Friday, April 9, 2021

A Slew of Updates Part 2: Hamilton

As I watched Trainer AB take Hamilton over his first jump this week it hit me that this will be the fanciest, most athletic horse I will likely ever have the good fortune to sit on.  He is such a cool horse I wish everyone who has ever followed along with me could come meet him - words are hard to use to describe him. 

It also then dawned on me that he is likely wasted living out in my pasture and being ridden a couple times a week. It is unlikely that I'll ever campaign him or if I do it won't be anywhere close to what he could do. If I make it to BN I'll be lucky. Of course, then I watched him napping in the late evening sunshine and realized that Hamilton could give two craps about running around an upper level event. "Wasted potential" is a purely human sentiment that he knows nothing about. 

What does Hamilton know about? Napping. Playing with Eeyore and Pete in the pasture, being over the moon in love with Gem, tolerating my existence, and teaching me all the things under saddle. 

It is always time for a nap. Also note - I snagged a great deal on a BC Wexford in Hamilton's size and it fits him beautifully. 

I've taken advantage of having Trainer AB in my life by having her ride him most lesson days. Some days I will hop on after her and some days I ride him the entire time, but mostly she works him to establish a good base. He is....interesting for me to ride. I've had a hard time articulating it but after last week I finally put my finger on the issue. 

Hamilton is a good boy. He has never offered to rear, bolt, buck, spook, spin, drop a shoulder or refuse to do anything. He is also a big thinker. You can see his gears turning when faced with something new. When Trainer introduced the small cross rail he happily went forward with ears pricked and while he neared you could se him deciding exactly where to put his feet. He placed them exactly where he wanted and popped over cantering away no issue. Trainer was grinning from ear to ear. He is such a cool dude. 

My biggest learning curve with him is his canter which lets be honest is my worst gait anyway. Eeyore requires a LOT of seat, a slight leaning back posture and super tight core to lift his front end up and keep his feet moving. When I did that on Hamilton I felt like I was about to fly off the back of him and he got real pissy (marked by a slight pinning of the ears). I asked to have the ride on him the next lesson to address this and figure out my issue and it turns out I need to be slightly forward with him with a quieter seat. Once I did that things went way better.

Out of new pics so you get a very happy and dirty Fluffzilla

I’m hoping to build more confidence on him and start going over small cross rails myself. I’m still not 100% comfortable in him. He is a much different ride than anything I’ve ever sat on with a super narrow build that makes me feel like I’ll tip off his side and large, floaty gaits. Hopefully more time will help me settle better.

Monday, April 5, 2021

A Slew of Updates Part 1: Eeyore

Never fear the Big Orange Butthead is still around and being his goofy, loveable, slightly obnoxious self. 

Coming out of winter, other than the multiple lost shoes, he is feeling the best yet. Trainer remarks weekly on his movement and his improved willingness to try which isn’t inherent to his nature. Eeyore loves the attention that comes with being worked, but he loathes actual hard work. His go to has always been to try to speed his way out of the hard stuff but after a major Come to Jesus lesson mid February, he has come around. 

Always creeping on me. If I'm anywhere outside/near him I can always feel his eyes on me.

It’s hard to put into writing the shift that has come about over the winter. Weekly lessons have been a game changer for me. Eeyore is still Eeyore and always will be. He is big, goofy, opinionated and loud about it. He wears his heart on his sleeve and demands that the world knows exactly how he is feeling at any given moment. 

It has taken me a long time to grow the lady set needed to ride him through things and tell him that while he is allowed to have feelings, he needs to express them in a much more tolerable manner. After a few hard lessons in late January/early February I finally learned to put my leg on through his bucks and make him work. Add onto that figuring out how to be more proactive versus reactive, and I felt a seismic shift in our relationship. 

Trainer AB is working us hard both on the flat and over fences. The flatwork is focused on lifting the front end, having a better connection front to back and developing more hind end push. We are also working on snappier up transitions and more balanced downs. No more flopping onto the forehand in the down or taking multiple strides to get into a good working trot or canter. His trot to canter transition is really shaping up and becoming fun to ride. I’m working really hard in the canter to lift his front end. It takes a lot of seat and core and I’m exhausted after a short period but it is coming along. 

