budget · product review

5 Equestrian Products Worth Paying Extra For

As may have become apparent through this blog, I am pretty darn cheap.

However: there are some products out there that are worth buying on the more expensive end of things. They’re not necessarily what most people think of first. I firmly believe that you can shop smart and get quality tack and clothing at a fraction of the price. (I paid $300 for my jump saddle, an older Passier, for example.)

Here are a few things that I personally have paid a bit more for and been thrilled with.

1. Oster Mane & Tail Brush

Buy @Smartpak, $11.95

I actually did a review of this mane & tail brush some time ago, and you can read my full gushing there.

Suffice to say: I was a buy cheap human brushes at Walmart horseperson…until I borrowed a friend’s Oster. Holy mackerel. Little angels appeared and sang in chorus. It is legitimately that good.

I’m not sold on the other Oster brushes – they’re nice enough, but not spectacular – but this? This is mane and tail brush perfection, and it is worth paying the

2. Brush Therapy Effervescent Brush Cleaner

Buy @Smartpak, $7.95 for two

This stuff? It is a miracle. A weird, powdery miracle in a purple tube.

It may seem indulgent, but trust me. It will change your life. Here’s what you do: fill a rubber feed pan with water. Mix one package of this in. Place all your brushes bristle-side down, so the water covers the bristles. If you have wooden handles, go just below the handle; if you have plastic handles, get the water right up to the handle.

Wait 10 minutes. Take out perfectly clean, brand-new brushes. Rinse them once with clean water and you are done. Miracle.

3. Winter Tall Boots

Buy @Smartpak, range of prices
If you’re looking at me funny right now – if you think it’s weird to have a pair of tall boots just to ride in the cold – then you’ve never lived through a New England winter, and I kind of hate you right now. Kidding! No, actually, I’m not.
Is it more than a little indulgent to own an expensive second pair of tall boots for winter riding? Yes. Is it the only way to survive riding through 6′ of snow and -17F temperatures with a modicum of grace? Yes. I don’t care how many layers of Smartwool you wear underneath regular tall boots, it’s not enough. It will never be enough. You need waterproof Thinsulate-lined boots designed for the purpose of keeping your feet functional when it’s below zero.
I don’t know that I have a specific product recommendation; I have the predecessor to the boots shown above, Ariats that I got as a gift about 8 years ago. They retailed for $250 then, and that’s about what you’ll pay for a good pair now. WORTH. EVERY. PENNY.

4. Elastikon

Buy @Smartpak, $26.95 for four
Have you ever wrapped a horse in vetwrap, and said every bad word you know and a few you invented while doing so as it slipped and slid everywhere? Like, trying to wrap a hoof? or a hock? or some other twisty bendy tricky part of a horse?
Elastikon is the magic wand you are looking for. It’s sticky on one side, but stretches just like vetwrap. It sticks to hair, and then molds around whatever awkward thing you are trying to wrap. It wears like iron – easily twice as tough as vetwrap. I never try to wrap a hoof without it, and I would put the conservative number of hoofs I’ve wrapped at 2,163.

5. Sore No More Liniment

You can’t buy this anywhere right now. 😦

I also reviewed this in full. Since that review, there was a national shortage of Sore No More, and I could not get it at Smartpak or locally or anywhere. I sulked, but thought, well, it’s expensive anyway. I ordered a bottle of Absorbine. FAIL. I am counting down the days until that bottle is gone.

Accept no substitutes. Pay the extra $ for Sore No More. You won’t regret it. (If you can find it. Goddamnit.)

What about you? Is there anything on the more expensive range of products that you’ve tried and fallen in love with?

product review

Product Review: Toklat Coolback Bareback Pad

Toklat Coolback Bareback Pad
$74.95 at Smartpak

I posted, oh, a very long time ago now about riding Tristan occasionally in a bareback pad, and thinking about finding my own. I liked the idea, and did some cursory research, and then lost interest as other things took financial precedence.

Then my friend C. posted on Facebook that she was doing some cleaning out of horse supplies in preparation for moving, and did anyone want a bareback pad? I jumped at the chance. She mailed it up, and both the puppy and the cat approved immediately.

Last week, I finally got the chance to use it at the barn.

First impressions: it’s a pretty straightforward thing. You toss it on and girth it up. The barn manager immediately commented on how soft it looked, and liked that it came with its own padded girth. Said girth is really straightforward. It’s also really small: any horse in cob or pony range would absolutely have to punch quite a few extra holes. Tristan wears a cob size in surcingle and is on the small side of the horse range for girths.

