Saturday evening diary – it’s my birthday – and I spent it with my love.

For those of you that are wondering, yes, I am married. My husband of 5 years is my biggest cheerleader when it comes to Alfie and horseback riding. He has supported me since day 1, and although his severe allergies to both horses and hay has prevented him from participating in this journey physically with me, he has been there every step of the way.

My amazing husband.❤️

Finding a supporting partner who doesn’t mind you spending countless hours at the barn, coming home covered in dirt, hay, sometimes horse poop, is a rare find. Finding a supporting partner who doesn’t get jealous of the amount of time you spend with your horse, and all the discussions of you have of your horse any chance you get, again is a rare find. My husband is that unicorn. I met and married Scott before I got involved with horses. This “hobby” started several months after we got married. Alfie came into my life just a few weeks before our 1 year wedding anniversary.

I wanted to share with you a little bit about my husband and his incredible love he has for me because without his support, encouragement, patience and understanding, I wouldn’t be where I am today with horses. I always tell Alfie his dad loves him very much – just from a distance.

Today is my 45th birthday. I woke up, looked in the mirror and shook my head. How could I be 45? Where did the time go? I eagerly opened my gift from Scott – a leg and foot massager complete with a heat function to help with the poor circulation in my lower legs and feet – extremely flat feet wreak havoc on my legs. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I tried the booties, plugged it in and enjoyed a morning leg massage. This will help with the long active days I spend at the barn. Thank you my sweet Scott.

Scott leaves for work, and I head to the barn to spend my day with my “horse husband” as Scott sometimes refers to him lol.

We have an amazing lesson on the new arena footing. We took it easy because the increased footing is going to take some time for him to get used to, but he did great with everything I asked of him, even when it was hard.

I’m coming to see you mom ❤️

After our ride, I spent almost an hour hand grazing him on our big field. The weather was sunny but cool, and Alfie enjoyed the last of the grass. As he ate, I sang to him softly, told him it was my birthday, and told him how he made my special day absolutely perfect.❤️🐴

Nom nom nom

Friday evening diary – a cozy snuggle day with my Alfie, and a constant reminder to myself that slow and steady always wins.

Ah, what a year it’s been. Thanks to the pandemic, I have been working from home since the early part of March. I go into my office 1-2 times a week for a few hours to print and mail my investigation letters but other than that, I’m stuck at home. Working from home was a hard adjustment for me but after the first 3 months, I got into a groove and honestly prefer being at home. But because of COVID, my vacation plans were scrapped as were any plans for day trips – I’m left with a lot of vacation days. So, I was able to take off every Friday for the rest of the year, plus a few extra days after Christmas. The rest will get rolled over for next year – hopefully the new normal will be a distant memory. So of course, my Friday’s are spent with Alfie.

Being at the barn on a Friday is much different than the weekends. It’s quiet. Like actually quiet. Because of the nasty rainy weather today, Alfie and his friends were turned out in the indoor arena so he was nice and dry when I got there. He was however, a big ball of mud lol. After I made him his lunch, I got to brushing my very dirty boy.

The quiet. I can’t get over how much different Alfie is when it’s peaceful at the barn. There were lessons going on, and the grain delivery had to be put away, but the general vibe was so different than the weekend. As I was brushing him, I had the soundtrack to Hamilton playing on my phone, I couldn’t help but sing to him. After I was done, I like to share space with Alfie. So I stood outside his stall with my back to him and just stood there. The next thing I know, he’s got his head on my shoulder.

This looks like a comfy place to rest my head.

Then he starts breathing in my ear…

I love you.
I love being goofy with my mom.

It’s these moments spent with him, that truly make my heart explode with love. Alfie always has his guard up – he’s never one to just outwardly show affection. It’s been a long time since he’s shown me this kind of love.

Ok, the hallmark movie is over, now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty. While I was enjoying my time with Alfie, I found out that one of my trainers new students is cantering. This is not the first time that someone brand new to riding has passed my abilities, but the feeling of defeat came over me so fast. It’s nothing personal against the student, I think she is an incredibly lovely woman, but there’s that horrible feeling of defeat, creeping it’s ugly head into my brain. I know what follows the defeat, it’s the “I suck” mentality. That is followed by – what is wrong with me, why can’t I be the leader of the pack…yeah, as you can tell, I’ve been on this merry go round before.

