Sunday, July 31, 2011

Last night Starlight and I enjoyed a rare, nearly fly-free ride through the summer woods.   The deer flies that had swarmed both her and my heads just last week, the green-headed flies that have been torturing us the past month, and the dreaded, giant, B-52 bomber flies that my husband reported seeing today – none of them showed up to join us last night.   I’m not sure what combination of weather, timing and luck kicked in for us, but the only thing that disturbed my spotted mare, as far as I could tell, was the deer that jumped away in the brush, causing a momentary panic.   

Starlight in the Abetta before the ride.  Looks too wide in front.
And the only thing that bothered me was the saddle, as I rode in a strangely foreign-feeling Abetta, Arabian-shaped endurance saddle.   I bought this inexpensive, synthetic saddle based on good reviews from other riders and for its u-shaped tree that might fit this horse.

Well, it actually does seem to fit the horse.  It might be the only one I have that does, but it feels like I’m sitting in some kind of kiddie swing, with the saddle built up in front of and behind my seat, and I can’t really figure out where that swell on the seat is supposed to be, under me.   As someone who rides in older dressage and jumping saddles, including the classic “postage stamps,” this saddle just feels too built up, with bumps where there should not be bumps.

But as a testament to how well it fit, unbeknownst to me, its Western cinch rigging, made of nylon, slipped yesterday, and while I knew the cinch was loose, due to some extra movement , I didn’t realize until I got off that it was almost hanging off the pony.   But the saddle and I stayed atop.   When I removed the saddle and the Back-on-Track saddle pad I recently started using, I was pleased with the sweat pattern on the mare’s back.  
Up the back trail.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I can tolerate riding in this saddle, and since it’s not an appropriate saddle for any of the competitions in which I might enter her, I don’t think I’m going to swap the rigging with leather, but will probably just sell the saddle on and find a similar fitting one that we both like.

But, back to the fly-free ride.   Last night, I asked Starlight to cross over logs and she did this without hesitation.  Some horses would stop and snort and examine the log, but she just accommodated them in her stride as if they weren’t there.   These were nice, hefty, 12 or 14-inch wide logs, and zip, she was over them in a stride.  Good pony. 

I told my husband, when we got home, that she will be the pony his grandkids (I’m still in denial on the whole grandmother thing) can ride, she’s so good.  By the time they are old enough, she will have become a packer, for sure.
Entering the field.

But first, they are going to have to get her away from me.  And that won't be easy.
Heading toward that black hole.

Back down the hill

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Fair is in the Air

The Chemung County Fair starts this week.  I can’t hear of a county fair without remembering the fair horse shows I rode in when I was a kid.   And when I was too young to show, I went with my family to watch my sister, Nan, ride in the fair shows.  

The location was Morris, NY, home of the Otsego County Fair, and it caused such a hullabaloo – all the training, the braiding, the leg wraps, the loading, and my poor Mom driving the little bumper pull trailer behind our big old Ford station wagon.  My mother was scared to death, driving that trailer, and we all knew it and were solemnly respectful of her white knuckles as we traversed the steep hills in Upstate New York.   She could back it up to the left but not the right, so heaven help us if we got stuck somewhere where we had to back right.
My blue ribbon class at the Otsego County Fair, circa 1975 (?).  Five points to anyone who spots the big fault in this picture.  (Don't give it away, Nan!)  The horse is the immortal CG (Country Gentleman).

My biggest claim to fame was earning reserve champion in hunters one year, second only to Josephine Cantro.   I took seconds to her firsts all day, except in the “equitation over fences” class.  Before I went in for my round, her father actually came up to me and told me not to beat his little girl, she really wanted to win.  Sorry, Josephine, and Josephine’s dad, I won that class.

I did ride in the Chemung County Fair a few years ago on Hudson.  She was newly under saddle, and we did a couple of intro dressage and walk-trot classes.  It was almost as exciting as it was when I was a kid, and I’ll do it again in the future, I’m sure.  

I hope county fairs will always be part of our summers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Horse Related Activities for July 29-31, 2011

I finally found a link to the NY Reined Cowhorse Association's website.  There's a reined cowhorse competition in Gowanda, NY this weekend.  It's not exactly in the Twin Tiers, but I thought I'd add the event here in case any of you are interested in this Western competition that includes reining and cow work.  There's one in Alfred in September, which might be more accessible to us locals.  

Whatever you do, have a good weekend with your horse!

