Thursday, July 30, 2015

Working with a Horse Dealer

I had to go to this training thing for my preschool job once. It was an entire day devoted to learning about "conscious discipline," the central theory of which is that you babble on endlessly at misbehaving children until they're too bored by you to continue the naughty behavior. The person leading the training had the most cultish title imaginable: "Loving Guidance Associate." I couldn't take much of what she said seriously after she introduced herself.

I know the title "horse dealer" also squicks some people out, and I get why--it kind of sounds like "used car salesman." But that's the term we've got, so when I say that I do some horse dealing on the side, I'm going to trust that you know I'm not some monster who doesn't like my animals or doesn't care where horses wind up. Okay? Okay.

Helping people find the right horse for them is something that I really enjoy doing, and I'm very good at it. I have a feeling when it's right. I don't drag people all over the state to look at horses just because I need to feel like I'm doing something. I have good connections. My rates are extremely reasonable. I can almost always find a few choices for someone. I don't push the budget.

However, the entire thing can also be an exercise in frustration, because humans are like that. Here are the top five things that drive me the most nuts when working with someone:

1. They are not honest--with themselves and/or me--about their skill level as riders.
This is probably one of the biggest hurdles to finding the right horse. I always want to watch someone ride before I find them a horse of their own so I can judge for myself (or talk to their trainer), but that doesn't mean they believe me. I worked with someone years ago who wanted something to take to big horse shows but she couldn't get my quietest school horse around an 18" course at the trot at home. She had decided somewhere along the way that she was brilliant, but she couldn't tell you how many feet were in a canter stride. She couldn't turn a horse without yanking on the inside rein. See number two.

Duchess <3

2. They are not open to input about what kind of horse would suit them.
I determined quickly that the girl above needed a very quiet schoolmaster. Her budget was limited. She did not want a very quiet schoolmaster, she wanted a flashy show horse. She ended up going behind my back and buying a 5 year old Trakehner mare who'd never jumped a stick and has landed her in the hospital a few times. I tried to help her with the mare but I really wanted to beat my head against the wall.

Lexi-loo, miss you girl

3. They focus on all the wrong things about a horse/are not realistic about what their budget means.
Sure, look, I like thoroughbreds. I've been riding them forever, in a variety of disciplines. There are TBs out there suited for everyone--though the quieter ones can also be more expensive and/or old and/or lame. So I think it's fine to tell me that you'd love to have a thoroughbred, but if what you need is a really chill trail horse, and I find six of those in your budget that meet all your specs but only one of them is a TB, you're just going to annoy me if you're all "I HAVE TO HAVE A TB" and your budget is limited. It's okay to have a small budget, but sometimes that means you can't have every single thing you want. If you're a novice rider, I want to see you on a horse that you feel safe and happy on more than I want to fulfill romantic breed-specific notions. If I can do both, Yahtzee. Same goes with things like color ("I have to have a black horse!") or a one-inch difference in size or a one-year difference in age. The bigger the budget, the easier that is to deal with. You know how you can't have it fast, good, and cheap--gotta pick two of those? Similar with horses. You can't have a young, fancy, quiet, broke horse for cheap. Prioritize according to the budget, please, and think about what actually matters.

Enjoying all the random pics from 1+ years ago?

4. They go look at horses without me.
I know. It's a free country. But the amount of work I put into finding a list of horses for someone to look at is pretty huge, and I think I need a fair shot at earning my commission. If I can't find a horse for you, then fire me and go out on your own, that's fine. Plus, all the years of knowledge and experience I've gained mean something. I sometimes help people who are more knowledgeable horsemen and who have more connections than I do and just don't have time to look, but mostly people who call me just don't know where to start, and they'll go look at whatever horse they find on Craigslist. I will go look at horses on Craigslist because I can usually size things up by talking to someone on the phone, and I can tell a lot by looking at the horse before I get on it. But for a novice rider: please do not do this. You could really get yourself killed. So that safety issue is paramount. Further considerations include: if you're buying a horse from a stranger whose reputation you don't know or who might not have a reputation at all, you could be getting yourself into trouble (this is where my connections are very useful); if we happen to call the same person, that's awkward and weird and can make sellers worry; I might know about that horse and have very good reasons for not bringing him to your attention. Also, it's rude. Just. Don't. Do. This.

5. They don't get back to me quickly.
One of the key elements of this job is keeping lines of communication open with sellers (or sellers' agents). If I call and inquire about a horse, it all sounds good, they agree to whatever trial conditions or whatever else a buyer might have, and it looks promising, I'm going to call the buyer immediately. Good horses don't often stay on the market long, especially in the lower price brackets. I don't want to wait days for the buyer to get back to me. The horse could be gone, or out on trial, or the price could have gone up based on show results. And it annoys the sellers because it makes us look like tire kickers. And the sellers' agents have to want to work with me if we're going to do repeat business.

