Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Crowning the Prince -- Dark Jewel Designs Review

I've been coveting fancy browbands for as long as I've owned a horse, but it's always a bit tricky to make a commitment to something custom when you're still trying to figure out what kind of tack your baby horse like to go in. We've been exclusively using the Weathabeeta Comfi-tec bridle for the last year or so and Scout goes really well in it, so I decided as a special treat for my birthday, I'd design a couple of crowns suitable for my prince.

I reached out to Amelia at Dark Jewel Designs before placing my order because as an artist myself I was completely overwhelmed by all of the choices available (I couldn't even decide which shape of browband to choose). She was incredible at helping me walk through the process and reading my messy mind to narrow down the kind of looks I wanted. For my jump bridle I wanted something with browns and earth tones. She gave a me a ton of variations to look through during the process.

So pretty and earthy!
I thought the muted tones of the natural stones would really bring out his gorgeous bay coat and amber eyes. I liked the little bit of bling as a spacer and much preferred the sparkly brown spacers to the more fancy silver ones.

Finished jump bridle version

I'm obsessed with how this turned out! I love that it's sort of monochromatic but has enough visual interest to stand out against his coat. I chose the curved browband because the one on his jump bridle now has a slight curve and he has a broad enough face to pull off the more dynamic shape.

Earth tones against earth tones! LOVE!

For his dressage bridle, I wanted to go with something with a bit more pizazz. In the midst of my birthday spending, I also picked up a really pretty grey and black stock pin that I used as inspiration for the browband.
Hello my Celtic pretty (from Riding Warehouse)
Scout's colors are going to black, grey(silver) and white, which look stunning on him while also staying pretty classic and simple. I wanted to include a little Fleur-de-lis as a not so subtle nod to Scouts symbol and Amelia was able to track down a perfect little adornment to add to his bling-y crown! I had more trouble finalizing my design for the dressage bridle because I'm basically a magpie and was like OOOOOOO sparkles.

Some contenders <3
In the end, I let Amelia guide me in the right direction and she did not disappoint.


As with the jump bridle, it's sparkly and fun without being too much. I love the muted grey moonstones and the dark grey sparkly beads and I really enjoy how the black shiny spacers help break up all the bling. True story, I had never even put my dressage bridle on him, but I think he looks okay:)

Who is this stunning creature?

From start to finish the process took only a few weeks, and Amelia was even able to get my order to me JUST before Christmas. She gave me updates throughout the whole experience so I knew where she was in production and what to expect next. The transaction was super easy to complete via her Etsy shop. The craftsmanship of each item is superb and the beads feel really secure on the browband. I've gotten SO many compliments in the barn since I'm at a H/J facility they are a little mesmerized by some of my gear. And Scout? Well I think he knows he looks good. 

I'm looking forward to debuting these in the show ring this year!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Riding Fit (The Body) Part 2

It's not new information that getting fit enough to effectively ride your horse is important. For each rider that level of fitness is completely unique. For me, my depression plays a large role in making my body hurt and sometimes it's hard for me to distinguish between mental health associated pain and actual I'm-getting-old pain. I've always been a pretty athletic person, and part of my aches and pains now have to do with a lifetime of putting my body through a lot of wear and tear. I did competitive gymnastics as a child and as a result all my joints are pretty janky with some limitations on range of motion. Being a working student (again) at age 37, was a really good way for me to whip my body back into shape... and once that ended hot damn if I didn't gain the weight back and then some. I was happy yes, but I was not happy at the person in the mirror. Then, over the summer I herniated a disk in my back which really, really sucked. My doctor cautioned me to rest and once I was ready to start working on building up the surrounding muscles surrounding the injury to help support it going forward.

I cringe looking at these, at least Scout is cute
The first couple of months after injuring my back were very frustrating as the thing that bothered my back the most was being in the saddle. But I adapted to it and worked through the pain adding more and more time each ride. And by the end of October I felt like I was ready to ramp up the physical activity again. So at the beginning of November I ran a 5k (because that's a totally normal way to jump back into exercise) and I didn't die. I was excited that I actually had the wind and stamina to actually run the whole thing! My back hurt a LOT from running, but I was determined. So we joined the local Y so I could start swimming and eventually work up to more serious exercise.

If you don't take a gym selfie, did you even work out? (*I took all of these pics for the sole purpose of the blog)

There is just one problem with all of that... I HATE THE GYM. Like, really and truly do not like being there at all. But I am also extremely stubborn and so I started going anyway. I struggled to find a routine that I liked and was just overwhelmed with all of the choices and equipment and classes. My SO encouraged me to sign up for a few different apps that helped give me some guidance and before I knew it was in a regular program (a mix of cardio and strength training). And it didn't take long for me to see and feel just how much it was improving my riding.

