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February 7, 2016

Allow Your Horse To Believe In You

The concept of "belief" can at first sound nebulous, but in our riding, it directly translates to the essentials of trust and confidence.  In ourselves, in our partners, and theirs in us.

I've been picking away at a captivating book -- that speaks my language:  "The Natural Rider:  A Right-Brain Approach To Riding," by dressage and biomechanics author, Mary Wanless.  There is a long list of insights to discuss already & I'm only halfway through!

But one that continues to jump (pun not intended!) out at me speaks to both the foundation & the everyday process of training & schooling.  This is what we must carry with us in order to succeed in defying gravity in all its forms:


Yes, Solo once had a (exceedingly strong-willed) mane!  There are many layers of warm fuzzies in this blast from the past...June 2007, our clinic with Ian Stark (collected reports here) which took us to a brave new world. 

February 2, 2016

Of Tales And Trails


Do you think our stories break when we do?  Or do they just get so tangled up that we can't find a view of the road?

I'm still struggling to figure it out - or at least looking for some high ground that might offer a bit of perspective.  Who knew the search would be measured in years??  But the tangle, the fog, whatever it is that swallowed the map is the same thing that has dragged at my efforts to write to you.

This blog is a journey, just as much as the tales it chronicles.  I guess it shouldn't be shocking that a journey involving horses has sinkholes, detours, & inexplicable roadblocks!  Nonetheless, I apologize for my stutters, fits, & gaps of silence (although more than one person that knows me might say that last is a blessing, ha).

I'm working hard on the search for impulsion, though.  Half-steps are hard for horses & people (dressage joke FTW)!  I do feel like there's been some improvement in muscling!

Encore approves
Stepping Out

Encore & I did get to indulge in some desperately-needed trail therapy on Sunday.  Sun & warmth & wait, was that a bud on that tree?

Riding has been a wee bit challenging for everyone this winter, so our rehab pretty much matches my posting attempts:  sporadically possible, with moderate chance of fail.  But there be muscles on the horse too!

We've combined hill-walking, W/T transitions with roundness, some collected walk with lots of topline stretching, & occasional bursts of weather-permitted trot sessions.  While we're hardly ring-ready, Encore's been pushing evenly behind (one of my big indicators) & happily loped over some 18" obstacles.

Getting back in the woods was a wonderful treat - many thanks to lovely neighbour Vanessa for  pony daycare, as poor Solo can't keep up with giant TB strides for two hours anymore.

And my gratitude to you for all the forms of support & patience, no matter how small:  they always means so very much!

Deep breath then, & we shall attempt another step.

I'll never tire of my sky!
I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draws near
another one
do what you can. 

-Czeslaw Milosz

January 17, 2016

Would You Like A Portrait Of Your Horse?

I think of most us would answer yes to that question!  But when I decided to draw one for my friend as a christmas present, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.

Growing up, rarely a day passed when I wasn’t drawing horses with swirling hair & prancing legs (although I didn’t figure out how to draw joints until adolescence, so lots of Gumby-impersonators) in school notebooks, event bulletins, margins of coloring books, anything with a blank space.
 
The Not-Riding Lessons

When I was 13, mom started dropping me off at evening art lessons once a week.  My teacher, Anneliese, fascinated me:  a German artist, perhaps in her 60s, she had exquisite murals of horses & forests painted on entire walls of her tiny house in a tiny town.  A small room in the back, crammed with 3 rows of easels, her rolltop desk, & a large drawing table, was her classroom/studio – you’d never have guessed she had works hanging in the Library of Congress.

First drawing from class, 1991, "Football Geese," hee
She was a whole kingdom to a kid with an already over-active imagination, complete with royal commandments.  Her master brush was her sceptre as she enforced her edicts:
  • Thou shalt begin with the Strathmore Drawing pad, one Castell 4B pencil for base sketching (made in Germany…so also permissible for dressage), & two extra-sharp Eberhard Faber Ebony charcoal pencils.
  • Thou shalt complete the following subjects:
    • Landscape
    • Still life with fruit
    • Flowers
    • Birds
    • Linear perspective
  • If satisfactory, you may then choose your own subjects (asking “can I do a horse now?” every week will not speed up the process).
It may seem strict, but it was all mixed in fun with her big glass jar of German hard candies, a ridiculous little Maltese who made everyone giggle, her own easy laugh, & the class (nearly all adults, I was the youngest) who all helped each other.

