Enjoy the Ride!

Disclaimer: This is not an article about dressage. Well… mostly not about dressage. This is also not a definition of ‘better.’ It is an example that works for me. Go find what works for you!

This is a picture of me during a lesson with Pernille Andrée, rider and trainer extraordinaire.

Listen and learn?

Hold on to your thoughts about that picture for a minute while I offer another one for your consideration.

This is a picture of me in the gym. That’s me squatting on the left. Just so you know I’m also holding a 45 (or is it 35?) pound kettle bell. Because I can.

Saturday Squats at Wickham Athletics

Saturday Squats at Wickham Athletics

 I’ve been riding horses for as long as I can remember and studying, training, and competing in dressage for longer than I want to admit. I can not say either of those things about being in a gym and lifting weights, let alone some of the other crazy, fun, painful stuff I’ve done recently. There was a time when- I kid you not- I thought squatting was what you did if you couldn’t find anything else to sit on. I had to learn how. Once I gave up trying to explain the process and “just trust the ride down,” as Ryan Wickham put it, I did it and did it well! Now I squat whenever I get the chance.


Of course I’ve worked out in gyms before, but I now know that I have never done anything that could be called life-changing in one. It never occurred to me to engage with other people in a gym on the same level that I do with any other expert who has experience and knowledge to share with me. Enter Ryan Wickham (also extraordinaire in oh so many ways), et al. at Wickham Athletics.

After my first workout at Wickham Athletics I wrote the following:

“Day 1 and an exciting, new path full of possibilities lies ahead.”

Little did I know…

A few days earlier, I had walked into Ryan Wickham’s facility knowing that it was way past time to do something about the way I felt and looked. The thing is, I also thought I knew exactly which path to take and where I was going to end up. The rest is not even history yet.

I was hooked after one session. Why? Because I could tell that there was more on offer here than weights and treadmills. Even after Ryan Wickham told me respectfully, but honestly, “you are not strong,” I knew that this was a the beginning of something that would make me better.

It is rare that what I want coincides with what I need, but in this case the only problem I had was deciding which opportunities to pursue. Opportunities for what, you ask? I wanted to “get in shape” to be a better rider. I wanted to “lose weight” so I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in white spandex breeches in the dressage arena. And, yeah, my doctor had also mentioned that some of my health statistics needed attention. Addressing these issues would make me better, right?

But wait! Don’t answer yet!

After about a month of guided work, I realized- and accepted- that my original plan was seriously flawed. I also realized that I didn’t care! The things I wanted were happening anyway, and doing what I needed to was turning out to be more fun than I ever thought could occur in a gym- even while sweating like a Dressage Queen when the judge hasn’t waived the coat rule on a summer day. Every day I make some connection to the way I use my body in the gym and something else that is important to me. I am stronger. I can feel that I am a better rider mentally and physically, and this can only be good for my horse. I feel great! There are murmurings about my improved posture, among other things. I am becoming a better person from the ground up and the inside out. Literally.

There is a saying in equestrian sports: Ride the horse that gets off the trailer. I haven’t been around the weight training arena long enough to pick up many of the expressions, but this one that sticks with me: the iron does not lie. Pernille Andrée and Ryan Wickham have both told me to do the work and trust the process. Regardless of who says it, trust, training, and work will tell. It’s up to me to approach the horse/bar with an open mind, trusting my trainer, the work and process, and myself. That’s when things start to change for the better.

Speaking of trust and confidence, sometimes this happens.

Me: Things we say to our trainers (or Another Reason We Need Trainers): “Would you please not say anything else for a few minutes. There’s a lot going on right now and I need to catch up.”

A friend: Or “Please stop talking. My head is full.”

Me: Exactly! We were addressing an issue that required quick “doing.” OK- so I was doing, but my brain was about to explode because what I was doing was working, but I needed time to understand WHY it was working! Sad, I know, but my instincts were telling me to do something else (that wasn’t working), so it was one massive overhaul for both me and horse.

Have you ever wished that you could just pull a curtain across part of the arena and get through some of the ugliness without anyone watching? Well, I have. Often. In the top picture, I am overthinking something instead of just getting on with it. I have wished that I could hide behind something in the gym and do the work without anyone seeing me. Notice my position in the second picture. As far from the crowd (all five of them) as I can get. The conversation above took place in the riding arena, but a version of it has also happened in the gym (Like when I was learning to squat. My head was full, but I was the one who got told to stop talking.).

We all begin the process at a different point. Whether I’m in the saddle or the squat rack, I’ve gotten better at shutting out the noise and getting to work. Put another way, I now have enough confidence in myself to do the work that is presented and required while viewing the prospect of an inelegant ride or not being able to pick up another ounce as opportunities. I will learn something new, even if it’s what not to do. Then it’s up to me to make a difference. If Ryan Wickham asks me politely,”Where’s the focus?” I no longer feel compelled to explain myself. The answer is to focus, not explain why I temporarily checked out.

<Darn. No pictures of me flat on my face on gym floor after a 21-15-9 set of “Thrusters” and “Over-the-Bar Burpees”.>

Do I lose sight of this sometimes? Yes. Do I find my way out of the weeds by myself? Not always. Honestly, there are still days when I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing- with a horse or a barbell. I get impatient or embarrassed. I’m pretty sure that these are just some of the reasons that “few walk our path.” That is the official motto, mantra, or most important saying at Wickham Athletics. Self discovery can painful, but it hurts more to not make a change for the better- especially when the tools you need are right in front of you.

Through it all, there is always someone who seems to know just what to say and how to say it in order to guide (or yank) me back onto the path. They cheer for me when I am trying to lift more weight. They tell me to get to work. They encourage me when I think that I can’t get up. They joke around with me. They know when to push and when to let me find the path for myself. They even let me pick the music once or twice. Not that I’m counting. There’s a saying in the horse world: My barn. My rules. My music. Enough said.

Here’s another story. I can’t do a pull-up. I’m told that my age (and even my decreasing weight) is not what’s holding me down, so to speak. As of this writing, I have just figured out how to use my back to get closer to the bar. Yeah, it seems simple to some of you, but for me it’s a really big deal. It didn’t just happen. Remember that process I was talking about?

