Guilt and horses

Coming into the holiday season, I’m often confronted by lots of charities, organizations and others looking for donations. I’m using the term ‘confronted’ because honestly, it feels like a real barrage sometimes and because it is the holiday season, it’s all coming in one huge rush. Last weekend when I was grocery shopping (a task that I approach grimly on the best of days) I was approached by both the Sally Ann bell-ringers and some boy scouts selling something…ARGH.


And it’s too much sometimes.

And that makes me feel guilty.

I’m lucky enough to be able to work a good job, I work hard at it, and I have enough support and finances to be able to afford a good but cheaper boarding situation, lessons and training, grain for my horse, the occasional splurge item like a horse show or a road race (ok a lot of road races, they are cheap as anything compared with horse showing).


But that’s also where the guilt comes in even more…Because there are fellow horse people – friends, boarders, trainers, etc., who are not as fortunate as myself and it makes me feel vaguely strange about the relative small luxuries I allow myself.

We all make choices in the world, and because I understand others may not be facing the kind of life I have, I do try to give back, but I mean, I’m comfortable but not exactly a Rockefeller here either…

But I made my choice- to have a horse instead of a kid (like that was ever a competition though, haha), to travel and run races, to have lessons and the occasional horse show.

So, it all kind of comes to a head during Christmas, when we’re reminded daily that others are not so fortunate – not that it matters more this time, but that it’s kind of in your face a lot more over the winter.

Also, my sister recently lost her job and I emphathize strongly with that. It’s tough, and demoralizing, and not something I would really wish on anyone.

So, while I greatly enjoy my horse, my progress and my competitions, it’s important to keep all these fun activities in perspective and doing so may help me manage my ‘comfortable guilt’ for this season. Also, I’m making sure I’m not too ‘wanty’ or grabby hands for things at Christmas. Honestly, what do I really need? Nothing!

I am also trying to make sure I give small tokens of my appreciation to the people that ride with me, have fun with me, coach me and do other things. Maybe I can make their day a little bit brighter too!

It’s the little things, not the big things, that can make a difference.


Private dressage lesson last night due to my regular riding partner feeling ill, so that was good–I had a chance to really ‘work’ what I had been developing with my equine counselor on Monday.

Progress can be hard to measure

Progress can be hard to measure

So, the hopping…

It came back, and this time, we really worked it. Our entire ride last night was focused on a very deep inside bend, to release, to deep bend, to release until Oats started giving down, and pushing down instead of holding, bracing or ‘floating’ on contact.

It was quite challenging, he did ‘hop’ a LOT on the right- hop into canter, keep the bend until he gave up the hopping, then back to tot, hop into canter…Man!

On the left, he felt more ‘sprawly’ and like he couldn’t find his legs or his balance as well as on the right. Because he is left-sided, he doesn’t have to try as hard as on the right, so it feels actually worse?! Weird.

Winter Oats- canter

Winter riding- Oats canters. So, have we gotten better than this?

We did a lot of trotting- big trotting, stretchy trotting, so much trotting. I was quite pleased with Oats’ progression through the exercise. He isn’t really confirmed at this type of work, but that’s not a biggie for me, he’s trying and that’s what counts for me. I appreciate the ‘try’ here.

Ended on a good note, and we had a good discussion earlier about my horse show this weekend, and the good/bad aspects of it. It brought home to me how my ‘mindful’ work is making me more aware of myself, me in my body, and how I’m going about things…Airy-fairy for sure, and ridiculously hard to explain, but it’s slowly, very slowly, making sense to me.

I am able to feel more focused, less drifting (wanting to leave my body) and trying to stay in the moment- still a work in progress for sure, but I’m ok with that.

Glad I was able to make my dressage lesson this week! It has been an inconsistent lesson for me to catch this fall for some reason (Oats got sick, I had to work late, Oats was too drugged one time?!!).

Foxstone show recap: November show!

