Archive of ‘Big Sky’ category

Because we REALLY needed another dog!

Boot City and I love dogs. We REALLY love dogs. This past summer I was able to talk Boot City into fostering dogs for the Fort Worth Animal Shelter. The way it works is you identify a dog that you’re interested in fostering, confirm it is eligible for fostering (some dogs have major health issues that need more funds to treat and are only eligible to be adopted or rescued) then pick up the dog and take it home. The Fort Worth shelter works with a few are PetSmart locations to find dogs new homes. Fosters can drop off their foster dog for the day to stay at a PetSmart and potentially find a new family. Meanwhile the dog gets to live in a home with people and possibly other pets making it a more adoptable animal than if it were living in the highly stressful shelter environment.

Our first foster dog was Quila. Or, as we like to call her, Quildabeast. She had an upper respiratory infection, was pretty chubby and an older dog so could be high on the list for euthanasia should the shelter get too full, which it often does.

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Quila was an amazing foster dog. She was loving, got along with all the other animals, figured out the doggy door easily, was generally perfect. She got adopted on her second trip to PetSmart. We were sad to see her go, but so excited for her to get a family! Then, just a week later, we were notified by the Shelter’s foster coordinator that Quila had been returned to the shelter. We were so disappointed for her! The family that adopted her said that they were moving and couldn’t keep her. Who adopts a dog a week before they move and then returns it to the shelter because they can’t keep it?! Boot City had fallen a lot in love with Quila, so she was our very first Foster Fail. Foster Failing means you adopt the dog you were fostering. 🙂

This event led Boot City and I to have a conversation about our dog collection and Christmas. How many dogs is too many? Should we rearrange where they live during the day? What do you want for Christmas? What does Christmas have to do with our dogs? This is what Christmas has to do with our dogs; I have a family friend who has long had Whippets. I have always loved her Whippets and have always wanted to have one of my own. Boot City has become close with this family friend and learned that they were breeding their Whippet and would have puppies available in November or December. Boot City was getting me a puppy for Christmas! I haven’t had a puppy since I was in high school! By adopting Quila our collection had risen to 8 dogs, so we needed to discuss and confirm the future of our pack size.

We agreed to continue fostering until we got the puppy, but no more adopting. We had two near misses for another Foster Fail, but both dogs got adopted to wonderful homes. On September 7 our puppy was born. He was the runt of 10 puppies. They were all given adorable British names. We had the option to change his name, but it fits him perfectly so we opted to keep it.

Meet Dickens! This is his 5 week old photo.

Meet Dickens! This is his 5 week old photo.

He came home for good on November 4. He is the cutest, sweetest, most fun puppy ever! He’s been pretty easy as far as puppies go. Potty training is going well. He gets along with the other dogs, other than trying incessantly to play with Bunny who has zero interest in playing. We are in love! Look forward to lots of future pictures of him as he grows up!

 

Jaguar’s Retirement Celebration

I’m absolutely terrible at taking photos at my own parties. Terrible! We had a lovely gathering of horsey and not-so-horsey friends over to celebrate Jaguar’s retirement. This year has been so hard, I needed something happy to happen at the farm and this was just the ticket. I’m sure many of my friends and family think I’m a little bit nuts because I tend to mostly have parties for my animals. Not birthday parties like normal people with animals and not kids have, but Sip and Sees  and horse retirement parties. However I’m beyond grateful that they indulge me and attend said parties.

Jaguar in his Retirement Party stall decorations

Jaguar in his Retirement Party stall decorations

I attempted to decorate his stall in my hunts colors, but last minute planning and the lack of the correct hunter green at the local Dollar General resulted in a shamrock green, but it still looked festive and Jaguar was very interested in his balloons!

Checking out his loot and eating carrots

Checking out his loot and eating carrots

Jaguar was showered with lots and lots of fantastic gifts and there were even a few for his assistant (me)! He got mostly carrots and horsey treats plus a bottle of Stella Artois to indulge his taste for beer and a Jolly Ball for his stall. I got bottles of champagne, vino and a couple lovely home accessories.

 

Very well packaged horsey and horsey assistant gifts.

