Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How do you handle "can my kid come ride your horse"?

Every horse owner has had this conversation at some point.

"Oh, you have a horse, no way! Hey, little Jimmy really loves animals. Can he come and ride your horse?"

If you haven't had this conversation, you are either far luckier and/or more unapproachable than I am. Teach me your secrets, please.

I don't dislike kids. I don't have any myself, and unless my personality, lifestyle choices, and personal goals all change dramatically in the next few years, I probably won't have any.

I have a nephew that I adore, cousins, so on and so forth.

But the question of "can my kid ride your horse?" is a fraught one.

I don't have any media of kids on my horse for privacy reasons, so enjoy these throwbacks to last year's foliage ride through Groton State Forest.

First: it's in how it's framed. The best, most polite version of this that I've encountered takes into account my busy schedule, their kid's actual level of interest, and does not include the expectation that the child will be riding. Those people usually listen when I tell them that they have to sign the barn's release form, their kid has to wear appropriate footwear and a bike helmet, and that my rules and my instructions are absolute dictates.

The worst is some variation on "we're coming on Sunday! kiddo really wants to ride! don't disappoint us!" I've gotten that one too. That gets endless "Nope, sorry, too busy!"

For me, having kids on Tristan is fraught. It takes the place of one of my own riding days, because I don't have enough time to spend at the barn to do kid stuff and ride. I have to basically enter my professional persona, the part of my brain that assesses kids and their reaction and scales my teaching appropriately. And I have to worry - about the chaos that is small children around a barn, about annoying the other boarders, about the dumb things that often happen around horses happening to a friend and/or their child.

That being said: I've done it a number of times. I would and will do it again. I think it's important both for my own friendships (people are really weird about their kids) and to expose kids to horses, and to teach them how to interact appropriately with animals and to be in an agricultural environment.

Which is a long way of saying that a friend and his four year old visited the barn this week. He definitely falls into the former category, and I've know the boy for some time - he's brave, smart, and sweet, and his parents set good boundaries for him.

Plus, giving a pony ride is Tristan's favorite way to spend the day. He gets to amble along slowly and carefully. He is a rockstar. He can tell when people are a bit unbalanced on his back, and he thinks hard about where to put every single foot. Let me assure you that Tristan would love nothing better than to give pony rides to small children all day! (Well, nothing except sleeping in a field, but if he has to work for a living, doing as little work as possible is the idea.)

The visit went well. I established ground rules - no running, and inside voice only, because horses get scared easily - and had the boy help me brush him, then stand and watch while I picked Tristan's feet. It's important to me that I never present a tacked-up horse to a kid. I always make them wait and help to groom and then tack up.

The boy did great; I've had a lot of kids express interest in horses and then freak out once they get there, and refuse touch the horse, or refuse to ride once they've gotten close enough to touch. He was game to walk all around the ring, and even asked to go fast. (Nope, sorry, kiddo!) I put down a pole so he could feel Tristan picking up his feet a little bit. Then I got on and showed him a trot and a canter both ways, partially to get Tristan some semblance of exercise. Then we untacked and groomed him again. By then, the kid's brain had pretty much run out, but 40 minutes is a long time for a four year old to behave so well and do so many new things! I would have him back if it fit into the schedule.

So: have you done pony rides for friends' kids? How do you handle it? (I'm assuming that those of you who have kids of your own put them on a horse as soon as they can hold their own heads up.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Experimenting with a running martingale + 2pointober update

Let's get the 2pointober update out of the way: I'm up to 1:50. So...crawling along, basically.

As much as I want to be in the hunt for the awesome prizes, I think that my utter lack of physical activity and exercise beyond riding is hindering me a bit. Don't get me wrong: I am trying to chip away at fixing that (more walking at work, walking to work when I can) but my job is sedentary and so are most of the rest of my hobbies. And I fucking hate working out. Hate it. It's the actual fucking worst. Don't try to convince me otherwise.

Anyway. I digress.

Tristan is still having fun hijinks while outside. Result: he never sets foot outside without his Big Bit. Life is easier when we have one unpleasant conversation about what he is not allowed to do rather than let him bully me around and flail for 15 minutes as I make futile attempts to stop him using his usual snaffle.

Last week, after much pondering, I added a new tool to my strategy: a running martingale.

It may seem absurd, but I've never actually ridden this horse in a running martingale before. He's a perfect candidate for it. His default naughty behavior has always been to fling his head in some way, usually as a precursor to then slamming his shoulders around. Up, sideways, both at the same time, you name it: his neck and head are over-proportioned for his body and they are his first fallback.

(this is where I acknowledge that were I a better rider I would have gotten him past this; I'm not and I didn't and let's just assume we've had that guilt-trip and move on)

I don't know why I've never tried it. I even own one that has sat, unused, for several years now. I have no good reasons. Partially because no trainer I've ever ridden with has suggested it, and it's only fairly recently that I've felt more free to tinker with things by myself. Partially I've felt like a failure in figuring things out myself. Partially he HAS been mostly manageable without it.

