Tag Archives: Horseback Riders

Get Your Barn Ready For Fall! The Ultimate Barn Gear Guide

Hi everyone, Colleen here from the Purchasing Department at Big Dee’s. Personally, fall is my favorite season – I love the subtle shift in the air when you step outside on a brisk, sunny day. When I walk out to feed the horses in the morning, complete with my Pumpkin Spice Latte and favorite flannel, I get so excited for the upcoming season and the chance to regroup and focus on what lies ahead. Thankfully, the chilly air and changing leaves inspire me to get some organizing done in the barn, too – plus some new upgrades!

Rubbermaid Big Wheel Farm Cart

The Rubbermaid Big Wheel Farm Cart is a lifesaver – every farm owner needs one of these! $189.95

Just like a woman has her favorite Little Black Dress, this Big Farm Cart is the best thing. EVER. I have found so many uses for this 7.5 cubic foot utility cart from loading feed/hay/equipment from my truck to the barn (it easily moves up to 300 pounds), cleaning stalls, or using as an oversized feed cart when walking up and down the aisles. I never worry about it getting stuck in mud or losing traction on slippery surfaces with the oversized 8″ wheels. Added bonus – it’s made in the USA and has a 1-year warranty!

Stainless Steel Pails & Galvanized Scoops

I love the feeling of having squeaky clean tack and buckets, and these shiny steel scoops and pails make a perfect addition to my feed room and tack room. Both items come in a variety of sizes and rust-proof; built to last for everyday use. Whether I’m scrubbing tack or need a water bucket when my dog comes to the barn, I’m good to go. Personally, I think the smaller sizes of the pails are stinking cute – I even have a couple in my home I’ve turned into flower pots! The galvanized scoops are easy to hold and scoop the exact amount I need.

Country Pride Insulated Bucket Cover

Never worry about breaking frozen buckets again! Country Pride Insulated Water Bucket Cover : $31 – $34.95

As much as I hate to admit it, frozen temperatures will be here before you know it. However, I can feel a little better knowing I won’t have to deal with frozen buckets with these insulated bucket covers. They have just the right amount of insulation that keeps them from being bulky or a pain to put on, and the Velcro reinforcements keep it in place. I like the unique design with the extra nylon ring around the lip of the bucket so Rotti’s face stays protected. Plus, if they ever get dirty, I just throw mine in the wash or spray it off with a hose, let it dry, and it’s good as new.

Burlingham Sports Grad-Dual Grain Feeder

I have two of the Burlingham Sports Grad-Dual Feeders – one for indoors and one for in the field! $69 – $79.00 each

With my horses gradually getting less turnout time and exercise between the dropping temperatures, bad weather, and a busy schedule, the Grad-Dual Feeder was an easy solution to managing their weights and making sure they stay in optimal body condition. On top of adding a Slow Feed Hay Net, this USA-made feeder features different slots for grain to sit in, making feeding time fun for Rotti by working to get in each of the little slots to eat his grain. I don’t have to worry about it using it indoors out outside, as it’s made from heavy-duty plastic in a single mold. It keeps Rotti’s tummy happy by preventing him from gulping down grain and saves me money from having to deal with wasted feed!

Little Giant DuraTote Stool & Tool Box

This lockable carry-all is great for shows or mounting anywhere with its built in tack caddy! $36.95

I am all about efficiency, and the Little Giant DuraTote offers the best of both worlds as both a roomy grooming caddy and sturdy mounting step. They come in several fun colors (the pink was my favorite). I love I can store all my brushes, spray bottles, and more in one convenient spot, whether I’m home or traveling to shows and clinics. Plus, I can add fun decals and stickers all over it to make it instantly recognizable!

Kensington Aisle Guard

These fashionable, functional Kensington Stall Guards come in so much fun colors, I had a hard time picking out which one I wanted! $114.85

The Kensington Aisle Guards did a fantastic job of adding some color and breathing new life into the barn space, with its classic plaid in a variety of fun colors. My favorite thing about it is the peace of mind I get from having an extra safety net when I leave the barn for the evening, reinforced with heavy duty D-rings and included screweyes and double end snaps. Plus, I can match it to my other Kensington gear, like the Stall Guard and Mesh Totes!

