Update on the barn hunt

When we last left off on the barn hunt update, I was stuffing my feelings into double decker Fudge Rounds and slamming them down my throat like it was my damn job. And up until yesterday afternoon, that’s pretty much exactly what was still happening, just with rapidly increasing anxiety (and copious amounts of queso) as one barn after the next didn’t pan out. I can’t really explain the hellscape that is barn shopping in this town. Well, actually, I can try. Let’s rehash what’s happened so far.

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I also bought this and I regret nothing.

Hillary and I knew that we really wanted to stay together, with all 3 boys. Everything is just a lot easier with a barn buddy. Granted, finding space for 3 horses does complicate things. We scoured the shit out of the internet, I don’t think any stone was left unturned. If it exists as a boarding barn within an hour of Austin, we have seen it. She was even stalking private properties on google maps, looking for suitable barns that might possibly take on a few boarders, and driving around desirable areas being a total stalker. Yeah… that is some next level creepy, in the most admirable way possible. She even called realtors for properties that were for sale asking if they would rent. We were open to self care, co-op situations… anything that looked like a place where our horses could be happy and we could have what we needed.

I’m not joking at all, this is exactly what was happening

First of all, getting anyone at these so-called boarding barns to call/email/message/text you back is apparently a completely unrealistic expectation. We got 3 times as many *crickets* as we did replies. Then there are all the places who have dealbreaker barn rules, like… you can’t come out before 9am. Ever. How is that a thing? Or that you had to have written permission every time you left the property. Or that you could only jump if you took a lesson with them, which isn’t such an uncommon rule, but I have zero interest in taking lessons with any of those trainers, so that’s a nope. Or better yet, you had to be in a training program to board there, which I completely understand their reasoning behind, but also a nope. I’ve already got a trainer and she’s worked pretty darn well for me.

Several more desirable places were just plain out of my budget, with two horses, especially if they didn’t offer pasture board as an option. Other places seemed in budget, until you started adding up all the extra nickel and diming fees, which could easily tack on another $200+ a month. The other more desirable places were full. They’re always full.

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Unlike Henry, who is never full and would like to sneak into the feed room please.

There are a lot of things I can make do with. I don’t need anything fancy whatsoever, but I needed it to be safe. That includes no barbed wire fence. I dunno what it is with horse people here, but damn they love them some barbed wire. Preferably rusty and half falling down. I also needed people taking care of my horse that gave me the sense that they knew what they were doing. Or at least had owned a horse for more than a week. Or knew how many feet horses were supposed to have. Or which was the ass end. Boy do I have stories.

WHY THO

I also need good enough footing to where I’m not going to be out of the saddle for days every time it rains, and to be able to keep my horse sound with all the conditioning we do. THAT is a tall measure around here, where black gumbo soil rules the lands. God it is awful, and I wanted to avoid it. An arena would be nice, but not needed… the more important part is a big enough field to do my conditioning. I can dressage and jump in a field, but it’s a lot harder to condition in a ring. As it is I ride out in the field 99.9% of the time now, and I don’t mind it one bit.

Will I put your address into the soil survey map to see what kind of ground you’ve got? Of course. Do not be alarmed, this is totally normal. Ahem.

I needed turnout. Like… more than a few hours a day and on something bigger than a tiny dry lot paddock or just a stall run (a stall run isn’t turnout, omg). One of my horses needs to move as much as possible to keep himself loose, and the other is a growing and developing 2yo warmblood. They can’t just stand still 23 hours a day if I expect either of them to stay sound in their jobs. Go ahead and cross several more off the list at that request.

We went to look at a few places. On Monday afternoon we drove out to the one that looked by far the most promising on paper and in pictures. It was… what’s the word I’m looking for here… horrendous? Animals were everywhere, of every species, the place smelled like a dirty zoo, there was shit all over the place, the barn worker was walking around barefoot, the stalls were filthy (and everything looked dried and old, so it wasn’t fresh filth), there were way too many horses crammed in the dry lot pens, and – my personal favorite part – there was a horse chilling in the crossties with wire wrapped around it’s leg. The wire had obviously been there a while, judging by the amount of swelling in the leg. Eventually someone came and cut the wire off, then they ran some water over it and gave the horse some bute. I dunno about y’all, but to me that’s an emergency vet call situation. These people were like “oh it’ll be fine, not a big deal”. WHAT. THE. SHIT.

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We couldn’t get out of there fast enough, and immediately hightailed it to a mexican food restaurant to stuff our faces with queso. It’s a healing elixir for PTSD.

With our standards freshly lowered and desperation mounting, we decided to look at pretty much anything and everything. Whoever would call us back and had the few basic things that we needed, we agreed to go look at. Yesterday morning Hillary went out to another place that would be great if you didn’t actually ride, but was definitely a problem if you did. Mostly because who knows where you would do that. Also the stalls were so tiny I don’t think our horses would have fit in them. Not exaggerating.

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Not good footing for event horses, in case you’re wondering…

One of my vets heard our tales of woe and suggested that we call and talk to his wife. She manages his mobile veterinary business, sometimes riding with him to act as vet tech when needed, but they also have a private barn at their home and he thought she might be able to make space for us. It was an incredibly kind offer, and I know it’s not one that just anyone gets. Luckily they both quite like Henry (he can be pretty charming when he feels like it) and I’ve known them for years, so I guess we qualified. I was concerned about how far away it was, 45+ minutes, but I was willing to drive that far if it fit the bill.

