Henry and Presto’s Weekend Adventure: Part 1

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.

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Presto rode loose in the front box stall of Hillary’s 2+1, since he’s the smallest of the 3 and fits the best. This led to some really entertaining camera-watching as he proceeded to wear his haynet on his back like a saddle while still eating from it. 

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.

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Henry spent the whole lesson spooking at that chevron in the background every time we passed it. Never mind the fact that he’s jumped it numerous times by now.

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.

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Uphill horse, who dis?

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.

Henry is like “REALLY, HAVE I NOT DONE ENOUGH?”

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.

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Dis part is boring, can we go back to the waterpark?

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.

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Not upset enough to even pause in his rapid consumption of hay

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!

Two-nicorn

Guess who turns 2 years old tomorrow???

DIS MAJESTIC UNICORN

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Today we’re leaving for a weekend adventure of lessons and XC schooling, and this little nugget gets to tag along with the big boys. He will spend his birthday ponying and exploring all the fun stuff at Pine Hill, and probably trying to lay down in the water jump. I think he’ll be excited to go, as he always parks himself at his gate when we’re loading the trailer, seemingly ever hopeful to be included. He hasn’t been anywhere since FEH Championships last year and he’s never been to Pine Hill, so… adventures!

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Did sumbudy say abdentures?
Ut oh, I has wardrobe malfunkshun
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But I still ready for abdentures!

Since we’ll be away for his actual birthday, Hillary helped me take his birthday pics yesterday, with his “party hat”. Clearly he loved it.

First she gaveded me dis dumb haircut, den she maked me wear dis dumb hat
Why tho.
Mebbe if I close mines eyes and make a wish, dey’ll go away
Nope, dey still here.

What else are baby unicorns for, if not dressing them up and taking ridiculous pictures on their birthday?

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He’s totally gonna get me back for this one day isn’t he?

Presto is sweet, goofy, cheeky, smart… everything I wanted and more. His rough start makes me that much more appreciative of every birthday, and that I get the chance to see him learn and grow and turn into everything I was dreaming of when I bred him. Aaaaand definitely thankful that I get the chance to take silly pictures of him and post them all over the internet.

This kid is 50% giraffe, 50% moose, and 100% dreams come true. Definitely MY little unicorn, and it is a privilege to be his humom. Many nose smooches, kiddo, and happy birthday!

Oh man dis is so embarrassin I hope my FRENNS don’t see dis

Blog Hop: Favorite Event

A few days ago Nadia posted a pretty great blog hop, asking everyone to post about their favorite event or horse show. I think that’s a brilliant idea, so here we go!

I admit, I sat here forever trying to figure out what my overall favorite event would be. There are so many different factors, like the footing, quality of the facilities, general atmosphere, beauty of the location. sentimental favorite, etc. I was hard pressed to come up with one that ticked all the boxes, yet there’s something I like about pretty much every venue we’ve shown at.

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Novice at Greenwood was not messing around, this was a ditch to skinny brush bending line

My original favorite venue in Area 5 was definitely Greenwood. I come from h/j world, where everything tends to look so manufactured and overdone, so there’s something very appealing to me about an “old school” type of event. Greenwood was one. Dressage was on grass, the cross country was legit and had good use of terrain, and showjumping was on grass as well. I’ve always liked that, even if it means I have to stud more. Of course, for the sake of my horse I do also like the perfectly groomed, fancy footing in the arenas at places like Texas Rose and Chatt Hills. You can’t argue with great footing.

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The arenas at Chatt are pretty swoonworthy

The one thing I didn’t like much at Greenwood was the tent stabling… lord it was squished in real tight. Greenwood ended and was sold several years ago though, so sadly it is no more.

After that I really liked Holly Hill a lot. Again, it has a bit of that old school vibe to me, dressage on grass, and a wide open xc with classic questions and a few gently rolling hills. Their stadium ring was a bit small but now they’ve built a new, bigger one that is quite nice. The only bummer is that it’s in nowheresville Louisiana and there’s not much nearby. Also if you get stuck in the tent stabling that’s in the covered arena, you will eat dust all weekend. Still a really top notch gorgeous facility though, and definitely up there among my favorite events.

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My sentimental, “hometown” favorite will always be Pine Hill. Talk about a vintage eventing feel – that facility has it. It’s where we school the most often, and it’s where a lot of firsts have happened for us, so it’ll always hold a special place with me. Half of the course is in the woods, which is fun, but Henry is really spooky back there, so it’s not necessarily my favorite XC to ride with him. Although last month he sure did blast through there like a man with a plan, so maybe he’s getting more mature about it? Still, the more open XC courses like MeadowCreek and Texas Rose have always tended to suit him more.

