Horses are Life

The amount of momentum I have gained in my personal life since starting this blog is impressive. At the end of 2020, I hadn’t seriously ridden my horse in 4 years. I was overweight and out of shape. I hadn’t written a short story or poem in a decade. I had never learned to play the guitar.

Since I’ve channeled my New Years’ commitment into a no zero year, I’ve consistently made strides in all of those areas with a blog for added accountability. Max and I ride 3-5 days a week. I’ve lost over 15lbs, three pant sizes, my stamina, strength, and biochemistry are all vastly improved. I’ve written several stories and poems that I am very proud of and am getting to the point where I actually believe I can start and finish a novel. I learned to play the guitar a little bit, got a piano, learned to play that a little bit, and feel like I’ve given music a good try.

With spring all around me, I’m feeling the urge to revisit and edit my goals going forward.

Horseback riding is what fuels me, and I’m going to rebrand my goals and my blog to reflect that passion. I’ll be setting music aside for the time being.

So far this year, I’ve checked off most of my no zero days by horseback riding. I’m getting to the point where I need to exercise daily outside of just riding my horse to become a better rider.

As a writer, I’ve dabbled in random prompts enough this year that I feel primed and ready to focus on purposeful writing. I’m looking forward to concentrating on horse fiction. I’ve always dreamed of writing novels, and I know I have a herd of horse novels in my brain, tossing their heads to be let out.

This blog has inspired me to explore my true passions of riding and writing. I’m excited to move forward on a more focused path. Keep tuned for my upcoming refresh — soon, there will be a new name, new look, and new content!

Progress in the Pasture

Today’s lesson went amazing, and left me holding the reins.

My coach has been building us up to trot over ground poles at a steady pace. We nailed it over and over again. We trotted circles, patterns; we kept going until I ran out of breath. I caught my breath, and we went some more. Max and I have practiced so many times that we were practically falling asleep.

Our coach suggested we walk around in Max’s field. We had practiced in there a couple days ago, and Max walked all over it for me without hesitation. Today was different. My mother-in-law went along on her lesson horse, and the two horses formed an impromptu herd. They only wanted to go where the other horse went, which became a problem when neither wanted to go anywhere!

Once again, Max is stepping up into the role of Master Coach. I didn’t know what step would take us to the next development in our partnership, and he pointed it out. We can trot around the arena in a semi-mindless state, but riding outside the arena and out of sight of the barn ramps us both back up to where we started a couple months ago.

I was eventually able to annoy Max into going where I wanted. We even trotted about ten feet. I got worried when he started to feel rushed, so I pulled him back into a walk.

I’m looking forward to more pasture practice. I want to translate our progress in the arena to the uneven ground and hard to see past hills out there. Our partnership is a constantly evolving journey of trusting ourselves and each other. It’s kind of like the arena is level one, and the pasture is level two.

What’s to come!

I’ve been spending all of my time on No Zero pursuits. As a result, my list of blog posts that I need to write is piling up! Here’s a look ahead at what’s to come:

Equestrianism

Max and I have been making progress as a team.

Arena patterns have helped us so much. I need to write about a few of my favorites.

We’ve also been spending more time outside of the arena. There are many hills at our stable, and we’ve been climbing and descending them to practice for trails. I’ve also taken him on a mounted tour of his pasture, which is a trail ride itself!

Back in the arena, I’ve been remembering to focus on keeping him between my hands and legs and constantly check my balance/position. Of course, that’s something that every good rider just does automatically, but I’m still working on becoming a good rider.

I’ve been dreaming about cantering him at least three nights a week. That’s probably going to happen (finally!!!) this summer. I can’t wait to post a video!

Exercise

As if horseback riding wasn’t enough…

Spring is starting in East Tennessee, and that means spending time outside, preferably in the mountains! I’ve been throwing my family in the car and hitting up the many trails that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer. Each trail is worth its own blog post. The ever-changing beauty along the way has us constantly stopping to take pictures.

