Baby Bets contest participants and baby horse enthusiasts (which, the latter should encompass literally everyone on the planet) will be pleased to know that there’s a new addition at Willow Tree Warmbloods!
Lissa foaled a bay filly (yes I made Michelle count the holes this time!) by Catoki yesterday morning at 6:30am. Her name is Nalah and she’s BIG and healthy, with a star and one hind sock. Also she’s ridiculously cute, because baby horse. But she has big floppy ears too, which y’all know are my favorite.
It was nice of Lissa to wait until I was awake for her water to break, and then for Nalah to be born after I was sitting at my desk at work, watching the camera feed on my computer. The birth was a little stressful in that Nalah first presented with her feet upside down, but quick action from Michelle got her position corrected. Lissa didn’t push much (I swear she is the opposite of Sadie, who rockets those babies out as fast as possible) but Nalah showed some grit by basically trying to crawl out on her own. This girl’s got spirit.
Lissa is recovering well and looks good, and Nalah seems perfectly healthy too. I can’t decide if foaling and the first 48 hours are my favorite part or my least favorite part. It’s so nervewracking, but also pretty amazing.
I can’t wait to see how Nalah bulks up and continues to unfold over the next few days. So far she looks really elegant and leggy and tall, like her dam. I will definitely post more pictures! With two big-time Grand Prix jumper parents, it’s going to be really fun to watch her grow and develop. This one won’t be for sale.
As for the Baby Bets contest, no one guessed the correct foaling date, and only two people got the time correct. We’ve got plenty of folks with points on the board for color, gender, and markings, but this contest is still very much wide open! It’ll all come down to Stormie’s pony foal.
Happy foaling season, everyone, and welcome the WTW family Nalah! Now we’ve got a couple months to wait for the next one.
So I talked in my last Mental Game post about the book Chop Wood, Carry Water and how much it resonated with me. I’ve highlighted the crap out of that thing, and I carry it with me in my purse like a total weirdo. I really can’t express how much it’s helped me get started on fixing my mental game… it’s given me some focus and direction, and been a real springboard into expanding how I think about and approach all of this. The book can be a little overwhelming because it’s one short, compact lesson after the other, which makes it essentially one large nugget of wisdom. How do you even know where to start? It’s a little like trying to eat a whole pie in one bite. So after I read it through once, I spent a little time thinking about what part jumped out at me most.
I found myself focusing on that particular quote a lot. A big part of changing your mental game is coming to terms with what you can control and what you can’t. The things we can’t control, we have to learn to surrender. But the things we CAN control, which are many, are the things I’m interested in improving. And it starts with the environment I put myself in and the things I choose to do on a daily basis.
Trying to change a mindset that you’ve had for your entire life is hard. It’s a very constant effort, and requires a hell of a lot of thinking and introspection. So I used the above quote as a springboard to take a full inventory, perhaps an even brutally honest one, of exactly what what I’m fueling myself with.
What do I watch? Does it inspire good feeling or bad feelings? Is it something I want to dwell on and devote time to? This can go for TV, the internet, and how I spend my free time. I rarely watch TV anyway, but I do find myself being more careful about what I devote my time to and what types of things I choose to put into my brain and heart. Garbage in = garbage out, so I’m not interested in putting garbage in.
What do I read? Does it leave me with a positive outlook or a negative one? Are they topics I want to dwell on and devote time to? I read A LOT. Usually several books at once – it’s typical for me to have a fiction book, a horse-related non-fiction, and an audiobook, switching back and forth between them. I have noticed that since I started making myself ask the question “Is this the type of subject matter I want to fuel myself with?” before I start a book, I’ve made slightly different choices. I kind of had to chuckle yesterday when I looked through my Kindle books from the last few months. I didn’t intend to choose a bunch of books with strong, badass female main characters, but it kind of just happened. Interesting the choices I find myself making when I’m thinking about it from a different perspective.
What do I listen to? Does it inspire good feelings or bad feelings? Is it something I want to dwell on and devote time to? I mostly listen to podcasts or audiobooks, admittedly. But I actually stopped myself about 10 minutes into one podcast and said “These people are making me feel more like my old self and less like what I’m trying to be” and turned it off. It’s a little fascinating to catch myself thinking about things that way, because that’s definitely new behavior. My audiobook selection has changed a bit too, I’m working down a list of recommended sports psychology/goal mindset type books that sparked my interest. Right now I’m about halfway through the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, which is mostly about fixed vs growth mindset, what they each look like, the impacts they have on people’s lives, and how to change it. It’s been really supplemental to this whole process of self-assessment.
Who I surround myself with – this is a big one. Huge. Do they inspire positivity or negativity? Are they people I want to devote time and energy to? Do they posses qualities that I would like to cultivate in myself? I have a pretty great friend group by now, luckily. I’ve tended to weed out negative people on my own, although since thinking about this I have put some distance between myself and a few people, for various reasons. The biggest change was to my social media. I admit that I’ve unfriended/unfollowed a fair amount of people since I had a real heart-to-heart with myself about this one. If things that they say or do inspire negative feelings in me on any kind of regular basis, they had to go. That included a lot of “big time” equestrian influencers, sometimes through no fault of their own really. But if something about them/the way they present themselves makes me feel the urge to compare myself to them rather than be inspired and uplifted by them, then it wasn’t helping me at all. I’ve followed more riders – riders who are doing things that I want to do in ways that I want to do them – and unfollowed a lot of influencers and brands. And yes, this social media “cleansing” of sorts also included unfollowing some bloggers. I count blogs in my “who” category instead of the “what I read”, because to me it’s a community and you end up feeling like you know the person behind the screen. I find myself gravitating towards the ones who have qualities I’d like to emulate, or that I admire in some way. Maybe later on once all of this is more “set” into my psyche, I can open myself back up again, but for now, I have to guard it closely, so that’s just how it has to be.
