Michelle Wadley
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Michelle Wadley

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About Michelle Wadley

I am a 49-year-old, horse crazy, married eventer. I have lived all over the US, but my riding career has mostly been in Area V, where I graduated from high school. I have lived in Little Rock, Arkansas for almost 20 years. Someone someday will write the great love story between my phenomenal Thoro-shire Il Sogno (Syd) and me. I named him Il Sogno, which is Italian for “the dream” because I am a total opera geek, and the song “Sogno” by Andreas Bocelli is one of my favorites. In the early 2000’s before Syd, I had a bad riding accident that required major surgery on what my husband now calls my bionic right arm. I thought I would never jump, much less event, again. Syd changed all that. In 2010, unable to even walk horseback across an open field, I declared that I would qualify for the AEC’s. In 2011 Syd and I finished 17th in the Beginner Novice Senior Division at the AEC’s, our crowning achievement thus far. I took a couple of years off riding because I quite unexpectedly got pregnant and had my son, who is the greatest thing I have ever done. Adjusting to being a mom and trying to ride and compete is probably the hardest. Between and accident and a pregnancy I learned the importance of volunteering, which I did a LOT of, including adding Rolex jump judge to my resume. I have degrees in journalism and English, and I’m a total nerd. Besides horses, I love comics and superheroes, and I seriously could eat pizza and ice cream everyday. I guess that’s a good thing considering the food served at horse shows. I was a flight attendant right out of college, so I have been to every state except Iowa. I LOVE music and movies, and I used to own a tack store (!) Writing for Eventing Nation has been a dream come true. I love eventers, horses, and writing. A combination of the three? What more could I ask for?!

Eventing Background

USEA Rider Profile Click to view profile
Area Area V
Highest Level Competed Novice
Trainer Cindy Thaxton, Mary D'Arcy, Kelley Krablin

Latest Articles Written

When Life Hands You Lemons, Go Ride a Horse!

Photo taken by me as I enjoy a few moments of peace with my Syd.

It’s been a rough year for eventers. Hurricanes, both horse and rider fatalities, fires … Heck, it’s been a rough year for everyone. Me included. Earlier this evening my husband’s father passed away. He had battled quite a few health problems over the years, but the cancer that took him from us was quick. Less than a week after his diagnosis, and he is already gone. In typical blogger fashion, it really got my mind to spinning.

There are a couple of great commercials on television right now about the human condition. One is about all the crazy things we do that don’t turn out quite like we planned; the other is about how being human takes guts. One is humorous, the other is oh so true. It does take guts to be human. Life is tough, but it’s also good.

Being an eventer takes guts, too. Like being human it’s tough, but it’s also good. One of the best things about being an eventer (and a human) is being able to partner with these amazing animals that give us so much of themselves and ask so very little in return. (Unless of course, you’re my partner Syd who requires an ample abundance of spearmints at all times.) As a human, when life gets tough, as it did for me this week, I turn to the three “f’s” for support: family, friends and faith. As an eventer, I also turn to my horse.

I believe it was Winston Churchill who said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” This statement has never been more true than when you are going through a tough time. There is just something so comforting about looking through life from between the ears of your horse or burying your face in the soft fur of his neck, arms wrapped around and through his mane. If you’re an eventer or a horse person, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. For a brief few moments in our crazy human existence, the cares and struggles of the world actually seem to disappear, or at the very least fall away.

It is in those brief moments of peace that I am able to pause, reflect, cry or just simply breathe. I may not be able to solve the world’s problems or even my own problems, for that matter. My “horse” time may not even change anything. It certainly cannot change the death of a loved one. But what it can do, is give me clarity; give me strength; give me hope. Hope is what keeps human beings human and hope is what keeps us going. Horses are the masters of giving us hope.

If you spend very much time around me at all, you will at some point hear me quote a movie. I love movies almost as much as I love eventing. There is a line in a kind of cheesy, guilty pleasure movie called Center Stage that speaks volumes to me. The movie is about ballet dancers at a very competitive dance academy. At one point an instructor puts her hand on the ballet barre and tells a struggling student, “Here. Here is where you find your center, yourself …” (my paraphrase, but you get the idea). That’s what my horse does for me. He helps me find my center, myself. And as he stands at the fence and waits for me to pull out of the driveway before he walks away, my heart is able to manage a smile, even in the midst of a tough situation.

So the next time life hands you lemons, go ride your horse. Somehow I just know it will make you feel better if only for a moment.

Go eventing!

Sometimes It’s Not My Fault

One of my favorite photos of Syd and me, taken by my husband.

It’s not always my fault. I must keep reminding myself of this fact. Those of us with a steadfast, tried and true, never take a wrong step (or jump) partner tend to take for granted that it is always our fault and never the horse’s. I have one such horse.

Il Sogno is my horse’s show name, but those who love him, and there are many, call him Syd. His show name comes from my love of opera music. (I know. I’m weird. I have a background in classical music, and I’m a nerd. Go figure.) Il Sogno is Italian for “the dream” and is also the title of one of my favorite Andreas Bocelli songs. Andreas Bocelli is my favorite opera musician. Syd, my horse, is also my dream and my very favorite pony. Do the math. (Whew! THAT was painful!)

Anyway, I digress …While I have been riding for a very long time, I am by no means an advanced rider. In fact, I am anything but. While I do consider myself to have a lot of “head” or “book” knowledge, the challenge for me has always been to put that knowledge into practice. Couple this with the fact that I don’t ride with a trainer regularly, I work, have a child, I live in Arkansas, yada yada yada … In a perfect world … well, life is by no means perfect, and you get the picture.

