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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!

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Drugs and Things

Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

I actually had a week of above negative temps in which to get the child to work, and after an initially rough start… we had a great run!

We had our first lesson of the year with Ashley, and we really focused on moving off my leg (baby doth protest) and bringing him forward into the contact. Ashley and I have such an awesome relationship out of the barn, it makes our lessons that much better. She got some really nice work out of both of us.

Right now we’re really working on Eli not blowing my leg off when I ask him for something. It’s led to a few hysterics but I’m really gaining a ton of confidence with him and learning that I can ride through his baby bullshit, so now it’s no big deal.

We also played around a bit with our trot-canter transition and while there was a lot of bucking, his canter is soooo much nicer than when I brought him home. I can tell he’s gained a lot of balance and muscle in the last six months, and he’s an insanely comfortable ride.

I had also decided, a few weeks ago, that since it was getting “warmer” and Eli’s work schedule has started to get more intense, that it was time to give him a basic trace clip.

Holy shitballs was that a horrible idea. After 45 minutes, two handlers, and a lot of cussing I gave up on the whole adventure. This meant he was stuck looking like the by product of a run in with Edward Scissorhands.

”Twas bad, but the fight we were having with him was significantly worse than the clip job.

Our wonderful vets were coming out to give spring shots anyways so I decided that maybe the least stressful approach to cleaning things up was to ask them to sedate him… when I called the office their receptionist (whom I absolutely adore) laughed but agreed that that was the best approach.

They came out and gave him the first round. He got sleepy, but not really so we agreed to give him a bit more. He knocked out… until I turned on the clippers and he swung around and tried to eat me.

So we went for round 3. The dude could hardly stand up but the second I touched his shoulders with the clippers he launched his attack.

Both vets agreed that Eli was probably the most dramatic of creatures they’d seen in a while. The larger of the two grabbed hold of his halter and with his restraint I managed to clean up the clip he had. E still fought the crap out of us, but was at least too slow to do much damage.

Such drugged, no happy.

Since it was such a traumatic day for both of us (plus shots and microchip) he got the next 48 hours off except for a light handwalk and teaching my lessons with me.

I’ve ordered several electric toothbrushes off of Amazon and will be dedicating a lot of time in the next year to getting him over this whole thing. (My mother has already dubbed him Rue Paul.)

Well, in all honesty, I’m going to have my hands full over the next year just trying to develop this sock of marbles into some sort of semblance of a solid citizen. He’s becoming hands down the quirkiest thing I’ve encountered, but also easily the most rewarding so I’ll take it.