Thursday, July 20, 2017

Barn Trades

As much as the idea of owning my own property and keeping my horses at home appeals to me, it is undeniable that boarding my horse at a stable has some great perks. The biggest of which is the fact that barn friends are awesome. Take this most recent example, one of the women at my barn is crafty and so has been making stirrup covers. I said that I thought they were awesome and she offered to make me some!
My brand-new stirrup covers
We ended up doing a trade, because she really likes the bonnets that I make. I made her a custom bonnet in her show colors (burgundy and silver) and in exchange she made me stirrup covers. I just recently got them and, you guys, I'm in love. They are so cute! The fabric is really adorable, the trim is in my favorite color (blue), and they fit my stirrups perfectly!
Cute trim fabric
Cuter horse fabric!
Stirrup covers are something that I probably wouldn't go out of my way to purchase, but having handmade ones from my barn friend is awesome. Every time I see them, they bring me joy. It's moments like this that make me really appreciate having a barn community :)
Custom stirrup covers

I think they look really good on my saddle

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Difference of a Well-Trained Horse

Yesterday I was being extra-ambitious and rode Casey and then followed it up with a ride on Mac. Mac is my favorite horse at my barn (after Casey of course), because he is the biggest sweetheart. He's the kind of horse that is essentially just a gigantic dog. He will sit there and lick at my hand for ages if I will let him. I used to lesson almost exclusively on Mac and so we have a really good bond. He always comes up to say hi to me and I always bring him treats. The perfect kind of relationship :)
I have no recent pictures of Mac, so enjoy some from last year!
Cuddles with Mac-Attack
In addition to being cuddly, he is also incredibly fun to ride. At one point Mac was a million dollar horse who was in training for the big stakes jumpers. He wasn't successful at it due to the fact that his body just couldn't take it, but he still has all of that training. He is strong and powerful, yet super responsive and knowledgeable. He's the kind of horse that demands respect from his riders. If you let him get away with crap he will act worse and worse as your ride continues, but once you have his respect he will do anything you ask.
Ignore my terrible eq, this photo is almost 2 years old!
In our ride yesterday I wasn't trying to focus on anything too hard or intense, but I did ask him to do the "simple" things that Casey and I have been working on. I would ask for a leg yield and he would move sideways instantly. I tried asking for shouders-in and haunches-in and got them, no problem! I then tried asking for these things at a trot and, while it wasn't as clean, I got them right away. We were able to do trot extension and collection, and even canter extension and collection. We could bend, we could stop on a dime, and we could do transitions flawlessly. He gave me a to-die-for walk-to-canter transition and we also played around with flying lead changes. Even though I didn't want it to be a tricky ride, we were working on things that are near-impossible for Casey to do, but he was able to do like it was no biggie.
Old photo of me riding Mac
My ride with Mac gave me several things to reflect on. The first is the difference in riding a semi-green horse (Casey) and a very well-trained horse (Mac). Everything is easier on a well-trained horse. Since everything is easier, it really forced me to focus on making sure I was doing what I needed to do. In some ways Casey allows me to get away with bad habits. She isn't responsive enough to show me when I screw up, but when I made a tiny mistake with Mac it would instantly show. He knew what I should be doing better than I did. Casey doesn't know any better.
Mac in winter
The second insight was that training Casey on the basics, really reinforcing what aids mean, etc, will result in having a horse that is more enjoyable to ride. Sometimes working on basics can get boring (especially since we are in rehab and that is ALL we can do), but it will be worth it in the long run. Mac isn't some magical unicorn (even though in my head he might be). He is just a horse. The difference between him and Casey is that people put a lot of time, effort, and energy into training him to be the best he could be. I don't know if Casey can even be as well-trained as Mac, simply because I'm not as knowledgeable as Mac's fancy trainers were, but she might be able to get close. And that is worth the effort.
Mac in magical winter light
I'm super appreciative of my gigantic lovable horse friend. Mac rocks and he teaches me so much. I'm sore today from the double rides yesterday, but hope as the summer continues I will get to ride him more!
The best lesson horse at the barn

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Behavior Boot Camp

Rehab with Casey is becoming increasingly stressful. At this point, she seems completely sound and, due to getting her hocks injected, she's feeling great. She also has tons of energy that is just bouncing all around inside her. She's still on the vet-set schedule of only being allowed to trot 10 minutes per day, but that's nothing for her, she's not even breathing hard after that.

