The thing about goals in the horse world…

“A goal is an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envisions, plans and commits to achieve. People endeavor to reach goals within a finite time by setting deadlines”. -Wikipedia

The equestrian version of a goal: an idea of the future or desired result that a person envisions and commits to achieve in which said person’s horse plots to challenge.  Equestrians endeavor to reach goals within a finite time by setting deadlines their horse stretches to the absolute limits.

When I first realized my goal of Prix St. George with my homebred mare, Petite Belle, it was fall of 2016.  My goal was to ride our first FEI test by the end of winter that season.  I overshot my landing by almost a year.  Aside from being stuck in 4th level purgatory for almost a year, being patient this time wasn’t that hard.  I was excited to wear my tails for the first time on a horse that I brought up myself from the day she was born, but I was willing to be as patient as possible, because it was worth it, and I wanted to do it right.

I could not have asked for a better first try.  Our test was harmonious and respectable, but it lacked the pizzazz and correctness to compete with the big dogs in my class.  I was fine with that.  Room for improvement.

So I continued to enter more shows, expecting to improve upon each previous test, with my eyes already set upon Intermediare 1.  But no matter how hard I worked, I was stuck.  Instead of improving upon my scores, they actually lowered.  And I became frustrated with myself and frustrated with my horse – as perfect as she is.

The problem was lack of patience.  While I know better than anyone that slow and steady wins the race, I was determined to prove myself amongst the sharks in the sea called Wellington, Florida.  The pressure to prove my skills not only to my peers, but to myself was causing me to place unreachable expectations on both myself and my horse.

“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave when we are waiting.” -Joyce Meyer

I could sense that my 11 year partnership with my sweet mare was being compromised.  My horse who once placed 100% trust in me no matter what, was suddenly nervous and questioning my guidance.

After our last show, frustrated with my performance, I remembered something my trainer, Susan Jaccoma always says: “You aren’t going to the olympics tomorrow.”  (Relax, she’s not implying that I can’t go to the olympics, just that there is no reason to place so much pressure)  So I had to swallow my pride and take a few steps back.  I had to access where the root of my problems were and work from there.

I don’t know how long it will take before I get back in the ring with Belle, but I am in no rush.  Where I am right now, I am learning so much more than I have going down centerline.  I am making an FEI horse, and that is no easy task (as I repeat this in my head over and over).

That’s the thing about goals in the horse world:  You have to be able to dial them down when they aren’t in line with your partner.  The relationship is like a marriage.  You can’t decide to move to China when your partner is happy in Minnesota.

The Best Dog Ever

I had many dogs growing up.  Mutts, a Brittany Spanial, an American Eskimo, German Shepard, a Husky, a Keeshond, and a Norwegian Elkhound.  But I always had an idea of what the perfect dog for me was.  I wanted a dog that was loyal, who I could leave off the leash and know that he would never leave me.  I wanted a dog who loved to go on adventures and rides in the car.  Who wanted to go swimming, play fetch, catch a frisbee.  I wanted a best friend to take with me everywhere.

While all the dogs that I had as a child brought me great pleasure, none of them shared all the qualities I wanted.  This was partly my fault as I didn’t commit to their training as an immature adolescent.  When I was younger, I could hardly take care of myself, let alone another living being.  To be perfectly honest, I can say those poor animals were neglected.  They had food and shelter and the bare necessities, but in order for a dog to be at it’s best, it needs discipline and and commitment.  Something I knew nothing about.

When I rescued Jagger as an 8 week old pup, my son was 5 years old.  If my son survived that long and wasn’t a total spaz, I could handle a dog.  When I rescued Jagger, I committed to not making the same mistakes that I had made with all my other pups.  I was going to exercise  him daily, socialize him, train him, and he was going to go everywhere with me, instead of staying at home, locked in a crate for hours.  Since I had just started my professional career as an equestrian, it would be easy to take him to the barn with me.  I bought a portable crate which was like the doggie version of a pack and play, and if I was on a horse, he would stay there with a chew toy filled with peanut butter to keep him busy until I could let him out to socialize with people, horses, cats and other dogs.

At the time, Chaise was in kindergarten and his school was just a few blocks from our house.  So everyday, we would walk to school and Jagger got to play with the kids before the bell rang.  I taught him that he had to sit and wait patiently before anyone was allowed to touch him.  After the kids went to their classrooms, Jagger would play with the other dogs who also came to school.

