The Tree of Knowledge

As promised on Monday, I wanted to circle back and discuss “The Tree of Knowledge” that Presto spent many hours tied to last weekend.

The practice of tying horses out alone is an old one. The cowboy set in particular has been doing this for a long time. Sometimes they use a telephone pole set into the ground, sometimes it’s a special metal pole high tie, sometimes you’ll see someone sling the rope over the rafter of an indoor, and sometimes, if you’ve got a good tree, you can use that too.

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that’s an abundance of patience poles

The important part is that the horse is tied to a point that is high – above it’s head. This way they can move around however they want and not become entangled, but they also can’t get any leverage to really hurt themselves if they go to pull back. A horse that’s tied at body level can break just about any tie apparatus and do a lot of damage to it’s neck/back, just because the force it can exert at that angle is tremendous. A horse that’s tied to something well above it’s head can’t get much leverage at all.

The point of it is not to torture the horse by leaving it tied for hours, it’s to teach the horse a) to tie reliably, b) patience, c) how to self-soothe.

To me it’s extremely important that any of my horses be able to tie reliably, and be able to be left unattended for at least brief periods of time. This is a skill that, for my lifestyle, is absolutely vital. A horse that can’t do this will eventually get himself or his human into trouble one day, and likely hurt himself in the process. Teaching a horse to tie reliably, from a young age, is doing that horse a real service for the rest of his life, IMO.

It’s also extremely important that a horse learns that once he’s tied, he may as well just stand there and chill. As soon as they’re tied they should put it in park, take a breath, and wait for something else to happen, whenever that may be. Not on their schedule, but on mine. No pawing, no dancing back and forth, no pulling back when they decide they’re done waiting. And more importantly, no worrying about what else might be going on around them. Rudeness and tantrums get you nowhere.

They also learn that no matter what happens or how they act, no one is going to come get them. They might be stressed out about it at first, but over time they figure out that their shenanigans don’t work, so they may as well just relax. That’s self-soothing. They’re not getting their relief from another horse, or from a human… they’re using their own brains to realize that they’re okay by themselves. That’s a skill that goes a long way in getting a horse to be more confident in all aspects of it’s life.

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baby warmbloods look funny in western saddles

I was first introduced to this concept when Sadie went off to the cowboy for breaking. She was NOT reliable about standing tied, and had learned that she could sit back and break just about anything. It really stemmed from the fact that she was just unsure of herself in general and lacked confidence, especially when she was alone. When she got to the breaker she spent many hours tied to his patience tree, especially those first couple weeks. She pawed, she paced, she had temper tantrums, she attacked the tree, she tried to pull back, she tried to lay down, and made a general menace of herself. And you know what happened?

Nothing.

No matter what she did, she was still standing there at that tree by herself. It didn’t take long before he could take her out to the tree and she would just stand there quietly in the shade until he came back, content to take a nap. She didn’t just learn how to tie or how to be patient, she learned how to simply exist within herself, not relying on outside comfort. The lessons went a lot deeper than tying. I made a mistake by not teaching her those things earlier in her life, and I’m not going to repeat it with her son.

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3yo Sadie

I am a big fan of the concept of patience trees, or as I like to call it, “The Tree of Knowledge”. Because it’s not really just about patience at all.

I still come across people that think leaving a horse standing tied for hours is inhumane. If the horse is standing with it’s head tied high (ie no slack in the rope, forcing the horse to hold it’s head higher than it normally would), or if the horse is left all day with no water, or if it’s unbearably hot and there’s no shade – then I would agree. But if the horse has no real reason to be physically uncomfortable, then he has no reason to be upset about being tied. He’s more comfortable standing there than he would be standing for hours in a trailer, yet we don’t think trailering is inhumane (ok, I’m sure someone out there does…).

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so sad. much torture. 

Presto spent about 3 hours each day tied to the tree. At first he was quite mad. He’s pretty solid about being tied so I never saw him try to sit back, but he has not yet learned that the world doesn’t revolve around him and boy did he pace and paw. Eventually the behaviors started to lessen, and he began to accept his fate. He didn’t perfect his patience skills just in those two days, but I think he definitely learned a little bit about how things don’t always operate on his terms. The barn owner built me a high tie in the indoor at home that he will soon become well acquainted with, but I wanted him to log his first few hours on the tree – my favorite place to tie.

I also would not have put him out there if he hadn’t learned some basic ground rules beforehand. First and foremost, he had to know how to give to pressure. I don’t think you should ever tie a horse (anywhere, under any circumstances) that doesn’t understand the very basics of yielding to pressure. He’s also been required to stand tied for decent periods of time with me in attendance, so standing still isn’t a foreign concept either. We built up to it in a way that I felt was fair to him. The only thing different was that this time he had to do it alone.

Prestostallface

Some people don’t agree with this approach, and that’s ok. Different strokes for different folks. But for me it’s been a really valuable method that has made a big difference in my horses, and that’s why I do it. At the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to make the horse into a solid citizen, and that’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly at all, especially considering I’m the entire reason this horse is even on this planet in the first place. I’ll do the best I can with the lessons I’ve learned from past mistakes, and hope that he learns what he needs in order to have the best possible life, no matter what.

Henry’s Big Weekend Adventure

As exciting as Presto’s version of our weekend adventure was (at least the water jump parts of it), Henry’s was a little bit more grown up and serious.

I said “a little bit”

He is such a grump about sharing his trailer, I swear. Every time I looked in the rearview mirror to check on them, Presto was blissfully tearing chunks of hay out of the net and Henry was just standing there staring straight ahead, ears half pinned. He likes to act as if he doesn’t like Presto, but let me tell you who was the first one neighing for his long lost BFF when we got there and I left Presto tied to the tree.

