Monday, February 29, 2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Creating Your Turnout On A Budget

Aaah, carriage driving. The very picture of affluency, rich people parading around in their expensive carriages, thousands of dollars in gleaming harness and perfectly matched attire sparkling in the sun, their horses practically sweating out droplets of gold as they prace their six-figure selves around the arena with Windsor Castle shining in the background. 

And then, there are people like me, who bum carriages off of friends, find their horses on Craigslist for $500, and peruse the local thrift stores for outfits because they spend most of their hard earned cash on feed instead of fancy clothes.

I don't even think I could afford one of those tophats let alone anything else 

Yeah, we probably wouldn't do well at Walnut Hill or anything. But here in Texas, doing CDEs, we can look pretty classy on a fairly tight budget.

So, if you are like me and scratching your head about where to begin on a budget, let me give you some of the pointers that I have stumbled upon in my journey. God knows I am not a turnout expert by any means, but I think I have a decent enough eye for color coordination, enough to not make myself look like a total fool and save myself a few dollars in the process.

Before you even think about shopping for your own clothes, keep this one very important fact in mind:

Nothing looks better than a shining horse and clean equipment.
If you have spent $$$$$$$$$ on a super expensive outfit, but show up with a horse that has hay in his tail, a frizzy mane, and a dull haircoat, just go home. Likewise for a horse in poor condition. I *promise* you that it is the first thing the judge notices, and it does count. The same goes for your carriage and harness - clean them well! If you look like you've been living out of your dusty carriage like a Gypsy, you may want to reconsider what you're doing. Get these things taken care of before you even think about your clothes.

Be shiny, like this hiney

When planning your outfit, match your turnout appropriately to your vehicle and to your horse. If you're not terribly familiar with the kind of clothes you might wear with certain types of carriages or certain types of horses, do your research! What is appropriate for the Appaloosa World Show driving classes is not remotely appropriate for a pleasure show or CDE. What is appropriate to wear when driving a flashy Hackney is not appropriate for a Haflinger. What is appropriate for a super formal carriage is not appropriate for a more country type turnout. Curious about any of those things? Look them up! It can get a bit complicated because everything must flow together - harness, type of horse, vehicle, and outfit. Even your manner of handling the reins may be different. Know what parameters you have to work within - and then work within them!

Country turnout

Formal turnout. We're not creating this one on a budget unfortunately! 

For the sake of keeping things simple and not writing gigantic novels about things that I know partially know about, let's assume we're all lower level HDT/CDE competitors and we want to look nice in dressage and cones, on a budget. Where do we begin?

In this case, we're obviously looking primarily for something that only counts for presentation on the move - i.e. the judge is adding some points to our overall dressage test when we are showing at an HDT or CDE. It's important to look good, but it's not likely to make or break it for us, not like a turnout class at a pleasure show would. We want to look nice and make a good impression without breaking the bank. We'll assume we already have the horse and vehicle picked, and we'll need to match according to that.

First, look at the colors you already have to work with. Your palette is already right there and started for you, so you will need to match according to that. What color is your cart or carriage? What color is your horse? If you're like me, and you have a bright orange horse and a black carriage, you obviously wouldn't want to pick a color like navy, or lime green, or purple or something. You want the whole picture to flow together.

Pick a complimentary theme color, and flow outwards from there. Last year, my horse was orange and my cart was painted navy. That was a beautiful combination, so I decided to keep on with the theme of navy. I chose colors that went with navy without clashing with the orange, like cream. While some things came out looking kind of noob, which was to be expected, I think overall it flowed well together and scored 9s for turnout.

Still my favorite picture from Sunrise Ridge

Once you have an idea of the color theme you want to go with, you can start your shopping!

Thrift store it up. This is my favorite place to start. Our local Salvation Army is HUGE and has a zillion different things to look for. Have an idea and a plan, but go into it with an open mind. When I started looking for this year's outfit, I started with my apron and worked my way out. I had an idea of colors, but I went to my apron maker - and yes, this is the one thing I did spend some money on, because I wanted a nice well-made apron this year - and I talked to her about colors. While we started with the idea of blues, we tried the idea of burnt orange and she pulled up a gorgeous bit of fabric that had orange, tan, and black in it. And I had to have it.

Love it
So, I started with this, and worked my way out.
I decided I wanted a burnt orange jacket and hat, but it had to be the right color. Don't forget to check Ebay too! I perused Ebay for awhile before finding a perfect hat. I also found a jacket, but when it arrived, it was not really the right color - too orange. So, back to Salvation Army I went. Lo and behold, with some luck and magic, there was a burnt orange jacket that was exactly what I was looking for! I had to search for it, but it was there. I decided to come back another day once I had decided more about my pants, undershirt, and accessories.

