2015-12-15: Hi! You're probably here because you did a Google search for 'plus sized horseback riders' or you saw my content quoted elsewhere. There are a couple of things I'd like you to know.

I am still here! But I am living away from my horses and not riding often. I could tell you a lie and say that I am, but I have always endeavored to give you the truth here. As a result, I'm not feeling terribly motivated to write blog posts and I feel out of touch with the community.

I'd love for you to stay a while and look back through the archives. Visit the links listed below. We still have an active forum community and I post on the Facebook page from time to time.

I have tentative plans to try to get more involved in the horse world in 2016, and I will absolutely share whatever that adventure becomes with you, so keep checking back!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Horses In My Backyard

I used to fancy myself quite a poet back in high school. At the time, I was plagued by depression and most of my poetry was about unrequited love (needless to say, I had very little confidence in myself or my complete cuteness - I look back on videos and pictures from high school and go "Come on, you were SO adorable! Why weren't you braver?!"). I used to stay up late at night scribbling endless scattered prose about one boy or another that I was too shy to even talk to, torturing myself with the endless possibilities that would never come to fruition. Teen angst at its finest.

I still write poetry, occasionally. Sometimes my heart is so full of feeling, I have to put it down - even if it's just one line. More and more frequently, horses or the feeling that horses give me are the subject of my mad ramblings.

Tonight, I was feeling inexplicably melancholy, generally emotionally volatile - a feeling I completely hate, and try to diffuse as soon as it starts because I dislike not being in control of my emotions (Who am I kidding? I cry all the time, especially when I am watching The Biggest Loser!). Usually, diffusing this feeling consists of sitting on the back of a horse - not working, just sitting, just feeling, and being. Tonight we had minus stupid degree weather with windchill so sitting on a horse wasn't really an option, but sitting with a horse was.

I took to Ari's stall. I love Bronwyn, but Ari is my favourite (And who am I kidding? Bronwyn would never tolerate the foolishness that Ari does!). Ari's unwavering sweetness is comforting and predictable. She is so many of the beautiful attributes that her mother had. I stood for a while with my arms over her back, my cheek pressed to her withers, her long furries tickling my nose. Horses are in my blood.

After a little bit of that, I took an overturned bucket and sat in the front of her stall while she munched hay quietly, and sat as close to her as possible, my arms wrapped around her front right leg, my cheek resting on her forearm. I must have sat like that for thirty minutes. It just felt good. Occasionally, she'd crane her neck and brush her upper lip through my hair.

Sometimes, I wish I had access to an indoor arena and didn't have to get out of bed to feed in below zero weather, but I would not trade the immediate access to the above for anything. I am jealous of those of you who have your horses at boarding stables, but at the same time feel sorry for those of you who can't keep your horses at home for whatever reason. I always used to be resentful of horses at home, but now I count myself lucky to have them here.

Anyways, back to the poetry. Tonight was one of those "full" feelings so I scribbled a little ditty. Though it's a little silly, I thought I would share, because I feel like you guys are my family. :)

Horses In My Backyard

I give up the finer points in life,
like indoor arenas in the winter,
stall mucking done when I arrive,
never having to worry about a missed feeding,
to have horses in my backyard.

I get to enjoy some of the hardships,
riding in the rain, or snow or sleet,
just to get that workout in,
mucking stalls before I can make time to ride,
and climbing out of bed, in the cold, hung over or sick,
to have horses in my backyard.

I love the benefits -
a furry therapist whenever I need it,
instant eau de cheval,
horse hair on every article of clothing I own,
a soft place to land.
Front-leg-hugging therapy cures all ailments.

I have horses in my backyard, and I wouldn't trade it for a thing.

- Amanda Neal

Thanks, Ari, for keeping me grounded when I need it the most.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Building Confidence: Groundwork is GREAT.

I think one of the biggest concerns for plus sized riders, right after 'being too heavy to ride' is getting hurt - particularly if you are a middle aged or older and have realized that you don't bounce so much anymore as splat.

Some of the health complications with being plus sized (and I am not even talking morbidly obese here) really bring to the forefront the worries. For example, though I don't worry much about myself (except that I hate falling and used to bail off of a horse the minute that it started to get a little naughty, which Bronwyn has "unlearned" in me), I worry about my father. He has an old back injury and I worry that his centre of balance will be different and less effective than it used to be. It seems like recovery from injuries are longer for plus sized people.

Though there is no surefire way to avoid getting dumped or hurt on horseback, I am a big fan of groundwork as a good way to work on avoiding it in many cases.

