(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday: One Year Ago

This time last year, we were hacking down quiet roads, bravely crossing bridges across threateningly bubbling streams, enjoying the last of the strong sunshine.

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This year I’m stuffing him with mints and apple snacks as we part ways. I’m going to miss my Schmoodle something fierce. Our moments of frustration and discouragement were outweighed by moments of real joy and accomplishment. I just hope someone else can take him on as their special someone, because he deserves his own person to love him. I’ll cherish my memories of his happy face, his quickness off my leg, his powerful round jump, and – maybe especially – our many bareback rides this summer, when it felt like we were just two friends, out enjoying each other’s company.

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Interlude with Schmoodle

Yesterday afternoon came and went without a call from the vet about Mystery Horse’s PPE, alas. My nerves had reached fever pitch by the time my ex-trainer, at whose barn near Montreal the horse lives, texted to say the vet had been waylaid by an emergency call and would have to reschedule for today.

I went to the barn and ended up taking a lesson, if for no other reason than to stop me stewing over the impending vet check, ha. As Trainers M&L are still away at a horse show, they’ve brought in someone else to teach: Schmoodle’s owner, H! H is about my age and is trying to make it as a professional in the industry – she had a very cool job riding young horses for a well-known breeder and GP rider in the Midwest before immigration visa issues sent her back to Canada. I had met her years ago when she was still showing Schmoodle (I even still have her on Facebook) but hadn’t crossed paths with her since.

At first it kind of made me anxious to be riding her horse in front of her: she had loads of success with him when she was younger, and has since moved on to jumping big Grand Prixes, attending Young Riders, and generally eclipsing my own talent and experience by a huge margin. But I needn’t have worried. First off, she’s really friendly; second, she knows Schmoodle’s full range of silliness intimately (“This horse sent me to the hospital so many times,” she said fondly the first time we rode with her); and third, Schmoodle and I acquitted ourselves well in both our lessons with her.

When I first brought him in from the field last week and she recognized him, I was kind of shocked by how cavalierly she talked about him, in the vein of: ‘This horse is unsellable, I keep telling my parents it’s only good for glue! Hahaha!’ – but by last night she was stuffing him with treats and had revived a trick she had taught him years ago, whereby you stand in front of him and make kissy noises and he bops you with his nose. CUTE. He definitely remembers her!

It was weird how my feelings about Schmoodle have changed quite drastically now that Mystery Horse is firmly on my radar. I felt almost mournful getting him ready yesterday, because my focus is definitely elsewhere. He had a couple of little scrapes from the field: I doctored them, obviously, but I didn’t obsess over ensuring the hair would grow back in perfectly like I would have as recently as last week. Likewise, we rode inside and were set a tricky exercise of poles:

The three poles are bounces, with four or five strides between the bounces and the single poles.

The three poles in a row are bounces, with four or five strides between the bounces and the single poles.

We did the exercise with the fives very smoothly, but the fours were a struggle, especially to the right: I really had to ride every stride and it felt quite rushed (there were also some undesired lead swaps.) But it rolled off my back in a way it wouldn’t have when Schmoodle was the container of all my horsey aspirations.

Walking him back to his field, I admired how handsome he was, with the first signs of his rich black winter coat coming in, and his sweet kind eye. Whether I end up embarking on my horse ownership adventure now (!!!) or at a later date, I’ll look back on my friendship with Schmoodle with enormous fondness.

Blog Hop: Four Facts Survey

I like this four facts survey that L. at Viva Carlos and several others completed last week. While I’m gathering my thoughts from my horse-shopping trip this weekend, I thought I’d indulge my latent narcissism, herewith:

Four names that people call me or have called me in the past other than my real name:

  1. Luly (my family calls me this, I don’t really know why)
  2. Genius Cougar (before the days of the iPhone we had walkie-talkies for communicating on the horse show grounds. This was my call sign)
  3. Lies (like Liz, but for when I’m feeling devious)
  4. Lizo

Four jobs I’ve had:

  1. Border Services Officer (i.e. passport and immigration control and the person who searches your luggage to determine whether or not you’re trying to sneak twelve bottles of rum into the country undeclared on your way back from the Dominican Republic)cbsa-watch-list
  2. Page in the House of Commons: every year forty first-year university students are selected from across Canada to work in the House of Commons (like Congress), supporting our Members of Parliament in their daily work. I was one of them – very cool except for our hideous polyester uniforms.
  3. Assistant to a Director General (i.e. powerful person) at the ministry of Foreign Affairs: like in The Devil Wears Prada, only with fewer cool clothes and more Excel spreadsheets
  4. Sales assistant at Liz Claiborne (now-defunct frumpy store for moms [no offense to moms, you know what I mean]): luckily, my one and only retail job. I picked up this job for eight miserable weeks ‘cause I needed some extra cash to go to an A show. Quit right after the show, but not before being named Employee of the Week!

