Sunday, December 9, 2018

You're killing me, Smartpak! :-(

Oh, Smartpak.  What is happening?  :-(

Let me start by saying I have loved Smartpak forever and have been a loyal customer since they started.  I have bought supplements through Smartpak for over ten years at least.  I know there are varying opinions about Smartpak out there, however I have always had great luck with them and I really have had no complaints until now.  Generally, I check Smartpak first when I am looking for a horse related item, mostly because I get free shipping with the standing supplement order (let's be real, paying for shipping is dumb if you can help it!) and because they ship from MA, I generally get orders within two days.

Well, it seems they have been having issues with their warehouse system for a while now.  I never really noticed the problems on my end, because my Smartpak supplements always arrived faithfully every 28 days and general items I ordered were still showing up within a few days, too.

Then I had the big idea to switch Ellie over to Gro 'N Win ration balancer this fall, since she really doesn't need grain, but I still wanted to be sure she had the right balance of protein, vitamins, and minerals.  Gro 'N Win is not available anywhere in New England, but when I saw Smartpak carried it, I figured heck yeah, might as well add it to my 28 day auto ship supplement order and have my horse's feed also delivered to my house every month.  It seemed like a great idea and would save me time and effort.

The first month I started Gro 'N Win, my supplements arrived in October 29 and the Gro 'N Win came two days later on Halloween.  Ok, not a huge deal.  I didn't think much of it, but it did irk me slightly.  And it was odd because the shipping/tracking info never worked at all for the ration balancer.

However, my second and latest supplement order arrived on November 23, but the Grow 'N Win arrived on December 4.  That is 11 days later if you are keeping track, so not exactly on a 28 day cycle, but more like a 39 day cycle.  And again, the shipping info never showed up at all so I had no idea when it would arrive.  This made me grumpy.  If I choose for something to arrive every 28 days, something important like my horse's feed, especially a feed I cannot get locally at all, eleven days late is unacceptable.  I had ordered enough so I would not run out, but at eleven days behind schedule I was down to just two more feedings left in the bin.  Would Ellie have been fine without her "grain"?  Of course.  But that is not the point.  If I am expecting my feed to arrive every 28 days, it seems as though Smartpak cannot be trusted to do so.  I was not impressed.

I hemmed and hawed about what to do.  Then just the next day, I receive a nice little Christmas gift from Smartpak, thanking me for my years of being a customer and included is a $20 gift card.  I admit, it made me hesitate a bit more on what to do about the Gro 'N Win, because I really do want to see Smartpak succeed and get their shipping issues ironed out.  I didn't want to bail on them, but I wasn't happy with an auto ship order arriving 11 days late.

I am a sucker for kindness and handwritten thank you notes
This past Friday, I vaguely remembered that Chewy also had Gro 'N Win available.  


I go to their site and see that if I sign up for their 28 day auto ship, the Gro 'N Win is only $18.99 a bag, compared to $19.81 a bag at Smartpak.  Yep, it is only 82 cents, but still, it is cheaper!  I realize I can also add in my barn cat's food and save yet another errand in my life.


I ordered it on Friday at 8:45 am and cancelled the Gro 'N Win with Smartpak immediately afterwards.  I wrote a kind but honest reason why I cancelled the feed order.  By 3:30 that afternoon, I had an email from Smartpak.

I hope that this email finds you well! I wanted to reach out to thank you for filling out our cancellation survey. We appreciate it. I completely understand your frustration and disappointment with us, because this isn’t representative of the customer service we pride ourselves on. Please know that we don't consider these delays to be acceptable in any way and we're sorry to have let you down this time. We are confident that these growing pains will be worth it because we assure you this improvement will help serve our customers even better and faster in the future. 

I'm adding a credit into your account for $25. That credit will never expire, and it will automatically apply towards whatever you order with us next! We appreciate your patience and hope you'll give us another chance with your ration balancer in the future.

Oh, Smartpak, you are killing me!  I felt even more terrible that they gave me free spending money; let's face it, the $25 credit was not needed or expected, but I will never say no to free horse money haha.  I responded with a thank you and "you did not have to do that" email.  

Saturday rolls around and look what shows up on a FedEx truck.

Yup, my Gro 'N Win that I ordered from Chewy.  It arrived in just under 29 hours from when I ordered it on Friday, shipping for free all the way from Pennsylvania to Maine.  I just chose their regular shipping option and it said it was estimated to be here by this coming Tuesday.  But it arrived the NEXT DAY.

