Friday, December 29, 2017

Year in Review -- Closing the book on 2017

I've had so much fun lately reading through everyone's year in review (and I just saw about ten more to read!). This was a big year for me in terms of work, life and horses and I was eager to see just how much has transpired so I could reflect on everything.

So here we go:

We had an extremely busy January at the sales barn and I was riding a lot. Lucky for me, we happened to have an really nice inventory of small, fun TBs that I had to try desperately not to fall in love with! Nolan got his first clip and his body began to shift from fit race horse to riding horse. We got our first big snow, but temps quickly changed enough that I was riding in a long sleeve t-shirt most of the month (fingers crossed we get a replay of that this winter!).


February rolled around and the weather continued to improve (Look, I'm even wearing a t-shirt!!!). After Nolan's short-winter break, we set about putting a strong foundation on him. He was proving to be very clever with a busy brain and unparalleled athleticism which was challenging at times. Nevertheless, we pushed forward introducing him to more complex work which he met with gusto. And with his cleverness in mind, I reassessed his behavior on the ground and began introducing daily ground work to improve his attitude and keep him on his toes, giving him a strong leader to look to. My pony also got worked into the routine and he seemed to enjoy the extra attention.

March brought cooler temps which had us heading indoors to audit clinics with fresh ponies! We definitely made the most of having Jimmy Wofford just down the road for some inspiration. I documented my physical progress with some before and after (8 months) into my working student job, which was eye-opening. I got to ride some horses that pushed me way out of my comfort zone, like the 17hh behemoth above. And, most exciting of all... I bought a trailer!!!!!!

If I had to say which month was the most influential it was for me it would undoubtedly be April. At this point I was getting to ride nearly every horse in the barn and I could feel my confidence increasing daily. Things with Nolan were moving along nicely and he was becoming more and more fun with every ride. He gave 110% into everything, even if it was simply a crossrail, or a spook and I began to wonder if was perhaps too athletic for my liking. I started getting back into sewing again and tried my hand at some wild ear bonnets. And, I met a big, bay gelding that needed a sales video and it was love at first ride<3

May was a bit of a whirlwind as I decided on May 5th to buy Scout and 12 days later I'd find myself at Kevin Keane's practice holding Nolan for his PPE. Like with Riley, I didn't advertise him, but sought out suitable riders that he might get along with, so I didn't have to go through a hellish selling process with him. He was tried 3 times in 5 days and when the third girl came to try him, I knew it was a perfect match. I was so thrilled with her sense of humor for his naughtiness and she was eager to find a partner to take her through the levels (She's since taken him to Ocala for a working student position and they came in 1st at their Novice Debut a few weeks ago!!!). And, although I was sad to load Nolan on the trailer, Scout made sure I kept a big grin on my face everyday after.

Ahhhh! Another big month! I continued the trend or grinning ear to ear after every ride on Scout. We started his jumping education and he took to it with enthusiasm. I got to ride all over Chester County with my love on his steed pushing myself further out of my comfort zone (going fast and not being in control). I got a tattoo dedicated to my first three OTTBs and I bought a truck to pull my trailer! True story, the woman I bought my truck from posted that photo on her Facebook telling all her friends how her truck was going to have a new purpose in life:)

July brought some big advances in Scout's education. Namely, we hacked a lot... sometimes alone and sometimes with others. He learned about streams (not love at first sight) and hill work and flushing deer out bravely. He wore his first western saddle and took my friend's parents for a ride. And I checked in about his over all condition now that he'd finally shed out and gained some actual muscle.

August was full of ups and downs. I was starting to really evolve as a rider working with some not-so-easy mounts, including the little bay horse above (he'll get his own post at some point). I got to play around with a very cool little pony that rode much more like a horse and I said good bye to Scout while I headed away for a week at the beach. While I thoroughly enjoyed my break, my fun was cut short by the news that Scout had injured himself in turnout and was three-legged lame. It would be a tough few days while I attempted to manage his care remotely (with my vet and trainer), but I knew his recovery was going to take more time than expected.

September brought some very difficult decision making for me as we narrowed down Scout's diagnosis. We fought to get his cellulitis under control and we began talking about resuming some tack walking and light turnout. His leg was still angry and hot, so we needed to take it slowly and carefully. Ultimately, I made the decision to leave the sales barn and move Scout close to home so I could manage his care more closely. He settled in quite well and they were able to accommodate him with a great rehab paddock and safer turnout. Eventually, the leg settled down and we were able to start hacking around and even going on trail rides with bloggers. I flew down to Florida for my best friend's baby shower and I leased my pony to an eventer (who absolutely loves him).

