Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013 Goals in Review, 2014 Plans...

Not much has been going on in Ben's world. He's had a bunch of time off, and I have not been riding him regularly at all. Much of it has to do with my work schedule, and really having time to work with my youngster, Finn. If said half-arab was a good boy our sessions would be shorter and I'd be able to sneak 2 rides in...like I did last night...but that has not been the norm. So Ben has been getting exercise in turn out, I've been doing some round-pen work with him, and riding 1-2 times a week. All in all, it has been a very light fall/winter for the boy.

I thought now would be a good time to review 2013, and maybe make some plans for 2014. Let's start with the 2013 in review :)

2013 Goals
  • Continue monthly training. This has been a lifesaver for us.  We did this, through June, and then transitioned to just lessons which have become few and far between. 1/2 accomplished.
  • Raise our Training level scores, consistently. Of course I want to earn the highest score possible, and will always try my hardest to do so. But I will be quite pleased if we can get consistent scores in the low to mid 60's. We did not do a single dressage test all year.
  • Dressage Stretch Goal: Attempt a 1st Level test, preferably at a schooling show and not at home. This is going to take a TON of work to get to, but hey, I have 12 months :) While I can say we have SCHOOLED 1'st level movements, see the above bullet...no formal dressage tests in 2013.
  • Start Ben over low fences. He'll be 5 in April, and for cross training purposes, I think it would be a nice, fun change to do something different once a week. Nope, didn't do this one either. I have popped him over some cross rails, and we did the ground pole course again at our Summer SAFE Benefit show.
  • Outings: go on trail rides, go to schooling shows, get OUT. YES!! We went to 4 shows and a couple of trail rides. Ben won English High Point, Reserve High Point, Champion Rescue Horse, Reserve Grand Champion - a distinction at every show we attended.
  • Outing Stretch Goal: attend a rated dressage show. NOPE
  • Ride bareback. This one is an odd one, but I'll admit, I never, ever do this. I want to be able to just hop on my horse, if even to dink around at a walk. We did this...once.
Other noteworthy things:
  • Spent 1 million dollars on saddle trials and finally purchased a Black Country Eloquence X.
  • Moved 2 times
  • Tried Trail, Showmanship, and Halter and kicked some booty!
And now, for 2014 Goals!!!
  • Show again. This time I'm gonna be smart and not say what type of showing, because I have little control of which shows I can get to!
  •  Start jumping, for serious
  • Work on the canter...a lot...like enough to be able to do the canter classes at English open shows.
  • 12 bareback rides (1 a month)
  • Take regular lessons (2x a month)
  • Take more pictures and video of us. We seriously sucked at this in 2013...not a single bit of video to be had anywhere.
That's it - that is all I am committing to at this point. The reality is, with my little guy up and coming and requiring much attention, Ben will likely take a back seat this year. I simply cannot afford both in time and $ to keep both in active work and going to shows, even small ones. And lucky for Ben, he's such a stand up guy that it takes very little to bring him back after a break.

Now, the one wrench that might change all this is if I a) put my little dude in training and/or b) sell him. I'm not entirely sure we're the best match, but he's also young and maturity level is changing, so it is hard to say. Additionally, I do feel like he needs to explore the world a bit, gain new experiences, and the most reasonable way I can do that for him is to put him in training with someone who can get him out places. IF I do that, I will be back to working with Ben and Ben alone...though with little spare cash to pay for showing, hauling, etc.

2014 stands to be an interesting year. I am going into it with less certainty than I did going into 2013, but perhaps with a bit more enthusiasm and wonderment on what the year will bring.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Clinic Report: Despooking Success!

Pool Noodle Hell
Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a Despooking Clinic held by Bill Richey, Director of the National Mounted Police Services. I did not take Ben, but did take my young half-Arab, Finn. Ben would've been so much more fun and enjoyable, but his little partner in crime needed it so much more.

The approach is a very interesting one. The first day begins with a bunch of classroom lecture on the equine eye, vision, and how horses spook. You can pretty much predict when/where/how a horse will spook by where an object is in relation to the horse. That, combined with some body awareness demonstrated by light "liberty" work in a round-pen using the eye-sight principles, you begin to understand when and how your horse sees objects  and how he reacts to them.

From there, we mount up and begin with basic mounted drill maneuvers. Everything is done at a walk, and initially in a single file line, and progresses to a paired line. The idea is to get the rider to start looking ahead and placing the horse where it needs to be, and also to get the horses working together. This was a major win for Finn, who has never been in an arena with more than 1 horse at a time. So he had to learn how to cope with horses in front of and behind him (lots of attempts at kicking others, but as he settled into his job, he forgot all about that), next to him, and coming at him.

Once the horses are settled and "bored" with the drill work, Bill begins to introduce basic obstacles- a pole on the ground, or a piece of plywood. We go over it again and again, until the horses are bored. If one horse balks (mine), the rest of the participants are instructed to move around us and leave us behind. Eventually, after seeing the other horses go, Finn tries it too.

And so it goes, as the horses get "bored" with the new stimuli, Bill introduces bigger and badder stuff. We move from objects below, to objects above (a hanging tarp or carwash), and objects to the side- like pool noodles sticking out. And then we bring in the sensory objects - police car flashing lights, siren, dog barking, fire, and smoke bombs.

Day 1 could be summarized as a giant melt-down. We spent the majority of the clinic rearing, bucking, kicking out, running backwards, sideways.... anything but forward. Finn escalates from being afraid to being a fighter, very, very quickly. And once he thinks he cannot do something, he WILL NOT try, not even the slightest bit. Thank goodness for Bill, who was there to help us break the pattern of behavior.

 Day 2 started out rough, but Finn quickly became engaged in the activity and was perky and forward and wanted to try to go through it. This was a great change. The problem, however, is that he is still resistant to being told what to do. He went through because he wanted to, not because I asked him. But still, a happy willing attitude is a good change and a stepping stone to the elusive submission I seek.

He's by no means "fixed" but I learned some valuable lessons:

#1 I know what the problem is
#2 I can ride through the tantrums
#3 I know what works to break the cycle and help him gain confidence

Some pictures from Day 2:

Finn liked the fire lines the best, I think!!

These pool noodles were THE scariest thing for him to overcome, but he did it!

Walking out of the smoke bomb

 Interested in learning more? Go to:

http://www.mountedpolice.org/  or Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mountedpolice

I would definitely attend this clinic again with both of my horses. The clinic is not really about the obstacles at all. It really does a great job of exposing holes and offers a safe and welcoming place to address those gaps. I definitely have my work cut out for me with this little guy, but I think we both left with more confidence in both ourselves and one another.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

W/T Champion Is Having Trouble Trotting

...and surprisingly, his canter has been the best it has ever been... more on that in a second.

So, back story...we moved to a new barn. Not going to get into the "why", but we're at a new place. It is a much bigger establishment - on 100 acres, with super huge arenas - both indoor and out. It also has 2 covered round pens, 60+ft in diameter. But with that also has many more horses, boarders, and trainers. I kind of cringed at the thought of having to share space with so many people. As it turns out, however, I am one in a very small handful that goes to ride after work. We've been there for a week and a half now, and I've ridden about 10 times in the arena, and I've been alone each time.

I've been taking advantage of the larger space to do lots of canter work with Ben. Ben, God love him, is a giant quitter - like all the time. I am constantly having to keep on him to keep going, and it has been a challenge. It isn't so much having to nag with the leg anymore, but it is more like if I even think about transitioning down, he'll break. I am constantly having to remind him to keep gait - whether it be trot or canter, or walk even. He's just lazy and will do the least expected of him at all times.

So the last few rides I've been making him own up to it a bit more. I ask him for canter and get up off his back in a half seat. And we go- for laps, breaking it up in circles and doing simple changes across the diagonal. Maybe its the former jumper rider in me, but its much easier for me to keep going like this, on a lazy horse.  I'm not trying to hold him together, he's got to figure it out on his own, with just a bit of assistance from me.

Low and behold, both his transitions and quality have gotten MUCH better. His balance in the canter has changed dramatically, and yesterday, my last few canter sets yielded a very balanced, cadenced canter that felt SLOW, but uphill- something I have been yearning for with him.

Another reason for the canter work is that his trot has gone to crap. He is just SO fussy with his head and neck at the trot, and has a hard time loosening his back and getting a nice soft, balanced trot. I get a better, more rideable, connected trot once I canter, but man it has been rough going. His transitions to trot suck (the pace steps/bunny hop have re-entered our lives). I can't help but wonder if there is a physical reason for it, or if its a training issue. This started back in the summer at our last couple of shows. I was doing body work for him, and admittedly, I've sucked with keeping up at the stretches and such. I need to get back to that regimen.

