Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

We've had a cold front move in here and it's going to be a cold, wet one here. Not that we are too worried about it. For the first time since the kids were born we are not trick or treating! Today I am hauling horses out to the local show series' Finals. Tonight we will be schooling horses, braiding, and all the hectic last minute show prep.

This week has been a bit crazy with picking up and hauling in a horse that is coming in for training for the next 3 months, teaching lessons, riding our horses, cleaning tack, washing and packing show clothes, and packing trailers. Plus I am a notorious over if I could take the entire barn I probably would.

Looks like a busy weekend! I am schooling a client's new horse in some flat classes, Faith is schooling Heather's pony over a few fence classes, Dwight is showing in the Ranch Division, and we've got 12 students showing! Hopefully we can stay warm...I may also need a drink. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Riding with Fear

Fear, to some extent we all have it. Whether it's "show nerves", being embarrassed or judged by others, fear of spooking, or just fear of falling off, we all deal with it while riding. Some of us more than others. Ahhh, to be 13 again and galloping fearlessly through the open fields. Instead, now I tend to think of all the things that can go wrong. I've found that as I get older fear has become a more dominant aspect of my rides. I'm sure several factors play into it:

  • I don't bounce as good as I used to
  • I have to be able to take care of my kids
  • I can't afford to lose income due to being injured
But for me, one of the most important-
  • Previous accidents still present in my mind
Pilgrim flipped over on top of me a few years ago. I got on at the mounting block, he started to quickly walk off (a bad habit he has) before I even got settled. I asked him whoa and I immediately felt him get tense and then we were scrambling backwards, and before I knew it we were flipping over. While it certainly hurt and I had some minor injuries: bruises and a pretty good concussion; I was lucky and walked away relatively unscathed. At least I thought so, that was until my next ride. I quickly realized the damage was quite severe. My accident had completely destroyed my confidence in my riding and my trust in my partner.

Every ride became an internal battle. Every moment of tension or loss of contact during my ride would send me into a panic. It's not that I was doing something wrong, I wasn't doing ANYTHING! If you gave me a quiz, I could tell you exactly what I SHOULD be doing to correct the moment, but my body no longer listened and often completely shut down. The rational side of my brain screams "SEND HIM FORWARD!" but I found myself freezing in fear, often just halting and trying to start over....typically making the problem in the ride worse.

Pretty quickly my fear carried over to every horse I would ride and soon they were figuring out how easily it was to intimidate me. My fear was getting worse instead of better and I found myself wondering if I was going to be able to continue riding at all. How could something I love doing so much cause so much fear? How was I going to fix it?

I don't think I "fixed" my fear, but I was able to get it under control. I am now back to being a confident rider/trainer even with problem horses. I still have moments of fear in my ride, but I've learned to work through them. So for anyone suffering from fear while riding, here are some tips from someone who knows exactly where you are coming from.

Identify your fear
    The first step to overcoming your fear is figuring out what you are afraid of. Before you even get on your horse, sit down and write what you think may happen during your ride. What situation might occur, what is the worst case scenario? Be specific, "I'm afraid of getting hurt" is too vague. "I'm afraid my horse will spook, bolt, and I won't be able to get him under control" is narrowing it down. Some fear may not be physical, but emotional. "I'm afraid of losing at the show", or "I won't ride well and will be embarrassed in front of my friends/trainer/family/etc". All of these fears are normal, common, and important to recognize.

Babysitters are your friend
     Finding a trainer or a friend with a bombproof mount or schoolmaster to tote you around for awhile can do wonders for your confidence. If your fear is of getting injured, a solid mount will help you slowly build your confidence back up in your riding ability with each uneventful, quiet ride you have. If your fear is more emotional, having a solid schoolmaster that allows you to focus on your position, riding correctly, or learning a new movement on a horse who already knows them, will certainly help you prepare for getting back on your own mount. Don't underestimate the benefits of a lunge lesson as well. These can be instrumental in improving balance, gaining confidence, and conquering fear.

Finding an understanding and encouraging trainer is priceless
     I can not stress this enough. I was lucky enough to have a trainer who not only understood my fear, but has helped me every step of the way to get through it. It's a difficult balance of finding someone who is not judgmental, pushes you when you need it, and let's you quit when you need to. A rare find, and if you find one, don't let them go! A good trainer is not only your coach, but often your therapist, friend, and confidant. It's a must that they are someone you feel comfortable with, since the will inevitably see you both at your best and more importantly at your worst.

Find little ways to pump yourself up or relax
    Playing music before or during your ride, doing yoga, go kickboxing, hand inspirational posters of George Morris yelling at you, have family and friends come cheer your on....whatever is your thing, do it! Find ways to make you feel strong and excited about your rides again.

