A few years
ago I was fortunate enough to ride with one of the greats in the Hunter/Jumper
community – Jeff Cook.
A professional rider and trainer since 1979, Mr. Cook was in the midst of “Forward-Riding Enlightenment” and old school horsemanship. He was fortunate to work for George Morris as his assistant on two occasions, five years each, where he honed his skills under the perfectionist hunter/jumper trainer. He continued to successfully compete as a Grand Prix rider, and ultimately turned his attentions to being one of the best A” circuit rider/trainer across the country, with students winning at both national and international competitions.
no-nonsense but simple, easy-to-approach instruction and methods made him a
blast to clinic with. I struggled with riding and performance anxiety for many
years, and it was my first formal clinic I attended and not audited, so I felt
a ton of pressure to perform. I was so blown away by his gentle, understanding
nature and amazed that he personally adjusted his verbiage and explanation to
each of the riders in my division – regardless of age, goals, and abilities (of
both horse and rider). His perceptiveness, extreme attention to detail
(especially turnout, oh my goodness he was a drill sergeant to anyone whose
boots were not spit shined polish and hair not tucked in), and sense of
accomplishment he provided to each of his riders that weekend (including
myself) is something I will not soon forget.
With today’s technology, there are a virtually endless list of options for non-invasive, proven therapeutic techniques and application methods to help your equine athlete stay comfortable and perform his best. Combining Eastern methods with Western technology, it’s fascinating how so many useful tools are at our fingertips to use without needing to be a vet! However, before choosing a treatment method, consult with your veterinarian first.
By understanding how each type of therapy method works, you’ll be able to decide what might give your horse the best results. Designed to alleviate discomfort and offer support from common equine ailments, each type of therapy can be applied with the use of sheets, boots, leg wraps, and more. Various factors like age, daily routine and fitness, temperature changes, level of competition, and pre-existing conditions can impact your horse and slow him down. Thankfully, you have a plethora of options to choose from to keep him happy, healthy, and performing his best.
Laser & Light Therapy
Laser Therapy can accelerate healing and improve the repair, regeneration and remodeling of tissue in the horse. Some uses for laser therapy are wound healing, pain management, tendon/ligament injuries, muscle tears, neurologic injuries and stimulation of acupuncture points. Some benefits of laser therapy are decreased pain, increased wound healing, decreased inflammation, increased tensile strength of tendon/ligament and a return to function. It is common to see Laser Therapy used to treat specific conditions such as arthritis, suspensory tears and stifle injuries, SI pain, surface wounds, and more.
Depending on the area of treatment, most sessions last about 15 – 30 minutes and generally recommended to be applied for a consistent 5-day a week cycle for 2-3 weeks, when the ailment, open sore, or otherwise has noticeably improved. It can also be used on a weekly basis for prevention and combined with other therapy types, such as massage, chiropractic and general stretching and exercise.
A relatively new method of technology, first documented in the 1970s, Microcurrent Therapy utilizes a very minute (or micro) form of amps to mimic the natural current ranges produced in the body (human or animal). In fact, they’re so small, that range goes from 10uA to 600 uA, or microamperes. Broken down, it only reaches 1/1,000,000th of an amp! The ARCequine System creates those natural-like charges to boost ATP production, encouraging a rapid regeneration of cells. The handheld remote and kit can be applied anywhere on the body, taking away the hassle of dealing with cumbersome or complicated setups. Clinical trials have proven its effectiveness for various pain relief and tissue repair, allowing horses to not only come out of retirement, injury, and even more severe conditions. It is truly cutting edge without the risk of overuse. It’s wearable, non-invasive, and drug-free – plus, it’s completely safe for humans to use too!
It’s recommended to go through the first run with its 6-week cycle that has a pain:tissue repair ratio depending on each stage of treatment. Each program lasts three hours, so make sure you have plenty of time to hang out or have someone watch your pony while he is being treated.
Ceramic, Magnetic, and Liquid Titanium Therapies
These sets of therapy methods can produce a positive effect on sore muscles and other common equine ailments like inflammation and general soreness. All these methods are known for their “drug-free” healing properties, encouraging the reduction of lactic acid buildup, stiffness, muscle spasms, and more by increasing thermal energy and blood circulation. As a result, various positive effects like boosted immune response, thyroid circulation, and overall self-healing are recorded. These technologies are commonly used in sheets, leg boots or wraps, bell boots, hoods, quarter sheets, saddle pads, and more. Again, these drug-free options are harmless to use, however it’s recommended a ramping period be used when introducing these therapies to a horse for the first time. However, once the horse is used to the healing effects, people will leave the ceramic sheets on overnight as a stable sheet.
Athletes (including us!) use various forms cold therapy to soothe aches and pains after an intense workout or to treat injuries like strains and sprains. Generally, it’s recommended to use cold therapy first to numb a fresh injury and reduce pain, later using heat to relieve inflammation and promote full healing. While cold hosing a horse’s leg may be effective, it’s often time consuming and a pain to keep your horse standing in a bucket for long periods of time.
