Sunday, May 4, 2008

Review of recent and not-so-recent events

It's been a long while since I've posted. And that's partly because it's been a long while since I have ridden. Here's a chronogical round-up:

January12-February 13th:

A trying time, but one of real progress. I had a lot of rides that weren't especially satisfying in and of themselves, but taken together I was kluging my way to a better understanding of Hunter and what it takes to ride a relatively young horse indoors in the winter. I was too frustrated most of the time to post, but the truth is I got a lot more comfortable with every aspect: the traffic, working on specific challenges and on just going for it day in and day out.

Valentine's Day:

Gave Hunter the day off. In retrospect, this may have been a boo-boo.

February 15th:

Arrived late trying to squeeze in a lesson before school vacation week. Had a great lesson, really working on freeing up the tension in my upper body and staying forward... until the final canter lap when Hunter suddenly -- and for no apparent reason -- took off and then started bucking. I remember the distinct sensation of flying up, up into the air and then descending, hitting hard on my head above my left ear (thanks, hat!), and my left shoulder (snap, crack!).

Three thoughts ensued in rapid succession:

1. I am conscious.

2. I have busted my collarbone and it hurts.

3. I think my neck and spine are OK.

Unfortunately, getting up off the dirt led to passing out right back onto it, and my dear MHT had to ring 911 for the first time in her long career. I did not have concussion, but I was definitely pretty out of it. After a festive ambulance ride, many tests, 2 IVs, 2 PB&Js and a night in the hospital, I was returned to my family with a large sling, an ice pack, and big bottles of painkillers.

February 16th- today

My orthopedist has put riding on the forbidden list until June 1st, because the break isn't coming together. Collarbone is one of the very most common bone breaks, and 97%+ of them do heal on their own with a nice new knob of bone at the site of the fracture to serve as a souvenir. So far, though I am not without hope, I am in the 3% and may be looking at surgery with a plate and screws. A second orthopedic opinion is forthcoming later this week.

I joke that I already have a kid in college. Hunter looks fantastic and is going beautifully under the consistent care of my MHT. The Boss told me the other day that if I didn't get back up there soon, my MHT might not let me have him back. I miss riding so much it hurts to write this, and explains why it has taken me so long.

I get over to the barn 3 times a week or so to groom him or just visit, but the office has taken over COU-status temporarily. In fact, I'm writing this in a hotel room in NYC as I prepare for a conference this week.

The biggest question I have been mulling is whether I am over-mounted with Hunter. The other day I asked L what, if anything, I could have done differently that day, and what she thought happened. She said nothing, that it was my best ride ever, and that someone drove over a piece of ice and it made a really loud cracking sound. He's been perfect ever since. I remember looking up at him from the dirt just to see if he was OK, and he was standing there looking at me totally puzzled.

There have been compensations. The biggest is that I have been more of a barn mom, and had more time to cheer on GiGi from the bench at the end of the indoor hall, and appreciate her very real progress. On Saturday, the sight of her grin as she had Boomer leaping into the canter and bounding around the ring was enough to make me want to jump and down. So this Mother's Day, I'll be at the barn rooting for my little girl in her second horse show with a camera, a grooming kit, and a pocket full of treats, at least one of which will have Hunter's name on it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

More Good Energy at the COU

Today was GiGi's friend Ashley's (almost all names on Life with Hunter are changed to protect the horse-loving) first lesson at the COU. We all had a great time! In the grand COU tradition, boots were borrowed, helmets were scrounged, random grown-ups were recruited into the tacking-up process and Ashley had a grand time on the venerable Hershey under the watchful, instructional eye of Ariel.

Meanwhile, Gigi had a great circuit of the universe on Boomer featuring posting sans stirrups and spirited cantering. I personally can't wait to take her to the beach.

For our part, Hunter and I had a fairly swell outing which included pole trotting and my favorite tiny crossrail. The best things for me were the improvement in contact at the trot, and practice of my new non-robotically-stiff-and-extended arm position. Not falling off was also a definite plus point.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Missed my window to ride during lunch break, so I ended up at the barn at 4:30 and moseyed into the ring at 5pm. "Door" I shouted per protocol and peeked in . . . eek! 15 horses going around in all their many shapes, sizes, directions and paces, the last two of which were changing all the time. Neither Hunter nor I knew how we were going to make this work.

SO here's what we did. We walked and we trotted. We looked for openings. We used this as an opportunity to work on transitions. We made small circles and halts when we could to create room betwen us and other horses. When the cantering and galloping of others made us nervous and prancy we came down. And we survived. Was it great riding? No. But it was safe.

As a wise man recently told me: every ride is a great ride. Especially if it's safe. Amen.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Warming trend

It's warming here for a bit, creating opportunities for turnout (yay!), spot cleaning, and digits that aren't frozen! Hunter and I had a pretty good lesson yesterday, the best of which was clearing the tiniest crossrail in history three times. Canter is a work in progress. (what else is new?).

Today I got to the barn late. Ran into the hall and L was there watching A on Driftwood. F was also riding Griffin. I had a chat with her which I thought was leading toward a plan under which F and A would leave and I would simply turn Hunter out in the indoor hall and chase him around. L, however, had a different thought, especially after I confided the events of the past week. "I think you should grab him and go for a ride." Roger that.

