Over the past couple of weeks, I've gotten very interested in the idea of subscription boxes. Most especially pet-focused subscription boxes. Now, there are many options it seems for dogs, but as far as I know, there is only one equestrian subscription box and that is SaddleBox. I reached out to the company and got a box to review! (Note: Even though I did recieve the box for free, all opinions are my own.)
The review box wasn't the pretty blue, but it still had their logo!
SaddleBox is awesome for several reasons, the primary one being that it is built for equestrians. Their boxes include a variety of things, such as horse treats, grooming tools, tack stuff, and gifts for the rider, such as apparel and training books. Their boxes are filled with general equestrian stuff, rather than being geared towards a specific equestrian discipline. This is a good thing for the company because they are able to have a much broader audience. I do think that a potential expansion idea for the company could be boxes geared towards specific disciplines, or even just a discipline-specific add-on to their general box. I personally love all horse stuff but get especially excited about hunter/jumper stuff.
I love getting hand-written cards from companies :)
Another great quality of SaddleBox is that it is actually decently priced. A regular monthly subscription to SaddleBox costs $34.95, and shipping is always free. When you buy a new subscription, they send the first box right away (I got mine in three days, so they're obviously paying for faster shipping). After that, every box will be sent on the 15th of the month. To me, the price is fair & reasonable. Especially when I think about the fact that every time I got to my local farm store I walk out spending at least $50, this is a justifiable price to me. They even will sweeten the deal by giving you 20% off on your first box (just enter your e-mail on their website). I will evaluate the actual value of the box further in the review, but spoiler alert, this box definitely has great value.
All subscription boxes share the common appeal of excitement and fun. Getting a package in the mail is always fun, but especially when you don't know what is inside, it takes on a present-like quality. I was super excited to see what goodies I would get. And since you have no idea what is inside, you'll always be happy with what you receive! It's impossible to be disappointed because you don't have set expectations about what you will get.
Not only is purchasing a subscription exciting for the box receiver, but SaddleBox also partners with horse adoption organizers like The Right Horse Initiative. This is awesome, because some of their proceeds are going to such a good cause. It's a company that you can feel good about buying from.
Happy horses indeed
To me, the biggest appeal of SaddleBox is the ability to get cool products that I wouldn't be exposed to otherwise. I live in an area that is not very "horsey" at all. We don't have a tack store or any sort of equestrian-specific shopping option. We have a few farm stores that have some horse stuff and that's about as good as it gets unless I'm willing to drive the two hours to get to a bigger city. Because of where I live, my selection of horse products is very limited and boring. Almost every single product that I received in my SaddleBox was something that I've never seen before, which is awesome!
Now that you know all of the general information, let's get into the specifics of what I received. My box included:
Mini Review: Casey HATES peppermint everything. I've never successfully gotten her to eat peppermint treats before... Until these. For some reason, my peppermint-hating horse LOVES these treats. Not only does my picky mare love them, but every horse I gave them to, liked them (5/5 horses approve). Best of all they are low in sugar and so I don't have to feel bad about giving her a ton. I really like the small size of these treats (quarter-sized), because they are perfect for trick training.
Mini Review: This may be one of the best shedding tools that I've seen. It has four rows of hard plastic "blades" and so is great at catching the hair. I'm sure that if Casey had dried mud on her, it would be equally good for that. That being said... although I love it and think it's perfect for the job, my thin-skinned Thoroughbred HATED this with a burning passion. Like, she would dramatically drop her back when I even made slight contact with it.
Epona Lucky Groomer. The amount of hair might not seem like a lot, but I tested this out AFTER my normal grooming routine.
Mini Review: These are simple boot socks. Just plain grey with the company logo. Quiet and unassuming. They are the perfect thickness in that they disappeared underneath my boot and I couldn't feel them at all, but they are thick enough that I'm not likely to rip the fabric when I do stupid stuff like accidentally zip up part of my sock.