A lot of people think of groundwork as merely a stepping stone in the process to preparing a horse for riding, and only in that context, I have found ground work to be an excellent tool for many other things.

- > Of course, a horse can never NOT benefit from longeing or ground driving as reminders about their cues in the saddle. With my own horses, I am always 100% sure that they know what the verbal cues mean from the ground so they can translate to the saddle. This means a cluck the clues for upward transitions, downward transitions, and complete halts. I like knowing that these are really deeply instilled in a horse before I ride (especially the "whoa!" so that if, for some reason, I am incapacitated or something happens that I no longer have control (ie drop a set of split reins or something), I can still get a response even if the horse does not have seat signals down pat.

This was useful earlier this winter when I dropped one side of my english reins riding Bronwyn bareback in the snow, in the dark. She got a little scared and no doubt would have continued - if I had done a one rein stop and pulled her around, I probably would have fallen off myself, so I gave her the "Whoa" command, and voila... nice, square, FULL stop.

- > Spook proofing! You are at a much safer advantage, if you are an aware horseman, from the ground when introducing your horse to things that may scare them on the trail or in you day to day rides and adventures. The more things you introduce a horse to, fortunately, the less scared they are of the next new thing, and eventually, you have a three year old that bravely and confidently walks out of a barn, into a county fair with huge rides going, music and loudspeakers blaring, hot air balloons firing close overhead and children running underfoot.

One of my favourite things to do is go to the local dollar store and buy as many "scary" things as I can find. Hula hoops, tarps, noisemakers, cap guns, and ribbon-shooting pop guns are some of my favourites. I am known to love bringing home new "toys" to expose my horses to. I also saw, once upon a time, a fantastic set of CDs with parade noises and the various noises a horse would encounter in various situations. If anyone has a link to that or Google skills that are marginally better than mine, I'd love to see a link to them in the comments! I thought they were great and think it would be awesome to invest in some of them this winter!

- > Ground work, especially prior to a saddle session, can give me a really good idea of where the horse's head is at, mentally. Should I be looking out for spooks on this ride? Would we be better off in the arena or confined riding area today, or is a trail ride an option? I guess I am most interested in all of this because I have been routinely dealing with green horses for the last ten years. In fact, I haven't owned a "broke" horse in that long! If I can work on things that, at least for the time being, are going to be acceptable to the horse's mental capacity that particular day, I stand less of a chance of getting dumped, and that, my friends - is a very good thing.

- > Frequent ground work really helps you know whether your horse is off. When you use it as a tool often enough, you really get to know your horse. There is a constant debate about green rider plus green horse equals black and blue, and I generally agree with that point. With that said, I think there is a great deal of benefit to a horse and rider relationship if the rider doesn't immediately get on and spend all their time riding but instead spends a lot of time on the ground, watching their horse and learning what their normal way of going and behaviour is. You become so in tune, at that point, that you know whether your horse really needs to be longed or if he can handle just a quick turn or two around on the longeline, or if they are off or minimally unsound.

Add to all of this that you can teach your horse things from the ground that will truly benefit you as a plus sized rider - for example, to sidle up to a fence or large mounting block and stand still... patience and appropriate behaviour in situations that might be found to be scary (ie getting tangled up in a rope or things blowing against the horse's legs).

I have found that ground work and play (since I don't just do things related to saddle work, I also clicker and trick train/play with Bronwyn) truly cement the bond you have with your horse and how well you are able to read them and gauge 'normal' or irregular behaviours in them and how quickly you can assess a situation that might get you injured.

There are absolutely no cons to spending time on the ground with your horse and I truly believe that is the making of a true horseman, and not just a horseback rider. I think more people should become interested and well versed in reading horses and their behaviours and mindsets before mounting up - a ton of accidents could be avoided this way.

Winter is a great time to get this done if you don't have a place to ride indoors or aren't able to balance the equation of dressing warmly but still being able to ride.


Right now, we are getting a crazy amount of wind and snow. I sure wish this would all go away so I could get some riding done - I am definitely envious of you out there with indoor riding rings and heated barns. Take advantage of them with me in mind! :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Weight Loss Vlog #7

I'm quite funny if I do say so myself!

Don't worry, there will be new entries coming soon!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Can you hear me? How about now?

Yesterday, I attended an event that brings together the Maritime equestrian community after a brief holiday hiatus, January Thaw. In addition to hosting a great little trade fair expo, with booths from all kinds of different stables and tack shops, they have little seminars and it is a fundraiser for the Children's Wish Foundation. I believe, overall, they raised right around $3000 for the CWF, which is not too shabby, and I was impressed. Children's Wish Foundation is something I could really get behind as a charity!