My horse on the other hand is downright amazing. Always has been. He’s a total diva, who loves to have his photograph taken and always rises to the occasion. Me? Where can I hide. Syd never refuses, knows the movements, the pace, whatever and 95% of the time gets me out of whatever bad spot I got us into. If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say (and we’ve been together for 11 years, so it’s been a lot!) “Thank God for that horse! He sure does take care of you!” I would be rich. And it’s true! He’s beautiful! And amazing! And I love him! And he does take care of me … most of the time. When he doesn’t, well it’s somehow still my fault. I mean, he’s the fabulous one, right?!

I am a typical adult amateur. I over-analyze everything. And when I’m done over-analyzing, I start taking blame for, quite literally, everything. My horse loses weight, it’s my fault. Pulls a shoe … my fault … gets a bug bite … somehow my fault. We get a bad dressage score, my fault. Refuses a fence, my fault. I mean, it couldn’t possibly be Syd’s fault! Could it?

Back in September, Syd and I had a very well documented disastrous run at a one-day event. As soon as I took my walk of shame off the cross country course after our elimination, my self-flogging began. “I must not have been forward enough. I let him take control and didn’t make get him over the jump. I crawled around stadium. I didn’t practice my dressage test enough. I wasn’t relaxed, so he wasn’t relaxed, and on and on …” Name a vice, a flaw, a sin and I MUST have done it.  We had never been eliminated. And we’ve been a partnership for a LONG time. It MUST have been something I did. Even with the worst spot possible Syd never refuses a fence. What on earth did I do wrong this time?

Because I do read a lot, and because I do have a great farrier and a fabulous vet, who were both due to come out and shoe/look at Syd, I began to think some things through. I finally took a deep breath and listened to the nagging voice in my gut. You know that instinct that you have that if you’re like me, you never trust? That small voice said, “What if it’s something physical? Syd is a senior horse now. Or what if it’s his feet? We’ve had a crazy wet summer and battles with thrush.” I stopped beating myself up just long enough to listen, and to really stop and think about the circumstances and the environmental factors that were different since I competed in the spring. I am so glad that I did!

When my vet appointment rolled around, I greeted him with a “Can we talk about some of my worries about Syd?” Thankfully, I have a phenomenal vet who puts up with all my questions and is always happy to answer and discuss.  We talked about the differences in my horse, his movement and his attitude. After flexing, radiographs, and much searching, my vet determined that Syd DID have something physical wrong. Nothing horrible. Nothing that couldn’t be handled with some maintenance and a change in shoeing, but enough to change the way Syd competed. (And before anyone makes the blanket assumption about hocks, stifles, etc. Syd’s hocks are already maintained, and his stifles are fine.) I followed that doctor visit with a visit from my farrier. Now that Syd’s issues are being handled, he’s back to feeling like his old self, tearing up the galloping lanes like he’s seven again.

And me? Well, I learned a valuable lesson. Yes, I am not perfect. NOT EVEN CLOSE! I do make a lot of mistakes. But so does everyone else. The lesson is that sometimes, not only is it NOT my fault, sometimes, it isn’t anyone’s “fault.” It’s just life, and aging, and things happen. Sometimes you really do need to stop. Take a deep breath, slow down, and listen to that gut instinct we all have as riders and caretakers of these magnificent creatures. Sometimes it takes becoming a detective and putting all the pieces together. Because sometimes as easy as it is for me to take the blame, sometimes it’s not my fault.

Go eventing.

 

On Disappointment

Photo by Janae Day. Photo by Janae Day.

No, “Disappointment” is not the name of my horse. I’m talking about that most frustrating, aggravating, sorrowful, “make you want to lay down on the floor and throw the mother of all toddler fits” emotion “disappointment.” I have been dealing with it in spades lately.

As eventers, and to be brutally honest, most horse people know, disappointment comes with the territory. It’s the nature of dealing with another creature (OK, best friend and teammate) that has a mind of its own. It is also the nature of dealing with a sport where almost anything, including the weather, can go wrong. It is also the nature of dealing with being part of a greater organism than yourself, such a barn or a team or a training stable. Yep! There are variables galore! Just pick your poison.

If you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gal (or dude) dealing with the variables is infinitely easier. You, oh lucky one, are probably slightly more capable of dealing with the disappointment factor than those of us like me. I, unfortunately for our friend disappointment, am the planner, the type A-er, the one with the OCD “it must be scheduled in advance” issues. Sometimes in this fabulous, insanity filled sport I adore, I get a double dose of disappointment. I don’t like it because I can’t control it. Disappointment sometimes happens in spite of what I plan. It’s so aggravating!

I started the spring competition season with one goal: to qualify of the American Eventing Championships. I was very close to being ready to move up a level, but my dad lives in Asheville, North Carolina. I live in Arkansas. The chance to compete at Tryon and possibly have my dad there was just good to pass up, so I stayed in my comfort zone a bit longer. One crazy thing after another kept happening: missed opportunities to school; the weather; missed events; the weather, work, the weather … name it. In the end, I had only two events to qualify to compete at the AECs. Somehow, I pulled it off. Or so I thought.

One minute my name was on the list of qualified riders, the next it wasn’t. I’m still not sure what happened. I have spoken to the powers that be at the USEA, and they are trying to resolve it. No one seems to be able to quite figure it out. At any rate disappointment set in. Big time. Suddenly I was left with all these decisions to make based on what MIGHT be, not on what WAS. Talk about infuriating! To my schedule it out to the minute in all certainty psyche, it was just about more than I could take. I fretted about it and fretted about it, until I didn’t.

