Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 in Review - REALLY Image Heavy (Sorry Not Sorry)

This year has been an outrageous rollercoaster. The whole year was completely unexpected, and sprung on me in the last month of 2014. I took all of it in stride and for once in my life just let opportunities appear and took them all as they came. It's probably mostly for me, but I feel obligated to do a year in review as my last post of 2015.

My year started off with a bang when, on January 2nd, I moved across the pond to England for six months. I had the opportunity  to work out of the London based office of my company. It ended up being one of the smartest most fun decisions I've ever made in my life. I hope opportunities like this keep popping up.

Feet in the Thames, and the Gherkin
Big Ben & Westminster
I have to admit, the beginning of this year was a big break from riding. I think I was a little burned out. I was trying to patch together the horse I was leasing (my trainer's horse, a mare named Lexy), my commute was long to the barn and work was brutal. In December, Lexy somehow managed to cut her pastern in such a way that looked like she took a knife to it. After narrowly avoiding a simple end on Christmas Eve, she was on stall rest with an uncertain future. I think I just needed a break. I didn't even think about riding until mid March and in that time I dabbled in other forms of exercise like walking all over London, visiting lots of museums, doing yoga, and drinking a LOT of hard cider.

Me at Stonehenge!
I rode for the first time since December, 2014! I fulfilled a huge item on my bucket list - going to Iceland. I got to see the northern lights, the original geyser from which all other geysers are named, and a big item for me: ride an Icelandic horse! I have to get me one of these guys. They're cute, independent, sure footed, and the tölt is the most comfortable gait I've ever ridden. This was also the month I decided to buy a horse, especially after receiving my 2014 bonus and realizing that board wasn't as far out of my reach as I initially thought.

Where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet

Me and my Icelandic horse buddy, and a geiser.


This month I started taking lessons at a local riding school that was easily commutable by bus from where I lived. British riding schools are AWESOME. They're standardized, the instructors have to be credentialed, and the riding yards are graded on a scale from acceptable to highly commendable. I got to ride a lot of different horses at this yard, and I got to ride in a group lesson which I kind of missed. I also went to Amsterdam, experienced hay fever for the first time, and got a tattoo!


May was absolutely CHOCK full of horses. I went to Scotland for four days, and then really kicked it off big by going to my first four star, Badminton. I'll eventually do a post about it because god damn it was awesome, but for now suffice it to say it was the most fun I've had (I never want to drive on the other side of the road again). I also went to a rugby tournament, and spent a week in Spain doing a point to point ride with Equitours. I fulfilled my dream of galloping on the beach in a big way and also made friends with lovely, amazing people from all over the world.

Me and my boi Cafe

Glen in Scotland

The coffin at Badminton

It was my last month in Europe. I enjoyed it fully, hitting a few last places on my list around England but mostly I just enjoyed being there. Everyone was so kind to me during my tenure abroad. I said my goodbyes (including getting bucked off my favorite horse at the riding school at my last lesson). All the friends I had made broke my heart with their farewells. I spent a lot of the month in tears which sounds bad but it just made me happy to know how much I had touched peoples lives, and they had touched mine.

I won't lie, it was a shock coming back to the US. Everything is big here. It was also hot. But I did miss normal food (the food in Britain is as bad as they say). I also missed my car like crazy! And I loved being back at my old barn. I hadn't jumped in six months so my first jump lesson back was extremely welcome. I also started horse shopping, HARD. I had seen three horses before I was even over my jetlag. And I got a new cat, a little three legged monster called Poe who was in his last hours when I went to the shelter.

THE MONTH OF RUNKLE! After looking at over fifteen horses I finally met him. Besides the purchase I was also indoctrinated into horse ownership by two vet calls in the span of a week. Three, if you include his pre purchase.

Study mode hit hard and I didn't get to go to the barn nearly as much as I liked, but I loved having the outlet for my stress at work. Runkle started learning how to jump and probably more importantly, how to steer.

Honestly, I was in a hole of books. I did go to a local horseshow that had tons of my barn friends competing at and I took my camera out for the first time in probably two months. So yeah, not as much horse stuff or traveling  but I guess you can say it was nice to get back into the rhythm of things. If you want.

My friend and her baby horsie
Lesson number one: don't buy a horse at the beginning of exam season. I felt like November was really the first month I owned Runkle freely. I could spend as much time as I wanted at the barn. I could ride as many days a week as I want. Yeah it was getting dark at like 3PM but whatever I could stay at the barn until ten if I wanted! Plus Runkle and I got to go to our first show, which went better than expected! Ish.

A rare moment of calm in warmup
And now we're here. Considering what a year I've had I find myself looking more forwards than backwards. Mostly because I'm so curious about what will happen next. At this point in my life I have so many options I have no idea where I'll be in one year let alone five. But Runkle will be in it for sure, and it'll be fun. And I hope it's also fun to read about!