Since our levels of internal panic were quickly rising to epic and overwhelming proportions, we cleared our schedules and went out to look at the farm yesterday afternoon. It’s a no-frills type of place, and they’re still in the process of building and adding things and making improvements, but it’s cute and even under construction it’s already got everything we need. The barn is really nice, lots of air flow and good sized stalls with high powered fans and good light. The wife’s ideas and methods about horse keeping line up very closely with my own, from turnout schedule to diet to blanketing and pretty much everything in between. In the summer the horses are rotated between two grass turnouts, also with round bales. In winter they’re turned out in the 6 acre hay field in the back. We can also ride on the neighbor’s property, and maybe even across the street. It looks a lot like what I could imagine having in my own backyard, if I owned property. There aren’t many people and it’s quiet and it comes with the blessed quality of freedom.

looking out toward the back hay field

There’s a sand arena that’s definitely big enough to do dressage or put a few jumps in, and she didn’t mind if we brought ours and set them up. There’s a round pen if I need it to do stuff with Presto. She’s totally cool with us riding out in the field, parking our trailers on site, bringing all of our shit, riding whenever we want, coming and going to shows all the time, etc etc. All of the horses, even the old retired ones, look really good. They have roughage in front of them pretty much 24/7 and all seem very chill and happy and social. Everything is clean and tidy. The ground is pretty good, even with the insane amount of rain we’ve had this week. Presto wouldn’t be on full time turnout since they aren’t set up for pasture board, but he’d get at least all day or all night turnout, with room to stretch his legs.

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Arena still rideable even after 3-4 inches of rain

The price for both horses is slightly more than I’m paying now, but it’s such a negligible amount that by the time you factor in what I currently pay for fan fees in the summer months (something that is included at this place), it pretty much equals out. I will have to rework my life and my schedule a little bit to make the commute work, but… there’s a lot to be said for your horses living at your vet’s house. It’s a pretty incredible offer and I feel really lucky to be on the receiving end. So on June 1, the boys get a new home.

Mostly I’m just relieved to have something nailed down, and so grateful to everyone that helped and offered us a place to land if we couldn’t find something in time. I was definitely starting to panic. Yesterday morning I came perilously close to ordering those double decker Oatmeal Creme Pies by the case from amazon, but today I’m feeling so much better. There’s plenty to be done, some things to buy, and A LOT to pack, but I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

Review: Stockbubble Stock Ties

Yeah, I know, I’ve complained a few hundred times about how much I hate stock ties. It’s definitely not my favorite thing to wear, as someone who is lazy and likes to just slap on a show shirt and not bother with layering more fabric under/around my chins. But now that we’re going Prelim, I finally caved and picked up a simple pre-tied one last fall. Mostly because it had navy unicorns on it. I like it because it’s simple, but I don’t really like the satin fabric, and I don’t like that it sits kind of flat and sad-looking. I mean, I don’t like a super poofy stock tie, but it just looks weird when its really flat. I decided to go on the hunt for a real stock tie, one I’d have to tie myself like an adult (ugh, so whiny) so I could get to lay exactly how I wanted under my coat. I have really grown to love the navy unicorns though, and I knew I wanted something similar. Because if you’re going to make me wear a neck noose, it better at least be fun. But do you know how many unicorn stock ties exist in the world? Very few. Enter: Stockbubble.

If you haven’t seen Stockbubble before, you’re missing out. Even as a begrudging stock tie wearer/buyer, I have to admire the brand. Paging through the Etsy store is almost a little bit of sensory overload, with all the different fabrics available. Owner Halley makes some really pretty stock ties, and isn’t afraid to be creative with her fabrics. I had also heard that she can make pretty much anything by request, so I decided to put that skill to the test. I messaged her letting her know what I was picturing – white fabric with navy unicorns for me, and some kind of elegant navy and white or gray and white anchor fabric for my trainer. Within a few hours she had somehow found both, like some weird fabric magician. She must have some serious sleuthing skills too, because the anchor fabric had to be ordered from Germany.

glittery little anchors! So perfect. Thanks Germans.

Once I gave the green light to the fabrics, she placed the orders, and then we waited for them to arrive. And, no joke, within a couple hours of her having the fabric in her hands, she had the ties completed and ready to ship. She kept me updated every step of the way, and sent me pictures when they were complete. I paid, she shipped, and I had them in my hands a few days later. The ordering process was ridiculously easy, Halley was great, and I got them extremely quickly for a custom item. The price was also super reasonable, with each tie coming in at under $50. Considering the fabrics were a bit pricey and one had to ship from Europe, I thought that was pretty good.

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Great packaging, too!

The construction of the tie is top notch, I couldn’t find so much as a stitch out of place. They have a nice loop built into the back to make it easy to thread the the tie through, which I much prefer over just a slit. The length is perfect to get just the right knot and have enough left over to stay tucked under your coat. As soon as I put it on I found my deeply ingrained stock tie hatred plummeting a few notches.

I’m pretty excited to have a unique, one of kind tie that looks really good under my navy coat but still has a little bit of fun flair to it. It’s pretty subtle, and you can’t really tell that it’s unicorns until you get up close. The anchor one is gorgeous too, the little bit of glitter from the anchors makes it just fun enough, but still really elegant looking.

Paging through their Etsy store or Instagram, there are so many cool stock ties that I find myself having grabby hands for more. There’s such a wide variety, from really plain to really bright, simple smooth cotton to fabrics with texture. And if you have something specific in mind that doesn’t already exist in the store, I’m relatively convinced that if you can dream it, Stockbubble can make it a reality.

For those of us that like to match (which, DQ’s, I’ve seen those matchy sets y’all are obsessed with so I know that literally all of you like to match. Eventers, we already know about y’all, calm down.), she can also make matching belts and dog bandannas.

Do I need this? Maybe.

Having a friend that is a male rider and can so rarely find fun things for men, it was also pretty exciting to see that Stockbubble makes neck ties. Did I peer pressure Bobby about buying an OTTB neck tie? Maybe. Should more people peer pressure him about it? Absolutely. He has two OTTB’s now, clearly he needs one. Plus $5 from each sale of an item made with the OTTB logo fabric goes to RRP. You can’t beat that.

