A Victory Over The Past

Perspective is an interesting thing. I tend to lean more toward the optimistic side of things: When one door closes, another door opens.

A couple of weeks ago I was unexpectedly let go from my job. After the initial feeling of complete terror struck my body, I realized it was a blessing in disguise. The financial stability was nice, but the freedom and love for what I was about to dive into was incomparable.

As you might already know, I have set my sails for vet school. I met with my academic adviser and I’ve got about a year and a half of full-time undergrad classes to finish before applying to Vet School. In addition to school, what I didn’t realize was that I needed about 3,000 hours of vet assistant type exposure.

So for this, I am grateful I was let go. I am taking this as an opportunity to grow and expand the things I love to do. I’ve spent so much time creating a Plan B to my life that I had forgotten what it felt like to focus on Plan A.

Plan A has been set into motion: I’ve successfully competed in my first horse show with Fable for the first time in 5 years and we came out at 4th level test 1 with a 59% and I’m proud of it. I have been beating around the bush for the last 5 years because a lack of confidence in myself and that is OVER. The spell has been BROKEN! I will continue showing and striving for my Silver Medal this summer and continue training for my Gold. I will continue sharing my knowledge and keep the door open to any students who want to join the journey and be a part of the process. I will continue reaching out and advocating for myself and my team because I believe in the dynamic differences of DuFour Dynamics.

Yes, I will have struggles. Yes, I will still have doubts. But I am SO grateful for my partner in crime, Allison, and my wonderful friends and family who support me and encourage me to truly live my dream. I am ALSO grateful I did not give up on myself. I fell again and again, and I will continue to fall, but most importantly I will continue to get back up.

Well here it is: What you focus on expands.

So where is my focus? Horses. Fitness. Love.

I’m putting it into the Universe. My heart and soul are invested. Fear will no longer be my barricade. This girl is unstoppable. ❤

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Wasn’t My Path

Six years ago I applied for the Junior Young Rider Olympic Dream Program. This would consist of the top Junior Young Riders over the United States that would travel all over Europe and learn from the world’s top trainers for a period of time. We had to send a video of us riding certain movements and give a brief overview of our history with dressage and our goals we wanted to accomplish.

I remember pulling my car over when I got the email that would give me the news… As I was gathering the courage to open the email my goals and dreams flashed before my eyes, Olympics, Gold Medal, Europe, Traveling, Training… My heart dropped when I found I was not accepted into the program.

I hadn’t thought about this for YEARS… Until today. I was going through some pictures of an old friend that was training in Florida during the same time I was down there as a working student. The fancy horses, the beautiful stables, the double bridles and big necked horses… Then the light-bulb appeared: It wasn’t my path.

The dots are connecting.

Yesterday morning I woke up in a panic attack. The stresses of expectations and pressure of performing were creeping up on me. My past experiences with showing were focused on winning. Yes, I wanted to enjoy the process and ride dressage to benefit my horse… But when I turned down centerline my game face was on and I was there to show.

That was me with the old mentality. I didn’t play, I practiced. I was 100% dedicated to being the best that I could be, however my tunnel vision on what I saw as ‘success’ wasn’t the best for my horse.

My time in Florida with the fancy horses, fancy stables, double bridles and big necked horses opened my eyes and caused me to step back and re-evaluate my path. I didn’t know who I wanted to be after that, or why I was even on that path to begin with. I didn’t know how to move forward and I was terrified to try.

My trainer in Florida did an AMAZING job educating me about the hows and whys of dressage and I appreciate her approach in thinking about the horse bio-mechanically. Despite having that knowledge of how to get where I wanted to be physically, I couldn’t shake the guilt.

The guilt of not getting into the Olympic Dream Program. The guilt of allowing horses and competing to drive a wedge in between my family time. The guilt of riding Third and Fourth level on a hollow horse. The guilt of getting so frustrated with Fable when he wasn’t ’round’ or ‘through’ enough. The guilt that built up throughout my entire life finally broke loose. I had no idea how to cope with it.

I let all of this guilt put my riding career on hold for five years.

Thankfully, I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in accepting where I was, and forgiving myself for the things I’ve done. But ever since I declared going for those goals again, those emotions floated right back up to the surface. It was easier to take the pressure off and say, ‘Those aren’t my goals anymore, that was a different lifetime. I am content.’ But what I was really saying to myself: “I’m not good enough for those goals and I’m not going to allow myself to feel the pain of giving up. So, I will go numb.”

