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Laura Harris

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A New Chapter

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

I started riding at 9. I knew I wanted to have a lifetime full of horses by 10. I pictured Olympic Games, a beautiful farm, and a clear view of ‘success’ that would haunt me for years. Quite simply, it was a vision I chased for … decades. I knew it would take hard work. I never wanted a family, to be rich, to be famous. What I didn’t have in talent, I could make up for in try. What l lacked in money, I could replace with heart. I didn’t have a dream, I had a goal.

Life, however, has other plans. It is wonderfully neutral like that, throwing good and bad at us. And it is up to us to decide what is good and what is bad. Common thought suggests that if you want ‘it’ badly enough, if you work hard enough, anything is possible. But let’s look at the converse, if you did not prosper, if you did not thrive, is it because you didn’t want it badly enough or work hard enough? Perhaps. But perhaps not. Re: Life and its other plans. Choices make us and break us, and we have little way to know at the time which is which. We do our best. I’m not here to say, “don’t try.” Because if you don’t try, you’ll always wonder ‘what if.’ I’m here to say: try, try with all your heart — however, don’t let it break you. Or if you do break, like I have, it is not the end.

I believe there are tenacious people, who overcome no matter what. The people who stir in the rest of us inspiration to continue on. The people who the stories are about, the ones that beat the odds. But no one tells stories about the people who are the odds. Why? Because we all know what the odds entail. The sadness, the struggle, the fear and all the rest that has to be overcome. I’d love to hear about someone who didn’t beat the odds; someone who put it all on the line and lost. Some of us shoot for those bright stars and stumble or fall through cracks instead. Those stories are real and untold. Maybe hearing more of them and knowing life goes on is valuable.

Maybe that is why I write. I write about the things no one wants to talk about, but most of us think about. The feelings that tighten your throat, and you feel ashamed to talk about. Because everyone else looks so happy. They must not understand your struggle. Maybe it’s just me. I like asking questions. I’m learning it doesn’t matter where or why I went wrong, but does it truly matter? It doesn’t come from self-pity, but from trying to make sense of the broken pieces of myself that people have left and didn’t want. But I want myself. So I examine those edges and think of kintsugi as I try to salvage the keepworthy shatterings and create myself anew.

In the words of Joseph Campbell, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” I spent so long trying to make what I KNEW I was supposed to be happen. To chase a dream, to chase a passion. But I’m learning to let go of what I wanted, what didn’t want me back, and see what else is out there. I’ve made peace with the aging of a dream and reawakened my writing with a voice that desires to speak. So many things you think are stupid when you are younger, adult concepts that aren’t worth the time, dawn and you watch your longings evolve to meet the new vision of who you are and what you want. Luckily, I’ve never been afraid to embrace change. It is the salt of life. I suppose it depends on how salty you like your life then.

My current status has put a moratorium on showing, clinics, and other inevitably costly fun. I toil on at my job, and pay down my debt, and love my horses. There is no shame in going to an unsatisfying job that affords you to do what you love and to take care for those of whom you are responsible. My brain wants to trick me, shame me for not being a professional in my first career choice. That I have failed. That I’m not worthy. I would be appalled to hear another amateur speak this way of themselves, but somehow tolerate it inside my own head. But then I remember the most important piece of all: am I being the best rider for my horse? She doesn’t give two flicks of her tail what I am to anyone else: professional, amateur, paperpusher. Those are just words in the end. She only knows what is right there in front of her. Me. I am just hers.

Red on Right, White on Left, Intensity in the Middle

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

I’ve recently been called “intense.” I thought it strange as I tend to have resting mare face and keep my feelings concealed. I don’t mean to, it just feels like my eyes give away my thoughts, so I make an effort to not be as transparent as I feel. Pretty sure I still fail on that one. Often. Either way, it leads me to a whole bunch of other problems, I know. But my friend called me intense. No, not the same friend who repeatedly and lovingly informs me I play small, but a non-horsey friend.

My first thoughts OF COURSE took it negatively. Not that she meant it as such, but rather than ask her to clarify, I overanalyzed it for a while, as you do. Like chewing on a piece of freaking cud. Did she mean that I was passionate? Or concentrated like cheap orange juice? Too much to handle? No, she said intense … It sounded so serious. So dramaful. Not the word in which I would have summed myself, not that I know what that one would be. But intense? Ha.

When I finally asked her about it, it was in the middle of PRIDE. Perhaps not the best place to ask what made her think I was extra, decked out in full glitter rage. She just gestured to me, and said, ‘this is intense.’ She meant me. Not the sparkles. Not the bubble tornados I created all day. Not my deep green lipstick and dark demon eyes. I generated all that; I was the source. I was intense.

Her three words struck me. In the simplest way, I saw what she meant. My choices. The way I play. How I go through life. Who I am. It has vigor. To the uninitiated, I may appear quiet or odd, pensive even. But those who get to know me get as much of my opinion as they can handle. After a decade together, my friend has seen and heard a lot. A good friend sees into you and a great friend doesn’t balk. She saw something I didn’t see in myself. I trust her enough to not just write off her opinion as misunderstanding me.

Nonetheless, it made me think of a conversation I had with my sister—no, the unhorsecrazy fiscally responsible lawyer one. She remarked once how she was envious I had a passion that got me up every day, that consumed my brain and financials, that drove every piece of me. While she has important things in her life, she admittedly didn’t know what a life-consuming, soul-consuming, money-consuming hunger was. To me it sounds like a curse, though it is all I have ever known and wouldn’t trade it for anything. To her it was a gift.

Perhaps I am intense. It is a mantle I will proudly wear. I look back at conversations, writings, thoughts. Undiluted, I am stiff drink that many might pass over. Maybe caustic enough to burn a hole in the table if knocked over or forceful enough to bring one back from the dead. I pack a punch. Strangely enough, I do not exactly view this about myself. But then again, I am used to me. Desensitized to the chaos.

I suspect it is the intensity in me that has found its place in eventing. Growing up in the H/J/E world, maybe I was always too intense for the show ring. Maybe I just needed to take a long gallop in some open air. After all, eventers are intense: work hard, play harder. Some may call it insanity, but whether it is the day-in day-out training regimens, or the ballet recital-esque pressure of trials, we give it our all. Why—No—Why not?

So call me intense. All of me writes. All of me rides. I include all of me in everything I do. Maybe it is too much. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I spent far too long trying to make sense of my inner cacophony, rather than let it sing out from me. The past year I have learned to lean in to it and have seen it smooth out to my own personal harmony. I earned that intensity.

On Running and Riding

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

The first mile is always the hardest.

I was never a runner. Frankly, I had no interest…until the day I had to have one. But, that’s not this story. This story starts about my horse. If you know me, everything I do is for my animals in the end. As I have learned to love running, embrace the grind and the endorphins, my day doesn’t feel right until I kick my feet. I know, it sounds crazy. I used to be that way too. I can’t say it’s for everyone, I would’ve sworn it wasn’t for me. However, in the struggle of running, I learned so much more about myself.

It’s in these moments all is in focus. Almost. My brain is considering how much better chocolate cake is than what I am attempting to do. My body is disgruntled, awkward, and stiff. My heart starts pounding yet it kicks on like cross-country ride. Eventually, my brain acquiesces; it knows the first 5 minutes are always clumsy until I hit my stride. My body smooths out and I find my rhythm. I center on my breathing, my form, my purpose. Now, I’m focused.

Settled, I think about my horse. I ask her to do this; to run, to give me her heart. I pay that debt back by being all I can be in return. Be an easier burden to bear. That is my pact. Little did I know that my gift to her would teach me so much in return. I go pick up and set down heavy things to be strong. I run like a hamster on a wheel to build my own endurance. It’s become my church, and I go religiously. I block everything and everyone else out.

I’ve never been one prone to consistency. I love the random beauty of the world, the improvisation of travel and chasing fancies. Spontaneity speaks to me. But consistency is where the work is, and the improvement. When I say consistency, what I really mean is discipline. I am disciplined in my riding, but running has taught me to be disciplined in my mind and about my life beyond horses. When I am feeling weak, I dig deep. If I ask it of my mare, I should be able to ask it of myself. The more I tire, the more I tighten my form. It is not enough to complete the task in a sloppy manner for it is the perfect practice that makes perfect.

Pain is weakness leaving the body, or so we are told. I don’t push through pain, I push through discomfort. There is a difference. Admittedly, I don’t push as hard as I can every day, because I want to come back every day. Discomfort has become my home, in the best kind of way. Unpleasant feelings, physical or mental, let me know I’m growing. I don’t want to be the same person I was yesterday, last week, last year.

Maybe that sounds like it goes against the consistency I have been building, but in a strange way, it reinforces it. Sometimes it is more of a fight to avoid the change that has been waiting on you. Sometimes you have to step into the storm and see what comes out the other side. And that consistency you worked so hard on? That is what shows you the way out, not back.

