things at the barn have been suboptimal lately. occasionally I go through periods where being a working student/bartering for my board really takes its toll on me. after two years of working at the barn, I've forgotten what it's like to just show up and ride. now, whether I'm there on a day I'm working or whether I'm just there to ride, the barn is a place where I work; it won't ever again be exclusively the place I go for escape.
I've found myself having more frequent temper tantrums there, mostly over seemingly inconsequential things, like how the current batch of stall cleaners never sweep the hay barn or rake the poo pile; I get irritated when nobody bothers to pull Cookie's water bucket back to its rightful place after she's inevitably yanked it halfway across the stall with her teeth. I lose my cool when I realize that because no one's managed the blackberry bushes behind the port-a-potty, the inside of it -- ordinarily very clean -- has turned into a haven for a particular kind of beetle. The other day, pulling a bale of grass hay from the top of the stack in the hay barn, I accidentally cut the wrong twine line and rather than loosening the bale from the larger pile, I cut it open, meaning that I had to reach over with the hay hooks and manually pull all the hay down. There was no other way to do it other than to let it fall into a giant, horrible, messy pile. Half of it ended up on me, and I was already covered in sweat, and there is almost nothing worse than being in a tank top, covered in sweat, and then pouring a bale of hay on yourself. It's not much different than being tarred and feathered; it's definitely itchier.
As a result of a lot of things, I have not been riding much lately. I find that I'm in a period of waning enthusiasm, which happens on occasion. I'm a little sick of dealing with the rodeo queen my mare has become lately, and inertia, after all, begets inertia: the less I ride, the less I want to ride. My saddle does not fit me or Cookie, and therefore makes me sit in the wrong position, and probably hurts her back. My bit is too large for her mouth. I don't have real boots, only rubber ones.
I go through these periods of discouragement occasionally. After fifteen years, I feel that I should be a better rider than I am. Truth be told, I haven't the faintest idea how to rate my own skill; the only time I ever get the opportunity is when I go to shows, and Cookie behaves so differently in that environment that it's not a clear indicator at all. My general feeling is that I should be better than I am given the amount of experience I have, and yet I haven't any particular piece of evidence that would suggest I'm not a good rider. I no longer have any notion of how I would ride if I weren't riding Cookie. I'm not a trainer, and yet I am training her every ride. I love her immensely, but sometimes it would be nice to just go.
Given all of this frustration, it was remarkably encouraging today when our new clinician, Jamie, came up to me as I was feeding the broodmares. He's been giving lessons for about a month now -- he was the trainer who came in for our jumping lesson a few weeks ago -- and I really like him. He's laid back but knows his stuff, and he's very hands-on but not intimidating. He has decades of experience back in the UK, where he's from, but prefers working state-side -- particularly here in Oregon -- where people aren't so snooty about the sport.
I was standing at the Bobcat, filling a bucket full of some of the loose grass hay, and feeling grouchy and tired. Jamie was walking up the hill, so I waved. "How did you do for the rest of Saturday?" he wondered, asking about the show. "I didn't get to see the last part of the English classes." I told him about how Cookie had turned naughty and had bucked down the rail. He chuckled and shook his head. "You never know what brain your horse is going to have in those shows, do you?" he said. "Well, I hope you can come back to lessons sometime; you can always let me know what you're concerned about and we can work on it." I nodded. He's teaching jumping on Mondays and dressage on Fridays, and in an ideal world, I'd do both; instead, I've only been to the one jumping lesson because I can't afford the $120-$240/mo it'll cost me to attend his lessons every week.
"You looked really good out there during the part of the show I saw," he said. "It was some very nice riding." I can't tell you how that one simple compliment changed the whole color of my afternoon.