Un-numbing is a process and sometimes in order to feel 100% of the good emotions you equally have to feel 100% of the undesired emotions. As I was resisting the urge to numb myself this week as the fear crept in: I felt anxious, I felt excited, I felt passionate, I felt angry, I felt my doubt, I felt my courage. I felt everything.

So here we are, the reason I started this blog entry today:

Six years after I was rejected for the Olympic Dream Program and for the first time in a long time it makes sense why that wasn’t my path. I had to learn a different version of success. A version where the horse was the judge, not the person sitting outside of the arena. I learned how to really feel. I learned how to let go. I learned how to trust. I learned how to play. I learned how to laugh in the saddle again. I learned the true friendship a horse can offer when you drop your expectations and appreciate what they offer. I learned to think outside of the box and I am continuously challenged to thinking outside of the box.

The time Fable and I spent developing a new language and mending our partnership has been an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. Because of everything we’ve learned together, Fable is now in the best shape of his life. His muscles are balanced, his coat is dappled, mane and tail are full and shiny, his lungs are in great shape, his feet are allowing him to move the best he can.

The moment that ignited the idea of showing again happened last weekend when a student of mine came out for a lesson with him… Fable knew he had a new set of eyes and his fancy ‘dressage’ tack on with his bit and everything. As she sent him out on the circle he showed her his piaffe… Through the entire lesson he continued to be a ham with his expressive and engaged trot with incredible cadence and softness. He was dancing. I couldn’t help but think he was telling me now is the time.

THESE are the reasons I have set the goals of achieving my USDF Silver and Gold Medals. My horse. He’s telling me he is ready. This time, it is for Fable. 

Fable is the horse of a lifetime and he has offered to dance, it would be a shame not to accept. He is putting his his whole heart into what he does and it’s time for me to let go of my fears and do the same.

Two Year Vacation, and We’re Back

November 2014, my last post had a picture of an empty room with all of my belongings shoved into a bin. A lot has happened since then! I moved into an apartment with my best friend, had to rely on a ‘job’ for the first time in my life, bills were due, horses need to eat… I had to figure out how to rock the whole ‘adulting’ thing while supporting two of my own horses.

I worked at Starbucks for a while, became a Certified Equi-Tape Practitioner, found a job at Beaumont as a Rehab Technician, became a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, worked at Sola Life and Fitness as a Personal Trainer… Also during all of that I had been massaging horses, giving riding lessons, feeding most evenings and some mornings to help work off my horses’ board, make time to exercise my own horses and I also attempted to take college courses only to figure out half way through the semester I had too much on my plate.

Now, I’m happily married to that best friend, I’m working as a Recruiter for an IT company, we live on a farm with our 4 horses, 2 dogs and 2 cats, I still spread myself too thin with massages, horse training and other shenanigans (such as starting school again in a week) but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Where am I headed? What are my goals and ambitions? Two years ago, I would have had an allusive answer like, “Follow my dreams and live under the stars and just live life!” I’m still that crazy girl wanting to follow her dreams and truly live, but my image of what that consists of has a tiny bit of clarity now.

Life Goals:

I want to be a Vet. I am going to be a Vet. I am pursuing my undergrad degree in Bioengineering (the Biomedical/Biophysical Engineering track) and I will strive toward applying to Vet School at MSU. This scares the hell out of me.

I also want to achieve my USDF Gold Medal. I am going to achieve my USDF Gold Medal. This year, I am aiming for my Silver Medal with noble steed, Fable. It’s been about 5 years since my last show with Fable. This also scares the hell out of me.

This is me, the same Heather that started this blog back in October of 2012. This is a continuum of my story as I amp up the commitment and discipline with my sails pointed toward becoming Heather DuFour DVM, USDF Gold Medalist, and more.

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Let’s do this thang!

Bettina, Day 2

Another fabulous day. Bettina wanted me to hop on Fable for about 15 minutes before any of the rides started. She wanted me to work on the promptness, basically imagining tigers jumping out. My actual session working with her was wonderful! I got a lot out of it. First, she wanted me to warm up on my own with a little more ‘serious intent’ working on some of the things we did yesterday. I chose to play around with changing direction, lateral work to engage the left hind followed by a turn to the right stepping the right hind under. She said the reason he doesn’t step under with the right hind is because he’s not using his left hind correctly either. We have to have both hind legs working? WHAT? So difficult… BUT, after working on my own for a few minutes she came into the arena and walked along side of me to help me feel the variations of contact.

