Holiday Gift Guide For Your Horse Professional 2021

By |2021-11-24T05:31:09-05:00November 24th, 2021|Snippets|

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! The time where you have to figure out how to not go into debt while also showing your love and appreciation for those you care about, and also where here in Virginia it’s 40* during the day but 20* at night so the ground is a shoe-sucking quagmire. (Ok, so maybe it’s the Second Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Or the Third. Whatever.)

I can’t solve the shoe sucking problem, but I can make some recommendations on what the horse professionals in your world would appreciate if you’re working on your holiday gift list.

1. New gloves. I can basically guarantee that your trainer and/or her working students needs new gloves. In our line of work even the best of the best don’t last all that terribly long, and we try and squeak as much time out of each pair as possible. I ride in Roeckls myself, and if you live in a place that experiences a cold winter, I can’t say enough nice things about the Roeckl-Grip Winter glove, which is on sale at Tack of The Day. They’re not so bulky that you can’t still feel the reins while riding. Love ’em.

2. A MIPS helmet. The science on MIPS technology is amazing – it is HUGELY better at protecting your brain in a fall than even the best of the ASTM approved helmets, and OneK makes one that’s not wild expensive (plus it comes with the fun CCS system so you can swap out the colors on the center details and make your hat your own).

3. New boots from Kingsley. Want to splurge on your favorite horse professional? Kingsley boots are my favorite, because they wear like iron, AND you can be as garish (or not) in your footwear choices because there’s colors and styles galore, at a range of price points. Plus, hypothetically speaking, playing with the Boot Configurator after a couple of cocktails is a barrel of fun. Not that I would know, of course.

4. Some self care. Book a session to care for your favorite rider (or favorite rider’s horse’s) body with an expert bodyworker like Meghan Brady, or their brain with an expert professional coach like Jen Verharen. Both of these amazing women keep me going, in more ways than one.

5. A custom saddle plate from Swanky Saddlery. I LOVE my fancy little logo plates, and they set my black saddles apart in a sea of black saddles. And it’s something that we professionals would never treat ourselves to.

6. Cash and gift cards are never the wrong answer, and I love shopping small whenever I can. Don’t forget that it’s possible to get gift cards to your trainer’s feed store, which we probably spend more money at than our local tack shop. And most veterinary practices will let you make a payment on your trainer’s account as well. And for the working students of the world, think about helping in the direction of the grocery store or gas station, especially in this tricky world we’re living in now. They’d be very grateful for the help!

Out Standing In His Field

By |2021-11-18T09:00:06-05:00November 17th, 2021|Snippets|

I was 19 or 20 years old, working summers for my childhood trainer outside Chicago. He’d been sent this shrimpy little three year old KWPN Harness-type stallion, cheeky as hell, lightly broke, and very, very spooky. I had to lead him with a whip, not because I was afraid of him, but because he wanted to balk and hide behind me as he walked. We restarted him, and then I had to have someone in the arena with a lunge whip for a while, because he’d suck back so badly about the corners of the indoor that I couldn’t make him go without assistance. He was a nuisance in the gelding field, constantly pestering the big draft cross – appropriately named Thunder – who had heretofore quietly run the herd with benevolence and grace, and instead had to contend, daily, with this annoying little Midge of a Dutch Horse… which led to his nickname. And when I went back to college in the fall, I didn’t give him a second thought.

Over the winter, the breeder – his owner – passed away, and my mother, apparently looking for a way to punish me, bought him (with no pre purchase exam, by the way), and declared him my college graduation project. I rolled my eyes and said fine, geld him, and I’ll deal with the madness when I come home in the Spring.

Gelding improved things. So did turning four. He grew to the towering height of 16h, and become actually very pleasant. I taught lessons on him. I jumped him over tiny things. I won things at horse shows. I left him in Illinois to grow up while I was a working student for Carol Lavell, and I figured I’d pick him back up in the Spring of his five year old year, do a few more shows, and sell him.

