On being a good example

I see a lot of kids and young adults on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes, I see them at the tack store where I work: youngsters just embarking on their equestrian journey, or teenagers looking for a new pair of riding tights. Most of the time, I see them while I’m at the barn. My neighbor has many students, and most of them are teenagers or younger.

Once upon a time, I was a youngster.

These kids spend every minute of their free time at the barn. They’re mucking stalls, turning horses out, feeding, blanketing and unblanketing, picking rocks out of the arena, all for the opportunity to ride whatever horse needs to be exercised that day. These kids are eager learners, snatching up every crumb of advice, every morsel of sage wisdom that their trainer (my neighbor) and other knowledgeable-sounding adults (like the farrier or vet) offer.

Even though I’m not their trainer, I try to be a good example for them. I sit taller in the saddle when a pair of young eyes is watching me school Gina through a dressage test. I work harder to make sure my leg is solid over fences when my teenage jump crew is setting fences for Moe. I groom my horses well. I wear my helmet. I try to limit the profanity. The barn rats make me better.

I had lots of good examples through Pony Club.

It’s important to me to try to teach them unmounted skills, too. I explain why I take big, exaggerated steps between jumps when setting and walking a course. I offer to show some of them how to wrap a leg. I try (and fail) to teach them to figure-8 bridles.

I also do my best to model good behavior completely unrelated to horses. My neighbor and I are on different ends of the political spectrum, but the barn rats have heard us calmly and respectfully discuss the election and political issues on which we disagree. I’m always positive when they come in the store where I work. I don’t want them to feel self-conscious about what size breeches they wear- I want them to feel and look good. I say “please” and “thank you” to them, to the cashier at the feed store, and to our waitress at the Mexican restaurant.

My parents were good examples, too.

I screw up a lot, too. They’ve seen me get after Gina when she won’t go over a jump. They’ve heard some choice obscenities when Moe is jigging around the hay meadow. They’ve seen me lose my temper when Candy won’t load. They’ve seen the grimy condition of my tack and how much of it is piled up in my still-unorganized tack room.

I don’t know if the barn rats look up to me; they probably roll their eyes and think, “Here comes Stephanie to tell me to clean my tack again!” when they see me coming. I don’t think any of them need a role model- they’re all good kids, from good homes, with good parents, and they’re working and riding at a good barn with a good trainer. Still, I figure it can’t hurt to strive to be the sort of person I looked up to as a young rider.

What about you? Do you interact with lots of young people at your barn? Do you feel like you have an obligation to set a good example for them?

Candy’s blanket phobia

Candy is a funny little horse. She’s very sensible- if she sees something that’s a little scary, her response to to freeze and stare. After a brief assessment, she usually decides the scary thing isn’t really that bad and moves on with her life.

Except for blankets.

See, Candy had a Traumatic Blanket Incident last year, and since then, she’s been pretty certain that blankets equal impending death.

“Can I go back to Florida now? PLEASE?”

Back in early December, Oklahoma had one of those days where it was very, very cold and windy in the morning, but warmed up to a reasonable 50ish by early afternoon. Since Candy has the saddest winter coat EVER, she wears a blanket when temperatures are below 35 or so. On this particular day, I turned her out still wearing her blanket before heading to work, since my neighbor had told me she’d be happy to remove it once the weather warmed up.

Later that day, I got a text from my neighbor: “Candy’s blanket is now dead.”

Turns out my neighbor had sent one of the barn rats out to remove the blanket; the kid, who’s used to dealing with dead-broke lesson horses, started removing the blanket while Candy was loose in the field. The blanket slipped a little, scaring Candy, who bolted, trailing the blanket behind her like the scariest superhero cape in the world. Candy whizzed around the field until she was finally free of the blanket, which the kid retrieved and place in a heap in my barn.  The poor kid was possibly more scared than Candy was.

Not Candy, but I imagine this is how the incident started.

When I heard this story, I couldn’t stop laughing at my mental image of a horse galloping around with a cape and a petrified youngster trying to figure out what to do. I know, I know- Candy could have really hurt herself, it’s not nice to laugh at children, etc. But it was an honest mistake, and no one came to any harm; well, except for the poor blanket, which was a shredded heap of nylon fabric and tufts of polyester fill far beyond the skill of even the best blanket repair person.

