Day two Back to the Ground

Groundwork-45 mins

Chief’s personality today was neutral. Flies were bad so he was bothered by them significantly. Worked at both ends of arena, near his buddies and at far end away from them.  I had to work harder to keep his attention as it drifted off me easily. He seemed to shut down if he got scared by the flag and if I was too forward with it. Like he could go to a different place and stand there quietly, but his head was high and he was stiff.  Left side was worse than right side. He relaxed a little bit when going over his body with the flag  so I gave him a break. Not as much as I would have liked to see, but it was a significant amount and it’s only day two.  (This made me realize the groundwork I was doing with him over the last year lacked intention, as well as impact.)

We did walk circles, rolled hind end, backed, changed direction.  I rn my hands over him and moved the saddle around.  I gave him a Lot of love In between hard things and that was when he would relax and breathe easy and start licking.

He is definitely not totally comfortable yet  saddled as I cinch him up carefully and he is slightly bothered. By end of workout I got a nice loose trot and he was holding it together for flag. But he was not totally “unbothered” yet. I stopped because it was hot, ended on a good note. Will work him out again tomorrow.

Not sure if I’m back to square one or just being overly cautious. It’s also hard to compete for chief’s attention when his buddies are running around in the back field. But Chief tries really hard. And the more I can keep his attention on me (usually working through faster trasnsitions, change of directions, backing) the the less scared he is of flag. I know…duh bc he’s paying attention waiting for his next instruction rather than zoning out focusing on his friends.

Until tomo.


Back to the Ground

I may be the most inconsistent rider in the world. For the last year I have been rough boarding Chief and my mom’s horse Patch. As well as my friend’s horse Hero. So I take care of them me the property morning and evening. But in doing that, my riding has fallen to the wayside and Chief has become a pasture pet.

He let me know that he was resorting to old habits last week when he tossed me on my butt and proceeded to have a bucking fit across the arena. A fit like I haven’t seen from him in 3 -4 years.

So, that being said it lit a fire under me to get my horse back to being comfortable under saddle. My goal is to get him saddled 4 times this week, and worked out. Omg going to Strictly focus on really purposeful groundwork, and back to consistent riding in a week or two.

This week we completed groundwork under saddle yesterday-8/25 (I worked him out two other tines last week but I’m just going to record when I saddle him up).

He was more fearful/reactive of flag than when he is in consistent work and touchy at first under saddle. It took him about a half hour to relax and his attention kept floating to his friends in the field. But I spoke to him gently and corrected him when necessary.

Worked on walk circles, trot circles, head down, rolling hq, backing. And we worked in his least favorite most fearful spot in the arena.

He was relaxed and calm at the end. He kept trying to walk toward me for comfort, but I kept backing him into his space. He needs to be able to feel my comfort and settle from where I stop him and relax there.

Will post about today’s workout later.

As Many Emotions As I have had Saddles

Chief and sophThe first question I always ask myself before I ride is, “what kind of horse do I have today?” And I by no means learned to ask that question on my own, in this regard Chief has been my best teacher. It is interesting to me how much my respect practice with my horse rolls over into interactions between my human partners and myself in my every day life.

He’s taught me to assume nothing about him and to give him the respect to let him tell me what he needs that day. And I think if I’m listening hard enough he gives me that respect also. Chief goes through all of the levels of the emotional scale, which I can relate to.  Most of the time he’s willing and compliant and he does what I ask of him.  Most of the time if I’m paying attention to his needs he does it joyously. But once in awhile he’s tired and lethargic, sometimes he scared and nervous and once in a very blue moon he’s pissed.  We work on a sliding scale where 90 percent of the time we work on the end of joy and the other 10 percent of the time its anyone’s game.  So it is always my goal to start slow, observe him during grooming and groundwork and make good choices from there.  And we usually get to where we need to be.  Whether it takes us 10 minutes or 2 hours to get there is also up in the air.

Mostly I think I am a great partner for Chief, but not necessarily the best partner for other riders.  I am not the one who is going to throw a saddle on my horse after two weeks of not riding, and gallop off into the sunset. I am also not always the most enthusiastic rider as of late.

