Monday, February 25, 2019

Focus and Fear

I've started to write this post several times but keep getting side tracked, unclear about where my focus really is. So, I'm trying again in hopes that it may help me define that next step, help me focus which path I'm on, even if that path isn't well defined.

My last post was very much about loss and grief. It has been just over a week since I lost Bert, and Swag left for his new home. It has been just over one week since I became "horse-less". The outpouring of support I have received from family, friends, clients, and the horse community has been overwhelming. Thank you doesn't seem adequate enough to express how grateful I am. I've received some of the most beautifully written cards and knowing that I am not alone has helped me keep my sanity. It truly has been invaluable.
One of the amazing cards I received. Created by Rachel Rinaldi
My mom will tell you, I'm a do-er. It's hard for me to sit still and relax. My brain always seems to be thinking about "what's next". As a little kid I'd scream and cry and lock myself in the bathroom just to get out of taking a nap. Of course I'd eventually fall asleep in the bathroom, but I have never really gotten over that feeling of not wanting to stop and rest for fear I'd miss out on something. I have that same feeling now as I try to direct my energy on what is next for me horse-wise.

I missed all of last season when Swag was injured at the first event of the year. Instead of going to competitions, I put my efforts towards building my business and creating a barn full of wonderful students. As Swag rehabbed, I put my efforts into finding a new young Thoroughbred to bring up the levels and after months of searching, I found Bert. I planned it all out, giving Bert a couple of months out in the field to mentally decompress, and in January he came in for training. Everything was right on track for him to be ready for the 2019 show season. And then, as with most things horse related, the plan came to a screeching halt.

I'm left thinking about 2019 and am frantically trying to formulate a plan. Do I look for another horse as to not miss out on another year, or do I wait and save my pennies, and keep the attention focused on my students for another season?  I spent everything I had on Bert and Swag. I'm feeling panicky at the moment, afraid of sitting out another year as I'm not getting any younger. I'm scared of losing my nerve as a rider if I'm not out there actively competing, worried I'll no longer be relevant as a trainer if I'm not out amongst my peers. I'm trying not to let those fears control me. So while I'm trying to brainstorm and come up with some clever fundraising ideas (please send suggestions), I'm focusing on moving forward, putting my energy into the things I can control. Like coming up with new ways to challenge and inspire my students and rediscovering passions I'd forgotten I have (music) and incorporating them into my teaching.

I'm planning another jump clinic as well as another horsemanship class. There have been more barn outings and get togethers, there's been lots of baking, and just last week during a dressage lesson an idea for a musical freestyle was born. My students are all going to create their own miniature musical freestyles. They'll put them together over the next six weeks and then we'll have a little in-barn recital for them to show off their routines. The buzz in the barn is intoxicating and I'm excited to see what they'll come up with. All of these things help me focus, and while my path still isn't well defined, my goals are still the same. While I'd love to get another horse, focusing on the future helps to keep all of my fears at bay.

Fear is Not Rational or Irrational: 
Fear is Relative

Saturday, February 16, 2019


Swag and Bert
I'm not exactly sure what the stages of grief are, maybe they are different for all of us. I find myself sitting here thinking about so many different things. I'm still in a bit of a fog as I realize that for the first time in more than 4 years I'm horse-less. Something which has only ever occurred briefly once before in my 30 years as an equestrian. I'm sad, so I turn to the things that comfort me... Baking, writing, and teaching/riding. These are the things I know best.

Yesterday, my sweet, goofy boy, Bert, was put down. Bert was a coming 5yr old Thoroughbred. A beautiful soul with a bright future ahead. He had the biggest eyes, with an expression that was full of curiosity, confidence, and a touch of mischief. He was athletic, bold, and destined to do great things. He was my next up-and-comer, with big shoes to fill. And then he fell.

Bert was playing in his paddock. Not wound up, not running around, but he must have been feeling good and did what horses do, he bucked, or leapt, or something of that sort, and he fell on his knees. Our groom saw him getting up. He went to check him, saw the tiniest of scrapes, and brought him in for me to look at. I was teaching a lesson at the time, so Bert stood in the cross-ties while I finished up. I saw the smallest of scrapes, wiped them off, and put on a bit of ointment. Then I went to put him in his stall and knew it wasn't just a scrape. He was hurting.

