This summer is flying by. It seems like just last week I was so excited for it to begin, now nearly three months have gone by. That isn't to say Jean-Luc and I haven't covered some miles though. Honestly, it means something to me to know that since we've been together we've logged conservatively 200+ miles together - mind-blowing.
The riding club I also ride with is having a "Buns of Steel" competition. The rider with the most hours in the saddle by the end of the club season (in this case it looks like October 2018), wins a prize!
I never thought I would even be a contender, but what's the saying, "never say never?" Since April 28, 2018, the two of us have logged 83 hours together (specifically in the saddle, groundwork doesn't count). I had taken that number twice because it just feels ridiculous. Little hour rides add up, though. Last week we added 25 miles alone!
Today, though I have no pictures for proof, we even had some amazing canter work. It was short, sweet, and in a round pen, but it was the most solid I've felt in the saddle yet. The key to this seemed to be a two-fold.
The other part of this, though is that I felt strong enough to hug his barrel with my legs and roll with the motion. When I sat harder or thought about slowing down, that's exactly what happened! I guess what I'm saying is despite less collection and in the mouth, I had a much better contact in my legs - a good thing.
Trying to piece together what was going right is a little difficult. I really wish I did have a video of this because of how connected I felt. While I can't remember Jean-Luc's head placement, I do know it was the first I actually could have held a dollar bill in between my thigh and the saddle and not lost it - apparently, this is an old trick parent around here use to encourage children to learn the correct way to sit the canter.
Other things I would credit would have to just be the sheer amount of miles I've put in on any horse in the last week. A blog for another time is definitely about going to between two different quarter horses and Jean-Luc's gaited self this past week. The short version, though, is that I was reminded just how differently those horses can be.
Thanks to Liz, I had the opportunity to ride up and down Timberline resort on her rock solid quarter horse Stan, or as we lovingly now refer to him as Stanimal! The one thing I will say is that there truly is a serious difference in speed. I knew this, heck everyone can say that gaited horses just move out much faster. What I did not realize, because I've only been riding my gaited horse for the past year is that his walk is even faster than Stan (and other non-gaited breeds) trot.
Liz knows she has a tendency for being a bit brutal to ride with if you don't know what you're doing. I was nervous to even go ride with her because I'd already done 8 miles on a rail trail with my husband biking alongside earlier the same day we were supposed to ride, but I figured, what the hay! I could hang on long enough.
What I wasn't ready for was the fact that I COULD handle it all. Maybe she's making me feel good about myself, but the fact that her horse was just as smooth at his trot as I'd been working at the walk made my life cake! I really could have gone on forever - something a year ago that would have killed me. We rode less than four miles but that put my total for the day at 12 miles, something I usually only do with the riding club and make a pretty big ordeal out of. To do this like it was nothing made me feel really good.
And can I just say, riding a horse you can post on rather than do the hula on (pacers) is really nice.
I plan to go in detail about some of our other accomplishments soon, but the short list includes
The Durbin Ride is an annual treat for the riding club I'm a part of. Each Summer no less than 20+ horse and riders pair up for 3 days of fun. Typically, the ride starts in Randolph County West Virginia and ends at the annual Durbin Days event in Pocahontas County (approximately 30+ miles if I remember correctly).
This year, due to road work events, our typical route was not passable. The club chose to spend the 3 days in Durbin, enjoying the entire festival and riding out from the Durbin base camp each day. Honestly, I think I might have like it better. Rather than packing things up each evening/ morning, we still got in at least 40 miles (15 hours or more of riding), and had a solid place each night to come back to.
We could not have had better weather for the ride, and my dear Jean-Luc was a doll. We lead the ride a few times (until we were going too quickly downhill for our quarter horse friends). Jean-Luc also spent quite a bit of time in the back or in the middle. He didn't seem to care where he was or what we did, he was just pleased to be walking along with his buddies.
Usually this ride is the easiest ride we do all year, however, I don't know that I would say that this time? I won't say it was hard, but I also wouldn't call it the "easiest" thing the club's done all year. We went straight up some old logging paths, rolled around on a few goat paths, and came down one or two places that felt like The Man from Snowy River - those were questionably funny. At one point I was staring at a horse's bum in front of me, then the next thing I knew, the it was just gone! Down we were going, and all I could do was lean back and let Jean-Luc do his thing.
