Monday, December 14, 2009

Crazy, Busy Work and SIMHG Drama

So, work has been extremely busy. I have to say though, for the most part, it’s been a “good” busy. More and more I am enjoying the interaction with my team and a lot of the new stuff that I’m learning. A couple of months ago we went through a big reorganization where a couple of parallel groups merged with ours. One group in particular my team has always worked very closely with and it made quite a lot of sense to me that we eventually should be part of the same team. I feel that the change has already been beneficial, we’re all working together better than ever before and the communication has improved greatly.

Once the merge happened, I stepped forward to my manager (who is also now the manager of the newly merged group) and volunteered to help out with some of our new operations responsibilities. Most likely I would have been asked to do this anyway, but at least I maybe get credit for also volunteering! (I was eager to do so though) In any case, I’ve been very excited and enthusiastic about all the new stuff that I now have the opportunity to learn and take on. It’s adding quite a load to my workload, but this is all very interesting work and is overall increasing my value to the team and to the company.

One of the down sides, however, is that I now have to be on-call for a weeks time, every four or five weeks. The on-call shift is from 8 AM to 8 PM and I have to be able to respond and deal with situations within a very short period of time. The worst part of this is the 5 PM - 8 PM part of it, the weeks that I’m on-call means that I will be unable to plan or really do anything much outside of work because of the requirement that I be available until 8 PM. That is a bummer.

I did my first on-call rotation a few weeks ago and it was completely harrowing. Most of the days I was paged throughout the day, all the way up to 8 PM. Because this is all so new to me (and because I am also not yet UNIX literate) it was extremely nerve wracking because in most cases I had absolutely no idea what to do. I expect it all to get much easier as I learn and become competent with this stuff, but in the meantime, it’s really an anxiety-producing situation. The operations guys who are new to our team (but who has been doing this alone up until now) have been absolutely fantastic about training and helping throughout this process. I would be lost without them. As an added note, these two guys have been alternating their on-call weeks for at least the past year (if not more). So each has been on-call every other week -- that means that these guys have not been able to have a life for two weeks out of each month! Anyway, they’ve been available and helpful and uncomplaining about it all. Well, I guess it’s in their best interest to make sure that everyone is up to speed, so that they can have some of their lives back.

Along with myself, we have a new technician who joined our staff a few months ago through a program our company has in Ireland. The idea is to hire promising people over there straight out of college and then put them in a kind of bootcamp for a year. They are then offered up as candidates for hire at various business units throughout the company. I have been working with NG (New Guy) to teach him some of the stuff that I do and am mentoring him on a project with one of our customers and he’s also learning the operations stuff, so we have both been spending a lot of time sitting in the cubicles of the operations guys.

Anyway, so NG has had his first week of on-call rotation, I have had mine, the two operations guys have had at least one rotation each over the past couple of months and supposedly SIMHG (Self-Important Meeting Hijack Guy) is also supposed to take a turn. I think this is SIMHG’s first week of on-call, but since he is generally so absent from the rest of the team (I mean, I don’t believe that I saw him AT ALL for the entire month of November and for part of the month of October), I’m never quite sure.

Okay, so here is my rant (you KNEW that there was a rant):

I was scheduled to be on-call for next week (yes, that’s right, Christmas week). NG was supposed to be on-call for the week after. However, NG already had had plans to go back to Ireland for the holidays before the whole on-call thing started, so we have to rearrange things and cover his week. So, one of the operations guys was going to take his week, but then asked me if I would switch weeks with him because he is expecting a house guest and wanted to be able to spend time with him. So, no problem, we confirmed and sorted everything out today and then updated my manager so that he knew the on-call schedule was changing and that everything was going to be covered. I then spoke to mgr about my plan to use my remaining two vacation days for the year. I was waiting to schedule them because I wanted to have the on-call plans sorted out first, because I obviously can’t schedule the time off if I have to be on-call. So since OP (Operations Guy) wanted to switch, I am NOT on-call next week, but will be the week after -- I scheduled for those two days off for next week. Mgr said “okay, no problem.”

Okay, so once we had everything straightened out and I had cleared my vacation days with my manager, I sent a calendar item to the rest of the team to let them know what days I will be out. Well! I received an email response (just to me) from SIMHG with a piece cut & paste in from the on-call spreadsheet informing me that I need to switch my on-call responsibilities for those days and that he is also planning to be out then (in other words: don’t ask him to cover).

Well, first of all, does he think that I am so stupid or irresponsible that I would not check and account for the on-call schedule? Secondly, where has he been during all of our on-call training and conversations? He is the LAST person I would ask. Lastly, he was off Thanksgiving Week, he is now also off for Christmas Week? If we all have to share operations support, why does he have the privilege of having all the holiday weeks off? The more I think about his email, the madder I get! He is NOT MY MANAGER!

I think that I have to come up for a nastier name for him than, “Self-Important-Meeting Hijack Guy”. Seriously.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Well, at least I know, when all else fails, I can cook BBQ chicken.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Conversation with My Manager Today

Boss: "So, are you going to the Christmas Party tonight?"
Me: "Nah."
Me: "I mean, why bother? It's not like I can drink."
Boss: "No drinking at the party?"
Me: "No, I mean that I don't want to drink and then have to drive."
Boss: "Oh."
Me: "How Irish am I? Only interested in the party if I can drink!"
Boss: SNORT!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Things that have frustrated or pissed me off today:

* Receiving a meeting request for tomorrow (which also happens to be my birthday) for 4:30 PM.
* Listening to SIMHG pontificate endlessly on hours & hours of back-to-back meetings (starting at 8 AM, going through noon)
* Receiving yet another email from my father dictating the special sell circumstances for some stock or another on the trust account (of course this is not readily apparent or straightforward through the customer interface, so I have to find some time to call someone to help me figure it out. Like I have time for this. And heaven forbid he call just to chat or find out how I am or whatever.)
* Being on meetings endlessly and having to drop the phone to go to the Ladies Room. I don't know how men make it through hours & hours of these things without a bio break. How does that work?
* Meeting that has already been going for 1.5 hours ran over because they decided to hijack the first part of it for another purpose.
* Finally giving up, I put the phone down on the desk, run to the LR, get back to my desk, only to find that the meeting is STILL going on. Curses.
* Meeting goes over by 30 minutes.
* Realizing that this is yet ANOTHER day that I'm not going to be able to make it out to ride.
* Realizing that when the new on-call rotation starts (next week for me) that there are going to be whole weeks where I won't be able to schedule riding at all.
* Realizing that a certain software tool has changed considerably with a new release and I have to completely relearn how to use the damn thing.
* Dribbled coffee on myself.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Another Rant

I know that I’ve written about the guy in my office who I like to call, “SIMHG” (Self-Important Meeting Hijack Guy). I haven’t mentioned him in a while because, well, I guess I don’t want to sound too bitter – or maybe I just don’t want to encourage my own bitterness (not to mention my paranoia) by fueling the flames with endless rants about him. Plus, that gets a little tedious and repetitive. In general I’m trying to keep more of an open mind. But this morning he just irritated me beyond my capability to hold it all in. It was just a small, stupid, unimportant thing, but it had me steaming a bit and it’s a great example of the small ways he tries to exert his supposed authority and superior knowledge everyday.

Here is what happened:

Through a link in an email, I went to a site where an agenda for a meeting I was attending was posted.

I was denied access.

The default “Request for Access” form came up. I wrote in my justification for this access and hit the “Submit” button.

• Our documentation sites all function in a similar way. Users are given access, if you go to a page and are denied access, a form pops up asking for justification to see the page. Upon submission, the page goes off into cyber space to whomever has been set-up as the administrator for that page. As a user you don’t see where it goes, just that you’ve sent off a request. Typically what will then happen is you’ll get a confirmation email that so-and-so has given you access to the page you’ve requested (not sure what happens if you’re denied, probably a similar email with the information).

The next thing I know, I get an email confirmation from SIMHG that I have been given access to the page, but with a personal note that says, “I’ve given you access, but S or A should be the administrators for this page.” In other words, why in the Hell are you bothering me with this request? You should have contacted these other people.

First of all, I have no control over who the form gets submitted to. Once the button is hit, it goes off to the person who has been set up as responsible for the page, but as the requestor, you don’t see who that person is. Secondly, if it went to him, then he must be the default administrator for the page (despite his assertion in the email that someone else is), and how would I be able to change the direction the request went in, or even know to do so? Lastly, how is it my responsibility to know who the administrators are of a page I don’t even have access to?

Wouldn’t most people have just given the access and then looked into changing the property settings for the page if you felt you were receiving these requests incorrectly? Or if he wanted to be difficult, he could have forwarded the request to the person who he felt should be handling it, but where was it my responsibility to figure all this out? ARGH!

For what it’s worth, this was my reply to his email:

“Thanks. I just responded as prompted by the document-page, so I think the site must think that you're the admin.”

As I said, it was just a simple, stupid, unimportant thing, but I feel like this is a guy who takes every possible opportunity to assert his overbearing arrogance onto everyone around. An occasional misunderstanding is not a big deal, but there are a myriad of little ways that he does this on a daily basis and it gets extremely tiresome after a while. I feel so defensive all the time around this guy! It’s like I have to decode everything he writes or says for all the hidden slights & slaps. Or maybe I’m just crazy. Gah.

