Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Long Distance Hauling: When an 18 hour drive is no longer a big deal...

When we bought our first trailer, I felt overwhelmed just taking our pony to a Pony Club meeting down the road. Over time I became more comfortable and began venturing further from home. Two hour drives became easy and three hours to Vermont a regular occurrence.  Last year we took a trip to Canada and thought six hours really wasn't a big deal.

Packing for a long haul requires a bit more thought!
Then came Maryland. The 2016 Long Format at Waredacca was my first venture into longer distance hauling. I had to really think about our route. Several trusted sources told us to go through NYC and take the GW Bridge. I couldn't even imagine it. So we set out at 2am because no way was I going to hit that bridge any later in the day than 6am. It was a good choice. We made fantastic time and got to Waredacca in about 8 hours having budgeted for 10 hours. Our return journey was more complicated. We hit construction, traffic from a Giant's game and other hindrances but it was a happy drive and we made it home in one piece.

I have since driven south two more times - once to Morven Park in Virginia and once to the Kentucky Horse Park via the Plains, Virginia going down and Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania coming back. I can now tell you I will never take a horse trailer through NYC and over the GW Bridge ever again (until I do because sometimes you just have to do these things). My biggest issue with that route isn't even the city. I hated, and I mean HATED, driving a horse trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike (95 South). The road is awful, bumpy and loud. There are a ton of rest stops but they're crowded. Driving that way was super stressful.

So my first piece of advice in planning a long distance haul is plan a good route. Ask EVERYONE who has ever hauled horses and give preference to good roads over shorter distances. The route I now take to Virginia is about an hour longer but so much more pleasant. It also skips all the cities on the Eastern seaboard so I'm not sure that it really does take any longer to go that way. I manage to stay on really nice roads the whole way - smooth surfaces, minimal traffic. Driving from Boston to Maryland/ Virginia we now take 90 (Mass Pike) to 84 South to either 81 South - this is definitely the longer route but if you don't have a navigator to help you it's simple to follow - or we take 84 to 87 to 287 to 78 to 81. Google maps doesn't really suggest this unless you force it but it is an excellent way to go.

My second piece of advice is to pay attention to where you can stop for gas and food. Going the roundabout way with no cities can mean good stopping points are hard to come by. We like to stop about every 3 - 4 hours. You have to be careful not to drive into a long stretch of desolation without a plan and more than once we've gotten off to get gas only to find that the gas station is not really horse trailer friendly. So if you can plan ahead, do.

The third piece of advice is to plan ahead for a layover if you drive is going to be more than 10 hours. Ask around. Your friends probably know of a place that will work for your route. There is a phone book of places that provide layover stabling. I saw it somewhere once but I can't remember what it was called.  There are a few websites such as Horse Motel and Traveling Horse but I haven't used them. I happened to have good options with friends in the area. The timing of arrival at your layover may not be ideal but choosing the good layover is more important than your drive time. For instance, if my drive is 18 hours and my layover isn't exactly half way, I prefer to drive further on the first day but that isn't always possible.

As far as the horses are concerned, it actually isn't that big of a deal. My daughter's horse is a really
On our way to cross the Canadian border!
good traveler but I think in general the idea is to just keep driving and get through it as quickly as possible. When we drove to Kentucky for Pony Club Championships we had some friends who drove straight through for 18 hours with two drivers. We went on our own so I stopped half way for the night. Either is fine, just different.

Many horses don't eat or drink on the trailer and many don't like to pee in the trailer so the longer the haul, the longer such horses go without these things. Other horses relish the chance to chow down for a long road trip. My limited experience has taught me not to worry too much. I like cutting up the drive to 10 hours at a time because it makes me feel better that after 10 hours our horse will get to eat and drink and move around.

Which reminds me, you do not stop and take the horses off the trailer! The horses are fine. When we stop for gas we open the door to check on them, offer them some water, change blankets if necessary and then we close the door and hit the road again.

On our first long haul we hung a water bucket for Quizz.
Regarding water, we have tried lots of different things and they really don't work for us but you should definitely try them. We tried apples but Quizz will only eat one per journey. Water is of no interest. She will eat soaked Alfalfa Cubes so we soak them with lots of water and offer them to her at each stop which gets some water into her. We do the same with beet pulp. If you have a horse that just won't drink on the journey, it's ok. It's not ideal but it is ok. Just make sure you are heading to your destination with a horse who had been well hydrated prior to getting on the trailer and that you will arrive with enough time to rehydrate your horse before he has to do much of anything. I know some people do IV fluids prophylactically and I think that's a good idea if you have a bad drinker and it's hot. We really haven't had an issue but we do keep a close eye on the horses before, during and after travel so that we can act quickly if things take a bad turn.

Food is about the same as water. Make sure they have plenty of nice hay, offer something yummy
We offer very wet alfalfa cubes each stop.
when you stop for food and gas. If they don't eat, there isn't a great deal you can do about it other than get to your destination as fast as you can so they can settle in and get back to eating and drinking. The more fit your horse when you put them on the trailer, the better able they are to withstand the stress of travel coupled with lack of food and water.

And speaking of stress, we do give our horses UlcerGard before, during and after travel. Consult your vet for the best treatment for your horse. We start at least one to three days ahead, depending on the level of stress we anticipate, and continue through the first full day at home. It has worked extremely well for Quizz.

I hope you have a good co-pilot. It's nice to have someone to talk to and someone to search for a good stopping point while your driving not to mention having someone to look at the written directions you brought along since you can't trust your navigation system. I also like to get a few books on CD from the library. I get a few because some of them are terrible but if you hit on a good one it definitely helps keep you awake. We also found some good podcasts. Most recently we discovered Heels Down Happy Hour. I highly recommend it to get you through a long drive.

Another note on long hauls - be prepared for issues with your car or trailer. We take extremely good care of our rig but things happen. While heading to Kentucky for Pony Club Championships our car just stopped. Thank God we were in the right lane on a straight stretch of highway and the breaks were still working. We pulled over and called AAA. I learned several things that day and immediately joined US Rider which is like AAA for non-commercial people hauling a horse trailer. AAA happened to be close by with a spare truck and I had options for places within 100 miles I could take the horses but we were worried about getting to Kentucky. In the end, it was an easy fix on the road. A hose had come loose and the guy from AAA reattached and tightened it. I yelled at my Ford dealer when I got back. And I really am lucky it happened where it did rather than the next day as we drove through the mountains.

