Saturday, March 27, 2010

Britches Rant...

Those of you who are sqeamish, stop reading now.  Go read the Chronicle of the Horse Forum or something.  It's been a long day in uncomfortable clothing and I'm a woman on the edge.  Add that to the fact that my dryer is making a constant "whee-eee, whee-eee" noise (yes, I know it's a loose belt, yes, my husband and I tried to take it apart, that didn't work and no, the appliance fairy has not shown up yet) and we're lucky everyone around here is still alive.  Am planning to pour a glass of Ernest & Julio's finest and watch the comedy of Carlos Mencia while wearing my flannel rubber ducky pjs.  However, I digress.

Back to the breeches.  Frankly, they look really good if you're 6' and 100 lbs.  I'm neither.  I'm 6" shorter and I'm certainly not about to share how much heavier.  I have searched long and hard and  purchased several pairs of breeches in the search for the perfect pair.  Oh, caveat here -- make that the perfect affordable pair.  I refuse to lay down a mortgage payment for an item of clothing that will be covered in all manner of detritus and horse slobber.  I can probably name 10 breeches manufacturers, the names of the styles they offer, and what page of the lastest Dover catalog they can be found on.

This morning my two favorite pairs were in the laundry, so I had to go for the scrubs.  I tried the cost conscious ones on, and realized why I don't wear them anymore - the zippers are shot.  The slanted side zipper on the pocket also rubs me funny when I'm riding.  So I grabbed the nice blue low riders.  And realized there's a reason why my forty year old self did not need to be wearing any low rise 1' waistband low riders. There's nothing holding the extra bits in.  Those go in the "Consignment" pile.

By this time I'm D-O-N-E done and I'm down to the last option, the black breeches with the full seat - the lycra/titanium ones.

Slimming? Yes.  Comfortable?  Not so much.  They may hold things in place, but they grab in the wrong places, and the seam that goes across the top of the butt slides down when I bend and grabs my underwear and so there's that EXPOSED feeling every time I pick my horse's feet or bend to grab a brush.  So I bend, then grab, then realize I'm not flashing anyone, go back back to what I was doing and bend, grab -- you get the picture?  I look like a twisted version of one of those Dippy Bird toys.

So I stop by my local (not so much) Dover store and try on a gazillion more breeches, even venturing into the mortgage payment breeches racks.  I grab an armful, try them on, and commence with much Houdini-like contortion, cursing and teeth-gnashing.  I can hear my father's voice in my head, " You can't fit 10 lbs of sh*% in a 5 lb pound bag, girl!" Annoyed and out of breath,  I bring the winners to the checkout counter. The sales clerk (also a woman of a certain age) sees my flushed face, disheveled appearance, wad of breeches in my arms and smiles at me in perfect solidarity.

I model the winners for my husband, with the idea that the ones he gives the thumbs up to get to stay.  I know, BIG MISTAKE.  It was going fairly well until I took the ones with the separate leather panels.  My husband, a non-rider, took one look at these and asked, "Are those for traction or are they your landing pads?"


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Finding a new home...

Argh. I do not like change. Honestly, I've been living in the same house for the last 15 years largely because it's too much effort to move and I would hate to change neighbors, schools, my routine, you name it. Any change I make require hours, DAYS really, of agonized over-analyzation. Ask my husband.

So here's the deal: The woman who trains my kids and me is leaving our barn. My best barn friend has left our barn. I know I am going to have to leave my barn, and I dread it. However, the level of care has become so inconsistent that a move has become necessary. Sadly, our current trainer is moving to a place too far away.

So, being me, I did some online research, asked my vet and farrier, checked the boards at local tack shops, and created a spreadsheet of the barns in the area. Then I proceeded to drag my husband (he takes the kids to lessons when I'm traveling for business, so needs to be involved with this choice) to all of these barns to interview the managers and trainers, watch lessons if possible, and when a fit seemed possible, set up lessons for the kids and myself.

Finding a new barn is a lot like finding a new home, if I remember correctly. You see a lot of very pretty places that are way out of your price range, a lot of fixer uppers, and if you're lucky, a few places where you can envision settling in. You learn that many of the things you may originally think are necessities became more like "things that would be nice to have" and you find things that are absolutely non-negotiable.

I'm a fairly low key person with a small budget. While I'd love the opportunity to ride with a big show barn, it's not my reality. Some showing, with more local than big A rated shows are more in keeping with my financial reality, and I'm looking for a place that can accommodate an intermediate adult rider AND 2 short stirrup kids. This is harder than you'd imagine, as I have my horse, but they need ponies (which we don't have and can't afford.) I'm looking for a place with quality care, and a family friendly environment.

