Obligatory Goals Post


Here it is. I'm going to keep goals this year super simple and quantifiable.

Riding Goals

    • Take at least 1 lesson a month.
    • Ride 3-4 times a week.
    • Work on at least 2 different exercises each ride.

Show/Clinic Goals

    • Attend at least 2 shows next year.
    • Attend one clinic.

Personal Goals

    • Lift 2x a week.
    • Run 3x a week when daylight permits (spring/summer/autumn).
    • Stretch 10 minutes, every day.
    • Lose 5 lbs.
    • Track calories (1400) on weekdays, splurge weekends.
    • Read at least 1 book a month. 5 horse books over the year.
    • Contact close friends 1x a week at least (I'm bad at maintaining contact).

Financial Goals

    • Sell Hastilow saddle.
    • Pay off CC debt.
    • Pay off 1 private loan.
    • Double my current savings.


New Toys


Christmas always brings a bunch of new horse toys to play with.

I've already posted about the awesome warm-up sheet that my parents bought Fiction for Christmas, but they also completed his daily outfit with a set of boots.

On the other side, I received a much needed helmet bag, a new set of Roeckl Chester Gloves (apparently my rubber reins are murder on these), and a pair of Ovation Winter Euro Sear Front Zip Kneepatch Breeches. I'm not normally a fan of Ovation products, but since my Kerrits winter tights are already dying (worst tights ever), I needed a new pair and these were cheap so I asked for them for Christmas. So glad I did - I absolutely love them. Warm, tight-fitting, not at all bulky, and with an awesome zipper pocket. They also feel like they will hold up exceptionally well!

We had a couple rides over the holiday weekend. Fiction was great on Saturday but we struggled on Sunday. He was either tired or cranky - who knows. Unfortunately he didn't get Monday off as planned because the saddle fitter came out with some dressage saddles for me to try!

She brought a couple brands for me to try, but I was really determined to ride in some Bliss of London Loxley saddles because I absolutely love the way they look and all of the different customization options that they have. I've seen these saddles in person before, so I was aware of the quality before she even came out.

The Bliss of London brand is relatively new - about 5 years old. My saddle fitter loves working with them because they are very quick to address orders/issues and she can work directly through them and not with a middle man so that allows her to offer the best prices to her clients. I believe the person who started the company used to work for Black Country, so the saddles are somewhat similar.

Anyways, the Loxley line is the cheapest of the Bliss of London line of saddles. She brought three different saddles for me to try - low, mid, and high price ranges.

Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures, so I'll supplement with pictures from their website:

From Bliss of London
This was the first and lowest priced option. I sat in it and immediately didn't like it.
From Bliss of London
The second saddle - mid range option. I really liked how deep the seat was and how non-restrictive the knee blocks felt.
From Bliss of London
Third option - most expensive. Will someone please explain to me why less leather = more expensive? It felt nice but not as wonderful as the mid-range options.

I decided to test ride the mid and high-priced options. Sat in the monoflap first - tried some trot, immediately hopped out. It just didn't feel right at all.

We swapped to the mid-ranged option with the molded knee flaps and it definitely put me in the proper position. No perch-seat like the Albion and my legs laid exactly where they needed to go. It took a bit for me to get used to sitting in a dressage saddle again and at first it felt off, but the more I rode in it, the better it felt. We tried some leg yields out and they felt wonderful - no fighting my position like I'm used to.

So I hopped off, the saddle fitter took some measurements, we talked customization options, and I put in an order! I'm happy that the saddle I was lusting after ended up being a great fit - especially now that I know what to look for thanks to that horrible Albion!

From Bliss of London
The above picture somewhat illustrates the options I went with. Stitching (of the saddle) and welting color options are free with purchase. Cantle options cost additional money. I went with grey welting and grey quilting on the cantle. A subtle effect that I think is unique but still classy. No bling for me!

It should take about 6 weeks for the saddle to come in but I am super excited and can't wait! It will be nice to ride in a dressage saddle that actually suits me :)



2nd Lesson


It was around 29*F when I got out to the barn in the morning. Fiction was bright-eyed and alert, as the horses were in the process of going out and he was left behind so I could groom and tack him up. He got a few lessons in not invading my space, but still didn't settle down at all, so I wasn't very optimistic about getting on him.

Once I was on, I wrangled the hyper creature into a walk circle paired with halts/rein backs to get him to start listening to me. We were about 10 minutes into warm-up when my Instructor arrived.

We started off with a walk exercise. On a 20 meter circle, she had me stop him, back him up a few steps while applying inside leg and rein, and then move him forward while applying inside leg to push him out. The emphasis was on not actually stopping, just pausing through the motions, and really giving to the inside.

Freshly dragged arena!
It was interesting to see how Fiction responded. A few times he got stuck because he was so confused. Then, as he started to understand, he got stuck because he would round his back and rein back instead of hollowing which was quite a bit harder so it was more difficult for him to move forward immediately after a rein back.

After we warmed up with this exercise, we moved into the trot. To the right he was perfection. To the left he was pretty tense and hollow. Instructor pointed out that my entire body is different to the left. To the right my leg hands perfectly and wraps around him. To the left, I don't utilize my seatbone well enough and my leg suffers. So I had to really concentrate on my left seatbone/leg. Once I did that, Fiction relaxed into the contact. She also pointed out that he isn't as elastic to the left, so I need to egg him on to get his back left leg to track up properly.

