Tuesday, December 30, 2014

True Confessions: I love TBs but they don't love Me.

One of the ideas I had for my blog was to write a series of True Confessions
 - features on topics/issues related to riding that are personal to me.

My first blog in the True Confessions is regarding Thoroughbreds.

I grew up in an era where the Thoroughbred still reigned as the ultimate sport horse.
I clearly remember hero-worshiping the likes of Gem Twist and Greg Best in the 1988 Olympics.
Touch of Class, with her bold white blaze and her double clear rounds in the 1984 Olympics was my all-time favorite and I hoped to grow up one day and own a carbon copy of her.
I cheered on the epic rivalry of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer,

and cried hot tears as I helplessly watched, on live TV, the breakdown of Go for Wand in the Breeders Cup.

Warmbloods may have begun to infiltrate the ranks of the A Circuit in the 80's,
but the trickle-down effect had not yet made its way to my local level.

All the Pros in my area rode Thoroughbreds, with epic names such as
British Sterling, Society Page and Rolls Royce.

I have always loved Thoroughbreds and my eye will forever be drawn to their fine lines.

But, I have come to accept that, as a rider, for the most part, thoroughbreds don't suit me.
Many require a level of tact that, as a rider, I don't seem to possess.

I am anxious and reactive by nature myself.  I have a busy mind and tend to light horses up. Because of their sensitivity, many thoroughbreds require a quiet, tactful, educated ride. I imagine that the sensory input from me (as a rider) must make their brains go into overload. I get frustrated, I get tense, I anticipate. All in all, it is usually a recipe for disaster.

I will never say never, but in my "old" age, I have accepted my own shortcomings and I appreciate my stoic Paint gelding. Even though my heart might always yearn at the sight of a blood horse, my older wiser brain now calls the shots and rules the roost.
After all, I don't bounce like I used to.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


I hope you all enjoyed your holidays!

I had 5 days off from work, which was wonderful, but holidays = family time
so I did not do as much riding as I had hoped.

I had a lesson on Saturday. A friend at the barn was able to catch some of the canter transitions/flailing on her iPhone. I apologize for the crappy quality. 
I need to get my real video camera out there.
Fast forward to 1:06 where the real fun begins.

I learned some important information on where my hips need to be, but also some lunging homework was prescribed.  

I had every intention of doing some pony lunging bootcamp this winter.
However, our lack of an indoor had interrupted my best laid plans.
When weather permits, I want to ride, not stand in the ring while my pony revolves around me in a circle. But, if it is in his best interest, then I suppose it must be done.

For your viewing pleasure, and to prove that the hairy beast has developed somewhat in the last 7 months, I present:
August 2014

October 2014

October 2014

Proof that the beastie can be quite cute. 
Now to translate this quality to under saddle work!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Heart Dog

Before there was Boca, there was Jersey, my heart dog.
Back in 2012, before I was married, before we even owned a house, I started bugging my future hubby for a dog. Like many horse lovers, I am also a dog lover, and had always wanted a dog of my own.

At the time, I had my eye on a particular dog on Petfinder named Jellybean. Jellybean had been looking for a home for quite some time. For months, all my then-boyfriend heard was "Jellybean...Jellybean....Jellybean."
In April of 2012, future hubby and I got engaged and closed on a condo. The pressure was on. I pestered him day and night about getting a dog.

That face!
My husband happens to be the more practical one of us.
He pointed out that with a houseful of new furniture in various stages of being delivered, and his busy season at work just starting to ramp up, that it would be best to wait until
December to adopt a dog.

"Why you bother me, lady?"
Now, I'm not sure how much I believe in things we can't perceive, but the following story is, at the very least, a bit odd, and also entirely true.

On Saturday, May 19, 2012, my fiance came upstairs, where I was getting ready to head out to run some errands. He told me there was a local Greyhound adoption group that was having an open house that day, and did I want to go?

I looked at him like he had grown a second head, and made sure I spoke slowly so that he had full comprehension
"You know...if we go today...we are coming home...with a dog."

He did agree, in sound mind, that we were most likely bringing home (or at least planning to bring home) a dog that day. So off to the kennel we went.

Those ears!
On the way to the kennel, my husband told me that the night before, he had a dream that we adopted a greyhound. When he woke in the morning, he turned on the tv. The local news was running a story on a greyhound adoption group that was holding an open house that day. Co-incidence???

We arrived at the kennel and there were at least 15-20 dogs in runs. There were 2 adoption coordinators there to answer questions and take out dogs for us to interact with. I can complicate the most simple of decisions, but choosing a dog to bring home with you FOR LIFE is a little like walking into a bar and choosing a random man to be your husband.