Change isn’t the hard part. It is the grind that is hard. The day in and the day out. Putting in the work we all know it takes, whether we are literally or figuratively talking about the gym, horses, or life. What is worth having is paid for in work and struggle. Perhaps it is pennies, minutes, or steps at a time, but each piece progresses toward the goal.

Perhaps I’m a masochist. My family certainly thinks so, as I come from a decidedly long line of non-running peasant folk. But what can I say? I love the sense and order running has brought to my life.

It may have started as a necessity, evolved into something I do for my horses, but I continue doing it for me. Nonetheless, the first mile is always the hardest. But it’s worth it.

The House of No Shame

Photo via Pixabay.

You are ludicrously invited to join in a probationary membership in the House of No Shame, herein after referred to simply as “The House” or “the Shameless.” The House was established in 2019 as collective of likeminded individuals gathered in support of promoting blatant self-aggrandizing, the expansion of personal badassery, and partaking in necessary tomfoolery.

2018 wasn’t your year? 2019 has nothing to prove and neither do you. So make the season fun in whatever way is you. The horse sports are too damn hard, too damn critical, and too damn expensive to not have an enjoyable experience. Driven in your riding and goals? Be Shameless. Casual in your riding? Be Shameless. Do you, because no one else is going to do it for you. Shameless comes in every size, color, and discipline. Imagine “Treat Yo’ Self” on the inside.

As one of the honored Shameless, you will be expected to adhere to certain standards. Be true to our words: Rich in Sarcasm. If those ain’t your words, this ain’t your house. It can be pretty awkward and/or dangerous, but we ride with our tongues firmly planted in our cheeks, permanently even. A sigil or mascot? If you must, picture a unicorn farting rainbows…

Requirements of the House:

  • A sense of humor
  • Support of your fellow Shameless, even the shamed

Provided to the Shameless:

  • A mock- or cocktail upon entry, as warranted.
  • A smile as you need it

Wear your colors, whatever they may be, and wear them proudly. The wonderful things about the House? You’re never alone. We laugh at ourselves, we cry, we solider on.  We may or may not have money, but we have heart. When you need a kick-in-the-pants-we-ride-half-domesticated-beasties-only-controlled-with-our-butts pep talk, find your accountablilbuddy Housemate. We’re Shameless! What did being humble ever give you? A complex, girl.  Remember, “unless they payin’ yo bills, pay them no mind.” It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change. So, grab the champagne and grab some mane!

Go Eventing!

The Confidence Game

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

It seems like some people have it and others don’t. Some may even lose it along the way. Is it the foundation that holds you up through the tough times and lets you believe in yourself? Or is it the elusive slippery substance that you can’t grab? You spy it in those around you, questioning it origin. Maybe it’s like the Justice Potter Stewart quote, “I know it when I see it.”

Confidence can come naturally but it can also be struggle. Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” I think confidence falls in similar strokes, it isn’t something that someone has all the time for all situations.

Maybe this has something to do with how confidence is created. It isn’t a windfall or an inheritance, like something gained in a lump sum. True confidence is something that is grown, piece by piece it gains ground. Don’t confuse it with bravado, which can help pave the way for confidence, but they are only cousins. Confidence is created in those small steps, not the big leaps. Sometimes a confidence step is simply getting back on, or just going out to the barn. Confidence is a good day or hard work paying off. Surely, Confidence can be damaged, but fear not, it is not irreparable. It just gets harder and more complicated.

Google conjures the definition to be:

  • the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust
  • the state of feeling certain about the truth of something
  • a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’ appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities

If confidence is the belief that you can trust yourself, your abilities, you must begin somewhere. It makes me extremely sad to hear people berate their own riding. I understand playing small. I understand the nature to be mean to yourself, or tough, because you think that is how one gets stronger. I distinctly remember an older girl telling me I was too hard on myself when I was younger. I knew she was right, but I also knew no other way to be. Now I do. I got stronger not by setting a bar too high I couldn’t reach, then yelling at myself that I didn’t reach it. You know what happens when you do grab that too high bar even in the midst of a self-induced tornado of angst and drive? You just continue set it even higher.

No, I got stronger by stopping the fight within myself. My way with the mental drill sergeant hadn’t produced the desired results after how many years, why should I continue to listen? The cerebral dictator, the editor, the punisher, the judge had done so very little for me but to give me the mental hang-ups I was trying to overcome. I am about as self-deprecating as they come, but you know how it has served me? Just about as well as yours has served you. Self-deprecation never bought anyone a cup of coffee. Self-depreciation doesn’t pay the electricity, you do. I’m not inclined to “woo”, overly touchy feely spiritualism, but the negative thoughts have never done anyone any favors. Negative thoughts, while masquerading as amusing or realistic, do not help.

Perhaps the steps of confidence can be a game in a better kind of way. Rather than think, I am the worst rider, why doesn’t my trainer kick me out already? Try, I am a rider LEARNING to ride, this is all part of the process. A neutral thought is the in-betweeny step from trash-meh-mediocre-OK-good-better-best-GOAT (AKA Michael Jung) rather than the giant leap from flea to Fox-Pitt. You don’t expect your horse to come out and warmup on piaffe or hopping around Prelim level jumps cold. It’s just not fair on them, is it? And so it isn’t fair to yourself to expect flawless performances, or even emergency mental u-turns and gymnastics. I do not believe being forgiving and supportive of yourself will cause you to abandon all discipline and work ethic only to spend the days eating bagels and cookie cake, swigging prosecco. You can be both compassionate and demanding of yourself without being cruel or mentally destructive.

Confidence is built and nourished in the small steps of success. Success is earned from the planning and completion of appropriate challenges. Let confidence come from experience. Let it come from the successes. Let it come from preparation. But let it come. If nothing else, how can confidence, the belief in yourself and your abilities, come from a place wherein you are unkind or overly harsh to said self and abilities? Think on that. If you really struggle with confidence, I urge you to listen to how you talk to yourself, that inner dialogue, and then look at what you expect the self-talk to produce. “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” Thank you, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Stop Playing Small

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

I have a friend who says I play small. In my riding. In my writing. Essentially, in my presentation of myself. Frankly, I think it or more to the point I, drive her crazy at times. She helps me see the good in myself when I only see the bad. She is exactly the friend everyone needs in their corner. I think of her often, pushing myself to play as big as I am, or that I could be. No, not to play, but to be.

However. There is always a however. I also think about the boastful braggarts I know. How they talk and talk and know so very little. How you watch them, you listen, and know that all they’re selling is insecurity. I dread presenting myself in such a way. I would never dare promise someone the moon when I’ve never left the stratosphere. I was raised to be humble. To show, not tell. To let my work speak for itself.

I’m not Boyd. I’m not Buck. Or Michael. I’m not Caroline, or George, or Stephen or anyone you can recognize by one name. In fact, with both my names I’m still unknown. What could I possibly have to say? Why should anyone listen to me? My brain often asks me that in a snarky tone; I’m no one special. My star does not shine bright; it never shot through the night in a righteous glorious blaze. But it does burn. It burns cold and calm. It burns the long wick that lasts a lifetime of a passion and dedication to horses. It is in no way out of fuel. My star is no less important. My dedication to my animals no less. I am no less.

But, comparison is the thief of joy. While I don’t think to compare myself to the accomplished, I do myself disservice to think of myself as unaccomplished. Even as my friend performs the mother of all friendship to build me up, I shrink away. I tell her I deserve a cone of shame in deprecating jest. My friend asks, “Can you imagine George Morris wearing the cone of shame? I think not.” She urges me, in capital letters, STOP PLAYING SMALL.

It’s just so easy. Easier to play small, to not call attention to myself, to not correct people when I hear misinformation, to not risk rejection. Easier to watch my dreams wither away because I can’t bear to possibly make some one else feel small or bad. Easier … to put someone else before myself. Why? It took me far too long to realize that I was seeking approval and acceptance from the outside rather than from within. I’m learning I’m enough. I don’t need the praise I desired as a teenager or young adult, the acknowledgement that I had skill or gift, that I had something special. It is enough to make myself happy now and be satisfied and content within myself, even as I face the question, pro or am.

I told my sports psychologist that I feel unsuccessful. Despite several things I should be proud of such as a Masters degree, keen riding skills, and chutzpah, I felt like a loser. I felt like I had never been successful. She asked me to define success. Silly old me, in the end, all my heart really wants is to be happy. To be proud of myself. Was lack of success really what was breaking my heart? No, it is simply me doing it.

My friend wants me to own my skills, own my story. Maybe I’m not Ingrid, Sinead, Kim. That’s OK because as amazing as they are, the world doesn’t need their doppelgängers and they don’t need anyone stealing their stars and peddling imitations. I spend far too long prefacing, explaining, excusing what I’m not, who I’m not, even why I’m not. Instead, I could spend that energy telling myself and those who want to hear what I am.

