Riding Atut

Atut, Anne’s distinguished gray Trakehner gelding, is a phenomenal dressage horse. He’s been shown up to Fourth Level and is just as quiet and pleasant as you could want. Anne and I had discussed me having a longe lesson on him this weekend, and that’s exactly what we did yesterday

After warming him up off the line, Anne handed the reins to me. Then she had me knot them up out of the way. We proceeded to do about twenty minutes of work at the walk and trot on the longe. Anne had me working hard! I rode with my hands above my head Anne called “Turn left. Center. Turn right. Center,” and so on until she felt like I really had my seat underneath me. I’ll admit it was a little scary twisting around in the saddle while bouncing at the trot! Riding without reins made me really focus on my legs and seat, and old Atut is so well trained that those aids alone are enough to get him round and lovely- no reins required. I’m hoping I’ll be able to transfer that feeling of total balance and harmony to future rides on my horses.

In other news, me and my basketball drills game is featured on the wonderful Lessons in Therapeutic Riding blog! Go check it out- not only is it fun for my fellow therapeutic instructors, but it’s a fun activity for able-bodied kids at summer camp.

Considerations of the Therapy Horse

As the equine manager of a therapeutic riding center, I receive lots of calls from people who want to donate their horse(s) to us. I get more calls in the winter than any other time of year; some people seem to view TRCs as horse rescues and are frequently surprised (and sometimes angry) when I tell them we aren’t currently accepting or seeking new horses to add to our program. It’s the truth- the center at which I work has twenty horses. We’ve had twenty horses since May 2012. The feed, vet, farrier, and general care budget is planned around this number. Our hay quantity is planned around this number. (All of our hay is donated; we sell what we project will be extra.) There’s certainly some wiggle room, but generally, winter is not the time to begin adding horses to the program. 

There are a lot of reasons to donate your horse to a therapeutic riding program, but not wanting to feed them through the winter is not one of them. And before you call your local center to gush about how great you think your horse would be as a therapy horse, consider the following:
  • Is your horse sound? Your horse or pony doesn’t have to be sound enough to go out an gallop a cross-country course tomorrow, but it does need to be able to endure up to three hours a day of walking and some trotting, frequently with very unbalanced people aboard. We have a few horses with some issues: a horse with low scale chronic laminitis; a horse who tore a suspensory ligament a couple of years ago; several senior horses with mild to moderate arthritis. These are issues than can be handled relatively easily with a good farrier, glucosamine injections, and careful consideration of workload. If your horse is dead lame most of the time and limps around the pasture, please don’t call me. Therapy horses do work and need to be able to hold up to the load.
  • How old is your horse? The average age of a horse at our center is about 20 years old. Our youngest horse is 10; our oldest is 31. We’re open to evaluating horses of any age as long as they’re in reasonably good health, but many centers will not consider a horse over about 15 years old. While older horses usually have more experience and exposure than their younger counterparts, they also come with the potential for more health issues and more expense. If your horse’s teeth are falling out and he has one hoof in the grave, either euthanize him yourself or let him live out his days peacefully at your place. Not only is it expensive for TRCs to care for your very senior horse, it’s extremely traumatic for our students (who are all special needs) when a horse dies. Conversely, we are definitely not interested in your yearling. 
  • What kind of experiences has your horse had? I spoke with a gentleman a couple of months ago who wanted to donate an ungelded yearling and an unbroken three year old. Clearly, he thought we were conducting a different type of program. Recently, I received a call from a woman was interested in donating a four year old mare who’d had about sixty days of training around two years ago. She assured me the mare was very gentle and had wonderful manners. I assured her we were not looking to add any more horses to our program at this time. Therapy horses are exposed to all kinds of stuff- from riders who hum and rock back and forth to wheelchairs to Christmas trees in the middle of the arena. Horses that come from show backgrounds (especially rodeo backgrounds) and trail riding families are usually okay for therapy work, as they’ve seen and heard enough commotion to be unfazed by Sally Sue screaming at the top of her lungs and bouncing a rubber ball off the horse’s poll.
  • How big is your horse? We never, ever need a 17hh+ horse. Ever. Period. Typically, we aren’t looking for miniature horses either, although some centers with driving programs may be interested in them. Most of our horses are around 15 hands, though we do have three ponies that are about 12 hands tall. Remember that many special needs riders require lots of assistance mounting and dismounting. Mounting ramps are used for many riders, but even lifting a 150 person two feet onto a horse’s back can be difficult. Lifting them any higher is damn near impossible. Dismounting from a large horse can be troublesome too.
  • What vices does your horse have? My center has a whole slew of horses that pace around their stalls. This is an easy vice to deal with, especially since the horses are turned out almost all the time. Vices that are deal-breakers include kicking (people or other horses) and biting. Occasionally, some horses get cranky and begin nibbling on people leading them; we usually deal with this by working with the horse to address the issue (as opposed to immediately kicking them out of the program).
Other things you’ll want to consider before donating your horse:
  • What options are their for giving your horse to a TRC? The center I work for is part of a state university; as such, horses that are donated become property of the state. The owner gets a tax write off and relinquishes control of the horse. Since the horse is state property, it’s disposed of as such if we decide it’s no longer working out for us. Generally, we try to find someone to foster the horse, but sometimes the horses are sold. Oklahoma state law dictates that state property must be disposed of at public sale or auction. We don’t ship any horses down to the stockyards, but we do advertise the horses for sale in local newspapers and on the university’s website. On the advertised date of the sale, sealed bids are submitted for the horse(s) and the highest bidder wins the horse. If you’re concerned about where your horse might end up after his therapy career is over, I’d encourage you to talk with your local TRC about what they do with horses that aren’t suitable for therapy any more. Not all centers are bound by the same restrictions we are, as most are not affiliated with a state entity. I know of one center in another part of Oklahoma that essentially uses donated horses as fundraisers- they take all horses as tax-deductible donations and if the horses don’t work out, they sell them at the stockyards. Please take the time to ask for clarification and understand what happens to your horse when he retires. Ask if there’s an alternative, like a long-term lease. This is the option I encourage people to use; in a long-term lease, you retain ownership of the horse. If you decide you want him back, you just submit a written notice. If we decide he’s done with therapy work, you get him back to do whatever you want. You don’t get a tax write-off for long term leases, but many people feel better about their horse’s ultimate fate.
  • Are you sure you’re done with your horse? Once you’ve given your horse to a TRC, he’s there to work. Our horses average five rides per week and are sometimes ridden twice a day. If another horse is injured, your horse might have to pull double-duty. (For example, last semester when one horse was recuperating from an eye injury, we had a big pinto gelding pick up most of his riders. That gelding ended up with nine riders a week.) We encourage owners to come visit their horse as often as they like and I send owners three letters a year with pictures and an update on their horse. Don’t expect to ride your horse once he’s at a therapy center, though. It would be difficult for us to schedule a time for you to come ride him; most horses are under a heavy enough work load that we prefer to let them rest on days they don’t have riders. If you still want to take your horse on trail rides or occasionally hop on him bareback and ride around the pasture, please don’t donate him yet.
A career as a therapy horse is a great option for a mature horse that’s retired from his first job but isn’t ready to be turned out in the pasture 24/7 yet. Horses that enjoy people and like to work, but maybe aren’t up to the rigors of reining or roping or regular gallops are good candidates. It’s rewarding as an owner to see your horse helping people with disabilities achieve their goals. 
If you want to give your horse a new lease on life, don’t do it because you can’t feed him this winter or because you’re tired of paying for the medical expenses of your senior horse. Do it because you love him and want to help other people.