While September was an emotional roller coaster, October gave promise that there was indeed light at the end of the tunnel. Scout and I continued to hack out. He got cleared for full turnout and blossomed with his new field and friends. I went to Fairfill and met up with a great group of bloggers and found time and money to hire Britt to come take photos of my two favorite guys! Scout got his first clip job and was an absolute champ. And, we started taking lessons at a nearby barn where Scout proved to be quite reliable about trailering and going to new places.

November brought lots of rain, but we plugged along at our work. Scout was improving steadily under saddle and really starting to use his body. We went to our first show and didn't die and we added in some trainer rides to mix things up and keep Scout sharp. We started to play around with some biting ideas and we incorporated lunging into a regular part of his workload. He learned some remedial groundwork and proved once again that he's got a terrific brain by letting me hop on him bareback in a rope halter and go for a ride.

With all his new found muscles and cooler temps, Scout was starting to become quite energetic and so we had some talks about appropriate behavior on the ground and under saddle. He got his second clip of the season and is starting to look like a real event horse. I think he may have grown again but at last measurement he was 16.3 (+3/4) so I really hope I'm just imagining it. With the ground frozen and daily highs wavering around 20, we've pumped the brakes on his serious training, but we'll hopefully be able to resume in a week or so. December is always a busy month with my birthday and Christmas, but I've tried hard to him feel important every time I see him. In the meantime, I hope he's gaining some pounds with all the extra grain and alfalfa he's getting and I can't wait to pick up where we left off.

Stay tuned for Goals 2018 post, but for now I hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday and New Year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Birthday Ride Shenanigans

These two:)
The past week has felt like an absolute whirlwind with Christmas around the corner and last minute photo shoots  and trying to say hello to/ride my horse. (Spoiler: he got an unintentional week off, more on that later) So, after a few days of really great rides, I was dead set on having a serious training ride for my birthday. My bf was gracious enough to tag along for the day and he gave me the most wonderful gift of grooming my horse while I collected all of his tack and chatted with barn mates. This horse is obsessed with him and lets him groom him like a big dog. I looked over at one point and Travis was currying his ears inside and out and Scout was just leaning his big body into him with the sweetest expression. One of my barn mates, who rides western asked me if I wanted to try one of her saddles on Scout, (since my bf was there and I told her that I wanted to teach him to ride and that he wouldn't fit in my saddle). So while my intention had been to have a training ride with video evidence, it wound up being something so much more fun!

So in true Scout form, he was not the least bit worried about wearing a western saddle (side note: I almost knocked travis out heaving it on his back when the stirrup hit him in the head!), and when my barn mate saw him, she ran to grab a matching breastplate and bridle. And OMG, he really looks cute dressed as a cow pony.

Barn friend making adjustments to tack I know nothing about 

I gave him a quick lunge to make sure that the saddle wasn't and issue and he was unimpressed... that is. until a mare in an adjacent field thought she'd ramp things up:

I'm getting really good at lunging/filming/and not letting go
I hopped on and took him for a little spin and you guys... I cannot ride in a western saddle. Like, at all. I was bouncing all over the place trying to find my balance and reaching for my stirrups, but also just laughing so much. Scout was a really good sport about the whole thing.

Scout being the cutest, me flailing about

I think I started posting finally because I just couldn't figure out how to ride!

Da Cutest:)
Then I let me bf climb aboard (yes, without a helmet -- his choice, not mine) and they got to know each other a little bit. I had Travis test the brakes and steering and they headed off on their own.

Let's all hate this guy with perfect form and natural feel

Giant horse is giant.
They gave me one little heart attack while they were walking around due to a little miscommunication where Scout heard "GO" and I nearly died. Scout flagged his tail and broke into a speedy trot and I was unsure as to how it would escalate.

Jesus take the wheel
Luckily my bf is super calm and balanced and just followed my instructions to bring him back. Phew!

And even though I didn't get to spend the day truly working my horse in the way that I had planned, the day wound up being perfect in an unexpected fashion. Scout continues to impress me with his ability to go with the flow and take a joke when his rider (me, or anyone else) makes a mistake. Spending the day with my two favorite guys made for the most perfect birthday I could have imagined.

These two make my heart sing

What about you guys? Do you do anything special with your horses on your birthday? Do you let the moment sometimes dictate how you spend your time with you horse?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Remedial training

South Jersey looking pretty
Meanwhile in Scoutland, we've been working on some real basics. Scout has always been really straight forward about everything, and it's easy for me to forget that he's 4 and just six months into retraining. So when he does something naughty or out of character it tends to catch me off guard, and I'm like, "what is your problem dude?"

