Friday, January 30, 2009

Winter-y Days, and a Tour

This is where Jack and Arabee have been spending most of their time lately:

And since lately it's been doing a lot of wintry precipitation, they've been standing in the shed, watching the icicles grow.

This is where they live. It's an add-on to the back of a corn crib/tool shed on the farm. There are two 10x12' stalls, and a 12x16' run-in shed that they ALWAYS have access to. In front of the stall doors is a little overhang, it's 3-4 feet, I can't remember for sure now.

The horses are only in their stalls for about 30 minutes AM and PM while they eat their grain and we do the rest of the chores, feeding the goats and dogs, checking water, putting out hay. In the winter they only get "pasture" turnout if the ground is really frozen, but really they have 23/7 paddock access, in the area you now see them in. In the summertime, they get pastured during the day, but we shut them out of the pasture at night.

My "tack/feed room" is actually a section of the old Corn Crib that the stalls are built onto. I have a 1.5' step up into the wooden floor, and that area has been "coon-proofed" by chicken wire, so the racoons can't get in there and eat the feed. To put the feed in the horses' stalls, I just open the little sliding doors from inside the tack/feed room and pour it in their bucket that's mounted to the wall, then go around and let them in to eat. Very handy.

I've got an old office desk with drawers that I keep odds and ends in, plenty of hooks for misc. horse stuff, saddle racks. Matt welded me some hooks out of old horseshoes (aren't they cute?) for the inside of the door, and he nailed on a wire basket to keep brushes and hoof picks in.

I just "park" Arabee in front of the tack room door, and everything is in reach. She ground ties very well. Jack tends to wander.....but then he is really ridiculously spoiled - I've let him get away with way too much. He ties to a post reliably though.

It may not be the equine "Ritz" but it is perfect for what we need!

Goals - Here We Go!

A list, in writing, of my training goals for Arabee (and me) from today through the day of our first LD ride!

Maybe if I get it in writing and publicize it, I'll have an easier time sticking to it. This list assumes I am able to ride 4-5 x per week (weather permitting), that Arabee continues to enjoy the the rides and doesn't get sour - I don't want to push her too hard and take the fun out of it for both of us.

Now - 2/6: Get hoof boots all around, get a good-fitting saddle. In the mean time walk in-hand to familiarize with trails around home and build rider fitness.
2/7 - 2/13: Build up riding time from 30 min walk/trot/canter to about 45 minutes.

2/14-2/20: Build up riding time from 45 minutes walk/trot/canter to 1 FULL hour.

2/21-2/27: Ride mostly at a working to fast trot, with some walking and canter added in for a FULL Hour each ride.

Starting 2/28: Each Saturday as weather and other committments allow - Ride out. As in, trailer away to somewhere and ride with other horses on real trails. At some point I'll need to "practice" camping with Arabee, to make sure she's used to whatever (tying/electric corral) way we overnight her at rides.

2/28-3/6: Longer workouts.

3/7-3/13: Longer workouts, more hills.

3/14-3/20: Faster workouts over same distances

3/21-3/27: Maintain speed, increase hills.

3/28-4/3: Fast(ish) workouts, over hills, varied terrain

4/4-4/10: Fast workouts (trot and canter), on hills, varied terrain. "Peak" conditioning program.

4/11-4/17: Gradually ease-up on workouts, with a day off on Thursday and/or Friday

4/16, 4/17, 4/18: First LD Competition! Day off the day before ride day, trailer in, and set up camp, vet in, and ride to complete and enjoy saddle time!

What do you think? Is this do-able? I believe these are realistic goals that can be accomplished, but I may be way off-base. Who knows, I may not find a good-fitting saddle in time....or any number of things could happen, but Lord-willing - this is my course! Here we go!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Saddle Up! - A Follow Up

Since I posted last about needing to purchase a new, better fitting saddle I have done much research, had many very helpful comments (thank you!) and Kitt Hazelton has posted her write-up of Arabee and her recommendations for the best saddle for her. Be sure to read it!

I haven't ridden at all since a week ago Wednesday, in part due to the weather, in part due to sudden onset stomach flu throughout my family, in part due to saddle fit, in part due to needing hoof boots!

Hoof boots from Renegade are on order - I decided to buy the Jade (with Arizona Copper a second choice if the Jade isn't in stock) for Arabee's front hooves, Michelle has offered to let me try her easyboots for her hinds.

I'm doing a lot of searching and learning about different saddles and how they fit/don't fit.

Here are my "leanings" . . . but they're still very broad yet!