Rant: Benefits Fair

So, my company is having a benefits fair since we’re in the enrollment period for next year. And, because there are significant changes happening for 2010, there is a good line of people before each table waiting to ask important questions about how they will be affected. So there I am, stacked up behind people in front of our HMO table and the woman who is holding up the line is asking the rep repeated questions about whether Lasik eye surgery is covered.

Really? You think that your HMO is going to cover your Lasik?

Not satisfied to take no for an answer, she continues to ask more questions about this procedure that the rep obviously can not answer, thus holding up the line for people who have legitimate questions that need to be answered. You’d think that she would have more pressing concerns about her health coverage, but I guess not so much.

What is wrong with people? SHEESH.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Ads on Facebook

Okay, can someone please explain to me why Facebook thinks that I should date "Seniors"??? I keep getting this ad on the sidebar:

"Date Active Seniors -- Meet senior singles near you at seniorpeoplemeet online dating. Join free!"

I mean, WTF??? I know that I've gotten older, but I didn't think that I was actually in Senior Dating territory. At least not yet anyway. SHEESH!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Love Fall

I am currently drinking a hot cider with spiced rum and cooking a an acorn squash. I love fall.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Seen on the Coffee Line this Morning

A woman wearing: A horizontal striped shirt. Stone-washed jeans. Ankle-length. Thick, white sport socks. Clogs.

I mean, I'm all for business casual, but I think this is stretching things a little far.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

UNH Fall Horse Trials – October 3 – 4th, 2009

Day 2: Stadium Jumping & Cross-Country

I think that I managed a little off & on sleep on Saturday night, but still, 2:30-3 AM came around awfully fast on Sunday. Definitely the hardest part about this event was the 2-day element. I think it might be kind of fun to go to something where you stay overnight, but this coming home and starting all over from scratch business was quite brutal. Still, once I was up and moving and on my way, I was able to push aside my exhaustion for most of the day. It came back to me at odd times when I had a moment to sit, but generally I was able to forget about it.

I again was not scheduled to ride until relatively late in the day – 3:04 PM or something. The morning was filled with walking our Stadium & Cross-Country courses, helping the morning riders get ready and watching some of the morning Stadium rounds, which had the added bonus of cementing that jump course in my head (I’m always worried that I’m going to forget the course.) We really lucked out with the weather. If anything, Saturday had been worse than had been predicted, however, Sunday ended up being so much better. I had heard a number of reports that called for rain all morning and then clearing for the afternoon, but it never ended up raining even a drop on us all day. It remained a bit cloudy for part of the morning and then cleared into a lovely sunny and temperate day -- it seemed just the right temperature for me, warm enough so that it was comfortable for hanging out all day, but not at all hot for riding.

It was mostly a leisurely day, certainly much more so than any 1-day event that I’ve experienced so far. Still, all too soon it seemed that it was time for me to get Ruby ready. Again, I decided to follow my policy of giving myself extra time – both for getting ready and for warming up. This took a little bit of the stress out of things for me, at least for the getting ready part. I never once felt in a much of a panic and it helped to hold off my nerves. Again, I have to state how nicely my horse behaved around the trailer, I was able to deal with her and get her ready with no help. My experiences with her and the two-horse trailer at UNH starts to make a good case for considering a two-horse of my own for someday – but I can’t think about that now!

We made our way over to the warm-up and right away I could tell that Ruby was in a keyed-up mood. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially on a Stadium and Cross-Country day, but there was also a big horse in the warm-up ring majorly acting up (bucking & rearing & whatever) that really set Ruby off. We started our warm-up with some bucking and big spooking and a mini-bolt or two which, of course, immediately scared me with flashbacks of Groton House! As I’ve mentioned before, the warm-up is far from my favorite part of any event and, for some reason, I seem to be the most nervous for the Stadium phase. So my nerves for UNH seemed to come to a head at this point and I found myself somewhat seriously freaked out. I was not quite paralyzed with nerves, but I definitely was impaired. Luckily Ann was there to talk me off of the ledge, I mean, coach me and I was able to work through it. Ruby settled down reasonably and we jumped a few of the warm-up fences relatively competently, but I was very happy to say good-bye to that warm-up ring.

Very soon I was on deck for my Stadium round. I had watched enough jumping rounds throughout the day so felt that I knew the course well enough, but I spent the last few moments plotting the lines I wanted to take to the various fences and trying to quell my anxious Stadium Jumping nerves. For the first couple of jumps I caught a couple long spots, but soon was able to find the rhythm well enough. I was very conscious of lines to everything and about using the corners of the ring, keeping a forward, but steady & balanced pace and about getting straight to every jump. The only part that got a bit funky was the two-stride in & out combination. I was pretty good about getting deep to the corner before it and our line was reasonable, but I found Ruby trying to run out on the first jump! This is extremely unusual for her and in hindsight I decided that she was most likely spooking at the judge’s platform which was right beside these jumps. Still, even when being squirrely, Ruby is pretty good about broadcasting what she’s feeling about something, there was no dirty stop or last minute bolt around the jump. So I was able to encourage her over by being very clear with my leg about what I wanted her to do and she listened quite nicely. Because of the awkward jump into the combination, I was a little concerned about how we would negotiate the striding, but I made a point of driving her forward and we did end up getting the two strides, even with that funky first jump. After that the rest of the round was pretty perfect, I think. Ruby was responsive and adjustable, she listened nicely to me, was balanced and forward and enthusiastic & happy to jump everything. We finished with a clean round and no time faults, which was good enough to bump us up to 5th place in our division.

One of the nice things about how this event was organized was how they scheduled everyone to go directly to the Cross-Country start, as soon as their Stadium was completed. No need for another warm-up (and thus no opportunity for me to psych myself out again), no need for un-tacking and tacking up again. It was also nice to take my little adrenalin rush from Stadium and bring it with me to my Cross-Country start. Oddly, I was not at all nervous for Cross-Country, nor I had I been worried about it at any point during the weekend. I remember walking my first XC course at this level (at this very venue!) back in July and how it had scared me. Have I really become completely jaded about it over the course of a couple of months? In any case, I started my XC course loose and confident and happy to be out there with Ruby. I think Ruby loves this phase the most so she was forward and excited with ears perked looking eagerly for the first jump.

After our slow time at King Oak last month, I also wanted to make a point of staying at a more forward pace more consistently this time. In other words, I needed to have fewer sections of trotting. We had to be careful about some turns here and there because of all the rain we had had over the last 24 hours, but in general I felt that the footing held up very well, allowing us to move nicely forward. We kept rolling forward through the first two fields, over the first 4 or 5 jumps or so. There was an area where we had to make a turn, cross a dirt road and there was a hodge-podge of jumps from other divisions that we had to navigate around. We had to trot for a few moments here because of this confusion, but then we were forward again, with a nice gallop over the next two jumps, around a squash field and into the woods. As we entered the woods Ruby tried to break into a trot (probably a little uncertainty with the terrain change and moving from light to dark), but I said (outloud) to her, while using my leg, “No, you can canter here, it’s okay.” And so she moved forward as asked and down to the hill to this rather upright, reverse roll-top kind of jump. I remember this one from July where we jumped it going the other direction, in this direction, it was more upright and the side we jumped from was lower than the landing side, making it a bit of a bigger jump going this way. Still, Ruby rolled nicely and confidently forward to it and jumped it with a lovely spot. It was some more down-hill terrain to the next jump, a coop that they were calling “The Dog House” also something we had jumped in July and then it was on to the water. By now I felt that, between the downhill grade and the excitement of the jumps, we were going at a good forward clip, but with the water coming up I felt that it was perhaps a bit too forward. I haven’t done too much water with Ruby, really only once officially (at UNH in July) and I haven’t done any real schooling on this with her otherwise, so I did not feel confidence coming into it at this pace. Mostly I just didn’t feel in enough control of this situation if she decided at the last minute that she wasn’t too thrilled with the obstacle. So, I “woahed” her down, and “woahed” her down some more until I had a nice forward trot from her. She pushed right through the water very nicely and gave me no trouble at all, but I felt a little bit more in control over everything at this trot than I had at the strong canter down the hill.

After the water we had to pick through a little bit of terrain that did not have a clear path and where there were some tree roots and other things that I felt compromised the footing a bit. Mostly I was trying to remember the path through this bunch of trees to the next set of jumps that I had decided on when I walked the course earlier in the day. It was a relatively short portion from the water to the next jump and from there, Ruby jumped in, exploded up this steep bank, jumped out of the series and it was nice gallop around the last couple of jumps on the course. I was exhilarated and so, so happy with Ruby! She was bold and brave and happy, but also listened to me and did everything I wanted her to do at every moment on the course. She is a total thrill to take around cross-country, she really is.