She was impressed by how much we've improved in the past two weeks - she even complimented how soft my hands were, which almost brought tears to my eyes because right now I desperately need to hear that I'm doing well by my horse.

Since we had improved so much, she decided we were ready to canter. Her instructions were simple - all I had to do was sit and ask for the canter like I meant it. Otherwise he just blows through my leg and ignored me. To the right he was great. We did some spiralling in and out, and really worked on counter-flexing him a few strides and then flexing him back to the inside, making sure to predict and prevent any upset. We wanted the motions to be smooth.

His goal for this picture was to look as ugly as possible haha. Modelling the Christmas present mum and dad got him - new wool exercise sheet :)
To the left we were all over the place. Again, the seatbone. Fiction likes to lean in at the canter to the left and I have always been taught to lean to the outside to prevent this. Instead, Instructor told me to really sit on my inside seatbone, which will feel like I am leaning horribly to the inside, but instead I'm actually straight. It worked like a charm. Fiction developed a nice, gentle, non-leaning canter to the left. It was an insane amount of work, but it was so freaking rewarding.

We ended it with some nice stretchy trot. For trot-walk transitions, she asked me to slow down my posting until he walked, but to post the entire time. It really helped round him into the walk. She also advised that since he objects to the gathering of the reins after stretchy trot/walk, that I should spend tons of time on dropping and gathering reins while warming up or cooling down to get him used to the feeling.

It was an excellent ride and put me in an amazing mood. Unfortunately, it will probably be our last lesson until Instructor gets back from her time spent down south. There is another dressage trainer that frequents the barn though, so I do intend to hop into a lesson with her to see how it goes!


New Tootsies


I'm am so very relieved to be moving on from my last farrier. He treated me like some ignorant little child and had very little consideration for my input. Not how I recommend conducting business.

Old shoes (~8 weeks growth).
The appointment took about an hour because this new farrier spent a very long time inspecting Fiction's feet and hammering out the shoes so they would fit perfectly. He was super conversational and nice. He constantly gave Fiction scritches and called him Mr. Wonderful which I thought was super cute.

He did change a few things in regards to Fiction's front feet. He pointed out that my previous farrier had a smaller, narrower shoe on Fiction's foot (something my fellow boarder also mentioned) and had been short-shoeing him, so Fiction was pretty squeezed and long. So, he put broader shoes on the front feet and also set them where they are supposed to be. He mentioned that Fiction needs to grow more heel and that this should help, and it should also help to free up his movement a bit.

New feet~
And, as a plus, he also mentioned that Fiction has superb feet for a Thoroughbred - something he doesn't see often. He also doesn't think there would be a problem going barefoot. This aligned with how I've felt all along, but since I'm not a farrier/hoof expert (though I do conduct a ton of research), I've always gone with the flow and the last two farriers told me that Fiction has terrible feet and kept wanting to put pads on him, etc. Just goes to show you the vast difference of opinions that pops up in the horse world!

After the appointment I tacked Fiction up and headed into the arena for a 30 minute ride. We spent the entirety at the posting trot, working on softening/suppling and contact. He was wonderful, save for a few small lapses in attention when the cats ran across the arena. He was still dry when the ride came to an end, but the farrier appointment had eaten up most of my time allotted for the barn so I couldn't continue to work him.

I'll be out for another ride on Thursday and then a second lesson with the new Instructor on Saturday. Super excited to show her how much progress we've made, though I'm highly confident that Fiction will choose to forget everything that day haha!


Relaxing Weekend


There is just something about this new barn that makes time pass by so quickly. I hardly even notice when 3-4 hours fly by. It's fantastic.

Saturday I spent time chatting with one of the BO's daughters. I then nabbed Fiction from the field, tacked up, and headed for a ride outside. The weather was excellent, though a tad on the warm side for a horse with a winter coat.

I rode for a little less than an hour. A lot of trotting. Fiction was excellent but lazy (understandable). I sat a lot of the trot, as he tends to respond better to my seat that way and it keeps me from engaging my hands. We've been keeping it simple lately, so we just worked on what we had learned in our lesson. I made sure to change directions a lot and mix it up a bit for him to keep his mind engaged. He was a happy little horse that day!

On Sunday Fiction was a muddy mess. I scrubbed the dirt off of him, tacked up, and headed out to the outdoor arena for a 30 minute ride. Fiction was wonderful. I was able to get him to respond exceptionally well at the posting trot, and we went around with beautiful relaxation/on the bit with very little contact (think .5 lbs each hand). I'm pretty sure I was beaming the entire time.

After the ride, as a treat, I headed into the trails. The footing was a bit iffy, so we weren't out for long, but it was really nice to get away from the barn. Fiction only got a little nervous when he slipped in some mud - otherwise he was a real gentleman.

As I was scrubbing his feet and treating them for thrush, one of my fellow boarders came over. She happens to also be a farrier, and I asked her if she thought he could handle being barefoot in the front. She said she normally pulls shoes for a few months a year and has pulled a lot of Thoroughbreds. She has high confidence that Fiction should be fine, and that he has super nice feet for a Thoroughbred (this is contrary to my last farrier who told me my horse wouldn't last a day without shoes when I pulled Fiction's back feet, which turned out to be completely false). She also told me that my farrier has been short-shoeing my horse and has caused his toe to grow super long.

