Sunday Morning Diary – welcome winter

Happy New Year!!

Winter has officially arrived in New York. After a fairly mild and calm December, January has started out cold and icy. It’s Sunday, and we are getting hit with freezing rain and sleet so no barn for me today.

YES!!

Last night scrolling through one of the many horse groups I belong to on Facebook, someone posted this image. I want everyone to stop and read this statement out loud, shout it from the rooftop, let it really sink in.

I’ve talked about learning how to speak horse for years, and that it’s truly a work in progress. Learning to communicate with your horse is something that never stops. I’ve watched so many riders blaming the horse for not doing what the rider is asking when the fault lays with the rider.

My current hurdle I’m trying to overcome is getting Copper to pick up the correct lead going in his harder direction at the canter. At first, I was having such difficulties getting it right, I thought perhaps there was something wrong with him, like maybe he was in discomfort somewhere, so I asked my trainer to hop on him to see if it was him or me. Well, no surprise here, the issue is me. I’m not giving him the proper cues. The signals I’m sending out with my body position and seat are full of static and he is doing the best he can with what I’m telling him.

I find myself apologizing to Copper pretty regularly, in a tone that is full of love and compassion. I mean he is giving me his all and I’m the one dropping the ball. But that is what this process is all about. That is what makes us a team. There are things I’m really good at communicating properly and he struggles to learn it and I’m right there with him every step of the way, it is a true partnership. This way of thinking is fairly new for me.

When I look back at when I first started to learn how to ride 6 years ago, I was such a hot mess lol. I remember it taking what felt like years just to learn how to post while trotting. I also remember how when I started to get just a little bit of experience, skill and knowledge under my belt, I felt like I knew it all. Any time Alfie wasn’t doing exactly what I asked for, I put blame on him. Statements like “why won’t he just trot”, or “why doesn’t he do this”, “Alfie why can’t you be like (insert name of any other horse in the arena).” I imagine that those statements are pretty common place with riders but how many actually admit it?

My thought process changed when I started to learn how to better communicate with Alfie. So many of our issues we had with riding were totally my fault, and that made me feel like the worst rider. But worse than that, I had let my partner down – but he never gave up on me – something I’m so incredibly grateful for.

Well, this diary entry turned into something I didn’t expect, a true confessional, an admittance of ignorance, attitude and fault. Yes, I’ve made mistakes, tons of them, and I take 100% responsibility for making every single one of them. Having no knowledge about something isn’t dangerous, having just a little bit and shutting out learning further is what’s dangerous. I spent about 3 years putting the fault on our riding struggles solely on Alfie. At the time, I knew I didn’t know everything but for whatever reason I felt like I did.

I say it all the time, riding isn’t easy. This sport isn’t easy. Horses aren’t easy. If it was easy, everyone who rides would be a gold medal winner at the Olympics. This is a journey of learning. Whether you’ve been around horses for 6 years or 60 years, the learning never stops, unless you choose it to. My Alfie never gave up on me, even though at times I gave up on him. Again, I admit my faults, but those faults and mistakes I made forced me to take 1000 steps backwards to get it right with him. He waited patiently for me to get my s*it together, and when I finally did, we had the best 2 years of riding before his retirement. Those lessons Alfie taught me are there every time I ride Copper. ❤️🐴

My Alfie ❤️
Copper ❤️

Sunday Evening Diary…a month filled with blessings

Relaxing after a nice hot shower after a super busy cold day at the barn, my heart is filled with such joy and happiness. Let me bring you all up to date with the adventures of Alfie and Copper.

Alfie and Copper enjoying the first snow of the season.

I can officially announce to the world – Alfie is barefoot. He no longer requires custom shoes. He has been barefoot for 4 weeks, and he’s doing great. His feet are adjusting nicely to not having shoes in a very long time. The crack that developed in his heel in March, grew out completely and his feet look fantastic. The day I got the call that Alfie was officially barefoot, I cried hysterically in the parking lot of my local supermarket, tears of pure joy and relief for him. My boy finally caught a break with his feet.

