Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - Start to Finish

I will be the first to admit that we are finishing 2015 significantly differently than I would have ever imagined.  2015 saw a lot of changes on the horse front, so let's dive right back in:

January:

January saw Prair's return to working over fences.  We cantered some (very) small lines, set our sights back on Thermal and slowly continued our rehab.  I went on the Great Girth Hunt of 2015 and ended up buying like four when I really only needed one.  (shocking).  I fell in love with my new Konig boots, and sent our beloved Gus off to his new home.

Bye Gus! Don't Forget to write!

February:

Pair's ultrasound confirmed that she was "totally healed" so we finalized plans for Thermal, and off we went.  Showing with a baby in tow is... harder.  Though The Boy was a CHAMP and made it all work out ok. 
She's totally ok here while I go for my Under Saddle, right?
I hated that somehow my show clothes were tighter 7 months post baby than they had been the previous year at Thermal when I was TWENTY FOUR (ish) weeks pregnant.  wtf.

But, Pair and I got off to a great start and it was so much fun to be into he ring again, even if we were still jumping the tiniest fences imaginable.
I love her neck.
March:

We finished up Thermal with another Circuit Championship and a couple second half awards as well.  I really can't emphasize how much I love showing for weeks on end in the sunshine.  You get to fix mistakes right away and there are so many gorgeous horses to watch and so much crappy show food to eat.  It's amazing. 

When we got home Pair was a tad sore, but it ended up not being anything scary, and after a few days off she was back to herself and cleared for full turnout - even though she just hid in her loafing shed like Chicken Little.

Inside Horses stay inside.

April:

We started (and ended) our local show season with two weeks at the Fairgrounds.  We discovered that apparently warming up is for losers and Pair walked straight from her stall to the ring with very encouraging results.  We were both Champion and Reserve in our Hunter and Eq (switching which one was better each week) and won our 2'6" medal both weeks as well. 

I was impressed (the baby was not)
I started feeling like maybe, just maybe we could start calling ourselves real hunters, but then I had the Vet out and we found out that Pair was actually extremely sore on her Left Hind.

Staring at the second soft tissue injury in a year, I drowned my sorrows in wine and started expressing myself in only Emojis. 
Who needs words.

Of course, I managed to pull the trigger on a new show coat right before the vet ended our season.  So that was neat.  (for the record that coat still has tags on it).

May:

Things got boring fast.  Prair got all the shockwave and PRP and wraps and cookies.  I spent lots of time in her stall (again) grooming (again).

So fat. So boring.
I started taking lessons on a goofy gelding with some significant quirks, and for the first time since Prair showed up I started seriously perusing the online horsey ads again... I mean... no harm in just seeing what's out there, right?

June:

Still bored I started to get creative with my horsey time.  I went shopping (duh), called a pet psychic (wha?) and got all warm and fuzzy seeing Gus in his new home. 

This is what a happy horse looks like
Prair had a discouraging ultrasound, but we did manage to solve the issue of her perpetual poo, so at least that counted as a small victory. 

July:

Literally nothing happens.  I don't even take a picture of my horse on stall rest, because nothing is different.  I come to terms with the idea that I don't want Prair to jump ever again, and The Boy takes me on vacations so I don't notice (as much) that I'm not off enjoying a fun Summer Show Season.

August:

The mare was still locked up in her stall, so I pontificated on the issue of Drugs in the Hunter Ring and watched the baby MOOOO at the Mini Paint on the farm. 

Not a Paint, so this one was "woofed" at
September:

The horse shopping begins in earnest.  I'm so excited I revert to using emojis again


I fall in love with a darling little Casall stallion and even go so far as to take some preliminary x-rays.  Ultimately he is not the one, but I lay awake at night watching his videos on repeat.

His jump was dreamy though
October:

This month was a pure hell of waiting.  Tickets for Germany were bought, but the trip was still an eternally long six weeks away (I hate waiting).  I started thinking about things for a new horse like insurance, and saddles, and all the fun trimmings long before we know if I'd even find one.  Prair moved to a new home for her extended rehab and I find a cool shop on Etsy and have some of Prair's favorite photos posterized.



November:

The real fun stared right away with the champagne on a plane.


Because, Yes.
There were SO MANY gorgeous horses I wondered how many I could take with me.  Ultimately I found and fell in love with Windsor, then spent most of the month figuring out how to vet him and get him home.



Then actually we got him home and it was the best Thanksgiving Day Miracle ever. 


December:

Windsor got to eat about 42 flakes of hay a day, learned that Hunters do a lot of flatwork and I don't always nail my distances....

But most importantly, it's clear we made the right choice with him.  He is a huge, goofy, patient boy and even though he isn't a pro at his job yet, it feels like just what I need right now. 


Cheers to a turbulent, but educational 2015, and here's looking forward to more learning and adventures (and maybe some derbies) in the New Year!!

Happiest New Year from all the gang at Pisa's Parade...


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Reviewing the Tack Splurge Part 1

I've noticed a trend that while I tend to be really good at advertising when I go on a total tack binge, I haven't been as good about sharing my opinions on the products once I start using them.

In an effort to remedy that, here's an update on the random items I ended up purchasing for Windsor that I mentioned here, as well as a few other newly acquired odds and ends.  Since I ended up rambling like I usually do, I'm breaking this into two parts (and also I still have a few photos I need to snag...).

Part 1 includes the things for me! And Part two will cover the things for the pony.

Yesterday, I finally unpacked my pretties from Callidae.  I (shockingly) had to exchange my shirt for a smaller size, since their sizing wasn't as ridiculously slim and high fashion as I had feared (which immediately put them in my good graces).  Even with the slightly too large Practice Shirt - I really liked the piece.  It's polished and tailored looking, but not bulky which is appealing to me given how I layer at the barn.  But if I liked it initially, I loved it when it came in the right size.  The smaller size (still an L for me) made the arms and body look a bit more crisp without being skin tight (thank god).  It's a great cut for riding - tailored and polished looking, without being suction cupped to my body.

In other news, Santa put a selfie stick in my stocking (gasp!) I'm still sort of confused by it, but it made some ROOTD pictures a tad easier


LOVE this.  Want more.
The fabrics are gorgeous, and details are well thought out.  For $90, I strongly prefer the look of the Callidae over a high end sun shirt.  It looks a bit more traditional, while still giving a thin, stretchy tech fabric that's easy to move in. 

Also, from a design aspect, I've gotten a little jaded hearing all the higher end riding clothes claim that they can "go from stable to street."  For one thing, I look at half the items and think "nope."  But also, never in my life have I gotten off my horse, swapped my boots for a nice nude pump and trotted off to dinner in my super chic riding outfit... I like how that plays in my head, but usually I'm busy hosing someone off in the wash rack - and even if I wasn't - I've never seen the true crossover appeal with most of those items. 

But with this shirt, I sorta get it.

Realistically, I'd be just as likely to throw the Practice Shirt on with a pair of jeans and run weekend errands as I would be to grab it with breeches for a lesson.  That's a tough niche to fill in my closet, but I am impressed that this shirt seems to do it.

I will definitely be ordering a show shirt (or two..) from them once the coffers fill back up a bit from the Holidays.

(there were a lot of selfie stick outtakes... how I'm confused by such a simple thing I don't know)
THE BELT is exactly what I wanted.  Clean, classic, beautiful-but-not-distracting buckle and comes in a size large enough for me :)

That makes Callidae 2 for 2 for my initial order, which is pretty impressive when dealing with a new brand that I hadn't ever actually seen in person. 

