Thursday, October 23, 2014

I don't remember the moment when I knew I wanted a German Shepherd, but I do know that it wasn't something I had thought about forever. In fact, when my roommate during my senior year of college came home with a dog (we had a no pet lease) I specifically remember thinking, "wow, what a terrible idea." 

Not only do I not remember when exactly I decided I needed to have a German Shepherd, but I don't remember when I decided that I was going to have to have a dog ASAP. I think it was a longing that grew over time, and came to a point while I was in grad school. It was my first year living alone, and while I was totally fine with not having other people around, I still wanted some kind of companionship. 

I'm allergic to cats and having horses in the house is generally frowned upon by landlords, so that left me with dogs. I somehow ended up living in a complex that didn't allow dogs over 35 pounds, and well, I'm not a big fan of small dogs. While there were a whole bunch that I found along the way to foster and rehome or track down their owners, I knew that I would have to wait to get the dog of my dreams. 

Those who know me know that I value discipline and consistency. It's what I use to train horses, and I wanted a dog that would fit well into that lifestyle. I wanted a smart dog. The dog also needed to be loyal. I've always been someone who just does my own thing. This dog would be my sidekick. I also didn't really have a solid plan for what life was going to look like, so I wanted a dog that could seem intimidating if it needed to. A dog that would say, "Hey bud, keep walking, this is my human and if you mess with her, you'll have to deal with me."

I brought Finn home when she was 7 weeks and 7 pounds. I think when I told mom that I was getting a puppy her reaction was about the same as mine to my college roommate, "wow, that's a terrible idea." Lucky for me this is perfect, she's everything I ever wanted and everything I didn't know I needed. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On learning to teach humans

For the longest time I didn't really care for teaching students, I only really cared about teaching the horses. To me they were the more honest of the two, and honestly, also the more willing. I've done a fair amount of growing up in the past six years. That's to be expected though, because if we aren't growing and changing then what is the point? 

There have been major life milestones and minor ones. There are people that come and go from our lives, some that we wish would stay, and some we can't wait to forget about. One of the great indicators of growth and maturity though, is to look back at experiences, both good and bad, and realize that we can't change the way things were, only the way things can be in the future. 

When I was twelve years old, traveling the country playing club soccer for PDA, my coach told the team, "Life is 10% about what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it." He meant it in terms of soccer, and yeah, that's how I thought about it at the time. Little did he know, that quote would stay with me and continue to affect my worldview.

I was probably 13 years old when I taught my first riding lesson. I probably knew just enough to be dangerous, but all I cared about was finding anyway I could to spend more time in the saddle. I was working off my riding lessons at that point, and if the barn owner considered teaching work, I was happy to do it with a smile on my face. 

Since moving to Florida I've found a wonderful little farm where I can teach lessons a few days a week. The horses are nice, the people are nice, the trainers are nice. It's a major change for me to be working with quality horses that are already broke. I'm so used to starting the young ones that I find a fascinating correlation in my approach to teaching young horses and inexperienced kids. 

I'm still learning and developing my teaching style, and some days I wonder if the things I say make any sense to the students. As a kinesthetic learner, I spend a lot of time coaching on feel. I think this is why training the horses was always more appealing - I could feel the feedback the horse was giving me and feel my correction. In teaching you have to use your words!

Looking back I realize I spent so many years working in exchange for the chance to ride that often I sacrificed the opportunity to take lessons in exchange for consistency in the saddle. I spent the same amount boarding a horse that I would have on two lessons a week in college when I had Aston. I worked at the big jumper barn so that I could sit on made horses rather than working somewhere else for the money to afford lessons there. While I sometimes wish that I had the chance to train on a nice horse with a great trainer on a consistent basis, I know that I'm the rider and horse person I am because of how I've had to work for it.

I'm grateful that I had people willing to sit and watch my constant videos to give me feedback when I didn't have someone near me that I could afford to work with. Now it is my turn to pay it forward. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Right where you need to be

Do you ever get that feeling that you are right where you need to be? Even when things aren't going right, there is still a sort of comfort in knowing you are moving in the right direction, that you energy isn't being wasted on minutia.

I moved to Florida without knowing a single person. I thought there were some people that I could get in touch with but I didn't end up bothering. It has only been three months, but already I feel like I'm building a life here.