  • used Bob Marshall Sports Saddle - this seems to be a very very popular treeless saddle, with ALOT of great reviews and success stories. I know someone who will allow me to test ride a Bob Marshall, which is a definite plus. There are some used ones available at reasonable (ish) prices, but there are cheaper saddles out there.
  • used Abetta Arabian endurance - if I can find one! I also know someone who'd let me try an Abetta Arabian on Arabee to see if their tree fits her, to see if this is even an option. If I go this route I'll likely change the rigging and the stirrups as in this link:
  • preferably used, possibly new Thorowgood Broadback saddle, either AP or Dressage. This is a synthetic saddle distributed in the US by Dover Saddlery, but if you research this saddle, "pretend" you're from europe or canada - the foreign site is more informational.

So, it looks like the key here is to get the snow to melt! I can't even begin to think of hauling out with the roads the way they are right now. In the meantime I'll be looking up any used saddles in the models listed above nationwide!

Thanks to everyone for all their input! The search continues . . .

Monday, January 26, 2009

Saddle Up! It's time for a change!

In my whole life’s experience with horses until I began this blog and training for endurance, no one had ever suggested to me that my horse’s saddle might not fit properly. It was not something I considered.

Now, I don’t believe that my horses had always been in pain when I rode them, either. I knew/know the basics of saddle fit. I understand the concepts pretty well, how the tree is supposed to follow the shape of the back with the weight resting well-spread over the thick muscles running on either side of the spine, but never touching the spine or withers, that it must not be too long nor too short for the horse so as not to “bridge” or cut in, and how the gullet is supposed to follow the angle of the horse. This all (while not an all-inclusive list on saddle fitting) makes sense to me.

The trouble is that I just don’t have the eye for this kind of thing! It’s embarrassing to say, sad but true. My head knows what it is supposed to look like, but when my eye looks at the horse…..I can’t SEE the difference between a good-fitting or poorly fitting saddle. Same goes for conformation (shoulder angle, length of back, croup, being well-balanced, pastern length…I know the terms and what you’re supposed to have/look for…but I would never make a good judge – I just have a terrible time SEEING these things.

So I have enlisted the help of Kitt Hazelton with Trumbull Mtn. Tack Shop, Inc. She has a blog (see link in my sidebar), and has added a feature where she will give recommendations for saddle fit. I asked her if she would do an evaluation on Arabee and our current saddle, and let me know what she thought. I hear that her evaluation of Arabee and her saddle is to be the next blog post she does. She has mentioned briefly that she doesn't think the current saddle I'm riding in is best for my mare, but has said that she'll go into more detail in this next post.

So now, since the saddle I currently have (photo shows the saddle "all wrapped up" ready to be removed after a ride - attached is crupper, breastcollar, stirrups, girth, saddle pad - this has really improved my tacking time!) isn’t the best for my lovely mare, I’ll be needing a new one, ASAP. I must be very budget conscious, so a good used saddle is likely in my future.
  • I am attracted to the Wintec saddles (synthetic, easy care, lightweight, interchangeable gullet, CAIR panels), in particular the Wintec Pro Stock CS with Swinging Fender (it’s the bottom one on the page) I have found a used one for sale, but it’s unlikely I will be able to try it before I buy.
  • I’m also considering the treeless option. I like that the treeless can be lightweight and that they often can be fitted easier. I don’t like that they are frequently said to be less secure (for the rider).

I have always really liked the security that the western seat offered. However, I REALLY don’t want a horn, I always found that grabbing the horn off-sets my balance more than just squaring up and holding on with my thighs! Plus the danger of getting “horn gut” is a risk I'd rather not encounter. So, that's why I like the idea of the Australian type saddle - western security without a horn.....BUT I've never ridden in an Aussie saddle before.

This is a HUGE investment for me and my family, and one I'm not taking lightly due to the present poor economy and uncertain times. Admittedly, the idea of riding endurance is thrilling to me, BUT, horse stuff is not a "need" in the same category as food, shelter, if I have to break the bank to buy a saddle that fits, endurance is out.

I'd very much appreciate any input whatsoever anyone could give me about their saddle choices, how they work for them, any tips or suggestions at all at this time will be very valuable to me - Thanks in advance!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hoof Boots

I have measured and remeasured Arabee's hooves.

Right Front: 116L x 116W
Left Front: 119.5L x 116W

Right Hind: 118L x 111W
Left Hind: 117L x 112W

That puts her in a size 0 all around on the Renegades, and Easyboot Epic and Bares. So no matter what I get it looks like it will be 0's.

