Monday, June 17, 2013


Sigh...  A girls gotta tell a tale and that means a tale's gotta be told even if the tale is one she'd rather left untold...  just sayin,!  You see, this girl's got some demons and they do not make her feel pretty... 
Pretty is as pretty does...

"What", you say? " Demons?  Of course you have demons, 2/3rds of your writings have something sneaking about, so we know all about them..."

Fair enough!  {{{{Hmmmm, the Bestest Eventing Buddy did say that I am a bit too honest and should reveal less.... Hmmmm....}}}  .

Sugar and I just returned from our very own, very intimate Stressless Riding intensive.  No, you won't find a clinic description on the Stressless Riding website.  I applied and was awarded the  Area 1 Adult Riders scholarship that allowed me to design a clinic to help cope with the demons blocking our eventing future.  The application/details were documented in my earlier blog titled Winning!.

Day 1
The day to tell your tale, of what happened, what's been done, what's still going on and why it's feels so important.  We sat at a picnic table in the bright sun and I talked.  Andrea Waldo, with the wisdom of a therapist (and a Wise Woman), allowed me to go on and confess my fears - what people thought of me, what people would think of me, of being embarrassed, of being humiliated, of being abandoned by my trainers who might not want to teach such a "wimpy rider" and of never doing this again.  It was never about getting hurt...  fascinating!

Her advice was so simple - Notice your Story!  Question it!  Delete anything that isn't useful.
 So, what does that mean?  A story is something that hasn't happened yet.  It holds no truth because it is not in the moment.  My stories come fast and furious and most are not blog worthy... 
  • Sugar spooks at gates, lattice, green roll tops, barrels, anything with a pattern and so on...
  • Oh shoot, Sugar is running like an idiot in the paddock, she'll be lame, she is going to be so wound up that she'll be awful to ride...
  • My knee is aching, I'll never be able to ride well enough to jump
All of those came up and every single one of them was a story - The only truths that existed were that Sugar hadn't spooked yet, she was running in her paddock and my knee was aching AND nothing else was true!  DELETE everything but the truth.  Wow, that frees up a lot of space in my head.

And then we jumped. 
Gotta luf a hound!

Was it releasing all my pent up anxiety, emotion and fear that gave me a calmness that I haven't felt since I hit the tree?  I'm not sure but it felt glorious to jump my lil' Pinto Pony that afternoon, in a new place, with a new instructor after crying...  It felt glorious!

Day 2
Ah, revisiting my "Stories" and deleting all but the truth.  And that included the fret and worry about Sugar's paddock issues, embarrassment over sharing so much and worry that it would all go wrong.  Instead, I stuck with the truth.   I came to ride, jump and share all those thoughts that come hard and often...  The truth.
Ride your horse, make a statement, breathe deeply after every spook/every jump/every correction and stay calmly focused.
 And we jumped. 

Breathing deeply was the hardest of all tasks, even requiring me to ask Andrea to remind me to do so.  You could feel Sugar breathe and relax when I took a calming breath.  My two beat mantra, "Rhythm and Flow" went from a harsh demand to a soft song.  I felt powerful and it was good... until I hit dirt.

You see, I felt so confident, that I decided, without much thought, to throw in another jump.  I had no plan and realized as I approached the jump, that I didn't know where we were going, which way we needed to turn to avoid the jump poles in our path (ok, 5 strides away) and ...  and so on.  Sugar kept coming and I kept thinking until at the very last moment, I realized I had to do something.  Sigh, that something was...  um... leaning up her neck and trying to jump for her..  oops!
A Family Trip?

Andrea thought this was a great opportunity to work through the "What happens when you fall and dealing with its aftermath" issues.
Ride your horse, have a plan and with a horse like Sugar, focus on one thing - jumping the jump and clear your mind of everything else.

Day 3
My Stories started early that morning.  My back was sore from the fall and I was sure I wouldn't be able to finish the clinic.  Then I realized - Story.  And I deleted all but the facts -  I was tired and my back was sore. 

