Sunday, February 16, 2014

What do I need to know before I buy a saddle?

Your saddle is the most expensive, and the most important, piece of tack you will buy.  There are some important things to consider and being trendy, pretty or cheap are not the priorities in choosing a saddle.  I've bought four saddles this year, three for my daughter and one for me.  I learned something from each purchase.

If you have your own pony, the saddle should fit the pony.  Fitting the rider is important but fitting the pony is more important.  A poorly fitting saddle can give the pony a sore back, making him cranky and unwilling to work.  If the saddle doesn't fit the rider, she will fight the saddle and find it difficult to use her seat properly.  I experienced this for the first time this winter which prompted me to buy my own saddle, something I longed to own for nearly 30 years.  I tried about 10 saddles from Dover Saddlery and found that some were a terrible fit for me and others were great.  Buying saddles is process and can take time.  It can be frustrating but it is worth doing the work to find the right saddle for you and your horse.

Basic Jump Saddle

Dressage saddle without stirrups
There are 2 major categories of English saddles - jumping (all purpose and close contact fall into this category for our purposes) and dressage.  The current trend is to have brown tack for jumping and black tack for dressage.  Your bridle and stirrup leathers should match the color of your saddle.  Dressage saddles have longer flaps (the leather pieces on the side of the horse under the rider's leg), longer billets (the straps that attach to the girth) and a much deeper seat.  They often have significant knee blocks.  Jump saddles make it easier for the rider to get up and out of the seat with shorter, more forward flaps.

Each brand of saddle is a little different and they start with different shapes.  Some are very flat, some are very rounded or narrow.  There are the brands sold in retails stores and there are the higher end custom saddle brands.  Saddles can be purchased from retails
stores, saddle makers, saddle fitters and consignment shops.  Buying a saddle from a consignment shop is a great way to go if you can find the proper fit for your horse.  There's a place in New Hampshire called Pelham Saddlery.  They have an amazing selection of used saddles and will come to you with saddles for a reasonable fee which is waved if you buy a saddle from them.

The saddles sold in retail stores - Collegiate, Pessoa, Stubben, Bates - while pricey, are less expensive than custom brands such as County, Black Country and about 100 more.  A decent retail store saddle will cost between $1000 - $2000 and more.  Custom saddles are about $5000 new.  Used saddles are often not much less than new saddles, especially if they have been well maintained.  It just depends on the saddle.  A major difference, besides the custom fitting and leather quality, is the flocking or padding in the "panels" under the saddle where it rests against the horse's back.  Flocking is usually wool (it can be synthetic) and looks like it just came off the sheep's back.  It's reasonably adjustable.  Many of the retail store brands use foam, memory foam or air bags to fill the panels.  Some of the retail store brands can be converted from air bags to flocking to improve fit, comfort and adjustability.

Another thing to look for is an adjustable tree or gullet.  The tree itself isn't really adjustable.  The tree is the hard structure the saddle is built around.  The gullet plate is the metal piece at the front of the tree that can be changed.  Pessoa, Bates and others offer adjustable trees.  They have an opening that allows you to get into the construction of the saddle and use a screwdriver or allen wrench to take out one gullet plate and replace it with a wider, narrower, longer one.  This is especially useful if you will be changing horses from time to time.  Some of the custom brands have a metal piece at the crown of the tree and a good saddle fitter will be able to bend it to the shape of the horse within reason.  This is not something you can do for yourself, however,

The best thing to do when buying a saddle is to contact a saddle fitter.  I bought all my saddles before doing this.  It worked out fine but I may have made different choices if I had spoken to her first.  My daughter's first saddle was an easy purchase.  We bought a little saddle used from a friend when we leased her first pony.  The price was right but the saddle was really too small for my daughter.  When we bought her current pony, I had a woman from Dover Saddlery bring saddles to the barn to try on him.  We decided to buy both jump and dressage saddles, primarily because there happened to be an extremely well priced dressage saddle on closeout that fit both Elizabeth and her pony.  We also bought at Mattes Pad with shims to help correct the fit of the both saddles.  Her jump saddle happens to be a Pessoa but that was just the one that fit the pony the best though we do need to use the correction pad to get the fit he needs.

When it was my turn to buy a saddle, I chose a Bates saddle after trying several other brands.  The price was reasonable considering I don't own my own horse and I had read online that Bates saddles are easily converted from air pads to flocking.  It's a really nice saddle and I love riding in it.

What do saddle sizes mean?  There are two main sizes - the tree size/gullet size and the seat size.  The tree which is the major structure of the saddle, can be made of wood, plastic, and other hard substances,  fits the horse and can be narrow, wide, flat, round, curved.  Every brand tends toward its own shape.  The gullet plate is the piece that can be changed in adjustable saddles, usually starting with a medium which can be changed to be narrower or wider.  As long as you buy a saddle that doesn't have an extreme tree shape, changing the gullet plate and amount of flocking can go a long way to getting a saddle to fit most horses.  The seat size ranges from 15 for a tiny children's saddle to an 18 and up for large men.  I'm 5'7" and ride in a 17" seat.  My daughter is almost 5' tall and she rides in a 16.5" seat which has a little room for her to grow.  The seat is measured by stretching a tape measure from the button to the center back of the seat (A to B in the diagram above).  If you are looking at dressage saddles, the flap length may become a factor.  The flap measurement is F in the diagram above.

About a month ago we met with a saddle fitter.  This is different than the woman from Dover who came out to try saddles on our pony for us.  The saddle fitter has taken an intensive course in England and she apprenticed to an American saddle fitting legend.  Over time she has developed her own approach and I found it fascinating to watch her work.  Her name is Diane Williams and if you are in the New England area she is wonderful.  But wherever you are, there should be good saddle fitters available to you.  This is a list of saddle fitters I found on the website of yet another custom saddle maker and Diane is on the list.

The saddle fitter will first palpate the horse's back and check for sensitivity and any issues the horse might be having.  The she will put the saddle on your horse without anything under it.  She can see if it's sitting to high or low.  She will add or remove flocking, adjust the tree.  I had her convert my Bates saddle from air to flocking and she got a great fit for the horse I ride.  As it turned out, the inexpensive Circuit dressage saddle I bought my daughter was flocked with synthetic fiber fill.  Diane pulled some out and replaced it with wool.  Again, she was able to achieve an excellent fit.  My daughter no longer needs to use the Mattes Pad with this saddle and has gone from hating riding in it to finding it extremely comfortable.  Elizabeth's Pessoa jump saddle, while very comfortable, has a foam construction.  There was nothing Diane could do for it so Elizabeth still needs to use the Mattes Pad to get a good fit on her pony which is fine, just a little annoying.  We still like Elizabeth's jump saddle and considering she will outgrow this pony and the saddle in two years, we would not have considered anything custom made.  I would, however, lean towards Bates saddles in the future.  I really do love mine, the prices are good, the leather is high quality, the tree is adjustable and they can be converted to wool flocking giving you the best of everything.