Find fear reducers
    Identify things that help reduce your fears. Riding in a group, lunging before you ride, avoid riding on windy days or in poor weather. Even dropping down a level at competitions can help relieve some anxiety. You are the expert on your fear and only you can know what will help. Don't consider it silly or superstitious if it benefits you and your horse.

Set goals
    We all use short term and long term goals for many things in our lives, including our riding. sing them to help overcome fears should be no exception. Set little, easily achieved goals for your short term and check them off as your accomplish them. Set long term goals for your riding that will help keep you on track.

Whether your riding fears are show related, performing a specific move, fear of getting injured, or just a general fear of failing, know that you are not alone. It's a long road of recovery, and to some extent there will always be fear....but, every time you share one of those wonderful moments of perfection on your horse, you know that it is all worth it!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fall Festival

Every year we have our Fall Festival at the Farm. Basically it's a cross between a fundraiser for our show team kids and an excuse to dress ourselves and our horses up in crazy costumes!

The festival kicked off at 4:00 with our Costume Parade. My daughter and her pony were the Princess and the Frog. My son was the Headless Horseman aboard his steed, Jazzy.

I actually got behind in planning costumes this year and had to throw one together for myself. I ended up dressing as Barbie...bad Barbie Equitation and all.... and Nitrox was Barbie's horse.

 As I watched and helped the others get their horses ready, I suddenly realized Nitrox was going to have a lot to look at. I had spent so much time trying to make sure I did a simple costume that wouldn't spook him to wear the first time, that I didn't bother to think about him having to look at all the other horses dressed in costumes. Luckily he handled it like a champ and was like having an old pro. He was really interested in the Superman Pony, but he mainly just wanted to touch him! The arena was really crowded, but he took everything in stride and handled everything really well. I was really proud of him.

After the costume parade we host a silent auction of baked goods, a raffle of donated items, and finally a spooky pumpkin walk through the wooded trails on property. I baked and brought 2 loaves of pumpkin raisin bread and a peach cobbler and both brought in good prices. I finally won a coconut cake, which was all I really wanted since everyone in my house hates coconut so I never get any! I also won some Charles de Knuffy Dressage DVD's in the raffle! Faith won a neat basket filled with cowgirl decorations for her room. Dwight won a little cute stuffed monkey he really wanted.

Lots of really great carved pumpkins were brought this year to be lit and placed on our pumpkin walk. We did the first walk through for the little kids and adults that was not scary at about dusk. Once it got dark, several of us adults went and hid in the woods on trail for the older kids to do the haunted pumpkin walk. We set up speaker playing halloween sounds, hid and jumped out, banged chains, screamed, and spooked. It was a lot of fun, and kids decided it was a crowd favorite and insisted we do it again next year. We are already planning how to make it more spooky!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rated Shows and Going Broke

This is not a "WHY IS EVERYTHING SO EXPENSIVE????" whiney post. I actually understand why everything is so expensive. The facility needs to make some money off having a show their and keeping the grounds nice to show on. USDF and USEF need to make some money for putting in the time and effort to host a show and have reps there to monitor it. Big, beautiful ribbons (what we all really want) are expensive, as are prizes and swag. Judges have to be paid, the list goes on and on. In other words:

Hosting a horse show is NOT cheap!

From the average horse owner and competitor who isn't fortunate enough to have tons of expendable cash to throw at show after show, weekend after weekend....showing rated shows is tough, and EXPENSIVE. It often requires lots of planning, and saving. Often times one weekend of showing one horse is a minimum $500, and that does not include gas to and from the show, or my hotel room, or food while I'm there.

Next year I have 2 horses I want competing in rated shows, and my daughter wants to start competing as well. UGH! I can hear my bank account crying out in pain at the thought.

I think one of the biggest struggles is all the fees before you even enter a show for the year. I have a new horse that I want to compete next year, let's look at those fees.

USDF Lifetime Horse                                                               $95
USEF Lifetime Horse                                                               $200
Renew USDF Participating Membership                                 $75
Renew USEF Competing Membership                                    $55

That leaves us with a grant total of $425 before I even begin showing. That is just to give me the ability to show for the season.

Then once you log into Show Secretary you can break out your calculator. $150 for your stall plus another $150 for your tack room stall. Your at $300 for the weekend with no classes entered!

There are ways to cut costs. Pony pooling (hitching a ride with a friend showing the same vent or hauling someone's horse for them if you have an open spot on your trailer) and splitting the gas. Sharing hotel rooms with fellow competitors, packing snacks, drinks and sandwiches to cut down on food purchases, take advantage of the free meal typically given at the competitor's party most shows host, sharing a tack room and splitting the cost, etc. Most of these are of course dependent on having a friend, coach, fellow boarder who is showing the same venue you are.

