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!