Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Christmas Narwhal?

I'd never heard of narwhals until fairly recently.  I can't remember the exact context in which I learned about them, but I think it might have been some kind of article about history and how people came to believe unicorns existed.  Regardless, I'm sort of fascinated by them, and my daughter loves them almost as much as unicorns (which are totally real, by the way; they are just really good at hiding, according to my daughter).

So it was with extraordinary delight that she opened a box from one of her grandmothers and discovered that it contained an inflatable narwhal.  And so my dream of having some sort of cohesive display in our yard for Christmas fades farther away.  My husband and I always talk about putting something together that looks a little more coordinated, but, alas, I guess we are going with the eclectic theme:) :) :)

Because narwhals swim with candy canes, right?
Doesn't everyone need a 10-foot tall Mickey Mouse in their yard?

Friday, December 6, 2019

Trail riding with my daughter

After the horse show, my daughter's instructor wanted her to have a really fun lesson to reward her for her hard work.  So a few days later, Gemma and her pony and Nimo and I headed out for a short ride around the farm.  Gemma's instructor came too so she could help Gemma if she had any trouble or got worried.

We headed down the road that runs through the farm and then took a turn into the woods.  The trails were a bit overgrown in a few places, and we did have a couple of run-ins with sticker brush (why, oh, why can't sticker brush be one of the many species of plants that are going extinct?).  But overall, it was a really fun experience.  Nimo did great with the pony and walked and trotted at a pace the pony could keep up with.  And Gemma had a blast too.  It was her first time outside of the arena, and I think she really loved exploring the trails.

We have been out a couple of times since then, and I love watching Gemma learn new skills and enjoy riding.  I can't wait until the time comes to get her a horse of her own!  I admit to fantasizing about showing her all the trails that Nimo and I have ridden on and I'm hopeful that day will come sooner rather than later:)

Thursday, December 5, 2019

When it is about the ribbons

When my husband and I first decided that we were going to try to have a baby, I had absolutely no idea how controversial certain parenting techniques and decisions were.  It never occurred to me that I could lose a 10-year friendship because I had read a book about early potty training and happened to enthusiastically mention how interesting the ideas in the book seemed.  (There were actually more factors than just the book, but I will never forget my friend's reaction when I brought it up.)  I didn't know that sleep training vs. not sleep training was an all-out battle.  I couldn't have imagined how mentioning co-sleeping would send some mothers into the stratosphere.  And let's not even go down the road of discipline...

I tend to be a little unconventional in my thought process for most things.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that if there is an unconventional way to think about something, it will almost always appeal to me more than something conventional.  Part of the reason is simply that I want to think of myself as independent and unique.  But another reason is that over the years, I've found out how damaging doing something in a traditional way can be.  Continuing to engage in a behavior simply because that is how it has always been done or because that's the way most people do it is not a reason to do that thing.  Some of humanity's worst sins can be laid at the foot of that kind of thinking.

That doesn't, of course, mean all traditions are wrong or that the way most people do something is harmful.  Sometimes the reason something has always been done a certain way or most people do it that way is because it makes sense, and even I have had to admit that a time or two:)

But I digress.  What I really want to discuss today is the debate about whether all participants (namely kids) should get a ribbon or a trophy or a something simply because they participated in a sport or an event.  I'm probably one of the few parents who didn't feel strongly one way or the other about this particular topic until recently.

One thing that really attracted me to endurance riding in the beginning was the idea of "To Finish Is To Win."  That motto really spoke to me, even more so when I realized all the challenges that have to be overcome in order to officially finish a ride.  In fact, I even got into a bit of a heated discussion with a friend one time about whether endurance rides (or in her case, human foot races - think 10-mile races or marathons) should give out t-shirts to those who just show up, regardless of whether they officially complete the ride (or race).  My friend contended that race organizers absolutely should not give out t-shirts to anyone who doesn't officially finish the race.  Because apparently she was aware of many runners who would go out and collect the shirts and not finish the race, and that was very upsetting to her.  I get it.  That does seem like strange behavior.  Maybe it is unfair that a person who finishes the race gets a shirt and so does someone who doesn't finish the race.

