Friday, August 16, 2019

Goals Check In

Here's where we stand with June/July goals.

Go to a show

By some freak of nature, this managed to happen. I'm so so so happy that God made me ambitious and a push over.

I think Doris and I made a good team
Get into a doable fitness routine

The key word here is "doable" because I can't really do much. Between preparing for a move, then moving, then not knowing how the new gym works, I've been sticking mainly to running. I haven't been in a serious routine since the end of last year. Even the simplest of workouts leaves me incredibly sore. I just work around the sore days and go when I'm not in pain. Prior to the move, I could go a full 2mi on hilly terrain without any breaks. After moving, that's proven pretty difficult, and I've been taking at least one break in the middle of my run.

My most recent run. Not sure what that huge dip in pace is all about.
If anything, my diet has required much bigger adjustments. I won't see any physical changes until both my workouts and my diet are corrected.

Fix my wrists

Truthfully, I didn't ride often enough to really address this. The plus side is that I think about it a lot more often, and being conscious of how my hands are oriented makes me micromanage the rest of my body a lot less.

Get a new saddle


When your parents are packing the car and ask "Is your saddle coming?"

Sunday, August 11, 2019


Alright, so, lemme lay down the facts one more time:
  • I only rode 3 times this past summer
  • One of those times was the morning of the show
  • I woke up that morning fully intended not to show
  • I am easily convinced to do just about anything
Okay, are we good? Are we all on the same page? Cool.

Summer, who genuinely does not care about anything these days
I would like to shout out Lizzie for being an absolute gem the whole day. Not only did she pick me up from the metro, she also gave me boots (because I sent mine home), a helmet (which I also sent home), a shirt to show in, paid for all my food throughout the day, and gave me some much needed time with my favorite pooch, Moose.

The unofficial graduation pictures
Since I rode Dori for my lesson, Coach S said I could just ride her again for the show. It was four classes total broken down into two speed rounds and two power & speed rounds. Y'all, we had POWER, we had speed, we're still finding control, but I'd say there is potential.

Despite being very laid back during our lesson, Dori channeled her inner HH Azur and took me to every fence, whether I wanted to go or not. It was a sit up and hold type of day, but I was so taken back by her sudden change in demeanor that I, uh, lost all logical thought as they say. Guys, she got slower each time we jumped during the lesson. What was I to expect?

We ended up with a 1st, 2nd, 6th, and 2nd in that order. Not bad for my first fully impromptu and completely unexpected jumper debut.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Vlog #22: My First Jumper Show

Some day I'll learn to half halt


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Coming Back

It was a very rough winter for the Eq Team. Bad, rainy weather led to several horses abscessing. The ones who didn't abscess came up with random lameness, some short term, some long term. Penny was one of the long term ones. She came back into work as spring moved rather aggressively into summer. My second lesson in June was on her, and it was time to start working again.

To put it simply, Penny knows her shit. From what I've been told, she used to do the pony jumpers. I've only ridden her a handful of times over the past four years, but many people in the barn are vocal about how much they love her. Honestly, she is always a fun ride, but . . . she's hot. Makes sense since she's a jumper, but she's a micromanage type of ride.

My last IHSA show and also my second time ever riding Penny
She was easy to soften on the flat though we lacked forward motion. In her defense, it was pretty hot outside, and she's still working her way from tubby to trim. It's nice to be on a horse that's willing to unlock their jaw and fill the outside rein, even if it takes a correction of some sort every few strides. I like to micromanage (one of my many faults), so even though I can't necessarily leave Penny alone on the flat, it works out well for the both of us.

Plot Twist: she's the complete opposite over fences. I don't think I've ever jumped Penny prior to this lesson, but I've seen her zip around with other people. I found that when approaching a fence, it was better to have one clear, obvious half halt about six strides out instead of doing multiple, softer corrections up to the fence. She's as bold as Carlos, but if you hold to the fence, she tosses her head and cross fires.

Now that I'm suddenly allowing myself to be a jumper rider (more on that later), I would consider Penny to be my type of horse. Obviously part of it comes from her training, but she has a team player attitude if that makes sense. She doesn't fight unless you're doing something wrong, and if she's fighting me, the solution is probably to just soften my hands.

Plus, she's an absolute gem to handle.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Spoke Too Soon

So, true to her nature, Fate had a different plan for me this summer than intended. Since my last post, I have ridden four times. Two of those rides happened yesterday. While I am disappointed, it's also worth noting that moving over a thousand miles to a different city took most of my attention over the past two months.

