Monday, February 29, 2016

Spend Vs Splurge: The Tack Ho Ethos

I am an undisputed Tack Ho of the Tribe of the Internet. Our ethos is something like this:

1) Pretty matters
1) New toys are more fun
1) Quality > Quantity, but quantity is ok too
1) Never, ever, ever pay full price for anything
1) Always have the best shit
1) You're never not shopping

If you're nodding along with me, great. Yes all the numbers are 1. You either agree or you're not one of us. Obviously.

If you're like "WTF I HAVE HAD THE SAME BRIDLE SINCE I WAS 12 AND IT'S STILL FINE", guess what? You're right. It is. You're not a Tack Ho and that's A-Okay. Membership is purely voluntary and not a moral advantage. In fact, I hear non-membership is cheaper and easier on relationships. Keep me posted on this one, ok?
expensive gloves. why.
Here's where I differ from MANY Tack Hos: I do not also maintain membership in the Clothes Horse Initiative. That specifically means that I really and actually do not care about my riding ensemble. 

There's a reason I drool over French leather but can't be persuaded to spend more than $60 on breeches. A reason I ride in a $40 ovation schooling helmet instead of the BEAUTIFUL Sparkly OneK I want but will never buy. A REASON I do not own custom tall boots, fancy show clothes, or name-brand sun shirts. 
we look pretty ok
(There's even a reason I went to a jewelry store with hubs and saw a 3k ring and was like OMG if you buy that for me, I would be SO PISSED. THAT'S A SADDLE. But. Different story.) 

To me, clothes aren't something to get excited about. They're fine. I need a few very-minimal standards met and then I'm good. Don't need more. I'm not wearing 78 complicated and $$$ layers. Everything I own goes in the washing machine. If it can't take that, it dies. I will hang dry breeches, but that's it. WASHER OR OUT. Those are the rules. 
look an ass selfie!
I don't care how many times you tell me that $300 breeches are SO WORTH IT. That's 5 pairs of $60 breeches, and if I'm getting 1-2 years per $60 pair, I actually wouldn't be money ahead buying those until they last what, like 7 years? (WHO HAS PANTS FOR 7 YEARS? NO ONE).

Having a breeches collection gives me no joy. Paying $80 for a goddamn shirt confounds me. It's a shirt. A SHIRT. 

You're welcome for the up-close-and-personal with my neuroses, but I actually have a larger point. Because  I love tack and live by the Tack Ho Ethos, I am totally fine with buying and trying all the tack (and if you want to live vicariously, stay close. I resell a lot too.) Because I am NOT part of the Clothes Horse Collective or what-have-you, I don't ever spend money on that stuff. 

topline charm ftw
I don't care how good a deal it was or how magical someone claimed to feel. There simply isn't a parallel universe in which I would appreciate and understand the value of $300 pants. That's not who I am. Call me trashy. Call me cheap. No single pair of pants or magic sweater or overpriced SPF shirt is going to drive me into the fold of the Clothes Horse faithful.

That's not who I am. That's not who I want to be. I certainly admire the "together" wardrobes that other, more linen-inclined people sport, but it's not worth the time, energy or money to me. 

And because that's true about me, I don't bother spending the money to "try" the latest, greatest textile innovations. There literally isn't a way they could make me happy, so it would be kind of dumb of me to try.

TL/DR: if you're a cheap-ass-ho, don't get disappointed when gucci doesn't scare you straight.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Catch Ride Experiment

I am a highly-motivated goal-driven person.

That personality trait is not at all conducive to dressage.

The other day, I had a lesson on Courage. He was SUPER. He let me ride. I learned so much about how little I actually know how to ride. The next time I rode, Redheadlins came out to do media. She's always happy to remind me what I need to fix in the saddle, which is priceless when you can apparently remember nothing. NOTHING. I used to be a smart person who could ride. Now I'm like... a strange lump that is stiff in weird places and can't both post and steer. RAWR EXISTENTIAL ANGST.

Anyways. If you're super bored and like watching me walk, trot, and canter in a circle, here's video.