The fleece is not exactly natural fleece – it’s pretty clearly synthetic. It’s not terribly bad synthetic, though, and the pile really is quite dense and thick. It feels softer and more durable than synthetic fleece usually does.

I was a little concerned at how little wither clearance there seemed to be – wither rubbing was why I didn’t use the barn’s bareback pad as much as I would’ve wanted. I figured, though, that the fleece was thick enough and the whole thing was flexible enough that I might as well ride in it and see how it went.

When I mounted up, I immediately felt comfortable and cushioned. Tris does not have a terribly uncomfortable back to sit on bareback, but wow, this was COZY. Is this why endurance riders put that fleece on their saddles? Drool.

I have no idea why the pad is labeled “Coolback” but can report that it warmed up nicely with movement. I rode for about 35 minutes walk and a bit of trot, and it never felt less cozy. Warmth from his back gradually came up to my legs, which is honestly my #1 reason for riding bareback in the winter. I had been worried that the pad would obscure that – the other one I used did. I actually think it was transferring the heat from his back up through to me. Win-win. I’m curious how it would feel in the summer, though.

The fleece was surprisingly grippy, and plush. One complaint might be that my leg naturally fell at the girth, because of the way it pushed down the fleece when cinched tight. That tended to encourage a bit of a chair seat in me – but then again, bareback does that generally anyway, so not the end of the world. Another problem is that the oh shit strap on the front was kind of useless…it was so close to my crotch it wasn’t exactly an intuitive place to grab. I’d really have to be sliding off to reach for it naturally.

At the end of the ride, I was pleased to see that the pad hadn’t moved too much at all. The fleece on the girth served to help keep it in place. It slipped back a little bit but it wasn’t exactly a problem – not like slipping back would be on a saddle, for sure! It hadn’t rubbed his withers at all.

In short: I really like it. It was quick and convenient, and more grippy and comfortable than bareback. I didn’t feel any true loss of feeling through my seat, like I was worried about. Nothing like a saddle. I’ll definitely be using it more and more!

product review · safety

Product Review: Road ID: It’s here! & coupon giveaway

Product Review: Road ID

A few weeks back, I purchased a RoadID during their anniversary sale. I got a great deal, snagged a limited edition color for the band that matched my barn colors (gray), and was all in all excited.

It shipped and arrived quickly, with great customer service. Kudos to them! I’m only just now getting around to blogging about it.

First, the shipping email? Adorable. A+. Complimenting Vermont always gets you points in my book.

Packaging was straightforward and simple.

Here’s what I got on mine:
Full Name
Birth Date
Matt [phone number] HUSB (okay, I jumped the gun by a few months, but there’s no point in buying one that won’t last)
NKA – NO MED HISTORY
FIND HORSE

My mother was amused/horrified that I wrote find horse, but I think that’s actually really important. I don’t want to wake up in a hospital three days later and learn that no one has been searching for Tristan, if something awful has happened. And honestly, even if I’m incapacitated in a completely non-horse related accident, I want someone checking on my horse!

Note to everyone: if something happens to me, check on my horse. No matter what.

I also bought the RoadID Slim, in medium size, which I was happy with. The Slim is about the width of those Livestrong style plastic bracelets, and medium was good for my wrist, which is on the more solid side – I’m 5’9″ and 160lbs, so not fine boned! If I were any bigger, I’d want to go up a size, but this is a perfect, just short of snug size.

The plastic of the bracelet itself doesn’t snag on arm hair, and is unobtrusive. Right now, for example, I’m wearing it on my left arm and typing and I can only tell it’s there when I think about it. With a little while longer in wear, I’ll forget it is there entirely.

When it arrived, I tucked my RoadID down into my purse to bring to the barn…and promptly forgot about it. For a few weeks. So it jostled around in my bag with my keys, Kindle, purse, books, papers, aspirin bottle, you name it. For weeks. And you know what? It still looks great. Other than some dust from various things, which brushed right off, there is not a scratch on the metal plate, which is quite frankly kind of amazing. Most other things that live in my purse for that long get beat up.

See? Pretty good size, nice and discreet. 
I am so happy with it I actually bought the fiance one for Christmas for him to wear while skiing.

Now, when it arrived, it came with a bunch of coupons for $1 off a RoadID that it said to give to family and friends. I don’t need ’em.