All of these negative feelings about myself flood my brain, flood my heart and in an instant, literally an instant, all I want to do is sit in a corner and cry. Of course I don’t, but that’s what this feels like. I know all of my fellow riders have been there before whether you want to admit it or not, you know where I’m coming from.

I know, you are at the edge of your seat with suspense, what did Judy do to get rid of those negative feelings, did she look at Alfie, the horse she saved, did she nervously look at her phone trying to google how to stop a meltdown – well, if you guessed look at Alfie, you are correct. I gazed into his eyes and as if he knew in that fleeting moment I needed his assurances, suddenly those negative thoughts stopped. They were there but I didn’t allow them to consume my brain or heart anymore. I reminded myself of my mantra – slow and steady wins the race. This is what has worked for me my entire life. When I try to rush something, anything, it backfires on me. Accepting who you are and that who you are is good enough is hard to do, especially in the horse world where people’s abilities move and grow at different paces.

This is something that I’ve struggled with since I started riding 5 years ago. People just starting out, and passing me on abilities – it’s like the kid in school who was good at all the subjects while you struggled just to keep up. The feelings are the same. Of course I have absolutely nothing but excitement for my fellow student and I’m truly happy they are progressing so well and am impressed they are growing in abilities so quickly. But trying not to compare myself to them, it’s hard. Being totally honest here, it really is hard.

This moment will pass, they always do. The pity party is long gone, and I am very proud of myself for all that I’ve learned and accomplished, at my own speed, in my own time. I look forward to the day when I finally am able to have someone “skip levels” and not have any of the negatives invade my brain and my heart. ❤️🐴

My love.

Tuesday evening diary: a new horse and new arena footing!!

So, I’m fairly new to indoor arenas. Prior to boarding at a barn that has an indoor arena, I rode exclusively at a facility that only had an outdoor arena where the footing was sand and rocks. If the rocks could’ve been removed it would’ve been pretty close to perfect.

The footing in our indoor arena needed some more material in order for it to be good and safe for the horses. 3 dump trucks came yesterday and deposited enough beautiful beach sand to mix with the original footing giving us an additional inch of footing. An inch might not seem like much, but spread out over the entire area – it’s perfect.

New footing!

For my lesson tonight, it wasn’t on Alfie or Martini – it was on Maestro AKA Black Thunder.

Maestro

Maestro is about 15 hands, a smidge smaller than Alfie but he’s incredibly strong. Maestro spent the majority of his life jumping. His owner, a lovely woman also named Judy, is allowing him to be used in our lesson program. She gave me her blessings so I had my first lesson with him tonight.

Being that he’s new, I’m still a beginner rider in spots, I was nervous. My trainer Kari, she knows me so well, she stayed by my side for most of the lesson. By the time the lesson was over, both myself and Maestro were much more relaxed.

Riding a new horse can be stressful. Having to put your trust in an animal you’ve only gotten to know on the ground is really hard. But I did it. I quickly found out, for a jumping horse, he knows some dressage moves – the shoulder exercises I do with Alfie and struggle with, Maestro did with total ease. During the lesson my trainer asked if I wanted to trot and I said nah, let’s just keep doing stuff at a walk. After all, I want Maestro to feel comfortable with me, and get to know me before we take it up a notch.

What I found out about myself – it’s ok to be nervous, but I didn’t let my nerves get the best of me. I did it. And sure, I may have needed a little extra comfort from my trainer with having her stay close to us, but that’s ok too. It made me relax which helped get my confidence and skills right where they needed to be to reassure Maestro that this would be the easiest lesson he ever did…since all I was asking him to do was walk. It’s so much easier if you allow yourself to be nervous, try not to fight it, just accept that nervousness is ok. Because of that mindset, I didn’t get down on myself, I was able to push it to the side, and show off the skills I’ve acquired the last year and a half.

Me and Maestro

As I was un-tacking Maestro, I felt the eyes of Martini boring a hole through my back. When I turned to look at him I gave him a wink. I told him it’s ok my friend, I will always love you, and we will have many more rides together, I just wanted to give Maestro a chance. I know, Martini had no idea what I was saying, but he understood my loving tone. I know I say it all the time, but it bears repeating. I am so blessed to not only have Alfie, but I’ve got Martini and now Maestro to learn from. They are going to continue to make me into a fantastic dressage rider.❤️🐴

Saturday evening diary: a great lesson followed by a ride on a different horse.