I am someone who always chooses the horse. I work hard, I try even harder. I am my own worst enemy. I have an internal drive that spins so hard and fast that it stalls the motor. I run myself down instead of building myself up or take the chance that maybe others will believe in me. I point out my own faults to drive away those that won’t support me. See — even now, I dropped back into my small-self talk instead of doing for me what is hard. But here it goes:

I have a leg that never slips. I ride horses that others are scared to get on. I love the hot sensitive horses, the babies, the underdogs, the problem child, or any of them at all. I believe in a tactful ride. I excel under pressure and rarely have show nerves. I clap for strangers. I have only gone off course once, because I didn’t learn the course on my own. I’ve ridden in Europe and worked for Olympians. I love to jump, I love dressage, I love to groom. I even love to clean stalls. I love my horses. I treat every horse I sit on or take care of as if he or she were my own. I am not scared to say “I don’t know,” but I know a lot. I ask questions. I read. I encourage. I share my knowledge when I can. I have discipline and do not take shortcuts. I push to be better even when I am tired. The Olympic committee isn’t calling, but I work toward my goals as if they will. I work a soul sucking mindless day job to support my love and passion and I am no longer ashamed of that.

We all have a story, I’d love to hear yours.

Who Is Your Eventing Guardian Angel?

Laura Harris’ eventing guardian angel? Tim Gunn. Who is yours? Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

Sometimes, occasionally, from time to time, it has been known to happen that things don’t in fact go according to plan. What does the eventer do? She does not cry, he does not complain, they might grab a cold one afterwards, but the eventer finds a way.

Resourcefulness is a hallmark of eventing. The eventer spirit is something enviable. Riders who love the thrill—even though it may make them pee their breeches occasionally—they still get out there and do what they love and scares them in the same breath. With horses that might or might not be of known breeding, age or history, everyone is chasing the same riding high. Three phases to perfect, one chance to get it right. For many of us, it isn’t about the satin, it’s about the number, not the letter. It’s about going out and having a good time. It is about that chance to fly.

But it’s a lotta work to prepare for that flight. In fact, help just might be needed—a flight attendant perhaps? Not just anyone will do, you need to find that person that works for you.

I picture my eventing guardian angel as Project Runway’s Tim Gunn. He is sophisticated, classy and elegant. A spiffy dresser if nothing else! It almost sounds like he would be a Hunter Guardian Angel, right? Polished and perfect. However, he is known for a particular phrase and in that mantra is pure eventer: make it work!


Eventing Guardian Angel Tim Gunn, EGATG if you please, would have you smartly dressed for dressage, braids coifed and leather polished. He mostly likely minored in quarter marks in Angel School. You walk the cross country and stadium courses, and discuss where he may need to be on standby. A good “MAKE IT WORK” at the water may be just what you need.

The magic of EGATG is he teaches you to believe in yourself. He has faith in you when YOU have faith in you. Fortunately, or unfortunately perhaps, he leaves the decisions up to you. It’s not his job to make it work or find the ride, it’s yours. He supports thought out educated risk-taking. And by god, if you disappoint him, a unicorn loses its horn!


Much like Santa, EGATG knows when you’ve been good or bad. Have you put in your gallop sets? Did you learn your dressage test? Can you still math and know your striding? He mightn’t punish you, but you will get a disapproving look only rivaled by bunnies or cats.

When you receive approval, it will be adorably smug, as in, of course, you are washing your pads in a timely manner and promptly cleaning your bridle after use. EGATG is all about self-discipline and personal accountability.


Maybe EGATG isn’t for you? Perhaps you would fare better with EGA Jeeves, whose machinations ensure that you unwittingly always manage success in spite of yourself. Or maybe EGA Tony Stark with all the tech and sarcastic commentary you could ask for. EGA Bruce Lee – “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” EGA Aretha Franklin, R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Whoever you relate to and helps you make your game stronger, play on!

Go Eventing!

Pre-Season Fitness: You Gotta Start Somewhere

Tromping around the pasture trying to find lost shoes = a great way to get your steps in. Photo by Laura Harris.

Pre-season is starting. You don’t have an indoor. Outside riding area is being used as an ice-skating rink or for swimming lessons depending on the temperature. The trails have claimed Artax. You haven’t been in the saddle since … you’d prefer not to share when. That clinic/schooling show/lesson is coming up. How do you get in shape?

Stretch: Dig riding clothes out of back of laundry room and pull boots out from under the bed. REACH into the back corner!

Aerobics: That dance you do trying to get the breeches past your thighs. Like Zumba but with less cohesion.

Controlled Breathing: Hold your breath. Contort to fit the clothes that OBVIOUSLY shrank in the wash.

Dexterity Bonus: Flipping back and forth between sites of your bank account and a pair of new “unshrunk” breeches.

Warm-Up: Layering up to go outside and stay outside then realizing you look like Ralphie’s little brother.

Squats: Rearranging all your totes and gear in the trailer and the barn to re-sort what you need.

Steps: Get your steps in as you go back and forth between the house/truck/barn/trailer 5,000x as you forget and remember all the things you need to *gasp* ride!

Weighted Steps: Stomp out in the mud to feed the horses in the far field. Each. Step. You. Might. Lose. Your. Boot. Squish.

Cardio: Chasing after your horse trying to catch him. He knows what that halter means! He was stealthily hiding behind the half demolished round bale as soon as he heard the diesel roar up.

Resistance Work: Getting out in the wind and doing anything.

Calisthenics: Dodging your horse’s teeth whilst still trying to knock the mud off.

Stamina: Knock the cobwebs off the saddle and wipe off the mold! That leather needs to be cleaned, hydrated, supple, and most importantly, a non-embarrassment!

Stairmaster: Up and down the mounting block as you talk yourself in and out of riding 10k times.

Longing: Who’s longing who here?

Lifting: Pour a glass of wine, lift it to your lips. Repeat.

How Do You Pick Yourself Up?

Photo by Laura Harris.

When you pick yourself up from the mud, you have two options: laugh or cry.

In riding, we often say after a fall you get back on or you go to the hospital. But what do you do when the fall was metaphorical? The injury is emotional or mental. You might get a lot of chatter on the outside, advice, support, etc. It’s a little harder when you need to scrape the mud off your heart, and possible reshape it after a trample. You even wonder if it is worth it. Many people never question their riding, whether they should just give up. Several people do give up, bow out, or fade away for their own reasons. I can admit, at my lowest points I have asked myself if this is what I want, am I doing the right thing, would I be better off just learning how to knit or play sudoku (you know, something that doesn’t require you to pay with your heart to play)?

But what do you tell yourself inside your head? Breathe. Slow down. I have a brain that likes to race. It likes to go fast, solve problems, create, analyze, busy itself. But when I let it run around, it isn’t as its best as it likes to think it is. Similar to a horse running on the forehand, I need to rebalance, regroup, and restore order. Every fiber in my being yearns to ‘do something’— to have a reaction. However, this is not the best answer. More often than not, that solution has led me to more problems. Overcorrecting a bad turn doesn’t right the car, it just spins it out of control.

So I have learned to embrace silence. Not hide from thoughts or emotions, but hear them and let them go. In that moment, when everything is stilled, I take a breath. No, the answer doesn’t magically come riding up on a sparkly rainbow unicorn, but I do find myself more in control and open to more options in the quiet.

Again, how do you pick yourself up? It is a choice to move forward in whatever way that makes sense. Sometimes we get back on the proverbial horse, sometimes we hang up the reins forever, sometimes we catch our breath, sometimes we take a break. The thing about a real fall is that the longer you avoid mounting up again, the harder it makes it in the future. But with the squishy internal scars, they tend to require a bit more sensitivity. Avoidance is not a solution, but recovery is vital to persisting to fight another day. One of my biggest characteristics that I tend to mostly consider in a good light is that I’m stubborn. I know I’ll be back to the fight soon. So while I will use that obstinance for good, I sometimes have to give her a rest so I can heal and refocus. I do not consider myself a patient person, but I have learned the skill and exercise it often. After the dust settles from the fall, it takes patience to see what is next because at times the heart and the head might not agree.

But, I love a good, insightful, poignant quote. The right one can lend words to you when you can’t find any. So I’ll borrow a few. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” and “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” An easy ride never made a skilled rider. Confident perhaps, but it is when we are challenged that we grow. In that growth is the adventure of riding and the love of the horse. And if you never go out into the sea to see your ship sail, you never know what you can do.

Pick yourself up. Laugh. Cry. Even at the same time. Maybe you don’t have the answer immediately to your brain demanding what to do to soothe your heart, or perhaps you need to hold it back from lashing out. But give yourself a chance to think all and feel all before deciding what you need to do. It’s not what happens to us that shows who we are, it’s how we handle ourselves that shows us, and the world, who we really are.

Things I Have Learned From My Horse

Photo by Laura Harris.

