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7 Weeks

My last post in October was when Eli hurt himself. He somehow lacerated his knee in his stall over night. You can scroll down if you want to check it out.

It took exactly 7 weeks (literally, he busted it on a Saturday and he got cleared from our vet on a Saturday) for him to heal up, I followed the plan to the letter… as well as adding 3 x’s weekly manga wave treatments from our in house practitioner, Stephanie. While he was on stall rest, since he was stuck in a stack wrap, he was allowed twice daily hand walks as long as he could keep his hamster on the wheel. We got a lot of help from Uncle Ace… but the dude was MISERABLE on stall rest.

Thanks, Pony Club, for my extensive wrapping prowess.

The Dude got hella nasty being stuck in his stall. To the point where he was charging people and left a pretty nasty bite mark on one of the guys cleaning stalls. I think the entire barn was traumatized. He was rearing a striking while I was hand walking him, even fairly heavily sedated. It was a nightmare for everybody involved and I was seriously upset by the huge shift in his behavior. He’s always been testy and grumpy (like his mother) but he’s never been outright mean.

When we was cleared to start back to work, what confidence I’d gained in him was gone and I was totally terrified. To which he decided that he needed to either A) slam on the breaks and absolutely refuse to move or B) rear. I had a pro helping me from the ground (who Eli even decided to strike out at), but was totally frozen because he had done such a 180.

I decided it was time to reach out to a local sport psychologist (and fellow horsewoman and eventer) to figure out how to get my brain to function properly to get the horse going. It was seriously probably the best choice that I’ve made in my entire career. Andrea was super honest and told me that the things that I was feeling were normal, and I wasn’t actually crazy. I’ve always been a more cautious rider, but my horses have benefitted from it since I don’t push them too far. This was to the point where I wasn’t doing ANYTHING, and she was quick to tell me that sometimes that’s just how our brain’s function. My horse had turned into a different creature while on stall rest, and it wasn’t a good creature at all. It was a dangerous creature and my already cautious brain was saying “no ‘effing way, lady. You gon’ die.” Which was entirely unhelpful because then it proceeded to shut down… not the greatest way to ride a 1200 lb creature who is dealing with his own baggage.

Stressed

While I was getting my brain straight, one of my coworkers suggested that I reach out to the local cowboy, Billy Smith, to help get Eli’s brain straight as well. He showed up the same week that I reached out and immediately clued into the fact that Eli was completely shut down as well.

We’re the dream team, I tell you.

He spent three hours with us, showing me a ton of ground work that I could do with him to help get him confident and focused. He was immediately aware of the fact that Eli holds all of his stress (and mine probably) in his TMJ and his go forward button was stuck there… which makes sense. Even in the pasture while he’s playing, he’s not super stretchy, his conformation just doesn’t lend to it with the way that his neck comes straight up out of his shoulders and he loves to gallop around like a swan.

He suggested that we have a natural balance vet out to check his teeth and see if we can get him loose through that TMJ area.

We got that done, and while she didn’t see a huge issue, she agreed that he’s super tight.

We then spent a few weeks working on the ground work that Billy showed me, and his attitude drastically started changing in the stall… to the point where I could do full blanket changes while he was eating, without anything on his head. He went in and out politely and started running over the gate to meet me at the end of the day which to me where all huge wins. I decided that it was time to hop back on and see where we were at, since both of our mindsets seemed a lot more confident.

Our first ride was pretty pathetic, with Zach watching from the ground… I got on, the Dude walked… I put my leg on, the Dude slammed on the breaks, whipped his head around, and bit my leg as hard as he could. I got off and immediately did some ground work. Got back on. The same thing happened. More ground work. Back on I went and he managed to trot two laps around the ring and I gave him lots of pats, hopped off, and put him away.

Favorite guys

At this point, the general consensus that Eli is just so stuck… he can’t figure out how to go forward. He’s like a young horse that is still putting the idea of leg together… so we’re going to treat him as such. Right now I spin him around on the lunge line to remind him that cluck means go and then hop on a trot him around on the buckle for 10 or 15 minutes…give him lots of pats and good boys, and then he’s all done. When we can make it a full 15 minutes without slamming on the breaks when I apply leg, we’ll increase the time… but for now, we’re just plunking with no pressure, agenda, or goals other than to get him around.

To have to go all the way back to the beginning is so frustrating, but everything happens for a reason, so I’m just rolling with it. I’m a very much “I want it and I want it now” kind of person so this will probably be good for me as well. I’m excited to start taking some lessons over at Andrea’s so I can work on myself and get back over fences again before he needs me to help him with that.