I had two lessons in June. The first was on Dori where Coach S threatened to fix my wrists if I didn't fix them myself. My wrists have been a problem since I started riding Molly, but my trainers have yet to use threats as a solution. I'm embarrassed to say it worked. Makes me think about my hand position with more consistency.

No media from this lesson, so please enjoy me embarrassing this horse because
we have the same name
For the first time in a while, Coach was having us try some lateral work, which I am all for. After dealing with Roman's need for a slower paced canter set up, I started to use a basic leg yield more and more in my warm ups. School horses are all too used to plodding along the rail, and simply asking them to move towards and away from the fence makes them much more supple. Pro Tip if you're still riding lesson horses: leg yields, serpentines, and circles are your best friend.

Absolute heathen
I'm still slowly building my right side back up. Part of getting into a workout routine was to help build that strength and maintain my balance. Dori was fairly compliant, but it was clear that my balance was giving her some mixed signals. Squats, jogs, and lunges have always been the most helpful as well as general stretching. Hip stretches will absolutely be Miss El's legacy in my life.

He received a Bachelor's in Cuteness. Graduated with Honors.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Polo With a Purpose: Interview with Chip McKenney

Last summer, I came across a short press release about the Gay Polo League, an organization that uses the sport of polo as a means to promote inclusion and support for those in the LGBT+ community. The League’s established team of polo players leverage their visibility in the name of acceptance. I was instantly intrigued, and when the stars aligned, I reached out to GPL's founder, Chip McKenney, for an interview.

It actually took another two articles before I decided to jump on this topic. In September, The Plaid Horse published Making the Horse World a Safe Space for LGBTQ Equestrians where Jess Clawson elaborates on their experience being queer in the sport. Not too soon after, I had the pleasure of reading L Williams' article Dear USEF: You Have a Representation Problem. I've griped about representation previously, but this was my first time seeing the topic discussed on such a popular platform. Both articles gave me a sense of pride, but, more importantly, they made me feel more powerful. By sharing their perspectives, Jess and L have opened the door for others to do the same. Consider this my first contribution.

Chip was happy to elaborate on his experiences in the equestrian sport. He grew up riding in the hunters, jumpers, and equitation in his youth and took time to ride for a sales barn after graduating high school. After taking a break from the sport, he came back at age 27 and rode in the jumpers until his 50s, only stopping after one of his horses became injured. It was at that point that he says he reconsidered what he was doing in life and wanted to pursue something different.

Chip in the jumpers
After retiring from the jumpers, Chip tried polo at the advice of a friend and immediately fell in love. When I asked what made polo unique, he relayed that young gay men rarely have the opportunity to participate in popular team sports such as football, soccer, baseball, and the like. While there are no physical barriers, the lack of acceptance for feminine traits in these hyper-masculine activities creates a toxic environment. This especially impacts young gay boys who want to participate and encourages them to either stay closeted or not play at all.

Chip founded Gay Polo League as a way to address his own experiences with exclusion. While he says that he has not felt out of place in the equestrian sport specifically, polo has helped him successfully promote diversity, inclusion, and acceptance with the aid of a few good horses.

This past April, GPL celebrated the 10 year anniversary of its International Gay Polo Tournament, the only gay polo tournament hosted in North America. As a newly established non-profit, they have been able to streamline their donations in support of local LGBT+ groups. They primarily work with Compass, a community center dedicated to helping at risk youth, and Sage, a group that advocates for LGBT+ seniors.

In our conversation, Chip described his team as playing polo with a purpose. While the players are mostly adults, he hopes GPL can encourage young people, especially athletes, to find comfort in being open about their sexuality. LGBT+ individuals should not feel pressured to hide essential parts of who they are just to ensure that they will be treated with respect. You can be powerful and athletic and successful without shielding your identity.

If you want to see the Gay Polo League in action, you can visit their annual polo clinic around Thanksgiving. I will absolutely share more details as the date approaches. For those who are inclined to travel internationally, the team will be playing in Windsor in September then India in October. This will be India’s very first gay polo tournament, and it is exciting to see this type of progress happening across the globe!

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All photos are used with permission from Gay Polo League & Chip McKenney

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Goals & all that hogwash

Prior to starting this blog, I didn't set many goals related to horses. I always had a general idea of what I wanted to accomplish, mainly relating to shows, but it was always vague. As I was scrolling through older posts, I realized that I've wanted to show at 3' for over four years now, and that stung a little. As a matter of fact, most of my competitive goals have remained unaccomplished after ending on a high in 2014. Regular breaks in my riding have also made it more difficult to progress, both physically and mentally.