Lots of love, and best wishes for a happy new year. Bring it, 2016. It's on.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Manly Browband Search

When I was a teenager I don't remember there being so many 'customizing' options for horses. Things typically came in one of five colors: blue, hunter green, red, black and white. I tried to get as much purple as I could but there just wasn't the market for it back then, I think. Plus internet shopping wasn't a thing. I just got the horse shopping Bible a few times a year (State Line Tack, before it became the crap it is today). I would pour over the catalog and circle everything I wanted which was pretty much every item on every page.

GPAs became popular in my later high school years and I bought a striping kit and striped the helmet myself. Most people had our barn's colors but I had two shades of purple (you know, to mix it up). I had an obnoxious neon purple helmet cover before that, something that was a piece of contention at my very conservative barn.

But now Smartpak exists, and Dover, and Etsy, and there's a new obsession people are delving into.

Blingy browbands.

I love the amount of options and the creativity of both the buyers and the sellers involved in these. You can get all your fancy colors with little cross or skull charms, or wings, and they're classy enough to wear in the little white box but so cute you have to use them schooling as well.

I know everything I own is purple, but I don't really want to emasculate Runkle with a sparkly princess browband (you're welcome, bud). I feel like the purple is one thing but how can any self respecting gelding do horsey prancey dancing wearing this?

Let's be real, that's a tiara.
That doesn't mean I don't think they're gorgeous, I do, I just don't want to do that to him.

For dressage he has this awesome rolled leather bridle that I'm in love with. The browband is rolled leather and I'm perfectly fine with him keeping that. This might come as something of a shock but I am very particular about my equipment and I don't think there is room in the dressage arena for fancy colors or other shenanigans (yes, I said shenanigans).

Pimp My Bridle: coming soon to a 'music channel' near you.
That still leaves my jumping bridle though. Right now I just have the plain browband that came with the bridle and that's fine, but I'd love to have something cute and ours. So I've been on the hunt, and I have some contenders to Pimp Runkle's Bridle. No Xzibit included. Meet the contenders.

The Standby

Classic eventer status.
Tried and tested, the brass clincher browband. I discovered brass polish last summer and let me tell you, shiny brass is FREAKIN' AWESOME. It adds just enough je ne sais quois without being stupidly over the top. It's also pretty much eventing canon to have one of these on your horse. I think back when the serfs of England weren't harvesting peat in 1066 they had brass clincher browbands on their event horses. You can't really go wrong with the classics.

The 'Little Something Extra'

Simple Irish-chic (that's a thing)
I forget how I found this browband, but I think it's really cute. It's really unique but nowhere near over the top. Plus it's Celtic which I'm all about. I love how the white stitching looks on the brown leather, and I almost wish my bridle was black because the black one looks even better! I do worry that I'd totally wreck it with conditioner though, because how do you condition that thing without getting it into ALL the stitches and rotting it?

The 'Let's Rep Our XC Colors Without Gemstones'


Etsy to the rescue, once more (by BlackMareDesigns). This one is really simple but I like the versatility of it and also care would be a cinch. It uses that vinyl gimp rope (you know, the one you used to make shitty keychains out of at camp) to create a woven pattern on a plain browband. She has both an event and dressage horse modeling it, and I like it on both. Plus to clean it you just wipe it off because it's plastic. They're priced extremely reasonably, and you can get your cross country colors all up on that. What's not to love?

Pony model is cute and stylish!

The Dragon

Is this too over the top? It might be too over the top. Then again, who cares. It's a freakin' dragon. How could you not feel badass coming out of the start box with that decorating your horse's brow?? By Uisce Saddlery.

So what do you think? Which is the Runkliest? What kind of browband does your horse wear? Do you think I spend too much time worrying about one of the tiniest tack details? If your answer is yes, shut up I do not this is very important the browband holds the whole bridle together YOU BUTT.

Or I'll just get him this and say screw it.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Clinic Report: Sally Cousins, 12/13/2015

I was pumped for last week because I had an easy slam dunk post topic planned out a week in advance. I was slated to take part in a clinic with Sally Cousins at my home farm because what's better than clinicians coming to me. And it's not that I don't absolutely love my trainer, but the opportunity to ride with other people is something I don't think you should ever pass up.

Sally at the head of the lake, taken from her website

It's a pity I didn't get off my biscuit and take any pictures. There were lots of people trailering in, which is always fun. I know most of the clients Sally works with at Bit O Woods, but there were some new faces (horsey and equine) that I hadn't seen before. Including the cutest little gray mare with a tail that made me so jealous. Lots of great riders were getting ready for the winter homework season, as I like to refer to it.

