Saiph over at Wait for the Jump nominated my blog for a Sunshine Award. Thanks, Saiph! It means a lot to know that my sometimes crazy and random ramblings matter to someone:)
Here are the answers to the questions:
1. Mares or geldings? Geldings. I've owned one mare and she was a wonderful creature that I spent 15 years with, but I do not miss her heat cycles or crazy attitude days that continued until her last days at age 28.
2. English or western? That's a tough one. I grew up riding western and never sat in an English-style saddle until I was in my mid-twenties. Within a couple of years, I'd completely transitioned to English saddles and I've only ridden English since then. But I have a lot of fond memories of my good ole barrel saddle that I remember making me feel super secure and that was comfortable enough for years of long trail rides. However, I once sat in a western saddle a few years ago and was horrified by how little I could feel the horse's back. Plus, my dressage saddle has taken me through some pretty rugged terrain and I feel pretty secure in it. In the end, I'm going to say that there is nothing like a great dressage saddle for disciplined arena work, but I am looking for an endurance-type saddle for our future, longer rides, and I expect that saddle to be a bit of a hybrid.
3. Do you prefer younger or older horses? Here's what I like, an older horse that I started as a young horse. Before my current horse, Nimo, I mostly had horses that basically had become a problem for someone else, so they were cheap enough for me to afford. They were absolutely wonderful animals, but I spent years dealing with the issues resulting from either health mismanagement or training mistakes/abuse. And, in some cases, I was never able to get the horse to completely recover. Not that I haven't made my own mistakes, but I don't think any of them have been severe enough to cause a chronic illness or projectile diarrhea due to complete terror and panic. Working with a young horse can be frustrating and it is hard to be patient to wait for the maturity to set in, but when it does, it is wonderful to see.
4. Have you trained a horse from ground zero? Yes. I actually did buy a weanling quarter horse when I was 13 or 14 and trained him as a 4-H project. I did have help from a professional trainer for the first 30 days under saddle, but otherwise, all his training came from me. Unfortunately, we just never clicked, and I ended up selling him to a girl for Pony Club. I also bought my current horse as a yearling and trained him. Again, I had some help from a trainer, but in this case the trainer just supervised me every once in awhile rather than participated, so I think I was the only one on Nimo's back until he was 4 or 5. To this day, only 2 other people have sat on him. He seemed to work well for them, though, so I'm guessing I did something right:)
5. Do you prefer groundwork or riding? Hands down, riding. I HATE groundwork. I know it's necessary. I do work on it periodically, and if I can get myself in the habit, it starts to grow on me. But for every lungeing session I do, I keep thinking about the lost opportunity to work on laterals:)
6. Do you board your horse or keep him at home? I've boarded my horses since I was 11. I did get the chance to keep my horse at home for a few months just before I graduated high school because my parents moved to a small acreage, but especially where I live now, there's no way I could afford a facility on my own that remotely compares to what I can get at a boarding barn. Plus, with all the maintenance, I'd never get to ride, and then I would be bitter...
7. Do you do all natural things or just commercial stuff? I kind of want to say, "What Saiph said" because it made so much sense. I prefer to use natural products if I can. Drugs tend to be expensive and more like a short-term fix to a problem that needs to be resolved with a more sustainable solution. I do tend to experiment a bit on myself, my horse, and my dog when it comes to supplements, although I do a lot of research beforehand to make sure there are no likely adverse outcomes. I've had hit or miss results, although never anything negative. With Nimo's possible ulcer, I ended up making a location change and a feeding change and didn't need to use any drugs and the problem seems to be resolved. Maybe his problem wasn't even an ulcer, just a management issue. I'll never know. I am also giving some supplements that include ingredients that a person could reasonably expect to support digestive health, but I question whether the volume is sufficient to make a difference for a horse. But, if my horse was in serious pain or was otherwise in a very acute situation that needed to resolved quickly, I would absolutely use prescribed medications. On the other hand, for more minor things like rain rot, small wounds, and general health issues (like dull coat or chipping hooves), I'd prefer to try something more natural first. I think part of that reasoning is because vets are often unable or unwilling to provide a good explanation for the expensive drug therapy they are recommending. Plus, I've had a lot of bad experiences with human doctors, so I've gotten to the point where I often distrust the equine and canine vets too. Whether that distrust is warranted is worthy of a whole new blog:)
8. All tacked up or bareback? What is this, a trick question? Bareback riding is for children who do not understand that human beings are delicate and breakable and who know no fear. I haven't been on a horse bareback for at least 10 years and maybe much longer and I have no concerns that I am missing some glorious experience (unless you consider a glorious experience to include a trip to the emergency room, which I am perfectly capable of accomplishing with a fully tacked horse.)
9. Equestrian role model? I have 2. One is Mark Rashid. I went to one of his clinics just 2 weeks after I got Nimo. He was a headstrong yearling who had just been gelded (at my request and as part of the purchase agreement - getting a Friesian stallion approved for breeding costs more money than I will ever have in my life and the politics of the process were more than I was interested in getting into) and he had quickly learned that he didn't have to do anything he didn't want to. He conned the ladies at the barn I was keeping him at to feed him a treat for every step he took to the paddock. It was ridiculous. 15 minutes with Mark, and my horse has never had a leading problem since. There was no beating. Instead, Mark worked with me on my timing and my reaction. Every time Nimo stopped moving, he had me immediately turn around, make myself "big," and start walking toward Nimo while flailing my arms and yelling. The idea was that Nimo would make the connection that when he stopped moving if he wasn't asked to, his handler went scary nuts. It worked like a charm. I don't just love this trainer because of the successful clinic experience, though. He's written many books and done some DVDs too, and every time I see him or read what he's written, I'm struck by how thoughtful he is about how he interacts with the horse. The other thing that impresses me is that he periodically rethinks what he knows about horses, and he's not afraid to admit that he's changed his mind about something that he used to think.
