Getting Back In Riding Shape

Dutch makes a good selfie partner.

Last weekend I had riding lesson number two, and Olivia kicked my butt. After my first lesson, I was incredibly sore for more than a week, especially in my hip flexors. Even with excessive stretching and yoga every day, it took so long to loosen up and get back to normal that I realized how out of shape I’ve gotten and how out of *riding* shape I’ve gotten. Thankfully, scheduling conflicts gave me a two-week or so break before I did my second lesson, so I had time to re-evaluate.

In June one of my big personal goals is to get in better shape. Since moving to Midland, I’ve been in maintenance mode with my fitness, focusing on just getting to the gym over lunch breaks and not stressing too much about progress. However, getting back in the saddle really made me realize how much my cardio and strength fitness has deteriorated.

Although riding might be the big motivator, I also want to be more fit just to get back to a place where I feel really confident, strong and capable.

To get that going, I started a June challenge through BodyRock, which has been incredibly fun and motivating. This week I’ve slacked a little, but I just remind myself that each day is new, and as long as I push a little harder each day, I will make progress toward my goals.

My first riding lesson also brought to sharp relief specific areas of my body that I need to make sure stay strong to be a productive rider: ankle stability, hip flexors, inner thighs, butt and shoulders really stuck out, so I’m trying hard to increase strength in those areas.

My second riding lesson focused a lot on getting my fitness back with a lot of work on the longe line. Olivia had me posting without stirrups, stretching forward and back, holding my arms out to my sides and then in front of me (killed my shoulders to hold them up so long!), and so much more. It was the perfect way to improve my fitness and ease into this whole riding thing.

Sadly, cantering seemed to be a foreign concept to me, and I barely stayed on when Dutch decided he didn’t want to pick up the correct lead. He might seem like an inherently lazy horse, but he did not want to stop cantering!

That aside, he was such a good, patient boy while I slowly found my seat back. I don’t consider myself a beginner rider by any means, so it’s strange to go back to such rudimentary basics. And yet, building this foundation is going to help me so much down the road.

A few days ago, my third lesson focused more on independence in the saddle while continuing to build strength and coordination. If you think sitting and standing for various beats at the trot is easy, think again! Up two, down one; up one, down two; up four, down four… I was worn out! With each ride, I’m learning more and more about Dutch. He’s incredibly responsive–if I’m riding correctly.

Being me, it’s easy to skip ahead 10 months and think about things I want to be doing then, but I’m also just trying to focus on the short term–getting comfortable riding again, building those muscles, being a good partner to Dutch, riding consistently.


Back To Horse World

How glorious to see my riding gear again!

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything about horses, and although it hasn’t been exactly unintentional, it’s also been decidedly not unintentional either.

You see, when I decided to pull the trigger on the move to Midland, I also decided to take a hiatus from horses. I was burnt out. After three years of doing nothing but think about horses, riders, competitions, training, grooming… whatever you can think of that might be involved with working for two major national equine publications, I was burnt out. Not only did I not particularly care to ride, I was also “meh” about all the awesome things that popped up on my Facebook page from all my favorite horse publications, brands and competitors.

And then, about a month or two ago, the bug started biting again. (Wow, this blog has a lot of alliteration. My apologies.)

I genuinely thought I might be done with the horse thing. I really thought there was a chance I wouldn’t go back to longing to ride and develop that relationship with a horse.

But the truth is, I miss it. I don’t want to go back to working with horses. That wasn’t the right fit for me. But I do want to get back in the saddle and start pursuing some of the goals I’ve had for a long time and had no idea how to get there.

My regular readers might be wondering how this will fit into my rather dramatic financial goals, and I’ll admit, I’m still working that out. I’m 100 percent committed to paying off my student loans (maybe even more now than before since I know how much freedom that will afford me to take lessons and potentially lease or buy a horse sometime in the next year or two). But if I can take even one lesson each week, I’ll be able to get my fix in without too much of a time or financial commitment.