Four movies I’ve watched more than once:

  1.  Pirates of the Caribbean (the first one, obviously)
  2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  3. Zero Dark Thirty (and The Hurt Locker – love me some Kathryn Bigelow)
  4. The Place Beyond the Pines

Four books/series I’d recommend: (OH GOD ONLY FOUR WELL OBVIOUSLY HARRY POTTER AND THE COLLECTED WORKS OF MARGARET ATWOOD ARE IMPLICIT RIGHT?)

  1. Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. Submergence by J.M. Ledgard
  3. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  4. The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper (this is a YA series and you can ignore the first of the five books. The second, also called The Dark is Rising, is my go-to book for when I have nothing else to read or just need to be outside my own head. It’s like a talisman – just holding it in my hands makes me feel better.)

Four places I’ve lived:

  1. Montreal, QC: born and raised. Forever my idea of what a city should be (OK, minus the crazy corruption and infrastructure deficit and toxic identity politics…)
  2. Ottawa, ON: currently, and during my undergrad. It’s not bad.
  3. Egham, UK: I did an exchange at Royal Holloway, University of London in 2009 in this teeny town down the road from Windsor Great Park.

    And this, Founders Hall, was the building I lived in!

    And this, Founders Hall, was the building I lived in!

  4. Oxford, UK: I lived here from 2011-12 for grad school. Loved Oxford to pieces.

Four places I’ve visited:

  1. Barcelona: my favourite city to visit. Gaudi architecture everywhere, Catalan food, crazy nightlife, naps encouraged. Win.wow
  2. Belfast, Northern Ireland and surrounding area: spent a few days here in grad school and didn’t realize how raw the history would still feel. Highly recommended.
  3. San Francisco: visited with my family in 2009, a city I would love to revisit at my own pace
  4. Frisco, TX (an exurb of Dallas): We have family friends who moved here from Montreal about fifteen years ago and I spent a couple of weeks there one summer as a teenager. It’s the only time I’ve ever been immersed in that suburban ‘American-dream’ kind of life and it was…eye-opening.

Four places I’d rather be right now:

  1. Back at Oxford doing another degree, reunited with all my MSc friends (…but minus all the hours in the library?)

    Basically, I'd just like to relive the copious amounts of partying

    Basically, I’d just like to relive the copious amounts of partying

  2. Being a working student for a big name trainer at a horse show (basically I’d like to be 16 and working for Missy Clark)
  3. On the beach in the Maldives
  4. At our family cottage with my girlfriends

Four things I prefer not to eat:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Feta cheese
  3. Rich creamy things
  4. DURIAN FRUIT (oh my god my colleague from China gave me some to try last week. Go read the Wikipedia article about them right now, then spend the rest of your life trying to avoid ever smelling or tasting them.)

Four of my favourite foods:

  1. Chocolate (dark, especially mint)
  2. Thai food, especially pad thai, pad see ew, and chicken red curry
  3. My mother’s ‘special macaroni’ casserole (pasta, béchamel, cheddar, parsley, ground beef, YUM)
  4. Fettucine alla gigi

Four TV shows I watch: [none currently but these are some I Netflix]

  1. The West Wing
  2. Friday Night Lights
  3. The Good Wife
  4. Mad Men

Four things I’m looking forward to in the next 365 days:

  1. Buying a horse
  2. Christmas with my family
  3. My best friend moving to Ottawa
  4. Travel of some kind with the BF next summer

Four things I’m always saying:

  1. Bitch! (…sorry, bad feminist, it’s not directed towards a person, it’s just my epithet of choice)
  2. Suboptimal (as in “Schmoodle, your constant spooking is suboptimal”)
  3. Booboo, fatty, bud, silly (my nicknames for all animals)
  4. “Up to you!” [person suggests something] “Sure! Or maybe x?” (Because I’m that person who is initially indecisive then judges your choices hard.)

Under a Black Cloud

I was going to write about my university riding team experiences today, and I still intend to, but I, like many others in the hunter-jumper world, have been caught up lately with some of the truly bad behaviour that’s been on display from some of the industry’s professionals.

First we had Inclusive, the stunning Betsee Parker-owned hunter who Tori Colvin, teenage prodigy, has piloted to countless hunter wins, and who tested positive for GABA, a banned calming agent, at last year’s USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals. Then news came out of the Hampton Classic that Devin Ryan had been evicted from the show grounds due to evidence of abuse clearly visible on several of his horses’ legs. Oh, let’s not forget Sophie Simpson, daughter of two Olympians, who has been set down by the FEI for a violation involving capsaicin at Young Riders earlier this summer.