I was there helping my mother out with her booth - she makes show clothes and a variety of other things, and April through May we are usually ridiculously busy with these sorts of events.

Anyways - they had all kinds of great booths there, including a pet communicator who was offering 10 minutes of communication for $10. She seemed like a bit of a kook but it was pretty cheap entertainment comparatively. I sat with my sister while she 'read' her problematic German Shepherd rescue (at first, without anyone telling her, she picked up on "a cute little while dog who likes to take things and hide them" - not the dog in question but my sister does have a really adorable little miniature australian shepherd who has a crate we like to call "the trash can" because of her penchant for stealing stuff and hoarding it). It was interesting and definitely a lot of fodder that could be true for any dog.

I tried to be very careful when I sat down for a reading on Bronwyn (just for fun, mind you!) not to give too much information but my sister sat with me and said I did leak a lot of things. Shay had mentioned during her reading that I had a "spooky" horse (they were talking about the dog being jittery because of her past), which kind of bugged me because then she focused on the spooky thing.

When I first sat down, I definitely thought I was going to get some kind of lecture because the first thing she picked up on was "You are way too pretty to be so heavy" from Bronwyn. Great, she has an issue with my weight. Then she went on to tell me that I was actually a very light rider (I have been told this many, many a time), and I am very good at what I do, always have been (implying I have been doing it for a long time which was not something I told her), but I just needed to believe in myself and stop second guessing my skill and "fake it til I make it".

I went on to "ask" Bronwyn why she had such a problem with my father. I am 200% sure he has never, ever hurt her, but she is consistently very jittery and sketchy when it comes to him. The communicator told me it was because he had a very low timbre of voice similar to someone at one of her previous homes who may have abused her, and implied that she had had multiple homes before I got her, and that some man may not have been very friendly with a rake or pitchfork. I, by no means, believe she was ever abused (neglected, definitely), but sometimes she makes me wonder if she got a smack or two that wasn't totally warranted, just because of her behaviour. Bronwyn also said I had something emotional blocking me and I just needed to "shed some water" (which apparently is what most horses refer to crying as) to get over it.

Overall, not a bad bit of entertainment though I was disappointed that Bronwyn's "personality" didn't come over as strongly as Bella's did when my sister had her reading - apparently, Bella told her that she needed to forgive someone in Bella's history and "get the f*ck over it!" (dog's words!). Also, at one point, the communicator went "oh! Sit up straight! She is a very no nonsense type of dog. She makes me want to sit up straight, too!" and told my sister to drink more water (but didn't tell me to, which is funny because my sister drinks very little water and I drink several litres per day).

The communicator gave me some ideas for dispersing adrenaline in the body of a spooky horse, which include rotating her tail (draping from side to side), stretching out her spine and massaging down the backs of her legs and her heels in behind. Just for kicks and giggles, I tried it when I got home. Bronwyn was a little stiff and resistant when I picked up her back feet, but immediately slouched into relaxation the second my thumbs hit her heels to massage. Even if it doesn't work dispersing her spookiness, it's something she likes and I'll continue to do, I guess!

Also - Bronwyn told me to stretch her more before I ride - her front legs and neck, said she gets stiff in the jaw, and I need to stretch out and twist my back because I can get locked up there (true). It might not help but it's not going to hurt. Oh! And she told me that Bronwyn hates winter and likes to wear blankets - which I can't really vouch for, the cold doesn't seem to bother her, but interestingly enough, she has never ever spooked when I have put the cooler on her - even the first time I did it - and she had not worn one before.

Whether you believe in animal communicators or not (especially ones who can do it over the phone or without the animal present), it's always some interesting insight. I'll take the suggestions she gave me with a grain of salt - the stretching and massage might not help (though I fail to see where massage ever DOESN'T help, properly done) but it's probably not going to hurt, and overall, for $10, an interesting afternoon "insight" into a couple of problematic animals. The jury is still out for me whether it is all "true" or not, but it was fun!

Anyone else a little on the "kooky" side of horses? :-D

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Weekly Vlog!

Brief mention of my ride on Sunday. Relatively short compared to others!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

O Canada... You're Snowy And We Freeze!

Today, the weather is about -7 Degrees Celcius and in the neck of the woods where I live, we have about a foot or so of snow on the ground. I don't have an indoor.

With that said, I have been braving the chilly weather lately to ride my horse in snow up to her knees and try and at least keep her in minimum shape to really start the work in the spring when the snow finally goes away and we face another adversary - MUD.