A few weeks ago, as I scrolled through Facebook on my lunch break and saw so many friends post pictures with their horses, I realized that being Fearless is partly about moving toward the things I want. It’s about finding fulfillment by using my resources–my time, money, emotions and energy–toward things I’m passionate about. Denying myself progress toward huge goals and passions would be doing my soul a disservice.

And I’m being a little selfish, but I don’t care because I’m a grown up and have the glorious power to do what I want.

I contacted a local eventing trainer even though her website said she doesn’t have lesson horses, just hoping to start inching open doors into the local English riding community. I immediately got a response about a potential lesson horse that I could possibly start riding. After a few weeks of coordinating, I finally went last Friday and took my first lesson in what feels like forever. In a word, it was fantastic. I’m completely out of practice and incredibly sore, but I also walked away feeling great about the trainer, the horse, the community and where I’m headed.

Meet Dutch, a Thoroughbred gelding who already is teaching me so much in just two short rides. He’s steady as a rock, but will show you immediately if you’re not doing something right. More, better photos to come after my next lesson!

As a major bonus, riding is giving me renewed motivation to exercise regularly and do whatever I can out of the saddle to make sure my time in the saddle is as productive as possible.

As a second, completely unexpected, bonus, Olivia’s other clients are incredibly welcoming. They seem to really support and encourage each other, and they didn’t blink an eye when I came to observe a lesson on Sunday. Instead, they struck up conversations, clearly happy to have another person around to share this common interest.

Because I am still paying off debt, I’m thinking of this as dipping my toes opposed to diving in completely. Of course I want to run out and buy a whole new riding outfit and start looking at horses for sale online, but I will not. Instead, I will focus on one step at a time. Next step: massive amounts of yoga this week to gently work my muscles back to normalcy!

Yellow Ribbons

I should like getting yellow ribbons at horses shows. They are nice, pretty even. Now they hang from my curtain rod, a row of color symbolizing this year on the UNL Equestrian Team. Yellow, white, yellow, red, pink, yellow. Third, fourth, third, second, fifth, third.

Third isn’t bad. Third is better than sixth. Third is a place, some points.

Third isn’t first. Yellow isn’t blue.

And man, do I really want a blue ribbon. Blues mean lots of points and getting to boast my name on the Web site and people looking at me like I matter. Even reds are better. Reds mean I was close, so close, but maybe I had a bad horse or didn’t transition smoothly.

By the time they get to yellow, I’m mediocre. Nobody really cares about yellows. They blend in with the whites and pinks and greens.

And seriously, I have a lot of yellow ribbons.

Feeling sincerely down,


Ode to Riding Boots

Ah horse shows, how I’ve missed thee. The intoxicating fumes of horse manure mixed with the overpowering scent of leather conditioner makes me swoon. I sit here, carefully and methodically rubbing oil into every crevice of my tall, black boots, proud of every crease and bend. The dirt and grime on the inside of the calves is lovingly sponged away, then polished. I buff them quickly with a clean blue rag, and if I squint my eyes, I can kinda-sorta-just-a-little see my reflection in them.

I imagine Saturday when it will take me five minutes to get the stupid things on, but it doesn’t matter. Once my feet finally slip into place, I know it will be worth it. They fit just right around my feet, and just right on my calves, and then rest just below my knee, a spot that was continually bruised for the first month of wearing them.

Now the leather is a little softer, a little warmer, a little more forgiving to every muscle in my legs and feet.

I remember riding at practice on Wednesday, how far I’ve come in just six short months. I never do everything right, but more and more I can do more of it right. I can feel my diagonal, I can keep my legs closer to the right position, even when I post. I feel secure, confident.

And for goodness sakes, I will get a blue ribbon or I will die trying. OK, not literally, but if I don’t get a first place on both Saturday and Sunday (and both Colorado shows later), I won’t qualify for regionals. And my goodness do I want to qualify for regionals.

Wish me good luck, and hopefully I will come back with some pictures and a wonderful pretty blue ribbon to hang in my room.

For more information about the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association:

UNL Equestrian Team: