Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #30

Day #30 - A photo (or two!) of my horse being herself


Reva
Her curiosity and love of kids is adorable...July 2009
I love those dopey ears and sweet expression! Spring 2010
Dreamy
She is such a packer with my son...December 2010
This is so Dreamy...that unamused expression...WHAT is my mother doing now??  Taken at WEG practice at the Red Mile 2010


Sparky
This is her mean mare face.  ;-D Spring 1998
But really she is such a sweetheart...winter 2007

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #29

Day #29 - One thing my horse did that really affected me


Reva
Bringing Reva to her first ever off-farm experience in 2010 really made me proud.  It was the first time I really asked her to completely trust me and I was excited to see that she did.  It gave me confidence that I was on the right track with her and a glimpse at how she might act at other off-farm environments.  She was such a quick learner and really did "all the right things".  Of course, her first show was pretty gratifying too, but the prompt says one thing.  ;-)
Reva at the 2010 Chris Lombard clinic
Dreamy
Out of all the experiences we have had, I would say my trip to the World Equestrian Games and Dreamy's USDF success stands out to me the most.  2010 was a huge year for us.  I know there were other more poignant moments with Dreamy, but riding at WEG, earning good dressage scores and ultimately our All-Breed national championships was such a hard earned goal for me.  It was surreal to truck my horse to Kentucky last September and be a part of the Standardbred demos.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in so many ways.  And then I had a similar feeling when I flew to Florida last December (almost a year ago now!) to attend the USDF Symposium as a vendor (Tina and I created a Standardbred Dressage booth courtesy of the USTA!) and the USDF Awards Gala!  It might very well be the only time I attend both my lifetime.


I'm in the middle, posing with Heather (left) and Tina (right)
Sparky
Obviously as my first horse, Sparky has affected me in many wonderful ways over the nearly 19 years I have owned her.  But there is one incident from the first spring I owned her that will forever stand out to me.  I was boarding her for a short time at a local farm near my middle school (I was in the eighth grade) where I could get off the bus at the barn and my mom would pick me up later in the afternoon.  I loved that part of this barn (most other parts, not so much, but that is a different story not for the blog).  We had permission to ride in the flat grass field directly next door to the barn, as it was owned by one of my classmate's parents.  Being young and foolish, I checked the field for holes but that is about it.  We were trotting along the edge, close to some bushes near the fence line of the boarding barn and I heard a weird rustling noise. I caught the sight of something and quickly realized it was a wire.  I brought Sparky down to a walk and halt immediately.  I hopped off and saw that it was actually old BARB WIRE and it had somehow gotten caught around Sparky's hind leg.  AHHHH!  The only way to get her free was to drop the reins.  I was close enough to the barn to yell for help, but I also knew that I needed to get her free RIGHT NOW and not wait for help.  Plus, I worried that yelling would make Sparky nervous.  Bear in mind, I had owned this horse for about seven months at this point.  All of these thoughts went through my mind in about half a second.  I spoke soothingly to Sparky, dropped the reins, and continued to talk with her, telling her STAND, good girl, you're OK, STAND.....and so on.  Thankfully she stood like a statue, never moving away or even bending down to reach for grass.  I was able to disentangle her hind leg very quickly from the wire and there were no cuts.  We were very, very lucky.  I will never forget how it felt to have my horse stand so still without anyone holding on to her and allow me to lift her hind leg out of the barb wire mess.  It amazes me that she trusted me THAT much so early in our relationship.  It still amazes me today.  She is not a flighty mare, but she can be hot and opinionated and patience is not always her best virtue.  ;-)  I am convinced she knew something was wrong and that I was going to help her.  (And the barb wire was cleaned up after that!  Phew!)


My senior pic with Sparky!  1997

Monday, November 28, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #28

Day #28 - The current status of my horse's training


Reva
Reva is the least trained of my horses, with only seven months of under saddle training.  She is solid walk/trot, while her canter is coming along.  She will pick up the left lead without issue but the right lead only about 80% of the time.  She understands how to reach into the connection with the bit and has a pretty decent rhythm as long as she stays relaxed.  Her relaxation is an issue at times though and she is currently resisting true straightness/ bend/shoulder fore.  When she resists, she gets quick.  She hold her tension in her jaw, specifically her TMJ, and will grind her teeth.  She will get a complete chiropractic work-up this spring, or maybe even earlier.  (Her teeth are done every 6 months and were just floated at the end of September...)  There are moments of absolute brilliance, where her trot becomes amazing and she is so soft in the bridle.  And there are moments of garbage too...LOL!  I have to remind myself she has only been under saddle for seven months now.  And before that she had ~30 rides on her.  So I am pleased where she is in her current training.  :-)  She is going to be at Intro level next year and if we show in open shows again I will keep her in 2-gait.  I hope to move up to Training level and 3-gait with her in 2013.


Dreamy
Dreamy can school all the First level movements minus the canter loops.  Well, we can do them but they are not good enough for competition.  :-0  And we can do Second level movements of shoulder-in, renvers, travers (harder), and turn on the haunches, but she will never show at that level.  She is safe and handy over fences up to 2'6" and I will keep her at that height or lower.  I know she could do higher, but as she is almost 21 years old I am happy with keeping her sound.  :-)  Dreamy is probably trained as far along as she is ever going to be.  Her canter is not a "normal" dressage canter, but it is pretty decent.  Right now my only plan is to do a few Beginner Novice events with her next year and foxhunt in the fall.  If we do any straight dressage it will be at First level and 3-gait at open shows.