Just hangin' out.

Just hangin’ out.


Little did I know…

The days when I fall on my face are still good days. I will get up. I will eventually pull myself up over that bar. There was mention of weighted pull-ups, but I might have misheard. The ugly rides are still good rides. My horse and I will still learn something, and he will get a treat. It’s all part of gracefully accepting and sharing every opportunity gift that has been placed before me. It really is that simple no matter how hard I overthink it.

If that’s not a better life, I don’t know what is.





Stomping Out Fires II: All About the Gear

I did some laundry at the OCFD #4 firehouse recently.


Yuck! This calls for the extra rinse cycle!

Doing laundry at the firehouse requires planning and some luck. You see, we each have two sets of gear- our “wildland” or “grass” gear and our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that we wear most of the time- including some grass fires because there may be a building involved. Here in my neck of the woods, or prairie, that building is likely to be a barn filled with hay.

You have to check the weather, wait for rain, “call” the washer and drier, and literally hope that nothing burns while your gear is in the wash or drying. It is both illegal and imprudent to fight a structure fire in grass gear. We do not have spare sets of either kind of gear at OCFD #4.

I joined OCFD #4 right before pasture burning season. The chief wasted no time in sending one of the cadets up into the attic to fetch the boxes of PPE. We played dress up until I was all kitted out with the basics, including a pair of boots.

You can just see the tops of my boots sticking out of my pants. In the station or on the truck, our gear is always ready!

You can just see the tops of my boots sticking out of my pants. In the station or on the truck, our gear is always ready!

Step in. Pull up. Strap in!

Step in. Pull up. Strap in!

Back to laundry… I went through nearly the entire pasture burning season in a set of inherited PPE which, although cleaned before going in the attic, was still quite… aromatic. No fabric softener for this stuff. In fact, we do not put them in the drier at all. By the time the weather and the wheel of fire fate cooperated, my PPE was beyond stinky.

We had just finished a day of training. Here are some pictures of how we spent that Saturday.

The Planning Session Our Safety Officer

The Planning Session
Our Safety Officer

What really happened.

I learned how to use the nozzle’s shower, or spray, setting to create a space in which you can breathe- and withstand the heat.

The back edge of the field. Working with the wind.

The back edge of the field. Working with the wind.

These guys are not panicking. They are taking a much-needed break. Those helmets are heavy!

IMG_8528And this guy… Go Navy! Every sailor is a firefighter!

Modeling his new grass gear.

Modeling his new grass gear.

What I did.

Let's get this done! Put the wet stuff on the hot stuff. Over there!

Let’s get this done! Put the wet stuff on the hot stuff. Over there!

And yes, I stomped out a few things.

Story of my life.

Story of my life.




Now that you know how my gear (and I) got so smelly, shall we return to the laundry. Again?





I know I’m repeating myself, butlb93nOne must disassemble the stuff first!


You have to remove the lining. The snaps were attached by superhuman trolls.

You have to remove the lining. The snaps were attached by superhuman trolls.

I think we’re back to where we started, so let’s fast forward to the point where the PPE is as clean as it is going to get and drying in the sunshine.

!IMG_8590By the time you’re done, you wish you had one of these because you still have to put it all back together again.

It survived the training exercise- empty, of course.

It survived the training exercise- empty, of course.

The Sound of Confidence

I have finally figured out why I can’t fall in love with Captain von Trapp as he is depicted in the movie version of The Sound of Music. To wit, I never wanted to be Maria (also as portrayed in the movie)! Even though she got most of the best songs, the only one I ever really took to heart was this one.

Did anyone know that it is really hard to find a full-length video of this song with Julie Andrews singing it?

Anyway, Maria was the epitome of what every good girl (sarcasm font, please) could be and what every… decent man wanted, right? Well, I wasn’t buying it then, and I remain uninterested now. A captain with seven children… Actually, I am quite fond of children, especially other people’s children, but I have no desire to become their mother. I’m certainly not going to marry a rich man so I can stop getting paid for the job I’m already doing, even if the kids are cute and can sing and operate puppets.

As for dressing in brown burlap and old curtains, you can forget it!

Image result for scarlett o'hara costume

Now, which shoes shall I wear?

Even Miss Scarlett got busted for trying that wardrobe trick! What hope did a soon-to-be-former nun have?

I saw these in the window, and I just have to have them!

And as for evening wear, what kind of employer tells the governess to bring the children to a formal gathering in his own home, but doesn’t at least provide a dress with the appropriate hemline (if only to hide the inappropriate shoes) ?

And in the center ring, ladies and gentlemen…

Or can he be forgiven for not thinking of such things because he had more important things on his mind? As men do.

I will not tolerate evil. I must find someone who will take care of me and my children… as we all flee to a better place.

The Baroness had her own status- and money- and knew how to use both to her own advantage,  unlike Maria who had to flit and float about trying to figure out if she was good enough for the Captain who was, after all, willing to settle for little ole her. Elsa, Baronness von Schraeder knew what she wanted out of life. She wanted the Captain.

Image result for baroness sound of music movie

Oh! How I adore listening to other people’s children sing!

A new governess would also be needed- at least until all the children were old enough to send to boarding school. The Captain was never going to be home anyway. I’m guessing that the Baroness and Liesl would have gotten along just fine after a few initial fireworks. Either that, or Miss 16-Going-On-30 would have been the one in the convent.

Image result for baroness, captain, sound of music

That girl has got to go- after the kids though.

Perhaps if Maria had really gotten to wear the outfit- complete with coordinating Barbie luggage- from the various products that accompanied the movie, she would have had more confidence.

Then again, those pink pumps would have put an end to her Alpine romps.

The Captain’s procrastination and… etc. caused his whole family to make sacrifices from which even Rogers and Hammerstein could not compose a decent recovery. Meanwhile, we are supposed to dislike the Baroness?

For crying out loud! There were seven children! Why would they have wanted to play with a grown-up anyway? Except maybe Liesl. I still think she and the Baroness could have been the toast of Austrian society and probably taken out quite a few Nazis as well.

Let us not forget who makes the grandest gesture in this movie. Yep, it’s Elsa, Baroness von Schraeder. She puts her own desires aside, as one does, so that her Captain, his children, and his soon-to-be-wife-ex-nun/governess can all hike off into an uncertain yet decidedly mountainous future. If one must break an engagement, one must look good while doing so- especially if saving face for both parties in the soon-to-be-over relationship.

Image result for baroness, captain, sound of music

Grab a clue, Cap’n.

 Like another of my favorite movie heroines, Auntie Mame, the Baroness knew how to live, live, live- and let live. She had the confidence and generosity of spirit to step aside- quietly, without singing- and live to fight another day. She knew exactly how to solve a problem like Maria, and that such a problem wasn’t worth wrinkles in her brow or her couture.

Stomping Out Fires

A few days ago, one of my friends pointed out that I am the only person she knows who can truthfully and literally reply, “oh, just putting out fires,” when asked what I’ve been up to. Somewhere in this blog, I know I’ve mentioned that when I’m busy (by my own choice or someone else’s) I tend to make less noise. In this particular case, yes, I’ve been busy putting out fires, but I signed up for it. I even got a free outfit that I got to wear for nearly 36 hours straight last weekend.

The one with the flag is mine. Not sure how I lucked out on that one!

The one with the flag is mine. Not sure how I  lucked out on that one!

The spring ritual of pasture and field burning was unknown to me before moving to Kansas in the early 1990s. Since then it has become as much a part of my inner calendar as the spring floods down South. Both of these events are natural ones that have been adopted by people to accomplish the same goals but, ideally, under more controlled circumstances.

However… big breath before the comma…, sometimes things go wrong. Even the most carefully planned, controlled burn can run afoul of so many things such as a dry winter or a puff of breeze at the “wrong” time.

My previous home was within 30 feet of being burned to the ground. Osage County Fire District #4 (OCFD #4), and 1-3, 5, and 6 also, I believe, worked all day to preserve that little half-moon of land where my house sat. The fire still managed to jump that road and continue burning. All of this happened while I was at work 35 miles away. A neighbor- half a mile away- saw the fire and reported it. That evening, I turned down my low-maintenance road as usual, happy to be home. I can still remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach and the drying of my mouth as my mind accepted what the rest of me already knew. I also remember knowing that that I could never repay what had been done for me, nor would I ever be asked to do so.

It did enter my mind to volunteer, but the usual excuses held me back.

Fast forward to 2012. I was at work and received a text with a picture.

Not your average front-porch picture. Thank goodness!

Not your average front-porch picture. Thank goodness!

The furnace had overheated and caused a small fire with a lot of smoke. A hot spot re-ignited and caused a larger fire. This story also ended well- thanks to OCFD #4. Again.

By then the idea had taken hold, and it only took me three years to make a move, but it feels right now. It’s right for be because this particular endeavor is outside my comfort zone. It is right because I will be following, listening, learning, and giving. My nearly constant barrage of questions hasn’t irritated anyone too much. Nor will it! OCFD #4 is a splendid example of the power of shared knowledge.

There are only 1000 people (give or take a few) within the greater metropolitan area of my small Kansas town. I live outside of town. According to more than one semi-reliable internet source, 71% of this country’s firefighters are volunteers who are getting less young, less active, and are not being replaced by a new generation of volunteers.

OCFD #4 is one such organization. We are one of seven districts in our county, and we have mutual aid agreements with one of our neighboring counties. That means that we respond to some of their calls, and they do the same for us. Our roster contains 33 names, many of whom serve alongside a family member. Some of our cadets serve with their parents!

One of the many jokes around the station has to do with the timing of my decision. I am told that my weekends will be extra-busy for at least the next month, and that I can also count on being summoned multiple times in a given day. I can honestly say that I did think of that. What I did not think of was how quickly I would be asked to put my limited introduction to use.  When the first fire was out and we were back at the station, people wanted to know what I thought. All I could come up with was,”Well, I didn’t get yelled at or fall off of the truck.”

I’m pretty sure that everyone understood my need process the experience and let thoughts develop. Those of you who know my frequency know that sooner or later, I will broadcast. I may even warn you so you can turn the volume up or down! In the meantime, I hope that whenever you see scenes like these…

Another view from the front porch.

Another view from the front porch.


A few minutes later. All is well.

… as I was saying… whenever you see scenes like these, I hope that you and yours are all safely at home on your front porch!

There is one last anecdote that I am determined to put in this post, but that I can’t seem to blend in smoothly, so here it is:

After my introduction to fighting grass fires, all the grass trucks met at a local fuel station to refill in order to be ready for the next run(s). I was so thirsty that I couldn’t even spit- something I will do, but would prefer not to. There are worse things, right? Anyway, being without my purse or wallet, I was scrounging water and making mental notes to put a bottle of water in my pants pocket at the end of every run (that box is now checked!). By the way, I did have my chapstick, as did many of the other firefighters.

The people who worked in the store part of the fuel station gave a free drink to one of the other firefighters. I was hanging on the edge of a group conversation that revolved around teasing one of the store’s staff about not following through on joining OCFD #4. I even joined in a bit, using myself and my… lengthy consideration process as justification. Suddenly, but belatedly, I realized that the object of our teasing was hurt and irritated by our comments.

Better late than never is not always enough, but in this case, I believe it was. I apologized to the person on the receiving end of our jokes and asked about the free drink. If I understood correctly, somebody will pay for the drink! If I misunderstood, let the record show that yours truly will spring for the drink. Moving on… this person did what felt right! We began chatting about the different ways in which people do what they can with whatever they have. This person did a good thing and is convinced of that now. More importantly- that good thing was done without hesitation and even in the midst of being teased.

What feels right? Trust your instincts!

For an interesting discussion of the decline of American civic participation, check out Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam or the web site http://bowlingalone.com/

What I Did Last Year: Understanding the Noise, 2014

    In 1992, while still recovering from illness, Queen Elizabeth II gave the following speech:

She didn’t go into a lot of detail. She didn’t have to. The paparazzi had taken care of that for her. The sometimes unfortunate perspective of hindsight shows us that things got even worse for her and her family. Yet, one would never know it just to look at- or listen to- her. The only hint of anything amiss is her still-weak voice. She carried on because one does. With deference to my friend who never shoulds on others,  you might oughtta give Her Majesty another listen before continuing.