In the meantime, L had made a present for me - a feathered pin to go along with my outfit. This can either go on a hat or as a lapel! The colors are perfect, and that is indeed a little zebra with orange and black stripes, and a mohawk and red eye. It couldn't be more perfect!

So, I had an apron, a jacket, a hat, and a pin. Now I needed some pants and an undershirt of some sort. Back to Salvation Army!

When selecting an outfit, I like to peruse the entire section of whatever I am looking for - pants, or a shirt, or whatever - and let my eye naturally be drawn to colors that I think could work. In terms of pants, it technically doesn't matter because my apron is going to cover nearly all of it, but the very bottom part of them may stick out. My boots are also black, so I took that into account too. You don't want your ankles hanging out, so that was something to keep in mind as well.

So many choices
 You will kiss a lot of frogs before you find the right one, I promise you that. Some of the pants were too small. Some were too big. Some were ugly as sin when put on. Some were too short. Some were weirdly baggy at the top, and too tight near the bottom. And one pair was just right - the black pair, with very subtle orange pinstriping. Perfect.

Gratuitous gut shot included at no extra cost 

Shirts were kind of a more difficult matter, and I'm not convinced I like what I have. The neckline could go tall or could go short, I don't really know which I like better. I might just be able to put a regular tank top underneath, but I also chose a turtleneck as well. I like turtlenecks a lot, and I actually took an extra one home just because. I wear them all the time in the winter when I ride as they look nice and keep my entire self warm without being bulky. 

Ultimately went with the most brown one of these

And here is what we have so far, as a total outfit. I hate pictures of myself, to the point of having a complete and utter loathing for every one of them, but I will share it anyway.

Obviously, not going to be wearing sandals! 

What do you think? It needs jewelry, some kind of silver necklace of some sort. I think the shirt and jacket will be too plain without something silver there. I put the pin in the hat, and I like it there vs. on the lapel as there is no pocket.

Like it? Hate it? Suggestions? Improvements?

Oh, and the total cost of it minus apron was only about $30 - hat, jacket, shirt, and pants. If that's not creating a turnout on a budget, I don't know what is!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Friday, February 19, 2016

Future Event Horse Series - Maybe?

Having baby horses is just the most fun thing on planet Earth. Having been the first person to handle Pax literally from the moment she was born (I pulled her out, if you remember!), and having been largely the only one to handle her thus far, it has really just been SO NICE to have a little beast who doesn't need nine million things fixed, retrained, and reschooled. I've had largely nothing but adult horses needing much in the way of fixing over the last several years, so to have this little babe from scratch - I just love it. Pax is smart, and easy, and doesn't question things. Her main problem is that she is overly friendly and sometimes all up in your space, as heavily handled babies tend to be. She likes me, and she thinks I am super interesting, so whenever I come into the pasture, she is the first to come straight to me. Things don't frighten her, and even when they do cause her concern, she readily accepts them as just part of her baby world - like a little sponge, she just sucks it up. She is still very immature about many things - she is only 10 months old, after all! - but her brain will mature as her body does. 

I have no intention of rushing anything with her, or doing things that I don't think she is mentally or physically capable of until she is really ready for them. That said, I was mulling it over and over in my head recently, and I decided - why not do the yearling section of the Future Event Horse series this year, if she is mentally capable? 

The Future Event Horse program, if you are not familiar with it, is run by the USEA. It is not to be confused with the Young Event Horse program, which showcases the potential talent of 4 and 5 year olds under saddle. I don't really agree with many of the things they are asking these super young horses to do under saddle, so I wouldn't participate in that series if I ever get back to eventing. But the FEH is shown exclusively in-hand, and evaluates the potential for horses as upper level event horse prospects.
Is Pax really an upper level event prospect? Eh, not really. I think she is and will be totally capable of cruising around mid-level, with either myself should I decide to get back into eventing (and maybe I will!), or with another person should that time ever come. But, I think these programs are great exposure for these babes - they are local, they are pretty low-key and they are good life experience. There are a few of them within two or so hours of me, so we wouldn't have to go on long stressful trips or spend extended periods of time away from home. Since there are only a few of them a year, the rest of the year she can go be outside growing and playing like any baby should - and this is highly encouraged by the program. They specifically state that it is more important for a baby to be turned out and look a little scruffy versus be super shiny and slick and fat from standing in a stall, which I really appreciate. 

