Monday, January 25, 2016

Butterflies

I came to a small realization last week as I sat in my den with The Boy watching terrible tv and chatting (as we tend to do most nights).  He asked me if I had ridden (it was Thursday, and I usually ride on Thursdays), but I said I hadn't bercause of work... but I was going Friday instead and he simply said "good."

(riveting dialogue I know)

And as I sat there I thought - it is good.  I'm totally excited about it, and I find myself always eager to get in the car and make my way to the barn. 

This isn't a high threshold to hit - I'm excited to go to the barn for almost any reason, but as I started thinking about our lesson-to-come and the ride we already had on Wednesday, I was so eager to be back at the barn that I had literal butterflies.

Like, can't wait for the Big Show/Big Date/Big Interview type butterflies.  The kind that don't necessarily keep you up at night, but they at least have you check the clock when you wake up to see if it's reasonable to get out of bed yet. 


I guess it's sort of like Christmas Eve butterflies when you are a kid - and I get them every time I think about going to ride.

I finally said as much out loud and we had a slightly more interesting dialogue about why that is. 

Even at my lowest lows in the middle of my biggest struggles with a horse - I've always been itching to get back to work with them. 

Even when Pia was flinging me into walls I would willingly blow off happy hours with friends or postpone work commitments just to get to the barn. 

What I'm trying to say is- I've always been a horse crazy girl, so I wouldn't expect anyone to think it was weird for me to be really-really-excited about going to the barn. 

In fact, I wouldn't expect me to really think it was weird either -

But there is a difference these days, and I think it has to do with the fact that in almost two months of riding Windsor I haven't had even one moment under saddle where I felt like he was being a jerk. 

I've been frustrated, or wished he didn't so willingly let me made bad decisions, (I swear he sees that I'm over the pace and just let's us eat the fence sometimes..) but he's never given me the middle finger, or tuned out, or been spooky at weird stuff or done anything to make me nervous to try again.

We aren't exactly throwing the jumps up at this point, so I'm not going to say that every ride is some magical synergistic experience - but it's also never terrifying and I always get out of the irons with big pats and thank yous.

I don't think I've ever had two months of rides on a horse without one Jerk move somewhere.  Whether it was spooking at a corner of the ring (repeatedly) or panicking about a particular canter lead, or refusing to trot forward or whatever - I've come to always expect a sprinkling of those moments - which is what makes the total absence of them so - butterfly inducing.

It's a pretty cool thing actually. 

And now I understand why some of my peers spend literal years searching for the right horse with the right brain.  I've set out with that goal but always ended up distracted (and enamored with) the pretty mare, or the big trot or whatever other "shiny" object catches my eye.

though he does have a pretty dreamy forelock...

So I'm enjoying it.  I'm trying not to obsess about perfection and progress (which is hard for me), but rather stay aware and mindful of how much more relaxing my rides have become and figuring out how to leverage that for maximum fun. 


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Higher Standards... Child Care?

As anyone with Children, or a pet (or spouse for that matter) knows, the most entertaining "toys" are rarely whatever you spend copious amounts of money on. 

It's never the toy - but rather the proverbial box that is more fascinating for the kid (or cat, or dog or ferret..) to play with.

While the grandparents tend to keep my kid well stocked with books and toys and other age-appropriate gifts, I just had to share the current toy d'jour that simply cannot be put down.

Higher Standards Leather Care.



Yup.  Not only does it keep my strap goods soft and gleaming and lovely - it also keeps my kiddo occupied for extended periods of time.

The round container, and rounded lid are easy to grip and apparently fun to hold/roll/drop.

The lettering is easy to read and apparently very entertaining to identify
"H!... S!.. WOW!!!!"

But the most appealing part is obviously the smell. 

I'm am chased around the house by a small toddler demanding "smell dat! Smell dat!" until I relent and handover my favorite leather cleaner which she promptly sits and whiffs endlessly.

 
I'm assuming there's nothing wrong with that (though we may be setting ourselves up for trouble down the road).

On my last re-order I snagged a couple of the small containers which I have totally relinquished to the toy bin.

