Sunday, September 17, 2017

Two-in-One Tack Review: Jin Stirrups and Essentially Eryn Stirrup Covers

In an effort to be matchy-matchy, because clearly that is what I do best, I purchased these Jin stirrups for my jumping saddle for the XC phase.  They are made of aluminum and feel super lightweight; I believe I read somewhere that each stirrup is less than a pound each.  I specifically chose these because of the color, but I also did NOT want to buy a pair of Lorenzini stirrups because all I have read about is their poor durability.  For the price, I did not want to see chips all over my fancy stirrups.  Also, I wanted a wide stirrup pad and I like the 4 degree slight angle.  

So far, I have ridden in them several times on the flat and I love them!  The wide pad is stable and I like how my creaky old knees feel with the slight angle.  I have tried jointed stirrups but wasn't crazy about them, but these stirrups definitely are comfortable.  

I had placed the order in early August, hoping I could use them at Area I Schooling HT Champs, but alas, since they shipped from Canada (and therefore cost a lot less!), they arrived about a week later. 😔  Therefore, I have not yet jumped in them, but riding out the bucks of a sassy pants five year old is pretty much the same thing (right?!).  Hahaha Ellie has had a few "exciting" moments and these felt super comfortable and sturdy while I was trying to stay in the saddle haha!  

Of course, as I waited for them to arrive, I got worried they would scratch my saddle itself.  While I only really planned to use them to jump XC, I figured it wouldn't hurt to have nifty stirrup covers to protect my saddle.  Because honestly, I really like the stirrups enough to keep them on my saddle other than just when I am showing.  

So, I reached out again to Eryn of Essentially Eryn, where I bought my nifty matchy saddle covers.  And they work great!  I love the entire setup and I really hope these stirrups stay looking as nice as they do with no chipping!!  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Snap Dancer Memorial Race

I have attended the Cornish Horsemen's Day at the local trotting park since 2005, marshaling races with my now 26 year old retired Standardbred, Dreamy.  I have written about it a few times here: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 (this is when I won my RUS race with Snappy!), 2013, and 2014.  I was pregnant in 2015 and too busy in 2016 to attend.

This year was a bit different.  The organizer, Diann, asked me if I could marshal just after I had to put Snappy down, so of course I had to decline.  Then I got thinking about it and wondered if she might allow me to make a donation in order to have a race named after Snappy.  She was happy to do so!

Race #2 ended up being the Snap Dancer Memorial.  Though Snappy raced as a trotter, it ended up being a pace.  Ah well.  Technically, Snappy was pacing bred despite the fact she raced on the trot, so it was all good haha.  

I didn't think I would feel as overwhelmed as I was, getting teary as soon as I pulled into the fairgrounds.  The gate attendant (who is also the gym teacher at the high school in the district I teach), asked where my horse was.  She didn't realize she had passed away so of course, it made me start bawling.  Oh perfect.

I was also asked to do a write-up about her for the program.
Once the race was over, Freddie (her former trainer) and I held up the cooler in the winner's circle together, which made me pretty happy.  Freddie hugged me and said, "We really loved her, huh?" and I started crying all over again.  Then Diann hugged me, which made me blubber, "I just really MISS her!" Uggg I hate being all emotional in public.

I had only planned to stay until her race was over and I immediately want to bolt once it was done, especially since I was bawling, but I made myself walk over to the paddock area to talk with Sharon, Freddie's wife.  She gave me Snappy's retirement cooler, which she had been holding for me since 2014.  Every year, Scarborough Downs does a retirement ceremony for all fourteen year olds, since it is their mandatory retirement age.  The December 2014 ceremony had been postponed and I couldn't make it to the new date, so Sharon held her cooler for me.  Special horses deserve special recognition and the day filled my heart despite my tears.

I just miss this mare so much.  As happy as I am to have Ellie in my life, it is not lost on me that I have her because Snappy is gone.  Early in the week when it became apparent that I was going to have to make a decision about Snappy was the same week my husband had a vacation from work, so he encouraged me to go look at what was for sale at the Kennebec Morgan Farm.  I didn't want to at first because I didn't feel ready for a new horse AT ALL, but once I knew they only had two horses left for sale (Ellie being one of them), I felt I would regret not at least looking into it.  He went with me to KMF and was completely supportive about buying Ellie. I wanted to wait until spring, but what if both Ellie and the other horse sold before then; I really didn't want to regret waiting and missing out on my childhood dream horse.

I waited a few days after Snappy died before I made my decision about Ellie and waited until the long Labor Day weekend to bring her home.  It was hard putting her into Snappy's old stall.  It is tough to look at Snappy's name plate on her door (I did order one for Ellie, but it will take a few weeks to arrive.  I figured Snappy's plate would be better than an obviously empty spot.)  My husband thought I was slightly foolish for having to buy Ellie her own halter and flymask (no way I could have put Snappy's on her and thanks to Smartpak's super fast shipping, I had the halter and flymask in hand within two days of ordering).  

Even the day I brought Ellie home it felt too soon, even though being alone with just Dreamy for a week and a half felt really sad, too.  Our hearts are complicated and I cannot claim to always make the best decisions when I am emotional.  Sometimes when Ellie is being her developmentally appropriate silly self, I feel a pang of sadness, thinking how easy everything was with Snappy.  But then I remember that Snappy had her own limitations and even if she were still alive now, she would still be retired.  But then I think, at least I would have her in my barn even though she would be unridable!  And then I think, right, I'd own her and another 26 year old retired horse and have nothing to ride...  Can you tell I am still a bit of a wreck and second guessing myself??

Snappy's grave marker.  I will put it out on her grave in the spring once the grass has had a chance to grow back in.  She is buried next to Sparky.  
But, despite the fact that my heart is still in that weird place of simultaneous happiness and sorrow, I know rationally that owning Ellie in no way diminishes my memory of Snappy.  And maybe having the race in her honor helped me heal just a bit.  

Horses, man.  They break your heart and fill it overflowing, sometimes all at the same time. And I wouldn't change any of it because even just the short five years I owned Snappy were wonderful in many ways.  

Monday, September 11, 2017

Week one with Ellie

Ellie has started to settle in well here at Clover Ledge.  I admit I was worried about taking her from the only home she has ever known, the farm where she was born, but despite her nervousness, she has a great brain.  Ellie likes to overreact to things at first (typical young Morgan haha), but she quickly regains her composure.  I am sure that as I develop a relationship with her and she trusts me, she will become even more brave.  However, she is a redheaded Morgan mare (haha), so her initial overdramatics might always be there!  ;-)

The first few days I just groomed her and took her for walks.  She was nervous and looky on the crossties and spooked at everything in the barn yard (the sound of the cattle, the dump trailer, the wheelbarrow, the gate to her pasture, her shadow, the wind...haha).  She didn't want to lift her hooves to be picked, and she almost kicked out on her hinds.  The first night she didn't want to enter the barn; even though she REALLY wanted to be inside with Dreamy, she just couldn't bring herself to enter.  I totally understand that some of that was from the sound and smell of the cattle, as she couldn't SEE them, but she knew something was there and they were probably dangerous.  She screamed a bit during turnout and Dreamy would answer, but only on the first day, so her subsequent days of screaming were met with nothing.  That was almost too much for Ellie to bear.  

Ellie: DREAMY!  DREAMY!  OMG!  Why are you ignoring me?  I am all alone in this world even though I can see you!

Dreamy: Holy moly, just shut your trap, young'un! (Dreamy purposefully turns her back and ignores Ellie)

We took several different walks around the yard the first few days, then out in the ring and down into the Christmas tree fields.  Once put to "work", Ellie was much happier.  It was as though she was relieved to have something to do that she understood and felt confident with.  She has decent manners (when she is calm), and easily moved away from pressure, halted and stood, and went over the ground poles.  She definitely wasn't at all like the easygoing Standardbreds off the track I have become accustomed to over the past fourteen years since I have first owned Dreamy.  I had a huge reality check that brought me back to 1993 when I first owned Sparky, another redheaded Morgan mare!

My Standardbred mares were afraid of the Christmas trees at first, but Ellie was like, "What? They're trees!"How funny the difference between horses raised on the track versus those raised on a Maine farm...! 
It would have been very easy at this point to become scared of Ellie.  She is definitely an opinionated mare but she also knows that she is supposed to behave (and I think she genuinely wants to behave because she is super sweet).  She just doesn't always know how to handle her emotions appropriately yet (hmmmm, reminds me of my two year old child!) and some things she has never been exposed to so she is SURE it will eat it.  And she would very easily overpower and walk all over someone who is afraid of her.  So, once she realizes that I am the one in charge and I am not worried or upset like she is, she calms down.  But the trick is to stay calm and not react to her dramatics, which is something I am good at.  And of course, while I admit I felt slightly discouraged at first, I had to remember that she had only been with me for a few DAYS, so it was going to take time.  I have found that once you gain a mare's trust, you have it forever (unless you screw it up yourself LOL).  And there really is no timeline with this horse.  Yes, there are certainly things I would like to have in place by spring, but right now is the ideal time to just bond with her and get some basics ironed out without the self imposed pressure I put on myself when show season is starting.

This view never gets old!
It is funny because while I am certainly NOT a horse trainer or any type of professional, I do have some way of instilling confidence in a horse.  I never really would have said this about myself until a local clinician stated it.  I had brought my young horse at the time, Reva, to a clinic seven years ago, and he told me at the end of the session that he didn't believe me at first when I said she was brave.  He figured she was timid and I was being naive, as she immediately spooked at a crossrail near the audience when she entered the ring.  He was happy to admit he was wrong, and felt she was confident because I was confident.  I thought that was a huge compliment and still do.

Now that I am back to my school teaching job and the sun goes down at 7:15 (instead of staying light until 9pm!), I had to settle for grooming sessions after dinner this past week.  But this was actually ideal because it forced me to take my time and not tack her up to ride immediately.  Once we get into the school year routine, I will aim for two weekdays and two weekend days of riding (or other types of "work") and then either just groom or let her be the other nights.  

After Saturday and Sunday of being a bit "up" on the crossties (as in, I didn't take off her lead rope just in case), she was excellent on Monday night.  While I know my dressage saddle needs to be adjusted for her, I crossed my fingers that my Stubben wide jumping saddle would fit and figured I ought to give it a try.  I bought it for Dreamy, and it mostly worked for Snappy with a pad (she was a MW), yet because of Ellie's round shape, I figured it would work.  And thankfully it looks great!  I will still have my fitter look at it, but unlike the DK saddle that can be totally customized to Ellie now and as she grows/changes, I am hopeful I can keep my Stubben for her.  She was a bit annoyed about being girthed up, but I chalked it up to her nerves, and thankfully she has improved each time I have tacked her up.  

I also took the time to introduce her to clippers, and while I don't use them for ears or whiskers, I do like to clip bridlepaths.  I had no idea if she had ever seen them (come to find out she hadn't ever) but I figured not, as her current bridlepath had been clearly cut with scissors.  The first night she was like "OMG DANGER but I know I am supposed to behave, so I will stand here quivering".  I just let her sniff the clippers and turned them on near her to see.  The next night, she was even better and I was able to rub the clippers on her shoulder, neck, and up close to her ears.  But I didn't push it.  By Wednesday, she was totally fine with them and I was able to stand on an overturned bucket (safety first LOL!) and clip her tiny bridlepath.  I didn't do the longer Morgan bridlepath because I really like her long, crazy mane haha.  

On Saturday, I figured it was time to get on her.  I groomed and tacked her up easily.  I started off with a little lunging, even though I am not really fond of drilling a horse around and around and around in a 20 m. circle on a line.  However, I figured this would work well for a couple of reasons: it would give her a chance to get the silliness out without me in the saddle, I could check out her w/t/halt cues, and it is something she knows well so gave her a confident place to start.  She started off by being distracted by Dreamy moving further out in the adjacent field to graze, but she worked through that pretty well.  She definitely knows how to lunge and her walk and trot cues are solid.  She was a little flaky about halting and wanted to turn directly towards me when she finally stopped.  She improved with a few repetitions.  There was no bucking or silliness, though she did lazily canter a few strides while trotting.  It was no big deal at all.  I almost didn't get on her because she still seemed more distracted than I wanted for our first ride, so I continued to ask for transitions and make her think.  I worked with her on the lunge longer than I initially planned, but it paid off.  We walked around the mounting block a little (she seemed unfazed by it) and then I climbed aboard.

I didn't know what to expect but I certainly didn't expect her to REFUSE. TO. BUDGE.  Hahaha I was like, ummmm I thought you were trained w/t under saddle, silly mare!  She acted as though she had NO idea what I wanted, so I called my husband over to lead her around a bit for me.  She seemed to either remember how to go with a rider on her back or she figured it out quickly (maybe the barn staff omitted that she's only been ridden on the lunge line??  Who knows and honestly whatever, it doesn't matter LOL).  She was still pretty sticky, so the first ride was mostly about going FORWARD and attempting to stay straight as she was like riding a wet noodle.  A very drunk wet noodle.  We even did a little trot in each direction and I called it a day.  Ellie was certainly not easy, but she showed improvement and did what I asked.

First ride!  I have no other photographic evidence other than the between-the-ears view!  The one small downfall of keeping horses at home LOL!  No barnmates to take photos.
After we finished and I untacked her, I hosed her off because it was warm and little fatty mare got sweaty.  She stood fairly well to be hosed off but it is something to work on.  I know a lot of people sponge horses off, but I think hosing works the best and I do expect my horses to stand.  It will just take time.

Our second ride was 1000x better the next day.  She was much more relaxed, paying more attention to me, and she seemed to remember the routine.  I only lunged her for a few minutes.  She halted more quickly when asked this time and stayed straight on the circle instead of diving in towards me, which was really the only sticking point in her lunging education.  I will eventually phase lunging out completely once I think she is comfortable.  Perhaps I will teach her the cue to canter on the lunge line as well, but that will come in time.  Again, no rush with this horse.

This time, I wrangled my thirteen year old son into coming out at the end to snap a few pics.  
This time when I mounted up, she decided she remembered how to move off my leg.  She was still noodley, but much less so, and we worked on staying straight and bending.  She is definitely GREEN but she tries hard to do the right thing.  We trotted much more this time, and I feel a bit relieved that things improved so much the following day.  Not to say I expect training to move quickly, of course, but I was happy to see that she did have the basics installed that I was told she did after all.  Being such a lightly started five year old is not a bad thing, and I am sure once we start working on a much more consistent basis than she's had before, she will learn easily.

Sunday was also the first day I turned her out with her leather halter.  She is still wearing a fly mask because the bugs will be relentless until we get a good hard frost, so at least she is not totally naked and free LOL!  She seems to be respecting the fencing, which is a combination of vinyl rails and three strand electric wire/white tape (where we haven't installed the vinyl yet because $$$$$$).  

So far, so good!  I am so excited about this horse!  :-)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Monogram all the things!

I have been LUSTING over this saddle plate monogram from Swanky Saddle Co. and look it at every so often on my Pinterest board.  I try not to be crazy about monogramming all the things, but I have been wanting a saddle plate for my new (to me) dressage saddle.  Because of its large cantle, I thought a regular saddle plate like I have used in the past might look strange, so this larger roundish monogram seemed perfect.  Also, I have a weird thing about loving silver colored plates on black tack and brass on brown LOL!

I LOVE how it looks on my saddle!  It was a bit of a pain to attach, but I used a tiny drill bit to get the holes started and then the tiny nails went right in.   

While perusing the Swanky Saddle Co. website, I found these cute brush monogram stickers, so I added two to my cart in the color "moss".  Somehow I ended up being sent four, two in moss and two in emerald, so that was a fun surprise.  Now that I see the colors in person as opposed to the computer screen, I think if I order more I would go with hunter green.  Honestly, I am not sure why I didn't do the dark hunter green in the first place LOL!  But heck, I still think they are super cute no matter what green they are!  I put them on my show brushes because I figured that way they won't get quite as much wear and tear as my every day brushes.  
Now with the cute monogram, the black marks on my dandy brush is more irritating than ever LOL!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Once a Morgan person, always a Morgan person!

Facing an empty stall and a mopey old Standardbred mare, I knew I would have to find another horse.  I don't really feel ready, but at the same time, it's hard to not fill the empty spot in my heart with another horse.  I can ride Dreamy, but at age 26 we are pretty limited to walking rides (with a little trot and canter!), and I don't dare do too much with her because she is what I would call pasture sound.  Not lame, but definitely she has a little hitch in her trot.

Despite the fact that I have enjoyed working with my Standardbred mares over the last fourteen years, my first love was the Morgan horse.  My first horse, Sparky, was from the Joydale Morgan Farm here in Maine, where I began my riding career, and her sire and dam were both Kennebec Morgans.  I learned to canter on Sparky's sire (the most well mannered stallion I have ever met), and I helped train her dam to go under saddle after she had been a broodmare for many years.  Before Sparky even came along to me, the very first horse I learned to train from the ground up was her full sister.  So there was no doubt in my mind that someday I would own another Morgan, preferably a chestnut mare, and even more preferably, a Kennebec.

Kennebec Morgan Farm is located in Woolwich (pronounced Wool-itch) and owned by a wonderful woman named Margaret Gardiner.  Ms. Gardiner is now 96 years old, and I knew that if I wanted one of her babies, I really couldn't wait.  I messaged her barn manager last week and we drove up to look at what was for sale.  As luck would have it, they had a yearling and a four year old mare for sale (who I later found out was actually five years old LOL).  I met them both, as well as their dam and sire and all the other Morgans still at the farm.  Ms. Gardiner doesn't have any heirs and it doesn't seem as though there will be any more breedings.  It didn't take long for me to fall in love and decide to buy the young mare, Kennebec Elegance.
Meet Ellie!  Photo sent by text from the BM - I went to myself, yep, she's mine!
Also sent by the BM

Cutest face the day I picked her up
Known as Ellie, she is a 14.1 hand liver chestnut out of Kennebec Rejoice, who is a Kennebec Count daughter, and by Triple S Dark Eagle.  Her pedigree is here.  She has been lightly started under saddle and has an incredibly sweet personality.  I brought Ellie home on September 2, which gave me the long weekend to get her settled in to the farm.  She has never left her birthplace, where she was turned out in a group with her dam and full sister.  She got right onto my trailer first try and trailered home as quiet as a mouse, despite never having been on a trailer.  It is a two hour ride, four hours round trip, so I stopped about halfway home to check on her because she was SO quiet!  She gave me a look that said, "Oh, hi, what do you want?" and it made me laugh out loud.  She has been a little spooky and pushy here at my farm, but nothing serious and certainly nothing I wouldn't have expected from a horse that is completely out of her comfort zone with a person she doesn't know.  

Just before we left KMF

Saturday she spent the afternoon turned out and in the evening she wasn't sure she wanted to enter the barn, because it seemed like a strange place and she could hear and smell the cattle.  Yesterday the remnants of Hurricane Harvey showed up as pouring rain around 1pm, so after the morning outside, she spent the afternoon inside and I brushed her in the evening, as well as put the stick on her to see if my 14.1 hand prediction was correct (it was!).  Today she has been much more relaxed in turnout and we did a little in-hand session.  She was pretty dancy on the crossties, which could be inexperience as well as her nerves, but she was great in hand in the ring, moving away from pressure, walking over ground poles, checking out the drag for the cattle, and trotting in hand.  We walked through the Christmas trees, tried out the hose (she was OK with her front legs hosed, but definitely will need to learn about being hosed/bathed off), and practiced walking in and out of the barn and around the "scary" dump trailer that is parked next to the horse trailer.  My Stubben jump saddle looks like it will fit her, which is great, and as soon as my fitter gets back to me, I will have my DK dressage saddle fitted to her.  I even found Sparky's old dressage show pad with the Morgan breed logo patch, so I guess I saved it just for this!  ;-)


The barn kids groomed and braided her in anticipation of me picking her up - so freaking cute!

The view from the porch

Checking out the Christmas trees - the Standardbreds were afraid of them LOL!  How funny the difference between horses who were raised on the track versus those raised on a farm... ;-)
I watch Ellie graze, trot, and canter around my front field, and I see my childhood.  I see that typey Morgan head and body and distinctive trot, and I see the horses I grew up with.  She feels like home.

Denny Emerson posted on his Tamarack Hill Facebook page yesterday about how he acquired his Morgan mare, Roxie, and it was honestly the funniest thing to see him articulate something at the same time I am feeling it.  He states, "I had always assumed that I would get another Morgan 'someday' [and] that someday ought to be now" and "I still basically considered myself a 'Morgan person' but one on a temporary holiday, I guess." 

As I was leaving Kennebec Morgan Farm on Saturday, one of their borders (I'm assuming) stopped me as she was pulling in and I was leaving.  She rolled down the window and asked, "Are you Ellie's new owner??"  When I said yes, she assured me, "Oh, you are going to love her!"

I replied, "I already do."  

So welcome home, Ellie!  We are off on a wonderful adventure!  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Snappy's Final Pics - Area I SHT Champs

First, let me say thank you for all of your support and love.  It is not easy to make the decision to end a horse's life, and even though I know it was the right thing to do, it still hurts so much.  Snappy was also well loved in the Maine harness racing community, so her death affected many others beyond me.  So many people remember Snappy as the "little mare with the big heart" because she was a scrappy and gutsy mare on the track.  Snappy's little Facebook page is full of kind words and memories from those folks.

I messaged Snappy's former harness trainer's wife the morning it happened, because I wanted them both to know directly from me.  I also messaged her previous owner's wife, Cindy, who I have never met, and she has been so kind.  She's not a horse person, but she shared with me that she is the one who named Snap Dancer when she was born.  Her husband, Bruce, who gave Snappy to me, is now suffering from dementia/Alzheimer's from what I understand, so I cannot reach out to him directly.  I sent her several photos of Snappy from her life with me, which she showed her husband and she said while he cannot speak any longer, the photos did hold his attention.  I hope they all know how much I loved this old mare.  

I am very fortunate to have had my friend Rachel with me at Championships, as I knew I would want photos of our last event together.  She did a great job capturing each phase.  This was also one of the only events I have done with Snappy that had a professional photographer, and so of course, I am a sucker and bought all of the pics she took!  It was worth it!  All the pics with the Spotted Vision watermark in the corner are used here with purchase, while all other pics are by Rachel. 

You can read about our final event here and my tribute to this great mare here.

Our comment here on the free walk was "not enough stretch".  Welp, that's fine, but for Intro Freaking A, I think it looks acceptable!

You can see she was sore. :-(