Well, last week I finally decided to try it and see what would happen.


So. Let's talk about this, with a few caveats. First, the breastplate + martingale I borrowed were too big for him. I tightened as much as I could but I could not get it perfect nor did I feel like I needed to for a test run. Second, I did not have rein stops. I should've had rein stops. Younger, smarter, more cautious me would've had rein stops. Next time.

How did it work?

Pretty darn well, except for one moment when it didn't.

Overall, I'm going to keep adding this in to our routine from time to time.

The good: it pretty immediately nipped our problems in the bud AND really helped with the thing where in warmup he feels like he has to stuff his ears up my nose to try and avoid using his body. He flung his head to the sky, he found he could not, and faster than I've seen in a long time, he put his damn head back down and settled in to work.

So, when it really worked, it worked a lot like a chambon, my favorite piece of gear for him when longeing. Great!

When it didn't work so well it was because he felt like it was forcing him to work in ways that he did not want. In particular, picking up the left lead canter when he could not fling his head around to help fall into it was hard. I am actually putting this in the success column. There was some pretty ugly flailing.

There was one moment where it really didn't work.

That moment came near the end of our ride. The barn manager was leaving for the day, coming up the hill in her truck. I was coming around to the side of the ring with the opening that faced back toward the hill and down toward the barn.

As we rounded the corner, Tristan saw the truck. Now: he's not really a spooky horse, but sometimes he does startle in place, and when we've been outdoors he has sometimes used this startle in place as an excuse to launch himself. And that's what happened here: he startled briefly, went "FUCK ALL THIS," and took off. 

Except...he couldn't take off. And when he hit the martingale hard, after flinging his head up hard, he lost his brain for a couple of seconds. He felt trapped. And he responded to that by going backwards at a high rate of speed.

It was very quick; he took maybe two strides while I was surprised, I kicked him hard for another stride or two, then realized that wasn't working, then turned him hard to the outside. That stopped it: he realized he could in fact go forward.

That was the only incident. We worked a little more to make him realize that he didn't need to freak out, and ended up getting some nice moments in the canter.

Overall? I'll definitely be doing this again. I hope it will continue to help.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

House Post: Moar Plaster; or, Horse Girls Get Shit Done

My office renovation continues to crawl along.

I swear there is not a single square foot of this damn room that does not need plaster.

Including every corner. Every single one. Everywhere a wall meets a wall. Everywhere a wall meets a ceiling. Gaps. Crumbling plaster. Awfulness.

I've done corners in other rooms. I hate it. It's a pain in the ass wedging the plaster in there using the spatula. So I was casting around for a different idea.

And I had a brilliant one.

Let me count the ways in which having a horse has made me more competent and creative. So many ways. This is definitely one of them.

I stopped by Tractor Supply and picked up a 60cc syringe with catheter tip. I filled it with plaster.


Instead of hours carefully wedging plaster into those gaps, with the attendant endless sanding that would've been required, I squirted in a line of plaster and then followed up with my corner trowel.

Now, there is still endless sanding, but way WAY less. And instead of getting frustrated and quitting halfway through like the toddler I often mentally am, I did every corner. Every one.

I'm now halfway through sanding them, and it's not even that bad, as sanding goes.

Hopefully soon - maybe next week - I'll have some overall project photos to share that include paint color!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Weekly Blog Roundup

Couple of blog posts from the greater world today.

Shoulder-In by Jane Savoie
I always like Jane's explanations of movements, with good step by step things to think about.

Doing everything by yourself from The Reeling
Yeah. I feel this. I'm in a great boarding barn but 95% of the time I'm there totally by myself. My husband is determinedly non-horsey. I can't even take my dog to the barn because she's a nutcase.

New Hampshire Equitation and Hunter Finals from Breeches & Boat Shoes
I still don't get hunters, but I loved this show recap.

And one non-horsey read that I think horse people will still appreciate:

An Organic Chicken Farm in Georgia Has Become an Endless Buffet for Bald Eagles from Audobon
I am endlessly fascinated by balance, and trying to keep things in balance as we learn more about sustainability.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Vermont Horse Blogger Meetup!


Through a confluence of exciting events (chief among them Lauren of She Moved to Texas being in town) we're putting together a Vermont Horse Blog Meetup (tm)!

Our barn is the prettiest.

If you are New England-ish, and want to come hang out with us, please do! (By us, I mean Lauren and also Emilie from Because Pony and maybe a few other cool horse people.)

Dates are Saturday night, November 5 through midday Sunday, November 6.

If you'd like to come up Saturday and stay overnight, I can offer a place to crash as long as you're ok with an air mattress and animals (an energetic Boxer mix pup and a standoffish fluffy cat).

We'll do Something Fun (TBD) on Saturday night, and then on Sunday we'll hang out at our barn.

If you have ever wanted to meet/and or ride a lazy mustang or an adorable Haflinger, now is your chance. Shoot me an email at and say hi!

But I will be honest: it will probably look more like this.