HINT: it was the one on the right

First up on Saturday was a quick and very sweaty dressage lesson. Since bringing Presto home I’ve temporarily stopped our regular every-other-week lessons at the dressage barn near me, just until I feel a little less squeamish about writing that double board check. It’s been a couple months since we had a lesson, and a really really really long time since we had a dressage lesson with my regular eventing trainer. I swear, she is meaner than the nice dressage trainer man at home. He is really good at making me always stay calm and patient, but she doesn’t let me get complacent. It’s kind of a nice balance.

impromptu pas de deux with Gertie

The main focus of the lesson was getting Henry extra forward and in front of my leg, something that has kind of always been an issue. I know I don’t always ask him for as much as I really can, and he’s perfectly happy to bumble around putting forth as little effort as possible. She made us trot and canter our big jiggly butts off. It’s almost like I need to get him a little too forward for a while, until he’s seeking to be a bit more forward-moving on his own. He was definitely in front of the leg, and shockingly (I know, right?) everything was a lot better. We’ve got homework. It’s called impulsion.

After that was when we went and grabbed Presto and ponied him over to the water. Honestly I can’t decide if my favorite part of that whole scene was watching Presto flop himself down in to the water repeatedly like a baby hippopotamus, or seeing Henry’s face on the video.

“The shit I put up with”

Poor Henny. His life is really hard, y’all. Somebody call the ASPCA.

Sunday was the “clear round” jumper show, which started with crossrails and went up throughout the day. In the morning I just hung out and watched and helped jump crew a bit, and stayed within eyeshot of Presto hanging out at his tree. He was hardcore glaring at me while I pretended not to notice. Y’all think Henny has good mareglare… you ain’t seen nothin yet.

but the family of rubber duckies in the liverpool was too cute

Around 11 I went up and grabbed Henry to tack him up. The plan was to do one Training round and one Prelim round. I haven’t really been jumping him at home much at all… the ground has been a bit too hard for my taste, so we’ve just been hopping over a handful of little fences once a week, at most. It would definitely benefit my riding to be able to jump more, but it’s more important to save Henry’s legs and feet. He knows his job pretty well by now. It does mean I’m a bit rusty though, especially at full Prelim height.

when you opt for the long one into the Prelim two stride, but your horse is a unicorn so it works out

It was hot and humid by the time I got on, so I did a very short warmup. Like 5 mins of trot, a few laps of canter, and then I jumped the little 2’6″ warmup oxer twice. Henry knows the deal by now. He seemed pretty happy to be jumping, too, after that dressage torture the day before.

This was my first time jumping real courses on him in his new PS of Sweden hackamore, with the plain leather curb strap. The first hackamore test run last month at the Scissortail show was in the other mechanical hackamore, with the chain strap. The mechanics of the PS are different too, since the “shank” part of the PS hackamore is swept back much more than a traditional hackamore. It hangs differently, further back from the mouth, and there’s less leverage, which I like because it makes it feel more like a middle ground between the sidepull and the regular mechanical hack. I thought that the mechanical hack with the chain strap was a little too much whoa, but I wasn’t sure if the different mechanics (ie lessened leverage) of the PS would mean that I might need the chain back. I also wanted to get Trainer’s opinion of how he jumps in it (I love it, but ya know…) so I waited for her to finish giving a XC lesson and then went in for our Training round.

It was probably the best round we’ve had in a while. In the hackamore I’m really able to ride Henry a bit more “up” in front, and he doesn’t feel like he wants to just ball up and go up and down like a carousel horse. He’s more forward, in every good possible way. And because of all those things, I feel like he really pushes off the ground a lot better and uses his body, especially his hind end, much more correctly. He still rubbed a few, because Henry is the most minimalistic horse in the world, but they stayed up, and the clear round was good for a blue ribbon. Trainer gave her thumbs up to the hackamore.

is that… uphill balance?

I was the last Training round to go, so all the jumps went up right after that. There were only two of us waiting for Prelim rounds, and as soon as they finished with the course I went back in. We had our choice of two different courses, but I just stuck with the same one we’d already done. My brain doesn’t need any additional challenges, thanks.

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his face is too cute

When I went in and picked up the canter Henry even gave a very sassy little head twist, despite the heat and humidity. I think he was happy to be back at it, doing something fun. Since it’s been a while since we’ve jumped some height, a couple of the oxers looked maybe a little big to me, but not too bad. I guess I’m getting used to the size now. Of course, I tipped my shoulders just a teeny bit at the base of the first vertical and he ticked the rail with his front toe. Whoops. He was really good though, even when he locked on to another fence in the rollback and I really thought he was going to try to jump it sideways. He ate that course up and jumped the crap out of some of those fences. Enthusiasm. He has it. Well… for jumping, anyway. Maybe not anything else. Except food.

I did find a bit of a big distance into the two stride oxer-to-oxer in and out, which did not make his job the easiest, but he self-corrected and hopped right through with no problem. He jumped the bigger fences better than the smaller ones. Knock on wood, but Henry feels really good right now… strong and capable and happy. I know I always say that he’s worth his weight in gold but I think he’s actually worth at least 3x that. How many horses can pack their amateur’s butt around a Prelim stadium course one minute and then the next minute be ponying his dumb little yearling brother around the field? Henry is perfection in a plain brown wrapper.

Henry also needs cookies, like, 24/7

I ended up having to load them and haul home in the rain, but I’m glad we got our rounds in before the deluge started. What a great weekend for both of my boys!

Presto’s Big Weekend Adventure

Oh boy, did Presto have another very exciting weekend! Well, some parts of it were more exciting for me than for him, but he still had his fair share of fun.

My trainer’s barn was having a schooling jumper show on Sunday, so I decided to make a weekend of it and have a dressage lesson on Saturday too. And of course, if I’m gonna take Henry down there for the weekend, why not throw Little Brother in the trailer too? So Saturday morning, bright and early, I loaded both boys in my trailer together for the first time.

Which we should all get extra credit for, because I don’t have functional butt bars at the moment and was wondering how the hell that was gonna work, trying to load two by myself. But these kids are saints, so it was as simple as leading them both out together, having Henry self-load, and then leading Presto into the other side, leaving them both to make faces at each other over the hay net while I went around and shut the ramp. I am lucky to have two easy loaders/haulers. That could have been way harder than it was. The next big thing for Presto to learn is how to self load, so I can just point both of them at the trailer and not have to worry about it.

