Play Date

This past weekend was supposed to be our second Prelim, but some rain late in the week made the already saturated ground at the show venue pretty unrideable. They opted to cancel the show, which I was 100% ok with. I don’t want to tear up the footing at Pine Hill, nor do I want to try to run Prelim in the mud. But the cancellation left us with an unexpectedly open weekend, which translated to a lot of barn time.

Best view

While it was sunny, the weather was far from pleasant. There was a steady 20-30mph wind with gusts up to 40mph, not COLD but cold enough to make you question all your life choices as soon as you stepped outside and almost got bodyslammed into your house by the wind. Welcome to Texas winter. I knew there was no point in even trying to have a serious ride with Henry, so I opted to pony Presto and we went for a long walk in the fields instead.

Expectation
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Reality

Presto has kind of mastered the art of his sass at this point, and with all the wind on Saturday he was a little wild on top of it. He kept bouncing into Henry and trying to lick/bite him, earning himself a boot in the ribs and a couple whacks with the lead rope. Henry still wasn’t having it and took matters into his own hands (teeth?), putting the kibosh on the squirmy colt. Luckily for all of us it doesn’t take much to kill Presto’s hopes and dreams. He gives up pretty quickly once Henry decides he’s had enough.

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“They ruin everything” – Presto, I’m sure.

Little colt is starting to look chunky again (for him anyway) so I’m relatively certain that he’s gearing up for another hideous growth spurt. Slow your roll, kid.

After a lap around the big hilly field, we went over to the other field where all the jumps are set up. Or rather… were set up. The wind had already knocked half of them down by that point, and now 2 of our 3 barrels are nestled up to a fenceline across the muddy bog of a corn field. But hey, where there were half-demolished jumps, there was also opportunity. I decided to test our ponying skills and see if I could get Presto over the little gate.

First time over, trotting:

And then cantering:

And then I decided to see what he thought of the tire tracks that were full of water. It was kinda like little ditches.

He already understands the “go over stuff” game pretty well, it’s kind of cute. I think he likes it. He’s starting to get more clever about where he puts his feet, too, and how to get across things.

Which… I was lunging him on Wednesday, working on his voice commands/transitions, and I stopped paying attention to him for like 2 seconds to talk to the barn worker. Damn horse veered out on his circle and jumped the mounting block! What the??? PRESTO! I’m infinitely sad that I didn’t get that on video though. The expression on the barn worker’s face was priceless, and soon we were both doubled over laughing. I guess he likes to jump?

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This mounting block. HE JUMPED THIS DAMN MOUNTING BLOCK.

After we came in from the field we decided to try turning Presto out with Dobby to see how they got along. Once Inca goes home and Presto is gelded, I’d like for these two dorks to be pasturemates. I think they’d get along well and have some fun, since they’re both young and silly. Presto is still VERY submissive to adult horses, and kind of a huge freaking wimp, honestly. He definitely wants to play, but as soon as they so much as look at him funny Presto crouches down, lowering his front end and making the chompy submissive baby face. He’s gotta get a little braver.

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DON’T MURDER ME, I IS BABY HORSE

Dobby is usually turned out with Inca, who is the undisputed queen of their little hierarchy. As soon as we put him out with Presto he sensed that this one was an easy mark, and Dobby asserted himself as leader right off the bat, with just the simple pinning of his ears. That’s all it took for Presto to skitter away.

For some reason he felt most comfortable behind Dobby, away from the teeth. I guess he doesn’t realize that there’s more danger in the hind end. Luckily Dobby is pretty chill and never offered to kick.

Presto never really got brave enough to play with him, he mostly just followed him around like a nerdy little kid trails their cool older brother. He wanted to do everything Dobby was doing, even though he wasn’t actually brave enough to get up there and interact with him. Hillary was playing with Dobby a bit, jogging around the arena with Dobby trotting behind her. Presto was always the caboose, trailing a bit behind. He wanted desperately to be a part of whatever Dobby was doing.

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Dobby, what is you doing? Dobby, come back!
Adding his own little freestyle moves into the game.

By the end of their “play date” he was brave enough to at least stand near Dobby without immediately offering a submissive pose, so that’s a step. I think once he gets used to him and turned out with him every day, he’ll get a little braver and start to play. Presto needs more horse interaction, after spending the last 10 months living with donkeys and otherwise really only experiencing Dictator Henry (Henry is not nice). Soon, kiddo, soon.

He does not look as small next to 16.3h Dobby as I would have liked…

Presto’s snip-snip appointment is scheduled for Thursday. The weather isn’t quite what I was hoping to get, with rain predicted on Saturday and highs in the low 60’s, but at this point I think it’s the best we can do and I don’t want to delay it any longer. Hopefully the rain/mud stays away and the bugs aren’t too bad. I’m nervous about the whole thing, honestly.  I have a lot of emotional baggage with this horse and medical-related things, given his history. Hopefully everything goes well, and in a few weeks he can start going out with his new BFF Dobby!

Welcome to the (extended) family, Cannavaro! Contest time!

No, I didn’t buy a new horse. I’m too broke for that. But Bobby has been looking for a few months now for his next “forever” horse, the one that will eventually step up and fill Halo’s shoes. It was a tough one, because Bobby and Halo have been a team for over a decade. He molded the horse from a wee baby OTTB to an AEC Champion, and in that time he hasn’t ridden many other horses, bought any others, or even been a close spectator to very many sales. He is, understandably, very comfortable with Halo, and the idea of buying and owning something different was daunting.

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The Dream Team

But Halo is now in his late teens, and it’s getting to be time to add a baby brother into the mix. Bobby tried several horses, some which he loved, some which he liked, some which he hated. For various reasons, none of them were The One. Still, Hillary and I talked him into going to sit on anything that was nearby that sounded even remotely promising, because I felt like the more horses he sat on, the more he’d get a very clear idea of exactly what he wanted and needed. He started out thinking he needed one thing, but after a few rides it became clear that maybe he really wanted/needed something a little different. What he flat out refused to do, very adamantly, was consider buying one sight unseen. He wants to feel a connection with whatever he buys, which I get, but… Texas isn’t exactly a land overflowing with tons of promising young event prospects. It’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack, especially if you want one that’s sound and has a great brain.

