Archive for October, 2009

A Misty Day

Today was an interesting day.  For me, it was one of those days that feels “different”.  Sort of poignant, I guess, but I’m not sure why.  As a result, I arrived at the barn in a bit of a sentimental mood which was convenient, since the day was one of those chilly blue-gray days with fog and mist.  It wasn’t an ugly day by any stretch, in fact it was quite beautiful (I’m kicking myself for not photographing).  The fall colors popped against the steely gray air and my beautiful chestnut boy matched the foliage.  There was also the quiet that comes with moisture laden air.  I always like riding on days like this.

Elvis and I tacked up, and I was so happy to have two things to add to my tack pile:  a brand new and appropriately sized girth as well as an absolutely beautiful birthday Fleeceworks Perfect Balance sheepskin half pad (Thanks, MOM!).  The saddle fits Elvis nicely, but I’ve been using a thin no-bow wrap to lift the front slightly.  This pad has memory foam inserts that work wonderfully while Elvis continues to fill his topline in.

Once in the ring, we spent some time doing ground work.  Elvis began softening very quickly, which tells me that yesterday’s lesson made an impression on him.  I quietly moved him around the arena, and then we spent a lot of time stretching.  I’m really focusing on loosening that right side up, so I had Elvis hold his stretches to the left and down as long as he could.

His work on the line was pretty nice.  In hindsight, I wish I had driven him a bit more.  He’s totally “ho-hum” about the whip and my driving body position.  I wish I had snapped him to attention a bit more, as I think we would have had an even more productive stretching session on the line.  Hinsdight is 20/20 though, isn’t it?

The weather pressed me to finish lunging after about 15 minutes.  My BO was already in the ring and had just taken a call from another boarder who shared that storms were headed our way.  It was misting more than before, so I finished up and hopped on.  I felt so much better in my more solid saddle with the appropriately fitting girth and the lovely half pad.. and I chided myself again for having gone a week with my too-large girth.  Ugh!

Elvis and I did some lovely trot work.  I feel as though perhaps we are coming out on the other side of a stagnant period that ran for about two weeks.  I look forward to getting back on track.


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Lesson Day!

Yay!  We had another lesson today, and it was much needed.  The first portion of the lesson was an interesting one.  As expected, my instructor immediately saw that Elvis was having attitude problems.  On the line he was completely ignoring the side reins and moving like a robot.  If I were by myself, I would be unsure how to proceed.. my training insight isn’t as strong as someone like my instructor’s.  She’s had years upon years of training experience, and youngsters are her specialty.  Naturally, she was able to read him like a book and decide what would be best.  She lunged him for a few seconds first, before she determined that he needed an “attitude adjustment”.  Elvis was then unhooked and she began to work him on the ground.  I think it’s great to see someone with such a European and dressage background embrace and utilize techniques that work.  She had Elvis do the typical backing up, yielding of hind quarters, yielding of fore quarters, flexing, stretching, and dropping of the poll, with a bit of a dressage twist of course.  The first time she worked him on the ground he gave up the resistance after about 7 minutes.  This time, however, he was a stubborn teenager for a good 15-20 minutes before softening and giving in.  He wasn’t “bad”, but he was just being “hard” and un yielding mentally.  Wouldn’t you know though, after he finally softened, he was put back on the line and went so much more nicely!

As my instructor pointed out, Elvis gave us a glimpse of his personality.  He’s not at all a bad horse, but as I predicted he is going to be very independent.  He is going to assume that his schedule and plans will be better and more important than mine.  That’s ok, I’ve worked with horses like this and they are my favorite personality type.  I just need to get over my unexpected hangup and treat Elvis like a respectable horse, not like a baby!

The ridden portion of the lesson was good as well, for the most part.  I was disappointed in myself though.. my girth was too big and I guess I’ve just “dealt with it” over the past few rides since getting my new saddle with long billets.  I should have bucked up, realized that it was making me less effective, and purchased a smaller one (I did punch new holes in the billets, but didn’t want to put any more).  Instead, I embarrassed myself a bit in front of my instructor who’s eagle eyes immediately caught the problem.  So, aside from my slipping around and therefore muddling my commands to Elvis, and aside from my adjustment to a dressage position (where did my lower leg go!?!?), things were ok.  haha!  Elvis was a good boy and definitely learned a lot during the lesson.