Finally, there was also my first experience with the Piper Breeches from SmartPak.  I grabbed a color that was on sale (army green/black) and threw an extra holiday discount on top, so I think they were about $40.  I had low expectations, because even though everyone raves about them - I am oddly hard to fit in pants. 

I have relatively skinny legs compared to my waist.  Or that is to say, I don't really have a waist.  So if I buy pants that fit my legs, they cut into my stomach terribly, and if something fits around my tummy, it is usually too loose in the hip and thigh. 

My first impression of the Pipers was that I loved the fabric.  Good thickness and stretch to make everything feel firmer... and I thought the seaming was flattering as well.  I ordered a 32L because that seems to be fitting me well in Pikeur (who actually succeeds ok at my waist/leg ratio).

Breeches! (the only acceptable angle..)
The 32's fit my tummy well, and even were ok through my hip - but the knee and lower leg are legit baggy.  It's passable with my Konig boots because they are tight enough to keep everything in place, but with my other boots, the pants float around and bunch up.  I'm tempted to try to go down a size and see if that gets a better fit in the leg - but I'm 99% sure unless I drop some more baby weight I'll be self conscious about how tight the 30's are in the waist. 

apparently I have skinny knees?
(update - I have eaten enough cookies and consumed enough mulled wine that there is ZERO chance of me ordering anything in a 30L anytime soon.... oops)

So, the jury is still out.  I do love the price point and all the color options, so it's definitely a product I want to want to love.

However, all in all - these are three items that I genuinely like, and I think look sharp at the barn. 

Admittedly, I often lack the energy (and time) necessary to look like a total Hunter Princess every time I show up to ride - I do really enjoy when I can feel a bit more polished and presentable - though that's true regardless of where I am.

Stay tuned for the update on Windsor's goodies!


Monday, December 28, 2015

Start Em Young

The day after Christmas, somehow I managed to get the whole family down to visit Windsor, and then up to visit Prair.  Not only was it a homerun in terms of me seeing both beasts, but the fact that both The Boy and kiddo played along (nicely) was something of a belated Christmas Miracle.

First, we packed up and headed south to see Windsor and give him a hack.  The barn was extremely quiet, and save for one other boarder, we had the place to ourselves - which made it much easier to let Cayla run amok. 

She is currently obsessed with sweeping, so she went straight for the broom and proceeded to "sweep" the aisle for about an hour.

we forgot her gloves, so Dad's had to do..
I enjoyed some quiet horse time and an easy hack (with some pole work) before demanding that we put the kid on the horse and get at least one good picture.  Apparently my definition of "good" now includes poorly focused and blurry, but evidence has been had. 


Windsor saw unsupervised pockets to pick...
Cayla seemed pretty entertained by it and giggled when we walked Windsor forward a few steps, so I my confidence in having her ready for lead line this summer is growing. :)

After that, we headed home again, and worked on projects until we got back in the car for another drive, but this time headed North.

We got to Pair after the sun went down, so picture quality is really epically bad, but she looks great.  She's fat and happy and as furry as I've ever seen her. 

I forget how sweet that mare really is.  She just rested her nose on my shoulder and slowly wuffed soft breaths into my ear and let me love on her.  She was fascinated by the baby and there were several super adorable "kisses" where Prair was reaching down over her stall and Cayla was reaching up to kiss her nose.  God damn my old phone for not capturing that.   But I'll just have to stage it again at some other point.
Not only a badly lit picture, somehow its a bad angle for everyone...
We shared a nice post-holiday meal with my friend and caught up a bit before heading home for the night.  I am so grateful that Prair is getting such good care and in a place where I don't worry about her at all.  My plan is to be up there after the New Year to attempt to flex her and see if she's made any progress in the last few months.

So that's the Holiday update.  Cute gray horse, cute black horse and an adorable barn baby (and husband!)

Hope everyone else enjoyed theirs!




Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Saddle Shopping.. (redux)

While I theoretically enjoy the process of hunting for, evaluating, and lusting after new tack.  Somehow when that process is turned toward saddles, it becomes some fresh new hell. 

Maybe it's because the price tag is so much larger than with other items. 

Maybe it's because there's more marketing around them than discount mattress stores (sleep on a cloud for free! no interest! fancy space foam will make you feel 20 years younger!).

Maybe it's because most of us sorta need saddles that fit our horses so when we don't have one it's a thorn in our side every... single... ride.

My adventures with saddles have been varied.  I loved my fancy Prestige I ordered for Pia, but it was never perfect for her, and it felt like something off the shelf not the "custom" fit I was sold.

That saddle didn't fit Pair for crap, so we tried again. I stuck with the same fitter (not sure why) but got a Hastilow that really did fit her (and me) exceptionally well. 

When jumping became a real thing for us, I finally coughed up the $$ and got a CWD.  That was an unfortunate process as the saddle didn't fit Prair (or me) at all when it arrived. 

They fixed it (sorta), but when I had it looked at again down at Thermal, I was told it still didn't fit my horse, or me all that well and that the initial measurements were taken completely wrong. 

To CWD's credit, they took my saddle back no questions asked, and ordered me a completely new one and even upgraded the leather to calfskin for my troubles.

The new saddle did actually fit Pair very well and put me in a better balance as well.

But, it's built very specifically for Pair and has never really fit any other horse I've put it on. 

By the time I pad it up so that it's in a decent balance for a horse with a normal back, I'm so far away from everything, I might as well be sitting on one of those Elephant Saddle/basket things that's rigged 4' up in the air

On top of this, about the time CWD was fixed my saddle, our barn seemed to migrate over to Voltaire.  I tend to have a knee jerk reaction away from things I perceive to be trendy, so I wasn't super interested in switching saddles just to switch saddles.  (and have a pretty blue cover..)

But, I've been riding in my trainer's saddle more and more, both on Windsor and some of the horses I was catching lessons on, and I do really like the tack.

It's hard for me to compare apples to apples, since I never rode a Voltaire on Prair so I can't compare how different saddles would feel on the same horse.. but in general, they are pretty easy to sit.

Voltaire's "calling card" seems to be all about minimizing the structure of the saddle.  It reminds me of high end supercars that minimize weight however they can (thinner glass in the windows.. carbon fiber wherever possible, etc). 

Voltaire looks to minimize bulk however possible.  One specific example of this is that the top flap of their saddle is all one piece of leather.  The knee rolls is the same piece of hide as the flap.. just with stitching to differentiate it.  So there is no overlapping seam or extra bulk. 

That mindset is applied to all aspects of construction, and the result is noticeable.  I am not sure I would have noticed it on Prair, since I'm sure they would have had to build up the panels quite a bit in order to fit her back. 

But, on Windsor, who seems to be shaped like a normal horse, it results in a super close contact both in the seat and leg. 

We played with a few different seat options for me, but settled on their "palm beach" which is their half deep seat (comparable to the CWD SE01).  Then we focused on the panel construction for Windsor.  He's got a decently high wither, and we ended up adding a tad of foam to the very front, and very rear of the panels. 

What surprised me is that even though this seemed like an even "raising" of both ends of the saddle, when I was riding with the shims, the impact was obvious.  I'm not sure how to explain it except that life was easier.  The twist was comfortable, I could sit easily, post easily.. it was just... easy.

oooohhh, ahhhhhh
The rep was super knowledgeable and polite.  She explained their philosophy, construction process and answered any and all questions I had about what we could/should/would do about fit and what are my options for changing said fit if we ever need to (answer, build new panels).

