Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Becoming a cowgirl

Who knew western boots were hard to fit?

I thought it would be straightforward.  I ordered up some western boots in my size, excellent reviews, off we go.  Right?  Not so much.  I thought I wanted a tall shaft (height of the boot) so I could wear my jeans/breeches tucked into my boots and show them off with some chinks.  It was something I spotted in several photos from ranch pleasure turn outs.  My boots arrived and I was delighted with the height, but they weren't meant to go so high on my leg.  I'm 5'2" and my legs aren't particularly long in comparison to my body.  The Justin boots were completely straight from ankle to the top.  The boots hit the wide part of my calf and stopped, causing them to wrinkle a lot where they are not supposed to and hit my ankles uncomfortably.  It also made my legs look weird with the wide part of my calf sitting on top of my boots.

These look super weird with the fat part of my calf jutting out

I tried some heel lifts like I've used with breaking in tall boots but I had to get an inch of lift before my legs kind of worked and even then, my ankles were getting beat up.  And a one inch silicone lift is not fun to walk in when it's jammed in a boot.  I gave up on my 13" boots and looked at something a bit shorter.
With the heel lift, still looks weird

Much heartbreak in that decision, they were so pretty and were otherwise perfect.  So comfy. 

I stopped by my local Tractor Supply and there were some Justin and Ariat boots to try on.  I tried on some Justin's in an 11" shaft and they were nice.  Not perfect since a wide fit doesn't show up in stores, but nice.  Then the hubby pointed out some boots for me and it was all over.  A pair of Ariats with a round toe and some subtle embroidery in pink around the top.  10" height and they fit wonderfully.  A hair tight around the little toe but all boots are tight on me when I get them.  I have a can of boot stretch and my feet are used to it.  Ariat is a brand I'm very familiar with and have stuck with through the years.

Much better, you can see some gap around the top and it's not being forced to sag

I bought the boots and now I get to start the break in process all over again, but I feel like I really have a shot this time.  At least the shaft isn't biting into my calf or making my leg look weird.  They mostly fit!  I think they're super cute and they're nice to ride in.  I'll have to take some quality time breaking them in for width, but I think they'll be stomp around all day boots once that's done. 

I'm embracing the idea of riding in jeans and a tee shirt. 

If you have an average/slim calf, I highly recommend the Justin boots.  The quality was obvious and they fit my foot so well (they do come in a wide which is nice).  I may go back to the Justins but with a shorter shaft.  My calves are quite wide and short so I'm not surprised that the tall shaft boots had trouble.  I put on a pair of 11" shaft boots from Justin while I was at Tractor Supply and they were lovely.  Ariats had a touch more room in the instep so I went with them.  I have freaky high insteps, so most people will find that the Justins are plenty roomy.  Style wise, I preferred the Justins.  For my freaky feet, the Ariats won the day.

I have my new brown leather helmet, my new chinks, and now some new cowboy boots.  I'm almost ready for my first show of the season.  Good thing, since it's less than two weeks away.  Procrastination?  Me?  Never!

Monday, April 29, 2019


Large arenas are a pain.  I wanted to work on my geometry and to do that, I need a properly measured out ring.  I tried to use the dimensions someone else set up and let me tell you, that ring was not accurate.  I was doing Second 2 and the two turns on the haunches pretty much didn't fit, which made me think it might be a bit narrow.  I got out the big, 200' tape measure so I could make sure I had a correct sized ring.

Almost two hours later, I had this.

It looks really unimpressive in pictures, but that's my painstakingly measured out large arena.  The wind was crazy so I used jump standards to mark the letters.  My cones kept getting blown away.  It was windy enough that I had some poles rolling in the wind, which added a certain level of difficulty.  No one expects to have the rail suddenly move.

The large arena is a whole heck of a lot bigger than I thought.  Which made all of the geometry actually, you know, work.  The serpentine with simple changes in Second 2?  Totally possible when you've got room for three 20 meter circles.  My turns on the haunches also fit.  Those freaking corners still feel tight, but that's more about me trying to use them for the first time.  I need every inch I can get.  I didn't know I'd been using a wrong size arena to practice.  I guess that explains some of my accuracy problems.

