Bel Jeor Blog Hop: If your horse were a drink...


I haven't done a blog hop in a long time, but when I saw this one I immediately knew what Fiction was:


If you're unfamiliar with Korean culture, you may not know what soju is or the kind of role it plays in Korean society. Soju is an alcohol produced from distilled rice/grains or ethanol derived from sweet potatoes. It is similar to vodka and essentially accompanies most meals in Korea - even during lunch.

When you go out drinking with friends, you can bet soju will be the first drink of choice. It's considered rude to turn down the first shot, and it is customary to continuously pour each other shots the moment the glass is empty. Soju is cheaper than water in some places and gets you drunk fast.

So why is Fiction just like soju?

He pulls cheap tricks, hits hard, and for some reason you just keep coming back for more. He exhausts you, makes you question your insanity, and break into tears of happiness or depression after every ride. He's a roller coaster that often leaves you wondering just what the fuck happened, why you're so sore, and if you're crazy for wanting to do it all over again.

When I want to quit him, I can't. When I don't want to quit him, he winds up giving me the nastiest hangover imaginable and the cycle gets stuck on repeat.

So yeah. Not the healthiest of relationships, but it sure keeps life interesting.


Weighting Choices


Owning a horse takes a lot of decision work. For me, it primarily comes down to money. For example: chiropractic adjustment or super nice flysheet for 24/7 turnout? Flysheet won.

I have limited income and the majority of it is poured into my horse. I resent him sometimes for it, if I'm 100% honest, but at the same time I would be a complete introverted recluse without my horse and for that I am grateful.

Some things I don't question. When his allergies became so bad this year that he began hacking in the field, I immediately put him on SmartBreathe + horse cough syrup before every ride. In one week his coughing and nose dribble were completely eliminated. SmartBreathe works. It will now be my permanent go-to during the allergy seasons.

Other things I do. When he is perfectly sound with no back shoes, do I really need to spend $60 extra every 4 weeks for them? Or will they make him even more comfortable and I'm doing him a disservice by not having them on his feet?

At the same time, I already sacrifice so much for this horse, sometimes I feel like he needs to sacrifice for me.

Speaking of rider comfort, let me let you in on what will be changing for us when we move to Trainer's barn in August. Her barn is a working barn, so here is what will be changing:

    • No indoor arena.
    • Unlit outdoor arena (which makes winter riding a pain in the ass)
    • No bathroom.
    • No hot/cold washrack (though she is working to put one in).
    • No individual tack lockers
    • No lounge
    • No heated barn
    • Windier/steeper roads that may present a problem during the winter

But, we will be gaining:

    • Access to tons more trails
    • Access to Trainer for training rides/more consistent lessons
    • Huge pastures with small numbers of horses that are constantly rotated to ensure optimal grass growth (absolutely no over-grazing).
    • No children (this satisfies my inner grouch)
    • Peace and quiet
    • $100 less in board a month (for stall board - no field board offered)

He's starting to get a little chubby - all that grass I guess haha. We had to cut him back on feed.
The care will remain the same - sheets changed, supplements given, etc etc. This move was made with both Fiction's training and my comfort in mind. Having easy access to a trainer right now is essential to Fiction's progression, and I'm willing to sacrifice a lot of rider comforts for that. On the other hand, I will be gaining the peace and quiet I no longer have at my current facility. When I moved in it was a small barn with mostly adults. Now the barn is overcrowded, stuffed to the brim with boarders and people who now attend their regular beginner lesson program. This is the business model they chose to pursue, which is totally fine, but no longer fits me. When I constantly have to dodge people, search for open crossties, and work around multiple people in the arena, I get anxious and frustrated. Riding is my quiet relaxation time. If I'm not relaxed, I don't want to ride. I need a small facility of adults or goal-oriented teenagers in order to feel comfortable. Luckily, Trainer's barn fits the bill.

How do you go about making decisions in regards to your horse? Have you ever changed barns for your peace of mind, not necessarily for your horse?


General Updates


It simultaneously feels like there has been nothing going on in my riding life and yet so many things have happened.

Fiction got a bunch of new clothes - new fly sheet, new fly boots (the Shoofly leggins work for his front feet only when combined with bell boots, otherwise they fly off of his feet no matter how tight), new Tekna halter & lead rope, new Majyk Equipe Dressage boots, etc.

