Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wedding Cake?

I have zero plans to write about wedding planning on this blog (for one thing, reading about me planning a wedding would be even less interesting than reading me writing about paint dry), BUT.

Wedding cake perfection, amirite?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Social Niceties

I got engaged last week. Yay! Not a huge surprise (have been with the boyfriend 5+ years now) but still a happy thing. I was chatting with a friend over the weekend about wedding registries and confessed that I have no clue what to register for. I have every kitchen gadget known to man already. I'm not terribly excited at the idea of matching guest towels. So now I am wondering: registering for horse stuff, kosher or not? Can I surreptitiously slip my Smartpak wishlist in with the invitations? (okay, fine, I wouldn't really do that, but it does seem like a waste of a gift-giving opportunity if I don't ask for something horsey...)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blog Hop: Bit it Up

An excellent and timely blog hop from L. Williams at Viva Carlos!

I wrote once before about the bits I've used for Tristan in the past, and why: Bits I Have Loved.

This past Thursday, Tristan's new bit arrived. It's this Stuebben Loose Ring Snaffle, with the copper bean in the middle. I bought it based primarily on the reviews and the measurement. Tristan needed something thinner in his mouth than the JP Korsteel Loose Ring Snaffle that he'd been in for a while.

The difference of 4mm (18mm for the JP, 14mm for the Stuebben) doesn't sound like much, but it's actually pretty significant!

JP above, Stuebben below.

Things I am very happy with: The thinner bit definitely makes a difference. The copper bean definitely makes a difference. In all, an upgrade. The jaw crossing and tongue sticking out were greatly diminished, and he was happy to mouth the copper bean - he was dripping foam more than he ever has!

Things I am less happy with: I bought the 5" despite the nagging feeling in the back of my head that he needed the 5 1/4", because what 15 hand horse needs a 5 1/4" bit? My idiot horse, that's who.

Now, it's not criminally small, but it is right at the edge of acceptable. He did not object dramatically to it. But, especially with the loose rings, it's a bit too close to the corners of his mouth for my comfort.

The good news is I can either return it to Smartpak OR sell it to someone else in the barn, who has a dainty Lusitano mare that has been going in a 6" (!!!) bit. M. is going to try the bit on the mare this coming week and if it fits her I will sell it to them and order the 5 1/4" for Tristan. Problem solved!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Training Board

About a week and a half ago, I emailed the barn's main trainer, who was now back from Florida. My work schedule is ramping up to a truly ridiculous degree, and will stay at that fever pitch through late June. I'd had a few evenings in which I went to the barn prepared to ride - and could not flog my brain through the basics of dressage. Input/output was broken. I wasn't reacting fast enough, I wasn't processing at all, and I was not riding well.

I asked: in light of my upcoming work schedule, can we talk about partial training board? We talked. I was thrilled with what she outlined. I said yes.

On Wednesday, Tristan had his first proper training ride in many years. It was great in many ways: first, he did not magically become an amazing dressage horse. Whew! So I wasn't riding him all that poorly.

Second, I was able to see pretty clear progress from start to finish, and watch as the trainer's assistant trainer/barn manager M. did things that I would've had trouble doing easily, quickly, and cleanly and moved Tristan through his usual evasions and trouble spots.

Third, she enjoyed riding him! She pegged him right away: stubborn, smart, not terribly supple but with a good understanding of the basics. It was a pleasure to watch Tristan go, to know he was getting a great ride, and to chat with the trainer, who had come to watch.

I'm going to watch a training ride again tonight, and then he'll be on his own riding schedule 2x a week with M. We talked through my goals for him, and what a realistic outcome of six weeks was, and I'm happy all around.

I'll continue to do fitness rides, hill work, hacking out - the stuff that I don't need to engage higher thinking for. Fun stuff, for me. He'll have someone else doing the calculus with him, and I may play around occasionally but it is a huge weight off my mind to know that I don't have to.

I'll try to get pictures tonight - I'm excited to see what his next ride brings!