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zoomies through the woods

Last year we evented at 6 different venues, and if you made me pick my favorite of those, it would be Willow Draw. It was our first time showing there, but I liked it a lot. Mostly because the showjumping was on a bit of a hillside, and I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment. The XC was fun too, a little bit twisty and tricky in spots, but it rode well. The stalls are big and airy, I was able to park my trailer mere FEET away from where we were stabled, the warmup is huge, and the dressage isn’t so busy that it freaks my horse out (looking at you, Texas Rose). Their show is smaller, restricted to a relatively low number of entries, which makes it feel a little more chill. Quite liked it, will definitely be back.

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So pretty at Willow Draw

If you really forced me to pick a favorite though, I think it might be Coconino. There’s really no great reason why, the event is a bit of a “cowboy” affair compared to many we go to. The dressage rings are set up on the racetrack (boy that’s fun when you have an ex-racehorse), the showjumping is nothing fancy, the footing on XC tends to be on the hard side (granted, it often is in Texas too), the stabling has seen better days, the elevation is very high, and there aren’t any permanent bathrooms or showers onsite. BUT – they have a great spirit about them, good parties, great prizes, it smells like pine trees, there’s no humidity, it legit feels like summer camp, and it’s in the lovely town of Flagstaff. I had so much fun at those shows, and my horse was so happy in their weather.

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Galloping through the high desert

The event has a real “get ‘er done” quality to it that I like so much… it’s authentic eventing, as it always was. No carousels, no on-site sushi restaurants, no jumbotrons, no derby fields being passed off as XC, no VIP tents. There is zero pomp and circumstance to it, and I love it. You make it work, you enjoy nature, and you create your own good time in a beautiful city. I really hope we’re able to make it back there this year.

Maybe I cheated a little bit here on this post, but… there’s a lot to like at so many places. Sure, none of them tick all the boxes, but there’s something great to be found in every event, and I’m appreciative that they’re still around and available to us. It’s not easy to own and maintain these venues, or to put on these events, so I’m grateful for them all.

Paying the way

One of the things that I appreciated most when switching over from h/j to eventing was how much cheaper and more accessible this sport is to me. It’s still not cheap, of course, this is USA equestrian sports we’re talking about here, but still it’s about 1/3 of the cost to do a recognized event vs a rated h/j show. For someone who is perpetually on a tiny budget, that adds up real fast.

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This feels like a few lifetimes ago.

Another big factor was the yearly fees. When I had two horses doing the rated h/j shows, the membership fees for myself and for them, for USEF and USHJA, were (IMO) exorbitant. There was no getting around them though, if I wanted to do rated shows. Then I came over to eventing and saw that the only things required to compete at Training level and below at recognized shows were a USEA membership ($95 yearly) and a one-time “Limited” horse registration status ($40). No other memberships required, and the only yearly recurring fee was my own membership. The different tiers of registration even meant that I was able to get Presto a FEH registration (the only thing he needs in order to show in FEH classes) for only $25. Cheap! I appreciate how easy and relatively affordable they make it for lower level competitors and young horses.

Of course, once you get to Prelim, things start to change. The horse has to be upgraded from it’s $40 “Limited” status to a “Full” status with USEA, which is normally $150, but if the horse already had a Limited status they let you just pay the difference of $110. The rider also has to have a USEF membership to show at Prelim and above. I’ve had just a “fan” membership ($25 normally but there are often coupon codes floating around that make it free) for the past several years, mostly so I could access the pedigree database and watch USEF network, but declined to purchase the full $80 membership since I didn’t have to. Plus full USEF members are required to complete the SafeSport training, which everyone and their grandma spent the past 6 months whining about.

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I knew that this year things were probably gonna start getting serious, but still I was kind of hesitant to jump into all of this stuff. Partly because I’m a little superstitious and didn’t want to jinx myself, and partly because I’m really cheap. Spending money on memberships and upgrades isn’t something I want to do until I have to. But I also didn’t want to have to spend an extra $200 right when I was paying for a show, plus I needed time to get SafeSport training done. So in February I did the USEF membership first, convenient enough since my fan membership had expired anyway.

Then this month I upgraded Henry’s USEA membership, $110 cringeworthy dollars but hey at least it’s done forever. He’s got the highest level registration status they offer, so I won’t ever have to pay them anymore money related to Henry.