What a great day. Not only was the weather beautiful for early November – sunny and warm around 73, but Alfie and I had a fantastic lesson. We worked on our shoulder exercises and he did well with them. As I was riding him today, my brain pulled up memories of how we were when we first met. And then fast forward to now, and man, I love who we’ve become as a team.

My heart.

Those first few years, actually the first 3 were filled with lots of ups and downs. I was learning how to ride, how to become a horse owner, how to become his protector and how to become his leader. He was learning how to trust me.

Despite all the amazing things we’ve done together, I never realized how much of those wonderful adventures were all on him. I was a passenger for most of them. He took charge so to speak, and he did it well. He took care of me, we had fun, but I was definitely not in control – it honestly was a lack of confidence and – it was an incredible amount of trust I had for him without even knowing it. Sure, I remember being anxious and nervous for most of our rides, and on a conscious level questioning his every move and worrying about if he was gonna buck, or gallop or rear – which he never did. But now looking back, I have a better understanding and I honestly trusted him with my life. Somewhere in the last year or so, I stopped being a passenger. I became a strong leader for him while still completely trusting him – and the result of that is who we are today as a pair.

Without this realization – which happened while I was working on leg yielding exercises today – our relationship became so much more clear.

After our lesson, one of the newest boarders came to ride her horse. Her horse is about the size of Alfie, but he’s very muscular. He spent the majority of his life jumping so when I tell you the horse is muscular he’s muscular – he actually has like a 6 pack ab thing going on. Super strong, super nice, super quiet and a bit stubborn to get moving. He’s been at the barn just over a month.

After chatting with my trainer and his owner today, I was given permission to take Maestro for a spin. Instantly my tummy got butterflies – but not scared butterflies, actual excitement. As I’m getting my helmet on I have yet another memory flashback to my early riding days. Actually, to the person I was a year and a half ago. I would’ve been scared to ride a different horse. I was scared to ride different horses. I only trusted Alfie. I only trusted him, but now, I trust myself and my abilities and my tools of communication. Again, I’m not a passenger, I’m a leader.

Our ride was lovely, he’s comfy and smooth but strong. He will challenge me, just like Alfie and Martini do.

His owner said I can ride him for one of my weekly lessons and I just couldn’t help but smile. Smiling because the old me, the one who put all her trust into the horse without trusting herself, the old me would never have gotten on. I love this version of myself. I love who I have become and I really look forward to seeing all that I am capable of.💔🐴

❤️❤️❤️

Sunday afternoon diary – sometimes you just have to stop and enjoy the moment.

When I woke up this morning, my plan was to swing by the feed store to pick up some salt blocks for Alfie and Martini and then I was going to ride. Well, the visit to the feed store happened but my ambition to ride left shortly after I put Alfie into his stall.

So instead, we took a walk around the property together. We jogged up the hill towards the upper paddocks, he stopped to look around and nibble on some grass.

My beautiful Alfie

As the sunshine broke through the clouds, I found myself standing there, closing my eyes and listening to the sounds of the birds, leaves rustling and Alfie chewing. So many beautiful sounds, so many beautiful moments.

We ended our day with a small birthday party at the barn. Even Alfie wore a party hat ❤️🐴

Let’s Party!

Saturday evening diary: longer stirrups and some new dancing shoes!

Dressage – it’s dancing with your horse. Beautiful fluid movements that not only showcase the athleticism of the horse, but the rider.

Dressage saddles are not only comfortable but with padding in certain areas it places your legs where they need to be. When you are first learning any discipline, the length of your stirrups plays a role. Dressage riders tend to ride with longer stirrups than say a person who is jumping. Having ones leg long and extended with only a slight bend in the knee means the rider has to have a strong core seat where both legs can work independent of each other. It takes time to build that strength.

While on my Facebook feed last night, one of the top dressage stables in NY posted a beautiful picture of one of their boarders and her horse. Her body position was stunning – long legs, elbows properly bent and her hands were even, together and low. So I send the picture to my trainer and proudly tell her – I want to look like this, so let’s make it happen. So for today’s lesson – I lengthened my stirrups by 2 holes. Go big or go home is what I always say.

The first thing I notice – my arthritic right hip feels much looser – and my left hip was the one that was a bit tight today. I also notice that my heel position was great, my heels were down but it wasn’t a forced movement, they just sort of went into position naturally.

