Saturday, September 4, 2021

LESSONS LEARNED AND LESSONS GAINED

I know you've all heard it and I know you all have answered the question time and time again.  "Why are you taking lessons?  I thought you knew how to ride!"  Yup, it is a question asked year after year and sometimes right after said lesson.  

My confession today?  Yeah, I like lessons.  No, I mean I really like lessons.  I like them with big time trainers, gifted trainers and I like my trainer who train both the Lil' Redheaded Girl and I.  I guess I could really say that I love lessons.

Today I had a goal.  It was a simple one - loosen Shanti up and improve our Up and Down transitions.  I'm sure its a goal that everyone has had at one time or an other - nothing too crazy or unachievable like riding down the hill to the outdoor.  (Maybe I'll tell that story at some point.)  I wanted good and I wanted improvement.

Left alone, the second it gets hard my demons peek out just a little - no name calling but acting like a passive aggressive "friend" who might enthusiastically tell you before a first date or some special event "that they love that dress but is turquoise really a good color".  And adding, "I mean you can pull it off like no one else."

Maybe they mean to be encouraging but just don't know how to do it well.  Or maybe they are being guided by the great demon, Perfectionism.  Maybe they are pushing success like the sport crazy parent that sees the Olympics in mind*.  They just keep a nagging monotone hoping that it triggers success.


Well, it does trigger something and it often isn't very nice.  And, since the only thing one can control (and poorly at that) is oneself, Shanti gets the "GOOD GIRL's"  and I get the, "Am I ruining what is good?  Am I really helping or am I hurting her back?  God I suck at this!  Oh come on, just give it up...  I am doing everything I can...  I ride like crap."

My love of a good lesson (which is actually the lesson itself), is about someone who can guide me, talk over the demon Perfectionism and encourage goodness and development without the negative judgement.  And, it's not about praise (although that is nice), its really more like marriage counseling - balancing out what is real, acknowledging the development and helping guide us to be better together.

So I love a good lesson which is a lesson itself.   I continue to ride on my own whilst wanting help with the balance not of the body but of the head.  Shhh, I have goals and they be lofty ones...

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

 It's been said that I am unlucky, that things happen and happen often...  What is luck?   Well, winning the lottery would definitely be lucky (MA Lottery Division, the $10 check doesn't quite count) and some would say finding the perfect parking spot or making it through all the lights and getting to that appointment on time is very lucky.


The ultimate judge of who is lucky and who isn't is really and simply you. I've always felt that I was lucky and stepped up into the unknown if the Universe said, it's time, do it... sometimes a little nudging helps and once or twice I believe that the Universe kicked me into it.

But, this is post about love which is very lucky indeed.  

Once upon a time, way back when, the Bestest Eventing Buddy and I were planning our 2011 eventing season.  You know...  where you sit around in January and dream the big dreams of all that you and your ponies will do and all the fun you'll have.  At one point, I said that it was the year that I would find a mate and marry living happily ever afterwards.  We laughed the big laugh of hyenas... hmmm, was it that far fetched (oops, another post perhaps).

And then came OBNH Chandler Bing, a 4.5 month old foxhound puppy who in a great escape realized that leaving the barn was scarier than the climb down a 20 foot retaining wall to get back to his kennel.  A badly broken elbow, surgery and then, he was mine.  Chandler joined Jonah and became known as Da Boyz.

This is a post about love, that deep, bottomless pit of love.  That feeling that happens when everything comes together - that your foxhound wants to be closer to you than the lab who was bred to be your companion.  That warm feeling of home when you enter a room and his crooked tail wags and he leans his body into yours grateful for your return.


And, that feeling of completeness as you take your pony out for a ride and your two friends are trotting and cantering with you as we all explore the new morning as the sun rises.  Most of all that look he gives you in stillness, that look of confidence and adoration so secure was his knowledge that he was deeply loved in return.


Chandler was king from the moment of his birth to the final moments of life. He never doubted that he was loved, never wondered if he'd be fed and lived a very good life.  Our adventures together were epic and I am so lucky that he was in my life.

My wish for us all is that we get to experience the confidence of being loved, knowing that we will be cared for and that someone will always have our best interest in mind.

