gear · product review · winter

Product Review: Noble Outfitters Softshell Riding Pants

Noble Outfitters Softshell Riding Pants
MSRP: $99.95
I paid: $67.46, at Riding Warehouse, on Black Friday

I’ve been on the hunt for new winter breeches for close to 18 months now. I have an old pair of Devon-Aire breeches that are thinning precariously, and have a hole in the knee from a bad fall on the ice at the end of last winter. Plus, going through a whole winter with just one pair of breeches is both a precarious state of being AND really gross.

Winter breeches were my #1 request from my family for Christmas this year, and my parents obliged by telling me to pick out whatever I wanted. I chose these based on a couple of factors: price, looks, the softshell outside, and my experience with a few other Noble Outfitters products – namely their Perfect Fit gloves, which are my new favorite thing.

These arrived last week and I’ve now put 4 rides on them. I have some mixed feelings.

Overall? They’re pretty great. The softshell outside really does work to repel hay and other things that you might pick up at the barn. It does get dusty, but what clothing doesn’t?

They’re reasonably warm, which is to say: as warm as one layer of fleece + top fabric can possibly get. I’ve ridden in temperatures from 16f to 36f and while at 16f I was glad I kept my legs underneath the quarter sheet they were still fine for walking around while tacking up, etc. Once in the saddle, they were flexible and accommodating in all the right places: I never felt like I was held back or cinched up too tightly.

I’m not sure the knee patches actually do all that much? They felt super-sticky right out of the box but after a week of wear are not nearly as sticky. I’ve ridden in them both with and without stirrups, for a plain walk around, a more thorough dressage schooling, and some trot sets. I didn’t notice any extra stickability, per se, but I also stayed in the saddle just fine, so…there’s that?

Here’s their real problem: they sag a little bit. I have to pull them up occasionally when walking around home or the barn. They’re not as bad as the Pipers (sigh, so much potential, so much sagging) but it’s still noticeable. I wish they came in a Long version; I think what’s happening is that the slim fit of the legs (which is perfect! hooray for sock bottoms instead of velcro!) is tugging them down as I walk. So a long would give me just an inch or two of extra fabric and keep that from happening. But basically no one makes winter breeches in long, so I am SOL on that one.

In short – I would recommend them for their price point and for their intended purpose. They’re still very workable. They’re just not perfect, but then – nothing is!

product review

Product Reveiw: NibbleNet Slow Feeder Hay Bag

It’s been about a year since I purchased this hay bag, and it’s seen near-constant use, so I thought I’d review it since I’m very pleased with it.

The product in question is the NibbleNet Slow Feeder Hay Bag. Mine is the 1.5″ hole version, and it comes with smaller holes. It retails for $69.99, so this is not a cheap piece of equipment.

(not my photo)
I have previously experimented with slow feeder hay bags when Tristan was on stall rest from his surgery. I purchased the SmartPak Small Hole Hay Net in the hopes of slowing down his consumption. That didn’t last long. It was time-consuming for the barn staff to load, and Tristan loathed it, to the degree that my food-crazy pony would often leave the last bit when it got really difficult to get the hay out. So it’s been in storage ever since.
Two winters ago, the barn recommended purchasing the NibbleNets for use in all the stalls; that would help with maintaining more of a free choice hay environment in the stalls, which for us is especially important in the winter, given how cold it gets. I didn’t have the funds at the time to purchase this particular brand, so I subbed in my old Classic Equine Top Load Hay Bag. I had two of them; I had purchased them after much deliberation as hay bags for my trailer. Joke’s on me, they never worked in the trailer because of the way the manger area was set up, so I always used just a regular cotton hay net. That bag barely lasted the winter – it was a smart design and an attractive bag but it was just not durable at all. I stitched it back together several times but finally gave up on it.
Last January, I made my first purchase at Riding Warehouse during their 20% off sale, and this bag was on the top of my list. I paid $55.16 for it. How has it been since then?
Magic. Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but WOW, this sucker wears like iron and does exactly what it says on the tin: slows down a horse’s rate of eating.
Much to the chagrin of shaggy little roan mustangs.
It does flip over sometimes, but it’s easy enough even for the horses to flip back the right way, and for my money, that’s extra entertainment value. And there are loops on the bottom and ways you can tie it down more securely if that sort of thing really bothers you.
Thinking I would write this post for today, last night I took a good long look at the hay bag to check for weaknesses, stress points, or wear marks. I found basically none, after 10 months of continual use by a horse who is not easy on his toys.
So despite the higher price tag, I can HIGHLY recommend this hay bag. It durability and usability are worth the cost.