Very well packaged horsey and horsey assistant gifts.

I am still pretty sad about not being able to ride the old man any more, but I look forward to a new kind of bonding with him. He’s got so many treat bags as gifts that he should be able to do every trick in the book you can teach a horse using treats. We have already been working on bowing and making great progress. He’s very careful with his hurt leg, but is still game to try most anything it takes to get a cookie.

All of Jaguar's goodies

All of Jaguar’s goodies

Sterling in a Classic!

After Sterling’s abominable behaviour on the recent trail ride attempt, I had to make it up to him and brag on him a bit. Just a few short days after the trail riding debacle we made our way to Waco, Texas for the Blue Ribbon Summer Festival I. I was a bit concerned that I had fried his brain by attempting to go on a trail ride, but Sterling proved pretty quickly that horse show horse he truly wants to be and is where he has the most success.

I’m not going to dissect each trip, mostly because it has been a few weeks since the show and they have all run together in my head, but I did want to mention the highlights. I don’t have a photo of Sterling with his ribbon, but I’m absolutely delighted to share that we won our first ever blue ribbon over fences at a rated USEF show! We won the Modified Child/Adult over fences trip on Thursday with a very respectable 16 entries! We also got third in our Limit over fences class and third in the Limit under saddle class, both with about 16 or 17 entries. I’m finally learning to stay out of Sterling’s face going up to jumps and not getting ahead of his momentum with my body by leaning forward. By riding more correctly we are getting much better spots to the fences so his form is more elegant and true to the hunter type. We (I) still have a lot of progress to make in keeping a consistent canter rhythm, but progress is pretty exciting, especially when rewarded with blue ribbons!

Our photo op from my sister-in-law on our blue ribbon day at the Summer Festival I in Waco

Our photo op from my sister-in-law on our blue ribbon day at the Summer Festival I in Waco

The second day my rounds in the Limit division over fences trips left a bit to be desired. A consistently inconsistent canter stride separated the men from the boys in the placings. I got a seventh in one group and no placing in the other. We made up for it, though, in the 2’6″ Hunter Classic. The course is a tiny bit longer in a Classic than in a regular round over fences and there are potentially two trips. Everyone goes around once and the top 12 scores are invited back for another round and the combined overall high score wins. Our first trip was arguably the absolute best trip we have ever had over fences and was rewarded with a very respectable score of 78 out of a possible 100. We were in the lead until the very last rider went and scored an 81, but we still had the second round to go. Our second round had a few bobbles and I never did hear our score, but we ended up 4th overall out of 20 or so entries! And we won money! I’m SO proud of Sterling and I can’t brag on him enough. The ring at Waco is known to be rather spooky and he went around nearly like he was at home.

Fourth place in the 2'6" Hunter Classic!

Fourth place in the 2’6″ Hunter Classic!

The icing on the cake for this horse show was that we had a pretty significant cheering section, which we have never had before! Many of Boot City’s family live in or near Waco and some even drove up from Austin to watch. It was extra fun to have them at the show and for us to do well with an audience.

Photo by Holly Ridge Photography.

Photo by Holly Ridge Photography.

Polo in Texas!

The fox hunt I’m a member of has members from many different walks of equestrian life. The diversity of horsey backgrounds makes for a very fun group of equestrians with very different perspectives on riding. One of the few equestrian disciplines I have never tried before joining the hunt was polo. Having grown up in Montana there weren’t a lot of opportunities to learn most kinds of riding in English tack. My parents often attended a polo event in Sheridan, Wyoming during Don King Days in September, but that was as close as we ever got to polo. Well it just so happens that my hunt has a strong contingent of polo players who also happen to be some of the most inviting folks I’ve ever met.

I made it out to the polo field one time last summer, but I took Sterling with me and he was very poorly behaved on the tie line so I didn’t get much time on the field. This summer I was (thankfully) invited back and opted to not take my horse show prima donna along with me. Plus it was a work night so there was no way I’d have time to go home from work, get the horse and make it to the polo field by “kickoff” at 6p. After work I snuck into the bathroom in my office building to change into my breeches and boots and got out of the building as covertly as possible to not be seen (and made fun of) by my coworkers. The polo field where I played is an easy 40 minute drive from my office so I got to enjoy another episode of Serial Season 2 on my drive out.

