Let’s Discuss: Riding Multiples

I have been so incredibly grateful to ride TC for the last several months, as he’s taught me a lot about myself, and allowed me to have saddle time while I was technically horseless.

Aww TC

Even though I officially own my own pony right now, I’ve continued riding TC with the goal of hopefully competing at another recognized show at the end of July. Between getting to know Jack on the ground and in the saddle, and riding TC, albeit a bit more sporadically, plus of course the adult responsibilities like working a full time job… I admit I may be getting a bit burnt out.

What I would love to know is those that have more than one horse to ride- how do you prioritize? How do you keep yourself from eventual exhaustion? Do you feel that something eventually has to give? Or have you found a way to balance multiple rides with the rest of life’s responsibilities? Do you employ professional help? Or have strategies for keeping the rides fresh and exciting?

Let’s Discuss: Is Age only a Number?

With age on the mind, I got thinking about the irony of spending my birthday playing with a Barbie Dream Horse and watching Beauty and the Beast.. at 30, not 3. Will the horse obsession ever end? Probably not.

But let’s talk about how the horse obsession gets started. I personally started riding at the age of 4, and showing in W/T classes at 5. Luckily the environment I grew up in meant that horse-sense was something that was learned quickly, so maybe this age was appropriate for my personal entry into equestrianism. Maybe? Maybe not?

Is 4 or 5 the right age to start riding? What about even younger? I know I can’t be the only one who has seen ISO ads for riding ponies for their 1/2/3 yo children. And while I personally cringe to think of a toddler trying to balance themselves on the backside of even the most saintly pony, it happens.

And what about showing? Sure, leadline classes with assisted balance by a responsible adult are open to just about anyone- but what about your more typical show? Walk trot equitation classes, or even dressage tests? Are the expectations of actual competition too much for tender ages? And what about the interaction with other older competitors, in the warm-up as well as in relation to how a young child scores compared to more mature riders? Should judges take into consideration a rider’s age when judging them in competition? Or no?

What do you think? Is there a good age to expose children to the occasionally rough-and-ready world of horses? How should equestrianism and its many responsibilities be introduced to youngsters? What age were you when you started riding? What age is appropriate for starting to show or ride beyond the safety of the barn? 

Let’s Discuss: Reality versus Expectation

I have to admit, where I am now is not where I imagined myself to be a year ago, or even six months ago.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. To be perfectly blunt, there are upsides to being horseless (in terms of ownership) for 5 out of the last 12 months. The obvious is that money is a lot easier to save. The second benefit being that it makes it easier to spend time with the SO, because owning no horse means less lessons, less shows, less unexpected vet bills, etc. (though one of those may change)

And yet… in many ways I saw myself months into a relationship at this point. Not planning a wedding per se, but the equestrian equivalent of being at that point where he’s met the parents. Or stayed the night, netflixed and chilled, hell, I don’t know what words the youngins use to describe it but I think you guys get the gist.

I figured I would be knee deep in planning a show schedule, counting down days until the next lesson, memorizing tests and squirming over whether or not I was going to have one of my dumb blonde moments at our next competition.

Equally surprising though, that’s where I am. I’m horseless in the ownership sense of the word, but somehow, despite my melancholy rants in protest of that fact, I am enjoying many of the benefits of horsemanship, and even better, competing again. DQ that I am, I have actually never competed in a recognized dressage show. But in just under a month, I’ll be going down centerline in search of my first recognized scores.

Isn’t life funny, the way things work out?
Are you where you expected to be 6 months ago? A year ago? What has surprised you, or what goals have you met that you set out for yourself? What are the pros/cons of where you are now, versus your original expectations?

Let’s Discuss: The Versatile Rider

I will freely admit, for years and years and years I basically rode one kind of horse. These horses tended to be a little heavier, such as draft crosses, Irish horses, or Haflingers. As such, they mostly shared a preference to be heavier on the forehand, require a bit more hand, and for some, be a bit slower to respond.

RIding the IDA team lesson horse G and reinforcing all sorts of bad habits

So when I started competing in Intercollegiate Dressage, I was wildly out of my comfort zone with the older Thoroughbreds that largely supported the Lower Training division. Treating them like the ride I was used to would absolutely backfire- these horses wanted nothing to do with a heavy hand, were more evenly-keeled than on the forehand, and their problems mostly centered around suppleness rather than sluggishness. I’m embarrassed to say that it took me an entire season before I figured out how to adapt, and once I started learning to sit quietly and focus on my position and leave the horse be, the ribbons started coming.

Fast forward several years to my time with Foster. Though I had learned my lessons from IDA, and was a much more sympathetic rider in general, I still easily fell into a rut of riding one horse. Foster was a bit tricky to ride, being occasionally heavy in the bridle, and crooked through his haunches, and I molded my riding to him like most riders do. So it was probably no surprise when I got on my friends OTTB who preferred a super light contact and a different way of posting and basically pissed him off.

