Sailor stays superstar

I didn’t have video taken, so a bit of between the ears of Sailor in the indoor.

He also had his first steam crossing Thursday. Another first with going down a steep hill to the creek. He mostly led on the trail, only requiring a lead for the stream. The big, loud guardian dogs didn’t warrant much attention this time and we did some trotting too.

Here is a short video of his first jumps. I did not video myself over the jumps but this was the approach.

I also jumped Neuf for the first time since September 2018. I felt pretty good, in the indoor with a gymnastic.

Then a trail/road ride on Bali.

Overall a great day of riding for February.

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Sailor’s Big Field Trip

Today was another first for Sailor!  An indoor riding arena! Martin went to a schooling jumper show this morning, and since I hadn’t jumped anyone in 2 months, that didn’t seem like a good place to jump back into the ring, so I just waited until he got back and met him at the winter farm.

I took Sailor and Legacy.  I decided to haul them tacked up, and that was also a first for Sailor.

Sailor loaded right up, and I unloaded and rode him first, since I expected Legacy to stand patiently in the trailer and wanted Sailor to have a good first trip to a big farm.  I dropped the front ramp, and the boys were quite peaceful.  I bridled Sailor, he walked off the trailer like he’d been going to Deerfield every week.  No pushy behavior, no jumping into my space, no rudely pulling and trying to look around.  We walked through the barn to the indoor, he noted the big horses, and just strolled on by with a tiny bit of swagger.   I hand walked him around the indoor once, then headed to the mounting block as a couple of Katie’s foster dogs were rough-housing in the arena and so Martin came in and started cracking a lunge whip to chase them out.  Sailor paused, but we went to the mounting block and I climbed aboard.

We walked around a couple of times, he jumped at a rat trap, peered out the windows at the vista, relaxed his neck and back a bit and then we trotted some, cantered a bit, a few circles, a few faster passes down the long side.  Walked over some ground poles, and called it a success!  I untacked him, tossed him in a stall and grabbed Legacy for a jumping lesson.

I was in a joint lesson with Silvio on Rocky and this is about the same final gymnastic Legs and I ended up with.  This was the only video or pictures from today though.  This is Sailor’s first indoor to ride in, and he was a superstar with all the jumps and windows!

It was a good first jumping lesson for the new year!  Legacy is quite the clever little jumper.  The plan will be to get Sailor over and once he’s used to the indoor, he’ll start learning to be a jumping pony too.

Then I loaded the boys back up, with Silvio’s help, both self-loaded and home we came.


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Sailor does ground poles

Sailor was a little bad ass again on Thursday for a hack, when a neighbor was playing lumberjack, chainsawing up a giant tree, and as we’re about 300′ away, I hear the first ominous CRACK…uh oh, I look over, realize how big of a tree was being cut down, 2 guys pulling lines, another with the chainsaw, and I grabbed the neck strap.

CRAACK, CRASH, CRUNCH, all the sounds of a crashing down tree.

Sailor?  Took a couple of steps forward.  Then we walked around the slain tree (it was likely already dead and a risk to the house nearby), and the little dude is quite proud of himself and carrying me along.

Today, it FINALLY got above freezing so we could ride in the ring.  First, Suzy took Neuf and I had Legacy and we did a nice little hack.  Then, Jennifer and I rode in the ring.  I’m getting used to being warm, so was wearing the Arctic skirt, but tightening the girth, on his back, while wearing the skirt proved to be more than I could do, I dropped my crop.   Well, I was getting off anyway, so hopped off,  decided to pick up the poop he’d already left before getting back on…then decided to drop a couple of ground poles to go over.

On again, and without further ado….

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Sailor – Oozes confidence

Now that Sailor is almost 4, he is in the regular line up to be ridden.  Today we went for a hack, his first road-ride, a much bigger loop.

He marched back to the gate, I opened it from his back, he’s practically a professional at this already!  He was eager to see new things, crossed a little bridge while leading, passed the barking dogs, the charging white livestock “guardian” dogs that are a new addition, passed all the things, needed to be next to Sparkle for a couple of things, but he is a confident little dude.  He is also good with closing the gate.

As my friend Jennifer said “He’s a little bad ass”, as she was marveling at how confident he is in new situations.

Oh, the Arctic Horse Riding skirt is almost a quarter sheet on little 72″ blanket Sailor.  It was also his first time with me wearing the skirt.


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I need goals

There is always talk of New Year’s Resolutions in January and I usually try to make a list of things I’d like to do.  I’m not talking about the mundane “I want to lose 14 lbs this year” sort of thing, but tangible things.

I feel it is important to write it down.  Not just think about it or say it.  If it isn’t written down, it is just an idea.  I have loads of ideas, and I frequently do act upon them, but in hindsight, most of the ideas have ended up shaping what ended up being reality.

