Sunday, August 24, 2014

How do you know when it's time to retire them?

Cash is the only horse we've had long enough that we had to make a decision to retire him. First, I retired him from jumping at age 11, due to a bone lesion. We then focused on dressage for a couple of years, until it became obvious that fourth-level work was too much for him, and he was relegated to being a Training level schoolmaster. At 19, he had a mystery recurring lameness issue high up in his hind end, and we decided to fully retire him. After three years off, he came back sound, and has since been used for very light riding.

Despite the issues over the years, Cash never stopped wanting to work. To this day, he puts his head in his bridle, and you'd better have your act together or he gets impatient for you to get the buckles done. He still loves going on short trail rides, ears perked, a swing in his step. Sure, he's stiff and creaky and not fit, but he still loves to pretend that he can do half-passes and baby piaffe steps.

Red, however, is an entirely different story. At 21, he's been lame exactly once in 11 years, for an abscess. He's not on a single supplement, he's never had injections, and still moves like he's 6. He's fat, shiny, and as bossy as ever. There's just one problem: he doesn't want to work any more.

Red has never let his size stop him from ruling the world and everything in it. Photo courtesy of Azulox Photography.

Red has always hated arena work with a passion. He is absolutely disgusted by repetition - in his opinion, if he did it right, his rider needs to do it right too, and once it's right, everyone can be done for the day. When I've prepared him for shows, I had to be very careful not to over-school him, or he'd just get more and more frustrated. With Red, less is more.

Rider just needs to match horse in talent.

Where he really shines is doing mounted combat, or trail riding, or fox hunting. He loves bossing other horses around in mounted combat, and he and hubby are pretty much undefeated. He totally understands where he's supposed to be and what he's supposed to do on a hunt, and he watches everything carefully and pays attention. Trail rides are the same - he loves cantering through the woods on a nice loose rein, careening 'round the trees. Unfortunately, as he gets older, it's harder than ever to get and keep him fit for hunting. Normally, we do a lot of trail riding and canter sets to prep for hunt season, but this year even trail riding seems to have lost its shine for him. He's actively walking away from anyone who goes out in the pasture with a halter, and he stands to be groomed with a throughly annoyed look on his face.

On a trail ride last winter

I know what you're thinking: work him thorough it! Don't let him get away with it! But here's the thing - something has changed for him. He's not sore, he's not lame, he's in great health, so I don't think it's a physical problem. I think he's just tired of it all, and he's showing us as best he can that he's ready to be done.

Definitely not his favorite thing, but he still looks good doing it.

Hubby, who never ever wants to admit that any of our animals is getting older, took Red on a trail ride the other week. After he got back, he looked at me sadly and said, "Something's not right with Red. I don't think he wants to do this any more."

So we have decided to retire The Feerless War Pony. He'll be moving to a very nice retirement facility about 45 minutes away, where he can boss several other geldings in a 15 acre pasture. We may eventually bring him back home, but for now it seems like letting him hang out in a big pasture and be a horse may be the change he needs. Because at the end of the day, he's given us 110% for the past 11 years, and he deserves the same treatment from us.

Have you ever retired a horse? When did you know it was time?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wyvern Oaks: Now sort of legit

I recently finally got around to having some bona fide Wyvern Oaks swag made. Heck, we've only been here almost 5 years, it's about time!

First off, our new gate sign:

Address at bottom is blurred out to protect Paddington from bloggy would-be horse thieves.

Also, if you look very closely on the left side, you'll see the tip of the automatic gate opener arm. That's right folks, we now have an automatic gate!!! We're coming up in the world, obviously.

And the new, extremely popular, polo shirts:

It's what the cool kids are wearing.

Hubby wanted to get the dressage/jousting/eventing/foxhunting concepts in a single logo. Because we can't possibly be happy doing just one thing around here!

You know how when you were a kid and you planned your own dream barn, with your own colors and all your own swag? Yeah, so it's kind of fun to do that as an adult. Next up, ball caps? Fleeces? Saddle pads?!?!? So many options! Or I could just, you know, stick with the gate sign and the polos. ;)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Foxhunting in NH with longtime friends, on an Interwebz-famous horse!

By now you're probably wondering what I'm doing in New Hampshire when I was in Vienna and the Czech Republic last week, but I promise it makes perfect sense! My husband's family was spending the last weeks of summer up in Cape Cod, so on my way back from my work trip I flew into Boston to join everyone. Not a bad way to end a trip!

The fox hunt was really just a happy coincidence. Some of you really old-school bloggers may remember Brego, the original Eventing Percheron. He had his own blog back before blogging was cool, and he was barefoot before barefoot was A Thing. He and his mom used to live in Austin, and I think she was the first blogger I'd ever met IRL. She and I once went cross-country schooling together, and I got to ride him once before they moved up to their current location in New Hampshire.  He is one super-cool dude - not only does he have the best airplane ears EVAR, but he's got tons of experience hunting and eventing, and he's as honest as the day is long.