Despite the fact that I hate the gym, I DO enjoy running. But running outside proved to be entirely too concussive on my back so I started on the treadmill and found it to be much easier on my back and my joints. It wasn't long until I was up to running 15+ miles a week over three runs and I was really loving it. As an added benefit, I was developing some real mental fortitude. Running for an hour is a real testimony in mental stamina and I already appreciate how that helps me push through on those more boring times in the saddle. In addition, I've got my wind back again which feels amazing. Not being out of breath and being able to push through tough moments when I'm riding feels awesome. Scout on the other hand does not really appreciate my new found stamina and was legit shocked when I was able to continue on without taking breaks to catch my breath!

In a normal week, I try to do weight training 3 days a week (alternating days) and cardio of some sort on the days in between. Usually I give myself a day of to rest but not always. When I first started out I was running on all my cardio days because I really loved it, but I really needed to mix things up because my body was telling me I was running a bit too much too soon. So I gave several options a try until I found a routine that I really enjoy (I still hate being at the gym).



Jacobs Ladder - this is an actual torture device
The stairclimber I really like because it works your upper legs and glutes which obviously has direct benefit for riding. While my legs are strong, my thighs are easily the least toned part of my body and this machine pinpoints that area while also providing some good cardio. I hate the elliptical machine and think it's completely bogus, while it burns calories I don't feel like I ever get a real workout on it. I have since switched to an Arc Trainer which is a bit of a variation on an elliptical and I really enjoy the kind of workout it gives me. One thing that's pretty interesting about using any of these machines is that I have really uneven legs (my right stirrup is always at least a full hole longer than me left) and when you're working out on an elliptical machine (for example) that small difference becomes quite dramatic. So I'm trying to use these machines to work on creating more evenness on both sides of my body. I sure hope it works because I think Scout would appreciate a much more even rider! The Jacobs Ladder machine is just a torture device and I don't recommend it unless you want to feel like dying after a minute. The longest I've been able to consecutively use it for is 7 minutes... SEVEN. I also use the row machine at least once a week and I love thinking about how the motion of using the rower mimics an exaggerated jump position. It's really helping me create muscle memory for hinging at the hip and the pull of the row bar feels very similar to galloping with a bridged rein (okay, maybe these are a bit of a stretch but it helps me tolerate the gym if I just pretend it has applications for riding).

It's just an X Scout, jeepers

One of the reasons that I wanted to start strength training is because Scout is a big, athletic and powerful ride. He was so easy to ride when I first got him, I never really thought about how much different he would feel after several hundred pounds and consistent training. That probably sounds naive, but it's remarkable. Emily came to ride him recently and was stunned, she said she couldn't believe what a physical ride he was now! Even when he's being light in the bridle he requires a ton of core/leg power to stay with him and I owe it to him to be able to hold up my part of the equation and not just sit there like a lump.

Why am I so insecure in workout leggings but totally fine in riding pants?

The program that I'm doing is alternating days with a combination of upper and lower body work. Each time you complete a series at a certain weight you incrementally go up in weight the next time you do that activity. Currently I'm doing the following: Bench Press, Barbell Rows, Incline Bench, Squat, Back Extension (these have been amazing for my lower back muscles), Overhead Press, Chin Ups, Deadlift and Curls. Usually, each day is a combination of 5 of these items and takes around an hour with warm ups.

And for someone that HATES being at the gym, I am loving lifting weights. I actually look forward to particular exercises (deadlift and squats I'm looking at you) and struggle with others (overhead press is just so hard) -- but it's also revealing the parts of my body that are truly strong and the parts that need work. Not shockingly, my lower body is quite strong, while my upper body is a bit on the weak side and it's time to get the rest of body in shape!

Learning to get deeper in my squats

My back continues to improve strength wise and I've noticed that when I skip days of strength training due to schedule conflicts, my back feels awful. So I'm going to try to stick to this plan and see where it takes me. Turns out that maybe doctors actually know what they're talking about, even if it's a slower road to recovery.

My arms look better than they did when I was a working student!

Ultimately, I don't have a particular strength goal or fitness milestone to achieve, but I'd like to continue progressing incrementally. I've made some loose goals for mileage for running, but that is all contingent upon my body holding up. I've finally reached the point in my life where I am listening much more closely to what my body is telling me and adjusting my plan accordingly. Funny, since that's my entire approach to Scout's training and it's taken me forever to figure it out for myself! My super vague goal is to be MUCH stronger than I was when the spring season rolls around. And now with my horse off getting super fit and schooled I better be in tip top shape when he returns!