I still have dreams about this horse
With this in mind, I'm treading lightly with goals at the moment. As a matter of fact, these goals are just for the next two months during which I'm almost certain that I'll be in regular lessons (key word is almost).

Go to a show

Literally any show. My preferences are limited. I would like to jump mainly because I can't justify spending money on the Dressage tests when I'm not seriously competitive in Dressage at the moment. I'm feeling a lot more comfortable over a fence and can actually think about my position. Next test would be to see if I can do the same thing under slightly more stress. If this one doesn't work out, a clinic would be a fine replacement, and an Eventing trainer might be the best option at the moment.

Get into a doable fitness routine

I've slipped over the past year, but most of that is because of my mental health. Working out is a double edged sword because it does make me feel better 90% of the time. I over do it the other 10% of the time, and it creates a cycle of self hatred when I miss a day or can't do something or feel like my routine isn't intense enough or don't see the results I want or . . . or . . . or . . . Virtually anything can upset me. It's really fun.

One hour post work out & one moment pre publishing this post
Fix my wrists

More on this later

Get a new saddle

Ye olde Mortiz has always had a not quite right fit on me. On the flip side, its shape makes it super versatile on a lot of horses, which is why I've kept it for so long. I also really like how flat and not bulky it is. It makes me feel like I'm actually putting in an effort instead of relying on blocks and "grippy" leather to keep me stable. The only notable issue is the flap shape, and I might actually spring for another Moritz if I can find one. They have a good life time, and I would hate to lose the versatility.

I also really like how it looks & don't wanna change
Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 1, 2019


All things come to an end at some point. This isn't quite the end, but it feels like I've turned to the first page of the last chapter.

Last week was my final lesson with the IHSA team. It came after three days of final assignments and exams. On top of that, the past few weeks have been emotionally exhausting. It sucks to say that I was feeling empty when I got picked up and didn't really want to ride at all.

We're always given the option to pick the horse for our last ride of the semester. It doesn't always work out how we want, but our Coach does her best to accommodate our desires. Most people had their last lesson on the horse they rode for their first lesson. Y'all know who I rode for my first lesson?

Twinkles. No shade to my team's blonde haired beauty, but I still wanted a challenge for my last ride, so I chose Twister. He's the only horse that I had yet to ride for a full lesson, so it felt like a fitting way to close things out.

He got a long turn out that day so was a bit tired and lazy. It took quite a few kicks to get him going and then to get him going in the right direction. I felt decent on him. It was just hard to make him do anything. The canter transitions were especially dodgy. That being said, Coach had plenty of good things to say. Sure we were slow, but we were put together, and he Twisty didn't seem bothered at all by me swinging a leg over.

Jumping was shockingly better than flatting. He's usually a wierdo to jump. Legs go up and down obnoxiously and his head comes up as if he's about to take the biggest, grand prix oxer. For reference, we don't jump over 2'0" in our lessons.

Exhibit A
The horses have all been a bit aggressive about taking fences going towards the gate. It's just what happens when we start going outside. Twisty was cool, calm, and collected when we popped over a crossrail going towards the gate and offered a nice simple change afterwards. We got over a vertical very nicely afterwards.

We also went over the sunshine jump a couple times. First time was great. Second time, which was the final fence of my IHSA career, was not as hot. I guess it's not surprise that I never made it past Advanced WTC.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Fashion Thursday: Girl's Talk

Something new that I'm trying to do is make my love of fashion more sustainable. I made a resolution this year to thrift all of my clothing with the exception of items that I need for a specific occasion. So far, it's worked out. I've bought one dress, and that's it. Not bad.

For this set, I used a shirt from CHNGE, a brand that takes pride in its stance on sustainability and philanthropy. They donate 50% of their net profits to many vetted NGOs and stand behind providing ethical working conditions for employees. Plus, the stuff is cute, so I'm down.

1. CHNGE Girl's Globe Tee

2. Kerrits Ladie's GripTek Breeches

3. Harry's Horse Duo Riding Boots

4. Chetaime Half Pad

Monday, May 6, 2019

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Horses & My Mental Health

A Yaknee In Paris did a similar post a while back, so I felt like now would be as good a time as any to chat. This post is about three years in the making and may contain some uncomfortable material. Bear with me.

I started riding when I was 13. The above photo is me with Lady from my first summer of riding. At some point during that first summer, I was sitting on a fence waiting for my dad to pick me up from the barn. One of the other students approached me and, point blank, said I looked sad. I can’t remember how I responded, but odds are I just said I was tired. Anyways, it was enough to put her at bay, and she left me alone.

