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!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Volunteering: Why everyone needs to do it.

Decorations for XC jumps.
Last weekend, Course Brook Farm hosted it's annual USEA Recognized Horse Trials. We had over 70 volunteers to enable 137 competitors and the day reminded me how important it is to support the sports we love.

Most kids participate in some form of sport. If your kids play soccer, no doubt you've coached at some point. If your kids swim, you've probably acted as a timer on occasion. But in general, team sports don't require one volunteer per participant the way a horse trials can.

Of all the horse sports, eventing requires the most volunteers. The need to have a fence judge at each cross country fence in addition to ring stewards, scribes, parking help, etc., means that running a horse trials is a monumental task. Without volunteers, we simply would not have any competitions. Did you hear what I just said? If you like to compete, then you or a friend or family member really must volunteer at some point each year!

Course Brook boarders painting poles for the stadium ring.
Prior to the show, volunteers spend weeks painting jumps and poles, setting up dressage arenas and
decorating jumps. A volunteer area is set up, the secretary booth is arranged and everything needs to be made clean and tidy.

On show day, there are a few key, paid officials at a horse trials. We have a TD (technical delegate), a show secretary and scorer, a controller who is also our announcer, a course designer, dressage judges and a show jumping judge. Our show organizers work on all the shows at Course Brook, including the schooling shows. Our volunteer coordinator spends months recruiting volunteers to be sure we have all bases covered.

Beyond the paid roles, we have numerous skilled volunteer roles.  Seasoned volunteers are called upon to be the point person for each phase. We welcome new volunteers, training them for the future! There really is something for everyone. We put all our non-horsey husbands in the parking areas directing traffic!

A view of the busy warm up areas.
With three dressage rings, warm-up can get chaotic. We have 3 ring stewards, 3 dressage scribes to assist our 3 dressage judges and at least one person to run scores from the judges to the scorer. Dressage stewards need to check that horses are wearing legal bits and carrying legal length whips.

Stadium requires warm-up stewards, timers, a scribe and someone at the in and out gates as well as a jump crew to run out and quickly replace and dropped rails. Timers, scribes and stewards are people who have done this before. The jump crew is a great place to start learning if it's your first time volunteering.

Cross country is like a volunteer vortex. At a minimum, you need a warm-up steward, a starter,
Fence judging with a friend is a great way to pass a beautiful day!
Members of the Norfolk Hunt Pony Club volunteer as fence judges!
someone at the finish and one judge at each fence. Realistically, you need two people at the start, two at the finish, a steward and a second steward to control the flow to the start, and two judges at most fences. If you have 20 fences, that means about 46 volunteers just for cross country!!!! This is another great place to learn. People new to volunteering can be paired with people who have done it before. It isn't difficult but there are some things you need to know. There is always a briefing and just about anyone can be trained to be a fence judge. It is also super fun since you get to watch horses galloping and jumping big fences!

In addition to all those volunteers making sure the show runs well, we had 7 people working in our parking areas, two people driving around with food and beverages for our volunteers, a volunteer assisting the show secretary and more.

For schooling shows we make do with much less. We don't have the fancy TD, controller or show secretary and we manage with very few volunteers which is quite difficult. So please do not read this and think that because you or your child are only doing schooling shows, it is less important to volunteer! Anyone who competes at any level can and should volunteer. Kids who compete regularly make excellent volunteers since they know the rules and pay close attention when working as jump judges.

At Course Brook we are fortunate that many of our boarders have played key roles in our shows for several years and they really know what they are doing. Our local Pony Club members (several of whom are also boarders) are another great resource. We drag our husbands and non-horsey children into action. Volunteering is so fun that most people come back to do it again!

How much should you volunteer? Realistically, we all have limited time. If you participate in 2 shows a season, volunteering once is probably fine. If you do 4 - 6 shows a season, you really should volunteer 2 - 3 times. If you like to go to all the recognized shows, volunteer for the schooling shows. Or, train another member of your family or a friend who likes horses to do your volunteering for you on days you show. I like to volunteer at King Oak Horse Trials which is a two day show near us. My daughter usually rides one day and I volunteer on the other.

Through volunteering I've gotten to feel like a bigger part of the eventing community and a great community it is! Don't be afraid! These people will love you and shower you with praise for helping them create something you are already enjoying!

With my boys who run the scores on foot, their cross country running work out for the day.  They run about 10 miles total. I love that my entire family participates!  My daughter volunteered all week and fence judged for the show.  My husband helped with parking from dawn until noon.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Show Season: Being the mother of a young eventer part 2...

Having recently returned from a two day show at Fitch's Corner in Millbrook, New York, I am in a perfect frame of mind to give you a view into the glamour that is the life of an eventing mom.

For this show we decided we needed to leave the barn around noon on Friday so that meant being at the barn by 8am. We had not done any real preparation ahead of time so this was actually quite luxurious. We went down to get our trailer, threw 3 bales of hay in from the hay shed, drove up by Elizabeth's stall and unhooked. I left Elizabeth at the barn to pack and headed out to the feed store to buy some shavings and fill up with gas.

If you are stabling, it takes two bags to fill the stall and we bring an extra for filler during the show. For this show I bought 5 bags since we were taking our trainer's horse with us as well. The trailer was already full of shavings so that was great.

By the time I got back to the barn, Elizabeth and her trainer had done a good amount of packing. I helped with some of the loading since it was a bit of an organizational challenge to fit everything for two horses and 3 people but our trailer has a really nice tack room so it works out. Elizabeth and Erika took their horses out for a hack while I lunged my horse. When they got back they gave the horses baths and shortly thereafter we loaded them up and hit the road.

We had about a 4 hour drive ahead of us including a quick stop for ice cream and some traffic on the Mass Pike. Unfortunately, none of us had read the directions on the Omnibus and the nav system in my car took us down some unnecessarily long and windy roads. Eventually, we arrived but this wasn't the first time I was reminded that we should always consult someone who had been to the venue before about the best route before setting out!

When you arrive at a multi-day event far away from everything, most people stable on the property. In most places this means a tent village of temporary stalls. Fitch's had 11 rows of 20 temporary stalls. Someone generally meets you at the gate and directs you to your stabling. Some shows do a better job of this than others. Fitch's was awesome. A man in a golf cart led us to our stalls and showed us where to park while we unloaded.