BONUS: Don't be crazy. Please do not be crazy.
I don't want to hear about your spiritual connection to long manes. I don't want to listen to theories about the reincarnations of the horses of the indigenous Plains nations. Please do not come at me with how you can fix all of a horse's behavior problems through a quick call to your Reiki master. And if you are going to share all of this with me, please keep it between us and don't let the seller know.

I want to help you find your dream horse, and I probably can. We can have a lot of fun together in the process, too, if we can all just be on the same page about how this should work. So if you're ever going to hire a horse dealer to help you find the perfect horse, because it's overwhelming or you're new to the area or you just don't have time, I hope this post helps you understand a little more how the process works.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On Safety and Autonomy

I read Sarah's post on safety at Eventing in Color with great interest, and I keep refreshing the comments. Go read it and come back. I'll still be here.

So here's another instance in which I stake out some unpopular territory for myself and risk pissing people off. It's all good though--you don't get to be a gender-fluid queerdo in the South without being okay with making waves.

First, my stance on safety equipment: Wear what you want to wear, when you want to wear it. Mostly.

Like most of you, I alwayssssssssss wear a helmet. If someone comes over to my house and gets on one of my horses, they absolutely must wear a helmet. We got my nephew his own helmet and I would prefer that he wear it all the time in the barn and not just when he's mounted. I did graduate from Pony Club, after all. I do safety checks on all my equipment constantly. I don't wear my XC vest in the ring to jump unless I have a real reason to. I don't own an air vest. I wear my vest when I'm starting a young horse or jumping XC. I'm not really a reckless person. My standards for my own equipment are like most peoples' I know.

Lex was 5 days under saddle. In a 40-acre field. Vest.

But if I was in a lesson with a pro--not M, who always wears a helmet, but some hypothetical other pro--who wanted to get on my horse and s/he wasn't wearing a helmet, would I say no? I mean, maybe, if I wasn't sure she would ride my horse in a way I was okay with, but I wouldn't say no because of the helmet thing. A professional riding at home can make that decision. I watched a BNT who has had some recent Grand Prix success school a couple weeks ago, and he was jumping the tops of the standards with no helmet and a cigarette in his mouth and his iPod. Would EYE ride like that? Hell no. Am I going to march into the ring with a helmet and insist he put it on? Of course not. That would be out of line.

I walked around bareback on this horse today and wore a helmet.

"But you're not married to him, Jess, so why should it matter to you what he wears? It's different if you're married."

Is it? I don't know. His body is still his and mine is still mine, regardless of our relationship or lack thereof. I know women who won't get the haircut they want because their husbands won't like it. That bums me out a lot. It's not his hair!

So if someone told me to wear safety equipment, I don't think I'd have a super great reaction to that. I mean, USEA and USEF have rules about helmets and vests and I'm happy to follow the rules. If I ever got to the level of top hats in dressage or eventing, I'd still wear a helmet. Some people wear vests all the time when they ride because it makes them feel safe or they have an old injury or a disease process that means a fall would be worse for them than it would be for me. And they should do that! Whatever works for them.


Here's what it comes down to for me: I'm an incredibly independent person, perhaps to a fault. I'm kind of anti-romantic, too, in that anything that normal people consider romantic is probably going to make me break out in hives. Love, Actually makes me want to throw up, actually. And part of the reason I have so much trouble with normal-people romance is that it often seems to have something to do with control. "I'm telling you that you can't do this dangerous/far-away/whatever thing because I love you." "Wow, you must really love me if you're willing to tell me what to do!" For me, that doesn't work. I know. I'm suuuuuuuch a catch. Get in line, laydeez, for someone who will never stand outside your window with a boombox or whatever totally-right-now reference.

Thus, anyone who said "you have to wear a helmet and a vest" would be met with a great deal of eye-rolling from me at the very minimum. Have to? Excuse me? I'm a grown-ass adult. And that isn't going to make me feel loved. It's going to make me feel like a porcupine.

I think it's totally within bounds to say, "I know that you're bringing along a young and athletic and talented horse, and that at the moment you're participating in a sport known for being even more dangerous on top of that. I also know that all of this is very important to you, but I want to register that it makes me nervous sometimes because I want you to be safe and healthy." I would listen to that, and I'd be open to having a discussion with that person about what safety measures I take and why. That's an honest conversation. But I wouldn't want to have that conversation all the time, or to feel like I was being pressured into changing my behavior or out of entering things I wanted to do or whatever, because: it's my body. It's my life. Anyone in a long-term relationship with me would know all of this about me going in, because it's a huge part of who I am, this need to be my own person.

