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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

These Boots Were NOT Made for Ridin'

Note: In case anyone is waiting with bated breath, yes, I'm going to continue the "Better Barns" story very soon. I just felt the need to write this post first!
I'm sure it has not escaped your attention that "equestrian style" is a very prominent fashion trend right now. Ralph Lauren has always catered to the horsey set, and puts out lovely equestrian-ish garments and accessories all the time, so that company must really be laughing all the way to the bank this winter. I have a gorgeous RL blouse in a print with fairly authentic bridle pieces and bits all over it that I got a few years ago so it will be seeing a lot of action.

The biggest trend seems to be "riding boots." Everyone from Payless

to Macy's
has tons of these in stock, and I'm seeing them being worn a lot, too.

You could spend $375 on these:
$100 on this pair,
I really, really liked these but the foot wasn't that comfy and they didn't have my size in stock at DSW.
lots more on another designer brand (my online favorites were Pradas @ $850, hah), or about $50 on the ones from Payless.

Some of these boots look a lot like the "real deal," and some are only semi-related to actual boots you could use to ride a horse. Regardless, I am finding it increasingly funny to see women who wouldn't know a horse from the back end of a bus walking around looking (kind of) like they just came from the barn. Is it horribly snobby of me to say I think they should be reserved only for people who actually know how to ride? ;-) How can I tell? Horsey sixth-sense, I guess...

Of course I'm just kidding, but the people I actually know who I've seen wearing these at the office are definitely NOT horsewomen.

At any rate, I decided that I would be the first real horsewoman I know to sport this style of boot. So I went to the closet and got out my ca. 1978 tall boots, put them on with tights and a miniskirt, and sashayed out the door.

Again, I'm just kidding! My boots still fit and I could wear them, but all the black coating is worn off the insides of the calves, the ankles are thoroughly broken down, and they probably have manure embedded in the treads that will never come out. Not really the fashion trend you want. No, it was time to brave the crowds at the mall and try to find some real fake riding boots. My mom offered to buy them for my birthday present so the hunt was on.

I knew this was going to be a difficult task, for one simple reason: my calves are about half the size of the average American woman's. 98% of boots flop around on my legs when I walk, even with pants tucked in, and would look especially ridiculous with the tights/short skirt look. I think this is extremely unfair. Everybody makes Wide Calf boots - what about us poor chicken-legged gals? Accordingly, I hit the Internet and tried to figure out which styles might work for me. This was also dependent on the boots a) not costing more than $150 and b) them having my size. And, for the icing on the cake, if my narrow calves aren't bad enough, I have narrow feet to go with them, so most shoes and boots flop around for that reason, too!

Would you believe I actually found some that worked? Yeah, me, neither. I got these, but in black (can't find a non-.gif photo to share):
Yes, that's a mix of leather (although they're actually "pleather") and fabric on these. Kind of reminds me of the old Newmarket boots some people still wear for hunting, with the canvas uppers.
I like them because they are definitely riding boot-themed, but not exact replicas (frankly, since I'm not riding right now, those would make me sad :-(). The buckles at the top are *gasp* functional, so I tightened them up and voila, very little flopping. They have extremely narrow ankles, too. The fact that these fit me pretty well probably has something to do with them being marked down 50% at Macy's - nobody else wants them! ($75, a deal) Hurray, their loss is my gain. Chicken-legs of the world unite! For the record, these are Aigner Celinas, in case any of my dear readers also sport unusually small calves (more to like - I've always favored the horseshoe Aigner logo and have had their accessories before).

To wrap this up, I'll share with you two items from the current Ralph Lauren collection. If I ever see one of these things actually being used, I think I will have to smack the owner for sheer stupidity. I mean, REALLY, who blows that kind of money on a dog leash??? I love my dog but that's just nuts!
Dog Leash: $495
Purse: $1500 (Cool stirrup, but I'd rather have Bow-Balances on my saddle if I'm spending a lot on stirrups!)