This is when the real work begins. It is all hands on deck. The first task is to throw shavings into the stalls and unload the horses into the stalls. Next we dig out the water buckets, fill them and put them in the stalls. Sometimes this is easy and other times it is a serious pain. Fitch's had huge water tankers positioned every few rows in stabling but still, you have to walk a ways to fill the buckets and carrying full water buckets all the way back is no joke. The purchase of a large wheel barrow is in my future! Next we fed the horses their hay cubes and grain while continuing to unload. Each horse has a trunk, two saddles, saddle racks, bridle hooks, bridles, buckets for numerous purposes, water jugs, and more. We bring chairs, muck buckets, a shovel, pitchfork, broom, etc. While the riders set up the stabling area I park the trailer. Once things are organized, it's time to walk the horses.

Next we track down the secretary's booth. Sometimes this is a serious challenge but again, Fitch's is a really great venue. The booth was close at hand and in no time at all we had our packets, XC course maps and schedule for the next day.

Erika and Elizabeth walking the BN Course.
Figuring out when to walk Cross Country can be complicated. Elizabeth had ample time but she needed time to walk it with her trainer and her trainer had her own course to walk. Friday night while Elizabeth's trainer walked her course with her own trainer, Elizabeth cleaned tack for another woman from Course Brook who brought two horses. Bottom line, there is always more work to be done and never an idle moment!

At this point I ran out for food so that we wouldn't all starve. It was already 7:00pm and we were in a pretty remote location. In the future, I am bringing way more food with me to horse shows. I've been relying on concessions but even a good concession can't really feed us well for almost three days.

By the time we had walked the horses again, fed them and tidied up to leave it was 9:00pm. We were staying about 40 minutes away in Poughkeepsie. We stopped along the way to the hotel to grab some more food and were finally asleep by 11:30pm. When at all possible, stay close to the venue. It makes an enormous difference in your level of comfort over the weekend.

The rest of a show weekend proceeds pretty consistently. We get up each morning at 5:50am so that we will be at the show grounds by 7:00am to feed and water the horses and take them for a walk. If we travel with a big group we can take turns being the last one to check the horses at night or the first to check them in the morning but this time we were all stabled too far apart to make that practical. I will admit that my job as a show mom has been less intense lately since my daughter is now able to do her own braiding, mucking, water carrying, etc. But I do jump in and help where I can to speed things up so I often run to get water while Elizabeth feeds and mucks, I help walk the horses or go buy food while everyone is braiding.

Before you know it, the time has come to head to dressage. At Fitch's Elizabeth and her trainer went to walk the stadium course while I polished tall boots and tacked up my daughter's horse. When they got back Elizabeth jumped on Quizz and I followed, camera in hand.

You will notice that many people have some mode of transportation with them at these shows. The distance between stabling and various events can be significant. At Fitch's I would say we walked at least 1/2 mile to dressage and XC. Then 1/2 mile back. FitBit fans will love showing!! Others will value a bicycle or scooter of some type. I'm still trying to convince my husband that I need a pink Vespa. I have the rack for the back of the trailer all picked out!

Once you find dressage, the next challenge is identifying your ring (Fitch's has 5!) and checking in with the steward. As the mom I usually hold the show coats until they are needed. I carry a towel in case a boot gets dusty or the horse slobbers in some unattractive way. I DO NOT SAY ANYTHING!!!!!  This is pretty key for a show mom. You have to know when to be quiet. I don't tell her to smile. I don't tell her to put her heels down. Her trainer will tell her the one or two things that might help. If I'm feeling bold I will tell her to have fun and give her a big smile!

And on it goes, untacking, tacking, changing of wardrobe, following friends, trainers and others around to their various events.

Let's talk about temperature. Horse show weekends seem to mostly be freezing cold or wretchedly hot and humid. I've gone both ways - overpacking and under packing - and highly recommend being prepared for anything if you have the space. At GMHA in June it rained and we were all wearing every piece of clothing we owned. At Fitch's in July we were wilting. The air was so thick with water it felt as though we were swimming. And the riders were out there in the blazing sun with heavy show jackets on for stadium!

Another useful tip - the new synthetic jackets are a great innovation. There are even some very thin mesh jackets out there. The mesh doesn't have enough stability to look crisp and polished so I didn't let my daughter go with that jacket but when she stops growing I will add one to her wardrobe for the days that it is simply inhuman to put her in anything else.

As the days wear on and the troops get tired and cranky, it is up to the show mom to forage for food, drinks and anything that will keep the competitors smiling with their head in the game. I find ice cream to be the handiest tool. Stay out of the way but notice when there is a need and fill it. Be mindful of the schedule but never act like you know something the rider doesn't know, especially if your rider is a teenager!

Eventually, you get to your last event. For us it was Elizabeth's cross country at Fitch's. It was SOOOO hot!!! Fitch's, again a phenomenal venue, provided ice machines filled with free ice. Before heading out for XC we filled a bucket with water, made sure the sponge and scraper were on hand. Some people brought their buckets to the finish line, we left ours at the stabling. Regardless, it was a day that made it necessary at any level to cool down the horses sufficiently after their runs. Also before heading to the last event we had all started removing shavings from our stalls and packing items into the truck and trailer - anything to make our exit a bit quicker! Some venues have pony club kids mucking stalls to raise money but we were on our own with this one!

Used with permission from Joanne Davis, FlatlandsFoto.
We made the trek out to XC. Elizabeth and Quizz had a blast and were happy and hot upon their return. We got back to stabling, iced down our water with the complimentary ice, and got to work sponging and scraping, sponging and scraping, sponging and scraping. Then we took turns grazing, mucking and undoing all the work we had done to set up our little home away from home.

Eventually we pull the trailer around, load up, and get on our way. Here, again, the show mother is in charge of morale, food and beverage! Unfortunately, I'm not the greatest show mom these days. The heat gets to me and I was feeling pretty rubbish by the time we were done mucking. Thankfully, we have the best trainer in the world and she took over willingly. She even ended up driving us home through an absolutely insane rain storm.

After unloading the horses, I glanced into the tack room of the trailer and nearly had a heart attack. But, this was not a pony club outing and honestly, the mess could wait a day. We headed home for much needed food, showers and rest. The day after the show the horses get a day off to enjoy their paddocks and we get a day to clean up the mess.

At the end of an eventing weekend, we all agree it was a great time but we are not sure we would do it again. But, like child birth, we soon forget all the pain involved and look fondly at the ribbons and photos. We get excited about the next time at a favorite venue or perhaps somewhere we haven't been before. We gather up our friends and make plans to eat together on Saturday night somewhere special. And so it begins again...

Monday, July 20, 2015

Show Season: Being the mother of a young eventer out competing.

