Quo Vadis: Part 3 – What Lies Ahead

Quo Vadis is Latin for “Where are you going?” (Before I decided on a business degree, I was a philosophy and classical studies major so forgive me the chance to toss in a little Latin.) In this mini-series, I’m going to articulate where I’ve been, where we are now, and finally where Nibbles and I are heading. This is a personal exercise to make me think critically about my goals but also to further introduce myself to the wonderful blogging community that has supported me so much already.

If you’re just joining us, check out Part 1: A Riding and Not Riding History and Part 2: Current State of Affairs.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

I don’t know who said it first but I’ve found this statement to be 100% true. I tend to have a lot of ideas and ambitions but if I don’t set tangible goals along the way of a strategic plan, I don’t arrive at the destination.

I’ve seen a lot of you write goals on your blogs and I’ve always admired the practice. I took a stab at goals for Nibbles in spring of 2014 and made progress or accomplished 50% of them. Very shortly thereafter, I lessoned with a trainer who asked me what my goal was with horses. My answer: I honestly don’t know right now.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and I’ve come to two conclusions:

  1. My riding is important enough to me to deserve a strategic plan.
  2. That strategic plan, once written, can change.

I’ve hesitated over writing out goals because I didn’t think my plan could change. Silly, I know, but I had that mental hurdle. But who says your goals can’t change? Right now, I want to compete. Maybe I’ll get a few shows in and go, you know, I enjoy this a heck of a lot more at home. Or maybe I’ll say man, this is my jam, we gotta up those competitive goals. And that’s the beauty and genius of goals – they can be fluid if you let them.

And because I am that person and I love strategy and lists, I’m going to push myself to make these goals S.M.A.R.T.

SMART-Goals

So, readers, here are my fluid but S.M.A.R.T. goals. This is where we are headed.

Short Term Riding Goals

  • Commit to bi-weekly lessons to primarily improve my in-the-saddle fitness and prepare for taking over Nibbles’ primary training by October 1, 2015.
    • The goal is not perfection. The goal is getting my mind and body saddle-fit.
  • When Nibbles arrives, commit to 4 rides per week for the first 30 days. Evaluate number of rides per week thereafter.
    • This is more about me managing my time better than a matter of what Nibbles needs so it may adjust if she mentally needs more/less.
  • Compete in one (dressage) schooling show (on Nibbles or another horse) in at least Intro C by December 31, 2015.
    • Ideally on Nibbles but since I’m a recycled-green-bean myself, I’m flexible.

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Short Term Nibbles Goals

  • Research and reserve a boarding barn in my area within a 40 minute commute and with an indoor arena by October 1, 2015.
    • This is already under way and it looks like stall board is my only option. More $$ than I hoped. No really promising leads yet however.
  • Maintain level of training at all gaits and including leg yields through May 1, 2015 (AKA when winter is finally gone from this far north). Evaluate strength for more complex work or additional training thereafter.
    • This is conservative. I want trainers’ opinions on how hard to push and what to add to her repertoire when.
  • Obtain saddle fitting and reflocking to ensure optimum comfort by December 31, 2015.

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Short Term Together Goals (after Nibbles is local to me)

  • Commit to bi-weekly lessons that advance both myself and Nibbles’ training towards Training Level through December 31, 2015.
  • Schedule trail rides at least twice monthly depending on buddy availability to continue Nibbles’ exposure to all the things through December 31, 2015.
  • Continue incorporating trot poles and cavaletti into Nibbles’ training regime. If possible, introduce cross rails for cross training, strength and confidence building by December 31, 2015.

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Long Term Together Goals (aka the scary but awesome)

  • Obtain our USDF Bronze Medal by December 31, 2020.
  • Complete a limited distance ride by December 31, 2016.
  • Break Nibbles to drive because why not whenever I can find someone with a harness and cart.
  • Take my stepdaughter to her first leadline class on Nibbles by December 31, 2017.
  • Ride bridleless. Someday.
And maybe even have a baby one of these sometime...