So here we are, 4 months later… back to square one but honestly way more motivated and confident than we were before he got hurt. They weren’t kidding though when they said it takes a village… because it’s certainly taking one to get us rolling!

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One Year

I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, and a year ago when I Paypal’ed my $1,250 to a trainer I’d spent five minutes on the phone with at 5am while I was heading to a horse show, I was pretty well convinced that I’d gone off the deep end.

I’d found Eli’s ad on the Finger Lakes Finest FB page the day before and he sparked my interest enough that I sent a text to his trainer asking if he could give me a call.

I heard nothing all day, then on my way to the horse show at 445am I got a text saying “if you’re up give me a call about that brown horse.”

I immediately did and chatted with Eli’s trainer, Mike. I told him I was looking for a project and Eli was my type. He responded with “he’s tough to gallop, but he’s a good horse.” Because I’m not the best decision maker and I AM the best impulse buyer, I was sold. He accepted my offer and it was a done deal.

The looks on everyone’s faces when I walked into the horse show office and announced what I’d done were priceless.

Ashley (who’d also found a Finger Lakes horse a week or so earlier) and I set off bright and early the next morning to pick up the boys, and when we walked into Eli’s stall we both wondered what the hell I’d just done.

He was absolutely insane. His front legs were crooked as shit. He’s got weird eyes anyways and Racetrack Eli was a sight to behold. There was a lot of kicking all the way home.

After a bit of a rough introduction to turn out (ace is our BFF), he settled into his new life reasonably well.

I discovered him to be a handful but without a mean bone in his body. (The time he picked me up and chucked me out of the wash rack doesn’t count.)

On the ground he’s quirky. Lord help you if you touch his ears. He will NOT stand to be clipped, even under incredibly heavy sedation. He will not have his mane pulled… we can barely shorten it with scissors. He LOVES to be bathed, but can barely manage to be brushed. He adores when you scratch his crest, but don’t brush his mane.

In the saddle, he’s tough, but there is a kindness in his disobediences. He’s probably the most immature 5 year old I’d ever sat on. He can take one hell of a joke. Outside stimuli is our biggest challenge, particularly other horses. He wants to touch every one he sees. He gawks and runs into things. He was so very weak.

We went on adventures to horse shows, starting with GMHA. We tackled the bridge, the warm up ring, and walking into the creek. We had an amazing first experience, and he grew leaps and bounds.

We went to Fieldstone, which was the first “A” show either one of us had been to. We learned about the merits of schooling at 5am and avoiding the horses being lunged. We loved Fieldstone!

We tackled Vermont Summer Festival, which was chaotic and exhausting. We had a backslide ending in a rearing fit in the warm up. We went home with a new plan, and an adjusted trajectory.

I made the decision to scratch from the Retired Racehorse Project, and was relieved when I sent the email. The atmosphere down there is so big, and one competition wasn’t worth my horse’s brain.

We injected his SI and his back, and I have an infinitely better horse for it. He needed almost three weeks off to adjust to this new feeling, and I was happy to give it to him.

He’s gained almost two inches and a few hundred pounds. He’s still immature and quirky, but he’s the kind of horse that I know has so much try and so much give, I’ll feel secure galloping down to any size fence.

It’s been so slow. So, so very slow and I’m fine with that. He’s needed it. He’s not a horse that will be rushed or pushed. Physically he’s a completely different horse than what I brought home and mentally he’s fragile. This first year has been all about getting him to a point where his body and mind is simply trainable.

I cannot wait to see where he is in the next 365 days, and am so looking forward to another year’s worth of adventures!

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2019 Purina Professional Horseman’s Conference

The Eq Center that I run is probably the biggest barn in our area, with a total of over 40 horses, and I’m certainly not shy about my love for feeding Purina products and how they make my horses look and perform. When our rep, Kelsey, asked Ashley and I if we wanted to go to their professional horseman’s conference, I jumped at the chance!

Ashley and I agreed that it would be the smarter thing to send me to absorb all the information because while I control all the feed schedules, I’m also an uber nerd when it comes to nutrition and research. I LOVE to hear about the new research and gain an intimate understanding of how the products I’m feeding actually work to make my horses feel better.

Once we arrived in Missouri, we had about 30 minutes to settle into our room before we hopped on the buses to the Anheuser Busch factory in St. Louis, where we got to participate in the VIP tour of the facility, learn how the Clydesdale hitch operates, and eat some absolutely amazing food.

(Spoiler alert: they feed us… A LOT)

It was kind of nifty to see the horses housed right in the middle of the factory and listen to the history of how the hitch came to feed Purina. We talked about how closely they still work with the company on a daily basis to provide high quality nutrition to all the horses in the program. The demo horses travel 320 days out of the year!

