Jennifer Wollenberg: Balancing barn, job & baby
Is it possible to progress in your riding when you’ve got a million other things competing for your attention? Yes, says our blogger, but it takes patience.
I’m struggling with the challenges of training a nine year old Thoroughbred mare on a one-day-a-week riding schedule. Some might think, That can’t possibly end well. You might sarcastically (but reasonably) ask, Yeah… how’s that working out for you? And the more sadistic among you might think, Oh goody, this should be fun to watch! The answer to why I have chosen this seemingly masochistic path is simple: no choice, my friends. No. Choice.
Last November I was blessed with a wonderful, smart, beautiful daughter who is the joy of my life. I expect she will make a big impression in the cutthroat world of lead line competition in a few years, so keep an eye out for her. She is an amazing little person, but she goes to bed at 7 p.m. and wakes at about 6 a.m., making it impossible to get to the barn either before or after work if sleep is going to play any role in my life. Hence, my horse-training challenge.
Before baby, I rode four to five days a week. Heck, I still rode two to three days per week when I was seven months pregnant (flat only). Valley Girl, aka Val, was coming along like a champ. (Yes, horrible name but I didn’t choose it. She came with it and responds to it, so it’s too late to change it now.) Her previous owner had pushed her too fast without establishing a strong foundation. Val’s athletic so she could fling herself over a 3’3” fence with room to spare, but she was crooked and weak in the hind end.
When we first got her (I lease her), she often did that typical Thoroughbred jig for the first 10 minutes after you got on–you’ve all seen that jig, the one where the feet are moving fast but the horse is really a pent-up ball of energy behind the bit and you’re not actually going anywhere? After a change of feed, test driving a few different bits, “calming acupressure,” and months of flat work and cavaletti, I actually had a mare who was listening to my aids, carrying herself (mostly), bending nicely, and doing transitions well. And to top it off, I was riding better than I ever had in my almost 30 years of riding.
After baby, Val basically fattened up in the pasture for four months post-baby, while I figured out how to keep my kid alive and myself sane. The barn is key to that last bit about sanity. When I told my husband that I felt like part of me was dead when I hadn’t ridden for three months after our daughter was born, we realized that we had to make it a priority for me to get a regular fix. So now I go to the barn one day every weekend. I walk out to the pasture and Val ambles over to me, eager to do something, anything.
She likes to have a job, and I feel bad not being able to give her the work she needs. It’s a slow climb back to where we were this time last year, but we’ve been at it a few months now and I’m starting to see progress. We did one really nice turn on the haunches last weekend. Of course, the other six attempts were train wrecks that would make your dressage instructor cry, but sometimes you have to cut yourself some slack and count one good one as a victory.
About Jennifer: I’m an amateur rider trying to figure out how to maximize my time at the barn while juggling the competing demands of a one year old daughter, a wonderful husband, and a challenging job. I’ve been riding for over 25 years and I’ve done a little teaching, a little training, a fair bit of showing, and a lot of just hacking around. My current project is training a wonderful Thoroughbred mare on a once-a-week riding schedule.
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