He's also experiencing some nasty respiratory allergies, so he's on horse cough syrup before every ride and I fell back into the rabbit hole that is Smartpaks and put him on SmartBreathe and Smarthoof.

Finally, he now gets pour pads on his front feet because of his delicate soles. I had to pull his back shoes again (had in him all fours for training) because I simply can't afford $180 every 4 weeks right now. Luckily, he's always been sound with unshod backs.

Picking and choosing where money goes for this horse is astoundingly difficult. No matter what I do, whenever I cut back on something I feel like such a horrible horse owner for doing so. Still, I try to stick to my 'how would I address this problem if I was the one experiencing it?' motto when combating all animal issues. Hence the reason why I dole out tons of money for cat/dog teeth cleaning, a special low sodium raw food diet for the 13 year old dog with a heart condition, joint supplements for all animals except the cat, and now allergy meds for Fiction.

They can't treat themselves so it is up to me to provide optimum care within reason (the money in my account is pretty finite after all).

We had a lesson last Thursday. I have video and a recap already written up, so that will be around sometime soon.

I brought him back to my current facility on Saturday. It was a 5 hour adventure that involved two flat tires and a truck running out of brake fluid. Fun stuff.

Bane of my existence.
He seems to be doing OK on pasture board. He promptly lost two shoes his second night, but that was 100% expected and he was reshod on Tuesday. They fly spray him every day (sheet is on back-order, sigh), and check him over when they feed him, so I don't worry too much but I'm finding that I have a stronger urge to go out and check on him now.

Perhaps the biggest update that I have that will get its own post in the upcoming weeks is my decision to move Fiction in August. We will be returning to Trainer's barn as boarders this time around. A lot of thought went into this decision that I will detail later, but I've already given my two months notice to my current BO.


Coming Together


Tonight was our third lesson during Fiction's training.

We had a great 10 minute trail ride followed by a very nice walk/trot/canter warm-up before we got right into it.

The points of the lesson were really simple, as all I am trying to do at this point is emulate what Trainer does when she rides him.

We worked a lot on shoulder-fore down the long side at the trot and canter just so we could get off the circle. He did very well. Much better to the left than to the right.

Then we returned to the circle to do some spiral in/spiral outs at the canter. He was absolutely fantastic to the right but we didn't manage to get video of it. We did get video of his left side which is a bit more difficult. Still - it's a great enough video to really show me how he reacts to every little thing that I do.

In the video you will see:
    • Canter to the left - spiral in and spiral out.
    • Spiral in, haunches first - spiral out.
    • Expansion and collection of the canter.
We have some bobbles and some moments of tension, but for those of you who have simply observed from my blog, let me assure you that this is miles ahead of where we used to be.

It used to be an absolute nightmare fight every time I asked him to do something simple like this. He would brace and bolt and throw himself to the inside and no amount of leg could get him back over. He would pin his ears and throw a hissy fit, get super heavy in the bridle, and buck.

Now he maintains a gentle rhythm and while he loses his balance from time to time or reacts/tenses up at random things (including things totally caused by me), he is calm, adjustable, and workable.

I have gaits I can work with instead of worrying about not blasting out of the arena. I'm not dying of exhaustion halfway through the ride. He connects through the bridle with little to no contact (mostly at the trot now - he still needs a lot of help at the canter). He moves off of the leg with very little pressure. He is no longer combative.

Sometimes it saddens me to have a 9 year old green bean (Trainer said she would still consider him green until his bobbles and periods of tension smooth out), but we're making progress. Two months of professional training was enough to get us over that speed bump we kept encountering. It won't be smooth sailing, but at least I don't feel like I'm smashing my face into a brick wall over and over again now.


I need to have more faith in my own capabilities


On Saturday I rode Fiction and tried my best to emulate what we had accomplished in our lesson. There was no jigging and no craziness, but Fiction felt locked and unresponsive.

Lesson #2 came on Monday. Fiction warmed up calmly and remained calm for the most part throughout the lesson. No chewing or chomping, flailing, or bolting. It took about 20 minutes to get him to fully soften and relax, especially since there were various puddles in the arena that he was particularly adverse to.

