Monday, January 30, 2017

How I Ended up with Punch

Punch on the trailer ride to the farm
I really haven't owned very many horses in my life. I've been very fortunate to have spent the last 9 years at Tamarack riding Denny and May's lovely horses. I originally came to the farm with a horse, but I sold her about a year later. I also had one resale project but I only owned him for a very short time. About two years ago, Denny and May gave me Union, but a little over a year later, his melanoma's got the best of him and I was forced with the decision to put him down.  

Getting a young ottb has been on my mind, but I have always talked myself out of buying one, for one reason or another. This summer, Denny told me he was buying a horse listed on Finger Lakes Finest, and that I was going to go pick it up. So, naturally, I started looking at all the horses listed on their site.

There were two young mares that I liked quite a bit, but one in particular. Denny had been thinking of just getting two horses, since we had an empty slot in the trailer. The day that Sarah Grice and I were going to drive to the track, I asked him if he had seen the little mare, Punch It. He commented on the fact that she was only 3. He didn’t want one that young, and I hadn’t voiced the idea of me buying her yet. That was the end of the conversation for the moment.

A few days after she arrived
Then, that afternoon, I was having a lesson on Tense and he was telling the other person riding that I was going to pick up a horse at the track. He then told her that I was trying to get him to buy me another horse. I told him that I liked her enough that I would buy her! He sort of laughed and again, end of conversation.

The trailer had been getting worked on that day, and wasn't back until around five o'clock, so we got a bit of a later start. Sarah and I planned to drive most of the way to the track and spend the night in a hotel so we could pick up Denny's horse, Portada, at 11am. As we were leaving Denny told me I should go look at Punch It since we would already be there.

On the drive out, I called the trainer listed for Punch. No one answered, so I left a message. On her listing it said that it was a landline and not to call late. As we drove on, and it got later and later, I worried she wouldn't call me back and that it was getting to late for me to call again. I told Sarah, if it didn't work out then that was fine, I sort of didn't need a horse anyway. I wasn’t going to look at any other horses if I didn’t see Punch, I didn’t want to just buy a horse, it needed to be the right horse. Eventually, we were able to connect and the trainer told me she was not at the track, but at a farm down the road. We decided to meet at the track at 10 and she would drive us to see her.

One of her first times hacking
We drove as long as we could and ended up stopping about an hour from the track, for the night. The next morning, on our way to Finger Lakes, May called me. She told me that Denny showed her the pictures of Punch It, and that she was beautiful, but not to buy her just because of that. I agreed, I said if there is anything I don't like about her, I won't get her. I said that I would be very critical, again, I didn't really need a horse.

So, we get to the track, and the trainer drives us to see Punch. I look in the stall, turn to Sarah and say, I want to get her! All practical thinking out the window! Sarah gave me a look, and I tried to be more serious and watched her jog and looked at her legs. She jogged quietly past a horse rearing, incessantly in the next stall. I thought, that's pretty good! She did move a little wide up front but not terribly, I went outside to call May and discuss what I saw, before making an offer.
First time jumping!
I told May that I thought she maybe moves a little wide up front, but not terribly. She told me that since she is only 3, she will likely straighten out as she grows.  She proceeded to say that she I didn't see any reason not to get her! Ha! So, I made them an offer, which they accepted and we picked up Portada at the track, swung by and picked up Punch, and off we went.

The trip home was uneventful, they traveled super well. I was really excited but, I wasn't 100% sure, whether I bought her or Denny did. When we got back to the farm, Denny asked if I bought her for myself, I said yeah, if that's ok. And he said, yeah that's fine. So, turns out I bought a horse!

We gave her about two months off and I slowly started to work with her. Once I started riding her, we started taking her out hacking and she could not have been any better. Now, she seems like an old pro out on the trails. We are now starting baby flat work, and jumped her over a few tiny jumps for the first time a couple of days ago.

It is always a risk buying a horse, especially one you can only watch jog in hand (and don’t vet). She wasn't expensive, so it seemed like an ok risk. I could not be any happier with her, she is exactly the kind of horse I like. After not owning one for a long time, I think the idea of buying one was a little daunting but, it all seems to be working out. We will see what the future holds!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


One day Denny and I were talking, I can’t quite remember what started the conversation, but I said I do not think of myself as being that brave. He looked at me like I was nuts, I think he even said, but you went advanced!  My response was that I am brave enough, but I am not crazy brave. I am not the type of person who would hop on anyone’s horse and just go intermediate with it or hop on a horse I was just watching rear and rear. I know some people who are totally confident and would do those things, but I am not one of them.

I think bravery means different things to different people. I also think that your level of bravery will differ doing different activities. I know there are some people who are just adrenalin junkies, the scarier the better. These people are amazing, and have complete confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Personally, I find that my bravery stems from being educated and prepared. I have also found that the more experience I get, the more brave I become. Also, the more technical skills I acquire, the more confident I am that I can do the job I need to do. I find tremendous confidence in being able to see my distance. That is probably the greatest skill Denny has taught me. When I leave the start box and I am confident that I can get my horse to more or less the right take off point, time and time again, why wouldn’t I feel brave?