But let's look at a high-level view for a minute.  Who cares?  I mean, in the grand scheme of life, does it really matter that two people who put forth a different level of effort get a t-shirt that might make it seem like they did the same thing to some random third person?

In the past, the Foxcatcher endurance ride has given out t-shirts to everyone who enters the ride and shows up to collect their ride packet.  The cost of the t-shirt is factored into the entry fee, and I guess maybe the organizers felt that if you pay for a t-shirt, you should get a t-shirt, even if something happens and you aren't able to finish the ride.  I've entered the Foxcatcher ride three times, so I have three Foxcatcher t-shirts.  But I only officially completed the ride one time.  The other two times, I rider optioned at the hold (once because the weather was abysmal and Nimo looked really miserable even though he vetted through with all As and another time because I had only planned to do the first loop as part of getting Nimo back into shape again).  I value each of those three t-shirts.  I know the story behind them.  And each of those t-shirts represents an incredible effort on my part.  Maybe the effort to officially finish was marginally more than the other two rides, but in reality, I still put forth a huge effort to condition my horse, feed him properly, take care of his feet and other physical and medical needs, pack all my crap, feed myself, haul my trailer on the Beltway and I-95 (seriously, it is a life-threatening experience to haul on those highways!), and be ready to ride.  The fact that I rode 12 miles less on two rides is actually pretty insignificant compared to everything else that went into getting ready for those rides.  Obviously, human races probably involve a lot less prep simply because there is only one sentient being instead of two, but there I think it is hard to know the story of everyone who shows up to a race.  For all you know, the competitor has cancer and just getting out of bed every day is a struggle.  Give the person a t-shirt!

Anyway, I will never choose an endurance ride simply because I get a t-shirt.  I've done plenty of rides with no t-shirt and they are still meaningful to me.  But I can understand why some kind of token might be appreciated by a participant, even if they don't finish or come in first place.

So now let's talk about kids.  It's probably pretty rare that a six-year old puts in the same level of effort that an adult might put into preparing herself and her horse for a 100-mile endurance ride.  But it could happen, I suppose.  In reality, though, most kids probably don't really have the same level of understanding that adults do about competitive effort.  And I'm pretty sure there have been lots of studies done about the risks of extrinsic rewards (like trophies) over intrinsic rewards (like the satisfaction of a job well done).  In general, extrinsic rewards can come with some potential issues, and some personality types might have more trouble with those issues than others.

I'm a big fan of intrinsic rewards.  I think they are better in most cases.  I do a lot of things simply because I get joy from doing them and if I got paid to do them or got some other thing as a reward for doing them, I don't know how meaningful that would be.  But, as I mentioned above, my ride t-shirts are really meaningful to me because they represent something important.  It isn't the t-shirt that has value in and of itself, but rather what it represents, which is a whole lot of work and sacrifice and some luck too.

And all of this is very interesting to me because my six-year-old (at the time) daughter decided she wanted to enter a horse show.  It was early August, I think.  She had been riding a certain cute little pony for a little more than two months.  And she had been watching Spirit and The Pony-Sitters Club on Netflix.  In the shows, the characters go to horse shows.  And she decided she wanted to do that as well.  As luck would have it, the barn where I board Nimo and where she takes lessons hosts a series of hunter shows, so there was an opportunity.  But she hadn't really been practicing for a horse show.  She had spent most of the previous year simply working on basic stuff like posting trot and turning and stopping.

When I mentioned to her instructor that Gemma was interested in showing, the instructor thought Gemma could be ready for the September show.  So for five weeks, Gemma had one lesson a week that focused on showing.  Meanwhile, I figured out what the required attire was and made several trips to the tack store to get Gemma outfitted properly.  (I have very little experience with hunter-style showing.  I dabbled in it a bit when I was a teenager in 4-H, but things have certainly changed a lot since then!)