Full on ugly cry – so happy for Alfie

With Alfie’s feet feeling good and his arthritis pain being managed with some extra supplements, we have resumed our Sunday workouts. Sundays are for Alfie, and he really does enjoy our time together. While I groom Alfie I sing to him – although my singing voice is awful, Alfie doesn’t care, he loves when I sing to him. We then have fun in the arena. We jog together, we hop over poles on the ground together and when I need to sit and catch my breath, we play tug of war with his lead rope – I always let him win.

He’s just so perfect.
My world
Being goofy ❤️
Copper’s stocking ❤️
Alfie’s stocking ❤️
Copper looking stylish ❤️

Now for an update on Copper – in a nutshell – he’s wonderful. It’s been almost 6 months since this beautiful red head joined my family and he’s letting his guard down a bit so his personality is coming out which is great. I was worried about dividing my time between both boys, making Copper feel loved while giving equal attention to Alfie. At times I felt myself literally being pulled in separate directions, worrying about Alfie’s feelings while earning the trust and love of Copper. But, all those hours spent building a relationship with Copper have paid off. He knows who I am, he knows I’m his human. He also knows I love him.

I know you are on the edge of your seat with anticipation, you want to know how our riding is going . We are doing AMAZING together! I am an official member of the “Canter Club” as I like to call it. That’s right, I am not only walking and trotting but I’m learning to canter. The canter gait has always been a challenge for me, but I’m doing it.

Copper

Just when I had given up hope in finding an Alfie 2.0 the universe stepped in and brought me Copper. Many people may have doubted us as a riding pair. I mean, Copper is a registered horse with an impressive show history, and here I am, an intermediate beginner who is a timid rider. But Copper brought out the courages side of me. For the first time, I wasn’t afraid of taking a little risk. I wasn’t afraid to step out of my comfort zone. And by trusting my skills and my horse, we are making huge strides.

Copper has a pretty big fan club when it comes to the younger students who ride him. Right now, there are 4 kids who want to show him in horse shows in the spring – and I want to compete with him as well. What’s so great is while I am doing dressage with him, the younger students are jumping over small jumps with him, which he really loves. I get to watch most of the lessons with the students and my heart swells with joy when I see how they appreciate him for who he is. Everyone that rides him seems to fall in love with him which is what he deserves.

❤️

As 2021 winds down, I can’t help but smile. I started out the year as a single horse household. All was good until March when our riding time abruptly ended. Months of serious lameness issues would follow until a 2nd opinion from a different vet changed everything for Alfie for the better, but I desperately wanted another horse to love, another soul to save and another riding partner to call my own. The month of June brought Copper into my world.

To all my fans, supporters and readers, thank you for the love you have shown Alfie, Copper and myself this year. May the joys of the season fill your hearts with love.❤️🐴❤️🐴

Tuesday Evening Diary – when self doubt creeps into your mind…

Our in house horse show was a HUGE success, for not only all the students who participated but for the horses as well.

Alfie and I took 3rd place in the halter class, and Copper – who was shown by Shea, took 2nd place. I was one proud horse owner with both my boys taking 2nd and 3rd place.

Alfie
Proud of my beautiful boy.
Shea and Copper
A great team

I rode Copper in the adult walk, trot class. We were being judged on equitation, pleasure and poles – trotting over poles – one of Copper’s favorite things to do. For the equitation, the rider is being judged on themselves – body position, the way they ride their horse. Copper did not make this round easy on me at all. But, we managed to take 1st place! I was in such a state of shock. ❤️

The next class was pleasure, and Copper, following in the grand tradition of Alfie, became even more of a challenge for me. The pleasure class is judged on the horse and how pleasurable they are to ride. Copper, following in his big brother Alfie’s footsteps from last year, decided he would be so challenging no one but his mom would want to ride him lol. But I didn’t give up and we finished that class better than we started, and we took 3rd place.

The last class was trotting over poles and trotting circles. Our opening circle started out a bit wonky but the poles and the closing circle were pretty good. We took 3rd in that class as well.

