Saturday, January 30, 2016

Weekly Blog Roundup

First, a note to self, in keeping with the whole blog-to-remember thing: last night, an exercise that worked really well to get Tris more into the bridle & in front of my leg. I didn't want to canter too much, since my focus was on conditioning & trot sets. He was not moving easily off the leg in response to my usual escalation techniques, so I tried something new: asking for the canter when going into the first corner of a short side, keeping the canter through the short side and the next corner, a few strides down the long side, then focusing hard on the transition back to trot, keeping it active, uphill, and collected. It worked beautifully, both during the warmup and after a walk break, to get a nice, steady, forward trot. I did it until he maintained that trot down the entire long side.

So, continuing: Saturday blog roundup. Small this week because I was going great blazes at work and riding in the evenings instead of at home on my computer. #sorrynotsorry

DIY: Recovering an Old Saddle Pad from Wyvern Oaks
Love this. Seriously pondering putting some cooler fabric on my oldest pads...

Horse-related volunteering: therapeutic riding from Hand Gallop
Really, really good overview of an important volunteer position.

Teach Me Tuesday: Joint Injections from Sprinkler Bandit
Always a good conversation in the comments.

To flex or not to flex? from Breeches & Boat Shoes
I've wondered about flexible stirrups myself over the years, and this was a good review.

Friday, January 29, 2016

When you are equally obsessed with Star Wars and horses... start to notice things like this.

You probably don't see it yet. It took me quite a while of looking at it every day, sans Rey in the driver's seat, because it's the background to my Gmail right now. (I opted into the Google Star Wars experience, which also means that my figurine in my Google Maps iPhone app is Poe Dameron's X-Wing.)

That's my current Gmail background. See it yet?

How about now?

Seriously forward flap, there, Rey!

Also, I'm just going to leave this here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Always have a plan when you longe!

Here are a couple of things I have heard people say or I have read on horse blogs:
"I never longe, it just gets them more fit for no reason." 
"If I don't longe him first, he's completely wild!" 
"I'll throw him on the longe line first for a while and let him take the edge off." 
"Longeing is boring, I'd rather be in the saddle!"
"Longeing is just an excuse to throw a bunch of gadgets on a horse, and all gadgets are evil."
All of these statements have one thing in common: a fundamental misunderstanding of the powerful tool that longeing can be.

There are tons and tons of articles and passages in books that can give you specific exercises, but here's my takeaway for the day:

Never longe your horse without a plan.

What do I mean by that?

First, ask the question: why am I longeing my horse?

Possible answers: he's too lazy, he's too energetic, he's cold-backed, I don't want to ride, I want to see him go, I want to work on something specific.

The difference among the answers there is that some of them are actual specific reasons and some of them are general. If he's too energetic, why? Is it because he's generally an "up" horse? Is it because he's been in for a week? Is it because there are distractions around, like at a show? Is it because longeing makes him nervous? Is it because you've taught him that being longed means he can fly around like a kite for twenty minutes?

Dig deeper, and look at what you are actually addressing. Brain? Fitness? Focus?

Then, have a goal in mind. Know what your horse will look like at the end of a longeing session, and what you can do to get him there. Know what the intermediate steps will look like. Know how you'll handle yourself, what you'll ask of him, and how to shape his behavior and his movement to get to that end goal.

If all that sounds familiar, it's because longeing, when done well, is basically the exact same thing as riding. You're using aids to shape a horse's behavior and movement.

Example 1: When I first backed Tristan, we did a lot of longeing. Anytime I introduced anything new to him, for months and months, I did it on the longe line. Saddle? Bridle? Boots? Different saddle? Different girth? Different bit? You name it, if it was going to be strange to him, I put it on, then put him on the longe line. For these sessions, I was looking for him to start off a little startled, but to get him focused back on me and doing productive work. I didn't just let him tear around until he got over it; I asked for transitions, spiraled him in and out, and basically did things that would test his focus on me.

crappy photo, but productive longeing session.

Example 2: The more high strung horse. Your horse won't focus on you at a show? He comes out of his stall in mid-air? Ok, sure, put him on the longe line. But have a plan. For a horse like that, I would do transitions, starting low and going up as he proved to me he was going to keep his brain. Lots of transitions within gaits, primarily looking for a response to "easy" as a calming and slowing method. I'm ok with energy, as long as it's controlled and directed. Are the transitions sharp and clean? Can you shorten the time between them? For this type, I'm going to keep a close eye on body language: where are his ears? What does his overall musculature look like - tense and bunched, or loose and relaxed? Is he tipping like a motorcycle, ready to take off again at any second? Is he hauling on the longe line or maintaining a steady tension? By the end I want a horse that will transition off of voice command the second I finish saying the word, who has an overall "loose" look even if he's moving forward, whose inside ear is kept on me, who is not testing the longe line.

