Monday, March 31, 2014

Don't Blink

Don’t Blink. Blink and the next thing you know life has somehow fast forwarded with out you even being aware of it.

Its April. The last time I posted… well I’m not even sure when that was (sorry!). How did that happen?

March has come and gone, quietly marking the anniversary of a few life changing events… for me at least. And, I would be amiss not to share them here.

In March 2009 I lost my Grandma who, outside of my mom and my sister I was probably more close to then most of my family members. Just two weeks later I lost my mare Katie.

Last Christmas with my Grandma

Katie was one of those once in a lifetime horses. More significant, maybe, because she was my first horse.  She was just a little bay Quarter Horse, but during our 18+ year partnership she taught me how to ride and a whole lot more about what it means to be human, to love, and to build a partnership.

She was thrown away by her humans , left to starve, and landed in my life at a time when I needed her even more then she needed me.  On the day I found out my mom had paid to buy her from the people who’d left her to starve and she was mine I remember brushing the skinny, muddy little horse and wrapping my arms around her. I promised her I’d never let anyone else hurt her. I promised her she’d always be with me and I kept that promise despite many hard times and life transitions.

She was small, with an unclear past, and at times a giant attitude and a big buck, but she was mine and somehow we found a bond and a partnership that lasted almost 2 decades.

Katiedid 2005

It was also in March/April of 2005 that I started leasing my current partner in crime Rio and it was in March of 2008 that I bought him. He wasn’t my first horse, but he was the first horse that I’d sought out, bonded with, intentionally bought by myself no help, no intention to sell on to someone else, not a rescue, not my sister’s horse or a friends horse…  A really big, grown up decision. Somehow despite moves, and changes, and job losses, and school, and life struggles we’ve made it to our 9 year mark together and I pray every day that he will always be with me and that I will always be able to be there for him in the way that I was for Katie.

Rio at 6 years old 2005

In March 2012 my niece was born making me an Aunt. And, GOD, I never knew I could love someone so much. She is the most amazing little girl with so much personality, and I hope that I will always be able to be there for her.

A year later in March my nephew was born… he is so much like my sister… who despite our occasionally turbulent relationship and differing opinions is probably my favorite person on this Earth…. Shhh don’t tell her that.  He’s going to be such a sweet caring little boy if you can pinpoint a kid’s personality at only a year old. He’s so smart, and so handsome. I hope that he stays his sweet, out going self.

Liam & Aunt Sammy

Evelyn Rose & Aunt Sammy

I hope that all the ups and down’s of life don’t change who they are inside right now, the way life has a tendency to do to most people.

It was March of last year that I started taking lessons with my most amazing trainer which has changed the way I ride. I've learned more in one year then I have in more then 20 years experience. 

So it seems March is destined to be full of so many memories… good and bad for me… what is the saying… in like a lion out like a lamb?

March this year hasn’t proven to be much different. This year I’m at a cross rode trying to decide on some career changing choices and hopefully put myself in a better position financially and tackle some demons that I’ve been hiding from for a while now…. Through it all my Pony has kept me sane.
I hope that through all the changes and choices I make this year that I’m able to continue to keep Rio in my life, and to grow with him.

We have grown so much in the last year and I hope to find time to share more about that in the next few days. If you read my blog, and you’re still with me after a sever month hiatus… stay tuned!

Rio March 2014

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Everything Happens For A Reason...

My new saddle... in need of matching stirrups though...
this happened to come from my dressage saddle. 
Cliche I know, but its true everything happens for a reason and I firmly believe that. Take for example, today. I was supposed to be out riding on the Children's Miracle trail ride, but 5 minutes before I leave the house I get a call my partner in crime has a stomach bug and is sick. I was depressed about not going because I love this event so much, especially given I could have ridden with other friends once I got there had I not canceled my original trailering plans.

