Monday, February 6, 2017

The Drama of Winning

There is nothing like the feeling of seeing your name listed on the scoreboard as sitting in first after dressage and having clear XC and stadium courses.   It is always a thrill to be called in first place in the lineup after a pleasure or equitation class.  I have been lucky to do well over the many years of showing and there is no denying that once you do well, you want to replicate that feeling again.

I am a true adult amateur, just bumbling along and trying to always do my best.  I don't hide the fact that I am NOT a professional.  I don't resort to big bits or gadgets though either, as I know that riding well and training a horse PROPERLY takes time.  I would rather take ten times longer than someone else (ok, let's be real, more like fifty times longer haha) and ride my horse in a snaffle than rush it along with a pelham bit in the show ring and draw reins for training rides.  I ride for the love of horses and the enjoyment I get out of having horses in my life.  No, not every ride is perfect and no, I do not ride at an upper level.  But that is not the point of horses to me, it is about the journey and my own enjoyment of seeing a horse I started from scratch move correctly and hold her own in competition.  I have always said If it isn't fun, I'm not doing it.  If I am miserable, why bother to continue with such an expensive and time-consuming hobby?

I remember a horse show "friend" years ago who always put herself down at shows, telling everyone within earshot how much she sucked, how bad she and her horse were going to do, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseam.  Sometimes she would even start days before the show on social media, writing statuses about how her horse deserved a better rider and she shouldn't even bother to show at all.

sigh

(Pro tip: Your horse just wants to hang out and eat grass, but yeah go ahead and believe he wants to go to the Olympics and is disappointed that he doesn't win every single blue ribbon in sight.)

I tried to be supportive and to always boost her confidence.  I gave pep-talk after pep-talk, exuding calmness to her at every show.  It was tiresome to say the least to listen to her whine.  After a while, it almost seemed as though she did it just so others would tell her how great she was and how wonderful she was going to be.  It was a strange way to dig for compliments, but hey, we are all different.  I don't need others to stroke my ego like that, but do your thing.  Admittedly, after awhile it became quite frustrating, especially as she began to do well in spite of herself and her poor attitude.  But I thought it was important to remain a good friend.  I even went so far as to help set up a statewide year end points system so she could have a way to feel good about her accomplishments and earn pretty year end ribbons.

She won her first championship ribbon in a breed pleasure class, and afterwards instead of basking in the delight of what she had finally accomplished with her horse, she went on and on about how it didn't really count because "there was only one other horse in the class".  Big deal how many horses were in the class!  To my eyes, she still accomplished a major goal including overcoming her anxiety enough to beat even just one other horse in the ring.  I distinctly remember telling her, "Enjoy it because you never know when the next ribbon or championship will come".  That has ALWAYS been my mantra with horses.  Enjoy every moment, every win, every success but you just don't know.  Even if you are the only horse/rider in the ring, at least you trained beforehand, showed up, and did it.

Of course, in typical head case fashion, instead of taking this as a gentle wake-up call to STFU and enjoy her moment, she took at as me saying that her horse would never win another ribbon or championship.  OMFG..................that is NOT AT ALL what I meant.  But that doesn't matter because even if you try to explain yourself, some types of people will never understand.  They only hear criticism, because that is all they tell themselves anyway.

headdesk

So needless to say, this person is no longer a friend (because who the heck needs "FRIENDS" like that, anyway??? LOL).  It even went so far as her husband immediately unfriending me on Facebook and all types of silly drama.  Okie dokie, crazy people.  I finally just stopped attending the same shows (honestly because of a two year hiatus from showing anyway, but I did not go back to those shows this year either), and I made a conscious effort to not put effort into that type of person.  I unfriended her in real life and online because I just didn't have it in me to deal with a head case.  Just no.

I get it.  I really do.  I understand we all want to BE THE BEST and WIN ALL THE THINGS.  It makes us feel worthy and accomplished and all that.  And yes, sometimes we do win all the things.  But sometimes we don't.  But in the meantime, WHO CARES?  I only look down on others if they are a head case nut job (or mistreat their horses), not if they win or lose or whatever.  If someone is truly trying, training their horse correctly, and doing their best, GREAT!  This is supposed to be fun, this horse show thing is supposed to be about the relationship and training with our horses, not about the ribbons.  Look, Snappy won a shit ton of ribbons and awards in 2016, but we may never win a first place or championship in 2017...or ever again!  

Who knows!  

Who cares!  

I will just keep trying my best and enjoying every accomplishment, whether that is another win or just surviving our first canter dressage test (gulp...haha...nah, not nervous or anything).  

