Monday, October 29, 2012

My Horse Smells Like a Pina Colada - Calm Coat Product Review

Every once and I while I find a product that I love so much I just have to share. This time it is an entire line of products. I was first introduced to Calm Coat by a friend that owned a tack store. She sent me home with a handful of samples of the Natural Topical Spay telling me to add it to my fly spray. It was mosquito season and when I would tack up my horse in the evening she was constantly swishing at the gnats and mosquitoes. "Calm" Coat is aptly named because after spaying her down with the fly spray/Calm Coat mixture there was an instant change in the energy. My irritated horse, was now calm, not only did the bugs leave her alone but she was no longer itchy, you could almost hear her breathe a sigh of relief. I bought a full size bottle and continued to add it to my fly spray mixture, about 1/2 an ounce to a 12 ounce bottle of fly spray. The Natural Topical Spray is oil based and contains Lavender, Tea Tree and Eucalyptus oils in a base of Canola oil. I would of course recommend using cation with an oil based product on horses turned out in direct sunlight, but I never had a problem, the fly spray I mixed it with was water based. The smell is amazing, I spent a lot of time this summer with my nose buried in my horse's neck.

In August I saw Calm Eyes at tack store down the road from a horse show. We had an unusually dry summer for this area and it was taking a toll on Grace's eyes. Even with a fly mask her eyes were crusty each afternoon when I would pull her out for a ride. At times her right lower eye lid would be puffy from rubbing it. Calm Eyes is easy to use, I just wiped it around the eye area with a rag. It cleared up the crusties and the tear staining that had just begun. I used the Clear Eyes until the rains came back and the dust settled down. I don't think I even used half of the 4 ounce bottle. I would think would be  a great product for dogs as well, especially those that deal with tear stains.

Last weekend I stopped in at Del's on a trip to visit my parents. I came home with a bottle of the Calm Coat Detangler & Shine. I use Cowboy Magic Body Shine at shows and in the winter, I like it but don't want to use it every day. The Calm Coat Detangler and shine doesn't have any ingredients on the label. Their website says it is fortified with Vitamin E and I can tell you that it smells like a pina colada. It seems to have essential oils, including what I assume is coconut. I sprayed it on Grace after a ride this week and brushed it into her coat. It cleared up that dander layer that is coming up to the top of her hair as she grows in her winter coat. Once again Grace smelled incredible, I couldn't stop leaning in and taking a whiff. I also sprayed her mane, but didn't brush it through. The next day when I tacked her up her mane was tangle free and her coat under her blanket was slick and shiny. Her coat felt better than when I use a silicone product, it was softer; more natural and less chemical based. I wash and condition Grace's mane and tail weekly, if I go longer than a week her mane becomes dry and frizzy, the Calm Coat Detangler & Shine seems to buy me a few more daysThis might just become my new go to grooming spray. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Slow Feed Hay Net Update

I've been feeding Grace out of the slow feed hay net for two weeks now. At first I was worried that Grace wouldn't eat enough hay and might lose weight. She surprised me by eating more at times out of the hay net than if I had put her  hay on the ground. She still doesn't empty the hay net all the way, but I take the left over hay, usually about a flake and mix it back in with the new hay when I refill the net. If she had left that same flake behind while feeding on the ground, it would have been spread out, stepped on peed on and then thrown in the manure pile. Now I hardly ever have to put hay in the manure pile before it makes it way through the horse.

I found this website full of great ideas on how to set up slow feed hay nets. I took the idea of running the bucket strap through the top to close and hang the bag. I have two nets and quickly learned that I like the larger one. It holds up to 30 pounds of hay and I can leave it up without refilling it for more than one feeding. I still like to pull the hay through the holes to get it started for Grace, my goal is not for her to lose weight but for her waste less hay. She still gets her flake of alfalfa mix on the ground twice a day, the orchard grass is there for her 24 hours. Last night I had a late meeting after work so I was gone for over 13 hours, I didn't have to worry about the increased amount of time in between feedings causing an ulcer flare.

This is what the net looks like right before I refill it:

When it is full:

Bucket strap:

I had a hell of a time uploading these pictures tonight. Blogger kept rotating them every time I would upload. I went to Google to see what was up and the party line put it back on the camera that I took the pictures with. I'm not buying that because when I logged out and back in I was able to get one picture to load correctly. If it acts like a bug and looks like a bug it is most likely a bug.I knew there had to be a way around it. I uploaded the same photos in Picasa, one of which uploaded rotated (Picasa is a Google Site) but I was then able to rotate in Picasa and upload here. Nice to know all those hours working for a software company are paying off!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mario Bosijoli Clinic - Transitions and Other Pesky Details!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to ride Grace in a clinic with Mario Bosijoli. I had audited one of his reining clinics in the spring and was impressed by his series of exercises that cross over well to any discipline.  For those who don’t know Mario here is an excerpt from his current bio: Chairman of NRHA’s Animal Welfare/Stewards Committee. Over the last thirty years Mario has officiated at horse shows on five different continents. His judging assignments have included the US Arabian Nationals, the AQHA World, Amateur World, Select World and Youth World, NRHA Futurity and Derby, All American Quarter Horse Congress, International Quarter Horse Championships, Italian Reining Derby, European Reined Cow Horse Derby, and Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show.
Mario is an AQHA, APHA, NRHA, NRCHA, NSBA, PtHA, POAC, ApHC, ApHCC, ABRA, USEF Western & Reining, FEI and EQUINE CANADA, approved Judge, and AQHA and NRHA approved Steward.
It doesn’t mention his years as a trainer, many NHRA and AQHA championships along with trips to the World show. One of the reasons I so enjoy working with him is that I get the view of a top notch trainer along with the added benefit of a many carded breed show judge. My favorite part of any time I’ve spent around Mario is when he shares stories from his years of judging, it’s a real treat to hear what it is like from the other side of the show pen. I also takes away some of the fear of showing for me, it turns out that judges really are just people too; it is not their goal in life to chew me up and spit me out!

There were 7 horses and riders in the clinic including Nina and Milo. Mario spent the day working us through his series of exercises which focused on rein control, lope transitions, stops, roll backs, spins and counter lope. The exercises were great, but the real gems in the clinic were the little nuggets of information delivered in between. Mario got on everyone about having too long of a rein length, he pointed out that the sport is called “Reining” so yes, you can use your reins and have some contact. As a judge he actually wants to see how your horse will react when you pick up on the rein. He wasn’t a fan of the Texas drape often seen now in horsemanship classes.  One word that we all heard during the day was “Forward” Mario talked about tempo and how there was an optimal speed to begin a maneuver.  A horse that was going too slow could be just a sloppy as one going too fast. I watched a 3 year old clean up its lope considerably just by asking it to go forward.

One of the biggest light bulb moments for me was when we were walking a circle to set up a turnaround exercise. The idea was to stop in the corner about ten feet off the wall and then turn a 180 towards the wall. Later we would turn a 360 away from the wall – a spin. The wall would do most of the work. What I missed was the importance of the circle. I was using it as a way to get to the wall and not actually riding the the steps to get me there. My horse was drifting to the right so Mario got on me about actually riding each step of that circle. I took a feel of my outside rein and pushed Grace up into it with my leg, immediately felt her step up from behind and lift her shoulder. When I then arrived at the corner for the 360 she was much better prepared and gave me an actual spin. Sarah is always telling me to ride each stride, but that moment really drove the idea home. Mario reminded us many times during the day that everything we do while sitting on our horse’s back counts.

The one thing that became crystal clear for me was that I need to work on my transitions every time I get on my horse. One of the first exercises was picking up the lope transition while walking at the wall at a 45 degree angle. He talked again about riding each step to that transition, loading the spring for takeoff. This made so much more sense than sneaking the transition in out of nowhere like I often do. Mario said he likes to know that the answer is going to be there before he asks the question. He also pointed out that the lope transition is a scored maneuver in Western Riding and it sets the tone for the quality of your lope. If we were loping an exercise and he wanted us to walk so we could talk about it he would say “trot, then walk”. The idea was to ride each step of the downward transition and not just fall into the walk. Turns out that is a terrible habit of mine, I tend to just let my horse fall into the walk and I found that in the snaffle yesterday I don’t have much of a downward transition.

I have a ton of homework do to and I am once again looking forward to working in the arena. I know I can also work on my transitions out on the trail and I need to since everything I do in the saddle counts. I can see now that many of the little details I overlook are where the polish in the show ring comes from. I called Sarah after the clinic to fill her on how the day went and to tell her that I now have a new appreciation for her. Many of Mario’s words where what I have already been told by Sarah, just said in a different way. We are making plans to haul out to ride with Mario this winter, in the meantime I have plenty of homework to do!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ring Sour

It’s not the horse – it’s me! I felt it hit the Tuesday before the last horse show; I didn’t want to work in the arena. It didn’t make sense at first; here I was having some of the best rides of all time and suddenly tacking up felt like a chore. I knew better than to give Grace the day off that close to the show so we hit the trails in the bareback pad instead. We then went off to the horse show and picked up some new exercises for the tool bag, followed by weekly lessons which built on those tools. The rides were only getting better, not only was my horse moving better than she ever has, she was enjoyable to ride. Then it hit me again last night, I didn’t want to go into the arena. The footing was good, no need to water now that the rains have returned, but my heart just wasn’t in it. Much to Grace and Belle Dog’s delight, we went past the in gate and headed out to the trails. 