Hubby and Brego. Note The EARZ. How can you not love those?

So imagine my excitement when Brego's mom contacted me a month or so ago and, after exchanging a number of emails, kindly arranged for hubby and I to go hunting with her! Hubby got to ride Brego (lucky man), and I got to ride a fantastic Pinto named Trinidad (we all know how I loves me some spots!) There is truly nothing more fun that riding a horse that knows his job and loves it, and both Brego and Trinny fit the bill perfectly.

Hubby on Brego and Brego's mom on Sterling.

This was the first drag hunt we've ever been on, and it's quite different than our hunts in Texas. Whereas Texas hunts are huge open fields with smaller copses of trees, the hunts up here are in thick forests criss-crossed by trails, with the occasional field that one must go around the edge of (out of respect for the farmer's crops). I can't even imagine trying to get through such thick country on a live hunt - you'd lose the dogs in minutes. But the super amazing fun part of such a hunt is that there are loads of smaller jumps along the way, instead of the 3' coops set on fencelines that our regular hunt has. Riders can also choose to "gap" (go past) the jump, and it's really nice to have that option. I was a tad worried about how we'd do since neither of us has jumped seriously since this spring, but Brego and Trinny were foot-perfect, jumping everything in stride just as nice as you please. Hubby even did a log with a pretty big drop on the off side, and was grinning ear to ear after that one!

A quiet moment on one of the trails. Lookit all the trees!!! (And Trinny's ears and Brego's butt, lol)

Edging 'round one of the fields. You can sort of see the hounds down at the bottom of the hill.

Our lovely hostess on Sterling.

As an extra bonus, I met the owner of the Foxhunting Fresian blog!  Totally random, I had no idea she was even in the same part of the world. She and her mare were both lovely and very welcoming - it was such a pleasure to meet them! It's definitely been a whirlwind blogger meet-up for the past week.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging at Wyvern Oaks. My travels are over, for the time being - it will be nice to be home!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

International Tack 'Ho

When Tanja and I were talking on Saturday, we lamented that we hadn't planned to go to the local tack shop in Vienna as part of our afternoon. Although I've been to plenty of tack stores in various cities in the US, I've never been to a tack shop in Europe before, and I really wanted to see the different brands. And come on, let's be honest... who can resist tack shopping???

Vienna was just a stop on my journey - my work trip actually took me to Brno, Czech Republic, for the better part of a week. I asked a (non-horsey) co-worker if she knew of any tack stores in Brno, and a  quick Google search turned up one not too far from the office. I also suckered her into accompanying me, because let's face it, I can't actually speak any Czech (ok, I know the word for beer, and I know several ice cream flavors. What more do you need?)

I have no idea what this says, but it was the sign for the shop.

The store was quite small, and there wasn't much selection. I was surprised to see a Western saddle there, alongside some silvered halters. Who knew that Western is a thing in Brno? I spent most of my time looking at saddle pads (soooo pretty, but mostly APs, so I didn't buy any), fly bonnets, and socks. Because let's face it, there's only so much I can fit in my small carry-on luggage!

Also, everyone needs green argyle socks. AmIright?

I also spent some time trying on white breeches, because my current pair of Ariat FS white show breeches keep rubbing the back of my left knee raw. I've tried on every pair of white breeches that our local Dover store carries, and with the exception of the FIT$$$$ breeches, they don't fit me or the fabric is completely see-through. But European sizes are a bit different, and they had a lot of brands I've never seen before, so I gave it a go and found these bad boys:

Let's face it, nobody looks good in white breeches, NOBODY. But these aren't half bad!

These are FS Horseware Ireland breeches, and while the waist is higher than I prefer, they fit really well in all other ways! I also paid about $70 US for these, which is significantly less than I've ever paid for a pair of FS breeches. My only regret is that they only had one pair!

Fortunately for me and my checkbook, the store closes quite early, so I had to shop quickly. The lady at the checkout was really nice, but I was quite glad I had my friend along with me to translate. She asked what kind of horse I had, so of course I had to show her a picture of Paddy - she seemed shocked that I had a Haflinger (maybe my height?). Still, she said how cute he was, and thanked us for coming by. 

I'm sure stuff from the tack shop counts as souvenirs from a trip... right?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Blogger Meet-up: Vienna, Austria Edition

There are lots of bloggers I'd love to meet IRL (heck, if I read your blog I pretty much want to meet you!) but given how disperse we all are, it often seems unlikely that we'll ever be more than Internet friends. High up on my list was Tanja, another Haflinger owner, over at Dressage Hafl. I mean, another Haffie doing dressage... and one that has better hair than Paddington? How could I not?!?!

