I met my husband on the first day of winter break my senior year of high school. I basically told my friend that’s the one and she somehow got me an invite to his New Year’s Eve party. We hung out every day following that night, eventually deciding we were a couple six days later. I wan’t that into riding at the time, I worked a few hours every weekend in exchange for a lesson so sacrificing my one ride a week to spend endless hours with my new beau was a no-brainer.
Anyway, a year goes by and Brett is trying to think up what this supposed horse girl would like to do for our first anniversary in early January.
CAN YOU SAY SLEIGH RIDE IN THE SNOW?
He told me we were driving up to Lake Tahoe for a surprise date. He gave me a little camera, we stopped at Bridal falls to take pictures and made our way to the surprise-to-me destination. It was bright and crisp winter day, and we pulled into this snow-filled parking lot and THERE WERE HORSES. Two giant drafts hooked up to sleighs complete with bells and leftover Christmas decorations. Probably one of the most thoughtful things he’s done for me, and probably why he doesn’t do anything like that anymore…
A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with an animal communicator, Anise Silvernail, see Part I. At the time of the call, I was just beginning the process of purchasing Leo, a horse I’d been riding for a year and half, and wanted to tread lightly around the purchase process so saved this post until it was official!
I listed a few of the questions I asked below, but our conversation flowed a bit more than a question and answer session would, regardless I still included the basic idea of the question, her (Anise’s)/his (Leo’s) response and my reaction to what was communicated.
Q: What makes him happiest?
A: Leo says he needs regular work and interaction and brain stimulation. Not just going around and bopping around doing the same thing every day. He wants to work and think and he says he’s very smart and if he’s taught something he GETS IT. He needs little obstacle courses and work with poles and cones and he can be a little obstinate, but he really just likes to learn new things.
He says you need to relax more in your upper body. He likes being someone’s somebody. He felt like a waste of space before. He’s not aloof, but he’s nervous to displease or dissatisfy. He has a fear of rejection.
If you buy him and stop coming out, he would be so sad. He hates having to worry if you’re going to show up. Assure him you'll be coming back, like tell him out loud when you’ll see him next.
He’s kind of like a hound dog, very go along to get along as is happy to do whatever you want to.
R: This is pretty spot on. Leo is not a grumpy horse in his stall, but you can tell when he gets bored! Like dude has annihilated stall doors in his past. Not angrily, not looking to wreak havoc, but he has just taken out a stall door because he felt like going for a graze. He is also very smart, is always looking for patterns in our riding, hoping he can be one step ahead of my instruction. I know he bonds to people easily and has been passed over for a permanent home a few times and it definitely took him some time to accept me as someone who would keep showing up. I also do struggle a lot with not following with my hands.
Q: [On on the topic of not seeing him as much] There are days he has other lessons, so I don’t go out because I don’t want to overwork him.
A: He doesn’t mind if he has another lesson, he still wants to see me. Just go out and groom him, spend time in his stall. He feels like you’re always on the clock. He says that you’re a little intense, very high anxiety and stressed and hurrying through, but he can tell that you naturally fall into a groove with him and just being at the barn and once you start riding, like all is right in the world. He can tell the barn is your happy place.
R: I do hate to go out when I feel like I’ll be rushed or trying to hurry and get ready and hurry and go home. And it’s so true that when I arrive at the barn most days, especially after work, I feel like the embodiment of nervous energy but feel completely at peace once I’m a few minutes into my ride.
Q: Would he like to be in a pasture? Would he want to move barns?
A: He say he wouldn’t mind moving barns, but doesn’t want to bounce all over. He doesn’t like constantly having new people taking care of him or wondering if he’ll be fed on time. He would not like being in a pasture with other horses, he does like having let down time to himself in a stall. He’s sort of like the outgoing person at a dinner party who feels pressure to entertain and always have an exciting story to tell but is exhausted by the effort and needs time to decompress.
R: This really surprised me. Leo has always struck me as the friendliest horse, he’s always curious with his neighbors in his stall and in the cross ties, but I can see how he would like his decompression time. He isn’t the most patient soul and has recently stopped chilling in his walk out since getting new neighbors he doesn’t quite like as much, kinda sad. But I am glad he enjoys his stall and isn’t like dyyyying to be in a pasture, though I do think he’ll end up in one as it should improve his creakiness.
Q: Does his tummy ever hurt? Ulcers, etc.?