I really am leaning towards the Renegade for the front feet. From the descriptions on the the webpages, the Renegade sounds like a better boot in many ways - but then I don't have real life experience to really be able to say that at all. Between the Epics and Bares, I like the closure design of the Bares better, because the Epics look like they could catch on something and come off a bit easier. I understand that the Bares are known to be harder to "catch on to" for first time boot users, but I am pretty sure with enough motivation I could learn any kind eventually. I want the best boot, not necessarily the "easiest."

If I go with a pair of new Renegades for Arabee's front feet, I will have to choose a color. I could just go with black, but Arabee has primarily "white" hooves, so black boots wouldn't really blend in anyway, so I'm leaning towards either "Arizona Copper" "Jade" or "ChocoLatte." I hope Renegade doesn't mind if I post a sample of each boot color on here - it is for color comparison to some of the posted photos of Arabee on here. If I get the Copper or Latte color, my hope is that they would match Arabee's beauty-ous chestnut coloring. If it doesn't match, I'll probably go with Jade, since they don't have any blue. (blue is my favorite color).

Arizona Copper is first:

Jade is second:

Last but not least, Choco Latte:

Any votes on which color to choose???

Arabee's had the weekend off, since we were out of town for the weekend and got back around noon today. It snowed a bit. I trimmed Jack's feet after lunch - it's hard to do his feet because he's so stiff in his joints and he gets tired of standing in one spot, so I try to rotate feet pretty often (Jack is 29). He was decent about it though, good ole Jack! It was frustrating because each time I put his foot down, I had to brush all the snow off again before I could trim that foot again, but all in all it wasn't so bad at all. (can i say "all" more times in one sentence? ha..)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Taking it Easy

Arabee pretty much got this afternoon off. This was tough for me, since it was close to being in the 50's in the sun! Calm breeze - would have been perfect riding weather! But, no hoof boots yet, and I need to confirm saddle fit.

So, first I measured her front hooves for the hoof boots. I then took photos of her back and a conformation photo, then saddled her for some photos of her with the saddle on. Then wasn't she surprised when the saddle came off and I didn't get on!

Then I trimmed her hind feet, which she was very polite about. I use a jack to rest her feet on, which happens to be painted red, and she gets a little red paint on her hooves each time I trim, so I wanted to wait until the paint wore off to take the photos to show you how her feet look now. I am pretty happy with her back feet.

I am glad that I'm seeing to her comfort. It is important to me that this endurance thing is a fun experience for both of us. Saddle fit and hoof fitting is pretty huge!

Enjoy the picture I posted? That's Arabee (on the left!) with Matt and Cora. Cora really enjoys animals and the outdoors.

Happy Horse, Happy Rider......

But, a horse with sore feet is most definitely NOT a happy horse, and so we had a VERY SHORT ride yesterday.

I just couldn't find anywhere comfortable for her to go. She was ok on the grass, but even that was frozen solid still and very uneven, so I called it quits pretty fast. We wandered a bit in the woods across the road, which was okay for her, but I don't think anything faster than a walk would have been good.

Being forced to keep "conditioning rides" to a walk isn't going to get her very fit very fast!

So begins my search for a good hoof boot that will arrive QUICKLY!

Being as my husband farms, I pretty much will have to plan on riding in rides that are not held during planting season, hay time, or harvest season. So that means rides before April, maaaaybe July, August, September (early), or after the harvest is finished, which is totally variable year to year. It just depends on the weather. I may find that we have perfect weather, it only takes 2 weeks to finish all the planting, and we're done! Or like 2008, We ended up planting some fields THREE TIMES before the fields in the river bottoms stopped flooding and drowning out the little takes three times as long to finish that way. So the faster I get boots on my horse and she is able to start moving out, the better. I am aiming to have my first LD completed in April. If I can find a CTR in March, I might try to go to it.

Anyway, I have been looking into the hoof boots. I really like the idea of the Easyboot Glove. BUT I can't consider it right now, because I have to have boots here ready to use ASAP. So then there's the Easyboot Edge, Bare, and Epic, and I'm interested in Renegades. I fully plan on keeping Arabee barefoot, except for the hoof boots. I was going to start with just a pair of front boots (but maybe that isn't for the best? should she need all 4 booted?)

Anyone have any suggestions for what to try? Best deals?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

AERC convention

So I am thinking of maybe crashing the AERC Conference:

Louisville is only about an hour from my house.