That was a nice thought I had. But at five, Midge – real name Victorious – became an absolute monster. No longer balky but still definitely spooky, I had to put him in the double bridle because, even though he was still maybe only 16.1 and I’m a big, strong lass, I could not stop him. He was strong as an ox, hot as hell, and couldn’t maintain an uphill balance at the canter unless he was going at warp speed. Famous people told me to get rid of him, so I put him on the market, and somehow, someone was just crazy enough to vet him. It was then that we discovered a chip in the right stifle, and so they passed. I went to my mom and said well, we’re stuck with him now, so I guess I’ll have to train him.

He was an extremely quick study, thank God. Midge learned his changes in a minute, and half steps about a minute after that. But he was so, so hot to the leg. I would tell people along the way that I put my leg on at the mounting block and took it off when he turned 10. And he was, much to my dismay, incredibly balanced on his hind legs. He could stand up and stay there, like something out of the Spanish Riding School, for as long as he chose, and I’d just sit up there and wait for him to land.

I was young and brave and I stuck it out. He showed Third Level. He showed Prix St. Georges. Along the way, his wagon horse roots kept his knees and hocks bending, but he learned how to canter, learned how to really piaffe (without a whip, by the way – if you tried to carry one, you’d die.) He got eliminated once at Prix St. Georges because he stood up for so long that the judge feared for my life. Another time a judge told me that it was time for me to stop riding rogues and try and ride nice horses for a change. But by then I was smitten, and you couldn’t have pried him out of my hands with a crowbar. I rode him bareback in the snow. I took him swimming in the pond. He was the pony I’d never had as a kid – stubborn like a pony, aggravating like a pony, but utterly my pony.

He made his Grand Prix debut at 10, including a ticket to the first ever Developing Grand Prix Championships. He learned to make extended trot. His piaffe and passage were phenomenal, and the entire canter tour was all 7.5 or better, every time. An Olympian approached me to ask if he was for sale. The president of the 2012 Olympics ground jury said he was in love. At 11, in the early days of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, Midge won an open Grand Prix class in the international arena in front of the 5* judging panel, beating a class of team riders. And two days later, he just wasn’t quite right. We chased it around for 2 years – first lame behind, then in front, problem after problem. I couldn’t do it anymore – the heartache, the time, the money. I sent him to the retirement field, with the idea that I’d look at him again in six months, but I figured he was done.

But Midge was not done. He came out of the field remarkably sound. And at the same time, a student named Liza came to the end of a bad string of her own horse luck, with two horses suffering from career-ending health conditions. Horseless, and one 3rd Level score away from her USDF Bronze Medal, I made her a deal: take Midge. If he breaks, no worries, he can go back to the field. As long as he stays sound, he’s yours.

Liza’s care and ministrations were meticulous. He came back, and while he was still hot and feral, time had mellowed him to the point of being vaguely dependable. They showed Third Level. She earned her Bronze, and he still looked good, so we said hey, let’s try Fourth. Then Prix St. Georges. Her USDF Silver Medal. He was still holding steady, so I sold him to Liza – for $1. Then they showed Intermediate II. Then Grand Prix, and her Gold Medal. Maybe we should be done, we thought.

But Midge was not yet done. COVID caused us to hit pause on competing him in 2020, but he continued to teach his family, and tortured more than one working student into tears as they tried to just do simple, low level work. He did Grand Prix demos, and became internet famous for a few one handed stupid pet tricks. This summer, at the age of 19, he took one of my employees around at Grand Prix as well. And only then did he start to show his age. There was a spot of not-quite-right behind that we could have gone on medical safari to treat, but with nothing left for him to give (and also because the little stinker was such a menace to the lower level girls), his amazing owner decided instead to send him back to the retirement field, this time for good.

