Thursday, February 27, 2014

Throwback Thursday

I'm convinced this is one of those things people do when they have nothing else to say. Let's find out.

But she was beautiful
The first horse I ever owned was an Oldenburg mare by the name of Isadora. I got her with a host of issues as a basically unstarted 5 year old who knew she was bigger than the people trying to handle her. I sold her her three years later because I realized that she was just way too much for me to handle.

It was such a tricky process. I'd never dealt with crushing physical fear before and I was always just trying to turn the corner and work through it. I hung on until the very bitter end and I almost walked away from horses because I was so miserable.

I've never thought of myself as a proud person, but I just couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that I needed to admit I was wrong. Fear had become my new normal and I didn't understand that there was another way to live.

And I was terrified
Besides, Izzy was the baby of the mare I'd adored in highschool. I always planned to have her forever. There was no part of my world where Izzy was going to go away, ever.

Letting go of her was incredibly hard. I was living with a "do or die" mentality and I stuck it out through major set backs, painful injuries, and I was always convinced that things were about to get better. We moved in with my favorite trainer because I knew I needed help.

With the trainer, I always felt like we were so close. I was riding better and pushing myself harder and getting closer, but I was still just flat out terrified. Every time I needed to ride a horse, I felt sick. I loved horses on the ground, but I didn't like riding and I was petrified of jumping.

That was my normal.

It wasn't until a kind old red man ambled into my life and turned everything I thought I knew on it's head that I realized there was another way to live. I sold the mare, bought Cuna, and my life has never been the same. It's not that I loved Izzy less--it's that I love Cuna more. I let Izzy find a home where she could be appreciated for who she was and Cuna was everything I ever wanted.

It took every second of Cuna's two years with me to undo all the damage that I did by hanging on to Izzy. Even now, I occasionally have a little anxiety about riding Courage. It's not that he's done anything to earn it, but he's put together a lot like Izzy and that can catch me off guard.

Say hello to C-rage
I'm still very proactive about my confidence. I don't ride horses I don't trust. I push myself and do things to cement the fact that Courage is a new character in my life and just like it isn't fair to him to impose an idea of Cuna, it is equally unfair to treat him like a potential Izzy.

I'll probably never have that fearless abandon and unshakable confidence I thought I had before Izzy, but now that I've been down that road, I know how to make better decisions going forward. It's why I'm a happy horse evangelist. Really and truely, if you aren't happy and loving every minute with your horse (and you're an adult ammy), you're doing it wrong. Life is too short and confidence is too hard won to spend time on an animal that is anything less than fun and safe for where you're at right now.

Ok, well that was fun. Maybe we'll do it again some time.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's Sparkle Time!

I mentioned in my tack post that C-rage got his very own sparkle browband, but I didn't go into detail because I didn't have my hot little hands on it just then.

Well, now I do.

After Amelia did such a fantastic job with Cuna's browband, I wouldn't dream of going anywhere else. I contacted her and we got to work.

For those of you who don't know me well, I'm not an artist and color stuff stresses me out. I am NOT GOOD at that sort of thing, not at all. So I had an idea of the colors I wanted and picked out a couple beads that I liked, and then Amelia did this:

I told her I loved them all, then promptly asked for a combo that she didn't even put together yet.

Photo by Dark Jewel Designs
She came up with this:

Yes. I love it.

And that's when we started on strand two.

For the uninitiated: Dark Jewel Designs sells custom browbands with interchangeable bead strings. $40 gets you one browband and two strings. And yes, you read that right. $40. I have no idea how that woman makes any money, but I love her.

(Full disclosure: Cuna's browband was provided free of charge. I paid for this one because I loved the first one so much.)

Photo by Dark Jewel Designs
Again, we went through the process of cool patterns and designs and colors. I picked a string from her first assembly and loved it. She even emailed me pictures of the mostly-finished product to make sure it came out the way I wanted it.

Omg. Yes!

