Sunday Diary – is summer over yet??

Goofy photo from yesterday 🤣🤣🤣

❤️❤️❤️

No riding today, the weather was so incredibly unpleasant. I spent the day feeding Alfie (to his delight) and I gave Martini and Ziggy luxurious bubble baths.

This morning when I got to the barn our fantastic barn manager Regina couldn’t wait to tell me about the continuing saga of “Alfie hates Velcro.” He doesn’t actually hate it but sometimes he is more bothered by the sound of it than other times. Today wasn’t a good day for Velcro lol. As she’s telling me what happened, I was able to laugh at my sensitive goof ball once I found out no one was injured when he flew back in his stall to get away from the evil Velcro on his bell boot. I looked up at the sky and told her it’s the change in air pressure which gets him a little wonky. She agreed and would remember that the next time the weather drastically changes Velcro isn’t going to be his friend lol.

The point of my Velcro story is to really shed light on how sensitive horses truly are. They have tiny brains but their emotions are strong. They may not understand what we tell them but they understand tone of your voice. They get scared and look to humans to reassure them that everything is ok. Some horses are way more sensitive than others, some people don’t have the patience to deal with those special ones.

Based on Alfie’s anxiety issues, people weren’t nice to him for the majority of his life and those mental scars show. I am so grateful that he is surrounded by so much love and patience now. My hope is that one day, he may be able to let go of some of those scars. ❤️🐴

Saturday Afternoon Diary…bugs, heat, crankiness, a luxurious bubble bath and new shoes!

Talk about a full day for Alfie. I arrived at the barn and gathered up all of Alfie’s winter blankets for the cleaning service. I then broke up a brick of hydro hay and made his lunch. As I’m walking up to his field to get him, the sun is blazing and here comes the heat. As I get to the top of the hill, Alfie hears me shuffling along. I wave and he runs to the gate to meet me. He bends his head so I can give him a kiss on his nose and we head down to the barn.

It’s summer and flies are normal for this time of year. But because it’s been so hot the flies have gone crazy and there seems to be a lot more than usual. Alfie and fly spray…it’s a no go. Not sure exactly what frightens him about the spray but you can’t spray him. Alfie’s skin is super sensitive so our guess is that he had a bad reaction to it at some point and is now afraid of it if it’s coming out of a spray bottle. Roll on fly spray he is ok with but that really only works for small areas not his entire body. So what do you do to help protect your horse from the flies when you can’t spray it on him – you spray it on a sponge and wipe him down with it. It’s not nearly as effective but it’s a start.

I wipe down Alfie and get him all tacked up for our lesson. We head towards the mounting block, he’s lined up nicely, I climb 2 steps and sure enough, he swings his ass away. So I climb down the block and I do the exercise I learned last weekend. I take my dressage whip and tap him on his side so he moves his butt over. I tap him a second time and now he is lined up at the block. I back him up a few steps and then climb back up the block. I grab the reins and I’m about to get on when he picks up his head and I can just tell he’s about to take a step. So I tell him in the nicest of firm voices “ugh ugh don’t do it.” And he changed his mind about moving and I was able to get on. Score a point for Judy. 😊

We start our warmup and realize that Alfie seems a bit stuck, he’s not injured or lame but he just doesn’t seem to want to move. I mention to my trainer that his hoofs are a tad too long and that’s the reason. Hoofs are like finger nails, they grow and need to be trimmed. Since Alfie has shoes on his front feet, when the hoof gets long the shoe feels tight. Have no fear Alfie, the farrier is coming today to take care of your feet. But since he’s uncomfortable, we do all of our lesson work at a walk.

During our lesson several of the other horses are being brought into the barn. Alfie decides he must start neighing for them which is cute and all except not when you are trying to have a lesson. When a horse neighs their entire body shakes which feels down right strange when you are on them. To help combat that we have to keep Alfie’s mind busy, so we work on our dressage exercises and after a few minutes he forgets about his friends.

