Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An Update To Tucker...In Which Life Hands Us Lemons

It is has been a while since I have written. Lots has been going on, including my career. I am now the Florida rep for Noble Outfitters. This came about at a time when I was considering leaving the repping industry and had even gone back to working at a vet clinic....which I hated. The plan was to continue on with some of my lines....I can't ever leave Hilton Herbs, but out of the blue, I had several companies contacting me about repping for them, including Noble Outfitters. I am so happy that I took on Noble, they are an amazing company with a rich history and they are keeping me busy, which I love!
So what is up with Tucker? Well, life threw us a big curve ball in the spring.
Lets catch up, shall we?

First, lets bring you up to date with his allergies & summer sores:
Challenged by allergies since he was about 2 years old, they have been brought completely under control with the use of Hilton Herbs. He gets Bye Bye Itch daily in his feed, I use the topical on his bumps (they are worse in March when the oaks are in bloom, and sporadically pop up the rest of the year) and anywhere else he is itchy and he is bathed only in Hilton Herb's Medicated shampoo.
He will NEVER go out at night again. Horses are here to teach us and Tucker has certainly taught me plenty. I am so sorry for all the years that I turned him out at night, even with a fly sheet on. He was miserable and I should have listened better. He may have limited turnout in the summer, but he is so much happier in his stall, fan blowing on him and hay to munch all afternoon, then dealing with being attacked for hours on end. I truly am sorry Tucker for subjecting you to your own personal hell for so many years.
Last year was a horrible year for summer sores. To recap, the summer sore from hell (just scroll through my blog entries) had never been a problem in the cooler weather, until I moved to a barn in the fall of '13 or '14 and it reopened within a few weeks, despite it being autumn. I fought that sore year round for several years, with last year culminating in what was nothing short of another hell for Tucker, with 3 sores opening on his legs. The ivermectin/DMSO/Fura ointment no longer worked and I was using Dr. Porter's cream, but was fighting a losing battle. The left foreleg was only somewhat under control, after months of being bandaged wrapped 24/7. I was on my way to Rolex last April, and had removed the bandage wrap and replaced them with fly boots as there was nobody in the barn who I could trust with bandaging him daily, and literally, as I am driving out of the barnyard, I look over to wave goodbye to Tucker (what? like you don't wave goodbye to your horse when you leave?) who is turned out in his fly boots. And what do I see? The fly boot has been removed and there is a big spot of blood on his leg. This happened in less than 10 minutes. I got out of my car, crying, walked him back to the barn, re-bandaged his legs and called my vet, pleading with her to come out and to do whatever she needed to do while I was gone. The sore did not close until last fall, after we moved to our new barn.
This is the first summer that Tucker has gone without fly boots on his legs and I don't know who is happier, him or me! So what happened to have such a dramatic turn around in less than a year?
Well, I attribute it to several key things. First, Hilton Herbs Mud Defender has really helped. Developed for the treatment of rain rot and scratches, this antifungal/antibacterial has worked on several horses in treating summer sores, not just Tucker's. Second, moving Tucker has also been a big help. Where he lives now (and will stay until we buy our own farm), Robyn, the barn owner, is diligent in fly management. The manure spreader is emptied daily. If we clean up after our horses during the day, the muck buckets are taken away from the barn until they can be dumped and spread the next day. Golden Malrin fly bait is sprinkled not only in the muck buckets waiting to be dumped but it is sprinkled around the barn and in front of Tucker and his stall mate, Spirits, stalls (poor Spirits, he has had to deal with summer sores not only in his mouth, but also on his penis.) The flies are practically non-existent around the barn. Lastly, I truly believe weed management plays a crucial role in summer sores. When Tucker first developed the sores, I was leasing my barn and I maintained a mostly weed-free environment. What weeds I had were pulled or kept mowed down (how is it a beautiful show barn can turn their eye to knee high weeds in their turnouts?) But when I moved him and they re-opened in the fall, I was convinced that the reason had to deal with the fact that there were weeds in his pasture (which had not been there when I had first visited the farm 2 months earlier....another lesson learned, if you move and several weeks go by before you move your horse in, go back for another visit, as the horse management may have changed.) The next few farms were also full of weeds in the pastures. Because of Tucker's many allergies, this is actually how Tucker's initial summer sore began. One of Tucker's many allergies is to different grasses and weeds. While I didn't really have any weeds in Chuluota, he would come in with tiny sores around his pasterns on a regular basis. They would heal pretty quickly, except for the one that went on to become the summer sore from hell. So I have no doubt that weeds out of control are going to aggravate his skin and cause more outbreaks. Thankfully, where Tucker resides now, pasture management is practiced and weeds are kept to a minimum.

