Friday, February 24, 2012

Free Jumping

With a new young horse, I had free jumping on my mind for a winter activity. I was surprised how much attention it got at my barn. Many people from all different riding backgrounds wanted a chance to try running their horses through the chute. It got me thinking about the many varied types of horses that could benefit from such training. Not only young or green horses like mine, who need to build confidence, but also horses owned and ridden by green riders, who want to see the horse is quite capable of jumping 3'6", so there's no need to worry about 18" cross rails. Other horses that can benefit are more experienced ones that are having a specific problem, like not covering the distances in combinations, or taking down poles. The horse can work through the problem without the 'x' factor that is the rider! Other times, with an issue like rushing or raising the head, it can give the rider the chance to see how the horse goes without the rider. Does the horse stop rushing? There's a lesson there! (Hint: YOU are causing the horse to rush!!) Does the horse continue to carry his head high? Well, you better stop fighting to get that head down before the fence! Seeing the way a horse wants to jump "naturally" is very educational for how you should approach planning your courses.

Then there are the NON jumping horses who can benefit. Yes, it's true! Having played the breeding game once, I can tell you that one of the criteria for some sporthorse testing is free jumping. So whether you think you've got the next great stallion, or you want to do breed shows to show off your wonderful offspring, or, like me, you have a mare with somewhat questionable confirmation but a fabulous jump (and you want the judges to SEE that before they decide whether or not to take her into the registry!!), getting the horse used to the chute, and the method in which sporthorses are presented through the chute is absolutely imperative. Full time, big shot dressage horses can also benefit from free jumping. Tight back through your flying lead changes got you down? Run him through the shoot to loosen that back up! Not only does it loosen the back, but it makes for a fun and interesting diversion from the day-to-day arena work. Which brings us to the last reason to do run your horse through a chute....

It's FUN!! For you and the horse. The horse gets to figure out something new, and you get to watch how majestic your horse looks jumping completely free! Its definitely a beautiful sight to see.

To see Zahra running through the chute, check out our YouTube page:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wisconsin Winter Olympics

Ok, I know, this winter has been a breeze so far. I only rode in my new-for-this-winter Carhartt’s once, and there was only one week where I thought “Meh… horses are fine. I’m staying home and watching TV.” But in general, winter is a time of hibernation for those of us not fortunate enough to travel South for the winter. But even in this less-than-ferocious winter, it still takes dedication and a little creativity to keep ourselves and our horses engaged over the long winter. There are only so many 20-meter circles you can do before you're ready to become a new Marvel comics style Super Villain: The Dressage Queen!

Here at my barn in Southern Wisconsin, we have started an annual "Winter Olympics" as a fun way to break up the winter, give us all something to look forward too, and generally dispel some of the ill-will that comes when nearly 100 eventers, dressage riders, trail riders, and natural horse folk are forced to share two arenas for 4 months, a la Big Brother (Seriously, are there cameras in here? Is network TV making a profit on these hissy fits??).
Zahra and I in our pre-game huddle

So, our barn has 4 barns: Dry Barn, Dairy Barn, Main Barn, and Long Barn, plus rough board. So these are your 5 teams! Last year, the title went to the Dry Barn, so we were the defending champions. Of course, this year no one from our barn could make it, so it was me on my awesome 3 year old, and another eventer girl on her awesome Standardbred. Our team was by far the smallest, but we were determined to be a force to be reckoned with!

Our resident dressage trainer, showing us how its done in the Puissance!
First, for the eventers, was the jumping portion of the day. Two classes: Gambler's Choice and Puissance. The Gambler's Choice is an arena full of jumps... some are small, and some are tall, and they each have a different point value. You have 90 seconds to successfully jump as many jumps as possible to score your team the most points. So plan your route carefully to maximize those points! While that 3'9" triple bar might be worth the most points, that don't amount to a hill of beans if your green horse refuses to jump it!! The Long Barn dominated in this class, taking 1st, 2nd, and 4th! My Zahra girl jumped a 3' vertical, which is a full foot higher than we've jumped so far, so she definitely is a team player!

Next, the Puissance is two jumps, one is for "warm up"and the other is for points. The jumps start at 2'6", and get taller and taller every time they are successfully jumped. If your horse knocks the rail or refuses, you're out. Last rider jumping wins. Again, the Long Barn came in first and second here!

Egg and Spoon!
The next few classes were anybody's guess as to who would win!  These were more mounted games/gymkhana type events.  Egg n Spoon races, pole bending, and the bucket brigade (Filling up a bucket of water, one cup at a time).

Pole bending, bareback in a halter!
In our small indoor, we had a trail class set up: 3 minutes to accomplish as many obstacles as possible while staying mounted (because cowboys never walk!) This year's trail class had many wild and crazy suggestions, from jumping bonfires and snowmobiles, to releasing chickens and goats into the arena. Most of these were tongue in cheek suggestions, because this stuff actually happens at our barn! Everyone at shows wonders why my horses are so bombproof. Its because there's nothing a show can throw at them that they haven't already seen at home!! In the end, it was slightly more traditional with events like walking across tarps, climbing on top of a block, opening and closing a gate, and moving a coat from one place to another. Only 2 of the at least 12 riders who attempted were able to complete ALL the obstacles!

There was an equitation elimination that started easily enough, walk trot canter each way, but it took adding in flying lead changes to determine the winner! It was, of course, a dressage rider who ultimately took the title-- for the second year in a row!

