december 10 questions

I really enjoy learning about everyone’s opinions, ponies, and lives through the monthly ten questions.

Does your horse need shoes?  Questionable.  Murray was 100% sound when he was barefoot and lived on hills and rocky soils in Oregon.  For the work we do now he needs front shoes at least — his upright RF has rotation of the coffin bone that diverges from a foot with a normal angle (nothing more than to be expected of a foot with that shape), which places it close to the sole.  I have had several veterinarians (including a lameness specialist) recommend that I not take his front shoes off as long as we are in work.

2014-02-12 08.49.18
these need a little extra help

What do you think of the barefoot vs. shoes debate? So many things. I have so many thoughts on this.  I think that we don’t have a good enough understanding or what it means for a horse to be barefoot, or any rigorously performed scientific studies on how being barefoot influences movement, long term soundness, and performance.  I think we don’t have a good understanding of what adding a shoe to the foot really does in terms of traction and pressure distribution*.  I think that in over a year of living and traveling in Africa I saw zebras (barefoot, in case you didn’t know already) hauling ass away from me/lions/cheetahs/hyenas/scary wind across wet grass, rocky outcrops, gravel, slick mud, and hills without slipping, falling, tripping, or collapsing.  I know I saw a couple of zebras get caught, and many more than one lame zebra.  I think that we don’t really understand how selective forces on horses have affected the strength, shape, and quality of their feet in regard to the jobs we expect them to perform, or truly how the way we keep them diverges from what may be “best” or “healthiest”.  I think that there are people keeping and competing barefoot horses very successfully. I think that if you have something that works for you, there’s no need to mess with it.

* I could very well be wrong – please tell me if I am because I want to know MORE!.

Favourite season for riding? Any season when it isn’t actively raining on me.

img_5067zebras are, incidentally, hilarious

How many shows do you think know you’ve gone to? I can count them! It’s not many. 2011 – SAHJA at HNR. 2012 – Camelot in April and June. 2013 – busy living in Africa. 2014 – SAHJA at WSS (didn’t compete, Murray was lame) in Jan, Camelot in May and July. 2015 – SAHJA at WSS in Jan, Camelot in June, WSS in August, SAHJA at WSS in October. 2016 – Camelot in April.  That comes to ten!  Such a nice, round number. Perhaps I’ll keep it that way and never show again.

Do you consider yourself a good rider? For the amount of time I have been riding, the amount of training I have been able to afford, and the quality of horse I have? Good enough.  I could be much better with more money/time/horse power/access/talent.

How experienced do you think someone should be to own a horse? Experienced enough to know when to ask for help and listen to people who know more.  It’s different for everyone.


Have you ever gotten into a fight with your trainer? I don’t really get in fights. I have discussions.  It seems like a pedantic distinction (and it is, to some degree), but a fight implies irrationality and a discussion is an exercise in trading rational arguments.  If you aren’t interested in listening to logic or trying to convince me with logic, I’m not interested in talking to you.

Describe your dream horse. Tall, dark, and handsome. Hard enough to ride that he makes me look good, but easy enough to ride that he makes me look great.  Goes fast, comes back easily.  Jumps big and always goes but doesn’t let me get away with bad habits.  Dressages like Valegro and jumps like Bioesthetique Sam.  You said dream horse, right?

Does anyone in your family ride? I have ranching family that used to use horses for work, but don’t really any longer.

If you could ride any horse in the world, which one would it be? Why? Hawley’s Livingstone when he was still running fast and jumping big.  He was beautiful, fun, talented, and continues to be an amazing teacher at 26 — imagine what he was at 10 or 15?!  Plus he has the name of an incredible African explorer.


sffs blog hop: location, location, location

I have had so much fun reading the responses to Sarah’s blog hop about our horsey locations!  I live in Davis, California, which is a small university town located in 2015’s favourite county — #YOLO.  The town keeps about 60,000 people, around 10,000 of whom are probably students, with another 20,000 or so students that flood in during the school year.  The town is small — 6 miles end to end (I measured on Google) — and you can’t drive more than 10 minutes in any one direction without hitting ag fields.

locationanimals not to scale

It takes me about 20 minutes to get to my barn on the ag roads.  Much of the housing development that I live in used to be a thoroughbred breeding ranch.  My trainer and barn manager actually used to rent one of their old barns — it’s where I started riding with them.  (Our new location is a MASSIVE upgrade).

Davis is a little expensive for what you’d expect in the area, because we are kinda near the bay area and the land is expensive and the schools are good, so… I don’t know. Inflation. Or something.  My barn is inexpensive for the area (we do not have the world’s most amazing footing, but we do have all night turnout when pastures permit).

Trim – $40-60
Shoes – $65 for a half set is the cheapest I have heard of, I pay $85 for a full set, others start out around $100 for a full set
Monthly training – $600+ is the price I’ve seen thrown around, but I’m sure it doesn’t come close to what some of the trainers in the area charge
Pasture board – $350+ (weirdly there is NOT a ton of pasture board in the area – it’s more profitable to grow tomatoes/sunflower seeds/corn/hay or almonds/walnuts)
Stall board – $450+ (closer to $550-$600 average I’d say)
Hay – $13+/bale for rye, $15+/bale for orchard grass, $18+/bale for alfalfa. These are three string bales and weigh well over a hundred pounds, and you can get them cheaper when you buy by the truckload.  But it’s ABSURD how much of our hay gets shipped to Asia.  There’s a hay broker down the road from our barn called HAYKINGDOM and they don’t even sell within the US!
I have literally never seen a round bale in this county. I have seen cow bales, but have never seen a price on them.


The weather in Davis is pretty good, with spurts of absolutely awful.  It hangs out in the 90s from basically mid-June to mid-September (and sometimes into October, ick), with spikes up into the 100’s (and some waves).  In winter it gets down to the 40s, but we don’t get a terribly large amount of rain (I think something like 30″ per year?).  We are technically in a desert so we get massive swings between daytime and nighttime temps (sometimes 70 degree days are followed by 40 degree nights).  We get some of the central valley weather but none of the worst of it — it will freeze (sometimes hard enough to freeze the arena), but not all that often.  I complain a lot about the cold, but really, Davis rocks much of the year.

One of the most interesting weather phenomena in Davis is the tule fog (I call it ground fog).  The soil in the area is incredibly clay-y, and water doesn’t drain very fast.  When it rains a lot, followed by clear sunny days, the moisture evaporates into the air.  After sunset the air cools and the moisture trapped in the air condenses into a thick cloud that just… hangs out.  Sometimes it will take days for the fog to clear, sometimes the fog will be heavy and strong in the mornings and evenings and disappear during the days.  It gives the area a wonderfully eerie ambiance, but does occasionally make you skip your freeway exit.

IMG_0238Showing in the Tule fog in 2014.

There’s a pretty even split between English and Western riders here.  I imagine there are very few trail riders, as we have no trails to speak of — the land is flat, flat, flat.  I don’t know anything about the Western scene, but there are English riders of all shapes, sizes, colors, and disciplines here.  Just within our barn — an eventing barn — we have a couple of hunters, a couple of dressage riders, and the rest of will us dabble in jumpers/hunters for fun.   There are tons of dressage and H/J shows within a 3 hour haul, and even a decent number in the Sacramento area within a 1 hour hall.  WSS is the only event within 1 hour of Davis, though Camelot comes in at just over 2 hours away, and there are plenty more south of us.

We do have one tack store in the area. There’s another in the foothills. I… don’t want to talk about it right now.

Prior to white occupation, much of the central valley was a series of vernal pools, which are shallow ponds, lakes, and creeks that fill up with the winter rains.  Ever since human occupation of the area the creeks have been dammed and diverted until we got this pattern of agricultural land we preferred.  It means that there are fewer of the vernal pool species that used to exist (like salamanders), and the environment changed rather radically from a seasonal wetland to a mostly dry-land with a few seasonal rivers and wetlands.  Sometimes humpback whales come up the delta.  Some have even made it as far as Sacramento, following the river up from the Pacific ocean.  Nutty, right?

boreal-020believe it or not I used to spend all my free time and money doing THIS! underlying story: I have never been good at saving money

We’re pretty close to the mountains, not far from the beach, surrounded by good wine and good breweries, and absolutely no fucking hills whatsoever.  That is my biggest complaint: NO HILLS.

nov-cember ten

I know it’s technically December now, but I wrote this in November so it still counts, right?