Tucker's EPSM:
I have managed to keep Tucker's EPSM pretty well under control. He continues to get Dr. Reilly's high dose of Vitamin E, magnesium, and high fat. Last fall, we had our best ever dressage score at Rocking Horse, getting a 32 and finishing in 3rd place (we would have won had I not gotten lost in stadium and overshot a fence, resulting in a rare rail down.) I have been pretty convinced that the EPSM would be what ended Tucker's career and was not at all prepared for what happened to us this spring:

In November of 2015, Tucker came up mildly lame in his left front. X-rays showed some arthritis and after a few weeks off, Tucker resumed normal work, only to come up lame again in March of 1016, 3 days before we were to show at our first recognized event. Xrays revealed the same arthritis, so we started him on Adequan injections and Hilton Herb's Joint Mobility. He was back to normal within a few weeks and we resumed our dressage and cross country lessons. Fast forward to March of this year, and Tucker is again lame. Not overtly lame, but none the less, he is slightly off on the left front. Xrays show that the arthritis has progressed and for the first time, I am hearing the term ringbone, which explains the cherry size swelling in the front of his ankle when he was lame. I decide to attack the issue with injections into his joint, which should give him relief for a year or more. I know several eventers who are competing at the upper levels with injections and who are able to go more than a year between injections, so I am optimistic.
After 10 days off, I manage to get in a few more dressage lessons with Bill and Tucker feels fantastic. I am excited and start to make some show plans before the heat arrives. And then, 6 weeks later, I ask Tucker to trot and I feel a bobble. How can this be??? For the next few days, I tack him up, we do a nice long warm up at the walk, but when I ask him to trot, he is clearly off. I ask Robyn and several boarders to watch, hoping that what I am feeling can't possibly be right, that somehow I am imagining things, but no, they all agree, Tucker is lame on the left front.
Kevin comes out and he puts different shoes on, saying that they should give Tucker more support. They don't help, Tucker is still lame. At this point, I not only consult with my vet, but I consult with Dr. Reilly and with Dr. Madison, of Ocala Equine Vet, who performed Imp's knee surgery. The prognosis is grim. They all say the same thing. If it were laminitis or even a fracture, those can be fixed. Ringbone cannot be fixed. Dr. Madison, after seeing Tucker's xrays, advices against anything drastic, such as surgery to fuse the joint. He tells me there is not much success rate in the front leg and he usually does it just as a last resort to help keep a horse comfortable. They all say the same thing. Time to retire him. And so, for Tucker's 14th birthday, that is exactly what I did. I retired him.
I am devastated. I did not back Tucker until he was 3, and did not jump him until he was 6, due to his size. The vets all said the same, that due to his size and career, they are not surprised. But the reality is, when it comes to jumping, he is low mileage and there are lots of big horses out there, doing a whole lot more and lasting a lot longer. Was he pre-disposed to get this? My heart says that all the banging he did in the trailer over the years most likely contributed to this and at the very least, did not help. Was there something I could have done to prevent this? I just can't believe that I have had to retire Tucker at the age of 14.
Now there may be days that Tucker is fine at the trot and canter....he certainly looks sound when he goes out. And I do ride him around the farm, though usually bareback. But the uncertainty of whether he will be sound from day to day mean that I really can't make any plans to at least make him a dressage mount. I don't know, maybe one day I will figure out what to do with him. He isn't really a trail horse, but maybe I could do obstacle training with him. Our house is on the market and once we move, I plan on creating an area where I can do liberty training with him. I know that I need to keep his mind engaged. What does worry me is the effect of not working will have on his EPSM. I already see a change in his topline, and I am certain that a lack of daily exercise will mean that the EPSM will take over his body sooner than later.
In the meantime, it is so bloody hot that I don't think he really minds not doing anything other than eating. He will always have a home with me and a place in my heart. He will be a companion to my next horse and I think that I will have to teach him some tricks!
The summer sore at its worst

The effects of Tucker's allergies

The summer sore over the years

Tucker's tail most of the year, before Hilton Herbs
Tucker's tail for the past 5 years, thanks to Hilton Herbs


Another year of dealing with the summer sores

Summer sore after using Mud Defender

Beautiful skin, full mane! No itchies!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Rocking Horse 3 Phase! We Did It!!

