Archive for April, 2010

huge work meetings, dental appointments, the pta and such

I thought I was going to have some unstructured down time for the first time in a week; and lo, Julia peed her pants. Nobody told me parenting would require endless, inhuman efforts of will. Well, okay, everyone did but even so! I didn’t know they were serious!

And what is more: I would never have fixed the stupid car if I’d known I would spend most of a week stuck in traffic.

bella the wonder horse

It is not all grief for the old horse around here, I should make clear. It may be that Bella is so spectacularly nice that she is making me miss Alfie by being so like him. I’m of the school of thought that believes Bella is an appendix QH – lots of Thoroughbred in her, but a big ole Quarter Horse butt, downhill with no neck, and a brave, sane, kind, cuddly QH attitude. Mare is golden. I am reminded of the tales of Alfie at cross-country clinics in St Ives. The younger Thoroughbreds would fuss and wig out, and Alfie would cheerfully and calmly demonstrate exactly how to tackle each question. They called him Alfie the Wonder Horse.

This morning I was riding with Erika, who is maybe the thinkiest of the trainers I work with. Friday morning lessons with her often end up being hilariously technical, in a way that would completely baffle the objective eye: we do an exercise five or seven times, then come into the middle of the ring and talk intently for a while, then go back out to the track and do exactly the same exercise – albeit, hopefully, better.

This morning’s exercise could not have been simpler. There was a pole on the ground along one long side, and two poles on the ground on the other long side. The two poles were five strides apart. Poles on the ground are practice jumps, with no risk. The idea is to meet them as perfectly as you would need to meet a 3-foot Swedish oxer.

It’s all about pace. You need a medium canter – neither long nor short – and you need it coming out of the corner, ten strides before the fence. Then you need to sit still, except that if any problems come up you need to correct them. I started out fucking up this exercise in two distinct ways. First, I thought Bella’s medium canter was too long, so I kept trying to shorten her pace. Second, in my efforts to be quiet over the fences themselves, I would seize up five strides out and be a passenger. Erika called it my “blank stare.”

Remember Bunk telling Kima that a good detective has soft eyes? Yeah, that. My fixes were, first, to stop trying to collect a poor mare who was already in a lovely pace, albeit long and low as dictated by her QH ancestors. My second was to ride actively into the fences – while sitting still. In other words, do less at the corner, and do more in the five strides in. But hardly any more. Do almost nothing. But do enough. Got it?

Oh my God, it felt so lovely when I got it right. I let her go forward and she flowed. I felt her wanting to drop her left shoulder and I put my left heel down a millimeter and corrected the angle of my left wrist a degree, and she straightened and hit the perfect distance. It wasn’t by accident, as it had been all the other times we got it right. I rode it, and it was good.

She has four white stockings and a wide white blaze that roans out on one side of her face. Her orange coat is mirror-bright and almost dappled with good health. She has soft eyes herself, except when you tighten her girth and she pins her ears and does sea-monster fierce faces. I am not at all attached to her, you will be relieved to hear.

the dark horse

Some time before dawn I walked down to his stable. My boots crunched in the sand. The dark pressed my eyes. I ducked between the bars of his fence, careful not to skin my back on the top bar. He came out of his shed merry and glad to see me. I put my arms around his neck and breathed his mane. We fit together, a young woman and her horse; we leaned into each other like parts of a whole. I knew I’d been away for a long time and tried to calculate how long it had been, but the number I came up with – twenty-odd years? – was preposterous. I knew I could always come back. I knew he would always be glad to see me.

When the sun leaked through I saw his ribs, and the dull hide taut over his knife-sharp hips.

I used to think that his death had been some kind of instructive episode, as in My Friend Flicka or The Red Pony; that it had made me a better or at least more compassionate and empathic person. Now I am not so sure. I am not, after all, a particularly compassionate or empathic person. I don’t know that grief teaches you anything much except that grief never ends. I love my dead as fiercely and needily as I ever loved them when they were alive, but without hope.

“Bad dreams,” I told Jeremy when I woke up.

“What about?”


“Was he a demon horse, risen from the grave?”

“No. He had cancer and he was going to die.”

support our troops: bring them home

Any questions?

