The other day I saw a meme about what life would be like without horses and I could relate to how that feels and the pain it causes.

I wasn’t always fortunate enough to be around horses as much as I am now. When I was young, I think my parents hoped horses were “just a faze.” They hoped the dozens of model horses, the endless supply of horse movies, the horse books stacked up in my bookcase and the constant asking for a pony for Christmas would end. Quite frankly, it makes sense that they would think it was just a faze. For many children, it is. A love of horses starts young in many girls and although they still enjoy them, most get distracted and move on to other sports or boys or just something beside spending all of their time covered in dirt and hay in a smelly barn.

But stubborn, sassy me was determined. I rode in middle school and through half of high school until I had a bad fall. Confidence shaken, I succumbed to a life without horses. I took up dance for my final two years of high school. I had danced from age five to middle school so it wasn’t a stretch. I did do well in dance, but something was missing. In college, I didn’t have access to horses. I was too busy and too broke to do anything about it. So I tried to live without and what a mistake that was.

I struggled to figure out my identity. I made friends and enjoyed college life, but something was missing. I couldn’t pinpoint it at the time, but I was more on edge. My anxiety worsened. I got caught up in a relationship that wasn’t right for me.

Finally, during my second out of three years at university, I reached out to a friend with a Morgan/Arabian mare in her backyard. My friend was attending school in Ohio and her mare needed some love and work. I readily agreed.

I started to blossom again. I soon got out of the bad relationship. I caught rides to see the mare as often as I could. I begged my now husband (then a friend) to bring me to see her. I arranged for my co-ed community service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega to do work at a local horse rescue. Seeing others enjoy the 1,000 pound animals that I love so fiercely was amazing.

After college graduation, I found myself at a barrel racing barn volunteering to ride a green horse for his owner. Although that match didn’t work out, I came across my first lease horse, Bo. And the rest is history. Even though I didn’t stay long at the barrel racing barn, it was enough to open my heart back up. My then-fiance fell in love with equines too. The anxiety-induced panic attacks started to lessen. I gave up trying to be someone I wasn’t.

So when people ask me why I spend so much time at the barn and thinking and dreaming of horses, I can simply say it’s not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a passion I cannot be without. It’s part of who I am and I’m proud of that. And I never want to know a life without horses again.

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As I mentioned in my blog post about saying goodbye to Jack, when one door closes, another opens. While I bid ado to my friend, I said hello to a new one.

Down in the lower barn, at the way end of the aisle on the left sat “Jim.” He had just come to the barn in December as a lesson horse. At 15.2 hands, Jim is a solid black registered Paint. With some white stockings up his leg and a funny backward question mark looking stripe, he also has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known.

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Jim is almost the complete opposite of Jack. He’s 11, broke, he jumps, does barrels, trail rides. You name it, Jim does it. The best part? My husband can also ride him since he’s tall enough and quiet enough.

My barn owner offered us a lease on Jim with plenty of rides during the week. We couldn’t turn it down. There was just something about him. Although my heart is still mending over Jack, I started to get excited about Jim. Thomas and I started thinking about our show season and all of the fun things we can do. I started making plans to go trail riding with one of my good friends around the property because finally, at last, I had a horse I could do it with. My world started turning.

Jim can never be a replacement for Jack. I don’t expect any horse to completely fill his void. Jack left an awful big mark on my heart. But Jim is here to nuzzle my shoulder and remind me of why I love horses. He is the biggest teddy bear I’ve ever known.

While I’m on Jim, I’ve started to relax again. I’ve started to gain back the confidence that Jack had thrown in the dirt. I started to feel more like me.

It’s been a bittersweet couple of months in my life. It’s been hard to say goodbye, but it’s a welcomed feeling to say hello. Jim seems to know I need him. After Jack left the barn, Jim let me pamper him for over an hour, braiding his long, fluffy, unruly mane. He took it like a champ and fell asleep, lower lip drooping. Each day it gets a little bit easier. Every step I take with Jim reminds me I can do it.

You are a horse owner or have a friend who owns a horse and you’re looking for the perfect gift for him/her. Horsehair jewelry is out of the question. The person doesn’t want to cut their horse’s tail. Or they would never wear it. In comes Vibrant Clay and Jewelry.

I have had a number of custom animals made by Leanne. A quick Facebook message is all it takes to order. She does have a waiting list and is usually booking custom projects for the next month or so. They typically run anywhere from $40 up depending on the complexity of the custom work. She will add props or different poses or anything you can imagine! You can even make your horse into a unicorn.