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Halley is a fellow eventer and OTTB owner/rider doing a mad side hustle game (which I have a lot of respect for, obviously) so it feels pretty good to support her business and give her a few of my dollars. The products are gorgeous, the process was so easy, and overall my experience was absolutely 5 stars. If you’re looking for a stock tie, definitely check out Stockbubble! I’ve already got her on the hunt for just the right magic-themed fabric, since clearly I will need a special tie for Presto too…

It’s in the Blood: Badminton edition

Since I was a little late on this one due to life drama, I did some extra stats based on the results as well. Which took even more time and nerd dedication, but I also think it’s more interesting too. Let’s take a look at the field for Badminton 2019!

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A grand total of 80 horses started the dressage phase this year, and as usual there were a few I had to throw out of a few stats due to incomplete pedigrees. I’d rather omit them than knowingly put in inaccurate data.

As has become pretty usual by now, Irish Sport Horse was the most common registry, with 33 horses. The rest were relatively split between Dutch (7) , Hanoverian (7), Selle Francais (7), Holsteiner (4), British Sporthorse (5), Thoroughbred (4), etc. There was also one Connemara x TB cross, just like at Rolex, and one Clydesdale x TB cross.

Of the Irish contingent, 12 have traditional Irish breeding and 21 have some kind of European warmblood – and of the ones that contain warmblood, 76% of them carry Holsteiner blood.

Winner Vanir Kamira, registered Irish Sporthorse by Camiro de Haar Z out of a mare by Dixi xx. (Holsteiner, TB, Irish Sporthorse)

The average blood percentage of the original starting field is 58%, and the average blood percentage of those who completed is 57%. Pretty much the same. The average blood percentage of the clear XC rounds? 58%. What about the blood percentage of the double clears? If you guessed 58%, you get a prize. What about the average blood percentage of the horses who didn’t finish? 57%. These are kinda boring numbers considering how long it took me to input all of that data.

Moving on.

A little more interesting… 19 horses (24% of the field) have at least one full TB parent. Of the full TB’s, you saw a few names several times throughout the pedigrees, including Heraldik, Golden Bash, Danzig, Nijinsky, Mr Prospector, and Mytens.

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Mytens xx

Aside from just the commonalities among the thoroughbreds, several stallions appear more than once throughout the field as a sire or damsire. Courage II, a Holsteiner stallion that was widely used in Ireland, is the sire of an incredible FIVE horses, 4 of which went on to complete, 2 with a clear XC. Limmerick, another Holsteiner stallion that was widely used in Ireland, is the sire of 3 horses in the field, all of which went on to complete, 2 with a clear XC.

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Courage II

Other stallions that are seen multiple times include: Ricardo Z (sire of 2, damsire of 1), Clover Hill (damsire of 3), Balou du Rouet (sire of 2), Lauriston (sire of 1, damsire of 1), Heraldik xx (damsire of 2), Cavalier Royale (damsire of 2), and Golden Bash xx (damsire of 2).

An amazing 56% of the field came up through the FEI young horses classes – ie the old 6yo 1*/7yo 2* levels.

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Swallow Springs, who finished 9th at Lion d’Angers in the 6yo 1* world championship in 2014

Despite having only 4 horses in the field that are registered Holsteiners, an incredible 40 horses (50%) have Holsteiner within the first 4 generations. Similarly, only 7 horses in the field are registered Selle Francais, but 28 horses (35%) have Selle Francais within the first 4 generations. I won’t say that jumping blood is super important for event horses, because I say it all the time, buuuuuut.

I will say that when I sorted out the top 10 dressage scores, I kind of expected a slightly lower blood percentage, ie less TB. But the blood percentage of those top 10 was bang on the average – 57% – and while none of them have a full TB parent, 5 have a full tb damsire. Eight of those top 10 have holsteiner and selle francais (ie more jumper-oriented) breeding.

Any other finisher stats you’d like to see? I could go all day, breaking down average dressage score by registry, average number of rails in showjumping, time faults, etc etc. But I feel like everyone is probably already asleep, so I’ll stop there…

Horse Shopping on a Budget

NO, I’M NOT HORSE SHOPPING. Everyone calm down. I think the only thing that could possibly ratchet up my anxiety level any higher than it already is at the moment would be horse or saddle shopping. But a reader (hi Christine!) emailed me and asked for a post regarding how I’ve gone about finding and buying horses on a low budget, what’s worked for me, what hasn’t, what I look for, etc. Input and experience from others is welcome, as well. Before I share my own thoughts, I will repeat my favorite caveat: I am not a professional. But for someone who isn’t a reseller, I’ve bought some horses before… some great, some not, and I’m more than happy to share what I’ve learned along the way.

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Buy the 17+h 4yo halter broke TB out of someone’s backyard for $350? Sure why not.

My budget has always been really low. As in, of the 14 or 15 horses I’ve purchased, none have cost more than $1500. Let’s be real right off the top – you aren’t going to get a sound, trained, sane, good quality horse for that money. Pick one of those qualities. At 5k, which is still pretty limiting, you’d have more leeway. So while you’re looking, keep saving your money. I’ve always shopped projects, either out of someone’s backyard or off the track. I’ve bought a couple off of craigslist, one off of facebook, one off of a literal paper ad in a feed store, one from a herd dispersal that I heard about randomly, one from CANTER, one off the old forums on pedigree query, one through a local thoroughbred charity, one at an auction, etc etc. Keep your eyes and ears open, and definitely TELL people that you’re looking. You never know what you’ll find via word of mouth. If you see one you like, act quickly, and have your money ready. The good ones get snatched up fast.