Naturally, he bucked and squealed his way around his last few weeks with us, and then bronc’d his way around the field, stirring up the other senior citizens. But to the end of his time as a riding horse, he bore the look of eagles. And I’m so grateful for all of the amazing people who have provided loving homes for the horses I’ve brought up the levels, but the decision to retire, such a hard one already, is so much better made 6 months or 9 months or 12 months too early than five minutes too late.

Cheers, Midge. You, eventually, kicking and screaming, made believers out of everyone you met. Enjoy your golden years being your naughty pony self.

5 Things Trainers Wish You Knew: Sales Edition

By |2021-10-16T20:44:53-04:00October 15th, 2021|Snippets|

We’re coming into horse sale season, and particularly at a time when sales have been wacky for more than a year, it’s going to be an interesting ride this autumn. If you’re on the hunt for a new horse, here are a few things trainers wish you knew.

1. Often – not always, but often – you get what you pay for. If quality is what you want, you’re going to pay for it one way or another, either in the form of the expense of a trained horse, or the expense of the training help required to guide you into getting a prospect there. And let’s be clear: I’m not saying that getting a young horse is the wrong answer for a rider who wants to learn and go up the levels. Far from it, as I much prefer working with good raw material and helping my students install the training themselves, rather than trying to learn someone else’s work (and, often, undo someone else’s messes!). But just know that, especially if you’ve never done it before, you’re going to need some help molding that prospect into a useful citizen.

2. Horses do not stay trained on their own. If you go the schoolmaster route, there is no amount of money you can spend on the animal itself that will keep the horse sharp, supple and capable in spite of inexpert riding. It’s ok that you’re learning, and that you bumble around a bit while you do. But that bumbling is going to inevitably dull the horse you’ve bought. Staying in a program with a competent trainer can help you both maximize the opportunity to learn from an educated horse, and also protect your investment.

3. Selling a horse is not giving up, failing, or abandoning it. Anyone who gives you grief for selling a horse that isn’t working out for you can go right to hell. There’s a million reasons why a horse isn’t right for you, even when you did your due diligence in purchasing him in the first place. Or maybe you’ve invested in a project that you put your time in and want to move along. No matter what, it’s your business, and everyone else can stick it.

4. No matter how wonderful a new horse is, there will be a point in the “getting to know you” process where it stinks. The honeymoon tends to end at the 3-6 month mark. Try not to panic. It gets better. Listen to your coach. And yes, sometimes things go bad because you and the horse aren’t going to work out. But I’m a professional rider, and I’m a good one, and I usually hit a wall somewhere in that 3-6 month window, too. It happens.

5. Lastly, “maintenance” is not a sign that a horse has a problem. Maintenance is a sign the animal has been well cared for. A lack of maintenance isn’t a sign that the animal is healthy, a lack of maintenance is a sign that the animal’s veterinary needs may not have been met. And being proactive with veterinary needs reduces the likelihood, over time, of injury due to overcompensation, hurting one body part trying to avoid using another body part that hurts.

Like Snippets? Sign up for the Sprieser Sporthorse Elite Club, where you’ll get even more monthly goodies, training tips, and a peek behind the scenes in the development of horses from foal to FEI. Click to learn more!

5 Things You’re Definitely Not Doing Often Enough

By |2021-09-12T09:07:28-04:00September 12th, 2021|Snippets|

1. Riding corners. It’s so easy at home to get just a little lazy about corners, and that’s an expensive mistake. Because then when you start putting tests together, surprise! There are corners in those! And even just in regular schooling, corners are where all the prep lives for your lateral work, for your turns, for your transitions. Corners are where the magic happens, and when they become a habit, they require less conscious thought when the chips are down.

