March 24, 2011

Where are all the Cowgirl OB-GYNs?‏

Ok, one of the first things I had to do when I found out I was pregnant was to see how much longer I could ride. I started online - most every site I saw said "no riding" what so ever. Then I got some books and same thing... "too risky". Crap! But why?? At the time the little peanut was no bigger than, well, a peanut. Riding didn't feel uncomfortable or jarring so what's the deal?

Well every site/book usually just had one line or sentence regarding horseback riding and the response was something along the lines of "The risks of falling off or getting kicked while riding a horse is too great to risk. It is not recommended." Well I'm sorry, I need some more information than that. Lets assume I've changed my riding routine so that I'm in a small controlled arena, with a horse I know and can read. In addition I've been riding for over 20 years, and can handle most spooks. I also can read my horse and only ride on days he's mellow and in control. Lets say I've done all these things, weighed the risk of falling or getting kicked and decided I'm willing to take those risks... now what??

I need information on what is going on inside, what kind of forces can the baby/placenta take? I know when I ride I don't feel uncomfortable or jarred, is that enough? I feel like all the advice being dished out is being given by people who don't know a thing about horses or what it means to be a life long equestrian. Its not something we can cast aside so quickly. Give me some options. To simply say I might fall isn't enough, I might get in a car accident too. Does that mean I can't drive? And I trip over my own feet more often than I ever fall off a horse. Can I walk? I know I'm being a smart ass, but its frustrating the lack of knowledgeable advice out there about horses and pregnancy.

I ended up relying on the "expert" comments from life long riders that responded to the advice on some of the sites. And while some decided to stop riding all together, most continued to ride their regular trust worthy mounts. Those who stopped said they stopped due to energy, being uncomfortable, or loss of balance. All sound like reasonable reasons to me. No one said "I stopped when I fell off." Some even said they rode up to 9 months. While I'm not sure I'll be able to make it that far (especially since I understand your abs basically disintegrate) its a little encouraging.

I also talked to my OB-GYN, since I live in a rural area I figured she's dealt with this before. Her advice, keep doing whatever it is I usually do. And if its uncomfortable for me, its uncomfortable for the baby.

So my plan as of now: Keep riding, no sitting trot for a while though. Ride until I feel uncomfortable or not secure. Once we stop riding I'll take that time to work on my long lining skills (currently non-existent) and maybe use the time to introduce Dexter over some jumps via the lunge. But I still plan on working with my horse for as long as I can. Its a stress reliever and I feel that my time with Dexter is good for my mental state which in turn will be good for the baby.

But someone seriously needs to take the time and really explain the potential risk of riding a horse while pregnant, beyond falling off. I think there are enough of us out there to warrant it. And we all want to keep the baby safe, but also know that to not ride for 9 months (plus how every many after) isn't an option. There are enough professional women out there who make this their job, give us some factual medical advice, so we don't have to rely on wives tales and "just do what I did". It would also help to have some facts so I can deal with all the non-horse people in my life looking down on me for putting my un-born child's "life at risk".

As a side observation, I've never bought totally into the fact that horses can read minds and such. But I have to admit, Dexter has become more mellow the more pregnant I get. Maybe he can smell the hormones or something. But even when he does get tense he listens to me a lot better. And when the horses in the pasture act stupid and go galloping across our ring, where he used to spin and join them, he now just turns to see where they are going and stops and picks his head up. He's still nervous, but has a head about him. I don't know why the change, but I certainly do appreciate it. And as I said, as I get bigger the more precautions I'll take, even if it means I have to stay in the small arena for a while.

March 23, 2011


A strange question popped into my head out of the blue the other day. "Would you be friends with your horse?" The obvious answer is "Yes, I am friends with my horse, I love him/her." But I mean, if your horse was a person who had the same personality traits as yoru horse.... would you hang out with them? Again, when I asked myself this, my inital repsones was "of course!" Mostly because I didn't want to think about it too much and find out the answer might be no. I mean, what kind of person would I be to say I don't want to be friends with my horse. But because I'm over analytical and like to think about stupid unsignificant crap like this I started thinking about all the horses I've had and if they would be my friends. The answer is yes.... and maybe not.