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We found some promising ones though!

So we looked, and we rode, and we looked some more. When Hillary and I were in Dallas for the Phillip Dutton clinic we went up and I tried another one for him, nixing it immediately. The problem with a lot of the restarted OTTB’s that we were looking at was that some of them were not restarted in a way that was beneficial to Bobby’s end goal. Some had gaping holes that would take a long time to go back and fix. We kept combing the ads, messaging sellers, and asking questions. I love Bobby and I want him to have a horse that he loves and that he can have fun with, but one that is also talented enough to do whatever he wants it to do. He doesn’t need a plodder, he just needs something with a good brain.

And then Jess Redman posted the perfect candidate.

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Adorably loveable face and sweet eyes? Check.
Good sporthorse type? Check.
Fancy enough to get excited about? Check.

For those who don’t know Jess Redman, she’s an OTTB reseller. She sells a ton of nice horses every year, and I know several people that have purchased from her. She has a good eye for a prospect and is honest about their strengths/weaknesses, so for someone who isn’t comfortable buying straight from the track or doesn’t have an “in” to that world, she’s a great source. You get to see what the horses are like away from the track, see them ridden w/t/c and even over their first few jumps. She takes tons of pictures and videos. She’s able to assess their temperament and get an idea of what they’d be good at. For Bobby, all of that is really important, and why he didn’t want to buy one directly off the track.

Only problem? She’s in freaking Delaware. 1,600 miles away.

Extra complication on that problem? She sells the good ones so fast, you’re unlikely to have time to arrange a trip up there to try one in person without it getting sold before you arrive.

There was no freaking way we were going to talk Bobby into this horse, right? And then Jess posted an update on her facebook.

I admit, as soon as she described him as a “gate licker” (her term for that derpy quiet amateur type horse who is probably standing there licking the gate while the rest of his idiot friends are running laps in the field), I was sold. As the owner of a couple Gate Lickers myself, I appreciate that kind of brain. Then I opened the video and watched as she flopped around on him, waving her hands around in the air, and he just kept on trotting like “well that’s an odd way to ride, but ok”. On his 3rd ride post track. In the freezing cold. After a week off.

THIS was Bobby’s horse.

I’ll take 3 of these to go, please and thank you.

Hillary and I had to work a little bit (and trust me we are zero percent subtle) to sell the idea to Bobby. After all, it would mean buying him sight unseen. Jess’s post and video were quickly spreading across facebook, and it seemed like everyone was quickly falling in love with this horse. I had no doubt in my mind that he would definitely sell within the next 24 hours. We convinced Bobby to watch the video, and then watch it again, and then read everything in the description carefully. There was no doubt that this one seemed absolutely perfect. Even Bobby couldn’t deny that this was by far the most promising one we’d seen. So he called Jess and talked to her more about him, and next thing you knew he had a PPE scheduled for the next day. I think we all felt that this one was special… including the huge wait list of people that were next in line if Bobby decided to pass.

The vetting was stressful, as all vettings are.

especially when you’re high drama Bobby

Ultimately though, Cannavaro looked really good for a horse that was just a few weeks off the track. We all talked about the results amongst ourselves, and with Trainer, and Bobby talked with the vet. Cannavaro would benefit from a couple months to chill and let his body heal from the stresses of the track, as they all do, but there was definitely nothing major or show-stopping. He was good to go for his next career.

I won’t lie, there was a lot of hyperventilating in our group chat that day. Ultimately though, Bobby’s gut told him that this horse was the one, and he took a leap of faith.

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That’s really adorable, admit it. I think we’re all excited about this one. Also, this is a genius way to rack up those AmEx points. Buy the horse, pay it off immediately, cash in the points… genius.

Jess was super efficient and had the shipper booked immediately, lucking into an already scheduled load that was headed south. So on Wednesday we sent the horse’s ad to Bobby, on Thursday he was PPE’d, and on Friday the shipper picked him up. That’s how you do it, folks!

The shipper’s experience with the horse so far has totally meshed with Jess’s assessment:

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Bobby’s convo with the shipping coordinator

So hopefully Cannavaro will get here by tomorrow, and Bobby will get to meet his new baby, Halo’s “little brother”. And yes, they even do share a little bit in common pedigree wise, both being Seattle Slew descendants – Cannavaro via his sire First Defence, and Halo via his damsire Tsunami Slew.

In the mean time Bobby has been doing what one does upon buying a new horse, and geeking out about all the things he’ll need when he gets here. I went searching and found the video of Cannavaro’s only win, in a Maiden Claimer last November. He wasn’t much of a racehorse overall, but hey… he did win once!

I’m over here feeling like the excited but nervous Auntie, waiting for him to arrive so Bobby can get to know him. I can’t wait to see Cannavaro figure out his new life, and blossom, and learn what eventing is all about. I LOVE this part of OTTB’s… they’re little sponges in that first 6-12 months post-track, and it’s so rewarding to see them change physically and mentally as they settle into their new life. Bobby is a great rider, so it will be really fun to see their relationship form and get to watch him bring along his next horse. I think we finally found one worthy of filling Halo’s shoes (and, uh, maybe being a little less spooky in the process!).

So to celebrate, I thought we should have a little “Welcome to the Family” contest.

As I mentioned above, the process of this horse’s purchase was mostly hashed out via a group chat. And as you can also see from the above sample, Bobby REALLY likes exclamation marks. Especially when you get him amped up. So I threw together a little prize package and decided to make this really simple:

Guess how many exclamation marks Bobby used in our group chat in the 24-ish hour period between when I first sent him the horse’s ad and when he actually purchased the horse? 