After the two hour drive they unloaded just as easily, and Presto pretty much went straight to the Tree of Knowledge to get an education in patience while Henry and I watched some other lessons and then got ready for our own. I’ll talk more about the idea behind the Tree of Knowledge in another post, because several people have already asked about it after seeing my Instagram stories, but let’s just say that Presto was none-to-pleased about it at first. He stayed out there for a few hours total and while he definitely settled way down, he was mad and certainly did not give up entirely. Gotta give the kid props for perseverance and stamina.

After Henry and I were done with our lesson, we went and rescued grabbed him from the tree and ponied him around the XC course a bit. Mostly I wanted to get him in the water, because they’re never too young to start learning about that. He was a little hesitant at first, standing on the edge for about 30 seconds before giving up and plopping one foot in. And once that foot was in, he had a total change of heart. He charged into the water, smacking it with his feet and making big splashes. He looked like a little kid in a pool. I wish I’d been able to video that part, I was cracking up.

a little later, when the initial enthusiasm had tapered off a bit

We crossed the water a few times and then I let him stop to drink. After that he decided he wanted to roll in this magical pool of amazingness, so I let him. And he rolled. And he got up. And he rolled again. And he splashed. And he rolled. I was laughing so hard I had to go get Trainer and bring her back over to watch.

So, no worries there… Presto LOVES water. We even walked up and down the little tiny side of the bank. It’s so small, a step up trailer is bigger, so it’s a good little “intro” to the idea of stepping up and down. Up was easy, but he was a little impressed with the first time down. I’m pretty sure you can see him saying CANNONBALL here.

GUYS, I’M HAVING THE BEST DAY

After that it was less exciting and he just plopped down normally on the second attempt.

On Sunday he spent a few hours in the morning turned out next to Trainer’s geldings, who were absolutely mesmerized by him. They did not understand his submissive baby chomping behavior at all and just kept trying to eat him. Poor kid.

PrestoHalp
HALP ME

Then he went back to the Tree of Knowledge again for a few hours. He was definitely less enthusiastic about his protests on Day 2, and mostly just seemed put out. Welcome to life, kiddo. Isn’t the first time, won’t be the last. He never quite gave in completely and just relaxed, but there were no major theatrics or meltdowns, and he got to stand there and watch/hear all the goings-on of the horse show.

If horses had middle fingers…

After Henry was done with his jumper classes we went for another quick pony around the XC course, this time over to the little row of ditches. He just trotted right over, no big deal. Honestly, Henry was spookier about them than Presto was. We just might have a baby event horse on our hands here.

It was a great learning weekend for Presto, and fun to be able to take the boys somewhere together. Hopefully getting these types of experiences early in life will make him a way more solid citizen later on. For a yearling he’s already pretty darn good.

Oh, and this kid is in a growth spurt like you would not believe. He just keeps eating and eating and eating, but he’s only getting TALLER, not wider. He ate an entire bale of hay on Saturday! I don’t even know where it goes! Maybe some day he’ll decide to fill out a little?

The Noseband Controversy

So, aside from the bloody mouth saga that we’ve replayed like 6 or 7 times by now, another thing to come out of the LRK3DE this year was scrutiny over how tight some people’s nosebands are. In fact, a lot of people had more issue with that than they did with the blood, or think that one problem is directly related to the other. I’m inclined to agree with the latter part.

Image result for marilyn little noseband

But what has been interesting about that whole debacle are the conversations that have resulted in it’s wake. Looking through the photos, it was hard not to notice that some people (no, not just one) had some seriously tight flash nosebands. The current FEI rule for nosebands is as follows:

Horse Noseband check:
FEI Stewards of all disciplines to pay particular attention to ensure that nosebands are not overtightened. It must be possible to place at least one finger between the horse’s cheek and the noseband. Nosebands must never be used in such a way that they interfere with a horse’s breathing. This check can be carried out at any time the steward feels that a noseband appears to be too tight (preferably after the test); if the steward carrying out this check finds the nose band is too tight, the steward must ask the groom to loosen the noseband so that one finger can fit between the nose band and the cheek of the horse. If it happens again the rider should receive a yellow card for not following the instruction of the steward.

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One finger. Between the cheek and the noseband. Not two fingers. Not the chin, or the front of the nose. I’m pretty sure you could tighten that thing to the point where it’s bone-crushing and I could still get a finger in there on the horse’s fleshy cheek. So who gets to determine what meets the definition of “overtightened”?

There has also been a lot of talk lately about the noseband study (if you only read one thing today, read this) released last year, which showed that “A proportion of the horses were recorded having oral lesions, most of them in dressage. The tightness of the noseband showed a very clear correlation to the occurrence of oral lesions.”. So, yes, it’s been proven that overtightening a noseband can and does cause physical harm to a horse. I was particularly interested to note, while reading through the study, this part:

The median noseband tightness in all horses measured (n = 737) was found to be 0.5 fingers. Forty four per cent of nosebands were tightened to zero fingers tightness, 7% to 0.5 fingers, 23% to 1 finger, 19% to 1.5 fingers and 7% to 2 fingers tightness.

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Holy. Shite. Clearly that vague rule about fitting a finger between the cheek and the noseband is not working out in the horse’s favor.

As a result of this study, the Danish Equestrian Federation has brought forth new rules regarding noseband tightness – “The tightness of the nosebands will be measured as of 1 January 2018: There must be room for a certified measurement unit in between the nasal plate of the horse (bony surface) and the noseband equivalent to a diameter more than 1,5cm. The rule is applicable for all disciplines.”. So not only are they calling for a standard measurement (not a vague one or two fingers), they also have changed the location of where the measurement should be taken. Not the cheek, but rather the front of the horse’s face.

A taper gauge has also been created, an actual tool that standardizes just how much space there must be. Handily enough, it also measures curb length and bit thickness.

Image result for ises taper gauge

New Zealand is the latest country to jump on this bandwagon, discussing possible rule changes to introduce the use of the taper gauge at their shows.

 

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I doubt the taper gauge would fit under even half of the horses’ nosebands at most shows in America, of pretty much any discipline. Overtightening of nosebands seems like, from my experience at least, something that happens across the board. I’ve done my fair share of it in the past too, having been raised thinking that the noseband should go as tight as you could get it. I definitely don’t do that anymore, and honestly probably err on the “may as well not have a noseband at all” end of the spectrum these days, but it seems to be a pretty common practice.