Gemma also had the chance to give her a pony a bath and clean her tack the day before the show.  While the instructor insisted it wasn't necessary, I strongly believe that it is important to learn that if you show, you do the work.  No one else is going to take care of your horse.  No one else is going to clean your tack.  No one else is going to practice for you.  And Gemma was, quite honestly, delighted to do those things.  There are few things she loves more than giving a horse a bath.

Giving a pony a bath is fun!
Finally, the day of the show arrived.  Gemma and I headed out to the barn early, so she would have plenty of time to get her pony ready.  We had talked a little about what to expect, and I tried to emphasize that the most important thing was for her to have fun.  She didn't seem to be nervous at all, just so excited to be going to a show.

When we got to the barn, I got Gemma set up brushing her pony and getting him ready while I went to register.  We had decided she would do all three classes in her division, which was called Pre-Short Stirrup (don't ask me why - I have since discovered that many things in the hunter world are nonsensical to me).  There was a walk-only class, a walk/trot class with both posting and sitting trot, and a walk-trot class that added jump seat (or two-point) to the mix.  Her instructor was also there and helped her warm-up.  Two of my good friends plus my husband had also come to cheer Gemma on.

And then it was time to put the final touches on her outfit and wait for her class to be called.
Gemma strikes a pose:)
Me helping Gemma with some final touches.  Photo by Tosh Bledsoe.
And then it was time.  I really wasn't nervous.  She was riding the world's tiniest pony, so even if she fell off, I doubted she could get too hurt.  But I find that I don't worry about her too much when she is riding.  She has good balance, she is coordinated, she is brave, and she has so much fun.  Plus, she's in an arena, so everything is contained, and there are lots of people watching who can jump in and help if necessary.

Off she goes!

Could they be cuter?  Photo by CarlyGPhotography.
She was so happy to get a ribbon!  Photo by CarlyGPhotography.
Gemma did all three of her classes really well.  She posted on the wrong diagonal sometimes, but otherwise, she kept her pony on the rail and handled a couple of difficult situations that she had no prior experience with.  In one case, her pony was walking much faster than another pony (he may be small, but he is quick!) and she got too close to the pony in front.  She quickly figured out to move around the pony.  Then another time, one of the other riders really cut her off (probably not on purpose, but because the kids in the class were all 10 and under and may not have had much experience).  She got out of the way and negotiated a safer path.

There were six kids in each class and Gemma got sixth place each time.  (Please don't ask me how the placings were determined - I have no idea how a person judges six cute kids riding six cute ponies.  All I know is that my daughter did a great job.)  And she couldn't have been happier.  After the show, she asked me, "Mom, how did I get so lucky to get all the green ribbons?"  I mean, I could have cried. What an amazing attitude.

A few days later, we were talking about the show and Gemma asked me if getting a ribbon meant she had won.  I know there are parents out there who would have taken the time to sit down and explain what a green ribbon means and that it isn't first place.  They would have had the hard conversation about winning and losing and how competitions really work.  But I could not do it.  This kid works so hard and she tries and she is so excited about every single thing she does.  She loves horses and she loves riding, and I am not going to be the person who taints that love and excitement with some crap about intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards and how you have to be the best in order to win.  And so I said, "Yes, honie, it means you won."  Because in my eyes, she did.

She did what most adults I know would not and could not do (including myself).  She went to a real horse show after having lessons for less than a year and working on show stuff for a mere five rides.  She rode a pony that she'd only been riding about three months.  She pushed herself to her highest level (I don't think she'd had any experience cantering yet), and she smiled the whole way around the arena class after class.  She wasn't pretending to have fun for the judge.  She was actually having the time of her life.  I'm so thankful that it worked out for her to get a ribbon.  It meant so much to her and she has all three of those ribbons hanging where she can see them in her room.  Those ribbons matter to her, not because they are ribbons, but because when she looks at them, she sees a beautiful green color that she loves, and she remembers that she got to go to a horse show.  Maybe all kids wouldn't see things that way, but wouldn't it be great if we could live in a world where they did?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

At the end of a long day...