Sorry, Smartpak, but you just can't compete with that.  You used to be able to, but I understand things change.  If the "free shipping" option is now going to take a week and a half and 28 day auto ship on items other than supplements is not going to actually ship every 28 days, count me out.  I will keep my supplements with Smartpak at this point, but Chewy has my feed order from now on.

The problem is once you start something like super fast and free shipping and I have come to expect that, but then it changes to super slow shipping, it isn't a good thing.  Smartpak can give me free money every week lol, but it is not going to change the fact that Chewy beat them out in this instance.  And now I will be aware that if I need an item in a hurry, I either will have to pay for fast shipping with Smartpak, or I will buy it elsewhere.  

For example, on December 6, I went to use the $20 gift card from the handwritten note for Christmas treats for the horses from Santa and saw that the "free shipping" option said my items would arrive around December 18.  If I actually paid for second day shipping, the items would be here on December 10.  Fair enough. It seems Smartpak is still able to ship almost as fast as they used to if you pay $$$.  

I don't begrudge Smartpak for wanting to "upgrade" their warehouse or even if this is actually a ploy to make money on fast shipping, but it is an example of a business changing something I have come to expect and it is not going to go well for them in the long run.  It is a bummer all around, for sure.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Dressage Clinic with Ashley Madison - November 24, 2018

Just over a month ago, Beth encouraged me to sign up to ride in a clinic at her farm with Ashley Madison, of Yellow Wood Dressage in Maryland.  Ashley was an accomplished young rider here in Maine and then spent ten years working for Scott and Susanne Hassler before branching out on her own.  She has brought along horses to GP and is a USDF Gold Medalist. 

I love that Beth wants to me clinic with other instructors if I have the chance, as it shows that she is confident enough in herself to know that she's forever my dressage mom at this point (haha) but that we can both also glean insight from others.  Beth was at my lesson and it was also beneficial to her as my primary instructor to hear what Ashely had to say.  As someone who loves to learn in all aspects of life, it is refreshing to be partnered with another person who also wants her students to always be learning, whether that is from her or someone else.  

However, I was hesitant for a few reasons, the biggest being the time of year (sn*w and ice make it hard to navigate my driveway with my rig) and I did not want to eat the $$$ if I had to cancel.  Luckily, Beth offered me a lesson horse to ride in case I could not get Ellie over there, so I figured what the hell and signed the check!

It was a day two clinic and I was supposed to ride on Sunday.  However, the forecast was calling for freezing rain overnight into the morning hours.  It was supposed to warm up during the latter part of the day, but with a lesson at 8:45 meaning I would have to leave no later than 7, there was no way it would be safe to drive a trailer, never mind just the truck.  

Again, Beth was so accommodating and had me ride at the end of the day Saturday at 3:45.  This made for a long afternoon, as I arrived around 1pm to find out they were running an hour behind.  WHOOPS.  Oh well.  This put my lesson at 4:30, which was fine but now it meant I would be driving home in the dark and falling temps (it was 27 degrees when I left at 6pm that night).  Beth had me put Ellie into a stall and I was able to watch three lessons, which was actually really great.  Two horses were at Ellie's level and one was Beth's daughter on a horse she trained from birth and is planning to show Third Level this coming year.  I never have time to audit lessons so this was really informative and gave me an idea Ashley's teaching style.

Once it was time to get on to warm up, it was getting dark and the temperature had dropped from a sunny high of 39.  Ellie had never been in the indoor in the dark, but she was awesome.  I know I brag about her brain all the time, but seriously she just went into the indoor with eight people in the viewing area (normally it is just Beth at our lessons) and did her job.  When the previous horse left the indoor, she just kept doing her job and never worried about being alone.  This is huge to me because having a solid horse under me is a priority.  

Our lesson was about straightness, stretching her frame out and down towards the bit, and managing her tempo with my seat and no hand.  After warming up on my own in the walk/trot/canter with a short walk break, Ashley had me show her Ellie's trot and canter after introducing Ellie and talking about my goals.

The first words out of her mouth were, "WOW, she's fancy!" which made me laugh.  I have never owned a horse that anyone would call fancy haha.  

I have a bunch of video clips because I handed my phone to Beth and told her to film whatever she thought I should watch again hahaha, so I have a lot of verbatim quotes from Ashley.  I spent much of today's snow day (it's Tuesday and we got almost 10" of snow uggggg) watching and rewatching the videos.
I have videos but no pics, so here is Ellie wearing her Santa hat haha
Ashley had me thinking about counter flexing Ellie, especially on the left rein.  She wanted me to ride with Ellie's head in the middle of her chest instead of her head over her left shoulder.  As Ashley put it, "She needs to learn to travel in that corridor that is created with your outside leg and rein and your inside leg and rein."  We are straighter to the right but for some reason I like to overbend her to the left.  

