Obviously adding the ramp was priority #1, but I had a couple of other relatively minor things I wanted added while the trailer was in the shop.
First, I wanted another tie ring. The tie ring the trailer came with was on the drivers side of the trailer, so the opposite side of the tack room door, which made tacking up annoying. I also like having options - with one tie ring on one side only, if that side of the trailer is inaccessible or dangerous, I was outta luck without a tie ring on the other side.
Liiiiiike here. Not ideal to tie him on this side of the trailer here.
Because the tie rings have to be secured into studs and because this trailer is SO small, I don't get a ton of options as far as placement. Now both of my tie rings are in this location on opposite sides of the trailer.
Gah can't wait until it's warm enough to get those black streaks off
The other thing I asked for was a butt strap across the back. Remember because of the location of the big back door's hold open hardware, there's a risky few seconds where I have to leave the tied horse on the trailer with the trailer wide open and no visible humans while I walk around the door, unlatch it, and close it. You can see the hold open hardware in the photo above, under the new tie ring.
I consulted with a local independent shop on whether I should go with a butt bar or a strap and their response was interesting. They said because my trailer doesn't have a rear tack and therefore the bar/strap would have to go across the entire width of the trailer, it would be much safer to go with a strap because a full-length bar is an injury risk in an accident. They didn't elaborate, but I can envision a situation in which the bar becomes dislodged, one end gets jammed into the ground and the other end goes into the horse.
So I asked Shadow for a butt strap. I specifically requested that the strap height be no higher than 3'9" (pony butt height, I measured), which my dealer verified by sending me a photo with a tape measure and by putting a 14.1hh pony they had on the property into the trailer to make sure the strap wasn't so high Connor could get under. Good customer service!
Although in the end, again because of stud placement, I couldn't get exactly what I wanted on the height. One end is slightly higher than the other, and it's maybe 2 inches higher total than I would have preferred - but you can't just screw a strap into the skin of the trailer, so it is what it is.
Connor is good about standing still when I shut the door, and my next horse is likely to be a couple of inches taller than Connor anyway judging by the slight upward trend in his breeder's babies in the 13 years since Connor was born, so I'm not really concerned about it.
And that's it!
My husband still asks me when the other half of my trailer is being delivered haha
With that, I have officially fixed all the things I said I didn't love about this trailer. No regrets on waiting 18 months to make these changes - like a house, I think you have to live with a thing for a while before you are really sure about what you want to change. Now I can't wait to take it out!
The only thing I've never really liked about my Shadow 1 Horse Slant is the step up. I don't have anything against step ups, especially not when you're able to turn the horse around and let them go out head first like I can with this one, but the platform was very, very high on Connor.
This is the absolute worst "scale" photo for this, but the platform comes nearly to his knees. It hits me right at the bottom of my knee.
This meant that he had to jump into the trailer - something that made him more and more anxious as time went on. Loading started taking a while as he would take several minutes nervously dancing around and working up the courage to make the leap into the trailer.
I joked that "My horse is shaped like a dachshund so this trailer is more of a jump up than a step up!" but truthfully I was worried about it, because I know it was physically challenging and anxiety-inducing for the little guy.
Once he's in, he loves this trailer.
Pretty quickly I knew I would be buying a ramp. I don't like causing my horse undue anxiety, and I also know that as he gets older, jumping into a trailer is going to get physically difficult. And if he's ever injured, there's no way in hell I could get him on that high platform. Plus it's not like I'm planning on getting a 17hh barn elephant for my next horse - shorties are here to stay in my life.
So last month I finally bit the bullet on the ramp and a couple of other things.
I have nothing but good things to say about working with Shadow Trailer on all this. Shadow's parts department coordinated with my local dealer to have the ramp shipped up from Florida inside of another trailer already headed to Indiana, saving me hundreds in freight. I had planned on having a local independent shop install it, but the dealer said they would do it for $100 - uh, sold!
Like most things on this trailer, the welds are not pretty but they're functional. A 4 Star this is not.
This is my first time having a ramp I can lift with one hand, and I am in love.
It's aluminum, plus there are springs applying tension so it wants to be upright, making it even easier to lift. I realize this is probably standard new trailer stuff but indulge me okay? Haha.
So what did Connor think of this? Well, at first there was some required neck arching and blowing because OMG THIS LOOKS DIFFERENT. And then I asked him to get on, and he had to stand at the bottom of the ramp fretting and taking his nervous poop and working himself up for the jump he no longer had to take. He associates the trailer with an anxious jump now, and it will take time to get over that - he wasn't able to understand that "this new black thing = getting into the trailer is easy now" until after he did it.