1.  How old is the youngest/greenest horse you have ever ridden?

I’ve ridownload_20150217_210727dden a handful of three year olds off the track, under the watchful eye of my trainer. I rode one on Wednesday, actually!  Sometimes when they are tiny you need an equally tiny person —  I am your tiny person.



2.  How old is the oldest horse that you have ridden?

The oldest horse with an age that I knew was probably Mighty or Derby — 17 when I last rode them.  But I am sure I have sat on more ancient horses in my lifetime, I just don’t/didn’t know it.

3.  Where you scared of horses when you first started riding?

I don’t recall being scared of horses as a child. I had a few awkward moments like when my aunt grabbed me and sheltered me in her arms while her small herd of horses went bananas for no reason around us in a giant pasture.  Or the giant clydesdale cross mare who used to terrorize us at riding camp.  These experiences made me leery, but only of the parts of horses that are worth being leery about — flying hooves, and all that.

4.  Would you say you are more of a nervous or confident rider?

I am a confident rider and human being, but I am also green and therefore I do not always understand what there is to be afraid of (both a good and a bad thing), and I can more easily hit the wall of “I just don’t know what to do here” than more experienced riders.

wpid-wp-1424051689499.jpeg5.  Biggest pet peeve about non-horse people around horses?

I don’t know if this is a pet peeve or not, but I always roll my eyes at peoples’ inability to understand and recognize the danger zones on a horse.  Stompy hard things = bad for human heads, limbs, and torsos.  Those white things that clack when you shut them? Also can be danger, Will Robinson.

Also, and this holds true in all areas of my life, people who don’t know much or anything about horses (more generally: a subject) who try to make statements or claim knowledge on the topic.  If you don’t know what you’re talking about, kindly do not pester my ears with your noise.  My sister is the perfect human in this way, because she always tells me that she doesn’t know what such an such an animal is doing and asks me to use my expert knowledge to explain it (standard response: it’s pooping, sister, that’s what pooping looks like).

6.  A time you’ve been scared for you life (horse related).

I don’t have one. Perhaps the above-mentioned story about my aunt holding me back when her horses were being a bit nutty.  I guess there was also a moment last winter when I was holding the reins on a 17 hand three year old sale horse in the arena about to lunge him for a client who was trying a bunch of horses. Another rider was using the lunging equipment in the arena, but I thought I could walk around the arena a bit to get the three-year-old calmed down before he got on the lunge. Unfortunately, the horse I was holding decided that hearing the other horse RIPPING AROUND on the lunge was just way too stimulating and started leaping and flailing at the end of the reins.  The rider lunging did not see/notice what was going on with the gigantic baby t-rex kite that I was flying, and I was literally holding on for dear life to avoid the kite from going flying around the arena and getting tangled in the lunge.  I wasn’t necessarily worried for my life, per se, since I knew I could let go and let the shit show unfold if I needed to.  I was worried about the giant baby’s life (a little) and a lot about the other rider’s life.  I definitely nearly puked from the adrenaline rush when someone finally stopped the rider lunging.

7.  Have you ever fallen off at a show?  What happened?



8.  What’s a breed of horse that you have never ridden but would like to try?

Err… I’m not sure. I’ve never really thought about different breeds being important (BEYOND childhood okay guys). I guess maybe I’d like to give riding a Fresian a go, but only naked and bareback and with hair long enough to cover up all the naughty bits.

9.  Describe the worst behaved horse you have ever ridden.

(Though in Murray’s defense, I am also one of the worst behaved humans he’s ever met sooooo….)