When you get back from a long haul you really should pull the mats out of your trailer and clean it
properly. When the horses are on that long they will, inevitably, pee on the trailer. In fact we would worry if they didn't. So it's important to wash the trailer floor with bleach and water so that it doesn't rot. This is even more important if your trailer has a wood floor. The mats are heavy and extremely awkward to clean and dry. We hang them over saw horses. My daughter has gotten amazingly good at moving them around.

Soon we are heading off on another adventure! Elizabeth and I are taking both our horses to Aiken, South Carolina, for ten weeks for winter training. Other than concern that winter weather could prevent our departure, we feel pretty well equipped to handle the task. This will be our first long haul with two horses so I'm a little concerned about weight and hope the girls can tolerate each other for 18 hours.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Canadian Adventure: As you're planning your schedule for 2017, consider doing an event in Canada!

When planning our eventing calendar for 2016 we decided to get a little creative. We needed another event in early July and Area I didn't have exactly what we wanted. We saw a listing for Napierville Horse Trials and decided to become international eventers!

Napierville is just over the boarder in Quebec. The first order of business was to acquire health certificates, hotel reservations and plan our route for getting there.

The health certificate didn't seem to be a big deal but I think we might have a better relationship with our vet than some other people. I have since had people ask me about the cost of the health certificates. We paid $50 per horse. I have heard vets quote $350 for the health certificate which is absurd. The health certificate has to be stamped by a federally designated vet. From what I gather there is one per state. Our vet pulled together the paperwork, sent it off to the vet for Massachusetts who stamped it and sent it back; then we went to pick it up. The certificate is proof of negative coggins, rabies vaccine and more all in one document. You may need to designate which border crossing you plan to use when you file the health certificate paperwork.

Finding information about the horse trials was not easy. Eventing Canada's website was very confusing and the omnibus was not thorough. Much of the information out there was in French which added an exciting layer of challenge. The venue is called La Criniere. We found the event on the USEA Area I page. It was listed with the schooling shows and has a website, email and phone number listed. The website is not great and much of it is in French so email worked best.

We booked a motel very close to the venue. No one there spoke any English and we had to book the old fashioned way - by phone. I ended up having a French friend call back to make sure we had actually booked three rooms and that dogs were allowed. With that all set, it was time to travel!

We decided to take 87 north through Vermont. The drive was beautiful on great, new pavement and with no traffic. The border crossing was interesting. There was a line of traffic at the border and an option to go off to the right where trucks and livestock were sent. Apparently we could go either way and had we known, we likely would have pulled off to the right. Instead, we waited. Our crossing was totally uneventful and the agents just asked what we were up to and how long we planned to stay and waved us through.

Our friends traveling in another rig had a more difficult time. They were sent over to the livestock area and questioned a bit more. They were also chastised for not providing extra copies of their health certificate and coggins. So one piece of advice, in addition to bringing your passports, bring copies of all your documentation, just in case.

We got lost after crossing the border. The road signs were a bit strange and our directions weren't great. We did eventually find our way to the venue, just in time to unload in a down pour!

Stabling was in the indoor and the temporary stalls were wooden. They did not have gates/doors so we were glad we had a good supply of stall guards! Actually they had wooden doors but they were piled in a dark corner on the other side of the indoor and we didn't find them until it was time to leave. By the time we were unloading it was pouring rain and we had to drag our gear a really long way. There is room on the road to park after you drop the trailer but it would be difficult to unload closer with the trailer still attached. So it was a bit of a slog but totally worth it!

That night everyone set out to walk their XC courses. We had three people going three levels. The XC start is about a mile from stabling. Not kidding. All of them got lost. It was dark and raining. We wished we had gotten there earlier in the day so that would be my advice. Be sure to arrive by noon so you have time to set up and find your XC course. They have a crazy amount of space and so many beautiful trails. The footing is phenomenal everywhere. But it is extremely confusing out there!

The show ran over two days and we really loved the format with Dressage in the morning on Saturday followed by Cross Country and Show Jumping on Sunday Morning.

Dressage was pretty typical, grass warm-up, sand ring. The scoring was on an FEI scale which was
confusing at first but kind of cool to experience something new an different.

Cross country was a whole new adventure. It was BIG. It was LONG. And it had some crazy questions. Novice had a legitimate and intimidating full coffin where you needed to jump a roll top from the sun into the dark and go right down a steep hill, over a little brook, up a steep hill and then another roll top.
Training had two coffins back to back. This is a good place to go test your skills before a move up! Our poor Beginner Novice rider ran into a herd of cows on her course. Her horse took issue.

I did find a video on YouTube of someone running Novice (Pre-Training) there a few years ago which is worth watching. The footing was much better when we went. The year this video was made they had a ton of rain. The Novice gained a couple jumps by the time my daughter did it, including the coffin, but it gives you and idea of what's out there including an upside down canoe, an amazing water jump with banks, trakehners at most level and more.

Probably the coolest thing about the place, and a bit off-putting for the horses at times, is the carvings.  The people who own this place are amazing. They are warm, hospitable and clearly passionate about horses and eventing. Yves Landry competed on the Canadian team. Watch this awesome YouTube interview with him. His wife is equally wonderful. Years ago Yves gave his wife a mini chain saw as a gift and voila! She populated the cross country course with her wonderful carvings. They make this place truly unique and really a beautiful work of art.

After walking some courses post cross country we all agreed this would be an amazing place to come visit for schooling. They have some permanent temporary stalls and welcome visitors. They have SO MANY JUMPS through all levels. I definitely saw some things out there that have to be advanced but they have a ton of stuff for Novice through Intermediate.

That night we went out to dinner in St. Jean Sur Richelieu. It was the most wonderful place!! Right on the Richelieu River, as the name would suggest. I can't remember the name of the restaurant but the food was amazing and there were tons of restaurants on the waterfront which all looked worth a visit. It isn't too far from the show venue so a great option with the more relaxed schedule of a two day show.

Sunday morning we had show jumping. They have a beautiful derby type field with built in hedges and banks and really nice jumps as well as a tent for viewing. Again, this phase pushed the levels. Everything was maxed out and there were more jumps than we see here in the US. But it was awesome!

One thing I tell people when I talk about this show is that it is not a dressage show. So often these days, especially at the lower levels, it seems like eventing is only about the dressage. Well, in Naperville, dressage had little to do with it. There were very few clean rounds in either cross country or show jumping. One could certainly argue that it isn't very confidence building for the horse or the rider but from where I stood, it felt how I always thought eventing would feel. It felt intense, like you were going into battle. Area I is especially guilty of having cross country courses that don't challenge the lower levels and they're really inconsistent. This place threw everything at the rider. I wouldn't want to go there without being really well prepared but what an awesome place to ride if you are ready for it! I loved everything about it.