Example 3: The specific goal session. I do this one a lot with Tristan still, as a regular part of his conditioning program. I'll think about what is lacking in his under saddle work, because I'm not a great rider or because something about the under saddle work is impeding him. Most often, this is quality of gait or a specific type of strengthening (back, hind end, etc.).

Last night, it was about strengthening his hind end. So I warmed him up, looking for him to release tension and focus on me. Say that took 10 minutes total, walk and trot both ways. He started off a bit lazy, and sharpened up and loosened up, dropping his head, stepping under more in his walk, and on a relatively steady circle. Then I went back to the mounting block and added my butt bungee thing because I wanted the resistance for his hind end.

I knew that a successful session for this would look like him moving normally or even a bit better than he does without the resistance band: tracking up underneath, using his back (one reason I like to longe with just a surcingle or without tack is that I can really see his back muscles work), keeping his head low and relaxed, and keeping his own rhythm without me remind him with the whip constantly. That took about 15 minutes, and each thing I did was with that end goal in mind. Sometimes that meant asking for a few strides of canter, to loosen his back. Sometimes that meant nagging him a bit with the whip to really use his hind end. Sometimes that meant an "eeeeeeeeasy" to get him to go from short quick frustrated strides to longer and looser strides.

After I got what I wanted, I took off the resistance band and handwalked him around the edge of the arena for another 10 minutes to cool him down and get him off the tight circle. Total elapsed time 35 minutes, with a tired but focused pony at the end.

So, really, all I'm trying to say is: have a plan. Have an end goal in mind, take steps to get there, and don't just flail and say that you hate longeing and it's useless. It's a tool, like so many of the other things we do with horses. Giving it up is your loss.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Viva Carlos Blog Hop: Planner Post

I love this blog hop, because I love my planner. Here's the original post.

I use a very, very specific kind of planner made by a company called Quo Vadis. It's a style of planner I first fell in love with 12 year ago (eek) when I studied abroad in France in college.

Basically, you buy the outside cover and then keep buying refills for it. This cover is going on 5 years now, and is a bit beat up but for something that is handled basically constantly it's doing greate. The stitching at the binding is worn and the cover is a bit ink-stained but other than that pretty good.

Size wise, it's 5" wide by 6 3/4" tall. I measured. That makes it roughly the size of a paperback book; a bit wider and a bit shorter. It's a great size to fit into my purse. 

Right when you open it up it has a good space for stashing things. When I took this picture, it was a pile of receipts I needed to file for work reimbursement. Underneath are my grocery list for the week, my financial planning for the year (using the 30 day system, I book out any purchases over say $15 so I don't go on spending sprees), other notes, and a sticky note with my monthly budget as a reminder.

The inside, though, is what makes me really love this planner. 

Each page is one day. I have a to do list in the main text, with a box next to each item. X means it's accomplished. X with a line to the right that ends in ---> means it's been forwarded to the future. X with a ---| means it's been canceled all together. As you can see, due to the empty squares, I'm not always perfect with this. Sometimes I'll leave them on the days they're originally scheduled for and flip back to catch up on previous lists.

The scheduling function above is mostly to keep track of personal appointments; work gets managed through a different system. The Priority box on the top is big overall stuff, like visitors coming, a big event day at work, something else that I need to remember for that day. The Notes section at the top keeps any number of things - books I want to read, plans for dinner, you name it. 

These are fairly light days because they're weekdays. Days off get the whole page filled. I have learned that once I fill up the lines, I can't make myself put anything more on the list for that day. I have to relax. Type A problems, I guess. I usually try to make items actionable steps; I'll give myself a number of blog posts to write, or a specific task to accomplish, or in some cases a length of time, so something like "laundry 1 hour" or "email 1 hour" or "tidy bedroom 20 minutes" or "unpack 1 box books" so that I can check it off and move on.

One of my favorite parts of this planner is the bottom outside corner. You can see it on these pages. The corner tears off, so that you can just flip right to the current day. At the end of the year, it's all torn off.

I've used this planner system consistently for about 8 years now. When the year is done, I write the year on the binding and file the old one. Since I keep so much on these pages, it can be fun to look back and track when I did things, or what I was doing. I try to take time in December to do a year in review; I skim back through, copy over any books that I'd noted or general things, and add them to my GoodReads list or other bigger lists or just ditch them.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Stills: GMHA Sleigh Rally

I went with the intention of watching sleighing, but only saw a few go thanks to my scheduling fail. Still a gorgeous day.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Weekly Blog Roundup

Weekly selection of blog posts from the horse world below.