A fellow boarder was kind enough to video tape my lesson again, and I’ve posted the ridden work in two segments on youtube.  The footage is long, and probably boring to most people, but I get so much out of watching other riders lesson that I figured, at the very least, someone might enjoy watching for the same reasons.  Plus, this blog is intended to show the saddlebred in the sporthorse light.. so, good or bad, I’ll keep my readers in the loop!

Part 1

Part 2

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This Horse Has Turned Me Into A Softie

I rode Elvis today and had an “okay” ride.  The past few rides haven’t been fantastic.  Elvis just starts acting “weird” and full of attitude.  Consistently, my first reaction is to assume he’s hurting somewhere, but these reactions aren’t his typical “ouchy” reactions.  I’ve checked him thoroughly, and he seems physically fine.  I’ve evaluated and re-evaluated his saddle and it’s fit, and it seems fine.  I’ve been extra easy on him because I’ve become worried, but today I realized I had one option left and that was to push him through.

As Elvis and I were working on a 20m circle and came around the non fence supported side, he started to fall through my outside leg and hand.  The right side is his weak side, and he really (especially lately) hates stretching.  So, I tapped him firmly with my new birthday dressage whip which I love ..!.. (Thanks, Dad!) and within two strides Elvis was going beautifully and had a much better attitude.

Yes, in this instance he was just being a pill.  I’m not suggesting that every time he’s a pill, he’s just copping an attitude.  However, I’m starting to realize that Elvis has me whipped.  I’ve always been a very firm and fair horseman, and I’ve never felt as though I were being bested by a horse.  I think I’ve just missed horse ownership for so long, and I’m now older, so I appreciate Elvis in a different way than I’ve appreciated my past horses as well as horses I’ve worked with.  Plus, there is a lot riding on this horse regarding my goals, and I don’t want to screw him up.  I need to just accept that I will make mistakes, but likely no irreversible ones.  Also, I need to realize that Elvis – being the geinus boy that he is – is just the sort of horse who will subversively exploit this weakness.  (I say subversive because these aren’t overt infractions like walking on top of me, instead they are challenges in training.. like he’s saying “Screw You!  I know better!”)  I’m sure we could go along in a happy life with such a relationship, but I think that we’ll both be better once Elvis realizes that I’m the herd boss.

Our lesson was canceled this Tuesday due to weather.  I’m looking forward to speaking with Barbara about this.. although I’m pretty sure she’ll see it before I say anything.

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Today was a fantastic day.  I arrived at the barn, collected my freshly clipped and oh-so-handsome boy, groomed him up, and tacked him appropriately for a trail ride.  The high today was 65 with fast-moving clouds competing with blue skies and beautiful sun.  The colors are coming through, on a daily basis it seems, leaving the trees on fire.  What a fantastic day for not only a trail ride, but for big accomplishments!

I’ve been tired with the trails on the property.  They are great, but not long enough to hold our attention for an entire ride.  Lately I’ve been riding Elvis along the road in front of the property, just to see how he’d handle the cars.  Well, today I decided it was time to truly road test him!  My goal was to get to a nearby neighborhood that is very horse friendly:  dirt roads, wide and grassy shoulders, and loads of magnificent barns and homes to look at (as well as lovely horses!).  That, however, required me to ride down our road which is moderately busy, then take a very busy road for about 200 feet, cross that road, and then ride into the nice neighborhood.  I wasn’t sure how Elvis would handle the busy stretch, but I figured we’d see.

