An Unlikely Friendship

Recently trainer and I decided to take me off of my friend the giant giraffe horse in order to build up some confidence and inject a bit more fun into my lessons.  At first I hung out with my favorite (other) red schoolie, but due to a scheduling conflict one evening I was placed on an older grey thoroughbred gelding.  Since he’s been around this area a lot doing a variety of jobs, I will respect his confidentiality and call him C.  Ironically all of our current schoolhorses (save one) have a C name.  Anyway, back to topic.

C is maybe 16hh?  It’s hard to tell because he wears one of those giant wither pads.  He’s a flea-bit grey, and doesn’t really have any classic beauty to speak of.  Typically he’s seen dragging his lesson kids around, while they kick-kick-kick to keep him going.  I’d only ridden him one other time, schooling him for a horse show.

Armed and ready for flatwork.  

I tacked up the old man, gave him some loves and extra curries, grabbed my stick and headed to ride.  Flatwork was exactly what I figured on.  He bulged thru his shoulders, and refused to go in a straight line.  Also – what is canter?  Why even try?

BUT.

Then we started jumping.  My lesson mate is a catty little jumper mare and her owner.  So the courses are usually focused on technical details and winding courses.  To my shock, after seeing where we were headed, C’s little grey ears went forward and he never looked back.  He did little bounces, we wound around the outdoor, jumped little boxes, a sort-of flying change, and he even bothered to shake his head at me in mock wildness about a distance.  It was adorable.  He has obviously had significant amount of quality training done over fences, and his rhythm and pace were the easiest things to just set – and let him go.  We even came around to a higher end of a little funny shaped standard-less jump and he bounded over it like he was a teenager again.

Bad at selfies.

I literally laughed my way around the whole course.  And he was ready to do it again, and again.  We ended on a high and he got loads of cookies and pets for being such a stud.  I mean I’m still smiling thinking about it, like two weeks after the fact.  My trainer said that while he’s an old man now, he was “pretty cool” in his day, and I would agree, and say that he’s still pretty cool now.  Just another reminder of how much the older horses, schoolmasters really have left to contribute.  It feels good to look forward to lessons again, where I know I’ll learn and be able to have fun as well.

All Four Legs

After my emotion packed lesson last week, my trainer and decided I should take a few lessons to get my confidence back and see where we go next.  I arrived to find myself assigned to an old favorite, “my” beefcake red lesson pony.  While he was never my favorite when riding him before I bought O (which seems like a very long time ago), I became very attached in past years since he hauled my pregnant butt around for weeks and kept us both very safe after I got back in the tack .

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He wasn’t quite as excited to see me as I was him, but obliged and let me tack him up and pull him to the outdoor.  He actually really warmed up nicely and seemed to appreciate having someone who knew a bit more than “up, down, up, down”.  I was feeling pretty good about myself, and we headed around to warm up over a little crossrail.

He gave the crossrail an unusually big jump (for him) and I am pretty sure I mentally squealed a little at how sweet this boy was.  The fun ended when he landed, and somewhere between putting his back legs down and cantering forwards, he seemed to lose track of his front legs.  Horses need all 4 legs, and unfortunately for us, this meant we were thrashing around in the arena dirt, as he desperately tried to get off his knees.  I thought for sure we were going to roll right over.

Somehow after a full 8-10 feet of knee sliding/thrashing he righted himself and halted.  He was blowing very hard and I immediately reached forward to give him giant pats.  I literally cannot believe we didn’t go over.  After swearing to red horse that I would personally take care of him for the rest of his life for keeping us upright, I trotted off.  Big red was obviously super sore on his knees, and we decided to cut my lesson off in exchange for a cold hosing.

So that’s how my second lesson in so many weeks, was cut short.  This time for a very different reason.  Regardless, I am very lucky and glad that my horse was able to get us both back up after his trip.  He got lots of cold hose time, then wrapped up and extra cookies in his stall.  My trainer reported that he was feeling so much better the next day and went back to his normal life. She also joked that she really is trying to make it fun for me.

Note:

Cathryn at Two and a Half Horses is sponsoring an awesome header contest.  I’m photoshop incapable, but someone else should try!  Great prizes and blog!

Why Lesson Programs?

Lately I’ve noticed a shift in local equestrian programs where the “lesson program” is becoming less and less prominent.  Obviously clients are still taking lessons, trainers are still training, but the days of operations having a whole string of lesson horses, and days full of lessons are waning.  When our facility hosts local shows, it’s obviously what programs in the area still host the full lesson program experience, with their half dozen lesson ponies and bombproof geldings, versus the smaller groups of client/owners.

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Bombproof hony – not a schoolie

My own trainer has been scaling back her lesson program in favor of really spending time with the clients she already maintains, many of which are showing or traveling on a regular basis.  She isn’t concerned at all about the change in process for her riders.  Most of her clients have owned before (like me) or already own a horse in her facility.  And while I understand time is money, and she needs more time, seeing the lesson program get smaller provokes a lot of feels from me.