I had an idea at my first farm that I’d like a riding arena with a border of tall hedges, like privet or boxwood, but I couldn’t afford to do anything with the idea.  I built a riding arena some years later, it took 3 years to complete as I did it one layer at a time, paying as I went, at my new farm and added 2 sides of trees to become a windbreak.  I realized a few years into riding in my arena, watching my trees grow, that I’d created a reasonable facsimile of that idea (or a vision) of a ring with vegetation around it.  

I am still pondering my 2020 goals.  I like to make a few that I can definitely accomplish, regardless of finances or injuries, and a few that require the stars to align.

I’m still living the habit I created when I set that 2006 goal of riding 365 times during the year, and I decided to take a picture of the calendar books I use to log my rides, which in an odd way, is my own accountability to myself.  There is no lying to myself over how much I did or did not ride, and not surprisingly, the horses enjoy the consistency.


I love getting the books at the National Gallery of Art, but they haven’t always had the format I want, or some years I don’t get down there.  This is often a good excuse to hit a museum for a day off the farm, but this year, we went to Barnes & Noble after dinner out.

Here is a typical page, from 2006.


I used to log the boarder’s rides, but after a few years I realized I was writing down their rides more than they were, so I stopped, unless someone rides MY horse, then it goes into the book.   I added my swims in 2018, but relied on my FitBit to log 2019, it is reasonably accurate.

For 2020, my initial list of goals/things to do is:

  • Continue to rehab Bali from her injury, the universe willing, get out showing again at 4th level and Prix St. Georges
  • Get comfortable enough on Legacy jumping to do the Low Adults (1.0 – 1.05m), maybe even the High Adults, do a couple of dressage shows and try out the hunter ring if time allows.
  • Get Sailor out to schooling shows and doing the cross rail divisions and some pleasure classes.  Get him entered into at least one recognized show to get him officially measured for a 4 year old “pony card”.
  • Try out the hunters with Neuf, maybe even find a working equitation clinic to change things up.
  • Have fun with the horses
  • Get them used to goose decoys so that we remove one stress factor of the local hunting
  • Oh, lose 14 lbs…

Most of these are doable.  Jumping Neuf is a big question, I have not jumped him since September 2018, I’m enjoying riding him and I’ll see how I feel.  Bali’s soundness will dictate that goal, so that one is out of my hands, I’ll put in the work and I love riding Bali, even for her “Physical Therapy” rides, so even if I never get to show her again, she’s an amazing horse.

My mantra for 2020 is going to be:

Flying changes are easy!

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2019 Riding Summary

2019 was a very busy year!  Not all riding, but I took on new management responsibilities at work, our son got married, and we had another wedding in California, a bit of work travel, a family reunion in Washington State, followed by a week in Hawaii to visit my son.

Bali had a nearly fatal infection, likely from stepping on a nail in a fence board that had been pulled down, which based on hoof growth in all 4 feet looks like it triggered laminitis, and we are still dealing with abscesses and intermittent lameness while her feet grow out, and I’m tightening my financial belt as it was a substantial vet bill, but thank you to my vets at Piedmont Equine Clinic for going above and beyond on a holiday weekend to figure it out.  I’m optimistic she’ll return to full soundness.  I’m taking each day as it comes, she is doing very light work, PT like, mostly walks/hacks, and  I’ll be dealing with the residual lameness and likely a few vets will be helping out as well.

Legacy was amazing and has had several blog entries.  We spent the year preparing for the TB Makeover in October, and that was definitely the equine highlight of the year.

Sparkle is still Practically Perfect in Every Way.  Emma, at 6 1/2, rides Sparkle by herself now, going on trail rides, Susan rides her, Jen rides her. I get on her from time to time.  She’ll be 22 this year.

Sailor is almost 4.  He is turning into a very nice pony.  For the moment, at 3.75 years old, he is still a pony.  He’s 14.1 hands.  He loves to play (get ridden) with his people, loves all manner of attention.  I managed to squeak out 30 rides on him in 2019,  8 of those with professionals who start a lot of young horses.  He’s pretty much an equine-child prodigy, he isn’t spooky, he’s downright confident, goes on baby trail rides, walks, trots, canters, steers reasonably well, he walks and trots over ground poles.  If he stays a pony it will be super, but he may grow into a hony, which will greatly reduce his marketability, but he doesn’t know or care about this and he is fabulous and friendly.

Neuf…he was supposed to be sold.  But he did not.  I tapped out my equine budget attempting to get him sold with professionals, he showed up to 1.40m jumpers, showed under the lights at Keswick and Twilight Jumpers, he did very well, but the universe keeps sending him back, so for now, I’ve given up on that.  He went out on a month’s trial in Michigan and came back skinny, which upset me a lot, I wanted him sold, not starved, and I’m reluctantly joining the list of people who are unwilling to allow trials, he’s been an easy keeper the entire time I’ve owned him (8 years), but I have to be honest, I’d rather have him back than ill treated or so unhappy he loses weight.  He then went to an amateur friend for the winter to be shown, but she had some non horse expenses come up, not related to Neuf, that caused her to decide to be a responsible adult and bring him home after 3 weeks.  It was too many changes for him in too short of a time, and he was very distressed, so we’ve decided that he’s home, and he understands this and has relaxed considerably and overall he’s very happy and I’m back to riding him.

After 14 years of tracking rides, I’m up to 6422 rides. Since I only log my own rides these days, the table format is a bit of an overkill.

Rider Total Rides Average Rides per Week
Mel 425 (382 in 2018) 8.17 (7.35 in 2018)


The horse breakdown

Horse Total Rides Average Rides per Week
Bali 165 3.17
Sparkle 73 1.40
Neuf 50 2.50*
Legacy 195 3.75
Sailor 30 0.58

*Neuf’s stats are only my rides or rides on my farm (Suzy), and since I took him to Martin’s, followed by Gavin’s for full training while he was for sale, that is based on a lower # of weeks.

What’s in store for 2020?  I’m thinking that instead of jazzing Neuf up and making him fast, maybe I just accept that slow, rhythmic canter and try him in the hunters.  Hell, I’m in Virginia, where hunters are the norm.  I have to dust off my show clothes and resign myself to braiding, but I’m going to give it a whirl.  I think that Legacy will also dip his toes into the hunter ring.  His form is amazing.  If Bali does make a full recovery, I’d like to show her at PSG.  Sailor, I’ll probably shoot for the cross rails divisions at a few hunter shows, see how he does in a few training level tests at dressage shows.  And Sparkle will be Sparkle.  Everyone needs a Sparkle in their barn!

Happy New Year to all!

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Do you have another neck strap?

I was having a second dressage lesson, in two days, on Neuf.  The universe has spoken and sent him back to me, again, which secretly makes me (if not my savings account) happy.

Tack adjustments

Yesterday, I grabbed my Stackhouse saddle, as it fits him quite nicely, but as I proved 4 or 5 years ago, that saddle does not fit ME when I ride Neuf.  I’ve never loved how straight the flaps are and how big the thigh blocks are, as they are too restrictive, even on Bali, but it does fit me on her, so long as I’m in long stirrups, but Neuf, his movement is way too big for me to have stirrups that long.  And there is NO room to even go up a half hole in my stirrups in that saddle.  I also use my neck strap on him, every ride.  He is big enough in movement, that I don’t want to catch him in the mouth if he surges forward.  Joanna asked if I had half holes in those leathers, I don’t, so we carried on.  Today, I brought out my old Albion Euro-Comfort that fits him, but remembered it is why I have a lift-back Mattes pad, put that on and ended up adding half holes to those leathers, and also remember why I like that saddle.  It has fit on Pico, Aster, Tanq, and I’m sure a few others I’m not remembering.

A Second Neck Strap?

While I was bridling Neuf today, Joanna asked if I had a second neck strap.  Yes, I do, and I grabbed it.  I knew where this was going, I can only really hold the neck strap with one hand which means I’m constantly changing hands on the strap and since I’m always working on my hands, I have a long, enduring love affair (abusive relationship?) with too much inside rein, and it is damaging to my developing a solid relationship with the outside rein.  I try to break up, but I’m seduced again and again by relying on it too much, incorrectly, for steering and bend!  It doesn’t help that my attempt to break up with TOO much inside rein has me abandoning it altogether, which also not good, I need to learn how to be good friends.  Over the years I’ve used all kinds of tools to work on my hands, carrying a whip over my thumbs, one handed riding, bridging the reins, using a neck strap, a bucking strap on the saddle….the list is long.  A second neck strap was a new idea.

I liked this, it made adjusting rein length a bit trickier and moving my crop to the outside a little more cumbersome, but hello bad habits.  Trotting was good, this helps me stabilize both hands, especially with Neuf’s powerful trot.  Then, when it was time to canter, I couldn’t. I mean, I did it, but it took me a quarter of a circle to find the rest of my aids because I’d taken away the ability to pull the inside rein, I knew I did this to some degree, but this really called MY attention to it and even better, a tool to help me break the habit and develop a better one.  Making adjusting the reins harder is good for me too, motivates me to keep them a consistent length.

The rest

Neuf’s lazy.  Not dull, lazy.  Joanna was prepared with a lunge whip to assist me in going forward and NOT allowing my position to deteriorate.  She wants to see a more working, on contact warm up, instead of our usual walkabout on a loose rein.  Neuf was a bit resistant in the usual corner, at one point, Joanna just went outside the ring with the lunge whip and that fixed that.  Today, in the other saddle with shorter stirrups, it was much easier.  We had a couple of really good circles with a nice, big canter step.  I need to remember that feel and how we got there.   For Neuf’s resistance cantering the corners left…yes, the barn end of the arena…I worked on some turn on the haunches in walk, kept that feeling and aid in trot, made/let him fall onto his shoulder crossing the diagonal, then used that aid to bring his shoulder back over inline to straighten him, and then again, at the canter, but adding in a few steps of leg yield left.  Keeping him straight is so helpful in this, but throwing away my inside rein completely is not the best way to get him straight.

Two good lessons, and a new tool for me to work on my hands.

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