Monday, September 25, 2017 happens to be one of those days that changed my life forever. Though I have chosen to utilize this platform primarily for discussion about me and my horse, Jean-Luc, I believe this particular event warrants a post.
I have been blessed to hold some pretty unique and fun job titles in my professional career. A few titles include Production Manager for a film company, both national and international Recruiting Manager for a ski resort, an Executive Director of a Chamber of Commerce, and even an Account Executive for a strategic communications firm.
Though seemingly very different, there is one thing each of those positions have in common – they each involve communicating with people. I love people; especially people who are “different” or “unique”. Learning what makes individuals “individual” happens to be, what I believe, makes the world turn. In college, I mastered in Journalism and Mass Communications because I am fascinated by the nuances needed to actually perform effective, strategic communication.
I used to believe I wanted to be the next Leo Burnett (god among advertisers). I was sure the life of neon, night clubs, advertising and Mad Men was meant for me. I was wrong. And that is something I have only recently come to terms with. Please understand I don’t say this to be braggadocio, but to get a better understanding of the present, and my insecurities when it comes to following this new path.
At my university was good…really good at what we did. I graduated top of my class in both undergrad and graduate school. Doing anything other than working on 5th Avenue in New York City, or for some big agency out in L.A. felt/feels as if I was/am falling short of the potential everyone and everything thought I had/have.
The truth is, one skill, I have carried with me in my tool box from age. It made me exceptionally good in the communications field and it just came naturally. My one skill that makes me special happens to be… teaching. For me, breaking down concepts to their smallest steps and finding individualized ways to communicate those ideas to others happens to be something I am unusually accomplished at.
For me, there is something very exciting about being able to relate to someone on their level, and share an idea or concept with them that they maybe never knew before. I especially love when it’s something that can help that person in the future.
The answer to the question “how I became a teacher ” is long and boring, but as of this past Monday I took my first steps down the hallways of the high school I happen to be an alumni of as Mrs. Jones; Special Education Teacher. People “around town” are very confused. I can tell many wonder if I have lost my mind. I get looks, and am often questioned, “Why would you want to do that?” I am more than happy to report, however, that my give a d*mn, when it comes to their options, is busted!
I LOVE IT! I will admit, teaching youth with mid to moderate autism made me nervous. I knew this would challenge even my best communication skills. At the start of this week, I wasn’t sure if I could relate to my students. Their communication is more than a little different, some days it is down right bizarre.
Words escape me though, when I try to describe just how incredible and rewarding being their teacher is. My students are funny, smart, and allowed me the privilege to just fall right into this new career. I understand working in Special Education isn’t for everyone, but I believe I was made for this. Each day, I smile as we figure out, together, ways of communicating with each other to accomplish the tasks or goals set before us.
In many ways, it does remind me of working with horses. Jean-Luc clearly does not speak the same language I do. Thus, it is up to me to communicate clearly and effectively to ensure we become a team. The mental games he plays sometimes mirror the mental challenges my students set before me. Did I meant ion… I LOVE IT!
After taking the week to adjust, I have figured out one more bonus to teaching. I have actually gained about 15 hours back to my life per week! That is incredible. This career path isn’t what others may have expected of me, but it is allowing for me to take care of a really important person in my life – ME! And that is something I’m very thankful for.
In the weeks to come, there will be many more stories about Jean-Luc and me, but the horseback writing blog is truly a blog about communication. For those of you following along, thank you. We look forward to communicating with you, too!
As always #BloldyGO!
The weekend of Sep. 22 was absolutely lovely. I, along with approximately 30 individuals from the Randolph County Regional Riding Club rode 20.3 miles through the wilds of West Virginia. I have wanted to write and share more, however, my life took a drastic change (for the better) that same weekend. This change has not allotted me much time to write, lately.
That said, Jean-Luc was about as good as the other 29 equines that took off Saturday morning. Riding with that many horses yields tons of energy! The herd stepped out much faster than anyone wanted, but there were moments of chill where we were all able to enjoy an adult beverage or sip on something from our saddles.
I am so, so very thankful to have and know these people. They have made my horse journey worthwhile! They also reassure me horses help ordinary people accomplish amazing feats. One gentleman on the ride was 83! Yes. An 83 year old man rode 20.3 miles like a pro. Getting to know the people on that ride reminds me that good people aren't too hard to find, if you just look.
Here re a few photos from our trip. Unfortunately, I was either working pretty hard to hold Jean-Luc back, or simply too in awe of the views to remember to take more photos. Luckily, I can safely say, "I'll do better next time." Because, I have my own horse, and that is a beautiful thing, knowing there surely is a next time.
For those of you who know Liz, her Blog is currently on a hiatus. She has every intention of writing again soon, but in the meantime, I'm happy to share a little part of what she's been up to recently - helping me. Liz and I have been in each other's lives since we were five years old, (maybe before). She is amazing and her dedication to a lifestyle of horsemanship is something I respect. Since purchasing Jean-Luc I have been blessed to have her friendship and guidance.
