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

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

First Bareback Ride on Lily

Ok, so I have been on Lilybird bareback before...but at a walk. Into water. During my first year of owning her in Florida! She has always been so sensitive that I wasn't exactly comfortable with the idea of riding her without a saddle.

One day when I was feeling super confident, shortly after moving to Maryland, I had been doing groundwork with her in the arena at the first barn we boarded at here, and had the brilliant idea out-of-the-blue of hopping on bareback with just a rope halter and lead rope on the Mareface.

Not one of my brightest moments. Lily was not exactly known for being a stable-minded horse back then, and so, when she felt my butt against her bare back, she startled and immediately went to her go-to reaction. She bucked. Lily's bucks are nothing if not monumental: she'll get 3' of air from a standstill. With no mane, no reins and no bit to control her with, I didn't stand a chance. All it took was one buck and I went flying over her shoulder.

I didn't attempt it again. (Though it prompted months of desensitizing to touch from the rider on odd parts of her body from above that have paid off in dividends with endurance.)

Until today.

My friend Shanna came out to ride and we tacked up Gracie. Lily got to wear her bridle, a stirrup leather around her neck as a neck strap, and the new bareback pad. It was a wonderfully balmy 60 degrees outside with a cool breeze blowing. We headed down to the arena, where Shanna held Lily for me to get on: I stood on the 3 step mounting block, which allowed me to swing a leg over as if I was using a stirrup.

Lily tensed up for a second when I (gently) sat down on her back. Even with the bareback pad, I could still feel her spine (Lily has a lot more wither than couchy Gracie) and she could feel my seatbones. There was a mutual moment of, "Whoa, I feel a lot more of you than I expected!" on both our ends. But I stayed relaxed, leaving the reins draped around her neck, and she relaxed too. I let her just hang out with no request from me while Shanna mounted up on Gracie and got settled herself.

There was a really sweet moment where Lily turned her head and licked my boot. She never does that. She was so happy to have me on her.

Lily had no issue with just hanging out while Shanna warmed up.
Once Shanna and Gracie were settled in, I took Lily around at a walk so we could get a feel for one another.

Lily walked very. slowly. initially. I had to grin: she was trying to be careful with me. We did baby leg yields, tiny circles, changes of direction, shoulder-in, so I could find my seat on her back. It didn't take long.

Now about trotting. Remember I make Gracie gait.

I tentatively asked Lilybird to pick up the trot and laughed when, instead of zooming forward like I had expected her to (she doesn't do this under saddle, but again: sensitive creature), she picked up her own version of a Western jog: the smallest, smoothest little trot. It was actually easier to sit than Gracie's gait!!

So we trotted around for a bit. By "a bit" I mean we actually trotted a lot more than I imagined prior. We did the same thing as at the walk: shoulder in, baby leg yields and small circles. Despite the tiny stride, her back felt loose and oscillating, and it was easy to let my hips follow the movement. I was overall more focused on keeping an eye on Shanna and Gracie to make sure they didn't need help, but they were doing great today. I mentioned to Shanna that this is the most relaxed I've seen her on Gracie: if Shanna is worried, she tenses her shoulders, which makes Gracie accelerate. That was not happening today. :)

Shanna was bothered that she was looking down a titch in this photo, but she's looking at the ground ahead of Gracie, not at Gracie's neck (Shanna has improved SO MUCH on this front!) and I love just about everything that is happening here, especially given where Shanna is at in her riding: you can still count how many times she has been on this horse. Her handling of Gracie at her gait is lovely.
Lily during another moment of just chillin.'
I eventually asked Lily to move up to a more energetic trot and she obliged. I had no problems with me seat, so I decided I was feeling brave enough to attempt the canter. Lily can do walk-canter-walk transitions all day long, but I asked her to step up into her tiny trot and from there into the canter. It was a clean, effortless transition. I did touch the stirrup leather around her neck initially, then realized I didn't need it. I felt balanced.

