Monday, April 16, 2018

hellomylivia hop: What I Didn't Know I Didn't Know

Last week, Olivia wrote a really cool post about things she didn't know that she didn't know when she was re-entering the horse world in 2015. It really resounded with me because I've had a lot of similar moments since getting more intimately involved with horses in my time as a horse owner and not catch-riding everything possible.

I love owning horses. I love all of the responsibilities that come with it (good and bad, big and small - especially the small!) But there were a lot of things that while I grasped on some level, I didn't fully know or embrace for a long time. Sometimes you just have to experience something to gain further understanding.

I have three horses and I compete in multiple disciplines, endurance and eventing. As I first read Olivia's post, I could thing of several examples specific to each sport, but the more I thought about these, the more I realized I could group a lot of them into large categories.

Below are six things I didn't know that I didn't know before I owned and trained my own horses. And, as with Olivia's post, the below is addressed to the 2012 version of myself who had minimal understanding of what it was to train a horse from the ground up, had only competed in one limited distance ride, had minimal experience working through training holes, and had very limited equestrian experiences outside of my small rural community.

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More ride photos like this, please and thank you

Go slow to go fast. (Always. Always. Always.) I'm a goal-driven person who likes to check things off a list and move forward to the next one, but as we all know, horses don't care one iota about our "plans" and "goals" and "timelines". While a large number of sources preached going slow to go fast when it came to horse training, it took me countless times of "failing" and having to take two, three, or eight, steps backwards before I could proceed to the next stage to realize that there really was something to this "going slow to go fast" nonsense. In hindsight, the large majority of "problems" I've encountered with my horses have been from pushing too much too soon. I've had to go back to the proverbial drawing board countless times over the years as I proceed with new tasks with the horses.

As I think back on some of those experiences, I realize that if I'd simply been in less of a rush and had done things more incrementally at the time, I wouldn't have had the issues I had. I've been taking things much slower of late, especially with Q, and have been reaping HUGE rewards from doing so. It was hard to create a habit of checking my own goals/ambitions in favor of going slowly, but it's helped me remain in a much better place with the horses since I did (not to mention, a better place for myself mentally!) I anticipate a less stressful future now that I've firmly embraced this concept.

With enough time and miles, you can also have a horse who takes a nap while standing sandwiched between firetrucks with flashing lights and sirens and a line of traffic (this was for a parade)

Time and miles. Experiences will make a better horse and you've got to have patience to take the time to give the horse those experiences. Example 1: Q used to be a holy terror about loading on a trailer, but the more times we traveled, the better she became. She's now my most reliable trailer horse and will self-load, sometimes from a distance of 20 feet! Example 2: Griffin used to arrive to a new location and scream and scream and scream. Then I took him off property, alone, to dressage clinics, XC schooling, and some HTs last year - a lot of travel in a short time. By the final one, he screamed maybe 2x the whole time we were at the venue. Example 3: When we used to arrive to endurance ride camps, Q would have a hard time settling in to eat, choosing instead to remain on high alert. Years later, the mare digs into her food right away and even spends part of the evening lying down. Put in the time, travel the miles (on the horse and on the road), and you'll get there.

Countless miles and hours on this horse since 2005 have created a reliable mount I can trot through the woods on in a carefree manner with my phone in one hand and a beer in the ot

You've got to put in the work. Over the years, countless people have told me they want horses "just like" mine. Several people have gotten into horses as a result of interactions with mine; most of those people got right back out of horses in short order when things didn't go as planned. My horses are as wonderful as they are because I have spent (and continue to spent) inordinate amounts of time working with them. When Griffin became mine at 1½ years old, I spent every day of the week with him for a long time. That time didn't have to be mentally or physically strenuous - a lot of it involved grooming, hoof trimming, or simple long hikes with him on the leadline because you can only do so much groundwork in a week. The time spent and the solid boundaries and expectations I set throughout turned him into a horse I can jump on to do just about anything with! Additionally, when issues crop up with my horses, I do my homework to get them through it. Dan preaches high and low about how much better Q is for shoeing because I did my homework. Prior to putting in the work I did, it took him 3 hours to get two hind shoes on. Now, he can hot shoe all four hooves in less than half that time. You get from your horse what you put into them. If you put in the work, you'll have a really outstanding and reliable animal, if you don't? Well, I'm sure you can connect those dots for yourself.

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First dressage clinic with Stephen Birchall

A foundation in dressage will help every other riding discipline. I resisted learning anything dressage-y for years. YEARS. It was intimidating! But when I finally caved and started learning about it, I realized how amazing it was and how much it would benefit every other aspect of my horses' lives. Teaching my horses how to move and utilize their bodies properly, with balance helps them be better, stronger versions of themselves. It helps build strength to support their conformational weaknesses thus lowering the likelihood of injury. Additionally, building the proper muscling throughout their bodies makes it easier for them to: move down the trail for miles upon miles (endurance), maneuver through a tricky stadium course with greater finesse and balance (jumping), and tackle a cross country course with greater rateability due to the ability to adjust strides and gaits at a moment's notice with better balance (eventing). Certainly a lot of other training aspects are included in meeting the goals for other disciplines, but a foundation in dressage can greatly improve all of them.

A quiet moment on a day that had no other purpose than some R&R together

Don't underestimate the power of rest. Now, this is greatly simplified, but, for every tough workout your horse performs, microtears develop. These quickly heal to build more strength with time. However, if you continue to put in strenuous workout after strenuous workout without rest, the microtears don't have time to heal and may develop into bigger issues that could sideline your horse for days, weeks, or months! Or, the other side of the coin to working your animal too much (endurance is where I've witnessed this most often), you may cause them to start to burn muscle for fuel and their bodies will become too scrawny and weak to keep up with the stress of the task at hand. Rest is incredibly important to help build a stronger athlete.

Q's performance in endurance increased exponentially when I rode her less. Instead of putting in 6-7 mile rides 4-5 days a week with one hill work gallop session, I began putting in several short 20-40 minute sessions on the flat (hi, dressage!) each week, a hill work session with gallop sets once a week, and a long trail ride (12+ miles) every other weekend. Q's body looked better and her work ethic improved greatly. She attempted - and completed - her first 100-mile ride following this protocol, putting in less than 20 rides in the 6 months prior (though she did have a great baseline of fitness prior to this that is important to note). People are always under the perception that you have to ride so much more to be 100-mile fit! The reality is quite different. Rest is a critical part of every training schedule I have for my horses, and I really think it has helped them perform better.

Second HT over an elementary fence

If you really want to try something, try it! Now, I say this with caution because you certainly shouldn't jump all willy-nilly into something that could hurt you or your horse, but seriously, if you really want to try a new discipline or skill, DO IT. Don't wait on anyone. Get out there and try it. That may mean you first have to research and learn about it, then implement it in very small increments that build over an insanely long period of time in comparison to others, but that's okay! You're DOING THE THING.

For YEARS I wanted to jump - and secretly, I wanted to gain enough skill to gallop and jump a XC course. But I was afraid to jump without help/guidance because I knew what kinds of accidents and injuries could occur to horse and rider. I read a lot about it, but still held off. But as time passed and I grew up, I realized that if I didn't take some initiative to do this thing I really wanted to do, I would never experience it. And so I started dabbling little by little, year by year. And now? I'm living my dream and it's pretty fucking fantastic. It hasn't come easy, and it's taken much longer to get to this place than it may have if I had a bigger budget and lived a lot closer to trainers, but the journey has been a blast every step of the way and I'm so glad I pushed myself into the deep end and gave it a whirl!

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So, what about you? What's something you didn't know that you didn't know days, weeks, months, years ago that you know now?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Product Review: Two Horse Tack Super Grip Reins

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Two Horse Tack and I was compensated for my time in the form of a free product; all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Construction & Details

Over the winter, Two Horse Tack reached out to me to ask if I'd review their Super Grip beta-biothane trail reins. Loving anything that can improve my grip and thus my control, I eagerly agreed.

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As with other products I've reviewed for THT, the construction of these reins is very solid.

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Super grip in hand

The beta-biothane is stitched very securely the the super grip and each rein ends in a conway buckle with a scissor snap for quick attachment to your bit or hackamore of choice.

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Solid stitching, super grip, and conway buckles ending in scissor snaps

The "trail" part of the reins denotes that the reins are one solid piece without a buckle in the middle - something I greatly prefer for life on the endurance trail. It's a lot easier to have reins double as a lead rope/tie when they don't have an added point of weakness like a buckle.

My Favorite Aspects

Scissor snap ends: I especially appreciate the scissor snaps because I work Q in both a bit and a hackamore depending upon our venue (bit at home, hack on the trail). I love being able to switch between both in the blink of an eye without undoing buckles etc.

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Attached to the S-hack
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Attached to the bit, moments later

Super Grip: Without question, the super grip is my favorite part of these reins. With and without gloves in dry and wet conditions, it lives up to it's namesake and provides superior grip. When you've got a horse like Q who tends to lean into the bridle and go heavily on the forehand as her first and most favorite evasion, having a secure grip is critical!

Nice secure grip on the little dragon mare who was very eager and powerful on this day

Practical Application

Q's spooking habit may have largely disappeared in recent months, but it has unfortunately - though not surprisingly - been replaced by another issue: rushing, leaning, and falling constantly onto the forehand. We're certainly working through it, but it will of course take time! I honestly prefer this issue to the spooking one because it's one that I have a lot more patience dealing with and have a much larger treasure chest of tools to use as I work through it.

This is Q the Sass Master eagerly plowing ahead and slightly annoyed with my insistence to trot only and not canter

These reins have been a godsend this winter as we've worked through this problem. Q wants nothing more than to take the reins from me in certain moments to gain release and reward. Her idea of what is good behavior meriting this release and reward isn't often correct though! Q, dear, plowing forward at speed, falling into the bridle and onto the forehand doesn't help anyone, nor does it get you out of work sooner!

LOL to my expression and obvious talking to her to try to calm the dragon inside.

Thank goodness for the super grip; it allows me to meet Q's evasive maneuvers with a solid boundary wall that only gives at the proper time. With other reins, she's able to force them through my hands which only reinforces her behavior. Fortunately, the super grip helps me remain steadfast and more stubborn than this little stubborn mare. #sorrynotsorry, Q!

Plowing forward and taking advantage of me opening my fingers to give her a little release after she maintained a steady trot for a few strides. On this day she was such a sassy powerhouse that all small rewards were taken advantage of. C'est la vie! I was just happy she WANTED to work and offered trotting of her own accord when we were traveling AWAY from the barn/herdmates.

As time goes on, Q is offering up a softer contact and pushing more from her hind end. Things are far from perfect, but with each added second of balance and soft contact, we're making progress - and that's what counts! Slow and steady progress is better than none.

Overall Impression

All things considered, I love these reins! The construction is solid, the price ($18+ based on options you choose) is incredibly affordable, and the color options are on point. I have already recommended these reins to friends and anticipate providing that recommendation even more as the riding season picks up and we get out riding with more folks. The pink is so eye-catching that I always seem to get compliments and questions.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Of Stress and Snow: A Pictorial Journey

Man, long time no write!

Life outside of horses has been absolutely topsy turvy for me lately. March marked one year since my work life got absurdly shitty. It's absolutely shocking to me that I've managed to sustain the high levels of stress from work for this amount of time. There have been a few glimpses of "the light at the end of the [current] tunnel" lately though, which has been an incredible relief. Simply though, it just is not an easy time to be a scientist for the Federal government!

While horses absolutely help my stress levels, I've been focusing on other aspects of stress relief lately, running, doing a lot of yoga, and visiting with some childhood friends I very rarely see. I knew horse time would be plentiful in coming weeks as the weather improved, so my focus has admittedly been elsewhere!

Snow riding with my filthy grey horse.
I freaking LOVE this riding skirt. I'll write a review once I've ridden it in the rain some as that's a big reason I bought it!
Jumped his first "corner". His expression speaks volumes as to how much it bothered him (not at all)
The corner and a jump that I was surprised to learn measured at 2'9" (note the "reality stick" I finally made lying askew at the base of the center standard). Apparently I've been underestimating the height of all my jumps for years. Better to underestimate than to overestimate, I suppose!
The most awkward photo of Q I've ever taken lol
The dirty feed tub (not mine) was "in her way" after she danced away from Taiga jumping out suddenly. Why walk a few steps when you could just be awkward AF?

Our classic turbulent Appalachian spring weather has been full force for the past month (which has certainly been a welcome excuse to limit time at the barn). Mud to snow and back again multiple times; I don't mind snow, but am definitely NOT a fan of mud season! My favorite local conditioning partners are either out of the country or have lame horses right now, too, so it isn't as if I can spice things up with a friend at the moment. But that's okay!

True to the norm, March was the month we received the greatest amount of snowfall with 46"! I got some fun skiing in to cap off the year and was even able to join in on one of my most favorite local ski events for 5 hours a few Sundays ago.

I love my views from home
My friend Phoebe totally rocking it as we closed the mountain after a day of powder skiing
A blurry shot of Kenai and I skiing a backcountry bowl accessible from my house. Our bowls may not be as large as western ones, but they're really sweet all the same! Getting to access them after a short ski from my front door makes it all the better!
Another shot of that evening of backcountry bowl skiing
Sunset from the same vista as the photo with the sunbeams above; I also ski past this view to access the bowl above
Dave and I at the start of our Sunday XC ski adventure
A rare selfie
Our rad leader for the day's adventure! And my buddy in the background pulling his 6 month old daughter along for the ~6 mile ski adventure
The trees were all bedecked with icicles as if they'd put on their Christmas best
The man, the myth, the legend! Chipper owns the XC ski resort we enjoy so much. You can't help but love snow when you're around this guy - his love and enthusiasm for Nordic sports is beyond contagious.
Complete magic
Red spruce dominate the highlands
Such a big group on this day!
Taking a brief moment to regroup.
Friends old and new
Passin' that white lightnin' around. It's the best way to keep warm after all!
The final Robbie's Rad crew for the season! PC: Chipper

The dogs are doing well and Taiga is steadily growing. She's really turning into a great little barn dog on the days I'm out there, hanging out close-by while I prep the horses and then running amok with unadulterated joy while I hack in the back field.

He's the happiest guy when the snow is plentiful
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Double DERP at sunset!
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I had a lot of fun with golden hour dog romps in March
Playing chase, Kenai's favorite game!
This is his ERMAGERD SNERR! face, in case you wondered
Tearin' it up
XC skiing around home with the dogs because how else do you travel in 15" of snow?!
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What is becoming her signature shot
And again
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Loving life
Enjoying the sunset <3

Blog content should be picking up to a more regular pace in coming days! I'm looking forward to getting out and about with the horses in the very near future, finally getting some product reviews up, and auditing some clinics!

Monday, March 19, 2018

A New Saddle

Since spring of 2016, I have hemmed and hawed about a new saddle for Q. While she may only be 14.1hh, she's got a huge trot stride more akin to a horse several hands taller. As we began to up our training in preparation for our attempt at the OD 100, maintaining that huge stride for miles over varied terrain during conditioning and endurance rides was resulting in girth galls around Q's armpit area.

Very small horse, very big stride, note the girth right at her elbow
Becky Pearman Photography

A vet at the 2016 No Frills ride recommended a centerfire rigged saddle and thinner girth to provide greater freedom of movement through this area. I hadn't thought of that before, and agreed it was a good idea, but was hesitant to pursue any saddle change before the OD 100 which was coming up in a short 7 weeks. Ultimately, I played around with a few different girths and found a winning solution of a mohair girth with ample body glide application. This combination got us through the OD 100 with no issue.

Small horse, large stride, take II
Becky Pearman Photography

Q had a lot of time off following that 100 and was ridden once before the 2016 RBTR LD where Austen competed her. I didn't fuss much with her tack for the LD because I knew that such a short ride wouldn't result in any major issues.

Small horse, large stride, take III
Becky Pearman Photography

Shortly after the RBTR LD, Q came up lame, continued to be lame, and was diagnosed with lesions to her LH suspensory. She had a year off from work following the diagnosis, and when I did bring her back, we began with a western Abetta saddle to provide more security to me as I buckled down and dealt with resolving her spooking habit.

The western Abetta we used late last summer through autumn

As I worked through rides last fall, I accepted that a treed saddle (as opposed to the treeless Ansur we'd been using for years), preferably with centerfire rigging, was in our future. However, knowing that I had no upcoming agenda for the mare, I wasn't in a hurry. But as all things go when you're not in a hurry, the perfect solution was promptly presented to me:

I resisted at first, my internal dialogue insisting how much I didn't need the saddle at that time. But as I thought about it more, I realized this was a really good deal and I'd be silly to pass it up! I knew Abetta would work for Q, even if only as an interim saddle; the size was correct for both myself and the horse; and the saddle was already rigged with the endurance upgrades I'd want to add myself. I slept on my decision and was pleased to see the Universe agreed with me in some regard as the saddle was still available. I fired off a message to Aurora, made the deal, and eagerly awaited the arrival of the saddle.

Since the saddle's arrival in late November, I've put in around a dozen rides with the saddle. Of these, two were flat rail trail rides, two were trail rides over terrain in the mountains, and the other rides were flat work at the barn. The trail rides sum ~45 miles and the flatwork sums a little more than 3 hours.

The new saddle on the intended horse!
Not a pony club approved tying method, but she could also pull free and walk away at any point without injury so don't get your panties in a twist.

The time and miles in the saddle are minimal in the grand scheme of things, but the results so far have been great. Certainly, my approach to working with Q has been different during this time which accounts for a lot, but even with this consideration she's shown zero issue with regard to the fit of the saddle during this time. The quality of work she's offered me has been some of the best I've ever experienced in our almost 6 years together, too!

Riding in the new saddle - the girth is hidden by the stirrup, but observe how much further back it is than photos earlier in this post and how much more freedom of motion she's gained through the elbow

Her spooking during this time has been very minimal, and I have not witnessed any other behaviors that are indicative of some sort of ill-fitting tack. The saddle has performed well on both the flat and on terrain with only a crupper and no breastplate (though I do plan to get a breastplate before the summer). Bonus? The fit of the saddle works great for me, too, with no more modifications necessary. I also love having a saddle with so many attachment points as opposed to my Ansur that had none (I MacGyvered them all).

Totally enthused. ;-)

More time and miles are definitely needed before the verdict is final, as tack that works for short rides (<50 miles) very well may not suffice for endurance distances of 50 miles and greater. We'll see how rides go this spring and summer as our riding frequency hopefully increases, but things look quite promising and I'm really happy with the results so far!