I've had horses with a range of personalities... from docile to stubborn to smart to nervous. Combine that with the fact that I have a rigid personality that only lets me really get along with a handful of people I meet, the likelihood of me liking all my horses gets pretty slim. Let me clarify something... I'm not a raging bitch that hates everyone I meet. I get along with most people for a certain period of time. But the people I call friends are those that I genuinely enjoy being around, can talk about anything, and can handle me even in my worst moods.

And just because I may decide me and my horse may not be human friends doesn't mean I don't love them and appreciate them. I do, I've loved every horse I've owned, and all for different reasons. The fact of the matter is you pick your horses with different criteria than your friends so a good friend might not make a good mount and vice versa... another reason why this whole question is moot, but we will go for it anyways.

First off is BeeBop, my first, beautiful blonde gelding. BeeBop was sweet, docile, willing to try anything and in general a good guy. He lugged me around and let me do all sorts of silly things like slide off his back. He was the best first horse a girl could ask for. As a person, I see him as the laid back, go with the flow guy. And to be honest a bit of a push over. BeeBop never really had an opinion and I'm afraid I'd end up walking all over him. Sorry darling, I love you forever, and maybe we'd be buds at work and share stories but don't see us going off on any long bonding retreats.

Then came LE (short for lop ears). LE was stubborn, opinonated, but still smart and hardworking. She'd do pretty much whatever you asked but would let you know how she felt about it with a little hop or a grind of her teeth. LE would be that friend that doesn't hold back, she is going to tell it to you straight and not spare your feelings, and I can get along with that. I think me and LE would be great friends. I find the people I am closest to are the ones I can go to for advice and aren't going to just tell me what I want to hear. Granted LE might get on my nerves every now and then when she got into one of her moods, but I'd just throw the honesty right back at her. :)
My sweet Gunner. Gunner was the first horse I bought all on my own, with no trainer or parents to guide me. He was a sweet boy that would follow you around the ring and the pasture. One of my favorite things to do with him after a ride was just walk around the arena and have him follow me, I'd run, he'd run, it was the cutest thing. Because of that I imagine Gunner as a cute boy with a little crush. But... Gunner was timid. He was afraid of anything new and anything that moved in general. And for that sorry buddy but I don't think we could ever get seriously involved. I need someone a little more adventurous. But I'd certainly keep him around, who doesn't love a cute boy vying for your attention.
And lastly, my Dexter. Smart, funny, willing to try new things but a little apprehensive. Throughout our training, Dexter has tried to figure out what I want, he gets frustrated some times and sometimes he decides he's not in the mood and throws a bit of a fit. But I can tell he's trying and thinking. Plus he does some hilarious things some times, stuff that just makes me laugh out loud. Dexter would be one of my good friends. I think he'd be the smart funny one trying to make sure everyone is having a good time. But he'd have his own ideas too, not just go with the crowd.

Well, that was fun and pointless. I'm sure it would be much more interesting to read for those who've known my horses, but maybe it will get you thinking.... would my pony be my BFF? Maybe, maybe not... does it really matter, they are all so special anyway.

March 22, 2011

Change of Rein

So I've been putting off writing this blog for some time now. I wasn't sure f I was ready to share with the blog-o-sphere yet, or anyone for that matter. But as it is increasingly effecting my riding and plans, and its bound to come up some time, I've decided to go ahead and break the news.

Back in January I found out I was pregnant with our first child. And to be honest one of my first thoughts was to take out this season's show schedule and see how many shows I could fit in before I got to big. Can I get enough to qualify for year end awards? Can I even qualify for Championships? Will the baby be born in time for me to show at the Championships? I know... pretty skewed priorities. But getting Dexter trained and ready for this show season has consumed me for the last year, I'm supposed to throw that all out the window in one day?

And while I'm really trying to be excited about this new addition, I'm having difficulty. I've always been selfish, I'll admit that. And that is primarily why kids haven't been on my to do list. When people would ask me when I was planning on having kids I just said "I don't know." And what I was thinking was "Hadn't thought about it, and what do you mean when? " So whenever I was forced to think about it all I could think of was how my life would change, and what I wouldn't be able to do anymore. Would I have to sell Dexter? If I didn't would I have to spend less time with him? Would that be fair? If I didn't spend less time with Dexter would that mean I would be neglecting my child or husband??