I've also been toying with going bitless temporarily. Ben is the WORST when it comes to being playful with his bit. And it is all-consuming. He chomps and fusses and chomps and fusses - doesnt seem to matter what type of bit he's got on  - size, shape, ring type, metal type- if its in his mouth he's going to play with it - from the second he is bridled and onward. Flash, drop, whatever - nothing stops him.  I'm tempted to try more as an experiment just to see if anything changes going bitless. It might be a good test, and it might get us over this hurdle.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Year End Award!

Last night I went to my local Saddle Club's Year-End Banquet...low and behold Ben and I were W/T Champions!

In addition to a really fun ribbon, we also won a $75 gift card, a bunch of horse treats (apples, carrots, mints, a jimmy hanging ball thingie, and a himalayan salt lick), horsie shampoo, and a t-shirt with a screen print picture of us showing. Cute! I've never participated in year-end anything, so it was super cool!

Ben was the only Standardbred participant at these shows, and I think we did a good job of educating and changing the thought of "Standardbreds Can't" to "Standardbreds CAN" :) Way to go big guy, so proud of you!

Monday, November 18, 2013


My name is Ben, and I am VERY, VERY spoiled.

I haz a long wave infrared radiation

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I Do Not Heart Setbacks

Ugh, things were going so well there for a few days! And then Ben went ahead and lost his front right shoe. No big deal...hmm wait, our farrier is in San Diego and can't come till Friday, which is our regularly scheduled appt.

All the same, our arena footing is soft enough, i've been doing some in-hand, driving, and light longeing work - just to keep him active, and warmed up for stretches. He's in good spirits, as always :)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I Heart Autumn AND the Trails!

Seattle fall started off quite warm, then in came some nasty storms. From there, it got better, but we've been sitting under this thick layer of cold fog for weeks. The air above was warm in the 70-80 degree range- but we didn't get to benefit at all from it. Finally, this weekend, things changed for us - and after a small storm, the sun and blue skies were beckoning us to go play outside!

So play we did. My friend and I decided to FINALLY go explore the trails off our property. Who better to do that than my wonderful big guy, Ben. So we had a nice warm up/schooling session in our outdoor arena. Ben's canter has seriously just blossomed overnight. I can put him in canter and he just stays, and its slow, and balanced. I showed my friend and she was in shock at how he was going.

But that is not the point of this post...the point is...we finally rode out to the Pipeline trail. Ben was fantastic. He doesn't have much experience out, so I never really know what to expect...but he was honest and wonderful, albeit a bit SLOW. He'd much rather just take it all in at an ambling walk (hmm and maybe stop for some nibbles...naughty!)  vs his friend who wanted to blaze trails. We had a lot of catching up to do.

It was tons of fun. Except on the way back- friend's horse decided to be naughty (he's new, we didn't know what to expect from him) and so she ended up having to get off and school him in hand all the way home. In solidarity, I got off too, and hiked home. Ben was a rock star for that too - having loads of patience while his friend learned to pay a bit more attention to his owner, vs getting home so quickly.

Admiring the distant mountains while waiting for our friends to get ready

So of course the next day we headed out there again, this time for a shorter trip (losing daylight), to make sure the new guy learned his lesson. Learned he did. Ben was the same, and we had a nice on-the-buckle-hack.

Today marks our 3rd session and week of stretches and massage- how time flies. So far, Ben is doing much, much better. Still have a few trouble spots to figure out - but overall things are going much better for the big guy.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Saddles, Anyone?!

So, after a summer of saddle fitting fun for 3 horses, I am left with 5 to sell off...so I can of course start saving for jumping saddles! LOL

That said... know anyone who might be interested in the following:

17.5" Wintec Isabell - FLOCKED, 2013 model. I cut off the stupid over-girth thing that is supposed to hold the flaps down, otherwise, in GREAT condition. $950
Wintec Pro Jump - brown fittings (see heritage below) included.

17.5" Wintec Pro Jump - CAIR panels...had hoped it would work for Ben, and too long for Finn. $450

Heritage Bespoke Olympia Monoflap- fittings not included
18" Heritage Bespoke Olympia Monoflap. Brand new, and pretty dang wide - gorgeous in so many ways, just not the right fit for my body. Very, very sad about this one.

Enlightened Equitation Flexee
18" Enlightened Equitation Flexee VSD - leather treed saddle. This one I'm on the fence about selling...but if it finds a home I won't be heartbroken.

18" HDR Austal. Pretty much brand new. Purchased for that little red gelding I had featured on my blog awhile ago. I was going to keep him, had found a saddle to suit his short back...and he sold to someone else. I haven't really talked about it on here as it doesn't involve Ben, but the situation was heartbreaking and now I have this leather reminder of life-gone-wrong sitting in my house.

I'm in the process of taking pictures, putting ads up, etc - but if any of these interests you, please let me know. Thanks!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cross One More Thing Off The List

Ben is doing SO much better. His 2nd body work session was last night, and prior to that, I thought it would be good to get him out and loosened up. The sun was shining, a rarity in Seattle in October, so a sunset ride was in order. It was so beautiful out there. I wish I had had my phone on me to snap a picture, oh well.

Our ride was all about just loosening and warming up...but then I decided to see if i could maybe execute a training level test. And much to my surprise, it didn't feel half bad! To cool out, I untacked Ben and was walking him around and then decided on a whim to hop on bareback. It is something I've always wanted to do with him (I even put it on my 2013 goals), but never really get around to, or make time for.  So up I went, and we puttered around bareback for 10 minutes or so, watching the sun go down. It was such a quiet, beautiful evening.

His check up and 2nd massage went well. The exercises and stretches have been paying off- it is very clear that his range of motion has increased quite a bit. Ben still does have issues, however, all across his topline- and will likely take a bit longer to fully resolve - no one thought it would happen in 1 session. So, armed with some new exercises along with the old, and keeping up with the weekly appt's, we're going to try our darnedest to get him feeling top-notch.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

We Did It!

After a few more days of trialing, I decided to go ahead with the Black Country Eloquence X. Is it perfect? No - in a perfect world the seat would be smaller, and the flap would be a touch more forward rather than straight up and down. BUT - it is workable - moreso than anything else has been. The important thing is that Ben seems to be alright with this saddle- he has lots of freedom in his shoulder, and the saddle is not bouncing everywhere. The panels have nice contact with his back, it is level, and there is no pinching anywhere. For me- the twist is rideable- it is actually quite comfortable. I can sit in the saddle, I can rise out of it- and I feel balanced. SOLD.

Today is Ben's 1 week check up/ 2nd massage. We've been doing our exercises all week, with the exception of a few days I've been sick and at home. I don't know how much improvement the bodyworker will see, but I have seen quite a bit. His walk and trot are not so short strided in the front- he's got even reach from left to right. he no longer swings around to look at me when I'm brushing him or tacking him up. Yes, he still has crooked issues - esp to the right - definitely more to work on. But- it has gotten better.

So between the saddle and the massages- I'm poor. But hey, my horse is happy...

Monday, October 14, 2013


Ben has had a bunch of time off since our last show in August- small rides here and there, but nothing overly regular or strenuous. He's had lots of turnout, and overall just been doodling around.

A result- a happy horse but a fat horse. And stiff.

I was hoping the time off would help resolve some soreness issues I had been noticing - but no such luck. If anything, he looks worse lately. So, last week, Ben was reintroduced to the concept of working. Last week has been ground conditioning - walks and longeing. Despite his stiffness- he looks SO much better on the longe than he has in the past. For the longest time, Ben could hardly hold a trot let alone canter on the longe. He has always needed a rider to help him along. But not so much anymore- Ben can absolutely do this on his own. His canter still needs development, but boy oh boy, he has such a lovely trot now, even just in a halter going around in casual circles.

A couple of really important things are happening this week:

1. Ben's *hopefully* new saddle arrives today. I cannot wait to get home to see that box on my doorstep!

2. Ben is getting a massage tomorrow. The masseuse comes highly recommended, and is known for giving exercises/ stretches as homework to help limber up and straighten out these guys. My hope is that we can identify the trouble spots and come up with a plan to make them better.

Given that the massage is happening on Tuesday, I am not sure what our prescription for exercise will be for the coming weeks. I sure hope it involves a well fitted Black Country Eloquence X ;)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Winner Winner....Sort of.

Finally! Ben was looking and moving okay- so I was able to actually SIT in the saddles I paid buckets to try on him.

Winner for the both of us- the Black Country Eloquence X. LOVED the seat on it, Ben moved really well in it. My test(s) - will he canter, and can I sit the trot - both passed with flying colors.