I started looking up dates for the FEH events in our area. Oh crap.... there is one at the end of next month. That is NOT very far away!

On Wednesday, I loaded and took Pax around the block in the trailer, as her first ever totally solo ride. She has been in the trailer with her mother a few times, and practiced loading by herself at home, but hadn't ever been totally shut in and going down the road by herself. She handled it well, and only had a minor fit when we got back home and all of her idiot marefriends started having a total panic attack. Even Dylan was going, "I don't know these beasts..." Pax almost fell down when trying to turn herself around in the standing stall (not small enough to do that anymore!), caught herself, then stood still and waited to be unloaded. She still can't figure out how to back out, but she is able to turn around and walk cautiously down the ramp. Thankfully she is not a leaper - she is a thinker, mostly.

The side-eye is strong with this one

Yesterday, I decided I had better see how she was going to handle going off property for the first time by herself. I figured she would be pretty awful, as babies tend to be. and boy was I ever right. She was just AWFUL, although she did eventually settle down some.

I can't blame her for her awful behavior. Going off property for the first time is scary. Being without your herd is scary. Seeing things like cows for the first time is scary. It is quite a thing, to be frightened of these things. But, my main problem was not that she was afraid of things. She wasn't afraid, not like I expected. She screamed bloody murder the entire time for the other horses, and she did spook half to death when she saw the cows go by, but her main problem was her fallback tantrums she has when something is overwhelming for her. When she can't handle something (as toddlers are wont to do), she goes into bananas bersek mode and comes at her handler, She doesn't try to get away from you, she tries to come at you. This works in the pasture, because at 10 months old she is the literal boss of the entire mare herd. She shakes her head and she shoves her body around, and all of the other mares - her own mother included - get out of her way. And P herself is kind of a cow sometimes, and fully had her old owner taken advantage of in the same way - she just barged around, and the old owner got out of the way. She doesn't do it with me, but I know she would if I let her.

It's not like this is anything new. I've been dealing with this attitude since she was a neonate. I sat on her and squashed her more times than I can count when she was very small. I still have a mark on the back of my neck from where she reared up and struck me with her little needle hooves as a very tiny babe.

About 2 weeks old, trying to kill me

She's not nasty about it. She doesn't pin her ears, or bite, or kick, or be mean. She just barges her giant brown body around and she expects this to get the point across... like her mother does.

Needless to say, there was some major baby beating going on in that area for a little while.

BUT, that all said, somewhere in the middle of all of that, I took her back to the trailer and tied her for awhile longer. She gradually became more quiet, ate some hay, and actually stood still. I took her back in the arena, practiced some more handling, and was pleased to find that she was listening. She loaded well back on the trailer, rode well all the way home, and today seems to not hate me for having put her through this ordeal.

Pax know how to stand still in an open position, leads very well at the walk, and trots in hand better than nearly all the other horses on my property (save for O, who is super good at this). She just.... has these giant baby tantrums.

Her reaction to seeing cows

SO much side-eye

There are cows over there and cows are outside my worldly knowledge or comprehension

So, I think the FEH at Meadowcreek next month is still on. She will stand, lead, and trot in hand fine, I am sure of that. She just might, you know, show off some of her redheaded side at the same time. If you're going to Meadowcreek... you might want to some watch the fireworks!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mule Mondays: Eyeball

Because I get SO many hilarious pictures of the mini mules being goofy, I thought it would be hilarious to do Mule Mondays - just pictures of them being their crazy little selves!

Without further ado: 


Saturday, February 13, 2016

What Does It Mean To Be A Trainer?

Gail from Journey to 100 Miles posted an interesting read today about natural horsemanship, and specifically about mustangs and the Mustang Magic/Makeover. Her post got me thinking about every Mustang I've ever worked with, including a new one I saw today, and what exactly it means to be a horse trainer.

I'm not a horse trainer, not in the riding sense. All I am is an adult amateur that hasn't managed to kill myself yet. I've trained a few horses to do a few things with some moderate success, but I don't consider myself to be a trainer in any way - or at least, I didn't until I started thinking about it today.

My living revolves around the fact that I am underneath horses all day long and need them to be cooperative and polite for me. I can't always rely on my owners to do the training for me, because for various reasons they may not be able to or know how to help teach their horses to stand quietly. It expedites the process when they can help between appointments, but for the most part these horses all eventually learn the order in which things get done, and we understand each other. They know what I am going to do, and I know what they are going to do. I expect them to stand relatively quietly for me, and they expect me to be polite and not manhandle or scare or hurt them in any way. We operate on that mutual respect, and it has created a lot of really nice, polite horses that are easy for me to work on. 

