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.