Discovering Other Disciplines

I am beginning another segment on my blog because I feel like it and it’s fun so here we go yay! It’s called latte horse talk. My attempt is to make it similar to coffee talk, where you just discuss interesting topics and see what happens. Today, I want to talk about different disciplines.

I started out my riding career as an event rider. I swore I thought I was so good at riding. When I started competing, I was 10 and I knew that I had a long way to go and a lot to learn before I was riding some serious fences, but I figured that staying with event trainers would land me there quickly. Boy, I REALLY had a long way to go, but it seemed completely doable. Honestly, it would have worked out. Staying in one discipline usually works just fine, but I had a bit of a different path.

Instead, I tried different things. Most of this happened when I went away to college. Not only did I experiment with jumpers, hunters, and dressage, but I also took classes about conformation, judging, and beginning western riding! I also took a halter breaking class (which I talk about in this blog post) and I learned a lot about horse behavior. Each class/experience I had gave me a bit to take into my own riding. I’d like to think I became a better rider because of it.

Even if you don’t want to step out of your comfort zone and do another discipline, try taking a lesson with another trainer! Sometimes they give you a solution to a problem you’ve been having forever. One of the first times I rode with a different trainer, I asked why my horse kept doing running after the fence over and over again and I felt like I was falling forward whenever I would try to half halt. I swear it seems like the simplest solution now, but she casually said try keeping your leg on. I know, I know, it’s like the easiest thing to do and for years I didn’t have it in my head to do it. But now, I will never forget that and my half halts are so darn good it’s insane!

If you’re looking to get better at your riding, or looking for a fun adventure, try other disciplines. Compete in a jumper class if you’re a dressage person. Sit on a reiner and try a spin or two. Heck, just take a lesson from a different trainer. Trust me.

Because you learn amazing things along the way!

Okay cool, well I hope it works out then. Just take your learning experience one stride at a time and it will all work out!

 

 

Moving Barns

In exactly 2 weeks I will have an MBA in general management. In exactly 2 weeks, I will leave the town I’ve called my home for 5 years and relocate to a city I’ve never lived in and be pushed entirely out of my comfort zone.

On top of that, Raven isn’t coming with me. Well, she’s going up to the new area eventually, but I just haven’t found a place for her yet. I’m hesitant to move her to a barn without seeing it first and talking to the people that board there for a very important reason. Most barns will grossly fall short of your expectations.

I wish this wasn’t the case, but unfortunately many establishments have major cracks in their business. Sometimes the footing isn’t right, the barns have old wood that look on the verge of falling apart, the hay is bad, there’s no pasture space, the list can go on. So, while I go on this journey, I thought it is important to remind myself (and whoever is on the same quest for a perfect barn) of what to look for in your new horse’s home.

  1. Price of board and services. This is a perfect time to dust off the ol’ computer and do some research of the area. When I lived in Sonoma County, it was unheard of to have board under $600, but SLO has board priced around $400. This drastic difference can severely limit your options, especially if you don’t want to pay more than a couple hundred. It’s important to get some number on cost of living and average board rates in the area.
  2. Types of horse housing. It’s also important to know the options you have to board your horse. For instance, some only include pasture boarding, but my mare would most likely kill every other horse if she had to be in a pasture. Knowing the housing situation will also help you determine what you can afford.
  3. Quality of feed. This is probably one of the most important things. Bad quality hay means an angry colon which leads to a colicky horse. No one wants a sick horse, so make sure the food is good. If you still want to board somewhere that has bad hay, be willing to haul in your own.
  4. Additional services. When I had my horse at the first barn I rode at, blanketing and turnouts were included. I moved, and everything changed. Most barns don’t include services like that in the normal rate. Figure this out in order to know what services you need and how much you’ll be paying.
  5. Training policy. Some barns don’t allow outside trainers to come work with you. That means you’ll have to trailer your horse to your coach’s facility.