If you would like a RoadID coupon, comment here and let me know, then follow up with an email to beljoeor[at]gmail[dot]com so that I have your contact information. I have three coupons, so first three people who want them get them!

product review · winter

Product Review: Devon-Aire Fleece Full Seat Winter Breeches

As we approach true winter riding season, I’ll review a few of my favorite winter riding products.
$64.99 at Dover Saddlery
It’s that time of year again, when I don’t leave for the barn without layer upon layer upon layer. I’ve got the top layers figured out. I’ve got my feet figured out. A few years ago, after experimentation with different winter breeches, I settled on my favorites.
Many winter breeches have the tendency to be so thick that they practically stand up on their own, and create that horrible “diaper butt” feeling. I had a pair of Tuff Riders that were just awful. I felt like I was waddling when I wore them.
These Devon-Aires are by far the best combination of warmth, flexibility, and durability that I’ve found. They’re a relatively thin fleece but do a decent job of providing warmth, and I’m easily able to fit Smartwool tights underneath them when I need to (usually for temperatures in the teens). The full seat is good roughed leather and surprisingly stick-able. They’re decent but not great in the wind – if I’m riding outside I’ll probably go for lined jeans. They are very good for schooling in the indoor, though.
The only thing I’m not thrilled about is how sensitive the outer fabric is to every little bit of hay that comes its way. It snags on ev-er-y-thing. 99% of the time, that’s not a problem, but over the years there have been enough snags that mean the outer surface has quite a bit of rough threads. They still work just fine though!
Reading the summary on the Dover website, I see that they’ve tried to address that problem in the new design – which may explain why I picked up a pair in the old design for $20 last summer!

Do you have a favorite pair of winter breeches?

product review · puppy

Product Review: Four reasons I love Chewy.com, plus my favorite dog toys & accessories to buy there

First things first: this is not a horse-related review. Not obviously, anyway.

However, many of us who have horses also have other pets – dogs and cats particularly. Hannah first turned me on to chewy.com when we got our new puppy, and after my first order or two I have become an obsessed devotee.

Link here: chewy.com. Please know that the following is not endorsed in any way. I just love them!

First: price. Everything on Chewy is dramatically better priced than I’ve been able to find it ANYWHERE else. Truly, anywhere. Food, toys, necessities like poop bags – you name it, I guarantee it will be better than even the sales price at Petco or Petsmart.

Second: selection. I have only missed one or two things on Chewy, and they were in the nature of random/obscure things, anyway. Other than that, whenever I’ve gone looking for a new toy, new type of accessory, you name it, it’s there. That includes some of the more specific prescription and/or natural food out there.

Third: convenience. Wow, is it easy to just click a few buttons and have new food arrive, with a few bully sticks and new poop bags to round out the order. It’s so easy and so convenient I’ve only had to stop at a local pet store to pick up new food once, and that was after two solid weeks of major fail on my part.

Fourth: customer service. The BEST. Anything over $49 is two day shipping, which feels like it’s immediate. One bag of food for Arya hits that low bar. One bag of food for the cat, plus one or two toys for Arya, and we’re there. Then it’s on my front porch. Unboxing days are the best: the cat loves the boxes, Arya is excited about her new toys, I’m thrilled I don’t have to carry home 30lbs of dog food, everybody wins! They also sent a really nice note saying they hoped we were enjoying our new toys & treats after my first order, and I’ve heard phenomenal things from people who have called them up to discuss options.

Here are a few of my favorite things I’ve bought at Chewy.

Busy Buddy Tug a Jug Toy

LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. We use this daily, sometimes three times a day. Whenever we leave Arya home alone she gets food in this; whenever we need her distracted while we’re eating dinner, this is how we feed her. It had a bit of a learning curve but now she loves it and she’ll sometimes bring it over to us to indicate that she is starving and has never been fed, ever. It keeps her mentally busy, keeps her from totally inhaling her food, and is a great distraction when we need one – 1 cup of food (which fits easily in the large size) takes her about 20 minutes to get out entirely.

KONG AirDog Squeakair Balls

Does your dog love squeaky toys? These are the absolute very best squeaky toys. Arya will run around just squeaking them. She also loves a tennis ball – she shoves them around with her nose and then pounces with her front paws. (Definitely half Boxer…)

Prairie Dog Elk Antler Splits Dog Chews

Yes, these run small. The X-Large is just about big enough for Arya, at 40lbs, so with a bigger dog you might want to find a different brand. But it’s been one of the longest-lasting, most substantial, tastiest chew toys for her. She’s what you would call a power chewer, with a solid jaw and a habit of shredding most things very quickly. She goes on and off on this thing but loves it when she’s “on”. She has some un-split ones but doesn’t like them as much – having the marrow exposed is a definitely plus.

