"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Friday, July 25, 2014

5 Q's With Mel

Mel from Boots and Saddles modified these questions, originally from ultrarunpodcast.com

Name: Nicole

Me, on my island, with slightly longer hair
  • So many of you already know my real name thanks to Facebook that I'll tell you the story: I started this blog as a source for venting about the craziness of the horse world in South FL so I started writing under a different name for anonymity. I was very careful about being vague about where I boarded at/lived at/worked at because I didn't want to be linked to my blog. And then the craziness was so crazy, I was afraid to write about it anyway. And now I keep discovering people around me, especially from my current barn, that have somehow stumbled upon my blog (and enjoy reading it. Which is awesome.) You know what the tell-tale sign is? They call Carlos "Charles". :) Yup, his real name is Carlos. He's Puerto Rican too. And his last name is not Alvarez. None of the happily married women in his family have taken the last names of their husbands so we chose to continue the tradition. But we still get a kick out of people calling him Mr. Alvarez. :) 
  • "Saiph" is pronounced "Sayif" or "Sife" (as in rhyming with "wife"). It is one of the stars of Orion, my favorite constellation. It is the 6th brightest star of said constellation and marks the right leg of the Hunter. The word "saiph" literally means "sword" in Arabic. Saiph was a character in a story my brother and I created while I was in college. She rode horses (duh), navigated sailboats that could fly (this was BEFORE Treasure Planet! I love sailboats), and was a pro with both the bow & arrow and the sabre (I was in my university's fencing team while in college and my weapon was the sabre. Except Saiph's sabre was the real kind that can actually cut you.) So when I decided I wanted to write under a pseudonym of sorts, I chose the name Saiph.  
    The original Saiph was a badass

  • One day I will tell you guys the story of the Torrech family (my mother's side of the family). It is actually really, really cool, and is wrapped around some of the history of Puerto Rico itself. (Just enough to have a street and a neighborhood named after one of my great-great grandparents.) And there are horses in it. My uncle (he's a historian) and cousins have gone to a lot of trouble researching where we come from. I just need them to send me the photos I requested so I can tell you guys some of the stories...
Age: 35
  • Can I start lying about my age now? No? Ok, I'll wait until I'm 40. I'll just tell you guys I turned 30 in 5 years. ;) (ugh...really? Only 5 years until turning 40??! But but...I still feel like I'm 25!)

Where do you live: Somewhere in the Washington, DC suburbs in Maryland. I will continue to be vague about that. :P

Family status: Married with 2 cats and 2 horses. I technically have a dog also, but she lives in Puerto Rico with my mom and is very happy there. That's another cool story that I haven't told you guys...the story of Ninuk, the Whippet mix. She was a TV dog for a day and that's how I found her.

1. How long have you been riding? Endurance?
I've been riding since I was 10 years old. So that's 25 years riding. (Holy crap.) I started out with Paso Finos and soon switched to jumpers (we had no hunters in PR back then). My personal horses were Paso Finos but in lessons and competitions I rode in the jumpers. I continued in the jumpers when I first moved to Tampa, FL, riding and competing some of my trainer's horses. I then got back into owning my own horses after moving to South FL, which is when I switched to dressage + trails. I've wanted to ride endurance since I read about the sport for the first time when I was 13 but it was not a sport on the island. I've been actively training for it for the last year, but have only one ride under my belt so far: the Old Dominion 50 miler, June 2014.

2. What does a normal training week look like for you?
This can vary, especially with two horses. I usually ride both of them on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If Charles can ride on any of those days, he'll ride Gracie with me on the trail and save me a ton of time. Sometimes I'll give Lily one of those days off and just ride Gracie. Lily will instead get a third ride sometime during the week. I try to ride Lily 3 times a week since she's a hard keeper and does better with more time off, and Gracie 4 times a week since she's an easy keeper and gets alpha mare opinions when she has too much time off. Sometimes a riding session is substituted with a lunging session for one or both of the mares. I've been focusing more on speed and power with Lily lately: lots of transitions and extended canter sets in our arena work, and working on hills at speed on the trail. With Gracie we're focusing on cardiac endurance at her medium gait. She gets hill workouts too when Charles rides with me on the trail, but I'm still working on her baseline fitness. I'd like to do an LD with her later this year or have Charles do an LD on her, but I'm not quite sure yet that she'll be ready.
I fell off the rider fitness bandwagon for a while during April and May, but hopped back on it in June. My goals have been modest: ideally one day of sprints/jogging, one day of drills, and one day in the gym, either at a Spinning class or alternating cardio machines (there is nothing more mind-numbing than cardio machines...I do from 15 to 30 min each on the Cybex, elliptical, and rowing machine in succession). I try for three but I try to be happy if I can get at least two workouts a week. I'm also on my feet for most of my 10 hour shifts 4 times a week at work.