Trainer Z visited today so we got to put the large arena to use.  First we did some work on his travers, keeping the forward.  Start with a little travers, then have his strides get bigger while staying in the travers, then finish up with a trot lengthen.  It's started to reprogram his brain so that he doesn't slow in his laterals.  I'm also working on his leg yields with the same idea.  Big trot, go sideways, big trot.  He's starting to keep the power and suspension in his laterals, but it's got a long ways to go.

We also ran through Second 1 to practice my ring craft.  Because I have none.  It's a sad statement but true.  I've made it this far with zero ring craft and half the time, I'm learning my test just before I ride it in competition.  I'm discovering that's a bad idea if you want to score well.

I have to start all of the movements earlier then I think because Theo is no thoroughbred.  He takes a second to react.  If I start at the letter, I'm too late.  I need to take a breath and reset his frame on some specific movements since these new, tougher tests make him get overly short.  The 10m canter circle was a key one since it comes after the lengthening.  He is good at coming back from the lengthen, but he tends to over do it and we end up with a very short, four beat canter until I can decompress him.  I can use the circle to really push him forward and reset my canter.

I HATE the canter lengthen on Theo.  He is so prone to overreacting.  There were some box jump standards on their side next to the ring.  I asked for the lengthen, he spotted them, then ripped a buck big enough to make Trainer Z go white and ask if I was okay.  All four off the floor by several feet.  It's progress that he didn't teleport anywhere or take off or keep bucking, but it did make a mess of the lengthen since I had to get my stirrups back.  On the next attempt, I was riding hard so he didn't buck, but he did change leads so he could better look at them.  Ugggh, using flying changes against me!  I know I'm going to get nailed for 'tentative' or 'gradual' canter lengthens at the start of the season, but I'll take that over the dramatic bucks and carrying on he likes to throw when he's feeling looky or big.

Of course Trainer Z followed it up with 'no kidding he picked up a change easily if he can jump like that'.  Well, yeah, getting off the floor isn't hard for him, never has been.  Pony has a big jump in him.  She also got excited when Theo showed off the way he does his down transitions now, dropping his butt and taking the weight back is the quickest way to get to halt.  Halt = cookies.  Apparently that's a good sign for piaffe.  Not that he's going to go grand prix, but I would love to at least experience the process.  And she is dead set on him getting a canter pirouette since he is apparently built for it.

Doing shoulder in like a big boy.  We're all matchy matchy in lavender, but I don't know what my right hand is doing.  WTF right hand.

On the downside, our medium gaits are . . . challenging.  That trot is freaking uncomfortable to ride and not at all impressive.  He's correct, but he just isn't built to do it from a mechanical perspective.  It's not big, it's not easy, and it's hell to sit.  Like pro rider finds it unpleasant and hard to sit.  So we'll have to rake in the marks for the transitions and technical movements.

My big challenge right now is to multitask in my test.  I need to manage Theo's balance more carefully since I'm asking him for a lot more, but at the same time, the test is longer and more complicated.  You get less breaks (except the stupid trot around the ring move in Second 1, wtf).  Theo is currently getting very up in the contact as the test rolls by and I have to manage him so he comes back down and relaxes over his topline so his gaits don't get dumb.  While remembering where my next movement is.  And keeping my hands from being dumb.  Our tests have a lot of dumb currently.

Second Level is truly the great abyss of dressage, but I'm thrilled to be here.  Which is an odd statement.  I'm thrilled that my problem is keeping the forward in my 10m canter circle, keeping the angle steady in my shoulder in, going with the medium trot.  After all these years, having these problems is freaking delightful.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


Good gravy, it's that time of year again.

I spent several hours this weekend trying to make Theo look presentable.  That meant shaving his legs (plenty of us know how that first leg shaving of the spring goes), giving him a bath, and whacking back his ridiculous chestnuts.

Is this a draft thing?  His chestnuts are massive, like additional hooves growing on the sides of his legs.  They don't peel off nicely, I have to use hoof nippers and shears to cut them off.  In the winter they're buried in hair and I don't bother.  Come spring?  It's a massive project to get his chestnuts and ergots trimmed down so he looks like a modern horse and not a throw back to something prehistoric.

