Friday, March 13, 2015

Ask and Answer: Boot 'Em Up

Whether you're an Eskadron lover or an Equifit aficionado, or maybe you're a loyal SMB user, it seems everyone in the horse world has their boot preference. I'm no exception to this - I grew up using SMB or polo wraps; more recently I've been using Equifit T-Boots or Eskadrons on the SnowPony. While they're a necessity for him, because he's not the most correct mover and will clip himself or pull a shoe (horse eats, sleeps and breathes in bell boots), over the last few years I've really started to question the use of boots.

In the past few years, a few specific studies have caught my eye. The first was a Japanese study which showed 80% of tendon cells in a petri dish at 48 degrees Celsius (118.4 degrees Fahrenheit) were killed in just 10 minutes. It's entirely common for horses' legs inside boots to reach that temperature or higher, especially during the hotter summer months. The second study ties directly into that - recent research from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna showed wrapped or booted legs can increase skin temperature by over 30%. There was another study a few years ago that I haven't been able to relocate (if anyone knows what I'm referring to, please send it to me!) which gave some specific temperatures of horses' legs inside neoprene boots. They were routinely well above 100 degrees. (There's some information on that here, as well). A bare-legged horse's tendons reach 113 degrees when galloping, according to Dr. David Marlin

That all being said, I completely understand and support using boots when they're clearly needed; for instance, in situations like with SnowPony or for going cross-country. Where I start to hesitate is for regular everyday riding, mainly on the flat. This specific concern stems directly from my history with suspensory injuries. To me, the idea that I could be doing something that contributes to tendon cell death and injuring my horse, is terrifying.

I ride Lucy bare legged most of the time, thanks to her history of suspensory injury, although it bears noting she hasn't been in full work in a few years. As mentioned before, SnowPony goes in all of his 'gear' because he's not a straight mover. This fall, I rode in Equifits and liked them just fine. Last summer, I rode Lane in a pair of simple galloping boots because as he was learning to carry himself as a non-racehorse, he would occasionally trip over himself. They weren't my favorite, but were what was available and protection won out in that instance. Lastly, the working cow horses and reiners I've been on all go in SMBs, and for good reason - when they're digging down into the dirt so low, they're much more prone to clip a fetlock and need the full protection. 

I don't think it's a simple black and white decision to make, to use boots or not. There's so many factors that play into it - horse's history, geographic location, discipline, and personal preference. I don't have a 'right' answer, but I'm interested to see other opinions and experiences. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Praise Jesus, I know how to ride

Just when I felt like I was skimming along rock bottom with this whole change of horse/change of discipline/back in the saddle for the first time in years thing... it all clicked today.
I kid you not, I looked at my trainer at one point during my lesson and seriously went, "Oh my gosh, I still know how to ride! It came back!"
She laughed, but I was so serious. I was starting to feel like I had no idea what I was doing there, except being the uncoordinated weenie amateur who swears she knows how to ride. 
Well, today? I did and it was impossible to stop smiling.

I had been doing some serious second guessing of myself here - like is this really a good fit for me horse-wise, should I not continue at the end of the semester, etc., but in reality, I think I forgot the biggest piece of advice I left Texas with when we picked up Lucy - "Give it a year." A YEAR. The trainer we bought her from looked me in the eye, and told me not to expect to click, not to expect to place, not to expect for it to feel right for a year. And here I am, six weeks into a lease wanting to know why I can't figure this horse out and why he's so much harder than Luce - well, duh Holls, you're comparing him to a horse you rode for six freakin' years. So, yeah, it's okay when it doesn't all fit or click or when you just have a bad freakin' ride and call it a day. He's not Lucy, I'm not 16, my muscles aren't in show-shape and my mind is trying to re-adjust to controlling an 1100lb animal, but like a mature adult this time.
Can you see the sun shining through the clouds, yet? (It gets brighter - keep reading).
(I meant that symbolically, but this seems like a good place to mention, WHEEE, it's sunny outside. BYE WINTER, don't come back, you're a frigid bitch #notwelcomehere)

Everyone's advice? So good, so right. It will get better, ground poles will not be the end of you, and use your spur. All of this, plus finally feeling some leg and core strength come back and muscle memory settle in to where its supposed to? Bingo.