Within about 30 seconds he followed me in, and then we got off and on three more times without even hesitating. You could feel the anxiety leaving him as he understood he didn't have to jump anymore.
As soon as I saw him relax about trailer loading again, every penny I spent on this ramp was worth it. He used to hop on the trailer like a puppy excited for a road trip, and I'm ready to have that version of Connor back again. Happy early birthday, little buddy!
Connor grows epic amounts of winter coat, as I've discussed. And I do body clip him, but I leave his legs, because I don't show in the winter and therefore I don't care about aesthetics, and it just seems kinder to leave some hair there.
But that means every spring, there is one day where suddenly his legs go POOF and all the hair falls off at once, and I think "Oh my god, when did those chestnuts get THAT LONG?!"
The thing is - the winter coat hides them, REALLY well. His undercoat even wraps around the base of it, making it deceptively difficult to see how big they really are until he sheds. Here:
That's not so bad...
Since the first year this happened, I try to stay on top of peeling them back a little at a time over the winter, but they grow too fast and are too hard to keep up with (which is the reason the one above has a horn on it). So this continues to happen, every spring.
This one looks really small...
...until you realize it's the chestnut equivalent of an iceberg
Does anyone else have that one day every spring where the chestnuts come up like daffodils and make you feel like a terrible groom? Please tell me I'm not alone!
As you can probably tell by my lack of posting lately, I haven't had time to even see my horse recently, let alone ride.
For the first week of March, I was at my company's sales kickoff with 7,999 of my colleagues in Vegas. Kickoff is the one time a year I get to meet co-workers in real life, and it was critically important to my career to introduce myself to as many people as possible, even if it was at midnight by the blackjack table.
(Who am I kidding, ESPECIALLY if it was at midnight by the blackjack table. #techindustrylife)
Also #techindustrylife: they hired Imagine Dragons to play a private show, and I got pushed up to the front row by nice taller gentlemen who wanted to make sure I could see.
That led to getting almost no sleep all week, which led to my run-down immune system greeting a stomach bug with open arms starting Thursday night, which led to a hellish flight home on Friday, which led to epic jet lag on Saturday, which combined with daylight savings time making it a 4 hour time change instead of the usual 3 on Sunday made me feel just awful all weekend.
(But I'm not complaining about DST because YAY DAYLIGHT!)
Even though I still wasn't feeling great, I managed to drag myself out to the barn on Sunday, which was the first time I'd seen my horse in a week. Have I mentioned lately how grateful I am for boarding care so good, I don't even have to check in while I'm traveling and everything is just fine?
So sleepy. So cuddly.
Lifting the curry to groom him felt like an enormous, slow-motion task, so a productive ride wasn't happening. But I figured just being on a horse would make me feel more like myself, so I tossed the bareback pad on, played the Cardinals spring training game radio broadcast, and we toodled.
As we toodled, I thought about how long it's taken to get this horse to this point: that even when I feel like crap with slow-mo reaction speed, and it's windy and the doors are banging against the indoor and he's not wearing a saddle, I can trust him to powerwalk on the buckle, neck rein, stop dead when I say 'whoa', and do it all cheerfully with his ears up the whole time.
It has taken a LONG. TIME. to get to this point. But it means more to me than anything he could ever do in the show ring, because off and on for the rest of my career, I will have weeks like this one, where I haven't ridden consistently in weeks, showing seems like a distant memory, and I barely have the energy to unpack my suitcase. Having a horse that cheerfully serves as a four legged couch when I need it and doesn't do anything stupid really, really matters to me. Thanks buddy, you're the best <3
In late February, work sent me out to the mothership to attend a massive women's conference (which let's be real, in Silicon Valley, it was more or less a women in tech conference).
I have some deep rooted distrust of women in tech initiatives, but this ended up being REALLY cool.
And what was even cooler? This time, I tacked on an extra day and a half so I could hang out with Kate!
And Lucy, who is awesome
Kate gave me three lessons over as many days, and I'm still processing the biomechanics lessons. I've had a hard time putting parts of what she taught me into practice when I got home - not because of the way she taught it, but because of the way I'm interpreting it and possibly because I'm not feeling at home in my Dressage saddle right now (uh oh).
Oh and also because I really haven't seen my horse in a week and also because my body doesn't know what time zone it should be in anymore (5 days Pacific time, 3 days Eastern, 12 hours Mountain, 1 day Central, 3 days Eastern, 5 days Pacific --> My life since mid February)
Kate took me for a sunset walk along the Pacific Ocean and I loved every single freaking second of it.