As I’ve mentioned, I was a lesson kid and barn rat for years before I took on a “real horse” lease.  And now, I’m right back in that world of being a catch rider and lesson kid.  This is close to my heart, in my mind a vital step in the journey of horseback riding as a whole.  I just wonder how trainers are recruiting and gathering new riders without watching those people coming up through the lesson horse program.  Perhaps just my area fits into this need due to the variety of options, or the influence of our culture?  I’m not sure.

I feel like there is so much learned from riding many different horses, and having lessons on a consistent basis.  Not to mention the risk for a parent, or an adult re-rider based on whether they decide to continue in the sport and the sample size of time they’ve really spent with horses.  It was mentioned that if you want to run a successful lesson programs now, you have to teach all the time, every day – all day, to make the economics work.

Maybe I’m just witnessing a very small niche of the area doing this, but I had to ask.  What are you seeing in your area?  Are the big lesson programs still thriving?

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My favorite grey schoolmaster

 

Know When to Fold

Last week I had the last lesson of the day with two other adult ammys and I was pumped!  It had been a long week and I desperately needed a win on Cooper.  Which in hindsight is not smart to put that type of pressure on horse or human.

As I’ve mentioned he is still one who I just can’t seem to figure out.  We walked, we trotted, it was okay-ish. Flatwork for the two of us comes together slowly, so I spent a lot of time circling and trying to install forward, but not fussy with my body. By the time we cantered, I was getting crazy with my hands, and Cooper was practically backwards in the bridle.  We were going horribly.  My trainer was on us, trying to work us through the hot mess.  After a circle or two that was marginally better, I gave Cooper a pat and changed direction.

This way was so much worse.  He was bouncy, I was holding him (making him more bouncy) and honestly I could feel the tears threatening.  I am not a crier, but that night nothing my trainer said was sinking in.  Basically I had no right to be on a horse. I was frustrated at the horse, even more angry at myself, and honestly a bit scared that I was going to send this mild-mannered horse into hysterics. I’m told it didn’t look that bad, but it felt bad.  I pulled him to a walk, waved my trainer down and told her I was done for the night.

She gave me a very odd look, but nodded and she advised a quick walk around outside to calm down and sent me off.  I was horrified, and felt every inch a dramatic ugly crying quitter…even though I made it all the way to our outdoor before any real tears came out.  Those might have been more about the embarrassment too, but that doesn’t matter.

I couldn’t think of another time in my 15+ years of riding that I’d ever walked out during a lesson.  

Even days later, thinking back, I am still embarrassed.  I think I did the right thing for myself that ride – since my brain, body and horse connection wasn’t there.  But it still sucks.  I totally felt like I let my trainer down.

Another adult ammy talked me down from my crazy place when Cooper and I finally made it back to the barn, and trainer texted me to check in.  She reminded me that it’s supposed to be fun, and if it’s not I need to tell her.  

I think we might do some confidence boosting types of rides on some horses I’m really familiar with before tackling Coop again.  You have to know when to admit you need a break, even if it sounds stupid.

I want to ride him well.  But forcing myself in this situation isn’t going well either.  I’m really hoping that I just need a mental break to regain my sea legs, before diving back in.

Help Me Shop: Western Boots

My birthday was this past week, and my husband gifted me the one thing I made him promise to not pick out on his own (because I want to do it!). He’s buying me my very first pair of western boots.

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These seem nice!

I live in cowboy boot country (maybe not as common as TX though), and while it wasn’t love at first sight, the past few years I’ve been slowly getting behind this look!  My husband didn’t help since he has a problem with people who’ve never seen livestock, let alone worked with them, buying up boots.  I just roll my eyes, the guy grew up on a cattle ranch, he’s allowed to have some opinions about our city cowboys if he really wants to.  Whatever, he married a city girl after all.

Anyway, I decided that at this point in my life I would really like my own pair.  I’m tired of wearing my paddock boots around the ranch when we are there, plus I’m now trying to extend the life of my tall boots, so it’d be nice to have a pair to toss on when I’m just puttering around the stable/tacking up/whatever.  I’m excited to go pick out some, and try them on, but I’m pretty clueless.  My husband swears by Ariat, but I want to know more.  CobJockey also did a great review recently, which seems to put another vote in favor of Ariat boots.

My Shopping qualifications:

  • Height of boot to not look stupid on my tall frame – I’m 5’10”
  • Ease of break in
  • Heel is reasonable, as previously mentioned I’m plenty tall on my own
  • I think I prefer brown, something neutral – please nothing super loud, that’s not my style
  • It needs to last me, I get attached to my shoes
  • Pricetag under $250

OKAY GO!

Speak to me people!  Anyone have experience with western styled boots?  Passionate feelings about certain brands?  I know in some places it’s a culture, to me it’s just footwear, so I need any insider knowledge.  I’d welcome any opinions you want to share!