The addition of Magic Spurs meant I suddenly had a horse that goes. Respects my leg, moves forward, has some power in the back end. It was a huge breakthrough - we just went, damnit. It's a great thing, because as Tracy said, he can't go sideways if he's too busy going forward. It was big, y'all.

All of a sudden, I have this horse who is happy to go in front of my leg, doesn't die out on me like a car running on fumes, and is crazy adjustable. We did collections and lengthenings, changes across the diagonal, I could sit and have this horse come right back to me, or ta-da! I'm now strong enough to actually support myself around at a two-point and whee, lengthen at a canter down the side (now we're going 90% of a real hunter's pace!) We trotted into the line, released, sat down, collected back and were out. I felt 100% completely in control the entire time, I felt like I knew what the hell I was doing (and maybe even did somewhat). I finally get 'the go button'. It's honestly like I have a whole new horse underneath me. I could cry, I'm so happy. It's fun again.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Riding Recap: Ground Poles and Confidence

Riding recap follows... Go ahead and skip this one if you don't care about ground poles and trot transitions.

Despite being blanketed by two days of freezing rain, Wednesday was beautiful - 65 degrees and sunny, blue skies abounding. I skipped out of class early for an appointment and was able to get to the barn far earlier than a regular Wednesday would allow, which made me straight up giddy. Short sleeve weather! In all my new things!

I tacked up and had the arena to myself for the majority of my ride, which was also awesome. We had a great ride on the flat, really working on stretching down at the trot and keeping him in front of my leg. I worked on a lot of transitions and keeping him focused on me, vs the other 1983 things happening outside the arena he wanted to spook at. I love this horse, he's great, but I swear - he's like a little kid who knows he gets nightmares, but insists on watching every scary movie. Drives me ballistic. He'd been really spooky on Friday, and even though his spooks consist of just jumping sideways to look at something and he never does anything more, they're enough to shake my confidence.

I needed a good ride Wednesday and I got it. It was really reassuring to finally feel like I knew how to ride again, that I wasn't the idiot at the barn, that I could get good work from him. I worked on a lot of two-point, mostly with stirrups, because I just don't trust myself to be strong enough to stay on without stirrups yet, should he decide to go sideways under me. I mixed in a lot of walk-trot-canter-trot-canter-walk-stop-back transitions and it was remarkable how he really tuned in and listened. I think I'm just also figuring out he can't be the horse to just go trot around the ring six times because he'll get bored and mind wanders and then - spook. Either way, I was so happy by the time I got off because I had gotten the ride I needed to get back in business.

Hiding behind horse

I had a lesson this morning (and cursed North Carolina weather, since my 65 and sunny had traded in for 20 degrees) and we built off my good ride on Wednesday. The second I got on him today (after forty minutes of attempting to get the mud-glue off his legs), I could feel that he just wanted to spook and jump around. Trainer asked me if I wanted her to lunge him, but I didn't think he was going to throw anything at me I couldn't handle, so I put my game face on and went for it.

We had one big spook and two tiny ones, but because I knew they were coming, neither was a big deal. Worked a lot on fixing my leg and keeping him going - she suggested I use a tiny spur on him this week because he's just so tuned out to me. For some reason I'm having this mental disconnect between using a spur on a spooky horse - even though he's so lazy I'm dying, it's just not computing that those two would work together. I'll probably give them a whirl this week and see if it helps.

My big (embarrassing) exercise for the day was two ground poles. Yes, two poles, on the ground. Not crossrails, no verticals, not even raised cavalleti. Literally two ground poles, set for four strides, with instructions to do the add until I could do it in my sleep. Well, guess who forgot how to ride? Nevermind that I used to do this every weekend, I now cannot put five strides in between two poles.