Today was one of those days that was full of good things, but also exhausting.  It started off with me getting up a little earlier than usual and working on some handmade Christmas gifts.  Then, it was off to the grocery store to pick up a few things for a birthday celebration.  My best friend's birthday was today, and my daughter and I were planning to visit for several hours.  Next, we made a quick stop at Starbucks for some caffeine.  (Somehow I'd run out of coffee at home!  The Horror!)

And finally, we were on our way to my friend's house.  We spent several hours hanging out, and there were cookies to be baked and lunch to be made and candles to be blown out.  Plus, Gemma loves interacting with my friend's dogs and cats, and I love the chance to have an adult conversation with someone who knows me so very well.

Gemma has been waiting to make Christmas cookies for so long!  She couldn't wait to try out all the shapes!
The finished product - Gemma insisted on putting the icing and sprinkles on herself:)
After our visit, it was back home to feed our cats and dog.  Then I took a short rest and drank more coffee before heading out to take care of my ducks and check in with Nimo.  I still go out to the barn every evening to give him his second dinner (he's sort of the equine equivalent of a hobbit, I think!) and turn him out.  He comes in with the other horses and hangs out in his stall for a couple of hours so he has time to eat his grain and flake of alfalfa hay.

Who could resist this face?
I arrive at the barn anywhere between 5:30 and 8, depending on my schedule.  If the weather is decent and it isn't too late, I ride.  Otherwise, I simply give him some grain and supplements, hand graze him for 10-15 minutes (the grass is still green here, but it is nonexistent in the horse fields), and turn him back out for the night.  Tonight I also did some bodywork because I had been noticing that he was having trouble with bending to the right during half pass, and I discovered he had some stiffness/soreness in his poll area.

No matter how tired I am, I make the trip to the barn.  There is nothing like breathing in the scent of horses to pick me up, and I love cleaning Nimo's stall as my last activity of the day.  I can't really say why cleaning the stall is so satisfying, but it never fails to make me feel like I accomplished something, even though it typically isn't very dirty because Nimo has only been in it for 2-4 hours.  Nimo is so integral to my life that seeing him every day is just a part of my day.  I think I would feel incomplete without that connection.

Do you have a must-do activity every day?

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Western Dressage Update

I last wrote about our western dressage experience in this post.  You may remember that I planned to show again, and I did.  I signed up for the September show, and it was only marginally cooler than the August show.  I kind of regretted my decision as I sweated my way through warming up.  But Nimo seemed to be doing OK, and I felt like we could do as well as we had at the previous show.

As my ride time approached, I moved Nimo closer to the judge's table (or car, as the case may be!) and waited for my time.  As I approached the vehicle, I planned to let the scribe know that my number had changed so it wouldn't match my score sheet.  But I never got the chance.  I was still about 30 feet away when the judge rang the bell, indicating I had 30 (or maybe it's 45?  I can never remember) seconds to get to the entrance of the arena, which was on the other end.

I don't know about everyone else's experience with dressage schooling shows, but out of all the ones I have been to, I have never had that experience before.  Competitors are ALWAYS allowed to walk around the perimeter of the arena, or at least halfway, before the bell is rung.  It is to give the horse and rider a chance to see where they are and in some cases, the judges I've shown for have allowed a few minutes if there is something that is obviously worrying the horse, so the rider has a chance to let the horse see it.  (That opportunity has never really helped with Nimo, but I've always very much appreciated the thought.)

In this case, I was never even able to check in.  I am embarrassed to say that I completely panicked for about 3 seconds.  And if you are ever wondering how sensitive horses are to their riders, I can provide some anecdotal evidence for you.  They are hyper-sensitive.  In less than a second after my panicked reaction to the bell ringing long before I expected it, Nimo reacted.  His head went in the air and he started prancing and not wanting to go forward.  I started worrying about getting to the entrance of the arena in time, and pushed Nimo to trot, which was probably a mistake, because it made him even more reactive.

We somehow managed to scrape out a test, but it was awful.  I mean, just awful.  Nimo was tense and trotting too fast and our circles were almost unrecognizable.  I don't know how we scored a 61-something.  Maybe sympathy points?