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Yesterday I finished the SafeSport training, and I’m kinda sitting here wondering WTF everyone was complaining about. It didn’t take that long, and honestly… I see the exact same kind of stuff they’re warning us about happening ALL THE TIME. Some of it has even happened to me. It was a good reminder, and now I know exactly what route to take if I ever witness anything suspicious myself. We’re waaaay past due to shed light on this issue, as an industry. Kinda can’t believe anyone is upset about it, but I guess people will complain about anything.

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And I got all of that done just in time, because today I mailed off the entry for our first recognized Prelim! Closing date is next week, so I’m a little behind the ball, but geez this season has completely snuck up on me, plus I was indecisive about it anyway. This will probably be our only recognized show for the spring. My wallet is happy about that, but the FOMO has kind of already started. Better FOMO than burnout though, I guess!

Filling out those MER’s on my entry was making me nervous, like it was some kind of test and someone might pop out and interrogate me at any moment. We’re in a whole new world now, where you have to actually show that you’ve fulfilled the prerequisites before they’ll let you compete at the level. This is new.

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So that’s exciting. But also kinda scary. And a little expensive. But hey, it’s done. We’re bonafide, all our paperwork is (hopefully) in order, and we’re officially entered in our first recognized Prelim!

What kind of membership fees to y’all have to pay to show in your respective associations? I’ve heard dressage can get expensive like h/j, but I haven’t traveled down that road. And for those who have done the SafeSport training – what are your thoughts?

 

BESSESST FRENNNSS

Sorry, I let Presto title this post and he got a little carried away.

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it happens a lot

This past weekend was another fairly quiet one at home, something that is rare enough for me to always be appreciative of it when it happens. It was a loooong stressful work at week and I really needed a minute to breathe. So on Friday morning I hopped on over to the local Dover store for their “tent sale”… I use quotation marks because there was no actual tent involved, they just had tables full of boxes out in front of the store.

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not as fun as a tent, but I’m still down for a good bargain hunt

I’m ever hopeful that I’ll find some kind of fantastic deal at that sale, but once again I left empty handed. That’s not to say that there weren’t good deals to be had, if you were lucky. They had a few Kastel shirts for $11, a pair of what looked to be returned Lister clippers for $100, a returned Neue Schule D-ring for $100, etc. Nothing I had to have though. And the regular “sale” items were laughable – like things were still more expensive on sale than they are at Riding Warehouse regularly. So, nah. $0 spent.

By Friday afternoon after work I was completely braindead from the week, so I tossed Henry’s sidepull on and we went out to jump. Because you know what cures a long work week?

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This.

As usual, he was awesome.

Saturday was a conditioning day, and it was 85 degrees, so Henry got a nice thorough hosing after we were done. Which is good, because he was pee-crusted. I am thankful every single day that he’s a plain bay.

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Spoiler alert: he went out, pawed up a fresh patch of dirt, and rolled in it.

I was going to do something with Presto but he is still really ridiculously hairy, and it was so hot/humid, I ended up just hosing him off (how to make the baby horse angry in one easy step) and practicing his groundtying/standing at the mounting block. He knows now that the mounting block is always where he gets to stand and rest, so he was happy to put it in park and take a nap while I stomped up and down it and jumped around.

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It’s possible that I did jumping jacks behind him while he napped

The real highlight of the weekend was on Sunday (well, after The SO forced me to go bed/mattress/bedding shopping, a thing that will take years of therapy to recover from. I haaaaaate shopping for non-horse stuff. Just order something online please, I’ll learn to like it.) when Bobby brought Cannavaro – now known in the barn as Gryffin – over to play! It was his first off property hack, so we just went on a walk through the fields and he was a superstar. Super brave and quiet, I still love him. The horse, not Bobby. Bobby was spooky and tense. Bobby needs some groundwork. His horse is super cool though.

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All four dinguses (dingi? what’s the plural?)

The most exciting part was Gryffin meeting the boys. Presto loved him, because Presto loves everyone. I think he just assumes any horse he meets is his new bestest friend. Or in Presto terms: BESSSSSESST FREEENNNNN. Gryffin seemed unimpressed by the baby horse, just as everyone else always is when they meet him.

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Presto was so hopeful that someone would finally like him. He’s got no chill.

The truly weird part was that Henry seemed to like Gryff quite a bit. Normally Henry is the sniff-sniff-squeal-bite-kick type, but he just kept sniffing Gryffin over and over for the longest time. It was a little creepy. We think it’s because Gryff kinda looks like Henry, and Henry is nothing if not a egotistical narcissist.

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HE’S BEAUTIFUL

Gryff was foot perfect in a new place, and I’m really excited to see how he develops over the next year or so. I just love him.