Mini Review: I feel conflicted about this product, because of what I've heard about Mink Oil. From what I've heard, Mink Oil is more of an old-school leather conditioning product. It's supposed to make leather very soft & waterproof, and also has leather-darkening qualities. I'm hesitant to use it though, because I've heard that over time the oil will actually break down the leather & the stitching on the leather and so it can weaken tack over time. I think that I'll keep this product specifically for its leather darkening qualities, however, will not be using it as a tack cleaning staple.
Mini Review: It's a tack sponge. Meant to clean tack. I appreciate that SaddleBox included it along with the Mink Oil though so that you could use the product right away.
A red bandana - $1 at Dollar Tree
Mini Review: This is more of a Western thing, so personally it's not my jam. But Casey looked cute in it!
Casey wore the red bandana. Now it'll probably go to one of the dogs.
A peppermint candy stick - $1 at Dollar Tree
Mini Review: Casey hated this. Because it's peppermint. I loved it though and so ate it myself.
And so the total value of the SaddleBox I received was about $50*. If you consider that most of these products would have to be ordered online (at least where I live), and thus you would have to pay for shipping, the value would be even greater. So all in all, you are getting a good deal when you buy a SaddleBox.
*Note: Some of these items I could find for cheaper online as a sale price, however, I feel looking at the item's original price is more accurate to determine the value of the SaddleBox.
Overall I was really happy with the box I received. Some of the things were not as useful or exciting to me as others, but there wasn't anything that I was disappointed in getting. I'll be able to use everything & was super excited about some of the items in particular. Obviously, all boxes will be different, so if you are curious about other things that have been included in boxes to get an idea if this is the right subscription box for you, check out the prior boxes here. I think that SaddleBox is a great subscription box. For me, it's really awesome to get to see all of these products that I wouldn't get exposed to otherwise. Not only that, but it really is a decent price for horse-related goods. I'd say that if you were curious about SaddleBox, go for it!
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.
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?
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!
After a month of no lessons due to figuring out Casey's back soreness issue, we have finally gotten to resume them! Yesterday was the first lesson back and we went into it not really knowing what we would be working on. I figured that it would be a flat-only lesson seeing as we just started her on the vitamin E supplements at the start of the week. We want her to be on those for at least a couple of weeks before jumping, although it's highly dependent on how she is feeling and moving.
Finally in a lesson!
We opted to have our lesson in the outdoor arena because the weather was gorgeous. The downside of this though is that Casey is always a little bit worse in the outdoor arena. She gets overly excited sometimes and so is just a lot harder to contain and focus there versus the indoor arena. I was a bit worried about how it would go, but aside from some slight jigging at the walk when we started, Casey actually seemed very relaxed! This was a good thing because, as Trainer proclaimed at the start of the lesson, this ride would be about focusing on Casey staying relaxed throughout the entire ride.
A perfect weather kinda day
We started off our lesson with a stretchy walk. After a bit of a warm-up, Trainer immediately kicked our butts into gear. She asked us to get a nice, calm trot. Not only did we need to have a calm & slow trot, she also wanted Casey to be light as a butterfly on the bit and hold a bend. All of these things do not come easily to Miss Mare. She dislikes going slow, she loves to lean on the bit, and she tries to blow through her outside shoulder while bending. That being said, I lucked out in that Casey was in a very agreeable mood and so, while it did take effort on my part, I was able to get all of this out of her.
Calm? Check. Bending? Check. Light? Mostly check!
All of these things are bits and pieces that we've been working on in our independent, non-lesson rides, so it was a matter of putting all of the pieces in place. In order to get a calm & slow trot, I had to really focus on keeping my posting slow & even (and not use the reins to get her to slow, because then she'll lean on my hands). In order to get Casey to be light in the bridle, I had to play with the reins (slight wiggling) when I noticed that she was trying to lean on them. And in order to get a true bend, I had to give and release the inside rein, while also remembering to keep her bending around my inside leg, and supporting with my outside leg and rein to keep her from blowing through her shoulder. None of these things are complicated exactly. We've been working on all of this stuff for months and months. BUT Casey doesn't like to make any of this easy. The other thing is that I am working on becoming more refined and delicate in how I communicate with her. As I get more advanced in my riding, I am able to become more refined in my communication, but it's a learning process and is a hard thing to learn.