A number of these horses were horrible beasts to start out with. I no longer take on bad cases (not knowingly, anyway) because I was badly injured last year trying to work on a feral donkey, but I used to take on troublemakers with regularity when I was a bit more foolhardy. I started recognizing patterns in these horses, namely that they were acting out for a few specific reasons:

1) They didn't understand what was expected of them
2) They were frightened and sometimes were anticipating something bad was going to happen
3) They were in pain somewhere and were trying to express it
4) And a few rare cases were just ill-tempered jerks for no apparent reason, but these were the exception rather than the rule

It got me thinking critically about how to help these horses understand what was expected of them. It also gave me a distinct feel for when a horse was acting out because it was in pain vs. when it was frightened vs. when it just didn't know why it needed to be doing something. 

Far and away, the worst horses I have ever worked on have been the Mustangs that have come out of the Makeover programs. I want this program to succeed, but I feel like surely these horses must be completely rushed through the training process. My owners were all told that the horses was "perfect for the farrier," and once the horses were home they all found out that this was not the case. These horses were born out on the range (unless they were born in a holding pen, which sometimes happens), and were all living a nice happy life until the day that a helicopter chased them all into a holding pen. There, their herds were split up, they were run into chutes and branded, and sorted out into holding pens until the time that they got run onto a trailer and shipped off to some gung-ho trainer who has 100 days (or less) to make the horse into the best and most broke trick pony you've ever seen in your life. And they do make them do tricks - like leap into the beds of trucks, or through hoops of actual fire, or other completely stupidly pointless tricks like that. The best tricks win the competition. (Except for Elisa Wallace who is just awesome and who uses actual horsemanship to win instead of tricks). 
100 days is not even four months. Some of these horses go through complete and total hell trying to get ready for the competition. And they tend to come out the other side acting extremely, extremely body protective. Inevitably, nearly always, the first time I work on them they act like total beasts. They rear, they strike, they bite, they kick, and they try to fall over onto you. Sometimes they act fearful, sometimes they act playful, and sometimes they act angry. But they all act out, and sometimes it takes hours to get them done the first time. It sucks for everybody. 

You thought I was kidding about the fire

So what to do you do? Well, every one takes a different approach, and the approach has to be customized to also fit the owner. It gets complicated because you have to be able to read both the horse *and* the owner, and tailor what you do to match both of them. You have to know when to hang on when a horse is leaping around trying to yank his foot away, and when to let go. You need to read if the horse is going to kick you when he's pulling the foot away, or if he's just pulling. You need to be able to feel where in his body his soreness is coming from, and if you can alter anything to fix it. Is the horse yanking his foot away because he's insecure about not having access to all four legs, is he yanking his foot away because he is bored, or is he yanking his foot away because he is sore and can't stretch the limb that far for any length of time? And what will the owner say when you pinpoint these things - how do you go about telling them? And even when you read the situation to the best of your ability, you have to know that sometimes you are wrong and the horse will completely surprise you. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. Even just today one of the young warmbloods I do went completely stiff legged and keeled over on top of me at high speed. She is usually a bit tricky to do but that completely threw me off guard, and off balance. But in time she, like all the others, will learn what is expected of her, and she too will stand quietly. Eventually, even the traumatized Mustangs turn into solid citizens. 

All of these things got me to thinking, what does it mean to be a trainer?  I know plenty of people who have hung their $20 training ride shingle out and claim to be trainers, but whom I wouldn't personally consider a proper trainer. I always equate a real trainer with someone who professional teaches horses to be ridden/driven/worked in a specific discipline and get compensated for it (and succeeds at it), but perhaps it means something a bit more than that, Perhaps it just boils down to teaching a horse to do a specific skill for a specific reason. Perhaps I *am* a trainer and I just don't think of myself as one, because my "training" isn't really intentional or deliberate - it is just organic and happens as things go along. Or perhaps it is something completely different. Are you a trainer if you teach a horse to do a trick? If you teach a whole lot of horses to do the same trick? If you teach them a series of complicated tricks and then win blue ribbons doing it? Or something else?

What do YOU think it means to be a trainer?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Definition of Insanity

Last year, I decided to do a bit of experimentation with O's bits. And you will want to read that one before you continue on to this one, because they are related!