I’ve also very rarely gone out deliberately shopping for a horse. I think I’ve tried a grand total of three horses, and only actually bought one of those three. Most of mine have just fallen in my lap. I see something I like, and if I have the scope to take it on, I buy it. But I really like projects, I get a lot of enjoyment out of taking raw material and turning it into something. Usually for me that has meant a horse off the track, but I’ve also bought a few unstarted horses, or ones that had previous issues/mishandling. I think the blank slates were the easiest to bring along, although I will always love me a recycled thoroughbred. That said, starting horses under saddle is certainly not something to take on if you’ve never done it before – outsource that job. And while I dearly love thoroughbreds, they aren’t for everyone, especially straight off the track. Be brutally honest with yourself about what you can handle, and if you’ll need professional assistance to get the horse where you want it to be. If you do, be sure to factor that into your budget as well.

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Impulse purchase auction pony. $325? $375? I forget. Pretty sure he was a welsh cob or a morgan cross of some kind, but no papers.

The question of what I look for in a horse is a little bit harder to cover. Mostly I look for something that seems reasonably athletic and intelligent. An athletic, trainable horse will always be good at something, so even if I end up not keeping it, the horse still has value as a resale. I’ve been open to different breeds, although most of the horses I’ve owned have been thoroughbreds because they tend to suit my purpose best. Depending on what you want to do with the horse, a lot of breeds could be appropriate. Never discount a quarter horse or a draft cross. Shoot, for the lower levels of eventing or for dressage, you could look at all kinds of breeds, including ponies. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just athletic and trainable. Everybody wants the fancy warmblood but very few actually need (or can ride) the fancy warmblood. Remember that the trot can be improved quite a bit with training, so if you’re going to buy off of one gait, I put the most emphasis on the canter. Especially if you’re going to be jumping.

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this one came off the track
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but when he did, he looked like this

I’m definitely really into pedigrees, but it’s not the be-all-end-all. To me a pedigree is a factor, but it certainly won’t be the one thing that my decision hinges off of. There are certain lines I don’t care for, but if I really like the horse I would buy it anyway. And there are certain lines that I really love that will definitely make me take a harder look at a horse. I think anyone who has ridden or bought/sold enough horses develops favorites, and they vary from person to person. I personally will stop dead in my tracks to look at any thoroughbred with Danzig in the pedigree.

When you’re shopping on a small budget, you also need to develop the ability to see a diamond in the rough. People ooooh and aaaaah over the big fat shiny horse with all the chrome and the high quality photos, but can you picture a version of the same horse in a scruffy winter coat, 200lbs lighter, with 10 inches of mane, nary a white mark on it, and bad cell phone pictures? Learn to see bone structure and proportion, not fat and muscle. Look at other peoples’ before and afters. You can change so much about a horse’s appearance just with good care. The best deals I’ve ever gotten were found in the plain, non-descript horses who weren’t presented well. If you learn how to spot those horses through the rough exterior, you can snag a really great horse. Pretty is as pretty does.

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first ride at home
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a few months later

Close your ears for this one, children: I’ve vetted precisely zero of the horses that I’ve purchased. I know, I can feel you cringing. To be clear, I would never recommend that to someone else, but it’s the truth. I’m pretty realistic about the fact that no horse is going to vet absolutely spotlessly, and all sorts of things can show up on a vetting but never be a hindrance to a horse for the job you need it to do. So, definitely get the horse vetted, but also be realistic about the findings, especially as they relate to it’s intended job. A lot of people hear one relatively minor thing and bolt – that’s a mistake, IMO. My best horses, and soundest horses, certainly would not have vetted perfectly. Oh, and uh… if you buy a mare, make sure she’s not pregnant. I learned my lesson on that one, and it happens more often than you realize.

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Go ahead, ask me how I learned.

I think the most important thing is to be realistic. You aren’t going to find a trained, sound, issue-free horse for next to nothing. Well ok I’m sure it’s happened, but the odds of it happening to you are slim to none. Give up on that dream. Instead sit down and really think about what you can handle as a rider, what you really need (size, age, training, certain gait or temperament or conformation features that are your must-haves), what you can live with, and what you can’t. Also don’t forget that if you’re shopping cheap, you’re probably signing up for a long process to get that horse to your end goal. Don’t look at other people’s endings and think they’re a realistic beginning. Henry is my favorite horse that I’ve ever had, and he’s taken me places I never imagined, but he was a walking basket of training problems when I got him, some of which will always be there, and it’s taken 5 years to get as far as we have. Keep good professionals in your corner that are available to help. Involve a couple of good friends that you know will be honest with you no matter what, not just tell you what you want to hear. And at the end of the day – trust your gut. It’s never steered me wrong, whether I’ve actually listened to it or not.

What advice would you give to someone who’s horse shopping on a very limited budget? Let’s help her out as a group!

The craziest weekend in sports

I was barnsitting this weekend, so I didn’t get a lot of saddle time, but I did manage to squeeze in a lot of live streaming. Thank goodness for Radio Badminton, so I could clean stalls and listen to the action. Also their replays of the live stream are awesome. Badminton coverage in general is 5 stars, no pun intended. Their dressage commentary is literally the only reason I watched all of the dressage rides. But anyway, between the Kentucky Derby and Badminton, I’m still feeling a little mindblown from the weekend! Seriously crazy finishes to both.

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how did they even stay on their feet?

The Kentucky Derby situation is just sad all around. The stewards made the right call, enforcing the rules as they are written. Maximum Security definitely almost caused a really bad situation (even unintentionally) but it’s also really a bummer to see what was clearly the best horse in the race get a DQ and a horse who was not going to win promoted to be a Derby Winner in his place. It sucks for the horse, it sucks for the sport, and it sucks for all of his connections. It even sucks for the winner, because who wants to win that way? And it really sucks for the stewards, whose job it is to enforce the rules, which they did, even knowing the enormity of the call. Talk about a thankless job. It really feels like no one won here at all. But thank goodness we didn’t see a major accident, and that everyone came home safe to race another day.

Boy the drama, though. The facebook fights got really heated, and I swear there were viral blog posts going around within just a few hours. And then of course what the colt’s connections posted on Instagram.

Drama. Drama everywhere. It might not be the kind of excitement we wanted for racing this year, but you certainly can’t say that it’s boring.