The problem came when we went around the arena corner: I wanted to stay in a circle at the far end of the ring, but when I asked Lily to bend, I shifted my inside seat to the outside like I would in the saddle (I was told by a dressage trainer a long time ago to do that, but I have heard dressage trainers on blogs recommend the opposite as well depending on what the horse is doing)...which resulted in my seatbone being directly over her spine. Both Lily and I went, "Well, that doesn't feel good," and Lily automatically broke down to a trot with no cue from me. By the third attempt, I re-found my seat (Lily broke to a trot each time I shifted my weight too much) and was able to ask for the bend while keeping Lily's spine between my seat bones. It was kind of fascinating, and a note that I intend to take into my under-saddle riding: I don't need to slide my seat dramatically in either direction for Lily to understand requests from my seat. Maybe if I just stay centered over her back and do a tiny weight shift, I can be just as clear.

Even while figuring this out, I was grinning from ear to ear though, "THIS IS EPIC!" I said out loud to Shanna, and explained about this being my first time cantering a non-gaited horse bareback...and my first time doing a real bareback ride on Lily.

Shanna is a wonderful friend. She asked me if I would like for her to film it. And I said, "YES please!" and passed her my phone.

And a few stills from the videos. (This bareback pad does not have stirrups; it looks like they do because of the strap across my boots from the half chaps.)

I kind of like that my leg while cantering a non-gaited horse defaults to the old jumper position. I wasn't doing this on purpose; that's just what my legs were doing in order to keep a light seat.

And then we had Shanna take a turn cantering. She has cantered before in the arena, but not for extended periods like today.

I hate that that jump standard is in the way. This would have been a great shot otherwise!
This series of them against the sun. <3 It was a truly gorgeous day.
Shanna's seat at the canter improved just in the course of this ride. Note the difference in her posture between this photo and the first canter photo, where she was bracing against the stirrups.

Afterwards I took what I had learned about turns at the canter and applied it to trot work: we did spirals, figure-8s, half circles with changes of direction, while staying centered over Lily's back. I could still use my seat to turn her, but with only the tiniest effort. It was awesome.

I finally realized my legs were done. D-O-N-E, DONE. My inner thigh muscles were quivering. I looked down at my watch...well, no wonder: we had been riding for an hour and 10 minutes!

I called Shanna over to the center of the arena, who happened to be walking Gracie, so the timing worked out perfectly to call it a day. Her and I had matching grins at the end of this ride. Both mares behaved so well.

We dismounted and hand-walked them back to the barn, where they had a snack of hay (for Gracie) and alfalfa (for Lily) and their faces got stuffed with peppermints! :)

I foresee more bareback rides on Lily in the future!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Happy Holidays! :)

We had a wonderful Christmas weekend on this end. Historically it's always been one of us working one or both days/nights of the holiday (the bane of working in veterinary and human 24-hour hospitals), or we were spending it with family. 

This was the first time that we can remember that Carlos and I got to spend both Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day together, alone, in...12 years.

That's pretty epic!

So we did whatever the hell we wanted. Which was absolutely nothing. It was glorious. 

Christmas Eve dawned ugly and cold. I was in the middle of my yearly bout of bronchitis and on my third dose of antibiotics and I just wanted to stay in bed. Carlos had a training session with Tony in the morning while I got my hair did, an appointment that I had been trying to make for 3 months and absolutely could not miss!

It was worth it. My hair is like four colors at once at the moment. 

You can kind of get an idea here. Cat tail accessory not included... ;)
I made brunch afterwards. 

Vegetarian hash with squash, baby potatoes, broccoli, chopped  peppers & onions + eggs
And then we watched a movie marathon at home. I started dinner early: chicken breasts stuffed with ricotta and cranberries (it's a modified version of this. I marinate the chicken prior, skip the spinach, and also the quinoa because I'm already making a side in this case), homemade cranberry sauce with apples and ginger, and mashed sweet potatoes with coconut milk and cardamon, sprinkled with chopped pecans. Believe it or not, all of those were "clean" recipes: low in sugar and fat. Dessert was a mini fruit tart sampler that I got from Wegmans. Their bakery is incredible. 

On Christmas morning, I made breakfast: andouille sausage and egg white scramble with asparagus, mushrooms and sundried tomato; and whole wheat French toast stuffed with blueberry cheesecake. These were both new recipes and they came out AMAZING. 