If you don't like video, here are the highlights:
Sometimes I ride like this, which I am ok with.
Most of the time I ride like this, which I am less ok with.

I mean. If you look at how Courage is going, he's obviously improving in general and that's great. But like. You don't have to be God's gift to riding to see that I need help.

But then I went out to our old barn and hoped on a fun fancy jump horse who looks like a teeny pony when I ride her.
She's very out of shape, but she's broke broke broke, so we played dressage pony with long stirrups and sitting trot. It was FASCINATING. I could feel things changing underneath me so easily and actually make corrections that were useful. My hands didn't bounce because I was just sitting and wow. It was (almost) paradigm-altering.

The next day, I dragged a pony friend out, dropped my stirrups two holes, and tried to ride Courage like he had 5 more years of training than he really does.

This was good.
proof I can perch in any length of stirrup

This was less good.

See, I was kind of hoping that the difference was the saddle or the stirrup length or the sitting trot or basically anything I could fix without spending YEARS training my horse to get to that point.

Fun fact: it isn't.

A large part of the problem is that I'm still working to develop a correct seat, which (just like jumping) is the foundation for everything else. A less-large-but-still-substantial part of the problem is what my trainer keeps pointing out--Courage just isn't ready to be ridden like VA VA VOOM DRESSAGE HORSE. Even if I had that skill set right this instant, he can't handle it. Remember how we're trying to eradicate the flailing instead of make it worse? Yeah.
one hole down from normal
I put my stirrups back up a hole so I could actually reach them, and then played with sitting trot a little bit. It's not amazing. I can do some well and more poorly.

But hey. It was an interesting experiment. I learned that Courage can handle a little more pressure now than he could even a few weeks ago. I learned to be more aware of my position. I learned that I an create an existential hormone-driven crisis out of nearly any situation and I learned that the cure to most crises is still a fantastic outfit, wine, and a good night's sleep.
it's never a bad day for argyle polos
Because no matter how much I want it to be, the answer is never DRILL DRILL DRILL and ride C into the ground. It's time, patience, and harmony. It's relaxing, letting go, and taking my time.

And you know, all those things my trainer told me in the first place.

And that's really hard for a goal-driven person to accept. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Putting on the Polish

As Courage and I start finding our stride together, I keep having these odd moments of like "aawwww he's so cute and I loff him" and then I just want to send cute pictures of him to everyone I know (like, more than I do usually) and gush about him. That's new for me with him.

Courage is a hard horse to love and I'm a person who doesn't connect easily. I suspect y'all can kind of tell--I keep posting things about how we're building a relationship, but then we never seem quite "there", in that smitten, forsaking-all-others type of way. And I get that not everyone has to have that connection with every horse, but I really, really miss it.

To me, a relationship with a horse needs two things: adventures and down time. Last year, we kick-started adventure time with horse shows and satin and fun pony weekends. We never really addressed the quiet down time part though. Every day was focused on achieving specific goals in the saddle, which was fine. It just meant that I spent my time DOING WORK with him and none at all appreciating who he is.

I love grooming. I always have. It's a time and a place for me to connect with my horse and really learn to appreciate them inside and out. It's a way of staying on top of bumps and bruises and really being in touch with my horse on an intimate day-by-day basis.

Courage has actually gotten a lot more amenable to grooming than he ever was before; he used to just stand in the cross ties and alternately lift his hind legs and threaten if anyone BREATHED on him. Now while he'll still kick you into next week if you dare to use anything so barbaric as (gasp) a RUBBER CURRY, he's sort of okay if I whisk off the dust briefly with his special soft brush. He has great nutrition and great coat genetics, so it works for us.