The dog I had done (shown above) was my childhood Sheltie named Oreo. All I had was a few photos of her from when I was a child. Leanne worked with me and made a spot on replica of her. I treasure it forever. I’ve also had gifts done for other people of their horses.

Don’t want to order custom? She posts horses, dogs, cats, chickens, elephants – almost any animal – up for sale on her Facebook page. Right now she’s running a whole line of Easter-themed animals she has done!

If you’re interested, go ahead and like her Facebook page and send her a message! She will let you know the wait time and after you send photos and describe what you’d like, how much it will be. She does accept PayPal.

(I have paid for all custom work done by Vibrant Clay and Jewelry and did not receive any compensation for this review.)

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(Photo courtesy of irhhelmets.com)

Helmet. The second you say the word it’s like you stepped onto a battlefield and raised your flag, signifying your troops to charge on full force like a scene out of Braveheart. It’s one of the most polarizing topics on Facebook groups and Instagram wars. Why, when you step onto a 1,000 pound animal with a mind of its own, you should wear a helmet.

Anyone who has met me has known me to be very straightforward about my advocacy for wearing helmets. I have had one save my life and I know some of my smaller falls probably could have been a lot worse had I not had my helmet on.

I was in high school when I was on a runaway Arabian gelding named Fireman. No matter what I did, he kept on tearing around the arena. The barn I was at at the time had an attached barn to the indoor. He felt like he was going to go out the door. Instead, he veered to the left and I took a hard fall right – into the indoor arena wall.

I was bruised, I tore muscles, I was shook up, but I never blacked out. I destroyed the back dial of my black International helmet and cracked the outer shell. But alas, I was walking, talking, breathing, reading and did not suffer a traumatic brain injury. All because of my helmet.

I hear so many reasons from riders why they don’t wear helmets. “You don’t wear helmets riding Western,” “it’ll mess up my hair,” “I’ll be penalized in shows for wearing one,” “they make me look stupid,” “I know my horse and that would never happen to me.” And my favorite one, “it’s my head and I’ll take the risk.”

A few myths to dispel. 

1 – you cannot be penalized in a show ring in any class for wearing a helmet. AQHA, USEF, USEA – you name the organization, the rules state you cannot be penalized.

2 – it’ll mess up my hair or I’ll look stupid. I think I’d rather look stupid or have to run a brush through my hair than not have the motor skills left after a TBI to brush my own hair.

3 – You don’t wear helmets riding Western. Well actually, it’s perfectly safe and acceptable. Even though I dislike Fallon Taylor, at least she has introduced more helmets to the barrel racing and western world. I was at a barrel race years ago when a girl came off her horse going around a turn and slammed into the barrel. She almost didn’t live. Now would a helmet have kept her from most of her injuries? Maybe not. But it would have increased her chance of not suffering a TBI. 100%.

4- I know my horse and that would never happen to me. Guess what? Horses are animals. They have minds of their own. They get scared and spook at things. I don’t care if you’re on a 30-year-old mare you’ve ridden since you were 2 years old. There is ALWAYS a chance at an accident. It’s simply part of our sport. I have seen that same 30-year-old mare go flying across the arena after snow fell off the roof.

And finally,

5 – It’s my head and I’ll take the risk. Yes, it does come down to your decision. However say you do fall and hit your head and if you live, suffer a TBI. You also affect all of the lives around you. All of your loved ones and friends. You also have changed your life forever. Don’t expect to be back in the saddle soon or if ever. You also set an example for younger riders at the barn.

It’s not difficult to find a helmet that fits, is fashionable to you, and is comfortable. There are helmets ranging in price range from $35 to $500. They all are certified ASTM/SEI as long as they are an equestrian helmet. No bike helmets, Mom and Dad!

Going into the spring riding season, it’s a great time to check your gear.

Have you replaced your helmet since your last fall? They do get compressed after a fall and really only can sustain one fall. Has it expired? Has it been left sitting in a hot car at one point and warped and doesn’t fit correctly? Now is a good time to snag some deals at your local tack shop or online.

Hopefully you never have to experience a fall like I did. But every fall has a chance at hurting your head. Be smart and protect yourself. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to not end up a vegetable in a hospital with no brain function because I chose to forego my helmet – for whatever reason.

I have to admit, Back on Track products has become a staple in my tack trunk. From polo wraps to exercise boots to now the sheet, I’ve noticed a difference in my horse.