Here’s the kicker at doing exercises at a walk – it’s hard. It makes the horse work all of their muscles which is hard work. After about 10 min of working on our dressage test, Alfie starts with his dramatic head toss complete with flying spit. At one point he got a big glob of spit over his head which landed right in front of me. 🤮 I congratulated him for completely grossing me out, but to his disappointment the ride continued. This is where his crankiness came in. He didn’t want to work today. He had several more head tossing spit flying moments but we kept on riding anyway. A year ago outbursts like this would’ve scared me enough to end the ride but not anymore.👍🏻

Post ride bliss.

We end our lesson, and head right into a relaxing bubble bath. Alfie is getting so much more comfortable with bath time, my heart just explodes with joy. It took many years to get him comfortable with water and his willingness to trust despite having a scare with water at some point in his life is proof that showing love and kindness and patience can heal.

After his bath, it’s time for lunch and a nap before the farrier comes to give Alfie some new shoes.

Hi mom ❤️
He’s so good looking for a 26 yr old horse.

Alfie has had some bad experiences in his life with farriers. Most farriers are men and Alfie is more fearful of men than women. So getting shoes and a hoof trim isn’t easy for him. His farrier now is truly an amazing man. He’s taken the time to chat with the vet about Alfie’s specific issues with his feet and tendons so he was able to create truly custom shoes and pads which have made Alfie very comfortable. He also takes his time with him, and has earned his trust. The process takes anywhere from an hour to 2 hours depending on whether the same shoes can be used again or if a new set need to be made. This is my second time seeing Alfie getting shoes and he did very well. He wasn’t nervous, he was calm, except for the flies, but overall he handled it like a rockstar.

It truly is amazing how much love I have for Alfie, and how much love he has for me. There were a bunch of tender moments we shared together today. I’m so blessed to be his human.❤️🐴

Tuesday Evening Diary: I’m finally NOT throwing away the contact!

Today’s lesson was with Martini. This horse has an actual fan club. Everyone that rides him falls in love with him, and for good reason. He’s a school master.

Martini

For many years riding Alfie, I would throw away the contact. The contact is one of the ways you communicate with your horse. The reins are attached to the bit which is the piece that is in the horses mouth which is attached to the bridle which is what is on the head of the horse. You communicate with your seat as well as with your hands.

Throwing away the contact – picture a person sitting on a horse holding the reins in their hands. Then picture them moving their hands and arms forward towards the horses head, so the reins get loopy and loose. This is throwing away contact. By doing this, you’ve just broken your direct phone line to your horse. This is what I’ve been doing. Not all the time but it’s one of the hardest things for me to retrain myself not to do.

When you ride you need contact with your horse, but at the same time, you need to be able to give some of that contact up, not throw it away completely. By giving up some of the contact it allows the horse to move their head and get into a more proper form. When you give up the contact totally , they are no longer getting any signal from you so they stop moving, whether it’s a walk or a trot or a canter they stop. Today while we were trotting I was able to give up a little of that contact and guess what…Martini kept trotting!! It was a true lightbulb moment! All the little pieces finally came together for me.

Looking back at how much I didn’t know or understand, I remember thinking to myself, I’m never gonna get this riding thing. I’m not fit enough, skinny enough, rich enough to afford the top of the line tack and clothes. So many negatives. So many “excuses” that were floating in my head all the time. But to see myself now, a person who started riding at the age of 40, I’ve overcome so many fears. I’ve taken the time to learn at my own pace. And even though my lightbulb moments might seem small and insignificant to others, to me, these are huge accomplishments that need to be celebrated. If you find your audience, family and friends don’t care for your little accomplishments, it’s time to clean out your closet and surround yourself with people who will cheer you on always and who will care about EVERYTHING you accomplish, even if it’s small. ❤️🐴

Martini and I before our ride ❤️

Sunday afternoon diary…🌞🌞

It was too hot to ride today – so I spent the day feeding my Alfie hydration hay and hanging out with my barn family. A perfect Sunday indeed.

I make a mess with my hydration hay but it tastes so good 😉
Wearing his jazzy fly boots to protect his legs from the flies, courtesy of his Aunt Heidi.