And we jumped.

Today did not feel powerful.  Sugar was conservative jumping and I felt weak.  It wasn't ugly or bad. It just wasn't great.  Andrea had us jump around a bit with a few things new.  When Sug rushed the square oxer, I wanted to be done.  I had enough and my anxiety was climbing.  I wanted to be done.

So, I asked Andrea if we could be done.  (If you are my trainer reading this, you know this is not new).  Andrea said we could stop but wanted me to express what was going on.  The conversation went like this:

Me - "I'm tired and I want to quit before it gets worse."

Andrea - "What does that mean to you?"

Calmly Focused
Me - "I want to end on a good note and whenever I push myself (or be pushed), it always ends with me getting hurt and it never ends well."

Andrea - "Is that story or is it true?"

Me - "It always happens that way."  {{{pause, breath, pause}}}  "Ok, when I broke my wrist, that was the first day." {{{Pause}}} "And my ankle was at the beginning and it was a spook. And the other ankle injury was in the middle of a great lesson.  And the tree was at the beginning of the course.  {{{laugh}}} You're right, it's a story and not true."

Andrea - "If you quit when your anxiety level went up, you teach your mind and body that the only release is to quit.  Anxiety will only heighten.  What is one thing you can do to be successful?"

Me - "I could do that line."

Andrea - "That's a forward two or a calm three.  Today you and Sugar are doing it in 2.5, could you make a plan to do it in 2 or 3?"

Me - "I can do it in 3."

And we jumped... 3 perfect strides calmly focused on a pleasant pony.  And I smiled.  I totally understood exactly what she meant and why it was so important not to quit "while ahead" when our anxiety was shooting upward.

I could go on with the lessons I learned and maybe will in another post.  For now, you've either thought, "Hey, good stuff!" or, well...  you aren't even reading this line.  This clinic was a powerful learning tool for me.  I was able to talk about my issues, in the moment and have a professional who is also an instructor question my reality at the moment it happened.  Truly a powerful experience.

Demons exist in the stories we tell ourselves...  The purpose of this clinic was to reach into the places they dwell and expose them to the light.  Huge thanks to Andrea Waldo for having the tools to help exorcise them. 

Friday, June 7, 2013


Stories make us sleepy
Have you ever had someone, something or some event have such an impact in your life that what was known was now new?  Of course you have!  Life is but a series of Game Changers and decisions that define the journey.

Way back when, at a time where life was a series of confrontations of being "good" or going "bad", my field hockey coach, Mrs Steedle saw something in me...  something that was a little bad that might be the beginnings of a path of near awful.  Seventeen, an A student and a popular athlete, my peeps and I enjoyed a bit of the party scene...  just a bit, but teetering on the edge of...  well, more (going "bad").

One Friday night after a game, she called me over to discuss the win and asked if I was going to the dance that evening.  Somehow, she mentioned the "party scene", looked me in the eye and said, "You know you're fun to be with (I was) and I bet you don't need alcohol or pot to have a good time.  And, I bet you're even funnier with out it!  What do you think?" 

You know, that moment changed my life.  I actually did think I was funnier and had a better time sober yet, Mrs Steedle made it a challenge that I could not ignore. 

Everyone thinks this place is pretty!
So, you say, what brings on this esoteric thought and long story telling?

Simply, today I felt pretty...

Way back when I first bought Sugar, my then trainer competed her.  There were many reasons to do so which included being treated for breast cancer (year 1) and then breaking my wrist (year 2) and to keep her going at a higher level as I worked to take over the reins.  During that era, I considered my self Sugar's groom and not her owner/rider/trainer.  I acted that part by staying in the shadows, scurrying around to keep her clean and never really cared about how I looked.