One of my favorite quotes from Ashley was early on in the lesson: "She has a really good hind end and she creates some power and she is pushing forward.  When her neck is up, she can balance ok.  But she needs to use her abs and her pectoral muscles to not fall on her face when her neck is down.  This is why you are going to slow your seat down a little bit, let her go a little less forward.  Don't get me wrong, she's cute up there, it is a nice pretty little frame and you can very easily go show with that, but you don't really have good access to her back and her body."

This is so true.  I can probably get away with this through First Level, but I need to get her to stretch out and down in the first third of her neck (starting from her withers up) in order to get her to use herself properly.

Ellie still needs to turn more from my outside aids, especially going left.  "You want her left hind to step directly up into the hoofprint of her left front."  This has been a constant struggle this summer and one that I need to overcome.  Ashley said to me: "You should be able to flex her and move the shoulder directionally without pulling back.  It is sideways, closing the right side of your body into the right side of her body.  It is not pulling back on the right side of her."

She talked about Ellie's tempo and energy like a dial.  In her little horsey world, Ellie has the dial turned all the way up.  "Marching, marching, marching, marching.  Is this the tempo you really want for this walk?" 

And this isn't a bad thing, she is not being naughty, she is just a high energy horse. "It is not that she is being bad, that is just who she is!  She's ready to go to work and that is a fantastic quality, it's a wonderful quality!" My job, as Ashley put it, is to gently help her turn that dial down.  "You need to make sure she stays with YOU."  And that, of course, is going to come more from my seat.  I do not yet utilize my seat enough.

She made a comment about how riders allow their horse to do something (let's say rush a bit in the walk) 50% of the time in the ride, which is essentially telling the horse it is allowed, and then actually working on slowing the tempo 50% of the ride.  By the end of that ride, you have not gotten any further along in training because half the time you allowed it and half the time you corrected it, so it cancelled out.  She feels this is why so many people get stuck at a level or don't feel they are making progress.  That made a lot of sense to me.

Ashley did say I would appreciate Ellie's wonderful energy when we are doing Grand Prix, as it takes a LOT of energy to do the GP tests.  Hahahaha, ohhhhhh I love hearing another person who has brought along horses from unbroke to GP talk about Ellie like that.  When I first told Ashley my goal was maybe Second Level someday, Beth piped in with the comment ohhhh no, I have plans for these two!  I have no illusions of grandeur, but it is nice to feel like I am training a horse that has true potential.

So in order to manage Ellie's tempo and not rely so much on my hand aid in the half halts, she was insistent: "NO HAND.  I don't care if it takes ten circles to get her to walk, don't use your hand."  We practiced trot to walk transitions without any hand and Ellie is surprisingly much more tuned into my seat than perhaps any of us (especially me) figured she would be.  It did not take ten circles to walk, more like five strides.  I KNOW I can fix that.  I KNOW I can spend this down time this winter just teaching her to listen to my seat and immediately react.

Overall, it was a super productive lesson.  At first I felt a bit overwhelmed, especially when I dismounted and was untacking her.  It was a little bit of an informational overload!  However, as I have had time to sit and write and rewatch the videos, I feel much less overwhelmed and much more inspired and ready to tackle our issues.  

I considered putting all the clips together, but that is a lot of work and I don't have much Vimeo space left, so here is the one I put on Instagram haha.  Plus, some of the videos are not great quality, since it was dark outside and I wasn't always close to the camera.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A Weekend of Learning - Part 2 (aka the bucking canter)

After a great in hand lesson a week ago Saturday as I wrote about here, a week ago Sunday we went to Beth's for our regular dressage lesson.  It was cold (five degrees colder up north at her farm than it was at mine!) and windy when we arrived, and I struggled with keeping Ellie's saddle pad from blowing away as I was tacking up LOL.  Needless to say, she was a little tight and reactive when I first got on down at the indoor.  I spent time walking her around, asking for changes of bend to get her to relax.  I asked for a trot and she was still tight; it was obvious that despite the fact she was listening, she was looking for any excuse to spook.

Beth arrived to the indoor and I started feeling like maybe this was going to be a stressful lesson lol.  Ellie isn't an inherently spooky horse in my opinion and she has a good brain, but she is sensitive.  I chatted with Beth a little and just stayed relaxed, and we started working on getting Ellie to really stretch out to the contact in the trot.  She wanted to stay tight through her back and neck, but I just remained quiet and kept asking.  Beth encouraged me to let her trot just a liiiiiitle bit bigger, which of course with Ellie's current state of mind, seemed counterintuitive.  But it worked.  Of course it worked.  She needed just a smidge more forward impulsion in order to reach out towards the bit instead of balling herself up into a hot mess of winter weather excitement haha.  True impulsion has nothing to do with speed.  She may have been moving forward at a fast pace but she wasn't in front of my leg.