Initially, I had intended to just get info from the Voltaire rep, then let CWD come out as well and compare my options, but I ended up just pulling the trigger on the Voltaire.

I know that impulse decision will surprise exactly none of you.. but here's why I did it:

1) it is always easier to use things that your trainer loves.  This applies to horses, tack, trailers, whatever.  My trainer is great at working with "others" whether it's horses she didn't specifically pick (Prairie) or tack she doesn't use herself.. but there is a certain ease in being in alignment. 

2) they were able to offer me a really, really good deal on my CWD.  Since my saddle was remade, it's technically a 2014, which made it pretty valuable on their trade in chart (chart was based on year and manufacture, not model, seat size, leather, or anything else).  Basically they paid me $400 less than I had paid for my saddle new. 

That brought the "purchase price" of the new saddle down to $1,700.  Not free by any means (lol), but I did opt for Calfskin again.. if I had stuck with Grain leather it would have been only $1,100.. That seems like a pretty good deal for a fancy new French saddle! In fact, I think I *almost* made money! (almost).

I'll be sure to write more when I actually have my saddle and can decide if it's worth the time and money to get it.  But for now I feel good about the decision.

Honestly, I was very happy with my CWD once it was (finally) the correct saddle.  However, even though they really made an effort to correct the issue, they weren't the friendliest to deal with.  I'm sensitive to holding a whole company accountable for the mood or personality of a few employees, but I was sort of dreading my meeting with them to talk about fitting Windsor.  It's hard to nail down why exactly, but I always felt like I was in trouble at school when I was talking with them..  Not a great feeling when you are talking about your favorite piece of tack, and spending a crap-ton of money.

In contrast, the Voltaire rep in our area is really nice, and I never felt like I was being scolded.  This was the first time I had worked with her myself, but in watching the service level my Trainer has gotten over the last couple years, I've been impressed. 

For sure some of that excellent service is due to their efforts to steal market share.

And I'm sure they are authorized to offer a bit more to customers right now than CWD... and while that's not the CWD rep's fault - it does impact my overall experience and satisfaction.

So, stay tuned.  The darn thing isn't really supposed to be delivered until MARCH but maybe the days will tick by faster now that I'm back to a regular riding routine and not just stalking everyone on Insta...




Monday, December 21, 2015

One Ah-Ha At a Time

Continuing on the theme of "this horse is fun" -  This week has also been fun. 

Slightly harder work, but informative.

Tuesday we had a great a flat lesson, and I'm sure we learned stuff, but all I really remember is that toward the end of our canter work, Mr. Still-Wants-to-be-a-Stallion was much more interested in two mares idling around the ring than our (riveting) canter poles.

I don't blame him.  If I was used to going gallopy-gallopy over massive jumps I'd hate me for micromanaging him over poles too.  But right now we have to work on poles.  And that means stud-man has to listen.

He held it together for the most part.  Nothing overly dramatic, but he definitely puffed up like a peacock when we'd go by either of the pretty mares.

Or at least he held it together until we were finishing our lesson by putting 4 strides in the 5 stride line. 

Clearly this takes a bigger, open step.  And since we are both "working on our fitness," when this variation comes at the end of a ride, it takes some spur to get it done - actually it takes a lot of spur.

So I established a big step, and poked him in the ribs every. single. step. trying. to. get.... there.

He listened and lifted and went. But I think the combination of a huge, forward step, a crap-ton of spur in his side and then a squealing, pretty mare at the far end was too much.

He shook his head and struck out with his front legs and sorta bounded through the corner like a proud, drunk, frat boy. 

One hefty jerk on my outside rein and some serious inside leg, and he returned to business as usual. 

It was actually nice to test the boundary of his focus/patience/response.  His "expression" wasn't that rude, and he quickly turned his focus back to me.

Thursday we (again) revisited cantering the 5 stride line (this time with small crossrails, WHEE) and I had a good light bulb moment.

I've been focusing so much on being "light" in my hand to avoid scrunching Windsor's neck, that I haven't had much front end management to keep him straight and/or shaped over fences.

A couple of times we got a tad deep to the out fence and I finally figured out how much outside rein I needed to be encourage Windsor to coil up and fall back, rather then just pop out his shoulder.
Oh Right.  That.

Then we moved on to three "high" cavaletti set on a curve through the short end, with a bounce between each one.

omfg, want to make sure I ride like a goober? Set this exercise up.  Jesus...

I was having a (really) hard time getting us forward and uphill - (but not flat) into the first bounce.  Then, in trying to let him figure it out, I was sorta giving him his head and letting him sort it out on his own then regrouping our balance on the out. 

Finally, I found some success when I started sitting a tad deeper on the approach and making myself ride like I didn't have stirrups.  I think that helped me mentally manage his hind end and not get too obsessed with where his front end was.

After a few good reps through to the left we switched and went the other way.

(face palm)

So, this horse is sorta hard to turn to the right. 

And he's really hard to turn right in the air, or in a bounce.

He'd rather pop his shoulder and pour out to the left than stay with you and give to the contact (remember our jumping on a circle last week?).

So the first few reps consisted of me trying to figure out how much support I needed to offer in order to literally keep us in the exercise.  Once we figured that out, I tried to pretty it up a tad. 

Trainer told me to not release quite so much and ask Windsor to keep his shape a bit more. 

This was good advice. 

Once I felt like I had "permission" to manage him a bit more in the bounces, all the sudden things started working.

I mentally thought about riding him more like a Dressage horse (micromanage that shit) and less like a Hunter (don't get in your horse's way) and that was the mental shift I needed.

Instead of trying to get him to the cavaletti and then letting him learn and bumble his own way through, I tried keeping a steady nudge on that inside hind every.single.stride and a "Morse Code" contact that asked him to stay up and back with the energy coming from the hind leg... all the sudden he was light, and balanced, shaped beautifully and kept his balance perfectly on his way out...

WHO KNEW.

So, apparently wherever I got the notion that I need to be borderline absent with my contact over fences on this horse was total BS and not actually useful. 

It's just so easy to get talked into being overly soft (and absent) on such a light, relaxed horse. 

It's nice maybe, but not actually helpful

Yes he's light, and yes I need to be much softer than I ever have been, but Homeboy still needs some boundaries and help in keeping himself balanced.  And straight.  And focused in our work over very tiny speedbumps.

Very productive lesson. 

Saturday was a variation on the same theme.  Big, forward work on the flat asking Windsor to engage and come through - followed by some light work over small fences with my newfound outside rein contact. 

We started on a circle (again) with more success than we had previous, then worked up to a small course.

I tried to establish a big, rolling canter to the fences so that I had a straight, balanced horse.  Those are things I like, but it literally felt like we were clocking around at a pace suitable for Prelim XC. 

SO FAST. OMG

So fast, so big, so much.

But, as long as I had that canter, the distances were there, we straight balanced, all was good.

Blessedly a friend was able to take a couple clips, and I reviewed them after my ride.

Turns out that HUGE ROLLING GALLOP is pretty much just a normal weeny canter.

It looks nice.  But it looks nothing like it felt like. 

Literally nothing.  Thanks brain.  (Amateur brains are the worst...)

Here's my huge forward gallop - judge for yourself.




Thursday, December 17, 2015

Remember when I said....

Remember when I said that I "didn't need much" for this horse? 

Bahahahahahahaha

As though that could stop me from talking to my bff's at SmarkPak pretty much every day.