Good thing I dumped him and scheduled an appointment with a new farrier for tomorrow, right? I never did like him and made the decision to stop using him after he very clearly did not trim Fiction's back feet during his last appointment but charged me for the trim anyways.

She mentioned that come January/February, once we get a solid covering of snow, she would be happy to help me with pulling his shoes/giving his feet some time to breath. So this is tentatively on the books.


When Disappointment Translates into Anxiety


If you've followed me here from my last blog, you will know that even though I pride myself in recognizing my ignorance and attempting to rectify it, I am not always successful. Nor do I always go about it in the right way.

Life is full of learning. I like to learn by research and planning ahead, rather than by stumbling through a situation, failing miserably, and learning from my mistakes. Organized trial-and-error is my jam.

So about six months ago when I realized that I had spent the last few years riding my horse completely wrong, I sunk into a relatively deep depression. I'm sure that was reflected in my writing and many of you were probably fed up about it. That's fine - emo-filled blogs aren't exactly my cup of tea either.

I stopped riding consistently. I even stopped going out to the barn; I dropped from 4-5 visits a week to 1-2. Fiction lost all of his muscle tone.

Now, with the change of atmosphere, a new Instructor, and a new outlook on my riding, this depression has been resolved. I am back to riding 4-5 times a week and Fiction is back to being a content and happy horse.

But there is still some lingering anxiety. Despite following the new Instructor's advice to a T, practicing zen riding, and really relaxing on my horse, I am afraid. Afraid I will continue to sour him. Afraid I may never fix myself or him. Afraid that we will never advance beyond putzing around in an arena.

This performance anxiety has even crept into my desire to show. Even local, unrated shows seem absolutely daunting to me. Completely out of reach. I know this isn't the case, but it doesn't stop that nagging in the back of my mind.

At this point the doubt doesn't stop me from riding, taking lessons, or tentatively making clinic plans. The only effect it has had on my riding is my self esteem and my decisiveness. I've regressed to a point where a part of me craves someone to hold my hand and get me through this. I don't want to try new things without the watchful eye of a trainer that I trust to tell me that I'm not still damaging my horse in some way.

It's interesting because everything points to progression. I rode my horse last night and not once did he pin his ears or get angry with me. He was super hyped up and I had a hard time controlling him, but not once did I get impatient with him. I sat the trot a solid 35 minutes, calmly asking over and over for what I wanted, until he relaxed. It was an excellent ride that reflected a great deal of progress on both sides even though it may not have readily appeared that way to an outsider.

This isn't a 'woe-is-me' post looking for sympathy. Rather, it's a recollection of my mistakes, an attempt to realize that those mistakes, even though they have consequences, are okay, and an attempt to start myself along the realization that my anxiety is silly.

I'm on the right path now. All I have to do is stick to it.

Has anyone else experienced a crazy amount of self-doubt before? Any tips on how to get through it?


First Lesson


The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of riding. It's nice to be back on a four-days-a-week riding schedule, and Fiction has really benefited from all of the attention.

Anyways, on to the lesson. The new Instructor is a 4* Eventer who was recommended to me by a fellow blogger. I've heard nothing but good things about her from various people, so I actually didn't feel too nervous going into the lesson.

Modeling his new stable blanket.
I explained to her quickly that I feel like the past three years with Fiction have been mishandled and that I would essentially like to start over. She had me walk/trot/canter him in each direction just to get an idea of what we had to work with.

Her conclusions?

    • He is a very well built horse with a short back and an excellent trot that will lead to fantastic lengthenings when he's properly trained.
    • He has an ample amount of baggage from previous training. You can especially see it when you ask him to move forward/transition/move off the leg. He likes to pin his ears/swish his tail/protest. He immediately becomes defensive even before I ask him to do something, as if he is expecting a fight.

So here is how we learned to work through it:

    • For trot transitions, I should put my hands forward to go no-contact with his mouth. Pick up trot. If his response is nasty (pinned ears, etc.), drop back down to walk, repeat. Once his response starts to even out, take up very small contact with the inside rein. Repeat this procedure every time we make a trot transition.
    • We then moved on to spiral-in/spiral-out circles. Essentially she wanted me to apply the inside leg and inside rein, but leave the outside aides alone. If he blew through his outside shoulder, that was fine. She just wanted him to learn to step underneath himself and yield to the leg. Every time he flicks his ears forward and ignores me, I should apply inside leg to get his attention back. If he pins his ears and makes a fuss, ignore him as long as he does what is asked.
    • Consistency is key - just keep asking the same way, over and over, until he realizes that we're not fighting.
    • Keep him forward, all the time.
    • After the circles we attempted to do some work on the straight sides, but Fiction started losing his brain. So she had me drop into a sitting trot and put him in a shoulder-fore. This worked much better.
    • Back to the circles, at the sitting trot. Again, same idea as the spiraling exercise. However, she asked me to slow my own rhythm at the sitting trot. It took me a second to figure this out, but all I had to do was engage my core and still my lower back. Fiction is so sensitive to my seat that he immediately slowed and dropped his head. This was the response we wanted. Once we got this response, I was to increase my rhythm to drive him forward.

We ended the lesson there. She made a few more points. She wants me to ignore the canter for a month and focus solely on the trot. Rides should be 75-80% trot, and the rest should be walk. At the walk, I should leave him completely alone. As long as he stays in the arena and doesn't make a fuss, he can walk however he wants to walk.

