April 2015 archive
In the horse breeding world there is a term, not really an official term, but when you say it others familiar with horse breeding know exactly what you are talking about. It’s called “the black dot”. We have a black dot here at the farm and we are pretty darn excited about our black dot.
A little background on how you get a black dot. You may recall a couple posts back I told everyone we were going to breed Coco Chanel. On Good Friday (how appropriate, right?!) I took Coco to the reproduction vet to leave her there until she is (hopefully) in foal. About ten days after I dropped her off I got a Facebook message from the stallion owner that she had shipped semen to the vet and would be sending me an invoice. I was so excited and really nervous all at the same time. You see, the last time I tried to breed a mare nothing went right. After two years, a lot of heartbreak and an obscene amount of money we threw in the towel on breeding Noelle and I purchased Coco as a weanling. I was only going to be cautiously optimistic this time.
The vet texted me a couple days after I paid the shipped semen invoice and said that Coco had been inseminated, she had ovulated and that I could come pick her up. So I loaded Jaguar in the trailer and headed to pick up Coco. Jaguar is her best friend and since she hasn’t ridden in the trailer all that much I thought she’d appreciate having a buddy. Coco was WILD when we went to get her out of her stall. The vet said she’d been that way the whole time she was there. Most of the breeding done at the repro vet I’m using are cutting and barrel racing horses so Quarter Horses. Coco was easily 6″ taller than any other mare in the barn and I’m sure she was also the feistiest. She hasn’t been in a stall for more than a couple days since she had a minor leg surgery a year ago, she justifiably had cabin fever! She still needed a little bit of coaxing to get in the trailer, but load she did and off she went to wait for her ultrasound in 14 days.
April 25 was exactly 14 days after her ovulation and also the day Sterling and I returned from our horse show. So, I unloaded Sterling, turned the trailer around, and loaded Coco to head south. It was a Sunday so no one else was there except employees. We walked around a bit while we waited for the vet to get back from checking stallions (I presume). Coco was well behaved and I was getting more and more anxious. After about 20 minutes the vet showed up and we headed into the breeding barn to find out what our next step would be.
Coco got a little sedative to make the experience a little less uncomfortable. We led her into the stocks and the vet prepped her for the ultrasound. If you are a human (and I would venture to guess you are if you are reading this blog) and you’ve had a baby you may be wondering how ultrasounds are done on horses. I didn’t take any photos, but the vet has to put his arm inside the mare into her reproductive parts while holding the ultrasound camera. And this my friends is where you find the black dot. He had a very serious look on his face the whole time, and quite frankly I think he was messing with me, but after just a minute or so he pulled his arm out, looked up from the computer screen, smiled and said “she’s pregnant”. YYYYIIIIPPPPPEEEE!!!!!!!!!
I was too nervous and didn’t want to be “that girl” so I didn’t take any pics of Coco’s black dot, but here is what a horse black dot looks like at 14 days gestation:
A horse embryo at 14 days. AKA The Black Dot.
So, now what? We wait a couple more weeks and head back to the vet to check for a heartbeat. At this stage of the game, statistics for a full term pregnancy are more in our favour than against us, but I’m not taking anything for granted! Coco is definitely eating more and her demeanour has changed somewhat. I’m looking forward to documenting the whole process and being able to look back on it when baby Cartier/Coco Chanel is all grown up and jumping jumps. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty excited about naming this designer foal, too.
Sterling and I got to go to another horse show this past weekend. Most places that host USEF “A” rated horse shows seem to have them for multiple weeks in a row. I’ve only been doing this for a few months so I’m no expert, but from what I’ve read on social media they do this to attract trainers. It is a lot easier to have multiple weeks in a row where the trainer can just camp out for a month or two than to go to place A one week, then drive to place B the next week and then to place C. You get my point. Right now there are about five weeks in a row of horse shows at the Texas Rose Horse Park near Tyler. I’m planning to go to three weekends of shows. Time and budget restraints prevent going to all four weekends of shows.
For non-Texans, April is a very special time of year in North Texas. It is severe-thunderstorm-warning-and-tornado season. When I drove to the horse show I listened to the radio and watched my rear-view mirror and basically outran a severe thunderstorm to get to the stables and get Sterling settled before it hit. Jaguar has done a fantastic job of being the herd boss and making all the horses stand outside during major storms; snow, rain, tornado, it doesn’t matter. This has resulted in horses that aren’t too affected by bad weather. I was able to unload my trailer, get Sterling settled in his stall, and head to the hotel before the wind, thunder and lightning got crazy. I had talked to Boot City earlier and the storm hit our house pretty hard. He was without power for a couple hours, which is pretty unusual for us. The braiders braid the horses’ manes and tails overnight so our braider texted my trainer and said our horses and ponies were all fine during the storm. Sterling was interested, but not crazy. She even got his forelock braided without me there to distract him while she braided it!