He doesn't like it. I'm a busy working ammy. We're chasing bigger goals together. Grooming is something we've been skimping on the whole time Courage and I have been together.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was selling both of us a little short. Courage doesn't hate grooming--he's just very sensitive. He objects to odd things, sure, but he's not unwilling to be touched anymore, the way he was when he first came home. I've carried over my reaction to his prejudices even when the prejudices are mostly gone.
racehorse Courage
But now, I need to do better. We're working our way through the skulduggery that is the foundations of dressage and that shit is HARD and pretty much EVERYONE on the ENTIRE PLANET is better at it than we are. That's sad and depressing and makes me seriously question why I'm even trying, especially when I know that my sensitive, complicated horse sometimes usually pretty much always  makes things harder than they need to be.

I keep reminding myself that it's about my journey with this horse, and that I do like him, and since dressage will always be a fickle mistress and we might never be good at it, we need to find other ways to connect and enjoy each other until such a day as we (maybe) suck (somewhat) less.
so. hard.
And that's where grooming comes in. Quiet time spent together. Curving muscles and soft brown eyes, velvety noses and long, thick tails. We find the time to spend together so I can appreciate the horse he is, with all his sensitivities and quirks and oddness. His deep-seated hatred of jelly scrubbers doesn't mean he can't have nice things. It just means I need to personalize what I use with him.

I finally got around to ordering some highly recommended extra-soft brushes. I reorganized my grooming kit and took out all the things I know Courage hates. I'm creating a real grooming routine for us. It's slow and methodical. I listen for what Courage likes and pay attention to what makes him uncomfortable. I think I've even finally found a place for that goofy sheepskin mitt Cuna won at a show years ago--a certain bay princess thinks it's the perfect finishing piece.

There's no question in my mind anymore that Courage is my horse and he's staying with me. It's time to invest in the quieter side of our relationship.

(Besides, he needs to be super shiny for when I take dorky pictures of him to send to all my friends.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Fantastic or Insane (both?)

"Either he's fantastic or I can't get on," is how I describe our current riding status.

Lessons are weird for me--I used to LOVE them, because I learn things and get better and that is awesome. But on Courage, they have a distinct tendency to look like this:

And that is really no fun at all.

So when my trainer pointed out that I was, in fact, "on", I sucked it up and decided to keep riding until I actually thought he was going to take off flailing before asking her to ride instead. I mean, realistically, I do have to ride the horse myself to get my scores and while trainer rides are great, I'm the one that needs to learn first level, not her.

And the weirdest thing happened.

Courage was FANTASTIC.

Which means I got my ass handed to me.
You see, when every.single.lesson. for the past several months has been "how not to die in these unusual circumstances while your horse turns himself inside out", the nuances of riding are out the window and it's more like "don't kick... don't pull... hang on... deep breath... AHHHHH SAVE YOURSELVES". And while I am turning in to something of a specialist at riding a sensitive horse through very challenging situations (or at least, my trainer is, HA), I haven't had a lesson about me in ages.

So when Courage slapped his game face on, I was officially screwed.

Here's a thing about me: I don't like taking a contact. I grew up riding a horse that would never, ever take an honest contact no matter what, so we faked it. It wasn't until attempting dressage on Cuna that I learned how to actually take a contact and ride into it. But Cuna was a long time ago at this point and most of my lessons on Courage are focused on like "DEAR GOD WHY" instead of minutiae, it's easy to lose some important skills.
blurry screen caps for you!
 Pretty much I could have this whole lesson again if I just played a tape of my instructor saying "CLOSE YOUR FINGERS" and then "OPEN YOUR ELBOWS" over and over like 500 times. In pursuit of unsupervised softness, I have decided to lock my elbows open with my fingers open and then bounce my hands up and down every time I post.

Right? So useful.

Now when I do close my fingers (providing Courage a solid place to go instead of letting his energy dribble out the front) and use my elbows correctly (providing a soft contact instead of a trampoline effect on his mouth), he is LOVELY.
I'll take it
Getting there is the HARDEST. Grrr. I literally have to think OPEN ELBOWS every time I post up, which means I'm not thinking about closed fingers, which means my trainer basically has to yell one thing or the other at me CONSTANTLY.