Different products like the Horseware Ice-Vibe Therapy Boots, Wraps, or Ice Packs localize cold healing to a specific area, while others like Ice Horse use various systems that allow cold water to be circulated through a heavy duty hose system, or in various products that pinpoint certain areas that may be hard to treat, like stifles, back, hocks, and more. The amount of time needed for each of these methods to be effective can vary, depending on the severity and location of injury, as well as the method of cold therapy delivered. Again, refer to your vet and check with manufacturer user guides for any questions.
With all the different ways to help keep your horse in tip top shape, take the time to exploring the variety of alternative therapy treatment options for your horse. Often, many riders also use methods like MagnaWave / PEMF therapy, chiropractic, Reiki, massage, and TTouch to utilize in their daily regiment to benefit their horse’s comfort and performance. Finding the right combination of fitness, therapy, prevention, and recovery methods is a process that takes time to figure out. I encourage taking time to research and enjoy understanding more about these therapies. Chances are, your horse will enjoy it too 😊
The time of year is coming for us to start prepping. We start working our horses harder, longer, more strenuously. Protection for your horse is always a must need when show season comes in to swing full force! There are so many options that sometimes we feel overwhelmed. What should I buy? What type of boot or wrap does my horse need? Of course these are the things that vary through discipline, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. When looking for my ideal preference in leg protection for my horse I weigh out a couple different factors.
First thing is not only my own preference, but what is my horse’s preference? I always try a couple different kinds of leg protection to see how my horses feel and how they work in each kind. My older mare is very balanced when working. She tends to work very symmetrical from front to back. I can put any sport boot on her and she works the same.
My young one on the other hand is a little more particular. I boot her in the front and wrap her with polos in the back. She tends to move more freely behind with polos on rather than having boots on feeling very heavy and slow behind. Being cutting and reining bred she works primarily on the haunches. She has a lot of rate in her turns and has a big stop. Since I use polos on her to keep her comfortable I also put a skid boot or run down boot to give extra support to the fetlock and prevent any holes or tears on my polos when we run. I always secure my velcro on my polos with a tape. I prefer an electrical type tape because it’s more flexible.
After seeing what my horse prefers I always look at what protection I want for my horses. My favorite is classic equine legacy. They cradle the fetlock and have a tough exterior in that area that adds extra protection to your horse and the boots themselves. The suspensory rib on the inside helps to fit right into the tendon groove sitting between the suspensory ligament and deep digital flexor tendon to assure great stability and better fit. They have top quality neoprene that’s flexible and light to help it breathe and remove heat from the leg while working to keep them cool.
Here at Big Dee’s we offer so many awesome choices to keep protection for your horse fun and colorful! From classic equine, professional choice or weaver there are limitless patterns and color combinations! My favorite patterns we have right now are the prodigy crimson Aztec and the prodigy insignia! If we are missing a style or color you’re looking for ask us about ordering them for you!
I have always been horse crazy – and I am incredibly fortunate to have family that supported (and continues to support) that passion; from my grandmother teaching me horse colors on my toys, to my parents who gave me every opportunity they could to be around horses. My “horse crazy” has never gone away. Through the years, I’ve had some incredible experiences that both inspired and humbled me in the equestrian world.
Wizard’s Baby Doll “Roxy”
Like most great stories of “I knew someone, who knew another person”, that’s how I not only got to meet Roxy and her owner, but also was allowed a very brief ride.
I used to work my 4H horses every day, and a kind neighbor who enjoyed watching me ride reached out to me about a “famous horse”. She offered to take me to meet this horse because the owner was a family member – and she was willing to share this privilege with me! Of course I jumped on the opportunity, and not long after, I got to meet the legend that is, Wizards Baby Doll. Roxy accomplished so much in her lifetime with trainer Stacy Westfall, but the most known was her win in 2006 at the All American Quarter Horse Congress for Freestyle Reining.
Her owner was incredibly kind to not only take time out of his day to let me fangirl over Roxy, but to also let me hop on. She was a kind, calm mare that really just wanted to graze but allowed me shuffle around a bit and smile for a picture. Those few moments with her felt timeless, and really gave me a push towards wanting to learn more, experience more and go outside of my comfort zone..
Afternoon Deelites/Popcorn Deelites
Through my years of riding, making barn friends and drooling over beautiful horses – I found myself “owned” by a scrappy senior Off-Track Thoroughbred. I discovered his sire, Afternoon Deelites, a Graded Stakes winner with earnings over one million in his race career, was at Old Friends in Kentucky! Bonus, another relation, Popcorn Deelites, one of the horses that portrayed Seabiscuit in the movie, was also there!
I can’t emphasize enough how incredible Old Friends and our fabulous tour guide was. When I mentioned I would love to meet both Afternoon Deelites and Popcorn Deelites, her eyes lit up and she went on to give us more than the standard tour. It turns out that Afternoon Deelites has the same charismatic and playful personality as his son. They could have also been twins!