Monday, November 19, 2012

BB&G, Part 1

This will be one of my "writing my memories down because I want to" posts... hope it's somewhat entertaining!

Anyone who's been around this blog for a while knows that I started out riding H/J at Tricorne Farm in Holmdel, NJ when I was but a wee tyke (5). I stayed there until I was 12 years old, but then things weren't going so well (didn't care for the new trainer) and it seemed like time to make a switch. So where did I go?

Better Barns and Gardens.

Nope, I'm not making that up! The giggle-worthy name was cooked up by the trainer/person in charge and the "silent partner" actual barn owner. The barn was a single pole-style main structure with about 14 stalls and a tackroom, and the "garden" was the flower beds on either side of the main door. The rest of the facility consisted of a nice-sized outdoor ring, a small stone building that was optimistically called the "office," a hay/shavings storage shed, two huge pastures, and two homes - one extremely old and uninhabited and the other a farm house, probably built in the 30s and occupied by the trainer and her three children. The buildings were located at the end of a long dirt lane that ran alongside the main pasture.

The barn had just opened and my mother's good friend's daughter was taking lessons there, so on the strength of their recommendation over I went. I was a bit intimidated by the trainer lady at first; she was a bit older than my mom, and very forthright with her opinions. Keep in mind that my self-esteem was practically non-existent at that age (middle school = HELL, no?).  Fortunately, she mixed compliments in with her criticism so I decided I could live with her training style.

On the other hand, Trainer's kids absolutely reveled in giving me a hard time. A sensitive, insecure, straight-A student with braces and a flat chest? Oy. Might as well have painted a bulls-eye on me. There were a son and a daughter older than me, and a daughter who was a year younger. All three of them treated me like I was the dorkiest, most socially-unacceptable person they had ever met. It didn't help one bit that the son was pretty cute so of course I developed a mad crush on him... or that he was dating Mother's Friend's Daughter (who, by the way, was none other than the exact same person who I was sent with to Little Hope Ranch. Gaaah.)

Enough about my social angst. What about the horses and the riding? THAT part of BB was really good. There weren't a lot of horses, but the ones I rode the most were great. Photos are very sadly lacking from this riding era, so unfortunately the only one I can find to share is this crummy Polaroid I took out in the big pasture:
The white horse is American Mare, my main mount. I think she was about 15 when I started riding her, and 15.1hh. She was a registered Paint, as she had one dinner plate-sized splotch of chestnut hair on her flank, and chestnut cheeks, and those just barely qualified her as such. She was a very good show horse and before I met her had earned several ROMs from APHA.

Mare was a very well-trained gal and taught me a lot. She was a great "next step" type of horse for my riding ability. Among many things, I learned what an extended trot felt like and how to ask for it, how to do a turn on the forehand, how to jump bareback (she was extremely comfy) and how to get a white horse clean. Incidentally, KEEPING her clean was another matter: I'd spend hours shampooing and scrubbing the day before a show, tuck her in a well-bedded stall for the night wearing a sheet, and then arrive at 5:00 AM to find she'd managed to lie down in a poo pile or two and accumulate lovely stains. Baby powder was my friend!

Mare also pulled like a freight train when she got excited (at least when I was riding her - she went like a dream for Trainer's Daughters), so another thing I learned was how to use a Pelham. Even then, our jumping rounds, especially on an outside course like we had "back in the day," were less than things of beauty. Just picture me pelting around a large grass field at warp speed, screeching to a halt in time to pop over the rustic jumps. (It probably wasn't quite that bad but I do remember being scared a lot of the time.)