Of course there are many other factors that come into play, for me, having a ‘relationship’ with the horse makes a big difference too. I like to be the person who rides the horse everyday, even the days that the horses just go for a walk. I like to know everything about them, their quirks, what the like, and how they react to things. I really like to be able to start them as young horses and bring them along myself, I think this helps you have a really good understanding of each specific horse. Tackling a big course on a horse I have ridden for years, makes me feel the most confident.

I think confidence and bravery are funny, I may be more nervous about jumping a wild young horse over a 2’6” course than jumping a horse like Rosie around a 4’ course. I think it entirely depends on what you are sitting on and your skill level. What is great is, these are things you have control over! If you are scared to jump 18” because your horse is going to take off, get someone else to do it to teach the horse, or maybe you need a quieter horse. If you aren’t confident because you don’t know how to see a distance, that is a learnable skill. If you don’t have a solid position and you get nervous because you lose your balance, that is something you can fix, with the right help.

Just because you are not as brave as you want to be, does not mean you won’t get there. If you are willing to be honest with yourself and figure out what makes you nervous, or figure out what specifically makes you confident, then you can work to cultivate your own bravery. Don’t ever think you could never do something that you really want to do, just because the idea of it makes you nervous right now. You can set small goals and with the right help and motivation, eventually you get where you want to go.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Making Plans

This is the time of year when we start planning, although some of us haven't stopped since last season! Planning what events to do, planning when/if to move certain horses up a level, planning the entire seasons out, then planning how to make those plans happen! The bummer is, with horses, it's hard to plan! 

This doesn't stop us though, having a plan drives us, it gives us things to work for and motivation on theses cold, dark, days, to keep going. You have to adapt and be flexible enough, and you guessed it, have back up plans. Every once in awhile everything will go according to plan and you will just keep moving ahead. 

Not to sound like a downer, but more often than not things won't go according to plan. It's hard to know how your horse will be in 6 months, or how you will be in that same amount of time. It's not just your health and your horses health but the weather can mess up plans, family problems, and any number of other issues can creep in and throw you off your path. 

It's only the second week in January and some of my plans have already gone out the window. I'm working on back up plans, but honestly, I may need back ups for those back ups. You can't let this get you down, you have to go with the flow to a certain degree. Of course missing specific goals can get you down but you just need to look ahead to the next set of goals and how to achieve them. This gets harder as your horses get older, you worry about not having enough time to achieve everything you've dreamed. The problem is horses can't go forever, there comes a time when you have to back off of your goals for your horses well being. I think a true horseman knows when to stop pushing and appreciates every event, and even every ride with their horses. This isn't such a problem when you have a young horse, it's ok to have light seasons where they only compete a few times, if at all. You don't feel like you're running out of time, you have all the time in the world (in theory haha). 

Anything can happen to disrupt your plans, and that's ok, you just have to come out of the other side with new plans. I am a person who likes to plan, I like scouring through the omnibus, figuring out where I can try and go and how to prepare to get there. It's exciting to create plans, and even better when they work out!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Do You Walk the Walk?

At Tamarack we put a huge emphasis on our horses fitness. The fitter your horse, the easier their job will be and the less likely they will be to injure themselves. It's not, however, just about galloping. 

The majority of our conditioning is done at the walk and trot, we frequently do an hour and a half or longer rides, sometimes it is just walking, others it's trotting when the footing is good. We start and end every ride with a good walk. Frequently I will hack before doing flatwork but, if I don't then I walk for at lest 10 minutes in the ring. Every ride is finished by a nice hack as well. 

It seems to me that there are many people who don't think you can accomplish much, fitness wise, at the walk. And half of those people are probably right because they probably don't make their horses walk with purpose. Most horses, when left to their own devices will walk slower than molasses, this isn't doing much for their fitness level. Think of yourself walking, if you went on an hour stroll, taking your sweet time, how tiring is that? Not too tiring compared to you going for an hour power walk. It's the same with horses, if you aren't worrying about fitness then by all means, let your horse walk however they want to. But, if you are thinking in terms of fitness and exercise then you are probably going to have to work to get your horse to march forward in the walk. 

So many people just say, but my horse doesn't walk fast, and when they go hacking they get left way behind. None of the horses I ride naturally walk fast, but I have taught them to all walk with more purpose. When you are first teaching your horse to walk more forward they will probably jig some, it's not big deal, you just bring them back to walk and ask again. Eventually they will start to get the idea and you will have to ask less and less. 

Several years ago I was fortunate to be given the ride on Jetting West, a horse both Denny and Sue Berrill had competed through preliminary. Westy had been off and when we were bringing her back into work, all we did was walk. We have this sandy area we call the bean field that is about a mile around. Denny and I would walk and walk and walk around that field, we gradually built up to this of course. We kept a brisk walking pace, we didn't let them creep around that field. It was shocking to me how muscular and how fit Westy became just from walking! When it came time to start her back in real work she was fit and ready to go, we didn't cut corners and had taken all the time that was needed at the walk. 