2. Practicing good mounting block etiquette. We’ve all been there, right? Our left foot is in, we start to swing over, and our horse starts to meander off. Do you stop and fix it, or do you just let it slide, just this once? “Just this once” quickly becomes a habit, and it’s not a great one. What if you ever have a sore back, or a bum ankle, and you need to take a minute to mount that your horse isn’t going to give you? What if you lose your balance and your horse is already on his way out from underneath you? Or what if you ever want to sell your horse to someone who requires that their horse stand perfectly still? This is an easy thing to practice and make a good habit, and it also sets your ride off from the right foot, one where your horse patiently awaits further instructions, instead of calling shots on his own.

Want the easiest way to fix this? Keep a treat in your pocket. Horsey doesn’t get said treat unless he’s immobile. It’ll fix it right quick (though sometimes EDDIE I’M LOOKING AT YOU you’ll create a monster who likes to swing his head around to your boot while mounting. But then I just give him the treat from the other side. They’re fortunately not all that hard to outfox.)

3. Letting your aids go to 0. I promise you that you are not taking your leg off enough. And I can similarly promise you that you’re not giving the reins enough. Überstreichen – the German word for the act of putting slack in the reins for a stride or two by straightening the rider’s elbow – is a a beautiful thing, and a test of your horse’s self carriage. Your horse should maintain his own balance and posture for the strides of the release. It also allows the rider to retake less contact than they had before, by resetting the contact to zero.

Ditto taking the leg off. Remove it altogether, from the hip, once in a while. Your horse should maintain the same posture, gait and energy level without your leg as with it, and will allow you to do more from less leg once you put it back on. Work smarter, not harder, my friends. It’ll save you money on bits and spurs, not to mention being, you know, good riding.

4. Cleaning your buckles and stitching. Bridles and girths are the big offenders here, and I know how easy it is to just pop a little tack soap on a sponge and wipe things down. But you need to get into buckles, including undoing them, cleaning, and redoing them. Same story with the stitching on your leatherwork, especially high-sweat things like riding boots and girths. Get in there with your tack soap, and get hair out with a hoof pick or stiff brush. Dirt, sweat and moldy hair can break down your stitching over time, and nothing says fun like breaking a girth while riding. Take the time.

5. Replacing your helmet. Many – though certainly not most! – of us are good about replacing helmets after a fall, even if you don’t see any damage to the hat. But did you know that helmets have a lifespan, even if they haven’t had any trauma? The foam and other materials inside helmets do break down, and so it’s recommended that you replace your helmet every 4-5 years, no matter what, and possibly more often if you, like me, are in your helmet for hours a day.

Here’s a great article from my friends at OneK about the whys and wherefores of helmet replacement. And if you’re reading this going “Uh oh, I’m guilty!” then your timing is impeccable, because Helmet Awareness Day is upon us! There’s usually lots of great sales on OneK helmets that weekend, including my favorite, the Avance CCS, which features their cool color change system, a wide brim for sun protection, and the absolutely-critical MIPS safety functionality, which helps protect your brain from shearing forces better than a traditional helmet.

Like Snippets? Sign up for the Sprieser Sporthorse Elite Club, where you’ll get even more monthly goodies, training tips, and a peek behind the scenes in the development of horses from foal to FEI. Click to learn more!

Snippets, Horse Crip Walking Edition

By |2021-08-07T06:08:53-04:00August 7th, 2021|Snippets|

There’ve been a lot of horsey news stories in the last few weeks, between the Olympics, and various things happening in domestic horse sport management. I don’t have enough thoughts on any one individual phenomenon to write a proper blog about it, so here’s a bunch of little, well, snippets.

On dressage at the Olympics: First all, way to go, Team USA Dressage. I met Sabine when Sanceo was a young horse, and she rode him at the 5- or 6-year-old national championships, I forget which. I remember being staggeringly impressed – something I am usually not at that age of horse – because it was both such a quality test, and so clearly a horse that was going to go to the upper levels, not just be a young hotshot that never learned to close. I remember seeking Sabine out because the judges were not impressed, and I went over to be like dude, WTF, this horse is awesome. Sabine was gracious and classy about it. So Sabine, you rock, and you showed ‘em.