How I talk to myself… that’s my other big one. Am I saying things to myself that are helpful? Am I focusing on the negative or am I trying to build on the positive? No one talks to you more than you talk to yourself. I am, and always have been, my own worst critic, which in turn makes me my own worst enemy. It requires a lot of effort on my part to find the positive and focus on that. I say things to myself I would never say to someone else. Why? I don’t know. It’s not constructive. It’s improving, slowly, although really at this point it’s still more like: the negative thing pops into my mind, I realize what I’ve just done, and now I have to turn it into a positive instead. Some days it’s easier, some days I struggle.
And the last point – what I visualize. What kinds of things am I spending my time and energy thinking about? This is an interesting one to me, because I’ve never been one to do much specific visualization. A little here and there, sure, when I’m thinking through a dressage test or a jump course or an XC round, but that’s about it. Lately I’ve made an effort to do this on a more daily basis, especially before I ride, really focusing in on what I’m going to work on and what I want it to feel like and what I need to do in order to get it to feel that way. It’s made me approach my rides from a more cerebral place, and I’ve already started to see the effects.
What I’ve realized most in all of this so far though, is that while this is very much a process about changing ME, it involves everyone and everything I know. I’m not an island, and I’m not immune to the things around me. Everything we see and do and experience molds and shapes who we are. This is especially true when it comes to the people we surround ourselves with and the things we choose to devote our time to.
All of this is still kind of hard right now in that it’s work. Constant effort. A lot of evaluation. It’s uncomfortable. It’s the good kind of work and discomfort, though, the kind that feels really worthwhile because you know it means that things are changing.
Every once in a while I like to circle back around and give updates on things I’ve reviewed, or maybe just thoughts on small things that I didn’t bother doing a full review on. It’s been a while, and a few things are worthy of some follow-up, so here we go.
First up, those Freejump stirrups. I somewhat impulse-purchased the Soft’Up Pro during Black Friday and while my initial thoughts were positive, my long term thoughts are downright glowing. I freaking love these things. They’re so balanced, so comfortable, and so grippy. I have been plagued forever by knee and ankle issues, and now I can’t even remember the last time I actually thought about my knees or ankles while I was riding. I love how they hang, I love the weight, I love how grippy they are. The only annoying thing is that they don’t really stay run-up on the leathers when your saddle isn’t in use. Which is because they naturally really want to hang down where they’re supposed to. I can’t get too grumpy about that. Zero regrets about this purchase.
I also bought a new XC vest right around the same time as the stirrups. I haven’t reviewed this one yet because honestly I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. After a lot of internet research I bought the Dainese Balios 3. I wanted something comfortable, breathable, BETA 3 approved, and with good coverage of my stomach and collar bone area. A lot of vests really only cover the ribcage, and I want more than that. The Dainese had many excellent reviews in the UK (because of course no one sells it in the US) so I bit the bullet and bought one.
I’m still kind of on the fence. On one hand, the thing is REALLY bulky looking. Like… when I put it on I look as though I’m suited up to go play football. There’s nothing flattering about this thing at all. BUT, on the other hand, it’s still somehow really comfortable. I never would have thought that a bulky vest like this would be as comfortable as it is, but that hexagon construction makes it very flexible. Despite being considerably bulkier, it’s markedly more comfortable than my Airowear was, and it doesn’t feel bulky to wear. It also covers quite a bit more surface area, making me feel a bit safer. Of course, that’s also why it looks bulky. So, ya know… catch 22.
There are pros and cons here. Do I feel well-protected and comfortable? Yes. Do I look like a navy ninja turtle? Also yes.
More recently I’ve been revamping my riding shirt collection. A lot of my Kastels are going on 5 years old, and they are looking really sad and faded and stained. To their credit, they’re still perfectly useable, they just look relatively awful. When I was at the Tack Shack of Ocala I walked around their extensive sunshirt collection, feeling all the fabric and looking at the colors. I’m kind of picky about what I like, and I am also a bit cheap when it comes to sunshirts. I ended up settling on a Tredstep Sun Chic shirt in hunter green, mostly because the shoulder detail was cute, I liked the color, and the price was acceptable. I could not say the same for 95% of the other sunshirts in the store.
I like the Tredstep. The outside fabric is very deceiving because it almost feels cottony, but the underside is silky smooth and REALLY nice. The fit is a little more boxy than I prefer, but it’s a nice shirt. Not as cooling as the Kastels, I don’t think, and I’d rather buy it on sale than pay full price again, but I would buy another. They have a really pretty dark purple.
Then I picked up a couple of Equine Couture Erna shirts at Karen’s recommendation. I’ve not been much a fan of EC stuff in the past, but they always have a 30% off coupon code, so I was ok with risking $35 per shirt. These are interesting because the entire arm and top of the shoulder is mesh. As you might expect, they have pretty fantastic airflow. If the fabric of the body was more like Kastel I would fill my closet up with these things. As it is, I’ve ended up going back and buying one in every color they have (which right now is only black, white, and navy – I’m wearing the navy in the pic above). For $35 I’m pretty darn happy with them. We’ll see how they hold up over time.
I’ve got two sets of tall boots in my collection right now – a pair of Tucci Marilyn’s and a pair of brown Ego 7’s. I’ve reviewed both in detail in the past. It’s really unfair to even compare the two, since the Tucci are high end and the Ego7 are economy. To be honest, I’ve been a bit ruined by the Tucci’s. They’re so comfortable and fit so well and are so pretty. I can wear them all day and it’s no problem. They’re also wearing like iron.