product review

Follow up to review of KER ClockIt App

In interests of being semi-impartial, here’s another review of the KER ClockIt App I reviewed last Friday:

Fitness Trials and Tribulations: Galloping the Warmblood

…though, KER is sponsoring the review, soooooo.

I did note in the original review that perhaps it would work better with an attached heart rate monitor. The author of the EN review did use a heart monitor and seems happier with it.

So if I ever do purchase one, I’ll try again for sure. In the meantime, without the heart monitor, the app sucks.

product review

Product Review: KER ClockIt App

Some weeks ago, Eventing Nation sent out an email announcing a contest to win a gift certificate to purchase items from Kentucky Equine Research – specifically, you could win enough to pay for a heart monitor kit.

I’ve wanted a heart monitor for some time, so I read the contest rules with more interest.

Sure, ok, I can do that! I’m always interested in trying out new horse fitness tracking thingies.

Spoiler alert: the app kind of sucks as it’s currently set up.

Main screen

Stable, for keeping your back end records.
I have no idea what the “connections” part means. But you see here how it’s a bit unwieldy for people with just one horse. It really wants you to list lots of horses.

The distinctions are kind of arbitrary. Lower-level? Yeah, I guess, but…what does that *mean*? If the purpose of this app is to help collect data, there should be some kind of definition of what each category encompasses, so I can be sure I’m making the right choice.
These were all “types” I created myself. Which means – again as above – they are basically meaningless in the broader scheme of things. They roughly encompass the types of work I do (well the types of work I had done 3 days into using this app, anyway) but…surely most people don’t stick to precisely one type of work at a time? Am I just that easily bored? I found that numerous times I set the type of work and then changed my mind after 5 minutes, because it was immediately apparent that wouldn’t work for him that day.

Still have no idea what this means, really. There’s no button to add. I gather that one of the functions of this app is to have your trainer assign you work, so…maybe that’s what this is for?
Please note: there is no way to add your own ICE (in case of emergency) information. You have to send or receive “ICE connection offers.” So in order for the ICE button to call, say, my husband, he’d have to be in their system. I tried to see if it would connect to my iPhone Contacts. When I typed “Matt” into the search box one of the names that came up was Elinor MacPhail. Not only does her name not contain the letters “matt” she’s also a 4* rider who has no idea I exist, WHY WOULD I CALL HER IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.
If I am misunderstanding the purpose of this function, there’s nowhere in the app that tells me that, or what its intended use actually is.

Let’s get to the actual ride clocking.

Every time you start a new session, you have to enter the Horse, Location (which…ok? why?), and Worktype. It never assumes I’m riding the only horse I have in the stable, which is not great UI.
(no, that’s not my barn, I took this screencap on lunch break at work. that is basically 75% of the downtown of the 5th largest city in the state of Vermont. just in case you needed more proof that this place is TINY.)

Here are two rides. No, I did not ride my horse at 10:30 pm. I don’t remember exactly what time it was, but there’s no way it was later than 7:00 pm. And I remember thinking at the time that not only was the hourly tally wrong and there was nowhere to indicate that I’m on EST, the minute time was wrong as well. So I have NO IDEA where it is pulling that data from.

This is the section that has the most potential, and when I first saw these screens I got excited and was prepared to forgive the app all its other bizarre eccentricities. 
Then I thought about the ride I’d had, and looked more closely at the numbers.
This was a 30 minute dressage schooling session. According to this app, I only trotted for 4 seconds, and I never cantered. I tested it across several other rides – including a timed conditioning session – and the app was wildly inaccurate every single time. So it’s got really shitty coding in the way it accesses the iPhone’s internal motion sensors. 
Maybe it will be better with an actual heart rate monitor hooked up to it. If I ever purchase one, I’ll check back in and update this review.
In the meantime, I’ve recorded and uploaded about 5 rides, and that’s about as far as I’ll go with this particular app. It’s just not worth it – inaccurate reporting, unwieldy UI, and its most supposedly beneficial features – sharing with trainers – are just not a match for what I do.

grooming · product review · shedding

Product Review: Bamboo FurBuster for Horses

I am a longtime user of Furminators for dog and cat. I think they’re terrific at getting deep into an animal’s coats and taking care of stray hair before it ends up in my dinner. (Though let’s be honest everything in my life is covered in animal hair anyway.)

