Monday, December 31, 2012

Harley's Top Ten of 2012

Actually, I can count to ten.

Hi Everyone.  In case you didn't know, today is the last day of 2012.  I don't worry myself about the calendar, but apparently this is an important day for humans.  Val told me that she really likes Top Ten lists from the previous year, but since she didn't see any new movies (except for one about a man-sized bat and another about some game that people play because they are hungry) and she doesn't know who rhee-hanna or brue-no-marrs are, she was kind of disappointed.  I decided to help out and make my own top ten list for 2012.  I hope you like it!

10. Not having to eat beet pulp anymore: I ate it for years and I was really sick of that stuff.  I finally started refusing to eat it and leaving it in my trough.  Finally, no more beet pulp at mealtime.  That stuff was so boring.  Problem solved!

9.  The doctor lady gave me a perfect score on the body condition scale!  More grain had replaced my beet shreds.  I knew that stuff was a waste of my time (and so boring to eat).

8. Eating carrots at the picnic table: For so long, I have watched the little horses eat carrots at the picnic table and Val finally caught on.  The carrots taste much better from a meal surface meant for humans.

7. The teacher lady told me that my neck looks pretty and she told me "Good Boy" for my floaty trotting (Val told me that I cannot make all ten about food.  I really did have fun in our lessons, though.).

Alternating between breakfast and dinner as my favorite moments of 2012 was also vetoed.

6. Eating hay cubes on my work days: They were tricky to eat at first, but Val breaks them into pieces and now I have mastered them.  I hold the cube against the bottom of my trough and break it some more before chewing the rest.  Sometimes she gives them to me even on days when I do not work.  I do not have to share these with my paddock buddy, but I am sure that he can smell them on my breath.  Too bad!

5. Extra carrots on allergy shot days:  You might be surprised by this one, but I do not mind getting my allergy shots, because I always get carrots just for standing still for a few seconds.  Val is extra susceptible to my "carrot face" right after I get my shot, so I can milk a few extra snacks from her.  Jackpot.

4. Showing off my big trot: I figured out how to make my trot super big this year.  I always get lots of praise for this, but I would move out like that for free!  I used to feel like my feet were going to fall off because I trotted so fast, but now I know how to take big strides instead.  It is so much fun.

3. Being recognized for cuteness:  Val tells me that I get lots of compliments from horse people who visit our blog and read about me.  I work really hard at being cute, so I appreciate the feedback.  I plan on continuing my cute-streak into 2013.

It's not easy, but someone's got to do it.

2. Jumping from one canter direction to the other: I had to wait and be patient for a really long time, because I was doing this too much on my own.  I felt so free when I jumped from one side to the other that I just couldn't help myself.  Val calls it a "fly-eng-chan-ge".  I am glad that I am allowed to do them again, because it is so much more fun than going back to trot to change directions.

1. Peppermint treats: I tried these for the first time this summer.  They taste fantastic and they smell even better.  I love to smell them as long as I can.  Everyone says that I am smiling when I do that.  I hope the peppermints are a big part of my life next year.

Happy New Year Everyone!
From me and Val

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Lesson On Elasticity

Harley and I enjoyed a second riding lesson in November on the last day of the month.  My teacher had something unusual in store for us.  I think her teaching techniques should win some prize for originality, but I will let you be the judge.

On this day, my teacher brought a new (to me) teaching accessory: a stretchy, tan bandage.  It was exactly the kind of bandage that a person might use to wrap a sprained ankle.  Extra props were in order for selecting a cost effective instructional aid and for making me scratch my head as to what was coming next.

Disclaimer: Don't try this at home.  Harley was nonchalant about the exercise that follows, but I am sure that not all horses would respond in quite the same fashion.  Always use a healthy dose of caution and keep safety first!

The first phase of the exercise was to place the bandage over the bridge of Harley's nose, securing it underneath spare leather from his bridle.  I held the ends of the bandage like reins.  This was reminiscent of a bit-less-bridle or hackamore, but with one distinct difference: the bandage felt very fragile.  The fabric is probably stronger than it feels, but there is so much elasticity that it feels like you are holding nothing.  I kept the reins attached to Harley's bridle in my hands, but with a lot of slack in them.  Then I asked Harley to walk on.