So the real question here is what FEI, and also USEF, might do about this. The fans aren’t the only ones noticing an issue with nosebands, some riders are speaking up about it too.

Kimnosebands

Jim Wofford wrote an article about it FIVE YEARS AGO, and if anything it’s only gotten worse since he made these observations. I’ll be honest, I’d be shocked to see any action toward standardization from USEF anytime in the near future, but maybe I’m just being pessimistic. This is nothing new – the study and the taper gauge have been subjects of discussion for years. It’s refreshing to see some upper level riders/coaches supporting changes, though.

What do you guys think? Do you see overtightened nosebands often? Do you think it’s an issue? What do you think of the changes that some countries are starting to make?

The “Natural” Way

I feel like Natural Horsemanship is one of those sometimes controversial things that tends to put people either on one side of the spectrum on the other. There are those who are hardcore devotees, with a bookshelf full of DVD’s, the “official” way overpriced halter and lead rope, a t-shirt, and maybe a carrot stick or two. Then there are the folks who think it’s all a bunch of voodoo horseshit, a big waste of time, and an even bigger waste of money. I fall somewhere in between.

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Sadie, learning at a young age that people are unfailingly annoying.

I first got introduced to the concept of “Natural Horsemanship” way back in the early 2000’s when I was working at a breeding farm. I spent a lot of time working with foals, very opinionated broodmares, and horses fresh off the track. One evening I found myself flipping through the channels in my barn apartment, stumbled upon RFDTV (I can’t remember now if it was a Clinton Anderson or Craig Cameron show), and it instantly had my attention. First in a “ha, wtf are these idiot cowboys even doing?” kind of way. Then I slowly started going “hmm… I wonder if that would work…”. It was something I had never seen before.

Growing up in the h/j world, at a higher end A circuit barn, we did not do much ground work. They lunged, they crosstied, they (mostly) loaded in trailers, they stood for the farrier, and that was about all that was required. If they didn’t do those things, they were sedated or twitched or muscled around until they did. Most of the horses that came through there were been-there-done-that types, used to the routine. The story was pretty much the same at the eventing barn I was a working student at later… most of those horses had either been around for a while or came off the track, which meant they knew how the routine went already, or quickly got in line. I had never really seen a method of training that focused on seeing situations through a horse’s perspective, at the base instinct level.

Max
when I bought this one you couldn’t even get near his hind end, much less get on him. This took weeks.

Working with foals, or my various cheap (usually semi-feral) projects that I picked up a lot in those days, was different. They were a fairly blank slate, and they often didn’t react to things the way an older horse would. I also started thinking that surely there had to be ways, beyond bribing with grain or subduing with lip chains, to get reluctant horses on the trailer. Or ways to get the fresh OTT horses feeling a little more settled and confident and less spooky. This is when those fateful RFDTV shows stepped in and said “Hey look… what about this?”. I was intrigued. It was definitely a new way of thinking about how horses respond to things, and why, and how to reshape their behaviors into what you want.

I threw myself into the concepts right off the bat, watching every show I could and buying several books. I started learning it, and applying it, and watching how this approach changed the horses. I was definitely buying into it, but wasn’t 100% sold. A few of their methods just didn’t do much for me, so did a lot of trial and error to figure out what I liked and what worked for me, my horses, and our situation.

Eventually I didn’t work at the breeding farm anymore, stopped buying random unstarted or auction house projects, and went back to having horses with more of a solid foundation in place. By the time Sadie was a yearling I had half forgotten and half abandoned a lot of the work, and didn’t do quite as much of it with her as I should have. When she went off to get started by the cowboy, he did a real crash course with her and taught me some of the things that he had taught her. That was my first formal training in any of this NH methodology. The basic concepts worked very well with Sadie, who as a young horse had a lot of issues with confidence and claustrophobia. She came back a much happier and better horse, and I got a good idea of exactly which parts of the natural horsemanship methods apply very well to horses that are destined for horse show life.

SadieDanCanter
3yo Sadie with her favorite (okay, only) cowboy

I will say, I haven’t worked on it much with Henry. Really I don’t need to, he’s a pretty steady and reliable horse, very sure of himself and solid in his connection with people. There have been situations pop up where some basic concepts have been applied, and there is definitely a lot of my day-to-day horsemanship that has been shaped by it (ie make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard) but I don’t go out and do purposeful groundwork or NH type work with him pretty much ever.

With Presto, we do a lot of it. I don’t work him in the round pen, at least not yet. I don’t want him running around in circles much, being a baby warmblood, and nothing that I’m trying to accomplish at this point really requires it. We’ve worked on the basic concepts of “sending”, and moving his front end or hind end away, turning, and responding to my body language just by working at the walk at the end of the lead rope. He’s learned about pressure and release, the beginnings of some desensitization, the space “bubble”, etc. Even just doing little bits of it have already proved to work very well for him. His behavior at the show was very encouraging to me, showing me that he’s getting it, and learning to look to me for guidance and think things through rather than  react.

Prestoshow
Pro level napper

There are still some parts of some Natural Horsemanship training programs that I just don’t like, so I don’t do them. I’m not into the constant one rein stops, or the snaking the lead rope around to get a horse to back up, or a few other things. I don’t buy a “special” rope halter, or stick, or whatever else, and you won’t find me at anyone’s clinics. I think the ideas behind the methodology are sound, but I don’t buy into the extreme commercialism, sometimes bordering on cult-like, that it has become. Over time I’ve gravitated more to Buck Brannaman’s methods than anyone else’s, but I’ve learned to take whatever works from whatever trainer and apply it, and leave the rest of it at the door. I truly have become a believer in the benefits of natural horsemanship, and appreciate how much it’s changed my perspective, and subsequently, how I train my horses.

How do you feel about natural horsemanship? Love it? Hate it? Never really played with it? I’m always interested to hear other people’s impressions!

