Recently while cinching Jim up in his western saddle, I looked at him and wondered if there was a better cinch for him than just the straight cinch. After speaking with my trainer, we came across the Total Saddle Fit Shoulder Relief cinch. Available in synthetic or leather and then a felt, neoprene or fleece liner, I chose a black leather cinch with white fleece for Jim. Then I eagerly awaited the mail.

 

The cinch arrived in good time and unboxing it, I was surprised with a hat that had come along with it! Pretty cool plus! The fleece is very soft and the leather is supply and smells great. It has a roller buckle on one end and comes with a good diagram of how to use it.

 

I rode Jim in it the next day and he loved it! After walking him around a bit, it fell right in place. He definitely enjoys having the fleece on his skin instead of neoprene rubbing. It also looks sharp. I absolutely love the shape of this cinch and Jim enjoys it too! He rode very nicely in it and it frees up his elbows and shoulder very well.

The only downside is a small negative to the fleece. I rode in an 85 degree + day in the northeast. It was very humid and Jim had sweat a lot. After riding, I made sure to rest the cinch upside down off from the saddle to dry out the fleece since it did get quite wet. However, Total Saddle Fit does sell replacement liners so if I ever want to switch out the fleece, I can without losing the cinch! That is a nice feature I’m sure I’ll use sometime in the future.

Total Saddle Fit has these cinches for western, dressage and English saddles. The two English versions are even sold at Dover Saddlery. It was a bit expensive ($130 without the fleece, $169 with the fleece), but the quality is there and I’ve already recommended it to a number of friends! I can’t wait to log some more miles in this cinch.

(Disclaimer: I purchased this cinch with my own funds.)

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Jim eats better than I do. He has a personal nutritionist. He has all of his meals carefully planned. He gets an ideal amount of everything he needs to be the successful athlete he is. While I sit and just try to make a healthy recipe out of a book, he is getting the most perfect feed for his type, weight and exercise. What we feed our horses matters. They are athletes and they need the dietary support to perform how we want them to.

It’s sometimes easy as a horse owner to sit back and let others make decisions for you. Your horse may be fairly easy to feed. He or she may get fat on air. But when it comes to becoming an educated owner who likes to learn and be involved, it’s important to dive right in and understand WHY your horse is fed what he is.

I’m very fortunate to have a trainer who doubles as a nutritionist for the farm. She has spent a lot of time with me sitting down and discussing supplements and how best to tailor Jim’s diet to his workload and condition.

My favorite example is when it came to picking a new hoof supplement. Before I had Jim on the DAC Bloom and Oil for his coat and hooves. The products are fabulous together. However Jim started gaining fat pockets. He had tipped the side of the scale from muscle and healthy weight to getting fat and we wanted to nip it in the bud.

But not all hoof supplements are created equal and this is where equine nutrition and a knowledge in it become important.

For example, every supplement varies in the vitamins and amount of vitamins. They have to, otherwise they would all be the same product. Some have different fillers. Some are one ingredient. Some deliver vitamins by way of fat.

Hoof supplements are a perfect example of variation. They vary anywhere from 10mg of biotin in a 1oz scoop to 50mg or more. Some include copper, zinc and methionine while others are strictly biotin. It’s important as you begin to travel through the pages upon pages of supplements to have a trusted guide at your side. What sounds like Greek to you will be easily understood by someone with more experience.

But learn. Pay attention to why a supplement is better than another supplement for your horse. For Jim, he couldn’t have anything with a high fat content or something that delivered the biotin via fat. That was the reason he could not be on the Bloom anymore. But the methionine helps a horse’s body process biotin so it’s a good thing to have in a supplement.

We went through dozens. It took over an hour going through supplements to decide on one to try. And yes, I said try because at the end of the day, we may not be happy with it. Your horse’s diet – yours as well – is fluid. It always has to be assessed and tailored.

At some point, sit down with your trainer or someone – not a feed store rep – to analyze what you feed. Determine what holes exist in the feeding program and ask questions. Be more involved. At the end of the day, your horse will thank you.

I’m going to say something that will make everyone gasp…

Treats aren’t the only way you can show your horse love and appreciation.

I touched on some of these in my blog about my post-show routine, but I think it’s an important fact to get across. You don’t have to constantly feed your horse to make them happy.

With the issues of obesity in horses, many people don’t look into what they’re feeding as treats. Some treats are so laden with sugars, artificial flavors or fillers that it’s like giving your horse a McDonald’s milkshake every day.

And it’s not just sugar-filled treats. Apples have a historically higher sugar content than carrots do. Better yet – rainbow organic carrots have an even lower sugar content.

How many treats – even the little peppermints from restaurants that you nabbed on the way out – do you give a day? One or two? Or five to 10? It may seem incidental, but it’s not. It adds up in your horse’s overall health.

