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My hamster-brained mare

I often joke that Casey has a hamster brain. Specifically, I think of her brain as being a big hamster cage with one of those really cute (but sometimes vicious - anybody else bit often by their pet hamster as a kid?) brown and white spotted hamsters in it. This hamster is mostly a good hamster that loves to funnel its energy by running on the wheel. When the hamster is running on the wheel, Casey is focused, driven, and on-task. However, hamster is not the smartest animal, and so can be very distractable. This shows up in Casey's behavior as well, "oh look at that saddle pad! Let's try to eat it!"

The moment the hamster has fled the cage

Sometimes though, external stimuli is just too much for tiny hamster. Hamster can't handle things like another horse cantering up from behind, or having a dog make a sudden movement, or even watching other horses play in the pasture. And so hamster abandons its cage and flees for the moment. These are the moments when Casey is just beyond any sort of reason, in complete and total meltdown mode. Most often hamster flees the cage when there's something that Casey finds really scary. For instance, in yesterday's ride, all was well in the world, it was a gorgeous sunny day, and Casey had been going around like a perfect unicorn. But then... in the midst of a very nice canter set, two horses in the far pasture decided to take off galloping & bucking, which then set off the other ridden horse in the arena, who panicked and took off at a very fast canter, and so Casey's poor little hamster couldn't handle it, threw itself out of the cage, and I was left with a bucking bronco.

Hamster freak-out mode

She took off with flying bucking leaps across the middle of the arena, I yelled at her, then we circled until she finally slowed her speed. Once we finally got a halt, Casey's little hamster sheepishly crawled back into its cage and all was good with the world again.

Post freak-out

Some of the lovely movement I was getting

Besides the whole hamster fleeing fiasco, our ride was actually lovely. We were working on trotting some "jumps" (really poles on the ground in between the jump standards). Casey was staying really soft and light in the bridle throughout the whole ride, which is like magic. She really was getting into the exercise and so would calmly trot up to the pole, then jump the thing (as if it were actually a 2' jump) and then get a lovely canter away.

How big exactly does she think these poles are?
Barn friend was good support

I felt like I was really able to stay with her motion and wasn't jumping ahead (which somehow has reappeared as a bad habit after not jumping for so long). I didn't let her canter any poles, but the canter that we were getting was so calm and uphill that I felt as though we could have cantered a whole course and she would have stayed relaxed. But, hamster brain and all, so instead I opted to stick to just a trot until we were actually practicing "jumping."

Really pleased with my improved jump position. The time off really made me pick up bad habits again...


Post-freak-out, we actually continued our really lovely ride. We resumed the canter both directions and Casey stayed well-behaved. Hamster decided to be good and run on its wheel again. I think that the better trained she becomes, the easier it is to get her brain back after a melt-down. We ended on a good note, with Casey very happy and very tired :)

Her lovely canter post freak-out

What do you imagine your horse's brain to be like? Anybody else have a hamster-brained creature?

Hamsters appearently are talented creatures
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My ultimate dream is to be one of those riders who seem to communicate with their horse by magic. No bridle, no saddle, no whips, just a true union of souls. And so with visions of galloping Casey bridleless through a field, I ordered myself a neck rope!

Yep, living the dream

Now, there are lots of neck ropes available. And to be honest, for a while I got by with just a lead rope haphazardly tied into a neck rope-like shape. BUT, I have a true love for pretty things, most especially pretty horse things, and so I knew I wanted a pretty neck rope. After some scouting around on Instagram, I knew exactly which one I wanted. I wanted a beautiful rainbow neck rope made by Reins for Rescues.

Rainbow neck rope from Reins for Rescues

Reins for Rescues is an awesome company. They make really beautiful things, but they also have a beautiful purpose. It's a family-run rescue group located in Pennsylvania. They rescue dogs, cats, and equines! The profits that they make off of selling their products all go to the care of their rescues. It's super exciting to not only be able to purchase something you need, but to also know that the money you spend will go to such a great cause.