I love these people. They're just good horse people (excluding the new members that showed up that have more than a lot to learn about good horsemanship, but that's not what I'm choosing to focus on here).
We had a few tumbles this ride, one person in particular took a few more rolls than anyone. By the end of day two, she looked like she'd been in a car accident. The falls weren't really anything to shake a stick at, just life lessons in paying attention really. For example, when someone says there's a stick on your left . . . move to the right, don't look at it. Or when you are going up and down mountains, tighten that saddle!
That said, by the end of day 2 we all were ready for some relaxation. Our muscles may or may not have been sore, regardless, nothing feels as good a chilling in a creek in a lawn chair after several hours in the saddle! Follow that up with the annual low country boil, and it's easy to see that I was one happy girl!
The last day of the ride was super chill. We welcomed a few more friends to the ride, ignored the weather man saying it was going to rain and saddled up for another 2 hours in the saddle. By the end of that I figured I would be done, however, the person I was trailring with had other ideas.
Each year, the end of Durbin Days for the Riding club is summed up with the annual Durbin Days parade. I am not much for parades. I don't know, I just don't like the idea of being on my thousand pound critter in the middle of a few thousand people, fire trucks, random loud noises and more. It feels like a death trap.
Death trap or not, I agreed to participate in this one this year. "What am I thinking?" I said outloud before we saddled up. Before I knew it, I was saddled in our fancy duds, polished Jean-Luc's feet and was ready to walk down the road!
I can honestly say it was a blast! We had to wait a while to get going, but we found a group of people to ride in the parade with that gave Jean-Luc confidence. Then, while walking in the parade, during the inevitable stops that would occur I would pick out a little girl or boy and ask them to come up to me. They (and rightfully their parents) would look at me nervously.
"It's okay," I said. "Hold out your hand."
I would then place a small apple treat in their hand allowing them to feed Jean-Luc a treat while we hanging out quietly in the parade. This trick was AMAZING! Not only were children getting to have their first experiences with a horse, Jean-Luc now LOVES parades.
My little man was one fantastic critter this weekend. I could not have been more proud! We since gone on to do no less than 30 more miles together on summer trail rides with friends. It's been great and I look forward to posting more about that in weeks to come.
The second day of riding at EJ's Stables was here. We'd had one heck of an adventure thus far, but we knew we were in for something, today. We had woken up early to feed and water the boys, then Bitty 2 began another round of her incredible breakfasts.
Around 9 AM there was a knock on our cottage door. It was Mike the Mule Man! He once had a legendary Molly Mule and has since been working to find another just as good - good luck. That said, Mike is also known for getting people into some trouble, or well, at least every story I've ever heard about him, or from him seems to relate to him getting into to some death-defying situations - exactly the kind of person you're looking forward to leading you on a ride, right!? - not so much.
As things started to progress, I was really starting to chicken out on this one. Mike happened to know some others in camp and invited them to come along as well.
"I thought this was a private thing?" I recalled confused.
But that's just how these things go. The Bitties and I weren't too sure about inviting a big group with us, the whole reason we wanted to do this ride had been to keep it private. We even chatted about bailing on this and doing our own thing. It's one thing to ride in a large group, however, we didn't even know these people or their horses?
In the end, the group had about 11 riders, one of which was on a very young buckskin, no helmet, and she admitted this was only his second time under saddle. The rest of the group were astride walking horses. While Jean-Luc is a walking horse, he does a great job of sticking with a quiet quarter horse after only a mile or so. People have often commented how amazed they are that he can hang with the slow crowd or pick it up when he needs to. (Go us! I guess?) That said, riding with walkers can be a pain for others I've learned because they tend to get a group pretty excited.
"Someone's gonna die," I was sure.
My nerves were shot before I ever hopped in the saddle. See, as if it wasn't enough to ride with all these unknowns, we were also riding with a Bitty (Bitty 3) that had to be very careful because her shoulder was recovering from rotator cuff surgery. Though cleared to ride, it wouldn't take much to put her back in the hospital. Luckily Bitty 1 is afraid of nothing - like dangerously unaware sometimes. In the end, it kind of balanced out. I made my peace with the situation. I was also to a point with Jean-Luc where I knew I could trust him. Besides, we decided if things were too terrible, we would just turn back.
The ride started out questionable for the first few miles. We decided to hang pretty far back, and that ended up being a great choice. The trail was very technical, hilly, but honestly not too much. I took the new saddle out as well because it had been pretty comfortable the day before Jean-Luc seemed to like it.