Yes, Hello Kitty sharpener!
Anneliese passed away around my freshman year of high school.  I kept drawing here & there, took a few art courses in college, but life piled up.  So as I dug through boxes, unearthing the Strathmore, now old enough to vote AND drink in the US, it had been a decade since I’d done anything more than doodle on conference programs & meeting minutes at work.

Like Riding A Bike?

Art does have its own muscle memory, same as riding.  My hand & eye still knew equine curves & shadows, but I’d never attempted a portrait before.  Because they’re hard!

You’re not just replicating a horse, you’re trying to capture one unique horse.  Pencil had always been my wheelhouse & animals the subject I understood best, but infusing a drawing with a huge equine personality was a leap I hadn’t successfully made.  I did have a very helpful ingredient on my side:  love for the subject & his owner.

Gotta start somewhere...
Only one way to find out, though.  And worst case scenario, I could make a pact of silence with Mr. Shredder & no one need be the wiser.

So I took a deep breath & laid down some landmarks with the 4B.  Time for the moment (er, hours) of truth.

The heady mix of challenge, excitement, & even catharsis stirred up memories that smelled of graphite, turpentine, the wood-paneled studio walls, heavy archival paper.  You know how you can hear your trainer’s mantras in your head in the warm-up ring?  I could still hear Anneliese’s heavily accent in my pencil strokes:
  • You can always make ze shadows darker, but never sacrifice your highlights, nein.”
  • Pencils, they must never be allowed to get dull!  Sharpen!”
  • The eye, it is everything.  You finish the eye last.”
I’m pretty happy with how it came together – the hardest part was keeping the secret until I could finally pin down friend for the handoff.  I wish I could have framed it properly for her, alas, that always seems to require money!  But I at least found a mat & frame to hold it temporarily, to avoid smudging & so I wasn’t just giving someone a piece of paper.

Here you are then:  Texas Pete, compatriot & favourite riding buddy of Solo’s, a mischievous Polish Arab whom we suspect is actually a monkey with hooves.  Sorry that sucky people who steal things for money cause giant watermarks & low-res photos.

Forgot to take photo before under glass
Le Finale

January 9, 2016

She Moved To Texas But NC Wants Her Back

Belated yes, but I must share the fantastic-ness I got to meet, when Lauren of She Moved To Texas was kind enough to visit us recently.

In town for the holidays, she traversed the wilds of greater Raleigh-Durham to say hello to my two goofy chestnuts in person.

My unconscious motto?
Kudos & thanks to you, Lauren, for putting up with my rambling - my brain switched into OMG A FRESH HUMAN FOR STORIES mode, sigh.  But I think I can safely speak for all residents of Flying Solo Farm when I say that "pleasure" is not an apt enough description.

Actually, I'm sad now, because I want this kind, thoughtful, friendly, smart, creative, patient, funny, & pretty much 100x cooler than me person to move in next door!   (which of my fellow state employee friends do I need to bribe? ;P)

Simon is a very lucky pony & I hope I didn't crazy-scare her too much, as I'd love to do it again, ya know, when it's not freezing & mid-Great Flood with rifles blasting?  I vote riding & sunshine!

Tyrannosaurus Encore attacks Lauren's promising hands...
It's been a helluva...ugh, I don't even like to count time periods anymore...re-phrase: shit has been flying for so long for too many of us, thank you for bringing a bright spot with you.  May we all get a bit of breathing space & more good moments in 2016, to string together into a better narrative.

These meetups are one of my favourite gifts of the blogger community I stumbled into 6 years ago.  My life would be that much poorer had I not discovered people like Beka (um, if you haven't read her 2015 recap, go NOW!) and Jenn J and Erica and Amber and Meghann and Jennifer S and Lauren.