<pause to (re)play video>

For several weeks Facebook(FB) has been  showing me a montage of  pictures that I posted throughout 2014 and offering me the opportunity to share it with my FB friends. They have even provided me with a header: “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” As an aside, I think that the gratitude statement to friends should also receive an exclamation mark. Here  ya go: !

Among the items I would like to borrow from Her Majesty is the phrase annus horribilis to sum up 2014.

The “undiluted joy” in the pictures FB chose to include in this collection scarcely even begins to resemble my recollection of 2014. Not blaming FB here- with few exceptions, who posts “bad” pictures of themselves? I mean the really, genuinely ugly ones? I don’t. Once upon a time I shared a video of my young horse’s first dressage test. It was real, and parts of it were “real ugly.” For every person who laughed with me, there was another who laughed at me (and poor Başka).

Photos from May 17, 2012

There were also some FANTASTIC moments in that dressage test (I thought I had put the video here on this site, but I can’t find it now.) The point here is that I focused on the fantastic moments, including the fact that the judge gave us a do-over because she knew as well as I did that  we  could do better!

Flops are a part of life's menu, and I've never been a girl to miss out on any of the courses. - Rosalind Russell

Flops are a part of life’s menu, and I’ve never been a girl to miss out on any of the courses.
– Rosalind Russell, photo from Auntie Mame

(There hasn’t been any Noise from me since May. WARNING: If you haven’t already done so, you may wish to adjust the volume on your device. Things may get a bit loud!)

Since last summer, I’ve carried on, but not quite with the Queen’s dignity, humor, or modulated tones. If explanation of my actions is required, I will provide one that has “some precedent in truth.”¹ If I catch on in time, I will also apologize for negative consequences that my choices may cause. Otherwise, just take my word for it that I really haven’t been doing much that is worth rehashing in the blogosphere. You may also rest assured that I will rehash those things which merit closer scrutiny.

Never apologize. Never explain.

Never apologize. Never explain.

I lost my voice for a while- in the figurative sense.  I just didn’t feel like saying anything. Then I started to think about my silence. I thought about it for several months. I also tried, and failed, to ignore the silence. During that time, people started to wonder what I was up to. Lots of people had ideas about what I should or should not be doing. Very few had any idea of how or how not to do what they thought I should or should not do.

...or something like that.

Aut inveniam viam aut faciam. … or something like that.



Some people (the ones who receive my eternal gratitude plus the exclamation mark) began to worry a bit. You see, I generally make a lot of noise, much of it joyful. I love to talk. I love to sing. When irritated or even slightly upset, noise- spoken or sung-  is also how I get over the irritant and myself. When I’m quiet… well, I think you see where this is going. The Good Idea Fairy and I get together a lot. I also love to share my ideas with others, and I’m willing take the credit for brilliant successes as well as flaming failures. Sometimes there is only a match stick separating the two!

<pause to watch and listen to Queen Elizabeth again>

 Auntie Mame, as portrayed by Rosalind Russell, had more fun that I would think possible losing husbands, lovers, and money. She also had a enviable knack for putting things right for those whom she loved as well as herself. Queen Elizabeth bowed to her subjects and now pays taxes on her income. She bowed her head as her daughter-in-law’s casket passed in front of her. She has lost her mother and a daughter.Precedents of truth and (or?) fiction not withstanding, both women withstood scrutiny while offering observations to others with a “touch of gentleness, good humor, and understanding” in order to guide the “engine of change”³ toward their preferred form of resolution and justice.

Issues of volume aside, the public voices of Queen Elizabeth II and Russell’s Auntie Mame are two of my favorite noises, although I would prefer the latter’s wardrobe.

"Life is a banquet," and I can't eat any of it if I want to wear this outfit!  -(phrase in quotation and photo from Auntie Mame)

“Life is a banquet,” and I can’t eat any of it if I want to wear this outfit!
-(phrase in quotation and photo from Auntie Mame)

That is all. For now.

Carry on. You never know who may be listening!


¹Ian Fleming.

²Two irritants that I am unable to overcome: the absence of any means to indent my paragraphs on this web site as well as the failure to provide any instructions that make sense to me. I know it is possible because I’ve seen it done.

³Pay attention when the Queen speaks!

Real People and Real Horses: The Adventure Never Ends

I suppose I could say that life itself is an adventure, but that might force me to distinguish between adventure and misadventure, so I’ll just stick to one excerpt from my life. This particular adventure has already gotten so big that I barely have had time to process it all internally, let alone write about it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The first thing that you probably want to know is: What adventure? For starters, I stayed within the boundaries of the continental United States this time. There are also horses involved. Need I say more? Well, actually… everything you need to know about the background for this adventure is in my post dated 26 April 2014. The bare minimum is that I went to Woodruff, SC in order to ride and train with Mihran Dülgeroğlu (www.mihranequestrian.com), fevkalade bir antrenör. I would say trainer extraordinaire, but Mihran is Turkish.

An important  freebie is: Yes,  you can travel with a dressage saddle as carry-on luggage. On a big plane anyway. I made all sorts of airport friends because, let’s face it, a saddle is a peculiar looking piece of luggage. One child even found a way to sit in between the flaps and hide from her mother. I flew Southwest because they had the best fares and they only use the bigger jets. That said, the flight crew and some passengers do get huffy if they have to wait for you to cram that saddle into the bins on the smaller jets. The secret: take the saddle out of the carrying bag. It also helps if your ribs aren’t bruised (see below for details).

It fits! It fits!

It fits! It fits!

Now, back to the main plot. I showed up at the Greenville airport with one duffel full of riding clothes, a smaller one filled with the stuff people who don’t ride wear, a saddle, and a backpack- proving once again that I may sometimes over pack, but I always carry my own gear. Furthermore, if you laugh at me, I won’t lend you any of my stuff when you need it- which you will because you didn’t want to pack it in the first place.

