January 26, 2011

the end of an era

two and a half years ago, I was returning to riding after a 9-month break. I had stopped riding three weeks before the 2007 portland marathon because I was terrified of sustaining a fall and being unable to compete in the race. when I returned, several weeks later, I was violently thrown three times in two separate riding days and decided to hang up my boots for awhile. I was spooked, and injured from the race.

in august of 2008, I came back. I was suffering badly from depression and wanted some of the 'old me' back. I called my old instructor and set up a lesson. it was the month just before my opera job was about to revert to part-time, and I was constantly trolling the internet for other work. a few days after setting up the lesson, I stumbled across a craigslist ad looking for a barn hand to clean stalls in exchange for free lessons. the phone number listed was my riding teacher's. 'can I do this?' I asked, and that was how I became the poo fairy.

it's funny to think about now, but when I first started cleaning stalls for my barn, I was terrified that I'd do it wrong. the only job I have ever been fired from was a stall cleaning job; I was 16 at the time. it was a summer job working for an older couple who had some horses. I think I cleaned four stalls a day. this was back in the day when everybody used sawdust and lime; the barn itself was very old. every morning for a week I showed up dutifully at 6 AM (OUCH) and cleaned the stalls. it would take me a couple of hours; I had never done the work before and the method they had showed me was very particular. at the end of the week, I was exhausted. I was a typical late-sleeping teen and 6 AM quite frankly sucked. that friday, the husband came out and told me that it just wasn't working out for them -- I was taking too long and not doing a good enough job. I felt embarrassed but I was also relieved to be able to sleep in the following week. and that was my only experience with a muck rake.

when I started in 2008, I cleaned 5 stalls twice weekly. it would take me about an hour and a half, and by the end I was exhausted. I had very little upper body strength to speak of, and not much experience. although I had been around horses for 13 years, I had never worked so closely with so many. we keep the horses in their stalls while we clean, because we don't have enough turnout space to let them all out, and it would be too time-consuming to let one out, clean the stall, bring it back, let the next out, etc. so we just work around them. the horses are, for the most part, very accustomed to it and will mostly leave you alone. you quickly learn the ones that won't. (I have one mare, whose stall I've cleaned since day one, who I still have to physically threaten with the rake to get her to back out of my space). it's hard to imagine now what I must have been like, horsemanship-wise, before I started the work. now I am so accustomed to making them move for me, to standing up to the pushy ones, to using my body language to communicate with them, that I can't remember a time before I had this vocabulary. stall cleaning turned me into a Person Who Works With Horses.

stall cleaning is probably the thing that pushed me over the edge to buying my horse. I had been working the job for about six months when I finally paid the deposit on her sale fee, and knowing that I could potentially work off a significant chunk of my board was incredibly reassuring. when I bought her, I began cleaning stalls on saturdays too, which I did for about a year until it became too much. then I switched to feeding the horses two nights a week, which is what I still do now. I haven't paid for a riding lesson since september 2007, and I've never paid full price for board.

over the last several months, I've lost my stall mojo. the problems with stall cleaning are primarily threefold:

1. it's exhausting;
2. it's time-consuming;
3. it makes me feel as though I've been at the barn without actually interacting with my horse (other than to turn her out or clean her stall).

in the winter, it's incredibly unappealing to clean stalls and ride in the same night. it's dark by the time I get there, and the job now takes 2 1/2 hours. (I clean more stalls than I did when I started, and I feed, and I know everybody at the barn so inevitably somebody stops to chat or needs something). by the time I'm finished working, I don't feel like riding. if I ride first, the job just slogs on horribly until late in the evening. I've gotten home some nights as late as 10:30.

the biggest thing, though, is that the barn used to be my third place. but once I started working there -- and after the novelty wore off -- it was another place to dread going. no good. after the charm of owning a horse faded a little, then going to the barn just became another chore. I would fantasize about going to the barn, pulling Cookie out of her stall, tacking up, and riding -- no work, no fuss. imagine! instead there was always work to do. hours of work.

so, I quit. just like that! I have a backlog of earned lessons (my instructor graciously has rolled over the lessons I don't use in any given week, and I have never managed to use them up), and since the job doesn't help me reduce my board bill, it won't cost me a dime. it'll give me four extra hours a week of freedom. I'm continuing to feed two nights a week, so now on those two nights I can ride! an unbelievable thought.