So off I went to grab horse and grab tack, and, mirabile dictu (and thank you, L) F and Griffin came moseying out of the hall, with F offering to stay in there with me while I rode. Great news . . .. maybe?

Well, we got in there and went around a bit walking and trotting with no disasters. (victory is mine!) and then we tried a bit of cantering with the F/G partnership in the lead. Oh dear. It's so disorganized on my part. Ran up on F/G's hind then pulled back and got a crazy trot. I forgot about half-halting. Various crazy lean-in turns. Oy! Then F/G offered to stand in the middle while I just cantered around. That was also pathetic, but slightly short of awful. It is a measure of my current situation that this was another kind of victory.

I gather there was a piece in Practical Horseman recently acknowledging the canter struggles of many an adult amateur.

So that's the question of my riding life right now . . . Will it get better if I keep bashing away? And if not, what is the alternative? Give him the rest of the winter off?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Life Goes On: the Risk-adjusted Edition

The air was full of flurries and sunshine yesterday morning, and Hunter had already been turned out and chased around the indoor hall by my MHT when I arrived at the COU. Theoretically, he should have been somewhat mellowed out already.

I saddled up, and we walked around the indoor hall. Unfortunately, the only rider in the ring was soon to leave, and Hunter was doing his "I'm so lonely" mini-prance. So when my MHT arrived, she suggested we turn this into a lesson on longeing. First she demonstrated; then I gave it a whirl, literally, as I soon became dizzy. Hilariously, when it was my turn to ask him to canter, I couldn't get the whip cracking properly and L had to clap her hands and jump around to get him to go off. She then took over and gave him a nice little workout. One interesting thing to see is how free the trot can really become after a great canter. I've experienced the same thing in the saddle, but it was beautful to see it from the ground.

At the end we did a tiny bit of flatwork, but we didn't push it. I've been thinking about asking his former owner and breeder, but I suspect he had the winters off up in good old Vermont and never had to deal with the indoor atmosphere we are now demanding he perform in. We also talked through the free-longeing procedure, which I can also try, and I can do it with another of the barn horses. We even talked about giving him some time off.

And that was the nicest thing about today: accepting my current riding situation for what it is, learning that I have a range of alternatives for dealing with it, and great people to help me figure it out.

It also feels good to be realistic about "the balance sheet." Liabilities: I am frequently clueless, not that athletic or as fit as I should be, and, as a breadwinner with a young family, very risk averse. Assets: I have great support (from my barn and my family), and I am completely committed. In the rest of my life, those two things have almost always made the difference. Like any great vocation or avocation, horsemanship is a discipline about which even the pros and the vets feel they have more to learn. But the truth is I am a novice rider with so much to get on board, including, for starters, how to crack a whip!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Riding into the New Year with a Thud

I arrived at the barn today with cautious hopes for a good ride. Hunter had had a great time day before yesterday working with Lisa and Abby. He did a good job with the flatwork and had fun jumping.

Yesterday, however, I didn't ride because no one at all was around when I finally made it over at 4pm after driving up from NYC. I don't ride if there isn't someone at least on the property. I turned him out in the indoor hall, but, just as he did the other time I tried this, he wandered over to the jumps sniffed Lisa's glove, and came back to me asking to leave. Cheryle suggested "free longeing" (let him loose and crack a whip to get him going), but I didn't want to try it without asking my MHT first.

Anyway, today I got in there and there were three other riders in the hall, all experienced adults. GREAT. I will ride by myself, but three is a great number. Good company and not too much traffic. As a former trail horse, Hunter is much much happier with some company.

Unfortunately, I had trouble getting him into my ride today. Usually circles help, but the other riders were using those spaces. Then the freezing rain started. Winter precip, with it's noise and motion, is always a concern and a distraction for Hunter. I kept working on maintaining good contact with his mouth at the trot, but it wasn't so great. I considered calling it a day, but decided to keep going.

When N and Gunther started some canter laps, I decided to follow them. It always helps Hunter go forward when we can follow a leader. The reason I don't do it more, though, is he gets confused and distracted when the game is over. Again, he's a great trail horse and he loves to be in that group. I stopped following Gunther and trotted half a lap, working on transitions as I could feel Hunter getting antsy. Then Gunther came cantering by in a circle, and it was just too much. Hunter acted as if a bomb had gone off under his bottom and accelerated into the middle of the ring bucking. As he veered left and threw up his hind, I went sailing into the air and then down again on my right shoulder. Thud. Happy New Year to you too, Bub.

Thanks to the encouragement of the other riders, I hand-walked him a lap and then got on to do some trot-walk-halt combinations.

I'm still trying to decide what the lessons are, but I'm thinking about these right now:

1. Ride more forward and make it more challenging and intense earlier in the session

2. Stay brave. I fell off, and it didn't really hurt that much. (OK my upper body feels like a slinky that got twisted and won't go back together, but it's sort of interesting)

3. get a trailer so we can get down to the beach and gallop ASAP!!

Somehow we have to make three more months of winter productive and enjoyable. Off to find the Aleve . . . .