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.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, if you’re reading this you’re either a) Someone who is dating/married to an equestrian or b) a Horse Girl and feel like this “manual” will help those wayward individuals that don’t quite understand the “rules” to dating someone involved with horses.
If you fall into the category of a non-horse person who is now dating a horse girl – congrats. You have superior taste, and this guide will help make your dating relationship a success! These helpful hints will give some insight to the Horse Crazy Brain and how to win her heart (and hooves) over.
Understand that the horse will ALWAYS come first. Horses were her first love, and nothing is going to replace that. Don’t take it personally – it’s not to say she doesn’t love you dearly, it’s just a little less. Horse Girls spend a lot of their time with horses. If a Horse Girl has chosen to involve you in her hectic schedule, you can rest assured with the fact she knows you’re worth it.
Learn your way around baling twine and duct tape. Horse girls appreciate the gift of resourcefulness. We can and will reattach the same pitchfork head five times instead of buying a new one.
Horse Girls are known for their signature…. aroma. Don’t be surprised if we show up for a date covered in dewormer paste, have hay in our hair, and sit down to eat without washing our hands. We consider Effax or Leather Balsam to be a nice rub-on perfume.
The Horse Girl is easy to shop for. You do not need to go all out for a seafood dinner or trip to Paris to impress the Horse Girl. Simply provide a bag of treats or a gift card to Big Dee’s and she will be thrilled.
If you attend a horse show with a Horse Girl, do NOT ask how long it will be till you go home. Unless the Horse Girl has a set ride time for her Dressage or Cross-Country test, prepare for a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. This will be an exercise in strengthening your patience. Use this opportunity to ask the Horse Girl how to polish boots.
The same rules apply for asking a Horse Girl how long she will be at the barn. Time is a foreign concept to us. Unless you have set dinner reservations at 7, expect that we will show up at least 2 hours after we said we would be there.
I’ll just say it – horses are ungodly expensive. Between lessons, boarding, feeding, shoeing, showing, vet bills, and more, the Horse Girl will have no qualms in spending thousands of dollars on Fluffy. If you are dating a Horse Girl, understand that these costs will never diminish. It’s best not to argue with her about the cost of a new custom saddle or show coat. There is no such thing as too many saddles pads. Chances are she already bought it and was considerate enough to tell you.
Expect to have your phone on you at all times. More than likely, the Horse Girl has an Instagram page set up for Fluffy and requires a constant feed of new content to post of her riding or grazing Fluffy. This designates your job as the on-call photographer.
Do NOT tell us that horseback riding isn’t a sport. Or that it’s easy. It’s in the Olympics and classified as an NCAA Division-1 athletic. You will lose that debate every time.
If the Horse Girl ever has a bad day, suggest a date night at the barn. It will mean the world to her that you want to support her and watch her ride. Ask questions, be attentive, and show interest. A little goes a long way.
Horse girls are a rare breed. Are we crazy? Sure. Are we hardworking, passionate, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty? You bet. Are we worth it? 100% percent.
My horses LOVE to roll in mud, and it is especially muddy in their winter paddock (thanks Ohio). So every morning they go out relatively clean, and every night they come back in various shades of mud. Sometimes if I’m really lucky (insert eyeroll) there’s a little bit of precipitation and that mud really burrows into their winter coats.
While the majority of their body stays mostly clean thanks to their turnout sheets, I have some really messy legs and necks to deal with. Keeping them clean isn’t just for looks, it’s also for their health. Mud is just a mixture of water and earth (soil, organic matter, etc). That means that the slop out in the paddock is a thriving breeding ground for all sorts of nasty bacteria. That bacteria can find its way into your horses hooves (thrush), onto your horse’s skin (Rain Rot and Scratches) and even infect any open wounds. Doing daily body checks and regular grooming is the only way to help prevent possible skin problems, and even then, it might not be enough. Treating the problem before it gets out of hand can save both time and money.
My Grooming Process
Step 1 – Mane & Tail I always start with the mane and tail using my trusty Cowboy Magic Detangler and gloss it over generously. I like using brushes for this rather than combs – like the Oster or the Mane and Tail Brush. These allow me to glide into the hair without pulling strands out, and really makes quick work of cutting through the tangles and dirt. The Detangler also conditions the hair while repelling dirt and dust.
Step 2 – Cutting Through All that Dried Mud Next step is getting all of the big chunks of mud off with a simple Rubber Curry. It’s gentle and conforms to their body so I can really work into the mud spots, without fear of digging too roughly. After the big chunks are gone, I go back in with my Wahl Stiff Body Brush and work more of the dirt out. Next up is probably my favorite barn tool invention – the Epona Tiger’s Tongue! This little sponge might look deceivingly small, but once out of the package, it turns into a fabulous multi-use tool. I prefer to use it dry, and it helps pick up the last little chunks of dirt and dust. It’s gentle and functional enough to use it all over – head, neck, body and legs!
Step 3 – Out with the Stains, In with the Shine After the bulk of mud and dirt it gone, I go in with a waterless shampoo. My go-to is Cowboy Magic’s Green Spot Remover, but I also love the new Argan Oil Waterless Shampoo as well as Showsheen Stain Remover. I spray generously in particularly dirty looking or stained areas, then let it sit. While it sits, I clean out hooves with my favorite hoof pick – the Combo with a Brush! Talk about a deal; for only $1.75, this sturdy little pick scrapes out the dirt then can go in and brush out the sole. After the hooves are picked, I go back to the dirty spots I sprayed earlier, and wipe away with a rag. Just like that, the staining and dirt it gone, leaving a soft, bright grey underneath.
Step 4 – Final Touches Now that the majority of the of the body is cleaned, I go back in for coat conditioning and a quick brushing from a soft brush. My all-time favorite coat conditioner is the EQyss Avacado Mist – not only does it smell amazing, the second it’s sprayed on the coat, you can feel it work into hair. Conditioning the coat after cleaning help moisturize and reduce hair damage – and it also helps if your horse sometimes gets “zapped” by blanket static. An honorable mention in my grooming locker is also the Tenda Sheen – I usually keep this handy for a quick shine and it smells refreshing. When using a post-groom conditioner or shine, I spray onto the coat, then spray onto a cloth. I use the cloth on the face so I can easily shine up gently. I always take care around the eyes, but also wipe down the jaw, ears and muzzle.
Step 5 – Treatment and Prevention If at any point along those steps I find a wound, scrape, signs of thrush or a skin condition, I have a locker full of treatment and prevention options! My most essential item during the mud season is Kopertox – I use it for both prevention and treatment of thrush. It is a little more than other brands, but it definitely does the job – and quickly! It can be a little intimidating to use, it stains very easily (let’s not even talk about the smell) but there are ways to make it easier. I actually pour my Kopertox into a spray bottle which helps me get the entire sole and pinpoint certain areas with relative ease.
If I notice any wounds, I will first clean them up (usually with either just water if it’s a scrape or a diluted iodine solution if it’s a little bit deeper). I like having two different types of wound treatment on hand – something in a cream form, like the Banixx Wound Care, and something in a spray form like Vetericyn Plus. I like using the Banixx for easy to reach and small scrape wounds. It helps soothe and heal the skin while protecting it. The Vetericyn is perfect for hard to reach areas and bigger wounds. A simple spray and protected!
Last, but not least, my favorite skin condition product to use is the Coat Defense. It comes in two forms – Paste and Powder. The paste is perfect for clearing up fungal and bacterial problem areas. I use it on my gelding’s hind legs as both a prevention (in the mud season) and a treatment (in the Spring when they get a little bit of dew scald from the grass). The paste continually dries out, and since bacteria thrives on moisture – it keeps working well after applying.
The powder form works fabulous as a grooming tool and treatment for larger areas. It’s very easy to shake on, then with your fingers or a curry, work the powder into the coat. The results are immediate! A clean, fresh coat, and no dirt! The powder works great for my horses in the summer months when they sweat in the heat and humidity, a little bit of powder on the forehead – problem solved! It’s also a great way to help treat rain rot and other fungal/bacterial skin conditions in the muddy season.
Having the right tools, supplies and awareness can help make the gloomy season easier to bare. Simple body checks and grooming habits will make sure your horse is comfortable while enduring the rain, wind and mud – and though it may seem never-ending, bright sunny skies are just on the horizon!
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.
Types of Tall Boots
There are three main types of tall riding boots – Field 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.
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.
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!”
Do you have a horse that needs some leg support? Where to begin, right? There are so many options now that it’s easy to choose exactly what your horse needs for where they need support. Leg protection can be used for a few reasons – as a preventative, as a barrier, or as support.
Let’s start with the easy one – Bell Boots. Is you horse tracking up too far and catching his back hooves on his front hooves? Does he pull his shoes occasionally? Bell boot come in two basic styles with some variation – Pull On Boots or Velcro Boots. For people who use Bell Boots for turn out, or know their horse can get the Velcro off, the Pull On boots are for you. After a little bit of stretching over your horse’s hoof, the bell boots will stay on as long as you need them and are incredibly sturdy! The second style is the Velcro attachment, these come in a few more options such as having a fleece lined top, no turn style, or wrap style to fit your horses comfort level! Velcro Boots are great for protection while working your horse.
Next up – the Polo Wraps. Do they serve a purpose? When I was first learning about horses I was taught to polo wrap your horses’ legs for all around leg and tendon support. Years later while working for a dressage trainer, I learned the safe and effective way to wrap Polos. It does take practice to be wrap the correct way in order to help your horse while in work. Polo Wraps are beneficial during intense workouts and training sessions to support the horse’s lower leg. One of the best bonuses of Polos, is that they come in so many different colors to match your tack!
Specialized Sport Boots
Following the faithful Polo Wraps – Sport Boots Do you want Open Front or Fleece Lined? Before mastering the polo wrap I looked into sport boots, there are a few options and some of them have better uses depending on what your discipline is (although most can be used for any discipline).
Open front jumping boots have a strong outer shell to protect the horses fetlocks when jumping over poles or cross country obstacles. They sometimes have a matching back set of boots to protect the horses hind legs from knocking as well!
Dressage Sport Boots offer protection on the inner sides of your horse legs that help prevent rubbing or knocking into each other when doing those advanced movements. These boots are either neoprene or fleece lined for extra padding and protection. I personally love the DSB boots!
Specialized Western Boots
We covered Open Front and Dressage Boots – how about western? How are Skid Boots different than Athletic Boots? For Reining and Western Riding, skid boots wrap around your horses fetlock and cannon bone and have a soft neoprene lining. There is a skid cup around the bottom to prevent the sand from scraping your horses fetlock when doing sliding stops or cutting.
Skid Boots are very similar to the Athletic Boot style which has an extra supportive strap that wraps along the bottom of the horses fetlock and helps with dropping fetlocks and overall support with the tendon. They can be used on both the front and hind legs. These can come in fun colors and patterns – sometimes with matching bell boots!
Splint and Tendon Boots
Last and certainly not least is the faithful Tendon/Splint boots. Are Splint and Tendon Boots ideal for general leg protection? Splint Boots are usually padded on the inside with Velcro straps on the outside of the leg. These boots offer cannon bone protection and helps with brushing of the legs and support the most important tendons on your horses legs.
Tendon Boots are great for just adding to your horse as a preventive that helps add a basic level of protection for your horses legs for a great price.
So which is best for you and your horse?
Well, first you need to question where your horse needs that extra bit of support. Then, what level and type of riding are you doing? If you have any further questions and can’t quite decide call us here at Big Dee’s and we would be happy to find you the right fit!
Written by Laura Brubaker, Customer Service Representative
That time of the year is upon us! Just as we bundle up from the elements with many layers of Cuddle Dudds, winter breeches, and multiple vests, jackets, scarves, hats, and gloves; so does your horse. With shortened daylight hours and dropping temperatures, your horse’s protective winter coat keeps him protected from the elements.
However, that fluffy seasonal exterior can become a hassle for those that work their horses regularly, show, or find that it takes 2 hours and multiple coolers to get their otherwise sweaty and mud-ridden horse groom-worthy after a lesson, ride, or post-turnout. That’s why many equestrians decide to clip their horse, to help their horse cool off easier without risking a chill, as well as clean mud, check for scrapes and scratches, and have a show-ready appearance year-round.
Thermoregulation & Body Clipping
The skin is the largest organ for both horses and humans. With horses, their entire body systems adapt as a direct result of heat production (thermogenesis) or the loss of heat (thermolysis). With thermogenesis, horses remove excess body heat by evaporation via the respiratory system and sweating. Conversely, exposure to cold will produce a decrease in respiratory rate, to decrease heat loss. Horses are naturally the most comfortable and do not experience thermoregulated stress when their thermal zones are in the 60 to 72 degree range. In fact, scientific studies have shown that clipped horses experienced less strain on the thermoregulatory system due to an enhanced heat loss. Some clipped horses showed a more efficient power output than those that were unclipped!
If your horse suffers from medical issues,
such as Cushing’s, they could have a more difficult time regulating body
temperature and an appropriate clip can help keep them comfortable. Rain rot or
scratches can also be a sign that is it time to clip.
Types of Body Clips
Depending on your horse’s activity level, the climate you live in, showing schedule, and the sheer amount of hair your horse has; there are multiple varieties of clips to choose from.
Trace Clip: The most common type of body clip, this one is fairly minimal – it only removes the coat in the most sweat-prone areas, including the underside of the neck and chest. This is great for horses that are in a lesson program or ridden lightly and take a long time to cool down or groom and spend a decent amount of time in the elements.
Blanket Clip: Following along the muscles in the topline (read our other blog post to learn more about it!), this clip leaves a padding of hair on the back, keeping the muscles warm and legs protected but making sweat removal and cooling down much more efficient! Otherwise known as the “Quarter Sheet Clip,” this method is great for horses in moderate work, while still getting moderate outdoor turnout time.
Hunter Clip: This clip takes down all the hair except for the legs and a minimal, pad or saddle-shaped tracing along the back. Honorably named after field hunters, this clip keeps the legs protected during jumping, turnout, and fox-hunting. The removal of most of the body hair including the face and ears keeps the horse’s thermoregulation at its optimum point, even on long gallops across the terrain. For any horses with this clip, it’s ideal they are properly blanketed for adequate coverage from the cold.
Full Body Clip: This “au naturale” clip is perfect if your horse is heading down to WEC or regularly showing this winter season, live in Florida or other milder climates, has a heavy workload, and spends most of his times indoors. This option leaves a show-ready shine and makes grooming a breeze; but leaves no protection from the elements. Make sure your horse is well-blanketed including a neck cover, fleece layer, and heavyweight especially if you’re in temperate zones (like I am in Ohio).
Helpful Hint: When doing a trace clip, hunter clip, or any clip that has an outline or lines involved, I find it helpful to use chalk or a blade to trace clean lines of where I want to go. Give yourself a little extra room on the outline so you can clean up edges as needed. Remember, you can always take hair away than put it back!
What Blade Should I Use…
And what do all these numbers even mean? There are many makes, models, and lengths of clipper blades, and knowing what type to use on what part of the body can be confusing. Depending on the length of hair you want after clipping, that number will correspond to the blade you use. RULE OF THUMB: The higher the number on the blade, the shorter your hair will be.
#10 – Course Cut: This size blade leaves hair the longest. Many people use this size for body clipping, and many clippers provide a free #10 blade with the original purchase. It is a wise choice of blade to use on the horse’s legs, as it leaves a long enough length of hair to provide some protection. It’s also a great choice if you’re new to horse clipping techniques. Finishing mistakes are easier to correct with this blade as you have more length of hair left to work with. Note: #10 blades are available in regular and wide sizes, with the wider size most appropriate for body clipping, since it removes more hair per swipe.
#15 – Medium Cut: This size blade cuts the hair a bit shorter than the #10 blade, making it a great option when clipping hair on a horse’s head or bride path.
#30 – Medium or Fine Cut: One of the more popular blade length options, this length is the standard for most showing disciplines. Presents a clean trimmed look by removing excess hair and whiskers from the horse’s face, ears, around the eyes and nose, and fetlock area.
#T- 84 – Medium Cut: This extra-wide, medium cut blade from Andis has become increasingly popular among amateur and professional clippers due to its large area coverage when clipping and the finish they give. Due to its extra-wide design, allowing for more hair to be removed per pass, it’s not uncommon for the entire body to be clipped using the T-84’s.
#40 – Fine or Surgical Cut: This blade cuts the hair extremely close to the skin. In fact, if you put a magnifying glass up to the skin, you can see tiny nicks. This blade is pretty much only used for medical purposes.
5-in-1 – Multipurpose Cut: A huge innovation to the Clipper World, these blades from Wahl can adjust from a #9, #10, #15, #30, and #40 length in as little as moving your thumb. They make clipping a breeze and the hassle of changing blades (or needing multiple clippers to get the job done)
Before You Start Clipping
Because clipping is a time-extensive process, especially if you’re new and less confident in your clipping abilities, it’s crucial to give both you and your horse plenty of time, patience, and a few extra cookies to prep for the perfect clip.
First… BATHE YOUR HORSE!
Not only does a dirty horse dull and eat away at your blades, plus put extensive wear and tear on your clippers themselves; it also makes clipping uncomfortable by pulling on your horse’s skin in addition to making lines very uneven and not clipping evenly. Blades are supposed to smooth through a horse’s coat like a hot knife through butter – pushing/forcing your clippers through is the sign of a dirty horse. My favorite tools when prepping and clipping tools are the following:
Hands On Grooming Gloves: If I could stand from the rooftops with a giant banner to tell everyone that they MUST have these grooming gloves, I totally would. These are fantastic for bathing by evenly distributing shampoo throughout the coat, especially if it’s a thicker winter layer. In lieu of a curry, the little nubs throughout the palm and fingertips really get in there to lift dirt and crud.
A gentle, non-oil-stripping shampoo for a good bath beforehand to bring out that squeaky clean shine. My go to is a combination of Dawn dish soap and the EquiFuse Concentrate Paste Shampoo. A little goes a long way with this deep cleaning and gentle mixture, plus the EquiFuse is infused with natural Citrus essential oils that makes this shampoo smell oh-so-heavenly!
Once dried, apply some form of grooming spray that will add a light layer of oil back to the coat, allowing for a quicker, cleaner clip that keeps the coloring and sheen in the hair.
For clipping tools themselves, my all-time favorites are the Wahl KM10 clippers with a 10W Competition Blade for body clipping. For touch-ups and show prep (face, bridle paths, ears, legs, muzzle), the Wahl Creativa or Wahl Bravura clippers are in my arsenal. Both the Wahl Bravura and Creativa clippers run on Lithium batteries – these long-running cordless clippers stay cool for multiple clips and the adjustable blades make my life so much easier.
When finished clipping and post-grooming, use a damp hot cloth to remove any grease from the blades and loose hair, then spray a light mist of the Shapelys No.2 Oil to remoisturize the coat while softening the hair and adding shine.
Top Tips to Clips
Before clipping begins, turn the clippers on away from your horse to get him used to the noise and vibration. If working with a sensitive or spooky horse, I’ll hold the clipper itself to his shoulder for a minute or until he begins to relax. Then, start at the shoulder as this is less sensitive than other areas on his body. There are different schools of thought on whether to do long broad strokes or short ones. I personally go in short strokes in a Y pattern, but whatever your method, make sure you go against the hair.
Give yourself plenty of time and patience – especially for your horse! Depending on your experience, the type of clip, pre-clip prep, and the personality of your horse, clipping can go anywhere from a 2 to 4-hour job including breaks, oiling, blade changing, and more. Prepare to commit, follow through and finish with the job. Be conscious of your horse’s mood, the temperature of the blades, and have plenty of clipper oil and cookies handy to make the entire clipping experience a positive one for the both of you!
You’ll oil your blades more frequently than you cool them, applying it to the blades every 15 to 20 minutes. Use a coolant only twice – once before going onto the other side and then when finished to clean the blade and disinfect before going onto the next horse. If you over-use the cool lube spray it cruds up the blades and they won’t work as effectively. Make sure you brush away any excess hair from the blades and clipper drive.
When working in tricky areas where the skin folds and creases, use your free hand to pull skin taught as you clip – including the chest, face, elbow, and throat latch areas. When clipping whorls, change the direction/angle of your clippers to correspond with the many direction the hair grows. Step back every time you oil your blades to get a birds-eye view of your clipping job thus far. If lines are present, go back over with the blades. If they still don’t go away, it means the blades aren’t oiled properly, the blades are dull, or the blade drive in the clippers need to be replaced.
In conclusion, if this is your first time clipping, take a deep breath and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Having a helper nearby makes it much easier when clipping legs, in case you need to pull them away from the horse, holding him as you work near the ears or tail, and hand necessary tools to you. Horse clipping is an art and can take years to perfect. At the end of the day, if you mess up, it’s okay – hair will always grow back!
I remember the first time I met Copper, as a completely horse-crazy pre-teen. He was this sassy little four-year old that came as a package deal to a far more seasoned horse. My first thought for Copper was “no way, not MY horse”.
After several years on the farm, I was tasked with continuing his training to help family, and soon discovered an honest and willing partner. We both just needed time to mature and to realize what a cool team we could make! Who would have thought the horse I didn’t want as a kid, would become the horse I would never sell?
Cherokee was my “step-up” horse that came into my life about the same time I realized Copper and I were pretty good teammates. Life changes had us part ways for nearly ten years, but in February of 2019, he came back to me to live out his years. While he is twenty-four years young, he’s not the spry teenager he once was.
Both of these horses played a pivotal role in my childhood, shaping me into the Equestrian I am today. It is both an honor and a privilege to care for them as they continue aging into their senior years.
Easing Into the Older Years
I have been able to watch Copper as he ages. It hasn’t been sudden or abrupt – it has been gradual changes through the years. It was in the moments of hearing clicking joints, feeling him take longer to warm up, and noticing he doesn’t keep muscle tone over the winter like he used to, that I learned I needed to adjust with him.
Cherokee’s changes were a little bit harder for me to experience. When came back into my care, he needed improvement. I immediately worked on bringing him back to his former shine, which included dental care, complete nutrition and building his fitness. I discovered along the way, that senior health care can be improved dramatically with a few key factors.
All horses need to be able to stretch out, not just seniors. Older horses might be a little slower out of the stall, but to keep them in great health, the need that fresh air and movement! The mantra “use is or lose it” applies here. While I don’t ride intense workouts like I used to, I try to keep Copper and Cherokee in motion daily from turnout in their winter paddock, as well as turnout in a large field for them to run, hand grazing or riding. It’s harder to accomplish in the rainy season – but it truly helps their body and mind.
I help combat the joint discomfort by feeding Spectra’s Mega-Flx to both horses to help with their joints and mobility. Mega-Flx helps reduce inflammation and provides key amino acids, MSM and HA.
Blanketing and Coat Growth
A heated topic among equestrians is often whether or not to blanket. With blanketing, there is no “one size fits all” method. Some older horses grow glorious coats, while others may need the additional help to maintain their weight and not use up their calories trying to stay warm. This year has been a disaster for coat growth – our temperatures have been so unpredictable and unseasonably warm, so neither Copper nor Cherokee grew a heavy coat. While they are in excellent weight, I don’t feel comfortable letting them go out “naked” on really cold, windy or heavy rainfall/snowfall days. They are turned out for twelve hours a day, without a run-in, so they usually need an extra layer of protection.
I use a rain sheet for the chilly days and light rain when I need just a protective shell (usually anything with rain under 45°F). I go for a midweight like the Arctic Breeze when I need some warmth (usually days between 20°-30°F) and a heavyweight turnout blanket for really cold and wet days (under 20°). The forecast always plays an important role each morning, determining if they need a blanket, sheet, or can go au naturale!
One of the most important factors for keeping a senior horse healthy, is their ability to eat and utilize their food. First and foremost, teeth should be checked regularly. While I check their mouths often, I also schedule a dental float with my veterinarian annually to keep them in tip top shape.
I provide 24/7 access to quality hay, but Cherokee has started quidding more frequently (chewing up hay bits then spitting them out) as he loses more teeth. To supply him with the calories he loses from quidding, I have added soaked alfalfa cubes and beet pulp to his morning and evening rations. Both horses are fed Buckeye Nutrition grain for a complete diet. Copper eats Gro N Win in the Spring/Summer months and transitions to Safe N Easy in the colder months for extra nutritional support. Cherokee has maintained beautifully on EQ8 Senior; he used to have loose stool, but the probiotics along with added beet pulp has balanced him out!
I have recently added dac E Natural to help with muscle support and topline for Cherokee and dac Oil to both of their diets for the Omega 3 benefits. I’m already seeing some filling in Cherokee’s hindquarters – I can’t wait to see more improvement!
It sometimes takes trial and error to find the perfect combination for your senior- but that’s okay! Start with the basics, and go from there. Just remember to be kind and forgiving as they slow down – they deserve the same dignity now as they were given in their youth.
As horsemen and horsewomen, we have all heard the term “topline” and the importance of building, maintaining, and properly supporting the horse’s topline for optimal movement, soundness, and performance.
What is The Topline?
The topline is a collection of muscles that support the spine, from neck to hindquarters. Specifically, the longissimus dorsi which attaches spine to pelvis; latissimus dorsi that attaches the upper and mid back vertebrae to the lower lumbar vertebrae, and the thoracic trapezius which attaches the neck and mid back vertebrae to the shoulder blade.
In addition to proper nutrition, turnout, correct saddle fit, and overall care, the topline can strengthen and grow with regular work – including riding, ground work, and lunging (specifically with some sort of lunging system). Having a properly balanced topline will not only improve your horse’s appearance and performance, his sense of balance, posture, and comfort will improve much like strengthening our own core does!
A regular working schedule including riding, groundwork, and lunging can utilize and exercise your horse’s topline. A fun and proven way to make your horse move his booty in the saddle is by incorporating trot poles, stretching, various terrain work, and lots of transitions. It’s worth mentioning that ensuring a proper fit is CRUCIAL to this process, as an ill-fitting saddle will inhibit your horse’s topline growth, as well as a source of soreness, injury, imbalance, and overall negativity for your horse (and you)!
Another popular way to build your horse’s topline, for any English, Western, or Equine-related discipline is with the use of a Lunging system. One of the best things about using a lunging system is that it takes the stress and worry out of forcing your horse into a frame, as the rig encourages the horse to self-carry and any resistance is from the horse and not you. Originally developed by American showjumper Nelson Pessoa, it was the first set designed specifically to lift and engage a horse’s core and topline to develop self-carriage and encourage proper movement.
Today, there are great options for those that are wanting to purchase a Lunging System of their own, but it’s important to make sure you have all the essential items needed for lunging.
What You’ll Need
Lunging System:The Pessoa Lunging System is more of an investment, priced at $235, or Waldhausen Lunging System is more of an economic pricepoint at $55. Personally, I love both of them but I’ve had my Pessoa now for about 5 years, and it’s held up beautifully!
Lunge Line Surcingle: These have various attachments, depending on the frame you’d like your horse to be in. There are many different types of material these are made in, from leather to neoprene to nylon. I personally use this one because of the variety of D rings available – so I can use it for dressage, hunters, or Western frames.
Saddle Pad: Because the surcingles are designed to fit snug against the horse, I make sure I use a pad of some kind to keep it in place and prevent slipping, plus add to my horse’s comfort. I use the Back on Track Back Pad because it covers the entire topline area, and it’s great for bareback riding too!
Bridle or Lunging Cavesson: Lunging systems must always be used with a bit for the lines and pulleys to attach to. You can either use a regular bridle with a lunging attachment (like this one) or Lunging Cavesson.
Lunge Line: These can be made in either nylon or cotton. You’ll want to make sure yours has plenty of length for proper control and to change the size circle your horse goes in, depending on the amount of collection or engagement preferred. Ideally, you’ll want one with a 25 or 30-foot length with a durable, heavier snap.
Lots of treats for rewarding and praising your horse for a job well done!
When you’re done, then end result should look something like this!
How To Fit Your Lunging System
Fit your surcingle and pad on your horses back. Gather all your clips in place to avoid a detangling mess!
Take the snap that branches from the “V-clip” and attach to the D ring on your surcingle that is at the center of your horse’s back.
Set the bum roll under your horse’s tail. A note for fitting, it may look a little high at first when standing, but as you encourage him to move and tuck underneath, the roller will lower.
Separate the left and rein lines from each other, then gather the right line to keep in place, making sure it’s tidy and away from the ground to avoid getting caught in your horse’s legs.
Take the pulley snap and attach to the solid ring near the girth attachment of the surcingle.
Attach the end snap to the bit as a place holder and repeat on the other side.
Take the front clips and run them through the bit rings going out-to-in towards the middle of the horse’s front legs).
Attach the clips at the D-ring underneath the surcingle. Some people use baling twine for younger or green horses as an easy break point.
You’re done! You can send your horse out on the line and begin lunging.
Waldhausen Lunging System in Practice
One of our Customer Service Support Specialists, Laura, had been curious about trying various Lunging Systems. After trial and error with other Lunging Systems, hear how she found a winner with the Waldhausen Lunging System!
” I purchased the Waldhausen lunging system when other lunging aids were not cutting it for my dressage gelding. He would pull himself into frame and be “collected” but not engage his hind end on the ground. After a lot of research, I found the Waldhausen system and decided to purchase it and test it out! The instructions were very simple to understand and they show a few different ways to hook up the system on your horse. I started with the most basic, which is what is pictured. After my horses’ first initial few steps of confusion with the padded strap behind his legs, he started tracking up better in both the walk and the trot. Moving on to the canter, he showed actual full collection and engaged both his hind end and back going into the transition. I have now started to use the Waldhausen system in our monthly training/lunging program to help keep his mind working with the rest of his body which helps him both move and feel better when being ridden!”
Tips and Final Words
When using any Lunging System for the first time, it’s always important to desensitize your horse to all the lines, pulleys, and clips before putting it on. Start slowly when you begin, begin at a walk encouraging your horse to move freely and without resistance. As your horse begins to become more comfortable and trained to the system, feel free to experiment and have fun with different gaits, transitions, circle sizes, and change of directions. As always, make sure you are working with a professional and in a safe environment with the addition of any new training aid, to make sure everything fits correctly and she can observe the initial reactions of your horse.
Like any training aid, it’s important to not over-do the frequency of use. These are designed to be used in conjunction with proper riding and training, not to replace it. But lastly, have fun and be patient! Take this time to bond with your horse out of the saddle and not be afraid to try something new.
Enjoy the ride,
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