This is a working list and is definitely not exhaustive. I try to be open to looking at barns, especially when I don’t know the area and if the website looks outdated. It’s important to remember to communicate with people, too. Talking to the barn manager, talking to the trainer onsite, and talking to the boarders will really help you get a feel for the barn. Also, remember that you can say no and if you make the mistake of barding somewhere that you end up not liking, you can leave at any time. While the horse business is more like a community, it can be difficult to leave. However, remember that these facilities are businesses and there will be no hard feelings. Just do what’s best for your horse!

 

Happy searching! Remember to take things one stride at a time!

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It’s Simple.

Whenever I have a lesson, it always goes the same. I start by warming up. Raven always feels good, with some room for improvement, but that’s what a lesson is for, right? We start warming up over jumps and it’s easy to see that we only jump once a week. We’re slow to remember everything we have to do to have a good jump. My mind starts telling me to pay attention to my leg, then my seat, then my upper body, but I also need to keep Rae straight to the jump otherwise her shoulder pops out…the list goes on. Soon, I get frazzled by everything I need to do and then I just become a mindless rider because my brain is too preoccupied with what I need to do instead of what I’m actually doing.

But this probably happens for 10 minutes, and then my trainer comes to the rescue. She always says the simplest things to get me back on track. If my shoulder start slumping forward, she simply tells me to focus on my lower leg. I don’t understand how it works, but soon my whole body is doing what I want it to do as soon as I just focus on my leg. Then, she’ll mention the outside rein and voila! Raven is straight and perfect over every jump. My lesson ends perfectly with things I need to work on before next week.

I swear, this happens every time I have a lesson. And my trainer isn’t telling me things I don’t know, she’s just reminding me of things to do that I temporarily forget. But this is what I want to talk about today: simplicity.

Simplicity while riding is a life-saver. I get so bogged down trying to remember to keep my body a certain way and to keep contact like this and to make sure my toes are pointed forward at all times and to basically be a perfect rider. I have honestly struggled with this for as long as I can remember.

But recently, I’m trying something new. Each ride, I focus on only one thing and try to work only on that. Or if I’m struggling with the right lead change, or Raven’s shoulder is popping out, or I can’t get my left leg yield, I simply exhale and start from scratch. Honestly, this has helped tremendously. Focusing on one aid at a time can significantly improve your ride. This is because both you and your horse will be more relaxed, and you will become a more effective rider.

I can provide a list of examples for this. One while ago, my horse was not listening to my half halts after a jump. Whenever I needed to get her back to her collected canter, she would just ignore me for about a second too long and then our next jump would be ugly. It was so frustrating! Finally, my trainer told me to engage my core and keep my upper body back. It worked phenomenally. Not only was my horse more responsive to my half halts, but our canter was more balanced. Or last week, my horse WAS NOT listening to my leg. She wanted to go, by all means she was basically galloping, but she just wanted to go her own speed. Then, I just repositioned my leg so my toes were straighter and my heels weren’t in her side, and there was a 100% difference. These little changes ended up making a huge impact on our ride.

Let’s also look at what happens when you don’t focus on one thing. (I have a lot of examples for this, too.) We’ve all had those rides where, for the life of you, nothing is going right. Just everything you do leads to more frustration and your horse isn’t listening, and you’re just sitting there like omg Raven, just get your life together. Well, most of the time, it’s completely my fault. I’m usually leaning forward, with my spurs dug into her (accidentally!), and somehow gripping with my knees. At this point, I usually realize what’s going on and try to fix all of it at the same time. But then I’m so focused on these three things, I don’t realize that my horse is going down the side of the arena as crooked as can be and that’s why we’re not getting our extension. If I would have just changed my leg, then worried about everything else later, it’s simpler to catch your faults early on.

Raven also suffers if I try to change everything because I’m preoccupied with things I need to work on and stressed out that we’re not doing anything right. If I just focus and simplify, I can relax. Not only will she relax because I am, but she will be relaxed because there isn’t an abrupt change.

Simplicity doesn’t just affect your riding style; it can also affect your tack. I had this friend at the barn a while back that would constantly change her bit. These would be drastic changes, too, like a hackamore to a snaffle, to an elevator, to a myler. Her poor horse had no consistency and their riding immediately suffered. Her horse would throw her, toss his head, just about anything tracing back to the complexity of her tack. It was terrible to see, mostly because it was easy to tell how frustrated the both of them were! Finally, when she came to her senses, the horse calmed down.

