Archive for the 'horses' category

April 4th, 2011

» dreaming of better days to come

Read the rest of this entry »

March 10th, 2011

» Limbo

Over six months ago, I downloaded a much-hyped little indie xbox game called Limbo. It is beautiful and clever and a bit creepy and exactly the kind of game that I adore, and I twisted my boyfriend’s arm into trying it with me. He’s not a big video game player, so I felt pretty damn excited when he tried it, and again when he liked it well enough to continue playing. Between one thing and another we let it languish for a long, long time — but last weekend we finally finished! I don’t want to give anything away because (I know I’ve been over this a million times, but you’re going to hear it again) I loved the experience of finding it all out first-hand. It’s just an awesome game: the gameplay, the art, the story. If you liked Braid, I think you’ll like Limbo too. Same spirit of puzzley goodness.

So, other than that, and everything I’ve been going on and on about on the horse blog, I moved. It sucked, but a LOT less than it could have because I have some REALLY really really amazing friends and family, and have I mentioned that they’re amazing? Thanks again guys. The gut-wrenching process of packing, and moving, and moving, and moving, and cleaning — it’s already starting to fade to a distant, hazy memory of suffering. (I have to admit — though the night before the actual move I was seriously nauseous and convinced the world was going to end, the morning of I got this absolute rush of adrenaline and crazy, and for the beginning part of packing the truck I felt totally happy and high as a kite. That wore off eventually and by the end of the day I wanted to die, but that will surprise no one who’s ever moved.)

So now here I am in this great new place, and I’m suddenly socked with this cannonball of a realization that I somehow have to fit all of my personal belongings, which had previously been tucked away in the vast warren of closets of my old one-bedroom apartment, into this one small bedroom. In the process of packing I did send off boxes and boxes of stuff to donate — lots of books, clothes, and home decor — but I’m still left with this feeling that I have too many things and not enough space to put them in. I will be combing back through my drawers and bookshelves, and I’ve invested quite a bit in organizational stuff for my closet, but I’m fast coming up on some harder decisions.

I moved on a Saturday and I kid you not, on Monday I had people asking me if I was all unpacked. Talk about guilt. Talk about being buried suddenly under this crushing sense of failure. Maybe people are just trying to make conversation, and I’m all too aware that I’m unusually emotionally vulnerable lately, but man. That is one I didn’t see coming, the expectation that I would move on a Saturday and be unpacked by Monday. Like it’s that easy, like why don’t I just take some stuff out of boxes?

When I moved into my first apartment I thought a lot about how I wanted it. I considered the flow, I plotted stuff out on graph paper and made little furniture representations so I could look at arrangements without really having to rearrange. I dreamed and dreamed and dreamed about when I had a place I could paint, about elements of my ideal home, about one day having somewhere permanent. I couldn’t afford much but I did what I could and started taking notes for One Day. I made my bedroom a No Electronics zone: no computer, no tv. I did leave my sewing machine there, but as part of my crafting and writing desk — my little place for inspiration and creation. The rest of the bedroom was a space to breathe and decompress.

Man, I loved living there. I learned so much about myself in that apartment.

I’ve always liked to see moving as an opportunity to self-reflect, to try to move closer toward my ideal life, but this, now, is no gentle invitation. This is a demand that I stand up and reinvent myself. So I have been trying to take a good hard look at my life. I am trying to hold onto only the things that I love and that make me feel good about myself. I’m trying to rediscover the path to what and who I want to be. I’m trying to free myself to fit in this smaller space. I know it can be done. It’s just one foot in front of the other. One box at a time.

This is not where I thought I’d be at this point in my life, but it’s where I am. And that, I suppose, makes it the perfect place to start.

February 18th, 2011

» all downhill from here

Apart from some time in Missouri and England during college, I’ve lived in Minnesota my whole life. Minnesotans are stereotypically nice, polite folks who love their outdoor sports. We even find ways to do them during our long (long, long) winters to keep from going batty (though a lot of them are a bit batty themselves: ice skating, broomball, that tidy teapot sweeping one whose name now escapes me…ah, curling!). Pretty much everyone I know outside of my immediate family skis, or has at least gone skiing at some point in the past. Me? Never. Not even cross-country.

Admission: The thought of skiing kind of scared the crap out of me. I’m not super athletic or coordinated, I’m easily embarrassed, and I really hate falling down. Not that I fall down a lot, but I have a real fear of it. So, a few years ago I put skiing on my bucket list. Every so often I — it’s not exactly right to say I choose it because it’s not such a studied, conscious thing, but — every so often I find myself having decided to do something that scares me. It just feels right; it feels like I need to push that envelope a little bit. Leap out of that airplane or scuba dive or take Everett over the bathtub jump. The past three winters have started with me declaring my One Winter Goal: Go Skiing. And the past three winters I have not come anywhere close to going skiing. So this winter? I said I am not going skiing! I’m going tubing. So, of course I haven’t gone tubing or sledding at all — but yesterday? Totally went skiing.

