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 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 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!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Show Recap - A Day of Fun & Surprises!

Just a couple more bites before we hit the show pen

Ahh what a fun time we had at the show! Let me say, all of my worries about Ben's behavior were not necessary- he was awesome.

The day started early at 5 am. Got to the barn by 6, let him have some breakfast, and then quickly got his mane and forelock braided. Our ride arrived just as I was tying them up, and off we went to the show grounds. Ben hauled great, and once we got to the show, he was quite content to park in front of his hay net and munch away. Compared to last year - he was neighing and pawing and being a general douche for the first hour or so. Much more relaxed this outing.

The weather in the morning was threatening to rain...and it even did for about 30 seconds. But then the clouds parted ways to sunny skies and it heated up fast. So our decision to wear our coats worked for our first class, but not so much for later on. No time between to swap out for a vest, so we suffered through it.

Showmanship chomp chomp chomp wiggle wiggle chomp chomp

Our first class was showmanship- and Ben was a bit wiggly and chompy. The pattern was more than we were really ready for, but we gave it a whirl and came in 5th. Our next couple of classes were english equitation. Our first go 'rounds in the arena Ben was a bit spooky and also sticky at times, but we managed to pull 3rd's- even with me carrying a crop...oops. Green Horse Pleasure was up next for us, and we pinned 2nd. Our final classes were Pleasure and we pinned 1st and 2nd! I'm SUPER proud of that blue ribbon- 9 horses in the class, a bunch of different breeds- including a Friesian, 1/2 Friesian, and a Warmblood!

I'm the hottest Standardbred in all the land! Courtesy of: Triangle Ranch Communications

Did we seriously just win? Courtesy of: Triangle Ranch Communications

I'm super proud of my boy- he was great. I ended up scratching our last 2 classes because he and I were beat. It was hot, he had no energy left, and I had no energy to try to squeak more out of him. Sometimes it is better to just end on a good note. I accomplished everything I had set out for, and more, so why over do it?

 So I thought that was that. But then, Sunday morning I got an email from the Show Secretary congratulating us on our Division High Point win! OMG I just about fell out of my chair! I did not see that one coming at all. I am going to pick up his ribbon at the next show in June, and of course I'll post a picture of him wearing it then :) Way to go, Ben!

Do you like hair do's?

And now, for all the things I need to work on:

1. Give yourself more time in the morning to braid. All I really needed was another 15-20 minutes- I'm a pretty fast braider, but didn't factor setting aside time to actually feed the horse a small meal before we got busy.

2. Don't walk Ben around the show grounds. Let him settle at the trailer and then get him ready for work right away. No diddling about. I'm SO glad I did showmanship because we had to get in and learn the pattern right away, which gave us something to do. While he was a bit looky and distracted, he was also MUCH better than last year.

3. Keep your spurs on your boots. Seriously, is this amateur hour?

4. Practice more in-hand work. Much, much more.

5. Don't bring a crop in Equitation, LOL.

6. Get Ben out more to do longer distance type rides. He's fit to last for about 30 min- hour of work. After that, he's got nothing to offer. He's got the muscle of a weight lifter, but not the endurance to go for long hours.

7. Smile and prepare to be gracious for compliments / prepare the Elevator Speech about Standardbreds. I got so many compliments on Ben, 2 offers to buy him, and so many people asked me about "what he is." One gal said "Man when he's in the arena. he OWNS it!" I'm not a people-y person and am generally shy with strangers, so I definitely have to work on being able to handle this. I just freeze up and can squeak out a "Thank you." and then bumble my way through and explanation of the breed, his story, etc. I kind of forget that this is the first time for many to see a Standardbred, even the judge asked me during showmanship what breed he is and when I told her she said "Well this is a first for me!" Later on she told me she was sure he was a warmblood but couldn't figure out why they put the brand on his neck, LOL.

Being a champion is exhausting!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Tracking...or Why the USPS is Stupid

what are we getting?
 This morning's frustration...the USPS. Seriously- if anyone is wondering how they can be doing so this. I purchased *something* from BC, Canada (more on what that something is next week). The fine folks of Canada post picked it up Tuesday afternoon, 3:50 pm- prepared to ship Expedited USA. By the next morning, Mr. Box made it all the way to Richmond, and checked in at 6:29 in the morning. By 8:58 am, the tracking was updated to say "International item has left Canada." Sweet! The next day, 5/9 at 8:00 am, the tracking was updated to say "International shipment has arrived in a foreign country." Alrighty...won't be long now!

Or will it? Because this morning I checked the status of my box on USPS (as instructed by Canada post) and guess where my package is? San Francisco! Uhmm overshot us by like 800 miles.

The irony...the original location of this box is a cool 5 hour 30 minute drive.