Reins for Rescues makes tons of awesome products that are mostly paracord based. They have reins, wither straps, neck ropes, lead ropes, dog leashes, and tons of other cool stuff. Not only do they have a ton of pre-made products, but they also allow you to customize products in your own favorite colors. They have over 400 colors available, so you are sure to find what you want.

I was shocked and amazed that Casey let me ride her bridleless

I am indecisive and so all of the color choices in the customizable neck ropes were overwhelming to me. I instead opted to pick a pre-designed product, since I fell in love with the bright colors. I bought the Kota's Colors Rainbow Neck Rope and it turned out to be just a bright and vibrant in person as it looked online.

Kota's Colors Rainbow Neck Rope

My neck rope, as well as most of the Reins for Rescues products, is made out of paracord. Now, if you didn't already know this, paracord is pretty magical. Reins for Rescues uses 550 nylon paracord, so their products are super strong, especially since they use multiple strands of paracord. The other benefit of paracord is that it is fade-resistant and so the colors are sure to last for a long time. I've had mine for over half a year at this point and have noticed absolutely no fading.

Kota's Colors Neck Rope

Not only are their products durable, but they are also super affordable. My neck rope only cost me $15, which to me seems like a great deal. In fact, all of their products are similarly affordable. As soon as Casey's current lead rope dies on me, I have my eye on a Reins for Rescue lead rope. Especially if I could get it in unicorn colors for my very own unicorn.

The unicorn mare being so good bridleless

Since all of the products are made handmade and custom-ordered, you do have to expect some time for the products to be made, but I still got my product in a reasonable amount of time. I ordered my neck rope on July 17th and it shipped August 2nd. I got it a few days after that. So expect a couple of weeks to receive your custom product.

Since receiving my neck rope it has gotten plenty of use. I have been working with Casey towards bridleless riding & she's getting really good at responding to leg and neck rope pressure. I love my neck rope because it is strong enough that I know it won't break on me, it has a handy little "handle" to hold on to, and it is super pretty. Definitely an upgrade from using my lead rope. I've also gotten a lot of use out of my neck rope in my lessons. When I have a student who is struggling with balance, I just toss my neck rope on the lesson horse and all of the sudden, the rider is able to feel much more secure in the saddle. One of my lesson students even bought her own Reins for Rescues neck rope after falling in love with mine! It's definitely a handy piece of tack to have around.

View from the top featuring the "handle"

Overall, I really do love my neck rope. I think that it was a great purchase. I got something I needed, it's really pretty, and I supported a good cause. I highly recommend that you check their products out!

