A Christmas Wreath

Horse Wreath
I made this for a silent auction. But it looked nice on my front door! Maybe next year I’ll make one for myself.

It looks so peaceful

Evening at the barn
It looks so peaceful as the sun is setting at the barn and the horses have had their dinner.

It looks very peaceful on this late afternoon at the barn (I hate it when it’s dark at 4:45!). But looks can be deceiving.

Just a few minutes before, there was pandemonium. I broke one of my rules. Instead of bringing Freedom into the barn to put on his blanket, I threw a halter and lead rope on him in the field. I was just about to fasten the final buckle when Willow, who was very interested in what I was doing, squeezed between Freedom and the fencing. Somehow she got her tail caught in the electric tape. It must have shocked her because I didn’t know she could move so fast.

Suddenly, she was running full tilt down the hill, about a fifty feet of electric tape and few step in poles chasing after her.

Freedom, who had been standing there half asleep, sprung into action and ran after her. He sent me flying (luckily the ground was pretty soft) and then the two of them stood, snorting, at the bottom of the hill.

I’m okay, other than some bruises. Freedom and Willow are okay. The only casualties were the blanket (which can be repaired) and the fencing, which I put back up in the dark.

The bottom line? Never break your safety rules. Never forget that horses are prey animals. And never assume that you’re safer on the ground!

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you around horses when you weren’t riding?

Bitting up for Hunting

Zelda in Happy Mouth Bit
Zelda sporting her new Happy Mouth elevator bit.

Zelda is an enthusiastic foxhunter. I am grateful to have a horse that so obviously loves her job! Up until this year, I’ve hunted her in her “every day” bit, which is a

PeeWee bit
The PeeWee bit features a narrow diameter, curved, sweet iron, mullen mouthpiece

mullen mouth snaffle (Pee Wee Snaffle). However, this year, she started to get strong. And, even worse, she started to root.

Rooting is when a horse pulls at the reins, often leaning down and jerking suddenly. Zelda started to do this when she thought we weren’t going fast enough. Picture cantering along and having a head the size of Zelda’s giving you a good, sharp tug and you will understand why I was starting to get some lower back pain!

One of the fixes for rooting is to make your horse go forward, but that doesn’t always work when you are hunting as you need to stay in your place in line. So, I started to think about bits.

Zelda has a soft mouth; she isn’t pulling hard on the bit but when hunting, she can get heavy in front and a bit flat. My goal was to find a bit that was gentle enough that she didn’t curl up behind it, yet emphatic enough so that she was a bit more respectful and balanced. I prefer to hunt on a loose rein; I don’t like to be hauling on my horse all the time, but I need my horse to respond quickly when I need to stop (think about hound running in front of you as your galloping along and you get the picture).

When you “pick up the telephone” as Le Goff says, that horse better answer your call.

– Denny Emerson

That’s one of the best descriptions I’ve seen of how a horse should react to a bit. You need to have that answer and you don’t want the phone to keep on ringing.

There are a couple of “go to” bits for a horse that leans — a friend of mine gave me the Happy Mouth two ring elevator bit. The top ring attaches to the cheek pieces, which keeps the bit very stable in her mouth (Zelda likes that), the mouthpiece is soft and drapes over her tongue (Zelda likes that, too), and the rein attaches to the second ring, which gives me a bit more leverage. I like this because magically, she has stopped rooting! It’s not so much bit that it backs her off, but it has given her a reason to behave better and it lets me ride her more softly.

What bits to you use for those times when you need to “bit up”?

No Stirrups November?

I will admit that I didn’t do it. I do ride without stirrups on occasion, but not w ith the dedication I had when I was younger and my trainer made me do it!

But if you want to see why it’s important to be able to ride without stirrups, watch Mark Todd ride more than half of the Badminton Course in 1995 with just one stirrup (I can’t imagine how off balance he must have felt).

Todd says that as he rode towards the lake on Bertie Blunt, “I almost felt like bursting out laughing at the thought of galloping down to one of the most difficult fences in the world with only one stirrup.”

Learning not to Jump Ahead

Don't jump ahead
This old article of Denny’s came up in my FB feed. What an important lesson! Click on the photo to access the article.

It is oh-so-easy to get ahead of your horse when you are learning to jump. And then you are just one step away from jumping the fence without your horse. I suspect we’ve all been there, lying on the ground on one side of a fence while your horse stands on the other side and looks at you questioningly. It’s a surprisingly hard problem to fix because, as Denny points out, your natural tendency is to lean forward.

This was my very first cross country course. Don't you love that "approved" helmet! You can't tell from the photo but it was bright blue.
This photo was taken at Pleasant Hollow but not at the event where I had that unscheduled dismount.

Many years ago when I was riding at an event at Pleasant Hollow (anyone out there remember that lovely venue?) I managed to jump the first fence of the course without my horse. Of course, my trainer got that fall on video and I had the pleasure of watching it over and over again, analyzing my fall in slow motion! Still, although I could see what went wrong, it was harder to fix it.

My trainer had an ingenious solution: She had me ride another student’s horse. One that was a fabulous jumper except, he would not leave the ground if you got ahead of him. It made him a great teacher!

Since then, I’ve also learned the “trick” of using a neck strap. Many of the trainers whom I’ve ridden with in the past few years are proponents and I wish I’d figured it out sooner. Looping a finger through the strap and remembering to lean back a bit keeps me more centered and stable. I’ve also learned that it’s sometimes better to get a wee bit behind (especially if you are holding onto that neck strap) than to get ahead.

How did you learn not to jump ahead?

A Great Day to be Hunting

Pepperell
How much better does it get? Nearly 60 degrees on November 19th!

The fall hunt season is drawing to a close but you would never have known it was November 19th today. It was nearly 60 degrees with bright, clear skies. What a treat! It was one of those hunts where you ride back to the trailer after two hours and wish you could go a bit further.

Zelda surveys the hilltoppers
Zelda, surveying the hilltoppers. She was in fine form today. Excited, happy and not at all naughty.

Zelda had a really good time today. She’s gotten much smarter about hunting — she is staying more balanced and is easier to rate — but she was so excited to be out that she was literally bouncing. It’s amazing to me that the same horse that swears it’s impossible collect at a canter when schooling dressage, can practically canter in place when she’s in the hunt field.

The best thing about having a horse that can canter that slowly? I almost never need to post. And her canter is very comfortable.

Open fields
Today we hunted in Pepperell, which is just shy of the New Hampshire border. Lots of big open fields.
Fields
The hounds were spot on the scent today — and the fields gave the opportunity for great viewing.

More fields

Hunting in Pepperell

Zelda rolling
After the hunt Zelda could barely wait for me to get her tack off before enjoying a roll in the sand.