The best part of riding Mare, and indeed, riding at BB, was that my trainer turned out to be a very enthusiastic proponent of 4-H. I'd had zero exposure to the program before this and was excited to find out I could be part of a club despite the fact that I didn't own a horse. Our new club met twice a month at Trainer's house and I was soon plugging away on my Horse Project. We also formed  a Horse Bowl team and I eagerly joined that as well.  (More about 4-H experiences in next post)

My mom was willing to leave me at BB for long stretches, so I really became a barn rat at this place. All kinds of things went on there, good and bad, as I'm sure you can imagine. Some of my favorite memories (most of which my mom knew nothing about*):

- Taking the dare on touching the hot wire on the pasture fence. What I didn't notice was my challenger, who touched the wire to demonstrate that it didn't hurt, used the BACK of his hand. I put my palm on it and got "stuck" for about five seconds, which didn't feel too good.
- Jumping on bareback and riding the horses in from the pasture with nothing but a halter and lead shank. Big fun to someone in a lesson program!
- Learning how to braid manes and tails and getting good enough at the former to charge others $$.
- My darling dad staying up all night to take me to the barn at 4:30 AM for shows.
- Riding in the horse van on the way to shows (a real "horse box" type like nobody uses in the US anymore) between horses and getting green sneezy-snot in my hair.
- Being exhausted, filthy and sweaty after being at the barn on a really hot day and walking allllll the way down the lane to meet my mom, then sneaking in to cool off in the neighbor's pool. I'm sure they wondered about all the horse hair in the filter!
- The barn lane itself. Driving down this became quite an exercise in auto preservation over the years, as enormous car-swallowing, axle-banging holes and ruts developed (in the summer, muddy swimming pools, and in the winter, frozen mini-ponds) and the BO never paid to have it graded. I actually took perverse pride in my ability to navigate it as you had to be a "regular" to know the way. I'd be practically standing up in the station wagon, hollering, "Go right! Now left! MORE left!" at my poor mom as we tried to wend our way through a 1/2 mile of torture.
- Holing up in the "office" and spending hours and hours happily reading back issues of Paint horse magazines, looking for mention of horses I knew (especially Mare).
- Scrubbing "my" white horse until my fingers were raw, including using water and bleach with a Brillo pad to get her pink hooves clean.
- Learning how to use horse clippers and do fetlocks, bridle paths and whiskers.
- Riding through the pain of hideous, raw shin rubs and the joy of getting my first pair of real leather tall boots, which finally eliminated them.

* (And never will, I guess, because she sure doesn't read this blog!)

So between the good riding, hanging around the barn, the 4-H activities and dealing with Trainer's lovely (koff, koff) kids, I was getting quite an education.

The most amazing thing was the condition of Trainer's house. Now, my own house was never what you'd call immaculate. My mom had better things to do then clean all day. But this place... whoa. Cat hair, dog hair, and just plain old dirt all accumulated in vast abundance along with myriad flotsam and jetsam related to horses and riding. Broken halters draped on the lampshade? Check. Hairy, muddy brushes? Check. Random animal-chewed leather items, whip handles, dirty polo wraps, rusty bits, discarded horse shoes, faded ribbons, dog-eared magazines, stained saddle pads, and tarnished and bent trophies? Check. You name it, it was flung around that house. I would literally have to clear a space to sit down, and the whole place stank of cat pee to boot. Yes, my mother did know about all this but she told me later she just closed her mind and told me to shower when I got home. :-)

And then there was the night when the house caught on fire during a 4-H meeting...


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Big Skies, Bad Owners

A recent post over on Horse Nation featured a Craig's List ad from somewhere in Montana, regarding two horses who had to be vamoosed straight away or they were "going to the canner." This really is nothing new - lots of advertisers like to make threats about disposing of their equines if no one comes immediately to take them off their (ungrateful) hands. However, this made me curious about the mentality of other horse owners in Montana. I had a little time so I decided to look through other CL ads for horses that were posted near the one in question.

This turned out to be a thoroughly depressing exercise.