It was a fun, relatively relaxed weekend with friends, both horse and human. Can’t beat that! And I hope it was enough to recharge me for a while, because starting this weekend the schedule gets crazy again. Dare I say that spring has officially arrived in Texas? I’m so ready.

2019 WTW Baby Bets Contest

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year again – foaling season! And of course, as has become tradition around here by now, that means it’s time for our annual Willow Tree Warmbloods Baby Bets contest. Baby horses plus free stuff, it doesn’t get any better than that.

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First off, the prize package. This year it’s bigger and more awesome than ever! The winner of this year’s Baby Bets contest will receive:

  • a $50 Riding Warehouse gift card
  • Willow Tree Warmbloods swag – pick between either a WTW hat or a WTW saddle pad, style and color of your choice.
  • some Flix 100% flax seed horse treats, generously donated by Horse Guard
  • a bag of Michelle’s new favorite thing (that she first physically shoved me out of the way to obtain and now continuously orders online): a big ass bag of lucky charms marshmallows.

Money, swag, and treats for you and your pony!

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No added sugar in the Flix, ALL added sugar in the marshmallows

Again this year there are only two expected foals, and from two very different ends of the spectrum. Lissa, a Grand Prix jumper mare, is in foal to GP jumper stallion Catoki,  and sportpony mare Stormie is in foal to German Riding Pony stallion Nuno!

We’ll do the rules just like last year. Basically all you have to do is exercise those psychic powers and comment here with your guesses for the following, for each foal:

  • Foaling Date
  • Foaling Time (doesn’t have to be to the minute accurate, just to the hour is fine – ie 2AM. If it happens in the 2AM hour, you get the points.)
  • Gender
  • Color
  • Face Markings
  • Leg Markings (again doesn’t have to be specific – “one sock”, “none”, “four socks”, etc will work)

So your submission should look something like this:

Lissa: 4/2 3AM bay filly with a stripe and two socks

Stormie: 5/21 8PM black colt with a blaze and 3 socks

But filled in with your actual guesses, of course. 😉 Everything you guess correctly will earn points. 10 points each for foaling date and time, and then 5 points each for gender, color, face markings, and leg markings… each foal can potentially net you up to 40 points. So even if you get a few things wrong, there are still ways to rack up some serious points. If there are any ties, I’ll put them all in a hat and get Michelle to pick a winner.

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who’s ready for BABIES?

Submit your entries via a comment here on this post or you can message them to me on the blog’s facebook page. Just make sure you leave a link or an email address so I can contact you if you win! Easy peasy.

The “Due dates” I’ve listed below are based on the average 340 days gestation, but keep in mind that normal gestation can be anywhere from 320ish to 360ish. I’ve included pictures of both combinations and whatever info is important so you can make your best guesses.

LISSA x CATOKI

Lissa is a bay mare, and we know she carries a red gene since her first foal was chestnut. Catoki is also bay, but he too has sired chestnut offspring therefore has a red gene. That gives us roughly 75% chance for bay or black, 25% chance for chestnut. Lissa has 3 small socks and Catoki has a big star/snip and 3 socks.  Her “due date” is 4/6.

Lissa in action
Catoki in action

STORMIE x NUNO

This one is a lot more challenging, color wise. Stormie is gray but appeared to have been born grulla, and has maybe a face marking. Nuno is black with a blaze and a sock. If our guesses at their color genetics are correct, that gives us 25% chance of grulla, 25% chance of black, 25% chance of grulla that turns gray, and 25% chance of black that turns gray. Since we may or may not know for a while if the foal will turn gray, I’ll just take a base color here for a guess. So black or grulla, we think –  but you don’t have to take my word for it.  “Due date” is 5/25, and this is Stormie’s first foal.

Stormie in action
Nuno in action

I’ll leave entries open through 3/18, that gives you a week to get your guesses in! The contest winner will be revealed after the last foal is born. Obviously I have no idea exactly when that’ll be, hopefully by the end of May, so you’ll just have to stay tuned.

Who’s really excited for baby pony pictures?

Neue Schule bit review

Ah yes, the age old struggle of Henry and bitting. It’s been difficult from the very beginning, back in the days when he completely ducked behind all contact and I ended up taking the bit of the equation completely for 6 months. Since I added the bit back in, we’ve gone through several. Some were just because he’s matured and developed over the years, and his ability to handle and go into contact has improved. We’ve gone from a copper loose ring to a nathe to an eggbutt french link to a baucher to Myler to a happy mouth to a KK – different mouthpieces, different metals, different rings, and different thicknesses. Some he hated, some he liked well enough… I’ve never found one where I really loved how he felt in it. I really felt like that was the horse, though, not the bit.