Perhaps my favorite part was after show jumping, as we packed up, we could see later rounds. As the day wore on, more and more cars arrived and the jumps got smaller and smaller. The cheering grew louder as the jumps grew smaller. By the time we left there was a good size crowd enjoying a gorgeous day, sitting outside cheering on little kids and their ponies going over tiny jumps. It was inspiring. I loved it. Everything about this place made us feel like we had stepped into another world, a fairy tale type place. Life is a little better knowing it's out there.

I was recently attempting to find some information for this year and found the website, which wasn't very helpful, has disappeared. They do have a Facebook page so if you want to contact them, that seems to be the best way!

Training jumped into the water over this crocodile!

Pre-Training (Novice) jumped next to, rather than through, the water jump.

Panoramic photo of the water jump.  It distorts the jump a little but it was SO COOL!!!

Seated on the Pre-Training "Canot" - French for canoe!

They have an amazing gallup track out in the main field. The field has a crazy number of jumps.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Riding in a Classic Long Format Event Part 2: Being There

I almost don't know where to begin. Waredaca and the long format lived up to all our expectations and then some. We rarely pay for an extra tack stall at events but for a long format, you absolutely must have one. We shared a tack stall with a friend from Course Brook so the first order of business was setting up. It was great that we arrived so early in the day on Wednesday. We were able to get Quizz settled, set up our tack room, do a little volunteering and Elizabeth was able to ride.

Thursday morning began with a briefing. We met the organizers, the veterinarian and the clinician, Eric Smiley, who would be teaching us about the four phases of cross country day.

Eric Smiley discussing  how to jog a horse.
After the briefing, riders who had not yet had an in barn check with the veterinarian got that done.  Chad Davis was the vet for the weekend. At the "in barn" the vet looks over the horse and takes the temperature, pulse and respiration (TPR) so that he has a baseline to work from for the weekend.
At Elizabeth's in barn she talked to Dr. Chad about Quizz's atrial fibrillation. He taught her about the various types of irregular heartbeat and what the concerns could be with Quizz's condition. He also recommended the use of a heart rate monitor since tracking any kind of change in her heartbeat is key. Dr. Chad is awesome. He was great to have around all weekend.

Photo courtesy of  GRCPHOTO.COM all rights reserved.
Next came jogs. Each rider jogs his horse in front of the vet and the ground jury before competition begins and again after cross country, before show jumping. The jog is more complicated than I imagined. The first order of business is to get the horse and the rider cleaned up and turned out beautifully. We had nice, hot weather so were able to get Quizz pretty shiny. Elizabeth chose to wear white and managed to stay white!

When the rider is called, they proceed to the jog strip, greet the vet and ground jury and SMILE! The purpose is to let them see the horse move and make sure it's sound enough to enter the competition. They will also remember each horse so they can compare the first and second jogs to assure soundness. It's important to look confident. They will tell the rider to proceed and the rider jogs the horse to the end of the strip, walks to turn around and jogs back down the strip. It is important to get your horse to move forward nicely and to jog straight. You don't want to give the officials any reason to reject your horse. Elizabeth practiced quite a bit an definitely put her whip to good use as they warmed up.

It was pretty exciting to hear over the loudspeaker, "Quizz D'Organge, accepted!"

Next up, Eric Smiley took each group - Training, then Novice - out in pick up trucks to drive over the cross country roads and tracks sections - phases A and C for endurance day. Roads and tracks cover about 2 - 3 miles each at the Training and Novice levels. A is faster than C. Generally the rider trots A with a bit of canter to get warmed up for steeple chase and a bit of walk depending on terrain. On C you walk a bit to recover from steeple chase then trot and canter to make up time, being mindful of getting to the end of C and the start of the vet box in good condition.

Photo courtesy of  GRCPHOTO.COM all rights reserved.
Friday was more action packed. The day started with dressage, the primary excitement being that there were two judges - one at C and one at E. It's interesting to see the scores from the different vantage points. The judge at E can't see a really crooked horse going down the long side the way the judge at C does. The tests for the 3-day tend to be a little more complex than the tests used in regular horse trials. But otherwise, it was a fairly typical dressage test.

The long format 3-days of today are conducted as a hybrid between a clinic and a recognized horse trials so following dressage, everyone had the opportunity to prepare for endurance day (cross country day) by hacking the two roads and tracks sections to be ridden and attending a brief steeple chase clinic with Eric Smiley.

Up to this point the weather had been HOT. Unseasonably hot. So hot. But as everyone tacked up to head out on phase A - the first section of roads and tracks - the sky began to darken. Everyone had a time slot for their steeplechase practice so they headed out on A so that they would be at steeplechase (phase B) at the right time, allowing about half an hour to walk and trot all of A. As Elizabeth practiced her steeplechase, the sky darkened.
Elizabeth got lucky. In fact, I think only one group had to go in the monsoon that followed. Eric had each rider gallop until they had the correct speed and rhythm and then sent them over the steeplechase fence. Steeplechase is different from regular cross country. It is run at a much higher speed and the horses jump flat and out of stride. The idea is to let the horse figure it out and take the jumps without a bunch of interference from the rider. It's pretty cool to watch.

After steeplechase practice the riders headed out to hack phase C - the second section of roads and tracks. Elizabeth came back soaking wet having cantered through a field with hail pelting her. Her friend was out there for what felt like a really long time and just as I was really beginning to worry, she came in so cold and wet having walked the long section of roads and tracks since the visibility was so bad. Everyone made it in and as luck would have it, the rain stopped and we had a gorgeous afternoon in which to walk phase D - what we all know as cross country.

I got pretty nervous after walking this course with my daughter. She had been competing at Novice events all season and had tackled the toughest events in Area I but nothing came close to this course. She would have 22 jumping efforts including a ditch and wall, a half coffin, a corner and a jump into water as well as an enormous drop and a really tough table combination. It was long at 2500 meters. This would be a real test of both her and her horse.

Friday evening we had a team meeting. We divided up all the jobs for the next day - who would be at steeplechase to make sure our horses had shoes after A and B, who would be in the 10 minute box and who would be at the vet box at the finish. We discussed studs, put studs in all the spare shoes and checked through all the equipment. This was the best part of the 3-day for me. I felt like a real part of the team. We had 4 riders with us and 4 support crew including our trainer, Stephie Baer. Stephie loves the old format and had a blast helping everyone achieve this goal. There is so much to know when you do a 3-day. Having someone along who has done so many is a huge bonus.