Monday, May 19, 2014

In Vermont, May is still practically winter...

Sunday: gorgeous sunny day, blue sky, light breeze. We went for a 2 mile hack up and down the road with a friend who's conditioning her new horse. I thought about going up and down the hayfield hill for some additional work, but the trainer was showing a sales horse in the outdoor arena and a galloping mustang probably would've been more excitement than they really needed.

So I untacked and decided to do a bath. I rinsed, and I shampooed, and I rinsed, and I did conditioner, and I rinsed...and then realized I had been scrubbing and bathing for a solid hour and poor Tristan was shivering a little bit.

I promptly felt like the world's worst mom: cold well water, a wash stall in the shade outside, a light breeze, and his flanks were quivering on and off. I scraped off all the excess water and brought him out into the sunshine. He stopped shivering and was perfectly happy to handgraze.

I spent the next two hours worrying about my stupid decision, because that's what I do. When he wasn't drying off as fast as I wanted in the sunshine - which kept going and coming as clouds passed over - I started layering coolers: irish knit on the bottom with a wool dress sheet/cooler on the top. Then I pulled the irish knit and we went back out into the sun for a while. Then I swapped the wool cooler for his rattier fleece cooler, cinched it around his stomach, threw him all the hay he could eat, and checked in with the trainer's barn manager.

"Yeah, I thought you were being really brave!" she said. "It's still pretty cool!"

Sigh. When I finally left, he had a strip down his belly that was still damp, and his legs were still slightly damp. His core had warmed up considerably, chest and sides were once again warm to the touch, and he was happily eating, drinking, and pooping. He's fine today.  HORSES.

In the in-between of everything, I hauled all the various storage things back up the hill to my trailer from where they'd been stored in my truck, in our apartment, in my other car...really a bit of everywhere. It was nice to get the trailer really swept out after the winter, go through all the bins and pull things that needed to be cleaned, discarded, or gone through. It looks great in there - and if I ever have time off and energy, we're ready to go somewhere exciting!

Soapbox Moment: Train Your Horses!

Lauren at She Moved to Texas wrote a really excellent post about the glut of free horses on the market - and on the people looking for those free horses. Spoiler alert: unrealistic expectations abound.

I've worked at several different horse rescues over the years. The last one I was most involved in was the place where I got Tristan. He wasn't really a free horses - but he is pretty darn close. I paid a discounted $150 adoption fee for him after working there for 3.5 months. He was no picnic - but he was a far more straightforward case than many horses at the rescue.

Here's what I have to say. *pulls up soapbox*

The #1 best thing you can do for your horse, to ensure his longterm success and happiness, is to train him.

I don't necessarily mean every horse should be a steady eddy packer cleaning up the ribbons. I do mean that every horse should have basic manners, basic skills, and a decent outlook and disposition. They should consent to be handled by a variety of people, and they should be accepting of bridle, saddle, and basic aids.

Will your horse go better for you, or for a talented rider? Sure. Almost certainly. But can you put a middling rider up on them and have them at least go okay? Can you hand his lead rope off to someone with minimal horse experience and trust that he will more or less behave?

Horses end up in bad situations for an endless, depressing, variety of reasons. Horses get out of bad situations, often, because they are good citizens. If you're looking at the rank, untrained 20 year old horse lined up next to the relatively chill 20 year old who's had basic training...guess which horse is going to get adopted? pulled out of the feed lot? spoken up for by someone trying to place them?

So take your time. Take the extra 5 minutes when handling your horse to make sure that they have the basics down. Ask a friend to handle or ride your horse just to make sure he will be okay with it. Try him out in a lesson or two with a stranger. The more you can expand his mind and add to his experiences, the better off he'll be in case something happens to you.

(soapbox corollary: have a plan for your animals if something happens to you! but that is the subject of another blog post entirely.)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What do you use for shampoo?