Corn Broom

Available in a single or 4-pack, you can never have too many of a good thing! $20.95 – $76.95

If you’ve been around horses long enough, you know the value of a good broom. This one in particular is a 1st place Champion. Made with the perfect blend of corn and sotol fibers, reinforced with a 4 sew with metal band, the smooth lacquered wood handle is easy to grip and maneuver. If you want a little extra hold, I recommend wrapping it with the Diamond Tool Wrap Tape (I put it on all my pitchforks too). I bought the 4-pack to keep one in my aisleway, my garage, my basement, and get my Halloween costume ready early.

Barn Buddy Barn Stool

Capable of holding brooms, pitchforks, shovels, and more, this handy carrier flips over to become a comfortable place to sit! $44.95

After a hard day’s work, I know the first thing I look forward to is a comfortable place to sit. The High Country Plastic Barn Buddy Stool is a lightweight, portable option that doubles as a handy barn tool organizer. I like having one in my trailer to use as a useful carry-all, but the seat is the best part. It’s the perfect height and I don’t feel like I am about to fall over while sitting (which says a lot, because I’m particularly klutzy).

Final Thoughts

As crazy as this year as turned out for myself and everybody else, take this time to refresh and rejuvenate yourself to come up with some fun projects to make the barn an exciting place to be! Grab a broom, tidy up your feed room, scrub your tack until it’s squeaky clean, and get to work! And maybe grab a hot apple cider and donut on the way 🙂

Take advantage of the sunshine and let it inspire you to tackle whatever projects you have coming next – it’ll be snowy before you know it!

Enjoy the ride,
Colleen C. – Purchasing Specialist

Product Review: HAYGAIN Hay Steamer

For those that habituate in areas that frequent (unbearably) hot, humid summers; frigid, subzero winters; or dry, arid temperatures year round, respiratory issues seem to be just as common as seasonal allergies or leaves changing colors.

However, the innovators at HayGain have created a solution for keeping your horse’s lungs comfortable and meal time more enjoyable. Used by professionals, Olympic/Gold Cup/Pan-Am Games/4* Eventing Champions, and amateur horse owners alike, the HayGain Hay Steamer maximizes the nutritional value of hay, eliminating toxins, dust, bacteria, and unwanted weeds, while improving horse’s respiratory conditions for those that suffer from coughing, allergies or weakened immune systems.

“We were always concerned about infection and pneumonia and Haygain steamed hay was a huge thing for usI could really feel the effect when I rode [recently-retired star partner] Ballynoe Castle R.M, and his career really took off and he was a much more relaxed horse. I put all my horses on it and felt it was a huge asset.”

Buck Davidson, International Event Rider, Team USA
World Equestrian Games in 2010 & 2014, Olympic alternate in 2008 & 2012

A “Tail” As Old As Time

Developed by a group of equine enthusiasts back in the early 2000s in southern England, the HayGain was a brainchild of horse owners who were concerned about the nasal discharge, coughing, heaving, and other respiratory problems in their horses. They realized – much like a hot shower or steam room helps to open up blocked airways and steaming vegetables to bring out their best nutrient content – these same principles could apply to their horse’s forage.

While soaking hay is a centuries-old method of controlling airborne particles, it isn’t entirely effective, and doesn’t eliminate potentially harmful bacteria that may be ruminating within each bale. In 2007, the HayGain was born and the results were proven – clean, dust and mold free, palatable hay.

“Everything They Need and Nothing They Don’t”

While soaking hay can be a quick, on-the-go way of dampening hay, bacteria and mold-inducing spores can still linger – up to 55%! Thankfully, HayGain has been scientifically proven as an effective, safe way to reduce airborne particles (mold, dust, etc) by up to 98%. As a result, horse’s can receive quality, nutritionally-maximized forage with 0% mold, fungal spores, bacteria, and yeast that can cause equine asthma and chronic respiratory inflammation. Hay will become so palatable to your horse that he will want to gobble every flake, saving money on wasted food or messy water buckets from dunked hay! Plus, the HayGain is clean and easy to use, saving users from dealing with messy, heavy Rubbermaid containers filled with gallons upon gallons of water for minimal results.

Why steaming hay is more effective than soaking

While HayGain improves horse’s airway quality with their hay-treating system and prevents inflammatory airway diseases by up to 65%, it also boasts a variety of health benefits that any horse can appreciate.

  1. Increased hydration – Steamed hay has an increased water content of over 3x its normal value, ensuring your horse is getting the water intake needed to keep his digestive system running smoothly
  2. Palatability – Picking eaters have no match against the HayGain, as it boosts the smell, taste, and texture of forage.
  3. Allergy reduction – Sensitive horses with allergy related issues such as coughing, skin-conditions, etc. can benefit from the reduced dust, air microbials, and yeast/mold spores found in poor-quality hay.
  4. Maximize performance – Hay is the #1 source of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for horses. HayGain offers top-quality results with hay treated from its system to maximize respiratory, digestive, and ultimately, athletic performance.

“Hay is crucial for the health, well-being and performance of horses. Haygain ensures for us that our horses get what they need and nothing that they don’t from their hay.”

Beezie Madden, International Showjumper, Team USA
Four Olympic medals, Three Pan American Games medals, 4x World Championship medals

How It Works

Steaming hay is a relatively quick process that can be easily done during riding, feeding, stall cleaning, or everyday barn chores. Because each HayGain is equipped with a timer, each bale or flake will have the perfect “cook time,” every time. Even if left overnight, the HayGain allows steamed hay to be contained for up to 24 hours, allowing in-advance steaming to be done.

Available in unique options to fit various needs and lifestyles, the HayGain is available to order from Big Dee’s in portable and half-bale units – perfect for home, trailer, and away at competition.

Each HayGain steamer is designed with a patented manifold system that hold flakes or bales in place and injects high-temperature steam evenly from the inside out. Its double insulated chest and aluminum manifold materials enables the steam to reach ultra-high temperatures within the chest (up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit), maximizing the effectiveness of the unit.

Final Thoughts

Whether you ride, race, compete, or use as a preventative/treatment measure, the HayGain is the ultimate game-changer. Not only will it help to increase your horse’s respiration, appetite, safety, forage and water consumption, it’s backed from years of scientific research and testimonials from some of the top professionals and trainers in the world. Experience the difference for yourself!

Before I was introduced to Haygain, I was soaking hay for Brentina to make sure that it was more palatable and dust free. Then I found Haygain and not just Brentina but every horse in our barn is so happy. Now after our horses are fed the only sound you hear are the horses chewing. I no longer hear sneezing or coughing due to dust or mold spores. Once you have fed Haygain you will never go back!”

Debbie McDonald, International Dressage Rider, Team USA
US Equestrian Dressage Team Chef d’Equipe Olympic and World Cup medalist

Enjoy the ride,
Colleen C., Purchasing Associate

The Value of Equestrian Community During COVID-19

While many of us are more than likely experiencing some version of cabin fever during this period of social distancing, separation, and limited access to our usual everyday activities and routines, there are ways to remain positive and have a bright outlook on this bizarre time in our world’s history.

Even though many local, rated, and international shows have been either postponed or cancelled, we are able to take this time to perhaps find other productive ways to spend our now-abundant free time.

Social distancing at its finest – Rotti and I have been doing lots of trail rides to develop his hill work while shows and clinics have been postponed/cancelled

If you’re like me, I consider the barn to be my “home away from home” and a safe space for me to disconnect with the stressors of the outside world like scheduling doctor’s appointments, deadlines, voicemails, grocery shopping (even before the TP shortage), and general everyday life stress. However, while I’m still fortunate enough to be able to go to the barn to take care of my gelding, some individuals may be struggling with recent changes that may not allow regular boarders to come and see their horse, much less even ride or have more than an hour with them. While this may be frustrating, it’s important to understand and appreciate that those who are taking care of our beloved animals are on the frontlines and need to ensure their health and safety in order to ensure that for our horses.

Curious to discover ways to connect with your equestrian community while still getting your “fix?” Continue reading to find out more!

1. Spring Cleaning

During this time, take this opportunity to sort through all your tack, saddle pads, schooling/show clothes, and more.  Are there any items that are worn through, rotted, or overall unsafe/unusable? If so, throw it away to create room for the good stuff – plus it makes more room in your tack trunk for new gear! Take the remaining bridles, halters, saddle pads, and more to inspect the quality of each and break out the elbow grease to give everything a good scrubbing/cleaning/conditioning (check out Cassie’s blog for some tips and tricks to make your leather sparkle)!

2. Get Fit

Just because your mighty and noble steed may have transformed into a temporary Pasture Puff, that doesn’t mean you can’t get ahead of the curve and build your fitness level to be ready to hit the ground running with your horse by the time you’re back at the barn. Take the time to enjoy some fresh air and build your cardio by walking your dog, having a dance party by yourself to some of your favorite tunes, or go hiking at your local park with equestrian friends – while keeping with proper social distancing guidelines. Think about engaging your core throughout the day and promoting proper posture while sitting at home, making sure to keep up with healthy eating habits. By giving yourself a goal to strive for, it’ll help keep you on track and stay excited about building a positive routine.

 Stay tuned for an upcoming post on some of the best exercises specifically for equestrians!

3. Time Capsule

In between your Netflix binging of The Office and Tiger King, go through old videos and photos from previous shows and lessons. While this may not necessarily be an exciting or enjoyable thing to do – reliving chipped distances or “ugly” riding – It’s amazing what taking the time to appreciate the growth between you and your horse can do to give inspiration for new exercises and patterns to try. I discovered that the reason Rotti would sometimes buck after fences wasn’t because he was being naughty, but because I would lay on his neck in the landing and didn’t allow him to stretch after the landing stride, so he had to work extra hard to try and regain his balance and rhythm! With the knowledge and experienced you’ve likely gained since those videos were taken, you probably didn’t realize how much you’ve learned or some of the bad habits you’ve worked through (or picked up).

Looking over old photos and videos can be a confidence boost , as well as get you excited for new things to practice on for the future!

4. No Such Thing as Too Much Learning

Utilize your trainer and schedule a “virtual” lesson with them or try online resources like The Equivault, Total Horse Channel, or The Equestrian Coach in the meantime to gain a fresh perspective on your discipline or learn something new! Youtube also provides a TON of information for training tips and more (even Olympic champion Beezie Madden is giving a free lesson on her Channel)!

You can also check out governing body websites like FEI, USEF, USHJA, USDF, and other resources like The Chronicle of the Horse to watch old show videos for you to “ride along” with to help envision your success plan for the future. Doing all these things shows your support to your coach or various small businesses during these stressful times, and keep you engaged with what’s going on in the equestrian community.

 Also, take this time to catch up on going through your various magazines like Horse Illustrated, Practical Horseman, or organizations like AQHA Magazine, In Stride, and more to read up on the latest updates for show updates and what’s going on in your breed or discipline-specific community. You can also dust off some of the various books stacked in your tack room to brush up on your riding, horsemanship, grooming, or horse care knowledge – I know I’ll be diving into my copy of World-Class Grooming and looking forward to warmer weather coming upon us for him to get his first bath of the season and shedding underway for him to be show-ring ready!

What books will you be reading in the meantime?

5. Trust

Myself included, it can be really easy to worry about “what’s next?” We are wondering when our beloved barns and shops will reopen, the next time we can ride, when our next show will be, or when life as we know it will get back to “normal.” The biggest thing to rely on is trust. Your horse will (likely) not become some feral animal or forget everything you’ve learned together, and his fitness will not have completely fallen apart. You will not “forget” how to ride. Thankfully, there is a light at the end of the tunnel – this will not last forever. Before you know it, we will be back in our barns so take the time to reflect and discover a new-found appreciation for this world we love so much.

Hang in there, guys. We are all in this together.

Enjoy the ride,
Colleen, Purchasing Associate

Horseless Equestrian

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.

Where it all began – Cherokee was the first horse I took lessons from – he was a spotted draft cross and a cool guy!