The only problem was that the saddle is much too small for me, i need more room in the seat and also for my femur to hang right and not jam up.

Lucky for me Trumbull Mountain has one in an 18.5" and a MW...so guess what is being shipped over for trial =) If all goes well I'm going to just settle on this one and be done with it.

Hooray! ...Until I have to seek out our next saddle...for jumping. Does it ever end?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Getting Warmer...A Continuation of the Saddle Saga

Last week was a whirlwind- traveling across the country and back. When I got back, 2 more saddles awaited me - a Black Country Eloquence X and the Detente Luna. Both beautifully made saddles. Yum.

Sitting in them- if I could hybrid the 2, I'd be a happy camper. loved the Detente's angled thigh block and twist, however, the seat felt just a bit too shallow. LOVED the deep seat on the black country, but the twist was a bit wider, and I think overall I would need a larger seat size in this one- I felt pretty jammed, especially my femur.

I was able to sit them both up on Ben, and was immediately happy with the fit of both - from the gullet to the channel to the shape and surface area contact of the panels. Girthed up, both looked great.

However, that is as far as I was able to take it, because Mr. Ben is a lame :( I *think* he may have an abscess brewing, it is certainly that time of year. Unfortunately I can't get up to him until tomorrow to re-evaluate- but if he's still lame I will make an appt for him.

I was really hoping to be able to try out both of these saddles- but my trial period, even with an extension, may expire faster than he will get better. Best laid plans, right?!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

As the Saddle Turns

Things are still quiet for Ben and I. I'm still trying to give him time off, but we have done a bit of stuff here and there. Mostly, I've taken up the quest for the perfect saddle...because, why not?

This has been an abysmal quest, and I'm almost ready to call it quits...again. Adding my list of saddles tried: Schleese Wave (too curvy, winged off his back), Michal Cocoran (really nice in the front, panels winged off his back), Albion K2 (fit but KILLED my hips/legs/back - twist way too wide), Cardanel (nice front, winged off his back), Black Country Vinici X (too wide in front, billets hang all wrong).

Almost all of these had a few redeeming qualities- but in the end, i haven't actually been able to ride in any of them because just tacking him up in them presented glaring fit issues.

The next 2 coming on the list are another Black Country (Eloquence X in MW), and a used Detente Luna from Trumbull Mtn. The Detente is more of a long shot...but hey why not at this point.

So in the meantime, I am using my Enlightened Equitation Flexee (leather treed) saddle. So far, so good. Ben seems to like this- and I very much like it. I could just settle and use this, but I guess I just want to find a treed saddle too. But the pressure is off, because I do have something working fairly well. If no treed saddle can be found, I may end up just getting a leather Flexee when they are released.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sitting What?

Things have been pretty quiet in Ben's world. Lots of pasture time, grazing, and sun bathing. Every couple of days I take him out to tool around.

One thing we've been quietly working on is shortening up his stride, and slowing it down enough to be sit-able. A year and a half ago I would've laughed if someone had told me I'd be sitting Ben's trot.

I've been using my Flexee for this work, and Ben seems to like this saddle the best. So however strange it is, it works for us. I can take off my stirrups and do w/t/c with no problems. We're a work in progress (when are we not?) but I'm pleased with how things are going. But if I work on gathering his trot so the hind legs don't go so far out the back door, and if I use my core and look up and keep my elbows soft, I can sit it. Once I get that, I can slowly ask for more trot, and still sit it. We're a long ways from it being respectable enough for a show ring, but heck- gotta start somewhere, right?

And as it turns out, that work also improves the other stuff, too.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Keepin Occupied Leads to an "AHA!" moment

Ben is on summer holiday- I have committed to him some extended R&R, no strenuous training rides for at least 2-3 weeks.

However, I realized that his summer break coincided with a saddle fit appointment that I had scheduled quite awhile ago with our local Albion rep (which to summarize: the Albion that works for Ben is a killer on my hips and I just can't do it. Not even a year later). Knowing how long it takes to get these things scheduled, I decided to keep the appointment and pull Ben out for a quick ride; you know, just to make sure he A) Sound of body and B) Sound of mind.

I will admit, I did cringe a bit at the thought of riding him again. Typically, when given a couple of days off, Ben always comes back to work a bit creaky, stiff, and a wee bit grumpy. It takes a bit of work to limber up, and then he's fine.

This time, he was a bit stiff- but VERY forward. It was pretty amazing. Normally I have to remind him about the concept of being in front of my leg. So that was a nice surprise! He was also quite comfortable to ride, which was another shock. I felt as though my body was relaxed into the saddle and able to absorb the movement he offered.

So maybe the couple of weeks off was a good thing. But there is something else that has been helping me. He's chesnut, 14.3hh, and cute as a freakin button:


This little guy is a 4 yr old grade Arab (can be registered HA) owned by a friend of mine. He came back from owners who let him develop some pretty crappy herd-bound habits. I've been tasked with working with him for the next 30 days. It has been pure bliss. He's had his moments - he has tried his tricks, we've had some discussions, but boy has he been a fun little project. The best part about him is that he's smaller, and despite his cute gaits, he's very smooth to ride. He has a fantastic canter, and a very smooth trot. The result of this has been a gentle relaxation of my muscles that have been in perma-fixed mode when riding Ben. I've known this, tried to fix it, and clearly it hadn't been getting done. But it appears as though the Ying to Ben's Yang is this little guy. I am eternally grateful for it!

So what is next for Ben? I'm going to keep him in partial-work mode, the work part being trail rides and light hacks. I really want to focus on getting him over some cross rails too- so we'll do some of that. Depending on our collective mood, we'll go from there.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Final Show of the Season Success

Did I Win?
On Saturday we went to our last (planned) show of the season at our local saddle club. There were quite a few horses there, but turnout for our division was small. In 2 of the classes I was the only competitor, and in 2 there was only 1 other person. I think the largest class we were in had 6 riders. So it is kind of funny to post a picture of Ben wearing all his blue ribbons- but they were won easily just given the size of the show. It's not a picture I'm very proud of, but it is still a fun picture all the same (plus his goofball face makes me smile every time!).

We did end up scratching out of Showmanship. The pattern was very advanced, and I did not feel as though we were prepped for it. Picking up a trot from a halt would've been hard, and then there was backing around a cone. The cones themselves were placed very close together, and Ben's stride is way too long to make a decent pattern out of that at this point in time.  Because in English we do showmanship in the bridle, I didn't want to be in a position where I was yanking on Ben's mouth, all because he wasn't prepared on what to execute.  The good news is that now I have an idea of other things we can work on in hand and will be ready next year should we find ourselves in the show pen again!

In the end we did win High Point for our division, and I think we may have even accumulated enough points to earn a year-end award. It is quite an accomplishment - each show we've been to this year we've either won High Point, or Reserve High Point, or in 1 case, both. I'm very, very proud of our track record.

Almost done...Just.Keep.Trotting!
When tired and not supple, head tilt happens
My favorite: Halting!
It has been a great year of doing something entirely different. Its been a long time since I did this type of showing, and it was really fun! It opened our world up a bit, and gave me a reason to do some new things with Ben, like groundwork prep for showmanship. Overall, it served a great purpose. Last year Ben could barely make it through 2 dressage tests - he lacked endurance in both mind and body. This year it was all about getting out there and getting through the long mornings of showing, doing something he finds relatively easy= walk/trot. Next year, should we do this again, Ben will no longer go into walk/trot classes. No, instead we will do the w/t/c classes, and build the stamina there. Not only would it be poor sportsmanship to continue at walk/trot, it would also serve no purpose for the horse.

Despite the great year, I am POOPED, and I'm kind of glad it is over, at least for a short period of time. I feel like we both need a break - to get out on the trails, maybe start jumping a bit. Ben is going to have the next couple weeks off to just rest and enjoy the summer. And I need to focus a bit on my job, it is crunch time again. Hopefully we'll both come back to it refreshed and ready to do something new :)

And of course I'll be blogging about it!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Did This Really Happen? 2013 SAFE Benefit Show Results

Aren't we cute playing pretend-hunters (with dressage braids =))
What a weekend!! I am exhausted, sun-drunk, and sore. But, as always, it was totally worth it!

We arrived late on Friday evening due to horrific traffic. We had enough time to get the horses settled, our tack stall organized, and set up camp. By the time all that happened, there was no time for riding.