It's that time of year again! Sometime in the next week or two, Tristan will be getting a bath to dig in and get rid of the winter grime that's worked its way in to his coat. I'm only waiting for the right conditions: enough time to properly bathe him, and enough sun to dry him out.

Some pony haaaaaates baths.

I did a brief inventory of my bathing tools last night. Big sponge, check. Sweat scraper, check. Small bucket, check.

One of my favorite scrubbing tools is a basic jelly scrubber. I have small hands, so when I can find a child size I buy that. I think it does the best job of scrubbing in the shampoo and massaging the skin.
I also have two bottles of conditioner. I am of the camp that believes in conditioning every time I bathe; shampooing removes natural oils and can leave the skin dry. Tristan isn't nearly as sensitive as many other horses, but I love the soft shine he gets after a good conditioning. Part of my bathing routine is also to work conditioner fully into his mane and tail and let them set for quite a while, then rinse out, picking out snarls. It makes a huge difference.

Here's the big gaping hole in my kit: shampoo. Last year, I ran out of the most recent bottle I'd bought: Cowboy Magic Rosewater Shampoo

It's on the expensive side - usually around $8 a bottle - and while I'm perfectly happy to spend money on things that make a difference, I'm not really sure that this did. In the past I've used whatever's on sale at Walmart or the grocery store: Suave, V05, whatever's around $1 a bottle. I've noticed a difference in quality of conditioner - both for him and for me! - but never in quality of shampoo.

Before I buy a new bottle of something, I thought I'd put the question out there. What do you use? Do you think it really makes a difference? Do you go cheap & generic, or do you have a particular brand you swear by that costs more? Do you have a multi-step system? Seeking all opinions!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Summer Shine

I had a massively long, stressful, and busy day at work yesterday. When it was over, I stood outside my truck and for several long seconds stared at my truck key, wondering how exactly to put it in the lock. I put it in the lock. I turned it right. I pulled on the door handle and then stared, dumbfounded, when it didn't open. Then I put it back in the lock and turned it left, which is the way you actually unlock a door.

It was around that moment when I first thought about not riding after all. I'd put on my breeches and t-shirt by rote, following the one foot in front of the other mantra that had gotten me through the day. Now that we've worked out the puppy schedule, Friday is a barn day for me, and I didn't want to give that up.

By the time I got to the barn and three people in a row commented on how tired I was, I had officially decided: no riding for me. I've learned over the years that when I'm clearly not making good decisions about basic human things, getting on a horse never ends well. I can't flog my brain to analyze and react appropriately to things under saddle, and often end up frustrated and riding poorly.

I got out my grooming box and clippers and curried, curried, curried. Then I worked for a long time with the shedding blade, then the stiff brush. By the end of it, some of Tristan's summer shine was coming through: a glint here, a shimmer there. I'm pleased to see it back. Something about the long dull fuzziness of his winter coat contributes to my general malaise over the weather and the season of hibernation. He still feels fuzzy, and is still shedding quite a bit, but for the first time his hair is approaching summer length - across his shoulders, on the top of his back, patches on his neck and flanks.

I got out the clippers and tidied up his bridle path, and debated cleaning his fetlocks. I ultimately decided against because his winter coat is still clinging to his legs, and I didn't want an awful mishmash of clip/shed going on. A few more weeks and I'll get there. Then we headed out to handgraze for a while as I used fingers to rough up the winter fuzz along his throatlatch and jaw, mostly white with not much red.

The boyfriend brought Arya by for her second visit to the barn, and she did wonderfully: wanted to explore, chase birds, and was very wary around horses. I've introduced a fair number of dogs to Tristan, and he can be counted on to stand quietly and mostly roll his eyes, even when my parents' dog as a puppy launched herself right at him, planted her front feet on his shoulder, and tried very hard to lap his face.

