Posts tagged: the happy place

Birthday Boy

Today Poe turned 5 — happy birthday, little dude! I completely forgot to bring my camera to the barn, so only have a few bad cell pics. I took him up to graze in the trailer parking area after our ride, and he was way more interested in stuffing his face than holding still and looking glamorous.

The weather’s been kind the last few days, and the back field has dried out enough that we were able to go trot and canter (!) along the highest areas. The middle stuff is still pretty soggy, and I didn’t even venture toward the lowest points. He was really excited to be out there and, all things considered, a very good boy. He only took off on me once — not sure what prompted it, but he tucked his hiney under and blasted off. I circled him around and scolded him, then continued trotting. He broke to a canter and we had a pretty big discussion about how that’s Not Allowed — and after that he was pretty wonderful. He still gained speed quite a few times, but he listened pretty well to my reminders, and kept his head together. We did lots of trotting and cantered the length of the field three or four times, always going away from the tractor road. I didn’t feel we were quite ready to be cantering toward home yet.

I’ve still been struggling with motivation. I love being out there, and something about being in the saddle triggers this sort of amnesia. I don’t even know to appreciate it while I’m riding; everything else just *goes away* so completely that I’m not even aware it’s gone. It’s pretty amazing. But what’s left is still often frustration with myself for not being better. We’re on a bit of a flatwork plateau right now and I just can’t find it in me to push through it. So I wimp out and meander up the road. I’ve been looking a bit listlessly at the competition calendar — we just haven’t had a chance to school anything, so it’s hard to feel prepared or excited. So, I’ve been sort of taking it easy on myself, and telling myself it’s okay not to be In Training. That it’s okay for right now to let this be about trying to find some peace. That maybe it’s better to let this be the one safe, easy thing in my life. It doesn’t have to be a drive or an ambition to be a balm.

Though saying that — I have to admit I am also staying open to that feeling coming back, and a big part of me hopes it does. I would like to be able to lose myself in hard work — just not if it’s going to feel like one more chore or frustration.

Luckily I don’t think Poe cares at all. He doesn’t have any competition goals, or timelines, or heartache. He is loving his buddies and the new spring grass and the sunshine; I am striving to follow his lead.


I’ve been really lax about posting, I know. Just not a ton going on. It’s finally spring (YAY) — which means riding outside, but also a lot of mud. And rain. And mud.

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but this past winter I started giving Poe a treat every time I get him from his paddock. He can be kind of mouthy, and definitely would like to be in your pocket all the time, so I keep pretty strict about when I feed him — which for a long time was only after he was done working. But then I started thinking it would be pretty awesome if he came to meet me at the gate on really cold days. He already did sometimes, because he’s just a friendly, curious guy — but I thought I could improve on that. So I started bringing him a little something. And it has turned into an absolute blessing now that his paddock is a mud pit. Sometimes he thinks about it for a little while before trekking over, but (knock on wood) he comes to me pretty consistently. Good pony!

The back field and both outdoor arenas have mostly been too wet for riding the last couple weeks, so we’ve been doing road work. It’s tough because neither of us wants to be inside right now, but I also worry a lot about his feet and the gravel road. He took a nasty chunk out of one of his back hooves last fall, and while he’s never been off on it he does still have a hairline crack that runs all the way up to the top of the hoof, and another hairline crack in a front hoof, and he’s chipping a little up front. I know standing around in the mud all day is not helping, so mostly we walk up and down the dirt road, mixed in with some trotting and a little cantering. The walking has become boring. Still, I know the harder surface and hill work is good for him. Not so sure about the cantering (though it IS good for his mental health — he was so, so, so happy on Monday after I let him gallop up the hill).