Once you buy a saddle, remember you will need to buy stirrups, stirrup pads and stirrup leathers.  Leathers come in a variety of lengths so if you are buying for a child, be sure to get short leathers.  You can always punch more holes but it's nice if they fit right off the bat.  Stirrups also come in sizes - widths.  Just pay attention to what you are buying and ask for help.  You will need a quilted saddle pad to go between the horse and the saddle to keep the saddle clean and to keep it from slipping around.  And of course you will need a girth.  We like fuzzy girths and prefer the Toklat girth for our jumping saddles.  They are washable and comfortable for the horse.  If you buy a dressage saddle, the girth will be 20 inches shorter than a jump girth, most likely black to match the saddle and the pad may need to be a bit bigger to accommodate the longer flaps.  This is a good article on choosing the proper girth.

And now that you own a saddle, you need to take care of it!  Saddles that are kept clean and conditioned will last a lifetime.  In our house we clean saddles with glycerin soap, oil the billets, flaps and leathers and condition the seat with Lexol conditioner and oil.  There are a ton of great products on the market.  Some people prefer to clean with specially designed leather cleaners such as Effax Combi. Check out your local tack store and talk to a pony clubber to find out more about serious tack cleaning.

Congratulations on your huge purchase!  Happy riding!


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I hate to sound silly, but what does my pony eat?

It may sound silly to some people but honestly, if we hadn't left our first barn and joined pony club, I don't think I would have any idea how to answer this question.  The day we changed barns, the owner of our old barn gave me a great list of everything the new barn would need to know and that was when I realized how little I knew about our pony.  I had no clue what any of it meant.  I'm pleased to say I now know exactly what our pony eats and I am the one who decides what to feed him (with lots of help from people who know what they're doing).  It isn't that difficult once you get your head around the basics.

The most important component to a horse's diet is forage or roughage - grass or hay.  Some horses in some climates live outside in grassy pastures all the time and graze.  That is often their only form of sustenance.  Lucky horses!  

Because we have developed an artificial lifestyle for our horse athletes, we usually need to supplement their forage with concentrates - usually grain.

Succulents are the fun, "healthy" treats we like to give horses such as apples, carrots and fresh grass.  They are a treat and should be given to reward good behavior and not given in excess.

And lastly, just like humans, our modern, artificially kept horses often take supplements - think of them as vitamins.  Technically, supplements fall under concentrates but I order them separately and for beginners like us, they are easier to comprehend on their own.

So those are the basics.  Now for the nitty gritty.

Horses have enormously long intestines and food takes about 3 days to make it's way through their bodies.  It is important that they eat very little, very frequently.  Horses need more food than ponies.  Concentrates can be high in sugar and make ponies very excited - just like a child gets hyped up on cupcakes and ice cream at a birthday party.  

According to my pony club daughter, roughage feed includes hay (varieties include timothy, clover, bermuda, alfalfa), grass, hay pellets, range cubes and sugar beet pulp.  Hay pellets, range cubes and sugar beet pulp must be soaked before feeding.  They expand in water so if you feed them dry, they will expand in the horse's stomach and can cause their stomach to explode.  Which leads me to inform you of the fact that horses cannot vomit.  Therefore, what goes in stays in unless removed surgically. 

Horses eat hay all day and all night.  They need this to keep their digestion moving.  How much they eat depends on size.  Hay is given at our barn first thing in the morning (6am?), they are then turned out with hay after their grain (if they get grain), given hay again around noon, 2:00, 5:00 and 9:00pm.

Horses have very sensitive systems.  When there is a change in hay, they can react badly.  Therefore, when any change is made, it should be made slowly.  When we go away for a couple of days we travel with our own hay.  If we are away for a week we may bring 2 bales and mix it with the new hay for a few days before changing over completely.  Then we have to do the same thing in reverse upon our return home.

Concentrates are the means we use to control our horses weight and nutrition.  Depending on your hay, your horse may not be getting all the nutrients he needs.  There are a million different products out there to combat this problem.  Many brands have comparable grain products and most barn managers know a reasonable amount about the grains they feed.  Grain is usually fed twice a day, morning and late afternoon at our barn.  Our pony didn't get any grain or supplements prior to living with us but we now feed him a tiny amount of MVP in the morning.  MVP is a pellet form vitamin.  It gives him some nutrition and something fun to eat in the morning.  It also gives us something to mix with his supplements which come in powder form.  We give him supplements for his digestion because he's kind of gassy.  There are so many products and it is all incredibly confusing.  Find someone who really knows what they are doing to help you figure out what your pony needs.  He likely doesn't need anything!

On the topic of supplements, for people like us who have one pony and embrace convenience,
SmartPaks are a great thing.  You can choose whatever supplements you feel your horse needs, determine the quantity (they are very helpful with this, professional vitamin salespeople) and whether you want them in the am or pm feed.  The company then packages the supplements and ships them, usually free of charge, to your barn so whoever is doing the feeding at your barn just opens a pack each morning or evening and adds it in.  If you instead choose to buy supplements in bulk you can make up your own packs using ziploc baggies.  This is what we did with our first two ponies.  It takes quite a bit of time and was tedious.  SmarPaks are just easier for us.  That said, not every supplement is available.  Again, this is whatever works for you and your horse!

Another extremely important component of your equine diet is salt and water.  Your horse should always have a salt lick in his stall.  Take note of whether or not your horse is consuming the salt.  And horses always need an ample supply of fresh water.  This is something your barn should be providing throughout the day, especially in winter when the water buckets freeze over and need to be broken open with a hammer every few hours.

I'm sure you've heard the terms colic and founder but may not really know what they mean.  Colic refers to a twisting of the intestines.  With so much intestine floating around in their big horse bodies, horses are prone to this issue.  How you feed them can contribute to or reduce the risk of colic.  Horses should not eat concentrates just prior to or just after hard work.  A little hay is OK but if you plan to ride around grain feeding time, ask the barn to hold the grain until after you ride.  You should not ride for at least 30 minutes after grain is fed and should not give it to your horse after work until they are fully cooled down and have first consumed a little hay to get their digestive system going again.  If the weather is good and you have time to graze your horse after riding, make sure that he is fully cooled down first.  And be careful about how much grass you let him eat.  Especially in the spring time the sugar content of the grass can be very high and too much sugar can cause him to founder.

What is founder?  It is a condition of the hoof in which the coffin bone pulls away from the hoof.  I don't fully understand it but this is a pretty good article if you would like to learn more.  The thing you need to know is that too much sugar can seriously damage a horse's delicate system.  It seems strange that sugar can cause huge issues in the hooves but that is exactly what happens.  Horses' hooves are complicated and connected to their nervous systems.  Unfortunately, once a horse has these hoof issues caused by founder, or laminitis, a different but equally horrifying hoof issue, there is little that can be done for them.