To summarize:

-Keep my forearm/hand in line with the bit (very specifically, on the same plane that the ring is on).

-Inside hand can open, apply leg for bend, then soften and put hand back on same plane. For flexion, inside hand toward the outside ear with inside leg.

-Outside hand brought forward and outward supported with outside leg. I was getting confused since she wanted me to use my outside rein, so I kept counter-bending him. However, that’s not what she wanted. I had to put my hand more forward so he didn’t change the bend, but he still had to step up with his left hind leg.

-The feel on the reins: the horse should not be sucking back from the rein, bracing on the rein, or pushing through the rein. If you feel any of those, it gives a good idea of what their hind end needs to do. Say Fable was braced on the left rein, I would put my hand slightly forward and out to the side in line with the bit, and use a bit of outside leg… Once he steps through with that outside hind leg he is able to carry himself more balanced and stay ‘between’ the aids, not pushing through or sucking back from any of the aids. This was the first time I felt like I had a true communication with Fable’s mouth. Before, I felt like I had busy hands, but Fable’s body wasn’t in line so my hands weren’t reading the situation correctly. After I had thought this through, I was able to tell which hind leg needed to step through more and how to keep him soft and carrying himself. IT WAS AWESOME!

After we established that… I was then able to take that feeling into the trot. We worked on a figure 8 consisting of two connected 20 meter circles. She brought in the tigers again today, but this time… The could come at me FROM ANY ANGLE! From the inside hind, she wanted me to turn and really look at that leg, the weight and direction of my body looking at the leg was enough to scoot it on under him. Then the outside, same thing. All while getting that soft connection in both reins. “Carrying” the reins, not just having dead hands/arms. We worked a lot of transitions… almost walk, then GO! Only one walk step, then GO! Not with the stick, with my back and legs. So it was an engaged uphill ‘go’. She even had me drop my whip. We got to the point of doing haunches in on the circles, downshift before the change of bend, then go! It. Was. Awesome.

Lisa ended up having me finish the last ride on Devon… It knocked me off of my high from Fable’s ride… But it’s okay. It was a good learning experience and I’m glad I had Bettina there to help. We were not at all in sync, her mind was elsewhere and I was afraid she was going to take off. She has such a FORWARD trot and I don’t like that feeling of not being able to stop, especially when her ears and attention were on everything other than me! Anyway, Bettina had me ride it out. She had me really look back and get that inside hind under, then think of pulliing the outside shoulder back, then both shoulders back, chest up, back down, and that slowed her down. I could have easily pulled her to a one rein stop or worked on my ‘natural horsemanship’ stuff… But I already know how to do that. So as much as I wanted to surrender to the easy stopping… I waited it out… I know I’ve got one student back in MI who is ‘waiting… The halt will come eventually’…. I HEAR YA WOMAN! This stuff is tricky! But once understood, a quality and balanced halt can be accomplished. I am far from it, but at least I wrapped my mind around the idea that I have to learn to trust the horse and find the downshift within the balance instead of immediately resorting to my cowboy knowledge.

A good day, with good lessons. Looking forward to more!

Horse Anatomy 101

So I just sat down with my dinner to write this blog…  I’ve got a salad and a cup of eggs.  Weird right?  I didn’t have any microwavable bowls so I had to improvise.  Oddly enough I am craving some spaghetti squash.  It was really weird the first time I ate it, but it was so filling and it sounds so good right now!  I’ll have to go grocery shopping tomorrow to get more stuff to make salads with.  I ate the last of the tomato and cucumber that I had.  I’m set for breakfast and lunch though!  I got invited to a dinner tomorrow night at Hampton Green farm for the Emerging Dressage Athletes program… Don’t get too excited, it was just a friendly invitation from one of the boarders here and a girl I met at the new years party.  It should be fun though!