And along the way, Elizabeth managed to do her homework. The reality is that she skipped three days of school to do this. She was exhausted but squeezed in some math and history where she could. I'm proud of her for working so hard and doing it all.

Saturday morning was exciting. It had gotten seriously cold overnight. We got up crazy early and got to the farm before 6am. The first order of business was to set up our area in the 10-minute box and the vet box. The ten minute box is between phases C and D - the second roads and tracks and the cross country test. The rider comes into the box, dismounts and the veterinary team immediately takes the horse's TPR (temp, pulse and respiration). From the minute they enter the box, they have ten minutes before heading out on phase D but they can only go out on D after being cleared by the vet team who will take the TPR again about 5 - 6 minutes later. During that time the rider sits, the horse is sponged and walked in intervals and hopefully all the numbers come down sufficiently.
View of both the vet box and, on the other side of the black fencing, the 10-minute box.

The vet box comes at the end of phase D. The rider dismounts, TPR is taken, the horse is sponged and walked and monitored until the vet team deems the horse sufficiently recovered to head back to the barn.

Our buckets and extra equipment.
Extra equipment for 3 riders.

We set up an area of buckets in both boxes and an area of extra equipment in the 10-minute box, making sure all the riders knew where we would be and all the grooms knew where each rider's equipment was stashed.

Soon enough it was time for our first rider to head out on phase A. My job was to be at the
steeplechase (phase B) to make sure that all our riders had 4 shoes both before and after running the steeplechase. We had arranged the night before what people wanted me to do if they had a shoe missing.  Most of them wanted some vet wrap or duct tape put on the hoof but fortunately all our riders had four shoes all the way through so my job was easy. We had spare shoes for all the horses in the 10 minute box where a farrier would be available.

Photo courtesy of  GRCPHOTO.COM all rights reserved.
The best part about being at steeplechase was watching the horses change with every lap. The two horses in our group who had been tough to ride and strong became carefree, happy and in sync with their riders. It was super cool to watch. These partnerships changed that day and are better for it every day since. The riders had a blast and just want to do it again. It looked like so much fun!

Once our last rider cleared phase B I headed over to the 10-minute box to support Elizabeth. I can't begin to tell you how exciting this day was for me as a mother. Seeing her arrive after A was exciting. Watching her finish B with no issues was thrilling. Being there with Quizz's halter when she finished C was amazing. She was in such high spirits and Quizz was barely puffing and recovered perfectly and all of it was just so awesome. They had worked so hard for this for so long and the day was going extremely well. The cool weather was great so we didn't need ice in our water buckets and we were able to get the horse's temps down nicely with sponging and walking. Before you know it she was back in the tack and headed out on phase D and I was crying and ready to burst with nerves, joy, the thrill of being a part of something so big and the pride of seeing my daughter taking on the world. I was jumping out of my skin.

Photo courtesy of  GRCPHOTO.COM all rights reserved.

I was able to see Elizabeth get over a few jumps from the vet box. When she made it up a ridiculous knoll and over the log at the top I started dancing. I knew that question had concerned her. The hill was big and steep and Quizz took it like it was nothing. They made it all the way around. No faults. They did it! They went double clear on endurance day. We had only hoped they would finish and here they were killing it. In fact, all our riders made it around. It was SUCH a great day!!

Kristen with daughters Taylor and Talia.
One of the best parts of that day was sharing it with another horse mom. We usually travel with adult riders who don't have kids. We love them and we are a great team. But I am so grateful to have been standing by my friend Kristen the whole time Elizabeth was out on phase D. She has two daughters who have been eventing for a long time. She knew exactly what I was feeling (her own daughter having finished cross country a couple of hours earlier). We were lucky to not only experience this awesome event but to do it with amazing friends. Sharing this day and this week with all of them was a huge part of the experience.

After everyone had rested and changed and walked the stadium course, we jogged our horses to make sure they had been walked enough and weren't getting too stiff. Exhausted and exuberant we headed back to our hotel, ate, did some homework, went back for night check and then we slept. Sunday morning rolled around very quickly. Again we were up before dawn. It was time for the second jog. Quizz had recovered extremely well. It was like the prior day had never happened. She passed and Elizabeth got ready for show jumping.

As a side note, choosing jog clothing is a big deal. Some are anti-dress. Some make better shoe choices than others. Then there is the weather to consider. Elizabeth, who generally wears any t-shirt and jeans to school, put a great deal of thought into what she wanted to wear and ended up bringing three or four options. If it is hot you want a different option than if the temperature is in the 40's. She went more casual for the second jog as did many of the riders. She looked great and so did Quizz.

Which reminds me, we braided 3 times over the course of the week. We braided for the first jog on Thursday, then removed the braids. We braided for dressage on Friday, then removed the braids. Sunday morning we braided before the second jog and kept those braids for show jumping, taking them out before we packed up to head home.

Photo courtesy of  GRCPHOTO.COM all rights reserved.
Show jumping was awesome. Elizabeth went double clear again. All 4 riders we travelled with finished, Elizabeth and one friend finishing on their dressage scores. In a division of over 40 riders, including some professionals, Elizabeth finished 20th. Among the young riders, she finished 6th. This event restored some confidence she had lost over the course of the season. She and Quizz had had a stop at each of her last 3 events. Elizabeth worked extremely hard to correct her mistakes and all her work paid off at Waredacca.

I'm amazed we were able to get this team photo. Our friend, a professional and fellow Pony Club mom lives in Area II and came by to watch some show jumping. She happened to be there and we miraculously had all 4 horses in one place, tacked up AND all the grooms. So thank you to Adrienne Iorio for taking this awesome photo to commemorate our victory!

Then it was time to pack and go home. Our adrenaline rush carried us for the full ten hour drive. Eventers never stop helping each other and two groups texted us from up the road warning to stay away from the George Washington Bridge. We rerouted to the Tappan Zee and saved hours on our drive.

Some shows leave us exhausted in a way that means we can't imagine doing it again any time soon. This show left us wanting more. We were ready to sign up for next year. It was the coolest experience ever for both of us. Everyone should do a 3-day. I watched my daughter transform over the course of a month as she executed her conditioning plan and invested herself completely in this event. She rode every minute and it paid off.

I also need to add that this venue is amazing. They clearly love what they do. The physical space is phenomenal. The clinicians were fun and happy and full of encouragement. Dr. Chad has so much energy it is infectious. I can't say enough good things about Waredaca. The three day is a bit more expensive than a regular horse trails but in my opinion it was a bargain. We stabled 4 nights, had a tack stall and the TD, vet, and other officials had to be there for three full days. They were actually there for four because they all came for the clinic as well. GRC Photo captured all three days of competition and had superb photos for sale at a reasonable price for every rider. I am so grateful for the photos they took.