Blog Hop

I totally meant to do this like two days ago, but spaced out and forgot! Better late than never, right?

So in honor of this first hop, the theme is: debut. No one is born knowing how to ride so all of us have memorable firsts.
Share a memory from:
  1. The first horse experience you can remember.
  2. Your first “aha” moment–when something really clicked for you as a rider.
  3. Entering the ring. Could be your first show, or another time when simply entering the arena could be considered a “debut” of sorts.
Here are my answers:
  1. The first horse experience you can remember. I have a few fuzzy memories and can’t remember which is first, so I’ll tell all three of them. I remember my fat gray Shetland pony Daisy bucking me off, then bucking my dad off, then galloping off at top speed. I was probably about four. Daisy ran clear off to the neighbors’ farm and managed to break my tiny western saddle along the way. Around the same time, I remember riding a very ill mannered pony named Heather at the local stable where my mom had signed me up for riding lessons. She always had a pissy expression on her face, and I distinctly remember not liking her. I also remember the first time I got to ride a “big” horse at this stable (Heather was probably off trying to kill another student)- he was a bay gelding named Buster, who was probably only about 14 hands or so, but I thought he was huge. 
  2. Your first “aha” moment– when something really clicked for you as a rider. I was surprised at how many people answered that they didn’t have an “aha” moment! My first was when I learned a mnemonic phrase to recall which diagonal was correct when posting- “Rise and fall with the leg on the wall”. I had a lot of trouble with diagonals and when someone (a Pony Club instructor, I think) related that phrase to me, diagonals suddenly clicked.
  3. Entering the ring. Could be your first show, or another time when simply entering the arena could be considered a “debut” of sorts. My first show debut was at the county 4-H show on May 18, 1996 when I was nine years old. I was riding my instructor’s pony Ginger who was considerably better tempered than Daisy or Heather. I won first place in the novice walk/trot class. I still have the ribbon (it’s hanging in my living room). Somewhere, there is a picture of an adorable girl in paddock boots and garters holding a cute chestnut pony with a ribbon hanging on its bridle, smiling with excitement and pride. While my show career hasn’t been as successful as its launch would indicate, I think of that nine year old and how happy she was whenever I get frustrated at my lack of progress on canter departures or shoulder-ins.