* * *

And wow, I started writing this post on Monday, and here it is Friday. I meant to talk all about skiing, about how weird and hard it is, about lying in bed that night feeling like my feet were still sliding (similar to how I felt that time I went to Valley Fair and rode the Wild Thing a dozen times in a row, and couldn’t sleep that night because every time I closed my eyes I felt like I was falling, and so I laid there for hours worrying I’d given myself some weird permanent case of roller coaster vertigo). I wanted to talk about falling down again and again, about just lying there laughing helplessly with my legs all twisted up, about not getting it at all but trying anyway, about getting up again, and again, and again. I can’t ski, not at all; my legs were shaking after the first thirty minutes, but I kept cheerfully, doggedly trying for hours. I felt at a complete loss the entire time. I’m glad I went. I kind of want to try it again.

(By contrast, last night I could not for the life of me get a leg yield that was prompt, correctly flexed, square, and forward — I was always losing one of those things. Poe never really felt soft enough. I felt like an utter failure and left the lesson near tears. So, being cheerful about being terrible is a work in progress, I guess.)

My body has been re-living Sunday since then. I was so sore early in the week that it was waking me up in the middle of the night whenever I turned over, my muscles aching and my back popping like bubble wrap. I feel old. And good. I’m moving in about a week (ugh, the packing), and my new apartment has a pretty awesome work-out facility, plus I will have NO neighbors beneath me (Yay!). I’m really looking forward to getting back into an outside-of-riding exercise routine. Hopefully being fitter next year will help me not suck so much.

October 30th, 2010

» lately

Here I am just three weeks out from Bali, and nothing planned. Well, not quite nothing — I’ve gotten a whole battery of shots (one of them just under the wire time-wise — the Rabies vaccine has to be done in three rounds, at Day 0, Day 7, and Day 21), and bought some things that, if you squint and look sideways, may be construed as necessary for the trip. (If you squint and look the other way they may also look like a little retail therapy. If it feels good it can’t be bad, right?)

I am, out of all usual character, not remotely concerned about it. Not one bit. I just have this weird, unshakable conviction that it will all work itself out. I plan to bring some comfortable things to wear, an armload of books, and hopefully the ability to just breathe deeply. I’ve been doing a lot of holding my breath and biting my tongue lately, and those things I’d like to leave at home.

I haven’t ridden in almost two weeks. I think this is the longest I’ve gone in — three years? Is it? It feels like it. Poe and I had a fantastic end to our season. We spent the last few months doing lots of trail riding, much of it through this glorious private property: hundreds of acres of woods and fields threaded with horse trails. By the end the trees were dressed in their most brilliant yellows and reds, bright enough (I hope) that the memory will carry me through the long coming winter. Several weeks ago we foxhunted (no, we didn’t catch a fox; it’s a drag hunt, where the lines are planned and the scent laid in advance; no animals harmed in the making of this unbelievable morning, etc). I don’t really have the words for it — but imagine being on a 1200 pound animal who is bred to run; imagine letting out your reins, trusting that he’s going to keep you both safe, and careening through fall-bright woods and over cropped alfalfa fields as fast as the hounds care to run. We riders were chatting at one of the checks and someone asked me how old I am. I couldn’t remember, at all. Couldn’t even begin to bring the math to my brain, couldn’t think of anything outside of the ridiculous drunken high of galloping through close trees, over coops, down blurring fencelines. And all of this a Wednesday morning, playing hooky from work.

That Sunday a friend and I rode in the Hunter Pace: teams are sent out in pairs, to ride a hunting pace over hunt country. Whichever team comes closest to the secret optimum time (ridden beforehand by a staff member) is the winner. Last year our team was 12 seconds outside of first place — it was the very last thing I did with Everett before he went to his new home. We vowed then that we’d come back this year and win it.

And we did.

There may have been a little jumping up and down, and a very enthusiastic trophy dance in the truck on the way back to the barn. (The trophy, incidentally, is actually two trophies; the names of each year’s winners are engraved on it, so when the massive silver platter started in the 60s ran out of room, they added a big silver bowl to the mix. My shelf has never been shinier.)

I haven’t ridden since. Mr. Poe was very happy and enthusiastic about both hunt outings — along with the trail riding, hacking in the back field, dressage work, jumping — pretty much everything I did with him — but he was also starting to show some signs of stress, impatience in the cross-ties, pitching fits whose cause I couldn’t calculate. So, I decided to chuck him out in the field for a week or two at least, longer if he needs, let him decompress. I threw myself into a Halloween costume project which has blown through my entire apartment in a whirlwind of fabric bits and old unfiled papers. When I’m not sewing the insurmountable mess makes me want to climb the walls, so mostly I sew.

Except tonight. Tonight I’m exhausted, and should be sleeping — should have been sleeping hours ago — but I can’t quite bring myself to close my eyes. The days all feel like they’re spinning away too quickly. This need to sleep now, here, seems unfair when there is so much to do, so much more pressing in. I want nothing more than to go plug in the glue gun. Instead, I think a cup of tea and then to bed.

September 9th, 2010

» Expect the Unexpected

I wrote this piece for the Fall 2010 issue of Cross Country (the Central States Dressage & Eventing Association’s magazine), and thought posting it here would be much easier than writing a whole Poe update from scratch.