We experienced an unusually dry end of summer and start to the fall for the Pacific Northwest. The trails where I ride were so dry that the footing was little hard for my taste. We’ve been taking it slow out there for the last few months, keeping those tendons safe. Grace and I usually walk a 5-10 minute trail loop before entering the arena; it gives me a chance to ground myself after a long day at the office. Last night the footing was just right after a few days of rain so we extended our loop adding the jog and lope. I was really pleased by how well Grace worked out there and Belle Dog was ecstatic that we finally picked up the pace. I then took Grace into the arena and worked through all 3 gaits, I could tell that my heart just wasn’t in it. Grace was wonderful; I had nothing to complain about, but nothing to really get me excited either. When I pointed Grace to the out gate after only 10 minutes I could feel our communal spirits lift. Grace had a spring in her step, I was already back on the trails in my head and Belle Dog took off for the trail head barking at us to hurry it up!
As I was cooling Grace out at the end of our ride, listening to the sound of hooves crunching across the freshly fallen leaves in the forest, it occurred to me that I might just be burned out. I have shown more this past year than I have since I was 19. Grace and I have been to at least one show a month since December. We also added bigger shows to our schedule that included more overnight stays. It turns out the only vacation time I took from work this past year was for horse shows. I have a job that I absolutely love and look forward to going to everyday, that same passion for the job makes it difficult for me to take time off. The company has no problem with me taking a vacation; I am the one that isn’t willing to walk away for an extended period of time. In between shows we were busy training for the next show and hauling out to the trainers once a week. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE showing my horse and I love my weekly lessons even more, but I don’t want to forget to just take a step back and enjoy my horse for just being a horse. 

We have a clinic this weekend which should give us some new tools and get me back to being excited in the arena again. I am realizing that I need to fit trail rides and other fun outings back into our regular training program. I hope to hit a cow sorting or two over the winter which I thought was to cross train my horse but more and more I’m thinking it is for me. I miss the thrill of Grace locking onto the cows while she and I work together to sort the herd. I miss hauling out to for 3 hour trail rides with Grace and Belle, even when we do get chased by a coyote. I know that there is no happier place on earth for me than in the saddle, but I am now learning that I need to mix it up or I am the one that is going to become ring sour.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Hello Hind End!

I had one of those rides tonight that put a big smile on my face; I am so impressed by my little horse right now! After working all week on the shoulder exercises which included direction changes roll backs and counter lope, I decided to pull out some poles tonight to change things up. I warmed Grace up with the jog exercises and then jogged her over the poles which were laid out like this:

Please excuse the drawing; I am lacking a good pattern program. We jogged over the poles in different combinations mixing it up each time and going each direction. Grace was quiet, relaxed and kept a nice steady rhythm. It was almost too easy so we moved it up to the lope. I noticed right away that Grace was really using her hind end; her lope was quiet, rhythmic and easy to ride. I also found that she was so light in her shoulder that I had to be careful to not overturn her, it only took a little outside rein to get what I wanted and I was riding in the snaffle.

Looking at the pattern pole #3 is sitting about 10 feet off the arena fence while poles 1 and 2 are towards the center of the arena. I picked up the right lead between pole 3 and the arena rail, turned right off my outside rein loped pole 1 and 2, I then turned right towards the arena rail, rolled back and loped pole 3. I sure hope that made sense! I really wanted to draw it for you because it was so cool! Grace hit the distances every time and really surprised be by the roll back. Each time she rocked back on her hocks and rolled over them. Her front end was light through the enter exercise. After working it on the right lead, we changed to the left this time loping pole 2, 1 and then rolling back to 3. Again Grace was light on her front end and hit every distance. I was able to keep my back soft and my butt in the saddle, it felt like I had no choice, my body really wanted to stay back out of the way. To finish off the exercise we loped to the left over 2, 1, roll back to 3, changed leads turned right and circled back to 1, 3 right roll back to 3. I kept the circle small and close to poles and was again impressed by how level headed Grace was throughout the exercise. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time, I could see where the last two weeks of work had paid off, my horse found her hind end and what would have been a difficult exercise was now easy and fun for both of us. I am starting to believe that I really will have this horse broke by the time she is 20!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Slow Feed Hay Nets and Other Mysteries

Every time I feed Grace I am reminded of why I own only one horse. She most defiantly eats better than I do! At this time her daily diet consists of 2 feedings of the best Eastern Washington orchard grass hay I can find, which is now mixed with the same quality alfalfa/orchard grass mix. 3 pounds of rolled ration twice a day, Miracle Clay, Dynamite vitamins, Dynamite Free and Easy, Chia Seed and Organic Black Strap Molasses to mix it all together. I will soon be adding papaya powder to this mixture for digestive health. This diet keeps Grace fat, slick and shiny while being ridden 6 days a week and showing at least once a month. There is one big issue I've been facing for at least the last 6 months; Princess Grace won't clean up her hay. 

