Still Fighting Inertia

I was going to write a post about my last ride, but I think I’d rather use my limited time to talk about motivation and running instead. I’ll stick the pics from last weekend in here instead — Mel and I took our trusty steeds out to Cache Creek for a very pleasant four hour conditioning ride. I have pronounced Dixie ready for a slow 50 at the Nevada Derby next weekend, god willing and the creek don’t rise.IMG_4324So I signed up for a half marathon. It’s trails, of course, in Tilden Park (very similar to my own Redwood Park) on May 9th. IMG_4330I’d been talking to my friends, and Ash was nervous about her upcoming ultra. Mel said she wouldn’t be nervous if she hadn’t signed up in advance, so we were debating the merits of spur of the moment entries vs. signing up way in advance — if you sign up way in advance, you’re guaranteed a shirt that fits, and you have a goal to train for. I started thinking about how it’s been a really long time since I had a running goal, and I went poking around the local trail running organization sites, and one thing led to another and suddenly I was on my iPhone on active.com laboriously entering my billing info for this run. Happy Mother’s Day!IMG_4328I really didn’t feel right racing — even at my pitiful speeds — while I was pregnant. I just felt so tired and my heat tolerance was even weirder than usual, so I didn’t even try to race after the epic adventure of the Ride ‘n Tie. And without any goals, my running gradually slacked off until I wasn’t running at all by the end of summer, and then I just quit for the duration. IMG_4334I made myself start running again when I started riding again, but I quickly ran into the same problem: I hate to exercise. Dixie, I understand you, I really do. 

She is the most sluggish, awful, bad-tempered creature if I ask her to go train alone — it’s basically just exercise to her, and what’s the point? If I can get another fit horse or three out there with us, she’ll get excited and actually train hard, and of course when we go to a real ride, she has a great time. IMG_4349I’m not quite as bad as she is. I feel better immediately after a run, but I still need an externality (a race entry, and impending humiliation) to get me out there. And oh my god, yall, like it’s not bad enough being an uninspired and very slow runner — it really is even harder with a baby.IMG_4342I know I deserve time to myself. There’s no doubt that G loves the kid and is entirely competent to take care of him. But I’d made excuses every Tuesday for a month straight, and it took the impending humiliation of this half marathon to get me on a trail this week. IMG_4339I’m going to do this thing on two days a week of training. Of course that’s not ideal, but it is what it is. But only having two days a week to run means I really cannot fuck around and miss a run, and that’s the only thing that got me out there. IMG_4338Anyway, so I’ve got all the usual mental inertia, plus I was in a hurry to get back to O. Because I have that mental inertia, plus a baby who’s iffy on car trips anyway, I hadn’t actually scouted where I was going to run — I knew there was a jogging path right between I-80 and the Bay, right as you approach the Bay Bridge, and I thought that would be a great place to run. It only takes me ten minutes to drive to the dentist, near that trail, so I should be able to drive over, run for 40 minutes (hopefully running 5k or close to it) and drive back in an hour. And I definitely deserve an hour to myself!IMG_4335The problem is that I go to the dentist during the day, and I run on Tuesday evenings at rush hour. The dentist is ten minutes away when I can hop on I-80, but more like twenty when I have to fight traffic on the surface streets (and at least twenty if I’d gotten on the interstate!)IMG_4352As soon as I realized that it was going to take more than eleven minutes to get to the trail I started to freak out. I missed the baby already. The baby was already starting the 5 pm fussy phase. My husband had worked (from home) a full day and he shouldn’t have to deal with the fussy baby for more than an hour. Maybe I should just cut my run short?IMG_4357But that’s dumb. G is at home; he’s going to hear O fuss regardless. The hard part about getting out to run isn’t staying out for another ten or thirty minutes – it’s getting out of the house to begin with. IMG_4354So I pushed through. I missed a turn, got the shakes, pulled over in a parking lot, texted G and told him my stupid thoughts, and kept going. Eventually, I got to the trailhead parking lot and started running. Right off the bat, I got passed by a skinny twenty year old who clearly had not just had a baby, and I let my unworthy, sullen rage fuel my run. But as soon as I’d finished, I felt fantastic.So here we go. I think I’ve found just enough motivation to accomplish one more goal. The plan is ever-longer runs, with or without Dixie, on the trails every weekend, plus shitty tempo runs, with or without Cersei, on Tuesdays. Seems legit!