Horses have a simplicity that I envy. They do not plot, though we may joke, and they do not dwell. They live in the moment, recall their training (mostly), and often do what they are asked, simply because they are generous creatures. In this spirit, I try to be open to all the lessons that my horses have to teach me.

Things I have learned from my horse:

  • Anything worth having is worth working for.
  • Skimping on time or money will catch up with you.
  • Someone is always watching.
  •  Your horse is your mirror.
  • Having the most expensive gear won’t make you ride better.
  • Having correct fitting gear won’t perform miracles, but it will sure help improvement.
  • Often those who know the least talk the most, those who know a lot tend to be quiet.
  • Not every rider/horse/program combo is compatible.
  • ^ and that’s okay.
  • Some things transcend disciplines, but each discipline has value.
  • Never stop learning.
  • Always listen.
  • If it can’t be done at the simplest level, there is no reason to try it faster or bigger.
  • Details matter.
  • Every sinner has a future, every saint has a past. Horses change.
  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  • You write your own story, but it helps to know the language.
  • We are capable of so much more than we realize, and so are our horses.
  • The horse has no agenda.
  • Control your mind, control your emotions, control your body, and you control the horse.
  • Bad consistency trumps unreliable good.
  • No one controls your feelings but you, and you are not responsible for others’ reactions.
  • Someone else has been there and done that, you are not alone in your experience.
  • Breathe.
  • Proper posture will never let you down.
  • The gym is your friend.
  • Sometimes you need the opposite thing you think you do.
  • The foundation is the foundation for a reason.
  • Never underestimate the power of positivity, but don’t get carried away.
  • A negative outlook is not necessarily a realistic one.
  • Drilling can be counterproductive.
  • One-hundred small steps is better than one big leap.
  • How you perform is often how you practice.
  • Things may seem contradictory, but everything has a time and place.
  • Logic wins out.
  • Tension begets tension.
  • Lax is not soft.
  • Sometimes quietness is not kind, and sometimes firmness is.
  • Every creature, from barn mouse to retiree to barn dog to lesson parent, deserves respect.
  • How high you jump, or level you ride, is not an indicator or how well you ride.
  • There is always a stall to be done or chore to see to.
  • There are many ways to do things, some better than others.
  • Be honest, because horses are tattle-tales.
  • Thank god everyone has a different ‘type.’
  • Want better? Do better.
  • You are not your last failure.
  • Nothing wilts faster than laurels that have been rested upon.
  • Smile. You really will feel better.

On Fear

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

Fear. We all have it in one way or another.

In a sport where one is under constant criticism, constructive or otherwise, and constant judgement, putting down the “you are now being judged” cap can be hard. In this beloved sport, we don’t wear our hearts on our sleeves — we tack up our hearts and ride them. Suffice to say, the emotional and mental investment in horses is tremendous, and much like any investment, at times it returns and other times it doesn’t.

Fear is unique to each of us. It may come in the form of a rearing horse to one, a refusal on cross country to another, or simply mounting up after a bad accident for another. And for some, it may be a fear deeper inside that doesn’t want to play with words and be named. No fear is better or worse, and each unkind. But what do they all have in common? They love it when you don’t fight. Fear loves to survey its domain, gain ground, and keep you in the box you’ve made for yourself.

You don’t have to throw yourself at your fear to conquer it, but maybe start looking it in the eye. Give it a name, size it up, form a plan. But don’t let it stop you from being you. I’ve never been scared of a horse or jump. I may have been apprehensive at various times, but horses tend to be the part of my life where I am the bravest. And in the same breath it is where I am weakest. Horses tend to be how I define myself, how I schedule my day, how I budget my money. It’s as if there is a 15th system in my body, the Equinery System, and unfortunately, it tends to be more dominant and demanding. It rules my head and heart.

But what scares me? This. Putting myself out there, opening up, letting the world into my head and heart. Growing up, I was the weird kid; sure I had friends, but I was the kid that would canter not run, that would trot not skip. I jumped the lines on the side walk, and counted my strides even when just walking. Confession: I still measure and adjust my stride walking between pavement cracks. But I didn’t care for the things most kids did. I didn’t care about clothes — apparently mine didn’t fit right. I didn’t care about hair or makeup, which just gets sweaty and messy under a helmet. I lived every day to go to the barn. I lived for any extra ride I could get or an extra horse to groom. Even tack to clean.

All of it has always been stuck on the inside for me. One of my earliest coaches told my mom that she thought I was lazy. That I would only move out of the way of a train just enough to not get run over. She didn’t know how much I enjoyed riding. Luckily, the comment turned out to be inaccurate, or at the very least I outgrew whatever this person thought they saw in me. I later told the old observation to a lesson kid who didn’t believe me. She only ever saw me working, never lollygagging.  I never saw myself the way my former coach did, but it was just the beginning of learning the long life lesson that what you feel on the inside isn’t always reflected on the outside.

I’ve always been one to shrink from the light because I felt unworthy of attention, never a showoff, never good enough, never special. Little did I know it was never about being ‘good enough’ in others’ eyes, it was really about being just ‘enough’ in my own. Being the weird horse kid, I did learn that it is OK to be who you are, but it took me much longer to learn to love myself and be my own cheerleader. In fact, I’m still a work in progress. However, I’m pretty certain this mental struggle is one we all share. It is okay to be proud of your achievements, to acknowledge you worked hard. You don’t have to play small to make others feel better or dampen your accomplishments. It is okay to be happy for yourself, and to allow yourself to be happy.

I both fear success and fear failure, though I feel pretty well acquainted with the latter. But when we let fear control us, we become a slave to it. Each time we find a way to bypass it, avoid meeting it head on, we delay the confrontation. There may be wisdom in finding an ideal moment to tackle the challenge, but we do ourselves a great disservice to stall the fight. I always thought that if I kept my manners nice, my credit good, my ducks in a row, that it would somehow be enough. However, I have since learned, on my journey any way, that the exact thing you are afraid of will show up down the road, no matter how many twists and turns you may try. Avoidance is not a solution.

How do I deal with my fear? Just like my riding, I pick the fear apart. What am I afraid of? Why? What can I do about it? I’m afraid of people, so I tell myself, people are just like me, and I am just like them. That is a place to start. This fear may be silly to many, people who make friends easily, who never met a stranger. But I am not one of those people; I’ve come to accept that fact. I am not a people person, I am a horse person. Not that someone can’t be both, but I clearly have a preference. I talk and listen to horses. That is another step. Let this be the way I connect with others. Isn’t that just what I am doing now?

Also, I’ve learn to reframe. I traded the “I’ll never be good enough” to “there is always more to learn.” I used to think I might somehow magically get worse as I got older, not better. That while I might acquire more knowledge, I would lose feel and physical ability. But, to put it simply, my brain lies to me. Your brain lies too I bet. Sometimes it’s a good lie, like I only have another minute on the treadmill when I can clearly see it’s three. But sometimes it’s a bad lie, and your brain turns mean. Restructuring a thought can help put your brain to work for you. It has for me.

While fear exists to protect us, it can also hold us back. I’m trying to view it as a challenge, a way to grow. Nothing great ever came from being comfortable the clichés tell me. I’ve had to face several of my biggest fears recently and over the years, and while I won’t lie and say it’s been easy, I am stronger for it. I feel like I can take on challenges that once seemed out of my grasp. I’m a different person having gone through the tempestuous nature of personal struggle.

The fight is hard, the fight is scary, but the fight is worth it.

Go Eventing!

8 Instructors You May or May Not Have Met

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

Any of these sound familiar?

The Screamer

The screamer is a very exuberant teacher who tends to only see your riding in extremes. You can hear her from across the venue, and you never wonder where you stand with her. She lets you know. A lesson may sounds something like this:

Trainer: OKAY! Time to go to work, no time for nonsense! Trot Rising!
Student: [starts trotting]
Trainer: WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT? MOVE FORWARD!
T: I DIDN’T SAY RUN FORWARD, GET POKEY OFF THE FOREHAND!
T: STOP PULLING ON HIS FACE!
T: SIT UP! STOP LEANING!
T: WHAT ARE YOU DOING? SHOULDERS DOWN AND BACK, CHIN UP!
T: TURN LEFT! NO YOUR OTHER LEFT!
T: PET HIM, HE SAVED YOUR REAR!
T: SOFTEN DON’T DROP HIM!
T: YES! JUST LIKE THAT!! WAS THAT SO HARD?
T: AGAIN!! BUT BETTER!
S: <rides butt off>
T: GOOD!! But relax, why are you so tense?

The Saint

The Saint is often the instructor who is teaching the bump lessons, the up-downs. She loves children, she loves horses, and she is worth her weight in gold. She and the most reliable lesson horse communicate telepathically to take care of yet challenge the kids. She may also just be the one who you’ve never seen mad and never seen her less than perfect.