We have cared for three ponies.  All three had significantly different diets and all three stayed nutritionally healthy.  All three taught me something about feed.  Our second pony had to have her hay soaked to remove dust - she had allergies.  She also had monthly allergy shots.  And she loved to eat.  She is a prime example of ponies who just love to eat eat eat and it is up to us to help control that tendency.  Our first pony on the other hand tended to be rather slim, unusual for a pony.  Our current pony is super easy.  I think he's pretty psyched to have morning grain.  We don't give him afternoon grain and unlike the horses who know it's feeding time and start making noise around 3:00pm, he is happy to eat a little hay and do some work in exchange for a yummy treat.  We've given different supplements to each pony as well.  I'm not sure if any of them do anything but it makes me feel like a good caregiver.  There are supplements out there for marsh behavior, for old age, to make their coat shiny and for anything else you can think of.  They can be very expensive and some probably are worth giving.

As with everything, make sure you have someone who can help you with knowing what to feed your pony and when.  That's the most important thing.  If you can, spend a day helping out with feeding at your barn and learn from the people who work there.  With 40 some horses at our barn it's fascinating to see all the different feed.  Some people bring in their own hay because they like feeding alfalfa or timothy.  Some horses have serious issues and need really special feed regiments.  Some guys like ours just eat what they're given and seem to thrive on anything.  Once again, horses are a lot like people.

If you care to read further on the topic, the pony club manuals have great information.  The D Level Manual is a little shorter and more simplistic and starts on page 199.  The C Level Manual is longer and goes into great detail starting on page 167.  I highly recommend reading these books if you can find the time.

Happy eating!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My daughter is obsessed with horses. What books might she like to read?

This post has the most hits of any post I've written in the years I've been blogging so I thought it called for an update. I once again enlisted the help of my voracious reader of horse books, my daughter. 

My daughter devours horse books. We've got them all. So I thought I'd try to give you a list with a little something for every age. Most of the comments come directly from my 11 1/2 year old daughter (now 13 1/2 as I update this blog) since I haven't read most of these books. Many we originally found at the library. The Wellesely Library has a great horse book list. Others we stumbled upon through Amazon recommendations. At the end I've included my favorites for grown ups. Some of them you will love wether you are a horse person or not. These are just plain good books. And reading a good book about horses will help any non-horse obsessed parent relate to their horse obsessed child a little more. All titles are linked to Amazon. Several of the books are only available as eBooks.

Early Readers

Keeker by Hadley Higginson - Pre-reader to early reader.  Fun bed time stories.

Pony Pals by Jeanne Betancourt - These were written awhile back.  There are at least 20 books. Similar to Keeker, pre - early reader.

Horse Diaries - 10 books, each written by a different author.  The books are not related to each other, each being about a different horse.  My daughter's favorites are #2 Bell's Star and #10 Darcy.

Elementary School

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry - Marguerite Henry wrote many wonderful horse novels starting with this one which won the Newbery Award and was originally published in 1947.  My daughter enjoyed all the Misty books but didn't really like her other books.  Elizabeth recommends Misty of Chincoteague, Stormy: Misty's Foal and Misty's Twilight.

Wildwood Stables by Suzanne Weyn - There are 6 books in this Scholastic series and was the first series Elizabeth really got into.  She thinks these are good for 3rd grade and up even though the main character is a 13 year old girl.  It takes place in a hunter lesson barn.

Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan - This book is about an orphan girl who lives in an orphanage with a barn.  Elizabeth says it's a really good book.

Running Horse Ridge Series by Heather Brooks - There are 3 books in this series appropriate for 4th grade and up.  The main character's mother died when she was a baby and she lives with her dad.  She's a dressage rider.

Chestnut Hill Series by Lauren Brooke - There are 6 books in this series which, while appropriate for 4th grade and up, is about bratty girls.  This was not one of Elizabeth's favorites.

Middle School (Elizabeth read many of these in 5th grade)

Heartland Series by Lauren Brooke - There are 20 books in this series which Elizabeth says are more sad and realistic.  The main character ages from 12 through high school during the series.  Her family owns a horse rehab center so it's about caring for the horses.

Thoroughbred Series by Joanna Campbell - 59 books in the original series and 15 books in the sequel Ashleigh series.  These are nice books about a girl whose family raises race horses.  Appropriate for 4th grade and up.

Canterwood Crest Series by Jessica Burkhart - This series has 20 books and has been Elizabeth's favorite for awhile.  It's a little Dana Hall (local boarding school with equine program) meets eventing.  There is some basic teen content - romance, social stuff - but appropriate for 5th - 8th grade.

Timber Ridge Riders Series by Maggie Dana - So far there are 8 books in this series.  Elizabeth wrote an email to the author last summer and she wrote back!  The stories are about two 15 year old girls who are eventers.

Horses of Oak Valley Ranch Series by Jane Smiley - These are excellent books.  There are 5 of them so far starting with The Georges and the Jewels.  Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist who has always owned horses.  Her editor asked her to write a young adult horse series since they are in such high demand.  If only all series were of this caliber.

Indefensible by Rebecca Frankeny - I read this one to make sure it was OK for E.  The writing isn't the best but even I enjoyed the story.  It's about best friend eventers and their horses.  Good for 5th grade and up but the older the girl the more she'll really get the story.

Bittersweet Farm by Barbara Morgenroth - There are 6 books in this series for horse lovers.  There is definitely some boy girl stuff in these books so better for late middle school.  The girls live on a horse farm, they start off doing hunters and eq then one ends up doing dressage.  Elizabeth is hooked on these books.

The Shadows Breathe and The Shadows Fall by Kathleen Marentes - These books focus on training show horses, primarily Saddlebreds and Arabians.  There are story lines which include horse abuse and drugging and people who work to stop the abuse.

Turning on a Dime by Maggie Dana - By the same author as the Timber Ridge Rider series, the main character travels through time to the Civil War era.  Another favorite of Elizabeth's.

Show Jumping Dreams by Claire Svendsen - This is a series of over 20 books. They're all good and flow one to the next. A girl loses her sister and mother and ends up living with her father and accumulates 4 horses. There are some mean girl dynamics, boys in the later books.

Young Adult

Shadow Horse and Whirlwind by Alison Hart - These are definitely young adult books, again, according to Elizabeth who read them at age 11.  The main character is a teenaged girl who ends up with a foster family who runs a rehab center for animals.

A Circuit by Georgina Bloomberg - Young adult, 8th grade through high school.  I bought one of these for Elizabeth and made the mistake of not pre reading it.  There was a scene with a keg party and some heavy boy girl stuff.  My sons discovered the problem and we pulled the book.

Dancing with Horses by Toni Mari - There are currently 3 books in this series about a college aged dressage rider trying to make it to the North American Junior Young Rider Championship.