Why is riding so hard!
And so, that's what brings us to the article title. Trainer came up with a new saying to try to help me with the concept of lightness, which is "shape the clay (the horse), don't smash it." The goal of every ride should be to get the horse to be light and responsive, and in turn, the rider must also be light and responsive. The rider should be able to shape the horse into the movement that they want and then be able to step back and allow the horse to continue without support. Ideally, Casey will be able to carry the trot we were getting, with the bend, and the slow pace, and the lightness on the bit, with minimal help from me. Trainer had us work on this by having me give Casey all of the reins, see how long she would hold all of the aspects, and then resume normal riding when she fell out of the rhythm. Surprisingly enough, Casey figured this trick out relatively quickly. We went from only being able to get one or two good strides, to getting up the seven or eight by the end of the ride.
The "can she hold it" game
After doing all this good work at the trot, we decided to test out the canter. We wanted those same qualities that we had in the trot to show up in the canter; the lightness, the bend, and the calm & slow pace. We got really nice upward transitions from Casey and she stayed mostly calm & slow. There were puddles in one corner of the arena that she got a little bit strong through but for the most part, I was able to keep her at a reasonable pace. The lightness in the bridle and the bend were definitely harder for us. When we stayed on a twenty-meter circle, I was able to get a nice bend from Casey, and it was significantly easier to keep her light. As soon as we used the whole arena, she would start to try to pull. Trainer emphasized to me that I need to be soft in the hands so that Casey will be soft in the bridle, so I was working hard to keep her from leaning while at the same time staying soft. It's definitely a struggle because she kept trying to throw herself on my hands and then I would have to give-take-give to get her back off of them. We also spent some time working on downward transitions. Casey loves to just ka-plunk her way into the trot, so Trainer had me really exaggerate the bend in the transition, which resulted in a much nicer one.
Trainer and I opted to end our ride at the half-hour mark, rather than a full lesson. Casey had been so good throughout the whole lesson, and the things that we were asking her for was some complicated stuff. I definitely had a lot of good takeaways. I can feel that Casey and I have made so much progress in terms of how we communicate with each other and the type of movement that we can achieve. I was talking to one of my barn friends post-lesson and she observed that Casey has come such a long way from the giraffe-bulldozer hybrid movement that she had when I first started working with her. At this point, my horse is almost fancy! My homework for the next week is to continue to work on lightness and bend in my rides and I'm super excited for our next lesson!
The past month has been possibly the most hectic that my life has ever been as an adult.
In terms of horse world, Casey and I have experienced a roller-coaster of experiences. Shortly after my last post (early March), Casey went lame. And it was THAT leg... ya' know, the cursed one that had the suspensory ligament tear. I, naturally, went into helicopter horse mom mode, because I was sure that she was broken. My trainer thought it was just a stone bruise, so we gave her some time off. After that, Casey seemed to be "sound" and looked great, but when riding her I could just feel... something... Nothing that I could truly define, but enough that I knew things were not right. After some waffling, I decided to just have the vet out for her. The way I saw it, I would be stressed until I either knew what was going on or things got better on their own (which I doubted would happen, because things had been carrying on in this matter for a couple weeks).
A recent photo in which she is not backsore
So I had the vet out. He immediately ruled out any sort of leg lameness and ended up determining that Casey was just incredibly back sore. He checked her saddle fit (again) and still thought it seemed like a good fit, so he decided to do some bloodwork to see if her vitamin E or selenium levels were off (as both can cause body soreness). We then played the waiting game for the results to come back (for some reason this particular test takes a while to come back). In the meantime, I spent my time riding Olive, a lesson horse who had a bunch of time off due to a nasty cut on her hock, and just playing around with Casey. She was sound enough to be lunged, so we did a lot of lunge-work to try to keep her fitness up. After a week and a half, the results finally came back. Her selenium levels were perfect, but her vitamin E levels were super duper low. So after conferencing with the vet, he recommended that I stick her on a vitamin E supplement and thought that would make all the difference.