Along with finding low or no sugar treats and watching out for artificial flavors and starches, your horse would just as much appreciate a good liniment rub. Or a massage with a favorite curry comb. I have one of the curry combs with the rolling magnets on one side. Jim absolutely loves it!

Instead of filling up a treat ball or hanging a Lick-It in the stall, how about a few special moments of hand grazing? Or a nice shampoo and conditioning – including mane and tail – that would make your horse feel better.

Even a long scratch on the withers where it’s particularly itchy for horses is sometimes most satisfying for them than a treat. I’m not saying to never give treats – I think Jim would murder me – but feed within reason. One or two after a good work where he or she earned them is better than a huge handful for just existing. Also pay attention to what you’re feeding. I’ve been personally feeding Giddyap Girl treats that are lower in sugar and also include some good probiotics.

Your horse and his body condition score will thank you.

Recently @equine.rampaige on Instagram drew Jim and I. It was after our last Western Dressage show and I really wanted a drawing that showcased his beauty. She surpassed any expectation I had! Along with shedding a few pounds from me (Thank you!!), she captured Jim perfectly. I didn’t have to give her much direction either, she just knew. All of the comments on her Instagram were about being so happy a western dressage rider had been drawn! I’ll be finding a special spot for this on the blog soon!

 

My post show routine

After a busy day at a show, your horse is tired, you’re tired. Everything is a mess. You have your tack still in the trailer. Your show bag is full of hay from where your horse dripped pieces from his hay bag into it. Your show numbers are still attached to a bridle or a show jacket. Pretty much, it’s utter chaos.

We spend so much time before the show to get ready and so much energy AT the show that no one feels like cleaning up afterward. It takes enough of your energy to make sure both horse and items get back to the barn OK that nothing else matters.

This past Sunday, my husband and I packed up our stuff and Jim and went off to a dressage show. Afterward I ran off to a late night at work and Thomas went home to crash after not sleeping. My schedule for the next morning? Post show routine.

Getting to the barn, I checked on Jim first. He was exhausted. The night before a thunderstorm had rolled through and I swear he didn’t get any sleep. Spa day! Perfect for post show days.

But before I could do anything with him, I had to unpack the trailer. Not only is promptly unpacking the trailer important, but it’s respectful to your fellow barn mates and trainer. They will need that trailer for another show – one you may not be going to – and it’s only polite to get all of your stuff out so when it comes time, others can put their stuff in. Otherwise it would become one big mess and no one would be able to find anything!

I have a system for trailer unpacking. Doing multiple trips back and forth, I work on getting everything from the trailer to my tack trunk. I don’t care where it goes at this point, just the act of getting all of the items in one spot helps! Then it’s hanging up the saddles, pads and bridles and putting brushes, lunge equipment and other things away. Show numbers get immediately put in the show bag for future shows since many of them make you reuse your number for the season!

Once everything is away, I could focus on Jim. Pampering days are some of my favorite. I break out all of my brushes – curry comb, hard brush, soft brush, flicker brush, face curry comb, face brush, mane and tail comb, hoof pick – and I go at it. Polish up with some hoof dressing, rebraid his tail and put it up in his Tail Boot.

Then I wrapped him up in his Back on Track mesh sheet. My next BOT purchase needs to be the quick wraps. That would make for some extra special spa days! Putting Jim away, the biggest thank you was watching him lay down and fall asleep – so peaceful and so comfortable. Spa days are my way to say thank you to him – thanks for performing your best and being my partner.

Spring has come to New England and with it, we prepare for the biggest battle we equestrians face: flies.

Just last week, I spotted my first bee of 2019. Gnats are beginning to beat their wings. My husband is finding baby spiders in his car. We must be ready.

Last week, I purchased my first few bottles of fly spray for Jim. Tucking one in my tack trunk, I hung the other on his stall for easy use and for turnout. (I have a great bottle holder that hangs on my blanket bar that comes in handy!) My barn owner looked at me as if I was crazy; being so prepared. But the fact of the matter is, it’s not a bad thing to be prepared for.

Some horses are very sensitive to bug bites. Although not overly reactive, Jim can be prone to hives from some bites and he is not a fan of bugs in his face or ears while riding. My secret weapon when it comes to fly spray is the Pyranha products. I especially like their aerosol for good coverage that lasts and really works. It goes for anywhere from $16-22 a bottle and does not make your horse’s coat too slick before a ride.

When it comes to riding, Jim often sports a fly mask or a fly bonnet. This year, my husband and I got new LeMieux sets in plum and midnight. I can’t wait to try them out! I am shopping for a new fly mask this year. I’ve had my current one for almost 2 years and it’s time to change it up. I did like my old one though which was the Absorbine Ultrashield.

