Sunday, December 28, 2008

Goals: 2009

I'm going to take the calendar part of this post from my training log for Pandora, but the first bits are new.

I like goals, I really do. To be more general, I like planning. I'm far more likely to carry through with something if it's all mapped out on a calendar, especially if it's color-coordinated. I'm also pretty bad about setting horse-related goals, so this year I decided to get on top of the ball and sketch out what I want my year to look like.

This year is going to focus mostly on Pandora. I've tried focusing on both horses at once, and I just can't do it. This is disappointing for me, because (as I'm sure you can all tell) I adore McKinna. I think the world of that mare, and I love working with her because she progresses so quickly when she's in consistent work. However: she is my mother's horse, and it's not going to kill her to spend the next six or seven months doing mostly walk-trot work with my mom and a little jumping with me, instead of intensive work.

So -- my goals pertain to Pandora. I am letting go of my desire to make progress with McKinna, reluctantly, and focusing on bringing Pandora's skills up to par so that I can proceed to sell her this summer. After that, by all means I'll focus on the wonder-pony ;)

Here's my philosophy on goals: first, they should scare you, just a little. You should look at your goal and go, "Hmm...Can I really do that? I mean, I think I can. But can I?" It's sort of along the principle of, "Shoot for the moon - even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." So I select pretty ambitious goals. I aim high, but within reason, and I fully intend to accomplish that goal even if it's a little unrealistic.

Second, your goals should be measurable. Sure, "I want Dobbin to be broke" is good. "I want Dobbin to do what I ask, at home and away from home" is better. But if your goal is "I want Dobbin to do turns on the forehand and haunches, to walk/trot/canter without spooking in the face of show-ring distractions, and to complete a 10-mile trail ride with no issues" is best, because they're all easily measured. You can look back and definitively say whether or not you accomplished your goals.

And, for me at least, your goals are a starting point. By this I mean, I take my goals and work backwards. Take Pandora's year, for example: the main goal of my year with her is to successfully ride, at either BN or N depending on our level of preparation, in Inavale's annual Horse Trials in June. To me, success means I feel good about the performance we put in. I'll be able to define that more specifically as we draw closer to the actual event, because I'll know what I can reasonably expect from my horse.

So I take this goal and I work backwards from it. If we're going to be ready to compete at a recognized HT in June, what needs to be happening in May? April? This month? What landmarks do I need to find along the way? These landmarks may be training landmarks (can canter a 2'9 course smoothly, can nail canter-trot transitions), competition landmarks (score well at the Pony Club show in March, come prepared to the Combined Test in May), or more general ideas.

With that in mind, here's my rough calendar for the next seven or eight months with Pandora. Obviously things get more flexible as we get further away from the present. I've included some landmarks and planned everything to funnel us toward our Big Goal, the June Horse Trials.

Also, please note that my 'year' ends in midsummer, since that's when I'll probably be selling Pandora. Once that happens I will make a new set of goals for McKinna.

Big Goal: Successfully compete, at BN or N, at Inavale's Horse Trials in June.
Other Goal: Sell Pandora sometime over the summer. [Progress towards this will naturally come by way of progress towards the other goal.]

Dressage to the max! January will be the month of flatwork, flatwork, flatwork. Time to get the girl up off her forehand and really working from behind.

This will be a month of working intensively on things at home. I'll haul out for a couple lessons, but the focus will be on making lots of progress in our own arena. I also plan to spend a lot of time exploring clicker work and seeing how I can use it to resolve issues we come up against.

However, the main focus will always be dressage this month.

There's a Pony Club show on the 31st that we will attend. Also, I will take one or both mares to a clinic next weekend.

The month to ramp up our jumping skills. I have several books that are full of grids, patterns, and exercises, so it's time to start using them. We'll do some free-jumping, do lots of gridwork, and practice smooth courses.

I plan to take her to one or two PC jumping lessons. I would like to haul her somewhere to practice some jumping schooling on my own, but there are several PC clinics this month, so that may not be feasible.

There is also another PC dressage lesson which we'll go to, just to make sure our flatwork is still up to par.

A return to flatwork! There's a PC dressage lesson on the 1st and another PC show midmonth, which will be a good place to check progress. This month I will be focusing on flatwork as it specifically applies to jumping: smooth balanced turns, rating at all three gaits, obedience to the leg. In general, I want to spend this month truly sharpening her response to the aids -- clicker work may come in very handy here.

There's also a Showjumping Rally late in the month - definitely a possibility, but we'll see how things are going.

Time to start thinking about XC, as soon as the weather turns and courses are open for schooling. This will be the month for putting miles on Pandora: lots and lots of riding down quiet roads in the area, trailering to places for real trail rides, and just getting out of the arena.

Since May is when things start heating up, we might relax a little more this month, too. This would be a good time to really shore up weak areas in Pandora's training and behavior if she has any. April would be a good month for playing with obstacle courses and similar things, as well.

I plan to ride in a Combined Test at Inavale. Things should be going smoothly by this point. This month will probably have an emphasis on lessons -- I'll take advantage of the weekly PC jumping lessons offered. Can't forget the flatwork, of course.

It's a bit hard to know exactly what I'll do this month since it's so far out! Since June is such a big month, we'll probably just work on whatever it is that needs an extra boost.

June is competition month! Inavale will have Eventing Derbies on the 6th and 7th, though I may not make it to them because this is right around the end of school and I remember being very busy around this time last year.

Inavale's annual Horse Trials is the 26th through the 28th. This is my major focus point for the year. It's most likely that we'll run Beginner Novice, but if we blaze through the year and I manage to put a ton of riding time in, it's possible that we could go Novice.

According to my Pony Club's website, there's an Eventing camp from the 17th through the 20th. Dunno anything about it, but if it's local and not too expensive, that would be an excellent way to prepare for the Recognized HT.

So basically, June will be focused around these things!

It's likely that sometime in June it will be time to start preparing to sell Pandora. Therefore, I'm pretty unsure what July will hold. Taking her to a show or two, if I can find them. Advertising, advertising, advertising. It really all depends on how the rest of the year goes.

Ideally, Pandora will be happy and competing in a new home by this time!

The later it gets in this calendar, the less sure I am of things, of course. These are more like guidelines -- and they're pretty ambitious guidelines -- but it gives me something to work off of.

To finish, here's a few non-time-specific goals for the year:
  • Get Pandora accustomed to many different riders, so that after a brief adjustment period she is comfortable under a strange rider. This should be pretty easy to accomplish in Pony Club, since catch riding is an important part of things anyway.
  • Use clicker work to establish a wicked solid "come" command. I mean, really. Who doesn't want a horse that gallops up and stops politely in front of you from a whistle??
  • Develop an "old hat" personality about shows -- I think that without too much work, Pandora can easily become a "been there, done that" relaxed type of horse.
So there we have it. Let's see how things turn out.

I would love to hear the goals you guys have for the year. Bonus points if you write a post and map out a rough calendar, then link it here for us to see!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Motivation, or, Know Thyself

First off, apologies for the long wait -- all my ambitious plans to post once a week were squashed a little bit when I got stuck away from home for almost a week due to weather nastiness.

Anyway, here I am.

Today I want to talk about motivation, which is always a big subject in the winter for me. I'm swamped with schoolwork, I'm working to pay for the horse, it's cold and windy and rainy, and it gets dark at 4:30. All this combined means that sometimes I'm dragging my feet to even get to the barn, let alone find the energy to ride after I've mucked the stall.

So, over the years, I've learned how to give my energy a little boost right before I go out to the barn so that I'm more likely to want to ride.

For me, the most effective is reading about horses and training. I have always been this way: learning has its biggest impact when I'm absorbing it by reading. I get excited by training ideas, I get inspired to try things.

So, first in my arsenal is to go read, whether it's a horse magazine, one of my numerous training books, horse blogs, or one of my favorites, the Eventing or Dressage boards in the COTH Forums. Usually I can get inspired to go ride even if I don't latch onto a specific idea, though I often do grab one idea and use it in my ride. I've thought about keeping a notebook tailored to my own preferences and filling it with simple exercises to do throughout the ride -- cavaletti work or just certain things to focus on, but with ride lengths kept in mind. Has anyone done that sort of thing for themselves? I know there are books out there with that purpose.

If I've got the time and I'm feeling tired, I'll just take a nap about an hour before we go out. Simple, but this has always been effective for me. No matter where I am or what I'm doing, if I take a nap, I'll feel a lot better.

If I think my motivation will wane by the time I set foot in the barn aisle, I wear riding clothes - breeches, riding shirt. Since I normally ride in jeans and whatever t-shirt/sweatshirt I happen to be wearing, the breeches help get me in the riding mindset.