The sensation of my horse pushing against the elastic bandage was positively delightful.  It made me laugh.  I could feel every little movement of his face and neck.  My teacher offered this exercise so that Harley might be encouraged to reach and stretch into the elasticity of the bandage.  Surprisingly, he did and almost immediately.  I used my legs to keep him moving forward and to direct him around the ring.  Once or twice we got a little mixed up with our signals, but for the most part it was smooth sailing.

Even though this activity was meant for the horse, I found it really interesting, too.  With nothing to hold or brace against, it felt like my shoulders were part of the elastic.  I could feel them moving with Harley's nose.  Each of my shoulder blades felt independent.  It was really cool and so silly that it made me laugh out loud!  This was a great exercise for me, because I tend to hold tension in my shoulders, although I must say that those days are melting away.  This activity just added to my awareness.

On a whim, my teacher decided to try moving the bandage up to Harley's forehead.  This time she secured it through the browband on his bridle, which was a good idea because I dropped it more than once.  Again, this was something that did not bother Harley, but might upset another horse.  The new position of the bandage had an interesting effect.  Harley starting pressing his forehead into the elasticity of the bandage since it was higher up.  Can you imagine what that would do for his neck?  He stretched his topline and advanced his poll forward.  What a lovely ride that was!  And guess what, there is video:

In the last segment of the video, I dropped one side of the bandage by accident.  Harley hesitated and then continued on with a lovely posture.  Shortly there after, I let the other side of the bandage go and just held the reins at whatever length they were already at.  My teacher marveled at the freedom in his shoulders.  You can see it especially in this final segment of the video when Harley is in the frame of the camera, that is.  Harley demonstrated self-carriage and a winning attitude as the bandage dangled next to his face.  He is one cool dude!

I was excited to share this lesson, because it was so out of the ordinary.  I do not practice these exercises without my teacher present and she is so eclectic, that I imagine we may do something completely different next time.  I have enjoyed my rides on Harley since then and I think that we both have a better understanding of the type of elastic connection that can be possible between us.

What unusual exercise have you practiced with your horse?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rider Confessions

I have only been riding once a week lately...

...and my horse has noticed.

It is not like I usually ride six or seven days a week, but I do like to ride more than once.  Four is a gift, two is tolerable, and three is ideal during the school year.  I definitely ride more during the summer, but that is only a few months out of the year.  I know that three times a week is not a lot by many people's standards, but it works for me and my horse and doesn't keep me away from home and other obligations.  Gone are the days when I could lollygag at the barn for hours on end.

Unfortunately, the combination of needing to get things done at work and the shortened days has seriously cut into my barn time.  The work has to get done sometime and usually now is a better option than later and I cannot control the sun.  I am not shy about riding under lights, which we do have at the barn, but once the sun goes down it gets pretty cold.  Also, and more significantly, my barn feeds much earlier when the daylight hours are short.  Sure, I could ride and then feed Harley myself.  He really doesn't make much of a fuss, although years ago he used to throw a bit of a fit.  After many, many repetitions of continuing to ride while the feed was being dumped and making the work more challenging if he continued to carry-on, he eventually resigned himself to the idea that I would decide when dinnertime would begin for him.  Once we crossed that Rubicon, he was quite tolerable of the fact that he may have to continue working even when the other horses were enjoying their food.  But even so, I do not like to work him hard just before he eats grain, so dinner does hamper our routine and nine times out ten, I will end my ride early out of convenience.  Standing around in the cold waiting for Harley to finish eating is even less fun (and much colder) than riding in the cold, so I prefer that he eats with the group.  I also do not want his paddock mate to get a head-start on the hay they share.