10.  Describe the most frustrating ride you have ever had.

I’ve described lots of terribly frustrating rides on this blog, but the most frustrating ones always come down to one thing: I don’t understand what is going on.  Usually it’s because my understanding or perception of what is happening is somehow slightly separated from reality.  For example, when I spent like 8+ months thinking that speed = bravery.  Or when I didn’t understand that trying to bully Murray into taking the long spot ALL THE TIME RIGHT NOW NO EXCEPTIONS was not a good way to build confidence.  Or the months and miles and shows where I didn’t understand that firm rules = better behavior (and don’t you go saying I still don’t understand that, because I do, I am just bad at enforcing it okay?!)

When I have some understanding of what is going on, I can slow down, think about how to fix what we are doing, and take a different approach.  When I don’t understand, I end up  beating my head against a Murray-shaped wall of willpower, and we all know who wins that battle.  Good thing my understanding is growing daily!

kestrelI love this judgmental kestral.

stubborn together blog hop: couples therapy

PiccoloPony brought up something interesting, which ties in with thoughts I’ve been having about mentorship, learning, and training lately.

How does your current (or past) trainer manage the partnership/relationship between you and your horse(s)?

B has been my only serious riding trainer, though I’ve had many mentors, coaches, and teachers in my life.  I’ve been her student on a lesson horse, a 4-day-a-week lease, and Murray (who was a care-lease-to-ownership situation, if you’re not all caught up on that).  And I’ve been treated differently on the different horses.

On Mighty, my lessons were great, but limited by my skill.  I will admit I don’t remember a ton about these lessons.  I know we did a lot of coursing but no terribly challenging questions, and didn’t really jump above 2’6″.  B didn’t focus on my position overmuch, though obviously I got a lot more comments on it than I do now because I was a lot more green.  She was always pleasant and encouraging.  Mighty challenged me a lot but he was a really well known challenge for B.  She knew his tricks inside and out, and had assessed me as a rider pretty quickly so could tell exactly what I needed to do.

might bigger

When I moved to leasing Quincy four days a week, with at least a lesson each week, my relationship with B changed.  This was at least in part because Quincy was her step-daughter’s horse, so there was a stronger tie there.  Quincy was also a particular dressage challenge because he was very upside down and had a lot of muscles that said he wouldn’t go that way.  He wasn’t the best horse for me to learn dressage on, but she didn’t have any dressage schoolmasters at the time (moved facilities, downsized the herd, etc.).  But with that came a LOT of personal encouragement and demonstrations to help me understand concepts I did not understand.  And I continued to not understand them, but not for lack of trying on B’s part. I was simply too green to horses still.

I wrote a lot of words that didn’t really answer the main question here.  But in essence, both of these horses were reasonable, steady guys and when something was going wrong it was very, very, very apparent that I was the one making the mistake(s)(s)(s).  B was always kind and reasonable telling me about these mistakes, and I think she appreciated my ability to make fun of myself and realize that I still wasn’t sitting the fuck up even after she’d been yelling it at me all the way to a fence.

IMG_1049at least I kinda got my leg under myself in that time

Enter Murray stage left.

From the beginning B warned me that Murray would be a) slow, b) frustrating, and 1463746_681994785174666_1547265509_nc) potentially really fun. She always emphasized how important it was to keep a good attitude with him and end things on a positive note.  She’s come running across the arena when I’ve been clearly having an absolutely terrible ride, to calm me down and do what needed to be done to either get me back in the saddle or diffuse the situation.  I can always trust B to encourage me back towards a middle-ground with Murray: if I’m being overly harsh and crazy, she’ll point me back towards gentle. If I’m being too soft, she’ll remind me to buck up.

Murray also has a special place in B’s heart since she found him and took a chance on him when he was 2 and basically still a foal on big horse legs.  I know that helps her see through the ridiculousness.  I also think/know that as a pair we make her laugh during lessons (especially jump lessons), which I know as a teacher is WAY more fun than lessons where you don’t laugh.

IMG_3333It sounds a little odd, and sappier that I’m used to being, but I can tell that B wants to train me and Murray to be better together.  (In part, because she knows she’d have a hell of a time selling him for me if I got sick of him! hah!)  It’s not just about getting this movement down or that exercise completed, but actually improving the way the two of us communicate.  She reminds me a lot of where we came from and how much progress we’ve made, even if Murray is still secretly a lazy, naughty, Thellwell pony in disguise.

october 10 questions

It finally started to rain in California!  Today we got a misty drizzle that turned into a straight up downpour in the evening.  Fortunately, Murray is snug in his stall, and the indoor arena is delightful.  I even managed to sneak RBF’s pasture horse down to a closer pasture so I could deliver his buckets more easily while she’s gone.  Success!

