Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Summer Fun

In the vein of "what sounds fun today", I spent a lot of time this summer in a distinctly old west style locale. 

Is that a buffalo walking down the street?
Yes that's a buffalo walking down the street.
His name is Jackson.

And I thought. 

Ms ZB is literally a purpose-bred ranch horse. 

Oh and she's looking completely fabulous

Why not teach her to western?

So one night, I googled "how to teach a horse to neck rein", read one of those horrible how-to articles on some random site, and decided to go for it.

Worst case scenario, we can't figure it out, I feed her cookies, and all is well. 
Did I mention she's looking fantastic? She totally is.

I mean, I don't have a western saddle that's moose shaped and given my status as a tack snob, I can't make do with the cheapest thing on ebay.

But also ZB is a literal couch and we have plenty of easy, slow work we can do before we need to, I don't know, zoom around and sort cows and rope a calf while practicing mounted shooting. 

Bareback it is! 

My preliminary research indicated if your horse was already reasonably broke and had a good idea of direct reining, the neck reining wasn't terribly different and horses usually picked it up pretty quickly. 

I'd call that summation accurate--ZB is one smart lady and as long as she stays focused on what I'm asking, she's quite lovely about the whole thing. It honestly wasn't much of a transition for her in terms of steering. (Now, in terms of how we pretty it up, I dunno. Might take some lessons lol.) 


Did you know that riding a horse is kind of like riding a horse and any imbalances, weaknesses, or flaws that you mask with your usual equipment might show up in a whole different way if, say, you dropped most of your tack and tried to provide clear, simple aids? 


I know that. 


I mean it's literally what I talk about when I transfer the skills learned kicking her ball into letting me pop on in a different setup and start muttering a different language and asking ZB to cooperate. 

But it's funny how much the whole bareback-on-a-round horse tells on my tendency to evaporate my right seat bone and curl up my right side when I'm trying to stay balanced and in the middle and strong with my core and consistent with my legs so I can let the reins mean something. (Pro tip: you honestly don't do a whole lot with the reins. It's really more how you ride OH WEIRD WHERE HAVE I HEARD THAT BEFORE). 

gonna be cowboys


Riding is fun, ZB is fantastic, hope your summer is great. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Magical Thing About a ZB

 I've been working out of town, which severely limits barn time. 

But I have a ZB. 


So when I had 48 hours in town a few weeks back, Nadia asked if I wanted to haul out to go trail riding and the obvious answer was YES. 

ZB has never hauled a ton and definitely not in the last year. 


And it is so freaking cool to have a horse that I just loaded onto a trailer she'd never seen, took to a place she hasn't been in a long time, hop on, and go. (Ok hop on=train her how to back off a straight load, which took a minute, but then she got it.) 


She led. She followed. She crossed boggy ground, walked by scary things, and never batted an eye. 


By the end, she was SO TIRED, but gamely hopped back in the trailer and headed home like a total champ. 

And then used her new-found "backing off the trailer" skills. 

TL; DR she is the absolute best and hopefully next I will write about some of our exciting continuing adventures.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Taking Ownership

I drafted a blog the other day, but it bored me to write. I can't imagine trying to read it. The gist of it was that ZB and I aren't really doing much because blah blah blah excuses. 
And I thought. 

I hate excuses. 

What's the real issue here?

It's not that "waaaaah it's hot and I'm tired and I'm not a pro and my legs aren't strong enough to make my horse go forward and I'm tired of kicking" because you know what. 

She goes just fine when I ask her to. 

It's definitely that I'm bored to tears of going in circles and soldiering away in the summer dust for some abstract goal of impressing a judge at a show I literally don't want to go to, even if there wasn't a pandemic, which there is. 

So if I don't want to go to a show and I don't want to do mindless circles in the dust, what do I want to do? 
Go on hacks

Get dressed up in jump tack

Instead of doing arena exercises, what do I want to address today? What sparks my interest and engages my horse? 

All of a sudden, I have a willing partner going forward and I'm happy in the work too. 

My low-key goals for the year are to take a couple of jump lessons and get ZB to a cross country facility to get exposed to ditches, banks, and water. New barn buddy Nadia is all on board for that, so hopefully there will be epic media when it happens. 

My other low key goal for the year is to dress ZB up for some over the top photo shoot with long flowing locks and I dunno, flowers in her mane or something. If the hair is giving you a twitch, well, get used to it because I love it. 