This morning I helped with stalls, once my trainer came down she rode two horses and gave a lesson.  After we finished everything at our farm, we drove over to her client’s farm in Wellington for another lesson.  It was really helpful for me to see another one of her students that was having familiar problems that I had worked with before.  I saw some similarities in the way I had been trained and some differences too.   Actually, watching this lesson made me feel a lot better about where I am at in my training.  I was feeling misguided and confused about my training before this point.  I got in the mindset of contact or any pressure on the bit being hard on the horse and having it affect their entire body… I am learning that a light contact on the bit is acceptable with a few guidelines:

-The horse must initiate the contact in result of body being in correct position.

-If horse tries to avoid bit, use seat and leg to correct the issue instead of using hands.

Instead of trying to describe everything, I will post a few diagrams…

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Engagement (left) vs. Hollowness (right)… The activated muscles are shaded in. (Figure from Susan E. Harris’, The natural mechanics of movement common to all breeds, Horse Gaits, Balance and Movement.)
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A good image on how to activate those muscles… (Figure from Susan E. Harris’, The natural mechanics of movement common to all breeds, Horse Gaits, Balance and Movement)
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A good figure and description from Hilary M. Clayton’s The Dynamic Horse. Compare these two horses to the two horses below in my own drawings…
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This horse is showing collection. The big picture: the front end is elevating and the hind end is lowering. Notice the rotation points at the shoulder and pelvis are turning counter clockwise, the pelvis is being lowered, the abs are engaging, the sternum and withers are lifted, the cervical vertebra are not being pinched, the hind legs are coming closer to the front legs, and the front legs are showing lift without leaning over the weight bearing front leg. (Note… This drawing may not be 100% accurate… I’m not an artist… but you get the picture!)
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This horse is hollow and on the forehand. The big picture: The pelvis is coming up, and the horse is leaning over its front legs. Notice the rotation points at the shoulder and pelvis are rotating clock wise, so the chest is being pointed out, the horse is leaning over the weight bearing front leg, the pelvis is turning up, the belly is dropped and the back is contracting (hollow), and the hind legs are pushing backward far behind the center of gravity (which would be closer to the withers/shoulder area). Also notice how curved the cervical vertebra are (aka the vertebra in the horse’s neck). (Same note on this… I’m not an artist, but you get the picture!)
I found this picture on the web a while back... (please excuse the German) It gives a better picture as to what I was trying to draw...
I found this picture on the web a while back… (please excuse the German) It gives a better picture as to what I was trying to draw…
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This is what Fable thinks about all of it.
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A beautiful sunset to make up for any brain frying that might have happened from this post…

It’s good to know the anatomy and bio-mechanics of the horse, just like it’s good to know your own anatomy!  It’s not everybody’s cup of tea… But that’s okay, I’ll just do the dirty work for everyone and look all of this stuff up and figure it out.  Or, at least try to figure it out and have fun in the process!

Oh goodness! I almost forgot to write about my ride on Fable!!! It was AMAZING!  It was the best ride we’ve had since we arrived here.  He felt so connected, meaning he was light in my hand and he was right on que for everything I asked with my body, whether it was a shoulder in, renver, haunches in, or a halt.  He was a lot more supple and was bending around my leg very well.  I’m finally figuring out how to manipulate my seat to get him to respond how I want. Inside seat bone to get inside bend, then outside seat bone sweeps him around for turn.  If the outside hind leg is out in space, pull back outside shoulder and use outside seat bone to get it back underneath himself… CRAZY STUFF I TELL YA!  We did some serpentine work at the trot, we would halt at the center line, rein back in the direction of the previous curve, and then continue at the trot.  We had to work on getting him to take smaller steps with his back legs.  He would just fling them out behind them and take itty-bitty steps with his front legs, so we have to switch that so he engages himself more from the rein back vs. becoming more hollow.

Off to bed, a Kettle Bell work out awaits bright and early!

Poetry In Motion

You can look at a horse and rider and see many things.  Like a poem, there is always a hidden message and story within the words written.  Each author has a history, and a reasoning for their writing.  Same with each horse and rider.  We all have histories, and we all have reasoning for the way we function.  The general outline of the poem might look fine, a few stanzas with good punctuation.  But it’s the technique and the meaning that makes a poem powerful and effective.  With horses, the general outline might look fine at a glance, but what about the technique used and the muscles developed from that technique?  When the horse is moving effortlessly, balanced, and you know that the horse is maximizing it’s athletic ability while minimizing potential for injury… That is poetry in motion.  That’s not the reason it’s poetry in motion… It’s just my vague way to describe it.  There is no description I could possibly provide with my level of language that would properly portray the beauty of a horse and rider together in perfect balance.