Mihran trains mostly Hunters and Jumpers, but he comes from a classical dressage background. All of his horses are well versed in the basics of flexing, bending, and responding to light aids from the rider. Some of our best conversations about dressage took place in the jump arena! Three of the horses that I rode (I had forgotten what fun Thoroughbreds can be!) were quite capable and willing to give honest efforts to move more efficiently and “correctly.” Mihran was equally capable and willing to make sure that my requests were equally honest and efficient (translation: MORE LEG! MORE BEND!)

On Monday morning we headed to the barn. But first, we had to have a meeting.

Not all meetings are evil.

Not all meetings are evil.

This meeting included neither paperwork nor PowerPoint. Just good planning and conversation- and oh yes, coffee!

It’s Wednesday Friday I’m back home now just now getting around to writing. That should give you an idea of how busy (or tired) I have been. Every day I rode three horses and lunged one or two more if necessary. Then I watched Mihran ride and give lessons. On Monday, I rode a few horses while Mihran offered comments and instructions. It was like a day-long lesson! Apparently neither he nor the horses were too offended because he allowed me to tack up and ride again on Tuesday.

All three Tuesday horses were Thoroughbreds who knew how to stretch and work off of light aids. Bending was not something they did very well. During one circle Mihran asked me if I was riding a horse or a motorcycle. It was up to me to decide how to improve what I had to work with. I’ll be the first to admit (or maybe the second since hesitation is one of my weaknesses) that I should have been quicker to diagnose some of the issues. On the other hand, I am now aware of that both in and out of the saddle. No more complacency.

We’re still on Tuesday, right? I started each horse with the idea that I would not begin work until I could clearly articulate what I wanted to address and how I would do it. Sometimes that comes naturally. Sometimes I have to change the plan completely (horses also have plans). On a horse that didn’t belong to me,  it was an intimidating process.

Horse #1, a 7 year old TB, required lots of transitions. Upward. Downward. Within gaits as well. Everywhere in the arena. He knew the hunter routine very well. When he cantered after two walk steps and went “uphill” I knew we had made a real breakthrough. Then the challenge was to either keep him together or trot again before he (or I) lost it.

Horse #2, another 7 year old TB, was a very long-backed fellow who presented another set of issues. He was a bit more advanced in his training than #1, so I decided to ask for more.  He was more willing and able to stretch, and boy did he! I felt like I was sitting on a ball. He gave me a look-at-me big boy trot that was super elastic. So what did I do? I shortened the reins a bit and asked for some leg yield. It wasn’t perfect, but what did you expect? There was some correctness, and his back stayed “up.” Never one to let things alone, I asked for a canter. We turned down the quarter line, and I pushed him over with my inside leg. He went! We did a stretchy circle (sort-of), and I got off. End of lesson. Good boy!

Horse #3. Hmmm… a 16 year old TB with a lot of “go.” He carried himself very well, but in a flat frame with no engagement of his back. He was also experienced enough to know how to avoid any meaningful contact with me and the reins. He got his longer reins, but he also got- you guessed it- more leg! More leg! More leg! He produced a relatively free and swinging trot. I could tell that it was work for him, so we took frequent walk breaks, also on a long contact.

By Wednesday, I was over my first-day jitters and settling into the way Mihran wants his horses ridden when things got out of control. Literally. Mihran has a young Oldenburg who is simultaneously flashy, brilliant, and sensitive. The sensitivity part is what got me.

Unexpected departures can be painful.

Unexpected departures can be painful.

I learned (again) the necessity of correcting quickly and effectively (and repeating if necessary- and no that is not an oxymoron) as opposed to one static correction that leaves the horse no options and me on my face in the arena. After emptying the sand from my boots, gloves, and mouth, I did get back on. I also rode one more horse and lunged another. Then I went back to the house to think about what I had learned and try to clean myself up.

I learned Wednesday’s lessons so well that I could not ride on Thursday. The ribs that I bruised are still quite sore even as I type. The colors on my knee and the rest of the left side of my body have faded to icky, pale pastels now. My ego will definitely survive the downsizing. In fact, one of Mihran’s students, a charming young lady dealing with some fear issues, was able to take the fact that I had made a spectacular dismount as evidence that “it really does happen to everybody” and start to get over her own hesitancy to fully engage with her own horse!

By Friday, I was back in the saddle despite Mihran’s better judgment. I was not there long though because I could not post the trot without wanting to scream; however, I couldn’t have screamed because I couldn’t draw enough breath. So, I did some ground work with a few horses and then got ready for the weekend. My horse friends will know what that means. For my friends who do not ride, that does not mean that I tried to decide what to wear and where to go. I was already where I wanted to be- the barn! Mihran and I would soon be joined by a group of teenage girls who preferred to spend their weekends messing about with horses.

The barn aisle was full of giggling, laughing, and a few squeals as well as discussions of the latest tack with bling that they simply had to have for their horses. Two of them were even thrilled that I had been schooling their horses according to the principles of classical dressage and that I had seen some really “cool” possibilities in those beloved steeds. The others were a bit bored with dressage for the reasons that most people are bored with it, but there’s still hope.

On Saturday two of them asked me if I would give them dressage lessons. Yes, that happened. They each rode like the promising hunters that they are, but they also showed the adaptability that comes from being open-minded, athletic, and willing to take instruction. Their questions were intelligent and showed that they were thinking about the process- especially the similarities and differences of hunt seat and dressage seat. They watched each other, and they watched me. We talked. A lot. They still think that dressage is a bit slow compared to jumping  (duh!), but they also gained a new understanding of what dressage riders are really doing in the saddle. And yes, they started to see how dressage would help them and their horses in the hunter ring! Win!

What a soft seat she has!

What a soft seat she has!

By now many of you are probably wondering why I went to study and ride at a (mostly) Hunter/Jumper facility, especially since the only jumping I have ever done has been in a dressage saddle! Back in the day, Gris Gris and I used to hop over whatever we could find out on the trails. But I digress. In my previous entry I mentioned how I found Mihran Equestrian and some of the conversations that I had with Mihran Dülgeroğlu, the owner and head trainer.