The cute pones being her perfect self
The supplements that I ended up ordered were SmartPaks. Since I was ordering them anyways, I opted to throw in the Dark & Handsome supplement as well so that I could get free auto-shipping. I'm super excited to see the difference that the supplements make. I hope that the vitamin E alleviates the back soreness entirely and I'm also hoping that the Dark & Handsome one results in a super shiny, super-dappley pony. I was a bit worried about if Casey would eat them (she's super picky & the Dark & Handsome one had some reviewers commenting on horses refusing to eat it), but I fed the horses last night, and it seemed that Casey was chowing down, so I think we're good.
It looks like Casey is starting to shed out into dapples, but I want MORE!
Once we knew what the problem was, I went back to riding Casey. I think that the time off did her good because she has felt great. It took a while for the supplements to arrive and so I only started her on them yesterday, but even without being on them, she's been doing really wonderfully. We've just been working on flatwork, and haven't been doing super intense rides, but she feels balanced and light in the bridle.
Casey being nice and balanced
Yesterday's ride I introduced trot & canter poles back into our routine, and she was awesome. I had set the poles up as a "course" (can you tell I miss jumping?) and Casey was calm while trotting. At times I had to rebalance her a bit, but I wasn't having to hold her back. Since she was so good, I opted to try a line at the canter, and OMG she was fab! She got a tad excited at the second jump, but when I half halted she came back nicely and added the extra stride. Proud mom moment right there!
Her canter is becoming so DREAMY
Outside of horses, my life has been exciting & wonderful, but also super exhausting. We ended up buying a house! It's in exactly the neighborhood we wanted, on a quiet street, and, best of all, we could afford it! We ended up closing right before Spring Break, and so then literally spent the whole week of vacation working on remodels. The house had really good bones, it's a solid 50's ranch style house, but the prior owner did not take the best of care of it. She smoked in the house and trashed the carpet.
Once it was ours, we tore out the carpet & subfloor, tore out a hideous half-wall, ripped out all of the old baseboards, installed click-laminate flooring, installed new baseboards throughout the house, painted everything, and thoroughly cleaned. All of that was done with just some help from family members, no professionals involved at all. In addition to that, we also had to move everything from our rental to our new house & clean the rental. It was exhausting, but also amazing. There's nothing quite like hating something and then having the power to destroy/change it. After living in rentals for most of my life it's so liberating to own a home. Now that we've finally finished the remodeling and moving process our life is starting to mellow a bit. We still have things that we want to do with the house, but for the most part, we've taken care of the major things. I'm probably going to have a lot of summer projects that I want to do, but those can wait until I'm on vacation (oh the wonders of being a teacher).
Living room (this is the flooring that we installed ourselves)
Master bedroom with our new bed - it takes up almost the whole room, but no regrets!
And the sunroom! I'm so excited about this. Having a sunroom was on my house wish list, but I never expected to get one!
So that's my whirlwind of a life! Here's to hoping that I can go back to a normal routine!
Hopefully we can get back to normal so I have plenty of time to spend with my girlie
Casey and I are moving up in the jumping world! As in we have now progressed to tiny vertical jumps, rather than only being able to do cross-rails. Who knew I would ever be so excited about a two-foot jump? Let's start from the beginning though...
We started off today by waking up early so that our farrier could come and nail Casey's front shoe back on. She managed to step it off on Friday, but Farrier is amazing and lives right down the road from my barn so he came out first thing in the morning. We love him :)
Casey was not impressed with having to stand for the farrier first thing in the morning...
After Casey's shoe situation was resolved, I took her to the indoor arena to see if she wanted to run around a bit and be crazy, especially since she hadn't gotten exercised in two days in a row. She was being a bit of a princess (surprise, surprise...) and didn't want to do much of anything because the shoe felt weird. She was doing a bit of trotting, but was pretty unwilling to canter. I think that she just was readjusting to the weight of the shoe, because after I tacked her up and hopped on she started moving normally again.