Kings Canyon ride

(One of the main problems that’s slowed down my blogging is how precious time on the laptop has become. I can whip out a blog post inside of an hour and spend another hour attaching the photos, but you can see how often I have two solid hours to spare! I’ve managed to do almost all of my normal computer stuff on my phone (shout out to Evernote, Dropbox, and 1Password for keeping me “productive” and Kindle/iBooks and all the social media apps for keeping me sane) but there’s no Scrivener app. But I’d really like to write more, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to have blocks of computer time available in the near future, so I’m trying out writing on the iPhone. This was banged out in an afternoon with Werdsmith, and it did the job pretty painlessly.)

For last weekend’s ride, I wanted to do something other than yet another loop around the perimeter of Redwood Park. I though about trailering out to Briones Reservoir – it’s a 14 mile loop around a gorgeous lake, and one of my favorite conditioning rides – but that would take entirely too long. I’d be gone for at least five hours, probably six, and that seemed too long.

G loves to spend time with his kid, and Orion is really an easy kid – but he’s still just two months old and pretty needy. But more importantly, if I’m gone for that long, I would totally need to pump or my boobs might explode. I just got a portable manual pump, for just that reason, but I didn’t want to try it out so soon.

Surely I could do more than ten miles without trailering? (Yes, there’s a lot more than ten miles of trails in Redwood Park, but most of them are singletrack, and the park’s so busy on the weekends you can’t go anywhere near conditioning speed on the singletrack.)

Fortunately I remembered the San Leandro EBMUD trails. You can enter the northern end of the trail system from Redwood, and I’d never explored more than a few miles of the EBMUD trails. I sat down with the maps and plotted out a ride: a couple of miles in Redwood to get to the EBMUD entrance, then down to the Kings Canyon loop, then back home the way we’d come. About 13 miles all told.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.22.40 PMOne of the reasons I like riding Dixie so much – why I’ve logged so many hours on her and I’m still not bored with it – is because it’s almost meditative. I can stop thinking about everything else in my life (even Orion, and that’s quite a feat) and just ride. I can’t daydream too much; she needs an active rider. But I can get in the rhythm of working with the horse and the hours and miles just fly by.

We headed out, up to the ridge and along and down into the canyon, then up and over onto the next ridge – where we started chasing the jogger last week. A third of a mile up that trail, we turned off to the right, out of Redwood Park and down into another canyon.

Ironically, as soon as you leave Redwood Park you enter a redwood forest. I tried, for the hundredth time, to get some pictures in the redwood forest, but there’s just not enough light to take cell phone pics in motion, even at a walk. One day I’ll remember that, halt, and get some decent pics.

We climbed out of the redwood grove and popped out into the rolling grassy hills of the East Bay. California’s still in a drought, but we’ve gotten enough rain for the grass to grow. It’s just violently green right now.IMG_3998

I don’t appreciate the non-mountainous parts of California like I should. (In another few weeks all this grass is going to turn brownish yellow, yuck.) But in early spring, even I have to admit this place is stunningly beautiful.IMG_4001The crowds of people in Redwood mostly disappeared over in the EBMUD land. There’s no bikes allowed, dogs are allowed on only a few trails, and you have to pay a nominal $10/year fee for a trail pass. Those few restrictions mean that EBMUD trails have about 20% of the traffic of Regional Parks trails.