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The last pair of boots I’ve bought.

 

Child Friendly Horses

The mare I bought in late 2012, O, had a lot to live up to under saddle and on the ground. One of her selling points was that literally anyone could handle her. Camp kids to grandparents, she was a peach to be around. Then I snagged the amazing lease on Dee, who again, was a complete saint. She allowed my crying infant to “lunge” her (she cried in baby carrier while I lunged), groom her, share food, whatever. Even the big grey draft I rode in between available horses loved kids, and handled my daughter’s “affection” with grace.

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Essentially my daughter has had full rein of the horses I spent substantial amount of time with, with very few consequences. They’ve put up with the eye pokes, the yells, the constant noises and God knows what else that should’ve terrified them.

All of them, except for Cooper.

img_0563My current ride, who is a fantastic guy, is teaching me a lot about the holes in my training, so this is not a black mark on his record. I’m asking a lot honestly.  But…Cooper hates my daughter. Maybe hate isn’t the right term…he is not her biggest fan.  He doesn’t understand her noises, he hates the invasive little fingers when she pets him and generally he would rather her stay about 10 miles away from him at any given time. He’s not mean about it, but when you’re over 17 hands and not naturally graceful…it’s a recipe for disaster.

It doesn’t change much for me, except for the fact that I won’t take my daughter to the barn alone while I’m riding him.  He’s plenty enough horse to keep track of, without wondering if my daughter is annoying him.  Again, not his fault, it just won’t be fun for anyone.  It does create a bit of a hiccup in my usual riding schedule, but we are working on it.  Lately my Dad has been coming out to watch and wrangle said child while I hack or lesson.  I’m very lucky to have that as an option.

So I guess what I’m saying is: Cooper, I’m really sorry buddy, she’ll still be around…but I’ll make sure that she keeps her distance if you keep yours.  *If not, there’s me or my 6’2” Dad to act as buffer between the two of them.*  This hasn’t changed my views on having my daughter at the barn, I do believe that children have to learn how to behave in many different circumstances.  I work very hard to create situations where both horse and child can have mutual success.

While there is not judgement on Cooper’s part, there is a major learning curve that continues to form any future horse in my mind.  I never would expect any horse to babysit a toddler, because that’s never going to work, but it’s my hope that my next lease or purchase will be more keen on having kids around.

So what do you think?   Do you consider your horse child friendly?

Blog Hop: Dealbreakers

Thank you for the great writing idea Amanda.  This is a topic that I’ve been stewing over since O left in 2016, and honestly will probably continue to change and evolve even more before I do any serious horse acquisition.  But I want to keep it pretty concise today.

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Because she’s adorable.

General thoughts:

I’m not the worst rider on the planet, so I don’t mind a ride that requires some thought, or that keeps you on your toes.  Since my roots are firmly in hunterland, I will avoid something that jumps in dangerous form, or isn’t neat with it’s legs.  I’m good at hurting myself without any help from my 4-legged partner, so it has to help me out a little in this area.  In my selfish ways, I just don’t think I can do greys – because I do not have time to manage that.  I like things to be pretty…or at least brown so I don’t know how dirty they are.

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So dirty and gross – but you can’t tell (except the socks)!

Safety:

I hope this is fairly self explanatory, but I am done with the days of riding anything that something hands me the reins to.  I want to ride something that I feel like I can handle and not fear for my life the whole time.  That is not enjoyable.  So that’s a hard nope to anything that makes me question my safety.

Poor Work Ethic:

I cannot have another horse with who does not like it’s job.  It is my above all else dealbreaker.  I had a horse, who I loved, which had a bad work ethic and didn’t really enjoy her work.  Summary – it didn’t turn out well, and it totally broke my heart after months of trying and trying to convince her to enjoy the work.  I will not do that again.  Whatever horse I have next will show up for me, and be interested in it’s work.  Obviously no horse wakes up and says “golly, I’d like to work on lengthening”, but they have to play the game.  In return they will be loved, rewarded and ridden with as much skill as I can muster.

Why can’t horse sale sites have a box to search for that quality?

Should I find myself with another horse who decides it does not like it’s job, I will find it a job it does enjoy; whether it’s with me, or with another owner.  It’s not fair to do anything otherwise.

If the horse has to live inside.

Even in the Midwestern ice storms, and the summer sun, I know that to get my husband to even entertain the idea of another horse in the family that is must live the majority of it’s life outside.  I’m not interested in a great debate, he is passionate about this aspect, so I am adding it to my list.  If horse has to live inside 24/7, that is a dealbreaker.

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Doesn’t like kids.

I have one, and she’s pretty important.  I realize that she probably won’t be in the saddle as much as I am (duh), but it’s a dealbreaker if the horse is not friendly on the ground, or is difficult to manage.  I want to be able to share my riding and horses with my daughter, and I can’t do that if I am stressing the entire time horse and child are near each other.

Share your dealbreakers and join the hop!