On paper (well, in ribbons) this show looked pretty darn good- and to be honest, my complains and frustration comes from a place of progress not fear. So that IS a good thing.


My new show jacket! I love it. A big thanks to my trainer for taking me this day.

Let’s break it down: I placed 2nd in the equitation over fences, two thirds in the hunter o/f classes and a fourth in the flat.Not too shabby eh? Well, I made some BIG mistakes in the jump classes, to the tune of not enough leg at all, and a big add in the the line with some chips, and then a lovely round in my second class to a huge fail at the…last fence…shit! We basically stopped, and climbed over it. Nothing but a total failure to ride the last fence on my part, which was very disappointing.

I lit a fire under my butt for the last jump class- I told myself NO MORE CHIPPING and NO MORE ADDING and oh, no more forgetting to ride the last fence and start congratulating myself too early, ha.

And you know what? It was our best round! I was moving.

Except then I didn’t know how to take that ‘BIG’ energy down enough for our flat class and I totallllllly bombed it. Oats was tense and anxious, and I was handsy and clutching, feeling afraid that he was bottled up and bucky, but not really knowing how, at the moment, to deal with it. Shoooot…

So, I kind of flopped, pulled, got anxious and failed my way through the flat class- we picked up the wrong lead on the right (TWICE! kill me now…) and generally I was kind of frustrated and miserable. Our last flat class was a dream so what in hell was going on?

Well heck, it’s all a learning experience! It is actually nice to take what I’ve consciously learned from the first show, and apply it to the second show.

We didn’t get a fabulous warmup- the outside ring was frozen solid- and so was I, by the way! So we had to just slowly walk around, freezing our asses off, until we could get into the indoor to warm up over fences. The scene there was total chaos, some riders seemed to have a warm up technique of repeatedly falling off…I felt disjointed and a bit disorganized, but Oats was a dream to warm up. The only thing I was annoyed about was his throwing his head around, but that’s just a warm up thing, I’m sure.

We then sat…and sat…and sat…freezing our butts off, while we waited for the final rotation to go- and we were last in the final rotation. Lovely.

I think the issues were clear- not enough energy for our over fences classes until the last one, when I finally mustered up enough ‘go’ for the course, and then WAY too much ‘go’ for my flat.

The sitting really killed our impulsion for sure, and then when I needed to be ‘sitting’…well, we were already in the ring for the flat class and didn’t have that necessary ‘decompression’ time Oats and I apparently need to not kill anyone in a flat class. I couldn’t moderate myself enough. It was 0-60 all the time.

Hm, interesting.

I had a dream that night that I was galloping Oats and I felt a bit out of control, but that I also liked it…It was strange. I felt like that dream was telling me that was what I needed at the show, but was blocked from achieving it.

So, last night I did my equine counseling session with Vicki, and kind of actually ended up re-enacting some gallops from my dreams? Weird eh? I guess that was what I needed to get…that big gallop, the good canter, and the ‘free, floaty, smooth’ trot that I could NOT get at the show.

It had to come up somewhere. So it did. I liked it!

I like seeing the progression, and I’m liking the process. So what if I am frustrated–at least it’s taking me places to see new things about myself and my horse.

It’s funny- when I said I was half pleased, half disappointed about the show, Vicki asked what would make me 100% happy about the show. What if I came home with all first places?

I instantly knew I what I would say–that the competition was weak, so I was the best out of the worst.

That surprised me. I need to be happy with what I am achieving right now.

Lock it away in your heart under unfinished business

Jump lesson last night, and I was quite unsure how exactly we would set up a jump course or gymnastic exercise given half the ring is kind of flooded right now…And we are supposed to stay out of it! It’s super mushy and gross.


No fear, apparently. Nicole set up some jumps in a ‘circle of death’ variation, oh joy of joys…As pictured above, but it was 3 jumps on a circle with 4 strides between jumps.