As in most equestrian sports, young eventers start with schooling shows. When Elizabeth first arrived at Course Brook, she wasn't ready to go out and do much. Events, also knows as horse trials, include 3 phases: dressage, show jumping and cross country. Before going cross country, a new eventer will participate in two phase shows: dressage and show jumping.  Elizabeth did a couple of those then moved on to some schooling HT, all at the pre-elementary level (cross rails, tiny logs) in the first year and mostly elementary the second year (2'3").

Through the winter Elizabeth and I wondered what the show season would hold.  Quizz recovered but between all the uncertainty about her situation and the fact that Elizabeth had yet to finish a recognized Beginner Novice (2'7"), we weren't sure what our path would be.

At first, we thought Elizabeth should spend one more season at schooling shows doing Beginner Novice so I made a long list of shows and started putting together a calendar. The great thing about schooling shows is that they tend to be close by and cost less. This year there is an Area I Schooling Horse Trials Championship so there was even the opportunity for qualifying for something and having some real fun at these shows.

It's not always easy to know where the schooling shows are nor if they are well run. The USEA Area I website does list a good number of shows. In addition, I just started thinking of every eventing barn I've ever seen at a show and googling them. Quite a few ran shows. Friends mentioned a few good ones to me; many of them run their own show series with year end awards.

As the season approached, our trainer told us Quizz and Elizabeth were ready to go to recognized, USEA Sanctioned HT.  Elizabeth had tried one last year on Pumba but was eliminated in Show Jumping. I felt a little nervous, a little out of my depth, but decided to go for it and came up with a new schedule of shows to attend. Our trainer is out competing her own young thoroughbred so we worked together to plan a schedule that we could all manage.

The plan was for Elizabeth and Quizz to do 4 Beginner Novice shows and then, if all went well, move up to Novice. Well, we are going to do 3 before the move up because Quizz is just so awesome it's a little silly and unfair to keep her down at Beginner Novice now that Elizabeth has gained some confidence. We were lucky that a horse competing at Preliminary last year was able to adjust to doing Beginner Novice.  She's such a cool horse! 

The shows are listed in the USEA Omnibus by Area. We live in Area I and some shows in Area II are close by enough to consider attending. We decided to do half the shows close to home and half the shows farther away. When the shows are a bit farther away, the cost goes up. For King Oak we can drive to the show on the day of competition, work out of our trailer, and head home at the end of competition. For GMHA, Fitch's Corner, UNH and Huntington, we need hotel rooms, stabling for the horses and meals on the road. GMHA and Fitch's are two day events which means 3 days away from home and two nights in a hotel.

The cost for a recognized HT varies but entry fees are usually just under $200.00. Stabling also varies but if it is on site it usually costs $125 - $200 depending on the duration of the show, type of stabling, etc. Many of these places are very remote so accommodations are not always straight forward and the first time you go to one of these places it's pretty tough to figure out where to stay. Our least expensive outing would be a day show like King Oak where we pay an entry fee and coaching fee and that's it. At the high end of the range for us is Fitch's Corner where we spent $210 for the entry fee, $195 for stabling for two nights, $400 for our hotel and quite a bit on gas since it was far from home and the commute to our hotel was pretty long. With food and coaching, we are in for about $1,000 for the weekend. Generally competitors cover the travel expenses of their trainer so if they need a hotel room, that should be factored in. If you don't have your own trailer, transportation is an additional cost.

When you travel to a show where you will be staying over night, you need to bring quite a bit of extra gear. You usually need 2-3 bags of shavings. Two bags will fill the stall but you need extra to keep it full after cleaning it. We bring a bale of hay per day and pack all our grain and supplements in ziplock bags so that one bag is one meal, marked with a sharpie with the horse's name and whether it is AM or PM feed. You will need grain buckets, water buckets, sheets depending on weather, a travel trunk (those black Stanley trunks with wheels from Home Depot are awesome and reasonably priced) and all the usual items you need to take care of you horse and go to a show.

Stay tuned for my next post in which I'll give you the unfiltered truth of being a mom AT the show. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Drama: Ever notice how everything falls apart soon after getting a new horse?

Yesterday we found out my horse has a really bad case of kissing spine disease. If you don't know what that is, it involves the vertebrae, which should be separated by a little space, touching, or in the case of my horse, overlapping. But that's not the point. I bought a horse that appeared sound and rideable.  I vetted him but I did not do back x-rays though my vet implored me to do so. So why did this become an issue now?

I've noticed that when horses change homes, things fall apart. I have a theory about this but as you know, I am not an expert so you should always take what I say with a grain of salt. I think that in many cases horses and their people find coping mechanisms that let them keep going despite issues that may be just beneath the surface. I don't think anyone is being negligent or hiding anything. I think that they simply find workarounds or they have a consistent program so that even though an issue is brewing, a horse who knows exactly what to expect each day can just sort of keep going. And sometimes people don't want to know. They will do the little things when a horse isn't coping, just enough to keep things going, but don't want to open the big can of worms because then they would have to tackle the bigger issue.

When you change something as dramatic as the environment and the rider all at one time, the fragile balance just crumbles. A horse that would do anything for an owner he knows and trusts might start feeling like he doesn't want to go through the pain for a new person. Sometimes it is simply coincidence. Sometimes a new farrier or new saddle can create or exacerbate a problem.

It takes time to get to know a new horse. We probably missed signs that both Quizz and Crafty had pain early on because we just didn't know them and didn't understand what they were trying to tell us. I've observed that it takes 6 months to let the dust settle and a year to really know your new horse in a meaningful way. I have been happiest with buying horses in the fall. We worked through the issues in the winter and were able to have fun when the weather got better. Buying a horse in the spring means working through issues when we would rather be riding.

The trainer I work with tends to notice pretty subtle lameness. She won't ride a horse that might be in pain and she engages help if she's ever in doubt. She is less concerned with keeping all the horses in work for the sake of her income and more focused on the wellness of the horses and the safety of the riders. Rather than finding workarounds such as not riding with contact or staying off a horse's back in the canter or throwing the reins away over a jump, she calls in the vet.

Mine is the third horse under her care in the past 6 months to be in a place where he needs to start over completely. They needed to start over before she got involved but she is the one that is willing to draw the line. The other two are doing incredibly well, looking better than ever and enjoying their jobs so hopefully I will be traveling down a similar path.

Yesterday the vet did Mesotherapy (Novocain injected into the skin to stop the pain messages the nerves are sending to the brain, this is a short-term solution), administered Osphos (a bisphosphonate found to be helpful with bone issues, similar to Tildren) and did some steroid injections. Pretty aggressive but the intention is to stop the pain immediately. Crafty will have 5 days off then get back to work on the lunge line with the Pessoa. We will need to build up the muscles around his back and help him work with his back up and round rather than hollow. We will eventually put him under saddle, a new saddle I ordered which will be adjusted to fit him.