Trotting – an action shot
Going after the blue ribbon
So proud of us

I was so proud of how Copper and I did at the show. What we were able to accomplish in a matter of weeks was amazing, proving that hard work, dedication and determination will make you a winner.

So what happens when self doubt creeps into your head to burst your “happy” bubble? Self doubt sometimes doesn’t start from within you, it can come from outside forces. Whether it’s you that doubts your abilities or decisions or someone else that does, the overall effect is the same.

Purchasing Copper was a decision that felt right. From the moment I met him, I was at ease. I was comfortable with him. Even though we had just met, there was something so familiar with him, it felt as if I had known him before.

I went into this journey with Copper knowing that developing our relationship was going to have its fair share of challenges, but I knew I was up for whatever challenges were brought. Alfie prepared me for this.

I remember one lesson with Copper that literally ended with me crying out of frustration. It was a moment that I wasn’t proud of, but it was a moment that had to happen. It tested my dedication. It tested my love of horses. It made me question this journey I’ve been on for 5 1/2 years. The self doubt crept into my brain and heart so fast, but my love for Copper and this equestrian life took over and kicked the self doubt to the curb.

As Copper and I continue to get to know each other, we are going to have great rides and not so great rides. I am fully aware that everything isn’t always going to be perfect. This is something all equestrians learn very early into their journey. You take the little wins wherever you get them and you celebrate them. For all my fellow equestrians, don’t let your own self doubt or the self doubt of others burst your “happy” bubble. “Haters are gonna hate” no matter what, so just keep steady and follow your dreams.❤️🐴

The beginning of an unstoppable team❤️

Sunday evening diary – the honeymoon phase is over…now it’s time to challenge mom

It’s been almost 3 months since the beautiful freckle faced Copper joined my family. I will admit, having 2 horses has been a challenge, making sure Copper feels loved and welcomed while making sure to pay equal attention to Alfie, all while keeping my sanity lol. It didn’t help that during this time Alfie had more lameness issues that required 3 vet visits to figure out, so doing anything with him wasn’t an option, grooming wasn’t even pleasurable for him. Now that Alfie is feeling much better, we are back to grooming, taking walks and having fun together in the arena. Alfie also seems to have turned the corner and has accepted Copper as his brother.

When Alfie and I first became a team over 5 years ago, we didn’t have an easy time together. I was new to horses and had no idea what I was doing and I was learning how to ride. Alfie took full advantage of my non-experience. I can remember a time riding him, and it took me 45 minutes to get him to walk 5 steps. Not 5 feet, but five steps forward. 😳 Alfie loved and trusted me but it took a lot of work to get him to respect me in the saddle. In fact, it took 4 years. 4 years of hard work, 4 years of struggles, 4 years of wonderful moments, but also 4 years of tears. Just when he and I got into our groove, Alfie had to be retired from riding – something that still makes me sad today. Why am I bringing this up you ask? Well…history is repeating itself with Copper.

When Copper and I became a team, all was going great. I had done several solo rides with him, with very little issues. We were figuring each other out and it was exciting. Fast forward to now, Copper is doing beautifully with the kids who are taking lessons with him, but with me – he’s giving me a hard time. It’s like he’s been getting together with Alfie at night to discuss ways to “scare” mom – to get out of work. 😂 Alfie used to dramatically toss his head complete with spit flying out of his mouth and Copper’s tactic – he stops walking forward and will just flip it in reverse and walk backwards. What Copper doesn’t know fully yet, is I’m not the same “scared” rider I was in the past. I’m much more confident and I have a box of tools I can dig into to help unstick him and get him passed his impressive backing up skills.

This weekend I had my lesson with him on Saturday and to say he was a challenge is putting it mildly. He pulled everything out of his bag of tricks and I didn’t get frustrated, I stayed calm, and just persisted until he finally sucked in his pride and listened to me. Today, I had a solo ride with him. Our first solo ride in a few months. We started out pretty good, but then the backward antics started. I didn’t get flustered, I negotiated with him. And I won the negotiations.