So, I set off.  I went alone which I really don’t recommend, especially if you are riding a green 4yo with limited life experience.  I did call a friend and tell her what I was doing and gave a time frame though.  I also took my cell, and had Elvis wear a rope halter under his bridle in case we got into a hairy situation.  I did not lunge him, instead deciding to see how he’d handle things “fresh”.  He was definitely zippy, but not strong or “hot”.  (for the record, “zippy” is my term for that attitude a horse can have where it seems as though they have springs in their feet and they are just trucking along)

On the first road, we encountered so many new things:

  • culverts of all sorts – plain, decorated, ones incorporated into faux “bridges” for drive ways, rock lined ones, plant lined ones, and ones hidden in weeds.
  • lots of litter, including scary floating plastic bags
  • guide on wires for telephone poles, with and without the yellow plastic covers
  • utility boxes of all shapes and sizes for the gas and power companies
  • mailboxes of every variety
  • concrete curbs (this, for me, was a big one!  Elvis sometimes forgets to look where he was going, so I went over them a couple of times to teach him that whereas they might not look like they are there.. they are, and they are hard!)
  • all sorts of types of pavement – these all absolutely fascinated Elvis, which I thought was weird… but he’s a weird horse.
  • zillions of cars whizzing by, some were pulling loud metal trailers, and some were large hauling trucks and van

He handled things like an absolute pro!  He was just marching along, taking it all in!  He was definitely looking at everything, but didn’t stop or offer to turn around at any point.  He also didn’t spook.  What a smart boy!

At first I thought that perhaps we should only do the first road, and I actually turned him back, but he was so good I figured “now or never”, and we headed back to the corner.   The corner had only about six feet of available shoulder that dropped down a pretty steep 8 foot incline.  Trees bordered one side, and there was a stop sign.  Of course, right when we got there a large lawn maintenance truck pulled up and just waited there, which kind of worried Elvis but he didn’t show it physically.  We made the corner (without going down the drop, yay!) and started alongside the very busy road.  He trucked along, and then I stopped him while I waited for a time to cross.  It was kind of a bad place to cross, but it was my only option.  I didn’t hear any cars coming, so I urged him quickly on.  He got out into the middle of the road and then seemed to notice that we were yet again on a new form of pavement and became fascinated..again.  I was not interested in becoming road kill so I kicked him on, and he obliged.

The ride along the destination neighborhood was amazing.  I think Elvis was overcome with all of the beautiful things to see.  We took a number of roads along the farms before turning back.  On the trip home, Elvis negotiated the very busy road with ease.  Still, he was alert and forward, but never was he not listening or focusing on stimuli as opposed to me.  Good boy!

Not only did Elvis perform like a superstar, experiencing a thousand new things today in a stressful environment, but he also listed to his mother.  There were a few times where he was almost pulling the giraffe-neck-nonsense, but I’d ask him to soften and work into the contact long and low and he would.  I had to remind him about a million times, but that is ok with me, as long as he listens!

On a more sentimental note.. along our ride I thought about all those years where I just pined after horses.  I’d find some, think they were meant for me, and my heart would break knowing I wouldn’t be in any position to own them.  Then, when we were shopping, I ran across a good number that I loved.  I’d feel so sure about some of them, but invariably they were passed on.  Then, Elvis was there.  Everything seemed to fall into place, and now he’s mine.  I really believe that we are perfect for each other.  Regardless of your view of “fate”, I think we all have times where we just know something was meant to be.  This horse means so much to me beyond “riding”, that I’m convinced he was put in my path for a reason.

I wish everyone could have their own “Elvis”, and feel the way I do.

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Elvis’s New ‘Do

Seeing as how Elvis has been preparing for a winter befitting his home state (Wisconsin), he’s been getting pretty toasty down here in the south.  What a wonderful thing then, that I was given a fantastic pair of Oster Variable 5 Speed Clipmaster clippers (Thanks, Mom!)!  So, today was clipping day.  I figured it would take forever, and it did.. mostly because of phone calls, the power shorting out, chats with other boarders, etc.  Plus, Elvis has never been clipped and I wasn’t planning on drugging him.  He really did well, in fact he did so well that he set himself back;  He turned around so quickly to investigate the clippers (I think he was planning on eating them) that he bumped the sharp edge of the blades with his nose and nicked himself.  Of course, this resulted in a big “AHHH!” moment on his part, but he respected his tie and calmed down.  We just had to start from the beginning again with introducing the clippers.  As a result, once I started clipping, by the time I got to the second side he was so ready to be done for the day.  Naturally, that side isn’t as clean as the other side (and neither sides are as nice as they will be the next time, or the time after that, etc.).  Oh well.. all in all, it’s not too bad for a first clip for Elvis, and my first time using these big clippers (they take some getting used to!).