Finally, I'll try to grab something to eat and drink right before we head out. Ideally you want carbs: sugar will give you a temporary boost but that comes with a drop in energy later. Something like a couple pieces of whole-wheat toast will usually do the trick, or an apple with peanut butter (though the apple does have natural sugars). And in the winter, a nice cup of hot tea never hurts.

When winter motivation is hard to come by, I've learned to just take what I can get. If I suddenly get the idea that fine-tuning some groundwork and longeing would be nice, then I do that. It's easier to do something I'm excited about, even if it's not necessarily riding, than to try to force myself to do something else.

So, now it's your turn. What do you guys do to keep yourself motivated, especially in the winter? I'd love to have more tips to use when I'm feeling lazy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Here We Go!

Okay, I'm back. For real this time!

Thankfully, my horses have seen more of me than you guys have for these past couple months. I haven't ridden a whole lot -- good weeks it's a two or three times, bad weeks it's once or not at all. But, they get exercised pretty much every day.

So here's all that's happened since last time I was around:
  • I'm now officially done with my first term of college. I got three A's and one A-, so my 4.0 is toast until I pick up a few A+'s to make up for it. It has been a lot harder than I expected.
  • It's COLD at the barn. I hate winter. They're cooped up, wearing blankets, water's frozen, ugh.
  • Both horses are doing wonderfully. Pandora is in perfect weight, and while you can tell she hates being cooped up, she's never rude and she always has a pleasant expression on her face. McKinna is a little more upfront with her cold-weather displeasure, but she too is doing well.
  • I went to a few more lessons and then took quite a bit of time away from lessoning just to work on school. I should be taking a lesson tomorrow though (unless the predicted freezing rain tonight makes it impossible to get out to the barn), so I promise pictures from that!
  • I passed my D-2 rating for Pony Club, which required basically no studying or anything. Next up is D-3, but I'm not too worried about getting it done right this very instant.
That picture up there is from last weekend, when the cold started to really kick in. I feel like a bear -- I don't want to go out to the barn to ride, I just want to be warm! Nevertheless, duty calls.

Pandora's been doing just wonderfully. The more I work her, the smoother she gets, and her canter is really improving. I'm going to take my first lesson on her tomorrow night, and I'm hoping we can try her out over a few low fences to get a feel for what she's like.

So here's the deal. Next term is going to be about as hard, if not slightly harder, than last term. But I want to stick with this blogging thing - I've really missed it - so I'm going to promise you guys one post a week. Some weeks it'll be more, but I'm going to maintain a minimum of one per week. Hopefully I'll get back into the swing of things and writing posts up will get easier.

Here's a video from one of the lessons I went to last month. McKinna was doing wonderfully! Lately I've been focusing more on Pandora. It's hard to work with two horses at once, which I'll talk about in my next post.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Still Here.

Hey guys -- I know it's been a couple weeks since I last posted, and I'm really sorry. I've been fairly overwhelmed, with horses and work but mostly with college. It's a lot more work than I'm used to!

I'll start getting back into the swing of posting soon. I loved all your comments on the last post, and I'll start responding to those soon as well. Just hang in there for me! I have some pictures and videos to post from lessons, and plenty of thoughts to write about.

Watch this space for further developments ;)

Friday, October 31, 2008


I was thinking about this the other day as I was in the truck on the way to a lesson. After ten minutes of staring out the window contemplating horse things, I promptly fluffed my jacket up as a pillow, contorted my body so my upper half was laying on the seat, and fell asleep in about 5 minutes. Before I fell asleep, my mom commented that I was taking "The usual pre-ride nap."

You know what? She's right!

Before damn near every clinic, lesson, or show, I take a nap. The drive is usually 15+ minutes, or early in the morning, or both; add this to the fact that I've got the ability to fall asleep anywhere at any time in about 5 minutes, and I take a lot of naps during horse-related activities. I also can often be found taking a nap in the truck between rounds at a show, or during the lunch break.

It chills me out. I wake up relaxed and - well, awake, which is sometimes not how I feel when we hit the road!

So what are your rituals, pre-ride or otherwise? Is your horse in on them? Did your horse start them? ;)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Clipstravaganza and Chiro Work

McKinna was decidedly unimpressed with this whole clipping business. I did her left side, then we went on a trail ride (awful, I know! But the weather was so nice), then I did the other side. It's amazing how thick her fur is, especially down her barrel - the line between clipped and unclipped is very definite. On the plus side, her clipped fur is only barely darker than her unclipped fur, so unlike clipping a bay or chestnut, it's actually not super-noticeable.

It is definitely doing its job. I worked her hard in the round pen the night after, and the sweat on her clipped areas was clean and wet and dried within minutes. What sweat got on her long hairs (a little on her shoulders and neck) again took quite awhile to dry out. I did work her very hard though, so that's unlikely to happen often. If it does, I can always expand the clip.

Seriously, though - she produced enough hair for two small cats. Really! Look below, that's what came off her right side alone.

More of a medium-sized cat, maybe.

In other news, the chiropractor came out on Tuesday! Though technically on his sheet he is called an Equine Sports Massage Therapist. Pandora had a lot of stuff out of whack, but he said she was even worse the first time he saw her. Let's see -- left TMJ was pretty out (very cool to see how her teeth lined up correctly side-to-side after he adjusted it), upper neck on the left, lower neck both sides, her shoulders were reeeally bad, elbows also needed work, a little adjustment in her spine, and a lot back in her sacroiliac/pelvis area. Also some stuff in her tail.

Here were his comments: "Jaw - TMJ shift, strong reset. Neck - multiple cramps, released to full range of motion. Significant pelvic (roll?) and tilt, release on extension. Shoulder retraction & lock out, deep release on extension and rotation. Topline lifted, stance balanced, neck restored cervical arch."

The change in her was considerable, and very cool to see. Tension faded, her eyes were softer and more relaxed, her neck looks smoother, her shoulders feel smoother, and after watching her move last night, her motion is definitely smoother and more relaxed. She actually broke out in sweat a little during the work. Every time he made an adjustment that made her recoil (like when working the neck, he uses a strong release to get them back on track), she would jump straight back to him and put her forehead on his chest like she wanted to get in his pocket.

He uses a 1 - 5 system for issues, 5 being "get the vet out for some anti-inflammatories and we'll try working on the horse in a few days," 3 being bad enough to affect performance and behavior. Pandora had a lot of 3s, a 4, and a couple 2s. He said when he first saw her she was in way worse shape, lots of 4s.

It took him an hour and a half to work on her.

Next was McKinna. Minor jaw adjustment, minor upper neck adjustment, and a slightly more intense shoulder adjustment. 2s all around but a 3 on each shoulder. She figured him out pretty quickly (he commented that she's a very intelligent horse -- aww, yay!) and was working with him politely. Comments: "Primary: both shoulders retracted. Dramatic but easy release to full range of motion. Minor cramps in neck, released to full range of motion. Top and bottom line lifted, neck recurved, front stride extended."

McKinna took about 20 minutes. Both were very polite and willing to work with him and both were very cheerful to get turned out.

I love the way he works with them. He carries around a big huge cotton rope that he uses to help them work out their own issues. Some adjustments, like the jaw, do require a big motion from him, but he doesn't go thwacking and thumping on them to get things done. He also spends time working with pressure points to help relax muscles.

One of the most interesting things was when he adjusted the shoulders, which both mares needed. He loops the rope just above their heel bulb on a foreleg. He pulls the foreleg gently back, stretching it underneath them, then pulls it out in front of them and down and holds, letting them relax the shoulder and stretch all the way out. After a minute or so of this, he pulls up and out, hard, causing them to resist. They go up (ideally), and as they do, they roll their shoulder back, up, and forward away from the rope, essentially popping it free. The difference in the two mares was remarkable. Pandora, for one, had a lot of interconnected issues that made it hard for her to make the correct motions to release her shoulders, but even when she did, it was stiff and difficult. When he asked McKinna to do it, the first time she wasn't sure, but she got it eventually. The second time, she knew exactly what he was asking; she immediately went up, rolled that shoulder, and came back down. But her body motion! She looked like she was made of rubber. Seriously.

She was bendy and flexible. When she went up, she rocked back on her haunches and hunkered down, and looked like she could poke her nose back between her back legs if she wanted to. Her back rounded. Half the time when he was stretching a foreleg off to the left, she'd curve her head all the way around to the right to look behind her. It was incredible to see how much she could bend her body around, and testament to how physically sound she truly is (outside of the shoulder issues).

He praised her back soundly -- it's short, flat (not swayed), and strong. He said that holds her together so that even if something goes wrong at a corner, like her shoulders, the rest of her body doesn't get thrown out of whack because her spine is so strong and centered. Cool stuff.

