Friday, December 6, 2013

I have Higher Standards... Do you?

If you know me, you probably know two things about me:
#1 - I'm a tack snob
#2 - I'm ridiculously picky about tack care products

You might also know that I frequent the Chronicle of the Horse forums.  When a thread popped up there about another poster's saddle soap - Bensmom saddle soap the review thread (if that's okay with Bensmom) - I initially ignored it.  But I kept seeing this thread.  And it kept getting longer.  By the time it was many pages long, I was intrigued.  So I started reading.  People LOVED this shit - including big-name grooms and trainers!  It appeared that it was imbued with magical properties that not only made tack very clean and supple but also compelled people to want to clean their tack.  And their before-and-after pictures they took were impressive.  So I gave in, and I bought some.  I used it once, and I loved it.  And I used it several times more, and loved it.  I bought it for friends.  I bought more for me.  I started recommending it.  I bought more for me.  I bought some for my Horses' Lessees (and more for me).

And I still didn't have pictures.

Until now.

So, back to #1.  I have nice tack (Beval, New Cavalry, Edgewood...).  I use nice tack on a "daily" basis.  Usually I'm pretty good about wiping it down after using it.  But not always.  And when other people rode my horses in my absence, they weren't always great about wiping it down, or at the very least, not to my standards.  Aaand, well, in this past very wet Georgia summer, some of it got moldy.  So after my horses went out on lease and I brought my remaining bridles back to New York, they were in pretty sad shape (though no longer moldy, at least).


Sparky's New Cav - See the ear sweat crud?
Star's Beval - It should gleam.  It doesn't.

Both bridles were dry, dusty (dust had settled into the leather and along the ridges of the raised portions), leaving them looking decidedly dull and absolutely lacking in that beautiful gleam that well-cared-for leather should have.
Sparky's nose sweat
More grime

Sweat, grime, dust, residual mold and general grossness had accumulated.
Assorted pile of other "daily use" stuff
ThinLine Reins - Look at the grossness!

Star's Beval  - Still not gleaming
Star's Beval with nose sweat... or something
Note in particular, how disgusting my much-beloved ThinLine reins are.  That section covering where the ThinLine meets the leather should be havana, not icky grey-tan.  The ThinLine itself should be a nice, true black.

I used Higher Standards Starla's Sugar & Spice, which was a limited edition scent for the month of October.  It smells phenomenal!  I loved the scent so much that I strongly considered taking it with me to work to sniff occasionally.  While I managed to avoid that particular temptation, I could not avoid the temptation of purchasing a second jar of Sugar & Spice.  Nevermind the fact that I had barely made a dent in the original jar.  Or the special edition Confidence scent.  Or my initial Buzz's Citrus Ginger scent....

Really, you can't go wrong with any of the scents.  Ben's Rosemary Mint is a bit strongly mint-scented for my liking (still very nice, just not my personal taste - I'm not a "minty" person); Fox's Vanilla Lavender is quite a lovely scent - very aromatherapy-zen.  All of the scents are far superior to those of the most similar other product on the market, MOSS.

Not only do the soaps smell amazing, they also come with a perfect little cleaning sponge.  I loved the sponge so much that I found some just like it and bought a ten-pack.  The directions (which are printed on a label on the soap container!) instruct you to thoroughly wet the sponge, wring it out, rub it onto the soap without creating lather or suds, and then massage the soap into the leather.  Afterwards, wipe off with a damp sponge.  The idea of no lather or suds might terrify some, but truthfully, suds just make us feel better.  My personal preference for tack cleaners has always been sud-less.

It really does not take very much effort to remove all the nasties that accumulate on the leather.  Maybe a little extra pressure in some bad spots, but no fingernails necessary!  The soap doesn't get stuck in the buckle hol  Leather cleans up beautifully.  It's the awesome, perfect kind of clean that is not clean and dried-out, but it is clean and still supple.  Really, using this soap leaves the leather clean, soft, and supple - just like your face when you finally find the perfect combination of soap + moisturizer.  Seriously, like a baby's skin.  And you just can't help but touch it.  And ogle it.  And want to take it everywhere with you.