After I had a chance to regroup, I kind of beat myself up for my huge overreaction.  I have discovered this interesting little tidbit about myself over the years.  If I anticipate that something really horrible will happen, I can almost always handle whatever does happen without too much trouble.  However, if I expect things to go smoothly and they don't, it really upsets me.  Like in a big, big way.  I might even appear to be completely irrational and unreasonable to other people.  It's one reason why I typically plan for the worst-case scenario and tend to be negative about trying things.  It might sound strange to others, but thinking that way seems to help me handle situations better.

In this case, Nimo had done well at the previous show and he warmed up well too.  I was absolutely not anticipating missing our usual walk-the-long-side-of-the-arena-to-make-sure-we-are-focused.  And it threw me for a loop and cost Nimo his calmness.  I'm not sure how to feel about it, even with the benefit of lots of hindsight.  While my reaction was unnecessary - we would have had enough time to walk the long side of the arena and still get to the entrance in enough time - I am kind of upset that we weren't allowed what is the standard opportunity to see the arena.  I don't know if the judge did that to any other competitors, but I'm sure she didn't do it to everyone.

I mentioned it to the show organizer afterward, and she said something along the lines of the judge trying to make up time because she felt she was running behind.  Number one, as far as I could tell, the judge was running on time.  My ride time was within 2-3 minutes of my scheduled time.  And really?  I can't have 20 seconds to prepare myself?

And this brings me to another reason why I don't like showing.  I don't want to be the kind of competitor who blames poor performance on the judge or the footing or the weather or the facility or the trailer ride.  There are some riders who can never seem to own their own mistakes.  It's always somebody else's fault.  And it can be easy to fall into that trap.  Look how easily I just did.  Yes, the judge should have given me a few seconds to check in and verbally confirm that I was ready and had no additional information (like a number change) to relay.  But, it's my responsibility to remain calm and not panic over minor (or even major) things, so that my horse can focus and do his job.  I failed to do that, and eventually I decided to accept that I made a mistake and learn from it.

And so that is why I found myself entering the October show.  I was determined not to lose it over minor stuff and be a better rider for Nimo.  Also, it was a costume show.  So I could dress up Nimo and myself and ride our test in whatever costume we wanted as long as it was safe.  I've had this Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean) costume sitting around for at least 10 years, maybe longer.  I had bought it for another costume dressage show many years ago that ended up being cancelled.  I never had another opportunity to wear it because I never showed after that year, except for a couple of isolated shows that convinced me each time that I shouldn't be showing.  I had planned to sell the costume on eBay (it includes some pretty authentic reproduction stuff that is probably worth something), but hadn't gotten around to it yet.  So I dug it out and got excited to wear it.  Nimo would get some of the cool beads in his mane and he would also wear a scarf around his head, and I would wear the pirate clothing plus a few little accessories.

As luck would have it, the show was cancelled.  (Why do you do this to me, Universe?)  It was raining, and apparently unlike endurance people, dressage people do not show in the rain.  (This statement will become ironic in a little bit...)  The organizer did set up a new date for it in November, but wearing the costume seemed weird and anti-climactic, so I put away for another year.

We did compete again at the November show, though.  The day was cold, windy, and damp, but not raining.  I'm not sure it was a significant improvement over the day in October when the show was supposed to be held.  But Nimo and I showed up and warmed up and everything was good again.  I mentally prepared myself for an unexpected bell ringing and I was bound and determined to stay calm no matter what happened.  Bridle falls off?  No biggie - Nimo won't go very far before he's going to want to eat some grass.  Stirrup leather breaks?  It's OK, I'm not posting anyway.  Horse is spooky?  No problem - I have excellent balance.

Of course, everything went fine.  No problems.  Nimo was good.  Probably not quite as forward as he'd been at the show in August, so our score reflected that.  But it was still very respectable at a 67-something.  Plus, we got some nice comments from the judge.