The long format is important. It is where the sport of eventing started. It is a different test than a horse trial and different from a CCI. We planned Elizabeth's entire season around this event. She made the right choices for her horse so that they could do this. They didn't go to camp with friends and they didn't move up to Training even though they were ready to do so. It took discipline and maturity to prioritize this goal and make each choice each day based on that goal. I could not be more proud of my daughter and her horse. And I am grateful to all the organizers out there who are keeping the long format alive. We need to support them as riders, volunteers, spectators.

Elizabeth has her eyes set on a different goal for 2017 but I have no doubt we will be back at Waredaca in 2018 to tackle the Training 3-Day and I can't wait.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Riding in a Classic Long Format Event Part 1: The road to the Novice 3 Day at Waredacca

I'm not sure when we got the idea to aim for the 3 day, but by the end of 2015 my daughter had set it as her goal for 2016. What is a 3 day you ask? Allow me to explain briefly.

In the original sport of eventing, competition took place over three days: Dressage Day, Endurance Day and Show Jumping Day. This is the outline of the current format with the major change being that Endurance day, which used to include 4 phases, has been reduced to just one phase, the XC test.

Talia Freundlich aboard her OTTB mare Out Foxed

In a 3 Day, Endurance Day includes Phases A, B, C and D.  Phase A is "roads and tracks" during which horse and rider set out to cover a set distance within a set time, crossing through "gates" as they go. The terrain varies and the ground is generally covered at a trot with a bit of walk and some canter to get ready for Phase B.

Phase B is the "steeple chase" and the speeds vary depending at which level you compete. Generally, steeple chase is a more flat out gallup than the cross country test. It is short but includes the jumping of brush fences which means they are a bit higher than most fences at the level because if a horse hits the top they will just brush through it. Higher levels gallop faster than lower levels and jump more fences.

Phase C is a second, longer section of "roads and tracks" and is a period for the horse to recover a bit from the exertion of steeple chase.

After phase C, riders come into the "ten minute box" where the horse's vital signs are taken immediately upon arrival. A "pit crew" (to borrow a phrase from another sport) jumps into action, sponging the horse and walking it to cool it down while the rider sits, drinks and thinks about the final phase of the day. The veterinarian watches the horse jog to make sure it's sound, checks the vitals to make sure it has recovered sufficiently and if all looks good, sends the horse and rider out on Cross Country.

Phase D is pretty much like the XC test we see out at events in the current version of the sport but the course for a 3 Day will be a championship level course which means it will be long and the jumps will be maxed out in height and spread and there will be challenging questions for the level. After D, horse and rider return to the vet box until they are cleared to head to the barn. Again, we sponge and walk the horse to cool it down and jog to make sure it's sound.

Back to the road to the 3 Day…it began last winter. We bought an old copy of the USCTA Book of Eventing and started reading, taking notes on the equipment lists, conditioning plans and other nuggets of wisdom within this awesome book.

Being in Pony Club was an advantage. Over the winter Elizabeth attended HB Preps held by our region. The HB is an upper level horsemanship certification in Pony Club which has a pretty high bar of knowledge about the care and health of horses. She learned a great deal about nutrition, conditioning and soundness which would inform her choices over the 6 months leading up to the 3 Day. Elizabeth achieved her Pony Club C2 in August and one of the requirements was to write a conditioning schedule focused on a particular event. She chose the 3 Day and followed through on the elaborate plan she had laid out.

Another bonus working in her favor is her amazing trainer who loves the 3 Day format and supported Elizabeth's goal. Everything we did all season was leading up to this event. We determined her competition schedule based on getting to her goal. She did fewer camps so that she could focus on the horse's fitness, soundness and comfort, knowing that at the end of the season she would be asking a great deal of her lovely mare.

So we spent the summer working toward the 3 Day. By September it was time to really start focusing on getting ready. We made our own equipment list (you need quite a bit of equipment in the 10 minute box). We took Quizz to a couple of different places nearby with huge hills for hill workouts.  Her schedule began to resemble that of any athlete in training - some interval days, some hill days, some days focused on weight lifting (Dressage), some days focused on jumping. A week prior to the event, Elizabeth and Quizz did one last XC school, jumping Training level to prepare for what would be a much more difficult Novice course than they had yet to ride over.

Then it was time to pack. We bought two big, plastic bins for all the extra equipment we would need in the 10 minute box as well as tarps and more big buckets and sponges. We packed LOTS of towels and rain gear. And because we anticipated a 10 hour drive, we packed excessive quantities of hay, extra jugs of water and a full bag of hay cubes. It took days to get organized and fully packed.

We even borrowed a bucket holder and zip tied it to the trailer door so Quizz could drink on the long ride to Maryland. I was especially pleased with myself after securing the bucket holder with hand towels and baling twine. In a barn setting, there isn't much you can't fix with baling twine, duct tape and a sharpie at your disposal!

So that was it! We were as ready as we would ever be. And though we had worked hard and done everything we could to prepare, we were trepidatious, setting out on this adventure to attempt something big, something totally new to us.

We decided to hit the road at 2am. We're crazy but I had heard the drive was 10 hours and I was so worried about
getting stuck in commute traffic. There is no way to get around it. The best way to get from Boston to Maryland (the Baltimore area) is straight through NYC, over the George Washington Bridge. So we set out at 2am.

The road belonged to us and the enormous trucks. We hit absolutely no traffic anywhere and arrived WAY too early. The drive takes 8 hours for future reference. The 10 hour drive is what you get during normal, human hours. We listened to a book on CD and enjoyed the drive that would take us to our biggest adventure yet. Even Quizz seemed up for adventure. She is an excellent traveler and couldn't wait to see where we were taking her!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Show Entry Etiquette: The Life and Times of a Schooling Show Secretary...

Last spring I very happily took on the role of secretary for the schooling shows at Course Brook Farm. We have a reasonably busy show schedule, hosting 5 schooling shows per season ranging from spring two phases to our schooling horse trials. Most of the way through my second season in this role, I have some thoughts to share, especially for those who aren't 100% sure of what all the terminology means or the details of show entry etiquette.

I would like to preface the informative section of this post by declaring that we have the very best competitors and volunteers imaginable! People come to our schooling shows to have fun, educate their horses and themselves and to further their commitment to the sport of eventing. I love each and every one of them so the little pet peeves I will share with you are merely inconvenient and not the end of the world. I am sharing only because if no one ever tells you that this isn't the way to do things, how are you to know? Most of this carries over to recognized shows as well so take note and do your best to be thoughtful. You never know when you will need the show secretary in your corner and it is always wise to be on her good side if possible!