For the dressage riders, there was a musical freestyle class judged by a real dressage judge, with a REAL great sense of humor! Most teams did a Pas de Deux. The winning pair, from rough board, paired a quarter horse and a half Friesian for a test. An unlikely combo, but don't let these two fool you, they LOVE dressage!

At the end of the day, the Long Barn had a decisive victory, receiving the perpetual trophy and bragging rights for a year. But the Dry Barn, with only two riders, hung onto 2nd place, and Rough Board came in 3rd. Hopefully all the good cheer will have diffused tensions enough to get us through the rest of this winter, when the outdoor arena and Hunt Field will once again be viable options to ignore each other!!
She who organizes the madness

About the Photographer: We are very blessed to count a professional photographer among our boarders. So if you ever need a photographer for anything with a horse, a dog, or anything at all, you should contact Heather at ShortHorse Studios. Seriously, amazing.

Horse Nation!

Zahra is definitely becoming a huge influence on my life. I'm more crazy motivated about my riding than ever before, and I think its starting to affect the day to day! I have a website under development, a logo being finalized, a custom cross country jersey ready to be ordered, I'm writing this blog about my random little thoughts adventures, and now I'm a contributing blogger for Horse Nation! Whoa Nelly! So, I will be posting any and all Horse Nation posts to this blog as well, because, hey, why not?
Go Riding!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Price of a Horse (Especially in THIS economy!!)

There seems to be a lot of hub-bub lately about horse shopping on the interwebs of late. Maybe the economy is truly coming back, so people are ready to try selling the old and bring in the new? Or hopefully just add another horse to the herd! I hate letting go of my friends! Anyways, I thought I would add my own two cents to some of the excellent commentary floating around.

The last two horses I bought, I bought on the East Coast. Why? Not because the horses out there are better (although the breeder’s out there will tell a different story!!).  No, out East, it costs more to feed a horse, more to train a horse, and more to be in the horse world in general compared to the Midwest. But, there are also more horse enthusiasts per capita, which mean more horse breeders, horse trainers, and horse traders. The larger supply of horses means two things for a potential consumer: more possible “candidates” in a smaller geographic area, and more potential bargaining power for the consumer. These two factors make for the potential of a first rate horse at a cut rate price.

My own little Midwest breeding project :)
Not to say that the breeders here are not worth looking at!! On the contrary, some of the local breeders are able to produce absolutely top quality stock, worthy of the highest praise (and price!!). And the Midwest is practically famous for producing diamonds in the rough! If you can find the horse of your dreams locally, you will save lots of money on the gas to get her home and the fret of finding a trustworthy vet who will give you the honest run down of the horses soundness and capabilities. 

Now onto the meat and potatoes of this post: talking about price, and where these magic numbers come from. There are a number of factors-- first and foremost, there are sunk costs. It takes money to keep the mare happy and healthy while she carries the foal. Then there are the costs to keep that foal healthy and happy as he grows up until the time someone buys him, whether that is at age 6 months or 6 years. I had one breeder out East tell me she had nothing in my budget, because she already has that much invested in the horses the day they are born! The longer you own a horse, the more money it will take to recoup your costs. In order to get more money, the horse needs more training or greater accolades. Getting these accomplished takes more money. Sometimes in the long run, its cheaper to part with a horse for less than your asking price, rather than hold onto him another year waiting for someone to come up with a better offer.

Next comes the talent-to-training ratio. A very talented youngster can cost a lot of money. A mediocre horse with a lot of training can cost a lot of money. Put the two together, and you can have a very expensive horse! Who does the training and how long they did it can make a huge difference too. An upper level rider charges a lot of money to sit on a horse, but every second is incredibly valuable, whereas a local professional will get the job done cheaper, but it will take them longer, and it will not carry the "weight" in a national ad that the big time rider would. Also, if the horse has "been in training" for six months but can't canter yet? Or has multiple trainers listed? Raise the red flag!

When it comes to evaluating talent, there are several factors to consider. First and foremost is the horse itself. How does she look? How does she move? Does she seem smart? Does she have that 'spark' of greatness-- The 'Look of the Eagles' as Bruce Davidson calls it? Next, if its available to you, is the pedigree. Too many breeders rely on special stallions and ordinary mares. The mare is the most important part of the equation. Another Bruce Davidson quote, “If you breed a mediocre mare to a great stallion you will get a mediocre foal. If you breed a great mare to a mediocre stallion you will get a great foal … the cream always rises to the top.” If you're not familiar with the in's and out's of a potential candidate's breed, find a friend who is, and have them check it for any "red flags." The best proof is in the pudding-- if there are any full siblings you can get information on, do. If not, look into as many half siblings as possible, from mom and dad. And, of course, age and training of the horse can make a huge difference in evaluating talent. Its a heck of a lot easier to know what you're getting if you're looking at a trained 6 year old compared to a yearling that may or may not be in an "ugly phase" the day you see him.

The final crucial factor is the seller's situation. Off the track thoroughbreds can be very talented, somewhat trained, and absolutely dirt cheap, because all the seller wants is to empty out that stall and bring the next horse in! And, of course, when we're talking about buying a horse in THIS economy, the seller's situation is a pretty huge factor. As I said earlier, every month you own a horse takes money, so when you really need to get rid of a horse, you may have to let it go well below what it should be worth in a Bull market just for the sake of getting rid of it!

This concludes our lesson on horse economics, aka, if you want to make a million dollars in horses, start with 2 million.