This was all depressing enough until Brigid Colvin, who was originally made subject to a ban that would cause her to miss the last horse shows of her daughter’s storied junior career, sued the USEF, arguing that she should not be considered the ‘trainer’ (i.e. person responsible) for Inclusive and thus should not be punished for his infraction. This suit led to several documents, including the transcript of the USEF hearing on this case, to be released publically. Honestly, don’t read them if you want to maintain any sort of respect for the h/j show culture as a whole. It’s like going down a rabbit hole from the kind of common-sense horsemanship that I’ve grown up with, and ending up in a world where one of the top hunters in the country requires a longe, two morning hacks, and NINE – count em, nine – tubes of Perfect Prep and/or lactanase before being considered ready to go to the ring for this national championship competition over heights that reach 4’+.

NINE tubes of this. And that isn't even what they're being set down for!!!

NINE tubes of this. And that isn’t even what they’re being set down for!!! Because it’s legal!!!

Oh, and no one ever denies the widespread use of GABA in their program. They simply say that they didn’t dose Inclusive with GABA anymore because in their experience, it made him too quiet, and he hit rails. Yeah. They neither deny nor apologize for a widespread culture of cheating that goes against every principle of horse welfare and fair sport. And again, this is what it takes to get arguably one of the most recognizable and winning horse-rider combos in the country, to the ring. If Victoria Colvin can’t win a hunter round without drugging, what the hell are the rest of us supposed to be doing?! Oh and PS, the fact that neither the rider nor the owner of the horse have been given any penalty for this incident is ludicrous. In my view, our national governing bodies should abide by the same principles as the FEI with regards to punishment in these cases: the rider is the Person Responsible and will be the one set down, full stop. Maybe it’ll force all of us to look a little more closely into our trainers’ medicine cabinets.

That jump is insane. But at what cost?

Inclusive’s jump is insane. But at what cost is it manufactured?

Anyways. Molly Sorge of the Chronicle wrote an editorial on this subject that articulates my thoughts exactly, so I’ll let you read that rather than getting all mad trying to write a blog post about it. But suffice it to say that I often feel alienated from my chosen discipline, between the shocking amounts of money on display at the horse shows, and the questionable horsemanship that we all know is probably taking place on the other side of the tent stall walls. I don’t have the funds to campaign on the circuit anyway, but I can’t say I’m too sad about that today.

I guess all we can do is take responsibility for our own horses’ care, let our money do the talking when it comes to programs that undertake practices with which we’re uncomfortable, and speak out against bad horsemanship when we see it. Not that it’s impossible to produce a winning horse in a healthy program that abides by the rules. But when the hunter discipline’s standards seem to be a deck stacked against you as a responsible horseperson, it kind of blows.

[Oh also, Schmoodle was kind of terrible last night. WHATEVER. Fine. Keep spooking at the same pile of jumps by the side of the ring every day for the rest of your life for all I care.]

Mental Game

No point in hiding it: I’ve always been a bit of a nervous rider but I’ve gotten worse in the past couple of years. I had a fall with Schmoodle last year that freaked me out a bit: he jumped a new jump, then spooked hard on landing and scooted off right, I went left, and he whacked my wrist with his foot as I went down. End result: one broken wrist for me.

I truly love Schmoodle: he has a great character, is really athletic and fun to ride, and is good eye candy to boot. His weakness is his unpredictable spookiness, which can be quite explosive. That day was the only time he’s ever gotten me off, the only time I’ve ever even come close, and really the only time he’s pulled that big-spook-on-landing move; still, though, I have a hard time trusting him over fences. I’ve gotten better: we’ve had a lot of really good lessons together and jumped some courses that scared the bejeezus out of me at first, and aside from stopping and staring at terrifying flower decorations a few times, he’s never really let me down. He has a tendency to back off scary jumps, then jump them very hard, and it jumps me loose sometimes; but again, nothing bad has ever happened as a result – except that one time.

Come on, mom. I said I was sorry.

Come on, mom. I said I was sorry.

I try to mitigate my nerves by setting myself up for success: working on the flat so that I have a great quality canter, focusing on adjustability so I have options to get out of trouble if we run into a bad distance, working on ratcheting down his reactions to spooky things. But at a certain point, I have to just trust him: ride forward to the jumps, follow his mouth instead of bottling him up and making him nervous, and believing in him a little more. He deserves it – he’s given me a whole year of good rides; I’m pretty sure he likes and trusts me; he’s been a Junior hunter and, briefly, a 1m35 horse, for goodness sakes. He can handle my 3′ courses just fine, and intellectually, I know I can handle him if he does get out of hand. So I guess I also have to believe in myself!

But ah, to be an anxious adult amateur. My motto should be “Cowboy Up, cautiously.”