So, I keep looking. I haven't found the perfect fit, but I've enjoyed meeting more of the horsemen and women in my area. Quite a few have been extremely helpful, suggesting trainers or other barns that might be a good fit. The thought of the upcoming move has me in fits, but the good thing is that once change occurs, I adapt fairly quickly. Hopefully the kids and my mare will as well.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

World Cup 2009

I'm at the age where it's easy to adopt a Carpe Diem mentality. You start to realize that opportunity doesn't always knock more than once, so you start grabbing chances as they are presented to you.

Last year just such an opportunity jumped out in front of me. The FEI World Cup Finals were being held in Las Vegas, which is not in my back yard, but it's a darn sight closer than Europe. So, while it's fun to watch these on DVD, I decided to cash in frequent flyer miles, hotel points, and anything else I could to get out to Vegas to watch the world's best do their thing.

I disguised this trip as a birthday present for my husband, who is somewhat OK with gambling. That means he can take or leave an evening in Atlantic City. So I said, "Here, honey, is a trip to Vegas for your birthday, and oh, by the way, they happen to be having the World Cup, so I bought some tickets to that."

Now, Joe is supportive of my horse stuff, but it's not his favorite way to spend a day. He can tell you one end of the horse from another, and now that both kids ride, can give you a brief description of the difference between hunter and equitation classes. He also knows a few of the big players from going to shows and catching parts of my "game tapes" (as he calls my many horse related DVDs. Let me tell you, by the end of our few days in Vegas, he knew who his favorites were (horse and rider) and who he did not like. I asked him to get me a snack at one point, and he turned to me and told me in no uncertain terms that while he'd be happy to get me one, Beezie, McLain and Darragh Kerrins were coming soon in the order and he was not about to miss their trips. Hysterical!

What an amazing chance to see my favorite riders and horses up close. We'd walk past the paddock every day, and Joe would inevitably wound up holding my stuff after I left him to push my nose against the fence because (OMG!!!!) there was Sapphire, or Shutterfly, or Oki Doki, or (GASP!) Ludger!! Yup, goober alert! I've met all kinds of celebrities -- sports figures, rockers, actors, and have never been remotely impressed. Put one of my favorite riders in front of me and I get a bit starstruck. Not speechless, mind you, just a tad giddy.

Stood in line to get autographs from Beezie, Todd Minikus, Ashley Holzer, and Mandy Porter. All were the souls of graciousness and happy to pose with me for pics. Beezie and Ashley were particularly kind. They'd overheard me mention my daughter and asked if she were there to take a picture (she wasn't) and each autographed another pic for her. Beezie even asked if we'd be attending an A show in our area that she would be attending. I remember when I was a child at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden in NYC. Buddy Brown, Michael Matz, Rodney Jenkins all were super about signing autographs for a worshipful young girl; it's nice to know that level of kindness hasn't disappeared from today's riders.

I was also one of the railbirds when the riders walked the course. Mind you, I was the oldest one. (Average railbird age? 12!) My husband laughed himself silly watching me jockey for position with kids my own kids' age. Did I care? Heck no! The opportunity to listen to the greats discussing how to ride the lines and combinations of Anthony Ambrosio's couldn't be passed up.

Aside from the riding, there were other attractions: Many of the top nutrition and supplement companies were on hand, and in my quest for knowledge (and the best management of my voluptuous, aging, easy keeper of a mare!) I badgered all of them with questions. Suffice to say, I came home with lots of extra reading. Yippee!

I spent what seems like days browsing the leather goods and tack shops represented - Devoucoux, CWD, and Freedman's. I found a lovely belt at the Freedman's booth, and it turns out the sales rep knew my trainer, so we had a good jaw while he was running my credit card. Check out the amazing selection they have: I got the snaffle buckle padded cavesson belt, and wear it with everything.

Had a good jaw me dead with the folks representing the KWPN, or Royal Dutch Sport Horse. My mare is Dutch, and I wanted to learn more about how I could access more info about her, possibly get in touch with her past owner/breeder, and learn more about the KPWN breeding philosophy and any resources in that area, in case I grow a wild hair and go there!

OK, enough on this topic for now. Will probably rattle on about more at some later date.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


This is a G rated blog, so I can't type what I really said, but I'm sure you get what I mean. Sugar was sound as a bell at rehab, lame after 24 hours back at home. AAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!

I soaked her in ice water tubs (she still won't step in a puddle, but after 1.5 months in an aquasizer at least she'll stand in soaking tubs) and packed her feet and poulticed her and wrapped her and darn near swaddled her in bubble wrap.

I am ready to scream, kick things, and howl at the moon. What I will do is check her tomorrow, call the vet, and move forward best as I can.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Continuing Education

One good thing about Sugar's stay on the IR is that I had some extra time. I figured if my riding wasn't progressing through actual practice, maybe I could spend some time learning more about the theory behind the practice.

