Nina B
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Nina B

Achievements

About Nina B

Horses have been a part of my life from about the time I learned to walk. I've mostly focused on eventing, but I stuck my toe in the worlds of vaulting and intercollegiate horse shows. I did take a bit of a break from riding to finish college, enjoy city life, and attend grad school, but I always knew I'd be back and for about the last three years, I've been riding whenever I can. My incredibly generous barnmate Heidi Powers has loaned me her beautiful mare, Mae, and I take lessons whenever I can at East West Training Stables in my hometown of Petaluma, CA. Professionally, I work as an editor, so I am excited about having this opportunity to combine my love of words with my love of horses!

Eventing Background

USEA Rider Profile Click to view profile
Area VI
Highest Level Competed Novice
Trainer East West Training Stables

Latest Articles Written

The Rolex Spotlight Shines on All of Us

William Fox-Pitt and Bay My Hero. Photo by Jenni Autry. William Fox-Pitt and Bay My Hero. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Rolex is such a thrill even for those of us not attending in person, thanks to the USEF’s live streaming. This year, I watched every second of the online coverage. Last year, I seriously considered taking time off work to watch. I decided listening to the dressage tests on my headphones while at work was sufficient. But this year, not working full time, I could watch it on a big screen, get popcorn, and kick back guilt-free!

I even got a thrill out of knowing there would be a watered-down version on NBC Sports. There is something exhilarating about seeing eventing coverage out in the “real world.” I always try to imagine what people who don’t know anything about the sport will think when they are flipping channels and come across NBC’s coverage. I love all the things that people find strange about the sport. (Some of my favorites are “It takes three whole days??” or “Wait…you need two saddles?”) Maybe because in that context, I have more in common with a four-star rider than I do with the “outsider.” I chuckle and nod and point at the TV to acknowledge our little inside jokes. “Totally,” I say to no one in particular. “I know exactly what David O’Connor is talking about right now.”

Speaking of, one of the most exciting recent memories I have of this sensation is when I found an old Fresh Air interview with David and Karen O’Connor. I listen to Fresh Air every single day, and one day I didn’t get enough so I looked up old interviews that I might be interested in. Lo and behold, there was an interview with David and Karen O’Connor after the Sydney Olympics. My celebrity worlds collided! I was so excited to hear Terry Gross talking about eventing and sounding so unfamiliar with this world I am familiar with. (It isn’t on NPR’s website anymore, but I found it through Audible.com. I think you can even sign up for a free trial and get one free audiobook, which is how I heard it for free. Just saying.)

Eventing doesn’t get a lot of press—in fact, hardly any at all. We always worry when something bad happens that the only press will be negative, but even then, it usually doesn’t get noticed. That’s why I absolutely love when eventing gets good press. Before the 2012 Olympics, I told everyone I knew to watch the NBC interview with Boyd Martin, because I knew it would give a positive picture of the sport, and sure enough most people said, “That guy’s cool,” which I interpreted to mean, “Okay—you aren’t all insane.”

I don’t really need or want the sport to get any more attention than it does; most fringe sports will stay on the fringes, and that’s okay. Even though a lot of people make their living at competing on the international level, for the most part eventing is an awesome hobby-sport that, if you play your cards right, you can do for nearly your entire life. But it’s precisely the lack of attention makes times like Rolex and the Olympics so special. I cherish these moments when eventing steps into the spotlight very briefly and those of us who reside in the “hobby” side of the sport get a little taste of the spotlight for ourselves.

Five Things to Love (or Not Hate) about Your Horse Being Laid Up

Can't complain too much. Can't complain too much.

These past few weeks have reminded me that with horses, you never stop learning, and you may never get away from the panicky feeling that “omigod there’s so much I don’t know must go home and buy many books.” Mae, the horse I’m riding, has an old stifle injury, in addition to some problems with her feet. A few weeks ago, I took my first trip ever to the UC Davis large animal clinic to see what’s going on with her. I’ve really never had to deal with a lot of lameness issues, which is great in almost every way, but it does mean there’s kind of a hole in my education, one quickly being filled with anatomy lessons and lameness research reading.

But the best part about my ignorance is that I am supremely optimistic about Mae’s prognosis, and I wasn’t in the least bit bummed to learn that she’s only allowed to walk under saddle for five weeks. I thought it might be fun to shake up the routine and spend some time out of the arena. We’re on week four now, and I daresay I am still enjoying it! These are some of my favorite things I’ve discovered about caring for a semi-laid-up horse.