We rode up and up for several miles. It is rare that we all agree to stop while still climbing, but this was quite the climb! We paused a few times going up due to the amount of huffing and puffing coming from everyone.
"If this is the beginning," I thought, "We are in for quite the day."
And we were. The day was amazingly beautiful! Again, we saw parts of West Virginia you just can't easily hike to. I liked that the ride itself was an actual ride, too. Meaning, it wasn't for a beginner. This ride was the kind of thing you truly had to trust your horse and know how to direct him through the best places for him. We went over logs that were as tall as Jean-Luc's knees, around massively fallen grape vines, and through places, I totally called BS as to even being a trail. But alas, Mule Man Mike was never lost, or so he made us believe.
The most intense things that occurred revolved horses that didn't know how to pick up their feet. At one point Bitty 3's horse could have lost a leg on some down aircraft cable (why that was in the woods in the middle of nowhere is beyond me), but thankful, the cable was already snapped and he just dragged it along instead.
Another instance involved the same horse's leg getting stuck in a grapevine wine while two others (not so smart, helmeted lady on the green horse and friend) tried to go around said grapevine and ended up on a vertical mountainside. I still could not tell you how the got stuck like that, but the rest of the group had left them (crappy on them). They were calling for help and did not understand we were going to pass the grapevine, get to a place that was safe, because the trail was so thin you couldn't just hop off, stop, AND THEN come to get them.
So the two are screaming, "How can you leave us! You can't leave us!" Meanwhile, simultaneously yelling at each other. Not-so-smart-lady then proceeds to hop off her green horse and tries to send him to us. Well, smart horse. It decides it would like to go home. Home, in this case, is about 15 miles away through a thick, West Virginia, rainforest-like jungle. Yup. Make better choices.
At the same time this horse was trying to re-find the zip code it called home. The horse in front of me got its leg snagged on the down grapevine. The issue, there's no going up, because it was a sheer cliff face, and there's no going down because there's a downed tree with its roots sticking up to make a wall. You had to ride through it.
This is why it is so important to teach a horse to just stop when something is around its feet. That is exactly what the horse did. his back right leg had a grapevine stuck past his knee. There was no getting off easily.
Thankfully, Mule Man Mike hopped off his Mule Ms. Kitty and promptly saved all the days. Patience is key and just staying calm. It was a literal example of "how-to" and "not-to", and I was the only one smashed in between. Jean-Luc, solid man the entire time. Also, I'm sorry, but if you're making dumb decisions and end up on a cliff face, don't think I'm coming to your rescue in a hurry. My own self-preservation is foremost important. Sorry, not sorry?
We eventually stopped for lunch in a really cool place. It happened to actually be on of the old roads to Cass. I would not have believed it a road, however, had I not seed the sign.
The rest of the ride was fun. I didn't like being stuck with the back with the Not-So-Smart people, but Jean-Luc and I made our peace with it. The two thought we were just going to leave them for dead when I didn't hop off to help, but I simply explained to them that my knee isn't the one you want coming to save you. I don't know that they cared, but nor did I really.
The last 30 minutes of the ride were somewhat miserable for me. Jean-Luc was done, and he isn't the best at not jigging when going down hills. He falls on his front end and it creates a jack-hammer-like motion. It is literally fun for no one. He was tired and it all he had left, which meant it was all I could do but to try and have him shift his weight to the back end. I lost that battle so hard and for whatever reason, 30 minutes of that happened to be enough to break me.
When we hit bottom I really didn't know if I was going to cry or laugh, so I just cussed - a lot. It was pretty out of character for me. While I knew everything was fine, I'd just built up so much (like horses do) that I needed a release.
We arrived at the final river crossing and I told Mule Man Mike, "That was amazing! I'm @#&$* done. Thank you!" He was confused and laughed. Together Jean-Luc and I barreled crossed the river and smiled that our 8 hour day was nearly done.
Again, that was the most challenging and fun ride all year. I am proud that we (mostly me) completed it, and would like to try it again now that I know what I'm in for.
Until then, Jean-Luc and I will keep practicing around the barn, and wherever we can get to.
BEST RIDE OF THE SUMMER - SO FAR!