Alas, she and Hafl live in Austria, so I figured it would never happen... but then I was asked to go on a work-related trip, flying into and out of Vienna, Austria. We exchanged a bunch of emails making arrangements, and were finally able to meet this last Saturday!

Tanja and I, sipping beer at one of Vienna's most famous beer gardens

Tanja and her family gave me a wonderful tour of Vienna's famous (and enormous) garden/park, which includes a rather large horse stables, racetrack, soccer stadium, veloway, tennis courts... basically any sport you want to do, it can be done there. After walking (and talking horses, naturally) for probably an hour, we stopped to enjoy a raspberry soda in a lovely old building that was used for hunt meets, well-timed during a short rainfall. Tanja's family was just lovely, and her Mom especially made me feel right at home! I'd brought them a few "typical" Texas goodies (BBQ sauce and salsa), and explained that really, (most) Texans do not ride their horses to work, wear jeans with big belt buckles, and carry guns on their hips. We exchanged amusing travel stories and just had a wonderful time - I felt like I'd known them forever.

Barn in Vienna's garden - sorry no pictures of the horses, I felt like such a stalker with my camera out!

After refreshments, we headed off to the beer garden near the Prather (big amusement park). It was an enormous place - so big they had an assembly line with 6 guys working to fill beers! I had weiner schnitzel (of course) that was really, really good - I love a good schnitzel and they are so hard to find in the States. Tanja and I talked horses a bit more, and then I called it an early evening at around 9, since I was super jet lagged from the flight over.

Hopefully I will be able to come back to Vienna again and will be able to have more time to visit - I'd love to meet Hafl in person! I'm also trying to convince her that Austin is a lovely place to visit - muahahahaha!!!

Friday, August 8, 2014

How many evasions can one Haffie have?

I know, I complain endlessly about Paddy's mach-one-Haffie speed trot, and how he blows through my rein aids while he's doing it. But lately, he seems to have discovered a new, more normal rhythm that feels significantly less like we're trying to win the Kentucky Derby at at trot (for realz, y'all). However, he's also come up with some exciting new evasions - because it's obviously too hard to trot nicely like a normal horse.

First off, the good picture... forward, engaged, and into the bridle. A bit heavy on the front end, but the hind end is working hard so it's definitely progress. Keep this picture in mind and compare to the others. (Note to self: SHOULDERS BACK!!!)

Evasion 1: My momma rollkeurs me

I swear I do not rollkeur my horse. He's doing a great job of making me look like a horrible person, though, with his nose tucked to his chest. However, note that my reins are slack and I am pony-kicking him forward. Faker. Now all the nice H/J people at the barn we're boarding at will think I'm one of those Mean Dressage People.

Evasion 2: The fake "frame"

His head and neck look like they're in the "frame" that people want to see, but check out that inside hind - see where it's about to land? He's barely stepping under himself, which means we have lost all impulsion. So this is an excellent example of a horse who at first glance looks like he's engaged if you look at his head and neck, but obviously isn't if you look at his hind end and topline. Because, you know, it's hard to use your butt to propel yourself forward, even when it's as big as Paddy's is.

Evasion 3: I can't possibly hold myself up

He looks a little behind the vertical here, but otherwise pretty nice, and it could just be the angle of the photograph, right? The key here is to look at me - see how I'm tipped forward? That's because he's pulling me right out of the saddle with his super Haffie strength. It's obviously much easier for me to carry him around that it is for him to work in self-carriage, lol! I need to remember to let go of the rein immediately when he starts to do this, so that I don't give him anything to brace and pull against.

What's your horse's favorite evasions at the trot?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Lumpy McLumpersons

If you've never seen a capped elbow before, here's what one looks like:

This is why we can't have nice things.

Cash has been sporting this bad boy for about two weeks now. It's caused by swelling of the bursae over the elbow, usually caused by some sort of trauma when the horse is lying down. In Cash's case, he lays with his feet tucked under him, and his hoof touches his elbow. He's not lame or anything, although the area is tender. 

Since he's retired, the vet and I are opting for the most conservative route - having him wear a shoe boil boot at night, and trying to give him a little more bedding to lay on (never mind he pees in the bedding and lays on the hard ground, right?). The boot will help prevent his hoof from touching his elbow, which should eventually allow the inflammation to go down. We could drain it, do a course of steroids, etc, but frankly it's not bothering him and I don't want to disrupt the delicate balance that is his life. These days the slightest change causes him to worry/pace/not eat, and it's just not worth the risk. 

