Last weekend we did the show at HITS. On the way there, I got very emotional, and as I sat in the barn watching them unpack and get ready, for the first time I was completely devastated to not be riding, only teaching. After a while and a few shed tears, I realized why going to a show struck such a nerve this time. Normally, Jason and River drive me in time to teach, we hang out by the warmup to await my next students, and we leave. This time Jason dropped me at my barn and I was with my students for loading, trailering, unpacking and getting ready. So instead of only wearing my trainer's cap, I was reminded of everything that goes into preparation. Much of what I miss but which I haven't been cognizant of is the preparation, the hard work and sweat, relationships with our hooved friends not under tack. Even watching them pile up hay filled me with longing. Ashley Holtzer was schooling a horse in one of our warm up rings--a big, fancy, impressive mount--and it made me incredibly sad, witnessing her getting after him when he needed it and patting his lathery neck when he did well. Seeing the phenomenal half-pass that was the result. It's different when I'm telling a person what to do and they do well; what I was watching and feeling so much angst about was an experienced rider feeling what they needed to do. What I used to do.
As soon as I realized what was eating at my heart, I made peace with it and comfortably put my trainer's hat back on. I was thrilled that Koryn, Shanghai and I all started where we left off at the last show. Both of them were more confident, and I was immediately in show mind frame--planning the timing and knowing who went before us. And it paid off. The first day, Koryn was 1st by a large margin out of 17 horses with a 71 in 3.2. The next day in 3.3, she was a very close 3rd out of 23 with a 69. The third day, they changed the ring last minute, so Shanghai never got to see it and was terrified. He halted it X, stayed halted and thought, decided the safest way to go was to the right, Koryn tried to straighten him so he went left and proceeded to do a serpentine down centerline with occasional leaps, halts, and reinbacks. For the rest of the test, everything going away from the judge was beautiful, everything going toward the judge had momentary pauses while he stopped and gaped. Amazingly they still ended up with a 65 which, averaged with the large margin of their victory on Friday, earned them Reserve Champion in the East Coast Riders Cup.
Watching him deal with his fear showed how much trust in and desire to please Koryn he has. Despite his terror, he continued on. They make me so proud, both because of the precision and harmony of their good tests and the skill with which Koryn rode and the team-spirit the pair displayed by their bad test. I'm so excited to work with them over the winter and get into higher level movements. I'm excited for the Championships, but more for the training afterwards.
It was the first time I've spent nights away from River, and I handled it surprisingly well, although I suppose I was somewhat fulfilled by plenty of FaceTime kisses and songs! She's now at the stage of trying to mimic everything we say. With most things, she comes fairly close, but for some reason her pronunciation of Viva doesn't have one similar sound. It took me a while to recognize it and I still can't pronounce it, but it's utterly consistent in referencing Viva. The closest I can say is Min-ck. She continues to be an incredibly perfect--beautiful, sweet, loving, helpful, funny and downright good--baby. Every day I'm surprised at how lucky I am. I'm just fearful she's using up all her good now and will be a terror in her teenage years!
Last weekend was Lendon's show. I've said it before, but she amazes me--the opportunities she makes for these kids. She makes no money off it, but spends countless hours managing the program and coming up with yet more opportunities to give the kids. And what she's done over the years--developed and held onto an incredible support group who are nearly as as generous with their time as she is, many of whom became involved 15 years ago during my days at her barn--is quite phenomenal, and the fact that so many have stuck around so long shows the fantastic way she treats people.
I judged the dressage again, and there was a big difference in the mentality with which I judged. In past years, I was quite a hard judge, judging everyone as if they were me--thinking more of education for striving for perfection than for this experience. I don't know what it was that changed my mentality, but I realized that not everyone wants to go to the Olympics. Yes, they want to get better, but some of their attitudes toward it are like mine toward tennis (in which I was like a T-Rex with a racket): it's fun. I worked to improve, but I was doing it for pure enjoyment. The wonderful thing about Lendon's show is that I had a kid fall off and a pony jump out of the ring, and I could let them continue the test in order to have a good experience.
I recently had a discussion with my husband regarding River becoming super involved with horses as an affect of her exposure to them. Neither of us want her to become horse-obsessed--I know better than anyone how hard it is, how expensive it is, dangerous. But we agree that it will be her choice. Either she has the bug or she doesn't. There are plenty of professionals whose kids have nothing to do with horses, and plenty of kids whose families have nothing to do with horses who have the bug. I think you're either born with it or you're not. He bought her a set of toddler golf clubs just in case!
