Mugwump/Big K Clinic: Day 1, Breakfast
Before I continue on with the next day, after I published the last blog post I remembered why we didn’t set up Summersmom’s air mattress – it’s because the batteries were dead on the little air pump we’d brought along to blow it up. It wasn't that big of a surprise - Summersmom father-in-law mentioned we would probably need new ones, and we just forgot to pick some up.
“I’m going to go check on Summer and see if she’s settling in nicely.”
“Sounds good.” I didn’t turn around to look at Summersmom as she exited the tent, busying myself instead with rearranging my duffel bag on MY side of the tent juuuust so.
Because, obviously, if I didn’t see her, then she wasn’t actually there, and I was alone.
It works for ostriches, why not for Beckies?
As soon as she zipped the tent door shut I dropped my bag and headed over to her side of the tent. I figured I could set up her air mattress for her while she was gone – not only would it be a nice thing to do, but it would help us get to bed faster – and I knew I needed sleep to hit the reset button on my mood.
I unrolled the air mattress, dug out the little air compressor, connected it in the darkness via the light on my cell phone I was holding under my chin, clicked the “on” switch….
And nothing happened.
I double-checked everything, and then flicked the on/off switch a couple of times.
I knew deep in my heart that it was the batteries that were dead, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe it.
I unplugged and plugged it back on, and clicked the “on” switch forcefully.
When that didn’t work, I unplugged it, blew on it (it worked for Nintendo cartridges, why not battery-operated air pumps?), shook it a couple of times, blew on it again, and then clicked it.
I sat there for a moment, fuming. All I wanted was to go to bed. That’s it. I just wanted to go to bed. Was I asking too much? REALLY?
After a few moments, I realized that I didn’t care if the air pump was working or not. I had decided to set up Summersmom’s air mattress before she came back, and by golly, I was going to do it.
I dropped down, sitting cross-legged beside it, and put my mouth on the hole and exhaled.
And then inhaled through my nose.
And then exhaled through mouth.
And then proceeded to repeat this process for 10 minutes straight, fighting the dawning realization that there was no way I was going to be able to blow the air mattress up by myself, unless I stayed up until dawn.
A sane person would have laughed, and quit.
At that point, I wasn’t exactly a sane person.
I was completely prepared to sit there on the floor of the tent and blow the damn thing up, even if it killed me. Tonight, Summersmom was going to dream comfortably, resting peacefully on a mattress of Becky breath. If that wasn’t friendship, I didn’t know what was.
I obviously wasn’t trying hard enough. I just needed to breathe harder.
And so I did.
For about five minutes.
I sat there and hyperventilated and wheezed into that stupid air mattress until the cheeks on my face went numb and I could see pretty little sparkly lights dancing at the edge of my vision. But I didn’t stop. I had to breathe anyways, right? Breathing in is a necessary part of life. If I had to inhale anyways, why not just breathe it out into the air mattress? It’s not like I wasn’t breathing anyways. I mean, EVENTUALLY it would have to fill up, right?
I didn't want to admit to myself that with 15 minutes of solid effort I may have succeeded in removing two wrinkles in the plastic as I filled it with a tenth of a centimeter of air.
And that’s how Summersmom found me – red-faced and pissy and wheezing noisily into the air mattress.
“What are you…” she started her question when she was still outside the tent, stepping through the opening cautiously. “What are you doing?”
I ignored her. I mean, it was pretty obvious what I was doing, wasn’t it? I was filling her bed with my used breath.
As her eyes adjusted to the light of the tent, she burst out laughing. “Are you trying to blow that up? I thought you were trying to scare me – or creep me out. I could hear you huffing and puffing from halfway down the road.”
I took my mouth from the hole, fighting the dizziness. It was one thing to be a stubborn idiot in the privacy of the tent. It was another to do it in front of someone watching me. “The air pump has dead batteries.”
She laughed. “I figured as much, seeing you trying to blow it up. I’m serious – I could hear you from far away. I couldn’t figure out what you were trying to do… pretend to be an angry animal? Or maybe you were trying to pretend that you were doing something inappropriate with someone…?”
Nope. I was just having a nervous breakdown because I WANTED TO SET THE AIR MATTRESS UP, AND NOTHING WAS GOING TO GET IN MY WAY.
Nothing except reality. I plugged the hole on the mattress, screwing the lid on tight. After all, I didn’t want to lose any progress – if we didn’t find any batteries, I might find myself huffing on it in desperation the next day.