Once at the field I had the great fortune to ride Prince. A seasoned Thoroughbred polo pony of 16 or 17 years old. The horses ridden by polo players are always called polo ponies, even though few of them are true ponies, which would require them to be under 14.2 hands tall. Polo ponies are also not exceptionally tall. Very rarely do they exceed 15.3 hands. They need to be the right height for the rider to not have to lean over too terribly far to hit the ball and small enough to be agile and speedy up and down the field. Most of the polo players I know ride Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbreds crossed with Quarter Horses.

One advantage I have in learning polo is that I can already ride pretty well. In my opinion riding is the easy part of polo. Knowing all the rules and actually hitting the ball with the mallet are the difficult parts! The polo match on the weeknight evenings during the summer at Oak Grove Polo are pretty informal. It is an opportunity for the seasoned players to get new and young horses on the field and for not-so-seasoned players to learn in a more forgiving environment than at a more competitive match.

Lesson #1: how to hold the mallet. I would argue this is much easier said than done!

Lesson #1: how to hold the mallet. I would argue this is much easier said than done!

Polo matches are divided into chukkers. Each chukker is 7 minutes long. We were going to be playing 4 chukkers. During the first chukker of the evening Prince and I parked at one end of the field and spent the full 7 minutes practicing hitting the ball. It is much easier to hit the ball at the trot in terms of physical effort, but having enough hand/eye coordination to actually hit the ball at a faster speed takes some time to acquire! After the first chukker I was invited in to play. The general point in the chukker is to get the ball down the field and into your team’s goal to score a point. It really isn’t tremendously different from soccer, except that there are only 4 people on each team, and those people are riding horses and they are hitting the ball with a mallet instead of their feet and head. But otherwise the same.

At first I generally was only able to hit the ball when the horse was standing still. By the end of the evening I was able to hit it while the horse was trotting. HUGE progress!

At first I generally was only able to hit the ball when the horse was standing still. By the end of the evening I was able to hit it while the horse was trotting. HUGE progress!

The seasoned players were fantastic coaches and would verbally guide me up and down the field and sometimes even pass the ball to me for my turn to hit it a couple times. There is a lot to the roles of defending the other players when it is their ball that I still don’t fully understand and the ball changing hands to the other team confuses me (Where do I go? Should I try to hit the ball? Do I need to get out of the way?), but it was pretty fun.

My right arm was sore for a few days after my first polo match, but I’m pretty darn proud to say that I never hit my horse with the mallet! Jaguar would have been a fantastic polo pony so I’m bummed I waited so long to try playing. Sterling would be an absolutely horrible polo pony so he’s not in any danger of being asked to try. Coco has quite a long ways to go in her lessons as a riding horse to even be considered. I plan to go back and play some more times this summer as long as the invitation is open and there is a pony to borrow!

The polo ladies! I'm in the middle on Prince, the saintly polo pony who puts up with polo novices and never even tried to unseat me.

The polo ladies! I’m in the middle on Prince, the saintly polo pony who puts up with polo novices and never even tried to unseat me.

My Argument For Tailored Sportsman (and others)

Something I often read on various forms of media from Chronicle of the Horse Forums to Facebook posts to equestrian blogs are complaints about the expense of Tailored Sportsman breeches. Many of my readers know that I used to work for Justin Brands. Some of the footwear sold by Justin is manufactured in the United States. Tailored Sportsman breeches are manufactured in the United States. I’m not professing to be an expert on domestic manufacturing by any shake of the stick, but I do know that it generally costs more to make things domestically than it does to make them in Asia. It can be expensive to have small quantities of manufactured items shipped from Asia (I’ll talk about the cost/benefit of this later), but they don’t have nearly the same labor protection laws as the United States (minimum wage, mandatory breaks, affordable medical insurance, and others) so the labor costs are significantly lower. I’ve never been able to find out exactly where TS manufactures their breeches, but their website lists a New York address. If their manufacturing is in New York, then it is in one of the highest cost of living cities in the United States.

