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The difference a pair of reins makes…

While I’ve ridden English-style pretty much all of my lesson history, I did do a significant stint with a Western Pleasure trainer.  Not to learn WP, mind you – just because she was the best trainer at the time for the confidence level I was at, and she taught me quite a few other things as well.

The one I could have never expected was the pleasure of a good set of split reins.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good pair of English reins.  “Good” being leather – I hate the nylon ones, never have tried rubber – and long enough to be comfortable on the horse I’m on.  I even like the standard braided reins, because they give me a nice easy way to set my rein length.

But split reins?

The first few times I rode with them, it just seemed like way too much… stuff… to reasonably ride with.  I mean, there’s all this length, and what am I supposed to do with it?  Then I had to sit down and ride out a correction on a stubborn mare, and I discovered the magical thing about split reins:

You don’t have to carry a crop.

You just reach down, grab a rein end, and whack behind your leg like you would with a crop.  One pop, and done.  There’s nothing extra to fumble with, because the rein comes back forward with your hand anyway.  This?  This was a revelation.

When I started riding up at Heather’s, I had an impulse buy moment at Tractor Supply and bought a pair of bright blue nylon split reins.  They were… okay.  I can’t say they were just plain awesome, other than the fact that they’re blue, because they kept catching underneath the saddle pads and just didn’t seem quite long enough for some reason.  They did the job fine, but it just didn’t feel right.  This year, for Christmas, I splurged a bit and bought myself a pair of 7′ leather split reins (that match my Courbette all-purpose saddle beautifully, I might add).

Oh, what a difference a pair of reins make!  These reins don’t catch under the saddle, and they’re just the right length – which Heather’s mom’s mare Ishka found out twice already when she decided that my leg was an optional cue.  I’m in love.

The Stink-Eye

Sunday tried to be rainy, but I headed up to Iron Ridge anyway.  Apparently I just needed to get there; aside from a few brief showers, the day was beautifully sunny until after I left.  (And guess who’s rocking the reverse raccoon today because she rushed out of the house without sunscreen?  Yeah.  I’m a little crispy!)

I was feeling pretty lazy, so instead of wandering down to the pasture, I borrowed Leah’s Jazu, since I heard tell that she was off on a date with her Mr. Fry.  🙂

Jaz cracks me up.  I pulled him out of his stall, which he was excited about, and tied him up to brush and tack, which he was less excited about.  That was when the stink-eye started.  He’d watch me out of the corner of his eye, or turn his head to look at me intently.  “You,” he seemed to be thinking, “are not my mom.  That’s not how Mom brushes me.  You’re not cooing over me like Mom does.  Those aren’t Mom’s treats, but I guess I’ll eat them.  Mom always lets me drink out of her Gatorade.  That’s not how Mom puts a saddle on me – and by the way, that’s definitely not Mom’s saddle.  That is not how Mom gives me the bit.  I am so telling my mom all about this indignity the next time I see her.”

It was all I could do to not giggle at him.

Once I got on, we puttered about at the walk, because I am so badly out of shape.  Jaz was less than impressed that I made him march right along, and even less impressed with the proper corners and occasional turn on the haunches, leg yield, or circle that I insisted on.  He kept his ears on me the whole time – both of them – and every time his head turned enough that he could fix an eye on me, I got more stink-eye.  He was never bad, and he for the most part did what I asked of him (standing still was hard… and it was windy), but I swear he spent the whole ride hoping someone would rescue him from the mean lady on his back.  He didn’t stop looking at me funny until I took him out to the pasture and turned him loose.

Leah, your pony is a riot.  🙂

It figures!

I’m sick with pneumonia this week. I’m feeling much better today, after 3 doctor appointments, an equal number of prescriptions, and all sorts of other fun things, but I already preemptively canceled going out to ride this weekend; there’s not really a point in stressing my body out further until I’ve at least finished the antibiotics.

So what do I see on the forecast for Sunday? The first potentially dry, if cold, day since before Christmas! ARGH!

Oh well. Maybe next weekend…

Fun book!

The New Book of Saddlery and Tack

I’m a terrible horse book collector; if it has a breed I don’t recognize from one of my other books, or if it has a section on bits or tack or something that I particularly like, I’ll end up bringing it home. (I have lots of horse books.)

This was one of those books – I actually found it in a Tandy Leather store. And it’s really, really neat. This is the first book I’ve encountered that actually has a significant section on harnesses and how to put them on, including pleasure driving tack as well as racing and farm work harness. It also has a section on fitting side-saddles, fitting bridles and martingales, racing tack, how saddles are made, how bits are made, different types of bits, different types of saddles, historical saddles, saddles in museums… The Western section is a little light compared to the rest, but it’s not too bad – I’ve definitely seen worse.

The last chapter is more general horsemanship like caring for tack and stable management, and the first few pages are the standard “history of the horse and man” stuff, but the rest of the book is just tack. It’s so much fun to look through, even if you’re just looking at the pictures.

…And the Miscellaneous Whatsits

Laura got in a single PMU mare some time after I’d stopped riding with her regularly. The above is she. I have the photo labeled as “PerchShireX”, so I’m guessing Laura told me she was a Percheron/Shire cross; I mysteriously have a second, virtually identical photo labeled “Keeley,” which I believe was her name. Whatever she was, she was huge compared to everything else on property. I had to do a serious double-take when Heather took me through her pasture; she has a broodmare that looks just like this mare – only she’s branded on the other side, and her number isn’t 39.

