Saturday, November 30, 2013

Small Business Saturday

Someday soon I'm going to do a proper product review for HorseTech. Until then, know that they are a truly outstanding company that makes a quality product. Tristan has been on their supplements for many years now and I've never been less than 100% satisfied.

Today, Saturday, they are participating in Small Business Saturday. Order anything from them and use the code SMALL10 to get 10% off your order.

They don't just sell supplements - they've got a great line of cooling boots, and they carry the Muck Company boots.

Happy shopping! I'm going to re-up on Tristan's current supplement (High Point Grass, with added biotin) today to take advantage of the sale.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Post-Thanksgiving Chores

When my alarm went off this morning, I regretted signing up for chores the day after Thanksgiving, especially with the temperatures in the low single digits to start the day. Within an hour or two of work I was glad I had, though - my body warmed up with exercise, and it was a good excuse to burn turkey calories.

By the time we finished chores, I felt warmed through and was pleasantly surprised to see that even though I felt like the day was turning nice, it was only 16! I saddled Tristan and worked him for about 25 minutes, not hard, keeping the focus on forward and stretching and bending, and the last 10 minutes or so put on his new resistance band to rev up the work (about which more later; an idea I borrowed from the COTH forums that I think I like quite a lot).

The best part of today, though, hands down? I have to back up a little bit and first apologize for being a shoddy excuse for a blogger: we've had a foal in the barn since June and I haven't once mentioned her.

Her name is Greta, and she was born in early June. Mom is a Hungarian Warmblood, and dad is Gaucho III, an Andalusian. I got to meet her for the first time when she was about ten hours old and I've seen her nearly every day since then. She's beautifully put together, inquisitive, smart, spunky, and fun to have around.

She's being weaned right now and has been having trouble with turnout buddies, so today they asked if it would be ok for her to to out with Tristan. Tris's usual response to turnout buddies is to completely ignore them, and he had after all been in a mixed herd when he was wild, so I felt pretty good about his potential behavior.

When we introduced them Greta made baby faces at him - flapping her lips and stretching out her neck - and half-nibbled at his face a bit. He just sighed and stared her down, and only flattened his ears and flipped his head when she actually connected with her teeth. When we let them loose together, he totally ignored her and wandered about his new big field, eating the loose hay on the ground and digging through the snow to get at the withered grass underneath. When she bucked and ran around after her mother was brought in, he picked his head up, sighed, and went back to eating grass.

He'll be babysitting for the foreseeable future. I'm pretty proud of him. :)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

On this Thanksgiving day, I am profoundly, desperately thankful for Tristan.

I am thankful that he is my best friend and that he carries my heart with him.

I am thankful that the incredibly stupid gamble I took eight years ago, of adopting a horse on a minimum wage salary, has paid off and while I am not and never will be rich, I can give him everything he needs.

I am thankful that his shoulder is the perfect height to cry on.

I am thankful for the soft, fuzzy absurdity of his winter coat, that I can sink my hand into it and lose my fingers.

I am thankful for the thick tangle of his mane, in which I can twist my fingers and make a fist and just hold on.

I am thankful for the soft sweet grass scent of his nose.

I am thankful for the moment of fear and joy combined that rises in me when he finds another gear in his gallop as we head up the hill.

I am thankful for his expressive eyes, which so often look at me dubiously, and tell me that I really should just chill out and go for a hack instead.

I am most of all thankful that one year ago I didn't know if I would ever ride him again - and it has been such a long year - but last night I pressed my knuckles down into his neck and stood in the stirrups while he bucked and cavorted underneath me for a few seconds in the canter.

(in the peaceful quiet you create for me / and the way you keep the world at bay for me)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Product Review: Nunn Finer Soft Grip Reins

Nunn Finer Soft Grip Reins

I have stubby fat fingers. Fitting anything to my hands is tough. Most rubber reins are rubber over some other material, and are thick and stiff. This is almost undoubtedly more durable and sturdier. But it meant that I could not for the life of me use them. It was like holding thick fat crayons between my fingers - there was no subtlety to them at all.

A few years ago, when I decided I wanted rubber reins, I went to Equine Affaire, and I pawed over every single pair of rubber reins I could find. I came away from that day with a solution: these reins. Out of every single pair of rubber reins at that massive, massive trade fair, these were the best: the softest, the most malleable, the thinnest, and the highest quality. I put them on my wish list and two years later, received them for Christmas. I got the white ones, which I think look awesome and which I'm pretty sure most people secretly think are tacky.