All of this started because Crafty had done some things that were just not acceptable. We excused him several times before concluding he might be telling us something is bothering him. He is so sweet on the ground but often very agitated under saddle. There didn't seem to be anything consistently causing the problem. He'd be great for two days then be unhappy on the third. He didn't look lame and he doesn't mind being saddled and stands still at the mounting block. Discovering issues in stoic horses is especially challenging.

Having seen his x-rays, I feel super guilty. On the plus side, his x-rays explain every single thing he has done. Knowledge is power and I feel better knowing what we are dealing with. The steps we took yesterday were reasonable in my book and I felt I owed the horse this chance to see if he can do his job and enjoy his life with me. I am so grateful that my husband agreed with me.

I did some reading on Kissing Spine last night. I'm feeling optimistic that with the proper work and therapy, Crafty can start feeling better and get back to full work. If you are interested, this article was super encouraging and this one explained some treatment options.

My greater concern now is who he will be when he feels better. In addition to finding that most horses have issues lurking beneath the surface, I have noticed that when you make a horse feel good, his personality can change. The sleepy pony with no shoes and no supplements was pretty sassy with shoes, a different diet and hock injections. Yesterday we removed Crafty's pain. Today he was pretty awake and excited.

While the vet was looking at his x-rays yesterday, Crafty kept sort of dozing off on the cross ties. The vet attributed it to the fact that a horse with such a bad back has a really hard time getting good sleep so he's sleep deprived. It makes perfect sense. Having suffered from chronic back pain myself, I have a great deal of sympathy for all that Crafty is going through. I have a sneaking suspicion that as we help him and as he starts feeling better and sleeping more, my very quiet, safe horse might just be a bit more than I bargained for when I bought him.

For now the plan is to help him. I am giving the situation 3 months. At least now we know what the issue is and we can take steps to address it. He still may not work out for me but at least I feel like I'm doing the right thing for him, helping him feel better and, if necessary, finding him a good home and a useful job.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Leasing: A look at the viewpoint of the lessor rather than the lessee.

I had quite the negotiation with my husband when I finally convinced him to buy a horse for me. He was not interested in the maintenance costs on a second horse so I took on some work at the barn to cover some of my board. I am the show secretary and webmaster as well as doing a few other odds and ends. The deal is that I need to find a lessee to ride my horse 3 days a week and pay the other half of my board.

When I leased a horse two days a week, my perspective on the whole situation was so different. I loved the horses I leased. I loved them as though they were my own and tried to be communicative with the owners and defer to their various care choices. On the lessee side of the fence, I didn't love that I wasn't in full control. In the case of both horses I leased, the owners decided to ride more and I lost access to the horses.

So now I am the lessor. I've only had my horse for one month and 6 days. I'm still getting to know him and I've been so busy with my new responsibilities at the barn that I haven't had as much time for him as I would like. Regardless, the pressure is on from my husband to find a lessee.

I have a friend who may be interested in leasing Crafty for herself or her daughter. She came by the other day to take a lesson on him. It was really difficult for me. I don't necessarily want to share him. I want to be his person. If I share him, he won't know he's mine. I had a hard time watching my friend lead him and tack him up. I'm very particular about how he is lead. He's not allowed to wander, drag his person off, start grazing, etc. I'm working to establish myself as his leader on the ground and under saddle. Will leasing my horse undermine that work?

My friend did a great job riding Crafty and I think she had fun. She will likely try him again but I'm not sure if he will work out for her or her daughter. They use a different trainer and I only want one trainer working with my horse, especially during the first year when we are still getting to know him. Having two riders is confusing enough. Two trainers, two different agendas and approaches, would not be fair to the horse.

I think there will be someone wonderful who wants to lease Crafty. He's a nice horse. But I think it will be interesting to see how people feel about the cost. He can be ridden 6 times per week. I will ride 3 times and lease him out for 3 rides which is a half lease. From where I am now sitting, half of board and $100.00 towards shoes sounds like a bargain. I am paying for all supplements, most of the shoes, routine vet care. I am providing really nice, brand new tack. I am providing a lovely horse, boarded at a barn with awesome facilities for riding.

I will require my lessee to take one lesson a week, at least for the first 6 months. I will also require them to do at least two sessions with our natural horsemanship trainer so that we are all on the same program. My poor lessee. I'm starting to feel sorry for her already.

If my lessee ends up being someone who wants to take Crafty to shows or camps, I will expect them to contribute to maintenance type veterinary care such as Adequan or joint injections. The reality is that my level of riding is putting very little wear and tear on the horse. I will also ask them to have their own saddle pads. I hate washing saddle pads. I don't really want to do it when I don't even get the pleasure of riding!

I think I'm ok with my lessee taking my horse places even though it feels terribly wrong. I will have to get over it but I feel like he's one of my children. I've been a stay at home mom for 17 years. I have rarely spent a day without at least one of my children. I don't know how people who are divorced with joint custody do it. On the one hand it looks so glamorous to have every other weekend to yourself but on the other hand, it would feel like a limb was missing.

This post seems to be more about personal therapy than about leasing a horse but if you are out looking to lease, I'm hoping my thoughts will help you think a little more kindly of the horse owner and the price they set for sharing their precious steed with another rider.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Distance: Buying a horse from far, far away.

If you read my most recent post, you know I found my dream horse in Canada. He checked off everything on my list of qualities I wanted in my horse except convenient location so I just decided that I had to go for it.

Buying a horse from far away and from another country is a little complicated but nothing I couldn't handle (says the naive first time buyer). There were three hurdles I had to get over - the vetting, transportation and paperwork for the boarder.

I flew up to Toronto with my trainer to try Crafty and we both loved him. I contemplated going back up for the vetting and possibly even driving my trailer up to drive my horse home but it was at least a 12 hour drive each way and I had no idea what it was like to cross the boarder with a horse. In the end, I wanted to get things moving forward and didn't have the ability to go back up for the vetting with my husband traveling and three kids to think about.

The trainer who showed us the horse was great. She crosses the boarder frequently to show in the US so was pretty unfazed by the process. I found that comforting. She gave me a long list of vets I could call and was very honest about which vets she uses and which she didn't know at all. I chose the vet closest to the farm where Crafty lived which was 20 minutes away. It was seriously remote and the other vets were an hour to two hours away. I had no references for this vet but she had come from Kentucky, was used to working with race horses and I decided expediency was worth the risk of an unknown vet.