This is Tex. I was not and still am not a big fan of Tex. He belonged to a friend and student of Laura – one of four horses, I think, this lady owned. Two of the other three were gorgeous chocolate Rocky Mountains. The third was a skinny guy whose breed I don’t recall but whose story I do; he was pretty much born wormy, and nearly died from it. I know they brought Tex back from a Rocky Mountain show, but I have a hard time believing he really was a Rocky Mountain, considering he was barely pony sized. He also stayed a stud colt way longer than he should have, and he was a serious handful to lead around. Somebody had missed getting him ground manners the last time I dealt with him, but he seemed a lot more relaxed when I took this photo.

It must be something about the ponies. I never had issues with Tolanka and her babies, but every other pony I’ve handled has had some quirk or tactic that drove me insane. Zoe here was terrible to lead for years – she had this quick little pony stride that would have her up on top of you in no time flat, and out in front almost before you realized it. She was a good girl otherwise, the few times I saw her worked, but leading her was work… even after a few serious training sessions in the driveway where she spent most of the time being backed up (and backed off) with a dressage whip. The frustrating thing was, Laura had acquired her as a mount for the little kids… but she wasn’t saddle trained at all until the summer before I really stopped lessons, several years after she’d shown up. I’d say she’d come in as a baby, but she never really grew; I think Laura was just short on… well… short people to ride her.

Speaking of PoAs…

In addition to Tolanka and her babies, there were two other PoAs around the farm.

Penelope came in as a youngster, and to be honest? I don’t even know if she was ever saddle trained. When she came out of the pasture – which was rare – it seemed to only ever be for pony petting time. Granted, I wasn’t out there all the time, but for this cute of a pony, it seemed something of a shame.

Of course, thinking about it – I seem to recall that most of the cuteness was on the outside

She only had a few flecks of white on her butt when she arrived, I remember that; I was actually kind of surprised to realize when I took this photo just how much she had roaned out.

Twister was a set of peculiarities all his own. He was registered, but some time after he got his papers, he outgrew the pony category. He’d been abused at some point in his past; according to my instructor, some idiot took a 2×4 to his face, which had a peculiar bump on his nose that’s hidden by somebody else’s tail in this photo. He was pretty laid back, despite the past abuse, and was great for the kids to love on.

There was one big problem with Twister: holy crap, did that horse like to put his mouth on things. He didn’t seem to chew unless it was food, and he didn’t crib – he just seemed to want stuff in his mouth. Including lead ropes. Including cross-ties. Including – and this was his favorite trick, and I suspect why he didn’t get ridden often – the reins, if you happened to be standing still, walking, had enough slack on the reins for him to suck back and nab one…

Bear

My last instructor had a single Thoroughbred, in her sea of Quarter Horses and PoAs and miscellaneous whatsits. I actually rode him for quite a while, fell off of him once, and always kind of felt bad for him, sweet horse that he was. I’m not a gelding person, but he was generally a nice guy, and I always felt like he deserved better than being a lesson horse; he needed a little girl of his own to love on him all the time.

We called him Bear. I haven’t the slightest clue what his registered name was, but I know he had one; he was tattooed with the Jockey Club and had a three-race record. I don’t remember if he won any of them, and I never got confirmation on whether his bum leg was why he didn’t race more, but it seems like a reasonable guess.

I can never remember which leg it was that he’d limp on – and he was a clever limper; sometimes he really hurt and sometimes he was clearly just trying to get out of work – but I’m guessing by the funkiness of his left knee, it was probably that one. He was usually a bit thin in comparison to the horses around him, and I think I only saw him get “up” and put on speed once. The rest of the time, he was more than happy to stand around or plod around.

As for the fall – it was more hilarious than anything else, especially in comparison to previous falls I’d had. He spooked at something – neither my instructor nor I saw what it was, but talking later, we figured it was probably a rock thrown up by a passing car – and did a teeny buck and half-bolted.

The funny part? It wasn’t that bad, but for some reason, I just kind of stopped riding, tried to wrap my arms around his neck, and just kind of came off. Whoops. I landed on my right hip/thigh, with one arm on the fence; either he accidentally nicked me on the way by, or I whacked my shin pretty hard with my other foot. I think my first words to my instructor after I landed were, “Well, that was stupid.”

The best (worst?) part was, this was while I was in college – and in the morning before a full afternoon of classes. The fall was around 9 or 10. By the time I got home around 5:30 that night, the outside of my right thigh looked like I’d had an unfortunate encounter with an usually large eggplant: purple from knee to hip. It didn’t hurt that badly, but damn, did it look ugly. My shin and upper arm weren’t too much prettier, but had vastly smaller bruises.

Poor Bear seemed quite embarrassed about the whole thing, to be honest.

Sunny No-Tail

Her name was just plain Sunny, but my mother gave her that nickname…

It was sadly apt.

The story we were given is that one of her previous owners had put a rubber band around her tail, with sadly predictable results. She had a little nublet of a tail – three, maybe four inches long. (This was an early lesson very firmly pressed into my mind: rubber bands go around hair – never, ever around the tailbone.) There was one memorable evening where some of the six or seven inches of tail hair she had got stuck in her butt; it took us forever to figure out what was wrong, and I still kind of feel bad for laughing at her once we realized what was going on…

To be honest, I don’t remember much about riding her any more – nothing, that is, but the wholly disasterous show we did.

Yeah, that show.

We were doing a single dressage test, and the silly mare completely flipped out about the trailer the judge was sitting in at the end of the arena. She just lost it. I ended up leaving the arena, because I didn’t realize I could speak to the judge and get instructions, and came back in at the end to do the test again… this time much more successfully. No score, of course – I gather I wasn’t supposed to leave the arena – but at least we completed the test!