Merry Christmas

Sorry for the lack of updates in the past months. I was crazy busy with university and studying, Snoopy, and teaching. One of my goals for the New Year is to blog regularly again.

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Because it’s not like I don’t have anything to write about. I’ve finally found great new coaches for my dressage and jumping training as I’m prepping for the new season. I’m teaching even more now, and not just regular school lessons anymore but also jumping lessons. And with a little bit of luck, I’ll get to ride a four-year old youngster for my jumping coach next year.

 

I wish you, your families and your horses happy holidays and a great year 2014.

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Cowboys Don’t Cry

It doesn’t take much to make me cry. Crying is my universal response to all sorts of feelings. I cry when I’m sad, I cry when I’m happy, I cry when I’m afraid, embarrassed, stressed, angry, tired, and so on. It’s nothing unusual for me to shed some tears, and I personally don’t have a problem with it.

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The problem is that other people can’t handle it, especially in an Equestrian context. There is this stigma that “cowboys don’t cry”. Whenever I cry, there’s someone telling me to stop because it makes them uncomfortable (I guess). Or they keep asking me what’s wrong, assuming I’m crying to get attention and to be consoled.

But that’s not why I’m crying. I’m crying because I feel strongly and somehow these feelings need to get out of my system, otherwise I’d implode. So when I cry, I don’t want people to make a fuss about it. Ideally, I’d want them to ignore the fact that I’m crying because that way it will be over the quickest.

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When I am allowed to just let these feelings, these tears out, then all will be over after a couple of minutes and I’ll be able to go on as if nothing happened. But when people either ask me to keep it in, or they make a big deal out of it, it’s going to be that much more violent when it happens.

I really wish people were less afraid of and less bothered by other people showing their emotions. It shouldn’t be such a big deal. Some people keep everything inside, and that’s fine, but people who are more emotional shouldn’t have to be ashamed because of it.

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Horse Girl – The Next Generation

There is a twelve-year-old girl at our barn that reminds me a lot of myself when I was that age. She doesn’t have her own horse, but she’s there every single day anyway.

 

Girl-and-horseShe takes care of and rides the riding school’s Shetland ponies. Two of those are teeny tiny Mini Shetland ponies and she won’t be able to ride them much longer. The other one is the little stallion I mentioned in an earlier post. By now, they are a pretty good team and she really gets him.

 

I think it’s really important to keep girls like that motivated to stick around and wait for that magical day when they finally get their own horse. So I give her free lessons on Felix, and the other day, I let her ride my horse for twenty minutes (his warm-up). She had never ridden a big horse before, and also never a horse that’s not a school horse. She had to get used to the way Snoopy listens to and obeys his rider; he’ll react to even the slightest shift of your weight. She figured it out though, and it went really well.

 

flat,550x550,075,f.u4It took us a couple of minutes to get Snoopy to a walk again when it was time for me to get back on. He has done this in the past. When a new and rather inexperienced rider tries to get him to walk after some trotting and cantering, he gets a bit antsy. I guess he is still the little stress head at heart that we bought almost twelve years ago. But she did exactly what I told her to, and with a little help from me we were able to calm him down again.

 

I am going to try and let her ride him for a bit every other week from now on. She can’t ride him for a whole session because she isn’t able to get a proper outline yet, but I’m going to let her do his warm-up. Hopefully, this will help keep her around horses in the long run.

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School Horses

I have taken over most riding school lessons of the barn where I board Snoopy. It’s very different from private lessons, but it’s good fun and I love the school horses. That’s why it really bugs me when I hear kids complain about them, saying it would all be much better if they only rode a better horse, one like Snoopy. This is what I tell those kids:

 

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Snoopy and I have been a team for almost twelve years. When I ride him, it’s like we speak our own secret language, and we both speak it very, very well. However, when someone else tries to ride him, Snoopy gets confused because no one else speaks that secret language. An experienced rider will figure it out after a moment, but a beginner won’t. Snoopy would kick them out the side door before they had a chance. No beginner will be happy on my horse, even though he is very well ridden.

 

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The life of a school horse is different. They have to carry two, three riders a day, and it’s like all of these riders speak a different language. The first one speaks Chinese, the second French, and the third Hungarian, even though they all want the same thing. So school horses may not speak one language perfectly, but they speak lots of different languages instead. I am aware that they also have their flaws, their little tricks to annoy their riders. But school horses are worth their weight in gold, because they forgive beginner’s mistakes. I don’t know a whole lot of “better” horses who would.

 

So the first thing all my students learn is to respect their horses. Because the one thing that makes their “super, super nice” riding instructor lose it is when they talk shit about the school horses or handle them roughly.

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Tiny Rider

Kids have a much easier time learning to ride than adults, or even teenagers do. I work as a riding instructor part-time (I’m a liberal arts postgrad), and teaching kids is definitely my favorite part of the job.