Trainer: up, down, up, down, up, down.
Student: Wait was I on up or down? [looks down]
Trainer: Do you feel a difference in your diagonals?
Student: No.
<Trainer explains again>
S: Oh! Ok! I remember.
T: Great, let’s see you go out there and win the Trot Grand Prix!
S: <walks off> updownupdown
T: You’re not posting. Up, down, up, down.
S: Sorry! I get bouncing and forget.
T: Eddie is steady, focus on what you’re doing. Like a metronome, 1, 2, 1, 2.
S: Right.
T: Up, down, up, down, up, down……

The Therapist

Being a horse trainer is like being a psychiatrist but without the pay and you always write the same Rx ride minimum 1x a day as needed for pain. The obvious comparison comes in that horses make for great therapy, but the real truth comes in the questions.  You’re in trouble when the instructor starts answering her own questions. Questions are like that of lawyers and pop quizzes. Your trainer knows the answer before asked, and the question is likely a trap. Be very careful how you jump into the trap.

Trainer: You went off course.
Student: I forgot.
Trainer: Why? How? Did you not look at it?
Student: No! I mean yes! I did review it.
T: <stony punishing silence>
S: Well, I got nervous. And then we chipped. Then I was like, whoah, and he was like, no, and then we were like, woe.
T: Why did that chip happen?
S: He got fast. Then he got slow … And then a wild jump appeared out of nowhere!
T: Why did he get fast?
S: [guiltily]  Pullingonhisface.
T: What?
S: I was pulling on his face.
T: Too much?
S: Hand.
T: Not enough?
S: Leg.
T: Because leg is?
S: Life … But I got the lead change!
T: What did you do to get it?
S: Eh …
T: Were you balanced or was it a swap?
T: Yeah. You swapped. The hippo ballerina in the next pasture was more balanced.

The Silent Monk

Questions may help provoke thought and insight, but silence is deadly weapon. The Monk uses it as such. Do not try to best her at her own game.

S: Oo, I’m not sure I’m ready for that.
T: ok, why not?
S: It looks scary.
T: So, how do you ride brave?
S: Sit up, look up, leg. No fetal position.
T: See? You got this.
S: That angle though, we’re just going to blow past the turn, then get in there all odd-like [mimics disco
octopus in the saddle]
T: So don’t blow past the turn.
S: We always miss it.
T: So don’t.
S: He blows out his right shoulder though.
T: <Profound silence>
S: <tries significant silence>
T: <eyebrows raise>
S: <sheepish shrug>
T: <doubles down on the mare glare and settles in>
S: and the answer is not to yank my left hand but to use my right leg.
T: <still waiting>
S: Right-o! Off we go….

The MacGyver

The MacGyver is the fixer-of-everything, can fashion a pair of reins out of a hoof pick and a polo. Or bailing twine — she is the master of twine and has not found something it can’t fix.

Student: Sorry I’m late, I couldn’t find my boots so had to dig my half chaps out of my trunk, which was buried in my garage.
Trainer: You can use polos to help protect your legs too.
S: Oh, that would have been much easier. Next time.
S: Also, I broke my spur straps. I couldn’t find my other pair.
T: I’ll hold him, go get my bailing twine.
***
T: This will do for now. Where is your whip?
S: I left it at the show, Mary is picking it up for me tomorrow.
T: Carry this. <Picks up perfect whip shaped slim stick from the ground>
S: <Laughs> OK. <Trots off>
S: <Bouncy Trot stops awkwardly>
S: <Trots back>
T:  What now?
S:  My sports bra gave out.
T:  Get the duct tape and zip ties.

The Gadgeteer

While The Macgyver may need to come up with solutions on the fly, The Gadgeteer already has an App for that. Or some fancy doo-hickey. She likes the leading edge of science, or any leading edge.

Student: Ugh! I can’t get Prince Fluffernutter on the bit.
Trainer: Hmm … what bit are you using?
S: Just a plain loose ring snaffle.
T: It may be time to get his teeth done. But then again, let’s try the Pelham for just a bit of leverage.
S: I don’t think he likes the bit, he keeps going above it.
T: Let’s try the neck stretcher, get him to stretch out some.
T: He’s stretching but is really wobbly and crooked. He goes straighter and more balanced with the draw reins.
T: Tomorrow, we’ll lunge him in the rig and he can do some hills on the horse gym. But make sure that
you get that new bit we talked about and the exercise bands.
S: OK great! Remember to email me his equisense stats. Chiro and acupuncture appointments next week! Still trying to get ahold of color therapist.

The Professor

The Professor likes to talk, or maybe she’s just so full of information she can’t stop talking. Either way, be prepared to listen and “OK” in the right places.

Trainer: Do you remember what we worked last week?
Student: I think so. I practiced half-halts all weekend.
T: OK, great, but make sure not to drill it. That can sour them on it just as easily.
S:I don’t think I did. I got what I was looking for, rewarded, and moved on.
T: Great! Half halts are important because they balance your horse. <Launches into lecture on how half
halts won the Civil War>
S: uh-huh

The Diagnostician

There is a logical reason why what you want to happen isn’t happening, and The Doctor is in. You may not like the diagnoses, but she’s usually spot on.

Student: He’s ignoring my leg.
Trainer: Let’s see. Go trot.
S: He kicked out!!
T: His back hurts. That saddle is not helping you out, it puts you in the wrong position, and it is too small for both of you. See, it is tight here, short here, and rubbed off the hair here.
S: My last trainer said it fit. And to use this pad to help.
T: Have you felt him use his back since you’ve been using this saddle? Does it feel comfortable, does he feel like he comfortable?
S: Well … No …
T: You need something that fits him and fits you. I’m not saying you need to go out and buy a brand new custom saddle, bridle, and boots. But we can find you something that is a better fit so you both can do your jobs.
S: That would be nice.
T: We know my saddle works, we will use that temporarily.

Have any other “types” to add?

Horse Math: The Case for the Minimum

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

At home, one cannot simply have one horse. All horse people know this. Just like horses are mysteriously ingrained in our DNA, so is the longing for more horses. We crave more, nay, we need more horses for a reason. It is documented fact that one horse is just impossible. In fact, Horse Math© clearly dictates you need at least 4. FOUR?!? Your spouse indignantly responds. Yes, 4. AT LEAST. Let me explain.

One horse in a pasture is just summoning trouble. Horses are herd animals and are meant to be in a group, they need another horse to help them feel secure. One horse in a pasture can hurt himself in any number of ways. Jumping out and colic readily come to mind. The vet bill is the pièce de résistance in this argument. A lone horse is sad horse. (Or a jerk, but that isn’t the point.) A lonely, sad, stressed horse is going to rack up a vet bill that will put said vet’s Yorkie through college. Twice. Long story, and long vet bill, made short: horses are not meant to be all by their onesie.

Even a buddy in the next field is something. Everyone needs friends. Donkeys, mules, and goats are all excellent companions. However, sometimes one really just wants a friend who understands. You know, another horse. It just isn’t quite the same explaining to the donkey how you got in deep at the last table and galloped home clear. The goat just wants to eat French pastries, and the chickens just want to talk Nietzsche. Pretentious…

So you get another horse. Two is better than one! Onesie has a friend, he is forming a herd. Look how we don’t need the vet to come oil him every month. Aren’t they so cute together? They go everywhere together, drink together, roll together, ignore your attempts to catch them together. Oh, how they sing to each other while you are tacking up, that is … lovely. Two is so much better—it makes sense. All is right in the world. You could even take go on a trail ride with someone! You have a built-in extra, an auxiliary horse as it were. But wait! What happens when you travel out to a show or lesson, you are leaving Twoey all alone. See above about one horse.

So you get a third horse, so no one is ever left home alone. Phew, disaster averted. Except … you know you are going to school cross country and you’re taking Twoey for your friend since you have an extra horse, or taking the husband horse out for a trail. You have three horses, you will inevitably be called upon at some point by a horseless friend. Besides, you don’t have a one horse trailer, you have a 2h. Do the math. That leaves Trey all alone. See above about one horse.

Finally, you have four horses. No one is ever alone at home, on the road, in the house, wherever! No one is ever alone again. If one horse goes out, there are at least 2 at home, if 2 go out, there are still two at home. It is all the horse logic in the world. You CANNOT have one horse. It is a law against horse nature. You cannot have one horse, so you need 4. Get it?

See. Not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 horses is the minimum needed to have one horse. I know what you’re thinking, I can get away with 3 horses. Perhaps you even think you’ll just get a donkey. Donkey doesn’t care if she’s left alone. But, c’mon, how silly is that? The donkey is your security guard, she’ll keep the coyotes away, but you really need another horse for companionship. Or 3. It makes all the sense in the world when you look at from Horse Logic standpoint. And depending how highly skilled you are in Horse Logic, the need for a 4 horse gooseneck will be your next discussion with your checkbook.