I’ve done this, too. Raven used to flat out drag me around the cross country course. We quick jumped from a snaffle to a Pelham within a month after I got her. Around the same time, we also had a problem with her opening her mouth, so we obviously thought a flash would help. Fast forward a couple of years, and the Pelham works wonders! She’s also not opening her mouth, but she’s having a hard time relaxing while I’m riding. We could never figure it out, until I had an epiphany and decided to take the flash off. She was suddenly a different horse.

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We tried a snaffle for our first jumper show and it did. not. work.pictures1 307

So, we moved to the Pelham. (You can see that we had the flash in both cases, so we made it a simple transition.)

This doesn’t work for everyone, but it does work for about half of horses. Having a running martingale with a flash and a 3-ring with spurs might not be the best choice for your horse. Sometimes, a simple bridle, a bit, and one pair of reins is all they need.

So, just try to take a deep breath, simplify your aids, and don’t worry about being perfect. Your horse will be thankful that you try to improve and will also be more relaxed that you make tiny improvements. Simplicity also comes from focusing and relaxing. If you feel overwhelmed, half of the time you probably feel that your ride is becoming to complex. Rides are simple, just take things one stride at a time.

Why I Ride

I don’t ride my horse to be perfect at something. I ride because it’s who I am.

I was 6 years old when I decided that horses must be in my life. I had my mom, my dad, my teachers (basically a lot of people) tell me that I couldn’t do it or that I couldn’t afford it or that I wouldn’t have time for it. I had a lot of people tell me no, so why did I say, actually yes?

Honestly, I don’t really have an answer. Riding horses was always a no-brainer for me. I might not be the best at it, I might not have the money or time to quickly move up in show competitions, but I still persevere. I keep it in my life because the feeling of sitting on a horse is the most liberating feeling. You have control over a 1200 lb. animal with the ability to go anywhere and do anything.

I can also say that horses teach lots. There’s so much you learn about communication, responsibility, perseverance, discipline, and love that you can’t really learn from another sport, animal, or person. My horse taught me so much about interpersonal skills and the importance of humility. She also taught me that I need to be for her every single day, just like she is for me. She taught me that I need to take care of her, just like she takes care of me. We have created a team, and that is probably one of the best feelings ever.

So why do I ride?

I ride because it’s who I am. I feel free, I feel alive, I feel like myself.

Time for some spring cleaning…of bad habits

It’s that time of year again. The weather is better, horses can stretch their legs, you aren’t in the mud all the time. It’s also when your horse’s energy is sky high and their ground manners could probably use a good brushing up. I wrote a post similar to this (here’s the link), but let’s review the basics so your horse isn’t constantly dragging you to the nearest grassy patch.

Just like riding, horses benefit from assertive handlers. There is no need to be aggressive or try to “man-handle” them, but just emulate Beyonce’s confidence and you’ll be good. A horse with superb ground manners also respects their handler. Along with being assertive, create a give and take relationship. Allowing your horse rewards for their good behavior only leads to better things, so feel free to let up on the pressure, give them a cookie, or give them a pat whenever you think they are listening to you!

Now that you’re as confident as Queen Bey, let’s choose a method of training. While I cannot say enough things about Clinton Anderson’s Method, some horses will do better with other training. Versions you can use include other methods of natural horsemanship or just the good ol’ fashioned stud chain and whip. You can even mix and match these training forms; you don’t need to choose just one! Whatever you choose, allow room for some trial and error, because your horse might suddenly decide she doesn’t like it anymore when you use a carrot stick.

Practicing these methods can sometimes be the worst. I don’t know about you, but I’m almost as impatient for results as a dog waiting for a treat. But this is actually one of the most important parts. Consistency with your training is key. If you don’t practice, you won’t have a responsive horse. This means that you need to take your horse for a walk every single day and you need to make them back up every single time they don’t stop when you stop.

