giving me extra time on Timer after a show. If I want to show him, she’s happy to have me get him out! J is really super encouraging and very excited for me to take him out to a show. It’s kinda a half lease dream, honestly. I am SUPER excited.

Timer is quite literally the nicest horse I’ve ever had a chance to ride for more than one or two lessons/pony ride type things. He’s basically a Novice packer, and J is working on getting him back up to Training level this year. He’s particular, but he responds really well to good biomechanics and good riding. And TrJ knows him inside and out — literally all I have to do is what TrJ is telling me, and I can fix any problem on him. T is a quirky fixture at our barn — he’s talented and funny and fast and well known and sweet and sassy and awesome. I can already tell that I’m going to learn SO MUCH from him.

a pasture full of brown horses

I’ve only had the chance to ride a handful of times so far, but I LOVE sitting on this horse. HE GIVES ME SUCH A GOOD FEELING. For real. There are times he’s a bit strong or it’s clear that my cues are not the ones he’s used to, but time and lessons will fix that. And he is a fabulous ride. He’s comfy and feels fancy and despite being particular, is actually pretty easy as long as I don’t do any weird shit or pull on him all the time. I’m sure I’ll be humbled very soon, but for now, he’s perfect.

You know when you’re a kid (or a teenager or a young adult or whatever) in a barn, and someone else gets given the lease/ride on the nicest horse in the barn or your trainer’s favourite horse? (And maybe you’re kinda jealous and butthurt because why wasn’t it you?) I’M FINALLY THE ONE WHO GETS THE RIDE THE FAVOURITE HORSE! And it is awesome.

feeling a titch smug

murpdate

One of the benefits of going to California all the damn time this Spring was being able to drop in on Murray a couple of times. The first time I visited he was VERY wary. But after he realized it was me, and that I was delivering many and varied delights in the form of carrots and scratches in all his favourite places, he capitulated and stood still for a photo.

it will shock nobody to hear that he’s still a dweeb

Murray loves living in pasture. Shocking, I know. But he’s still Murray, and he’s not quite living up to his 2019 goals. Namely that he’s not tooootally behaving himself.

First, he was a huge pain in the ass to the farrier. In the beginning he wouldn’t even let the farrier touch him at all. They worked up to doing his front feet just fine, but Murray still had a major problem with the farrier touching his back feet. I tried to help out and manage him during a farrier appointment in May, but he was beyond bribery at that point. The farrier was like “how do you feel about drugs?” and I was like “drugs are great.”


keep scratching, human

And that little fucker let the farrier give him a light sedative with no complaints, then went right to sleep for a hind trim. He acts up juuust enough to get drugs from the farrier, and then goes right to sleep. He’s basically a junkie.

He’s also a bit of a pain in the ass to my MIL about being caught. When Murray first got to the ranch he was RUDE about EVERYTHING (um…. surprise?). So MIL was doing ground work with him a few times a week to make him a bit more respectful. After which, he would go on a bit of a strike about being caught. Even with a grain bribe he can be a bit iffy for her.

got a mane trim because I couldn’t handle the feral hair situation

Bizarrely enough, the horse now stands in the cross ties. For like, an hour at a time if needed. As feral as he is, apparently cross ties are now acceptable.

Visiting Murray is truly bittersweet. I don’t think I’ve gotten through a visit without having a bit of a cry. When he’s 600+ miles away, it’s easy to just think of his recalcitrant and difficult behavior and conformational (and mental) challenges. But in reality he’s still a cute, sweet, goofy, hilarious horse. He’s not even a bad-looking horse. There are many more hideous horses out there successfully working and competing with their riders. It doesn’t feel fair. But, life’s not fair.

Fortunately, it’s very clear that retirement is what he needs. He’s pasture sound, but he’s not sound sound. He’s perfectly comfortable and happy in doing whatever he wants all day, but his short-stepping behind has become more pronounced. That helps, because it erases all the “what ifs” from my mind.

Next time I visit, I’m going to start teaching him silly tricks like bowing or Spanish walking (or lying down even?!!) for fun. Just because he’s retired doesn’t mean he gets to escape all torture.