When we got to the barn the next morning this is what our wheelbarrow looked like:
That is just rainwater people. No one filled that thing with a hose!
That was just from rain from the sky, it was also runoff from the roof of the tent where the horses were stabled, but still. That is a LOT of water!
Considering this was only our second “A” show and at a newish place (we had been here a couple times before, but the ambience at an “A” show is completely different than a schooling show), I didn’t exactly know what to expect from Sterling. We did make some progress in figuring out how to best prep and settle him at horse shows.
Here is Sterling’s horse show list:
- Don’t ride him right when you get to the show grounds. He’s too busy and crazy looking around to accomplish anything functional.
- Generally he doesn’t eat much of his feed, but he will eat every morsel of hay he’s given. This isn’t terrible, at least he eats.
- Warmup rings make him crazy. There is way too much to look at and too many horses buzzing around him. Five minutes in it feels like someone hooked him up to an electrical outlet. It is much better to get to the show grounds super early in the morning, before the hunter princesses have woken from their beauty sleep, and get time in the warmup ring all alone.
- Use the warmup round for just that, to warm up over fences. I read a Chronicle of the Horse forum post recently asking about people not jumping their horse in the warmup before showing. That seems to be Sterling now. He’s the sweetest boy in the whole wide world and generally (knock on wood) is not at all spooky. He just needs one round to go see all the jumps and he’s good.
- Last, but not least, he just might like peppermints as treats. this needs further exploration, but I’m excited that there may be a treat he actually likes!
All in all it was a good show. We had very respectable placings on Saturday; a 2nd and a 6th over fences and 2nd in the flat class. Sunday’s placings weren’t as good, but I felt like I was riding much better. We got a fourth, a fifth and an eighth, all over fences. I’m super excited to do it all again soon. Sterling’s list may be a bit different, but at least we are getting his likes and dislikes figured out which surely makes the whole experience better for him!
Saturday’s ribbons and a very sleepy pony.
Boot City and I live on top of a hill. A very large and rocky hill. Our friends like to tell us how delightful they find our driveway. Truly delightful. The primary reason that our driveway is so very delightful is due to laws of gravity: what goes up, must come down. This is true not only for our driveway, but for other parts of our property as well. All farmers and ranchers are constantly battling erosion of some sort. We aren’t actual farmers or ranchers, but we do have an ongoing battle with erosion. When the rain comes down, it has to go somewhere and so down the hill it goes. Generally after a hard rain most any loose dirt and rocks from our driveway have found their way to the highway by our house. I’m confident the county road crew loves us the most.
For the past nine years we have lived on our happy 10 acres we have been working towards improving the land and increasing the amount of grass that grows. Improving the soil is all about adding organic matter and nitrogen. The combined efforts of the chickens pooping, the goats pooping and the horses pooping have done wonders to increase the amount of organic matter. We try to compost as much as we can, but sometimes that sh$% just has to get spread around. Boot City has also gotten to justify his schmancy new 65 horsepower John Deere all in the name of grass and soil improvement. This allows him to dig up the soil, plant seeds and fertilise when necessary. And this spring has shown the fruits of our (mostly his) labor better than any other.
So much so that after an especially hard rain this past weekend there was a great deal of evidence that we really need to work on creating our very own mini-creek for the water to go down after such hard rains. As it is now, the water running down the hill just takes all the organic matter we’ve worked so hard to accumulate with it!
The top of the hill on the back of the property. You can see how fast the water moved down the hill and created it’s very own path through all the beautiful grass. We have the beginnings of some rocks set down to prevent all the dirt from eroding with the water.
Further down the hill there isn’t any grass growing in this part of the water flow for a couple reasons. The first is that there are a lot of trees so very little sunlight gets in and the second being that every hard rain just washes away any grass that has started to grow.
Towards the bottom of the back hill the grass had gotten to be about 12″ – 14″ tall. When I walked the property the morning after the rain I was somewhat surprised to find how it had been completely flattened by the water runoff. This was a prime opportunity for us to identify the low spots and plan for adding rocks and other solid barriers to slow down the water and to prevent the topsoil from being eroded.
Flat grass! Boot City has already moved some dirt to change the layout of the hill and alter the pathway of the water. Now, to add more big rocks.
In the back, right before and at the largest back pasture (about 5 acres) the grass is thick, tall and lush. It’s that perfect spring green that makes anyone associated with agriculture and animal husbandry smile and take a deep breath. Along the path of the water runoff it had gotten completely flattened and looked like a big green walkway. Again, indicative of where to plant more large rocks!