She is also insanely busy, so when she offered up some informal lessons in the very little free-time that she has, I jumped at the chance! Her training philosophy makes the most sense to me because it is based on classic and natural techniques that when done correctly, result in a healthier horse and rider.
Because the techniques I'm learning are not unique, I was able to "study up" on concepts prior to my lesson. The video below from www.EquitopiaCenter.com, "Art 2 Ride" features trainer Karen Loshbaugh and Equine Veterinarians Dr. Joanna Robson, Dr. Sarah le Jeune and Dr. Sue Dyson. I believe, is a great detailed explanation of what Liz often discusses when teaching me. The video demonstrates what incorrect riding can do to your horse. It also explains why a person would want to use these gymnastic-like techniques to build their horse's back, as well as what happens when a rider/trainer gets this process right or wrong.
This process is not something that happens overnight. Jean-Luc and I have at least a two-year road ahead of us before he will be able to sustain his core and back muscles while riding and that's more than okay by me.
When I arrived at the barn the other night for our lesson, Liz had kindly caught Jean-Luc and tied him for me (#spoiled). It saved both of us time, and we learned he will follow behind a 4-wheeler (quad for those of you up north), with no issues.
While she worked one of her horses in the field, I quickly cleaned and tacked Jean-Luc up. I was excited to toss on his new girth that I'd found a the Galloping Grape Labor Day weekend. It's nothing special, but it was the correct size and made the entire process of saddling up go faster. It's amazing what having the right tools for the job can do.
To start, Liz asked me to work Jean-Luc in the arena with his side reins. She showed me that I had been using them backward (sorry buddy, momma's learning too). Then we worked on getting Jean-Luc used to the feel and encouraging that forward motion, through the bit, and tucking his rump. He could only hold the correct body position for fleeting seconds, but thanks to the video from above, I knew this was to be expected.
We worked at the walk for about 10 min on each side. Then Liz asked me to take him to the outdoor round pen to work on speed changes under saddle. The outdoor round pen is slightly larger and allows for you to canter.
This is where things get ... #fun. You see, I can be kind of a wimp. Once upon a time, I had a knack for hitting the dirt. Now that I have few years on me, the dirt seems so much further away, and it really does take more time to recover. When Liz asked what I wanted to work on, I knew it had to be something that would build my confidence.
Again, rather than tossing me to the wolves, she's kindly suggested working on "speed changes". This made me happy because it is also something that Jean-Luc and I can practice without anyone around. It's quite simple. The goal is to start out at one speed, ask for another speed, and keep changing it up in an effort to have you and your horse go the speed you tell him at the exact moment you say.
Last week I clued her in on something that surprises even me though - I haven't worked at the canter... at all. Yes, I know, every girl's dream is to run through a field of wildflowers as the sun sets over the mountains. How have I not done this yet!? The short answer - I am a chicken.
Liz and I both knew it was time begin whatever steps necessary to make this happen. I mean Jean-Luc is smart and likes to move. Only working his lower gears has a purpose (discourage the pace), but he enjoys moving. So, we started moving around the arena slowly, then a little faster, then changing his speed up and down throughout his different gears. Finally, I got to a point where I believed both we were ready to canter.
The short celebratory version of this story is ... he was ready to canter. I was ready to canter. So we did. The best part of this being a story told in the 21 century is that Liz had her phone on her and was able to take some pretty memorable photos. Remember that old phrase, "A picture's worth a thousand words." This is no exception.
Photo Credit: Liz Stout
As difficult as these are to share, I can actually laugh with you at them. I thought for sure I'd swallowed my terror and I was hiding it well. Liz's camera proves otherwise. It also helped prove something else, though. My fear is somewhat irrational. Look at that happy little critter just moving around in circles! Sure, I can make all the excuses I want, "he isn't balanced", "he moves weird", etc. But the truth is, I am the one re-learning what I once knew. I am the one who needs to just chill.
Thankfully, even if my head doesn't seem to remember, my body hasn't forgotten everything. These photos do show a relatively balanced rider. For the most part, I'm happy with my hands the placement of my feet. My shoulders need to be relaxed and squared up a bit, but I think that will happen more as I remember to BREATHE! After all, it's been 10 years since I've really done this.
By the end, Liz and I both agreed to "fake it till you make it." I practiced cantering on both sides a few more times with a giant fake smile (note the photo at the top of this post and the one below).
I am so thankful to have someone willing to take the time to point out things I, myself, could live in denial about forever. Having a friend to push me through, but still let me do it at my own pace is truly priceless. I am looking forward to working on the things I learned the other night with Jean-Luc. These photos a valuable, because no matter what, I believe in the progress we will soon see after them.
Over the weekend I watched one of my dearest friends commit a lifetime to her best friend in a wedding that I will remember for years. Later, I spent an afternoon rediscovering my creativity, as I prepared for a traditional holiday event in our town - The Polar Express.
For the purposes of this blog, however, I was thrilled to have some much needed, and productive horse time on Friday and Saturday. Recently, I realized just how horrendous Jean-Luc's body position is. He is about as strong as a new born kitten in his hind end and stiffer than a rock.