Before our lesson officially started, I warmed us both up by having Casey walk on a loose rein. I usually try to hop on 5-10 minutes before my lesson officially starts so that we have plenty of warm-up time. She was relaxed and had a nice swingy walk, but as soon as my Trainer walked up to the arena with her dogs in tow, that nice, relaxed Casey vanished. She started trying to bolt, because obviously the dog was trying to eat her. It was a whole lot of giraffe-head, wide-eyed, panicky circles. I couldn't get her to calm down while the dogs were around so Trainer ended up having to chase the dogs out. My theory is that the dogs were just today's handy excuse to try to offload all of her energy, because it is quite normal for the dogs to hang out in the arena when Trainer is teaching. Although Casey always has to give them some serious side-eye, besides that she normally is fine with them.
The most relaxed walk I could get after the dogs arrived
For the flat-work portion of today's lesson, Trainer had us doing large, whole-arena, figure-eights. She placed two poles in the middle of the arena, on opposite diagonal lines so that each time Casey and I crossed the arena, we'd go over a pole. We would get a nice collected trot, maybe do a few circles at the end of the arena to get the trot really balanced, and then trot across the diagonal. Trainer always had me go down a gait when we hit the wall at the end of the diagonal (so if we trotted the pole, we would come to a walk; if we had cantered the pole, we'd come to a trot). After getting a few strides of the lower gait, we'd then pick up the bigger gait and come across the other diagonal. We did this at the trot at first, and then did it at the canter. Casey was getting a little bit resistant to the bit (she started bracing), but besides that was staying very well behaved, which is SHOCKING, because this exercise required lots of transitions (which normally get her hot and crazy).
Once we were all nice and warmed up, Trainer set up the jump line for us. We started with just a simple crossrail to a second crossrail. The first couple of times through, Trainer told me to get a walk or a halt before the second jump. The first attempt failed pretty miserably. We approached the first crossrail at a nice trot, but then Casey got very strong after the jump and I couldn't get her to slow, so we circled and got the walk. The second time through I knew I had to up-the-ante and get mean, so we nicely jumped the first crossrail, Casey tried to brace against my hands and trot over the second jump, but I gave a strong half halt and yelled "HOOO!!!" I think I startled Casey a bit, because she came straight to a halt. Satisfied that she was listening after that wake-up-call, we did it again and she came to a halt very nicely mid-way between the jumps. It's amazing sometimes how effective voice can be, hahaha :)
Once Casey was able to listen to me between the jumps, we allowed her to do the whole line through, crossrail to crossrail. She was being pretty good, but was still a bit strong between the jumps. We got a bit of a flyer when I allowed her to sustain the canter to the second jump, but overall she was trying. Then Trainer raised the second jump and made it a two-foot vertical. I set Casey up with a nice, balanced trot, we got a nice jump over the crossrail, Casey had a super balanced lovely canter, and then she gave the most perfect jump over the vertical. It was balanced, it was relaxed, and most importantly, she didn't speed up or get strong right before the jump! Both Trainer and I immediately started gushing over Casey, telling her how amazing she was, and with that we both decided to let her be done. It was a perfect line and we knew we wouldn't get better, so we wanted to end on that good note. We are both strong believers on ending when the horse does what you asked, rather than drilling exercises.
The best horse ever jumping the tiniest vertical
I was super impressed with Casey today. Considering how the ride started, she improved leaps and bounds within the lesson time. Not only did she improve within the lesson, I've also just seen huge improvement in her over the past couple of months. She still has that Thoroughbred brain that's missing a few screws and only ever wants to gallop, but she has been trying so hard to be good. I think she's finally figuring out what we want from her. She is becoming so fun to ride, because she is so much more adjustable & knowledgeable than even this time last year.