I really, really liked this Trainer's approach to Fiction. Everything was slow-paced and relaxed with an emphasis on the happiness of the horse. She reassured me that even though he has obvious baggage, he picked up on what we were teaching him fairly quickly and she doesn't think it will take long to work him out of his defensive behavior.

Sure enough, I repeated what I learned in the lesson during my ride yesterday and he was already 100% better in terms of his mood and willingness to listen. I'll definitely be taking another lesson!


Clip Job


Two years ago I clipped Fiction for the first time. It was a learning experience and I didn't much care for the type of clip I had decided to give him. At times he ended up too cold because I had simply taken too much hair off, I didn't blanket super appropriately, and there were no shelters for him in the paddock. Plus, it became a pain when blankets began to rub him and when temperatures fluxuated so much that they forced me out to the barn even when I didn't plan to ride just to adjust his blankets.

It was so time consuming and annoying that last winter I didn't clip him at all. He was happier (and warmer) and even though I grumbled from time to time about having to groom all of the mud out of his fur or walk him for ages to dry him off after a workout, it was all-in-all an OK experience.

This year, however, since the new barn offers blanketing service, I decided to clip again. I did some research and opted for a modified Chaser/Trace clip combo.

I had to do it while he was dirty, so the lines came out uneven, but I'm not showing him so I don't particularly care.

We've had many rides since the clip and it has made life so much easier for us. Especially since he comes in from outside basically clean so it really cuts down on grooming time.

Speaking of rides - he has been on and off great for me. His canter has been fantastic lately on the circles but not on the straight. His departures are horrible still though. His trot is mediocre at this point but his walk has vastly improved. This constant 4-5 rides per week has actually really helped us. We're also averaging hour-long rides (warmup/cool down usually included), so he is getting his tail worked off.

Progress with the whip is slow. He freaks out every time I switch hands or move it (I never even touch him with it) and it takes a good 5-10 minutes to get his brain back. I've been very patient with him though. It may take a while, but maybe one day I'll be able to upgrade to a dressage whip.

Finally, in some very good news, we have a lesson scheduled this Saturday with one of the three trainers at the new barn. It will be nice to have some fresh eyes on us!


Moving Day


After selling my saddle I went a bit overboard while seeking out new options. I contacted a variety of saddle fitters, only one of which got back to me (my trusted Heather from Saddles101). It's a bit disappointing. Here I am, potentially willing to spend thousands of dollars on a saddle, and yet I can't seem to find fitters willing to come see my horse.

I did make an appointment with Heather for December 28th. She's giving me a month to build as much muscle on Fiction as possible (we've been so lazy these last few months that his condition is horrible). She does have his past tracings on hand, in case we need them.

Friday I hit up the local tack store and took a saddle home for trial without researching it first (stupid, stupid me). I returned it on Saturday without even trying it for various reasons. They had no other saddles I was interested in, so as of now I am at a stand still.

I rode Friday - it was an amazing ride. Fiction was so soft and supple and just fantastic. I needed that ride.

Then came Saturday - Moving day. I headed out early and got another ride in. Fiction was fussy but not horrible, so it was a decent ride. I then gussied him all up for the trailer ride, packed up all of my stuff, and off we went to the new barn!

It was a cold and rainy day so when we arrived I merely stripped off his boots, threw on his rain coat, and tossed him outside with his new pasture mate - an old thoroughbred. They sniffed each other, had a small squeal, and then became instant buddies.

The new BO texted me that night to let me know that Fiction came in quiet and was calmly eating his hay.

Hopefully I'll have a tour up of the new place soon!