Pretty standard for pre-Neue Schule Henry: chomping, not really straight, moving a bit flat and blocked in his neck and back

The Neue Schule bits have been on the scene for a while now, and I’ve heard really good things about them. There’s no getting around it: they’re expensive. Especially for someone like me, who has a horse that is very high drama and dislikes most things. His history with bitting tells me that he either tolerates it, or he wants me to stick it where the sun don’t shine and take it with me to hell. That’s Henry. He was also going “fine enough” in his KK that he’s been wearing for a few years now. I mean, sure, sometimes he still liked to drop the contact and come behind the bit, or bounce up off it, but I had no problem accepting that those were symptoms of training issues or my own riding. He’s never been a big fan of real contact and connection, and dressage isn’t my strong suit.

And then I had a day where I really was feeling meh about how he was going in the KK, and started wondering if it might be time to move on again. Maybe a different metal, or a thinner KK? Back to the Nathe? I wasn’t sure. By sheer luck, I also noticed that Riding Warehouse had started carrying some of the Neue Schule bits. There are a lot of things I can resist, but an experiment with an item that I’ve heard so many good things about isn’t one of them.

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Maybe I’m dating myself, but I will never see him as anything but Dawson. Also let’s all agree that Pacey was way better.

The first question was: which one?

Neue Schule has so many options, the indecision was crippling. I posted in a dressage group asking for opinions, and eventually found my way to a rep. She helped me narrow it down to two, and then I completely opted out of making hard decisions and made my trainer pick. Yes I’m that kind of person.

We (she) settled on the Tranz Angled Lozenge Eggbutt, which was described by Neue Schule as “offers stability within the mouth, making it a good choice for horses with inconsistent contact, short, tense necked horses, and horses that need directional control.“. Inconsistent contact and tense necked horse… that definitely sounded familiar. Their website goes on to say “When a contact is taken, the Tranz Angled Lozenge rolls down onto the centre of the tongue, the ‘sweet spot’, enhancing feel and responsiveness thus a higher level of communication through the rein is achieved. The arms are slightly curved and of an oval profile. This oval design takes up less room between the tongue and upper palate, whilst offering a similar weight bearing surface from the pony’s perspective as thicker, circular mouthpieces.“. I know that Henry has a larger than average tongue and lower than average palate, so again… this sounded pretty spot on for him.

In all of my reading I found that Neue Schule really spent a long time researching and developing these bits. There is a lot of engineering here, and a lot of attention to minute detail, all the way from the exact shape of the bit, to the exact angle of the lozenge, to the exact makeup of the metal. Seeing all the science and engineering that went into them kind of made the price point make more sense. This isn’t your crappy run of the mill $25 loose ring. They spent a lot of time and money developing these.

Seriously, take a few minutes to look through all of the information on their website. It’s fun.

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“The unique Salox Gold metal possesses the highest thermal conductivity of any metal used in horse bits, this means that the bit will warm to mouth temperature quickly and become ‘neutral’ to the horse meaning that they are less likely to inwardly fixate on the presence of the bit and communication will not be compromised.”

Admittedly though, at the end of the day all the science in the world can be as impressive as it wants, but what really matters is – what does the horse think?

I will start by saying that Henry hates change. He always has. Any new piece of equipment tends to get a reaction somewhere between angry and irritated. He is the Princess and the Pea to an extreme. Knowing this about him, I planned for the first ride in the Neue Schule to just be a walk hack, ponying Presto with us. No contact or anything, I just wanted him to carry the bit and get used to a new feel in his mouth. As expected, he chomped and chomped and chomped the entire time, trying to figure it out. Standard behavior for Henry on day 1 of a bit change.

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Day 1!

The next day I put him back in it, and went out to do trot sets. On trot set days we work mostly in stretchy trot, just going forward and straight, adding in some hill repeats. I didn’t ask him to do anything but go forward and relax his topline, so he could work up into some contact but not really make it too “formal”.

The third day was when I knew I’d be able to tell whether or not it was going to work. By the third repetition he’s always over the fact that Something Changed, and we’ve either moved into acceptance or rejection. So for day 3 we went out and did a light dressage ride, and I suddenly had a horse that was quiet and much steadier in the contact. He didn’t chomp at all (chomping is his go-to maneuver and always has been, I don’t think we’ve ever gone a whole ride in any bit with no chomping), and he felt steadier in my hands than he ever has. The next day, same thing, but even better. The following day, same thing, but even better. I described it to Trainer the best way I could, saying that he felt more “mature” in the connection. Steadier, moving up TO the bit, and no chomping. I finally felt like I had something solid to ride him up to.