So thirsty post-lesson
The plan going forward is to continue working on responsiveness while jumping & adjustability on the flat. We are also still building Casey's strength. Each jump lesson we are adding in more jump attempts and also are slowing going up in jump height. Casey has felt so strong and so sound, so I bet we could increase the pace a bit, but since we aren't in a rush for anything, I feel good about taking our time. Sure it might take us a bit longer to get back to jumping three-foot jumps, but we are working on a lot of essential skills with these smaller jumps, and I'd quite frankly sell my soul to avoid rehab again. Right now I'm just so thankful that my horse is happy, sound, and being such well-behaved!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Do you know those days when you hop on your horse and things just aren't quite right? Like, they don't seem lame, they might even seem sound, but it just feels like there's something going on? Well for the past two weeks, I've just had that feeling with Casey. The best way I can describe the feeling is that she just seemed slightly more stiff than normal and at the canter it felt like there was a moment of hesitation, or almost a stutter, between strides. What was especially weird though was that I felt it a lot more to the right than to the left (the left is the leg that sustained the suspensory injury).
One thing I noticed was that Casey was kicking up a lot more footing with her back hooves than normal
I had my trainer watch us ride when I first noticed this sensation and she didn't see anything, but I knew I could feel something. Since it seemed like her hind end, I suspected it was her hocks and my trainer didn't disagree so I scheduled hock injections for her. While awaiting the appointment I kept going back and forth in my own mind about if it was the right decision to make. Part of the difficulty was that for the most part she felt so sound! She never seemed in pain and the strange sensation was so slight and infrequent that I wasn't sure if I was just being overly paranoid. Ultimately though, I decided that it couldn't hurt to have her hocks injected (even if it was a bit early) and I knew I wouldn't be able to stop stressing if the vet didn't take a look.
Another thing I noticed was the Casey didn't seem to be stretching underneath herself nearly as much with her back legs
This Monday is when the vet came out and it turns out that I was right to trust my gut! According to my trainer (who dealt with this vet appointment since I couldn't take the day off of work), Casey's right hock was dry when they injected the needle and the left hock was watery. Not only does this show that she needed hock injections badly, but it also shows that my gut intuition was right! I thought she seemed worse on her right side, and it was worse on her right side! I'm patting myself on the back over that one.
For those that don't know a lot about hock injections, here is a brief explanation (although I'm no expert). Basically, joints have liquid in them to keep the bones from grinding together. This liquid goes away gradually due to aging, genetics, and exercise patterns. Casey is fourteen, so is of the age where horses start to need joint injections, plus she is prone to having hocks that dry out faster than normal. This is part of how she got her suspensory injury - her hocks were dry, which causes discomfort/pain and so she was over-stressing her ligaments to try to avoid that discomfort. I first injected Casey's hocks while rehabbing her from her suspensory injury, before that I didn't know this was a problem for her. At the time, the vet said that we'd need to inject her hocks again, but wasn't sure when (every six, nine, or twelve months). Since we just injected her hocks for a second time, and it turned out that it was the correct timing, we now know that Casey should have her hocks injected every six months.
This photo cracks me up, "Ohhhhh!!!! Hock injections!!!!"
I'm super relieved that I trusted myself when it came to my gut feeling. Ever since Casey got injured I've second-guessed myself a lot more when it comes to her care, so making the correct choice for her makes me feel better. Not only that, but now we know what schedule Casey should be on and so it'll be an easy thing to keep track of.
Happy horse who should now feel better
The plan for this week is to give Casey four days completely off with Bute twice a day to help with discomfort. It's uncomfortable at first, because the joint is not used to having so much liquid in it. Additionally, the injection has anti-inflammatory properties in it and so she shouldn't do anything too strenuous, because her body wouldn't be able to react properly. The fifth day (this Friday) she can go back into light work and on Sunday we should be back into normal work. I'm really excited to see what she feels like when we go back into work. For the first round of hock injections I couldn't tell the difference it made because she was still so injured. This time I theoretically should be able to really feel a difference in her.
Casey gets a mini-vacay for four days
Have you ever had the sensation of something feeling "not quite right" with your horse? What did it end up being?
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.
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?