I had a fitful night's rest, and woke up early to feed, water, and braid Ben. Our first classes were in the Hunter/Jumper arena - doing the Trot poles division. The last time Ben saw a course was last year at the same show.When I brought him down to the arena to warm up, he was calm and easy going. We walked through the jump standards, over some poles, and were getting ready to pick up our trot and canter, when a group of 3 horses came in. No big deal, I had hardly paid attention to it. Ben, however, was struck with a dumb-fit and began to lose his cookies over the sight of 3 new horses. He started to squeal, shake his head, pop up in front and go backwards in circles. All I could do was keep him under control. I got him halted, let him take it in, and asked for forwards again, and got the same results. I suddenly realized maybe we were going to have an awful show after all. This went on for a good 10 minutes- the show staff even sent 2 of the jump crew over to block the other entrance in the event Ben escalated. However, after 10 minutes of this, he calmed down and was ready to work. So we picked up our trot and canter and got properly warmed up.  However, his nerves were still there, and presented themselves as grinding on the bit- very embarrassing, and has always been a bad habit of his.

So we entered our first class, Not-to-Jump, and my goal was to make it around as smoothly as possible, with no shenanigans. The class was very large. As they called the places, and were getting down to 3rd-2nd-1st, I was sure we were out of the running. Imagine my shock when they announced us as the first place winner! From there, we got a 5th in our next class (some naughtiness returned), a 4th in our 1st trot pole course (hitting too many poles), and a 2nd in our Trot Pole Eq class.

After a couple hours rest back at the barn, I decided to bring Ben to the Trails course and attempt it in-hand. He has never seen a trails course before. Backing through an L,  weaving between poles, going over a blue and yellow bridge, Car Wash, Pool noodles sticking out- all of this was new to him. I thought for sure he'd be scared of SOMETHING there. But it took him all of a minute or 2 to go through the entire course- never batting an eye. So I tacked him up and rode through it, and he repeated his performance. What a good boy Ben! We took 1st place in both classes.

The next day was the English Open show. I made the decision to scratch our dressage tests due to Ben's chiro issues - I just didn't think it was fair to ask him to be all bendy and supple, and knowing he was struggling with it there was no point in being judged for a half-assed test. So with that, I signed us up for all the halter, walk, and walk/trot classes we needed to get us closer to high point. I even signed us up for 2 WTC classes, but knowing those were late in the day, I didn't have much hope of actually riding in them.

The day had ups and downs- he won his Halter-Hunter type class,and then bombed his Halter-Rescue class - waaay too fidgety, dropped his you-know-what in the lineup. Under saddle, his walk-trot transition disappeared. He was struggling with this earlier in the week, and it came back to bite us. It seemed like we'd either get 1st or 2nd or 5th - nothing really in-between. When he was good, he was REALLY good. And when he wasn't, he just wasn't. In one class he was going very well and a bucket fell behind us, just as we passed the rail, which sent him scooting forward. The crowd gasped, but he was under control and went right back to work. That got us a 4th, but I was proud of him for not losing his cookies over that! Afterwards the judge came over and told me I rode that quite well!

But over all, he did well, though I could feel that same stiffness to the right, despite his being forward. Ultimately I chose to scratch the 2 w/t/c classes in the afternoon.

So that's it, right? Semi-success. Lots of blues, some reds, and a few whites and light blues. As it turns out, we ended up winning 3 awards: English High Point 30 & Over, Rescue Horse Champion, and Reserve Grand Champion for the show. 3 complete surprises! Well done, Ben!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

As the Hoof Turns - Continuing Saga of Show Prep

My plan started out well- Wednesday, Thurs, and Friday morning last week went off without a hitch. But by Friday evening, everything turned on its head.

Ben has not been quite right - to the right. He's been awfully fussy, and just not willing to bend to the right, or travel straight. This has always been his tougher side, but workable. But over the past couple of weeks, instead of working out of it, he's getting more tense about it - stiffening, tightening, grinding his teeth. I thought maybe it was me, so when I had my trainer ride him, she also felt it and agreed that maybe he needs body work. She also suggested that I try giving him some bute, just to see if he got better or stayed the same. And if he is in pain, the anti-inflammatories might help him.

That was Friday morning. On Friday afternoon I pulled him out with the intention of going on a light walk-hack in the hunter set up.  I was currying the dust off his body and got to his rib cage on the right and in an instant he turned his head and tried to snap at me! Ben is the sweetest, most gentle animal on the planet - so obviously I was taken aback. So I started to gently palpate the area and he really was quite sore. Then I realized that the past couple of weeks, he's been turning his head to look at his side when I was brushing him- which I thought he was showing me he was itchy- which he often is and loves a good scritch. But obviously, what was a minor ouch has turned into a bigger one.

So the plan changed right then. Saturday he had off- but I also put him on some bute. Sunday he also got bute. By Sunday evening, I went out to see him and gently palpated his side- he did not react. So I did end up taking him for a light hack in the hunter tack. He still wasn't too keen to bend to the right, but I didn't press the issue- just made a mental note of it.

Yesterday my wonderful trainer was able to score me a last minute appt with her vet/chiro for this evening (Tuesday). Ben was even better yesterday, but still, not quite right- back to how he was about a week ago. His back is still stiff and he's taking really bouncy trot steps.

So I'm thinking the bute did help him, and he did get some turnout on the hill pasture yesterday which also probably helped him. However, I am very relieved to have the vet/chiro take a look, make adjustments, and tell me what he's got going on, and if he's okay to take to the show this weekend.

So a new plan is hatching. If Ben needs some time off, he'll get it. While it'll be a bummer for us to miss the biggest show of the year, his health and soundness is much more important. If that is the case, I'm toying with bringing my youngster. While I could probably get a vet's note to get a refund for Ben and not go at all, my friends are still going, and I hate to give up an opportunity to trailer one of my horses off the property. It could be a good experience for the little dude. If he behaves himself on Friday and Saturday, then maybe Sunday we'll do the Training level tests I'm already signed up for.

But here is to hoping the worst case scenario does not become reality. I'm hoping Ben gets the adjustment he needs and gets "all clear" tonight- even if we need to keep it lighter at the show this weekend. I guess we'll see...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lessons from C

Yesterday I had the opportunity to scribe for my saddle club's dressage show. It was  awesome because scribing counted for my volunteer hours for the year (check!). I learned a TON about riding dressage tests from the judge's point of view (check!). Basically, I got an 8 hour lesson in dressage.

So with that, here is what I learned:

1. My tests. I definitely know my tests now, LOL.

2. Show up on time. If you have a reader, make sure they are walking in when the last test ends as well. People do not appreciate you holding up the entire show.

3. No one takes kindly to harsh aids- jerking or kicking. You need to prepare your horse for transitions, people!

4. Death grip on the reins does not a fancy horse make.

5.  Accuracy counts for A LOT. If you have a so-so horse, you can really gain points for accuracy in your geometry and figures.

6. Correct bend accounts for A LOT.

7. Activity in all gaits counts for A LOT. Get those horses moving! A shuffling trot or ambling walk has no place in the dressage arena.

8. Read the tests. Look at where the coefficients are. Circles and Stretch at the lower level. Make sure you have good circles and stretches.

9. Read the tests. See how the movements are divided and lumped together for the score. This is something I didn't realize/ fully appreciate until I put pen to paper yesterday. You can gain points in areas you know your horse is stronger. But if you have a mistake, it doesn't mean you still can't do well in the other movements.

We saw some fancy horses, some school horses, and green horses. Experienced riders, trainers, and youth. You would think that the fancy horses stole the show, but they did not. They got the same scores- because they were getting dinged on the same directives. Almost everyone would cut corners. Or shrink their circles. Or not show stretch. Or miss the centerline. Almost every horse was slogging through the test at some point, lacking activity. These are the things, if you clean up and confirm, you can really use to pump up your score. Judges appreciate try.

And so I go into this week with renewed inspiration, and a laundry list of things to focus on.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Getting Over Myself - The Plan

Okay, enough whining from me, my vent is over. Time to buckle down and plan to make the most of the next 10 days. Okay, so here is the plan. Strapped on the big girl pants and ready to rock.

  • Wednesday 7/24= Ride
  • Thursday 7/25= Lesson
  • Friday 7/26= Trainer ride AM, PM "hunter" ride (try out the borrowed saddle)
  • Saturday 7/27= OFF
  • Sunday 7/28 = Ride - trails? Maybe...
  •  Monday 7/29= Ride
  •  Tuesday7/30= OFF
  • Wednesday 7/31= Ride or Lesson
  • Thurs 8/1= AM Training Ride? PM Ride or Lesson
  • Friday 8/2= AM Training Ride? Haul down to show, evening hack around facility
  • Saturday 8/3= Show hunters (4 w/t classes)
  • Sunday 8/4= Show Dressage T2 & T3, and a handful of flat hunt seat classes
  • Monday= OFF
  • Tuesday= OFF
  • Wednesday = Ride/lesson
  • Thursday= Ride/lesson
  • Friday= Ride
  • Saturday= W/T show
  •  Sunday= Rejoice that its over!
Okay phew, already feeling better that I have a plan. I'm also feeling better that I'm able to snag some time from my trainer. I have no idea if the training rides/lessons will happen beyond what is scheduled for this week. I'm holding out hope, though, and will adjust  our schedule as necessary to make it work.