So when I came across this knockoff version of the Furminator specifically marketed for horses – and it was $5.50 on clearance at TJ Maxx – well, that was worth the price of admission.

ps packaging does not hold up to idiot dogs
The FurBuster comes in two parts: the handle and the blade itself. The blade was a bit tricky to get into the handle, but a little bit of wrestling and it clicked in. It has not even threatened to budge since then, so I think the tough part was worth it.
Does it work?
It really does. That was a not-too-hard pass on Tristan’s shoulder. It absolutely digs pretty deep and gets up quite a bit of hair.

Next question: is it worth it? Nah.

Look, it’s a great little toy. I’m not sorry I bought it to try out, and it’s definitely part of my shedding arsenal now. That being said, it does have some drawbacks, and I’m not sure it performs all that much better than a good old-fashioned shedding blade.

First drawback: it clogs up pretty quickly. Because of its design, hair gets caught in the blade and stays there. Shedding blades sort of push that hair ahead of them, and you can just keep going and going and it piles up. This gets much more hair in a single pass – but you have to manually remove the hair after each pass.

Second drawback: it’s not flexible. It does a great job on the large wide spaces – neck, shoulders, back, butt, etc. – but it’s stiff and tough to actually get any hair off the legs.

Third drawback: it’s pretty invasive. Which means Tristan loves it! My horse has never been groomed hard enough in his entire life. He loooooooves a good hard, deep curry and half falls asleep while you use this thing. I think it helps alleviate some of the itching from shedding while it pulls the hair out.

But I know that an awful lot of horses cannot handle being groomed deeply (or even at all!). This is soooooooo not the tool for those horses! They would absolutely hit the roof. It’s much more invasive than a regular shedding blade – it goes deeper, it grabs more hair, and its rigid nature means that the horse’s skin has to yield to it, unlike a shedding blade, which shapes around a horse’s curves.

So: fun purchase in the moment, not something I’m going to recommend everyone run out and buy.

product review · winter

Product Review: Helmet Helpers Polarfleece Original Cozy Riding Cover

As part of my big overall effort to upgrade my winter riding experience this year, I ordered a Helmet Helpers Polarfleece Original Cozy Riding Cover as part of my big Christmas order.

It retails for $38, and I paid $23.96. I bought it in black.

The idea is that it goes over your helmet and helps block wind and keep your head warm. I am a big believer in keeping your head covered during winter; the human body loses some astonishing percentage of its heat through the head, and it can make a big difference to keep a hat on. It’s for that same reason that a vented helmet can make a big difference.

My beloved new helmet is very much vented, and in the past I’ve gotten nasty earaches from riding in the cold, so when I learned that something like this existed, and it made sense for my budget to pull the trigger, it was at the top of my list.

First impression: LOVE LOVE LOVE.

More details:

I was quite frankly surprised at how quickly and easily it went on my helmet. It was snug without being too tight. I was actually imagining it would go on like those rubber bell boots and STAY ON, but that is very much not the case. It slides on and stays on firmly. The trick was to start with the brim and then pull the rest down. It’s well-stitched and sturdy, and does not necessarily rely on elastic to cling to the helmet, just good snug fit.

Make no mistake: this is not a fashion statement. It might be with the right fabric or whatever, but though it is relatively sleek and unobtrusive, it is still a big piece of fleece covering your helmet and your entire face.

photobomb by Tristan; he was pretty sure I was taking a picture of him so he started mugging

But does it work?

Ohhhhhhhhh yes it does. It really does. It works in two ways: first, as a windblock, it keeps cold breezes from going through those lovely vents and taking away my body heat. Second, it traps the heat that is generated by my body and keeps it from flying out those vents. All of that means that it works during warmup and then again during my ride itself.