Alex and Alexander by Natalie Keller Reinert - This is a 4 book series about life at the race track. Alex, the main character, is in her mid-twenties.

Ambition by Natalie Keller Reinert - This is the only book currently available in this series focused on eventing. It takes place in Florida and the main character has always dreamed of having her own farm. She is trying to make her way as an event trainer.

Nadia and Winny by Rachel Eliker - This two book series (Headed for the Win and Road to the Ragalia) is about an event rider moving through the upper levels who changes places with her horse (think Freaky Friday, equine addition).

Great Books for High School Kids through Adults (ranked by how much I enjoyed them)

Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley - This is my all time favorite book.  I reread it every year.  I don't know if I love it because I love horses or just because it is such a great book.  She writes about the horses as though they were human characters and it is awesome.  It's about horse racing but really, it's about horses and the people who live with them.  So well written and I learned a ton about horse racing and training.

Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts - This is one of those random books I bought having no idea what it might be about.  I wanted to read it to make sure it was appropriate for E and I got totally hooked.  It's your typical - and true - underdog story about an amazing horse saved from the slaughter truck who went on to win many times at Madison Square Garden.  Again, maybe I loved it because I love horses but I think anyone who loves a good, well written story would embrace this one.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand - I'm guessing you've read the book or seen the movie.  The book, as usual, is WAY better than the movie.  Another great underdog story.  Super well written non-fiction tale of the triple crown winning race horse.

Horse People by Michael Korda - Another book I randomly picked up because it had a horse on the cover.  I was so pleasantly surprised by this book written by the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster.  He tells numerous stories about his interactions with horses and horse people.  A rider himself, he has some good stories to tell - from fox hunting in the South to riding in Central Park in New York.  I've read criticism of this book for being more about wealthy people and their lifestyle rather than about the connection between people and their horses but I enjoyed it anyway.  I think it's a horse book non-horse people can enjoy.

Falling for Eli by Nancy Shullins - This was a lovely memoir about how a horse can come into a life and completely change it. Nancy Shullins tells her story with sensitivity and humor. I don't know if a non-horse person would get as much out of this book but it would probably be a valuable read for anyone with a horse person in their life. It might give you some perspective on the depth of the relationship between horse and rider.

And that's my list! Happy reading for you and your horse obsessed child!


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Blanketing: Why does the pony have more clothes than I do?

****Note: The links in this post aren't really recommendations.  At the bottom I will give you a run down on what I know of brands and places to buy them but I am putting links with lots of the items I mention just so you have a reference point for what I'm talking about.

Living in New England, blankets are a pretty serious topic.  Everyone kind of develops their own system and brand preferences and you will too.  However, we all need a jumping off point.

Last winter we were at a barn that really took care of the blanketing for us.  Our leased pony came with blankets and we didn't think about it too much.  Heading into winter this year we had a new pony and no blankets.  I didn't even know where to begin.

One big issue is that pony sizes are hard to come by so where horses have the option of buying a set from one brand and having all the layers work together, ponies end up with a bit of a hodge podge.  Then there is the issue of where to buy blankets.  I like to buy from my local tack shop.  It saves shipping costs and means I can try things out and exchange them if they don't work.  This is really important with blankets - just as it is with saddles and bridles.  But when it comes to ponies, the local shop won't always have what you need.  Sometimes, they can't even order it!  In that case, Just for Ponies is the place to go.  Even then you may not find what you need.

So what do you need?  It depends on where you live but if temps get down to 20 degrees in your area you should, at a minimum, have a turnout sheet, a cooler and a heavy.  A turnout sheet is the horse version of a lightweight rain jacket.  It can be put on when it's 50 and raining to keep the horse dry.  We also use ours overnight before a show so the clean pony can't get dirty when he rolls.  A cooler can take many forms but is essentially a cotton or fleece layer that can be put on either to keep a damp pony from catching a chill or as a layering piece under a turnout sheet.  So if it's 30 and rainy you may put a fleece cooler under the turnout.  Turnout sheets also come in medium and heavy fill powers so the heavy is like a super warm North Face down coat, usually with 300 grams of fill.  The medium is just a little lighter, usually around 200 grams of fill.  Both should be waterproof.  Many, like the Smartpak Deluxe, can be ordered in any or all of the 3 weights.  Sometimes you find you can order your blankets in a set which gives you more layering options rather than a heavy weight turn out.  I'm surprised by how much we use both the heavy and the medium.  Sometimes one of them gets wet so it's nice to have the other one available.  If you have a horse you are likely to have for a long time it's worth have a good selection of blankets and sheets.

If you live in a cool climate, a quarter sheet is a really good idea.  I made the one in this photo from a blanket called a Chappy Wrap.  A quarter sheet is soft and warm and is used to keep the horse warm while riding on a really cold day.  It has side extensions that go under the saddle flaps and meet in front of the saddle where they velcro to keep the sheet in place while you ride.

There are several other types of blankets and sheets out there.  Typically if someone refers to a sheet they mean the lightweight turnout.  However, there are also stable sheets.  These are not waterproof and are more appropriate for a life indoors.  It's nice to have a stable sheet for trailering or for putting on when they come in on a rainy day so the turnout can hang and dry.  It can also be a good layering piece.  The Baker Blanket is an equine staple and we have 2.  They are great for layering and come in wool or cotton.  We have cotton which is easy to take home and run through the washing machine (more on cleaning horse clothes in a minute).  Another good item to have in your equine wardrobe is the anti-sweat sheet.  This is similar to a cooler and is used to keep a sweaty horse from getting chilled.  It soaks up sweat but is like netting so it allows air in to dry the horse while keeping him warm.  There are certainly other items out there including dress sheets.  Some people like to have a separate set of blankets they use only for shows when the horse is clean and they want to look good.  They usually have a nicer trim and are embroidered with a monogram.  Most tack shops also offer a line of custom sheets and coolers.

If you plan to clip your horse's neck or if you live in a severely cold climate, a neck cover - or a heavy weight blanket with a high neck - might be necessary.  If you want a neck cover it is best to buy one that goes with your sheet.  Again, with ponies, this is a tall order.  I did end up finding one that fit our pony but then the sheet of the same brand didn't work with it. Fortunately, it does work with our medium and our heavy.  Eventually I'll get around to adding rings to our lightweight so it will work with that too but it still isn't ideal.  If you can, try to buy them together.  There are a few different systems out there but for the most part they have velcro or hooks on the underside of the neck cover that attach to the neck edge of the sheet either through metal rings or belt loops.  This is one of those things that's nice to buy at a tack shop so you can see how it works before making your choice.