I have no idea what I'm doing in this picture,
but look how awesome those white reins look!
They have lived up to their promise 100%. I've schooled in them, showed in them, hacked in them, you name it, and they remain exactly what I hoped for. So if you've got small hands and short fingers, or you struggle with the stiffness of typical rubber reins, these are for you.

Monday, November 25, 2013

More Longeing & Topline Photos

Longed again today. He's starting to really stretch out nicely and get the hang of it. I punched about 5 more holes in the chambon...and it's still too long. Whoops. Punched three more after the session and hopefully next time it will actually kick in.

We did: 3 minutes walk both directions; 3 minutes trot both directions; 3 minutes trot both directions over cavaletti (set up in alternating half-heights, about 6" up, 4 poles in a row), then put the chambon on and did 4 minutes in each direction: 1 minute walk, 2 minutes trot, 1 minute canter.

He was definitely getting a little tired by the last session but still did nicely. A little warm, but thankfully not sweaty - but then again it had just hit 20 as our high of the day when I got to the barn, so there wasn't much heat transference going on.

My sad moment for the day was when I took a step back while longeing and felt a crunch on my boot...and realized my camera had fallen out of my pocket and in the whole entire indoor, I put my foot on top of it at that moment. I loved that camera. I took it by the computer repair place on the way home and got a repair estimate...that was 2X what a new, nicer camera would cost. Ugh.

Before longeing, though, I finally got topline photos, so here's my baseline for comparison.

You can see the white spot from the saddle rub here. :(

Dear Winter, Go Away

Many people are complaining about their recent cold snaps, so I just thought I'd share a slice of Vermont.

We've been fairly reliably into the teens over night for a week or two, and Saturday night (of course, while my boyfriend and I were driving down to New Hampshire) we got a full-on snowstorm. Whiteout conditions on the highway and a couple of inches on the ground waiting for us when we returned home.

Today, three days before Thanksgiving, it was 6 degrees when I woke up and did not crack double digits until 10:00 am. We are predicted to get to the mid-twenties by this afternoon but I think that's a lie.

Our low for Thanksgiving Day is 1 degree. Yes, one single lonely degree. Let's not even discuss what the wind chill is likely to look at - it's been whipping down into the valleys and cutting through everything like a knife.

If it does indeed keep warming up I will head to the barn this afternoon and longe, but - yeesh. This is unusual even for cold, snowy Vermont.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Horse Cookies!

I am an avid baker. One might even characterize me as obsessive. On any given day off, I've usually got something in the oven, and it's usually a new recipe - or a recipe that I want to perfect. Case in point: when I got home from a week away, the first thing I did on my first day back was bake three loaves of bread. Two were for us to have, and one was an experiment in progress. (I'm trying to really nail down a good cinnamon apple swirl bread; soooo close!)

Needed more apples, but the next attempt had too many apples.
Recently, I've been thinking that making horse treats would be a fun challenge. I've dipped my toe in these waters before; I have a carrot cake recipe that I've pared down to be more solid and carrot-y. I feel like there's more to be done, though. Not because Tristan really needs it, or to replace any money I spend on treats - his favorite thing in the whole world to eat is a plain starlight mint, and as treats go, those are dirt cheap.
This is basically Tristan's idea of heaven.
So here's the plan. Over the next few weeks, I will commit myself to trying or tweaking one horse cookie recipe a week. I'll do a mini food blog of it, and I'll taste test in the barn. If I come to any conclusions, I'll let you all know.

Here are some of the recipes I have bookmarked to try:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Movie Review: White Mane

White Mane (1953)
(available on Netflix streaming, or for purchase on

This has been on my Netflix to-watch list for sometime, if only because at some point I did a search for "horse" and added everything I could.

At only 40 minutes, White Mane is a really sweet, lovely movie about a boy who befriends one of the wild horses of the Camargue in southern France. It is 95% without dialogue, and filmed in black and white in a more documentary style. In fact, the only sound at all is a light soundtrack and some sound effects that are more for imaginary effect than realism (a horse galloping through the water does not make the same noises as a person walking through a puddle, I'm just saying.)

It's very, very French, and filled with "don't try this at home, kids" moments - lots of scary, dangerous things done by everyone involved, from horses to kid to wranglers. It's somewhat nonsensical in its portrayal of the main character, the wild stallion White Mane, who is imbued with all the Black Stallion qualities you could hope for.

In the end, though, it is almost compulsively watchable, incredibly gorgeous, and overall has a dreamy, fairy tale feel to it, even through the long chase scenes. I put it on as background while I caught up on some work at home, and couldn't stop watching.