Now I just have to teach her how to use the stuff so I can really put her interest to work...

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Kickstarting Show Season...

It's that time of year.... when I start looking at my calendar, panicking about commitments and desperately trying to carve out weeks for horse shows.

I forgot how much satin that mare raked in...
The biggest hurdle for me is that at a time in my life when traveling for shows is harder than it's ever been - our barn is moving towards a schedule with more shows "away" from home.

I understand why.  The facilities that tend to host our A/AA shows locally are either newly developed (and need infrastructure desperately), old and gross (and no fun to be at) or limited in size (and therefore class offerings). 

That's not to say that the barn doesn't plan to go to any of our local shows, but the general consensus of our owners right now seems to be a preference for shows that are 2+ hours from home.

So for me, (and work and a baby) that means I have to be somewhat thoughtful about what shows we do plan to attend.  I wish I could pick up house and home and be on the road riding for two weeks every month - but alas, that Powerball ticket hasn't been a winner yet. 

I also know that planning too far out with horses is tempting fate, and often useless since goals and schedules and availability are all constantly shifting.

Right now, it looks like Windsor will make his Hunter d├ębut down in Orange County at the Blenheim Spring Series.  Several owners have gotten fed up with Thermal (I don't blame them) so there was little enthusiasm to head for HITS again.  To be candid, Thermal is kind of a pit.  It's dusty, it's crowded, the staff is worked hard and has little time to be friendly and there isn't much effort put toward hospitality.  It's not the sort of place you take your fancy horses to sip on champagne and enjoy beautiful surroundings while feeling extra uppity. 

That is to say - It's not Wellington. 

Thermal is great for getting a lot of reps in, exposing your horse to crowds and insane flat classes and dust storms and long days.  It's also good for conning your family into joining you since the Coachella Valley has lots to offer the grandparents and golfers. 



Anyway, so we are skipping Thermal this year.  Instead we are looking at the Blenheim series, which is a bit later (starts March 22) and is essentially an alternative to the first Spring show offered locally.  It's also in Orange County instead of the desert which won some points with other owners. 

I've (clearly) never showed there, so I'm not sure how much lovelier it will necessarily be - but California in March sounds better than the PNW in March so I'll take it.

The current plan is to show for two weeks, with the option of staying for a third if its really necessary.  My goals with Windsor are very limited and foggy since we know nothing about his behavior at a show.  No idea if he's hot or spooky, or herd bound, or easy, or excited, or impossible to make canter in 75 degree heat, or what. 

Especially during the first week, we will be feeling him out and seeing where our issues may crop up.  I have no idea what divisions we'll enter and fully expect to make a game time decision there.
Winsdor says he wants to be fancy and do the Model. (jkjkjk)
Hopefully by the second week we'll start to have a notion of what horse we are working with - what he needs to be his best (or at least not his worst), and how we should shape the rest of the season.

Right now the only other "planned" stop is a week or two up at Thunderbird at the end of May, start of June.  While not exactly in our back yard, it's a only 3 hours away (though there is a boarder to cross..) which makes it slightly more possible to commute back and forth some of the time. 

After that there are lots of options but I think they will be determined by how those first couple shows go and also things like soundness, and money and all those other pesky details that are required to actually get yourself to the show ring. 

Blenheim is still 11 weeks out, which - when I remember I've only had Windsor home for 6 weeks, sounds like a really long time to get our acts together.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Looking Forward...

I've fallen off the bandwagon of clearly defining my goals over the last year or two, or maybe it's been more like four.

Maybe it's because I was mentally guarding against long rehabs and what may or may not work... or it might be because we have a crazy toddler who (as it turns out) does actually have an impact on my ability to ride and show as much as I would love to...

Or it could be because my mental discipline is pretty much terrible all the way around these days. (really, you should see what I come home with from the grocery store these days... I could benefit from the use of a list of two)

But, I have always found goals helpful for my work with the horses.  Even if they get thrown out the window, it is nice to at least acknowledge my hopes and intentions on paper (screen?) and provide some benchmark to look back on.