Popcorn Deelites was far more easy going but just as handsome. Popcorn was used for the breaking from gate and race scenes in the Seabiscuit movie since he was a natural sprinter. The visit to Old Friends was remarkable on it’s own, but meeting two horses that held a sort of sentimental value to me made it that much more special. To be in the presence of a superior race horse and a movie star made me appreciate all that off-track horses have to offer us.
While I never got to meet the “Cinderella Horse “, better known as Snowman, I did get to meet Harry de Leyer. I have never been a Show Jumper, my riding career has mostly been rooted in Dressage, but I knew there was something to learn from Harry. In all honesty, I just listened to him tell his stories. I didn’t know the full Snowman story until I read the book, but hearing the memories recounted in person was fascinating and truly humbling to be sharing the same space with Harry. I wish I could have listened for hours, but we unfortunately had to part ways. He left an inspiring note that I like to look back on when I’m having a hard day – whether it be a hitch in progress for my goals or a bad ride.
Over the twenty plus years I’ve been around horses, I’ve realized one really important thing – there is always room to learn more, you never know everything. Roxy encouraged me to take lessons to improve my riding ability, Afternoon Deelites and Popcorn Deelites proved to me that racehorses are capable of so many great things after their racing careers and Harry taught me the patience to listen, absorb, and learn. Those little moments with each role model helped shape me into the equestrian I am today.
Who have you met (horse or equestrian) that inspired you?
“Get your tack and equipment just right, and then forget about it and concentrate on the horse.” – Olympian Bill Steinkraus
As mentioned in my previous blog, “These Boots Are Made For Riding,” I briefly mentioned the importance of 3 purchases any rider will make to benefit their riding ability – and safety – when working with horses. Saddles are the second item on that list.
Besides being a much more secure option versus riding bareback, saddles are designed to allow us to better communicate with our horses, giving us the ability to focus on pinpointing our aids and supporting us for various tasks – whether it be jumping, running barrels, flat work, pleasure riding, or hitting the trails. However, if the right saddle isn’t used, more harm can be created than good. Imagine putting on a pair of shoes that’s a size too small. Now imagine you’re put into a marathon and told to run in the same pair of too tight shoes. That same level of discomfort, pain, and contorting our body, attempting to find relief is the same scenario your horse goes through when being asked to perform in an ill-fitting saddle. No wonder some horses behave badly or develop “cold-backed” symptoms!
Your Riding Doesn’t Suck – Your Saddle Might
Do you remember the childhood story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? First, her bed was too hard, then too soft, but the third was “just right” The same concept applies to saddle fitting – both for horse and rider. What may be the perfect fit for you may be too tight in the shoulders for your horse; or the next saddle may not bridge/breach in the middle but is overly flocked in the panels, making the saddle tip down and throwing off its front-to-back balance, interfering with your ability to center yourself correctly in the middle of your horse’s back. It’s important to make sure the seat size and depth; as well as flap length and size are measured to fit your body type, rather than the other way around. Riding in a saddle that’s too small in the seat will create tight hips and drive uneven pressure into the pommel, while too long a flap will make it hard to communicate aids to your horse.
I struggled with finding a saddle that fit both myself and Rotti, due to my height and longer-than-average femur. As a result, I often sacrificed my needs in order to find something that supported my horse’s back, shoulders, and tree size. However, that negated any benefit due to the fact I was constantly “shimmying” in the canter, never seemed to find a comfortable two-point, and always felt trapped when doing flatwork and lateral aids. In fact, I didn’t realize how much I was fighting my body until I rode bareback! Riding in a saddle that didn’t work for me created problems with my riding, making me work twice as hard to fight against my own body to create the illusion of “correct” in the saddle and confusing Rotti with the aids I was trying to convey.
The FIRST thing I want to emphasize when finding a properly fitted saddle is that you do NOT need to go custom. Of course, we all would love to choose that option and have the funds available to make an investment purchase like that, but that often isn’t the case for many riders. In addition, you may be using the same saddle for multiple horses. Therefore, it’s important to understand the basics of what constitutes a proper saddle fit and have the necessary adjustment pieces available in order to make your saddle fit correctly on each horse. In that instance, I highly recommend working with a professional saddle fitter.
How To: Fitting Your Saddle
In my mind, a proper saddle fitting starts with the horse. Become familiar with your horse’s build and unique features. Is he a “shark-finned” Thoroughbred? Straight-backed or swayed? Are his topline muscles well developed or is he a younger horse new to training and will be filling out over time? Checking for sensitive spots like bulging disks and sore muscles, “collapsing” at certain points when you run your finger down his spine, and rubs will provide more information to determine how your horse has been using its body up to this point. Working with a chiropractor to adjust your horse around that time will help you be aware of any changes, pressure points, or conformation issues to address before the saddle fitter comes out.
At this point, you can slip your hand under the saddle and feel if there is even contact and pressure throughout. Pay attention to any gaps, rocking, or “bridging/breaching” in the middle of the saddle, as this can potentially mean there is uneven pressure distributed to the front and back of the saddle and once a rider is introduced, the center could sink down and possibly cause a disruption in the balance from the front and back. In this instance, check with a saddle fitter, as some bridging is could be normal depending on the saddle maker, conformation of the horse and the expectation that they will be rounding their back during exercise.
