Earlier this month ASHA released a set of breed ads that are ready to run throughout 2010 in the Kentucky Visitors’ Guide and Discover Horses, the publication distributed to every visitor of the Kentucky Horse Park.  This is big news for the breed on two counts.  First, the ads highlight the versatility of the saddlebred.  From a marketing perspective, I still feel as though the emphasis is on saddle seat, but truthfully this is a very nice representation of what the breed is doing across equine sport.  Second, these ads represent teamwork; they were developed and produced by ASHA and the American Saddlebred Museum.  Individuals deserving the spotlight are Director Tolley Graves,  Curator/Librarian Kim Skipton, Alan Balch, DeDe Gatlin and Scott Sloan.  Production costs were shared, as well as offset by a subsidy from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, via the museum.

With the World Equestrian Games on our doorstep, the American Saddlebred in all its glory is set to be introduced to the a world of horse enthusiasts via these breed ads.  Likely, the breed will have the greatest audience it’s ever had… an audience who is arriving to Kentucky to enjoy the largest sport-centric competition the global equestrian industry has to offer.

Definitely a step in the right direction.

(I was all ready to provide crunched .jpgs of the ads, but I’m no legal eagle and I’m unsure as to if ASHA/the Museum will be up in arms if I do so.)


A Grey Valentine’s

I went to the barn today and, strangely, I wasn’t enthusiastic about riding.  This rarely happens.  I didn’t even bother to wear breeches, just jeans and my rubber boots.  I’m not exactly sure why I felt this way.. well, I guess it is because I’ve been kind of lonely lately, kind of gloomy, kind of just not myself?  I don’t know, I’m sure you Dear Reader have felt this way before, as though your ‘life’ is sucking color away from the world surrounding your horse?  I guess that is what the problem was.

Not surprisingly though, Elvis made me feel more like myself.  I’ve not been cured, but he gave me some respite.  Poor guy was so lonely, he demanded my attention and I like to think I brought some color into his Grey Days as well.  I tacked him up and went to the ring with plans of just lunging.  However, he was so enjoying the activity I decided to ride him for a bit.  I know he was enjoying our time together, because he was quite good.. even for having not done anything for over a week.

After our time in the ring, we went on an impromptu walk around the big field in search for the peepers that were singing despite the snow encrusted banks of the stream.  Isn’t it too cold for them?  Don’t they know the forecast?  We also saw five blue birds which provided a shocking contrast to the muted browns of winter, and a handful of daffodil stalks poking their heads up out of the cold ground.  Maybe spring is closer than I thought?

If you are feeling talkative, how do you deal with the gloomy days?  Do they affect your horse-time?

Things I Love: Part Two

Earlier I made a post about things that I considered “must haves”.  As I said at the time, it’s kind of ‘my thing’ to constantly be giving unsolicited reviews of products.  Some of my friends may say that I tend to force these reviews upon them.. but I’d counter that they are always happy with any product I suggest (read: shove down their throat).  What can I say?  I admit to being hard on most items and I am rather particular;  Elvis follows suit.

So, being that I’m stuck inside on this beautiful day I thought I’d share my thoughts on a few winter must-haves.

The Clip
I’m editing this post to add The Clip; I can’t believe I forgot to include it earlier this morning!  I’ve known about The Clip for a while, but I purchased my own recently.  I consider it a must-have for trailering, especially since I prefer to use rope halters.  I just love this item, even more than the Blocker Tie ring.  I don’t like that the blocker takes time to use, and you can’t take it with you.  The Clip is strong and light, and I keep it threaded onto my lead towards the end, and adjust it’s placement when I’m ready to tie.  I just clip it where I need it!  It’s perfect for horses like Elvis, who would become pullers if given the chance (he’s just too smart for his own good).

Schneiders Blankets: (comparatively) Cheap and Likely Elvis-Proof
They aren’t as attractive as my olive tartan plaid Rhino turnout, but let’s face it… 1200 denier nylon is simply child’s play!  Schneiders offers many turnouts in 1680 denier, and some in 1800 denier ripstop nylon!  I am itching to order one of their blankets, as Elvis has already ripped the exterior and interior of his Rhino, and destroyed one of the T-buckles on the front.  I’m praying it hangs in there for a bit longer..

Ariat Mudbuster
My mother bought me a pair of Ariat rubber muck boots at least a decade ago.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are as good as new, and that I’ve worn them 1000x more in the past year than I have in the past decade.  I lived such a sheltered life in Florida, where there is no mud.. Ariats are not only made well (although I hear some of their products are now being manufactured in China, and showing less quality), they offer eight thousand size combinations.  Perfect for a tall girl like me with less than dainty feet, and very long lower legs.

