What’s Zelda doing on TV?

Aiden Turner riding Seamus

When I started watching Poldark I did a double take. What’s Aiden Turner doing riding Zelda? In fact, Zelda bears a striking resemblance to the horse he is riding, a 16 hand Irish Draught named Seamus. Apparently, Seamus has become almost as popular as the brooding Turner. His owners are getting calls asking Seamus to attend events as the visiting celebrity. Seamus is so important to the series that he has his own stunt double! In the original Poldark series, the riders had Thoroughbreds. This time, they are using more “authentic” mounts that represent the types of horses that would have been ridden in Cornwall.

On Bits & Bitting

Mikmar Circle Shank

This is Freedom’s every day bit – a Mikmar Circle shank. Although it looks harsh, it’s not. More important, he likes it. When he gets nervous, he spins the roller.

Love this post from Denny Emerson this morning. I see so many people posting on forums that you are not an accomplished rider unless you can ride your horse in a snaffle. Preferably a loose ring or egg butt snaffle.

Bits and bitting—-A dose of reality—

Much of training horses on a daily basis is theoretically done in ways to get the horse calm and quiet and comfortable in its work, sort of like a person going to a library to study, a somewhat “serene” atmosphere, where the horse can ‘listen” to subtle aids.

But then there’s cross country. Some horses are blase about cross country galloping and jumping, but some instantly turn into “crotch rockets”, “attack machines”, like that saying from “Top Gun”, “only happy going mach two with his hair on fire”

If you think you can use a big fat snaffle and subtle, harmonious aids when you are ripping down a hill toward a solid stack of vertical railroad ties on one of these nice horsies, by all means, be my guest.

There are theoreticians and there are realists.

The difference is that the realists know what it feels like to be trying to hold the Union Pacific with a piece of thread, and the theoreticians are sedately trotting around the indoor arena.

Last year I posted on a horse forum that I ride Freedom in a Mikmar Circle Shank Bit. One poster went so far to tell me:

If you have to use a Mikmar, are thinking of using a Mikmar, or want to use a Mikmar….  You probably should consider another sport all together. Perhaps one that doesn’t include an animal.

I don’t think that this person had ever ridden cross country. At a gallop. Following hounds. Certainly some horses can do this in a snaffle — I ride Zelda in a PeeWee bit, which is a mullen mouth snaffle — but it’s not a requirement.

To begin with, while this bit looks severe, it’s not. And, even if it was a strong bit (which is not), I don’t hang on my horse’s mouth. And finally, Freedom likes it. He detests snaffles, especially the “friendly” kind that drape through the mouth with a lozenge in the middle. When I don’t use the Mikmar, I ride him in a Kimberwicke with a quarter moon mouthpiece. He listens very nicely in that bit so I don’t need to use it much.

Nice to hear a trainer as accomplished as Denny Emerson putting some reality into the myth.

Need a Tack Trunk? Try Home Depot!

Husky trunk

This Husky portable tool chest makes a great tack trunk. At just $64 you can even buy two.

At my old barn, we had lots and lots of shelves. As with most things, the more space I had, the more I spread out.

At the new barn, storage space is not quite so spacious. And my things need to be contained. I’m probably the last equestrian on the face of the earth who didn’t own a tack trunk, but it was time.

So I looked at the Dover and SmartPak websites and realized that when you call a tool chest a tack trunk, it immediately triples

Tack trunk

This was the closest equestrian purposed trunk to what I wanted. It is described as “economically priced” at $225.

(or quadruples) in price. I need a place to store stuff in a barn, not buy furniture for my house!

In the spring my husband bought me a tool chest for my trailer that was perfect — large enough to hold assorted bridles, girths, saddle pads, extra boots, and more; waterproof, easy to close, mouse-proof (closes tightly), and it even has a small tray, and a pull out handle and wheels, so it’s easy to move.

Of course they didn’t have the same model at Home Depot this time, but this Husky Mobile Job Box really does the trick. For a mere $64, too!

Insulin Resistance in Horses


Willow wears the Muzzle of Shame. Don’t worry, even though she looks pitiful, she is still able to eat enough through the hole in the bottom to survive. Sometimes, I wonder if the Muzzle of Shame could be used to stop humans from over eating!

Freedom’s pasture-mate, Willow, was recently diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrom (EMS) or Insulin Resistance (IR).

 What does that mean?

According to the Department of Animal Science at the University of Connecticut,

Glucose (sugar) normally functions to fuel many metabolic processes in the body and is the primary energy currency of the body. Insulin is normally produced in response to elevated blood glucose and is key to the regulation of blood glucose concentrations and glucose utilization. Insulin promotes glucose uptake by cells and promotes formation of glycogen or fat. Insulin resistance is defined as a reduced sensitivity of the body’s cells to insulin’s facilitation of glucose uptake.

Basically what happens in insulin resistance is that the cells become resistant to the glucose uptake action of insulin. Initially, this just means that more insulin is needed (hyperinsulinemia) to keep blood glucose concentrations within normal limits after a starchy or high sugar meal. If it is severe enough even super high insulin concentrations are ineffective and blood glucose may also be abnormally high. The problem is that not only does this limit energy availability to the cells but insulin also has other effects on the body that may be detrimental when it is higher than normal for prolonged periods of time. Unlike humans, horses rarely go into the second stage, where the pancreas becomes “exhausted” and no longer can secrete adequate insulin.