My other role model is Jane Savoie. This women's Happy Horse DVDs changed my life. I had been riding with one trainer for 7 years and I had grown to hate riding. I hated my lessons. I hated my life because I hated riding, the one thing I thought I would love forever. I was miserable. I couldn't ride my horse (that I had actually broken to ride myself) and I was terrified to take him out of the ring because he was a basketcase. Just when I was about to give up and I was seriously thinking about selling my horse and never riding again, I saw an ad for her Happy Horse program. It was crazy expensive, and I didn't have much money, but I was desperate to do one last thing to see if I could change my outlook on riding. I splurged on it, not even expecting it to work. But it did. It changed the way I thought about communicating with my horse and the way I thought about myself. I fired my trainer, moved my horse to a new barn, started riding with another trainer who used a lot of Jane's training principles and got my balls back for riding. Eventually, I gave up lessons altogether. It's not that I don't think I can benefit from the occasional lesson, but I had fallen into a trap where I thought that if I wasn't riding perfectly and my horse wasn't responding perfectly, I was defective and a bad rider. Once I realized that I was a good rider who could communicate with my horse, I didn't need what had become a crutch to me - weekly lessons. I've also put dressage on the back burner, but I know what to do to pick things back up. I don't need a trainer to tell me that my horse needs to move more forward or that our crappy canter depart was the result of a hindend disconnected from the front end. I can feel it, and I can practice until we get it right. I also no longer need the constant affirmation that comes from lessons. Much like I don't agree with the principle of nagging a horse for every step, I don't think a student needs constant feedback. Occasional constructive feedback, yes, but I think it's just as annoying and self-defeating for a rider to get constant "feedback" from an instructor as it is for a horse to get constant finger twitches and leg bumps from a rider.
10. What's my one, main goal for my equestrian journey? To become a better communicator with my horse. I want to develop my sense of timing of aids and my coordination to apply them as well as my ability to listen to what my horse is telling me. I think dressage can accomplish some of that, but there is nothing like being 15 miles from your trailer and stuck on the side of a mountain by yourself with a potentially serious situation to get you really listening to your horse and thinking about your aids:)
For blogs to nominate, here are the ones I go to the most for information or humor, although there are tons more that I enjoy.
1. Haiku Farm - This was the very first endurance riding blog I started reading. I had previously bought Aarene's Endurance 101 book and I loved her sense of humor and the way she presented information. When I found out she had a blog too, I couldn't resist.
2. It seemed like a good idea at the time... - When I saw the name of this blog on someone's blogroll, I had to check it out, and I've been addicted to Funder's sense of humor and the descriptions of her adventures ever since. She writes in a way that makes me feel like I was there and no matter what the outcome or what horrible thing happened, I kind of wish I was...
3. Boots and Saddles - This blog is so full of great technical information. Mel writes such detailed posts about all kinds of topics related to horse health and endurance riding, and I've learned so much. She also is so patient when she answers questions (especially from newbies like me who are confused at least half the time), and I am in awe of the time she must spend putting together the information on her blog.
4. Karen's Musings and Endurance Ride Stuff - Karen has such great tips on her blog. She's been riding a long time and I love that she cares so much about the health and longevity of her horses.
5. Mugwump Chronicles - Mugs might be one of the bravest people I have ever heard of. Her willingness to delve deep into what is wrong with horse training is a rare gift. She analyzes the experiences she's had over the years and offers her conclusions as well as an opportunity for her readers to come up with their own thoughts. There is no question that her posts are thought-provoking, and in the short time I've been reading her blog, I've spent more than my fair share of time rethinking my own experiences.
6. The Longest Format - It took me awhile to figure out that the name of the blog refers to three-day eventing, although that really shouldn't have been a surprise, given Hannah's previous work as an eventer. She's a little further along in her journey than I am, but still new enough that I can really appreciate her insights as she struggles with tack, horse, and ride issues. She's also got a very direct writing style that I love and her posts are always jam-packed with analysis.
7. In Omnia Paratus - This is one of the newest blogs I've been following and I was thrilled to discover that Liz lives in West Virginia (so close!). I hope to actually meet her at a ride someday and soak up some of her brilliance through osmosis. The woman can tie a rope halter like nothing I've ever seen and her zest for living is amazing.
8. Trails (and Trials) - This blog has a lot more pictures than typical, and those pictures often showcase Major's thought process, which is hysterical. Reading a "Conversation with Major" is enough to make my day.
9. Go Pony - Ashley's most recent post starts off with one of my favorite quotes ever - "No ride plan ever survives first contact with reality." I think that could be the motto for pretty much all of my rides, including the ones in the arena. There's a lovely sense of humor woven through the posts, and I love having a great resource for barefoot/boot issues.
10. My last nomination isn't actually for a blog. It's for a lovely lady who has volunteered so much of her time showing me the trails in the area and e-mailing me huge vats of endurance-related info. I won't post her name out of respect for her privacy, but I couldn't have asked for a better mentor. She actually got in touch with me and offered to help, and I remember being so grateful. I absolutely know that Nimo and I would not have done as well as we did at the OD Intro Ride if it wasn't for her help and I look forward to seeing her at a real competition next year!