I posed the question about how to work my horse in the snow on a couple of message boards and the resounding answer was to work her in it! It fits them up well! She'll be well conditioned! I think most of those people, when thinking about snow, weren't even thinking about this much snow:

Yes, some of it is as deep as up to her knee. I feel immensely guilty parking my fat butt up there while she works it out! With that said, we punched out a path pretty quickly and stuck to that, but how on earth am I supposed to do any lateral movement, any bending, any moving off of my leg in a 1 foot wide path?!

I have a feeling that by spring, I will have a very strong, well conditioned horse that has forgotten all about suppleness and bending and moving off my leg and rein.

(I kid, I kid! I actually rode her today and she was not too bad at all. She was collecting up (at a walk!) and we worked on some other things. She had a few moments where she wanted to push out of the track and go straight for the barn but soon figured out that I was going to block her with my outside leg, and if she insisted on doing that, we were going to continue working. Yay for work ethic! I rode for around 25 minutes before I froze and she was getting warm (and wet), so I put her away.)

My father has borrowed the neighbour's snow blower for his tractor and there has been mention of building me a little rectangular space in which I could ride. My only concern is how the footing might get sketchy once we've gotten it beat down well. I could get sand and keep it well sanded - and we're not going to be doing any rodeo maneuvers or airs above ground (God willing!), so that might work.

What do you all do for riding in the winter if you don't have an indoor arena to ride in? In the past, I have mostly let my horses have the season off, sometimes hopping on for a little ride in the snow but nothing strenuous. I highly suspect with a winter off, Bronwyn would soon be much too wide and fat for any of my equipment, and may or may not forget most of the things she has learned thus far. My plan is to haul her somewhere with an indoor arena (my coach told me she always has a stall available for me) in or near the city I'd be working (I am a seasonal worker but looking for full time work), but I can't afford months and months of board, so it would likely be a one or two month deal. My coach also said I could bring her up for a weekend and use the indoor that way - but I have no trailer (yet), and it is expensive to ask someone to haul me an hour and fifteen minutes each way in a weekend. Hopefully I'll have a trailer before summer so I can remedy all of this.

How many other winter warriors do we have out there?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dressage Diva or Backyard Betty?

I mentioned in my last entry that I was offered an opportunity to ride a great horse, and I got to take that opportunity up yesterday afternoon!

I should preface this by saying, if it hasn't already been made fairly clear through my blog posts, that Bronwyn is still very green. As in, when I am working her, I am teaching her, at all times, and have fallen prey to some of those weaknesses in my equitation due to working a green horse. I took lessons when I was getting back into riding, but nothing was quite like this.

I arrived a few minutes late and the big guy was already tacked up. My doctor has an affinity for appaloosas so the big fella, Orion, is 1/2 App, 1/4 Thoroughbred, and 1/4 Percheron. 16.2hh looks a lot bigger in person than you generally envision, and he had those great big feet and BEAUTIFUL bone. I would have probably been almost immediately deeply in love if he didn't have the ratty App tail and mane - nothing to hang on to!

She started me out easy on the longe line, which was a nice touch, I think, since I am so new to English riding and still not very confident with it. We did some half halts (I insisted I didn't know what they were but once we got going, I had a "Duh!" moment - this is a technique we have ALWAYS used in training horses, just never called it by that name!), some sitting and posting trot, during which she insisted I ride with my fingers on the buckle of the reins. I don't lean on my reins by nature, but I felt very insecure without them to hang on to - PLUS no mane to grab! She asked me if I'd like to canter and I declined, at first.

Bronwyn is still not very balanced at the canter, and I have ditched it, honestly, in favour of having her bending and moving laterally and collecting herself at the walk and trot before adding speed to the mix. Add to that, my round pen is just too small for her to get it together and we have only cantered a handful of times. Hopefully, I will remedy this in the spring when I drive posts for my riding ring rather than just having a round pen! So needless to say, I haven't done a lot of canter work in the last couple of years. When I thought of cantering, all I could think about was the excessive push to get the speed, the disjointedness to start with, and then the balance out. I forgot that broke horses usually just move into it smoothly and have all their stuff together.

We did some more posting trot and I began to feel fairly comfortable and then she asked again if I'd like to canter. I agreed to it, and he moved right into it. It was most honestly the most enormous canter I have ever ridden! I felt so good after I was finished that I couldn't wipe the big grin off of my face. I was even willing, after feeling that, to forgive the big guy for not having a mane or tail. I would buy him in a heartbeat if he were for sale! I don't know if it was him in general or just a broke horse that wasn't giving me any grief and didn't need to be guided in every direction.