But wait, there's more!  Historically, I do *not* like balm-type conditioners for leather.  They always feel too waxy and gross.  This means I hate Passier, Stubben, Oakwood, etc.  I'm also not a huge fan of liquid conditioners - Effol Effax Leder-Soft and its ilk are out.  Of all that I have tried (and I've tried a lot), the only conditioner I have ever liked is Beval Akene conditioner.  But after a bout of sticker shock with my most recent purchase of Akene, I was willing to give the Higher Standards balm a shot.  Turns out, I have a new leather conditioner that I really like.  The balm does not leave the icky, gross, sticky residue on your hands that many others do.  And it doesn't smell like beeswax - it smells like delicious baked goods!

And now, for the

Both bridles - no more crud!
Look at the gleam on the straps!

Closeup of the cavessons
Look at that gleam!!!

Closeup of a pair of reins that were
particularly grungy.
Assorted pile of other things that were dirty

And the best part:

ThinLine reins, side by side
I shouldn't have to tell you, but
the one on the left is dirty and
the one on the right is clean.  Amazing!
Yes, I did a very bad thing and used the soap on my ThinLine reins.  I had always followed the company's directions and only wiped the reins down with a damp cloth, but I've had these long enough that they were getting stiff from all the residual dust, dirt, and yuck left on the ThinLine material.  They were in such bad shape that I figured anything I did wasn't going to make them worse.  They are now beautiful and black again and some of the original pliability has been restored.  They're not quite on par with a brand-new pair, but they are far from brand new, and pretty far gone in terms of pliability and grip.  Overall, the soap did a GREAT job with them, and I think they will continue to improve with judicious use of the soap.  And LOOK!  They're pretty again!  The soap also does a great job on rubber.

And for those who would like a picture of something not-very-dirty cleaned with the soap:


The new saddle prior to my purchase - basically clean, well-cared-for, and in good shape overall.  No complaints.

A bit closer up - new saddle on day of purchase + my Prestige leathers

Holy cow!  Wow!  The new, not-very-dirty-at-all saddle (and my leathers) after cleaning with Higher Standards.
I thought maybe I should clean it before sending it out on lease with Star.
(Are you tired of seeing pictures of the new saddle yet?  I'm not.)

So are we convinced yet that Higher Standards makes the best tack cleaning product EVER?  I am.
Even better, it's a small business with an awesome proprietor and amazing customer service!  Truly, it does not get any better than that!

Buy it here:

and buy it all.  Seriously, you won't be able to stop yourself.  You will need all of the scents.  And there's a special edition scent every other month to continue to fuel your need.

And now back to #2.  I have tried many, many tack cleaning products.  My previous favorites were MOSS (of which I had 2 containers - one for Georgia and one for NY), Tattersall's, and Kirk's Castile Soap for cleaners, Beval Akene for conditioner, and Blue Ribbon Oil for, well, oil.  After using Higher Standards, I gave away the MOSS and Tattersall's (castile still has its uses... I think).  I still have the Akene, but the price is more than I can stomach any longer, so I'm afraid to use it.  The Higher Standards balm, however, is an equally excellent product at a MUCH better price.

ETA - For those interested in the ingredients, this is a quote from the maker: "The ingredients in the balm are all edible even!  It is a secret blend of cocoa butter, beeswax, and a light oil."

So... do you have Higher Standards?

Monday, November 25, 2013




Well, I wasn't expecting this.  I have leased out both horses.  This was not my plan, nor my intention, but it is the reality.  I had started advertising Sparky for lease (and had gathered enough interest that a trial was arranged for the weekend I would be in Atlanta), but I had also privately offered a lease on Star to a neat kid of whom I am fond (and who really loves Star).  For various reasons, that situation wasn't going to work out, but said neat kid's mom offered to pass along the information to other people on their IEA team.  The assistant coach of the IEA team caught wind of this, and called me the same day, asking if either of my horses might be appropriate for a rider of hers looking for a lease.  Based on the description I was given of the kid, Star was the more suitable horse (2'3" - 2'6" local hunters).  After a bit of discussion, we arranged for a trial of Star, but I was thinking to have them try Sparky, too.

I had also previously arranged for a trial of Sparky; the potential lessee was interested in a smaller horse for dressage and possibly some trail riding, which sounded about perfect for Sparky.  Both trials were scheduled for the Sunday I was in Atlanta.  Sparky's potential lessee arrived in the early afternoon to try him and immediately fell in love with his personality (who wouldn't?).  The potential lessee's friend (who was actually the person who had contacted me initially) rode Sparky after I did, dubbed him perfectly safe for the potential lessee (and loved him), and then the potential lessee rode him (and loved him).  We all talked for a bit, and we all felt that it would be a good fit for horse and rider.

