Friday, October 17, 2014

Getting all medieval on myself

I've been feeling kinda icky all week with a super sore throat, and yesterday I gave up and went to the doctor. Apparently I've got the first case of scarlet fever she'd ever seen, yay me! Basically it's just a fancy name for strep throat with a fantastic itchy rash, but it was one of diseases people often died from in the middle ages... well really up until penicillin was invented. Fortunately, we have excellent antibiotics in 2014, so I'm feeling much better already.

Oh, and I gave it to my husband. Because sharing is caring, right?

And Artemis makes an excellent nap buddy!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Region 9 Dressage Championships - a spectator perspective

Our Saturday foxhunt got rained out (yay rain!), so I ended up driving to Houston to go to the Region 9 dressage championships to watch a few rides and try on formal coats.

Showgrounds at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center. It was so dark this was the only pic I took that turned out. Boo.

Because normal people drive 3 hours to try on dressage coats, right? This is the first USDF rated show I’ve been to in a million years, so I was very curious as to how people and horses were turned out. A few interesting notes:

  • Everyone wore black coats. I didn’t see a single grey or brown coat anywhere.
  • The upper-level riders all wore helmets (no top hats!), and the ladies all had bling on their helmets. The men did not. I didn’t see any bling on helmets for lower-level riders, although there were some SUPER blingy belts being sported!
  • There were an even number of plain browbands and browbands with bling.
  • Everyone had a white saddle pad (no piping) with a white fleece half-pad.
  • I saw two horses with running braids (instead of button braids).
  • The scores were surprisingly low, especially compared to the scores that Karen at Bakersfield Dressage reported at her regional championships. Intro, Training, and First level divisions were all won with a 65%. There were a lot of scores in the upper 50s, which surprised me for a championship.
  • White gloves are the norm, even at the lower levels. I’ve never worn white gloves – never felt like my hands were good enough.
  • The horses and riders were nice, but the arenas weren’t full of imported warmbloods (which I sort of expected). If Paddy and I ever qualify for the championships, I don’t feel like we would be outclassed. 

And now, on to my coat-trying-on extravaganza.

Nearly all the coats available were technical, washable fabric. While I can see this would be easier to care for, stretchier, and cooler, I also thought they really didn’t look that good. They aren’t lined (except for Pikeur and Cavallo) and they just look rumpled when they are on. Riders who were wearing technical coats sort of look like they had just slept in their coats. They didn’t have that sleek, tidy appearance that the lined lightweight wool coats (i.e. most of the shads, and the Pikeur coats) have.

I tried on the FITS coat (mesh panels under the arms, which I didn’t love), Pikeur Skarlett and another short, technical Pikeur, RJ Classics, a Cavallo (waaay too big all around, and not a good length for me) and two brands I didn’t recognize. Every coat I tried on that fit in the shoulders was too big everywhere else, including the sleeves. The long version of one of the coats fit much better on the waistline, but the tails were far too long and would need to be shortened (and it also looked really rumpled on me – another technical coat). So the upshot of all this coat-trying-on is… as everyone suggested in my coat post, I need to buy a coat that fits in the shoulders, and simply get the rest of the coat (including the sleeves) tailored. And I don’t love the look of the unlined technical fabric coats, no matter how cool they may be.

I almost – ALMOST – bought a gorgeous brown Kingsland coat, 100% Italian wool, on sale for over 50% off. The size 40 (US size 12) fit well in the shoulders (maybe a smidge big?) but was huge everywhere else – major tailoring would have been required. And while I think Paddy would look smashing in a brown coat (and brown is a great color on me too), I do not NEED a brown coat right now and cannot justify spending the money on one, even if it IS a Kingsland. Besides, I’d need a brown helmet to go with it, and I can’t justify buying one of those either. Alas.

Oh you beautiful thing... how I covet you! Image courtesy of Classic Equine.

So, I’m back to the Pikeur Diana. Now I just need to figure out what size in the shoulders, and in a Long or regular. I can’t go off the sizing of the coats that DID fit me this weekend, because every coat manufacturer makes a slightly different size for the same “size”. Gah! Of course, the Diana is a “traditional” style (i.e. longer) and somewhat hard to find, so this means ordering a bunch of different sizes (from a bunch of different tack stores) and trying them all on to find the best fit.  The search continues!