Even though I know my horse is a rock star, if you read this Blog then you know we’ve gone through some stuff together in the early years. And I think just after years of hard work I needed a year off.  The itch started a little over a year ago, coming out of winter 2016-17.  I just could not get into “riding season” like I had the previous years.  Some family emotional toil had been taken from me for awhile and I think I just needed a mental health year.

I can’t tell you that I knew I needed time off my horse or recognized it until now. But in hindsight looking back over how much I rode and how I felt last year I think my actions spoke louder than my words. I can’t say I’m entirely back and so excited to ride again. But I’m happy about it when I commit to doing it and actually pull it off. But I have decided to start giving myself the same respect I give Chief. I ask myself what kind of human I am today, and I go from there.

And I realize, Chief does not care if I ride him or not. He gets the same sense of connection w me when I feed him and especially when I brush him as when I am on his back.  I think I let the guilt kick in of how much an animal like Chief costs and I think, “I need to use him!” But Chief is my spirit partner and having him as that vessel allows him to sometimes just be my emotional support animal. I have as many emotions as I have had saddles, and that sometimes works in my favor as a horse owner.  Sometimes not.  But I would say there is typically only around one day a year when Chief acts like I have released the Kracken, so I am going to count my blessings.

When I Looked Most “Healthy” I Was Actually the Most Sick

Getting back to blogging, I miss reading my own writing.  So here I go.

First of all, America’s definition for thin is not something that iIMG_3245s achievable for my body, in any way that is healthily sustainable.  I am of strong Irish and German stock.  I am trying to figure out what to title this post, and I almost named it, “Renee’s Irish Back” just to be funny.  But I wanted something that it is descriptive to me, but also respectful of the community of people who suffer with Eating Disorders, Body Dysmorphia and Orthorexia (Just to name a few).

I decided to write this because while driving to work today I thought to myself, listening to the Love, Food Podcast (so good), I haven’t really been thinking about food very much anymore.  The thought went off like a light bulb. And when I say that, I mean not thinking about it in a negative, all consuming, life depending kind of way.  And this also leads me to believe life is full of small and large miracles. You see.  I love food, but it used to be my enemy and secret lover at the same time.  Now it’s more like, “Oh cool.  We’re having pizza tonight?  I don’t have to do the dishes.”

I haven’t been waking up in the middle of the night listing everything I ate that day.  I haven’t been staring at food not allowing myself to eat it for the first 20 minutes it is there, and then eating it all because I know I will not “allow myself” to have it later.  (Oh how well that worked when I was eating in private and in shame.) I haven’t been talking about my new diet, or off limits foods to my friends and family.  I haven’t been so obsessed with food prep, and cooking (which I love but it was also part of my disorder for me). So it was eye opening today to think to myself that I have been eating whatever I want, without shame or disgust with myself, for the last few months. I have not been scared of the restriction that come with diets and lifestyle changes.  I really do not care about food.  Other than that it tastes good and my body tells me what I am hungry for.  But with that came a lot of mental work and it has taken years and years to even take small steps.

I haven’t been a totally committed bulimic for a few years now, I have dabbled, but always pulled out quickly.  But just because I was not actively throwing up 3 meals a day,  does not mean the sickness goes away. But bulimia it is easy to think about for me.  And it would be easy for me to go back to that life.  For someone who has never been there before, it may be hard to understand.  It is physically disgusting.  But to me it feels like sliding into something familiar. I am not romanticizing it, and I will not talk about details that will help someone else live the private life I lived for 10 years.  What I am saying is the familiar emptiness of my personal disorder is always appealing. It linked up with my brain somehow and made me feel empty in my mind and heart which is really hard to achieve for an empathetic person who never stops feeling EVERYTHING.  And sometimes that clear mind is something I need in a world that is so hard to navigate.

What has come with my personal eating disorder though, are things I struggle with often and will forever.  The strain I have put on my heart and my mouth, my persistent high blood pressure, stress on my body and brain, sore and sensitive gums, permanent soreness in my knees. Years of quiet shame.  My fear of the dentist has not dissipated nor has my avoidance of the doctor’s office. My chart will reflect “overweight” or “obese.” And my blood pressure will be scrutinized and I will be advised to lose weight.  Oh the shame.