Westy was my first really experience with getting horses fit from walking. Of course when you move up the levels more trotting and galloping need to be integrated, but don't short change your walking! 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Post vacation

I just went home to Michigan for the first time in over a year. It was a great trip, I was able to catch up with friends and family I haven't seen in a long time. It's not too often I go days with out riding, or even seeing horses, and I realized I sometimes take my job/ what I'm doing with my life for granted. 

I always feel very lucky to be able to ride horses, but coming back from vacation made me realize how much I really love what I'm doing. I went out for a drink with a very good friend from high school, we haven't seen each other in years. We were discussing how cool it is we are both doing what we always wanted to. She has always loved fish, and has been able to make a career out of that. I always loved horses and I have a job where I get to ride most of the day! I think most people reach a point where their dreams get put on a back burner so they can conquer "real life." Thankfully, I was pig headed enough not to listen to anyone who told me I should get a "real job," and make money and have horses on the side. 

A lot of people didn't understand my love for horses and many more never thought it would be a good career. Going to college wasn't ever a question for me though, I always knew I would go and I even wanted to. I chose a school where I would receive a business degree first and foremost (equine business management), I always wanted a fall back just incase! I have been fortunate to work for wonderful, encouraging people that have helped me along the way. I have no doubt that is why this is working out as a career for me. Don't get me wrong, it is a ton of work, but if you give up, you will never know. I still may not "make it" but I never would if I just gave up. 

I got back to NC last night and when I got up this morning and went to work, I was so excited to be able to ride. I couldn't wait to get chores done so I could get on Union! Then I was able to ride five more horses, a dream come true. Nothing like a little break to make you appreciate what you have and what you're doing!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bits Part Two: Jumbie


So Jumbie (Cabin Society) is a seven year old Irish mare. I started Jumbie under saddle as a three year old and have ridden her ever since. Jumbie moved up to training level this summer and we plan to move her up to prelim next summer. I currently ride her in a loose ring myler on the flat and a loose ring gag with tow reins jumping.

I start all young horses in a double jointed loose ring snaffle, I have found it to be pretty soft in the green horses mouths. So jumbie started in that bit but she was very unsteady for quite awhile (mostly just from being weak/young). There was a time where I rode Jumbie in a d-ring snaffle, this created a little more stability and helped her learn to be steady and consistent. Once Jumbie got a lot stronger and more capable of sitting and lifting, she became much steadier. At that point I felt like I could use a little more softness, so I went back to a loose ring. I tried the myler because it fits the shape of the horses mouth well and is just thin enough (without being too thin) that horses don't want to lean on it. I fell like Jumbie is very accepting of the contact in this bit I can be very soft with my hand.

As far as jumping goes, it took a little while to figure out what bit worked best. As with flat work, all my horses start jumping in a snaffle. It isn't until they start doing more cross country and cantering full courses that I ever feel like I need a stronger bit.  If they can stay in a snaffle great, I don't think that every horse needs a stronger bit just because they start doing cross country but I also don't think people should feel like they are failing just because they need more bit.

Jumbie can be a little blasé and so I have to generate a more active, forward canter when jumping. When I do this, sometimes it then becomes hard to bring her back and adjust her. I found that I was not going forward enough because I wasn't sure if I could bring her back, that's when we decided to try another bit.

The first bit I try after a snaffle is a wonder bit, it gives you a little leverage with a soft snaffle mouth piece. It's pretty mild and I didn't get much reaction from Jumbie. Denny is a big fan of Tom Thumb Pelhams, so often that's what we try next. This seemed to work really well for Jumbie, for awhile. I found that I could gallop more confidently forward and get her back when approaching the fences. After a little while, I found it was almost too much and when doing a stadium course, she would suck her head in when trying to make turns. I had started having a hard time keeping her head up to the fences and started loosing the adjustability. A big part of it, I think, was the curb chain, even though I used it pretty loosely I think it was too much for her.

One jump school when I was telling Denny my concerns with the Pelham, my friend Lila told me I should try a gag, that's what her two horses go in. I hadn't ridden in a gag much, and honestly it sounds much worse than it is. A gag has a snaffle mouth piece and uses leverage by the reins attaching directly to the cheek pieces. You do have to be pretty light with you hand but when used properly it can be very effective.

I decided the gag was worth a shot and the first time I used it, I had never felt Jumbie jump so well! She stayed up and had a much better bascule over the fence. I was able to ride forward and keep her up as approached the fence. At the time I only rode her with one rein but she became a little more sensitive, so I put a snaffle rein on the bit. This gave me the snaffle rein to us most of the time but the gag (or curb) rein to use when needed. I have ridden her into his for over a year now and I am very happy with it. This doesn't means she won't need to switch her bit out at some point in the future, but I don't see any reason to change anything right now.