Ok so now we that we have the boring stuff out of the way, time to get into the actual training. No matter the method you choose, the fundamentals behind ground manners stems down to having a responsive horse. Doing different exercises with them using different tools will achieve this result. The bottom line is to keep your horse mentally and physically engaged, aka listening to you, so that they won’t feel like they can do your own thing.

  1. Start with the simplest exercise. When you’re walking your horse, stop and make them halt. The key here is they must stop with you. Don’t let them stop ahead, don’t let them stop when they feel like, don’t let them stop and whip around to eat grass, and especially don’t let them stop with their hindquarters facing you. If they don’t halt at or behind your shoulder, make them back up until they are in the desired location. This implies that they must work when you tell them, and work until they get to the place they are supposed to be in. As soon as they respond and do what they’re asked, give them rest, to signify they did a good job.
  2. Another exercise to do on ground is similar to the first: having them back up. Just making your horse back a few steps when you tell them to shows that you are assertive enough to tell them what you want. This is also a good tool if you feel like they aren’t listening to you. The trick to making this an effective tool relies on you keeping your feet planted, so that you don’t walk with them to back up. This is a serious learning curve, and might involve you breaking this rule to initially teach them to back, but it’s so freakin’ effective. By you planting your feet, and making them back, you’re telling them that you have the only control in this relationship.
  3. A good thing to teach them is your personal space. If they are too close to you, you can get in serious danger if they get scared of something. Make sure they keep about a 2 foot space away from you. You don’t want them giving you flat tires every 5 feet, anyway!

And of course, ask your trainer, read up on methods, or ask me for more information! There’s tons more exercises you can do to improve your ground manners, and your relationship with your horse.

 

 

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Now Raven can even ground tie!

 

Remember to just take everything one stride at a time and you’re golden 🙂

 

Interested in 3-Day Eventing?

 

 

Oh my, where to start. This sport has so much to talk about!

Eventing is not for the faint of heart. While eventing is ridiculously fun, it is also takes a ton of discipline and learning. I miss it, and after you’re done reading this post, you’ll understand why everyone is addicted to it as I am.

3 day eventing incorporates 3 phases – dressage, show jumping, and cross country – over a course of 3 days with at least one phase each day. During the show, you are mentally and physically tested, and it’s the most rewarding experience. One of the best parts of eventing is that all equestrians can do it. The energy and people behind eventing is  very inclusive. This is what makes the sport truly enjoyable, the feeling that everyone is connected and spirited about the same thing.

Before I get all kumbaya on you, I wanted to briefly explain each phase.

Dressage is what I always call the building blocks of eventing. If your horse can’t respond to the simplest of commands in dressage, you will not excel in the other two phases. Here, you ride a test, depending on your level, to display the horse’s responsiveness to cues. Don’t worry about the fancy moves — worry more about suppleness, rhythm, and your geometry. The judge will score you on how accurately you do the test, but also these qualities.

Now on to stadium jumping. This was my trainer’s favorite phase, and I never understood why until now. Stadium jumping is very technical because you need all the same qualities as dressage while navigating a course. Your horse must be willing to give you their head, adjust their stride, and pick up their feet! You’re being judged on how quickly you go through the course, so purely time, but you get a better score if you don’t knock any poles or have any refusals. Your course will also have a higher quality ride if you have a responsive horse, like I mentioned, allowing you to have a faster time.

Next is my favorite, cross country. Here is where your horse’s bravery, and your’s, is tested. You are literally galloping and jumping over natural obstacles for about 10 minutes straight. If you are an adrenaline junky, this phase is for you! Anything can happen while out on this course, making it the most dangerous out of all of the phases – and the most controversial. The USEF, USEA, and other organizations are working to make this safer for horses and riders, but don’t let that interfere with your interest for this sport. If you are safe, aware, and responsible when you ride, you should love it!

All three phases make up this beautiful sport, but there is so much more to it! The eventing community is one of the nicest I have ever been a part of. This sport also exposes you to multiple disciplines, allowing you to deviate or move between different areas and try something new.

There are lots of reasons to try eventing. But the best reason of them all is that you develop one of the strongest bonds with your horse. I know Raven will have my back every time we’re on the cross country course. I know she’s going to stay collected and focused through every dressage test. And lastly, I know she’s enjoying her ride as much as I am.