To order blankets you will need an idea of what size your horse will wear.  The size corresponds to a measurement you can take.  Using a soft tape measure, start at the center of the chest and measure to the tail.  This is really only a starting point.  Our pony measures 63 inches but he has short legs and a big barrel.  Some blankets are long on him and a 66 fits better than a 63.  Like people clothes, some brands run big and others run small.  Some run in 2 inch increments, others in 3 inch.  Some have pony sizes and some do not.  Once you find a blanket or sheet that fits really well, take it with you when shopping for sheets and use it as a comparison.  Take notes on which brands and sizes fit well and keep it on your cell phone so any time you are out shopping you can remember if it was Weatherbeata or SmartPak that ran big for your guy.

Now that you have a wardrobe, I suppose you'd like to know how to use it.  This is something that just takes time and experimentation.  The goal is to keep the horse warm without causing him to sweat.  You don't want to over blanket.  If a horse gets sweaty and gets his blanket wet he can catch a chill as the temperature drops.  This is all pretty basic common sense.  If your horse has a heavy winter coat he won't need as much clothing as a thoroughbred with no hair.  If you do a full clip, you need to put on extra clothes.

Clipping may be another post but you may have no idea what I'm talking about so I'll try to explain briefly.  When you work a horse for an hour, even on a cold day, they can work up a sweat.  Before you can put the horse in his stall for the night, he must be completely dry.  You can't blanket a wet horse for the night.  If your horse is particularly fuzzy it can take a very long time walking him around to cool him out - we're talking about an additional 45 minutes.  So, you can shave off some hair to reduce sweating as well as the time it takes to cool down.  We full body clipped Pumba in October but it's pretty much fully grown out now.  For the coldest part of the winter we are just clipping him under his neck, across his chest and belly just past the girth.  You have to experiment with your own horse and the amount and type of riding you do to know how much clipping is optimal for you.  Follow this link for some information on clipping.

With blankets and clipping come blanket rub, yet another thing I had no idea about until one day I noticed an area on our pony where the fur had literally "rubbed" away.  Even really nice, well fitted blankets can give a horse rub.  On a chestnut horse it looks like a small patch of grayish dirt.  It's pretty easy to see on a light grey pony - it's typically dark grey against their light hair.  The real issue with allowing rub to continue is that eventually, all the hair in the affected area will wear away and the blanket will then begin to rub and irritate the skin.  I guess you could think of it like a bed sore.  The chest area is usually the worst and there are a few products on the market to help prevent rub.  Stretchies are usually the first line of defense.  You can buy a full body stretchy or one that covers the chest area and which many people refer to as a "bra".  Another option, and definitely a brand recommendation, is the Bossy Big which completely eradicated rub from the portion of our pony that it covers.  The stretchy just didn't work for us but the bib is a life saver.  We find that our Baker Blanket causes more rub than a fleece cooler if we need to layer - we recently had a stretch of sub-zero temperatures that had us layering under Pumba's heavy!  We also find that rotating blankets helps since different blankets fit a little differently and put pressure in different spots.  Most sheets have a nice slippery layer against the pony to minimize friction but some horses are just prone to rub anyway.  We find our Amigo heavy and SmartPak Deluxe medium are really good sheets and don't cause much rub.

Horses are dirty and love to roll in the mud so your pony clothes will get filthy.  Our barn sends sheets out at the end of winter for cleaning.  You can also have older sheets waterproofed if they are starting to leak though it seems as though once they start leaking, they never stop.  We sometimes take blankets to Dover Saddlery to send out for cleaning and I know there are other places that do it as well.  Dover is just really convenient for us.  I do wash coolers at home in my washing machine.  We usually put duct tape around the metal parts to preserve our washer and dryer.  Be prepared if you wash blankets at home you will find horse hair in everything you own!  It's probably not a good idea to wash sheets at home for several reasons.  Firstly, they are seriously dirty.  Secondly, you may damage their waterproof finish.  Thirdly, medium and heavy weight turnouts are super big and may overload your washer.  Having them cleaned once a year at the end of the season is usually sufficient.

So, in case you couldn't tell already, my favorite places to shop are Dover Saddlery, SmartPak and Just for Ponies.  We are super super super lucky to live in Wellesley, Massachusetts which boasts brick and mortar Dover and SmartPak stores.  We have even been so lucky as to find blankets in the discount attic at SmartPak and basement at Dover.  We love the SmartPak brand blankets.  Weatherbeeta tends to make sheets with the most fun fabrics.  Horsewear Ireland makes both the Amigo and Rambo brands which are pretty much top of the line in both price and design.  We got an Amigo from a friend and it is super nice.  It fits really well and when I'm out shopping I notice both brands take advantage the most innovative design and textiles.  If you can afford it, I think they are worth the money ($400 for a Rambo heavy vs. $200 for a SmartPak heavy).  But I am just about as happy with our SmartPak sheets so you don't HAVE to spend more.  I do think Horsewear does a better job with neck covers so if you intend to use a neck cover frequently you might really think about splurging.  Also take into account how long you will have the particular horse you are clothing.  It's rare that the next horse fits in the same blankets.  If you are leasing for a year, you might not go for the extensive wardrobe of high end blankets.  If, however, this is a young, forever horse, I would buy blankets that really fit well and will perform for a long time.

SmartPak has some great resources on their website including a Blanketing 101 article and a Blanketing Glossary.  Both are worth a look if you still have questions.

Have fun dressing your pony! -

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pony Club: What is it? Should we join?

I first heard of Pony Club when I took my daughter to a great dressage barn up in Maine for lessons a few summers ago.  The barn owner made an obscure reference to having jumped 4 feet without stirrups and all that other crazy pony club stuff but she was done jumping.  I was mystified and wondered what she meant. 

When we decided to change barns, we soon found ourselves out of our depth.  Our first barn, like most hunter/jumper barns, took care of everything for us.  I had no idea what the pony ate or when, or any idea what to do about veterinary and dental care.  They arranged all of it and I wrote a check.  On show days the instructors loaded the ponies into their trailer and drove them to the show.  It was great!  Then again, I like knowing all that stuff and doing it for myself.  When we switched to eventing, our new trainer (a past pony clubber herself) was willing to show us what to do and stand next to us as we learned but she wasn’t going to do it for us.  This was just what we wanted but it was also a little intimidating.  We needed more support, more education.  Enter Pony Club.

I often describe Pony Club to non-horse friends as Girl Scouts but you bring your pony. The United States Pony Club is divided into regions which each contain a number of clubs.  Clubs can take 2 forms.  A Center is one in which a barn, and often one particular instructor, runs a pony club at their facility for the kids who ride there.  The advantage to this model is that kids who may not have access to their own mount can participate easily.  The downside can be that the education is less broad, coming primarily from the instructor they ride with each week.  In contrast, ours is a traditional Pony Club, meaning that it has no single location.  Many of our members keep their ponies at home (any equine animal being used by a pony clubber is known as a pony, regardless of size) and most of the mothers ride as well.  We have several barns in the area that host us and one that hosts our annual August camp.  The advantage to this type of club is exposure to many instructors from multiple disciplines and the presence of experienced horsepeople in the ranks of our sponsors (what they call the parents of pony clubbers).  I suppose the downside to this model is that it’s difficult to participate fully without your own pony or your own trailer but I’ve been really impressed with the horse community in our area and how much they have done to keep kids in the program.