Sitting on that same OTTB this February and having a legitimately good ride (and not pissing anyone off) was a huge win for me

Trying various sales horses has brought be back to the former days of learning how to adapt to more types of horses. Some are light in the bridle, others heavy, and all require different approaches to leg and seat and other unique touches that make the horse themselves. I won’t even begin to pretend that I am successful with all, but the exercise of sitting on various mounts and learning their ways has certainly made me a better rider. It is difficult though and sometimes I do forget that I don’t know the horse, and typically the horse calls me out quite quickly for my errors. And while no one likes making mistakes, it’s the process of messing up and learning the correction that I hope will improve my riding in the long run.

Do you consider yourself a versatile rider? What is the “feel” from a horse that you ride best? Do you have a type that you feel most comfortable on? What kind of horses do you struggle to ride most?

Let’s Discuss: The Retirement Plan

The latest news to hit the eventing scene is the retirement of Anthony Patch, her veteran 4* horse and the subject of the hashtag #GoAlGo.

At 18, Al had nothing left to prove with multiple top 10 placings under his belt, back-to-back wins at the Advanced level at the AEC’s, and even a couple international events to boot. He’s no spring chicken, and a familiar face on cross country and social media alike. Without knowing the full backstory of what went into the decision to retire him, I am going to assume it was made in an effort to spare him any eventual breakdown that is inevitable to any athlete, horse or human, who is pushed past their prime.

Boyd Martin and Remington, Rolex 2012. Remington went on to compete at the lower levels after his retirement

It is a relief to see top-riders make good decisions for their mounts, even if their adoring public clamors for more. Specifically, I am thinking of Valegro, who left the top of the dressage scene on a high note, even though we all could imagine him eeking out a couple more wins at least. The honor that Charlotte and team showed him in allowing him to age gracefully and without the pressure of GP competition was a fitting conclusion to a team that has been role models for the entire equestrian world.

Jasper now lives the high life of green pastures and occasional hacks, as well as giving rides to friends that are desperate *cough-me* for saddle time

But for those of us who cannot afford to turn our winningest (or only) mount out to field to live the high life, what do we do? With Foster, his wonderful brain allowed me to find him a home that afforded him a slower-paced life that kept him comfortable. But what if your champion that can no longer compete doesn’t have a personality that can be trusted with your average retirement scenario, such as therapy or trail riding homes?

It’s not a favorite thing to think about, and yet we all hope that we will see the day that we are able to retire our beloved horses to the good life. What is your plan for your horse, or what have you done to retire your horse in the past? What retirement situations at the highest levels did you particularly appreciate, or are there retirements that you felt happened a little too late?

 

Let’s Discuss: Putting in an Offer

Since retiring Foster, I’ve put in offers on four different horses. The financial decision that goes along with purchasing a horse is a big one, and I may have a way that is different from others in regards to making an offer on a horse.

When I first go see a horse, I am as much assessing the horse for its value as well as for it being a good fit. Just like when shopping for a house, the horse should feel right, but if you can’t afford it, you’re wasting everyone’s time- including your own.

Smitty’s sales photo

With that in mind, if I see a horse that is slightly above budget, I like to reach out and contact the seller. I respectfully (and that is key!) share my interest, describe what I am looking for and mention my budget. Sometimes the response is “sorry, the price is firm at X”, but most times I’m told to come see the horse anyways and we can go from there. To me, being on the same page about realistic expectations for payment is key- I don’t want to waste the seller’s time if I can’t possibly afford the price they want, and I certainly don’t want to waste my time either. So far, sellers have been appreciative of a more candid discussion about this up front, and I appreciate not being toyed with as a buyer.

So far for me, the pre-purchase side of things has been more of a pass/fail type scenario. Having agreed to a price, the assumption is that barring any surprises in the exam, that is the price I pay. If the vet finds something awry with the horse, we can of course have a discussion about how that could affect the price, but typically for me it’s more of a decision about whether or not I can accept the horse as-is altogether as a suitable partner.

Price can be a sensitive issue when horse shopping. I try to be cognitive of the time, emotions, and finances the seller has put into the horse, but prefer to be frank with both the seller and myself about what investment I’m willing to put into the horse as well. There have been several times in my search that a seller values their horse as solid first/second/third level when the training is obviously not there, or that the horse is described as an upper level prospect when the conformation or ability simply isn’t present, and I choose to not engage these sellers as a rule. Let someone else be the bearer of bad news, or let the market speak for itself when that horse doesn’t spark interest at the price they are asking.

Luckily, in general the folks that I work with when I go to see a prospect are familiar with the process of buying and selling and are not offended by someone talking money before the deal is done, or even before someone has sat on their animal. But I’d love to know- what are your experiences with this? Do you have strong opinions about the money-aspect of buying horses? Do you plan to pay full price, or how did you evaluate the horse you currently own before bringing him home?

Let’s Discuss: The Equestrian Profession

Growing up, my mother forbade me from seeking a career out of buying and selling or riding horses. Learn from her mistakes, she said, as even though she had a rather successful breeding program, it’s no secret that it’s hard to make money on horses.