As you all know, I finally gave up and we spent a comfortable night (not touching! YAY!) on my futon.
The next morning I woke up to this view outside of the tent window
and immediately felt a million times better.
I snuck out of the tent at a little after six in the morning, crunching down the dirt drive to go feed Caspian.
He was doing great – a little more tucked up from the long drive and not drinking enough than I would have preferred, but obviously doing great – there was plenty of pee and manure in his stall. He’d completely drained his water, so I threw him some flakes of hay and refilled his water before searching out the coffee.
On my way to the barn I passed by Gtyup’s husband – who looked like he’d walked straight out of a Louis L’Amour novel. “He was a tall drink of water…” immediately flashed through my head when I saw him. I didn’t recognize him, so I just figured he must be one of the Big K’s ranch hands. It was obvious his name was Slim, or something like that.
I gave him a half-hearted wave, averting my eyes so I didn’t have to make any polite conversation. My mood was definitely improved, but I just wasn’t feeling it quite yet. The funny thing is, I’ve scored “extrovert” on every test I’ve ever taken…. But, honestly, it turns out that I’m only an extrovert if I get my introvert time.
Besides, I had an excuse – I still hadn't had any coffee. I finally located it in the barn office. There was a fresh pot just starting to brew, and as I waited for it to finish, The Big K’s wife came in with the beginnings of breakfast.
I smiled at her and said hi as she began to set up… and then slipped out the side door her back was turned.
I figured that instead of hovering around her while she set up, I could take a tour of the barn, which was pretty much one of the coolest barns I’ve ever been to.
First off, it was ridiculously tall.
I honestly don’t know why any barn needs a 90 foot roof (realistically I think it was only 40 feet tall? I don’t know. I have terrible depth perception and am an even worse judge of distances.), but it certainly looked cool.
The horse’s pens were constructed out of RAILROAD TIES. Giant, dense, solid railroad ties.
I’m pretty sure they could have safely housed an elephant in the stalls if they were a little larger.
The horses were all gorgeous – well fed, shiny, with pricked ears. A couple of the younger ones were a little snorty if you moved too fast, but they always came back and poked their heads out curiously.
As most people do when they’re in someone else’s barn, I immediately went “shopping” and “bought” a little black gelding in the stall at the far end of the barn. He was a trim thing, with a big hip, a babydoll face, a pretty neck, and was just put together really nicely. I wish I'd taken a picture of him.
After enough time had passed I went back to the office, and was relieved to see that the Big K’s wife had left. She actually was really, really nice – but she was also very pretty, and had showered, and had nice hair… and I just wasn’t up to doing anything more than grunting at people with so little sleep under my belt, and she seemed too nice for me to just hover around and avoid eye contact.
My relief at being alone immediately drained away when I realized the coffee had shut off.... before it finished brewing.
It was immediately obvious a fuse had flipped with the extra breakfast things being plugged in to heat up.
I peeked around, both inside and outside, and found Gtyyup – and I’m just going to come out and say it, that woman is ridiculously tiny. It’s not just that she’s not-tall (see? I can be politically correct. I didn’t call her short!) – I’m pretty sure she wears a size -2 jeans. I have no idea how she manages to saddle her gelding, Colt, who is a sturdy 15.3 hands, but I know that I deliberately gawked every time she mounted from the ground.
That woman swings gracefully up from the ground…. And in order to do it she has to lift her foot to the height of her boobies to get it in the stirrup.
I’m sure she appreciates me writing that, because from now on, whenever you see her standing next to her horse, you’ll probably take a peek at the height of her stirrup, which means you’ll also be eyeballing her chesticles, and that’s kind of rude to me to point out…..
But it was like watching a Cirque de Soleil act - technically, you know it’s impossible for the human body to do it… and yet right in front of you, someone is doing it. Easily. And as you watch them, you can’t help but realize what an uncoordinated slob you are.
HOW THE HECK DID SHE DO MOUNT SO SMOOTHLY FROM THE GROUND ON HER GIGANTIC HORSE? She just swung up so easily into the saddle, every time – the way a normal person would swing up on a 14.2 horse… BUT HER STIRRUP WAS AT THE SAME HEIGHT AS HER BOOBIES, AND HOW DO YOU EVEN COMFORTABLY AND NONCHALANTLY LIFT A LEG THAT HIGH UNLESS YOU’RE A CHEERLEADER IN A SKIRT, LET ALONE IN A PAIR OF JEANS, LET ALONE STAND UP IN THE STIRRUP AND SWING OVER, AND I AM STILL CONFUSED AS TO HOW SHE MANAGED.