You can see the water path towards the back of the pasture.
Last, but not least, this is where the water collects and runs to lower ground on the neighbor’s property. Last year, in the fall, there was a similar large storm and the water runoff collected so much debris that by the time it got to this spot it took down the fence!
The endpoint of the “River”
Now we mow, mow and mow some more (and by we I mean Boot City mows) and collect rocks from other parts of the property to add to the future “creek”. Maybe by fall we will have a genuine little waterfall to share!
When Coco was born her dam (“mom” in human talk) was four years old. That means she was bred when she was three, which is relatively young for a horse. I keep in pretty close touch with Coco’s breeder and also know the gentleman who breaks their horses from mutual friends. The breeder told me that breeding the young mares often helps the mare to be calmer and less “marish” AKA bitchy. The breaker reiterated that Mai Tai (Coco’s mom) was much calmer and more submissive than younger mares often act when first getting ridden. Thus a seed was planted.
The whole reason I own Coco is because I had bought an older mare a few years ago for the sole purpose of breeding. After two breeding seasons and a LOT of vet bills I finally threw in the towel and bought a foal AKA Coco.You’d think after that miserable experience I’d have learned my lesson, but I haven’t. My parents raised horses and we had foals nearly every year I lived in Montana. I love being around the babies, teaching them all the basics and eventually riding and showing them. I value knowing every single experience the horse has ever had. I have no one to blame but myself if they missed something in their training. I also can’t afford to buy a $50,000+ show horse. Buying or raising foals makes much fancier horses significantly more affordable, if a bit more risky and time consuming.
Coco is by a Thoroughbred stallion named Coconut Grove out of a mare by a Dutch Warmblood stallion named Mezcalero. Both Mezcalero and Coconut Grove stood at the barn where I bought Coco. Her grand-damsire, Amaretto D, also stood there. She is registered with RPSI When planning what stallion I wanted to breed her to my biggest priority was temperament. I want a foal who is fun and easy to bring up and not super hot. I also have an affinity for Holsteiners. They are a German registry and many of the top jumpers are Holsteiners. Someday I’ll do a post (or 14) about warmblood registries. After growing up with Quarter Horses I’m still trying to figure out the whole warmblood registry thing. I follow a few breeders on Facebook and one stallion in particular had caught my eye. His name is Cartier R and he’s a Holsteiner imported from Germany. His breeder was running a fee special in 2013 so I talked to Coco’s breeder and asked if she thought it was a good cross. They had prepared and shown Cartier R at his Holsteiner stallion inspection so I knew they knew him and could give me good feedback. Coco’s breeder gave a thumbs up so I went ahead and paid the stud fee knowing it would be at least two years before Coco would be an eligible bachelorette.
Cartier R at his Holsteiner Stallion Inspection
At the time I paid his stud fee Cartier was only four years old so definitely didn’t yet have any show experience. Since then he has shown in some jumper and hunter classes and gotten some good ribbons. He started in the jumper arena, but has since move to the hunter arena which I actually prefer. My hope is that Coco or her foal will be a hunter. The jumpers still scare me. One thing about Cartier that I’m almost superstitious about is his single white left hind ankle. Jaguar has a single white left hind ankle and so does Coco. I’m convinced it is a sign of superior intelligence.
Cartier R showing in summer 2014
If you want to read more about Cartier R you should check out Rising Star Farm. Coco went to the reproduction vet last week and I have my fingers and toes crossed and I say special prayers every night that she gets in foal easily, has a nice pregnancy and delivers a perfect filly next spring, also with a white left hind ankle. OK, I’d be fine if it is just a healthy foal.
I’ll leave you with one last photo of the beautiful Cartier R. If you own a warmblood mare, you should give Ronda a call. She has a few lovely stallions on her farm. In the meantime think happy thoughts, so prayers, or do whatever you do to influence positive outcomes!
Another pic of Cartier R showing in the hunter ring
So, there we were. The right saddle and size had been identified and were unavailable. I did what any savvy saddle shopper would do and I got in touch with the dealer for the brand I wanted to buy (Antares). I told him of my predicament and he made me feel a million times better when he told me he could get a Spooner. We were back in business! He did explain that the off-the-rack saddles Antares makes fall to the back of the manufacturing line behind custom orders, but he could get one in my size. I was elated. This was all happening around Christmas and New Years and the French don’t work during the week before and a week after a holiday so he wouldn’t know until the second or third week of January when the saddle might be available. No worries. It had been a few months since the this whole quest had begun so what was a few more weeks? Plus, there was an Antares meeting at the corporate office in the U.S. in January so surely that would offer the best possible scenario to get production news.