Hot Hot Heat

Well, spring was fun while it lasted. To be honest we had a pretty good run this year, with a short and mild winter, and the heat was a little bit slower in arriving than it sometimes is. My only real complaint is that we haven’t gotten much rain. This concerns me, heading into what is our driest time of year. Hard ground plus a lack of grass are not my ideas of a good time for the next 5 months. Granted, there’s nothing about a Texas summer that meets any of my requirements of a good time.

itshot
Odds of us actually hitting triple digits on Friday? I’d say probable.

With the heat comes a change in routine. Last summer I switched to riding early in the mornings, which, while REALLY FREAKING HUMID, were at least more pleasant than riding in 100+ degrees. Nothing that I have ever tried for Henry’s heat intolerance has actually helped, so I think I’m officially waiving the white flag on our attempts at supplements. Granted, I still have half-full bottles of Equipulmin and Respi-Free laying around, irritating me with their mere presence.

His favorite part of summer is bath+fan

But last week I officially made the switch over to morning rides, which involve some very early alarms and a Henry that is a little more grumpy than usual. He was not thrilled at me stumbling out through his pasture in the dark, using the flashlight on my phone to find him, and then bringing him in to ride rather than eat breakfast. I’m so mean. I was not that thrilled about it either, but that’s just how life is when you live in the sweltering armpit of America.

Mom, you know it’s still dark, right?

Mostly though I just spend all spring making him over-fit and then coast through summer. He maintains it pretty well, and summers are his easiest season anyway, as far as work load. Between the heat and the hard ground I tend to cut way back on the conditioning rides and any unnecessary “pounding”. I did just send in a show entry though, for the June schooling show that we’ve gone to the past 2 years. That one was always kind of sketchy with the weather, because you ran XC around 1pm, in the heat of the day, and the speed was maxed out. I was happy to see that this year they’ve changed the format and now dressage is Saturday afternoon (which will be terrible, but it’s dressage so it’s terrible by default) and stadium/XC are Sunday morning. It’ll be humid, but hopefully a little easier on the horses, not being in the blaring heat of the day. We’ll see how Henry does with it. They also lowered the speed to 420mpm (minimum Training speed), way easier than 470 (maximum Training speed). He can lope along easily at 420, no problem.

WHY THO

The only real bummer about switching to our summer schedule is that I have less time to spend with Presto on the weekdays. Usually by the time I’m done with Henry I’m feeling rushed to get out of there so I can get to work and be showered and at my desk in time for our daily 8am meeting. That means Presto’s weekdays might now be limited to a quick grooming, saving the rest of his “work” for weekends.

Or it means that I’ll just arrive at meetings unshowered and still in my barn clothes. That’s probably more likely. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Priorities, yo.

It’s a little frustrating to feel like we kind of barely got going in the spring, and now we’re already dialing things back down again. The spring season never really got off the ground, since I’ve been working a lot and stockpiling money like a crazy person to make myself feel better about the added expense of a second horse. Thems the breaks, though, and I don’t regret it one bit. Hopefully by fall everything will be a little more ironed out and stable and we’ll be able to have more of a “real” season.

Until then we’ll just be over here trying our best not to melt.

Upping that Tech Game

It’s probably no secret that I’m a real lover of equestrian-related technology. My Cambox helmet camera is probably one of my all time favorite purchases, and I’ve been having a lot of fun lately with the Seaver smart girth. I’ve looked into automated camera systems like Pixio and Soloshot, since I always ride alone and therefore rarely have media of it, but have never been able to justify the cost. It was easy to just pretend like they didn’t exist, purposely avoid their social media, and try not to be too jealous when other bloggers posted about theirs.

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me, every time somebody talks about their Pixio or Soloshot

And then, because I’m pretty sure the universe loves to taunt me, I made the mistake of going to Riding Warehouse’s “New Items” page again last week. Yeah, the page that always ends up getting me into trouble. I can’t help it, y’all, I love looking at all the new stuff so I check it all the time. And it seems as if RW has been really busy upping their technology game, because there were several fun little gadgets that stopped me in my tracks.

First, of course they’re carrying the Soloshot now, both the Optic65 and the Optic25 models. OF FREAKING COURSE. The Soloshot is the camera system I wanted. My US Rider discount would bring it down to $466 for the Optic25, which, while a lot better than the sticker price of $550, still puts it solidly in the “hahahaha no effing way” territory for what is essentially a for-fun item. Owning two horses on a small budget does not leave that kind of play money left over. Still, I can’t decide if I’m really happy they’re carrying it since it makes the price more realistic, or really sad that they’re carrying it because now I get to be taunted by it all the dang time.

I also noticed that they’ve added a bunch of Trailer Eyes products to the lineup, including the Trailer Camera system and the WiFi Trailer Cam.  I’m kind of obsessed with those things. I LOVE being able to see what the horses are doing in the trailer and keep an eye on them to make sure nobody is in trouble back there. Luckily with my small little, um, vintage trailer I have front windows so I can at least see their heads and make sure they’re upright/eating hay. Next trailer, though… I will definitely buy some kind of trailer camera system. I’ve gotten so accustomed to being able to see them that now I’m beyond paranoid if I can’t, and the camera systems are pretty cheap considering.

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As if those weren’t enough, I kept scrolling and saw that they’re carrying the new UHWK helmet camera. It’s a bit bigger and bulkier and less fancy than my Cambox, but has a similar front mount style and is specifically designed for a helmet. It definitely looks way better than a GoPro or the side mount cameras. The most interesting thing about it is the price – with a discount it comes in around $150. I’m far too in love with my Cambox to stray to something else, but it could be a really interesting option for those who like the design of the Cambox but don’t want to spend quite that much money. Somebody buy it and try it and report back!

Anybody own any of this stuff? Actually, don’t answer that question if you own a Soloshot. Unless you hate it, then feel free to tell me how much I don’t need it.

We won’t even talk about all the fancy new Majyk Equipe pads, or the fact that they’re now carrying all the MotionLite colors or the EQ3 MIPS helmets. I’m trying to pretend like none of this exists. Why do I even go look at the New Items page all the time? WHY? I need a 12 step program. Or a winning lottery ticket. Preferably the latter.