Well, it turns out that we were 7 seconds slow on the course. Those 7 seconds cost me 2.8 points and two finishing places for our division (dropping me from 5th back down to 7th). That’s how close my division was for this event, for 5th-7th places we had all been within 3 points of each other. Oh well. In hindsight, I should have kept that forward pace through the water that would have made up those 7 seconds and more. I’m pretty sure that Ruby would have rolled right through there at a good, strong canter, but in this case I’m the one who was green and unsure, so that was my misjudgment. Still, I would rather err on the side of caution than not, so I can’t really be too upset about it in the end. I do think that we’ve both made a lot of progress. I know that Ruby has, but I feel that I have too. Our first two events in May & June I pretty much trotted everything (both in Stadium and on Cross-Country). In July, I trotted lots of stuff on XC, but made up for it by galloping way too hard on other sections (we had no time faults on that course, however). In September, I trotted in significant sections causing us 7-8 penalty points (I think we were 20-25 seconds over that day). At the October event I feel like we were much more consistent, there were very short pieces were there was a minimal amount of trotting, but far less than at either of the two events. There were areas where I was tempted to trot, or to continue trotting, but where I pushed forward instead. Really, the only thing on that entire course that I feel I would have done differently is the water. I feel that I made the right decisions everywhere else. Most importantly, I came away with a happy & confident horse after the course and I was happy & confident myself. All-in-all, I was extremely happy with it and felt that it had been our most consistently-ridden event yet, for all three phases.

This event closed the competitive year for me, so I was extremely happy to end on what I feel was a very positive note. I feel like I made a lot of progress throughout the season and that Ruby & I grew into a good team. I feel like I moved from merely trying to get through these competitions to actually developing some consistency. On this side of the season I now feel pretty steady at this level that I was pretty freaked out about at the start of the Summer, and am looking forward to working on our weak spots. After UNH-Fall I felt more that I have very specific things that I can focus on, where the other events I participated in over the season I came away with more of a, “Well, thank God THAT is over!” kind of attitude. Overall I feel pretty proud of myself and extremely proud of my horse. It’s hard to believe that we’ve only been together since late April.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

UNH Fall Horse Trials – October 3-4th, 2009

Day 1: Dressage

Unlike how I came into my two previous sanctioned events (UNH Sunmmer Horse Trials in July and King Oak in September) I did not do a ton of riding leading up to the day of this event. Between coming down with a bit of a bug the week before that mostly had me feeling exhausted and crappy, and work, I did not have a lot of time leftover to work on my riding. On Thursday I worked something like 15-hours, so there was no riding on that day. Finally, Friday (the day before the event), I managed to get in a good ride. I also managed a run-through of BN Dressage Test-B (the required Dressage test for my division for this event) which was completely new to me. After the ride I had to try and get Ruby clean and get my tack and gear together and cleaned.

3 AM Saturday seemed to come awfully fast after the busy week that I had had. Actually it came at around 2:15 AM, because that is when I ended up waking up (I had planned to get up at 3). It was pouring down rain. A cold, driving, Autumn rain. Got to the barn around 4:30 AM or so and helped with the outdoor feeding in the dark and rain. Then we got all the horses loaded and were on our way. The 6-horse barn trailer had broken down that week, so there had been a mad scramble to come up with enough 2-horse trailers to transport everyone. Ruby (and I) ended up in a trailer that was generously lent to the barn by one of Alison’s students.

It was just one of those miserably horrible days. Unrelenting cold rain that seemed to run the gamut from merely pouring, to torrential, sideways driving rain. Ugh – exactly the kind of day where it would be wonderful to stay in bed with a book and a pile of dogs. We got to the event by around 7 AM, but my ride time wasn’t scheduled until 1:25 PM, so it was a lot of time standing around and waiting in this misery. I distracted myself by walking my cross-country course for the next day, stuffing hay bags, watering horses, picking horse poop out from the trailer from underneath horse hooves and, when all else failed, and once I was good and soaking wet, sitting huddled on a hay bale under the feet of the horses with the hard rain driving on the metal roof and reading my book (thankfully I remembered to bring a book!)

Everyone was off walking jump courses when it was time for me to start getting Ruby ready for our Dressage ride. I learned very quickly that my horse is quite easy to unload (and load) and deal with in and around the trailer and without cross-ties. It’s definitely a plus to know that I actually can do all of this without help.

Our warm-up went surprisingly well. Typically, the various warm-up activities at these events have not been the highlight for me. All of my tension and worry seems to come to a head here, and if Ruby is going to misbehave, this is where it starts to happen. For Dressage, I can usually tell pretty quickly what horse I’m going to have that day and on Saturday what I had was a light, forward, responsive horse. She was quite nice from the very beginning. Canter transitions are our Achilles heel at the moment and worrying about them causes me some anxiety, so I tend to ask for one or two pretty early in a Dressage warm-up, so that I know what I’m dealing with. But Ruby stepped into the canter beautifully each time I asked, no problem there at all. Her canter in general has gotten much, much better, it’s much more balanced, round and obedient and also easier to ride. However, she was a little resistant to the right on Saturday, resisting the bend and tossing her head some, we’ve had much better right lead canters lately, but she was not offering me her best on Saturday. Still, everything else seemed very good. Very responsive to my leg, willing to bend in each direction, offering impulsion over the back and from behind, even Alison said that she looked good. Surprisingly I also was not very nervous. I remember the wreck that I was back in May & June for my first couple of events and I didn’t feel even remotely like that – perhaps that also helped me to relax and warm-up Ruby without too much tension. Being relatively new to all of this, I still haven’t figured out how much warm-up Ruby needs (or how much I need, for that matter), and I suspect that it’s probably going to vary with her anyway. This day because she was so nice and responsive, I decided that less was more and I walked the last 10 minutes or so of our warm-up time, still doing circle and serpentine figures to keep her working and listening, as well as supple, but not pressing for anything more than that.

Very soon I was on deck for my turn in the Dressage ring. I’ve come to the realization that it’s better to get on the horse a little earlier rather than later. The warm-up time seems to really fly and I do also like to walk Ruby around some before I start, so she can look at everything, and I don’t think it hurts to walk her around after I’ve done most of the warm-up. Of course, every horse is different, but I’d rather be a little early and know I’m in the right place than rushing around to get there and get ready.

We had time to trot around the outside of our Dressage ring a few times before they rang the bell, signaling that I could start. Ruby rode nicely forward and round down the centerline, but I could tell we were not exactly straight – this is one of those things we just haven’t gotten quite right yet, but at least I could recognize it and try to adjust. I have to say that at every movement and figure, she really did listen to what I wanted and tried to comply. A better rider might have been able to get more out of her, but I really was quite pleased, I felt (like I did at King Oak) that we were a team in this, that there was some harmonious flow to our effort. I’d say she stayed pretty round for most of the test, straightness wasn’t great, but bending was better than it has been. And she was very nicely forward, I thought, I was particularly pleased with that. I was very happy with both canter transitions, but her right lead canter was a bit stiff and she tossed her head and resisted some on the circle. Still, the impulsion was nice and she did offer the transition eagerly. Overall, I was quite pleased with everything. At the end of it I felt like we were maybe entering “respectable” territory for our Dressage. Later I was thrilled to learn that we earned a “39” score on our test. Not stellar by most riders’ standards, but really a HUGE improvement for us. At the UNH event in July our Dressage earned us a 54.2, that’s a 15.2 point improvement! I was very, very happy with that. It was also good enough to put us in 7th place for our division. I feel like if we can improve from here, that we may truly be able to be competitive someday.

It was a very long and miserable day for just one little Dressage test, but after all was said and done, I felt like it was pretty worth it. I feel very encouraged that Ruby and I are making progress. It was very disconcerting, however, to finally get home, collapse on the couch and realize that I had to just turn around and do it all over again the next day – GAH!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Note to Self:

When you're really, really pissed off about something, be careful how you stomp around the house, because dogs really don't understand that you're actually not upset with them. They will cringe and cower (or look at you like you're insane, if a Pug) as if you are.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Note to the Woman Whose GINORMOUS SUV was Blocking the Exit from my Complex this Morning

Does your kid really need a ride, personal escort and cushy spot to wait for the school bus when:

* It's 60 degrees outside.
* It's clear and sunny.
* The walk required to the school bus stop is (at the most) 0.1 of a mile on a private driveway.
* There are other kids to walk and wait with.

I mean, your kid does realize that we all used to walk the entire 10+ miles to school, barefoot and through 3 foot drifts of snow, uphill in both directions, right?


Monday, September 28, 2009

In a Funk

Have you ever gone through one of those periods where you feel so crappy about yourself, that you feel like you just can’t do anything right? Where you feel so down about yourself that you’re at your happiest when you’re asleep?

I’m kind of going through one of those periods right now. I’m not sure what has caused it, but I sure would like to see the end of it now. In a way, I think I’ve been a bit self-indulgent about it, I think living alone for a long time can do that to a person. When you don’t have anyone to talk to much, someone to stick up for you and to even tell you when you’re being ridiculous, you tend to have a self-dialog that can spiral in the wrong direction fairly easily. I don’t usually mind being single, but it sure can get lonely sometimes, especially as I have little to no close family either.

