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.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

This Was Unexpected

You guys. The weirdest thing happened. 

I wanted to ride my horse. 

Not in like the sort of abstract "I miss the way it used to feel when I was competent" that is pretty normal, but in like a concentrated "I'm going to put my pants on and go mess with my horse in the cold tonight" sort of way. 
baseline. zero fitness, 100% yak hair.
With everything going on in life, I have not felt that way in a while. One of the biggest life skills I've been focusing on is just letting things be and not constantly trying to fix everything. Since I haven't felt like riding, I haven't ridden. 

We did take really cute Christmas pictures. I've been out to toodle around bareback and pet her nose and drop off checks. She's been good, don't get me wrong, but I was definitely starting to see the little things that meant she needed more. A little rude on the ground, a little sluggish on her back. Plus, every time I saw her, I was kind of rushed and going through the motions.

Gee, correlation much? 
I'm getting that familiar itch to ride and train and (haha) shop for pony things again. We're starting slow with some much needed ground work and team building time.

I'm excited to see where we go. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Decade in Review

So uh I've been blogging a really long time and even though I wrote less posts this year than I used to write in a month, blogging still brought some of the greatest people into my life. Because of those people, I present: the decade in review, sprinklerbandits edition.

Here goes:
2010 this looks... way more pleasant than it was
In 2010, I was newly back into riding as an adult amateur. I was fresh out of college and took on a (black 6 year old) spoiled warmblood mare as a project. The goal was eventing, so we did a little of everything.

2011 yeaaaaaah i was completely terrified in this picture
2011 brought lessons and a major wreck and broken bones and moving in with a trainer and learning that my horse was all wrong for me and then meeting the horse that was so, so right for me.

2012 with this stud
In 2012, everything came together for a few glorious moments. I was in love with a giant red horse and we showed and lessoned and trail rode and played and I'll always remember that time as one of the best ever. <3
2013 this photo always makes me laugh
2013 brought an opportunity to work on the racetrack and meet new (bay) faces. Of course one of those faces came home with me.
2014 this one time we looked competent haha
It's weird to me that 2014 was five years ago. I quit my job at the barn (s), started being an adult with a career, lost my beloved Cunafish, and had some high highs and low lows with Courage.
2015 because Alyssa is the actual best
In 2015, I was determined to make showing happen. We went to every. single. show. at the lowest level available and I won this giant ribbon that I'm still proud of, haha. Good friends and fun adventures and yeaaaaah apparently you can get eliminated by refusals in a ground poles class. Now you know.
2016 football and dressage 
By 2016, I finally figured out that I should quit jumping C. Then I quit a lot more things. This picture is probably his best dressage moment ever and he looks so damn sexy and he so wasn't happy and I wasn't happy and things were about to fall apart real hard.
2017 a steampunk princess
Basically the only thing that went right in 2017 was getting a baby percheron mare that wasn't even started under saddle. Courage found an incredible new home, I made career changes, and Alyssa took some of my favorite photos of all time.

2018 when one photo is your whole year
2018 accelerated the changes that had been rumbling. My personal life fell apart while my professional life took off and my constant was my curvy baby mare. I took about 4 lessons and never went to a horse show.

2019 a whole new perspective
I spent most of 2019 getting on my feet and my beloved ZB had to take a back seat while I sorted things out.

I'm rolling in to 2020 with a black 6 year old mare and a whole new perspective on life, the universe, and everything, haha. I still have a someday goal of a bronze medal, a shorter-term goal of organizing a horse-soccer team at my barn, and an every-day goal of becoming a better human and horseman in whatever direction we go.

I wouldn't hold your breath for horse show domination this year, but maybe we'll take some lessons and get back on the bus.
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