Side note: At home I do a bunch of lateral work at the walk during warm up, which helps set us up to be in front of my leg and better connected through the bridle.  I find we don't do this at lessons and therefore it takes that much longer until she's working properly.  Sometimes it isn't until she canters at a lesson and then it all falls into place.  Now that I am writing this out, I feel as though I need to ask Beth about this haha.
can I just say I am loving the new training pyramid from USDF?
rewording for the win!
Anyway, my point here is that I was so impressed with Ellie's ability to go right to work despite the fact she was definitely a bit more up that morning than she has been in a long while.  This maturity is so nice to see and shows me that she's willing to meet me halfway and do her job with me even when she'd rather be tense and spook.

Once we started working and she finally decided to breathe haha, we moved into the canter. We had some of our best ever canter work in this lesson.  

Now, let me back up here.  The prior week at our lesson, Beth gently scolded me about Ellie's canter transitions still being too slow.  I ask, Ellie does a lot of active thinking and S L O W L Y gets her body ready, and then we finally canter about five trot strides later. So she had me pony kick her and REALLY MEAN IT.  I have to get this fixed (and it is totally on me as a rider), and predictably, Ellie bucked when I pony kicked her.  It made me giggle.  She bucked again on our subsequent upwards transitions, but it was improving.  Working on prompt upwards canter trainsitions had specifically been my homework.

So back to our current lesson. I had been working hard at home, some rides it seemed like she bucked out more than not haha, but I knew the promptness was coming together.  She was starting to just step into the darn gait instead of bucking.  It was lovely.  

And in our lesson?  NO BUCKING whatsoever.  Beth was impressed.  "I like my riders who do their homework!" she told me.  This is not the first instructor who has praised me for this haha.  I am diligent and want to improve.  The transitions, both up and down, were light years better than they ever have been.  In fact, I felt to myself they were the best we have ever done and Beth acknowledged this aloud.  She still likes to get rushy the first 3/4 of the first circle, but we are getting there.

After some really GOOD cantering, we took a walk break and then picked her back up for some lengthened trot.  We started by doing it on open end (towards X) on a circle at either A or C.  The first time I asked, she sat right down and cantered.  And by cantered, I mean stepped into a lovely balanced canter without rushing forward.  Like the best canter ever, even more than what we had gotten before the walk break.


Now, we have worked on trot lengthens and she understands them.  It wasn't a big deal that she broke into the canter.  The big deal was HOW she did it and the fact there was no fussiness, no bucking, no rushing.  I could see Beth's wheels turning, but we let it be (other than her remark of "Well, that was interesting...") and we worked on a little lengthening.  Once I was more prompt with my half halts to remind her that yes, we are just trotting, she motored into a lovely trot lengthening.  We also moved off the circle and did it down the diagonal as well.  She stayed on the bit into my connection and it was really really good stuff.  We called it quits on that.  Ellie had worked hard.

As we were walking around and cooling out, Beth and I talked about that lovely and "easy" canter transition I had when I first asked for the trot lengthen.  I carry a lot of baggage in the canter gait as a rider who retrained Standardbreds, and I need to let that go.  It became apparent when I wasn't overthinking the entire thing that Ellie was 10000000% more relaxed and willing to maintain contact/connection.  This is not to say that I have to trot faster and faster in a trot lengthen to make her canter, because obviously that is not what she meant, but we are capable of cantering without any theatrics for either of us haha.  Since the bucking canter has turned into a pretty respectable canter in a week, I am feeling really happy with that.  

Of course, this is now the season of winter, meaning our training and improvements are coming to a grinding halt.  I had to cancel my lesson this past Sunday because our driveway is an icy mess and not safe enough to get my rig in and out.  Uggggg.  Here's hoping that time off and hacking out all winter won't set us back too far, and she will retain most of what she learned by the time we start legging back up in March.

We did have a nice ride in the field instead, and the footing wasn't horrible.  She even cantered nicely on both leads haha.

how quickly we went from this... this in just under a month. 😢

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Weekend of Learning - Part 1

This past weekend was such an interesting learning experience for Ellie (and for me, too)!  We had two lessons, one Saturday with a new instructor and one on Sunday with Beth, and both left me feeling inspired and ready to enter the worst season for me (winter!).  Anything I can do to feel motivated and inspired when it will soon be below freezing and the footing will turn to ice/snow is a good thing haha.