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ASHA: Ur Doin’ It Wrong!

This post is yet another installment in my ongoing feature “Why is the world against the saddlebred?”  Ok ok, I don’t have such a feature, but I should seriously consider starting one…

Anyway, today’s segment is dedicated to one (of many) way that the American Saddlebred Association has it out for the traditional saddlebred, as seen by someone from the outside.  It’s also partially a long overdue response to one of my lovely readers (Leah) who so thoughtfully responded to “The Plight of the Saddlebred”.

Before I begin, I want to remind my readers that I am not a part of the saddlebred industry.  I am a person who competes in traditional sport disciplines, and who ended up with a prospect who was chosen based off of his type.  After becoming a saddlebred owner, I began learning more about Saddlebreds who represent the original breed ideal and their place in today’s world.  So, my view is a  representation of what the alternative market is looking for, and how they would view the state of the Saddlebred.

Lately I’ve started to get a better picture of how ASHA supports the “sporthorse” program.  I see a lot of flaws, and they leave me (an outsider from a real sport background) feeling as though the attempt is somewhat hollow.  First, I don’t know if there is a true movement to educate breeders on traditional sporthorse conformation.  I’m not suggesting that it be the association’s responsibility entirely, but a regular acknowledgment that a sporthorse’s conformation will be inherently different from that of a saddleseat horse’s is necessary.  This would specifically help breeders who primarily breed for saddleseat, but are seeking to expand their program or repurpose horses that don’t make it in the saddleseat ring.

In order for this encouragement to take effect, there needs to be an association wide change in attitude.  I understand that a number of clinics were offered (one by Hilda Gurney, no less!) on sporthorse conformation, but they were only lightly attended.  Why?  I really think it’s because the leaders of the industry are showing, through actions, that their commitment to reviving and supporting the traditional (read: original) version of the breed is halfhearted.

A great example of these halfhearted gestures can be found in the inclusion of hunt seat and western classes.  On one hand, the industry is making an attempt to provide a competitive outlet for saddlebreds in something other than saddleseat.  However, said classes are only found in the lower levels of circuit.  Realistically, how many people are going to invest the time and money in these classes if they can’t be recognized by the association at the upper levels?  Furthermore, they don’t allow stallions to compete in these disciplines.  Where does that leave breeders who are interested in expanding their programs, and perhaps standing a sport type saddlebred?  Again, the gestures are there but they are empty ones upon closer inspection.

The Saddlebred industry is dropping the ball in a big way.  I assume part of the industry is aware of this, but I also believe that the majority of the association is simply unaware.  First, all efforts seem to get ASHA to change and include representation of the original saddlebred.  That alone is inherently wrong on so many levels.  “ASHA”, technically, is an employee of the paying members and as an employee, it should respond to what it employer wants.  Instead, the members of the association seem to be somewhat placated with the attempts thus far to answer the cry for sport Saddlebred representation.  However, from the outside, it’s truly a laughing matter.  Obviously, ASHA doesn’t want to provide an outlet for the sport saddlebred within the association.  Instead of pretending this isn’t true, why not embrace it?  THE REST OF THE HORSE INDUSTRY all knows that a sport horse was never intended to excel within a breed discipline, anyway!  Who cares if they allocate resources to represent the sport saddlebred at the regional level at some show, here and there?  That is not, and never has been, the way a sporthorse excels.  I’d guarantee it wasn’t even where the traditional saddlebred excelled in terms of competition, back when the breed was in its begining!  Instead, I am sure you found that owners would rather pit it’s skill and talent against other horses in open competition.

Seriously.  When was the last time you heard someone say “Oh, my Holsteiner did so well at the Holsteiner show last weekend!”?