Star's potential lessee, trainer, and parents arrived Sunday evening.  We did have lights to ride under, because I have the most wonderful barn owners on the face of the earth, who put in lights back when I was getting Star ready for Oklahoma City.  Because I wasn't so keen on leasing Star, I was fully prepared to dislike these people... and of course, they turned out to be extremely nice.  The trial was the same sort of pattern - I rode briefly, then the trainer rode, then the kid rode.  Star behaved perfectly, and as I talked to the trainer and listened to her coaching her rider, I was much more impressed than I had been prepared to be.  Talking with the trainer, I found that our horse keeping and horse care philosophies were very similar.  After watching the kid ride, I realized that my initial instinct that Sparky would not be a good fit was probably accurate - he is probably not the best horse to try and learn on - so I didn't bring up that idea.

Of course, the very next day, I heard back from both parties, and each wanted to move forward with leasing the horse they had tried.  After thinking long and hard, talking with Oren, talking with Joyce, talking with Debbie, and talking with Honorary Big Sister Jen, I decided to lease out both horses for an initial 6-month period.  Oren and I weren't thinking to bring a horse up to NY before early spring, anyway, so what was another month or two?  An initial period of six months also gave plenty of time to make sure that each lease was truly a tenable situation.  Thankfully, both parties agreed to starting out with six months.

So, last weekend, I went back to Atlanta to finalize lease details.  Having checked references before making the trip, I visited both barns, signed paperwork (Saturday), gathered up my horses' belongings, rode my horses one last time, gave them baths (Sunday), and saw them off (Monday).  It's really bittersweet - on one hand, I'm thrilled that other people also love my horses enough to want to "own" them, but on the other hand, they're MY horses, and I don't want to share and not be in charge of what is happening with them.  That said, each horse left with a new halter that said, "Horse's Name, Loved by New Lessee."  So I'm not a completely spoiled brat. ;-)  I really do feel that each horse went to a good home and that each lessee will take very good care of my horse.  The feedback I've received so far is that both horses have settled in perfectly well, have been perfectly well-behaved, and their lessees adore them.

So... I guess we'll see where we are in a few months.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

You Are So Beautiful To Me

MY 17.5" XW County Conquest!!!
Here we are, about a month after buying my new saddle, I finally got to see it in person for the first time.  My friends and fitter did not lie - it is indeed, beautiful.  The round cantle about which I was so concerned really is very subtle; you can't really tell that it is round from the side.  And from the back, well, it's kind of growing on me.  It has piping.  I'm a sucker for piping.  The color is perfect and lovely, and my much-loved Prestige stirrup leathers are a perfect match.  The seat isn't quite as "squishy" as some of the other Countys I've ridden in, but it is still very comfortable.  And most importantly, it fits my horses!  I put a nameplate on it.  That means it's definitely a keeper.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Conquest of the Saddle Hunt

You know I love a good price... but a good price isn't necessarily a bargain unless whatever the item is will work for you and is what you want.  And so while a new Duett Presto is only 1/3 the price of a new County Conquest, I have decided that it is not, for me, a good deal.

So I started bargain hunting online for a used XW County.  It's a lot easier to find used County dressage saddles in an XW than jumping saddles, that's for sure.  Prior to the fitting in Georgia, I had a lead on a 17"W County Symmetry, but after the fitting, I realized it just wasn't going to work.  That same seller, however also happened to have a 17 1/2" XW Conquest available.  But I still wasn't convinced that the Conquest was the right saddle for me... it has a round cantle for Pete's sake!  I searched high and low for a Symmetry and I did token searches for a Conquest, but nothing quite right came up.  Except for the Conquest listed by the person who also had the Symmetry.  After many emails between the County Rep and me, and after consulting Honorary Big Sister Jen, I decided that maybe I could deal with the round cantle, and I inquired about the Conquest.

It turned out that the Symmetry seller had listed the Conquest for a friend, so it took a little while before I heard back.  The pictures looked good, the price was good (half of what a new Conquest would cost), and based on the serial number, the County Rep thought it would probably work.  The seller agreed to a trial, and I feverishly worked to get everyone lined up to have the saddle checked in my absence.