But even though these doctors know me, they do not know what that sentence written on my chart costs me. Even writing that sentence makes me cry because it cost me so much for a long time. I don’t let them weigh me at the doctor’s office any more, and it takes courage to ask them not to, but it really helps.IMG_1356

I also understand that when you look at me you might not call me fat.   Someone might, but usually not. At least not right now.  They may someday. (I use the word fat respectfully and lovingly and as a neutral descriptor.) I also understand I do not look like someone who would have an eating disorder.

But what we do not understand is that every day we generate and discuss entirely different emotions about Eating Disorders based on what someone LOOKS LIKE, which is probably the most unimportant thing about our lives here on earth.  These different emotions range from being concerned and scared with someone’s eating disorder when they are too thin (who are we to say they even have one), congratulatory of someone’s eating disorder when we deem their body perfect (keep going, what is your secret, you are doing it right!) or disgusted with someone’s eating disorder when we judge their body for being Fat.  That last person we actually prescribe them the road map to an ED through dietary restriction, if they do not have a problem already.  Just pay attention to the radio and TV.  Ladies, these ads are targeted at us.

Obviously not everyone has an eating disorder.  But there are enough of us, many flying below the radar, many still looking for congratulations for following Diet Culture’s rules.  This is important for us to talk to our daughters, nieces, sons and friends and our partners about. We must not teach this to our children.  I used to even say, “I just feel uncomfortable at this weight,” when it really was just the fact that I didn’t want to buy jeans that were a size up. Which is ridiculous because when my pants fit, I am more comfortable and happier. Adios low rise jeans of my 20’s.

All in all, I have been thinking about the “seasons” that my life has taken.  I like the word seasons because it signifies change, but I also think it indicates mercy.  We know winter is a little more desolate than spring, but we accept it and some of us even love that season.  So in this vein I am trying to love all of my physical and mental landscapes. If I can love and be gentle to myself during my “winters,” I can peacefully make it through this life. When I sleep late I tell myself, “you are allowed, your body needed it.”  When I feel full from eating and have to unbutton my pants I say things like, “you were hungry.  You were nourishing yourself.  Don’t wait so long to eat next time!” Or even, “that fullness doesn’t feel great, but I needed it for some reason. I feel soothed.” When I make too many plans, I will cancel when I need to and know that it’s OK.  I’ve stopped making myself into the person everyone needs because I am the one that needs me.  I am the main person that needs to be alright with me.

I am Renee.  I can wear my husband’s jeans. Sometimes they are too tight.  I love cookies and spaghetti with cheese and I used to pretend I had a dairy allergy so I would stop eating it because I thought it was bad.  I thought I had a bad reaction to gluten and sugar. I didn’t.  I was vegan for years.  This is partly because I love animals, partly because it was easier to starve myself and stay under a certain amount of calories if I could not eat anything.  My body did not change so much that people worried about me.  I was not deathly thin.  In fact, I was never ever what Hollywood would deem thin. But I was really sick mentally.  But I could pass so well… I could help you with your life, throw parties, be a great friend and partner.  But I only read the “health studies” that supported diet culture.  I never looked toward the people, studies and research that would actually help me heal.

Please do not congratulate me.  Please do not tell me I am beautiful no matter what I look like. I do not want any of that.  I truly do not need those words, however well meaning they are.  Please just reach out to me if you want to change the stigma in this world, if you want to move toward body neutrality,  or if you suffer. I will send you literature. In the meantime, start looking at beautiful photography taken of all bodies.  It really helps redefine what you perceive as normal, large bodied or small.  Who are we… you or I to tell someone else that they are not beautiful, normal or “healthy.”  Because when I looked my “healthiest” I was in fact the most sick, and suffering silently.  And it took me a long time to realize that diet culture is normal in our America, but for me it is not OK.

The Lighthorse

I was thinking about changing my blog name to “The Lighthorse.”  I googled it and there are quite a few bars around the country with that name, but no blog so far.  I think I would like to write more about my horse journey, but also about being a progressive Christian in today’s society, from a female perspective.  I am sure there are a ton of bloggers out there.  But I listen and read so many inspirational blogs, books and podcasts I would like to document my feelings about them.  So I may make the transition right here, instead of starting a new blog, which I have done so many times.  Usually when I start a new blog, they die right where they start. So I figure maybe I will just continue here, where I have established something already.