Oats and I tend to really struggle with jumps on a circle- see our recent challenges with the green box on a circle, ha. So, this was going to be a very challenging lesson for us, not in jump heights or nerves, but in sheer frustration.

Oats from 2012-think we've progressed?

We worked over it from the left, trot over x-rail, canter the two other jumps set just as poles on the ground. Then we gradually brought them up to x-rails and it went quite smoothly, some bobbles when I lost my track or forgot to look where I was going, but overall quite nice.


The right lead, dun dun dunnnnnnn….

It was not the success that the left lead was, at all. Oh man, we struggled. Jump the pole to the x-rail too long, miss my turn for the x-rail. Rinse, repeat. Swap leads, fumble to the x-rail. Swap leads, miss the last pole. It was struggle-bus time, by like a million.

My eye kept getting ‘stuck’ when I was looking to the right, so instead of looking right, I’d kind of keep wanting to look straight, or even sort of left? ARGH why? We set up guiding poles on the front and back of the x-rail to help us even further, because it was pretty clear that we were noooot winning this exercise.

Newsflash- Oats is better on the left, haha. We never even got to put the rest of the x-rails up on the right, because I just could NOT get it sorted out! Finally we did it 1 last time, Nicole asked if I wanted to stop or could do it again, and I was fine with doing it again, and we finally got it. I left it on that, I mean, we could start bringing the x-rails all up, so there are 3 of them, but I didn’t want to over-frustrate Oats and tax his already dwindling patience with me.

Nicole said that Oats smelled nice when she came over to give him a hug. Cute eh?

Half Way Home

No dressage lesson – or any riding actually – for me and Oats on Tuesday. I was stressed beyond belief at work, had to work a bit late, had to run an errand after work, and the weather was channeling the ‘storm of the century’ complete with gale- force winds, sideways rain and trees bringing down power.


I, wisely, elected to not even try to rush to make my lesson. Having made that decision, I didn’t even go to to the barn. I was in a terrible mood, I yelled at my dog, I was surly to my husband and worse to my coworkers. It was not a good day to ride my horse, and bring all that negative energy to him, on a lousy weather day.

So, I ran my errand, got home around 6:30 and took the night off.

I’m glad I did–I was in no shape to ride, and I think part of being more aware of this makes me a more thinking, compassionte horse-owner.

I was bummed to miss my dressage ride but in the grand scheme of my relationship with Oaty pony, it was a good choice. I rode my dressage plan last night, and he was in turn good and bad, haha. He warmed up LOVELY…Can’t say enough good things about how he is moving right now. We then worked on some very focused lateral work, after doing the spiral-in-spiral-out at the trot (he spirals out great, in not so great).

Oats at Foxstone

Oats at Foxstone

The lateral work was a mixed bag. I need to do it more, that’s quite clear…Oats banged his head against the wall, the mirror, and the final thing–a giant iron post that really smartened him up and made him stop, in shock, about how much that one hurt! He would rather bang his head into the wall than, say, go sideways? Yes, off the right leg, that is DEFINITELY his preference.

To the left, beauty…soft, sideways movements. Floating, butterfly-like…Ah…

To the right- ARGH. But, he did learn. It just took a long. frustrating.time. Haha. I still feel ok about it, just need to be smarter about practicing the less-fun stuff on my rides! Rather than, say, jumping…

A good horse is hard to find

Yes, a play off Flannery O’Connor here…

Last week, when I was warming Oats up for my jump lesson, my trainer remarked offhand that she was always pleased with how Oats comes into my rides soft, willing and flexible. He warms up well, and doesn’t come in stiff or tense or giraffe-like.

I was like yeah, I’m lucky I guess!

And then I thought a bit more on it…And it’s not just luck. It’s combined effort- trust me he didn’t always warm up this nicely. He is learning how to, and I am learning how to ask.

Funny enough, it was that statement that stuck with me more than my lesson- which was tough, we screwed up a lot, and still managed to achieve a lot too.

I am lucky.