For fly sheets, you can’t beat the quality of Schneider’s. I own both their Mosquito Mesh sheet with a neck and their Interlock Mesh sheet. The interlock is slightly heavier of a material, but has great UV protection which is wonderful when you have a black horse and don’t want him to bleach! The mosquito mesh is lighter and really good for those especially hot summer days.

The next thing on my checklist? Start throwing winter blankets into the wash and take my fly sheets out of storage. I was smart and put them away clean so they’ll be all set to break out and use this year. I like to slowly rotate my winter blankets out of use as the weather warms up. The heavyweights are already in the wash and the mediumweights will be going soon. Eventually his turnout sheets will hit the wash too, but with the amount of mud he enjoys kicking up while playing – it won’t be for awhile.

It’s the end of March and before you know it, those flies will be buzzing around our heads and in our hair once again. Don’t let them catch you off guard!

As a sport, we are surrounded by judging. We are judged for how we look. We are judged for how our horses look. We are judged for how we ride. But in the midst of all of that judging, we should be doing more supporting.

Statistics around rates of depression, anxiety and suicide are terrifying. It’s almost impossible to find someone that hasn’t been affected in some way by an issue with mental health. You can’t see depression from how someone is dressed. You don’t know that they’ve considered suicide from how successful or unsuccessful their ride was. You have no idea if they’re going through an anxiety attack by the brand of their show jacket.

No, you can’t “solve” them. One interaction may not lift all of their thoughts of suicide out of their mind. One saying won’t cure them of depression. But a kind word can soothe.

We as equestrians don’t do enough cheering. We are so focused on how we did that we don’t always look to the other girl in the lineup and say you did a good job. We don’t often help one another in the warm up arena as everyone is trying to navigate a ring of chaos. We don’t always try and lift each other up so everyone can do well and feel accomplished.

Yes, our sport may be about judging, but we compete to also have fun. It isn’t particularly fun to come in last every class or feel utterly defeated by a ride. What is fun, though, is being told by another competitor that they liked your shirt or that your pivot turn in a showmanship class rocked. Maybe you had a fantastic rein back in the line up. Or maybe your horse was extra shiny that day. Little comments count.

So I challenge you, fellow equestrians, just as I challenge myself. Make someone smile. Help another with their 20m dressage circle or just tell them you love their horse. Instead of just saying “maybe next time,” tell them something positive. Lift them up. Although you can’t solve everyone’s mental health issues, maybe just that kind comment keeps it at bay for a moment. It might give someone just that little bit of relief and positivity that they need to hear. You can make a difference.

A winter of work

It’s been a long, dreary winter. In New England, we have had the strangest few months – with small storms bringing freezing cold and ice amid mild temperatures. I think I have become a pro on the “penguin walk” across sheets of ice both at home and at the barn. We haven’t had tons of snow this year, mostly just ice and freezing rain. Where we board Jim we very fortunately have an indoor arena. I know a lot of equestrians are not blessed with an indoor, but it is definitely worth it when it comes to New England weather.

At the start of the winter back in November, we placed Jim in training 2 days a week with our barn owner. We had a few specific short-term goals along with some long-term goals for our 2019 show season and beyond. Our short-term goals included a complete rework of how we lunge Jim. A year ago, our lunging consisted of a horse who liked to tear around like an idiot, burst out from you when you sent him out, and a horse that tried to break away from you when you went to change the chain set up while changing directions.

Another goal was to teach Jim how to balance himself both while lunging and under saddle. Although very broke, he liked to throw his nose up in the air and go way above the vertical. He rode very hollow and was very heavy on the forehand. He didn’t have much of a concept of engaging his hindquarters and stepping through.

Traffic was another key that Jim needed some work. He can work very nicely around other horses, but sometimes, oh sometimes, those ears went back and the attitude came out. With show season quickly approaching again, that wasn’t going to cut it – especially when it comes to warm up arenas.

Another smaller goal was to put some showmanship and ground handling buttons on him. He actually knows quite a lot in this department, but there’s some finishing work to be done.

And we have our long-term goals which include expanding our dressage knowledge, putting a flying change on him and working on more lateral work.

It’s been four months of training. We have had our setbacks and we have had some amazing progress. I actually love watching Jim learn. He sometimes takes a week or so and has a setback, but once it’s over, comes back even stronger.

One of our main goals – lunging – has come a long way. While it’s not perfect and probably will never be since some of it is just him, we can handle him much better and lunging has turned into teaching moments and not just “go run around like an idiot.” He’s actually not allowed to canter on the lunge line. Lunging work is for paying attention and working his brain. He’s taken to the new lunging rules very well.

Another goal that is coming along nicely is Jim learning how to balance himself. He has actually started to consistently round (when I use my legs!) He’s begun to understand what we are asking of him. He has also muscled up a lot. I can’t wait to take some new conformation photos in the spring!