3. Any advice for endurance riding spouses?
I think the best endurance riding spouses are the ones that enjoy camping, can crew, know something about horse care and at least like horses, can crack a joke when the wife is getting too serious, and are able to keep their wife eating and drinking. Dom's Mike is the perfect example of the ideal endurance SO! He's had plenty of practice. :) He even takes amazing photos! Check out the ones he took of Dom at Biltmore. Charles has the basics of this down (especially the humor part!) and I love that he enjoys coming along for these adventures; we just need to work on perfecting the crewing part, which will come naturally with time. 

Just a little more practice... :)
These photos of him and Lily at the OD hold still crack me up
4. Where will this sport be in 10 years?
I really liked Mel's answers, and I agree with Liz's response on that post: ride management could make better maps. I'm still not sure Lily and I would have completed at the OD if we hadn't been riding with Liz...a lot of people got lost due to taking the wrong loop at the wrong time. I could totally see myself doing that. From what I've been reading, I think there will be more short distances (under 25 miles) for newer riders. It's nice to see more and more Introductory rides cropping up at endurance rides: it's a great way for average trail riders to try out the sport.

5. What was your best race and why (AERC endurance - or if you are primary in another discipline, then your best ride in that sport)?
I've only had one race so far and it could have been way better. I did not enjoy feeling like we were flying by the seat of our pants through those vet checks. Training has been modified so that we are better prepared for future adventures over the kind of terrain we encountered at the Old Dominion 50. Not sure I will be doing another 50 with Lily during the hotter summer months; we might just stick with spring and fall for the longer distances. Gracie, however, may be another matter, as she sweats better and tolerates heat better than Lily, especially now that she is slimmer and fitter. We shall see.
I had really good rides when I was jumping and I have already discussed them on this blog. Funnily enough, my favorite rides were all outside of the show ring. I honestly don't remember which shows I won and which ones I lost; the ones where I had the most fun and where I stressed the least were the ones where I earned blue ribbons. The ribbons ended up being the icing on a cake that was already pretty awesome all by itself. By the time I won, I didn't care about winning at all. The shows where I stressed the most were the ones where I lost. My best rides at shows when I competed in the jumpers were on a handsome chestnut OTTB with a blaze named Luciano.
With dressage, I'd have moments of brilliance spread throughout several rides. I love dressage for its complexity and for what it does for my horses to develop their bodies better for more strenuous endeavors outside of the arena.
However, I think that the rides I have enjoyed the most have been the many, many rides I have put into Lily on the trail to get her to where she is today. Each ride has been an adventure and yet another bonding experience with her. I woke up on the day of the Old Dominion realizing that I was riding my heart horse.
Ever since then, I melt a little every time I see her. Every time she's out in the field grazing and she looks up when I walk into the field, a part of my heart gets all squishy. The other day I was brushing one of her front legs in the field. She swung her head around to shoo a fly away and connected with my head. "Ow!" I exclaimed. Lily turned and walked away from me, embarrassed. I had to jog after her and call her back: "No, it's okay! I know you didn't mean it!" She stopped and perked up again when I approached her to finish grooming her.
Last weekend we had a small emergency with one of the other mares in her field, where the mare had a vaccine reaction. I had taken the mare over to the run-in shed so she could hang out in front of the fans while we waited for the vet. There are 3 bays in the mare field including Lily. All of a sudden I look up as one of the bays sneaks up behind me. It took me a second to realize it was MY bay mare. I'd been in the mare field for about 20 minutes by then and Lily came over to see why I hadn't gone to fetch her.
"Oh hi!" I said to her once I recognized her. I got happy ears and a gentle inquisitive nose. "Hi Mom! What's going on?"
That. That right there would never have happened if it hadn't been for endurance. Every training ride with this mare throughout this last year has been a good one because it is what ultimately brought us so much closer together.

Bonus question: what is your favorite beer?
I like Belgian ales in general. If I don't know what to get, I'll go for the Belgian anything. I like their smoother taste and lower hops content (I don't like bitter beers. Because of this I have yet to meet an IPA that I liked) There are a couple of dubbels and tripels that I like, but I tend to like most ales and some stouts. I'm a major lightweight but apparently I'm very European in that I like a beer with my dinner. Haha

Some of my favorites at the moment:
Flying Dog's Secret Stash Harvest Ale
New Belgium's Abbey
Dogfish Head's Namaste
Dogfish Head's Raison D'Etre
Boddington's Pub Ale