Despite not being able to find The Perfect Coat, it was a great trip and well worth the time. Plus I had sushi on the way home… can’t beat that!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Horse Bloggers Weekend Getaway in AUSTIN!!!!

Lauren and I often talk about how fun it is to meet other bloggers, and how much we'd like to meet quite a few of y'all.  We've been tossing around the idea of a horse bloggers weekend for a couple of months now, and we've decided to go for it and actually make it happen! 

You are invited to an equestrian bloggers weekend in Austin, Texas!

Lauren and I, and possibly the super cool $900 Facebook Pony (depending on the weekend) would like to host you awesome horse bloggers for a weekend of fun in the lone star state.  

What happens on a bloggers weekend?

While there's no firm itinerary yet, we have ideas for fun things like group dinners, pony time with the real stars of our Austin based blogs, tack store shopping, Texas BBQ, wine tasting, and of course the standard Austin tourist favorites that everybody visiting the city should see!  Mostly we want to enjoy some time meeting face to face and yakking about our favorite subject!

But where will I stay?  

The two of us are immediately prepared to host a decent sized group of people.  Depending on how many bloggers are interested could mean some creative sleeping arrangements but so long as we don't get 100 million people wanting to come there are places to stay.  Essentially, first come first serve on free hotel via the Mauldin Bungalow and Wyvern Oaks. Note that we both have pets (Lauren has dogs, I have a dog and cats) so if you're allergic, you may need to find alternative lodgings.

And if anyone is interested finding out first hand what's involved in keeping your horses at home, I'd be more than happy to roust you out of bed at 6 a.m. on the weekend to help feed. Just sayin'! :)

Chez Wyvern Oaks

What will I have to pay for?

Getting here will probably be the most expensive, honestly.  You can expect to pay $200-$300 for a plane ticket to the Austin airport from other major airports.  Of course, that varies.  

Once you're here, expenses will be pretty minimal.  Bring some extra money for food and shopping, but we'll provide at least one breakfast and dinner for all of us one night as well as a lot of shuttle service to and from places. If you want to stay longer or go off on your own, you may want to rent a car.

When is this craziness happening?

That's a good question.  We wanted to pick something in the winter since show seasons aren't ramping up across the US, and the weather is really nice in Austin especially for you northern folk.  Right now we have a couple of dates in mind:

February 13th - 15th 2015
February 27th - March 1st 2015 ($900 FB has a conflict this weekend :( )

Though many places up north don't show much in February, we actually have two show weekends we're trying to work around and of course stuff in our normal personal lives!

Am I really invited?

If you read this blog, interact with me through the comments, email, or on my Facebook page, and promise not to steal either Paddington or Brego - you are invited.  Even if you can't come the whole weekend, it would be great for any semi-local Texas people to drive in for the day to meet up!  

The blogging community is great, and we don't get much face time.  This could be something really cool many of use could treat as a vacation, and who knows... maybe a blogger weekend could be held in your city in the future and we'll show up :)

We've created a little survey for everyone to fill out (please, only fill it out once!) to let us know if you're interested, what weekend would work best for you, and if you'd like to stay with one of us or would prefer your own accommodations. We're super excited about this and hope you can come for a visit!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mission Impossible: Finding a formal coat that fits

Now that Paddy is back on the dressage bandwagon, and there might actually be a rated show in our future, I'm trying to do a little wardrobe updating. I've now got white breeches I don't hate (a miracle in of itself), my boots are good, and while I don't love my stock tie, it will do for now. But what I don't have is a coat that actually fits me.

I currently own three coats. They go from bad:

Horseware Ireland Competition Jacket, size XS. Sleeve length is good, fit is loose in the shoulders and waist. I bought this for foxhunting because it's made from washable technical fabric, which is super awesome since you can trash a coat in just one hunt. I'm not a fan of how wrinkly it looks. Also, I know that short coats are all the rage, but on me this thing is MUCH too short. 

To worse:

Ovation hunt coat, size 6. I think I bought this because it was like $45 and it fit me better than any other coat I'd tried on. But the sleeves are SUPER short and it's huge in the body. 

To really frickin' embarrassing: 

Elite dressage coat, size 6L. It's just huge. The sleeves are huge, the shoulders are huge, the body is huge, and it's too long. Also, I look about as happy as a well-dressed serial killer wearing this coat.