Easy peasy! If no one guesses the exact number, I will go with whoever is closest. In the event of a tiebreaker I might ask you to also guess how many expletives were used by Bobby in that same time period. I doubt it’ll come to that though. As usual, please remember to leave your full name and/or blog link and/or email with your comment so that I know who to contact if you win.

Here’s the prize package! The black polka dot stock tie (from Sweet Iron Co, an Australian brand) is to represent the dot on Bobby’s aforementioned never-ending exclamation marks. The Likit is a nod to Cannavaro’s “Gate Licker” reputation. The Impossipuzzle (unicorn, space, and donut themed, naturally) is because that’s exactly what finding a new horse for Bobby felt like sometimes… an impossible puzzle. And the Unicorn Popper, because duh, Cannavaro is a unicorn.

Good luck with your guesses and welcome to the family Cannavaro!

“Self-Made”

After Henry and I finished our first Prelim, someone commented that it must feel even sweeter since I was on a self-made horse. At first I was like “Yeah you’re so right” and then I kind of fell down the rabbit hole of overthinking, as one does, and realized it’s not really that simple. What does “self-made” mean, really? And does it matter? Is there really a greater sense of pride to be found in making up your own horse versus buying one that is already going?

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First I would argue that to some people, Henry is not self-made. It depends on what your definition is. By the time I came upon him he was a brain-fried pasture puff, sure, but he had jumped before I bought him. And while yes I have taken him up the levels from BN to Prelim, my Trainer has ridden him some too. She’s probably got a cumulative 20 rides on him over the last 4 years, and she ran him in his first two Training level events because I really wanted him to have positive experiences. Those were the right things for him and I regret none of it. It’s true that I’ve put 99.9% of the work into him myself, but still – I’ve had help. To some people that means he isn’t self-made, and honestly the term kind of makes me feel like it doesn’t give credit to all the support and help that I’ve had. Success doesn’t happen on your own, it takes a village, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that. There is no “self” when it comes to producing a good horse.

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Neither of us would be where we are today without her. Period. Full stop.

Secondly – what is the value in “self-made”, if any? Does that make one person’s accomplishment more or better than someone else’s? To me – hell freaking no! To be totally honest I’m much more comfortable with the idea of buying a green horse and bringing it up through the levels than I am with buying a nice upper level horse that someone else has produced. To me that sounds daunting, and seems like a lot of pressure learning to ride a horse like that, trying to do it justice. I think I’d constantly be worried about breaking it, or doing a really crappy job compared to the rider it had before. I would probably be mortified by any mistakes. Many props to the riders that can do that, because it seems incredibly intimidating. For me personally it’s less pressure and more fun to bring up a greener one, where there are no expectations floating around. I enjoy the process, to which there are pros and cons. At the same time I don’t blame someone for wanting to take a different approach. Having a more educated horse to show you the way can be completely invaluable when it comes to learning and bettering ones skills as a rider, and that’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed by.

I don’t think that accomplishments on self-made horses are any less than accomplishments on purchased horses. I think they’re two roads, both full of potholes and roundabouts and construction zones, coming from different directions but ultimately ending up in the same place. I know how hard Prelim is for the average amateur, no matter what you’re sitting on, and I would feel like a real asshole if I tried to belittle someone else’s success just because they got there a different way than I did. It’s a lot of work, no matter what road you take to get there.

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Beginner Novice Henry was cute though.

I think what makes me most uncomfortable with the term “self-made” is that it denotes a sense of pride. Pride is a really dangerous thing when it comes to horses. A healthy amount of pride is fine, I think… like I am insanely proud of Henry and what a good boy he is. But too much pride can quickly bleed over into selfishness and egotism, and IMO that’s where people get into trouble. We’ve all seen it; people that are too protective of their egos to ask for help when they need it, or to do what’s best for the horse. That’s where people get hurt and/or ruin good horses. To me the most valuable quality in an equestrian is the ability to do what they feel is right for their horses, regardless of ego, pride, or the opinions of others. That’s a true horseman, whether it means they’re self-made or not.

How many times have we seen people’s accomplishments belittled because they buy a “made” horse? How many times have we seen people judged because they choose to send their talented young horse to a professional for a while? I’ve been guilty of it at times too. The more I see and experience though, the more I realize that not all of us take the same path, and that’s okay. In fact, I would argue that it takes more selflessness, more courage, and more intelligence to admit when you need/want help, or that someone else could do a better job than you could, or to take on a horse that comes with high expectations.

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Novice Henry was already pretty pro at saving my ass, let’s be honest

I’m convinced that there is no one right way, or best way. The way I’ve done things doesn’t make me better or my accomplishments more. They are horses, after all, and we are human, and we’re all on the same journey. What matters most in the end is being honest with yourself, doing what’s best for your horse, and what makes the most sense for your current situation as well as for your future. If you’ve done that, in my book you’re successful by default. The rest, as I see it, is just noise.

What do you think?

Pre-Show Routine, or lack thereof.

A few weeks ago someone on Instagram asked me to do a post about my pre-show routine. I had to laugh at that, because clearly y’all don’t understand what a garbage human I am if you think I might actually have a regimented routine that’s worth sharing with anyone. I started to wonder if I’m accurately representing myself in this blog… or if some of you have just forgotten that I’m the idiot who once showed up at an event without either of my saddles. I’m also like 50/50 at best for whether or not I remember my helmet camera at all, and then remember to charge it, and then remember to wear it, and then remember to actually turn it on. Not exactly a shining example of someone you should be trying to emulate here, y’all.

Henry would agree

But hey, if you want to know my typical pre-show routine, I’ll shoot it to you straight.