Our ride last night, generally speaking, was better than Monday's - however, some things have gotten sloppy- mainly transitions. So we did a ton of them. The other thing that worries me is the right lead canter. It tends to ebb and flow in terms of quality, but lately we're more on an "ebb" than "flow". Everything about it sucks- the transition he throws his head, he's leaning into my leg, pushing his inside shoulder in, almost looks counter-bent, and when I try to correct it, he just wants to go faster because he's losing his balance.

Part of the issue, I think, is that he's been VERY spooky going to the right in our indoor arena. There is one scary end/corner, and he definitely changes as he approaches it. I could care less about it because his spooks are not a big deal - what is annoying though is that he loses the suppleness, and wants to go around counter-bent...just in case the monster shows its face. 

I'm relieved to have a lesson scheduled for tonight. Maybe with instruction I can crack this. And then Friday's ride in the borrowed saddle will be outside.

Last night I also pulled out some poles - made one "fence" (pole on the ground between 2 blocks), and another flat pole just on the ground.  I used them for trotting over and cantering. I will say- cantering over the pole really did help, once he got the hang of it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Overcoming Obstacles

10 Days to go before Ben and I head off to our biggest show of the year, and I couldn't be more stressed. Well, maybe I COULD be, but I'm barely keeping it together with what I've got to handle right now.

There is nothing majorly wrong in my life - I'm just experiencing the typical stress of trying to fit it all in, and do it all well, and I'm failing, miserably.  When I get like this I can see with a bit more clarity things that are preventing me from getting done what needs doing.

1. My commute sucks lately. I am clocking 3-4+ hours in the car, round trip, per day. Basically I leave at 6 am, and I'm home at 9-9:30 at night. So I give myself about 20-30 minutes before I have to go to bed  and seriously be thinking about sleep.

2. It's been warmer out, and I just don't sleep well when it is warm.

3. The barn situation has me down and out a bit. Don't get me wrong, they get great care. However, a couple of things have been serious road blocks over the last few weeks. I don't really want to delve into them publicly, but basically, the place as great as it is to board, has been a bit harder to ride at. It just isn't being treated as an active riding facility (and primarily it is not a riding facility) - so I feel like I am climbing an uphill battle. There have been times I get to the barn and I can't ride for one reason or another. Some time it has been due to things that are clear safety and health issues, and other times it has been just some event (parties, farrier) in the way. My biggest frustration is that I'm already cramped for time, and the limited time I DO have to get things done up there, has been getting squeezed by things outside of my control.

4. One thing I will talk about is the lack of pasture turn out. It's not anyone's doing- just the fact of moving to a new place, but the timing couldn't be worse. My barn manager is trying to fix up the pastures, fencing, etc. Which means right now the horses cannot go out there. They have stalls w/ paddocks and also get time in the arenas/sand lots, but gone are the days that they are exercising themselves on the big hill. The big hillside, during the short month Ben was on it, was working wonders for him. It was that extra bit of conditioning he needed.And of course, right at the heart of show season, when I need him to be in tip-top shape, it gets taken away. Right at the time when I could use a little help in keeping him conditioned. Just bad timing. I completely understand the need to fix the pastures, and I appreciate the effort to do so. I just wish it didn't coincide when I needed it the most.

5. Trainer time-out. Of course, the other thing to have happened in July was taking a training break. All this time both of my horses have been in partial training...2 training rides plus 1 lesson a week. This has been great for me, especially on the days my schedule goes haywire. But show season is upon us, and my trainer was very upfront with her limited ability to drive down to ride. Again, totally natural...but totally a bummer.

6. Saddle fit. Saddles, oh saddles, how I both love and hate you. Fitter cannot come out to fix my custom saddle until later August, nor adjust the flocking in the Isabell- there is a tight spot that she can alleviate for Ben. Obviously there is no time to break it in and use it for my last 2 shows of the year. I hate it that I'm riding Ben in something that isnt quite right. And yet, I haven't found that magic bullet. I keep picking up used saddles as they come in from the local shops, and I feel as though I am getting closer..but we're not quite there yet.

7. Regular summer, non-horsey things that just get in the way and make life even more of a challenge. Happy hours, picnics, bbq's, dinners, etc. The list is a mile long, and I say "No" to most of it. But it makes me feel horrible inside. At some point I should actually pay attention to people outside my little equestrian world.

8. Horse #2. I've mentioned him here before. He's a young half-Arab, who was just started under saddle in February. He's flightly, very much a drama queen. He's terrified of our new indoor arena, and wash rack. Working with him is a major time-suck. And yet, I have to fit him in. Sure, I could let him be until next year...and then what? Next year I am kicking myself...why didn't I desensitize him before I needed to really focus on his under-saddle work? Why didn't I just put in the time he needs to gain his confidence? Ugh.

Normally I'd be cool about this stuff. Normally I am a very patient person, and just let things happen as they come, and deal with them accordingly. But not right now, not when I have a deadline to meet, and not when I am going to be publicly shamed. The biggest stressor is that in 11 days I am riding my first 2 dressage tests of the year in front of an S judge for the first time. I'm feeling VERY unprepared, and getting moreso by the day.

Why is this so stressful? My horse is young. 5, in fact. I was confident, given how well he had been doing, that we could put in a couple of decent dressage tests. But that is with all the conditioning and prepatory work to make it happen. He's *just* getting it, with a lot of outside help. And if he doesn't? Normally, I'd chalk it up to him being young, not being prepared. Which is all very true. My young horse needs to be prepared. But that is not what people will see. They have no idea what has happened over the last few weeks. What they will see is the bright white brand on his neck, shake their heads and whisper "ohh, its because he's a Standardbred."

NO NO NO. It is NOT because he is a Standardbred!

The negative person in me sees everything falling apart, and everything we've worked towards slipping away, right when it is most important that we be on our game. The fighter in me says "to heck with all this complaining, just work harder!" But I just can't find the time to actually work harder. The whiner in me says I may as well just forget doing all that I wanted to do at my 2 day show- I should just forget about the dressage test and focus on doing walk/trot open classes. I should just do what is easier, but it is likely now that he won't be conditioned enough to do much more than that anyway.

But I have to take all of that and just meet it head on. I still have 10 days. I've got to make the most of this 10 days. But I have some real obstacles coming up over the next week and a half, and I'm not entirely sure how to overcome them. I wish I could just explain to my non-horsey husband and work people all the work involved to make this show weekend happen. Its like signing up to run a marathon and not training the 10 days prior. So no, I can't stay late and I can't do happy hour. And I can't do dinner, either. Careers and relationships be damned. And the net result is that I'm sucking at everything, rather than being mostly good at most things.

Is it all really worth it? For what? To chase a few ribbons? To prove there was improvement? Do I need to do this to prove to myself that we're somewhat worthy? To prove that my horse is worthy of his legs, and worthy of being called a horse, and not some abomination of a breed called the Standardbed?

Why do I look back on these moments of pure stress and think "Wow that was fun, let's do it again!"

Monday, July 15, 2013

2nd Show in the Books

Walk Trot Reserve Champions!
Another great weekend of showing! Each one of us in our group got either High Point or Reserve High Point in a division - go us! LOL

Ben was great- he's such a steady guy this year. Well, except in Showmanship, during which I was wanting to strangle him. He was fine for the warm up - the practicing went really well too. The pattern was easy. But of course he turned into a complete Fidget. Chomp chomp chomp on the bit, swinging his hind quarters both during his inspection and also in line. So so naughty - and he totally knows better.

But he quickly redeemed himself undersaddle, winning a blue in our first Eq class - never thought I'd win a 1st place in an equitation class on this horse, LOL. But then our second Eq class I completely blew - I own it, and I laugh about it. I'm not sure where I was exactly, but it wasn't at the horse show, and definitely was not paying attention. We were asked to halt - which we did. Then change direction- which we did a great turn on the haunch....and instead of staying halted, I just walked on like I was doing the right thing. Haha, and then I realize what a do-do head I was, and halted...right when they asked for the riders to walk on. Fabulous. So out of 7 I got 4th. Next time I'll be awake and pay attention.

Then our next class I performed my second dumb move of the day and screwed up our advanced Eq pattern, haha - for no apparent reason other than me being really out of it. Apparently I needed more caffeine or something.