Today was a vet visit to get Coggins, rabies, EHV, Potomac, and health certificate for our first out of state road trip.  We also got a box of Adequan.  There's still a lingering thing that I feel in the right lead counter canter and sometimes in the right lead 10m circles.  It's minor, but I'm big on maintenance and making sure nothing is bothering my partner.  Chiro adjusted him last week and his SI on that side is always trying to act up, so we both think it's an SI issue.  Quarterly chiro appointments keep that from becoming a serious issue (gotten to the point the chiro can do him in 10 minutes), time to back it up with some Adequan and bi-weekly massages.  After talking to the vet, the plan is to do SI, stifles, and hocks all in July during his summer break.  I want to see how he responds to Adequan first.

Unfortunately, due to a scheduling failure, Theo lapsed on his Coggins and rabies and everything else.  This means we can't go anywhere until the Coggins is back from the lab in a week or two since he's been without a current Coggins for a month.  I also can't get my health certificate until the hard copy is back from the lab, so my May 10 show is in danger.  I'm still grinding my teeth over this.  In all my years of horse ownership, this is the first time that a barn didn't schedule spring shots on time.  It's kind of a big deal to have all of the horses current on things  When I called to ask about the date for my own scheduling back in March, I got a run around about the vet not being available.  I point blank asked the vet and the appointment wasn't scheduled until I called asking about the date.  Great.

Also found out that my horse has apparently been pawing at the fence and this time got stuck, tore off a shoe, and came in with a swollen ankle.  Thank goodness the vet was here.  He said it's fine, no soft tissue injury or anything, just a bit puffy due to yanking on himself.  I'm sitting in the barn office waiting to hear the status of the farrier and the fence being repaired (and listening to the fiasco where the old Coggins can't be found for some horses so they're calling boarders).  Theo on stall rest is my least favorite thing, but I can't put him out with the fence damaged like that.

Hopefully the paperwork will be sorted by May 4th.  That is supposed to be an off property jumping school.  It's going to be our only chance to get off property before the shows start. May 10th, assuming we have a health certificate, we are off to show western dressage for two days at a venue he hasn't seen before.  At an Arabian breed show.  With our move up tests.  I have zero expectations for that outing, it'll be all about survival.
It's going to be a long show season, so I'm trying to not get too grumpy.  Getting a late start isn't the worst thing.  Just grumpy that I have to twiddle my thumbs for a few weeks.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

When in doubt

Buy, buy, buy again.

How many western saddles have I tried?  I've lost count.  But my treeless wasn't holding up as I upped Theo's bounce so back on the market.  I had my heart set on the DP Vario Flex, but there was this one other saddle that kept coming up in my searches.  When my annual bonus arrived, I went ahead and had the demo sent out.  If nothing else, I figured I could at least quit visiting the site and staring at the pictures and options.

This is the Harmony Western Dressage saddle (www.westerndressageridinggear.com).  It's by a division of Foxtrot Saddlery.  Now don't do what I did and immediately turn your nose up at the Foxtrot part.  These are not run of the mill, cheapo saddles.  These are custom made saddles that are focused on western dressage.  This means you are naturally lined up, shoulder/hip/heel.  No fighting the chair seat!  It's also very pretty.

The demo program is great.  You have a Paypal approval for the price of the saddle and they send you the Travelling Saddle with a cinch and saddle pad.  You ride in it for a week like it's your own.  When I asked for an extra day, it was no problem.  Customer service has been excellent.

The tree is elastomer which is helpful for me with the horse that has the insane back where nothing fits.  It's definitely got a tree, I can feel that added stability and support, but I didn't have to worry about the rock (curve).  I got the width right and the rest sorted itself. 

I love riding in this saddle.  After fighting every western saddle I've sat in, it was such a relief to sit down and not feel like I had to fight it even when cantering.  It's wide compared to my English saddles, my SI is still debating the wide twist, but I'm so comfy in it.  Theo is quite happy in it and moves out at the walk beautifully.  I've done two trail rides and I find the deeper seat and horn to be a great support for keeping me chill through Theo's natural, looky behavior.  Instead of grabbing his face I put my right hand on the horn and ride him western down the trail.  Loops in the reins and neck reining convinces Theo everything is fine.  I don't worry about ripping the horn off because it's part of the saddle.  It's a proper, heavy (35 pound) western saddle.  I can't rope off of it, the tree isn't strong enough, but it's very stable. 