A dressage rider/trainer/judge from Maine (who spends her winters in Florida) had posted on Facebook that she was available for lessons at a barn fairly close to me, so I immediately sent her a message.  I wasn't interested in taking a dressage lesson but an in-hand/trick training lesson instead!  Besides dressage, Sandy does a ton of performing at liberty, bareback, bridleless, and incorporates tricks as well.  She has started doing an art on horseback thing, too.  Now, I have no aspirations of ever doing performances, nor do I want to paint from my horse's back, but I do want to learn more about working with Ellie in hand.  I like what I see from Sandy's videos and from watching her ride in person, and I have always found her to be a fair and competent judge.  

We arrived in the pouring rain to a little farm I have never been to before just under an hour from me.  It was super cute though really hard to navigate my 24' horse trailer into the (really muddy) narrow driveway and barnyard.  The barn owner, who I met for the first time when I showed up, was friendly and happy to have me join her lessons with Sandy that day.  She offered me a stall for Ellie (which was nice of her to include in the $20 ring fee I paid her), because having to stand out in the rain at the trailer didn't feel fun haha.  Ellie was a little wide eyed about this experience, but she hung out happily in the stall with her hay net and I groomed her a little bit beforehand.  We were the first lesson of the day at noon.  
chilling in her borrowed stall beforehand
Sandy and I chatted about Ellie and what I have done with her since I bought her.  I told her my goals for in hand work, about how I wanted to give Ellie things to occupy her brain.  I led her around the indoor a bit to get her to check out the space.  She touched all the things with her nose and soon Sandy took her from me to get started.  She wanted to start teaching Ellie the cues with me watching, which was perfect since I had no idea what I was doing nor did Ellie.  With Sandy taking her from me right off, I felt a lot less pressure about trying to figure it out at the same time Ellie was, too.

It was super interesting to me to watch Sandy work her.  All Ellie wore was a rope halter and Sandy had a dressage whip.  I regret not taking ANY videos or photos during our session, but I was so enthralled with it all.  This is why I need a personal photographer to follow me around hahahaha.  

She started with asking Ellie to disengage her hindquarters and turn towards her when on a small circle.  Ellie had a much easier time bending right than bending left, which is exactly the same as under saddle.  It took a little trial and error on Ellie's part, trying to figure out what Sandy wanted, but soon she was moving and halting and turning all just from Sandy's body position.  This type of in hand work is not new to me, but I loved how she explained what she was doing in a very methodical dressage like way.  That clicked for me.  So many "natural horsemanship" clinicians don't explain things well (in my opinion) but Sandy's approach and teaching style was super accessible.

Then I worked with Ellie in hand to figure out how to use my body language and movement to have her move around me in the same ways.  Once Ellie showed she understood (it didn't take long and even Sandy remarked on how quick and eager Ellie is), we moved on to leg yielding down the wall.  At first, Ellie was slightly confused and didn't know what Sandy was asking, but the moment she started to bring her haunches in when being asked, it was like a light bulb.  I could see the moment she realized it was just a leg yield down the wall and happily offered that.  Like before, I watched Sandy while she trained Ellie and told me what was happening, and then I gave it a try.  You can see in the terrible screen grab below how we were cueing for the leg yield using a dressage whip.  Ellie is much shorter than Sandy's Friesian but you get the idea.  It started with light tapping on her hip and soon became just raising the whip up towards the opposite (right) hip.  

because I have no media from the lesson, here is a terrible quality screen grab from one of Sandy's videos
I like how she talked about using my left hand as giving a half halt cue, as her language really made sense to me since it was all dressage based.  This gave us a nice natural progression to starting to teach her to "parallel park" to the mounting block.  Back when I started Ellie, I used sugar cubes to teach her to stand still while mounting and we have no issues about mounting blocks, but this is a good tool regardless.  It didn't take long for her to figure it out, and soon she was swinging her hind end easily over and lining up with Sandy, who stood on the mounting block. I know this is something I know she will easily remember the next time we practice it. 

From there, we did a little more working in hand, since Ellie really gets stuck when asking for backing up.  I wanted to further solidify this movement with Sandy right there with us, as I know this is something that we need to work on.  Ellie much prefers to be just outside or firmly inside her handler's bubble, so stepping towards her and asking her to back up isn't something she would choose to do haha.  We practiced having her come to me, then halting, and then backing up, not giving her the treat until she backs.  I did all of this trying to not touch her halter or lead rope but just my body cues.  I did use the whip to lightly tap tap her chest when needed.  And when she finally acquiesces to back, she wants to shuffle along and back up in the smallest and slowest way possible.  So I really had to use my body language to make her MARCH and move backwards in a mindful way (not rushing, of course but doing an appropriate reinback movement).  She picked it up more as we practiced, but this is going to need work.