Dixie and I got in a lovely groove as we worked our way back to the MHA horse pastures just past Valle Vista – the furthest we’d ever gone. We popped through the last gate and set out across a meadow toward the oak-covered hills.IMG_3999Almost all of the KC loop is on fire roads like this. Very wide, hard but good footing, nonstop gently rolling hills.IMG_4007We got our first view of the reservoir at the top of one of the hills. Dixie is entirely unimpressed and wants to know if we can turn around yet.IMG_4008Technically, we’d already seen the north end of the reservoir, up near the MHA pasture, but it had been dry for so long it was just a semi-marshy meadow.IMG_4010I told her it was a loop trail and insisted she keep going.IMG_4014As we headed south, we started to see more water in the lake.IMG_4018Eventually we turned back to the northeast, and finally left the lake behind.IMG_4020Nothing but green grass and blue sky.IMG_4021IMG_4022The eastern part of the trail runs near the small hovels carelessly thrown up along Camino Pablo.IMG_4025And then we started to climb. I found this elevation chart someone did, and the trail climbs 400+ feet in half a mile. It’s straight up a fire road, no switchbacks – I’m sure Trailmaster Aarene is shuddering.IMG_4026Only the first half is in direct sun.IMG_4028Poor unfit Dixie was a trooper though. I’m not gonna lie, she was well into the “death march” part of the day, but she plodded on up that monster hill with only a couple of brief pauses.

We made it to the top and walked less than a hundred feet before the road plunged straight down the other side of the hill, just as steeply as before. I slithered off the horse – she’d done plenty and deserved a break, and I was more than ready to walk. About halfway down we popped out of the forest back into the grasslands, and suddenly I could see for miles.IMG_4029The little white and brown dots on the hills right center are the MHA horses. The brown open area to the left is the dried-out northernmost tip of the reservoir. You can see the white gravel Valle Vista parking lot with the gravel trail leading up to it. And to get home, I needed to get past VV, over the forested hills in the left foreground, and up and down two more canyons – another five miles or so. We’d been out for about 2:50 at that point. So much for my quick jaunt!IMG_4030IMG_4034There was nothing to do but keep going. We walked the whole way down to the gate, and by the time I remounted Dixie had perked up and we trotted for home.

Back through the redwood forest and across the road and back up to Redwood Park. I hopped off to open the gate and ran about a mile, then got back on for the meadow full of people and the last monster climb. Dixie plodded up it (another un-masterful 400′ of climb in a third of a mile) and trotted along the ridge, then I got off and we ran down into the canyon where the barn is.

We got back in just under four hours ride time. My tits felt like they were going to explode. I couldn’t even manage to rinse my poor horse – bad Funder. :( I got home to my frazzled husband – and my new manual pump! – six hours after I’d left. Sigh!

Horse stats: 12.83 miles in 3:58. I kept Dixie trotting where I could, but we don’t trot training downhills and I can’t convince her to trot many training uphills, and that trail had a lot more ups and downs than I’d anticipated. It was a good challenge for her, and she should end up a lot fitter for it.

Dixie was barefoot and did just fine. I’m still paying a trimmer to do her feet, and the woman is doing a nice job. She had nice even sweat patterns and no obvious soreness when I pulled her tack. She wore a breastcollar but no crupper (but I’d definitely use a crupper for an endurance ride!)

Human stats: I ran about 3 miles, plus the long walk down the big hill – I’m calling it 3.5 miles.

Tragically, my feet got a size and a half bigger when I was pregnant. In February, the only shoes that fit me were sandals. I decided to make the best of it and change shoes completely, so I bought some Altra Lone Peaks. They’re zero drop but nicely padded, and I have decided I really like them. I felt really good running and riding all day in them, and today my feet don’t hurt at all! My quads are stiff – that’s definitely the most work I’ve done this year – but overall I feel good.