A: His stomach doesn’t hurt, its more his lower back and into his ribcage is tight. He needs to strengthen his back. He drops his belly going around, and that’s why he has that tenderness.
R: He loves to bee bop around lazily, just super inverted and ugly. We’ve recently been working on belly lifts and hopefully that along with attentive riding will improve things. He’s already improved with the touchiness surrounding his flank/loin.
Q: Is he sore in his neck or legs? Or anywhere? How’s my saddle fit?
A: His legs are okay, normal. I would recommend neck stretches, like a carrot stretch. His neck feels very tight, tight down into his withers. Your saddle fit is okay, the half pad needs work. Its sort of interfering and feels like it moves too much as one piece if that makes sense.
R: This is not surprising AT ALL. His neck has become super stiff in the past two months, especially to the left! A chiro adjustment is at the top of my wishlist for him, but we have been working on the carrot stretches as well.
Q: What’s his favorite thing to do? Trail ride? Jump? Show? Graze?
A: He loves to just have fun times, run around and play tag with him. I know they say it creates nippy horses but he loves when you hide treats in your pockets and have him find them. Says if you play with him in a field he won’t kick you or hurt you, just likes to play.
R: This was so sweet to hear! Maybe it’s all horses, but Leo seems to especially love searching my pocket for treats. Pretty cute, it’s a very common activity for us.
Q: Favorite treat?
A: Favorite treat is apples, like the yellow golden apples. The red ones can taste like nothing and the green ones are too sharp.
R: Can confirm, he looooves these apples. Maybe he’s reacting the way any horse would react to a delicious apple, but definitely one of his favorite treats!
Q: What do I do that he doesn’t like?
A: He said he doesn’t like: everyyyything you do, said jokingly. He says he’s very grateful that he has you in his life.
But sometimes when we are trying something, you assume he knows something and he needs to work up to it. Just because he’s done something before with another rider, doesn’t mean he’ll understand when you ask him. He doesn’t understand how far we are scooping.
You need to be clear with your outside aids, because he doesn’t understand what you’re asking.
You need to work on going slow and really praise when he does it well so he knows if he’s done it right.
R: He gave an example of a circle exercise we did the week before - spiraling in and out. I was so confused by what Anise was describing I couldn’t take notes. I was just like what the hell am I scooping? I don’t feed him?? I eventually understood. So true that I needed to be clear with my outside aids, to spiral out I was removing my outside leg pretty much completely and his should was just completely falling out of the circle!
Q: Can you tell me about his past? Where did he grow up? Has he had a happy life?
A: He does not want to talk about his old life at all. He’s done with it, it’s in the past, his old owner does not need to visit him. He went through some traumatic things and is very future focused. Animals are very much like children in that once they experience trauma, they choose to ignore it and not think about it. He’s happy today and that’s all he cares about.
R: Wasn’t expecting quite this response, but it somewhat fits what I’ve heard about his past. He was basically a Big Eq horse but couldn’t mentally keep up with the intense show schedule. After an accident with his owner, he lost a ton of trust and was put up for sale and [fortunately for me] never sold. His story is so sad, but I’d never have the chance to have such an incredible animal in my life otherwise.
I’ve been tracking my rides with the Equilab app for almost a year now. Why? I started because it was fun, but its also nice to see how my rating of my own performance and my horse’s performance ebbs and flows. The app also tracks things such as workout length, calorie burn and turn distribution, which is very useful since Leo has a favorite lead and it happens to be mine, too! How does it work? Your location is tracked by your phone, so yes, you have to wear your phone on you, and the app analyzes your location pinging to determine if you’re walking, trotting or cantering as well as recording your path.
The picture at right is a screenshot of the main screen of a completed workout. It measured the length of the workout with a breakdown of each gait, the distance traveled and the average speed.
You can also view your ride displayed as a colorful aerial view summary diagram (see screenshots above) or you can even display a satellite view (see screenshot at bottom). Walk is displayed as blue, trot as yellow and canter as pink.
The screenshot at right is from a hack I did the first night the temperature was over 90 degrees, in April of course. My goal for this ride was to have an easy hack with a good warm-up, but nothing too strenuous. Well, he was visibly sweaty all over his neck and shoulder by the time we had cantered a few times around the arena so we quit there. He still had plenty of energy so I rated his Performance as a 5/5.
Note: The Performance section, rides notes, surface (soft, medium, hard, mixed) and the type of ride (ie jumping, hacking, cardio, competition, etc.) are the only possible inputs. The rest of the statistics recorded are all generated from your GPS pings.