Pony Club provides an enriching program of education in both horse management and riding.  Over time, members achieve “Ratings” based on their proficiency in these two areas.  Pony Club originally emerged from the eventing discipline so the traditional path is heavily influenced by the skills and riding style of the eventer but there are now other paths one can take through pony club at the higher levels.  Ratings are conducted once or twice a year depending on the number of participants and the levels they are testing for.  You can think of it like a karate test for a higher belt.  The candidates are being tested against a standard.  All can pass or all can fail or there can be a mix.  Sometimes candidates pass one portion such as horse management but not another, such as the riding portion.

The ratings are as follows:

Unrated – What we call a pony clubber prior to their first ratings test.
D1, D2, D3 – D1 is the first rating attained and is pretty basic.  By the time a rider reaches the D3 they are jumping 2’3” both in an enclosed space and in an open field as well as having a pretty hefty knowledge of tack, horse anatomy, veterinary care, etc. The D3 level is the first to require a record book which includes a good deal of information about your pony - farrier and vet visits, training, costs of everything.  My daughter is a D2, hoping to do her D3 next fall. 
C1, C2, C3 – This is pretty serious stuff. I observed a C1/C2 rating conducted by a national examiner and was seriously impressed with the young women who tested (and all passed).  The C2 is jumping over 3’.  The C3 gets particularly serious with candidates switching horses for part of the riding portion.  The young women in our club who are C2’s are juniors and seniors in high school. Ratings C3 and above are conducted on the national level.
HB – This rating means you have achieved a B rating in horse management but have not yet rated a B in riding.  Some candidates prefer to do their HB first and their C3 after. 
B – The “traditional” B rating is both horse management and riding and includes all possible riding options.  There are paths that allow a person to focus on dressage riding or hunter style riding in an enclosed space without jumping in the open.
HA – Similar to HB but at a higher level of knowledge.
A – The “traditional A rating” is the highest level in pony club and must be attained by the age of 25.  It is extremely rare that a rider makes it through this rating.  Not only does the rider need to be extremely knowledgeable and capable, they need to have a horse that can jump high for them as well as for a fellow pony clubber who has never ridden their mount before.

Now that you are thoroughly confused, I’ll tell you a little about why we LOVE Pony Club.  Elizabeth and I have both made friends in Pony Club.  In the beginning I called our new friends almost daily with questions and they were always there for us.  Our club conducts 2 mounted meetings per month April through November which means Elizabeth and her friends are taking their ponies places together on a very regular basis.  The impact this has on my daughter’s connection to her pony and her confidence is enormous.  The camp our club does in August was the greatest week of Elizabeth’s life.  As horse camp goes, it’s incredibly low cost.  Parents provide the supervision and the kids do all the work.  They muck their own stalls, take turns coming early to feed and late to do night check.  They ride twice a day and have a multitude of instructors.  They even completed a 3-phase event within camp.  I loved it so much I’m in charge of camp for next year.  We love pony club because we feel like a real part of our community.  We know people now anywhere we go – to a horse show, another barn, the tack shop.  Elizabeth is passionate about horses, not just winning ribbons.  For her Pony Club is as exciting as showing, maybe more so since there is no pressure during a mounted meeting, and her ratings mean a great deal to her.  On a practical side, your Pony Club rating means something to other horse people.  When you tell someone you are a C3, they know what it means.  Your rating is a clear indication of your knowledge and your capabilities as a rider.

Pony Club is also about leadership.  The older girls in our club conduct the lower level ratings, teach unmounted meetings and mentor kids who are working on a rating.  They also act as stable managers at rallies and as such go to bat for their riders over the rules when they deem a ruling unfair – this is sometimes amusing for the adults to watch but also gratifying to see typically shy horsey girls handle themselves with strength and determination.

Did I lose you at rally and stable manager?  The other major thing we do in Pony Club is rally.  There are 5 - 6 rallies in each region each year.  A rally has a theme – dressage, show jumping, eventing, tetrathalon (don’t ask, but it involves swimming and shooting and is super fun), quiz (tests horse knowledge).  Clubs form teams of 4 – 5 riders.  Each rider is considered and scored based on their own rating so a team can have D’s, C’s and B’s all together.  There is a written test in addition to the scored riding portion of the rally which resembles a horse show.  There are also inspections of each pony and rider team and of the teams’ stabling areas.  The stable manager is a member of the team who does not ride in the competition.  The stable manager makes sure each member of the team is where they need to be and is doing what they should be doing, that their tack is clean and in order and that they are doing things in the proper order.  Awards are given for both riding and horse management.  Some rallies are "qualifying rallies" meaning that competitors can qualify for nationals and compete in a bigger pony club arena.  Every three years nationals takes place at the Kentucky Horse Park so it's pretty exciting!

My favorite part of rallying is “turn back” in which each team must clean all their tack and reorganize their stable area to absolute perfection for one final inspection before they pack up to go home.  This is a GREAT life lesson!!!!  It is so wonderful to get home to unload and be all ready for the next day because the work was done right away, especially since it is usually very late at night by that point and you've already put in a 16 hour day.

What is the commitment?  Well, like all things with horses, pretty big, but in my eyes manageable and well worth it.  I’m sure every club is different but we have one “sponsor’s” meeting a month (skipping August and December), mounted meetings in the good weather, unmounted meetings in the winter.  A member is really expected to attend most of these meetings and a parent is expected to accompany them.  If a member is working toward a new rating there will be rating prep meetings to attend as well as the rating itself.  This can be extremely time consuming.  Rallies and camp are optional but add greatly to the experience.  As kids get older and have more commitments outside pony club or are more focused on showing, they will sometimes choose not to go to camp.  Many of the rallies fall on days we have a horse show so Elizabeth only rallied once in 2013 but we hope to rally much more in the year ahead!  Financially, Pony Club is a bargain as horse activities go.  We pay dues to our local club and our national organization.  We fundraise, requiring every member to do 3 - 4 shifts at a horse show concession stand in the summer and for one parent to join them for each shift.  Each mounted meeting usually has a fee – in our club the member pays the facility use fee and our club pays the instructors, making the fundraising well worth the effort.  Rallies cost about as much to enter as a schooling show.  The big expenses are the horse and transportation which is why I bought a trailer.  I can’t imagine being in pony club without a trailer.  I have friends who do it but it would drive me crazy to never be 100% certain how I was getting anywhere. 

