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It Takes a Village, Part I

Winter continues to rage in Fly Over Country with lots of snow (6th snowiest in history so far!) and bitter cold temperatures. All this means very limited riding and not much to blog about. With everything that been going on with Miles recently though, I’ve been thinking a lot about him, which always leads me to get opinions from my pit crew.

Anyone who has owned a horse for any length of time knows it takes a team to keep a horse sound and able to work — whether you’re enjoying hitting the trails, showing low level hunters or prepping for the Olympics — there are a whole lot of people involved in the process.

I am blessed to have a wonderful team around me, and today (and tomorrow) I want to take some time to recognize them and thank them for all their hard work.

The Trainer

Whether you take lessons once a year or once a week, your trainer is a big part of your success. I absolutely love my trainer for many, many reasons. She has loads of experience, her top priorities are safety and care of the animal and she is willing to move at whatever pace her client is comfortable with.

She let me ride her personal horses after Visa died, she helped me find Miles and she has filled many of the gaping holes in my riding education. Without her, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.

Bev and Diamond

The Vet

Hopefully you see your vet twice a year for vaccines… or less than that if you do those yourself. But the reality is that horses are fragile creatures and many of us see our vet much more often than that. My vet is lovely — she texts(!!) and loves to answer all my questions. She was super helpful throughout the pre-purchase process with Miles, including leveraging her relationship with the local equine hospital to get us an appointment ASAP. Without the good doctor, I might never have purchased Miles… ’nuff said.

The Farrier

As the saying goes, “No hoof, no horse.” A good farrier is worth their weight in gold — and my farrier is great. Sometime we can have scheduling trouble, but he is so talented, I don’t mind that much. He made special shoes himself for Visa to help keep costs down, and he has a 1 week guarantee for all his shoes… which was helpful when Miles ripped his first set of new kicks off the day after they were put on.

Dean

The Barn Staff

Many of us board our horses — and for me, it’s an essential part of being able to have a horse. But it also means that I’m trusting the barn staff to care for my horse day in and day out, and to recognize any problems. My barn has phenomenal staff who help me out all the time. They coordinate with my trainer, vet and farrier if needed and are always available.

When you sit down and think about it, even for someone like me who just shows locally (we’re not going to be world beaters!) there are lot of people involved in my success. There are a lot of people helping Miles be the best he can be. And there are a lot of people rooting for us, who take extra time to help us out every damn day.

And I am so, so grateful for it.

FOO Chronicles: My First Show Pony

I got serious about showing in 2000 when I began riding Jazz, a super cute Welsh Cross pony. The barn owner, Holly, encouraged my friend and I to join the local 4-H club, and that’s exactly what we did. It was really the beginning of the end, because once I got a taste of the show ring, I was hooked.

This year and the next are the years I look back on and wonder how the hell I made it out without a major injury or emotionally scaring experience. I knew next to nothing and the barn owner would just drop us off in the morning for the show and pick us back up in the evening… which meant I had basically no supervision, least of all from a qualified professional.
Anyways, the very first show I went to was my most memorable experience with Jazz. He was older, probably in his mid to late teens, so the barn owner didn’t turn him out the night before our first show to “conserve his energy.” So Jazz hopped off the trailer in a brand new place and was… well.. really fucking jazzed to be there. (Hardy har har, I’m so clever). So I decided to take him back by the trailers and lunge him, since no lunging was permitted in the warm-up rings. This was not a good idea… taking a scared, highly energized pony away from all his friends and ask him to run around. Well he ran, straight away from me and I hit a truck with my whole body.
Oops. Luckily Jazz just ran to the next trailer over and said hi to the pony tied there. Crisis averted.
So of course I realized then that Jazz didn’t want to be alone, and thus I tacked up, mounted and was in the process of walking back to the rings when Jazz totally lost it, bolted and I fell onto the concrete pathway we had been walking on.
All I remember was looking up, not seeing my pony anywhere and thinking “OMG, Holly is going to kill me because I lost her pony.”
Of course my mom freaked out, but somehow I was unhurt… which is really fucking amazing. Some kind soul caught Jazz and brought him back to us. About 20 minutes later I went into the ring for my first class of my first 4-H show: Showmanship. We managed a third place ribbon, which I still have to this day as it’s one of my favorites.
I showed Jazz for one year in the walk/trot division in all of the English classes, including jumping. But the year after that I grew a little bit and was deemed too tall for Jazz. About five or so years later after I had changed barns I saw Jazz again with a different little girl, packing her around the Novice division. Still taking care of his young rider, like always.
Hunting crossrails like a boss
Such a good pony.