Once you click the down arrow under Details, it expands the window and you can see what details are displayed in the screenshots below.
This is my personal favorite graph that displays the transitions and rest breaks that we took during this ride. And yes, we purposely took trot breaks!
I’m not entirely sure how accurate the beat and stride graphs are, I assume a purchase product like Hylofit would be the most accurate if measuring stats like that are important to you.
However, I’m going to go ahead and believe the speed graph! I really love looking at this because I can see just how forward and energetic Leo was that night! His trot was super forward (even sans spurs!), and his canter very floaty and relaxed! Though I kind of thought we were galloping and apparently the average horses canter is anywhere from 10 to 17 miles per hour, so #WESLOW.
I know Leo has a longer stride than most horses and if I recall correctly, most courses are set at a 12 foot stride? He was extra extend-y that night so there’s no way that 9.9 ft is correct. I’m curious if there’s a way to calibrate it to the correct distance like you had to way back in the day with the Nike+ shoe tracker?
Okay so maybe that’s not the most useful part of the app, but it does have one last really awesome feature! You enable SAFETY TRACKING so that your “safety contacts” can following you along on your ride, and know when you’ve returned. I’m definitely going to be utilizing this more and having my husband install Equilab so he knows when I’m safe and done riding.
I think the best use for this app is being able to track your ratios of gaits. When I first started using this for my rides outside of lessons, I found it felt like my warm-ups were super long and I barely got to canter. This isn’t to go into theories of how long you need to warm up or if you need to trot more than you canter, or whatever, but however I felt was not reflected by the app. My walk warm-ups were way too short and I was working at the canter much too long. The app has helped me regulate my warm-up and cool down and also ensure I’m cutting the work-out short.
Everyone knows I like horses. I’m a horse girl, yes, but not just that, I’m a Dorky Horse Girl which means I absolutely listen to Horse Radio Network podcasts all day at work. Recently on one episode of Retired Racehorse Radio, one of the trainer/hosts mentioned she had a session with an animal communicator to better understand her incoming OTTBs. (I have to say I love how accepting most horse people are of animal communicators because often dealing with this animals it can come to ‘whatever works’.) I creepily tracked the host down on Facebook and asked her if she could give me the communicator’s contact information.
I’d wanted to do something like this for my dogs for quite a while, so I drafted an e-mail to Anise Silvernail but saved it to get some input from my husband. Well, that week JD was diagnosed with CHF and the following week had an EKG which found he now had Mitral Valve Disease from his murmur progressing, so not the greatest news (I luckily got all my 800 cry sessions out before the phone call)! But with that, I thought there would be no better time to speak to Anise to learn more about my animals’ opinions.
Briefly at the beginning of the conversation we discussed how the communication works. Basically (from my elementary understanding), animals can learn words and even if they do not understand the conversations around them, they understand tone and interactions and communicate back through words, pictures or showing scenes telepathically which is part of the reason it’s not as easy to communicate with wild animals - they don’t learn human language. Animals she communicates can generally express themselves anywhere from a 3rd to 6th grade level as far as complexity of ideas go. She told me to prepare some questions before the call so I don’t forget to ask anything and asked for their names, breed and age to be able to communicate with them.
Q: How is he feeling?
A: He understands that he’s sick, but he’s still happy. He still wants to do a variety of things and enjoy life as much as possible. He said that he’s not dead yet and to cry when he’s gone but for now he wants to do as much possible together, play and snack, and he doesn’t want to cut his life back.
Q: What does he want to do more of?
A: He keeps talking about snacking, like something cut up in the kitchen? Maybe salami, ham or sausage? It’s pink. (I think this is either chicken breast or turkey! Hopefully I can find JD a low salt lunch meat!) He wants to also just chill outside in the sun, not like on a walk with people or dogs walking by, but sunbathe and relax outdoors. He likes when his people sit and read and likes to see his people content at home.
Q: Has he had a happy life, even though he never got his backyard?
A: He feels fulfilled and loved, and sees himself more as a little person because he’s so included in everything. He says, “We did this, we did that, we got our home [apartment] together, …”
A: [unprompted] He’s having bladder issues and is very embarrassed about it. His ego is hurt, and he’s used to going around being the cutest dog and everyone cooing over him and his pride is hurt by the diapers. Maybe see if you can talk to the vet about incontinence, or frame the diaper as a positive for him. Make it a celebration and something to be excited about.
