Thursday, December 14, 2017

Honoring and Grieving the Past

When my dear mare, Sparky, passed away in 2014, it took me a while but I finally created a shadow box for her with her barn halter (she is buried in her show halter), some of my favorite ribbons, and a few pics.  The box was moved from our rental house, to our new house, and has just been sitting in my office, propped up against the wall.

I bought another shadow box for Snappy not long after she passed, but it also took me some time to put it together.  I don't know, maybe I just wasn't ready to take down her halter from the hook in the tack room or pull down my favorite ribbons.  I just wasn't ready and I didn't want it to just sit on the floor either.

Over the weekend, I finally put it together.  The shadow box itself is different than the one I got for Sparky, so it is harder to arrange things, and I am not as happy with how her halter looks.  Oh well.

As I was making it on our large kitchen bar area, I said to my husband that I had no idea where to put them.  There really isn't room in my tack room and I didn't know that I wanted them in the house.  He thought I should hang them with the ribbon display in our (daylight) basement, which of course was the perfect place.  Thank you, husband.

We enter the house in this area and keep our coats and shoes against another wall area, so there is comfort in seeing these shadow boxes every day.  This coming spring, we will seed in the soil over Snappy's grave next to Sparky, and then the entire area can be mowed and both their grave markers will be there.  Every time I drive into my property, I look over at their graves and feel comfort that my mares are still "with me".

Sometimes it is the little things that bring healing to our hearts.  💓

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bitting Miss Ellie

It seems that there are as many opinions out there about bits as there are horse people.  ;-)  Not to mention the large (and pricey!) options that have surfaced over the past several years!  I have always favored a French link mouthpiece for my horses and generally have stuck with a loose ring or eggbutt ring.  That is to say, I have started with a loose ring and found that my horses have preferred the stability of the eggbutt instead.  Snappy was even fussy in the eggbutt and I tried a French link boucher which finally seemed to be stable enough to keep her mouth happy.  Any excess bit movement appeared to give her tension.

So, my personal preference is to start with something I think tends to work best (such as the French link eggbutt) and follow the horse's lead.  With Ellie, she was in a loose ring with a flash in the pics I received before I bought her.  I don't use flash nosebands (just a personal preference as I don't see a need for them) and she was SUPER fussy in a loose ring, so we moved to the eggbutt literally in the middle of the first ride LOL!  A lot of her fussiness went away, but she still had an incredibly fussy mouth.  Now, much of that is because she was so green when I got her and she just needed time.  

Ellie's bit set up at her birthplace farm, though I also saw a pic from February 2017 (when they started her undersaddle) with an eggbutt and Micklem).
But even over time, she still seemed fussy to me.  On a whim,  I switched to a more curved shape of the JP French link eggbutt, after raiding my bit box to see what I had that she might like (before I spend money haha).  There was a noticeable difference, so OK, I can fall for the idea that the curved shape gives her more room for her tongue.  But the bit still seems kinda thick for her tiny mouth.  It is easily a 16mm when she could use a bridoon like 14mm.  I tried Dreamy's Stubben French link (which really has a more oval shape lozenge center instead of the traditional looking French link) and while it looked much better in her mouth thickness wise, she wasn't thrilled.

The JP curved French link

Oh look, it finally snowed LOL!  (And I clipped her bridle path)
I am leaning towards a Neue Schule, but hot damn, who wants to spend $200 on a bit that my horse might not like?  Yeah, I can probably resell it and recoup some, but ugggg such a pain (and stupid Paypal fees!).  I found a bit bank in the UK which allows you to trial bits for a month, so I am considering that.  And it comes out to only about $160 USD to purchase, so a little bit of savings if I do keep it.  I also found a random person on FB who is selling the exact bit for £50 (which is like $67 USD), but she won't mail to the US blahhhh.  That is crazy since I would pay exact shipping but WHATEVER.  For $67 I could easily resell that sucker for $100 and still do well LOL.

Snow pony!
But then our last few rides she was been lovely soft and quiet with the (cheap) JP bit.  She is even stretching out and seeking the bit (yay mare!) and then I'm like, calm yourself and just give her time.  I don't know.  The bit still  looks too thick to me and it squeaks (!!!!) which is super annoying hahaha.  It's like you want to FIX ALL THE THINGS but frugality and the idea of patience gets in the way hahaha.  A bit change is easy when it is for something already in my bit box, but I have a hard time justifying it when I don't want to spend that much money on an unknown.  