Luckily, my husband is not so complicated.
The 3rd or 4th run on the left had a smaller, daintly looking dog lying on his bed with his front paws crossed.  He was brindle and white, with an eyepatch over one eye and one brown ear.
Mugshot. Convicted of being cute.
When the coordinator took him out of his run, he immediately sat in my lap for butt scratches. The coordinators said "Oh that one is a Galgo" which went completely over my head, as I had never heard the term before.  They explained he was not an American Greyhound, but a Galgo Espanol, a different breed altogether. He was from Spain, and had just arrived in the US two weeks prior.

My husband liked his eye patch, and the fact that he was smaller than the American Greyhounds. I was just happy to have a dog, any dog, to call my own. So with that stellar informed decision-making, we decided to adopt him. I tried to inject some logic into the process. The following weekend was Memorial Day, and I would be home for 3 days - plenty of time to bond with the new dog. I offered to come back and get him the following weekend, but the coordinators assured us that getting him used to our routine right away was best.

And so, that very day, Jersey came home with us.

Spoiled rotten.
Jersey is, and continues to be, my heart dog.
I hope he is with us for a long, long time.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Christmas Parade!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I love to do ALL THE THINGS! as it relates to riding and horses.

So when my friend at the barn mentioned that there was a local Santa Parade, and did I want to dress Boca up in a ridiculous costume and ride down Main Street, the answer was YES!

Pay no attention to the constipated-looking elf. Focus on the cute horse.

One of the very best things about Boca is that he is truly brave.
He is one of the most bombproof horses I have ever come across.
He genuinely is not reactive and if he comes across something new or different, he is curious and engaged. He wants to approach and investigate.

I was extremely proud of Boca at the parade. There were marching bands and floats, children and dogs, fire trucks and police cruisers, minis, carts, and minis pulling carts.

Photo Credit: Tom Maguire

Boca's attitude?  "They're throwing me a Parade!!!"

"Look! Look at the cuteness of my fuzzy nose!"

"Hello Human Grandfather! You may pet and adore me!"
Mmm leaves. I am starving!!!

Boca was interested and wanted to make friends with every human and equine along the parade route. He tried to eat the straw off one of the floats. Overall, it was a great experience, and once again, I was grateful for my easy-going little red horse.

He allows me to live out all my unrealized childhood 4-H dreams.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lessons are Awesome

There is a saying out there that
"You Can't Fix a Broken Mind with a Broken Mind".*

I am educated enough as a rider to know when things don't exactly feel right, but often what I lack are the tools to correct them.

Yesterday's lesson provided a few more tools to help address issues I am feeling but didn't know how to correct. 

My instructor introduced the Shoulder Fore exercise as a way to start to learn how to control different parts on Boca's body.  The Shoulder Fore will increase Boca's strength, suppleness and straightness.

Also, we worked on a 5 meter circle, getting him to step under himself prior to asking for the canter. 

Boca tried really, really hard, without getting angry. At the end, he had one transition into the canter with so much balance and power. It was all I had hoped for and so much more.

He was only able to hold it for one stride, but I was so excited by what I felt.  I threw a giant party right there on his back, patting him over and over and telling him what a great boy he was.

Lessons - I tell ya - they're awesome.

*PS.  The broken mind I am trying to fix with a broken mind is my own.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Become a Re-Rider

When I started off my career as a re-rider, I did not have the money to run right out and purchase a horse.

I had just spent 6 years living in New York City, which you may have heard, is uber-expensive (generally the only city in the US to crack the top 10 list of the Most Expensive Cities in the World).

After a brief 7 month stint in Lexington, KY, I returned to my hometown in Massachusetts, and decided to re-dedicate myself to the pursuit of excellence as a rider.

I returned to the last barn I had received instruction at as a teen. Over the years, I had popped in and visited my old instructor from time to time, so it was not a complete surprise for me to re-appear in her barn 10+ years later and pick up where I left off.

This began a 5 year journey of leasing and lessons. For many, leasing is an attractive compromise for those who cannot afford a horse of their own. For me, it was a 5 year long drama of "To Have and Have Not".

The first two leases were on-farm full leases.  It was great not to have to share with other leasees, but there were other compromises to be made. The horses available to me were a little outside my skill level at the time. The was no indoor or even an outdoor with lights. That left 4 months out of the year that I was down to two rides a week -- weather permitting. Getting the farrier to come out was always an issue.  I suspect my trainer only called him when she could afford to shoe the other horses she owned, which would leave me with a horse long overdue for a trim, tripping and/or throwing a shoe and being off completely.