So, ten questions, right?

What do you consider “jumping high” for yourself?

Jumping above 3′ is jumping high for me, but I am really hoping to move that up soon.  Murray has proven himself willing and able to course 3′, so it’s time to start stepping things up if we want to go places (see below)!

IMG_8458Murray is uninterested in your 2’7″ fences

What are your short term goals for riding? Do you think you’ll reach them?

I think the most concrete short term goal that I have right now is to ride at Novice in the coming 6 months.  This changed recently, but after two trainers declared Murray ready for it, and suggested that continuing to show at BN to “just get used to things” was one way to approach things but not truly necessary, I’m suddenly filled with ambition again!  But we’ll need to keep working through the winter and get our dressage under some fucking control before we can get there, so I’m guessing that’s the other short term goal.  Will I reach them?  Errrr….

Long term goals for riding? Do you think you’ll reach them?

I have some longlonglong term goals, but let’s just deal with the regular long term goals for this one.  I’d like to go prelim, on Murray or a different horse, and I’d like to get my bronze medal scores — which I think Murray should be capable of.  Short of having to quit riding, I’m sure I’ll get there — even if I have to dump an absurd amount of money into that prelim run.

How many barns have you been at in your riding career?

As a kid I plotzed around at two barns in Australia, on my family’s property, and at horse camp in the bay area.  As an adult legitimately learning to ride I have ridden at two barns only (UCD and my current barn).

camelot (263)-(ZF-8462-66896-1-002s

How many different trainers have you been with in your riding career?

I won’t count the kid barns in this one.  I had one trainer at the first barn I rode at, another student at UCD, and then my current trainer.  In addition I have Tina, and my MIL.  So four.  I am hoping to soon add this one to my collection.

Ever worked at a barn? What did you do?

As a student at UCD I cleaned water troughs to work off lessons, and I mucked for my trainer at her house in exchange for lessons for close to a year.  I have also babysat the barn, but that doesn’t really count.

Scariest thing that has happened at your barn?

We had a really bad year in 2015.  We had the fires and evacuations.  One of the evacuated horses flipped, got up, then collapsed and died when his owner was trying to load him back on to her trailer to go home.  My old lease horse broke his leg and had to be euthanized.

Have you ever given a lesson? What level was the rider?

I hold a daily lesson in how to be suckered by your horse!

13683828223_75e197e974_olook at this freaking adorable baby horse!!!

What is your opinion on the accuracy of critiquing riders online?

Accuracy is an interesting word choice here.  I think that we are deluding ourselves if we say we don’t judge riding pictures posted online.  But we are also assholes of we don’t recognize all the limitations that nearly everybody has mentioned here — it’s a moment in time, we can pick only the good ones, you don’t know what’s going on before/after/etc.

Do I think that you can actually get valuable feedback from critiquing pictures online?  If you’re honest with yourself and you post something realistic and representative.  Will you also drown under a metric butt ton of garbage spewed onto you by raging peons behind their keyboards? YUP.

What is the ideal height of a horse for you?

I like Murray’s height a lot.  He makes me feel tall but I think we look good together.  I have also enjoyed riding some slightly smaller, sportier models.  But the real question is — how tall is Murray?  Close to no clue.  I think he’s 16.2 but… could be less.



IWJSJ Blog Hop: Fuuuuuuck yeeeaaaahhh

Approximately a million years ago Beckz started a celebration of being badass.  This was something I totally got behind, and then didn’t post on my blog for like a month.  You know, because life.  So here are some belated yet still celebratory pictures of feeling awesome.

I came back from Africa and took myyyyy brand new baby horse cross country schooling just seven weeks later…


The first time we jumped the quarter round.  I was deliriously happy.

If you can't be kind, be quiet

I was completely obsessed with this canoe.