Right after the Traumatic Blanket Incident, even the sight of a blanket would cause Candy to tremble. After a few days, she would allow herself to be blanketed, but would stand completely still unless led somewhere. Eventually, she seemed to put the TBI behind her and was happy to let me blanket and unblanket her while she ate.

However, I’m afraid we’ve had a TBI relapse. Yesterday morning, I was unclipping the leg straps of Candy’s blanket while she ate. She shifted, causing the blanket to move. Candy flung her head up, scooted backwards, and paced around her stall in a panic. I escaped out the front door to avoid being kicked or trampled and watched her nervously circle her stall until the blanket slid off and she stood shaking and staring at it. I reentered the stall, picked it up, and hung it on the blanket bar while she crept toward her feed tub to finish breakfast.

She was basically fine when I put it back on last night and took it off this morning, so I don’t think the mental damage is too great. Sigh. Poor Candy. Those blankets are surely out to get her!

Hacking near the Gilcrease Expressway

Working from home a couple of days a week means my schedule is very flexible; I can edit graphics, type emails, and update the store’s website any time I’m at a computer. I do best when I can break my day up into small chunks of productive time- I’ll often work a couple of hours in the morning, ride in the afternoon, work a few more hours, cook and eat dinner, and wrap up the work day in the early evening. I’m grateful to have a job that complements my lifestyle so well.

Yesterday, I suggested to my neighbor that we go on a trail ride. The weekend’s rain has confined us to the indoor arena; while I’m very glad I have an indoor arena right next door to ride in, I still get tired of riding in there sometimes! We figured most of the maintained trails in the area (like our favorite over at Oologah Lake) would be muddy and slick, so she suggested we ride on the easement at the nearby Gilcrease Expressway.

The circled part is the quiet two-lane part.

The Gilcrease Expressway is a strange road. It was built as part of Tulsa’s long-term plan to construct an outer highway loop around the city’s central business district. It runs east-to-west along the north part of the city, and it’s currently the only part of the outer highway loop that’s actually complete. Most of it is four-lane highway, but a small portion stretching approximately two miles east from the western terminus is two-lane. The road isn’t heavily trafficked, and it cuts through some of the hilliest parts of Tulsa County.

You can see where little trails are cut through the wooded parts of the easement!

There are wide swaths of land on either side of the highway. The county either owns this land or has easements on the land; I assume one day, they’ll expand the highway to four or five lanes. For the time being, though, it’s a wonderful place to condition horses.

I took Candy, while my friend took her Third Level dressage horse. The horses were a little wild-eyed when they got off the trailer- the wind was gusting at about 30 miles per hour and the noise from the few cars driving on the road was loud. Both horses settled down with judicious application of treats, and Candy calmly stood still while I groomed her and tacked her up.

The best place to ground tie your green horse is next to a highway.

We set off by crossing the road to get to the widest part of the easement. We were headed west- we were planning to ride to 41st Avenue, then turn around and come back along the other side of the road to the trailer. The footing was a little soft, but not slippery, and the horses handled it well. Candy is still learning how to manage her body going up and down hills; the steep-ish hills on this route were great for her! I mostly stayed out of her way. She was excited and a little restless when we started out, but relaxed quickly and had zero spooks throughout the ride. She stayed right next to my friend’s horse, who was (for the most part) a calming influence.

This isn’t the road, just a rocky ridge several hundred feet away from the road! (The highway is on the far left of the photo.)

The only part of the ride that got a little hairy was when we were crossing the road to head back toward the trailer. My friend’s horse balked at stepping off the curb onto the pavement, then spooked at stepping up the curb on the other side of the road. Candy seemed perfectly fine with both curbs until she saw the other horse spook- then she was a little worried! She got tense, but gamely did as I asked.

We rode for about an hour at a walk, and Candy got better and better as the ride went along. She trips less than she used to, and I can tell she’s paying more attention to the terrain. Best of all, she was totally quiet and relaxed about loading in the trailer! The Gilcrease Expressway is close by, and very convenient. I’m already thinking of how to fit this into my riding schedule on a regular basis!

An exciting hunt with Harvard

I went hunting on Saturday for the first time since November. Various social obligations and the weather kept me out of the field in December, so I was more than ready to get out this weekend.

