Sunday, February 25, 2007

Life Lessons from the Barn

I’ve been invited to submit a post to the Horse Lover’s Blog Carnival, this week being hosted by Patricia at Experiments in Training Equines. The description says: Equines have a way of teaching us what we need to know. This carnival is dedicated to the times when equines have taught US a thing or two.

As a novice rider and horse owner I’m afraid I have no innovations to impart, maybe someday…but I can share the things that I have learned not only from the horses but from the act of taking on the role of equestrienne. For anyone who rides none of these will be news, but perhaps it’s good to reiterate them anyway. Looking back at the list it looks like lessons we should have learned in kindergarten. We are always in school.

Leave your troubles at the gate. If you’re anxious or sad or (especially) angry, then maybe put off riding until you can get your emotions in check. When I first started I was treating the horse like the elliptical at the gym, a place where I could let my mind wander – boy was that a wrong idea!

Be prepared. There’s a lot of stuff to haul around and take care of with riding. Not just your tack, but all the little things that you need to have at hand when you need them. More than once I’ve put a horse in the cross ties only to realize I didn’t have the right brush or a towel, so I had to leave the horse to retrieve the item.

A little goes a long way. This goes for almost everything from shampoo to your aids. You can always add more, but you can’t take back.

Be careful. If you’re lucky like I am you are around horses that are well-trained and love people, but they are large animals and it’s up to us to keep ourselves out of harm’s way – I’ve been stepped on a few times and it puts a real damper on your day.

If you fall, get up. Get up, but take your time. Take a minute to pull yourself together and make sure you aren’t injured, but if it’s at all possible, get back on your horse (assuming they are also OK).

Be respectful. At my barn there isn’t a lot of security and trust plays a huge part in our community. Never borrow someone else’s stuff without asking, even if you’ve done it in the past with their blessing. Keep your tack and other equipment clean and clean up after yourself and your horse. Get to know what's appropriate for each horse that's around you with regard to contact. Some owners don't like others just coming up and putting their hands on their horse, and its always a good idea to get to know a horse a little bit before you make contact.

Be aware of changes in your horse’s body and demeanor. I’m still getting to know my horse, and I rely on my trainer to let me know if something happened while I wasn’t there, but you should be the main caretaker for your horse, body and mind.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. As I’ve said before, sometimes it feels like the learning curve I’m on is so steep I’m bound to lose my balance. Nobody ever learns everything there is to know, that’s impossible. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Get to know your neighbors. Both my human and equine neighbors at the barn are an integral part of my experience and I make a point to introduce myself and keep the communication alive. My horse is around these other horses every day and I should be comfortable with them if I expect her to be, ditto for their people.

Every day I learn something from other bloggers and from my general reading and my time at the barn. I hope some of these points have been at least a good reminder and perhaps a nice memory of when you were just starting out, how wonderful yet terrifying it can be.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Communiqué du Jour

No special reason for the French title, I just thought it sounded better than “News Flash”. Once in a while I like to pass on news that’s interesting to me that I hope you will also find interesting. Let’s see…totally random order:

One of my favorite characters on Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Addison Montgomery, ex-wife of Derek Shepherd (aka McDreamy), is getting her own show. The spin-off hasn’t been named yet but the 2-hour pilot will likely air in May, giving the network some time to make the decision to include it on its fall schedule. Any guesses for names for the new show? I think she is just gorgeous.

Speaking of gorgeous, you've probably seen the media hype surrounding Daniel Radcliffe's performance in Equus on the London stage. He's a bit skinny for my taste but I applaud him for breaking out of the mold we've put him in.

From the back cover of the paperback of the play, published in 1975: “In Equus…Peter Shaffer depicts the story of a deranged youth who blinds six horses with a spike. Through a psychiatrist’s analysis of the events, Shaffer creates a chilling portrait of how materialism and convenience have killed our capacity for worship and passion and, consequently, our capacity for pain. Rarely has a playwright created an atmosphere and situation that so harshly pinpoint the spiritual and mental decay of modern man.” I’ve never seen nor read the play, but my interest is now piqued, and not just because little Harry Potter grew up to be Parry Hotter.

Hallmark has just come out with a new line of cards called Journeys that are getting mixed reviews. I must not be the only person standing in front of the car rack thinking, they just don’t make a card for what I’m trying to say. Most of the time that’s because they don’t have a Mother’s Day card for a mother who was emotionally toxic and wielded a rubber strap, or a congratulations card for the woman who just had my father’s baby who also happens to be his first cousin.

Yes, there is an infertility/miscarriage card (like they are the same thing?), and like most of these cards, they don’t mention the actual event, but you get the idea from the context.