Arya was mostly very timid, and did a minimum of bouncing & yowling. (We're pretty sure she's hound-y: her default is not a bark but more of a yowl, a bell-like voiced howl. It's ridiculous and adorable.) She got lots of praise when approaching him while quiet, and seemed to take his example and spent a few seconds grazing right alongside him. (Weirdo.) Then I put Tris back in his stall and lured her over with a treat to touch noses with him for a second, and gave them each a treat and called it a day. She bounded over to me when I whistled, even calling off some of the interesting scents around, and in general I was very happy with her!

Sunday: cleaning out the trailer, going through stored supplies, and a hack with friends.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Adventures in LD Crewing

I have been holding off because it is not my story to tell, but if any of you are curious about how I spent my weekend, crewing for Hannah at a 30 mile LD ride, she tells the story of it here.

Helluva weekend, is all I have to say, and thankfully with a good ending!

In the meantime, have a few pictures of ridecamp/hold/scenery.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Ever have one of those rides where you start out and you think "holy shit, I have no idea what I'm sitting on, but if I can get through this it's going to be awesome"?

That was last night. I tacked up and we walked the field for a while to loosen up, and then we did our first real school in the outdoor arena. Tristan was UP, and I couldn't blame him: first ride outside, a bit cool, quite windy, and I'd led him out of the barn just as the other horses were being grained.

I was keeping our goal of consistency in mind, and worked hard on getting him supple and focused. Lateral work took some time, as did bend: he was too busy powering around and looking at everything. Then he wanted to canter every time I put my leg on; in the canter, he wanted to ramp up and up until he was hand galloping around and blowing through aids in order to lean back toward the barn.

Lots of patience, keeping him straight, and using his safe word: "eeeeeeeasy." I taught it to him sort of by accident years ago, and it's his cue to chill the fuck out, already. Often, it comes with the side effect of making him too quiet, but usually I can then work him back up again. Last night, it just calmed him down. After about 30  minutes of a "limbs, limbs, everywhere" kind of ride I got my first glimmer of consistent softness, and then shortly after that brilliance: deep, round, powering up behind, accepting my half-halts. Gorgeous, gorgeous trot.

It didn't translate to the canter, but then it never does. (Side note: I made arrangements before mounting for the trainer's barn manager/assistant trainer to sit on Tristan in the next week or so and help me figure out the canter. Will report back with pictures.) Canter was still productive, though, and had some nicer moments.

After a break, the trot picked up even better, and we were done. It was too cold and windy for him to be sweaty, but he'd gone rounder and better than he has in months - possibly years. It's going to be a good summer!

Green Mountain Horse Association, here I come!

Happy Birthday to meeeeeeee!

Also, hooray for boyfriends who take explicit instruction. :)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Horse Owning Bucket List

Stole this from A Gift Horse, 'cause I kind of love it.

What horses would I like to own someday?

Let us start this post by saying that Tristan will live forever and ever, amen. This list will come into play when I get my own land and have space for more horses.

1. Morgan Gelding

I freaking love these horses. They have personality to spare, they can do anything, they are built like bricks, they are energetic but sensible, and they are gorgeous. For the purposes of this list, let's say a Lippitt line - something old blood, with TONS of bone, that has the build to go all-around, not just the saddleseat stuff.


2. Gotland Pony

This is my eventual child's pony. They are adorable, they can be genuinely fancy, they are a heritage breed, and they hail from the same part of Sweden as the BF's family. In my ideal world, I have a pony that will serve for kids, but that I can also drive. Combined driving might be in the top 5 of my equestrian bucket list. Plus, sleighing in the winter!

Seeing a theme? I might have a thing for chunky horses.

3. Haflinger

The very first barn I took lessons at had a whole herd of Haflingers. They were all named things like Hans and Franz and Gunnar. They were extremely difficult to tell apart, especially for a ten year old kid. I hardly ever got to ride them - I was already very tall even as a kid. I still love them, though, and would not kick that face out of the barn!

Or maybe three?

4. Rescue Pasture Ornament

Really and truly one of the first things I do when I get land will be to put the word out to friends that I'd like a pasture ornament horse, something that can't be ridden anymore, to live out its days with me and keep Tristan company. I'd love to always have something living with me that just needs a home and hay and love. I know from experience working at rescues that these horses are so tough to place - but so deserving of love.