I could see the difference in her, too. Her shoulders look wider now that they're not locked back, making her chest not so narrow. Her bottom line truly has tucked up -- her big ol' belly has faded a lot.

All in all I was very pleased with his work, and I'm super glad I got him out to work on Pandora before I really started asking her to work hard. The difference in her is so tangible. He told me to do belly lifts on her a few times before each ride to help her stay adjusted. I'm sure she'll need work again, simply because she was so messed up, but she's on the right track with correct work, nutrition, and turnout.

Oh, and he is coming to speak to Pony Club about horse physiology and the importance of keeping your horse pain-free when you're asking him to work. How cool is that? I'm giving a presentation on rider/horse mechanics and stretching for the rider, so I asked him to give his talk at the end of mine. Should be cool.

Have any of you guys had experiences with chiropractors, good or bad? I know many of you use them. I know it's made a huge difference in the horses I ride, especially ones that come with a history, like Pandora.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Various Updates

Hello all! Just found this old picture of McKinna after a summer bath. Fly sheet, fly neck cover, fly mask, barely-visible-pink-tailbag....It takes a lot to keep a wet white horse clean!

I've got some various updates for you today.

New Saddle
I got a new saddle! We ordered it from Tack of the Day. I don't know if you are familiar with it, but basically they sell quality items at very discounted prices. Previously they sold a jumping saddle whose maker they did not disclose. According to reports, the saddle was pretty nice but the leather sucked. Well they just sold another round, and this time they had it made specifically for them and of higher quality leather. From reports on the COTH forums, it is made on a Collegiate pattern, but not actually by Collegiate.

I like it a lot! It is very soft. A big change from the jumping saddles I'm used to, which are pancake-flat old ones. It's got a soft padded knee roll, it's softer all around, and it has removable knee and thigh blocks which I may or may not remove. It's very comfy to jump in, fits McKinna very well (*almost* perfectly -- it's just a tiny bit snug up by her withers, but it's definitely not pinching). Does not fit Pandora in the slightest, which makes sense since they require two very different types of saddles.

McKinna needs a wide tree saddle that's rather flat in the back; she has a wide, flat, short back with decent withers but a body that narrows pretty quickly as it gets to her girth area. Combined, this makes saddles want to slide forward onto her shoulders.

Pandora is built like an A-frame house right now, haha! She definitely needs some more weight and muscling on her topline. But in any case, her shape is very different. Typical TB back: Pretty curved compared to McKinna's, fairly narrow, shark withers, needs a saddle that fits closely up front but curves enough in the back to hug her body. My older jumping saddles fit her damn near perfectly, minus the fact that they touch her withers when I'm in the saddle :( This I think will be easily fixed as she continues to build weight and muscle.

Friday Lesson
I trailered out to the Friday lesson again this week and had a blast. This time there were two other riders there. McKinna was very well behaved! During warmup she was extremely soft and relaxed for me. Then she started fussing at my right leg and not wanting to bend to the right, so I grabbed a dressage whip for the rest of flatwork and that seemed to fix it.

Her canter work was WAY better. Still quick, still a little out-of-balance, but slower than last time and way more under control. Circles were easier without her totally dropping her inside shoulder.

Then we did some jumping and McKinna was still quite awesome! We put together a course after awhile. After one fairly sloppy course where I couldn't seem to stay in the right place in the tack and she couldn't seem to find decent distances (coincidence? Think not.), we pulled it back together and had an awesome trip. She is staying steady and relaxed coming up to the fences instead of rushing towards them, picking her own distances, and when I ride her correctly she even stands up through her corners!

What a lovely horse she is, even if she was rotten last weekend.

McKinna is going to get clipped today - a modified trace clip. Normally I just clip the underside of her neck down the front of her chest and leave it at that, but she's quite furry and even with that clip she got very sweaty at last night's lesson. So I'm going to do a clip that goes down the side of her neck, across some shoulder, and some belly in basically a diagonal straight line. Shall take pictures since we finally found the camera!

Plateau and Clicker
I feel like McKinna and I have hit a bit of a plateau. We seem to be a tad bored with each other and what we're doing, though it doesn't show up quite as much at lessons. I know we've been stuck at roughly the same level for awhile, and it doesn't help that I am coming back from that pesky broken ankle so I was out of the training groove for a couple months. I know that I need to start pushing and asking for more, but it's hard.

I've decided that the remedy is lessons and trying new things. Variety is the spice of life, right? Goodness knows McKinna and I have tasted all kinds of different riding styles. Maybe it's time for us to explore other things, at least for a week or so.

I think I'll talk Mom into going on a short ride up the road sometime this week if the weather isn't too bad. There's a really nice big hill that's got packed gravel on it that we think would be nice for walking up and back down.

I'm also contemplating doing some more clicker work with her. I know some of you (cough, mugwump, cough ;) tend to be very against hand-feeding treats at all, let alone treats involved with training. Here's a few reasons why it doesn't bother me:

  • I'm working with McKinna, who is not nippy and never has been. Every time we work, I reinforce that mugging for treats does not produce treats. I do this in two ways: when her muzzle is on me looking for treats, it gets some gentle insistent abuse in the form of vigorous rubbing. Also, I work on targeting, where she gets a click/treat for touching a target with her muzzle. This automatically reinforces that treats come from touching something else, not me.
  • It's fun. It makes me AND my horse think in different ways about what I'm asking her to do. It's an amazing feeling when you're both working towards a goal, the trainer trying to figure out how to break it down and watching to be able to reward the slightest try (hmm, sound familiar?) and the horse thinking hard to figure out what the trainer wants. The 'lightbulb moment' is always a total rush because you realize that your horse is actually figuring out what you want all on their own, just from you rewarding a few baby steps. It's similar to regular training: reward baby steps, get the horse to understand what you want. But it makes you think about it in a way you're not used to.
  • It makes training SOME behaviors very easy. Polite hoof-behavior, for instance. It's incredibly easy for horses to grasp the concept when you click/treat for every time they pick a hoof up, then increase demands to every time they hold it quietly for a second, then two seconds, then four seconds, then add tapping and picking or whatever. All of a sudden, there's something in it for them. After they understand, it's very easy to phase the click/treats almost entirely out, or even completely and just give them a kind word and a rub when they behave politely.
  • It's different. It's a shift from what you normally do, and that makes you and your horse both more interested. It's a challenge for both of you. Remember, variety is the spice of life: it's why I've done everything from team penning to trail courses to makeshift steer-daubing by running round whacking my uncle with a bubble-wrapped white stick from horseback. By focusing on something different, you challenge each other and get to work on training while having fun.
The most important thing for me is that it's simply a different, fun way to try things. If you don't like it, you can leave it. But I enjoy knowing that it's something fun. When the clicker comes out, McKinna perks right up. True, it's probably because she knows that clicker = treats. But if she's going to be my more-than-willing participant in a training exercise, do I care if it's for the treats or just because she loves me? No, not really. Because I know that, as I follow the process, I can phase the clicker and treats out, and I'm left with a solidly learned behavior.

Pandora is still doing very well. Her weight-gain has kind of stalled a bit -- grr -- but I think it's because the barn owner ran out of orchard grass and switched to (not the nicest) grass hay. It's a constant battle - that horse could probably put down 3x as much hay as she's getting, and she's getting like 8 flakes a day. I realize the barn owner can't afford to feed her as much as she can eat, which would probably amount to a bale of hay per day. So we added some beet pulp to get some more fiber into her.

At this point I'm considering just buying some of our own hay. Unfortunately that would add up really fast. But if I have to do it, I have to do it. What would be nice is if we could arrange for her and McKinna to be in a paddock (there's a big one out front that's got jumps in it now) with round bales that we pay for, but unfortunately McKinna would probably become a big fatty on that much hay. Not to mention that I think most of the paddocked horses come in during the winter anyway.


I know we can put more weight on by adding more concentrates like grain, or adding alfalfa or oil. But it's very very hard for me to do that when I know that she needs more hay and would put more weight on if she had as much as she could eat.

I should figure out if it would be more cost-effective to feed her lots of beet pulp, or to just buy hay. Is beet pulp comparable to hay in terms of fiber benefits? I know a lot of people feed it as main fiber source to older horses without much in the way of teeth. I could go to hay cubes, but I imagine that would be more expensive than hay itself.

Argh. Okay, maybe I will just talk to the barn owner. I know she will suggest adding more beet pulp, but Pandora finishes her hay within a couple hours of feeding time, and that's just not good enough for me. When she was getting 3 flakes of orchard grass, they were BIG flakes and they took her a long time to work through. Plus it was super nice green stuff.

Okay, massive update over! Thanks for sticking with me through it ;)

Monday, October 20, 2008


Here's some pictures from the show -- and by some, I mean a lot. In no particular order:

Pandora's attitude for the whole day. Relaxed and chilled out.