When we aren’t hiking, we’re pedaling along our town’s miles of connected greenbelts and parks. I’ve had the same mountain bike that I bought with one of my first paychecks at the age of 15, and I’ve upgraded it over the years. Now it’s an electric bike with an attachment to hook a dog to, which was sorely needed for my German Shepherd!

Following a strict healthy diet has given us so much more energy to get out and enjoy exercising for fun. I’m not sure if I’ll write about healthy eating, but it deserves a shout out.

Since we aren’t going out to eat, which has been the go-to activity for our family for years, I will be exploring other ways to have fun! There are a ton of places to go and spend money around here, and I look forward to trying them all out and telling you about what a great time we had!

Music

I’ve been playing around on my digital piano. It’s incredibly daunting to learn how to play. There are so many resources to choose from. The big thing I need to work on with music is setting aside time to be consistent and practice. I’m so hyped to go out and enjoy the sunshine that I just don’t find myself sitting around and thinking about playing the piano. It’s still early in the year, specifically my first No Zero Year, and adjusting to a disciplined life proves to be a learning curve.

Writing Prompts

Seeing as most of my follower bursts happen right after a writing prompt, it’s only fair that I keep up with demand. I also want to start my novel idea as a serial novel online. It’s going to be such a vast world, and I could use the ongoing critiques and fresh eyes from the internet to help me along the way.

Looking Back…

The sunshine has flipped my focus from music and writing to horseback riding and exercising, but I don’t want to give up the momentum in the former or the latter. I’m enjoying making each day not just a No Zero Day but also a little bit of everything day! As I strive to find balance and discipline, I’m made more aware that I need to study the art of discipline just as much as my individual pursuits.

Expect to see a little of everything I mentioned in a blog post soon!

Trust

There’s a puddle on the corner of the outdoor arena that I’ve been trying to get Max to walk through. He turns around it in circles. He stops at the edge. He puts his head down and swishes his top lip in the water. That’s me and riding. The unknown is terrifying. As I push myself closer to stepping into that puddle, I gain a little more trust.

I’ve been reveling in my newfound capability to trust Max. I’ve even been practicing my sitting trot while letting him just trot. He’s living up to my trust, giving me his gentle and honest best effort to stay steady while I bounce and slide around his back. I’m facing the truth that I don’t have to be in his face, telling him with my voice that it’s okay to go forward, while my hands yell at him that I actually want him to somehow give me the joy of movement while providing the security of being completely still.

I’m having a harder time trusting myself. The more closely I realize just how much I trust Max, the more I realize that my lack of self-trust is the actual problem. He’s a horse, a prey animal that lives in a reactive mindset. I’m a human, and my brain is an overthought and tangled web of what if’s.

I’ve been working on trotting Max over poles. I point him at a pole and immediately start over-reacting in anticipation of the possibility that he might over-react. What if he doesn’t just step over the pole? What if he jumps over the pole? What if he darts off to the side? What if he breaks into a canter, which turns into a gallop, which turns into me in the dirt?

He steps over the pole, and I praise him. Am I telling him that he is a good boy, or am I really patting myself on the back for having worked through my fear? Maybe both.

Besides working through my fear of what-ifs, what did I really learn from that exercise? Did I learn to anticipate that Max will more often than not just step over the pole? Did I come one pole closer to complacency?

Riding is an ever-evolving exercise in pushing boundaries. Trotting becomes cantering. Cantering becomes galloping. Poles become jumps. Arenas become open fields and winding trails. The training wheels come off and are replaced by jet packs.

I’m going to put us in situations where the odds swing against Max’s reaction being predictable. That’s the goal. I won’t do it because I want to be dangerous. I’ll do it because I want to grow as a human. I want him to grow as a horse.

How do I learn to compliment his reactive instinct? Say we go over a pole, but instead of stepping over it, he jumps and takes off running? What am I going to do? Will I be stunned and have no skills at the ready to be his rock that he can turn to for guidance and confidence? Right now, that’s where I see myself. That’s what I’m scared of. When he needs me, I’m going to let him down. I’m going to do what I’ve always done and bail out of the saddle while he is left to race around with flapping reins and figure out what to do on his own.