In terms of competition, I still don't feel like I know Windsor well enough to make reasonable, well educated goals.  That makes me reluctant to declare that 2016 is the year we will be attending Derby Finals and putting Brunello in his place.  (second place to be specific). 

But I also don't want to set my sights on the 2'6" ring (again) just to ensure that I am not left disappointed.

So as I start to think about what would make 2016 feel like a success, it gets a bit tricky. 

I want to move slower with Windsor than I did with Prairie in terms of introducing him to a new sport - but I also recognize that Windsor is a different horse and unlikely to be intimidated by the same things that intimidated the mare. 

For one thing, he's already proven that he can jump big and that he isn't worried about that.  But he hasn't ever had to show in an environment where his disposition and relaxation were part of the game.  He also hasn't ever had to jump fences with fill.  And while I've always found the fences in the Jumper ring much spookier than those in the Hunter ring, I've seen enough seasoned Jumpers freak out at a 2' flower box to know I shouldn't take that for granted.

So for now, I think it's helpful to separate my goals into what Windsor is doing with me and what he is able to do with my Pro. 

I should also clarify that Windsor wasn't purchased with the intent of being solely a Pro Ride - but with a toddler on the loose, I can see how my personal schedule might possibly influence the priority of which goals are more important - or quite frankly, more fun to pursue.

Real Goal: 8,000,000 gray nose kisses

Goals for Windsor with Me:

1) Show.  (more than once this year)

This is sort of cheating, since it has more to do with soundness than skills -  but my last two show seasons have been extremely short.  Both years Pair showed extremely well at Thermal and then two weeks at home before missing the rest of the summer. 

I'd like to avoid that pattern this year and shoot for one(ish) weeks of showing each month of the season.  

2) Show in a Rated division.

I always hate making goals that have to do with a particular level or height because it feels like that means I don't care about the horse or our relationship or any of those warm-fuzzy things.  However I am really competitive and I like getting better, so it's time for some declarative statements.

Plus, if I'm being totally honest with myself, one of the reasons we brought Windsor home was to get me back in the Rated Divisions (3' and above for the non-hunters out there..). 

I don't need to walk into the AA's our first time out, but I'd like to get there before the end of the year and that seems doable to me.

3) Groom Myself

I used to always groom for myself, and only in recent years have I discovered the option of having a professional Groom at shows..

I do miss being in total control of my horse and my preparation for a competition.  However, while I totally see the value (and freedom) that professional grooming can provide - it is one of the larger expenses for me when I go to a show.

Candidly, the option of Grooms makes it possible for me to show with a kid.  It's much easier to keep The Boy on board when the prospect of attending a show doesn't involve me being gone from 4am to 9pm, or even totally absent for a week (or two... or three). 

With a kid it's nice to be able to leave when my classes are over and know that the horses are still getting great rub downs and wrapped and all snuggled in for the night. 

So why is this even a goal? 

I think that handling my own horses care has consistently offered me lots of information. 

Information that my Pony-Club-Upbringing has beaten into my head as necessary - so when I don't have it I inherently feel uninformed.

Are they anxious? are they eating differently? are they napping frequently, freaking out and herdbound? Does their poop look normal?

It's also hours I love spending with my horse.  I love the energy at 4am on a show ground with hay being thrown and stalls being cleaned.  I love listening to my horse munch hay while I take out braids and I love being the one to give them a final pat and thank you before tucking them in for the night.

In fact in an odd turn of events - paying for a Groom used to feel like the ultimate luxury, while these days having the time to do it myself seems like a much bigger treat.  

I probably won't be able to groom for myself at the longer events, but hopefully I can make it work for some of the smaller shows.  I miss it. 

Although I'm certain I will be cursing Windsor's dappled self the entire time...

4) Still Love the Horse

I'm fairly confident that I will enjoy my partnership with Windsor, so I'm not sure this is a great goal to set - but as my time available for the horses gets more and more restricted by other obligations, it's becoming more and more important to me that I love the horse I'm spending time with.  It's not worth struggling with a personality or any issues that scare me. 

When I first started struggling with Pia, my trainer at the time told me that "life is too short to ride horses that are trying to kill you."  She perhaps overstated my conflict with Pia a tad, but her reasoning was sound. 