My dear friend sent me this poem by Mary Oliver, Blackwater Woods, American Primitive Collection 1983

"to live in this world

you must be able

to do three things

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go"


Chandler, you were my heart hound and per the Bestest Eventing Buddy, my husband.  I will miss you terribly 12/22/10 - 6/26/21

 

Friday, March 19, 2021

GATE HER DONE!

 Some would say that its just a gate. And others would see it only as an obstacle to be cleared. And for me, it did appear like maybe I have to  jump Dante's 9th Circle of Hell.

"Be kinder to yourself." "Know that you are not alone... most adults have to jump regularly in order to be able to jump at all."  "It's time to stop saying that you're mind is broken." 


Turning my first ever trip to Aiken into my own private adult boot camp is just what this brain and body needed to begin releasing the demons determined to hold my inner Honey Badger hostage. I am a long way from banishing them and kicking some eventing booty but today, I feel closer than I have in 3 years.

We jumped today, outside on a cool windy day.  

I approached the lesson like a prisoner cuffed and dragging chains...  maybe I should just quit.  This is tooo hard!  The demons raged on in my head... torturing me with all my "failings".  And the sad, sad part about raging demons and "failings" is that they cut deep through any self-help book one may have read, causes all the therapy and sports psychology completed to disappear until you're a quivering mass of anxiety.

If you are prone to anxiety, you know what this feels like.  If you're not, be incredibly grateful because, for you, this is the adrenalin that keeps you safe and kicks you on.  For me, anxiety manifests as physical weakness.

We jumped today, outside on a cool windy day with a new instructor.


Warning JT that I wasn't sure I could do this (with maybe a hint of panicking tears), that just being here was success, she calmly said that she would lay down a pole to do figure 8's over and that would be good enough.  {{{Hmmm, we can do that.}}}

A good instructor has an instinct, a connection with bodies and brain that is not always visible.  And the really good ones are fluid in their methods with a touch of mysticism in their teachings - they make things happen and the student evolves...  JT is all of that.

We jumped today, outside on a cool windy day with a new instructor, over a gate.

"Let's get that nice relaxed trot and add the cross rails as caveletties."  "Just keep asking her by giving and releasing, no effort, just go with it." "Good, that's right, Good."

"Now add the gate."

WTF!  The gate? I haven't jumped a vertical since January.  WTF!  THE GATE?  (Apparently she didn't know that Sugar had gate issues and thus, I have gate issues and that, even though I know that Shanti doesn't have gate issues, what if she does?)

I stopped and told her that I wasn't ready for the gate and that we could do it later, like maybe next week.  She calmly stated, "I really hoped you would have just done it instead of stopping. Now, you can do the gate and be finished."


OMG!  This woman gets me.  The incentive to stop far outweighs my anxiety or past issues.  Hell, I will jump Dantes' 9th Circle of Hell to be finished.

So, I jumped the gate!

And I actually think the lesson really started.  That gate turned into jumping the verticals, the crossrails and then the gate over and over again.  

We jumped a gate today and I am in heaven.  I can't wait to do it again!

Sunday, March 14, 2021

INTO THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Sigh, when I don't want to write and I keep getting nudged to write, I know that there are words that need to be said and a confession to be made...  I'm 60 (no that is not the confession) and I feel like I'm on the precipice.  I could come back, like really come back or I could just be a "natural horsemanship expert" always getting ready to do something but never actually doing it. (Shhh, I'm actually not good at natural horsemanship.)

I wish I was regaling you with an awesome tale of a wild adventure... over hills at a gallop, whipping around a cross country course or captivating the world with our stunning jumping.

Well, I'm not.

Today, for the first time ever, after traveling 16.5 hours and barely caring for our bodily functions, the Cowgirl and I landed in Aiken. with our horses.  One day we're locked in an indoor, whining about 18 degree (Fahrenheit) weather and the next day it's sunny, 76 and Shanti and I are heading to the outdoor "fully prepared" for our first lesson. 

And maybe all you young things aren't phased by anything and approach things like the Cowgirl...  "let's git ur done".  Ten years of off and on writing, I can still tell you that for me, that is not the case.  And it bothers me.

Landing in what feels like summer and being outside for the first time since November was mind blowing.  Oh, let's add a new instructor and the anxiety will just wash away.

Well, it did not.

I felt assaulted by all the stimuli - horses moving about in the pastures, a dog or two playfully checking us out, a stallion calling to all the mares on the farm, her pasture mate and traveling companion calling for her.  