In practical terms, this means that Willow, who only gets enough concentrate to mask her vitamin/mineral supplement, must wear a grazing muzzle because too much sugar could cause an episode of laminitis. In fact, it was because her owner felt digital pulses that she ran a blood panel and got the diagnosis.

It didn’t take Willow very long to figure out that this is NOT FUN. She is getting less tolerant about putting it on, although putting a tiny bit of grain in the muzzle is still enough of a temptation to overcome her reluctance. Unfortunately for Willow the new barn has a lot of grass and she’s mighty peeved that her access is now restricted.

I tried using a muzzle on Freedom when I first got him – not because I need to restrict his eating, but as a way to stop him cribbing. That lasted about 5 minutes. He destroyed two or three grazing muzzles in short order and then refused to let me near him him with a halter.

Have you had to use a grazing muzzle on your horse or pony?

Simply Red

REd Bridle

Zelda’s new bridle from Two Horse Tack is really fun.

Many years ago I shot a video for a client in Fort Worth, Texas. They knew I was an equestrian so they made sure to take me to the rodeo (where I saw my first reining horses and was blown away by them) and to ML Leddy’s a custom boot and saddlery shop.

While I was there, I saw a fabulous pair of red cowboy boots. I really coveted those boots but didn’t have the budget or the nerve to get them. I couldn’t imagine where I would wear those boots in Boston (duh, everywhere!) and wasn’t brave enough to make that kind of statement.

Fast forward 15 years and I will happily wear my red cowboy boots all around. I guess I’m old enough now not to care about wearing something different. In fact, I have several pairs of cowboy boots and almost always get compliments on them, although none are as nice as that pair of boots in Texas.

Zelda broke her schooling bridle recently. She has a penchant for rubbing her head on things after I dismount and she caught the cheekpiece on something and snapped it off.

It occurred to me that she’d look splendid in red. And she does. The bridle came from Two Horse Tack. I buy all my schooling bridles from them because I love Beta Biothane (dip in water to clean) and they are well made and a great deal. I keep an extra bridle in my trailer, too, for those emergency situations.

I’m just glad that Zelda has the confidence to carry it off. It looks great with her pink bell boots.

The Importance of Proper Footware

Injured heel

If you need a reason to wear boots around the barn, here’s a good one!

Last Friday I broke one of my cardinal rules: Always wear boots around horses that protect your feet. Not shoes. Not sandals.

I’m pretty good about it, usually. But the one time I wasn’t, I got hurt.

I was feeding Freedom and Willow in the morning. I’d just given Freedom his grain when something spooked them. Who knows what it was. Probably a chipmunk or something equally terrifying. Maybe a bit of plastic blew across the field.

Whatever it was, Freedom jumped three feet to his left. And landed on my heel. It’s hard to describe the feeling of a 1200 pound horse landing on your foot and slicing through the back of your heel without using a lot of four letter words. I certainly did at the time. It hurt. A lot.

My rubber muck boots were in the car, not on my feet where they were supposed to be. Nope. I was in a rush and had just come from dropping my daughter at school. I was wearing (now I have to hang my head in shame), sandals.

After the pain dissipated enough to walk back to the car, I put the boots on and finished feeding. It still hurt.

Driving home, I saw that the local farm had strawberry fields open for picking. So I limped out and picked two quarts.

By the time I got home there was a lot of blood and a lot of  pain. You know the type of injury? The one where you don’t want to look at it? It was that kind. I stuck my foot in a pot of warm water and Epsom salts. Then I bandaged it up and felt very, very stupid.

Later that day was the Solstice ride. Which, of course I did. My husband asked if I was going to ride with my foot so obviously injured. Seeing that it was still attached to my body, I answered like most of the horse people I know — of course!

This week I’ve taken it easy. Today was the first day that I rode again, and it was a short ride. It’s still hard to wear shoes with heels (although I have done so for every feeding), but it’s getting better.

I was actually lucky. It could have been a lot worse. So, given that I’ve provided a great example of what NOT to do, I hope you all keep your feet well protected and wear boots. Not shoes. Not sandals. And definitely no bare feet. I certainly will be wearing my boots every day, every time.


Enjoying the Summer Solstice

Solstice Ride

Heading off on our Solstice ride!

June 21st was the longest day of the year. We’ve had glorious days around the Solstice — with the sun setting close to 8:30! You just have to take advantage of an opportunity like that.

Our hunt club holds an annual solstice ride and this year the evening was perfect. The oppressive humidity dissipated and we were blessed with a lovely summer evening.

I rode Zelda because I wanted a quiet ride. Freedom managed to spook into me that morning (more on that later) and stepped on me hard.

Zelda leading

As we headed off Zelda was pretty sure we were hunting. She was not pleased to discover it was a trail ride until I let her lead the group. Then she settled right down and got to business.

Unfortunately, no one read Zelda the memo. She thought we were hunting and she was mighty disappointed when we ambled off without any hounds. Who knew that a horse that big and solid could levitate? There were certainly several moments when all four feet were off the ground! I was seriously doubting my wisdom when the bucking started but luckily, I found a solution: I let her lead. We were in charge of the hilltopping group and as soon as she was out in front, she calmed right down, crossed every stream

Solstice ride

We did a nice loop around the edge of Estabrook Woods

and bridge and basically redeemed herself.

We rode a bit more than six miles and everyone in my group looked happy when we got back to the trailers for a tailgate picnic.

The only bad news is that the days are getting shorter now. After such a terrible winter, don’t we deserve a few more longest days?