Another thing to check is the natural balance of the saddle. Look to see if there is a straight line from the top of the pommel to cantle that is parallel to the ground. The seat should also be level on the horse’s back, as an imbalance will make it difficult for you to sit correctly and without struggling to naturally maintain a proper position. A good rule of thumb is to put a piece of chalk on the saddle, if it rolls slightly forward or too far back, the saddle is not well balanced.
Other check points of ensuring proper saddle fit include the 2-3 Finger Rule. English saddles should have 2-3 fingers clearance on the top and around the side of the withers to accommodate shoulder rotation. A horse whose saddle pinches at the withers may be reluctant to go forward – and in some cases can cause nerve damage, leading to patches of white hairs or sores on the wither area. Also, consider the channel/gullet width of your saddle, accommodating to the width of your horse’s spine and vertebrae so that it’s positioned straight and centered on both sides of the horse. Next, check how your billets lay. These should hang perpendicular to the ground in the girth area – too forward or backwards will create unnecessary pressure on the panels or drive the girth into the elbows, creating sore spots. Lastly, ensuring the tree is either wide or narrow enough as well as follows the same angle as the shoulders are things that can be noted and corrected by a saddle fitter.
Correct Saddle Placement
Once the saddle is removed from the back, introduce a saddle pad and girth then fasten the saddle and note any changes that may occur. Note: a lot of times, people think that placing the saddle directly behind their withers is correct – DO NOT DO THIS. Once you introduce a rider, the additional weight will press into the saddle’s tree points and directly into the horse’s shoulder blades. Not only will this hinder your horse’s shoulder movement, it can result in pain and a very uncomfortable pony! To avoid this, I like to place my saddle slightly forward on the withers, then slide it backward until it stops at the natural resting place. This can vary from horse to horse depending on their confirmation, if the panels are too low, and topline development. Repeat this process until you find the “sweet spot,” located behind the horse’s shoulder blades. For English saddles, check that the rigid points of the tree are behind the scapula’s back edge. You can double check the positioning by sliding your hand down to where your girth is fastened. While your horse is standing square, you should be able to fit your hand’s width – roughly 2” – 2-1/2” – in this armpit area between the elbow and front of your girth.
I recommend checking the fit of your saddle at least once a year, as the fit can sometimes change due to various factors like exercise routines, illness, topline development, and weight changes. Thankfully, there are so many products available today that can adjust a saddle fit like shims and riser pads. In addition, a saddle fitter could recommend sending your saddle out to be reflocked or panels adjusted to refresh the fit. At the end of the day, your horse’s comfort and performance are the most important things to consider, and a properly fitted saddle will help to ensure that. Happy horse = happy human 😊
Email Big Dee’s Sporthorse Specialist and Professional Saddle Fitter, Lisa Gorretta, today to schedule a fitting for you and your horse at email@example.com
I’ve always considered myself fairly proficient when it comes to cleaning my leather tack and boots. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn more – and that was the case this past weekend! Big Dee’s very own, Lisa Gorretta, bestowed her knowledge of all things tack cleaning upon an eager crowd.
She started her presentation by reminding everyone that any time we purchase a piece of tack, whether it’s brand new or dug out of a “diamond in the rough” bin at a tack swap, that it is an investment. The better we take care of that investment, the longer it will last us – and the safer it will keep us.
While some leather items might have a standard cleaning process, like halters or horse boots, items like saddles and bridles require a little more consideration. Lisa emphasized that if you are buying a brand new saddle, check that saddle’s warranty information BEFORE you start cleaning! Several brands will come with a small cleaning kit, but everyone has a personal preference when it comes to tack cleaning products – that’s good and well, as long as it follows the warranty! A quick check will save a lot of hassle down the road.
Before even getting your spot ready to clean, make sure you have the basics down! Did you know that warm water helps the process go a little easier? That doesn’t mean cold water is bad per say, it’s just a helpful bonus to use warm water. Strongly emphasized throughout Lisa’s presentation was – moderation is key! Prepare yourself for the time needed to clean your tack the correct way. If you need three coats, do three light coats, versus one massive gooped on swipe of cleaner or conditioner. Remember, leather should be supple, flexible, and sturdy. You don’t want saturated tack or brittle, dry track. Lastly, leather does not like extremes – when selecting cleaning products, search for one that is pH neutral so it is not harsh on your tack.
New Saddles and Cleaning
Most new saddles come with a wax layer that needs to be properly removed. This is done to open the pores of the leather and prepare the surface. You should start with a pH neutral cleaning product like a Castile Soap. With a little water and a little soap, gently work into the saddle with a sponge to clean off the wax or buildup from a used saddle. Another product that works well is the Leather Therapy Wash. This cleaner is safe to use on just about any leather item and won’t darken the leather over time. Also be mindful of the water used when cleaning – hard water is not kind to black and dark leather. For tough to reach areas or heavily tooled tack, try using a toothbrush (you will be pleasantly surprised how much easier it is).