February wrap-up

Yes, it took most of a week to get around to recapping February. That’s babies for you — but all of a sudden, the young master has decided that he doesn’t want to be held all the time and he’d prefer to sleep in one of his multitude of baby beds, so I can write on the laptop. For now, at least — he reserves the right to change his mind.   IMG_3926

Dixie and I managed just over 29 miles in February. That’s pretty respectable, all things considered, and I’m pretty happy with how we ramped back up: a 2 mile ride to start, a couple of 5 mile rides, a brisk 7 miler, and on Saturday, 10 miles in exactly 2 hours.

Dixie got to meet Orion last month, when I met the trimmer at the barn. She was very sweet about it, very interested in smelling him but very soft and kind.IMG_3781

The trimmer got better pics of the three of us. (Orion slept through the whole thing.)IMG_3788

I don’t usually write about conditioning rides anymore, but Saturday’s ride was (barely) blog-worthy. If I ride the perimeter of Redwood Park, I can get ten miles, plus it’s a loop so sooner or later (usually later) Dixie realizes that it’s faster to keep going than to go back, and she turns on the afterburners.

We’d just done the second big hill climb, two miles into our ride, and I saw a nice shot: the green hills of the east bay framed by the trees of my park. I fumbled out my phone and snapped the shot, but I got a runner too.IMG_3853

I turned Dixie to the left (no, don’t turn around, we’re not going home yet you lazy beast) and urged her after the runner. It took almost a mile to catch her — that lady was a machine, jogging steadily up and down every hill she came to. But eventually she got tired and we caught her, just in time for a pair of mountain bikers to overtake us and give Dixie something new to chase.

At one point we passed a runner going the opposite direction. She managed to convince her year-old intact male bird dog to stay with her as we politely walked past them, but I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised when we saw that damn dog again. And by “saw,” I mean Dixie and I trotted a half mile further down the trail and then the bird dog exploded out of nowhere, barking nonstop at the top of his lungs and running in circles around Dixie, feinting at her. We’d slowed to a walk again to get past a pack of bikes, and they all stared at us slack-jawed, clearly ready to dial 911 when it all went sideways. Dixie pinned her ears at the stupid dog and we stood quietly for a while, waiting for the owner to appear. But the dog got more and more frantic, and I decided I’d rather be on the ground, ready to smack it with my crop if it finally got brave enough to try to bite my horse, so I got off and led Dixie back the way we’d come.

In the intervening half-mile, we’d passed a guy with two very large, very hairy, very horse-aggressive dogs. He had them both on leashes, under control, but he wasn’t very happy to see me and my new friend again. I shrugged at him and yelled “Not my dog!”

“Whose dog is it?” he yelled back, wrestling with his frantic beasts.

“Some woman we passed a half a mile back that way,” I said.

The man’s glare faded a tiny bit. The stupid bird dog was still running in circles barking nonstop at Dixie, and she was just following me, irritated at the dog but willing to refrain from kicking it for a little while longer.

Eventually (with a growing crowd of 911-ready onlookers trailing behind my circus) we found the bird dog owner. She managed to call her hound off and I got back on and trotted away again, past the horse-aggro dogs and the pack of bikes and the same runner (she’d passed us again in the confusion).

Dixie had been moving out really well, and we’d only gone another mile or so when she decided that we were definitely pointed toward home. We started cantering and galloping the small hills and trotting the flats, only slowing to a walk for the steep downhills and the numerous knots of people. Another half an hour saw us back at the barn.IMG_3857

And it looks like I’ve got a sponsor — my barn’s weird phrase for a part-leaser — for Dixie. He’s a nice older man who sponsored the big palomino NSH for years, but the palomino colicked and died last weekend. (At 28 — it’s always tragic, but wow that horse looked great for his age and I never would’ve guessed he was an ’87!) One of the trainers introduced us on Saturday, and on Tuesday S took D out for a trial ride.