Because I’m a thinking person, I can only trust the skillset that I have developed. To trust me more, I need a higher skill set. I need more fitness. I need more experience. I need to expand my boundaries to include riding faster, jumping higher (at all), losing and regaining balance in the saddle, and accepting that I could fall off and have to get back on.

Ultimately, I’m learning that the feeling of trust is complicated. It takes experience and hard work to develop. I have to do things that I don’t trust to gain mastery that I can trust. I have to be uncomfortable until it’s comfortable. Even after all that, trust won’t guarantee safety.

I want to trust myself to be a rider that Max can trust. Breaking down that goal — I want to trust myself. I want Max to be able to trust me. When Max doesn’t just take an obstacle in stride, I want to trust myself to adjust and keep riding.

Now I just have to actually do all of that.

Kissing Noises

I learned to trust my horse a little more today. My coach had us focus on two exercises.

She had us trot a figure eight through some empty jump standards and over poles. (Today, I learned that they are called standards)

She also had us trot around the arena and do a twenty-meter circle in each corner. Something about that last exercise — or it could have been the four hours of YouTube that I binged on before our lesson — gave me a huge aha moment. I developed the trust that his body was going where I told it. I felt his shoulders leading, and the tension that I’ve kept in his neck finally release. We did circles, and that’s a big deal! Once I had that moment, I felt so much tension slough away.

My coach asked if I was ready to canter him yet.

I told her that I wanted to canter him on the longe line first and develop a strong voice command, so I didn’t have the half an arena super trot while he tries to figure out what I want (while I’m scared out of my mind and not really wanting it, especially the more super his trot becomes). I told her how I’ve been trying to get him to canter, but he just speeds up his trot. A smart coach, she gets out the longe line and sees if she can get him to canter.

Guess who cantered with one little kiss sound? Today I learned you’re supposed to ask for a canter with a kiss. Shouting “CANTER” means absolutely nothing, but a tiny little kiss sound means CANTER. I didn’t make the rules! I’m not sure how I never learned the kiss command before, but at least I know it now.

When will I be ready to canter him? Probably soon. My priorities this week are to:

  1. Practice riding with a crop under my thumbs to keep my hands from waving around like an idiot.
  2. Trot over poles until I get over it. (haha)
  3. Trot between standards until they become less scary. (Yea, they scare me.)
  4. Learn how to make amazing kissing noises at Max while he’s on the longe line.

A day in the wagon

There’s something compelling about writing at least one entry a day in my blog. Blogs should have topics, and topics should be fleshed out before being blogged. I really wanted to write an entry this morning, but I hadn’t had a chance to do anything worth writing the internet about. The suspense of being one accomplishment away from a post fueled my day.

I initially tried to fill a post with a writing prompt. The prompt I chose resonated so perfectly with my tastes in literature that it caught fire and exploded into an unstoppable inferno of creativity. I couldn’t stop fleshing out the universe for my story. It just kept expanding. One train of thought turned into the plot for a book series. On the bright side, I know this will be my first published work. It will be a long while before it’s transcribed from my head to a document, but it’s going to get there.

Before I lay the topic of writing prompts to rest, I have to express my astonishment at the traffic my last prompt has brought to my blog. There really seems to be a market for short prompt responses.

I ended my day in the wagon with a horseback ride. I’ve been putting the stable off because of the miserably freezing and wet weather. Max let me know that I had been gone too long. It took him a long time in the cross ties before he stopped trying to nip me while disapprovingly pinning his ears. I enjoyed actually being able to brush all the mud off of his lower legs.

As is my constant luck with timing, I had Max tacked up just as everyone in the arena dismounted. It’s intimidating to be the only rider in the arena when I haven’t ridden properly in a couple weeks. Fortunately, I have an intelligent horse who understands that he stands still while I heft myself into the saddle. Even so, I still am gripped with unease in that moment of vulnerability where I’ve got one foot in the stirrup and am pushed into the air with the other. It’s up to my partner to stay steady while I get my balance. When I ride every day — or at least every other day — like I should, I become acclimated to and comfortable with mounting.