The Ego7’s are fine. I’ve had a couple of issues, first when the zipper puller broke off of the zipper bridge. Both are metal, so I can only assume that I am the Hulk. That was a relatively easy fix at the boot shop, at least. The bigger issue is that the leather under the laces on the right boot has started to disintegrate a bit. If I’d paid the US price of $500 for them I’d probably be upset, but since I paid $250 in Europe, they’re wearing about like I would expect a $250 boot to wear. I love the chocolate color, the sole is still in great shape, and no off-the-rack boot has more fit options, but they’re definitely no Tucci. Granted, they aren’t anywhere near the same price category either.
I kind of think that any other budget boot is going to be underwhelming to me forever now. It’s hard for me to want to wear anything BUT the Tucci’s. Major first world problems.
I’m about at my wit’s end with quarter sheets. They are not particularly easy to shop for when all of your saddles are monoflap and you also live in a warm place where you are guaranteed to have to remove said quarter sheet after your warmup. Early last fall I picked up a Shires on clearance, after selling the previous one (who’s brand I can’t remember) that I also bought on clearance. I purchased the previous one because it was basically just a nylon shell with nylon lining – no fleece. But it was so lightweight that it got whipped all over the place by our insane Texas wind.
The Shires had a lining (granted it’s fleece, which I’ve always hated, so I kind of did this to myself) so I was hoping it would be heavier and stay put. Yes it’s heavier (real freakin heavy) but the stupid fleece lining makes it stick to the horse and then get pulled toward the back when they move. I can’t get the damn thing to stay on unless I strap it down completely underneath the saddle. And if I put it under the saddle then I can’t remove it while I’m riding, which makes it basically useless in my climate. Even if I put it on top of the saddle and sit on the damn thing, it goes flying off the back as soon as we trot or canter. I’m about to just give up on quarter sheets, considering the only one I’ve ever loved was the wool PS of Sweden one that Henry outgrew. And then when PSoS finally came out with more they changed the style. Still pouting.
We’re past quarter sheet season now so I’m going to let my angst die down a bit before I start looking around again for more options, but the Shires is a fail.
Anything else I’ve bought or reviewed in the past couple years that y’all want updates on? I tend to lose track of things…
If you’ve read this blog for very long, you probably know that I’m really really really really (add like 200 really’s here) into horse fitness and conditioning. It is fascinating, and I think that it’s one of – if not the – most crucial aspects when it comes to enhancing a horse’s soundness and overall ability. I knew the basics, from way back in my working student days, following all the written notes for the conditioning rides on the 2* and 3* horses. Which, to show my age… back in those days eventing was still long format. I never really spent a lot of time thinking about it in depth, though, until Henry and I were getting ready for our N3D in 2016.
My horse is a little bit of a special case in that we know he has scar tissue in his lungs that makes it harder for him to get enough oxygen, especially when it’s humid. In 5 years of experimenting with the horse, the only thing I’ve found that helps him is to keep him really fit at all times. When we showed up at Coconino for that N3D 3 years ago, I basically had a horse that was Prelim fit. But given his issues, and the fact that it was summertime, and that we were showing at pretty high altitude, it seemed better to err on the side of too fit than not fit enough. It worked out well, and I’ve adopted the same approach ever since. He doesn’t need to be as fit as a 3*+ horse, obviously, but I try to always keep him a little fitter than he really needs to be. The fitter he is, the more sound he has stayed, too. He’s stronger and finds all of his other work to be much easier. Everything is better when he’s fitter.
Figuring out where to start can definitely be mindboggling. There’s a lot of good information about conditioning programs on the internet (I’ll put some links at the bottom of this post), among different videos and articles. I think those are a good starting point, but I also think it’s super important to have a professional who knows your horse well to weigh in on it too. Some horses hold their fitness better than others, some breeds and body types need more than others, some horses can’t mentally handle being overfit, while others really benefit from always having plenty leftover in the tank, different climates can mean different needs, etc. So you’ll never see any kind of “how to” or specific suggestions from me, since I think the right answer can vary widely. I still to this day always run changes by my trainer first, to get her opinion. She’s more experienced than I am, after all, and her thoughts matter a lot. The internet is a good starting point, but nothing you find will be a one size fits all.
I will say that there are a lot of things that I think are important when it comes to this whole fitness thing. 1) Knowing your horse’s TPR. You have to know what’s normal in order to gauge how fast they’re recovering and thus, how fit they are. 2) Varying the work. If you think I spend a lot of time galloping, you’d be wrong. I minimize the pounding as much as I can by varying the different type of fitness work that we do. 3) Strength is very important too. A horse that does all it’s fitness work on perfect, flat footing doesn’t do you much good when you get to the show and encounter lots of terrain or harder/deeper footing. Hills, polework, and varied surfaces are your bestest friends. Think of it as cardio vs weight training – each compliments the other. 4) There’s no way around it: a fit horse requires a lot of riding. 5) Recovery and aftercare – learn it. Do it. If you want a sound horse you have to figure out how to maintain it.
Figuring out Henry’s TPR and what’s normal for him was an interesting learning curve in the beginning. Because of his lung issues (and seasonal allergies on top of that, which just exacerbate his breathing problems) his respiratory rate is always the first thing to go up and the last thing to come down. It can be a bit deceiving, because he’ll get to puffing pretty hard sometimes, especially when it’s humid. It took me a while to learn what was normal for him in that regard, and I really had to go more off of his temperature and heartrate. It’s entirely possible for his respiratory rate to still be quite high while his temperature and heartrate have already returned normal. This is why I think it’s so important to know your horse.
During the hotter times of the year (or if, like last fall, it will not stop effing raining), I really maintain Henry’s fitness almost exclusively with long trots and really long walks. The ground gets too hard to gallop much, but it’s still possible to maintain a pretty high level of fitness just with walk/trot work. Of course, when I say that I mean 35-45 min long-trots, at a forward pace, working (not bumming around with his nose up in the air) or 1.5hr marching walks (again, forward pace and working over his back). I have become a big believer in the long slow fitness work as being absolutely crucial to a horse’s overall base fitness and soundness. You can bet that Presto will be spending a lot of time going on long walk and trot hacks before he ever starts formal work.