When I was single and my primary relationship was with a horse, it was easier to justify the fight and struggle and despair.  But now that I have to come home from the barn energized and refreshed, I will probably decide to change horses much sooner than I used to.   That's not to say I don't expect bad rides or struggle (it's still a horse).  But my tolerance has shifted. Though maybe that's just because I'm no longer in my twenties? lol.

Goals for Windsor with my Trainer:

1) Watch Her School Him Once a Month.

I learn a lot by watching others ride my horses, but I tend to get greedy about always having the ride when I'm at the barn (for good reason).

This year I'd like to get in the habit of watching my trainer ride at least once a month in order to see for myself what they are working on and how it differs from my own rides.

2) Watch Her Show at 3'6" or Higher.

If I'm being honest (again) - part of what made Windsor so appealing to me was the possibility of watching him jump around (much) higher courses than I ever need to.  I wasn't shopping for a High Performance horse, but the idea of watching him go around some of the bigger jumps sure sounds fun to me.  And also to The Boy.  I think he's secretly hoping for some GP action, but that's not gonna happen. 

5'6" standards....whee!

3) DERBIES

Also - Derbies.  This guy isn't the fanciest mover out there, but I think he's brave enough for the fun Derbies.  Sadly the Derbies at a lot of our local shows are basically normal courses and jumps with a handy round tacked on the end. 

There are a few shows that our barn attends with beautiful Derby fields and fences that are a significant departure from the line-diagonal-line of the divisions - so hopefully I can make attending those a priority.

Eventually I'd love this horse to do the International Derbies, but I recognize this is his first year in a new job and the National Derbies are probably a good place to start. 

Finally, I have to note that a USHJA Derby cooler is definitely on my Show Bucket List, so we might as well start marching toward that!


Mostly I think 2016 will feel like a huge success if my learning curve stays as steep as it has been.  Starting a new partnership with a horse as forgiving as Windsor, is making it possible for me to push forward faster than I have with a horse in a long time.  That in itself is super engaging and rewarding and a new experience that I am really trying to enjoy. 

Of course a ribbon or two, or a cooler along the way never hurts....











Friday, January 8, 2016

Reviewing the Tack Splurge Part 2

The second part of the Tack Splurge Review... focusing on the goodies for Windsor.

First up, the SmartPak Breathable Girth.

It's listed at about $35, though I stacked another discount on that so I think my final price was right about $30.
For $30, this is hands down the best girth I have ever purchased.  I wouldn't go so far as to want to show in it (I'm a leather girth snob for the show ring), but I am totally impressed with the initial quality on this product.  The hardware is hefty, the elastic is sturdy and overall it seems well constructed.  Most importantly though, it has significantly reduced Windsor's arm-pit-drying-time and that is worth it's weight in gold.  I've only been using it a couple of weeks, but if it holds up as a solid schooling girth - this thing gets two thumbs up.

Next, I had mentioned that I picked up some new pillow wraps and standing bandages.  The pillow wraps are Wilkers, which are my perennial favorite.  They wash pretty well and I've never had a problem with them deteriorating before I decide it's time for a fresh set.

The standing bandages are also whatever generic brand I typically buy, so not a lot to report on there either - except for my new experiment with embroidering them on the tail of the bandage.


This is my new favorite thing.  I like that the monogram shows when the bandages are ready to be used, so it's obvious who they belong to, but the monogram is hidden when the wraps are on so I don't have to obsess about making everything line up.  They are easy to identify in barn laundry and well worth the personalization fee in my opinion.  I will be doing this for future bandages.

Less practical (or at least, less urgent..) on the acquisition list was my new set of reins from CWD.  Though I knew I would eventually need some new show reins I wasn't super excited about this purchase because I was spending more money than I wanted to and was a little grumpy about it.

However, after getting, oiling and riding with these reins I retract any and all grumpiness about the price tag. 

They. Are. Gorgeous. 

Out of the box they were a tad light (even though they were "dark"), and a bit stiff, but clearly a high quality leather.  I threw them in a ziplock with a heavy dribble of Hydrophane to darken them a tad, and they really turned out a beautiful color that perfectly matches the CWD bridle. 