Barn #3: Crazy Town from The Roaming Rider
Holy mackerel. Excellent horse-people-are-nuts story.

Trailering Essentials from Equestrian at Hart
This is absolutely the most complete list I've seen. It's more than I carry, and I'm neurotic as hell. Follow this and you won't go wrong!

How Estrone Works on Stifles from Guinness on Tap
HUH. Fascinating. This prompted a long email exchange with my vet this week to see if Estrone was right for Tristan.

Tack Stall Organization from Fly On Over
Go and share your best organizing ideas!

Custom Orthotics from The Owls Approve
This. was. fascinating.

How much does a USDF rated show cost? from Wyvern Oaks
Less than the hunters, more than eventing, good to see numbers either way.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Oh, the weather outside...

It's been to cold to ride since Saturday, so I thought I would take this time to let you know that the new official Star Wars app has a weather widget.

You're welcome.

...too soon?

Monday, January 18, 2016


A few updates around the blog, mostly recording this for posterity.

- New header! With a few more made & in the wings that will actually correspond to the seasons, as was my intention a long time ago when I designed a header

- I spent about two hours (yes, really) inputting all the horse blogs I read into a widget for the sidebar, which is ordered by most recent update. Final count was over 100, maybe close to 120.

- I combined a few of the pages up top; namely, all the reviews (book, movie, and product) are under one tab.

Going forward, I plan on updating the About page, and adding a page with my favorite posts on it. Maybe something else I think will be useful, but I have no brilliant ideas right now.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

House Post: Wallpaper Removal & Paint in the Downstairs Bathroom

As I mentioned, when we put in the bathroom vent fan downstairs, I took the opportunity to strip the wallpaper.

when the door is open, that's how small this room is.

On the one hand, the wallpaper came off beautifully, with just a light steam & scrape.

On the other hand, so did a few layers of paint underneath that, probably from all the years of too-high moisture in that small space.

Which left the walls looking rather chewed-up - the largest wall, directly opposite the toilet, in particular. So I did a skim coat on it. Probably not very well, but it was demonstrably better.

Then, after Thanksgiving, my mother sanded down my plastering and did the first coat of paint. I followed with the second coat a few days later, and ta-da!

We love the color. It looks sort of like melted raspberry ice cream, and is just the right amount of color-but-not-overwhelming for the space. It's not too pink; it's got more grey tones in it.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Weekly Blog Post Roundup

A selection of posts from the equestrian blogosphere this week.

Fitbit for horseback riding: fun facts and figures from Saddle Seeks Horse
I've thought on and off about getting a Fitbit, trendy as they are, but have always come down against. This is a useful horse-specific review.

Social media and your horse from Poor Woman Showing
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, actually. How does the performative nature of blogging change your riding and horsemanship? Does it?

What Do Wednesday: Winter Riding from Chasing the Dream
It's that time of year for posts about riding in the winter. This is a nicely written and thoughtful overview of one rider's tactics.

Why we longe from Horse Collaborative
Ok, ok, this isn't really a blog post, but it is phenomenal. Read this if you longe your horse. I'm serious.

Real talk: Our 2015 show season in dollars from 'Fraidy Cat Eventing
Great overview, and an interesting addition to some other posts that have been floating around lately.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Product Review: SSG Fleecee Knit Winter Riding Fleece-Lined Gloves

I've talked before about my big blind spot in winter riding gear: good winter riding gloves. This year, I set about fixing that, and so I have several pairs of gloves that I have been testing out to share & review with you.

First up are these SSG gloves, a purchase with Christmas money. Years ago, I owned a pair of fleece-lined knit gloves that I adored, and have never been able to find since. (I bought them on clearance and suspect they were being discontinued; they didn't even have a manufacturer's tag on them.) I found these and hoped they would live up to those long-ago gloves.

MSRP is $15.00 and I paid $9.56 at Riding Warehouse, so I really couldn't go wrong.

First impressions: I really like them. They are not my long-ago gloves, but they actually look kind of stylish. They are thin and flexible, which is great, and you can get a good rein feel through them. 

I've now ridden in them about 8 times, including a couple of road hacks outside, so here's a longer list of pros and cons.

Pros: they really are light and flexible, yet surprisingly warm. They held up to a short road hack outside in 25 degrees with a wicked wind. I like schooling in them, as I can really use my fingers. The cuff is long enough to be useful.