Now the funniest part of the day was as we moved from leg yielding over to the mounting block parallel park movement.  We were all standing there, Sandy and I talking and Ellie just listening haha.  Suddenly, she started offering the flehman response and was being a total ham.  Sandy had mentioned in the beginning that sometimes horses offer a trick or movement and you have to go with it and teach them the cue.  I laughed out loud at Ellie being such a character; she was clearly LOVING this in hand work and giving her busy bee brain new things to learn.

Sandy is like, "Oh!  Well, we can teach her to smile!" and I'll be damned, the horse learned how to "smile" on command.  It took her a bit of time to figure out that now Sandy was ASKING her to flip her lip, but the moment she realized that if she wiggled her lip up she got a treat, she was ALLLLLL about the smile.

I did it again with her that night in her stall when I brought the mares inside for dinner, and it only took a few tries before she did it reliably.  It makes me laugh and she loves to do it, but of course I still did not have any media.  So last night when I went out for night check, I tried to get a video of her doing it.  Let me tell you, it is not easy to get a good video yourself while trying to get your horse to do a trick hahaha.  The video setting really zooms in a lot but after several attempts, I got a fairly decent one to show you all! 

she's such a ham

Smiling Ellie from Elizabeth Sanborn on Vimeo.

Overall, this was a great experience and something I am excited to continue working on this winter.  It gives me hope that I can work with her even when we can't ride.  I want to teach her more in hand work, eventually teaching her Spanish walk and piaffe.  I will probably teach her to bow, but I am not a fan of teaching a horse to rear, so we will skip that.  I also want to try teaching her to stand on a target board and pedestal.  The sad thing is that Sandy won't be back in Maine again until spring, but this is also kind of a good thing because it forces me to work on things on my own and then I can do another lesson with her when she returns.  I think incorporating a lesson every month to six weeks will be good.

Sandy runs an online training group, with TONS of videos, so I joined that to keep me going on my own.  I don't think I would have understood much of the videos alone without having had an actual hands-on lesson with her first.  So, hopefully this gives me some exciting things to work on this winter when I cannot ride!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

25 Questions Blog Hop

I finally have time to sit down and join the latest blog hop from Amanda at The $900 Facebook Pony. I have kind of missed NaBloPoMo from last year, but blog hops are just as fun (and less work than posting for 30 days straight for this busy mama haha!)

Why horses? Why not a sane sport, like soccer or softball or curling?
That is a darn good question LOL! I don't really remember what first sparked my intense love of all things equine, but I remember begging for almost a year to start riding lessons. At age six, my parents finally indulged me, and I haven't looked back going on thirty four years this spring!
being a little lesson kid
What was your riding “career” like as a kid?
I was a religious barn rat as a kid! I spent every single Saturday at the barn, doing chores and mucking stalls. I was lucky to start riding at a Morgan breeding farm and rode there until I went to college. I took an hour long group lesson every week at 3pm and went home afterwards. I rode anything my instructor had available for me, from young Morgans just starting under saddle, to naughty boarder ponies, to her own Morgan show horses. I took lessons and showed my lease horse for three years in dressage and hunter under saddle classes until I finally got my own horse at age thirteen. My teenage years were spent doing local shows in dressage and eventing with Sparky. I spent every single day at the barn! I stopped playing sports in high school in order to spend all my time with my horse. I boarded her at my grandfather's Standardbred farm later on in high school, so my barn time became more solitary as I approached college. At the time, I loved having my "own" barn (and I still do), but there is something to be said about growing up with a barn family.

If you could go back to your past and buy ONE horse, which would it be?I would buy Joydale Jumelle, my first equine love. She is full sister to Sparky, my first horse. I helped train her (so really she was my first training project!) and I got to back her. She was for sale, as was all the young stock at the farm, and I BEGGED my parents to buy her for me. They did not figure I was ready for a horse, never mind a four year old mare at only age nine. So they stalled for quite a while, until one day Jumelle was sold! I never even got to say goodbye. It was a phone call.....By the way, tell your daughter we sold Jumelle. I was DEVASTATED! The first time I saw her that summer at a horse show, I cried so hard!

Then a few years later, she was bought by someone who I knew and who lived locally. I told her I would buy Jumelle back without any hesitation if she was ever for sale. I was in college at the time and Jumelle had a colt who was maybe two? named Adam Ant. (No idea why this woman bred Jumelle when she never rode the horse to begin with....OH let's breed her! GRRRR...)