Presto’s First Show

Well this is definitely going to be a much different show recap than you usually get around here. There was no dressage (unless you count the lap we walked around the outside of the ring while the judge was on break) and there were no jumps (unless you count all the poles he had to walk/trip over during trail). But it was a very solid first experience for Presto, who spent all day vastly exceeding my expectations.

Prestosmooch
“Dis my really embarrassing hooman. Derr is many like her but dis one is mine.”

His in-hand trail class didn’t start until 11, but it was open for schooling beforehand and I wanted to allow him plenty of time to settle in and look at all the obstacles. I was pretty sure that between the commotion of the show and all the scary stuff on the trail course, it might take me a couple hours to get him settled. So I got to the barn around 7:30, fed him, groomed him, and intended to wait until the barn workers got there so I could get someone to help me load him. He’s ridden in my trailer once before – when I brought him home – and he’s practiced loading another time, but I’ve never loaded him alone before, not completely anyway. Ie, walking him in and leaving him while I go around the back to close to ramp. He can still get a bit insecure when I leave him in general, so I wasn’t sure that this would go well. But after looking back and forth from the trailer to Presto for a few minutes I figured what the heck, lets just try it and see.

I’ll be damned if he didn’t walk right in and stand stock still when I told him whoa, climbed out of the escape door, and walked around to close the ramp. I crammed an alfalfa pellet in his mouth (the only “treats” he finds acceptable so far), tied him, and away we went.

He neighed and craned his head around a lot for the first few minutes before settling down and aggressively eating his hay. It was only about a 40 minute ride to the show, where I asked the people at the trailer next to us to keep an eye on him while I ran to the office to check in. Once I got back I untied him, dropped the ramp, and he very politely backed out, looking both ways before letting out a trumpeting “HELLLOOOOOOO EVERYONE, I’M HERE!!!” neigh. I led him around a bit, past the warmup (with it’s flapping flags), near the dressage arena, past some XC jumps, and then settled by the jump arena for a few minutes to watch some rounds.

mmmm foooood

He neighed a bit, but he wasn’t particularly worried about anything. Once he took a deep breath and cared more about eating grass than he did about looking around, I started doing some ground work – practicing walk/trot/halt/backing, sending him around me both ways, changing directions on the end of the lead rope, etc. The familiar work seemed to help relax him even more. Since XC hadn’t started yet, I walked him up and down the little bank complex a few times. May as well start getting that idea now!

By this point he was being pretty darn chill. He was looking around, but he wasn’t particularly bug-eyed about anything, was content to stand and graze, and really only neighed if another horse neighed first. So we meandered over and started looking at all the trail obstacles. We started with the easy things that he’s seen before, like all the poles, then I walked him over both bridges. He seemed more interested in pausing to eat the decorations.

Calm down, baby horse

Then we tackled the stuff that he’d DEFINITELY never seen before, like the curtain of garden hoses, the pool noodles hanging around a tree, a pool noodle thing that they had to walk through, and the blue tarp that they had to walk over. The first couple of times through the curtain of hoses he wanted to spurt quickly out the other side (by “spurt quickly” I mean take like 3 trot steps when one of the hoses brushed his butt, and the first time over the tarp he leaped completely over it (not gonna punish the jumper baby for THAT instinct!) but he wasn’t particularly concerned about any of it.

eating more decorations (sorry Paulina)

We were only about half an hour into the show by this point, and I was like “well, ok… now what do we do in the next two hours while we wait for trail to start?”. So we hung out and watched jumper rounds, dressage tests, and cross country. We listened to the loud speaker and the clapping. We hung out in the shade and just STOOD, practicing being patient. Every once in a while I would go run through a little ground work again, just to check in with him. We also practiced a much smaller trot than I normally ask him for in-hand… more of a jog than a real sporthorse trot. Well, as much of a jog as a horse with legs that long can manage, anyway. Finally I decided I should probably actually learn the trail course for real, and went to retrieve my map so we could put the whole thing together and do a full run-through.

I also have to say, thank goodness for the other people out there schooling the course, because for a few of the obstacles I had no idea exactly what we were supposed to do. I’ve definitely never done anything like this before, so I had to ask questions about how some of it was supposed to be done. I mean, I know we were just there for funsies, but I wanted to at least make an effort to do the right thing. Obstacle #8 especially had me stumped – it was a plastic barrel with a spinning PVC pipe attached across the top of it that apparently the horse is supposed to push around with his nose or chest. Who knew that was a thing? The first time I led Presto up to it he thought the answer was to jump over it (again… not an undesirable reaction considering his future career) but eventually he did figure out how to push it with his chest. I think I’ve spent so long instilling the NO PUSHING ANYTHING, EVER concept into him that he didn’t think that could possibly be right. Otherwise, he understood everything else pretty much immediately, to the point where he was almost blasé.

noodlewash

After a full practice run of the course (During which I discovered that I’ve got to go home and work on trotting circles to the right in hand – we’ve been practicing the triangle like they have at FEH, with it’s two big turns. The circle, being one long continuous turn, was not so good.) we went back and hung out in the shade by the jumper ring. Once the course opened for judging I was the first one at the gate. It was getting hot, baby horse was being really good – it was time to be done and go home. So as soon as the judge was ready, in we went.

 

He got a little excited in the trot figure 8 when there was a bunch of clapping and cheering nearby, but as far as “explosions” go, it was quite tame. I just lost his focus a bit and had to walk for a second to get him back on track. When we got to the pushing-spinning thing at 8, a horse came flying through the water jump behind him and spooked him a bit, but again, as far as “explosions” go… meh. It lasted all of 2 seconds and he settled right back down. Mostly he spent the whole course tripping over the poles and tiny logs. Babies. Their legs aren’t connected to their brains yet. He neighed a couple times too, when other horses neighed first, which is fine. Really I thought he was stellar. First time at a show, first time seeing or doing anything remotely like this… no complaints.

if you take really blurry screen shots from far away video, he looks pretty cute right now

After we were done we went and chatted with the judge, who was quite complimentary of his first attempt at trail. Obviously he is not a trail horse, this is not his future career at all, but a) he listened b) he tried c) he intelligently thought his way through all the questions instead of getting worried or upset. These are all great life skills that he’ll need as he gets older, so I feel like the outing was 110% worth it.

