Friday, March 6, 2015

Ammy Hour: Meet Lauren!

biggest problem: too many good pictures
I always love meeting new bloggers, but there's something fun about profiling established bloggers as well. You probably know Lauren from She Moved To Texas already (who doesn't?!), but here's the rundown on how she balances life and horses and that satin addiction.

1) You’re at dinner with work colleagues. How do you introduce yourself?
I am the worst at introductions, and I also only go to work dinner with colleagues who already know me.  In that situation, I typically say something like... "So is anybody else going to order a glass of wine?"

too cute
2) But what you really meant to say was this:  "No, really... who's getting wine?  Should we do a bottle?"

3) Tell us about your horse and how you met him.
Simon is 2006 OTTB, but more importantly the thing I am most proud of in my life.  When I met him he was pretty skinny with few marketable skills and a sketchy history of lameness.  Now he's less skinny with more skills and a less sketchy history of lameness ;)  I ended up with him because he wasn't the world's best school horse, but luckily I can't think of a better horse for me right now.  Simon reaffirmed my faith that everything in life happens for a reason!

this pic=so much win
4) What do you do with your horse?
We show hunter/jumpers and generally try to enjoy life together.  Right now that means a lot of miles and confidence building in the baby jumper ring, but we toss in the occasional hunter derby and bridleless riding session for funsies.  I also haven't abandoned my idea of showing him low level dressage, but the stars haven't aligned for that quite yet.

5) Where are you going together?
I don't really know.  I have this high lofty goal of eventually showing in the Take 2 Thoroughbred jumper division, which is realistic but definitely a struggle.  It's more important to me that we both remain happy and healthy together.  Simon has a lifelong home with me, and I learned long ago not to spend too much time planning out every little detail with horses.  Once you make a plan, they will show you how to change that plan!

Simon has goals too
6) What does success with horses look like for you?
My horse leaves the show happy and feeling like a million bucks because he did his job.  I leave the show feeling like I improved from the first class but still have things to work on.  Neither of us feel beaten down or scared by what we tried to do.  Bonus points if we're awarded fair ribbons for our efforts.

7) How do you finance the addiction?
I work for a video game company doing content marketing and UI design.  It's a random job I fell into about four years ago, but I really love it.  I've been challenged here and continue to learn and grow while getting a pay check that allows me to keep Sir Simon up to his expectations.

so many great moments
8) What does your support team look like?
My husband isn't in the forefront (he claims horse shows are boring... can you believe it?) but he's probably my biggest supporter.  He indirectly finances the sport and also doesn't get upset when I spend lots of time at the barn or horse shows.  Outside of him, my trainer is hugely important.  She's been key in making Simon the solid citizen he is today and she deals with my crazy amateur brain without ever getting visibly frustrated at me. Since I get frustrated at myself, I consider this fact shocking and amazing.

let's do this
9) What are your horse keeping arrangements?
I board, and I'm a happy boarder.  I don't mind writing a check for having a lot of life balance and I'm never going to be one of those people who just MUST see my horse every day.  I love my horse, but I also love my life outside of horses.

10) How often do you ride?
Weather permitting, I try to hit 3-5 days a week.  Usually I end up around 4-5 when we're actively showing.

so pretty together
11) What’s the single biggest thing that helps you achieve your goals?
Breaking them down into tiny steps, and believing that I can.  If I walk into the ring and honestly believe I won't have any trouble - I don't.  For me riding is mostly mental right now and I'm slowly winning that battle bit by bit.

horse showing bosses
12) If there was one thing you could say to people getting ready to join the ranks of riding (or re-riding) adults, what would it be?
Remember that this is for fun, but also know it's going to be really hard.  There will be nights that you cry and worry and stress, but if you're in the right situation you'll do a LOT more smiling than you ever thought.  Horses teach you more about life than they do about riding, and a solid relationship with the right horse is one of the best feelings in the world.

13) Bottom Line:
I really like ponies.  And ribbons.  And sunshine.  And pearls.  I could go on.  Mostly though, I like Simon.

Many thanks to Lauren for participating! Do you want to be featured on Ammy Hour? Do you know someone who should be? Contact me!

Thursday, March 5, 2015


i could look at this all day
I told myself that after the ongoing cluster that was last year, this year had to be better. Right?

Well, yesterday was on a mission to single-handedly prove me wrong and all the situations are ongoing. Huzzah.