I'm not an AERC member (yet.....although I have to be cost conscious and if I'm only planning on a few rides I may opt just for the per ride fee for non-members), so I probably shouldn't even consider going to the conference. Maybe I shouldn't free-load off of everyone else and just show up.....

BUT all I want to go for is the SHOPPING! :-)

The reins I am using now are not right....I have a pair of split reins, and they feel great in my hands, but I don't think they're safe. They're so long that they dangle around Arabee's knees, they're leather, and the grip probably won't be great if they get wet (which they will eventually).

I also believe a new helmet that fits better would be a great idea. The one I have is well over 7 years old....surely they've come up with better styles/materials since then!

I also have a return item for Distance Depot and they say on their site that they'll be there - I had requested an english to western girth converter for Christmas before I really knew what I wanted. I've decided the dressage girth I'm using now is working just fine, so I am hoping to return that for store credit to get either reins or a helmet.

I may also try to purchase some hoof boots for Arabee - by then I should have a good idea of what her ultimate hoof shape and size will be.

The thing is that I hate having to mail order everything. It is so nice to be able to touch the stuff you're thinking of buying so you'll know how it feels, you know it fits, and I always feel much more confident buying something that way.

Is it a bad idea to head to the Galt House (where the conference is held) and just wander around the Trade Show, even if I'm not a member of AERC? I sure hope not....because I really want to go!

Anyone have any suggestions for rein and helmet styles that they use and LOVE??

Monday Ride

Yesterday I rode Arabee again. The last time I had ridden her was a week ago Monday, so I wasn't sure how she'd behave. She was very good, although on Friday and Sunday I did walk her in hand around the woods (on trails and in places she'd never been before...with the hope of expanding her comfort zone) so I am sure that helped a lot.

The ground was very frozen, and it was clear that her feet were tender. I know eventually I am going to need to get her some hoof protection in some form, but for right now I believe Arabee's feet are still "in transition" so I am wanting to hold off on that until I think her feet are in the shape they want to be in. She's got beautiful soles, they have changed shape a lot since I started putting the mustang roll on her feet (nice concavity and a well-defined toe-callus), but I am still working out some slight flaring, you can see in her white line where it keeps getting tighter and tighter. I need to update the mustang roll on her fronts again. She seems to need this about every 2 weeks right now. I am hoping that once she gets in the right shape for her feet that this will slack off.

I think that for the most part we are right on track for both my comfort zone and her foot hardiness. We are doing short distances of trotting in places where it's comfortable for her to do that (and when it's frozen hard like it is now there aren't a lot of places to do that). She is getting the chance for her tendons and bones and structures to get "legged up" with all this walking so hopefully her whole body gets fit at the same time, rather than her aerobic fitness first before the rest of her. It won't be perfect, but I think it will help prevent lameness rather than if I tried to do all trot/canter all the time. Adding the trotting has really helped with her attitude. We start with about 5 minutes of walking, then trot a little while, and then she gets much more focused and is calmer at the walk even in new territory. I am blessed with a wonderful mare - she's got a great mind. You can always tell when she's bored - she "invents" things to spook at.

I think we both are ready to really increase the trotting, but I know I can't until the ground thaws a little bit - right now it is so uneven I really need to keep her slow so she can pick her footfalls better. She had fun yesterday we rode in the woods across the road, her ears were alert to what was around her but she was relaxed. First time over there under saddle, but that was where I'd taken her on our walks Friday and Sunday.

I am also antsy to start re-affirming that we can canter safely. Back (in 2002!) when I was riding her regularly and showing, Arabee was always good at throwing in little crowhops at each canter stride. I posted about her breaking into the canter from the trot a few weeks back and her bucking, which I think was accentuated by the presence of the crupper. She wasn't out of control, but it isn't the way I like to travel! She has a nice canter, and once the footing is good I need to practice it under saddle so that if she breaks gait and starts cantering on her own she is used to what the crupper feels like at that gait, and we can avoid unnecessary bucking!

I am still not 100% sure that I NEED to use the crupper, but my thinking is that 1) I already have it, 2) she's used to it now (mostly), 3) I ride with a pretty loose girth, and have experienced the saddle slipping forward on a downhill without it, so this will prevent that from happening, 4) If I do my training rides with all the tack she will be ridden in on rides, then it won't be something new the day of a ride.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dreaming of Warmer Days Ahead

An oil painting, of a girl on her arabian mare, trotting through wildflowers bareback. Looks like fun, doesn't it?? It's hanging on my living room wall. I oughta frame it, I guess.

Anyway, I wanted to give a little hope for warmer days to come, since I think a LOT of us are going through a cold snap!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Learning Endurance: Tips and Techniques Please!