Charlee Bear Turkey Liver & Cranberries Flavor Dog Treats

These are great low-calorie training treats. They’re our basic reward treat. I like that they’re made in the USA (a must for all her food items), dry (no gross hands!), and  you get approximation a million of them in one package. They’re also more on the natural end of dog treats: no random preservatives. Just basic ingredients. Arya likes the Turkey/Cranberry flavor the best.

Kyjen Outward Hound Blue Port A Bowl

I love this thing. I keep one in my car and we have one in the hiking bag. I’ll admit: I fussed about buying one for a while. I figured I’d just keep an old tupperware in the car that she could drink from. But that tupperware got grungy, it took up space, blah blah. For $5, this is rugged, collapses easily, and oh so convenient.

Earth Rated PoopBags Refill Case, 900 bags

We live in a suburban area, and even when we’re out hiking, we carry poop bags so we can carry out. These are hands down my favorite poop bags for a bunch of reasons. The dispenser has a clip that means it lives on Arya’s leash at all times. The plastic they’re made out of is recycled AND formulated to degrade far more quickly than other plastic (in as little as 24 months!), AND they come wrapped around a recyclable cardboard core. We got through one or two rolls a week. $35 for a 900 roll case is a little more than a year’s worth of poop bags. SUCH a good price, so worth it to know we won’t run out! And a “case” isn’t actually huge; it fits easily under the kitchen sink, and came with a few extra dispensers that I’ve distributed to cars, travel bags, etc.
product review

Product Review: Ariat Terrain

Ariat Terrains
$94.95 through Smartpak

I bought my first pair of these shoes in taupe, exactly as you see above, at a local tack shop in the clearance section about six years ago. I paid $30; they were the only pair on clearance and they were exactly my size. Win-win!

I loved them almost immediately, and wore them everywhere. They are built much lighter than the average sneaker (the website says 14oz), and they had a substantial heel and a shank through the bottom of the shoe that meant they were sturdier than sneakers – though not quite as much so as a hiking boot.

I wore them to and from the barn; basically anytime I wasn’t on a horse around the barn, I was wearing these. The taupe pair I had were flecked with bloodstains from Tristan’s first colic, when I held his head to and he fought the vet who was tubing him. I was perhaps more emotionally attached to the shoes than I should’ve been after that.

I lost them through no fault of my own, but rather to an over-eager puppy who chewed the uppers to shreds one day. I actually continued to wear them for a little while, but the way the puppy had chewed them meant that they rubbed badly on my ankles.

Enter my second pair, which I paid full price for and have owned for about 4 years now. If you need a strong recommendation, know that I hardly ever pay full price for anything. I love these things that much. I got my second pair in the cordovan color, which is a smooth leather instead of the roughed out look of the taupe.

I waterproofed them new out of the box, and proceeded to wear the everloving shit out of them. So what do they look like 4 years later, and do I still love them as much?

Well, the things I loved before I love just as much. They’re light, comfortable, and a really terrific solution for hanging out around the barn and even for riding with half chaps. The waterproofing has mostly kept them looking ok, though they have a couple of wear points. I have once or twice rubbed some saddle leather conditioner into them, and that always perks them right up.

What do I like less? Well, the uppers have clearly not worn terribly well. If you look at the black edging on the top part in my current photo, you’ll see that it’s worn almost away, and that’s simply from wearing them with jeans. Movement from walking alone has rubbed most of that away. The uppers are also pretty broken down, and I found that I have to use the loop at the back to tug them on now. They don’t slide on smoothly.

They never had much tread to begin with, and that’s now gone to the point of occasionally being slippery on wet surfaces. While the waterproofing held on the surface of the boots, they are NOT waterproof. (Ariat has apparently come out with a newer version of these that is, though.) When I do course walks or jump judging or really any sort of walking through grass in the morning dew, these soak through almost immediately. I went through a phrase of packing multiple pairs of socks per day when eventing, and even then often ended up with nasty swamp foot. Now, I only wear waterproof muck boots for that purpose. These just can’t handle getting wet. For that same reason, these are not for doing chores. They just won’t hold up.

That being said: I still love them. I still wear them all the time, most often now to trail ride. I basically use them when most people would use paddock boots – and find them far, far more comfortable for that purpose than any paddock boot I’ve ever worn. I would buy them again, though I would probably invest in the waterproof version.

product review · surgery

Product Review: Easy Boots Rx

EasyBoot Rx

After Tristan had his surgery, the debate was between hospital plate and hoof boot. Hospital plates are a special kind of shoe that supports a flat piece of metal that covers the bottom of the hoof. They’re protective and supportive.

However, in those days, Tristan’s hoof was actually open on the front as well (see the foot progression collage for an example of what I mean) and needed protection all around.