Balsam or Oil?
After cleaning the tack, the next step is conditioning. However, you need to make sure the product you are using is the correct match for that particular part of the saddle. There are two surfaces on leather – the raw side (or open side) is rough like the underside of fenders and flaps, and the sealed side (or closed side) is the smooth leather surface, like what you sit on. Oils are used on the raw side of leather only, they WILL darken the leather and they WILL soak through if applied too heavily. Conditioners like Effax Leather Balsam and Colorado Leather Conditioner are made from beeswax and lanolin to bring out the suppleness of leather without making the surface slick. Other great conditioning options are Leather Therapy Conditioner, Amerigo Balm, Walsh Oil (if you want to darken the leather) and Bates Leather Balsam (if you want a slightly tackier surface).
One thing to consider when conditioning, is to be mindful of the seams of your saddle. English saddle panels are flocked, foam filled or a combination of the two. These materials do not like getting oil or moisture in them. So when conditioning, be careful not to heavily cover the area.
Remember, use light coats regardless if you are using an oil or balsam. Let the tack air dry naturally. If there is any excess conditioner, wipe it off with a rag. If your leather is still dry, apply another light coat. Repeat this process until the suppleness is back in your bridle or saddle.
Chrome and Bits
For Western riders, whether their entire saddle is silver or they have a few pieces – keeping the silver shiny is actually very easy if you make it a part of your routine cleaning process. Never Dull is a fabulous wadding polish for all metals. My personal favorite is Simichrome Silver Polish, but it is a very aggressive cleaner and should not be used on bits. However, it does the job of cleaning up even the most corroded and tarnished silver on saddles and bridles!
If you want to clean up bits, the Herm Sprenger Diamond Bit Polish Paste is the product to use. It is non-toxic, non-acidic and brings back shine to not only bits, but spurs and stirrups as well. With any silver cleaner, use a small amount on Q-tips or throw-away sponges to apply, then buff out for a lustrous shine.
Most of us don’t have the time to deep clean and condition our tack after every ride. But you should at least wipe the tack down, especially the inside of bridles and reins. Why? Well, have you ever tried to clean your horse’s bridle after you’ve ridden him in it all summer, and there’s that layer of gunk that just will not come off? That’s the horse’s natural oils and sweat, built up from many rides. You can easily avoid this by using a cleaning wipe like Oakwood Wipes. Simply wipe down your tack and put away – easy breezy! You could also do a quick wipe-down with an all-in-one product like Lexol Quick Care.
You should strive to deep clean your tack at least twice a year (more is always better), this includes pulling every piece apart, making sure it is structurally still safe to use, clean, condition and then put everything back together.
How we store tack, whether used daily or put away for the winter months, is important to consider. If you keep tack in a moist environment, you might start to see mildew. Removing mildew requires either more layers with a mild cleaner, or a more aggressive leather cleaning product. Just remember that after really putting elbow grease into cleaning, your tack will need a conditioner to keep it from getting dry. If you are storing tack for extended periods of time, go through the regular cleaning process, then cover the tack in a dry place. You can put a very light layer of vasoline on bits, then store them in a small unsealed plastic bag.
If you want a light protective coat on your tack, you could as a layer of glycerine. Using a Glycerine Bar Soap, dip it into water, then take the sponge over the bar. Apply the sponge onto tack in a light layer. Using too much glycerine can clog the leather’s pores and dry out the tack, so be careful. After applying, let the tack dry naturally, then wipe away excess with a cloth.
Other Kinds of Oils
There are other kinds of oils available for leather goods. One mentioned often is Mink oil – but it’s not as strong of a conditioner as it is a waterproofer. Mink oil can be used on winter boots or as a barrier, but it will not supple up the leather like other oils or balsams. Olive oil can technically be used, but it was not designed for leather and it not recommended. Murphy’s Oil is also not the top pick for cleaning, but if it must be used, use it in very small amounts. Leather should not be saturated when cleaning. Also be wary of products with petroleum, as they are not kind to the stitching used in tack.
At the end of the day, the main point of having tack is to it keep us safe and secure when riding, driving, working or leading horses. We should make it a priority to not only check our tack regularly, but keep it clean and conditioned so it can perform the best for us. Once you get familiar with the products and routine, it becomes less of a chore and more of a point of pride. Clean, supple leather not only keeps you safe, but also looks incredible!
I started riding when I was 10 years old. My parents, albeit supportive of my “obsessed” tendencies of wanting to learn to ride, were not accustomed to the world that is equestrianism. I was lucky to attend weekly lessons and had big dreams of showing, clearing massive oxers, leaping over 10-foot Liverpools, and galloping around Spruce Meadows or the Washington International.
However, all those dreams (my parents quickly realized) cost money. How much? Well, considering I calculated how much weekly lessons cost for a year alone and maybe one or two shows a year – then promptly burned the piece of paper with the number on it – I can’t say I blamed them for firmly stating, “NO,” when I would beg to lease or buy the pony of my dreams.