January 12, 2011

books 2011

1. betty smith: joy in the morning
2. jean thompson: who do you love
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3. cory doctorow: down and out in the magic kingdom
4. p.g. wodehouse: my man jeeves
5. d.h. lawrence: the rainbow
6. david grann: the lost city of z
7. isaac bashevis singer: shosha
8. karen pryor: don't shoot the dog! the new art of teaching and training
9. jason tesar: the awakened: part one
10. laura whitcomb: a certain slant of light
11. thich nhat hanh: true love
12. george r.r. martin: a game of thrones: a song of ice and fire
13. mike foster: gracenomics
14. malcolm gladwell: what the dog saw, and other adventures
15. suzanne collins: the hunger games
16. suzanne collins: catching fire
17. suzanne collins: mockingjay
18. stieg larsson: the girl with the dragon tattoo
19. malcolm gladwell: blink: the power of thinking without thinking

January 10, 2011

welcome back

firstly: I am still alive. hooray!

next: whether because I got eight days of relative loafing in maryland, or maybe because I'm suffering from delayed fatigue due to the streak, or maybe just because MY LIFE FEELS ENDLESSLY CRAZY, I am kind of overwhelmed lately. I decided in order to be a Productive Member of Society, I really needed to sit down at the beginning of each week, make a schedule, and then stick to that schedule. this is a thing that people do, right? my M.O. for, um, ever has been to make a vague schedule (with some things set in stone) and then just wing it according to my mood. only, that often ends up turning into me looking up and down the to-do list and going, 'do I go to the barn, and then to the store and then to [one of a hundred other things]? or do I clean the house, vacuum the car, THEN go to the barn, etc etc?" in the end I get so addled I end up just sitting on the couch watching crime dramas. I mean, that's fine up until the point when you get up and decide you are really going to train your horse this time, and you are really going to start reading regularly again, and you're going to be better about hanging out with your friends, and also you're running a marathon in a few months.

tl;dr: I'm tired. as usual. almost every day last week, I crashed within an hour of getting home. who is driving this bus? I want to get off.

some things I've learned in 2011:
  • after just two days straight of driving to the barn after work to exercise your horse, you'll feel sad on day 3 when you can't get down there

  • things learned from playing cranium with friends this weekend: blackberries and raspberries are not really berries (they're 'conglomerate fruits'); I can't tell the difference between beethoven and mozart when seeing their photos at a glance; nobody remembers the name of the pilot who orbited the shuttle while the rest of the astronauts of Apollo 11 were out walking on the moon; I can't spell out loud.

  • also from playing cranium this weekend: Scott & I are rock stars at charades.

  • hula hooping is really really hard work

    hula time.

  • incidentally, so is the limbo, and if you do both too hard at your holiday party, you will be wildly sore the next day.

    also related: taking an 8-day break after running 101 days will not make your 3-month old back problem much better, and neither will doing the limbo.

  • your first couples costume will be a resounding success, partially thanks to great Goodwill karma and partially because your boyfriend's costume is charmingly authentic (because he actually fishes).

    best catch of the night

  • hula hooping + doing the limbo + running + mucking stalls + horseback riding + cross country skiing (all in one four-day span) = OWWWzers.

  • cross-country skiing (we took our first of four classes yesterday) is simultaneously harder and as fun than I remember from that one trip I took in college.

  • mt. hood is real pretty in the snow. (I didn't bring my camera so you have to trust me on this one).
happy 2011, everyone. it's my year of doing great things. more to come on that one.