Goodest dog, King.

We also got to learn a bit about the beer making process which was… beer. I was more enthralled with seeing the equine facilities and hearing about how they managed them all. You can take the horse girl out of the barn but…

We bused back to the hotel by 8 and I think everybody was asleep by 830. We had to be back on buses and head to the Purina animal research center by 7am the next more… that was a tough alarm to set, but it was amazing to crash in a giant king bed all. to. myself.

We got to the Research Center around 8 am and dove right into lecture after lecture. We first learned about the history of Purina (fun fact: the checkboard came from a family that was clothed entirely in the pattern. When the founder asked the mother why her whole family was dressed so garishly, she responded that it was so she could find them – as a mother, I feel this woman in my soul. The founder then adopted the patten for that exact reason!) and then the history of the center. Not only do they do equine research, they also have dairy and beef cattle, aquatic… things, companion animals (deer sperm goes for $150k A STRAW, yo. I’m in the wrong business), and poultry.

We then learned about the science behind the their newest (and my favorite) feed supplement, Outlast and keeping sporthorse guts happy. We moved from there to properly fueling/recovering these horses by using amino acids and fats in the appropriate ways. We finished up with an amazing lecture from an equine lawyer, and I think she scared the shiz out of all of us because the only thing that anybody talked about during lunch was revising their contracts and waivers.

After the morning of lectures and an absolutely amazing lunch; we swapped groups and got to go see the actual center. We weren’t allowed phones, but their barns were state of the art. They showed us their most used piece of equipment, the treadmill, and demo’ed it’s use so we could see how they actually can apply the research to a working horse. They have a full breeding program of Quarter Horse’s and work closely with the 6666 ranch for stallions, then send the young horses NOT being used in a study to Colorado State to be started and sold. It was awesome to hear that while they had a high volume of horses, every single one had a plan in place.

From the treadmill and breeding barn, we then went to the barn where they test the feed. After a short lecture on the gut and how it processes feed (microbiomes ftw) we got to see how they do their tests and witness some seriously high tech feed buckets! Not only did they measure weight, but even were so sensitive as to give data on how voraciously the horse ate its food. A barn manager’s dream!

We finished our day two with a Q&A with some of the Purina ambassadors: the Budweiser hitch manager, Amy, Eventer Kyle Carter (swoon), and barrel racer Missy Powell. It was neat to pick their brains and hear how they personally managed their horses during the on and off seasons. Kyle is an absolute crack up, and Amy and Missy were happy to play along.

After MORE amazing food, we hopped back on the buses to head back to the hotel around 8 for a full nights sleep.

Day three was the final day, and they had us hopping with a 730 start time at the hotel conference center.

We kicked off the day with a repro lecture, and learned about how proper nutrition for the mare and stallion were the foundation for producing a healthy foal. From there we went through the stages of gut development through the yearling year and how to feed it for optimal growth and wellness.

The second lecture was talking about equine endocrine diseases, how the diseases worked/affected the horse and how to feed those horses properly. It was fascinating to again learn the science behind all of their feeds and how I can tailor my feeding programs to feed the few horses in my barn who are dealing with this.

We finished the day talking about selecting supplements and how to weed through the massive amounts on the market. They taught us about reading labels and finding the research behind the things that they claim to do.

All in all, it was a complete whirlwind of learning, questions, science, and lots of great food. Purina really does work hard to produce the best line of feed that they can, and their research is unparalleled to any other company. Their PhD’s have a passion for their job that I would have never thought possible, and they really, really care about producing the highest quality product for every facet of the industry. While I was sold on their feed just from seeing the results in my barn, I can guarantee that I will feed Purina for life!

Budweiser Factory Barn… 😍
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Hard Reset

Hey all!

After Eli finished up with the time he got off after injections, I was sooooo excited to hop on and see how amazing my “new” horse felt. We’d done some light tack walking, but nothing where I asked anything of him.

He did feel good… he was happy to stretch over his back and I was able to get a few seconds of real engagement here and there.

But he still felt… weird. He was more wiggly than I think I’ve ever felt him; completely unable to keep his body straight for even a step or two. It was like he 100% did NOT trust where his feet were going. He never took a truly lame step, but he just felt …. not quite there.

My first thought was that something had gone wrong with his injections, but he had no heat, swelling, lameness, or any other indication that something was physically wrong.

I called the vet and discussed the issue with him and he agreed upon seeing video that it wasn’t a physical issue, but perhaps a mental one.