There are so many more, both online and (for the brave, LOL) in person, who make this circle of support, commiseration, laughter, & friendly madness of our shared passion so unique & wonderful.

Keep being awesome.  It matters.
"Stuff" optional

December 25, 2015

There's No Present Like The Time*

Holidays & I have mixed relations, but there is still no repressing my smile at Solo’s unfailing welcome nicker as I step out the back door.

So I relish every opportunity to lean on that massive shoulder & giggle at his never-ending fascination with nuzzling feet.

I’m filled with gratitude for this time off work to continue Operation Encore (v. 6.0?); we’re on day 9 or 10, I think, of my modified fitness regime. It’s some pretty thrilling stuff, like 20 minutes of walking while on the bit, or adding in some trot transitions on our longer hill walking sessions.

Where did everyone go?
We spiced it up yesterday with some radical Guinea Cutting & I think we’d have scored very well, successfully isolating the same bird three times in a row! You may not have heard of this discipline yet. That’s probably because I invented it yesterday.

Don’t worry, there’s still time to qualify for the Championships the next time Neighbour Vanessa’s flock wanders over (ride times are subject to change at the whim of pea-brained fowl).

It may have rained 427 inches in 24 hours, but at 75F, no one’s cold OR dehydrated.

For all these moments & many more, I say an inadequate thanks. Solo hates it when I press my face against his neck to absorb him with all my senses – so I try to do it often. At least he doesn’t mind my irritating chest congestion visitor (blech).

I hope I get many more chances to harass both of my ridiculous redheads in the coming year. But one thing all of us can do without fail is to seize the wonderful gift of Now.

Our bests to you from Flying Solo Farm -

My highlights
*Yes, I totally stole this from a movie.  No, I do not feel any remorse.  ;P

December 14, 2015

The Double Whammy

While I waited for Dr. Bob last Tuesday morning, I was fully prepared to hear Encore had torn a meniscus or something & I'd have a full-fledged retirement farm.

Oh, by the way, yeah, two days after Solo's "little" clinic visit, Encore decided he wanted to help keep me in poverty too.

But before I tell that story, I want to say a massive THANK YOU to each of you who commented & emailed & sent messages of support following my sad discovery of Solo's injury.  Words can be powerful & their meaning is beyond value when compassion is needed most.  Truly.

May be 1/2-finished clip revenge
Dr. Bob's 2nd Weekly Visit

After an attempt at a "consolation ride" on Saturday, hoping Encore would help lift my spirits, he informed me after a barely-pulse-raising 15-minute ride that his stifles were so sore that I was not to touch them.

I was not very consoled.

Much as I enjoy Dr. Bob's breadth of story-telling & educational treatises, I really prefer not to see him twice in four days.  And given Friday's news, I may have been a wee bit pessimistic as his truck pulled up to the shed.

I Get Somewhat Consoled

He allayed my fears after a hands-on exam & circled my "best case scenario."  Due to my intense work project demanding lots of travel since August, combined with other physical constraints, I've just been caught in a vicious cycle.

As previously noted, Encore gets bored & plays hard.  When he's not fit, soft tissue & joints are loose, & he jams himself up performing impressive sliding stops & other pasture escapades.  Then, because he's made himself sore, I don't push him, so he doesn't get fit.

Phone did something to pics...
However, the cycle shall be broken.  Dammit.

Work project has been wrapped up (ok, I decreed it wrapped up).  Encore got a shot of cortisone in each stifle to bring down inflammatory soreness, along with a steroid to help boost our ability to build muscle & tighten everything up.

I've got a schedule to try out, a back-to-work program - it comes in
versions from a clinic my neighbour has taken several horses to (brain needs small, concrete tasks at this point).  I'll tweak it a bit here & there to fit us.

Our 30 days began Saturday, with a hair-raising...er, bareback walking session.  Eh, it was beautiful out.  Barring ginormous storms, hopefully in four weeks Mr. Porky will be a bit closer to Mr. Sexy.