And yes. Even with Christmas right around the corner.. I am just flinging my visa at anywhere I can find someone willing to sell me a leather good.  One of the drawbacks of a decidedly not-horsey family, is that they are unlikely to stumble on to beautiful or random Equestrian Accessories on their own.  So unless I hand over a legit middle school wish list with brand, size and color specifically spelled out, I'm usually on my own for horse-related acquisitions. 

So far I haven't splurged on anything all that sexy, fabulous, or really anything that is super exciting for The Boy to gift for xmas.  (well, okay, maybe the totally unnecessary shirt I bought myself form Callidae, but that's different).

I realized that Mr. Man needed his own set of pillows and standing wraps.  So I got some. 

I had some leftover Personally Preppy monograms (not my favorite source of monos, but that's another post entirely), which I figured could get ironed onto some fresh, fluffy, not yet manure stained pillow wraps, and then for the first time I experimented with having SmartPak embroider some standing wraps. 

They have an option now to have the "tail" of the wrap personalized instead of the Velcro end which is awesome, because as OCD as I am about my wraps, I almost never get them perfectly square and I'd drive myself nuts if there were uneven monograms at different angles on all four legs.

But really, wraps and pillows... not so bad, right?

Well then I started hunting for a girth.  I thought about getting another TSF, but Windsor is built like a normal horse and so far saddles on him haven't had an issue with slippage or shoulder clearance since he lacks the giant-prair-shoulder that caused problems for the mare.

A few rides in, I'm also learning that he sweats like a monster under his girth.  So for the first time I am experimenting with a synthetic "breathable" style. 

"Hi Smartpak? send me more of your stuffs." 

I'm trying the SmartPak Breathable Girth .  I think there's a 65% chance I'll hate it and miss my plain, leather girths, but I'm feeling remarkably open minded.  Mostly I'm  irritated at the extra 45 minutes it takes his armpits to dry out so I'm willing to try anything.  (boys are gross).

Still pretty practical, right?

Well, today I took Prair's fancy Edgewood reins off my bridle because they are so long that the buckle nearly hits my toe when I have my reins shortened to where they are supposed to be...

Aside from the length looking silly, I have visions of me falling off and then my toe getting caught in my reins and that is the stuff nightmares are made of.

So for now I'm riding in my favorite original-Pia reins which I adore, but don't totally match my bridle and definitely won't pass the Hunter Princess test in the show ring.

Feeling inspired by SprinklerBandit's recent post on her bridles, I tried a quick eBay perusal to see if there were any dark CWD raised reins available, and when there weren't, I just bought them outright for more than I ever want to spend on reins.. (but still less than those damn Edgewoods). 

What else have I bought randomly? ... oh yeah. New breeches for me, since some Piper's were on sale and I've never tried them... hopefully all you guys who swear by them are on to something.

And then that brings us back to the Callidae.  I really love the look of their stuff.  And I adore finding new brands that have their own signature style.  The Hunter Ring is so boring.  I love the tradition of it, but I also really like finding subtle ways to have some interesting details.  Right now, Callidae is scratching that itch.  I ordered one of their practice shirts to see how the fit runs and if I like their styling.  But assuming I do, their show shirts will be at the top of my wanty list for show season. 
The "practice shirt" basically a long sleeve with a classy Dickie
Then, because my Visa wasn't totally on fire yet, when I was on Insta I saw them post a really beautiful belt which just so happens to have their signature "C" on the buckle, and for those who know me outside of boggy land, "C" works for me too.


I've been having the hardest time trying to find a belt that I love for my breeches.  I have a weird aversion to fabric belts, and I shy away from anything that's too conspicuous, like the TS quilted belts, or even the Spur belts that have found their way into every arena.  I love the simplicity of this design. 

Basic, clean, but still a tad refined and distinctive.  Fingers crossed I love it as much in person as I do in a well shot Instagram photo...

Going forward, I'll be keeping my eye on this brand.  It's expensive, but the collection is wonderfully curated. I am slightly obsessed with their throw blankets, but I haven't figured out a way to justify that particular splurge yet...

I think that brings us to the end of the unnecessary pre-holiday tack binge..

Well, aside from the small matter of that saddle on order... but again, that's another post entirely.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

True Costs: Importing a Horse

When I look back on the blog. I can't help but  smile when I realize how many "once in a lifetime" experiences I have managed to squeeze into the last couple of years with the magical beasts. 

Of course, if I'm in a cynical mood I also cry a little because if I add up what the True Costs of those experiences really are, it feels like if we saved that cash we could be in the South Pacific on our own private island right now drinking Rum Rickies out of freshly carved coconuts....

But, I love the horses.  I'm grateful for the wild adventures we've had, and even more grateful that The Boy isn't totally freaked out when he asks me "what do you think this will cost us?" and my response is to give a nervous shrug then pour more wine.  (always more wine).

Much like when we first stumbled into the world of A and AA Hunter/Jumper shows, I had an 80% idea of what to expect in terms of cost, but quickly realized there is a unspoken 20% that always magically appears on your invoice.  And it's that sneaky hidden 20% that's just a real kick in the pants..

So when we first started considering the idea of importing my next horse, I had no idea what that would add to the "bottom line" of the budget.

I feel like over there years I've always heard that it's "about" $10,000 to get a horse stateside. 

But I've heard $10,000 for a long time now.  Airline tickets change, the exchange rate fluctuates and there are enough variables at play that I didn't want to put too much stock in what was essentially a rumor - and an out of date one at that.

I've also heard a lot of people say that a horse that would cost you $100k in the States is waiting for you in Germany for 30,000 Euro (can't find my euro sign).  I will say that seems like a slight exaggeration at this point - but from what I saw it's not hugely off. 

Comparing a fairly green 4 year old to a fairly green European 4 year old - Dollar for dollar, you'll get better quality in Germany.

That is, assuming you can find it, and get it home again. 

I'm smart enough to know that there's no way I'm lucky enough (or na├»ve enough?) to find the crazy diamond in the rough that's the deal of the century.  Some people find those - I usually don't.

Though it did seem like there were lots of lovely (young and green) options from about 15k...

The 40k range had some gorgeous stunners and for 100+ there were some really impressive prospects, or going horses with spectacular resumes.

So there's lots to buy, in theory at a better price than you could find domestically - but you just can't forget about that pesky cost of actually shipping it over.

So here, dear readers, is a breakdown of the Germany Horse Shopping Process.

Aside from my normal disclaimers of "this is my personal experience and I have no idea how normal it is" I will say that success in shopping abroad is directly correlated to how much you trust the people who are taking you. 

Lots of Trust led to getting this guy home

Getting There/Staying There:

Part of what kept my costs down was booking my airline ticket using miles.  Using miles also allowed me to upgrade to First Class which made me feel really extra-fancy, and also added to the sparkly-vacation-fun of the trip. 

However, since I wasn't sure if I'd be able to use miles, I did lots of googling, and would have booked a ticket on Lufthansa (in premium economy because I'm tall and hate feeling claustrophobic) for $2,500 round trip.  (also I should note I was looking for tickets about 6 weeks away from departure.. closer than I would usually plan a international ticket purchase..)

But because of the miles, my actual costs were like $27.63 for some random fee for taxes and whatever.

Once there, we relied on our contact to book a cute hotel for us.  He picked a charming little farm-hotel-B&B thing that wasn't over the top, but very comfortable and lovely.  I had no idea how much it cost, so when we checked out and it was only $80 a night, I was thrilled.  Since we were on the road so much looking at horses I'm glad we didn't splurge on a crazy hotel.  It was perfect, and the restaurant had great wine, great food and a cozy fireplace.