I had to make a choice. I had to decide. Not so much as to whether or not I was going to be able to go to the AECs or not, but as to whether or not I was going to let the disappointment of not going or not qualifying wreck me. I am an eventer. We don’t do “wrecked.” I stood up and punched disappointment right in the nose. I took back my pride, and I took back what I had accomplished.

What I realized is that whether or not I qualified for the AECs, I finished on my dressage score at BOTH of the events I completed, and I rode against mostly professionals and finished second and seventh. For me, that is nothing to sneeze at. Prior to this past season, I had almost always had cross country time faults. I had battled that demon and finally won (much to my horse’s good pleasure!) In the end, qualification or not, I had accomplished my “smaller” goal of finishing on my dressage score. Any eventer will tell you that is worth its weight in gold! At the end of the day, I still love my pony, and I still love my sport.

And THAT, dear friends, is why I do what I do. Eventing has taught me to roll with the punches, to take that frustration and disappointment and turn it into accomplishment and something to be proud of. Life lesson learned! Kick on, eventers! See you at the finish line!

 

In Memory of Arkansas Eventing Advocate and Volunteer Jack Ernst

Photo courtesy of Griffin Leggett Rest Hills Funeral Home Photo courtesy of Griffin Leggett Rest Hills Funeral Home

The eventing world lost another great man, advocate and volunteer this past weekend. John R. “Jack” Ernst, of Gravel Ridge, Arkansas, passed away on May 14, 2016. He was 83.

Jack loved horse people, eventers in particular. While he never rode himself, Jack was frequently quoted as saying, “They’re just super people.” While his accomplishments in the horse world were many, he liked to call himself the “chief flunky,” and his e-mail address attested to that fact.

Jack was a church goer, served in the United States Navy, was father to two daughters, husband to Barbara, herself a technical delegate, and helped put the United States Pony Club and eventing on the map in the state of Arkansas through rallies and horse trials held at their Jubilee Farm in Gravel Ridge.

Jack and his wife bought Jubilee Farm early in their marriage when Jack was still in the textile business. They named it Jubilee after an old Methodist hymn which sang of the year of Jubilee. The word “Jubilee” also began and ended with Jack’s initials. So began the legacy of the one of the longest consecutively running horse trials in the history of the United States Eventing Association.

While I could spend the rest of this article talking about all of the wonderful things Jack did, everything from mowing the grass on his 45-acre farm so local eventers and Pony Clubbers could come school cross country to being the head communicator for the Head of the Lake (yes, THAT Head of the Lake) for over 20 years, what I really want you to know is what a wonderful, kind, caring, selfless person he was.

A friend of mine said it best, and I TOTALLY agree, “If I could have chosen a grandfather, it would have been Jack.” That was just the kind of man he was.

Yes, Jack was the recipient of the Governor’s Award, which salutes outstanding volunteers within the USEA. Yes, he traveled all over the country as a volunteer at every event you could possibly name, stopwatch in hand (his golf cart was a fixture in the corner of the stadium arena at Holly Hill Horse Trials for years). Yes, his farm was the home to the Rackensack Chapter of the United States Pony Club.

Photo courtesy of Rackensack Pony Club

Photo courtesy of Rackensack Pony Club

But Mr. Jack (as I always called him) was my friend and my mentor. Like just about everyone he met, I loved him dearly. Mr. Jack is responsible for instilling in me the importance of giving back, of volunteering, in whatever way you can, whether it’s picking up sticks on the cross country course or scribing in the dressage judge’s box.

I remember a particular trip to the Kentucky Horse Park in the early 2000s with my trainer at the time. She was competing at the Champagne Run Horse Trials, and I was just getting reacquainted with the sport as an adult. (I had competed as a teenager way back when eventing was called combined training!)

The trip did not go as planned. My trainer Kari ended up having a pretty nasty fall on cross country, which resulted in a broken hand that required surgery. At the time, I had no idea how I was going to drive a dually diesel truck pulling a four-horse trailer all the way back to Arkansas with an injured, not happy trainer with me.

Mr. Jack to the rescue! He cut his trip short, driving the truck and trailer the entire 10 hours home while I followed in his minivan. That’s just the kind of man he was.

Photo of Jack Ernst from The Hunks of Area V Calendar, submitted by Catherine Baker: "Jack with his golf cart and timers and umbrella ready to volunteer at another event! Wonderful man that will be missed!"

Photo of Jack Ernst from The Hunks of Area V Calendar, submitted by Catherine Baker: “Jack with his golf cart and timers and umbrella ready to volunteer at another event! Wonderful man that will be missed!”

Mr. Jack loved eventing; loved horse people; and he believed in DOING, doing whatever you can to keep what’s important to you going. His beliefs came from his great big heart. It’s why so many people like me loved him and were touched by him. I would be willing to bet money that just about every cross country course in Arkansas, whether backyard or show quality, has a fence built by Jack Ernst.

And it didn’t matter if it was sleeting, the sun was shining or the tornado sirens were blaring, Jack was there to see the show go on or everyone get home safely. Jack Ernst embodied what we should all aspire to be: hardworking and generous.  The eventing world won’t be the same without him.

It’s been a great ride Mr. Jack! See you at the finish line!

If anyone has photos of Jack, please email them to [email protected] so we can include them in this article. In lieu of flowers, memorials in Jack’s name may be made to North Pulaski United Methodist Church. An online guestbook is available at www.griffinleggettresthills.com.