But, as it worked out my trainer happened to have a saddle for me to try and just happened to be showing at Silver Sands this morning (about 30 minutes from my new barn). The trainer comes all the way from Lees Burg almost 90 minutes away so its not exactly an easy feet between our crazy schedules to make lessons happen so when she called and said she'd be this way I was actually a little upset I thought I'd miss her by going on the trail ride. When my friend canceled our plans it ended up working out perfectly for her to stop by on her way home from the show.

Stubben Siegfried 
Now keep in mind we've been shopping saddles for 3 or 4 months if not more, with no luck. We probably tried 6 or 7 different saddles of varying shape/sizes tree widths and most did not fit him and OR if they came close to fitting him they did not fit me. Even the dressage saddle that I have and have been riding him in for the past 8 years didn't really fit him 100% correctly and it was too big for me.

I wasn't exactly holding out hope that this saddle would work given that I'd tried a similar saddle 2 weeks ago (a version of an older Stubben) that clearly did not fit the minute you sat it on his back with out even having to seriously look at it. BUT... drum roll...... this one  actually fit him really, really well! And, the better news is that it fit us both appropriately! So I am now the proud owner to be of a Stubben Siegfried all purpose saddle originally made in Switzerland and sold for over $2400 brand new. I'm getting it for about a fifth of that price and my trainer is amazing because she's buying it and allowing me to use it until I can actually afford to buy it off her which is going to entail me selling my 2 saddles both of which don't fit Rio, but are good saddles. When its all said and done I should actually make money if I get my asking price for the two I'm selling and Rio finally gets to ride in a saddle that doesn't make his back sore.

It was amazing to actually feel him loosen his back muscles and swing underneath me. He's a good mover and always has been for a foundation bred Appaloosa, but now I have a better understanding of why he took so long to truly warm up under saddle and go at his best. He may  not have been noticably sore to the touch with the dressage saddle, but I would ride 30 minutes of walk trot just to get him moving freely because the saddle was sitting down on his spine. And, when I rode in any other saddle it was always obvious that it made him very sore the next day.

Part of the reason I started looking at new saddles was also, so  that I could do some more jumping. If you've ever jumped in a dressage saddle you know its not the easiest thing to do. My trainer is bringing out jump standards since I don't have any at my current barn and I'll be set to "jump" (no pun intended) back into regular training now that I have a saddle that allows proper form over fences.

For the sake of trying a jump with the new saddle before making a decision we hopped over some drainage pipe covering that was out in the pasture.... more like a small novice cross country jump then a show jump fence. It was about 2'6 solid and fairly wide.  Let me put this into perspective for you. Rio used to stop at a small 6 inch cross rail throwing on the breaks and looking back at me like I was crazy when we first attempted jumping years ago. Since working with our current trainer his willingness to approach a jump has improved hugely. He's been taking small cross rails that were a foot or less and more recently I started taking him over verticals slowly raising them to see what I could convince him to do. He'd been over logs on the trail, but nothing more then 6-12 inches wide and barely off the ground. Until today the most he'd done was a 2'3 vertical which is super skinny, not really all that big or imposing looking  fence, but enough of a jump that the horse has to do more then just step over it.

I thought for sure the more solid object would send us straight back to square one, but not only did he take it easily he cleared it more then once and from a trot on a short approach with a rider, who' lets face it,  may not be green in her over all riding skills,  but is when it comes to jumping and seeing distance. I was absolutely over the moon with his work today.

As for me, I felt a little awkward and out of sorts in the saddle at first and I was unsure, but the more I rode the more comfortable I became with the saddle. I'm used to having more of a knee block for support, but that's only because I was riding with a shorter jump length stirrup in my dressage saddle so my knee would hit the more prominent knee roll and I would use that as a crutch to support my seat, but in reality I was never riding in correct position no matter what I did short of dropping my stirrups which created other issues for me so I was never really free to move with the horse or use my body effectively when riding.