Opening Dates: Entries may be sent on or after the opening date. For shows that are especially popular, get your entry in the mail on the opening date, being sure you get it post marked on the day you drop it in the mail. Shows that fill will accept entries by postmark date. If you can enter online, the postmark is not an issue! If you mail an entry prior to the opening date, it is the prerogative of the show secretary to send it back to you. Don't send them early. It will only annoy the secretary and definitely will NOT get you to the front of the line.

Closing Dates, Late Entries and Late Fees: All shows have a closing date - the last date entries will be accepted. The date typically refers to the postmark date. Schooling shows tend to be more flexible and try to give people as much opportunity as possible but if a show has 40 riders the day before the closing date and then 40 people try to enter between the closing date (which is likely less than a week before the show) and the show, it creates numerous complications I will address in another section. So, often there will be a late fee. If a late fee is listed on an entry, pay it if you are mailing your entry late. Pay the late fee if you are hand delivering your entry the day after the closing date. Pay the late fee if you are in any way late. If you don't want to pay a late fee, then don't enter late. Seriously. We charge late fees because late entries increase the stress level. We want you to enter on time. We actually don't want that money. However, if you need to enter late, please do so. Just pay the late fee. And one more note on closing dates: we make our closing date as late as possible to encourage you to enter. However, if you think about it, if you mail your entry 5 days prior to a Saturday show, you are mailing it on Monday. The soonest I will receive it is probably Wednesday. For a Saturday show I will be trying to post times Tuesday or Wednesday. Do you see the problem?

Giant Pet Peeve #1: Don't enter a show late, and I mean very late, like 3 days before the show, via email, and then, in the same email, ask when times will be posted. Times will be posted as soon as people stop entering late and I have 5 minutes to sit and work on making times. If you entered on the opening date, you are allowed to ask when times will be posted.

Write Neatly: We communicate with competitors via email and even, occasionally, via snail mail. If either of your addresses is illegible, you may not receive important communication from us. If your mailing address is illegible, we won't be able to send a refund should we need to do so.

Incomplete Entries: Try very hard to complete your entries right from the start. Every entry form will say right on it what is required. If you keep an electronic copy of your coggins on your computer it will be very easy to access it and send it on in with your entry. Release forms may be a bit more challenging but more than half the competitors manage to figure it out so do try to print and sign one if requested. And payment. I generally don't "accept" or consider an entry real until I have money in hand. Too often I receive emails or phone calls at the last minute, give someone a time slot and then they never arrive on show day. Incomplete entries take up a great deal of a show secretary's time. If you receive an email telling you what is missing, reply right away with an electronic copy of the missing document. This goes back to having that show secretary on your side. You don't want to be the competitor she had to chase down three times for entry issues.

Send your entry to the right place!!!: Many entries are sent directly to a show secretary who frequently doesn't live anywhere near the farm where the show will be held. Be sure to look at the prize list, omnibus, entry or whatever other documentation the venue provides and read it carefully to find the mailing address for entries. If you send your entry to the wrong address, it very well may be lost or take weeks to make its way to the show secretary which is totally not her fault.

Communication: If you have a question or need a change, email the secretary as soon as possible. The more notice you are able to give us, the better able we are to accommodate your needs. We don't mind hearing from you at all. That is what we are here for. If entry status is posted, please check your status! You may find your entry is incomplete or, because we show secretaries are human too, you may find your name entered into the wrong division or we may have you riding the wrong horse. I love it when posting status can catch any issues well ahead of posting times.

Posting Times: For some shows, creating times is extremely complicated. With schooling shows we tend to have enormous Beginner Novice divisions and fairly small other divisions. We run one stadium ring and one XC course for all levels so we can only move everyone through them so quickly. If a show has more than 50 competitors, we try to have at least two dressage judges so we aren't there all night. Believe me, the show organizers and show secretary want to move you through your phases efficiently. We all want to go home for dinner! But some shows are very full and have complications such as needing to finish dressage before running XC. I spend as little as 3 hours and as much as 10 hours working out times. We know you need to plan and we post times as soon as humanly possible but if we put them up too soon, prior to being able to review them, think things through and catch errors, we cause more problems than we solve.

Social Media and Website Updates: Many of your questions leading up to a show can be answered via a website or social media page. I always post updates on our website and on FB so look there before reaching out. If your question hasn't been addressed, then definitely send an email or pick up the phone. I actually love talking to you guys!

Show Day!: Be sure to arrive well in advance of your ride times. Most shows have someone guiding you through where to park. Pick up your packet right away in case there are any issues. At our shows I leave packets for competitors with completed entries out on a table so they don't have to stand in line - just another incentive to get your entries completed prior to show day!

On show day the secretary is there to support you but, especially in the case of a schooling show, she is often wearing many hats. At our most recent show I was the secretary, Dressage scorer, show scorer and volunteer check-in person in addition to handing out awards. My life is chaotic on show day, especially in the morning when competitors are arriving to complete their entries and dressage and show jumping are running simultaneously. Once dressage wraps up and all the competitors are checked in, my life gets a bit easier.

Pinning a Division: Generally, a division will be pinned 30 minutes after scores are posted. Of course a schooling show doesn't need to be so precise but, again, we show secretaries are human and make mistakes. If we post scores and give out a couple of prizes immediately and a few of you go on your merry way, then ten minutes later we discover that a refusal had not been attributed somewhere or we missed something else on the score sheet, we don't usually have enough prizes to award to the rightful winners. I can't stand it when we keep you waiting for hours after competing but I will always mail ribbons to anyone who requests it. I totally understand the need to get on the road. But often the show secretary does not have control. Schooling shows are usually understaffed. If we are still running riders and don't have a volunteer to pick up scores, there isn't much I can do about tabulating and posting them. So please try to be patient with me. I'm not doing it on purpose. I am not out watching the dressage and the jumping. I have no idea what is going on out there. I am in my little office waiting for people to bring me things. I work as quickly as I can but then again, whenever I go super quickly, I make mistakes and then you guys really get frustrated and rightly so!

My Pledge to My Beginner Novice Division!: Next time, I absolutely promise, we will collect XC scores between BN divisions. There are so many of you! Which is awesome but it means it takes almost two hours to jump all of you around our XC course which means hours of waiting for the division to be pinned and that is my fault and not ok so I will do better in the future. I've made that mistake twice now.