We have a horse show in a few weeks at our barn. It will be the first time I will be competing in 2 Dressage classes. Even though Copper has an impressive show record, he has never done Dressage, so this is going to be a first for him also. I am excited to do these classes with Copper. I am excited to see how he and I progress in the next few weeks with our relationship.

As I’ve been reminding myself a lot lately, riding isn’t easy, if it was everyone would be doing it. Horses aren’t robots, they have emotions, feelings and aches and pains just like we do. If you are having a bad day, chances are, your horse is going to sense that and your ride is going to be a reflection of what your emotional state is – which means it’s not going to be a great ride. And why should it, if the rider isn’t present and focused why should your horse be present and focused. Copper is nicely reminding me of this.

The honeymoon may be over, but I am very determined to show Copper that I am a great partner that he can count on whenever he needs. I’m in no rush for Copper to figure this out, I’m in this for the journey.❤️🐴

Copper ❤️

Saturday evening diary – it’s been awhile, pull up a chair and get comfy…

What a month it’s been.

First let me give you all the update on Alfie. I was able to get a second opinion on the pain and lameness he’s been experiencing off and on for months. There are several different things working against him which is making pin pointing 1 specific cause very difficult – I mean, it’s Alfie, nothing with him has ever been cut and dry.

The vet has started him on a once a week shot for 2 months – a joint supplement – which will help his arthritis even more than his current medication and joint supplement. He also was given an antibiotic that is used to treat tick borne diseases. He tested negative for Lyme’s disease however there are many other tick borne diseases out there that could exacerbate his arthritis which is what the vet was leaning toward as a possible cause for his arthritis to suddenly get so painful.

A sleeping Alfie ❤️

I am super thankful for second opinions.

Copper. My lovely freckle faced boy. Our saddle fitter paid a visit and was able to fit my dressage saddle nicely to him so I am finally able to ride in it again. I was also shown some additional stretches to do with him to help his legs and back. So Copper is well on his way to getting in amazing shape.

Last weekend our barn participated in a local horse show. Guess who went…yep, Copper!! No, I did not ride him in it, but a lovely young lady named Shea did, and let me tell you, they did great together. It was his first time off property since I brought him home, and he and 4 other horses from our barn went and did fantastic.

Copper and the amazing Shea

Watching my boy and Shea ride in the show made my heart so incredibly happy. The competition was tough, but Shea and Copper gave it their all, I couldn’t have been more proud of them.

Today I had one of the best lessons with Copper. Our barn is having an in house horse show at the end of September and I’m super proud that Copper and I will be making our debut…doing Dressage.❤️

From the time I started working with Alfie learning dressage all I’ve ever wanted to do was compete in a dressage horse show. Even though Alfie and I worked very hard for 2 years, because of his limitations I knew we would never be able to actually show in dressage, and that was perfectly OK with me. What I was able to accomplish with him in 2 years made me proud. We both grew together as a team, and I cherish that everyday.

Today, Copper and I worked on the intro to Dressage tests A and B. In a nut shell, these tests are designed to benefit the physical fitness and ability of the horse. The tests incorporate walk and trot and circles.

Now, I know test A very well, but Copper doesn’t, but let me tell you folks, he did really well with it today. Is it perfect, of course not, but for a first try, it was really good. We then tried test B and we did really good with that one as well.

Love my Copper

This month has been a roller coaster of a ride for me. Not knowing what was wrong with Alfie and not having any idea of how to make him not be in pain was pure torture for me. It was consuming me every minute of every day. Having a treatment plan in place to make Alfie as comfortable as possible has made me finally stop worrying just a little bit. And for that I’m truly grateful. Horse ownership isn’t for everyone, but I’m so glad I took that leap of faith, not only with Alfie, but with Copper.❤️🐴❤️🐴

The fabulous Bennett boys ❤️❤️

Saturday afternoon diary – an Alfie update and some lovely bonding time with Copper

Here’s the good news with Alfie – he’s getting better. The bad news is we still don’t know exactly what is causing the on again off again lameness. His Lymes test came back negative. I’m reaching out to another vet for a second opinion. But for now at least, Alfie isn’t in as much discomfort as he was before.❤️

Curren situation – food coma

Copper and I had a lovely lesson today. We are making progress in his more stiff direction. Today he thought he would challenge me a bit with a small buck – which did nothing but take me by surprise. But after he let out his opinion – our lesson ended on a very good note.

