Viva Carlos Blog Hop: Bit it up

L. Williams and the majestic unicorn ask us: What bit [do] you ride your current beastie in and why?

For years and years, Moe went in a plain old D-ring snaffle. Why? Because the woman I bought him in told me he went in a snaffle, and I happened to have a D-ring that fit him.
Moe went all three phases in a D-ring.
Dressage (it’s okay to laugh)
Cross-country
Show jumping

A few years ago, I lent Moe’s bridle (complete with bit) to someone I played polo with. I moved before he returned it and although I offered to pay for shipping to have him send it back to me, I never saw it again. (He also kept my saddle. Rude.)

These days, Moe goes in a French-link eggbutt snaffle. It originally came with Gina. 
Moe seems to like the solidity of the eggbutt cheekpieces and chews on the French link a little bit more than he did the D-ring. Other than that, he goes about the same. Sometimes I think I need something that would provide more brakes on cross-country (and show jumping, too), but I find that a figure-8 noseband works just fine for us in show situations. Moe is strong and gets very excited, but he isn’t wild and will usually back down after a few half-halts.
Gina goes in something very similar, a French-link loose ring snaffle.
I was introduced to this bit by my trainer, Anne, who loved it for all of her dressage horses. Gina likes it a whole lot better than the eggbutt she came with. She is soft and responsive in this bit, and although she gets strong over fences with it sometimes, she is usually pretty easy to settle with a half-halt or two. 

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Friday Fail: Homemade fly spray

My horse trailer has been hanging out at my friend Trista’s house for the better part of six months. Our truck doesn’t have a gooseneck hitch to pull it down to the barn, and I hate to inconvenience anyone by asking them to haul it down there for me. (It’s about a 45 minute drive.) I have most of the stuff I need from it, either in my garage or at the barn, so it’s usually a non-issue. Johnny and I occasionally go up to where the trailer is (which is about 45 minutes from our house) to visit our friends and work on getting the trailer into more appealing condition to sell. I always make sure to grab anything I need from it while I’m there, since it’s an inconvenient drive.

About two weeks ago, I started running low on fly spray. I made a mental note to get my big jug of Fly-Die fly spray out of the trailer and take it to the barn when we were up working on the lights over the weekend. Of course, like all of my mental notes, this was filed away and promptly forgotten.

So last week I decided to whip up a batch of homemade fly spray because I am too lazy and cheap to drive close to an hour to retrieve my fly spray; I am also too cheap to buy a new bottle at my local farm and ranch store.

After poking around the internet, I finally found a recipe that didn’t require me to buy citronella oil or call an Avon lady to acquire Skin-So-Soft. I can’t recall where I found the recipe, but it’s not important. It called for:

  • 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 tbsp Dawn dish soap
Now, we are Palmolive people, so that’s what I used. I figured it wouldn’t make a huge difference. I doubled the recipe so it’d fit in my spray bottle and it looked very unappealing.
I tested it out by spraying some of it on my arm; it didn’t burn or give me a rash, so I decided it was safe enough for Moe and Gina.
I took it out to the barn, where Moe had turned into Pissy Sensitive Diva Horse because flies were landing on his legs, belly, and rump. I sprayed him down liberally; he smelled like a salad bar. Another boarder asked me, “Do you smell vinegar??” upon entering the barn. I pretended like I didn’t know what she was talking about.
I rode Moe, who continued to be Pissy Sensitive Diva Horse, swishing his tail, stomping, and turning around to bite himself. I doused him again after our ride and turned him out. There were still flies pestering him.
I tried it on Gina, who seemed offended by the smell. She rolled her eyes around and sniffed suspiciously at me, the bottle, and her barrel. She isn’t as cranky about flies as Moe is, so there was definitely less swishing and stomping, but I could still see flies landing on her. After our ride, I sprayed the concoction directly on some flies on her legs, and they just keep hanging out. Hmm.
I’ve used about half the bottle of the stuff and here’s my official verdict: Big fat fail: this doesn’t work! Maybe it was the Palmolive. Maybe we have super flies at my barn. Who knows? But you can bet I’m driving up to Trista’s this weekend to grab my good old reliable Fly-Die! 

Not a mare person

For years, I’ve been a self-proclaimed anti-mare person. Not that all mares are bad, or that mares aren’t right for other people, but I always felt like mares just weren’t for me. Something about them is just different from geldings, who I’ve always found to be generally amicable and eager to please.

I’ve ridden some excellent mares for sure: there was Sadie, my pleasant and safe Quarter Horse who toted me around my very first events.

1997 Cedar Hills Pony Club Horse Trial.
No idea what my tack choices are about.

And there was Silk Pajamas, or PJ, who was perhaps the best horse I have ever ridden my life. She belonged to my high school English teacher; she’d packed my teacher’s son around dressage, eventing, and show jumping competitions, played polo for a little while, and came out of retirement at age 25 when I was between reliable mounts.

2002 Pony Club Eventing Rally @ KY Horse Park.
This horse is 25 in this photo!

I rode a couple of mares when I played polo: BC (short for Big Chestnut) and Bubblegum, two little Argentinian Thoroughbreds who were fast and fun. 