At one point I was feeding Grace 6 flakes of hay a day. She has experienced ulcer flare ups in the past and my idea was to keep hay in front of her all the time.  Again - I feed the best hay I can find, I don't mind feeding extra as long as it doesn't go to waste, but I found I was adding more and more of it to the manure pile before it went through the horse. I had a ton of 1st cutting that has some stem to it so I thought that was the issue, but then the 2nd cutting with the soft beautiful grass arrived and she was leaving even more of that behind. I cut her back to 4 flakes a day (2 flakes twice a day) and she was still leaving perfectly good clean hay behind. I found that if I took away all of the left over hay Grace was better about cleaning up the new meal I put in front of her. This works for a feeding and then she starts leaving hay behind again. It was killing me to fill a wheelbarrow with perfectly good hay that any other horse would eat and dump it into the manure pile. Sarah suggested that I start feeding Grace out of one of those slow feed hay bags. I filled one and hung it on the trailer at a day long horse show; Grace wouldn’t touch it so I shelved that idea. This weekend the ½ ton of orchard/alfalfa arrived. Grace is currently inhaling the one flax of alfalfa mix but she then leaves most of the flake of orchard grass behind. Again – BEAUTIFUL hay – I would eat it! I have to believe that if there was another horse to compete with for food; this would not be an issue. Grace is still fat, shiny and happy but I only see dollar signs in the manure pile. I also want to get this under control before the rain returns and makes a mess of things.
Last night I pulled the slow feed hay net back out and filled it with 3 flakes of the orchard grass hay. Before hanging it up I pulled hay through the small openings so Grace would get the idea. I fed her flake of alfalfa mix on the floor of the shelter and then hung the hay net in the corner. I prefer to have my horse eat with her head down, but I am at the end of my rope with the hay waste. I left her for the night convinced that she would be starving in the morning with a full hay bag hanging in front of her. I also had the creeping thought in the back of my mind that she would somehow hang herself up in the hay net event though I knew I hung it safely.

When I went up to the pasture to feed this morning I caught sight of the hay net in the glow of my head lamp, it was still hanging. From a distance I could tell the shape of it had change, it was longer and narrower! On closer inspection Grace had not only eaten from the hay net, she had eaten about 2/3rds of the hay in it! I searched the ground under the hay net – no hay on the ground; she had also eaten all of the alfalfa mix from the night before. I have no idea why Grace prefers to eat her hay in the bag, but I was really surprised by how much more she consumed in one feeding. I plan to get a second slow feed bag so I can have her morning hay ready to go the night before. I don't even want to think about how much hay I could have saved if I had just listened to Sarah the first time. Sigh...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

It Just Gets Better!

AQHA Novice Championships are in full swing this weekend and I am even more pleased with my decision not to attend this year. In the last two weeks Grace and I have had some amazing lessons with Sarah, building on the exercises that we picked up at the last horse show. Grace’s lope is now like nothing I’ve ever ridden before. I did not believe that she was capable of the quality of gait that she is giving me now. It needs time to get consistent, but I am just in awe of how this horse at 15 years old continues to improve. I know that if I had pushed to make the trip down to Vegas I would have been forced to cut corners in my training in order to have Grace shut down enough to compete at that level. That is just not something I am willing to do to my best friend. I have a year to build on where we are at, this gives me time to do it my way and produce an end result that allows me to still sleep at night. Penny used to tell Sarah and I that when she stands before God He is not going to ask her how many blue ribbons she won, He is going to ask how well she cared for the horses that He provided her. I carry that thought with me each and every day.

The exercises we’ve been working on for the last few weeks work really well for Grace. The focus has been on getting her shoulder unlocked at the jog before asking for the lope. We change directions constantly which keeps her on her hind end also keeps her guessing as to what the next move is and keeps her from locking her shoulder back down. When we lope I leave her alone. The first few strides are phenomenal; slow, in the ground on her hind end with her shoulder elevated. As soon as it starts to change where I would usually micromanage it, I instead break her down to the jog and go back to the direction changes, thus getting her back on her hind end. This is where the quality of the lope has come from not only the gait but the transitions are clean. The left lead is now for the first time the better lead. In yesterday’s lesson we started doing some work at the lope. Sarah had me lope Grace diagonally across the arena, in the corner I would roll Grace back keeping her on the same lead. It took me a few tries to get the hang of it, but I was able to see how the exercise rocked Grace back onto her hind end and picked up her shoulder. Her roll backs became very efficient making me wonder where in the heck this horse was when we were barrel racing. This exercise along with work at the counter lope improved the quality of the lope and produced a relaxed quiet horse. All of this work was done in a snaffle, so I have now had the best lope to date on this horse and it was done in a snaffle. I’ll take a ride like that any day over a blue ribbon or belt buckle.