Everyone's circumstances are different, and I can see why Sarah's husband is worried after her crash. I'm not here to tell you what your response to such a conversation should be. Mine may be against the grain, but I feel very strongly about it. Besides, all Mo and I are doing is trotting circles and trying to dodge enormous flies, and everyone gets sick of reading about that, right?

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Fly

It started out like a pretty ordinary ride. My horse was cute. That's not news.

Even clover drool is adorable

He warmed up okay, complained a little bit about rein contact like he often does, had a fine but not phenomenal left lead canter. Nothing I couldn't deal with.

And then.

Then he started bucking.

Crap. Remember how I have a back problem?

Now, Mo is a very athletic little guy. If he wanted to plant my ass in the dirt, he would. He's been known to buck to get out of work, but I really didn't think we were having that kind of ride. And he wasn't acting mean about it.

So I was all "WHAT THE HELL" when I heard what the problem was: a bloody enormous deer fly had planted itself right on the top of his croup.

Ordinarily I wouldn't beat Mo on the top of his croup with my dressage whip. I really wouldn't. I'll tickle him if I feel like he's about to duck behind the bit, but I think actually smacking him like a barrel racer would result in the kinds of histrionics I was already attempting to sit. But since the bucking was fait accompli, I held the reins and a chunk of his already-pathetic mane in one hand and did everything I could to dislodge the fly with my whip. Honestly, the twisting around like that hurt more than the bucking.

At least this was the comfortable kind of bucking, where he mostly jumped up with all four feet and then kicked his hind legs out. I'll take that any day over planting the front feet and kicking the hind feet up over my head.

I got the stupid fly off but hadn't managed to murder it, which is too bad, because just when he took a breath, the little shit was back, and we had to start over. I got the fly off again and tried to gallop away from it, but... we were in the ring. Where could we go where he couldn't find us? I couldn't gallop the whole ride. So when he came back a third time, I waited until I had a second of not-bucking and jumped off (ouch, landing on my feet without a careful slide-off was not in my plans). Mo was kind to let me get all the way off before he lost it again, and I was holding a rearing, bucking animal. I hastily ran my stirrups up so he wouldn't catch a hind foot in one and give us a real tragedy and then trotted him back to the barn. When we got to the safety of the wash stall, he took a huge deep breath and nuzzled my arm.

Was it an excellent training move to jump off a bucking animal and let it be done for the day? Ordinarily, no. But for one thing, M is out of town, I don't have any friends anywhere nearby at the moment, and no one knew I was riding anyway (maybe I need a texting buddy for when I'm riding alone?). So even if he'd been trying to be bad, I think it would have been the right call to get off. But he wasn't--he was being bitten by a fly large enough to carry your cat away, and he has the bumps on his back to prove it. I think it's okay for him to know that if he's actually being attacked, I'll get him away from the thing that's hurting him if I can. Or is that a stupid justification?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Everyday Tack: Dressage

Two good newses: I did more than walk Mo on a loose rein, and I finally got a picture of him decked out in his dressage school outfit. I'm not going to go through Red's outfit, because it's all the same stuff as last week but the same dressage saddle/girth/pad.

I don't know why he's standing weird behind.
Probably because I just dropped the reins and walked away
and didn't bother setting him up?

Man, my horse is stinking cute.

Anyway, the bridle is the same Antares figure-8 that he jumps in. The bit, too, is the same. He's so green right now that I'm certainly not going to change the bit for jumping, not when we don't have a problem that needs fixing. If he needs a different jumping bit down the road, that's fine. It works for now.

My saddle is a Karl Neidersuss. It's brown and I could not possibly love it more. It fits my horses, it fits me, M loves the way I sit in it, so I feel very lucky that I found it used at such a good price--several hundred dollars below market value. It's in really good shape, too. I find that I condition it a lot, but that's okay. I don't mind spending time on that sort of thing. The leathers are verrrrryyyyyy olllllld Crosby leathers. My mom and I each got our Crosby saddles about 20 years ago, and these leathers were original to her saddle. The miraculous thing is, they're fine, except for the mold I found on them the other day. I'll be replacing them with the Beval leathers I got from Redwood Tack when they arrive.

Old pic with Fillis irons still on, ew.
I also think the leather looks better now after frequent conditioning.

The stirrups are Compositi Reflex, just regular old black, because that's what they had in stock at Riding Warehouse when I got them. I'm... not totally sure I'd go for a different color anyway. I can't decide how I feel about colorful irons. One second I love them (like SprinklerBandit's Lorenzinis) and the next second I'm seeing someone at an event who looks like they're just trying too hard and I don't know where I fit in. Anyway, I like them fine.