So after about 2.5 months, I still hate the gym, but I like the folks that go there (they do all kinds of really cool programs for seniors and special needs) -- I'm less intimidated working out in the weight room and I'm starting to like the person looking back at me in the mirror. Getting old is tough, but I can influence how old I feel both mentally and physically. Self care is crucial and it starts one step at a time. Here's to everyone going out and doing what makes them feel strong inside and out and making themselves the best possible partner for their horse.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Riding Fit (The Brain) Part 1 of 2

In the spirit of full disclosure I'm going to dive in deep with this post. Part 1 of 2, I'm going to talk a little about how I've gotten my brain fit to be the best partner for my horse and our goals together.


For as long as I can remember I've dealt with mental illness. Long before I knew how to define it, I was staying up until 4am painting or sweating through my clothes in public for no discernible reason or spending entirely too much time alone because I couldn't bear to be around other people. I had my first true panic attack at 22 (or at least the first that I knew how to define) and as a result, I stayed in bed for days because I felt physically and mentally broken. Since then, I've been able to define my personal issues as insomnia, anxiety and depression (caused by anxiety).

And now, at the age of 40 (don't get me started) -- I've spent the last 20 years addressing the root of many of my issues and working on ways to improve my day to day quality of life. I'm going to share a few things that have helped me to become the best version of myself while managing my mental illnesses.

Insomnia is something I dealt with starting at a very young age. I always knew I had a restless brain, and I would stay up for hours reading or drawing and going to sleep at 4 or 5 in the morning and then getting up for school at 7. I didn't realize that it wasn't normal until my parents discovered me awake in the wee hours when I was a teenager. They took me to a therapist to try to teach me methods for getting to sleep, but none of it worked. At it's worst, the only thing that was effective was taking Ambien (which was a lifesaver when I really needed it) -- and now at it's most manageable, my remedies are far more simplified. Good sleep hygiene, physical exercise of some sort daily (even if it's just getting some fresh air), no caffeine after noon, and a whiskey before bed doesn't hurt either. Through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy I also learned a technique to "put my worries to bed" also, which involves making a list of things that are keeping me up and if any of them are actionable I can stay up and complete them and otherwise I put the rest to bed. My insomnia has always been at its worst when my depression and anxiety are heightened so it's important for me to factor in all of the ways the play together to actually get some sleep.  I'm happy to say that I haven't depended on sleep aids in years, and I hold my solid relationship as a big factor in why I've been able to keep my insomnia at bay.

If I had to guess, I would say that most people that interact with my think I have my proverbial shit together. They would probably describe me as "even-keeled", "confident" and "self-assured". HAHAHAHA. I think one of the things that drew me to OTTBs in the first place was that many of them are "anxious-worriers" and it's a personality trait I can really relate too. You know what's a surefire way to stop thinking about your anxiety? Get on a hot OTTB straight off the track and try to teach it something new. One of the most amazing things horses have given me is singular focus. The anxious brain is everywhere and nowhere all at once and horses have taught me how to compartmentalize my worries and anxieties. That said, I've spent many, many years with a very good therapist who has given me tools to navigate my way through this messy thing we call life. Btw, if you like reading and you also like worrying, read The Worry Cure -- it changed my life. There was a time that my anxiety was so crippling that I couldn't get dressed in the morning... as in, I'd call work and tell them I was going to be late and that I didn't know when I'd be in and then I'd sit at the end of my bed paralyzed for another hour. Those days seem like eons ago, but I struggle every. damn. day. with anxiety. How I handle it now is much different in that I am much more self-aware, and I have useful tools to depend on when it gets bad. On a daily basis, I find that sticking to little rituals really helps. For instance, when I wake up in the morning (typically the hardest time of day for my anxious brain) I have to ease into the day. I wake up and need at least 30+ minutes to lay in bed and deal with taking on the day. My incredible SO brings me coffee in bed every morning to help facilitate the process, and it works... I let my brain fire up, anxieties and all and I make a plan for the day. But the truth is, the way that I handle my crippling anxiety is to put forth a facade of confidence and ease, I am THAT person to the outside world, because the other person inside cannot deal at all. And in some ways, that charade has worked in my favor (it's gotten me jobs, apartments, relationships, friends) and has allowed me to be careful of who I share the rest with.

