Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Things Don't Go According to Plan

Not like poles. Poles are pretty freaking linear.
Horse training is not a linear process.

Horse training is not a linear process.

Horse training is not a linear process.

Horse training is not a linear process.

Horse training is not a linear process.

I think I need that tattooed on something I look at on a regular basis. Not my forehead, because who sees that anyways?

Look at us floating through trot poles
Sigh. I wrote up this bubbly happy training post about how Courage is going really well on the flat and I can feel progress every ride and we can trot and canter through lines of poles and jump single fences and all is well. 

And then I set up a perfectly logical trot in grid. 4 poles, 9' to a crossrail, 18' to a little vertical, 9' to a placing poles. Or thereabouts. 

The best at launching over placing poles.
And yeah, epic fail. In case you doubted his scope, I can assure you that my little man is capable of clearing both an 18" vertical and the placing pole set after it in a single bound. Multiple times in a row. 

Since I wasn't doubting his scope at all (let's face it people, the horse hasn't even had to try yet), I was not thrilled. Especially since I couldn't really make it better. We knocked the vertical down to poles and got the back side slightly more combobulated, but it was never what you'd call good and his brain was perilously close to just fleeing the scene altogether.

No, I don't know why this placing pole is ok.
So we finished up with something else and called it a day. 

I've pretty well been in a funk since then, despite two days off and a pretty kickass ride (with no poles) on Monday. 

Don't misunderstand me here--I'm not mad at Courage or blaming him or even upset with our program (such as it is). I know it's green horse stuff. I know we'll work through it (or not. And then just never do grids, which I guess isn't the end of the world either. It's not like we're aiming to be competitive grid jumpers). 

I have wanted these so so long. Finally mine, argyle polos.
I know all that. I'm just frustrated right now.

I tried making myself feel better by playing with racehorses, but I just got hit in the face so hard that I couldn't see straight. 

So then I thought I'd try retail therapy. 

That helped a little.

Making the bitching wait time worth it
Then this happened... I think I feel a lot better now. 

So I don't know where I'm at. My inner traditionalist screams that it is impossible to have a jumper who can't do grids, which are the very foundation all of decent jumper training. 

My modernist side reminds me that we must tailor the training to the horse, not the horse to the training. 

My rational brain keeps chanting "NOT A LINEAR PROCESS" and whatever's left is like "STFU I GOT A DAMN COOKIE MONSTER BONNET." 

Friday, July 25, 2014


He is the best at trotting like a hunk
My favorite Alyssa came out and took pictures the other day. She was going to ride another horse, but Courage was already tacked up and they get along famously.

I really need to do a full write up. GUYS I HAVE SO MANY PRETTY PICTURES I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO DO.

Let's just agree that Courage is in a really cool place, training-wise and I will write you a better wrap up soon. Like Monday.

Yup. Still best.
Anywho. As I said, Alyssa rode C-rage.

She has this totally awesome way of just riding freely forward without pulling and horses respond really well to it. Especially Courage. HE LOVES HER.

They were all w/t/c and jumping a baby grid and the little stink went better for her than he did for me, which I guess means I ought to work on some things.

Good friends don't stop you. They take pics.
And then we were hanging out in the middle of the arena waiting for Prisoner to finish up.

Courage looks at the epic sky
The little dude was all content and happy and mostly asleep and let's just agree that Alyssa is waaaaay braver and more balanced than me.

I so love that my horse can do this, even if I'm 100% sure I will never try it.

What I will try is entering Alyssa's sweet fly bonnet contest over at Four Mares, No Money. Custom bonnet! Fun piping! Easy entry! Closes today!!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Ammy Dilemma: Schoolmaster or Greenie?

Nothing like experience
When you're a one-horse amateur, picking the right horse is a very stressful event. Most of us don't have unlimited funds and a private farm, and unless we're very lucky, we generally have to choose between an old road warrior or a young, green thing.

I've done it both ways. 

Here are my thoughts:

Plus he had scope
1) I frequently hear ammies say that they want a horse with enough scope to save them when they make bad decisions and use that as a rationale to buy a younger, fancier horse vs an older packer. That isn't necessarily bad logic, but here are some better thought processes:

  • A more athletic and younger horse is going to use more athletic and greener evasions that are by definition harder to ride. Almost no one gets bucked off an unfit old draft horse because, hello, that horse can't buck for shit. The same is not true of your young, green warmblood. I'm not advocating for unfit draft horses here, but you get my point.
  • A wise old campaigner has a lot more options than scope to save you with. Instead of relying on sheer athletic ability and raw talent, the horse can make solid decisions because it understands the questions being asked both by the rider and by the obstacles. He may not really want to leap that square oxer from a standstill since you completely buried him, but he can see that you're going to bury him and adjust accordingly. Or stop, which is actually about 1000% safer for everyone involved. 
Maintain that
2) Another common objection to a schoolmaster type is that a one horse ammy is going to have a hard time affording the maintenance that comes along with some wear and tear that you'd expect to see on a more established horse. 
  • First off, a horse coming down from a more vigorous career generally already has an established maintenance routine. Can I just say how much easier it is to budget for something that you know exists? 
  • This seems like a no-brainer to me, but I would always always always rather pay for some corrective shoeing or hock injections or special supplements instead of training and (unfortunate reality) medical bills in the event of a mishap. Horses are going to cost you money--be smart about where you choose to spend it. 
3) The last really big objection to the older schoolmaster horse is just that a one-horse ammy isn't set up to provide a proper retirement for that eventual day when the horse needs to step down even more. Having one horse is a financial strain and no one wants to set themselves up to have that horse be unrideable. This is a really hard question and I get it, absolutely.
  • Where there's a will, there's a way. I never, ever thought I'd be able to afford two horses, but last summer/fall, I found a way to make it work. Yeah, it wasn't a fancy showing situation, but everyone was having their needs met. It definitely requires creative thinking and hard work. It's totally worth it. 
  • No one likes to think about this, but young horses are far from immune to career ending injuries. It raises a lot of difficult questions that we need to be willing to address if we're going to have horses in our lives. 
4) Ok, one more. Be realistic about your actual goals. If you aren't prepared with sponsors and training facilities and a thorough understanding of the upper levels, don't buy buy a horse with the talent for Rolex "just in case". No one gets to Rolex (or Grand Prix, or Tevis, or what-have-you) by mistake. If you're getting back into horses for the first time as an adult, look for an appropriate match that will give you experience and build your confidence. 
  • Just because a horse is older (or less fancy) doesn't mean it can't perform perfectly well. This is especially true if you're wanting to trail ride and do dressage or compete on your local circuit or just have fun with your horse. He may not be a world beater, but he can still be your friend.
  • A young horse doesn't care if it ever goes to Rolex, but that talent isn't going to be wasted. If he can jump five feet from a standstill, well, that's great for Phillip Dutton dropping in to the head of the lake, but it's going to SUCK BALLS when he does it in the dressage arena with you up. 
When I hear fellow ammies talk about buying ridiculously green and athletic horses, I cringe just a little bit. It can certainly be done successfully, but by definition, we ammies are more jack-of-all-trade types instead of qualified specialists. We have to be able to hold down a job, interact with friends, co-workers, and family (who are usually non-horsey), and function in an unrelenting world of normal people. We don't get to follow the circuit and ride 10 horses a day and develop the kind of skills that go along with it, so we absolutely need to benefit from the sort of people who do. 

If you have the resources and patience to start a greenie, by all means, go for it! It can be a fun and rewarding process. It's not for everyone and I'd say there are HUGE perks to letting yourself learn from a horse who's been around the block a few times. 

Let's face it. The only reason I can have fun with Courage right now is because of all the things that Cuna taught me when we were together. 

<3 those golden oldies.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Half Pad Review Rundown - Thinline, Ecogold, Ogilvy

Plus you can totes ride with no half pad.
Halfpads are such a fun puzzle. They are very, very faddish and yet they all purport to help...something... and we shell out lots of money for them. Today I'm going to focus on the three most expensive half pads I've owned and the logic for them. You'll note that none of them are sheepskin. Here's why:

My friends in the medical industry point out that coma patients are not swaddled in sheepskin. If it really had magical properties, they'd be all up in that shit, but they're not. Rather, humans in need of pressure relief and long term comfort are all about the high tech foam. Say what you will about modern medicine, I'd rather be a coma patient in 2014 than 1014. Sorry sheep. (Not sorry? They get to keep their skin in my world.)

First up:

There is a lot of new stuff in this picture
Thinline Trifecta with sheepskin rolls - Smartpak $157 with free shipping

I bought this pad several years ago. Thinline was WAAAAY trendy then. I think it's sort of fading now, but maybe that's just because it's old hat to me and I don't feel that interested.

Regardless. I bought this pad because I wanted something shimmable and magical to make my extremely picky mare happy. (Duly noted: if you are a one-horse ammy who lessons infrequently, the odds are that your hormonal mare needs her ass kicked more than a magikal half pad. Hindsight being what it is.)

Izzy canters in the thinline
Anyways. This pad fit the bill, right down to the stylish sheepskin rolls. It didn't have the skeepskin under the saddle, because even I thought that was excessive.