I have this bad habit of shrinking myself. It is so easy to minimize my feelings, needs, and desires and put others before myself in almost any situation. This isn't humility, it's degradation. As a child who didn't understand depression (or the concept of mental health), a lack of education didn't combine well with an instinct to internalize my emotions. By the time I was in high school, I never said if I was sad or upset, I just said I was tired. And if I couldn't hide my emotions, then it was better to literally isolate myself. When I got to college, I preferred to feel nothing. If I was sad or upset, it sucked because I was sad and upset. But if I was happy, I didn't want to be because happiness was fleeting. It was easier and safer to feel nothing.

For a while, riding was the only activity that made me feel something, and it made me feel good. I've had a number of artistic hobbies since I was a kid, but staying in my room to draw or write wasn't nearly as satisfying as leaving my house and doing something more stimulating. I liked sitting and watching lessons all day. I liked helping out my trainer in any way possible. I loved spending three hours on a Saturday morning picking up shit in an acre large pasture with nothing to entertain me but the same 100 songs on an old iPod. That made me happy. Riding made me more creative and more driven than anything else. It gave me a future to look forward to.

I'm always terrified of coming off as the "weird horse girl," but the fact is I love what I do, and it gives me a reason to get up in the morning. I can't say with confidence that I would be alive today had I not made riding my outlet.

That's not to say that this isn't a double edged sword. There are definitely times where riding became stressful and unhealthy. Just reading through older posts obviously shows the times where my emotions got the better of me and where I should have backed away from situations. Bad things  happen sometimes, but I can always stop showing or change trainers or start saying no to certain things. I can make this work for me because my health is essential to my success, and I will succeed.

By the end of high school, I started to understand that my psychological health is just as important as my physical health. I promised myself that I would see a therapist once I got to college then immediately did the exact opposite. I had a bad breakdown at the end of my freshman year and got to a point where I genuinely did not care if I lived or died. It wasn't my first or last time feeling suicidal, but it was probably the worst I've ever been. I saw a therapist for the first time after another breakdown two months into my sophomore year. After that, I thought I was fine and that I could handle things on my own. I have no shame in admitting that I couldn't. 2018 was a rough year for me. I sobbed almost every day in September, hence my many emotional lessons. In October, I was down to every other day. Now, it's every few weeks, but that's better than refusing to let myself cry for most of high school and college.

I'm in a much better place at the moment. I did group therapy last semester and have continued with that this semester in addition to individual counseling. I'm learning that it's okay to feel things and let other people know that I'm feeling things, and it's okay to eat more than 1,000 calories per day, and no I don't have to settle for the bare minimum in my relationships with people. I also don't have to settle for the bare minimum in my relationship with myself.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I implore you all to take care of yourselves, and please encourage those you love to do the same.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Texas Touch

I was visiting Houston recently. You don't need to know why. As I was flying into the Hobby Airport, we passed over some interesting looking farms.

Despite my experience, I've never come across set ups quite like this. I'm *thinking* these arenas are set up for roping, and I did see a few others that obviously had cow pens attached. It's fascinating to see how a specific arena set up is integrated into the farm layout and with the rest of the riding space. I was immediately inspired to create a design based on what I saw.

This barn has seven stalls total with the main barn facing a 96' x 180' arena. It's the type of set up where another lean to could be easily added onto the other side of the arena, ideally a copy of the existing barn. Currently, I've allotted space for a 24' x 60' feed room/storage shed. The area extending halfway around the curve is a set of bleachers. The underside of those bleachers could also be used for additional storage.

I did also design the stall front on this one. I'm always back and forth on using wood because I favor barns that are "fire proof". In this case, the bottom half of the stall front uses brick while the door itself has a wooden detail. The grills would all be metal, of course.

Material wise, I didn't think too deeply about this one. I've been looking at alternatives to wood and different types of wood. I've heard of charred wood before for wooden beams and columns. It's said that burning makes the material stronger, which is great for structural elements, but I recently found out that you can also use charred wood as a type of siding. I would do this barn with a charred wood siding and metal structure. Those two tend to go well aesthetically, and both help with additional fire proofing.

Charred Wood Siding from Siding Authority
This definitely isn't my most innovative design, but I enjoyed seeing the different style of Houston. As a designer in many regards, it's important for me to find inspiration wherever possible. I'm going to do some more research on materials moving forward as it seems progressive thoughts on barn and farm design has been stunted. Might even highlight some facilities that embody the ideals that I have regarding facility design.
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