Oh, right... you're a still a youngster. Momma chill.

Currently we have two remedial areas of focus: Behaving at the mounting block and standing on cross ties. He's always been very good about the mounting block until very recently. I think a bit of stress and the level of work we're doing has soured him a little, and I also think he's testing the boundaries as well. Previously, he's always said YES to everything, and I'm not sure he thought that he could say no, or maybe, or not right now. So I'll cut him some slack that he's maybe expanding his emotional vocabulary with me. However, standing still at the mounting block is non-negotiable. And I had enough grief with Riley regarding mounting issues that I do not need to go down that path again. These little antics quickly snowball and not only do I need him to stand at a designated mounting block, but realistically, I need to him to stand quietly near any object I chose to mount from (even the ground). The behavior manifests itself in a few ways. He'll either swing his hind end away just as I'm about to get on, or take a step or two backward when I put my foot in the stirrup. Neither are okay and both are dangerous. So I took him back to basic ground work to help reinstall the proper behavior.

oh shit.
Truth be told, I've done very little ground work with him because of his good behavior, so strapping on the rope halter and putting him through some basic horsemanship stuff was a bit eye-opening for the baby. I moved on to the mounting block where I utilized a technique I learned from a well known Amish Cowboy who is a literal genius/magician with difficult horses. The basic concept is that if the horse choses not to stand squarely next to the block (visualize a rectangular box where you want the horse to be) then he has to keep moving. The concept sounds fairly simple and it is, but Scout used every evasive tactic in the book before finally figuring out where I wanted him. You can use this method from all sorts of objects, eventually the horse will start to get himself into position as you climb onto something (this would be considered pretty advanced, but I've seen it in practice). You can up the ante of the task by asking the horse to come to the block from any angle or direction, but still asking them to move their body into the correct placement/direction. It's essentially learning to control the hind end of the horse from the ground and it feels like magic when the horse gets it. Once Scout understood where I wanted him, I spent time rewarding him by scratching and patting him all over to further desensitize the idea of the mounting block. Rinse and repeat, make him move on, get back into the box and reward with physical and verbal reinforcement.

And, because I was doing all of my groundwork and training with my helmet on, I thought maybe I'd hop on. After all, he wasn't tacked up (I wanted to remove the idea that he was going to be ridden from the picture). So I leaned over him a few times, got brave and swung on.

Real talk? I'm going to need a good bareback pad.
A bit confused about how to steer in this thing, but at least the brakes worked
The ring was pretty flooded, so we just plodded around, practicing transitions and changes of direction all while "schooling some water".

What I learned about this exercise with Scout is that I need to pepper in some training sessions like this into our routine. It's good for our relationship and it's good for his baby brain. I think sometimes at this point in their training then tend to anticipate what's coming next and developing some anxiety about it, so it's great to mix things up a little and keep their brains working.

Our other area of remedial training focus is regarding the cross ties. We all know that OTTBs are extremely reliable for single tying, but not all take to cross ties right away. I've definitely found that cross ties in a small space definitely make the transition a little easier, and at our last barn they were in a very large space that seemed to encourage a lot of moving around on the ties. Additionally, Scout has a little bit of a quirky behavior when he's being tacked up. I don't know if he was cinched up too tight in the past or what the deal is, but when you first fasten the girth he gets a bit clumsy and sort of sways around a little. On a single tie, it's fine because he can sort of swing around like a pendulum, but in the cross ties he meets resistance and that's alarming for him. But the thing is he respects pressure when tied, that's not the issue. Once, at the old barn he started swaying around in the cross ties, he hit the end of them and started leaning back, further and further until they snapped and he fell backward and slid on his hocks. He gave himself a good scare and even though we tried several times after that, we deemed him "not reliable" on cross ties.

Who me? I'm perfect.

Truthfully, it doesn't matter to me if he cross ties as long as he can tie in some way. But selfishly, I'd like him to learn to cross tie because there are plenty of times that I need him to. Most recently, it's when we're going for a lesson at local farm and I have to tack him up in the aisle. Or, if I have to leave him unattended for a moment to use the bathroom. Or he pulls a shoe and I can't meet the farrier so he has to stand on cross ties like a big boy and not embarrass me.

And I know that some might say, stick him on the ties and let him figure it out, but that hasn't worked for us. I'm now in a barn with concrete aisles and I'm not willing to risk another slip and fall situation while he figures things out. So for now, I put him on the cross ties after every work, and it's going swimmingly. He'll stand for untacking, brushing, and whatever else I want to do. He gets rewarded for being a good boy and I think he's making the connection that cross ties are okay.