Eeyore finally found himself a grooming buddy in Hamilton. It melted my heart to see this 

Over fences has been super eye opening too. We are back to our fighting height of 2’3” and are now making things more technical. My favorite was a figure 8 exercise over two verticals set 4 strides apart. It made a super tight turn coming off a central ground pole which required very precise turns that left little room to pick at him once I presented him to the fence. It highlighted a lot of our flaws and was just plain fun to do. 

I’m also slowly working on getting him better in the big field at home. It’s a shame to miss out on such a nice space for conditioning work with multiple hills to work up and down. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can walk him around it to cool down after a ride. Trotting is still a work in progress but I hope to eventually be able to canter out there. Some day. 

While he pushes to get out every morning to the pasture, he tries to hide from me when it is time to go out in Fat Camp with Gem. He'd rather stay inside thank you very much.

No show plans for the year. I may end up entering something last minute but right now all my funds are going to lessons which I enjoy more anyway. I hope to go back out cross country schooling some time this spring but we will see. 

Other than that it’s just life around the farm for Eeyore. He is back in Fat Camp as the grass grows and isn’t too happy about it. He plays with Pete and Hamilton all day long when everyone is out together but is stuck with no fun Gem at night. He can’t be out in the rich grass that much and nearly killed himself over his muzzle last spring so Fat Camp it is and he just has to deal. It is funny to see him sulking when Gem shuts his antics down.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Anyone Want An Eeyore? (Joking....Mostly)

 Ugh. Folks, I’ve about had it with Eeyore this winter. It isn’t his behavior. In fact, after consistently riding in lessons most weeks he and I are going the best ever. We’ve come to reach an understanding of one another and while things aren’t always sunshine and roses, I’m much better equipped to work through issues without emotion. We are even walking the entire big pasture without fuss (or fear) and working towards trot sets up the hills. Honestly, I look forward to throwing a leg over him and end each ride in a really good place. 

So what’s the issue?

The horse can not keep his front shoes on his feet worth a darn. And he can’t go barefoot without becoming lame. So when he loses a shoe everything grinds to a halt until the poor farrier can come out yet again. Ive missed two lessons due to this already and might lose next week as well.

The one time he literally lost the shoe two days after it got put on. Two days! 

Not Eeyore. You can tell because his butt fits in the frame 😁

This past week had me nearly writing his sale ad. I rode both boys Tuesday - no issue, shoes all tight, everything grand. Wednesday Trainer came for a lesson and I asked her to ride Eeyore to help work on his roundness and bend as I’ve been asking more for it and feeling quite a bit of resistance and I wanted her take on it. She rode for about 30 minutes and then I hopped on to get a feel of how he was going and rode for another 15 or so.

All was good. In fact she commented that he was moving nicer than ever.

Hamilton’s mood on the regular

I untacked him and Trainer stuck around talking for a while. All four horses were inside. After she left I led Eeyore out to the far pasture followed by Hamilton and then Pete. Last to go was Gem and as I was slipping off her halter I looked down and saw a shoe. With a sigh I picked it up, walked over to Eeyore and saw the his right front was now bare. 

What the hell horse?!

It was week 3 of his 5 week rotation. The shoe before this last 2 days, one week for the one prior. 

He usually has no issues with shoes. In the prior two years I can think of two times he lost a shoe. It’s been at least four so far since January. 

He is driving me insane.

There have been two changes this winter. One are his pads. He has worn them before but only in the summer when the ground is hard. The vet recommended them last May during his annular ligament injury and since he was moving so well we kept them. It has been an incredibly wet winter and with a  leather pad absorbing the moisture, his hooves are softer than normal. I already know he over reaches significantly in the hind and the addition of the pad gives him more material to step on and thus pull the shoe off. 

The other change though is Hamilton. 

Those two geldings play rough. There are skid marks, super long and deep ones, everywhere in all three pastures. In fact, Wednesday I put Eeyore out then grabbed Hamilton. After setting him loose, he tried to roll however Eeyore came over when he dropped and jumped on top of him causing Hamilton to get up and kick the snot out of him (well deserved) and then both went galloping off making me think I don’t ride them hard enough.