Second, a huge thank you to whoever unearthed the videos of Dalera and Gio as young horses. Gio at 4 would have been interesting to me, but I must confess that I would have said “isn’t that a nice future amateur horse!” watching the video of Dalera at 7. It is so, so inspiring to see that brilliant Grand Prix horses are made, not born, and not necessarily made from $400,000 3 year olds. There’s hope for us all.

On Olympic dressage in the world at large: horse crip walking, my friends. I LOVE this (if you’re aghast at the lack of seriousness about our sport, get a big ol’ grip, friend), and Mr. Dogg, if you’re reading this, I volunteer as tribute to participate in your next video. I have a pretty prancy palomino who would love to channel his inner gangsta.

Also, I loved Steffen’s music, as did the internet, but as usual, I found much of the rest of the freestyle music to be fairly painful. A little more rock concert and a little less Grey Poupon in international horse sport might make the sport a little sexier, y’all.

On other Olympic horse sports: I ran triathlons for a little while. I loved running, and I LOVED swimming. But I was a sucky cyclist, and so I’d usually smoke around the swim, lose a ton of ground on the bike, and then play catch up in the run to finish 2nd or 3rd in my division every time. Someone at some point told me this: you cannot win a triathlon on your swim, but you can certainly lose.

I recognize that I have no business telling any rider at any level how to jump their horse over anything, but maybe, just maybe, it’s time for American event riders to get a little bit more serious about dressage.

On other Olympic horse sports, part 2: wow, pentathlon riding is tremendously bad.

On USEF horse news: They’re trying to make the amateur rule better and fairer. This is fantastic, and much needed. But I think breaking classes down by one’s occupation is a dumb way of breaking classes down, and that breaking them down by rider experience would be way better.

One’s job title doesn’t mean one is a good or bad rider. I know lots of extremely competent amateurs. I know lots of mediocre pros. One of the beautiful things about dressage is that we get a score at the end, and while there’s judges who are tough and judges who are like Christmas and a whole lot of judges in between, at least we can recognize that someone who places fifth on a 72% was probably better than a winner on 57%.

There’s a championship here in the mid-Atlantic that’s been around forever – the CBLMs – that has two divisions for senior riders, the A division for riders without extensive experience above the level they’re showing, and the B division for riders that do. So at First Level, an adult amateur like my mom (who’s shown through I1) would compete her next young horse against professionals like me, and my beginner rider working student who’s in her first year of dressage showing but is (according to the USEF amateur rule) a professional would compete against amateurs in their first year of dressage showing. And at Intermediate I, my mom (see above) would compete against professionals like my assistant trainer, showing I1 for the first time as well, but amateurs like Alice Tarjan, with extensive Grand Prix experience, would compete against professionals like me.

It has to be possible for some sort of similar designation to be applied to riders in other disciplines, and it has to be possible for a relatively foolproof database to come into existence so show management can easily check their riders’ status.

On other USEF horse news, plus the news at large: the Delta Variant is real, and we’re definitely heading for another mask mandate, in some capacity, so gear up. More importantly, get freaking vaccinated already. If you’re eligible for a vaccine, and don’t have a health issue that prevents you from doing so, sign the hell up. Not doing so is cowardly and un-patriotic. Vaccinated octogenarian grandma immigrants are braver and better Americans than you.

Owwies and Boo Boos and Bumps, Oh My

By |2021-07-01T17:18:26-04:00July 2nd, 2021|Snippets|

You come out to ride, you groom, you tack up, you hop on… and your horse is lame. What do you do? You certainly can call the vet right away, but there’s a few things I like to rule out first, when I encounter a mild lameness.

First, I like to check for my favorite problem: acute foot pain. Dismount and check your horse’s feet. Did he step on a rock? (By the way, this is why you should pick your horse’s feet like Al Capone voted: early and often) Take out hoof testers, and put them to good use. Is there heat in the foot? Any discoloration? Is the shoe on correctly, or has he stepped on a nail? It’s a good starting place, and if you don’t know how to check out a foot, make sure your vet or farrier shows you next time you’re in their company.