After my lesson Copper and I took a walk and spent some time in one of the paddocks. It’s a large field and when I let him loose I figured he would want to run and explore. Nope…he stood with me and walked wherever I walked. We did this for the first time earlier in the week – I think this is now “our” thing.😊

The beautiful Copper

After our walk, we came back inside. I pulled up a chair to sit and rest and he came over to hang with me. I start singing to him the song I made up for him – what doesn’t everyone sing a self written song to their horse 😂?! Next thing I know he’s asleep. Right next to me. He loves me.❤️🐴

He’s totally asleep.

Sunday afternoon diary – it’s been a challenging week…

My apologies for not posting in awhile. Alfie is having issues again with his bad foot/leg. Two vet visits later, we are patiently waiting for Lyme’s blood test results to hopefully come back with an answer. Lyme’s and other tick born diseases cause different issues for all horses. Alfie has had a “traveling” lameness and heat in his joints where his arthritis is, which Lyme disease can inflame. If the test results come back positive he should be just fine with a course of antibiotics for 1 month. If the test comes back negative, we are back to square one.

No one ever said owning a horse was going to always be fun. No one ever said owning an older horse was gonna be a piece of cake. I love my Alfie beyond words, he’s not just my “heart” horse but he’s my entire heart. Seeing him in obvious discomfort is heartbreaking but not having an immediate diagnosis and treatment plan is much worse. Hopefully we will have the test results in a day or so.

So, if you could all send some prayers, love and good vibes to Alfie, that would be awesome.❤️🐴

My entire heart.

Sunday afternoon diary – gaining weight & getting fit 🤷🏻‍♀️

I know what you are thinking – gaining weight AND getting fit?? Yes, that’s what is happening – not to me, but to Copper.

When I purchased Copper, I had a pre-purchase exam (PPE) done by a vet. Part of the exam is a body scale ranking where weight, fat and muscle figure into a score. Copper didn’t score highly on the chart, the vet advised that he was going to need weight in order to be able to comfortably do the riding I would be doing.

Finding the right balance of calories/fat to match what he is burning with exercise while keeping him nourished enough to not lose weight is a bit of a balancing act. Copper is turned out in a field full of grass, he’s getting unlimited hay, breakfast, lunch and dinner – which is a combo of grain, hay stretcher, alfalfa, & beet pulp – plus some corn & coconut oil – all good stuff to help him build muscle and gain some fat.

Once the nutrition has been figured out, now comes the exercise. Similar to humans, if you aren’t used to exercising, you can’t just go and run a marathon. You have to train for that. You have to gradually build up to those 20 miles. The same is true for horses. Copper is being lightly worked between myself, my trainer, our barn manager and a few child riders. How is he adjusting to the increased work load?? He’s loving it!

This past week he participated in kids’ week where he was ridden during some group lessons by children – he loved the lessons and all the attention the kids were giving him. I’m riding him 3 times a week and lunging him the other days. Today we worked on the lunge line and followed it up with him and I jogging around the arena together. By the end of the 25 min of work, he was tired – so was I lol, but his muscles are starting to appear so I know we are on the right track.

He is such an amazing soul, I’m so glad he’s loving his life with me so far.❤️🐴

Mid bite of his lunch
Smile Copper!

Saturday evening diary – I hit the canter button 😂

My darling Copper. We are still in the getting to know each other phase and man, this horse has so much talent and training. These last almost 4 weeks have been a fun experiment in getting to know him and figuring out what his different buttons do along with where exactly they are located.

For my first several rides, we would go perfectly straight in one direction and then when we would change direction he would go into a pirouette. It took a few weeks but I finally figured out how to prevent the beautiful pirouette. So now since I was able to do it in the walk, it was time to do it in the trot.

