Thursday, April 30, 2015

Schooling Show: Not as Planned

Right before he tried to kill her
Last week, I was freaking out about signing up for the Very Expensive Clinic, and I decided to help calm my nerves by scheduling one last round of bodywork for Courage and signing up for a little schooling show where we could run through intro B and C and hopefully have one last positive, off-property experience before embarrassing ourselves in front of all of local dressage land. 

The good/bad news about the bodywork was that Courage REALLY needed it. We have a new plan of action for him and I'm optimistic. Sort of. 

See, it looks like every time we have a meltdown about turning right (yeah, more of that) it's actually a pain issue related to a low back issue related to 6 years of racing. We can fix it and build correct muscle.

Yeah. Good thing I never liked my bank account anyways. TTFN, dolla billz! 

but he's really shiny
So anyways. After all that and a day off, I showed up after work to prep for our little schooling show. And naturally, my usually clean horse was completely soaked in urine. 

Sooooooo I hosed him off.

And found fresh blood on his side right under where my leg should go. 

Horses. I swear. 

Since my trainer was taking two other horses that she had to ride one after the other, I left Courage at home and went to the show to play with this lovely thing:

She's a 12 (?) year old holsteiner mare doing 4th level with my dressage trainer. I piddled around the warm up with her in a double bridle. It was super fun, but probably hilarious to watch. I had no ideas what buttons to push and I could barely get her to walk a straight line. We had some sweet lateral work at the walk, some maybe ok trot and a fun but entirely accidental canter. 

I'm going to pretend my complete lack of skills came from having to stay in the top of the arena, so the greenie my trainer was on wouldn't think she was getting abandoned, but LOL. Yeah really it's just that I don't know how to push dressage buttons. 

Anyways. After the greenie went, I switched horses with my trainer and then ambled around on the greenie, a Friesian X. She was nervous but manageable and I probably looked a lot more appropriate on her anyways. 
And that's the story of how Courage did not get one last outing before our big clinic, but I still feel more confident and prepared. 

A little bit.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tack Review: Total Saddle Fit Dressage Girth

If you ever use the horse-y part of the internet (RAISE YOUR HAND, ALL OF YOU), you've seen ads for this girth. It claims to be anatomically correct and better for both horse and saddle (and other things I didn't really read). Unlike other anatomic girths, it rings in at $125, which is a drop in the bucket of the $200 straps you can also buy to hold your ass platform on your horse.

I have one. Is it time for a review? Yes. Yes it is.

Total Saddle Fit Dressage Girth in Black, size 26".
Retail price: $124.95 + $9.95 shipping
What I paid: $85 shipped from a used site
Note: new price includes 110% money back guarantee, so if you need beer money, well, you do the math.

saddle is a hair back in this shot
I don't know how much I buy all the anatomic marketing going around right now, but I definitely kow tow to basic physics. Courage's dressage saddle first him well, but the billets hang a bit awkwardly.

I can either launch a multi-national search for THE MOST PERFECT SADDLE or I can buy a contoured girth. I chose option B.

There are some mixed reviews of the TSF girth online, so I didn't know what to expect.

Let's be real: it is a $120 strap. It serves to hold the saddle on very well. Some people are like "OMG BEST LEATHER I'VE EVER FELT" (which is sad) and others are like "THIS IS ISN'T FRENCH" (which is true)(but if it was French, it would cost hella more than $125).

Look at your Dover catalog--this is pretty reasonable for an all-leather, double elastic girth with roller buckles. Consider the contouring a free bonus.

Things I love about this girth:

1. Elastic and roller buckles. It's 2015, people. These things should be a given.

2. Nifty attachment ring in the middle. I haven't used it, but I like to know that I could if I wanted to.

3. Keepers. Dressage billets are notoriously long and hard to corral. I feel like the keepers on this girth hit the fine balance of looking tidy while not being a massive PITA to use.

Things I don't love:

1. Not really anything. I mean, it's a girth. As long as it serves to hold your saddle on without unduly rubbing, pinching, or irritating your horse, what's to dislike? I don't adore the leather quality, but I already covered that. I don't worry about it rubbing. It cleans up nicely. The construction is solid.

2. Sizing? I dunno on this one. The girth measures a 28". It's sized as a 26", which means if you're between sizes, go down. I'd probably rather have a slightly smaller size, but at that price, I wasn't going to quibble over details.


If you're in the market for a decent dressage girth that doesn't break the bank, this is your ticket. I can't speak to it's supposed magical abilities at making a saddle fit better, because shark fin withers=my saddles stay put.