For the past year and a half or so, I have really embraced the ammy life. Horses are a hobby and the barn is a haven. I don't go there for stress or drama or weirdness. I want to enjoy my horse. That is all. I'll admit to being rather abominably rude to my fellow boarders by being completely unsocial for most of the winter because I just needed time alone.

I realize horses mean different things to different people and I am learning to respect that.

But for me, the barn is where I go to unwind. I need to feel safe. I need to relax. I need to have fun.

Because sometimes the rest of my life is the opposite of that and I need one place I can get away from it all for an hour or so and just breathe.

I'm not denying reality, but I can't handle it all the time. It is so freeing to ride my horse. I can focus on our connection and improve our ride and push all the other thoughts out of my mind.

I've been really lucky at my past thee barns--each one has been a uniquely wonderful place that has allowed me to heal from different hurts.

I love to pull into the driveway and let out a sigh of relief. For a few minutes at least, I have a safe haven to relax in.

I don't know what I'd do without it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Screw Ups

yes more of this
I know I post lots of beautiful pictures of my horse dressaging like a pro. I love beautiful pictures and Courage is doing really, really well given his life history and my ability to teach a sport I barely know at all.

That's just one side of it. Sure, there are pretty moments and breath taking progress and and the fun times.

The hard things and the challenges and the failures are WAY less fun to talk about and post pictures of.

That last shot exemplifies where Courage is with his left lead canter. Yeah, I look like a hunter rider (but yay I'm effective so w/e), but Courage is soft with his hind end engaged and in a great balance and frame for a wanna-be training level horse.

And trust me, I wish that was our normal.

It isn't.

To the right, Courage is a whole different horse. I don't know if it's a right hand/right rein problem or a left hind problem or a chiro problem or a race horse problem or even a structural asymmetrical-ness in me. Maybe all of them together.

Maybe something else entirely.

if it was our first canter under saddle, it would be great. it's not.
I've been really frustrated about this particular issue lately, because I've attacked it from every angle I know how to and NOTHING has made a difference. I know one side is going to be harder than another, but does it really have to be this ugly?

I was debating training rides and gadgets and various expensive ideas, but I wanted one last ride to rule out poor riding. I took Courage in the indoor. That's a much smaller space, so the wall would serve to steer for me and I could just focus on riding.

We started very basic-- walk on the buckle to working walk. Then working walk to free walk. Then walk to trot to stretchy trot to walk to trot.

mid transition, but so balanced
Every step in a slight shoulder fore. Any resistance and we came back to walk to start at the bottom again.

Wouldn't you know, after about a solid 40 minutes of work, I had a LOVELY trot/canter transition to the right. We immediately took a walk break on the buckle as a reward, and then we started over again.

The next time only took about 15 minutes.

And then we were done.

this used to be hard
It's not exciting to read, though it's quite interesting to ride. It's just thorough, slow, methodical training.

It's teaching Courage that yes, he can canter on the right lead without flinging his head in the air and running.

He can slow down and balance and carry himself from behind.

In all fairness, he did not know that before.

And it's really hard for him.

he does have a great face
I don't usually post ugly right canter pictures because no one wants to look at them, but it's an important part of our journey. This is Courage and I, learning and progressing at our own pace.

I'm not a dressage expert or any kind of trainer. He's a talented and opinionated horse who refuses to be forced in to anything. We'll never compete on a national level or make some sort of team or set a speed record for advancing up the levels, and we aren't trying to.

At this point we'll be lucky to pull out a decent training level test this year and I still don't know how I feel about showing over jumps.

I don't want to get to caught up in showing the pretty part of riding to blogland and neglect the challenges. Screw ups aren't usually brag-worthy (hopefully), but they still happen. And someday, we will have a right lead canter to be proud of.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Teach You Tuesday: Stirrups

Equitaly has got it going on
When I posted about my beloved flex stirrups last week, it came to my attention that possibly not everyone is quite as obsessive about tack as I am. I have to be reminded of that sometimes. In light of that, I wanted to do a quick rundown of the types of stirrups irons available on the modern market and their various uses.

boring is as boring does
1) Fillis Iron

This is the most basic and common model of stirrup iron on the market. It's widely available and can generally be had for around $25-35 brand new. Fillis irons are widely accepted as "traditional" (for whatever that's worth to you) and are legal to show in all English disciplines. These things have been around for decades (centuries?) and they certainly get the job done.