July 29-31: Vitor Silva Clinic
Brookside Farm Moravia, NY
For details:  Kathy Thode at 315-497-2002.
July 30: Big Loop Hunter Pace
640 Artline Rd
Eldred, PA 16731
9:00 AM - 12:30 PM
All riders who intend to ride at a leisurely pace, come early! Ribbons will be presented when all riders are back at the barn!
Big Loop reserves the right to cancel or add dates for the 2011 series

July 30: High Standard Stables, unrecognized Horse Trials and Dressage Show
8 am, Dansville, NY.
For details: or contact Amy Becker at (585) 905-9955 or

July 30: High Time Stables at Sugar Brook Farm, Jumper Derby
East Aurora, NY. There will be a low and a mid level derby before dusk, and then a high derby under the lights. It should be a lot of fun.
For details: or contact Evan Gerhardt at (716) 479-3826.

July 30-31: East Aurora Carriage Drive and Competition
For details:  Liz O'Donnell at (716) 389-5724

July 30-31: Michelle LaBarre Clinic
Black Points Farm, Honeoye Falls, NY.
For info about Michelle, go to
For details:  Mary Delton at Auditors welcome.

July 28-31:Onondaga County 4-H Youth Fair
This is a Youth Fair featuring horse, dog and dairy shows for enrolled Onondaga 4-H members.
NYS Fairground Toyota Coliseum
For details:  315-424-9485 x226; Visit Web Site;

July 29 – 31: Twin Tiers Trail Riders
Sugar Hill Recreation area. This will be the pass the dish dinner with a deep fried turkey provided by the club and cooked by Steve Root. The club will also supply soda for drinks. This dinner will be on Saturday night approx. 6:00 p.m. and we will be providing a breakfast on Sunday morning paid for by the club at 7:00 a.m. at Steve and Jeanne’s camper.
For details:  Jeanne Root 570-596-3653 or

July 30-31 New York Reined Cow Association Competition
Nash Hill Equestrian Center, 10999 Persia Road
Gowanda, New York 14070
For details: or

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dumbfounded by Saddle Fit

To me, one of the most confounding aspects of riding is saddle fit.  It’s possible I’m becoming one of those riders who constantly suspects that the saddle doesn’t fit. 

I have read everything I can get my grubby little paws on about saddle fit, and I had a saddle fitter come out to fit Hudson to a saddle, a while back, and we discussed fit at that time.  Unfortunately, the saddle fitter focused mainly on just one brand of saddle, and so that’s where her conclusions pointed.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, since I knew it in advance and knew that the saddles she sells are top quality; however, when I rode with her recommended saddle versus my old, cheap, and I mean REALLY cheap, Regent, Hudson moved as well, if not better, under the cheapie.   Even the saddle fitter acknowledged she moved as well under that one as any.  But, since that saddle had flocking as hard as bedrock, and since reflocking would have cost more than the saddle was worth, I decided to keep looking for a better saddle for Hudson.
Houston, we have a problem. (Photo borrowed from

One of the things about the saddle fitter’s visit that disappointed me was that she talked about everything I had already read.  

“What’s wrong with that?” you may ask.  

And I may answer, “Well, nothing is wrong with that, except I wanted her to be the magical saddle-fitting fairy who would flitter down with her sparkles and wand and give me the one solution that would fix all my saddle-fitting concerns now and for the rest of my life, for every horse I own.”

Which, on retrospect, was a rather silly and slightly insane expectation.

After the basic checks of balance, tightness and shape of saddle vs. shape of back, the main thing the saddle fitter looked at and asked me about was how the horse felt, or moved, under each of the saddles we tried.   This was educational to me, I’m embarrassed to admit, because it made me realize that I had not focused on the differences in a horse’s movement as it related to different saddles. 
OK, now, even I know that's just a mess. (Photo borrowed from

Song Pan, China Slideshow


My observation of saddle fit on Hudson was that she had started to bolt in certain circumstances and it was obvious to me that the unusual action (Hudson is no bolter) was caused by a quick, unexpected pain, and I guessed it must be the saddle.  Another time I brilliantly connected saddle fit to horse pain was when my never-buck quarter horse mare crow hopped under saddle, causing me to try a wider tree with success.  

 So, let’s say that I was fairly insensitive and obtuse about noticing subtleties of movement change caused by the saddle.  Fortunately, my horses were not at all obtuse, and realizing that I was a bit retarded, they communicated to me in a way I couldn't help but understand.

