Monday, July 31, 2017

West Virginia Summertime

Summer has been beautifully mild so far in the higher elevations of West Virginia. I can honestly say I have yet to be "miserably hot" this year - a fact for which I am very grateful.

Our lush green mountains have been quite exceptional thus far, too, and I've been doing my best to enjoy them to the fullest. Below is a collection of photos that really haven't fallen easily into any one post I've written this summer.

Home is a beautiful place.

So many bikers for the Ride at 5 during the mountain bike festival
Peak mountain laurel bloom!
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Run What Ya Brung mountain bike trials; appears easy but in reality is SO hard
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It's kind of like a highly complicated trail/obstacle course in a horse show
Down downs following our bike hash; Sue organized the festival so
she was given waayyyy too much alcohol to down down - she shared haha
Dad's flowers; always magnificent.
Sunset drama from our front porch
Sunbeams and high grass
Red Canada lily
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I've been busy with my growing photography business this summer....
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Shooting this wedding was a blast and I was so happy to be able to be a part of this for my friends
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And to date, the photos from this wedding are some of my favorites I've taken
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It helps when you have wonderful subjects
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Especially when they're too cute for words!
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 Hi, I'm Kenai and I'm here to party.
No big deal, just my morning commute vista.
North end of Canaan Valley
My strategically planted 4th of July flowers and a damn good beer on the 4th.
Always love these flowers in my dad's yard. The hummingbirds enjoy them, too!
More random wildflowers in our neighborhood
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More photography, this time an engagement shoot! This couple lives more remotely than
me and I tried to incorporate a more "rustic" feel to their shoot.
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This old cabin and the afternoon light was fun to play with. I dub this photo, West Virginia Gothic.
Peak rhododendron bloom training rides with Dan.
Dolly Sods hiking with my best guy who's moving better than ever these days!
Seriously, how could you not love this state?!
Evening mountain bike rides with 3 national champions lead to shenanigans
Butterfly weed at sunset
More Canaan Valley vistas from this last weekend
Didn't even edit these...they're straight out of camera...whereby camera is my cell phone this go around!
Open understories flush with hay scented ferns are my favorites this time of year

Monday, July 24, 2017

Down to the Wire

Conditioning for RBTR continues...

Yeah, home really doesn't suck at all. Hard to believe that's real life and not some backdrop!

Granted, not quite with the frequency I'd imagined, but we're trying.

Originally, I had envisioned that moving Stan to Canaan would afford me with the opportunity to ride him 3x a week at a minimum. Hahahaha. While the idea wasn't totally ludicrous, the reality was strikingly different.

Life [due to work] has been so exceptionally insane lately. It's my new norm, I fear, and while I am and will continue to adjust, it just takes time. Unfortunately, the adjustment period has come at an unfortunate time for prepping a non-Arab for a small endurance feat. 

Stan's first visit along the Blackwater River

I know I haven't put nearly the time into him that I should have, but I know I have done all that I could have considering my current amalgamation of chaos.

From July 4 through July 21, Stan was only ridden 5 times. (Oh god, seeing that in writing seems woefully inadequate. Erm, quality over quantity?) On each of those rides, he climbed a minimum of 1,000 feet. The shortest ride was 2½ miles and the longest ride was 23 miles.

After 15+ miles of leading, Stan was done. Fortunately MJ did a great job.

We're 12 days from race day today. I know Stan is in better shape than many horses and have no doubt he can complete the 30 miles required of us. I also know that the terrain won't bother him considering we have been climbing much more than we will have to do at RBTR.

I have a good conditioning schedule lined up in these last few days before the race. And I also have a solid electrolyting plan in place to help guarantee further success.

Lean, mean, endurance machine!

But if I'm being completely honest, I'm still worried about pulsing to criteria within the time limit. The joys of a non-Arab in this sport!

I know how to come into a hold slow and easy and plan to have a solid crew to sling and scrape ice water, but still, we won't know if it's enough til we're in the moment! I can only pray for a lovely breeze to help us out...

This old QH does NOT walk fast.

With careful planning and a bit of luck, we should be just fine. Logical Brain knows this, but Irrational Brain still tickles at the back of my mind making me fear failure more than I should.

