2016 show season · dressage · fashion · show planning

One step forward, two steps back

First, the good news: show clothes still fit! Including the white breeches!

The coat is just a smidge tight, but not in the “doesn’t fit” way, in the “cut to be restrictive and make you sit up straight” way, and it’s always tended that way.
My stock tie has vanished, but as of late last night I have another one on the way from a friend which is a fun story I will blog about later.
I also located my show helmet, hairnet, show gloves, stock pin without difficulty, remembered that I had actually bought a brand new white show shirt out of some technical wizard fabric like all the kids are wearing these days (my old show shirt was a polyester short sleeved thing that worked for IHSA classes in college but was the actual pits of fashion). I had never worn said shirt but a wearing it in the picture above!
I had also (yay past me!) washed and neatly packed away all my white/show saddle pads. So those are good to go too.
Now the bad news: I tried to start Tristan in his snaffle in the dressage ring last night and it was kind of a disaster. He bolted repeatedly, never relaxed, never softened, would not listen to me and as a result our circles were weird half-square half-oval blobs. In fairness, it was ludicrously windy, so that may have keyed him up, but it was still absolutely awful.
I brought him back down to the indoor and schooled the everloving shit out of him. We ran both tests. We ran every movement in both tests. We ran transitions, We cantered. I put on spurs and a whip and forced him forward into a hand gallop. He was tiiiiiired but finally cooperative at the end.
Then we went up to the outdoor jumping arena, and we repeated that, making sure I had brakes and that he was listening to leg and hand in the walk, trot, and canter. Then we went back up to the dressage ring and trotted and cantered around the outside, politely. He was ever so very tired, but cooperative.
So, today: we’ll see. I’ll start in his snaffle but bring his kimberwicke up. Depending on how the ride goes I’ll decide whether to warm him up in his kimberwicke and switch to the snaffle for the actual rides.
Semi-related gripe: I didn’t read Training 2 through thoroughly enough, what the hell. How many times can you cross the diagonal in one goddamn test?!


Explain to me: fly bonnets?

We are finally entering serious bug season here in Vermont. (Though, it has been getting into the low 40s and high 30s at night, so maybe that will ease off again.)

Once upon a time, Tristan wore a fly bonnet for every outdoor ride. See, when bugs land on his face, he loses his little mind. He flings his head in every possible direction. He snorts. He prances. He shakes and shakes and shakes.

He is remarkably tolerant of me using a dressage whip to flick them off, so that’s often what I do, along with riding when the bugs are less, or inside, or just sucking it up.

(I just looked and looked and can’t find a photo of Tris in his fly bonnet, so you will have to take my word for this.)

Here’s the problem though: the fly bonnet does not stay on his head. No matter how I snug it under his bridle, no matter how I wrap the string around the straps of the bridle, no matter how much I reach forward and tug it back into place while we’re riding, it does.not.stay.put.

Relatively quickly into every ride with it, he gives a really good long shake, and it flies off, usually falling forward over his eyes. Thankfully, he doesn’t care all that much, but it’s next to impossible to get back into place from the saddle, and then it’s even more dislodged, and stays an even shorter period of time, etc.

It’s a cheap basic fly bonnet that I probably bought at Dover Saddlery at least 10 years ago, before they were all cool. White, with cotton fabric ears and crocheted cotton headpiece. It has tassels that used to be longer before someone trimmed them, something about they were hanging in his eyes and looked terrible. 😛

This one, in white.

What am I doing wrong? Is Tristan just not meant to be one of the cool kids who can accessorize with a fly bonnet? Is it a fit problem?

fashion · helmets · shopping · smartpak

Helmet Shopping: The Results

Spoiler alert! I came home from my trip to Boston last week (and of course a stop by Smartpak), walked in the door, and announced to my fiance that I had found the sexiest piece of riding gear I have ever bought.

(He said, “I don’t even know what it is and that is blatantly false.” Luckily I found a boy who appreciates breeches…)


Thank you all SO much for your thoughtful, eloquent, and incredibly useful feedback on my helmet search. I read every comment multiple times, made notes, scoured websites, and thought a lot. I was ready to tackle the new helmet fitting process.

First: a moment of silence for my old helmet, which did yeoman’s work and came the closest of any helmet I have ever owned to lasting until its expiration date, rather than being put out of commission by a fall.