Anyways. Ahem. Moving on.
Gtyyup and I went on a hunt to find the fuse box, and then I proceeded to use all of my extensive electrical knowledge and training to fix the problem.
Which, basically, meant I just started flicking switches back and forth and hoping for the best. If we hadn’t found the switch pretty early on, I might have had to resort to blowing on the fuse box. Or crying. Honestly, I really wanted a cup of coffee at that point.
Thankfully, we did fix things… and the coffee started brewing… and eventually the pot filled up enough for me to pour a nice, steaming, black cup of Joe….
And then I immediately dump a bunch of heavy cream and International Delight’s creamer, and all sorts of sissy city stuff into it, because that’s how the kind of hardcore person I am.
At that point people started showing up for breakfast, so I smiled widely, went out to greet them warmly, introducing myself with ease and engaging in flawless small talk for hours.
You guys realize I’m lying, right? When people started showing up, after I said hello, told a couple of people my name.... and then I snuck out the back door of the office, moved a metal panel enough to create an opening, and snuck up to the barn and finished my cup of coffee while I hid behind my horse.
For the record, a 16.1 (16.2?) hand horse makes a wonderful barrier to hide behind.
I could only hide and drink my coffee for so long before I grew bored.... so I eventually braided his tail. Sure, it was a reined cowhorse clinic, but that's no reason for Caspian not to look pretty, right?
I swear that this whole clinic write-up isn’t going to be about how I hid from people. I started warming up about noon on that first day. We’ll just chalk it up to tiredness and nerves, shall we?
Speaking of nerves….
Breakfast was delicious (Spicy Jimmy Dean sausage egg burritos – even tastier than they sound – and fresh fruit)… but breakfast was over all too soon, and before I was ready it was time to saddle up.
And doesn’t that sound just sad? I had waited seven years to own a horse and had just travelled nearly a thousand miles to ride… and at that point I would have given anything to have a decent excuse not to swing up.
Caspian led easily as I took him up to the trailer – trailing behind me on a loose lead, ears pricked, looking around with interest….. and I trudged in front of him like I was on a death march.
Look, I don’t show. Never have, and I probably never will. I’m not used to riding in front of anyone, let alone in front of a bunch of strangers as I get “picked on” by a trainer.
To make matters worse, I barely knew my horse. Oh, sure I’d ridden him a few times back in February when I visited my parents, but that was different. That was in an arena right by his stall, where he was in his bored comfort zone, and I was not pushing him hard at all.
Now, with everything – the people, the new location, the new horse… just… with everything, I developed a serious case of stage fright.
And the more nervous I became, the more I realized that Caspian needed me to be calm, or he would start picking up on my nerves and acting up.. which, of course, made me even more nervous.
By the time I had him saddled and had led him back up to the barn, breakfast had stopped digesting and was sitting in a cold, greasy lump in my stomach. I swear I could feel every corner of not-chewed-well-enough tortilla, and that spicy sausage felt like it was fermenting.
Awesome. I was probably going to puke. And everyone on this blog knows from all my pregnancy complaining that I am not a quiet puker.
And Caspian would probably be so scared by the roars of my vomiting that he would spook.
And then I’d end up flying around The Big K’s arena, vomit flag fluttering behind me in the wind, until we crashed into a mountain and died.
And what a ridiculous obituary that would be: “Becky Bean, 32, waited 7 years to own a horse again and then only a week after she got it she died from puking on a it because she’s kind of stupid that way. In lieu of flowers send sympathy cards to her embarrassed family.”
I finally quit procrastinating and dragged Caspian over to a rock to mount up – as tall as he is, while I can physically ground mount, I sure ain’t no Gtyyup. I hate the way I haul on his back when I crawl up from the ground, so it’s mounting blocks for me. Maybe that will change as I get my riding muscles back, but for right now it is what it is.
While Caspian normally stands rock solid, patiently, as soon as my butt hit the saddle he walked off, head high and more than a little tense.
It’s really not surprising, considering how calm (ha, ha) I was. I could hardly blame him, although I did make him stop until I could find my other stirrup.
We were definitely the last people in the arena – and by arena, I mean dragged-dirt-area-so-ginormous-it-could-be-paved-over-and-used-as-an-airplane-landing-strip.
The Big K says he likes a HUGE arena, because then when he shows, all the other arenas feel small, and it gives him an edge of confidence.
Well, his arena was almost ridiculously big.