Money-Saving Household Items That Work at the Barn Too

Eventing is expensive. Boy, is it ever! Almost everyone I know is on a serious horse budget. Of course, there are those lucky few that have a money tree in the backyard (wouldn’t I love to be one of them!). However, if you are like me, and you are always looking for ways to save money and even time, here are some common household items that can be used around the barn and the show venue.

HOTEL SOAP: Wait, what? Hotel soap. If you travel at all anywhere (and it doesn’t have to be to a horse show), you have come in contact with hotel soap. Here’s what it does and why it’s great. First of all, it’s FREE! Woohoo! Here’s how you use it: Whether they are paddock boots or tall boots, most of us have boots with zippers. Zippers break. All the time. Usually when you are a show and really don’t want to have to buy a new pair of boots.

Zippers are made to slide up and down. Zippers break because they can’t slide up and down because of all the dirt and dust lodged in the teeth from all the riding we do in this fabulous sport we all love. This is where the hotel soap comes in. Those little bars of soap are PERFECT  for rubbing on zippers creating the lubrication needed for said zipper to slide up and down. The zipper moves easier, and guess what, it doesn’t break. Easy peasy.

Furthermore, if you use bars of soap at home and are constantly finding yourself left with those annoying little slivers of soap that you just can’t throw away, they work on zippers, too. Two problems solved!

OLIVE OIL: This fabulous substance can be used for so many things, and it’s available at just about any grocery or super store you can think of. I buy it in the spray form and in the liquid form. Why? Just like the soap we discussed in the paragraph above, the spray form is amazing at keeping your zippers zipping, and it’s cheap.

So before you unzip your boots to take them off, spray the olive oil on the zipper, and viola! The zipper slides easier. It’s a super lubricant (the spray oil costs less tham $4) and it gets rid of dust in the process. Olive oil is also an incredible, wait for it, tack cleaner and conditioner. And it’s cheap!

At this point in the blog, I have to insert a disclaimer: PLEASE! Do not put anything on your leather that you are afraid might affect it in anyway that you don’t want it to, whether it’s the color of the leather, the finish, etc. As you should with any leather product, please test it first.

OK. Back to the olive oil. I buy the small bottles of generic olive oil. It is usually around $4. It lasts for quite awhile; it’s natural; and it cleans and conditions all my leather, from my boots to my breastplates to my saddles. I love it! Bonus: it also makes my super dry eventer waitress hands soft in the process.

DESITIN: If you have children or if you have ever been a babysitter, you have heard of Desitin, that super sticky thick white substance that is used to prevent and treat diaper rash. Turns out it has uses around the barn as well (or it wouldn’t be in this article, duh.)

Ever gotten a horse kiss or a random dark stain on those wonderful white breeches at a horse show just before you’re headed into the ring? What to do? What to do? Grab that tube of Desitin you’ve been keeping in your tack trunk and dab it on the stain. That stuff is so thick it will cover the stain and stay put while you ride. Problem solved (at least temporarily).

Again, this is one of those super cheap (less than $3 for the generic) items that are easy to find and great for solving equestrian problems. Desitin is also great used as sunblock on white horse noses. (It has some of the same ingredients as the white stuff we put on OUR noses.) It doesn’t rub off easily and is super safe. I mean, we put it on baby’s bottoms, right?

One more use: it helps get rid of rain rot/scratches on legs. I discovered this by accident. I ALWAYS have a tube of this miracle stuff laying around. I live in the hot, humid south. One day it occurred to me that Desitin is supposed to protect and heal diaper rash because it is made to repel moisture. My horse had a minor case of rain rot on his hind legs. As an experiment, I tried smearing Desitin all over the areas of rain rot. It worked! It dried up the old spots and prevented new ones from forming. I’m pretty sure it made my horses legs feel better, too.

TUBE SOCKS: I live in an area without a tack store. The horror! It’s probably a blessing in disguise except for when I need a piece of tack right now! I have a wonderful synthetic girth that I absolutely love, and I use it for both my jumping and my dressage saddles. One day I discovered small cracks in the girth that were irritating my horse. Well, you can’t ride without a girth, and it takes awhile to have one shipped. A new conundrum to solve!

The answer: one of my husband’s old white tube socks. He wasn’t wearing it because it had a hole in it and the elastic was worn out at the top. I cut the end off where the toes go, and almost instantly I had a girth cover. I know, it’s a bit redneck, and I would never use it anywhere but at home. However, it worked great in a pinch and hardly cost me anything.

I hope these ideas help all you penny pinchers out there save some much needed cash. Leave me your comments and let me know what you think. Better yet, got an idea of your own? Share those, too. And Go Eventing!

I Am Unrealistic

My son Nate and I and my TB/Shire gelding Syd. Photo credit: my husband Tim Wadley. My son Nate and I and my TB/Shire gelding Syd. Photo credit: my husband Tim Wadley.

I just finished reading Tamie Smith’s blog about unrealistic expectations for the probably the tenth time. It struck a such chord with me! She made so many valid points: things I need to be reminded of daily, especially when I’m staring at five inches of snow outside my window when I live in the South. While I am by no means an upper level rider (or even a mid level rider for that matter!) I can absolutely relate to her story on so many levels.

If you follow my blogs at all, you know that I am an aging adult amateur with a husband, a toddler, a part time job, and all the accoutrements that go along with them. I board my horse, write a blog, scrimp and save to take lessons and compete at events, look for bargains on tack and dream the biggest dreams.