It was an ugly thing, but it saw me through a lot.
On to the shopping!
I re-confirmed the following: Charles Owens do not fit my head, Troxels are ugly as sin, I still dislike the Tipperary style, and everything else was waaaaaay out of the price range. I did not even try on any Samshields or One Ks or all those other helmets the cool kids are wearing these days.
I narrowed it down to two helmets.
On the right, the IRH XR9. On the left, the IRH Elite Xtreme. Helmet names are getting as dumb as car names, seriously.
I wanted badly to like the XR9. It fit pretty darn well, actually. I just wasn’t quiiiiiite sold on it, and since I was there in front of a wall o’helmets, and had an awesome Smartpak salesperson helping me out and talking through options with me, I put on the Elite Xtreme. And little angels sang in a choir.
The trick, as it turned out, was that the Xtreme came in a “long oval” size, which means that my head is even weirder sized than I expected. I put it on and it fit like a glove, and it settled down onto my head and I loved it. And then I looked at the price tag, and I wanted to cry, but I looked at myself in the mirror, and felt the helmet wrap around my head, and sighed. 
The salesperson offered to get the black version of what I was wearing but you know what?  That silver is awesome. It looks like a million bucks. It’s not a show helmet – I have a wonderful velvet show helmet – and we don’t even show anyway. 
soooooooooo sexy
Spending way more than I planned on my helmet did not stop me from swinging through the clearance section, which was filled with the usual tempting array. I escaped with this jacket (minus the Smartpak logo) for $25, and the Back on Track glove liners for $12.50, because ’tis the season for winter stuff on deep clearance.
I’ve now ridden in the helmet about a half dozen times and I loooooooove it. It’s a little snug until the back harness softens and the lining breaks down a bit, but it turns heads, and I get a happy thrill from putting it on. It doesn’t budge while I’m riding, and best of all, I actually look almost good for once.
post-ride the other day
In conclusion: way more $$$ than I anticipated, but WHOOOO for sexy new helmets!
fashion · helmets

What helmet should I buy?

So, I fell off my horse. I fell mostly onto my hip and back, but in the rolling followup I smacked the back of my head against the ground, too.

It was a relatively minor fall – helmet didn’t crack, no real headache, anything like that.

The helmet was already nearing the end of its useful life, however – the sticker inside said it was manufactured in November 2011 – and I am a firm subscriber to the rule of replacing your helmet whenever it gets hit.

In the past, I’ve mailed the helmet back to the company, used a backup (usually my show helmet), and then paid the nominal fee to replace it through the company. I’ve done this at least three or four times with IRH, and been very happy with that process. (Did you know you can and should do that? It’s an important part of product research so that we can make helmets better and safer.)

After a marathon day spent trying on every single helmet at Dover Saddlery about 8 years ago, I’ve been loyal to one particular helmet: the IRH Air-Lite Dura Soft Touch.

It is not the most attractive helmet on the market, but it has many other virtues. It is light, vented, tough, and it fits my head perfectly. I’ve been really, really happy with it. As I said, this is at least my fifth one in a row.
But. You knew there was a but coming, right?
I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to ride in something a bit nicer, and a bit more stylish. The Air-Lite gives me the most incredible bubble head, and I’m kind of sick of it.
So this is where you come in, internet: what helmets should I try on when I head down to Smartpak next week?
Things to keep in mind:
– $200 max budget (who the fuck are these people who pay $1,000 for a goddamn helmet?!)
– oval-shaped head
– I hate the Tipperaries; I’m looking for traditional styling, black.
A quick internet browse leads me to believe I should be looking at Charles Owens and IRHs. I’ll try on a wide range at Smartpak, see what they have in clearance, and if I don’t love what they have there I can hit up a large Dover Saddlery nearby as well.
Would love any and all suggestions!

Help me find a new iPhone case

About six weeks ago, I took Arya for a hike in Groton State Park. We were out for about an hour and a half having a lovely time. I stopped on a bridge and thought wow, that waterfall is lovely, overrun with spring melt. I took a careful step to the middle of the bridge, had Arya sit, took out my iPhone, and took a picture.

I’m not sure what happened next. It just slipped out of my fingers, bounced, and then vanished. I stared at the edge of the bridge for a couple of seconds, and then clambered down the bank. Arya sat patiently by the side of the stream but as I perched on slick, mossy rocks and fished around in the stream with my hand, I thought, this is how those news stories start. The stream was running high, it was rocky, and there was no one for miles.

So we left my phone there, somewhere, and headed to the Verizon store, where I handed over my credit card and got a new phone. Mostly, it’s been fine.

I bought a cheapo wallet case at Walmart for $2, which has been doing its job, but I am going to need something more substantial.

That’s where you all come in!

I’d like this case to have a little more personality than my last iPhone case, which was a verrrry basic black Incipio slide-on case. It basically looked like a slightly thicker iPhone.

Ideally, I’d like a horsey-themed iPhone case. I’ve looked around and found some possible candidates, but nothing is jumping out at me. My first stop was DappleBay, but it looks like they discontinued their iPhone cases. Boooooo. I emailed them in hopes that there was some back stock, but never got a response. Double booooooooo.

Then, I headed to Etsy.

They ranged from the meh.