This horse is so wildly defensive about his body that the vet thought that he just didn’t trust that the good feeling was actually good; hence his extreme need to “protect” himself by being unstable and backed off entirely.

So from there I had two options… force him through it or turn him out for another week or two and see where I was at.

I chose the latter of the two options, and tossed him out with his old man friends. No lunging, hacking, nothing.

I get a lot of flack because I refuse to push this horse further than he trusts me to. He came to me with issues, and I just don’t see the point in backsliding because he “should be” at x,y, or z place in his training. This is the only horse I have right now, and if it takes me years, than so be it.

If he was a different horse, than perhaps we would duke it out, but he’s not. I have to work the horse that’s in front of me. Giving him a break doesn’t mean he’s going to forget everything that he’s learned, it just means he’s learning that I’m going to listen to him, and deliver on my end of the bargain.

In my opinion, that’s what a good trainer does, especially when they love a horse as much as I love this one.

Fingers crossed my gut is right, and he’s able to come back happy and willing to work. The farm isn’t done showing for the year, but as far as Eli goes, I’m hoping to instead attend a few clinics this fall, for some off farm learning adventures. I’m hoping a bit more constructive setting than a horse show will better set him up to come out swinging next year.

It’s been such a learning curve with him, one that I’m thankful for as it’s really helped me grow and learn patience, humility, and to have a sense of humor. I think I’m going to end up with a great partner in this dude, and I def wouldn’t do much differently about the whole adventure.

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Backslide

The training of baby horses is never linear and while I’ve been having a great run with Eli over the last little while, today we mostly forgot… well… everything we’ve learned to this point.

I think partially because we had a mentally challenging lesson yesterday, but mostly because we’re almost 6 and life is hard. Like… REALLY HARD.

It all started with an epic meltdown when he accidentally cracked me in the head while I was putting his boots on… he jumped backwards, hit the end of the crossties, and panicked. Then when the twine snapped the crosstie smacked him in the face.

Much trauma.

Then we somehow have managed to land a starring roll in some kind of weird seagull migration… so there was lots of thumping on the roof and seagull noises.

More trauma.

So… when I got on today and it was like sitting on the horse I brought home in October.

Straightness…nah.

Moving off my leg… nope.

Pluck around the arena on a long rein and literally do nothing… no.

Bucking… yes.

We ended up doing a LOT of lateral work at the walk, tail swishing, and zen breathing. I just wanted him to relaaaaaaax and move his body. I’m not sure what continent his brain was on, perhaps wherever the seagulls came from, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere close.

We played around with turn on the haunches to get him thinking about moving his feet and then ended the day with some long and low trot work over poles.

I AM proud of him for trying. He wasn’t being bad he just. couldn’t. focus. We didn’t get into any fights and ended on a happy note (poles are his favorite)… so for a day when the dude seemed to take a huge backslide in knowledge… he took a big jump forward in his attitude and that seems a bigger accomplishment to me with this guy.

The joy of training young horses, though, right? You ride the horse you pulled out of the stall today and keep in mind that there will be tomorrow…and the next day… and the next.

(Even if it is an insufferably adorable sass.)

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Programs and Growing Up

I hope everybody had a great Easter weekend!

It’s finally, FINALLY warm! Which means not only have I been able to get Eli in a consistent program, I’m not freezing my ass off while we’re doing it!

We’ve made some changes to his outfit, and in return Eli has made a few huge leaps over the last couple of weeks, in terms of his maturity and willingness to get down to business.

First, we swapped his bit out from a D- ring Waterford to a 4 in 1 from Stubben… and it’s been magical. He’s 100% willing to go forward into the contact with minimal drama. He’s straight, relaxed, and stretchy. 10/10 would recommend.

Second, I’ve ditched the spurs. He gets leg pressure now and that we have to move away from it. It was time to dial it down and it’s worked wonderfully. I will add a baby spur when we’re working on our canter transitions when I need a bit more “oomph” (it’s HARD to sit on our butt) but I’m looking forward to taking that away as well.

I also exchanged my crop for a dressage whip, and that has mostly solved our inability to go forward once we got tired. I can feel him start to balk and a quick tap on the tush usually solves the problem. It’s the same as when he has a brief moment of ignoring my outside leg. It’s given me the ability to gently send him forward without having to take my hands off the reins; therefore allowing me to help keep him straight at the same time. He’s still mad green and the more help he can get right now, the more secure we are when learning new things.

Finally, we’ve added bungees in 80% of our rides. Eli really physically blossomed this winter with the help of the Pessoa system, and I think he’s a horse that likes things very black and white. Adding the bungees to our routine has really helped him figure out how to work properly, and believe it or not he seemed to really enjoy them. I’m not big on gadgets or bandaids, but these have really helped him understand.