Saturday evening diary – so much goodness where do I start…

Another super hot and humid day in NY. I’m not a fan of winter at all but this heat and humidity can really just break for a bit. The humans would love it and the horses would love it.

I get Alfie from his field and he’s super happy because the heat was bad by 10:15AM and he couldn’t wait to come in to be in front of his fan.

He dives into his hydro hay with such gusto and I swear he was smiling. While he’s eating I start to brush him. I get all his itchy spots and I tell him he’s gonna get a nice bubble bath when we are done with our lesson.

He finishes his brunch and into the grooming stall we go. I get him dressed in his saddle – no bareback today – and we approach the dreaded mounting block.

Alfie wouldn’t stand today. I attempted twice on my own and then asked for help from my trainer Kari. She gets him lined up and I get on.

Our lesson is divided into 3 parts, warmup, work, cool down. Part of our warmup includes working on our circles. For those that think riding a horse in a circle is easy, you are very mistaken lol. It’s hard. It’s also hard when the horse is stiff and has discomfort from being stiff and just can’t bend well. That was Alfie’s issue. When we made the switch from western to dressage, I discovered that he was unbalanced in the turns and had a lot of discomfort bending his head to the right.

To help fix his discomfort Alfie gets treated about every 6 weeks by a sports massage therapist – an amazing woman who works out the kinks for him. Since he’s been under her care his muscle issues have gotten better.

We’ve been taking dressage lessons for 1 year and 4 months. When we first started trying to get Alfie to bend into a circle was extremely difficult. Today, his circles were damn near perfect in both directions.

When you are learning to ride a horse, your balance as a rider isn’t good. You are nervous, your legs don’t know what to do and you suddenly become aware of muscles you didn’t know existed. Because it’s not easy to ride a horse…let me rephrase that…it’s not easy to ride a horse that isn’t “push button” or an “auto pilot” horse. Those horses are the ones at dude ranches and in the Caribbean Islands, they just go regardless of the riding ability of their rider. Alfie isn’t push button. Alfie has made me work for every ride we’ve ever taken. There is no leisure ride with Alfie. And learning an entirely new discipline for both of us has been a struggle. But today, after the amazing circles, it was time to trot. And that’s where I was left speechless, and full of joy.

When a horse trots, the power must come from their back end…you know, their booty, their butt. Getting Alfie to understand that, getting him to understand contact of the bit and the reins hasn’t come easy. It wasn’t just him learning it was also me learning how to communicate all of this to him. We’ve worked and worked and worked on getting him to put the pieces together, when we trot, the power needs to come from behind, not just the front legs pulling the back end.

We set up for our first trot on the long side of the arena (the straight side) and holy cow…he used his butt. It was only a few strides of trot, but I immediately felt the difference. I sat there and looked at my trainer. She’s smiling and I ask her, did he do what I think he did?? Holy cow!

We try again…and again for a few strides he picks up the trot using his butt, this time he rounds his frame a bit…he’s in an actual dressage position! We do this a few more times and change direction and again all the power is coming from his back end. As he gets more fit he will be able to trot for longer but today, he did it. It took 16 months of weekly lessons, but he did it, and I helped him do it.

Sweaty booty! He worked his muscles well today!

We decided to end the lesson on that note because you always want to end on a positive. We go for our cool down ride and I get off. But I’m not done just yet…I walk him back to the mounting block to see if he will stand…and he doesn’t. I ask my trainer for help. At this point we’ve tried so many different things and nothing seems to stick with him. So she tells me to leave Alfie exactly in the weird position he’s standing. She has me pick up my dressage whip and tells me to tap him on his butt to get him to move over to the block. For those that know me, you all know my issues with tapping my horse. I know I’m not going to hurt him, logically my brain knows this but the emotional aspect of this is where my issue lays. But it’s been 4 years, and dang it Alfie you have to respect me enough to let me get on. So I tap him. He ignores it. I tap him again slightly harder, and look at that, he moved over. I slightly raise my arm and he moves over some more. Mind you, I only tapped him with it twice. This is good, he’s responding simply to my gesture, I’m not actually touching him. I climb up the stairs of the block and he just stands. Perfectly still. I get on. He doesn’t move until I ask him to walk into the arena. I pat him on the neck and tell him good boy and I get off. We have tried everything at the mounting block but 2 small taps got his attention.