Love her!
No indoor, no problem!  We've got snow tires haha!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Product Review: Mango Bay belts

When I finally caved last year and bought the super cute Annie's Equestrienne show jacket for dressage that I had lusted after FOREVER (because TEAL), I wanted a cute matching belt.  I have used a plain black leather belt for showing pretty much all my life, so I thought it was time to upgrade!

Of course, trying to find the right color teal was rather impossible at first.  Eventually, I found a cute Mango Bay belt that seemed like it would work well.  I like the idea of supporting a small business as well.  
Not a perfect match, but pretty close!
 And I couldn't just buy one, so I bought a couple haha.  Because I have no willpower.

It doesn't seem they sell the top one any longer (I am wearing it, so I snapped a pic!)
I have to say, these belts are super well made.  I wasn't sure about the double loops at first, because other (lower quality) belts I have worn in the past never seemed to stay tightened.  However, the Mango Bay belts don't budge.  I have worn these with my breeches to ride in and also with jeans, and they are great in every situation.  

The only thing I can say is that the brightness of the pattern does fade a bit.  You can see in the photo above of the three pics from the website versus a pic of my actual belt that the black does fade.  I have owned these belts since early summer 2017 (so probably about six months) and worn them A LOT, so I guess it is to be expected.  It certainly isn't a deal breaker for me, but there is a subtle change in the color.  Also, there is a slight bend in the webbing where it folds into the loops, but again, not a deal breaker and doesn't affect the belt in any way.

So if you are looking for a cute belt for yourself or as a gift, check out Mango Bay!  They have a few belts on sale for only $10 right now, but I did not see any specific Black Friday or holiday deals.  And I am not compensated at all for this review (and I make no money off affiliate links or any of that), this is just because I like the product and like to share!  

And side note that is sort of related: I finally made myself organize my belts in my closet because I couldn't stand it hahaha.  I am way too organized for my own good (trust me, it's a blessing and a curse) and I finally decided to hang two horseshoe hooks for my belts.  Much better and much easier to deal with!  :-)

After!  Now all belts have a home!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

As much as I dislike winter in Maine (I am a solar powered girl and I crave the heat!), I do enjoy Christmas.  Growing up, we always had huge family Christmases.  Every year since I have owned a horse, I enjoy a bareback Christmas Day ride on each of them.  I love seeing the excitement in my children, and even though the 13 year old is slightly jaded as only a teenager can be (His response to his grandparents when they asked what he wanted?  Money.  Hahaha!), the two year old is completely in awe of every aspect of the holiday.  There is nothing quite like the magic of the holidays through the eyes of a child.

So here are a few fun things we do around the farm to decorate.  I always buy plain wreaths for the barn and house and add my own bow and ornamentation!  

This is a random bit in my collection, but those are Snappy's shoes!

The bit and shoes were Sparky's way back when!
At age thirteen when my first horse, Sparky, came into my life, I decorated a plain stocking with her name in white puffy paint.  So, of course, now every horse has had one over the years.  I still have Sparky's and Snappy's tucked away, and I just made a new one for Ellie this fall.

As I have written before, we abut a Christmas tree farm, so we always get to cut our own to bring home!

The tree looked so pretty with just the lights, I nearly wanted to leave it like that LOL!  

But, we did decorate it two nights later.  The baby inherited all of the "safe" ornaments to hang on the lower branches (read: soft and unbreakable).  He was TOTALLY into it and hung them all up himself LOL!  He is obsessed with having the lights on and calls all the decorations and tree a "Chrussmuss party" hahaha!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sugar High

Ellie has been coming into her own over the past month, and I am super proud of her.  Our little show on November 19 was cancelled, so we missed our second debut in WT pleasure/eq classes and ground poles haha, but hopefully (as long as it doesn't snow that day), we will have another chance in December.

Hunting season in Maine means blaze orange for the horses!
One of the biggest things I knew I needed to address was standing still for mounting.  She's always been a little "twitchy" about it, and because the horses are home and I don't have people around (besides my husband, but he's usually not in the ring with me), I knew I needed to fix this issue.  Not only is it unsafe for a horse to not stand still to be mounted and move off only when asked, but I want a reliable horse that I don't have to worry about and always need a ground person for.

Inspired by Carly and her luck with peppermints with her adorable Opie, I figured what the hell.  I broke out the sugar cubes (I tend to stick with horse cookies, but I had bought sugar cubes for Snappy just before she was put down and I figured sugar would be better with a bit), stuffed my pockets full, and off we went to the ring.  I never normally feed treats with a bit in the mouth, but this was an exception.  It took her a few tries to understand that when I stood on the mounting block and she stood still without swinging her haunches away, she got a sugar cube.  Hmmmm....only took one try to understand that she also got one when she stood still while I actually swung a leg over.  I mounted/dismounted several times and everything clicked for her because SUGAR.

Oh how nice to have a horse who is so food motivated LOL!
Reaching around for her sugar LOL

The next ride was much the same, only she stood immobile on the first try and that was that.  The third ride, again she was perfect to mount, but then she would randomly halt and look back at me expectantly.  Hahahaha she totally is smart enough to realize that halting somehow equaled treats.  She got over it easily though, which was good. 

Our next training issue to address was trailer loading.  I got a freebie when I moved her home in September, where she jumped right into the trailer first try.  I have a step up and she just followed me in.  Our first outing for the KMF trail ride, she hesitated a little but got on the second try.  Our first little horse show a week later, she flat out refused to get on the trailer, and only did so when I finally asked my husband to stand behind her on the ground.  I wasn't expecting her to refuse and I didn't have time to really do a training session, so I resorted to him just standing at her butt and poking her LOL.  It was the same when we left the show, and I had to have the BM help me load her while I poked her butt from behind.  I need a horse that I can do everything with by myself so it was time to tackle this training issue.

I hooked the trailer on the truck last Sunday for the day in order to put in some practice.  I had no idea what she might decide to try, but I feel the best way to teach trailer loading is when there is no pressure, no place to be, not time constraints.  I figured I could always do some work first and then put her away and try again later on if needed.  I did NOT want to get into a power struggle. Trailering horses is already a dangerous activity even if the horse loads fine, so I wanted this experience to be as stress free and calm as possible.

Mid morning I took Ellie out to the trailer straight from the pasture, with a dressage whip and a pocket of sugar cubes.  Having witnessed all manner of trailer loading "techniques" in my lifetime, with people using an assortment of tools from lunge lines around haunches to brooms, shovels, etc., I teach horses to load in a trailer in a very simple manner.  I tap, tap, tap their left side/shoulder and once they move forward, I release the pressure (stop tapping).  Notice I said tapping and not hitting, smacking, or whipping.  I honestly don't think making a nervous horse MORE nervous about trailering works well, but that's just me.  I am not a horse trainer, just someone who has seen enough to know that I'd rather take a simple and quiet approach.  The tapping is irritating enough to be annoying but not done in a way that causes pain or nervousness.  (I have been lucky with my horses over the years, as Dreamy self loaded without issue and Sparky was always fine.  I did have to work a bit with Snappy when I first got her, as she was convinced that she was unable to get into a step up haha.)

My trailer is set up as a large box stall in the back, so there is plenty of room for a horse to stand, take a good look, and step in without issue.  Also, when I tie her in on the left side, I can easily walk out the back to shut her in without having to squeeze under a bar or between a horse and the side of the trailer.  Dreamy liked to ride loose in the box stall, while Snappy preferred to be tied.  So far, I have tied Ellie but maybe eventually she will prefer to be loose?  I guess we will just have to see!
No trailer loading pics because safety before media.  But this is what happens when I try to take a photo of my horse.  She follows me haha!
So I stood just up inside the trailer against the left side.  She swung her haunches around towards the left side of the trailer, thinking if she was perpendicular to the trailer or even swung her haunches out enough, she would be free of the annoying taps.  Nope, I just jumped down to the ground level and soon got her standing straight, looking into the trailer.  Good mare, here's a sugar cube each time you stand here without swinging or backing up.  I thought it might take some time to convince her to step in, but within a few minutes, she placed a hoof up inside the trailer.  GOOD MARE.  More sugar cubes.  Granted, she took it right out again, but it was enough for her to understand OHHHH this is like the mounting game.  If I move forward into the trailer, she stops tapping AND I get a yummy sugar cube.  I swear I could see the wheels turning, because next thing I know, she hops right in!  YAY!!

We stood for a moment in the trailer, though I didn't tie her.  We walked out (she LEAPS out, but we are working on that too haha) and I walked her around the rig to try again.  I took maybe ten seconds this time before she hopped in.  GOOD GIRL.  We did this twice more for a total of four times loading, and then I put her away back to her pasture (with a few more sugar cubes for good measure, of course).  The third and fourth time I tapped her once and she stepped right in.

My husband was surprised I was back in the house.  "Did you load her yet?" he asked.  