If you have any questions, want to know more about the sport, or just want to talk, feel free to contact me! You can also read more about it on the USEA website, Eventing Nation, or contact some eventing trainers in your area. Now get out there and kick some butt!

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Senior Pictures with Horses: How-To

I recently graduated from college and….ohmygosh I’m an alum!! So weird to think about, but I’m so happy I now have a bachelors. Even though I will no longer be in college, I still will post tips and college experiences, because well, because college is really damn hard.

Since I just finished a huge task, aka mastering the science of animals, I decided to take some beautiful pictures to mark the monumental feat. Since there aren’t many senior picture examples with horses, I thought I’d share the photos that I had done. I didn’t take any of these photos (obviously…), so I give all credit to my amazing photographer, Asia Croson! If you are looking for a bad-ass photographer to bring out the best in you, I linked her website; you can find her here.

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I originally booked a session with 3 different locations. I did the first two locations with just me at the beach and on top of a hill. If you’d like to see those, and the different poses that came along with them, comment below! These are from the last session I had.

Anyway, I love this photo because of the trees. They look so daunting, and really emphasizes that Raven and I are on this journey together. Which is completely representative of our relationship through college, and even through the 7 years that we’ve been a team. Plus we look like we’re dominating the world.

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And of course we had to get a couple shots in the grass, so she can chow down! Playing around with the sun and how you’re positioned in relation to your horse really makes the portraits interesting. Even though my beautiful town is more brown than green, I love the contrast between her dark coat and the golden grass. Whenever I get pictures taken, I always try to angle my body and move my limbs so I don’t look awkward. It’s hard to master, but practice in front of the mirror or something if you’re worried about it!

These two are beautiful. This is the exact reason I wanted a professional photographer with me. They know how to capture the sunlight in the best way. I  absolutely love that I am casually focused on the railing while everything else is slightly unfocused! Having your horse in the background will not only put the spotlight on you, but also showcase your love for horses, in an artistic and adorable way.

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Like the cover photo, I just had to get some photos of us with my graduation attire! The cover photo has me wearing the sash, but I also put it on Rae. Play around with your props, like your cap and sash, because it makes the photos more interesting and unique.

I LOVE these! I saw pictures of some people signing a heart on their horse like I’m doing here, and I just had to do it! These are some of my faves (I feel like I saw that with every portait…) because she looks so content and happy. You can just see the strong bond we have with each other.

I also brought my best friend along to appear in some photos. She and I have been riding together for almost 12 years, so I figured it would be cute and fun to have her with my horse. They kind of turned out like our engagement photo, but I don’t care!!  I love the ones where we’re resting on the railing, because you can see our jewelry. We decided to wear pieces that had meaning for us.

I also got some photos of how I decorated my cap. I am in love with them because its somewhat original and totally applicable to my life (I am doing the MBA program in the fall).

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Lastly, I wanted to talk about your outfit/props/makeup and stuff to be thinking about when you do your pictures. Since my horse is black, I wanted my outfit to be light colored. I chose a simple white tank top, jeans, and boots because I wear an outfit similar to this everyday and because it complemented my horse. When you choose your outfit, make sure you are comfortable and confident. The same is for makeup, except you could get away with exaggerating. I wore three times as much makeup as normal, curled my hair to enhance my natural curls, and wore fake eyelashes. With all of this, everything looks pretty natural, right? Just keep that in mind 🙂

Just as a disclaimer, most of these photos are completely candid. I thought of poses on the spot that I thought would look cute, but I literally had no idea what I was doing. That’s where Asia saved my life. She made me feel so comfortable goofing around and having fun.

I hope these pictures provide some inspiration with your upcoming photoshoot with your horse! I know I had a blast and they turned out better than expected.  I will always have these pictures to remember me and my girl, and I am forever thankful to have her.

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On that note, did anyone have a similar experience with graduate pictures?