It isn't easy - picking up and moving to a place where you don't know anybody. Staying within your comfort zone, not pushing yourself to create social opportunities, and living in isolation are the easy.

"It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

An indigenous experience: The Térraba

Its been almost a month since we arrived back in the United States after our week long adventure in Costa Rica.  Along with a team of six peers, I traveled to Térraba, Costa Rica to document an indigenous community currently involved in a struggle against the government.  Prior to our arrival, we knew little about the population.  I had originally believed that there was nothing that Google couldn't tell you, but it met its match.  My role as the writer included researching the community and educating our group on anything I could find.

That was a short meeting.

What we arrived to find, however, was a vibrant agricultural community filled with intelligent and educated group fully aware of the implications of their government's apathy and indifference.  

The Costa Rican government is currently in the planning stages of a multi billion dollar hydro electric dam, also known as Proyecto Hidroelectrico Diquis, that would flood 7,500 hectares in the Brunca region of Costa Rica.  The dam, placed along the Térraba River, would not only flood the group's native lands, but would bring 3,500 outsiders to a community of 600.  There is no way they could resist that and continue to maintain their culture. The United Nations has gotten involved, and has stated 

There has been no consultation with or participation by the Térraba in relation to the Diquis dam, which has been granted the ‘highest priority status’ with regard to obtaining environmental and other permits by the Office of the President.  This is the case despite many requests for participation and even large protest marches organised by the Térraba to highlight their exclusion from decision making. -UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
As the writer, it was my job to get to know these people, find out who they were and find a way to communicate it with the world.  Anyone who knows me or has traveled with me knows how deeply I dive into immersion experiences.  I spent as much time as I could talking to different members of the community and conducting interviews.  It took me a little while to get into the swing of things but the Rivera family made us feel at ease and at home. 

Highlights included me saving the day by riding in on a white stallion, dance lessons and chicha.  

The Térraba website that we built launched on January 24th and has had 3,000+ unique viewers and 12,000+ page views from 65+ countries.  Pieces of our story were picked up by NPR and Vagabondish, although the articles failed to mention our team by name.  Several tourist groups have decided to include Terraba as a destination, and the town will receive their first visitors next week, thanks to the website. 

Marshall Beringer, Rachell Carroll, Ashley Deese, Ruth Eckles, 
Alex Register, Kelsey Sullivan, and Dioni Wise

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Baby pony trots!

To say that I'm proud of this little guy would be such an understatement.  He's been here about a month, and while progress has been slow because of coordinating schedules, he's growing into a confident grown-up pony.  

I backed him for the first time several weeks ago, but because Grayson was out of town and we were having trouble coordinating our schedules, I didn't get back on til earlier this week.  In the time between the first and second rides we spent each day improving communication on the lunge line, free jumping over stuff on the lunge, and just getting to know each other better.  This pony is freakishly athletic and has a JUMP in him.  I have a feeling he's going to ride like a Ferrari, and he's definitely going to have what it takes to be an upper level horse.  He's got enough attitude but also high rideability and trainability.  He's smart and wants to figure out what I want from him. We are going to be going around in no time!

Joe is doing well too. He seems to be putting a bit of weight on, and although he's 1200lbs right now, I'd like to see him put on 200-300 more.  Last week we did some chiropractic work, acupuncture, and I had his teeth done.  I think it will go a long way in making sure he's comfortable and happy as he goes into full work.  He's getting ridden 5 days a week, and while he still worries a bit, he gets better with every ride. He's starting to understand the difference between the right lead and left lead, and is having an easier time picking each up.  Although he is sometimes tense, this is a horse that has proven himself to be willing and trustworthy.  I think as our relationship develops he will be much more confident that he's capable of being successful in the things I'm asking of him.  I'm looking forward to seeing where he is in a month and in six months. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Big weekend for the kids

What a weekend!  Not only has Joe improved significantly over the four times I've ridden him, but I finally back the pony!  I'll start out with Joe though.

Thursday was my first time riding him, and when I first get on a horse, especially one that I have time to work with (no rush for results) I like to feel out how they go and how they like to use their bodies.  Many OTTBs (Off the Track Thoroughbreds) are strong to the left, weak to the right, and stiff through their whole bodies.  Because Joe was turned out for 18+ months before I bought him, most of his body soreness from race training should be gone.  Living out in a pasture doesn't improve one-sidedness though.  