But my wonderful husband has always wanted them and I started to worry that if I got older and changed my mind it would be too late so we stopped trying to not have them and gave into fate. Fate took a quick 2 months to decide, so here we are. As far as where I am in my life, its perfect timing. We both have decent jobs with no noise of lay offs or any of the other issues many people are facing these days. We make a decent living and have plenty of room for the little nugget. We aren't too old or too young. So everything is perfect on paper, now if I can just convince my heart and head of that.

Everyone says once it comes you'll feel different. I certainly hope so. My only solace right now is that I am, at heart, a perfectionist and an over-achiever, so anything I do in life I try to do to the best of my ability. So I imagine this will kick in when the child comes and I will do everything in my power to make sure it grows up to be a healthy and happy adult.
I know this is off topic and not a particularly popular view on motherhood but I try to be honest. And believe me, I want to have the motherly instincts and be like everyone else my age who is cooing over their new belly or baby. I know several of you out there are parents and please don't take my opinions as disrespect or that I think kids aren't great. I'm know they are, I know they are an amazing, wonderful addition to most people's lives. I just hope I'm one of those people.

Well I seem to be repeating myself . I just wanted to share the news so you all understand why I'm starting schooling shows so early and trying to fit at least 1 or 2 in every month. The debate on when/if to quite riding is still going on and that will be a whole separate blog.

March 21, 2011

My Mutt

The number one question I get whenever I take Dexter anywhere isn't how old he is or who my trainer is but "What is he?"  And its usually that exact question, not even "What breed is he?".  The smart ass in me wants to say "A horse, silly."  But I know what they mean so I just reply "He's a Friesian Standardbred Cross."  And the responses run the gambit - "I could tell he was part Friesian."  "I could tell he had Standardbred in him."  "He reminds me of my Friesian cross." "Well, he's lovely"  "Oooh, interesting mix."  "Oh.... okay."  "Standardbred, really??"  And sometimes I just get looks that say "Who would mix those two??"
And to be honest when I saw him for sale I was a little wary myself.  I loved Friesians, wanted one from the first time I saw one, but knew nothing about Standarbreds other than the ones I had seen were all pacers.  And I know his pieces don't got together just right, with his big Friesian head and short Friesian neck connected to his looong Standardbred back and butt.  His mane and tail are all Friesian, thank goodness.  And his legs are fighting between the two, he has nice long legs like a Standardbred but he's trying to get that Friesian feathering in there somewhere.  His big hips... I have no idea where those come from, but they keep making my barn owner think he's skinny.  She thinks his belly needs to come out to his hips and I keep telling her he's got big birthing hips, he'd have a pot belly if he filled out that much.
Anyway, my point is my mutt isn't perfect, and apparently he's a conundrum to those who see him.  But I love him and all his gangly misplaced parts.  They may not look perfect but they give me a pretty floaty trot and the smoothest canter onc could ask for on a big galoot (when he finally gets it balanced.)
I love my mutt, he may not be purebred and he may be a mix few look for, but for me he works.  Anyone else out there have an interesting crossbreed that sounds like it wouldn't work but does?

March 18, 2011

Safety First?