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Only two weeks have passed between the first photo in this post and this one. The difference? A bit change.

In truth, this bit fits the shape of his mouth so much better than the KK, and better than anything else I’ve used on him. It sits so nicely, not too thick, not too thin, and matches the contours of his mouth perfectly. I can see why he finds it so much more comfortable. I think I had fallen into the “bit fitting” trap of looking only at the size and thickness of the bit, rather than really examining the whole shape. Bits are kind of like saddles in that way – it has to fit the whole way across. Until I saw how well the Neue Schule sat in his mouth, I didn’t really realize how all of the others hadn’t.

The real test was our dressage lesson last weekend, where Trainer would be seeing him in the new bit for the first time. Even though he started out tight and tense in the environment, she immediately exclaimed that he looked so much steadier and happier in the contact than he had before. She kept saying that he really looked like a “proper horse”. I asked her afterward to write down her impressions so that I could include it here, and this is what she had to say:

The difference in his hind leg is unbelievable! The connection can finally come from back to front with a soft, elastic connection to the bit. Before, he would hit the bit and try to hide from it, and that tendency has totally disappeared. He finally trusts the contact, which results in a true connection, which results in a horse that can work properly forward from his hind end. 

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I am still kind of blown away by the difference. I was hoping he would like the bit, but I didn’t really expect to have any major changes. In my wildest dreams I was thinking maybe he’d be 20% steadier in the contact, but instead I’ve got a horse who is 100% happier than he was, and some issues that we’ve struggled with for years have been massively improved in a matter of weeks. Now I feel bad for taking so long to figure this out for him.

If you’ve been eyeing a Neue Schule, I really can’t say enough good things about my experience. Are they pricey? Yes. Would I have spent the money several times over to make my horse this much happier? Without a doubt. Bits are just as important as saddles, IMO, and you can’t deny all of the time and engineering that has gone into producing the Neue Schule line. You also can’t argue with Princess Henry.

I do always have Riding Warehouse coupons, so if you’re looking to save a few bucks on an order just drop me a line and I’ll send you one. I know every dollar counts! And in this case, those dollars are exceptionally well spent.

Levity

I think the best thing about having Presto added into the mix with Henry and me has been the amount levity he brings into everything he does. Henry is a real derp, and quite a cheeky little turd all on his own, of course, but when you just have one horse and you have a lot of riding and competition goals with said horse, sometimes things start feeling a little too… serious.

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well, you know… sort of.

I’m definitely serious about all of this, don’t get me wrong. But I also have to be careful not to ever get too bogged down in the day to day drudgery, both for my sake and for Henry’s. He’s got a fantastic work ethic, almost too much “try” to be honest, and it would be really easy to burn him out if he couldn’t have time to just be a dork and have some no-pressure fun in our rides and interactions.

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it’s like cirque du soleil around here

I am much the same in that I can get so hyper-focused that I forget to take a step back and just let it all go sometimes. I’ve gotten a lot better about this as my relationship with Henry has progressed over the years, because his mental health can be a bit delicate, and I’ve really had to learn how to balance everything for him.

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really into poo-sniffing in his down time

Adding Presto into the mix has changed the dynamic a bit, and only for the better. This kid is something else. He is weird, he is goofy, he is cheeky, and he is obsessed with being as cool as Henry.

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One of them always plays harder than the other, and it’s definitely not the 2yo…

They can’t live together, of course, because Henry is a grade A asshole of a pasturemate. He lives alone, and he likes it that way. But I do occasionally turn them out together for short stints so they can play (under supervision) because Henry, as much as he would like to deny it, freaking loves that kid. Well truthfully I think he just likes having something to chase and make rude faces at, and Presto is perfect for that because he would never dream of protesting Henry’s authority. Henry sure does love a power trip.

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DIS IS MINE

Sometimes Henry even fancies himself a Horse Trainer and tries out his roundpenning skills on the baby.

And Presto, bless his sweet little doofus heart, is almost just too pure and innocent for this world. He’s got a “WOW, WHAT IS THAT AMAZING THING?” and “OK SURE THAT SOUNDS FUN” approach to life that you can’t help but love. He’s a little bit like a 15.3h golden retriever.

Dis muh sandy noze, gimme boop.
Oh dat itchy
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Whut dis? I smash! *smashsmashsmash*

I mean… how could you not be entertained? Everything that horse does, he does with joy.

