The simple joy of riding

 

A curious thing has happened.  Lauren has been riding now for upwards of 13 years.  For the last nine years she has ridden four or more times a week, baring illness, injury or vacation.  She has had big goals (Zone Finals) and small goals (just getting a horse exercised) but through it all she has ridden as many of you do, day in and day out.

It is difficult to remember how many horses and ponies she has ridden.  And the reason for her riding, what initially drew her to riding has been somewhat lost in work to meet the next goal.  Which is why this is even more a surprise.

What did I hear when I got home from work yesterday?  Lauren was bubbling over about riding Mimi.  Yes, Mimi, the little grey Welsh pony that  we took from Caroline to help her out, not because of any great desire to own a pony.  The pony that I did not understand (because I wasn’t paying attention) came to me without being broke to ride and with a big pony attitude. 

Mimi came home from trainer Sarah this weekend.  Sick and exhausted, Lauren and I watched Sarah work the pony before we loaded her for home, and we were happy with the way the pony was working.  Sarah had a horrible day on Saturday with the sudden, unexpected loss of good horse, and was pretty wiped out herself.  We were glad Mimi was coming home but there was not the air of expectation or excitement that surrounded the homecomings of Feather and Bruno.  We were EXCITED about them!  Mimi was just going to be another horse to work until we sold her.

Lauren rode Mimi on Sunday and I caught some smiles on her face as she worked the small pony through her paces.  But I didn’t catch anything brewing emotionally between them.

But last night, Lauren was like the tiny child who once rode her big paint gelding over the cross-country course in Wickham Park, Florida in a western saddle, a pair of pink Osh Kosh overalls, a helmet and little else. She was entranced with the act of riding, with the chance of putting a horse (or pony) through its paces.  Lauren recited all the things she and Mimi had done together.  She talked of serpentines, trotting patterns, canter departures and other tasks Sarah had just taught the pony.  But Lauren’s biggest excitement came from something Sarah taught the pony that will never be asked for in an English flat class.  Sarah, being a western riding trainer, wants to know that her horse (or pony) not only will walk,trot and canter (or in western words, walk, jog, lope) but also that the horse has a “good stop” on it. And as a part of training the horse to stop, when Sarah asks for the “whoa” and it is completed, she will ask the horse to back a few steps. 

Lauren was just having the best time cantering the pony around and saying “whoa”, having Mimi stop on a dime and back up.  In these simple exercises, Lauren had renewed the love of the basics of riding.  As we work Mimi toward the show ring, in this case the English show ring, that stop on a dime will need to be a little more of a delicate, downward transition from one gait to another.  There will be plenty of time for that work in the future. 

In the meantime,  what a joy it is to see my daughter excited about riding, not about showing, or winning, just the simple joy of riding.

Cantering down the line so Lauren can say “whoa” and have the pony slide to a stop. How fun!

Momma Lost

Mom, a few years ago, confident, calm and happy in Tucson.

I know I have thought these thoughts before

I find my mom so lost, so alone, so frightened

I don’t know how to help when she only remembers what I say for a few moments at a time

I can’t give her any reassurances that last past the moment

With tears in her eyes she begs me to let her come home

I must say no, momma you can’t come home

And she doesn’t understand, she is just alone

Jim will come next week and I do not think she will know him

It should be a joyful reunion but I am afraid she will be scared and uncertain

I am so afraid that I am losing her a little each day

I pray that she will be content and not so insecure

I pray I find a way to reach her once more

I HATE this disease that has taken her from me

One that takes all of her that was good and leaves this little shell

Don’t tell me that I am doing all I can because there must be more

something I can do to return her to how she was before

Something to just give her peace. 

Oh, please God, just give her peace

Lauren’s next challenge

Lauren out to take Mimi for her first ride since arriving home from the trainers. Notice big Bruno looking on from the rear.

Lauren and I have been sick the entire Thanksgiving holiday. Work; the basic feeding, vet care, stall cleaning all got done.but nothing extra was accomplished.  We slept 12-14 hours each night, fitfully, getting up to feed horses and dogs and going back to bed.  I only got the nursing home every other day.