  1. You try things you might not try otherwise. I haven’t ridden bareback in at least ten years, which really ought to be considered a crime. But since we’re just walking, it seems a shame to get out my saddle every time, so I gave it a shot. Getting on was a real challenge, arms and legs flailing everywhere, and then once I was on, I couldn’t believe how hard it was to balance and how insecure I felt. I had a dumb moment where I thought to myself how incredible it was that I could feel all her muscles moving underneath me. (DUH.) I also had forgotten how uncomfortable a horse’s back is without a nice cushy saddle! All around, I felt like an incomplete horseman and I vow to get on bareback at least once a week…and I bought a bareback pad.
  2. You can focus on groundwork (aka “manners”). I can’t be the only person guilty of falling prey to this scenario. You get to the barn kind of late, you’re rushing a bit to get on before dark, your horse is being a brat during the walk to the barn, but you overlook it because, well, the sun is going down and you want to ride. Not anymore. There’s nothing to rush for but walking, walking, and more walking, so if Mae wants try to run me over, which I can only interpret as an expression of her desire to focus on groundwork today, that’s just fine with me.
  3. Quality time with your mount. I sometimes feel the pressure to ride every time I go to the barn. I feel like I have so much to learn that if I pass up an opportunity to practice, I’m wasting time. Obviously, that’s silly, because the best part about riding is the partnership you build with your horse, and you really build that relationship while grooming, grazing, gazing into each others’ eyes lovingly, etc. So it’s nice to have a reason to spend my time at the barn just watching her eat, or brushing and brushing and brushing.
  4. Time to think (or not). One of my favorite things about riding is how it forces you to be completely in the moment. When I’m riding, I’m not thinking about work, or the cat food I need to buy this week, or the laundry I forgot in the washer. I’m not thinking at all. It’s important to have something that forces you to get out of your head. Being out of work and a bit at sea right now, I probably need that more than ever, but it’s also nice to just have time and space to think while out on the trail, and observe, and talk to Mae about my problems. What good listeners horses are. And when I get tired of the sound of my own voice, I listen to podcasts.
  5. Woof Wear’s Track My Hack app. I really like data and statistics. I used to keep a journal of exactly how many minutes I’d ridden every day, but the Track My Hack app is so much better. I love checking the app after a hack and seeing if I can guess the distance, or finding out if we beat yesterday’s distance. On days that I decide I need the exercise and choose to hand walk, it’s a great pedometer. (On those days, we walk much, much smaller distances.)

So, until I have to do this for several months on end, or until I’m repeatedly disappointed because a horse’s lameness is thwarting competition plans, I will see time off as exactly that and enjoy it as much as possible!

A Horse Lover Reflects on a Career Without Horses

A sight familiar to the adult amateur: the twilight hack. A sight familiar to the adult amateur: the twilight hack.

I’ve recently become unemployed, which is a bit scary on its own. What’s scarier, though, is that I’ve decided to also take this period of down time to reflect on my career choices, as if an unemployed person doesn’t have enough practical things to worry about. I’ve been thinking a lot about how one chooses a career trajectory (especially when that career is working with horses), why I chose a trajectory away from working with horses, and whether it’s too late to change my mind now.

I didn’t ride horses while I was in college, so when I graduated, horses weren’t at the forefront of my mind. I had my heart set on moving to a city and a lot of jobs that new college graduates seem suited for are in offices, with regular hours and some kind of commute. So, I followed that trajectory. But then I moved back to the country and started riding again and wondered why I never thought to take the horse trajectory. Why didn’t I take some time after school, be a working student, work for little to no pay doing something fun, getting dirty and hanging out at a barn? Sometimes I wonder if I missed out.

Even though I’ve always known I wanted horses to be a part of my life, I never really had any aspirations to be a top-level rider or a professional trainer. But there are a lot of other ways to make your living around horses. So how do some people decide to make horses their living, and how some decide they love it but want to do it as a hobby only? Do professionals find that they can’t bear the idea of spending their time doing anything else? Is it that if you have Olympic aspirations, you’re not going to get there by riding only one horse after work, in the dark, so you have to make it your career? I know all amateurs don’t bitterly think, “If I could have only been a professional…” So amateurs must to some degree consciously choose the amateur life. Is it because people have competing passions, and one passion pays more than the other? Does anyone just fall into a career with horses the way I feel I just fell into an office job? And if your answer is yes, how did you do it and what’s your secret??