Of course it's still expensive. Our best bet is typically to plan to do as many schooling shows as are available and pick our favorite rated shows and save for them. KDA hosts awesome shows and the horse park is a wonderful venue to show at. I honestly was disappointed with River Glen this year. It costs just as much as going to the horse park, but we received a tiny flat ribbon as our 1st place ribbons and a sad potted plant that I somehow managed to not kill in the first week. The one thing is it is really close, but we probably won't be doing it this year. Greystone was a fun show, however we learned not to show there in July....soooooo hot! We didn't care for the footing there and the warm up arena was a bit of a sauna, but may still go back. The Pony Cup is a must! We are already saving for it!

If your goal is Regional Championships, if your lucky and plan right you may be able to get both your qualifying scores at one show. I recommend doing an early spring one, in case you don't get both your scores you can save and squeeze in one more before Championships. If you get both in the spring you can save up until Championships in the fall.

What does everyone else do to make showing more affordable?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Clear Skies and a Hunter Pace

After close to two weeks straight of rain, it finally cleared out late last week. Took several more days to dry the arenas out to the point they were not swimming pools. It had me seriously wishing I had a covered or indoor arena! I successfully crammed a weeks worth of students/lessons into Friday and Saturday, which both turned out beautiful.

Sunday, Faith and I headed out to Riverplains Farms to volunteer for the Hunter Pace. It is put on by our local Dressage and Combined Training Club each year and was a huge success with a big turnout. Last year the entire family volunteered and we worked the jump course. This year I left the boys at home to grocery shop and do some chores around the house while us girls worked the 4 mile Flat course. So glad to see so many people come out, having a laid back good time, and enjoying their horses. We definitely plan to ride it next year. There is even talks of have two next year, one in the spring and one in the fall!
Faith set up and ready for the first rider to check in
Start line for 4 mile flat course
Jump Course

I love Riverplains Farms. They often host the Tennessee Valley Hunts and are big on farm to market growing. The farm is huge, boasting everything from cornfields to chickens, cows to turkeys, pigs to horses, all on their lovely rolling property. Sunday the owners were also having a family reunion at their farm. The air came alive with the sounds of children running and laughing, horses hooves galloping, birds singing in the trees, and a guitar softly strumming from the front porch. As a brisk fall breeze blew, I sat with the sun warming my face and despite all the noise thought how quiet and peaceful it was out there. It's funny how a strange place can instantly feel so much like home.
A few riders out on the flat course that takes you around Riverplains Farms cornfield
The chickens were right next to our tent. I think Faith named them all.
Yesterday we were tired from a long weekend, but managed to pull ourselves together to get through our morning school work and head to the farm for afternoon lessons and riding. Was really happy with Nitrox putting on his brave boy pants and letting us ride him at dusk and into the dark. He was a bit nervous, but gave us a nice workout to end the day.
You can almost make Nitrox out in the picture! He did good into the dark. 
Looks like the weather for this week will be perfect. No rain, a little cool, but not cold temps and lots of ponies to ride! We will be spending part of our week getting ready for our Fall Festival at the Farm this weekend. It's an annual tradition that includes costumes for both humans and horses, a spooky pumpkin walk through the trails, silent auction, lots of food, and tons of fun. A fundraiser for our Show Team kids, they raise money for team items they want, like matching hats, sweatshirts, etc. The kids always come up with such creative costumes. I can't wait to share pics of what they came up with this year!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Custom Brushes

Who is spending $110 on these custom hand painted brushes? Not I! I do love them though!

These might make an easy DIY project with some paint and some stencils or name plates. I may have to give it a try.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sometimes to get better at competing we need to compete

Sounds crazy right. Let me explain.

There are many times when I'm getting ready for a show that all I can think of is "we are not ready". Maybe I should keep schooling and just sit this show out. This thought process can very easily become a vicious cycle of always schooling and never showing for fear of never being good enough. I think this happens more in Dressage than most other sports.

The reality is in Dressage we become perfectionists. Which in order to ride it well, that's kind of a must. The desire to make each movement the best it can be, that's what ends up making it beautiful. In seeking perfection, sometimes we talk ourselves out of competing when we know we are not yet perfect. No ride is perfect, that's why we haven't seen a 100% yet in the show ring. You don't need to be perfect to get out there!

There comes a point in our riding, if we want to compete, then that is exactly what we need to do. Even if it is a hot mess. When we show, we get nervous and it affects our rides. We have to learn to ride through those nerves. Like anything else showing takes practice. Practice showing. Heck, that's why they call them "Schooling" Shows!