The trainer's assessment was that Rio did indeed move much more freely under this saddle and that she'd never seen my position better then it was after riding in this saddle for just 30 minutes. I made the decision to go ahead and get the saddle knowing that I would have to work to build up my muscles and muscle memory to a point where I am truly riding correctly, and that while it was a very different feel this saddle would help me accomplish that. It helped the decision making process that my trainer was so supportive of the choice and so knowledgable being a former international level evener and Grand Prix jumper with years of experience behind her. I am beyond blessed to have found her. Especially given that there is no way I could have purchased a second saddle with out first selling my other saddles. She so willingly stepped in to help out and is just an amazing fiend and teacher.

I was also happy to see that she was happy with Rio's weight gain! I see him all the time so sometimes I think its wishful thinking that he's gained, but she took one look at him after not seeing him for 3 weeks and said "no, he looks a hundred times better". I hopped on him bareback while we were waiting for my trainer and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was actually very comfortable. His top line has filled out quite a bit and it wasn't like riding on... I can't even come up with a good description, but if you've ridden bareback on a skinny horse you now its not comfortable....

I'm getting to know the owner and other boarders and really like the new barn, and most importantly Rio is happy and healthy.

Over all, despite missing out on the trail ride, it was just a really good day!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The One In Which We Play Musical Barns...

Ready to move out...
 I may not have written a blog in a while, but that doesn't mean there's not lots to update... if anyone even really reads my blog given how sporadic I am about posting regularly. 

Big news item A - we've moved barns again. With both of my riding buddies moving out of the neighborhood there didn't seem much point in keeping my horse at a barn where he was turned out on sand at a barn that was too far for me to get to on a regular basis... 

And, when last I left you all we were dealing with skinny horse issues... we seemed to have resolved that issue... not by adding more or different feed to Rio's regimen, but by moving barns yet again.... I'll let you come to your own conclusions about what was going on there, but lets just say my horse is eating half of what I was paying for him to eat at our old place and gaining weight at his new place. 


As it turns out it was a good move regardless of what spurred me to look at yet another barn... I say yet another because this makes barn number 5 in just under 4 years since moving to central Florida... And those of you who know me know I'm pretty loyal. I typically stay in one place once I find a good fit. We were at our last barn in GA for 5+ years. 

Once upon a time I had a gut feeling the Orlando area wasn't a good place to keep horses, and now that we're here it turns out I was right. There are very few places that are reasonably priced, safe, clean, offer good care and proper feed, and have decent amenities... like a bathroom for boarders. I'm really not too hard to please. 

All the complaining aside I think we've finally hit the jackpot. We're staying at a friends place in Osteen which is about 15 minutes outside of the Sanford area where I live. Its the first boarding facility I've found in 5 years that has grass!!! Rio is in seventh heaven to say the least. And, for the first time since moving he's turned out with other horses. For a horse who was raised in a natural heard setting its obvious watching him run with the group that he has missed being a part of the heard. 

And, while he spends most of his time turned out he does have a stall for bad weather days & the friend who owns the barn has taken amazingly good care of him so far doing everything I've asked to make things a good fit for us. 

The barn is missing a graded arena, which I really miss. Riding in the pasture when its been wet because of rain is a bit of a musical chairs act  in and of it self trying to find a dry enough place to ride. But, the trade for lack of arena happens to be close to 1500  acres of trails right out our backdoor. 

Out with his new friends

Over all Rio is happy and that makes me happy. Riding time is limited because of work, but I'm still working with my trainer a couple times a month, and looking at a group lesson here or there with the trainer across the street from out new place. We are still on the hunt for a new saddle... how hard could it be to find something to fit both of us was apparently not the right mantra to begin that search with because three months later I still have not found a saddle. 

On the plus side the horse I was told would never jump is now jumping 2'6 verticals willingly. At some point in the near future I will do a training update because Rio is truly doing amazing, but this blog is getting a little long as it is. 

And, lastly we're headed to the Children's Miracle Networkd for the third year in a row. Its a great cause & a lot of fun. Look for a blog update about that soon! If you want to donate to the cause you can sponsor Rio & I here

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Never Say Never...