My half pad is some no-name Australian sheepskin thing I got on ETT for like $30. It has wither relief, which is good for the red horse. I like it. The only dressage pads I own are the Riding Warehouse branded ones, because they're so cheap. They're Tuffrider pads, so they won't last forever, but they'll do.

On his legs, he sports Valena boots up front and polos behind, because I found one pair of Valenas for an UNBELIEVABLE deal but haven't found a matching hind pair. And I'm not really looking, either. Polo wraps are fine. If it's wet out, I either put him in his jumping boots or leave his legs bare, depending on what we're going to be doing.

Finally, the girth. Like 900FBPony, I've gone through a few girths and haven't really settled on one yet. When I bought the saddle, I also bought a Total Saddle Fit girth. I didn't love it. It gaped in the front and the leather seemed like it was going to stretch. I think it actually DID stretch. So I sold that and found a used County Logic girth. The problem was that I didn't realize those ran so huge, and so it fit Mo wrong and caused rub marks on his elbows. So I sold THAT and found a Nunn Finer Passage girth for dirt cheap.

It's fine. It's not changing my life. It fits both my horses. If I'd thought about it more, I might have skipped it because it doesn't have the center ring, and I love a center ring. The leather is acceptable.

It's really really padded, which... kind of makes me think of orthopedic shoes. But that's fine, because if it keeps the little buggers comfortable, it works for me. It fits Red and Mo well, and hasn't caused any rubs or anything. I'll likely stick with it unless something fabulous pops up, but I'm not sure what IS fabulous in the world of brown short girths. If anyone has any insights, do let me know. Then again, maybe not--I think I'm done buying tack for awhile. Plus, no dressage judge is going to say, "Sorry you didn't win! It's because you don't have a fancy enough girth!"

So there we go, all the gear. Tack is fun, and I've enjoyed reading about what everyone else uses and why.

Oh, and one more thing: A picture of my horse standing normally to prove that he isn't neurologic, just ADD.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Minor Victories

On Sunday, I climbed back on both my horses for the first time in over a week. It's bad when your back hurts so much that you don't even want to ride, but I am, I hope, beyond that now.

The first day I just walked around on each of them. Red is reliably good for that. Mo is really getting there. Last year I couldn't just get on and walk on a long rein, but now I can, even after he's had a week off. He was actually pretty sluggish, which is his default ever since the first time I got on him. He was super good on Sunday.

On Monday I was a little more ambitious, so I did some walk/trot/canter each way with Red. I didn't even pick up the reins, just kept one hand on the buckle. It's like sitting on a couch, he's so comfortable, and I'd just think about what gait I wanted him in and look where I wanted to go and he did exactly what I wanted. I didn't try putting him into any kind of a frame AT ALL--seriously, buckle from start to finish--but I love how confirmed he is in the rhythm and relaxation steps of the training scale. I'm confident he'll get the connection part soon.

Mo I kept at the walk, in part because he doesn't get ridden if I don't ride him (a friend rode Red a couple times last week), and in part because he's still green that a ride I'd like to keep quiet and easy doesn't always turn out that way. He was ambling around the ring, happy as a clam, and then M came up and said she was going to go on a trail ride down the Dreaded Hill of DOOOOOOOM. And did I want to go? Of course. Did I want to go get my neck strap first? Nope.


So off we went. He was really good, if slooowwwww, until we got to the hill. He did protest and act like a butthead, but I was really not in the mood for any bullshit, so I just kept my leg on and we made it down the hill. He took a HUGE deep breath at the bottom and walked around the meadow on a loose rein like a normal horse. He wanted to trot back up the hill instead of walk, because trotting is easier, but the rule is that they walk. I also couldn't get into two point at all because I was in my dressage saddle and my back hurts, so he also had to walk up the hill with me sitting right on his back. Which is fine, he needs the strength training anyway.

I'm sure he thought this was in violation of his contract, but I patted him a whole lot for being the bravest horse ever and gave him a bunch of carrots back at the barn. When I put him back in his stall, I apparently didn't stay and pet him enough because he gave me THE MOST HILARIOUS look over his shoulder at me. It made me laugh, and I went back in to pat him until he felt adored enough to start eating his hay. He's such a pet.

I'm really lucky to have these two incredible horses right now. I just hope my back stays happy so I can enjoy them.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Redwood Tack

In my last post I noted that almost all my jumping gear was purchased used--everything except Mo's boots and Red's bridle. I'm a HUGE fan of buying quality gear used, because I wouldn't be able to come close to affording anything I have if I was paying full retail. Not even remotely. Spoiler alert: my dressage gear is all used, too.

When I need something, I spend time combing the internet for what I want. I like the Facebook groups like English Tack Trader, and I'll always check eBay. But these days, I have a go-to site to look before I bother combing through ETT and its kin: Redwood Tack.