Cons: they're not waterproof, and the knit will not hold up to lots of barn chores like throwing hay or undoing anything with velcro. The seam on the index finger is unnecessarily bulky, but I found that this didn't really bother me after a few rides; either I got used to it or it got mashed down.

They're also not really, really warm gloves. They're middling gloves. I used them while longeing earlier this week and they did just ok; in situations where my fingers weren't actively moving all the time, or I wasn't exercising and therefore warming up my core, the fell short.

They ran pretty true to size; I'm a 7 in SSG gloves, and the small was meant to be a 7/8. If I could get between an XS and a S I'd be happy, as these are just a smidge large for me. (I have TINY hands and short fingers, which is a perpetual challenge for me in finding gloves.) I'm not sure that they're the highest quality and most durable gloves out there, but at $10 each they are miles and away a better value for the price than many $20 gloves I've seen.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Remembering the things that worked: riding journal

One of the nice things about a blog, in theory, is that it gives you the chance to let history repeat itself in a positive way. I've often looked back over previous entries when looking for the solution to something - and bam, there it is. I already tried it three years ago and it worked or didn't work. Sometimes my memory is just that bad or that hazy.

With that in mind: Sunday's ride.

I started him off in Back on Track hock boots while I re-clipped his neck and chest, which was an epic failure because it turns out $30 clippers with their original, never-sharpened blades probably need refreshing after a few years. So, yeah. But still, he spent maybe 20 minutes in the boots while I attempted to hack away at him.

I started with some crossover exercises in hand, doing a full circle in each direction asking him to step over in his hind end. We then did about 10 minutes of walk warmup still wearing the hock boots, and I took them off, and did maybe another 5 minutes. I picked up a trot and let him canter for a bit with me out of the saddle, then did some really straightforward, nothing-special trot work focusing mostly on getting him straight and not flinging his shoulders around, and going deep into the corners.

I had thrown down a pole on the long side, and we worked on going over that in stride and not getting super-excited about it and rushing it just because it might someday be part of a jump, Tristan. I worked this intermittently into our trot work, nothing really focused or planned. Then I picked up a right canter and worked on a 20m circle until I got a good clear in-stride canter over the pole. This took a few minutes as he kept dropping to the trot, either just before the pole or just for the split second over the pole.

Then we went back to the walk because it was 40 degrees and a little over-warm, and I thought about how hard it had been for him to canter over that pole. And here's the part of the ride that really worked.

In that walk cooldown, I thought hard about exercises that would engage his hind end. We stopped on the long side and did a turn on the haunches in both directions, a couple of times. We worked on stepping back under saddle, counting steps. This is something he typically has trouble with, for whatever reason.

[Sidebar: I once had a dressage lesson in which a solid 30 minutes of it was the trainer trying to get me to back solely through my seat, not touching the reins, not using the leg. Yes, it was as incredibly fucking excruciating as it sounds, no, we never actually managed it, yes, that was one of my signs that it was time to move on from that trainer. Oh, and yes, there was talk of "opening chakras." Oh, 23 year old me, you were so trusting.]

Anyway: loading the hind end. We also went deep into corners, then straightened on the short side, then straightened again. We stopped at the pole and sidepassed down it, in both directions.

None of this was pretty, let me be clear. It involved a lot of missteps and frustrating moments, but it got better and better after only about 10 minutes.

Then I picked up a trot, and holy shit, Tris had no idea what to do with his hind legs. They were all of a sudden THERE, and they were pushing him UP through his withers, and I could practically see small fireworks going off in his brain. He didn't want to go all that forward, because he clearly couldn't quite figure out what was going on in his body. It was awesome. It was, I'm sure, not the fanciest dressage trot ever, but wow, did it feel funky and awesome.

Then I asked for the left canter, and immediately it was a world of difference in quality than the right canter had been ten minutes before. Now: part of this is because right now his left canter is better than his right canter, in one of those plateau/side-swapping moments that just happens in training. But still, this was miles away beyond even that. He was sitting down, coming up through his withers, and fuck if it wasn't actually collected. I felt like I had all of him under my seat and between my legs, and the reins were the light balancing point they needed to be.

We went forward over the pole, keeping that feel and that jump and yeah: nailed it. Perfectly in stride, perfect canter step over the pole. I kept him for two more strides after the pole and then dropped him to the walk and let him be done, praising him at the top of my lungs.

So: loading the hind end in the walk break. Self, remember that. It worked amazingly well.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

In Search Of: Winter Breeches

Please send help, blogosphere!