I have lots of other things on my to-buy list right now, but I'm certainly interested in playing with a TSF jump girth when the time comes. :-)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Teach Me Tuesday: Horse Ruining

I feel like a really common fear I run across with my fellow adult ammies goes like this: "I'm just worried I'll ruin my horse." 

I hear it over and over and over, from all riding abilities, disciplines, and walks of life. 

And it goes right over my head. 

There are lots of things I worry about--Maimimg. Death. Intense pain. Forced liquid diets. Crippling injuries. Ruined tack. Wasted time. The usual. 
But one thing I don't think I've ever worried about is ruining my horse. I mean, if I put him in a bad situation and he gets way overfaced or fried, yeah, it'll be a massive PITA for me to spend the next few months fixing him and regaining his trust, but we'll get past it.

So to those ammies out there both with this fear and not, can you explain why this is a thing? What drives this fear? It's obviously a really big deal. I want to understand. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

That Pesky Right Lead

I was going to write this super-angsty post bemoaning how I apparently have completely lost my ability to ride and turn right and I can't even keep it together anymore, but as I was selecting pictures for this post, I realized something.

Here's us, doing a right lead canter in October 2013, a few months after Courage came off the track.

(picture by Ellie, so you are absolutely seeing the best case scenario here)

And a few months later, in May 2014.

(photo by horselessinhalifax, so again, best case scenario)


Then we started trying to dressage, so here's our best shot from December 2014.

(photo by Alyssa. I have so many talented friends.)

And despite feeling like a complete training failure lately, here's April 2015.

(photo also by Alyssa).

I'm not going to lie--the day to day is KILLER to get through right now. All I seem to see are the things we do wrong and how I screw up as a rider, but there is definitely progress.

This is Courage's weaker side and it's definitely the harder side for me to right straight. (Left arm? It does things? Say it isn't so!)

also a jump canter
It's not perfect and it shouldn't be. Courage is less than two years off the track, I have been his primary trainer, and until the past couple months, consistent lessons were a laughably far off idea. It's so easy to see what we're doing wrong, but you know what?

We're also doing some things right.

And that's good enough for me.

Friday, April 24, 2015



I used to think I should just give the whole jumping thing up and do dressage.

But I've been going through the latest round of dressage pictures and I noticed something Courage and I had in common.

dressage face

dressage face
Hint: neither of us are poker champs.

I will say for dressage, it sure does make those jumps look easy.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Confidence and... Dressage? Sigh

it's a stretchy trot, ok?
So after my impulsive and rash decision and then my quite successful jumping lesson, I had a complete panic and scheduled a biomechanics lesson with S because...

Well. You know.


(noted: no media from this lesson. all pictures are from other rides.)

And while I accept that clinics are all about learning and learning is great and all that, I just feel like if I'm going to sneak into a clinic full of fancy, competitive warmbloods on my green, self-"made" OTTB, well, I need to bring my A game so I don't look like the hick cousin we all ignore at parties. Does that make any sense?

this is good
Like I'm completely used to embarrassing myself in public and at shows, but if I'm riding for an internationally renowned clinician at a fancy barn that some kind soul invited me to, I don't want to be the idiot that everyone remembers.

And I realize that's probably too lofty of a goal.

Regardless. Lesson with S. It started out fantastic. She said I had nothing to worry about and that my position wasn't that bad and then promptly fixed everything. I felt like my hands were pretty much in Courage's ears, but I finally got them out of my lap. Body was up. Horse was forward.

She really emphasized sitting down on my horse while riding forward--which changes "MADLY CAREENING AROUND SKETCH FOOTING" to "hey, nice forward canter". Interesting. She was sensitive to Courage being green and pointed out that I always need to give him some place to go--like a small circle, but give him the inside rein.

We were having a grand old time and then she wanted one more canter.

(guess where this is going)

Courage was like "ENGAGE MELTDOWN MODE". And proceeded to hop up and down in place and fling himself around, which is the thing that immediately precedes the hijinks he's been favoring lately. So with S on hand, we played with different methods of addressing it.

It took a lot of hard riding on my part, but what really worked for us was to go to the place he was trying to get to anyways (the gate), then push my hands forward and loop the reins, and just clamp my legs down like vices and keeping him going forward.

And release when he listened.

You could totally see him go "well now this game is poo. nothing to have a fit about and just have to work ass."

I've got this better in jump tack
At this point, we are treating it as a behavioral pressure response--he goes really well until he hits his pressure limit and then he tries to take the pressure off by freaking out. If I take the pressure off (throw the reins away and relax), he calms down. So the goal is two fold--increase the amount of pressure he can deal with by doing 3-5 minutes hard work, then 3-5 minutes easy. This helps him increase his pressure tolerance and takes enough pressure off that he shouldn't hit the top of his limit.