After stuffing our faces and opening gifts (I got a hematite bracelet, "The Cursed Child" by J.K. Rowling, which I have not been able to put down! And a GoPro Hero!!!!!!!), I asked Carlos about going to the barn to remove sheets on the horses: I had left them on the previous day to keep the girls dry from the rain, since it was so chilly.

I asked Carlos about riding Gracie for 15 minutes bareback...and it turned into a 40-minute thing! I was having WAY too much fun on G-Mare. Carlos got a kick out of watching me and obliged with a million pics and video.

I finally buckled down and got a bareback pad for Black Friday and I'm so glad I did. It offers a little extra padding and security in the form of a lightly sueded seat. I was already doing pretty good without a saddle, so this now feels so much more secure. This was my third ride in it. 

Dressagin' it up bareback on the gaited creature. Who said gaited horses can't do medium gaits? ;)
Hand gallop.
And more hand gallop.
And more.
I will remind you guys that just last year I was cantering bareback for the first time.
Carlos's mom called while I was playing in the arena. They were hanging out with the nieces in South FL and had sent a video of their toys. I told Carlos to fill me galloping around the arena...as I came up next to hi, I waved at the camera mid-flight and wished the girls Merry Christmas!

The final video we chose for them was a HUGE hit! Now the girls want us to bring the horses next time we visit South FL. Haha

The videos were too cool to not do something with, so I edited the part where I wave at the camera and linked them up into one thing. This is the final product:

The song is Lush Life by Zara Larsson. It was the song I was listening to while riding. :)
The last part at the end, where I ride the canter one-handed is kind of a big deal. I've never done that before!

We did some reinless work, where I dropped the reins and directed Gracie with my legs. She would circle in the direction I wanted her to but she would eventually end up back at the gate. -_- We also did quite a bit of work at the gait. She had broken a light sweat by the end of the ride. And I was grinning from ear to ear. 

Best Christmas ride ever, so far!

I pulled Lily out of the field afterwards to give her a good grooming and an electrolyte mash. She was wiggling her lip in pleasure when I curried her neck and chest. Happy mare. :)

After the barn, we swung by downtown to see if anything was open...our favorite Irish bar was! So we sat down for a Blue Moon (Carlos) and a smoothie (for me. A smoothie is half hard cider, half Guinness) and then we drove home. 

We saw this guy in a motorcycle with a sidecar and initially thought the passenger was a kid. We were talking about Inspector Gadget and how little you see motorcycles with sidecars, when Carlos looked in the rearview mirror and exclaimed, "It's not a child! It's a DOG!" 

He slowed way, way, WAAAAY down so the motorcycle and dog could pass us so I would be able to snag a photo. It was originally meant to be a Snap for Jess, who was travelling with her Golden Finley on this day and of course this made me think of her...but the photo came out so terrific that I saved it on my phone as well. 

And I'm so glad I did. Because now I can share it with you guys.

These two won at Christmas traveling!
The light and the Lab's ears flying back in the wind are so perfect. <3
Carlos and I were still grinning when we parked at home. We watched Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and had dinner, which was leftovers from the night before. 

This is a good summary of what our weekend was like. :)

Not the most exciting Christmas, but definitely one of our better ones!

I hope everyone had a beautiful, magical holiday!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tales From the Trenches: WW

All of these were from grateful clients. All of these were brought in today alone!
The holiday season rocks because, while we tend to be busy in vet med, our patients' owners keep us fed. <3

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Bloodline: The Story of a Horse Named "Cake"

My great-great grandfather was nicknamed "Abuelito de Pelo Blanco" or "White-Haired Grandpa." He was my grandfather's grandfather and he owned multiple sugarcane "colonies" in the Puerto Rican towns of Bayamon, CataƱo and Carolina. This was right at the cusp of an era that marked the beginning of the end of the sugarcane industry on the island: Puerto Rico used to be one of the greatest producers of sugar in the world. Abuelito de Pelo Blanco was already set up for the transition though: he had orange trees and he also bred cattle and horses. When the sugarcane industry fell apart, he transitioned 100% into cattle.