Sparky
Miss Sparky is retired.  :-)  She is as trained as she will ever be.  She reached First level movements, jumping up to 3', and Preliminary level combined driving before retirement.  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #27

Day #27 - Any horses I may have considered instead of my horse


Reva
Choosing to own Reva was sort of a ridiculous impulsive decision.  I had received two emails about her from my friend Helene and fell in love with her photos.  I knew I wanted a young horse in the future, but I did not think the future was that day in July 2009.  LOL!  Oh well.  I am glad I own her but did not consider any horse instead of her.  
   
Dreamy
I looked for a number of weeks for an older retired Standardbred that needed a home back in early 2003 when I decided to bring my mare Sparky home.  I figured I could find something older with issues that needed a home and could be a companion for Sparky.  I called and emailed about many different mares through a local Standardbred forum, but none of them sounded like anything I really wanted, so I never met any of them.  I found out through Sparky's massage therapist (at the time) that Dreamy needed a home, and having known her for years since she lived at a farm near my grandfather's, I knew I wanted her.  So while I did inquire about many other horses, Dreamy was the only one I took seriously.


Sparky
My parents and I looked for my first horse for a LONG time, much to the chagrin of my 13 year old self!  LOL!  It was at least a year, and we looked at many different horses and called about a ton of them.  At the time there was no internet (gasp!) with DreamHorse.com and all that  so I would scour the statewide Uncle Henry's publication on a weekly basis.  Sparky just sort of happened to fall into our laps and while she was much different than the fancy Morgans we had been looking at (she was in a bad situation and her abilities were unknown), she was born at the farm where I began my riding career.  Once I knew she needed a new home, there was no other horse for me.  We bought her the day and brought her home within an hour after meeting her.


It is funny to write this all down, because it now dawns on me that all three of my horses have come to me through word-of-mouth.  And all of them came to me virtually unknown...my parents bought Sparky for me within an hour after meeting her, Dreamy I only faintly knew from the occasional visits when she had a foal each year (realistically, I think I met her twice in that many years), and I had Reva sent to my farm straight from NJ never having met her!  Wow, way to be a super careful horse person!  HA HA HA!  I think I broke every single rule in the horse buying book.  :-p

Saturday, November 26, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #26

Day #26 - The conditions my horse lived in before I got her


Reva
Reva lived at Showplace Farm in NJ before I got her.  She was with John Duer, son of Carter Duer of Peninsula Farm in KY.  I actually have a photo of her in her stall at Showplace (below)!  She was well taken care of by my friend Rob who was her groom!  (I totally creeped this photo from Rob's Facebook page.  Ha ha ha)


Reva at Showplace...it is dated March 2009 on Rob's FB album.  


Dreamy
Dreamy lived at a private farm in Wells, ME before I got her.  She was taken care of and had her own small paddock.  But I can't say she was spoiled like she is here!


The day I brought Dreamy home to my farm in 2003.
Sparky
Sparky had the worst living situation of my three mares.  She was at a private home in Weeks Mills, ME when we bought her.  She was chained in a straight stall with no bedding, hay, or water but lots of manure!  There were chickens all throughout the barn and lots of chicken poop on her back.  :-(  She was not quite up to proper weight and it was as close to a rescue as possible without really being a rescue.  It was a bad situation that could have become much worse.  
I'd have to scan an earlier photo, but this is from probably 1996.  
My farm is not fancy or beautiful, but it is safe and my mares are pampered with the best I can provide!  :-D

Friday, November 25, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #25

Day #25 - A common misconception about my horse


Oh, this is an easy one!  :-D  There are WAY TOO MANY misconceptions about the Standardbred.


Standardbreds do not make good show horses.  FALSE!
Of course not!  Just take a look around this blog here!  :-D  Standardbreds can be retrained for many different disciplines.  The neat thing about Standardbreds is that you can find them in many different sizes and shapes, so you are bound to find one that can jump, or do dressage, or turn barrels, or cut cows...or do it all!  Standardbreds are incredibly versatile and enjoying having a job!  They are general very well behaved at shows as they have "seen it all" at the track.


Standardbreds cannot canter.  FALSE!
They are trained on the track to NOT canter, so it is not as much a physical limitation but a mental block.  Generally once they understand you WANT them to canter, they have a very easy time learning to balance and produce a decent canter.  Of course, some horses might have physical limitations as in any breed.  Not every Standardbred will have a canter similar to a fancy warmblood, but some do!  :-)  Truthfully, with patience and tactful riding, a Standardbred can do whatever you want to teach it to do!


Standardbreds are crazy race horses! FALSE!
Oh geez!  Standardbreds are the most non crazy horses out there!  Granted, you will find a crazy one out there somewhere, I am sure, but in general Standardbreds have super temperaments and very mellow personalities.  I gallop my Standardbred mare Dreamy on cross country courses in a French link snaffle.  (Actually she has always been in a plain snaffle.)  