Earlier this month, I competed Tucker in our first full three phase since his second and more severe bout with EPSM.
All I can say is, what a journey it has been, from 2012, where he could barely pick up a canter and not be able to maintain it, to being able to compete and finish all 3 phases in one day!
I was pretty apprehensive about our weekend at Rocking Horse, but show jitters are normal for me. I had a restless night, dreaming of every possible horrific event that can happen...from driving the truck and trailer off the Lake Jesup bridge into its 15,000 alligator infested waters, to falling off Tucker on xc and of course, being utterly embarrassed and forgetting our dressage test.
Tuesday and I had made the wise decision to haul Tucker and Nebo up to Rocking Horse on Friday, so that they could be settled in and figuring on an early morning dressage test, I didn't want the stress of rushing to get there on Saturday. It was a wise decision, we arrived, unloaded horses and tack, set up their stalls, waited out a storm and with the lightning finally moving off into the horizon, we tacked up and headed out to the cross country, which was open, to learn our course.
I had new boots on Tucker and I was interested in knowing how well they would hold up to galloping through the water, so as we approached the water complex, we trotted and cantered back and forth through the water. (the Woof Wear boots held up just fine with no slipping or turning.)
I was surprised to see a bank and a ditch on the course for beginner novice, albeit smalls ones, and later that day, I called my daughter Jen, who evented at the upper levels, and expressed my concern that the jumps were maxed out and while it was a straight forward course, the jumps looked big to me! Ha! What a weenie I have become!
Saturday morning, we warmed up for our dressage test. My husband, Peter, came along and he could not understand why Tuesday and I were the only ones wearing coats for dressage. I can't speak for Tuesday, but for me, it is all about tradition and looking your best.
We entered the ring at a nice forward trot and laid down a pretty respectable test. Our personal best to date, we scored a 32! Most of our scores were respectable 7's with his canters scoring mainly 6.5's...definitely something we need to work on. The judge commented on our test sheet that it was a lovely test! The test was good enough to land us in first place!
We had a bit of a break and the awesome crepe vendors were at the show, so I enjoyed a strawberry and banana crepe and walked the stadium course with Marcea and Tuesday. I changed shirts and then tacked up for back to back show jumping and cross country. We literally had about 13 minutes to go from the stadium ring out to cross country, so navy electrical tape was applied over Tucker's boots, Peter had my vest to hand off to me as we exited the ring and we headed out for a very brief schooling over fences with Marcea. I jumped about 3 times, declared that he was ready and into the ring we went.
God damnit, I had a bit of a mental lapse and we almost overshot fence 2. Really? On my husband's video, you can hear me declaring "Oh crap, 2! There it is!" and we make a tight right turn back towards the jump that I have ridden past and jump it on an angle. As we land, I hear the dull thud of the rail bouncing off the ground and I know that I have just blown my blue ribbon. We continue on and thankfully finish the course with no more brain farts and just the four penalties. We exit the ring and Peter hands me my vest. Tuesday is right after me and I watch her knock the same pole to the ground and then we head out to the cross country course, at a leisurely walk. I had made the decision that I was not going to rush out there, and it was a good choice, as they were just finishing up the tadpole division as I arrived.
Ten, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.....and off we go!
After we got past jump #2, a bench which I have never liked, I realized that HAY! I am having fun!!
The course was straight, up a small bank and into some trees, around the big bank, over the ditch, a smattering of coops and feeders. I did not even notice there was a photographer after one of the fences, nor did I realize I was being followed the whole time by the one jump judge on an ATV! It was just Tucker and myself, two beings becoming one as we fell into a steady rhythm of Tucker's heavy footed gallop.  Past the starting box, thankfully the tree that I hate was not on this course, into the big field, through the water, bend right into some more trees and head for home! I not only enjoyed myself, but I realized that the jumps were not that big, which photos and video confirmed! We finished clear and within time and dropped to 3rd place.
I was so pleased with Tucker! My fears about eventing an EPSM horse fell away. He can hold his own and his recovery was pretty spot on, with him drinking and eating well.
I realized that we are pretty competitive and after doing a few more at beginner novice, if for no other reason than to build my confidence, we will be ready to move up to novice!

We have worked long and hard for that trot!
Getting it together in show jumping after a near disaster!
Those jumps are tiny!
Well done!

A successful finish to cross country! What better way to share than with friends! Tuesday and Nebo!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Finding THE Perfect Boarding Barn