I only want to succeed so badly so that I can sponsor Lauren through her first LD on her own horse. You see, she's done an exceptional job stepping up to the plate and conditioning MJ this summer. He's more than LD-ready and should have no problems at RBTR, I just hope my old man and I can show up to help her through it!

I'm so proud of Lauren for getting out there and doing what many 13 year olds
don't have the initiative to do. She's been working with her horse 6 days a week
in some fashion all summer to make sure he can be the best he can be.

Stay tuned for how this may go... It's going to be exciting right down to the end!

Tell me about a time you were down to the wire and were uncertain about how a competition / lesson / clinic would go. What was the outcome? Or perhaps you've had someone else relying on you to help through something, do you feel more pressure as a result? Or maybe you're a steady-eddy no matter what the situation?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Fluid Planning

Originally, I'd planned to hit up two of Loch Moy's Twilight Eventing nights this summer: July 26 and August 30. I took work off and had everything squared away, yet I held off sending in my entry for the first one.

I wanted to first wait and see how XC schooling and the dressage show went last weekend. I figured that would solidify feelings of certainty about entering and help determine which level I would sign up for.

The XC schooling and dressage show went well! Obviously. I came home feeling more confident about making a true eventing debut 2½ weeks later at Loch Moy. But then I started really looking at the calendar, my work schedule, my free time schedule, and all the responsibilities that come with life.

Temporary pasture home, beautiful, no?

Non-horse chaos aside, I needed to find time to work both Griffin and Stan. Griffin needed steady dressage schooling and jumping; Stan needs miles, miles, miles. Because I have someone else (Lauren, the junior I'm mentoring for endurance) relying on me for the RBTR commitment, I can't let Stan's conditioning slide more than it already has. (Ahahaha, we're gonna wing this ride so hard.) But I also don't want to let Griffin's schedule slip away to nothing in the short time before the July 26 event!

Additionally, my work life is a steady state of stress lately and I have had a lot of family commitments and photo gigs lately. I'm managing to climb every weekend right now, barely, but mountain biking has definitely been taking a back seat, which makes me a little sad. It's been hard to balance work life with personal life with horse life lately!

Yin and yang in the backyard temp pen

So perhaps you can see where this is going.

Something had to give.

Something had to give soon or I was going to swirl ever downward into the maelstrom of chaos that comes from juggling far too many balls at once. The fire wasn't hot enough to balance all the irons I'd put in it. I needed to put some balls down and take some irons out of that fire if I was going to keep my sanity.

And so I made the best decision I could that would single-handedly resolve the whole mess of things, even though it meant giving up something I was really excited about: I opted to not go to the July 26 event.

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Channeling zen aka holding back a fire-breathing grey horse; yes, this is the view from my neighborhood. I love my home.

By doing this, I was able to move my leave at work around to provide myself more time to move the horses, more time to condition Stan, more time to focus on strengthening weaknesses with Griffin, more time to relax between my various preexisting commitments, and I'd save some money to boot.

Balancing the workout schedule of multiple horses is hard. Balancing a competition schedule with multiple equestrian disciplines is hard. Both of those things are infinitely harder to balance when you take into account the various other life responsibilities, work responsibilities, financial restraints, personal relationships, and mental peace of mind that one needs to keep moving forward each day.

When using a neck collar, you can really see the Arabian side of Q.
And those big ol' ears!

Fluid planning, and being willing to cancel plans, is the best approach when you've got as many passions and hobbies as I do. I enjoy being busy and doing All The Things, but sometimes I have to cancel certain plans to fulfill others. It's not always easy to make the decision, but I can say with complete confidence that I always feel infinitely better after I make such hard decisions.

There are - and there will continue to be - plenty more opportunities to get out there with Griffin and pursue this eventing dream. We'll get there when we're meant to and it'll be all the sweeter when we do.