Honestly, I figured he’d call me and say thanks but no thanks, but he liked Dixie. She behaved for him. I mean, obviously I think she’s a great horse, and she’s solid as a rock for me, and I’m pretty sure she’ll be great for anybody who’s a confident rider, but I couldn’t be sure.2x02_The_One_Where_They_Build_a_House_(072)

Anyway, he’s going to ride her on Tuesdays or Thursdays, just an hour or so of trail riding. She’ll get out more, and he’ll have some horse time, and I won’t feel so guilty about not being able to ride during the week.

Last weekend was Twenty Mule Team. I wouldn’t trade this baby for anything in the world, but at the same time, I was really sad that I wasn’t able to go to Ridgecrest. And this weekend is the AERC convention, which I’m not going to either, and that’s tough too. What a crazy year it’s been.

But the 22nd, I think, I’m trailering out to ride with Mel and Farley, in preparation for us trying to get our Decade Team 50s done. (Decade Team is an award given to the same horse/rider team for completing at least one 50 every year for ten years — doesn’t have to be consecutive years, but it’s hard enough to keep a horse going to her late teens without missing a year or two and pushing it into her early 20s.) I’ve got high hopes of doing more than one ride — I’m still planning for VC100 in September — but if I can get one 50 done this spring, at least I’ll check off my Decade Team ride.

Orion continues to be the cutest, sweetest, easiest baby in the world. He’s growing like a weed! His white onesie was baggy at the beginning of February:IMG_3528And too tight before the end of the month.IMG_3753He learned to smileIMG_3835He grew eyelashes (and eyebrows, but they’re transparent, so you can’t see them)IMG_3877And lots and lots of muscles!IMG_3922I’m pretty sure he is the World’s Cutest Baby. <3IMG_3891

Two milestones

On Friday, Orion turned four weeks old!IMG_3506So big!

And on Friday, I rode Dixie for the first time since October 19th. I think my friend K rode her twice after that, and R and C at the barn have ponied her a few times, and of course I’ve turned her out in the arena as often as possible. But there’s no getting around it: she’s been out of work for three and a half months.IMG_3522So dirty.

It would’ve been so easy to stretch that to four or five months, or start looking for someone to part-lease her. Orion was fussy all night Thursday and I really didn’t get much sleep. Then it took four hours to get out of the house, because we’re really not very efficient at life with a baby yet, and during that four hours the sky went from a purple sunrise to scudding grey clouds to actual rain falling on me. I really didn’t want to ride on a blustery windy day, but I didn’t want to wait til next week, and I sure didn’t want to ride sloppy trails on a rainy weekend day with the usual weekend crowds.

So I sucked up and went. If I start making excuses for little things today, I won’t make any of my riding or running goals for this year. And riding and running really are that important to me. Of course Orion needs me the most right now, and I made a big commitment to him, but I can squeeze in a few other high-priority activities. I’m sidelining needlepoint (even though I’d love to make Orion a Christmas stocking — I have plenty of time before he’ll remember it), and fiction writing, and joining a gym to do yoga and lift weights. But not Dixie.

I actually made it out twice last week and ran with her. I wanted to get a feel for how she’d do mentally, and I wanted to see where I was at physically.

The first run was last Saturday, and it was the hardest run I’ve ever done in my entire life. I knew I’d basically have to start over, and I knew starting over was hard, but holy shit, y’all, it was so hard. I was pouring sweat, my lungs felt like daggers were stabbing them, and my heart was pounding like it was going to explode — and that was just from hiking up the first hill in 70 degree weather. The usual weekend crowds were out, and Dixie was sure she’d never seen hikers, dogs, or bicycles before. She was very hot and I was quite glad to be on the ground.IMG_3499I wasn’t quite ready to leap on after that, so I ran again on Wednesday. It actually wasn’t the second hardest run of my life — it was much, much easier than that. My time didn’t improve very much, but I didn’t feel like I was going to stroke out and it was easier to breathe. And more importantly, my horse was perfect. Seriously, she’s never been so good on a leadline run before. She stayed behind me or shoulder-to-shoulder beside me, walking when I walked and gaiting slowly when I lumbered into a run. She didn’t try to shove me out of the way to get the best line on the trail, and she didn’t spook at the handful of people we saw.