When I get like this, I also tend to indulge in somewhat self-destructive behavior, like eating a lot of junk food and not exercising. And (of course) the worse my eating habits become, and the longer it’s been since I exercised, the worse I feel about myself and the more I want to eat inappropriately, etc. So that becomes a vicious circle that is very hard to break out of. I feel low, eat some comfort food, hate myself more, need more comfort food, really hate myself -- I’m self-medicating and the worse part of it is, I (obviously) realize what I’m doing, yet I still can’t seem to stop. Crazy. Vicious. Cycle.

Being around Ruby (and horses in general) and riding makes me extremely happy and very often will help me forget about all of this crap, but I haven’t even been out to the barn since last Wednesday! Part of it is that work has interfered a little bit, partially that I’ve had a bug that I’ve been fighting off and have not felt very well, partially because I was so disgusted with how poorly I was riding last week (causing me to hate myself even more) and a good part of it is just this funk that I am in. It is causing me to be in a serious torpor. I have a competition this weekend and there is no way I’m going to be even remotely prepared for it. I almost feel like I should scratch maybe, except that I’ll then hate myself even more if I do, I’m sure. After one unfortunate ride last week, my trainer told me that I’m really too hard on myself, that learning to ride (really ride) is a frustrating, life-long process and that she feels that I’m doing well and am right where I should be (given where I started) and that there are just some things that aren’t going to happen overnight. I know that I should cut myself some slack in this one regard, I know that I’ve only been back to it for a year after a very long absence and, from a distance, I am even a little bit amazed that I’ve been able to compete as I have. But when I come away from an hour on my horse feeling completely incompetent, it’s hard to have some perspective. I can intellectualize that I’ve come along way, that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but it’s hard to actually feel that way on an emotional level. I start to feel sorry for the horse too, like I’m not doing her justice at all.

I seem to swing back & forth between confidence and feeling like the most inept person on the planet at work too. Sometimes even over the course of one day. Sometimes I feel plugged in, that I am valuable and contributing significantly and the next moment I can feel like I’m completely clueless and a waste of space. I know that I let these negative thoughts take over my brain too much and that I’m also too easily affected negatively by the overconfidence of some of the people in the office around me. It’s almost like the more that I encounter this overconfidence in some, that my confidence lowers in direct proportion. I know that a lot of this is tied to the economic down-turn of the past year too. Things just feel so uncertain and sketchy and that makes me feel paranoid and unstable and (frankly) scared. Still, the work thing has been a factor for good while now, I don’t know why I suddenly feel worse about it. Probably I’m just in a more vulnerable state of mind and so it’s infiltrating my mind more because of that.

Maybe this is all just a matter of chemistry. I know that when I’m riding consistently (5-6 times a week) that I feel better. If I can manage some other exercise on top of that, even better still, although finding the time is rough. The endorphins and whatever other chemicals produced by the activity seems to keep me on a more even keel. Riding and being around horses also fulfills me beyond that on a more emotional level. I don’t quite know what the answer is, but I have to pull myself out of this funk somehow and hopefully make it a more permanent thing. Cycling endlessly through these periods has become rather old.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

King Oak Results Update

They published the final results from the horse trial on Saturday and I see that my time faults on cross-country only ended up pushing me down one place. Either way I would have been out of the ribbons, so I don't feel so bad about it now (not that I really felt that bad about it in the first place!)

Monday, September 14, 2009

King Oak Fall Horse Trials: September 12, 2009

Let me just say, it's a good thing that I have a trainer to push me a bit in this sport. I had had such a great experience at UNH in July, but it was also such an exhausting effort. Worse, I had been jumping out of my skin with nerves for weeks leading up to that day. Once it was all over however, I was on a high about my experience, but also with some amount of relief that I had gotten through it and that I didn't have anything else scheduled just yet. That first week after UNH Alison said that we should talk about what I should do next. I kind of blew it off a bit because I was still a little shell-shocked and slightly overwhelmed (at least mentally) from UNH. So I stalled and didn't make any real decision about any new competitions. And then one day Alison said, "so, I guess you're not really interested in Eventing then." What? Of course I'm interested! So, that pushed me out of my complacency and got me to sign up for the King Oak Fall Horse Trials.

I felt that King Oak was a good choice because Alison had already ridden Ruby in their Spring Horse Trials back in May. So, I knew that she had been fine there and had gotten through everything with no problems. Also, since I had been there as a spectator/groom, I had also seen everything and had even walked the cross-country course at that time myself. I knew that there was nothing on course that would particularly alarm me. Finally, I sent in my entry.

Surprisingly, I didn't have the immediate issue with nerves that I had experienced before UNH. I was kind of able to keep the knowledge of the coming event to the back of my mind and not obsess too much. The last two weeks before the event I stepped up my riding, taking (I think) only one day off. I was in a Dressage lesson last week and very, very frustrated over my inability to accomplish an effective bend with Ruby (especially to the right). She has been out of training board for a while now and I probably have not been insistent enough with my riding to force the issue, which has probably allowed her to become somewhat stiff and more resistant to bending. Alison decided to have a couple of her working students (who are all excellent riders) ride Ruby during the week which seemed to loosen her up quite a bit so that I was able to accomplish bending with her when I rode her in the evenings. This also suppled her up and made getting her on the bit much easier. I feel pretty humbled with how easily the barn girls are able to accomplish this where I cannot. It just really highlights how much work my riding really needs, how much I still need to learn, how much I still need to improve to just be merely adequate. That one lesson early in the week was the low-point, but after that, things started to improve and I started to feel a little more encouraged for the event on Saturday. I was nervous, but I didn't feel wracked with nerves like I did before UNH.

King Oak is in Western Massachusetts, so it's a bit of a haul for us from Southern NH. We left the barn somewhere around 4 AM after doing the barn feeding in the pitch dark and pouring rain (now, that was an interesting experience). I don't really want to think too hard about how little sleep I had had over the last couple of days leading up to the competition. Work has been pretty busy, I've been getting to the office early most days, riding every evening after work, not sleeping well in general. It's enough to say that I was pretty much an exhausted wreck by that morning. However, once we got there, I kind of forgot about all of that. It was pretty wet on the grounds, but the rain we were experiencing in NH was only a cool, gray drizzle or mist in Western MA, so really not that bad at all (bad weather for the event was something that I had been dreading).

Again, I had a long wait for my first scheduled riding time (1:05 PM). I always seem to be the last from our barn scheduled to ride, what's up with that? Anyway, the time really flew with walking of the Stadium and Cross-Country jump courses, helping everyone else, watching some of the Dressage tests and a Stadium course round or two and walking Ruby around to give her a look around the grounds and some grazing time. The walk around the Dressage and Stadium areas worried me a bit because the set-up was reminiscent of the set-up at the Groton House Summer Classic event that had thrown Ruby into such a lather. At that event, she seemed to be particularly spooky and cranky about being able to see glimpses (but not a clear view) of horses in an adjacent area. The Stadium area on Saturday was set up just through a small tree stand on a hill beside the Dressage arenas and warm-up, so I had some misgivings about that, it caused a bit of anxiety for me, but still, I have to say that my nerves never really got too bad.

(Note: the Stadium phase was held in a different location than it had been in the Spring. It was the new set-up on the other side of the trees from Dressage that concerned me for spooking opportunities.)

I should not have worried, because Ruby was fine, I don't think she even gave one spook, maybe just a bit of looking around, but she was otherwise very willing to get to work. After about twenty minutes or so of warm-up, we went in for our dressage test. Our past tests seem to have varied from disastrous to fairly mediocre, this is definitely our weakest phase. But on Saturday it felt to me ... not horrible. It wasn't brilliant by any stretch of the imagination. The score was (again) mediocre. But the difference is, it felt different to me. Ruby was more consistently supple, more consistently on the bit than I've ever felt that she has been before for me. As in the past, I would have some good moments, then lose the frame, have some bad moments, and then have some good moments. But on Saturday I felt that the good moments were far more plentiful this time. She also felt much more balanced to me -- the canter particularly felt like an enormous improvement. She actually cantered around each circle quite round and balanced, stepping under herself and carrying herself together, not heavy on the forehand and strung out and not hollow with the llama-horse neck that she can do, no tossing of her head and resisting contact. I feel that this is huge progress. HUGE! Of course, compared to the pool of competitors on Saturday, we were apparently not wonderful, but I was personally quite thrilled with the test once we were through. I was literally gushing about it. Alison was even very pleased with it and felt that it showed a lot of progress for us. Lastly and most importantly, I felt that Ruby and I worked together as a true team. I usually feel this way about jumping, but Dressage has been more a struggle, more of a fight to eek out some resemblance of something that looks something kind of like "Dressage". This test on Saturday felt far more harmonious than our previous efforts. The judge's comments on the test at the end of the day more-or-less supported how I felt about it. The bottom line basically came down to "needs more consistency", "needs to be more consistent". Well, okay, THIS I can work with. Needing more consistency just means that it needs more work, more practice. It means that we're headed in the right direction. This is encouraging.