In other news, Oats was fun to ride yesterday but all I wanted to do was jump, but I was feeling a bit anxious as I was 100% alone in the dark at the barn at night, and sort of feeling wary. Not sure why I get like that, but it freaks me out and I think maybe jumping when I’m totally alone at night, nobody else is at the barn and it’s complete darkness out isn’t a great idea…

I did a bit of jumping and Oats was golden. It whetted my appetite, but I left it well enough alone- I’m not a big risk taker. Plus when the last rider left the barn, she was telling me how all the horses were acting super crazy, ‘up’, spooky and nuts…It made me feel anxious, even though that’s silly–Oats is a good pony, and I can pretty much trust him when I ride alone on a blustery, rainy night.

And he proved me totally right- he was great! So why did I let that rider’s fears affect me?  Not sure…But I did acknowledge how I was feeling (a bit edgy), so I toned it down to meet how I was feeling.

So, I learned something–when riders are talking about how crazy their horses are, it sets me off a bit. I need to recognize that, and also understand that their horse is not my horse.

Otherwise, work is insane at the moment and it is driving me insane.

Race Recap: 10th annual Bear Mountain 10k!

Aka ‘Canada’s toughest 10k road race’…


Was it? Well, it for sure was no joke.  I would NOT recommend running this race to people who are new to racing. You want to get some good hill training and hill racing under your belt before you undertake this one.

I had some experience with hills, after my Gut Buster attempts and my Sooke race with MEC this year, but even after that this one really did a number on my lungs, weirdly enough. I immediately, right off the start, struggled with breathing. I couldn’t get in a rhythm, felt like I was gasping at times, and had a stitch growing in my neck and on my right side that really made life difficult during the race.


As with all races, there was an ebb and flow. It started off tough- the Papa Bear hill was 1 mile long and just kept.going. It was quite difficult, I saw some people start walking and I kind of wanted to as well. We reached the peak and it was quite scenic, though I wasn’t really in shape to enjoy what I was running past.

A lot of downhills at this point- a good opportunity to gather speed, but I was running very cautiously too- I’m a bit afraid of downhills as I have a lingering knee injury and my knee doctor tells me to walk down at first, and then sprint…So, I kind of struggled down, and then sprinted. And yes, this did wonders for my horrible breathing, made it a lot worse, argh!

My breathing levelled out and it was a lot of up-down-up-down-up-down, which you would call ‘rolling hills’ and I called it kind of torture! Psychologically, I was on the lookout for the next hill- the Mama Bear hill. We finally got to it, and it was ok..By that time, after 5k, I was feeling it in my legs and my lungs were still giving me a very hard time. I was actually glad for the long downhill by this point!


We continued on more mild rolling hills but by this point every time we went up, I lost momentum and struggled. I was clutching my side- it really hurt- and trying to breathe as hard as I could into my stitch. I was also coughing a lot and the grossest part was when I’d go to take a big breath, and have phglegm catch in my throat, so instead of a big breath, I’d breathe, and immediately start coughing. GROSS.

So, when we finally met up with Baby Bear, I wasn’t in the mood or shape to do any sprinting, haha. I was glad we were on the home stretch though! As I cruised through to the finish- over some kind of ugly gravel sections, probably the worst footing on what is otherwise a gorgeous course- a TRUCK was parked in the middle of the finish line??!! WTF? So me, and a few other guys I was finishing with, had to dodge this ignorant moron. It was NOT a fun finish, trust me.

Sadly, no finish photos of me either because this bozo decided his massive truck needed to go to the finish instead of me. GAH!

The after party was sooo good though- all the Merridale you could drink, door prizes – that none of us won, booo hoo, and some pretty decent food. I took my time, we did the fun photo booth, and generally enjoyed ourselves. A good day for an excursion-type race!

My time- 53:30- which is fairly ok for this type of race, given my normal 10k times are now ranging from 46:53-47:25. Yes it was that tough!