Its a two in one blog kind of day. Mostly I just don't want to miss writing down all the cool things that have been happening lately, but putting them all in one post it started to seem... well a bit like trying to read The Odyssey, Gone With The Wind or War and Peace rather then a blog update. Anyways make sure to check out my blog from last weekend that was posted this weekend because I'm so busy I don't have time to blog... you can see that here

And, the reason I don't have time to blog.... 

School is officially back in session. Which means long, long, torturous work hours. I keep reminding myself that its worth it to be able to have Rio. And, I do love the kids despite all my complaining. 

My real reason for posting this blog though is this!...

We've been slowly working on adding a little bit of jumping to our routine with the help of my trainer, but up to this point he'd only free jumped 2' and never done more then an 18" cross rail under saddle.

My leaser was riding with me to day and she asked if he'd go over the vertical. I said I don't know lets find out fully expecting him to stop short and the above is what I got instead! 

 When I bought Rio, he would either plow through or just plain refuse to jump anything, even a six inch cross rail. I know this doesn't look like much... and lets ignore for the moment my HORRIBLE form, but it is indeed a 2'2" vertical. And the standards that he's pretty close to clearing thanks to his majorly over jumping the fence are 3'3. Verticals are also more difficult to jump then a cross rail because they maintain their hight all the way across so they look more imposing to the horse. Just to make sure it wasn't a flue we went over it again 2 more times. 

I once had a trainer tell me that maybe he was just not cut out to be a jumper and I foolishly believed her. All the dressage we've been working on has improved both our balance so much that even though he still hesitates at times going to a fence we are doing more then I ever thought possible and of course when things don't go as planned to a jump its usually my fault not his...

Something to be said for the saying "never say never". 

Personally I think I should get extra points for jumping in a dressage saddle... cannot wait until I get a replacement saddle and a few more months with the trainer under our belt. 

Happy three day weekend all!

Flying Solo...

Do you remember that moment as a child when you finally road your bike with out training wheels? That feeling of sheer terror when mom or dad let go of the bike and you thought you might fall for the one millionth and one time, followed by the exhilaration of freedom in finally accomplishing something you'd worked so hard for when you managed to stay upright moving forward, the wind blowing in your hair and newfound independence finally within your grasp. Learning to ride a bike is a right of passage for youth, and its just one of many steps we take along the path to growing up.

Being an educator and now an Aunt to two beautiful little kids I can't help, but look at the world around me with my "teacher" glasses on, realizing that we never stop growing (if we're lucky). There are always fears and unknowns, but each experience makes us a stronger version of ourselves. 

I see that in my riding and in my horse's development, especially lately, since starting back in lessons with my most awesome trainer. Rio has always been a curious willing horse, but there have been times when he was afraid of his own shadow, or the trash can on the corner, or the giant sandhill cranes trumpeting as they walk lazily down the road in front of us, or the enormous... at least to Rio, barking Chihuahua, or the kid on the bike wising by with out a a care in the world, or the imaginary horse eating monster that no one else can see. You get the idea.  

When I first acquired Rio he was a green coming six year old. And, when I say green I'm not exaggerating . We used to go around the ring with our head in the air looking more like a giraffe then a horse looking at everything and pulling every stop in the book to avoid any real work. We used to spook on a regular basis sometimes sitting down like a dog in the process. New things always triggered disaster.

In the past few weekends I've out and down the road by myself relaxed (for the most part) and enjoying the ride going a mile and a half all on our own. And, I realized in that moment how much my pony has matured and grown up.

I am a super proud momma.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Horse Therapy?

Trying on a friends saddle...
Its quite amazing what the human body can adapt to. I watch my niece learning to walk... and actually learning to walk in general is a pretty tough feet even when you don't have added roadblocks to fight through like hypotonia (low muscle town) in her case; And, I"m truly amazed.

And, then I look at my own history and what I've overcome, and how my body has adapted to life's activities with out me really even realizing it.