The Benefits of Being Horse Poor

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

Horse Poor is the state of being penniless due to having, loving, riding, looking at horses. Perhaps one would take vacations or have cars made from the current decade if one were to not have horses. But then again, what one would really do with all that extra time and money? Sounds boring.

However, believe it or not, there are some advantages to the Horse Poor Lifestyle. Besides teaching kids about the value of hard work, blah blah blah, and reminding adults just how sore their bodies can be, lessons can be learned in the art of creativity, grit, and sacrifice. 

Creativity

One of the benefits to being Horse Poor is making something from nothing. No, I’m not talking about starting and making your horse yourself. I’m not even talking about how you sell Rodan & Fields in your sidegig. Perhaps Macgyvering is an antiquated term, but raise your hand if you have:

  •  Duct taped your boots together to make it into the ring or a lesson
  • Used bailing twine to fix a fence or gate
  • Know that if lightning struck your frankensteinian bridle, it just might come to life
  • Zip tied a blanket, halter, or bra strap
  • Crazy glued your soles back to your boots
  • Learned to sew and mend just to save your favorite breeches
  • Used a saddle pad as a make shift sling or emergency padding

To become certified in Horse Poor Creativity™, you really need to stretch the limits of your imagination to accomplish a task as affordably and effectively as possible. The non-horseperson equivalent is most likely rewashing the papertowels and plastic baggies for future use. Except, in the Horse Poor horseworld, instead of being ridiculed, you are lauded for your ingenuity. 

Grit

Another plus to being Horse Poor: Want it? Work for it. Such a luxury to have horses, but such hustle to make it happen. The grit horsemen have is undeniable and unparalleled. Broke your foot? Well, the hospital can wait until everyone is fed, turned out, and all the chores are done. Bone protruding? Reference above, duct tape and zip ties are your constant friends. 

The grit comes because our sport is an expensive one. Many outsiders think we have money because we have horses, but the insiders know how laughable the misconception is. We know exactly what the next show, clinic, lesson costs in Ramen. We work extra jobs to generate extra income and to pay off vet bills. We know how far we can push ourselves and stretch our dollars. Being Horse Poor asks you if you really want it. If you didn’t, why would you put yourself through all the drudgery? 

Having grit and hustle becomes an asset in this crazy sport. Sure, being able to put your bills on autopay and go crazy at the tack store (ahem or Finger Lakes Finest) would really feel good. Working incredibly, ridiculously, absurdly, needlessly hard at something to eventually earn a modicum of success in the nebulous future? Priceless. If ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ then nothing bought feels as good as something earned. We aren’t talking 25¢ satin here. It may be working extra hours at the store to get that lesson or nailing the lead change precisely upon turning in your homework to your instructor. Sure, there is a way to buy what you want, but when you earn it you value it more.

Sacrifice

Another benefit to being Horse Poor is it makes you prioritize. We go without so our horses, or kids, don’t have to. You know you’re broke when you feed the dogs and not yourself. Or that you wear the same pair of Target flats nearly every day all year until you’re basically walking barefoot, but Angel Muffin gets new kicks every four weeks, like clockwork. Sacrifice is unique in every situation. Everyone has a line, and as if psychic, your horse unwittingly knows how to push you to said line. 

Like Grit, Sacrifice takes deliberate and intentional toiling away. However, where they differ seems to be that grit earns the reward. Grit is not giving in and not giving up, sacrifice comes from letting go.  Sacrifice supports grit due to Opportunity Cost; every choice means letting the other option go. Sacrifice is knowing full well what you are kissing goodbye. Goodbye, retirement! Goodbye, Caribbean honeymoon! Goodbye, sanity! Hello, horses. 

Ultimately, Horse Poor is nothing to be ashamed of, rather it is a badge of honor. Maybe the world sees some silly choices, like who really needs 10 bridles, 30 saddle pads, 25 pairs of breeches, countless assorted polos, four helmets, and every bit every made for one horse? No, that’s just aposematism—a warning for those that can’t handle the equestrogen. Part of the world can’t handle us, we are strong, we are inventive, we grind, we carefully consider and select. We are intimidating and a force to be reckoned with should we so chose. Horse Poor can be your shame, or it can be your strength.

On Being from a Horse Crazy Family

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

I come from a Horse Crazy family. Three out of six of us are afflicted, two out of the remaining three tried ‘the horse thing’ only to quickly discard it, and we don’t know what is wrong with the final one … she became a lawyer. My mother is first generation horse crazy. She once told me that when she was a little girl, she dreamed about marrying a farmer just so she could be near a horse. My oldest sister simultaneously helps me with my dressage whilst firmly keeping me in my youngest sibling caste. She informs me that I am only a DPiT (Dressage Princess in Training) as my brown jump leathers do not match my black dressage saddle, and my reins still have my martingale stops on them. Even my husband is Horse Crazy. I always knew if I were to get married, he’d have to be as all in as me. I knew he was a good guy with how animals treat him. You can always trust animals about people, they are the best judges of character. Suffice to say, everyone thinks it sounds so wonderful to have a horsey family. But let me educate you.

First, let’s talk about ‘Expectations.’ Don’t get me wrong, my family is very supportive. But we also come from good peasant stock where you are expected to carry your weight, do your job, and not complain. Or, at least, wait to complain until the wine is uncorked. On the farm, there is always a job that needs to be done, an animal that needs to be feed, an item that should be cleaned. And by god you will hear about it if you didn’t do it, or do it right. This strong work ethic translates to riding pretty easily: sit up, ride right, use your brain. Ride as exactly capable as you are able. No excuses. Learn more, do better. I say my sister refers to me only as a DPiT, she heckles from a place of love. Or so I tell myself. If she didn’t care, she wouldn’t bother to correct me. Marrying this with my former military spouse makes for an interesting personal accountability. Work hard, two is one one is none, slow is fast and fast is slow.

Next, imagine the boarder a few stalls down. You know, the one who knows everything, has been to the moon twice, and loves telling you about it? The one who has an opinion on every trainer, discipline, brand, and breed. Take that and multiply by 10, and that is living with ONE horsey family member. Each has their experience, knowledge, ideas, etc. While mostly valuable, can be at times … unrequested. But, again, it comes from a place of love and caring. Remember that. Remember that when said family member is telling you again how if you only would do what is suggested, your problems would poof away. You want to up the ante — make them all trainers. Yes, family loves to tell you exactly what you are doing wrong and what you should be doing. Opinions flying around like barn flies. That is family’s purpose right?

No, the real reason to have family is to hold your beer when you are about to do something stupid. Or to make sure to get it on camera. Or at very least, have the phone handy to call the appropriate emergency aid. It doesn’t matter whose idea it was … at least Angel Muffin will be bequeathed to someone who will keep her in her accustomed finery and lavish lifestyle.

But then there is that barn family you choose. The ones that come and cheer you on even in the rain, celebrate with every success, and hold your horse while you run to the loo. The ones who loan you their lucky jumping boots, or teach you how they do their hair in their helmet. The barnrats that remind you of yourself when you were young, and love to hear about all your silly horse adventures at their age, and the adults that smile because they look at their own horses with the same look of love that you cast upon your own. The friends online that like every word your write and every picture you share of your beloved herd, four-legged or two-. You have never talked in person, but you share the same highs and lows, struggles and breakthroughs. Family may disagree or fight, but true family finds its way back to each other and reconnects. A community that is pulled together by one single thread that is so strong and bright it shines light on the rest of our similarities.

And every member of that family is with you in your darkest and saddest moments when you need them. They cry with you in person, through text, online, when you have to send someone across the rainbow bridge. When you find yourself in the hospital after a fall. Or at the vet in the middle of the night. Every heart pangs with you, because that is what family is: a heartbeat. When one hurts, all feel it. It doesn’t matter if you share blood, sweat, tears, or beers together, family is family in one way or another.

12 Days of Ponymas

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year? Say they who have no horses. Or night check. But what time of year is it? Time to dress up the dogs and horses in ridiculous outfits!

It is also the time for colic, clipping, layers, and a sense of humor. Well, a sense of humor is always of use, but something about the oncoming winter begs some laughter. It is the key to survival. Passion may drive us—sure, drive us mad. Madness to chase our dreams, or at least feed them out in the cold. But the only way out is through to spring. I am doing my best not to let this turn into the ‘winter of my discontent,’ so that humor is vastly needed.

This summer, I had the opportunity to clinic with Mary D’Arcy O’Connell and was blown away by her sheer awesomeness. I worked hard all fall to blow her brilliant Irish mind with my stunning new dressage prowess and keen jumpiness for the next clinic. I mean, I doubled down on my dressage and became padawan to my DQ sister (sithter?). I ran miles at the gym, whilst people glared at my sweaty panting stomp on the treadmill.

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

Sadly, life dropped a heavy NOPE on that plan. I guess that just means I need to be ready for the next opportunity in the spring. That just leaves that dark, cold, wet three months to get through.