When you buy a pair of Tailored Sportsman breeches you are paying for an American worker’s wages. That American worker uses those wages to pay for a place to live, food to eat, etc. They contribute to the American economy. When you buy a pair of Tredstep or Ariat breeches, you are paying for an Asian worker’s wages to support an Asian person’s cost of living. It isn’t a bad thing to buy products made in Asian countries, I just don’t believe it is comparing apples to apples in terms of the cost of manufacturing which often translates to a slightly higher retail cost. Another advantage to manufacturing domestically is the ease of changing a product run more quickly. A domestic manufacturer can halt the production immediately of a product that isn’t selling, needs a design update, or has some flaw that needs fixing. Once the contract is made for a product to be made abroad the company contracting for the product is going to get it just like it is. This can sometimes benefit the consumer in terms of a company discontinuing a design line and thus selling what is left at drastically reduced prices, but that can be frustrating for the consumer who buys something because it is on super sale, falling in love with THAT one, and never being able to get it again because it is no longer manufactured.

Another example of domestically manufactured apparel for riding that I read complaints about the cost are the EIS Sun Shirts. I am ALWAYS telling people how fantastic these shirts are. They truly changed my life. No, really. I haven’t had a farmer tan in the two years I’ve been wearing them which also means I’m not generating skin cancer causing conditions (i.e. hellacious sunburns). These shirts are not cheap, they cost around $100. They are made with a fabric that is called IceFil. IceFil is produced by a Korean company called Ventex, but the fabric is imported once, made into a shirt and sold in the U.S. There are other companies making riding shirts out of IceFil fabric, including Tailored Sportsman, but they are usually made in Asia and shipped to the U.S. retailers. So the fabric goes from Korea, to India or China, then to the U.S. for retail sale.

Shirt is EIS (made in USA), breeches are Tailored Sportsman (made in USA), boots are Justin Eq (made in China, no longer available), saddle is Antares (made in France), saddle pad is Mattes (made in Poland), bridle is Dover Crown (I think made in India, but def not England or USA), stirrup leathers are Prestige (made in Italy), irons are from Beval (no idea where they are made), helmet is Ovation (probably made in Asia, but not sure where)

Shirt is EIS (made in USA), breeches are Tailored Sportsman (made in USA), boots are Justin Eq (made in China, no longer available), saddle is Antares (made in France), saddle pad is Mattes (made in Poland), bridle is Dover Crown (I think made in India, but def not England or USA), stirrup leathers are Prestige (made in Italy), irons are from Beval (no idea where they are made), helmet is Ovation (probably made in Asia, but not sure where)

Owning, riding and showing horses is expensive. I totally get why people want/need to save money and opt for less expensive options. I just hate hearing people say that Tailored Sportsman breeches are only for hunter princess snobs because they are SO expensive. Or that a bridle made by an Asian manufacturer is just as good as an Edgewood bridle. I’m not even discussing the quality differences between most imported versus domestic manufacturing or the reduction in the global footprint of not having to ship something across the world. I just think it is meaningful to consider where your dollars are going when you purchase an item that was manufactured domestically. I opt to have fewer pairs of schooling breeches and schooling shirts in favour of buying as many things that are made in the U.S.A. as possible. Below is a list with links of riding items that are made domestically. This is clearly not an exhaustive list and I’d point out that Grand Prix show jackets are manufactured in Canada, not the U.S., but I think that is close enough to call it domestic!
Grand Prix Show Coat
Grand Prix Paddock Boots
Nunn Finer Stirrup Leathers
Toklat Saddle Pads
Kerrits Riding Tights
EquiFit D-Teq Horse Boots
JoJo Bambootz Tall Socks
Walsh halters
Original Baker horse sheets and blankets

Giddyup Go!

On my first ride on Coco I failed to secure resources for photographic evidence of the event. I did not have this failure on the second event! I’ve spent the past month and a half gradually working her up to the big event of her first ride. Jaguar was the first ever horse I broke to ride all by myself. The method I used with him was based on a series of videos done by Roy Yates, an old cowboy. He did copious amounts of ground work with his young horses so by the time he rode them it was no big deal. I believe his methods to be sound, humane and effective and continue to weave them into my own.