And truly, I think THAT is why I do well sometimes.  Not because I take shortcuts in training, not because I have a fancy horse, not because I have a trainer who rides my horse for me, not because I am some professional rider (NONE of the above are remotely true actually!).  I think I do well because I have a healthy self esteem and attitude about competing, success, lack of success, and reality.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

2016 Show Season and Year End Awards Recap

When I considered what I wanted to do with Snap Dancer about a year ago, I figured just getting out to a few shows would be a success.  I had no idea how she would take to a new career of "show horse" and honestly I was nervous about the both of us taking the previous year off completely because of my January - September 2015 pregnancy.  

We started at a local fun day, just to see what the mare thought of the little dressage ring.  I felt pleased with her yet discouraged by my severe lack of core muscles (thanks baby human haha).
First outing in 2016
Our first dressage show felt like a fluke.


First dressage show - two great scores and a high point rider award!

But each time we competed, I felt her grow more confident and rideable.  
Bravest 2-phase in August!  No spooking!
First 3-phase in October and she was super!
Snap Dancer's first year of showing ended up being a fairy tale. I know that sounds silly in a way, and we only competed at intro level, but I know we will never be able to replicate the amount of success we had in 2016!!

All told, we competed in 11 horse shows:
  • 4 dressage shows
  • 5 two-phases
  • 1 three-phase
  • 1 open show
  • Plus 1 xc clinic and 1 fun day
















And we ended up with:
  • 12 first place ribbons
  • 6 second place ribbons
  • 1 third (egg/spoon) 
  • 1 fourth (showmanship)
  • 4 high point awards

I was pretty excited by the end of our show season in October, but I still had year end awards to look forward to! Snap Dancer ended up winning FIVE championships. Definitely a fairy tale year! I nearly couldn't wrap my head around it each time the awards were announced.

Maine Horse Association - 71.56% - Introductory Level Champion (out of 5)



Maine Combined Training Association - Introductory Level Champion (out of 11)


State of Maine Dressage Association - Intro A Champion, Intro B Champion, High Point STB


To say I am proud of this little mare would be an understatement.  She was such a good sport about giving this dressage and eventing thing a shot.  I know we will never have such a successful year again, and who knows if she will ever win another ribbon or championship. But that doesn't matter to me because she did it now and how could we ever expect to do better than this!  

I have some ideas about what I would like to do this year with Snappy, and time will tell.  We will see how she feels and how her canter comes along.  I know that I will always remember 2016 as a great year. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

What has happened to bridles lately?

I love tack, don't get me wrong.  I have way too much tack when you consider I only own two horses and one is retired haha.  But lately, on blogs and other social media, I have been horrified to see what is happening to bridles!  OMG!  I love the classic, sophisticated, refined look. I searched FOREVER to find a new dressage bridle last year without a flash.  Seriously, it is like never mind if your horse actually needs a flash (mine doesn't!) let's just put one on every bridle because no horse can do dress-ahhhhhhggggggge without one.  OMG.

I had a hard time looking at the Micklems, but I admit they grew on me.  I bought one once in a weak moment and neither mare liked it, so I sold it.  I still dislike the stupid drippy browbands, so I just die a little inside whenever I see one.  And roll my eyes.  

Why so drippy?  And I have seen worse, this was just the first one I saw in my googling effort.
Clearly I am becoming a curmudgeon in my young age.  But holy cow, the new fangled bridles out there are just......no.  JUST.  NO.

Yep.  Pretty much.
PS of Sweden for $342?  No thank you.

What the ACTUAL eff?  That noseband thingy is just ugly AF.
Stubben, my most favorite brand of all time, what have you done?  AND $520?  UHHHH NO.  
It only looks mildly horrific from the front, but that crownpiece and browband made me a little twitchy....
And then I see THIS?  WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, STUBBEN?
I feel kinda sad lately about the stupid fads in tack.  Not much going on with the crap winter weather and SO MUCH ICE, so yes, I have spent way too much time online lately.  

Is it spring yet?  *sigh*

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Being An Adult Amateur and Loving It

This is my guest blog for Horse Junkies United, published on December 26, 2016.

It would be easy to look at my horse’s array of only blue and red ribbons from her first show season and make the incorrect assumption that I am some sort of amazing rider. But of course, the color of the ribbon only tells half the story. What you don’t know is I am a true adult amateur, competing at the tadpole level on my aged retired racehorse on her third career.

That’s right, we competed this year in Introductory level dressage tests and Pre-Elementary events. Yup, walk-trot baby dressage with 18” jumps, and I loved every moment of it. Even better, my mare is not an OTTB as you might assume when I say “racehorse”. She’s a Standardbred, not a breed one normally would associate with trotting down centerline. So while our strong ribbons are not from a high level of competition, what they represent to me means more than any blue or tricolor rosette.

After training my previous Standardbred (now retired) from never-been-sat-on through First Level, my riding aspirations are pretty tame. If I could bring along this new mare to that same level, I would be thrilled! I don’t need to move up the levels with this horse or any horse. I have taken her from a twelve year old racehorse and failed broodmare who had never been backed as of four years ago, to a fun and safe low level horse. Besides taking lessons on her, I have done all the training myself and THAT matters more to me than what level we ride at or what color ribbons we earn!

I adore dressage, but it also drives me incredibly crazy. I am not a naturally gifted dressage rider. I was taught to ride hunt seat at age six, so my body wants to be in a forward seat. It is my comfort zone. And I am a short 5-foot-nothing, so I will never look long and tall and elegant in the saddle. OK, I have moments of elegance, I suppose. But I am short and stubby and I want to ride forward like I am about to go over a fence!

While I define myself as an equestrienne, I am also a mother, wife, and full time school teacher. I have to find time to ride every afternoon between helping with homework and cooking dinner. I took last year completely off from riding (as did my mare) because I was pregnant with my second child. Regaining the strength and core muscle from that alone was more work than any dressage test or cross country course I will face!

I will always be an adult amateur, and while I do not have my sights on ever becoming a professional or riding at elite levels, I do think it is important to always learn and be the best horseman I can be. As a school teacher, I believe in education. I think I am a fairly bold rider and am willing to try new things, but I also want to be safe and have fun. Above all, it is more important to me to give my horse confidence and create success situations for her (which does not always equal success in competition – there are other types of successes!). Would I love to have a fancy, young horse to bring along? Sometimes, I admit I long for that opportunity. And perhaps someday it will happen. But for now, I am thankful I have my own horses living in my backyard, and I can carve out time to ride and compete despite life’s numerous responsibilities.

So while my Facebook friends may roll their eyes as I posted yet another show update, complete with a photo of my mare sporting another first or second place ribbon, I can assure them all that the ribbon is only half the story. The effort, sweat, tears, and sacrifice that went into earning that ribbon is what makes me proud of my horse and her accomplishments this year. I honestly would have been just as happy with a green ribbon, or even nothing at all, just for the chance to do what I love. And of course, despite a fairy tale first show season, we are planning to move up to Training level next year and I know our ribbon streak will end. But that doesn’t matter, because I know that success as a rider is about the journey and my commitment, not the color of the ribbon or the level at which I compete.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 Blogger Gift Exchange

This year I was excited to stumble across a new-to-me blog, Fly On Over written by an equestrienne named Tracy.  I was even more pumped to read about her annual Blogger Gift Exchange, because Christmas and giving gifts is my favorite.  When it was time, I eagerly signed up and awaited my blogger pal's name and address.  Again, it was a new-to-me blogger, so I scoured her blog for hints and ideas of what to purchase for her.  Her gifts arrived yesterday according to the tracking number and I hope she liked them! 

I received my blogger gift yesterday and it is PERFECT!!!  Remember that super neat t-shirt I blogged about a few months ago?  Yeah, my fantastic gifter, Nadia from 3Day Adventures with Horses, bought it for me!  I couldn't believe it!  She ordered a large and sent the receipt with it, which is great because I do need to exchange it for a small.  I have already contacted the company and have it ready to send out tomorrow.  That is totally not an issue, because GUYS SHE BOUGHT THE COOL STANDARDBRED SHIRT that I would have never bothered to buy for myself!  That is the best type of present!  Nadia threw in a cute stocking of Mrs. Pasture's Cookies for the mares, too!

I didn't unfold the t-shirt for the pic because I wanted it to stay well folded for the exchange!

Thank you, Nadia!  Your thoughtfulness is much appreciated!  Happy Holidays everyone!



Friday, December 2, 2016

December Blog Hop!

My friend Aarene is hosting a Blog Hop over at Haiku Farm!  Yay for fun things to write about when nothing exciting is otherwise occurring in my horsey life!  :-)

Here's the directions:

  • Answer the questions (below) on your own blog, and leave a link to that post in the comments here.
  • In your post, invite readers to answer the questions on THEIR blogs, and link those blogs to yours AND to here.
  • Let's see how far this can travel!
  • Pictures!  Let's see lots of pictures of people and horses!

*  Introduce yourself!

*  Introduce your horse(s)!

*  What's your favorite horse sport?  Do you cross train in other activities?

*  Who else in your family rides?

*  What's your proudest equestrian accomplishment?

*  What was your lowest moment as a horse owner/rider?