Overall, it was a fantastic ride. Later, I was chatting with the barn owner and my doctor about Bronwyn and her history - where she began, where she is at, mentally, and everything in between. They kept saying I ought to sell her and buy something with the breeding to back up what I want to do. I tried to explain to them that she is what she is and I am happy with that, to which I got "Well maybe you can keep her as your pet and get something that can do what you really want to do."

Which lead me to the pondering of - what exactly do I want to do with horses? The answer is - I don't know, for sure. When I think about showing Bronwyn, I think about showing her at open shows, in English pleasure, farting around at games, maybe over a couple of crossrails - nothing that requires any immense talent or skill on the part of the horse.

What helps largely is that I don't have any long terms plans or Olympic dressage dreams to make me disappointed in what will eventually be Bronwyn's "full potential". As I told them at the barn yesterday - I am a western rider who just happens to have an English horse and an English saddle. Beyond that, I am willing to do whatever it is that Bronwyn is capable of. My first love always, always will be western pleasure, because that is what I grew up with, and if Bronwyn ended up only being suitable for trail and parades, I have other horses that I can pursue western pleasure with. However, I don't dream every day of doing western pleasure with Bronwyn and wowing the socks off of people at the Western Horse Extravaganza with her every year. I dream of doing what she has the skill and talent to do, whatever that might be.

I have always been one that supports others who have horses that are not suitable for their dreams. I have no problems with people buying horses that better suit what they would like to do - ie, if they are a dressage rider with a western horse or a horse that has no talent for dressage, I would not fault them for selling that horse or buying another that they can succeed with. I just don't think right now is the time for me to be selling on or buying another horse because I know I can succeed with Bronwyn, and if all that success is only in my own back yard, I am still perfectly happy with that.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fat Rider Myth #2: Horseback Riding Isn't REAL Exercise, Fat People Should Do Other Things, Too.

You most often hear this little bit of dirty junk come out of the mouths of people who have never ridden a horse, or their only horse experience is sitting like a sack of flour on a deadbroke trail horse for an hour:

"Well, horseback riding isn't really exercise. I mean, all you really do is sit there and the horse does all the work. You don't even sweat when you ride horses!"

Anyone who has actually ridden a horse for any amount of time and, you know, actually attempted to make the horse do things besides just walk in a line with their nose stuck up the tail of the horse ahead of them knows. You sweat, you hurt, sometimes you even cramp up.

All one needs to do is type "Horseback riding as exercise" into a Google search string and you come up with a multitude of "Horseback Riding Machines", that proclaim you can get a great, toned core muscle group "without doing any work"! Obviously, someone has caught on!

I was very curious about this one, because I know, especially with green horses, my heart rate does go up, I do sweat, and I am usually sore the day after. Between keeping myself in the saddle and guiding the horse to do what I am requesting, there is an entire aerobic workout up there... for ME.

I am very fortunate to have a family doctor who is also an avid horseback rider. She doesn't just pay someone to ride once in a while, she owns several horses of her own and regularly competes in jumping and dressage. I think she secretly likes to see me coming because we get chatting about horses and it's a bright spot in her day.

Anyways - I had to go in for a followup with her anyways, so I decided to ask her medical opinion on horseback riding as exercise. We can all speculate all we want (some of us have bodies to prove it!), but I like to try and provide some hard, scientific fact (haha!).

Her general consensus was that horseback riding is GREAT exercise - depending on your metabolism. For me, as out of shape as I am, my metabolism is much lower. I get a much more beneficial workout out of riding than someone who is in better shape. She also suggested that posting trot and canter are much more effective energy burners than a dawdling walk, and recommended dressage and jumping as the most effective energy burning horseback activities that you can do.

(Sidenote: When she discovered that I had no indoor facility to ride at and had never ridden a dressage horse before, she invited me to come ride her big GP level dressage horse on Sunday. I am both excited at the opportunity and terrified to look like a total fool! I even called a "piaffe" a "passage" in my vlog, I am so wired up!)

She then proceeded to remind me that we should be doing core exercises to help our riding, such as crunches and pelvic lifts (which she then got down on the floor and demonstrated, just in case I didn't know what they were!). Needless to say, in preparation for riding her horse, I have been doing 100 crunches per night!