The ending is...ambiguous and somewhat difficult and somewhat sad. If it tells you anything, this film is by the same director as The Red Balloon. You can choose to elevate the entire story to a fairy tale, and believe the narrator about the fate of the boy and his horse; that's what I'd recommend. The whole movie builds toward a more fantastical interpretation of its own events rather than a realistic one, so it works.

Definitely recommended. In fact, if I'd discovered this as a kid it would've been a top 10 for sure.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Saddle Fit

As I sort of glossed over before I went away: Tristan has developed what can only be a white saddle sore on his withers. Jen at Cob Jockey's post about a possible sore on her horse pushed me to 'fess up more completely about this.

At first, I didn't notice it because he is so roany, and the white growing in looked like an extension of the white in his mane.

Then, each time I worried about whether it was in fact a saddle problem, I investigated. He showed zero tenderness or reactivity when I palpated the spot. When I put the saddle on his bare back there was zero interference. I would even reach down while riding and could still fit several fingers between the pommel and his withers. But after a few weeks I had to admit that there was definitely something wrong.

So what was the problem?

Two things. First and most egregiously, his lack of muscling behind his shoulders/below his withers means that saddle pads tip forward and slide down almost as soon as I start riding. The front of the saddle pad works its way down and puts pressure on his withers - directly in the worry spot.

Second, his jump saddle is no longer a good fit, also due to the lack of muscling. I have ridden in it perhaps a half dozen times in the last two months, and always for hacking out, but the pommel does bump the wither a bit when I sit in it. So while I doubt that flat-out caused the problem, it certainly did not help.

Solution, in two parts.

- Better fitness program, to include longeing and work on building his topline.

- Sheepskin half pad, in which he looks very dashing.

I'm going to start doing weekly topline photos, and we'll see if there's a visual difference.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Product Review: Davis Soaking Boot

In the bad old days when I was soaking Tristan's foot every single day, trying desperately to draw out the abscess that we thought was just stubborn and/or trying to keep the abscess holes clean, soaking was a chore. I used the tried-and-true feed pan method. Result: guaranteed spillage, frustration, and possibly tears. (If you want the whole abscess drama in real time, follow the abscess tag and then the surgery tag.)

One day, I found myself at Smartpak to purchase more Betadine and epsom salts, and cleverly placed alongside those vital supplies was a Davis soaking boot. It was $32.95, and as we know that is pretty darn cheap for something connected to horses. So I bought it. And it changed my life.

I'm not trying to be dramatic, but wow. Why did it take me so long? Within two or three sessions, we went from frustration, anger, and lots of cleanup afterwards to uneventful, straightforward soaking. I would put his foot in the boot, pour the epsom salt/hot water/Betadine in, tighten the velcro, toss a flake of hay in front of him, and he would stand stock still for as long as there was hay on the ground. I didn't even tie him. I often read a book. To this day, that training holds.

Some of the advertising for this boot seems to imply that you could, in theory, fill it and then turn your horse out in it. I believe that to be creativity bordering on bullshit. If you have a boot large enough to hold an appropriate amount of water, it's too large to stay on your horse. Also, it would get trashed, durable as it is. So don't do that. If you truly desperately want something to serve as a hoof dressing during turnout, do the old duct tape method and plan on replacing daily. But if you are looking for a way to make your life easier while soaking, buy one of these. It's a game-changer, and no barn should be without one.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Home again, home again

Got back into Vermont late Sunday night, and after a staff meeting first thing, I headed over to the barn to see Tris.

Report back from the barn manager was that he had been an exemplary lesson pony, if a bit tired at the 40 minute mark. I've been focusing on getting a good ride and then being done, so rarely went beyond 40 minutes. It was good for him to work that hard, I'm sure.

While I was away, I stopped at Dover Saddlery and picked up a new sheepskin half pad. It fits his back nicely and I think it will do the job. It's got plenty of padding, for all that it was one of the less expensive on the list.

I put on his bridle sans reins, his surcingle over his new half pad, and unpacked the chambon that arrived in the mail while I was gone.

We longed on a similar schedule as last time: 3 minutes each side, warming up at the walk and then trot, then a bit of canter, without poles. Then I attached the chambon and asked him again for walk and trot both direction, and a bit of canter.

On the plus side: he was going really well! He was moving out, stretching down, chewing, and engaging. On the minus side...none of that was due to the chambon, which needs about eleventy billion more holes to be adjusted for his weird size. So mostly today served to get him used to wearing it, without it ever engaging.

