Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How I Turned Into a Self-Confessed Trainer Hopper

My friend and I were discussing this topic at the barn the other day. The issue of being a trainer hopper, versus someone who has been in a long term relationship with their trainer.
Like this... but with less hugging.
I have to say, looking at my checkered recent history, I pretty much fall into the trainer hopper category. Although, I would insist that it is not by choice. Believe me, I would love to find a trainer that I trust, whose program is in line with my goals, that can help develop Boca and I along the way.

So, why then am I a reluctantly self-defined trainer hopper? I think this would best be explained by a little stroll down memory lane.

Trainer #1
When I first moved back to Massachusetts, I went back to the only trainer I knew. I had last ridden with her circa 1992. She was an old school trainer, whose heyday had been on the open hunter courses of the 1960's. In the 1970's, she had galloped her own racehorses while 8 months pregnant. She was as tough as nails, and smoked like a chimney. Her horses learned to walk on the buckle while she took a cigarette break, and when it was time to go back to work, they had better say 'Yes, ma'am'. In her 60's, and crippled with arthritis, she no longer rode, but had probably forgotten more about horses than most people ever knew.

From the Trainer P years.
I loved her fiercely, but there was just one problem. I don't think she ever knew how to teach people who didn't have her depth of skill and feel. Her horses were all pro rides, and it didn't matter if you were capable or not, she was putting you on them. She didn't believe in lunging -- you just rode through whatever they threw at you. And she laughed when you came off. It was always your fault. I rode with her for 3 1/2 years, before I decided I wasn't having fun anymore. I made the choice to leave her stable for...

Trainer #2
In the winter of 2011-2012, I took a few lessons at a local barn that had an indoor and some schoolies. It slowly dawned on me that I wasn't regularly falling off. I could work on myself and not fear for my life. Trainer A had a solid foundation and an emphasis on safety.

Green coat with brass buttons... THE HORROR!

From Trainer A, I also learned I needed a hairnet, that the free show coat from my old trainer that fit me perfectly was the wrong color and about 30 years out of date. That schooling in jeans was frowned upon, and I needed to invest in some pastel colored polos. That riding outside the ring did not exist, other disciplines were frowned upon and breed-ism was alive and well. And it really didn't matter how good a horseman or woman you were, as long as you wore the right brands. And matched. Which lead me to...

Trainer #3
After I left the cattiness and gossip-girl atmosphere of Trainer A's barn, I was almost at the point of taking a break from riding. I was financially and emotionally burnt. By posting an 'ISO' on a local online forum, I found a small barn where I could ride 1 or 2 times a week in exchange for money or work. This was Trainer J's place. Trainer J specialized in dressage and horse rescue. I want to say good things about Trainer J. But, I came to the quick realization that everything on her property was either crippled or crazy. Trainer J was well intentioned, but I really have no interest in riding animals that rear or buck (or both), #thankyouverymuch.

From the Trainer J days
After one too many bad rides at Trainer J's, I decided to throw in the towel. I was going to do the smart thing - give up horses, invest all my money in my 401K and retire early. And take up knitting. (Yes, this actually happened. And FYI, knitting is really hard and very expensive.)
After about, oh, 6 weeks or so of this insanity, I found myself crying in the parking lot of the grocery store, because I was just so darn unhappy without horses in my life (hey, I never said I was emotionally stable).
That is what led to me buying Boca, which lead to:
Trainer #4
When I had owned Boca about 4 months or so, and decided that learning how to steer was a priority, I reached out to Trainer H. Trainer H boarded at my multi-discipline barn and had done a bit of everything, although was now centered riding/dressage focused. I really loved Trainer H - she was fun to learn from and had good basics. However, we had no indoor and a sh*t-ton of snow, which put lessons on hold for 3 months, and then I moved barns. Trainer H continued to coach me at my current barn for a while, but on the recommendation of Dr. C and a USEF judge and clinician, they noticed Boca was more comfortable with a H/J style ride, with me more on my thighs and a lighter seat (which makes sense, now that I know I was plopping my ample rear-end directly on his impinging dorsal spinal processes. Ooops. My bad, bruh.) In addition, Trainer H moved an hour north and was no longer able to come teach me onsite, although I was welcome to ship to her farm for lessons.
Learning to steer and go straight, the Trainer H days

Trainer #5:
Now trainer-less, I spent Summer/Fall 2015 riding with my friend H. In the interest of cutting this blog post short before we all die of old age, I rode with Friend/Trainer H2 for most of the year until she moved to Buffalo in December.
Trainer #6
My most recent stint was with Trainer K. I won't go into extreme detail, as I have covered this before, but in essence, Trainer K specialized in the adult eq. ring. Trainer K seemed to think Boca was best suited to be a short stirrup pony, and that the solution to all my problems would be to drop >$10K on an aging, semi-crippled veteran eq horse. Despite my repeated, stated goal that I wanted to make Boca and I the best we could be, as we were.
So there you have the story of how I turned into a self-confessed trainer hopper, and went through 6 trainers in 7+ years.
Which bring us to lucky #7.
Maybe I'm just a late bloomer, and the right trainer relationship will find me late in life, much like marriage did.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Re-XRay and Vet Conversations

So a little over a week ago, Boca got the all clear to return to work. I thought it might be fun to share the images of the re-X-ray with you, and include the conversations via email with the 2 vets that were involved.

For perspective, here was the original X-ray, taken sometime in Feb 2016:

Below is the current X-ray, taken 4/8/16 and the ensuing email conversations with Dr. C., my sports medicine vet and Dr. Garcia-Lopez, the surgeon from Tufts.