It was a short-term solution.  Thankfully, we had already decided not to try to make the horse show this weekend with Feather.  Thankfully, we had help finishing the stalls and getting things ready so we could have five horses on the property again.  We didn’t have much energy to spare.

If you’ve read the details about our little place, we called it Six Meadow Farm, because in the beginning there were six acres and six horses.  But we have not had more than four on the property in a long time,

Lauren’s next challenge is to see if she has the stuff of Mimi’s trainer, Sarah, to organize, plan, and execute the training of three young horses while keeping Mickey fit, going to school and managing the household.  It is going to be tough.  Both Feather and Mimi will require at least four rides a week.  Bruno, until his hoof heals more will just get two to three rides.  Mickey will need the same if we plan to use him at all this next year.  There was a time when I could be counted on to flat (not jump) a couple of horses a week and in fact, I think the horses and I were better off for it.  Horses like variety and I would do long trots on the hay roads and other work outside the arena.  It kept their minds happy.  With all the demands of work, my mom and the just the hours spent commuting, I will not be good for much but an occasional weekend pick-up ride.  Ally is coming a couple of days a week and that should help as well but the major burden of the rides and schooling of these young horses will fall to Lauren.

We watched Sarah work Mimi last night.  Sarah told us Mimi did not like to work in the dark but when she has horses to work and the days are short, someone will get worked in the dark.  Sarah has award-winning horses because she does the work.  She does not take days off or short cuts.  She was nursing an upper respiratory infection yesterday like Lauren and I. 

Lauren is young.  She is tough.  She is disciplined.  I wish we had other friends that could come down more often and ride with her.  Facing the ring alone day after day is lonely.  Lauren is going to cut back her hours at school next semester to get these horses started.  She has a calendar and a plan. 

Horses are a business where the best laid plans can fall apart in an instant.  But these next few months should show Lauren if the horse business is what she wants from life.  While there are lots of songs about cowboys losing everything to follow the rodeo circuit there are not any (that I know of) about an equestrian sacrificing everything to ride the show circuit, but it is the same story.  Keep reading along and we will see how it goes.  She’s got three nice young horses ready to reach the next steps, they are the best she has ever had.  Let’s see what she turns them into.

Lauren headed out to saddle Mimi and Feather.

Happy Thanksgiving

Our Thanksgiving crew, starting with me clockwise, Dodie, Rick (Luke’s parents, Jake-Luke’s brother with girl friend Christie then Lauren, Jake’s daughter Kayla, Jordyn, Granny Nanny, Ally, Kendyll, and Luke

I don’t know how many years it has been since I shared Thanksgiving with my mother, like maybe sometime in the ’90s back when my Aunt Nova did Thanksgivings.  Recent years, we have been here, and mom has been with Jim’s big extended family in Tucson.  I have been fighting strep throat and an upper respiratory infection so I have not had much time with mom the last few days.

Lauren, Jordyn and I got our share of the food done yesterday.  Lauren is  a good cook.  She makes homemade macaroni and cheese.  We used my mom’s old recipes for green bean casserole and pumpkin pies.  Ally and her extended family provided all else.

Ally’s in-laws, their son Jake and his girl friend Christie have become our family in Texas.  It was with great joy today to add my momma as the matriarch of the family while adding four-month old Kendyll as the baby of the family.  Life extending at both ends.  The food was great.  All of us have had some issues this year, some serious health things, a big move for mom, a new baby for Luke and Ally.  I think that all of us had tears in our eyes as we circled the table saying what we were thankful for this year.  The list was simple but endearing.  We are so blessed to have momma here now and have her with this us.  Dodie (Luke’s mom) has had an incredibly tough year with multiple health issues.  But she still compassionately listened to mom tell her stories of growing up in Oklahoma. 

It was a terrific day.  We got mom back for her after Thanksgiving nap.   Both Lauren were exhausted from the day and being sick.  We came home and watched the Texans go into overtime again!  I couldn’t yell-have no voice but again was thankful for the big finish and another one for win column.

We finally had to go do something with the horses.  We have not felt well enough to ride once this week.  We had planned to ride today but just were not up to it.  Maybe in December, we will get things on track again.  We had a rush trip to the vet yesterday to continue care on Bruno where Feather had kicked him Sunday.  The vet took one look at him and said in awe, “now, that is a big horse!”.  We got him fixed up and got some more antibiotics and medicine.  He will be fine.

Just before horse dinner time, we thought we would try Bruno on the lunge line to see how he was doing with his foot.  He looked really good.  We caught a picture of him at the trot that shows how huge his stride is.  This horse is really going to be able to cover some ground. 

Bruno looking good with Mickey and Feather watching from the gate.

I am grateful for many things, from our terrific weather, healthy family (pretty much), my momma being back in my life on a daily basis, my terrific family (here and in Denver) and my Taylor family that are now just regulars for all our holidays and having my wonderful animals safe and sound (mostly) out in my back yard.  These are all dreams come true for me.  It is overwhelming how good life can be and how our traditions have grown and expanded to be even better than ever before.

Hope your Thanksgiving day was blessed as mine.  I am thankful for all you who take time to read what I write each time.  You all are blessing as well.  You have given me a voice.  Thank you and God Bless each one you.

Thanksgiving at the Nursing Home

Jordyn, Ally, Lauren, me and Mom

Yesterday it was time for the Thanksgiving dinner at mom’s nursing home.  Invitations had gone out almost a month ago and I had RSVPed for Lauren, Ally, Jordyn, Kendyll and myself.  I had been telling mom about it for the last week.  However, last week she was convinced she was still in her condo in Denver and couldn’t understand how she was going to have room for all of us to come to dinner.  Then she worried about getting all the food made.  I would remind her each day that the dinner was coming up.  Each night as we went to dinner I would tell her and show her that this dining room would be where the Family Thanksgiving dinner would be.  Each day we would discuss it again.

Yesterday dawned clear and with the perfect weather that reminds you why you actually live in Texas.  Ally wanted to come down early and get some more of her riding for physical fitness done.  She rode Mickey, English this time, and did a great job.  It has been a long time since she rode the flat saddle but she was remembering and doing well.  She and Mickey even took a couple of small jumps.  (My secret goal is to get her back in the show ring so we will see how I do with that!)  Lauren was on Feather putting in a good ride.  Jordyn had done a couple of times around on Mickey but then I had bribed her to go pick rocks out of the new stall that Bruno would be moving into this week.  I told her I would give her a penny a rock.  Quickly, she told me she had 300 rocks.  I pointed out she could not count to 300.  She said ok, to just give her $5.  What a negotiator!

We got in from the riding and got ready for the dinner.  We got there early and found mom presiding over her own table in the nicely decorated dining hall.  Lots of families were coming in and it was great to see my favorite residents teamed up with their families.  It was sad that some of the residents  had no family to come be with them. I know that I am a new convert to the nursing home world.  I have not been at my mom’s side all those days in Denver when she was alone.  I guess I felt Jim was there but I know now it was not near enough.  One of the ladies who has always been so kind to Jordyn didn’t have anyone sitting at her table.  We asked her to join us.  She asked if we were sure it was not too crowded.  She had tears in her eyes as she joined us.  Ally looked at me and told me I was a better person for this experience with Nanny.  I told her there had been a lot of room for improvement. 

The student council from Boling High School was there to serve the food and took care of things courteously and promptly.  I thought the food was pretty good. Lauren thought they had emptied a truckload of Hungry Man turkey dinners and scooped them out on plates. But Mom was just so happy.  She kept looking around the table amazed to see us all there eating with her.  She said, “This is what you kept trying to tell me about, but I just couldn’t picture it.”  I reminded her that all of us will go to Ally’s on Thursday.  I think it will be a big day for her. 

We got back to my house in time to watch most of the Texan’s game especially because I swear it was the longest football game ever.  I could just hear my daddy saying, “If you want to be a Super Bowl Team, you gotta come ready to play every team, every time!”   What an emotional game with all the ups and downs.  By the final minutes, Ally and I were screaming and yelling with no regard to her sleeping baby or anything else. Nice win, Texans-don’t ever put us through that again!

Judges

Me with the white English shirt, suede vest, black horse named Silver and still winning ride. How improbable!

I may have told this story in some format before, don’t want to bore you, but a recent Facebook sighting brought this all vividly back to my mind.  We used to live in Florida.  Ally started taking English lessons when she was about 10.  Shortly thereafter, we purchased our first horse for the family.  I was in the midst of a divorce. I was only working part-time.  I had horses throughout my entire life except for this last four years in Florida.  I saw an ad for an Anglo-Arab (a registerable cross between a thoroughbred and an Arab) that was related to my favorite horse, Man O’War and I was ready to buy her.

Her name was Silver but she was not.  She was an almost black, good-sized mare that would ride western or English and jumped some.  Actually, we learned she jumped a lot.  I fell off her the first day I tried her out, badly sprained my ankle, but still went back and bought her.

On the jumping side, I would take her to the paddock and go back to clean her stall only to find her standing next me a few minutes later.  So, the owners did not mention she would just jump out of the paddock, pasture, arena whenever she wanted.  At first I thought I must have left the gate open but soon watched her do her little feat.  So, much for that.  She obviously could jump.

All of us, Ally, young Lauren (6) and myself were having to either learn to ride or get back in shape to ride like we used to (that would be me).

I would go to the barn while the kid’s were in school and spend hours practicing my riding.  Stopping, starting, cantering from the halt, picking up the correct lead, and doing good changes of diagonal at the trot.  I had heard there was going to be a show at the Park arena and I wanted to try to ride.  It had been decades, literally, since I had shown in a pleasure class.  I think of Caitlyn practicing her equitation rounds over and over when I remember my focus of those early days with Silver.  Not much was going right in my life then but on the back of this horse, I felt confident and positive.

One day, the lady I recognised as Kit Kope, was giving lessons in the main arena.  I knew she was going to be the judge for the upcoming show.  I got up the nerve to ask how she thought we would do and if she had any suggestions.  She looked at the old western saddle that I was riding in (it was my prized saddle of my father’s-a treasure to me-a show saddle not) and she evaluated my horse (in western pleasure typically you are looking for a stock type Quarter horse or Paint horse).  My Silver was a little leaner and had bigger stride owing to her thoroughbred background.  Most stock judges don’t really like thoroughbreds or Arabians so the combination of those doesn’t often earn the ribbons.

Kit told me to work on polishing up the saddle if that was all I had.  She told me I needed a better saddle pad and show bridle.  She said I was doing okay with the mare-she had noticed me several times practicing when she was there with students.  I was quite disappointed.  I did not have a show saddle, bridle or pad.  I did not have one of the those cute western pleasure outfits with bright colors and matching chaps.

I was going to scratch the class but decided to give it a shot if nothing more than to get the mare ready for Ally to show.  The day of the show, I had decided it would be convenient to wear my English show shirt under this corny leather/suede vest with black jeans, brown boots and a black cowboy hat.  What a winning ensemble!

I watched the number of entries continue to add until there were 25 riders going into the class.  I constantly calculate odds in my head and I knew the odds of coming out with a first through eighth place ribbon had gotten pretty slim.  So, I went in the ring and talked to my departed father and God.  I thanked them for teaching me this love of riding.  I sat tall in my father’s old saddle, heels down, hands quiet.  I thought  it went okay.  I saw a few mistakes around the ring as some horses pulled the incorrect lead or did not halt or walk on well.  I have to tell you cantering with 25 horses in a ring together was a little frightening but Silver did well for me. 

Finally Kit called for the horses to line up.  I looked up and down the line and saw lots of fancy quarter horses and paints with show saddles gleaming in the sun. I pushed my heels a little farther down in the stirrups and sat straighter in my saddle.  I was overwhelmed at that moment with how close I felt to my dad, riding in his saddle, enjoying this sport he loved.

In Florida, when they call the placings they start from eighth place and go to first.  I held out some hope for a ribbon as eighth to about fourth place were announced.  From that point on, I figured I was out of luck.  There were too many sharp horses still left unribboned.  I told myself, I had gotten back in the ring, I had worked hard and there would be more shows.

No one was more surprised than I when my name was called for first place.  I had won the class!  I was so thrilled, I think I may have shed a few tears.  So many terrific young riders on top horses with the right saddles and right clothes and I-the 40-year old lady had won.

Later, Kit (the judge) took over as Ally and Lauren’s trainer until we moved to Texas.  She was always tough and always fair.  I have followed her career seeing her progress in her judging up through the ranks of the Paint Horse Association.  I would be reading my Paint Horse Journal in Texas and catch sight of her picture-Kit Kope of Cocoa Beach, Florida.

The other day, an old Florida friend of Ally’s back in the Florida days posted a picture of her young son on Facebook.

I commented on how handsome he was and right below my comment was one from Kathyrn Kope.  Her picture showed a paint horse and cowboy hat.  I quickly messaged her.  I am not sure she remembered us-at that time Ally’s next horse (a Rugged Lark mare) was more memorable that we were.  Still it was great to be able to tell her how much she had meant to me and my girls and what she taught them.  Of course, I have used this work hard, practice, practice some more and don’t worry if you have the best equipment or best horse story a million time.  It is one of my best stories because it is true and right and honest.

Thanks Facebook, for putting me in touch with someone who helped shape the life of my girls and I.

The SATs and my mom

Momma today.

I remember wondering about this when I took the SATs (and yes, they had them way back when I was a student).  I also remember thinking about it when Amber was doing her SAT reviews.  You know, there are so many things we question the value of when we are learning.  Like those silly story problems in math, I found out those things do come up in real life,  Well, maybe not about two trains passing or whatever it was, but other things.

One of the things I remember well was the whole reading comprehension exercise.  I routinely scored well in this area.  I am sure there are several of you taking the SATs or ACTs and wondering what is the point of the little stories and the questions to follow.  Do you remember this?  Often you were given a quick story about a subject you knew nothing about and then were asked questions about it.  It was hard to follow the questions, often you wouldn’t even remember reading about that.  Likewise, what you might have thought was the subject of the exercise was not really the subject at all.

Here is my point.  Each day, I go to visit my mom.  She launches off on some story that I do not understand, that I do not follow nor does it seem to make any sense.  But thankfully, from my experiences in standardized testing, I am able to start with bare minimum facts and see a story emerge.  I look for little hints in the story to comprehend what we are talking about.  Yesterday, her story was all about going to dinner with some people.  I was able to listen for the little clues.  I picked up the words “Betty and Getty” who are her stepson and his wife in Denver.  Therefore, I knew she thought we were in Denver and that she anticipated going out for a nice dinner.  There is no point in telling her we are not in Denver or that Betty and Getty were not taking her out to dinner.  That just seems to confuse and confound her more.  Sometimes, she just flat does not believe me (obviously, I must be confused about where we are because clearly we are in Denver).  So, the best plan is just to tell her, no, not tonight momma.  Tonight we will eat here at this place.  This does not assure that she will accept this answer but after I repeat it multiple times, she goes along.

Next, she launched into asking what she should do.  Should she just wait and see what happens or do I have any suggestions for her?  I was not sure what she was referring to, but once again with my superior comprehension skills, I listened and waited for more information.  She asked, “Well, at our age, if we have a chance to be happy, shouldn’t we just go for it?”  I realized then that she was on the “Jim and I should get married track”.  Again, no point in explaining that she has been married for 15 years.  No point at all.  I told her (again) that Jim and Jay were coming to visit after Thanksgiving and she would see them then.  “Well”, she decided, “we will just see how that goes and make a decision later”.  Okay, I could go with that. 

Each day is a new opportunity to use those skills I learned years ago.  Each time I follow her story or her reasoning makes it easier for her to think I am following and supporting her thinking.  And we just thought all that test stuff was worthless.