A couple people have expressed curiosity at my sleeping. Overall, it's good. As with everything else, I seem to have become immune to the acupressure, but the hypnosis apps are working well as long as I switch them up. Jane Conboy actually made one that's really long just for me! She's awesome, has been the most helpful person of anyone to help with my sleep. And no drugs!!
Sorry for so long without updates; I've spent three nights at home in the last twenty-two. It started out with my annual sib week. Every July, my sister, who lives in Chicago, and my two brothers, who live in Burlington and Lansing, rent a house together for a week in Michigan. Historically, because the house needs to meet all our separate requirements (I want it pet-friendly, Greta wants it fairly nice and clean, Gray wants it close to the water, and Gib wants it cheap), we end up with a fairly horrible place. We thought this year was no different when on the first day, the ac broke heading into a week forecast in the 90's, and the first of three predicted storms arrived and left a large puddle in the living room. Our humorous/resigned acceptance of this fact was gleefully surprised by a stellar week of 7 beautiful days with a high of 81. I suppose we can also thank my oldest brother for the good weather as whenever the four of us siblings get together, we have horrible weather, but as he couldn't come this year, we were rewarded with sunny days. It was perfect--steps away from the water, great open-plan hang-out space, very few stairs, lovely outdoor dining area, fire pit. It was awesome.
Jason, River and I came home Sunday, and on Monday we went to the Hassler's glorious Riveredge farm to teach the CKD Horse Mastership Week for EDAP. We are so incredibly lucky to be able to use that facility; it's perfect. It's gorgeous, has many rings, a track, lecture rooms, housing for everyone. It's a facility a dream wouldn't be able to add more perfection to. I must admit, I came away feeling a little sad, thinking about what my life could have been since the farm was built by the people who owned my Olympic mount. But more than that, I came away feeling so grateful they're still supporting my dreams. They let us use that magical facility--stabled twelve horses and housed sixteen kids plus trainers, gave tours of the breeding and therapy facilities, Scott taught and gave lectures--they support the EDAP program in order to continue to support my dream. I'm still pretty lucky.
Then it capped off on Friday when I did a book reading in Vermont. It was great to have that directly follow the clinic because what hit me particularly hard was realizing a hugely impactful thing that I lost was the feeling that I was really good at something. I know I can write, but I have no imagination and can only write about what actually happened, and I've already done that. But doing the reading made me remember I'm good at public speaking as well, and I really enjoy it and can still do it. So does anyone have a year-end awards banquet or an occasion they need a speaker for?? :-) No, it was a non-horsey bookstore too, so it was particularly gratifying that it went well. Then just a fun, relaxing weekend it my friend's house and now home for five nights in a row before Lendon's show!
All told, Little Miss spent about 43 hours in the car, and still, her good nature hardly wavered. She amazes me. She's getting quite courageous in her vocabulary efforts as well. She's mastered many animal sounds; she does an excellent horse, a monkey, lion, cow, sheep, dinosaur. She loves doing a dog. If a dog barks when she's on the brink of sleep, she'll groggily lift her head, without success struggle to force her eyes open, and do a guttural "woof". My favorite is her perfect "uh, oh". I guess it's a phrase she hears quite often from Mummy! She has her eighteen-month appointment on Wednesday, and the pediatrician said she should have twenty words by then. We've probably got about twelve words, but her animal sounds more than make up for it.
I finally seem to have found something that really helps my sleep! A woman from Oregon, Jane Conboy, read my blog and emailed me that she thought she could help, she does acupressure and she'd give me six sessions via Skype for free. She had me make a pot of everything about my accident: a horse tripped and fell on me, I was in a coma for a month, particularly the right side of body doesn't work properly. We called the pot "this", and I'd put my hand over my forehead and say things like "this is all in the past. I'm ok, I'm safe, and I can rest normally again." Just things like that over and over again. I didn't believe something so simple would work, so I told her I really appreciated her caring and effort, but so many people have told me they have a fix and I've tried them all to no avail. I didn't want to waste her time with something I didn't wholly believe in. But she said she was willing to put in the time if I was, and to my surprise, I had the most solid, longest purely natural sleep that I can remember having. No apps, no nothing. Something must have been making it clear to me that I should continue because, although the other sessions have still helped some, none have been so dramatic.