Okay, so since embarking on the journey into endurance riding, I have discovered I am not so smart about horses as I once believed myself to be. Sure, I know good bit about proper turnout for a horse in the show ring, how to ride a western pleasure jog (there’s more to it than you think!), the proper way to hold the reins and whip while you are reversing in the arena in a saddle-type class…..but really most of this does NOT transfer over to riding trails at 5-15 mph in the woods!

I have found great resources for conditioning, and camping with horses, and equipment choices on the web. I am sure there is more out there I haven’t found. But I still have questions.

  • Once you buy all this equipment, how do you apply it to your horse? Proper breastcollar fit, when/when not to use a crupper and it’s proper adjustment, which direction do you hang the stirrups when you’re using “directional” endurance style stirrups with cages (you can’t just hang those things on any old way as with traditional irons!), special blankets, electrolytes, and so on!
  • Riding Technique: Beyond making sure I can mount the horse from both sides, what is the best position for preventing both rider and equine fatigue? Posting, sitting, 2-point? Leaning forward, backward, straight up on the hills? I especially am curious about how to ride the hills. I have some knowledge about correct jumping form, but no CLUE how to properly (ie safely and securely with the most balance) ride a hill!
  • Horse specifics: Is it beneficial to ride with a certain head/neck carriage? Or is it best to allow the horse to carry their body however they want? Any automatic red flags to watch for?
  • Ride entry requirements: Health documents? Registration papers? Association memberships? What if you’re only planning on riding 2 rides, is it worth it to pay for a full year membership?

There are probably more questions I haven’t even learned enough about the sport to know to ask yet. It’s amazing the more you learn, the more you discover you don’t know.

So, I am asking – what resources are out there for a person to learn these things? Is there an endurance riding “bible” out there? I mean, in home canning our fruits and vegetables, there’s the Ball Blue Book of Canning it’s got everything you’d ever want to know about canning. In life, there’s….well, there’s the Bible! So, how about great all-inclusive endurance books?

I really appreciate any hints anyone can give about where to find this info! Thanks!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Quiet, Fun Ride

Had a really good ride yesterday. It was 38 degrees, and still - perfect weather (for winter....!) but the forecast for the rest of the week is COLD, cold, cold! Like, lows in the single digits. So, I was committed to getting to ride last night.

Arabee was relaxed, we were doing great at riding on the loose rein. She's getting more comfortable in her increased territory, and over this week if it's really cold like they're saying I am hoping to take her on walks (in hand) to other new areas. I seem to stay warmer if I am walking vs. riding, probably because I feel like I can layer more clothes on, I hate trying to get on (and stay on) with a thousand layers of clothes, plus the carhartt insulated overalls I wear just are a bit too slick in the saddle! I love my suede chaps for that! Nice and "sticky" :-)

We did quite a bit of trotting, I am estimating we did a little less than 1/2 mile of trotting. From west fenceline to the road the barn lot's driveway is 1/10th of a mile, and we did that several times. Once we get a pretty large "comfort zone" we will have to work on figuring exact mileage. (thanks for the idea of using the 4-wheeler for that, Jacke!) Matt will really enjoy helping with that part! She finally got a little bit winded, but I was very pleased with her trot.

One area of concern I have: She was doing this weird hind end "tripping" thing....almost like one of her hind legs was giving out. Since I was on I couldn't see what she was doing, but it was like she maybe wasn't picking her hind legs up high enough and was scuffing them on the gravel? Is this what it feels like when a horse interferes? It was dark by the time we were finished, so I will check her legs very closely for scratches or nicks in the hair, but I could tell she wasn't bleeding at least last night. Maybe she was tired from the increased trotting....but I will keep a close watch and hope it goes away! Maybe a good thing for the cold weather to give her a couple of days off. She did have Sunday off though, so it's not been constant training for her, and really most all of our training is at a walk, we're just starting to add the trot.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Can you find the white (grey) horse?

Jack and Arabee were treated to pasture turnout last Thursday. It was a pretty snowy morning, and the ground was frozen, so they weren't near as likely to tear up the ground.

Normally in the winter "mud soup" season they stay in the paddock nearby their stalls and shed that is added on to the back of the corn crib. They get hay am and pm, and Jack gets Equine Senior pelleted feed, Arabee gets a teeny handful of corn since she gets fat LOOKING at feed!

In the summertime instead of hay they get turnout all day long, of course added gradually in the spring when the grass is so lush and green.