It took a bit of work to make sure everyone necessary was available to execute the saddle trial/assessment for me, but I managed to coordinate all involved parties.  Everything was looking good... but the day of the trial was nearly a disaster.  I was expecting the saddle the day before the trial... and it didn't show up.  The day of the trial, there was still no saddle in the morning.  And no saddle at noon.  And no saddle at 2:30PM.  This wasn't looking good.  Just as I was about to give up hope and call the County Rep to cancel (after she had already rescheduled someone else to accommodate me!), I got a phone call that the saddle had arrived!  Seriously, it was just in the nick of time.

The County Rep came and assessed the condition and fit of the saddle for my horses, Lovely Rider rode my horses in the saddle, and my wonderful Former Roommate did everything to get the horses ready.

The verdict?  I have a new saddle!  Everyone tells me it's lovely.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Crowne-ing Glory

Twelve years ago, Ariat introduced a beautiful new field boot; the creme-de-la-creme of their line of boots, made in Italy.  They called it the Crowne.  The Crowne was an improvement over the Champion, their original field boot (also made in Italy), by creating a more streamlined sole (removing the exterior lateral stability component found on pretty much every Ariat boot previous), adding an extra eyelet to allow for easier on-off, and adding a Spanish top to create the illusion of a longer leg.  They were beautiful.  And far too expensive for me, at $500 (nearly $700 in 2013 dollars when adjusted for inflation).  But I was in love.  Maybe someday...  *sigh* At that same time, Ariat also introduced its first zipper boot, the Challenge.  The Crowne was not available with zippers until the introduction of the Crowne Pro in 2004, which coincided with a shift in production to China and a lessening in the quality of materials - along with a price increase and the discontinuation of the lovely Italian-made Crownes.  I was shattered when I saw the inferiority of the Crowne Pro.  And I began a mission to find a pair of original Crownes that I could afford, even if used.

It took me several years (2008 or so), but I finally found a pair of Crownes for about $200 or so, lightly used, on eBay.  It was a stretch for my budget at the time, but these were the boots for which I'd been searching.  And then the post office lost them.  *angry face*  The seller was kind enough to refund my money.

A couple years passed, and I found on eBay a very used pair of boots that *might* be Crownes.  These ones cost about $100.  Easier on the budget, but they were very used.  And the post office lost those ones, too (they also managed to once lose a saddle I had purchased).  *angry face*  What was, I'm pretty sure, months later, the boots did show up (the saddle was also found, for those wondering).  And they were very, very used.  But they were Crownes.

I wore the Crownes sparingly; they polished up well enough for shows, but they weren't going to last if I wore them beyond that.  Sadly, however, it turned out that this particular boot ran large in the footbed.  I wear a size 8 all day long in an Ariat boot.  I've had at least 6 pairs, and they've all been 8s.  In the Crowne, I needed a 7 1/2.  I made it work... but I still searched eBay every so often for a 7 1/2.  As a long-discontinued item, however, I knew the chances were slim.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Horseman's Outlet for the first time.  Horseman's Outlet is kind of a big deal as far as tack stores go.  And apparently they have a great consignment section.  I have a (big) soft spot for consignment, so I made sure to check it out.  As I toured the consignment section, I realize that it's not only consignment - it is also closeouts and clearance.  And I notice a pair of boots that look stunningly like the original Italian Crownes, new with tags, at half the original price.  Indeed, they were Crownes, but they were not my size.  

But I slowly realize that there is a veritable sea of tall boots, some used, some new, and mostly zipperless.  I slowly prowled through the boots, looking at the size of anything that might be a remote possibility.  And then I found them: original, made-in-Italy Ariat Crownes, size 7 1/2, and new with tags!  Could it really be?

Jealously guarding my treasure, I went out the main store to try them on.  I had to ask for a pair of boot pulls, because you really can't buy non-zip boots off the shelf any longer.  The fact that I was choosing to try on pull-on boots impressed the employees and earned me some respect.  I was almost afraid; what if they didn't fit?  What if my calf had gotten too big?  I would be devastated.

I hooked in the boot pulls and started to pull on the boots.  And then they stuck.  Sh*t!!  Panic began to set in... and then I realized that I had forgotten to loosen the laces.  Having put elastic laces in my own boots had negated my need to loosen the laces, so I just didn't even think about needing to do so for this new-found treasure.  I paused for a moment, gathered my bearings, loosened the laces, and proceeded to again try the boots.

And they fit!  Absolutely beautifully, perfectly, like a glove!  And they were brand new with tags!  Could it be any better?