After our ride 😊

Horses are like children. They have their days where they are perfect, respectful, attentive and listening. Other days they may be perfect in one area but challenging you in another area, because they can. For all these years, Alfie knows if his swings his butt away from the mounting block I can’t get on. He knows that I get off the block and walk him again to the block only to have him swing out his butt again. We’ve played this game before over and over. But today I made the decision to not play the game anymore.

We ended our day with that bubble bath I promised him and a nap in front of his fan. ❤️🐴

All clean after his bubble bath.

Saturday afternoon diary…It’s so hot let’s try a bareback lesson!

Riding bareback. It’s something I’ve done so little of throughout the 4 years Alfie and I have been together. For those that don’t know what bareback riding is, it’s where you ride the horse without a saddle. You can either ride with a bareback pad or without one, I prefer the pad.

Riding bareback has a lot of benefits. It forces you to use your seat for balance. There’s no stirrups so your body has to compensate for that. You can feel the actual movement of the horse which gives you a better understanding of how your horse moves.

The last time I rode bareback was about a year ago and it didn’t go very well. Alfie tends to get bored when we ride bareback so the last time we did he tried to lay down…like a camel lol. I remember how it felt the last time I was bareback, my seat wasn’t good, my leg strength wasn’t good, I was like a sack of potatoes, with very little core strength. My best riding buddy Heidi has always encouraged me to ride bareback more, but I never felt truly comfortable or secure until today.

I get Alfie out of his field, and as we are walking to the barn I tell him he’s in for a treat, no saddle today in this heat! He seems more excited about his lunch lol. He eats his hydro hay and I bring him into the grooming stall. I then drag out my barely used bareback pad. As I put it on him, the look he gives me is one of confusion. I know Alfie, it’s been a long time lol.

I get to the mounting block and because I’m going bareback I ask my trainer to just hold him for me. I get on him and we join my friend Heidi and her horse Cayman (Alfie’s buddy) in the arena.

If you didn’t know, horses are heard animals, meaning they like to hang out in groups. Cayman is Alfie’s field mate so he is naturally gravitating towards him, but that’s not the way we are going lol. The first thing that I notice is despite not having a saddle, I felt like I was sitting in one. I am perfectly balanced. I am holding myself up. I am secure. I am not scared. My trainer Kari tells me my seat is beautiful. Everything about my body position is perfect. Holy crap. Like really wow!!

We start our lesson and again because of the heat, everything is at a walk today. We work on our circles, our shoulder in, our haunches out, we even did our figure 8s and some leg yielding. And I did it all without having to use my dressage whip (stick of influence or SOI as I like to refer to it as. ) At one point Heidi and Cayman left the arena and Alfie wasn’t happy. He brought out his stop and back up move which not so long ago used to scare me, but not anymore. I was able to steer him and push him forward with my seat. We also had amazing haults today.

It was so extremely beneficial to ride bareback today. Not only was it more pleasant for Alfie in this crazy heat, but I proved to myself just how good of a rider I have become. We ended our day with a second lunch of hydro hay and a nap. I am no longer afraid of riding bareback. ❤️🐴

Me and Alfie
Alfie with his bareback pad on.

Tuesday Evening Diary…why is it so hot???

Ok…I know it’s summer…but 3PM and it’s STILL 87, crazy high humidity to the point that as soon as you leave your air conditioned car and step outside your riding breeches become one with your skin. I wouldn’t feel the need to complain except this kind of heat has been with us since the beginning of JUNE…ok, little soapbox rant over lol.

Today is my lesson day with Martini. To give all my new readers a little background on Martini. He’s over 17 hands – way bigger than Alfie who is about 15.1 hands tall. He’s a warm blood draft mix who is a gentle giant. I started taking lessons with him about a year ago.