My great-great grandfather had a white stallion, a Paso Fino (of course) that he rode everywhere. The horse's real name has been forgotten in the family history: everyone remembers him as "Bizcocho."

"Bizcocho" means "Cake."

Not Bizcocho, obviously (photo from here) but just so you get an idea of the regalness of this horse.
Every Saturday morning, Abuelito de Pelo Blanco would tack up Bizcocho and ride down to the nearby bakery for breakfast. Breakfast involved coffee and a slice of cake that he would bring outside with him to share with his stallion.

Abuelito de Pelo Blanco, in his heyday :)
Bizcocho came to enjoy these outings so much that he would try to head for the bakery of his own accord whenever he was craving cake! And so he earned his nickname.

Despite the silly name, he was a highly trained, sensitive animal that only the more skilled horsemen of the family could ride with ease.

I told you guys about Brisa in my previous Bloodline post. Brisa was my mother's horse, and he was still in training under saddle when my grandfather took my mom to visit Abuelito de Pelo Blanco. My grandfather bragged about my mother's outstanding riding skills with her colt at home. And so Abuelito de Pelo Blanco had Bizcocho tacked up.

My mom, who was still in her late teens, looked at her father and great-grandfather in disbelief but still climbed aboard the great white stallion that was presented for her to ride and demonstrate.

They had a lovely ride during which my mother put Bizcocho through his many gaits, with just the lightest touch of the leg or the reins. Abuelito de Pelo Blanco was quite impressed. My mom was the first woman in the family to have a gift with horses, and here she proved it.

Until it came time to stop. My mother brought Bizcocho to a halt with the gentlest pressure...but she held it for a fraction of a second too soon. The white stallion immediately started backing up, which took my mom by surprise, which in turn caused her to reflexively squeeze her hands...and so Bizcocho continued on...backwards. My grandfather finally had to step in and grab him by the reins in order to stop him. My mom's face was beet red from embarrassment as she leaped off of her great-grandfather's horse and took off running to hide in the barns for a while. She never did hear what my grandfather and his grandfather said afterwards, and she did not ask.

Bizcocho was quite the horse, but other people could ride him.

Brisa was also quite the horse, but he could only be ridden by my mother, a fact that my grandfather always happened to mention in his stories.

And he always said it with the utmost pride.

That's my mom on the bottom left. :) And her siblings: my two aunts and my uncle standing behind them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Photos From That Time I Used to Jump...

Liz requested this one...:)

In case you haven't read the "Why 'Wait for the Jump'?" tab, the name of the blog has a story. I do endurance now, but I actually did use to jump. I did it for 17 years. I was good at it. Good enough that I wanted to represent PR in the 2004 Olympics in showjumping and I had a trainer that both felt I could do it and was willing to take me there. That was one of my highest aspirations as a teenager, and I actually chose to do homeschooling my senior year in high school so that I could pursue my showjumping career full-time. I woke up at 5:00 am, got all of my schoolwork done by 10:00 am, and then went to the barn to ride all day long, up to 6 horses at a time in one day. I was hard-core. It was my life. I lived and breathed horses and jumping. This trainer sponsored me through one of my most successful years in the jumper arena when I was 17, and I became one of the top 10 riders in my division on the island. I aced my SATs and had the only perfect score in the English section on the island because I had more long-term goals: I wanted to be able to choose whatever university I wanted. I applied only at colleges in the US with intercollegiate riding teams, because I had every intention of continuing in the jumper arena for as long as my body would allow it. And I did it: I was accepted in my #1 university of choice.

And then life did one of its 180s and all of that came crashing down. Part of the story is in the A History of Horses tab. But that is why I don't do long-term goals anymore and why I don't let my life revolve around a sport.

I used to have a chronic problem of jumping ahead and my trainer was always shouting at me, "WAIT FOR THE JUMP!!!" Until he realized that I would sit back if he jacked up the jumps to 3'6" and higher. The jumping ahead has always been an issue in my everyday life as well: I am an impatient bulldozer (to most people's surprise). It wasn't long before my mom picked up the phrase. "Wait for the jump!" she would say anytime I was impatient about x life situation. This blog has never been about jumping. It is about horses and life and about waiting for things to come to you.