They work really well for some people and cause excruciating pain for others. The difference seems to be that people with previous lower limb injuries like a fixed foot? Dunno. I'm injury free and these things murder me.

I call them "leg murder irons"
2) Fillis flex iron

The next evolution is the fillis flex iron. I think Sprenger was the first to come out with a model ($224). MDC has another one ($184) and thank god for knockoffs-- Dover carries a basic model ($49.99). It's the same exact set up as a fillis iron, but with joints inside the rubber on the side. These are also show legal.

These have the same narrow footbed as the fillis irons. My .02 on these is that I really don't love them. They tend to be too flexible. I initially got a pair of knock offs because they were trendy and they sort of helped alleviate some knee pain, but they were just too loose in the flex section and made my leg less stable. Also, if you don't have knee problems and do have knee pain, maybe you should quit bracing your lower leg. ;-)

basic Royal Riders, wide footbed
3) Composite "iron"

The next big leap forward was switching from stainless irons to a composite material--essentially high quality plastic. Composite irons can be as simple as a fillis iron made of different material ($30) or it can be much more cool. Royal Rider (I think) was the first to come out with the wide footbed ($145). Prestige also makes one ($184). If you're cheap like me, the knock offs are made by Equiwing ($65).

The wide tread composites feature the "cheese grater" stirrup pads that theoretically improve grip. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn't. I don't know. I do know that the wide tread is frequently a game changer for people with joint problems in the legs. I also know that the black composites are NOT LEGAL in the eq ring and I suspect they're frowned upon in hunters? There are silver/grey models coming out now that are legal. Hunter peeps, help me out here.

flexi royal riders oooooh
4) Composite flex

THIS my friends, is where it's at. For me. Royal Rider again has the corner on the market ($179). I'm half tempted to get a cheap/broken pair of these just to dissect them and see what's inside. Regardless, they look like normal composites with a short rubber section on either side of the branch. Inside this segment is mechanism that allows the stirrups to flex slightly. It's not the multi-hinged type flex you get in the flex fillis irons.

To be perfectly honest, I actually prefer the Equiwing knock offs ($126) of the RR flex model. The RR is ever so slightly flexier and I want a little give, not my ankle to break in half. Both of these models combine the wide tread, cheese grater pads, and a small amount of flex. They are brilliant. You'd think this is the top of the market, but there's always something more.

just swivel the thing at the top
5) Offset Iron

Offset irons attempt to compensate for the normal amount of torque put on the human leg by the stirrup leather wrapping around it. The MDC collection offers a top that swivels to present angles that you can individualize. Other irons incorporate some sort of twist to design of the stirrup to alleviate pressure for the rider.

Offset irons frequently also incorporate flex, like the MDC Ultimate ($210). There is also famously the Sprenger Bow Balance ($224). There are some interesting non-flex models out as well. Newest on the scene seems to be the composite non-flex Royal Rider Evo 80s ($110ish).

6) Aluminum/novelty stirrup

This is probably two distinct categories that I'm lumping into one because I can. It includes things like Jin Aluminums ($275), my beloved (someday...) Lorenzini titaniums ($265), and of course the to-die-for Equitaly line ($260+). There's also the Free Jump line that you're starting to see at jumper shows. Try not to gasp too hard at the $400+ price tag that doesn't include the specialized leathers you're also supposed to buy.

These stirrups are substantially more expensive and some of what you're paying for is style points. HOWEVER. This is where the innovations are at right now. These are the people questioning the function of the basic design we've had for ages to see if we can improve it. I'm certain that if/when they do, the cheaper knock offs will filter down.

trippy. expensive. plastic.
That's a basic round up. There are certainly more out there. It is interesting to note that different thigns work for different people. I can't ride in a jump saddle without flex irons--Jess can't ride with them. Some people with leg pain swear by new technology and some can't handle it. I'm not a doctor and I haven't the foggiest idea what will work best for you. If you're experiencing leg and/or back pain, it's definitely worth the time to try a few of these out and see if they might be the ticket for you.

Who else has had sets of these and can share a little knowledge?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Totally Horse-Related

While some of us were having epic blogger weekend (SO JEALOUS WANT TO GO), I ended up on a last minute road trip that had us covering 2000 miles in three days.