Not gonna lie, I squealed when the package showed up at my house and even photographed the unwrapping process because I was so excited.

And the sparkles are even prettier in person.

Sparkles and fabio hair
I've been trying to coordinate sunshine and a camera person, but it's February and one photographer is in school while the other lives out of state. Here's what I've got so far:

Courage rocking the chocolate and teal.It's his look, definitely. I love these colors on him and the browband is classy with just enough eye-catching sparkle. I'm thinking we'll rock it in the jumper ring.

And who can forget those navy sparkles? I have yet to really capture just how they glow in the sun, but it is gorgeous.

Conclusion: If you want sparkles, you want Dark Jewel Designs. They're on Etsy here and you can follow them on facebook here. I definitely recommend checking out the facebook page--if you want something shiney and are on the fence about the design, you can look through all the completed commissions and see what strikes your fancy.

Totally want to steal this

Monday, February 24, 2014


Calm and classy
Let's just say it's been a rough few weeks in my world. When I found the time to go for a ride on C-rage,, I was so overwhelmed that I was basically non-functioning. We'd cruise around and he would be very good, but we weren't accomplishing anything.

I took his stunning lunging picture last week and I realized that I wanted that same balance and cadence under saddle.

So I rode a little better.

 And Redheadlins took video.

I appreciated the time she put in to it, and I decided that I wanted to take it up another level. In the video, I just see a horse that could do so much better and a rider who's ineffective. 

Dat face doh
I wanted to cheat and sneak in a trainer ride so I could still just cruise around while he's even more perfect, but the universe foiled my plan.

Instead, I found myself hopping on in arena traffic. He came out a little snarky and even gave a buck when I tapped him behind my leg with my whip. C-rage for sure!

We both took that as incentive. I rode him forward into a steady contact and reinforced my leg with my whip to get him more responsive. We cantered before we trotted to get his back loose.

Every stride, I asked myself, "What about this ride is different because I am in the irons?"

Making a difference
If he got stiff or rushed or fell behind my leg, I would make a change. We circled and did sepentines. We were both actively engaged in the ride.

He did some of his best work ever. Period. Flatwork is so ridiculously easy for this horse.

We wrapped up our ride with a little hack around the field.

When I got off, I was in a much better place mentally. Life will spin out of control anytime it feels like it, but I can take my little corner and actively make it better. With Courage, I don't have to settle for the status quo. Why just let him be my respite when together we can add just a little bit of relaxation and control?

I don't know what I'd do without my little man.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Eating My Words

I hate lunging horses. Mostly I hate how boring it is to watch them run around in tiny circles, unless it's not boring, which means then I cringe and try to get them to stop before they hurt themselves. In my purview, it puts a lot of wear and tear on a horse and I have trouble balancing that with any solid training benefit.

So when Redheadlins told me I needed to be lunging Courage once a week, I pretty much blew her off. I made sure he sort of understood the basics in case of emergencies and called it good.

Besides, he's this incredible calm, talented horse with an awesome work ethic. Why waste time lunging?



I thought it might make sense to spin my freshly clipped horse around on the line, given the ten degree temp drop and gusting winds.

Initially, I was thinking some lunge/ride combo, but we ended up working through voice commands (whoa is apparently a hard one) and then I just threw his little lunging aid on for a few minutes.

Hot damn.

Am I right?

Looking pretty darn good
I know you're just seeing still shots, but I absolutely loved watching him find his balance without a rider. I still didn't push the issue, but he's so much more comfortable cantering on a circle now, too. I'm not suer if that was a body thing or a brain thing, but it's definitely an improved thing.

By the time we were done lunging, I thought he'd probably done enough for a horse who was on his second day back in work.

You're just jealous of his punk rock hair. AND SPARKLES!
I never, ever thought I would say this, but I'm actually a little excited to keep developing this concept this year. I want to try out some Vienna reins or maybe a Pessoa system? Not sure. It looks like it's going to be a great way to educate him about contact and using his body.