For some reason, I was the most nervous about the Stadium Jumping phase. Dressage makes me nervous from a performance stand-point, but I know that I'll at least (most likely) get through it, no matter how ugly it ends up being. Cross-country didn't worry me much because none of the jumps on the course seemed particularly intimidating to me. Plus, I feel like, in a way, it's just my horse and me out there, almost like we're out for a hack in the woods. I can trot if I need to, I can slow down and speed up as I want or feel I need to. I can almost convince myself that we're out there alone and that it's no big deal. SJ, well, I don't know, it freaks me out a little bit. The course can have a lot of twists & turns, the jumps always look bigger to me (I think they're more likely to be the max height than the XC jumps). You know there is always a crowd of people watching. This SJ course was in a field, so there was bit of a terrain element (you definitely were headed up and down hill in places) and it was on grass so you had to worry about footing, especially since there had been a bunch of rain. Also, I felt like I had not done a full stadium course like this in a while. I'm trying to remember, but it seems like my last few jumping lessons have been more of, jump a few SJ jumps in the ring, then jump out of the ring and jumps some stuff out in the field. And I had had some recent jumping lessons where I had jumped very poorly too. So I was worried about it.

Well. Let me say that I shouldn't have worried. Ruby truly is a jumping star. And I think that we're actually quite a nice jumping team, we seem to really understand each other. I was pretty good about remembering to rate her, to bring her back after every jump (she was a bit fresh in that field and wanted to GO). I remembered to constantly balance her and I trusted her to do her job and she listened attentively to my input throughout. I have ridden horses before who want to get very fresh and strong and fast while jumping, and this can very often become a bit of fight to keep them at the pace where you want them, but I never feel this way with Ruby. She will also get fresh and strong and fast, but she listens. I find it very easy to adjust her, to check her slightly here and there and change the pace to what is needed.

Of course, this doesn't mean that I didn't screw up a couple of times. She had gotten a bit speedy downhill towards one jump headed back to the in-gate. She had adjusted very well to my rebalancing efforts and jumped it beautifully. Then it was a hook around the back of the field over a rustic-rail oxer which she jumped nicely, but after that it was a turn back towards the center of the course and we lost some forward momentum. I realized too late that we weren't as forward here as we needed to be and that screwed up our next three fences a little bit. She jumped them fine, touched a rail on fence #6 (but it didn't fall), didn't jump as forward into the combination as she needed to, so she chipped in a third stride to the "out" fence, rather than getting the expected two strides. But she got over them all okay, and I have to say, even with the less-than-perfect distances, my body position did not get in her way (or jump me out of the tack). I think I've made some improvements there as I was able to stick with her nicely, whether the fence was perfect or not so much. Finally, it was over some jump that was stuffed with corn stalks and husks and a turn and then over an oxer and we were over the finish line -- CLEAR! That was a relief. Alison told me that she thought I did a good job with the course and that our round and been "quite respectable". I was frankly thrilled with it. Even Ann (who had been watching from the hill) said that she thought it was very well done.

The last phase was Cross-Country. Because it was only about half an hour after our Stadium phase, I didn't feel that Ruby needed a lot of warm-up. We walked, trotted and cantered around the warm-up field a little bit, but I didn't bother to jump her over any of the practice jumps. I felt that she had jumped enough (and recently enough) and that additional jumps would just tire her out unnecessarily. I also tend to really dislike these warm-ups and sometimes start to psych myself out with bad distances and some ugly efforts, so I felt that keeping our good SJ in round in my head was the best thing for maintaing the right positive frame of mind.

Happily, we did not have to wait too long in the warm-up before they let us over to the starting box for the count-down. We started in this open field over a small stacked log jump and then a turn over this scary-looking jump that was stuffed with corn stalks. Ruby didn't seem to mind and just cantered over everything blithely with an attitude that almost seemed to say, "what's next". From there, we entered the woods and it was another smallish log jump and then down the path a bit was some kind of bench thing all the way over to the side of the trail. The jump wasn't very big or scary, but the position was a little off-putting, still she jumped it with no problem. Down the wooded trail some more and then it was over this narrow wood wall, that had these big hedges growing up on either side (so the available spot to jump was pretty small) and then into another field. Here, as expected, Ruby wanted to get a little fresh and strong (as I imagine most horses do there). Big, wide, open field, what horse doesn't react to that? So I was careful to try and slow her and bring her back to me here. But I think I misjudged a bit and she was probably a little bit strung out because she took the next jump long and flat, taking an early spot, which kind of left me behind. That was our ugly jump on the course, she gamely jumped it and didn't hold a grudge that I caught her in the mouth (although, I did manage to slip the reins some, it was not enough).

From there it was another log and then another bench and then a turn across the field to a combination two-stride. Well, what was supposed to be two strides anyway. Ruby unfortunately broke to a trot a few strides before the first jump (not sure at this point if I had over-adjusted to cause this) and I felt that we were too close at that point for me try and change the pace and gait so I let it go. We jumped into the combination, but she had to chip in a very short third stride to jump out. Still, we got over it okay with minimal drama, so it was fine. From here we were back into the woods and uphill, over an up-bank, uphill some more, around a turn and a red coop (which I suspect was the only max height jump on the course) and then a bit of an uphill gallop to a stack of birch rails, around a turn to another log and down a very steep hill and out of the woods. At this point I realized that our time was not good. We were slow and I didn't feel there was much I could do to catch it back up enough, without flat-out galloping hell-for-leather and I wasn't willing to do that, it's just not safe and not worth the risk. So we picked it up to an appropriate speed and I tried to forget about the time. The second-to-last jump was another bench with a big flower pot in the middle of it. Ruby gave that a very good look, but a little leg squeeze from me and she was over it (nice big bascule over it as she wanted to give that horse-eating flower pot a lot of space), a turn across the field and a last log jump and over the finish line. A quick glance at my watch and I estimated that we were probably about 15-20 seconds over the optimum time. Oh well, we're still learning this stuff. Anyway, we were clean! Clean with time faults, but clean. I will always be very happy about a clean round.

Again, the XC mistakes are a matter of consistency. Ruby is very bold and willing. I have a little bit of bravery and am willing to do "forward". It's just a matter of figuring out the consistency of pacing. When you do have to slow down for obstacles on course, or for turning, or for footing (or for a heart that's racing out of control with adrenalin), how do you make it up. Learning to keep the pace stable and more consistent over most of the course so that you have the leeway to slow down for pieces of it. Anyway, it's all a matter of more practice, more experience, more exposure. I feel confident that I'll get it eventually.

So, overall it was a great day! I feel really good about how we did. Dressage was almost a complete revelation, SJ was close to perfect (well, some negatives, but nothing disastrous) and cross-country was no problem at all, just the pacing that I screwed up, but Ruby was almost perfect. XC is especially amazing considering that our last XC course was at the UNH event in July! Now that I have two sanctioned events under my belt, I feel much more solid about it, and about the division level. I feel a bit more confident and a bit more capable. I feel like the things that went wrong are pretty fixable with some work and practice. It's funny, but even though our overall score was (I think) better than it was at UNH, we placed far more poorly, pulling in at 12th place. That's okay, I feel like overall we've made progress and I was happy with the day. Even the weather managed to hold, never actually flat-out raining. All-in-all it ended up being a great day.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Most. Awesome. Dressage. Ever.

NOTE: When I talk about the Dressage that I do, it does not resemble anything even remotely like this. Just to be clear.

Monday, August 31, 2009


Today I quite unexpectedly received a certificate of appreciation from a customer for being a team player and helping them out with certain needs. Included with the award was $50 in AMEX gift certificates! Well, color me completely amazed! How sweet of them.

(of course I was so surprised and stunned that I proceeded to turn into some strange person's cubicle while reading the award, instead of making the turn down the aisle that I was supposed to be aiming for. doh!)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nicolas Sparks Sucks

This post contains spoilers for a couple of sucky movies, so if you care about that, you might not want to read on.

I've read only one Nicolas Sparks book, "Message in a Bottle" -- that was more than enough for me. Sentimental, trite, maudlin crap! And I occasionally like sentimental stuff, but this was too much, even for me. Since then, I've now seen three movies made from his books, "Message in a Bottle", "The Notebook" and (just last night), "Nights in Rodanthe". In every. single. movie. we are treated to a melodramatic death of one (or more!) of the main characters, always in a way that is exploited for maximum emotional impact. As soon as I realized this was a Nicolas Sparks movie, I should have known better and refused to watch. Did I follow my instincts? Not on your life. I thought to myself, 'surely, ALL of his stories can't end the same way?' But no, predictably again, main character: DEAD. Just when the movie has reached it's romantic crescendo too. Whatever. Nicolas Sparks, I am done with you. Done! What amazes me also is that all these relatively good and popular actors continue to agree to be in these crappy movies. I mean, "Nights in Rodanthe" had Diane Lane, Richard Gere and Scott Glenn for chrissakes. What were they thinking???

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things I Will Never Understand

Why I always feel immediately guilty whenever I see a police car, even though I'm not doing anything wrong. (Well, I'm almost never doing anything wrong anyway.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Note to Self:

When you're browsing around the company cafeteria and nothing really appeals, and you look at something in particular and think to yourself, 'I'll bet that's not very good.' Do yourself a favor and trust your instincts and get a simple salad, or a chicken sandwich, or a yogurt. Because otherwise you might end up throwing that lunch away and end up with something inappropriate like, oh I don't know, a brownie and a Diet Coke, or something. Not that I would know anything about this from experience or anything.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Observations from a Week

You wonder what the grocery clerk REALLY thinks when all that you are buying are a bag of giant carrots, greek yogurt and beer.