But not being able to get it out of my system, I still pursued a degree in Animal Science when I went to college. My intent was to focus on breeding, but from a different angle- I wanted to specialize in reproductive services: a focused practice centered around embryo transplants, artificial insemination, and other modern approaches to equine breeding programs.

Other risks to buying and selling horses- watching your mother almost get stomped to death by excited youngsters

Risks to buying and selling horses: watching your mother almost get stomped to death by excited youngsters

While I was well acquainted with the back end of a horse by the time I went to school (helping my mother tease mares and observe sperm motility through my elementary microscope kit from an early age), what I wasn’t prepared for were the labs. After a year of scaring the pants off of my Animal Science professor by turning sheet white every time an organ got squished and probed in front of me, I decided to pursue design school.

OK,Lifegate

Life growing up on a farm: The brother hanging out with an OTTB

Some days it’s disappointing to not be involved with horses on a daily basis. Other days, like in the scorching heat of summer or a particularly nasty winter, I am incredibly thankful for the seemingly cushy life of a desk job.

If you were to pick any equestrian job, what would you choose? What would the pros and cons be of that field? If you are now in an equine-related profession, what is it about your job do you love most? What are the downfalls?

Let’s Discuss: In the blood or in the water

My mind is on journeys this week, and as such, I think it’s just as interesting to celebrate the rider’s journey into equestrian sport as it is the horse that brought them there.

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I come by the horse-bug pretty naturally. My mother was an equestrian in her own right from her early days in England, and horses were a large part of my childhood right from the beginning.

First ride @ 18 mo.

First ride @ 18 mo.

I was plunked on a horse named Ghost at 18th months old, and the obsession was basically instantaneous.

toy-horse

Lessons started at 4 years old, and showing began not much later- first in lead line classes, then in open show walk-trot type classes, where I remember being the smallest competitor by many years. The face of how riding since then has changed in leaps and bounds- from foxhunting to parades, training young draft horses to learning eventing, and eventually becoming an avid eventer and dressage enthusiast. Though I’ve taken a couple breaks from showing over the course of my lifetime, I don’t think I have ever given up on horses, or riding, at least not without kicking and screaming.

And the obsession looks to continue for a long time to come.

heidi

How did you come by horses? Was it a family thing? How were you first introduced to the sport, and how has your participation in equestrianism changed throughout your life?

Let’s Discuss: Half Chaps or Tall Boots?

When it comes to leather goods, there are plenty of options when it comes to leg protection. Half chaps and paddock boots, full chaps, cowboy boots, tall boots, and recently, Dubarrys.

When I was a kid I had a pair of full chaps that quite frankly, never felt right to wear for more than 5 minutes. In college, I really preferred the convenience of just pulling on my tall boots, zipping them up and heading out the door.

Super awkward photo complete with dirty horse and clunky tall boots

Super awkward photo complete with dirty horse and clunky tall boots

Then when my tall boots finally died, I decided to replace them with more cost-efficient half chaps. With Foster utilizing my right leg more than anything, I would burn through these guys pretty quickly. My [new] tall boots would be reserved for shows and lessons, anything formal.

Sept. 2013

Sept. 2013

I know a lot of folks that ride in their Dubarry type boots, and for me I don’t feel secure enough in them to give it a whirl. But who knows, if someone ever gets me drunk enough convinces me to go on a casual trail ride, perhaps I would sport something like them.

Mum in hunt tack and cowboy boots for the win

Mum in hunt tack and cowboy boots for the win

What type of footwear do you prefer to ride in? What exceptions do you make based on lessons, shows, or other events?

Let’s Discuss: Your Equestrian Affiliations

This Saturday I had the pleasure of photographing the North Carolina Dressage and Combined Training Association’s annual gala. My responsibility was to photograph all of the award winners and snap up some great candid moments in between.

When I wasn’t behind the camera though, I got to chat with lots of familiar faces and even met a reader of the blog (hi Jessica!). The NCDCTA is an organization that feels like home to me, even though I haven’t officially been a member for a couple years now (because of, you know, not having a horse to compete).

In years past there were other organizations that gave me the warm fuzzies. One being the NCSU Dressage team, which will always have a place in my heart for the friends and associations it brought me.

Dressage girls know all about balance and creating a solid foundation 😉

The other is likely Mecklenburg Hounds, who I foxhunted with for many years. Beyond meeting up at the hunt field, I was an active participant in other association events, such as parades, fundraisers, etc.

July 4th Parade with Tanner and the Mecklenburg Hounds

July 4th Parade with Tanner and the Mecklenburg Hounds

There are plenty of other organizations that I am a part of, but I admit, mostly my membership comes down to rules and regulations. The USEF is one, and more recently, the USEA. While I wish to have a greater sense of awareness for what these organizations are doing and how I can get involved, I find that it’s simply easier to get involved at a more local level.

What equestrian organizations are you affiliated with? Which are close to your heart, and how do you actively participate in them? How do you think the national level entities can inspire more local participation? Has an organization ever done something that made you want to leave, or were there ever inspiring events that made you want to join a certain ‘club’?