When I finally left that barn, it was to go ride at a show barn on a more broke horse.  The facilites were definitely an upgrade.  I had an indoor to use year round. The horses were always shod on time. My goals evolved from trying not to fall off and die, to actually being able to work on myself as a rider.

The only drawback?  I could not afford to full lease. I was able to 1/3 lease with two other riders.  Lease horse was ridden 2x daily, 6 days a week. This is by no means animal cruelty, but it never sat right with me. It just felt wrong. Sometimes I would arrive to find another leasee just finishing her ride.  I would have the choice of riding a hot, tired horse, or not riding at all.

I complained bitterly to my then-fiance.  Many, many times I came home from the barn in tears.  I looked around at the horse world, and I felt like an outsider. I bitterly envied those who could afford to have a horse of their own.

My doctor at the time offered me this sage advice:
"Sell a kidney or find a higher paying job."

So that is what I did.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

December's 10 Questions

I saw these questions over on PONY'TUDE's Blog
and they looked like fun, so I thought I'd answer them too.

1. What size horse do you prefer to ride?
16 Hands, or as close to it as possible.  I am a weenie and no longer like to ride bigger horses.  The larger stride scares me. Although I rode the barn owner's 20 hand Shire and felt just fine.
Objects in the crossties are larger than they appear.
2. Do you school in tall boots, or paddock boots and half chaps?
I am all paddock boots and half chaps. One, because I am budget concious.  I have a nice pair of Ariat tall boots that fit me really well and only come out for shows. Two, I hate breeches <there, I said it> and much prefer to ride in jeans, which fit under half chaps well, but tall boots not so much.
Jeans, half-chaps and hair down... The Horror!
3. What do you do with ribbons after shows?
Throw them in a bin in the basement. Or throw them out. I strangely have no real attachment to them.

4. Do you ride/board at a large show barn, or a small private barn?
I ride at a large non-private, non-show barn.  I love my barn.  There is a mix of disciplines, from Mounted Shooting to Dressage.  We have a range of horses - Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, QHs, Draft-crosses, a Haflinger, some WBs, 2 Shires, a TWH, a POA pony and a partridge in a pear tree.  Seriously.  We have partridges.  Ok, we don't have a pear tree.
My mounted shooting friend... how cool is that?

5. Have you ever seen a horse give birth?
Nope, I did assist in a live cover breeding though. So I was there for the conception part.

6. What is your favorite breed?
I would have to say Thoroughbreds are my favorite breed.

7. Favorite tack brand?
I don't have one. Function over form. Budget dictates most of my purchase decisions, so it has to be affordable and reliable.

8. Would you ever buy used tack?
Yes, my saddle is a used Black Country Quantum that was flocked to fit my horse. I have an schooling bridle that I bought at a consignment shop that I use for lunging, taking Boca swimming and to duct tape antlers onto.
"Hello human, you may adore me and my ridiculous antlers now."

9. Have you ever been on a carriage ride?
I was a licensed carriage driver in NYC.  I drove in Central Park, Columbus Circle, Times Square and Rockefeller Center among others.  I also jogged Standardbreds in my younger years.

10. How often do you go to the tack store?
Not as often as I would like to, but more often than I should.  Both Smartpak and Dover are less than an hour away.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The "Shoulds"

I am currently struggling with a serious case of the "Shoulds".
The "Shoulds" is a dangerous mental condition, wherein you start to compare where you currently are

versus where you think you "SHOULD" be by now.
The biggest issue I am currently facing is the The CANTER. 
As in, We Do Not Have One.
Now, it is unfortunate that I do not have a lot of photos or video dating from the time I purchased Boca to today. I do know logically that he has made a lot of progress.
We have had to address a number of physical issues and it has taken some time getting him right. The saddle fitter and chiropractor both agreed that he had been ridden in an ill-fitted western saddle, which cause him to be very tight and hollow across his back. Conformationally, he has some challenges, including being very downhill and also ewe-necked. The first farrier we used was not a good fit, as Boca both paddled extremely badly upfront and forged terribly behind.
My instructor got on him and pronounced that he was like riding a very green 3 year old. He had very little steering. He could not maintain a rhythm or pace.  He fell in or out on a circle. He wanted NO part of contact. He went through various stages of falling on his forehand and rooting downwards, followed by Rollkur-pony, in which he tucked his nose into his chest and ran. Or, the most recent stage, which involved twisting his neck and opening his mouth, in an attempt to avoid leg to hand.
Much of these issues have gotten so much better. We now *mostly* have steering and can maintain rhythm. We can make a circle without completely falling on the forehand. The Rooting and Rollkur-pony have disappeared completely.