It took me a full DOZEN ads before I found a single one that did not make me want to bang my head against the wall. Seriously, eleven advertisements that neatly illustrated why we have an  "unwanted horse" problem in the United States: Crappy horse keeping, bad and indiscriminate breeding, clueless people, thoughtless/selfish people, just plain IDIOTIC people. I will say that almost all the horses looked to be well-fed - there's not a really scrawny one in the bunch. Hard to see the feet of most so can't tell about them.

Here are some of the more craptastic ads so you can see what I'm talking about. I have outtakes of the ad copy from most of these (my favorite parts, in quotes, spelling/grammar uncorrected). I hope I do not bore you, but I just felt driven to share after I became aware of the sheer quantity of badness here. Probably not a whole lot different from Craig's List ads across the country, alas...

1. Sweet Horse 6 yr old Blu Roan - $500 
"Unfortunatly we are not giving her the time she needs and know with some time she could be ridden"

Comments: I am no Western rider, but even I can tell that that incredibly cheap-looking saddle is about 8" too far back. It's just as well that the mare is unbroken because anyone sitting on her kidneys like that would doubtless find themselves in for a heck of a rodeo ride. Other than that, at least this girl is fat and shiny. Too bad "there's no time" for her.

2. Super sweet Gelding - $1600 
“Can come when called sometimes. I am selling him cause I don't have the time like I did for him."
Comments: Whoo boy, now there's a ringing endorsement! CAN come when called SOMEtimes. Well, my teenagers are perfectly capable of getting up and crossing the room when I call them, but that doesn't mean they have a) heard me or b) want to, so they often don't. :-) (I suppose I could put that in an ad if I was trying to sell them) Nice helpful confo shot, too. Where was the photographer standing, on the roof of the barn? Horse is pretty fat, that I can tell.

And wait a minute, haven't we heard that line about "no time" before?

3. 5 y/o AQHA mare - $1500
"I don't have the time to commit to a greenie, would be willing to trade for an older, well-broke horse (geldings preferred)" 
Comments: I'm not sure if it's just the way the mare is standing, but that might be a spectacular set of cow hocks right there. Otherwise, she's not half-bad looking. What infuriated me about this ad, however, is here we have the very common tactic of someone thinking another person is going to be willing to trade their rideable, broke horse for a youngster with no training. Why would anybody do that??? And once again... dude, if you didn't have the time for a greenie, then WHY DO YOU HAVE ONE?! If you bred her yourself (likely scenario) then double shame on you. Moron.

4. 8yr old Grade Gelding- sell or trade - $350 
"His right fore leg is turned out and while he isn't lame or clumsy he doesn't like to hold a trot or lope when ridden by an adult. We bought him to teach our children to ride on and he's been great for that."
Comments: This one is just plain sad. Poor guy, he's served the purpose for which they wanted him and now it's "hustle him out the door." They're even willing to trade him for goats. Sure, LOTS of people will want a horse with a leg that looks like it's going to snap at any second. Or, how about the first person waving a couple hundred bucks in cash (that would be Mr. Kill Buyer) gets him?

5. Two gentlemen in need of some good homes 
"Horse 1: He does wear a halter but is not halter broke. He is a very smart 5 year old Paint Stallion. He is gentle and can be calm that is including with children. $350 Horse 2: He has been saddled and when he was it was a smooth ride as far as we know. I do have to admit it has been a few years since then, but I would think its like riding a bike its something you never forget how to do. $375"
Comments: Horse 1: Ah yes, the usual unhandled backyard stallion. WHY WHY WHY does this guy have his nuts??? They can't even be bothered to halter break him, although he "wears a halter?" And another "can" qualifier. Oh, brother. I have to say, though, this guy is pretty good-looking, conformation-wise. He could really be a nice boy for somebody with that ever-elusive time. 
Horse 2: Let me get this straight. The horse will remember how to go under saddle because he knows how to ride a bike, or the rider will remember how to ride because a horse is nothing more than a hairy bicycle? :-) From the lovely condition of this animal, he looks to have been unridden for quite a few years. I don't get it. Why. Do. People. Have. Horses. if they are not going to do a damn thing with them (I'm not talking about retirees).