Jean-Luc's neck is held so high and tight that even my BM noted how crazy he can look sometimes. "When he turns he doesn't even tip his nose in the slightest," she said as we reminisced about our days, watching the sun set around her newly finished gas and stone campfire.
Friday evening was glorious. After learning a bit more about what it means to be "behind the bit", "on the bit", and how surcingles work to correct body position through strengthening pinpointed areas on a horse, I felt pretty prepared for my next few sessions with Jean-Luc.
When I pulled into the barn Jean-Luc actually came running. This is only the second time that has EVER happened and man did it feel good.
"I don't know what you're doing," my BM said, "But he recognizes you and your car. He really calls for you!"
(Just a hunch: I think it might have something to do with what I'm calling the "crack apples" off my mom's apple tree. I started adding them to his grain, just as treat, about two weeks ago. The tree itself was planted when I was about 10 years old, and this past year they produced the biggest, most delicious apples to date. The tree drops 10 - 20 new apples daily, and the ones that aren't worth making anything with I've been collecting for the horses. I give them away freely, and toss a few tennis ball-sized apples in Jean-Luc's grain each time I bring him in from the field.
Though not 100% sure, I will say that I was elated on Friday evening when he and his boyfriend Cody came all the way to the side gate by the barn. Literally, I opened the gate for him to walk into a barn, no hike into the field, nothing! Easy as pie!)
Once caught and cleaned up some, I tossed a blanket and the surcingle I'd only ever used once on Jean-Luc. We walked into small round pen inside the barn and, with reins still clipped to the surcingle, I pulled out four ground poles in preparation for our work.
The pen inside the barn is small, so you can't move too quickly inside. That said, I figured a few ground poles would add just a little more work for Jean-Luc and encourage him to really reach his feet underneath him as builds his top-line.
In previous days moving over poles without a surcingle went really well. Jean-Luc actually likes working in the barn. The surcingle, however, is not his friend. Note the photo below.
When I first started working him in it, he would hardly move. After some encouragement to move forward, though, he really settled in. It took him around 3 minutes on each side to get his head in this position.
We repeated the lesson on Saturday, bright and early. I had to hike to the top of the hill to even find the little bugger, all the while listening to some random commotion in the woods that sounded like a coyote taking down a very upset bird. Jean-Luc is usually pretty bad about calling out to his friends and walking very quickly / out of control when I have to lead him that far away from the herd, despite all the commotion, he didn't make a sound the entire way to the barn. He got a little prancy but for the most part, he was great! He didn't call out at all until we were actually back at the barn.
Saturday, the only thing we changed in our work with the surcingle was our location and the amount of time we worked on each side. We went for 15 minutes instead of 10 on each side and moved outside instead of inside the barn. We also tried for a few more changes in speed.
Outside meant it was obvious Jean-Luc's focus would be split between me and trying to find the herd, but I believe I overcame his obsession pretty well. Future lessons may have us back in the barn until the concepts are locked-in a little more, but for now, I am pleased.
Or, that is at least what the sign to Warrenton says.
This past weekend my husband and I had a wonderful vacation in Virginia. It was our first trip away, just us, since we were married three years ago. Needless to say we were excited. Originally, we were planning on attending a polo match at the Great Meadows Polo Club, however, thanks to inclement weather those plans were canceled.
Once we pulled into Warrenton, we went to meet the shop owner of a shop I have admired for months - The Galloping Grape. I was pleased and picked up some great purchases, including a fabulous deal on a girth, and nice trail riding water bottle bag for my saddle.
After leaving the Galloping Grape we noticed the horse show happening next door. Turns out it we'd stumbled on to a Warrenton Tradition. The Warrenton Horse Show boasts being one of the largest in Virginia, though, the weather made for poor conditions and it wasn't very well attended from what we gathered. (Just as a general FYI their communication and web presence is abysmal)
We had a great time learning about how the other 1% lives on our first day. Seriously, I had difficulty understanding real horse show people. One very kind and friendly woman shared that the average (likely) price of those competing was about $5K. (Sorry Jean-Luc, momma's gonna need to win the lottery before we could ever think about running with those kinds of people).
That said we had a great time! The people were very friendly and working hard to show off their best. Though I felt judged several times for being "less fortunate" than those around me, I honestly took pride in it.
At one point, when explaining to someone my barn situation, they disparagingly said, "Oh! You're in one of those Co-Op barns. That's nice." Honestly, it didn't bother me. I genuinely feel lucky that I get to spend as much time as I do with my horse. I don't pay for a professional trainer. I don't have a groom. I learn side-by-side with my horse. While it may be somewhat more difficult, again I feel privileged to be able to learn in this way.
But enough about that, Warrenton is a great little town! After watching a few classes, we made our way in town shopping the most adorably historic streets. My husband enjoyed time in a local bike shop, and then we enjoyed the BEST food inside a pub called Black Bear Bistro & Brick Oven.
*If you ever have the opportunity to visit ask for Tina! She was a GREAT server with amazing recommendations.
My name is Chelsey.
Generator's Cuevo Gold, or as he's known around this barn, "Jean-Luc Ponycard", was foaled in 2004 from Generator's Hurricane & Cheyenne's Little Bit.
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