All Standardbreds are ugly.  FALSE!
Well, you can certainly find a Standardbred out there that you find ugly.  I have seen my fair share of ugly _______ (fill in the blank with any/all breeds!!)  Standardbreds are bred for speed, not beauty, but even the most Roman nosed one of the bunch will have a heart of gold...so truly how can you call a sweet horse ugly!  ;-)  


Standardbreds who are no longer racing are all lame and crippled.  FALSE!
Of course, there are those who stop racing because they truly have been injured.  You will see stifle injuries as the most common I would say, with some splint and suspensory injuries too.  But generally, unless you want to compete heavily, a Standardbred with a properly healed racing injury will be fine for light riding.  But most Standardbreds come off the track because they no longer have the desire to race, but their legs are clean.  A failed racehorse is not a failed horse.  


And my biggest pet peeve...Standardbreds have to be rescued from the track.  FALSE!!
Arg!!!!!  Hearing this makes me ANGRY!  There are bad people involved in EVERY single breed and EVERY single industry/discipline.  The vast majority of Standardbred horsemen and women are wonderful owners and care meticulously for their horses.  They depend on their horses for their livelihood and it would make no sense to mistreat them.  Do Standardbreds often need new careers and/or be rehomed after their time on the track?  Yes.  But they do not need to be "rescued" from anything!!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #24

Day #24 - Where I was in my horsemanship before I got my horse


I started riding at age 6 and became the proud owner of my first horse Sparky in January of 1993 when I was 13.  I was a confident young rider at that point, walk/trot/canter and jump.  I did not have a ton of experience with different horses but I think I was a pretty decent rider.  I spent two years prior leasing a very hot Morgan mare named Tiffany, who taught me how to be a tactful yet effective rider.  Sparky taught me patience and the importance of trust.  


Dreamy came into my life much later, in 2003.  Hmm..I just noticed that it was ten years after I got Sparky; actually it was ten years and four months.  ;-)  By the time I got Dreamy, I had been through college where I rode different horses multiple times a week in the equestrian program.  All of my elective credits were earned in the equine program and I actually have a minor in equine studies.  I don't think I would have been as confident in training Dreamy myself without the time I spent studying with Janet Briggs and Amy (something) at school.  I am thankful to now have a wonderful instructor Judy Thibeau who has helped me immensely in the past three years.


Through all my successes with Dreamy, there have certainly been many mistakes.  The time I put into her has allowed me to train Reva well.  I think the things that took me forever to learn with Dreamy has taken much less time with Reva (THANK GOD).  I do think that riding school horses (aka horses who know more than me, Dreamy, and Reva combined) would be beneficial to me at this point in my riding.  But it is hard enough to find the time and money to take lessons on my own horses, so taking lessons on other horses has just not happened.  But I am very happy where I am in my horsemanship.  I wish I had time for more lessons and clinics, but overall I cannot complain.  :-)  I am a solid amateur rider, but by no means extraordinary and I will never be a trainer or instructor.  I only have Second Level dreams, so it is all good.  :-D


On a different note, I am kind of getting bored with the different NaBloPoMo prompts I have been using.  LOL!  Thankfully there are only six more days left!  I am not always a great blogger, as I have times where I blog a lot and then times when I ignore my blog, so I figured I would need the prompts to help me along.  Part of me wishes I had just done my own thing, but I like to finish what I start.  


OH!  And today I hit 80 followers!  Yay!  I love my loyal readers and love when you leave a comment!  If you are reading and have not yet added yourself as a "follower" to my blog, please do!  :-)  Look in the upper left hand side of the blog and click the link that says "follow".  :-D  Thanks!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #23

Day #23 - Any competing I do with my horse


I love to show and any regular readers of my blog know I do a lot of competing.  Dressage shows, open pleasure shows, three and two phase events, versatility challenges, I love them all.  I have shown at schooling shows, USDF rated shows, "AA" rated shows and everything in between.  I have shown all over New England and have gone to New Jersey for the last four years to attend the National Standardbred Show.  I don't need to bore you with all the details of all the many places I have shown!


In many ways, showing helps motivate me.  My tack is cleaner when I show too!  LOL!  ;-)  Being at home with no one to ride with (unless I make specific plans) can be difficult to keep focused.  It is too easy to take a day off from riding if I am tired and no one is there encouraging me to ride with them, so knowing I have to prepare for a show helps keep me motivated to ride six days a week.  I like having challenges and setting goals with my horses.  But simply making training goals are not enough for my competitive nature.  I like to show in order to test our training and of course ribbons are FUN!  ;-)  But showing for me is also a social opportunity.  The camaraderie and silly memories are just as much fun as winning a ribbon. 


Now, I do want to say that I have nothing against those who chose to not show for any variety of reasons.  Showing is not the "be all, end all" in terms of horses.  I respect people who do not show just as much as those who do.  If enjoying your horse without showing is what makes you happy, GO FOR IT!  :-)  I just know for me personally I would not be happy without showing at least a few times a year.  I don't think that showing defines who a person is.  Of course, I like sharing my successes here on my blog and posting pics, etc. etc.  But does that make me a better horseman?  No way!  But of course, this is all my opinion and I am sure there are others out there who disagree.  That is OK!  I just wanted to make it clear that just because I love to show does not mean I look down upon anyone who does not.


Reva's first show ~ May 2011
Ribbons from Dreamy's first show ~ August 2006
My first show with Sparky (and our first blue ribbon!) ~ York County Riders 1994

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #22

Day #22 - What specific disciplines do I do with my horse?


I grew up doing dressage and eventing, with some pleasure shows in there as well.  But in the last two years I apparently have gotten bored, because I have tried western on both my Standardbreds and saddleseat this past year on Reva. (Damn those MHA shows I have been going to where I have met Saddlebred and Hackney friends!  LOL!  ;-)  I really want to try team penning some day and I am DEFINITELY going foxhunting next year!