Himalayan Salt Licks
Everyone and their mother probably knew about these before I did, but I’ll include them.  I love them so much, andElvis truly does prefer them to the generic and mass manufactured blocs.  Likely, because they make him feel less like livestock and more like the (brat) Prince that he is.

Poly-Copper by Uckele
If you don’t know why I absolutely adore this product, you should read this blog more often!

Kerrits Powerstretch Fleece Breeches
Where would I be without these synthetic wonders?!  My mother gave me a “stay warm while riding” themed gift box for Christmas, and these were included (as well as the similar products forthcoming).  They have saved my bum more than once during this very cold winter.  Kudos to Kerrits for providing hard-wearing products in LONG lengths and with NON GAPING Flowrise waist bands!

SSG Soft Touch Winter Riding Gloves
By far, the nicest riding gloves I’ve ever owned.  I’m a long time fan of their everyday riding gloves (which have lasted me decades a piece), but these are simply wonderful.  Thin, supple, well-fitting, non bulky, and WARM.  Thanks, Mom!

The Buff!
I don’t even know how to describe this thing, other than it’s strangely wonderful.  Yes, I admit to wearing it in nearly every way possible.  Perfect for cold weather, but ideal for warm weather too.  If you don’t have a buff, get one!

Salmon Supa Grooma
My life will not be the same after finding this brush.  Why?  Well, I’ll no longer be covered in cat/dog/horse hair for one thing.  This brush is for your horse’s face or for “removing hair from rugs”.  I have no idea if the UK-based company has yet discovered that this brush also excels at removing hair for your person.. even if you regularly sport polarfleece garments!  This small brush is a definite must-have.  I even gave them as Christmas gifts to my animal loving friends this year!  I’ve not located them for sale on any US websites, but I did buy mine in a Dover store.

Small Mesh Hay Net
A simple thing, but it keeps Elvis busy for hours.  I’m working on a way to securely tie it without excess rope hanging about, and letting him kick it around his paddock.  The mesh holes are half the size of my fist, so they shouldn’t pose an issue for a horse’s hoof.

These products all have made my life a little easier in the recent months.  I hope that you find something here which will do the same for you!  Feel free to add any items which may be helping you this season, and you consider “must haves”!

101st Post!

I probably should have highlighted my “100th” post, but in all honesty I completely missed the milestone.  So, Happy 101st Post Day!

Such a marker seems fitting for today’s posting, as there are many noteworthy things worth sharing.  First, I woke up to 4″ of snowfall – absolutely unheard of!  Actually, I really woke up to the sound of ambulance and fire truck sirens.  I’m sure they were rushing to the aid of cavalier southern drivers who didn’t think much of the icy roadways.

View from my back porch.

I intended to visit with Elvis today, actually we planned to trailer out for a large trail ride.  I’m not sure if my friends will press on, but I seriously doubt that I could actually make it to the farm safely with the frozen slush on the roads.  I’m hoping that we can all be let off the hook today.

The other big thing that I have to report on is that I now have my trailer actually in my possession.  I went down to Florida to pick it up, and hauled it back earlier this week.  I’m pretty proud of myself for making the haul safely and without incident; this was my first long distance haul.

Additionally, while in Florida I had another ‘first’.  At my favorite tack shop, a lovely acquaintance said hello and asked me about Elvis.  She works at the store, and has always been a fun person to run into (she’s also the best at helping one shop!).  She asked if I had photos and for once, I actually did thanks to my crazy smartphone.  I decided to show her the photo of Elvis in February 2009 as well as one of me riding him in November of the same year.  Her reaction absolutely made my day, as did the reactions of the other store workers as she showed them the photos as well.  They have no idea, but they put me on cloud nine!  They congratulated me on a job well done and a super start for Elvis; I’ve never had this happen before!  Truth be told, I don’t think very highly of my riding or training skills (for many reasons).  In reality though, I tend to prefer it this way.  At the very least, it keeps one working harder.  Therefore, I appreciated their compliments all the more.  They were genuine, and they genuinely put a smile on my face.

One Year Later

Well,  I have something special to share with you all!  About a week ago I took some photos of Elvis after having body clipped him.  This gave me the opportunity to step back and look at him for the first time in weeks without his blanket on.  At the time I was in a rush, so I didn’t see what was standing before my eyes until I was at home and flipping through my photos.  Apparently, Elvis has changed!

There are a few things that this year-long transformation illustrates, and I think it’s important that they be shared.

First, it’s the structure of the horse that matters.  I’ve spent a lot of time learning how the horse’s body works and functional conformation.  I’ve worked hard to develop an eye that can look past the surface layers, even the musculature of the horse, to see how his bones work together.  Over the years I’ve seen tons of horses passed on because prospective buyers didn’t see the horse underneath.