Dr. C. to Dr. Garcia (4/12/16):
"Hey man, The horse is doing very well and I was really pleased with the images. Shauna would love to hear from you about how to proceed. I told her to lunge him with the saddle a few times and then start riding, but you may have a more formal program to give her. If not, I can supply her with one. Hope all is well."
Dr. Garcia to Dr. C (4/12/16):
"Hi E---, I am really happy as well. There is mild reactivity and a very nice amount of space in between the DSPs. I would like to have 1 week of lunging with the saddle on before getting back under saddle. Since you have seen him and have a better sense of his musculature across the topline, I would be happy to go with your recommendations moving forward. I don't want to make generic recommendations at this point and taking it either too fast or slow. Any questions of course let me know. But I would expect this guy to do great!"
Dr. C to Me (4/16/16):
"Hi Shauna, I just realized that you may not have heard anything from Dr. Garcia. I was in contact with him and he is delighted with how the radiographs look. He was in agreement with our proposed approach, which was to lunge with the saddle for about a week and then slowly resume ridden work. There is no exact template for this -- basically, you should listen to him and proceed as he gets stronger. Obviously warmup is important and it may be useful to lunge him for a while before riding, until he gets fitter. You can exercise at all three gaits, if he is willing. He would probably benefit from a rest day after he is ridden for three consecutive days. Let me know if you have any questions."
So there you have it! Our path going forward. Of course, I have already been on him once, had a pro do a training ride on him, and have our first lesson post-surgery scheduled for tonight. I have a lot of thoughts swirling around my brain - a few non-cohesive, barely formed blog posts in there - but between traveling for work, getting sick, and ripping out our kitchen, life has been an exercise in controlled chaos. Plus, no media, as per usual. Mea culpa.

Monday, April 11, 2016

All Clear

Dr. C came out on Friday for the 8 week re-check and we got the all clear to return to under saddle work!

Look!  Tack!
The X-rays came out fantastic. Dr. C said the result was as optimal as we could have asked for. He'll be sending the x-rays to Dr. Garcia for review, but expects him to be very pleased as well.

For the next week, we'll lunge 3 or 4 times under tack before we get back to real riding.

Mr. Sassypants

Of course, as soon as we get the all clear to return to under saddle work, I get sent to Houston on a business trip. I'll have the resident trainer lunge Boca two times while I am gone, and when I return....   we'll be back in business. I am strangely excited and also dreading how bad we (ahem, I) will be.

Proof that he can, in fact, canter. Sort of.

Also - a BIG SHOUTOUT to CareyP for making me the awesome blog header and resizing it for me to fit in Blogger.

Monday, April 4, 2016

I Want What I Have Not Earned


I can't quite believe how far along we are in Boca's rehab. This week we passed the 6 week mark and are on to Week 7. We'll be doing the re-check/x-rays next week to get approval to go back under saddle. 

For the most part, lunging has been going great. However, Monday night I re-introduced the canter. And it was... not encouraging. Boca was literally throwing himself into it -- flinging his head in the air, lunging, flailing, running, corkscrewing his hindquarters. Basically he looked about as bad as he did pre-surgery. Maybe worse. I left the barn that night really discouraged. I felt helpless and overwhelmed.

Frustrated and disappointed are not feelings I am unfamiliar with in the horse world. I have had a number of people in different situations tell me I am way too hard on myself. When I see video of myself riding, I am disappointed by how amateur-ish and uneffective I look. I look... floppy.

My thought process usually goes something along the lines of the following: 'I have been taking weekly lessons for the past 6 years. How can I possibly still be so bad?"

For the first time, while driving to work last Tuesday, I had an original thought. And that thought was... I Want What I Have Not Earned.

You see, while others had a junior career, I was drinking.

Bareback, helmetless, drinking beer and getting high. 
Definitely not GHM approved.
Most of the riders and horsewomen I admire have worked their whole lives to develop the skills they have today. Years of owning and caring for horses, lessons, clinics, showing. Most are on their second, third or umpteenth horse. As the years passed and life changed, they made riding a priority. I was at the bar.

Faces redacted to protect the innocent
Not a horse in sight

I invented duck face before digital photography existed

As I drove into work, I asked myself why I thought I deserved to be a good, effective rider and horsewoman, when some of the best years of my young riding life were dedicated to drinking.

And before you think this is a big pity party, it is just a form of me coming to terms with my reality. I'm not going to have the knowledge to handle every situation that comes up with my horse - because I haven't earned it.

What I did do was immediately book a lunge session with a good pro. I brought my Pessoa rig and my side reins. I showed her what we'd been working on. She made a few suggestions and changes. Within 30 minutes, Boca was picking up the canter softly and quietly in both directions. Why? Because she knows what she's doing. Because she earned it.

I shall not forget the past, nor wish to shut the door on it. But I need to remember where I came from. My history is part of who I am. When I started riding again 6 years ago, I wanted to be a good rider. I still do. But when I compare myself to other people much further along than I am, I need to remember one thing.

They earned it.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Gott Damn, You're Ugly

I was looking at my blog today. And damn, guys. My blog is so ugly.

It's even the same colors as my blog...

Can anyone out there with some decent skills help a sister out?

Anyone want to volunteer to help me make a banner image? Or suggest better colors?
Orrrr, I don't know. Anything?

Help a poor old person with the interwebz please. My skills are lacking.

This will be your good deed for the week/month/year and will earn you some good karma from the universe!

You can send any comments/suggestions/files/instructions to shaunatwentytwelve @ gmail dot com.

Y'all have such purty pitchures and such. I need a blog makeover!