The vet gave me Ace to inject Casey before riding her because he knew the challenge that rehab would pose, but at this point Ace doesn't really seem to be working. Or rather, it will work one day and the next day it doesn't seem to have any effect. I have heard that Ace can be addicting, so wonder if perhaps she's becoming addicting and would require more and more Ace to have the same effect, but I'm unwillingly to give her that much Ace.

As the Ace faltered in its effectiveness I started noticing Casey's behavior really escalate. Casey loves to roll in the indoor arena, so one day I let her roll (while on the lead rope so that she wouldn't think it was a free lunging session). She rolled, then got up and shook and appeared to be calm. I opened the arena gate and started through and she charged in front of me and kicked at my head, very nearly missing me. It seemed to be really targeted and malicious, which shocked and scared me, because Casey is not that type of horse. After that incident I decided to not let her roll in the arena anymore (at least during rehab).

After that incident there were other signs that the Ace wasn't working. Another bad incident was when the farmers in the field next door were cutting and baling their hay. I took Casey into the outdoor arena, planning a normal ride, when all of the sudden Casey seemed to lose her mind. She bolted away from me, but I managed to keep hold of the reins which were hanging from her bridle. She trotted in circles around me and wouldn't calm down, just getting more and more upset. I tried everything to calm her down, and while I could get her to stop and stand next to me for a few seconds, it wouldn't last long. I knew that I needed to get her back into her paddock, but I couldn't get her anywhere near the gate. I really didn't know what to do, so I texted my trainer to help me. She came out, I was able to give the reins to her so that I could grab the lunge line and open the arena gate, and then we were able to put the lunge line on Casey's bit so that we could get away from her without losing control. My trainer then was able to get Casey back to her paddock (but man it was a struggle).

At this point I knew that something had to change, because Casey was starting to become dangerous. I talked to the vet and asked him for a different sedative and he gave me a tiny amount of Dormosedan. I also talked with my trainer and expressed my concerns. She thinks that Casey is acting this way because she has a ton of energy and is pushing limits to see what she can get away with. And so I put Casey in boot camp. I put a chain on her halter so that I can have more control if I need it. I also started carrying a whip with me so that I could tap her on the shoulder if she started trying to push ahead of me when I lead her. The problems I am having with Casey are mostly related to ground manners so I am really working to reinstate correct ground manners in her. I'm being super strict and she's not getting away with even putting a single hoof in the wrong spot.

The first time I used the Dormosedan did not go well, but it was mostly my fault. I was really afraid of giving Casey too much of the stuff (because it's really powerful) and so I gave her barely any. It was the worst ride I've ever had on Casey, because she was straight-up evil. She was trying to run ahead and ignore all of my aids, and when I applied pressure to the reins she started really fighting me. She then had a full-out temper tantrum where she bucked and even gave a small rear (the first one I've ever seen out of her). I almost came off, but managed to stick on, and then spent the next twenty minutes working Casey through her crap. It was a lot of circles and bending. She was being totally awful, but by the end of the ride had gone back to her normal, opinionated, but ultimately good, self.
The rear
And bucking
But by the end she was going like this

The ride taught me a lesson and so I've used the "correct" amount of sedative since, thus avoiding a dangerous situation. That, plus behavior boot camp, has really helped and at this point Casey is being very respectful and not-at-all dangerous. In fact, she's been really great lately, super responsive both on the ground and when I'm in the saddle. But it's still stressful.

This whole situation really just sucks because it's not really anyone's fault. It's not my fault that Casey is acting out, but it's not her fault either, because she's just struggling with not being able to get her energy out. Even though I logically know that though, it's hard not to cast blame. I logically know that I don't let my horse get away with bad behaviors, but when she is acting dangerous it feels like I've let her down somehow. I also sometimes can't help myself from casting blame at the horse. I feel like she should know better, even as I remind myself that she doesn't have the logical brain of a human. When I'm being really irrational I want to blame others, but there is really no fault anywhere. But casting blame is my coping mechanism, because really I'm just sad and stressed by this turn of events. I feel like my relationship with Casey is being damaged, because I'm losing trust in her. This is part of why I haven't been writing here as often, it's hard to admit to the general public that things aren't perfect.
She's cute, but has been a terror lately
Even though rehab right now is really rough, I still want to focus on the positives. Casey is responding really well to boot camp and she hasn't acted in a dangerous way on the ground for at least a week. She acted badly under saddle just five days ago, but since figuring out the sedative amount she has been great under saddle. Even though she acted in a way that I assume was meanness towards me on several instances, overall she is still my same sweet mare who loves cuddles and scratches and cares about me. She also is rocking her trot stride adjustments, giving me both balanced collection and powerful extension. I think she really enjoys this which makes me happy because I want her to feel like she gets to do fun things during our rides.