Over the course of 14 years, until I made the insane decision of purchasing
a horse of my own, I had to learn to adjust – and appreciate – the value of
being the obsessed horse kid that didn’t have one of her own.
In order to get my “fix,” to earn as much saddle time as possible, I would wake my mom up at 6 AM (on a Saturday) to have her drop me off at the barn. From there I would muck stalls, groom horses for lessons, learn how to show prep horses with clipping and bathing, and learned the ins and outs of what working a full-scale show barn was like. It was a ton of fun getting to play with ponies all day, and even if I was covered in Lord-knows-what and smelled to high heaven, I felt so accomplished with my days’ work and the chance to earn an extra lesson or work off my haul-in fee for a weekend schooling show.
Eventually, I got my license (much to my mother’s delight), and began assisting in managing the barn I grew up riding in – waking up at 4 AM to do morning feed and turnouts, muck a few stalls – while balancing a Honor’s course load and after-school activities. I won’t ever say that it was easy, or I didn’t feel overwhelmed, or that I was “missing out” sometimes unlike my other 984 classmates in high school; however I was so proud of my efforts and was fortunate enough to show some amazing horses at some incredible venues that it was all worth it to me.
Fast-forward after high-school graduation and heading toward my collegiate career at Lake Erie College. I was ecstatic to have my schedule full of facility management, equine business, and course-design classes. Plus, I got to ride ALL THE TIME. Between helping at IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association ) shows, riding for IDA (Intercollegiate Dressage Association) under the tutelage of Barb Soukup and showing my leased OTTB, Tego, I was in heaven.
Don’t get me wrong, it got frustrating at times, seeing all these other people around me with their beautiful horses they’ve owned over the years or even brought to school with them! However, I was able to enjoy other aspects of my college career without having to handle the responsibility of taking care of my own horse.
There are so many ways to enjoy horses, even if you can’t own one of your own. Plus, you get the biggest benefit of not having to handle the financial burden of owning a horse! Ultimately, I learned bravery and tenacity because I would hop on anything for the chance to learn or ride something new. Offering to help at the barn gives you the advantage of learning a new skill and to absorb information like a sponge someone otherwise might not have gotten. Same thing applies to grooming at shows – you become so well-connected to your local community and watching other riders.
Attending clinics by either riding in them or auditing gives you another avenue for “pony time.” Same thing applies to traveling to fun equine-related events such as tack swaps, Equine Affaire, spectating shows and more. Plus, you have so much time to educate yourself further, whether it be books on riding, grooming, or even reading stories of famous horses from previous years. You can even try something you normally wouldn’t, like a new discipline such as saddle seat, driving, or even polo!
So, if you happen to be “horseless,” try not to feel discouraged. Take comfort in the fact that the all-consuming love and passion you have for horses is a gift. That can’t be taken away from you. Whether you own, lease, take lessons, or tack up for the occasional trail ride, you’re living the dream of having horses in your life. There are an endless opportunities to being around these incredible animals, and like my mom told me – “If something matters enough to you, you’ll find a way to make it happen.”
As a horse girl – my answer would always be a famous horse! I’ve been lucky and had the chance to meet Cass-Ole’ or as you may know him – The Black Stallion!
Picture it – 1980, Peace Bridge, New York.
I’m seven years old and on my way to the Canadian Arabian Nationals in Toronto with my family. We are stuck at the Peace Bridge waiting for all of the horses’ papers to be checked so that we can cross. Some of you may know, it takes a LONG time to get across the border. Each horse marking needs to be checked off, coggins looked at, etc. At seven years old, even 15 minutes can seem like a lifetime. While waiting, a trailer pulls up next to us. Always curious, I check out the horses. Low and behold, it is the Black Stallion himself!
I had been to the single movie theater in town recently to see the amazing movie of the Black Arabian Stallion, and I was in awe.
The owners allowed my brother and I to climb up onto the
fender of the trailer and pet the magnificent horse. Time actually sped up at
that point. I didn’t have nearly enough time to talk to him.
He was going onto the Canadian Arabian Nationals as well. He
had been shown quite a bit before the movie. With a National Championship in
Arabian Western Pleasure, Reserve Champion in Side Saddle and U.S. Top Ten in
English Pleasure. Over his show career he had won 50 Championships and 20
I was able to catch glimpses of him at the Nationals but
wasn’t able to get close to him again.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet other greats in my life at
shows – Charlie Watts (the drummer from the Rolling Stones) and Patrick Swayze.
Wayne Newton called me honey once. But, none of these greats will ever compare
to the time that I was able to meet the Black Stallion!
“If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you… Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it..” -If, Rudyard Kipling
We all know that riding and horsemanship in general is a physically demanding activity. From cleaning stalls, lifting heavy water buckets (or breaking up frozen ice buckets if you don’t have a heated option), and no stirrup work, riders must be in tip-top shape in order to keep their cores strengthened and their cardio in adequate levels to keep up with the task of riding their horses regularly. If you compete, that regiment of keeping in shape for riding and competition might include flexing your muscles at the gym, going running a few times a week, yoga for core strength and balance, and more.