To the kind-of weird (why is that cowgirl riding an extended trot? anyone?)

To the confusing.
To the really weird.
I’m also considering just a basic case, like the OtterBox Commuter with wallet, and then adding a sticker to the outside.

But what sticker?

Help me, internets. Do you have a horse-themed phone cover? Do you like it? Is there one you’ve always coveted?

fashion · stupid human tricks

Got Issues? I am your worst nightmare.

Amanda’s post at The $900 Facebook Pony got me thinking and remembering. So many of you have quirks and things that you’re OCD about around the barn.

I get that! I really do! I have a few myself: I triple check stall doors and gates, I really like a nicely swept aisle, etc. You better believe that when I muck out a stall it’s clean to the bones, and as the barn manager recently said when I told her about my endless night check, “So you OCD’d out a little bit, didn’t you?”

Here’s the thing though: there are a whole lot of things that everyone cared very much about that it never occurred to me to even think about, or at least be bothered by.

Tristan’s bridle path hasn’t been trimmed in 4+ months. I honestly can’t remember the last time I figure-8’d my bridle. (Yes, that’s a verb now.) It’s been 3+ months since I cleaned tack, which, to be fair, I haven’t really been using it. Forget trimming fetlocks. I wear breeches and barn clothes into the ground, and then I wear them a few more times, and then I wash them, except in cases of extreme filth or sweat. Usually they’re secondhand anyway, or at the very least off the clearance rack.

I have never, not once, not a single time in almost 10 years, pulled Tristan’s mane. Not a single hair.

Wild unkempt beastie.

Also, it falls naturally to the left. So I leave it there. I’ve never had more than a passing thought of training it over.

Ready for the one that would drive most of you absolutely crazy?

Take a good close look at the boots Tristan is wearing in this picture.
Those are Dover’s house brand galloping boots, in black. They’re Tristan’s standard XC boots; he’s a relatively careful horse and just needs a bit of extra padding. They wear well, and they’re cheap.
Anyone care to guess how long I used them before trimming the extra Velcro straps?
Your answer is never. I never trimmed the extra Velcro off. Every single time I put the boots on, I pulled the Velcro loops snug and left the extra bits flapping in the breeze. It never, not one single time, not once, occurred to me to cut it off.
Then Hannah came with us XC schooling and noticed that I had never cut the Velcro straps and she was horrified, and she would not let me go on course until she had trimmed them properly. See below. You can just see the LF and RH boots in this image: nicely trimmed!

The moral of the story is, I can’t be bothered and would probably drive most of you insane if you boarded with me.

In my defense, my horse is happy, healthy, never wants for anything, and I work my ass off to make sure he has what he needs. I just…don’t have that gene that needs everything around the barn to be Just Right. Neat? Clean? Relatively presentable? In immaculate shape when we’re showing? Hell yes. Any other time? Meh.


Explain to Me: Belts?

Many years ago, I was a Pony Club DC. I loved it. Pony Club to me still represents the highest possible standard of horsemanship. Ever since then, I’ve jumped at chances to stay involved, which mostly means judging at ratings, and since I am nobody’s idea of a dressage or jumping judge, that means a lot of stable management and turnout inspections. I love doing them.

Pony Club = the best.

Pony Club requires – at a certain level of turnout – belts.

I have literally never worn a belt in my life. Not on my everyday pants, and not on my breeches.

I understand the background behind Pony Club requirements, and I once saw it with my own eyes. I arrived at the county fairgrounds just about ten years ago and as I walked over to the stabling area I heard “loose horse!” Around the corner came barreling a gelding who belonged to one of my kids. He was D-O-N-E, despite typically being a solid citizen.

He spied me, and my trainer, who was standing next to us, and he went faster, right toward us. We did what you do when presented with a loose horse: make yourself big, hold your hands out wide, and talk in a low, soothing voice. He skidded to a halt in front of us, obviously relieved, and in that moment my trainer took off her belt and in one smooth motion put it around his neck and re-buckled it. She led him like that back to the barn, where he was put back in his stall to think about what he’d done while I interrogated the kid.

I often think “that was really practical and useful” and it’s the reason I’ve kept a halter and lead rope in every car I’ve ever owned, and always keep a lead rope near to me when I’m hauling horses, even if they’re not my own.

But every time I wear a belt all I can think is how awful they are. They cut into my stomach. They make the fabric of my pants all bendy and wrinkled and uncomfortable. Then the pants slip down and the belt is just on my skin and the belt loops are inverted and EVERYTHING IS AWFUL.

I love the look of them, especially the adorably styled ones that are starting to come out. I admit, my heart goes pitter-patter when I see a coordinated polo and belt. It’s such a nice, trim, turnout. I am jealous of all of you who wear them and shop for them and look awesome in them. Every so often I think I should get one and wear one and then I think about the feeling of a belt on the skin of my stomach and how much I want to set them on fire inside of fifteen minutes.