Hamilton selfie

The thing is that Eeyore pays zero attention to where his feet are in the best of circumstances. Watching him galloping around playing makes my soul hurt. He flails. He flings his body around. His legs paddle and over reach. He closes his eyes and relies on gravity to get him around. It’s a good thing he doesn’t do that under saddle or he wouldn’t be rideable.

So as he is flailing about he steps on himself and pulls the shoe right out of his now soft hoof. 

He gets hot shod with clips every 5 weeks. We square his hind toes to limit the over reach (it really helps - before we did this you’d hear him clicking with every stride), I use Keratex as a topical and he has a well balanced diet with plenty of exercise. I’m going to add a feed through hoof supplement. We are going to experiment with potential rim pads or a pour in instead of the full leather. 

But there seems to be only so much I can do when his conformation is that of a 5 year old’s drawing of a horse and he insists on flailing about. Spring Fat Camp is about to start again for him and Gem which will limit play time to half a day only but I don’t know folks. 

I’m frustrated. It’s a good thing I have Hamilton or I’d never get to ride these days. It’s a shame too because we are going so well that I hate missing these days. By the time farrier can come out again it will be a week of time off yet again. Ugh.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

As Consumers We Deserve Better

The horse industry as a whole is a very interesting study in a microenvironment that defies all reality and goes against pretty much every consumer driven rule marketing has to offer. I wish I was an economist and had the knowledge and tools to study it deeper because I believe there is a lot we could learn. And a lot that needs improvement. 

I'm currently on the quest for a saddle to fit Hamilton. He has been here long enough now and appears to not be going anywhere, so he deserves properly fitting tack that he doesn't share with his hippo brother. I've been skating by with the use of a wither riser pad on the wide BC Wexford but it is still so wide on him that I get tipped forward and the balance is all off. Trainer AB lent me a Stubben of some variety and while it fits Hamilton beautifully, I've yet to sit in a Stubben that I like even a tiny bit. So the hunt is on. 

Here is the thing though. What other industry puts out extremely expensive equipment with zero guarantee, no return/exchange policy or even a basic description of the item to base your decision off of? What other group of people would put up with that level of consumer abuse? When I was doing competitive whitewater slalom and looking to buy a new closed canoe, the companies were falling over themselves to help you make the right decision. I could easily find every single measurement about the boat I was looking at, the characteristics to expect in the water, the weight....every single tiny detail was right there in front of me without me having to beg for it or guess. This was back in the late 1990's without internet. 

A saddle. How it was built and what type of horse it was built for is anyone’s guess.  

When I started looking into various saddle options for Hamilton I found abysmal descriptions of the saddles. Very basic, yet extremely important information such as panel shape, curved versus flat and upswept or straight, was impossible to find. Is the tree U or A shaped? Long tree points or short? Cut back panels to allow more shoulder room? None of this is available on sales pages, tack shop sites or, worst of all, company sites. 

I get it. I know why these facts are missing. They want you to contact the rep who, in my experience over the years with several different reps from various companies, barely know the saddles themselves and basically just guess anyway. In contacting the rep you can then pay a fee for a fitting and get the rep to upsell you. Of course that leads me down the rabbit hole discussion of how the reps have zero accountability for what they sell you. Even if you order everything to their exact specifications, if it doesn't fit? Too bad, go resell it and try again. 

But seriously - what other industry would put up with this? It is a racket of epic proportions and I don't understand why we as consumers allow it. It isn't like we are purchasing a $50 pair of jeans here. These saddles cost thousands of dollars. It is a huge investment and one with serious implications when we get it wrong. Sore back? Stumbling? Poor attitude? Vet bills. Missed shows. Missed lessons and clinics. More saddle shopping, more trial fees, more fitting fees, more stress. 

There are zero real, viable reasons that every single saddle does not have a detailed description of every aspect. Sure, there are always upgrades available. Sure you can order a more forward flap. Sure you can make changes. Here's the thing though. Every saddle comes with a standard shape and features. Those features should be readily available everywhere. Saddle A has straight panels with 2 degrees of curve from front to back, the channel width is 4", the tree points come down 5" each side and is A shaped, the front panels are soft and flexible to allow shoulders to move under, the gullet is cut back for extra wither room. Saddle B has upswept panels, 6 degrees of curve from front to back, a 3" channel, 4" tree points, U shaped tree. 