I was really happy with the way he worked, overall, and very glad to see him again.

eta: I am an idiot who totally forgot to add in the most fun part of longeing today, which was that after we finished our circles I trotted him over a very small 2' vertical that was set up from a previous lesson in the ring. As soon as he saw the jump he locked on, went straight for it, and jumped it beautifully. We did twice in each direction, and it was amazing to watch him hunt out the jumps and hold a beautiful canter after them. Tiny baby steps!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The War Horse

I did my master's thesis on the United States Dragoons, the first regular mounted unit in the United States Army, so you might say I have more than a passing interest in war horses.

This post, from an excellent blog that I follow in my other life called Emerging Civil War, describes a beautiful monument outside the Virginia Historical Society dedicated to the horses of the Civil War. It's now on my must-see list, up there with the newly unveiled statue of Reckless at the Marine Corps Museum.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sunshine Award

Hannah nominated me for the Sunshine Award, and said some very kind things about me, and gave me a list of questions to answer. So here we go!

1. Mares or geldings? 
Oh, geldings. Every day, and twice on Sunday. Just...not a mare person.

2. English or western? English! Though I have not much to compare it with, as I've only ridden in Western saddles a handful of times and only gone faster than a walk once. But when I sit in a Western saddle, I feel trapped in an uncomfortable claustrophobic way. There are some super cool things to do in the Western sports - I want to try my hand at cutting someday - but it's not where my heart will ever be.

3. Do you prefer younger or older horses? Older. Babies are cute and all but I have fairly limited patience for toddler/adolescent antics, in humans or equines. There's something special for me about the sweet mellowness of a good older horse.

4. Have you trained a horse from ground zero? Tristan! Every ounce of training he has on him I've done myself, right from learning to pick up his feet and being groomed through to cross-country. Now, jury's out on precisely how successful I've been, but he is a nice horse to handle and be around, so I usually count that one in the positive column.

5. Do you prefer groundwork or riding? Do you know, I almost prefer groundwork? Probably because I'm better at it. I've started some tough horses on the ground and I still like playing with Tristan and adding pieces of his groundwork to make him a fun horse to handle. But I do so love to ride, so this one is practically a draw for me. (I wouldn't be happy never riding again, for example.)

6. Do you board your horse or keep him at home? Board, but I'd like to keep him at home someday - probably when he retires.

7. Do you do all natural things or just commercial stuff? Weird dichotomy. I'm from Vermont, right? So when possible I look for solutions that are low-impact in the environmental sense, but I have zero objections to "commercial" stuff if it does the job.

8. All tacked up or bareback? Usually all tacked up, but bareback is appealing in the winter - so much warmer!

9. Equestrian role model?  Either Alois Podhajsky or Reiner Klimke.

10. What's my one, main goal for my equestrian journey? I want Tristan to be happy and healthy. Everything after that is secondary.

So I am late to this and nearly everyone has been nominated and I'd like to do it a bit differently. If you're reading this, and you have a horse blog, could you do two things for me? Comment on this and tell me about it. I'm trying to expand my horse blog reading. Second, go ahead and steal the questions and answer them, because you are awesome. I know you are. I just might not know you yet. :)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Movie Review: Miracle of the White Stallions

Miracle of the White Stallion (1963)
(available on DVD at

In my world, there are only two perfect horse movies. I'll talk about the other one soon, but one is Disney's 1963 movie Miracle of the White Stallions, starring Robert Taylor as Colonel Alois Podhajsky.

Miracle tells the story of a very fraught period in the history of the Spanish Riding School: 1945, when the school was under Nazi reign and in a Vienna that was in constant danger. Podhajsky - arguably the school's greatest director, and one of the great dressage riders of the 20th century and perhaps of all time - persevered to save not only the school and its stallions, but also the mares and foals from the stud farm in Piber. It's based on Podhajsky's memoir My Dancing White Horses, which has been out of print for many, many years and which I would dearly love to read someday.

Make no mistake: this is a movie of its time. There are precisely two mentions of concentration camps; both are fleeting and neither acknowledges the Holocaust. There are Evil Nazis and there are Good Men Who Happen to Be Nazis. There are gosh-darn American GIs, the pacing is not the greatest, and let's not even talk about the gender politics, though the movie does actually pass the Bechdel Test and arguably Podhajsky's wife Vedena gets some of the film's best lines.

Disney pulled out all the stops on this movie. It was filmed on location, using the actual SRS stallions and riders. Alois Podhajsky was Robert Taylor's stunt double. There are long segments that watch more like one of those old Disney nature documentaries than a feature film - long, sweeping, gorgeous shots of herds of beautiful horses, pleasant historical narration, and minimal plot for chunks.