It was while I was in NYC for a fun weekend celebrating my horsey bestie’s 30th birthday that I got the text with the good news. Spooners were in production and he expected them to start arriving “in a couple weeks”. Surely I would have my new saddle before February! There were a lot of exclamation points in my texts on this day because I was so excited! There was a light at the end of the tunnel!
A couple weeks went by with no news of Spooners. Then another week went by and some other, more normal sized, Spooners arrived and now there was no prediction of when or if my 18″ would make it into production. To sooth my disappointment I started perusing used saddle websites again. I found one really lovely 18″ used Antares on the CWD used saddle webpage. I even put a deposit on it and had them take it off the website. It was getting closer and closer to the weekend I was going to show in my first “A” rated USEF show and I really wanted to have my new saddle before then. The Antares rep was going to be at said horse show for all four weeks (I only showed one of the four weeks) and he had pretty much his entire saddle inventory with him. I consulted with my trainer and we agreed that it would just be best for me to ride some of the saddles he had to get a more solid idea of what I needed and then I could get more serious about finding the right used saddle without having to kiss a bunch more frogs and send them packing back to their owner when they don’t fit.
I arrived at the show all giddy and nervous about my first “A” show as much as about finding a saddle. My division was fairly early in the morning so I showed in my borrowed saddle. Once my first division was done I went to pick up a saddle to try. It was a brand new Antares. 18″ seat with a 3A flap meaning the flap is longer than normal and more forward. It felt good, but my trainer felt that the forward flap was more forward than I needed. She advised to go back and see if he had an 18″ with either a normal length forward flap or a long but not forward flap. I returned with another brand new 18″ Antares with a 3 (long) flap. Both saddles were significantly more $$$ than I had budgeted so I was working really hard to not fall in love. Saddle #2 was a bingo! Trainer liked it. I liked it. I think Sterling liked it. I even showed in the second division I competed in the second trial saddle. Then, I did what any sane woman with an obsession with riding horses would do. I called my husband. He had all the right answers. Of course I should buy saddle #2. If I don’t buy it I’ll have to try however many more saddles and spend hundreds of dollars shipping them back and forth. Clearly it made sense to buy the saddle that my trainer liked and felt was the right saddle for my horse and me. I’ve never won the lottery, but I can’t imagine it is much better than your husband giving the go ahead to buy a schmancy new saddle.
Here she is in all her glory:
My beautiful brand new Antares saddle. BEAUTIFUL!
What made this saddle “the one”? I mentioned in previous posts that my horse is on the skinny side. Thoroughbreds are notoriously narrow and often have super high withers making them difficult to fit. Thankfully Sterling isn’t on the narrower side, but he’s definitely narrower than a warmblood. He is also not super tall at just 16 hands. I have about a 30″ inseam so when I ride Sterling I ride with a shorter stirrup than I would if my horse had a bigger, rounder barrel. This shorter stirrup pushes my butt back in the saddle. I don’t have extra long femurs, if I had extra long femurs I would have needed the saddle with the long AND forward flap. As it was the long flap is best. The bottom of the flap should hit the rider’s leg in the middle of the calf and the rider’s knee should have room to spare at the front of the flap when the stirrups are the correct length.
Here are some pics to demonstrate this gobble-de-gook:
Saddle fit pictures are kind of humiliating and make one feel like they should stop typing and go do some sit-ups. Anyhow. The flap hits just at the fat part of my calf like it should.
Some squats might help, too. There are a few inches in the back of my derriere to allow plenty of room to sit back before a “big” jump.
The other side. Isn’t it pretty?!
Last, but certainly not least.
I’ve had my new saddle for nearly two months and I still love it. The previous saddles I had ridden left dry spots on Sterling’s back and this one leaves one big uniform sweat spot on all parts where the saddle should be touching him. My leg feels more still. It’s just too bad that the new saddle doesn’t fix all my riding problems like counting strides for me out loud and zapping me when I lean too far forward before a jump. For now I’m just delighted to be done saddle shopping.
So saddle #1 was a fail. We headed to another horse show in November and this time I discussed more fully with my trainer what exactly I was shopping for. We settled on looking for an Antares and a larger seat size than a 17″. They make lovely saddles in France and have a great reputation both for their customer service (even on second-hand purchased saddles) as well as for having a quality product. We ruled out a couple other brands for quality and fit issues and kept a couple as maybes. I have a tendency to get fixated on things, so I was pretty set on getting an Antares. My trainer mentioned the Antares Spooner, which is an off-the-rack saddle that Antares offers, but I mostly blew off that idea (in my head, not out loud) because it was a few hundred dollars more than what I was planning to spend. This would become laughable later.