My depression is caused my my anxiety so it functions a little differently that the traditional variety. For me, it manifests in very physical ways (which is awful)... sometimes it's feeling like my head is in a vice, but mostly it's constant pain throughout my body and unexplained fatigue. Back in early 2016 it was reaching new heights and I had to make massive changes to tamp it down. I was miserable at my job (after 11 years I was just over it), having to be downtown every day was making my anxiety terrible and I was chronically in pain. And while other things were going really well, I was barely functioning in other aspects. I remember distinctly being in a lesson and only being able to go half way around the ring before being winded and fatigued. It wasn't until Emily more or less demanded that I got to the doctor that I realized something was really wrong with me. I was 100% sure I had Lyme disease, or worse. I had blood work done, and everything came back normal. After a myriad of tests, we circled back to depression and how it was physically effecting me. I needed to make some BIG changes in my life. So, with the support of the most amazing partner ever, I scaled back my position at work to one day a week in the office, I threw myself into a working student position and almost right away started feeling better. Was is the stress of being in the city? The boredom of the same job for years? The change of scenery or the 12 hours of physical exercise I was doing every day? Whatever it was, it was working and I've stayed the course ever since. No, I'm not a working student any more, but I still oversee projects at my long time job, I've got my freelance photo business, and I nanny for a couple of UL riders. My days are varied and I often have time to be extremely flexible with my schedule allowing me more time for the things that keep me mentally stable. Some weeks are incredibly busy with no time "off" and some are scant with work and full of play and I'm SO happy to have that kind of mental freedom. It has done wonders for my mental health and I'm easily the happiest I've ever been. It is not a lifestyle for everyone, but love the hustle of having lots of balls in the air and having more control over my day-to-day life.

Mentally, I am doing everything I can to be in the best place for my horse. I think it's easy to rely on horses as the place to sort of place all our baggage and to use it as a safe haven (and that's not wrong), but I think it's also important to address what is going on inside our brains and be introspective about what we are bringing to the table too. At times horses have been the only thing that's kept me going and for that I am truly grateful. I owe it to my horse to be the best partner I can be... stay tuned for Part 2 where we talk about physical fitness!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

2018 vs. 2019

The beginning of 2018 brought so much uncertainty for Scout and what our future might be together. And after the scare of him getting cast and the subsequent cellulitis that formed as a result, I owed it to him to pump the brakes and take a long hard look about what I wanted from him. What I ultimately decided was to take things slow... maybe even painfully slow to outsiders. He was after all, a very big, very immature youngster who needed time to heal and fill out physically.

Fall 2017 -- Fall 2018

So that's exactly what we did... and we had some mixed results. In addition, I reached out to trusted professionals to help develop my athletic youngster and help shape him into a suitable mount for me. I dealt with WAY too many truck problems and FINALLY got my rig back on the road. My lessons stopped due to said truck problems which was beyond disappointing but I stuck to my regime of working with Scout both on the ground and under saddle and he really began to blossom. Ultimately, these setbacks led to me not wanting to blog at all -- but if you follow me on any other social media platforms, you know what we've been up to!

He's been LOVING life at the new barn, and absolutely thriving. In fact, he's perhaps feeling a bit TOO good. I think he's finally in his big boy body and he's really ready for the next step in his education.

The best he's ever looked in winter
I was so thankful to have the indoor to retreat to this fall/winter when we got nothing but rain for months and months because he really needed a job to do. He was definitely starting to tell me he was getting bored, even with the indoor riding routine.

ANOTHER growth spurt this fall

Longing for days like this again
I tried to mix things up for Scout a little by having a friend come ride him here and there (which he was very opinionated about) -- and then he got a few weeks off after my 40th birthday -- which coincided with the holidays. After Christmas my BO asked if I would be interested in coming to Wellington to nanny for a week or two (like I was gonna say no) and so I started to make a plan for what Scout would do while I was away.

But what if I want EXTENDED vacation?
There would be a resident trainer at my barn while I was out of town but I thought since my rig was back up and running I'd like to reach out an event trainer, specifically someone close to the Davidsons (since I work for them in summer/fall). So after a little research I decided to send Scout to Nora Battig-Leamer for 10 days! I have a few friends who have either ridden with her or had her work with their thoroughbreds and I really like her riding style!

As it turns out, she thinks Scout is quite special (his step and jump being quite impressive) and after some logistical conversations, we decided he should go to Ocala with her until the end of March to continue his education! He's going to have an amazing opportunity to go and do and see ALL THE THINGS and come back a more mature, more well-educated horse! It seems like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and for him and I am so excited to see how he progresses. I have a few trips planned to go see him while he's there and of course, I plan to take lessons on my some of my BO's horses while he's away so I don't lose my sea legs!

Who is this grown-up creature?
So, I'm over here trying to adjust to not having my horse around -- which is SUPER weird... and I thought I'd jump back into blogging (I have a ton of fun things on deck to talk about). 2019 is off to a MUCH better start than 2018! Here's to keeping all them positive vibes running through the blogosphere.