I do not usually get overwhelmed by guilt when I haven't seen my horse in several days.  I figure that as long as his bodily needs are in place (food, water, shelter, a friend and more food), he is okay, but I do miss him and he is one of my most reliable forms of stress management.  Working more tends to create more stress, so not seeing my horse as a result is more than an unfortunate side effect.  It is actually detrimental to the balance that I try to keep in my life.  Stress is very unhealthy and, for me, it accumulates just by being around people all the time.  I am definitely introverted and need time to recharge my batteries.  Being with my husband or my horse makes them recharge all that much faster.

So you can imagine the sudden rush of mixed emotions that I felt when my barn owner called and told me that Harley was not finishing his grain and had been leaving more and more each day.  Of course this was reason for alarm, but she did assure me that he seemed normal and not in the least sick.  He would just eat a certain amount of grain and then decide that he was done and ready to go outside.  I drove out to see him in the dark, ready to check his vitals and armed with allergy meds in case he was having an episode. 

I found Harley munching hay happily with his buddy in the shed.  He greeted me immediately by sniffing my hand and he touched my hand with his muzzle several times as I checked him from top to bottom.  Not wanting to find anything, but also not wanting to miss anything, I looked for some sign of distress.  His breathing was normal.  His attitude was normal.  His gut sounds were normal and audible just standing next to him, which is always the case with Harley.  I also found a fresh pile of manure in his stall before I walked out to the paddock.  His appetite, at least for hay, was clearly normal, as he continually stuffed his face the entire time that I was with him, only leaving his hay with a mouthful as he checked on me checking him out.  He didn't mind that I was there, but he definitely knew that it was not typical for me to visit him in the dark of night.  I left him, feeling better that he was most likely okay, but also realizing that I needed to make a point not to stay late at work tomorrow.  Harley needed to go back to the top of the priority list.

The very next day, I made it to the barn in time for a group trail ride.  We went for a nice walk in the woods, staying close to home, because the sun was setting.  Riding in the dusk is a neat experience.  The fresh air and the twilight atmosphere did wonders for my mind.  Harley led the way with pricked ears and a pep in his step.  It was a simple ride at no more than walk, but it was plain to me that he was happy.

Once back at the barn, I fed him, because I wanted to see him eating his grain.  The dentist is coming out next week, so our thoughts were that he was due for a float and this was making it uncomfortable to eat grain.  We gave him a little less than usual, so as not to waste his expensive food, and I stood with my barn friends outside his stall, talking and hanging out while my horse ate. 

Fifteen minutes later, I look in his trough and it is empty.  Harley is standing at his stall door bright-eyed and curious.  I put my hand up to his muzzle and he sniffs it in the way he always does when we hang together.  I start to wonder that maybe he just hasn't been expending enough energy lately to require as much of his high calorie food.  I never like that he has to eat so much of it to maintain his weight, which actually looks very good right now.  This makes total sense.

And then, one of my barn friends comments that she thinks he ate it all, because I am there.

Oh dear.  I think my horse missed me.

I promised him that we would go for a "real ride" the next day and we did.  He was wonderful, full of energy, but listening at every moment.  He ate a snack of hay cubes and was eager for his after ride treats.  Then I did feel guilty that I hadn't been forcing myself out to see him more often during the week.  I need our time together, too.  Even if it is just to groom or lunge, I am going to make a point to get out there more than once a week.

Message received, Harley, and thanks.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Memoirs: A Girl and Her Horse, Six Years

On December 9, 2006, Harley and I were officially a horse-owner pair.  An informal contract on notebook paper and the exchange of payment sealed the deal.  His previous owner was happy, because he felt that he had found the right person for a horse whom he had loved and cared for since he was a two-year-old and I was happy, because, well, no words can suffice to explain the incredible feeling of finally purchasing my own horse.  I had been waiting for Harley since I was three years old, when I first sat on Littlebit.  I had wished for him at every birthday and before every Christmas, even looking out the window into the backyard on Christmas mornings and for a split second allowing myself to believe that a pony with a ribbon would be standing there, staring back at me through the window.  I guess I liked to torture myself with that one!