At 50% off the original price, I felt they were a bit overpriced considering how long that particular boot has been discontinued.  But as I thought about it, anymore you are hard-pressed to find a decent boot at that price, let alone THE boots.  I also knew that the next-best option for me in terms of fit would be a $900 pair of Sergio Grassos; next-best to that would be a $900 pair of Ariat Monacos.  And I just can't stomach $900 for *non*-custom boots.

So I bought them.  And they are beautiful.  And I love them.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

We're Back to Saddles - Yes, Again.

Oren and I have started talking (seriously) about a time frame within which to bring one of my ponies up to the NY/NJ area.  I've been riding at an amazing barn (more on that in a later post), and the plan is to bring the pony there, at least initially.  The other pony will obviously be staying in Georgia.

Clearly, this means that I need a second saddle.  I mean, I have to have something to ride in both in NY/NJ and in Atlanta!  So, I started looking at saddles again.

My first thought was to just pick up another "Band-Aid" saddle - another Collegiate Convertible Diploma.  Then I started thinking that perhaps I should look to get a slightly nicer "Band-Aid", and try to find a reasonable price on a Bates Caprilli that was either already wool-flocked, or convert it from CAIR panels to wool flocking.  But there were some issues with that idea... it would definitely be stretching the budget to go the Bates-and-reflock route, and at the end of the day, it would still be a saddle that didn't fit my horses, didn't really fit me, and would eventually need to be replaced.  Maybe not the best investment.

I decided to explore the idea of stretching the budget (made possible through the eBay sales of many items I no longer need), partially prompted by reading that some Prestige saddles can be a good fit for wide horses when they are adjusted very wide and seeing some *very* reasonable prices on used Prestiges.  And I had been meaning to try Duett saddles for quite some time (which, used, can be had for a song).  And if I was doing all that, I might as well look at a used County, as they can also be had in the same price range as some of the Prestiges I was finding.  Smith-Worthington was another possibility, as well.

So I started making plans to try saddles during my next trip to Georgia.  I talked to Nancy at Duett, I emailed VTO Saddlery about Prestige, and I contacted the Georgia County Saddlery rep, Cindy.  Cindy assured me she could get "stupid-wide" and Nancy agreed to send me some Duetts in 38cm and 40cm trees.  I ended up not pursuing Prestige and Smith-Worthington due to time constraints (though I did check the local tack stores for anything suitably wide in either brand - no dice).

At 5:00PM on the day I landed in Georgia, I met with County Rep Cindy.  She had with her a Stabilizer and a Conquest, both in an XW.  With the initial placement of each saddle on each horse, they looked good, with nice, even contact under the panels, the deepest part of the seat parallel to the ground, and the stirrup leathers were hanging perpendicular to the seat - I hadn't seen that before on any other saddle that was on one of my horses.

We went up to the arena, and I rode Star around in the Conquest for a little bit.  She was very, very good - nice, even pace at the trot and canter, a swinging (something else new!) back at the walk, and a few very nice jumps with no taking-off-rushingness.  Hmmm...  Next, we tried the Stabilizer.  Really, I did not like it as well from the moment I sat in it - I just didn't feel as balanced.  And I'm not sure whether Star picked up on this, but she definitely expressed that her distinct preference was for the Conquest, as demonstrated by her putting me on the ground!*  D'oh!  We put the Conquest back on, and she was happy again.  So the mare had spoken... now we just had to see if the gelding agreed.  Well, considering that as I rode him, he gave me what I think was probably the best jump he's ever given me, I would say he agreed.  Extra-bonus: the sweat/dust marks left under the saddle were *literally* textbook-perfect on each horse!  Another new thing!  Hot damn!

The good news was that I'd found a saddle that would work.  The other good news was that it was not the most expensive saddle County sells.  The bad news is that there were no demo saddles available for sale (County was running their 20% off demos sale).  The other bad news was that the saddle was $3400.  I explained to County Rep Cindy that I would have to talk it over with my husband and that I had a few more saddles to try.  But I did love the ride in the Conquest.

The next day, I had a big box of 2 Duett saddles to take out the barn and try.  I was supposed to be getting a Bravo in a 40cm tree and a Presto in a 38cm tree.  I opened the box to find 2 Prestos - one 38cm and one 40cm.  Well... okay.  Not what I was expecting, but no big deal.  Sparky got to be the first guinea pig.