Today Fable got worked on by the physical therapist/acupuncturist.  She hooked her acupuncture needles up to a magnetic pulse.  They say it works very well, so I’m excited and hopeful that there will be a change in Fable’s musculature for the better.  The therapist said there were a lot of old muscle injuries that tore and then clumped and shortened to heal, but the muscle fibers can’t stretch when they’re that clumped together.  So, this machine helped to break them up.  We will give him tomorrow off, then we will see how he feels Thursday.

My trainer took us to see West Palm Beach today! We toured the city and then walked along the Ocean.  We also went through a fancy fancy hotel on the Ocean front and then went for dinner afterwards.  What a magnificent day!

My most beautiful memory was watching the waves roll onto the shore.  Also the release of tension Fable was showing during his treatment was pretty beautiful, too.

A fun and exciting challenge for tomorrow… I would like to take my book to somewhere peaceful and finish reading it so I can move onto the next one tomorrow.  It’s a challenge because I never take the time to read, and although it may not be “exciting” per say, it’s good information, and I’ll be able to apply it to exciting stuff!

BoG… I kind of got interrupted during this… but it made me laugh.  It’s amazing how a deep breath can send vibes to the people around you.  Good for the body, and good for the mind.  Challenge yourself to take more deep breaths tomorrow.

Equestrian Update

I cannot recall where I left off with this blog about my equestrian journey, but I’ll go back to the point when I detected a bit of lameness in Fable.  He just seemed uncomfortable and not as willing to work with me like he normally was.  Even at the Novi Expo he just felt a bit off.  He didn’t have the sparkle in his eye like he normally did.  I was able to have the vet out to take a look, we did a flexion test and got X-Rays of his right fetlock, right hock, and right stifle.  The fetlock and stifle were clean on the X-Ray, but he had arthritis in his hocks.  To help with that, we gave him hock injections in both the upper and lower joint, and also put him on Adequan for a preventative measure and to help with his hocks.

Now that we got the vet stuff out of the way, we are ready to rock and roll in Florida!  We’ve been working on getting back in shape.  I found myself getting really frustrated when I thought about where we had been vs. where we currently are in our training status… So instead of thinking about that and making a big fuss, I turn on my iPod and get a nice marching walk for one song, a nice floaty trot for the second song, change directions, walk again, trot again… etc.  I love riding him like this.  My mind stays quiet, and I am able to release all of the tension I hold so he is able to move better.  After we warm up in both directions, I start working on changes of directions, a bit of shoulder in, and some half pass at the walk.  Note: I have loose reins throughout this entire process.  Since we are starting from the beginning again, I do not want to hider his ability to maneuver his body from my hands blocking him.  I want to communicate with him through my seat and body, the minute I start using my hands we forget about our other limbs and it just doesn’t turn out very well.  So, to make sure I don’t cheat, I just keep my reins loose and focus on keeping my arms elastic and centered. I’m excited to see his muscling change.  I already notice a difference in his neck, it is looser at the poll and he has soft muscling toward the base of his neck.

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After a fun workout!

In addition to getting back in shape, Fable and I have started to work on some Parelli stuff.  A couple of my friends have been working on Parelli and I love the calm and willing nature of their horses when they worked with them.  I only know a little bit about the system, but I have been trying to work with Fable in the mindset of having “games” and giving him more time to digest information after we just worked on something.  After just a few days of paying attention to this, he is licking his lips, chewing, yawning, and all of that jazz on a regular basis!  He finally has the sparkle back in his eye!  I think it’s a grand combination of feeling better physically and feeling more comfortable and confident.  I know he senses when I feel rushed and stressed, which is where I think we were butting heads.

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Yawn number 78 of the day…

Thankfully we’ve been able to reconnect and enjoy ourselves!  Sometime last week I rode through the neighborhood next to the farm… at 10:30pm… It was AWESOME! Everyone had their Christmas lights on, the stars were crystal clear, and the moon shining just for us.  I could not wipe the smile off of my face.  Fable was so brave, too.  Even when I could not see through the trees because it was too dark, I just stuffed my face into his mane, held on tight, and he led the way.  I am so thankful for that horse.  He is truly one of a kind.

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From the unforgettable trail ride!