Having been borrowing a 29cm Stubben I knew this one would fit him well. Unfortunately it did work for me at all. 

Obviously I made those figures up but you get the point. Every single saddle should come with that basic level of description so that the consumer could easily identify which saddles would work for their particular horse. Any modifications available can then be listed: flap comes in standard 14" x 13" size but can be made shorter/longer, flap project 2" in front of the tree but can come in a more forward configuration, gussets are not standard but can be added, etc....

Another issue is in sizing. I know of no other product besides women's jeans that comes with less standardization. Sure, each tree size from each company is different due to the length of the tree points and the shape. Makes sense. However, there should be in existence a conversion chart. A 29 cm in Stubben will fit generally like a M in Amerigo or a MW in BC. The guessing game that comes into play is absurd. 

The current saddle shopping experience has nothing to do with consumer satisfaction or ease. You can go with a company rep, hope they get it right, purchase a custom brand new saddle and still end up with a saddle that doesn't fit. In an industry that doesn't care about the consumers, this means you are plum out of luck. No return. No exchange. Go sell it yourself. You can do what I do which is shop consignment and used saddles. Hope to find something you think looks ok, purchase it, trial it for a bit and then return it if it doesn't work. Depending on if you have a local shop you can drive to or not, you may spend time going back and forth or money with shipping. 

Of course, used saddles aren't the responsibility of the company. Any time you purchase used you have to take the seller's word for what they are selling to you. However, if you could google the basic facts of the saddle you'd be able to at least narrow down your search and be able to ask the seller more pointed questions as to what modifications they may have had done.

An example. I was at a semi local tack shop looking at used saddles. I knew the Stubben line pretty well from past dealings with the rep, but I didn't know much about the Roxanne I was looking at. I tried to google it and saw that they make both a general purpose and jump version of the Roxanne. The salesperson was completely clueless about anything, so was no help. There was no information online about what the differences between the two models were and nothing to help me look at what was in front of me to decide. There was also a Jaguar saddle available, but a search online showed nothing at all about the model. Last, there was an Amerigo. I can't recall the model, but it was listed on the tag. A google search of that was like finding the holy grail. It very clearly stated that the model I was looking at was built for horses with a short, flat back. Thank the Heavens! Hamilton does not have a short, flat back and with this information at hand I could rule this saddle out and save myself the annoyance of putting a sizeable hold on my credit card, driving home, trialing it, finding that it would not work and then finding time to drive the hour back to return it. 

That should be the norm. A quick easy reference to the type of horse the saddle should fit and the details of all aspects of the saddle. 

We need to change how this is done. I'm not sure how, but I know it will be glacial pace and take a lot of voices to get this standardized in a way that is helpful while shopping for such a vital and expensive piece of equipment. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Hamilton Makes Me Miss Eeyore Who Makes Me Miss Gem

Things have been going amazing this winter with weekly Trainer AB lessons at my place. Well, mostly weekly. I've missed two now because some Big Orange Butthead can't seem to keep shoes on his feet between all the wet weather and playing rough with Hamilton. When he is fully shod it's been great. We've been back to jumping our fighting height of 2'3" and the exercises are getting more complicated and fun every week. 

The last lesson we took had us working through this lovely figure 8 exercise. The two black lines are verticals set at 2'3" and 4 strides apart. The three blue lines represent ground poles. Ridden in a figure 8 with a very tight turn from the central pole to the jump. We ran past our jump a few times. 

With a little down time for Eeyore due to the shoe fiascos, I've had some solo Hamilton time. Typically I ride Eeyore first and then hop on the Baby Racehorse for his 20 minutes of walk, trot and canter work. Now, before anyone hangs me on this next paragraph - Hamilton is pretty freaking amazing. As a former endurance rider who trotted for nearly 18 hours straight I can honestly say that his trot is near orgasmic. It feels like floating on clouds with just the right amount of sproing in it to feel effortless. His canter is coming along nicely as well though is more of a work in progress especially to the right. His gate sourness is all but cured and only shows up when he gets tired at the end of a ride or if some Big Orange Butthead hangs at the gate with his head over it and stares at us the entire time. Really, he is a great horse to work with. 