Hooray blue ribbon!

Not much in the way of action shots, sorry guys!

She's cute when she's not being a terror.

Since I know you all wanted to see it, here's the costume! And McKinna is being very patient as we assemble it.

The finished product. I know, we're pretty awesome.

Pandora's pretty green ribbon.

I'm not pointing at myself, I'm memorizing my course :)

And this pretty much sums up McKinna's attitude for the entire day.

She was nice and calm...during warmup.

Oh McKinna, the things you put up with.

So there you have it!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Well, you win some...

And you lose some.

Today, overall, kind of sucked. Well, until I got home at 4:30 and got to chill in my sweatpants for the rest of the evening.

Went to a schooling show today, which meant leaving the house at 6:30 which is never fun. Add this to staying up late last night to finish the costume.

Pandora, actually, was great. I did two trot-a-pole hunter classes; placed sixth in the first one, first in the second one. The first trip was nervous, bit-chewing, counter-bending, pole-whacking nonsense, but the second trip was fairly relaxed and steady, so I was proud of her. She got to spend the rest of the day eating her hay and then proceeding to eat McKinna's hay.

McKinna, on the other hand, took issue with that arena and would. not. settle. down. For those of you who read Mugwump's stories -- you know how she describes Sonita at shows? A bundle of energy wanting to explode in any direction, so tight she feels like a rubber band about to snap, wide-eyed with nervous energy? Yup. That was McKinna in that arena trying to jump.

The first round at 2' was terrible, and I am usually pretty forgiving of slightly bad rounds. We had a refusal, ended up trotting into almost every fence, I had to haul her to a halt when she tried to take off with me...just badness. Before the 2'6" class we warmed up in the arena and she still wouldn't settle down, even just trying to get her to walk or trot in a relaxed manner. She was running sideways, head as high as it could go, refusing to walk, totally ignoring my aids. So, I told the judge I wanted to just do a schooling round. I went in, jumped a few lines (much more under control than the first round, but still thundering around like a bat outta hell), trotted for a minute, and called it good.

It was weird and extremely out of character for her. She hasn't been that crazy with me in forever! I don't know what was going on, but I just chalked it up to experience and we headed back to the trailer to decompress and get ready for the costume class.

We looked - in my humble opinion - AWESOME.

A face-armor plate, shiny silver, molded perfectly across her head. I had a mask, complete with Batman's sharp ears and frowning eyebrows. The bat symbol blazed on my chest, and below was my silver bat-belt. My cape swooshed with every step. McKinna was swathed in a silver-trimmed black sheet that covered everything but the seat of my saddle, with a giant shining bat-symbol on her haunch.

We were wicked cool.

And we tied for fourth (out of four) in the costume class.


We lost to the Great Wall of China (a horse in a sheet with paper plates sewn all to it with a girl dressed in a Chinese outfit -- okay, cool idea, but still) and a rather simple Headless Horseman (who I think got second because it was a little kid on leadline). Okay, really, I don't go into these things to win, I promise. But after putting all that effort into such a badass costume I get last place?

So today was a day to realize that you can't always get what you want, and sometimes everything goes to hell in a handbasket anyway. The funny part is that when I got into that arena on McKinna in her costume, she was totally fine. Completely relaxed as we walked and trotted. Completely smooth, steady, and calm as we cantered big circles to show off the way my cape billows out behind me. Clearly something about jumping was upsetting her, which is strange since she's recently jumped at home and away from home with no problems. Oh well, I've no idea what lit a fire under her tail, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

Pictures will be up ASAP -- I will make a pictures-only post, I promise!

This is Mom and Kuma demonstrating how tired we all were after the schooling show today. Well, the dog didn't come to the show, but he likes to take part in any and all naps...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ooh I'm Sore...

I hauled McKinna to take a lesson with a local trainer last night. She gives lessons for Pony Club once a week. Surprisingly I was the only one there last night, but hey, one-on-one instruction is cool! I'm pretty sore today (an hour and a half of riding is a LOT when you've only been back in the saddle for a couple weeks) but it was an awesome lesson.

Poor McKinna was pretty tired by the end, too. Trainer worked us hard!

I took home a lot of things to work on, though. We had a lot of dialogue going on during the whole lesson (thank goodness I can talk and ride at the same time!) and she just gave me a lot of information, which was awesome.

So, my things to work on at home:

1. Asking her to give me more in terms of contact and self-carriage. We are at a bit of a plateau right now where she will relax forward and move in a steady, calm rhythm, but I haven't pushed for that next step. I need to ask when things are going well, work on it for a little while, then move on to something else.

2. Cantering. A lot! It sure was illustrated how weak our canter work was last night. She had us cantering big circles and gradually smaller ones, which I knew I should work on, but I had no idea how much that could help. It really forces her to get her butt under herself, and she was having an awfully hard time holding her canter on those smaller circles. With a few weeks of work on that, I'd bet money that her canter will be astronomically different.

3. Possibly try tiny little spurs. As we jumped a small course at the end of the lesson, the trainer noticed that McKinna way dropped her shoulder to the outside when we came around a corner. She said using little spurs just might help her pick herself up. Once she locks on to the fence she's fine, but she tends to lose it before then. This one I may try, but I think that the canter-strengthening work will help, so we'll see how that works first.

The jumping part went very well. McKinna was steady, smooth, and found her own distances every time. We definitely turned a corner in that regard.

All in all it was a great lesson. It definitely made me realize that I don't work my horses hard enough. I work until we get going well, do a little work at that level, and then call it good. As the trainer pointed out, that's better than the alternative, which is to work and work and work until the horse is fried.

So I've decided to start asking for a little more in my schooling sessions. When it's going well, push for the next step before I back off. When I'm doing canter work with McKinna, do it longer and ask her to work harder before I let her take a break.

Today is a schooling ride on Pandora, but I will try the cantering circles with McKinna tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

All In Due Time

I have been noticing lately that there is a time for everything with horses.

A time to work hard and push for the next level.
A time to return to basics.
A time to challenge your comfort zone.
A time to, well, take time off!
A time to relax and listen to your horse.
A time to tell your horse to shut up and put up.
A time to ride with others or a pair of eyes on the ground;
And a time to ride alone.
A time for long periods of rest due to injury, horse or human.
A time for fun, silly games with or on your horse.
A time to take other people's advice,
And a time to figure it out on your own.
A time to watch, and a time to do.

The last two months, it has been a time for watching, listening, and working on the basics as I healed.

Right now it was about freakin' time I got back over some fences. Tonight, I did.

I can't begin to describe how beautiful it was.

We headed out to a small front paddock, my mom and I, where several fences were set up. I warmed McKinna up at a steady, relaxed trot, then did a few laps of canter in each direction. She was feeling good, balanced, attentive; eager to go, but willing to settle down and listen. The months of walk-trot work had clearly paid off. My ankle was doing okay -- a little inflexible, a little weak in the lower leg, but no pain. It was time to take the girl over some jumps, something neither of us had done since that day I fell off more than two months ago.

The sun was low and a perfect fall-evening temperature settled in, cool and crisp, where riding in a sweatshirt is perfect. All I could think of as we trotted up to the fence was how silent we were, her hooves noiseless on the soft dirt. I inhaled, stretched my shoulders up to remember not to throw myself forward, as McKinna pricked her ears at the low fence. Steady, steady, steady; up and over we go, smooth as butter, whisper-quiet.

Somewhere around this point, the grin got stuck on my face and I couldn't get it off.

We worked for maybe five more minutes, adding a short line of fences. Each takeoff was steady and relaxed, no matter what distance we got. For whatever reason, I couldn't stop thinking about how quiet we were as we coursed across the damp ground, each takeoff and landing barely more than a soft scattering of dirt. My face hurt from smiling.

Yup. That "yee-haw" feeling? Still there.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Schooling Show

We went to a dressage schooling show on Sunday and my goodness, did it go well!

We arrived at the show at about 8; my ride time was 9. Perfect. After unloading the horses, taking off their boots, and setting them up with hay bags, we groomed and started tacking up. Pandora was not that fantastically clean, unfortunately -- the whole evening before had been spent washing McKinna to get her white!

Anyway, other than all that dust lurking under her pretty brown coat, Pandora looked fine. "I'm going to head over to the warm up arena to see how she does away from McKinna," I told my parents, and led her away. I mounted up just as the sole other occupant of the warm up arena was leaving. Wonderful, I thought. Not only did I take her away from her buddy, she's going to be all alone in this arena.

Well call me a pessimist, because that dang mare waltzed around the warm up arena like she didn't have a care in the world! After a few relaxed walk laps, we picked up a trot to do some bending and serpentines. No problem. No head-tucking-behind-the-bit, which I just figured out a few days ago (post on that coming soon). She was good as gold.