So specifically, I am a dressage and event rider, but I also like to have fun and make my horses versatile.  A good horse is a good horse, regardless of what seat you ride.  I am not a snob when it comes to breeds or disciplines.  It is actually pretty fun to bring along four saddles and four outfits to a show!  Ha ha ha.  


Reva
In her one year of showing, she did in-hand (hunter and western), showmanship, equitation, hunter under saddle and over fences, western, trail, dressage, and saddleseat.  Whew!
Reva's first time showing saddleseat!  MHA Labor Day Classic 2011


Dreamy
She has done in-hand (hunter), showmanship, equitation, hunter under saddle and over fences, roaster under saddle, western, trail, barrel racing, pole bending, dressage, eventing, and lots of marshaling at the track!
Dreamy's first time down centerline!  SMDA in 2007
Sparky
We did it all...in-hand (hunter), showmanship, equitation, hunter under saddle and over fences, western, trail, barrel racing, pole bending, dressage, eventing, pleasure driving, and combined driving.


Sparky and I in 2006 at a CDE at Preliminary level...she won it!

Monday, November 21, 2011

2011 MHA Banquet

The Maine Horse Association year end banquet was this past Saturday night.  It was a very fun evening with three of my horsey girlfriends, Tania, Shelly, and Katie!  And of course we got to see all of our MHA show buddies too!


Reva and Dreamy both won year end awards from MHA this year!  


Dreamy
Reserve Champion Training level dressage - 67.275%
Reserve Champion First level dressage -  61.99%


Reva 
Champion Introductory level dressage -  65.945%
Recipient of the Standardbred Pleasure Challenge Trophy
Champion Standardbred 2-Gait Pleasure
Champion Standardbred In-Hand
Reserve Champion English Horse In-Hand


The dressage divisions and English Horse In-Hand were open to all breeds.  I am super proud of them both!  Not bad for Reva's first year showing...and having only been under saddle for seven months (with about 30 rides before that!)  I am already excited for 2012!


Showin' 'em how it's done Standardbred style!
Here is the STB Challenge trophy donated last year by the Standardbred Performance Society.   I designed the trophy...bought the pottery on Etsy.com and my brother made the wooden holder.  My friend Shelly's horse won it last year and Reva won it this year!
Reva's three championships also earned us a garment bag, bridle bag, and stall front bag.  Yay!

No photo session is complete with being ridiculously foolish...yes, I am 32 but act like a kid.  :-D  This pic is actually sort of scary!  HA HA HA

NaBloPoMo Day #21

Day #21 - How my horse responds to different environments

For the most part, all three of my horses respond calmly to new environments.  I am lucky to own horses with good minds.  Sparky was always pretty chill when I took her somewhere new and I never had to worry much about her.  We showed all over the place and she was normally the same horse at home as she was at a show or on the trail.

Dreamy is very calm too, but the transition from the dressage warm up ring to the competition ring used to be a problem for her.  I think much of it was because I would get tense.  We would sometimes leave our best ride in the warm up.  But we have not had an issue with that for the last two years.  Dreamy has been all over the place with me, from the quiet Acadia National Park trails, to the electric atmosphere at WEG 2010, to horse shows all over New England, to the harness racing tracks, to the Maine beaches.  She might look around in a new environment but stays smart and I have had few problems.  She used to "lose her halt" during the first year I marshaled at the track with her, but we have been able to successfully work through that.  (See below.)

Reva is very laid back in new environments for her age.  She disliked the covered ring at Skowhegan, so the two shows we did there presented more of a challenge than shows we did in an open ring.  But Dreamy never liked that ring either, nor do many other horses. For her first year out and about, I am very pleased with her mature and calm response to new places.  She was stabled overnight with strange horses as well and never made a peep.

I think the key to having horses stay calm in any environment is to stay calm yourself.  Horses pick up on so much from their rider/handler.  If I am apprehensive, they figure they ought to be as well.  I have always approached new environments as though we have done it 100 times already.  And normally the horse will follow my brave lead.  I much rather work through something than give up.  For example, when Dreamy used to be unable to halt when we first started marshaling at the tracks, instead of fighting with her or giving up on marshaling, I worked her through it.  I would make her halt for two seconds and allow her to move off MY LEG, not when she figured it was time.  I would do this 164686903 times in the course of one afternoon on the track...by the fifth race or so, Dreamy would get bored with me and just stand still.  LOL!  I wouldn't fight with her, I would just outwit her.  And instead of whining about it and saying, "My horse is bad at the track", I just brought her there as much as I could.  DISCLAIMER: Dreamy was never dangerous at the track.  She just felt she needed to be in motion rather than stand still.  Obviously, I would not have ridden a dangerous horse who put me or any of the drivers/racers in jeopardy.  So now Dreamy is completely laid back at the track and loves to stand along the fence greeting the fans.  :-D