If whatever I want is in stock there, I'm thrilled. And if I can wait a little while for it, I'll let the owner, Leah Matanky, know what I'm after. She can often find it. Leah scours the internet, random barns, consignment shops, anywhere she can find stuff, to bring quality tack and equipment to her shop, which is based in California.

She and her kid and her gorgeous tack all live in one room!


Leah is an amateur rider like the rest of us, and she's really done her homework. She can answer a lot of questions about size, quality, and care of tack--and will answer your questions even unrelated to a purchase. I had a question about caring for my calfskin Antares saddle, which I didn't buy from her (I bought if before I knew about her site, sadly, although I do love my saddle), and she was happy to discuss with me.

 Leah rides competitively and understands the needs of riders in various disciplines and at different levels. She's out there seeing what other people are using and what's working or not. If you ask for her opinion on a brand, you'll get it.


Even though I didn't buy my saddle from her, I would have, because she allows trials. Most people on ETT and the other FB sites--or eBay--won't allow trials, for understandable reasons. But she knows that saddle fitting can be hard, and so you can send your saddle back after a five day trial if it isn't going to work for you.

One of the things I love about Redwood Tack is how beautiful the photos are. The photography is so appealing. It's hard to take a good picture of a bridle, but she pulls it off.

I've engaged in various forms of transactions with Leah: I've bought stuff outright (like Beval stirrup leathers for $35 today when I discovered that my 20yo Crosby leathers on my dressage saddle were moldy--and not the saddle, JUST the leathers); I've done full and partial trades on items (like Mo's bridle, which I paid very little for once I sent her all the girths he'd outgrown, and which is my favorite thing ever); I've sold her stuff. All of these transactions have been painless and I always feel like I got a good deal. Further, now that I've done many transactions with her, she knows what kinds of stuff I like (I can't bear a laced rein, for instance) and can evaluate products for me based on my personal tastes.

So if you want to jump on the used tack bandwagon, I highly recommend Redwood Tack. With free priority shipping on EVERY order, there's nothing not to love. And instead of giving your money to a corporation that may or may not be looking out for you, you're helping another adult ammy who will always do her best to make sure you're a repeat customer.

Oh, and one other thing: like all of you, she's totally down with the Rainbow side of the Riding Rainbow agenda. Gotta love that too.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Everyday Gear: Jumping Edition

I know I'm way behind on this blog hop, so instead of hopping, I'm just gonna pretend I thought of it first.

I'm a first class tack ho and I really love my gear. I'm splitting this one up between jumping and dressage because I haven't got the dressage pictures I really want yet.

First off, Moses.

How Mo dresses for a jump school.
Wait, no. Let's try again.

More along the lines of my idea.
There's nothing I don't love about his current setup. Starting from the head: The bridle is an Antares figure-8 that I got used and am completely in love with. He also seems to really like it, and is going great in it. I finally have M's permission to use it because he loves to open his mouth and flip me off. In his mouth is a loose ring KK, which is pretty much what I flat everything in.

The browband is from Tack Shack Ocala. I know, it's criminal to take anything Antares off the horse and put on something lesser, but it's so great. It's got a navy diamond inlay and grey padding. I adore it.

AND it was cheap!

Lately, the breastplate we've been schooling in is the Harwich elastic one that I got for almost $0 used. I put a wither strap on it since these pictures were taken, which keeps it out of my way and gives me another handle if shit gets wild. It's fine. I don't love it but I'll use it. (Also, does anyone know how to clean up the elastic on these things?) I also have an Antares breastplate I got for a steal awhile back, and it's a tiiiiiiiny bit too big for him, really, but I can make it work on the tightest holes. Although I never do this with anything else, I'm currently reserving that one for showing. I've schooled him in it enough to know that it works and fits, and since it's so freaking gorgeous and I won't be able to replace it (these NEVER show up used and I'm not spending $300 on a breastplate these days), that's the call I'm making.

Rocking Antares breastplate and rainbows everywhere.
That's how we do.
I always jump in my Nunn Finer neckstrap. I think it might technically be Bartlestville, I dunno. It looks precisely like Mary's neckstrap, which is Nunn Finer. Who cares. I could use a stirrup leather. I like it because it's thin and easy to hold. If I think Mo might be a butt, I put it on for dressage schools and trail rides, too. If it isn't there and I need it, I'm sad.

The saddle, stirrup leathers, and girth are also Antares. I have a problem, I know. But they're SO GREAT. I am seriously in love with that saddle.