But one of those lessons meant as much to me in terms of confidence as it did in terms of biomechanics. And that was my group jump lesson on Flounder.
FLOUNDER FAN CLUB PRESIDENT CHECKING IN
The number of horses I have jumped that are not Connor in the last five years: 0. The number of horses I've ever jumped total: less than 10. The number of horses I've jumped that haven't been terrifying in one way or another: 2. I got scarred pretty badly by the second horse I ever jumped in my life, who I had to ride for an entire semester in college, dreading each ride. At the time I met my trainer, a year after that, I told her I wasn't sure I ever wanted to jump again.
He's not exactly terrifying because he always always ALWAYS makes it to the other side of the fence, but his scrambling didn't inspire my confidence.
It took all the lady balls I had to agree to be in a Saturday morning group jump lesson with some cool and very proficient high school girls. And it took even more lady balls to ride a strange horse over fences. Kate could tell I was nervous and I'm sure she would've let me bail if I asked, but I knew I needed to make myself do this. I do enjoy jumping, once I get over the initial anxieties.
And you know what? I ended up having a ton of fun by the end.
Kate gave me some great feedback, and I did take it to heart, but the biggest thing I got out of the lesson was just being up there and doing it. Flounder may not be the most trained thing in the world, but man he is point and shoot when it comes to jumping, and he doesn't feel nearly as...weird...as Connor does over fences. Once I figured out Flounder's completely innocent penchant for the long spot, we had each other figured out, lol.
Also - no filter - riding in short sleeves in the California sun was heavenly
I figured some things out for myself too - when I relaxed and made my back flat, he stopped rushing and became quieter in the bridle. I still wasn't able to put into practice Kate's observation that I'm not letting my joints absorb the jump, which is annoyingly visible in the videos she took.
The number of times I've walked through a fancy hotel in boots and breeches, I swear.
I was so happy to be up there and learning from Kate, but more than anything, just getting over my fear and having fun over fences on a strange horse in the California sun meant so much. Thanks, Flounder <3
A couple of months ago, I told JenJ I was going to audit the Mary Wanless clinic that's held a couple of times a year at a barn two hours from me.
"Why aren't you riding in it?" she asked.
"I don't know, I've never been to this barn before, I don't know these people, and I haven't seen Mary before, I kinda just want to figure it out without riding the first time," and as I said it, I thought, "Wow that sounds kinda lame," but I stuck with it.
Not too far!
Fast forward to last Thursday morning when I'm sitting in a hotel room in Santa Clara, CA, and JenJ texts me. "Jan is riding in that Mary clinic you're auditing, I'm sending her your way."
You can see where this is going. Somehow, an hour later, I had signed up to ride with Mary Wanless in the beginning of May. It was a conspiracy, I swear! But I'm grateful :)
JenJ subtly but pointedly told me it would be a really good thing for me to ride in it, and when I pointed out the cost of the clinic was equivalent to two rated shows, she said something to the effect of "What's going to help you progress more right now, showing two rated shows or riding with Mary?" Well when you put it like that...duh. I am eternally grateful for good friends that push me out of my comfort zone, because that was a really great insight. Anyone else planning on auditing or riding in the Mary clinic on May 3-5?
After I had my breakthrough lesson with Kate and Megan, I came home and put it into practice. Immediately, I felt a change in Connor. He was more free, more forward, and the work was amazing.
A few weeks later, all that had changed. He felt like he didn't want to move, and I had to work for a long time to get him forward and on my aids. So I gave him some time off, and then my lesson last night was my first ride in a while. Once again, that first ride back after a break was incredible, as it always is. On a micro level, sometimes I wonder if he doesn't like Dressage, or if it's his hocks, or if buying more Back on Track will help (lol), but on a macro level, a pattern is appearing.
Not drilling things
So what's going on here? Well, when I got home from California I wanted to drill my new position and REALLY ingrain it. I also was only able to ride in the indoor for a long stretch, and lost touch with where I was heading in my rides.
Combine that with the feeling I've gotten for a long time that Connor gets progressively worse the more Dressage rides I pack into a week, AND the fact that his breeder has always told me you especially can't drill a Welsh Cob, and I'm starting to realize he's expressing a preference here that I've been ignoring.