Oh, and biggest takeaway from S?

"You ride him great. I know it feels precarious, but you're actually just fine. You need to trust yourself that you can handle this. Be more confident, because you've got this."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Guess Who Can Still Jump?

trotting time
The good news about my EXCITING NEWS from yesterday was that I was way too fixated on freaking out about that and thus was super calm for my jump lesson. I even got crazy and told the instructor we'd ride outside instead of using the walls of the indoor as a crutch for our intermittent right-turning (non) abilities.

Plus the irrepressible Alyssa was on hand to photograph and we get so much better pictures outside.

color me surprised
Once again, I was really happy with G's ability to hone in on specific issues for Courage and I to work on without overwhelming Courage.

We started out walking and G was like "just walk him down through this EPIC LINE OF POLES" (not a direct quote) and I was like "LULZ NO PROBLEM" even though Courage has a long history of flipping his shit about poles.

But guess what?

He was totally chill about them.

I think G's approach helped--instead of just being like "ALL THE POLES", he had us do trot circles at the bottom of the arena, focusing on leg yielding out to lengthen Courage's stride and control his shoulders. Then I'd maintain the rhythm and contact and go right through the poles like nbd.

Then we added in canter circles.

I tried to not anticipate trouble and ride well, but as we cantered around on the right lead, Courage thought about flipping his shit a little and sort of got all hopping and bouncing backwards and like "OH HELLZ NO".

And G was like "is this normal" and I'm like "yeah..."

Because it is something he does under pressure, even if the only pressure is on his brain.

not edited.
So we did another half circle at the canter and then just ignored the right lead and that was that. Because adding more pressure wasn't going to fix it.

Instead, we added in a little crossrail at the end of the epic poles. The challenge was to make it the exact same ride for me and just let Courage do what he needed to.

It was surprisingly non-dramatic.

my only defense is "possessed right hand"
Again, this is where I appreciate G's understanding of thoroughbreds. Courage jumped just fine.

So we did it some more.

Then took a break, then did it more.

Essentially, we created the consistency and trust that Courage needed to be successful at this exercise and to set him up to be confident further down the road.


Then G made the jump into a wee vertical.

And Courage was fantastic. We were able to just have that same ride with a slightly bigger fence.

It all felt very natural and effortless, in the sense that I was so preoccupied with riding well that I had no time to think about much else.

And when I feel like I'm actually (somewhat) in control of the situation and can actually ride my horse, the nerves go away. So yes. Whole entire jump lesson and no fear. I call that a win.

I made a comment to G that I appreciated him not pushing my horse and that if this was what we needed, I Was happy to do it all summer long.

And he's like "really, once we get this worked out, you'll move right along".

I have lots of takeaways and plenty of homework (HOW WILL I DO JUMP HOMEWORK MUST DRESSAGE SO MUCH DRESSAGE) and I'm ready to work on all of it. I can feel my horse progressing and that makes me happy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


So the other day, Alyssa offered to come out and take pictures for me. Courage and I haven't been doing much to excite in terms of jumping lately and I wanted a progress check on the dressage.

We did a solid warm up, then ran through our first-ever dressage test (that I made up).

working trot
I was trying so hard. I had my eyes up and my body up and I was sitting up straight and I was REALLY happy with how my horse was going.

stretchy trot
Courage was soft and rateable and rideable and comfortable. He had no shadow of an issue with turning right (huzzah!) and was just lovely.

I was really, really happy with my ride.

And then I went home and saw the pictures.

And omg.

Horse= A+, Self=WTF
There are some really lovely shots of Courage. He's progressing really well and I couldn't be prouder of him. I see him changing. I feel him starting to get it.

I'm so happy about that.

But I look through all the pictures of myself actually riding...

And I'm not impressed. WHAT AM I EVEN DOING.

I don't know. I can't explain how it is I think my horse will go better if I tip forward with my hands in my lap. I don't know why I think if I push my heels up and toes out and put my tone-less calf on his side, that ANYTHING will happen.

best shot
I guess I can explain why when I overuse my inside rein how that hinders him from working correctly, but hasn't seemed to help me fix it all that much.

For us to advance, I need to get stronger on my outside aids both directions. And shorten my reins to get my hands out of my lap. AND SIT UP. And get my ass under me.