I was out on Wednesday trying to get back in the swing of things and work on the feedback I got from the schooling show, when we were joined by the barn owner's daughter and her little arab gelding.  The little girl is about 11, and usually does endurance with her mom.  They go out on hour long trail rides while I sit happily circling in my arena.  The daughter hasn't been able to ride much lately because of the weather and her mom recently got seriously hurt on a trail ride.  I knew her dad let her come out and ride because I was there so I didn't mind, happy to help and she's a fun little girl.
She usually takes her arab and just runs around the field.  Recently they have dragged a few old logs into the field to practice "jumping" and this is where I get nervous.  I don't jump anymore, mostly because I was no good, but I did for quite a while when I was in pony club.  Last summer the barn owner asked me if I could teach her daughter how to jump.  I told her I wasn't all that great but would be happy to help.  They never set up a time or asked again so I didn't worry about it.  I had given her daughter a few English lesson's here and there in preparation for some 4H show (because apparently you can learn English in 2 lessons.... sheesh), and the little girl never seemed to enjoy it... to many rules.
So we are out there riding and I start seeing her hoping over these logs - no more than 18" high.  I should say the horse was hoping over, he was flopping along getting left behind.  She had not left the saddle once.  Now I don't get into people's business and I hate handing out unsolicited advice.  But being as I was the only adult with this child, and would ultimately be the first responder should she take a spill, I felt I had the right to say something.  She came up to me and said she's been working on Red's jumping.  I asked if she was working on her jumping, she said no. 
I tried to give her some tips without being pushy.  I told her to sit up and lean a little forward over the jumps like when we practiced 2-point in her lessons.  I explained why and I think she got it.  I watched her over the jumps again and it looked like she was going to kiss his mane and I thought "Oh no, what have I done."  But at least she was a little better.  Later she felt confident enough to try and canter over the jumps, God bless her little horse for breaking to a trot just before instead of leaping over when he wasn't in a good spot. 
Me and Dexter we cooling off by now so we just walked around and kept an eye on her.  She asked if I was going to jump Dexter so I said sure.  I walked him up to the log, got into my 2-point and walked him right over it.  Sure it was a smarmy move but I wanted to use it to prove another point.  I let her know that Dexter had never jumped before, so before I started taking him over logs with me on my back, I would lunge him over jumps and poles so he can figure out his timing and spacing without worrying about me.  I told her that even though Red is good at trotting over them, cantering is harder for the horses to see, so she should lunge him over some jumps first to see how he does before she trusts him to go over them smoothly.
Oh and here is the kicker, and shame on me for not even realizing it until we were done (since I'm used to seeing her that way) - She was doing all this without a helmet.  To me that is totally not acceptable.  To have a minor going over logs with no helmet.  Granted, they were small jumps, and she wasn't going fast, but she was inexperienced and you never now.  Her mom, a very experienced rider just fell of a horse while trail riding and broke her leg.  Jumping just throws another wrench into the whole thing. 
So now I'm at a bit of a cross roads.  Am I over reacting?  I try not to be one of those horse people where I think my way of doing things is the only way. And for the most part I'm pretty good at seeing that there is more than one way to do things.  God knows me and the barn owner have differing opinions on everything from training to trailering, but we still get along and respect each others methods.  The difference here is a minor is involved and its a safety issue.  But its not my minor. So do I speak up?
Do I tell the barn owner that I would like to see her daughter in a helmet, at least when she is riding with me?  Do I mention that a few lessons with a professional to just get the basic jumping position down would greatly increase her safety?  Or do I just trust they know their daughter's level of riding and stay out of it.  Don't get me wrong I don't think they are bad parents, in fact I'm guessing they didn't know she was out there jumping without a helmet, and know she has one.  I just don't want to step on toes, but I also don't want to see anyone get hurt.
What would you do?

March 16, 2011

Schooling Show - Take 2

I took Dexter to another schooling show held at the same barn as the first last weekend.  When I got my ride times on Wednesday and saw 15 people in 2 of my classes (gulp) I got a little discouraged.  We could barely place when there were 5-6 people in our class.... No way were we going to be in the top 3rd and get a ribbon.  My only solace was that we entered the apparently dreaded Training Test 3 ... only 5 people.

Now my goal wasn't to win, or really even place, especially since we had so much competition, it was just to do better than we did at the first show.  Which considering we got last place should be hard to do, plus increase our scores. 

I was hopeful still, it was warmer, so we'd have an actual warm-up area, and he had been there before so his nerves should be less of a factor.  We got there extra early this time (I felt a little rushed last time).  So we had time to warm up then un-tack while Dexter got to chill out for a while.  We warmed up in a separate ring from everyone at first.  He can get bratty when I start to ask for the canter and with his size he can be intimidating when he starts to buck.  Plus the "Warm-up" ring was a small dressage ring with a low rail, too many people and I wasn't 100% sure he wouldn't hop right over the rail and keep going.  By the end of our warm up he was listening, going nice and steady and being an overall good boy. 

I went to check my times to make sure they hadn't changed and found out that due to a fire in the near-by area a few people had scratched.  My 15 entry classes were now 10... I like those odds a bit better. 