It will be interesting to see how this must change in 2009 (or IF it will have to change) to accomodate Arabee's changing workload. I will keep a close eye on her. Right now she could stand to lose a lot of weight, but I want to be sensible about it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

~Arabee in Motion~

Today I rode Arabee again. Matt and Cora came along, with Cora in the Ergo baby carrier on Matt's back. She loves riding in that thing. I asked Matt if he would take some pictures, and he surprised me by ALSO taking some video! It's not the greatest quality, kinda choppy since it's video from the camera, but it works. (actually, it may not work...never tried posting a video clip before!)

We started walking, me riding, the rest of the family on foot, and headed across the road. We had just moved some goats though at the fenceline that runs by the road, and Brody the Great White Pyrenees (big livestock guardian dog, he lives with the goats to protect them from coyotes, etc.) was having fun running about. Until this morning, Arabee had LIVED with Brody, but yet she was all "up" Ears up, neck up, head up, tail up...the whole deal. So, I got off and walked her up behind the corn crib, and I was glad I did, she was pretty stiff. I just haven't mastered being able to calm myself when my horse is tense. Must work on this!

Got back on, walked her around, finally got her to relax (after Matt took this picture! she's still pretty tense then)

When we got back to familiar territory, we trotted a bit. No breaking into a canter and bucking this time, either! Arabee seemed to really enjoy finally getting the freedom to trot, but she didn't abuse it and get faster than I asked her to.

Looking forward to many more fun times and good rides!

Also, thanks to Tamara and Jacke for the tips on tacking up faster! It seemed to help, although I didn't time myself this time.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Yesterday I left the house at 4:42, dressed, helmet and boots already on. I jogged to the corn crib/tack room, grabbed Arabee's halter, quick-brushed her (it's frozen so she wasn't muddy, yay!) Applied tiny no-slip saddle pad, saddle, girth, fastened the crupper, one hole tighter on the girth, breastcollar, one more hole tighter on girth, picked up front legs to smooth out skin under girth, one hole tighter on girth, rhythm beads, picked left side hooves, one hole tighter on girth, right side hooves, put on the dr. cooks bridle. Now it is 4:56pm. This is taking me too long!

Matt had somewhere to be last night that he had to leave the house at 5:45, so I figured if I got off at 5:30 I'd have time to untack and jog back home in perfect timing. Or, that was the goal anyway.

I finally swung my leg over her back, adjusted the stirrups, and took a lap around the barn lot, walking very nicely. The girth was a little loose yet, so I decided to tighten it another notch. Another lap around the barn lot, and we ventured out across the road!

You would have thought we were playing spy or something! Arabee was tippy toeing and rubber necking the whole way, we walked the 75 ft of road, turned into the other driveway (we keep a feedlot of beef cattle at the barn, it was in the family way back) and walked that way. She was nervous as a tick. I found it kind of funny when she wasn't jumping back and forth on me!

We made it there and back mostly at a walk, she only broke gait a little bit, and was pretty good. It didn't kill her, and I'm hoping that built her confidence in me some. Overall a success.

I figured it was time to trot, (we really need to get that started!) so once back in the barn lot we trotted west, which went great. I brought her down to a walk to turn the corner around the big tool shed, then clucked her back into a trot. That is when she threw in a canter stride or two, and at that point, the crupper must have tickled her funny, and she started bucking and cantering the whole length of the tool shed, as we rounded the corner I thought "I am going to come off this horse!" then remembered the magic word. I commanded "WHOA" and she stopped, just like that! Too bad I didn't think of it sooner~

She calmed down faster than I did, so we walked a bit. 5:26 pm. One last thing I was going to have her walk through what was once a puddle, now a thinly frozen sheet of ice, then we'd head back and be done. 10 minutes later this mare still wasn't going to walk through that puddle, and I was supposed to have been done 6 minutes ago! I finally had to get off and lead her through by hand. It wasn't the ending I would have chosen, but at least I got her to go through it. Next ride I'll make sure she rides through, just to prove the point.

We jog in hand back to the corn crib, I whip off her tack, lead her into the paddock with the dr. cooks, take it off and rub her head (a reward for job well done) which she LOVES, and is a good way for me to sneak in touches on her ears, she's very ear-shy, but has improved since I've had her. Matt calls...."are you done yet??" I run out, shut the gate, and am back just in time for him to leave.

Mostly a good ride, but I really need to work on streamlining my tacking up routine!! A good 20-25 minutes out of my riding time is spent doing just that, not to mention getting myself dressed for the cold.

Any hints on faster tacking up??

