Let’s Discuss: Bling in the Ring

If you are an on-trend equestrian, you have probably noticed a bit of sparkle taking over your local tack store. Bling seems to be anywhere and everywhere, as the English disciplines learn the delights that Western pleasure riders have known for years.

Dressage queens have been adding a bit of shine to their game for some time, starting with incredibly subtle bits of glimmer, such as twinkling spur straps, and slowly but surely becoming emboldened over time. Bedazzled ear bonnet, browbands, saddles, and helmets are all currently en vogue at your average competition these days.

Subtle. (find them here.)

Jumpers have always had a lot of freedom when it comes to style, and eventers maybe more so. And while I haven’t noticed so much dazzle in the eventing world, it does peek in occasionally. Rhinestones adorning the cantle of a saddle, for instance, or along the stirrup leather keeper.

 

Less subtle.

For myself, I would be happy to leave the bling at home. Having just purchased the below bridle, I find myself cringing slightly when thinking of keeping all that flash clean. Instead I’m in the market for a toned-down browband with the same shape and a little less… that. Perhaps the fact that my horse already looks like a child’s plaything contributes to my not wanting to adorn him in all things twinkling, maybe I’m just not a blingy person.

The Kavalkade Mia Bridle

Where do you fall on the spectrum? Bring on the bling? Or go without? What trends have you noticed in your local arenas? What is the most outlandish, or your favorite sparkly trend you’ve seen? Do you have a favorite way to add some shine to your traditional riding gear?

Let’s Discuss: Dogs at Horse Shows

Let’s start off the week with a little sizzle, shall we?? Because this is sure to be a heated conversation.

I may be a dog lover, but in many ways I wish most folks would leave man’s best friend at home. In my opinion, many of the dogs seen at horse shows really shouldn’t be there. Unless you as a responsible pet owner, and your perfect pooch can meet the following criteria, I say leave them at home.

We’ll start with the obvious: Is your dog acclimated to horses?
And not just well behaved, half-dead ponies. But does Pongo handle baby antics, horses spooking in their direction, galloping by their faces, or snorting/bucking/farting right in front of their eyeballs with quiet aplomb? If Fido shows any interest in joining the melee that is any Beginner Novice warm-up (much less a big event), he should stay behind.

Any dog that gets excited about giant animals running around, and may be inclined to bark at them or give chase is NOT an appropriate horse show dog. And personally, I don’t appreciate being part of your pet’s social experiment when I, and any other rider, has put goodness knows how many hours of work, and probably even more money, in getting ready for our outing. I paid for my right to be there, and I expect to be able to give my horse a safe and positive outing; despite what is often taken for granted, dogs do not have an inherent right to be at horse shows.

If you are working an event or horse show, please leave Fido at home. And if you are a jump judge on the cross country, seriously- why? The number of judges I have seen bring their pooch to sit with them on XC is staggering, and truthfully, completely inappropriate. For one, unless you can guarantee (and you can’t) that your dog will not be a distraction to either yourself (who is there to act as steward of the sport, making sure that each pair passes safely through and being on hand in case an accident happens- which how will you be able to react quickly should a rider fall at your fence when you have a dog to be responsible for? Do you let go of the leash? Or what?) OR a distraction to the horse (which is hopefully not dog-averse, totally focused on the job at hand and won’t notice the furry creature doing God knows what some feet from the fence)… Just don’t. And if you bring a dog that is known to bark at horses (or other dogs, or humans, or invisible pixies living in the woods), shame on you if you bring a dog to jump judge with you. Take a look at this video and tell me that doesn’t inflame your senses.

Now let’s look at you, responsible owner that you are. Can you hold a leash? Great. Assuming that you are the greatest leash-holder ever and will basically be cabled to Miss Princess the entire show, let’s go over a couple other requisite skills. Have you taught your dog sit/stay/shut up? Have you socialized your dog with other dogs before coming? Are you willing to make amends to your schedule should it not suit your pup’s abilities? Or will your dog be one of many that end up being mentioned over the loudspeaker at Rolex, because it got loose/got left in a hot car/got overheated because your bassett hound couldn’t keep up with Boyd Martin on the course walk.

There are those that are willing to meet all of these requirements, and have a full understanding of how their dog can be just another respectful spectator at a horse show competition. And for those folks, power to you. I’m glad that you will do what it takes to be a good horseperson and do what you can to keep the show as safe [as possible] for the rest of us. Horses and dogs can be together in a busy competition environment if approached responsibly, and I wouldn’t want to be the person to deny the better-behaving people [and dogs] that right.

How do you feel? Do dogs have a spot at horse shows? How should dog owners approach bringing their dogs to a competition, and what rules (or not) should be in place to keep everyone safe?

Let’s Discuss: How do you Unwind?

You’ve worked extra hard towards accomplishing a goal- be that a competition, proving yourself in a clinic or lesson, finally struggling through trailer loading practice, and more. And after drilling yourself and your horse through the exercises, you’re ready for a mental break.

So what do you do?

Do you unwind with a trail ride? Ghost your horse for a few days? Break up dressage with a little jumping? Or what?