Prestige Italia

Miles had an easy day on Saturday after his fitting appointment on Friday. It was actually nice out (nearly 50 degrees!) so I turned Mr. Miles out in the small indoor with no blanket and he was in heaven — rolled and rolled and rolled and proceeded to groan and rub dirt into his face. Then he got groomed and we went out to the front yard and grazed a bit. It was nice to just hang out with Miles and spend some quality time with no expectations.

On Sunday a rep from Prestige came out and brought three different models for Miles and I to try. Kate Coleman is an eventing trainer in the Cleveland area, and she was wonderful to work with — very nice, knowledgeable about the Prestige products and I really enjoyed working with her. A special thank to Wilbur&Emily for recommending her and introducing us!

First we tried the Passion, which is definitely a more Jumper-type saddle. It has forward flaps and some cool white stitching details. Kate brought it in full calfskin and it was yummy. Unfortunately it just didn’t quite fit Miles and I — he didn’t like it and I felt unbalanced.

Next we tried the Versailles, which is more of a Hunter/Equitation saddle. Kate brought this one in the grained leather, which was definitely not as nice as the calfskin, but I could see how once broken in it would be lovely — it didn’t feel nearly as slippery as I expected. Miles and I liked this one better than the first, but it was still very different from what I’m used to (deep seat, big blocks). We popped over a small 2′ vertical and it felt fine.

Finally we tried the Prestige Meredith. As soon as I sat down, I was in love. Miles moved great — he did an awesome extended canter and came back with ease. We jumped a 2’3′ vertical and I saw a move-up distance, asked for it and BAM it was right. there. For me, the fit was great — I could sit the canter, get up in half seat and the entire ride I felt balanced. The calfskin was so soft and grippy, I felt like I didn’t move at all, my leg really felt like I could wrap it around Miles.

Of course, the Meredith is a bit more expensive that what I was hoping to spend, but after seeing how great both Miles and I looked and felt, I think it’s going to be worth it. I called Kate yesterday, and we are working on finalizing all the details to get it ordered!

And I can’t wait!

The most amazing saddle I’ve ever sat in! Come to me, my precious!!

Could it be Bliss?

On Friday evening Heather Soones-Booher from Saddles 101 came out to talk saddles with Miles and I. First off, I have to say that Heather was a pleasure to work with — she rearranged our time when I couldn’t take off work and answered all of my endless questions. She was extremely knowledgeable and I really appreciated the fact that she wasn’t there to sell me something. Plus she put up with Sir Grumpy Miles and even complimented his kind eye.

Anyways, on to the good stuff. We talked about saddle fitting in general, and I found out I know at least the very basics. We also talked about saddle placement, and I tend to put my saddle a bit too far forward. In general, Heather suggested that Miles needs a hefty, flat panel, which is mostly seen in English brands, not unlike my current Albion Kontrol. Heather also says that Miles needs a Medium Narrow tree and she recommended a wool-flocked saddle, in case his topline continues to change as we ask him to work more through his back and carry himself in a proper frame.

So after all this talk Heather pulled out a Loxley Jump — a brand by Bliss of London — for me to try. As soon as she put it on, I could tell it fit Miles great — no half pads needed and it had plenty of clearance over his withers. I hopped aboard and the saddle rode a lot like my Albion Kontrol with a nice, deep, compfy seat and big blocks to help keep my legs where they’re supposed to be. The leather was nice, but not quite the grippy, butter-soft calfskin I had been hoping for.

Oooh, aaaahh

However, the difference in Miles was immediate. For the first time in months I rode without a crop or whip and he went forward. No balking whatsoever, and only minimal grumpiness. We had a few moments of ear pinning and/tail swishing, plus one cow-kick, but it seemed almost like a habit rather than like he was acting out for a reason… if that makes any sense.

We even jumped a crossrail and small vertical and by the end it felt like I was riding the horse I bought again! It was absolutely amazing.

So in a nutshell, I’m on the right track — Miles is at least partially acting out because my saddle doesn’t fit so a new one will help with his attitude tremendously. And I’ve already found one that will work!

We had one more saddle appointment this past weekend, so stay tuned!