If I'm going to lunge, I want it to be a productive training session. We've pretty well hit the limit of the usefulness of the harbridge martingale, just because he's carrying himself so differently now. Any thoughts? Who lunges and wants to recommend a tool?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Here Goes

A very strange thing happened when I curried Courage Monday: I got covered in long, sweaty, gross winter horse hair. I hadn't had that sort of experience in several years, because I've been at show barns where we rode through the winter and body clipped all the horses.

By the time I put the saddle on, I was covered in hair and itchy and Courage still looked gross.

bare naked pony
I had time to run out to the barn early Tuesday morning, so we just went ahead and took care of that problem.

I debated a few different clips, but decided to just go ahead and take it all off. Spring is on the way and riding weather is here again. It's time to get rid of that nasty long hair that just holds in dirt and funk and get ready to be beautiful again. :-)

That mane. Has to go.
I'm a little bummed that I took his stars off, but I was worried that he'd shed out awkwardly and look bad. Well that, and it was taking forever and I didn't want to take the time to clip around them.

Obviously, the next project is his mane, yikes! He's sensitive, so I only pull it when he's warm after work. I'm hoping to get it done soon, since you know, I can actually ride now!

I know a lot of people don't like to clip into the new year for fear of screwing up the incoming spring coat. To that I say I show clipped a bright bay gelding at the end of March (or was it early April?) and his coat was great.

See? All at once
And yes, I know that clipped horses still shed. It's just less overwhelming and disgusting when they do it.

Now bring on the sun!!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

We're Finalists!!

Stop the presses! Courage and Lindsey are finalists in the "smooch your horse" contest at Eventing Nation!

Go vote here!! 

With his little French mustache
You might think this is proof that we've gone absolutely batty in winter weather. You'd probably be right. Vote for us!!


As I've complained about at length, it's been frozen hard here, then there was the melting/snowing/flooding problem.

Then we had epic winds for about 12 hours.

So beautiful
And then?

The arena dried up and my BO was able to work it for the first time this year. It was lovely.

Ears and sun and 50f!!
The little dude had taken advantage of the weather and galloped himself into a lather in the field, so I figured we didn't need a lunge or anything. Plus he is a rockstar.

I hopped on and off we went.

We did some walk/halt/walk stuff to get him listening to my leg. I tried to focus on keeping my heels down and thumbs up. Maybe someday, right?

I asked him to step up to the trot and was completely blown away. Instead of giraffing and tensing up his underline, the little man kept his body relaxed and stepped right up into the tot.

Looking oh so balanced
Hot damn.

I love this horse.

Then I just rode around the arena announcing to everyone that they had to look at how cute he was. I couldn't even believe it. Last year, we struggled a lot with him feeling behind my leg even when my eyes on the ground would tell me he was going forward.

This year?

he's my badass ottb jumper
Yeah. That 12 weeks off was good to him. Whatever lingering body soreness he had to work though must be gone, because he felt AMAZING. Forward, fluid, responsive. LOVE.

We kept is short, but he gave me some really quality work at the trot and canter. He was stretching down, stepping underneath himself, and trying hard to remember how to move off my leg.

We actually trotted a lot, but I like the canter shots
We had a lovely, wonderful canter on both leads. We stood in the middle and took pictures of the other horse going around. I tightened my girth from the saddle.

I've been dealing with a lot of stress lately, and this was just the perfect antidote. My little man did me proud and I'm still smiling about it.

It's been a long, rough winter, but this is why I dump all the blood, sweat, tears, and dollars into a horse--moments like this when the troubles of the world just fade away from a few glowing moments in the saddle. I'm so glad to be riding again.

Don't believe me? Here's a quick video of how cute he was!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fit to Ride

I'm not a gym junkie. I actually hate working out indoors and I find the very idea of running on a treadmill to be mind-numbingly boring just to contemplate. Or heaven help us all--a track. HATE.