We didn’t finish the event (at BN), but my trainer took me out to school anyway (and let me jump one training fence)!


Conquering the stupid downhill log…


And up for good measure…


I jumped this novice down bank. IN A COMBINATION. After not riding for essentially a month. LOL WUT.


And a few not related to the notorious one! The first time I ever jumped 3’3″… with the Mighty Mouse.  This tiny bit of badassery carried me through for a looong time.

might bigger

In my first competition XC run, over the last fence!


Bonus: baby Nicole KILLIN’ IT on this funny-lookin’ palomino


july 10 questions

1. Do you actually always pick the horse’s feet? Always? Really?

No.  That is the chore that I habitually forget.  Sometimes I realize I forgot when I’m walking out to the arena, or when I’m riding, or when I get back to the barn and I’m like “Oh… I did not… do that.”  I am lucky that I have a horse who does not go to pieces over a little schmutz in his feet.  I am better with other peoples’ horses.


2. What is the biggest obstacle/reason preventing you from becoming a professional or competing full time with ease?

Skill.  Horses.  Money.  Time.  But let’s say that I can solve the the first two with the last two.  I would still struggle to compete full time with ease because I’m not sure I could do so in good conscience.  If I had enough money to be showing as much as I wanted and improving my skills the way I wanted, I would have a metric butt ton of money.  And that money could be put to much better uses than improving my personal hobby that costs an inordinate amount of money.

That money could save a ton of forest and chimpanzees.  It could pay a lot of ranger salaries, help a lot of kids go to school, and let me do a lot of research that I am not otherwise able to do.  And doing that work is something I’m very passionate about, and being able to make valuable change in the face of conservation would be incredible. So, it’s more than just money and time and skill and horses, really.  I don’t think I could lead a fulfilling life just riding and competing.

3. Do you think it will ever not be about the money?

Certainly not.  But when money makes the playing field equal, skill will certainly show through.


4. Was there ever a horse that you loved and really wanted to have a connection with, but it just never panned out?

I don’t think so.

5. What is one weakness in your riding that even your trainer doesn’t pick up on, only you?

Hm, good question.  For the most part, I feel like my trainer picks up on my weaknesses and flaws pretty well.  She knows that I want to keep my reins too long, that I have uneven pressure in my seat bones and stirrups, and when I’m inclined to lean forward or pitch myself oddly in the saddle.  So there’s nothing that I’m better at identifying in myself than my trainer is at this point.

6. What is the biggest doubt/insecurity you ask or tell yourself in your head?

That my horse is mentally incapable of performing the tasks to which I aspire.

7. There is a barn fire. You are the first person to discover it and see that the roof is collapsing in slowly, and you can tell it’s going to come down any time. Do you call people first or head straight in to save the horses?

There’s no way that I can save all the horses on my own, and I will need to get emergency services here anyway, so I go inside and call 911 first.  Even if there is only a land line, that is the most rational choice.  Then I call the barn manager and tell her to call everyone else.  Then I go save my horse, and others.  The glory of cell phones makes this choice much less horrifying.


8. What is one event in your riding career/horse/anything that you’re still not over, even though you might tell others you are?

I’m not sure.  I don’t think I’ve had enough riding experience to be hung up on anything just yet.

9. If you could tell off one person you just don’t like, what would you say?

That she needs to take a step back and look deeply within herself and acknowledge her own flaws and stop turning things around on other people as if they are the cause of all her problems.

10. Have you ever seen questionable riding or training practices, but let it go/ignored it? How do you feel about it in hindsight?

This is interesting.  I have never seen something that I would qualify as abuse without stepping in to talk to the person/rider/trainer in question.  I usually try to frame this as a question of their methods and ask them to explain so I can understand, and then challenge their opinions to see if I cannot convince them of a gentler way.  However, this has happened probably… three times ever?  More often I see something questionable that is not abuse,  but is not the way I would do things and, in my opinion, will not lead the rider to their desired destination.  In that case, I keep quiet — it is every rider’s prerogative to make their own choices and even mistakes, or even to teach me how my own assumptions were incorrect!