It's not perfect, I have saddle pad slipping problems.  It's also a flexible tree so tightening the cinch after mounting is kind of crucial.  Which is most of my saddle pad slipping problem.  I'm still messing around with pads.  I hate the pad it came with, it's so freaking long it looks like it belongs with a different saddle.  My existing Five Star pad looks much better, but it's a bit thinner than I want under this saddle.  Guess I'll have to do some saddle pad shopping.  The cinch it came with is a Smart Cinch and it makes it possible for me to tighten the cinch from the saddle.  Score!

So after eight days I emailed the company and asked if I could just buy the demo.  It was the exact color and size I wanted, it matched my bridle, the tooling options picked were beautiful, and I wouldn't have to wait 6 - 8 weeks with show season right around the corner.  Sure enough, they sold me the demo.  I win!

I'm going to dump my treeless saddle (and a bunch of other tack) at the local consignment shop.  I have to finance my crazy expenditure some how.  I'm already shopping for the perfect 5 Star pad to go with this saddle.  I'll keep the cinch since I can actually tighten it from the saddle. 

Fingers crossed that I now have all three saddles and I can take a break from the hell known as saddle shopping.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Evolution of Theo

In honor of our four year anniversary.

I saw this blog hop making the rounds awhile ago and had to hop on board (yeah, pun intended, sorry not sorry).  Then I got carried away and started tracking down media from everywhere I could find it like a crazed virtual archeological dig.  It's amazing what you'll find on the internet when you know a horse's name and breed and geography.  I'm starting to think Theo is a year younger than I was told, since he's eight in a video from six years ago . . . Anyway, on to the history lesson!

First picture I've managed to track down, technically before I met him. Baby Theo, probably five or six years old and starting his life as a trail horse prospect for my vet's very sweet wife.  She bought him from a backyard breeder so no records of his breeding and not a lot of training.  Anyone else think he already looks like a trouble maker?

This is Theo's sales video from when he was eight years old and was in the throes of the 'dark times'.  He had hurt his owner and was on the market.  I randomly found it while looking for a video of him in a jump clinic.  This is where he was when he landed at my current barn as a lesson horse prospect. 

Theo's next sales ad picture when he's about 9 or 10 years old.  In the new sales video, he freaks out at a little vertical and refuses to jump it while wearing a German martingale.  It's pretty . . . special.  I'll spare you.

I did find the clinic video I was looking for.  This is November 2014, six months before I met him, when he'd found himself a leaser for a couple months.  Very much the Thigh Master.  You can also see why I like riding with Brad Giuda, he's a blast.

The first time I met him, April 16, 2015.  I wanted to ride a horse that would get me back into shape fast and they handed me the dreaded Thigh Master.  Note the 'omg go away' expression even before I rode him.  He's eleven years old and very cranky.  Doesn't really want grooming, definitely doesn't want tack or to go to the ring.  Mostly wants to be left alone.

The other expression I got a lot in spring 2015.  Such a narrow chest!

Our first outing together, May 2015.  I'm about 20 pounds heavier and he spent about half of the show trying to buck me off.  Jumping in that dressage saddle sucked.

Start of the abscess wars, June 2015.

Post abscess wars when I started full leasing him, 2015.

Our first dressage outing, summer 2015.  You can almost see that four beat canter, but we were  excited he stayed in the ring.  Back when a 20 meter circle was hard.

Pleasure show, Fall 2015.  Our great accomplishment was him not killing any of the other horses in the group classes.  Neck and back are starting to fill in.

February 2016.  Bought myself a pony!  Now twelve years old, butt is rounder, neck is much less ewe shaped.  By this point Theo is a clicker trained horse that has figured out that life isn't all that bad.  He does some tricks, he gets some treats, and then he goes back in his field.  I've discovered that the tough boy act is really an act and the magic of ear rubs.  He is eternally grateful.

April 2016, freshly clipped for the show season and our run to qualify for the regional championships for Training level dressage.