Pats for the best baby

Once he was finished we walked around and said our goodbyes, then I chucked him in the trailer (he repeated his morning performance of walking in, then standing and waiting when I said whoa and walked around to close the ramp – it wasn’t a fluke!), and we went home. I was so proud of how well-behaved he was, mostly because I think he just really showed me how intelligent he is. All day he looked to me for guidance, and all day he stayed polite and attentive and did what I asked him to do. There was no belligerence, he wasn’t worried, and he thought his way through everything. You can’t ask for more than that from any horse, much less a yearling taking his first trip to a show.

Oh, and he ended up placing 3rd (ok, there were only 4, but still). Kiddo has officially started his own satin collection. Well… hypothetically anyway, since I didn’t stay until the class was over and pinned. Details.

Building the Partnership

In the past few weeks, more than one person has asked me to write about my partnership with Henry. Either more details about how we overcame challenges that we faced along the way, or my thoughts as to how our partnership got to be the way that it is, or how it’s possible that I always seem to be so annoyingly pleased with my horses. Which… I have to say, I don’t think I’m an anomaly in that. There are a lot of examples of great horse and rider partnerships in the blog world.

HennyLove

And, to be totally honest, I feel kind of uncomfortable writing anything remotely similar to a how-to or giving very specific, detailed advice. It feels a little (a lot) douchey. Everyone’s situation is so unique, and I certainly do not have all the answers nor do I want to sit here and pretend like I do. I’m not a professional. I have plenty of issues, just like anyone else, and so do my horses. I also think that a big part of why my partnership with Henry has been such an overall happy one is because I’m one of the luckiest people on earth and blindly stumbled upon one of the most genuine, honest horses that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. That’s not skill, or savvy… that’s luck.

But it’s also true that the horse I stumbled across on facebook for $900 was a bit different from the horse I have now. It took a while to overcome some of his demons and make him happier and more confident in his work. He’s always been golden at his core, he just needed someone to show him how to take a deep breath. I was fortunate enough to have learned some valuable lessons from horses that came before him, and I was in the right place at the right time in my own education to be what he needed me to be in the beginning. I still made mistakes of course, plenty of them, STILL DO, ALL THE TIME, but things slowly started to click and come together for us.

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in the early days

Since then I’ve been even more fortunate to have my perspective evolve tremendously just by having the relationship that I do with Henry, and I’ve noticed that I’ve already carried the things that I’ve learned over to Presto. I spent my pre-Henry years buying cheap horses, training them up a bit, and then selling them, so I’ve owned more than my fair share. They all taught me something, but none of them have really brought everything into focus as much as Henry has. He’s been an incredible source of clarity for me – as a rider, as a horseman, and as a human being.

So I will (hesitantly) put pen to paper on this one, so to speak, and share the things that have really been cemented in my mind over the past several years with Henry, and from seeing the relationships that some of my friends have with their horses. I can sit here and tell you a thousand different stories, but in they end they all kind of boil down to just a few basic ideas, so I went with that instead. I’m hoping that, if nothing else, I’ll be able to look back on this post when I’m having struggles with Presto, or when it’s time to shop for the next horse, and be able to remind myself of what’s important. For me personally, all of these things have been really vital to building a good relationship with a horse. Future self, pull up a seat.

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Be honest with yourself

I think that if you’re going to be successful, as a rider or a horseman or anything really, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you really need and what your abilities truly are. This takes a lot of self-awareness. But you see it ALL the time, people struggling through a bad relationship with a horse that just is not suited to them at all, for whatever particular reason. Unless you’re a pro, it’s not about what you can do (this isn’t a contest), it’s about what you want to do and what will make you the happiest. Do you actually need the fanciest, prettiest horse you can find? Do you really want a green horse? For me, I can do green, but even if I had the money, I’m never gonna go out and buy some big fancy upper level horse that requires a strong accurate ride and spends half of it’s free time being an idiot. I’m just not interested. Doesn’t suit my lifestyle or my preference or my skill level. So before you buy the horse: What do you really want? What are you really capable of? What type of horse will fit best into your personal situation? Be brutally honest in your self-assessment.

Which leads us to:

Buy the right horse.

For some people the right horse could be something straight off the track, whereas for someone else the right horse might be a 15yo been there done that QH that is rock solid and steady. There’s nothing wrong with either extreme, or anything in the middle. Young or green horses need consistency, they need confidence, they require a lot of time and energy, and they need to be properly educated… if you can’t realistically (or don’t want to) provide those things, get a horse that already has them. If there’s a certain brain or personality you really need or want, keep looking until you find it. And if you own a horse that isn’t right for you, or you don’t enjoy riding it, sell it. There’s some kind of weird stigma in the horse world that selling a horse equals “giving up” on it. This is insane. Most of the time both the horse and the rider are going to be much happier with a different partner or in a different career, and sometimes it’s just time to move on. Give yourself permission to do right by both of you, part ways, and find the horse you enjoy that fits your needs. It doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks.

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Have realistic expectations

Honestly, just from my own personal observations, unrealistic expectations seem to be one of the major things that lead to people being really unhappy with their horses. They’re big prey animals with tiny brains, they are gonna be dumb sometimes. Some a lot dumber than others. You also can’t realistically expect a green horse to make up for your mistakes, or be perfect, or consistent. If you need a horse to do that, buy something that’s already made. Even then, it’s still a horse, not a robot. It’s important to always make your expectations clear and always be in pursuit of progress, but it’s also important to understand that they will not always be met. Shrug it off, reassess, and try again tomorrow.

Set yourself and your horse up for success

You see this all the time too, when someone makes a bad decision and you can already see the writing on the wall before it happens. There ends up being an accident, or the whole situation begins to quickly unravel. We’re human, we will inevitably make bad decisions sometimes. That’s part of it. But on the flip side, a lot of problems can be avoided if you take the time to stop, think, and then continue on. What I’m asking – is it fair? Is the horse prepared – mentally and physically? Have I done the homework? I try not to put any of us into situations where we’re unlikely to succeed – it’s so vital to keep the trust and the confidence up.

