New Year’s Reflections/Close Your Eyes and Kick

Summer fun with my well-rounded horses.

Summer fun with my well-rounded horses.

Another cold, rainy day in Florida today gave me time to write what I feel like is my required reflections on where my life is in this New Year and where I’d like it to go post.  It may be January 30, but it’s still January!

I moved here going on 6 years ago because of my drive in life to be successful with horses.  At that point in time, I was waiting tables in Pittsburgh after college, drinking my nights away and making the hour-long trek to my dad’s farm to ride Monte and whatever other horses I could wrap my legs around in the area during the days.

I loved my friends and my house in the city and my family that wasn’t really my family, but I wanted more.  I wanted to focus on my riding and I wanted to be good – not mediocre.  So, I found a working student position with Mike and Sharon Poulin in “sunny Florida” and moved here in September of 2008, along with my amazing horse Monte and have been here ever since, well pretty much.

It was with the Poulins that I officially fell in love with dressage.  I had always had an affinity for it, but I grew up as a wild child riding a wild Mustang – pushing myself to gallop up AND down hills, like my dad did, sliding down banks and into the creeks long enough for Vegas, my wild Mustang, to take a sip and paw water on her belly then take off again.  At least until she decided she wasn’t going any further.  Why I always liked dressage and the English side of things can be explained about as easily as how I ended up a democrat in a family of republicans.  I was born that way? I read a lot (every single one I could coerce my mother into buying) of Saddle Club books?  I guess I just always loved the poetry inherent in dressage, and I wanted to be one with my horses.

I did learn a lot from the Poulins and had the opportunity to ride schoolmasters and feel one tempis, piaffe, passage and after all that, why wouldn’t I be officially hooked, but an interim of grad school led me down a path to work for a cutting horse trainer for 2 years and breaking out babies.  Then to going out and working for myself.

I definitely chose the hard path, which is typical for me, but it is also best-suited for me at the same time.  A family member often says while referring to me, “Don’t fence me in!”  And this is the way I feel while working for other people.  As much as I love it, I get just as sick of dressage in an arena every day as my horses do!  I also have then tendency to put my employers’ priorities ahead of mine – their horses get worked and cared for while mine get put on the backburner – and that is not a good thing because my horses are the only ones with me long enough to build my reputation as more than just a young-horses starter/problem fixer.

The downside to this option as I discussed with my coach and mentor, Ashley Leith, is that you don’t have time being groomed by a pro who is currently at the top of their game.  You have plenty of time on the back of a horse, but you’re not always under scrutiny and you can’t always afford to make it to competitions – whereas while working for a pro you have the potential to go to a lot of competitions and build your network in the process.  Then comes the time when they start passing a training horse or two down to you, and these are training horses in your sport of choice, not training horses that are 10 years old and need started for 30 days then get ridden once a month (maybe) on trails after they go home.  (I get a shocking amount of older horses to start, and I’m not bashing them or trail riding or anything of the sort – they generally go pretty easily, and I come to love them all – but I want more, damnit!)

I know both Jim Wofford and Denny Emerson have stressed the importance of diversifying your riding background, saying something along the lines of, “Go gallop thoroughbreds or work on a dude ranch for a summer!” And I have definitely accomplished that.  I can ride just about anything short of a horse that should be on the bucking circuit – not that I enjoy it exactly, but I have bills to pay, and yes one of them is for health insurance – and I can confidently work with horses in an array of disciplines: cutting, reining, dressage, eventing, young-horse starting, mule driving, etc.  I’ve also learned to appreciate every breed of horse, I own an Arab x Holsteiner, Arab x Saddlebred, a Mustang and two Quarter Horses for Christ’s sake!  A breed-ist I am not.

I know, too, that at this point of time in my career, I need to pad my resume with show results and “legitimate” accomplishments or I will continue to only be sent horses for 30 or 60 days of training (I’m lucky if I ever get 90) and won’t have the opportunity to use all of my potential as a rider in developing good-minded upper level competition horses.  And this is where it “just sucks” because the horse business is so tough and the saying “It takes money to make money,” holds so true.  A show, dressage or eventing, runs around $240, and that’s because I’m cheap and refuse to pay for a stall if I don’t absolutely have to.

It is so easy whine, whine, whine, and I do plenty alongside my friends in our many “the horse business is so tough” chats, but I also put my head down and keep going, or close my eyes and keep kicking is another way I like to envision it.  In a moment of exasperation the other day I entered the Rocking Horse Winter II Horse Trials with Monte in the Open Novice.  I’ve been vying for Training, but I’m trying to at least halfway listen to Ashley’s advice and give him an easy go that won’t over-face him.  I am also entered on a training horse, Forrest, in the Novice Horse division, but I’m forcing myself to stop letting my horses sit, and my goal with Monte is to get my Training requirements knocked out so I’m eligible to ride Prelim and pad my resume.  (Knocking them out may take longer than necessary since Monte can be a flake some days, but that’s another post. 😉 ) .  This will be my 6th recognized show, ever, so resume padding and needing to exist and develop a good competition record isn’t just me whining (completely), it is a must.

On the closing date, I had no clue how I was going to pay for my entry, but I hit submit on and said to myself, “Well, I have a couple weeks to figure it out.  I’ll find a way to make it happen.”  Later that night a friend texted me a woman’s number who needed 30 days put on her horse to work out a couple quirks.


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