Monday, May 14, 2012

12 Months....5 horses....50 private lessons and a lifetime of change....

Some of my friends tease me, because I am big on dates and remembering how long I have known them, how long since we met, how long since something happened. I can't remember where I put my keys but I know exactly how long it has been since a friend moved away or how long I have had my car.

I put a lot of value on remembering when something happened and stopping to mark those milestones, "anniversaries" if you will. I do it for two reasons...1) Milestones remind us to stop and say thank you, to acknowledge the people who matter to us and how lucky we are. Life moves too fast most days and I like that I am forced to stop and value changes in my life. And 2) they help us to measure how much we have changed, how far we have come and who we have become.

Tomorrow is a huge milestone in my year since I started riding. And both the reasons to remember fit in here for me. My life is so amazingly different than it was a year ago, I am a different person than I was a year ago and this journey has not only brought me a peace and a type of growth I have never experienced before, it has also brought a whole new group of people into my life that a year ago I would have never stopped to meet.

For those who are new to reading my blog I guess I should back track and share my story. One year ago I was at a pretty low place in my life. I was still trying to awkwardly find my way through abruptly changing personal trainers (and losing a trainer who had had a big impact on my life), I was deep in a battle with my eating disorder, I was fighting with systems of clinical depression from a poor medication choice by my dr and I was wrestless with my career. I had been searching for a few years to find a stress reliever that didnt involve over working out on the treadmill and nothing had stuck.

At that point in my life horses were NO WHERE on my radar. As far as I was concerned they were big scary monsters whose primary motivation was to throw helpless humans off their backs. My only riding exprience had been on my cousin's horse as as a small child and that didnt end well.

So when my friend Janet (thank you #1...without you Janet this would never have happened) tried to convince me to go ride with her, and sweetened the deal with a discount via livingsocial I can't say I was interested. But I gave in, mostly to appease her, and figured I could live through the hour if nothing else. I actually believed that despite having lost over 100 lbs there was no way a horse could hold me or that I could mount with my nerve damage so it would be a fast hour.

Little did I know life was going to change that day (May 15, 2011). We went to take our riding lesson at Woodloch Stable in Hugo MN and fate had already started to set the wheels in motion. The instructor we were paired with that day turned out to be the perfect match for me (and has been my riding coach since). Stubborn enough not to let me wiggle my way out of things, smart enough to be able to find answers that satisify my logical side and caring enough to know how to keep my self doubts from over taking me.

Etta, as I have told you over and over again. Had there been anyone else that day I would never have been back. You told me on day one "there is a cowgirl in there somewhere" and I thought you were nuts. You believed in me long before I did and have stood by me through it all for the last year. I am so grateful to you and one of your biggest fans. You have been a teacher, a friend, a shoulder to cry on, a confidante, a mentor and a role model. You have changed my world (oh and thanks for bringing your mom and Theo into my world too!!!!)

Etta was also smart enough to know the perfect horse to put me on. Snapper. The slow, been there done that schoolie who is part Eeyore, part saint. He taught me to walk, to trot, he was my first trail ride, my first adventure through a stream. And when the time was right he forced me to learn to canter.

After that first day things moved very fast it seems. Truth the last year is a blur. In short order I was in weekly private lessons, I had leased Cheyenne for a short time. I had graduated to Cody (another WL schoolie) and I had spent time with Kola (Etta's loving Appy, who I still have to admit might be the horse I most fell in love with in this past year). I even considered buying a horse, but the next part of my journey was just as pre-determined by fate it seems as the start. Etta had figured out the perfect horse for me and played match maker with his owner and I. And once I accepted that she knew what she was talking about (did I mention it is a good thing she has tenacity) Joker and I began our time together.

Joker has now been my loyal friend and teacher for a little over seven months. I couldnt ask for a better horse for me. He is solid, smart, patient, polite, but yet still on a daily basis reminds me he is going to keep me on my toes and teach me new things. He is a handful when I am not learning fast enough and a great companion when I am getting it right.

When I started leasing Joker I had one goal, I wanted a trail horse, I wanted a horse that I could get on and escape into the woods, down the road and through the streams. I had NO (ZERO, ZILCH) interest in showing. I thought it was dumb and stupid. Again I had a lesson coming to me. Within a very short time Joker made me realize that my view on showing was more self doubt, belief that I could never be good enough, than anything else. And he helped me see that he was the part of the picture that I needed to be good enough. That together we could do this. And we have. I have spent the last 6 months preparing to show, we have done one fun show and this summer we will do at least 4 "real" shows. My original goal had been to show in just trail class, but since then the dream has morphed to Showmanship, Western Pleasure, Horsemanship and I just learned today, Halter.