I was the very first rider and our test was Intro A. So we enter, trot down a fairly squiggly center line, and come to a halt with her leaning on the reins. Lovely.

We walk forward. Well this isn't too bad, I think as we turn neatly past the judge's stand, with nary a twitch from Pandora. We pick up a trot and circle in the center. My geometry isn't that fantastic (I haven't taken it in four years, give me a break!). Her free walk, while lacking in the forward department, certainly involved plenty of stretching down to the ground. Repeat the whole sequence going the other direction, another vaguely straight center line, halt salute.

What a lovely mare. She was totally relaxed and in sync with me the whole time. Definitely lacked some forward -- it was not a brilliant test by any stretch of the imagination! But she was relaxed and steady through the whole ride, something that is very important to me.

Well by the end of the day it turned out that we'd won Intro A and received high point for the Intro level ;) Our score was a 62.5%. Not spectacular but hey, I've been riding the horse for a week and a half!
Cheesy smile, blue ribbon, bored-looking horse? Check.

Mom also rode two nice tests on McKinna. Their communication is getting better and better. In my mother's words: "I'm so used to working on things that when I'm riding a test and it's going well, I'm going 'Oh! Everything's going right! What do I do??'" Don't worry Mom, eventually you will get used to it!

All in all the show was wonderfully successful. Extremely relaxed and low-key, just the way we like it. Time to get working on canter work with both horses so I can start doing some Training level tests (walk-trot-canter instead of simply walk-trot).

I can't wait to tell you about how I figured Pandora out! Our communication has improved a LOT. But that's a story for tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Batman, Revisited

McKinna was awesome on Sunday. Mom rode her a little bit and after watching I decided to hop on -- it is much easier for me to explain things as I'm doing them, rather than as Mom is doing them. Also, I was jealous because McKinna was going so nicely!

It's the first time I've ridden McKinna (well, a real ride anyway) since I broke my ankle. My mom laughs at me for the way I keep telling her that she's done so well with McKinna, but it's true. McKinna stepped forward into a springy, energetic walk, and happily gave me a nice working contact on the bit.

So she'd been having some issues with rushing in her trot circles. She would be fine for the first 1/4, then drop her inside shoulder and rush the next half, then straighten up the last 1/4. To fix it, I did this:

Prepare her several strides out with a firm half-halt: gently but firmly close hands and legs and sit deep for a brief instant, all to "check" her and let her know I need her to do something. I begin turning my head to look ahead on my circle; as we near our point of departure from the arena wall, I keep the contact of my outside rein firm (as this is what defines and holds the size/shape of your circle). At the same time, I open with my inside rein and squeeze with my inside leg, while my outside leg rests passive slightly behind the girth, ready to squeeze if she wants to swing her haunches out.

Positioned like this, we go into the turn. The moment she wants to start rushing (maybe 1/8th of the way through, or halfway through the first 1/4), I half-halt again. I'm not shy about it -- if your horse has no reaction to your half-halts, then you need to make your half-halts as strong as necessary to get a reaction. Since McK's been worked so consistently at the walk and trot, it didn't take much.

Here's the key: during these half-halts, I never let her off the circle I wanted to be on. Between my outside rein and my inside leg, she simply could not avoid my path. I checked her several times, each time doing so before she fell apart and started rushing. To clarify, by 'check' I don't mean a quick bump on the reins. I mean a measured whole-body pause, where I squeeze my reins and close my legs and sit up tall and deep. It's a smooth movement, but brief.

While this gave me a bit of a lumpy tempo (steady, speed up, check back/slow down, etc) and her head was a bit raised in response to my very firm insistent outside rein, it also gave us a smooth path and made it extremely clear to McK what I wanted. She tries to deviate from the circle, I force her to stay on it with my aids. She wants to rush, I half-halt and stop her. These two go hand-in-hand, since rushing often leads to dropping the inside or outside shoulder and thus losing a smooth path.

In the last quarter of the circle, she gave me what I wanted. She relaxed her head down, accepted a contact with my hands, and started truly pushing from behind. This was a very, very tangible change; I felt it immediately as her cadence steadied, her back rose, and the "air time" between her steps felt longer. My mom saw it instantly.

When this happened, I quit messing with her. Yes, she started going a little faster as this happened, but that was because she was using her hind end to push. The increased speed still had a steady rhythm, her back was still lifted, and she was still relaxed in my hands. My very steady hands, accompanied by a steady seat and steady leg. This is key. When she gave me what I wanted, I didn't need to half-halt, to hold her on the circle with my outside rein, or to constantly remind her to bend to the inside with my leg. She held the path. She held the bend. She kept her rhythm. All I did was give her soft, supporting hands, a supporting inside leg, and a LOT of verbal praise. You'd think she just painted the Mona Lisa, the way I carried on.

The next time we circled, it only took her half the circle to give me that feeling.

It's an amazing, amazing experience, let me tell you. To feel her suddenly shift her entire body, using it correctly, and moving in perfect communication with me, like a steady quiet dialogue was going on between the reins and my seat -- that was cool.

It's happened before, but never that easily.

So after I explained all this to Mom, she got back on and was able to reproduce that same sequence of events: prepare for the circle, hold her to the path, half-halt as often as necessary, and when she responds, go with her. It was really lovely to watch.

I'm very proud of the progress McKinna has made in this. It's truly wonderful to ride that feeling.

That being said, what is with the title of this post, you may ask?

I'm so glad you asked!

There's a Halloween schooling show at a local barn this month and one of the classes is a COSTUME CLASS. I bet you can guess where this one's going...

Yes, that's right, I am going to drag the Batman outfit (see post here) out of the closet. In fact, McKinna, as the Bathorse (did he ever have a horse? Don't think so, but oh well) will get costumed as well. Here are the details we've thought of so far:

A black sheet to go over her main body (like picture below). I want to put the Batman logo on the haunches.

Black dressage saddle and bridle, obviously.

"Warhorse" armor, made out of tinfoil that is painted black. Probably much the same pieces as on this horse from Warwick Castle:

i.e., a forehead-down-the-nose plate (probably not going all the way down the cheeks and all), scallops over the crest, and possibly a shoulder guard. It all depends on how difficult it is to make all of that!

The other option, of course, is to make her a My Little Pony. She is white and cute and would look phenomenal with pink [mane, tail, hooves] and glitter all over with glittered hooves and the like. Mom wants me to go with this outfit (and I can't deny that she would be unbearably cute, especially with wavy mane/tail) but I really can't decide. To be badass, or to take the perfect excuse for getting her all girly and pink? Either way I'll figure it out soon and I am excited to get all dressed up!

Monday, September 29, 2008

School and Things

Just to let you know, I just started classes today, so things may be a little slow as my poor brain adjusts to the fact that four Classes In College are a little different from four high school classes :)

I've been riding a little. On Saturday, we went on a trail ride with a girl who we met through a mutual riding-friend. I rode Pandora, and Mom rode McKinna. Everything went pretty well, considering.

We got outside the gate and started riding down the grass on the side of the road. Pandora was a little nervous (champing at the bit a little, snorting a little) but not too bad. We walked down until we got to the corner, where we rounded a narrow little edge. "Oh," our guide recalled, "the burro in this field sometimes comes galloping up and freaks the horses out."


So as we wound our way down the fenceline, the burro perked his ears up. Pandora and the other horses looked at him, but didn't seem unduly bothered. Until he came galloping up, ears-a-flopping and tail waving, to the fence. McKinna stopped dead to stare at him, while Pandora began making her uncertainty clear. Everything would have been fine if he didn't let out one teeny little bray, though. That really made Pandora nervous!

I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and took Pandora across the road to the other side. McKinna, after standing and staring at the donkey for a minute, seemed to decide that he was no stranger than the rest of the livestock she's been subjected to chasing or walking past (sheep, pigs, cattle, small children) and walked calmly on.

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. Except a little canter up a pretty steep hill that we'd been motoring up at a trot. It was quite nice, Pandora and McKinna just trucked on up but then got a little excited and cantered for a few strides.

That being said, the ride was more than I expected or wanted. Truth be told it only lasted for an hour and a half and my (probably wildly inaccurate) estimate is that we covered maybe 5 miles, plus or minus? It's not that much. But, some of it was over some pretty hilly or rough ground, and I was uncomfortable with how much we asked of the horses. Unfortunately it's not like there was a shortcut home, so we just had to roll with it. I'd made it pretty clear that we just wanted a light trail ride, but there you go.

No harm done. The horses weren't that sweaty, they got water and hay as soon as we got home, and put back in the pasture. As far as I can tell there was no stiffness or anything.