 

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Because children don’t yet over-analyze everything and simply go with their gut, it’s much easier for them to adapt to the horse’s movements. They are more flexible when they’re young, and they develop their balance on the moving horse much quicker and much more naturally than adults and adolescents.

 

 

 

Their curiosity and sense for adventure is the reason why they are often less afraid of new and potentially dangerous situations (like cantering for the first time). And when they fall off, they rarely get hurt because their reflexes and instinctive behaviors are still very well developed.

 

Saying that kids should get riding lessons as soon as possible would be taking things too far, because in order to effectively teach them they need to be able to understand and follow instructions, and their bodies (strength, stamina, etc.) need to be developed enough to be able to stay in an upright sitting position on a moving horse.

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When people ask me what the right time is for kids to start taking riding lessons, I usually say around first grade. Obviously, it depends on the child. Some of them are able to have riding lessons earlier, some later. But first-graders seem to be at a good point in body and mental development, and yet have this “clean sheet” that they can build the new (riding) skills on effortlessly.

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Bad Day

Like people, horses have good days and bad days. And since we’re supposed to be partners, if one of you, or worse, both of you have a bad day, you might not get the work done the way you planned it. I find that instead of stubbornly persisting on doing exactly what you wanted to do that day, adjusting your training session to today’s form is more helpful and ultimately more satisfying.

 

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If you have a lesson scheduled for that day, then you might just have to make the best of it (unless you want to cancel, but I don’t know many people who would). But thankfully, most trainers will observe the rider and horse’s form on that given day and try to help them overcome the problem.

 

If you’re riding on your own, you’re obviously free to adjust your training as much as necessary. When I know my horse has an off day, I usually don’t even try to push us through a dressage session. I go for a hack, and do the dressage training on my “hack day” instead.

 

Or sometimes, a dressage or jumping session starts out okay, and then at some point, Snoopy and I start to piss each other off for no particular reason. My top goal is always to be in harmony with my horse and I don’t like rough handling of horses in general, so instead of provoking a fight, I’ll either end the session right there with some easy and relaxing exercises, letting him stretch and cool down, or I’ll go outside for a gallop.

 

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Occasionally, it’s not all bad but I don’t get the right vibe to practice the more challenging stuff like flying changes or zic-zac or jump big stuff. Again, instead of forcing it, I’ll work on the foundations: ridability, transitions, and movements/exercises that come easy to Snoopy. The same goes for jumping: I won’t jump big, but work on tricky lines and distances instead with fences at a comfortable height.

 

I’m not saying you and/or your horse should never suck it up and just get on with it. Especially when you have shows coming up, sometimes you don’t have a choice. But I’d always try to keep possible conflicts to a minimum to keep both partners motivated.

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You’re hot and you’re cold

I love fall, it’s my favorite season. But at the moment, it is really annoying. We went from 20+°C to 8°C in a really short time, had rain and low temperatures for a couple of weeks and now it’s going to be up to 25°C this week.

 

Snoopy started growing his winter coat in the first colder nights at the end of August, so he was fine when the weather was bad. This week, however, he will really struggle when it gets warm again, because his coat is so thick already.

 

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Other horses at the barn don’t grow winter coats as quickly, and they were getting quite antsy during the cold nights. They had to move around all night to stay warm, so in the end, some riders had to put rugs on already. Only now that it’s getting warm again, the rugs have to come off. This constant rug on-rug off isn’t the best thing for the horses, and it usually takes a day or two for the owners to decide what to do. So a lot of the time, the horses will either be too hot or too cold.

 

With horses like Snoopy, who grow their winter coat early, I find it’s best to just leave them with no rug on in early fall, because they are usually warm enough. I basically let the winter coat grow out completely, and then clip him some time in October. Only then do I put on the heavy rugs. Before that, when it gets too cold and, more importantly, damp, I put on a lighter rain rug just to keep him dry and comfortable.

He does not like being clipped ;)

He does not like being clipped ;)

 

Horses that don’t grow a whole lot of winter coat, on the other hand, I like to put rugs on as soon as it starts to get cold. You’d want to start with really light rugs and then adjust according to the temperatures.

 

I know things are different in Australia where people are terrified their horses could be cold ;) Not sure how it’s done on other parts of the world, but in Germany, the general consensus is that it’s better for the horses to be a bit on the cold side rather than being too hot under their rugs.

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Back in the day

I find myself looking at girls learning to ride at our barn now, and thinking “Things were different back when I started”. I’m not sure why that is, and I’m not even sure it’s like this everywhere. But here are some observations I have made:

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  • The parents stay at the barn the whole time. When I was starting out, my parents would drop me off at the barn and pick me up hours later. Now, the parents watch their kids’ every step.

 

  • A lot of the kids don’t care much about the horses anymore. This can go as far as the rider not even knowing the name of the horse they are riding, treating them like an object rather than an animal.