On the other side of the coin, Harley had been waiting for me since March of 1998, which was just a few months before I graduated High School.  He was too young to know that he was waiting for me, but now that we have each other, I am sure that if he could look back on his life, he would realize that he is a very lucky horse.  Since horses live in the present, I am content with him being happy right now and, as far as I can tell, he is.

From the first moment that I saw Harley, I knew he was a project.  He was eight years old and had spent an unknown number of years as a pasture ornament.  He did not have other horses for companionship and although his owner loved him and paid him attention, I got the impression that he was more of a big dog than a riding horse.  I have since met a nice woman who was Harley's neighbor before he moved here to live with me.  She said that Harley and her dog were friends and that she saw him when he went out for walks.  I think she meant that Harley was the one going for walks and I also think she might mean that he was being walked on a lead just like a dog.  That is kind of cute.  I could see my social horse enjoying his (hopefully) daily walk and making friends with neighboring humans, dogs, and whoever would sniff noses with him.

My new horse on December 17, 2006: See how eager he was!

Project horses can be many things and they always have their own unique set of challenges.  Harley was no different.  He had a great mind and a great engine with a healthy dose of enthusiasm for activity, but his under saddle training could be summed up in three words: stop and GO.  He knew "stop" and he really knew "GO", but without any nuance.  He would turn and he was willing, but it was obvious that he had never been directed around a circle or corner under saddle.  In this blog, I write a lot about the awesome stuff that Harley can do and how easy it is to cue him.  I also boast about his balance and ability to collect or go on the bit for me.  What you must understand is that Harley was introduced by this blog as an experienced riding horse with a lot of miles under his "girth" and lots (and lots and lots) of time spent with me developing our communication.  He did not start out that way.  This story is about the original Harley and it is one of my barn owner's favorites.

I think that those of you who ride a horse who is very green or has some challenging training issues may appreciate reading about this side of my dear horse.

The Original Harley

Rewind to late December 2006/early January...

Harley is an American-bred quarter horse and based on his papers, he was bred from barrel racing stock.  I do not know much about barrel racing, but I believe that this is why his build is rather light and to my eye, resembles a small thoroughbred in some ways, although his cute face is decidedly quarter horse, as is his cute behind.  I know that his previous owner took him on trails for at least some point in the time that he owned him and the only other thing that I know about is that someone tried to race him around barrels.  I do not know if they were successful or how much "training" was involved, but two western saddles were gifted to me when I bought Harley and one had beautifully tooled leather indicating that it was a prize won at a barrel competition.  The implication was that someone (not his owner) won that saddle on Harley.  What Harley told me after beginning to ride him was that he strongly preferred cantering on the left lead and he had no concept of a leg cue to pick up his leads.  He was willing to canter, but he sort of rocketed into it from a fast trot and his back was so rigid that I could not sit on it.  You may be wondering why a dressage rider would choose such a horse for a project.  His mind and raw eagerness made him a joy to work with, but these things did not magically transform him into a made horse in sixty days or six months.

One of my first training goals was to teach Harley the leg cue to canter and to convince him that he could canter on the right lead.  I had cantered him in both directions for the prepurchase exam, but this was mostly a fluke as he picked up the right lead by accident going left and we went with it.  He was sound as an instrument, but he didn't play like one yet!  Harley learned that a "kiss" meant canter, from me repeating the sound each time he picked up the canter from a fast trot.  He learned the word "can-ter" with a distinct raising of tone in the second syllable and I used these two verbal commands to teach him the leg cue.  He caught on to the pattern very quickly, but the left lead remained his favorite.  He understand what I meant by "canter", but he did not understand that I might want him to pick up a specific lead.  He was more comfortable with a rider going on the left lead, even if he used both leads freely at liberty.  Carrying a rider changes everything.  Teaching an eight-year-old horse to accept a new balance is no small thing, but I was not inclined to give up.  After all, I finally had my own horse.