Assigned Reading

Assigned Reading

It has been a long time since I had a good discussion about any of the books that have been written about dressage, especially those by the artists of the discipline. Mihran and I both love Charles de Kunffy, especially his emphasis on sensitivity and condemnation of the modern emphasis on competition that imposes artificial, ego-driven deadlines on us and our horses. There is no art in this sort of competition-centered training. “Many outstanding competitors are well skilled sportsmen [and women, I might add]. Fewer are artists, and so it should be” (Training Strategies for Dressage Riders, p. 6). Thinking, feeling, doing, and creating. It’s harder than it sounds, especially if people are watching.

Yeah, it's a nice, soft seat, but it isn't very balanced.

Yeah, it’s a nice, soft seat, but it isn’t very balanced.

Most of us are not artists. Our horses are not Grand Prix horses. We work and train as hard and as often as we can in order to sustain the hope of creating something worthy of being viewed by a critical public who may or may not be as educated in the art of dressage as they are in the USDF Rule book. (Did you see it? My ego just peeked around the page to see if anyone was watching.)

Here is a video of me riding one of my favorite horses in Mihran’s barn, a seven year old Thoroughbred named Denali. In my defense, I was riding with bruised ribs and a knee the size of a large tack sponge. I will also say that the best work came later in the ride, but my camera person was getting bored. Denali needs no defense.  He has had no dressage schooling, but was willing to give it a try. A horse who understands you is more likely to trust you.


There it was again! You probably saw it this time. My ego just took over the previous paragraph! How many of us have created something beautiful in the arena and then tried to tell someone about it? (For the record, only Mihran saw me fall, but I’m pretty sure everyone heard me yelling.)I showed this video clip to a friend and trainer who said,”It looks like you’re doing a nice job with a horse who doesn’t know anything about dressage.” She pretty much nailed it. Now you have the footage to stack up with the way I remember it!

Trying to describe those sweaty, yet sublime moments of absolute harmony is often misinterpreted by some as bragging. Trying to describe those moments to a fellow sensitive rider, regardless of their ‘show level’, is the next best thing to actually having that moment. It is like a private, exclusive exhibition where the horse is the star and you helped (and were helped!).

During my week in Woodruff I was quite literally (and painfully) jolted out of a sense of complacency that had taken over my riding. I am not suggesting that we all eat sand in order to risk expanding our comfort zones, nor do we all need such a huge slice of humble pie. I even recall saying that it had been three years since I had departed unexpectedly from my saddle. This after my beloved trainer here in Kansas suffered a worse fall than mine. Complacency is not a word that I would ever attach to her though.

I spent seven days watching an excellent trainer work hard to deal with… well, the life and occasional drama of a trainer/manager/owner. Mihran was in the process of hiring barn help during my stay. Nonetheless, he refused to let me even sweep the barn aisle (I will eventually get around to that article or book about Hospitality- Southern, Turkish, and maybe even Afghan. There! I’ve said it, so I have to do it!). Several of you, my friends and readers, are already familiar with this life, but I had never seen it up close and personal, so to speak. I’m not sure that my talents would even be best used in such an endeavor.

I think it’s a good thing to be easily amused, and can find entertainment- even adventure- in all sorts of places. It’s what I do. I also like to ask questions. Most people can teach us something, as can most horses. Now I am ready to get back to the adventure of training my two very real horses.

My gratitude goes to everyone (that includes people and horses!) who has provided me with encouragement, correction, answers, more questions, help, challenges, and- most important- the love of incorporating art and creativity into the training of our horses and ourselves.



The Turkish Connection… in South Carolina: Nothing Could be Finer!

While I was surfing the web instead of writing my latest blog post I stumbled into what has turned out to be a very amazing rabbit hole. After a few twists and turns, I found myself in contact with Mihran Dülğeroğlu, a trainer now based in Greenville, S.C. by way of Istanbul, Turkey (www.mihranequestrian.com). One thing led to another, and now I am preparing to head to the region, if not the exact state, of my birth to ride, study, and drink lots of coffee with Mihran and his crew.

What initially struck a harmonious chord with me was a phrase that I found on anther blog: “Honoring where we are with our horses.”  I realized that this point was exactly what was missing in my quest to keep improving as a person and a rider as well as my attempts to describe this quest. So, I did what all writers do when they see a good idea. I stole it (providing a reference, of course!).  While I was talking, texting, and e mailing Mihran, I was telling a few friends about my upcoming adventure. Here is where I point the finger at Margene Swarts and Kathy O’Brien who encouraged me/egged me on to not only blog about my experience, but to share it with the Kansas City Dressage Society (KCDS).

I hope to make the “whys” of my decision to go on this adventure clearer as I write to you during my trip, but for now I encourage you to visit Mihran’s web site and begin thinking about what you read there. I also suggest that you (re) read anything by Charles de Kunffy and Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg plus any other dressage texts that you hold dear.

For this introduction I would like to address another lesson that I seem to keep confronting but not quite learning: that is, to ask! As we become less young, many of us outgrow that ability to simply and honestly ask for something that we want. And yes, this applies to our communication with people as well as horses. Let’s assume that we are happily engaged in a positive discussion with a human or an equine. We want something, but something keeps us from asking (or asking in a way that is understandable). The worst thing that can happen to us is a negative or confusing response, right? And whose fault is that? As long as everybody is being honest and open, then there is no harm done. We move on or repeat the request as the situation dictates, but we must ask!

In this case, my expectations were exceeded beyond what I even dared to ask. Instead of a long weekend with me as a working student (Mihran was having none of that!), I will be in Greenville from May 4 to May 12. With the exception of the evening of my arrival, all of my days will contain time in the saddle (both dressage and jumping) on different horses, as well as study, and lots of discussion! If possible, I will even travel with Mihran to one of his clinics. I hope that I will be able to refine my communications skills enough to be able to share my experiences with you in a meaningful and occasionally humorous way.


Right! About the helmet, or lack thereof. I wanted a picture in which my face was actually visible. This is what I got instead. Başka flipping his hair and kicking at a fly.

Right! About the helmet, or lack thereof. I wanted a picture in which my face was actually visible. This is what I got instead. Başka flipping his hair and kicking at a fly.