 

  • Both kids and parents are much more worried about accidents and injuries. When I started out, I was wearing a helmet, of course. But now, most kids show up dressed like an eventer ready to ride a cross country course.

 

  • Falling off is a much bigger drama now than it was when I was young. Back then, you’d fall off (with no safety vest), dust yourself off, and get back on. Now, there’s tears and screeching moms, and a lot of the kids won’t even get back on.

 

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  • The kids don’t hang out at the barn anymore. They come, ride for an hour, and they’re off. I used to spend all afternoon at the barn, helping out, learning how to do all those everyday chores like (this may sound ridiculous, but it’s true) mucking out, how to sweep the breezeway, turning out horses, clipping, pulling manes, lunging, etc.

 

  • Tidiness isn’t a big concern for the kids today. I learned to put everything back the way I found it, to be careful with the tack, and to clean up after myself. For appearance reasons, but more importantly for safety. Now I see kids just dropping brooms in the middle of the cross-ties, leaving stable doors open so that you have to lead your horse down the breezeway slalom style, and storming into the arena without giving the people riding inside a heads up.

 

Thankfully, there are still girls around who remind me of the way my friends and me used to be when we were beginners. Eager to learn everything there is to know about horses, not just how to ride one. Not too precious to pick up a broom and do some extra work, even though you paid for your lesson and technically don’t have to do it.

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Confessions of a Shopaholic

Confession number one: in contrast to the majority of women, I’m not overly fond of clothes shopping.

Confessions number two: I do, however, love to shop for my horse.

 

Whether I go to a saddle shop, order online, or browse catalogues, I am addicted to shopping horse stuff. Since I am not a millionaire, I cannot buy new things all the time, but even browsing is really satisfying for me.

 

pic_Reitladen-Bild-02_269533_largeI love the smell of saddle shops. The smell and feel of new leather to me are as addictive as the smell of perfumes and cosmetics are to most women. I love comparing this bridle to the other and pick my favorite, regardless of whether I’m actually going to buy it or not. I always work my way through the entire shop, even the western section (I ride English only), because I just love to see what’s there and what I might want to get in the future.

 

It’s also always exciting when the new catalogues arrive. What colors of bandages and saddle pads are available this time? Are there any new high tech boots? Have they found a new way to add even more sparkly stones to halters and bridles? Is this rug cheaper in the catalogue, or the store, or can I get it online?

 

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There is something oddly satisfying about leaving a saddle shop with a bag full of new equipment. I love waiting for the delivery guy to hand me the package with my horse’s new rug, or pad, or whatever it is I ordered and waited for. Shopping for myself is fun every now and again, but it’s nothing compared to how awesome it is to shop for my horse.

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Da Man

The barn where I board Snoopy also has a riding school, and amongst the school’s horses, there are three Shetland ponies. Two of them are mares (mother and daughter), and the third is a little black stallion, Felix. And this is where the problem lies, for everyone except the owner, who doesn’t really care all that much.

 

emma closeThe two mares live in a run-in shed with a nice big paddock, they are pampered and ridden almost every day. Felix, on the other hand, barely leaves his stable in the barn. He can’t look out because he isn’t tall enough to look over the door. He isn’t allowed in the turn-outs because he is a stallion-y little guy (Duh!, I know). He can’t go into the arenas when there are other horses around, which is 99% of the time. He lives completely isolated because he is a stallion. He isn’t used for breeding, though. The only reason he is a stallion is because of his owner’s vanity: “Ooh, I own a stallion”.

 

It’s a real shame, because when he gets to be outside more, he is actually really, really sweet. Like most ponies, he is way too smart and if he got proper training, he would be an awesome little partner. But because of his raging hormones and stallion antics, there is only one little girl at the barn whose skills are advanced enough to be able to handle him. But the only time she can work him is early Sunday morning when the indoor arena is empty.

 

The more time Felix spends locked up, the more aggressive he becomes. This is why the owner of my horse’s neighbor and I make sure he gets to go out every day. If we didn’t, he would be stuck in his stable days at a time. We put him on the walker, or hand-walk him. But it’s still not enough and it’s not fair on this great little guy.

 

Mini-Shetty-Baron-2So we keep nagging the owner to have him cut. That’s the only way he’ll be able to live a good life. As soon as he’s cut and hence can’t make babies, he can go live outside with his little pony friends. The kids will be able to ride him in the arena (after he is trained properly, of course). Over time, he’ll calm down a bit and actually enjoy life again.

 

I guess the point I’m trying to make is how cruel it is to keep stallions out of vanity, just for the sake of having a stallion, even when they’re never going to be used for breeding. You don’t do them any favors with that, and if you’re being honest, you’re not doing yourself any favors, either.

 

The last I heard, Felix will be cut in October, when it’s a bit cooler and the flies are gone. We’ll make sure it actually happens, because he deserves all the good things that he’ll get as a result of that.

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