So in the words of my doctor - it is kind of a "yes and no" answer. Sitting on a horse isn't going to do much if you're relatively fit. WORKING a horse and using your body to work that horse is much better. However, if you're as unfit as I am, just walking around CAN be beneficial. And hey, it's something we love, and it gets us out in the fresh air and works our thighs and abs - it can't HURT even if we're not getting our heart rates high enough for it to qualify as aerobic exercise!

Personally, I have been doing some other aerobic stuff besides riding (nevermind that I haven't ridden much for the last month or so because of the icky white stuff covering the ground), and then some core muscle and upper body strengthening to get myself where I want to be for riding. I am still a far way off, I am sure, but getting there!

I think the next time someone throws a little "horseback riding isn't REAL exercise!" into your face, you should invite them over for a ride. And not a trail ride. Really get them working your horse, give them a basic lesson, and then give them a call in the morning and see how they feel? Take pictures of them sweaty and out of breath to email them the next day. And pat yourself on the back because you know the real answer!


As a side note, here are a few pictures of Bronwyn and I yesterday after about a month and a half off. We were breaking a path in the snow so we didn't do too much and I was trying out my english saddle for only the second or third time since I got it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Week #5 Vlog

In which I ramble a little about horses and my doctor's appointment and possibly make a complete fool out of myself by revealing how little I know about dressage and calling a specific movement by an incorrect term.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Horse That Changed Your Life

I am just waiting for some information and resources to pull together for a couple of really good entries I want to write for you, but in the meantime, I thought I could talk about "THAT" horse. The Horse That Changed My Life.

No, it wasn't Bronwyn. And no, it wasn't my first pony. I have probably mentioned on this blog before that I grew up on a farm where there were always horses in full supply - in fact, I remember times that, as a breeding, training, showing facility, we had 22 or more horses here - that's pretty good considering the size of our barn! I rode before I walked, and regularly went on trail rides on the front of my mom's saddle before I could independently ride. As soon as I could hold my balance astride, I rode a pony named Doozer... after an unfortunate accident on a lease, I got Katie, then I moved on to Magic, Flirt, Boots, Caleb, and then there was Angel.

I was 16 when my parents brought her home. I had "defected", as many kids who grow up living, breathing and working horses for a living do, at about 14. My parents had sold my gelding because I had lost interest. There were plenty of options for me to ride, but I chose that year to keep a colt out of our best broodmare, and I named him Caleb. My parents took a couple of geldings to a big APHA sale in Timonium, MD, and I requested a grooming kit as my "payment" for keeping the farm while they were gone.

They had used my dad's boss' big rig with a stock trailer to haul the colts down, and brought one of them back. They asked me, when they pulled in, to check on "Smiley", the gelding they'd brought back, and I poked my head into the belly of the trailer to see a gangly, weedy palomino and white filly snoozing in the shavings. I thought they must have hauled home for someone, or made a mistake of some sort. They told me they had always wanted a palomino mare to add to the breeding program. The first words out of my mouth were "I'm not trading".

It seems I had no choice.

The next weekend, my parents were gone again... I highly suspect it was an intentional move in order to give me time to get to know the new filly, named "Sugar" (aptly, she was as sweet as!). They came home to find me in Caleb's stall, in tears. I knew that "Sugar", who I had renamed "Angel" over the weekend on my own, was something really special and she was going to play an important role in my life. It had been a long time since a horse had stirred up the feelings I was feeling and I didn't know what to do with myself. I was upset for abandoning Caleb, and upset for going against what I had told my parents, but it really felt like I had no choice.

She was kind of an ugly duckling, I'll admit. I would not have picked her as the prettiest horse out of a group. She was tall and weedy, about 15.2hh as a long yearling, and I was really not a big fan of palominos - so I can't say I fell for her beauty; there was just something about her.

Over the next five years, she proved that something - though I could never put a finger on it. We had a bond beyond anything I've ever had. I was more passionate about horses than I had ever been in my life. I began considering my life after I left the farm - how it would always include horses, and would always include Angel. She grew into an amazing, beautiful mare.

I started her myself. She changed the way that we all thought about starting young horses. She taught me to push to get what I wanted, for the things I knew were possible. She was the safest horse I had ever owned; though by age 6 she was still only ever "green" broke under saddle, she was so sane I could put green riders on her. I had my first bareback ride since my preteen years on her. She had three beautiful foals, two of which are my "not fat horses", Ari and Rex, who managed to stay with me by some sheer stroke of luck, though there were many, many buyers interested in Ari.