Pony Club teaches kids to be independent and responsible.  They learn the skills and knowledge required to be good horse custodians.  Because of the heavy parent involvement, we learn about being good custodians as well.  Since having a horsey child can take over a good portion of your time, it’s really nice to find a group of non-competitive parents to bond with on the topic.  I can’t say enough about how healthy and productive the Pony Club experience has been for us.

One of my favorite things about Pony Club is the interaction between kids of varying age groups.  Our club has kids from age 8 - 18 and you are as likely to find an 11 year old and 16 year old chatting as you are to find two kids of the same age together.  My daughter has more in common with a pony clubber two years older than her than she does with most of the girls in her class at school.  The older girls are wonderful mentors and good friends to the younger girls.  As parents we love watching them build relationships built on more than just their age or grade in school.

I could go on all day and still only scratch the surface so if you would like more information here are a few links.  Pony Club's new website has a great page for parents with some basic information.  This D Level ratings flowchart will give you an idea of what is required both in knowledge and riding skill at the first 3 levels of pony club ratings.  Whether you join Pony Club or not, if you buy or lease a pony the D Level Manual is a great resource.  We have actually found the C Level Manual to be of even greater use.  It doesn’t take long to need that little bit more information about horse management issues when you have your own pony.  Both manuals are also available from Amazon for the Kindle.  There are other awesome Pony Club books, especially if you already know a good deal about horses and just want to expand your knowledge.

For our family, the idea of having a pony and just riding it doesn’t quite work.  A pony enables our daughter to do a sport but it's not the equivalent of a lacrosse stick or hockey skates.  A pony is not just a pet but another member of the family.  Many days Pumba is Elizabeth's best friend.  They are a team and sometimes they get along and sometimes they don't.  A pony needs constant care and attention. Fortunately Elizabeth loves everything about having a pony from mucking to tacking, from riding on the flat, to going over jumps in the field (which sometimes scares her but she loves to do it anyway).  She's passionate about learning about horse illness, dangerous plants, how to wrap her pony's legs properly.  And she loves to just spend time talking to him, grooming him and giving him treats.  Buying Elizabeth a pony was a great decision and Pony Club has contributed a great deal to the happy circumstances we now find ourselves in.

Happy Pony Clubbing!


Thursday, January 9, 2014

If I buy or lease a pony for my child, what will our time commitment look like?

So I'm kind of excited that a total stranger found my blog and asked me to give her the low down on what a week of my life as a horse mom really looks like.  I'm happy to share but caution you not to be scared off by what I tell you.  I've just been proof reading this post and warn you that it's seriously boring.  This one lacks entertainment value.  However, I think it's a pretty full and honest account of what I do as a horse mom.

The degree of insanity is, to some extent, up to you and to another extent dependent upon which discipline your child rides in and the culture of the barn she rides at.  But I will say that having a pony can give any other sport on the planet a run for its money in time and financial commitment as well as required parental involvement.  Downhill ski racing kind of comes close as does ice skating but when skiers and skaters are done they don't need to spend an extra hour caring for the animal that enabled their competition.  If their equipment gets damaged, they can buy new skis.  Not so with a pony.  Just saying.

A major factor in the amount of time I spend engaged in Elizabeth's pony activities is that she is too young to be dropped off at the barn on her own.  Sometimes I leave her there for a couple of hours to clean tack but for the most part if she's there, I'm there.  She will be so happy when she's old enough to hang out at the barn on her own and she can spend every day all summer long with her pony.  I suppose it's also fair to say I love being Elizabeth's horse mom and I like taking care of Pumba so if you really aren't into horses yourself, I'm guessing there is some lower maintenance way to go about all of this.  It may not give your child the depth and breadth of experience Elizabeth is having but that might be OK.

This time of year, being a horse mom in New England is kind of miserable.  My daughter only rides 4 days a week in the winter but most of those days I sit watching bundled in in ski pants, a down coat, mittens with hand warmers and a ridiculous but warm rabbit fur hat.  Sometimes I ride at the same time she rides which is definitely better.  Elizabeth has 2 one hour lessons per week and we have her trainer ride her pony one day per week so he works 5 days per week.  We ski with our family every weekend of the winter so this is a nice time of year in the sense that riding takes a bit of a back seat in our lives.

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I pick Elizabeth up from school at 2:30.  Wednesday and Friday she has a lesson from 3:30 - 4:30.  They usually alternate between jumping and flat lessons and this time of year they focus on correcting problems by doing drills and exercises targeted to help both Pumba and Elizabeth fix whatever isn't working.  The other days she rides on her own or with a friend, often reinforcing what she does in her lessons.  Sometimes I set up jumps for her on non-lesson days but we do less of that in the winter.  Once in awhile we go for a walk through the woods and fields.  Riding in the indoor for months on end gets pretty monotonous.  We usually get home around 5:00.  We go away for Christmas and February break and have other people ride the pony or give him time off.  Going directly from school is the only way I can make this work.  Elizabeth has two older brothers.  I am very fortunate that they are independent, do their sports at school and have other means of getting home.  After I get home from the barn I am often back on the road taking them to karate, attending track meets and of course cooking dinner.  But I'm grateful that I have found a way to support Elizabeth while still taking care of my boys.

Winter grooming is pretty low maintenance since you can't bathe your horse.  We clipped Pumba in
October, shaving his entire body, which took me a few hours one day while Elizabeth was at school.  It took longer because I clipped a fun design onto his butt.  His coat has now fully grown back in and we just keep his chest and belly shaved during the coldest months.  We do this so that he doesn't sweat during a workout.  If Elizabeth finishes riding and he's wet and sweaty, it can take a very long time to cool him down and dry him off.  He needs to be completely dry before we blanket him for the night.  We keep a close eye on the weather and change his blankets or call the barn and ask someone to do it accordingly.  Sometimes he needs to be changed multiple times a day.  Keeping him clipped helps reduce the amount of
cooling down time needed.  I'll likely clip him more fully again in late February just before he starts to shed out his winter coat as the weather gets a little warmer.  We let his mane go a little raggedy in the winter but I do spend 30 minutes pulling it every few weeks just to keep it manageable.  You can also "roach" the mane which means to just clip it off.  If you do it early enough in the winter it will grow back in time for braiding during show season.

Pony Club is also a little quieter this time of year.  I have one parent's meeting a month in the evening.  Elizabeth has 2 unmounted meetings per month which I attend with her and where she learns about tack, horse health, safety, vet care and other horse management topics.  There are a few bigger events as well but generally a much lighter load than in the good weather.  Meetings run about 2 hours and the bigger events, being further away, take up the better part of a weekend day.

