Wednesday, July 15, 2015

8 Years

8 years, 10 months, and 19 days.

That's the amount of time that's passed since my father stood in my bedroom door, while I lie curled in the fetal position on my bed, with a heart shattered to pieces, and told me that sometimes bad things happened for a reason. I resented that so much that if I could have gotten out of the bed, I would probably have hit him. But I didn't. 

I still miss Angel.

So much that if I think about it too long, my eyelids sting with unshed tears.

8 years ago.

"She'll look great all shined up!"

My sister and mother and I are standing in the middle of a friend's field. A mixed herd of horses, mostly comprising of percherons and a couple of paints is milling around us. At the outskirts, a gangly black mare with a mane hanging down her shoulder can't stand still. At this point, I can't tell if all of her legs are coming out of the same hole or if anyone will be able to catch her. 

I need her.

She is not what I came here for. I came here to possibly lease something broke and steady that I can ride and get my feet back under myself with. Something to take my mind off the still-crippling loss of Angel. But I need her. Not just because she's pretty, but also because I've always been a sucker for a sad story fixer upper and she takes the cake. Bred too early, starved nearly to death, a mutual friend pulled her from a field with dozens of other draft horses, then sold her to this friend, and now here she is. She's to be his wife's riding horse. 

He tells me her price. I have no money. I was not intending to buy a horse. And this isn't the horse I was after, either. Nonetheless, fans of the barter system, we agree that eventually I will have something he wants and we'll work it out. It takes a while, but eventually, we do. Years later, he tells me that he saw that we needed one another and who was he to stand in the way of that?

Later that same day I first saw her, I am nervously standing by as we herd her into a stock trailer with a chute built with livestock panels. We lure her into the barn with what my dad calls a 'Judas pony'. I tell myself she's just here to flip and sell, because no horse except for her own offspring will ever be able to replace Angel.

She stands in the back of a box stall and blows like a jake brake on an eighteen wheeler every time something new happens.

For two weeks, I am forced to chase her down within her stall in order to catch her. Once I do, she merely tolerates my attention, but she does come along. Eventually, I convince her to learn to lead, luring her with a steel strainer full of oats. She'll do anything for a lip full of oats. She learns to tie, and how to lunge, and just when I think I have her convinced to work with me, she gets scared and rips the lungeline out of my hands and heads for the barn. Once, she drags me on my belly for a few yards before I'm smart enough to let go.

I don't know when we crossed the line from 'project horse' to mine, but it's close to winter. Around November, I step in a hole while lunging her and sprain my foot. It makes me reconsider our plan. She's getting fat and sassy and we finally make a breakthrough with a clicker and treats--something I've used on the dogs for years. It never occurs to me to use it on a horse until I have no other options, and suddenly I have a partner, not just a horse.

In the spring, I put the saddle on her for the first time and my dad laughs. When I ask him to hold her while I climb on, he thinks I'm crazy, but I do it anyway. I can't explain why I trust her. Or why she trusts me. We don't look back.

Over the last eight years, I've learned a few things.

* Round pens are your friend.
* Never load a horse in a trailer that isn't hooked to a truck.
* It doesn't matter how soft the snow looks. If you backflip into it from the back of a horse and land on your head, it will hurt.
* Never get too cocky, Bronwyn will call your bluff. Sometimes twice.
* Never approach a loose horse when you're short on time. It will be a lesson in patience.
* The madder you get, the longer it takes.
* Never teach a trick you wouldn't want to have repeated over and over... and over. It's cute the first time, but smart horses learn to offer behaviours.
* It's best to just accept that your mare is smarter than you are. Life goes easier that way.
* But seriously, trust her. Because she'll save your ass someday.
* Stubbornness and fear do not go together well.
* Most saddlemakers that market "wide" saddles have never met Bronwyn.
* Never trust a cat not to scare your horse. They are scary, levitating aliens. And that's final.
* "Watch out for that black horse." 
* When that black horse who hates to be caught in the pasture eagerly comes to the gate to meet the boy you brought to the barn, you should marry him.
* Trust your instincts.
* Don't show off.
* Someday, someone is going to consider your horse the safest horse on the trail with them. It's a compliment. It will be worth all the tears and tumbles.
* The best cure for a hurting heart is sometimes just to sit on your horse and do nothing, just be.
* You will experience loss. You will live through it.
* Listen to your dad. Even if you're angry. He's probably right. 

