Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pity Party for One, or, Is this what addiction feels like?!?

So my third riding lesson was scheduled for today at noon- and I woke up SO excited! Like, so excited I wanted to put on my new boots at 8am and wear them for the four hours leading up to my lesson like an over-zealous 5 year old headed to Disneyland.

But, alas, it was not to be. My instructor woke up sick, (it's been going around), and she re-scheduled for Thursday, since Thursdays or weekends are the only days we have that work together. BOOOOO!

So, instead of telling you about my third lesson, I'll tell you why I chose this particular stable to teach me the ways of the equine.

I searched for about a year for the right stable (and the sufficient amount of courage) before I chose one. My criteria were simple:

1. Be close to my house. I didn't want to drive more than 30 minutes one way to get to a stable. Seeing as how we live in a rural area, this isn't an insane requirement. However, about 40 minutes away, there's a huge concentration of stables, riding trails, and fancy equestrian centers. Nice, but if I could find someone closer to me, it's a plus.

2. Not be snooty. I know there are some people in the horse-world, as with ANY hobby or focus that think they're better than anyone else. And some of them may be right. But seeing as how I'm a complete novice, I didn't want to feel like an idiot for not knowing where the withers of a horse are. (I know now! It's the bump that makes up the highest part of their back right between their shoulders.) I wanted someone laid back, relaxed, and willing to teach someone the very very basics. Without insulting me.

3. Have a nice facility. I'm 32, not 12. I've been around and worked in numerous small animal veterinary hospitals to know there are good and bad facilities regarding animal care. Also, I've been an adult long enough to have the common sense of what's nice and what's ghetto, whether it's shopping for a house, or looking for a great burrito. I know (unfortunately) that there are people out there that see animals as nothing more than property, and treat them as such. I wanted a place that was kept neat and clean, and seemed to genuinely care for their horses.
I didn't need to be at the newest stable, with the fanciest name or fanciest horses, just wanted someplace comfortable.

4. Be affordable. Okay, okay, I have already learned, horses are NOT a cheap hobby. That part I understand. But, seeing as how this was a long harbored dream, I didn't want to spend alot on lessons only to fall out of love with it. Also, I understand that the cheapest isn't always the best, and kept that in mind. Affordable doesn't always mean cheap. To me, affordable means, "worth the price asked, with equal amount or more of value returned". Basically, I didn't want to pay someone $85 a lesson for basic information. It's not like I'm specializing, like dressage or anything. Also, I knew that "a new trainer taking on anyone willing to pay", for $15 bucks a lesson wasn't necessarily the best value either.

5. Someone with lesson horses who could accommodate a big girl. This isn't a surprise to any horse people out there, but to the non horsey people, alot of folks put weight limits on their horses for people. This is fine if the horse has a weak back, or is smaller, or physically unable to bear alot of weight, but to have a general "175 lb or under" policy to me is unfair. There's even some horse vacations that you can take, and even there, they have that 175 lb or under policy. What about really tall muscular men who weigh more than 175 lb? No cowboy ever weighed more than that??
So, I wanted to speak with the instructor about this subject, which I'll admit, made me uncomfortable, but I knew I needed to be honest about my size before letting the instructor assume I was under a certain weight.

Now I'm sure that some people will have opinions on whether my criteria are valid or not, and I wouldn't be averse to hearing them. 

I chose Allison Acres.

Here's why:

1. Great location, really close to my house. Also, this ranch has been in business for quite a while- so that experience in teaching was there.

2. Her website was laid out with lots of info, lots of pictures, and didn't seem overly snooty, and also wasn't too messy with flash, noise, or annoying backgrounds with neon green text.

3. Her prices are fair and clearly set up in list form. There is no question as to how much anything will cost, and anyone who says "email for pricing", while they may seem upscale, just seems snobbish and closed off.

4. She made me feel at ease with her frontpage quote "For the new-comer to horses, we can teach you all you need to know to start on a safe, rewarding journey into horsemanship.   If you want to purchase a horse eventually or have already purchased a horse and just want some guidance, we are happy to help out!"
This gave me confidence to contact the stables. 

5. My initial visit to the stables- any horses that were in the stalls were quiet, alert, and healthy looking. I know, I wouldn't really know alot about what constitutes a good healthy horse and what doesn't, but anyone can see if a horse is thin, has dull eyes or a snotty nose, or is just all out miserable. Also, there was no smell, no piles of crud anywhere, everything was clean, and I immediately felt comfortable being there. 