I mean. Who isn't excited for fancy new ZB media? She's literally the world's cutest full size horse.

Friday, May 8, 2020


Late last year, I took a couple big career steps and jumped out of my comfort zone. If things have seemed quieter around here, well, they are. As spring came along, I started up on more regular riding and was even quasi thinking about maybe taking ZB on a couple field trips (schooling show? xc? i think yes!) and then oh yeah apparently the entire world shut down.
let's learn about water!

Well, most of the world. My state and industry have been minimally impacted, which is good and bad. (How does it feel to drive by all those "stay home, save lives" signs when you're an essential worker providing essential services? uhhhhh kinda like shitty cannon fodder tbh). 

My barn never shut down (though they did implement additional safety precautions) and I've been able to ride pretty steadily. 

how can any horse be this cute

I've definitely made some more conservative choices even for my super safe baby horse (I guess she's 7 now buuuut baby mare for life <3.) The last couple years have been a marked transition for me--moving from a "rider" mindset to a  "trainer" mindset, so even with careful choices and choosing to keep my feet on the ground some days or limit barn time other days, I find that our progress and training really didn't slow down. 
operation: look where your feet are going you adorable moose
one of her favorite things

I'm fascinated by the sheer amount of ideas and concepts we can work through even without a full time program or a more "conventional" approach. It's driving home again and again that riding every day and drilling concepts is 100% for humans, not for horses.
all smiles

It helps that ZB is the actual best horse of all time but it's so freaking cool to watch her learn and attack new concepts with aplomb because every outing, every topic is light and positive and thoughtful. She believes she can. She wants to try. No one has ever shut her down or fried her or told her she's not good enough. 

I've spent so many years trying to train the horse first and build trust second. I built some useful mechanical skills for myself in terms of learning how to ride through behaviors but I think long term, I missed out on a lot more. 

Going forward isn't the answer.

Pushing through isn't the answer. 

It has so little to do with teaching the horse, either. The horse is there. It can already horse pretty damn well. It's going to continue horsing with or without you for the rest of it's life. 

It's not the feeling you get when you put your foot in the stirrup. 

It's the feeling you bring when you set foot in the barn. 

It's never asking them "why won't you do this?" and always asking yourself "how can I be calm, clear, and fair about this?"

It's being the kind of person that a horse wants to canter up to in a field. 

It's building trust, day in and day out. 

I always thought the lessons we learned form horses were about self discipline and training and understanding what it looked like to chase a passion and have a vivid interest in life.

Those things are good, I think. 

They're a shadow of what we can learn though. 

The real lesson is who we become when we learn to hear what they say.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


I wore jeans and cowboy boots to ride the other night.

In my dressage saddle.

ZB wasn't wearing the latest matching outfit. She didn't even have front boots on. Her mane hangs below her neck now.

She's not blanketed.

She's not clipped.

I'm focused on developing the horse I have in front of me. She's not fit, but she's smart and she's fun and she learns things very quickly.

All kinds of things.

What's the practical application of teaching her to kick a giant ball? Literally nothing.

What's the practical application of encouraging her to use her naturally inquisitive personality and food motivation to solve problems and think independently?

Hmmmm a lot.

I'm not trying to build a show horse right now, though that might come. It is so fun to put in the time to build the horse I want to ride. It's not about teaching her to mindlessly zip through a list of tasks. It's not about skipping steps to get to the "fun part".

I want her to be engaged with me.

I want her to think.

I want her to be brave.

I want her to trust that she can achieve what I'm asking her to do.

I want her to try.

Today the "try" is follow the soccer ball and kick it herself.

Tomorrow it might be to find her way through a tricky part of the trail.

The day after, maybe a challenging arena gymnastic.

What fascinates me is how little repetition a horse really needs to understand a concept. All those transitions and hours in the tack help us develop the muscle memory we need and it definitely builds the fitness a horse needs to feel strong and confident in a long, challenging test.

The horse doesn't need them to learn.

If Zoe does something well and I drop the reins and say "good girl", she doesn't need to do it again.

I can leave it alone for 6 months, come back, and it's still there.

It's not about cowboy boots and jeans or breeches and a hairnet.

It's about learning together.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Recent ZB-Related Purchases

Alternate title: "You Buy It Best When You Buy Nothing At All "

The best thing about ZB is literally everything.

But if I had to pick one thing that isn't 100% her most winning feature, it's that she doesn't fit in tack.