Since they were still a tad stiff I put them back in the bag with regular Neatsfoot Oil for a bit more conditioning overnight.  They ended up a tad over oiled, but not egregiously so. 

I intended to "save" these for show use only but wanted to ride in them a bit to break them in and get used to their feel - and I can already tell you that I will NOT be taking these reins off my bridle anytime soon.  They feel WONDERFUL in my hands while I ride.  They leather is heavy and soft, and totally what I like in a rein.  I think the reins themselves are a tad wider than normal so they fill my hands nicely and the laces actually act as a grip mechanism.  I'm obsessed.  Fully. Obsessed. 

My only complaint is that in true CWD form, they stamp information in really annoying places.
 
Unlike my bridle there's no irritating "CWD" badge (they have since stopped putting those on Hunter bridles..), but there is an ugly, poorly aligned serial number stamped on the tail of one rein close to the buckle. 


From a distance it isn't visible, but I see it while I'm riding... and while I'm cleaning, and it irritates me to no end... 

Not only could the stamp have been on the underside of the rein, it could have been done in a nice, straight manner and looked more polished, or at least like a drunk toddler didn't do it with a bedazzler gun.

I'm sure lots of people don't care about that, but it seems like an easy detail to get right - especially for $200 reins.  (face palm).

The items that I didn't talk about in my previous include some BoT polos, and a new show halter for Windsor.

The polos I picked up on TOTD when they were blowing out everything Back on Track has ever made.  I've heard people love the polos and since I cannot for the life of me find ANY of Prair's many sets, I bought four of them in white - cause... fancy.  (for the record, not being able to find stuff is the punishment I get for actually trying to organize my crap).

I wrap Windsor up with these for our flat lessons, which are admittedly only once or twice a week. But I like them.  I love the thickness and also that the back of the wrap is a flat knit instead of fleece.  They have a good amount of stretch and the Velcro is sturdy which I appreciate.

I don't really know what else to say about polos except that I don't feel super horrible about the $30 price tag given the high quality.  Also, BoT.  I like BoT, and I hope Windsy does too.

The Halter was another unnecessary purchase, but one I am (again) happy with. 

I commandeered Prair's former show halter as Windsor's every day one since it was available and fit him.  That halter is the Circuit Padded Leather Halter and I purchased it from Dover for about $100 at the time (I think it's $110 now).  I've never had a complaint about it, though the F/S was a tad short for Prair, so the guys at the barn swapped crown pieces (without asking..) with another halter that was apparently an O/S to give Pair some extra length.  I appreciate that they made it fit, but it always annoyed me that her show halter had this slightly more worn crown piece when everything else was pretty and new.  I would have said something but, a) it fit, and b) my WASPy fear of confrontation meant I'd rather be irritated by it than actually have a conversation and potentially upset them for trying to do something nice.

The point of all that was the former show halter has become an everyday halter.. so I "needed" a new show option.  On one of SmartPak's black Fridays, or cyber mondays or 12 days of Christmas... or whatever, they had a very similar piece on super sale for $70. 

$70 is a great price for a nice, detailed, fancy stitched halter.  So... obviously I bought it.  It's their "Wellfleet Fancy Stitch Padded Halter" and I love it.   Normal price is $90, and I think that's still a fair value.  Out of the box, the padding is noticeably softer than the Circuit, but otherwise, the two are very comparable in both style and apparent quality.   Again, I had SmartPak handle the personalizing, so it arrived all ready to go. 

Color is off in this.. it's a tad more chocolate.


I think it's fair to note that while SmartPak's Halter plates are made and shipped very quickly, they are no where near the quality of Halter Tags.  Halter Tags is not the most prompt in terms of delivery (um, at all), but their engraving is stellar.... and they are cheaper. 

That brings us to the end of the Tack Binge update.  There were a couple horse items wrapped up under the Christmas Tree, but since they haven't been used yet, I don't have much of an opinion to share.. so those will have to wait for another day.

But they rest of it is all totally reasonable, right?





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