6. My instructor has no problem with "big girls", and we talked clearly about what I was expecting, how much I weigh, and she assured me that she had several lesson horses that wouldn't have a problem with my size. 

7. This facility meets my goals. As of right now, I want to learn to ride. I want to develop confidence around horses, become sufficient in handling horses, and have fun, in the arena or on trails. I may or may not want to compete in various things later, but I haven't been grabbed by anything yet. So if I decide to learn dressage, barrel racing, or how to stand on the horse while he runs in a circle, I'll re-evaluate my choice. But for now, it's a fit!

Sheesh, I'm missing those silly horses. Hopefully I'll have a lesson to blog about soon, because I'm feeling the pain of withdrawal!!

Here, check out one of Leonardo DaVinci's sketches...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

“Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something.”

The quote in the title is by Frederick Smith, the guy who birthed FedEx. I chose it because I need to re-affirm this within myself.

See, I have this irrational fear. The idea of going horse accessory shopping (like boots or a helmet, or proper pants, or just to stare at tack in the hopes of someday having the privelege of spending money on it) well, the idea just scares the heck out of me.

Why? I wish I knew. Well, I know a little bit- I am afraid of looking like a total doofus, and most of the time, in tack shops or horsie shops, there's usually a happy, smiling (usually skinny) woman or girl there who says the four words I dread.

"Can I help you?"

Now, I understand that from their perspective, it means, "do you have any questions or should I leave you alone?" It could also mean, "are you looking for something in particular that I can get for you?"

But my mind, lacking common sense quite a percentage of the time, means, "are you sure you're in the right place, because you SO don't belong here!", or "I bet you don't know diddly about anything in this shop, so can I intimidate you in any way?"

This doesn't make sense- I have only been in one store, looking for boots, and I felt this way. But I can't gripe, since it's not their fault! It's my stupid lack of confidence!! UGH!

Well, I swallowed those uncomfortable feelings, and went to find myself a pair of riding boots. For my past two lessons, I was wearing a pair of what could be described as combat boots. I didn't have anything else, and my teacher said that while they're passable, that the chunky tread on the bottom could be a hazard, since it's designed to be really thick, and really grippy, and that could mean getting stuck in your stirrup, among other issues. Also, those combat boots weigh a TON!

I searched scoured the internet, reading reviews and checking prices. I knew I didn't want to spend a huge amount of money on fancy boots, and I wasn't impressed by the stereotypical "cowboy" boot. I'm just not a cowgirl kinda girl. My eventual goal with horseback riding is to be conquering some forest trails, not dancing around a dressage ring or swooshing around barrels.

So I found the Ariat Terrain endurance boot. It's basically a tweaked out hiking boot, with a trail rider in mind. Now, first, let me say, that I'm not a paid endorser of Ariat, and I really can't endorse them honestly, since I have never ridden in them, or owned them long enough to form an opinion. I just think that for my style, and for the purpose I'd be using boots for, these seem to be the most sensible.

Next, let me say that I'm aware that there are other alternatives to an endurance boot. One of my horse owner friends (ok, my only horse owner friend) said I could find something quite similar for considerably less at a sporting goods store.

But there's something exciting about getting into a hobby and outfitting yourself in the gear that is specially made for your hobby. So I'll give these babies a review in a couple of months and let you know what I think.

But back to my freakazoid side.

I need a helmet too, and I really want to go to my local tack shop and try them on, since they carry a brand that was recommended to me. But I keep finding reasons not to go!!

So I must learn to get over this silliness. Maybe if I wear my new boots I'll feel like less of an outsider...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Where's my horsie?!?!?

Well, no lesson for me this week- too busy at work to be able to get away. But not too busy to blog!!

I figured I'd tell you a story....of a little big girl, from so many years ago.....

*cue the wiggly out of focus picture....and fade in to a sunny afternoon in San Antonio, Texas*

So. There I was, a chubby little 13 year old girl on vacation with my mother and stepfather. I was shy, clueless, and anti-social. But I knew one thing: I loved horses! I had a Breyer foal that my Uncle had given me for my birthday, and a large plastic Breyer-type horse, and somehow along the way had acquired a saddle for the big horse. I didn't have a bridle, so I made one out of a red shoe-lace. Creative and resourceful!!