Happy 8th Gotchaversary, Bronwyn.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Not-Strictly-But-Also-Sort-Of-Horse-Related Update To Let You Know I'm Alive

If you follow me on Facebook, you probably have a little idea of what has gone on since my last post in July. The answer is: not a whole lot of actual horse stuff. But for those of you who are interested, I'll give you a little run down.

In July, we moved from our home of two years into a larger space. We still have plans to purchase a home but they have been pushed back a year or two, because...

In early August, G proposed to me. Well, he gave me a ring, waited for me to freak out a little bit, and then said "so you never gave me an answer". I laughed and cried and said yes and called everyone I knew. We set a date for October, 2015. Unfortunately, rustic barn weddings are pretty popular, so all those venues are booked up. We booked a beautiful rustic lodge in a Provincial Park and are planning a country fair themed wedding. No, I won't ride Bronwyn down the aisle, but I've already discussed bridal shots with her, at length, with my good friend, Jill from Scuffed Boots Photography.

In September, I released my first ever novel under my pen name Amity LassiterRunaway Heart is a sweet and sexy contemporary western romance that has been well received by reviewers. The followup, Homecoming Heart, is coming soon (like, as soon as I finish the revisions), and follows a plus sized heroine who is a barrel racer, and her friends-to-lovers story with the boy-next-door. It touches on body image issues. In both of my books so far, I have featured horses very heavily, and I don't gloss over many details because that is my biggest pet peeve about 'cowboy romances' - sometimes they don't even ride a horse!

I love writing - fiction, and non-fiction, and have always wanted to be a published author. As you can imagine, knowing that I wrote a book and people are reading it and enjoying it is so, so rewarding. And it works toward my ultimate goal, which is to have my horses at home to draw inspiration from.

At the end of September, Bronwyn and I were asked to help my friend, Nicole's daughter, Ava Lee to enjoy her first trail ride on her APHA gelding that came from my parents' breeding program. If you had told me six years ago that Bronwyn would be considered the 'safe trail buddy', I would have laughed you off. But she enjoyed it, and more importantly, I'm pretty sure Ava Lee really enjoyed it, too. And since my clinic in May, that was my only ride on Bronwyn. Twice in 2014. This needs to change.

And that's about how the last few months have gone. Now we are tucking into Christmas craziness, and I have scheduled myself to write four more novels in 2015. I've considered writing a non-fiction book about the blog and about what I have learned about being a plus sized rider, but I think there are still some thoughts and ideas that need a little more time to incubate before that can happen.

I have been dealing with some health issues, including low energy and weight gain, as well as a possible stress fracture that I managed to complete 8 weeks of running training before it bothered me. I've been to the doctor and am waiting for test results. 

I am hoping to have a very different 2015. So many good things have happened to me in 2014, but I want to shoot for the stars in the new year, get in the driver's seat and not just ride on the passenger side - I want to take life by the horns and make things happen. And I hope in doing so, I have more things to share with all of you.

If I don't post again until the new year, I want to wish you all the happiest of holidays. :)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

I'm still alive.

I know I haven't written a lot lately. Still separated from the ponies. Things with work and personal life a bit crazy right now so even getting out to see them is hard. I will admit -- it is tough to write about horses when you don't get to see them often. Harder still to come up with content when you're not exposed to them daily -- and I didn't even get to go to any equine trade fairs this spring! That usually gives me at least a week or two of the pony bug.

We moved from our apartment to a townhouse a couple of weeks ago. I am marginally closer (8 minutes) and once things settle down a little more, I hope to be able to visit a little more frequently but between work, accommodations and personal, it's crazy! I will absolutely keep you all posted and post as much as I can muster.

I just wanted to drop you all a note to let you know I still love you guys, and think about you often. <3 comment-3--="" nbsp="">

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Phenomenal Woman

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.   
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Sometimes, I get asked what prompted me to start this journey of self love - to start writing this blog. Although I can never pinpoint it down to one single thing that sparked this journey, I can draw upon a small pool of media, people, and experiences that I consider to have been the kindling for what has been a pretty incredible last couple of years of self discovery and love.