Now: can we talk about how Ollie lost Badminton by a TIME PENALTY??? OH MY GAAAHHHDDDD. I’m so torn on this, because Piggy French is certainly a very deserving winner, who doesn’t love to see her finally get a 5* win? But on the other hand, omg how awful to lose by a freaking time penalty. Of course, placing second at Badminton a week after winning Kentucky definitely starts feeling like shades of #whitegirlproblems. Still though. Talk about reliving something in your head on repeat… I bet he spent a while sitting there thinking of all the possible places he could have made up that one second of time. These events often have nail-biting finishes, but that was the craziest thing I’ve seen in a while.

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Piggy also wears Champion helmets! I do love the crap out of my Champion skull cap.

I also still have no idea how Ollie got his other (6th place) horse around the XC, I’m pretty sure he picked him up and threw him over the last 10 jumps. That horse has so little blood (30%) and he definitely looked like it by the end. The horse kept trying for Ollie though, and recovered well for Sunday. There was so much good riding throughout the weekend. It makes it really really fun to watch.

In my own little sports world, the only thing I really accomplished in the last few days was cranking out an article for the next issue of Eventing USA and finishing our Unicorn virtual race. Bobby logged his last miles on Sunday morning while I was mucking stalls, so technically I guess he finished before I did. But he also started before I did… so I’m calling it a draw. The app already mailed my medal, too, so that was fast. Next up: the Nessie race! At some point I want to do one logging only horseback miles, I think that would be fun. Granted, Bobby has 2 rideable horses and I only have one, so then again maybe not…

I really want this shirt

We are back to our regular schedule this week, although it’s supposed to monsoon rain basically all week, so that’s fun. Hopefully we’ll be able to go look at a potential new barn or two as well. I don’t feel as dramatically sad about our barn closure situation anymore, I think I’m moved into the “acceptance” stage of things. We’ll figure something out.

Hope everyone had a good weekend! Derby or Badminton thoughts???

 

In a Funk? This’ll help.

This hasn’t been the best week for me. It started with my existential crisis last weekend that left me feeling relatively down in the dumps for no particular reason, continued with plenty of stress at work, and then finally came to a crescendo with news of the barn closure. I am doing that thing where I’m very calm on the outside but screaming internally.

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We’ve made a little bit of headway with the barn hunt, in that we’ve discovered that we’re pretty screwed no matter what, so that’s cool. We’re going to look at a barn on Monday that seems good on paper but I’m too dead inside to allow myself to be that optimistic, and either way it’ll more than double my barn commute. See above meme.

So for the past few days I’ve been latching on to happiness wherever I can find it. Mostly with horses, naturally. And, dunno if y’all have ever seen a baby horse, buuuuut those things are like walking instant happiness.

Nalah

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Michelle keeps sending me pics of Nalah and I’m like more please, my soul needs this right now. I mean, squishing a baby horse in person would be better, but cute pictures of a baby horse are better than no baby horse.

Stormie is due in a few more weeks, and I’m feeling like a tiny pony baby is going to be even more squishable. 320 days (what is considered the minimum for normal gestation) would be on Sunday, so any time after that would be great, although I don’t think she’ll go that soon. Right now she just looks like a beached whale. Which admittedly is still entertaining.

stormiewhale

I been watching the Badminton coverage (I’m late with my In the Blood post for that, it’ll have to be an after-the-fact version next week since I’m only about 75% of the way through my stats), and for the second week in a row Ollie delivered a really entertaining moment in dressage. He’d just laid down a fantastic test (that scored a freaking 19) and he knew it, and amid all of his celebrating after he was finished, he stopped really paying attention to his horse’s feet, and the horse stepped over the little fence. It was his face after it happened, though, that was the best part.

me after basically every dressage test

Also, did anyone else see the lady in the front row that’s been knitting while she watches dressage? It’s fantastic.

I can’t wait to further drown my sorrows in some live stream XC tomorrow.

Perhaps not pony related, but I stopped at a gas station yesterday and discovered that Little Debbie makes a couple of their snacks in a Double Decker version. I dunno how I was only yesterday years old when I learned this, but holy shit.

I SAID HOLY SHIT
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Now THIS is how you eat your feelings.

I only saw the Fudge Round version, which excited me plenty since Fudge Rounds are my favorite, but apparently they also make an Oatmeal Creme Pie version. And you can buy them by the case on Amazon. I’m not quite to that level of depression yet but I’ve definitely tucked this knowledge away for future use, just in case. Will I stop today and pick up another single or two? Odds are good, not gonna lie. Especially because it’s currently raining it’s ass off.

And last but not least in the self-medicating for the week (so far anyway, the day is still young…) I totally caved and pre-ordered a couple of Ride Heels Down’s new mantra wristbands.

Mostly because I feel like I’m gonna be Suck-It-Up-Buttercupping quite a bit in the months to come. Hopefully there will also be some Have-A-Great-Riding, but I know for sure there will definitely be a lot of Suck-It-Up-Buttercupping.

This is fine.

Gutted.

So, I got an email yesterday around lunch time saying that our barn has been sold, is closing, and the horses all have to be out by June 9.

Yeah, not kidding.

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I’m equal parts sad and upset. Sad because I have really enjoyed being at that barn. The fields are huge and beautiful, it’s small enough to where I could do whatever I want and no one cared, it was 20 minutes from my house, it has lots of turnout, and it was NEVER too wet to ride. The barn worker is fantastic and takes amazing care of my boys. Plus I was getting a great deal for having two horses there. The place wasn’t fancy by any means, and it had plenty of short-comings, but all-in-all it’s worked really well for me for the past 2.5 years.