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.

Justin was a HUGE Thoroughbred (17.3hh) I got to work with for most of my junior career – he was an amazing jumper and got to attend some incredible shows together.

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.

Tego – my first “rehab” project

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.

Riding at college in IDA was a blast, I learned so much from riding so many different horses.

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!

Figo was one of the many horses I got to ride in college. He was a total schoolmaster!

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.”

Enjoy the ride,
Colleen

Would You Rather… Meet a Famous Horse or a Famous Person?

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!

Image copyright – Peace Bridge Authority

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!

The Black Stallion, 1979

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.

Cass Ole was a Texas-bred Arabian stallion, foaled March 6, 1969

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 Reserve Championships.

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!

Have you met someone famous?

Written by Marketing Manager, Jena

“You Are Now Being Judged”: COMBATING Riding Anxiety

“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.

In order to stay physically fit for A-rated shows, it’s important to be at the gym at least 3 times a week in the gym to keep my back, core, and body strong!

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.

“Untrainable”

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.

Sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you’ll have to do it afraid.

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.

Lastly, give you and your horse time to decompress and enjoy each other outside of work. For Rotti and I, that means lots of playtime on the ground, massages and long grooming sessions, jogging over trot poles with him in a halter, groundwork, trail riding, and reading lots of books so I can keep my training toolbox sharp and gives me inspiration for fun things to try in the future. It’s not fair to your horse if the only time he leaves his stall is to work and have pressure put on his own fitness and mentality – give yourself the opportunity to bond with him and figure out what each horse needs.

Trail rides are a great way to flex Rotti’s muscles out of the ring – it keeps him engaged and stimulated in new settings but gives us both a chance for “playtime.”
Final Thoughts

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.

Enjoy the ride,
Colleen

THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR … RIDING!

The 3 Most Important Purchases You’ll Ever Make

If you ask me what the most essential items are when it comes to riding gear and equipment, I’ll tell you they are your 1) helmet 2) saddle and 3) tall boots. While things like bridles, show coats, and breeches are still important to have fit well and of good quality, today there are many options available between various price points, evolving trends, and showing/riding habits. The items that are worn by a teenager attending her first 4-H show, Weekend Warrior trail rider, amateur-owner at a B-rated Dressage competition, or a professional competing in the 1.40s at the Washington International Horse Show could drastically vary depending on his or her personal needs, style, and budget.

A correctly-fitted helmet is the only thing that will keep your noggin safe in the event of a fall or riding accident, a properly adjusted saddle is the basis to an effective riding position and comfort/proper bio-mechanics of the horse, and it’s essential to have correctly fit boots so as not to distract, interfere, or deter from your riding. No matter what your riding goals and interests these three things – the helmet, saddle, and boots – are vital to your riding comfort and safety.

It’s worth mentioning that just because you’re investing in these items it does NOT mean you have to spend an arm and a leg on them – no pun intended. As long as you properly clean, store and care for these items and keep up with routine maintenance if needed (especially saddles) you could potentially enjoy the same pair of boots and saddle for 5, 10, 15, or more years! Helmets are the only exception to this rule. These should be replaced a minimum of every 5 years (or 2,000 hours of ride time) and ABSOLUTELY should be replaced after a fall in the event of cranial impact.

Having the right gear for your horse and rider allows both of you to look, move, and feel your best – while staying safe!

Types of Tall Boots

There are three main types of tall riding bootsField Boots, Dress Boots, and Dressage Boots. Each type of boot has a specific purpose, depending on the discipline you ride. Over the years, much like the rest of riding gear within the equine community, styles have evolved, but the biggest change was the introduction of zippers and stretch panels. This allowed for a much closer fit as well as an easier time putting on and taking off tall boots.

There are accessories to create the look of a custom tall boot, without the price tag associated with it. Available in a variety of fun colors, prints, and designs, you can mix and match with Boot Crowns to create the custom-look you’ve always wanted!

Most tall boots are made of leather, although vinyl is still being used in economy boots, and more technical materials are starting to be seen in all levels of boots. Black is still the most popular and traditional color, however more colors have been seen in the rings as of recent, including brown in the hunter/jumper arenas. In fact, there is a whole rainbow of colors and materials available that are appearing more in the Jumper, Dressage, and Eventing show rings, or even for schooling. From blues to burgundy to crocodile to patent leather and more custom boots are meant to make you stand out in a crowd. Just be careful, you don’t want it to be for the wrong reasons. If you intend on competing, make sure it’s within the guidelines and rules of your discipline.

Why Custom?

Custom boots are a fabulous way to express one’s personality and put all eyes on you. Depending on the circuit and discipline you show in, they’re an exciting way to keep up with the latest trends and make a fashion statement. It’s a thrill to pick and choose the colors, details from toe-punch to custom embroidery or engraving, and crystals or exotic leathers to make your boot fantasy come to life, and even more exciting when you put them on and enter the ring! The most important thing, however, is that custom boots are exactly that – custom. People that may have issues with fitting a particularly wide calf, high arch, wide footbed, or find that their tall boots are never “tall” enough, fully custom boots are made-to-measure with intricate detail and done in a one-on-one setting to make sure they are carefully and correctly designed. Custom boots are hand-made and hand-stitched, because these aren’t an off-the-shelf purchase but are made just for YOU. When the boots are done, there is usually a second fitting to ensure that the boots are exactly as ordered. In addition, you generally are working with a representative the entire process to answer any questions, resolve any issues, and to make sure you are completely satisfied in your investment.

Some companies like Konig, Vogel, and Dehner have been making custom boots for over 125 years, either for military or everyday wear purposes. In modern days, there are a multitude of boot makers from all over the world including Italy, Germany, France, United States, and others. Representing thousands of equestrians on both the world-stage and in the comfort of one’s own backyard, these master cobblers’ generations of craftsmanship and artisanship are built into each pair that they make.

What to Expect?

Big Dee’s represents The DeNiro Boot Company, Königs, The Dehner Company, and Cavallo as their custom boot makers. Ms. Lisa Goretta is one of the flagship members in the Big Dee’s Showroom and has been extensively skilled and involved in the equestrian industry professionally for over 30 years. Currently, she serves as the President of the United States Dressage Federation. She is our custom boot fitter here in the store and highlighted the most important things to keep in mind when preparing for a fitting appointment. Click here to hear first-hand about her experience at Big Dee’s.

Fitting Process: Generally, the measuring itself takes around 30 – 45 minutes. You’ll be measured beyond your basic foot and calf size, but also the exact height of your leg, width of the ball of your foot, and the depth of your instep are all carefully considered in the design of your boots. Depending on the boot you’re looking to design and the use you have for them, the boot maker, and deciding from the customizations available, some appointments can take up to 90 minutes to finalize the design change.

What to Wear: If you wear full seat fleece-lined breeches and wool socks in the winter and thin tights and thin socks in the summer, bring those. You want your boots to fit perfectly, so it’s important to wear what you will most likely be riding in them with when getting measured.

ETA: Depending on the manufacturer, boots can take 8 – 10 weeks for DeNiro (Italy), 8 – 12 weeks for Cavallo (Germany), and 10 – 12 for Dehner (USA). Patience is a virtue, but it is worth it!

Final Touches: In Lisa’s 30+ years of experience with custom boot fittings, 90% of the time there are no issues. If there is a minor issue, it can generally can be fixed in the store at the final fitting. In rare situations, the boots may need to be sent back for reworking. However, these are usually in extreme cases.

Cost: “We charge $500 at time of ordering and the balance is due when they arrive.” Because each boot is custom selected, measured, and designed by you, the final price tag can depend on the features, materials, and brand – and if custom boot trees are ordered.

With your new boots, it’s vital they are stored properly, kept free from moisture and excess sweat, and cleaned/conditioned/polished routinely. If you keep up with basic care and necessary maintenance, you’ll be thrilled with the lifespan of your new boots. In fact, Lisa’s custom Dehner boots from 30 years ago are still in use – “They’re old, but I love them, and they look just as good as custom boots today!”

Enjoy the ride,
Colleen