It would be really nice if anyone who ever supported the unjust occupation of Iraq would kindly STFU about the deficit. Unless it is to say: “We are very sorry. We were wrong.”

no one has ever decluttered as we have just decluttered

Jeremy’s office and the underneath of our bed are purged of e-waste. The kids’ toys and the underneath of their bed are purged of goo. Good baby toys and clothes have been carefully stored for friends’ future babies. Dust and pollen have been carefully stored IN MY NOSE.

Julia sings:

“I love the world.
I love everybody in the whole world
and I love to do anything!
This is my weekend.
Oh the weekend is so-o-o beautiful.
Everything is so beautiful,
so beautiful,

Between the decluttering, the new garden and the fact that I basically had my car rebuilt this week… I guess it’s spring :/

great scott

Scottie has been sold, this time for sure maybe (selling horses is a Byzantine process) so yesterday was (probably) my last ride on him. I was a bit meh about it, because Bella is so easy and fun and rewarding and with Scottie I have to be much more disciplined and correct and it’s much harder work. Sydney got to ride Bella, and I must shamefacedly confess to a moment of pure possessive bitchiness when I saw Sydney putting Bella’s bridle on.

It was an inauspicious day anyway. It had been raining all the way down to the barn and the weather was bitterly cold as well as soaking wet. I don’t like riding in the indoor – although I am grateful to have an indoor, and not have to face the unpleasant choice between riding in the rain or not riding at all for two months out of the year. And then Scottie’s bridle had the curb rein on, and I haven’t ridden with a curb rein since I ill-advisedly put a double bridle on Alfie when I was about eighteen.

Technical notes: Scottie’s bridle isn’t a double, because a double bridle isn’t just two reins, it’s two reins attached to two bits. Scottie is still wearing the rubber jointed pelham he likes so much, but the bit converters that handled the bit and curb chain via a single rein had been taken off, and a thinner rein had been buckled to the lower ring to control the curb chain through a lever action.

I walked carefully up to Erin, explained and offered to take the curb rein off. That’s because you need light, consistent hands to ride with a curb chain if you’re not going to jab the horse in the chin unfairly; I don’t think my hands are good enough yet. Erin told me to get over myself. So off we went with me holding the reins as if Scottie’s jaw were made of rare bone china. I’ve had it drummed into me forever that you don’t hang on the horse’s mouth, and you especially don’t do it with a strong bit, and if there’s a curb chain involved as well you don’t do it cubed, times one hundred, with cherries on top.

Turns out Scottie really really likes it when people are respectful of his mouth. And my new improved lower leg helps a lot with getting him moving forward with impulsion. He rounds himself and gives you these amazing cadenced trots and canters, and it feels spectacularly huge. I glanced over at Bella and looked at her skinny little neck and thought ever so slightly rude thoughts about small mares with no forehand.

Erin set up canter poles, and after we’d ridden through a few times, forward and straight, she raised the middle pole to be a low vertical. This worked really well for me because I had to keep my leg on and concentrate on keeping a light strong position two strides in and two strides out of the fence, all while holding the double handful of reins, and not smashing Scottie’s Waterford-crystal lower jaw. This is how I relax, by the way.

Finally, we did a twisty-tight course with sharp turns. Beth and Austin aced it both times. I completely flubbed it the first time and rode it not-prettily the second. But we jumped everything and my position was half-decent over the jumps and best of all, Scottie at no point got anxious or tried to speed up or roar away. His anxiety issue is almost resolved, and he’s like another horse – like Austin, almost! Cheerful and honest and good at his job. But flashier than dear old Austin :)

The main problem was that Scottie kept cross-cantering during the changes of direction, so we finished with some canter circles on the flat until I could keep him united at the canter. This was difficult, but also revelatory, because a disunited canter was Alfie’s biggest problem and I could never figure out how to ride through it. Not only have I improved dramatically since Alfie’s heyday in the late eighties, I have improved a lot since three months ago, when I was afraid to ride Scottie over fences. It was a patchy ride, bad in parts but good in others, and I finished it flushed with happiness and hard physical effort. Completely worth braving the rain for.

Thanks so much, handsome man. You taught me a ton and had the best cadence I have ever ridden. I hope the clover is hock-deep where you are going, and that your new owner loves you crazy.