It's hard, but I love it. I can really feel the difference in Courage when I get things right. On the days on which I can get on, he can now be super fun to ride.
We even had a right lead canter!! Omg. We've been playing with this a few times this "spring" (it's not quite spring yet), and I've never asked him for a whole circle of the right lead. We did A LOT of circles (at least 3?) in the lesson, and Courage never tried to leave. Kept his brain working and let me be a hot mess on his back.

You doubt? I HAVE VIDEO.

(we looked a little better to the left, but there was a slight muck up with the video, so you'll just have to trust me)

I watch the video and I see lots to work on. And I say that because I feel like a dumbass even posting it after I'm like "oh yeah totes want to ride GP someday" and then it's like "haha yeah watch me fail I'm so good at this".

So yeah. We aren't polished and perfect. But you know what? My horse kept his brain on for a whole lesson, and that is a New and Awesome skill.
he tells his bff how awesome he is #shameless

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Teach Me Tuesday: Rubbing

embiggen for details
Tis the season of the OTTB getting rubs from existing. I'm trying to just close my eyes until we're past the worst of it, but until then, any tips for the sensitive horse? Products to put on and make things better? Help a sister (/gelding princess) out!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Blog Hop: The Little Things

Amanda asks this week "what are those little things that make your horse special?"

It's really funny timing--I've been having a bunch of those weird "all the feels" moments about Courage lately, so here's a collection of things I love about my little guy.

He's the vainest horse I've ever met. People love this picture. They don't realize that I could take it EVERY SINGLE DAY because that is how much he loves looking at himself.

He's so opinionated. Courage will never go silently into the night about ANYTHING. Ever. Whether it's the feel of dirt under his feet or the desire for cookies right now, he doesn't so much wear his heart on his sleeve as get it a permanent address there.

He specializes in posing dramatically. Not even kidding. This is what he thinks spooking is. People wonder why I always have kickass pictures of him, and this is it. Left to his own devices, all he wants to do is model.

He's very brave. He will spook at things, but he'd really rather march up, stick his nose on it, and find out if it's food. Or if it can be made to provide food. And if it's like this yoga ball and does neither, he cannot be persuaded to continue being interested in it. (No seriously after I took this, he walked to the gate and begged cookies off another boarder).

He's so helpless. A California horse to his very core, he has no idea how to survive without people handing him everything. Or even that it's possible. Or that anyone would want to do it. I got this shot when he decided to leave the wash rack (that he can't be tied in because reasons), but then stepped on his own lead rope and waited for me to save him. Because obviously.

He positively oozes personality. While he's no safe steady eddy (most of the time) and he drives me crazy (usually), everyone who meets him loves him. He's very interactive and adorable and hilarious. Even non-horse people usually end up laughing at his NOTICE ME HELLO antics and puffed-up self image.

He's turning in to a really fun partner under saddle and that's great. It's his personality that first attracted me and he still makes me laugh every single day.

Friday, February 19, 2016


Alyssa says I have a problem. She says I have to write a blog about why tack buying is a problem for me and how I need to stop. She says acknowledging I have a problem is the first step.

But then what happened?


Bad move.

See, there was a local tack trailer having a sale and when someone observed that Lindsey and I would run wild without Alyssa's oversight, I thoroughly debunked them by pointing this out:

Because 1) you always need someone to run hog wild with and 2) Lindsey usually takes a little encouragement.

But we calculated our actual discount at the sale vs our actual needs and decided it would be way more fun to play ponies and eat fancy lunch instead.

We are models of moderation if I do say so myself. Alyssa was supposed to be home before any more potentially damaging sales occurred and I'm buried at work, so I'm not shopping much. Win win, right?

Of course, I'm squinting through morning haze at my tiny phone screen and get this message:

I mean, all she did was send a blog link along, right? So I read the blog. New to me, but the blogger's like "pretty, not the greatest quality, pretty, HERE HAVE A 50% OFF CODE".

You have my full attention.

I've seen the site in question before, but let's be real: it's an India-based knock off site with very likely the attendant quality levels. The prices weren't terrible, but meh. I have enough shit. I don't need shitty shit too.

But that whole discussion changes when already-marked-down bridles (and other things) can be discounted 50% oh AND there was free shipping over $38. From India. And the other blogger said she ordered and got her stuff in a week.