TRM BlogHop - 25 Questions


 I know I'm late to the party, but I needed filler, so here it is. Blog hop from The Red Mare.
1. Mares or Geldings? Why? Geldings. I will never own a mare.
2. Green-broke or Fully Broke? To be honest, I would love, for once, to have a broke, seasoned horse. However, I do find quite a bit of satisfaction from training break-throughs with greenies.
3. Would you own a “hotter” breed? I currently own a Thoroughbred, but I've owned a warmblood before and honestly I like them both equally.
This will always be my dream horse - big, black (though sunbleached) warmblood. I'm happy to have owned him, even if it was for a short time.
4. What was your “dream horse” growing up? A petite, black thoroughbred mare. This has changed. I now prefer bigger-boned geldings.
5. What kind of bit(s) do you use and why? A medium-width loose ring french snaffle with a bean in the middle. It's cheap and effective. Fiction goes beautifully in it.
6. Helmets or no helmets? Helmet.
7. Favorite horse color? Black, no chrome of any kind. Buckskins and Bays are tied for second.
Still hate chrome.
8. Least favorite horse color? Paints/pintos unless the markings are perfect. Also chestnuts.
9. Dressage or Jumping? Dressage.
10. How many years have you been riding? 7 years? But I essentially started over 3 years ago and I haven't learned much in that time...
11. Spurs/whip or no spurs/whip? Whips feel weird in my hand and my horse is scared of them, so even though I love the whip as a tool, I hardly use it. I also adore spurs, and my horse desperately needs them but I don't feel confident enough in my legs at this time.
12. Your first fall? I'm pretty sure the first time I fell off was while I was goofing around bareback on my Arabian.
13. When was the last time you rode and what did you do? Saturday. Worked a lot on the canter and relaxation.
14. Most expensive piece of tack you own? I guess since I still own my Hastilow Jump Saddle, it counts as my most expensive item - $3100. If we ignore it because I am in the process of selling it (and we overlook the $3500 I have set aside for a new dressage saddle - which I hopefully won't have to use all of), my most expensive piece of tack is my Albion bridle - $540.
15. How old were you when you started riding? 14.
16. Leather or Nylon halters? I prefer nylon for the barn and leather for shows.
17. Leather or Synthetic saddles? Leather. I like synthetic (my first saddle was a Wintec), but I could never get it to look clean.
18. What “grip” of reins do you like? I like super thin leather reins with an inner rubber lining. Gives the look of leather with the grip of rubber. People always comment on how thin my reins are, but honestly it is the most comfortable set-up for me. Anyone else use thin reins?
19. English or Western? English. But I do love the allure of Western gaming and reining.
20. How many horses do you currently own/lease? One. If I could afford another, I would buy myself a nice Oldenburg baby, or a seasoned school master if I could find one within my budget.
21. Do you board your horse? Self-care/full board? Home board? Full board.
22. Have you ever had to put down a horse that you loved? Not yet, but I have done it with many dogs/cats in the past, so I know I am mentally capable of enduring it when the time comes. I am crazily opposed to seeing an animal suffer in any way.
23. How many saddle pads do you have? Four. I would love a few more but I just can't put out the money right now.
24. Slant-load trailer or straight haul? Straight load. Research shows that horses love space. Slant loads were made to allow a large number of horses to be hauled at once, not because horses love to stand at a slant (not true - please don't believe this). It was for convenience. Fiction doesn't fit in a slant. No horse I will ever own will fit in a slant (I like the big boys). Straight loads offer a roomier hauling experience and access to each horse individually. If there is an emergency, both horses can be unloaded at once, and there is no need to get through a ton of metal to get to another horse if the trailer happens to get into an accident. Also, I highly recommend riding in a trailer before purchasing or trailering your horses. That way you can really experience what they experience while hauling and can adjust your hauling methods to better accommodate them.
Hiking does get me beautiful views like this though!
25. Why do you ride? I'm not quite sure at this point. I know that I enjoy it. I think I keep doing it because without riding I wouldn't really have anything to spice up my life. I have other hobbies of course, but nothing speaks to me like riding does. While I might get some enjoyment from reading, hiking, backpacking, etc., I experience joy every second I am on a horse. Even if it only comes in the form of a gritty sense of achievement.


Suddenly Saddleless


So, after a crazy sequence of events, I am now saddleless.

It all started on Saturday. Fiction was great under saddle. We had a 45 minute ride. A lot of it was spent on halting and standing still because the wind was blowing exceptionally hard and he wasn't keen on listening to me. But, after he calmed down, we had some great canter work. We even went over some poles, which caused him a good deal of anxiety, but he eventually chilled out enough. I think next time I'll start him on poles in a circle and then move to a straight line when he relaxes.

Anyways, I spent a lot of the ride concentrating on my position and I had a horrible time of it. My legs kept shooting forward and no matter how hard I tried to sit on my seatbones my hips just kept rotating to put me in a perched position on my crotch. It was frustrating. I felt like I was constantly fighting my body.

This isn't a new revelation. The Albion's stirrup bars are set too far forward and have always given me a sort of a chair seat. And the crotch perching has always been bad but I have lived with thinking the fault lied solely with me, of which I'm not so sure anymore.

In essence, I have never felt comfortable in that saddle and have voiced selling it many times. I just didn't want to face the hassle that comes with selling a saddle (I still haven't managed to get rid of my Hastilow despite dropping the price significantly!).

So when a fellow boarder briefly mentioned as an aside that if I was ever interested in selling my saddle that she would love to try it out, I kept this option open in the back of my mind. Then, after the ride on Saturday, in frustration, I left the saddle at the barn and messaged her that she is more than welcome to try it out and what I wanted for it if she was interested in purchasing.

Fast forward to Monday. She messaged me saying that she had a saddle fitter out, wanted to buy the saddle right then (so the fitter can work on it), and wanted to know if I would drop the price. I stood firm on price, as I was still sort of on the fence and thought that might deter her. Nope.

Within the hour I was saddleless and to be honest, it feels like a big weight has lifted off of my shoulders haha.

Now the hunt begins. I already reached out to a couple of fitters in my area, including the one I usually always work with. I got such a good price for my saddle that I can easily get one of equal quality for just a few hundred extra. I have been eyeballing Hastilows only because of their adaptability and because of how at home I felt in my Hastilow Jump saddle. However, I am open to anything at this point as long as it fits me properly!

So, any suggestions on brands to look at? I'm not opposed to used. Must be wool flocked. Adjustable tree/gullet preferred because Fiction likes to change from medium to wide at the drop of a hat.

Also, for those of you with monoflaps, do you feel that it makes a significant difference in your riding?

PS: I am currently contemplating selling my Albion dressage girth only because it is too big. Size 28" I believe. Feel free to email me if interested :)


Mud Lover


It wasn't until I started unpacking my car at the barn last night when I realized that I had previously taken all of my saddle pads home to wash them and had subsequently forgotten to bring any back out.

So, riding last night was canceled.

Instead I dragged the beast in and gave him a good grooming. He was absolutely filthy. We've had quite a bit of rain lately and unfortunately Fiction loves mud.

Checked his feet - thrush is still gone and cracks in his frog are starting to heal.

I stuffed peppermints into his face, turned him back out, and then decided to spend the rest of my night at the gym.