I probably worry too much. It's not like they're totally unfit and were taken on a daylong ride, but still. Ah well, at least I know for next time just how long 'the loop' really is :)

Overall Pandora did very well. Even when she was nervous, she never offered naughty behavior. She was pleasant over all types of terrain. She walked in close proximity to the other horses just fine. Once she pinned her ears and hitched a back leg at McKinna, but I smacked her shoulder and those ears went quite quickly forward! She responds like that to discipline -- very quickly straightens up. It would be very easy to over-punish her. Over and over again I come back to that sensitive nature of hers, which I don't mind in the slightest. I find that it makes her wonderfully fun to work with because it invites a very subtle interaction.

Next post I'll talk about Mom's ride on McKinna tonight, but for now I'm off. College is tiring!

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Yesterday I went in to the orthopedic surgeon and NO MORE WALKING BOOT! I am VERY excited.

I now have a little brace to wear inside my shoe when I'm not hanging around my house, but he said I can take it off for riding if I feel like my boots are supportive enough.

Thus -- I rode last night!

I took Pandora for a little spin. Just some walking and trotting. Some things that came to my attention immediately:

  • Keeping my heels down can kinda hurt my ankle -- less so if I simply let my heels sink, more so if I push down on the ball of my foot.
  • I am a leeetle bit lopsided.
  • Someone took my thigh muscles and replaced them with jelly. I want them BACK.
  • Pandora's mouthing, tucking behind the vertical, and general futzing with the bit tends to go away with quiet hands.
  • I can actually trot without it hurting very much, unless you count the aforementioned jelly thighs.
I think I can pretty easily work through Pandora's bit nonsense. Because I have better balance (ah, youth!) and more experience multitasking in the saddle, I can keep my hands quieter than my mother's (though I must point out that she's done an excellent job riding during my convalescence!). When I rode, she fussed less. Therefore, quieter hands = less fussing.

It appears to be a fairly simple, fixable problem, for which I'm eternally grateful. I am sure we'll fight our epic battles in time, but for the most part, riding her forward into a gentle steady contact with plenty of bending and serpentines seems to work very well.

Also -- THIS HORSE DOES NOT RUSH. Can I tell you how much I like that? Both horses before have been rushers. She is not. She does, of course, have her own unique issues. But she doesn't rush. Also she doesn't suck back. GOOD THING. Her speed is very steady and easily adjusted which I truly appreciate. I am really looking forward to pushing the dressage work on her.

I think Mom and I are going to go on a trail ride this weekend. I'll ride Pandora (or my Panda-bear, as I tend to call her) and Mom will ride McKinna. The walks will be good for rebuilding my strength as well as giving the horses a physical and mental change of scenery, so we'll try to take advantage of what little nice weather remains.

I start classes on Monday and am also excited about that :)

In other words -- Life As Usual is back on track. With school and actively riding both back in my life, expect plenty more of my previous kinds of posts, with musing on riding and training and the like. I can't wait until the saddle time starts the thoughtful juices flowing again.

Hope all is going well for you guys and your equestrian adventures.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Presentation Part I: Poor

I'm going to skip the stage of the ad that's Very Poor, i.e. a Craigslist ad that says "Horse for sale, $600" with no picture. There's not much point in me doing that!

So -- I'll be demonstrating the next step up.

Remember, all three of these steps will feature McKinna, so it will be pretty obvious how different presentations can make a horse look bad or good.

McKinna is a 12 year old QH/Arab mare she is good at Jumping and trails. A great ridding horse and good for a broodmare maybe. Shes a lil quick at the walk but real good for everything else and woud be Awesome for OHSET or 4H or your new pleasur horse. Shes a very pretty white color. $1500.

(Gratuitous capitalization, run-on and fragmented sentences, slang, misspellings, an endorsement of her purdy color? Check. However, there is some useful information [age, breed].)

(Strange-angle picture that tells you nothing about the horse, but illustrates the creativity of construction 'round here? Check.)

(Very, *very* tiny picture of me standing next to her in a field of jumps, suggesting that it's possible she can jump but also raising the question of why I'm on the ground? Check.)

([Small] Pasture picture of questionable conformational integrity? Check.)

Upon you emailing me to ask further questions, I will wait six and a half days to reply. With the bare minimum of syllables per sentence, I will answer about 70% of the questions you ask, simply forgetting to answer the rest. I will not volunteer any information that you did not ask for. I will then either end the email, or write several long paragraphs detailing why times are hard and I need to sell my horse, how my friend's sister's uncle's dentist's cousin is a great trainer and real good with the unbroke ones, and give you a detailed analysis of my health and financial situations.

This does not paint a very attractive picture. If I saw a sale ad with these photos, I would do one of two things. If nothing caught my attention about the ad, nothing that I thought could make this horse a steal for the price, I'd just drop it. If I saw something I liked, I'd probably ask for more, or just go look at the horse -- the first picture shows me that she might actually be a decent looking horse. Maybe.

But the point is, if you put up an ad like this, you are not going to attract the kind of people you want.

That being said, if you're looking for a diamond-in-the-rough (and I mean rough), these kinds of ads can often be a place to look. For example, the ad for Pandora said something like "Appendix mare, 6 y/o, has been on trails and evented. $600. Email for more info." The pictures she sent us were pasture shots at strange angles, with one small head-on jumping photo that didn't tell us much. Pretty bare-bones. I spoke to a trainer to ask her if she could come test-ride her for me, since I was obviously still broken-ankled. Trainer told me that a horse that cheap has red flags a mile wide (well, it's true, she does have a supposed backstory of rearing) and that she wouldn't even go look at her.

Well, that was pretty sound advice. But I also went and looked at her, bought her, and so far she's been nothing but 100% pleasant to work with, willing to please, and intelligent. No nasty behaviors. No resistance (other than wanting to tuck behind the bit -- an anxiety thing). She doesn't get rude on the ground, she's wonderful for tacking up and grooming, she offers no funny business under saddle.

So -- here you go. If you're looking for a bargain, poor presentation like this can be your friend, because you may find a truly nice horse that other people passed over because of price, advertisement, whatever. If you are selling your horse, put the extra couple hours in to take some good pictures, please!

After this, Presentation Part II: Average.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thank You.

I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for your kind words and thoughts about Bailey.

I'll miss him. But I also rarely have trouble getting back on the proverbial horse -- I've accepted his death, grieved for him, and moved on. I am happy that he was happy, and I am happy with the horses in my life now. I am very, very grateful for all that he taught me, because every time I think of him, I realize just how much he taught me about handling horses. So I am content in this knowledge: I took him from a bad situation. I taught him how to be a horse, how to work with people, and he taught me how to teach horses. He put me in a better place, and I put him in a better place; that's all I could ever ask for.

There's plenty for me to update you guys on. Pandora is doing very very well, as is McKinna. My mom is planning on riding both of them in a dressage schooling show on October 5th. In less than two weeks, I get my boot off! I also start school in two weeks and a day.

I promise posts will be much more frequent once I'm in the saddle again, too. Something about riding sparks the reflection and deep thinking. Maybe I should start a zen-horseback-riding retreat, where you ride long trails and think deeply about what you're doing wrong and right. Hmm.

Hope everything is going well for all of you. Later today I am finally going to make that first post on Presentation of the Horse for Sale.

Monday, September 8, 2008

So It Goes.

This post is really hard to write.

So I'll cut to the chase. My mom spoke to Bailey's owner today. Yesterday, he walked up to the fence over near where she was to say hi, and looked a little off. Upon closer inspection, she discovered that he had a very, very deep cut on his leg.

To make a long story short, he somehow sliced damn near all the way through his leg, severed his flexor tendon, and was euthanized. She's not sure what he did it on, and walked the entire fenceline without finding anything.

She's very upset and we are too. She says he was not distressed at all -- he was very calm, and loaded calmly on the trailer to get to the vet (the only time he's ever gone on without giving her trouble....leave it to Bailey!).

It's hard to think that he's gone. He was my first horse, you know? I'm sure you can tell by the tone of my posts about him that I loved him very much. I find it both ironic and very sad that the day before this happened, I wrote about my last ride on him. It means so much more to me now, and all the other memories -- the good and the bad. Sitting on him out in the center of a big outdoor round pen under a flat grey sky, crying from frustration in the pouring rain as he stood. Cantering in a group on a trail ride, and the way he stopped dead for me when another rider fell right in front of his hooves. Cruising around the stadium course at Inavale and that easy way he always was willing to take the long spot. The fact that he'd stand perfectly still for an intranasal vaccine, but not for the farrier. The faces he made when I fed him a bite of an ice cream sandwich, or the one time he mugged me for a cough drop and spent the next ten minutes trying to get rid of the taste. The nasty faces he'd make at me every day when I tacked him up. The way he'd always boss McKinna around and herd her away from other horses. The way his whinny always started out hoarse and barely-there, but by the third try was earsplitting.