I was the Lil' Country Bumpkin riding an upbeat, tense horse.  She was as unfocused as I was and while I did all the "things" to bring the focus back to me.  My brain ticked off - "Is she galloping way down there?"  "Why did the horses decide to gallop around their paddocks?"  "Is that a pony in the woods?" "Is she really going to cut the grass?"  "I wish her buddy would stop calling for her."


Finally, after breathing deeply, I could let go of all the awful things that would not happen.  Anxiety has its own life cycle and breathing deeply seemed to settle it long enough to let go of its hold on me.

It was a beautiful lesson under the guidance of a skilled and kind instructor. The best thing was finally slowing the brain down to actually feel like I can ride and that Shanti and I are ok.

Coming to Aiken, getting outside was a very good decision.  Now to just put the self flagellation away and live in the gratitude of how lucky I am and maybe, just maybe, this is exactly what I need to find myself again.

Maybe it is...

Sunday, February 7, 2021

ROBBING DEPRESSION OF ITS PLEASURE

So, I can start this confessional by telling you all the things that I am grateful for just so you don't think poorly of me. And trust me, I do know how fortunate, how priviledged and how deeply lucky I am. I have a job that I can do from home. I've been healthy and none of my close friends or family members have died from COVID. And, I have an amazing amatuer-friendy and fancy pony to call my own. (See, still trying to have a judgement-free zone.)


Yet, living alone in a Global Pandemic is hard no matter how many gifts I have, no matter how many gratitude lists I write or how closely I hug the hounds. I read a great article recently about how working from home, self-isolation, and the lack of human contact is wearing us down, increasing anxiety and depression and, sitting for hours in our kitchen chairs (meant for a 30-40 minute meal) is wreaking havoc on our bodies and souls.  

I didn't ride last week. And, work and a snow storm kept me away from the barn. You see, there were many important meetings, and a new project that had to be finished and well, you know, work allows me to have all the great things that keep me happy. Right? Shanti will be fine and I'll get back in the groove when "all of this" is behind me. Right? 

Depression and anxiety are funny things. Sometimes you are in it, can feel it and resist the pull to bring you deeper into it. And there are those times when its like fog rolling in on a warm winter morning. The snow looks the same and the wispy vagueness in the lines are barely noticable so you just keep moving into it. If you're lucky, when turning a corner and the fog envelopes you, you stop and work your way back to the sunlight.


Sometimes you just have to get there to be successful.  Sometimes when you're there, you just have to brush her to be successful and sometimes you just need to throw your saddle on and plan on just walking around the indoor to be successful.  And, then you notice that she's a little stiff, a little spooky and your mamma instincts kick in until the ride has balance, Shanti has flow and your face has a smile.  Wow, that was quite nice.
Shanti and the HYP, her BFF

Knowing that fog swirls around filling low spots, you reach for a hand that reaches out to guide you further into the sunlight...  you say YES to the lesson.  And for the second day, with the guidance of the Happy Young Professional (and Shanti's BFF), you allow balance, flow to lift the fog filling the indoor with smiles and pats of "good girl' cheating depression of another day rooted in routine.

It is almost always about doing the next right thing and incorporating those things you love to rob depression of its pleasures...

Saturday, January 2, 2021

ONE DAY A GIRL MUST LET GO

 We all have our great loves.  For those who open your hearts, you will have many loves and those loves may also become great ones.  You are the lucky ones for it took me a long time to believe that love (and good things) were infinite that the bucket it filled was deep and ever flowing - so much that you could have all that you wanted and there was still more to be had, to be shared and to be freely given.


This post has been haunting me for so, so long...  And when I think that this blog's entire existence started with my beloved Sugar and all that went into loving a wild thing and all the living and healing that comes with it, writing this is hard.  Sugar was my great love and I had her for a memorable ten years...  a memorable ten years.

Those memories make me smile even if once when talking to a PTSD therapist, she felt that I was in an an abusive relationship.  Most of my injuries were due to freak circumstances, not her fault, I should be a better rider, etc.  I think she saw a patttern.

Sugar, god rest her soul, is still with me.  I'm not talking about her spirit or a ghost but that accumulation of energy around the spooks, spins and injuries.  It is not her fault nor do I ever want to say that I didn't love owning her and that I still miss her but I carry the scars of those things that no longer exist.