I give Alfie a squeeze to walk on and he takes a few steps and stops. I squeeze him again and he does the same thing – a few steps and stops. I realized it was because he felt my different position and thought something was wrong. My legs were not where they normally are, my entire balance was different and he wasn’t sure of himself. I gave him a pat on the neck, told him it’s all good and tapped him with my stick of influence. He walked forward and I could feel how his body was moving. He exhaled and realized ok, she knows what she’s doing, she’s strong and balanced, so yeah, I’m good.

Our lesson went very well. Alfie is moving into the contact, he’s rounding his body, he’s carrying himself so beautifully. Today, I felt like an actual dressage rider. Granted my stirrups have a ways to go with more length but today was a huge leap forward for both of us.

After our lesson, it was time for more hydro hay while we waited for our appointment with the farrier to get new shoes.

I love my hydro hay – and I’ve got muscles!

When people look at Alfie, they are stunned at how old he is. He doesn’t look his age at all, and this last full year of consistent weekly lessons – even the break we had to take because of COVID – his body has transformed into one of strength, balance and health. ❤️🐴

New shoes – and a piece of carrot that fell out of his mouth lol.

Saturday evening diary – Alfie’s body isn’t the only body that has changed.

I have always been a curvaceous adult…let me rephrase that…I have always been a chunky…wait, no, total honesty…I have always been a FAT adult.

Like many, I was a skinny child right up until I hit puberty – between hormones and genetics – I was screwed. The weight piled on and deep down I hated myself for it. But adulthood hit, college, career, life, and I just eventually learned to accept that I would never ever be skinny.

Throughout my adult life I belonged to several different gyms, and noticed an immediate change with my body once I started working out – I was losing inches, gaining muscle but not actually losing any weight – a truly frustrating scenario. In fact, my weight has been the exact same number, give or take 5 pounds for the last 5 years. To my doctor, yeah, he’s happy because maintaining weight is much better than gaining, but what happens when your actual weight matters – to your horse.

They say a horse can safely carry about 20% of its body weight, which includes rider and tack. This is a number that is constantly in my head. This is a number that I base everything I eat or don’t eat on. Yes, you read that correctly.

Once I discovered this, how much weight a horse could safely carry, all of my food choices weren’t just for me anymore, but for him.

So while he’s in the best shape a 26 year old horse could be in, complete with a beautiful top line muscular back, so is his rider. I’m 44 years young, I’m down 15 pounds since June and I’m doing it all for Alfie. Sure, I want better health

for myself as well, but my motivation is for Alfie.

Grazing after a great ride.

So why this topic for my Saturday diary? What happened today that prompted it? Well, nothing more than a desire to ride other horses in our barn that I’m still a bit too chunky for.

My lesson today with Alfie went very well. He tries super hard all the time as do I. My weight loss journey is just that, it’s a journey, much like learning to ride. The destination isn’t important, how you go there is. ❤️🐴

My love.

Saturday afternoon diary: intro to dressage test level A done!

I love Saturdays. Saturday mornings at the barn are my favorite. I get to the barn around 9:15 which leaves me plenty of time to feed Alfie his pre-ride meal, groom and tack him. My trainer is in high demand on the weekends so being her first lesson I like to start on time.

The mornings at the barn are quiet. Most of the other boarders come later in the day so the peacefulness is welcomed, especially after a crazy busy week at work.

I pull into the barn and am greeted by 2 of our barn managers dogs, Cadence and Future. They both love their Aunty Judy and I love them bunches.

I go up to Alfie’s field, and he promptly greets me at the gate. The fact that he recognizes me still tickles me every time.

As I’m grooming my Alfie, listening to him eat his hydro hay, my mind and body completely relax. The stresses of the week melt away. This is my personal heaven.

We approach the mounting block, I get him all lined up, and look at that, he stands. His record now is 15 rides in a row! My fingers and toes are crossed that this behavior continues.

I warm him up and we decide that part of our lesson is going to be working on the intro dressage test I did earlier in the week with Martini, although for Alfie it will be done at the walk.

Before we attempt the test, we work on our circles, shoulder fore, haunches in, and Alfie is doing great going to the left but he’s stiff on his ride side, so we focus on circles to help get him bending. Needless to say, we did a lot of circles today.

There was a pretty big breakthrough with him with his stopping. You’ve heard me say Alfie doesn’t have the best of brakes, lol. But we’ve been working on that and he is much better at it now. When he is stopped we’ve been working on getting him to round his frame and bend his head down slightly seeking the contact of the bit. Today, he did it. He rounded and was looking for the contact without me asking him to. This was HUGE for him!!!