This lesson built upon the foundations of the last lesson. Now that I know how to place myself, the next step was to get Fiction's body to move in individual pieces. We focused on keeping him bent in one direction but pushing his rib cage from side to side.

I had to remind myself to really let go of the outside rein when he bulged to the inside and to apply apply the outside leg, as his bulging throws his shoulder inside but his rib cage outside. It seems completely counter-intuitive and almost like I'm thinking backwards, but it works to bring him back into proper alignment.

We did canter this time. To the left his canter departures were instantaneous and amazing. The canter itself felt correct, collected, and powerful. We had some issues with straightness due to the puddles, and I had to remain vigilant to ride him properly with every step.

To the right the canter was a bit of a crapshoot. Fiction decided he wanted to leave and kept trying to shift his way towards the exit. It took way more leg than I had to keep him straight and I overcompensated with my hands. We worked on dropping pressure from the reins to check how well connected he is - one rein at a time - and then fixed what we felt when he offered a response.

It was a good lesson. I have video that I'm going to try and upload sometime this weekend.

We discussed putting him into training for an additional month but Trainer said she thinks I'm more than capable of continuing his education as long as we boost lessons to once a week rather than once every two weeks. That would require trailering to her place either every week or every other week, depending on her schedule with my current barn. Then, further down the road, if we decide he needs another crash course, I can send him back to her for a little while.

In other news - his Shoofly Leggins do not stay on, which is a real bummer. We're not sure how they keep coming off, but I'm starting to think he's just too rambunctious out in the field for them. I may be offering them up for sale here shortly.


Some things wont change


I rode my horse for the first time in 1 1/2 months yesterday. I didn't go in with any grand delusions. I know how damaged Fiction is. It takes a long time to fix a ruined horse.

Fiction was quite uppity. I don't think he gets enough outside time at the training barn & he is now quite fit, so he's a lot to handle. That will never change.

We spent the entirety of our 45 minutes lesson doing the following:

    • Walking. Extremely slow. As slow as I could get him to walk. Then, at the walk, isolating the left seatbone to push him over, followed by the application of the left leg to continue to push him. Then straighten the hips and let him walk forward. Repeat 10000000 times both directions.
    • He is not allowed to jig. Shut it down immediately.
    • Same concept at the trot - posting only. Keep the trot dialed way back. If he freaks out or bolts forward or breaks into canter, no matter the reason, shut him down immediately and return to walk.
    • Keep loop in inside rein, outside rein elastic. Keep feet flatter with weight rolled into little toes to open up the hips.

Fiction is an exceptionally sensitive horse who is also a complete brat and a bully. It may seem like I am anthropomorphizing him, but he does have a unique personality I have never encountered in another horse. 80% of the time he is relatively willing to listen and do what you ask, though he will attempt to bully his way out of it and take control. If you remind him that you're boss, for the most part he will accept it. 20% of the time he will tell you to fuck off and will require a hard reset. This is Fiction and this will never change. What will need to change, however, is how we approach our partnership moving forward.

While his personality and work ethic have not changed, there have been some clear changes in capability. He's consistent in his rhythm and his entire body works together now instead of in disjointed pieces. He feels so darn powerful - it's like riding a gigantic warmblood. Before it felt like we were just playing at dressage, whereas now he actually feels connected and through.
Trainer let me know that during my lesson I rode Fiction better than I've ever rode him before, which was a super nice compliment. However, she did discourage me from showing him this year, save maybe for a schooling show in August before I pop off to Asia. No big deal. Moving forward, our rides are to be simple repeats of the lesson combined with trail rides. No canter work at all. We'll see how it goes.


Nothing New


Nothing new to report, really. Fiction is doing very well. He's putting on a lot of weight and muscle.

I went out to see him and gave him a part-spa day complete with a good curry, liniment rub down, mane and tail conditioning, etc. He also got to try on his new Shoofly Leggins. I nabbed them as alternatives to the flyboots I was using before, as these are not tight around the legs and since he'll be out 24/7 I wanted something loose and airy.

I'm still working on getting him a new flysheet. The cat had to have his teeth cleaned, so all my pennies went to that. Needless to say, Cooper wasn't exactly happy with me when I picked him up yesterday evening.

We should be having a lesson this weekend (fingers-crossed). Then Fiction gets his feet done on the 8th by a temp farrier.