At least it wasn't traumatic. It wasn't frightening for him, or confusing, or horribly painful, though I'm sure it hurt. It wasn't a long, drawn-out illness that slowly killed him. It wasn't an agonizing episode of colic. To be honest, he was an incredibly healthy horse. Other than being footsore after trimming for the first year or so, he was always completely sound and healthy.

I'm going to miss him very, very much.

This is one of my senior pictures. Before I got the studio photos (for yearbook), we had a session out at the barn with Bailey, because he was for sale at the time and we wanted to have these pictures of him. I am very glad we took them.

This one's my favorite. It's the way we always were when I was telling him what a wonderful boy he was; hands on either side of his head, and he'd just cock his ears and stand there. Must be a horse thing, I guess.

As Vonnegut would say -- so it goes.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My Last Ride on Bailey

As I spend more and more time with Pandora, I've been thinking about Bailey a lot. Why? Well, the similarities lead to comparisons, in this case. She's far more like Bailey than McKinna ever will be, just because she's half TB.

Here he is below, showing us exactly what he thinks of that ribbon he just got at a schooling show.

But I want to share with you what my last ride on him was like.

We met with the prospective buyers a few days ago, and tomorrow they're coming to sign the bill of sale and pick him up. He'll be on a trailer to Montana, where he'll get to have plenty of turnout and she'll ride him for eventing. I wonder if he'll handle the colder weather well -- he always grew a pretty substantial coat for a Thoroughbred, even when he was blanketed. He'll probably be fine.

It's my last night with my Bailey, with my first horse. I don't feel much like schooling flatwork or jumping him, even though I know I'll miss his soft, forward canter that makes you feel like you could gallop forever. Even though I know I'll miss the smooth, powerful way he jumps, never exerting much more effort than needed, but never making you feel like he was working.

No, tonight I just want to ride my horse. We're both quiet as I tie him and grab his bridle. He takes the bit as soon as I hold it up, and I take a moment to smile as I remember the first year of putting molasses on the bit and fighting with him about taking it.

With the bridle on, I clamber up the railing of the arena and slip onto his bare back. He's warm against the fall-evening chill. We head down the barn aisle and out the wide doors, walking down the small hill and around the frosted grass and spread compost that covers maybe half an acre. It's dark by now, with just a little light from the moon, so I let the reins hang loose on his neck as Bailey picks his way with calm ease.

It's silent from our lack of tack, and his steps are quieted by the soft dirt. After awhile we stop and just stand there, breathing; it's visible, mine wafting like a small puff of smoke, Bailey's curling like dragon's breath from his nostrils. I twine my hands in his mane at the base of his neck, trying to warm my cold fingers against his body.

Together we stand there for a long, long time. I spend the minutes thinking about everything we've come through together, and everything he's become. He wasn't a rescue horse, but I rescued him, alright. Bailey used to be stick-skinny, untrained, and mean. Now he is this, a calm and trustworthy partner who stands quietly beneath me on the last night we'll spend together. A lot of the work was his, I know, and more than half was my trainer's gentle guidance. But I can't help but be proud of him, my OTTB that everyone looked down their nose at when I first got him.

We've come a long way, the two of us. And it's time that we both move on.

With one last stroke down his long neck, I shift and ask him to walk back up to the barn. The lights seem too bright when we get back. There's not much fanfare; I just slide down his dark side to the ground, slip the bridle off his head and the bit out of his mouth, and lead him back to his stall with just the reins around his neck. I'm cold without his body heat. He's happy to get his grain and dives into it, glancing up at me once when I stay at his stall door, slobbering grain all over before returning his nose to the bucket.

I smile and close the door, then head home. I'll see him one last time tomorrow.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Closing the Sale

Okay, first off, thank you guys so much for the info on horse insurance! It's a lot of food for thought. I'd known it existed before but never put much thought into it. I read all of your comments (even the small novels that some of you wrote! Kidding, kidding) and really appreciated the information you gave me.

Things with my ankle have been going quite well. I'm actually able to walk on the boot without the crutches now, though it's kind of a zombie-limp. I feel like I should be shuffling along drooling and snarling and trying to eat someone. This has been a welcome relief from the crutches, because one of them is pinching a nerve on my left arm in a serious way, so a lack of crutches lets me get away from that.

It also lets me get around the barn a lot better. I can help bring the horses in, I can help carry tack, and so on. I still haven't tried longeing yet. I could probably handle McKinna fine since you basically just stand there and give voice commands, I s'pose.

I rode a little tonight! Just a walk on Pandora, but it was my first ride on her, and was quite nice. I suspect she's been asked to have a headset in the past rather than take contact with the bit, because she tends to tuck behind the vertical a little. It may just be an understanding issue, as there were some times where I got her to step forward into a nice contact without tucking her chin. We'll see where that leads. She does have a very nice walk, though.

There's several things that you should keep in mind as you close the sale of your horse.

I admit this is more geared towards, well, the way I sell horses. A horse I've owned for quite awhile, know very well, and for whom I want the absolute best possible future life. Not all items on this apply to, say, people who buy and sell horses for a living -- but then, most people who read my blog don't do that, so I think we're safe.

Among them, a bill of sale. You can look up plenty of samples online. In general it includes but is not limited to these elements: names of seller and buyer, horse's name/age/description, for which price [note that it is paid in full on such and such date], horse is now sole property of buyer, and so on. Signed by both parties, one copy each to buyer and seller.

Consider feed and possibly water to send with your horse, or at least inform the buyer of the horse's feed for a gradual transition -- not so much an issue if your horse doesn't eat much other than grass hay. For the exceptionally picky horse, sending a bucket or two of your 'home barn' water may help the transition but that may be more for the overly-worrying types!

It is very helpful for the buyer to know your horse's measurements. What size blanket? Saddle tree? Bridle? Bit? Do you have anything you'd like to send with the horse? With Bailey, we sent some blankets -- we didn't have a horse they'd fit anymore, they weren't worth much to sell, and we wanted to be sure he had blankets for the winter.

Do make sure that your horse loads safely. No-brainer, I know. But it will go a long way towards everyone's peace of mind if there isn't an hour-long ordeal to get the horse headed to its new home.

Get contact information from the buyer. I don't know about you, but I like to hear how the horse is doing every once in awhile. Bailey's owner sends us emails every once in awhile letting us know how things are going, and once she sent pictures. It's nice.

Make sure you do what's necessary to transfer papers, depending on your horse's registration (or lack thereof). The Thoroughbred registry, for example, doesn't track transfers of ownership but you can simply sign off on the papers. I won't claim to know the way other registries do it -- perhaps you could enlighten me?

You may also want to give them your horse's medical records. At the least, letting the buyer know the date of the horse's last immunizations and deworming would make it easy to continue a healthy program at the future barn.

Alright -- it's bedtime and I'm all out of ideas!

What else do you guys make sure to do when you're selling a horse?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

New Pony Comes Home

Well, we brought Pandora home yesterday! I detailed more extensively over on her blog, but to paraphrase: all went well, she is very patient and always willing, shows no behavioral issues whatsoever, and seems to be settling in nicely. Definitely a pocket pony -- she is always up for forehead rubs, but never pushes into your space. She needs some groceries but she's not terribly skinny, and overall I am very very impressed by her personality. Her biggest issue right now is the stiffness, which we will need to work out. Fingers crossed it's something that goes away with massage and fitness and long warmups. All in all, I'm just blown away by how sweet this mare is. If she continues to be this level-headed, sensitive, and willing, this is going to be the easiest training I've ever had. She was ridden today and did just fine.
Pictures from yesterday!
She wants to be a pocket pony.

Meeting McKinna (where surprisingly there was no squealing or pawing or any rude behaviors)

Look at her face! She's so cute. I know, I'm biased.

There's a tack sale in a couple weeks that we're going to have a table at, so Mom and I just spent an hour or two cleaning extra pieces of tack. It's much more fun and relaxing when you've got company, by the way. It's tiring but fun to see all the tack nice and clean.
Speaking of tack sales, we went to one this morning! We scored three nice dressage schooling pads for $1 each, how awesome is that? I also got a blanket, shipping boots, schooling boots, two lead ropes, and a halter for Pandora. No super-awesome deals on saddles, unfortunately. Have any of you guys found good deals on tack and horse accessories lately? I know that I love it when I find something for a good price!

Tomorrow I'll make the second post in my "How To Sell Your Horse" series -- some things to keep in mind as you close the deal. After that, I will embark on the presentation posts, the three-part feature about how your presentation can change the way your horse is perceived.