I have almost 30 videos/DVDs on riding, horsemanship, and competitions. There are upwards of 25 horse-related books in my library -- books on riding, equine massage, equine fitness, horse management, nutrition, hoof health, breeding and equine locomotion. At any given time I have 1 or 2 of these books on my night table. Pretty much any morning you'll find me watching what my husband and I call my "game tapes" while I lumber along on my treadmill.

My hope is that by reading these books and watching the DVDs that I'll absorb SOME of the valuable they attempt to impart. Am not sure how much I have actually retained, but it's certainly not for lack of trying.

My friends tease me, but many of them borrow my books and DVDs. :) I'm certainly easy to buy for -- my B&N and Amazon Wishlists are peppered with horse books. I'm also a huge fan of Horsebooks etc for books and DVDs, and can spend days on The Horse Studio ( looking for new DVDs.

I'm afraid to calculate how much I've spent on my books and DVDs -- probably enough to fund a few lessons, maybe a clinic or two. However, I look at the opportunity to read works by the Masters and watch clinics taught by them as opportunities I'm not likely to be afforded, so I consider it money well spent.

Sugar at High Brass Farms 2/15/10 at

Patience is a virtue, and Murphy was a horseman...

Ok, at this point in the story you are aware that I leased a lovely mare, Sugar, for a year. Well, about 3 weeks into the lease i was pretty sure I was going to buy her ( C'mon, anyone could see that coming a mile away, big sucker/sap that I am.) I did have moments of sanity -- this was a huge financial commitment, as well as a huge commitment of time. She was 12 when I started leasing her, and although she had low mileage, neither of us was getting any younger. However, as she was sound as a drum the entire time I leased her, very low maintenance, and bombproof with my kids (and besides, let's face it, I was head over heels in love with her) I forked over the cash and made it official.

Those of you that know horses are laughing right now. Go ahead, you've earned it. As soon as the ink had dried on the check my big girl went lame. One misdiagnosis, a second opinion, an MRI (GULP!!!) and a couple of months later, and we were rehabbing a mild case of osteoarthritis. I'm not going into detail about the numerous farrier visits, vet visits, etc. Suffice to say it was months of handwalking, followed by a very conservative schedule of under-saddle rehab. 6 months after the initial onset of lameness, and we were cleared for business as usual.

Big sigh of relief, right? Nope. One week after being cleared for takeoff my big girl decided, for the first time in her life, to self motivate and went tear-assing around her field, cavorting and gyrating wildly, according to eyewitness accounts. One day later she was 3 legged lame. Another visit from my vet, another (GULP) MRI, and we have a bouncing baby bone bruise on her short pastern, which aggravated the bejeezus out of her osteoarthritis. Prognosis: Another several months of vacation, no turnout, and handwalking only.

Let's just say that during this time of extended vacation, my horse and I spent a lot of quality time together. Now, I am the type of person that gets as much or more enjoyment from grooming, and generally hanging out with my horse, as I do riding her. I can grab one of the gazillion horse books I own and park in her stall to read, happily letting her booger in my hair or just listening to her chow down on her hay.

However, quality time, rehab time, and a mountain of vet bills that would choke a billy goat occassionally get to one, and there were certainly times they got to me. Many thanks to my husband, barn friends, girlsfriends, COTH forum posters, vet, and the strangers on the street who listened to me wail and gnash my teeth and cry "Will she ever be sound again?? Have I just blown this money on a very large pasture pet?"

Probably the best thing I did during this time other than the IRAP therapy, was listen to the advice of my vet and send my mare off to camp, aka High Brass Farm rehab, in Pittstown NJ ( , where my aquaphobic mare (took us a year to get her in the river and we leapt over every puddle) learned to walk on a treamill that was filled with water.

My mare was happy there from the moment she walked off the trailer. Mostly because the food was good and continually on offer. Mike, co-owner with his wife Liz, is in constant possession of back pockets crammed with whole carrots, and all other pockets are crammed with carrot slices. His hands are always sidling into his pockets and coming out with goodies, and the horses look at him like he's God and Santa Claus rolled into one. By day two Sug would have done anything for Mike; swept his barn, done his taxes, even walked on that scary contraption of his.

After a month and a half of aquatherapy ( Walk Sugar, Walk Sugar, Good girl!) my vet came out to reassess her soundness, and as my big girl hightailed it around in half a foot of snow -- don't ask - pronounced Sug sound and moving the best she'd ever seen her go!

So, we're now back to walking her under saddle, but Dr. Gold has indicated that she'll be back to full work sooner due to the strength she's built up on the aquasizer. Have I learned about patience? Yes, but I'm still no saint in this department. Have I developed an even stronger relationship with my mare? Sure, although I'd say we were pretty close to start with.