Usually on Thursday night before the show (assuming we’re leaving on Friday. Push this back a day if we’re not leaving until Saturday, obviously, because why would I ever think more than a day in advance?) I start trying to find all my show clothes. My show coat is either hanging in my closet, if I was feeling particularly fancy about myself after the last show, or it’s still in the coat bag in the back of my truck. My shirts are probably lost in the basket of clean clothes that I sometimes put away but usually don’t. My breeches are definitely still dirty, and probably balled up in the corner of the closet, with my show belt still in the loops. My show saddle pads and XC boots are either still in the trailer or sitting on top of the dryer, still dirty.

Now, because I’ve waited until the last possible second to do any of this, I get to scrub everything with Shout and do a few loads of whites, probably consuming most of a container of Oxyclean in the process. Lord help the laundry room during all this, the Shout and Oxyclean end up all over the place like I was trying to clean up a very intense murder scene or something.

it’s kind of a miracle that I don’t perpetually look like I crawled out of a dumpster

My tack, lord help it, is probably not clean yet either. I always dunk my bit after I ride to get the gunk off, and I wipe down my girths regularly with a rag. That’s about it for daily maintenance. My deep cleaning and conditioning happens the night before the show itself, usually while I’m sitting in front of my horse’s stall going over my dressage test in my head. Unless it’s a teeny tiny jumper show or something, then yeah I’m not cleaning shit.

As for the horses, they are much more well-maintained and don’t require much prep. I keep manes trimmed regularly, I chop off fetlock hair like an obsessive lunatic (okay, confession, I hate feathers or long fetlock hair, it makes me twitchy), and I keep the top of Henry’s tail trimmed up. There is rarely much special prep to do for them aside from touch up the bridle path or re-bang the tail. If it’s a big show I’ll dye Henry’s tail a couple weeks before, but I’m less psycho about that now than I used to be. I do keep a can of black aerosol spray in my trunk though, because sunbleached tails come in really close behind feathers and long manes in my book. Clearly I have hair issues, which is kind of ironic if you look at the terrible disaster that is happening on my own head right now. When was the last time I even had a haircut?

What I don’t do these days is trim whiskers or ear hair. I stopped doing that years ago. Instead my horses have extensive ear bonnet collections (yes, Presto already has 2 bonnets despite not actually having any circumstance in which he would wear one, why are you judging me right now?) that cover the ear fuzz. I had a dressage person tell me that none of the cool people in their world clip noses anymore either, since the Europeans don’t, so who knew I was trendy?

he knows that I am not

The horse area of my trailer is always clean and well-bedded, I’m a stickler about that too. The tack room may or may not look like a tornado ran through it though, depending on what I’ve been doing lately. I keep a lot of my show-specific items in there so I don’t have to remember to pack all that stuff – stud kit, muck cart, buckets, etc. The less I have to pack, the less likely I am to forget things.

I pack all of Henry’s stuff the day before we leave. His food and hay and supplements are usually the first things in the trailer (including extras of all 3, of course), along with his wide collection of clothing (what do you mean it seems a bit ridiculous to have 6 different sheets/blankets/coolers for a 2 day horse show?), etc. My tack and tack trunk go in last. I’m super paranoid these days about compulsively checking to make sure I got both saddles and all 3 bridles, because I will definitely never live it down if I make that mistake again. The people I hang out with are jerks.

don’t trust her face

All my clothes tend to get packed the morning of, maaaaaybe the night before if they’re dry in time. Will I remember to bring non-riding clothes for myself, or pajamas, or my toothbrush? You never know. I will always have extra breeches though, and probably a few shirts, a couple belts, my designated pairs of show socks, a couple stock ties, two pairs of boots, and 2-3 helmets. I’m pretty good about remembering to pack all of my camping stuff too, which may or may not actually still be in the back of my truck from the last show. Does it count as packing if I never actually unpacked it? Let’s go with yes.

I will probably remember to go to the store the night before and grab a few things to eat. It will never be enough, but it will definitely include Pop-Tarts for Henry, one of his special horse show treats. I also NEVER remember to grab water. I’m perpetually dehydrated at horse shows because I can remember to pack 6 items of clothing for my horse but can’t ever remember to pack drinks for myself. I will even stop at a gas station on my way to the barn that morning and get a bag of ice to fill my Yeti so that I can ice Henry’s legs at the show, but I still won’t remember to grab anything to drink. If not for the show moms who are perpetually thrusting water bottles at me when I look like I might pass out, I would probably be dead by now. Let’s be honest.

At least he’s happy?

Did I remember my helmet camera? WHO KNOWS. Did I remember to charge the battery that inflates my air mattress? WHO KNOWS. Did I remember to pack nude-colored underwear so that no one has to see neon through my whites? WHO KNOWS. These are all surprises that we’ll find out when I get there. Living life on the edge.

So basically – if you need to get a horse ready for a show or pack all of their stuff, I’m your gal. But when it comes to being an actual adult human… I’m a hot mess.

Cool like Brother

Throughout the course of my life I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with a variety of different horses. They have represented a wide range of ages, backgrounds, disciplines, and general temperaments. My time working at a breeding farm, and raising my own foal, showed me just how important it can be to get the manners installed early. All the OTTB’s I’ve owned have demonstrated how useful a lot of exposure and handling can be later on down the line. Others have shown me just how much the horse’s natural temperament can come into play, and how much it can be improved upon with proper guidance.

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well handled baby stallions grow up into well behaved adult stallions (Cielo B as a yearling)

Henry, while no doubt one of the weirdest and cheekiest horses I have ever met in my entire life, is pretty excellent on the ground. He’s reliable, and he’s smart, and for the most part he can be trusted not to be a moron in a bad situation – if he does anything “naughty” it’s usually completely deliberate on his part (see earlier remark about cheeky). He’s good for the vet, he’s good for the farrier, he comes up to you in the field, he ties like a champ, and he self-loads. He’s an easy horse to own, and I want all of my future horses to be like him.

Most of the horses I’ve had that have been on the track or in race training for any decent amount of time have been similar to Henry. Some more nervous than him just in general, or some with particular issues (generally caused by a person’s stupidity or temper), but overall they’ve been exposed to a lot and been handled extensively.