How about you - how do you balance horses with the rest of life? Have you had to make any hard decisions lately?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Whirlwind Weekend: Dressage Schooling Show & Conquering Fear

I had every intention of posting this sooner, but unfortunately I have had too much going on to sort through the copious amount of media necessary to do this post justice! I also have crap internet at my house and uploading photos was quite the feat...72 hours of attempting. (I typically wait until I can strategically upload them from my parents' place.) So, without further ado, finally, the telling of our first dressage show...

A Busy & Relaxing Morning

Despite a busy first day that turned into an evening that went past my bedtime and resulted in a headache, Sunday promised an early start yet again. Austen's test was first thing in the morning and mine weren't until 2:27pm and 2:51pm. Full day at the barn for a dressage show: engage!

Our little group stumbled out of the house and into the car by 6:30am Sunday morning to commute to the barn so Austen had time to prep Pig and warm him up.

I'll leave the storytelling to her, but will say it is such a joy to watch the pair of them doing what they love. I admit fully to having some tears in my eyes at the end of the test as Austen loved on Pig and thanked him for executing his job so well once again.

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Following her test, we took a few "glamour shots".

However, knowing Austen had ample glamour shots of her and her boy from years past, I encouraged them to pursue something else they loved but didn't have as many photos of: galloping.

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I love how these turned out and I think it's safe to say that all parties enjoyed the photoshoot thoroughly.

We still had 4 or so hours to kill before my tests. We visited the tack sale, wandered the property, cleaned Griffin up, got snacks from a local farmer's market, and generally lazed about gabbing horses. The weather was absolutely heavenly and it was so pleasant to just laze about in it fully soaking the sunshine, light breeze, and total lack of jungle humidity.

Austen's photo
Find the item that doesn't belong!
PC: Austen
Not. Amused.
PC: Emma

PC: Emma

Finally, it was time for me to get Griffin warmed up for our tests.


I'd done a great job keeping my nerves gagged and locked up in a closet up until this point, but unfortunately, the binds began to break loose and my mind and body became a flurry of freak out. I absolutely manage my fear better than I once did, but still, the tense internal vibration of self-doubt and fear swirled inside me.

Grif, that expression could be a little more enthusiastic!

Regardless, I tacked Grif up and proceeded to the indoor to warm up.

We started just walking so he could see everything. He was a Very Good Boy. I then began to add in spurts of trot, though not quite with number of transitions I would at home. The traffic in the indoor was blowing my mind a bit, despite Griffin being totally nonplussed. Having a larger-than-normal space to work in coupled with additional riders totally blew my brain and my nerves loosened their binds even more.

I kept warming Griffin up and added some circles per Austen's recommendation. Errors on my part and weakness on Griffin's led us to execute quite a bit of counter canter which was unnerving minutes before our test! Fortunately, Emma gave me a beautiful pep talk in a way that calmed me, and then noted that it was almost time for my test and we should go wait by the ring. (All following photos of Grif and I are by Austen.)

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Trying to be a very good boy despite the traffic and the strange location

Cue: nerves fully releasing their binds and running amok in my headspace.

Let's Talk About Fear for a Moment...

I'd like to take a moment to fully address the level of my nerves going into my first dressage show.

See, while I did some 4-H shows as a kid, they weren't anything to write home about. They consisted almost wholly of members of my club that I spent a lot of time with on the regular. When I attended a slightly bigger local show, I only participated in the fun classes like egg and spoon, bareback riding, trail class, barrels, etc. I was in my comfort zone, a safe space, and it was okay.

"Showing" note my super casual attire

For a very long time growing up, I hated ever pushing outside of my comfort zone. I especially didn't like to be in front of people in a manner that I could be singled out. My brother is an actor and I'm amazed by him daily. That kind of thing makes my stomach squirm to think about. I'm the anal-retentive math-science kid. Give me a set plan to execute with reasonably certain outcomes and I'm as happy as a clam. I don't like improv and flying from the seat of my pants - I'm pretty crappy at it! I have reached a point, due to my science career, that I can and I happily will speak publicly, but that's about it so far as me liking to be the center of attention.

My competitive sport of choice that I absolutely excelled at through high school was swimming. I can't hear or see anyone when I'm swimming. It's me and the water and the clock. Zen-like, certainly, and something I have worked on harnessing for other areas of life, but distinctly more difficult without water!