I also ride at least 6 days a week, which has a lot to do with keeping him fit. I’m always on him for a minimum of 30 minutes, and sometimes up to 2 hours. I’ve learned by now the best way to vary his schedule to work best for Henry. I never do fitness days or jump days (the two most physically stressful) back to back, or after a day off. I never do intense dressage rides (the most mentally stressful for him) two days in a row. During show season I plan his work around the show days, since a show day counts as a fitness day. He does get an extended vacation for about a month in the summer, but still goes on long walk hacks at least 4 days a week during that time. This horse stays soundest when he stays moving and stays strong, so he gets ridden a lot… I’m just careful not do to too much physical or mental pounding.
I always walk for at least 10 minutes before we start any work, which I think is super important to warm up the soft tissue. I also walk for a while at the end, to let him cool down appropriately while he’s still moving. Sometimes on dressage days or polework days I’ll tack on a 10-15 minute hack at the beginning or end of the ride to get more saddle time logged too, if for some reason we’ve come up a bit short that week or if I’m trying to ramp things up. Expanding the fitness can be an everyday thing, it doesn’t just have to be limited to specific days.
We do a lot of hill repeats, and our fitness work all takes place in a hilly field. Sometimes I use my Seaver to monitor his heart rate (which was really helpful when I was first playing with it) and I’ve got my timing down to a science by now. When we do gallop I will vary the speed a bit, sometimes only 375-450mpm and other times more like 500-550mpm. It depends on the footing and what we’re doing. Learning to gauge your pace by feel is essential too, and something I think every eventer must learn early on, otherwise you’re always just taking a stab in the dark.
The gallop work is a lot like the walk and trot in that I don’t just sit up there and let him toodle along. We leg yield, we stretch, I’ll switch back and forth from sitting to 2 point to 3 point. I vary my rein length. I’ll move his haunches in or out. We lengthen and shorten in rapid succession, seeing how quickly I can bring him back or push him forward just from seat and leg alone. I’ll find specific shadows or blobs of grass that I want to ride over and pretend it’s a skinny, trying to get his feet to a very specific place. Part of it is to keep myself from getting bored, but mostly it’s because I always want to be working on his rideability. Just because he’s galloping doesn’t mean he gets to do it on his own terms. He MUST be rideable at speed in order to be a safe cross country horse, and he MUST do it from seat and leg, so we work on it All The Time.
Aftercare is another thing that I think can be pretty individual. I know some people that ice after anything remotely fitness-related, and other people that never ice. I personally feel like turnout is the most important factor for my horse, so I try not to do hard rides on days where I know they’ll be stuck in their stalls due to weather. Ours are out 22 hours a day when the weather is good, which is ideal to me. Movement is crucial for Henry. After a harder ride I usually cold hose his legs for a bit (which is where I take a good hard look at them to make sure there’s no filling or heat or anything out of the ordinary), do a liniment brace, and then turn him out. If the ground is hard I put some Magic Cushion in his feet. If he’s going to be stuck in his stall I’ll poultice. Everything depends on the conditions, really. There can be a lot of right answers, depending on your horse and your workload.
Since the plan right now is to run Prelim at Coconino in July (so – Prelim plus high altitude plus summer), we’ve spent the past few months ramping things up a bit. Right now he’s doing 45 minute long trots or 2 sets of 10 min trot then 4 sets of 4 minute canter with 1-2 minutes rest in between. Yesterday we did the latter and his vitals were back to normal by the time we got back to the barn (and he stood in the washrack snorting like a loon at the hose, clearly he was not tired), so I’m happy with where he’s at right now. Trainer thinks that’s plenty, and I do too, so hopefully we’re right. Soon it will be hot and we’ll switch to maintenance mode. He’s a thoroughbred so luckily he holds it pretty well.
The way I see it is, there are certain things I can control and certain things I can’t. I am very aware of the fact that every time we move up a level, the margin of error shrinks and the consequences of making a mistake get more serious. Let’s face it, I’m not always right on cross country, I don’t always make the correct split second decision. Mistakes will happen sooner or later – that’s a given. What I can control is preventing mistakes that happen because of a tired horse or tired rider. Or mistakes that happen because a horse isn’t rideable in the gallop. Those are 100% preventable if I do the work at home. I’m all about minimizing my risk wherever I can, considering that I certainly don’t bounce the way I used to.
Is anyone else as geeky about horse fitness as I am? What does your horse’s fitness routine look like?
I have officially had my fill of “weekends at home”, which is good considering the next 6 weekends are already full. Ah, show season, you are glorious. I can’t wait to be bone-tired, sore all over, unsure of what day it is, and chafed in unmentionable places.
But this weekend was relatively chill. I somewhat serendipitously found myself at Ikea on Friday night (I sure know how to party) anyway, so I picked up 8 of the little green potties to use as rail raisers. They look like they will do the job just fine, and for a $50 investment and literally zero work, you can’t beat that.
On Saturday Hillary helped me set jumps, and I did a brief jump school with Henry. I kept the jumps a little lower than usual because the ground is getting a bit hard for my taste, and he was super good. I have a tendency to not jump him very much at home but I’m making an effort to hop over some stuff at least once a week right now so we don’t get too rusty. Ok, so I don’t get too rusty. Henry doesn’t have that problem so much.
I also just kind of put his hackamore on without thinking too much about it, but for schooling at home I think I should stick to his sidepull or switch the curb chain out for the leather strap. The hackamore with chain is a bit much for home, I think, especially since we’ve been working so much on finetuning his half-halt and adjustability in the rest of his day-to-day work. I had a little more whoa than I needed, but he was super good.