It was also really busy.
The Big K, Mugwump, Gtyyup, Gtyyup’s husband, Summer, and Michelle were all milling about on their horses, warming up. I know that may not be a lot of horses for some of you, but for the uninitiated it was a lot of movement to walk into.
Caspian stopped at the entrance – which was fine by me, because the two of us needed to take a moment and just stare at it, bug-eyed.
I realized, at that moment, that I’ve never actually ridden in a really busy arena before… and from the way my horse felt underneath me, neither had he.
It was controlled chaos – it reminded me of the 405 freeway in downtown LA - the trick was to keep moving, and not slam on the breaks when you changed lanes, and you could hopefully avoid running into anyone.
When I urged Caspian forward, I could almost feel him rolling his eyes at me. "ARE YOU NUTS, woman?" he seemed to say. "It's chaos out there!"
I’ve honestly never been so glad to own a gaited horse, because I was so worked up inside that I couldn’t get my body to relax – and Caspian’s trot is kind of huge and heavy and I still haven’t figured out how to post the darn thing, probably because he only does it for a couple of steps before gaiting again. If it weren't for how smooth he was, I would have been popcorn popping as I slapped up and down in my saddle.
As tight and tense as he felt, I kept my legs completely off of his sides, trying to let him just move out without asking him for much. He felt like a piece of well-behaved, short-fused piece dynamite underneath me. As nervous as we were about everything (and, honestly, he probably would have been a million times better if I wasn’t all worked up, so don't feel like I'm blaming him), I didn’t feel like I should ask him to collect.
I did briefly touch the reins and ask him to lower his head… which he did for a few seconds – and then he immediately started grinding his teeth in the most nerve-wracking, obnoxiously loud way possible.
As soon as I quit asking him to do anything but steer around the other horses he stopped grinding his teeth– and, seriously, with all the stress I’d thrown at him in the past week, I figured I could do at least that for him.
While everyone else moved in a lazy dance pattern around the arena – performing slow lope circles and practicing stops, Caspian and I tootled about in our endurance saddle and braided tail with absolutely no pattern to our movements whatsoever. We probably looked like a drunk audience member who jumps onstage during a performance of the Nutcracker. Basically, instead of actually warming up, I was riding around towards wherever I could see a nice, big hole between horses, trying to give the two of us a chance to calm down.
At one point I had to ask Caspian to slow to avoid crashing (okay, maybe I wouldn’t have crashed, but I’m serious when I say it was a completely new experience for me. In the past, when I rode, if an arena had more than 1 or 2 other people working on the rail or on the other end of it, then I just waited or went on a trail ride). He was still stiff necked and feeling explosive…. And when I asked him to stop, he ignored me.
Well. That wasn’t good.
I direct reined him to the left, asking him to circle around the horse and rider instead….
And he politely gave to the bit, turning his head sweetly to the side… and charged straight on forward as if nothing had changed.
Well. Now. That wasn’t good AT ALL.
Thankfully he wasn’t really being that horrible - his sides were still sensitive and I was able to correct him by booting him over in a very no-nonsense way…. But I have to admit, I now get what Mugwump was saying when she said she doesn’t like to flex her horses too much, because she wants them to follow where their nose goes. I don’t see a lot of standing still and flexing/giving to the bit exercises in Caspian and my future.
As the minutes passed he never completely relaxed, but eventually I felt like he was listening to me again, and not stressed to the point of exploding. I tested out his sides – trying to see just how little pressure it would take to ask him to do a large figure eight…
and then looked around and noticed that almost everyone had finished warming up and they were now lined up on one side of the arena, watching me. Since I was late to the game I had only had a few minutes of warm up – all of that done at a walk or his gait, and none of it at a canter (lope? Canter? Seriously, what do you call it if you don’t ride any particular discipline?). I briefly considered doing just asking for it, because I figured we were going to be asked to do it at some point, and I’d only ever cantered on him once, way back in February.
Obviously, I should try warming up and practicing it before we were in the teaching portion of our lesson. I was here to learn about how to work with my horse better, not do beginner’s balance lessons about how to sit a canter.
The only thing was… everyone was done, and watching me ride since there was nothing else to look at… and with the weight of all those stares I chickened out, pulled him down to walk, and lined up beside everyone else.
Because, after all, that’s how I roll. I drink weak coffee with so much creamer I might as well just chug the creamer straight out of the bottle, and I chicken out when people watch me.
I didn’t have very much time to think about it, because about that time, the Big K started to speak.