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sleet and Wind and a rough ride

Yesterday was pretty nasty out here - we had sleet and a sharp wind, and it was cold! But, as soon as my husband got home I headed outside to ride! How crazy is this?? Our daughter was napping, so Matt got to do some stuff he had wanted to do while I rode, then after she woke up I fixed dinner while Matt worked in the garage. Making a committment to training for endurance riding is tricky, since I can't just ignore my family's needs!

I had planned on riding in unknown territory (for Arabee) to broaden our horizons. It has been getting a little boring riding around in the barn lot. This would have involved riding on the road for about 50 -100 feet then turning and riding around the field there, down the lane and around. There's a lot of potential for good riding areas where I live, but I will have to ride on the road for short distances (as short as just directly across the road, to as much as 1/2 mile) to get to these woodsy farm lanes. I am blessed, I have access to "trails," water crossings, hills, quiet country roads all within riding distance from home!

Anyway, with the way the wind was whipping around, throwing that stinging sleet, Arabee was feeling mighty fresh! So, I decided (or arabee did) that we were going to practice single-rein-stops and keeping at a walk near the grain bins, since they were making scary noises in the wind. It wasn't the most pleasant ride, but I felt proud of myself for riding anyway, and it helped build my confidence (I was scared at times but didn't fall off!).

Hopefully today if the wind is a bit quieter I can get across the road a bit, and even do a minute or two of trotting! It is time to start building my mare's endurance!
(this photo from 2005 shows the barn lot and where I've been riding the past couple months. To the right side of the picture is the road, on the other side of the trees in the field I was talking about trying to ride in yesterday.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

January Photos, Basic Training

Arabee and me walking about the barn lot the first week in January, 2009.

There is always a puddle in the barn lot, at least if it's not drought weather (summertime). Good place to practice water crossing.

We've been working on riding on a loose rein. Now that our "horse show" days are done, no reason for a fancy head-set on a direct rein, which Arabee really appreciates, in addition to riding bitless with the Dr. Cook's bitless bridle. Since these photos were taken, I readjusted the noseband on the bridle, so it is lower on her nose. Much better. I'm also riding on a looser rein than is shown.

At first it was terrifying riding on a loose rein - I felt I had no control!

We practiced turning - she now turns on leg cues and subtle body movements as I look in the direction I want us to travel, even on 15 ft. diameter circles. If she doens't go, then she gets rein.

So far in our riding we've kept to a walk, and if she broke gait (trotting) she would get a single-rein-stop. This kept her walking pretty quickly. She also is very good at respecting voice commands, so a verbal reminder also does the trick. I want to make sure we are GREAT at walking, before we move on to faster, more exciting gaits.

When it comes to brakes, and "Easy, easy, Arabee, WHOA" works amazing. Getting into the habit of using this same phrase, she usually stops on the second easy. But, if she doesn't WHOA immediately once I say "whoa", then she gets a jab on the rein, which is what I'd do on the ground with a lead rope, but I never could do before when riding with a bit for fear of hurting her mouth. Another benefit of bitless riding!

When it comes to spook control, when she gets high-headed I ask for her to lower her head, which really calms her. I started this by jiggling the reins at a stand still until she lowered her head a tiny bit, then praising, "good girl!" and rubbing by her withers. Then, jiggling again until she "got it" and lowered her head consistently. Then we proceeded to doing it at a walk. Now, each time I touch the rein she views it as a request to lower her head a bit, which really keeps her more calm, I believe. Also in spook control, if she starts, a quick single-rein-stop brings her back. Once she stops, I ask her to lower her head, and she usually calms down again quickly.

With these basics in place, Arabee and I have very nice, quiet, relaxing rides that we both seem to really enjoy. Of course, it took about 20 rides to get there, and all of it at a walk. I am sure once I add some trotting, and cantering, that we will need some refreshers of head down, and learning to single-rein-stop from these other gaits.

What tips do you have to add for riding on a loose rein??

Monday, January 5, 2009

Why Bitless and Barefoot? Part 2

One afternoon, I was spending my daughter’s naptime surfing the web (so easy to waste time in google-land!) for trail-safe, husband-safe, beginner-safe horses for sale, just out of curiousity. I ran across one gelding named Revere, and the ad specified that he was being ridden in a Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle, and that he was Certified Barefoot Trimmed.

I had never heard of either of these things before, and was intrigued the person writing the sale ad would have taken the time to specify hoof care and type of bridle (I could have understood listing the type of bit!), and began searching for information.