The vetting was incredibly stressful. I hated not being there. The vet was actually great, especially at working to represent my interests. A couple of little things concerned her and I was trying to decide if I wanted any x-rays but she had to leave for an emergency call. I worried about letting her leave without doing x-rays so I called my vet in a state of rookie panic.

My vet, who was in the middle of showing her own horses at a jumper show, was wonderful but I was a train wreck. She was watching my videos between classes and texting her office to tell them what x-rays she wanted to see. I was upset because I just wanted my horse and I felt like for his price and for what I wanted to do there wasn't anything we were going to find that would keep me from buying him.

The Canadian vet went back the next day. We discussed her concerns and decided to x-ray the horse's left leg starting at the hoof and working our way up to the knee. That was the extent of what we planned to look at and my vet was comfortable with that and with the reasoning behind the decision. I didn't want to spend so much on the vetting that I wouldn't have anything left to do maintenance type things later. I felt I would rather get my horse home and have my vet watch him go and do x-rays here. I have no doubt he will need some joint support or injections of some kind but none of that worries me and he is sound on hard ground so what could go wrong? Also, the back x-rays my vet was interested in could not be done with the old equipment available to the Canadian vet. Again, I felt if we needed to do those X-rays at some point I preferred to do them at home with the treating vet having control over the images taken.

This is not necessarily a wise way to go about your vetting. Ideally, I would have been there. In a perfect world I would do X-rays, take it one thing at a time and make informed decisions. However, at my request, the horse would not be ridden again until I got him home. Right or wrong, I wanted to move quickly. If I were buying a more serious competition horse or spending a larger sum of money, I wouldn't have done it this way.

In the mean time, I was dialing the numbers of every transport company in Canada trying to find a truck heading south. They were awful. No one was calling me back and they kept telling me how busy they were driving horses north from Florida. I thought that was a bit absurd since surely the trucks had to go back south! Eventually one of the companies directed me to another that carries race horses down to Saratoga, New York pretty regularly. That did the trick!

A good transport company makes the whole thing so much easier!!!! I used Doyle's and they were great. They went up to get Crafty on a Tuesday afternoon and kept him overnight at their base near the border. Wednesday morning, they took his papers to the government office to be signed and crossed the boarder. I met them in Saratoga that evening, loaded Crafty onto my trailer and headed home.

The paperwork isn't terribly complicated I'm happy to know now. I had the vet rush the coggins so that took a couple of days. Then the vet's office did a health certificate. Someone needs to take the health certificate to the government office to be stamped. The trainer would have done it but it was quicker for us to have the transport company do it because their base is less than a mile from the office.

I have a friend who spent the early spring horse shopping in Florida, South Carolina and Virginia. She was looking for two horses - one for her and one for her daughter. She felt pretty strongly about being present at the vetting and ended up walking away from a lovely horse because of a side conversation she had while she was there. Another horse she vetted long distance but a trainer she knew well was there on the ground to make sure everything went well. That horse ended up not working out either but for different reasons.

Buying horses is emotionally challenging. The addition of distance into the equation simply increases the complexity of those emotions. If you are a first time buyer, try to find something within reasonable driving distance. Think about the cost of travel, time, emotional distress and wear on the horse when considering whether to save a little money by going a little farther. And be certain to involve your trainer or other chosen horse expert! It probably cost me $500.00 to bring my trainer with me to Canada but I would never ever have bought a horse, especially at that distance, without her consent. I just don't know enough to do it on my own and I need her to ask the questions I don't think of regarding work history, fitness, soundness, etc. I also needed her to ride him. She has ridden countless horses over the 30+ years she's been riding so she has a much more developed ability to feel a horse out and see what he's about.

If you need to buy a horse from far away, go for it. Take a deep breath, be patient and work through the steps. Surround yourself with people who know what they are doing and listen. And good luck!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Horse Shopping for Mom: A comical adventure with a happy ending!

More than two months before my husband accepted the inevitable - a horse of my own - I stumbled
upon an ad on Sport Horse Nation. "Event horse with lots of lower level experience ready to move up." I looked at the ad every night for two months. Eventually I noticed that the horse lived in Ontario, Canada, about 2 hours north of Toronto and a 12 hour drive from where I live. Still, I couldn't stop thinking about him and I determined to find a way to make him my own.

The first thing I had to do was convince my husband, with a little creative math, that my horse wouldn't cost him too much money. I pulled that off by April and went out to find my horse.

I spoke on the phone with the trainer of my Canadian heartthrob. She was great, he sounded ideal and I wanted him more than ever. My trainer thought I was nuts, but she usually does! There was still snow on the ground and I couldn't imagine how I was going to get to Canada to look at a horse - I couldn't completely abandon my three kids, my husband travels and life was busy.

So I set about finding another horse or two to look at closer to home. My plan was to bring my daughter or my trainer along with me to look at horses. I couldn't possibly buy a horse without at least one of them but, unfortunately, they were too busy to go with me. So I decided to just go out and look all by myself!

The first thing you should know is that I hadn't even sat on a horse in 8 months. I had leased a horse last year until the end of July. I rode my daughter's horse about 3 times in the fall and that was it! So I really had no business trying horses on my own but I'm an obstinate person with no patience and I knew I wouldn't get my trainer to go to Canada without demonstrating my determination.

My theory was that I was capable of sitting on a horse to walk and trot and possibly canter.  I would be able to eliminate any horses that were super obviously unacceptable. I was looking at horses that were pretty close by so if I thought they were worth a second look, I could bring someone more qualified back with me.

I went to see two horses somewhat locally.  The first was an 8 year old OTTB mare. She was very sweet but I was pretty sure my trainer would say no to her. I did manage to walk, trot and canter her all on my own without falling off which struck me as a bit of a miracle at the time. The second horse was with the trainer we bought my daughter's pony, Pumba, from a couple of years ago. She had heard I was looking and thought she had just the thing for me. The horse was super cute and lovely on the ground, well behaved under saddle but a little small and not really my match. I was very proud of myself for going out shopping on my own and saving everyone's time.

The only horse left to look at was my man in Canada. In all seriousness, there was very little for sale at the time and I had a pretty tight budget. If I travelled to Pennsylvania or Virginia where there would be more horses, the prices went up. My Canadian had the exchange rate going for him so I decided it was time to book a trip.