First I tried the 38cm.  It just didn't look right.  So I tried the 40cm, which looked better... but I wouldn't know until I rode in them.  I started out in the 38cm, and I just didn't love it.  I hopped off and switched it out for the 40cm, got back on and rode around a bit more.  The 40cm was MUCH better than the 38cm.  Hurray!  But it just wasn't getting the same amount of love from me that the Conquest did.  But it was 1/3 the price - even less if I could find one used...

I rode in the Presto again the next day.  It was still only 1/3 the price of the Conquest.  But I just still didn't love it.  And it still just didn't seem quite right - I felt I had to be sure to stay very centered, as there was some rolling side-to-side.  And there was a gap under the panel where there should have been contact with the shoulder.  And the back panels seemed to not be flat enough.  But it was a brand-new saddle and hadn't settled.  And would that gap fill in with work (ie, was the gap due to atrophy or conformation)?  And it was 1/3 the price of the Conquest...

Ultimately, the only decision made that weekend was that I will probably end up buying two new saddles.  Oops... not the intended outcome.  But after having ridden each of my horses in saddles that were truly wide enough, it's just not fair for either of them to be stuck with the always-has-been-too-narrow-but-was-still-wider-than-any-other-saddle-they've-had Collegiate.  And so the saddle hunting begins again.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Very Sad Right Now

I know this is stupid, but I am very sad right now because I have no idea where Sparky's Very Pretty Dressage Bridle is.  Truth be had, I'm really more sad because Sparky's Very Pretty Dressage Bridle had a Very Pretty Blingy Browband that was 100% One Of A Kind, and the missing-ness of the Very Pretty Bridle means the missing-ness of the Very Pretty Blingy Browband.  Of course, I should have realized much longer ago that I didn't know where it was, but that's another story.

I was in Georgia a couple weeks ago (more on that in a later post), where is has rained pretty much all summer.  All my bridles were therefore icky and moldy, so my wonderful former roommate/Kellie's owner, Debbie, took them home to clean them for me.  As I gathered up bridles to take back to the barn (so I could, you know, ride), I realized that Sparky's Very Pretty Dressage Bridle was not among them.  So I looked around the barn for it... didn't seem to be there, either.  So I looked around Debbie's house for it.  No dice.  So I assumed that I had brought it to New York with me, as I did most of my other nicer bridles.  Well, I can't find it here, either.

So I am very sad.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Nicole Went Down to Georgia

I just got back from another trip to Georgia to see my ponies. :)  It was another wonderful trip; I feel so much better when I'm near them.

On Saturday I rode Star and Sparky, in that order.  Star was funny - when I got her out of the pasture and when I was brushing her, she was perfectly happy.  When I put the saddle on, she made grumpy faces - "Hey!  I didn't sign up for this part of it!" - but once I got on her, she was perfectly happy again.  We didn't jump at all, just did some flatwork.  Star felt good, but sluggish and out of shape.  She doesn't seem to be in any real discomfort right now; she's just unfit.  She's really lost her topline (even the husband noticed it) and was sporting a 50" girth (she really ought to be in a 48").  I really wish I could find a perfect lease situation for her to keep her in better shape... but it is what it is.  Unless the perfect fit falls in my lap, I'm not going out of my way to find something.  Star's just too special to me - I would rather see her get out of shape and be happy in a pasture than see her in any situation where she wasn't happy or wasn't getting the amazing care she is currently getting.

After riding Sparky back in February, we decided to put his hind shoes back on him the next time he was due for a trim, to see if that helped with his stiffness in the back end.  I also started him on MSM the week after I left.  I was quite happy to find that Sparky is moving much better with the addition of his back shoes.  He still starts out stiff in back, but warms up out of it much, much better.  His canter was so fun - I could really feel him stepping under himself.  He also did some very nice shoulder-in and leg-yielding, including a leg-yield toward the rail and then back towards centerline tracking both directions.  His front end still feels a little... tentative, I think is the best word, so we are going to put his front shoes back on him, too.  Sparky has been maintaining his weight well (or, I should say, Joyce has been maintaining Sparky's weight well) in the past couple months; he was solidly in a 48" girth and probably could have squeezed into a 46".  It was so strange when I first got on him and he felt narrower than Star!