Anyway, I went over and rode Jumelle and worked on the ground with her colt Adam one summer during college. I got back to school and then suddenly Jumelle is sold and the woman never returns my calls! I was so upset! To lose this horse TWICE in my life was awful!

So while I am sure she has passed because at this point she would be 33 years old, if I ever find this mare I am bringing her home. If she ever needs a home, she has one with me. I love this mare.

BTW: Cute story on her name. She was a twin! I don't remember the entire story, but the vet couldn't make it out in time for some reason and so the husband took Jumelle's tiny sister in the front of the family car to the vet's office. They got her all hooked up with fluids and what-not, but unfortunately she died on the ride home. 😔 So Jumelle means twin in French. 😊
with Jumelle, circa 1988
What disciplines have you participated in?
This is more like, what disciplines have you NOT participated in haha.  I have often wondered, am I am dressage rider who also events or an event rider who also shows in dressage?  However, I do cross train my horses to do a little of everything and I have successful enjoyed eventing, dressage, showmanship, in-hand, equitation and pleasure classes, trail riding, carriage driving, CDEs, western pleasure, hunter under saddle and over fences, roadster under saddle, sidesaddle, racing under saddle, foxhunting, and team penning!  I even tried saddleseat with Reva one year!

Let's have a fun photo dump, because it kinda amazes me. I tried to mark the ones I have only done with one certain horse, despite the fact I used mostly Dreamy pics.  I am not going to add in Ellie pics since you have all seen those a million times haha.



Hunter Under Saddle

Hunter Over Fences

In-Hand and Showmanship

Gymkhana (I've done it all: egg & spoon, barrels, poles, sit-a-buck, water race....etc)

Team Penning - Dreamy only
Dreamy's not a fan of cattle haha

Racing Under Saddle - Snappy only

Side Saddle - Dreamy only

Saddleseat - Reva only

Fox Hunting - Dreamy only

Trail riding, beach riding, hunter paces
Old Orchard Beach, ME
Acadia National Park - sunset at Day Mountain
Acadia National Park
Popham Beach, ME

Western Pleasure - Dreamy and Reva only

Carriage Driving/Combined Driving - This was only with Sparky, my first horse

And I drove Snappy a lot, just never showed her in driving events

Roadster - Dreamy and Reva only

Prix Caprilli - Dreamy only
It is SO FREAKING WEIRD to jump in a dressage ring and in a dressage saddle

Demos and interviews - Dreamy only
at WEG for the breed demos
Cutting (haha just kidding, this was at WEG)

Harness racing - though I never raced a horse myself, I have been around it forever
This is Snappy!

Marshaling at racetracks - Dreamy and Snappy only

What disciplines do you want to participate in some day?I would have to say playing polo.  I have tried so many disciplines that I really think this is the only one left anyway (haha), plus it seems like it would be fun despite the fact I would be terrible at it!  Olivia at DIY Horseownership played in college, which seems like a good way to try it.  There is a polo club down at Myopia, but I am 100% sure I will never have a chance to get involved, because that's for people who actually have a clue.  If there is ever a polo clinic in the area, I might give it a shot, but otherwise it is one of those random dreams.

I guess I could also add endurance, calf roping, cowboy mounted shooting, and TB racing to my list of disciplines I have never done before.  But none of those truly interest me to do myself.  Maybe a baby endurance ride someday at GMHA with Ellie, but I don't know.

Have you ever bought a horse at auction or from a rescue?No, I actually have not! I don't know that I would buy from auction, as I do not have a proper quarantine area and I don't want to put my horses at risk. I am not against buying from a rescue, but it seems like it is often more of a lifelong lease than a purchase. I totally understand why rescues do this, but it is not for me.

What was your FIRST favorite horse breed – the one you loved most as a kid?Oh, that's easy! I have been a Morgan girl all my life. I watch Ellie graze and move around my front field, and I see my childhood.  I see that typey Morgan conformation and distinctive trot, and I see the horses I grew up with.  She feels like home.  Interestingly, Denny Emerson wrote this on his Facebook page just a few days after Ellie came home.

If you could live and ride in any country in the world, where would it be?Ireland! I have always been enamored with the countryside of Ireland, and I totally NEED to ride there! I would love to fox hunt in Ireland.