Of course, at the therapeutic riding center, we had all kinds of mares. There was Star, the lovely palomino western pleasure horse who had the smoothest trot and best manners of any horse there. Crystal, the elderly powerhouse of Quarter Horse who liked to relive her barrel racing days. Kloe, the dainty bay roan with a sweet personality and endless patience with her challenged riders. 
And then there is my mare, Gina. 
Haughty, imperious Gina who has been a thorn in my side almost from the day I bought her three years ago. Gina, who is capable of great things, but only if you ask politely and only if she feel like indulging you. Gina, who is beautiful and fancy, but who will just as soon bite you as snuffle curiously for a treat. Gina, my potential eventer, who for so long did not jump.
It’s no secret that Moe is my favorite of the two. His sweet face, his hardworking and forgiving attitude, his bravery, his endless trust in me: all of these things make him perfect to me. Moe and I have been a team for a very long time, which would probably make him the favorite even if all other things were equal.
But over the last few months, I have found myself riding Gina more and more. Some days when I go to the barn, I only ride her, while Moe gets his favorite granola bars and another dousing of fly spray. 
And Gina has started to win me over. Something in our dynamic has changed. Maybe I’m riding better. Maybe Gina’s come to the conclusion I won’t do anything excessively mean or stupid to her. But Gina’s working harder and being more consistent. I am enjoying riding her again, because she is talented and well-trained. I don’t want to pee my pants every time I point her toward a jump. Slowly but surely, she and I are becoming a team. 
Will we ever be as close as Moe and I? Probably not. Will I ever buy another mare again? Hard to say, but unlikely. But maybe I’m a little more of a mare person than I used to be.

Jimmy Wofford clinic at The Woodlands

Yesterday I got up at 4 AM, loaded my car with water, chairs, and my treasured copy of Training The Three Day Event Horse & Rider and headed to Tulsa to pick up my sleepy student. I then drove us two hours to Edmond, Oklahoma to The Woodlands Equestrian Center for cross-country day of the Jimmy Wofford clinic.

I was really excited for the chance to meet my equestrian idol and watch him teach; the clinic didn’t disappoint. The Woodlands is a lovely facility with a great cross-country course full of ditches, banks, a water complex, and any kind of log-based jump you can imagine. The owners were kind and the clinic well-organized.

The morning began with a question and answer session that began focused on the previous day’s topic: show jumping. It quickly moved into more general territory, with riders and auditors asking questions about topics ranging from the place of amateurs in the sport to using heart-rate monitors while conditioning. Jimmy Wofford patiently answered them all with practical advice and humor. After the Q&A, we moved to the cross-country course, which we moved around for the better part of two hours as the first group of riders (a Training/Preliminary level group) galloped and jumped.

Here’s what I took away from the clinic:

  • It’s important to have a schedule, but not to be a slave to the schedule. Wofford said he usually has horses in a 4-day rotation: dressage, show jumping, dressage, slow (300 meters/minute) canter work. If the horse comes out feeling unmotivated or sluggish, he walks them for 20 minutes, calls it a day, and resumes with whatever’s on the schedule the next day.  
  • There’s no reason to be training your Beginner Novice, Novice, or Training level horse with 550 meter per minute gallops. It will only serve to get you speed faults and potentially injure your horse.
  • Interval training will make your horse fit, but it will also make him lame. Going from zero to full-tilt repeatedly is not a good idea. Instead, go from moderate effort (like trotting or slow cantering) to almost maximum effort and back. Hill work is also integral in building a horse’s fitness.
  • Walking is an underrated way to condition a horse. For the Prelim, Intermediate, and Advanced horse, Wofford recommended two hours a day of walking on a loose rein in addition to whatever work is planned. He described the walk as a (very) slow-motion gallop. 
  • The less you move over a jump, the better. Throwing your hands or body forward before a jump only unbalances the horse and makes his job harder. Stay forward and allow the horse to move your body. (I need this tattooed inside my eyelids.) Practice with a neck strap!
  • Don’t say, “Oh to hell with it!” and let your horse charge at jumps. Keep him in a package right up to the base of the fence. The package is a rectangle, with your arms as the long sides, the bit as a short end, and your hands (and the space between them) as the other short end. The horse doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) collected or on the bit, but he doesn’t need to be allowed to sprawl out and get flat. 
  • Support the horse with your legs, not your seat.
  • You don’t rise to the occasion; you sink to your level of training. 
The clinic was absolutely wonderful. Even my student, who probably thought Jimmy Wofford was just someone’s curmudgeonly old uncle, was impressed with his sense of humor and wisdom. (She told me she was going to go home and make a schedule for her horse- after she took a nap.) 
I’d say it’s the best $25 I’ve spent in a long time. Although, really, I would have paid $25 just so he’d sign my book.

Viva Carlos Blog Hop: Continuation school

Does this unicorn have a name? He should definitely have one.
L. Williams at Viva Carlos has a good question for us this week: Why do you continue to ride?

I thought more about this question than probably necessary.
I continue to ride because I enjoy it, I have the physical and financial capability to do so, and I don’t know what else I’d do with Moe, Gina, and all of my equipment.

That’s it. 
Sure, I’m reasonably good at it. Sure, I love teaching other people how to care for and ride horses. Of course I love Moe and Gina!
But when I think about it, I ride because it’s fun and makes me happy. I have zero physical limitations to prevent me from riding. I’m fortunate to have a financial situation that makes it doable. And the thought of selling my horses makes me sad. So I’ll keep riding until something changes, and be happy that I’m able to do that!

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