This pad did the job. I know a lot of people argue that thinline holds heat and can lead towards soft tissue injury and blah blah blah. To them I say this: IT'S UNDER A SADDLE THAT'S UNDER YOUR ASS. Heat is going to happen. I think the heat argument is a very legitimate reason to not use certain boots, but I don't get worked up about saddle pads for that reason.

I sold this pad a short while after I sold my mare, because it really did add a lot of bulk under the saddle. It worked fine--between that and a well-fitted saddle, I really never had any soreness issues with my mare.

It's not a bad option, but if you're buying half pads to stay on trend, it's a bit dated.

There is a lot of new stuff in this picture
Ecogold Triple Protection half pad - Ecogold $165 plus shipping

My next crazy splurge in the half pad world was the totally on-trend ecogold that comes in a lovely shade of brown. I love brown. It also comes in more boring colors, but wutevs. Not interested.

I bought this some time after the infamous m&ms test. It's a nice pad. It's a little rigid, which isn't quite the right word. The very soft foam holds it's shape very well, and that shape is pretty set. It works on the horse just fine and it's easy to store because it folds up nice and flat. It doesn't just collapse onto the horse, I guess is what I'm trying to say.

Canter pictures seemed like a good idea
That said. (Whatever it was.) While the ecogold is maybe the least sexy option I'm talking about today, I used it constantly with my MW saddle that didn't quite fit Mr. C-rage. He has never exhibited any signs of back soreness. That actually impresses me.

The saddle wasn't a bad fit, but it definitely wasn't great and I never had any ill effects from it. I will give the ecogold triple protection pad at least some of the credit for that.

I even still own this pad. It's thin enough that it can go under pretty much anything, but it seems to do a nice job on the horses and I have no burning urge to sell it.

Only the half pad is new in this picture.
Ogilvy Jumper Half Pad - Ogilvy Equestrian $199 plus shipping

If you've ever used social media, you know that Ogilvy is red hot right now. I'm going to risk sounding like a hipster right now and say that I was aware of them long before their recent rise in popularity, but I grant you the custom covers and all are way more sexy than the weird old colors they used to have in the Dover catalogs.

Anyways. I think a major drawback to these pads is the ridiculous wait time attached to your custom order. Talk about an impulse buy buzz kill. I held out for a good long time because I already had the ecogold and I have the patience of a caffeinated quail, but then one popped up on eBay in the colors I wanted and I just happened to have money in my checking account. Whoops.

More cantering. Ogilvy in action.
I did get some free front risers with my ebay buy, so I guess that was nice. Like the thinline, the Ogilvy is completely shimmable. Unlike the ecogold, it's also totally washable. I actually think this is one of the best perks of ogilvy--as long as you don't buy the gummy pad, you can just take the inserts out and wash the cover. NONE of the other half pads offer this option.

Dunno 'bout the rest of y'all, but my shit gets dirty and I like the idea of being able to clean it.

Maybe an ogilvy will make your horse jump like this
The Ogilvy, much like the ecogold, really does seem to pad out the rough patches in saddle fit, whether that's a little hollow behind the wither or tree panels a little too wide for the horse. I've been quite pleased with the sweat marks under all the saddles I've tried in both pads.

I have heard people criticize the Ogilvy pads for being too thick and changing the fit of a saddle. My pad in the regular 1" thickness and it squishes down well enough that I really haven't noticed a difference. When I tried a slightly-too-wide saddle on Courage, I did have to use the front shims to make it fit. Yeah, it looks like a lot when you're tacking up, but they squish right down and you have to tighten the girth a lot after you get on.

This is how we jump in an ecogold
Wrap up

We live in a really cool time for technology, both equine and otherwise. I've certainly enjoyed playing with trendy half pads, but at the end of the day, a well-fitting saddle and solid training is more important that brand names and cute colors.

That said.

If your saddle fits, by all means, buy the cutest half pad you can afford. They don't hurt the horse, might possibly help, and everyone loves looking at pretty things.

Because sometimes we just play dress up
PS My conscience compels me to point out that at no point have my horses struggled with significant back soreness. Whether that's because I always have a majikal half pad or because I buy saddles that fit or because I don't ride very much or because my horses are made of iron or because I'm just bloody lucky, I really can't say.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Because I'm an Amateur

He is the best at dressing up
I've talked a lot on here about being an amateur and how that changes the way I ride, the way I dress, and the decisions I make. I've profiled other fun amateurs and attempted to share the journey for others to participate in.

And then Sunday, I got to demonstrate just exactly what that means.