Now, however, I’m training these green mares, and there is so much going on in their movement, since they are still trying to get the basics of moving comfortably at a consistent pace under a rider, that it is hard to tease out saddle fit as a possible problem for them.  At least I’m alert, now, to signs of discomfort.  Dee, for instance, is antsy when I tighten the girth.  OK, a lot of horses are, but maybe it’s because she dislikes the saddle pinching down on her back?   And Starlight started fidgeting at the mounting block.  So I tried a wider saddle, and the fidgeting stopped, at least for our most recent ride, which occurred before the heat wave rolled in and I temporarily suspended riding.  Not a pattern yet, I realize, but maybe she likes the wider saddle?
One of my many saddles that doesn't fit.

But the saddle I switched to is most probably too wide for her (boo!).  But she moves well under it, taking bigger, more swinging strides (yay!).  But it isn’t well balanced, sitting too low in the pommel (boo!).  But my fingers fit comfortably under it at the shoulder, unlike some other I have tried on her (yay!)

Well, you can see I’m confused.  And since there is no saddle-fitting fairy about to twinkle down and tell me what to do, I guess I’ll just have to listen to the horse.

I just hope I don’t end up with 5000 saddles and not a one that fits. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Equestrian Activities in the Twin Tiers, July 22 - 24, 2011

Here are this weekend's horse related events.  I hope you get a chance to get out there and do something fun with your horse, despite this heat wave!
July 22 - 24: USEF/USDF Recognized Dressage Show
USDF Recognized Breeders Championship Qualifier
WYNDA Summer Festival I & II at Houghton College, Houghton, NY
For details:

July 24: CNYDCTA Combined Test & Dressage Show
Pheasant Hollow Farm, Nelson NY. Opening date 6/14 Closing date 7/3
For details Secretary Tekla Mills at

July 23 – 24: Rolelu Show Series: Dressage Show (2011 Intro A thru 4th Level, Test 3 plus 2010 Beginner Novice A thru Advanced B), Jumper Derby (introductory thru prelimninary), and Combined Test (dressage and staduim). Weather permitting, the July thru October shows will include XC schooling. New this year are special prizes for completing at least 3 shows.
For details or contact Chandra Wong at (585) 243-0916 or

July 24: Hunterpace and Trail Ride Series
2 to 5 pm - Cohocton, NY.
For details
: download flyer

July 24: Gentle Dove Obstacle & Sensory Clinics and Training
 Mounted Police StylePrivate  Workshop
1:00 - 3:00 Painted Bar Stables
4093 Lake Ave (Rte 79)
Burdett, NY 14818 Private  Workshop
For details:
Auditors welcome - contact Joann for more info.

July 23-24: - Sweet Water Farm & 4-H Overnight Horse Camp.
Route 492
Jackson, PA 18847
For details
(570) 756-3268;;

July 22 -24, 2011 – Twin Tier Trail Riders
Loyalsock State Forest, Eagles Mere, PA. You must call for a permit. Be sure to call way in advance if you are camping because this park fills up very quickly.
For details: Contact JoAnn Schwab 607-739-2554 or or Jeanne Root 570-596-3653 or

Afton Fair Horse Shows, Afton NY
Join us for the Hunt Seat and Western Show on July 24 or the Miniature, Driving and Senior Games Driving on July 25. complete class lists and entry forms are available on-line at
607-693-1025; email;

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Best Way to Beat the Heat

If you have a horse and a pond, you better put them together on these hot summer days.  Check out Hudson’s first swim with me clinging on like a remora on a great white.

Thanks, Matt and Heidi, for reminding me that a horse + deep water = FUN!  Matt is my hubby’s son, and he and his girlfriend Heidi moved to Florida, where they are doing all kinds of great things, including riding horses into the surf and swimming with them.  It made me start reminiscing about swimming our horses in farm ponds in the past.  Oh, Hudson…

A pause for a pretty red mare

Might get that bucket?
DeCato Copper hasn’t had much air time on this blog, so I thought I’d post a few pictures of this pretty little BLM mustang mare.

DeCato came to live with us after I saw her advertised on Craigslist, and requested a photo.  When I saw more skeleton than horse, we went and got her, brought her home, isolated her for a while, got her vaccinated, and then integrated her with the others.  The former owner didn’t feed her enough or handle her much after getting her from a BLM auction at Cornell two years before.   He didn’t have experience training any horse, let alone a mustang, and she was beyond his abilities.  
Where be that bucket?