There's a lot of similarities between my niece and I. We were both born premature. We were both born posteriorly (face up as apposed to the normal face down position).  We both had some abnormal muscle tone, and neither of us crawled. 30+ years ago they didn't have the medical knowledge they do today. It was labeled developmental delay because I was 10 weeks premie. I eventually caught up with my milestones, and aside from some fine motor issues due to week shoulder and girth muscles and some mild scoliosis that has affected overall body alignment,   I never really felt that I was different or that anything held me back.

Its funny that at almost 32 years of age horses and riding are forcing me to realize just how much the things I was born with have affected the way my body moves, and works. I've been in denial for a while... I'd had doctors ask me about back pain as an adult because apparently I am far enough out of alignment in my hips that it "should" be causing me some pain, and it became more apparent to me when my sister moved my feet into proper alignment to complete an exercise during a work out and I actually felt off balance standing correctly because I had become so used to standing incorrectly.

My riding lesson this week was just one more confirmation of just how much my body has incorrectly adapted itself to be able to do daily activities despite being out of alignment & having weaker muscles.

Because I want to start jumping more we've been trying different saddles on Rio. Riding in my dressage saddle I've felt slightly off center, and uneven in my stirrups despite the stirrups being very much even. I chalked it up to the fact the saddle needs to be reflocked and was sitting uneven. When I started riding in other saddles and realized the off balance feeling was not limited to my dressage saddle the thought popped into my head that perhaps I was sitting unevenly because of the way my hips are misaligned. When I pointed this out to my trainer she confirmed that I do tend to ride with more weight on one seat bone and let my right shoulder collapse in, sitting lower then the left shoulder. On that same right side I have much harder time keeping my leg position and heel down position required to have a good anchored seat in the saddle. When we work to the left I have a bad habit of picking up the wrong diagonal so much so that I know when I'm actually on the right diagonal because I feel out of sync with the horse's movements.... what an odd concept.

An even more interesting concept to me though, was how much my habits as a rider have affected Rio. He tends to favor my good side when we ride, and struggles more on the side that is more difficult for me. When the chiropractor adjusted him at one point last year she mentioned that he had more muscle development on one side of his back then the other. And, when we were trying on saddles they consistently fit better on one side over the other because of the amount of muscled development on each side, and the difference in his shoulder alignment. The more I look at it the more I realize these things are definitely not a coincidence.  He's developed in this way because of how I ride.

My trainer, of course was quick to point out that they use horses for physical therapy for exactly this reason. Their gait mimics natural walking movement for riders with more sever disabilities. It's going to take a lot of work to retrain my brain and muscles to ride in a correct position, but riding offers a really unique, and natural way of working on my issues that will only benefit me in every aspect of my life.  Having a personal trainer and doing some weight resistance training is also helping. Yes the horse is an expensive investment BUT, hey he's my councilor, and now he's my physical therapist as well.

I hope with all my heart my niece doesn't face anymore struggles in her life, that she achieves everything she wants in life... but that doesn't mean I won't use this to convince my sister to let me get her on a pony as soon as possible...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

What Do You Feed Your Horse?

What do you feed?
Lets play a game... who actually reads my blog? For the most part I write mainly to to document my life with my horse for myself, but occasionally it turns out to be a good way to get some feed back.

Todays topic? Equine Nutrition.

I've had horses in a variety of settings for 2/3'rds of my life... that's over 20 years for those who want to date me... I won't actually put out there how old I am getting... yikes. One major thing I've noticed since coming here to Central Florida is that compared to other states and even other areas of Florida, feeding a horse in Central Florida is particularly expensive, a lot of horse barns (unless you're at an $800 a month show barn and sadly sometimes even then) do one of two things to save money. One, they skimp on feed and are ok with a horse who has a body conditioning score of 3 or 4 (go here to see what I'm talking about with regards to a BC Score) OR they feed crappy feed. I've been in four barns in three years since moving here and been at both types of barns.