There have been lots of articles and blogs lately that talk about what makes the perfect boarder or what makes the perfect barn manager. But none of them have addressed what I have felt makes for THE perfect boarding barn.
I have been on both sides of the fence. I had my own farm that I leased and ran as both a boarding farm and non-profit rescue facility for 6 years. I also have managed farms and I have been a boarder. So I know what it is to be both a boarder and a barn manager.
When I leased the barn, I was probably the happiest I have ever been as a horse owner, because the barn was run exactly as I wanted it run. And you know what? My boarders must have been pretty happy as well, because the only time they left was if they were moving from the area. I did kick one boarder out, she was my first boarder. It was very frustrating that she would haul her horse 3 hours to her barrel racing trainers facility and when she returned a few days later, it was apparent that she had loaded her sweaty horse directly onto the trailer and hauled him home without rinsing him off. He would step off the trailer with dried sweat and utterly exhausted. She would tell me how her trainer would spend 2-3 hours running the horse in circles in hopes of improving his time. And then, Monday morning, he would colic. Without fail. I was unable to make her see the connection between what I regarded as abuse at the trainers and the Monday morning colics. I finally had enough and asked her to leave.
Her replacement was with me almost 6 years. She left twice. A college student, she took her horse home one summer and then she tried to find a barn closer to her home. I told her I would see her in a few months. And I did. Two barns and 6 months later, she returned.
When I ran the barn, I like to think that I was pretty easy going. I would feed whatever the owner wanted. The horses always had clean, good quality hay and the water buckets were dumped and cleaned daily and refilled with fresh, cool water. Water troughs were dumped daily and scrubbed of algae. The fencing was safe and kept in good repair, I always had grass and good footing. Stalls were mucked daily and bedded deeply. I blanketed in the winter and horses were hosed off in the summer. I really had no rules, other than keep the barn clean and leave things as you found it.
And isn't that really what we all want as horse owners? Good feed, safe facilities, fresh water, clean stalls and ample turnout with grass?  I don't think that the services I provided were above and beyond what every horse deserves. I think that is what every horse and its owner pays for and should receive.
So why is it so hard to find a barn that cheerfully offers these basic services?
When I gave up the lease on my barn and became a boarder again, I admit, it was hard going from having total control of your place to placing the care of your beloved horse in someone else's hands.
I found I had to make a list of what was most important for me. Besides the obvious, which I mentioned already. Because I have a "special needs" horse, it was important to find a barn that would adhere to his diet (Tucker has EPSM. His diet was planned by a vet and is crucial to his well-being) and due to his extreme allergies to bugs, he could not ever be turned out at night. That was hard, as most barns in Florida turn out at night during the hot summer months, and finding a barn that would bring him in by noon and not leave him out all day in the heat and storms, was hard to come by. It seemed that I had to choose either option A or option B and there was no wiggle room.
Finding those 2 criteria meant that perhaps some of my "basic" requirements" may have to take a back seat. The trick is to find what you can live with and what you can't.
After a few moves (one barn quickly went down the tubes as the manager decided that running a barn was hard work, another barn decided not to be flexible with turnout), I found a setting that was a bit of a drive for me, but allowed Tucker to eat what he wanted and go out during the daytime. But fencing sucked (they did have hot wire, so I was able to live with the unsafe fencing) and I had to understand that I would have to clean my buckets (and eventually dump them daily when that stopped happening), that the stall was not going to be immaculately cleaned (just add some additional time to the barn visit, and go over the stall yourself) and dump and clean the troughs yourself. This worked fine until the care unexplicably and utterly deteriorated. Then it became a situation where boarders were teaming up to cover for one another if one of us had to be out of town. We knew horses would not have buckets topped off during the heat of the day, they might be forgotten and left out in the heat or a storm, hay might be forgotten and god knows what else. For months, we covered for one another, until one by one, we were able to find new barns. During that time, manure and fly management ceased to exist, grass turned into sand and weeds (and some toxic weeds for some fields), and the suddenly quiet and happy barn turned into nightmare with boarders complaining nonstop and weekly arguments between boarder and barn management. My happy place was no longer a fun and happy place. Some boarders were lucky and found great barns, others were not so lucky and went from one hell hole to another. I stuck it out longer than some other boarders because I had to stick to my list and I did not want to trade one set of problems for another.
I finally found THE perfect boarding barn and moved Tucker there last May. And it hit me. I finally realized what THE perfect boarding barn was all about!
You see, at the barn I am at now, there are boarders who have been there for TWENTY years! One doesn't have to be a genius to know what the secret is.
It is all about giving the paying customer what they are paying for! Just as I used to give my paying customer  what they were paying for, so does this barn. There was no question about what I was feeding Tucker. When I was looking into new barns, I actually had a barn owner tell me that Tucker would be just fine eating what the other 19 horses in her barn ate, never mind his EPSM or what the vet said. The arrogance on the other end of the line was mind boggling and I quickly ended our conversation. Not only could Tucker eat what he wanted, but EVERYTHING on my list was being checked off: morning turnout, check. water buckets cleaned daily and replenished with cool water, check. Good quality hay, check. Stalls cleaned daily, check. Pasture, manure and fly management, check, check, check. Lots of grass, safe turnout and no weedy fields? Three more checks.
And because the barn owner was giving her paying customers what they wanted, I noticed something amazing. There is so much respect and love and admiration for this barn owner, that when something happens (dog sick, gotta run to the vet; sick/injured horse, hurricane approaching), boarders appear almost from thin air to help! With the approaching hurricane last week, numerous boarders showed up to help finish barn chores and get the barn safe. The son of one boarder appeared first thing the following morning and picked up the tree branches that were blocking the driveway and disappeared before anyone knew he was there.  I have never once heard a boarder complain, and there is no barn drama whatsoever.
When I travel, I get text messages letting me know Tucker is fine. I get cute photos of my barn cat Hobbs, whom everyone has fallen in love with! We meet up for lunch and breakfast and when a boarders horse died recently, there was a collection taken up for a donation to the Morris Animal Foundation to help find a cure for cushings, the disease responsible for this horses death.
So what are clues to finding THE perfect boarding barn?
Well for starters, ask how long other boarders have been there. Is there a trend of longevity or is it a revolving door policy? If the barn is advertising every month for stalls available, that could be a clue. The barn I am at does not need to advertise. My farrier, vet and a local tack store owner all recommended this place. I just had to wait 6 months for an opening. I had never even heard of this barn, yet one of the local dressage judges boards here, so I knew that is must be a good place. So just because you have never heard of a place or seen it advertised, don't think that THE perfect place doesn't exist!
It goes without saying that you need to visit the barn and I suggest making a few visits. One barn I moved to looked great when I first checked it out, but when I moved my horses there 2 months later, the weeds were overgrown, there was trash everywhere and the tack room was a disaster.
When you visit, speak to boarders and listen carefully! They may be reluctant to tell you that they are unhappy, but you may be able to pick up clues from what they are telling you.
And of course, look at the horses. Are they in good health? Happy? Stalls clean, pastures in good condition? If a potential barn owner cannot accommodate you to stop in and visit within a timely manner, or they keep rescheduling or giving excuses, then something is wrong, especially if they are advertising for boarders.
If you are unhappy at your current farm, be sure to do your homework and evaluate a new barn very carefully. You do not want to go from a bad situation to one worse. I have many horror stories to relate of both myself and friends who ended up in worse situations. And be sure to ask friends, your farrier, your vet and even the local tack store what they have to say about a potential barn. And ask them if they can recommend a place if you are having a hard time finding one on your own.
If every barn owner and manager gave their paying customer what they are entitled to, there would be a lot more perfect barns and a lot less grumbling and barn drama!
The perfect barn will have clean and safe aisleways, which besides looking nice, help keep flies away.

The perfect barn will have ample grass, no weeds, and safe fencing. The horses should be fat and shiny and happy!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Fall Is Coming And We Venture Out For Some XC Fun!

It may be hotter than hades, but by the time we make it to Labor Day weekend, I realize that I have survived another brutal summer, and while the days are still hot and humid, the mornings are staying cooler is 83 degrees at 10 am rather than 95 degrees, and the evenings are cool enough to resume walking the dogs.
It really helped my attitude this year in that my husband and I traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia over Labor Day for a wedding and then spent a few days at our daughter's in Arlington...which meant a trip to Middleburg! Being able to see the first pumpkins of the season and eat freshly harvested apples, really helped to put me in the mood and for once, when we returned to Florida, I did not gripe about how hot it was.
When I saw the post on facebook, that Marcea, my eventing trainer, was planning an outing to the Florida Horse Park for some cross country schooling, I immediately replied that I was coming. I contacted my friend, Tuesday, to let her know that I would be by to pick her and her horse up at 8 am and that she did not have the option of not going!
I have not schooled Tucker over cross country since last spring, our last outing was to a schooling show at Rocking Horse Stables in late May and I have been barely making it through each hot, humid and miserable summer day, looking forward to cooler weather. While I have been to the horse park as a spectator and vendor, I had never had the opportunity to school or show there, so I was ready for an adventure!
There were 9 of us, including Marcea. It was a bigger group than I was used to, but we were mostly riding at the same level, so it wasn't really an issue. Tuesday, who has only been the in the states for about s year, was not sure about what it meant to go schooling with a group, as apparently, things are done differently in the U.K. Her mount, Nebo, a very talented Thoroughbred, is green and was feeling quite fresh and full of himself. About halfway into our schooling, as we were practicing drops and banks, Tuesday echoed my sentiments, in that it was great going out in a school with an instructor, as we were being pushed and jumping things that we probably would not consider jumping if we were by ourselves. We spent nearly 3 hours tackling the hills, valleys, drops, ditches and water complex that make up the Florida Horse Park. Located just an hour north of Rocking Horse, the terrain is pretty similar, but the park is creative in how they have added valleys and change of terrain to make it different.
Tucker was very excited to be out on the course. He tackled everything with his usual gusto. Our only hesitancy came at the ditch...when Marcea asked for the first rider, we immediately volunteered, but as we neared the ditch, I realized it was a bit wider than the one we normally jumped at Rocking Horse. Tucker slammed on the brakes and then, not able to decide whether to jump it or walk it, he managed to step down into the ditch with his left foreleg and down onto the other side with his right. I thought for sure we were going down, but he quickly recovered, and we jumped the ditch a few more times without incident. I think that of all the jumps, the ditch will always be the one I dislike the most, and exactly for the reason above...I have a deep fear of the horse falling into the ditch.
I have to insert just one bit of complaint about the I love the people who event, they are one of the reasons I was drawn to the sport, with their generosity and helpful attitude, something you rarely see at hunter shows. In the past, of all the years that I have been cross country schooling, everyone has been very considerate of their fellow eventers, waiting their turn or going to another part of the course to school.
I was dismayed to see riders who disregarded the fact that we were a group with an instructor, and would regularly cut in front of one of our riders to jump a line. This happened over and over. The offenders were mostly from the same few, who were also riding in a group with an instructor. At one point, while I was coming through a valley and up the other side, I actually had to yell for someone to move out of my way, as he had parked himself and his horse right in our path to a fence.
Cross country courses are large areas of land, in case you hadn't noticed. There is absolutely no reason to be rude and ignore general eventing protocol and etiquette. I sincerely hope this was an isolated experience and not a trend, as there is no place for this behavior in eventing.
Other than that and with the exception that it ended up being a warmer day than I would have liked for September, it was a beautiful outing with great friends and talented horses.
What better way to spend a day?
Tucker after XC at the Florida Horse Park
Tucker slathered with poultice back home after XC

Friday, July 22, 2016

Product Review: Fleeceworks, Neue Schule and Total Saddle Fit

So I figured I might as well review three products. Two of them are pretty new to my tack box and the other, has been around for a year.
The one that has been around for a year, is the Shoulder Relief girth from Total Saddle Fit.
I had never heard of the girth until last year's Rolex, when my daughter steered me toward their booth. After Rolex, I came across a great review of the girth and in the next few weeks, several friends purchased girths and were raving about them. A few weeks later in May, a box arrived from my daughter for my birthday, and it contained a Shoulder Relief girth.