Couldn't find any photos of me actually swimming, but this is immediately post race

Similar to swimming, endurance riding is me and my horse on the trail without spectators. I excel at it because I'm still within the confines of my "comfort zone". Rock climbing, mountain biking, and skiing are all similar: I'm in a safe space with little to no scrutiny. Adrenaline doesn't bother me when it's due to the direct task at hand and not pressure based on a spectator or judge.

As I blogged and learned more about dressage, I really found myself wanting to pursue it. But unlike endurance, I knew I would really need an instructor to make ends meet if I were to find success with dressage. Moreso, I realized I'd probably need to get over my fears of putting myself on display in a show setting in order to get good feedback on where I was with my training. The problem was figuring out how to get past my mental fear block!


But then I found and began following Austen's blog. The way she wrote up her lessons and her show recaps was so matter-of-fact and accepting of feedback received from trainers and judges - you know, the way it's supposed to be. The irrational, illogical mental fear block I'd built up began to shrink as I read post after post of Austen's. The more I read, the more my irrational and illogical thought patterns rearranged in such a way that I knew I could push past my fears and out of my comfort zone.

Right about this time, I also began reading Emma's blog. She, too, wrote up lesson recaps and show recaps with aplomb. The way Emma recaps lessons and shows was [is] in such a manner that I knew I was ready to get out there and find lessons to take and clinics to attend. While still present in some fashion, the mental fear block wasn't in my way anymore.

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Life Coach Emma

It took a few years to put all of the pieces together and reach a point where I was ready to show. I became more and more confident as the time passed, but I know myself really well and knew I'd still have a hard time - especially the first time.

Both Austen and Emma noted to me after-the-fact that I didn't seem so nervous right before my tests. I've worked really hard to reach a point where I'm not as outwardly freaking out as I am on the inside; I'm glad that shows to some extent! But internally? Oh dear god. Internally a war was raging. Logic parried every attack Irrational Fear tried. The mental exercises and practices I've instilled in the years since college to improve myself won out and Logic prevailed in my head....if only by an inch.

Training 1: 66.304 / 3rd Place

And so, using all of the tools in my toolbox, placing faith in my abilities, and trust in my horse and the training I spent so much time putting into him, I trudged marched past the judge with what I hoped wasn't a Scared Shitless Smile. I greeted her with a word of, "It's our first dressage test ever," and headed around the dressage court so Griffin could See All the Things before we entered at A.

Horses being horses, I feel confident Griffin knew my headspace was trying not to freak out. He didn't use this as an opportunity to act out on his own though. He seemed really fucking chill actually. I was so grateful.

In moments, the judge rang the bell and Griffin and I picked up a trot and entered at A.

Enter working trot, halt, salute, proceed working trot. Score: 6.5 
Judge's remark: Shoulders right, haunches left

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We're crooked but damnit we're square. Not too shabby for our first attempt at this thing...

Track left, circle left 20 meters. Score: 6.5 
Judge's remark: needs better contact in outside rein for regularity

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There are a lot of things I'd like to fix about my position, but for where we are in this moment, I'll take it!

Circle left 20 meters developing left lead canter in first quarter of circle Score: 6.5
Judge's remark: slight lean on inside shoulder

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Lean. Yes. But he's picking up the correct lead! WIN.

Working canter. Score: 7
Judge's remark: be softer in contact

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Grif doesn't look too restricted from the contact, here, he's certainly looking around though!

Working trot. Score: 7
Judge's remark: obedient, slightly abrupt

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Obedient...and distracted. HAI CAMERA.

Medium walk. Score 6.5 
Judge's remark: needs consistent contact to express walk

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Yeah. My brain fell out for most of the test so far as the Riding Every Stride goes. I was more focused on staying in ring and
changing gaits at the proper points.

Change rein, free walk, medium walk. Score: 6.5
Judge's remark: needs consistent contact to express walk

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The only moment of stretch he the first 3 strides.

Working trot. Score 7
Judge's remark: None.

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Uh yeah. I have no comment on this either. Good boy.

Circle right 20 meters. Score 7
Judge's remark: needs contact on outside rein and bend

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Outside rein contact is optional though?

