The Relatable Rider

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Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster. It is a cha-cha.

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Last year, when COVID first hit, I bought a bicycle. With all this new spare time and nothing to do, cycling felt safe and a great way to stay active. And I instantly felt like a kid again — it was pretty magical. I remembered when I first started riding a bike in my youth, and suddenly I had the independence of being able to go somewhere on my own. I no longer had to rely on a parent or sibling, but was able to power myself to a new location. And that magic was still there as an adult. I discovered new places in a city where I have lived in my entire life. I saw beautiful things, amazing artwork, new scenery. And if you’re wondering what this has to do with horses, I’ll explain.

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I have always thought that each and every horse that comes into our lives is there to teach us something. And while I still firmly believe that, I am also starting to think that some horses are a puzzle. And if we're lucky enough, we get to put all the puzzle pieces together to create a masterpiece: to form a well-rounded, happy, and productive horse. And I think I might have recently found the last piece of my horse’s puzzle.

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After five amazing rides in a row, I was excited to solidify the work we had done before giving my mare, Fire, a day off. But when I got to the barn and tacked up, I noticed there was a little bit of filling in her right front leg, but not enough to alarm me. Then we picked up the trot and I quickly realized that Fire was very lame. Since no one was around for a second opinion, I got off and put her on the lunge line, only to confirm that yes, she was not sound.

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Years ago, when it was time to buy a saddle, I wanted to stick with the same popular brand of jumping saddle that I was riding in at the time. The saddle rep confirmed that my current saddle did not fit my mare, Fire, and I tried a few of the saddles she had brought to figure out what I wanted.

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A few months ago, things were going well with riding my mare, Fire. I felt we were making progress, and everything wasn’t so very hard. I was able to add in some lateral work, and feeling pretty accomplished. And then a pile of dirt showed up outside the ring - even worse, it was outside the scary door of the ring. My mare does not like change (not sure where she gets that from!) and the appearance of this dirt pile proved to be no exception. It catapulted us into weeks and even months of struggle.

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A few weeks ago, I arrived at the barn, looking forward to a ride. But when I took my horse’s blanket off, I was shocked to see three lumps on her back, and even more shocked when I ran my hands over them and poor Fire just about jumped out of her skin. I knew immediately that I couldn’t ride, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the lumps were or how they got there. Were they bug bites? Irritation from the saddle? An allergic reaction to something? I didn’t know, so I gave her the day off, hoping that things would be better the next day.

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I have been trying to write a blog for over a week. But writing about anything other than COVID-19 right now feels just about impossible. Over the last few months we have all watched this pandemic progress across the world, and now at home in Canada. I am someone who suffers from a pretty high level of anxiety daily, yet initially, when this started to get more serious in our own backyard, I was oddly calm. I joked that I have been preparing for this my entire life. But that is not just a joke - I have. I am what some might call a worst-case-scenario person. Or as my therapist says, I catastrophize situations. Having a word to assign to the behaviour I have endured my entire life is incredibly helpful for me.

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In my last blog, (Struggle Bus), I talked about the challenges I was having with my mare, Fire. Looking back, I recall just how frustrated I was. I hate to admit it, but riding was becoming a chore, and I was no longer enjoying it. I pride myself on being a problem solver, not just with riding, but in general, and I was frustrated about not being able to fix whatever issues were plaguing my horse. I take my job as her caretaker very seriously, and all I want in the world, outside of any performance goals and aspirations, is for her to be happy.

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A situation, task, etc. that seems difficult or frustrating: With no sleep last night, I'll be on the struggle bus today.I have a confession to make. I am struggling. And in the interests of being open and honest, I am going to write all about it.