And while I would normally be terrified and doubting myself that is the growth I talked about earlier. Joker has taught me for the first time in my life that it is ok not to be perfect. That no matter the outcome as long as we gave it our best that is good enough. This is the first time in my life I have undertaken learning a skill that you never really get good enough at, and that has been a challenge for me, but one I am finally wrapping my arms around. It has relieved me of that pressure I always feel to learn it fast and be flawless. Riding is a life long lesson, there is always more to learn, your horse will always find a way to challenge you and it is ok to have good days and bad. You can be as perfect as you want and there will also be that four legged variable that even pro's can be stumped by. And that has been really liberating for me. I am not good at letting myself just be my best and not fearing rejection, being humilitated or criticized, but in this realm everyone expects you to struggle, it is ok to fall off the horse every so often and no one is ever perfect.

Writing this it sounds like it has been such an easy road, but it has been far from that. I have struggled a lot with my body, my physical challenges, my fears of falling, my insecurities and that is where the thank you's come in. I have had the most amazing support around me. And in ways that has been a lesson too. Anyone who has been reading this blog a while knows letting others in, trusting others is a struggle point for me. But the other thing I have learned with riding is that you cant do this alone. Every day I have to trust Joker and communicate with a being who cant talk to me, who has a mind of his own and for someone who has always hated group projects and wanted full control this has been a mind shift of epic proportion.

But beyond trusting my horse has also coming trusting others and showing my vulnerable, imperfect side to others. And I have been truly truly blessed that I ride at a barn where the support is unending.

There is NO way to ever thank the owners and barn crew at Woodloch Stables enough. They have answered my dumb questions (and yes they have been dumb, including a week or two of "is this the right horse" every time I would bring Joker in (he has a look alike in his pasture). They have jumped in when he was injured or sick (including smelling his feet  on more than one occasion) and taught me how to give Bute, deal with a scratched eye and other normal horsey things that to me seemed monstorous.

In addition they have cheered for us, celebrated my high points, been there to support at the low points and have been family in ways I cant count.

Woodloch is this marvelous place of learning (with clinics, lessons and the owners being so hands on and there anytime anyone has a question), friendships, social activities, amazing facilities (we have two indoor arenas, two outdoor, a full rodeo arena, amazing trails and a cross country track) and loving care for all the horses there. I couldnt be luckier, all found by accident. I not only found riding, I found a family and a home.

The next huge thank you is Joker's owner, Jessica. I couldnt ask for a better person to lease from. I had come off a bad lease and was pretty jaded when I looked into leasing Joker but Jess has been a dream to lease from,from day 1 she has been as sure Joker and I belonged together as Etta did. Not only does she support all the crazy things I ask to do with Joker but she is patient with my newness, she is already ready to teach me and help me learn, she is so calm about her horse. And for me that is what I needed, someone as steady and calm as Joker is. She helps balance out my wanting to baby and protect him. I would easily have him seen by the vet once a week without her calmness to remind me horses are strong and do crazy things to themselves. Thank you Jess for allowing Joker in my life and for putting up with me. I love you!

My next thank you has to go to my personal trainer, Nick. He has been my closet supporter. He gives me a hard time about my riding and horses, but at the same time has worked many of our sessions in the gym into addressing my riding challenges, especially around ground mounting (something I still cant do). He is great at drawing parallels between what we are doing in the gym and my riding and helping me work my body towards my riding goals. I know you are behind me on this Nick, even when you give me a hard time about it!

The final thanks goes to the hundreds of people who have shocked me this year by supporting me on this journey, friends I have made at the barn, friends on facebook who feel like family some days, those of you who read this blog, horse people I have met along the way, friends I had before this past year who I have developed deeper friendships with. The names are too many to list.

You have laughed with me, you have cried with me, you have listened to me ramble on on and on. You have shopped with me, you have sat and watched me ride, you have looked at 100's of pictures. You have been along for this journey every step of the way. For someone who has nearly no family support, that is invaluable.

 I can say a year ago I really felt completely alone in the world. I had lost the desire to interact, I had given up on the world. In this last year you have all reminded me that the world is made up of more good people than bad, that the ride is more fun if you go with someone else and that letting new people in isnt always a bad thing.

I am overly excited to see what this next year will bring. My expectation it will be even more amazing than the first...showing, trying English and heck maybe I will even jump over something. Hold on Joker, the ride has just begun!