Old Lady Ginger Goes to a Pony Club Test

When I sat down to write my first story for EN’s new blogging feature, I felt a little bit under-qualified to write for an experienced audience. What I could write about and offer the eventing-blogging community, most of whom are so much more accomplished than I? Right now I’m on the slow track back to competing, something I haven’t done in over a decade. I have only jumped once in the last year, and if you ask the horse, it was barely jumping. What on earth am I going to write about?

So I told myself, if looking for material in the present or future makes me feel a bit insecure, I can look to the past, which is always good for a few laughs. I’ve been scanning my old photographs, and I found a bunch of horse photos I’d nearly forgotten about, which in turn brought up some memories, both good and bad. I thought I might share some with you all, because I am sure you’ve all been there.

First up: Ginger goes to Pony Club

My grandfather was a great fan of the horse, but to my knowledge, didn’t like to ride them. He and my grandma had a small property and kept a few horses, some ridden by my dad and his siblings, but mostly they were kept as pets. Ginger was the only horse unfortunate enough to last into my horse-crazy years.

I don’t know anything about Ginger except that she was kind of a grump. I have since learned that she was actually bought as a birthday present for my older cousin, so she was well schooled in the art of little girl training. She was pretty safe, all things considered. I don’t remember ever getting bit or kicked at. I used to go for trail rides around the neighborhood, and she wasn’t afraid of much, traffic included.

Here she is tolerating a lunge "lesson" with me and one of my friends. Obligatory disclaimer: Always wear a helmet.

Here she is tolerating a lunge “lesson” with me and one of my friends. Obligatory disclaimer: Always wear a helmet.

She put up with me brushing her for hours on end, braiding her tail, dressing her up in pink gear, but things went downhill when I decided I wanted to go for my D-1 Pony Club rating.

When I joined Pony Club, I had hoped that you didn’t actually have to have a pony, so I was heartbroken when it became clear that Pony Club was really designed for kids with horses and I didn’t know how I could take the mounted tests without one. After lots of dramatic weeping and complaining, I had the bright idea to take Ginger to the test. Cause a horse is a horse, right? The only requirement is that it has four legs?

 

It had probably been a decade since her last bath.

It had probably been a decade since her last bath.

Ginger must have been close to 20 years old, and I’m not sure of the last time she saw inside of a trailer. I don’t know what she thought was going on when I started preparing us both for the test, but she must have known something was up.

We rented a trailer and picked her up on the morning of the test. Perhaps I have my rose-colored glasses on, but I don’t recall the loading process to be much of a problem. She must have thought they were taking her somewhere far away from me.

By the time we got there, I was so nervous I could barely talk, but with a lot of help from my endlessly patient family, we got us both tacked up and ready to go.

Before the storm.

Before the storm.

After a couple of laps around the arena, Ginger realized we had not in fact taken her to her happy place. Out of nowhere, she decided she had had enough of this ordeal, stopped dead in her tracks, and would not budge. I could not get one single hoof to move, no matter what I tried. I got off and tried to lead her and she wasn’t having it. It was like she had been turned to stone. I will be forever grateful to her for expressing her displeasure with the situation in the least dangerous way possible, by simply not moving. She didn’t rear or buck or try to unseat me in any way; she just froze me out. I was sobbing, mostly out of embarrassment but also, I really think, out of regret and shame, knowing that somewhere in my self-centered adolescent heart, I had asked her to do something too far out of her comfort zone.

Once we were finally able to inch Ginger out of the arena, the host barn took pity on me and let me complete the test on a borrowed horse. I remember nothing else from that day, not even whether I passed the test. I just call myself a Pony Club dropout now, because I’m pretty sure I didn’t want to show my face in front of anyone from the club ever again.

I don’t think I rode Ginger much after that. Every time I visited I brought treats, and I loved her till the day she died, but I think I was so guilt-ridden I just wanted to leave her be.

But I was able to glean a few lessons from this sad tale, which I think have served me well. This was my first of many lessons about the complicated and beautiful relationship we have with horses. I asked for something, and Ginger said “no.” I have tried, in all of my subsequent horse relationships, to listen as carefully as I could to the answers horses give to the questions I ask, almost to a fault, because I do not know the difference between “I’m being naughty” and “I’m saying no.” I’m so afraid of getting it wrong again that I err on the side of assuming an honest “no” answer to my question, even if the question is simply, “Do you think you could find it in your heart to go just a teensy, weensy bit more forward?” I guess experience is the only thing that helps teach you the difference, and I’m working on getting more of that. So, Ginger, thank you for forever shaping the way I approach these questions and making me ask with respect and assuming an honest “no” over indifference or naughtiness. I think I’d rather get it wrong that way than vice versa.