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This one was a TB but never made it to the track… he was not as easy.

Presto’s dam Sadie was the first foal I raised on my own, from birth all the way up. Working at a breeding farm meant that I was familiar with handling foals, but most of them ended up sold before they were actual adult horses, being ridden and shown. I had never been there every step of the way before. Because of that, a lot of Sadie’s life was a little bit of trial and error on my part. There are the people who say to leave the young horses in a field with other horses and leave them alone until they’re 3 or 4. There are the people who extensively handle and show their horses, going somewhere every weekend and racking up points and miles. I kind of took the in between approach, leaning more toward the “leave her alone” side of things. She wore tack a few times, she knew the basic idea of how to lunge, and she mostly tied, and she kind of loaded (ish). I did something with her somewhere between every 2-4 weeks, although usually it was just grooming. I didn’t take her places or tie her much, or make an effort to expose her to a lot of things. I figured we could do all that stuff later.

What I didn’t take into account with Sadie was her general temperament. She was a busy-minded horse, smart almost to a fault, and with her, inactivity led to bad things. She got herself into trouble a lot, and had the staples, stitches, and scars to prove it. She also didn’t know how to properly respond to pressure, and had a tendency to panic when she felt stuck.

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In case you were wondering, donkey ears ARE genetic

I came to realize that I had done her a disservice by not taking her temperament into account. I absolutely should have done more with her, kept her brain engaged, and done a better job of teaching her how to respond in situations where she was unsure or felt trapped. Some baby horses do just fine with the “less is more” approach. She was not one of them. She wasn’t difficult, she just needed more guidance from me than what I gave her.

It’s not a mistake that I’m going to repeat with Presto. Some people think that I do too much with him, mess with him too much, and should leave him alone to just be a horse. I would argue that he has 24 hours a day to be a horse, so spending 30 minutes a few times a week learning to be a good citizen is not exactly infringing on his social development.

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don’t worry, he’s still very good at biting his friends

I’m lucky that Presto’s natural temperament is much like his mother in that he’s naturally pretty easy, he’s smart, and his lessons stick. Since the day he got here I’ve been teaching him how to properly handle pressure and how to think instead of react. It is 100% a quality that you can teach, and I try to always be aware of what he’s thinking and doing so that I’m molding his brain properly. As a result, he’s a much more confident horse at this age than his mother was.

I go out of my way to put him in situations where I think he might be concerned or confused…. not unsafe, but mentally challenging. Each new experience builds his confidence, every time he doesn’t get his way builds his character, and every time he looks to me with a question mark in his mind and I provide him with an answer, it solidifies our relationship more. This doesn’t mean I baby him, because I definitely don’t. His lines for acceptable behavior are very black and white. But training horses is a constant series of praise and corrections, and in order to make said corrections, I have to put him in situations where he doesn’t know the answer. It starts here on the ground, but the same type of thing will continue once he’s under saddle.

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Henry is a pretty easy horse because he’s confident in himself and he trusts people 100%… I want Presto to be the same. I want him to feel comfortable in his surroundings, no matter what’s happening, I want him to trust that I’m “safe harbor”, and I want him to look to me for guidance if he’s unsure. He only learns those things through experience. Whether it’s something big like standing tied by himself while I ride Henry in the next pasture, or something small like learning how to pick up his feet all from one side, I think that all of these things put together help make him into the horse I want him to be.

Having a big brother like Henry means that Presto has some pretty big shoes to fill. But having both horses together, and being able to directly compare the things Henry does to the things Presto does… it’s a big advantage for me, I think, if I use the opportunity to it’s fullest. Also having made the mistakes I did with Sadie definitely showed me that there is no such thing as one right way – just that I need to do what’s best for me, and take the horse’s temperament into consideration. They’re the ones that should guide my decisions, not anyone else.

Raising Presto in such a public way does leave me open to a lot of opinions, but if anything it’s really just shown me how important it is to go with my gut. He’s my horse, and I know him best, and I also know what’s best for me in my own situation. That’s a big part of blogging and having horses in general, really… considering the opinions and ultimately doing what you feel is best.

Time will tell how all of this works out. Presto already comes up to me in the field, he ties pretty well, he stands for the farrier, he self loads, and he uses his brain pretty admirably for an idiot baby colt. I’m happy with what I have, mostly because I see a horse that is happy in his education and knows what is expected of him. Will he be as good as Henry? Who knows.

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He’ll definitely be as cheeky as Henry is, at least. That’s one quality I seem to be very good at cultivating.

Phillip Dutton Clinic

One of my big goals this year is to seek out as many educational opportunities as possible, in whatever form they may be. Mounted, unmounted, formal, informal, riding-related, breeding-related, horsemanship-related… whatever. I just want to focus on learning. Riding in clinics isn’t really my favorite, mostly because I don’t feel like they have the most return on investment given the limited amount of dollars in my budget, but I do really like auditing. So when I heard about a Phillip Dutton clinic happening up in Dallas, and that auditing was free, I was 100% all in. It didn’t take much convincing (read: none) to convince Hillary to come too.

When we stopped for dinner on the way up, there was a girl in the restaurant making balloon animals. This is Mr. Squeakers, the official trip mascot. Later I had to bolt across a La Quinta parking lot to save him when a gust of wind blew him out of the truck.

The weekend was cold as hell, but I did the best I could to take video and notes with my very frozen fingers. Phillip had some really cool exercises, a few that I definitely want to set up at home, but I was glad that I was auditing instead of spending a lot of money riding. I am one of those people that likes things explained to me in detail – I really want to know the WHY behind everything – and Phillip was not particularly verbose. Mostly it seemed like he let the exercises do the talking, which they definitely did. I still got some useful notes though – a few direct quotes and a lot of just general observations.