So Friday I rode! I did have the good sense to turn her out to roll and buck first.

IMG 3515 from Funder on Vimeo.

And then it took 45 minutes to curry off half her winter coat, argh. But Dixie was absolutely a rockstar when I got on. She started to get a little nervous at the top of the hill, so I sidepassed her back and forth down the trail for a hundred feet or so and she started listening to me.

I have to apologize to Mel. A couple weeks ago I was making fun of her for not wanting to ride when there was a 40% chance of showers. Well, walking a very fresh horse up that stupid slick-ass mud hill, I suddenly remembered that I hate to ride in the rain too! Everything was a little slithery and I was totally paranoid that D would slip and pull a tendon.

So we walked. There were three or four spots where the footing was sand and I asked her for a trot, but mainly we walked. She gave me perfect walk/trot transitions, and she was careful with her feet, and she wasn’t spooky.IMG_3519Yeah, that bridle path is a shameful mohawk. :-/

The main thing I was thinking about was how I trust her. I’m not stupid about it; she’s a horse with a brain the size of an orange, and she’s only brave when she thinks I’m right there with her backing her up. But I do trust Dixie to do her job: carry me down the trail, at the speed I choose. Spook in place if you must spook, and do what you can to stay on your feet.

That’s what I expected of her, and that’s exactly what she did. Even though she hadn’t been ridden in three months, and it was windy, and we were alone, and the trail was slick.

She really is better than I deserve.IMG_3467

Orion continues to be a lovely child. When he was about three weeks, the lights started to come on, and we started getting the sense that he was a little person looking around. He deliberately looks at different things now. If he’s crying and I pick him up and ask him why he’s crying, he’ll look at me and stop crying (and wait to be fed, lol — he’s still pretty singleminded!)IMG_3501The littlest wizard and his dragons.

He’s very strong, and he’s holding his head up pretty well now. He’s also discovering that his hands are under his control — he’s just starting to reach out and touch things on purpose, and he’s starting to use his fingers to grasp things. He’s growing like a weed and has completely outgrown a couple of his 0-3 month onesies.IMG_3497That onesie really doesn’t fit anymore.

He’s also pretty gassy and fussy. He doesn’t wail inconsolably, but he does need to be held and soothed and fed pretty often throughout the night. Surely one day he’ll grow out of it :)

FullSizeRenderI’m great!IMG_3525Wait…IMG_3526I’m terrible!

For Future Reference

Like many American women, I’ve spent a lot of my life nodding politely as other people tell me How I’m Doing It Wrong. (This might be endemic to women worldwide, or even to people worldwide, so don’t feel excluded if you’re not an American woman, ok? But I’ve only lived in America, and I’ve noticed that men are far more likely to argue back against HYDIW syndrome.)

I’ve put up with it for several reasons.

  • You can’t win an argument with a crazy person. If someone unbalanced is telling you HYDIW, it’s really in your best interest to nod a lot, promise to take it under consideration, and then go do as you see best.
  • In general, you can’t win arguments. People aren’t telling you things as a prelude to a rational discussion; they’re just telling you stuff to tell you stuff and there’s not much point in arguing, unless you enjoy arguing. (I don’t.)
  • It’s surprisingly fun to not argue or disagree; you get to hear some amazing stuff if you let people keep talking. For more on this point of view, go read How to Be Polite.

But I’m thirty-six years old and I’m really tired of putting on the poker face, nodding, and walking away. I’m consciously trying to change. I want to be able to say “hey, that’s inappropriate” when someone says something inappropriate or tells me HIDIW — but it’s unrealistic to expect myself to react in real-time when I have all this conditioning in place, so I’m working on reacting appropriately at a delay.