My trainer decided to go along with my plan. Neither of us had ever been to Toronto so it sounded like a good adventure. I booked plane tickets, a rental car and hotel all with my husband's airline miles. That was a bit sneaky of me. He gave me a budget and told me it had to include everything - travel, vetting, tack, etc. He never mentioned use of air miles!

I suppose it was a bit crazy to go so far to see one horse. It was a tiring trip north and we landed right after a huge plane from China so got stuck in a long immigration line. We drove an hour to the hotel and in the morning headed north. The drive was desolate and beautiful. We were absolutely in the middle of nowhere. It's a bit of a miracle that we managed to find the place!

When we got there, Crafty - that's his name, Crafty Breeze, and it's a bit ironic since I am very crafty - was just what I hoped he would be. He has excellent ground manners. I rode him around a bit at all 3 gaits and he made me look good. He's handsome which doesn't hurt. We walked him out through some fields so my trainer could take him over some XC jumps. He was a perfect gentleman.

As we walked the Canadian trainer told us about the property which used to be home to an event called Checkmate and which my trainer was very familiar with. Later I looked up some old photos of the place which were pretty cool. There were still some old advanced jumps in the woods. The farm had been sold and would close in the fall so it was pretty cool to be there.

My trainer hopped on, rode him around, jumped over a fence a few times and had a great time! We walked him back, hosed him, grazed him and headed off to find some food. It is worth mentioning we found an absolutely amazing restaurant called Mylar and Loretta's seriously in the middle of nowhere and well worth going out of your way for a visit. We chatted over an excellent feast and marveled at my luck.

We caught an earlier flight back to Massachusetts and I got to work on vetting a horse long distance (worthy of a whole separate post) and shipping him down here.

I've waited a long time to have a horse of my own. I am so grateful Crafty came into my life. I'm having a blast riding him everyday and think he is just the coolest horse ever. And it doesn't hurt that he looks good too!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Looking Back: When buying a horse feels good and right.

I've posted a few times about the struggles we've had over the winter but I would like to go back and tell the story of how we found Quizz and the incredibly positive experience we had buying her.

Last summer we went to Elizabeth's first recognized event. She was doing the Starter Division but still, it was a step up. While she was out walking the XC course with her trainer, I stayed in the barn to finish braiding her pony. A lovely young woman stabled across from us asked me if I knew of anyone interested in buying a horse. She seemed less determined to sell a horse and more confused about the right course for her future as an eventer.

I said I might be interested in a horse and invited her to tell me about her lovely mare. At the end of our conversation I told her I thought that sounded like the kind of horse you keep, not the kind you sell, and reminded her how difficult it is to find a horse that can stay sound and take good care of you. I think these were difficult conversations for her. She had owned the horse for nearly 6 years and had known her since she was a baby. Quizz had helped her overcome some fears and they had moved up the levels together. I could tell she really didn't want to sell her but she was also aware that it wasn't fair to ask Quizz to do more. They had gone as far as they could together and it was, sadly, time to part.

We went out and competed, went home and moved on with our lives but I kept thinking about Quizz. I mentioned it to my trainer and she thought I was a little crazy. We really weren't looking yet. We hardly met the horse and I had one conversation with the owner. It was strange how seriously I wanted to track them down.

A month or so passed and I was unable to contact them. The prior owner is not on Facebook by her full name and I didn't know who her trainer was. I found their records online but not them.

The first week of August I was at Apple Knoll in Millis, Massachusetts where our Pony Club is fortunate to have camp for one week each summer. I was in charge of camp so was there around the clock. The first day of camp a trailer pulled in and I recognized the driver as a woman who had been stabled with us at the show over the summer. I was pretty sure she would know where to find Quizz. And yes, I was still obsessing about finding her!

This is the craziest part of the story. I approached the woman and asked if she remembered the horse and rider pair from the show earlier in the summer.  Her answer is too much to believe. The passenger in her trailer was none other than Quizz. She was at Apple Knoll to be sold. As luck would have it, we were able to spend time with Quizz that entire week. My daughter rode her a few times in her pony club lessons. We were able to see her lovely personality and be very sure of who this horse is. Our trainer came to ride her thinking we were nuts but by the end of the morning, she was a little in love as well.  Quizz has that effect on people.

Later we found out that as we were trying to track down Quizz's owner, she was looking for us. She wanted Quizz to go to a young rider who would keep her forever and give her a really good home. The best part of buying Quizz has been expanding our family to include her prior owner. When someone owns a horse like Quizz for as long as she did, they want to know that their horse is being cared for properly. From our end it felt wonderful to buy a well loved horse from a responsible owner. Quizz had a heart condition which the owners immediately informed us about. They opened their vet records. They gave us the report from Tufts regarding her heart issue. They did everything so well that I think I'm a bit spoiled as I go through this again looking for my own horse.

I did freak out right after we bought her. We do intend to keep Quizz forever and I think as that reality washed over me I panicked. But her prior owner could not have been more wonderful. We are in constant contact. I am excited for her as she starts her adventure with a new young horse and she loves getting updates on Quizz's adventures.

A couple of weeks ago, after Elizabeth's first XC run of the season at a schooling show, she sat in the
back seat texting with Quizz's old owner all about how much fun she had. I think it's pretty awesome for all of us. Quizz is amazing. It would be selfish to keep her all to ourselves.

This weekend the announcer at King Oak called out the name Quizz D'Orange once again but this time with a younger rider and at a lower level. Quizz had her issues over the winter but honestly that is to be expected in an 11 year old who had been going Preliminary last summer. Her issues were confusing for the humans and we never really identifies what was bothering her but whatever it was, we addressed it and she feels great now! She's very confident and proud of herself, especially as she runs XC. And she is again building confidence in her rider. Rather than fearing speed, my daughter received time faults for going too fast! Looks like it will be time to move up sooner than we thought but we couldn't have done any of it without Quizz.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Relief: when the tide turns and everything starts to work again.

If you read my post on lameness, you may recall our distress and uncertainty about the future. I could not possibly be more pleased to report that we have come out the other end. The experience was traumatizing, frustrating, stressful and ultimately inspiring.

Quizz is an amazing horse and we bought her sound, of that I am certain, from a wonderful woman who loves her deeply. But somehow, things fell apart as they sometimes do. Whether it was shoeing mistakes, maintenance that just needed to be done or a sudden and random change, she was unable to work at the beginning of the winter. 

I don't have any answers regarding a silver bullet or magic formula we followed that could help others. But as I reflect on the past 6 months certain things stand out as contributing factors as to why we came out the other side ready for show season.