Riding, especially young horses, you learn to adapt, and to expect the unexpected. When it’s good, you celebrate. And when it’s bad, you pick back up and try again.

It’s fall 2009, and I suddenly find myself horse shopping again after selling my young gelding on to his dream job. I know what I want next: a nice youngish horse with a solid foundation, who will be ready to compete in the spring. As a kid I’d taken eight years of lessons without setting foot in a show ring; I’m itching to go to my first real Event, and by gosh I’m going to get a horse who’s ready too. So of course in the middle of December there I am sitting on a coming four year old, once again weaving through a drunk baby trot. But Poe is so clearly a Good Choice that square two doesn’t sound so bad any more, and I take that skinny-necked redheaded boy home – Merry Christmas to me!

By July, Poe and I are getting there with the flatwork, spending more time stretching down and less time on giraffe impersonations. We hack everywhere we can get, and do short, fun sessions over small fences. We pop over ditches, up and down banks, through water; we lope around little hunter and jumper courses at local shows. I’m careful to keep it all baby-appropriate, and Poe in turn is cheerful and optimistic about everything in life. All told we’re starting to look like we might actually be eventers – we just need more mileage.

And there, a modest six hours away, is the Catalpa Corner Charity Horse Trials, with its Starter Beginner Novice division: real cross-country jumps at two feet and lower. Perfect! I can get him used to traveling, give him a taste of a big show atmosphere, and stuff him (if necessary) around his first real cross-country course. Dressage is some circles, changes of rein – we practice and take it seriously, but we’re so far from competitive that I figure we’ll count it a success if we just do the test and stay in the ring. You can guess where this is going.

Friday afternoon we have a stellar ride – Poe is the best he’s ever been! We’re round, harmonious, floating – I want nothing more than to ride the test immediately. I make the mistake of confessing this out loud – several times. By warm-up time on Saturday my future FEI star has been replaced by a barging, rocketing giraffe. In the 95* heat my last brain cells liquefy and fall out my ears; I forget about that really important breathing thing and cling only to the thought that it will all be over soon – just follow the test and stay in the ring.

I do manage to remember my test. However, for anyone unfamiliar with BN Test B, it does NOT include a “hop sideways out of the ring at H” movement. I’m sure ours is worth at LEAST a 6: some resistance, but square knees! Then I have to explain my idiocy to a string of officials before finding the person who can okay me to ride cross-country. She doesn’t seem any more impressed with our new dressage move than the judge was, but we’re given permission to continue – so long as we retire in the event of a refusal. No pressure or anything for the green baby and the girl who’s already established she can’t steer.

When we enter the start box I’m thinking about our First Start Box Ever, and Poe is wondering if that guy with the clipboard has any cookies. We trot onto the course. Poe is bewildered by the row of hay bales up ahead and balks; I stick my leg on hard, trying to banish a horrible vision of having to retire at the first fence. Poe tries a little left, a little right, and then happily goes over. We zig-zag up to and over the next few fences, then settle into more of a rhythm. I start believing again that we can do this thing. We get a little creative at the water, squeaking through the narrow strip of sand between the flag and the water itself, but it counts and we’re clear. Poe comes off the course more confident, feeling good about his little lark through that big field; I’m tingling and proud as hell of him.

I have a lot to think about on the long drive home through cornfield after cornfield after cornfield. Mostly I try (and fail) not to dwell on the Big E, that moment when we went sideways instead of straight. When I get home I have to tell the story over and over again; I get better at telling it but feel worse every time I have to explain every gory detail to a non-horsey person. But the horsey people are a blessing: so many have their own stories of mortal embarrassment, blips in training, lessons learned.

The very next weekend there’s a schooling show just an hour and a half away. I want absolutely nothing to do with the inside of another dressage ring – which means I really need to go. I decide this time I’ll tell no one, leave the tall boots at home, show Poe under his barn name – anything to make it less of a Big Deal. It’s a full Beginner Novice; I head out half convinced the cross-country is going to look too tough, and I’ll just scratch after dressage.

The course turns out to be up to size but fair, with some great terrain questions and a very inviting water entrance. We’ll try it, I decide – if I don’t die of nerves before dressage. We warm up in a downpour, but just before my test the sky clears. I dash the water from the brim of my helmet, take a deep breath, and head for the ring. I am determined as hell and probably look like a crazy person as I negotiate my turns, staying well clear of the fence. It’s a very mediocre test, but after our halt I feel incandescent. I’m not sure what the etiquette is for whooping in the dressage ring, so I refrain (just barely).

When we trot out of the start box onto the cross-country course, Poe has no clue what’s going on – he’s gawking at the people over there in the lawnchairs, and that bush, and those flags. I point out the first jump, and he says Oh, a jump, okay. No wiggling or balking, just an easy little hop over it. After the third jump he starts looking for them, and by the sixth we’re eventers. He gambols through the course, and after the last fence I am so elated I almost blow right past the finish flags. We duck through them at the last moment, and I throw him a loud party. In my excitement I perhaps say a few things unfit for print, but I know the people waiting for their turn on course understand. Sometimes it’s just that good.