Goals. I’ve learned that one shouldn’t set a goal when it comes to riding because you never know how your horse is going to be that day. They are living breathing animals with emotions, aches, pains and feelings. You can wake up and say, today I’m going to do this, this, this and that with my horse and realize shortly into your ride, your plan, your goal for the ride is completely thrown out the window. So my goals I set are small, usually if I can just get on my horse without anyone holding him that’s a win for me. But today, my goal was to trot in Copper’s harder direction. And when Judy sets herself a goal, watch out everyone, I’m going to see it through as best I can.

Our lesson started out great. Walking in both directions went very well, even crossing the diagonal to change direction was beautiful and so much more improved than a week ago. Then came the trot. We trotted several laps around the arena in his good direction. It was amazing. I was breathing, I was calm, I was having fun, I was on the correct diagonal most of the time, and when I wasn’t I corrected myself. I felt such joy being able to do this with him. Then we changed direction. And that’s when it all fell apart. That beautiful trot wasn’t happening, in fact he basically out right refused to trot in his harder direction.

So, I got off and my trainer Kari got on, to see what the issue was. Well, the issue is me as well as the saddle. The saddle we are using for Copper fits him but not the best. Our saddle fitter is coming next month and I’m hoping she can re-flock my saddle (basically readjust the padding) so that it will fit Copper. So between my wonky hip and a saddle that hasn’t been properly fitted to him, it’s giving him the wrong cues. While she’s riding him around in his hard direction at a trot, he picks up the canter. It’s beautiful. Kari is smiling and my heart just explodes to see this lovely canter.

At this point Kari gets off and I get back on. Copper is so confused lol. My goal, let’s just get the hard direction at the walk and try again. Again, the walk is good but the trot is a no go. Kari says, trot in the good direction and then trot him down the diagonal and change direction at the trot. That way, he’s got forward momentum and maybe we can “trick” him.

Well, Copper isn’t stupid lol, and I tried several times but failed. But I didn’t give up. In one last ditch effort I ask for trot in his good direction…but instead of trot, he cantered. I hit the canter button. Oops.😂

Now for those of you who’ve been following me for awhile, you all know I’m what you call a timid rider. There’s a risk to riding horses, but I have done my best to make the risks I take a bit more calculated as to limit possible injury – hence why I have spent so many lessons perfecting my seat at the walk. It’s that fabulous seat that kept me secure and calm in the saddle while my new horse, who I’ve only had for just under 4 weeks introduced me to his lovely canter today, and I didn’t freak out. 🎉

We cantered about 4 strides and I calmly collected him back to a trot because I still wanted to trot him in his harder direction, even though we skipped right to the canter lol. So I round the arena, we cross the diagonal while trotting, and look at that, we are now trotting in his harder direction!!! I let out a WOOHOO and transition him to a walk and our ride was done. Holy Cow!

Today was beyond awesome. I am so incredibly proud of myself. My growth as a rider and horsewoman is a miracle. For so many years, I doubted my abilities. I doubted my Alfie. I had convinced myself that maybe I just wasn’t good enough, wasn’t skinny enough, wasn’t strong enough – mentally and physically to succeed in this sport. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, this sport isn’t easy at all. What changed for me was a change in environment. What started out as wanting a different environment for Alfie quickly made me realize that I needed a change for myself.

My trainer Kari has led me on this incredible path. She not only turned Alfie into a dressage horse, but she introduced me to Martini, who taught me so much, including believing in myself.

Over 5 years of hard work, the last 2 1/2 years taking two lessons a week, have led me to this point. Cantering my new horse, not being afraid, smiling, laughing, being carefree, these were all things I never imagined for myself, and now they are a reality for me. I’m savoring today, because I have such an appreciation for when things go well, but I have an even bigger appreciation for when they don’t go so easily – because when they don’t – that’s when the true miracle of growth happens. And what a miracle it is.❤️🐴

Copper enjoying his hay.