Circle right 20 meters developing right lead canter in first quarter of circle. Score: 7
Judge's remark: tilt to inside

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Tilting like a barrel racer! Yeeehaw--wait, this is a different discipline?!

Working canter. Score: 6.5
Judge's remark: slight resistance

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I think the resistance may have been before this photo because I'm pretty sure I popped him one with my whip

Working trot. Score: 7
Judge's remark: None

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Yep. No comment from me either. My smile says how happy I am that we're done.

Down centerline, halt, salute. Score: 6.5
Judge's remark: overshot centerline, shoulders right, haunches left

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Crooked and overshot, but pretty square for a n00b. Also, he isn't wiggling. At home he wiggles when we halt. #winning

As we came down the centerline for our final halt and salute, a wash of feelings overcame me: relief, joy, gratitude, happiness. 

We'd done it. I did it. Griffin did it. The very moment I'd been visualizing for months - trotting down the centerline, halting, saluting - was a reality. 

Now, I just needed to do it again during my second test!

But first, I thanked the judge before exiting the ring. She smiled and made a kind remark about my first test that I don't remember due to my frazzled nerves.

Training 2

I had a short ~20 minutes between Training 1 and Training 2 to learn my next test. 

A more prepared person would have probably looked at the test some before hand. I used to be a more prepared person once upon a time. But now? Now I learned it for true in those short few minutes before I needed to go ride it. 

My nerves were still frazzled from conquering the irrational fear right before my first test. I noted that while I was still nervous for my second test, that nervous was much different this time: I was only nervous because I worried I couldn't memorize the test in time. The fear about going into the ring didn't bother me much at all now!

I quizzed myself again and again as I looked at diagrams of the test until I was certain I knew it. Then I watched the rider in front of me completely forget part of it and knew I would be okay.

In moments, Griffin and I were entering at A again.

Enter working trot, halt, salute, proceed working trot. Score: 6
Judge's remark: not straight

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Track right, circle 20 meters. Score: 7
Judge's remark: sitting behind leg

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Brain was in survival mode, not sit pretty mode. Next time I'm going to work on being more present and riding every stride.

Change rein. Score: 6
Judge's remark: good before X, uneven steps after
I forgot to upload this photo, but take my word for it that it was mediocre. Griffin does move best across the diagonal though, so I believe the judge's comment was accurate and fair.

Working canter left lead. Score: 6.5
Judge's remark: tilt

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Once again, he's on the correct lead and that's all I was really aiming for at this point. I will work on the tilt and our geometry.

Circle left 20 meters. Score: 6.5
Judge's remark: tilt

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Working trot. Score: 7
Judge's remark: obedient
My remark: Probably rather mediocre work.

Circle left 20m rising trot, allowing the horse to stretch forward and downward, shorten the reins, working trot. Score: 6.5
Judge's remark: more stretch out and down

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I'm trusting that the stretching down and out will come with time. For now, he'd rather just ride flat with his nose out.

Medium walk, change rein, medium walk. Score: 5.5
Judge's remark: quick, above bit
My remark: Yeah. I'm just glad we didn't get a 4.

Change rein, free walk, medium walk. Score: 6
Judge's remark: more stretch over back for overtrack

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Not shocking, our walk needs work. We're straight at least?

Working trot. Score: 7
Judge's remark: against hand

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He was sticky and cranky at this point, but he was still playing the game which makes me happy.

Circle left 20 meters. Score: 5.5
Judge's remark: steadier contact for steadier rhythm

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Our contact will be more consistent when we've got more miles off property. Right now everything is too exciting to stay in the contact.

Change rein. Score: 6.5
Judge's remark: better

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Oh so better. Look how cute he is.

Working canter, right lead. Score: 7
Judge's remark: None

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Not so much tilt?

Circle right 20 meters. Score: 6.5
Judge's remark: losing balance on second half, good start

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This is the most awkward photo...

Working trot. Score: 7
Judge's remark: fairly obedient
My remark: Probably a lovely little plodding trot with some semblance of contact...