After I got off, Hillary hopped on and jumped him over a few things. It’s fun being able to share my cool horse with friends, and watch him do what he does best. And then after Hillary got off, Bea hopped on! I think Hillary is in a lot of trouble with this kid, she clearly inherited the horse bug. She kept crying every time Hillary took her off the horse. Sorry for laughing at your emotions, Bea, but it was hilarious.
On Sunday I did a dressage ride with Henry, and he was so good that it was almost weird. Since our dressage lesson at Pine Hill I’ve been amping up the pressure on him a bit, and he’s really handled it remarkably well. Way way better than he ever has in the past. I think part of it is that he’s a lot more comfortable in the new bit, which means the whole connection is better, which means he trusts it more, which means less tension and more consistency. It’s one of those things where pretty much every ride is an improvement on the last, and even though I know it will plateau again at some point, I’m really enjoying this part. We did tons of transitions, worked more on the sitting trot, and I plucked out different movements from the Prelim A and B test. He was SO rideable, its a great feeling.
After that Henry got a bit of a spa day, since we’re 2 weeks out from our first recognized show of the season. A little mane trim, a tail touch up, and an attempted dye job… but the store didn’t have the dye I usually buy and the one I bought as a substitute sucked. Like it did nothing. So I’ll have to go back to another store and get the box color that I normally use and try this again. Which is annoying.
I brought Presto in too after basically ignoring him all week, and got to work on shedding him out. He’s FINALLY blowing that shag carpet coat of his, and I can’t wait to get it off. He’s been going out with Dobby during the day now, so he’s got a few little dings (sorry Dobby, the baby horse isn’t so good with boundaries), but otherwise he looks surprisingly decent at the moment. He seems to be in between growth spurts right now, which is a-ok by me.
Otherwise I spent the weekend pretty glued to the Carolina live feed, watching Presto’s brethren. Will Faudree has two Mighty Magic’s now, one that was going in the 3* and one that was going in the 4*. The one that is more closely related to Presto (they share some damlines as well), Michel 233, was a total rockstar in the 4*, adding just a couple of XC time to his dressage score. Considering he just moved up to Advanced in February and has only done ONE before this 4*, I thought he was really impressive. I love being able to watch some siblings go and try to see the Presto in them… it makes all this time while I’m waiting for him to grow up go by a little bit faster.
There were a lot of really exciting young horses to watch, it makes me hopeful for the future of US eventing. I particularly loved QC Diamontaire (by Diarado) who just loped around the 3* like he was out for a casual school, finishing on his dressage score for 3rd, and Quantum Leap (by Quite Capitol) who made easy work of his first 4*. I think it’s going to be really fun to watch them develop.
Hope everyone else had a good weekend! Did anyone else watch the live feed? Anyone else as excited for show season to start as I am?
Just a few odds and ends today to wrap up the week!
First of all, we finally got all of the paperwork done and the invoice paid for the Little Orphan Annex memorial award with Retired Racehorse Project. It is officially official! Britt designed the awesome logo above, which will go up on the RRP website soon. The sponsorship also came with different advertising options, and we picked a half page ad in Off Track Thoroughbred magazine… which we don’t really know how to create, so if anybody is good at designing ads, help would be appreciated. I think its due at the end of April.
We’re really excited to be able to do this award, and now we’re trying to spread the word, so please feel free to pass along the info… in short: there’s going to be a $500 cash prize awarded to the highest scoring chestnut mare at the 2019 RRP makeover.
Thanks again to everyone who came together and supported this award in Annie’s honor, I think it’s going to be really special.
For those keeping an eye on the Willow Tree mares, Lissa is VERY PREGNANT. She’s at 325 days now with her Catoki foal, so she’s probably got at least 10+ days to go. Sadie is being super creepy, as always. Is it because she’s obsessed with Lissa? Is it because she wants to steal the baby for her own? Maybe both.
You know who isn’t super creepy? Peyton. The TB mare that I possibly might have talked Willow Tree into buying last year. She looked really rough when Michelle picked her up, but boy has she blossomed into a gorgeous mare.
I feel like Thoroughbred mares of that quality are few and far between, so I’m excited to see what she produces for the eventing side of the breeding program. She’s going to be bred to Ramiro B this year, who was a Grand Prix showjumper in his own right, and has become a prolific producer of event horses, siring top horses such as Ballynoe Castle, Cooley Master Class, and Cooley SRS. He has a really impressive strike rate, so he seems like a sound choice for Peyton’s first foal to get an idea of what she will bring to the table.
Grace is also set to be bred to a top producer – Weston Justice. WJ son Templar Justice, ridden by amateur Katie Preston, was one of my favorites on the Burghley live stream last year. Really cool horse. Another offspring, Jesmond Justice, is on the entries list for Badminton this year too. There are exciting things happening in this breeding program, y’all. I can’t wait for these baby eventers.
Last breeding related thing (tis the season I guess) – the Usandro frozen is FINALLY stateside. After many paperwork issues and delays, mostly on the French side, and a year later than planned, but hey, it’s here. I know a few people had reached out to me interested in purchasing some, but now I definitely don’t remember who. If you’re still interested let me know and I’ll get you the info.
On an unrelated note, did y’all see the new dark brown Motionlite? Because I did. And now I can’t unsee it, in all of it’s chocolatey goodness.
Damn you Alessandro Albanese. I need this.
On another completely unrelated note (yes I’m ping-ponging today, it’s Friday, give me a break) has anyone been watching the Carolina International live feed? Yesterday’s dressage was interesting… apparently a trick that some dressage people use with a horse that likes to play with it’s tongue during a test is to put a marshmallow in it’s mouth before they go in the ring? I’ve never heard that before. But it was mentioned by the dressage rider commentator during a test where a horse had it’s tongue out like 90% of the time. She was also responsible for the best quote of the day: “She definitely signed a peace treaty at the end of that extended walk.”. It was great.