Never.  Because that doesn’t happen.  Sporthorses were intended to compete in open shows.  It’s the nature of the competition!  I have never, in my life, considered showing at a breed show.  In fact, I didn’t even know they existed outside of the AQHA and Arabian worlds, until I was an adult.  It simply isn’t where serious sport competition takes place.  It’s my impression that this isn’t common knowledge because the majority of the association’s membership has little experience outside of the breed, and if they do it’s in another “breed industry”.

Whereas I don’t think it’s ASHA’s responsibility to hold it’s members’ hands, I do think it’s their responsibility to clear up this misinformation which leads to a general ignorance.  Why not?  It would get a major monkey off their back!  Instead, resources should be allocated toward educating breeders as to what a sporthorse is.  Start providing more clinics that address this, as well as training and discipline specific clinics (for example, educate members about conformation, introduce training concepts such as true collection, and provide opportunities for them to actually learn a new discipline ON their Saddlebred from respected professionals).  Basically, start a grass-roots movement that provides a niche for the horses that will excel in these areas.  Work to educate where education is truly needed.  To support those interested in competing in open sporthorse disciplines, recognize them on a national level with annual awards.  Eventually, I’m sure in hand classes (modeled off of the type classes found in open competition) should be offered at the national level as well.  All of these things still put minimal strain on the resources available in the association, which clearly prefers to dump monies into their saddleseat efforts.

I honestly wouldn’t care so much about the ASHA and what it’s misguided efforts if I hadn’t absolutely fallen in love with my traditional saddlebred.  I absolutely hate that the old lines are dying out, and slowly being replaced by modern horses who have long necks, light bone, upright shoulders, long backs, weak loins, and sickle hocks.  I understanding breeding for purpose (in this case, saddleseat), but I don’t understand what appears to be a concerted effort to black list what the saddlebred used to be, and remove it from existence.

Furthermore, there is the unsettling issue of “what exactly happens to all of those horses who don’t make the cut?”  I see an industry who not only puts massive efforts into changing what the breed originally was, but in also disposing of any horses who don’t add to the image they want to project.  Typically, people invest energies into things that benefit them.  I really can’t see how there can be any emotional satisfaction from this, unless it’s reduced down to competition.  That naturally leads me to acknowledging the financial satisfaction that I’m sure comes from dominating an industry.  To change things now, would be to threaten a pastime and business that a few people profit handsomely from.

This leads me to acknowledge the final obstacle to be tackled: the image of the saddlebred.  How can the supports of the breed expect the public to change their view of the saddlebred if their own industry disregards and destroys a) the most appealing version of the breed and b) their candidates for re-purposing?!  I’ve got some news for those of you who might be reading this entry, and who are part of the saddlebred industry:  the majority of the equine industry doesn’t have any interest in saddleseat.  The horses that will appeal to them will be the horses who are traditionally bred and aren’t intended to succeed in the saddleseat ring.  Therefore, for the breed to survive the ages simply through popularity, wouldn’t it make sense to provide some support for breeders who want to invest their time in these lines?  The same breeders who will provide foal crops that appeal to the majority of the equine (not just saddlebred) industry?

It’s truly a sad thing for me to behold, and it breaks my heart.  I’m left looking at my beloved horse, and wondering how and industry couldn’t recognize the potential he has, or how the same industry could ignore the fans that horses like him receive in open competition every time they are given a chance by people like me?  I am yet to meet a person who hasn’t fallen in love with my horse, and also thought that he could do all I intend for him to do.  These are individuals who said they never thought they’d like a saddlebred, yet they give more support towards our efforts than the my horse’s own breed registry.

Then, I think about all of the “throw-aways”, and my heart breaks.  It’s one thing to worry about not finding another traditionally bred horse when I’m ready to purchase again, but it’s entirely different to think about all of the horses without a single chance of even locating an owner like myself, often with a one way ticket to the border.