Fast forward to our first test... Training Level 1.  Last time we started with a wiggle down the center line and a back-up/side-pass instead of a halt.  This time, I overshot the center line, but he was straight, and we halted... square!  So far so good.  I won't go through every movement, but I can say half way through when we had just finished our first canter work and he came back to the trot without rushing all I could thing was "Oh my God! We are doing it!  He's paying attention and concentrating.  I'm relaxed and having fun!"  His stretch at the walk and trot still sucked but I knew they would.  He refused to stretch down unless he knows he's done. 

Test 2 - Same concentration, he broke into the canter a few times when he wasn't supposed to but I'll forgive him because that's all we worked on in warm up.

Between Test 2 and Test 3 I got my results from Test on..... 4th place!  I was so proud of Dexter and up 8 points from our last ride!  I read the judges comments and she said he needed more impulsion in the canter.  Oops!  I was so afraid of him barreling around the ring like last time I had cranked him back a little too much.  Oh well,  now I know what she wants I'll kick it up a notch for test 3.

Test 3 -  It was getting to be a long day and Dexter was finally relaxed, prior to this test he refused to stand still waiting to go in the ring, now he stood with his head down... "good boy, we are almost done."  Again, he did well and I made a few mistakes.  I forgot for half a second when we were supposed to transition from the canter to trot.  So in my hesitation Dexter made the decision and trotted a little early.  Drat, almost a test with no mistakes.  I pushed him at the canter and after the test the judge commented on how much better it looked.  I love dressage and the immediate feedback you get.

I took Dexter back to the trailer and got him ready to go home while the rest of the riders rode.  I know I should watch my competition but with a husband and horse ready to go home its kinda hard. 

We went and got our results... Test 2 - 5th place, good boy Dexter!  Then I looked at the results for Test 3, only 4 people in the class.... We got 1st Place!!  Oh my goodness!   GOOD BOY DEXTER!!!  From last to first in a few short weeks!  I'm not trying to brag but I am so happy for him.  You never know how things are going to go with a new horse and a 13 year hiatus from showing.  I love showing and I can pretend its not about winning.... but it sure is more fun!!

This was my fist blue ribbon in 13 years and Dexter's first ever.  And all I could think on the way home was "I did it."  This has been a goal of mine ever since I bought Gunner back in Texas, 6 years ago.  I never knew if we'd get here, I didn't know if it was possible but I needed to try.  And even though riding at home gives me a lot of joy and reminds me of what I love to do, showing is who I am.  And I finally felt like I found myself again, like the little hole had been filled.  I'm not just a horseback rider, or a dressage rider, I'm a dressage "competitor".  That is what all the riding at home is about for me and that is where I shine (inside, still trying not to sound cocky).

For some years now, with getting married and changing jobs and new horses, I wasn't sure if I'd ever really compete again.  And I had serious doubts that if I did start showing again, I wouldn't be good enough any more.  I know this was just a schooling show and some of my competition were 12 year olds, but it was the first step and it was the boost I needed.  I now know we can do it, Dexter and I together.  I can't say it enough - What a good boy!!!

If anyone is interested in our test 2 video I'll post it, otherwise I'll just keep watching it myself, over and over and over.... :)

March 6, 2011

One Year Ago...

One year ago, I handed over a check and watched a giant bay horse load onto a giant 3 horse trailer.  He was too long for the divider to close so he was just tied in this big open space.  I followed the trailer the 40 miles home carefully looking for any signs of distress or that he may have come untied.  When we got to the barn, I went in untied him and unloaded him.

He immediately picked his head up, looked around and snorted loudly into the wind. He pranced around looking at all the new people and horses.  Holy crap, was this the same horse that was half asleep on the cross ties an hour ago?  No worries, he hadn't been off his property in several years, he's allowed to be excited.  I turned him out in his temporary pen that would be his home until he got settled enough to join the herd.  He pranced and trotted around, a beautiful floaty trot.  Oh My God!  That's MY horse!  That was the first official day Dexter was mine.  I had never had a horse with such pretty natural movement, and I was overwhelmed with the possibilities of what to do with it.

Since that day me and Dexter have had some ups and downs.  Starting with mostly downs, now mostly ups.  The first couple of months he acted like a completely different horse, high strung, snorty and overall un-focused.  I freaked out a little bit, thinking I had bought too much horse than I could handle.  The only reason I had talked myself into buying a 17H horse was because he was so docile when I tried him out.  At first I figured he was just getting used to the new surroundings but since he didn't calm down after several weeks I got worried.  Eventually we took him off alfalfa and he calmed right down, mostly, he still has his days, but I can handle one or two every now and again.

