Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wild Horses

Usually, my horses have their halters on when they are out in the field. The halters are leather so that if they get caught on anything, they will break easily. Our theory is that if they get loose, it would be easier for someone to catch them and get them safe if they are already wearing a halter.

John plays an interesting game over the fence with Tim's gelding Daybreak. It usually results in Daybreak tugging at John's halter. I noticed last week that this game has caused a couple of white hairs to appear on the bridge of John's nose. Obviously, Daybreak is pulling a bit harder than he should be.

John goes out without his halter now. His behavior has completely changed.

Usually, John wanders across the field in the morning, picks a hay pile and starts eating. Without his halter on, he lets out some rodeo size bucks, canters around for a few minutes and then goes to eat. At night, when its his turn to come to the gate, he lets out several more rodeo size bucks (this time while standing in place - for those of you who saw him at the start of the Maine rides in October - you have seen these in action, somehow I sat quietly through them). After bucking a few times in place, he quietly comes to the gate and lets me put his halter on.

I've decided that a lack of a halter lets him feel like he is a wild horse, running free. I'm tempted to try it with the girls, but perhaps not all at the same time.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Taking Inventory

As winter winds down, I find myself more and more impatient to begin trail ride/horse show season again. Riding my horses and working towards my goals for each of them lifts my spirits and fulfills me with a greater sense of purpose than anything else.

Flipping through the most recent Dover Saddlery sale catalog, I noticed rain sheets and other blankets that I really could use if we ended up on another ride like day one of the Jersey Devil in October. For a reminder of the cold, wet ride, read the post Jersey Devil Part 2.

As I was flipping through the catalog, thinking I should buy a blanket, I vaguely remembered buying John a lightweight waterproof sheet from Schneiders Saddlery a few years ago. I decided I better look into this vague memory before buying any more blankets!

I have a huge tack trunk that my grandfather built me for my birthday when I was a teenager. It went to one horse show, and proved to be so heavy (its very well built) that it has since become a blanket trunk.

Rummaging through the trunk was like Christmas morning. Not only did I find the Schneiders waterproof lightweight sheet, that is lined with fleece on the inside, I also found one of the honeycomb chill chaser sheets from Dover Saddlery too. I bought that one a few years ago.

As I was excitedly trying them back on John (of course they fit, they were ordered for him), I'm sure he was rolling his eyes at me.

"Didn't it occur to you to take blanket inventory before I was cold and wet at the Jersey Devil mom?"

For now, the blankets are back in plastic (to keep them clean etc) and in the trunk. However, this year, when ride season begins, I won't forget that I also have a couple more very useful sheets to travel with.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Play Time

This little guy (okay, he's about three months old) absolutely loves to play with the hose. I love the fact that its been warm enough, at least until this weekend, for me to use the hose.

He's a smart cookie though. If I try and multi-task, and fill the hay rack while the hose is filling the water tank, he will flip it out of the tank and watch with rapt attention as it gets everything wet.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


This photo was the parting shot in Outside magazine an issue or so ago, and I liked it so much I cut it out and put it on my fridge. They also posted it on Facebook the other day.

I have seen several foxes driving to and from Ashford lately. Probably because I am always coming and going to and from work/the horse barn at odd hours, when it is dark. Considering that I have rarely seen foxes before this year, I think its kind of cool. Most of them have been headed into the woods along Route 89.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Guest Post from Sarah Brander

My friend Sarah Brander of April Showers Farm in New York wrote the following post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I live in upstate New York, where the winters are long and cold. I really can't ride outside from November 1st through April 1st. I've boarded my one riding horse, Virgil, at a facility with an indoor arena. It is marvelous to ride on great footing, in a standard size arena. I also enjoy having other folks to bounce ideas off of while riding. Virgil is inside under lights and blankets and I try to ride 6 days a week. It is a Quarter Horse Hunter barn, and they have been VERY helpful with my dressage aspirations. They invited in a dressage clinician to teach for the day. The clinician is Ray Wellihan and he is the dressage coach at Cobleskill College and he is also a dressage judge.