No Muscle


Not going to lie - Fiction looks horrible. He's lost so much muscle over the last few months that his saddle no longer fits him and I now have to double pad. This was to be expected though - we took a lot of time off and then just diddled around for a while, so this loss of muscle is most definitely not a shock.

Lately Fiction has been responding very well to our light workouts, so I decided to up the difficulty of what I was asking him. On Sunday I went out to ride with the following goals in mind:

    • 45 minute ride, including warmup, cool down, and one walk break.
    • Stretchy trot and some stretchy canter work.
    • Soft, relaxed walk.
    • Soft, relaxed trot.
    • Soft, relaxed canter - on the straight too.
We started off per usual - walk/halt circles to get his brain thinking. We moved on to trot, did some sitting trot, some trot down the long wall, and finally moved into the canter (which was honestly the focus of the ride, since his trot and walk have gotten so nice).

To the right he was OK. Stiff, crooked, but calmed down and relaxed after a bit. He's still not taking too kindly to the canter transition, but honestly I think I've figured out the problem.

Over the past few years Fiction has grown dead to my leg. I have this annoying habit of egging him on with my legs every other stride. This was taught to me, not something I just started doing. However, this sort of action deadens a horse to leg aides, so to get the response I need for, say, a canter transition, I really have to apply the leg in a relatively extreme manner, which not only results in throwing me off balance due to the strain, but it also pisses off the horse.

This is something I'm going to have to untrain from myself. In the mean time, to assist with transitions, I'm going to have to utilize a whip and re-train Fiction to be sensitive to my leg. Otherwise we get incredibly nasty canter departures.

To the left he was definitely NQR. He pinned his ears and protested considerably. I've never seen him react this way - he was reluctant to move forward and threw his head up in agitation. He eventually worked out of it, but I think a chiro visit is in order. He's not showing any signs of swelling/lameness, so it may just be a sore muscle issue too. Nevertheless, I'll keep an eye on his behavior.

Anyways, we did get some nice canter work, even down the straight wall. This took a bit of work to achieve because he likes to bolt at the canter when moved straight.

I'm still too stiff in my elbows at the canter and too heavy in my hands, so that will take a lot of willpower to fix, but I can confidently say that I am way more conscious of my body parts and the strength in which they are utilized.

The beastie was super sweaty by the time we were done so I untacked him, threw on his cooler, and let him graze a bit in the sun while I rubbed him down with Sore No More.


Of a Different Pace


We had gorgeous weather this past weekend.

Saturday never climbed out of the 40s but it was sunny and I just couldn't resist the temptation of a trail ride.

Trail rides are never great with Fiction. He is intensely barn sour. Hacks normally go as follows:

    • First 5 minutes are calm, on the buckle walking.
    • First turn around a corner out of sight of the barn results in some small anxiety, but nothing too serious.
    • The moment we reverse and head back in the direction of the barn (even if that is not actual our destination), queue the crazies. Cow hopping, head tossing, bolting, prancing in place, shooting sideways, chomping of the bit, rooting.....you name it.
    • Rest of the trail ride is spent fighting for control.

So, despite my love for hacking outside, I have never had an enjoyable trail ride with Fiction. That is, until Saturday.

The ride started off as normal. If anything, he seemed more lethargic than usual.

We turned the first corner as we normally do and....nothing happened.

We eventually started heading back in the direction we had come from and....one small head toss, one small bout of prancing and then....walking!

We headed back away from the barn, down and around a huge field, and then eventually started back in the direction of the barn again. It was at this point, while we were traversing up a hill, that we had a small, minor breakdown.

Fiction wanted to bolt up the hill. I disagreed. However, instead of fighting him or forcefully redirecting him into some sort of work as I usually do, I simply turned him in small circles and slowly spiraled up the hill. By the time we got to the top (about 7 circles), he was walking again. The rest of the trail ride was smooth sailing.

So what has changed? I'm not ashamed to admit that I have. Those times on the trail that he got tense? Instead of tensing up myself and pulling back, I fought my instincts, took some very deep breaths, and gave him his head. That's it.

Even when we did our circles, I took deep breaths, gave him his head, and the fighting stopped.


Outfitting The Trailer


I'm a new trailer owner. I wont be using the trailer too often until next year, especially since it really needs two new tires before any significant hauling is done, but I do want to start accumulating items for it.

So, those of you who own trailers/show a lot (especially if you go alone!) - what essential items do you find yourself packing along for the ride?

Oh, and I have already looked into a membership with US Rider, but if someone knows of a different/better plan, please share!


On This Road Together


Fiction was covered in mud when I made it out to see him last night, but a quick brush down got him nice and shiny again.

I threw his tack on, meandered into the arena, set an alarm for 30 minutes, and hopped on.

My goals for this ride:

    • Softness and acceptance at the working walk.
    • Softness and acceptance at the trot.
    • Softness and acceptance at the canter.

That is it. I'm keeping our goals very simple and our riding sessions very short because all that matters right now is his mental state.

He started off immediately in a beautiful, soft walk with no weird shuffling stutter-steps like he normally has (his walk is his worst gait by far). We did some of the walk-halt circle exercises and then moved into the trot.

The trot was a bit wonky at first - there were poles set up in the middle of the arena and he couldn't stop focusing on them. This horse is so traumatized by jumps that even poles on the ground upset him. If I would have gone over them a few times he probably would have relaxed, but that was not one of my goals, and he really should learn to relax and listen to me when I ask, not when he decides to.