The live stream is on EQSportsNet, which isn’t free, but with code EQUSEA2019 it’s only $5 a month and you can cancel whenever you want. It’s a good stream, and there are two Mighty Magic’s at Carolina, one in the 3* and one in the 4*, so I’m in full stalker mode.
Last but not least for today, who has actually used the IKEA potties as rail raisers trick that’s been circulating the internet for years?
I’m mighty tempted, considering how cheap they are, but does the plastic hold up to being outside or will they just disintegrate in 6 months?
Over my years of having project horses and babies, I’ve come to notice that when you have a horse that is green or lacking confidence, but is also very willing, a simple “good boy” or a reassuring pat can be a very powerful thing. This has been especially true with Henry, who will turn himself inside out to find the right answer and is very sensitive to the idea that he might ever be in trouble. Like for real, even just trying to do transitions in semi-rapid succession made him think he’d done something wrong, and he would get upset.
I’ve always been pretty quick with a pat and a Good Boy when we’re jumping. He does a lot of ass-saving, after all. When he was but a wee baby event horse going around his first BN and N XC’s, and even his first T, you could even feel the effect that a “Good Boy” had on him. He might be a little unsure about a jump or about the woods or whatever, but you’d sit and put your leg on and he would go, and he’d get a big “Good Boy!” on the other side. You could practically SEE his little brain going “Oh my gosh she’s right, I am a GOOD BOY!”. His confidence would grow and grow as he went along.
Henry’s first ever helmet cam video is a good example. Gah he was cute at BN. So many feels.
He’s still very much the same now. The jumps are bigger, he’s way more seasoned, and he’s got a pretty high amount of self-confidence about jumping, but still if I feel him take a bit of a peek at something, or if he makes a good decision, I always try to be quick with a “Good Boy”. I don’t have to say it as much as I used to, where it was more a reassurance to him – now it’s more of a confirmation to him that he did the right thing. It’s important to Henry, because he’s THAT sensitive.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as good or quick with praise for the flatwork as I have for the jumps. In the past I mostly just took the pressure off and went back to something easier, so his praise came in the release or the rest. Which is a totally valid training method, and one he also understands. But when the flatwork gets more complicated, and things start coming at him more rapid-fire, sometimes the pressure has to stay on for a little while before he gets to rest. The “reward”, in that format anyway, isn’t as immediate as it used to be.
In the flatwork, when he doesn’t get a quick reward, he starts to think he’s done something wrong. If you repeat a transition several times in rapid fire, he becomes increasingly convinced that he was bad. That means he gets more and more tense, more and more over-sensitive to what’s happening. But we also can’t just avoid rapid fire forever. It’s time to step it up a bit. The key to this seems to be twofold: 1) immediately put him to work after a transition, be it shoulder fore, or a leg yield, or anything that gets him using his brain to move his feet rather than using it to get worried. 2) Praise. Immediate reassurance that he’s done the right thing.
That might be in the form of a “Good Boy”, or it might just be a quick touch to his neck with my inside hand. Something, anything, so that he knows he’s fine. I’ve learned in the past few weeks that while we’re stretching his comfort zone and increasing the pressure, I have to be very quick and obvious with the praise. It’s almost like BN XC Henry again, but on the flat. He needs the reassurance, and his confidence grows a little bit with every Good Boy. In retrospect, I’d gotten too slow and stingy with the praise when we weren’t jumping. In the flatwork I think it’s easy to demand a little more and a little better, without always recognizing the effort that he did give. He’s not the kind of horse that can take that. I don’t need to take the pressure off, I just need to do more to reassure him that he can exist under said pressure and still be ok.
Yesterday we were able to execute a string of trot/canter/trot/canter transitions in rapid succession without him getting worked up or worried, so that’s a big step. They aren’t necessarily always good transitions, but as long as he’s responsive, I’m giving him some kind of praise. If he’s trying, I’m rewarding. So far it seems to be helping. There’s still pressure on him to do more/better, but he’s relaxing into it and learning to accept it a bit more.
I am 5+ years into this horse and he’s still teaching me something and making me better every day.
Show season is officially upon us, with our first show only 2 1/2 weeks away! Okay, yeah you’re right, we showed in December and February, but I mean like… recognized shows. Not off season. And now there’s one like every two weeks, so it’s more exciting. But anyway.
In the off season I always do a little bit of an inventory of what I have and what I might need, as far as equipment and supplies. What things need replacing, which things did I really like last season, which things did I not like and need to switch up, and is there anything I want to upgrade. That’s mostly a “wants” list, which means I may or may not actually get anything on that said list, but it also includes basics like stud-related stuff, poultice, hoof pack, etc. I did have a bit of a splurge moment after Christmas with my Riding Warehouse gift cards, ordering a couple of my standout favorite items from 2018: another AA Motionlite coat (this time in green) and another pair of white Horze Grand Prix breeches. I love them and regret nothing.
I also already restocked my essentials, buying a buttload of stud plugs when we were in Ocala because I found them cheap, and then of course I had already tossed in more Magic Cushion and poultice with my Black Friday order. Over the past 6 months I’ve got a great bit for Henry, a really nice skull cap, and a new XC vest. I’m good to go on necessities, I think, and all of the real essentials or more important items are taken care of.
But of course that hasn’t stopped me from perusing RW (embarrassingly often, honestly), adding things to my Wish List (whichever one of you evil temptresses at RW came up with that Wish List feature, I am giving you the stink eye!). So what’s on my Wish List right now, at the cusp of show season? Let’s start small and work our way up, so that I look perhaps slightly less crazy.
RW started carrying Dreamers and Schemers socks last year, which is both dangerous and amazing. Dangerous because boy do I ever love to collect socks, and D&S are my favorite, but also amazing because they are way cheaper at RW than they are elsewhere. Those purple unicorn ones have come dangerously close to ending up my cart a couple times already. It’ll probably happen sooner or later, let’s be real. I’ve already got a pair of socks that I wear for XC every time, but maybe they could be my new dressage day socks?