"Yup, four times, and I am going to do it again this afternoon, so don't unhook it."  I admit, it took much less time than I anticipated.  But she is a smart mare and motivated by food, so it wasn't that bad.
Spoiled horse!
Before I rode that afternoon, I tried it again.  This time she barely hesitated and I only raised the dressage whip towards her shoulder without even touching her.  She hopped on and off four times again.  The only problem I found was she wanted to immediately get off the trailer and get back on because SUGAR CUBES.  But I made her actually stand still once she loaded before I would give her a treat and I limited the second session to just one cube each time she loaded haha.  I will definitely be doing this at least once a week when I have time to hook the trailer.  I hope we don't have trailer loading issues, but at least I know to always keep a stash of sugar cubes handy!!  ;-)

And another first for Ellie was "jumping" over the world's tiniest cross rail.  Last weekend it was a bit windy, so I stuck her on the lunge line just to be certain she was going to be sane.  She walked and trotted calmly (which was AWESOME), so I figured I would try her over the crossrails that are still in the ring.  She trotted over the first one, but then she finally decided to jump the next try.  I made her do the two crossrails in each direction and then I got on.  After a lovely little ride, we went over the crossrails while I was actually riding.  She was perfect!  I cannot WAIT for when we start jumping for real.  At this point, the ground is fairly frozen and our rides are limited to walk/trot.  

Things are getting pretty serious.

Friday, December 1, 2017

NaBloPoMo 2017 - COMPLETE!

Whew!  Thirty straight days of writing (with an extra post thrown in) was a lot of work!  Thank you to those of you who played along, whether it was every day or here and there.  As an English teacher, I always welcome chances to write and to encourage others to write!

I even made a little badge for you if you'd like to post it on your blog!  ;-)

I am not a graphic designer, so this is the best I could create haha!
Make sure your check out all the participating bloggers if you haven't already!  

Amy at Quantum Chromatic Abberation
Martidoll at Fat Buckskin in a Little Suit
Sara at The Roaming Rider
Olivia at DIY Horse Ownership
Sarah at Ambershade Stables
The Fox Rider at Feral Red Horse did a few posts
And L at Viva Carlos linked up her 30 Day Challenge prompts from 2001

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Day 30 - Your future with horses

YAY!!!  Thirty days of posting for NaBloPoMo!  Here is the final entry!  This was fun and helped keep me focused through the month, but yeah, I am definitely feeling some writing fatigue!  :-)

In the immediate future, I hope to continue bringing Ellie along so she trusts me and we build a partnership.  I prefer the slow, systematic, patient approach, so while she is going to be six next June, I don't feel the need to push her because of her age.  We have all the time in the world.  I do hope to get her out more to little shows next year, putzing around at maybe Intro B and C at the local dressage shows and then becoming confident enough in jumping to do some little three phases.  Maybe I'll try more of the H/J shows to do pleasure and equitation classes, since I tend to put MUCH less pressure on myself at those types of shows than in dressage/eventing.  Maybe someday we will try a Morgan show, but I don't know if I want to do that type of showing any longer.  Mostly it would just to see how she stacks up against the breed nowadays, but I don't know.  I just want to get her out and about.  Long term, we will probably try driving at some point, maybe we will chase cows.  I definitely someday want to show her sidesaddle someday.  She is certainly bred to be a versatile mare, but it just depends on her and how things go in our training over the next several years.  Obviously, I like doing ALL THE THINGS, so I see our future being full of fun adventures.

Cute photos just because!

I hope to start lessons soon as well.  There is a (not really local but close enough) eventing instructor moving to a new (to her) farm in December and she plans to start giving lessons there in January once the facility is set up and the horses are all settled in, so I am hoping to get Ellie down there maybe once a week, but at least twice a month.  There is an indoor and the instructor can do both dressage and jumping lessons, which just makes my life easier.  I know her from being around at the same shows and I have seen her students and watched her instruct, so I am hopeful it will be a good match.  She is 50 minutes away, so it won't be easy for me.  But I am hopeful.

With Dreamy, I just want to keep her happy and healthy.  She will be 27 years old this coming year, which means I have now owned her for fifteen years (holy cow).  I am not naive to the fact that she is mortal, but I simply cannot see my future without her at the moment.  It dawned on me the other day that she was going to be turning 27 and I actually started crying.  I don't know, I think I am still too emotional about losing Sparky three years ago, Snappy this year, and I just want Dreamy to keep being a retired pasture puff forever LOL! 

I can safely say that I will probably own horses and ride until the day my body doesn't allow it (and I am sure I will then still try hahaha!)  Horses are a part of me and always will be.  I think my future with horses will be much the same as it is now, riding and showing and having fun.