What else does a show secretary do?: I suppose the answer to this question varies but in my case, I create flyers and entry forms, post information to our website and Facebook Page. I collect entries, enter rider information into our database, track entry documentation. I manage the budget for the show season, including our recognized show, and am responsible for providing a financial statement at the end of each show. I field emails and phone calls from people with a variety of questions, support our volunteer coordinator by helping to find volunteers. I maintain supplies of ribbons, dressage tests, rider numbers and prizes. I create the show program, print course maps, make up packets and, under the guidance of our show organizers, create ride times. I make up clipboards for our dressage judges, show jumping judge, XC fence judges and our ring stewards. I make sure we have at least 30 fully functioning walkie talkies, fully charged and ready to go on show day. I score tests. I create electronic score sheets which are very helpful and look nice when I post them throughout the day. I keep a supply of useful items on hand and lend support wherever it is needed. I also help set up dressage rings, stadium jumps and anything else that needs to be done because, though I get paid to be show secretary, I am also a volunteer.  I typically put in many many hours to get through a three phase show so I consider my job a hybrid between a paid job and a volunteer job.

While most of the above information holds true for recognized shows, there are a few differences.  Their closing dates are a bit earlier so that they can post times earlier. They have to follow rules about having times up a certain number of days prior to the event. They will be more strict regarding entry completion and closing dates. They require membership in the USEA for Beginner Novice up and in USEF for Preliminary and higher. Their fees are significantly higher because they have to pay for a TD (Technical Delegate), more judges, course design and other officials.

Thank you to all of you who come out to our shows, whether as riders, grooms, spectators or the all important volunteers without whom there would be no show. At the end of the day, we are all doing this for the love of an amazing sport and the thrill of sharing it with our wonderful eventing community!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Keeping Horses at Home

Here I go again, writing on a topic of which I know very little. BUT, I know enough to have made the decision, for now, not to keep horses at home. There are a number of things I had not considered early on in our horse journey which came to light as I explored the possibility of moving to a horse property and keeping horses at home. For me, these details gave me pause, but for others they may be no big deal.

There are many reasons for keeping horses at home - reduced costs, more time with them, control over their care. The whole thing looks very different if money is no object than it does if you are on a tight budget. For our purposes, I'm going to be practical and assume you are not the type with bottomless pockets.

If you have more than one horse, you can't help thinking about the financial savings of keeping horses in your backyard rather than boarding them. Here in the Metro-West area outside Boston, board is extremely expensive ranging from $1,000 - $1,300 a month within a reasonable distance of our house. It's similar to the economics of day care vs. a nanny. The more kids you have, the more cost effective the nanny option looks.

The first thing we thought about when exploring the option of keeping the horses at home was the monthly cost of doing so. If you do all of your own barn chores, the cost to feed a horse in this area is about $350 per month which includes hay and grain. If you will have nice grass turnout that cost may go down a bit in the summer since they can graze and reduce your hay costs. Hay is about $10 a bale and a horse eats about a bale a day, maybe 3/4 of a bale. Your other significant cost is bedding. You will need shavings or some other form of bedding for your stall. If you have a run in stall, your bedding might last longer than if your horses are kept in all night. Regardless, plan for about $100 - $150 a month for bedding. I'm not including supplements in this discussion since their cost is the same whether the horses are at home or boarded somewhere else.

It looks like keeping horses at home could save us about $700 a month per horse (if you are doing everything yourself) which is pretty significant. But there are a few more costs to consider. First of all, there is the cost of living on a horse property. For us, moving to a town that allows horses would increase my husband's commute significantly and would have taken my two non-horsey sons away from a public school system they love so right there we had a deal breaker. But even if those pieces had fallen into place, we had a hard time finding a property we could handle that would give us everything we wanted. We currently enjoy the use of an indoor arena, several outdoor sand rings, jumps and fields. If we were at home, we would have reduced facilities.

Insurance and manure management are two additional significant costs. I am told by my friends who have horses at home that managing two is really not bad but adding a third horse seems to be a breaking point as far as the amount of mucking required and the quantity of manure you need to dispose of on a weekly basis.

Some rural towns will give you a good break on your property taxes if you are using your property as a working farm so look into the rules. The savings here might compensate for some of the costs listed above.

So now you've crunched the numbers, it's time to talk about the more subjective pros and cons of keeping horses at home versus boarding them. On the con side, having horses at home ties you down. My friends with horses at home are frequently looking for people they can hire to come take care of things when they want to go away for a weekend and it costs quite a bit to hire such a person. I believe they pay people about $100 a day for someone to come muck, feed and often stay overnight. Even when you are in town, horses tie you down. 7 days a week someone needs to be up early to feed them and turn them out. If everyone in the household is willing to take turns getting up and doing morning chores, then it might not be so bad. Horses need hay throughout the day unless they are turned out on grass so someone needs to be around to throw hay and fill water buckets in the middle of the day, everyday. And someone has to do night check, break the ice in the water buckets through the winter, change blankets, take care of emergencies, etc. There are some great devices such as automatic waterers and heated water buckets that will reduce your efforts but at the end of the day, horses need a great deal of care.

Horses don't usually like to be alone. If you have one horse you probably will want to provide the horse with a companion. You can run into trouble if you want to take one of the horses to a horse show or clinic for the day. Some of my friends end up dragging horse #2 along frequently so he doesn't get into mischief being home alone. You need to think through your program and consider what is the best number of horses to have at home for your lifestyle.

On the pro side, having your horses at home can be a great joy. I would love to have ponies in my backyard, to walk out the door and be with them any hour of the day. I would love to be at home more. My dog would prefer to have us home more! I could cook dinner while my daughter rode her horse. I think this becomes a bigger pro as the kids get older, have more homework and trips to the barn take up too much time.  We could afford to have two horses if we kept them at home. That's probably the biggest argument in favor of the idea for me. And I assume the bond is much greater when you take care of your own horse each day.

Having a farm is a serious lifestyle choice. If you really want one, then go for it! If you are just trying to find a way to cut costs, make sure you are truly ready for the commitment. If you aren't super knowledgeable, do you have someone you can call if something goes wrong in the night?

And if you're thinking about taking on something bigger, a boarding facility, think again unless you really know what you are doing. I know it sounds completely logical to buy a ten stall barn, rent 8 out to cover your costs and bring in a little bit of money, allowing you to justify having horses. Running a boarding facility is a ton of work and, unless you plan to do every bit of that work yourself, you are unlikely to see a profit. Look into how much you can charge for board. Backyard barns can't charge the same type of board a facility with an indoor and large outdoor rings can charge. Trainers running their own facilities always say they break even or lose money on the board and make it up with teaching or running shows or hay sales or some other horse adjacent business.