I do want to point out that one of the reasons I didn’t name either of the people who made me cry over the weekend was because I don’t think they deserve that. Neither of them intended to make me upset, or at least not that upset, and it’s unfair for me to call them out when they can’t respond in kind. I don’t want them publicly shamed, as it were. But I also don’t really want to interact with them right now, either. I try to be a kind person and a forgiving person, but that doesn’t mean I have any obligation to let myself be hurt repeatedly.

So instead of getting in a defensive fight with someone privately, I’m just going to write up a manifesto about my kid and my parenting goals and all kinds of stuff. And the next time someone feels compelled to tell me HIDIW, I can just point them here.

Wait, don’t leave yet! This is primarily a horse blog, so of course I’m going to frame it all in a horse analogy. I’ve just got a little more rambling to do before I get to the horse stuff.

So what you’re here is seeing a sliver of my life and my interests. I don’t talk politics here and I don’t even do media analysis here — I have other sites for that kind of writing. You’re here for crazy Funder stories, and in general, that’s what I offer.

Everything I write is true, but not complete. I freely leave stuff out — a lot of stuff. The boring bits that drag down the narrative, details of other people’s lives that they might not want posted online, and at this point, a lot of the daily background stuff. So what you’re reading here is an accurate but partial picture of my life.

I think my posts have gone from clever but basic narrations to pretty good stories over the last couple of years. There are a lot of elements that go into a good story. It’s not that hard to recognize a narrative arc, or see repetition and foreshadowing. It’s quite a bit harder, I’ve found, to write those things with any kind of subtlety. And the same goes for my choice of words. I passionately love language, and I try really hard to strike a balance between using the most precise high-dollar words and actually writing like real people talk, which includes the Seven Dirty Words. A couple of commenters on my last post mentioned that they hadn’t really noticed the cursing, which means I’m doing it right — for better or for worse, this is how people talk. (At least it’s how they talk when they think it’s fun to spend twelve hours riding half-ton herbivores that stomp your feet and drool poison oak slobber down your neck.)

So. When I was 28, I was in law school, so I required a lot of caffeine, and I spent a lot of time in a coffeeshop by our apartment. A couple of women who worked there had horses, and I hadn’t really realized you could afford a horse on a barista’s pay, but it turns out you can (if your standards aren’t too high). I’d always wanted a horse, and my husband wanted me to have a hobby, so he foolishly bought me a horse.

I had no idea what I doing. I hadn’t ridden in twenty years, then I rode my friend’s horses exactly twice (once at a walk/jog in the arena, and once on the trail, where I got off for some reason, let go of the reins, and watched my noble steed gallop away through the forest), and then I got a horse of my own. His name was Champ, and he was a saint.

Champ, a basically kind soul, didn’t kill me as I fumbled through those first couple of months. In return for his kindness, I started a really concerted effort to become a better horse owner.

Go take a look at this Science of Running post real quick. I think Mel already posted it, but she was using it to talk about running or something, and I’m using it to talk about how we learn. This is the most important bit:

When I first got interested in learning more about coaching and the science behind it, one of my mentors, Tom Tellez, told me about the process of learning. When you are new to a particular topic, everything seems intriguing and complex. You don’t have a built in filter, as you don’t know what is right, wrong, or controversial. It’s a very intimidating time in the learning curve.

In essence, you haven’t built the model in your head of how a particular aspect works. So there’s no model to compare the information your reading to. The goal therefore is to build that model. Coach Tellez explained it, in his own usually precise way “that you need to just keep reading. It won’t make much sense at first. But as you read more, eventually it will clear up and all of the sudden you can tell within the first paragraph whether you should read the article or throw it away.”

His point was that you have to have a foundation upon which to decide whether something is worthwhile or not. Once you have that foundation, it’s all about filtering the information.

I managed to instinctively do that right. I built my foundation by reading everything I could get my hands on about every aspect of horse-care I could think of. Once I knew the basic concepts, I started talking to people. I had a huge base of horse people that I was on friendly terms with, and I asked them about all kinds of stuff. I asked them what they did and took note of it, but more importantly, I asked them why they did it.

(As a side note, one of the reasons I’m always willing to talk about horse/endurance stuff with people is to pay it forward — there’s no One Best Way to do any of this, and I’m happy to tell you why I’m doing whatever I’m doing, because so many people have helped me to where I am today.)

How often do you deworm? Why did you get that kind of shoe put on? What hay do you feed and why? Why do you use that saddle? I asked a ton of questions. I got a huge variety of answers, because I’d deliberately cast my net really wide. Sometimes I hoped I’d one day be as good as the person I was questioning, but sometimes I thought he or she was wrong and I wanted to understand why they were Doing It Wrong.

As I felt like I’d gotten a handle on each little aspect of horsekeeping, I’d start to veer away from the default and make my own decisions. I got Champ re-shod in keg shoes, but he didn’t gait very well in them, so I tried plantations (heavy shoes) for six weeks, and he didn’t gait any better at all, so I pulled his shoes entirely and went barefoot. (He still didn’t gait well. I never got him doing anything but trotting, but at least I was no longer at the mercy of incompetent farriers.) I did the same kind of gradual experimentation with all the little nuances.

One of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is that sometimes the people who I’d thought were Doing It Wrong were actually doing a pretty good job, and I was glad I’d asked their opinions.

When I got Dixie a year later, I was marginally better prepared to handle a psycho mare, but she was definitely an order of magnitude harder. I just kept at it, learning more about tack and more about how to train mammals and horse psychology and rider equitation and on and on and on and on and now, almost seven years later, I have a truly amazing partnership with a truly special world-class horse.

We always wanted a kid or two (some day, when we had more money and we were actual grownups and all the usual excuses). I haven’t touched an infant in twenty years, but I’m about to have one of my own to take care of full time. I am handling this in the exact same way that I handled sudden horse ownership.

I have a huge base of friends who are parents, ranging from infants up to teenagers. Not everybody is making the same choices I think I’m going to make, but you never know, so I’m asking everybody a ton of “what are you doing and why” questions.

(Well, I’m planning on asking everybody anyway. Right now I’m hyper-focused on infant care, and I’m still in the process of building a model in my head, so there’s more information gathering than advice-seeking. If you’ve got a kid and I haven’t grilled you on what/why, don’t feel left out; it’s coming!)

I’m gonna fuck up. Everybody does. But something else I learned with horses is to keep trying different things, and to periodically go back and try old things again. Whips used to make Dixie completely lose her mind; now she doesn’t even react when I accidentally smash her in the head with a crop while I’m riding — and using a lunge whip to get her to load doesn’t work anymore. I’ve gone from a curb to bitless to a snaffle to a curb again, and now I don’t even really need a bit and I can ride in a halter if I want. I’m sure parenting has the same kind of reversals of fortune waiting for me, especially when he’s in the irrational tyrannical toddler stage.

I’m going to cry. I’m going to laugh. Some days, I’m going to count down the hours til my husband comes home so I can have a large drink and a bubble bath. I can’t wait to see the firsts, and I can’t wait for my kid to be old enough to ask me interesting questions. I really want to meet my kid and find out what his personality is like. I may, possibly, lament that it goes so fast (but I kinda doubt it.) But I can promise you that I will never stop being a snarky bitch. I’m not going to unironically refer to my kid as a sweet angel. It’s just not going to happen.

Talk is cheap. He’ll know we love him. It’ll be ok.

(And I really don’t think he’ll be interested in reading my blog before he’s learned how to cuss from the internet and TV. Just don’t call your teacher a bitch, kid, you’ll really regret that even if you’re right.)