Just to name some of the stuff I am into right now, as a documentation for me to return to it and write my thoughts and inspirations!

  • Of Mess and Moxie- Jen Hatmaker
  • For the Love Podcast
  • Oprah’s super soul convos
  • Rumi
  • Rilke- Book of hours
  • Anam Cara
  • Magdalene
  • The Body is not an Apology
  • The Wisdom Tradition
  • Love Curvy Yoga
  • On Being
  • Barbara Brown Taylor

Just kicking around some Ideas of where to start!

Checking Out to Check In

So Chief and I have made some moves since the last time I checked in on this blog platform.  We are sharing a farm with friends of ours from church.  I was heartbroken to leave my last farm, as I loved the owners and the women there.  But, this was a great opportunity to save some money by taking on the responsibility of this property. Craig and I always talk about having our own property one day and what better way to figure out if this is something I really want!

We also have made the move to get my mom her own horse.  And let me tell you, what a great experience we have had with the Standardbred rescue in New Jersey.  I have recently heard Standardbreds described as the “Labrador Retrievers” of the horse world, which is the most true statement I have ever heard.  They are so lovely, seem to enjoy humans, and are so willing.  And he and my mom connect so well and are doing so great together.IMG_0929

That being said, I have been pretty tired lately.  I don’t even really feel like I am working that hard.  But sometimes it would be nice to go right home from work and get stuff done at my house… which I do when my mom feeds at night.  But I am in this weird season where sometimes I feel like I would rather not have a horse.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Chief, and would never ever get rid of him.  We finally have this great bond of trust and I am his person.  But I think the combination of this being our 5th year together, coming out of a long winter a this being a long family year full of trials is making me feel kind of blah about this season of my horse life.

But I am being gentle with myself because I feel such guilt over feeling this way.  I mean, talk about first world problems for sure! But the other ladies (my mom and Sarah) are so gung ho about their horses and all I can think of is all the crap I have to pick up in the fields, and how monotonous my life feels when it comes to my daily responsibilities, home, work and barn.  So it is hard to explain to them as they are brand new horse owners… and I remember feeling that way.  I know I need to switch things up but am not sure about what direction to go in yet.  Chief is such a machine about everything we have learned together.  I think maybe we need to take some new lessons and get a fresh start with things that challenge us.

On the other hand, I have been feeling so much more connected spiritually, which has felt like a desert for quite a while now. I have been so in love with my church,  its music and people.  My Sunday school kids are the best, my co teacher is amazing and I am looking forward to getting more involved with the kids of the church. So it is strange to feel so disconnected in one area of my life, but feel so connected in another.  Sometimes I wonder if I will ever get it all together, at the same time.IMG_0833

I feel like my brain is wired weirdly, like I want everything and nothing at the same time.  One day I want to learn how to play the violin again, sew blankets for the homeless, write poetry and be out in nature; but the next day I want to curl up in my bed and cannot even focus on the book I am reading! I am calling this my weird winter, and  I think with my Jamaican vacation coming, I will clear my head and be able to welcome back spring into my heart and really jump into this new horse season.


Recovery and Sleepless Nights

photo Recovery is something I have been attempting to do more actively as an adult, but is also a theme that has haunted my life.  I say haunted because it stalks me even when I do not want it to. Sometimes I don’t want to be involved in recovery processes, my own or anyone else’s.   It is a healing process, but broadly insinuates that some kind of trauma has occurred in order to jump the process of recovery into action.  It also is a ton of work, and especially draining for someone with empathetic tendencies as I have.

Recovery for me is mentally fighting an eating disorder every day.  Recovery for me is finally talking about that struggle when it was not a public part of my persona for so long.  It is also accepting my body, creating a healthier relationship with food, learning to practice intuitive eating and doing yoga in my back yard.  Recovery for me is doing deep breathing when I am confronted with chaos.  It is eating that extra bowl of spaghetti and not sucking in my stomach, or covering myself with a pillow when I sit on the couch afterwards.  It is letting my husband put his hand on my stomach with out me flinching and internally cringing.  And being able to feel worthy to be in this world.

Recovery for me is laying in my hammock and letting my Dog lick my face.  Letting her warm large body press down on me, making me feel loved and safe.

