Here it is 3:30 a.m. on a workday and for some reason I am awake thinking about stuff: I should have gone to ride last night. I need to get my car inspected. How will I pay for my kid’s college? Will he actually do ANYTHING productive this summer? Did I enter (and save) the date for my farrier appointment? You know—stuff. Somehow through the newsfeed of my anxiety-ridden mind, I remembered an ad floating by about Dressage Today’s blogging contest. After all, I have always enjoyed trying to entertain friends with stories about my latest equine quests via email, personal websites and social media.
I am...um [calculator activity] a 47-year-old (FORTY SEVEN??!) equine enthusiast, mom to a (human) teenager, married to a disgruntled horse husband and a longtime horse-owner. I’m owned by two ungrateful cats, a troubled rescue dog and, of course, my horse Trooper. I also work full time in a technical field.
My horse addiction began at a very young age. When I was in First Grade, I was sent to an overnight horse camp to finally be rid of this crazy notion of riding horses and I just never really kicked it.
My parents were not horse-y, so I became a riding school rider. After the camp de-horsing failed, my parents found me the opportunity to take riding lessons at a local saddle seat farm. We didn’t really know anything about saddle seat, other than the fact that they didn’t jump. For two years, I had fun learning all 95 variations of walk and trot available on those horses. Please don’t ask me to recite the names of the gaits, as I was deprogrammed when I moved to a new state and my parents found me a farm where I could learn to jump. From there I spent most of my childhood hanging out at lesson barns, cleaning stalls for ride time and spent part of my teen years showing in 4-H—relatively unsuccessfully—on borrowed horses. I even did a short run in Pony Club and made it to D-3 (beginner level). Woo, look at me go!
In high school, I finally got my own horse, a 5-year-old bay Quarter Horse named “Impression.” He was purchased from a dealer and he was my first heartbreak—tissue alert! I only had him for about three or four months when he severely colicked. I watched the entire surgery, intestine removal and all. It was scary and fascinating. I almost became a vet because of it. He did recover, but unfortunately not well. He colicked again, too soon after the surgery, and I had to make my first decision to say goodbye.
As expected after a break, the bug returned and I was lucky enough to have parents who were willing to purchase another horse. General was a beautiful 15.3-hand, 3-year-old palomino Appendix Quarter Horse with a little under-saddle training in Western and English. Clearly a perfect match for an untalented green rider trying to learn the ways of horses on her own. I had no idea about things like saddle fit, the importance of consistent farrier appointments, how to be a good boarder or even how to ride without instruction. But boy did I know about the signs of colic and this horse was insured before he even stepped on the trailer to come home!
It was General and my short tour in Pony Club that opened the door to dressage. My Pony Club was based on a beautiful farm with cross-country jumps, hills and manicured riding rings. Our lessons ranged from jumping grids to learning how to trot your horse down a hill without ending up as a rolling pile of rocks.
I always loved flatwork and generally would ride for a while before I would jump. Much to my delight, I learned there was an actual sport that focused on the flat…and that trotting down a hill in control and balance was a part of the science. I was hooked.
I have been focused on dressage solely for about 30 years, give or take a few years for college/life/kid, etc. I took lessons on school horses for a bit, then leased or catch rode horses to train and show. Eventually, I purchased my “dressage horse,” a 17.2-hand Thoroughbred, named “Jag.” Yet another perfect match for a nervous, lower-level rider.
My first barn manager with Jag surprisingly took us in, knowing full well I was in a bit over my head. Not surprisingly, she became one of my most long-suffering trainers and a dear friend. There are many stories here but let's just summarize it by saying it took me MANY years before I felt ready to leave the safety of her fenced-in ring to head to an off-farm event.
Did I mention I am a rider who deals with a decent amount of anxiety? My anxiety is not based on performance—it is about survival. Get run away with by enough school horses on trails and you tend to appreciate how little control we actually have of our partners. Sometimes just throwing my leg over the horse is an act of courage regardless of the mount. Needless to say, my show nerves have nothing to do with performance quality. It is more about staying on the equine and hopefully in the ring. Jag and I did eventually learn how to trust each other and successfully show together, which was an amazing accomplishment. Jag taught me so, so many things about appreciating the journey.
After Jag, the OBVIOUS next step was buying a baby [picture long-suffering trainer’s grimace]! I fell in love with the Drum Horse breed, so Trooper entered the picture when he was 17 months old. He is now 12. I did all the firsts with him. Breed shows, Drum Horse demos at Equine Affaire and of course I was the first on his back. I reluctantly took him on his first trail rides (with a very patient friend and equine), only because I couldn’t find someone to do it for me.
When Trooper was 5 years old, I took him to his first schooling show where we proudly did a mix of careening and shuffling through a couple of Intro Level tests. With determination of documenting milestones that I would later appreciate, I made sure my personal photographer/sister-in-law was there to capture the event. Little did I know how precious these photos would be several years later when Trooper severely foundered.
My experience with founder is a story within itself, but I am happy to say that it has been five years since his founder event(s), which included two surgeries, rehab, with a bit of miracle mixed in. Amazingly, we are now carefully working on strengthening under saddle in the ring and field. Throughout my upcoming blog, there will most likely be some mentions of Mr. Trooper (sometimes called "Critter") and hopefully some stories of adventures we take on.
Because I am not busy enough trying not to let all my life stuff keep me from riding Trooper, I am also taking lessons on a Grand Prix schoolmaster. It is a fantastic experience to finally learn about life on that side of the saddle. Believe me: It is transformative and scary and fun and harder than it looks. I will be happy to share some of my journey with you in my blogs, but fair warning: My process of learning is excessively slow due to lack of practice, an ample dose of anxiety and the elegance of execution surpassed only by that of a leggy, awkward teenager.
So this is me. Through grit, hard work, reading and listening, I am now a proud, fairly average amateur horsewoman. Hopefully, you will find what I share at the very least mildly entertaining and, at most, validating you are not alone.
Dressage Today would like to thank Mackey Equine Accessories for generously providing prizes for our 2019 Blogger Contest. For more information about Mackey, visit MackeyUSA.com and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram.