Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Learning to be an adult college attending amateur horse trainer

In my last post I talked about how much things have changed over the last four years, and I mentioned that I transferred to UC Davis this fall.  I didn't elaborate further at the time, but now that I'm in the middle of dead week with finals looming on the horizon I've been thinking about it.  Sure, living away from home is a big deal, but less so when you are so close and go home every weekend.  The drive is worth it for the home cooked meals alone.  Sure, my classes aren't easy, but I'm finding that at least this quarter I've had no problems being on track for an A in each class with plenty of free time left over.  Of course now that I've said that I'll drown in work next quarter, got to enjoy it while it lasts right?  And sure, bringing my hyper sensitive, overly dramatic, occasional complete basket case of a horse to school with me without an easy way to transport him home for lessons is a piece of cake... sure.

My trainer, Lauren LoPiccolo, has been amazing at helping me produce Liam and teaching me the skills I need to handle his emotional meltdowns, but up until I moved him to Davis--even after I had him home for the summer--I have taken a lesson a week with her.  That's not to say I can't make progress on my own, but I've always been able to take homework from a lesson, apply it for a week, and then come back and sort out new problems and get new homework.  Being away from that for who knows how long, I was going to have to learn how to be truly on my own and be my own trainer.  Anybody can do that right?

Well, if you know Liam, you probably know that he is the best (and worst) way to test if you are a patient, calm, stress-free, and rational rider with a tight lid on your emotions.  Or you know, you could be all of those things, but that horse in the arena on the opposite side of the cross country field is looking particularly cannibalistic today so you're about to spend forty minutes attempting to convince him to please pay attention and stop spooking at the sand hitting the boards.  Really, this was one of my rides during the first few weeks at Davis.  But I love him, honest.  There were more than a few tear-filled phone calls to my mom because I felt like a complete failure of a rider.  I needed a new plan, because this wasn't working.  My mom said lunge him a few times a week instead of a ride, let him settle in.

First lesson of being Liam's full time trainer?  If you are not 100% able to deal with whatever Liam can throw at you in a good constructive way today because of time, stress, or emotional baggage from your last terrible ride, pull out the surcingle and lunge.  Liam still gets worked, he learns to stretch in my favorite rigging, and I don't get so frustrated that I want to tear my hair out. Win, win, win.
By eliminating bad rides that escalated because of my own inability to deal that day and giving Liam some more time to settle in, I actually had a couple of really good and promising workouts.  People even called him cute (if only they knew).  I found myself thinking "what would Lauren do" or "what would Lauren say" to try and figure out how to handle problems.  She may not have been there, but I like to think that I was able to problem solve that way.  That's not to say I was perfect at handling him during his blow ups all the time, but there were more smiling phone calls in between the tearful ones.  I put him on a magnesium supplement and let myself think that it had magical mind altering powers.  Alas, it couldn't last, because not much later he started getting worse.  I couldn't have a ride without him flinching at his own shadow every 10 seconds.  And then it rained, and I wanted to lunge him because I knew the weather would make him crazy but it wasn't an option, but I rode anyway.  BIG MISTAKE.

Second lesson of being Liam's full time trainer?  Free lunge, turn out, do something before you get on his back everyday because being stuck in a stall all day before climbing on a hot horse is not conducive to a good ride.  And if you can't do it, you don't ride, period.  Being stuck in the stall for a few days and just getting to graze or frolic in a muddy turnout is better than a terrible ride where you accomplish absolutely nothing.
After that incident I decided I needed a new plan.  Clearly what I was doing wasn't working because Liam was wound so tight every workout that nothing remotely constructive was happening.  I noted that my best rides were in the derby field, outside of the arena.  New plan? Go back to square one and spend a week doing nothing but hack around the property.  So that's what we did.  Day one was awful, he was spooking at everything and I was so tempted to make him go work in an arena, but I stuck with my plan and made him walk around and around the property without jigging and without going sideways.  Day two was better.  Day three he was a different horse.  The next week I risked a simple workout on the flat in my jump tack.  Hallelujah he was amazing.

Third lesson of being Liam's full time trainer?  You can't drill him every day and expect him to have a good calm attitude towards work in the arena.  The poor guy needs to go for hacks around the property and be ridden different places and be allowed to unwind.
Not long after that, over Veteran's Day weekend, I got to have a lesson for the first time in over six weeks.  It felt like a life time.  Lauren remarked on how good he looked and how calm he seemed (until the jumping started of course).  I had an amazing lesson on him, all of the little things I had been telling myself to work on my jumping position while at Davis had paid off.  Not only that, but my problem solving skills on Liam are so much better than they were because I had been forced to figure it out on my own for weeks.

I'm still no professional horse trainer, but I think that this experience with Liam has done a lot for my riding and for our partnership.  We still have a long way to go and his living situation will be changing next quarter for the better, but I won't forget the valuable things I learned.  Want some semi-serious advice from an adult college attending amateur horse trainer?  If something isn't working, try something else. And if all else fails go for a hack and remind yourself about your love for this crazy animal.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Four Years Ago

It's been far too long since I've written in this blog.  I'd like to say I'm going to try and consistently update it again, but being a busy college student that may or may not actually happen.  I feel the need to post something now because I've been pining away at home wishing I was at Galway Downs this weekend.  Being as I'm stuck at home, hard at work in my first quarter at UC Davis, I've been reflecting on some things--like how much as changed since I was at this event in 2012.  For one it was my first semester of community college and now I'm a first year transfer student.  But what else was so special about four years ago? Well...

In 2012 I was riding a very different horse, Better than Christmas, known around the barn as Kit.  She was a lease and I had just spent the year rehabbing her from a bone bruise.  She was typical thoroughbred crazy in dressage (understatement of the century) but a cross country machine and I learned a ton from her, even if none of that was how to ride dressage.  This event was the last time I ran her prelim as well as the last time I completed a prelim, though not for lack of trying.  The last four years has been very up and down with horses.  I had one that decided she didn't want to jump, and then another who didn't really want to do the upper level cross country.  The plus side?  Even though they didn't work out my dressage education, among other things, is a thousand times better than it was four years ago in no small part because of them.  One has a great home as a dressage horse, the other is switching careers to show jumping.  Now I'm back to riding a crazy thoroughbred who seems to love what he's doing, only time will tell if we get to go around prelim together.  Speaking of which...

This is Liam aka Limitless, pictured at Woodside in April of 2012.  The aforementioned crazy thoroughbred that I'm currently staking my eventing future on?  Yep, this one right here.  I've had him this whole time while a couple other horses didn't end up being the "one."  Funny how it's come full circle to him now.  He was four in this picture, three when I bought him, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing beyond how to stick his spooks and get him over fences.  After lots of in and out of work with me as time (and my sanity) allowed, I finally put real effort into getting him going a year ago with some serious help from my trainer Lauren LoPiccolo.  But wait... you know what else is different?

Four years ago I knew less than a quarter of the people I consider my closest friends now.  In February of 2013, just a few months after Galway, I moved to LL Equestrian.  This was one of the most defining moments of my equestrian career, if not my life.  The people I've met and the experiences we've shared... I wouldn't trade them for the world.  Even if they still confuse me sometimes (see picture on the left).  My riding has come so far in my time with Lauren and the people there are like family.  Dana and I moved together and are closer now than we were then, which reminds me...

On cross country day at Galway Downs in 2012, Dana and I sat watching the FEI divisions while we fantasized about our dream barn.  We talked about what features we wanted, where it would be, who would be there, and how it was all just a dream and would probably never happen.  Well now by some miracle Dana and her husband Bryan are building Big Sky Equestrian Center, future home of LL Equestrian--and it's right down the street from my house.  Who would have thought that those fantasies we discussed while watching the horses jump through the moat would someday become a reality?  I couldn't be more happy for my friend, my barn, and honestly for myself and my horse because we will get to train out of such a beautiful facility and Liam will get to live there.

A lot has changed in four years.  Life has a way of doing that.  I suppose that this post is my way of telling myself that though I've had some pretty awful luck on the horse side of things in the past four years, a lot of really amazing things have happened too.  So now here I am, still chasing a dream.

"A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities." -J.R.R. Tolkein