There is nothing anyone could have done differently. Our fencing is safe, the horses turned out individually, Bert was attended to immediately. It was just one of those things that makes me shake my head and utter in despair, life just isn't fair. Bert had broken his knee.

Last year I was warming up my horse, Swag, at the first event of the year. We were just about to head out on the cross country course when I felt things go suddenly wrong. We later discovered, via MRI, that Swag had torn his collateral ligament. Those who've followed my career with Swag know how much I adore him. I've had him since he was just a gangly off the track 3yr old. I took him from his first BN to running around Prelim, and had our sights firmly set on the CCI* at Rebecca Farm last year. Then in the blink of an eye, those dream too, were dashed.

Swag has since healed, and while I've known that returning to eventing wasn't in his best interest long-term, I've spent the last few months looking for the perfect place for him to land. Swag is a unicorn. He is kind, smart, talented and joyful. He'd run around a prelim course one day, and teach a beginner the next, with me chasing him around the arena with a whip. Swag has traveled with me from California to Washington and he knows I am his person. I could have kept him and used him as a lesson horse, but ultimately I knew he would never be happy going in circles, he's an 8yr old TB, he loves getting out to explore. So last weekend, Valerie and Gary came to see him, looking for a horse to trail ride and love, and Swag put his head in their pockets and as silly as it sounds, Swag told me, these were his new people.

This morning, I sent Swag off to his new home, to be loved and adored, knowing deeply in my heart it is truly what is best for him. I'm sitting here, with tears streaming down my face looking at pictures of him in his new home, reading the text "Swag" has sent me, reflecting on all that has happened. Emotionally exhausting doesn't even begin to describe the past few days. I'm looking back, and am asking myself, what makes us chose this life as equestrians?

Several years ago I tried to "get out" of horses. Needless to say, it didn't last long, 2 weeks maybe? I remember being at the store and the cashier asking me what I did for a living, and I caught myself saying I was a horse-trainer, before remembering I had "quit" that job. It was in that moment I realized being a trainer was who I was, it was what I was, it defined me. My love of horses drives me. I am fascinated by them and how we interact with them, and even now, while the wounds are still raw (and the vet bills still very real), I'm thinking about how to fundraise for my next, future equine. I haven't given up my dreams of riding at the upper levels again one day. I am an equestrian after all, giving up isn't in my vocabulary.

At the beginning of this year I began a horsemanship class for my students. The idea was just to go over some basic, on the ground, horsemanship that we never seem to have time for in regular lessons. The first session was a success (standing wraps and polo wraps) and today was the second session we had scheduled. I thought it was fitting to go over basic vital signs and vet care, since our majestic creatures are so fragile. We then followed that up with some ground work and ground manner exercises. It is so fascinating to see how these two topics can relate. Having our horses trust and respect us on the ground can help us to help them when it most matters. What I took away from today wasn't necessarily in regards to the lessons, but a reflection of of the amazing people I am surrounded by. My students all watched intently today while I worked with a difficult horse for more than an hour. They asked questions, they watched, they learned. I have the most amazing barn, a group of ladies who support one another, who cheer each other on, who are all committed being the best horsewomen they can be. So when I find myself questioning why I do this, all I have to do is look around. They are why I do this.

When I walked into the barn today there were gifts, chocolates, wine, and thoughtfully written cards waiting for me. There have been so many calls, text, and my facebook filled with condolences. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from friends near and far over the loss of my sweet Bert. It is in these challenges, and tragedies, that I find strength knowing I am surrounded by this amazing village.

Why have I chosen horses, or why have they chosen me? Maybe it's because I am strong, although I don't feel very strong today. Whatever the reasons, I take these moments to reflect, and then I put my head down, I dig in my heals, and think about what is next, because, as I teach my horses, the only option is forward.

My final moment with Bert