It is really, really good at both of those things. My ears stay warm. My chin stays warm. I stay warm overall because of it. Honestly, at the end of my ride I often have to undo the velcro strap around the chin because I am a bit too warm. (I think at least part of that is this weird tropical winter we’re having, to be fair.)

If I could say one bad thing, it would be this: the chin strap bit is not as functional as it should be. The velcro is a bit thin, and is placed a bit too high up. I have a fairly average head. I should be able to get the velcro on immediately, every time, and it should cover itself by at least half. Most of the time when I’m doing this it takes me one or two tries, and then I only catch the end of the velcro. It has not come undone, but it’s definitely a design flaw.

you have no idea how much I did NOT want to share this photo, but for the sake of completeness, here’s what it looks like from the front.

In summary: if you ride in the winter, you need one of these. It works as advertised, and works well.

gear · product review · winter

Product Review: SSG 10 Below Riding Gloves

As I have mentioned, this is going to be my winter of figuring out my cold weather riding glove problem.

Whenever I Googled or asked around about riding gloves, the SSG 10 Below gloves came up. They’re the warmest things you can ride in! people said. They’re the only thing I’ll wear in the winter! people said.

Those people must not live in Vermont. Or actually ride in the actual winter. Or…I don’t know…use their fingers when they ride. Or their hands. Or their wrists.

But let me start at the beginning.

These gloves retail for $43.95, and I bought them from Riding Warehouse for $26.36. Which puts them among the most expensive riding gloves I have ever purchased. (Hi, have you met me? I’m cheap.)

As soon as I put them on, my heart sank. These gloves are huge. They give bulky a bad name. They are so thick I felt like each individual finger had tripled in size. They were so thick I could not really wiggle my fingers, let alone flex them.

Making a fist required actual exertion.

Holding the reins with them was an exercise in frustration. Not only could I not really feel the reins, I couldn’t get a good tight grip, either. The reins kept slipping out from my fingers, and I couldn’t tell it was slipping, and forget when Tristan tried to yank the reins out from my hands. When he coughed they fell out of my hands.

sorry someone was in a zippy mood and would not stand still for photography

Oh, and what’s more: they’re not warm. My fingers were cold and numb during the warmup until my actual body warmed up and then blood flow got to my fingers. Which, for those of you following along at home, is exactly what happened with the other SSG gloves I bought this year for 1/3 the price.

the below-mentioned elastic strap in action

I will give them this: they are well-made. The stitching is tight, the fabric is tough, and it’s got sticky stuff (like sprayed on neoprene or something?) in the right place. It does have a particularly clever design in which there are elastics inside the cuff that you attach before you put on the gloves, so you can pull off your glove but not lose it. Which is good, because there was no fucking way I was doing any buckles while wearing these gloves. Or even reaching into my coat pocket. Or…well, you get the idea.

In summary: seriously, whose hands do these gloves fit?!

gear · product review · winter

Product Review: SSG Fleecee Knit Winter Riding Fleece-Lined Gloves

I’ve talked before about my big blind spot in winter riding gear: good winter riding gloves. This year, I set about fixing that, and so I have several pairs of gloves that I have been testing out to share & review with you.

First up are these SSG gloves, a purchase with Christmas money. Years ago, I owned a pair of fleece-lined knit gloves that I adored, and have never been able to find since. (I bought them on clearance and suspect they were being discontinued; they didn’t even have a manufacturer’s tag on them.) I found these and hoped they would live up to those long-ago gloves.