Winter Barn Essentials

Oklahoma (especially the Tulsa area) isn’t exactly the worst place in the world to spend a winter. Generally, temperatures don’t drop below freezing except at night, it rains maybe four days a month, rarely snows, and is typically very sunny. That isn’t to stay it’s paradise- the wind regularly sweeps down the plain at 30 miles an hour, and sudden ice and snow storms have wreaked havoc on the area in the past.

I’m kind of a cold-weather wimp, so when it’s 28 degrees and windy at 7 AM on my day to feed, I draw on my cold weather staples:

  • Capilene 2 Lightweight Bottoms from Patagonia, $45: I’m outside or in an unheated barn at work about 90% of the time and jeans don’t provide a lot of warmth. Some of my coworkers wear Carhartt coveralls, but I find them too bulky. These bottoms are warm without being thick and fit equally well under jeans or breeches.
Definitely not me.
  • Hooded Squall Jacket from Land’s End, $120: Please ignore the weird position the model is standing in and give the jacket your full attention. I bought this jacket about two years ago (in a less hideous green) and it’s been incredible. The jacket is lined and warm, the hood is large enough to fit over my head without squishing my ponytail too much, the pockets have zippers so my lip balm doesn’t fall out, and it repels rain without any trouble. It’s also excellent protection against the wind. Best of all, it can be monogrammed! (This is important to me.) I also think I could probably wear it in public and look somewhat put-together if my jacket wasn’t covered in dirt, horse snot, and baby oil.
  • Neoprene Gloves from Bass Pro Shop, $25: I consider a pair of neoprene gloves absolutely necessary. I don’t have this exact pair from Bass Pro, but they’re the closest I could find online to what I have. I picked up a $5 pair at my local Atwoods (a farm/ranch supply store similar to Rural King or Tractor Supply Store) a couple of years ago; I imagine if you nose around at your local farm store, you can find some decent gloves for far less than $25. Neoprene gloves are a little bulky for any fine motor movements, but you can’t beat them for having to punch through water tank ice when a horse has pulled the heater out of the tank or the heater has failed. They’re warm, waterproof, and durable. 
Yes, I have this design.
  • Tumbler from Tervis, $11-25: I drink hot tea and coffee in vast quantities when the weather is chilly. Tervis tumblers are absolutely the best when it comes to keeping warm things warm (and cold things cold, for that matter). Seriously, they keep your coffee warm for at least an hour. They’re double walled, so they don’t feel hot on the outside while they’re keeping your beverage warm. They come in hundreds of designs, several sizes, and you can (you guessed it) get them personalized. You can put them in the microwave, wash them in the dishwasher (a huge improvement over many travel mugs), and they carry a lifetime guarantee just in case your horse steps on one. I cannot say enough good things about them. 

  • Over The Calf Socks from SmartWool, $27: I received a pair of these socks for Christmas from Johnny’s parents. They’re amazing. I’ve used short SmartWool socks when jogging, but these tall, over the calf sized socks are perfect for wearing under tall boots. They’re warm and keep my feet dry (I have sort of clammy feet, which I know is super gross, sorry). Unlike other wool socks, they’re relatively thin and my boots zip over them easily. 
Other things I can’t live without in the winter? Hand warmers (which I also use to warm up the horses’ bits), touchscreen-friendly gloves (for when I’m not wearing the neoprene gloves), echinacea tea (to ward off the inevitable sickness that comes with working with kids), and Carmex lip balm.

What do y’all use in the winter?

Progress

“DIS HOW U CHOO FOODZ? YA??”

Happy anniversary to Colt, the gigantic red goofball! I’ve been riding him for about a year and we’ve definitely made some progress. A year ago, he was a surly jerk with poor manners. He refused to tie, went flailing backwards at the sight of a saddle, swung his huge rump around, locked his jaw and trucked around the arena, and flatly refused to stand still for the farrier. Today, he is easy to catch, tie, groom, and tack. He stands quietly for my saint of a farrier without the aid of sedatives. While he still tries to pull my arms out of their sockets, he sometimes carries himself very nicely. I am definitely no miracle worker or fabulous trainer. I think he’s mainly benefited from regular human interaction (other than feeding), lots of treats, and judicious use of a dressage whip. I’m proud of him!

I hacked him for about half an hour today. He was as nice as could be in the barn; I’m continually impressed with his ability to hang out by himself. A year ago, he was totally bonkers if another horse wasn’t right next to him. We spent our half hour walking around the arena, doing circles and serpentines, and halt-walk/walk-halt transitions. Colt tried to pretend he was scared of these black barrels that have been in the arena since the beginning of time, but I assured him they hadn’t turned into horse-eating monsters in the last week.
Our downward transitions need lots of work, but I’m happy with the direction they’re going. I think a better fitting bit will help. This loose-ring, while wide enough, hangs sort of low in his mouth because of how big the rings are. The enormous bridle needs a couple of holes punched in it; we’ll see how he is once the bit is a little higher in his mouth. 
After some good bending work, I called it a day and proceeded to take pictures of the noble steed.
The browband is just ridiculous.
Pretty cute, for a big lug.
Least flattering pic ever.