Saturday, January 28, 2012


Serenity Now!
I graduated from an Agriculture and Environmental College (Cook College, Rutgers University) during an era where folks really, really thought about the Environment...  not as a "selling" point but as a movement... a passion for making a future healthier. 

This is not about the Environment...  nah...  This is about a mindset... thinking young and innocent and building trust slowing and methodically until it is embedded once again.  You see, the realization that maybe, just maybe I wasn't the only one having a confidence crisis surfaced at our last Jumping Intensive.

Hey, just a thought, but why don't we act as if Sugar's a green bean, a youngster, a baby...  a horse trying her heart out but just doesn't know...  Treat her as if she hasn't been the recipient of thousands of dollars of professional training. Forget that she is a solid Training Level horse and act as if she's never seen a Prelim course. 

Sug with Trainer
prepping for Prelim
How kind and nice it is to think and act Green.  So exciting to see your little girl try even though she's scared.  It's such a nice energy... far kinder and more positive than - MARE-ISH, spooky, naughty and all those salty phrases that are bandied about.  (Oh, she is that...  but in this mindset, we want uplifting.)

So neck strap/sissy bar firmly in place, the rehabilitation begins another phase.  Oh, did I mention that there is "No I in Team!"  My "up/down" jumping lessons are strengthening the same trust muscles weakened along the way.  The hardest battle, so far... is fighting with a fragile ego and resisting the urge to should've-ing all over myself. (I should've jumped more...  should've jumped bigger, should've been anxiety-free, should've wanted more.)

Ahhh, the underutilized neck strap...  when my trainer first suggested it, she apologized.  She did not want me to think it insulting.  If Sug spooked, I could let go of her face (don't pull) and really steer with my legs, letting her work it out.  And if she jumped huge or awkward, the neck strap helps to kick on...  no pull on her mouth.  I love the neck strap... but often forget to grab one and go.
Going to get there!
Photo used with permission

Today was a most awesome lesson with the New Barn Girl's trainer - the Long Lining Goddess.  She had us bending, turning and jumping...  on a longish rein using our bodies to turn.  It was twisty, and turny.  And I laughed, smiled and, even learned alot.

And, when the lesson ended...  I was hungry for more... more height, more jumps and more fun... 

Going Green - fun for the whole Team!

Monday, January 23, 2012


Dear Snowbirds,

As I sit here bundled in my fleece riding britches, Underarmor t-shirt, wool socks, fleece vest, I see your Facebook pictures and videos of Cross Country schooling in the Florida sun.  You left us after Christmas and tease us with pictures of green grass, t-shirts and galloping outside.  I sigh heavily, one day that may be me... yes, one day that may be me.
Snow in October
Sigh... gonna be a long one

This next migration is even more painful.  You see, the Florida Snowbirds have a professional feel.  They are the Trainer's-trainers,  the serious working students and those moving up... not to Training but to Intermediate and Advanced.  I live vicariously through your thrills.  Envy?  Maybe just an itsy, bitsy tiny bit of envy.  You see, I will never be you but I love what you are doing.

It is the migration to Aiken that steals my serenity...  just a bit!  You see, the flock that flies to Aiken are folks like me...  Amateurs, the thirty-, forty-, fifty- somethings.  You're eager to go to be outside, to laugh with your Eventing Buddies and some of you may not even compete...  you just want to have fun at the hundreds of places to run, jump and play.

And, you're not only tech-savvy...  you are active posters. You'll have brushes with celebrities and may even take lessons with our greats.   Your pictures and stories are told instantly on the Internet, through Facebook, COTH and Blogs.  I've never been to Aiken but by the time I get there I will know where to go for the best breakfast, best XC schooling, best event, coolest restaurants... 'cause you tell me every day you're there. 

My Trainers left this week and I am alone...  dreaming of you all in Aiken, Ocala and Wellington.  One day that will be me!

So, winter work continues...  finding the grrrrr, making jumping fun again and really fine tuning our transitions.  We will gallop in the snow and laugh with our home girl peeps.  XC skiing will replace XC schooling...  and sometimes, I'll look South and think about you...

One day that will be me...

Monday, January 16, 2012


You know you need to drop everything and write when there is this image that does not stop intruding...  It wants and needs to be heard.  All that I planned to do and all those things I keep trying to get at can wait just a lil' bit so I can clear the thought that just keeps intruding...

Peter Gray spoke at the USEA Area 1 Annual Meeting.  He was soft-spoken, humble with a surprising and wonderful dry wit.  I was captivated.  My fellow Area 1 Eventer and blogger, Katie Murphy wrote a fabulous summary of his key points about riding Cross Country effectively and safely.  I would encourage you to read it too.
On her way to the top
Photo by Jeff Phaneuf, Eventer Dad

Every little girl has a dream...  remember yours?  Do you remember the beauty of a simple dream?  It is that image, that thought that begs to be heard.