For me, trail riding generally induces clutching the saddle in a fetal position, or reaching for the nearest bottle of wine. And with eventing, it’s hard to just walk away for a few days and sacrifice any loss of basic fitness (more so in myself than the horse!). So my mental relief for myself and my horse tends to come in the form of stretchy days. Basic suppling exercises in dressage make me more calm with their repetitiveness and knowing that they are easy to accomplish for both of us, and of course the horse gets the benefit of stretching their topline and loosening up his back. If we get bored, we throw in a cross rail for fun, but typically nothing more. It’s just a fun, low-key way to take a step back for us.

What about you? What’s your way of taking a step back from the daily grind? What do you find to benefit you most? What does your horse most enjoy?

Let’s Discuss: Dolla Dolla Bills Y’all

This is a fairly personal discussion today, so feel free to not participate if you’d rather not share. But it’s one we certainly all think about- how do we finance our ridiculously expensive equestrian hobby? I realize that my own situation is just as unique to me as anything, but I’m curious how others make it work.

Horse ownership in a nutshell

Luckily for me, the husband is appreciative of my extracurricular activities because it keeps the weepy-Kujo version of myself at bay, among other less-emotional benefits. So when our finances became one we created a system for paying bills that covered basic horse expenses (board, farrier) and also reciprocated in affording some of his specific needs as well.

Precious pony gets what precious pony wants. Sometimes.

Everything else is on me. This includes all the tack, supplements, lessons, clinics, shows, breeches…. The list goes on and on. For all of this, I sit in front of my calendar and make a list at the beginning of every month of the expenses I have planned- lessons, a clinic, paying off that saddle I just bought, etc. Then the list goes through prioritization mode (i.e, what do I want most, what moves me towards my goals, and will I die if I try something without taking a lesson first, etc). Lessons and clinics tend to come before extraneous (beautiful) tack additions, for instance. After crossing things out, adding up the results, I can then create a budget.

Maybe it’s maybelline, maybe it’s really expensive blueing shampoo

Of course horses being horses, no plans, and definitely not expenses, are ever safe from change. So my budget allows for a little to be added to the future trailer fund savings account each month just in case. I try not to make quick decisions about purchases (as much as possible- not always possible) and take care of the things I have in order to help them live as long as possible (see posts about 15 yr old bridle, and brushes etc of similar age). My photography jobs help me fill in any gaps as well, and though it keeps me even busier, it’s huge for me at the moment to recoup some of the costs from you know, buying a horse recently.

How do you guys make it work? Do you have a side-hustle to support your hobby? Are there expenses that you prioritize before others? Are there things you forego in order to achieve financial stability? 

Let’s Discuss: Alternative Therapies

Horse people are weird. We know that. We spend money on these animals in ways that even normal-crazy-people think are crazy. And sometimes that cray in us comes out in therapeutic sessions for our horses.

Accurate.

Sometimes we try things as part of the rabbit hole that can be lameness diagnosis (ask me how I know). Other times it’s because we believe in a certain program in order to keep our beloved ponies in the best condition possible. And sometimes it’s because we don’t like money.

Acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments have long been stand-bys in equine management programs. And even these have gray areas. What about chiropractic practicians that aren’t vets? What about acupuncture that doesn’t include needles? How many of you have had conversations about what type of horse yours is- earth/water/fire/etc?

Then there’s more ‘modern’ treatments entering the horse world thanks to the wonders of technology. Some of these, just off the top of my head, include:

  • Equine Kenisiology [Rocktape]
  • Theraplates [Active proprietary Vortex Wave Circulation Stimulation Technology]
  • Magnawave PEMF [Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field]
  • Infrared Equine Solarium
  • Ceramic Fabric Therapy [aka Back on Track]
  • Magnetic Therapy

While I have only tried a couple of the above therapies, I probably would try all of them if the price was right, for curiosity’s sake. Even if there are some things that I would slightly choke on to discuss…

So readers, I want to know- have you tried any alternate therapies? What worked? What was a waste of money? What did you learn, and what were your experiences? Where do you draw the line for treating your 4 legged friend and/or keeping him in condition?

 

Let’s Discuss: Social Time at the Barn

Growing up on a horse farm has its perks, but making friends of the human sort is not one of them. It wasn’t until college and entering a boarding barn situation that I learned that barn time can also include things like, oh, having conversations with people.

At first socializing something of a curve ball for me- barn time was horse time, and I was in the habit of going to my inner zen place and focusing on the task at hand at the barn, not catching up on the latest news or getting pulled into barn gossip.

Crazy people met and loved from the barn

And then I found a barn where the people somehow spoke my language. Everyone had goals and appreciated horse time as that golden hour of getting away from the responsibilities of a working adult. But they also cared about each other, and were excellent sources of advice, a helping hand, or an eye for diagnosing that latest cut/wonky step/braid quality.

Even more crazy barn tribe members ❤

Suddenly, barn time could be socializing time as well. Sure, it’s always about riding, but hanging around and chatting became one of the bonuses to the barn- a time to be part of a tribe of people that just get it. It’s a no-judgement zone of the best kind.

And the current tribe

I’m lucky to be in another place where I’ve found my tribe, though still regularly stay in touch with the first barn I fell in love with. Nights at the barn can extend well into the wee hours, and it’s a place where the people are as much a part of the barn as the horses.

It’s not always this way for equestrians though. What kind of horse-person are you? Is barn time sacred to just horses for you? Or is socializing a part of the enjoyment? Where do you draw the line when it comes to people versus horses at the barn? Do you see sharing a facility with others as a hindrance or a bonus? 

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?