O goes in her Happy Mouth mullen mouth eggbutt. Exclusively. That's it. Solamente uno. It's her soulmate. Her best pal. Her favorite piece of tack. Every other bit on the planet = her worst enemy. I know this about her and up until now I haven't questioned it once. I questioned it A LOT way back when I was trying to figure out just exactly what makes this weird little mare tick, but now... now I know better.

Except when I DON'T know better. Last week, O had a drive when she was just a hot iron-mouthed mess. Over the winter I've noticed that she has been spending a bit more time falling onto her forehand and bearing down in the bridle. At first I took this as something that wasn't a bad thing, because it meant she was taking a contact - but since most of what we did this winter was just trotting up and down the road, she gradually started to get a little more lazy and sloppy and I didn't really have much ability to correct it. It was just SO wet and rainy for the first part of the winter and there wasn't anything I could do to change that. Now that we are in a holding dry pattern, and I can drive in the pasture again, I decided I needed to get her back moving forward and working off her hind end a little better. We had a four mile drive in the snaffle that basically was just O hanging on my hands the entire time. I decided it was time to try the Liverpool again.

I know she hated the liverpool in the past. She hates literally every bit except her regular snaffle. But I figured maybe she had matured a bit, and that it would go much better..... right?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. I don't know why exactly I was expecting different results when I knew exactly what she was going to be like in the Liverpool, but apparently I'm just that nuts. Just like last year - literally over a year ago was the last time I worked her in the Liverpool - she would go along fine, then throw her head in the air and hit the brakes as hard as she could, and roll her tongue out of the side of her mouth. This is the only bit she does the tongue thing with.

Well, there you are. Back to the snaffle we went!

I think the reason she has been a bit hangy and lazy is just because she has been in lighter work and she is less strong than she was. She's not unfit by any means, she just hasn't done a lot of lunging or dressage work lately, and she is definitely needing more. She's been lunging in the Fauxssoa again with good success, and on Sunday B2 came over with her husband to a) help catch Zuul, who is still being a bit feral post-castration, and b) drive O in the field for the first time. I wanted to make sure I had someone hanging off the backstep with me - and I'll need to weight the backstep when I don't have someone to ride along with me. Things get way more complicated when you go from a 2-wheel vehicle to a 4-wheel one. It's that much harder to hitch up alone, and to drive alone too.

She did very well - even cantered a bit. By the end, she was starting to be quite malleable in both directions, and was moving forward well without being lazy or bearing down on my hands. This video was taken early on in the drive - it looks fairly good there, but it got better as we went on.

That's my girl.


In other news, I got a cheap training harness for Ledri off of one of the other driving ladies. She has worn it twice now, and lunged in it once - with breeching, crupper and all! She did has a little bucking fit the second time the girth went on, but that's not terribly surprising. She'll get better and better as we go on. She is lunging quite well, getting better every time!

Ol' Lardguts
I still can't get over the mini polos. They're just so cute it hurts.

Speaking of so cute it hurts:

The babies love Future Hubs. He gives them carrots, and they think he's the best because that's all he does! He says I can't ever sell Pax because she is *his* horse... I guess that's that then!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Instagram Photo Dump

I realized today while looking at my Instagram photos in a quiet moment between appointments that a large number of them haven't been shared on the blog. Well, that needs to change! If you love photos then this is the post for you!

Dylan at WD after a ride

Saba the Senegal giving kisses, not biting!

The Queen looking majestic AF 

The Child trying to also look majestic

Pax got that strut

Pax looking significantly less like she has her life together than in the previous photo. Yes that is the hose on her head, which she put there herself on accident

Lendri with frost in her muley mane

Every. Day. 

And they say dressage isn't natural 

Worst picture of me ever but Zuul looks adorable 


Run O incoming!!

Life is exhausting 

Life is REALLY exhausting 

I got a Be Nice halter for Zuul to see if it would help the bolting.... aaaaand it's too small 

The Rock, on a rock 

The mares watching Darby's body being hauled away... they stood and stared and called to her, and it made me very sad 

32" of terror

Best friends playing bitey face. And Uma, being tiny 

Dylan on patrol 

Seriously, these mules

They are nonstop hilarious. I should do Mule Mondays with just pictures of them playing 

Feeling hot hot hot 

Pax inherited the Be Nice halter, which is useful for doing things like spooking walking down the road 

Future Hubs and Pax. She's huge!

She is not amused 

Zuul four days post castration and I STILL can't get anywhere near him. He is still SO MAD at me. 

Future Hubs holding while I hooked up... tried the Liverpool on her again and I have a post about it coming up! 

Phew that was a lot!