The morning after we settled into EJ's Stable I was excited to head out on the trail. The night before, because I knew how EJ liked to "wheel & deal", I asked if had any saddles for sale. Heck, last time we were there Bitty 3 bought a nice Tucker. Granted, I wasn't looking for a Tucker, I was looking for a cheapo nylon saddle that I could toss on quickly to train in etc.
Sure enough, EJ had something. And let me tell you, it was not at all what I was looking for, but it totally gets the job done. Inside his garage, he pulled out a 16" Double TT equitation saddle with the tags still on it. Thing is, it was a nylon show saddle . . . so the seat is full (fake) snakeskin, with more rhinestones than you can shake a stick at. However, it met my requirements:
Honestly, there isn't much to say about the ride because for the most part, especially for day one, the boys were super well behaved. We didn't have any issues. The Bitties and I rode the same path we had the first time we'd come to EJ, back in November. It was just a glorious as I remember, only this time we weren't cold.
We crossed the Greenbrier River a few times, rode along the river trail, became lost in wild Rhododendrons and had a great time. There was a random man we found across the river who happened to be camping in the middle of the trail. Jean-Luc nearly took out his entire campsite, but when realized either going through or around, he took down his hammock tent and let us pass. Lesson - don't camp in the middle of a trail.
The first day's ride was a good 3 and a half hours just meandering through the woods. I learned I'm not the biggest fan of riding on rail trails. They're perfect in many ways for horses, however, the people that ride along them have zero brains when it comes to interacting with horses. We encountered several bikers that just didn't know what to do when they saw a horse. While Jean-Luc isn't afraid of a bike, others I was riding with wasn't too fond of them. Some were didn't mind pausing their ride to allow us to pass, while others just barreled along at us. Again, Jean-Luc could care less if a bike was coming at him (good boy!), but Bitty 2 was having a tough time. More her fear rather than her horses. To be honest, I also get not wanting to stop your bike workout for a horse to pass. I was thinking we didn't need to, but for her safety, I was happy to put my hand in the air and ask a rider or two to pause.
Regardless, we met plenty of kind people interested in learning more about horses, and probably chatted longer than necessary when we did stop. I tend to believe most people would like to know more about how to act around a horse, but they've never been given the opportunity, therefore, if someone is going to ask to be educated, I consider it my responsibility to do so.
After the ride, EJ was kind enough to oblige and taking us to a little town called Cass. There we hopped in the river with some floats and soaked our muscles as we lazily tumbled along. It was about 4 miles to get back to the bridge which led to our cottage.
As we floated we were able to get to parts of the country that are still relatively unsettled. The only things you really see from humans are railway remnants from Cass's heyday in the 1920's. The area was once a booming logging industry but has never really recovered from the Great Depression.
Though I took no pictures, I think that is part of what makes the entire experience so special. It allowed me to truly feel what it must have been like to live in the area just as settlers from England, Scotland, and Ireland were coming over. I saw nothing but mountains, fish, birds, and bugs. Together the Bitties and thought about how the Native people must have used the land and river. The area is harsh, and can easily kill you if you don't know what you're doing. I believe people that live in the there today are still much heartier than your average human. They have to be.
The highlight of the float had to be when Bitty 1 shouted to look up. I as I did, I saw it, silently flying between the mountains, above the river - a bald eagle. The sun was setting and everything had a golden glow about it. The eagle soared so gracefully above us, ignored our presence and continued its path along the river. It was the kind of thing that made you forget everything else and just be present. I know I won't forget that for a long time.
Just as it was starting to get cold outside we found the bridge that would lead us back up to the cottage. It had been a long day, and I still had to cook dinner for the Bitties.
While I was cooking, EJ rolled back into camp with this monstrosity. Yes, he even has a pair of 18-year-old Percheron's he gives wagon rides on down the river trail. By this point, we'd met nearly all of EJ's family, and now these guys. While dinner finished up, we watched EJ unharness the pair and realized a few things about him - EJ is one of the most gentle souls you will ever meet. His actions are serious but kind. He does everything with a purpose and takes great pride in all that he has. He's a very hard worker, but somehow incredibly gentle. Seriously, I would like to be more like EJ.
I was relieved Bitties enjoyed the dinner I made (Spinach salad and a teriyaki shrimp dish). They end up making such elaborate food for trail rides I felt I really had to step up my game! Bitty 2's breakfast dishes were simply unreal - and that was breakfast!