Second, proper work produces proper conditioning, and this can transform a horse.  Elvis still has a long way to go, he is only in the beginning stages of learning how to use his body.  Each stage presents increasing challenges in movement and form, which need more strength for development.  When done properly, the shape of the horse changes much.

Below is the photo taken by Elvis’s breeder last February, when I asked for recent shots and some video.  This photo is the one I used most to make my decision, as well as a 30 second video clip of him walking.  The photo showed his structure, and the video showed me arguably the most important gait when evaluating a horse.

Elvis, February 2009.

(Please Note:  Above photo was flipped horizontally to match the orientation of the photo below.  This is why the socks don’t “match”.)

I laugh every time I see this photo!  At first glance, he looks pretty unappealing.  However, this is Elvis today…

Elvis, February 2010. Also, one inch taller.

I sent these two photos to Elvis’s breeder, Mary.  She laughed also, and said she wouldn’t have known it was the same horse.  I also sent the photos to my good friends, who helped me evaluate him last year, they too had a good laugh!

Mary did exactly what I had requested, and provided traditional sport horse evaluation materials for me as best she could – I mean, this was during a northern Wisconsin winter!  I asked specifically for traditional conformation shots, and at least a walk video.

When I look at these photos today, I am proud of myself.  I always champion a few things: type over breed, functional conformation, and the effects of correct work based in dressage.  If I wanted to, I am sure I could find plenty of people who would argue these things with me until the cows come home.  However, I’ll never change my stance and these photos are for me, a trophy.

I can’t wait to see the changes next February brings!

Elvis Jumping

Earlier this week, I did my second round of jumping on the line with Elvis.  Still, he looks pretty nonchalant about the whole thing.  I’m pretty thrilled with his natural talent and ability. 

Things have been too quiet around here!

Winter Woes
Yes, I admit to being the world’s worst blogger this winter.  The holidays really sent me into a tailspin in all parts of my life, and I’m only now just pulling up out of my descent.  Things have been so busy, and the weather has been so poor.  I definitely found it hard to muster up anything that I felt was worth sharing, since my progress with Elvis has been along the “two steps forward, three steps back” way of going.  Mostly, the weather is to blame.  The uncharacteristic precipitation has continued in my area without slowing down.  Add to that unheard of lows for weeks at a time!  I consider myself rather hard-core *pats self on back*, and I will get out and ride no matter what the temperature, but the biggest road blocks have been frozen ground or sloppy soup for footing.  Not to mention old-fashioned chilly downpours.  So, needless to say my ride time was halved at best, and my lessons cancelled one after another. 

ASHA vs. Balch
In addition to this depressing cycle, there have been curious rumblings in the world of ASHA.  Late in December it was announced that Alan Balch, the secretary/registrar of ASHA, would be leaving his post this month.  I noted very mixed reviews among ASHA members, which incited me to investigate as much as I could.  In taking note of the polarized opinions of the upcoming departure, I decided to disregard much of what I heard: most seemed personal in nature be it for or against Mr. Balch’s influence on the breed.  As with any politicized equine environment, emotions appeared to be running high.

What I learned:  Mr. Balch also has a side job!  He is president of the USA Equine Trust, “a New York Not-for-Profit Corporation whose mission is to assist in preserving and/or enhancing the quality of equestrian sport in the United States of America.  Its objects and purposes are exclusively charitable, educational and dedicated to the fostering of national and international equestrian sports competition”.  Furthermore, the trust is a supporting affiliate of the United States Equestrian Federation, the national governing body for all equestrian sport in the US, as well as the Federation Equestre Internationale, the international governing body. 

I certainly don’t know Mr. Balch personally, nor am I aware of the intricacies of his dealings with members of ASHA.  What I do know is that his involvement in these macro level equestrian governing bodies provided a major bridge for any breed association who would also be associated with him.  The USET and FEI represent the top of the pile, and they also happen to be the governing bodies that are so adamantly opposed to unethical practices within the show world.  To my eye, it appears as though ASHA just lost a person who is affiliated with organizations that enforce their animal welfare and sportsmanship regulations without hesitation, and who is president of an organization which in itself represents sporthorse disciplines as well as provides sustaining support to two of the largest and most healthy sporthorse governing bodies.  Unless this man enjoys crafting the world’s most elaborate charade, I tend to get the impression that he must be somewhat committed to traditional equine sport, sporthorses, and competition regulation.  I will go ahead and make the leap of faith and assume that he was interested in incorporating these beliefs with his vision for the future of the American Saddlebred.  I guess I’ll never be proven right or wrong though, because he’s now been booted.  Mr. Balch, if you ever read this, perhaps you can use your new role to influence in different ways.  If so, please don’t make a fool out of me and do support the saddlebred’s first purpose and breed standard: as a sport horse. 