In case you're wondering, that is a lot of driving.
leaving early Friday
two tack stores because my dad is awesome

that moment when you wish your horse was size 4
70f with a breeze while picking fresh citrus
yeah this was a highlight
why is all the citrus in the hotel?
this is why
a hallmark of western road trips
home again
I don't have anything brilliant to say. I got home in time last night to do housework (some) and ride a little (poorly). My brain is really tired. We have a big week ahead with Courage getting bodywork and us riding in our first ever dressage clinic... 

Can I have a nap?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ammy Hour: Meet Amanda!

Here we go with another round of Ammy Hour! I really do this series for myself--I love learning about the hardworking people like me behind the blogs I read.  This week I'm talking to the voice behind the 900facebookpony. Without further ado, here's the tack-ho-est of them all!

1) You’re at dinner with work colleagues. How do you introduce yourself?
I am lucky that my job doesn't really require face to face contact with customers, because lets be honest I'm not a big people person and I'm not very good at hiding how I feel about things (the "omg I'm so bored, kill me now" face might not go over well). But if I DID find myself forced into a work dinner, I'd probably just keep the chit chat limited to work related things and say as little as possible until I found the right moment to run away.

I do not know this horse
Sooo I guess my introduction would be "Hi, I'm Amanda." and hope that they were a good talker because unless it's about horses I've got pretty much nothing to say after that. Normal people are really confusing. Socially awkward? Me? Never. The only exception to that would be if it was a horse related work thing or if I knew the person was into horses - that's an entirely different ballgame. I can, and happily will, talk about horse stuff all day. And probably sell them something in the process, because I love stuff. This is why I need a horse related job...

so classy

2) But what you really meant to say was this:
"OMG I'm so bored, kill me now"? or "Unless you like horses you're of no interest to me"?

3) Tell us about your horse and how you met him.
Henry is a coming 8yo TB gelding that I found on facebook and purchased sight unseen in Dec 2013. I got really lucky, he's fantastic and such a good boy. He's also a total goof with TONS of character... there's never any question as to what his opinion is about anything.

um yes.

4) What do you do with your horse?
We started off in the jumpers but after a spur of the moment XC schooling adventure he seemed to be really into it, so now we're eventing.

5) Where are you going together?
I'm hoping to qualify for AEC's this year. If not we'll move up a level and just do more schooling events to save some money but keep putting miles under his girth. He's still pretty green, all things considered.

6) What does success with horses look like for you?
For me, a horse that has become better since I acquired it is a "win" in and of itself, because I always buy green ore remedial ones. I think it's really fun to bring them along and see what they turn into. At the end of the day though, as long as I'm having fun with whatever I'm doing, and as long as the horse is happy, I'd consider it a success.

off to the lotto!
7) How do you finance the addiction?
Sadly (and boringly) I have a "real job", I'm in charge of managing the repair and return department of a company that makes monitoring equipment for gas and oil pipelines. It pays the bills and my schedule allows me to get out of work early enough to ride, plus I get a fair amount of vacation days since I've been there for a decade, so I can't complain that much. I am really keeping my options open though for something horse related... I've worked in tack shops and was a barn manager for a while when I was younger. Eventually the right thing will come along at the right time. Or I'll win the lottery. Until then, it's the "real job".

8) What does your support team look like?
My fiance is pretty supportive from a distance, in that he doesn't complain nearly as much as he rightfully could and once or twice a year I can talk him into going to the barn with me. I'm totally ok with that. Otherwise I have a really great group of friends that are really enthusiastic, supportive, and helpful. Very grateful for every one of them.

9) What are your horse keeping arrangements?
I board at a small barn owned by my boss's boss - his wife is also an eventer. Small world. There's just a handful of boarders (which I love) and it's nothing super fancy but the care is second to none, the people are great, the price is great, and it has everything I need. Absolutely no complaints.

this is not Henry
10) How often do you ride?
When it's not raining ALL WINTER LONG (sorry, sensitive subject), 5 days a week is my average. It's hard to squeeze in a normal work day, fairly regular overtime, the horse, the gym, regular life stuff, and a relationship, but I do the best I can. Sometimes something has to give (ok, usually something has to give) and I'm perpetually borderline exhausted but that's ok. I think that's really just the way of life of the working amateur rider, and something all of us have to figure out how to deal with.

aside from being kickass
11) What’s the single biggest thing that helps you achieve your goals?
My support group. Honestly, there's just NO WAY I could do any of this even semi-successfully without them. That and I'm hella stubborn, borderline crazy, and really love a challenge, so I think this sport suits my personality really well.