I am kind of a bridle-number hater, to be honest, but I also hate tearing off or trying to smoosh down the little metal hook and pin the number to the pad. It looks kinda ghetto, at least when I do it. So this set of number holders from Eskadron is appealing, where you can either sew or pin the backing to your pad and swap the numbers out. It comes in a set of two, so you could put one on each side if you wanted, or just have an extra (one for your dressage pad, one for your SJ pad?), and it’s only $15. Then the bridle number could just live on your halter and the need for a duct tape number is gone, too. Interesting… very interesting…
I have been a Roeckl devotee for a long time, rarely straying outside of the box. Well okay I tried to stray into cheaper SSG-land a couple times and quickly came running back. I haven’t yet felt rich enough to stray into Samshield-land. But I’m really loving the Heritage Pro-Flow gloves that I picked up totally on a whim in Ocala – they’re SO breathable, which is good when you have super sweaty gross hands like I do. For half the price of Roeckl’s, I’m quite pleased. Is it actually possible that I can like other brands? So now I’m eyeballing this new brand that RW added recently, Haukeschmidt. They look really similar to my beloved Roeckl’s, have lots of colors, and are cheaper. Maybe when it’s time to replace my brown pair I’ll branch out and compare?
Kool Coat‘s are definitely the most popular thing around here for keeping a horse clean while it’s in the stall at shows. Lots of coverage, but really lightweight and breathable. It also has UV protection, if you lived in a place that was not as hot as the surface of the sun, thus requiring them to be inside during the day in the summer. Henry has a lot of clothes, but he doesn’t have one of these. It’s basically a scrim sheet on steroids. I have to admit, it would kind of be nice to have something to throw on him at shows between phases so he didn’t get covered in dust or shavings or pee (especially his mane, HOW IS IT EVEN POSSIBLE to get bits of shavings and hay stuck in his braids just from standing in his stall???), and I know these have good airflow and are good quality.
Side note, have y’all seen the new rubber ducky fly sheet from Weatherbeeta? God I wish horses could wear fly sheets here, Presto would own that thing in a HOT MINUTE.
I managed to lose my container of Fiebing’s hoof dressing at one of Presto’s shows last year. That container had to be at least 10 years old, so I guess I was overdue for an upgrade. The Kevin Bacon line is another relatively new addition to the RW lineup, but the barn I worked at forever ago used this brand a lot, and I loved it, but it can be really hard to find, especially for a good price. Maybe I’m an irresponsible human that accidentally lost my Fiebing’s for a reason? I think it might be time for a new replacement.
Doing pretty well so far right? Look at all these relatively low-ticket items! Yeah well…
Don’t act surprised, you knew it wasn’t going to last.
Look, I’m a unabashed bridle lover. Pretty strapgoods make my heart go pitter-patter, it’s just the way I’m wired. It doesn’t matter if I need it or not, make a pretty bridle and I will want it. Period. Full stop. And I’ve been trying real hard to resist the charms of the Schockemohle Equitus bridle for weeks now, when yesterday I was scrolling down through the new items and it slapped me right in the face. Really, RW, why you gotta do this to me? I have a perfectly fine Eponia bridle that is holding up great and is pretty enough in it’s own right. Maybe not this pretty. Maybe I do love the Schockemohle strapgoods in general. But I do NOT need another dressage bridle. At all.
Yeah so let’s take bets on how long I can actually resist this one because I’m dangerously in love.
I briefly got lost in the Montar line, too. Their breeches have fun colors and embellishments (um, all you teal-loving weirdos, how do you NOT own these yet???) and I love the polo shirt and the lace shirt, which would be great for smaller shows or schooling days. The line has a similar feel to the higher end stuff, but not nearly as expensive.
OH and props to Romfh – I’ve been waiting for a decent brand to come out with a really good, deep, dark purple breech and it’s actually happened. There’s nothing about these that are show season related but I just really love the color and it might finally convince me to try a pair of Sarafinas. I’m no Meg, but I can still appreciate a super dark, classy, subtle purple.
If I may say so myself, I’ve done a really admirable job resisting this LeMieux trend that’s been raging for a while now. Mostly it’s because I don’t like the matchy-matchy thing, or all those colors, and I’m kinda cheap when it comes to saddle pads. But holy moly this thing stopped me in my tracks. If I had a gray horse I would own it already, I’m just not sure how I feel about showing my plain bay in a navy pad. It comes in gray too, but navy is an easier sell to me. It’s pretty. It’s real pretty. Those leather details. That wither contour. Oh man. It’s delicious.
So, ya know… that’s all. The wish list has definitely been worse. I do have a 20% coupon code burning a hole in my pocket though, and Henry is out of his fungus shampoo anyway, so an order already has to happen. This could be a really slippery slope.
What do y’all have your eye on right now? And who’s buying the damn bridle?
If you were feeling sorry for Henry after yesterday’s post where he had to do dressage and then pony his kid brother around, fear not: Saturday was an exponentially more exciting day by Henny standards. We stayed on grounds overnight on Friday, and were set to go in the first XC schooling group at 8am on Saturday.
As soon as I swung aboard, Henry knew what we were doing (I swear he knows the difference in what all his different tack/bridles mean because he sure as shit never marches out to a dressage ride) and he was READY TO GO in warmup. We hopped over some warmup fences and then just headed around the course with the group, jumping a few things here and there along the way. The main goal for the day really was to take him back to the Irish Bank where he had such a big come-apart a couple years ago. He has jumped it since then – it was on the course for both of our Prelims – but in the opposite direction as the way that caused all the problems back then. It looks a little different from the other way so we wanted to see what he thought and make sure it was officially and thoroughly conquered.