A place like that is hard to find around here. Land is at a premium, there isn’t a lot of space to be found anymore, and good ground is even more difficult to find. A lot of places have that terrible black gumbo soil that will suck the shoes right off a foot when it’s wet, but gets huge gaping hoof-swallowing cracks in it when it’s dry. We won’t even talk about how much the standard of care can vary at boarding barns, y’all know how that goes. Boarding is EXPENSIVE here, and traffic in Austin is so bad that if you don’t find something relatively close, you’ll end up with a wicked commute that just isn’t doable for the 7 days a week that I go to the barn. Something will have to give, I just don’t know what yet.

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I’ve had the feeling for a while that the owners were going to sell the place, but they’ve hinted at it several times before and never actually followed through. This barn used to be out in the middle of nowhere, but as Austin has exploded, development has moved in all around. The big chunk of land that it’s sitting on is worth a buttload to those gross subdivision guys, and the barn owners are elderly. I don’t blame them for cashing in, but I was hoping they’d hold out. Which they have up to now, but I guess my time has run out. The barn as been sold… to developers. Just the thought of those fields being bulldozed and covered with houses legit makes me want to cry. I’m devastated. It’s a fucking travesty.

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Houses don’t belong here

It’s also a travesty that we’ve been given such short notice. 5 weeks isn’t much when you’re talking about moving 3 horses. Finding somewhere suitable is hard enough, finding somewhere suitable without a waiting list is even harder. So now here we are, scrambling, trying to find another needle in the haystack. I have no idea where to even start with finding a place that will suit our needs. It’s even tougher now that I have to consider that I need the right facilities to keep a Prelim horse fit and sound… that adds a whole ‘nother layer of footing and space concerns that I didn’t have when Henry was competing at a lower level.

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these jumps are ghetto but they’re mine

Luckily we won’t be hung out to dry completely, no matter what happens. I’ve had several very kind friends that have generously offered me space at their own farm as a temporary or even longer term solution, if needed. Most of them would be quite a long drive, but they’re options that are there if it comes to it, and that peace of mind is definitely appreciated right now. It’s the only thing stopping me from entering full blown panic attack mode, to be honest. That and I basically put all my feelings inside a whole bunch of brownies last night and ate them until I wanted to puke.

So far, from all of the internet scouring I’ve done since yesterday, there’s nothing that seems particularly promising yet. Big compromises are going to have to be made somewhere. I’m so sad, y’all. It’s the end of an era. I LOVE MY FIELDS, and they’re going to be murdered, and then disgusting cheap cookie cutter houses are going to be erected on their graves. Just the thought of it makes me sick to my stomach. It’s not right.

Presto Finds Religion

Most of the time, Presto is a really good 2yo. He’s pretty chill, his manners are good, and while he is a bit cheeky (a feature I actually quite like) and likes to toe the line, he almost never crosses it. A finger pointed in his direction and a “NEEHHHH” are enough to dissuade 99% of his disobedience. But… he’s still 2. And sometimes he gets these bright ideas where he thinks he’s gonna be real naughty. Usually these rebellions are easily squashed, since he’s a rule-follower at heart. On rare occasion though, he likes to remind me of his age and breeding (73% turdbred/27% dumbblood).

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As if his sheer awkwardness wasn’t enough to remind you that he’s still a baby (hey, check out those withers, they’re new)

I haven’t been doing quite as much with him lately as I had over the winter, mostly because I’m pretty busy with Henry. I still get him out a couple times a week to at least groom him, and he’s done a little bit of ponying/walking over poles/ground driving here and there very sporadically, but definitely not much or on any kind of regular basis. And you know how the saying goes…

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Plus he’s gotten a little more swagger since moving into the turnout pasture with Cannavaro and Dobby. I have no idea why, he’s so far down on the totem pole it doesn’t even register. But he thinks he has friends now, and he feels pr-etty darn cool. Combine his newfound swagger with having very little to do, and his behavior on Sunday was the perfect storm. Presto has always been best when I’ve kept his brain occupied, and I definitely haven’t done my part lately.

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This little punk-ass smirk…

The day started out well enough. I pulled him out of his pasture, groomed him, and got him ready to take out to pony. While I was currying his butt he pushed into me, which earned him a reprimand, but that was about it. I tossed Henry’s sidepull on, grabbed Presto, and went out to the mounting block. We have done this dozens of times, Presto knows that Henry stands next to the mounting block and he stands next to Henry. Except he didn’t. He wiggled, he tried to bite Henry, he tried to graze, he tried to walk away, he did literally everything but stand. It took me a few tries (and some helpful pinned ears from Henry) to get that turd to stop moving for 5 seconds so I could mount.

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I don’t have any actual pics from the ponying session because I was too busy wrangling this idiot

And honestly, that was the best he behaved the entire time. He was in rare form, trying all his tricks. He’d try to leap ahead of Henry, then plant his feet and refuse to follow. He’d be walking quietly along and then suddenly slam on the brakes and start grabbing at the grass. He lunged at every tree and bush we passed, trying to eat whatever he could get in his mouth. He tried to bite Henry. He tried to pull away. I mean good god, he has never been that bad at all once.

The nail in his coffin was when he swung his butt toward Henry and gave a half-hearted little kick out (as brave as he’s going to be toward Henry ever, I imagine). That did it. You lift your little turd feet at King Henry and I will rip them off and shove them up your butthole. He got a few HARD wallops with the end of the lead rope, and I immediately put him out on a circle to trot around me and Henry, getting his feet moving and taking some of the wind out of his sails.

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very elegant FEH champion

We finally got back to the barn and I turned Henry loose to graze and then took Presto into the arena to have a discussion. As soon as I put him on the end of the line and asked him to move, he tried to bolt away and kick out. Fatal mistake, tiny turd. Fatal mistake. I do not tolerate the hind feet leaving the ground in my general direction in any regard – not when they’re loose, not on the lunge line, not towards Henry, and definitely not in a ground work session. He knows this. He’s known it for a long time.

The “discussion” turned into 20 minutes of groundwork, moving his feet, yielding his hindquarters, yielding his shoulder, changing gaits, and sending him over and through obstacles. At speed. With enthusiasm. Until he sweated out his demons.