The recovery that surrounds me is watching my stepson recover from drug addiction.  Or sometimes not recover.  Recovery that surrounds me is marrying into a broken family and trying to help piece it back together, at the risk of my own sanity and my relationship with my husband.  Recovery that surrounds me is still worrying about my father’s drinking, and praying that my parents marriage will last through chaos. It is talking to my sister about our shared experiences in this life, forgiving myself for past mistakes and following steps that help me to make every day tolerable, if not lovely.

A significant recovery that I assisted with his that of my horse Chief.  He is also the reason anxiety crept up on me this afternoon, which I originally thought was out of no where. Those who meet or know Chief now, know him as the loving/steady Labrador retriever of a horse that he is. He is a curious and gentle boy.   He always was that horse underneath and I like to think I brought some of that back to the surface.

But when Chief was left to me, what many people do not know is that he was really tough.  And he was not just tough for me.  He was tough for the 5 owners prior to me that I could trace back and question about his history.  These people were all better riders than me, and aside from one cowboy, all had the same story… Big Bucker.

.   And when  Chief got healthy, he became really rough to ride and handle, which really impacted my confidence, in life and in my horse journey.

The first day I groomed Chief he tried to bite me every time I turned my head away from him.  He also tried to rip a barn door off its hinges, and didn’t have respectful boundaries resulting in a couple menacing groundwork sessions…well maybe a lot of menacing groundwork sessions.  That is, until we got to know one another.

I was relentless in his training… on the ground.  I worked with him every day, and I now have the result of that.  Chief would follow me anywhere, and I promised him I would never lead him into harm’s way.

Prior to owning Chief I was taking riding lessons with an instructor (who later became my friend) and I always felt like she respected my “level” of riding knowledge.  She had nice horses, would not lesson any of them more than once a day and had a select number of students whom she taught.  I always felt pretty confident, and would really get on anyone’s horse without a fear.  I even remember feeling so much pride when she would compliment me (compliments were rare) on my performance.

When I was young (15 years ago) I loved to jump.  I had been riding since I was a small child and had no fear.  I have videos of myself riding and I had a nice little seat and a natural understanding of moving with the horse.  And I realize, that until I quit… it was the only sport I did where I felt like I was good enough.  And then I went to a competitive barn, was not encouraged to improve, and quit.  I was bigger than the other girls, and no one really spoke to me.  I was different.

Fast forward to now.  Now Chief and I only do basic things together, and sometimes we do them really well, and some days not so well. But I could have 10 great sessions in a row, and one off day makes me sick to my stomach.  I feel like I am disappointing myself, hurting Chief, and making myself look like an asshole. I always tell myself that I just want to enjoy my horse and ride him for pleasure.  But I also remember arena work and truly enjoy it when I have a plan and can keep it interesting.

Today Chief did not want to move.  At first I thought he may have been lame in his front left leg, but alas he just wanted to go out the gate, out of the footing he does not prefer to wander the farm.

I found myself being really unbalanced, really hard with my ques and really aggressive with my leg, all to a very limited, very short response.  I thought about it, Re framed my brain and began asking for little things at the walk.  Leg yields, turn on the forehands and back ups, rewarding him for the good tries and he came back a little bit.  But when I finished I still felt I had let him down.

I felt like a sloppy rider in a sloppy body who always makes mistakes.  But right now I feel like… Fuck that.  Chief is so wonderful now because of the countless hours I have dedicated to letting him know he is safe and loved and listened to.  Not one person I know now would have volunteered to ride Chief, even as recently as last summer because of his unpredictability.  And guess what.  Sometimes we have days where we look really good together. Today was just not one of them.  And we never have bucking issues anymore and he rarely spooks.  So I would say that is a pretty fucking good outcome for this old rodeo horse.  And today I was a sloppy rider, but most days I am not.  So I need to get mentally out of my own way.

Chief knows I mean him only the best.  Today was an off day.  And it can only get better from here.

So as I try to forgive myself for giving Chief a really shitty ride today,  I am trying to look forward to the next try being gentler and more conducive to our communication.

Recovery is different for everyone, man or animal.  And you know what?  There are days where I don’t really feel like moving forward either, So, Chief, If horses ever take over the world and you read this, I love you buddy.