It seems like someone involved with this movie also realized they were filming history in action: there are extended sequences of training and performance with the SRS stallions and riders, multiple examples of the Airs Above Ground, long, loving, sweeping views of the quadrilles. Transitions are flawless, and the concentration of the stallions is fierce and comes right through the screen. The movie, intended as a commercial success, has become a historic artifact.

I can't be alone in my childhood obsession with this movie in particular and the Spanish Riding School in general. I rented and watched the VHS more times than could possible be counted, and when I wasn't watching the movie I was re-reading Marguerite Henry's White Stallion of Lipizza (which I am delighted to see is back in print, Christmas list ahoy!). As an adult, Podhajsky's Complete Training of Horse and Rider is my guiding star, one of the few training books that I hold dear to my heart and always find inspiring.

In short: be very aware of this movie's shortcomings, but don't tell me about any of them. Absolute perfection.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

JB Andrews, 1986-2011

I can't remember who first told me about JB Andrew. Probably someone who saw me valiantly trying to teach my little mutt of a mustang to go on the bit and wanted to give me inspiration. But I went home and read all about him, and over the years I followed him from afar. I told people all about him when they seemed surprised that my mustang can be a dressage horse.

Last week, I did an idle internet search for the first time in a long time and found out that JB Andrews died 18 months ago. I'll admit it: I broke down and cried at my desk. At work. At lunch, but still. Ack.

Who was JB Andrews, you may ask? Arguably the most successful BLM mustang of all time. When people talk about BLM mustangs succeeding in traditional sporthorse disciplines, they talk about Andy first - and then they talk about all the other mustangs.

He was captured as a weanling out of a herd in Nevada in 1985, and he was started in a prison program in Colorado - "JB" stands for "Jailbird." His first owner, Ginger Scott, noted that he had some dressage talent and soon a friend of hers named Kelly O'Leary (later Boyd) got the ride.

By 1994, at age 9, he made his debut at Prix St. Georges. He and Kelly trained with Jan Ebeling, and he had matured to an astonishingly large 16.3 hands with size 5 feet. (To give you some context, Tristan is on the high end of average size at 15.1 hands. They are wild animals, who don't often grow to typical domestic sizes.) He wasn't rocking the whole world, but he was competitive and successful, and appeared on national leaderboards.

In 1997, he became the first mustang to appear at Dressage at Devon (and for a long time the only, until Padre was entered as an in-hand stallion).

By 1999, at 14 years old, Andy was showing at Intermediaire II and schooling the Grand Prix movements and tests. He would never make his show ring debut at that level, however, due to deteriorating hocks. He was retired to pasture in 2000.

It's not clear to me what exactly he died of, but an article mentions that a malignant carcinoma was found behind his eye in 2009, so it seems safe to assume that's what ended his life.

Rest in peace, big beautiful boy. You continue to inspire me and so many others.

JB Andrew at Kelly Boyd's website
Eurodressage Profile: JB Andrew
JB Andrew: Mustang Magic (book at

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Product Review: Chain Shank

Product Review: Chain Shank

This goes hand in hand with last week's ode to the cotton lead rope, but this one is slightly more specialized.

99.5% of the time, I lead Tristan with just the regular cotton lead. He's well-behaved enough that I've been known to just toss the lead rope over my shoulder and let him follow me. In the barn itself, we're working on a "go home" command that sends him to his stall.

Enter the horse trailer.

Tristan hates horse trailers. With fiery passion. Horse trailers mean not only the stress and discomfort of the ride itself, but also the near-guarantee of hard work at the other end. He's pissy enough about them that he will stop and stare at parked trailers in the driveway, quivering in horror, hoping against hope that I won't make him get on.

So, when we haul, we use a chain shank. We have a system: I bring him up to the edge of the ramp or trailer. He is allowed to stand still, and allowed some sidling, but he may not under any circumstances go backwards. When he goes back, it is never just one step: it is a bat out of hell zoom straight back. When that happens, I follow him and shank hard one, two, three times. If he rears (which happens less and less often now but is not unexpected) he gets shanked again and chased back.

When he comes down or stops he looks at me, and he looks at the trailer. He licks and chews. He ducks his head. And then he walks on. It never fails. He just needs to register his complaint, at maximum volume, before he submits.

Hence this chain shank. Tris has no need for a chain shank in his regular life, and I don't want to complicate things by switching lead ropes every time we go anywhere. So this chain snaps to the end of the regular lead rope, and it snaps off again when we're done. Instant chain shank lead. In the meantime, it lives in the trailer's tack trunk. It is an elegant, simple solution to needing a chain shank - but not wanting a whole other lead rope.