MSRP is $15.00 and I paid $9.56 at Riding Warehouse, so I really couldn’t go wrong.
First impressions: I really like them. They are not my long-ago gloves, but they actually look kind of stylish. They are thin and flexible, which is great, and you can get a good rein feel through them. 
I’ve now ridden in them about 8 times, including a couple of road hacks outside, so here’s a longer list of pros and cons.
Pros: they really are light and flexible, yet surprisingly warm. They held up to a short road hack outside in 25 degrees with a wicked wind. I like schooling in them, as I can really use my fingers. The cuff is long enough to be useful.
Cons: they’re not waterproof, and the knit will not hold up to lots of barn chores like throwing hay or undoing anything with velcro. The seam on the index finger is unnecessarily bulky, but I found that this didn’t really bother me after a few rides; either I got used to it or it got mashed down.
They’re also not really, really warm gloves. They’re middling gloves. I used them while longeing earlier this week and they did just ok; in situations where my fingers weren’t actively moving all the time, or I wasn’t exercising and therefore warming up my core, the fell short.
They ran pretty true to size; I’m a 7 in SSG gloves, and the small was meant to be a 7/8. If I could get between an XS and a S I’d be happy, as these are just a smidge large for me. (I have TINY hands and short fingers, which is a perpetual challenge for me in finding gloves.) I’m not sure that they’re the highest quality and most durable gloves out there, but at $10 each they are miles and away a better value for the price than many $20 gloves I’ve seen.

blog hop · product review · shopping

Favorite Products Blog Hop

Jumping on the bandwagon for this fun blog hop from Breeches & Boat Shoes.

What is your favorite equestrian-specific product that you use when you’re at the barn?

I think it might have to be my Oster Mane & Tail brush. I confess, I don’t clean out Tristan’s mane and tail as often as I should, but every time I do I LOVE using this brush. It’s just one of the best-designed tools I’ve ever used around horses.

I actually own a full set of the Oster brushes – they lived in my trailer as my second, traveling kit – but I find the brushes so-so. The mane & tail brush is a thing of glory and a joy forever.

What is your favorite non equestrian-specific product to use when you’re at the barn?

Probably something medical. I’d say a toss-up between vinegar (for White Lightning & other hoof soaks), saline (for some idiot pony’s eyes), and molasses, though the smell makes me gag.

In actual happy things to use – I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m in a good mood when I have to use any of those things – I’d have to go with my iPhone + headphones. I’ve only recently come around to listening to podcasts while riding and it’s such a great way to kill all that walking warmup time that Tristan needs.

What is your horse’s favorite equestrian-specific product to wear or use?

Cripes. None of them? No, wait, never mind.

I have this tiny little face brush. It’s maybe 4″ long, and it has the most flexible, softest bristles you can imagine. Tristan loves his face brushed, and I bought this for him almost eight years ago now. It was during his first, awful colic – which maybe I should blog about someday, but it was as bad as it gets – and I was on a rare break from the barn, at the tack store, buying extra medical supplies mostly. And there was this brush at the register in a box with others of its kind, and I was so strung out and tired and worried and sad and all I could think was how much he loves having his face brushed and how soft it would be.
So while I often brush his face with my regular body brush, on special occasions I take out this small wonderful brush and spend a long time just brushing his face. He leans into it and tips his head for me  and sighs happily.

What was the best equestrian-related gift you were ever given, and why does it mean so much to you?

It’s not a great picture, but can you see the small horse statue in the photo? It’s a raku horse made by Lindsey Epstein, who is an incredibly talented artist and was the barn manager for a previous barn Tris and I were at. (She appears on this blog incognito as both a teacher and occasional rider of Tristan a few years back.) Lindsey makes these gorgeous horses, and due to the quirks of the glaze they often come out in all sorts of different and unexpected patterns. This one came out looking like Tristan: all roany. It was a Christmas gift several years ago from a very dear friend, and it has occupied this spot on my desk in three different offices now. It’s the combination of unique, thoughtful gift and the much-beloved people involved that makes this so special.

If you had the ability to create any product or anything to make your time at the barn better, what would that be?

Try as I might to devise a winter riding apparel plan every year, there is literally nothing on earth that makes going to the barn in 12 degree weather better. Nothing. So, if I could wave a magic wand and make that happen, that would be nice.
giveaways · product review

Product Review & Giveaway!: Two Horse Tack Halter Bridle

Important clarification/disclaimer: I received this product for free as a review item.

Note: If you’re just here for the giveaway, scroll all the way down, but I encourage you to read the review, too.

Two Horse Tack is a US-based maker of custom biothane strap goods – bridles, halters, harnesses, breastplates, etc. They have a genuinely dizzying array of different styles, colors, sizes, and options.

I’ve thought seriously about a biothane halter-bridle combination for years. It always seemed just outside of sensible when I had so many other things (like vet bills) on my plate. So I was stupid excited to get an email from Two Horse Tack offering me my pick of anything on their website in return for a review & a giveaway promotion. No arm twisting required!

