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

Saturday, January 18, 2020

"I THOUGHT YOU KNEW HOW TO RIDE"

Tonight the lottery is at $321 million dollars and yes, I have a ticket.  Some say that the odds of winning are so slim, why bother?  I say, "I have my ticket and that one person will be me.!"

And, as my mind wanders into all the wonderful things I would do with my winnings, it hits me...  If I got one dollar for every time someone asks me why I still take lessons or mentions that I should know how to ride by now, I would already have all those wonderful things..
Shanti and the Happy Young Professional

Tonight, almost 12 hours after I stepped up onto the mounting block in an indoor warmed to a blistering 10 degrees (fahrenheit), I am still wrapped in the euphoria of a lesson well done.

Can I get that feeling on my own?  Without recreational objects to ingest?

If we are talking about riding... um... I confess, sometimes.  Yeah, that's right!  Sometimes I hop off my pony and I think, "That was fabulous!"  And sometimes I revel in all those moments that felt spectacular and celebrate the things we did to get there.

The key word here is sometimes.  And, here is a god-honest confession, a good portion of my rides are done with a head full of self-doubt, a mind just a bit impatient for results, and an ego that still thinks that someone else would be doing a better job. 

Sugar and I (Photo used with permission)
Left too long riding by myself, (no lessons) I begin to "not work on that, I may mess things up" or "is she getting ewe-necked because she's not using her back" and then there is the, "Am I ruining her?  Better not push, better not try, better just walk and practice halts and the free walk."  {{{All my horses are halt and free walk rock stars, just sayin.}}}

Two Girls Dreamin
With Sugar, lessons were strictly marriage counseling - bringing an old couple together to hash out their issues and bring harmony.  With Maisy, it was mostly about tapping in all that movement and helping us use her body well.

And, Shanti... wow.  She is young, appropriately green for her age, with move movement, suppleness and enthusiasm with just a hint of...  "If that's all you want, fine by me!"

Lessons remind me that I do know how to ride, they break the over-thinking log jam in my brain and they inspire me to do more.

Today, in the frigid cold, Shanti and I danced together, encouraged to ask for more and pushed to be better - together.  Our last canter, her hard direction, was light, powered by her hind end and floated up and through my body.  For the time we held it, I was in heaven...  This is what it should be...

Yeah, I still take lessons!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

THE HARDEST THING

Each night at my Writer's Retreat we had a prompt and the writing from that prompt was limited to 15 minutes.  My mind would search memories and like a spinning roulette wheel would land on something and the writing wrote itself...  The Hardest Thing...

When is it time?  When is it giving up?  When is it my time and not his?

They tell you that you'll know...  that they will tell you.  Then someone slips in the clinical signs, "can't get up, won't eat, incontinent - any one or more of those things may mean its time.
The Happiest Dog

A wise vet told me that she would rather do it "one month too early than a day too late."

Jonah is my friend and he's been through so much with me.  He was never the favorite - a shit head puppy, the Convict - kicked out of every barn in New England.  Oh, they loved him as they banned his eager hungry self for his gift for finding food was legendary.  I almost went broke reimbursing friends, neighbors and barnmates for all his stolen loot.

If Jonah had been a man, he would have been the BFF I should marry - loyal, eager to please and always there when I needed him.  But alas, he always remained the BFF while the Bad Boy, Chandler was the pup I married.

It's just a cough and yeah, its harsh but he's fine when its over.  And yes, sometimes its so violent that he loses control of his bowels but really, its ok...  Not much of a mess, just hard little balls of poop.

There is not a more joyful face than Jonah's.  His eagerness to please is palpable.  There is no greater expression of that joy than the greeting he gives when you come home.  It's a complete physical experience - a wiggling body, a wagging tail whipping trinkets off the table as he weaves between your legs.
Jonah and Chandler

Not now, look how happy he is.  Look he is eating with gusto.  Not now, not yet.

But that cough - Maybe in a week or two...
But that cough - It really isn't that bad, right?
But that cough - "Jonah, please breathe, come on boy, just breathe..."

One month early versus a day too late...

I hold his face in my hands.  I tell him the story of his life.  I apologize for not loving him as much as he loved me.  I stroke his thick black coat and I promise him peace....

Is it one month early?  I pray that is really isn't a day too late.

Rest In Peace - Nightwinds Sweet Jonah - 11/25/2005 - 10/14/19
I was lucky to know you!