Folks like Bunnie Sexton are my heroes. She rode at Rolex last year for the first time at the age of 53! I was sitting in the show jumping arena as Bunnie walked around grinning from ear to ear and waving at everyone, so happy to be there. And after reading Tamie’s article, I thought to myself, did Bunnie Sexton have unrealistic expectations too?

I don’t know her personally, so I can’t say for sure, but I will bet you anything there were a few doubters that thought she was crazy. Crazy for her unrealistic expectations.

I don’t want to ride at Rolex. That particular dream is not my dream — at least not yet. My dream is to ride Preliminary level. My dream is to be a licensed official. My dream is to write about what I love and get paid for it. These may not seem like huge dreams for the average person reading this blog, but consider this: I am currently riding Beginner Novice level, hoping to move up to Novice very soon.

I live in a great area where eventing is growing in popularity, but the closest event is still five hours away; I didn’t compete at all last year and I am hoping to be able to ride in THREE (not 5 or 6 or 7 or even FOUR) events this spring/summer; at this point it is hard to find time to write one blog every couple of weeks, let alone daily or even weekly!

Almost everyone I know who is not a horse person (not you, Honey!) and even some who are, think I am cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. I mean, come ON! I have a toddler! I have responsibilities! Right now, I don’t even have a truck! What I do have is unrealistic expectations.

YES! I do! I have hopes and goals and dreams. As Tamie Smith talked about in her blog, I am one of those riders who may not have the most talent on the planet, but what I do have is gumption. And determination. And drive. And most importantly, faith … in my horse and in myself. And in my world that counts for a lot.

Faith and drive and determination and gumption are  what turns unrealistic expectations into reality. Those traits are what write success stories, like Tamie Smith and like Bunnie Sexton. I have every intention of finding out exactly what becoming one of those success stories feels like!  And then I’ll just find another unrealistic expectation to add to the list and start all over again.

Sometimes It Rains

Photo by Terrie Hatcher Equine. Photo by Terrie Hatcher Equine.

The season is over. And I didn’t compete. Those are not easy words for me to write. I am not a “sit on the sidelines and watch” kind of person. I’m a doer. I think most eventers are. Have to be. When you commit to competing in three separate phases of horsemanship, you cannot succeed by simply watching the world go by. I think it’s in our DNA to get out there and just “git her dun.” I did not get much done this past season. At least not from a riding standpoint.

There are many reasons why I chose to sit this one out: finances, my three year old son, work, schedules…life…The reasons are endless and for an adult married amateur with a toddler and a husband and a job, they are pretty normal. However, normal does not mean less aggravating. Or less depressing.

My horse was with a good friend for a time after I had my son. When I got my trusty steed back in March, I had every intention of getting back out there in the fall. I really WANTED to get back out there in the fall. I knew it would take some time to get me back into shape and just simply get back into the horse routine.

I thought the fall season would be an easy goal to accomplish. Start at Beginner Novice and move up in the spring. Uh-huh. Sure. What’s that saying about “the road to hell” and pavement? Yeah, that. Spring turned into summer; summer turned into fall; one event missed turned into two, and suddenly, HOLY COW! It’s Christmastime!

It’s not that life doesn’t always go the way we want it to; it’s that it never goes the way we want it to.  Being the half water jump full kind of person that I am, I am determined not to let not competing set me back. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, I’m aggravated. Yes, it’s cold and wintery, and VERY hard to stay motivated in the thick of the holiday season.

What drives me? The very same thing that frustrates me. I am determined to NOT let another season go by and watch it blur like scenery through a passenger’s window. I am determined to get my fat and happy something of a pasture ornament former champion eventer back in slick, cross country running shape. I am determined to get MY fat and happy self up out of my warm cozy bed and brave the cold temperatures to get us both back in shape.

It’s not going to be easy. It will be an uphill battle most of the way. However, isn’t that just life? One of the reasons I love horses, and I love eventing is because of the life lessons taught and learned every day. In eventing, you make plans, and then it rains.

Because of the rain, you have to change the way you get things done. Change your course; adjust your time. Life is the same way. I made my plans, and it rained. So, I’m changing my plans. My plan to compete will get accomplished just on a different course and on a different schedule.

The goal may have gotten a bit tougher to reach, just like getting to the end of a rain-soaked cross country course, but the finish line is still there. I just have to keep galloping towards the tape. So maybe I will freeze my backside off in the process and skip that extra piece of fruit cake. (Who likes that stuff anyway?) What I WILL do is see you on the circuit in the spring!

 

 

The Theory of Convergence

Screenshot from Screenshot from "Say Anything"

Diane Court: “I have this theory of convergence, that good things always happen with bad things. I know you have to deal with them at the same time, but I just don’t know why they have to happen at the same time. I just wish I could work out some schedule. Am I just babbling? Do you know what I mean?”

Lloyd Dobler: “No.”

I know what she means, and I am a firm believer in her theory!

I haven’t written a blog in two weeks. The last blog I wrote was a huge success (at least from my point of view). I was hoping to be on the proverbial roll with my blogging. My pony and I were also making huge strides towards getting back into the competition ring, something I haven’t really hit full on since having my first child. I was all set to write the next Nobel Prize winning blog (that’s a real thing, right?) and send off my first horse trial entry in quite awhile. Yay, right?! Nope. No yays, only bummers.

My car bit me. And by bit me I mean, while checking the anti-freeze, the hydraulics on the hood failed, slamming said hood onto my hand and latching, trapping my hand in the hood. Did I mention I was on the SIDE of the car? Ummm, yeah … couldn’t reach anything that might help the situation. How about the fact that I was in the employee parking lot at 3 o’clock in the afternoon where no one could see me? Yeah, it was something of a fiasco.