We split them, we jumped them, we trotted in, we trotted out, we stopped in the middle, we did every possible way to possibly screw up two ground poles EVER.

It was utterly humiliating.
And then suddenly, I stopped backing my horse off, I sat down and rode around the corner and I'll be damned if we didn't do them. And then we jumped a crossrail five or six times to make everyone happy and called it a day.

Moral of the story? I have to stop being afraid of everything. He spooks, I back off. He feels fast under me, I back off. I let him literally wither and die under my leg, because I'm so afraid to go. In other words, I have Quarter Horse Brain. Speed is the enemy in my head, and I have to get over it.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Ogilvy Half-Pad and Baby Pad

Even though they're the hottest thing on the market right now and I'm about the 98,600th person to review one, I wanted to share my opinions on my Ogilvy half-pad and baby pads I received last week. I purchased both through the Mary's Tack & Feed sale and was excited to try them out this week during my rides.

Brown and Black Ogilvy Half Pad

I have to say, they've both impressed me so far. I was worried about the thickness of the half pad (I have a 1 1/4"), but it compresses down nicely under my saddle to support and help with fit. My Butet fits Skylar pretty well, although it hasn't been professionally fitted, and I feel like the Ogilvy helps correct any areas where it might be a little off. It's easy to get enough wither clearance, although the space between the top of the foam inserts and the velcro closure seems to shift a little bit and doesn't stay centered, which drives me nuts. I know some people say they need to tighten their girth once they get on and it compresses a bit. Personally, I haven't noticed a need for this, but the Yeti is also the most OMGMostSensitive about his girth anyways, so I'm careful not to overtighten. 

Under saddle is where I've noticed the greatest difference. SnowPony doesn't seem to be moving much differently (see: spooky and lazy). We had some great trot and canter work on Wednesday, but I can attribute that as much to the beautiful weather and the fact that my legs are finally getting strong enough to hold him together. Where I do notice it, is for myself. My saddle is an older model - a 2000 Butet - and it's not exactly one of these cushy sofa models. Granted, I love that about it for many reasons, mainly being that not having so much between my short legs and my horse actually allows me to feel and ride. But, the Ogilvy has added just enough cushion and shock absorption under my saddle, it's become 10x more comfortable.  

The baby pad is a cool fabric - thicker than the regular Dover baby pads we have at the barn, but not as thick as an AP pad. I love the contoured withers on it, and it doesn't move at all under saddle. Actually, neither pad slips under saddle, which has been awesome. I don't know if this would hold up on another horse (see: Lucy's saddles have never stayed straight), but for him it seems to work nicely. The only thing I dislike about the baby pad is that it seems so large in comparison to others, both thickness and actual dimensions. It's such a minor thing, but it's hard to store in my tack locker and it doesn't fold particularly well. Big deal, instead it lives in my trunk (as in, car trunk, not tack trunk).

Overall, I can say I'm exceptionally pleased with the half pad and definitely happy with the baby pad. I would definitely purchase either again at the prices I paid, and the half-pad at full price. I can't say the same about the baby pad - it just doesn't wow me enough to be worth the full cost.

I didn't choose to have either pad monogrammed through Ogilvy, but the benefit of living in the south is monogramming is right around the corner and I'm hoping to do something pretty and a little creative. Something along the lines of these?

All styles from Leontine Linens, home of the most beautiful monograms you'll ever encounter.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Breed Showing Encyclopedia: Part Two, Western

I'm back with round two of the Breed Showing Encyclopedia! This time, western addition. I didn't include cow classes or speed events here, to keep it from getting outrageously long, but did lump in Halter and Showmanship, since they're traditionally more 'western' styled classes.


A class solely judged on a horse's conformation, relative to breed and gender standard, halter is pretty universal across breeds. It's definitely become a more controversial event in the breed show world in recent years, due to the specialization of the halter horse, conditioning required at the top levels, and breeding involved. Halter horses are often bred to do one thing - show at halter, and their offspring, the same. Additionally, many people have issues with the use of lip chains in classes, notoriously youth classes. 