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It’s not personal

Ah, man. Another thing you see this all the time: someone saying their horse was “an asshole” or that their horse did this thing to them or that thing to them. Horses aren’t malicious, they’re reactive. They don’t wake up in the morning scheming about how to make us angry or make us look stupid. Every time I feel myself getting frustrated, I try to take the emotional element out of it and think about things from the horse’s perspective. Is he confused? Is he tired? Is he hurting? Is he lacking confidence? Am I doing something wrong? Henry especially has demanded this from me, and he still does. He is a very honest horse, but if he feels like you’re doing wrong by him, he will absolutely let you know. Not in a mean way, but in a “I’m done participating until you get your shit together” way. I appreciate that about him, because he’s made me a better horseman. Still working on the “better rider” part…

Make peace with the things you can’t change

There are so many things you can improve about a horse. His training, his gaits, his strength, on and on and on. But there are some things you can’t really fix, or some things that just won’t change a whole lot. I love Henry dearly, but I feel pretty sure that he will never be a particularly spectacular dressage horse. His natural default mode is tense, his natural gaits are meh, and his natural balance is downhill. There has been massive improvement – he is obedient and he is much more capable – but he will likely never be the dressage winner. I accept that. He also won’t ever be a particularly careful showjumper. He has the ability, but he’s a minimalist and just isn’t that bothered by touching a rail. I accept that too. He’s got crooked front legs, so I’m really careful about his shoeing schedule, the footing he works in, and his conditioning. These are facts, and I accept all of them. He makes up for it in a million other ways, so they just are what they are. No horse is perfect. If I couldn’t live with his faults, I would have sold him years ago. We’ll never stop working to improve the negative things, but I’m realistic about it, I accept it, and I’m not holding any of it against him. Don’t hold grudges against a horse just for being who he is.

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although it’s not actually necessary to tap every rail, just saying

Everyone needs help sometimes

Pride and ego are the enemies to a good partnership. There will always be bumps in the road, things you need help with, situations that you aren’t sure how to handle. No one knows everything, and there is zero shame in bringing in a professional to help. To me it’s shameful to let a situation go on for too long, or to keep fumbling through something that isn’t working – almost always to the horse’s detriment. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Know when to hand the reins to someone else.

Patience is everything

It’s true, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a solid horse and rider team. It takes time to build up the trust required – lots and lots of deposits into the trust bank. And being patient with yourself is just as important as being patient with the horse. To me this is one of the hardest parts. Especially not getting caught up in comparing yourself to other people, their horses, their progress, but just being patient and letting everything fall into place in it’s own due time. That’s so hard, but so critical.

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Otherwise I mostly just try to remember to also keep it fun. It doesn’t always have to be work work work all the time. We goof off, we play around, we take days to just go exploring or for a bareback hack. It helps keep me grounded and remembering why I do this, and to be honest, I think those “fun” days have done more to strengthen the bond than all of the work days put together. We trust each other and have a pretty good level of understanding. Some days I just mentally can’t, and some days he just mentally can’t. So on those days, we just don’t. And that’s okay.

Henry isn’t perfect, and there are a lot of things he will never be, just like there are a lot of things I’ll probably never be either. But I appreciate all the good things about him, we mesh well together, and in a lot of ways he’s completely irreplaceable to me. I’m so appreciative to have this type of relationship with Henry right now, while I’m “raising” Presto. I can easily draw comparisons as I try to mold my and Presto’s relationship to mimic the one I have with Henry. It makes me think a little more holistically about how we got there, what I did right, and what I did wrong. There is plenty of both.

Best Of: Top 10 Search Terms

Back in the days when I actively watched my blog stats and made a real effort, I always looked through the “search terms” on a fairly regular basis. I was curious about all the different ways that people found my site – what they had searched for that somehow ultimately led them here. One time, a few years ago, I did a post with all the funniest search terms I had noticed. These days I don’t really actively look at that stuff very much anymore, but sometimes as I’m scrolling past, things catch my eye. One thing in particular got my attention the other day, which led me to looking through the search terms from 2018 so far. Oh my. There are some doozies. I thought they warranted a resurrection of the Best Search Terms post.

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The vast majority of them are what you’d expect – people googling the blog name, people looking for coupon codes, people wondering how to dye a saddle, or looking for specific product reviews. But sometimes you come across one that just really makes you raise your eyebrow for whatever reason. I picked my top 10 favorites out of those, set them in some awesome quote poster backgrounds, and here we are now.

Copy of Women Retro Vintage Quote Poster Template - Made with PosterMyWall

Like this one… I’m trying to imagine the person who typed this into their search bar. Is this a big problem in relationships? What did they decide to do? Did her logos get any better? I need closure on this.

Copy of Church FlyersInvitation - Made with PosterMyWall

I mean… I’m pretty sure I don’t do this very often, but… there there, here’s a kleenex.

Copy of Social Media Post - Made with PosterMyWall

Can’t really argue with that one, though. Accurate-apotamus.

Copy of Colorful quote template - Made with PosterMyWall

Did this person ask google to google this for him/her? And chew toys? Is that a thing?

Copy of Printable colorful wall art quote template - Made with PosterMyWall

99.9% sure I don’t want to know the motives behind this one, or why it led them to me.

Copy of spiritual poster - Made with PosterMyWall

Man, I really feel for the person who searched for this. Aren’t we ALL searching for answers like these? Will we ever find them? #deepthoughts

Copy of Stop bullying Motivational School poster template - Made with PosterMyWall

NO, INTERNET, NO! DO NOT DO THIS. NO.

Copy of Winner - Made with PosterMyWall

EQUALLY HORRIFYING, DO NOT DO THIS EITHER.

Copy of Inspirational Poster Template - Made with PosterMyWall

I’m… not really sure what to think of this one. I mean, I do have horses, so…

And last but certainly not least, my personal favorite:Copy of Love Watercolor Wreath Print - Made with PosterMyWall

I dunno kid, but if you found out please come back and let the rest of us know.