And probably a healthy dose of naughty.

But mostly joy. He thinks everything is great fun.

I try to pony him at least once a week, rides where Henry pretends to be put out by the intrusion, but secretly loves because he gets to pin his ears at the dumb baby horse whenever Presto pulls any shenanigans. Henry relishes his role as the fun police. We go on long marching walks, usually with Henry in his sidepull, and sometimes with me bareback, and we just go explore and have fun. I look at Presto and I’m reminded that it’s not about today, it’s about the big picture, the long game. These long ponying walks that were originally meant for Presto’s benefit have really come to be of great benefit to all three of us.

I spend a lot of time dreaming of what this horse might be someday

Having Presto around has been so refreshing, and he’s a constant reminder to not get too bogged down in the day to day minutiae. Hitting a snag in Henry’s training? Oh well. Let’s take a couple days to back off, remove the pressure, go do something fun and goofy, and try again when we’re both in a better headspace. That approach pretty much always works for us.

Presto has brought a whole lot of levity and perspective into what can sometimes feel like a slog. It’s a treat to have him here, and it makes me so happy to watch him and Henry interact. I hope that I can always do my part to retain that adorably lovable golden retriever personality.

On Being Dedicated and Teachable

I think Hillary and I have some of the best conversations in the truck driving to/from lessons and shows. A lot of the random stuff that lives in my head gets to come out, and she often brings up other things and additional related points that I maybe hadn’t thought of. If you’re a nerd like me (us?), it’s fun.

almost as fun as doing dressage in shitty weather

One of the subjects we hit recently started as a discussion on dedication and morphed into talent vs commitment, which morphed again into what it means to be teachable. I had recently listened to a podcast with Stephen Bradley that touched on the subject, so I had already been through a lot of it in my head over the preceding days. (What, you don’t find yourself standing in the shower staring off into space while thinking about a random tangent related to riding theory or horsemanship?)

We started out talking about the subject of dedication, and how a lot of folks tend to be as dedicated as the people around them, for better or for worse. We as humans are like that in a lot of ways, as far as taking on the characteristics of the people we surround ourselves with. It’s why I’ve gotten so careful with my “inner circle” as I’ve gotten older. Hillary gave me what is probably one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had, saying that she definitely agrees with that, because she thinks I am one of the most dedicated people she’s ever met, and being around me makes her want to buckle down too. I am keeping that compliment tucked away in my psyche for the next bad day when I need a pick me up, so thank you Hillary for that. She’s not wrong – out of all the things I lack, and there are many, dedication is not one of them. I was raised having to working hard for whatever I want, and I still do, so I don’t really know any other way. I’m an “all in” kind of person, if I’m interested in what I’m doing (of course the down side to that being: if I’m not interested in what I’m doing, I’m 0% “in”… sorry to literally everything else that’s not horses).

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I’ve thought about this a lot in the past couple years, and I told her that I’m pretty sure I am the way I am because I’ve never been a particularly talented rider or been able to afford fancy or well-trained horses. I’ve always had to show up every day and do the work, and try to make the most of whatever I was lucky enough to be sitting on. I think a lot of us know what that’s like. If we aren’t 110% committed, we won’t make much progress. If I was a little more naturally talented, or if I had a horse that came to me as a “finished product”, would I have the same drive? If my parents had paid for my lessons and shows and bought me a super nice horse when I was kid, would I have the same drive? I don’t know. Probably not, honestly. Stephen Bradley talked about this too, saying that he never thought he was really that talented, but he wanted to learn and he wanted to be better, so he was insanely dedicated and did the best he could with the horses he had. With, um… significantly better results than myself, of course.

From there it morphed into what it means to be teachable, and I have to give Hillary a return compliment here because she is a good example of what teachable means to me. I’ve never heard her argue, she asks questions when necessary, she tries, and she’s respectful. She wants to learn. She’s got grit. She shows up with a “help make me better” attitude and is willing to listen to what anyone has to say. IMO, you can’t stop teachable people from getting better. If you show up every day wanting to learn, you will learn. If you’re open to doing things differently, you will learn. If you dig in when things get hard and embrace the process, you will learn. If you aren’t ruled by ego or pride, you will learn. As we were talking about it I realized that to me, being teachable is head and shoulders the most important quality when it comes to growth and success.

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Well okay, maybe equally as important as dedication. But then again, maybe they go hand in hand. We both agreed that talent would be somewhere near the back of the pack.