I anticipated having an easy time coming up with goals for this new year, but ended up having a surprisingly hard time! 2017 was so unpredictable. I would never have guessed that a major injury would be sustained and would require nine months to come back from. So with that in mind, my goals are not as ambitious as they might have been otherwise. Whereas last year's goals were very focused on our specific discipline (jumping), this year's goals are much more focused on flatwork and communication between Casey & I. I don't really know what this year will look like for Casey and I, but I know that my priority is making sure that we continue to work on getting physically stronger and communicating better.
NO MAJOR INJURIES IN 2018! This is the goal that I have least control over, but that I most want to achieve. My way of trying to make this goal successful is really being preventative in my care for Casey. She now has full shoes, hock injections every six months, Mare Magic to balance her mood, and a tiny pasture to get her yaa-yaas out in. Hopefully all of that plus a little bit of luck will get us through the next twelve months without any major injuries (*knock on all wood objects*).
Casey agrees. No more injuries please.
Get back into jumping 2'6"+. I'm not sure how high exactly we'll be able to jump this year. It really depends on how Casey's leg handles the stress of jumping post-injury. I'd say that 2'6" courses is an achievable goal. I'd love for us to get back to jumping 3' courses, but don't want to prioritize jumping high over my horse's health. Obviously I will be very reliant on my trainer's feedback to determine what is appropriate work for my horse.
I want to jump real jumps again!
Continue to work on stirrupless work. I'd love to get to the point where I can ride without stirrups for a whole ride. That'll take a lot of work though!
Continue to work on bridleless work. At this point we're able to walk entirely bridleless and can trot with the neck rope (with the bridle on for backup). I'd like to get to the point where I can ride Casey bridleless at a walk and a trot, and be able to canter with the neck rope (bridle for backup).
Get solid walk-canter transitions. We're so close to this. Casey can get them on her right-lead, although it's a bit rough. I'd like to get these a lot more solid.
Figure out the sitting trot. Oh boy, oh boy, is this a challenge. I've been working on my sitting trot for the past couple of months and it's gotten so much better, but I still really struggle at this. Practice makes perfect, right?
Sitting trot in progress
Find an Casey-acceptable dressage-legal bit & bridle set-up. Bitting has been the bane of my existence with Casey. She's super opinionated and very picky. Right now she goes really well in my Myler Combination Bit, but it's not dressage legal. I'd really like to get back into dressage tests with Casey, but in order to do that we really need to find equipment that will work for us. I've tried many different bits with her and nothing really works, she pulls on the bit and can get her tongue over everything. So far we've tried adding a flash, tightening the bridle, loosening the bridle, a plastic bit with a single joint, an oval-link copper-coated snaffle, a wide port, and a waterford. She hates everything. Right now I'm trying to find ways to replicate things that she might like in her current set-up. The next thing we're going to try is a boucher bit (I think she might like the extra stability it provides) and I'm seriously tempted to get a Micklem bridle to see if that would make a difference.
Casey's reaction to any bit besides the Myler Combination... brat...
Ride (or work with Casey) 4+ times per week. Although I easily met this goal last year, I am going to continue to have this be an annual goal, because it is really important to me. If I'm not at the barn at least four times per week, I really don't think that I should own a horse. It's a huge financial burden and so I need to prioritize my barn time. I am adapting the goal though, because I think that hand-walking, lunging, or free-lunging Casey is acceptable on days that one or both of us don't feel up to riding.
Looking forward to lots of good rides in 2018
Take a lesson a week. I think that we'd benefit greatly from having my trainer's eyes on us regularly. Thanks to a pay raise this year and finally having paid off my car, I can financially afford regular lessons this year!
This is why we need lots of lessons, both jump and dressage!
Go off-property at least once. This can be a trail ride, a schooling show, or a clinic, so long as she is trailered somewhere new.
Enter at least two shows (they can be schooling shows). I think that this goal is definitely achievable, because my barn hosts shows every summer. I'd like to do at least one show in a different location, but we'll see what happens.
Now that you've read mine, what goals do you have for the next year?