On Sunday we got a late start at the barn, as Oren and I had met up with some friends for brunch, and we weren't seated for an hour.  It was about 4:30 by the time we got there.  Honorary Big Sister Jen and I had made plans to ride together, so she was already there.  She had already brushed Tiki, so she walked out to the pasture with me to get Sparky.  I called him, crinkled a peppermint wrapper, and held out a peppermint, and he walked right up... TO JEN!!!!  The little bugger!  LOL.  We brought him back to the barn and tag-teamed grooming him, then we each tacked up our own horses and headed to the arena.  Sparky and I did much of the same as on Saturday: walk, trot, canter, shoulder-in, haunches-in, leg yield.  Honorary Big Sister Jen very kindly complimented my leg, saying that it was staying right in place, even having not ridden in two months.

After riding Sparky, I rode Kellie.  I don't know that she's been ridden since my last visit.  We just did walk and trot; she started out more resistant and more giraffe-like than during my last visit, and she definitely also feels more out of shape, but overall she was very cooperative and generally a good girl.  I saw a wonderful picture about a week ago of a horse in a perfect hunter frame that was also a perfect training level dressage frame (which, is really how it should be)... that picture is to what I aspire with Kellie.  So much easier done when you ride more than once every two months!  I did also recently find some video from a couple years ago of Kellie and me; she has definitely improved over that video, so I'm going to go ahead and give myself a pat on the back for that.

I finished out Sunday by giving Star a thorough grooming, which she seemed to enjoy.  Oren and I had dinner plans, so I didn't have time to ride her again.  Star was put away, I wiped down tack, and said my good-byes for the foreseeable future.

Oren and I have examined our finances and are now starting to look at places in New York to keep a horse.  I would really like to find a place that has a strong emphasis on correct basics (dressage), but that maybe isn't a dressage-only barn.  Or a place that allows outside trainers, so that I could take lessons with both a dressage person and a jumping person.  Then again, depending on which horse comes up, maybe a dressage-only place might be okay.  But most importantly, it needs to be within our budget and have excellent care... so I'll be keeping options open.  I welcome any thoughts!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Marionette, A Four-Wheeler, A Sports Car, and A Dirt Bike

I have a pretty great husband (that word is still really weird).    Said pretty great husband offered to me, as a gift, a trip to Atlanta to see my friends and horses any time I wanted.  Because I'm the new kid on the block at my job, I don't have vacation time until June.  There are also no other holiday weekends until May.  So the decision was made (about one week before!) that I was going to make a trip to Atlanta on President's Day weekend! =)

I arrived late Friday night and left *early* Tuesday morning.  I didn't spend *quite* the entire weekend at the barn, but pretty darn close.  I spent Saturday morning running some necessary Atlanta-based errands (hello, bank, Dekalb Farmer's Market, and Snooty Fox Tack Exchange!!!) and then headed to the barn for my pre-arranged late afternoon meet-up with Honorary Big Sister Jen.  After saying my hellos and chatting briefly, Jen and I got our ponies ready and headed up to the ring.

I decided that the first horse I should ride should be the love of my life, Star.  She felt absolutely lovely on the flat.  We jumped a little bit, as well.  Two things: 1) Thank god for Pelhams! and 2) One of us is better at jumping around (including a "scary" 3'0" jump)  after several months off than the other.  I'll give you a hint: it's not me!  All in all, it was a wonderful first ride after my 3-month hiatus.  It was also fun to watch Tiki go.  He has improved so much!  I commented to Honorary Big Sister Jen that he looks like a horse who knows his job.  Very neat to see! :)

Because we had started so late (remember, late afternoon meet-up... to which I was late), I opted to not ride Sparky after Honorary Big Sister Jen left.  Of course, I said hi to him and gave him treats, but then I spent some time with some of my favorite people friends, Joyce and Mark (the barn owners).

On Sunday, I finally had the opportunity to meet Honorary Big Sister Jen's Lovely Rider.  And I tell you what!  She truly is a lovely rider and a great kid in general.  I decided that I like her a lot.  Anyhow, Lovely Rider tacked up Tiki and I got Kellie out, as the plan was for me to first ride Kellie and tell Lovely Rider about her, and then let Lovely Rider ride Kellie.  Kellie was so good!  Definitely out of shape, but she was trying very hard to do what I asked of her.  We did some flatwork in each direction with lots of circles and following the nose, and then we hopped over a couple little jumps.  Kell-Bell was very good, and we had lots of fun.