During one of our earliest rides, the barn owner and a few spectators were standing outside the big ring interested in watching "the new horse" be put through his paces.  I had warmed Harley up and decided that it was time to work on that right lead canter.  He picked up the left lead obediently, if not smoothly, and then I changed direction and proceeded to gently coax him into picking up the right lead.  I positioned my seat and legs as clearly as I could and used my voice to help him understand that I wanted him to move up a gear from trot.  Each time he obediently picked up the left lead, even though we were traveling right.  I did not praise him and gently brought him back to trot.  I tried asking in the corner.  I tried asking along the long and short sides.  I tried asking from a slow trot and from a fast trot.  I tried placing his nose a little to the inside and a little to the outside, but nothing was clicking.  I decided that I was just going to have to gently repeat the exercise until "luck" gave us the right lead and then I could praise him like crazy and hopefully his smarts would allow him to realize the lesson. 

Before too long, luck came through for us.  Harley advanced his right hip and shoulder and picked up the right lead canter.  The transition came through like an explosion.  It was so rough that I lost my seat for a moment and one of my stirrups.  I regained my balance quickly, but unfortunately my horse did not.  Harley was cantering so quickly that I had to assume the jockey position and this was in a bare-bones dressage saddle with no extra padding or knee rolls.  His back felt like a jackhammer and his neck shot forward and back like a piston in an engine.  Thankfully, the big ring is large enough to accommodate turns at speed, because we ripped around each corner in a very precarious fashion.  My stirrup flapped in the breeze, but I didn't dare move my foot to find it.  I was perched on my new horse's neck, with one stirrup and moving at break-neck speed.  The barn owner and bystanders looked on.  I couldn't see their faces, but I know their jaws had dropped.

"Mayday, mayday,"  I squeezed the reins, but my horse did not respond.
"Mayday, do you come in?", I used my voice to encourage him to slow or stop.  Harley's ears flicked back to me, but he continued forward, picking up speed with each long side.

At that point, I realized something.  My horse was green and untrained, but he was not a bad horse and he was not trying to kill me.  My horse was not being disobedient and I would not even call what he was doing a "dead bolt".  My horse was not slowing down, because he did not know how.  This is a scary realization.  I did not dare try to turn him as I was sure this would tip him over.  The dressage rider's most useful rebalancing tool, the half halt, was a silly notion in this situation.  Jerking on the reins or even a pulley stop were useless, because it would not explain to him what to do with his feet or his balance to stop the train.  I tried to sit back, but this seemed to make him hollow out and run more.  I felt at that moment, that the safest thing for both of us was to wait it out.  My horse had to stop eventually and he was moving straight ahead like a racehorse following the fence line, so I could stay with his predictable flight and even though I was perched on his back with one stirrup, I preferred this to bailing out.  I kept the reins short enough that I could feel his mouth and pressed my knuckles into his neck and mane.  The Black Stallion, my favorite horse story, flashed through my mind and I was Alec on a diluted black stallion.  The expression "be careful what you wish for" applied nicely.

Around and around we went.  During one pass by the barn owner, she asked if I was okay or if I needed help.  I said that I was okay and we continued by.  I am not sure what could have been done to help me.  Maybe a human wall could have persuaded my horse to find his brakes, but, honestly, I think we would have just plowed through them.  So I remained there, close to my horse's neck, sponging the reins gently and telling him "teee-rroottt" as the wind roared in my ears.

After what felt like an eternity and probably a good ten circuits around the large ring, my horse finally figured out where to put his feet.  He broke into a trot, at last, and I patted his neck with a ridiculously huge grin on my face that must be blamed on adrenaline.  It was still coursing through the both of us, as was the feeling of elation that we had survived in one piece.
An early canter picture: How is all that hind leg going to fit under his body?

My favorite early riding photo together

Harley never took off like that again, but I am not going to tell you that his canter leads were perfected a few weeks later or that it didn't take years for him to learn to remain balanced in the downward transition to trot.  I am also not going to tell you that I wasn't battling fear the very next time that I asked him to canter.  I hated the idea of being afraid of my own horse and that is probably why I forced myself to canter him again on the right lead after we caught our breath that very same ride.  Improving his canter (and the trot afterward) has been a long, slow process that has taken years.  Even today, his inclination is to speed up down a long side and in the trot afterward, so I still have to remind him to keep his tempo or allow him a few mistakes in the warm-up so he can find his balance again.