I've never had to worry about these problems until I moved to Sanford. When I had my horse on my own property in Colorado I fed close to a bale of T&A a day and grain if needed and kept my expenses to $150/horse roughly a month. At the bigger boarding barns you payed a fixed rate and the horse got what they needed regardless of how much or how little the amount was. I think the least I paid for boarding was $150 (pasture) $250 (stall) and the  most I ever paid was $350 for a stall with T&A, grain, shavings and full care.

Our most recent move has turned into a major headache, but at the moment I don't have an affordable alternative so here I sit trying to make the best out of the situation. Rio initially lost weight for a couple of reasons. One, he was put into heavier work being ridden 4-5 hours a week W/T/C and occasionally jumping as opposed to a weekly trail ride. 2. He was sharing his paddock with a food aggressive horse. And, 3. H went from eating 24/7 on a round bale or pasture his whole life to eating a fixed diet that was really not enough given his increased work load.

At his thinest I would have put him at a 3.5 BC. He's now what I would consider a 4 maybe a 4.5 after adding extra hay to his diet and increasing his grain intake. While he is maintaining at that level he's stalled in gaining, and I still see a difference in his energy levels so I'm now looking at further changing his feed. I'm looking for the most cost effective way to give him a quality diet long term and to help him gain a little more weight through his top line and neck.

Rio - working with my trainer

He's currently getting 2 good size flakes of T&A & 4 quarts of Safe Choice pelleted feed twice a day.

I would rather increase hay then grain, but T&A is so expensive here that its difficult to add too much more with out going well over my budget. Feeding coastal requires feeding so much more coastal then T&A to maintain his weight that it doesn't end up being that much more cost effective unless you're feeding round bales. Why not get a round bale? A. He is a big waister of hay when I feed off a round bale. B. most places won't deliver to where I'm at because its hard to get a big truck or trailer onto the property. C. A round bale won't fit through his current paddock gate and moving him to an alternate paddock means he looses shade and shelter that is ideal in his current paddock.

I've also looked at feeding alternative supplements like beat pulp or alfalfa cubes, but unless I want to be responsible for soaking and feeding the beat pulp or alfalfa cubes twice a day this is pretty much impossible. The Barn Owner doesn't want to take the time to soak feed, and my schedule is so hectic that I would be lucky to get there once a day.

So my current solution? Buy a few extra bales of coastal so that I can add a flake or two more hay to his diet and change to a feed with a higher get/protein content. Which is where you come in... if anybody takes the time to read and respond to the blog that is (which I would really appreciate!).

I'm looking at different feeds and trying to make a decision between them. I'm looking at content of the feeds hoping to find something that is not too much above a 12% protein content, but that has a high fat content. I'd prefer to stay away from high sugar/starch based feeds, and from anything that has corn as the number one ingredient.

So far I've narrowed it down to the following...

Purina Products

Ultium - currently my top pick I think

Southern States Products

Legends Performance
Triple Crown Senior
Triple Crown Training

Nutrina Products

Safe Choice Perform
Safe Choice Original - what he currently gets

My questions are many, but I'll try to keep it short. Has anybody used any of these with success for gaining/maintaining weight on a horse in moderate or above work? Are there any that I should know to stay away from for whatever reason? What's better, textured or pelleted? I like the TC feeds, but they are textured and I've heard that textured feeds are not as easily digestible??? Safe Choice Original that he's currently on has a protein content of 14% and a fat content of 7%. All the other feeds range between a 12-14% protein content & have an 8%-12% fat content. Should I look at adding weight builder or similar supplements into his diet or will bumping his fat content up by 5% really make that big of a difference? How do the different products compare price wise in this area?

Note that, yes, he had his teeth floated in April. Yes he had normal blood work panels done at that same time. Yes, he is wormed on a rotation on a regular basis. He has no known health problems. The one thing I have not ruled out, but will call a vet for if a change in feed doesn't help, are ulcers.

No he is not extremely thin, but my trainer, and vet do agree with me he does need some weight.

Suggestions that I haven't listed are more then welcome!

Check out the most awesome Fergus...