5. Mustang

I may have ended up with my first mustang by accident, but I'd like to have one at all times. They are such special horses. Their intelligence, sense of self, toughness, and personality are all second to none.

If I ever win the lottery, this is what my backyard will look like.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Training the Barn Dog

Arya starts obedience classes this week, and one of my fond hopes is that she'll become a well-behaved-enough dog to start coming to the barn regularly. It would make life easier and happier if I could just scoop her up after work and head to the barn with her, or bring her on weekends. Right now I feel rotten about crating her beyond when I'm actually at work, so I don't have the heart to come home and then leave her again.

So snuggly.

So, I ask: have you ever trained your dog to come to the barn? Have you had success with it? What strategies have you used? What skills/training tools are important to have?

I know that barns are often free zones for dogs, and my barn is welcoming to dogs as long as they're well-behaved. I also know that Arya is only six months old and though sweet and smart, very puppy-ish. If she doesn't have the chops to be a good barn dog, so be it, but I think she could handle it beautifully.

I did bring Arya by briefly last week just for a taste of it. She loved sniffing around, she ate one or two manure balls, and she was mildly curious and very wary of the horses. She mostly liked the BM's dog (who is very large and solid and can be intimidating, plus has a loud pseudo-aggressive manner to new dogs). In all, I think it was a good success.

The barn manager's dog has a command that sends him to sleep on the bench in the ring while she's riding or working with horses. That would be ideal, I think. Hannah has provided some excellent suggestions for reading and training materials, especially in regards to the "place" command, which I think would adapt itself well to this.

Viva Carlos Magical Blog Hop: Right Here Right Now

L. Williams from Viva Carlos asks: What are you currently working on in your rides?

We're trying to accomplish a couple things, but if I had to summarize them, it would be consistency.

Consistent schedule during the week, which I'm still struggling with. (Oh, puppy.)

Consistent transitions - sharp and quick and responsive.

Consistent forward - maintaining that jump in the hind legs through corners, across diagonals, around circles. We've been using the poles as WT suggested: trot through the line and then keep that feel around the ring. When it fades, go back through the poles. Try to keep it longer and longer.

Consistency in the bridle - inside leg, outside rein! Lots of half-halts and encouraging sit, up through the base of the neck, up through the back, especially through any changes like transitions and changes of direction.

Consistent suppleness - even, through steps in both direction, the ability to play around with what I need in terms of bend and looseness.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Neat grooming box

I spent a little bit of time cleaning out my stuff in the tack room yesterday, and finally got around to taking a picture of this grooming box. It belongs to a young girl who leases an Appy cross.

So cute!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Everything Equine: Extreme Trail Challenge & Shopping!

Last week, I snuck away for a few hours and went to Everything Equine, a local horse convention. I went to the very first one almost ten years ago, and this year they've added "and Canine" to the title of the event. Since we'd had the new puppy for less than a week at that point I was curious to see what other things they might have.

The first thing I did was wander through the sales areas, just to see what was for sale. One or two things caught my eye!

Yes, really, only $125!

Loved this title.

Then I made it through the vendor area and watched some of the extreme trail challenge. I got there at the very end and only saw three horses go, which was too bad. It was an amazing thing to see.

Riders had to go over, around, and through a variety of scary things and perform tasks like delivering the mail, going through a gate, dragging a tree, etc. There were tarps, water, moving bridges, scattered logs, fans with streamers, and so on. The one that particularly impressed me was a board you can see in the middle of the last picture: a raised platform about 6" wide and 6" tall. Horses had to step up on it and walk down. It was VERY narrow.

Of the three I saw, one emerged as clearly superior: a young woman and a Quarter Pony that she used for gymkhana. Pony entered the ring like GAME ON. He cantered through nearly everything without batting an eye and even wanted to go faster. In fact, the rider's only error was in trying to move too fast: the saddle bags holding the mail slipped off her saddle at one point.

