Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Can't I just order some guts from Country Supply?

Unrelated to the post but pictured today for decoration, several rescued Thoroughbred mares available through Save A Forgotten Equine in Monroe, Washington. They are track broke and both riding quietly.

When I was a cocky teenager who would ride anything, me and my cocky teenager friends would sneer haughtily at this middle-aged lady at our barn as only cocky teenagers can. We couldn't figure out what was wrong with her - she was afraid to ride her own horse. Oh, once in a while she'd get on and do a little walk-trot but mostly she paid someone else to ride him. And he wasn't a tough horse. A little hot, maybe, but in retrospect I don't think he ever got turned out and given the circumstances, the horse was a saint.

The thing that baffled us is that we all remembered when we were little kids at the barn and we remembered her riding the toughest horses there without a second thought. Did this mean we were going to get old and chicken shit too? Perish the thought. We were sure it wasn't going to happen to us.

Until I was about 27, I rode six days a week, no fewer than three horses a day, and often as many as ten. Many of them green, many of them horses with "issues." It took a lot to scare me. I won't say there aren't horses I turned down riding back then, but they had real problems - rearing, brain-turned-off-bolting, flipping. (I still (knock on wood) haven't been flipped with and I really do intend to try to avoid that experience)

Then, life happened. I finished college, I broke up with the horsey guy and married a non-horsey guy, I moved a couple of times. I sold off everything but two horses and I pretty much just stopped riding. Oh, I rode here and there - I put some training rides on a friend's greenie after she unexpectedly got pregnant, I hopped on my old gray mare and rode her around the field a few times - but for the most part, I quit. I lost my riding muscles, I lost my balance, and I gained thirty pounds.

In 2003, I got the urge to start riding again - and was quickly in for a shock. Where was my balance? Where was my flexibility? Where the hell were my guts? I got scared easily. I got off and walked horses back to the barn if they acted barn-sour. I could hardly post halfway around the arena without my stirrups. WTF?

First, I blamed my weight. Surely it was just the thirty extra pounds that had turned me into a bad rider, so I starved it off over the course of a winter and wound up thinner than I had been in my 20s. I ran every morning before work and weight trained, convinced that fitness was the answer. You know, it helped - but it didn't help enough. I was still gutless. My balance felt off. If a horse did the spook-spin-bolt with me, I got dangerously off balance. It wasn't that I was coming off but I just didn't feel tight and secure like I used to. I would get dizzy if they did something too quickly. I remembered making fun of that lady when I was a cocky teenager and realized karma was kicking me in the ass!

I went on a campaign to FIX THIS. I took longe lessons with no reins and no stirrups, doing endless transitions using only my seat and legs. The trainer told me I was perfectly fine, didn't suck, and it was all in my head. Did I need to quit the trainer and go to a shrink? Take a few shots of vodka before riding? Prozac? Zoloft? Hypnosis? What? I decided to stick an ipod in my ears, crank up the music and try to distract myself from any fears. It kind of worked.

Strangely enough, the thing that helped me was getting back into horse rescue. If you are going to help the horses, you have to get on them and evaluate them. You don't have history. The horse might be dangerous. You simply do not know until you get on, but someone has to get on and when you look around at your fellow rescuers, you realize that you're in the minority as someone who has started greenies and ridden a lot of OTTB's - even if it was many years ago. You find that, like it or not, you're the most qualified person to hop up there and find out what you've got. You're IT, sunshine. Being chickenshit isn't going to save a life, so just cut out the mental bullshit and get on the horse already! I started getting on the "unknown history" horses again, and at least so far, it hasn't bitten me in the ass. In fact, in honor of my 40th birthday last summer, I decided to volunteer to ride an extremely green Arabian mare owned by a rescue in a schooling show. Did I mention I didn't have any opportunity to ride her beforehand, and that she had been a totally unhandled 10 year old just five months earlier? She was green but nonviolent and while our show performance would have made for one hell of a funny Youtube video (you guys probably would have posted it here and gone "who is this yahoo, maybe she should have gotten the horse trained before the horse show?"), I had a good time and felt like at least I wasn't a total wimp in my old age. :-)