Halter classes typically follow a pattern where one walks to the judges, stops to show teeth, then picks up a trot to the lineup, where horses are set up square. Judges then have the chance to walk the line and select their placings. Exhibitors are allowed to touch their horses throughout the class. Male exhibitors typically wear a suit with a cowboy hat. Female exhibitors will also usually wear a simple suit, although fancier showmanship-type outfits are more commonly seen in the Amateur and Youth classes. Horses wear silver show halters, with leads with a chain, tails, polished hooves and are banded.

Showmanship at Halter

showmansip at halter

Often a youth or amateur exhibitor's first introduction to the show ring, showmanship can be one of the simplest classes and can also be one of the most complex. Exhibitors show their horse in hand through a pattern involving walk, trot, extended trot, spins, backs and set ups. Exhibitors are never allowed to touch their horse, only guide them using their lead, typically with a chain run under the nose. Exhibitors should be in synch with their horses, with legs matching their horse's stride and never be behind or ahead of their horse. Patterns are presented crisply, without rushing. Many a breed show competitor has spent early mornings and late nights running patterns (... or laps!), focusing on square turns, sharp setups and pivots. Pivots should always plant the right hind foot and stepping out of a pivot is a major penalty. 

This video shows the above pattern - if you've never seen a world level showmanship pattern, I encourage you to watch!

Look for female exhibitors to be wearing one of two styles; elaborate showmanship jackets, such as this one, or a more conservative suit style. Male exhibitors typically dress similarly to halter classes, in a simple suit. Hats and boots are always required. Horses wear silver show halters, leads with a chain, tails, polished hooves and are banded. Numbers are worn on the exhibitor's back.

From a purely personal note, I love having horses who are well-trained showmanship machines. It sharpens their manners and makes working with them on the ground a joy. All of my previous horses self-squared and will stand quietly in a lineup, crosstied or ground tied, thanks to years of showmanship practice. It's certainly not an easy class, and it's one that takes constant practice and work (ask me how many laps I've run with my horse), but I think it has huge payoffs.

Western Pleasure

AQHA Rulebook

The class most are familiar with, western pleasure is a rail class judged on the horse. Horses are shown at all three gaits in both directions of the arena. Horses must be asked to extend the jog in at least one direction of the arena, and may be asked to extend the walk or lope as designated by the judge. Horses should be asked to back, either on the rail or in the lineup.

Flashy tack is the norm here, for horses and exhibitors. Look for bright, embellished jackets on women, and simple button downs with scarves for men. Tack is highly decorative, with lots of silver. Black saddles are very trendy right now. No boots are permitted on horses. Good rail manners are essential, as classes can get two to three deep on the rail. Knowing how to ride in traffic is just as important as being on a good horse.

Recently, the Arizona Sun Country Circuit asked for all exhibitors in the Senior Western Pleasure class to show 10-20 feet off the rail. The Pleasure classes of 2015 are years from those seen even as recently as 2012 or 2013. The quality of horse is better, the riding is better and they're only getting deeper.

Western Horsemanship

Horsemanship is essentially an equitation class in a western saddle. A pattern class judged on the rider's performance and riding through a pattern involving walk, jog, lope and back, at minimum. Patterns also often ask for rollbacks, extensions of gates, serpentines, simple or flying lead changes, two-track, leg yields, sidepass, spins, counter-canter and to perform without stirrups. All finalists must be worked at all three gaits in at least one direction of the arena. Exhibitors are scored on a 0 to 100 numerical scale, with 70 denoting an average performance. As a class judged on the rider, it is only offered for youth and amateur exhibitors.

Riders usually wear a solid color from boots to top, with a form fitting tucked in horsemanship top. Both embellished and simple tops have been common in recent years. Tack is a show saddle and headstall, typically with a curb bit and boots on horses are allowed, but rarely seen. Numbers are worn on both sides of the saddle pad. Horses carry their heads higher and with more contact than seen in a western pleasure class.