Let me back up a bit…I’m a former western pleasure rider who switched disciplines to dressage. It was a decision that I have no regrets about at all. It’s benefiting Alfie in so many physical ways. Martini is a well trained dressage horse. So what I learn with him I am teaching my Alfie.

I groom Martini and spray him with fly spray, oh the flies are so bad this year because of the heat and humidity. I get him all tacked up and off we go. The issue I was having with him at the mounting block wasn’t an issue today. Once I got on, he stayed standing, he didn’t try to walk into the arena until I was ready. Woohoo!! We go through our warmup and my confidence is really good today. We work on trotting over poles which again I had some issues with. So here’s the thing, sometimes when I don’t think I’m nervous, it turns out I am. I kept losing my right stirrup. No my foot didn’t come out but it wasn’t in the position it needed to be. So my wonderful trainer Kari says, don’t worry about it, let’s work on the half seat position.

For those that don’t know what a half seat is, it’s basically where you come up out of the saddle and hold a squat. Yes it’s as challenging as it sounds lol. When I first learned to do it, I could only hold it for a matter of seconds. Now I can hold it for an entire revolution around the arena. The benefit of this exercise, well one of the benefits is it helps your body feel secure in the saddle because your weight shifts to your heels. After we did that, we went back to trotting over the poles and I didn’t lose my stirrup. My confidence that took a brief disappearing act had returned.

We work on our pole work some more and my trainer sets up this small jump. Now if this were Alfie, because of his short size, he would’ve had to jump it. But Martini is so tall he wouldn’t waste a jump on something so short, he was just gonna trot over it. I pick up my trot nicely, we head to the slightly elevated poles, and we walk over it. I try again, good depart with the trot, momentum, here comes the slightly elevated poles…and we walk over them. I tell my trainer it’s me, not him. I’m too nervous and a little afraid he might try to jump it. As always, my trainer listens to me and says, no problem, we will try it again when you are ready. Although my confidence disappeared briefly, I didn’t let it ruin the rest of my ride. There’s no rush in this sport. I will get there when I’m ready.

We end our lesson with some cantering in both directions which is really becoming a favorite gait for me. Now if I can only remember to steer when we get going lol.

After our lesson, I bring Martini into the wash stall to give him a quick rinse, I put him in his stall and it’s dinner time. A wonderful way to end my Tuesday. ❤️🐴

Martini – he’s ready for dinner

I love you Aunty Judy, I must give you a kiss

A Little Background

My equestrian career began as a child. I was around 8 or 9 when I started taking lessons. I loved it. I was only taking lessons for about a year when my parents encouraged me to try something else as a hobby. There had been an accident at a neighboring stable and the young rider took a nasty fall and was left paralyzed. My parents didn’t tell me this but they were scared I could suffer a similar fate, so bye bye horses, and hello clarinet.

Fast forward about 33 years. I stumbled upon a Groupon for a discounted trail ride. So I signed up myself and my husband…my extremely allergic husband (didn’t realize his allergy was going to be a severe one) for this trail ride. Despite my husband breaking out into hives and needing 2 doses of Benadryl, we both enjoyed it. And that was it, I was hooked. I started taking lessons at a stable that was much closer to me than where we had the trail ride and 4 months into lessons, I bought my Alfie.

My Alfie. We really didn’t know much about him except he came from a farm in Virginia. We weren’t even sure exactly how old he was. All we knew was he was a trained ranch horse that was very safe, and very cute.

What I would find out over these last 4 years based on vets and an equine dentist, Alfie is most likely in his mid 20’s. How does one figure out the age of a horse, by their teeth. And Alfie, well, he has old man teeth. They are all accounted for, but totally smooth which makes eating hay a challenge for him.

Because of his age and some physical issues with his legs and feet, our weekly lessons are just done at a walk and trot. I ride my trainer’s horse Martini who is younger and doesn’t have the physical challenges Alfie has to do the more advanced stuff. So this blog will feature entries about both Alfie and Martini.