 

Some of the exercises set up on showjumping day. The Christmas tree didn’t survive the wind

Saturday was showjumping day. He started off by warming everyone up together in a small space, about the size of a dressage court, and really focused on getting the horse accepting the leg. The did a lot of lateral work at all 3 gaits, and then focusing on getting the horse sharp off the aids by doing a lot of collecting and then lengthening in all 3 gaits. He said several times “prepare for every turn” – which ended up being a common theme for him throughout the weekend. He challenged the riders to see how short they could get the trot, and then how much they could lengthen, and then back again. Eventually he added in small circles in the corners, to increase the balance and get the horses thinking. He wanted them accepting of the aids, in front of the leg, and adjustable.

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For the jumping, a lot of the exercises involved offset and/or angled fences. There was an offset two stride line of oxers, a skinny with one stride to angled oxer (or the other way, angled oxer to skinny), a corner that got added into the mix, a single oxer on the short side, and a two stride line. They started off cantering single oxers in the middle just one at a time, going straight. Phillip asked them to vary their approach and their distance – first asking them to jump out of an open stride and slightly longer distance, and then asking them to shorten the stride up and jump from a deep distance. He emphasized that it was important to practice different distances and different paces in your training, so that you can produce whichever you want, whenever you want, and the horse knows how to jump out of any of them. He told the riders that if they weren’t sure of the distance, to just sit and squeeze and wait.

When they first added in the skinny, one of the riders tried to walk over to it to let her green horse get a look at it first, and Phillip admonished her for that. He said that our horses have to learn to trust you and that their job is to jump anything we point them at, no questions asked. He said that if we think a horse may be unsure about a question, start small and break down the individual parts of the exercise, then put it together in a way that will educate the horse. But they don’t just get to walk up and get a look at “scary” fences before we ask them to jump. (This is something that I’m a firm believer in, so it was cool to see Phillip saying it too)

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Trainer continues to get Flat nice and trained up and ready for me to steal

Cross country day started off with more, different, exercises in the arena, before venturing out to a little bit of XC. Again he spent some time on the flatwork, especially making sure that the horses were thinking forward and moving sharply off the leg. They practiced lengthening for 6 strides, shortening for 6 strides, turning small circles, lengthening quickly again, shortening quickly, etc. If some of the horses were a bit slow in their responses, Phillip encouraged the riders to put the pressure on their horses now, on the flat, so that it didn’t come back to bite them once they got to the jumping. Quick and clear corrections = good training.

In the arena he had set up an exercise that I’ve seen him use a lot in clinics now, a line of jumps that looks like this:

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To start, they rode the first jump and 3rd jump as a 3 stride line, then they rode the first and second jump as an offset line, then he had them come back through and jump all 3. He didn’t explain this exercise beforehand, or offer any kind of guidance on how to ride it. He just kinda… threw everyone in and let them figure it out. The people who went later in the group had the benefit of learning a little bit from the mistakes of the people before them, but still, this exercise was a challenge to every group in the beginning. Eventually everyone figured out that what he was going for here was a) getting the horses sharp and paying attention and looking for whats next, b) getting the riders thinking FORWARD and using an opening guiding rein to move the horse, rather than pulling back on the rein or riding tentatively. Zig-zagging through jumps like this naturally makes you want to slow down and pick your way through, but it NEVER worked out if it was ridden that way. You had to keep the forward, and you had to look for the next jump with your eye, and open your hand in the air to guide the horse’s focus to the next one.

Once everyone got that exercise, he had them really gallop boldly at a triple bar on the other side of the arena, then come through the triple again. On both days he was VERY adamant about making good turns, both before and after the jump. If you landed from a jump and let your horse drift in, or just rode like a sack of potatoes to the corner, you would get a lecture about bad horsemanship. The turns are crucial to the balance, and he did not like even a single bad turn. He was also adamant that if a horse ran out, you must immediately correct them by turning the opposite direction. If your horse ran out to the left and then you immediately turned him back around left, you could go ahead and brace yourself for a megaphone “bad horsemanship” zinger.

After the warmup in the arena, they went out to the small XC field. Again he had exercises involving a lot of narrows or offset jumps. There were a lot of struggles here throughout the different group levels, and some of the greener horses were maybe a little bit “mind-blown” by some of the exercises at first. Phillip’s big thing was that the riders should always be looking to the NEXT jump, planning ahead and getting the pace they needed. His narrow/offset exercises really forced the horses to pay attention, and they forced the riders to make faster and better reactions. He stressed several times that good XC riding isn’t about being right all the time, it’s about having the ability to quickly react. Several of his exercises demanded a conservative ride in, but then a very positive and forward ride out, otherwise it just wouldn’t work. The use of the opening/guiding rein carried over here, too.

He also spent most of the day telling people to lengthen their reins and get their bodies back. He said “When in doubt, stay back and let the horse have his head and neck to balance. You hardly ever see anyone fall off backwards.”. He still wanted the riders to take care not to hang on the horses mouths though, or catch them in the air/on landing. He encouraged grabbing mane or neck strap if necessary.

The biggest takeaways for me were that he made the riders a bit bolder, thinking more forward. He was forgiving of mistakes as long as you dug in, made an effort, and reacted intelligently. Pretty much everyone finished the clinic riding more forward and more determined than they had, and the horses were generally more rideable. For me a lot of what he said was directly applicable to where I’m at right now, so it was a weekend well-spent just to get these reminders and get a few ideas for new exercises that I can set up at home.

Back to the Solid Jumps

Yesterday afternoon we loaded the kids up for a quick little jaunt down to Pine Hill to cross country school. After what has shaped up to be one of my busiest and most stressful weeks at work ever, I really needed a little reprieve. It’s also supposed to start raining again today so we figured this might be our last chance at a decent school for a while.

Two butts.

We haven’t jumped any XC fences since the last show here at the beginning of December. And we’ve jumped at all a grand total of twice. So… figured it was probably a good idea to get out and gallop a few things before the next show coming up on the 20th. We weren’t planning on doing much, just getting the ride dialed back in. I tend to always take the first few fences to slip back into the bolder XC ride, and the longer I go in between, the longer it generally takes me to remember. This seems especially true as we’ve gone up the levels. Bigger fences and more speed are harder to just snap right back into, when you aren’t practicing those things on a regular basis.