However, stress-relief and anxiety management may often be put to the wayside when it comes to the things a rider carries in their “fitness” arsenal. As a result, all the hard work you might put into your equitation, position, adjustability of stride, and more might fall apart as soon as you step into the schooling ring, the show ring, or maybe try a new skill in your next lesson.
Ask any equestrian who their biggest critic is, and the answer 99% of the time is themselves. So often, we put unnecessary pressure of where we are vs. where we “should” be, compare ourselves to other riders who seem to win everything, fancier horses, or think “I’ve been riding for so long, why are riders half my age doing better than me?” Then we sit and dwell on these negative thoughts, beat ourselves up over and over, that by the time we go into the ring we are shocked when we get a refusal at a jump or a dressage test that falls apart as soon as we salute at X. Our negative thoughts get affirmed and we are stuck in a vicious cycle of thinking “I’m never going to get any better, maybe I should just quit” – or something along those lines. We beat ourselves up, we punish our horses with our tension and nerves, that so often riders wonder, “How can I get out of my own head?” Add into the fact that a lot of riders in the hunters and equitation world voluntarily walk into a ring where the first words uttered over the loudspeaker are, “You are now being judged.” We immediately stiffen our spines to sit up straight, make sure our heels are at the correct level of “down,” and strive to create the image of perfection for the sake of a blue ribbon.
I know that riding and performance anxiety plagued my equestrian career for a long time. I always read different books and articles, watched videos, and attended clinics on what “correct” riding should be even before I started taking lessons over 16 years ago. I tried so hard to emulate the greats like Beezie Madden, Geoff Teal, Ian Miller, and others. Unfortunately, I was so set in a black and white ideal of what is “good vs. bad” riding. I developed a bad habit of not finding “feel” but rather trying to “force” horses into a correct carriage, even if their own physical or mental abilities weren’t at that point.
As a result, I would get frustrated with myself because I assumed I was doing something wrong, or my equitation was incorrect. At one point, I was riding in a clinic, nervous because I was riding a young, unfamiliar horse. By the end of the clinic, I felt accomplished and proud of the tools I added to my riding toolbox. However, all that crashed down when I was told my trainer at the time had deemed me “untrainable” to parents and auditors in the viewing area. At that point, I was at a crossroads – why should I even continue trying if my own trainer didn’t even believe in me?
It’s very easy to internalize and dwell on negative memories. It’s even easier to get stuck in those thoughts, and think we aren’t capable with more. Speaking in my own experience, I’m was told (or gently screamed at) by my trainer to “Get out of your head!” However, it took me many years of practice and hard work to eventually get out of my inner critic mindset.
Flex Your Brain
Developing your mental skills and emotional fitness is a lifelong journey. It’s not a matter of eliminating fear – fear is a good thing. It’s what keeps us from putting a beginner rider on a 6-year-old stallion in the 1.30 speed showjumpers. The difference between fear and anxiety is that one is a response to an actual threat (fear), and the other is a response to a perceived threat – or one that we make up in our own minds (anxiety). Just like training horses, results will not happen overnight, and you can’t do too much too soon, otherwise you’ll only end up forcing, which will result in more stress/anxiety.
Often, people think that by simply avoiding anxiety-related thoughts or not allowing your brain to have these thoughts is the solution to not being anxious. However, that thought process is like avoiding the annoying neighbor who lives next door or the creepy aunt at every family reunion. Eventually, you’ll have to face those thoughts head on and acknowledge that they exist. However, you are ALLOWED to have these thoughts and they do not define who you are as a rider. Just like lifting weights, you’ll have to take time to flex your brain to develop the skills needed to tolerate those uncomfortable thoughts and realize. With regular practice and repetition, it’ll be as effortless of knowing what the correct posting diagonal is.
First, it’s important to build an awareness of what creates anxiety for you. Maybe it’s the fear of falling that stemmed from a bad accident years ago. Maybe it’s being afraid of your own horse due to him reacting poorly in the cross ties or spooking on the ground when you weren’t prepared. For me, I’m at the point where I’m not working through a horse or riding-related fear, but rather wanting to bring my competitive edge to the next level. Battling the monster of perfectionism, if you will, and defining the delicate balance between overthinking, not thinking at all, and being totally in sync with my horse at every exact moment of my ride.
Learn to stay focused on yourself. Comparison is truly the enemy in any aspect of life, but especially in riding. Learn to stay focused on your horse and what he needs helps you to not get caught up in other rider’s performance, giving you a clear mind to be fully present on what your horse is telling you in that moment. Trust that where you are now in your abilities did not happen by accident – that can not be taken away from you. Trust that each time you step into the irons, you firmly believe you have the best plan to success. As soon as you start second guessing is when you lose focus and things start to fall apart. A lot of the times, we can get hung up on a particular fence, a particular dressage movement, or a particular scary corner in the end of the arena that our energy and our mind is so isolated.