Meanwhile, that dark, cold, wet time is making sure every minute is accounted for like a cruel cruise director. My personal circadian rhythm is ready for bed at dark thirty, which unfortunately is only about 6 p.m. I haven’t even had a chance to pick out hooves at that point! Feed, drive, work, drive, feed >ride< sleep. Occasionally that ride gets squeezed in there! However, the best laid plans of barnmice and horsemen often go awry. Ride time often gets sacrificed for the fun (she said sarcastically) other parts of horse ownership.

Let me explain in song:

On the Twelfth Night of Ponymas, my [disgruntled] herd of horses gave to me:
12 Buckers Bucking
11 Ponies Biting
10 Rugs a-ripping
9 Thrown Shoes
8 Mares A-glaring
7 Legs A-laming
6 Picky Eaters
5 Days of Colic
4 Jugs of Wine
3 Outstanding Bills
2 Fighting Cats
1 Mild Episode of Choke

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

I wish I were exaggerating … I left out the choke relapse, the muck wheelbarrow replacement, the multiple unrelated biped surgeries, selling my truck, repeatedly pulling stuck horses out of the fence line, the redneck crossfit hay bale jostle, and the water pipe replacement. I could go on. And on. Really. Enjoy having your own farm without the luxury of staff to do your bidding or the time to ride!

I’m not as bitter as I sound, I promise. Just tired. But, I’m grateful for all I have and know I’m lucky in the end. Lucky to be able to ride. Lucky to have my horses, chipped feet, glaring, cranky, quirky and all. Lucky and grateful, I’m able to laugh at the shenanigans of it all. It’s the most laughable time of the year. So, All I want for Christmas is more laughter.

A Few Thoughts on Overthinking

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

I have an undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts. That means I overthink and overanalyze … everything. Sometimes, this can be a bad thing, such as inflating anxiety, but other times it can be a boon. I record a majority of my rides so I can go back and see if what I was feeling matched what I thought I was producing. I am hyper-self-critical but it is an acute personality quirk that I am able to spin into use. Less useful quirks include an aversion to cilantro, revolted by most pink things, and inability to style my hair no matter how much YouTube I watch. In other words, I have one-track mind and there’s a pony running it.

But this ability to chew myself up and spit on the bones lets me know what I need to work on going forward. I don’t have a standing weekly lesson or a monthly show opportunity. I have me and my hamster-on-a-wheel brain. And, of course, family and friends whom I bombard with cute helicopter-mom shots of my horses. I read books, forums, blogs, and more to open my mind up to different ideas, entertain an idea without accepting it as Aristotle suggests. But in the end, I have to separate the chaff.

My self-critique isn’t mean, or needlessly cruel, rather precise and contemplative, leaning more to analysis on process and theory. To truly better myself, I remain unemotional. It isn’t, ‘EGADS! My butt looks big in those breeches!’ but more ‘hmmm, I hollowed out my lower back, better get back to the gym and work on that core,’ or ‘leaning!,’  or ‘hands are too high/low … Look what that did to the contact!’ I then tend to think about why I might have done this egregious action, where a weakness might be in my understanding, timing, or feel, and what can I do going forward.

It is very easy to take a straightforward comment, such as ‘your hands are too high’ and just shove them down. To correct in haste and miss the reason. When I ride, I pay attention to more than the superficial; I like to think about the why. I try to teach this as well. Bill Steinkraus wrote about how he used to spend his long drives thinking about what he was going to work on for the upcoming ride, and then the drive home reviewing what had happened. This helped create what he calls “rational riding.” To begin, it is easier to do something if you know what, why, and how you are trying to do something. Be clear, be simple, be concise. What are your trying to do? Why are you trying to do it? How are you doing it and how is it to accomplish what you are trying to do? Breaking riding into these questions or steps can help clarify purpose and effect. Eating that elephant is easier in bites.

As a kid, I never would have called myself a ‘thinking rider.’ In fact, one long-time friend reminded me, whilst listening to her daughter and I talking in the back seat, I asked my friend, ‘what do you think about on course?’ My friend answered with the obvious answer, ‘the course.’ Eccentric me replied with what I thought about: random stuff, such as clouds, or colors, or animals. I was odd … I am odd. But I didn’t think about my riding back when I was little because I was told what to do. I would do it. I’ve since overanalyzed realized that it was because I filtered my instruction through my feel. I wouldn’t say I was taught or encouraged to be a rider based off of feel either, but I was naturally analytical enough to catch what was rewarded contrasted to what was corrected. I would take a ‘feel snapshot’ and memorize it. My heel down and the stirrup on the ball of my foot just so. My elbows bent at just this angle. I listened to other people’s corrections. I’d watch my friends’ lessons. I still absorb whatever wherever and whenever I can.

When I went to the Yorkshire Riding Centre, I learned to not just looking like I was doing the correct thing, but to really think about the effectiveness of what I did. It doesn’t matter if your heels are down if they are not serving the purpose of stabilizing you. It doesn’t matter if your leg is in the right place if you’re not using it. It is not enough to look the part, but one must do the part of a rider. Riding is an active verb. This change of culture broke me out of my memorized feel and made me begin to question more, what, why, when, how, where, why not, what not, when not, etc. I might not have started with a thinking ride, but I have learned to embrace it. Especially on course.

Besides self-critique, another way my brain chews on riding theory is by teaching. When I have to explain to someone how to do something or why, it makes me think more when I’m riding and pay attention to why I might have done something, whether instinctually or thoughtfully. It is not enough for me to declare “Tradition!” ala Fiddler on the Roof, and I don’t think it is enough for those whom I teach. Tradition has a why that must be remembered because sometimes that why gets lost in the midst of the ‘traditionaling.’ Suffice to say, I try to focus on the substance of an issue, not just the exterior.

Whether you struggle to get your brain into gear when you’re riding or you wish you could slow it down, there’s hope. I have run the gamut. My advice is this: life is hard enough, be kind to yourself. Being harsh or mean creates a false sense urgency to improve. If you want to improve, then look at the pieces individually and look how they work together. Ask why. Try some analysis, try to talk it out, try to think about it differently. The improvement is hard enough, there is no need to add excess external difficulties to it. Even if you’re competitive, which I eventually learned I am, or simply in it for the love, fun, and pursuit of knowledge, being methodical will always trump hurried. After all, we’ve all heard it: ‘hard work beats talent when talent won’t work hard.’

Farm Winter Olympics: Let the Games Begin

Video: “Breaking of the Ice” or, “54 Seconds of Your Life You’ll Never Get Back.”  

Disclaimer: I did not grow up on a farm. My mother bought one after her divorce and years of boarding horses.

In my family, every winter on the farm, we have what we call the Winter Olympics. Unlike the namesake, this event occurs every year without fail. Sometimes the events change, but none are for the faint of heart or shallow in humor. In fact, horses in general are not recommend for the weak. Especially ponies … they smell weakness.

In the early days, the Hot Water Run incorporated getting warm water to the barn for the horses. Yes, it started hot and was tepid by arrival. The gold medal was always awarded to the competitor most drenched. Silver would likely have been the one who slipped in the snow or mud on the long trudge from the house to the barn. Water heaters are for quitters, coach used to say. This event was phased out when electric hot water buckets made the discipline obsolete.

Another fan favorite includes the Breaking of the Ice in the pasture troughs. Broken tools and limbs is the secret to securing the highest honor here. This phase varies year to year as the ice may be thicker than a corgi, or as thin as a last nerve. Every few years this segment of competition may be discarded due in part to mild winter conditions. But don’t worry, usually a frozen hose will keep you occupied in the meantime at some point throughout the season. Rest assured, at some point something will not work as it is designed to, whether frozen or not.

Of course summery green pastures don’t last all year round, but Haying does. Round bales are like the coffee klatch or water cooler. Sometimes the bales aren’t immediately available and flakes must be thrown. A little knowledge in Field Feng Shui will help the hay not get as wasted. Hay makes for excellent Pas de deux-doo footing. Equestrian math means four horses need at least five piles, but better make it 15 to be sure. Don’t expect “Thank You” or even acknowledgement. That nicker wasn’t for you.

For the really cold meals, a hot bran mash helps keep the pipes serviceable. Much like the ol’ Hot Water Run, you can expect to wear more than you feed. This event is for the softie—the one who likes to sneak the barn dog the dinner scraps. Happy warm munching on a cold dark night will stir the heart of even the coldest harden barnminion. In the beginning, we had the same number of horses as stalls. Gradually the number grew. On the cold, cold nights, even the aisle became one large stall. More horses=more poop. The muck bucket still needs to go out into the dark, cold, wet night for the Dumping. Headlamps are recommended.