The other issue with running a boarding facility is that your home is no longer your own private space. You will have people there all the time and often those people will feel entitled to tell you what to do and to ask you to change your home to please them. I think I'd have a difficult time with this aspect of taking in boarders.

If I haven't talked you out of it yet, then good luck! I'm jealous! And I really hope to follow in your footsteps some day.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Holiday Wreath: How to make a horse head wreath!

My apologies for how long it has taken for me to sit down and write this post. Hopefully, the information has been worth waiting for!

Last year I saw a few photos of horse head shaped wreaths on Facebook and Pinterest so I decided to make my own. Searches for information on how to make them led to unsatisfactory instructions so I struck out to figure things out for myself. This is what works for me and I really like the look of my wreaths but I encourage you to try something different and let me know how it goes!

Tools: garden sheers, wire, wire cutters,
floral picks and preservative.

Start by determining the shape and size of your wreath. Mine are quite large. I like to really fill in the door. I've seen them with more extreme curves through the neck, smaller, all kinds of shapes. Using a large piece of paper (I use pattern drafting paper but anything that will accommodate your desired dimensions will work), draw out your horse head. This took me awhile. I have some great tools from my work in fashion which helped me perfect my curves. Don't obsess TOO much but getting the shape right from the start makes everything else much easier.

Once you have your shape, you can cut out your frame. I use a plastic coated chicken wire I buy in a package from Home Depot. With the dimensions I chose, I can cut about 10 frames from one package. Lay the paper pattern on top of the wire and using wire cutters, cut the approximate shape.

The first layer of greens is wired onto the frame.
Next you will add your greens. I use Fraser Fur for the base and white pine for the forelock and mane. I use regular floral wire to attach the bits of greenery. Start at the tip of the nose and the bottom of the body and work your way up layering the greens. I find you can't just plop branches on and be done. It won't be full enough everywhere. You need to cut bits off the branches and wire them into the bare spots. This takes me about two hours. I'm very picky. This year the Fraser Fur was not great so it took more time. I really had to fill in where branches were sparse.

Once all the greens have been wired on and
the mane and forelock have been added, spray
with preservative.
For most of the wiring, I find smaller pieces of wire - 2 - 3" - are easier to handle. Longer pieces leave too much excess at the back of the wreath. When adding the White Pine on top, you will need slightly longer pieces of wire since they will have to wrap around more than just the wire frame. White Pine can grow in long or short branches. I like to take advantage of the different lengths to make a more natural look for the mane. I will cut several branches of different lengths, wire them together at the top and then wire them onto the wreath. The White Pine is a bit tougher to put onto the wreath securely without having messy wire showing.

Once your greens are secure cut a very long piece of wire, about 3 - 4 feet, fold it in half, put the loop end into the back of the wreath frame and bring the ends of the wire through the loop, around a piece of the frame. This will be your hanger. I put mine close to the mane so that my wreath hangs with its nose pointing down a bit.

I spray all my wreaths at this point. I use a preservative purchased at the garden center which will keep my wreath looking fresh and green for most of the winter. Considering the amount of work that goes into making this wreath, you will likely want to keep it up as a decoration well past Christmas. It is worth preserving. Last year I kept mine up into March and it never turned brown.

Next you will want to decorate your wreath. I find it easiest to do the crown first, followed by the halter and then finish with the nose and eye. It is easier to place the nose and eye properly once the halter is on the head.

For my crown pieces I like to do a mixture of pine cones, berries, juniper, and a cinnamon stick but the crown decor can be whatever you like. I have seen one large, glittery flower which has great punch and is visible from a distance. Last year I went with more natural, subdued tones. Regardless, the purpose of this decoration beyond making the wreath more lovely, is to cover up the ends of the white pine which make up the forelock and the mane. Be careful not to fully cover your ear with your crown decoration. Some of the items I use come on a pick with wire, some I add a pick and some I add using long pieces of floral wire.

Now for the halter. I believe what sets my wreaths apart from all others are the awesome halters I make. You can use ribbon to make a simple ribbon halter as shown in the photo below. It looks nice and is very easy to do with a hot glue gun. However, I think it is worth going a step further and making halters to fit the wreaths, as seen to the right. To make the halter you need 1" wide webbing, ribbon less than 1" wide, velcro and brass rings. When the greens are on your wreath, measure to determine how long each piece needs to be. I make mine in 4 pieces. The nose band and throat and crown pieces velcro in the back. I add an extra brass loop as a faux attachment for a lead rope. When cutting the webbing, be sure to use a hot knife or burn the ends a little with a match so they don't fray. I suppose I could write an entire how to on making the halters but basically, I cut the ribbon lengths longer than the webbing and use the ribbon to wrap around the brass loops, stitching down the ends of the ribbon.

Once you've determined the halter type you will be using, place it on the wreath.  If you are using the more permanent webbing type halter and choose to add a brass name plate as I have done, you may need to use wire or picks on the back of the name plate to secure it to the wreath so that it doesn't droop from the weight of the metal. Once the halter is securely in place, add your eye and nose. I love the seed pod for an eye but they are rather large. If you use a seed pod, just cut a long piece of wire, push it through the back of the pod and wire it into place. I use a pine cone nose and use floral wire wrapped around the pine cone to attach it to the wreath.

Please let me know if you have more questions or would like better instructions for making the halters. I'm contemplating making a kit for people which would include the frame, a halter and possibly the decorations for the crown, eye and nose. I sold my wreaths this year and it was a ton of fun but shipping them was a bit crazy. I shipped one to my sister in Oregon and it cost over $60 to ship. The box, bubble wrap and other shipping supplies were also a little nuts. However, I shipped 3 wreaths and all 3 made it in good shape! I may try to redesign the wreath size and shape for shipping for next year to find something a little easier to box up.

If you have one of my wreaths or plan to make one, I encourage you to recycle. It does take time to undo all that wire on the back but the plastic coated chicken wire holds up really well. Once you have the frame and the halter, making your wreaths year after year is pretty simple and just takes a little time.

I have seen wreaths made with fake greens. If you insist on having an artificial wreath, buy the more expensive, branch style greens and wire it together as I've explained above. If you use the fake garland and snake it onto the frame you just cannot get that lovely, natural layered look that is so pleasing.

I love my wreaths. I love making them and now, I hope you will as well!

If you just want the wreath without all the hassle or if you would like a kit so you can make a wreath just like mine without having to create your own frame or source your own materials, check out my Etsy store where I sell wreaths and kits!