What's helped immensely is a voice recording of her hypnosis. When I mentioned to her the success I've had with hypnosis apps, she said she actually does hypnosis too. She sent me a recording of hers and sure enough it worked, but like all the others, I woke as soon as she finished speaking. So she doubled one recording and sent me an app that lasted an hour. Hence I sleep for an hour at a time again and again! It's blissful. And I have to say, I think sleep with drugs is not so restful, because even though I've had longer, more solid sleep on drugs, I don't think I've ever felt so well-rested.
I'm so thankful to her, and I'd definitely recommend her to anyone. She particularly specializes in helping people get over their fear after falling.
I put this photo of River up just because I don't see how a picture of her isn't always a great addition. This glass is her ice glass, and she brings it to us several times a day and whispers, "Ice!"
This past weekend filled me with so much joy and contentment. Jason, River and I went up to my friend Kemi's house in VT to a yoga festival called Wanderlust. We were going for the Saturday night concert which was featuring Trevor Hall, an artist we absolutely dig who happens to be Kemi's son-in-law, but the whole weekend turned out to be blissful and fulfilling. The group of people who were there--the band, Kemi's three daughters, Trevor's parents, Kemi's husband--were so loving and immediately embraced me as an adopted family member. Often in large groups of people, I feel like a pointless bump on a log. I can't speak well enough or loudly enough to be part of a conversation, and everyone's skittering around here and there busy doing stuff while I'm just sitting in one spot. Often I feel I'm a very good room clearer, but with this group, that was never the case. And it didn't feel as if they were particularly trying not to leave me out, I just never felt outcast or alone.
That's the blissful part of it, and the fulfilling part of it came when I met Kevin Pearce. He sustained a TBI when he was going for the Olympics in snowboarding and fell, and he, along with an unbelievably loving and supportive family, immediately set out to help other TBI victims and their families. In 2014, they began the LoveYourBrain foundation (www.loveyourbrain.org) which is a non-profit organization that aims to improve the quality of life for people affected by brain injury.
Kevin was a speaker at Wanderlust because one of the programs LoveYourBrain is trying hard to establish is yoga specially geared for those who suffer from TBIs. The reason Kevin believes so wholeheartedly in the benefit of yoga is as follows. His brain injury left his eyes very injured--he saw completely double if his head wasn't at the perfect angle--so he was in need of always wearing special glasses for the first four years after his injury. Then he went to yoga. He likes the hot, sweaty kind of yoga, and when he took a shower afterwards, he took his glasses off. Then he realized he didn't need to put them back on. And that was that. No more glasses.
I have my own experience to support yoga. Way back when I'd just gotten out of the hospital, my hippo therapy teacher suggested yoga. I said, "I hate yoga. Before my accident, I tried and they told me to concentrate on my breathing for two minutes. All I could think of is what else I could be doing with those two minutes." But she said she'd come to instruct me, and to my surprise, it helped my sleeping--took it from 2-3 hours a night to 4-5. So when I came home, I hired a yoga teacher from our gym to do private sessions. Through no fault of her own, she put me in a position that wrenched my back. She simply wasn't educated in how to handle me. If there could be educated, affordable instructors around, I know it would help me, so I'm absolutely certain it would help many people.
The reason we went there, the concert, was awesome, and I'd highly recommend checking out Trevor Hall's music. Little Miss was grooving the whole time; it still amazes me what a cool chick she is. She's added a second word to her vocabulary: hot. She puts her hand near the stove, looks at me and whispers "hot". Her speaking remains only in whispers despite our efforts to get her to use a big voice, but Jason pointed out that we may not actually want to encourage a big voice in the coming years!
We did a show in Saugerties last weekend, and Koryn and Shanghai make me so proud. Like last year, they got better and better each class: started out in 3.1 with a 66.67% and 1st place, then 3.3 with a 68.2% and 2nd place, and finally another 3.3 that only got a 66.67% and 3rd place. Even though the score doesn't reflect the improvement in the last test, I thought there definitely was.
Of course much of it has to do with the two of them getting down the centerline more, but much of it also has to do with me...getting in show-mode to be able to adjust my timing to prepare them the best I can. I so want to have a full season as I used to in order to really get into the groove, but unfortunately my schedule is so jam-packed in July and August, I won't be able to do one till mid-August. So they'll just have to go without me.