Meg Hawthorne has been a member of KCDS for over 15 years. She lives in Overbrook, Kansas where she strives to ride her horses Başka, Sophia, Gris Gris, and sometimes Pilot according to the principles of dressage as a form of art.

Sometimes we work with fat crayons. Other times, rarely, we produce something suitable for public display.


Being Where We are While Trying to Get Somewhere Else

Yeah, I know it’s not the most elegantly phrased title, but it does capture the idea driving this latest example of mental and emotional activity. Yesterday I had one of those lessons with which any thinking and feeling equestrian can identify. I suspect that its applicability goes way beyond the world of the rider.

Despite the absolutely hideous weather at the Overbrook Dressage Society that has persisted since last October, I have been trying to move up a level in dressage. I have shown up at lessons with list of questions for my trainer. Some of them even relate to my attempts to implement instructions from the previous lesson! To her credit, my trainer, Pernille Andree, answers them all.

Back to yesterday. Because of the aforementioned hideous weather, I went two weeks without a lesson. I need frequent supervision. I showed up at the barn with only a few minutes to spare and a filthy horse who had chosen yesterday morning to abandon his usually prissy pasture manners. After removing the top layer of dirt (from both of us), I tacked up and mounted up. I was ready to work, and so was Başka!

Specifically, I was ready to motor around the arena showing how hard I had worked on the issue of engaging Başka’s outside hind leg. We were both quite content to trot or canter around showing how “engaged” we were. Then Pernille did what she always does. She upped the ante. This is hardly a new approach, but it completely blindsided me yesterday. Pernille started asking for prompter, smoother, more refined transitions. All at once. What?

What followed was simultaneously ugly and fantastic. Başka, my trusty steed, is one of the best negotiators ever- equine or human. He opted for prompt, but not smooth. Refined didn’t even make his list. I just floundered around in the saddle wondering what the #@!% had happened to my beautiful lesson. Then, it hit me… right before Pernille should have hit me. I did not come to that lesson ready to learn or be challenged. I wanted to look good because you have to look good in dressage, right?

Well, after a minor temper tantrum (directed at myself, to be sure) and an attitude adjustment, I got serious and did some really ugly, but effective riding- the kind of riding you NEVER see online or on TV. I can hear some of you gasping, but let me be clear. This was not cruel, harsh or mean in any way. This was me taking a deep breath, listening to Pernille, figuring stuff out, and then explaining it to poor Başka who was no longer allowed to treat my requests like a multiple choice question. The answer was, is, and ever more shall be: e. All of the above. Now.

I’ve certainly had better (both pretty and ugly) lessons than the one yesterday, but among other things, I came to a very uncomfortable realization:  Where was I at the beginning of the lesson? Focused only on moving up a level, i.e. the future. I was not there in the lesson. The future was looking good because I looked good, even without lipstick. Once the hard work started, I saw my future as a dressage star (hush now!) crumble into arena dust. Where am I now? I am with Başka. If he isn’t where I want him to be, then I am perfectly capable of showing him where he should be, and he is capable of going there. I think this sums it up quite well- “Honoring Where We Are With Our Horses.”* To honor something, you have to understand it. Here’s the kicker or why yesterday was so different. The answer is also always “e. All of the above. Now.” for me.

Now, just for fun, here is a video from early 2011 of Başka’s first ever show- a schooling show to be sure.

So what did you see? A horse who was misbehaving? A poorly trained horse? An irritated rider? A young horse who had only been in schooling for a few months? A rider making the best of a rainy day that did not meet her expectations of that first show? Did you hear him calling to his girlfriend? If you listen, you can hear her too! Fortunately, the judge saw all of the above, and more. I received what I hope will be the lowest score of my short dressage career- a 58%. Ouch. For those of you who are unfamiliar with dressage scoring, anything under a 60%… you need more work. (I’ve known people to get a score below 60% but win the class and refuse to display their blue ribbon!) I also got some very helpful comments from her as well as Pernille. But since it was a schooling show, and lots of folks were being wimps about the rain, the judge gave me a do-over! That time we were mid-60s. I thought I had learned that the answer is “e” on that day. I guess we all need reminding sometimes.





Looking for the Next Big Thing: Willing to Learn!

I have often heard that one should not post anything in public about one’s (un)employment status. I can think of worse things to post! Those of you who listen in regularly by means other than this blog will already know that I am one of those Americans who has almost stopped looking for the next big thing, i.e. a job. I have turned every stone twice and am now digging holes under those stones.


This job hunt has been like no other in my life. Fortunately, I haven’t had to go through this soul-crushing process many times in my life. During the past year I have met some interesting and talented folks as well as… some others. I have contacted hundreds (literally) of companies and individuals. I can hear you wondering why I am not gainfully or otherwise employed by now. Well, here is one of the things I have learned: if I believed even half of the reasons that are implied (none are ever given, of course), then I would think myself completely worthless. Instead I cling to the belief that I just didn’t do a good job of “selling myself” to the potential employer.

Someone who does the things that I do can simultaneously have too much and not enough experience. One can also be too young or too old, all the while knowing all the right or wrong people.  Picking up new skills and meeting new people are things that I generally enjoy. As a bonus, I clean up pretty well! Otherwise, I have found that no matter how specific the job notice, the very factors that we do not ask or tell about are the ones that usually get one hired. In fact, they have worked for me in the past. They have also worked against me.

I will also need my cowboy boots.

I will also need my cowboy boots.

I have also learned that it can be quite difficult to get past the HR departments of many places, but that HR departments will call me and begin to interview me before even telling me the name of their company. I recently overhauled my cv so that now I have both a resume and a cv. I posted both on two well-known sites that I have avoided in the past because they typically do not have the kinds of jobs that interest me. I clearly hit the search word bonus because now my cell phone rings way too much, and these callers do not leave messages. They call, and call, and call- no matter how many times I block their numbers.  Never mind the fact that I clearly indicated that email is my preferred means of contact. These companies hire people to do searches and then call the people whose resumes match the search. For some reason, my name is a big hit in the benefits management and HR departments of the world right now. Why? I have no idea. When I ask these people what made them call me, they all say that they don’t have my resume in front of them! One poor person admitted flat out that she had no idea- her boss just gave her a list and told her to call everyone on it. They promise to send me information, but so far, none have.