I start by teaching the young horse to lunge, then add a surcingle which teaches them to accept the girth, then a bridle, then side reins, then a saddle with the bridle, and finally I ride them. You can tell a lot about a youngster by how they respond to the first time you tighten the surcingle. A highly sensitive horse will have a much stronger reaction than a more laid back animal. Sterling was very sensitive. Jaguar was kind of in the middle. Coco was VERY laid back. She has jumped up a little bit with the surcingle on and the saddle, but she’s never full on bucked. I hope this is a good thing!

Happy girl under saddle

Happy girl under saddle

The first time getting on a horse is always the scariest part for me. You have NO idea if they are going to jump out from under you, run away, start bucking, or just stand there. Never before had I done the first ride with an English saddle, either. Both of the western saddles I have are huge and it just didn’t feel right to ride her western. She was a perfect princess. She didn’t bat an eye lash when I put weight in the left stirrup and swung my right leg over. I had to sit for a minute and take deep breaths because I was so nervous. She, on the other hand, just stood chewing the bit.

When I work with the youngsters on the lunge line I teach them verbal commands to walk, trot, canter and stop. This helps them to make sense of what I want them to do on the first few rides when they have no idea what my legs are telling them. I clucked Coco forward on our second ride and just just walked on. I use my legs, too to teach them that pressure from my legs means go forward or faster. By the first few rides she will have figured out that leg pressure means go forward. A few more after that and she will trot from my leg instead of clucking. Cantering usually takes a bit longer, but it depends on the horse.

Learning to go forward among the goat menagerie

Learning to go forward among the goat menagerie

During our second ride we trotted in addition to walking. She was a bit confused and the pen I rode her in has a lot of trees so the lack of steering was kind of an issue! I have to be mindful to reward her every time she gives to the pressure of the bit to turn or stop, but not getting knocked off by a tree limb was important also!

Learning steering

Learning steering

All in all I’m absolutely tickled with how well our first two rides have gone. One can’t get overly complacent that the young horse is going to be easy peasy during every ride. I’m sure the first time we canter will be interesting, but I’m so grateful it is going as well as it is so far. It is exciting to have something to look forward to with Coco after the bad news about Jaguar. She won’t be ready to fox hunt for at least a year, but I hope to take her on some trail rides before the summer is over.

Awkward baby horse steering

Awkward baby horse steering

 

 

Unplanned Retirement

Last Sunday was an eventful day for me, one with a LOT of happiness. I rode Coco for the first time and she was a dream! I also rode Sterling that morning, after a failed attempt at a trail ride the day before, and I rode Jaguar that evening. Since Sterling was now 100% a failed trail rider I would need to get Jaguar legged up for the remaining trail rides with my hunt friends for the summer. Riding an old horse cold turkey on long trail rides is not nice. They need many more rides to be fit enough to work on an ongoing basis. When I rode Jaguar something was off. He wasn’t lame, but there was a hitch in his gitalong that didn’t feel right. We only walked and trotted and I took him over a few low cavallettis, but I could feel something weird with his hind end movement. The right side had a bigger jerk to the movement and the left side was much softer. Had I been a betting person I would have guessed he was off on his right leg.

Fast forward to Tuesday. Sterling needed a shot so I thought I would have my vet look over Jaguar while he was there. I made an appointment for Tuesday afternoon when I was returning from a work trip. My thought was that Jaguar was going to start needing some kind of joint injections, a pain management regimen for arthritis, or something similar to one of those options. He’s no spring chicken being 23 years young. He definitely is showing his age more than he had a year or two ago, but he had a fantastic hunt season and I love riding him on trail rides because he’ll do most anything I ask of him. My vet called early in the afternoon that he was already near my house so I told him to just go ahead and stop over even though I wouldn’t be home. He’d call me when he was finishing up.