I’m still struggling with a lot of anxiety about really asking him to go forward in the canter, and he’s really stepped up to the plate and taken care of me… which neither Ashley or I ever expected from him. When we brought him home it was very much every man for himself… now we still have our fair share of baby moments but he’s always right there. There were a few moments in a rather trying lesson this past Sunday where most other horses would have planted my ass in the dirt… but Eli just tolerated it.

This past week has made me feel a lot more confident in the fact that we’re showing next weekend for the first time this season.

While I originally was aiming to put him in the Hopeful’s, I want to come away from the first show of the season utterly bored… so we’re just doing a simple walk/trot class on Saturday with possibly adding a hack in the Young’s on Sunday. That’s it. I feel 100% confident in the plan and know we’re both going to come away happy.

I want this season to be about fun experiences for both of us, we can step up to challenges next year, but I want to come out of this season and head into the RRP with a relaxed, confident young horse that I’m having fun on.

I do sometimes feel a little bit of guilt, taking it easy this year. After all, I am a pro and the majority of the other kids his age are already popping around the 2’6 and higher.. but at the same time it’s not about everybody else right now. It’s about getting back to me so I can give this dude the best ride possible, so those feelings are usually pretty fleeting. He has no concerns about what everybody else is doing, so what does it REALLY matter?

I have no timeline with this guy, and it seems to be that maintaining that attitude with him is benefitting both of us and I want to keep my relationship with Eli solid!

He’s come a long way already from the anxious, kinda asshole-ish, wing nut of a racehorse that I brought home 6 months ago and I’m proud of him and of myself… and I’m excited to keep on keepin’ on!

Plus… I mean, I have the world’s most adorable groom that Eli just adores, so really we’re stuck with each other now.

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Slow but steady

Oh look, it’s your once monthly post!

Before I even say anything else, I’m happy to report that baby horse jumped several whole 18″ crossrails, with absolutely 0 dramatics.

He’s now discovered that jumping all the jumps is super fun, and then promptly lost his privileges by throwing the most epic of tantrums when I asked him to (gasp) trot on the rail and NOT jump all the jumps… like… he was so stuck that I had to have one of the girls GIVE ME A PONY RIDE DOWN THE LONG SIDE BECAUSE IT WOULDN’T MOVE.

One thing I did notice, is that he feel super safe over the jumps. I rode with a longer rein because I had no clue what was going to happen, and didn’t want his first real experience to be putting in a big effort just to have his mother accidentally bonk him in the mouth. While he was wiggly and a little confused (what do you mean I have to lift my feet?!), he took me right to everything and I never felt like he was going to do anything nasty… which is always a great feeling. I’m excited to start putting things together and get him rolling out cross country! I think he’s gonna love it and I’m hoping it’ll help us find his go forward button.

I can’t help but laugh, at this point. It’s safe to say my nerves are mostly gone, when it comes to picking fights with him. His brain is so, so immature still that it just explodes or quits when he gets tired… which is often since straightness is haaaaard especially when you just want to piss off out of the door and Mom won’t even hold your head up for you.

The injustice is REAL.

Straightness is abuse.

We really struggle with the H-E-K long side to the left, since the arena door is directly across. I REALLLLLLY have to start pushing him around the corner because all he wants is to blow through his shoulder to drift towards the door. I either get a slamming of breaks when I attempt to straighten or lots of kicking at the amount I have to drive him forward. Once we get to E, it’s all fine again and he’s straight and relaxed.

To the right, he’s fine… everywhere else to the left… it’s cool.

Baby horses are weird and tantrums are what they are. It helps that my nerves are mostly over it at this point, and I give exactly 0 shits about anything other than getting him over himself. It’s just moderately annoying.

But he sure is cute!

Now that the weather has started warming up, I’m excited to get him working in the outdoor. I think a lot of our problem is that he’s bored being trapped in the arena. Our pastures are straight mud so turnout has been limited. Lucky for E, his mother is at the barn all day long, so he gets plenty of chances to get out of his stall, but there’s nothing like turnout. While it looks like we’re going to be stuck in a bit longer still, I’m excited for the chance to change things up a bit and school him outside.

We’re still tentatively aiming towards our first show in May, since it’s at home and will hopefully be relatively low key.

The goal is to get him around the 2′ Hopeful Hunters, but I’m staying flexible and if he’s not ready, we’ll find a smaller schooling show to bop around before we head to GMHA in June.

No pressure, dude!