I always think back to my days of teaching lessons at the barn’s summer camp… without fail I always had a handful of kids who were just as bad at the end of camp as they were at the beginning, and then another handful of kids who were little future champions. It had nothing to do with how talented they were on day 1, and everything to do with the attitude they brought to the plate every day. Guess which ones were fun to teach? Guess which ones I felt more invested in?

I don’t care if I’m the best rider at the show, or if I’m sitting on the best horse. Those are frivolous things, qualities that can come and go at any time and are beyond my control. Instead I want people to look at me and see that I’m dedicated, that I show up every day and work hard, and that I really want to learn. Having this conversation was a great reminder of that, and helped me get a firmer view of exactly what is most important to me. Those are the things I can control, and those are the things I want to strive for every day, which is exactly why I’m “putting pen to paper” now.

This isn’t the part where the work happens, so it’s not the right criteria by which to measure.

It goes along well with a lot of what I got from the book Chop Wood Carry Water, which includes an exercise where you develop a “scorecard” for yourself, to define what you consider to be a truly successful life vs letting society tell you what success means. You’re supposed to write down what characteristics you truly admire, and the ones you want to be known for, and then narrow it down to your top four. I’d been thinking about this in the back of my mind for a while but wasn’t able to really firm it up until after this conversation. Then it came easy. But I’ll get into the details of my scorecard and how I plan to use it more in the next Mental Game post.

What do you think on the subject of talent vs dedication vs being trainable? How important are these things to you? And, maybe more interesting, what would the top four things on your scorecard be?

 

Sorry bout the cold front

It seems like most of the nation has been plunged into a gross, horrid, disgusting arctic cold front within the past few days. Apologies. I think it’s partially my fault.

My list of grievances over the preceding week are now obvious, in hindsight. It probably started way back in Ocala, when I was browsing through all the sunshirts and thinking how it was really time that I revamp my collection. Most of my sunshirts are going on their 5th year, and since this is Texas, I wear them a good 10 months of the year. So I bought a new one while I was there, a Tredstep Sun Chic, which I actually quite like. Then a few days later Karen posted on facebook about the new EC Erna shirts, and I had a coupon code, so I ordered a couple of those too.

gimme all the mesh

Yeah, I bought 3 new sunshirts because I thought it was spring already. I got cocky.

I also ordered my first big gallon of fly spray for the year, and the boys’ spring dewormer. Last week the flies were SO BAD, I even commented “Ugh these flies, it never got cold enough this year to really kill them!”. THAT WASN’T A CHALLENGE, MOTHER NATURE.

And then I finally tucked my one pair of fleece lined breeches away on a shelf in the closet, thinking we were done with that mess, where they sat for 2 whole days before I was digging them back out again. Kind of similar to a few days prior, when I was cleaning out my truck and came across the neck cover I had ordered for Henry when all the HUG blankets were on sale. I vividly remember thinking “I didn’t even use this thing once this season”, and I put it in a corner of the garage, still in it’s packaging. Ha. Ha ha ha ha.

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from a few years ago, but WILDFLOWERS.

My final grievance (that I can remember anyway) was daring to admire all the wildflowers that have started to pop up in our jump field. They’re a very pretty orangey pink color, and they always pop up a couple weeks before the bluebonnets start to bloom. The grass is green. Things are looking alive again. It’s pretty. I like wildflower season. It’s one of the few times that Texas isn’t hideous. I got excited.

So now, here we are, and it’s 24 effing degrees. The “feels like” is 18. Which, admittedly, is better than yesterday when the “feels like” was 16. Nothing like a 15mph freezing wind to remind you that NO, in fact, IT IS NOT QUITE SPRING YET. I can practically hear Mother Nature cackling, asking me how I’m liking those meshy sunshirts now. She is kind of a witch.

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what the shit is this, Texas?

Of course, it’s supposed to be mid-70’s again by the weekend, so we just have to hang in there until she finishes her tantrum. Note to self, don’t order fly spray before March next year. Geez.

The one good thing about all this, I suppose, was watching Presto’s reaction yesterday when I put his sheet on. He’s so damn hairy that he’s only worn that thing once this season, so it’s mostly just sat around and gotten dirty. Yesterday though, he thought it was the most fun thing ever.

And maybe I shouldn’t laugh while watching the naughty baby horse likely destroy his clothes, but I can’t help it. I bought that thing on sale anyway, and it won’t fit him next year, so if he murders it, he murders it. The sheer joy he got from pulling on that flap was totally worth it. He never fails to entertain.

Hope everyone is staying warm out there. Hard to believe that in a few months we’ll all be complaining about the heat.