She lacked minimal care, and actually had never even had her feet trimmed while he owned her.  He said that when he told farriers that she was a wild mustang, they refused to work on her, but honestly, I was picking out and filing her feet within about three weeks of bringing her home, and I’m no Buck Brannaman. 

She was also being housed with a two-year-old stallion at her old place, and the fact that her life with him didn't result in a random foal is either a miracle or a testament to this mare's determination in keeping him away from her reproducing parts.

Might still get the bucket...
Last I measured, DeCato still hadn’t made it to 14 hands.  She’s the low horse in the group and herd-bound and spooky when handled.  I have ridden her a bit, and she never tried to buck, but she’s a challenge because of her insecurities.  I’ll have her working more this fall, after I am happy with Dee’s and Starlight’s progress.

DeCato has shown me that she’s a very smart mare, but prefers to be with the herd.  She’s the self-appointed security guard of the group, always on the look-out for something dangerous on the horizon.  I guess when you’re a horse born on the plains of Nevada, you might carry a higher level of paranoia than these fat and comfy stock horses and the drafty beast who hang out here.

She’s the only solid color horse here, a rich chestnut with a sprinkle of roany white hairs in her coat.  She dapples up in the summer and has a slight curl to her coat in the winter, which isn’t surprising, since the Ely, Nevada area where she came from does produce some curly mustangs.
...except Hudson has the bucket.

Oh, and the former owners identified her as “Dakado” in their ad, which I thought was an interesting name, but then I heard them call her “Dakota,” and realized the interesting name was just bad spelling.  Well, it stuck as “DeCato,” and the “Copper” part is in honor of her penny-red coat and the fact that copper is produced in the area where she was born.

Enjoy the pictures of this doe-eyed mare with the pretty head and shiny coat!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

An Honest Horse

“Make me as big and open as the plains,
As honest as the horse between my knees”
From A Cowboy’s Prayer by Badger Clark

I rode an honest horse tonight.    

Starlight carried me for about 40 minutes on the trail, including the narrow path through the woods at the back of our property.  That was another first for her, and it included navigating some of the toughest terrain she has encountered.  It’s not hard by any experienced trail horse’s standards, but the stretches of muddy areas that are normally puddles in the path at the bottom of the hill, the sticks and limbs that had fallen across the path, the leaves on overhead branches that sometimes touched her head as we went by, and the blackberry bush-covered area that she wasn’t totally convinced was actually a trail, these were all new to her.

So was being harassed by deer flies on the trail, and having a rider continually reaching forward to smack them off her ears was also new (why do I bother buying fly spray?  I might as well shred up the money I spend on it, mix the shreds into a paste and spread that on her ears).

As she carefully stepped down the steep hill on the other side of the field, I let myself admire this steady little mare, who hasn’t said “no” to anything I have asked of her so far, in her young riding career.

Later, I watched her grazing with her herdmates in the pasture as the moon came up, huge and orange in the east, and I appreciated spending the evening with an honest horse.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Horse Events, July 13-17, 2011

It's a fairly quiet weekend in terms of horse activities, but of course the biggie is the Stuart Horse Trials in Victor, NY.  This is a great opportunity to participate in or watch an FEI rated competition that includes both local and international equestrians.  

Have a great weekend!

July 13-14 Houghton College Adult Dressage Camp 
Ssession 2 (with FEI trainer Eddo Hoekstra), Houghton, NY.
For details:   Jo-Anne Young at (585) 567-8142 or

July 14 -17: Stuart Horse Trials
Townline and Murray Rd Victor, NY
Stuart Horse Trials started out in 1990 as a very nice local event where about 70 novice and training level riders competed. While it remains the highlight of local competitors' event schedules, the trials now draws top international level riders and their horses who compete at the preliminary and intermediate levels and in the international CIC* and CIC** competitions. The 300 competitors come from all over the United States and many foreign countries including Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, and Mexico and are cheered on by more than 18,000 spectators.
For details:

July 16-17 Eddo Hoekstra Dressage Clinic
Chestnut Ridge, Gasport, NY
For details: Sue Williams at (716) 772-2707/2957 or For entry forms, go to

July 17: Open Horse Show Series
Stoneybrook Farm, 428 Shaffer Road, Newfield, NY
Classes for all levels of Pleasure and Hunt seat riders
Two Venues & the best prizes of any local horse shows!
Series High points compete for:Charles Owen Helmet, Mountain Horse Tall Boots, Ariat Paddock  boots
For details:  (607) 564- 0063 or (607) 387-3422

Friday, July 8, 2011

Striving for Good

I was listening to Denny Emerson’s interview on the Stable Scoop podcast the other day, as he talked about his new book, How Good Riders Get Good.  During the interview, he said something that got under my skin and made me start itching.