After his presentation, he opened up the floor to questions.  You had the usual and expected - When to move up? (Never, when you're ready, better a year or two later than a day too early.) - Who will win the Olympics? (Well.. not sure... Germany or the US) - Do you miss the Long Format? (Loves it, but no.) and on and on.

Then this young girl raises her hand high - straight and unwavering.  "What advice would you give a Young Rider that wants to go all the way to the top?" Let me emphasize her words, her dream, "all the way to the top."  Her quiet intensity was powerful...  again, "all the way to the top."

Peter answered kindly, with a gentle smile:
  1. Have your dream but, most importantly, love your horse first!
  2. Develop good people skills!  Be nice to everyone - trainers, competitors, organizers, judges, officials - everyone! (Because someone out there could be your sponsor.)
  3. Be nice to everyone!
  4. Get educated!
Her eyes never wavered as she stared listening to the answer.  I wish I had gotten her name because, based on her intensity, one day I will be watching Rolex thinking, "Wow, she did make it to the top!"

And for those of us that are right now, living our dream and whose top may just be Elementary, Novice or Preliminary...  He had the same message:

Most importantly, LOVE YOUR HORSE FIRST!

Monday, January 9, 2012


Photo used with permission
 So, at this point, I've done just about everything to find my missing GRRRR and would do just about anything to "JUST GET OVER IT!"  So when my Eventing Trainer strongly suggested that I attend the Stressless Riding Clinic given by Eventer/Psychologist/Trainer, Andrea Waldo, MS, ICP, I did not miss a beat when I said YES, I'LL BE THERE!

Then you think, well I have read pretty much every self-help book made for mankind and every motivational make-yourself-better-in-these-three-simple-steps program, what could she possibly say or do that I haven't heard before?  Surely, we will hear all about visualizing the perfect ride, relax, meditate and use affirmations... Yada, yada, yada.  Now, it's not that I'm a naysayer 'cause I am a believer on all that...  but, let me tell you saying "I'm good enough, I'm special enough and People like me" just isn't cutting it.  Yet I went eager for a solution and a desire for a fix...

As the living room filled with riders from CT, NH, ME and MA with a great mix of ages, abilities (elementary - intermediate), perspectives (trainers, riders and instructors) and disciplines (mostly eventers with a sprinkling of equitation/hunters/breed specialist), two very important points surfaced immediately:
  • We are not alone in this quest!
  • Eventers are different - "Normal" techniques don't necessarily work for us for really good reasons.
    • What we do is dangerous - adrenalin (used properly) helps us focus, keeps us sharp and safe
    • What we do and how we need to prepare changes with each phase
The first exercise, a guided meditation,brought me to quiet tears.  Visualize the best moment you ever had with your horse - I searched my mind, hunting - yeah that was awesome, but by her second instruction, it came to me...  Riding Novice cross country at Coursebrook HT.  From the moment we left the startbox, we were one... each jump in stride, each turn balanced... the gallop effortless and free and the down-bank-bending-line-to-the ramp easy and light... when we flew over the final jump - a big table, I remember thinking that this was heaven... just Sugar and I.  I am an Eventer!  I do belong! 

She finished the meditation and said clearly...  This is why we do it!  And, although I do not know what image came to anyone else, all heads nodded as if we shared the very same.

Special Note - Forgive me Andrea if I screw up what you said...  my own interpretations take over a bit and for this, I wanted to capture a few key points that were particulary helpful to me.