Maya Angelou's poem, Phenomenal Woman, was printed and tacked to the wall of my bedroom at the beginning of this process. I can't remember who pointed it out to me, but the minute I read it, it resonated and so I wrote it out by hand and put it in a place where I would see it and read it every morning when I got into bed and every night when I got out of bed. It only took a couple of weeks for me to be able to say, without hesitation or doubt "phenomenal woman, that's me". 

Today, Dr. Angelou passed away. I never met her, never followed much of her other work aside from this one thought-provoking and inspiring poem that propelled me into a life that I could never have imagined ten years ago. For that one poem, I am eternally grateful, and I give the universe thanks for putting those words in my path at exactly the right time. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

VHSC Clinic May 10th & 11th || Goodbye, Sweet Lola

So much to write about.

I never shared with the blog family when Lola got injured because I honestly believed it would run its course and she would be fine. Long story short: she injured her neck and two days later, she laid down and wouldn't get up. She was down for 10 days and despite still being bright, eating, drinking, and lifting her head to give me a kiss when I crouched down at her head, she just did not want to stand. We lifted her in a sling and she made no attempt to right herself and stand on her own, so a couple of hours before I was ready to leave for the clinic, we made the decision to put my sweet girl to sleep.

If you care about them at all, losing any horse is difficult. Losing a horse that just turned a year old just about kills you. Two weeks ago, I was thinking about the things I would do to get her fitted up to show this fall - a week later, I just hoped she would live, even if she was never anything but a pasture pony. It's enough to make you want to quit. I think mom, dad and I all said that at least once on Friday - that we were quitting horses.

Love you, sweet Lola. <3>

Who's gonna photobomb all my pictures now?

I won't lie - I had a little meltdown. When stuff like this happens, the only things I can think are that there are people out there who overtly abuse their horses, who don't even care about them at all, and things like this never happen to them. I think that nobody can possibly understand my anguish and heart break, and people far less deserving than I am don't have their horses taken away from them this way. Most of that isn't true, I know - but that's how I react. So you can imagine that the last thing I wanted to do was pack up my gear and my warhorse and go spend time with people who couldn't possibly understand.

(It's wrong, you know. Logical me understands that everyone has a different journey with horses, and that sometimes hearts get broken in different ways than mine do, and it's no less valid or important. I just get unreasonable when I am grieving.)

I packed up my gear and my warhorse and went anyways, and in the end, I was glad.

I went with my friend, Nicole and her gelding, Kizz, and we hauled up the night before. The VHSC is a local club with the coolest facility going. They have a shedrow barn, warm up ring, huge outdoor arena, announcer booth, bleachers and washroom with showers on a site that is fenced and gated. There's also space to tent, which I intended to do until I saw the weather forecast. Thunder and lightning prompted my mom to offer her van with an air mattress, which was really well appreciated by the end of day 1.

Bronwyn had never hauled with another horse before, but she was A1. Even though it took me forever to catch her in the field, she practically put herself on the trailer, which made me smile - if I had jumped out of the way, she would have self loaded, I bet - which is unusual for her - usually there are a couple of tries but she gets on without too much issue. I could have seen a loading issue turning into something monumental, probably involving tears.

Horses settled in great that night and we parked the van not ten feet away from the front of their stalls so we could hear anything going on. It rained hard at some points through the night (hard enough to wake me up), and Nicole didn't sleep a wink.

Dad was worried she'd come out through that hole in the stall door... so I put her feed bin there. GUARANTEE the girl would not jump over it because that might mean she'd miss a feeding!

The clinic format was 2 x 1.5-2hr group sessions per day, for two days. We rode at 9 and 1 on both Saturday and Sunday, with four horses in our group - Nicole & Kizz, Myself & Bronwyn, Amanda & Prime and Kendra & Fluke. I had the only war horse. Since there was a double dose of Amanda in the class, I got called Bronwyn, or AmandaBronwyn a lot. :)

The first session, it was pouring down rain. I had enough foresight to pack my "waterproof" coat, but it soaked clean through within about 30 minutes. At the beginning, the clinician, Mitch, asked what I wanted to work on - I said I wanted to work on consistency and making her lighter to my leg aids. I clearly had no idea what I was talking about as it was soon pointed out that I ride with my legs off and then goose my horse when I ask for upward transitions, which causes the frantic rushing that I really hate - which really actually puts me off of working and schooling her. Sometimes you just need eyes from the ground, I guess!