A class judged on the performance of a horse through obstacles at all three gaits, including at a minimum, working a gate, over poles, and a backing obstacle. Commonly patterns include upwards of 20 ground poles, many of which are raised, bridges, back throughs, sidepasses and boxes. Horses carry themselves at a pace similar to a western riding class, usually faster than a pleasure class. "Patterns are scored on a scale of 0 to infinity, with 70 denoting average performance. Each obstacle is scored independently, ranging from plus 1 1/2 to minus 1 1/2: -1 1/2 extremely poor, -1 very poor, -1/2 poor, 0 correct, +1/2 good, +1 very good, +1 1/2 excellent." (AQHA Rulebook) Penalties may also be incurred for things such as each tick or contact of a pole, split poles, incorrect strides, break of gate, stepping out of an obstacle, or missing a pole.

To help you get a better idea, the video here shows the pattern posted above.

Trail patterns of recent years have seen more and more complex obstacles, with some world show level patterns using upwards of 100 ground poles! Today's best trail horses carry themselves with grace and levelheadedness through lengthy patterns.

Riders dress similarly to a western pleasure class, although recent years have seen vests, button ups, and specialty jackets become popular. Tack is the same as a western pleasure or western riding class, and boots are prohibited. Numbers are worn on either side of the saddle pad.

Western Riding

A pattern class judged on the quality of gaits and lead changes at the lope, western riding involves a pattern set by AQHA that calls for seven or eight flying lead changes. Patterns are scored on a scale of 0 to 100, with 70 being average. Penalties are incurred for things such as simultaneous lead changes, ticking a pole, changing more than a stride early or late of designated change, or hind legs coming together during a change. The best WR horses have beautiful, smooth changes and are able to stay at one pace through the entire pattern.

This video shows the pattern posted above, AQHA Pattern 3 (also one of the hardest, in my opinion!)

Riders dress very similarly to trail, with some wearing tops similar to horsemanship, depending on preference. Button downs have also made a comeback here, as well. Tack is the same as a trail class, with boots prohibited as well. Numbers are worn on either side of the saddle pad. 

Ranch Horse Pleasure

AQHA Rulebook

The most recently popular class, RHP focuses on appropriateness for the versatility, attitude and movement of a working horse. Horses are shown in a pattern including a walk, trot and lope, the extended jog and lope at least one direction; as well as stops, turn to change directions, and back. They are scored on a scale of 0 to 100, with 70 denoting average performance. There are four patterns provided by AQHA which may be used, but judges may also provide their own.

Horses should move forward freely, with light contact, simulating working outside an arena in a working capacity. No hoof polish, braiding, or tail extensions are allowed. Silver tack is discouraged, as is trimming ears. Neat grooming is allowed. Riders usually wear simple button downs with hats and chaps. Working tack is used, including breast collars and full boots (front and hind). Numbers are worn on both sides of saddle pad.


AQHA Rulebook

The class with the most exposure outside of regular breed shows today is definitely reining. It's taken the world by storm in the last 10 years, is recognized on an FEI level - and is dominated by Quarter Horses and Paints. A great reining horse is fun to watch - and more fun to ride! Most AQHA reining classes are dually recognized with NRHA.

Reining is designed to show the athleticism of a ranch type horse within an arena. Horses complete a pattern involving small slow circles, large fast circles, flying lead changes, rollbacks over the hocks, a series of 360 degree spins done in place, and of course, sliding stops. (Putting some nice 11's in the dirt!) "Patterns are scored 0 to infinity, with 70 being average. Individual maneuvers are scored in 1/2 point increments from a low of -1 1/2 to a high of +1 1/2 with a score of 0 denoting a maneuver that is correct with no degree of difficulty." (AQHA Rulebook)

Riders typically wear simple shirts, although female riders sometimes wear tops with embellishment. Boots and cowboy hats are required and chaps are almost always seen. Most riders will wear spurs as well. Tack is simple, plain leather, designed specifically for reining, and horses wear full protective boots. Reining horses also wear 'sliders', specialty shoes to help them slide.

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