Max was great. He gave me his honest truth. We were both on edge and raw, but we spent a fair amount of time just walking and feeling each others’ rhythm. We were able to settle into a light trot without much tension. That’s been the accomplishment of our every ride for years. It’s something that I keep coming close to, and then taking time off from riding. Thankfully this last hiatus was just a couple weeks.

Tomorrow’s riding goal is to calm my flipping hands. I have this weird habit of extending one or both arms out to the side, like I’m trying to shake up a container of pasta so it settles evenly. I don’t know how I got into that rut, but I need to climb out of it and run far away. My restless arms and hands need to stay in the box. When I can make myself stay in one position, Max will stay in one position.

I’m so happy to have spent a day in the wagon. I’m bedding down for the night. I’m going to wake up tomorrow in the wagon and see where it takes me.

I can’t stop looking at my horse

I’m getting better about giving with the reins instead of pulling; however, if I’m not looking at my horse’s face and giving him a trillion neck pats, I get insecure and my hands start creeping backward again. I’m especially insecure when we are going over a pole. How can I look at a tree on the horizon when the most threatening thing in the ring is underneath me? Yea, that was brutally honest. Should I edit it out? Probably. I’m going to leave it because think it’s what a lot of people are thinking and struggling to overcome.

Max schooled me on looking at obstacles during our last ride. I was zeroed in on the cone right in front of us and we ended up stopped with it directly under his nose and me leaning over his neck, with my nose pointed at it, too.

I’ve always had a focus issue; I’m either looking at a tree on the horizon or I’m looking at my horse’s face and neck. I know it’s possible to see both, but I zone in on one or the other. It’s just another checkmark on the sit tall, soft hands, heels down list that doesn’t seem to have an end.

This was all going through my head while I was riding today. That and my kid who really wanted to go to the barn with me and then suddenly couldn’t wait to go home as soon as Max and I managed one nice 10m circle at a slow trot. It was a 10m circle because I’ll take a general “somewhere that wayish” direction with Max’s head down over a specific one with it up in the air.

I’m hoping that the confidence we gained from trotting over poles today will become more confidence tomorrow, and I’ll sit up and look where we’re going.

It’s hard to be the girl that’s dealing with all of this while everyone else in the arena makes going straight at a specific pace look like the easiest thing in the world. It’s not that I want to compete against them and do better, it’s just that I wonder if there’s something basic that I’m doing wrong. You know — something other than sitting up straight, having soft hands, maintaining a correct leg position, and looking up.

I just want to shove them in my saddle and see what happens. Does Max relax and go straight or does he toss his head around, try and pull the reins out of their hands, and start tracing modern art in the arena sand? AKA – Is it just me?

Hopefully, I’ll find clarity through this whole process and eventually help Max be his best self.

We Just Need to Learn to Relax

Is this becoming too much of a horse blog?

I made it out to the stable. Max and I toodled around with a bunch of pint-sized kids while they took a group lesson. My brain doesn’t want to give me any credit for it being a chill ride. I just fed a vampire yesterday, and Aunt Flo showed up this morning, so I was about as slow as I could go. Max had some weird pink thing going on in the corner of his eye, and he was squinting a little bit, so he might have been in a slow frame of mind, too.

I made up a mantra for us and repeated it the entire ride.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Max; We just need to learn to relax. 

I kept him going in circles, over poles, and around cones. I didn’t let us get into any pulling matches. If he started charging ahead, I just told him “and walk.” I’ve been told by more than a few people that making him walk instead of trot is a reward, a way to get out of work, but this horse wants to zoom! It’s worth a shot. 

Time flew by; that’s how you know it’s a great ride. I wanted to stay on forever! I had to be fair to Max since he was chill and stayed with me so well. He looked proud of himself and more confident. He didn’t give me any of his little nervous nibbles.

He had Twizzlers for the first time today. Maybe it was just Twizzlers magic?

A good ride is a good ride. I’ll take it!