Her bridles are custom. You know why?

You literally can't buy that off the shelf. When I sent her measurements to Otto, they replied, "this horse does not exist".

Well ok no problem, right? Just get boots instead. Boots are so fun.
you see the gap?
Relevant problem: percheron x paint. Think thick, drafty cannons that are stock horse length. She can't wear taller than M fronts and L hinds in most brands and 0% of her boots actually close around her leg. (And yeah polos fit better but there is not time in my life for polos right now.)

So saddles then? Saddles are fun.
this saddle is too wide
Saddles are also expensive. And like. Hoop tree. And also. There are a lot of "draft" products out there, but most of them are some combination of heinous, made of horrid plastic leather, totally not optimized for anything athletic (the balance point is... where?), and just plain hard to find.

I basically call dibs on anything Roxie's mom sells and otherwise don't saddle shop.

But hey, there's always half pads!
Try again. My entire horse is a half pad. 
I typically think half pads are primarily fashion based anyways, but when your horse is a literal couch and now has 350 lbs of hair on top of couch status, like no. Do not pass go, do not spend $200, do not collect half pads.

That brings us to the obvious choice of saddle pads.
i miss fall and free time
Not pictured: any saddle pad
That sort of presupposes that I use a saddle, which I'm trying to be better about. Here's the rub: I have saddle pads. I sold a few I didn't like on her and bought a few in nicer colors, but like. There's a stack at the barn. I have an entire bin at home. Nice, clean, barely used pads.

I'm not opposed to buying an occasional high end saddle pad, but I have so many colors and models and since I can't use boots, don't have time for polos, and OH YEAH THE BONNET ISSUE.

You'll notice there aren't a lot of pictures of zb in bonnets.
this excluded. this is her winter hat.
There is literally one thing on this planet the little lady has voiced a strenuous objection to, and it is bonnets. THEY MAKE HER EARS ITCHY OK. She'll tolerate them in the fall before her winter coat comes in. They're OMFG MUM TOO HOT in summer and winter and shedding in them is unconscionable.

Plus given moose dimensions, she's an all-custom, all-the-time sort of lady so. 

In terms of fun things to purchase

That leaves 


6" bits

If you can find them. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Horse Show Numbers are (gasp!) Declining

There are a couple articles swirling around "the socials" right now about the decline in participation at USEF horse shows.

The mind, she is boggled!

Or like.

One of the posts I saw was written by a thoughtful local pro who I have a lot of respect for, so I wrote the following:

"It’s been years since I’ve taken a horse in the show ring and if I get back to it, I don’t see myself joining organizations and showing rated. The cost is so high and the competitor experience is not great. Why would I spend hundreds of dollars to wear white spandex for a couple minutes and sweat my ass off only to be told that my safe, appropriate horse isn’t as fancy as a much fancier horse?

I find my competitive outlets other places and while I enjoy my horse, I have no interest in getting back to showing."

There was a lot of discussion, but another person came back with two things:

  1. Amateurs are too fixated on winning
  2. Amateurs who aren't winning blame their non-fancy horse instead of their own poor riding
I'd like to discuss these responses just a little. 

1. Winning fixation-as the other poster illustrated, people run 5ks with no expectation of ever winning. Why should they expect to win at dressage? 

Let's talk about this a little. 

Running is a sport with a very low barrier of entry financially. You can do it with things you already have around the house. You can spend a lot or you can spend a little. For the sake of discussion, let's focus on the full-time worker who runs nights and weekends for fun and does 5-10 5ks a year. 

They pay $30-100 to run a race. At that race, they can wear anything they feel like running in (barefoot in shorts and a sports bra? fine. designer shoes, olympic branded gear, heart rate monitor? equally fine.) They get a tech fabric shirt, a finisher medal, post-race snacks, and frequently a meal or beverage. There's a start time and every participant can set objective time goals and work towards them. 

If their friends or family want to come watch, there is a start time and a published route. Cheering and participation is encouraged. If they have plans after, the whole day is typically ahead of them. If the family wants to participate, hey, they can.
  • This person will literally never win a 5k unless they are over 70 years old. 
  • This person will never appear on the "national running scene".
  • This person will have the full running experience, probably including a couple of irritating injuries that will result in a few days away from work over their career
they may get a wild hair and run a half marathon too
And how does horse showing stack up? 