Anyhoo- I was on vacation in San Antonio, Texas, with my mother and stepfather, visiting some old friends of his. It was BORING!! At least for an anti-social 13 year old. There were only so many "remember the time during that one time" stories that I could handle overhearing, and with it being humid outside, there wasn't alot to do while we stayed with my stepfather's friends. But these family friends were quite hospitable, making amazing breakfast burritos and showing us all that the San Antonio tourist would have wanted- the RiverWalk, the Alamo, of course, and the Buckhorn Museum, full of all sorts of dead animal oddities and the world famous "Wall of Horns". I also learned that, at a place called Brackenridge Park, there was a horse stable. They rented out horses by the half hour, and that was the one thing I decided I must beg to do.

I begged and pleaded, and I couldn't tell you how much it cost at the time (the stable seems to be closed today), but my mother agreed to let me rent out a horse for 30 minutes. There was a short safety questionnaire to fill out, which asked for one's experience in the art of horsemanship so they could determine what type of horse you could handle, and if you needed supervision. I felt that in my lengthy 13 years, after having read every book on horseback riding, every fictional novel involving a horse, and having studied the parts of the horse, parts of tack, including the differences between english and western, and proper terminology for riding.

All out of books. That's where my knowledge had come from. (Of course it's all gone now, but back then, my mind was a net, catching every tidbit of info possible.) No practical hands-on knowledge whatsoever. But I thought I knew everything one could ever know about horses. So, when the paper on the clipboard asked me how experienced I was, I checked the box that said:

Somewhat experienced/ridden a few times

It was right below

No experience/have never been on a horse

and right above

Very experienced/have ridden numerous times

Heck, I knew how to go and stop, so I was sure I knew it all.

You're getting where this is going, aren't you?

The horse's name was Trace. He was big, brown, and saddled up with western tack. The riding area was around 100 feet away from the stable, fenced, and was a big wooded area, filled with trees and shrubs. And the staff there would lead you out to the entrance to this area, and set you loose.

First, to get to the riding area, you had to cross a small creek. My horse, Trace, was apparently extremely fond of water, apparently. He stopped in the middle of the creek and began to thwap his front hoof in the water, splashing himself and me in the process. With each slap of his hoof, he got happier and happier, knowing the kid on his back was a complete idiot about horses. The guide who had led me out to the riding area stood behind me, yelling, "Just give 'im a kick, he'll go!" *splush splush!* I kicked, and that horse splushed, thwapped, and all out had a grand old time in that silly little creek. Finally, I gave a hard kick, and he finally moved forward, and allowed a complete novice to direct him around.

How dumb was I??? Sheesh....I had allowed myself to be put on a horse (a bored, water obsessed bomb-proof horse, but a horse nonetheless), to ride around in a tree filled, non populated area by myself!!

Oh, and this was about 20 years ago, and wearing a helmet wasn't even thought of, not by me, or apparently by the riding stable that this horse came out of. So I was without helmet, proper riding gear (I had sneakers on for heavens sake...big, LA Gear sneakers!) or proper instruction. I turned what could've been a peaceful meandering through the San Antonio wilderness into a 30 minute kickfest that left the horse annoyed and me frustrated. It seemed to easy in all of those books!

So this'll be a lesson for me to remember, and hopefully for you to take heed- be honest with your skill level. Confidence is key, but so is knowing your limits- never lie to anyone about how much experience you have no matter how much it bruises your ego. I could have used that 30 minutes to allow a guide to come out with me to teach me skills, instead I wasted my time. And Trace's time too.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Second Lesson, still enthralled!

Had my second lesson tonight. My instructor started teaching me what's known as "ground work", which is working the horse while, you guessed it, you stand on the ground. It's helpful because you can direct the horse without having to be on them, which can be safer, but also helps to strengthen the stuff you're teaching them so when you are on them, it's alot more pleasant for both of you.

It was really weird to command a horse with mostly body language- it really makes you focus on your own corporal self- I think in the long run it could help the human become more aware of their own body, it's position and posture, and how they're presenting themselves to the rest of the world. So I guess you could say it's training for humans too.