Instead, the trick to avoid getting hung up on those potentially scary situations is to create a mental film of seamlessly blending all your horse’s steps together from start to finish. Imagine a magnet pulling you toward the finish line at a comfortable pace, rather than rushing like a train off the tracks – frantic and scattered. That way, all those tools you have in place will help you adjust if there is a certain screw you know has a tendency of coming loose (ie: your horse loves to cut the corner on his left lead). Being mentally aware about 3 to 4 seconds before you reach that corner will help you prepare and set your horse up for success.
Don’t anticipate and focus on him cutting the turn, but that he is quietly lifted and balanced down the quarter line with plenty of encouragement in the outside rein to keep him square between your legs and hands. Keep focusing on that mental movie you have in your mind and set yourself up so that the magnet pulling you toward the finish line doesn’t have any bumps or shimmies.
Second, remember that your horse is your mirror. If you’re working a green baby, it’s especially important to be that reliable holding hand that is always present during particularly “scary” moments. Keeping focus on your breath will help him stayed cool and collected, the plan you have in your mind will give him a soft, safe place that he will want to stay inside. If you feed off your horse’s tension, it will become a nasty, vicious cycle, and your mental movie will quickly turn into a horror film. If he spooks or bucks, keep your deep diaphragmatic breathing and continue without a second thought. Keep your focus on the seamless line you have in your mind and come back to the teaching moment later. I find that keeping a journal in my riding backpack is helpful because I can “dump” all my thoughts on paper rather than holding everything in my mind without a structured way to see them, and can ultimately come up with a course of action after my lesson, ride, or show round.
I want to mention that these tips are not a hard and fast rule. Some people prefer more of a “tough love” approach, while others prefer to work things out quietly in the privacy of their own meditative states. Even so, once a person masters these techniques, it’s important to mention that it doesn’t mean the thoughts will vanish into thin air. However, you’ll have the confidence to know the tools you have in place are meant to set you up for success. And if you screw up, chocolate-chip your distance, canter when you were supposed to sit trot, or whatever else, tell yourself, it’s okay! Go back to your mental toolbox and give yourself and your horse a pat on the back. Tomorrow is a new day to try again.
“Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.” – Roger A. Caras
I remember the day I got my first dog, a little Lhasa Apso we named Dixie. She was a present for my sixteenth birthday. Soon after began the roller coaster of extreme joy coupled with daily frustrations of the responsibility that goes with raising and training a puppy. After watching commercials for dog foods boasting their high quality, I selected a brand I believed to be premium.
After a couple years, Dixie began itching uncontrollably to the point that her skin would crawl when you touched her. Mortified that she was so miserable, I sought a veterinarian’s help. I was given a list of things that she felt may be the cause – one of which was dog food. After a month or so on Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream, Dixie was back to normal!
When I got my second dog, a Rottweiler Labrador mix named Foose, I chose a line of dog food that was extremely popular among breeders at that time. Vet appointments soon became a regular thing due to recurring ear infections. One vet told me to clean his ears more, and the next told me I was cleaning them too much. Finally, one veterinarian suggested a change of food. After switching his diet to the one that had provided so much success prior, I impatiently waited for results, but to no avail. I eventually found relief with one of the Blue Buffalo lines.
After years of researching nutrition, attending seminars, and working with veterinarians (as an undergrad pursuing veterinary medicine), I was able to use my experience to assist customers find a diet best suited for their four legged family member. For the average dog, a diet without corn, wheat, or soy was commonly recommended. Switching between the different lines such as chicken, lamb, beef, and fish was also encouraged (gradual transition to reduce the chance of digestive upset).
For those with allergies or sensitivities, grain free or limited ingredient diets with salmon as the main protein, was the preferred choice. Finding a diet for these situations is extremely difficult and typically a long process. Everyone thinks that because grain free is commonly recommended that it WILL fixthe issue. But keep this in mind – if your child is allergic to peanuts and you cut out all egg in their diet, your child will still have an allergic reaction when consuming peanuts.
Every dog is different; they are not all allergic to the same thing.
Since allergy tests are commonly inaccurate in relation to food allergies, an elimination diet trial is still the most accurate method. Make sure you give the new food some time to see if it helps – it can take over a month to see results. Treats should also be eliminated, because that will have an impact as well. Once you see results, you can then make small changes to see if there are any issues. Other health conditions can occur that could affect your food trial (conditions that require medications), so it is important to work with your veterinarian in these situations.
Does this mean that diet issues are the only reason to recommend higher quality pet food? Not at all! When you look at a bag, always look at the recommended feeding guide. One thing you will notice is that on cheaper quality dog food, you need to feed a lot more of it. Therefore, that cheap bag is not as economical as you think. That coupled with the potential recurring visits at veterinarian offices should help motivate you to feed something better.
Here at Big Dee’s, we have a large selection of high quality pet food to meet your needs. All of our lines are free of corn, wheat, and soy. We have a vast array of grain free options as well. If there is something that you want that we do not carry, reach out to us by phone or message us on Facebook and we can see if we can get it.
Finding a diet for your pet can be stressful – we are here to help!
Written by Marketing Associate, Kelly
Complete selection of equine and rider products since 1976!