Before you start thinking the absolute very worst … my guardian angels were working overtime that day. I was very, very afraid I had broken bones in my hand and fingers, which were somehow also involved. Miraculously (and I mean that in all seriousness), I did not. I did however miss several days of work, riding and typing, which brings me to Diane’s theory of convergence (which is featured in one of my favorite movies, “Say Anything.”)

Those of us with horses and ESPECIALLY eventers should be well versed in this theory. What can go wrong, will go wrong and all that … I tend to be a glass-half-full kinda gal, but dang it, sometimes I just wonder what gives! That’s when I have to remind myself of the absolute beauty of what we do. A bunch of folks have written about it and would agree that it is all about the journey! It is! Theory of convergence or not, we are very blessed as eventers and horse people to be fighters at heart. We “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin'” — we do!

Your horse throws a bucking fit in dressage resulting in a score no one could love? Oh well, cross country is tomorrow! Good and bad together. Two tires blow on your trailer making you miss your ride times, but the torrential rain caused the show to be cancelled anyway. Good and bad together. Your amazing, wonderful first horse has to be retired because of lameness causing heartbreak and sadness, but you luck into an amazing youngster soon after … good and bad together.

It is not always easy, and some days you just want to scream! I did scream! A lot! Both during and after my hand was trapped.  However, what I learned is that you somehow pull yourself up by your boot straps, dust yourself off, lament the fingernails that will fall off eventually, and come up with a new plan. The bad is past, and the good is on the way.

There are other horse trials out there; there are still blogs to be written (cough, cough.) The good always follows the bad and vice versa. The lesson is learning to accept and appreciate the journey. The lesson is to kick on, and that’s exactly what I plan to do.

The F Word

No, not THAT F word! Or that one either! The one I am referring to is the F word that can end a riding career, ruin a good rider, sell a perfectly good horse, even deem a great horse “unrideable.” I’m talking about FEAR. All encompassing, paralyzing, heart-pounding FEAR.

It is neither logical nor rational. It cannot simply be wished away. Once it has taken hold, you cannot simply wake up and decide NOT to be afraid. No, fear in its most lethal form is harder to get rid of than mosquitoes on a bayou. It locks on, digs in, and just when you think it has finally been vanquished, it reappears in all its panicky glory.

As riders, and especially as eventers, we deal with dangerous, sometimes scary situations probably more than we would like to admit. Let’s face it, there is a reason why the Eventing Nation slogan is “Red on right, white on the left, and insanity in the middle!” It takes a little bit of crazy and a whole lot of guts to do what we eventers do, no matter what level you are riding.

Our four-legged, flight instinct, 1200-pound partners have wills and minds of their own. It is exactly that uncertainty that makes eventing the high adrenaline sport that it is. As a popular meme reminds us, the “ball” in our sport could at any moment decide to do its own thing, be it take off running, throw a bucking fit or simply refuse a jump.

Whether or not you come off the horse, any or all of these elements can produce fear. If the unthinkable happens and an injury occurs, well, that’s just another opportunity for the F word to come calling. Hopefully you dust yourself off, get back on and live to ride another day. However, there is no logic to how or when the fear will surface. It does not follow the rules. Once it attacks, it is extremely difficult to conquer.

I have ridden for the majority of my life starting as a very young child. I was always the brave kid. It did not matter how big the horse was or how fast he could run away. I jumped bareback with nothing but a halter, shorts and tennis shoes in a public park. (Kids, don’t try this at home!) Dare me to do something, and I’d probably do it. Fear was NOT in my vocabulary.

Coming back to riding as an adult after some time off to graduate from college, get married, etc, was a completely different story. Suddenly I was timid. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go mach 10 with my pants on fire, or even mach 1 for that matter! The 18 inch X-rails looked like six-foot stone walls.  I was (gasp!) afraid!

Somehow I managed to soldier on. I did some competing, not very successfully or bravely, but I did it. The fear was always there. Eventually,  I leased a horse, and one day the fear got the better of me, and I got hurt. Hurt enough that it required surgery and a lot of time off.

I hated not riding. HATED IT! After I made the decision that I was ready to ride again, I thought I wouldn’t jump or event anymore; I would just do dressage. I was OK with that. I just wanted to ride. Sometimes just a forward, lengthened trot was scary. It sounds like such a cliché, but some days really were good, and some days really were bad. Occasionally I would think the fear was gone. When I least expected it to come back, it would. Still I continued to ride. Still the fear was there.

I bought a horse. My love story with that wonderful horse named Syd is a story for another time. This story is about fear. Even at my most venerable, Syd stood with me. As fabulous as he is, I still rode with fear, until … until I found a remarkable trainer. A trainer I clicked with who believed in me and my horse enough for me to start to believe in myself.

She knew just how much pushing I could take and when I was truly panicking versus just being a little wimpy. She helped me vanquish the fear. We did it slowly, surely, and without being in a hurry. Our only goal was to overcome my fear. It did not happen immediately; it took time, and it took patience, and it took a lot of sweaty saddle pads. But I did it! I won the battle over my fear.

Today I am a completely different rider. I am not the fearless, stupid, reckless rider I was when I was a child. I am also not the fearful, timid, backward rider I started out to be as an adult. Today I am a confident, going places, safe rider. I am able to learn and grow because I am not always worried. I am able to focus on how I am riding instead of always looking to hit the ground.

A great trainer and a great horse made all the difference for me. I kept pushing and kept working until gradually my relationship with the F word became a thing of the past. I am hoping it will stay that way for the rest of my riding career.