Happy Young Professional
Riding
Shanti is not Sugar. And as I write that, I wonder if I'm being disloyal to Sugar.  It is all so confusing.  Shanti is not Sugar.  And I can still love Sugar and honor that she was a challenging ride, right?

The haunting is in my own head.  When I head out for a trail ride with a friend, I have to remember, Shanti is not Sugar.  In her most animated, Shanti just gets big - 18H+ and launches into a military march forward.  When she spooks, she moves to the side and then stops to look at what scared her.  I can canter in a field and that is all she does, waiting to see if there is more.

Happy Young Professional 
Hunting Shanti

Shanti is more anxious about poles on the ground than she is of anything on, under or around a jump.  They are just things to get over and wow, getting over them is fun for her.

And yet, I wonder when will I finally let go of my beautiful ghost? When will I get on, do something new or jump a jump without thinking "what will make her spook?"  Will I ever enter the warmup and not look for the thing that will cause an explosion and will I ever enter a ring thinking, how do we make this brilliant vs trying to get through the test quietly?


Sug, I love you and our life together was most spectacular.  I will never ever forget you, for your place is deep in my heart.  What I am going to do is remove your place in my brain... not our memories or adventures but all that stuff that an anxious "master" (old) rider stores up to release at inopportune moments.  

And letting go is not about less but about allowing more, allowing Shanti and I to build memories and have adventures ghost-free.  For all loves never go away but continue to accumulate into ever expanding love...  

Sunday, February 2, 2020

ALL THEY WANTED WAS A CUPPA TEA

There is a story about Buddha fighting the Demon God, Mara, on the eve of his enlightenment.  Instead of denying his existence or driving him away, Buddha calmly acknowledged that the demon was there, "I see you, Mara".  He invited Mara in for tea and served him like king.  Mara drank the tea and then left, bored with Buddha’s response.

Well, I think we all know that I am not Buddha, that I am not on the eve of my own enlightenment and, calmly is not always the way I greet my demons.  And often, when confronted with my demons, I don't have the self awareness to invite them in for a cup of tea.  And if I am really honest, my demons sweep in like over-caffeinated Dementors out on the town looking for some rip roaring fun.

Today I jumped my Lil Redheaded Girl.  I've been eyeing a jump set up for a lesson earlier in the week.  Every day, I'd look at it and say, "I can do that!"  And another day would pass, "Shanti is a bit too excited, I'll jump it tomorrow."  Tomorrow came and I thought, "Well I have a lesson in the morning, I'll jump it then.  I know I can do it... tomorrow."

Its been weirdly bi-polar.  I know I can do it.  I watched so many old videos of Sugar and I doing it.  And when I talk about Shanti being wild, her worst  is really just a level 3 on the Sugar 10 point scale of exuberance.  And you know what?  I competed Sugar often at a Sugar level 8 and cliniced on level 10s.

Getting there slowly
And yet this morning, when I entered the indoor, the Demons swept in very Dementor-like.  I didn't know what hit me, my anxiety level was at a 10 and all the strength was drained out of my body.  WTF just happened?  I felt fine, actually great, until I saw the "JUMP" that was so easy.

God Bless anyone who teaches me...  I wouldn't know how to deal with this kind of anxiety...  Wait, I actually do.  I spent so many years learning coping skills that I teach this stuff.  Oh, right...  I did no prep work for my "big" jumping lesson.

Like the Buddha, our trainer did not ignore or deny the anxiety...  We invited Anxiety to acknowledge itself, invited it to watch (with a cup of tea, kind of) and continued on.  Eventually, bored, Anxiety left.

I KNOW I CAN!
I jumped Ms Shanti... we're still not going big but I cantered over the "Jump" that had been calling my name.  And, I have a pony who is bred to jump.  When I finally reacted and ask her to balance around the corners while sitting on her haunches, I understood the difference.

There is amazing power and grace when she comes around a corner and seeks the next jump.  Her powerful hind quarters are under you and her front end is lighter and lighter - bold and eager - you know, there is a heaven and you're riding it.

Maybe my enlightenment comes slowly...  we are definitely working forward towards it.


For the full story from one of my favorite teachers, Tara Brach https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-true-refuge/201508/inviting-mara-tea