I do not have a ton of jumping photos. I jumped before smartphones and cell phone cameras were the norm, so we were limited to the times when my mom or later Carlos thought to bring the camera to the barn. None of the times when I jumped at my very highest are recorded on film because no one had a camera handy at the time. I don't have a single photo of me jumping Tamarindo, the horse that jumped only for me. I started riding in 1990 and didn't even see myself riding on video until 2005, when Carlos brought the professional film camera he owned at the time (remember he had a film degree prior to switching to nursing) and video'd me riding Divot at the barn in Tampa.  I did a double-take.
"That's ME?" I exclaimed.
"Yes," Carlos said, surprised.
"I actually look like I know what I'm doing!" I said.
He looked at me like I had sprouted a second head, "Because you DO know what you're doing!"

You see, when you're a type-A like I am, you are never, ever good enough. Ever. Until you see yourself in action and realize that maybe you actually can do things halfway well.

From that day forward, Carlos took it upon himself to record media of me riding, in the hopes that one day I would see myself the way he saw me. This has expanded into almost every other area of our lives which is why this blog, my Instagram and now Facebook are FULL of photos and videos of just about everything.

Gypsy was a TB mare and one of my first loves. I learned to jump on her with my trainer Debbie. And yes, that is me: I was 14 and had hair that went below my waist in length! I had probably been jumping for about 6 months here, hence the terrible lower leg. This was a summer camp show; we did a pretend jumper event. We were given a course and had to go over the fences as fast as possible. I think I took 7th place?  Gypsy is the mare that I later competed in Equitation Over Fences, a most-hated division that made me turn to the Jumpers. We did not have Hunters in PR. 
Another 6 months after the previous photo. The horse is Sunlight, also a TB. He could jump anything and I adored him. Loose lower leg, but I could trot and canter for hours without stirrups. It's all we did in lessons at this point. I was still 14, only jumping for a year, and it was already impossible for a horse to buck me off. I could stick anything thanks to all the no-stirrup work.

Another blurry shot of Sunlight and me, taken on the same day.

This horse...this asshat's name was Bailey. I was 16 when my trainer Ron decided he was going to be my steady ride. I was a recovering anorexic and was still building my strength back up. I could not stand this horse: he was a large pony that no one else could ride over fences because he had the dirtiest stop. He had a gorgeous, super-correct jump that involved cracking his back over the fence that invariably bounced my out of the saddle. You couldn't tell, but I would always land in a heap, which meant that he would invariably try to refuse the following fence as he laughed at me, "You SUCK!" But...when we were good together, we were SO GOOD though! We were beautiful. He was exhausting to ride. This is the only pro photo I have of myself jumping, and it was on Bailey at one of a handful of rated shows we competed in together. (Yes, we had rated shows in PR.) The photo was on display at the barn where I took lessons at, El Centro Ecuestre de Puerto Rico, along with the rest of the riding team's pics. Puerto Rico's Olympic hopefuls in showjumping trained at this barn (there were only three upper level show barns on the island at the time; El Centro Ecuestre was the oldest, and doesn't exist anymore), and my photo was one of many up on the walls for all to see. It made me *face-palm* every time I walked past it at the barn club house because of the irony. What was the irony of this photo? This was taken at the second fence on course. Bailey and I were eliminated at the third fence. *insert laughing emoji here*

I was 17 when this pic was taken, the year was 1997. The horse is Antares, a lovely, lovely TB owned by one of the wealthiest boarders in our barn. She was one of those that could afford to show in the US as well. Antares was being trained as a hunter to be exported to the mainland. It was a very, very special privilege to be able to ride him in a lesson on this day: NO ONE was allowed to ride this horse other than his owner and my trainer. Antares was cantering over these little fences. I love my position here. I'm wearing custom tall boots for which we had to scrape money together in order to afford.
It was around this time that Ron had me ride Bailey again...and he was not an issue whatsoever. Funny how having a strong body can make such a huge difference in your riding ability! ;)
This is Lucero, my Paso Fino! Back when we still kept him at home. My brother and grandfather were putting away a load of hay when Lucero escaped the barn yard, leaping over a stack of hay bales in order to make his getaway. The second I heard that story I said, "He jumps, huh? Let's do something about that!"
This was a tiny, tiny, tiny jump. The highest we ever did was 2'. It is REALLY AWKWARD to jump a horse when you have no neck in front of you because he barely scrapes 14 hh! I was also 17 here.