We got lots of 6s and 7s and even an 8!
In fact, it was such a positive experience that I stupidly agreed to sign up for the December show when one of my friends suggested it.  Yes, we show year-round here in Virginia:)  The winter shows would be held someplace else, though.  Not at the barn where I keep Nimo.  So I'd be throwing in a whole new wrinkle for Nimo.  It's not that he's a nutter when I take him to new facilities.  In fact, he's usually pretty good.  I haul out for lessons to several different places and as long as he has a chance to look around for a little while, he's OK.  But based on my previous experience hauling to shows, I know that most facilities have something about them that makes Nimo uncomfortable.  Like jumps stacked right next to the arena fence.  Or the now infamous floating mirror.  (I kid you not, one arena had a single, large mirror mounted on tall posts.  So it literally looked like it was floating 8 feet above the ground.  Most horses at the show were reactive to it and Nimo lost his mind over it.  We couldn't use about one-quarter of the arena for the test.)  Or the time the show organizers thought it would be fun to use straw bales with reflective pumpkins set in them along the perimeter of the arena.  (We did the entire test on the inside track.)

I had never even heard of the facility that the December show would be at, but it was pretty close (maybe a 20-minute drive), and so I thought, "How bad could it be?" (insert maniacal giggling here)

By this time, I was really comfortable with the test, and I'm pretty sure even Nimo knew it, so I didn't feel the need to practice at all before the show.  I mean, I still rode, but we just did our regular routine without running through the test pattern.  Nimo had seemed to anticipate several movements during the November show, so I figured practicing it more would lead to more anticipation which might lower our score if he made the changes too soon.

The day for the December test was predicted to be cold (like 40 degrees, which is a little below normal for early December, I think) and rainy.  Yep, rainy.  The organizer decided to keep the show on because the tests would be done in an indoor arena.  That's great, but guess where the warm-up area was?  Outside.  So I could haul in the rain, park in the rain, saddle my horse in the rain, warm up for at least 30 minutes in the rain, all so I could ride for 5 minutes inside.  It amused me a little that the October show had been cancelled for conditions that were not that much different than the December show.

I have lots of experience riding in the rain (and the sleet and the snow), so I wasn't particularly phased by the forecast.  Given a choice, I would rather have stayed home and snuggled with a cat and a mug of coffee, but it wasn't that big of a deal to ride for 30 minutes in the rain.  It seemed like a huge improvement over the two endurance rides (actually I think one was a CTR) that I attended and spent hours riding and camping in the rain.

Luckily, on the day of the show, the rain was really more of a drizzle, so it was not a big deal to get the trailer hooked up and my stuff loaded.  The rain did start to come down harder once we got to the facility, but it still wasn't awful.  Parking was kind of tricky, though.  I just have a little PSA for facilities that host shows as a little side gig.  Please don't assume that competitors have ever been to your facility.  Don't assume we just know how you want us to park.  No matter how obvious it is to you, it isn't obvious to us.  We've just spent a whole bunch of time navigating Virginia backroads in the rain and then trying to figure out how to get from your unmarked entrance through the winding and complex road system on your farm to what could theoretically be a parking area.  So please cut us some slack and put up a sign or even better, have a person standing next to the parking area who can answer questions and provide specific information.  Do not have someone in a distant vehicle waving randomly around.  I can't see you clearly because it is raining out and you are far away.  I don't know what your hand pointing means.  And it doesn't tell me where to park.  Absolutely do not make me get out of my truck multiple times to talk to other random competitors who are also confused.  I have paid money and taken many hours of my day to support a show you are hosting, so please respect that by doing me the courtesy of helping me park with ease.

Enough said.  After the excitement of parking, I got out to wander around some more to find the check-in location.  Also not that easy to find and I had to ask 2 different people.  (Again, signs, people, signs.)  Once I was checked in, I unloaded Nimo and let him eat hay for a few minutes.  I had about 10 extra minutes to chill before tacking up.  Using the experience gained from rainy endurance rides, I threw a sheet on Nimo so I could use it to cover the saddle once I got it on, so it would stay reasonably dry.  Nimo was quiet and calm for the whole process.