And maybe even have a baby one of these sometime…

Quo Vadis: Part 1 – A Riding and Not-Riding History

Quo Vadis is Latin for “Where are you going?” (Before I decided on a business degree, I was a philosophy and classical studies major so forgive me the chance to toss in a little Latin.) In this mini-series, I’m going to articulate where I’ve been, where we are now, and finally where Nibbles and I are heading. This is a personal exercise to make me think critically about my goals but also to further introduce myself to the wonderful blogging community that has supported me so much already.

I haven’t talked all that much about my riding history on this blog. Heck, as far as you guys know, I don’t even ride my beasts. But I promise, I really did used to be competitive and I really am getting back in the saddle (when Nibbles returns home from Trainer E and hopefully even before). I think it’s obvious Nibbles is with a dressage trainer so that is our present aim. I don’t have any long term goals at the moment that I’m willing to utter out loud. As far as I’m concerned, completing the goal of getting her broke is still worthy of celebration. I failed to do that with my past main-mare. That being said, full-training doesn’t last forever which means it’s almost time to look at setting goals for myself and my horse. *gasp*

So before we dive into where we are going, I thought it would be useful to look at where I have been. If you’ve read my About page on this blog, you have heard some of this before.

I started taking lessons when I was 8 years old. I started at an Arabian barn that showed on the Arabian A-circuit – that’s a world in and of itself. I should really scan photos because in looking for a picture of me in those early days, I can’t find anything digital…that ages me a bit.

RegionXIV

Spanish-bred Arabian mare, LF Majorca “Morkie”

In 1998, at age 8, I was showing as a hunter on said Arabian circuit and the mare I was riding helped me win Regionals at KHP. I had been riding for a little less than a year at the time. To say I loved riding and competing was an understatement – even as a kid, I dealt pretty well with the nerves because I just loved being out there so much. To say Morkie was the best teacher isn’t enough – she was just as competitive as me but knew infinitely more.

2000 on Morkie at San N' Tone (Shelbyville, KY)

2000 on Morkie at San N’ Tone (Shelbyville, KY)

In late 2000, my family moved for my father’s job, meaning I had to leave my first-and-only trainer. Since starting in 1997, I hadn’t purchased a horse of my own because my family couldn’t afford it. Instead, my trainer bought a gelding named Shelby she scouted for me and I helped start him and then took him to his first show. He has a very famous brother, HSA Halley’s Comet. Shelby had a penchant for terrorizing my trainer (we’re talking scary bronco style) but he was like the heart horse who was never mine and never tried anything with me. My trainer coached me through teaching him how to drive which he LOVED.

2005

2005 during a visit

After moving in 2000, I didn’t buy Shelby but instead got the once in a lifetime chance to “buy” Morkie for a song. To give a little context, Morkie was born in 1986 and was purchased for $35,000 as a foal. Although she was older when she came into my life, Morkie was a nice mare and an even better teacher. She was the perfect first horse.

Finding a new trainer was hard, especially at a young age. I tried a few who claimed to know a lot but turned out to know very little (as in throw them in side reins and then throw the kid on at the last second). I bounced around barns with Morkie and taught beginner lessons for fun after people who saw me ride asked for help. I backed a lot of horses, catch rode in a few local shows, and even tried showing in 4-H with Morkie. Fun fact – 4-H judges don’t care so much for Arabians in the south. Ask me how I know. But we had fun!

Around 2004, I found a home as a working student with a BNT (at least in the Arabian dressage world). I helped handle her stallions, breed mares, imprint the foals, leased a solid Second Level gelding and in turn got to take lessons. I rode there for a couple years and moved on.

We landed next at a small barn that I ended up running the summer camp for. I started a couple OTTB’s and rode Morkie. It was then that I also rescued Tiki and started down a (very long) natural horsemanship rabbit hole. This is around 2008: I’m not in a regular lesson program with anyone, and am slowly telling myself I’m not good enough to ride my horse or I’ll hurt him. Morkie is still around at this time but was diagnosed with DSLD so was enjoying retirement.

First under saddle trot for Tiki, 2008ish

First under saddle trot for Tiki, 2008ish

In 2009, I bought a four year old, super athletic mare (and just months later, Morkie passed…). I had every intention of backing new mare myself (which I did) and showing her (which I did not but once). That same fall, I started on my bachelors fulltime. I had graduated high school four years earlier (at 16 if you’re doing the math and scratching your head) and struggled with the decision of making horses a career. I ultimately decided to go to business school and get an Equine Business degree that conveniently is a Bachelors in Business Administration meaning it could be multi-purpose.