Most recently, before a training ride at another farm, he not only stood while I fetched the trainer's tack, but he let me tack him up on the ties with no swaying, no dancing and just hung out until it was time for his ride.

Stop taking my picture, I'm being good
So while this all may feel pretty remedial in terms of his education, I think it's important for me to take time to look at the bigger picture and see where there might be some holes in his training and target them when time allows. I think there's nothing more frustrating than letting a poor/bad behavior get away from you only to be in a situation where you really need to count on your horse behaving.

And it's paying off for us. His behavior at the mounting block is improving daily, he's reliable on cross ties in new scenarios and most recently, he stood for the farrier on cross ties with no supervision!

What sort of training holes have you guys discovered on your journeys and how do you handle fixing them?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Rule #1: Don't get high on your own supply

The tricky part about working in a busy sales barn is that you're constantly having gorgeous horse flesh literally trotted in front of you at all times. Temptation is high, and since you're working off your expenses the lure of adding another one to your roster is more than a little seductive. I was able to resist much of the temptation because a.) I had my own fancy project (Nolan) and b.) many of the horses that came through were chosen for their appeal to the upper levels (more horse than I needed for my own). That said, there's no better way to find out what you DO want, then meeting enough horses that you DON'T want... not unlike dating.

And truth be told, I've never really had that light bulb moment with any horse. You know, that feeling that people describe, where they got on the horse and they just knew*. Certainly there were horses I really liked riding, and ones I definitely did not like riding. But that's the job and you don't always get to do what you want, or what's most comfortable. I often rode horses for sales videos simply because my trainer is 5'11", so having me (5'6") painted a clearer picture for potential clients about the actual size of a horse. Everyone and their mother thinks they need a giant horse, and you'd be shocked at the amount of people that would see a still photo or video with the trainer up and say, "I'm tall and need a big horse that will take up leg". Spoiler: you're 5'9", this horse is 16.3hh, it's going to be okay, just come see the damn horse.

Tall drink of water

But I digress... So in early spring of this year, we had a stunning, big bay gelding come in. Leggy, range-y type, well-balanced, and quiet. He arrived with another big bay mare, from the same farm and we began marketing them. Right away, we discovered that while the gelding had all the right parts for an upper level rider, he was also VERY ammy friendly. Step on quiet, with three easy gaits. The mare was a bit hot, and quite a bit more difficult (and very fancy and athletic under saddle). We had numerous clients at the time looking for something quiet. A busy mom with maybe 2-3 days a week that wanted something she could just get on and go and not worry that it needs riding every day. A retired gentleman in his 60's that used to foxhunt a million years ago and wants to get back into riding. Horse would be boarded at and used in a college competitive riding program. And so they came, saw the gelding go and rode him.

And he was a saint for both of them despite a lot of mistakes on their part. Foot perfect, and even let them jump him although he had no idea what he was doing. The old man kicked him in the hip getting on AND lost a stirrup cantering. Both clients decided they wanted to see the hottest, fanciest horses in the barn even though everyone knew they did not need such a horse. In the end, no sale from either client, who probably still doesn't know what they want.

So we moved forward with the big, bay gelding and he just got nicer and nicer. Eventually, I rode him for a video (see: statement about horse height) and it was the easiest video we've ever made. WTC in both directions and hopped him over a little jump. I think we made the video in almost one take.

Do you have anything fancier?
I pulled up and my trainer says, "that's literally the happiest I've ever seen you on a horse."

Uh oh.

That feeling that people talk about was happening to me. I had finally met a horse I really connected with, and better yet, he liked me back.  So it was no surprise when I suggested I sell Nolan as he was going nicely and ready to go out an do something and buy this guy for myself.

Perhaps it was naive of me to believe I could work in a sales barn and not fall in love with something, right?!
hello gorgeous
What's funny, is that I looked up the sales video with me up: it cracks me up. He looks willing and kind, big and nice moving, and yet we never found the right person for him while he was for sale. Of course, immediately after selling him and having clients come try many of the other horses we had available they all described their perfect horse, and it was a bit too late. Watching the video made me really appreciate his good nature, but also helped me to appreciate how much more presence he has now. He presents a much fancier horse now that he's using his back and his personality that was pretty reserved before had really blossomed. I can't wait to see what he's going to look like in a year!

And for those of you with time to kill, this was the first video we made of him moving at liberty. At the end of the video, edited out is a clip of me turning toward Emily saying, "aren't you glad I don't co-own this one?" It's no surprise that we had so many people interested, but still shocking that no one bought him!