He did start to become quite alert when I went to get on, because I now typically have a water tank in the bed of my truck (for the ducks...) and he hadn't seen it yet.  But what has been years and years of training kicked in and he stood next to the truck so I could use the tailgate to get on.  (I always use my tailgate when we haul for trail rides, so it's part of his routine.)  He continued to be very alert as we walked over to the warm-up arena.  But he was doing OK.  We warmed up as well as we could in an arena that was quickly becoming sloppy from the rain and I mentally sympathized with riders showing later in the day.  We had a morning slot, so things weren't too muddy yet.

After I got Nimo warmed up for about 20 minutes, I turned him toward the main barn and attached indoor arena.  There was apparently a small space next to the competition arena that competitors could use to finish their warm up and wait for their ride time.  It was probably about 20x20 meters.  That is not that big.  But Nimo was a rock star.  He not only headed in to the indoor, he stopped so I could take my rain coat off and hand it to my friend, who was also there showing.  Then he walked into the arena and we actually continued our warm up in that tiny space with probably 3 other horses.  Nimo was great about doing tiny circles at the trot (like 6-8 meters in diameter) and he was very well-behaved.  I started to think maybe things were going to be OK.

But as we walked into the arena (this judge was giving all competitors a few minutes to explore the arena because there was no way to walk around the perimeter), I realized we shouldn't have bothered coming.  In the middle of the long side of the arena was a giant open space that could have had a closed door, but didn't.  If you've ever read Dr. Temple Grandin's books, you may remember her talking specifically about how cattle are often quite frightened of changes in light, because it throws off their depth perception.  This information that also applies to horses.  In particular, my horse.  Nimo is really sensitive to changes in light.  So, there was this whole dark-walled arena with one big bright spot along one side.  At the letter H.  According to the photographer who was standing there, it is referred to as H for Horrifying because so many horses have concerns.  I did spend several minutes letting Nimo hang out at H.  He sniffed things and snorted, but I knew from the level of his reaction that it wasn't something I would be able to resolve in a few minutes.  So when the judge asked if I was ready, I said yes, because there was no point in spending any more time there.

And we did the test as best as we could, given that we couldn't use about a quarter of the arena (remember how that has happened before?).  We got a decent score, given the issues (I think it was a 63-something), but it was really disheartening.  Because Nimo really did do a good job.  Much better than I expected, honestly.  He was definitely worried, but stayed steady.  No spooking.  No attempts to bolt.  No refusing to go places (except near H).  He was also a little wary of working on the rail, because the wall of the indoor was the rail, but that is something that could be overcome with a little more experience.  But not the door at H.

The solution, of course, is simple.  Close that opening.  I can't imagine why there isn't a door that closes there.  Especially if so many horses spook at it that the show photographer knows about it and there is a nickname for it.  I mean, really?  I know there are people who have the attitude that a well-trained horse should be able to handle certain adversities.  And I don't disagree with that.  But if there is something that causes lots of horses to be concerned and the competition is dressage (as distinct from say, an obstacle course), then why not fix it?  There was also a manure bucket in one corner of the arena that Nimo was not happy about.  Again, is it really that much trouble to remove the manure bucket for the show?  I've never shown at a facility where there were actually things in the arena.  The corners are for showing how much your horse can bend, not for going around obstacles.

Anyway, my first reaction to all of this was to think that maybe we should haul in to the arena in a week or two and pay more money so I could work with Nimo on the things that bothered him.  But now that I've had a chance to further reflect, I think that is ridiculous.  For one thing, I don't actually care that much about showing.  When showing is convenient at my barn, that is a different story.  Especially because Nimo was really good for 2 out of 3 shows and the problem at the third show was me and not him.  But to go through so much effort for what will be 3 more shows in January, February, and March (one or more of which will likely be cancelled due to weather) seems pointless.  Plus, it is time that I could be out on the trails, which is something I haven't been able to do much of for the past few months (more on why in a later post).

So, for now, I am done doing the western dressage shows.  I'm glad we did them.  And I'm even glad that we went to the December show.  Nimo did so many things right and I honestly don't think his reaction to the open door was unreasonable (unlike the time that he spooked at his own poop - that was, just,...I mean, what????).  We got out there in the rain and rode on a day that I wouldn't normally have ridden and we tried something.  It didn't end up working out, but that's OK.  It makes me feel really good that we were able to try it.