Combatting Stall Rest

We’ve all been there. When your vet mutters the dreadful words that your prime competition horse is lame and needs time off, a little piece of soul dies. Recently, Raven somehow hurt herself and needed a couple of months off. This wasn’t our first rodeo, so I came up with a couple tips I’ve learned from her multiple injuries.

  1.  Listen to Your Vet. This is obviously a no brainer, but your vet really knows what he’s talking about. Not only did they go through nearly 8 years of school to be able to diagnose ol’ Buddy, but they probably have many more years of personal experience with lame horses. If they advise you to only handwalk for a certain period of time or insist on re-evaluating your horse every couple of months, it’s because they want what’s best for your horse. (Although, try to avoid crazy ass call fees as much as possible — it can really do a number on your wallet.)
  2. With that said, you know your horse better than anyone. When Raven was 6 years old and she fractured her coffin bone, I knew there was no way that she could survive 6 months off without drugs or some type of stimulation. I pointed this out to my vet and we were able to come up with a plan so that she wouldn’t try to kill herself in her stall from boredom. Talking to your vet to work out a plan that fits both you and your horse will only make things better. If your vet recommends that your horse should be handwalked, make sure you and your horse can do that while being as safe as you can. The purpose of stall rest is for them to heal. You don’t want them making silly decisions that only cost you more time and money.seniorpicswithraven 067
  3. Sometimes drugs are the answer. The first time Raven was off, Ace was my life-saver. I administered it in a cookie before I groomed or walked her and it really helped. If I didn’t use drugs, I would have a horse for a kite every time I had to do something with her. The second time around, I tried to go without Ace (she was about 5 years older), and it worked beautifully! I simply used a rope halter for more control (see this post on how rope halters can help with ground manners) while walking on the flat. Before you make any decisions, it’s best to talk it over with the vet, whomever is around, your trainer, or the knowledgeable gal at the barn.
  4. Alter their feeding regimen. Because your horse will no longer be able to work or go to turnout, they will have to spend a lot of their day doing nothing. I can’t speak for everyone’s horses, but mine gets fat…and gets fat quickly! By changing their grain to a low starch formula, nixing grain completely, or cutting their feed down, you can delay the side effects of stall rest. Also coinciding with my next point, switching your horse to a slow feeder can help ease the stress of staying in a stall while also preventing them from over eating.
  5. Mental stimulation is just as good as physical stimulation. Even if Raven isn’t on stall rest, I still like to play games with her to exercise her mind. Sometimes I will set up a walking obstacle course where she has to go over poles or weave cones while I’m walking her on the ground. This is good to do on stall rest too! You can also hide cookies and make your horse find them. For this exercise, I usually end up placing treats in cerIMG_1810tain areas and make Raven sniff them out. Since she’s not a dog, it’s hilarious to watch her try and find these!
  6. Stretch! Since your horse can’t work, they can lose a lot of muscle. Many studies have shown that a horse won’t start to lose their fitness for up to 3 weeks, but that doesn’t really help if your horse is off for 6 months. However, stretching their muscles can help them from getting stiff. Aside from walking, performing neck stretches, leg stretches, hip stretches, and overall massaging them will really help.
  7. Groom. Everyday. Grooming helps for a world full of reasons. Not only will it help maintain the bond with horse and rider, but it will provide some mental stimulation for your horse. They will also appreciate it to be groomed as much as possible. And even though they will be stuck in a stall, they can still get hooves full of crap that need to be picked everyday. Plus, doting on a horse is ridiculously fun!!
  8. Lastly, make sure to stay up with your health, too. This last go round, I became so bored from not riding that I took up running (idk why tho, running sucks, lol). Maintaining your physical fitness and nutrition is important so that you will be able to handle your horse at all times. Not only that, but it’s healthy for you to maintain some form of exercise as often as possible. So, make sure to take care of your body while taking care of your horse.

Having a horse on stall rest can provide some benefits, too. You can always put yourself out there to ride other barn mate’s horses during the free time that you allocated to riding yours. You also have more time to do other fun things and pursue other interests, like hiking or reading or vegging out and watching Netflix! Just remember to take stall rest one stride at a time and that it can be a good experience!!

What other tips do you have for stall rest?