It’s shocking what some people consider appropriate work wear on a Friday.

Self-Important-Meeting-Hijack-Guy (SIMHG) being out on vacation = good mood.

SIMHG back in the office = bad mood.

Being stuck on endless meetings with SIMHG = foul mood.

Arriving to work at 7:50 AM on an otherwise quiet Friday to find SIMHG already there = despair.

How many forced security patch install/reboots in a week are necessary and prudent and how many are approaching ridiculous?

Who knew horse chiropractors / vets could be so cute?

You have to question your skills as an equestrian when you jump, not once, but three times into the jump standards in the course of one hour.

Your social life has reached an all-time low, when the high-point of your week is the “special extended” episode of the “Real Housewives of Atlanta”.

You refer to a colleague on a meeting that you are running for a customer by the wrong last name. (You know for a FACT that you did this once, but suspect and fear that it may have actually been twice).

Dogs are very forgiving.

Being able to go to bed early one night and read for a solid hour = complete luxury.

Realizing as you walk around the office one day that your eyes have not stopped rolling once.

Wondering why some women wear so much perfume.

Laughing at how some people love to charge down the hallway to the cafeteria, like there is a prize involved for getting there first or something.

With a hurricane bearing down on New England, the biggest concern on all the news channels is how this will effect the Red Sox schedule.

When a building in Boston needs to be evacuated, it makes the local news. This never happened in NYC. Well, except for on 9/11/2001.

After a week of muttering to your laptop, you expect it to answer.

You’ve spent so much time during the week muttering and cursing under your breath. In. Your. Cubicle. That the intern who sits across the aisle is seriously afraid of you (and finally admits on Friday that he next expects your laptop to come flying his way).

Thursday, July 30, 2009

UNH HT Photo

(used with permission)

If I remember correctly, this was the one of the jumps that I was worried about on the first course walk (I think it was fence #7). As you can see, it was really no problem at all.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened in the Ladies Room Today

So, I'm in the Ladies Room in a stall and I hear someone come in and go into another stall. I come out and am at the sink washing my hands and I hear the other person come out and go to a sink down the room a bit.

Suddenly I hear this exclamation, "OMG!!!"

I turn around and look at the person and hesitate for a beat and think to myself, 'what is wrong with this picture?'

Suddenly I exclaim out loud, "OMG, you're a MAN!!!"

The poor guy stands there for a moment just gaping at me in horror and shock and then literally runs out of the room, while I call after him, "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone!"

I proceed to stop by and tell two people about it as I walk back to my desk. I'm sorry, it was just too funny not to share.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

UNH Summer Horse Trials: July 19th, 2009

On Sunday I competed with Ruby in my first ever sanctioned event. I have written here leading up to the event about how nervous and freaked-out I was for it. Also about how, in addition to being my first sanctioned, this was also a step-up in division for me. Alison (my trainer) had been telling me for the past month or so that I was ready for this, I trust Alison’s judgment and think that, if anything, she tends to be conservative about this stuff (which is good, I never have to worry about ever truly being over-faced). So, I kept telling myself that if Alison thinks that I’m ready, then I must be ready. Still, I spent the last couple of weeks leading up to the event in some form of panic as the day loomed larger on the horizon.

In addition to the general anxiety about performance (and worry about embarrassing myself and my trainer), two big things worried me about riding at UNH. I was worried to encounter more of the crazy behavior from Ruby that I had experienced at the last event and I was worried about the larger jumps and the scarier course that I was going to encounter cross-country in this new division. The latter particularly as we haven’t been off to school any real cross-country course in preparation anywhere. I was less concerned about Stadium Jumping (although still a little worried) as we had done a few solid jump courses in the ring at home at the division height and complexity. Luckily, we have a field at the barn and there are some XC jumps there. So we’ve schooled banks and ditches, ridden over some varying terrain (as well as on trails) and have schooled the new jump height some, so I wasn’t completely coming out of left field, but still, the anxiety was pretty prominent.

I managed to ride Ruby quite a lot in preparation for the show. One day was the wonderful jump school that I mentioned previously where we jumped the coop from the ring to the field, in addition to some other stuff – that gave me a little shot of confidence. The day before the event I spent a full hour riding her in both the ring and the field, doing lots of figures, trot work, canter work, even some galloping. It was a humid, hot day and we were both soaked by the time we were done, but I did not want to have an explosive, anxious horse the next day and felt that this was necessary preparation for the event.

Finally the day was here and we caught a break with the weather! Every previous 3-Phase that I had been to this season had started in the pouring rain, and I was pretty sick of that misery. My day started at 3 AM, but by the time we were leaving the barn for the event, the day was dawning beautifully clear and sunny. I was very nervous, but also excited to be going to UNH – when I was horse shopping back in March, UNH had been the one event that I really wanted to do, so it somehow seemed fitting to have it be my first sanctioned.

When we first got there, we right away ran over and walked the Stadium Jumping course. My nerves were not helped by the fact that the course was set for the division two levels above mine (since that was the first division scheduled to run that day). Looking at the course at that height had me a bit green around the gills. Looking at the twists and turns and the combinations accelerated my breathing and heart rate. I started to feel the pressure and felt the anxiety building. Our first rider had a very early dressage ride time, so we waited for her to go and then Alison took the rest of us out to walk the cross-country course.

My GOD, from the very first jump the obstacles looked huge to me. The course started on a path through the woods and wound through the trees and up & down hills with big, solid jumps in the way. As we walked on and went from jump to jump, I could feel myself becoming more and more freaked out by the scope of what I was doing this day. I found myself thinking, ‘Am I really ready for this?’ I thought about saying something to that effect to Alison, but I reminded myself that Alison already thought that I could do this easily, and had said so multiple times, so I decided to just keep my mouth shut and believe her. In total, there were 16 obstacles on this course. It included lots of stuff that seemed big & solid to me, lots of terrain (woods, hills, fields, up & down hills, even a long bridge to cross), water, a ditch, and one particularly freaky combination of a jump where you landed on a severe downhill bank, with a second jump at the bottom of that. All of this meant to be run within a time-limit. GAH. I finished the course walk even more anxious than before.

Because I had a lot of time to kill before my dressage ride time, I took Ruby off of the trailer and walked her around the area. I wanted to have her look around, stretch her legs, eat some grass and get used to anything that might prove to be spooky to her. I think this might have been one of our issues the disastrous day we rode Groton House. We were in the middle of a big nor’easter that day and so Ruby never had a chance to get off of the trailer and walk around before and between ride times. So I walked her around the dressage warm-ups, around the trailer areas, past the dressage rings, past the mobile tack shops, etc. Let her graze here and there and continuously moving her on to new spots. During the course of our meandering, I ran into the woman I had ridden with at the hunter pace back in October. I had ridden it with a different barn, right before I had started riding at my current barn. That day had been so much fun and she (Amelia) had been so nice and full of eventing advice too, that I was thrilled to meet up with her again.

All too soon it was time to tack up and get ready for Dressage. In this case, even though I (yet again) had a late ride time (why do I always seem to be the last rider???) the time had gone by pretty quickly. I was worried about my dressage, I wanted to get through it and to move on to jumping, but I was immediately more concerned about what kind of horse I was going to have in the warm-up. Well, I needn’t have worried because she was fine. If anything, she was pokey. She looked around a lot, with ears pricked, but there was no actual spooking, no explosion of bucking & bolting when asked for a canter, nothing. What a relief! I had given myself a pretty liberal amount of time for the warm-up because that’s another mistake that I had made at Groton House. Because my ride times had felt so late, time had gotten away from me and I found myself actually rushing to get to the dressage phase on time. This time I figured that it was better to be on earlier, rather than later and it certainly couldn’t hurt to walk around a bit first before we got down to the meat of the warm-up. The warm-up time seemed to fly by incredibly fast and it was all too soon to make my way over to my dressage ring. I must have been absolutely the last horse to ride dressage because by then, the warm-up and the other ring were completely deserted.

Well, the dressage test wasn’t stellar. It wasn’t even very good really, but I felt that it was a vast improvement over the first test we had done together back in May. There wasn’t much impulsion and I really do have to be more organized when I ride these tests, I don’t believe that I think ahead enough to each movement, so they tend not to be very smooth. On the good side, our canter transitions were good! We’ve come a LONG way there. I also felt that both canters were reasonably balanced with good bend on the circle. This particularly pleased me to the right as the canter in this direction really used to be terrible. So, the test wasn’t great, the canters were not perfect by any means, but I feel like both Ruby and I have come a long way since May. Dressage is just going to be a work in progress (as it is for most) and hopefully will just continue to improve as we work on it. Unfortunately, our test received a pretty ugly score, which more or less eliminated the hope of a good placing in our division, not that I was there for the ribbons anyway.