So: why do you wear belts? Am I doing it all wrong? Should I try again?


Do you shop in barn clothes?

Inspired by this recent cartoon from The Idea of Order:

I have to ask: do you go grocery shopping in your barn clothes?
I honestly can’t remember the last time I went grocery shopping in normal clothes. The only place I drive is to the barn, so if I have my car out and about, I’m almost certainly wearing breeches. It doesn’t make sense to go grocery shopping before the barn, so I go afterwards. I am totally oblivious to the weird looks at this point.
I mean, if I’m totally covered in mud/manure/hay, I will give the store a pass, but if I’m otherwise pretty neat and clean? No question, I’m there.

fashion · shopping · smartpak

A Visit to the SmartPak Retail Store

I’ve heard more than one person say that they had no idea SmartPak had a retail store, so I’m here to enlighten you: yes, Virginia, SmartPak maintains one retail store. It’s on Route 9 in Wellesley, Massachusetts – ironically, not too far from the original Dover Saddlery store. (At least I’m about 99% sure it was the first, anyway.)

I’ve been to the SmartPak store many times over the years, and it’s definitely kept coming up in the world as the company itself has grown and matured. Displays have gotten more comprehensive and more professional, with more complete equipment. The square footage is still relatively small (at least compared to my gold standard for retail tack stores, which is the Dover Saddlery store in Plaistow, New Hampshire, about which more later).
I’m visiting family in the area right now, and I had a pair of breeches my mother had bought for me but didn’t quite fit. So I packed them up and decided to bring my camera shopping.
The store itself is much more focused on rider than horse: most of the square footage is taken up by clothing, helmets, and boots.

Every color, every size of the new Pipers.
There’s plenty of tack, too – much more than there used to be. I think every single time I’ve set foot in the store they’ve re-arranged things to maximize their space, and added inventory.

That’s probably 1/5 of the bridles they had out. These are just the SmartPak brand ones.
There’s a separate area downstairs with information about the various Smart supplements.
Upstairs, you can find general horse equipment and other horse care items.

I love the small grace notes throughout the store. For example, this awesome space for people who just want to take a break.
Please note, to the bottom left of the coffee station, a grooming tote full of trucks and other toys. The screen was showing USEF Network livestreaming of the World Cup events in Las Vegas.
A “what’s in your trunk” display; the papers had info about an employee’s horse as well as why the employee picked the equipment she did for her horse. Really neat.
New England was already completely covered, so I didn’t even try to put a star up. Look how far people have come!
Let’s talk about the best part, though, and my source of complete win for the day: the SmartPak clearance outlet.

Do you see that? Every single one of those hangers is a pair of discounted Pipers. Most were 25% off. Some were 50% off. I saw several pairs at 75% off.

It’s all jumbled willy-nilly. You have to be committed to hunting through, but the bargains are amazing. On the left, Charles Owens – all at least 50% off. To the right: Tredstep DaVincis and Tredstep Donatellos, 25% – 50% off. Against the far wall, blankets from 50% – 75% off.
Things end up in the clearance section for a variety of reasons. Maybe they were customized but the stitching went wrong – or the client changed her mind. Maybe they were just discontinued. Maybe there’s a small piece missing. Very often this is where the returns that weren’t in perfect condition go – maybe someone wore a pair of breeches a few times, or snagged a thread taking them out of the packaging.

For example: white Ogilvy pad, some scuffs/wear but in otherwise perfect condition. 25% off $199. 
I had already tried on a pair of Piper breeches, fallen in love, and set them aside to buy with my store credit, but here’s where I really ran into trouble. I found that whole rack of Piper breeches upstairs, and I started hunting them out in my size. Most of them were 25% off, but a few were more steeply discounted, including a few pairs at 75% off!
I found a pair of knee patch breeches with some loose thread. 50% off. Done! A second pair of knee patch Pipers – some scuffing around the waistband. 50% off again!
Finally, I capped it off with a pair in black with white piping, which was what I’d really come in for. I “settled” for 25% off for those.
My final order was $145, having saved a total of $99. I traded in the pair of breeches that hadn’t fit, and got $45 more knocked off the price. Final score: $100.95 for three pairs of brand-new Piper breeches. \o/
I’ll write up which ones I chose, and what I loved about the Pipers, in a separate post. Sadly, our temperatures at home in Vermont have plunged so that I may not be able to really school them until the spring.

SmartPak FTW

I walked in to the SmartPak retail intending to return, in person, a pair of breeches that had been a gift but did not fit, and maybe try on some new pairs. (I am visiting family nearby.)

I walked out 2 hours later with three pairs of the new Pipers from the clearance section.
With store credit: $100.95
Full report to follow soon.