Exercise two - What am I really afraid of? Keep writing things until you get stuck and then ask yourself why am I afraid of that?  And keep doing it over and over...   The most fascinating thing about this exercise is that almost every single one of us had the same fears and none of us listed pain or getting hurt in the top 10.  I would bet that the most common themes were:
  • Embarrassment
  • "I don't belong."
  • Not giving my noble horse a good ride (ruining)
  • Should be better at this/Someone is better at this
  • Perfectionism
Since I'm exceeding my own personal "length of blog" rules, let me hit on some very key points/strategies:
  • Visualization - If you can't picture the perfect ride, then picture fixing the problem
    • So instead of seeing Sugar spook, I should see me correcting the spook and getting over the jump.
  • Self-Talk - Train yourself to work Self-Talk in your favor.  Know your abilities and own them. 
    • Identify negative self-talk and delete the comment and insert what you want to happen. 
    • Encourage yourself the way you would encourage a friend
  • Live in the Present - If your horse had ditch problem at the last event, ride the horse you have now. 
    • So if you had a bad fall hunting, recognize what happened (slippery ground, no studs), correct it and then live in the present. 
    • Don't tell or listen to war stories (bad falls, missed jumps, mistakes etc) before competing (or ever).
  • Develop a Performance Self separate from your real self and use it like a costume to put on before you're ready to roll.
  • Focus - create what you want to do and not what you don't
    • Use a two point mantra ("sit up and kick")
    • Have a plan and then let it go
    • Know your food, drink and bodily needs and keep them as soothing support
    • Help your support team know what you need
  • Give yourself an Escape Route
    • Knowing you can stop/withdrawl or retire without shame significantly reduces stress which, ironically, allows you to continue.
  • Notice what went well
    • My metaphor for this is in dog training.  If you keep beating the dog every time he comes to you...  he'll eventually will just stop trying.  So if you do not find something good in what you do, why keep at it. 
I write this with oodles of hope and eagerness...  And, folks, I would highly recommend using Andrea Waldo and set up your own clinic.  You see, my experiences translates her teachings...  your experience will do the same for you.  And, I can not possibly tell you in this one post all of the stuff presented.  It was that good, don't miss it for yourself.

Andrea Waldo, MS, ICP
StressLess Riding (she does have a Facebook page under this title)

Nerves are like a bad dinner guest.  So, when you're hosting the family Thanksgiving dinner, you don't want to invite your brother-in-law (the one with the loud off color jokes who eats and drinks too much) but he comes with your beloved sister.  You can't have her without him so you need to have a Plan to deal with him. 

So, Stressless Eventing - Fact or Fiction?  Depends, you gotta invite them and it's all in how you handle them.  Phew...  Thanks Stephie Baer and Chase Farms for hosting and to Andrea Waldo for the help!  Now, back to the regularly scheduled blog stuff...  "Going Green"

Monday, January 2, 2012


Sigh... Got a cold...
Sniffle, sniffle, cough, HACK, cough, sniffle...  AHHHH CHOOO!  Yup, a cold has once again overtaken my body and today was declared a nap day...  no riding, no projects will be completed, nothing but tea, a jacuzzi bath and naps.  It's a plan to begin the work week refreshed and ok... healthy!

Sugar, on the other hand, will be out and about with a younger woman - a talented, young 20 something that will laugh at her exuberance and let her energy soar to a level just below explosion.  My instruction to this daredevil was simple, "Do whatever you like and if you're brave, she might enjoy a bit of a gallop.  Of course, the last time she galloped was our last hunt in November...  just be safe."  And, this young 20 something laughed...

There  is nothing like the energy of a young rider.  And, I'm not talking about their ability to work, ride and play hard with out the life-giving drug called Advil. What I'm talking about, is the sheer pleasure they have with all things fun and their ability to absorb tension, stress and release it again as adventure.  Yeah, stuff still happens to them - they crash and burn, bounce up after going down and sometimes they get hurt.  Yet, fear is not a part of their make up. 

Photo by
Sugar has had the pleasure of five such young riders - all talented and joyful...  And, I have been lucky to have them too!    You can't help wondering...  just a lil' bit...  if maybe, just maybe...  Sugar prefers their romps to mine.  Hmmmm...

You see, I am an Adult Amateur Rider...  even more so...  I am officially a Master Amateur Rider.  And that means I'm... um, a ...  um...  Mature Rider.  Ok, it means, I'm over 50.  Now I don't mean to speak for every Master Amateur Rider, but there are alot of us that are similar in energy, style and even more of us are in love with the drug ibuprofen.

In order to keep this happy little lifestyle going, I work a full time job telling advising them on what to do and how much to spend on complicated stuff.  Sometimes full time can be 40 hours and sometime it can be 60...  whatever it takes to get the job done, you do it.  Riding and training time happens, after work, after taking care of the dogs and between caring for Sugar.  Some nights, I get on at 8pm and end up returning home after 10.

Nothing like the
energy of a Lab in water
Sugar's rider (me) sometimes (more often than I'd like) is brain fried from the day's activities, serious about getting something done and is not always laughing at the antics of an athletic, exuberant mare.   Sometimes Sug's rider is not living in the moment - enjoying the beauty of movement, the joy of a partnership and the gift of all things Sugar. 

And when we get that third spook at the scary gate - the slight prop and the spin - sometimes, Sug's rider is an angry mare herself.

My gift to her (and to myself) is having a young rider hack her once a week - to play, to laugh at her naughtiness/hijinxs and to give her an energy that says fun, joy and adventure.  And my wish to me and any other like-Master-Amateur rider is to find that inner twenty something rider - Have fun always, laugh more and let go of work - sooner rather than later.

Happy New Year!