It's also been winter. I've been taking all excuses to not be active and then I've been trying to offset overwhelming stress with food.

As you can imagine, I am not happy with who I am right now.

Nothing will change overnight, but I'm taking steps to get to where I want to be. I went for a run this morning, which puts me at over 10 for the year. It doesn't sound like much, but I don't think I ran that many times in all of 2013. I'm finding ways to eat more vegetables and less processed food.

And hopefully, I'll have the first real ride of 2014 today.

Starting point
All those things are good. It's going to be a long road for me. I actually quite like running and I don't mind pilates. I realize the heart of my problem isn't a lack of desire, but rather the dream-crushing sadness of watching my old red man go downhill.

It's a new year. I'm focusing on the little bay horse who needs me to be fit and strong to give him the best ride possible for all our upcoming adventures.

No more excuses. I'm laying down the miles, even when I don't feel like it and can only sort of breathe.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Thank You

I've tried to write this post several times, but I can't get beyond the first paragraph. 
By Polar Square Designs
I just wanted to thank Kate at The Adventures of Lucy/Polar Square Designs, Team Flying Solo, Andrea at The ReelingWingman to Witching Hour, Lauren at She Moved to Texas, and Allison at Blue Eyed Horse, plus Jana, who doesn't seem to have a blog. They commissioned this lovely portrait of Cuna for me. 

Alyssa at Four Mares, No Money also did a Cuna portrait. I love them both and and beyond thankful to have friends like this. 

Every time I try to write out a proper thank you and say something about what this means to me, I realize that I'm just not ready. Please know my silence isn't ingratitude. I'm still grieving and I'll say more when I can. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bridles Part 3: Extra Features

Now that we've discussed aesthetics, fit, and function, it's time to look at a couple a bridle parts that have a range of options available. Crown pieces and bit attachments have more potential variation than any other single piece of the bridle and it's worth knowing the different types and their uses so that you can figure out what best suits your needs.

Starting at the top:


Courage with a normal crown
Most bridles are made with a standard crown piece. In this model, the cavesson hanger is a narrow strap that runs under the crown and both pieces are held together by the browband. It's easy to adjust, easy to clean, and inexpensive.

There is nothing wrong with this kind of crown piece. It's worked for decades and horses are pretty much fine with them.

Courage with a padded monocrown
Then someone said: "horses are sensitive and there are a ton of nerve endings in the poll area. What if we padded the crown area to cater to sensitive horses?"

And someone else said, "I don't think horses really care, but their owners will. MARKET THIS SHIT."

It's called a padded monocrown.

Instead of two separate pieces, the cavesson hanger is merged with the crown and there's padding on the bottom. Do horses care?

I don't know. Mine haven't. I do like these in the winter time because long winter hair can't get pulled when it's caught between the straps.

That said. I really and truly haven't noticed a difference. At all.

And I specialize in sensitive horses. Your mileage may vary.

contoured padded monocrown
After the padded monocrown, someone thought to add contouring to make the crown go around the ears better.

It seems like a good idea. I did contact Brita at (love that site!) and she said that she gets a lot of returns on the contoured models because they can rub if they don't hit the ears just right. She doesn't have that problem with non-contoured crowns.

I've never had them rub, but I go through bridles at kind of an alarming rate.

Mojito and the comfort crown
There is also the padded crown (aka "comfort crown") option. I always think of it as the bastardized monocrown and I've never actually owned one. It operates on the same principle of alleviating pressure, but the cavesson hanger is just threaded through the crown piece. Does it work? Sure. Is it a PITA to adjust? Yeah. Easy to clean? Probably.

Now let's move down the horse's face:

Bit Attachments! 

And yeah, I get pretty excited about these. There are three different kinds.

The first is sewn. You sometimes see this on double bridles, but mostly only in old photos. It's super safe and very tidy looking, but good luck ever changing your bit or cleaning your bridle. These are a remnant of a different era. I'd steal a picture for you to see, but I just don't believe in stealing. Google it if you're curious.