Some people don't like winter because there aren't any competitions but I actually love that about it. In the summer I am always focused on the next event. At the lower levels in my area, that might be a week or two away. There's no time to really take things apart and fix them when you have two weeks until you're going out of the start box again. You patch together what you have, make small adjustments here and there, and go out and kick butt.

Sally teaching on a 70* December day. Photo by Foxy Photography
But in the winter I love that I actually have the time to say "Okay, we're going to do walk/trot transitions, and jump tiny two foot verticals, and there's no rush and it doesn't matter because I don't even know when our next event is." I love that freedom. I hate feeling rushed and worried and the winter stretches out before me in endless days wrapped in fleece and Rambo blankets. Even though it's dark way too soon and colder than I'd like I love riding outside and quietly getting to work in the far too early sunset.

We've been blessed with bizarrely warm weather though, and even though Runkle was out of commission for the week I still got to ride. I teamed up with my prior best friend and partner Lexy, the angry redheaded mare who gave me the confidence to even get a baby. We went for a hack and I worked a bit out in the field since the arenas were tied up.

This is actually from last year, but it's where we hacked.
I think it was more essential to Runkle's training than I thought it would be when I first threw my leg over her back. I had been riding a green horse for so long I forgot what a trained one felt like. I remembered how it felt to ask for a change in direction by turning my head and changing my diagonal. I also forgot how stiff a horse can be, since I've been spoiled by Runkle (who is so flexible he can bend himself in half).

I also realized that some of the mistakes I thought were green baby mistakes on his part were really mine. I had been struggling with getting the correct canter lead of late, and having somewhat.. um.. explosive transitions that resulted in the wrong lead. I knew something was up because he was nowhere near like that when I got him but I figured it was him being green or something like that. However Lexy very politely told me that it was me by promptly taking off on the wrong lead when I asked for the canter.

So no, the clinic wasn't this boon of information and knowledge I was hoping to get from a four star rider. However I still managed to learn a lot that day, and further Runkle and I's journey despite him being turned out with a ductape boot on.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Twenty Minutes

Twenty minutes is a popular number for horse treatment. It's how long you make your war horse eventer stand in a bucket after a hard jump school. It's the amount of time your horse has to soak in epsom salts when you do battle with an abscess. Runkle recently hurt himself in a way that will require this twenty minute soak, probably playing baby racehorse outside with the geriatric horses in his field who never want to join in.

Depending on the horse, it could be an excruciating twenty minutes. Most of the horses I've had the pleasure of enduring the twenty minutes with have been off the track Thoroughbreds and I'm starting to be convinced that these horses live in buckets from birth.

Lexy demonstrating the 'two legs, one bucket' method.

Sometimes they even have an internal clock and know when twenty minutes is up. The redheaded beasty above would politely step out of the muck tub at around 19:30. Until then she would quietly stand while I cleaned tack and put it away and got her food together. Which brings me to the real point.

What do you do with those twenty minutes?

Take Instagram Pictures
If you look at my Instagram, you'll see that (especially in the beginning) it's mostly pictures of Lexy standing in muck tubs with various filters applied to them. And that's nothing compared to my phone, where there are at least twelve outtakes. How do I want her to look? Happy to be in the bucket? Annoyed? Nonplussed? Do I want her half climbing out or with her nose all the way outstretched looking for food? Nothing says gimpy horse like Lo-Fi, amirite??

Play a Game
I have a ton of games on my phone, pretty much exclusively because I needed something to do while I stood near the horse during a soak or cold hose. I've got the old standbys like Solitaire or FreeCell, but I also have a collection of about thirty different brain puzzlers in one app. I have a game called 2048 which is just strategic mindless swiping and horribly addictive. Also easy to play with one hand if you have to hold your vagrant horse. A more devious favorite of mine is a game called Plague, Inc, a morbid game in which you design a disease to wipe out humanity (I never said I was normal).

Only the classics, here.

Download a Podcast
This is a more recent addiction, but there are hundreds of podcasts out there. It's more interesting than listening to music you've heard a hundred times, and most podcasts put something out once a week or so. There are horse ones if you want to compound your horse time with more horses, there are comedic ones and movie reviews, podcasts about games and podcasts about nothing at all. There's something out there for everyone not matter how weird your tastes are. Just make sure if you are listening to it you either have it on speaker or you leave one headphone out of your ears so you can hear what's going on around you. You are still in a barn, after all.

Think About Your Life
You're standing with a horse for twenty minutes while they wait in a bucket of ice or a tray of epsom salt mixture. And you're probably not even upset about it. You're enjoying spending time with your broken horse, feeding him or her treats while they stomp around in the bucket and try to flip it over and otherwise make the twenty minutes last longer. Know they do this out of love (probably).

Runkle showing us the one foot shuffle.