I would like to recognize some of the cast of characters that helped put my Humpty Dumpty back together:

Dr. Sarah Gold, DVM (and, no doubt, card carrying shrink as well) from BW Furlong and Associates

Mike and Liz Merbler, Adon, Laurie, and Bob from High Brass Farm Equine Rehab

I'm going to try to post a video of Sug on the treadmill to this blog, here's hoping it'll happen, as I am a bit of a Luddite, technologically speaking!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How I found myself a horse mom...

I fell into leasing my mare, Sugar, quite by accident. I had just started considering the possibility of leasing, was feeling my way around the financial realities of horse leasing, trying to get my husband on board ("It costs WHAT????"said my fiscally conservative spouse) when the opportunity to look at a few potential leases came up. I had my best friend and former trainer come look at the one prospect I felt was a good fit, and she agreed he would be a good teacher for me.

However, that opportunity fell through, and about a week later my girlfriend Cheryl (following the misery loves company priciple -did I mention she and her daughter have 5 horses between them?) called me to tell me her daughter's trainer had a horse I might like. Knowing that I was NOT a fan of mares, Cheryl's daughter Kendall got on the phone and told me, "She's not a typical mare, she's butch- you'll love her!" Did I mention that Kendall was 15 going on 35 at the time, rides on the Big Eq circuit, and is my equestrain role model?

So, as I had the approval of the 2 most trusted horse folk in my life, I drove up to New Hampshire , with family in tow, to meet Sugar. Sugar was 12, had been a broodmare in Holland for much of her life, and apparently thought she was a large Golden Retriever. Anyone who gets within reaching distance is treated to a tongue bath. My friends had called her a big girl, and she is, standing close to 17hh. She's also built like a brick outhouse, which is something that has been said about me.

I hopped on her and Kendall's trainer put us through our paces. I was less than a year back into riding, and to say I was advanced beginner was being generous. Sug had been a broodmare most of her life, and at that point had been back under saddle for maybe a year and a half. To say we were fairly green was an understatement; however, we got along well enough and most importantly, she was calm and willing (although we did have a slight disagreement over the canter departs). I tried her again the next day and told Gretchen if we could work out the financials I'd lease her for a year.

A week later my rented mare got off a trailer en route to the Gulfport, MS winter shows and looked around at her new surroundings for about a nanosecond before lowering her head to eat the few shoots of grass poking out from the snow. I walked her around to help stretch her legs, and she gazed arround, completely unimpressed with her new digs. She met my children, and I could immediately see that she'd been a mom. She licked them, nickered to them, and nudged them into place with her big schnozz. Her eyes followed them everywhere they went, and if they looked like they were up to no good, she immediately reprimanded them with her deep rumble.

So the journey began. Two out of shape, long in the tooth moms getting to know each others faults, foibles, and good points.

Monday, March 8, 2010

How it all started...

I guess I came out of the womb in love with horses. My parents tell stories of when I was 3 and my childlike insistence that they stop at every filed that had horses in it so that I could get out and pet them. I can remember my Dad holding me up on the fence as I held out a handful of grass and called to any horse willing to wander over. Apparently the hour-long drive to my Nana and Pop-Pop's house could take over 2 hours depending on how many times they were willing to stop and indulge me.

When I was 10 we moved to Pittstown, NJ, the home of horsemaster extraordinaire George Morris and his Hunterdon Farm. I would bike over there as often as I could, a preadolescent stalker with one goal in mind -- to see the best of the best.

My parents couldn't afford lessons at Hunterdon, but finally agreed to pay for one lesson a month at a barn down the road from our house. I was in heaven, and spent any extra time I was allowed doing any chores I could just for the chance to be near the horses. I had no idea at the time that my trainer, a young woman 13 years my senior, was to become one of the most influential people in my life, and one of my closest friends. She let me spend any free time I had grooming her horses, Lazy and Andrew, cleaning their take, and just breathing in their wonderful horsey smell.

As time progressed my riding improved, I did small, local horse shows, and when my trainer took another, non-horsey job, found a new trainer and bought my own horse. While I loved Pete, he was too much horse for me and eventually I became too afraid to ride him, and the devastation and shame of that caused me to abandon riding during college, although I did work at a local hunting stable just to be around the horses.

I did the college thing, the career thing, and the Mom thing, the whole time dreaming of horses. I spent as much time as I could with my old trainer, who now had a daughter of her own that rode in the Big Eq classes. When I was around my friend's daughter's horses, I was peaceful and happy -- all the stress from life would melt away.

Just past my mid-thirties I decided to just do it -- get back into riding. One lesson a week became two, then my 6 year old daughter started taking lessons, then my son did, and somewhere in the middle of all that I found myself leasing a wonderful Dutch Warmblood mare, who has given me and my family so many lessons in love it's impossible to count them.

When things get crazy, the best thing I can do is go to the barn and just kiss her soft muzzle and breathe with her, and everything goes away, and all is right with the world. Just like when I was a little girl in my Dad's arms, feeding handfuls of grass to horses in their fields.