This phone call has affected me far more than I would have dreamed it would. There isn’t really a name for what is wrong with Jaguar’s left hind leg, but there is something decidedly wrong with it. My vet thought for sure I would be able to tell him of a very specific event in which Jaguar had injured his left hind gaskin a few years ago and it was just now showing the full symptoms of what age and injuries combined will do to an animal’s mobility. The thing is, Jaguar has never ever been lame. Ever. Never had a hoof abcess. Never a pulled shoe that caused an issue. And never an acute injury requiring him to come out of work at all. Until now. My vet has diagnosed Jaguar with an injury to his left hind gaskin where it meets his hamstring and his stifle that will most likely not respond to any type of treatment and will require him to be in full retirement. No more riding Jaguar.

Jaguar and I at the Summer Slide in Denver in July of 1998. Just before we showed at the AQHYA World Championships in Reining

Jaguar and I at the Summer Slide in Denver in July of 1998. Just before we showed at the AQHYA World Championships in Reining

We are going to try a bute regimen for a few days to see if that might cut the pain a little bit. It will be promising if it does, but my vet sounded pretty skeptical of it working. The reality of it is that I will probably never be able to ride Jaguar again. He will now get his 100% deserved retirement.

Showing in reining at the MetraPark in Billings, Montana sometime between 1996 and 1998

Showing in reining at the MetraPark in Billings, Montana sometime between 1996 and 1998

I always thought that I’d know when I had my last ride on Jaguar. There would be some episode. Some illness. Some tangible reason when I would know that this was it. Not some vague nondescript injury that really isn’t that bad, but bad enough that it can’t be fixed and he can’t be ridden. I’m grateful that he’s otherwise healthy and I still have him, but I’m absolutely heartbroken that our partnership under saddle is done. No more fox hunts. No more trail rides. No more torturing him while I post without irons. As much of a mess as I am about this news I can’t even imagine how bad I’ll be when he dies. Until then, I’m going to enjoy every second we have together. He’s going to embark on his retirement with a weight loss program and focus on being the best damn pasture ornament there ever was.

Riding at a family reunion with my youngest cousin (who is in college now, this photo makes me feel really old).

Riding at a family reunion with my youngest cousin (who is in college now, this photo makes me feel really old).

Resurgence of an Addiction

It has been established on this blog that I grew up in Eastern Montana. I was an extremely fortunate child to have been born into an already horsey family so my love of the equines was developed at a very early age. Both my parents grew up with horses, both for work and for pleasure. When I was born my Mom was into barrel racing and my Dad was into team roping. Not surprisingly, I was on a horse as soon as I could hold my head up and sit up by myself. I definitely had inherited the horse gene and couldn’t get enough of them.

My first foray into organized horse events was as a barrel racer. My parents got me a saintly old Quarter Horse named Casey. I’m confident Casey carried many little girls and boys around the cloverleaf pattern before he came to our house. He wasn’t at all fast, but that was just fine. I didn’t have, and still really don’t have, much of a need for speed. He was safe and kind and put up with the shenanigans that a little girl does to her horse. I put glitter on him. I braided his hair. I brushed and brushed and brushed him. All of the signs were there that I would ultimately not end up being a barrel racer.

When I was old enough my parents signed me (and my brother) up for 4-H. 4-H is a program that teaches kids leadership, humanity, responsibility and a myriad of other life skills. Most importantly, it has a horse program. You couldn’t start the horse program until you were 10 years old and I was counting down the days! In preparation for entering the horse program, my Mom and some of the 4-H moms from our club signed up for a riding clinic conducted by the trainer at Diamond N Ranch outside of Billings, Montana. I have no idea how they found it or why they attended, but the rest is pretty much history. This was our introduction to the Quarter Horse show world and it didn’t take long for me to be hooked.

My second AQHA show horse: Hesa Black Associate

My second AQHA show horse: Hesa Black Associate

I showed Quarter Horses all through junior high and high school and even a little bit during college. I did all kinds of different show events from Showmanship to Western Pleasure to Hunter Hack and finally Reining. I loved every second of it, and now that I’m an adult and I can appreciate what my parents did (paid for!) to allow me to show.

My first real English horse (the taller one on the right) and my cousin on a horse that my parents had for a few years.

My first real English horse (the taller one on the right) and my cousin on a horse that my parents had for a few years.