My other exciting news is that River has finally said her first word at sixteen months: ice! Every evening when Jason and I have drink-and-hang-out-o'clock, she insists on having her own cup filled with ice. (She LOVES ice). She says it very clearly and perfectly, but it's always in a whisper. Mummy, Daddy, Viva, would have been understandable, but ice is an interesting choice. That's my daughter: unique!
This week hasn't been the best week for me. It started out last Sunday night with having a seizure. I was in the bathroom, and luckily I can feel when a seizure's coming, so I sat down, called out and woke to Jason leaning over me and a screaming baby. River was so upset.
Two good things came out of that seizure: 1) I got a fantastic nights sleep. 2) I've begun the process of getting a therapy dog. My friend explained that a dog can predict seizures 45 minutes ahead of time, giving me enough time to get Koryn or Jason driving back if I were alone with River. My hesitation to ask Jason to care for another creature was laid to rest as his comfort level with leaving me alone would be immeasurable.
Then last night, I took a new type of ambien, and I suppose it kind of worked... I didn't sleep, but the craziness took affect. I got up and did a head-plant. I'm pretty sure the ceiling was full of moving creatures. I ended up with three stitches in the top of my noggin and a developing black eye. This comes with a minor positive: the stitches tie my hair down exactly where I normally barrette it. So I guess no need for a barrette is a plus. Kind of.
So now onto what truly makes me happy. River, of course, continues to amaze me with what a genuinely good, fun, funny, entertaining, charming, happy, intelligent, thoughtful, naturally sympathetic, gorgeous, ever delightful with a constant contagious grin and an infectious giggle, little girl she is.
The other thing that makes my heart flutter is the horse Shanghai is turning into. I knew from day one that he was talented, but he was initially a bit against the leg (not lazy, just seemed somewhat annoyed by it) with a tad of attitude. Now he cracks me up he tries so hard. I've had try-harders in the past, but they were all aiming to please the rider. With him, it's like he wants to overachieve because it's fun, like he likes to feel fancy. Not only does he really plunge for the beginning of an extension, I have to tell Koryn to start the half-pass with just positioning the outside leg and to use more inside leg to prevent the sideways otherwise he barely covers any forward ground. He almost seems exasperated by Koryn not letting him go over the top. To my surprise he's become a horse we really have to calm down, keep his exuberance inside his skin.
His first show is HITS in the middle of June, and he's doing third level. Two months ago, I was planning to do second level, and Francine, his owner, said, "Come on, Courtney, he's six years old, he should be doing third level." I realized that I was very happy with the progress because Koryn and he always progressed from one lesson to the next, but I only taught them once a week. What do you know, when I started to teach them twice a week, the progression doubled. Of course the reason he was able to progress so rapidly was our immense focus on the basics, but Francine has always been good at giving me a swift kick-in-the-butt when I need it.
I feel incredibly lucky that Little Miss is such a good girl. She sits on my lap every morning with two bowls of cereal in front of her--one for me and one for her-- and most people are amazed that she doesn't grab at the bowls, but the most she does when she's inpatient for her bite, is point at the bowl and grunt. She's gotten into the habit of feeding me my pills every morning, and it's amazing that she never tries to put one in her own mouth. One day, she wanted the Orbitz gum canister, so I was emptying the gum into a ziplock so that she could have it. Of course, me being me, they spilled all over the place and I panicked. To my terror, River put one in her mouth, and I sloppily fished it out. She cried because I think I genuinely hurt her, and then she proceeded to pick up every single piece of gum and hand it to me. She loves my lippy--the little canisters of lip balm I'm addicted to--containers and would always grab an open one when she could. She knew she wasn't supposed to have it, so she'd hand it to me, I'd thank her, say, "Just a little bit," and let her put her index finger in to take some out like I do. Then she'd put her finger in her mouth and smack her lips. Now, of course, she thinks it's great fun to see what happens when she runs away with it!
She's also become very loving, which melts my heart. A few times recently when she's just on the verge of sleep on my chest, she wonkily lifts up her head, forces her eyes open and puckers up for a kiss. She must have kissed me twenty-seven times yesterday. She often comes over, gives me a ten second hug and then goes on her way.