So, I mentioned that Poe can be kind of a mouthy guy. I’ve always discouraged this; I was taught that you never ever let a horse mouth at you. But last night I was grooming him and he turned and started nuzzling at me (which he always does), and I steeled myself and let him. I have to admit it was hard at first: I kept expecting him to put his teeth on me. Not out of malice, but because our skin is a lot more delicate than horses’ and he just wouldn’t know better. But he didn’t. He just lipped at my shoulder in the most gentle, sweet way while I scratched his chest and neck. It was that kind of bonding moment that makes your inner thirteen-year-old die of happiness, and it made me a little sad that I hadn’t trusted him a lot sooner.

sustained effort

Thanks to my move, Poe got a four-day mini-vacation. I have to admit last night I was hemming and hawing about going to the barn — it was cold, I was tired, I have so so so much to do at home. But habit and the thought of the jumping clinic barreling down on me had me pulling on my breeches and boots and dragging myself out for that long grey drive. I thought, too, about a nice little post I read a couple weeks ago on Retreadeventer’s blog: The Big S.E. (where S.E. is Sustained Effort). It really hit home for me; this winter has been a bit of a long, ugly grind, and more often than I’d like to admit I’ve wanted to do nothing more than crawl under my covers and hide away until the world’s green again. I’m crazy about my horse and what we do together, and I feel like this horse thing defines a big part of who I am; any feeling of I-don’t-wanna is kind of heartbreaking. I recognize I’ve entered this phase where I don’t want to do the things that are good for me. So I’m pushing through, trying to do them anyway, trusting that they will lead me back to happy.

And last night once I had Poe inside, that magic thing happened: the rest of the world went away. I reprised last Thursday’s ride: warmed him up at the usual swingy loose-reined walk, then had him trot around on a loose rein, stretching himself out. I took a little gentle contact after a few laps, letting him come into my hand as he wanted, then followed with a bunch of canter in each direction, just lapping the arena and letting him cruise, working on my own half seat. Long walk break, working on encouraging him into a soft, bending contact, then more trot work doing the same. I focused focused focused on sitting correctly and letting the tension out of my forearms in particular (terrible habit of mine; I get very tense in the forearms), and he came into a beautiful light contact and really started to step under himself. It’s still very much a work in progress; he pops in and out of the contact regularly, and still occasionally grabs the bit and twists his head around, all ugly and gnashy-teethed, but we’re making progress. We ended with a few leg yields and some ground work — I’ve been teaching him to walk correctly next to me, to stop when I stop, and to back up when I step back. He’s a good boy and is starting to get sharper with it.

I felt great about the work I got last night, and left the barn on a real high. Now I just need to figure out how to carry that feeling back into my non-horse life.


I’m in the midst of packing to move apartments, which is just another in a long list of reasons I haven’t been riding at least 5 days a week. I’ve also, for the first time, been kind of bad about bringing my outside-of-the-barn life into the barn. It usually parks itself at the door with no effort on my part, and my hours with His Poeness are this happy, separate little bubble. Lately I’ve let all the little worries and uncertainties buzz at the back of my mind while I’m working with him, and that has to stop. Note to self.

For the second week in a row we also completely failed at doing Wednesday night jumping. I did get on him on Wednesday, but we just puttered around doing a little flatwork. We’re both a bit sick of dressage, I think, so last night I stole a page from Lennie’s book and focused on fitness — mostly my own. When I first started riding, way back in middle school, my instructor was a half-seat tyrant. For years I didn’t even know it was possible to sit the canter. After those early lessons, my sister and I would come home, prop our feet on the coffee table, and watch our legs shake. I’ve never been able to drive myself to those extremes of muscles exhaustion without an instructor’s prodding, but last night I reintroduced the half-seat to my poor unsuspecting legs. I just floated him the reins and let him trot and canter around at more or less his own pace, and focused on my balance.

Turns out Poe’s idea of the right pace is a pretty good clip, and we both enjoyed him cruising along in that mile-long stride. It was exactly what I needed to shake the packing blues, and something we’re going to keep in our regular rotation for the rest of winter. And come spring, I definitely want to get back to working on his brakes in the back field so that I can safely let him out. He’s an absolute blast to gallop, but he also has the tendency to accelerate joyfully off on his own volition, and that is a definite no-no. I want him to know that I’m the number one authority on go and woah before letting him have some freedom with it.

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