Now don't laugh and ask why are they including instructions for how to put on the girth. But that first time you tighten up your new girth, you are going to want to put it on backwards, especially if you have used any belly guard girth...not that I have. But even with the D rings and common sense shouting at you to put the girth on one way, you might be like me and the second time you use it, you are going to put it on backwards. That is why they include instructions. For idiots like me.
The design of the girth is to keep the saddle from interfering with the shoulder. The girth changes the position and angle of the billets and as a result, if you have a problem with your saddle sliding forward and interfering with the shoulder, this should stop that problem.
I have never ridden in anything other than your standard contour girth and was quite happy with my Stubben girth. If it isn't broke, why fix it, right?  I have never noticed an issue with my saddle sliding forward, but I will say, that after using the girth, I did notice freer shoulder movement. He seemed muck looser in the forehand and if possible, even softer through the back. Being a draft cross, while Tucker is a lovely mover for his breed and size, I will take any help we can get on the flat. I loved the suppleness of the leather and there was never any chaffing or rubbing...except the time I put the girth on backwards.
Fast forward nearly a year. About 8 months into the daily use of the girth, I noticed that the girth was cracking and there were even small holes in the leather. Now I am anal about my tack being clean. I religiously wipe my tack down after every ride. So there really wasn't any explanation for the leather to be falling apart. I mentioned this to the reps at their booth at Rolex this past spring. They were horrified, apologized profusely and immediately sent me a replacement girth. They get a 100% for customer service.
The All Purpose/Jumping girth retails for $150. Looking through the SIX pages of girths in the Dover catalog, I have concluded that this is a bargain, with some, no, make that MANY girths, retailing in the $200-$440 price range. Wow! Who knew?
Based on the price, customer service, and more importantly, the results with my horse, I highly recommend this girth.

Last month, I purchased an NS or Neue Schule bit. Tucker has been improving in his dressage lessons, getting more supple, rounder and forward, but Bill Woods, my dressage instructor, suggested a different bit from the 16mm loose ring snaffle I used every day. He thought something in the 12-14mm range, perhaps a twist, might get Tucker to respond better to my aids. My friend Sandy, and her daughter, Nikki, ride in NS bits and were very impressed with them, so I decided to rack up the visa card and purchase the Tranz angled lozenge loose ring. At 14mm and with a Salox mouth, it was touted to encourage a "true, consistent contact and a higher level of responsiveness." Hmmm....sounds like exactly what I am looking for! In addition, the rounded center lozenge is set at a 20 degree angle, enabling more cleanly defined rein aids.
I swapped out my bits and the first thing I noticed was a much quicker level of responsiveness to downward transitions. Halt, please. YES! was the immediate response. I felt that he was rounder, especially though the poll and he was more relaxed through the jaw. Never have I felt that this bit is severe or abusive in his mouth, something I am very concerned about. I was skeptical of these high priced bits with their fancy metals, but I have clearly learned that there is something to be said about some of these bits. There appears there is more saliva with the bit. I am not sure how to clean the Salox, so I use the SOS pad on the stainless steel rings and just wipe the Salox with a wet sponge and then rinse with clean water.
The bit retails for $135. Like the girth, this appears to be a bargain! I highly recommend this bit if you are looking for more responsiveness from your horse.

Lastly, my Fleeceworks bamboo eventing saddle pad arrive this week and I love it!
I am a saddle pad junkie...who isn't? My criteria is that it must be durable, breathable and fit well....I have returned many pads that simply were not long enough in both directions....I want a pad that doesn't end at the cantle and I want it to come down past the end of the saddle flaps, not stop there. I don't mind spending more than $50 on a pad, but it better last me more than a year, especially if I am rotating my pads and it is being used only once or twice a week. I have purchased fancy schmancy pads off of etsy, that looked really cool, but the binding has worn away after only a few months. Additionally, the pad has to be breathable and lightweight enough for our Florida heat and humidity and be easy to wash off or throw in the washing machine.
I saw the bamboo pads at Rolex and Judith offered to send me a custom pad. I requested a white pad with navy trim. I also purchased a set of shipping wraps made in the bamboo material. I haven't had the opportunity to use them yet, but I appreciate that they are long enough for Tucker's height and appear to be lightweight.
The advantage of the bamboo is that it is breathable, pulling heat and moisture through the cotton flannel and away from working muscles. It claims to be able to store 35% of its own weight in liquid, is elastic, which will provide relief from pressure points and is a sustainable, natural fiber. The quilted cotton flannel lined with bamboo offers a firm support to assist in muscle fatigue. As a result, "total protection from excess heat/moisture equals total protection against one of the top reasons for back injury in performance horses."
Since Tucker has EPSM, the fact that this material claims to assist against muscle fatique is a big asset.
Apparently the way it does this is by Fleeceworks placing bamboo between the horse and any foam in their saddle pads. This will draw sweat and disseminate heat through its fibers. This can not only enhance performance of the horse, it can prevent muscles from overheating. According to Fleeceworks info tab, each fiber is hollow and becomes plump and elastic as it absorbs sweat. This translates into effective relief from pressure points.
Not only are the bamboo pads breathable, they are also machine washable.
I have used Tucker's new pad several times this week.
It looks great on him!! Functionality aside, I just love how this pad looks, with the contour eventing cut and the ample length in both directions.
I was impressed with how well the pad handled his sweat and heat in our high temps and high humidity. There were no uneven marks on his hair when I removed the saddle and pad. I just hosed the pad off and it came remarkable clean for just using the hose on it.
The contour pad retails for $69. For such quality and benefits, I find it well worth every penny.