My love.
I use Royal Rider composite stirrups, the non-flex variety, as I remain terrified of flex. My ankles are the worst, y'all, and in Fillis irons, two hours after a normal jump school I would have difficulty walking. So when I found these used for like $35, I pounced. I didn't even know they were Royal Riders until they arrived. I use the rubber pads instead of the cheese graters because I'm afraid of cheese graters near calfskin, and the rubber pads are working fine.

My half pad is an Ogilvy, which I love. This past weekend I washed the cover for the first time (I've had the thing for about 18 months) and it came out looking perfect. When I can afford it, I'll get a dressage Ogilvy too, or I'll put it on my Christmas list or something. The obsession is real.

The baby pad in the Mo pic above is also Ogilvy, also used (are we sensing a theme here?). I love it, and I hope to have nothing but Ogilvy pads in the future, but I have a bunch of different schooling pads of a variety of brands and they're all fine. I need a bunch of saddle pads, because I wash my pads after every ride, unless the horse didn't sweat AT ALL and was clean. I'm neurotic, I know. Polo wraps get washed every time, too.

I typically boot up for jump schools, especially at M's, because her poles are ridiculously heavy. Mo pulled a rail with a hind leg once and his leg got all swollen, so now: boots. 

The fronts are Majyk Equipe XC boots. I bought them on the strength of everyone's reviews and the one-year guarantee and all that jazz. The fronts have been fine, but within about a dozen uses, the binding on the hind boots started to come undone. I was surprised, so I contacted ME, and long story short, they're all "you've owned those boots for ten months and that kind of thing could happen in ten months," and I'm like "I guess you aren't taking me at my word that I've hardly used them and also if they're supposed to fall apart after ten months, what's the one year guarantee for?" But we've worked out a kind-of truce. I'm not impressed with their customer service, to say the least, but I'll keep using the fronts until they give up the ghost, too. The hinds are just Woof boots. They're not changing my life, but they're doing their job.

So that's the little horse. Here's the big guy.

I freaking love him.
So this isn't quiiiiiite gonna be accurate. The fact of the matter is, I've hardly been jumping Red. I don't have the footing to jump him at home, and I almost always ride alone here (for those who didn't know, Red lives at my house and Mo lives at M's). So this was a photo from an ordinary ride, but an ordinary ride for him these days is flatwork. Pretty soon I'm going to have to school him in the dressage saddle more. Anyway, he's sporting a fancy stitch Nantucket bridle, from the Smartpak line. I got it new (!!!!) but on clearance for $50. They've discontinued this one, which is a shame. I love it. It's not Antares, but it's very very nice. The flash is a CWD that I got used, and I took the laced reins off this bridle and replaced them with Edgewood rubber reins (used). He also goes in a rare fancy-stitched Edgewood breastplate (used) and an Antares hunter girth (USED DUH). The saddle and half pad are the same that Mo goes in. Pictured is a white PRI jump pad, but I end up riding him in the pads I've made myself a lot of the time. He's got on polo wraps here, but for an actual jump school I'd trade those for his Equifit boots. I'd also add my trusty neckstrap. He's using a loose ring KK here, but I jump him in a loose ring Waterford.

So there you have it. As Bill Steinkrauss said, "Quality is the best economy." I absolutely believe this to be true in all areas of horsemanship. That doesn't mean the most expensive thing is the best quality, but if I take care of my gear (and I do, I love cleaning tack), it should last me a very very long time, and keep my horses comfortable. The fact that I love looking at both of them tacked up doesn't hurt my feelings, either!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Let's Do This Thing: Dressage Edition

So as I mentioned in my "stuff I forgot" post yesterday, I've got this new goal of getting my bronze medal. I think it's achievable. I have two nice horses and an excellent coach, so all I have to do is learn to ride.


It doesn't help that the other day I really hurt my back and now I'm taking this whole week off from riding and all other fun things. Blah. 

But before I injured myself, I told M that I want to do some dressage lessons on Red, and she's like "all righty!" because she loves dressage and lessons. I didn't tell her about the bronze medal thing. I'm still not telling her. She needs to see that I can be successful in dressage and get done what she needs me to get done, so that when I do tell her she's like "EXCELLENT" instead of like "bwahahahaha." You know? Timing matters! (That's what the dressage riders say!)

Poor guy has no idea he's going to dressage
I took him over on Saturday morning. M has given me lessons on him before, almost all jumping, so this time I figured we'd be doing a lot of trotting on the 20m circle while she fixed what she didn't like, and boy was I ever right.

Here's the thing about Red: he does not have a dressagey understanding of the contact. He was ridden in quite the bit/martingale combination as a show jumper, and I just don't think he's got the sense that the outside rein is there to be his support buddy. And until he has that piece, the rest of it can't show up. I mean, he's got rhythm and relaxation down (though who knows what will happen to those at the horse shows). So connection is next, and I'm thinking we'll struggle for a few days and then have a breakthrough and then he'll have that piece for life. Impulsion will be easy. Straightness will be hard, but with M's help, we'll get it. Collection? I don't know how easy that will be for him, but by the time we get there, I think he'll have a lot of different muscles.