The most grueling, riskiest venture of the season competition comes in the Rugging and Unrugging event. Blankets are what stalled horses wear. Rugs are what jousting war dragons that fly around the pasture shed, I mean, occasionally wear. Occasionally. When they deem it acceptable. But don’t worry, they are perfectly capable of removing said rugs themselves if needed desired. There are no winners in this event. Only survivors, with remaining limbs.

Of course, the Feeding of the Hounds can’t be forgotten. This isn’t an Olympic sport, merely a daily ritual, but it takes the heart of a champion day in and day out. Do you remember that scene in “A Christmas Story” wherein the Bumpus hounds run through house and storyline, demolishing all that stands in the packs way, turkey dinner included? Imagine that every day, every minute of your life and you’re a bit closer to having barn dogs.

“Oh, you have horses?” your coworkers dreamily ask. “I LOVE horses. That sounds so-o-o nice.” You smile, guessing they missed you prying the hay out of your bra 10 seconds prior, and that your dry shampoo fragrance covers the eau de farmette that’s seeped into your hair and clothes, never to be rinsed out again. You woke up hours before in the dark, feeding all the hungry mouths, ranging from cats to dogs to horses and unwittingly to the damn possum family lurking in the woods. They don’t make a coffee that comes in barn strength. There is no makeup that covers the bags under your eyes. You drive at least an extra 45 minutes more into work than every other person. But you smile-grimace and exhaustedly nod. Yup, horses are worth it.

Do You Have A Moment To Talk About Our Blessed Lady Dressage?

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

“Hallelujah, brother, I am here to comfort the sinner and return the stray lamb to fold!”

As fall blows away, and winter peeks around the bend, the options for riding time dwindles for many of us. My day job, including commute, keeps me from riding when the sun is … anywhere. In fact, I’m not sure I know what the sun looks like, as my closet office has no windows.

The day job makes the horses possible, however. Not just for fun, not just because I love them, which I do wholeheartedly, but because I have goals and dreams. Let me be clear, I have very nagging, fixed, unshakeable goals. Not unlike a very annoying little angel or devil camped out on my shoulder, they don’t like to be ignored or put off and always have my ear and brain. I’m not driven by my goals, I am endlessly pulled by them.

But, being pulled by a goal is far more dedication that being driven by one. It is as mentally exhausting as it sounds. It is a way of life, not a choice. But when I do have to choose? Pulled by a goal means I choose my horse over all else: Her mani/pedi over mine, her nutrition over mine, her wardrobe over mine … you get the idea. (Who am I kidding, I’m a farm girl, I’ve never had a pedicure.) But, pulled by a goal also means doing what you don’t want to so in the future you can do what you want. Too hot? Too cold? Too windy? Well, horses don’t school themselves, now do they?

But here’s the rub. Much like the night, a mare is dark and full of terrors. With the cold, you can bundle up, but a light source is needed to allow the goaltug to continue. Fortunately, I do have one (1) flood light above the barn to use. It glares cock-eyed out into the pasture, casting long shadows on the edges, and peers half-heartedly into the overgrown arena and round pen. But light is light, and even walking can be productive work. Really, I have no excuse. I have lived in colder and wetter. I have all I need to get it done. So, I psyched myself up on the hour drive home. Smile, it’s an adventure!

Now, my lady is very much a quirky sort. I acquired her in a very conscientious rehoming wherein she was not the fit for where she was, and it was not the fit for her. She is bold and opinionated, but quirky is the word that best describes her. She can pass an object 239 times without incident, but that 240th  time, all bets are off. Or perhaps the 513rd time, or 1,867th . She is solid until she’s not. Her work ethic fluctuates like that, like a weakness in her focus. In the past, she has deemed a scary no-go corner in nearly every arena, especially in the night lighting. With some work, she will get over it, but tends to always keep her eye on the opportunity to create drama. Mares love drama … She has what is best described in the dog context as a ‘scoot’, wherein the butt tucks under the body, pushing the front end up, out, and sideways, rather like an imploding mid-launch rocket. Sometimes noises get her attention, sometimes not. All this suffice to say, if you do not keep her entertained, she will find a way to entertain herself. Clever girl.

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

Being back at my family’s farm, it was the first time to face the lighting issue again. But then again, as newly dedicated disciples of dressage, we have more important details to worry about. After our routine warm-up of stretching and lateral work at the walk, I figured, WTH. I’ve had a nice long life. Let’s see what happens when I trot. I love a good risk. Deep breath, proper posture and contact, nudge the mare forward and … Success! We were forward, on the aids, with a good connection. She trotted through shadows, into the dark, through the dark, out of the dark, around pasture mates at the fresh hay bale casting long shadows. She listened, she didn’t look; she was too busy. She was dressage-ing. She wasn’t afraid of the night, she owned it.

Dressage has helped our contact and connection. We are able to feel each other, make decisions together, and make corrections. She developed a topline that only comes from proper work. Her new focus allows us to ride into the dark without fear of scoots. Of course our jumping has improved due to the new muscling, but it has also improved as we communicate so clearly in between the sticks. Jumping just happens between the flatwork after all. Dressage has changed my free mare into a freed mare. Her gaits are bigger and more expressive, her balance is better. She likes dressage. Not as much as jumping, but I swear she knows what horsey weightlifting has done for her. For me, it has been similar. It made me go back to the gym to be the best rider I can for my horses. Dressage makes me think about every way I move, or don’t move on my horse. What can I improve? Where should the hooves fall? It has fully brought out my equestricentric Type A personality. In turn, my position, stamina, elasticity, and feel improved.

I’m a believer. A convert. My jumper heart has fully embraced dressage on my conversion to the dark side, eventing. So, forgive me if I proselytize, but I have seen the light! Dressage is beautiful and humbling. Realizing how much I don’t know about it makes me more excited to learn more. I am planning a dressage debut, contemplating medal scores, knowing that dressage is a permanent fixture in my life from here on out. The change in my mare is evidence enough for me. She is round and strong, and fearless … like Wonder Woman. The changes don’t happen overnight, but the changes make for night and day difference. But don’t take my word for it, try it. Not just for a day or a lesson, but give it time with an open mind and educated eye. I guess I should just go ahead and add that DQ behind my name. Now Testify!

Beyond Passion

Photo by Laura Harris.

Someone said to me, “It’s a numbers game. The more horses you have, the more likely you are to encounter the short straw.”

You see, we all draw the short straw at some point. Often, we fail to notice when someone else plucks that SOB, unless we are close with that person. The short stick is the lame horse on show day. The medical bill that needs to be paid instead of going to the clinic. The lesson that got canceled due to the rain when the babysitter was finally available. All the work feels wasted. The excited apprehension sours. A stone that settles in the belly. But the short straw, the fuzzy end of the lollypop, the manure pile. It sucks. And when we are looking at the big pill to swallow, it can be taxing. Intimidating. Unfair. Or, at the very least, undesired. Like a bad hand of poker, you begin to wonder when you should fold. How many bad hands is enough? How much money lost is too much? When do you cut your losses?

However. They call it “horse crazy” for a reason. It isn’t just an irrational urge to feed money to your equid in one form or another only see it make its way out the other end, with way less value. Or the self-imposed torment of returning every week to the trainer who simultaneously makes you feel like the most incompetent and most capable rider at the same lesson. Or that you fall for the newest supplement research, or latest Lemieux color sets. Or that you can name all of Beezie’s mounts ever yet are unable to recall which sportsball team the significant other roots for.

Photo by Laura Harris.

Oh no, it is an ever-fixéd mark. The reason they call us crazy is because they don’t understand. They don’t understand how another creature, without words, could understand us so well instead. How with just a look, my horse can cut through my day, through my pain, see me, and tell me everything, if only just for this moment, is OK. That when I throw my leg over, and she lets me sit on her back, in the most unnatural juxtaposition of a predator sitting on prey, we become one. We are more than partners. We are more than master and student. We are together. On bad days, we are each other’s mirrors, reflecting the same holes and issues, slightly blinded to the source. On the best days, we fill each other’s holes and turn our weaknesses into our strengths. Without words, we dance, play, love.

Horse crazy is known to be genetic, but it isn’t always the case. I’ve never seen a true case that is curable. But I am not sure why anyone would want to. Because, even though the more horses you have, the longer you live with the gift of horse crazy, the more you learn, the more you lose yourself and find yourself. Even through all that, all the short sticks, and heartbreak, and losses. You come back. That is the crazy. Not everything you do or give up, but that you come back, even if you think you never will. You can swear off the ride. You can swear off the muzzle. But it is still in your heart.

Photo by Laura Harris.

When the crazy is in your heart, it is in your head. For some it is all the time, for others it can be shelved temporarily. I even hear of some that have packed it away in the mind’s attic. But, nonetheless, it is always there. It keeps track of the time until you can leave work, how long it will take to drive to the barn with traffic, until you are back with the animal that sates this crazy, keeping it at bay. The horse isn’t the crazy, it’s just you. It’s a fever. What a lovely way to burn.