In closing: talk to me about your horse insurance. A number of you mentioned that you have it, or your friends have it -- what companies do you use? How much is your premium? We're definitely going to check into it, for one or maybe both of the horses.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Horses and Financial Responsibility

An update on the ankle -- I went into the ortho again yesterday, and I got my cast off! I am now in a walking boot, the main benefit of which is that I can take it off to shower. Thank goodness. I was getting sick of baths. I'm not walking on it yet; he says I can start phasing out the crutches, first one then the other, as I feel comfortable. Basically, if it doesn't hurt, go for it, and if it does hurt, back off. I can feel it a little more than I'd like when I walk with one crutch, so I'm going to leave it alone for awhile. It's still all swollen and bruised (obviously not nearly as much as at first), and my range of motion is just GONE. They gave me some exercises to do, though.

Also, muscle atrophy sucks. That calf is visibly smaller than the other one. That asymmetry is gonna be irritating in the saddle until I get the strength back.

If all goes well, I will get to get rid of the walking boot for good when I next go in, which is Sept 25 (a whole four days before I start school!). I'm just excited that once I get rid of the crutches I can do ground work and longeing.

I was thinking this morning about how much horses have done to teach me responsibility. The lessons are as numerous and as cheesy as the moral of any Disney movie. I could list them, but I have before. I just wanted to talk today about horses and financial responsibility.

First, my purchase of Pandora. This is a big step for me, personally. I'm 18 years old, technically an adult, and I recently took the dive into personal finance by opening a checking and savings account with my local credit union. This mare is mine, and mine alone -- purchase price, board costs, feed costs, any tack I need. The whole shebang. The prospect of me paying for her board, feed, farrier visits, and anything else is a little bit daunting. But at the same time, I know I can do it, and it's a really good first step into self-sufficiency for me. Suddenly it becomes very important how I spend my time: I need to work enough to both support her and funnel some money into savings, and if I don't go out and ride her very often, then I'm wasting the money that I spend on her.

A brief shoutout to my parents -- I really like the way they handled this. They've supported my horse habit for me until now, always making sure that I'm conscious of where we're spending money and why. I am definitely not the expensive-lessons-every-week, please-daddy-buy-me-a-new-saddle type. But I am also very, very grateful that they never said, "If you want horses you need to pay for them." They never asked me to take a full-time job over the summer instead of the part-time I've worked the past three summers, nor did they ask that I work over the year. To be honest, I worked so hard last year between schoolwork and band that I doubt I could have worked enough to support half of the horse expenses, let alone all of them. In return, I've always tried to respect the boundaries of what they can spend. I am now at the point where I can make the decision to take on an additional horse and support it myself, but I was not there before. I like the free rein they've given me and the way they've helped me slowly move towards financial independences with horses and otherwise, at my own pace, when I am ready to take steps. So thanks, Mom and Dad :)

Anyway, I'm very excited for this opportunity (if you couldn't tell by the sheer prevalence of the word 'excited' in my posts since we decided to buy her!). I get to enjoy a second horse without putting any financial strain on my parents, at all. I get to enjoy training a horse and hopefully pushing both of us up to higher levels, and I get to keep all the experience that comes with it. She is my horse in the way that no horse has ever been before. I get to decide when to sell her, for how much, and to whom.

The other responsibility-related thing I've been considering is very closely related: emergency vet funds. A commenter mentioned it and got me thinking.

I don't have one. Between setting aside some money to start an IRA, purchasing Pandora, and paying this month's board plus a deposit, I won't have much more than a couple hundred left. My paychecks for this month and next month will be much larger than board fees, since I'm working a lot due to a lack of school. I'm going to put all of my extra money in a savings account, which will double as my emergency fund. Not the most viable of options, I know, but as a student living at home with virtually no expenses other than my horse, it'll work. Add this to the fact that board is only $175/month (including hay) and other expenses should be minimal, I should still be able to squirrel away enough money each month to build up a decent emergency fund by the end of the school year. If school doesn't overwhelm me.

But it still concerns me. It's never something I've had to worry about before! I will do my best to build my fund up as fast as possible, but I'm wondering how many people have one -- seems that everyone knows they should, but does/is everyone able to follow that?

On the plus side, when I sell Pandora, that money's going to go to good use. The money is going first to pay off my student loans for the year (isn't college fun?), and any after that is going into savings. From that I'll have an emergency fund to work with for the next horse -- but that's thinking very far ahead!

So, how many of you have an emergency fund? Have you ever had to use it? Have you ever made decisions in the past (colic surgery, etc) that were influenced by your emergency fund or lack thereof?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Thoughts on Selling Horses

Here's a few guidelines for your ads.

Take good pictures. This one's kind of obvious, but still. Take the time to get your horse clean and on level ground. If your horse is trained, take pictures of it under saddle in action. Multiple pictures are better than one. Pictures from shows are great, if you're selling a show horse. If you have Photoshop, here is one super-easy adjustment that makes most pictures balance better in terms of color: open your image. At the top, go to Image--> Adjustments--> Auto Levels (or just press Shift+Ctrl+L). It balances the levels in the image and usually makes everything look nicer.

Write well. Do not write in all caps. If you don't know when to use periods, commas, or capitalization, ask a friendly neighborhood high-schooler for help. Please. For the sake of my eyes. In the text of your ad, some good things to include: age/name/color/gender; training history; show experience; important quirks (needs injections, on regumate, only sound for light work, has deathly fear of barn cats, etc etc); general description of personality; type of home your horse would be best in; whether the horse loads/clips/ties/bathes; why you're selling, and so on. This will always be specific to you and your horse. Keep the ad relatively short, with enough information to pique interest. You don't need to disclose minor issues here (doesn't like loading, doesn't get along well with mares, only drinks bottled water, whatever) but major ones like unsoundness or other issue would probably be best if included in the ad -- in other words, big dealbreakers might be best disclosed immediately so nobody wastes anybody else's time.
If you only follow one part of that, just put something more than "Bay QH Mare, 15hh, good gaming or OHSET prospect." If you say "Bay registered AQHA Mare, daughter of such-and-such sire, 15hh. Patterned on barrels and poles, explosive speed with a lot of potential. Intense and focused but can relax nicely, would make a great project horse for a junior, OHSET or 4H," you will probably get a LOT more interest.

Volunteer information. When a buyer emails you for more info, telling them about the horse (brief history, personality, why you're selling, whatever you feel like and you didn't include in the text) will probably garner more interest than a sentence or two with the bare minimum. Answer all questions asked.

Be honest. It is very frustrating to a buyer to show up to find a horse whose behavior is nothing like what was described; it wastes your time and your buyer's.

If you're going to sell a horse by word of mouth, that's great (and probably a better way to make sure it goes into good hands). If you're going to sell online, spend the money for a picture ad. Use multiple sites, though -- there are plenty of sites that are free or at least inexpensive for photo ads. A quick sampling: Equisearch, Dreamhorse, Chronicle, Equine Hits, BigEq, Equine Now, Exchange H/J. Here's a tip -- put one photo up on the ad so you don't have to pay much. Then, make a [free] simple website (we used Brinkster, but other options include Freewebs or Geocities) to compile more pictures, a quick description, and possibly some videos. Put the link to this site in the text of your ad after your brief description. Most of these websites come with 'site builder' applications that make it really easy to design a simple website.

For an example, here is the website we used when we were selling Bailey. It's really simple -- on the main page, it has links to videos of jumping schooling and three videos (one from each phase) from the schooling Horse Trials I took him to. It has some pictures and a few paragraphs describing him. Then there's a link to a page with more pictures and a page with contact information. It's simple, easy to go through, and gives you way more visual information than you could ever cram into an ad. No, he's not still for sale ;)

Another good venue is local horse organizations. Around here, good all-around horses are often emailed to the OHSET chair to send out to his/her massive email list of all teams and team members. If your area has a high school equestrian team, try emailing someone in the leadership to ask if they could pass around the information of your horse. Print out fliers and hang them in local feed/tack stores and barns. Contact your local Pony Club or 4H group to ask if they can spread the word.

Price accordingly. It's not hard to use those internet classifieds or ask around to see what horses of similar breeding and training are selling for.

Also, check your email. I know it sounds silly, but there are a lot of people who don't check their email more than once or twice a week; change that habit while you're selling a horse and check it at least once a day.

Be on time when a buyer comes to look at your horse. I don't know about everyone, but I'd prefer that the horse is in a stall if not in a pasture, rather than all tacked up pretty and ready to go. I also prefer that the horse is first longed and then ridden by the seller, then I will get on. That's my personal preference; your mileage may vary.

Tomorrow: Some Things to Do to Close the Deal

PS - if any of you ever would like help putting an ad together, shoot me an email. I'd be happy to do the Photoshop levels-balance, help you write a good paragraph, give my impression of your horse's pictures, help you with a website, whatever. It doesn't take much time and it helps a horse get a good home, so I'm all for it!
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