Riding Casey in our Reins for Rescues Neck Rope

Note: I was not asked to write this review, or was compensated in any way. I just really love this product!
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Guess what the family did today! We all traipsed to the barn for my jump lesson on Casey. That's right, all of us. I managed to get my very reluctant horse-hubby to come out as well so that I could finally get some decent jump photos. It may, or may not, have required a lot of pleading, begging, and whining, but it was worth it :)
Yep, worth the begging for these photos
This was our first lesson since getting hocks injected (although I have ridden her on my own in the past week) and I was super excited. Additionally, the weather was nice and the outdoor arena had been freshly dragged with perfect footing. Riding Casey in the outdoor arena is sometimes (as in, most of the time) like signing a death wish, but it was so pretty outside that I decided to take the gamble.
Dogs + Outdoor Arena + Casey = Zea is likely to die
We arrived at the barn half an hour early so that I had plenty of time to groom and tack up Casey (there is nothing worse in my mind than having to rush to get ready at the barn). Once she was pristine, we headed out to the outdoor arena. Immediately there were some potential threats to our ride. All of the dogs decided to be under the pavilion right next to the arena - Casey hates the dogs. Also another boarder was working with her gelding in the outdoor arena as well - Casey hates the gelding. (Casey may or may not hate most things...) When I hopped on, I could tell that Casey was very anxious about these threats. She was giving me a very short-strided walk and was giraffing her head all over the place. 
Casey trying to be good and not worry about the dogs
Trainer had us start with getting a nice bending walk on a circle. We started with just a free walk and then moved into a collected walk when it became apparent that Casey needed a mental distraction. At this point I was second-guessing the decision to ride outside because she was so nervous. She kept breaking into a trot, flinging her head around, and doing all sorts of anxious behaviors. Anytime a dog would move or the gelding would come down to our end of the arena she'd start to have a mini-melt-down. Trainer had us move into some collected, bending trot work on a circle to try to get Casey back on track. And it worked!
Trotting
We worked for quite a bit at the trot. Casey was in a much better head space after we started trotting the circle, but she was being a bit resistant to truly bending. Trainer had us work at counter-bending for half of the circle and then bending for the other half. We did this a few times and it really seemed to loosen up Casey's neck and she did a lot better after that.
I really don't think of Casey as being a big horse, or as myself as being a small human... and then I see that in photos my leg does not take up her whole side and I rethink my position
Trainer also observed that I am using a lot more inside leg to push Casey's haunches over than I should have to use. When bending on a circle, Casey thinks that the correct answer is to over-bend with her neck, but she ignores her booty. Trainer had me work on using my outside rein to encourage Casey's neck to stay a bit more straight rather than resorting to my leg. It worked surprisingly well and by the end we were getting a much more true bend.
Too much inside leg. This is going to be a sucky habit to break.
Once the trotting sets were done, we moved on to cantering. Since getting her hocks injected I've noticed that Casey is much stronger at the canter, but being in the outdoor arena really was magical today. I think it was a combination of the footing being perfect & Casey being a bit on-edge (thanks dogs for barking as soon as we pass you on the rail...), but she was absolutely floating. She was really pushing from behind and allowing her front end to free up. There were a few moments where she tried to grab the bit and take off with me, but suck it mare, I'm too smart for you!
Casey trying to take off. She failed. BWAHAHA!!!
At the canter, Trainer emphasized lots of half-halts while also keeping the bend. This concept was hard for both Casey and I to entirely grasp, but after a few laps we seemed to be getting the hang of it. Since Casey's canter is definitely her weakest gait, it's been a bit of a struggle for me to figure out how to best support her. I don't want to use too much hand, because her tendency is to try to lean on my hands already, but if left to her own devices, Casey will just flat-out run. I've obviously used both half-halts and bending at the canter with her, but haven't successfully used them together until today.
So light, so pretty
And finally we move on to the best part... the jumping! We haven't done a ton of jumping for the past couple of weeks, because Casey's hocks needed injected, so we were both excited! We're still just on tiny little crossrails, so Trainer had us start with just a single jump. The goal was to calmly jump and then turn before the second jump. The first time through Casey thought it was entirely appropriate to blow through the reins and take off a stride away from the jump. That of course got us busted by Trainer. We then spent a bit of time practicing halting before the jump... After that little bit of schooling, Casey jumped the jump very nicely and calmly.
And we're jumping!
Obviously Casey is very excited to be jumping. Look at that focused little face!
Once Casey was handling the first jump well, we moved on to jumping the whole line. And OMG Casey was so good! The canter in-between the jumps was so light and collected. Since she was so collected the distances were coming up perfectly and she was jumping really round. We went through the line just a few times and since Casey was being so good, we let her end on that good note.
Will I ever learn to stop jumping ahead? Probably not...
Now that I've felt just how light Casey can get while jumping a line, that's what I'm going to continue to work towards. I want us to get more consistent in that calmness and lightness. My goal is that we should theoretically be able to enter a hunter class and not entirely embarrass ourselves. And yes, I really want to show jumpers, but let's be honest here. Going fast is not hard for Casey, but slowing down most definitely is, so that is what we should aim to work towards.
Pretty mare
At the end of the lesson, Trainer encouraged me to work on those same things over the next week in preparation for next week's lesson. She told me that she thought I could probably jump Casey a few days over the week, potentially even a few jumps each ride. She said that since these jumps are so low, it really won't overstrain Casey's leg. I don't think I'll jump Casey every ride, because I don't want her to think that's our new game plan (that seems like a sure-fire way to cause rebellion when I insist on a flat-only ride), but I probably will jump during at least two of our rides this upcoming week. I'd really like us to be able to jump things slightly bigger than crossrails, so building Casey's stamina will help with that.
My furbabies
Overall it was a good lesson. We came away from it with plenty of exercises to work on over the next week and I really can't complain about Casey's behavior. I shouldn't have second-guessed her... She was perfect!
She's too perfect <3
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Sometimes I find myself wondering how much money I actually spend on my horse. It does really "matter," because no matter the cost I'm going to keep paying it regardless, but just for curiosity's sake.
What does she cost besides all of my love I mean
When Casey got injured, I obviously got slammed by vet bills. I told myself that this is why I had a credit card and just decided to live in denial. I would make payments every month to my credit card, but I didn't want to know how much money I was bleeding. I think that this form of denial really helped me, because it kept me from panicking about the amount of money I was spending. I didn't have a choice but to pay for my horse's care and what I didn't know couldn't hurt me?

However, this December I finally paid of all of Casey's vet bills and so I wanted to know the truth. How much did Casey cost in 2017?
Cost of Casey in 2017
Because I am the nerdiest of all nerds, I obviously made myself a bar graph to represent this data. Since not all people probably care to read a graph though, I'll also explain each section:

Board & Lessons -$1,484I am actually quite surprised how low this cost is. Considering that this is all of Casey's basic needs (shelter, food, care) AND lessons, I really did pretty good! Part of the reason that this cost is so low is that we really didn't take many lessons at all in 2017, we didn't take any lessons during our 9 month long rehab. I think we only took about 13-14 lessons in all of 2017.
Casey's paddock
Farrier -$385My farrier bill was crazy low this year, mostly because Casey was barefoot for half of it! It wasn't worth paying for shoes for a horse that was in rehab and could only walk/trot. Now that she's back to work, we've brought the shoes back. Since she's now in full shoes, this cost is most definitely going to go up in 2018.
Casey getting shoes
Vet -$3,309.25The killer cost of 2017 was 1000% vet bills. This is why I didn't want to know how much they cost at the time of receiving them... This total includes all of the regular things like annual teeth floating and vaccinations, but it also includes not one, but two emergency vet visits for times that Casey cut open her own front leg, and all of the costs from her suspensory injury (a vet checkup every month, hock injections, joint-helping injections, so much Ace, etc).
We spent much more time with the vet than we should have to
The good thing about this, is that I'm pretty sure 2017 was just a bad luck year for us. Surely not every year will have two emergency vet visits plus a major injury?
Casey after mauling her own leg
Misc -$1,461.62Really what this shows is how much money I spend on things I don't need, but rather want. That includes tack, apparel, safety equipment, basic horse care supplies, and treats. Since 2017 was the first full year that I owned Casey, a lot of this money was spent on things that I needed, but just didn't own yet. I'm expecting that this cost will be lower in 2018 simply because I now own a lot more horse stuff that I did last year.
Gotta supply the goods for the cookie monster
Barn Work $4,351This is the reasons that I spend so little on Casey's board & lessons. I work at my barn, specifically, I am the Assistant Trainer at my barn. I made $2,010 teaching lessons and $2,341 doing barn chores in 2017. Of course, all of this goes straight back into my horse, but hey, that's a significant amount of money that I saved!
Nighttime feeding schedule
What's most interesting about this data is that it really shows how much more time I spend at the barn during the summer. That makes sense, because my job (teacher) is only 9ish months of the year. I have all of summer off and so I spend a lot more time working at the barn.
The best part of nighttime feeding is when all the horses nicker for me
Total Cost of Casey in 2017 = -$6,639.87Broken down, that equals $553.32 per month, or $34.58 per ride (assuming that I rode four times per week - probably an accurate estimate). While owning a horse is not cheap (especially when they break), I think that overall I did a pretty good job! Others may keep their horses for cheaper, but I am able to keep Casey at a really nice barn with a really good trainer and give her the best medical care that I can afford.

My goal for 2018 is to hopefully stay closer to $5,000 than $10,000. I'm hoping to do some things that will cost more money in 2018, like weekly lessons and hopefully a few shows so I'm not expecting a dramatic decrease, but if we could spend less money on the vet and more on fun training stuff, that'd be great.
Hoping for more money spent on fun training in 2018!
Who else has been brave enough to calculate the total cost of their horse?
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