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Got tired of his head looking like a square so I clipped it. He was thrilled.

Presto met Jesus in the arena that day, and he saw the light. By the time I let him stop moving his feet, he was born again. Anything I asked him to do got a quick yes ma’am. I finished up by doing a little bit of in-hand show practice, which was foot perfect aside from the fact that he swore he couldn’t get enough oxygen to trot that fast (hey kid, that’s the result of your poor life choices, not mine. Suck it up.).

Since he was nice and sweaty and hot and born-again, I decided to baptize bathe him. He isn’t a fan of baths but lol I don’t care, so he stood there while I hosed him and soaped him and scrubbed him and hosed him again. He half-heartedly tried to put his front foot in the bucket at one point, but a “no sir” had him putting his foot back down and lowering his head to pout.

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It looks even more awkward when it’s wet

After that I decided he’d been tortured sufficiently for one day and put him back in his turnout. Cannavaro immediately lunged at him, bit him on the ass, and chased him in circles. It’s tough being a snot-nosed kid, I tell ya.

On Monday I got Presto back out, just to check and see where he was at. He was a perfect gentleman, full of yes ma’am and please and thank you. He stood like a rock in the crossties, and when I took him out to the arena for groundwork he was so good that we were done in less than 2 minutes. The new religion is sticking, at least for now. We’ll see by next week…

 

LRK3DE reflections

While I definitely was a little sad about missing LRK3DE again this year in person, I was really grateful for the live stream. It’s pretty awesome to be able to follow along with every step of the action, live, over the entire 4 days. What did we even DO before live streams???

First of all, I have to fess up – go ahead and label me a traitor if you want, but by the time we got down to the final 2 in show jumping, I was rooting for Ollie. Yeah I know, I’m severely in the minority. But I love that horse, especially because we have one coming next year by the same sire (Ramiro B) and out of an even more blooded mare than the dam of Cooley Master Class. I’m excited about the foal, and I thought it was pretty neat to see a repeat win for Ollie’s horse, who was absolutely on fire all weekend. Even if it means I get kicked out of America for not rooting for Boyd.

I also liked the commentators on the live stream, for the most part. Specifically the lack of KOC was nice, I have never enjoyed listening to her or her obvious favoritism. I think Doug Payne was my favorite of the rotating dressage commentators this time around, but most of them were fun to listen to and did a good job. Didn’t really love Laura’s showjumping commentary though, it was a little boring. Kinda felt like “they’re gonna want to rebalance here” and “he/she got away with it” on repeat, with a lot of silence in between. Given her experience in pure showjumping it seems like they could have gotten some good conversation there but I thought it fell a bit flat.

I was glad to see so many helmets in dressage, with 88% of riders choosing them over a top hat. I have to admit, I think top hats just look goofy AF these days, and it’s so rare to see an American rider in one that I do a double take. It makes me happy to see so many people that care more about protecting their melons than they do about “fashion” or relatively silly traditional attire.

The best part of the dressage, though? Ollie’s salute. I was DYING. He’s like “Did you bitches see that? YEAH YOU DID. BAM!”. I want to start saluting like that, maybe the confidence will help my scores.

As for cross country day, the rides that really stand out in my head aren’t the big name guys. It’s the first timers getting it done on sheer grit, and it’s the people who have made it this far with their one special horse that they trust 110%. It’s SO fun to watch those true partnerships, like Sara Gumbiner or Allie Sacksen. They have so much faith in their horses, and their horses have so much love for the game. Their rounds might not be as picture perfect as some of the bigger names, and they might not have the scores that are competitive enough to put them top 10, but to me they are way more inspiring to watch. It gives you chills.

Fun fact: the average blood % of the top 10 finishers was 62.8%. If not for Will Coleman’s unfortunate 15 for the flag penalty that cost him 5th place, it would have been 66%.

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AND THAT FLAG PENALTY IS SOME REAL STUPID BULLSHIT, I HATE IT. I understand why they put the rule in place, I really do, but I just don’t like how it’s been playing out so far this year. I’m with Will on this one, that horse tried his guts out to get himself over that fence, and the majority of his body definitely made it through the flags. The horse still had forward momentum, he made every effort to jump it with his whole body as best he could… I just don’t like a rule that punishes that. There has to be a better way. Also Will totally said on Facebook what all of us have been thinking for a while:

 

Moving on to showjumping, I gotta give the top 5 some serious credit, boy are they cool under pressure. I’d have been crapping myself. Boyd’s round was about as masterful as you’d want to see, at a couple jumps I’m relatively certain he picked Thomas up and literally threw him over the fence. Talk about delivering when it matters most. The man has ice in his veins.

When they cut over to interview Buck during one of the breaks, I got one of my favorite and most memorable moments of the weekend. Poor guy has yet another broken collarbone, didn’t get to finish ANY of his three super nice horses at a huge event that they’ve been aiming for for months… if anyone has the right to go hide or be upset, it was Buck. Yet there he was, collarbone taped up, watching stadium and coaching and cheering for his friends. When they interviewed him he said something along the lines of “If you want to see real bad news, turn on CNN. We are all so lucky to even be here.”. He had nothing but good things to say about his horses, the people around him, the event, and even the weather. His perspective is one to emulate, and his sportsmanship is off the charts. Much respect to Buck.

Also I tried really hard all weekend to dislike Ollie, after all that drama with him and his over-eager whip last year, but I have to say that either they’ve done a lot of work on his PR or he’s seen the light a little bit. Dude was a class act from start to finish, in a way that I haven’t really seen from Ollie before. Granted, things were going well… we’ll see what happens when things don’t go so well.

One horse that really stood out to me a lot over the weekend was Paddy the Caddy. I’ve seen him before but he REALLY looks good right now, such a classy horse. Whatever they’re doing with him, it’s working. His blip on XC was unfortunate, yet even with a 20 he still finished with only 4.8 time penalties. Once they put 3 phases together, that could be a really legit 5* horse.