My teacher taught me how to direct the horse with hand gestures (no, not that kind!) and voice/noise commands. With a pointed finger and a cluck, the horse began to move around the ring. If I moved my body to a certain side, the horse would either speed up or stop. I guess it's all about herd mentality, and being a prey animal makes you pretty aware of subtle changes in the human in the center of the ring. By backing up after stopping them, they would move towards me, which is useful for catching them to halter them. I really need to become more aware, because more often than not, the horse would stop because I stepped the wrong way- I'm sure the horse was confused as to why I was issuing conflicting commands!

Next up, Rain was saddled and waiting for me- I still have issues heaving myself up and over the horse without feeling like the horse is going to splat underneath me from a broken back. I did feel more comfortable tonight in the saddle than I did last time- my hands landed right on my thighs and it didn't feel out of place. My teacher led Rain around a few times, then gave me instructions on how to hold the reins properly and how to use them to tell the horse what I wanted. Then she had me run through all of the directions until she was sure I grasped the basic concept. Rain was a little lazy, which is good for a beginner like me- I never felt uneasy or unsure of being on her, and if I stopped focusing on what I was doing, she would stop, and that would snap me back into focus.

Before I knew it, time was up, and I dismounted ever so gracefully (if you call fumbling about with your legs and dangling with your butt in the air graceful, that is) and we led her to the cross tie area to take off her tack.

There's something that's comfortable about a barn full of horses at night, with the arena lights on, cool air blowing in, and the calm of dark outside....maybe I'm destined to be a night rider?

(photo from

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My First Lesson

Saturday, February 6, 2010-

I went to my first horse riding lesson!! I must admit, I was truly nervous when I got into the car to go to the stable. I was nervous to drive into the driveway, nervous to even get out of my car!!

It was dark and grey out, with rain threatening, and I tried to talk myself out of going, but my husband was right there, shooing me out the a very supportive way, but shooing me nonetheless.

I found myself driving super slow there, as the scenery changed from suburban sprawl to sparse countryside. I grew jealous of the houses that looked so peaceful, with spacious property around them, the occasional cows or horses in between each one. I soon found the driveway of the ranch, and figured, hey, now or never.

Thankfully, my instructor was standing in the driveway to tell me where to park, otherwise I might have kept on driving, too scared to jump in to the unknown.

I parked, and we went into the barn. There were horses on either side, in their stalls, and it reminded me of a scene out of any movie involving a well kept stable. The vertical bars on the stall walls, the smell of the hay and the dark wood of the entire building. It was a little dim from the grey skies until she turned on the lights, and it was a little unsettling to be surrounded by such large creatures. Thankfully, there were a few barn cats about, and one even came up and greeted me, which made me feel more comfortable.

I signed a form that basically explained that if I hurt myself due to my own stupidity that I won't sue the ranch, and that I could either wear a helmet or not, since I'm over 18.

I chose to wear the helmet. I feel that anything could happen, and if I end up on my noggin, I'd rather it be protected.

I learned how to put a halter on, retrieve a horse from their stall, and how to lead them. It's very daunting to look to your right and realize that there's a 1000 pound animal attached to you by a rope, and they're going where you're taking them, or at least you hope they're going where you're taking them, and they're BIG.

I learned how to groom them for saddling, by cleaning their hooves out, brushing out their fur with two different types of brushes, a really hard fierce looking one called a curry comb, and a softer brush. The horse I was learning on was a shorter guy called Casper, an appaloosa gelding who was very patient. He stood calmly while I brushed his face, and even lifted his feet up for me to clean them!

I must say I was a little nervous about walking around him, scared of a hoof flying at me at any moment, but my instructor assured me that while I should remain cautious, Casper wasn't the type of guy to lash out at me.

We then saddled him with a western saddle, and she had me mount him. Wow! I was sure I would end up on the other side of the horse with my butt up in the air! I actually had to talk myself into following her instructions, my body and my legs did not want to listen to me!!! I figured, hey, this is what I came here for, right? So either do it, or don't, but if you don't you'll never get any further than this.

So I stood there for a moment....and did it!! I'm sure it wasn't the most elegant thing, and I think I may have plopped onto the horse a little too roughly, but my instructor said I did all right for the first time. She gave me some pointers on how to gently place myself onto the horse without slamming into his spine, so I know that's something I need to work on.