But from there on out- we nailed our WT pleasure classes with 2 first places, out of 8 riders in the open class!

And unlike the last show where we ran out of energy, I felt like we had enough to continue on with the next 2: Advanced W/T Pleasure and WTC for WT Open. Ben had enough juice, sorta, to do the classes, but didn't really have enough energy to do the tasks requested of him- like extended and collected trot. He put his all out there for extended trot, but then couldn't bring it back, which has always been his trouble spot. But I was proud of him for getting to where we could actually make it into the class! We pulled a 3rd out of 3.  And then our final class we did place 1st out of 2. His canter was crappy, lacking in just about everything - but his transitions were good and the other gal picked up the wrong lead. He was pretty pooped by then, but again, glad we were able to do it rather than scratch.

I did end up scratching the Trails class- which we were supposed to do after our morning of English classes. Ben was legitimately tired, and I just didn't want to set us up to have an argument should he decide something in the trails course was scary. So i decided to end on a good note and appreciate all I got out of him.

It wasn't enough for High Point this time around, but we still managed to get Reserve Champion. And we continue to get a ton of compliments - this time a sea of little girls came up to us and asked me what breed he was. So I got to talk to them about Standardbreds - and they all said "He's soooooo beautiful, I would love to have him!" In a sea of paint/qh/mustang/arabs, Ben sure stands out. I think he really likes the attention- I can feel him turn it on and up in the show ring. Maybe I have a budding Show Diva on my hands!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Getting Back To It

Sorry for the absence - was out of the country for a week on a beautiful, relaxing vacation. Ben did not get a full vacation himself - trainer rode a couple of times as did his other rider.

Upon getting home, I decided to give my new saddle another assessment. As it turns out- I believe the problem is that it is too wide. So while it starts in the right place, upward it creeps until its resting on top of his shoulders. I am not hopeful creative padding with help with this- but I am going to try while I wait for my appt with my local saddle fitter. There is definitely room for more flocking, so hopefully she can tweak it to make it useable! But for now, it is sidelined until further notice, and we're back to the good old Isabell.

On Saturday we're going to our second show. Hoping the temps stay cooler and do not climb high. So far The Weather Channel is calling for Sun and 73...which would be perfect!

Ben all in all is doing great. We're currently schooling the usual - adding in simple changes, and overall trying to develop a more balanced, quality canter for longer periods of time. The things helping the most with this are leg yields-to-canter and the simple changes. Now that we have a much longer arena, we're also doing a lot of serpentine & change of bend exercises. And as always: transitions! His trot-to-canter transition is doing much better - and the aid for it is becoming much less invisible- balance him on the aids and move the hip- voila- canter! Not 100% of the time but we're definitely getting better.

This week I am going to introduce canter poles as an exercise, as well as going back to some trot poles. I'll be honest, they are a pain to set up and take down, so as a whole our group has been awfully lazy about setting these up! But I do think they will be helpful and so I'm going to kick my own butt to get it done.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Tale of a New Toy - Or Possibly the LONGEST Post Ever

If you have read this blog for any length of time you will know that from the moment I started riding Ben, I had a saddle fitting problem.

I've tried many, many saddles on my dear Ben. I could probably try many, many more, if I had the time, money, and energy.

Alas, back in March, after the last bout of failed saddle fittery, I cracked. Having purchased a new, slimmer designed flocked Wintec Isabell for my ArabX gelding, I started using that on Ben instead. While it kinda works and he doesn't protest, it still isn't a great fit for either of us. And seriously, while they did a decent job of slimming down the twist, the seat is rock hard. Rock hard seat on bouncy horse is NOT fun.

So I started looking around. I believe I even wrote a post about looking at some different saddles locally and through online saddlery's that offer generous trials. I ended up not doing the trials because it dawned on me that, to spend $120 per saddle to trial added up quickly - and why was I going to do try saddles that cost $3800 - 4500+ new? Sure, i could find the exact saddle I wanted but would have to wait for a used one to pop up, because honestly, my budget does not allow for such an expense at this time, especially not with 2 horses in training.

So I trialed some saddles locally instead, as well as sending off for some treeless saddles just to see if they made any bit of difference.

And in the meantime, I ordered Ben a custom saddle from Heritage Bespoke Saddlery (http://www.heritagesaddlery.co.uk/). During all of my searching, I vetted this out every which way to Sunday - and could not find a negative response from anyone in terms of quality, fit, etc. So I started to email with the owner, Matt, who was very helpful.

So on the last week of March 2013, I broke down and ordered a fully custom Olympia Monoflap LS:  http://www.heritagesaddlery.co.uk/content/yin-yang-olympia-monosingle-flap-close-contact-dressage-saddle-olympia-lsd-large-shouldered-

How much was said custom saddle? All told, $1750.00 USD- WITH shipping included.

That's right folks, under $2k for a custom saddle.

The downside? A custom saddle is not returnable. A custom saddle requires you to take proper tracings and pictures. Success depends on your ability to describe what it is you want, in a way your saddler can understand.

There are no trials. There is no one on the ground helping you.

And yet, I stupidly did it anyway. On June 20th, a meer 11 weeks post purchase, my masterpiece arrived in a tattered cardboard box. I gasped at the condition of it- barely being held together by the tape. It had had a rough journey...what was to become of the saddle inside?

It was fine. Not only just fine, remarkably beautiful. The quality of leather is outstanding. Strong, soft, and yummily grippy. The seat is so, so soft. I could sit on that thing all day long.

Of course, I had to take it out to the barn to try it immediately.  I was hoping beyond hope that this would work for Ben. On looks alone, it looked to be a fair match- had I seen it at the tack store you can bet I would've taken it on trial.

So out it went. I cleaned Ben up as quickly as possible, and set it on his back. All I can say is WOW. Mr. Marlow had done it. While perhaps not 100% fit, more like 97% - this saddle looked like a part of Ben. Surely, with some break in and settling, we'd hit 100% - and quickly too.

Quickly bridled and off to our arena, err, SWAMP. Dangit- the day's prior rain had turned our beautiful workspace into a slop pit. That did not deter me, I HAD to sit in this thing.

So I mounted up and...did nothing. Ben just stood there. Hmm, this saddle is not as comfortable on the horse as it was on my stand...it feels like something is hitting my thighs, and wait- is that the stirrup bar I feel? Are my stirrups too long? Is this flap too far forward?  I coaxed him forward, and he obligingly went. Until I asked him to trot, and he said NO WAY.  I said YES WAY, and he finally went. Sort of- blip blopping around- bouncy as heck, rooting his head and dodging the footing. What the heck is going on?

We went on this way for several more minutes until I decided- this sucks. He's not having fun, I'm struggling, the footing blows- I have no idea if he hates the saddle or the footing or the humid air.

Back to the barn we went, and I realized the saddle pad had almost slid out. The saddle had settled with my weight and was too wide for him. That was a first, but also expected, as I had requested the saddle be built a bit more generously to allow for a sheepskin pad (only the best for Ben, you know). I was tempted to quickly stuff one under there and try again - but remembered the crap footing and decided to push my plans to the next day.

Day 2: The sun was shining and footing appeared to be better. Still uneven and mucky in spots, but avoidable spots. Armed with my shimmed up thinline pad, I went out and attempted to ride once again in my new saddle. This time, we barely were able to trot. I felt like I had a crick in by back and was hunched over, and Ben looked and felt dead lame at the trot. GAAAH. So it wasn't footing. Or the saddle. Maybe he has a bruise or abscess brewing?

Back to the barn...no heat anywhere on his leg, hoof or anything. All the same, we take precautions and into his stall he goes. Saddle trying will just have to wait.

Day 3: Barn manager turned Ben out on mistake. I show up to find a beautiful bay standardbred galloping up and down hills, cavorting around with his wee Arabian friend/brother. Didn't appear that there were any lame horses in that field. Huh. If he's sound enough to be doing that, he's sound enough for me to try this saddle again.

This time I decided to try my sheepskin pad, thinking that perhaps the Thinline with shims was TOO much. This might be a good time to mention that a couple of Ben's tell tale signs of "I hate this saddle" have been mysteriously missing - tooth grinding, and fussing while girthing.
Up I get, and off we go. This time the footing is PERFECT. No excuses there. The saddle, on day 3, is feeling much more comfortable for me.  I ask him for a trot, and after a few false/lazy starts, his trot feels pretty darn good. Like, everything is normal and fine good. Okay- a bit more trotting and now it is time for canter. NO WAY says Ben- I am NOT cantering. Uhh, yes you are buddy. After a few moments I finally got a canter out of him- but it was not pretty, or comfortable.