Saturday's ride went so well, that I decided Sunday we would Canter.

Sunday, Boca came out feeling like a different horse.
He had a noticable lack of energy, seemed distracted and just not that into work.

Even though I knew it was not a great idea, I was so committed to trying the canter, that I went ahead and did it anyway. And guess what?  We still have no canter.  We had flailing, running, lurching, falling on the forehand and one angry red pony.

I tried not to get discouraged, but the voice in my head - the one I try to ignore- crept in.  "Shouldn't I... after 7 months... at least be able to CANTER???"

Monday, December 15, 2014

How to Become a Floppy Ammy

If you aspire to one day flop your way around a riding ring, second-guessing yourself and struggling mightily to approach mediocrity, then this simple guide is for YOU.

1. Make sure you are born into a non-horsey family. 
*Bonus points if one or both of your parents are terrified of horses.*

A floppy ammy in the making, Boston 1980.

2. Kick, scream and cry that you "Want to ride horses" when dance lessons, swim, gymnastics or sports of any kind are proposed as an alternative.

3. Bewildered grandparents may take pity on you and arrange for weekly 1/2 hour lessons on a kind local lesson pony. Do not be fooled. They are just waiting for you to discover boys and grow out of it.

A floppy ammy in her element.

4. Make sure you are born with zero coordination and no innate athletic ability to speak of. This will help immensely as you attempt to balance yourself atop a 1200 lb flight animal.

5. Give up the whole "lesson thing" when it is discovered that your Aunt-in-law's sister's friend has a horse in her backyard. Who cares if it has a serious bucking problem that no one has been able to fix? It's a horse.

6. Spend the remainder of your teenage years mostly trail riding. You may think you're a good rider... But you're not.

7. Take 10 years off in your 20's to be young, poor and deluded.
Move to New York City, known for being the mecca of horses and horse-riding.

8. Return to your hometown in your early 30's. Announce to your old riding instructor that you "want to be good". Make sure you begin your re-riding career on a sensitive, anxious horse that is deemed a "Pro-Ride".

9. Spend the next 6 years finding out how much you actually DON'T KNOW.
Floppy Ammy Strikes Again!

10. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Love every minute of it!
(well, mostly)

*Disclaimer - this post was written largely tongue-in-cheek.  Floppy Ammy is grateful for the experiences she has had, and for everyone who has helped her along the way.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Saturday Ride

Although he had 5 days off, Boca was a very good pony yesterday.

Hello Human.  I am on vacation, no?

Say what?  Today we ride?

Boke came out with a small hump in his back, which translated into one or two cow kicks at my leg. His attempts to be naughty are few and far between, and generally laughable.

Boke settled into work and gave me a really nice ride. He is getting much more relaxed and steady in the contact. 

We actually have steering and can maintain rhythm, for the most part.

Tracking right is still much harder than tracking left, as he pushes his ribcage in and braces against you.

Cannot... Bend...Around...Inside Leg.

We ended the ride doing some trot poles. Once we were successful in both directions, he got some cuddles and got turned back out. Overall, very pleased with our ride.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

My Barn

 I love the barn where I board.
I think it is so important that both you as a rider and your horse are comfortable and happy where you board. I have been at barns where I was not comfortable or happy, and I can tell you it sucks. Find your happy place - it's out there.

The barn where I board is relatively new. I think it was built maybe 3 to 4 years ago.  The guy who owns and built the farm has two Shire horses, so everything, in addition to being brand new, is ginormous.
I could live in Boca's stall.
Large, airy aisles

Wash stall with hot & cold water
Large outdoor with lights
We have access to beautiful trails right off the property, which is getting harder to find in my area.

The only issue????
The Indoor. Or lack thereof.

The indoor was supposed to be up by November 1st.  
As you can see, that hasn't happened.

Winter in New England without an indoor SUCKS.

This week, the weather pattern dumped over 3" rain in two days.
Although we were grateful it wasn't snow, the outdoor was unrideable for days. Most nights, when I get out of work, temps are in the upper 30's and it is dark out. A girl can only deal with so much - Dark or Cold or Bad Footing - but not all three.

So, like it or not, these days I am turning into more of a Weekend Warrior than I would like. Winter riding - the struggle is real.