NaBloPoMo 2017 – My Barn

I love researching barns. Even as a kid, when – save for a few particularly brutal winters – I kept my horses at home, I was obsessed with researching local barns and thinking about what it would be like to board at them. I’ve been working on a “boarding barn must-haves” post on and off for months, and have pretty strong opinions about the kind of facilities I (a) trust with my horse and (b) don’t feel grumpy about pouring money into.

When we moved back to NYC last fall, I spend weeks on end researching what felt like every barn within a 90-mile radius of Brooklyn. I took lessons at several, and eventually settled on a place in Northern NJ. It’s not the closest to my house by a long shot, but it is worth the extra time in the car.

Specific things I love about it:

Excellent training

Finding a good trainer is kind of like finding a good therapist – not everyone works well together, so in addition to finding someone who knows what they’re doing and treats horses well, a good personality match is important. Sarah really checks all the boxes and I’m lucky to have found her. I appreciate her straightforward teaching style, and she’s very correct and focused in her work with the horses. It means a lot to have someone I trust to hop on my horse for a training ride or, you know, mid-lesson if I’m having one of those “I’ve forgotten how to ride” days.

 

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Spoiled pony.

Incredible horse care

 

I live an hour from the barn on a good day, and there are almost no good days in NYC. I also work full-time and run a nonprofit in my “spare” hours (lolol) so I currently get to the barn only a few times per week. This means that wherever I board needs to really pay attention to their horses. I’ve boarded at places in the past where I knew that if my horse came in from turnout with a puffy leg or gave himself a minor scrape, I would be the one to find it. That’s not a problem when you’re at the barn 5 to 7 days a week, but it wouldn’t work for me now.

The trainer and managers at my current barn really treat every horse as if its their own. I also appreciate that things like grain, blanketing and basic first aid are just taken care of and factored into board – particularly after coming from California, where literally everything beyond “toss the horse no more than 4 flakes of hay per day and sometimes give him turnout” required $5 fee after $5 fee – before you know what’s happened you’re paying an extra $500 a month for your horse to sometimes be fed grain.

Just the right size

I don’t like riding totally alone, sharing an arena with tumbleweeds and horse-eating monsters; Marley is steady and I trust him, but horses are large, spooky animals and accidents happen. That said, I also don’t like riding in overly-crowded arenas, jockeying for space with a lesson, someone trying to jump a course, and fiery Grand Prix dressage horses (this was my last barn in California).

My current barn is really just right, size-wise. There are between 20 and 25 horses on property, and only one trainer. This means that lessons are easy to work around, and I’ve rarely shared an arena with more than two other people. It also means that unless I’m at the barn at really crazy hours, there is generally at least one other person around. It’s a great balance.

Fun, no-drama barn family

I grew up keeping horses in my backyard, doing Pony Club, and generally riding in every scrappy, random way possible. I honestly didn’t realize that there were lesson barns where you just showed up and had a perfectly groomed, tacked up horse waiting for you until I moved to California and started looking for barns. I also didn’t realize just how much drama could exist at barns.

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Different strokes for different folks and all that, but this sport is too time-consuming and way too expensive for me to be stressing about barn politics on top of stressing about the fact that I have forgotten how to ride. I’m so grateful that Sarah keeps us all in line and runs a tight ship focused on the things that matter most, namely good horsemanship.

Lots of turnout

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Hanging with friends

 

Marley spends way more time at whatever barn we board at than I do, so his happiness is pretty critical. He’s not a hot horse, but he’s extremely social and loves being a part of things.

(adorable side story: my barn held a gymkhana last weekend that I had to miss due to a work commitment. Marley was in his stall while all the hubbub was going on and was so upset to be missing the action that they actually pulled him out so he could participate in the carrot challenge. I love this horse and his weirdness so much.)

Anywho – I believe turnout is really important for horses’ mental health. In California this was constantly a struggle – at many barns you’d pay a ridiculous upcharge for your horse to be “turned out” in a 20′ x 20′ sand lot for two hours each day. I’ve found that Marley is much happier and more rideable if he’s stretching his legs and getting to interact with other horses. At our current barn he’s on day turnout and goes out from around 7am to 4ish in the afternoon daily as long as the weather isn’t miserable.

 

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NaBloPoMo 2017 – All the prizes!

PSA: In an effort to stay current, I’m skipping ahead to the “correct” day of this blogging challenge, and then as time allows will go back and address the prompts from previous days. Day 07 asks…

“What was your favorite ribbon you won at a show and why?”

I haven’t showed extensively since descending back into horse ownership a few years ago; in part this is due to time and budget constraints, but it’s also indicative of where my focus is right now. I spent a lot of time and energy as a teenager and young adult competing, but at this point in my life the most important thing for me is really to continue evolving into a better rider and make my horse the best partner he can be.

There are many eventing and Pony Club rally ribbons I could detail, but my favorite ever was probably for winning the state championship in drill team as a teenager. I honestly don’t remember what the ribbon itself looked like, but the experience of participating in drill team was pretty formative. The level of teamwork that was required of a group of opinionated teenage girls and their even more opinionated horses was insane, and the process was not without drama. That said, we competed throughout the year, practiced long hours, pushed each other, and eventually got to a point where I do believe we achieved something special.

I think my mom probably has a VHS recording of our performance somewhere… maybe I’ll try to rustle it up when I’m Upstate for the holidays! Good laugh for all, no doubt.

NaBloPoMo 2017 – Last Ride

Since I’m a bit late to the National Blog Post Month party, I’m going to be playing a bit of catchup for a day or two. The prompt for Day 02 of NaBloPoMo is…

“The last time you rode and what you did”

Conveniently, I had a lesson yesterday so this is a nice forcing mechanism for me to write a lesson recap and continue contributing to NaBloPoMo.

The past few weeks have been bonkers life-wise, and I’m definitely struggling to balance everything. As a result I’ve been spending less time at the barn than usual and that showed up in my riding yesterday. Marley was ridding on Tuesday and Wednesday, but unexpectedly got Thursday off since I got stuck at work. He then also got Friday and Saturday off because I was helping run a big product management conference in NYC. Needless to say, neither of us were in top form yesterday.

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We both needed coffee yesterday

Marley is not one of those horses that needs to be lunged if he’s had time off, particularly if he’s been getting turnout. He is, however, a horse that can get a little lazy and behind your leg if he’s feeling rusty. The combination of him being a little sassy and me being kind of tense and frustrated made for a less-than-stellar ride. Since getting back into riding I occasionally have these rides that are incredibly frustrating – I intellectually know what needs to be done and understand that what I’m doing is wrong, but I cannot make my body do the right thing. Very frustrating.

To illustrate the above – Marley likes to fall in when tracking to the right, and I like to hang on my left rein no matter what direction we’re going. I know that when pony man starts to pop his shoulder, I need to stay steady with my hands, and use my inside leg to fix his straightness before worrying about his head or really anything else. Despite knowing this, for some inexplicable reason when Marley starts to fall in I nag with my inside leg and weirdly twist my upper body out to the left while also nagging with my left rein. Spoiler alert: this is not a recipe for success.

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Proof that he can horse. Credit SSE.

After watching me ride the struggle bus for a while, my trainer actually hopped on for a little W/T/C work to help Marley unstick himself and show me what I should be doing with my body. The frustrating part was that I knew what I was doing wasn’t right, but I somehow couldn’t make it happen.

We did end the lesson with some acceptable if not spectacular trot work and then headed out to the front hill for some power walking. It had been a while since I’d had a truly frustrating ride so I was probably due, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

All that said – any time with horses is good time, as far as I’m concerned. Every ride isn’t going to be smooth sailing, and I walked away from yesterday’s lesson with much to work on during the week.

NaBloPoMo 2017 – How did this madness begin?

Seems appropriate to kick off National Blog Posting Month with “When and why did you start riding?”

I was 6 or 7 when I started riding and began taking lessons for reasons I honest cannot recall. I don’t yet have kids, but I think parents often try a bunch of activities with kids to (a) get them out of the house and (b) see what might stick. My mom shares my love of animals and grew up riding horses, so I’m sure she was excited for an excuse to spend more time around them.

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My first forays into “real” riding were at a small, local farm where a very nice lady ran what I would call a boutique lesson program. Her horses were lovely, well-schooled, and nicely cared for. I’m pretty sure I went riding once or twice per week, and recall being extremely excited about cantering. It seemed pretty fast and badass at the time – and depending on the horse, sometimes it still does!

Hilariously, one of my most prominent memories about this particular barn was that the tack room contained a small library of horse-related books, which was for a horse- and book-crazy kid something akin to heaven on Earth. I became particularly obsessed with the Blue Ribbon series, which I honestly thought I might have imagined until Internet Magic allowed me to rustle up the titles via Amazon. Could there be a more wonderfully eighties book cover? I don’t think so. The blonde, feathered hair… the turtleneck… the oversized sweater. So much to love about this.