Since obviously none of these will make Paddington look awesome, I did what any sane person would do and drove to the local Dover store to try on Every. Single. Coat. Here's what I learned:
  • I am too tall. The "in" short coats look stupid on me.
  • I need to consider stuffing my bra (how does that work with a sports bra, anyway?)
  • European brands fit me better than American brands. European brands are also more expensive than American brands. Conspiracy? I don't think so...

Dover tried to order a Pikeur Diana for me to try on, but can't get the size I want until January 2015. Since patience is not a virtue of mine, I found the coat I wanted from Dressage Extensions and ordered it.

And let me just say, I WISH THIS THING FIT ME.
Pikeur Diana Washable, size 6. Look how SMOOTHLY this thing lies. Look how TAILORED it is.

Look how tight it is in the shoulder. *cries*

The length of the coat seems perfect, but it's just too tight across the shoulders. 

Tragically, I had to put the beautiful coat back it its box and send it back. I'm trying to decide if I should order the next size up (or maybe a Long in the next size up?) or try a different brand. I'm also trying to convince my husband to let me go to the Region 9 Dressage Championships this weekend and try on All The Coats from All The Vendors. Because that's obviously the adult thing to do, right?

Soooo... tell me about your coat-finding woes! What styles/brands do you love/hate? Any advice on a dressage coat for someone who is 5'8 with wide shoulders and no boobs? 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Foxhunting Foto Dump

On Saturday, we went foxhunting for the second time this year. The weather was absolutely PERFECT for this part of the world - mid 60s, light breeze, cloudless day. Not to mention a perfectly GORGEOUS fixture and lots of good friends!

We had a slight snafu leaving the house - the fixture required a PRINTED Coggins, and at 5:45 a.m. our printer decided that it simply couldn't go on after 6 years of faithful service. We panicked a bit, then hubby had the great idea to stop at a nearby hotel to use their business center to print copies. Thank you local hotel for saving our butts!

Sunrise on the road.

Brego looks pumped and ready to go (ha. ha.)

Waiting for the hounds to be released.

Milling about...

A leisurely stroll after first field.

The all-important flask.

Brego and Paddy watch the hunt mistress and hounds.

A successful day!


Hope y'all had a great weekend with your horses too!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What every horse person should know about head shaking syndrome - In memory of Echo

Long-time readers may remember my Baby Racehorse, Echo. Sunday marked one year since I decided that we could not treat his terrible disease, head shaking syndrome, and donated him to UC Davis to be part of their research program on head shaking. For those of you who are not familiar with this disease, I'd like to take a moment to share what I learned in hopes that if you come across a horse with these symptoms, you'll be able to identify them and know what your options are.

Quite probably the fanciest horse I will ever own.

Headshaking is a syndrome where the horse involuntarily flips or shakes his head in a vertical motion. The tell-tale action is the sudden jerk, like a bee flew up his nose. Horses also frantically rub their noses/faces on anything to relieve the pain, often causing sores or cuts. It most commonly occurs in TB geldings between 7-9 years of age. It can be seasonal, with summer being the worst time. The initial trigger is unknown - there are over 60 proposed triggers, but thus far research shows nothing concrete.
So gorgeous

What causes the sudden jerk is a response to neuropathic pain along the trigeminal nerves in the face. Vets think it's a sudden, sharp pain like the pain of a migraine headache in a human. In Echo, this pain manifested itself in several ways. He rubbed his face so hard on trees, fence posts, and the water trough that he cut his face and mouth. He would stand with his head submerged - up to his eyes - in the water trough. Because Echo's HSing was photic (caused by strong sunlight), he could not eat during daylight hours, and would stand with his face in his feed tub, unable to take a single bite yet so obviously hungry. He went from being a sweet, calm horse to one that was irritable, spooky, and unpredictable. Under saddle, he would slam on the brakes to rub his face frantically against his front leg, and several times almost pulled his bridle off. He'd fling his head in the air unpredictably, or tuck his nose to his chest in response to the pain in his face, then buck and bolt. He would also "black out," where he would carry his head up and to the right, completely oblivious to anything in front of him, any voice or rein commands, anything. At his worst, he was dangerous to handle and ride, and was in terrible, terrible pain.

Because the cause of head shaking is unknown, it's difficult to treat. I would best describe it as throwing the kitchen sink at the problem and hoping that something miraculously helps the horse. We tried a UV-blocking mask (this helped some), a nose net (helped some), magnesium (might have helped?), cyproheptadine and carbamide (both antihistamines, and both on the USEF illegal drug list), and Dex pulse therapy. We considered doing a permanent block of the trigeminal nerve, but long-term success (that is, more than one year) in most cases is low and there is a high chance of making the HSing even worse, so we chose not to follow that route.