On that note, you need to know when your horse was last shod, because if he comes up tender a day or two after shoeing, you could be dealing with a hot nail, a nail that was driven into the soft interior of the hoof instead of the exterior, which has no pain receptors, like our hair or fingernails.

If you’ve ruled out the foot, time to check up the leg. Skin irritations or “crud,” like scabs from dermatitis, can really irritate. If your horse has some crud, and is also wearing boots or wraps, pull the boot or wrap off and see if he’s sounder. I’ve had horses act like they had a broken leg simply because his skin hurt when rubbing against a soft polo wrap, poor delicate flower.

Swelling is the same – sometimes a horse gets a teeny tiny cut and it blows the whole leg up. Check for those sorts of things, and make sure to also take your horse’s temperature. A puffy leg plus a temperature can mean a serious infection, and your horse could need veterinary attention right away.

The last thing I check is for back pain. A lot of horses can experience lameness of limb because they’re trying to guard their backs or necks, which can hurt because of a myriad of reasons, including saddle fit, blanket fit, or just straight up hard work.

If there’s no obvious wounds, cuts, swelling, heat or scabs, no obvious foot pain, no obvious source of injury, you get to choose how much of an alarmist you would like to be. Unless I have a horse with an important outing on his event horizon, I like to take the Very Scientific Approach of waiting three days. I recently rolled my own ankle while undertaking a very serious and complicated athletic endeavor – walking on flat ground in appropriate shoes – and I figure if I’m that clumsy on two legs, a horse is capable of being that clumsy on four. A few days of “tack walking” for me, where I rode and strolled around and did not much else, and I was good as new.

So I give my horses the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they’re sore and tired from training hard, maybe they slept funny, maybe they spooked in the field overnight and tripped and tweaked something. I personally don’t use NSAIDs to get through these timeframes, because I don’t want to mask anything more sinister. But I know others who do, and that works for them. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast wrong answer.

And it’s amazing how many come around the very next day, or maybe a day after that.

Of course, when things don’t resolve, I’m the first one in line at the vet’s office, using a quality sports medicine vet to guide me through the steps on whatever comes next. But I’ve never ever regretted a few days off for one of my horses out of an abundance of caution, and it’s often just what the doctor ordered.

Are you liking Snippets, my little bonus blogs? They began because I had all these little ideas for blogs that maybe weren’t long enough to be proper content for COTH, or weren’t horsey in nature. So they’re here. If you like them, leave a comment to let me know you’re seeing them. And if you like hearing EVEN MORE from me, consider joining the Sprieser Sporthorse Elite Club! Your membership – for as little as $.25/week – helps me keep producing things like this, as well as all the special content Club Members get to see. 

A Medical Jour-Knee

By |2021-06-14T14:37:27-04:00June 18th, 2021|Snippets|

When I was ten, I broke my femur, and had a pin put through my left knee for a month. It was removed, but that trauma, combined with years of running and triathlons, a genetic predisposition to crummy joints, and a lifetime of mounting from the left, that knee has ached for years. It’s been getting worse, so I finally made an appointment with a local orthopedist.

I was quizzed about my symptoms – aching or stabbing? localized or specific? when moving, or all the time? – on a form, and then shepherded into an exam room. The doctor spent about 2 minutes with me, moving my knee, putting her hand on it while it moved, and then sent me off to x-ray. 2, maybe 3 views? The doctor reviewed them, diagnosed me with deterioration of the cartilage above my knee, and then gave me three choices: a daily NSAID, joint injection with a steroid, or joint injection with Hyluronic Acid (which, by the way, she said was unlikely to be covered by my insurance until I’d tried the steroid, given my age).

It should go without saying that I had some questions.