At the very first Event, after I switched to the new (and current) trainer, she asked me to walk the Training course with her.  I was surprised when she asked me what I thought about a combination, or an approach to a particular jump.  "Me?  You want my opinion?  Me?  I don't ride at that level, what can I tell you?"  Since I did manage to actually squeak out my surprise, she matter-of-factly said, "Well, you ride her and have watched her go many times, of course you can offer your opinions!"

Yes!  Rider-Trainer-Owner
A game changer - I was the rider/owner/trainer!  I kid you not, from that point on, I rode her better and my whole demeanor changed from a passive observer to a key member of Sug's event team.

So why does feeling pretty warrant a blog writing?  Today in a Sales Meeting full of sharks and new folks, I had the confidence gained from a good hair day, appropriate fitting fashionable outfit and shoes.  Today, at work, I looked like the rider/owner and trainer...

My BSIL has been staying with me and challenging me to be better organized, better balanced and... yes, better groomed - a game changer.   "How do you get her so white?"

She's leaving me soon and I will be sad and still very grateful for the gifts she gave me.  And now, if she would only stay around long enough to help me upgrade my look at horse shows when hot, tired and dusty...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Gosh, I wish that title meant that we, Sugar and I, are back in the game!  Alas, I just got the ok from Orthopedics to go back into full work and the "proposed" first Event is the University of New Hampshire Summer Horse Trials in July.  (Sugar's first event was GMHA on 6/1- more about that later.)

Winning is still winning even if it means winning the Area 1 Adult Riders Scholarship "to promote knowledge of and skill development in the sport of eventing" through writing and not actually riding.  My essay was simple and should be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog:

Addendum to the USEA Area 1 Educational Scholarship Application

Every rider in some way or another struggles with nerves. As a Competitor, it sometimes comes as part of showing, attending a clinic or even a lesson. We know it, work on it and learn to live at peace with it…

And, when “nerves” become a bit more like anxiety and sometimes becomes debilitating, a person either quits or seeks out professionals who can help them walk through the walls holding them back.

When we were care free!
For me, I was always a worried rider but when I got seriously hurt competing at Groton House Farm in 2010, worry intensified into full blown anxiety attacks. My, already fragile, confidence was shattered after my horse slipped and fell on me after jumping a wall during a foxhunt. Although neither of us were hurt, I would break down before and during jumping lessons. It was not a pretty sight.

I worked on these very serious issues with a Psychologist specializing in PTSD work. I got better and began to function again. Jumping was still hard work but my brain did not shut off. Even though I was not riding at the level I was before the accident, there was slow progress.

As I healed, the issues became as much about dealing with an athletic, opinionated spooky mare as my nerves. My psychologist tried but could not help with the riding issues and resulting anxiety. I believe that a Psychologist that events and teaches riding could be the final spot of glue that pulls the pieces together. 

You might say, “You could quit rather than putting yourself through this.” I would reply, “For two years preceding the fall, my most challenging part of eventing was the dressage warm up or maybe getting by the judges box without a spooky tight horse. I know we can get back what we lost (without the antics in the warm up or tightness, hopefully) with just a bit more “specialized” help. Eventing is what I want to do – no doubt about it.

Used with permission
This scholarship will help me put together an intensive workshop with Andrea Waldo, founder of the Stressless Riding program.. It will be structured as follows:  
  • Day 1 – Therapy first, then a lesson
    • Purpose – talk about what is going on before riding, then have Andrea teach me after the session
  • Day 2 – Therapy during a lesson 
    • Purpose – talk me through my anxiety during lesson
  •  Day 3 – Lesson first, then Therapy
    • Purpose – lesson, then help me cope with moving forward 
Finally, as a blogger and writer for Optimum Minutes… I’ll be able to effectively communicate the experience to others and make it fun and educational.

Suzanne Adams – Rider
Fame & Frolic (aka Sugar) – Horse

So the dates for my very own behavioral health (crazy, middle-aged master rider)clinic are 6/14-6/16.  No matter what the result, it will be worth the effort and I am very grateful to have this opportunity.