As a kid I would voraciously read any and every horse book and magazine I could get my hands on. This is where my obsession with English riding was born. My Mom got me lessons when I was about 10 with a lady in my hometown who had supposedly ridden English at some point and later I did all the English flat classes and some jumping at the Quarter Horse shows. It just wasn’t the same as what I read about in Practical Horseman or Dressage Today. There wasn’t a dedicated jumping trainer anywhere near my hometown, so even though I did do some jumping I know now that I pretty much did so horribly wrong!

So, here I am as a (mostly) self-sufficient adult with the means to combine my love of horse showing with learning how to properly ride a horse over jumps. I posted about going to my first USEF “A” rated show back in February. This spring I was able to make it to four more shows in Tyler, Texas. Originally called the Tyler Four. I felt like I was home again. Granted, when I was showing I felt like a 12 year old kid learning how to do things correctly, but it was so satisfying to be back in the show pen (that was to see if Caitlin reads this, I’m supposed to call it a show ring). Sterling is turning out to be an absolutely delightful partner in the hunter ring. We didn’t clean house with blue ribbons, but we (I) steadily improved and (mostly) didn’t make the same mistakes repeatedly.

You know it's an addiction when you don't mind horse boogers ruining your perfectly nice shirt and still going in public with said horse boogers on your shirt.

You know it’s an addiction when you don’t mind horse boogers ruining your perfectly nice shirt and still going in public with said horse boogers on your shirt.

We have a few weeks off from showing now that it is about to be blazing hot in Texas, but I can hardly wait to start again. In the meantime we are doing lots of work on the flat (no more unsupervised jumping) to make him and me stronger. I even joined a horseback rider focused boot camp for 60 days to make my core and my stringy legs stronger for when we are back in the show ring. This is in addition to torturing poor Jaguar with posting without irons. No pain no gain!

Being a horse show horse is a LOT of work and VERY tiring.

Being a horse show horse is a LOT of work and VERY tiring.

The Case of the Lost Hunt Coat

If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed a few weeks ago that I posted about my dry cleaner losing my hunt coat. I purposefully didn’t name the business and was willing to give them a chance to make things right. So this is my story about doing business with Twin Kell Cleaners.

I dropped my hunt coat off with the cleaner early on a Tuesday morning and emphasised to the woman I left it with that it HAD to be ready to pick up by 8a on Friday morning. She was a big grumpy and seemed quite put out by my request (really, is it unusual that someone would want their clothing back in 2 1/2 days?!) but committed to have it ready after 5p on Thursday.

I left a touch earlier than usual on Friday morning to give myself plenty of time to stop at the cleaners before work. I rolled up at about 7:30a and had even kept my ticket with the bar code for them to scan and (hopefully) make it quicker and easier for them to find my coat. The nice lady takes my ticket, goes to the back and starts rolling the hangers to get to my number. After a few minutes of this I can tell something isn’t right. She smiles at me and asks the other nice lady at the desk to come back and help her look. They go item by item through at least 500 garments to no avail. They ask the washing girl if it is in with the washed items (egads!). Still no coat. By 7:50a they admit to me that they have lost the coat. I explain, as nicely as I can when starting to panic, that I HAVE to have this coat before I leave for the horse show that afternoon. They are going to continue to look and will call me before 2p.

Now this isn’t just any old hunt coat. This is a hunt coat that my Mom made for me when I was in high school. It is a lovely charcoal tropical wool with a RED pinstripe and RED silk satin lining. And it fit just perfectly.

The red pinstripe coat in action.

The red pinstripe coat in action.

Losing my hunt coat was definitely an inconvenience, but it was a huge sentimental loss, too. My Mom is an amazingly talented seamstress. She made all of my horse show clothes when I was growing up as well as all my formal gowns and all my regular clothes until I was in junior high (which is when one becomes way too cool to wear clothes that Mom made). She had always said that NOTHING was as hard to make as hunt coats. The fit has to be just perfect for the fabric to lay correctly.

The nice lady from the cleaners called around 1p and didn’t have any better news. The coat was officially lost. They suspected that they accidentally gave it to someone else, but wouldn’t know that until or unless someone returned it and there was no telling if or when that would happen. She did advise me that Twin Kell would reimburse me for a new coat if I had to buy a new coat. Well, if I was going to show I really had to have a coat. I had already texted my trainer about the debacle and she had rounded up some coats I might be able to borrow so hopefully all wasn’t lost.