The two remaining weren't as spot-on but they were still fascinating to watch. Both were excellent displays of horsemanship: the riders were encouraging, soft, gentle, thoughtful, and knew when to call it quits. The audience clearly appreciated a well-done round just as much as a round that struggled but still displayed good horsemanship. It was really mesmerizing and terrific to watch. The only other time I'd seen one of these events, at an Equine Affaire many years ago, it was a ridiculous disaster and I was bored after 10 minutes. This, I could've watched all day.

When it ended, I did some shopping. I got some leather conditioner from my saddle fitter, and picked up a pair of my favorite Devon Aire Polartec winter breeches for $25. I got a horse lead to use as a backup leash for the puppy, and grabbed her a toy as well. I also fell a little bit in love with this Kerrits top for $25.

In all, a productive and fun morning!

May Goals

Get off property for trail rides 2-3x. Continue dressage. If jumping is a go, haul out for jumping lessons w/ instructor in Vergennes. 
Possible events for riding or volunteering: VERDA Bare Bones Endurance Ride (May 11), Hitching Post Horse Trials (May 17-18), GMHA Spring Horse Trials (May 31-June 1)
Very do-able. Good job, me from the past!

 Hopefully the trailer will be back soon, and I'll stabilize the money hemorrhaging from puppy, and we'll be able to do a lesson or two with the jumping trainer.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

April Goals Review

So, how did I do?
Start hacking regularly, whenever possible. Plan on minimum of 60 minutes out for each hack, 2x per week.  
Pull shoes, if all goes well, and get back to barefoot.  
Continue schooling under saddle, fine-tuning dressage. IF jumping is a go, jump 1x every two weeks minimum.  
Possible events for riding or volunteering: GMHA Mud Ride (April 26-27), VT Everything Equine (April 26-27)
Actually: not half bad.

We did a fair bit of hacking this month, and put in some good mileage. For sure we got out 60+ minutes several times. For the first two weeks, that was definitely 2x a week. The last two weeks...not so much. Turns out puppies are a timesuck.

Tristan is not barefoot. I thought he would be. I am not sure what went wrong. I suspect miscommunication with the farrier, but I have to call him and haven't had time for that yet.

We've continued schooling dressage and that's going very well, and we are ready to try jumping but haven't found time yet. The jump saddle is fitted so this is a simple matter of setting a time and getting it done.

I did go to Everything Equine, and will write up a review soon! It was a nice day.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

To Do List

This is by way of being a to-do list. I have been so overwhelmed these last two weeks - zero down time, zero reflection, and not nearly enough pony time.

I did have a lovely ride on Tuesday night, in which I confirmed again that the Pentosan = fantastic. He's now finished his loading dose and is on to monthly, which means it's time for me to turn the screws and see how long & deep the effects really go.

So, to do:

- check on trailer; is it done? will it cost me a mint? good thing I've been distracted, otherwise I would worry that the mechanic hasn't called me in 2 weeks
- clean out truck, ffs
- organize trailer tack boxes
- organize tack room space, ugh
- deep-clean all purpose saddle, in order to use new conditioning lotion the saddle-fitter found for me
- write ALL the blog posts, including my shopping at Everything Equine & the awesome extreme trail class & some blog hop catch up
- look at schedule & see if it matches up with newly-discovered local horse club's group trail rides
- call farrier; Tristan was re-shod in the front which was NOT the plan and now I am confused and a bit frustrated; poor communication + lack of follow up on my part, or an actual need?

Also, ride the pony more.

This does not include the other things I have to do, like work on my conference proposal and get a dog license and clean out the fridge and and and.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Throwback Thursday

Baby's first schooling three-phase, August 2006.

I was thrilled with him, but we did not exactly win all the ribbons. (Or any.)

It was a learning experience for both of us, and you can see how far we've come!

(this is like one of those bad riding photos that they've cropped the person's head off of to preserve dignity...sigh)