Monday, November 11, 2013


I'm away this week at a professional conference in lovely Newport, RI. Tristan is being used a handful of times with some advanced students. He's not really a lesson horse at heart: while he has patience, and is bombproof safe, he doesn't like the kind of work that regular lessons make him do. He tunes out too easily and gets sour. But a handful of lessons from time to time to keep him in work are just fine.

The barn manager sat on him for the first time last week to get a sense of how to have her students ride him, which was neat to see. He was less than pleased, but she got some nice work out of him.

In the meantime, I've scheduled a number of posts about other things for this week, and I'll be gathering horsey tidbits from Newport to bring back!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Discouraging Developments

Tristan has been chuffing right along, but this week we were greeted with a setback. After some lovely long road hacks and some good flat work, two things happened nearly at the same time.

The first is that I pulled off his saddle and finally, sinkingly, acknowledged that the white spot on his wither was not just an artifact of his winter coloring (which does in fact change from season to season) but an actual saddle rub/pressure point. Neither saddle interferes too much, and in fact both fit him well, but with the lack of muscling on his back (still, ugh) saddle pads are slipping down and pushing tight against his withers by midway through the ride.

Soon after that, he got a massage in which we confirmed that he was pretty tight and awful through his left side, in a triangle out from that pressure point, and his muscling is lopsided. My friend, his massage therapist, looked at saddles with me and agreed that they are both essentially good fits - the jump saddle perhaps a bit less so - but that saddle pads almost instantly want to slide back and down.

So a solution, in two parts:

1) A fleece half pad, to be his only saddle pad for a period of time. The idea is the fleece will be forgiving and cushioning and I'll just have to stay on top of brushing it off/cleaning it regularly.

2) Longeing in a regular program. In an ideal world, this would be in side reins. In Tristan-world, this is simply not an option if I want him to develop proper muscles. He has never, ever, ever softened into side reins, and I made another attempt at it a few weeks ago and still he braced and flailed and fought through every stride. They don't have the responsive give that he needs and also he's kind of a jerk and stiff through the jaw anyway, and side reins are just not the right tool for him.

So for now, longeing nekkid, 2x a week, for 20 minutes at a time, 3 minutes per side. Friday night I brought him out and warmed him up at the walk and trot, then set out poles in a circle of death exercise. He started off tripping over them every time, but eventually softened into taking them in stride and doing some stretching over his back.

Here's step 1, at the walk and trot (please ignore my sad pathetic graphic skills):

Then we picked up a canter and he bucked and farted and kicked in and generally was an ass and scared the small child on a pony at the other end of the ring. But he settled down for step 2 at the canter:

Then back to the walk and trot for step 3:

By step 3, he was really hunting out the poles, and with voluminous praise for a) going forward and b) taking the poles in stride, it was kind of fun to see him realize that it could be a game.

Step 1 was 3 minutes to each side, walk and trot, so 12 minutes total; step 2 was 2 minutes to each side (1 at trot and 1 at canter) so 4 minutes total, and step 3 was 3 minutes to each side (1 walk and 2 trot) so 6 minutes, for 22 minutes total. He was a bit warm and clearly a bit tired by the end from all the lifting over the poles and from the concentrated work, but he also responded really well to the exercise.

We'll continue variations on this though probably only once a week because for now it is hard work. On non-pole days I'm going to do some experimenting: I've ordered a chambon from SmartPak after much researching and thinking and deliberating. I think it will help him reach in the right way to build his back, and it has the right give to reward him. We'll only use it on the longe and only for short periods, but I'll report back on progress.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A funeral for riding boots?

If you are into organization or de-cluttering at all, you are probably already following the Unclutterer blog.

If you're not, and you're interested in such things, go check it out.

How is this horse-related? A brilliant post last week about saying goodbye to important objects featured a much-loved pair of riding boots. It's particularly apropos for me because I have a pair of boots that have been with me through many years and many milestones that I will have to throw away very soon. The zipper broke well over a year ago, and I've had them in the corner since then. It might be time.
A few years ago, I had to say goodbye to a pair of riding boots. I’ve been an avid equestrienne for the better part of 30 years and I bought my first pair of REAL riding boots in 1986. I wore these boots in horse shows around the province and in clinics with Olympians. The boots helped me ride at various equestrian centres in nine different cities in four different provinces.
Go read the whole post. It's insightful, and if you've had a piece of well-loved equipment that is past its useful life, it might be just what you need to hear.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Movie Review: International Velvet

International Velvet (1978)
(available on Amazon Instant for $2.99 rental)

This past weekend, I rewatched International Velvet, which is one of my top five favorite horse movies of all time. It's the sequel to National Velvet. The movie begins with Sarah Brown, the daughter of Velvet's younger brother Donald, who was orphaned and comes to live with her aunt in England. They turn out to have a love of horses in common, and Sarah trains up the Pie's last foal to become an eventing superstar, cleverly named Arizona Pie.