Um so you're saying I can get that Dy'on knockoff I've been wanting since forever for $44 dollars shipped? WHERE DO I SIGN UP
i just want it ok 
I compiled a glorious order and was like LINDSEY BUY ALL THE SHIT TOO and then she was like "what would alyssa do" because sometimes she has these weird self-loathing puritanical moments that totally don't suit her at all*. (Come to think of it, I should probably make some stupid plastic bracelets that say WWAD if I ever decide to go to recovery.)

So we decided to buy the one bridle I wanted using the 50% off and free shipping, and then if we liked it, then BUY ALL THE THINGS. #adulting

It was a great plan right up until we realized the code had a minimum threshold of $200.

So then Lindsey was like WHAT THE HELL BUY IT ALL NOW and threw her bridle in on the order too. BAM. Threshold met.

After all, with stuff like this in the bridle descriptions, we can't possibly go wrong:

"The knot point where the nose band crosses over the nose in figure eight specimen is highlighted with designer star or flower like leather art which is optimally cushioned to avoid any kind of itching to the animal. Appearance of the knot becomes indigenous and traditional with such a structure."

(I prefer my knots indigenous too. That's not racist, right?)

"comfortable padded buckle guard under the Jaw is provided to avoid any kind of pinching and itching to the animal and enhances the comfort level."

(This product prevents itching. By Magic.)

"Each stitch is precisely sewn and counts up to 10 to 12 stitches per inch"

(Average is the new precise.)

"Soft yet Strong PP inserted 16 mm Rubber grip reins with Martingale stoppers will not move out from the comfort grip of user hands."

(Bitch please. I can drop anything. ANYTHING.)

"Besides, it appears very eye catchy and adorable."

(In fairness, my whole reason for buying was "eye catchy and adorable", so they sold me right there.)

And who can forget the awesome pop up sale:

"HURRAH! WE HAVE AN UNAVOIDABLE OFFER FOR YOU. Use COUPON CODE : BRIDLE10 to avail 10% DISCOUNT on your purchase or agree to pay full amount."

(yes that is how english works)

Lindsey also pointed out (after we sent the money) that they actually have the best and most comprehensive bridle size chart I've ever seen. Dear bridle manufacturers: you all need to make this and have it easily searchable on the internet. ALL OF YOU.

The checkout was through paypal, so fingers crossed all is well. I'll keep you posted.

*Come to think of it, I think "weird puritanical self-loathing" might actually be translated as "budgeting". Food for thought.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

I Want It.

I don't have crazy aspirations. I never have. Even as a young(ish) kid who rode, when people would ask if I wanted to go to the Olympics, I'd look them in the eye and tell them I couldn't afford it. 

And then I wouldn't worry about it.

I still don't.

I'm not going to the Olympics. Ever.

I'm okay with that. I don't need outside accolades to prove to myself that I'm doing the best I can.

But things have been going well with Courage lately. I mean, yeah, I can only actually get on him about every other day on account of some stuff we're working through, but when I can get on, he's very, very good.

And this stupid idea keeps kicking around the back of my head.

"I want to do Grand Prix".

It's a stupid idea.

It's so dumb.

It's expensive.

It's hard.

It's elitist.

I'm an average rider. I do not have great means. At this point, I am not willing to sell my body and soul as a working student to learn what I need.

I'd have to do it like I am, nights and weekends and a shoestring budget.

There are SO MANY REASONS it can't happen.

For starters, I can't afford it. The best chance of success would be a fancy warmblood, a stall at a fancy training barn, and multiple lessons a week. I have none of those.

Nexties, Courage is 11 now. We haven't even competed at first level yet.

Neither of us is God's Gift to Dressage. At all.

I mean, the only thing going for us is the fact that one clinician one time told me that not only could I get my bronze medal on him, but there was "no reason he couldn't get silver and gold too. He has three correct gaits."

Well, that and a saddle that fits.

So I guess there are two things going for us.