When I think about how my horses are treated when they go see my exceptional sports medicine veterinary practice, Virginia Equine Imaging, it’s a very different experience. Their exam is thorough and holistic, even if I have a specific complaint; they watch my horses at rest and in motion, both free and with the rider if possible, and perform flexion tests. They rule things out one at a time, and it takes time.

Now horses can’t talk, so for sure the exam has a practical reason to look at the whole body instead of just the specific complaining part. And I recognize that VEI, and my vet, Dr. Cricket Russillo, are elite-level, world class sports medicine specialists, and so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to the local human orthopedist in my wee town. But whenever I have a horse see Dr. Russillo, the conversation always goes beyond pain management.

That was my first question for my orthopedist. Ok, cartilage doesn’t grow back, I know. But my options are whole body painkiller or local painkiller? What about something to help condition the cartilage? Not until I’d tried the painkiller, according to insurance.

Ok, I said, let’s think outside the box. Is there something like Adequan for humans? Nope. Legend? Nope. What about a biologic, like Platelet Rich Plasma? That exists in humans… but isn’t covered by insurance, so I’d have to pay for it out of pocket.

So that’s that. Apparently we do more to help slow the decline of a horse’s joints – horses, with a lifespan of 20 years – than we can do for humans. And it would seem to me that there would be some wisdom in getting ahead of problems like mine, that will inevitably be more expensive to treat down the road, with things like joint replacements. Fortunately for me, the NSAID is working great, and I’m able to go about my life like before. And also fortunately for me, I’ve got time, hopefully such that modern human medicine can catch up to all that we’ve learned to do to help our equine friends.

8 Things That Make Me Crazy

By |2021-05-25T13:56:18-04:00May 28th, 2021|Snippets|

Here’s a list of things that make me nutsy. Most aren’t actual crimes, they’re just Lauren crimes. But crimes they are, in my mind, so spare my delicate sensibilities and don’t do them in my presence.

1. White ear bonnets. Just… don’t. It’s a FLASHING NEON SIGN drawing the eye of all – including the judge – to any moments of imperfection in the contact or self-carriage your horse may have. (Unless your horse is gray, obviously.)

2. Dirty bits. You should clean at LEAST your bridles and girths daily, and as part of bridle cleaning, you need to clean the bits. The goo that comes out of your horse’s mouth during work is bad for leather, and then hardens and gets icky when you have to put it back in your horse’s mouth. Water, a towel, and a little elbow grease. You can do it.

3. People who do it wrong the same way over and over. Whatever “it” is, in your lessons, make a new mistake. A fair amount of my annual income is spent repeating myself, so this is really against my financial interest to fix in humanity, but it can be rather annoying. Don’t worry about whether you’ll fail or not; just fail different. That’s how you figure out where the right answer is!

4. Hand walking around the arena at shows. You can’t see through your horse’s head, so you’re going to walk your horse in front of me. And either you’re nervous, in which case you should walk yourself around the arena and leave your poor horse alone in front of his fan with some hay, or your horse is a wing nut, in which case you’re going to cause a ruckus for those who are riding. Lunge it, get a trainer to ride it, something, but hand walking around the show ring is a good way to get someone hurt.

5. People who park badly at shows. In the parking lot, take your time and do it right. Others have to share that space with you. If you don’t know how to drive your trailer backwards, don’t drive it to the show until you do. And when you’re loading or unloading, do your best to not be a tool and block access into or around the barn. Easier said than done at some horse shows, but it’s better that you have to walk a bit than that you make everyone else’s life harder.

6. People who bitch at ring stewards, or rely on them to be their brains. Ring stewards are almost always volunteers, and sometimes they’re relatively new to the sport. Check in when you show up. Ask who you follow. Ask if the ring is on time. And then be a responsible adult and pay attention to what’s going on. The ring steward is not your mommy; it’s up to you to get yourself into the ring on time.