Getting around we rented a good sized Toyota station wagon thing, that I'm pretty sure we don't have in the states.  It was comfy, large enough that four of us didn't feel squished all week, and even with the extra insurance (which I usually never get) was about $250.  (Plus about $100 in fuel). 

Aside from the (great) breakfast that was provided at the hotel, we ate on the road, in small cafes and back at the hotel for dinners... so I really only spent another $100 on food in total. 

Trip Costs:

(Hypothetical) Airfare:  $2,500
                       Lodging:    $300
                       Car:            $350
                       Food:         $100

Potential Total: $3,250

On airline miles (and splitting the car with a friend) I did the trip for $575 once I was on the ground. (though I did pay for half my trainer's way as well..).  Pretty cheap, but turns out driving around and just looking at horses is the onlyeally cheap part of horse shopping.. Also, I'm not considering the fact that I justified a new winter coat or purse for the trip.

But I did.  Because... accessories. 


Horse Costs:

Obviously, there is a cost of the horse.  Since none of us ever agree on the same one, I'm going to ignore this line item (lol) and just look at the other associated costs.

The Pre-Purchase exam is also something that everyone does differently.  I know that the vet we opted to use was on the more expensive side.  He was a lameness specialist and one of the better radiologists in the area.   I already mentioned that my PPE was extensive to say the least, but my full set of x-rays, ultrasounds, scoping, and numerous videos (flexions, lunging, gait analysis, etc) cost me $2,600. 

To be honest, this was significantly less than I was expecting.  I also know from the other vetting that I watched, that a less.... extravagant vetting, (but still with extensive films) ran closer to $1,900. 

Of course, on top of that I had the exam reviewed by my local vet in the States... so tack another $500 on the top for her opinion on the films and review of his videos (both under saddle and from the PPE).  

Apparently when you do actually buy a horse it's "normal" that you don't pay for board while the horse waits to be shipped.  I don't really know why this is the case (it certainly wouldn't be in the States...) but I didn't mind. 

In my case, the transaction was finalized on November 16th, and Windsor shipped on the 23rd... If we had purchased a Stallion that needed to be castrated, that delay could be closer to a month, and would also add the cost of castration..

Actual transportation was the last Big Item to figure out.  By recommendation, we went through Horse Flight.  Having never done this before, I had no preconceived notion of what companies are good.. what companies are bad, etc... no idea.  Since our German Contact hadn't steered us wrong yet, we went with his contact and let them handle the details. 

Literally all I did was confirm the "ship to" address and gave them a visa.  I let them handle all door to door transit and organization.  This meant they picked the horse up, handled all the travel documentation, blood tests, etc. 

It was extremely easy from my end.  I did get a tad nervous since I never actually received a quote on the cost for all those services, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the entire process came in at $10,100.

Ten grand is a lot of money.  In fact, it's basically like going down to Thermal for 3 weeks (well... I could ship him half way back too..) but when I looked at the itemized invoice, no one thing seemed egregiously expensive.

His actual flight was about half the total cost ($4,800) on a KLM passenger flight from Amsterdam to LA. 

Transport from his home farm to the airport (and one night layover before his flight) was about $700, and transport from LA up to our barn was about $1,200 (including a 2 night layover during the holiday).

The required USDA quarantine was a significant portion as well ($3,000) and the remainder was all the odds and ends (health certificate, random government/airport fees, etc). 

Windsor's actual ticket cost almost exactly the same as a Business Class ticket on the same flight, and I'm pretty sure he had more space than that (something to consider in the future..).  I couldn't have hauled him myself from LA for any cheaper (not even considering the cost of time off, etc) and he arrived in pretty great condition, aside from the few nicks on his heels. 

(I did opt to extend my insurance coverage for the international trip, which at Markel is offered at 0.5% of insured cost.  If you aren't carrying a Mortality Policy with them, they will insure the trip only for 2% (I think).  I had heard some horror stories about shipping fever, or getting kicked or slipping on pavement during transit and felt that there half a percent was well worth the space of mind.. )

So, if you're daydreaming about importing a horse (and looking at how incredible the exchange rate is..) here's what I had to add to the Cost of the Horse, in order to get him home:

PPE in Germany:  $2,600
My Vet Review:       $500
Door-to-Door:     $10,100

Total Purchase/Import Costs: $13,200

Realistically if I had found a horse State-side, I would have been expecting to pay for a PPE and some transport anyway.  So if you're looking for a bargain overseas, expect to pay about $10,000 to get them to the West Coast (a little less to the East Coast). 












Monday, December 14, 2015

The Lessons Continue (with video)

The second week-o-Windsor has also be ridiculously-entirely-entertaining

This horse is so fun.  And aside from lamenting the need to constantly de-poop-stain a gray horse, I'm enjoying every second. 

Our first lesson of the week was on Tuesday after he had a day of rest on sunday and a light flat trainer session on Monday. 

Guys, I got to tell you - he already feels like a different horse.  He's figuring out this whole flatwork thing, and he tries really, really, hard. 

We are both pretty out of shape, so there is the small issue of balancing enough repetitions to get in the groove and make some improvement without tipping over the cliff of exhaustion/frustration.

We worked over some canter poles (set on bending lines) and just about the time I got the hang of keeping his Right Hind quick and under him, we both started huffing and puffing... and collapsing, and.... well.... breaking to the trot a tad. 

But it's cool to feel him learn and go "oh yeah! that! I remember you asking me that before..." and giving some good, solid tries.

It's most obvious in his transitions, which honestly feel a bit like asking a steam locomotive to chug away from the station and then eeeevvveeeennnnntuallly stop again. 

Tuesday, the downward transitions still left a lot to be desired, but his up transitions are getting more prompt and correct.  Dare I say we even had a couple respectable walk/canter departs that weren't too shabby.

Lots of work to do, for sure, but it's really reassuring to feel him understanding the ask, and adjusting to the best of his ability (and conditioning).

Thursday was probably my most frustrating ride to date.  And that is "most frustrating" on a scale of Pegasus to Unicorn, which is... not that bad.

Our trot work was good, I felt more able to stay down around him and he was keeping his balance a bit more up and back. 

I spent longer than I wanted to at the sitting trot, which is where it's really obvious he's a new horse to me.  I can always tell how in shape I am and how long I've had a horse by how well I sit their trot. 

There is always a period of time (sometimes a reeeallly loooong one) where it is "easier" for me to post and I am a more effective rider posting..

But then I always turn some imaginary corner and it becomes easier for me to sit, and when I need to accomplish something, I'd rather have my butt in the saddle to do it.

I am not there yet.

In fact, sitting the trot involved me mostly praying to god we would stop soon and not really doing much of anything helpful for Windsor.  (oops).

Our canter work was also not great.  We worked over a cavaletti on the short end of the arena and I just couldn't figure it out.

I rode too hard.  I didn't ride enough.  I got behind the motion, I anticipated the motion, I released too much, not enough. 

I did pretty much everything except ride it well.  I definitely got frustrated and clearly that didn't do much to improve anything.

Then, we traded the cavaletti for a small vertical (maybe 2'?) to be jumped on a circle.  This is an exercise we do a lot in the winter and I love it.  It really makes me hold the horse on my outside rein and gets you verrrrrryyyy  honest as to whether you are riding the front end or the hind end of your horse. 

But this small-jump-on-a-circle thing was the first time I've felt Windsor say NOPE. 

He didn't stop, or do anything rude, but he was none-to-pleased about the bending and the jumping and the bending again.