I left work, picked up Sterling at home and drove as fast (and safely) as I could to Tyler in hopes of getting there in time to try on some coats at Quail Hollow Tack. If the cleaners were willing to reimburse me for a new coat I might as well get one. If they did find my coat at least I’d have a second in case something like this happened again. I got there in the nick of time to unload Sterling and run over to the trailer to try on coats. The Grand Prix Techlite in Navy fit me PERFECTLY! AND it is WASHABLE! No more worrying about any dry cleaning incidents!

I showed the next two weekends with my new coat and no word from the cleaners. I had my receipt for the new coat tucked safely in my purse, but just hadn’t been able to bring myself to go request the reimbursement. Lo and behold, two days before the last spring show in Tyler the cleaners called. Someone else had in fact picked up my coat and had returned it to Twin Kell. I was absolutely delighted. I did mention that I had to buy a new coat and that they had promised to reimburse me if I did buy one. She asked me to hold on and passed the phone to one of the owners. My heart sunk. I just knew he was going to tell me that he was sorry I had to buy a new coat, but that since they now had mine they weren’t going to cover the cost of the new coat. In fact, all he asked was how much the new coat cost and that they would have a check ready for me when I picked up the missing coat that afternoon. I told him the cost and offered to provide the receipt. He didn’t need to receipt and the check would be ready by early afternoon. I could have hugged him through the phone! What delightful customer service!

I picked up my coat that evening and sure enough there was an envelope attached to the hanger with a check in the exact amount I told him. I’m a forever Twin Kell customer now. I’ll tell anyone who will listen about how well they treated me when they truly didn’t have to treat me well if they hadn’t wanted to.

My beautiful hunt coat is now back in my closet, safe and sound.

My beautiful hunt coat is now back in my closet, safe and sound.

Conscious Incompetence

I was perusing Facebook recently and came upon a post with a link to an article titled How to Embrace “Incompetence”. Sometimes one just feels compelled to read something and so I did. I didn’t read the article word-for-word, but I did skim the highlights and what I read really hit home. The article is about Noel Burch’s philosophy of learning which contains four stages;

• Unconscious Incompetence

• Conscious Incompetence

• Conscious Competence

• Unconscious Competence

In case you are wondering, I’m at stage 2; Conscious Incompetence. This means, in a nutshell, I know what I’m supposed to do but just can’t seem to get it done.  At least not all of the time. Often when I talk to people and they ask how I did at a horse show I have some sort of snarky response about how great Sterling was, but his rider not-so-much. People who have known me a long time, and especially horsey friends will feel the need to reassure me that I’m a great rider. The thing is, I may be a great rider, but I still don’t really know what I’m doing when cantering around a hunter course! There are SO many pieces to put together and all of my riding muscle memory is from riding western or riding English, but in western style.

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One of the biggest differences between western in English riding is how the rider uses their legs. In western riding the rider will give an order with the leg and then leave it alone. In English riding there is constant contact and support with the leg with occasional stronger cues. My western trained legs KNOW they shouldn’t just be hanging there, but they still seem to be incompetent to get a move on and do what I want them to do all the time. Hence the competent incompetence.

Moving from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence requires lots and lots of practice doing things correctly. I’m right in the middle of four horse shows in a row over five weekends and this is giving us quite a lot of opportunity for practice, practice, practice. The great news is that my horse is awesome. Almost no matter how things go in the warmup, or lack thereof, he’s always good in the ring. This gives me the good fortune of getting to practice creating new muscle memory and learning from my mistakes generally without having to worry about my horse spooking at something or refusing jumps. He’s also settling in much better at each show. Eating all his meals and drinking his water. Things Jaguar would never in a million years have NOT done! My trainer lives five hours away so I really only see her at horse shows. This means we are learning on the “stage”, but it has the added benefit of being at a horse show. You can never ever duplicate the energy of a horse show at home.

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Hopefully by the last weekend I will have, at least in part, moved to some level of competence and be rewarded with that elusive blue ribbon.

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