I think there are times when I have done things with my horses that other people think I am crazy for doing.  I am not saying I do anything dumb, because I certainly don't, but I really don't get all caught up in worry about new situations. I know I have a trusting relationship with them before I ask them to do something.  And I think I am sometimes braver than I realize...something that doesn't make me nervous might make another rider VERY nervous.  I figure I might as well try something out and see what happens.  I know my horses are not dangerous and I am able to be brave for them.  I am pretty sure that I would have never been so successful with Reva this year at shows if I had not been brave for her.  She follows my lead and has come to the conclusion that if I say something is OK, it probably is.  I hope that never changes.  There is a great line here from a clinic with Reva in 2010.  The clinician, Chris Lombard, "admitted to me that he did not believe me in the beginning when I said Reva was confident.  He figured she would be timid, just from seeing her in the first few moments in the ring, spooking at the crossrail in front of the audience.  He was happy to say he was wrong.  He said that she was confident because I was confident.  He said that with a nervous or timid rider/handler, he was not sure that Reva would be so calm.  That was pretty cool to hear as well."  Reva has not doubted me yet and for that I am thankful.  Of course I was nervous the first time I showed her, but I made deliberate decisions regarding that show to set us both up for success.  And it paid off!  :-)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #20

Day #20 - How my horse was trained


Reva and Dreamy
No one ever sat on Dreamy before me and only one person (my friend Helene) had ever sat on Reva...and it was for a bareback pony ride around the NJ farm.  Both of my Standardbreds were trained by me, an adult amateur who does well only because she works her a** off.  ;-)  I would never make it as a horse trainer and I am OK with that.  I have to work hard to figure out my timing and feel, and I take lessons as much as I can to make sure I am headed in the right direction.  I had started Dreamy under saddle for about a year before I started regular lessons with her; thankfully I have been taking lessons on Reva all along.  I ride both of them dressage 95% of the time, but will put jumping tack on Dreamy to jump (which is never more than once a week) and was riding Reva saddleseat a handful of times this past summer in order to show.  I take dressage lessons as well.  I personally feel that a dressage foundation will allow a horse to pursue any discipline.  I especially like a dressage basis for Standardbreds because it teaches them how to move their body correctly and how to balance.


Sparky
Sparky was trained under saddle before I bought her as a 10 year old.  But she was out of shape, out of balance, and scared to death of accepting the bit.  She had been at the mercy of a series of unforgiving owners...one prior owner told me he had to use a "running W" to throw her to the ground because she was "difficult" to train.  O.O  Sparky's first few owners were young girls who probably did not put a very solid foundation on her.  The young man who sold her to me said if he wanted to win a race against his buddies, he would ride Sparky.  When asked how he slowed her down, he added, "Oh, it only takes a few sharp tugs and she slows right down."  He said this while pointing to a deeply ported western curb bit.  Yikes.  


I was only 13 years old when I got Sparky and decided to take her back to the true basics, working her in long lines, teaching her voice commands on the longe, and treating her like she was a youngster.  I built a trusting relationship with her for three months before I even got on her back.  (Plus, I got her in January and without an indoor it was no big deal to wait until April to ride! LOL!)  My farrier at the time chided me for taking so long to ride her.  I remember my instructor at the time having me use a pelham, standing martingale, and a chambon (but not at all once...LOL) in the beginning with Sparky before just using a regular eggbutt snaffle.  I rode "balance seat" and did dressage, jumping, eventing, and hunter under saddle.  I wish I had ridden DRESSAGE at that time because I think she would have come along better in the beginning with a pure dressage basis (and without the gadgets.)  :-/  It was not until four years after I got Sparky that I really focused on her dressage training, which is what made her an even stronger horse and eventually a superb driving horse.



Saturday, November 19, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #19

Day #19 - Advice for riders with similar horses


Training and riding a Standardbred successfully takes patience.  And more patience.  And then more patience on top of that.  Did I mention patience?


Standardbreds are super easy to train.  And they are also the hardest horses to train.  Why you ask?  They are easy because they have such great attitudes.  At the track (or in training for the track), they have seen it all.  They have the mentality from the Morgan and the athleticism from the Thoroughbred.  You can literally walk and trot them the first time you get on.  Standardbreds have the best work ethic I have ever seen in a breed.


But they are also difficult to train, especially if you want to compete and do well.  Walk and trot is easy enough, but once you start asking for the canter and more advanced movements, they need to understand balance and connection to the bit.  Obviously, Standardbreds are not trained on the track to move like a dressage horse...so really it is a matter of "re-training" and re-muscling them.  They CAN canter, but because they are gaited horses they will always have a tendency to get lateral.  I began taking lessons in 2008 because I KNEW that I needed help to bring Dreamy (and now Reva) along.  It would have certainly taken less time if my instructor rode my horses for me, but I am proud I have done their training myself even if it has taken double the time.


On the lower right side, click on "training" or "riding lessons".  I have written many posts since 2008 about the training successes and difficulties with Dreamy and now with Reva.  It has been a journey like no other.  I have learned to be a better rider.  I have learned that while it would be a whole lot easier to ride dressage on a fancy breed, it is infinitely more satisfying to do it on a Standardbred.  I am certainly not the best rider out there.  I am a true adult amateur who has to fight with her (short and stubby) body to do what I want it to do.  I do not have great timing and have to really think about what I am asking my horse.


I have written about cantering, my frustrations, more frustration, the difference in a Standardbred's outline, and even when things come together and it makes you cry with joy.  I started my blog as a way to track Dreamy's progress, but I also hope to help other Standardbred owners out there.  If I can be successful, anyone can be!  It just takes hard work, determination, and a really wonderful breed.  :-D  And LOTS of patience!