So we will now be able to go back to focusing on my current mission - cantering and piaffe.  More about how those things are coming along in future posts...

Monday, December 2, 2019

Some Christmas Eye Candy

I had planned to write a different post today, but apparently it is 9:20 pm already, and I am more than ready for bed.  So today will have to be a quick glimpse of the trip Gemma and I made to Merrifield Garden Center to partake in our annual "oooohhhhinnnnnggggg" and "aaaaahhhhhiiiiiinnnnnngggg" of the amazing Christmas displays.

This was the first display and I loved pretty much everything about it.

Who knew white trees could be so beautiful?

And more white!  But who can resist a white unicorn?

Vintage type ornaments and check out the flowers and ribbons at the top of the tree!

These kinds of cute table displays were all over the store.

There are fish swimming in this pond!

It's a little hard to see, but the cloth on the table is a kind of furry white with gold streaks.  It was incredibly gorgeous and it took all my willpower not to buy it.  It would just get covered in cat and dog hair at my house, but it was so lovely to look at!  Combined with the faux snow-covered tree, this whole display was breathtaking!

I loved the woodland theme of this tree!

Vintage lighting!

So colorful!
These pictures are just a sampling of what we looked at.  I can't even imagine all the work that goes into creating so many different displays with different themes (there was even one for pets and another one for mermaids and sea life, plus we saw a real life ancient typewriter that fascinated Gemma, who is learning to type using a computer keyboard)  Gemma and I managed to restrain ourselves and only choose a few ornaments to buy, but it was such fun to soak in the wonderful atmosphere.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Hello December

As has become my tradition with this blog, I will be posting something each day in December.  I'm definitely overdue on some posts about what Nimo and I have been up to, and I like to share some Christmas-related things too.

Today's story is about what has become our family tradition for December 1.  It used to be that my husband and I would either put up our artificial tree or buy a real tree on the first weekend of December.  As our daughter, Gemma, has gotten older, her excitement for Christmas has grown and easily eclipses that of my husband and I (who also enjoy it but are limited by being adults, I think).  She simply cannot wait to get started on Christmassy things, and December 1 is the latest I can get her to wait to get the tree.

And so it was that despite a busy day of a horse show (more about that tomorrow), taking care of ducks (more about that later this month), checking on Nimo, attempting to eat something, shopping for Christmas presents, and a whole lotta rain, we found ourselves at our favorite garden store searching earnestly for the perfect Christmas tree.

Merrifield Garden Center is easily the best Christmas-themed store in the area.  The only thing that I know of that is more spectacular is probably the Michigan Mile in Chicago (although I'm sure all big cities have equally amazing displays).  But this store is even better because you can walk amongst all these Christmas-themed vignettes and buy anything and everything that takes your fancy.  Gemma and I go every year just to soak in the eye candy and find a few special ornaments.
The trees are always so beautifully groomed that it can be hard to choose.  In fact, the very first tree I saw looked almost perfect.  We need a narrower tree to fit into our living room, which isn't that big.  I tried putting the tree in the dining room last year, and that worked OK until we had to remove said tree.  We are still finding needles all over the house, because our dining room is in the back of the house up half a flight of stairs, and when we hauled it out last year, it left almost all of its needles in various locations inside the house.  So this year, I decided that we would go back to the old standby of putting the tree in the living room.

But seeing some of the magnificent, full trees made me wish that I had enough energy to just empty out one whole room for Christmas to accommodate one of them.  Even my husband, who is not usually not that into buying a tree, seemed kind of excited about it this year, and I think he might have even been having a little fun shopping in the big tree section:)

Gemma is inspecting the prices for me on one of the many rows of trees.
Gemma had fun making faces for the camera!
Given my parameters of a tree about 8-9 feet tall and on the skinny side, it didn't take us too long to find a second tree that was even better than the first one we saw.

We found our tree!
In short order, the staff had taken it away, cut the base and a few errant branches at the bottom, and had it ready to load.  And so our first Christmas mission was accomplished!