All of you know that I'm quite a fan of my little bay horse. He is sweet and fun and hardworking and good to be around, and every once in a while, he can be quite a pig. Sunday's flat ride was mostly focused on warming up to jump--loose reins, forward and back, not too worried about contact or anything.

LOVE his outfit. LOVE.
He seemed just a teeeeeeny bit resistant, but I wanted to ride forward through it and not pick at him. (And yes, I guess I was full on ignoring S when she always tells me to pick little fights with him so he gives up the big ones more easily. Oops.)


The jumps were all set up a bit because I wanted to expand on Wednesday's brilliance, but I did start by trotting into a crossrail. He jumped it great with his front end, then just sort of decimated it behind.

DAYUM they look good. No stopping pics.
This from my horse that always jumps clean. Hm. Should have been a clue.

Aimed him at the next crossrail. I didn't give him the best ride ever, but it was no worse and anything else. I mean, I tipped forward at it a little, but it wasn't like I hurled myself up his neck...


I seriously almost ate it.

This wasn't going well, so we dropped the X down to rails on the ground and the sucker stopped AGAIN.

I. Was. Pissed.

Look who is jumping panels like a normal horse!
I applied a couple of artificial aids and my little bay horse leaped over it, but you could see it in every line of his body. Courage did not come to play today.*

Redheadlins coached us a little and after forward/back work, we jumped the first crossrrail without doing anything stupid. Then I marched him up to her, tossed her the reins, and watched my horse jump around the fun course I'd set.

Bam. Knees. Also jumping across.
I call it amateur privilege. Could I get him around it? Probably. Could redheadlins get some very quality work out of him without damaging my confidence and at the same time build up my horse's?

YES. That my friends, is why we pay professionals. (Ok, well I don't really "pay" her, unless you count tack as a currency.)

So off they went. She looked great, he looked great, and after the first couple of sticky fences, Courage was able to jump a complicated course with inside turns and cool panels and related distances like a total champ.

Admire cute horse. Ignore rider position. Very wtf.
And then I got back on and had a few more successful fences.

It's not a cop out--I'm working to become a better, stronger rider. That said, I believe strongly in giving my horse the best chance possible, whether that's with me (most days) or with a better rider (some days). Taking on a green horse is a huge project and I wouldn't want to go it alone. 

*Noted: Courage being a bit of a pig is a normal occurrence about once a month or so. If he felt in any way off or the behavior persists, I would certainly follow up on the physical side of things. I know this horse well enough to know that sometimes he just needs to remember he's not the alpha.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Adding the Jumps Back In

Reins are for wimps
After what seems like constant stop/go/stop/backup/stop "progress" this year, we're finally starting to put the pieces together under saddle and I am beyond stoked. I finally decided to buckle down in this ridiculous heat (now plus smoke! yay wildfires!) and set a whole honest-to-goodness jump course.

Also my BO was hinting that the jumps needed to be moved since weeds were growing under them and we were starting to look like hillbillies who never rode our perfectly nice horses. Yes, I judge people with weeds in their arena.

He got that figured out today
Anywhoodle. All that to say I went and set up a fun course with related distances and bending lines and straight lines and fill and all that. I intentionally set it low so my brain could handle it without a massive panic (DEER LEAP OF DEATH) response. Besides, we haven't jumped an actual course in like... I don't remember how long. A while.

Neither Courage nor I likes to drill flatwork, so I literally warmed him up with my reins flying in the wind and my hand in the neckstrap. W/t/c both directions, no problem. I'm using that time to get him a little more attuned to my leg so I can use less rein when we jump, but mostly we're just bombing around moving FORWARD.

Grab that neckstrap
I felt a little nervous while we warmed up. It wasn't that sort of gut-clenching fear, but just the buzz of "oooh, haven't done this for a while". Then we headed to our first little jump and the nervousness just disappeared.

This little guy is just so much fun to jump. He's learning his job and he's so freaking honest about it.

He did his first related distance in forever. He was a little wiggly between them the first time we attempted it, but I added leg and counted the next time and he was spot on.

Loving it
We even took a break, then picked it up again and put another little course together.

Both of our confidence was just building as we went along. We hopped over the blue tube, the blue barrels, a funny looking jump I hadn't built before, whatever. I rode forward and straight and stayed out of his face and he was having a good time, right down to the occasional clean flying change.

Yes, the jumps were tiny. No, we didn't do anything difficult.

Totes loving my kickass position here
But you know what? We had fun. We were ready for more at the end.

I missed this feeling.

So yes, it's been a rocky year with random breaks and lots of half-starts. I'm not regretting a minute of our extensive flatwork right now though. I have a more educated and rideable horse who is back to his usual brave, cocky self. There's lots of work left to be done, but where we're at is a very good place.
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