This isn’t a terrible idea, although in most cases I think it would be better to buy a blank card and put in a simple personal message to the recipient. There are some good tips on the Hallmark site under the heading “More You Can Do”, besides sending one of their cards:

** Give your friend two mugs and her favorite coffee or tea. Then make a date to stop by and listen.
** Offer to help out with specific everyday tasks: grocery shopping, filling up and washing the car, shuttling the kids around, pet- or plant-sitting or caring for the yard.
** Work with their circle of friends to provide regular meals in disposable containers—drop them off in an insulated cooler to keep them warm or cold. If you don’t cook, chip in to schedule the delivery of pre-made or frozen meals from a catering service.

Finally an update from the barn. I promised I would post a picture of my new (used) Pessoa saddle if I kept it, and I’m not sending this baby back! The saddle I’ve been using since last summer is the saddle used for everybody who doesn’t have their own, i.e. the people taking lessons or leasing. It’s OK, but too big for me and very flat with no padding. My Pessoa is the right size and has tons of padding, not to mention it’s beautiful and looks great on Missy. I ordered these adjustable stirrups, my trainer recommended them because I have arthritis in my knees. The stirrups the saddle came with are a child’s size and are just a tad too small for me. I also ordered expensive Beval Italian calfskin leathers. I hope everything lasts me for a good long time, I tend to have expensive tastes but I think there are some things you shouldn’t scrimp on. Like the tack I am relying on.

I’m exercising Miss on a longe line by myself now, another thing that’s not as easy as it looks. She’s very good and loves to move, but when I make a mistake she lets me know. It’s very easy to get in front of her, especially when she gets going, and she ends up getting spooked and stopping because she doesn’t understand what I am asking her to do. I apologize and say, “Sorry honey, operator error.” She continues to snuggle her way into my heart and I’ve been carrying around pictures of her in my purse since we got her, showing her off to anyone who looks remotely interested when I mention her.

Last weekend for my lesson I rode a new horse, a 19 year-old flea-bitten grey named Tommy who looks almost exactly like this mare. I had no idea that was a color of horse! Almost every time I go to the barn I learn something new. Sometimes I think I am on such a steep learning curve I'm bound to slip and lose my footing. More than once I've been overwhelmed by the responsibility and commitment of owning a horse. But then I look at her sweet face and know we will muddle through, together.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

In Loving Memory

I first wrote about my Aunt S. in August 2005 on my old blog. She was born deaf and blind and lived most of her life at Woodlands, a famous (and infamous) institution in the Vancouver, BC suburbs. For some reason it was important to me to find her, even though I'd never met her. The family had lost track of her since my grandmother died. When my Dad and his brother did finally locate her in October 2005, they were making arrangements to meet with her when we got the terrible news of her unexpected death in December of that year.

Since then I've been meaning to read some of Helen Keller's writings to get a first person account of what life is like for someone who is both deaf and blind. I just finished reading The Story of My Life, published over 100 years ago in 1903. It really is a remarkable story and is surprisingly modern in its style and form. I knew the basic story and I saw The Miracle Worker years ago, but I had forgotten many of the interesting facts. I feel like such a slacker after reading that she was able to learn how to read and then later speak not only English, but also French, German and some Latin and graduated magna cum laude from Radcliffe. She was also a life-long dog lover and had many dogs in her life including pit bulls and mastiffs, and is credited with introducing the Akita to America after a puppy was given to her by the Japanese government on one of her several visits there.

This is part of the text on Helen Keller from a site called "Americans Who Tell the Truth"...I haven't looked through it to see what their point of view is, but I found this quote to be especially applicable today: [She is] primarily...remembered for her advocacy for the disabled, but as a member of the Socialist Party, she also strongly supported such groups as the ACLU, IWW, and NAACP, and campaigned for birth control, civil rights, women’s suffrage, and world peace. "We, the people, are not free,” she once said. “Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means we choose between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. We elect expensive masters to do our work for us, and then blame them because they work for themselves and for their class." There are some who called her a Communist and all sorts of other things I won't repeat here, you can form your own opinion, and my interest was not in her religious or political leanings.

Getting back to my Aunt, if you will forgive me the indulgence I want to share excerpts from the eulogy at her memorial service, given by a supervisor at one of the group homes she lived in:

"She may have been deaf and blind, but she had a strong personality and fought for her independence all her life. When she was at Woodlands she made 30 roommates' beds every day and participated in Day School 5 days a week. She usually walked with a cane from her ward to school by herself. After she moved into the community she continued to help with housework and enjoyed swimming, music, cooking and walking in the neighborhood park, even getting on buses for the first few years until her arthritis forced her into a wheelchair. She was a diligent perfectionist. She liked to dress neatly in her own way. She liked to fix her sleeves with no wrinkles and made beds to the standard of a 5-star hotel. If her work was disturbed by others she would re-do it. She enjoyed jokes and sensed other people's humor accurately many times. She would burst into laughter when others laughed. She was an ordinary woman. She liked to be pretty, to have her nails done or facials just like many other women. She will be missed."