* I used to hate beer. Hated it. I drank NO alcohol while in college because I didn't understand how anyone could like it. I actually didn't have my first honest drink until I turned 25. Yup, I took the term "straight edge nerd" to a whole other level. Sure I'd tried stuff before, but I hadn't liked any of it until that time. And then we lived next to a World of Beer in South Florida and it became a habit to go there every Tuesday, when they had their $3 draft special, to eat dinner and try a different beer. Best way to discover what you like and don't like. So I kind of became a connoisseur by immersion. This has expanded now that we live in a place where you can't just walk into the grocery store to pick up a 6-pack. You have to go to a wine shop. Which means that you are going to have a huge and constantly changing variety of beers that you normally wouldn't find at the grocery store, which means that every time we walk into a wine shop, we usually come out with yet another thing that we've never tried before! The extra stop is annoying but the incredible variety makes up for it.


  1. I suspect I'll end up feeling similarly re: the first point within a few years. It seems to be a common theme!

    I'm 24, haven't liked much of the alcoholic stuff I've tried, and think trying one inexpensively weekly is a *brilliant* idea. Good thought. I may give that a try.

    1. When I was a very small child, my mom used to bake bread at home. I loved the taste of bread dough and its yeasty aftertaste and it was the main reason why I was always eager to help her! Haha... I had tried Coors Light (yuck!), Miller, and Heineken (all really popular on the island) and honestly was really meh about all of them and didn't understand why people would drink so much of something so blah tasting given the number of empty calories alcohol has. I preferred to waste the calories on chocolate. Or cake. Or ice cream! And then one day I discovered Amberbock, which has a smooth taste and a yeasty aftertaste very similar to that bread dough I used to like so much as a kid...and that's when I realized beer wasn't so bad! (I don't drink to the point of drunkenness and two is usually enough to have me in a happy buzz: major lightweight here.)

      My first drink at 25 that I actually liked and finished the glass I was handed was Arbor Mist white zinfandel. Very sweet and fruity. Maybe too much now: I don't like drinks that are that sweet nowadays. I explored wines for a bit to figure out which grown-up wines I liked: white zinfandels, rose wines, chardonnay, shiraz. Charles and I went through a phase where we would have a glass of wine with dinner because one glass of wine a day is supposed to be good for you. But wine is not my friend. I think I have a mild allergy to it; it makes me congested and more than a glass and I get a major headache. So nowadays I just stick with beer. :)

      I agree about the name. It's fun to have the pseudonym and I just really like the name Saiph: it's unique. It used to drive me batty that Nicole is such a common name and there'd always be multiples of us in school. I figured if I ever had kids, they'd have unusual names!

  2. Yay names! I have a super hard time not writing your real names in posts. I often have to do a "find" command for my whole text to double check! Maybe no more??

    Also, don't worry, you're totally my 25 yr old best friend!!!! Automatic 10 year deduction in my brain. :-)

    1. I should have called Carlos "Altair". He was Saiph's SO in the stories. I don't know why I chose such a boring name for him...maybe because "Charles" is simply "Carlos" in English. Altair is another star: it's the 12th brightest star in the sky and the closest star that is visible to the naked eye. It is 11 times brighter than the sun and has the peculiarity that it is a star that rotates at a very high speed. It completes a full rotation in 9 hours. Our sun completes a full rotation in 25 *days*.

      Yes, at one point I wanted to be an astronomer. :) Until I realized how much math was involved!

      Yaaaaaay for the 10 year age deduction!!! Hahaha

  3. Really enjoying reading every one's reaponses to tge questions. In my mid twenties I found wine. Mostly through a bunch of wine tasting events. I live in a fabulous area for wine. I drank a lot of beer in college and was always pretty neutral about it. My mom is a brewer and some of her stuff ive REALLY liked

    1. Thank you again for this great questionnaire! It's been fun reading everyone's answers.

      How awesome that your mom brews!!

      And yes, you definitely live in wine country! Which wines do you like?

  4. The whole quasi-anonymity of the online world is funny. I don't mind having blog friends on facebook and I'm pretty open with what I share in general, but it totally weirds me out when I find out that real life acquaintances actually read my blog. Obviously, I deal with that and it's fine, but it's a strange feeling the first few times.

    And of course, I'm very careful to only write about myself and my horse. No local gossip or trainer bashing or anything else. It's very, very small world.

    1. Yup, I feel really exposed when I realize someone from the barn has discovered the blog. At one point I had it linked to my main FB account and ended up removing it. I don't write anything anyone can't read, but at the same time, while I don't seem to have a problem exposing some of my innermost thoughts to total strangers on the internet, it made me feel really naked when it came to my friends. I don't "friend" people on FB unless I know them, but at the same time, I don't want some people I know knowing everything about me and my thought processes. I don't think that even makes sense, but that's how I feel. I agree: it's a strange feeling the first few times when I realize someone from the barn is reading.