Fast-forward to Tampa, FL. The year is 2005. Here I am popping Divot, my trainer's semi-retired jumper, over a few fences in the jump field. She wanted to bring him back into work for her lesson program, as he was not handling retirement well. I was the guinea pig. :)

Divot took my trainer at the time up the ranks in Pony Club when she was a kid and there was a story about him clearing a 5' fence from a standstill during his heyday. This was nothing for him.
Divot again, at his first comeback show with me on board. I think he was happy to be back in the show ring. What do you think? ;) 
Schooling on Grasshopper, whom I told you guys about in my previous post, in the covered arena of the Tampa barn.
My eq wasn't going to shine in a George Morris clinic but it was functional, and that's what my trainer loved about it.
More fences on Grassy. :)
This was a 3' oxer in the jump field. Again: this was nothing for the horse nicknamed Grasshopper.
In the warm-up arena at the one show in Pinellas County where I got to compete Grassy. That's my trainer in the purple and black, and his owner in the pink. The year is 2006.
2'9" jumpers on Grassy. Same show.

South FL, 2010. Cloud was going to be my next jumper and even though he was a QH of unknown history, he was quite capable. I like my leg but I am ducking SO BAD here! He had a bad habit of rushing fences that made it especially hard to sit back and wait.
South FL, 2011. This was little Bella, an Arab/Welsh Pony cross that my BM acquired for the lesson program. My BM was an...interesting character. Let's just say I never knew when the hell she was telling the truth about anything. Supposedly she acquired Bella for free and she had been a children's lesson pony prior. This little girl did great for me, but she had a typical pony temperament...and I could never get the kids in our lesson program to successfully control her! But I had a ton of fun with her anyway. Here I was making sure she really COULD jump...and it was true.

The one and only time I ever competed in the Hunters. This was at a local schooling show. My BM wanted to campaign Bella as a re-sale project and since none of the kids could ride her, of course it was me showing her. She did fabulously. 
We won Grand Champion.
(I'm not going to tell you guys we were the only ones in this division...hahahahaha....)
On Pink, the OTTB mare that made me fall in love with mares all over again. She had been adopted by a barn mate who wanted a trail horse...and she ended up with this amazing beast of a mare that had the fanciest buttons. I had a ball working with Pink. There was quite literally nothing I couldn't do with her. She was not a fan of jumping, but we did it for funsies, just to see if she could. She said "yes" every time I asked. This was our first time jumping. My form is wobbly from focusing mainly on dressage, with a defensive upper body because I didn't know what to expect. 
In this one I was behind the motion, but doing the best to stay out of Pink's way.
This is Mecke. He was my BM's personal horse. Can you say "overjump"???? I was jumped out of the saddle each time. I'm not sure how I stuck this! This was also in a TINY arena where we were ending up against the arena wall within two strides after this fence. It was nothing short of terrifying: I kept thinking Mecke was going to jump the arena wall!...which had a 10' drop into the neighbor's driveway on the other side. NO THANK YOU.

On Liz's Q in 2014. I had not jumped in 3 years when this photo was taken.
Lily's first jump school under saddle ever, taken at the beginning of this year. I had not jumped in two years since the time with Q.
Also on Lily. I never posted these here! It's a still from a video taken with my cell on the fence post back in July of this year. We were originally going to do a dressage school in the field in front of my BO's house and the jumps in the jump field were calling my name. I was in the Alta Escuela. We effectively jumped a course (hahahaha...) by stringing three fences together in a varying sequence. It was Lily's second time over fences under saddle, and the most recent time I have jumped this year. :)