Friday, November 18, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #18

Day #18 - My future plans with my horse


Reva
My hope with Reva is to continue her dressage training, with some hunters, western, and saddleseat thrown in to keep her versatile.  Someday we will try eventing once she is less green over fences.  I'm also dying to try sidesaddle someday... ;-)  If I can ever afford it, I want to get a cart and harness for her to become a (pleasure) driving horse; all of my cob-sized driving equipment is WAAY too small for her.  I hope to take her to at least First Level in dressage and maybe Second...  ;-D  Of course, we will move up to 3-gait for hunters/ western/saddleseat when she is ready as well.  Next year I plan to do Introductory A and B with her and aim for Intro C in the fall of 2012.  Of course, it goes without saying that I want to keep her happy and healthy and enjoy fun things such as trail rides, beach rides, and trips to Acadia!


Dreamy
Dreamy has achieved all of the goals I set out to achieve and more!  Her future could be that of lawn ornament and I would be OK with that.  She owes me nothing while I owe her everything.  In the future, I want to do more Beginner Novice events, even if we only do a few next year, since moving up this past fall at the 2-phase went well.  As long as she is sound and happy, I will keep jumping her.  I would do another year of Prix Caprilli but it appears the local dressage association (SMDA) has taken it off their class lists for next year!  D-:  I am super sad about that.  I am not sure I will continue showing in dressage shows, but instead just the eventing.  The BIG plan next year is to try foxhunting, which runs from August to November, with the Wentworth Hunt.  I am planning to attend their final hunt of the year next week as a guest.  YAY!!!!  And of course, keeping her happy and healthy and having fun is top priority.


Sparky
I plan to keep Sparky as healthy and happy as possible as she ages.  She has earned her retirement and pampered lifestyle.  :-)  Next year she will turn 30, and I hope to celebrate many more of her birthdays.  She has kept her weight very well (sometimes too well...LOL) on excellent second crop hay and Triple Crown senior grain.  Each day with her is special and I don't take any of the time for granted.  :-)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #17

Day #17 - Things my horse has taught me



  • Patience
  • Trust
  • Determination
  • Sportsmanship
  • Hard work
  • Sacrifice
  • Priorities
  • Forgiveness
  • Responsibility





Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #16

Day #16 - Progress I have made with my horse since I bought her

Reva
Since Reva came into my life back in 2009, she has made a lot of progress.  I taught her to walk, trot, and canter under saddle.  In fact, besides a bareback pony ride by my friend Helene, I am the only person who has ridden her at all.  She has learned how to be a "fancy show horse" (LOL) by going to day and overnight shows here in Maine and the National show in New Jersey.  She has made a huge amount of progress in a short time, and I am super proud of her.  :-)




Dreamy
Obviously, Dreamy is much the same way as Reva.  She had actually never had anyone on her back when I got her years ago.  She has progressed from a completely unbroke 15 year old broodmare into a successful show horse and trusted friend.  Her awards are listed on the right side of my blog...but more importantly she she has become a wonderful ambassador for her breed and one of my "heart horses".  She made me grow as a rider and learn to appreciate the training process.


Sparky
Sparky was "trained" under saddle when I first got her, but she was not properly trained.  She also had trust issues with humans...I had a hard time convincing her to let me brush her and catch her in the pasture/stall.  She was successful in the show ring in many disciplines, jumped around many cross country courses, trotted up center line for me numerous times, and learned a new discipline (carriage driving) at age 18.  She turned into my best friend and the most trusted equine partner that I think I will ever have in my life.  :-)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #15

Day #15 - Any special tricks my horse knows


None of my three mares know any tricks.  I have thought about teaching them to bow, but I never really followed through with it.  I guess I am not really a trick type of person.  My horses are not circus acts.  ;-)  Asking my horses to do tricks feels as though I am degrading them.


I do have a funny story about tricks though.  When I first got Sparky years ago, I found out by accident that she had been taught how to "beg" for treats.  As her eleventh owner in her ten years of life, it did not surprise me that someone along the line taught her a trick.  I was about to feed her a treat but got sidetracked talking to someone (I think it was my mother).  Sparky was on crossties and knew I had the treat.  She ended up raising her foreleg and "begging" for the treat.  I remember laughing and finding it super funny.  I tried it again, and she lifted her foreleg again.  I never did it too much, but every once in a while I would ask for her to "beg".  I know I did it much more when I was younger, and would often show new people how my horse "knew a trick". 

Monday, November 14, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #14

Day #14 - Any regrets that I have with my horse


Yikes...this is a hard one.  I try to not have regrets in my life, because even when I change my mind about something, I try to remember there was a time when it was what I wanted.  There is a much more succinct quote like that somewhere, but I am too lazy to Google it.  ;-)


Reva
I kind of regret waiting so long to really start Reva.  I waited to put her into more serious work this year, her five year old year, when I wish I had done this when she was four.  But then again, I don't want to rush her, as she is a horse who has had MANY MANY training miles as a yearling and two year old.  So what is one year?  I am really happy with her and I do think it was a good choice.  But if I had to pick a regret, I deep down wish I had started her a year earlier.