  5. Love the long hair!!! So beautiful! I always wondered how to pronounce Saiph. You will always be Saiph to me, lol (even more so because I know how to pronouce it).

    1. Hahaha thanks JWall! I realized I needed to clarify the pronunciation at some point when I heard one of my friends who knows about the blog pronouncing it as "Sef". I do like Saiph more than my real name simply because it's unusual!

    2. I said it Saph like it rhymed with staph. Sife will take a few days to rewire my brain. I always call you Sife, because of the other N. otherwise J gets confused.

    3. Yeah, after hearing Kathy pronounce it as "Sef" I realized I really should clarify! It makes sense: "Sef" is the same pronunciation as "said", and "Saiph" has the same "ai" as "said." When pronounced in Spanish it comes out in the correct way "Sayif"; I'd just never thought about it before!

  6. Next time you're in Belgium, we're only an hour away. I hate German beer.

    If anyone I know in Germany found my blog, I'd flip out. I try very hard to keep it "for Americans and family."

    Now I really wanna see your stories about Florida. An Oregon blogger wanted to start a blog with me where people could anonymously vent about barn drama. Wouldn't that be fun?

    1. I will definitely let you know if we ever get to visit Belgium! Europe is on the bucket list...some day!

      I LOVE the idea of a blog where people can anonymously vent about barn drama! You and the Oregon friend should do it. I could contribute several stories!

      This was the one post where I just began to scratch the surface of what barn life was like in South FL...it still makes me laugh so hard I cry...:

  7. I'm paranoid about giving away too much information on the internet. I should have thought up an actual name instead of achieve1dream, but that used to be my email address and I liked it so that's what I used. Now it would probably just confuse everyone if I changed it. I also feel weird when I find out someone I know is reading my blog.... I have no idea why!! Oh and I actually wouldn't care if all of my blog friends knew my real name and where I live (I've shared it in email before), but I'm just not comfortable having the information on a public blog where anyone could be reading it and I would never know. :\

    I really enjoyed reading this questionnaire! I wish it was a blog hop so I could read what everyone else wrote.

    I don't like beer... the smell grosses me out. I tried drinking alcoholic beverages when I turned twenty one, but I really don't care for the taste of any of them and they make me sick loooong before I get any sort of buzz (yeah I don't think I've ever had a buzz)... turns out I'm gluten intolerant... no wonder!! So I don't drink lol.

    Oh and I loved learning more about Saiph from your stories. I pronounced it like safe by the way, so thanks for explaining it. :) I look forward to more stories about your family and everything you mentioned.

    1. The blog hop is official! Go to Mel's blog to see the links to everyone else's posts :) http://bootsandsaddles4mel.com/blog/2014/5-qs-with-mel/

      I totally understand the internet paranoia. I'm really hard to find on FB even if you know me already; I have it set up that way. This was the main reason behind the pseudonym: you just never really know who is reading. I think part of the weird feeling when we discover someone we know is reading the blog, is just that feeling of naked vulnerability.

      I hope to get some of the family stories posted before the end of the year. It will be good writing material for when it's cold outside and more time is spent indoors! ;)

    2. It is a blog hop! Yay! Thanks for the link. I didn't see the link up on your post. :)

      How do you have your FB page set up? Mine is hard to find too, but I don't know if it's because I set it that way somehow or if it's because I changed it to my married name. Anything I can do to make mine harder to find is awesome to me. :D I'm glad I'm not the only cautious (okay I'm paranoid) person out there! I do feel vulnerable when I find out people read my blog. I don't talk bad about people but I more openly share my opinions on the blog. In real life I keep my opinion to myself unless asked and even then sometimes I don't give my true, true opinion (too worried about hurting people's feelings... I need to grow a backbone lol), so yeah I hope my blog doesn't offend anyone I know!!!

      I look forward to having stories to read this winter when I'm hiding under my electric blanket!! :D

    3. So now the blog hop is really REALLY a blog hop: you can see all of the other participants on my blog too. :)

      Regarding FB, I have my privacy settings on "Strict filtering" and set so that only friends of friends can send me friend requests. No other search engines can link to my timeline, only friends can see what others post on my timeline, and past posts are "Limited": if anything was ever public during one of the many many FB privacy settings, they are not public anymore. And then it helps that I have a really, really common name! Haha...

    4. Thank you! I will check all of those settings. :) I think I have most of mine set the way you do but I'll have to check to make sure. I don't even have my real location listed on Facebook LOL!!!

  8. I was wondering if you would explain about your name:) I adore the picture of you - you look so happy!