While we still have some goals in the works, I’m very happy about our winter progress. But the most important part is how much fun we have been having with him. He lights up our life. From letting us put gloves on his ears and take funny photos to how much enjoyment we get riding and pampering and loving him, he has become part of the family. Having fun is what our sport is all about. If you’re not having fun, your passion will die. Every time you go to the barn and every time you put a foot in the stirrup, you should enjoy what you’re doing. The confidence we have been gaining (especially me) working with Jim has been fantastic. And I have my village to thank who are there for us all along the way.

Months back when my husband and I were on a trip, we stayed at a little B&B that had a barn attached to it. In the mornings, the B&B let us saunter down to the barn to greet the Tennessee Walkers they had. We got to know two of the boarders and one morning, one of them was opening a box from SmartPak.

Along with multiple things inside, she was most excited about her Haas brushes. I had maybe seen them once or twice, but never thought much of them. They’re not cheap and I didn’t understand what the fuss was about.

Fast forward back to January. I wanted them. I had found the black horse set they sell on their German website. But in foreign currency and shipping them to the U.S., they would be expensive. Also I didn’t understand why I needed 5 brushes for one grooming! Instead, I found 3 critical brushes on the SmartPak site that were included in the black horse set- the Curry Comb, the Lipizzaner and the Diva Exclusive.

(Photos courtesy of Smartpakequine.com)

Now these brushes aren’t cheap. The curry is $6, the Lipizzaner is $40 and the Diva Exclusive is $32. You may ask, why is it worth buying that expensive of brushes? After using them twice so far, I understand.

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Now granted, Jim is a show horse. He’s kept inside and blanketed. He’s worked throughout the entire winter with a strict routine. He has a very balanced nutrition program including DAC Oil and I also spray him down with Equifuse’s Shine Spray about once every week to two weeks. And I seriously need to be able to bathe him when it’s warm again and get those stockings clean! But when I picked up those brushes, even that thin layer of dirt and dead hair brushed away.

The curry comb is part curry and part shedder. Since it’s almost spring, Jim has already been losing small fine hairs. The curry took things out of his coat that I had no idea they were there! It is a firm curry, but Jim seemed to like it.

The Lipizzaner is a good medium brush. It picked up all of the hair the curry left behind. It’s comfortable to use in your hand and you get a very nice grooming stroke from it. But my favorite of the 3 brushes is the Diva Exclusive.

The Diva sports lambs wool in the center of it. It’s almost softer than my cat! It’s lined with black horse hairs on the outside to give it lift and structure and damn does it work! It’s my favorite polishing/finishing brush ever. It’s going to be perfect come show season for getting that extra little bit of shine to come through. (And that can be difficult on a black horse!)

Another cool part about Haas is they have a chestnut, a gray, and a universal set as well as the black horse set. It’s not just a marketing ploy – they do cater the brushes to the coat types. Grays you need that extra pull from urine stains, chestnuts usually have a very sensitive/thin skin, and black horses love their deep clean grooming! If you’re like me and cannot afford the full set, find some reviews and see which brushes come in the set and choose the ones for you.

I know my husband will kill me for it, but I’m addicted to these brushes. They were a birthday gift and I’m so glad they were! Now I need a nice handy bag to keep them safe in.

(Note: I received these brushes from a non-horse family member for my birthday!)

It’s January and it’s time to sit down and collect our goals for the year. Most equestrians only have to focus on their personal goals and what they’d like their year to look like. In the case of being 1/2 of an equestrian couple, it’s a team effort.

Decisions such as what classes are we doing this year are broken down into “which ones can one person enter and which ones can the other?” Is one of us ready to move up a division and the other one stay in the same or are we both moving up? And it varies by show series. Some show series have certain classes while others don’t. Will I be the one to take Jim into the in hand classes or will my husband? Will he take him into Western Halter while I take him into English Halter? It goes on and on.

That’s on top of our usual personal goals and where we would like to see our riding this year. Luckily, him and I see very eye to eye on one thing with Jim: dressage. He tried dressage with Jim last year after I was ranting and raving about loving it. Now he’s just as hooked. Having dressage (both traditional and western) as one of our goals actually makes life easier since we can perform different tests. The trick is not performing more than allowed since some show series have rules on how many tests one horse can do at a single show.

Beside dressage this year, we set our eyes on one thing: our first overnight show. We took our budget from smaller shows last year and compiled it to focus on one, big September show – the New England Pinto Horse Association show in September. It will be the first time we have gone to a multi-day show where we don’t have to show off of our trailer. We set aside our vacation days from work for before and after so the horse show hangover won’t be so bad! And with it being in September, we have plenty of time to perfect our rides and train for it. Luckily we have trainers with us who support us in this goal and are ready to help us get there!

The show season begins early for us this year with a dressage show kick off in March (and maybe even a show before that!) I know we are ready and going to have so much fun this year because I can’t imagine anything more fun in the world than showing alongside my best friend and my horse.