This post is, like always, intended to inform members from both sides of the coin.  I have a large number of readers from “my world” as well as a good number of readers from the saddlebred industry.  In regards to the latter, I hope that these words are viewed in their intended light.  I’ve seen how sensitive the industry is (I’m assuming because there is so much misinformation, and because many individuals feel threatened), and I am not setting out to rock the boat for the sake of rocking the boat.  Instead, I see the need for change, and how said change can truly benefit everyone.. but especially the horses.

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Things Elvis and I Love: Part 1

People who know me know that I won’t stop going on about things that I consider fantastic products.  What can I say?  My dollars all have a name, and each one must go as far as it can!  Plus, I really believe in supporting companies who do their job well and/or provide an excellent product.  So, I’ll be keeping a running list of “Things Elvis and I Love”.

First up:  Bartville Harness
I absolutely LOVE Bartville Harness shop, located in Pennsylvania.  I look for any opportunity to purchase from them;  Not only is the customer guaranteed top quality products at shocking prices, but they have the best customer service I’ve ever dealt with.   Sadly, they’ll never see this recomendation on line though, because they are an Amish shop.  That means that they are a bit more difficult to contact, but it’s well worth the trouble.  For out of area customers, they take phone calls between 8:00 and 8:30 in the morning on weekdays.  If you don’t reach them, leave a message.  You can also call and request a catalog.  The next time you need strap goods – give them a call!  You won’t be sorry!  While you are at it, tell them you heard how wonderful they are from Kayla in Georgia!
**psst!  Here’s the big secret!  They are the manufacturer of a big name line of tack!  Elvis and I also love the owners of this line of tack as well, so we won’t share the name.. but it’s good information to know when it comes to strap goods!

Bartville Harness Shop
1243 Noble Road Christiana, PA 17509

Next: Equilibrium Stretch n Flex Wraps
Truly a lifesaver!  Not only do these eliminate the need for stupid polo wraps (and therefore a dirty washing machine), but they are constructed amazingly well, AND are designed to keep the leg cool.  This reduces the risk of heat damage to tendon sheaths, yay!  No, they don’t support the leg (I don’t think any boots support the leg) but they provide appropriate protection for horses who aren’t prone to regular interference.  Plus, they look smart!  An additional and unexpected benefit is that the white boots actually stay white!

More from Equlibrium:  Equlibrium Close Contact Equi Chaps
I wouldn’t have purchased a pair of these had I not already fallen in love with the Stetch N Flex wraps, and experienced their ability to keep the leg cool, as well as dry.  In fact, the first time I cleaned them I thought it was so weird that I could hold them in my hand and spray them with the hose on full blast, without my hand getting wet!  Anyhow, I don’t know how well they would work in paddocks covered in very deep and sucking mud, but they work great for my environment.  At the least, they keep Elvis’s legs dry which breaks the cycle needed by mud fever.  The cherry on top?  They are constructed well enough to survive Elvis.  Now, that’s saying something!

Another must have:  Platinum Performance
Wow, there aren’t enough good things to say about this product.  Elvis’s feeding routine is pretty simple: three cups of beet pulp, soaked, twice a day – with one scoop of Platinum Performance Equine Wellness in the AM.  Not only does Elvis sparkle in the sun (even when dirty), but he has almost grown an entirely new and beautiful hoof in less than six months, and four inches of mane and tail.  We all know that a healthy horse on the inside is visible from the outside.

Jack’s Irish Knit Anti Sweat Sheet
I happen to have the Jack’s brand of an irish knit, but really any of them are good as long as constructed well out of 100% cotton.  Anyhow, mine was given to me as a gift in high school (complete with embroidered name on the HQ), and it’s lasted all of these years.  I love it!  It makes life so much easier.. I often bathe horses unless it’s absolutely too cold out and or windy.  For the days that I can bathe, I scrape the horse very well (and quickly) and then throw on their “bath robe”.  By the time I’m done cleaning my tack and equipment, they are nearly dry!  If I’m walking them to cool, it takes no time at all.  I just love my anti-sweat sheet..

Ok, that’s it for the first installment.. but never fear, there will be loads more!  Just ask my friends.. I’m sure they get tired with how I go on and on and on when I love an item!

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