[I got a bit emotional towards the end and didn’t end up taking many notes during this part of the conversation]
Q: Is there anything else he would want to tell us? Can you tell him sorry he never got a backyard?
A: He says he has literally everything he wants! He can’t imagine what else would he would need.
Q: What makes him happiest?
A: First off, Milo wants everyone to know that he’s in charge and is the favorite. We should do more of what he says. He’s just this massive personality and if he could shrink down and fit in our pocket he would go around with us all day. He’s very self important and thinks no one understands that he’s the fabric holding the family together. He feels like his importance is forgotten with everything going on with JD, which he understands. There is some sibling rivalry, not dislike but he pouts and feels under appreciated. [He absolutely pouts] We should do something special with Milo alone to make him feel better.
A: Milo wonders how JD passing will that change our family dynamic and has anxiety if they both get sick, what will happen to mom and dad?
Q: What would he like to do more of?
A: More praising, petting, celebrate him, Milo likes to snack but he LOVES engaging play time and jumping around with him. Not just throw the toy and he brings it back.
Q: How are his joints feeling? Is he ever in pain?
A: Joints are sticky but not painful, all of his joints pop when he gets up to stretch and usually once he gets going he’s fine.
Q: Does he like his food?
A: It’s a little dry compared to their old food.
Q: Does Milo like other dogs besides JD? Would he want another dog in the house after JD?
A: He does not like other dogs. He’ll be sad if JD dies but he will not want another dog. He wants to be in charge. No cats either.
Q: Can we help him be less afraid of being tripped over or having things dropped on him?
A: He says this isn’t your fault, he’s always been that way, but it’s hard to him to see what’s going on around him - he can’t look up or around that well because he has a short neck and he says he wants to be groomed again. And his fur creates a shadow effect that makes him sometimes see things that aren’t there (I’m guessing this is all of his extra ear fur that he might see in his peripheral vision).
Q: Would he like to start coming to the barn? Would he be scared of the horses?
A: He’s not so sure about the horses, but would require more attention and interaction. Wouldn’t want to sit there bored for forever and doesn’t want to be tied up but would go if it was short or he had company.
Q: What does he want to do more of?
A: He wants more individual time and attention. He does not want long walks or hikes, we get overzealous (v. true, he does always need a few good breaks on longer walks!). Wants to be treated like a prince.
I also had her communicate with Leo, but I’ll save that (very eye-opening) discussion for another day. It was funny that all three animals remarked that I have a ‘buzzing’ energy and am always working at a high stress level, or am constantly flitting around while I’m home all of which I would say is true.
Do I believe? Absolutely. Even if you don’t, I think it’s such a cool experience and if anything, could be a great story to tell. There’s no way she could have known that Leo had a rough past and issues with feeling abandoned, JD had bladder issues or that Milo thinks he is basically dog royalty. All my social media was also set to private prior to contacting her. For now we are going to be making sure that JD gets to live it up and Milo gets some individualized attention, and probably a hair cut! Milo and JD also said I’m their favorite, so checkmate my dear skeptic husband.
Anise’s contact information is below if you’re interested in having a conversation with your animals!
Focused Heart Massage Therapy
Last Sunday my barn hosted an awesome non-riding clinic named FRED. Fun Rider Education Day. There was a mental skills portion and “From the Judges View” feature, which just happened to coincide with a (quarterly?) visit from an awesome dressage coach. I’d missed the chance to have a lesson from her the past few times she’d visited, so I added a dressage lesson to my educational itinerary for the day!
The lesson began with introduction where the trainer asked about what we’re currently working, what level we compete at, etc.
I told her we usually do 2’6 hunters at local schooling shows and are currently working on, besides everything, is preventing Leo from anticipating. Leo is smart, and clearly knows his job, so he knows that after we’ve walked and trotted and then walked again, we canter. He then anticipates the transition, and as soon as I pick up the reins he’s balky and jumpy, with a hollow back and head up and it’s just ugly.
The dressage instructor had us working on the same ol’ inside leg to outside rein concepts, but micro-managing our every move in the best way! She even went as far as to walk along side us holding my hands exactly where they should be in each part of a circle, give and take on the inside rein and holding the outside. When she could see that Leo was getting less and less responsive in the trot she had us canter a lap each way to wake him up, which worked well but also brought out the anticipatory monster in him after we went back to working at the trot. She immediately identified my problem: I’m telling him what NOT to do instead of what I want him to do. He goes to canter as soon as I pick up the reins, so I tell him whoa and clamp the reins and take my leg off - it was that visible. This unengages his hind end and creates even more frustration. She told me I need to give him something to work on and stop saying “no, no, no”.