Rest in peace. I will never forget.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Gentle Warrior

We sauntered past another milestone in the Cage household over the weekend…my beloved husband attained the rank of “shodan” or first level black belt in the Japanese martial art of Aikido. In simple terms: “It employs locks and holds and utilizes the principle of nonresistance to cause an opponent's own momentum to work against him or her. Aikido emphasizes the importance of achieving complete mental calm and control of one's own body to master an opponent's attack. There are no offensive moves. It traces its origins to Japanese martial (samurai) traditions dating to the 14th century, and it was developed as a modern form in the early 20th century by Ueshiba Morihei.” (from Wikipedia)

As with most things Japanese there is a lot of ceremony that goes with the practice, which makes it very interesting to watch. There was an actual test of techniques in front of a panel of judges, then a ceremony in which the three shodans received their belts and hakama and put them on, and gifts were exchanged. Even though it was pouring all day, about 30 people made their way up the mountain to our house for a pot-luck party after the festivities at the dojo were over.

The fact that he didn’t start training until he was 42 and it only took him 6 years to get his black belt is a testament to his dedication and effort. I’m just so damn proud of him. But, I refuse to wrestle with him anymore, it just isn't a fair fight. He knows a lot of Japanese now too, a useful side effect. In the next few years he hopes to travel to Kyoto with his sensei (teacher) and other students to train and see where it all started. The sensei at his dojo looks like the librarian at your local elementary school, a slight blonde woman in her late 30s with a pony-tail. Many of the most accomplished practitioners of this art are women.

Here’s the kanji, or calligraphic symbols for Ai, Ki and Do, which means harmony, spirit and the path or way, respectively. D’s planning on getting his first tattoo of the kanji to celebrate this event, he’s not sure where its going to go yet. Cool, huh?

Here's a little demonstration video if you're interested, and yes, that is a lady throwing that big guy around like he was a wet noodle.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Waxing Philosophical

I need to get into the habit of writing down my thoughts on a daily basis, I often find myself writing bits and pieces of blog posts in my head as I’m driving and then I lose them when I get home.

The job transition continues. I gave back my (ancient) laptop and access card to Large Software Company last week. I hadn’t been in the office for a couple of weeks and my team knew that was going to be my last day, how silly of me to expect that after four years I would get…I don’t know…anything? I wasn’t expecting a party, but geez, if it were my teammate who was leaving I would have made a little bit of an effort, perhaps a card or even lunch. Oh well. The whole thing was very anti-climatic and honestly, that helped to make me feel less sad.

I have a verbal offer for salary from the consulting company and it was more than I had hoped, but more in line with what I should have been expecting, had I more belief in myself. I’ve been struggling with a software program that I recommended, as have the accountants that also need to get output from it, so I’m playing referee between the vendor and my clients within the company. As I am neither an accountant nor a programmer, I feel I am ill-equipped for this position, but I am learning a lot.

I finished reading She’s Come Undone. This was one of the hardest books I’ve ever read, even harder than Lucky. Lucky was about one event, the author’s rape, but Undone dipped into My List so many times I felt like I was being sucker punched every other night. Just goes to show you that my story could in fact be a novel.

I continue to fall more in love with my horse every time I see her. She’s a petting zoo pony in a thoroughbred’s body, so affectionate and trusting; I would even go so far as to call her cuddly. At least with me. Her two sisters are high-strung, high-maintenance and classic mares, moody and sometimes bitchy. I bought the used Pessoa my trainer found me, it should be here tomorrow. If I keep it I will post a picture.

I was disappointed in my lesson today. I missed my lesson last week because the rings were too muddy. Every time that happens I spend more than half the next lesson just getting to where I was last time. I can canter OK on my own at an easy speed, but the moment the horse steps it up a bit I’m bouncing all over the place and losing my stirrups. I know, I just need more practice. But now I have a huge incentive to get better, faster. I take Missy out of her stall and put her in the cross ties, groom her, walk her around the farm and let her graze, I even walked and trotted next to her in the big ring today, but I am nowhere near ready to ride her. Patience is not one of my strong points.

I am thoroughly enjoying being at the farm every chance I get, and I already feel like much more of a part of the community there now that I am an owner. The vast majority of the riders there are women (in addition to the owner and the trainer) and that’s part of what makes it such a magical place. In fact, the only men usually on the property are the barn hands!

I have been noticing that I’ve been more conscious of the little things lately. The spider web in the corner of the pig stall is beautiful. The old red bicycle propped up against the tree on my way home catches my eye and I smile. The clouds make a technocolor splash across the sky. I am in awe of the incredible dichotomy of the horses, so powerful and so fragile at once. My computer calls to me less. But since it is the medium into which I write, I will try to heed the call more often.