May 2016, Theo's rated dressage show debut showing Training 2 and 3.  He bronc-ed so much in his first test that the L candidates were gasping.  He managed to get a 52% and a 62% from the same judge on the same day in the same ring.  I didn't fall off and he didn't manage to leave the ring, so mission accomplished.

GMHA, June 2016, showing the weak spot in his neck.  Scoring in the 60's consistently at Training, but connection problems are already starting to become apparent.  This is the first show where he did his now patented sigh on center line where he relaxes because he knows what to expect once he's in the sand box.

UNH, our First level debut, July 2016.  Still my favorite picture of him.  Shortly after this he spooked so hard that I lost both stirrups during a canter lengthen attempt.

Saugerties, September 2016.  We made it to Regionals!  I got a major case of stage fright and we choked, but we made it and we didn't get disqualified for leaving the ring.  Quite an accomplishment for Theo's first season of serious business dressage-ing.

February 2017, showing the better tone in the rump and his neck's improved development.  Now 13 years old.

Spring 2017, Theo adds school master to his resume, picking up an adult ammy rider to teach while I figure out how to cope with my new job.  He's a chance to try out some moves that other school horses can't do like simple changes through the walk and shoulder in.  He's also the confirmed school master of jumping for the barn.  Just grab mane and point him at the fence, he will get you safely to the other side.

Summer 2017, First 3 at the Tack Shack.  No spurs, no connection, no hope.  58%.  This is when I realize we've gone off the rails with our dressage training.

September 2017 after riding with Mary Howard.  Theo is learning about flexion.  I'm learning about toughing through the hard parts.  He's already almost unrecognizable from the horse at Tack Shack.  This is the midst of the hard times when my left shoulder was almost non-functional.

January 2017.  Oh, that neck.  This is at the turning point when he stops throwing tantrums and I can ride without pain.  He's now fourteen.

Spring 2018, heading in for a clinic at Second level and looking the part.  Comfortably schooling all of Second level and heading back to the show ring to redeem himself at First.

April 2018, the bomb proofing clinic.  The hardest three days of riding in my life and a huge turning point for our relationship.  After marching through smoke, fire, and facing down a police car with the siren blasting, the dressage ring loses a lot of it's terror.  I let go of his face, rode about 100 spin and bolts, and came out the other side with a different kind of confidence. 

April 2018, Adv Elementary two phase where we won the dressage with an 18 and then jumped clean.  At the same show he carted a nervous adult ammy around a two phase for another blue ribbon, packing her through her first jumping competition in a long time.  Also the debut of my amazing purple coat.  His neck is now officially going the right way, my hands are out of my lap, and I'm jumping like I may have done this before at some point in my life.

July 2018, our best outing at First Level with a 64% and a 67% for First 2 and 3.  They actually captured him with a moment of suspension in his lengthened trot!  Theo marches around the ring like he owns it, sticks his head in to say hello to the judge, and generally looks like an experienced show horse.

July 2018, First rated Western Dressage show where he won every class he entered and I realized we might be on to something here.

August 2018, High Score Adult Amateur and  Level 1 Adult Amateur Champion at the Northeast Western Dressage Championship.  Theo is now known as a cuddly, friendly, chill horse that knows his job in the dressage ring.

October 2018, enjoying his role as school master at a schooling show.  An all new show and there were no bolts or spinning.  He went into the ring and did his job with his other rider.  He also looked amazing as Elsa's mount.

December 2018, careening back into the off season.  He's got a full dance card with his other rider and my grand plans to do Second level, a musical freestyle, and return to Saugerties.

March 2019, enter Trainer Z and the new game of forward.  More topline development and more strength for carrying as we develop collection and that elusive uphill tendency to get us ready for Second.

Theo has pulled a complete 180 from where we started mentally.  He's now almost overly interested in what people are doing, putting his nose in anything that is going on around him.  His old, suspicious nature is gone.  He's quite certain that every person he sees loves him and wants to give him scritches and cookies.  He's not wrong.  Everyone treats him like royalty, including me.

Instead of being the dreaded Thigh Master that no one wants to ride or being 'that' horse, getting to ride him is considered a privilege.  He troops down to the ring with his ears pricked, curious about what game we're going to play today.

I'd be lying if I said I expected us to get to this point.  Didn't see a bit of this coming, but wouldn't trade it for anything.