Okay- I had to get to the bottom of this. We marched right back to the barn. Off came the new saddle and on went the old Isabell. God I really dont like the fit. Back to the arena we went. I got on and YOUCH - seriously how have I been riding all this time in this thing? HAHA - funny how things change so quickly!

Asked Ben to trot - got the same, equal trot as in the new saddle. Asked him to canter - at first i got protests- but this time I pushed him - his canter came back. Not 100%, but like 80. And he wasn't being a snark-boy about it.

So here we are, Day 4. I've been emailing with the saddler. I really can't figure out what could possibly be going wrong. This saddle looks great on him. I guess looks aren't everything, though.

One thought is that maybe the girthing is not quite right - maybe he needs a different shaped girth with this saddle. The other is that maybe it is truly too wide. Or maybe he doesn't like how I sit in it. Or maybe it is just that the thing feels so unlike anything else he's ever been ridden in. Who knows.

I'm going to keep futzing with it, and we'll see where it leads us.

I've been asked if I'm sorry I made the decision to purchase this saddle. No, not at all. It is a beautiful saddle, and I think with a little adjusting, it may work well. If this thing cost $5-6k as custom saddles often do, then yes, I'd be crying in my beer. But then again, I probably would not have purchased a $5k saddle sight unseen, or in person... lol

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Show Entry Dilemma

What to do, what to do...

Every year, I make it a point to attend the Safe a Forgotten Equine Benefit Show. It is a 3 day weekend of fun- all for a great cause. This year we're going again, but the schedule of events has changed, leaving me with a scheduling problem.

Last year, we were able to do our dressage tests on the first day, and our hunters on the second day. This worked out great.

However, this year, Ben and I are members of the Standardbred Performance Society, and are in the running for year-end awards. One of the rules though, is that you have to compete at least 3x in the division in order to be eligible.

We started off the year going to our first Open show, competing in mostly walk/trot classes. We're going again on July 13th. Which means, we could do the Open main ring classes at the SAFE show in August, and be eligible for a SPS Year End award for W/T and Showmanship. However, at the SAFE show, Dressage is happening on the same day as the Main ring English Open classes.

I really wanted to sneak in a couple of dressage classes this year. If I take the opportunity to do dressage at SAFE, then I am cutting into my earned points and eligibility for the SPS awards. I'm not sure I'll be able to make it to another English open show this year, and it is highly unlikely I'll make it to 2 additional dressage shows.

Yet, it just feels so wrong to not do any dressage tests all year, with my dressage horse. Part of me is really interested to see how we'll score in training level.

I've thought/ entertained trying to squeeze in both- and the SAFE show management said they will try to accommodate me- but no promises. So it could very well be that I'd miss some of my W/T classes for dressage. It is also highly likely that it will be warm out and my horse will not have enough stamina to do both, even if the scheduling worked out.

So...what to do? Forget about dressage this year and do the Open classes? Try to fit them both in? Focus on dressage and try to squeeze in some open classes if he has energy left?

On another note, Saturday the choice is easy between Western and Hunters. I only have a dressage saddle, so I guess I'll be doing the trot pole division in the hunter arena again this year :)

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Little Bit of Work Mixed in with a LOT of Fun & Sleep

Ahh, almost summer here but it seems as though this has been a very mild year in the PNW. Lots of sunshine, mild temps- I could get used to this!

I has playtime
Ben has been enjoying his new barn & the great weather too- tons of turn out & socialization with his buddies, makes for one tired horse.

Too tired to wait for fresh shavings, must sleep now ZZZZzzzzz
 He's been great for his other rider, though their rides have been short as she has been getting used to him. This means I still ride him a bit to keep him spruced up and fresh- which is hilarious if you think back to this time last year, and I was barely able to stay on him let alone be an effective enough rider to school him. Ben so quickly likes to take the easy road if allowed, so making sure he's putting in his half of the work is important.

I've noticed things slipping a bit- he is diving into the bridle and not being very soft through his body- which is elongating his trot and canter making it much harder to for him to hold and ride. The fix for this of course is softening - transitions and bends. So that is what we did this weekend. I have been introducing to him simple changes through the trot and walk across the diagonal, and serpentines now that we have the space. These two have done wonders to his trot-canter transitions. They aren't always pretty, but they really help to keep him balanced and not falling out every which way. I've noticed now too that he requires very little aid for canter- finally just a shift with the hip and off he goes.

I'll also let you in on a little secret- he knows his leads :) I was playing with this yesterday, just seeing if I could ask for counter canter, not expecting him to keep it, but just asking- and voila- the boy knows.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Of Ribbons and Smiles

I picked up Ben's High Point ribbon today! Of course I felt as though he needed the opportunity to wear it - as should all champions :)

Ben also had another big day today. It isn't often that others ride him- to be honest almost everyone is afraid to. It isn't that he is unsafe, it is that he's a bouncy guy, and much bigger mover than the horses they are used to. But today, that changed. A friend/fellow boarder is going to ride Ben a bit while she tries to figure out her challenging/dangerous mare. We thought that perhaps a change of pace would be a good thing for her, and who better to help out than Ben!

She did really well with him, and he was a superstar. I'm pretty sure this grin says it all:
Standardbreds are just horrible to ride, aren't they?!
The idea is that she'll ride him on her own but also take a few lessons on him as well. I can't think of a better job for my guy - lending a helping hoof. That way, if/when her mare is ready, she'll be strong and able to survive :)

So, that means my posts here may dwindle a bit as I won't be riding Ben so much - only a ride here and there. Of course things change and maybe it won't work out for one reason or another which means I'll be back in the saddle and posting about our adventures!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Extended what? Oh, It's Happening!

Still ridin' high on Cloud No. 9 after last night's lesson on Ben. One of those moments I WISH I had got on camera.

Everything started off normal - suppling exercises at walk and trot. Bending,  this way and that- all routine stuff with Bennifer. Then we started our canter work, and it.was.amazing. So amazing that we decided, what the heck, lets try to do an exercise of extending and collecting the canter. OH.MY.GOODNESS. My boy can boogie! All he needed was some space!

It was so much fun, I had a huge smile on my face, and my heart swelled with such joy. I absolutely love this horse. He's got so much to give, and so willingly gives it- he'll die trying for his rider. He may not be the fanciest beast in all the land, but he sure is one of the kindest.

<3 Ben!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Move is Complete

I edge the lawn for free
Ahh, finally-  the move is complete. After a bustling weekend of non-stop activity, we are finally settled in...somewhat. Still loads to be organized, routines to be established, but we'll happily do that.

Yesterday was our first ride in 2, yes 2 arenas. We started off in the indoor- the luxury of a 75 x 145 ft space was amazing. This is coming from we cave dwellers who spent the last year riding in a 60 x 100 ft box.

We quickly moved to the outdoor arena to take advantage of the gorgeous weather. I was a little concerned that Ben would have a harder time in that space...though it is longer (168 ft) it is narrower at 55 ft (odd sizes, yes I know)...but he was perfectly well balanced and we actually had some lovely canters in there, despite my worries.

I think we'll be happy here. Apart from the 2 arenas, we also have access to endless miles of trails right across the street.  We have big pastures and stalls connected to gravel paddocks, and 2 other sand lots that double as arenas/turnout spaces for the wetter months of the year.

In other news- the show this weekend is cancelled for us - we all realized we have a ton of unpacking and organizing to do - the thought of trying to find our show clothes and spend a day away from the new facility seemed a bit unrealistic. So instead we'll play in our new space- maybe even go explore the trails. Not to worry - the next show is in July, and then another in August- hopefully we'll be able to hit those up instead.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Baby Steps

And so it goes. Its been a quiet week here - we've been busy organizing, packing, prepping for the move. In an attempt to dismantle my shelving unit in the tack room, it got pissed off and bit me.

On the riding front- not much has been going on. I've been trialing another saddle...the Enlightened Equitation FlexEE dressage saddle. Ben seems to really like it, I quite like it as well. The seat is very cushy. I'm not sure if I'd prefer the VSD more than the straight dressage - that is my only hang up right now. Plus it is synthetic, with a clarino seat. VERY sticky stuff....note Clarino on Clarino= rubber cement.

I've been breaking in my new boots- maiden ride was last night.  Holy OUCH Batman! LOL I could barely get on my horse, and once on I could barely ride. Plus new leather on a synthetic flap= SQUEAKAGE. It was so awful I ended up taking my stirrups off and doing no-stirrup work at all three gaits. Posting with no stirrups= much needed. Riding Ben with no stirrups= hilarious.