The most important factor in helping my daughter's horse get back on track was our trainer. We listened to her every step of the way. We did everything she told us to do, even when it went somewhat against our usual process. We changed farriers. We involved an additional vet. We were very aggressive with injections. It was not easy to go along with all of this but I knew that if we really wanted Quizz to recover we couldn't listen only to the things we wanted to hear. We either had to go along with the plan or not go along with it. Half a plan would not help.

There were dark days. I never doubted our trainer, her knowledge or her intentions. I did doubt the horse's ability to bounce back. I doubted whether we had identified the issue. I doubted the miracle farrier. Shoeing changes take time and my patience was thin. I seriously doubted the ability of my daughter to rise to the occasion and do all that needed to be done to help her horse recover.

At one point, not all that long ago, I thought the best thing for the horse might be to find a more advanced rider that could give her what she needed. Even mentioning this brought tears to my daughter's eyes.

Again, our trainer gets all the credit for salvaging the situation. She did more training rides. She gave my daughter more lessons. She sped up Elizabeth's education. Elizabeth learned so very much in such a short time. But even more importantly, our trainer kept her cool while I rode the emotional roller coaster. She was there for us everyday. She knew how hard it was for us to go through this and she cared. She didn't make any promises but she encouraged us to have faith.

We did everything we could think of to try. We lunged with a Pessoa, rode with German reins. We used Back on Track pads. We did a course of Adequan. We even engaged a PhD Equine Nutritionist who I think is fantastic. We only made minor adjustments to her diet but I think it helped. And I should admit I hired an animal communicator. That was a bit disappointing, really, and brought me down way more than it propped me up. 

In the end we will never know what one thing made the biggest difference. But the part that will always stand out to me is the support and encouragement we received. From the lameness vet to the miracle farrier, from our super supportive Pony Club friends to our trainer, we were so fortunate to have had this experience. As painful as it was, I am glad we ran the gauntlet and came out the other side.

So tomorrow Elizabeth and Quizz will do a schooling horse trial in preparation for their first big recognized show together. Two months ago we weren't sure if Quizz would jump again and now we have an incredible season planned for this fantastic team. Last week they galloped - a real gallop! I am so incredibly grateful. And I am humbled by my daughter and her amazing and trusty steed.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Value: How much is a horse really worth? The ranting mother is horse shopping...for herself this time!

I wrote this post last night and already I have some updates so the grey italic is, I hope, worth reading. Thank you to all the generous people who give me feedback. It is of enormous value and greatly appreciated!

So some big news here . . . today my husband looked me in the eye and agreed to buy a horse for me. FOR ME!!!!!!!! I am extremely excited.

Now for a reality check. In the fall when I wanted to sell our pony, there were so many great horses on the market which meant we had to be realistic about his price. The fall is a buyer's market. Spring is a seller's market. Right now there is nothing out there, nada, kein.

My husband has given me a tight budget. It should be enough to find something but this may take awhile and compromises will be made. I have $10,000 which also needs to cover my set up costs so vet check, travel, tack. I have a saddle which I hope will fit my horse. If not I may be in deep trouble. So I feel like I can spend $8,000 on my horse. Of course in the fall I could have done it but now it looks like I need at least $15,000 to get into the market. I get it. No one wants to buy a horse in the fall and take care of it and cover its costs through the winter so prices go down. I'm just bummed that now that my husband has finally said yes, inventory is low, prices are high and it looks like it will take awhile for me to find a horse.

In a previous life I was a NASDAQ trader. I have bought and sold several homes. I totally get the idea of markets and value and the fact that they fluctuate. What I have a harder time with are the people engaged in the market who do not understand these things.

When we bought our house I had to engage with such a person. She found our first offer offensive and rudely blew us off. Fortunately my agent was quite savvy, gave her a verbal lashing and eventually got us our house.

Today I sent a very nice email to a seller. She has a lovely horse listed for $17,500.  The horse had gone Novice but not more. My daughter really liked the look of the horse and said that was the one I should be buying so I thought I may as well send an email. What did I have to lose? I was honest about my budget but also about the quality of home I will provide, the fact that I intend to be a forever home, I offered references and hoped for the best. The response was not what I had hoped. The seller could have responded that they appreciated my interest and offered to check in with the owner. She could have said they would keep my information in case anything changed. She could have thanked me for my honesty since I could have wasted her time going to look at the horse before breaking the news of my low budget. Instead, she said my budget is not an acceptable offer on a horse of this caliber. She did wish me luck.

Here's my issue: every offer should be considered. I'm the buyer, the one with the money. I'm a catch for any seller because I actually intend to buy a horse. At some point this seller may be in a real bind and my offer will begin to look spectacular. In the world I live in, BN/Novice horses do not cost nearly $20,000. I know my budget is a bit low but not THAT low. I hope the owner has done some research and made sure she is comfortable with the price she has been advised to set. Just like with the housing market, it is often better to set a realistic price and create more interest from multiple buyers than shoot high and end up with no one coming to look. From my research, a solid BN/Novice horse should cost between $10,000 and $15,000 and leaning toward the lower end of the range as they age and have less Novice experience, more BN experience.  I think $10,000 - $12,000 could be the right price and on the right day I might pay that much. Buying is an emotional experience and buyers often pay more than they initially intended. In the case of the horse I inquired about, it has been listed for nearly 2 months in a seller's market so that would imply it is overpriced though with inventory so low, they may get their price and I may be the one who is proven wrong.

I find that people often over value their own assets. Perhaps it is my experience as a trader but I am generally pretty clear that any asset I have is only worth what the buyer in the market today will pay. The woman with the horse she will not sell below $10,000 has a horse currently worth nothing because there is no buyer in the market today offering her money for her horse (well, there may have been but she missed that opportunity). Tomorrow she may have a horse worth much more or much less. It always depends on the buyers in the market. A seller can hold onto an asset or realize its value by selling to the current buyer. Holding on does not mean it is worth any amount the owner claims. It is still only worth the price the market will pay. If you can afford to hold out for your price and that is important, then I guess that is your prerogative. But every month you keep that horse costs you another $1,000.00 or more so think hard before staying stuck on price. When it came time to sell our pony I was pretty realistic. I took a 30% loss. He's for sale again at a higher price and I think his talent warrants that price if a buyer can be found. I will be happy for both sides of the transaction if it should take place.

Sorry for the economics rant. Mostly I'm just bummed my pockets aren't deeper so I can't go try that really cute horse. No matter! There will be others! And those others will not turn up their noses at my lowly budget. My horse will not be fancy but he or she will be loved. My horse will have a good life and he or she is out there waiting for me. I only hope we won't have to wait too long to find one another.