It's a stupid goal. It's not even a clever dream. It's unrealistic, out of reach, and downright pretentious. It's probably the most common goal in the entire horse world and hardly anyone ever achieves it.

To think that some silly, flabby, uninspired and completely average adult ammy could take an older, pressure-averse OTTB gelding to Grand Prix.
Right? It's laughable.

But it won't go away.

I don't even know enough to know why we can't make it. I just know that there's this gaping chasm of knowledge and skill and ability (and talent and time and aptitude) and I haven't the foggiest idea who to even ask to find out how to cross it and get to that silly dream so that they can tell me no in the first place.

He's too old. I'm too poor. Neither of us is fancy enough. It's silly. It's dumb. I'm eminently practical and this goal is the opposite of that.

But you know what else? We also have a good, local recognized show, so for once, travel wouldn't be an obstacle.

That makes three things going for us.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Learning Lessons: Biomechanics and Stuff

You're going to have to excuse my constant OMG TRAINING REVELATIONS posts lately, because Courage and I are having a lot of breakthroughs and even if you hate these posts with a fiery burning passion, they're the most important things I'm writing for me right now.
i'm the one with my mouth open
Last week, I mentioned that I'm lunging Courage a lot before I ride him. As you may have noticed, I am really not a person who's all that in to lunging in general. I really and truly think it just puts a lot of strain on joints for no particularly good reason.


We have a very specific routine--Courage goes in a loose outside siderein with the lunge line run through the bit ring back to the girth on the inside. He's also got his standing martingale on. We start left (his easy direction), canter a lot, and let him move his back and warm up. Then we switch to the right. He usually runs like a lunatic. I let him. The lunging rig, if you will, limits how much he can turn himself inside out, but beyond keeping him on the circle, I don't do a lot.

Then when he looks more like a sane horse, we stop. I switch sides again (back to the easy direction), shorten up his side rein, and we lunge like a proper horse. I want consistent, correct transitions and a steady, forward rhythm at all three gaits. Rinse and repeat to the right.

It takes forever. A "quick" day is like 20 minutes. We're frequently double that. It just depends how much flipping out needs to be done and how long it takes Courage to be comfortable relaxing and going forward.
this is nice
Here's where it gets interesting: I have had some of my best. rides. ever. using this method before I get on.

And while he goes full-orangutan if he's had a day off in there somewhere, the more we do this, the less frantic flipping out/flailing/leaping that goes on.

Which is interesting. Especially because of how thoroughly it transfers to my under saddle work. Right lead canter? We have one now. It's pretty freaking fantastic.
this is the left lead
I didn't quite put the pieces together until I was chatting with JenJ (everyone needs that one dressage nerd friend, amiright). Basically, I'm doing the exact same thing with the canter that we did with jumping. Courage for whatever reason, FREAKS OUT when he's doing something hard under saddle. He prefers to learn how to use his body without a rider on top of him.

I guess that's fair. It's definitely consistent. I mean when I look at it, he didn't learn how to jump properly until I started lunging him over jumps. He didn't really figure out the leg yield until we started doing it from the ground. And now, he is figuring out how to canter with his hocks underneath him because he isn't toting my ass around.

Hmmmmm. I can see that in hand work is all over my future.
nailed it
In the back of my head, I still hear our biomechanics instructor saying "horses don't get muscle memory by not doing something".

She's just as right now as she was then.

And THAT is fascinating.

A huge part of the reason that we're not jumping is that Courage couldn't canter correctly. He'd just fall apart. Every time we get to a point under saddle where we're ready to really work on the canter, something changes and then we don't. And now, not only is he getting the feeling for a correct canter (which I can verify as I watch from the ground), he's also building the strength and muscle memory he needs to be able to replicate it under saddle successfully.
not a great canter
Instead of feeling bad about lunging my horse down or stressing his joints or whatever, I can just accept that this is how he needs to learn this specific skill. And then keep it in the back of my head as I try to introduce new skills to him. It gives me a whole new set of tools to create a positive learning environment for both of us.
alarming number of selfies taken
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