Down centerline, halt, salute. Score: 6.5
Judge's remark: shoulders right, haunches left

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Crooked but not wiggling. GOOD BOY.

After my test this time, I walked once again toward the judge.

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She called out, "Are you on the centerline?"
My mind fuzzy, I replied, "Sorry? What?"
"Are. You. On. The. Centerline?"
Oh..., "...."
"Stop right there. Okay. Now, are you on the centerline?"
"You're crooked. Every one of your halts has been crooked in both tests. You're giving up easy points. Work on that so you don't have to give them up next time."
"Oh. Okay. Thank you! Yeah, I knew they'd be a problem...we practice in a big open field in the middle of West Virginia, haha, but I'll work on them! Thank you!"

And then my thoughts are fuzzy because the sheer RELIEF at being done overwhelmed and took over.

We did the thing.

Collective Marks and Final Thoughts

Training 1 Collective Marks
Gaits: 6.5
Impulsion: 6.5 "desire to move forward" and "suppleness of the back" are underlined
Submission: 6.5 "acceptance of the bit" and "straightness" are underlined and she wrote "tilts in canter"
Rider's position and seat: 6.5 she wrote that I need better contact in outside reign for clear rhythm
Rider's correct and effective use of the aids: 6.5 "clarity, subtlety" are underlined
Further remarks: A reasonable test with a nice horse. Work on establishing steadier contact and lateral aids

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I think everything noted is super fair. None of it surprises me at all. I know we have weaknesses with contact and I know those magnify when we're in new places with distractions. I expected comments on our contact more than anything else because I know it is the first thing to go out the window when Griffin has distractions around him. When the contact disappears, a lot of other things unravel which is to be expected. 

I think what I was happiest about with this test (and the second one, too) was that we nailed the correct leads for our canter. Second to wanting to stay in the ring, I really wanted to nail those leads. We succeeded at both of these things. YAY. Small goals, y'all...

Training 2 Collective Marks:
Gaits: 6.5 she wrote that we need more march in the walk
Impulsion: 6.5 "suppleness of the back" is underlined
Submission: 6 "acceptance of the bit" is underlined
Rider's position and seat: 6 she wrote that I need to stay seated over my leg
Rider's correct and effective use of the aids: 6 
Further remarks: Better ride.

Once again, nothing here surprises me greatly. That my leg was so much worse this test stings a bit, but c'est la vie. My nerves fried my brain and I can honestly say I wasn't focusing as hard on my position at ALL through much of this test. I was very preoccupied with getting the movements correct when I was supposed to that I really let everything else fly out the window. Honestly, I'm surprised she didn't call out my geometry on my last canter circle because if I recall correctly, it was atrocious!

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Things I will be focusing on in coming weeks: consistency in the contact, straightness, FORWARD, keeping my position no matter how tired/mind-boggled I am, our walk, consistent rhythm in our trot, and a more upright canter in 20m circles. Each of these things is absolutely fixable and workable. They'll definitely be different when we're in a new venue vs. at home, but we'll work to improve them as much as we can while we are at home!

I know I have a lot to work on, but I think we did really well for where we are right now. I'm really proud of doing as well as we did considering I've had a whopping ONE dressage lesson (with Stephen Birchall) to get me to this point. Other than that lesson, all of our training has been guided through conversations with friends, books read, videos watched, etc. This horse and I are self made alone on a small farm in West Virginia. 

For all the lack of close-at-hand resources to help us, I honestly couldn't be prouder of where we are. This feedback helps give me more to focus on in the future. I have feel like every point above is something I can accomplish. I look forward to correcting these issues and finding new problems next time.

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I'd like to end with a really special, heart-felt thank you to Austen and Emma for being there for me all day. Your posts were the original catalyst for helping me believe in myself; the way you told about horse showing/lessoning truly ignited the horse show flame for me. I'm so thankful for your continued help and support as I pursue dressage and eventing from afar. It isn't easy to get eyes on the ground very often where I live, but you two have been there to lend guidance and advice when I need it. Your words of encouragement in the weeks leading up to and the day of this show helped me more than you realize.

And so, I guess Griffin and I have added another item to our resume. I can't wait to get back out there and improve upon our baseline.

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