Pro tip: don’t buy a baby horse with no trainer and start college the same year.

...no matter how pretty

…no matter how pretty

While in college for four years, I took a few lessons from natural horsemanship trainers. They were helpful, don’t get me wrong, but I had no real plan or tangible goals. I also found a dressage trainer who gave me bareback lessons in a hackamore on her schoolmaster. That was fun until she started with some disturbing behavior. The whole we-don’t-use-saddles-here-ever thing should have been a give away but I digress.

In 2013, I was graduating college. While in college, a series of offers led me to putting together a breeding small program (beginning with pretty, super athletic grey mare). Not long after, I lost an imported broodmare who was 90-days in foal to my stallion and that was the start to things careening off the track I thought was right. Tiki had to be put down after a long battle with EPM (that he had when I rescued him I learned later). Morkie has been gone for four years by now. I was able to sell a project horse. But I still had a lot of (unbroke) breeding horses, realized breeding was a money pit (at least for that breed in the post-2008 market), and no clear goals.

By January 2015, I managed to sell two mares, leased out one (whose foal you see sporadically here), and then had to put down my fantastic breeding stallion after a freak pasture accident. That left me with Nibbles whose backing I chronicled on this blog. In May 2015, Nibbles left for Trainer E, getting the kind of education I am way too rusty to give her.

All told, I’ve been out of the saddle since 2009 and I haven’t been taking regular lessons since I was a kid.

Fat mare has moves - 2013

Fat Nibbles has moves – 2013

Nibbles will come home before too long. It will be up to me to continue her training unless I can find another trainer in the right situation (cost, location, all that). This time, I will approach my plans strategically instead of sailing along, letting time pass me by while nice horses become pasture ornaments.

But here’s the beauty of it, no matter how tempting it is to feel sorry for myself – that is my history. The past. It doesn’t define where I’m going.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Autumn Reflections

Thank you to everyone for their well wishes for Nibbles! She’s back to her normal self and appears to be no worse for the wear. I wish I knew what caused her to act colicky but I guess it’s not always that easy.

I didn’t go to the barn yesterday. One of my best friends was in town very briefly before she and her husband move far away for his new job. They also just got a three month old Vizsla puppy whom I was dying to meet.

PaisleyI won’t be able to get to the barn tonight either due to other obligations so Nibbles will have had three days off. After talking to a few trainer friends, I’ve decided to try riding her with a crop to tap her shoulder when she doesn’t want to move forward and doesn’t respond to my seat-leg-then voice aid. It’s times like these where I wish I had a barn buddy to help us out of a sticky spot. But that’s a topic for another time.

I want to tackle a hot button topic today. I’m really looking forward to the comments on this so please don’t feel like your opinion doesn’t matter if this topic is not something you’ve personally dabbled in.

A few years ago with my first horse, Morkie, sporting her rope halter.

A few years ago with my first horse, Morkie, sporting her rope halter.

I read an opinion piece called “What I Don’t Do Natural Horsemanship Anymore” and it really resonated with me. You see, as someone who ascribes to some natural horsemanship principles, I agree with some of the points she makes. In particular, she talked about how after six years of NH, she was too afraid to ride her horse. I got chills at this point because that was me.

Let me back up. I started taking riding lessons at an Arabian barn when I was 8 years old. I started out doing Arabian shows and won everything through the Regional level. When I was 11, my family moved 3 hours away from my trainer and we bought Morkie from my trainer and she came with us. Two years later I was the working student for a well-known dressage trainer in the Arabian world. Fast forward a few years to age 14 when I stumbled across a rescue case I couldn’t break away from. For those of you who know this story, that horse was Tiki.

The rescue horse, Tiki. 2010

The rescue horse, Tiki. 2010

At that time, I had left my working student position and I wasn’t working with a trainer regularly. I was introduced to a certain school of NH and had a lot of success getting past Tiki’s trust issues. And I really never stopped. Hindsight 20/20, what I realized I was doing was trading all of my riding time for NH time. It got to the point where I quit riding, I was so engrossed.