Mum, the XC is that way

I also wanted to take the opportunity to try out a couple of new acquisitions to my equipment line up – a Champion skull cap and a Dainese XC vest. I need to do actual reviews of these soon but preliminarily I’m happy with both things. The helmet is AWESOME, like it’s definitely up there with being one of the nicest helmets I own, if not the nicest. Which is saying a lot, because… um… I own a lot of helmets. The vest is just downright fascinating. I like it, but it’s definitely different from anything I’ve had before. I have many thoughts about it. We’ll save them for another day.

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We mounted up and set off to warmup, and Henry felt great. The first few fences were the same as my first few fences always are, with me trying to remember the bolder ride and finding more impulsion again. From there we went to the water, which was a bit deep to jump directly down into, so we made a creative route through, taking the novice log in, skimming the edge, and jumping the Prelim skinny out.

After that we strung a few galloping fences together. I’m trying to up the ante on the speed between the jumps a bit, since things are definitely different in that regard between Training and Prelim, but I’m still kind of learning just when I need to sit up and rebalance, how MUCH I need to rebalance, etc. More speed always changes things. This is my big learning curve at the moment, really. Timing of the half-halt to change the balance, and also still allowing him to carry more impulsion and cover more ground. Everything at Prelim is designed to be ridden like you’re attacking it, but you still have to attack it with a lot of balance and respect – if that makes any sense? I need to set something up so I can practice this at home more and get used to the different feel.

Moar zoomies between the jompies
and then you put the jompies in between the zoomies

The ground back in the woods was still quite wet, so we just stuck to what we could do in the front field. Luckily there’s still plenty up there to keep you busy, including some of the bank complexes. Prelim has a bigger Irish bank back in the woods (the one that Henry used to have a serious mental come-apart about, but skipped right over last month like it weren’t-no-thang and made my heart so happy) and a smaller downhill bank combination up front. At first I was struggling to get Henry up in front of my leg, which… newsflash, shit don’t work that well when a horse is behind your leg on XC. He’ll keep going and keep jumping, but it ain’t cute. It was very odd for him. He wasn’t responding the way he normally does when I close my leg. I ended up having to give him a couple taps on the butt to get his impulsion back, and then everything jumped much better.

hopping back up the other way

When I got off I thought he looked like maybe he wasn’t feeling the best, and when he didn’t seem interested in eating a treat, my suspicions were confirmed. I dosed him with some omeprazole and coaxed him into eating some grass, and he started to perk back up. I think his tummy was bothering him towards the end of the schooling, which would explain the lack of his typical impulsion. So – back on ulcer meds he goes for a while. Bye money.

I’m glad we were able to beat the rain and get back out there and school a bit. I have a few things work on over the next week before we head back out for our next Prelim run!

Just A Few Awesome Things

First of all, huge thank you to everyone that has donated so far to the Little Orphan Annex Memorial Award fund. I was completely blown away by the response, and we were able to meet our minimum goal within just a few hours of yesterday’s post going live. The generosity and compassion of the horse community never fails to amaze me.

It’s happening!

Several of you contacted me and said you would like to contribute but need a few more days, so I’m going to leave the pool open through the end of this weekend. If we raise enough to hit the next sponsorship level, we can up the ante of the cash award. If we don’t, whatever is leftover will still end up in RRP’s pocket. Next week we will get started on the details, firm up the contract, and get everything paid for, so that we can start advertising and promoting the award ASAP. We are so thrilled to be able to do this for Hillary and for chestnut mares everywhere, so thanks again for making it possible!

Ok, second thing of the day – the blogger gift exchange. I already posted about what I received, but since I was a little bit last minute about sending out my own gift, I haven’t yet posted about what I gave. Mostly I want to pimp a friend’s small business real quick, because when I see young people (jesus I sound old) busting their butts to make it, I want to help them out. Sofia is in her first year of college at Texas A&M, rides with my trainer, and does vinyl work on the side for some extra cash. She’s pretty cool aside from liking Cardi B and Drake waaaaaaay too much (both of which Sofia had to explain to me on the way to Chatt. I got a Cardi-cation that definitely did not stick because now all I remember is that she was originally a stripper before she was a rapper? Anyway.). Sofia has made a lot of shirts for us within our group, from polos to cross country shirts to vests to special team shirts. My favorite are the lightweight v-neck tech shirts, with our barn logo on the front and horse’s name printed down the sleeve. They are SUPER CUTE for cross country, or just on their own.

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One of my own XC shirts with Henry’s show name on the arm

For the gift exchange I had a special one made for Bette and her horse Chimi, who’s show name is Chimi Chonga and instagram hashtag is #theflyingburrito. I found a logo, modified it a bit, and Sofia put it on the chest, with his name on the sleeve. This is like the 4th or 5th shirt I’ve ordered from Sofia and she always does such a great job. These v-necks are only $25, too! So if you want some cute shirts (or other vinyl related stuff) made and also want to help toss some money at a horse-poor college student, I highly recommend Sofia. You can contact her through Instagram.

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Shamelessly stealing Bette’s photos of the shirt because I’m dumb and forgot to take any myself
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We’re going XC schooling this afternoon and I’m in a rush to wrap this up so I can get to work, but last but not least, if you need to be entertained and have not read the comments on this Eventing Nation post, it really delivers. Also, shout out to Allison (and Alisha) on that thread… the real MVP’s.  With such quoteables as “Thank you for coming to my TED talk.” and “This is my hill and I will die on it”, I dunno you but we should be friends.

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Maybe someday we should have a discussion about young horses and jumping. Today is not that day. I definitely didn’t get enough sleep for that.

Little Orphan Annex Memorial Award

Bloggers, thoroughbred enthusiasts, and mare lovers – today I need your help!