AND THEN like, maybe learn how to dressage.

halt, salute. mic drop.
So I'm very understandably frustrated with myself for doing the same things wrong I always do and have always done.

And then I get this nice note from a fancy (and kind) (and expensive) local trainer, inviting me to participate in a cool clinic.

It's $$$.

It's in two weeks.

I can (just barely) afford it if I do no shows next month.

My dressage trainer and boarding friends have nothing but good things to say about the clinician.

So who is it with?


picture kypped from internet
I'm a little bit freaking out right now.


I realize clinics are all about learning and I (obviously) need all the help I can get.


Cue panic.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Big Exciting Updates You've All Been Waiting For

best at poles
I feel like my blog has a shocking dearth of exciting things to talk about lately. I mean, I wanted to write a riding update last week. I was really excited about all the progress we were making. I started typing "you guys we CANTERED OVER GROUND POLES and Courage wanted to whig out but I rode like a BADASS and we FIGURED IT OUT and F*** YEAH GROUND POLES."

But like... would you read that?

No. No you would not. Not even if you were my mother.

In fact, you'd be like "SB, western pleasure horses do that ALL DAY LONG. Can't you try a little harder?"

Ok. So then I hopped on in the indoor and had THE BEST RIDE EVER for us in dressage. Walk. Trot. Canter. Both leads. Direction changes. Courage was soft and uphill and balanced and relaxed.

And I was riding alone, so obviously there is no photo evidence besides a fancy head shot.

So I was going to write a post about that, but then I realized I was literally bragging that my horse could walk, trot, and canter in a 20 meter circle in an indoor, which is like, less impressive than a horse with 30 days under saddle who can do the EXACT SAME THING.


doing it right eventually
I know I'm going slow with Courage because I want him to learn things the right way. I know there's no point in jumping until he's rateable on the flat, then over poles. I know I'm being ridiculous and going too slow and that I could just ram and jam and screw flatwork and I know that makes better blog fodder.

I mean, let's face it: if I was all "HELLZ YEAH JUMPING 3'6" ON C RAGE", everyone would be like "omg you're so amazing and your horse is sooooo cool". But when I say "yep cantering ground poles," even my response is "yawn hella boring moving right along".

but is it fancy enough?
All that to say: Courage and I are working away at the all-important basics. We're making, slow, steady, non-linear progress.

Oh, and I might have some exciting updates soon.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Things a Tack Ho Doesn't Sell

also horses. don't sell horses.
aka "what to buy, I guess"

I'm basically a revolving door of really excellent tack. I rarely pay full price for anything and I almost never personalize because I know I won't keep anything forever.

Over the past few years, there have been a few things that stayed with me.

1) Bits.

I do not sell bits.

I want to be that crazy old lady with an enormous trunks of bits in my barn who has every design under the sun. I do not want to be that lady with strap goods or saddle pads, but bits? NEVER LET THOSE BABIES GO.

(Unless you have two in the same size/design and think it's unlikely you'll need them at the same time. I sold a copper mouth french link loose ring because I had two.)

srsly old phone pic

2) Equifit T Boots

Truth: I bought my set years ago on super sale brand new from a rep. I thought I wanted the hook stud models, ended up with the velcros, and never looked back. They're just fantastic boots. They are a basic color, they look classy on every horse, they fit very well (on everything I've used them on) and they are easy to clean. They haven't rubbed even my most sensitive of princesses and they're suitable for nearly every occasion.

I've sold lots of open front boots (and I still have lots), but these are the only ones that seem to have gained a permanent spot in the vault.

memories are forever
3) Nice halters

This one sort of doesn't count but also sort of does. I buy a really nice halter when I get a horse. I put the horse's name on it and the halter stays with the horse.

Unless it's a bitch like Izzy and then I sell it when she moves away. Ha!

But for real. Halters are the one thing that "belongs" to the horse, if you will, and they are special to me.

you aren't looking at the saddle pad
4) Saddle pads

This category does not include half pads. I sell those all the time (and buy them even more frequently). I am such a miser about spending money on saddle pads in the first place that when I finally do have them, I just keep them until they have to be thrown away. They need to be nice neutral colors that don't clash with any given color scheme and they need to fit my saddles.

And if they fit that criteria, I pretty much just keep them. That's what rubbermaids are for, right?

might be keeping these
I'm trying to think if there's anything else, but nothing comes to mind. These aren't necessarily the things I enjoy the most, just the ones I keep the longest. I mean, my #1 love is strap goods, but no one wants to be that lady with 30 year old bridles that is all "these were so hot three decades back".

At least, I can't imagine it.

Am I just weird? What else do you keep forever?
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