He said that the way you can tell a really good rider is to take away the rider’s stirrups and see if they can still ride as well without them.  Better yet, take away the saddle and see how they do. If they ride as well without stirrups, or bareback, you've found a good rider.
Riding Bareback No. 2 by Joyce Geleynse

Comments like that, from someone as renowned and respected as Denny Emerson, motivate and challenge me.  I know what he described is not the only measure of a good rider, but being able to ride as well without stirrups or a saddle definitely means the rider has an excellent seat and is so fit, balanced and supple that she seems to have an almost instinctual ability to move with the horse.

When I was younger, sometimes I was just too plain lazy to put the saddle on the horse, so I would jump on bareback and go off on the trails, walking, trotting and cantering bareback, staying on uphill and down, over obstacles, through spooks.  I barely gave it a thought.  Who WAS that girl?  And why is it so hard to do that now?

Since I restarted my horse life, about eight year ago, I have only ridden bareback twice.  TWICE in eight years.  I should be ashamed of myself!  And both times were under very controlled conditions at a slow pace.
Here I am at age 11, about to enter bareback class on CG. That's my sister, Nan.

So, on my last couple of rides on Hudson, I have dropped the stirrups.  I haven’t been brave enough to cross them over the pommel yet, like I used to do in Pony Club, or when my sister wanted to torture me (she was my coach for a few years).  Hudson doesn’t seem to mind them dangling at her sides, and I feel better knowing I can jam my feet in them if I need to.

Now THAT's a back that doesn't need a saddle.
The only times I needed to tonight were when we got speedy, as before I asked Hudson to jump two naturally fallen logs on the trail.  I wanted the stirrups for the jumps and the subsequent charge up the path through the woods.  I know, I know. I’m
a chicken. 

The other time I wanted them was during a gallop in the upper field.  For the rest of the ride, during a variety of trot speeds on an up-and-down path, and also once during a sideways spook when a ruffed grouse surprised us (they are quite the loud wing flappers, those grouse), I rode comfortably without stirrups.  I was conscious not to lean on the reins and kept my body balanced over my seat bones.

My legs did get tired from the unusual stretching that occurred without stirrups, but that was the only toward the end of the ride. 

I’m not there yet, but this will be something I’ll continue to work on this summer, until I’m comfortable enough to jump on Hudson bareback on the evenings when I really want to check my balance, my seat, my harmony with the horse’s movement.   

Or maybe I’ll do it when I’m just too lazy to put on the saddle.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Horse Activities in the Twin Tiers, July 9- 14, 2011

Here's the line-up of horse activities in the Twin Tiers for this weekend. It doesn't look like I'm going to have a horse ready for Paint-O-Rama, darn it, but maybe I'll stop by to watch for a few minutes.  I can check out next year's competition!

July 9: Blue Ribbon Driven 4-H Clinic
Sweet Water Farm
Route 492
Jackson, PA 18847
For details: ph: (570) 756-3268;

July 9 – 10: ESPHC Summer Paint-O-Rama
Chemung Co. Fairgrounds, Horseheads, NY - 4 APHA/PtHA Judges: Gary Miller-MO, Kathy Miller-MO, Gary Streator-OH, Sally Jo Ward Freund-WA
For details: Show Manager: Patti Cerio ~ (856) 931-1116 ~ email:
Show Manager: Kathy Reinert ~ (607) 965-8601 (h) ~ (860) 428-7669 (m) ~ email:
2011 Class List (New as of May 31, 2011)
2011 Show Fees
(New as of May 31, 2011)
Pre-Entry Form
(New as of June 20, 2011)

July 9-10: Genesee Valley Hunt, USEA recognized Horse Trials
Geneseo, NY. Levels are Beginner Novice thru Preliminary.
For details: Contact Billie Hill at (585) 350-8029 or

July 9-10: Troy Area Horsemen’s Association
Alparon Park, Troy, PA.
Saturday: Game Show
Sign up 2 pm
Sunday: All Breed Open Show, PAC approved, starts at 8 a.m.
For details:

NYS Fairgrounds Country Max Race Arena and Stables
For details: 315-682-1933 Visit Web Site