I incorporated a bunch of sitting trot to try to work on my position/legs. He never is too happy at the sitting trot and I think it is either because I originally held him back too much and rode front-to-back at the sitting trot (so he has some trauma from that), or that his saddle might need to be re-flocked/he needs a chiro appointment. There doesn't seem to be any back pain or soreness though, so I'm inclined to believe that he is just being fussy because he expects me to hold him back.

Trot work turned into canter work. Same thing here - he didn't want to pick up the canter/pinned his ears and kicked out despite my very gentle contact with his mouth. I'm convinced that this is trauma related to past training and that he will move through it, especially if we find an instructor who understands how to get him to move forward past this obstacle. For now, however, I do believe I should start riding in small spurs, because he was not as keen off my leg as I would have liked and he attempted to run into the canter at times.

The canter work was pretty gross starting off, but eventually I figured out a formula that got him soft and relaxed. Steady outside rein, inside leg lightly applied, inside rein lightly applied to soften. We had some super nice canter work without leaning, but my legs weren't too happy by the end.

C'mon let's go already!
We finished with some walking leg yields as a cool down. I know lateral work for this horse should be used as a warm-up, but he gets so worked up over leg yielding right now that I don't want to start with it and set a bad tone for the rest of the ride.

He was very good this time around though, and while he balked a bit in one direction (can't remember which), I tried to implement more feeling into my approach. Dressage In Harmony, which I am currently reading, stated that the leg aides for leg yields should be applied when the inside hind leg lands on the ground. You can only influence a leg before it moves, not while it is moving. When I started thinking in these terms, Fiction started responding better to my aides.

He wasn't even sweaty by the time we were done (we did so much walking). I brushed some of the now-dried mud off, and then treated his feet for thrush (even though it is gone). The entire time he kept nuzzling my butt/back and nibbling on me. I normally dislike this type of behavior, but I didn't reprimand him for it this time because I was genuinely just so happy to see him relaxed and bright-eyed after a ride. It felt like, for a moment, we were friends again, with no resentment between us.

It was wonderful.


Selecting an Instructor


Throughout my riding career I've only worked with two instructors and one instructor/trainer.

The first instructor was a young woman, early 20s, who had clearly spent her life around horses but had no actual credentials. She helped me learn the basics of riding, and I moved on when I outgrew her.

The second instructor was an older woman who was actively working towards her bronze medal in Dressage, but was having little success. I took lessons with her on and off for a while, but gradually began to realize that I learned more from books than I did from her.

The third instructor, my most recent teacher, was also a trainer and helped me start Fiction in jumping and basic flat work. She had raised and trained many thoroughbreds before him, and her jumping knowledge base was wonderful.

I was coming off of a 5 year no-horse spell when I bought Fiction. I essentially had to learn how to ride again, on a hot horse that was a far cry from the warmblood I had owned previously. With new insecurities blossoming by the minute, I took this instructor/trainer's word as gospel, and together we did some pretty darn cool things with Fiction.

But as time progressed I began to realize a few things. First and foremost - Fiction didn't seem happy. Secondly, I wasn't happy. Our moods began to feed each other in a never-ending circle until I began to contemplate quitting.

And then I took a clinic with Nicky Vogel.

Now, Nicky isn't perfect. No instructor is. But Nicky gave me something I had never experienced with an instructor - complete and utter faith in their ability to understand me and my horse. It was a level of comfort that I can only equate to the type of understanding that, as a rider, I seek to establish with my equine partner.

That was when I began to realize, for the very first time in my equestrian career, that not every instructor is a fit for every rider or for every horse.

Of course, now I consistently berate myself for taking so long to come to this understanding, but time can not be retracted.

This isn't to say that my past instructors were bad. I have learned a lot from them over the years. They have each been pivotal in my progression. But I understand now that none of them have been a true fit for me, nor for my horse. After all, not every shoe can fit every foot.

With the impending move to the new barn and the introduction of three new possible instructors, I have begun to compile a list of qualities to look for when selecting who I will ride with. They are as follows:

    • The willingness to listen. I know my horse far better than any instructor. I understand how fussy and sensitive he can be and I need an instructor who will listen to my concerns and attempt to formulate a viable lesson plan to match my horse's learning style.
    • Attentiveness. One of the best things about Nicky was her ability to point out every single thing that I was doing wrong at the exact moment I was doing it. She never stopped talking; never stopped correcting me. I need that. I need constant reminders until it sinks in. Telling me once to keep my legs back will not help me keep my legs back. Ping me every time they slide forward, please.
    • Believes in a classical approach to riding. No heavy hands, no throwing a horse into a wall if he wont stop, no forcing the horse into a movement or position he feels uncomfortable in. Fiction benefits tremendously from a calm, structured, repetitive teaching style that focuses on learning through cooperation, not through force. That is how I wish to ride him from this point forward and I need a like-minded instructor.
    • The willingness to allow me to be a part of the instruction. What I mean by this is an open mind to any and all suggestions I might have to exercises or ideas for me and my horse. I want to feel as if I can raise possible objections to what is being taught and not be ridiculed for possible ignorance when I have a genuine question or concern.
    • The ability to make me and my horse feel comfortable. I want to look forward to my lessons, regardless of whether or not I have made any headway since the last.
    • And finally, credentials. I want to see viable accomplishments. A bronze or silver medal, judge certification, prestigious competition background, etc. I'm at the point in my life where money has become a very valuable commodity and I refuse to waste it.