Try calling an HR department and asking then where to send your resume. Nope. No way. Not happening. They don’t do that. There are some exceptions to this statement, but just posting a random resume with those exceptions has not been very productive either.


I have also had a few offers. Sadly, they all fell through due to lack of funding, political unrest, or pay so low that I can’t afford to take the job because it would be a waste of my time. For example, I can’t afford to take an adjunct teaching job that pays $1500 for one semester (16 weeks, 3 classroom hours/week, 3 hours (minimum) office hours, grading/prep/etc- you do the math!).  Ironically, most of the jobs that fail to materialize due to the first two factors would actually provide some relief to the very problems. All three of these circumstances can arise in combinations too. No matter how many times I reinvent myself there is little that I can do to change those factors. Round and round we go.

Happy face? Well, like I said, I do clean up well. I’m normally pretty “upbeat” to the great irritation of my “cooler” friends. I’m also pretty thick-skinned and, well… direct. Yeah, direct. The most painful lesson of this stretch of being between gigs has been that I should not even be between gigs as evidenced by the strained, embarrassed expressions on some faces when I decline an invitation or don’t make an expected donation because I can’t afford it. It’s worth noting here that directness notwithstanding, I don’t just drop that buzz killer straight into the conversation. Someone usually asks “why?” and then  insists, ignoring my polite but vague refusal. Nothing brings out the lightweights like someone they know having a rough spell. The lightweights flee the crime scene in order to avoid the taint of failure.

Paradoxically, the light weights are also the first ones to judge me for being… you know… unemployed. I don’t have a writing career, but I do enjoy writing. Somehow I have let the current situation- unemployment! say it with me!- make me feel like I can’t afford (in any sense of the word) to do anything I like because I should be spending all of my waking hours trying to find a job.  One of the lessons that I have learned during the last year is false. Can you guess which one?

Children: Yours, Mine, and Sometimes Ours

When I went off to college I was secure in the knowledge that I had plenty of spending money. How did I acquire such riches? Babysitting! That’s right. Spending weekend evenings with the offspring of grown ups in our neighborhood in exchange for cash. This doesn’t make me different from thousands of other young girls (and increasing numbers of boys). What makes me different is that I have known since I was a very young child- we’re talking grade school here- that I never wanted to have children. Ever.

No. We can't play Candy Land now. It's already past your bed time.

No. We can’t play Candy Land now. It’s already past your bed time.

Those of you who haven’t just deleted your subscription to this site may be gratified to know that the really interesting part is yet to come. I actually adore most children most of the time. The more startling irony is that children usually seem to like me. This has also been a near constant state in my life.

So, what is this post really about? Well, it’s really a bit of a rant about choices. Here are some examples I’ve created from combining traits of friends and family. Put another way, the events are real, but I’ve played with the identifying features a bit! I have a dear friend who has a career, a husband, and a child. She is devoted to all three. Her child is one of the most charming, precocious little people I have ever met. However, it is next to impossible for me and my friend to get together without the child joining us. There is another couple whom I never see without their small child.I don't remember inviting the children too.

I don’t remember inviting the children.

    To be fair, my friends always ask if it’s ok to bring the children. What am I going to say? I want to see my friends. I even want to see their children- sometimes. Am I allowed to have my feelings hurt if they choose not to attend an outing with me because it isn’t kid friendly?

Cocktails? How lovely! OK if we bring the kids?

Cocktails? How lovely! OK if we bring the kids?

I am one of three sisters, and the only one without children. Both of my sisters have advanced degrees and multiple offspring. One has a career and the other gave up a career to stay at home. All the children in question here are wonderful little people who regard their aunt as a bit odd (doubly so because she has no children!).

No comment.

No comment.

While those children were small, we saw a lot of each other. I spent my vacations and most holidays traveling to visit family. Now we are all less young, and one of those children is even in college now (Honors College! Brilliant! Takes after her aunt!). For the last ten years or so, I have noticed that, sadly, I have seen less and less of my family or of those friends with children because… wait for it… they are too busy or they don’t have the money to travel.  Last week someone even used their children as an excuse not to make a trip, saying that I should go instead because I don’t have children. Really?

Children are not a necessary component of volunteer overload. They just make it worse.

Children are not a necessary component of volunteer overload. They just make it worse.

To state the obvious: A person or couple can decide not to have children.  Last time I checked, however, that same ability to choose applied to those who have children. Societal pressures aside, most people want children and are able to make that wish become a reality. Same for those who choose otherwise. Either way, those choices have consequences.

What a cute little consequence!

What a cute little consequence!

Do people with children envy my childless state? Is that why they insist that I am not busy? Were they never busy before they had children? Did they not know that children cost money? I know they love their children, but why do they make so many comments and jokes about them that are not quite as funny when uttered by a childless woman? Why am I incapable of understanding so many things, including love and sacrifice, because I do not have children? Of course, family comes first, but I don’t think that I should have to pick up the slack here, at least not every time.

It's not funny if I say it.

It’s not funny if I say it.

There is one more question that has lingered with me over the years: Why? That question has followed me around the globe in my travels, as in,”Why don’t you have children?” In Afghanistan, I often received the compliment “You must have many sons.” (I tried to ignore the fact that I am less young enough to have at least several children!) Recently, a male friend of mine from another country shushed his wife when she tried to pursue the issue of me not having children. He was clearly trying to alleviate what he mistakenly thought was great embarrassment on my part.  I assured them that the choice was mine, and we eventually worked it out. She got it. He didn’t.

A few years ago (in my own culture) I began asking the same question back: “Why do you have children?” To this day, no one has ever been able to answer. The responses are always about the wonderful things that have happened after the children were born- never the reasons behind the decision. Furthermore, the reasons I give for my choice, most of which can be collapsed into the lifestyle category, are quickly discounted by parents as either poorly reasoned (Oh! I still do everything I want to!) or even selfish (But don’t you want=love children? How can you not want=love children?). I never said that I don’t love children. I said I don’t want to have children.