So, step 1: ordering. Like I said, an unbelievable array of possibilities there. It took me quite some time and hemming and hawing to finally decide on what I wanted. I chose the Traditional Halter Bridle made with Reflective Day Glo Biothane. I opted for the reflective biothane because I primarily envisioned this as a trail riding bridle, and I wanted something really obvious for hunting season. One tiny quibble: there was no true hunter’s blaze orange among the reflective options. (Or at least that wasn’t clear; there was an orange but I couldn’t tell if it was blaze orange, so didn’t choose it.)

I ended up ordering the black base, with lime green day glo overlay. I chose the Horse size bridle – Tristan is often a fairly true horse size, and the range said it ran from 14.2 to 16h horses, so seemingly on the smaller side. I went with the stainless steel hardware and matching reins, and chose the roller buckle attachments for the reins because I prefer them whenever possible. I didn’t go with a breast collar or curb strap, and chose white stitching because I thought it would be a nice contrast. (So, basically, I bought the exact same bridle that the model horse is wearing.)

The retail price for this combination was $112.50, which is actually really good for a new bridle with reins!

Because every piece is custom-made, it didn’t ship immediately, but it also did not take too long at all; my records show that it shipped within 2-3 days, and took another 2-3 days to get to me. I was really pleasantly surprised.

Since its arrival, we’ve been sort of up and down, but I’ve ridden in it about a dozen times, both in a trail riding and a schooling context.

Overall impression: I’m really, really pleased. I think it looks sharp. The hardware is all nice stuff, and the biothane itself is way nicer than I would have guessed, not having much exposure to it previously. It was stiff to start off with but is loosening up nicely. The dayglo overlay absolutely stands out, and the reflective strip is VERY reflective.

Fit: Horse size was definitely the right way to go. Tristan’s head is a comfortable fit; when you actually read their sizing guidelines, their horse size seems to be on the small side. The reins are definitely on the long side, which is actually totally fine for trail riding. It might get a little irritating for schooling. The good news is that the biothane is probably really easy to just snip and re-punch if you wanted to shorten them.

Quality: Like I said, pretty darn impressed. The hardware is solid, and the biothane is really quite nice.  It feels more rubbery than plasticky, soft and light. There are a small number of spots where the stitching is not perfectly in line, but it’s only noticeable on very close inspection.

I’ve gotten several admiring compliments on it, and it is my go-to for any kind of field or road hack, especially now that we’re entering hunting season.

I love, love, love the halter bridle aspect of it, for a lot of reasons. My current favorite is that if I forget something at my stall or in the tack room – a not infrequent occurrence – I can just toss him on the crossties and hustle back to grab it, rather than take off his bridle or ask someone to hold him or any number of inconvenient options.

However, the first time I put it on resulted in a rather derpy moment.

Tristan would like you to know that his mom is an IDIOT.
It was like my brain got mixed up between halter and bridle and I honestly stared at the bit hanging below his jaw for a moment in deep confusion. Like…wait I did what I was supposed to – OH. The good news? I just unclipped the bit, slid it into his mouth, and then clipped it back on without undoing the whole bridle!
In summary: I love this thing. I was excited to try it out, and it was precisely what I wanted. It’s not often you can say that about something!
SO. Now for the most exciting part: the giveaway. 
Two Horse Tack is sponsoring a giveaway just for readers of this blog. They’re giving away a Western breastcollar. I know most of you ride English, but I just spent a long time studying the photographs of the breastcollar and…it’s basically the same thing, without the grab strap.
Here’s what you should do:
1) Go to Two Horse Tack’s giveaway page. At the bottom of the form, enter “Bel Joeor blog” when it asks how you heard about us. This is the really important step – that will make sure you’re part of the smaller pool of people who are eligible for just this giveaway.
2) Leave a comment here letting me know that you entered the giveaway. If you spent some time perusing the website, tell me what caught your eye – what would you want to buy for yourself?
The giveaway will run through 10/31. Two Horse Tack will contact the winner directly but I’ll stay in touch as well and make sure everything goes smoothly.
Ready, set…enter!