4G Horses?

We live in a fast food, high speed, get it immediately, microwaved, 4G, instant kind of a world. Patience is virtually nonexistent. We’ve been programmed and conditioned not to wait. For anything. Ever. We now carry our lives with us via our ever improving, constantly updating cell phones.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m as attached to my cell phone as anyone. I carry all my photos, passwords, contacts, calendars, you name it, within arms reach at all times. Want to see a picture of my son? Here’s my phone. Need a phone number for the restaurant where I work? Here’s my phone. Can’t remember Mimi’s birthday? Here’s my phone.

How about a closing date? Let me just whip out my phone and check the USEA website. Scroll a few blogs down on this website, and there’s a post about live streaming of the cross country at Burghley.

Technology and the ease that comes with it are great. Cell phones are great. So is fast food. I LOVE the ability to drive through my favorite burger joint and pick up a quick meal when I don’t have the time to cook or grocery shop. I do! But should everything be that instant? Shouldn’t the best things still come to those who wait? Whatever happened to just savoring the moment?

I have been thinking about this idea a lot lately, especially where horses are concerned. I’m as driven and Type-A as they come. I have big goals, big dreams and I WANT IT NOW! But is that the best way? More and more I’m convinced that it is not. Developing a horse takes time; honing the skills to become a good rider with good equitation takes time; good, proper horsemanship takes time; and moving through the levels takes time. Or at least it should.

There seems to be a trend among a lot of riders today to get a young horse and move it up as quickly as possible. I’m not just talking about the professionals. I see it in young riders too, who may ride in one or two Beginner Novice or Novice events, and then it’s on to Training level without stopping to take the time to develop the proper skill set to be successful, or more importantly SAFE, at the upper levels.

Riding horses can be dangerous. Eventing can be dangerous. Even the most bombproof horse has its moments. We get hurt when we rush, so I wonder why we’re in such a hurry.

Riding as a child, I had old school instructors who would not allow you to jump until your equitation on the flat was correct. I wasn’t allowed to compete until I was schooling 3-foot fences at home. I cleaned my tack every day; I groomed my horse until he gleamed; I read books and magazines and studied. All of these things took time. Lots of time. And yes, I know, we live in a different time, in a different world. My question is if that world is a better one.

As an adult I have had two surgeries, one riding-related, one not riding-related. Each surgery had a major effect on my riding. Both surgeries caused me to slow down, way down. Perhaps because of fear issues with the surgery that followed a riding accident, I slowed down too much.  Perhaps I would already be riding in the upper levels if I had moved faster. Perhaps.

However, horses are these amazing, beautiful, trusting creatures who run and jump and collect for us. They stand in stalls when they’d rather be grazing; they ride in metal boxes they can’t see out of for hours at a time; and still they perform for us and act as our therapists.

Don’t you think they deserve our time? However long it takes? Instant might be faster, but in the end it’s not always better. With everything else in my life being so immediate, I enjoy the slower journey with my horse. It helps me to breathe and reminds me of who I am. We don’t just owe it to our horses; we owe it to ourselves.

Ferris Bueller had it right: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

You Make Time for What You Love

“You make time for the things you love.” A graduate school professor of mine shared those words of wisdom with me one particularly busy semester when I felt like I had no time for anything but school. It seemed like a trite, clichéd statement at the time. However, he could not have been more right. Years later I have to remind myself of this quote about fifteen times a day.

I am the mom of a toddler, a wife, a waitress, a blogger, a friend, a dog owner, a horse owner, and oh yeah, an eventer, and that’s just the short list. Juggling time is what I do. Sometimes I am moving so fast I literally feel like I might run into myself in the hallway on the way to car from the bathroom. It’s a funny image, but one that pops into my mind way too often.

On the days when I am feeling particularly stressed out, over-worked, definitely over scheduled, lacking sleep and underpaid, I have to stop (but only for second, any more than that would be too long) and remind myself of why I do what I do. Because we make time for what we love. And I do love it. All of it.

It’s probably a no-brainer that I love my husband, and I love my son. My job? Well … let’s just say it’s a necessary evil. I love writing, and I definitely love my fur babies, my friends and my horse. So…do I love eventing? You are kidding, right? I am blogging for “Eventing Nation,” right? Anyone who has survived in this sport for any length of time loves it. (Or they’re crazy. Or both. I think I might be both.) But I do love it. And I make time for it.

One of my best friends has a daughter who is a cellist. Her daughter is a senior in high school this year and is hoping to pursue playing the cello as a career. I asked my friend one afternoon how many hours a day her daughter practices. She practices her cello up to four hours a day.

My mind was completely blown. These are hours she spends on her cello in addition to time at school, homework, volunteering, boyfriend, etc… I could not imagine how she does that. Until I remembered my professor’s quote, “You make time for the things you love.” Suddenly it was crystal clear. My friend’s daughter loves the cello.

I love eventing. On the days when getting out of bed at 5:30 to go ride seems impossible; or I’m trying to squeeze a 30 minute ride between work and picking my son up from daycare; or a non-horse person wonders why I am spending all those extra hours at the barn instead of sleeping, all I have to do is look into the eyes of my big, bay partner and remember,

“We make time for what we love.”

 

The Importance of Giving Back

 

The AECs are coming! The AECs are coming! The countdown clock is ticking. Riders are preparing. Vendors are purchasing, and organizers are, well, organizing. And the volunteer coordinators, well they are sweating.

OK. OK. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Uh Oh. Here comes another diatribe on volunteering …” And you would be right.