*  What's the most important small thing you ever learned in a lesson?

*  Do you have any riding rituals or superstitions?

*  What are your short term goals for yourself/your horse?

*  Long term goals?

*  If time and money were no object, what is your dream equestrian vacation?

*  What kind of horse activities were you doing 10 years ago?

*  What kind of horse activities do you think you'll be doing 10 years from now?

*  What is the quirk about your horse that you like most?

Introduce yourself!
Hi!  I'm Elizabeth and I am an adult amateur dressage/event rider.  In an effort to support my horsey habit, I am a teacher. I taught high school English from 2001 until recently, as I switched positions within my district to become the gifted and talented teacher.  I am married to a GREAT guy and we have two children.

One of my most favorite photos of me with my oldest son
Introduce your horse(s)!
I own two Standardbred mares: Dreamy Starlet and Snap Dancer.  Dreamy will be 25 this coming year and has been with me since 2003.  We have done everything together, from showing all over New England, to giving demonstrations at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, to winning just about every ribbon and award possible.  She is the Very Best Mare.
Dreamy Starlet - photo taken at Popham Beach by the insanely talented Barbara Livingston
Snappy will be 17 this coming year and was honestly never supposed to become mine.  I met her in 2012 in order to get my Racing Under Saddle license and next thing I knew, her owner gave her to me haha!  We had a fun and successful first year of showing and I look forward to 2017!  You can read more about each mare here.

Snap Dancer - our first dressage test, photo taken by Elena Raymond and posted with purchase
What's your favorite horse sport?  Do you cross train in other activities?
Even though I have often wondered, am I am dressage rider who also events or an event rider who also shows in dressage, I would say my most favorite horse sport is EVENTING!  I do cross train my horses to do a little of everything and I have successful enjoyed eventing, dressage, showmanship, in-hand, equitation and pleasure classes, trail riding, western pleasure, hunter under saddle and over fences, roadster under saddle, sidesaddle, racing under saddle, foxhunting, and team penning!  I even tried saddleseat with Reva one year!

A collage of some of our disciplines I made years ago when the blog name was still "Standardbred Excellence"
Who else in your family rides?
It's just me!  My oldest son has a natural seat and balance, but really isn't interested and my grandfather raced and trained Standardbreds (but never rode them).

Six years ago on Dreamy in the snow!
What's your proudest equestrian accomplishment?
There are so many things I have accomplished with my horses that it is hard to choose just one.  Probably I would have to choose either Dreamy's USDF National Championships or our trip to the Standardbred demos at the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

One of our WEG demos
What was your lowest moment as a horse owner/rider?
I think losing my first horse, Sparky, was my lowest moment.  There is nothing like the first time you have to put down a horse, never mind the first horse you ever loved as your very own.
One of my first shows with Sparky in 1993
What's the most important small thing you ever learned in a lesson?
"Don't think of what could go wrong, think of what could go right!" is something my instructor has said to me a million times, especially in the tough days of trying to perfect Dreamy's canter.  
The best it ever got ~ summer 2014
Do you have any riding rituals or superstitions?
I own millions of riding socks (OK, maybe like 12 pairs) but for some reason if I do well early in the show season while wearing a certain pair, I can only show in those socks for the rest of the year.  WEIRD.  But I cannot help myself!  At least I wash them haha!

Uhhhh, I don't have a photo of my socks, and Aarene demanded photos, so here is my youngest at seven months old being adorable.  Because who doesn't love adorable children?!?!
What are your short term goals for yourself/your horse?
Short term goals for Dreamy are to keep her healthy and happy in her well deserved retirement.  With Snappy I hope to continue her solid dressage training, give her more cross country jumping experience, and improve her canter.

Video still from August 2016 as we are battling to improve that canter!
Long term goals?
I always just want my horses to be healthy, happy, and sound.  I want to enjoy taking care of them and have fun riding and showing.  Eventually, I will add a young horse to the herd (probably a Morgan), but with just two stalls that means that there will be a Sad Day before that can happen.  And right now I am not ready for any of my horses to pass away, soooooo I am hoping this is a reaaaaaallllly long term goal!  Or if a young horse is not in the cards, I can see myself leasing a schoolmaster for a season to event at Beginner Novice/Novice level. 

If time and money were no object, what is your dream equestrian vacation?
I am dying to ride in Ireland!  I also think a mule trip in the Grand Canyon would be amazing.

Pretty leaves just because.
What kind of horse activities were you doing 10 years ago?
Hmmmm, ten years ago would have been the end of 2006.  I would have spent the year showing my Morgan, Sparky, in dressage and combined driving (she was 24 that year).  It was her last year of competition and we had a blast!  I had sat on Dreamy for the first time that year (in anticipation of Sparky's retirement) and we went on to have a super successful first show season in 2007.