Echo's UV mask

About this time, I found another horse owner in Austin who had been managing her HSer for the last 8 years. She kept him at a VERY nice boarding facility, and was able to do a few schooling H/J shows with him. She wrote me this about her experiences (reposted with her permission):
"I feel so much pain for you reading your story and thinking back over my years of heartache trying to manage Ian's HS.  I spent so much money trying everything under the sun.  Once his HS was "managed" I spent a ton of money on body work etc to undo whatever was probably already there and whatever all the tension from the pain caused.  I certainly saw amazing results and had a horse I loved to ride, but in hindsight, my choices in how to manage him leaving no stone unturned because I couldn't bear to see him in any pain, the money I spend trying everything under the sun plus keeping what did work going did which was 10s of thousands over the 8 years, going to the barn to take care of him every single night, not riding in lessons most of the year because I only rode him after dark which also then meant I rarely saw my husband during the week because I'd be at the barn until 10pm all seem pretty crazy.
I know I kept going with Ian long after anyone else would have and if I'd decided to put him down I knew any of my friends would have done it long before me, but I look back and can't believe what I went through and what I did for him every single day for 8 years.  I honestly was relieved in a way when his vision started to go [and I had to retire him].  He was still doing great and fun to ride but I just couldn't do the constant maintenance anymore.  Had I known he could live outside in retirement I would have retired him a long time ago. However, it's possible he wouldn't have done so well in retirement a long time ago.  His HS was the best it had ever been when I retired him.  That "best" still required a lot of effort and money.  I look back and wonder what life would have been like if I'd put him down before I committed much of my life to trying to make him well.  
One of the hard things with HSers is that you know for some horses the solution is simple so it feels like if you just keep trying, you'll find that thing that makes your HSer better.  And if you quit, what if there really was a simple solution and you just didn't find it.  So many HSers seem to be really talented and wonderful horses too.  It's torture and if I were giving advice to a friend 8 years ago with Ian, knowing what was in store, I would have advised that friend to quit trying and put him down to end his pain.  I physically had the money to spend but never would have imagined just how much I would sink into maintaining him and in hindsight I think I would also advise a friend to not only end the horse's suffering but it's not worth the emotional and financial cost.  I love Ian dearly and can't imagine my life without him but the cost, in so many ways, has been significant.   Obviously I didn't take that path I would advise and it's easier to give that advice than take it but I'm glad to hear you are being realistic about the possible outcome. There is no easy answer.  My research does tell me this condition can be extremely painful.  My opinion is that when Ian is snorting and wiggling his nose, that is not pain, but when he flicks his head or flings it, that is pain and when he flings his head so hard his feet come off the ground, that is significant pain.  So I tried to keep that in mind when I was trying to get his symptoms under control and had decided he would not spend another summer suffering. "
This letter was perhaps the nicest gift anyone could have given me. She laid out exactly what Echo and I were in for with the head shaking, in terms of time, money, and emotion - but most of all, the pain that Echo was in. I realize that there are many people out there with HSers that successfully manage the symptoms, or they try for years to find that "magic bullet" that helps their horse.  With Echo, I simply could not stand to see him in so much pain despite everything we tried. I chose to donate him to the UC Davis research program on head shaking, in hopes that he could help teach us something about this awful disease, and maybe find a cure.

So my plea to you, as horse lovers and advocates, is that if you see a horse exhibiting these behaviors, don't immediately attribute them to the horse being naughty - it may be a response to sudden and severe pain. And if you're shopping for a horse, keep your eyes open. This is a terrible disease, and the cost is so high for both horses and humans.

For more detailed information about my experiences with Echo, here are a few links to old blog posts (Warning: these are not happy posts):

I hope you are at peace, my little Echo. It was the best I could do for you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Videos from the dressage show

After seeing the videos of both tests, I am sticking with my original assessment that the first test (Training Level 2) was nicer than the second (Training Level 3). Of course, I'm not a judge, and she can only judge what she sees, but I felt like the first test just flowed better and was a bit crisper overall.

Training Level Test 2 - 62.5%

Training Level Test 3 - 65.4%

What do you think?