I ended up having to square off my circle (a lot) so that we could jump without bend.  but even then, landing and asking to continue on the circle seemed really hard for him.

I know this horse has had to land and turn over much more daunting obstacles, so I was a tad taken back by his frustration and seeming lack of experience. 

We managed a few decent approached both ways, but it wasn't magical, or pretty. 

I am hoping that the ability to relax over this exercise will come with some strength over his topline and increasing flexibility.

We finished over a small course.  I felt better about riding my canter forward and not picking at the distances, but I felt worse about my ability to stick with this horse over the jumps.

Blurry Brad to the left..
I swear to god this horse cracks his back at least two vertical feet when jumping over the tiniest of fences. 

I know I need to stay down around him and land into my base, but it's really hard to do either of those things when I feel like the Ejection Button has been hit and I'm floating around in space approximately 20" above my tack.

I do better when we are working over slightly larger fences, so maybe I just need to prepare for the same back crack over the smaller ones?

I'll tell you what though - it's humbling.  Fun.  But humbling...

Saturday I rode alone which was good for you know.. improving - but bad for hiding my tiredness/bad habits/catching a breather.

Pretty normal warm up, lengthen/collect, shoulder in/haunches in, transitions, etc.

Canter work was slightly better.  I worked on "galloping" which I use in the Hunter sense of the word. 

Not "galloping" like I grew up galloping, or you know... galloping on a cross country course.  But a polite, refined "gallop" which really means get your horse in front of your leg and moving up and out.  Technically still three beats.  But bigger, more impulsion, expression, etc.

Right now that's helpful because when Windsor is forward, there is a lot more movement going on under me than I am used to and that makes my brain think we are out of control. 

Turns out we are not out of control, we are just... cantering while using our back. 

The forward open stride also helps me straighten Windsor out and keep him more balanced.  At least it does until we both run out of steam...

Over fences we worked over a figure eight again, and I struggled with setting us up for a gappier distance.  My golden nugget of the day though was to "label my distance" (commit to it from farther out), then get DOWN IN MY HEEL. 

This was oddly helpful for me.

Getting down in my base is on my subconscious check list approaching a jump, but actively thinking "3 strides, a tad tight, get DOWN... 2... 1..." allowed me to stay much more balanced in my tack and quieter over the fence. 

Concentrating... who knew.

Then we moved on to our favorite line (trot in... canter out) and finally a few smaller courses.  A nice barn mate was willing to take a couple clips of video, so I've compiled a best(/worst) of.

Two clips of the line, with me measuring to a slightly longer gap.  The first time through even though we landed with zero impulsion from the trot in, somehow I pushed pasted the distance going out...

Second time we nailed it and he jumped pretty.

Then I compiled a series of approaches to a small gate.  Usually a really easy fence/.approach for me, but I was trying to get the same nice, gap to the singles that I'm getting comfortable with in the line.

Fun Fact: I am NOT comfortable with the gap to singles yet.  Not at all.  My eye can't see it and usually it's ends up with me going "move up to the long one... move up to the long one... move up, move up, SHIT!"

As you will see.  Very hard for me.  Very hard.  I'll get there, but Windsor just feels so different and he responds (or doesn't) respond so differently, I get lost sometimes.



Bless this horse for not hospitalizing me. 

Also, The Voltaire rep was out for a fitting during my lesson so I was swapping tack a ton, but that's a separate post.





Friday, December 11, 2015

"Green" with.... Envy.. I Mean Experience?

There are many aspects of Hunterland that as an objective observer, my husband finds somewhat absurd. 

Expensive braids, inexpensive ribbons and seemingly endless flat classes are high on that list.  But one of his all time favorite crazy-hunter things is the whole "Green" program, and the fact that "Green" horses seem to be "Green" until they are eating senior feed for breakfast.

If he's exaggerating - it's not by much. 

I understand the benefit of having a division (or maybe 2?) where our new little horses can come out and play and not get creamed by horses that are old pros at their job.  It really does makes sense. 

I also think Green divisions are a great way to let owners have fun with younger horses, as well as encourage trainers to develop a pipeline of talent. 

But First Year Green horses are expected to jump around a 3'6" course, and Second Year horses get to face 3'9".  That may be easy for the horses who will spend their career in the High Performance divisions, but for lots of horses, even the First Years are well beyond where they will likely spend their careers.

So the Pre-Green Division was made.  Giving horses two years of competing at 3' (or 3'3") hidden away from seasoned AA and Children mounts.

But now that there are big, expensive incentives for the Pre-Green horses, they can't just start at 3'... they need something to prepare them for the big money classes and increasingly competitive Pre-Green division...

Never fear! There's a Baby Green division at 2'6" too!

It's all done with good intentions, but as it stands, the program makes it possible to hide in the "Green" divisions for five full years

FIVE. 

I don't know what you call a horse that's been showing for five years and is jumping 3'9", but it's not green

But that is somewhat beside the point.  I'm pretty sure USHJA is already arguing about what these divisions should be called, and I meant to talk about a different obstacle with our Green Program. 

Since USEF (and by extension USHJA) isn't an international governing body, they rely on USEF show records to determine whether or not a horse is really eligible to compete in it's appropriate Green Division. 

As prize money and incentive have pushed more prestige and better competition into these divisions, it's taken a higher and higher quality horse, with more and more perfect rounds to win - even in the "rookie" division. 

The horse world has repeatedly taught me that if Trainers have to rely on keeping their clients happy and delivering ribbons, they will find a way to gain a competitive advantage.  Hopefully that advantage is classy and legal.. but sometimes it's not.

In the case of trying to maximize your competitiveness in the Greens, the work around has been Europe.

Go to Europe, buy a horse that's been bombing around 1.30m or higher (sound familiar?), then import it, register it with USEF (maybe with a new name, though no one really cares) and BAM, you have a legally "Green" horse that can step into a 3' Pre-Green Division and not bat an eyelash. 

a perfect 3' Pre-Green candidate...
Of course, that division will also be filled with the Prairie's of the world who have just started jumping and aren't actually too sure about flower boxes yet, as well as OTTB's learning to use their right lead, and the rest of the US bred horses that couldn't gain the same show experience as Mr. Euro Pants (and still legally show the Pre-Greens).

Obviously this loophole has pissed people off, and wasn't very well aligned with the initial intent of the Green Divisions.  So the USHJA finally came back and said that a horse's FEI record could be used to determine Green eligibility. 

This makes total sense to me.  If you have a horse that has been competing at an FEI level, it shouldn't be able to compete with supposed rookies.

But as I recently found out, there is no accountability in disclosing a horse's FEI record if you don't want to. 

When I went to get Windsor his USEF card, I chose to list his microchip, FEI number, and Selle Francais info.  I did this because I think it's honest, and it allows his full record to easily follow him.

I also don't really care if my Trainer shows him in the Greens or the unrestricted Performance Divisions...

But if I were importing horses as a business and trying to make money selling competitive Pre-Green horses ready to dominate in the 3' ring... I'd register them with USEF under "Dude's Slick Ride" and conveniently omit all that extra mumbo jumbo. 

USEF doesn't have the time or resources to chase that missing information down, and frankly it'd be awfully hard to prove without the actual papers in your hand.  There have been a few instances of BNTs getting busted with experienced FEI horses presented as 3' Pre-Green mounts in the States, but it doesn't happen often and usually someone has to file a protest with the USEF to get anything done about it. 