So on Saturday what M wanted to accomplish was getting him to release the base of his neck into the contact. At home, he'll trot around with his nose on the ground and no rein contact at all, but that's not quite what we're after. I do think he needed no-reins stretching stuff for his mind and his body, so now we're ready to move on.

Horse or hippo?

The lesson was almost entirely on a 20m circle. Sometimes we'd get it to 10m and leg yield out to try to encourage that outside rein connection. There was a lot of counterbend to get his shoulders where they needed to be, and then transitioning to true bend with the goal of not having an inverted horse. At one point each direction, M walked next to me and held the reins and told me what to do with my legs. She said that she'd have climbed up there had she not been wearing shorts. This was more fun, though, because I got to feel what the rest of his body was doing. He seemed worried about her doing that, so I said, "It's okay, buddy," and she said, "I'm not okay! Tell this bitch to let go of my reins!" I love her.

So now my homework for the week is to get him into the outside rein like a proper horse. It's amazing, he's 17 and can't do this, but his genuine desire to be a good boy will make it quick, I think. Anyone else retraining an older horse to a new discipline?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Couple Things I Forgot

1. I forgot to mention that Mo came in fourth at JUMP! There were twelve in the division. I think five had clear rounds, two riders fell off on course. I clearly wasn't pushing the time. I didn't even set my watch.

Gorgeous ribbon, huh? I need to start a ribbon wall.
2. The bogey fence we jumped for extra credit was the swoopy rail over the kiddie pool. I didn't think any horse on the property would jump that shit--I mean, rubber duckies?--but Sharon was yelling at me to try it and since I was officially sitting on the Bravest Horse Ever, I just did. I can't express the joy it brought me except to say that I was too excited to smile. I thought I was going to throw up.

3. Like SprinklerBandit, I've also been secretly thinking of getting my bronze medal. Soooo now Red is in dressage training. I have a feeling the third level scores will be on Mo in several years, but I'm hoping to get some points on the board with Red. Lesson recap to follow. I'm very excited to have a plan for him.

4. I learned how to make ribbon browbands when I helped out with pony club camp. This one is for SB. THE COLOR MATCHING OPPORTUNITIES ARE ENDLESS YOU GUYS.

Monday, July 13, 2015


That's what it feels like, anyway. M was coaching a school at Gordonsdale last Thursday and invited me to go. I'm SO NOT going to pass up that opportunity (what. is happening. to me). So back onto the trailer went Mosey and off we went.

This time, he started out a little more up and wild than last time. I lunged him before I got on and he trotted around like a madman for awhile and then stopped to eat grass. But getting on didn't settle him immediately this time, so I still had another 10-15 minutes of work to do to organize the trot/his brain. We had two pony club kids and one adult ammie riding with us. They were all looking at me like "oh jesus the green horse again," but I knew that once we started jumping he'd be fine.


Soooooo like remember how logs used to look like the Great Wall of China to him or something? At this school he warmed up over bigger logs than he'd been asked to jump at Loch Moy, and it was no biggie at all. Within the first few minutes of the jump warmup, he trotted a course of four logs that involved going away from the group. I was impressed with him. He handled the day really well. There was one very freaky looking brush jump that he thought was scary, but he never stopped at it. And everything we did last time, he was all about doing this time, too. He gave me zero hesitation about anything he'd seen before. We even did the bank into the water like he'd been doing it for a year.

M is incredibly excited about him, as am I. He's made a huge breakthrough. I don't think he'll get another XC schooling in for a couple of weeks, but that's totally fine. He's proven his point for now. There's some work to do in dressage, because he's got a schooling dressage show coming up and I'm going to enter Intro B and C. And C has cantering.

Scary brush at Gordonsdale used hay bales for the ground line. Ha.

You know that feeling when you'd rather point your green horse at the 3' brush jump than try to canter in the dressage ring? Is that what it means to be an eventer?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Even though the Gordonsdale XC school wasn't all that I'd dreamed of in terms of exposing him to a zillion new jumps, off we went on Saturday to the most fun you can have at an event derby: Sharon White's JUMP! 2015. It's a fundraiser for her. We'd entered Elementary, a barely noticeable step up from Intro. And we entered Elementary because there wasn't an Intro division. Ambitious, eh?

I don't know if it's possible to love Mo more than I already do. That horse was freaking foot perfect on Saturday from start to finish.