Here you can see a difference in the size of my old loose ring and the NS loose ring

Fleeceworks Bamboo contour eventing pad

Love the fit of the Fleeceworks Contour eventing pad! Ample room all around!

Fleeceworks bamboo Contour eventing pad and Total Saddle Fit Shoulder Relief girth


Friday, June 17, 2016

Surviving The Heat

I unfortunately live in Florida. I am not bashful about proclaiming my hate for this state, with its lack of hills, swimming holes that don't contain a gator or two and no fireflies. Born in West Virginia and raised outside of Pittsburgh, I would leave tomorrow if I could. We have two seasons here in Florida: Hot and Warm. We used to have decent winters....heck, it has even snowed a flake or three, but it has been several years since I have had to pull out the really heavy blankets for Tucker. I miss the winter of 2010, when the horses were in blankets for a record 45 days straight. Ah, those were the good old days!
I swear every year that summer comes earlier and earlier, probably because it has been eons since we had a long and decent spring.
We have been experiencing a heat wave this week....temperatures are hitting 92 already by the time I arrive at the barn at 10am and the heat index has been averaging 110. You wouldn't think so, but it actually makes you appreciate the days when it tops out at 92 and the heat index is in the low 100's!
So short of not riding your horse for 4-6 months of the year, how does one cope with horses and heat?
I was hard to convince, but I love long sleeve technical shirts. I am cooler in them because I don't have the sun baking my skin. There are plenty of options to the expensive shirts available at your local tack stores. I found some shirts last year in Target, made by Champion for under $25. Uniglo also makes their airism shirts, which retail for under $20. I don't like that they are super fitted, but I will wear one underneath a lightweight polo or t-shirt to give my arms protection from the sun.
For breeches, I love Devon-Aire's All Pro line. They are available in ribbed or smooth and in a variety of rises and colors. They are much lighter than the Tuff Riders and wear much better and at under $65, they are affordable. The All Pro line is a moisture wicking, high tech fabric, perfect for hot, humid weather. I also wear Devon-Aire's Signature Madrid. They are also a high tech fabric and light weight, but cost a bit more than the All Pro's. At $109, I tend to save them for lesson days and for showing.
I also make sure that I put sunscreen on my face and neck. I wish that I had been more diligent about this when I was younger, but better late than never.
I am a tea drinker. I drink unsweet iced tea all day long. At the barn I bring two containers, one of ice water and one of unsweet tea. I am easily bothered by the heat and my blood pressure drops quickly. It is important that I drink and I snack on Kinds granola. I like the peanut butter variety and I add in dried apricots.
So what about your horse?
It is important that your horse stays cool and comfortable as well. When I was younger and lived to compete and the heat didn't bother me, I thought nothing of riding in the middle of the day during the summer months. That way both my horse and myself were acclimated and were fit to compete. Nowadays, I would rather have a root canal than show in the summer (we volunteer to jump judge instead!) and there is no way that I would ride in the middle of the day. When I was on a different schedule and leased my own barn, I rode before 8 in the morning. Now I don't get on until 10. Tucker has already been out for a few hours and so I hose off his chest and legs when I bring him in (unless he is really hot and sweaty, then he gets a complete rinse off, pre-ride.) Our rides in the summer are short and sweet and to the point. Some days, if it is especially hot and humid, we just walk under the trees and focus on halt halts, leg yields, turn on haunches, etc. I always forget how beneficial it is to just walk and I sometimes feel that I have accomplished more on those days then when we actually add in trot and canter work. If there is a good breeze and I can tolerate it, we do add in more work at the other gaits, but we get to the point and I rarely ride more than 20 minutes.
My horse comes first post ride. Tack is swiftly removed before I remove my helmet or gloves or check my phone for any messages ( I refuse to ride with a phone...that is my time!) Tucker is not much for drinking from a bucket if I offer him after a ride, but he will drink from the hose, so we get to the wash rack, get the water spraying on him and I offer him the hose to drink from. I make sure I rinse under his tail, not only to remove sweat, but that is an area that will help cool down your horse quickly. I was visiting at a high end show barn once and watched horse after horse be rinsed off and not once did anybody ever lift the tail. Yuck!
Tucker is cooled out with some hand grazing under some shade and once I have finished up with him, he is in his stall for the rest of the day, fan on and 2 buckets of cool, fresh and clean water. Some barns prefer night turnout schedules. Due to Tucker's allergies, he only goes out during the day. In the summer, his schedule is shortened due to the heat and storms, but after a light lunch, he is content to nap until his next meal.
I do offer electrolytes to Tucker in his lunch, although for him, he gets them more for his EPSM. Electrolytes help to replenish minerals that are lost during sweating. Once in his stall, he is fed lunch, which is a mash, which is a great way to get water into your horse. He is pretty good about drinking water from his buckets and I usually have to top off his buckets before I leave the barn. And speaking of water, one of my pet peeves is not having cool, clean water available for your horse. When your horse is turned out, dump out the water and fill it with fresh water. This is why I don't like big water troughs, as they are a pain to clean. I prefer using muck buckets for outdoor water troughs, as they are easy to dump and clean. By doing so, you can check for any critters that may have become stranded in the water, and you can keep the algae away. I am always shocked to see barns that do not dump the water daily and the horses are left to drink warm or even hot water. I have seen some barns where the algae was so thick in the trough that one would never know if there was a dead animal contaminating the water. If the water buckets and troughs are not something that you would want to drink out of, what makes you think your horse will? And while you are at it, put a stick or rope into the water, so a wayward squirrel or bird can get themselves out of the water.
Champion high tech shirt & Devon-Aire All Pro breeches, help me deal with the heat!