See here’s the deal: I had a pretty bad riding accident several years ago the that resulted in what my husband calls “the bionic arm” because of all the pins and screws holding it together. I didn’t ride for over a year; I had been leasing a horse when I fell, so after the accident he went back to his owner, and I was horseless.

Even after I bought my fabulous gelding Syd, I didn’t begin to  think about hitting the show circuit for several years. He was young, and I had fear issues. While I was working through all of that, I desperately wanted and needed to stay involved in the sport that I loved.

I started volunteering. I scribed; I jump judged; I painted fences; I picked up brush and hauled it to a burn pile; I was a show secretary, a ring steward; I made sandwiches … You get the picture: Wherever there was a need; you name it, I did it!

And I am SO GLAD I did! You have no idea the wealth of information I picked up about my sport from doing all these different jobs. Even better then that: I met so many wonderful people. Horse people are some of the best folks around, and they love to talk “horse” with other horse people.

I have talked horse with everyone from an 8-year-old kid who aspires to ride at Rolex one day to the volunteer coordinator FOR Rolex. I never would have met them without volunteering. I have scribed for some of the highest ranking dressage judges in our sport and bit checked with adults who have never ridden a horse but are supporting their kids. You name it; I’ve done it, and I am SO GLAD I did.

So here’s what I really want to impress upon you: Show season is just about to really kick into high gear. I know we all can’t wait! Most of your local shows, and even most of your area’s recognized events, would NEVER happen without their volunteers.

Volunteering isn’t difficult; you don’t have know anything at all; they’ll usually teach you, and it doesn’t have to be all weekend. Most shows are happy to have you for an hour or two. And I happen to know firsthand we ALL have an hour or two at shows we could spare.

With the AECs right around the corner, the organizers are anxiously hoping to fill all the spots needed to make the event run smoothly. This year is the last year the AECs will be held at Texas Rose Horse Park, which is in my home Area, Area V. Since I’m not competing this year, I am looking forward to volunteering.

It’s cool to be a part of the team that’s making it all happen and watch some phenomenal horses and riders having the time of their lives. As an extra incentive, you even get some swag.

So make all my fellow show secretaries and show organizers happy and volunteer a little bit of your time, if not at the AECs, at your local event or schooling show. You might be surprised at what you’ll learn or who you’ll meet. And hey! You MIGHT just have fun in the process.

Blogger Contest Round One: Michelle Wadley

We announced the six Blogger Contest finalists last week, and now we’re bringing you each submission from Round 1 here on Bloggers Row. We will be posting all six entries over the next few days, so be sure to check them out and leave your feedback in the comments.

All entries will be reprinted without editing for fairness’ sake. Thanks again for your support and readership, EN! We are thrilled to have such quality entries yet again this year.

5-keys-for-blogging-success1

I have a two-year-old. I know what you’re thinking. This is a blog for people who love horses and eventing. She MUST have a young horse. Wrong! I have a two-year-old son. I do, however, have a horse: a wonderful, kind, gentle 13 year old Thoroughbred cross gelding that is perfect for an adult amateur eventer like me.

Except that he hates mud. I know. He’s an eventer; mud should not be a problem. It’s not. Most of the time; unless it’s the kind of spring we have been having down here in the South where we’ve all been wondering who bent the space time continuum and transported us all to Seattle. Then the endless shoe sucking mud becomes a bit of a problem, but I digress. This isn’t about mud.

It’s about the struggle: the struggle for balance between being a mom and being an eventer. I am almost 47 years old. Besides the child and the horse, I also have a husband, a part time job, and two Great Pyrenees dogs. I live in the decidedly un-eventing Mecca of Arkansas. My car looks like the barn, the arena and a daycare center simultaneously exploded inside of it while the dogs were visiting, and it was raining. And you know that joke about the horsewoman’s tack room being cleaner than her house?

Well, if the shoe fits. As Pink said, “Welcome to my silly life.”

If I had nickel for every person who said to me, “Well, you just need to get that little boy raised, and then you can go back to riding that horse” I would have that little boy’s college paid for.

No offense, but I’m an eventer. I love what I do, and eventers aren’t exactly known for sitting on the sidelines idly while life passes them by. I may not be Bunnie Sexton who just completed Rolex at the age of 53 or Jessica Phoenix who rode at Rolex 6 weeks after giving birth, but I do have goals and dreams. I love my horse and I love to event. I also love my son; I love him more than anything else in the world. I love that he is learning to love and be responsible for and respect animals because of my love of horses and involvement in eventing.

The struggle remains. My tack isn’t always clean; neither is my house. My horse’s mane isn’t always perfectly pulled, and I need a haircut. However, because I do what I love, because it’s not just about riding, because it’s about loving and caring for another creature, my son is learning that too. I board my horse at a very kid-friendly barn that is about 30 minutes from where we live. My son doesn’t always go with me to the barn, but when he does, he is able to be outside digging in the sand with his dump trucks, splashing in mud puddles, and “riding his” pony. He’d rather be chasing the barn cats and gathering honeysuckles than watching TV. Those things make me happy. It’s a lifestyle I want for him.

My love for horses and eventing help provide that.

So as crazy and hectic as my days are, as dirty and unruly as my house and my hair get, the insanity helps me hold onto my sanity.

Potty training is way more difficult than a combination of corners.

What calms my nerves after an extended session of diapers versus big boy underwear are the smells of the barn and the big forgiving brown eyes of my four legged partner.  Suddenly, all the craziness is worth it. It makes me a better mom and a better person. I’m an eventer. I wouldn’t have it any other way.