It was after 10 PM when finished up, and the bigger ride was yet to come. We all went to bed dreaming of what the next day would bring. Mule handler Mike had promised to show us "parts unknown" in the morning!
In West Virginia, we have a song, lovingly called, "The Rhododendron Song." The lyrics to the first verse are as follows:
I want to wake up in the morning
Where the rhododendrons grow
Where the sun comes a-peeping
Into where I'm a-sleeping
And the songbirds say "Hello"
I want to wander through the wildwood
Where the fragrant breezes blow
And drift back to the mountains
Where the rhododendrons grow
Nearly every child that grew up in or around my hometown learns this song as a song to sing about the state of West Virginia. The older I get the more I appreciate this wildflower. It is hearty, very strong, sticks together, can sometimes be a pain to deal with, yet beautiful - if that doesn't describe a West Virginian, I don't know what would?
All that said, when the Bitty Gang and I rode through Green Brier County last November, (EJ'S STABLES) we knew we had to come back. Riding through blooming Rhododendron would feel like something out of Narnia. So, we booked with EJ before we left.
Before I knew it, the ride was here! I truly packed this summer full of activities (like any good first-year teacher should...Summers are the best perk of teaching), but I felt a little rushed getting ready for this one. I had just finished working a second job, then a summer camp, that led right in to tossing Jean-Luc in the trailer and heading out Pocahontas County (about a 2-hour trailer ride from the barn).
It goes without saying, EJ's is one of my favorite places to ride. The photo above is where we stayed last November. He calls it "The White House." Our ride planner, Bitty 2, informed us that EJ had since moved into The White House, though, and that we would be staying in "The Bunk House".
"Oh my," I was thinking. "The Bunk House . . . sounds like a hostel." We were going to be riding hard. Hostels are great and all, and I don't really care, but I was going to miss having a cushy home for the weekend for sure. Especially after 8 hours in the saddle for several days, however, que sera sera, right?
As we rolled up, EJ and his college-age granddaughter Haley, still putting the wood paneling on the side of a small shack next to his work garage that didn't even exist six months ago.
"Oh, my," Bitty 1 said to me from inside the truck.
"Watch that be where we're staying," I joked with her.
"Yeaaaa," she said. Bitty 1 has more experience in these kinds of things - that's why she's Bitty 1. She knew exactly the situation.
EJ greeted us and told us where to park. In true EJ fashion, he made plenty of jokes, all the while never truly knowing if they were jokes or if was serious. His sense of humor is like that - country, rough, yet jovial. I've met plenty of men like him, just very few out of the state. You never know if they like you or are just tolerating you because that's the polite thing to do. Regardless, I like him.u
While EJ and Haley removed the scaffolding . . . yes, scaffolding from around the building we got our boys settled in the paddocks outside. For a quick trip, it's really nice to have paddocks with some grass as opposed to keeping the guys locked up in stalls all weekend (though he has that option, too).
After the boys were unloaded, EJ encouraged us to go inside The Bunk House.
"Oh my," I thought, "this really is where we're staying."
In true judgmental fashion, I begrudgingly hopped from the truck and took a deep breath. "Here we go."
Yup. I was a jerk. This place was awesome! The entire cottage was decked in wood from floor to ceiling - just like EJ likes it. It was immaculate. The entire place could not have been cleaner. After several hours in the saddle, it was exactly what everyone needed.
We were ready to ride . . . [tbc].
As Spring quickly turned into Summer, Jean-Luc and I have found time to quickly evolve and hone our skills. Though I have had a rather large break in writing, that doesn't mean we've taken a break in riding by any means.
In fact, when I to myself, "Maybe i should blog now?" I then changed the thought to, "Why don't I go ride now instead?" So that's just what I did.
The Buns of Steel competition has me at 39 hours in the saddle since April 10th (sh), but doesn't count time on the ground. The time on the ground and slow work learning to control our legs / move away from pressure would have to be our biggest accomplishments. It's slow going but the class I now dotingly call "Cowboy Class with Mike Hurst" has truly helped build confidence and get me to where I want to be.
Where is that exactly? Well, for the first time since Jean-Luc and I have been together we went on a solo ride several miles away from the barn. It is literally as far as I can go on property without hitting a ton of car, or highway traffic. Sure, he wanted to turn around several times, and sure we haven't done it but once, but I now know that it is possible and WE CAN.