 

 

 

NaBloPoMo 2017

I stumbled upon Clover Ledge Farm‘s recent post about National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and thought the idea seemed fun. I’ve been inconsistent at best with writing and we’re definitely a few days into the month of November, but I love a challenge – so here we go!

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For posterity, the list of prompts is here (again, courtesy Clover Ledge Farm):

Day 01- When and why you started riding
Day 02- The last time you rode a horse and what you did
Day 03- Your best riding
Day 04- A ride that impacted your life
Day 05- Your first fall
Day 06- Your favorite tack and riding clothes you have (brand/color/other details)
Day 07- Your favorite ribbon won at a show and why
Day 08- A little about the barn/stable you ride at
Day 09- Any injuries that occurred from riding
Day 10- How your family/friends feel about your riding
Day 11- Find a horse for sale online that you would want to buy
Day 12- Favorite horse color
Day 13- A video of your horse/you riding
Day 14- Your dream barn/farm
Day 15- If you could speak to any horse, dead or alive, what would you say?
Day 16- Your favorite equine memory
Day 17- Your equestrian idol
Day 18- Your grooming routine
Day 19- A discipline you would like to do that you’ve never done before
Day 20- Your favorite horse show
Day 21- Your perfect schooling outfit
Day 22- The importance of riding in your life
Day 23- Critique a famous/well known equestrian jumping round of your choosing
Day 24- Your best riding friend
Day 25- Your dream trailer
Day 26- Biggest riding pet peeve
Day 27- You know you’re an equestrian when….. (Give 5 original ones)
Day 28- Helmet or no helmet?
Day 29- A style/trend in tack/riding apparel that you don’t like
Day 30- Your future with horses

Moving a Horse Across the Country

When I was first looking into shipping Marley across the country last fall, I did a fair amount of research into different haulers. While I have extensive experience trailering horses more locally, the furthest I’d ever really ventured with a large furry mammal in tow was maybe 8 hours. The world of moving horses extremely long distances was more than a little overwhelming.

If you’re not going to do the job yourself, there are three broad options when you’re looking to ship a horse:

Big-name Company

Ex: Brook Ledge, Equine Express, Hubbard

Pros

  • These guys are, well, professionals; the sheer number of horses they ship is staggering, and the level of confidence and expertise that comes with so many miles is significant
  • Huge fleets, equipment generally newer and in good repair
  • Trailers for long-haul always air ride-equipped
  • Box stalls available and, in some cases, required

Cons

  • On the expen$ive side
  • May feel slightly less personal; once the horse is in transit the updates you receive can be limited and tend to run through “dispatch”

Smaller Company

In some ways these shipping companies can be a great middle ground – still big enough to have some infrastructure and big, air-ride trailers but small enough that the experience feels a bit more personal.

Pros

  • Generally have air-ride equipped trailers
  • You get a level of personalized communication that may not be possible with the larger shippers
  • Typically a bit most cost-effective than the big commercial shippers; don’t usually upcharge for things like dosing with electrolytes or gastrogard
  • On long-haul routes they will often layover more often because they don’t have as many drivers; this is a pro for some and a con for others

Cons

  • Because the fleet size is smaller, trip availability can be limited – you may have to wait some time before your desired route is available
  • Related to the above, trips might be quite long depending on how many horses are on the route. If you’re shipping from California to the East Coast, for example – your horse may go drop off several other horses before arriving at your final destination
  • Some smaller haulers are not insured – check this carefully

DIY / Friend of a Friend

There are a lot of wonderful horse people out there with very well-maintained trailers who drive all of the country for a variety of reasons. With the advent of social networking it’s easier than ever to find a ride, often at a significant savings.

Pros

  • Likely the most personalized and cost-effective option
  • Flexible scheduling and excellent communication

Cons

  • Most amateur haulers do not have air-ride equipped trailers; this makes a really big difference on long-haul trips
  • Always check that the shipper is insured
  • Processes around contracts and payments may not be well established

Moving Marley

I explored basically every option and did an embarrassing amount of research before moving Marley from California to the East Coast. I ultimately decided to go with a big name commercial shipper; I’ll detail my experience with Brook Ledge in a separate post, but it was a very good experience. The deciding factors for me in shipping my horse across the country with a large company were:

  • Expertise – I hadn’t done this before, and working with people that move horses all day, every day gave me a level of confidence that was important
  • Speed – I went back and forth as to whether it would be more stressful for Marley to ship over a longer period with lots of layovers and rest, or just rip the band-aid and go fast; based on no facts whatsoever I went with the faster option

In the end things worked well with Marley’s cross-country move and while he was definitely dehydrated and dropped a bit of weight, he has bounced back beautifully.