Riding is a sport with a very high barrier of entry. Whether you own or lease, you need a horse. The horse needs to live somewhere. You need appropriate tack and gear for the horse, a way to get the horse to and from competitions, and a bevy of memberships to be allowed at the competitions.

And this is for the nights and weekends rider who wants to do 5-10 shows a year. 

We're going to talk about recognized/rated horse shows since these are the ones squealing about diminished participation. Participants pay $150-500/day in show fees just to the show (not including coaching/stabling/hauling/grooming/schooling/etc). The participant (and the horse) have to wear approved outfits and the person in charge can literally wave around a color wheel and kick a rider out out for being a shade off. If the person wins the horse show, they get a $2-$5 ribbon with no cash value. Maybe a wine glass. If they don't win, hopefully there was a peppermint in the competitor pack that they can suck on. They can try to set individual score goals, but since judging is ultimately subjective and influenced by trends and the class around them, they may or may not meet the goals. (You ride Backyard Betty after Hopfenschnerflgard the Import? -5 for looking worse in comparison. Whoops. Too bad your ride had to be scheduled around multiple trips in the ring for the ammy with 3 imports who's competing in multiple divisions and worth way more money to the show organization than you ever will be!)  

If your friends or family want to come watch, they will have to show up to a multi-hour event that is nearly always behind schedule. They will be subjected to a complicated set of expectations for the horse show spectator and ignored at best, or (likely) mocked, hushed, and glared at for not following the intricate social mores of a rarefied upper class club. If they have plans after, too bad. The event will go all day. If they still want to participate after all that, the barrier of entry is just as high as it was for the first person.
  • This person might win a class here and there because hey, participation is declining and sometimes your competition gets the flu!
  • This person will never appear on the "national riding scene".
  • This person will always know that they aren't a "true equestrian" because their middle class life requires they have a real job and health insurance, which precludes long hours at the barn. 
  • This person runs the chance of a catastrophic injury from being around horses which could result in weeks or months away from that all-important job. 
oh hai decently fancy ribbon
TL:DR USEF shows come with very high costs and little to no reward. Running 5ks is much more competitor and spectator friendly. 

2. Non-winning amateurs on affordable horses who ride on nights and weekends and take a weekly lesson should blame their own riding instead of the fact that they got beat by a purpose-bred sport horse that cost more than their house ridden by an-equally motivated amateur who trains 5-7 days a week with the best trainer money can pay for in a sport that literally takes a lifetime to understand.

If you say there isn't a divide here, I don't know what to tell you. It's a money sport. The people who can afford top of the line horses, get more show ring experience, and ride with better pros are not less motivated than you are and yup, they're going to beat you every out. 

And they should. They literally paid for the privilege.

They're better than you (at this sport). A lot of them are great humans and they work hard at it and that's nothing to be ashamed of. 
i'm being a dik dik again
There's not a whoooooole lot of point in paying money to go get your subjectively-judged ass handed to you to the tune of your mortgage payment per weekend when you literally don't have a chance. (Unless you're short on wine glasses? Even then I feel like amazon prime might be a better shot if you want a matched set.) 

So yeah. If you want to be blamed for not having enough money to compete in a moneysport that's literally populated by the Eve Jobs, Jennifer Gates, and Georgina Bloombergs of the world, I mean, there's always USEF shows! 
Sound off, internet. Why am I wrong?

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


 Once upon a time, I was a super good equestrian with goals and metrics and measurables and I took all the lessons and went all the places and lived and breathed horses. 
can you even with how cute she is
I am not that right now.

Last year, I really struggled with horses and riding because I cannot sink that kind of time and energy into so I cannot ride at the level that I am accustom. Which means. Riding isn't competitive. It's supposed to be fun. Fun is great I guess but there are a lot of cheaper ways to have fun.

Plus like.

If you've ever been pretty good at something and then you're not so good at it and when you're doing it, you know the problem is you and you can't fix it?

It's hard to want to keep doing it. 
even at her shaggy moose-i-est
But see.

I've had a lot of horses and been around a lot more.

And I know that she's the sort of horse you only meet once or maaaaaybe twice in a lifetime, if you're very lucky.
trot 2 circles. jump like whoa. toodle bareback.
Sinking the time and money into shows and clinics right now sounds completely asinine to me. 

Developing a well-mannered, confident and happy all-around horse is always in good taste though. 

And do you know how I develop an all around horse? 

I do all the things.
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