He is also a really boring horse to work with. 

Adventuring for the first time since September. Somehow all the time at home has made Eeyore a trailer loading expert. I dunno, but I'll take it. 

There are two factors at play here. First, he is a Baby Racehorse working with me a complete ammy, first time OTTB owner who knows very little and therefore doesn't push the envelope too much and sticks with the absolute basics of walk, trot, canter, big figures, lots of transitions type work. The most exciting we have gotten is trotting single ground poles. I'm thiiiiiisss close to trying him out in an empty pasture to spice up life a bit. Trainer AB rides him once a week for me and gets him working on bend and such things so he is learning something, but with me I keep it basic. 

Second, Hamilton is a chill dude who really isn't in a hurry to do much of anything. If we are going to disagree it is usually about him going faster than a sloth on downers. Even then he acquiesces quickly and with no drama. Coming from Gem and then Eeyore I'm really not sure what to do with a horse like this. It seems....odd. 

It was dry enough to hit the trails for a window of about 3 days. This ahs been a crazy wet winter. 

Having Hamilton works super well for me when I ride Eeyore first. I get to experience all the PITA horse has to offer, work through it and then hop on my easy 4 year old. It was the entire plan with getting Hamilton in the first place and has worked out super well. Riding only Hamilton though has made me really miss Eeyore - a happy side effect I suppose. I not only miss the antics and personality (Hamilton seems so flat in that department compared to Eeyore who licks me, head butts me and is in general more like a golden retriever than a horse) but I also miss the exciting jumping grids and lessons I get to do on Eeyore. Someday I will be there on Hamilton too - sooner if Eeyore can't keep his darn shoes on - and then the dynamic will change again. For now though, its interesting to be doing advanced stuff (for me anyway) and then very, very basic stuff.

To complete this circle of unexpected consequences of things, the other weekend I got Eeyore out on a trail ride. He is fat and out of shape and I miss the trails so getting out was really, really lovely. Eeyore is bold and brave. I hadn't had him out on a trail in nearly 2 years and he unloaded, stood at an insanely busy trail head nicely and then proceeded to go over bridges, creeks, downed trees, through branches Gem never would have passed between, and seem to enjoy every second of it. 

He was a super good boy and even allowed horses to pass us without throwing a major fit

The issue? The dude has NO FREAKING CLUE where his feet are....ever. I swear he closes his eyes and hopes gravity gets him down the hills. He flails. He bulldozes and just assumes things will work out well because they always have before. And don't even ask him what a trail is. He will go straight through the woods and off a cliff paying no attention whatsoever that the trail turned miles back. It made us have to walk a lot where in the past Gem and I would have flown down the trail because I had visions of splatting on our faces together. 

I really missed Gemmie during that ride. She was a mountain goat and we covered so much ground at paces I can't even imagine doing with Eeyore. The more tight and technical a trail, the more twists and turns between the trees, the more rocks and roots there were that mare would go faster, steadier and better than ever. 

Whats that don't know what you've got until its gone?

My memory isn't that short though. Gemmie wasn't that way when I got her 11 years ago. It took years and hundreds of miles to get her to that point, so all hope isn't lost for my main man. He will never be as agile and nimble as my Gemmie was, he naturally isn't as talented or focused, but he will get better than he is now and he is starting off better than she was at this point in our time together. 

Right now I'm loving having all the horses I have in my life. I'm not sure where any of us are going or where we will end up, but for the first time in a long time I can honestly say that where I'm at right now is pretty perfect. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

My Dream Horse is Waiting

 I saw an ad online somewhere that said “Your dream horse is waiting. Over 16,000 horses available international” or something close to that. 

And I dream horse is waiting. Right outside my window. Which believe me struck me just as odd as any readers who have stuck with me through it all especially the Gemmie days.  I’m not a typically gushy heart horse type person.

And he is always watching me when I'm outside

Lately though Eeyore has 100% snuck his way deep deep inside my heart and I’m afraid the Big Orange Butthead is there to stay in all his PITA glory. I just really adore that big orange beast.