This morning I heard from a friend who has been in the market more recently. She has travelled to Florida, South Carolina and Virginia looking for horses for both herself and her daughter. The horse for her daughter will be similar to what we bought for my daughter and the horse for her will be similar to what I am looking for. She feels that a proven BN horse of ideal age (I'll say 10) costs about $15,000 so I am low in my budget. But if they have schooling show experience rather than recognized, the price is lower. Likewise as they get older. So a 15 yo will certainly be less. We won't talk about the budget for the other kind of horse!

I also heard back from another owner. This one is asking $15,000 for her horse. Her response to me was lovely. Her horse sounds wonderful. I will keep in touch with this seller. Hopefully she will call me if anything changes and I will certainly call her if I find I am able to do a little better.

I would also add that location is a big factor in the horse market just as it is in the housing market. Horses in Canada are much more reasonably priced. There are fewer people up there and the US dollar is very strong. Prices seem to be better in the midwest where more people can keep horses in their backyards. Metropolitan areas such as the one I live in are just more expensive in every single way so I will either have to pay for the convenience of buying a horse nearby or I will have to travel. I'm already booking my flight to Toronto. I'm cheating and using frequent flyer miles. Those were not mentioned in my budget and may just help me stretch it enough to make this work!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Memberships: USEF? USEA? When acronyms appear on your entry forms you need to start joining some organizations!

When my daughter was little and riding at her sweet beginner barn, the trainers took care of all the paperwork required for attending shows.  Since the barn owned all the ponies and only attended schooling shows, the process was relatively straightforward and we simply signed on the dotted line and wrote a check.

When we moved barns and switched to eventing, things got a little more complicated. There was no longer a big group of kids going off to the same shows.  We were still attending schooling shows so that made things easier. But I found myself having to figure out how to fill out the entry forms (don’t laugh, it’s written in a foreign language) and how to read the prize list. By the way there are no prizes listed on most prize lists.

Last year my daughter attended her first USEA (United States Eventing Association) Recognized Horse Trials. That is when things got more complicated.

Every equestrian discipline has a governing body. The FederationEquestre Internationale (FEI) is the governing body of all equestrian sport in the world. The next rung down the ladder here in the US is the United StatesEquestrian Federation (USEF), which governs all equestrian sports in the US. In addition, each discipline has its own organization from the United StatesEventing Association (USEA) to the United States Hunter Jumper Association(USHJA) to the United States Dressage Federation (USDF). I assume western disciplines and the breeds have similar organizations but I’m sticking with what I know.

As you start attending fancier “recognized” horse shows of any variety, pay attention to the prize list (hunter jumper term for list of classes) or omnibus (eventing term for all pertinent information for entering a show). In addition to information regarding competition levels, judges, stabling and times this will provide guidance as to requirements for entry. It may explicitly say what memberships a participant needs to compete or it may point the reader to a rulebook.

In eventing, a rider does not need to join the USEA until the Beginner Novice level. Kids under 18 get a discount so I believe we paid $60.00 for the year. Horses competing at Beginner Novice, Novice and Training level need to be registered with the USEA with restricted status at a minimum. Restricted status is free. They can also be registered with limited status for $40.00 per year, which is important if you want to be considered for year end awards, and will later need to be upgraded to full status if they begin to compete at the Preliminary level. So your basic kid going out Beginner Novice can get away with just paying $60.00 for a USEA membership and nothing more so long as they register their horse.  A lifetime USEA membership costs $1,500.00 and so is a pretty nice gift for a kid who intends to compete for many years to come.

As a beginner eventing parent you won’t need to worry about USEF or FEI memberships. A rider needs a USEF membership to enter a recognized horse trials at the Preliminary level or above. USEF membership costs $55.00 per year, $165.00 for three years or $2,500.00 for a lifetime membership. FEI levels are indicated by the star system. A * is an international Preliminary Level, ** is an international Intermediate Level and *** is an international Advanced Level. Just looking at the entry form for a CIC, which is an international level competition, it does ask for an FEI number for both horse and rider. When you need to join the FEI you’ve entered the big leagues!

If your child is competing at recognized horse trials you can use to register for most events. I find this website to be very confusing. I am in my second season of using it and I can at least do what I need to do and I like being able to pay online but it feels like some sort of exclusive club for people who know what's up and I feel like the kid who showed up uninvited, never really sure if I'm doing the right thing. First, join USEA so you have that number. Then set up an account. I choose to have a signature page and coggins on file with and pay an annual $10.00 fee so that I don't have to keep sending those in separately after paying online. When you select this option a PDF pops up. You print it out and send it in with the pertinent item. I just sent in 3 - one for the coggins, one for the signature page and one for membership cards. In case you haven't done a recognized HT before, the signature page is signed by the rider, the owner of the horse and the trainer. You will need your trainer's USEA and USEF numbers as well. Registering for the individual events still confuses me. You are asked to select a division and there isn't always an appropriate option available. Fortunately, the show secretaries who receive the information and create the division lists know what they are doing and it all seems to work out! And if you screw up, they'll be sure to let you know! Just do what the show secretary says and you'll be all set!

I don’t know much about other memberships but suggest you take a look at the USHJA and USEF websites if you have a child interested in competing in the hunter, jumper or equitation disciplines. The USEF membership application actually has a space for joining the USHJA so I believe you join both if you are interested in the national competitions. I know many kids who dream of going to pony finals or competing for the various medals. USHJA membership pricing is in line with other memberships.

USDF youth memberships are $60.00 per year, so again, in line with other organizations. The dressage discipline also has schooling and recognized shows and as in other disciplines, the membership becomes necessary when a rider competes at the recognized level.

Depending on your discipline and the areas in which you compete, you may need additional memberships. My daughter competes in a dressage schooling series every summer. The membership is $50.00 per year. I know that the New England Dressage Association, which sponsors wonderful recognized shows and clinics, also offers membership. This membership is not required but offers benefits such as discounts at shows and a copy of the omnibus listing for the year.

Personally, I choose to over subscribe to memberships. When my kids were little we belonged to every museum and aquarium in Boston. We made excellent use of those facilities and I still pay for those memberships as my small contribution to maintaining organizations I am grateful to have enjoyed. Similarly, I am happy to contribute to the organizations that make my daughter’s sport possible. Everything else in equestrian sport is absurdly expensive. Memberships seem very reasonable for all they provide. Certainly we pay entry fees as well so it is not as though memberships have to cover the cost of every ribbon, venue, etc. However, providing great shows at great venues is not inexpensive. It is important to support the people who make it all possible.