I was also left feeling like, once again, the foreigners tend to have horses that are a bit less “fancy” in their gaits but much better trained and well ridden. Just like Michael Jung – none of his horses are particularly fancy, but he’s masterful at getting the absolute most out of them. Piggy’s horse isn’t a great mover, the trot especially, but her dressage test was just SO well-ridden, she got every possible point she could. It’s interesting to me, because we tend to get hearts in our eyes for those big fancy movers (like Deniro Z) and forget just how much you really can maximize a more average-moving horse. Fancy is not required.

Overall it was a great weekend of sport, a good course, and just the kind of competition you want to see. The first ever 5* was definitely a success, even if I didn’t get to see it in person. I did make a little purchase yesterday that eased some of my sadness, though…

See you in September, Burghley!!!

 

 

The Long Drive Home

Sometimes I’m really grateful for that long drive home from a lesson or event. The ones that give us time to organize our thoughts and feelings, think about what happened, and reconcile things within our own head. Sometimes it’s a lot of positive, sometimes it’s more like wading and sorting through a lot of negative. This weekend was more of the latter.

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On Saturday we had a Ride a Test, followed by a jumping lesson a couple hours later. I was looking forward to a fun day, getting some practice in with both the dressage and the jumping. I’d never done a Ride a Test before but the format was appealing, since of course I’m always looking for ways to improve my test riding, and wanted to get feedback from a new set of eyes. Henry warmed up a bit on the muscle (warming up around XC jumps does not inspire a ton of relaxation in this horse, but he kept a lid on it) then went in and did a mediocre but not awful test.

The feedback was not what I was expecting. What she wanted me to do was basically the opposite of everything that any other trainer or judge has said, and I really struggled. It was messy, and awkward, and I kinda felt like I had no idea wtf I was doing at all. Like a rank beginner that should go all the way back to the beginning and just start over. Do I even know how to trot? I dunno. There were some good moments, and a few tidbits that were really helpful, but overall I walked away feeling really confused and honestly a bit demoralized. And of course, since I internalize and over-analyze literally everything, I immediately tossed aside anything positive. Instead I gathered up every negative conclusion and gave them all full time jobs with free room and board inside my head.

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Me, with self doubt and negativity

I was so consumed with stewing over everything that I forgot to eat or drink, and got one course into my jump lesson before I was shaking like a leaf and feeling like I might pass out. As you can probably guess, the jump lesson was a bit of a shitshow too. My head wasn’t in it, my body was hating me, and my horse was needing a lot more help than I had to offer. We did one more course before calling it quits, and I walked back to the trailer feeling like a total idiot. I’ve spent a year building my confidence and thinking that maybe we really can do this Prelim thing, but suddenly I just felt like a fraud. Who was I kidding, trying to compete at this level? Maybe the old me was right, maybe I should just resign myself to hopping around Novice forever and learn how to be happy with that.

Yeah, you’re right, this spiraled REALLY quickly. Things got dark real quick.

It was a bit more like bowling than showjumping

I stayed broody for the first half hour of the drive home. I am acutely aware that I’m sitting on a different horse than most, and I also know that I’m at a major disadvantage not being in a full (or even part) time program with a pro. The day-to-day stuff is entirely up to me, I don’t get a lot of lessons, and I have a budget that limits me to fewer shows. What was I even thinking, trying to do this? Was it even fair to my horse? Did I even want it?

I sat there at a red light, clutching the steering wheel in a daze, lingering on that last question. I think sometimes in this sport we just “do the thing” and move along like everyone else does, without necessarily stopping to think about what it is we really want for ourselves and our horses. What I’m trying to do is hard for me… do I really want it? It was one of those moments where everything got really silent in my world, and time seemed to stop for a second.

The answer that came through the silence was yes. Not just a little whispering yes, but a loud resounding, shouting YES, from somewhere deep inside the hostage situation that was happening in my head. I do want it. I want it for the horse, I want it for myself, and I want it for all the horses that come after this one. I want to push myself, I want to learn, and I want to be better. Maybe I’ll never be that great, however “greatness” is defined, but I never want to be the person to just lay down and stop trying to be the best I can be. Even if it’s uncomfortable and confusing and frustrating sometimes. I don’t love this sport because it’s easy, I love it because it’s hard. I’m a lot of things, but I’m certainly not a quitter.

Ok, it wasn’t THAT bad.

With that thought I felt re-invigorated. I decided that either I could let the day defeat me, or I could learn from it. Was I really going to let myself come that unglued over dressage, of all the things? Using what I’ve gleaned from the endless amount of sports psychology books I’ve been reading, I went through everything that happened that day, pulled out the pieces that I thought were helpful, and chucked the rest of it out the window onto the highway. It’s not a question of whether or not we can do this – I know we can. We’ve done it 3.66 times already (I’m totally counting the two Prelim phases of our P/T). Henry schooled great last weekend, even the bigger and harder questions. He’s confident and he’s happy. Our average dressage score at this level is 34. So while it could definitely be better, it can’t be THAT tragic. Letting myself feel so defeated was, well… overdramatic. I needed to get the eff over myself.

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sometimes I have to “tough love” myself

It’s a little bit embarrassing to share this, honestly. Things aren’t always sunshine and rainbows though, and I feel like it’s important to make that clear. I thought I was a little bit harder to rattle than that, a little bit tougher and thicker skinned, but I think after a really rough week at work, a lack of sleep, and a couple of less than great rides, I was ripe with vulnerability and it turned into the perfect storm. Clearly I still have a lot to work on, but, ya know… I’ll keep trying.

I also really enjoyed the LRK3DE coverage, and found myself moved a few times. It was just what I needed in that moment: some inspiration, some perspective, and some good examples of what true mental toughness really looks like. But more on that tomorrow…