Friday, June 10, 2016

It's All About the Horse!

(The blog below originally appeared in my other blog, Smart Horse Keeping. In an effort to consolidate my blogs, I am reposting and will be reposting other blogs from that site. You can visit my facebook page,  As you can see, I changed the name on my facebook page! Enjoy!)
Proof that I rode before I walked!
Fresh, cool water....everyday!

It's all about the horse. That is why people run stables. Or at least, that should be the mantra of stable managers and owners, but unfortunately, it isn't in many cases.
The purpose of this blog is to educate not only stable owners and managers about how to properly run a barn, but to educate the boarding horse owner, who should be savvy enough to know how to get the most for their dollar and to make sure that the barn believes that "it is all about the horse." In other words, making sure your horse is getting the best possible care. Unfortunately, many horse owners have no clue as to basic horsemanship and rely on the words of someone who may or may not have an idea of how to run a barn.
What makes me qualified to tackle this topic?
I have been involved with horses my entire life. My grandparents had a 38 acre farm outside of Pittsburgh, and Grandpa always made sure there were horses around for me to enjoy. My grandparents and my mother all rode and my grandfather was my first mentor in the horse world. Many of his remedies are outdated (like giving a horse tobacco to worm him) but other lessons I learned from him still hold true today, such as feeding a better quality feed will save you money in vet bills down the road and horses should have clean and cool water available all the time.
When we moved to Florida, and I was able to get my own horse, since money was very tight, I had to go the partial boarding route, which meant learning how to muck stalls, choosing the right nutrional program and how to keep my horse safe and sound so as to avoid costly vet bills.
Eventually, I could afford full board. But I was never happy with this arrangement. There were always some concession, and it was my horse who paid the price. Cheaper feed, cheaper hay. Limited turnout. No shavings on mats. Services paid for that weren't delivered. And I wasn't the only one. Other people I spoke to were not happy with their boarding arrangements, but due to work, family, etc., they had no other options.
The stories I heard, not to mention my personal encounters, were jaw dropping:
Boarders who paid premium prices, only to have supplements sit unopened on the feed room shelf, never fed to their horse.
Stables who took the liberty of keeping horses drugged to make them easier to handle.
Horses fed the wrong feed.
Colicing and injured horses that owners were never notified of until after the fact.
Stable workers who were abusive to horses.
Boarders who paid for trainers to ride their horses, which never happened.
Water buckets that are never dumped, are full of hot water and slime.
Unfortunately, the list goes on and on.
Over the years, I have seen it all. Many of the above examples I personally experienced. Too many people think that having a barn is fun and glamorous and exciting. Then reality sets in. It is hard work. You are on call 24/7. In all kinds of weather. And it is expensive to run a barn. Feed is expensive. Shavings cost money. Things break. Things break ALL THE TIME!
So barn owners start cutting corners. They forget that its all about the horse. They feed cheap feed. Cheap hay. Provide less bedding. And unfortunately, it is the horse that pays the price. They lose weight. Their condition level suffers. Their coat becomes dull. They become injured or sick.
So while the barn owner thinks that they are saving money, in the long run, the owner is losing money, because now their vet bills have increased or they are no longer competitve at horseshows.
It's like the person who puts cheap gas in their car or doesn't bother maintaining it with regular service. In the long run, you will have expensive repair bills. Same theory applies to the care of your horse. Take good care of him now, and you can avoid expensive expenses down the road.
I have managed my own barn, managed barns for others and run a non-profit horse rescue. I have been involved with the United States Pony Club, which is in my opinion, the greatest youth equine association on earth. The lessons learned are endless and I love that they put the emphasis on horsemanship, not competing.
And so, I hope to compile what I have learned, and share it with my fellow horseman, whether you are new to horses or an old pro. We are never to old to learn! Please share your boarding stories with me, either as a manager/owner or a boarder.