 I am a pretty good rider. I struggle with fear that sometimes holds me back from being a great rider...but all in all, I am a good rider. I, however, am NOT a good TEST rider. Test riding is far different from schooling. I can do 10 stretchy circles in schooling and finally get a really great one and feel really good about it. In the test there is only one, and sneaks up on you awfully quickly. By the time you finally get your horse stretching half way decent....crap, circle over. I typically spend the majority of my test just trying to get through one movement and on to the next. There is a point in each test where my mind lets out a huge sigh of relief when it realizes "We are almost done!"

Learning to test ride takes time and practice. Often one of the best ways to practice is in a ring in front of a judge. The great part about schooling shows is the judges often write really helpful comments on how to improve your ride. Often it's repeating things we already knew, but will reinforce working harder on those things when you get back home.

One day while riding through a Training Level Test something happened. The test slowed down. Instead of feeling like everything was rushing up on me and I was scrambling to get through each movement, I had time to think, to feel, and to ride the movement. I was able to prep for the next move. Ride the corners, create bend, half halt. My husband probably describes it best with a football reference. When you first start playing the game seems to be screaming by you at 100 mph and you can't keep up. When you start getting good, the game slows down and you can see the plays. That's how it was for me. I could see my test finally. That's when you know you are learning to ride the test.

So get out there and compete, and get better at competing. And just remember that on horse show day it's never too early to drink!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Equine Chiropractor, Interesting Article

I just read an interesting article that drummed up some internal debate. I use a chiropractor about three to four times a year on Pilgrim. I use a DVM who also underwent chiropractor training. We can always tell when he needs one done. Very tight under saddle, tail swishing, resistance, and not forward. After she comes out, a whole new horse. We always see a major improvement after he is done.

The article LINK-Click me, written by a well known DVM, basically states that chiropractic work on horses does not work and we are dumping our money down the drain using one. There are some things I am hesitant on, especially if no studies have been done to show they actually work, like massage. Acupuncture is currently in studies and is being shown to cause improvement. I don't really question my chiropractic care since I see visible improvement in my horses behavior under saddle. I'm certainly not going to quit using one, but the article does raise valid points, especially about training of Equine Chiropractors.

Who else uses a Chiropractor and what are your thoughts?

Fun DIY Stall Plates

We used to make these as kids in 4-H for our stalls at competitions. I decided I wanted to make one for my new boy. Instead of hanging it on a stall door, I'm going to find a place in the house to hang it. Eventually I'm going to add a way to hang ribbons below it. I've toyed with adding doll rods to hang them from.

So for those of you who want to make one for your special critter:

Step 1: Buy wooden plaque. I got mine for about $3 from Walmart in the crafts section. It's how I got the idea. I was trying to find a fun art project for the kids to do and came home with one for myself to do too!

Step 2: Pick a base color. If you like the wood look you can stain the wood to the darkness you want. For mine I did Metallic Gold. I like to use spray paints for the base as it gives a nice even finish. Let dry at least 2 hours.

Step 3: Decorate! I painted his name on it in sparkly blue and my daughter helped pick decorative stickers and we glued on some bling for fun. If you are super artsy I've seen some with the face of their horse painted on it as well. I'm not that talented, so I stuck with simple.

Step 4: Hang on your stall, around the barn, or in your home!

These are so fun and so easy to customize to your own style and taste. Like for Pilgrim I'm going to wood burn his name in the plaque and stain the wood a cherry color.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pretty, Shiny Things

My post about luxury made me think of some of the more material lux items that I sometimes daydream about. Especially coming back from some Regional Championships where I saw lots of fabulous stuff. Oh Dressage world, how you tempt me with all your glittery, sparkly, shiny things.  Hmmm, let me count the ways:

1. I am absolutely in love with this bridle.

 It's gorgeous, would look great on Nitrox, and isn't completely out of the realm of affordability. I'm currently saving my pennies.

2. Custom boots. I wish I could make some excuse for why I have to have a pair of these, alas they are out of my budget.

***On a bright note, several companies are now offering custom bling work to just about anything anymore. So you can make your boots look like you took a second mortgage on the house to get them, and not have to!!!! The Secret Magpie, is one of my faves.

3. Blinged out helmets, yes please! Makes me want to topple off something so I have an excuse to replace my current helmet. Maybe one of the electric ones at Walmart will buck me off.

4. Coats with color

Maybe it's that Western Pleasure side of me crying out for crystals and color, but I was so excited to see so much bling and color going on at Regional Championships. There was even a girl a saw wearing a VERY purple show coat. That might be a bit over the top, even for me, but life's too short to wear things you fly your fashion freak flag!

5. Crystal Plaiting Bands. Yes, they exist, and yes, I want some!

What are some things you are currently drooling over?