Since I had an hour and a half or so between Dressage and Stadium, I untacked Ruby and took her for a walk down to the Stadium area, which was being held a bit down the road. I wanted to do the same thing that I had done earlier, give her a bit of a look-see at the areas where we would be warming up and competing to head-off spook opportunities. So we wandered around, Ruby grazed and looked, I watched a couple of jump rounds which helped me solidify the course pattern in my head, and checked out the ring for the stadium warm-up. When it was time to warm-up, I found myself a little overwhelmed by the cramped space and horses headed every which way and jumping the three fences, but Ruby was fine. No spooking, no freaking out. We jumped over each practice jump coming from each lead, but caught a bad distance to the oxer which left me slightly rattled. I think I was just over-thinking everything and stressed by the warm-up environment.

Well, when it was our turn for our stadium round, I tried to let all of the worry roll off. The ring steward sent us off by telling me that I had a beautiful horse (I just love to hear that!) I started my canter and proceeded to right away lose one of my stirrups – SHEESH! Of course they right away ran the bell to start, so I cantered around the outside of the ring fishing for it and headed for the start flags. Luckily I managed to get it back before I started the actual course! So, we started the course and I surprised myself by riding Ruby at a good pace to every jump. Ruby stayed ahead of my leg, was enthusiastic and willing and I was happy to ride pretty forward to each obstacle. Previous competitions had had me slowing to a trot at various points, but I didn’t feel the need at this point. Unfortunately, we did pull a rail at #4, however. This was a jump where they were using “flat” jump cups, so even the slightest of nudges would have brought down a rail. This jump also came up immediately after a turn, so I’m sure that I didn’t have Ruby balanced enough for it, it’s completely my fault. Anyway, even still, I felt that our jump round was very good. We had very good distances to everything, I did not jump anything ahead, we rode at the right speed (we had no time faults) and no where did I feel at all freaked out about anything. Overall, I felt very good about it.

Because I had a bunch of time before I had to get ready for the Cross-Country phase, I decided to walk the course a second time. The course was being actively used at this point, so it was necessary to watch out for galloping horses and to step off the path from time to time to clear the way. My barn friend Marilyn and her daughter Emily were there volunteering as jump judges and were positioned right at #1. It was nice to see a friendly face there and to chat for a moment, it helped to take my mind slightly off what was coming up. It was actually interesting to walk the course while the course was being ridden because I got to see some of the jumps actively being jumped. Even though this was one division over mine, there were a lot of shared obstacles, so I did get to see some of the jumps for my division being ridden. It actually got me kind of psyched up for my round, believe it or not. Also, walking it the second time, suddenly the jumps did not seem quite as huge or overwhelming as they had the first time. They still seemed a bit bigger than I had been expecting, but somehow seemed much more doable on the second glance.

The time quickly dwindled until it was time to once again tack up and head to the warm-up. Again, I found myself a little bit freaked out in the warm-up area, even though it was not at all crowded. I think I was just psyching myself out and over-thinking everything again. We had a couple of awkward distances -- I just don’t think I much like the single fence in the middle of a big, open area idea. That just never seems to be the ideal jump situation for me. We jumped a few times and then I said to Alison that I felt that I was finished with the warm-up. All I was doing was psyching myself out and potentially tiring Ruby, I didn’t feel like we needed more at that point, especially as it wasn’t going to get us anywhere.

Very soon it was time to head to the start box. There they gave me the countdown to my starting time. I haven’t yet purchased a cross-country watch, but I do have a timer on my running watch, so I decided to use that. I hadn’t felt like I was going to care much about my time for my first sanctioned event, especially for my first time at this level, but Alison wanted me to at least know what my time was (to start to get a feel for these things) and since I had the stop watch capability, it seemed easy enough to use it. So, when they told me to go, I started my watch (just like a running race!) and off I went!

I again surprised myself by my willingness to set off at a good, strong clip (I was such a wimp about it in previous competitions). I saw jump #1 looming ahead and locked on, felt Ruby lock on and we went for it. I felt that it was a perfect pace, and Ruby took a perfect spot. My position was good, right there with her and it just all felt so thrilling suddenly! I wanted to whoop out loud (like I heard Marilyn and Emily doing), but instead yelled, “Good GIRL!” and galloped up the path. From then on, nothing at all seemed to phase us much. There was one turn around past this huge ditch (that not being used) and up a hill on top of which was a jump that then landed downhill and to the bridge – Ruby was slightly looky there, she didn’t spook at all, but she wanted to trot up to this and I didn’t push the issue except to keep her forward. We cantered across the bridge, but halfway across she got slightly looky too, so we trotted the second half, but then picked up a good gallop once across it. From there it was through more woods, up a hill over a big coop, an up bank jump to a big bench, out to a little field around a corner to a big roll-top – we galloped it all.

After the roll-top there was a bit of a sharp down-hill to a new wooded path. I slowed Ruby to a trot for the hill and she came nicely back to me without any struggle. I then chose to trot down the path a bit to try and gain a little control of myself! My heart was just galloping away with pure adrenalin and I knew that the ditch, the scary, jump/steep-bank,/jump combination and the water elements were coming up and I needed to be in full control of myself and the horse. Out of the woods, it was a sharp turn, up a hill and a good canter over the next jump (I think it was some kind of log/hay bale combination thing, I can’t quite remember) and then the ditch was just a few short strides after that. The ditch was the only thing on course that Alison has been worried about for Ruby. She has encountered ditches before, but she doesn’t love them, it’s the only type of jump that we’ve found so far that she is not completely eager to jump. So I slowed her to a trot and rode her very positively and forward to the ditch and she just jumped over it without giving it even the slightest blink – I was thrilled with her! What a good girl. From the ditch it was up another steep hill and down the scary jump/steep-bank/jump combination that had had me worried. Turned out that it was nothing at all to worry about. Next was the water – into a water feature, through a man-made pond of water and out the other side. I had also been a bit worried about this (as we hadn’t schooled water at all), but she went through with no problem. She maybe goggled a bit at it at the approach, but did not hesitate in the slightest to go in. A big bouncy trot through the water and we were through! After the water I had the presence of mind to glance at my watch and saw that we had about 1:20 minutes to finish the course within the optimal time, so we stepped it up and galloped over the next coop thing, back into the woods and over the big, solid thing (something else that had scared me a bit while walking the course), back out of the woods, around the edge of a field, up the hill in the field over this log thing and up to the last jump on the course, a coop, and a gallop through the finish flags. I was thrilled! Our first big XC together and we went clean. A quick glance at my watch had showed that we were within a few seconds of the optimal course time -- the results later revealed that we hit the time on the dot, so no time faults! (Double-clean) We were both so, so pumped. I could just tell that Ruby was proud of herself and wanted more. I was both so thrilled to have ridden well and gone clean and wanted to go and do it again.

So, all-in-all I feel like it was a very successful day for us. I accomplished every one of my goals. They were:

1. Don’t freak out or scare myself or the horse (or any spectators).
2. Don’t get eliminated.
3. Have fun.

The end result is that we both finished the event full of confidence and enthusiasm. I feel very encouraged now for our eventing future and not nearly as freaked out about future competitions. We’re most likely not going to be very competitive until our dressage improves, but that’s okay. I would far much rather have a honest, bold, enthusiastic jumper like Ruby than a dressage star that’s only so-so about jumping any day. Of course, the ideal is to have both, but the jumping attitude is something that can’t be taught much. It can improve, of course, but that natural enthusiasm and boldness is like gold to me. The dressage will come in time and with work. In the end, it turns out that we were 8th in our division anyway, so we did end up placing. But a decent dressage score would have made us reasonably competitive. Not that a ribbon was my goal for the day really, but it’s something to think about.

Last night Alison was asking me what I want to do next. Next?! I’m still completely overwhelmed and exhausted from Sunday! It’s kind of hard to be thinking of signing up for the next thing already – GAH! She was suggesting that I do either Huntington (sanctioned) in VT next month, or Green Acres (schooling), King Oak (sanctioned) in September and then UNH again in October. Yet more to obsess and freak out about!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Preparing for the Next Competition

I wrote previously about my decision to ride in the UNH Horse Trials. Well, that competition is coming up this Sunday and I’ve been a bit of a nervous wreck worrying about it. Besides the general performance anxiety, Ruby & I being new to each other, Ruby being green, me being green, Ruby’s warm-up meltdown at the last event, etc. etc. etc. There is also the fact that we have not been cross-country schooling at all. It’s something that is pretty hard to schedule when I work all week, so what can you do? The reality of only facing cross-country in competition is pretty daunting, especially being new (again) to all of this, but it seemed to work out for the last two competitions and Ruby is pretty eager (and it is the BN Division – not a hugely technical and scary level, even though it's a step up for me), so hopefully all will be well.

Surprisingly, with all that in mind, I'm on a little bit of a high now after last nights lesson. Even though it's a flat / dressage week (which usually means no jumping), Alison wanted me to do some jumping at the end of my lesson to make sure that I'm ready for this weekend. So after all the flat work and a little x-rail warm-up, she then had me do a couple of short courses, the last of which she kept adding on jumps as I went along. So whenever I thought I was finished, she would say (while I was cantering away from what I thought was the last fence), “and now come around and jump the barrels, and now turn that way and jump that oxer” etc. Then she allowed me to stop to catch my breath and she started to put a final course together.