Do you have any horse-related regrets?Not really, but I do wish I had been brave enough to take time off (even just a summer!) to be a working student somewhere. I was so academically focused and motivated that it never occurred to me to do this, as I thought doing so was only for folks who wanted to become professionals. I have always wanted to be an amateur, but I do wish I had spent time busting my ass and riding with a professional. Sometimes I wonder if I would have been happier to take a horse related career path, not that I don't enjoy teaching, but maybe doing so would have taken the joy out of horses for me. I don't know, but I regret not taking the chance when I was young (and therefore not anchored by a family and financial obligations).

If you could ride with any trainer in the world, ASIDE from your current trainer, who would it be?
I'd love to live closer to Tamarack to be able to ride regularly with Denny. I had a BLAST at adult camp back in 2013! I really hope I can go up for a long weekend to ride with him this coming summer or next. My experience with Denny was a huge confidence boost for me as a rider, and I know that riding with him again would help me out even more.
Denny coaching us on XC and it was after this exercise he yelled, "PERFECT!"
What is one item on your horse-related bucket list?
I have so many things on my Ellie bucket list, but I am going to say take her fox hunting at least a few times one season in the future. I loved fox hunting with Dreamy!

If you were never able to ride again, would you still have horses?I probably would at least keep my current horses and continue to care for them. But that is a tough one, because I would hate to see Ellie not reach her potential, but I would also be sad to not be the person who brought her to that potential. But what in the heck would I do with myself if I couldn't ride?? I guess the loophole here is that I would just drive her, but honestly if I could not ride or drive a horse again, I would be lost without one to care for every day.

What is your “biggest fantasy” riding goal?I would love the chance to compete in either the USDF Dressage Finals, the USEA American Eventing Championships, or the Morgan Grand Nationals in OKC. Or all three hahahaha! ;-)

What horse do you feel like has taught you the most?That is a tough one, but I would say that Dreamy has taught me the most about riding and training. Just the act of training Dreamy to be a riding horse when she was 15 years old and only knew how to be a broodmare was a huge challenge.  Granted, she had early race training and a few starts on the track too, but I did all her training myself. We earned good scores at First level dressage, Prix Caprilli, and Beginner Novice eventing.  We showed in schooling shows, "AA" rated shows, breed specific shows/classes, USDF rated shows, and even did demonstrations at the World Equestrian Games in 2010.  Most of the time she was the only Standardbred at our competitions, therefore she was a wonderful ambassador for the breed!  I accomplished and exceeded every goal I ever set with this mare.  

If you could change one thing about your current horse/riding situation, what would it be?I would love to have an indoor or at least a covered arena. I would love to be able to ride despite the footing. While the weather doesn't deter me, it is the weather's impact on my footing that keeps me from riding most of the time.

this would be fine 
If you could compete at any horse show/venue in your home country, where would it be?
This goes back to my biggest fantasy riding goal of riding at either the USDF Dressage Finals, the USEA American Eventing Championships, or the Morgan Grand Nationals in OKC.

If you could attend any competition in the world as a spectator, what would be your top choice?
I would probably choose Badminton or Burghley because I would also like to visit England!

Have you ever thought about quitting horses?Honestly, no. My life is so defined by horses that I don't know who I am without them.

If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the horse industry, what would it be?
I would change the ridiculous number of cast off horses in the Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industries. Or I would eliminate the drugging of horses to win. Or the abuse of horses to win. Or the fact that people are too afraid to put down their old horse so they send them to auction or rehome them. Huh, that's not one thing...

What’s the dumbest horse-related thing you’ve done that actually turned out pretty well?The dumbest thing that actually turned out pretty well was probably taking a 15 year old broodmare who had never been ridden and making her into a dressage/eventing/all around awesome horse. Dreamy was supposed to be a pasture pet friend to Sparky at the time, but I am glad I decided to give it a try!
the day I brought Dreamy home
As you get older, what are you becoming more and more afraid of?
For a long time, I used to be afraid I would not ever have a chance to own a Kennebec Morgan again, but that dream was realized a little over a year ago. So right now, I am not sure what I am afraid of. I am in a pretty good place in my horse life.

What horse-related book impacted you the most?The book that impacted me the most is either Think Harmony with Horses by Ray Hunt or National Velvet by Enid Bagnold.

What personality trait do you value most in a horse and which do you dislike the most?I think I most love the personality trait of "try". I like when a horse tries their best, no matter what their best is. I like a horse that puts in an effort to understand you and work as your partner. I dislike a horse that is unfriendly with humans, even after all pain/discomfort has been ruled out. I like a horse that at least tries to make a connection with me.

What do you love most about your discipline?I love the precision and focus required for dressage and the exhilarating thrill of cross country jumping.

What are you focused on improving the most, at the moment?
Right now, Ellie and I are most focused on improving the promptness of her canter transition and maintaining a steadier connection at all gaits.