I received the mesh sheet as a Christmas gift this past year and it’s been one of my favorite things to put on the horses I ride! After a cold, winter ride, it’s a wonderful feeling to untack and put this on them. Almost every horse I’ve placed it on so far has relaxed on the crossties, started licking and chewing with relief, and began to fall asleep.

Under the blanket, you can feel the warmth radiating from the sheet as it works its magic. I’ve even enjoyed draping myself in it to warm up on chilly days!

They are definitely worth the money. For your basic black, depending on horse size, they run from $199-$250. They are also now offered in navy, burgundy and hunter green.

Back on Track also offers a variety of people and dog items and I will definitely be adding some people products for me into my collection in the future!

(Note: I received my sheet as a gift from family and did not receive any compensation for this review.)

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Photo courtesy of backontrackproducts.com.

Most people when they heard I had sold Jack consoled me. They knew how affected I was since he was my horse. But what they didn’t consider is how it affected my husband.

Thomas was there since day one supporting me. He helped me fall in love with Jack from the very beginning. He was ringside when we completed our first dressage test. He was there as we worked over and over on Jack’s showmanship. He helped show Jack in-hand when I was too nervous to step foot in the ring with him. He was my shoulder to lean and cry on when times got tough.

It’s been a rough week for both of us. As I deal with the loss of a friend – although very much the right decision – he’s dealing with it too. He was the one who helped me take off my stall plate. He helped box up some of the mementos. He’s there to hug me at night and remind me it’s all going to be OK.

He has helped me show an amazing amount of courage.

I don’t think I could go through this without him. He knows me, he loves me and he cares about me enough to know how important my safety is. I have a lot to thank him for.

As we move forward, I know we’ll move forward as a team. I’ll sit ringside during his lessons, taking embarrassing photos and videos of him because I’m a proud wife. He’ll help me shine my boots going into the ring so I can look my best. We’ll both give each other smiles and “go get ’em tigers” as we enter the show ring.

Tough times can only break down a marriage if you let it. The true test is coming out of it stronger and more bonded than ever before.

 

It wasn’t something my heart saw coming, but my mind did. It hit me like a load of bricks the day I realized I could no longer keep him. Him and I were no longer a match for each other.

I think the best way to round it up was I was tired. I was tired of dealing with a battle every day. I was tired of sitting the bucks and dodging bites. Jack had worn me down and it wasn’t changing anytime soon.

We had given Jack every opportunity we could. And when I say we, I say the village that was behind him. Me, my husband, my trainer and my barn owner. We all gave our blood, sweat and tears to him since the moment he came to the barn. But it was time to move on.

Our relationship tanked. As much as I worked at demanding his respect, Jack never gave me an inch. He had a different relationship with our trainer and barn owner, but for me, it wasn’t there.

And as his and my relationship soured, the potential for me to get hurt rose. It became not fair to me, not fair to him and not fair for those who care about both of us.

The next few weeks will be rough, but the pain will lessen. The guilt I’m feeling that I wasn’t good enough, that I’m a failure and that I didn’t give him enough chances will subside. My mind had been making this choice for weeks, but it still hit my heart like a shock to the ribs.

The spiritual side of me takes over my heart in times like this and it reminds me that things happen for a reason. God has a plan for me. With that, he may have closed a door, but he opened another. I won’t go into details quite yet, but there’s hope coming down the aisle for me. There’s another stall I’ll soon be opening, another set of eyes to stare into, another heart to know mine.

Good luck, my dear Jack. I am so sorry I wasn’t your person, but good luck on your journey. You will forever have a hoofprint on my heart.

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Temperatures here in the Northeast have been cold…very, very cold. We’re talking in the negatives with wind chills cold and it’s only January. Knowing a traditional New England winter can extend into March, I knew I couldn’t just stop riding. I’m blessed at Jack’s barn with an indoor, but sometimes it’s still too cold.

There’s days I take Jack out of his stall and I feel bad about peeling off those layers of warm blankets. He’s a finicky horse and he loves to be warm. He runs cold most of the time. I knew I had to get a quarter sheet for riding.

I decided on a quarter sheet over just throwing a cooler over him so that he could stay warm during the workout. I haven’t been working him hard enough to build up a lot of sweat so the quarter sheet was the perfect choice.

I ordered a Rider’s by Dover Saddlery Fleece Exercise Rug when it was on sale for $34.99. The site lists the normal price as $46.95.