There's an ad, I believe it is for Kentucky Performance Products, that talks about the comfort a horse brings a person when their world feels like it is falling apart. Though not the same, the reason I love Kentucky Performance Ads is that they really do just "get it."
Jean-Luc, despite his quirks, is my saving grace. I love that we don't have to talk or be on our best behavior for each other, but we can flow together. Though silence we've learned how to respect one another. With simple looks, we are to that point where we know what considerations we can make for each other that will result in comfort instead of stress. Jean-Luc has taught me what it means to be present in a moment, acknowledge a truth, and what trusting that someone, other than yourself, has the ability to take care of you.
The other day I decided it was warm enough (and I had the time) to not ride, but take care of Jean-Luc by cleaning him up a little and paying in a field of grass. So, that's exactly what I did. Especially now that he's teeth have been floated and a possible issue identified (more to come about that later), I believe he's truly one happy guy.
While this isn't the exact ad I was talking about, you get the point - KPP basically nails that "Feeling".
The weekend of May 15, the club I like to ride with went on a Mother's Day weekend adventure to the largest State Park in West Virginia - Holly River. The horse friendly trails were incredibly well marked, and overall, that ride was a perfect time.
Jean-Luc performed extremely well. Our bridle even fell apart on the trail (loose screw), and we rode the last half hour in a rope halter - something I wasn't sure we were ready for, but he proved me wrong.
The ride itself allowed for the opportunity to see the variations of fauna you can find in West Virginia. Plus, riding with an older crowd, I was able to actually learn what to look for in the woods. I mean, I have country roots, but I am no expert when it comes to the names of birds, plants, random critters, etc. It was an overnight ride I would absolutely do again, and one I will treasure.
If you ever get a chance to camp / ride in Holly River, I highly reccomend it. Here's the link to the Park Site and Trail maps:
Holly River State Park: https://wvstateparks.com/park/holly-river-state-park/
Trail Maps: www.wvdnr.gov/Parks/Maps/HollyRiverStateParkTrailGuide.pdf
As understood and retold by me.
After attending the Equine Affair my barn manager got a wild hair that she really wanted to be a better horseman(woman). She's a determined woman and I knew her motivation would only benefit me. So, I saddled up to support her as much a possible with our local riding club in whatever ideas she have.
It all translated to Mike Hurst, a local horseman, who happens to be the runner-up of the 2017 Extreme Mustang Makeover offering group lessons to our horse club. Check this video out for a little taste of who agreed to help us all.
I don't know what others think, but I really respond well to Mike's style and teaching. I have to admit, I was excited for our first lesson. What could we learn? Would I be on level with the others? Would I be able to sit in the saddle with my current knee situation? (I still can't even get in the saddle without assistance).
After catching horses in the rain, loading up, surviving a tumble in the trailer (Jean-Luc, not me), we arrived at Dakan Arena. We saddled up and made our way inside for our lesson. There were 8 other horses and riders in the group lesson. It was definitely a full house. Despite everything, Jean-Luc was an amazing horse. He was so calm that he fell asleep in between instruction.
Below is the lesson, roughly remembered, understood, and retold by me:
MIKE HURST – LESSON 1 NOTES – BASICS AND SAFETY
Mike Parable: Draw the letter, “A” said the Teacher
(As retold by me)
One day, a teacher asked her students, “Who can draw the letter, “A” on the board for me?” The students raised their hands and she chose one. The little boy went to the front of the room, and drew the symbol for the letter, “A” perfectly. His teacher said nothing.
“Who can draw the letter, “A” on the board?” the teacher asked again.
Students raised their hands and this time she chose a little girl. The little girl went to the front of the classroom and drew a letter “A” just as perfectly as the first little boy had. Again, the teacher said nothing.
The teacher repeated this with every student in the class. The students knew their letters were correct, however they were becoming frustrated – she would not tell them if they were right or wrong! Despite being correct, the students could not contain their frustration and began acting out.
Like the students in the teacher’s class, our horses need to know when they do things correctly. Too often we work, and work, and work for the right answer and forget to acknowledge that the horse actually acknowledge that answer when we get it. We have to take time, pause, and “Yes, that is how you draw the letter, “A.”
GROUND WORK PRACTICE
2. Adjusting Walking-Speed – Feeling the horse’s barrel between your legs swinging side to side, press your calves against the barrel as it swings. For example, as the barrel swings left, press your right calf against the horse’s side. As the Barrel swings back to the right, press your left calf against the horse’s side. This will cause the horse to speed up. Be sure your calves keep time with the rhythm of the horse’s barrel until you reach the desired speed. To slow the horse down, practice your seat. See how slow you can get your horse to walk.