She led Casper around the ring on a lunge line to have me get used to feeling his body move underneath me. A lunge line is a really long rope that you use to circle the horse around you while you stand on the ground. It's a good way to solidify training and a good way to worry about your riding posture and muscles and everything that goes with it without having to steer the horse. Kind of like learning how to operate a car without steering it on a busy highway. It certainly was odd to feel him moving, and I felt like I might slide off with each step. I knew from reading various books and websites that I shouldn't get used to hanging on to the saddle horn for balance, so I tried to keep my hands on my legs, rather than grab on to that little post in front of me that would give me a false sense of security.

It's funny how instinct tells you to "grab the nearest handle" when you're feeling unbalanced. I had to stop my hands from straying to the horn, even stopping them in mid-air, realizing they were on the path to grabby-land when Casper started making direction changes.

By then, it was getting pretty dark, and the rain was pounding down on the top of the arena, and my time had come to an end. We un-saddled Casper, and I learned how to put the tack away (yes, certain straps have certain places!) and put the horse away safely. The instructor and I talked a little more, and I scheduled another lesson.

Overall, I feel really good about this whole thing. The stables didn't smell, the horses all seemed alert and happy, the arena was open and inviting, and there was a home-like feel to the barn.

I can't wait to go back!

Monday, February 1, 2010

I haven't even been out to the ranch yet!!!



This is the first post of the blog that I hope to continue for a long time.

This picture is me at my wedding- this isthe horse who drew our wedding carriage. As soon as he pulled up, I was ready to stuff him under my dress and run! Yeah, I still hear the little voice in my mind: "LOOKIE! HORSIE!!"

I've always been horse-crazy, but due to financial and location constraints, the closest I ever got to owning a horse was my Breyer foal, given to me as a birthday gift. Many a shoe-string experienced career changes from keeping Keds on feet to being a makeshift horse bridle for a 6 inch roan filly.

My first horseback riding lesson starts in 5 days. I'm 32, and over the years have clocked around 15 hours on a horse in total for my entire life; 10 minutes of that being my first horse experience, sitting on the back of a Belgian at the Cow Palace in San Francisco during the Grand Nationals- I was about 13.

No, I didn't say I rode him, I said I SAT on him. The owner probably saw the desperation in my eyes as I started at all of the horses tied up, their shiny rumps facing me with their fancy braided tails.
He asked me, "Wanna sit on 'im?" I'm sure I nodded, and I'm also sure I didn't speak, just squeaked. He picked me up, put me on him, let me sit there for a few minutes while I had the first experience of feeling the warm, living, breathing animal underneath me. The Belgian was black, and barely twitched an ear at me, way too busy devouring the alfalfa in front of him to care about me.

After that, all I could do was dream about horses, beg my mother to buy the latest issue of Horse Illustrated for me, check out every single library book about horses repeatedly, draw horses, and force my Barbie dolls to dislocate their hips to squeeze on to my 2 plastic horses.

Silly Barbies.

I'll regale my other horse experiences in future posts.

I've been pondering the idea of getting a horse. I'm an adult now, in charge of my own destiny, and have the ability to make it happen. I started searching on websites, looking at tack, pricing boarding facilities and mentally preparing to own a horse.

Then I realized- I wouldn't know the first thing about caring for a horse.

So I started pondering the idea of leasing a horse- the responsibility of ownership would be gone!! It'd certainly be cheaper, since I'd only ride 1-2 times a week, and I'd get my fill of horse-ey-ness.

Then I realized- I wouldn't know the first thing about grooming, tacking up, or riding a horse.

Square one. So then I decided maybe I should take some lessons, to see if that crazy-ness is still in my veins, and if it is, then learn the skills necessary to care for a horse. A horse is a living creature, and jumping feet first into caring for one, is, in my opinion, not only stupid, but cruel.

The title of this blog, you've noticed, is Big Green Girl.

Girl, because I'm female, and though I'm 32 years old, I've always felt like a girl- youthful, chipper, and enthusiastic.

Green, because that's the term in the horse world for an untrained horse. I am a green rider, since I have no experience in the horse world.

Big, because I weigh 200lb. Yes, you read that right. I weigh 200lb. Before you start getting on my case about body weight and horseback riding, I'll say this: I started my weight loss journey at 257lb. I am still on my journey, and understand that a heavy rider is a strain on any horse.
Just know that I don't expect to be loping around on a horse for quite a while, so as my journey continues, I'll weigh less and less. And you're probably not perfect either.

So check back on my journey if you've been thinking about taking riding lessons as an adult. I'll post up after each lesson, and let you know how it goes.

Wish me luck!