Other than my little sunshine, life is pretty good. As far as sleep, we haven't figured out anything reliable yet, but I feel good about this doctor helping me. Also, yesterday I did my first book reading at a non-horsey book store. I wasn't sure how it would go because, as I've said, I can't imagine it being interesting for a non-horsey person, but it went incredibly well. All of the people were very interested and asked a lot of questions, which made it easy. The store owner said people came in off the street to listen to me!
River's started kissing me! Since she was about seven months old, we've done what we call a head-kiss where we lean our head toward her and say, "head-kiss?," and she bumps her forehead into ours. But yesterday she learned to do a lip-kiss. I always take her stuffed bunny and hug it to my chest and shower it with kisses, and River loves that. It always gets a big grin. So yesterday when I gave it back, she kissed it. I said, "lip kiss for mummy?" and puckered my lips. She though for a moment, then pressed her lips to mine with the full smacking sound and everything. The first two were proper, then she started coming at me with her mouth gaping. I obediently kissed her tonsils, and she gave herself a congratulatory clap of the hands. She claps after everything; after each finger we clip; after brushing her teeth; after throwing a toy for Viva; after turning around to back down stairs or get off the couch, after putting a donut shaped to on a peg. She celebrates every small accomplishment.
She's also begun to, when I'm sitting on the floor with her, come over for a simple cuddle. She's become very fond of my bare skin. When she's going to sleep, she reaches inside my shirt to gently stroke my chest, or if it's covered up, she strokes my face. When I'm lying with her, she pulls my shirt up to bare my belly, strokes it a while, maybe raspberries it, and lays her head on it with a content expression. She's particular enamored with my stomach tube scar and the weird protrusion of my pump. (She's also fascinated with the sound the pump makes when she slaps it.) She's going to love the summer when so much skin has easy access.
I'm also able to do far more with her than expected. If I prop myself in front of a counter, I can pick her up and hold her. I can't carry her, but I didn't originally have hopes that I'd even be able to hold her. Jason has to help me put her down, but I can hold my little girl close until Righty gets tired.
Righty is doing better after one year of Little Miss he did than after four and a half years of therapy. He's stronger from lifting her up and has slightly more dexterity from playing with her toys. People even tell me I'm speaking better. I guess the endless singing to her and trying to make sounds is also better than reading lists. She's not only my little ray of sunshine, she's fertilizer, giving some life to this wilted tree.
One more thing that surprised me; I thought she'd come to me for comfort and go to a Daddy for fun, but in fact it's the opposite. Even though I feed her, she knows Daddy makes the food. Daddy picks her up and carries her around. She cries when he won't or when he puts her down, but Mummy would never reject her neediness or put her off my chair when she doesn't want to go and is always ready with a toy.
One more thing, as examples of her perfectness keep coming to mind. She often takes my cane to play, and it used to be a problem because I'd be stranded. But now it's not a worry because I just say "Ta to Mummy" (a New Zealand way of saying give to me, originally meaning thank you) and she brings it back with a big grin. Even if she's left it across the room, I just have to point and say, "Ta to Mummy," and she happily retrieves it.
Have I mentioned that I feel unbelievably lucky to have the only perfect child in the world?
I feel so unbelievably grateful that the equestrian world hasn't forgotten me even though I haven't been down the centerline in five and a half years. The Chronicle of the Horse Untacked is doing an article on me in the upcoming May/June issue, and they sent out a photographer, Carien Schippers (www.imagequine.com), who took the most lovely shots. Although I take many pictures of Little Miss doing cute things, I hardly have any of the family or close-ups of her. And I thought the quality of my iPhone photos was good until I saw these. Although I'm sure much of that has to do with the skill of the photographer! Carien so kindly said she would come and photograph River again at no charge. Photographing subjects with no horses is not in her comfort zone, but she said Little Miss was an easy and enjoyable model!
I'm very curious to see this article. For how much info they gathered, it'll be about a million pages long with ten million photos! They're even printing a portion of my book!
You know, The Chronicle is where my equestrian journey began. When I was seventeen, I found an ad in a fifteen-year-old issue that Lendon Gray was looking for a working student. I new the chances were slim that she'd still be looking but I called, and the rest is history.
For anyone wondering, my sleep test was canceled because insurance won't cover it (yet!), but my doctor is giving a home-testing machine to use overnight next Thursday.