Alternate between speeding up and slowing down. Try to focus on control. How synced can you and your horse be? What is your horse’s response time to your cues?
Overall, there Mike shared a ton of information that night. I am sure I missed plenty. I have been trying to make time, though, to practice. That said, with the torrential Spring storms we've been receiving, my knee issue, and an overnight ride last weekend, I've had a ton to do.
Do you ever feel like you are stuck in a loop? Like you are trying new things, but the same old issues occur again and again. No? Liar. I firmly believe that we all have something that keeps sucking us back in again, and again, and again. I also firmly believe that, though feel like it is something we can't help getting sucked back into, we just aren't making the right choices to lead us out.
"Everything is impossible - until it isn't." Jean-Luc Picard
For me, my loop is a knee injury. I had surgery in 2014 on my left knee after walking over an unmarked electric chord while working the Green Room for The Commodores at a New Year's Even Celebration at Snowshoe Mountain - truly a great story to be saved for telling in full another time.
The event took me out of life for nearly an entire season. Literally, I don't remember all of Fall 2014. Since then, I have gone through therapy, and thought I was on the road to a better, unbreakable knee. I tried eating healthier, signed on to several lifestyle changes, and even work in knee strengthening activities my every day life - but I could always do more.
One thing I will never forget is first time back in the saddle after surgery. I remember how desperately I wanted to ride again, and how other activities were already on the short list of things I probably shouldn't do - skiing, running, anything that puts uneven pressure on my patella. I remember the terror that came with doing those activities. But, I desperately wanted to ride. I wanted to be in the saddle, because, as I keep remembering, horseback riding is MY happy place.
Last Saturday, while I was supposed to be on one amazingly beautiful Spring trail ride, I did it again. Walking over uneven gravel I felt my knee dislocate from it's very specific location. My leg went out from under me as my body crumpled to the ground like it had before. Bone on bone grinding pain shot through my body, but all I could thing was, "Not again."
I landed in a shocked teary heap. Since 2014 all was well. My patella was tracking the way it should minus a few times I'd see it hop in the past six months. It didn't matter. My knee was done.
Thing is, Jean-Luc and I have really connected over the past few weeks. As we come to our year together, we managed to make our goal of getting into the Big Field 8 times unassisted by his birthday. We are really making progress with our stretches from Larry Whitesell. And I believe we are just starting to, “click.” I get when his scared; I know what is going to annoy him; I know what he likes as a reward or treat. I have learned the difference between something seems too hard for him and when he just isn’t understanding me – a bond is truly emerging.
That is why this literal blow to the knee hurts so much. When I say, “I remember what it was like getting back in the saddle after knee surgery,” I mean I remember the fear I had to overcome and the confidence I had to build in myself. If I am being totally honest with myself, I even afraid to go there in my brain. Letting myself think about how bad this could be and the road I may have to work through AGAIN is enough to break my brain.
I don’t cry often, but the other morning while talking things through with my mom over coffee, it was enough to bring me to that point where you choke on your own words. “I feel trapped,” I told my mom. “I truly feel like I’m stuck in a loop. I get better, then something like this happens and I’m literally years behind again.”
What does a person say to that when they know the crappy words a person just uttered are true – silence.
The pity party can go on forever. The fact of the matter is even though I tore all the muscles that were rebuilt several years ago, I can rebuild them. Like Nabila said to King Ezekiel in the Walking Dead, “Here’s the beautiful thing... You can tear it out and cut it down. You can burn it and throw it all away. But, if you want, it can all grow back.”
I want. It will all grow back.
Ironically, when I went to hang with Jean-Luc yesterday, he had pulled a shoe halfway off his front right foot.
“We were made for each other,” I told him.
I laughed to myself because despite the issues going on with my knee, I was actually going to try to toss a saddle on and ride yesterday – I was wrong.
Setting expectations for the week to come may not be the route to go? Instead, perhaps no expectations, in this case, will lead to a happier mental state. Fingers crossed the swelling subsides and I recover without the need for surgery. In the meantime, it’s back to getting 1% better every day.
(I also hope to poster our canter work videos soon. I have several and we’d been gaiting and catering just about every day for two weeks straight.)
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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