As I previously posted that show went pretty well (we got 6th in our first ever hunter derby) and we headed home with renewed energy to shop for that new saddle. I shopped. And I shopped. And I shopped some more. THIS IS THE ONE! Wait, no, I don’t think that flap is long enough. I love it, but it is too expensive. I talked Boot City’s ear off about the whole thing. Maybe I should try this one, or maybe this one. I got so in my own head that I didn’t even try another saddle until Christmas. And what a lovely Christmas it was.
Boot City pays a lot more attention to things than I generally give him credit for. He is unbelievably supportive of my obsession with all things horsey and genuinely supports every harebrained idea I get about what I want to do with my horses. So, Christmas morning, this is what was under the tree:
An Antares Spooner trial saddle from SmartPak!
He took it upon himself to order the Spooner trial saddle from SmartPak for me to try. Yes, the saddle that was a few hundred dollars over the budget I had set for myself he just went ahead and got for me to try. I had to sit down for a minute. I HAVE THE BEST HORSEY HUSBAND EVER. The trial saddles from SmartPak generally only come in a 17″ (as previously mentioned, this is the most popular size seat). If you like the saddle you try, you can just keep it. Having discussed the larger seat size with my trainer already I was fairly certain I was going to need a bigger saddle, but with the trial I could make sure it fit my horse and that I generally liked it so I could order the correct size.
How does the saddle need to fit the horse? I’m no expert, but I can explain the basics. You want the gullet, the channel down the middle of the underside of the seat, to be wide enough that it doesn’t put pressure on the horse’s spine. You also want plenty of clearance over the horses’s withers (the hump behind their neck and before their back), but not hitting the top of the withers. Lastly you want the underside of the saddle to touch the horse evenly. The more evenly the panels touch the horse, the more evenly the rider’s weight is spread out. If all the rider’s weight is only supported by a couple spots then the horse is going to have pain in the spots over time. Thankfully my horses are all rather easy to fit. Sterling especially.
The back view. Not the best photo ever taken, but you can see there is plenty of room down the gullet to give his spine plenty of room.
In this shot you can see there are no issues with his withers being pinched or hitting the underside of the saddle. Things are looking good!
All signs were pointing to yes to the Spooner. Yay! Now to ride in it a few times. SmartPak very specifically says to ride in it like you own it already. Often when you try new saddles you have to cover up the stirrup leathers with a sock so as not to damage the leather and you can’t do much in it because the saddle still needs to look brand new if you opt to not keep it. Not the best way to try a saddle. So we spent the five days after Christmas riding in the Spooner as much as possible and sending myriad photos to my trainer to get feedback on fit.
Definitely too small, but leg position is improved. Trainer says shorten the stirrups and send more pics.
Stirrups shortened. Getting better. Trainer requests another pic with stirrups shortened again. Done and done.
Day 4 the-saddle-must-be-mailed-back-tomorrow
Looks good! Trainer says to order the 18″. 18″?!?!?!?! #selfimagesuffering
I’m a female in the United States of America in 2015. Bigger size, means big person, which is generally frowned upon in the culture that worships young and thin. I need an 18″ saddle?!?!?! So, I ask my trainer what any female student would ask, “is my butt really THAT big?” Here I get another lesson in saddle fitting. It isn’t about how big my derriere is, it is how long my legs are and how skinny my horse is. Huh? I have long legs. What?! No one has told me that since I was 17. I thought that I had somehow become average in all aspects of size as an adult, but evidently my legs did NOT get shorter upon entering adulthood. My horse has flat sides and doesn’t have a huge barrel. This combination means I need to ride with a shorter stirrup than I would on a larger barrelled horse which pushes my seat back in the saddle and results in needing a larger seat size to accommodate all this accommodation for my skinny horse. Make sense?
At this point I have a whole new level of respect for saddle fitters and for people with hard to fit body types and horses who are hard to fit. I’m just a little bit out of whack and it made getting just the right saddle that much more complicated. But, I knew now that I needed an 18″ Antares Spooner. I boxed up my beautiful test ride saddle and sent it back to SmartPak and called to order my 18″. Except that they no longer carry the Spooner in the 18″. Wait. What?! Nope. No. Can. Do. I’m quite certain I nearly cried. I guess the bright side at this point was that I knew, for the most part, what size I needed and that I needed the long flap (not the Normal or Short flap, the long one for my long legs. I was pretty excited about having long legs again).
So, next week will be the big saddle shopping finale.