I don't like to get fluffy and romantic about horses, but we also had a bond that transcended the physical. I dreamt the gender and colour of her foals months before they were due. When I was living away from the farm, in town about 45 minutes away, she was due with her second foal. One evening, I laid down to go to bed but could not. I tossed and turned until around 2am, feeling completely miserable, uncomfortable, and inexplicably sad. When I rose in the morning, my mother called and told me that Angel had lost her foal - the vet, my father, and a local dairy farmer had spent two hours pulling the enormous palomino and white colt from her, and they had left at around 2am.

August 28th, 2006, I came home from the agility field with my sister. It was a reasonably decent afternoon - beautiful weather, quite sunny. Angel was laying down in the pasture, up on her chest. I immediately knew something was wrong - she laid down frequently, and she was visibly normal, but I could tell. I ran into the house to grab the mineral oil and tell my parents that she was sick. They insisted she was just snoozing in the sun (which, for all intents and purposes, that was how it appeared). I brought her inside and put a litre of mineral oil into her. Eight hours later, she died.

As soon as she started rolling, I knew she would die - I can't explain it, but I knew. I spent desperate hours walking her, trying to keep her on her feet, trying to keep her alive, even though I knew what the end result would be. Our fantastic large animal vet showed up and spent a couple of hours with her, gave her the strongest painkillers he could, did everything he could... charged me for 15 minutes and the drugs. He left about 45 minutes before she finally let go, and we tried to call him back to euthanise her because we knew it would get no better. My Earth Angel went home just before midnight.

I was completely desperate with grief... my father took her forelock and her tail for me and for months, I carried her forelock everywhere I went, rubbing it whenever I felt anxious. I missed a week of work - I was fortunate to have an understanding boss who had heard story after story about Angel and who pulled strings to make sure I would not be penalized. About a week after it happened, my mother had to take stress leave from work. The entire family was devastated - she had been the hope for our breeding program.

The night that she died, my father told me that "you might not understand it now, but everything happens for a reason...". I hated him for saying that. I couldn't imagine that anything could justify losing Angel. There were times later that I couldn't figure out whether owning her had been a dream or real. She sent me shooting stars every night for months - and not just one shooting star, several, more than I had ever seen before... I always seem to see them now... she doesn't send them often anymore because I am okay, but at the time, I think she was letting me know it was okay. All of this is kind of silly to me, someone who has always viewed horses as livestock, and understood the "industry" side of things, but I swear it's true!

It was just about a month shy of 1 year later when I saw Bronwyn for the first time. I was looking for a very specific horse - I wanted a 16hh or taller, 10 year old or older, broke broke broke stock horse GELDING, and I preferred that he was sorrel or bay. Bronwyn was none of the above. She was, at the time, 15hh with long toes, 3 years old, wild as the wind, a MARE, and she was black. She also needed a few pounds and a TON of work.

She was running around the pasture of a friend of the family, wild and wooly. He couldn't tell me a whole lot about her, and introduced her as "that friesian filly" (we are fairly certain she has 0% friesian in her). She didn't even stand still long enough for me to see if all four legs came out of different holes, but I knew. Just like I "just knew" with Angel, I just KNEW.

A year later, her former owner told me that he had seen something in that pasture, that that skinny, scared filly needed me as badly as I needed her, and who was he to stand in the way of whatever that was?

Bronwyn frustrated and infuriated me for about six months, and I thought many, many, many times of returning her and giving up. She would tolerate just about anything but I could tell she didn't like it, and after having such a great working relationship with Angel, I couldn't imagine owning a horse that didn't want to work for me. At best, I viewed her as a resale project to help me get my horsey feet back under me.

Little did I know that in a short year, she would transform the way I think about horses, the way that I train horses, and the way that I view myself. She has been both an immense confidence booster (despite having my first fall off of a horse in 11 years off of her back in May) and a constant teacher. I put all the work on her myself, just like I did with Angel... and the most important? She made me happy. Truly, deeply happy, in the same way that Angel made me happy.

Things have not always been easy with her, nor will they ever be. She is extremely opinionated (birds of a feather, I guess...), has a tendency to digress to "mustang" if she doesn't get the right amount of attention (though she never seems to forget anything I've taught her under saddle, even if I go 3 months between rides), and is not inclined to be a "more than one person" horse... but she's honest, and she respects you if you call her bluff.

Though I didn't believe my father then, I know now that Angel left me for a reason, and that reason was Bronwyn. Bronwyn needed me and if I had still had Angel, I might never have even seen her, nevermind had the space, time or mindset to bring her onto the farm and work with her. I still tear up when thinking about Angel and everything she represents to me in my journey as a horsewoman, but I have come to the understanding that those were the events that needed to happen, that she had played her role, changed my life the way that it was meant to, and then made way for another horse that could teach me more than she could.