Enter Sara in 2009. After three years in my Equine Business program (still not with a trainer), I decided I wanted to run a breeding program because I knew I didn’t want to ride professionally. I hopped on a plane across country and met this 16 hand, unbroke four year old mare and fell in love. Can you see where this is going?

sara2010

Sara as a rising five year old in 2010.

I was boarding back at my first trainer’s barn but I didn’t want her help because I felt like she used methods I didn’t approve of. When Sara proved to be more complex than Tiki with NH, I turned back to my “normal” ways and things went really well until she contracted Strangles and was confined to a stall for 6 weeks. From there, things spiraled out of control. I did end up backing her myself in 2011 after moving barns. I had the help of a NH trainer and I can confidently say that Sara was given a great foundation. However, I still wasn’t riding.

Back to present day and the article. I very recently sold Sara. As a nine year old, she remained very green but, hey, if you wanted her to lunge over a tarp, she’d do that. Now that the only horse I have left is Nibbles (not including my broodmare who is out on lease and in foal), I’m faced with the same decision: do I NH my way into not riding again? Of course, the question doesn’t sound like that when I’m analyzing things but that’s really what I’m asking.

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So this is where I’m at. I still use the principles I learned. I treat the horse with respect. I prepare and do my best to set up the horse for success. But what I know now is that it’s not about NH – these are the principles of truly good horseman and have been for years before NH ever existed. It’s not about sticks and strings or backing a horse up by wiggling a rope. If I want to keep riding – and I desperately do – it’s about preparing on the ground then translating it to riding. It seems so simple looking back.

I’m still trying to find that sweet spot for me. As I work full-time and plan a wedding, going to the barn 7 days a week and taking lessons on several of those days just isn’t possible for me. But I’m fighting for barn time and I’m doing a good job of getting there 4 days a week. I’m tacking up and riding every. single. time. (ahem, except when Nibbles feigns colic)

I don’t know exactly where I’ll be or what my real goal is with horses now as a mid-twenties working woman and soon to be wife. But what I do know is this: I want to be the best rider for every horse I ride, even if I never step foot in a competition arena again. To do that, you have to actually ride.

What I do know is that I don’t want to be that person that lies to themselves about “Oh, but I love my horse” when in reality you’re too terrified to ride the horse you love so much. I’ve been there and I’m marching steadily away from that place. I know that will involve some tough decisions and change (like finding a new instructor) but I’m determined to do right by me as a rider and by my horse. Horses are too expensive and life is too short.

How to Eat an Elephant

f593d05af13062d0a744203061e51be9Finishing your undergraduate work has some side effects not listed on the label. In my experience, they include:

  • Anxiety and sometimes extreme frustration over the job hunt
  • Disappointment when you don’t meet your family’s or your own expectations for post-grad life
  • Gnawing sensation in the stomach when deciding to continue onto grad school immediately or wait
  • Changes in mood and behavior, especially as related to the ability to make decisions

Joking aside, I finished my bachelors a year ago this month. Like so many things in my life, I’m not where I thought I would be at this point in my life but I’m also not so far from where I’d “ideally” like to be. I was very fortunate to find a job that I could pour my education and passion into not all that long (4 months) post graduation. I don’t make much at all but I feel blessed to be able to work full-time in the (indirect) equine industry.

So why do I feel frustrated and like I’ve let myself down? In talking to friends and peers, I think a lot of us feel this way after we graduate. When we started our four-year degree, we wore rose colored glasses and had dreams as big as the campus we now frequented. Somehow, real life has  a way of changing your path, little by little, in many beautiful and sometimes difficult ways. In my previous post, I talked about how I didn’t know what my goal with horses is. Can you believe it: 24 hours later and I still don’t have it figured out. The horror!

The advice I try to remember and have to constantly remind myself of is this: focus on what I can control right now. Break life up in to bite-size pieces and work on them, one by one if that’s what I need. I don’t have to have the answers to the universe before I turn 25 (which is in less than 6 months :x). I’m pushing myself and doing the best I can with where I am and that’s enough for now.