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The rug comes in four colors, navy with charcoal piping (which I got), black with blue piping, charcoal with black piping, and periwinkle with gray piping. It can also be monogrammed in multiple different ways which I took part in. A lot of riders at my barn got these around the same time so I wanted to make sure they knew it was mine!

On Dover’s site, the sheet is described as made from soft, anti-pill fleece that is lightweight, breathable, wickable and allows for freedom of movement. It also has an easy on/off wither hook-and-loop closure and tail cord.

I haven’t tried it on Jack yet, but I am very excited to. It came very quickly (especially considering it was a personalized item). The monogram was correct. And so far it’s exactly as described! The only thing that could possibly be better would be different sizes. Right now these are kind of one-size-fits-all products and horses are varying lengths.

 

 

It’s the question everyone gets asked in January; did you make a New Year’s resolution? In the past, I have. However this year I didn’t bother. Instead, I made myself a goal and an affirmation.

Every year after I make a resolution, I maybe remember it for a little while. I may try and follow it. But after awhile and definitely by March, I’ve forgotten what I resolved to do. The resolution is out of sight, out of mind. It’s gone like a leaf being swept up by the wind in the fall.

People resolve all kinds of things when the New Year’s ball drops. They may resolve to lose weight or be kinder. They may resolve to finish writing a novel or completing a degree program. Most of the resolutions get lost in the wayside like a forgotten wrapper on the side of the street.

This year I wanted to be different. This year I didn’t resolve to do anything. I made myself an affirmation and achievable goals.

I am the person and rider Jack needs.

To most people, it would almost sound silly. But to me, on those rough days where I think I’m not good enough, I’m too amateur for a greenie, I’m not a strong enough rider, I need to hear this. I need my affirmation to remind me I AM the person he needs. Actually, my affirmation was slightly different before my trainer heard about it. It had been “I am able to be” not “I am.” However she set me straight that by saying I am able to be, I am making it sound like I am not already. There is no way to measure success with I am able to be. As I teared up while she set me straight, I realized how much I needed this affirmation – especially on the days Jack tests me. I AM his person and I CAN do this.

The other thing I established was a goal.

I will have a more relaxed, softer ride with a strong leg and careful hands.

This goal is going to take longer than my affirmation. This is something I work on every time I ride, no matter if it’s on Jack or not. This is my overall, reaching goal for my riding in general and what I want to focus on this year. Could I have made the goal of “I want to go to THIS show” or “I want to go on a trail ride” or “I want to get champion for THIS ribbon.” Sure. But would it have made me a better rider? Not necessarily. I would have learned something from it, but it wouldn’t help me in the long run as an equestrian. It’s also something I can measure as I can feel how my rides go and how I progress. And after achieving this goal, I’ll see it in the show ring and at home and on the trails because it will mean I have established better teamwork with Jack.

So when you’re considering if you made the right resolution, turn it around. What affirmation do you need to remind yourself of? And what’s a goal you would like to achieve in 2018?

These past few weeks have been all about respect for me. Jack and I have returned to a bit of groundwork focusing on respect and a bit more communication. He has gotten sassier as the winter has dragged on and it’s only the beginning of what may be a long New England cold snap.

But it’s been making me think about how respect also works in my marriage and showing mutual appreciation and respect for one another.

With Jack, respect has meant that he understands my personal space and that teeth and lips aren’t allowed on humans. I have to take a bit more of an alpha mare role, but also show that he’s safe with me. He has to trust me along with respecting what I ask of him. But it’s also a two-way street. I have to respect when he’s having a bad day and define what success means for that day. I have to understand when he’s in pain or when he’s being scared or insecure.

In my marriage, respect is also a two-way street. It’s a mutual respect of each other and our individual needs. I have to respect when he’s had a long day and also respect his judgment. (If he gets us up in the middle of the night because he thinks someone may or may not be breaking in and tells me to shush, I need to listen.) He also has to respect my moodiness and when I just need some quiet time or when I need him to be there for me.

Every day, I develop more and more respect for my husband and every time I work with Jack I have to build more and more respect. It takes constantly learning, being open to respect and also acknowledging when you’re being disrespectful to build the relationship up. When you are disrespectful, you have to realize it, acknowledge and commit yourself to not being disrespectful again.

Without mutual respect, both my marriage and my partnership with Jack wouldn’t work. It would fall apart at the seams. Respect binds the people (or person and animal) together in the relationship.