I then dismounted and told Lovely Rider she could have a turn, but only if she promised to not rat me out for how terrible I probably looked.  She promised she wouldn't.  I gave her some guidelines on how I've been working with Kellie, and then mostly let her do her thing, trying to not be too bossy.  She walked Kellie around for a while, and then picked up a trot.  Honest to god, my jaw dropped and I said, "Oh my God, she's gorgeous!"  I have never seen Kellie really go with another rider... all I can say is wow.  Lovely Rider, of course, lived up to her name and looked lovely on Kellie, and as they finished up, Lovely Rider had a big, dopey grin on her face.  I can only hope Kellie and I look half that good together, but I definitely understand that grin.  During their ride, Lovely Rider came up with the best analogy ever to describe Kellie: a marionette.  How absolutely fitting!  (Damn, the kid's smart, too!)

As we finished up, I asked Lovely Rider if she wanted to stick around and ride Star and Sparky with me.  She agreed, so we got the two of them ready.  I started on Sparky and she started out on Star.  Again, Lovely Rider and Star looked really good together.  After flatting some, Lovely Rider jumped Star around a little bit and did a most excellent job (did I mention that Star was in a snaffle? lol!).  Lovely Rider commented that Star had a very comfortable jump and that she really loved her job - both true statements.  She commented that Star was like a four-wheeler - the kind that always has at least three wheels on the ground.  Yup, that's Star!  (Why can't I come up with these things?!?)

Sparky had his shoes pulled back in November and has been barefoot ever since.  Joyce had mentioned that he looked like he was getting stiff in his back end.  As we started out, he did seem stiff and a bit off in his back end.  It was nothing that should prevent him from working a little bit, and he definitely loosened up as we worked.  We did some basic W-T-C, a little lateral work and some circles, and then a few small jumps.  He was so good!  It really makes me wonder who this "asshole" is that seems to come out at Greg Best clinics.

Lovely Rider and I then switched horses.  I didn't do much with Star: just enjoyed being with her.  Mostly I watched Lovely Rider and Sparky.  She couldn't get over how compact he was.  They also jumped around a little bit.  Of course, the two of them looked great together, too, and Lovely Rider thought Sparky was fun, likening him to a sports car.  Again, a perfect analogy.

That pretty much finished up Sunday, and Lovely Rider went on her way.  I gave her an open invitation to ride my horses whenever she wanted (because she has so much spare time in addition to riding Tiki!).

On Monday, my last day in Atlanta (sad face), I spent the morning first at Dover, exchanging Sparky's 1680D turnout sheet, which had a rip, a broken buckle, and torn-off piping (seriously?!), and then headed over to my friend Nan's house.  Nan has lovely, lovely horses - mostly TBs and one WB.  I got to see Nan, her beautiful horses, including her gorgeous, sweet filly who shows in the hunter breeding, and shockwave therapy.  I really had a good time visiting.

I then went to my barn to ride with Joyce and Debbie.  We just hacked around in the arena for a little bit.  Debbie rode Star while I rode Sparky and then we switched.  Sparky was a good boy with Debbie (as was Star, of course).  I just took it easy with both horses, enjoying the last bit of time I had with them before heading back to New York.  After leaving the barn, I dashed off to meet with Honorary Big Sister Jen for dinner/to see her one last time before I left.

It was a wonderful weekend, and I can't wait to go back.  On the Chronicle of the Horse forums, there is someone whose signature line says, "If you're lucky enough to ride, you're lucky enough."  So true.  Nothing makes you appreciate more what you have than not having it (or in my case, easy access to it).  I am so very grateful for my wonderful horses and my amazing friends, who truly are my "Atlanta family."

Oh, and the dirt bike, if you were wondering?  That's Tiki! :) (Lovely Rider is 4 for 4!) 

Friday, February 8, 2013

I'm Not Dead!!!

Friends, I admit that I am officially a terrible blogger and have apparently been so since May!  In my defense, I was preparing for some major life changes - namely, getting married, moving to another state, and hunting for/starting a new job!  

Wedding planning takes a lot of time, especially when:
A) Your mom, fiance, bridesmaids, and future-mother-in-law all live in different states, none of which are anywhere near yours, and
B) You are trying to save some money by DIYing things like save-the-dates, programs, etc.

So pretty much my horse life went out the window.  Except for the day that I hurt my back jumping Sparky around.  And then I couldn't really ride because I was hurt.  And then it was time to spend even more time wedding planning.  And then it was time for the wedding.  And then it was time for the honeymoon.  And then it was time to pack up my whole life and move 800 miles away.

I did manage to do some stuff, so I'll go back and fill you in on that... but in the meanwhile, I thought you might like to know that I'm not dead.