7. Nosebands that aren’t level. Cavessons need to be parallel to the ground, not up on one side and down on the other, but more importantly they need to be level from front of nose to back. If your flash is pulling your noseband down, your bridle isn’t the right size. Get some help in getting the right gear, because the wrong gear is both ineffective and uncomfortable for your horse.

8. Test readers. Memorize! Using a reader is like failing an open-book test. You have the answers in advance! And if you’re relying on a reader, you’re riding the moment, rather than riding the moment ten steps from now. You will score better when you know where you’re going.

Three Superpowers I Want

By |2021-05-11T10:08:51-04:00May 14th, 2021|Snippets|

Invisibility? Nah. Super speed? Only if it came with Super Strength, so I could just carry horses in from the field in the mornings. But there’s three superpowers I would definitely take, if made available.

  1. The ability to know whose damn wraps these are. Hey, guys? Whose wraps are these? They’re navy. I can’t read the initials that someone wrote onto them with Sharpie two wash cycles ago. I think they’re the SmartPak ones? Not the Dover ones? The velcro looks the same. Do they have a corner cut out of them? Which corner? Who is the one who cuts the corners out of their wraps? Is that me, or is that someone else? Oh, do they have initials embroidered on them? Crap, they do, but they’re on the velcro, so I’m not going to see it until I’ve already wrapped someone else’s horse in them. … see why I want this superpower? Life would be easier.
  2. The ability to make anything clean and waterproof at the touch of my hand. Like Midas, turning anything he touches to gold, I’d like to be able to pick up the ten-year-old turnout sheet and – voila! – good as new. White polos? Done! Show pads and white breeches? Like magic, and Scotchguarded for easy stain removal the next time!
  3. Lastly, and I hope this can be taken in the spirit in which it is intended, the ability to be a human electric fence, at a distance. Stop touching each other, horses next to each other in the field playing bitey-face, six paddocks away! Stop pawing on the crossties, bitch mare at the other end of the aisle! COME WHEN CALLED, GEORGIA THE DOG! And maybe, just maybe, HEY STUDENT, STOP LOOKING DOWN! Not enough of a shock to cause pain, just enough to say HEY!

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The Things I Carry

By |2021-04-23T05:58:04-04:00April 23rd, 2021|Snippets|

I have a coat bag – in my farm colors, brown and blue – that I’ve been schlepping around with me for more than a decade. It had to be a custom order, because I’m so tall that standard size bags scrunch my tails up at the bottom. And over the years, I’ve collected a few things that I carry with me to shows. I’m not a superstitious person, but they’re little mementos that help me remember what’s important, and think of a few old friends.

– tail hair bracelets from a few special horses. Whether they’ve moved on from me or just moved on, I have a collection of bracelets from Pony Locks that come with me. Bellinger, Clairvoya, Victorious, Stratocaster, Ellegria and Danny Ocean are all represented, and I like to think that they come with me (and, for a few of them, heckle me) down the centerline.

– a buckeye. One of my dearest former students gave me a buckeye nut from a tree in her family’s back yard. It’s supposed to bring luck; I like it because it reminds me of a fun kid, and the times we shared.

– a stock tie pin made by another former student. Sometimes I wear it, and sometimes it just travels with me, but it’s incredibly beautiful, an oversized pin with a collection of blue beads, and it also reminds me of how long I’ve been doing this, because the maker was one of my first students.

– a rubber duck. A friend of mine gave me the duck at my last NAYRC (2005!); she called it my lucky duck, which it may be, but it also makes me think of days gone by, and how far I’ve come.

– a little elephant figurine. The elephant itself is meaningless, but it was inside a bag of things that were given to me after my amazing student and friend Beverley Thomas’ passing last year, and carrying it is like carrying a little talisman from her.

There’s also an assortment of safety pins, mascara, sunscreen and a sewing kit in case of disasters, plus at least three emergency pairs of semi-retired Roeckl white gloves. But they’re not as poetic as the keepsakes!

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