It worked instantly. He gets balky? Leg on. She identified another one of my problems: abandoning him. Just because he knows his job doesn’t mean he’s going to magically collect himself and get the perfect pace and distance - he’s just not that horse. I’ve added that to my growing list of Things to Improve, as well.
Needless to say, my anticipated discipline transfer to dressage would not be very successful, despite my love for matching saddle pads and polos.
The Mental Skills clinic was taught by the amazing, Tonya Johnston. I won’t give away all of her secrets, because she has many resources available to riders struggling with their mental fitness or nervousness associated with riding. I would say that the overall theme of her talk was on being cognizant or aware of, well, everything involving your riding. It’s important to notice what is working for your riding [not just what doesn’t]. To put it simply, one must be mindful, set goals and reflect on your time in the saddle. Journaling your lessons to create a personal riding “textbook” (like an outline you’d make before a final exam) was personally my favorite exercise discussed. I would highly recommend attending one of her mental skills clinics, purchasing her book or even visiting her website to set up a phone conversation to speak with her for personal coaching.
Equitation, Hunter and
The USEF R Judge who presented was also super informative! She began her discussion on equitation, while the front page of the Equitation section of the USEF rulebook was passed out. The first sentence reads, “Rider should have a workmanlike appearance, seat and hands light and supple, conveying the impression of complete control should any emergency arise.” She emphasized that many equitation riders can be faulted for looking like they are placed into position nicely on a horse, while stiff and unable to follow the motion of the horse. You’re not to sit and look pretty. Function is emphasized.
When you enter the ring for an equitation round, unless your sitting trot is 110%, posting is fine - unless the sitting trot is explicitly called for (in a work-off or flat phase/class). Same goes for exiting an eq class. I also got the okay to walk in and go straight to the canter, so goodbye ugly, choppy anticipatory trot in!
Walk through the in-gate! Always!
Also don’t take a tour around the entire arena with your “entrance circle” - use it to make a good first impression.
Be timely at the gate - the judge and the announcer has been sitting around all day, don’t make them wait any longer, especially not noticeably rehearsing your course (by waving your whip around in a figure 8). The courses are posted in the morning. Learn them.
For Hunters: unless you have a young horse that needs extra balancing (or a horse with a tough lead), you walk in the ring, pick up your trot and then go straight to your canter. Not: walk > trot > walk > canter. Equitation it’s okaaay, but only if necessary because you can’t pick up the wrong lead otherwise. Huge points off for the wrong lead in an eq class.
Stirrup irons - make sure they are at least ‘metal’ color. The judge presenting likes just the standard stainless stirrups, but would not penalize a different type of iron except for a black color. Competitors cannot be eliminated for stirrup type. I’m going to be keeping my Lorenzinis until my trainers tell me otherwise…
Judges are not hoping for you to make a mistake! They want all the riders to do well.
The Hunter Derby: regular hunters on steroids. There are 2 rounds, a separate panel of judges, more natural jumps [haybales, walls, etc.]. The courses are built for more pace and animation. Successful derby horses do not have to be the typical, daisy-cutter hunter movers. Good jumpers are rewarded more than good movers. The order reverses for the handy round.
For the scorecard [looks like this], where judges document each round, each fence is judged and documented and the overall impression in noted in the comments. From there, the total score is determined and written in the scores section, where the judge can look at previous round to determine the round’s placement. So it’s not like dressage where your trot in is scored at x / 10, and your canter in the corner from 5 to 6 is scored at y / 10… actually I’m not even sure how dressage is scored. But Equitation and Hunter judging is about each fence’s score and then overall impression.
After our discussion, we all went outside to observe two trainers from my barn attempt a hunter, equitation and work off round. Hearing live feedback from a judge was sooo interesting! Mostly because the trainers she judged are, I would say objectively, amazing riders. They would trot in for their pretend class and the judge was like, “They’re okay, leg seems okay and position is alright” which is probably the understatement of the year. And she would go on critiquing their rounds, sometimes very bluntly, but they’d finish and she’d give a awesome [well-deserved] score like an 83. The whole thing just made me excited to have my riding picked apart so honestly, so time to get excited for my next show!