Nice try with the "gentlemen" bit, too. Are people supposed to think you have some Chippendales dancers up for grabs? At these prices, once again the horses will be lucky if the KBs don't snap them up, especially the chunky one.

6. Several Horses that need some good homes A.S.A.P. 
"Timber-is a 6 year old female Mustang. She was purchased from the B.L.M. She was pregnant when purchased, gave birth to her colt here at our home. We are asking $425 Chico-is a 2 year old Mustang Stallion. From the B.L.M. He was born here with us. His mother is Timber. Asking $250 O.B.O. Dakota- is a 5 year old Paint Stallion. He was born and was a private purchase in Helena, MT. Asking $350 O.B.O.Two Socks-is a 10 year old male Quarter Horse gelding. He was also born and was privately purchased in Helena, MT. He is Green Broke and loads great. Asking $375 O.B.O.
Baby-is a 14 year old female Mustang. Purchased from the B.L.M. She is also Green Broke and loads great. Asking $625 O.B.O."
Comments: Giant, humongous, sigh here. Why the hell do these people have all of these horses in the first place, if they suddenly have to be homeless? Sounds like only two of them are even green-broke. Why did they go to all the trouble of purchasing BLM mustangs, only to throw them to the four winds? Why have they not gelded the two year old "accident?" Why did they buy the Paint stallion (shown above), only to do nothing with him? Because they had the space - plenty of that in MT - and they were purty? I will admit that nothing here looks hungry or wormy, at least. 
P.S. Five is more than "several."

7. This little girl needs a good home A.S.A.P. 
"She is a 3 yr old Quarter Horse. She was a birthday present for my daughter two years ago. Now that my daughter is getting older she is not that much into horses right now."
Comments: Bwaakk! Holy smoke, that is some goose rump there. I'm surprised her tail hasn't fallen clean off. She won't win any beauty contests with that head/eye, either. However, she does look sweet which is how she's advertised. The thing that gets me about this one is the all-too-familiar scenario of buying a cute baby horsie for your kid, so they can grow up together (you'll note the mare was a yearling when they got her), only to have the kid lose interest. Just kills me considering that I was a child who was dying for a horse and never got one, and I know there are plenty of others like me! 

We also have another attempt at anthropomorphization in the headline here: "Look! We're selling a kid here, who just happens to have fur and four legs! Come and git 'er!"

8. 15 month old mare - $1000 
"she is saddle broke. She is desensitised. My 6 year old and 9 year old can ride her"
Comments: And one of them IS, of course, with no helmet or tack. Gee, I'm so surprised. We should all ride yearlings with no helmets or tack, right? Cute little filly. Hope someone gets her out of the hands of these fools before she is ruined... or the children are ruined when she wakes up and isn't a baby anymore.

And finally, what to my wondering eyes should appear but this ad. Right from the headline you can tell these people might actually have a clue. I am not a registration snob but the fact that the mare is registered speaks well of the owners. The ad is well-written (this is the whole thing), they've provided appropriate vet/farrier care, the photos are good, the child astride is actually wearing a helmet, and all the important details are provided: age, height, breed, training, rider recommendation. Guess which horse I would make tracks to see out of this bunch? And I don't even want a Walking Horse! (But I do think she's really pretty :-))

Registered Tennessee Walking Horse Mare - $1200 
"Belle is a 16 years old registered Tennessee Walker mare. She has a beautiful black and white tobiano pattern. She is 14 hands, calm, strong, and an excellent trail horse. She could also be used as a dude horse. Belle is intelligent and a quick learner, making ground work with her enjoyable. Belle does not wear or need shoes and has a nice gait. She gets along with dogs and farm animals, loads easily into a trailer, and loves to be brushed and groomed. She has had a recent vet check and is up to date on worming and vaccinations. She is recommended for intermediate riders."