 New Wheels
In happier news, a few weeks ago I was scanning the classifieds for horse trailers.  We’ve been planning on taking the plunge, and had decided 2010 was the year.  I didn’t expect to find a fantastic deal so soon though, as I ran across an ad for exactly what I wanted.  Cooled heels weren’t in the cards though as I called my friend Helen who was local to the out-of-state trailer, and learned she was only minutes from its location!   Helen is whiz, I think, in many areas in life.  lucky for me, she’s a trailer guru.  She and her partner in all things beyond my scope, Kirk, gave the trailer a more thorough vetting than it would have likely gotten by a mechanic and then called me with the good news:  “Two thumbs up!”. 

With my husband’s blessing I was packed and on the road in less than 12 hours.  The trailer is in my home town, and I was able to meet my dad at the location.  We inspected it and to my relief, my dad even admitted that I wasn’t off my rocker.  So, we bought my ‘new to me’ trailer for a steal!  It is a very lightly used 1997 Trailet Westwind Eventor and it sports all of my “must haves” and more:  2 horse straight load, ramp, NO mangers (yay!), two full-sized human escape doors (double yay!  No more nearly breaking my leg trying to get my tall frame out of the midget sized ones!), a steel frame with aluminum skin, gooseneck hitch, and dressing room.   Most importantly though, it was stored properly and shows little to no corrosion. 

I swapped vehicles with my dad and let him pilot the trailer to the nearest tire dealership where we bought new rubber and he, being the sort that he is, gifted me with a new set of wheels.  I have to admit, they really gave the trailer a mini-facelift!  The remaining days were spent working with my dad to fix minor issues, like replacing some of the running lights and grinding the rust from some components,  as well as washing and cleaning the trailer.  I’m going to wait to post photos, as the ones I have are very dark. 

I’m very excited though.  I need to do a few more upgrades:  I’d like to buff out the aluminum, add massive quantities of DOT tape, and put storage into the dressing room.  Soon though, it will be road ready and I’ll be taking Elvis out to every opportunity I can. 

Extreme Trail Riding
After the trailer purchase, I rushed home as I had an adventure planned.  My barn owner had arranged for myself and another boarder, Dee, to be picked up by a trainer friend of ours.  This trainer worked weekly with Dee’s mother, who lived in the nearby mountains.  The plan was that Elvis and Dee’s horse would be picked up by our friend after dark as he passed through town.  He’d then take the horses over and set them up at Dee’s mother’s farm (the most beautiful farm, ever).  I would show up the next morning, and we’d set out for a day’s trail ride in the mountains.  Elvis would stay an extra night, and then be dropped back at the farm the following afternoon.

I was all for this adventure, but I was a little concerned about the fact that I hadn’t been able to work Elvis in nearly two weeks, and he’d be loading with a stranger in the dark, and then staying in an unfamiliar place.  Everything went smoothly though.  Elvis did act like himself during loading; he jumped right on and then backed off, repeating this a few times before my friend got his lunge whip out.  Elvis took one look at it and then calmly walked on and stood to be tied.  He wasn’t frightened, he was just being his naughty self. 

The following day we set out into the beautiful mountains.  Elvis did really well, but I realized he needed to lead.  His stride and energy level was just far beyond the other horses’, and as an unworked 4yo it was too much to ask of him in the beginning to plod along slowly at the end of the line.  Once he worked out his pent-up energy though, and worked his mind as the lead horse, he really started to find his stride.  We schooled as we would at home in the arena, worked in all gaits, and practiced good trail etiquette: leading, following, moving away from the group, and letting the group move on.  I couldn’t have asked for a better behaved horse.  He trucked along with his ears pricked and with a happy attitude, regularly outstriding the 17.2h gelding and gaited mare.  We also tackled amazing terrain, going up and down large mountain foothills with 65* inclines.  A few times I admit to being rather nervous, and I just told Elvis to do what he had to do in order not to fall. 

At the end of the ride Elvis again lead the herd back to the barn, arriving with pep still in his step and a happy demeanor.  He politely stood ground tied, just like a cowboy’s horse, while I untacked and groomed him.  I was so proud!  Not only were we the only people in English kit, but Elvis wasn’t a “trail horse” and he was also a saddlebred!  My trainer friend has worked with a few saddlebreds who left him with a bad taste for the breed (in his defense, I met those saddlebreds and they did seem to be rather dim.  They were modeled also along the modern style lines, and were so slight and upright.. very unlike Elvis).  Right away though, I could tell he took a shine to Elvis.  By the end of the ride, I asked him what he thought.  He had nothing but great things to say about Elvis, and even invited us out again!  This man is a real cowboy who is used to moving across the Wyoming Rockies; what an endorsement!  Even more importantly, our hostess had never seen a saddlebred and had no concept of the breed.  Elvis and I defined the saddlebred for her, and now when she thinks “saddlebred” she will remember Elvis.  Could you ask for more than that?