The good news is, six years later, he has a lovely, smooth canter that is easy to ride and his most enjoyable gait.  He is equally confident on both leads, but guess which one is his favorite?  The right!  He can collect his right lead more easily and dramatically than the left and he prefers to flying change and jump from this lead.

Harley has taught me so much over the past six years.  Learning how to ride a horse who has a "strong" canter was one of his important lessons.  We practiced every canter exercise in the book and then made up some of our own to improve his way of going.  I left the canter alone for weeks at a time and improved his balance in the trot and lateral exercises in a effort to help his most challenging gait.  I incorporated jumping later on and I entered clinics, watched dressage DVDs, and took lessons to improve my seat and my riding.  The most important ingredients to the improvement of his canter were time and creativity.  We didn't waste time and we didn't just let time pass, but I did allow time for all the various exercises to take hold.  I celebrated small improvements, but kept the image of the ideal canter firmly in my mind.  I tried many different training exercises and I incorporated those that worked and rejected those that didn't.  One of my favorites was leg yield in trot to canter on a circle.  My least favorites were "round-penning" and a dressage classic: trot-canter-trot transitions on a circle.  Both of these exercises played to Harley's tendency to anticipate and made him crazy and incredibly tense.  The most surprising exercise that worked was cantering him around the ring (circles and going large) without stopping.  This seemed to change his mindset.  If cantering is a marathon instead of a sprint, then you better conserve your energy and slow down!

I look forward to many more years of cantering with Harley and I hope that this story gives you some hope if you are near the beginning of the journey with your project horse.

October 2012: Six years later, Harley is still listening!

June 2012: Right lead canter
A fiery picture of Harley's strong canter

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It's Kind Of a Weird Story

I have noticed over the past several weeks that one of the barn cats has been using my horse's stall as a toilet.  I find a neat little pile of "you know what" in the same corner, day after day.  At some point, I stopped picking it up, hoping that the cat would abandon his bathroom if I stopped cleaning it.

The next day there were two piles side by side.  Oh well.

I do not like to complain about too many things.  As a boarder, I am a guest.  A paying guest, but a guest, none the less, and what exactly is someone supposed to do to prevent the cat from using my horse's stall as his own personal outhouse?  I groveled under my breath for a few weeks and gave the cat my best, evil-sideways-glance whenever I saw him sauntering across the farm yard.  How can he be so smug?  And he doesn't even have the class to cover his business.

I started to wonder, where had the cat been going to the bathroom before he starting using my stall?   There has been at least one barn cat around for as long as I have kept my horse at the farm.  Oddly, my horse seems to really like the cats.  He will put his nose right up to a barn cat's belly and sniff so diligently that he nearly lifts the cat off the ground.  He has never been scratched for this, so I assume they are friends.  Maybe he invited the cat to use his stall.

"Sure!   Come back anytime.   I barely use my stall anyway."

I complained to my husband, because who else can you complain to when you are trying to "be cool" about something?  However, this didn't resolve the issue.  In an effort to help, he cleaned up the mess for me during his last barn visit.  I do not think that I have seen him carry a manure fork before.   It was a nice gesture.

Then one day, after lessons, late on Thursday, I went to clean a pile of horse poop from my horse's stall and noticed the cat's pile next to it.  I was in mid-conversation with the barn owner and just decided on a whim to mention it.

"You know the cat keeps using my horse's stall as a bathroom."

There was a slight hesitation and then,

"It's not a cat."

"Huh?"  Was a small child using my horse's stall as a bathroom?   I was seriously confused.

"It's a skunk."

"WhhAaaTtt?!!?", my exclamation was drawn out, because I was presently holding a manure fork of skunk scat.

Apparently, a skunk had taken up residence nearby and was making himself at home.  I unabashedly proceeded to freak out, vocally worrying if it could be a potentially-EPM-carrying opossum instead of a skunk and generally distraught that a wild animal was hanging around the barn.  They carry diseases you know!