A few of these ideas may seem nit-picky, but ultimately I am a customer paying for a service. The instructor works for me. I know I may not find an ideal fit, of course, but I am willing to compromise as long as at the end of the day my horse and I are comfortable and happy.

So what about you? How did you decide on the instructors you use now? Are you still looking for that ideal fit?


A Ride


After I happily discovered Fiction's thrush was gone, I quickly tacked him up for a ride on Thursday night. In an effort to be more productive during my rides, I formulated three goals:

1. Steadiness/softness at the walk (but not meandering around)
2. Steadiness/softness at the trot
3. Lateral work

I got on, set a timer for 25 minutes, and started out at the walk, working immediately.

We practiced the exercise Ingrid had taught us at our last clinic: 20m circle, halting at each of the four points. I added 1-2 steps of backing up after each stop for the first two circles, then progressed to just stopping, and then finally full circles without halting at the walk.

Fall cleanup day at the new barn - clearing trails!
This was done in both directions and I was careful not to do it for too long, lest he get bored. After some walk work, we progressed into trot work. He flailed and got crazy excited when A brought her new OTTB into the arena (Fiction is in love with him), but instead of getting tense and pulling like I normally do, I changed nothing except for my seat: I sat two beats at every point of the circle and breathed out through my mouth. Within moments we were both calm and Fiction began to listen to me again.

After some trot work, we moved into lateral work - leg yielding from the quarter line. This started out sticky but progressed very well and was a great cool down for the both of us.

Also, throughout the ride I concentrated on legs back and wrapped around his body rather than just engaged when asking for something. This was actually far easier than I anticipated and the more I concentrated on wrapping my legs around him, the better my posture became and the softer my seat grew.

He was a bit sweaty after I finished, but he seemed happy and relaxed. The whole ride had been quite enjoyable.

I gave him a peppermint, brushed him out, and treated his feet with Tomorrow.




I want to take a moment to tell you about the miracle that is Tomorrow Dry Cow Mastitis treatment.

This stuff is amazing.

I have been battling an unusually bad case of thrush in Fiction's back feet over the past week or two now, with nothing working. I tried Thrush Buster, Espom salt, Kopertox, Sore No More the Sauce, scrubbing with betadine, etc.

Now, granted, it was getting a little bit better but not fast enough for my liking and I was afraid that if I missed a day of treatment it would just relapse like crazy. Especially with all the rain we have been getting lately.

So, a few internet searches later, I came across the recommendation for the Tomorrow treatment. I picked it up from my local TSC for $39.99 but you can get it off of the internet for a few bucks cheaper (since shipping negates most of the savings).

The box comes with 12 syringes.

The first night I applied it, I started by cleaning out his feet the best I could, and then squirted it into the problem areas, packed those areas with cotton, and soaked the cotton in the liquid. I held his feet up for a bit to let it soak in, and then proceeded to put him back out. I ended up using 1 and 1/2 tubes for all 4 feet.

Fast forward two days to last night. By then most of the cotton had fallen out. I pulled out whatever was left and eyeballed his feet.

It was gone. Completely gone. No smell, no gross goop, nothing. Magic, I tell ya. Magic.

To be on the safe side, I used a little over 1/2 of a tube across the previously infected areas, sans-cotton.

Two tubes, no thrush. How awesome is that?

If you're struggling with thrush, or you battle it frequently (like I do), I highly recommend trying some of this stuff out.


Sensitive Horses


I've been battling an unusually strong case of thrush in Fiction's back feet this past week. Of course, because it weighs heavily on my mind, I tend to talk about it a lot.

I was out at the barn on Tuesday night treating Fiction's thrush when the SO texted me to ask where I was. His response to my location/activity was: "He sure is a sensitive horse."

This, of course, was almost identical to the reaction that my Father had given me earlier in the day when I had mentioned the thrush. He also pointed out that 'Fiction sure is a lot of work.'

When I first got Fiction, I had a tendency to freak out over the smallest scratch which gave the illusion that something horrible was happening to the horse every other day. Now, I look at scratches with light disdain, smack on some cream, and call it a day. The thrush this time around has been slightly different because it is actually the first case that has ever caused him discomfort.

Anyways, thus far this year, Fiction has come into many different skin scratches, cuts, abscesses, skin fungus, and two splints. I had the vet out twice - once for his splint, and once for his colic. And, in hindsight, the splint vet call was more to make myself feel better - it wasn't actually needed.

The only ailments that really consumed my time were the skin fungus (almost 2 weeks of daily bathing), the splint (a few days of wrapping), the colic (a night and day of watching), and now the thrush (treating every day, to every other day now that it has cleared up quite a bit).

In my honest opinion, save for the colic and the splints, none of these instances are really 'high maintenance.' In fact, I consider them to be a normal part of horse ownership. Never have I known a horse that hasn't had thrush or a skin fungus at least once. And scratches/cuts are a part of daily life.

I know that it is hard for non-horse people to understand that, so I explained to the SO and made him aware that there are far worse things that I could be managing - say, a soft tissue injury. As for my dad, well, he used to own hardy quarter horses, so he tends to over exaggerate Fiction's ailments in his head.

So, what are your thoughts on what makes a 'sensitive/high maintenance horse'? And how have you explained to non-horse people that most time-consuming ailments are normal?