I've been trying to teach him to slow his trot down, taking smaller, baby steps. Not anything particularly dressagey - but just to take smaller steps - which are much easier to sit for one, and also it helps him keep his hind legs underneath him, as he has a tendency to let them fly out the back, which creates a huge bouncy gait - with a different rhythm in the front legs compared to the back ones. So last night we worked on it- small trot without breaking to walk, without breaking to pace. He kind of gets it- will definitely need to  keep working on this.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Horsie Weekend

What a fun weekend! It was jam packed wire to wire with horsie activities.

On Saturday morning I went up to the fairgrounds to the Pacific Rim Hunter Jumper show going on. I had a couple of friends showing there, and it was fun to hang out in that crowd, and very much made me want to get back into it again!

Yes, we were at a show, not a prison...

Afterwards, I saddled up Ben (in thre treeless) and went out to our track for a long "gallop"...or in his world...ambling canter. I had the intentions of trying to make it around 1 time at the canter in each direction...lets say we made it about 2/3's of the way before breaking. The funny thing is- doesn't matter if you are headed for home, or away from the barn....Ben is the exact same. Zero excitement, same speed. He definitely prefers to hug the outside rail so i did work a lot on moving him laterally from rail to rail. I'm going to miss that track!

What you lookin'at?
So about this treeless. The trial period has ended. It was a lovely experience, and I highly recommend trying before you buy. I am not completely sold on it yet. I have some fitting issues: one is size for me- it just felt too small so I'd be making a leap of faith with the adjustments the company recommends. The other thing, as you can see in this picture- is that it sits cantle low on Ben. Almost everything sits this way on him. I think it has to do with the slope of his shoulders.  Nevertheless, it really has me rocking back, and I don't like concentrating the pressure on his back- let alone the position it puts me in. I'm not sure if it would be safe or okay to try to shim up the back with some kind of padding. More to explore, I guess. But after 4 solid days of hard riding, Ben is just fine. I'm not sure he'd stay that way long term, but it was still fun to try out something new and different.

Once I was finished at the barn, I rushed down to the tack shop to pick up my new boots. Back in February I ordered custom Dehner's. They are lovely, and are going to fit beautifully. Right now I'm in the process of installing the front crease, but they will soon be ready for riding!

So beautiful, yet so painful at first

On Sunday, a barn mate and I decided to go audit a Jan Ebeling clinic held in Woodinville. We spent the entire day there, watching rides. A few different breeds, riders of many levels, and one amazing clinician. I am not sure what I was expecting, maybe a stuck up, self important type- Jan was anything but. Such a nice, relaxed, down to earth guy. Very focused, very sympathetic to the horse. He sat with us quite a bit, answered questions, made small talk, asked his own questions- it was all really neat!

One of the lessons was done on a horse that had a lot of the same issues as Ben with coming through...but much more talented. It was interesting to see how it was dealt with, and done very much the same way my trainer has me work with Ben. It was a great reminder as well that the stuff that plagues Ben and I isn't because he's a Standardbred, or gaited, or not meant for riding. It is because he's a horse. And all horses (and riders) have stuff to work through.

After that ride, I got to talk to Jan about the issue, and what he had the rider to do correct it. He explained his approach, which is very grounded at the bottom of the training scale. In fact, this is something, no matter what level the rider/horse pair, he harped on. He got on people's cases about being too handsy. He really focused on the rhythm, relaxation and connection. He said basically, every level in dressage is training level...and you must be diligent in achieving those 3 things in any given movement, at all levels. To take a short cut or to ignore it is exchanging 1 mistake for another, and compounding it so that by the time you somehow make it to the upper levels, you have not 1 mistake, but 100 of them to correct.

So anyway, we talked through it more, and he explained to me what I must do, and what I must NOT do- which is react with the hand if Ben gets a case of the wiggles. Just stay put and drive on. He said to do on straight lines and circles. And if I'm in a pickle, to do leg yields, but never, ever react with the hand, as tempting as it is.

So all in all it was pretty great. I hope to be able to audit again this summer. Riding is probably out of our site, but you never know, I guess!

Friday, May 17, 2013

So...What Was In The Box You Ask?

Well, my wayward Canadian shipment arrived on Monday. I promptly took it out to the barn to play with- but not too much, because I still had a tired Ben on my hands from the show.

So....what is it?

Okay- don't cringe - I've already had a bit of that reaction in the barn...

Sensation English Trail aka "The Cloud"

Yes, we are trialing a Sensation treeless saddle. Why, oh why would I do such a thing? Let me tell ya- Ben, as cute as he is, is a $(*&%# to fit a treed saddle to. He is a wide horse. Very flat across the top, MASSIVE shoulders (steeply angled, yes, but massive none the less), wide withers, and flat sides- no barrel at all. He's like sitting astride a table. And he keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Massive shoulders!

Unfortunately for me- I have been plagued with tight hips pretty much my entire life. My body type really requires a more slender, A-framed back with well sprung ribs to catch my calves. Ben is the polar opposite.

So finding a saddle that works for both Ben and I has been, shall we say interesting. What works for me doesn't fit him, and what has worked for him has caused massive extreme pain for me. We've been making do with a 2012 Wintec Isabell- which is only minimally insulting to the both of us. But still, I can't quite seem to find my seat in it, though I don't walk away in agony. And really while the panels are certainly flat enough for ben, the angle of the gullet still is A-framed. And though it can go wide enough, it isn't hoop shaped so it is too narrow up at the top and flares out when it should flare downward.

/\ vs /  \

Traditional saddles with a hoop shape tree are darned expensive. I wouldn't necessarily mind dropping $4,000 on a saddle if it meant we were happy...but he keeps changing every 3 months. These saddles take 3-4 months to get...so by the time we get one, it probably won't fit. Its a moving target that I cannot keep up with. Not to mention, I have yet to find one that was comfortable for me. I just can't justify spending that kind of money on something that only kinda-sorta works.

And so, it is time to try a different approach. One upon a time, I did use a few treeless saddles for the wider horses in my care that I could not fit, and I remember liking them very much. Some did not work out, it seemed as though the downhill horses really had a hard time.

But Ben is not downhill built at all. So I sent his photos over to Nickers Saddlery and set up a trial. They sent me everything I needed- saddle, pad, girth.  It eventually showed up in Washington, and since then, I've had 2 rides in it.

My first reaction: holy comfort Batman! I was afraid it would feel way too wide on ben- but no- it doesn't at all. In fact, it feels more narrow than any of the narrow twist treed saddles I've ever used on him (not that they fit him). There is no bloody panel piercing my thighs. The seat is very relaxing- and I find it very easy to ride in. And contrary to what I've heard/read about treeless saddles- this saddle is THE most stable thing I've ever placed on his back. There is no rocking, bouncing, sliding. His hairs don't look ruffled. There are no dry spots. He's not grinding or pacing- his 2 signals to me that he is uncomfortable. To top it off, the company so far has been a pleasure to work with. They have patiently answered every single one of my questions as they've come up.

I still have a few days left of my trial period before I have to send it back. It has definitely given me food for thought. These things aren't cheap- starting at around $1300 for the saddle, then adding the padding, girth, & add-ons -it looks like all told I'd be set for around  $1600-1700- which is nothing compared to my treed options.

I do have a few concerns, and definitely have to think through whether this would work for us longish term.
  • The seat size only goes up to 17.5" I'll admit, I do feel a bit squished in there- curse of the fat butt and thighs. They've offered up options of slimming down the pommel and cantle and even trying to swap out the seat for their G4 version (a bit pricer) something that would give me more room. 
  • The other piece is long-term use...would I inadvertently be causing Ben damage by using this? Probably less than using an ill-fitted treed saddle- but still- those treeless saddle haters definitely have me worried about this.
  • Vanity: they do kinda look different. My barn mates are already making fun of me for even considering this. They say I'll get laughed out of the show ring. But I kinda think it looks cool...and should I really care about looks? Bullies!
  •  Which model? Our first discipline is dressage. But really, I'd love to have something that I can use out on the trails at our new digs (coming soon T-14 days!), and to even do some lower level jumping, and use for our open shows. Nickers is re-modeling their jump saddle, and it won't be ready until the summer, and from there, a couple month wait for it to be built and then sent...so realistically it could be September- October the latest before I'd have that model. I cannot afford 2, so which one should I go with? Part of me thinks maybe I should start with the available saddle, then save up for when the jump is ready- if this treeless thing really does work for us.
I'm not ready to go full-on treeless. I do believe you have to do what is best for the horse/rider combination. If I find a treed saddle that fits both of our requirements, I'd be happy to use it. The same, however, goes for treeless. I will continue to try to keep an open mind to find what makes us both happy campers- after all, this is supposed to be fun!