I wish I had the same kind of memory that Nicole had when she blogged about this clinic because I can't, for the life of me, remember what we did in each class. All I know is that my little war horse got better and better, that she gave me every single ounce of work she had in her and then gave me more. That she jigged and danced and was excited to get into the ring and do work. That when I felt like quitting, she just didn't

We worked on consistent pace, rhythm, bend and I worked at relaxing my leg onto my horse. 

At the end of the first day, I overwhelmingly felt grateful. I felt that the things in this life that are worth doing and having are worth the hard work, and the heartache, and the pain, because the good is just so damn sweet. Bad things happen and they shape the way that we respond and deal with other things that cross our path - whether it is making us stronger or better equipped to handle more sorrow, or appreciating the good things a little more. It's hard to embrace misfortune or pain when it comes because it hurts like hell, but (and I've been told my theory is flawed before, but it helps me sleep at night) the way I see it is that so far, every thing that has happened in my life that has made me say "I quit" or felt like the end of my world has become a lesson, a tool in my belt, something I could use later on in life. I had to be there to be here.

So maybe I wouldn't have appreciated Bronwyn's try as much if I hadn't been upset about Lola in the first place. Maybe I would have gotten frustrated when she felt rushy and out of control at first, when she got silly at the mounting block, when she tried to chase Kizz up the knoll to the ring, and not have appreciated as much when she balanced out and gave me a beautiful, round trot on the bit, when she improved at the mounting block. I was in a humble, broken type of place so any goodness was good. And maybe I'm just having a sentimental, nonsensical train of thought here.

75% of the second ride on day one was drizzly, but it cleared up a bit at the end. We were frozen clear through so we drove the van to the nearest town for dinner at a truck stop to warm us up a bit for a second night in the van. 

I woke up Sunday good and stiff - but at least it wasn't raining! Gave Bronwyn a little lunge in the warm up ring after breakfast as I imagine she was a little stiff, too, after being in the stall overnight. 

Sunday was filled with "ah ha" moments and I said on more than one occasion "THIS is the horse I want to ride!". 

I don't know if I have written about it here much but cantering is scary for us (read: me). Bronwyn is unbalanced and rushy (again, because I've been goosing her with my leg when I ask for it). I actually came to this clinic thinking we would not be able to work on the canter with everyone else and we would just trot when it came to canter work. Of course, you know Mitch didn't allow that!

A few of our canter efforts were just exactly like they were at home - I had the feeling of being out of control, unbalanced, leaning to keep the saddle from sliding off, etc. Basically, whenever we canter, I give up and just hang on for dear life and don't steer or ride - I just try not to die. Somehow they weren't as scary - probably because I had someone there saying "hey, you're not gonna die!". We even had one canter where I could not transition her down until I employed some serious outside rein and it didn't fizz me a bit. We were in a huge arena and while she has never actually run away with me, I live in fear that she'll just take off at the canter and I will tumble to the ground. Didn't happen.

We did a lot of "think canter" but not actually cantering to help me stop leaning forward. What I have been doing is throwing my upper body forward several paces before I actually ask for the canter, in order to not get left behind* when I goose her (we see how this is a problem, yes?). We worked a lot on sitting deep with leg on, balancing a beautiful trot and then asking for the canter. If the canter didn't work the way we wanted, transition down until we have that beautiful trot again, and then ask again.

*In watching a variety of shapes and riders over a period of time, I think this can be an issue for all sizes of riders but feel it tends to show up the most in bigger riders. Because we've got a bigger mass, obviously, it's a lot easier to get left behind (especially if you are particularly top heavy), and the last thing I want to do is topple arse over teakettle off the back of my horse. Deep seat really helps this.

The crowning jewel of the entire weekend came in the last lesson. All weekend, I had heard Mitch say to other riders "I can't change anything". I decided I wanted one of those. It's a pretty serious compliment! Toward the end of the last session, we decided to try just one more canter. I sat deep, eyes up, leg on, hands low, and asked for a canter and my war horse produced the most beautiful, balanced, gentle canter I have ever seen her produce. It's the one that I always see her do on the lunge line and wish I could get under saddle. It's a canter I could ride all day and then some! I know from the first stride, I had this huge stupid smile on my face because it just felt so good. And I thought I can't change anything.

I had somehow convinced myself that the canter would always be terrible and we would always just suck at it or only do it on trails or just hang on for dear life.I am now convinced that we can have a beautiful, balanced canter, just like everybody else. I wish there was video!