First, he said I should ride in "dribble glasses"- a pair of "glasses" that basketball players use to feel the ball to dribble it and not look at the ball. They would stop me from looking down at my horse. My first dressage instructor used to say, "You'll know when he's not there. You don't have to look!" We've all heard the ideal that rider posture should be ears, shoulders, hips, heels in a vertical line- as if one could pull the horse out from under you and you'd be able to stand on your feet. When you look down at your horse, your head falls in front of that vertical (off balance) and to compensate your heels have to come back, this lifts your seat forward out of the saddle and then you grip with your knees, pinching the horse's back so he can't lift his back!

Second, I've heard many times to "make the sit part of your posting longer than the rise". This instructor asked me to make the rise part longer- he said it will allow the horse to "find his rhythm" and "give him a place to lift his back." When you ride a Morgan, they like to trot and like to trot fast. I rarely find myself encouraging Virgil to keep trotting, but rather to slow the rhythm of his trot. Holding the rise of the posting, even if imperceptible from the ground, did make my core stronger and steady his pace and quite honestly, it relaxed his back a little.

On a side note, the girls that ride over fences, did a similar exercise, by making the posting rhythm "change your posting diagonal every three strides by standing for two beats", rather than the traditional sitting for two beats. When nobody was looking, I tried it. Definitely a balance exercise!!

Third, he had us come around the short side of the arena posting on the wrong diagonal. As you start the long side, wrong diagonal, get straight, as my horse to leg yield toward the quarter line. The first time we did it, Virgil was baffled, as we had only ever leg yielded from quarter line back to track. The second time, we were both a little more prepared to try this new move. Actually leg yield appears in First level tests as "leg yield from x to the corner" and as "leg yield from the corner to x". So I can see where this is a start to riding the first level tests and a prep for riding leg yield from corner to corner.

The fourth thing I learned in this lesson was actually learned from one of the other riders in the clinic. I've been dedicated to the art of classical dressage since 1990. I've banished all other books from my shelf and sold anything that was my saddle seat days to pay for dressage lessons. Learning the lateral work is a mythical honor. An honor you study for years to be allowed to learn. Posting along in front of me is a girl too young for a driver's license, riding a lovely QH and she has him in shoulder in, then leg yield, then haunches in. Things I've studied over 20 years to learn!!! Where Virgil is boarded, is a busy stable of 40 horses. There are always 5 horses in the arena at any time. Policy is that we all track left until the committee reaches a decision to reverse and track right. This knowledge means that you can make each trip around the arena productive- not just trotting aimlessly around the arena until you can change direction. I can practice shoulder in on one long side and then leg yield track to quarter line on the next long side. I've even started asking for haunches in.

The final piece of education is about canter. My little Morgan does not appreciate canter as a gate. For that reason, I don't do a lot of it. One of the issues with my canter is that I lean forward and I canter for him, pushing until he has to canter- then begging for him to stay in canter. Ray wanted me to just use my leg to give canter cue. Then when cantering I had to imagine a line coming out of his withers towards the sky- and not let myself get in front of that line- helmet or chest. This allowed Virgil to find a pace and stay in canter. I think by leaning in front of our imaginary line, I threw him off balance to start- he didn't have a prayer of a balanced canter. By continuing to "pump" for canter, I set they rhythm, rather than him setting the rhythm and every step was off balance. By the way, all the QH geldings can canter in a rhythm second to none, they even school counter canter and flying lead changes like candy!!!

After the lesson, I mulled all this over in my head. Now, a few weeks have passed, and I feel like some of this information has lost it's freshness, and writing down "what I learned" will bring these thoughts to the forefront while I am riding again.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Trail Ride Bucket List

Do you have a trail ride bucket list?

I've been thinking a lot about my trail ride bucket list lately. Endurance News had a feature, where a lot of riders sent in the endurance rides that are on their bucket lists. That started the thought process, and I started writing a list of places I want to ride.