Go to for more information specific to the Dr. Cook’s bridle. After reading the site, I was convinced I had to try it and ordered a black beta headstall.

At the time I went ahead and rode a couple of times while waiting for the Dr. Cook’s to arrive. Arabee had been ridden in an eggbutt snaffle, and has always been very sensitive to any kind of pressure, whether through the halter on the ground or in the saddle. Most of the time I look in the direction I want to go and she goes, no need for rein pressure hardly at all. But, she always mouthed the bit big time right after bridling, and always tried to “root” by reaching her head down at a walk under saddle. I always tried to ride with very quiet hands, to keep her fussing down and be kind to her mouth.

When the Dr. Cook’s bridle arrived, I fitted it to Arabee’s head and tried it out first by ground driving. No big deal. I got on and Arabee was very relaxed and did not try any rooting. She didn’t spook. It was a very calm and relaxing ride. Maybe not because of the new bridle, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

As time has gone by, I have come to love riding bitless. Arabee is much more relaxed than when I rode with a bit. If I need to get a firm hold on the reins, I can do so without worrying about hurting her mouth. I believe that when I used to ride with a bit, my horse merely tolerated being ridden, now that we are bitless, I can just tell she enjoys my company up in the saddle. Now that is priceless!

**I promise someday I will post updated photos - this mare is fuzzy as can be this January, this is another photo from October when she was still slick summer coated.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Why Barefoot and Bitless?

One afternoon, I was spending my daughter’s naptime surfing the web (so easy to waste time in google-land!) for trail-safe, husband-safe, beginner-safe horses for sale, just out of curiousity. I ran across one gelding named Revere, and the ad specified that he was being ridden in a Dr. Cook’s Bitless Bridle, and that he was Certified Barefoot Trimmed.

I had never heard of either of these things before, and was intrigued the person writing the for sale ad would have taken the time to specify hoof care and type of bridle (I could have understood listing the type of bit!), and began searching for information.

I was unable to find certified farriers locally, and also learned that barefoot trims need to be done much more frequently; every 2-3 weeks compared to the 6-8 weeks I had been used to. I gave up the idea for a while, but revisited it every so often…the pesky idea, “I could learn how to do this myself!” kept coming up. I looked for a local clinic, or workshop, but to no avail.

By this time both Jack and Arabee were in desperate need of a trim, though they had long been barefoot (since 2002). I needed to do something! I determined it was time to take the rasp into my own hands, and teach myself the barefoot trim.

These sites were most helpful:

I studied the photos and perused countless other websites dedicated to natural hoof care.

I purchased a rasp and hoof knife (we already had a pair of hoof nippers around the farm).

I took “before” photos from front, left side, right side, bottom of each horse’s hooves. This photo is of Arabee’s feet from the front, on 9/26/08, they were in pretty desperate need of attention at this point.

I did two hooves a night. Fronts on one horse, hinds on one horse, then the next horse – a total of 4 night’s HARD WORK. We used a car jack stand with a towel folded up to help hold the horse’s foot, and on the first trim my husband helped me to squeeze the nippers to trim around each foot. This is hard to do – Jack’s feet (black hooves) were a lot harder to do than Arabee’s (white hooves). Then I rasped a mustang roll. The hind feet weren’t as hard (tough) as the front feet were. I was sore in places I never imagined. I mean, I figured my arms and shoulders would be sore, but what really surprised me was that I was sore from my butt all the way down my legs! So, be prepared – hoof work is a whole body exerciser!

Right after the first trim, Arabee was pretty tenderfooted on gravel even for groundwork, and even on grass under saddle. I’ve been trimming (after the first trim with the rasp only to refresh the mustang roll) every 2-3 weeks very regularly since the first trim, and she’s drastically improved! She’s always been tenderfooted undersaddle on gravel before, but now just a few months later it’s much improved than before we started the barefoot trim.

I am very glad to be able to say I trim my horses’ feet myself. I am much stronger than before, I have more control in how my horses are cared for than before, and am much more knowledgeable about their feet. I love the financial freedom from paying someone else to do what I can do myself. Compared to what I was paying annually before to trim two horses every 6-8 weeks I’m saving a ton. I also believe my horses are more comfortable being trimmed more frequently.

If learning about going barefoot strikes a chord with you, check it out, if not, well, no big deal, just put the info on a shelf in case it becomes useful to you later.

To those of you out there who keep your horses barefoot - What started you into it?

What results have you found?
Are you glad you barefoot?
What activities do you do with your barefoot horses?
I'd love your comments!

More info on riding Bitless next time!