This is the kind of movie that does some things really, really right and other things really, really wrong. I rather adore it, for its spirit if nothing else. It captures beautifully the ambition and hard work and joy of horses, and it is a fitting - if sad - sequel to National Velvet in its continuation of Velvet's story.

The things it gets wrong are the usual small silly things: the Pie has transformed from the book's piebald gelding, and even from the movie's chestnut gelding, to a seal bay stallion. He also has to be at least 40, by the universe's internal chronology, and...yeah, no. Some of the details of horsekeeping are just dumb. The cinematic conceit of making everything faster - stronger - scarier in regard to horses holds true; there's one extended chase sequence in particular that would be insanely dangerous and probably kill both Sarah and Arizona. (It still works, though; it's frightening and maddening in equal measure as intended, and the bad guys get a particularly awful comeuppance.)

But oh, the things it gets right. Sarah is a bit of a stereotype, true, but she's the best kind of horse-crazy. Her relationship with Arizona is a little Black Stallion-y but it still works. The best part about her character is how terrible she is with people. In fact, she's not really very likeable. "I'm never going to be what people expect me to be," she confesses to an admiring boy at one point. "Don't feel badly. There's nobody else. It's just me."

The movie really gets eventing, right deep down, and it doesn't fall prey to the usual mistakes about the format of the sport that the handful of other movies about eventing do. In particular, the team selection bits are marvelous. There is a bit where the chef d'equipe explains the politics of team selection that is just perfect.

Possibly my very, very favorite thing about it is Velvet, and her adult life. Her relationship with John (Christopher Plummer in all his glory) is note-perfect in its characterization of a happy loving adult relationship. Her sadness and regret at the way her life turned out is poignant and painful. Remember her mother, who was afraid that swimming the Channel was the only big thing that would happen to her? Velvet, despite her protests, turned out much the same. After winning the Grand National, she stopped riding - she says she "lost her nerve" and later in talking about Sarah said, "All I hoped was, she wouldn't win too early, and afterwards have nowhere to go."

My second favorite thing? Anthony Hopkins as Captain J.R. Johnson, the British chef d'equipe, who basically steals the entire movie from everyone else. He gets all the best lines and all the best scenes. It might be my favorite role of his. Here are just a very few of his selected quotes:
"Oh. Well. We wouldn't exactly call that riding, would we? Staying on a horse, perhaps. Where did you learn to ride?...Oh, in the colonies, yes. Well, that explains it. You realize, of course, that they don't allow cowboys in the Olympics?" 
"No, no, no. Come on! Stop. Start again. This is dressage. It's meant to be like a ballet, Mr. Clark, not a barn dance, or like a pregnant Tom Mix. Don't ask me who Tom Mix was. It's all too long ago, and I can't remember. Now, once more and not with feeling. Please, spare me that." 
"Some of you may have come here with the impression that dressage is frightfully boring compared to the greater glories of the cross country event. That's because you all lack sophistication, amongst other things. 
Now, we come to the cross country event. The cross country event is considered by some, Miss Brown, to be an opportunity to display carefree abandon. This is a mistake for which I would cheerfully re-introduce capital punishment. This is a test of brains. And since horses are only marginally less stupid than some of the people who ride them, an observation which carries with it the experience of a lifetime, I would urge you not to sit on your brains, but to use them."
"Dressage in pouring rain is like dancing Swan Lake in clogs in a bog. The greater glory of the sport was somewhat obscured from view that day." 
Final warning: there is a scene on a plane's quite frankly really horrible. If you don't deal well with animal death, fast forward any of the times they're on the plane, ok?` I do, every time.

In short: absolutely worth it, both as a horse movie and as an eventing movie. We'll just pretend the scene on the plane didn't happen onscreen, and ignore the stupid final resolution of Sarah's storyline.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Blog Hop: Bucket List

Little Bay Princess is hosting a blog hop that many have already taken part in, and I figured it's my turn!

She asked: I want to hear about your equestrian bucket list! I think we all have things, whether they be on paper or in our head, that we would love to do someday. Pick three that are horse related, and tell me a little about them.

Here's the original post.

My bucket list...sigh. I've had many, many bucket list items over the years. Most of them have been dashed by injury, finances, you name it. Here are three current ones:

Schooling at Scarlet Hill, Summer 2012
1) Compete at one schooling or recognized event in the 2014 season.