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Jagger and Chaise – 4 months

When I rescued jagger, he was infested with worms and other parasites, so he wasn’t full of energy.  It took a few weeks before he could make the entire 4 block trek to Baker Elementary and I would have to carry him the rest of the way.  When he got stronger, we would walk around the block before returning home.  Eventually, we spent an hour walking around the neighborhood in the morning before our trip to the barn.  Needless to say, after all our daily adventures, Jagger had no problem passing out when the day was done.

Jagger’s favorite toy was a jolly ball.  I made the mistake of teaching him to bark at me when he wanted me to throw it.  Did I mention Jagger is part Lab?  If you’ve ever had a Lab, or a Lab mix, you know that they will play fetch until their legs fall off.  So imagine this clumsy, 65 pound puppy running at you with a ball that is bigger than his head, dropping it at your feet and demanding that you throw it so he can repeat the process again… and again……… and again……………. and again………………………. and again……… You get the point.

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Jagger and his favorite toy – Jolly Ball

When Jagger was about 6 months old we bought the farm- 54 acres with a trail that surrounded the property.  By this time, He was pretty athletic, so I would run him along side the John Deer Gator until he was pooped.  True to Lab form, this also became an obsession of his.  If the gator went anywhere, he was either in it, or running beside it, directing the driver where to go.

While Jagger is true to his Lab side, there is also no denying the Doberman in him.  He is loyal and protective and his main priority has always been me.  You can’t blame him.  When he was 8 weeks old and split from his litter, I was his soft place to fall.  Since he didn’t want to sleep alone, and I wan’t losing a minute of sleep listening to him cry, he spent his nights snuggled in my bed next to me – which made him real easy to potty train as he was too small to jump off the bed and there was no way in hell I would allow my slumberdome to be spoiled by urine.  Let’s just say we had a great line of communication from the beginning.

None of this even begins to explain the power that Jagger has over not only people, but animals.  He’s like a Jedi.  New boarders would come to the farm, and when Jagger came to greet their horse, they would warn how their horse does not like dogs and to watch out because they might bite him.  Before this newbie could finish explaining their horses distain for dogs, we would turn and see Jagger being groomed by said horse.  If a dog or cat didn’t like Jagger, he wouldn’t pressure them.  He would wait until curiosity got the best of them and they would be forced to inspect him, only to be met with the true definition of a gentleman.

But Jagger is not perfect.  Like all of us, he has his vices and his vice is food.  I don’t think there is enough space on the internet for me to share all the hilarious stories about Jagger’s quest to fill his belly.  In fact, if you asked him, his stomach has more room than the internet.  My favorite story?  Some friends of mine came over and we were going to grill some ribeye.  I seasoned 3 succulent 8 ounce steaks and I left them waiting on the counter as we went to the porch to start the grill.  As I walked out the door, I stopped and asked “Wait, where is Jagger?”  Before I could turn back to the kitchen to check on our dinner, he had already swallowed one whole and was working on the second.  He was a stealth.  He knew how to wait until no one was watching and swallow as much as possible before he was caught.

I think it goes without saying that this dog has brought me nothing but joy in the years that I have owned him.  From snuggling in bed after a long day at the barn, to days at the beach and hours at the barn.  But he is 10 now and has undergone 3 knee surgeries.  His days of fetching and running and demanding someone join in on his fun are over.  He’s on joint supplements and pain meds and now requires a wheelchair to relive himself.

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Jaggers muscles have atrophied from his hind end up his spine and my heart is heavy with the knowledge that our time is limited.  I know that I will never find another best friend like him and I’m troubled by the fact that I know I will eventually have to make the impossible decision to say goodbye.  I contemplate daily if I am holding on too long.  As you can see from the picture above, even when he’s stuck, he has not lost his positive attitude about life.

No matter what Jagger is dealt with, he faces it with a happy heart and positive spirit.  No matter what, I will always remember this and try to take a page from his book.  Jagger was dumped at the pound before he was even weaned from his mother, and lucky for him, this is the only real struggle he has ever known.  I can take solace in the fact that I gave a creature of this earth the best life he could possibly have, but no one will ever be able to fill his shoes and the thought of waking up without his face greeting me first thing leaves me feeling empty.

I fear that he will always greet me with a smile, so how will I know when it is time?  My instinct tells me that when he no longer has the desire to eat, I will have to face my difficult choice.  However, I know that he has a degenreative joint disease that will eventually spread to his front limbs and as long as his tummy says ‘FEED ME SEYMORE’ he will want to feast.  I’ve never had to make a choice like this, so how do I know when to say goodbye??

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My best friend forever and always