So this:


Is really this:

For now...who knows where else this wayward package will go!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ready As We'll Ever Be

Show is on Saturday. Ben is clipped, somewhat clean, and feeling good *knock on wood*  On Friday we'll go for a short ride, get a good scrubbin. I'll gather my tack, give it a clean & condition. Prep the hay nets, get the water buckets, pile it all up for quick execution on Saturday morning.

We're not entering any super crazy classes...but we are trying some new things. The first thing is Showmanship. It should be super fun and a good introduction into the arena. Its our first class first thing in the morning. We've been practicing our in hand work - I think we've got it down. Trotting in hand has been interesting- Ben has such a huge trot stride I basically have to sprint/lunge to make it happen for him- haha!

The other classes are pretty standard- we'll start out with some walk/trot eq classes (eek!) to familiarize ourselves with going in the big arena, without the excitement of the canter. We're also entering some w/t/c classes- both equitation and pleasure.

My goal is to get Ben out in a bigger space, in an off-site location. Re-familiarize going out. I'll be honest, I'm a bit nervous with how he'll behave. I'm 80% sure he'll be okay, but there is that niggling 20% that makes my stomach flutter a bit.

My original plan to go out in hunter tack/outfit has been squashed. I failed in finding a hunter saddle at this point. So my plan right now is to go in dressage tack. I'll braid him with dressage braids, and we'll look the part of a dressage horse instead of some wacky hybrid. Its a warm up show, so i'm not sure it'll matter to much...but I'm hoping to get some useable photos out of this. I think all things being equal we may not pin high because I'm fairly certain they will be looking for hunter eq and hunter pleasure horses. Oh well, this outing is so not about the ribbons. I'm sure there will be highs, lows, and in-betweens. I'm sure there will be plenty of laughs, too.

That's it folks, I probably won't be posting until after the show...I'll see ya on the other side!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Fun In The Sun

Ahhh we in the PNW do not know what to do with ourselves. Normally April - June consists of 90 days of wet, cool weather, with minimal sun breaks. The joke is that summer starts on July 5th.

Well this year, we've been gifted 10+ days of sunshine, with temps in the mid 70's - low 80's. A heat wave by our standards. So its pretty obvious that this weekend we equestrians had to take full advantage of the situation. And we did just that.

On Saturday I had a regular schooling session with Ben. I gave him a good rinse afterwards and then spent a fair bit of time hand grazing him.

On Sunday, however, we had a job to do. A couple of barn mates wanted to take their horses out for a ride around our race track. The first couple of times can be a bit of a hair raising experience- the track is not a quiet place at all. On the first long side, you have all the turn out paddocks and pastures- which can easily stir up activity. On the back turn you have a private property and loud creek- there is a lot of 4-wheeling going on over there, burn piles, etc. On the second long side there is a nursery- again, burn piles, sprinklers, hard-to-see people gardening. On the last short side is the main road- no shortage of speeding cars, motorcycles, bicyclists. The infield offers no haven either. It is split into 2 5 acre parcels. Both have very barkey dogs that run right up to the fence line and chase the horses. Both properties also have horses that like to get stirred up as you walk/trot/canter on by.

This is a lot to take in for a horse. Ben, however, has been out on the track numerous times, and is even schooled out there when the weather is nice. So I offered to take our friends for their first ride out there. Ben was a solid, easy going citizen, and really set the tone for his equine pals. Everyone made it around safely.

It was a nice, quiet ride, much needed after a week of hard work. A gentle hack does the body/mind good!

This week we're ramping up to prepare for the show on Saturday. Lots of grooming to be done, as well as riding, and in hand work (crash course in showmanship for Ben!). Unfortunately our hunt saddle isn't going to work out, so we're planning on going in our dressage tack. We have one more saddle to try before that idea is totally dead...but I'm assuming we'll be DQ's in a hunt-seat world on Saturday :)

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Gaaaaah, Ben!!!

What am I going to do with this guy. We're now entering the warmer weather...and while that is horse decides its siesta time. Last night we had a lesson, and I could tell from the moment I got on that he had no power. Pretty much felt like he was shod with 500 lbs of cement on each hoof.

Within 5-10 minutes of warm up, he was a sweaty, huffing, puffing guy. It was kind of shocking because he's pretty dang fit, or so we thought. In the cooler temps, he's been very UP, very energetic, and very full of himself, to the point of being kind of naughty.

And now- he's tired, lazy, sweaty.

It is only May, and yesterday it was 68 degrees - not exactly a scorcher.The weather forecast for this weekend calls for temps in the mid to high 70's even reaching low 80's. I plan on riding this weekend so we'll see how he does. Maybe he just needs to adjust to working in the warmer temps. Or maybe he needs to relocate to Alaska! ;)

The next time our vet is out I'm going to ask if there is some medical concern I should be worried about since he changes so drastically.