Which is saying an awful lot seeing how Saturday he decided to become a rearing douchebag and ended up stepping on his own damn self on the lunge line pulling a shoe and making me have to schedule an urgent farrier visit. Because apparently at 11 years old being asked to calmly work in the pasture to burn some extra calories is just too much.

But you know what? While I could be mad at him or blame him or any other such useless emotions, instead I felt disappointed in myself that I asked something of him he couldn’t do and stole some trust out of the bank. And that’s a big change from not so long ago.

Having Eeyore standing at the arena gate while I rode Hamilton did not help Hamilton's gate sourness one bit

But back to the original statement. Can you buy your dream horse? Is it possible to pick a horse at nearly random, have minimal interaction, run a vet check and it be dreamy from day one? 

I suppose so if you have more money and are better at riding than I am. But honestly? I don’t think dream horses are bought, I think they are made. Made during those hard rides where all you want to do is quit but keep going anyway. Made during those first outings when everything is going sideways but you know with more effort and time it will get better. Made during the daily interactions of grooming, feeding, blanketing. Made in the quiet moments when you both are breathing and just being. Made in the big moments when you accomplish something new or win satin.

When I brought Eeyore home nearly 3 years ago I thought I had my horse that I could do anything with. And maybe I was just stupid in my choice. He had been hoof perfect if a bit goofy during my two interactions with him. Nothing pointed to what came when I brought him home and changed up his entire life. 

Creeping on me as I walked Hamilton back to the barn to untack

Three years ago he couldn’t be trusted to bridle in the open. He didn’t load on the trailer. He pawed and jigged in the cross ties. He couldn’t be ridden in sight of the herd at home or he would freak. He refused to turn away from the arena gate. He couldn’t be ridden with a group or he’d become attached. We didn’t jump. We didn’t even go in straight lines.

Wednesday I tacked him up for what was an absolutely freaking epic lesson. He stood patiently in the cross ties. AB texted that she was a bit late and Eeyore cocked a hind leg and napped in the cross ties for nearly 20 minutes. He gave me his absolute best in the lesson and rocked it. He loads great now (or did last summer when I last loaded him). He will stand by the trailer while I tack him. He rides alone or in a group. Just not at home apparently.

Loving the view between these orange ears

The point is that he wasn’t my dream horse three years ago. With a lot of time and effort he has slowly become closer and closer to that bench mark. Where we are at now in his training is amazing. There is so much I take for granted that took a lot of repetition and consistency to teach him. As I watch Hamilton jig in the cross ties, be a butt at the mounting block (he lines up and waits until my foot is coming for the stirrup and then swings his butt away on purpose) refuse to turn away from the arena gate etc... I’m reminded of how far Eeyore has come.

I’m not frustrated with Hamilton for not being my dream horse today. He will be. Some day. With a lot of effort and time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Riding Hamilton

Hamilton is progressing steadily in his new riding career. I have zero plans for this behemoth of a baby racehorse so we are taking it slow and moving forward as I feel ready to tackle something new. 

Like walking over a series of three ground poles which he could care less about:

Initially I had Trainer AB riding him after I lessoned on Eeyore. The money was better spent on her getting him going plus I was being a bit of a wimp. Riding on my own lets me go at my pace whereas riding under instruction puts a bit more pressure to do the things I'm being told to do. 

Then last week Trainer AB hopped off half way through her time with him. She wanted to watch me up on him so she could see how we were getting along. 

We get along mostly just fine. He is still cranky about working past the in gate and a little rushy when heading towards it. Each time out is getting a little better though. In the above clip you can see him taking some odd hopping steps once he is fully turned away from the gate. That is about as bad as Hamilton behaves at the moment. I laugh at him and inform him that after a decade with Gem and almost 3 years with Eeyore he has to bring more to table than that if he wants to get out of work. 

I've even been brave enough to canter the beast

I swear we go to the right as well. Apparently I didn't get any media of that direction. 

I'm getting more and more used to his way of going. He is the polar opposite from Eeyore in nearly every way possible so it is a steep learning curve for me.  Trainer AB says I ride him well and even with his baby tantrums he is pretty fun to be around, so we keep moving forward.