Whatever the time of year, a pony still needs visits from the farrier.  Our pony is shod every 6 weeks.  I don't have to be there but I do have to remember to leave money for the farrier and to organize lessons around his visits.  I do like to be there when our vet comes.  She generally comes out to give spring and fall shots.  Once in awhile something goes wrong and you need to bring the vet out.  We saw too much of our vet over the summer when we were borrowing the world's greatest pony from a friend.  She had some eye problems and they never resolved so we ended up sending her back to our friends' barn where they cared for her. Our vet also comes out if we are doing some type of joint treatment.  Many if not most eventing (and for that matter any other discipline) horses get some type of anti-inflammatory, joint injection or other treatment for stiffness or soreness.  The treatments range from IM injections of Adequan - which I now do myself - to IV injections of Legend or Polyglycan - which I have the vet come do - to more major procedures such as having hocks injected or blistering stifles.  (Did you read that and think what the heck does any of that mean?  Don't worry about it.  Hopefully you won't need to know any time soon and then suddenly you'll know more than you want to!) The costs and efficacy also vary but what you need to know is that active horses get sore.  Sore horses don't perform well and aren't happy.  We ask so much of our equine partners I'm pretty liberal with veterinary care to keep ours comfortable.  Of course there are a thousand other reasons for the vet to come out so make sure you maintain a good relationship with yours.

Sometime in March the ground will thaw and we will again be able to ride outside for more than just a hack in the snow.  We stop skiing and focus on riding by mid-March.  At that point, Elizabeth rides 6 days a week.  Our plan this season is for her to stick with 2 lessons per week.  As the season progresses the lessons start to focus on whatever Elizabeth has coming up the following weekend.  Shows start in April and she will likely have either a show, pony club mounted meeting, pony club rally or an outing to go XC schooling somewhere every weekend from April through October.  She competes in both dressage shows and eventing 2 and 3 phase shows and so far all have been schooling shows though one of her goals for the end of this season is to go to a rated show.  After a big outing or show the pony always gets a day off.  In August her pony club hosts a camp at a nearby barn and she rides twice a day with different instructors.  We plan to bring the pony with us to Maine for vacation weeks this summer.  We have a house there and found a barn nearby where we can rent short term stall space.

During a typical week in the show season I will pick Elizabeth up from school everyday at 2:30.  She will ride on her own or in a lesson.  If she has a show or pony club rally (I'll explain in my pony club post) we will stay at the barn late the night before to bathe the pony, clean tack, prepare the trailer.  I braid her pony for her but soon she will learn to do it herself because it takes me 1 - 2 hours, I get faster as the season progresses.  If she just has a pony club meeting or is going schooling we don't have as much prep work.  Once we get to the summer, Elizabeth likes to wash her pony pretty often, at least once or twice a week.  We hose him off after every ride in the good weather and let him graze while he dries.

On show days we get to the barn at least an hour before we need to depart.  I hook up the trailer while Elizabeth gets her pony from his paddock.  We check him over to make sure he didn't roll and get filthy or lose a braid.  We usually have a plan so if her first event is at 10am we want to be at the show before 9am to park, unload, check in, change, warm up.  Our shows are usually pretty close by and I always leave a significant time cushion so for a 10am start 20 minutes from our barn we will leave our barn around 8am.  A show day starts early and ends late.  That's all there is to it.  But at least we are usually home for dinner.  When competing in eventing and dressage, riders are given a time slot for each phase or test so you have a pretty good idea how long your day will be before you get started.  Hunter shows are more like swim meets making for a really long day with classes sprinkled throughout the day.  A pony club rally starts even earlier and ends much later.  We only rallied once last year but I don't think we got home until after 10pm.  In addition, rallies usually warrant a separate rally prep meeting so the kids can work with their rally team to make sure they have everything they will need on rally day.

Pony club mounted meetings are the best!  These, along with pony club camp, are Elizabeth's favorite.  She gets to ride in a relaxed atmosphere with all her friends.  I get to hang with the other moms and total time in for a mounted meeting is really only about 3 - 4 hours with trailering and everything.  Camp was a big time commitment but so worth it.  Monday morning of camp week we trailer over with everything Elizabeth owns and set up her stable for the week.  Parents take 2 - 3 half day chaperone shifts during the week.  We took a turn feeding one morning because Elizabeth really wanted to do it so that day we arrived at 7am.  After feeding all the horses Elizabeth took care of her own pony and tack.  The kids all participate in a Wednesday night jumper show the week of camp so that day we are there late.  Friday afternoon is all about packing up and returning to our home barn, unpacking and going home exhausted.  This year I'm in charge of camp so I'll be spending even more time there which is fine with me!

Our pony club does a fundraiser in the summer.  We run a concession stand during the Wednesday night jumper shows at the barn that hosts our camp.  Every family is responsible for 4 three hour shifts during the season and the pony clubber is expected to work as well as their parent.

Pony Club ratings are a big deal and take serious preparation.  For the most part they are a test of the things you should be doing every day, a rider should not be rating above their everyday activity level.  However, there is still a good deal of time spent preparing for both the horse management and riding sections, cleaning tack, calming nerves.  A pony clubber won't necessarily do a rating every year.  Elizabeth did 2 last year and hopes to be ready to do another in the fall.  We organize study groups and focus some lessons on the standards.

Last summer we engaged in 2 pony hunts so that was a MAJOR time suck.  Now that we are settled in with a great pony, things are very manageable.  If your pony gets injured, all bets are off.  There may be no riding, there may be visits from the vet or trailer trips to an equine vet clinic.  There may be a search for a short term lease to get your rider through their season if they have become very competitive.  It's difficult to predict life with horses.

I think that's it!  I suppose there are other things like a million trips to the tack shop trying different blankets and saddles until you find the right one, buying new show clothes every season and just checking out what's new because it's super fun and we love the people who work there!  We spend time at home reading about riding and Elizabeth puts a ton of time into studying her pony club horse management.  In all honesty the pony has come to dominate my life as well as my daughter's but I've never been happier.  We have so much fun doing this together.  Instead of going through adolescent mother-daughter angst, we are a team.  I'm right next to her to share in the highs and lows (there are plenty of both).  I am so lucky to be doing this with my daughter and even more blessed with all the friends we have made at our barn and in our pony club.  I wouldn't trade this for anything.

So, in a nutshell, we spend about 10 hours a week riding in the winter (including driving to and from the barn) in addition to a variety of minor maintenance and grooming activities.  Late March through mid-November we spend closer to 15 on just riding and probably another 5-10 hours a week on prep and outings.  So, this is my job.  In fact, I quit my job as a pattern maker - my dream job I might add - in order to be able to support Elizabeth's interest in horses.  It was a tough decision but one I would make again.

I hope this helps.  If you had 10 other horse moms tell you about their weeks you would get 10 different answers.  Some kids go to schools with equestrian sports so that's often much simpler.  Some barns don't mind you dropping off kids younger than 14 - though I do think there is often an insurance issue.  I know many kids who had to wait to get their first horse until they were old enough to be at the barn alone.  If your child is interested in horses and you are willing to give it a go, you will find the right approach and balance for your family's life.

Best of luck!