But in theory, if we are mostly policing ourselves, the USHJA had made it clear that we aren't supposed to be presenting our FEI horses as Green....

But then it became apparent (as I've also recently learned) that while the FEI does a good job of reporting results from it's larger competitions, it doesn't always archive FEI classes from smaller shows.  This baffles me, but apparently it was happening enough regularity to make relying on FEI online records a bad standard to rule by. 

Add on to that the folks who just omit the FEI record all together, and the rule change was pretty terrible at actually leveling the playing field for US born and bred horses. 

This brings us to last year, when another proposed rule change lit up COTH boards and the meeting rooms at the national meeting... I can only imagine the horror of debating Hunter rule changes in a meeting format, but from some locals I know who were there... it was ugly.

The rule change that actually passed at that meeting flipped our current mindset on it's head and states that if we can't keep European horses with Jumper experience out of the Greens, we should let US horses with the same experience in.

So where eligibility used to be restricted by how high your horse has jumped in competition of any sort... it is now only restricted by how high your horse has jumped in Hunter (or Equitation) classes.

You get a free pass to jump as much and as high as you want in the Jumpers

.... at least until you start campaigning in a Green Division. Once you start showing a horse in USEF Green Divisions, you may not compete higher than that division in the Jumpers... That seems like a somewhat unnecessary restriction, but whatever.

If you're curious about the actual wording of the rule... it is listed under HU103 in the USEF rule book.

Basically, if Windsor starts to show as a First (or Second) Year Green horse (which I'm shocked he's now allowed to do), he wouldn't be able to show over 1.20m in the Jumpers at the same time. (oh darn)

Opinions on this rule change are rabid, and I understand why.  I can see how disregarding jumper experience will help the US breeders...  eventually. But it does seem like a tricky flood gate to ever close again.

In the rule change explanation (huge nerd here), it is clear that the Board approved this change with the intent of changing it back once USEF figures out how to manage a universal ID system that would accurately allow us to track a horse's record overseas.  (see all of the current arguments over microchipping that are going on now..)

If and when that ever happens, it seems like an overwhelming majority of the membership wants to see the Green Divisions returned to the young, green horses they were meant for. 

But that will be much easier said than done. 



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Christmas Courtesy of Prair...

There are lots of ways that kiddos interrupt your otherwise perfectly scheduled (lol) life, but trying to turn your environment into something that won't pose imminent harm is one of those new challenges. 

To be fair, the extent of our "baby proofing" has been pretty much limited to taking a few sharp objects off of low shelves and instilling a firm concept of "HOT" with regard to the fireplace. 

But the notion of my big, beautiful glittery Christmas Tree festooned with all my cherished (and breakable) ornaments made even me, Queen of don't-accommodate-the-baby-too-much, pause and think.

Instead of scrapping the tree all together, or leaving it bare at the bottom where curious hands can grab, I attacked the ribbon walls in the garage and decked our halls with Prair's lovingly collected tri-colors.

By rolling up the streamers and paperclipping them to the back, I turned the rosettes into pretty, varied ornaments.  It was actually kind of fun to read the back of each one and reminisce on certain shows or rounds or especially treasured championships. 

It was one of the first times I've been truly grateful for my OCD note taking on my ribbons.  It's fun to chuckle at "FIRST PLACE!!! (judge missed our blown lead change.. tee hee)" before crimping the ribbon onto a branch.

The Baby got in on the action and loved climbing the step stool with a ribbon in hand and tossing it at the tree. 

Initially I was going to do a traditionally "red and green" tree, but Prair hasn't gotten enough 6th place ribbons to trim out a tree yet.   She can claim far more Blues... so we stuck to a Blue, Red, Yellow theme and called it good.


I wasn't totally expecting to love how the tree turned out, but now that I've stared at it for a couple days, it's festive and bright and nothing will shatter if the kiddo gets a little grabby-grabby. 

I imagine that *when* we have a big beautiful barn of our own, I would put up a Ribbon Tree in the tack room every year....  
Bad light, but fully festive!
The only downside to this whole plan is that my usually cheerful ribbon wall is slightly less uplifting when I pull into the garage now.... it's a tad sparse and a little sad looking, but worth the sacrifice I think.
Visited by a Ribbon Thief
Funny enough, The Boy was the one running to and from the garage to gather ribbons as needed, and I'm sort of curious as to his selection process... he definitely cherry picked the ribbons (especially the tri-colors) but I haven't figured out what the theory was... Ahh the mysteries of marriage. 

I'm just grateful he let me make a RIBBON TREE, so I am unlikely to criticize his contributions...

But the big thanks go to Prair, for gathering such a lovely collection for our Christmas Tree.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Second Lesson or "Jumps may be smaller than they appear"

Saturday was my second lesson with Windsor, and also a welcome party for the other new German horse in the barn.  That translates to more fun both in and out of the saddle since for the second week in a row we had champagne and baked goods in the tack room (a totally civilized norm if you ask me..)

I continue to adore working around this horse.  He's sweet and snuggly, and very relaxed about people being around him.  He's a tad mouthy... but I think that might have more to do with having been a stud as it does with being spoiled...

Regardless, it's enjoyable, and I appreciate that the time on the ground is already easy and comfortable.  It took a while to get there with Prair (and maybe a tad longer with Pia), but I love being able to move around my horses with ease. 


The only reason this post will end up being even slightly interesting is because Supermom was able to come out and actually take some pictures/videos of us :)

We started off with our pretty normal flatwork warmup - light lateral work, again really focused on getting his right hind up under him.  I am working on figuring out how to get him up and back without just scrunching up his neck. 

This is apparently really, really hard for me.  It's also making it obvious how much I relied on Prair's ability to really hold a steady contact.  Windsor is so much lighter in the rein, and less educated on balancing, that when I half halt he ducks behind the bit... and I lose my aids to push into.  I know I need to push and not pull into balance, but its weird when it feels like there isn't anything to push into.

So there's lots of work to do there for both of us.  Look forward to lots variances on this theme in future posts :)

Canter work again worked on coming forward.  We worked over two poles, set at an easy 5 strides.  The struggle for me is carrying pace and keeping balance through the turn and having a bouncy adjustable stride.

Windsor has a great, bouncy, adjustable stride when you just leave him alone.  But when you start trying to negotiate said balance or pace, he flips into a bit of what I will (lovingly) call "Jumper Mode" which essentially involves him saying "stop it lady, I can do this better on my own."

He's not rude, or overly excited.. but he does tense his jaw and lock me out so that he can go engage his autopilot. 

Making progress on this negotiation will probably take a while and I'll have to prove that I have something to actually add to the conversation before he softens and totally listens when there is a jump or pole on the horizon.

Also - I should note at this point that even when we are going over a pole (or a few poles rolled together in this instance), I sort of get jumped out of the tack a tad. 

Maybe "jostled loose" is a more accurate description, but something happens and I end up feeling like a goober and tipping into my knee (this will be more relevant when we start jumping).

After we finished working through the poles both directions, we started to work over fences.  Again, we started with two small verticals on the diagonal. And again, they were pretty easy. 

I have a short clip, and I want to point out that over the second fence, I thought I set us up for a flyer (or whatever you would call an obscenely long distance at 2').  So I was surprised when not only was it an acceptable enough distance for my Trainer to allow us to walk after, but on video it looks totally normal.

I think I need to figure out how to sight in on this "holy-crap-this-is-gonna-be-long" distance and not take him where I want to be (which looks a little tight and crappy). 



I mean, a little leg and that would look like a deliberate, tactful ride (I think).