Kisses for the horsie
The saving grace of this whole situation is that I know it's not permanent. Though rehab feels like it's lasting an eternity, I only have three more weeks until the next vet check (and I'm hoping the news will be good). In the meantime, I try to just appreciate the little happy moments that I have with my girlie, because even though she's acted in ways I never expected she would act, I do still love her with all my heart.
Cuddles from today

Premier Raised Fancy Stitched Breastplate Review

Schneider Saddlery Premier Raised Fancy Stitched Breastplate
There are some things that I buy for Casey that are solely for functionality. Then there are the things that I buy her just because they are fun, or cool, or fancy. But the best things to buy are those that are both functional and fun, cool, and fancy. Schneider Saddlery's Premier Raised Fancy Stitched Breastplate is exactly one of those things that ticks all of the boxes.

I started looking into breastplates, because I noticed that as the jumps started going up in height, my saddle started to very slightly slip back. Now, my saddle isn't perfect, but it has been approved by both my trainer and my vet as a saddle that fits Casey very well. I think that a little bit of saddle slippage is ok, but I knew that I would feel better if I had an extra piece of equipment as a backup.
Extra stability while jumping
Since buying a breastplate wasn't a super essential thing, I really didn't want to spend a lot of money on it. I knew that I wanted a leather breastplate, but didn't really care if it was super fancy. Schneider Saddlery's breastplate was super affordable, only $40, and so that's what I bought. For the quality, I think that $40 is a great price. When I recently looked at the price I saw that the list price has gone up to $70, but it is still currently "on sale" for $40.

The Premier Raised Fancy Stitched Breastplate is made out of buffalo leather. Buffalo leather is known for its suppleness and durability. I'm not a leather expert, but I'd say that this product seems to be strong, and it is definitely bendable. It molds itself around the shape of the horse. The leather feels smooth and seems tough, like it would take a lot to hurt it. It isn't a soft leather, but then again, I don't think that breastplates should really be made out of soft leathers.
Buffalo leather breastplate
Since this is the "fancy stitched" breastplate option, it does have the raised stitching pattern. The thread is the same color as the leather and so doesn't really stand out in the way that white/ivory thread stands out.

Even though this breastplate isn't the fanciest of all breastplates, it is pretty awesome looking. It has simple clean lines, and the silver heavy-duty hardware provides a nice accent to the dark brown leather. The middle ring that holds together all of the straps looks especially nice in my opinion. I really like the simplicity of this breastplate. Other styles are in trend right now, like fluffy sheep fur pads, multiple connection points, and colorful straps, but those trends might fall out of fashion and straight-up clean leather will never be out of fashion.
Clean leather and silver hardware
Breastplates typically serve two purposes: 1. To help the saddle stay in place, and 2. To be the attachment piece for a martingale. I wanted a breastplate only to serve the first purpose, since Casey revolts against martingales. The Premier Raised Fancy Stitched Breastplate is able to serve both purposes. It has a removable standing martingale attachment. Since I didn't need it, I just took it off, which was a very easy and quick task, but it's nice that it comes with that for the people who need it.

There are very few options when it comes to this product. The only color option is havana, but that works for me since it's the color of the rest of my tack. As far as sizing, there are two options; cob or full size. I opted for the full size for Casey, knowing that the belly strap was going to be too long. I wanted to make sure that she had plenty of shoulder room and since it's always possible to punch holes in leather I decided to go bigger. Casey's a pretty standard size Thoroughbred and the full size is a bit big on her. The shoulder straps are about the right length for her, but the belly strap was huge. I had to punch 3 holes in it to make it fit her. That being said, I do not think she would have fit in the cob size and so I think I made the right choice.
Jumping with the breastplate
In terms of use, this product is definitely holding up to my expectations. It is wearing in really nicely and the leather is becoming nicely pliable. It is easy to get on and off of Casey (only takes a few seconds) since it only has three connection points. I have had absolutely no problems with the product and am happy with it.

Overall I think that this is a great breastplate if you are looking for something that is simple and affordable.
Casey approves too!