Anybody else ever had a horse with a capped hock or elbow? What did you end up doing?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Haffies require custom bridles

I admit it, I’m not a huge tack connoisseur. I generally don’t care about name brands, – I want my stuff to fit, to function, and to last, and not be too difficult to take care of. I try to find the simplest thing that works, and just use that. This means I have no flashes, no figure 8s, no martingales, and generally one bit for jumping and one for dressage (unless I get really lucky and can use the same one for both). I also tend not to buy something new if I already have something that will work. For example, Cash’s 15-year-old double bridle is now Red’s snaffle bridle, Saga’s brown jumping bridle (bought off Craigslist for $50) was also used by Oberon and Echo.

Enter one Paddington Bear. The brown jumping bridle sort of fit him – if I punched extra holes on the cheek pieces, used the largest hole on the throatlatch and noseband, and switched out the browband to something larger. None of my other bridles even came close to squeezing around his oddly-shaped face – if they fit in one dimension, they were horribly wrong somewhere else.

Ok, fine, I decided to suck it up and buy him a new black dressage bridle (the brown one would work for jumping). Step one – measure horse for bridle. I found a handy online measuring guide and went to work. Here’s what I found:
  • Browband, noseband, and throatlatch – Warmblood sized
  • Crown piece (headstall) – Horse sized
  • Cheek pieces – Pony sized
Um, yeah. Try finding a standard bridle that matches those measurements. I must have looked at 10 different bridles, diligently checking the measurements listed against what I had, and failing. OK, FINE then, I decided I could create a custom pieced bridle. There are a couple of places online that let you pick the cheek pieces and browband and headstall, mix and match, and come up with something that works. Sure, they’re a bit more pricey, but whatever, they would fit Mr. Haffington, right?

And that’s when I discovered that when you buy a Warmblood-sized noseband (for a regular bridle, not a monocrown), that long attached piece that goes over their ears? That’s ALSO warmblood sized… and I needed that to be pony-sized. And if you purchase a horse-sized headstall, the throatlatch is attached to it, because it’s all one piece of leather… but the throatlatch is ALSO horse-sized, and Paddy needs a Warmblood-sized throatlatch.

I swear, shopping for a Paddy-sized bridle is worse than buying jeans for myself.

Paddy thinks his face is perfectly normal... for a Haffie.

In desperation, I contacted my saddler and begged her to see if she would make me a completely custom bridle. She told me straight up she doesn’t like making bridles, because they are fussy and fidgety and have to be done by hand. I begged some more, explaining all the measuring and shopping I had done, and she admitted that she had some spare pieces that she had been working on that might work. Lucky for me, the noseband was perfect, she had pony-sized cheekpieces, and a lovely horse-sized monocrown headstall that allowed for a throatlatch that buckled on BOTH sides. All that was missing was a warmblood-sized throatlatch and browband, so I begged some more and she agreed to make them for me. Bonus was that the price she quoted me was about half of what a fully custom bridle would have cost me from most other saddlers.

Note the monocrown, double-buckle-end throatlatch, and the perfect Haffie-sized noseband.

I did have to wait for quite a while for my extra bridle pieces to be made. I know they weren’t her highest priority – for the most part, she does saddles, not bridles. Still, it was well worth the wait. Paddy LOVES the monocrown, and I am now a huge fan of crank nosebands. Not because I crank mine down – it’s actually quite loose. But the padding under the chin really seems to make him more comfortable, and anything that my horse likes, I’m all for. The leather quality is something I like – it seems quite sturdy but it’s also nicely supple. I will say that the edges are not as well finished as my $500 double (which I bought used for $100 15 years ago), but that’s only something I see up close so it’s not really something I find to be a problem. It looks very nice on him, I think!

Craftsmanship is nice, and he loves the padding under his chin. I also love how the ring on the crank allows the noseband to sit at a slightly different angle under his chin than it does over his nose. I've always had a problem with that on a regular noseband.

Overall, Paddy gives it five Haffie stars. Wait… does five Haffie stars equal two-and-a-half stars? Does he have to give it TEN Haffie stars to make five regular stars? I’m so confused…

Whatever. We both like it!

Monday, August 4, 2014


Last week, we got clearance from the vet to start cantering and "bring him back into full work" again.  On one hand, that was super awesome news, but on the other hand, I was actually a little sad. Our trot work has been coming along so well, I sort of didn't want to add another element to the equation. Alas, we have to canter if we actually ever want to do a dressage test again, so after over three months of not cantering, I cued him for a canter...

... poor guy was so confused! He eventually picked it up after I said "canter" and asked, but it was kind of like he had forgotten he could do that under saddle, lol! 

We are now a week in to our canter work, and while I'm not asking for much, our last ride was much nicer. Yeah, he's unbalanced and a bit rushy, but he feels good and stronger than he did before the injury.

Flat and on the forehand, but not too bad.

More balanced and together (and I'm not leaning forward, lol)

We still have a long way to go before we're back to cantering 10 meter circles, but it's a good start and he continues to feel great!