Then, on the ECTRA yahoo group, someone mentioned that they condition their horses at the Otter Creek Trail System in New York. Someone else mentioned that Otter Creek was on their bucket list of places to ride their horse. I had never heard of Otter Creek and googled it - not a bad place to go riding!

But now I am really curious - what locations or rides are on your list?

Here are a few from my list:

1. Ring of Kerry, Ireland. John's registered name is Kerry Killarney (he came with the name, but I love it). I went to Ireland in college and loved it. Someday, I'm going back and doing this ride. Probably not on my horse though!

2. Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina. Have you seen this place? Its in the mountains and is a beautiful estate - the house is huge. They hold an endurance ride here every year. Someday I would like to ride there, either for competition or pleasure.

3. Foxhunting in Virginia. I was invited to do this last fall, but said no because it was the same weekend as one of my favorite competitive rides in Vermont. I missed the Vermont ride after John leaped a stone wall and injured himself. Sometimes you can't win, Virginia is still on the list though and sooner or later I will get there.

4. Acadia National Park, Maine. I actually already did this, but it so lived up to the hype, that I want to do it again. We missed a lot of good views because of the fog. As we rode by certain spots, I recall Debbie saying, "This would be a great view if we could see it." We still saw lots of beautiful things, but a ride like this needs to be done twice. And maybe a third time in the fall, to take in the foliage!

5. The Big Horn Endurance Rides in Wyoming are supposed to be some of the prettiest rides around. I drove through Wyoming on my way to Reno, and I believe it. I always said that someday, I would go back. It doesn't necessarily need to be for an endurance ride though - even a horseback vacation with an outfitter like Blue Sky Sage would be a great way to explore the scenery more.

Five is probably enough for today. I'll post a few more on my bucket list another day. But more importantly, what is on your bucket list? And if not a trail ride - which shows and clinics are on your list?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Product Review: No Thrush

I received a free bottle of No Thrush at the Eastern Competitive Trail Ride Association (ECTRA) Annual Meeting last year. One of the workshops was presented by a farrier, and she recommended the product, handing out free samples.

For those of you unfamiliar with No Thrush - it is a dry thrush treatment. It comes in a bottle in powder form.

John is prone to thrush - and I like to stay on top of it. But I am not a huge fan of Koppertox, it makes a big mess. I do like using mastitis treatment for cows, but that can get expensive.

With No Thrush, I put some powder in his sulcus (this is his problem area) and then pack it in with cotton, so it doesn't all fall out. The product works great, he doesn't mind it at all (he hates Koppertox as much as I do).

So, as we approach spring mud season - which has already arrived if you are in New England - consider buying a bottle of this to use as a preventative or to treat a problem.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

To Blanket Or Not To Blanket

This post is inspired by Emme's comment on my snow day post. She mentioned that her mare, Pippi, will not go out in inclement weather without her hood on.

I used to be fanatical about blanketing my horses. And I have trunks full of winter blankets to prove it :) I still have huge pangs of guilt putting my horses out on a cold or snowy day without a blanket, but last winter, I decided to try an experiment, and I am sticking to it.

After reading numerous articles on the benefits and disadvantages of blanketing, I decided to try and let my horses be horses for the winter of 2010-2011. Wouldn't you know, we got hammered with snow and cold weather last year. But my horses were fine. The mares were decidedly happier without their blankets. John thought I had gone off the deep end at first - he loves his blankets - but even he adapted and grew a winter coat worthy of a wooly mammoth.

So I stuck with my no blanketing in the winter approach for the winter of 2011-2012. But there are several reasons why it works for me (and may not work for others). The biggest reason is that I am not working my horses much over the winter - I don't have a real ring and I didn't board anyone at a barn with an indoor the last two winters. I try and ride some, but I don't work them hard, so I never have hot horses to cool out. If we were working regularly, they would definitely be blanketed.

And I still see a lot of good reasons to use blankets, sheets, coolers etc. I always take at least one to competitions with me. After my experience on day one of the Jersey Devil Trail Ride last October, I will be packing more in 2012. And I really like using my rump rug at competitions, and working in the winter.

What are your thoughts on blanketing?