Then we worked through the small like again (trot fence in, small vertical out), and again we stopped the first time at the trot fence.  I *really* thought I had it this time too.  Second time we were totally ok and got through it, but wtf.  I can't quite figure out why I'm dropping him on the first approach.
 
Trot jump, WHEE
So, this is where I will return to my comment about getting jumped out of the tack.

I swear, these fences feel twenty seven feet tall on this horse. 

And I don't mean that because he is scrambley and heaves himself at the jump, or even that they look big to my eye.

I mean they feel big because when he rounds over the top, it feels like he's cracking his back over a max height, max spread oxer in the Olympics. 

It makes me want to lay down on his neck and put my automatic release down at his chest because, omg, obviously he needs his neck.

Then I watch the videos and I'm confused because a) the jumps are not large, and b) he is obviously not even trying.

Like, not even a little bit. 

Not Large.
Not Trying. (well, he's not anyway)

It's just me, feeling like I'm getting popped out of my tack and letting my heel creep and then landing in a heap on his neck.  

Clearly we have things to work on.

Because I am constantly trying to keep my ego out of this, (though sometimes it's hard) here are a few clips of the line.  It started about 2'6" and we ended at 3'6", though I don't have a clip of that.  You can use your imagination though - just take my loose, kinda sloppy self and add another 3" of slop to it, lol.




(again, in both of these you can see I'm taking him to what looks like a good distance to me... but really we could stand off it a tad more and show off his form better)

I mean, there's lots to love about this.  He's slow, he's balanced, he lands really nicely.  I have zero concerns.... but from a riding standpoint - I have a ways to go. 

I suppose that was the theory with this horse.  I knew I was buying something that I could relax over the fences on and actually work on myself with.  Good thing I have lots to bring to the table for that!

Anyway, I still am in love.  He's cute. He's polite, I can tell that we are "going to get there" but I'm slightly worried that he's not going to even pretend to pick his knees up unless we are in the 3'6" ring... and well... I am not ready to be headed in there anytime soon.  Gulp.

blurry Brad is blurry

Friday, December 4, 2015

Excuse Me While I Gush..

Well, the first week with Windsor has been totally fun, and everything I was hoping it would be. 
This blurry, cute face is growing on me..
Thursday I had my first lesson on the little man, and was grinning from ear to ear pretty much the entire time. 

That being said, things are not 100% perfect, or 100% push-button, but they are 100% fun and I'm thrilled. 

It's clear that there hasn't been a lot of time devoted to flatwork, or any sort of a primary foundation of any sort...  But Windsor has been a good student and tried hard, all while maintaining a sense of calm and some really cute floppy gray ears. 

I got to the barn early (duh) so that I would have some extra time to get ready and I enjoyed every minute.  He's a sweetie in turnout, and when the gale force winds of whatever storm is starting to blow through picked up, he didn't- and just followed me in on a loose lead. 

I got all tacked up and got on with a few minutes to spare so I could walk around and get acquainted again.  He was perfectly happy to march along on the buckle and once again gave no hint of interest in any of the jump piles, or back door or anything - and I can't tell you how nice that feels.

Prair got to a place where she was a pretty steady and reliable mount, but I never totally let my guard down since it always seemed like she was actively surveying her surroundings.  Windsor doesn't give you that sense at all.  He's alert, and his ears are forward, but it feels more like an excited Golden Retriever rather than a watch dog protecting his fences...

Our warm up was easy, lots of shoulder-in and leg yields.  He is a bit confused by lateral work, but does a nice job of trying.  Mostly we are focusing on asking him to fill the outside rein and really step under with his inside hind.  A request that seems somewhat foreign to him (lol)

He is unsure of all the micromanaging but is a quick study and improved with every repetition. 

On my end, I need to work on is keeping him forward during the ask, and not get talked into shortening his neck. 

At the canter the emphasis was on getting him to come forward.  He's happy in a nice little small canter, and apparently he can jump just fine out of it, so I don't think it's ever been much of an issue.... but we asked for a bigger step and more gallop to really push him straight.  It's hard for me, because he sorta bounces me out of the tack, but I think I'll get the hang of it eventually. 

Then we got to jump.  Sadly there is no video evidence :(

The plan was just to pop over a few fences, since we aren't in a rush for anything.  We started with two small verticals on opposite diagonals that we could just figure eight over forever. 

My first fence was lovely, just let him come forward and he popped over nice and round.  Landed softly and balanced, no scooting or scampering about.  Second fence I had a great Hunter Gap to... then back around to the first one... a little tight, then the second one... I tried to trust the long spot, but ended up chipping/lurching over it like a goober. 

I slipped my reins so he could recover and just about the time my brain was thinking "oh shit" he loped off like I hadn't totally blown the fence.  We did that a couple times (or at least with slight variations on a theme) and every time he just landed and cantered away without even so much as a head waggle or swishy tail. 

(jaw drop). 

Then for fun, a line was set with a little trot fence in, and a quiet five out to a vertical.  I rounded the corner with a nice peppy little trot and just as I dropped to my sit trot to support the fence Windsor seemed to realize that clearly I wasn't steering and he just sorta.... stopped. 

And snorted at the flower boxes. 

Which raised the question if he's ever seen a flower box, or been asked to trot a fence before.  I honestly got the sense that he wasn't spooking or refusing the task, but saying "ummmmm What? you're doing this wrong."

The second approach resulted in a rather expressive leap over the flowers, followed by landing in a heap, but recovering brilliantly and jumping out politely.  I repeated the line several times, each with a slightly different cartoon version of leaping over the trot fence, but always with a smooth recovery and a brilliant jump out. 

After a short break (neither of us could be accused of being "fit" at this point), we went back and the fences went up a bit.  Each time the trot fence got smoother, and the jump out a bit bigger.  We ended with the vertical set to about 3'3", which isn't mind blowingly massive - but for me to do that the first time out and feel zero, I repeat ZERO anxiety about it, was awesome.  This horse was built to jump.  It's effortless for him and not concerning at all. 

When we were through, and I caught my breath again - I looked at my trainer, grinned, and said that in my mind, we didn't pay for his cute jump - though its CUTE - but rather those five, easy, relaxed stride after the fence.

My PTSD with Prair had everything to do with those five strides after the fence.  My margin of error with the mare was very small.  Leave too short or too long and there was hell to pay on the other side.  And even if we did nail the correct distance, landing into a corner was enough to induce anxiety and send us careening around the turn...

Windsor just lands and the next stride feels like there was never any jump.  He's right back underneath himself and right back in his rhythm.  Honestly I've never had that feeling so consistently with a horse that's new to me. 

It's very comforting and it makes it all very fun.  I felt my brain return to my teenage days where I was always hoping for one more course, or one more turn through the gymnastic, or one more chance with the single oxer... I am definitely hungry for more.

Windsor probably won't ever win the hack, but that feeling on landing is exactly what I need, and I'm thrilled that so far he's everything that he was represented to be.

I LOVE GRAY BRAD. 

Also, in an attempt to fluff the Boy up a bit, I asked for his groceries to be increased.  This barn has never been stingy with feed, but in had to giggle when I found this in his stall... 

lol
Trainer ride Friday, then I'll be back out on Saturday for another fun lesson and to greet the horse our friend found in Germany (sexy Bay Brad if you recall...). 

I assure you, if I still had a three ring binder, it would be covered in liquid whiteout saying "I heart Gray Brad" and "Mrs Windsor."

I am officially obsessed with this horse.  Obsessed.

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