She said, "Okay, here's what I want you to do. Jump the yellow towards the road, make the turn to the left, jump the green-oxer-flower-box and then to the (BIG) coop to jump OUT of the ring into the field, over the new log, up & down the bank, over the ditch, back over the log going the other way and jump back INTO the ring."

Me (to myself, not outloud): ‘You want me to ... WHAT?! HA!’ You see, I had never jumped the coop out of the ring before. On any horse! So it was a little bit of a boogeyman for me and I was pretty nervous about it. Well, I didn’t complain or comment and just moved ahead and did it anyway, regardless of my misgivings and nerves. Let me just say that Ruby was perfect! She was a little squirrelly a couple of strides out from the coop because I'm sure she was thinking, 'uh, I'm not supposed to jump out of the ring!' but with a little encouragement from me (I was thinking. 'uh, yes you do need to jump out of the ring!'), she went forward and jumped it beautifully. I was also proud of myself because A) I feel like I really rode her to everything (evaluated where more balance was needed, where more leg, when to hold, when to let go, supporting her, but also staying out of her way, etc.), and B) 6 months ago I would have been so ahead on a bunch of those jumps, but I've gotten much, much better about it. I pretty much kept the correct position and in the right rhythm over everything and let her jump up to me, rather than making a big movement with my body to try and jump for her. I was shaking with adrenalin when we were done, but so happy and so proud of Ruby. She is so, so great to jump! Pretty much every time I have a jumping session with her I come away feeling so encouraged about our future together. I can’t explain how much having such an honest, willing, enthusiastic jumper fills my heart with joy (as corny as that sounds).

So, I think I feel just a little tiny bit better about Sunday. It may not have been a big cross-country schooling session, but at least it was something and it’s given me a small shot of confidence that we may just get through this. And that is my goal really, just get through the experience without scaring myself (or the horse, or any spectators), don’t get eliminated, finish filled with confidence for our eventing future and, lastly, to have fun. Hopefully the day will deliver on all of the above.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Things I'll Never Understand

Women who stand in the ladies room at work talking on their cell phones. I mean, there are plenty of much more appealing, as well as more private, places to talk on the phone. I just find it so weird to just stand there having a personal conversation with toilets flushing and people peeing or whatever. And I'm not talking about people who happened to just answer their phones in the bathroom, but actually stand there having a full conversation.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Pugs = Comedy

GAWD, this cracked me up!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Just Clicking Along

I have to say that I've put in some very, very nice dressage rides on Ruby over the past few days or so. On Tuesday night I had a lesson with Danielle (who was subbing for Alison) -- by the time the lesson was over, she was very complimentary of our progress, she even said, "That was really very lovely". That's the thing about riding with a substitute, they're more likely to see bigger leaps in your progress since they don't watch you ride every day (or even every week).

I didn't ride for a couple of days because of the horrible weather, so I did not know really what kind of horse I was going to have on Friday -- but she couldn't have been better. I started my lesson at the tail-end of a jumping lesson for a couple of Alison's more advanced students, so I was lucky to be able to watch their jumping courses. I find that I learn a lot by watching others jump (especially in a lesson, and especially advanced students) and I also find it exciting and inspiring, so I'm usually pretty happy when I luck into spectating.

After the jumping, they left me with the ring to myself, which I actually enjoy. As I struggle with my own inadequacies, I can often feel a little self-conscious (less so in a lesson, for some reason), so I enjoy the occasion when I can have the ring all to myself so I can work through stuff without an audience. I wasn't sure if Ruby would be a little spookier or whatever alone, since I hadn't had the chance to ride her alone in the ring in quite a while, but (other than a tiny little tantrum as the other horses disappeared up the path), she was quite fine. I was able to get her focused right away and down to the work.

I have to say that I am very pleased with her trot work these days. I feel like every week she is just a little bit easier to put into a frame, uses her back and hind-end just that much more, is just that much more willing to go forward. Her gaits are pretty good, her impulsion is improving, she's becoming more supple. Her work to the right is stiffer than to the left, but she is definitely better than she was. And our canter work. I just dreaded the canter with her a mere few weeks ago -- I would actually feel myself even start to get slightly anxious about it. But now I have to say that our canter transitions are 100% better, She steps very willingly into the gait, she has good impulsion from behind, it's a nice gait to sit to, I no longer feel like she's going to break back to trot at any second. To the left it's lovely, balanced, steady, etc. To the right she still needs work, but it is SO much better than it was. Still having a little trouble consistently getting the lead (and I'm sure a big part of this is my own short-coming, so I have to work on being clearer and more balanced myself). She needs help getting balanced at the canter to the right, she can also get hollow and will toss her head. But. She will step into the transition much more easily and more fluidly than she would even just a couple of weeks ago, she will balance with work, and there are usually a few magical, wonderful strides where she is balanced and carrying herself just right -- we didn't have even one stride of that magic to the right just a short time ago, so I can definitely see a lot of progress. I even did a misshapen canter figure-8 with her today! The circles weren't perfect, but she picked up the correct lead for each circle and did the simple change within a couple of steps, so I was very pleased with her.

All-in-all, I feel like Ruby has come a long way since April. I was thinking today that she also seems much more forward than she was, I definitely am able to be much more subtle with my leg aids (at least this week that has been the case). I'm wondering if maybe she's just in better shape now with all the work. Perhaps that and she's getting a feel for the job. Over all, I am very, very happy with her. I gave her lots of carrots today (and some peppermints) as a reward.

Friday, July 03, 2009

UNH Horse Trials: To Ride, or Not To Ride

Last month I submitted an application for Alison (my trainer) to ride Ruby in the UNH Horse Trials on July 19th. Our entry had been on the wait list because I was a day late getting the application in the mail. Well, just the other day I noticed that the entry has moved from the "Wait" section and is now an official entry. That's all fine and good, but Alison has been insisting for the past couple of weeks that I'm ready to ride her in this myself. We talked about it a little bit more today and she again said that she thinks I'm capable (probably especially so on a horse like Ruby, because she's so honest about jumping). I told her that maybe I can do it, if I can just stop throwing up long enough from the nerves!

If I do ride, this will be my first sanctioned event. Certainly my first on Ruby, but it may be my first on any horse. I know that I competed in a number of events (and other types of horse shows) many, many years ago in my first riding life, but I don't really know if any of them were sanctioned. It was so long ago, things were different back then, certainly the divisions are different, not sure if the event rating system was different too. In addition to it being my first sanctioned, it will be a step up in division, which means higher jumps, and probably somewhat more complicated stadium and cross-country courses than what I had experienced in the previous two 3-phase competitions that I've done. Don't get me wrong, most would still consider it a "weenie" division, but it is a small leap from the division we started out at our first event back in May.

So, I have to decide what I'm going to do and decide pretty soon -- the event is only a couple of weeks away. I'm already freaking out a bit with nerves -- ACK!

Monday, June 29, 2009

You Learn a lot from Reading a Dressage Test

The kind folks at Groton House were very nice to mail me my dressage test from last week. The test had not been ready by the time we were ready to leave that day, it had been a long day in the pouring rain and so I decided not to make everyone sit around wait for it -- I didn't want to stick around any longer that day either! So I was pleasantly surprised to find it in my mailbox the other day.

Over all, I've found it pretty enlightening, I was happy to see in the Collective Marks section that I received an overall "7" for "Rider". Not sure how well-deserved it is, but it feels good anyway. "Gaits" also earned us an overall "7". "Submission" was "6" -- there had been some bad moments of spooking and also some resistance resulting from the spooking, so I can't say that's too much of a surprise. For "Impulsion" we scored a disappointing "5". Although we do, on some days, have trouble with impulsion at home (it really does seem to vary with the day though), I think that I can honestly say that any lack of impulsion on the day of the event was completely my fault. Because of the spooking and other behavior in the warm-up, I think I was far too restrictive about allowing Ruby to move forward in the test. I guess I really do need to be braver. Yes, braver in Dressage. It is very educational to read it all though, seeing the summation in words really made me think back to the day and the test and clarify the general impressions after all the dust has settled, so to speak.

Among the individual marks there are some very good comments and notes that make it very clear where things improved or where they disintegrated. I think the most amazing bit to me was earning a "7" for our left lead canter transition. My mouth literally dropped open on that one, our canter transitions are usually our WORST part. Of course we made up for the "7" by scoring a "3" for our right lead canter transition -- HAHAHAHAHA!!!! Now that did not surprise me.

Altogether I have found that reading the judge's notes on the test to be very helpful, enlightening and even a bit inspiring. I hope that I can keep them in mind while schooling and the next time we ride a dressage test.

Things I’ll Never Understand

Why, when I use my debit card at the card reader machine at the grocery store (or the gas pump, or wherever), it asks me first what the card type is to be, such as credit or debit. Yet, I am still prompted later in the session for my PIN, regardless of the fact that I selected “credit” for card type. I then must go through the added step of canceling or continuing from the PIN prompt screen. Why even ask the user to select card-type anyway? The machine can tell what kind of card it is, I would think the only purpose would be to bypass the PIN prompting if you want to use your debit card as a credit card. But I have yet to find a machine anywhere that doesn’t ask for PIN, regardless of the card-type selection chosen at the start of the transaction. This is just one of those stupid little daily things that make absolutely no sense to me. Why, why, why?