Since when I watched him be ridden by the cowboy last weekend I noticed he had a tight grip on Joe's mouth (and a corkscrew snaffle- poor boy) I also wanted to see what how he'd go without any support.  As I imagined, he went with his head up, bracing with his lower neck, and using his neck to balance himself in turns.  He also wasn't interested in picking up the right lead at all.  The next day I had the privilege of having a great professional watch me ride, and on the second try, with his tips we got the right lead, and I was impressed by how soft and balanced his canter was!  This is going to be a nice horse.

On Saturday I began asking for a bit more from him.  We spent some time walking and trotting on small circles where he was rewarded for bending to the inside and giving to the pressure. These exercises will help him become much more supple through his whole body.  I also began to ask him to drop his head down and lift through his back.  Right now, because he's not completely accepting of the contact, he is not truly on the bit, rather he's just in a frame, but working this way will help him to build his topline and gain muscle in the right places.  As he learns to understand the aids better he will learn how to carry himself correctly.  Since he still needs about 300 lbs I'm taking it slow and letting him figure things out as we go.  He's proving to be very smart and quiet though, which is exactly why I bought him!  I'm so glad that Janene was around to take some video so you can see exactly why I like him so much.

Afterwards, I went through my routine with Starbucks, and since I had Janene around to help I thought it would be the perfect chance to back him for the first time.  I lunged him til he was pretty tired (did I mention he picked up on how to lunge right away?  He's an old pro now!), and then I went through my routine of jumping up and down, banging on the saddle, shaking everything, waving my hands all over the place - Starbucks just looked at me like I'm crazy.  I swear if horses could roll their eyes, he would have in that moment.  So I had Janene lead him up to the mounting block and I layed across his back several times from each direction, and then I mounted and dismounted several times, and finally we walked off! We walked about 20 ft and then I hopped off and started over with the whole process.  The second time (after the same process of laying across him and mounting and dismounting) I got on and we walked around the whole ring with much less stopping and starting!  He's such a good boy and deserves a ton of treats!  (although instead of treats I just tell him he's a good boy, I hate mouthy horses).  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

+1 this week! Meet Joe.

Its almost time to back Starbucks (that means get on his back)!  He's getting better about all things preparation- he's lunging great, lets me stand above him and wave my arms, and lay across his back.  He's much more comfortable wearing tack, especially with the bit in his mouth.  He's still nervous when there are other horses being lunged or ridden in the ring, he can't seem to figure out why those horses look so different!  He's still reactive when there are noises or anything else going on behind him, but he improves each day.  He seems happy to be engaged in work and learning a job.

There is more exciting news though, today my new horse arrives!  

Joe is a 16.3h 5 year old TB gelding.  He's well bred (Chief Seattle x Outflanker), and although he's 5 he only raced 5 times when he was a 3 year old.  He's a plain bay with a small star and a good mover.  A cursory google search revealed some photos from his racing days, including a conformation shot from when he was a yearling.  He won $5000 on the track, and then was turned out for 18 months until I found him.  Not all thoroughbreds need or get time to decompress after a racing career, but it certainly never hurt any of them.  His body has gotten a chance to rest and recover, and his brain has had time to come down.  The beauty of ex-racehorses, and one of my favorite things about them, is that they have seen so much at a young age.  Horse shows will be no big deal for him, because there is less hustle and bustle there than there is at a racetrack.  He knows how to go (anyone who has started young warmbloods will tell you that 'button' doesn't come preinstalled!) and stop, and he bathes, lunges, ties, loads, clips etc.  All the groundwork has been done, and I'm simply going to have to retrain him to be a riding horse instead of a race horse.  Piece of cake!

I found him in a field about an hour and a half away, watched him get lunged and ridden, then vetted and bought him.  Wait, did I just buy another horse without sitting on it?  Oops!  I'm not worried about it though, this guy is kick-along quiet, and I think he'll make up into a great hunter prospect. He's got a big, slow, rocking horse canter, and as he was lunged over fences he got the hang of it quickly.  He needs about 300 lbs right now, his feet badly need to be done, and his dead summer coat needs to fall out.  I'll get him cleaned up though, and by spring he'll be a different horse.  I will post pictures when he arrives this afternoon, and I'll be blogging about both his and Starbucks progress in the coming months.