Dreamy
Hmmm...you know, I have been sitting here staring at my screen for a few minutes trying to decide what I regret with Dreamy.  I can't think of anything.  The one thing I sometimes wish is that I could afford to put her into professional training with my instructor.  I think it would have taken MUCH less time to bring her along than me doing it myself.  But you know, then I realize that even if I could afford it, I really don't think I would have ever done it.  There is something so much more satisfying about being able to say that everything that horse knows is because I TAUGHT IT TO HER MYSELF.  Granted, I have to own the good AND the bad (ha ha ha), but knowing I have trained her (with my instructor's guidance, of course, but I am her only rider) makes our competitive success that much better.  No, we don't always win.  But when we do well, it is because of our hard work together.  So I guess I cannot really call this a regret after all.  Sometimes I am too hard on myself and think how much better trained she would be if I had my instructor training her for me.  :-p


Sparky  
I know I have made some stupid decisions with Sparky.  Having owned her since I was a know-it-all thirteen year old (ha ha), there is no way I could say I have always done everything perfectly with her.  I boarded her at a farm that never actually "abused" her, but I wish I had moved her out of there sooner than I did; they stopped feeding her more than one flake of hay a day, they turned her out in the manure pile (no joke!), and caused her to have a gas colic because when they finally did turn her out in a field, they did it for HOURS in a very grassy field.  After a few months of boarding her, all of these things began to happen and we moved her pretty quickly.  I was only fourteen and it sucked.  :-(  When I was sixteen, she made me really mad about something she did (I have no idea now what it was) and I hit her in the face.  I deeply regret that decision and I have never EVER done that again, to her or another horse.  I know it was nothing dangerous to me and I should have worked her through the issue, but being young and unable to control my temper is my only excuse.  I knew better then but I did it anyway.  :-( 


I regret not going abroad in college because I was too scared to leave Sparky in the US.  I wanted desperately to study in Cambridge for a semester, but the thought of not being there for my horse if she colicked or foundered (she did both twice during my first two years of college).  Granted, she was boarded with my grandfather who is an amazing horseman, so I never had to worry about her day-to-day care.  But it killed me to think I might be stuck in England if something bad happened to her.


I wish I had more time to fuss over her and groom her every day, because I know I will regret not spending enough time with her once she is gone, but trying to be a (high school) teacher, be a mom, keep up my house and barn, and ride and show two other horses does not always leave me much time for Sparky.  :-(  It breaks my heart and I do wish I had more time to devote to her, even just an extra 20 minutes to brush her.  She is retired, so I don't feel bad that I don't ride her.  She will be 30 next year (!!!) and I will have owned her for 19 years this coming January 2012.  That is amazing to me.  Overall, while I know I have made mistakes, I also take comfort in the fact that I have provided the very best I can for my horses and they are very healthy and well taken care of.  I also know they are VERY forgiving of me and my mistakes.  :-)  So I try hard not to dwell on my regrets.  I rather focus on how lucky I am to have them in my life.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

NaBloPoMo Day #13

Day #13 - Something I wish I could change about my horse

To be honest, I love my horses as they are.  Sure, I wish Reva could be a bit less opinionated (but what fun would THAT be...?) and I wish Dreamy's canter was naturally better and she did not have COPD (but these issues are workable for me and not that big of a deal in the scheme of life), and I wish Sparky were 20 years younger (but there is not much I can do about that!).  Yet those are silly things.  They are really good horses, willing to provide me with companionship, trust, and enjoyment.  Instead of wishing I could change them, I just work harder (if it legitimately something I can change) or find acceptance.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How to make your instructor say HOLY SH*T!

LOL!  ;-D  


Last Sunday I brought Reva over to my instructor's farm for a lesson.  My time is limited for lessons with Judy, as she does not have an indoor and the indoor where she keeps her horse for the winter does not allow outside instructors.  I am hoping to sneak in a few more lessons before winter really settles here in Maine.


I have only been riding Reva about four times a week lately, which is about what I have time for when school is in session and we begin to lose daylight.  So I was not expecting much last week for a lesson, as I wonder if she is in the best shape any longer.


It was a beautiful fall day, with a bit of a breeze.  Reva does not usually seem to be affected by the wind, but Judy's neighbors have an annoying dog that ran over as soon as I unloaded her.  It is small and moves like a dart; it is scared of horses but is very curious.  I wish it would just come over and get a good kick from a horse to smarten it up....oh WAIT, I wish the OWNER would just keep it in their own yard!  Grrrrr...


So anyway, as soon as the little thing ran over, one of Judy's boarders started running and bucking in her paddock.  Reva is pretty level headed, but she definitely feeds off other horses.  It only took a moment to settle her down and get tacked up, but with the dog running around and the neighbor kids bouncing on a trampoline, Reva's attention was not 100% on me.


Still, I was pleased with her walk and trot work.  We are starting to really work on bending and engaging her inside hind leg.  She is finally past the baby stages of turn, stop, and go and beginning to understand inside leg to outside hand.  There are moments of resistance in which she displays subtle teeth grinding.  Oh Reva!  :-p  Judy was having me think "over bending" with her which actually made her simply bend correctly.  I have worked hard to keep her straight and take even contact on the bit, but now it is time to move like a big girl.  


When Reva moves correctly and relaxes, she has the most amazing trot.  There is a moment of suspension, where it feels like we are "floating" while I am posting "up".  It is A.W.E.S.O.M.E.  It feels like I am riding a "fancy dressage horse".  LOL!  Judy gets excited and I can hear it in her voice..."niiiiice trot!"  I know there will come a time when suddenly THIS trot will be our normal.  Rome was not built in a day.  I have time.  I know that the consistent and correct work we do will pay off.  :-)


So maybe you are wondering why I named this post what I did.  LOL!!!!  Well, I have been working on Reva's canter, of course.  I started some brief lunging in the past few weeks to help her figure out her balance in the canter and accept some contact.  So when I asked her to canter on the left lead last Sunday in my lesson, it was fabulous!  Judy actually said, "Holy sh*t!"  HA HA HA!  I love it!  I love that we have actually improved that much!  Reva's canter was lovely and uphill, no rushing, no discombobulation, and pretty decent balance!  Whoooo!  She is not yet strong enough for more than a few strides, maybe half a circle, but it was so exciting!  It is the first time her left lead canter has been SOOOO nice!