So now I am on to the next hurdle: Breaking out my gigantor 16.2 three year old. I love this horse and he has a great mind and is easily the best quality horse I've ever owned in my life. I have heard even more training horror stories than usual in the past years and am paranoid and trust no one (well, Mugwump or OFCOL or CutNJump but they are all too far away from me) so I have been doing ground work for weeks and contemplating putting the first ride on the very...very...Very Large Colt. Last night seemed to be a good time - no thunder, no lightning, no jack donkey braying continuously while locked in a trailer in the parking lot (that has happened before, and Very Large Colt doesn't care for it, to say the least). We tacked, we longed, we hand walked around the arena and practiced our "ho" and he was every bit as semi-catatonic as he usually is.

Then the internal conversation began - which I suspect will sound very familiar to many of my over-35 readers:

Left Brain: Just get on the damn horse. You have been getting on feedlot rescues for the past two years. This is a nice horse from a good home. This is actually easier.

Right Brain: Fuck, that is a long way down. Why did I want a 16.2 hander again?

Left Brain: Because the judges would laugh you out of the ring on your 14.3 hand mare, even if she does want to be a hunt seat horse. Remember?

Right Brain: Oh yeah.

Left Brain: Speaking of said 14.3 hand mare, you got on her not thinking she was broke AND she was violently cold backed AND you did it after only three days of ground work in a crowded arena in December.

Right Brain: Yeah, but I had to do that. Someone told me to just get on her and there were witnesses so I couldn't wuss out. I'm all alone here, nobody is gonna know if I chicken out but me. Hey, there's another good reason not to do this! Nobody is here. Guess it'll have to wait for another night!

headlights roll in

Left Brain: Try another excuse, Wimpy Wanda. Your friends are here and will be happy to call 911 if you eat dirt. After they stop laughing, of course.

Right Brain: Maybe I'm rushing things. He's kind of girthy and stuff...he probably needs more ground work.

Left Brain: *snort* Oh yeah there ya go. Why don't you just put the horse away and go in the house and go online and order the Parelli videos now? You too can be one of those middle aged ladies doing perpetual ground work with her horse that walks all over her! Hey, maybe he can wear a tarp on his head. I'm sure they've got a class for that at AQHA World!

Right Brain: Shut UP left brain. You know, if I got hurt and couldn't work, how could I support all of these horses? I would have to put myself on my own blog as one of these losers who can't afford hay. Check it out everybody, this stupid 40 year old woman with eight horses to support got the genius idea to break out her first greenie from scratch since about 1994. Of course she wound up putting herself in traction and now she's on the Internet begging for someone to take care of her 30-something mush eating mare for her. Pathetic! Wouldn't it have made more sense to spend the lousy $500 and have someone else who can actually still ride do it?

Left Brain: OMG I'm ashamed to share a head with you. For fuck's sake, the horse doesn't even buck when he's turned out. His idea of being a bad ass is to put his head down and shake it a few times. Are you gonna fall off if he does that? Go roll yourself in feathers if you're going to be that chicken. BWAAAAWK BWAAAAWK BWAAAAK! *flaps arms*

Left Brain won. I got on the Very Large Colt (pictured left, several weeks earlier, and yes, there IS a fence in the middle of the indoor that I am kneeling on in this picture...old converted dairy barn). As I predicted, the worst thing he did was back up a little bit in confusion. He quickly figured out forward motion, stopping, turning, etc. The "ho" command worked just as well from the saddle as it did from the ground. He reacted to the sudden appearance of the little gray barn cat by following said barn cat along the fence line and sticking his nose on the barn cat and snarfling all over it. (Now, we all know that the real challenge is ride three or four...but I'm gonna pretend if nothing happened the first time, nothing is going to...)

All right, the rest of you - as COTH calls them "re-riders" - or just admitted middle aged wimps, tell me your stories! I know I am not the only one struggling with this issue. We can all feel stupid together, woo hoo!