I even had a good stock tie day!

The weather was excellent for hunting: it was a bit humid, and the ground was damp from rain earlier in the week. The temperature started out in the mid-40s and rose to the low 50s. The wind was almost non-existent, a rarity for Oklahoma. This combination made for great scenting conditions; everyone knew it, and the excitement was palpable.

The field hacked out about a half mile from the parking area to meet the hound truck. The hounds were cast and immediately opened on a line. The masters set off at a brisk trot after them, and the first flight field master followed. For the next hour and a half, the hounds were hunting well, often in full cry. Gina and I stayed near the front of the field as we trotted through narrow wooded trails, galloped over open terrain, scrambled up and down hills, and splashed through Flint Creek at a run.

The hounds eventually lost the scent and the field took a breather on an open hilltop. The masters gave permission for larking, so Gina and I led a group of junior guests over a couple of post-and-rail fences. Gina was full of piss and vinegar all day long; I don’t know if it’s because she hasn’t been out in a while or what. She was unusually strong and spent most of the day ignoring my repeated half-halts. She charged all the jumps we took, springing over them as if she was running the cross-country course at Rolex. Gina’s not usually like this- she’s typically respectful and relatively quiet, and never, ever makes me contemplate hunting her in anything but an eggbutt snaffle!

As we started to make the descent down the hill to get back home, the hounds opened on another line. I had a brief moment where I wondered if this was how I’d die- charging down a steep, rocky hill on an exuberant Thoroughbred who was trying her best to push the draft cross in front of her down the hill faster.

After a short chase, the quarry evaded the hounds, and the field turned in for the day. I untacked Gina, who finally seemed tired enough to stand still and eat hay. I didn’t linger at hunt breakfast long, as clouds were beginning to roll in and I didn’t relish the thought of driving home in the rain.

Days like this are my favorite. A good chase is exhilarating, and I’d like to think Gina enjoys it as much as I do!

Friday Five

It’s a beautiful Friday here in Oklahoma, and it looks like it’ll be a nice weekend. Gina and I will be hunting tomorrow (hooray!) and I’m hoping to get some work done around the barn on Sunday.

Here’s what’s on my radar this week:

ONE Throwback Thursday: That Time Jim Wofford Swam A River on Chronicle of the Horse

I love seeing photos and hearing riders talk about eventing in the ’60s and ’70s. So many things about the sport were different. For example, in this article, Jim Wofford describes having to swim his horses across a flooded river at the 1967 Myopia Horse Trials during the cross-country phase. I can’t see THAT happening today!

TWO USEF Announces Venue Short List for New CCI4*

Fair Hill and Great Meadow are the finalists for a new CCI4* site! Currently, Rolex is the only such event in the western hemisphere. It’s exciting to think that we’ll have another big event in North America; maybe some day, when my dreams of the Oklahoma Horse Park come true, there’ll be something west of the Misssissippi!

THREE Sales video for Walter, a Missouri Fox Trotter

This video is 20 minutes long, but well worth the watch. Trainer Zackery Stevens narrates a sale video for Walter, a Missouri Fox Trotter gelding who redefines the meaning of a broke horse. The video is hilarious; my favorite part is around the four minute mark, when Stevens says, “I can even lay ‘im down in the middle of war. This is my ready-for-ISIS scene, in case ISIS ever comes to Missouri. I think we’re about ready for ’em.” This guy is apparently just up the road in Springfield; maybe the dressage club can get him to come down for a clinic?

FOUR The Trouble with America’s Most Beloved Mall Brands

While I’m not employed by a store in a mall, I am employed by a brick and mortar retailer. This article is an interesting read on the trend of consumers shopping away from malls- and away from brick and mortar stores in general.

FIVE Used Horse Stuff

Stacie over at Amateur At Large turned me on to this site; if you’ve ever gotten totally sick of scrolling through the English Tack Trader Facebook group or are too lazy for eBay, check out this site! It’s well-organized, everything is photographed nicely, and they’re super communicative. I’m eager to get my free kit to ship a whole bunch stuff to them. I’ve got a ton of stuff I’ve been meaning to sell, but that means photographing it, posting it, managing the shipping. Hard pass, y’all- I’m happy to let someone else have a cut so I can do less work.