get that trahkener
12) If there was one thing you could say to people getting ready to join the ranks of riding (or re-riding) adults, what would it be?
Welcome to your new obsession. We're all mad here. ;) Honestly though, don't be afraid to ask questions. I think sometimes people are intimidated by this sport and it's people because because we can be so intense. But we all had to start somewhere and if there's one sure thing it's that horses will make fools out of even the best of us - they're a great equalizer. I would also try to say yes to as many opportunities as you possibly can. This is very much a sport where you learn by doing, and one little thing can lead to another little thing, which eventually leads to big things. Another really important point - team up with a professional that you really trust. I see so many people get the wool pulled completely over their eyes and taken advantage of by unscrupulously opportunistic trainers. Be smart and trust your gut, never allow yourself to be led around blindly.

requisite adorable picture
13) Bottom Line:
I can't imagine my life without horses and riding. They've taught me so much about life, relationships (both human and equine), compromise, hard work, dedication, discipline, courage, humility, failure and success. They've shaped my entire character as a person. No doubt there has been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears along the way, but a million more smiles and laughs and warm fuzzies. There's just something about it that makes me feel whole. It's not an easy sport by any means, and being a working amateur in some ways makes it even harder, but it's worth it.

Many thanks to Amanda for participating. If you don't follow her already, run right over to the 900facebookpony and hob on that bandwagon STAT.

Want to be a part of Ammy Hour? Know someone who should be interviewed? Contact me and let's chat!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

That One Thing (I Can't Stand)

I think it's time to clear the air a little. I hear one common complaint in the horse industry that I think is perfectly ridiculous. It comes up most often when a horse person is exposed to some new piece of technology or equipment. It bugs me every.single.time. Here is is:

"But that's not traditional!"

That really grates on me. Constantly. Not only because "we've always done it that way" is a goddamn stupid reason to continue doing something, or even because most of the "tradition" that we espouse is really just new-fangled shit from like the 1950s USA, but because it's an excuse to turn our brains off.

stolen from the internet
Sometimes, a thing is passed down through generations because it is true and good and helpful. Just as frequently, stupid-ass-shit is passed down. Unless we devote ourselves to sorting through what we've been handed, we are just abdicating responsibility for the welfare of our horses, and I have a massive problem with that.

horsemanship means rearing
Blindly kowtowing to "tradition" reeks of irresponsibility. It's how we justify drugging horses "it's always done that way", why we wear a mid-Victorian gentleman's outfit to show "it's sooooo classy", and it even explains rust breeches "this was big in the 60s". It's a recipe to not get taken seriously as a sport and a perfectly fantastic way to get killed. Tophats, anyone?

And don't even get me started on those "I do classical dressage" people. DA FUQ CAN YOU READ???? Look back at the old pictures. Look at the literature.

it's tradition, yo
Hell, look at the Spanish Riding School. Do you know how they produce horses and riders? It takes DECADES. Given that most people do not have decades, those "classical" adherents that people so admire, pretty much just did this:

Yeah. Giant bit, nasty ass spurs, mouth gaping open. I'm a little surprised they left the bloody flanks out of the portrait. It's not great training, but HOT DAMN you get false collection in a hurry.

And that's traditional.

And I think all of us can agree that it's wrong.

someone get this man a Heisman trophy
If that's so obviously wrong, why is it ok to blindly cling to stupid shit like evening wear? It was practical for Victorian gentlemen who had servants to dress them and hand them their horses and then change them and dress them again to eat a dinner that they had nothing to do with preparing.

I dunno about you, but I have none of those things. AND YET we just keeping on keeping on with asinine things like white breeches and WOOL (freaking wool. wtf.) coats and acting like that's A OK. I mean, doesn't everyone dress like phantom of the opera to play their sports? I swear the Seahawks... no wait maybe Baseball, nope, definitely European football OH WAIT LOL it's only us idiots on horseback who have a thousand pound animal that lives in dirt who try to prance around in wildly impractical clothing.

yeah imma just use this pic everywhere

Not all traditions are bad. Not all new ideas are fantastic. HOWEVER. When evaluating new ideas, it is imperative to judge them on their own merits instead of hold them up to the questionable light of tradition.

There are plenty of reasons to question new ideas and make sure that they are in the best interests of your particular horse before adopting them, but tradition should really never be one of them.

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