First of all, he loaded on the trailer like a champ. That evoked a sigh of relief. I drove him over there without any fuss and my good friend (who is also a vet, which is convenient if the stripey faced one got hurt) met me there to help out. The best thing about having a vet help you at a horse show: if your horse is a butthead, she's not afraid to handle it. Fortunately, we didn't test that aptitude.

He tacked up fine, lunged great, and then I walked him past alllllllllll the chaos: tents, flags, people wearing insane orange outfits or decked out in American flag crap (orange and white are Sharon's colors and it was the fourth of July, so people got awards for outfits. I wore an orange shirt but that was my only nod to the color thing). He was looking around (allowed) when the loudspeaker came to life when we were RIGHT under it. Whoops. Baby horse came totally. unglued.

Fortunately, my vet buddy was like "take him in the indoor!" which is where the warmup jumps were anyway. On an ordinary day, I think he might have found the indoor spooky, but since it muffled the sound of the demon loudspeaker--the announcer, by the way, was Brian O'Connor--he took a deep breath almost immediately. I hand-walked him for a couple laps and then hopped on. And man, is he ever a nice horse. He just relaxed right into a very nice trot and warmed up over the jumps great.

I was a little worried about riding him back out of the indoor, past all the insanity, and down to the jump field, which was PACKED with jumps. The way the course worked was that the first four jumps were stadium jumps, and then you'd transition right to XC, and last four jumps (in my course, two three-stride lines) were SJ jumps. After going through the finish flags, you'd have an opportunity to jump a "bogey" fence--either a chevron or a swoopy rail with a kiddie pool under it, complete with water and rubber duckies. I'm not sure if a stop at the bogey fence could hurt you, but jumping it would take four seconds off your time (so you wouldn't want to jump it if you'd been going too fast, I guess!).

All photos by GRC Photo

Anyway, I shouldn't have worried about taking him past the zoo and down to the field, because he had his big boy pants on and walked down on a loose rein like a genius. We waited our turn and then it was time to go!

My heart melts.

For the first time at a horse show with Mo, the announcer made a "Go Big" joke: "I guess if they don't go big, they'll have to go home." Cheesy, but it did put a smile on my face as I made the turn to jump 2.

You can see the smile if you zoom in.
I really like his approach to jumping. He's got quite the coil-and-spring, and he's neat with the front end, as he demonstrates over fence 4 here. You could see essentially this same series over any of the jumps. (PS: I bought the photo card, because it was $50 for 83 pics, and the proceeds went straight to Sharon. He was so good and I'm always running so short on media around here that it seemed like a no-brainer). I love how consistent he feels at his fences at this height. A lot of green horses are all over the place, but he has really great instincts.

He thought the first XC fence was a little funky, so he jumped it bigger than strictly necessary just to make sure.


And then afterwards, just excellence from the little man. His confidence grew, as it should on an XC course at a venue like this, and eventually he was taking me to the jumps.

I SEE IT!!!!
He was clearly having fun. I mean, look at that face.


He went right into the water, because he loves water. Water is splashy, after all.

I think he wants to be an event horse.
I'd let him canter a little between jumps (and would have let him canter to jumps if he'd wanted to, but he still likes to trot jumps sometimes, and I AM NOT GOING TO ARGUE WITH THAT RIGHT NOW). But when he trotted, it was on a soft contact. I really didn't have to arm wrestle him much.

Although he IS still Mo so there was a bit of "celebrating" after jumps he found impressive.

I really think we'll be going BN in the fall. I mean, I think he'll like jumping things a little bigger since he already jumps like this even when he's relaxed. And while our canter departs aren't 100% yet, as Bruce Davidson says, "If you wait for the dressage, you'll never jump."

He leaves the ground like he's an arrow being shot from a bow.

It was interesting to me to see how he'd handle the transition back to show jumps at the end of the course, but he rocked it. Of course.

And then all that was left to do was canter through the finish flags...

Notice how my genius baby also cleared the dead grass.
And jump the bogey fence, which I'm sad to say is not pictured. And then he was done, and I jumped off. Did he prance around and take the chance to look at exciting stuff? Nope. Put his head down and grazed with the happiest look on his face while my friend and I stared at him with hearts for eyes.

Is there a better young horse around Area II right now? Who knows, but there's not a better one for me. We have our horrible moments and I call someone and cry and I feel all sorry for myself, but... I think he's the real thing. I know this was just elementary, but he loved it out there. And he did absolutely everything right. There's no crystal ball, so who knows how he'll do as the jumps go up. Part of me doesn't care, because he's so much fun that I'll ride him at whatever level he's comfortable at. But I also know that he's the most exciting-in-a-good-way horse that I have ever ridden. Most pros will tell you that they're all for sale for the right price, but right now I'm really not sure that having a million dollars would make me happier than having this horse.