There is not a day that goes by that I don't miss Angel, but I am blessed to have her "living on" in my barn through Ari and Rex, who each play their own special role in my life, and have their own lessons to teach me, and in the case of Ari, are already teaching lessons to 4H kids who don't have the privilege of their own horses.

I can only be thankful for the time that I did get to spend with Angel while she was here, and the lessons that I learned, and the fact that she renewed my love for horses and made me passionate once again.

Please share the horse that changed YOUR life in the comments, I'd love to hear about others who learned those life lessons.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Vlog #4: A Lot of Ranting About Loving Yourself & The Biggest Loser

I promise there will be an entry coming up very shortly - if not about a myth I'm planning to bust (Riding Is Not Exercise), then definitely a long and vehement complaint about the "S" word... SNOW.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years' Resolutions: Fail, Sorta Fail or Succeed?

Once again, the new year sneaked (snuck? spellcheck tells me 'snuck' is wrong, but then again, spellcheck tells me 'spellcheck' is wrong, too!) up on me! I hope that everyone had a safe and fun New Years' celebration and now you can get down to the nitty gritty - those resolutions that plague us every year.

I was with a group of some of my very best (and most supportive, ever - seriously, two of them are not really 'horsey' but read my blog and watch my vlogs anyway!) girlfriends last night and we took a few minutes to reflect on last year's resolutions and how we did.

Over the years, I have discovered that it is easier for me to succeed with my resolutions if I make them pretty general - instead of "I want to lose X pounds", or "I want to go to X horse shows", I say "I want to focus on my health", or "I want to become competitive with my horse" - this way, at the end of the year, I can look back, sum it up and decide if I succeeded or not - and I am rarely disappointed. I seem to be able to at least find some ways to say that I have succeeded and bettered myself.

Last year, I made the horsey resolution to take Bronwyn to a show. That didn't happen. This year, I am going to aim a little differently. I want to be "visible" with Bronwyn - in whatever context that ends up to be - horse show, clinic, demos and trade fairs,

This year, I also want to be talking about plus sized riders in person. I go to a lot of equine trade fairs, shows and events with my mother who runs a small home based horse show clothing business (yes, she does make plus sized clothes). I'd like to take a flyer or maybe some business cards along with me. Maybe someday it will develop into talks and demonstrations. Have to start small!

Last year, I made the non-horsey resolution to start taking my health more seriously. To do this, I made an appointment with my general practitioner and (gasp) had my first ever physical and internal exam. It was scary and quite daunting (I wavered between taking my pants off or just running out of the office when I was left to undress!) but I survived it. (It doesn't hurt that my doctor is also a horseperson that I grew up showing with and has pictures of her horses in her office that I can stare at when things get uncomfortable!)

It turns out that I hadn't been to the doctor in nine years (I had been to the hospital for sprains and cuts and burns in the ER though)! I had a variety of small health issues (nothing too serious) that had been bothering me for the last few years and I finally addressed those.

I can definitely say I succeeded on that resolution - I now feel completely prepared to talk to my doctor about other things that might come up, and in fact, am planning to talk to her about tackling my weight at our next appointment (within the month). I am also thinking I might get to pick her brain a little bit about my next mythbusting entry, "Horseback Riding is Not Exercise And Fat People Are Being Lazy By Pretending That It Is".

This year, my "non-horsey" resolution is also health related. My resolution this year is to allow my health to take priority on a daily basis. This means taking the time every day to prepare myself healthier foods, go for a walk, work out, etc. This also means looking after my mental health, which is likely going to mean more time spent on horseback.

I also have a non-horsey resolution to get my completed romantic suspense manuscript into the hands of an agent - ideally published by the end of 2010 (or at least in plans for publication), but into the hands of an agent is a good start.

But enough about me - I want to talk about YOU!

I hope that this is the year for those of you who haven't been riding to start up again - I hope this is the year for those of you who need it to start taking your health more seriously - I hope this is the year for those of you who are showing to meet personal success goals.

Talk about your goals in the comments... because I love to hear what you guys have to say!


And also, my girls all have a "Happy New Year" sentiment to express in photos. :) Enjoy - the large drafty looking thing that isn't black is Freckles (3yo perch cross), then we have the black one - Bronwyn (5yo draft cross), and then the sorrel mare with belly white is 11yo APHA mare, Jessie, and the sorrel mare that looks like Hidalgo is 6yo APHA mare, Ari.