Maybe he's telling me, hey lady, it's not that I don't like Dressage, it's that I don't like doing it over and over. And you're not the most creative at putting rides together. So when it's new and exciting and we haven't done it in a few days, I like it, but by day 2 or 3 of that, I'm expressing my displeasure in the only way I know how - by being obedient, but not really into it.
I've felt stupid for a long time for thinking we progress faster the less I ride, even though it really feels that way. I've tried to schedule my weeks to where he has one jump ride, a couple of stretchy/lateral work rides, and a couple of collected rides. But maybe he's telling me that in order to be a willing participant in this stuff, this isn't the right schedule for him. And even if something sounds crazy to me because that's how other, more experienced people do it, it's not right for him. I don't have any firm ideas on this but...this is where my brain is heading.
Things have been quiet around here lately because we are deep into the worst month of the year: February.
My brain where horses are concerned is a mishmash of "Can I pull my brain off of work long enough to ride?" and "I'm so tired of it taking 15 minutes to get dressed in my 17 layers" and "But champions are made in the offseason."
Wet bird still gets his baths in winter, just with the space heater turned up!
I'm not sweating it. Connor is feeling a little burnt out on Dressage lately after feeling amazing for most of January (my fault, definitely), so a break is good. I'm still out there almost every day, I'm just not putting a solid ride on him every time.
As for me, I'm celebrating the home stretch of winter by getting the heck out of the Midwest thanks to work. Five days in the Bay Area this week, followed by a (really) quick Denver trip the following week, followed by five days in Vegas the first week of March. A break followed by lots of trainer rides while I escape to some relative warmth sounds like just like what we both need to survive the last few crappy weeks of winter.
I've told my trainer in the past, don't ask me if I want to jump or wait for me to tell you I want to jump, just tell me we're jumping. So she did.
Armed with my new canter and my newfound biomechanics cues, I was hoping this jump lesson would be good. AND IT WAS AMAZING!
Happy post ride selfies
For the first time, I felt how much of a difference it makes when you jump with a tight core and your lats engaged (thanks Megan). For the first time, I really understood what Mary has always meant by "feel like you're riding the hind legs up to the fence." And for the first time, I took my uphill horse with his snappy hind end to the base of the fence and felt seriously confident.
Side note: This was my first time using the Equisense's course feature. Pretty cool!
That's not to say I was confident from the beginning. My trainer put the crossrail up to an 18" vertical on the sly mid-course, and I felt my wimpy amateur brain shrinking into itself as it told me how big it looked.But then I remembered how wrong my wimpy amateur brain had been about that 85# clean and jerk on Saturday in CrossFit, and how I put that weight back on my barbell on Monday night and ripped it off the ground like I meant it, and even added a few pounds for good measure. In my head, in that moment, that jump became that barbell and I got aggressive instead of wimpy.
My head is a weird place sometimes. But it works!
Canter stride frequency taking a huge leap forward in the jump lesson
Connor is very used to landing on his forehand and taking a few strides to mentally check out while I'm regrouping on his back. When my core and lats aren't engaged, I just follow him down to the ground, which makes for an altogether awkward jump and makes it hard for me to regroup quickly after a fence.
Finally did a respectable amount of canter in a ride
Even though we have a long way to go until that lifelong habit can get undone, I could feel how much of a difference it made to hold firm in my upper body and not just follow him like a ragdoll. I had a lot more influence, and was able to regroup quicker and send him on quicker. It made a big difference in my ability to put him back together after an awkward jump.
We have such a long way to go, but I felt some serious glimpses of jumping feeling easy, and I want more of it. Never thought I'd say that again!
I have to admit, this feels like a weird post to write. I'm crowdsourcing lead rope recommendations.
I have had two lead ropes break in the past few months. One died a traumatic death when Connor was spooked by gunfire or cannons or artillery fire or something when my trainer was bringing him in for dinner. I don't know the whole story, but I found it in pieces in the field, so yeah, it's dead.
Definitely have no idea what you're talking about, lady
And then recently my backup lead rope, the thumb piece broke off somehow. And that's the second lead rope that's happened to me on! Clearly, I'm buying inferior lead ropes. Anyway, I'm tired of having to wedge my fingernail into the clip to get it off my halter, so it's time to go shopping.
Here are my only demands: - It needs to tie tightly and well - No slick lead ropes - No flat leather lead ropes (I already own one) - The longer the better, but not ridiculously long - I really want this one to last because buying lead ropes is just a boring way to spend a dollar, so if you've had one that's lasted forever, I want to know about it. - No chain - No bull snaps, unless it has the tab on the side that makes it easy to get them on and off with gloves on So tell me - what's your favorite and why?