As some of you may know, fellow blogger and barnmate Hillary lost her lovely TB mare Annie (Little Orphan Annex) at the end of last year. Losing a horse is never easy, and it’s especially heartbreaking to lose one so young and full of promise. Annie was an OTTB, a chestnut mare, and while she could be spicy, she was also a fantastic athlete, forgiving partner, and beloved friend.

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To honor the bond that Hillary and Annie had, and to commemorate the impact that this special horse had on so many of us, Beka and I thought it would be a great idea to sponsor a special award at this year’s Retired Racehorse Project makeover show. This award would be called the Little Orphan Annex Memorial Award, and it would be a cash prize given to the highest scoring chestnut mare of the competition.

After speaking with the folks at RRP, they are totally on board with our idea and this is something that we can absolutely do! However, the minimum amount required to secure sponsorship for a special award is $1500. While that’s a bit steep for just a few of us to come up with, I know that there are a lot of Hillary, Annie, thoroughbred, and mare fans out there that might be interested in pitching in towards this award as well.

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The award sponsorship INCLUDES advertising across several different platforms, including social media and print, so it would be publicized in several places between now and October. For those of you who may not be familiar with RRP, here are a few important tidbits from their website:

The Mission

RRP exists to facilitate placement of Thoroughbred ex-racehorses in second careers by increasing demand for them in equestrian sports and serving the farms, trainers, and organizations that transition them.

The Impact

Since it’s 2010 founding RRP has inspired thousands to choose an OTTB. Thanks to 135,000 Facebook fans, 94,000 website hits, constant press coverage, and sell out crowds at horse expos, the popularity and value of OTTBs are on the rise.

We felt that RRP was the perfect program to support in Annie’s memory, given her and Hillary’s background. And just like RRP aims to increase the demand for the thoroughbred as a sport horse (something they have definitely succeeded in doing!), we are hoping that this particular award will incentivize Makeover participants to seek out and buy chestnut mares. Often times they get a bad rap, and being a “chestnut mare” can carry a lot of unfair and unwarranted stigma in our industry, especially if they’re a thoroughbred.

Our RRP liason tells me that many participants DO specifically make buying decisions based on special awards, so it’s a realistic secondary perk of doing this. At the very least, we hope that this will offer a little extra thank you to a makeover trainer that decided to give another special chestnut mare a chance to prove herself, just like Annie did.

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Because I knew that we would have to go “public” with this to make the minimum sponsorship dollar amount, I’ve already told Hillary of our idea. There were a lot of tears, and she was really moved by what she said was “an absolutely perfect way to honor Annie”. Hillary is aiming to attend the Makeover show this year, so we’re hoping she will be there in person to see this award given out.

CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT THE LITTLE ORPHAN ANNEX MEMORIAL AWARD

If you want to leave your name along with your contribution, I will make sure that it gets included in a card that we can give to Hillary when the award is officially paid for. If you’d rather donate anonymously, that’s totally fine too. Any amount that you’re able to contribute is greatly appreciated – every dollar counts. If we are lucky enough to exceed the minimum $1500 goal, all extra funds will be put toward RPP!

Thank you for being a part of what I hope is something really special!

Sundays are for Horse Friends

After the ridiculously beautiful weather on Saturday, we were all pumped to continue filling the weekend with horses. We made plans for Bobby to come over to our barn on Sunday to gallop (his barn has been too wet to gallop for a while and Halo is straight up bonkers) and then go look at a potential young horse for him that afternoon. Oh, and Hillary wanted to sit on Dobby for a second time. Within a few minutes of planning, we easily and quickly filled Sunday just as thoroughly as we had filled Saturday. The weather was not as nice as the weathermen had promised – instead of 70 and sunny, it was 55 and overcast. But hey, it wasn’t raining, and it wasn’t 30 degrees. Beggars can’t be choosers at this point.

We took Halo, Henry, and Inca out into the hillier pasture, which is also the higher and dryer one. It started out well enough. We trotted a couple laps each way to warmup, then picked up the canter. The above video is our initial canter. So pleasant. And how cute is baby Inca learning how to canter in a group? And then we changed directions, crazy ass Halo TOOK OFF between Hillary and I, and Henry turned into a dolphin. Hillary had been trying to video that way when it happened, so she was busy trying to hang onto her phone, but she did capture this particular gem before everything went all Blair Witch.

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Dammit Henry.

He is ridiculous. One of many reasons he never made it as a racehorse, but at least I find it to be relatively hilarious. I’m pretty sure he thinks he’s actually bucking.

Much cantering and/or dolphining later, we were done with the 3 Muskaidiots, so Hillary grabbed Dobby and I grabbed Presto. Bobby hadn’t met either of them yet, so he got to join the Dobby fan club and play with Presto a bit. Hillary went out to the ring and got on Dobby, so we we all went out to spectate… he’s awfully freaking cute, and with a great brain. When she was done Presto got to make some horse friends of his own.

Halo and Dobby were much nicer to him than Henry ever is. Presto is definitely really weirdly obsessed with Dobby already, they have a similar personality and I think Presto can tell that they would be great friends. As for Halo… I think Presto just thought he smelled weird. Halo did let him nibble on him a bit and didn’t seem to mind the dumb baby horse, though. I think he’d make a pretty good uncle.

After we were done with those horses we made a quick stop for lunch and then headed out to sit on this guy.

He might be the most stout TB I have ever seen, and he’s quite tall too. Like if you told me it was an Irish Sporthorse, I would believe you. He might be a bit more of a project than Bobby is looking for though, and there are still a couple more we want to go sit on. But if you want a very large, very quiet, very reasonably priced project, let me know. The owners are friends of mine too and the horse has been well-loved.

This weekend is shaping up to be just as horsey, as is the weekend after that, AND the weekend after that. As long as the weather cooperates of course. Come on Texas, don’t ruin all my fun times (I’m looking at you, Friday. And Sunday. And next week.).