We ended our lesson with the dressage test. Some of our circles were round but ended up being oblong shaped, that’s ok, we just repeated the circles until we got it right. We completed the test, all at a walk, and man, he rocked it today.

After we were done, I did our stretching exercises, followed by a nice neck massage. By the time I was done, he was bending very easily to the right.

This week was a busy and stressful one for me. The minute I park my car and head into the barn, all the stresses of the world truly do leave.

While Alfie enjoyed his afternoon nap, I watched some of the other students and their lessons. Another amazing horsey Saturday.

My ❤️

Tuesday evening diary – Happy Birthday Martini!!

The birthday boy!!!

Happy birthday Martini!!! We celebrated with pumpkin donuts, our party hat and me singing happy birthday to him very badly lol 🤣🤣🤣

Our lesson today was working on an actual dressage test. I successfully completed the intro test A which is a walk trot test. I’ve completed this test before at just a walk but tonight was the first time I did it the way you are actually supposed to.

My nemesis tonight – trotting circles. They start out as circles but end up looking more like a half moon or an octagon lol. And of course, keeping Martini trotting throughout the entire circle is hard.

My goal for the spring is to go off property with Martini and compete in some horse shows. So I’ve got the entire winter to work on my circles lol.

A lovely afternoon/evening at the barn indeed. ❤️🐴

Me and the birthday boy!!

Saturday evening diary – if Alfie wants to trot – we trot!

An absolutely beautiful fall day. I get to the barn and walk past Alfie’s stall where I’ve got his ribbons still proudly displayed, I can’t hide the huge smile on my face. My boy. Oh how far we’ve come.

I start walking towards his field, looking at all the beautiful trees changing colors, the air is crisp, the sun is warm. As I approach his paddock, I see him. He sees me. He is standing next to his buddy Texas. I don’t say a word, I don’t call his name, I just look at him. And he comes to the gate. He knows me. He knows I’m his human. He’s happy to see me. I get his halter on, he lowers his head so I can kiss his nose. Oh that nose, how much I love that nose. As I go in for a few more kisses I smell the smell. It’s the smell that is what gets children hooked on horses when they are young. A few times a year, horses get that smell when the seasons change. It doesn’t last long, so you have to savor it. The aroma is hard to describe, a bit musky and sweet, the instant I smell it, I close my eyes and I’m a small child riding a pony for the first time. What an amazing way to start my day with him.

As Alfie eats his hydro hay, I start grooming him. It rained during the week so he’s got a nice layer of dried mud on himself lol. As the weather is getting cooler and his winter coat is growing in, bubbles and beauty bath time with momma is done until Spring. His winter coat is coming in nicely, when it’s fully grown in, he turns into my giant teddy bear.

Furry coat coming in.

I tack him up and into the arena we go. And as a side note, he stands now perfectly still at the mounting block. He’s respectful and patient. 👍🏻

Our lesson today focused on bending, working on our haunches and shoulder work and stopping. We are fine tuning our skills at the walk. Alfie was pretty focused today, and he didn’t give me a hard time with anything until the end of the lesson when he was tired.

At one point we were working on our forward walk and he broke out into a trot. Alfie wanted to move today. So we did. In fact, his trot was the most forward trot he’s had in awhile. My seat position was great, going in my stronger direction my diagonals were perfect, in the other direction, not so great but getting better.

I said to my trainer, if Alfie is telling me he WANTS to trot, we don’t argue with him, we go with it. I was even able to trot the corners of the arena as we went around to the other side. Normally we only trot in a straight line and walk the turns but today, nope, we trotted them – his idea, not mine.

Our lesson ends on a high note. I get him untacked and back into his stall. I make him some more hydro hay bricks, loving the faces he’s making towards me while I break up the bricks. We have our usual conversation…”Alfie it’s coming, I gotta make it, some of these bricks are hard to break up, some are easy…you yelling at me doesn’t make me go faster lol.”

I love you Alfie

While his hydro hay is cooking, I just look at my old man and I count my blessings everyday that he is in my life. I am so incredibly grateful for horses. 3 days a week I spend time with these animals. Each has their own personality, each of them teaches us something different. These animals are my sanctuary from the outside world. When I’m with Alfie and the other horses, whatever is happening outside the barn doesn’t matter. Only they matter. And for that, I am most grateful. So if you have that one place or activity that takes you away from the hardships of life, fight for it and never give it up. That is worth fighting for.❤️🐴