For those who don’t remember, that bank confused him so much back then that it kind of broke him about banks for a while. I don’t know what it was, but he just didn’t get it and couldn’t figure it out, and it completely short-circuited his brain. We took a few steps back and rebuilt his confidence, but just haven’t re-presented it to him from that direction since.
He’s a more educated horse now, though. First we hopped over it from the direction he’s been doing, the way that it’s currently set on the course. Then we turned around and came back over it from the “bad” direction and he hopped right through it just fine. No hesitation, no confusion. We even added the corner a few strides away and he was super.
We quit after that, mission accomplished and no need to jump Henry’s legs off.
I went back up to put Henry away and then it was Presto’s turn! The plan was to pony him on day 1, and then take him around in-hand on day 2.
We got down there as my XC group was finishing up, so he hung out and walked back and forth over a bridge while they finished.
Then the group left, and he started neighing a little, so I put him to “work” to keep him occupied. He walked up and down the little bank, walked over some logs, and then I sent him trotting over a couple of little things. As soon as I gave him something to do he settled down and got right to task, even having been “abandoned” in the big field by himself. I was really pleased with him for that.
Then he stood quietly in warmup while all the next group of horses bustled around, and we walked around the course with them on foot as they schooled. He seemed to be enjoying his little walk through the woods, ears flopping as he went. He stood patiently at the stops, and never got worried or spooky. I sent him back and forth over a real ditch a few times too, which he plopped right over. He’s naturally so brave and seems to really enjoy the challenge of figuring out new things.
By the end I was sitting on a Prelim rolltop holding his lead rope, and he literally tried to put his feet on it to climb up there too. There were a couple humans and a dog already up there (which he was intent on playing with), so he figured why not him? This is how I found myself saying “Presto, do not climb on the jumps”. Do I own an oversize Labrador or a baby horse? I’m not sure.
It was such a good learning weekend for both boys, and I love having Presto tag along with us. They’re so different in age and personality, it makes for a fun contrast. I feel pretty darn lucky to have them both.
After our barn decided not to enter the first event of the season at MeadowCreek, we planned a schooling weekend at Willow Draw instead. And then Willow Draw got slammed with rain a few days before, and we quickly resorted to Plan C: a weekend at Pine Hill. Yeah, we’ve been there a lot, but there’s always something more to work on. Plus this time I was bringing Presto, and he’d never been there. He hasn’t been off the property since FEH Championships last September, so I figured it was time. He seemed so happy to finally be included, he practically BOUNDED onto the trailer.
Due to some scheduling conflicts, we made the weekend a Friday/Saturday thing. I have a stupid amount of PTO, so you’ll never have to twist my arm too hard to get me to play hooky on a Friday to go play with ponies. We opted to do a dressage lesson with Henry on Friday, as a follow-up to the one we had a couple weeks ago. I’ve spent that time working on the couple of big homework items that we got, so I was interested to see what progress we’d made, and hopefully build on it a bit.
Last dressage lesson Trainer revealed that a lot (ok, all) of my issues with getting Henry into the right rein were because he was carrying his haunches to the right. I’ve been laser focused on fixing that, and Trainer declared that he was, in fact, straight now. Hallelujah. Miracles. I mean… the fact that I actually had a horse in my right rein was evidence enough for me, but the formal declaration matters too. Since we typically don’t get lessons this often, I take the homework seriously. Sometimes we actually make improvements, and sometimes we don’t. It sure is nice when we do.
Now we’re at the point where we get to start asking him for more. More impulsion, more uphill, more balance, more sit, more push. His conformation and way of going kind of work against him there, being downhill and croup-high, so it requires a lot of work from both of us to accomplish any of those things. We also need to start doing more transitions and in faster succession, something that has always upset Henry.
But whereas the Henry I used to have would get upset and then have a meltdown and be irretrievably fried for days, the Henry I have now can get upset but I can still ride him through it to the other side and he gets over it. So it’s time to start putting a little more pressure on him. He’s kind of trained me along the way to not push the envelope too much in the flatwork, but the horse has evolved now and I’ve got to be a little bolder about it.
We practiced some bits of the Prelim B test, which really just showed that we REALLY need to work on those bits of the Prelim B test, but Henry is feeling stronger and stronger. I can’t complain about that. He’s come a long way, especially in the last year.
After Henry and I were done getting tortured, we went back up to the barn and I grabbed Presto. I wanted to pony him out with one of the XC schooling groups, so he could be in a big group of horses with lots going on, and have to stand around and be patient.
And that kid, y’all, he was just super. We stood in warmup while the other horses were galloping around, and he gave precisely zero shits. He watched them jump, he tagged along through the scary woods without a care in the world (well, aside from trying to eat every single bush and tree), and he stood pretty patiently. We walked through the water and he didn’t even so much as hesitate, just plowed right in there like it was the most natural thing in the world. In fact, he planted his feet and refused to come OUT of the water at one point, and I had to get after him. He walked over a ditch with Henry, and walked over a couple of teeny tiny logs. Even when other horses were getting upset around him for various reasons, he didn’t care. Considering how little he’s seen and that he’d never been to that venue before, I couldn’t have been more pleased with him. He’s so brave and curious, soaking everything up like a little sponge. He’s the same no matter what environment he’s in.
I was mostly worried about how he’d react to Henry and/or Dobby leaving him behind at the stalls, but when I left for my lesson he neighed a few times and then settled down. When Hillary left with Dobby for her lesson later, same thing. He’s definitely got a loud scream in him, but he doesn’t get belligerent. I can live with that. Once he gets a little older and more secure in himself, the neighing will lessen. Hopefully.
It was a great first day of adventures for both boys. Well, Henry may not have agreed, but… day 2 was cross country for him, so don’t worry, he got happier. To be continued tomorrow!