The right lead is a different story though.  We are starting to work on her right lead canter now that the left lead is so much improved.  Her right lead is the more difficult of the two leads for her.  She does not always want to pick up the right lead, which made me really nervous for a while.  And when she would pick up anything (usually wrong) to the right, it was awful.  She would cross canter, buck, and it felt like her hind legs were going in a million different directions.  


Today, six days after that lesson above with the left lead being so awesome, we did some work on the right lead canter on the lunge line.  I love being able to still take lessons...I am hoping to keep this up as long as there is no snow!  Her right lead is obviously more difficult for her, BUT she never did any of the weird things on the lunge that she has done under saddle.  YAY!!!  It made me feel so much better today!  It was a bit cold and windy and she was being a bit of a firecracker on the lunge line.  Judy worked her for me, which is nice because I like watching at times.  Seeing her take the right lead and canter "normally" was great.  I am feeling better that there is not a physical issue there.  


After Judy finished lunging her, I took a lesson.  Reva was much calmer by then and her trot work was super nice.  I also think working her on the lunge for a brief time in the trot and canter helped loosen her up immensely.  In the past, I have just lunged her (about twice a week) or just ridden.  Today we did both and it worked well.  Almost 100% of the trot was that amazing gait I described before.  Judy told me she looked like a warmblood today.  ;-)  She was bending so much better...we have worked on that ALL WEEK and it was nice to show Judy our progress.  Her trot only deteriorated after some of the right lead canter, as she started to get tired and unsure of what to do with herself.  We'll get there!  Her left lead canter was super nice again and I tried the right lead...she picked it up once and then we had a few wrong leads.  


(Side note: Here is a great technique Judy  taught me to encourage Reva to take the correct lead.  Let's say I want the left lead canter.  I will trot her in a 20-25 m. circle to the right, usually between X and A, concentrating on bending her and keeping her in a good rhythm and tempo.  As we come towards X, I will keep a slight right bend but ride her into the other direction...as I approach the fence, headed towards M I ask for the left canter lead.  Basically it is like riding a figure eight of two 20 m. circles, with one half in the trot to set her up for the canter.  In the left lead, I can change the bend to the left and ask for the canter, while in the harder right lead I have been having her stay slightly counterbent.  It works great!)


Finally she picked up the correct lead and it really wasn't that bad!  It was more balanced under saddle than it has EVER been.  I was so happy!  Lately Reva's training is really coming together.  She is extremely opinionated but I never really saw it until now.  She has been so easy to train all along, I have been waiting to see if that would change as we moved beyond the easy basics (forward, halt, turn).  I wondered if she would have temper tantrums as the work got harder.  I guess I would not yet call anything a tantrum, but she has clear opinions at times.  Thankfully she also shows a real desire to improve, because I can tell she WANTS to be right.  But sometimes she thinks SHE is more right than me!  LOL!  Last week she got frustrated when being asked for bend at the trot...I can tell because she grinds her teeth.  Today she only did it once for a few strides and stopped.  I love it!  It is so satisfying to see such obvious improvement in a young horse.  :-)  I wish I had some video of her under saddle.  

NaBloPoMo Day #12

Day #12 - My favorite thing about my horse


Soft muzzles...
Happy ears...
Kind eyes...

I love everything about my horses.  Yes, they are expensive and time consuming.  But my horses define who I am.  I don’t ever remember not having horses in my life.  I think for me it is an inborn trait!  I enjoy the responsibility that comes with owning horses and keeping them in my backyard.  I enjoy working hard, getting blisters, feeling tired and sweaty after a good ride or putting up hundreds of hay bales.  Riding and showing allows me to set goals and create hopes/dreams for the future.  My horses’ good health and my riding accomplishments make me very proud.  My horses give me comfort, teach me patience, and accept me for who I am.  I know I will never be without a horse in my life.


This is a great saying that describes why I love horses..



From time to time people tell me, “lighten up, it's just a horse”, or “that's a lot of money for just a horse”. They don't understand the distance traveled, the time spent, or the costs involved for “just a horse.” Some of my proudest moments have come about with “just a horse.”


Many hours have passed and my only companion was “just a horse”, but I did not once feel slighted. Some of my saddest moments have been brought about by "just a horse," and in those days of darkness, the gentle touch of “just a horse” gave me comfort and reason to overcome the day. If you, too, think it's “just a horse”, then you will probably understand phrases like “just a friend”, “just a sunrise,” or “just a promise”.



”Just a horse” brings into my life the very essence of friendship, trust, and pure unbridled joy. “Just a horse” brings out the compassion and patience that make me a better person. So for me and folks like me, it's not “just a horse” but an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment.



”Just a horse” brings out what's good in me and diverts my thoughts away from the worries of the day. I hope that someday they can understand that it's not “just a horse”, but the very thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being “just a woman.”



So the next time you hear the phrase “just a horse”, just smile.... because they “just” don't understand.