I thought I'd take a little look back at me and Dexter's journey over the past year and what we've accomplished:

  • Changed his name from "Pud" (yuck) to "Dexter"
  • Removed a very large painful wolf tooth (much better)
  • Bought a Dexter sized trailer
  • Got dumped twice (both times found out he was getting alfalfa)
  • Seriously thought about selling (after the second dump)
  • Started taking lessons thanks to the new trailer
  • Fixed the behind the vertical issue, he now borders on heavy in the hands.
  • Fixed his 4ish beat canter, so smooth now
  • Stopped constantly chewing on the bit (thanks to the tooth pull), he now only does it when he's irritated.
  • Re-learned my diagonals (See previous post)
  • Learned how to sit a giant trot, for a little while anyways
  • Learned to travel in a straight line
  • Started to learn how to bend and follow the contact down
  • Re-learned how enjoy just "hanging-out" with my horse
  • Went to our first show!
With where we've come and some of the doubts I've had, I'm really happy with what we've accomplished together in the last year.  We coudlnt' have done it without our patient trainer.  But Dexter has been so honest and hard working, trying to figure things out.  And I've learned to be more consistent to help him understand exactly what I want.

We aren't perfect, but we've come a long way, and with our first show out of the way, I'm excited to see where we will end up next year.

March 1, 2011

Back to the Basics

My Trainer has been recently blessed with a new baby girl (of the human kind) so I have been on a lesson hiatus for the last several weeks.  No worries, I understand, so I have been video taping myself to keep the momentum going.  At our last lesson she had given me a few things to work on so we have enough homework to keep busy.  I just need the visual to match what I think I'm doing with what I'm actually doing. 

Watching the video I can see we still aren't getting a good bend to the right and his head is ahead of the vertical.  But overall we are looking good.  After the long battle with Dexter diving behind the vertical I'll take a little nose out any day.

A little proud of myself for how far we've come I sent some of the video to my old trainer back in FL.  She has since retired from the horse business but we enjoy talking horsey stuff every now and then. 

She agreed he is looking much better and that it is easier to bring a horse back to the vertical vs pushing him out.  The she dropped a little bomb.  She asked why I was consistently on the wrong diagonal.  She gave me the benefit of the doubt thinking I was doing it on purpose.

She was half right, I was purposefully picking up the inside diagonal but didn't know it was the wrong  one.  OOPS!!  I guess after a very long hiatus from lessons my brain got mixed up on which diagonal to be on.   My current trainer hadn't really emphasized my diagonal, we've been too busy working on my frame and Dexter's.  And the funny thing is I know if you start posting on the first stride out of a canter you should be on the correct diagonal and I noticed I never was.  I thought it was weird but figured I had gotten that part wrong.

The embarrassing part was I looked back at the video from my show and yup, on the wrong diagonal.  How embarrassing.  I wonder why the judge didn't mention it.  Maybe we were such a mess she figured the last thing I needed to worry about was a silly diagonal.

So, I thanked my old trainer and told her I'd fix it right away, no big deal, look at my outside shoulder instead of my inside.  She insisted I re-learn how to feel my diagonal without looking, ok, no problem.  I guess I never really paid attention to my diagonal because I saw posting as something I had to do until me and Dexter were strong enough to sit the trot.  Then we'd only post when lengthening or when he got too forward.  But as we have been at it a year, maybe I should pay more attention.

We spent some time during our last riding sessions feeling the diagonal.  The good thing is it seems to be easy, or at least like riding a bike.  I can definitely tell what shoulder is moving when.  The funny thing is if I glance I can pick up the correct diagonal, but when I'm feeling it I almost always pick up the "right" (as in right or left) diagonal.  Even if in my head I am saying up, down, up, down correctly I'll come up on the down. 

Hmmm, guess I'm sided, just like my horse.  No biggie we can handle this one.  But it is funny the things you forget when someone isn't there reminding you weekly.  I always felt like riding a horse is like riding a bike, but I guess the technical rules get a little fuzzy.