I was reassured that it was definitely a skunk, because one evening when my horse was being led into his stall for dinner, the skunk was in there doing his business.

"My horse could have been skunked!"

At this point, any attempt I may have made to "be cool" had completely failed and I now was in total boarder hysterics.  I am sure that the barn owner was silently wishing that she had just let me continue to believe that it was the cat.  We have a local wild animal guru, who had already been contacted and she assured us that the skunk will not spray in a confined space, because he, himself, does not want to be skunked.

How is that for irony?

So long story short, the skunk is being humanely-trapped tomorrow and will be relocated.  Until then, I have been keeping Harley's stall door shut and his bedding has remained free of "mystery presents".

Last Friday, my teacher came out for a lesson and happened to poke her head into another horse's stall.  After a few moments she commented,

"Hey, I think the cat is going in here."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The 250th Post

My worlds have collided!

What does this mean?

The original header from April 2011

Well, it has taken 250 posts, but a real person in my real world has finally found my blog.  I was not trying to hide in the Blogosphere, but I was also not advertising that I was writing and publishing stories about my life with horses for the world to see.  I shared this blog with my family, but, not being horse people, I do not think that they gave it a second thought afterward.  My Mom is probably the only family member who stops by and reads once in a while and that is fine with me.  I do not want my daily acquaintances and friends to feel that I am going to publish our shared conversations and experiences on the web.  I write about my riding lessons and Harley's health and management, but I keep the specifics and the identities of others under wraps as much as I can.  I am even hesitant to share horse names for his reason.

I very much like the idea of having a venue to share experiences and connect with others whom I would not otherwise meet.  I truly appreciate the time you take to read my (sometimes very lengthy) posts and when you leave comments, it often makes my day!  I have learned a lot from many of you through your comments and by visiting your sites and reading about your trials, tribulations, and successes.  Sometimes my perspective is stretched and expanded and other times I feel confirmed in my philosophy, but either way, it is an enjoyable experience and an aspect of my life that I am so happy to have begun 250 stories, adventures, and anecdotes ago. 

The curious person who found Memoirs of a Horse Girl was the barn owner.  She was impressed, which made me feel good about this site, and then immediately asked the most important question:

"How can you make money doing this?"

I had to laugh, because a) I do not make money doing this and b) aside from installing advertisements, I do not know how to make money doing this.

It was a valid question, but I guess that I am not of the entrepreneurial spirit, which is probably also why I am in teaching!  My ratio of annual income to degrees and certifications is not very good.  It is even worse if you include my therapeutic riding certification and annual, required continuing-education hours for both of my professions.  For someone who has an expensive hobby, I am just not in the money-making business.  I guess I should have been a banker, but I would definitely despise that and I really like what I do, even if I would have a difficult time supporting myself on my income alone in our lovely state.  And someday, I want to get a farm.  Will Harley be around to see that?  Will I be young enough to run the place?  I sure hope so, but that is a dream in the very, very distant future.

"That's right kids!  Surprise!  More education and working hard do not translate to more money!  But stay in school and get good grades."

 (And please do not pick an expensive college because, when you actually land a job, you will be paying back the loans forever!  Thankfully, I am not in that boat.  State schools and their merit scholarships rule.)

I worked so hard in school (high school, college, graduate school).  I worked smart, too, but there is no cutting corners when you want to be the best and that is how I always approached school.  I completed every assignment ever assigned to me and I did it with the philosophy that "you never turn something in that you are not proud of".  I try to keep that philosophy going with my job and for my students and with this blog, but as the responsibilities pile up it gets more and more difficult.  Prioritization becomes a must and that means "trimming the fat" and "triage".  Somethings have to slide to stay sane.  I kind of feel old and wise saying that.

I sort of wish someone had told me the truth about getting rich and working hard and going to school years ago, but I do not think it would have changed my path.  It just would have made it less of a shock once I grew up, which will happen someday, if not literally (I am 5 feet tall.), then figuratively.

Riding, training, and caring for my own horse: a dream realized