Sparky at Granite State Morgan
What kind of horse activities do you think you'll be doing 10 years from now?
Geez, I really hope I am still riding and showing in ten years!  I feel as though by then I will have a young Morgan that I started myself (since I am sure I can only afford a yearling haha) and am enjoying in dressage/eventing.

I'm sure I will still be doing dressage.  And being a dork.  Mostly being a dork.
What is the quirk about your horse that you like most?
Most of my horses' quirks are annoying haha, so I had to give this some thought.  I like how Snappy will let me scratch and scratch her ears after I remove the bridle after a ride (since this is a horse who WOULD.NOT.EVER let me touch her ears at first and even now just tolerates it).  But for some reason, she is itchy after we ride and trusts me enough to scratch her.  Dreamy always drops her head for her flymask to be put on and it is just the sweetest little gesture.
The day the horses came home to our new house/barn, December 1, 2015!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ten Questions for November...

...because I am bored and riding time is short right now!  I even added links back to old posts and as many photos as I could to make it more fun!

L at Viva Carlos posted these questions and several other blogs have joined in, so I might as well.

How old is the youngest/greenest horse you’ve ridden? 
That would be the young Standardbred mare I started named Reva.  She came to me in 2009 sight-unseen (besides photos) from New Jersey as a three year old.  I showed her a bit through 2010-2012 and I ended up giving her away to a lovely local family (because no one wants to pay money for a well trained Standardbred *sigh*).  Reva was a sweet mare, she just wasn't thrilled to be a show horse.
Reva at her first show!
How old is the oldest horse you’ve ridden? 
The oldest horse I have ever ridden was my first horse, Sparky, the winter before I had to put her down at age 32.  It was a Christmas tradition to ride bareback and I am glad I never missed a year with her.  We briefly walked and trotted around the snowy field on Christmas 2013 when she was 31, and she tried to canter and buck.  It was funny then and a wonderful memory now.
Sparky the night before she had to be put down, though I did not know it at the time of the photoshoot.
Were you scared of horses when you first started riding? 
Not that I remember at all.  I don't think I would have been so incredibly horse crazy all those years ago had I been scared LOL!  Fun blog post about my horsey past here!


And so it began, at age six!
Would you say you’re a more nervous rider or a confident rider? 
I would say I am a confident rider.  My goal is to always stay calm in order to give my horse confidence.  I don't think I would have had as much success with my horses over the years if I was nervous. 

Biggest pet peeve about non-horse people around horses? 
I don't really get too worked up about non-horse people around horses.  I know horses are not for everyone and I don't really remember anything that has made me upset.  I would say that being asked "can I ride your horse?" is sort of awkward to me.

A time you’ve been scared for your life? (horse related) I don't ever really remember being scared for my life, though I will say that I had a bad tumble off Dreamy a few years back at a fox hunt.  I was not as much scared for me, but when she took off at a dead gallop as I was there on the ground, I was pretty scared for HER life.  Of course, it was called the "Die Hard Hunt" of the year, and I just had to take a spectacular fall.  


Photographic evidence of our fall during the fox hunt!

Have you ever fallen off at show? What happened?Yup, but so far only once!  LOL!  Took a tumble off Dreamy at a show in 2010.  The full story is here, but basically she tripped in the last class of the day (Command class) on one of the HUGE rocks in the ring while cantering.  She stumbled and I went off over her shoulder.  We still somehow pulled a fourth place ribbon hahaha!!!

What’s a breed of horse you’ve never ridden but would like to ride? 

I would say a Connemara, mostly because I want to own one as well!!

Describe the worst behaved horse you’ve ridden? 

Hmmmm...my horses are mostly well behaved and I have been lucky to otherwise have ridden pretty decent school horses when in college.  Probably the worst behaved horse would be Tiffany, a Morgan mare I leased before I owed my first horse Sparky.  I was 11 and Tiffany was coming off a lengthy maternity leave.  She wasn't terribly behaved, but she pulled every stunt she could think of and made me cry a lot LOL!


Learning dressage with Tiffany about 26 years ago!
The most frustrating ride you’ve ever had?
OHHHHHHH there are too many to count!  Retraining a harness racehorse to become a dressage/event horse is one of the most frustrating yet rewarding experiences EVER.  Half of this blog is made up of frustrating ride reports, as I started my blog about Dreamy in order to have something to look back on and remember how far she had come.  There is this post, this one, and this.....and many more!  :-)


Still the best mare no matter what!