Cuna with hook studs
The next kind is hook stud ends. I could write a long section about how these are the only acceptable end for the hunter ring, but but why take my word for it? Here's JenJ of Wyvern Oaks to deal with hook studs in a more comprehensive manner:

"My biggest issue with them is that they can fail unexpectedly and at the worst possible time, and because they are hidden, you have no idea when they might be ready to go. I've had two sets of reins fail in the last year - both times, the hook just pulled out during a ride. Both bridles had been disassembled and cleaned completely within a month of failing, and I check over equipment condition pretty carefully when I do that. I had no idea there were problems with the hooks. With buckle ends, it's easy to see all the hardware and leather, so it's easy to check the condition of all the parts.

"My other big complaint is that they tend to be VERY hard to get apart. Granted, I don't have super high-quality bridles, but for the most part they are well-oiled and broken in... but they are STILL very hard to get apart, especially when it's cold. Since I'm currently in a position of switching out bits on a regular basis, this is an extra pain in the butt."

Yeah. Not much I can add to that. Thanks JenJ!!

If you aren't up for sewn and are disenchanted with hook studs (and don't ride hunters), there is another option! World, meet buckle ends.

Courage has buckles
Buckles are easy to use, easy to clean, and very safe. They're also not as tidy looking as hook studs, so they get no love in the hunter world. They tend to be the attachment of choice in the eventing and dressage worlds.

There are so many bridle options. I sure hope you have half as much fun reading this as I do writing it. Crown pieces and bit attachments are just another piece of the puzzle. At the end of the day, you have to figure out what works best for you and your horse. I'm just trying to cover available options so you can make an informed decision (and/or spit fire at me in the comments. I like that too.)

Next time, I'll talk about bridle brands, leather quality, and common myths. :-D

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

2014 Goals-ish

The best at stuff
I'm trying to  be positive and focus on the things that I want to do when winter finally ends. In light of that, here's the list I'm aiming for this year.

2014 Goals

-go chase cows
Let's face it: I live in the west and there are plenty of horses that still make a living on ranches. Courage is going to have to embrace cows if he's going to live out here. They're everywhere. I might as well take advantage of that. I've never done it before and it sounds like fun.

So spunky

-do a mini endurance ride
I'm still working out the details, but it's something I've wanted to try for years. Might as well give it a go. I'm in contact with an endurance friend about finding an actual ride to participate in. We'll see how it goes.

-jump 3'
This one should be wicked easy. I'm going say that I want to be competent at 2'9" courses by the end of the year. Not "hunter round" polished and perfect, but safe and sane without being over faced.

Practicing for the water jump
-run BN cross country (maybe school some novice?)
We'll do our best to hit a couple of clinics and local derbies. The little man is brave and clever, so I don't think it will be a problem

-do some local jumper shows
I don't have the finances to haul to big out of state shows, but I just want him to get out and learn about the show environment and hopefully start his own ribbon collection. Up til now, all he's won is money... wait...

Long Range Goals

-Do a hunter derby
Not even kidding. Upper level eventing doesn't call my name, but these look so incredibly fun.

Photo by Lauren at She Moved to Texas - used with permission

Dream goal

-Qualify C-rage for the derby finals in Kentucky. I'm still on the fence about whether I'd want to ride him myself or hire someone with a much better shot of winning, but I'm confident that we're way too far out for that to be a big deal right now.

Unrealistic? Totally. Fun? Absolutely. I know absolutely nothing about hunters, beyond their fixation on braiding (gag). I don't know if Courage is going to be fancy enough. I don't even know how to go about qualifying. I do know that giving him a solid basic education, including lots of desensitization, natural obstacles, and practice at being handy will only help.

Squint and pretend the jump is huge
We'll try to do a couple clinics with hunter-type people and get some realistic feedback. I have no idea if it will all work out, but a girl can dream.

I'm getting excited for riding weather.
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