There are, however, a few pictures from our very last session on Sunday, and I'm going to share!

(READ: I know I will get asked, so I'll tell in advance. Those INCREDIBLE (or eye sore, whichever you prefer ;)) breeches are the Fuller Fillies Rosy Posie denim breeches and they are pretty dang awesome. Not only did I get tons of compliments on them but they were COMFY. Less formal than tans (though I did bring those along as well), and helped Mitch keep track of us (as if you could lose track of the girl and giant warhorse careening around the arena!))

Making the faces! :) I make a lot of weird faces when I ride anyways... THIS one was on purpose!


I'm serious, I came away from this weekend SO ABSOLUTELY rejuvenated and fired up to work my horse. Some one on one time with Bronwyn clearly was exactly what I needed as balm for my soul, and despite all the nervousness, I am glad I pushed through and did it.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Scaredy cat.

I have a confession to make. I've been withholding something from you guys for about a month now.

I signed up for a riding clinic. It's this weekend. I'm scared poopless.

I think, at the end of the day, I didn't talk about it because I was a little bit convinced that I would back out, and if I didn't tell anyone, then I could do so without disappointing anyone. Because, I mean, how would it look for someone who writes a blog empowering plus sized riders to back out of riding in public because she's afraid?

I went over the excuses a million times with my friend, Nicole. What if we were too out of shape? (Everybody will be - we've had an exceptionally difficult winter and unless you have an indoor ring, nobody has had more than a few rides.) What if my saddle doesn't fit? (It does, I just had to go up three gullet sizes for her, and suck my butt in for me!) What if I get there and I'm told that everything I've done and known for the last twenty years of my life is wrong, all wrong? (You can't keep swinging a hammer without hitting at least a few nails!)

Finally, this weekend, I paid my provincial equestrian club membership, gained confirmation of our entries, and faced up to the facts: I am going to this clinic. I am not going to be shy or embarrassed. I am going to wear my AFG&AFH swag with pride. I am going to set an example for you guys. Because, I mean, how would it look for someone who writes a blog empowering plus sized riders to back out of riding in public because she's afraid? Can't I use this as an excellent opportunity to relate to everyone how it feels to be afraid and go ahead anyways?

I'm extremely fortunate to have these opportunities: a horse, a trailer, the money to pay the entry fees, the access to a riding instructor, the health and wellness to ride. I recognize there are others, even amongst my readership who don't have these opportunities. So I've decided I'm going to ride this clinic for each and every one of you.

Afterall, Brian Tracy says:

You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday/Happy Birthday Rex!

On Monday, Rex turned 8. Yes, I know I'm late posting about this... but! Better late than never, and it allows me to tie in a little "Throwback Thursday" with the post honouring him.

As the house hunt has (finally) officially begun, we came across a house in the listings a couple of weeks ago that we really loved. I could already imagine watching our horses in the field while I shelled peas in the kitchen sink (yes, I know, very specific!). Since we're pretty early on, we don't have all of our down payment saved yet so we were brainstorming which of our possessions we could sell to come up with it. Of course, the horses came up (in jest!). I explained, of course, that the horse market isn't "like that" and that my horses, in the grand scheme of things, aren't really worth that much. Rex, particularly, who is little more than a beautiful pasture puff, is worth very little to anyone... except me.

For eight years, I've scolded him when he tries to bite, scolded him when he tries to kick the trimmer, scolded him when he chases the broodmares... okay, I do a lot of scolding. But there's a lot of good, too. He knows just when I need a pocket pony to come and give me a snuggle in the pasture (since Bronwyn is way too busy and important for that stuff these days). He helped my heart heal when we lost Angel. In fact, even if he is nothing more than a beautiful pasture puff for eighteen more years, that's perfectly okay.

So in honour of Rexy Perplexy's birthday, I wanted to share with you eight pictures - so you, too, can appreciate his beautiful uselessness. Then I came across more than eight and thought... what the heck, it's my blog and I do what I want! :) Enjoy.

Spring 2006

Summer 2006

Winter 2008 (Apparently I hated him when he was a yearling because I have pretty much ZERO pictures of him in 2007)

Winter 2009

Spring 2009

Fall 2009

Spring 2010

Summer 2010

Summer 2011

Fall 2011

Summer 2013

Summer 2013

Winter 2014