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A Lesson & Goals

When I left you last, I had a lesson looming. The day after my lesson, I left town for a few days for some R&R. The R&R was semi-successful but it broke down like this:

Day 1 – 11 hours driving, dinner in the city
Day 2 – touring the city, out for drinks that evening
Day 3 – 11 hours driving, crash upon arriving home

So it wasn’t so much R&R as it was just getting away but I suppose it served its purpose. But you don’t really want to hear about that; you’re here to read about my lesson, I’d imagine.

As it turns out, the trainer I took a lesson with is someone who Karen from Contact works with. I worked my normal day, changed in a restroom, and then rushed to this new farm amidst Derby parade traffic. I made it there on time, although my schedule and Karen’s didn’t match up this time, I’m pretty sure I spotted the handsome Hampton in his field.

As it turns out, I’d be riding a solid citizen named Pirate, who I did not manage to sneak any pictures of. Pirate is a bay Thoroughbred gelding whom I was told would take care of me but test me at the same time. I immediately liked Trainer upon meeting her in person and we chatted lightly while I tacked Pirate up. As luck would have it, Trainer’s saddle was stolen so I took my dressage lesson in a jumping saddle. Not ideal but it got the job done.

We headed up to the dressage arena and Trainer told me to just get to know Pirate so she could watch me. For a Thoroughbred, Pirate’s gates weren’t all that lofty which was good for me because I’m very much out of riding shape. After I confessed that I had previously schooled all of first level and pieces of second, Trainer asked me to make some adjustments and see how Pirate did. As I’ve basically only ridden babies for the past six years (has it been that long?), my riding has become very defensive. I used to have soft, following hands but it took some work to get my hands and elbows out of baby-green-horse-don’t-kill-me mode.

Overall, I was thrilled with the lesson. I rode for a solid hour, trotting and cantering. My groin muscles are still cursing me but it was worth every minute. I’m going to experiment with how to recap lessons as I definitely intend to continue. For now, let’s see how a list format works:

  • In the trot, I post very quickly – as soon as my butt hits the saddle, it’s off again. This is likely from riding Arabians for years and years. I worked to slow down my tempo; Pirate was a much happier camper when I accomplished this.
  • In the canter, I need to leg go of the horse’s face. In Pirate’s case, he was not going to run off with me. In a really cool moment, Trainer had me ask for the canter and then throw my reins up to his ears and ride only from my seat and legs. In response, Pirate gave me the most beautiful and round canter. I’m sure I was grinning like an idiot.
  • I need to get out of the habit of using verbal cues. Again, from breaking baby after baby, I use verbal cues on dead broke horses without even thinking about it. I need to quit cheating.
  • To my own surprise, I remember how to leg yield and even did some while trotting circles to sit more on his hind leg.
  • I need to work on achieving more bend with my inside rein. My inside leg/outside rein aid is definitely still there.
  • Apparently Pirate has a “trick” where tracking right, he will hop out of the arena if you try to steer him with your inside rein. I’m proud to say that we remained firmly in the arena – until the end of the lesson when we walked on the buckle in the large jump field<3

I think the lesson was a huge success and though I had to take a few walk breaks because of my lack of stamina, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I was able to achieve in an hour. When we were getting started, Trainer asked me what my goals were. Originally, I told her I’d like to get my bronze medal. I mentioned that I’d like to do this in five years, thinking this was reasonable. Thankfully, she was honest with me and warned me against getting stuck and becoming a Training Level Professional (and I know exactly what she is talking about). She said I’d have my bronze well before five years. In regards to my own mare, Nibbles, I wanted to take her out at Intro in 2014. I told her I wasn’t really sure what my ultimate goal with Nibbles is. And I don’t.

Which brings me to the big point of what has been bothering me: What is my goal with horses? It used to be to run a small breeding program and show when I could. I had that breeding program and was forced to sell it (and still am). After dabbling in the market, I know I no longer want to try to breed and/or sell in the horse world. I want to be able to enjoy my horse(s) and not worry about making a profit from them.

So what’s my goal? I told trainer I honestly didn’t know at this point. This was very frustrating to me. In a perfect world, I’d love to be able to ride a competent Grand Prix test one day. I’m not delusional enough to want to go to the Olympics (kudos to anyone with that dream!) but I’m also way too competitive to not compete.

My dreams and goals are very much a work in progress. More posts to come I’m sure. Readers, help me out – what is your goal with horses? Why or how did you come to decide on that goal?