We were gearing up for a great 2012 season, and then the great coffin bone incident wiped out the end of that, as well as our entire 2013 season. Now, we're less than an hour from some of Area 1's great events at Huntington Farm, Hitching Post Farm, Tamarack Hill, and of course the Green Mountain Horse Association, not to mention the wealth of small schooling shows. This bucket list goal has one big huge flaw in it, unfortunately: I still don't know if Tris will ever jump again. We'll find out this winter. So far, he hasn't shown me any reason to have serious doubts, but I'm forever cautious.

Coach with the hounds on her mare Gracie
2) Go foxhunting.

The reality is that this will probably be second field,  but I really, really want to get out. For the purposes of this goal, cubbing, riding out with the hounds, and all variations on foxhunting count. I don't necessarily have to do a full formal hunt. This goal is somewhat simplified by the fact that my old trainer in Vermont (referred to on this blog as Coach, since she was also my college equestrian team coach) is now the huntsman for the Green Mountain Hounds, and Tristan's massage therapist rides with them regularly.

3) Own my own horse property.

This is my forever goal. It's been my north star for as long as I can remember. I want to be able to retire Tristan to my own back yard, to take in the occasional rescue horse, to have a pony for my kids if that's in the cards, and to be able to see them every day, no matter what. I know it's a lot of work, and I know it's a money pit, but it's where my heart has been for many, many years now.

Blog to Watch: Flatlandsfoto

Joan Davis is one of Area 1's preeminent equine photographers, and she's a near-constant presence at Area 1 events. If you've evented in New England, Joan has taken a picture of you at some point. Along with her husband, Tom Davis, Joan runs Flatlands Equestrian Center in Rehoboth, MA. She calls her photography business Flatlands Foto.

She's begun blogging, and it's a pleasure to read her insights into equine photography and see more of her beautiful work.

Go, follow her and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Product Review: Cotton Lead Rope

Product Review: Cotton Lead Rope


I'm reviewing a lead rope.

But when I said I wanted to write about things that I use every day, and value, and would recommend, I meant it.

This is my favorite lead rope. It is miles and miles away my favorite. It's just the right length to lead Pony Club style (right hand near the halter, left hand at waist holding the looped end). It is just the right thickness to grip easily without overgripping. It is sturdy as all get out: sometimes the ends fray but I've never actually had one of my own unravel or snap.

It's cotton, so on the off chance a horse takes off with you still holding on, it won't give you nearly the rope burn that nylon would. (Someday, I will share my rope burn story. It is not for the faint of heart.) Ditto the round shape: those flat lead ropes are a bitch. The bolt snap is quick and easy to use, and the solid brass means it will hold up better. When it's left out in the rain it just gets heavy, and when it freezes it just gets stiff - and doesn't break when you bend it to loosen up.

It comes in interesting colors. It goes on sale frequently. It rolls up nicely, so you can keep one in every possible place. (Especially if you're like me and keep a halter and lead rope in the trunk of your car just in case you see a loose horse by the road. Oh, Vermont.)

Please note that I accept no imitations on this. There are thinner, lighter versions. There are shorter versions. There are bull snap versions. None of those measure up. This is the 9', 3/4" thick, bolt snap, heavy duty original.

I could write an ode to the simple cotton lead rope, but I'm not a poet, so I leave you with this simple statement: this lead rope is the absolute best.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hacking Out

With the time change, I'm taking advantage of all the light I can on my days off to get out and about. Today we went the furthest up the hill we've been yet: past the end of the road, up into the fields on top of the mountain. We had a lovely long trot and a bit of a canter, and met the farmer who owns the land, who said he loved having people ride up there and he'd mowed around the edges of his corn field for just that reason. Sweet! We'll head back up and properly across the fields next time.

We also had a bit of a trot back toward the barn which turned into a canter in place which turned back into a walk. Once we get definitively out of the way of the barn he gets less crabby and barnsour, but when we head back toward home all bets are off.

His fitness is slowly improving: he's moving more easily up and down the hills and holding his long trots better. We'll keep this up whenever we have light.

Flying Changes on Sale

Heads up!

Flying Changes, by Sara Gruen, is on sale for Kindle today for $2.99.

It's the story of a woman who was an eventing superstar as a young woman until her horse died tragically. As an older woman, she has the opportunity to ride again when her daughter falls in love with horses.

I'm not sure I could qualify this as a good read, but it is highly entertaining and worth the price at $2.99.

I'll have to dig out my paper copy soon and do a review for the blog. In the meantime, go check it out and let me know how you like it! If you've already read it, what did you think?