I only own one pair of winter breeches. In past years, that has been sufficient for Vermont, but this winter has been so mild that I'm riding a LOT more than I usually do, and the years of wear & tear on this pair is getting to be too much.

let's just say the breeches have outlasted literally everything else I'm wearing in this photo except the boots.

I have some fairly specific things that I know I do and do not like in winter breeches. I will have to order these online and test them out, so they need to be returnable. (I don't have time to play the tack swap game!)

My current breeches are Devon-Aire Fleece Full Seats. They are fleece-lined with a suede full seat. They are great, but they are getting quite thin and they have a hole in one knee from a spectacular ice wipeout last winter. I would replace them with the same brand, but the last time I tried that, buying a pair on clearance that were the same size and type on spec, they did not work AT ALL. They were seemingly way too small, and the fit had totally changed. I may end up ordering some of the same kind again, just to make sure that I wasn't way off base, but...ugh.

So please help! Send your ideas and suggestions!

Here's what I know I like/need:

- They must be real breeches, not tights. NO pull-ons with elastic waistbands; proper zippers & buttons only. I used to have a pair of the winter Tuff Rider pull ons that I hated with the fire of a thousand suns. They all end up feeling like diapers.
- They must be realistically winter breeches. I live in Vermont y'all and ride down to 10 degrees. None of this "oh well they were warm in Texas in the 40s so they should be fine!"
- Ideally they should either run a bit long in the leg or have a tall option. While I rarely need a tall, I am almost always more comfortable in the tall version of jeans and breeches.
- Also in sizing, I recently learned that sometimes breeches aren't made over a 34? Fuck that. I usually run 30-32 depending on the breeches, which means my ass fits but there's gapping at the waist, but otherwise it's just a no go.
- Ideally they should have a full seat option.
- They really really should be below $100.

Help? Anyone?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Blog Hop: What's in your grooming kit?

I am super horribly way behind the ball with this blog hop, but damn it, I'm doing it anyway.

(I'm so far behind I don't remember who started it - sorry? If it was you let me know so I can credit!)


Once upon a time, I boarded at a barn where the only thing you were allowed to have outside of your tack trunk was one pair of tall boots. That's it. My tack trunk is an old wooden chest that served as my great-great-uncle's tool chest, and as such it does not have modern conveniences like space for full grooming kits.

So my grooming kit was this small bucket that, if I tipped it sideways, would slide into the tack trunk. The problem with that was that you had to tip it just right, and even if you had the knack of it, half the time everything in it would fall out. I put up with it for years, because lo, I am lazy as shit.

Then, a friend who was riding Tristan on and off for me bought me a proper grooming kit, because by that time I was boarding at a different barn that did not care if my grooming kit was outside my tack trunk, and she took pity on me, and I think she hated the part where all the grooming tools fell out half the time. The story of my riding life is basically set to "I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends," like the time Hannah cut Tristan's boot velcro straps that had been too long for like 5 years.


For a few years now I have had a proper grooming tote, and what do you know? Having organizational cubbies actually means I keep this thing pretty darn organized.

Left to right: hoof pick, curry comb (pro tip: buy a child's size if you have tiny hands like me, it's much easier to manage), shedding blade (this lives in year round; when he's not shedding, he's muddy, and fuck if I can remember to cycle it in and out), stiff brush, soft brush, mane & tail brush, soft face brush.

These are the standards; right now, I'm stuck with the shitty Vetrolin liniment because I could not find Sore No More for a while. I got the EquiFuse in my Blogger Gift Exchange package last year and when I remember to use it I love it. The detangler lives in the grooming box because I will frequently spray it on his tail even when I have no intention of combing it out; it helps keep things from getting too bad.

This time of year, I also do a quick spray of detangler on his shoulders every few days to help keep his blanket from rubbing.

I always keep some array of meds and/or treatment things in the grooming kit. Right now, it's this fabulous Vitamin E ointment because I was treating Tristan's fly sheet rub with it, and No Thrush, which is this nifty powdery thrush stuff I'm trying out and like quite a bit.

Not pictured: a small towel that I usually keep there just in case, and generic Tums. I'd run out last week. I use the Tums, I'll be honest, mostly as a placebo for myself. I will sometimes feed them to him before the ride if he hasn't had his grain, or if he's looking a little iffy I'll feed them after the ride. In theory, they form a buffer and help prevent ulcers, which totally works in some horses. In practice, when he's 100% fine but I can't make my anxious brain shut up, I feed them to him and it helps. He eats them like treats, and they have zero negative effect and some small positive, so.