The vet clinic recommended these EasyBoots, so I measured away and ordered them. He wore them 24/7 for 8 weeks on both front feet – both shoes were pulled and we wanted to keep them even so there was no compensatory lameness. The first 5 weeks or so were entirely on stall rest, and the remaining three were on limited turnout in a small gravelly area. His RF (the surgery foot) was wrapped 24/7 under the boots.

I ordered two size 4 boots, which were the correct size for him, but had to buy a size 6 from the vet clinic – in the first early weeks, we were wrapping his foot with multiple layers of gauze, vet wrap, and then Elastikon on top of that. Eventually we transitioned down to the 4 on both fronts.

Pros: they were really easy to use, opening up in the right way and sliding on. Sometimes it wouldn’t settle 100% on the hoof but usually asking him to pick his foot up and put it down again fitted the hoof right in. They do exactly what they are advertised to do, and it was rare for me to find even a shaving down inside. He only pulled them off once or twice. They function very much like the SoftRides and are a much better price (usually running about $75 per boot, as opposed to $200 per pair). They are also sturdier than the SoftRides and can be used for limited turnout.

Cons: they are not really for turnout. Wear & tear accelerated significantly when Tris started going out a little bit. The elastic that tightens the top of the boot wore out relatively quickly, but I was pulling it extra tight to try and keep more of an antiseptic environment. The boots weren’t exactly going to fall off, but there was noticeable stretching. The fabric tore a bit in the area where the two pieces come together – you can see it in the bottom left of the photo above. They MUST be worn barefoot – a shoe would have shredded the inside of the boot in short order.

My biggest complaint: those air holes? Did not work AT ALL. His feet were constantly damp. I tried shaking in talc powder to soak it up and that mostly created a paste inside the boots. His soles and frogs were a wreck after 8 weeks, because they were constantly steaming. Thrushy and mushy. I had to do a fair bit of remedial treatment to get them back online after he came out of the boots. He was just standing around his relatively clean stall, too – at no point did these boots EVER come in contact with serious moisture. If he could have spent even a few hours out of them I think that would’ve allowed everything to dry out, but he couldn’t. Better than the alternative of re-infecting the surgical wound, but the moisture was a constant battle.

In conclusion: these do what they say they do, and for a decent price. They are useful if you find yourself in a situation that requires therapeutic booting.

gear · product review · winter

STABILicers Ice Cleat: My New Favorite Winter Gear

Vermont is currently covered in a thick sheet of ice, as I whined about and as Lila Gendal showed on Eventing Nation. Sections of interstate highway were closed down as multiple plow trucks went off the road trying to get sand down. I had to be out and about for about an hour and a half as I re-arranged work details between our two buildings to accommodate the hazardous travel conditions.

This is a very long way of saying that Saturday, for the first time, I tried out a Christmas gift from my parents: STABILicers Ice Cleats. They are like studding your winter boots up for XC. I have been thinking about something like them for a while, since I walk to work on the average day, and of course spend a fair bit of time outside at the barn.

I could not possibly be more impressed with them. They were straightforward and quick to get on – required a bit of muscle to stretch the rubber, but not too much. It added perhaps 2-3 minutes to my morning routine. Then I walked outside…and didn’t slip. Not once. I want to stress that our driveway is a solid sheet, several inches thick, of ice. I stood while chipping ice off my car and was completely stable. I walked down sidewalks, up fairly steep hills, and across roads that were similarly thick sheets of ice without the slightest hint of slipping. In fact, I walked up a sidewalk perfectly normally and a few minutes later watched two men take tiny minute slipping steps down that sidewalk and still fall a few times.

I could instantly feel the grip of the cleats in the ice, and the added traction was amazing. I almost forgot about the ice entirely, and just walked normally. The rubber didn’t threaten to slip off my boots at all. I did take them off on coming back inside – I’m fairly sure that they were sturdy and sharp enough that they would have dug into our hardwood floors!

So two thumbs way, way up – these were a relatively inexpensive and absolutely clutch addition to my winter gear.

product review

Product Review: Bit of Britain’s English Stitched Halter

English Leather Triple Stitched Halter

I wouldn’t necessarily classify Tristan as tough on halters, but he has destroyed his fair share – somewhere in the double digits, but not more than 20. (When I write it out like that it looks more dire than it really is…) When he finds a turnout buddy he likes, he is a halter tag champion. He also rolls a lot, and when he rolls he grinds his face into the ground, which tends to weaken buckles and other fittings.
I am fairly fanatic about always having him in – at minimum – a breakaway or leather halter, and strongly dislike rope halters in all situations, so that really leaves a leather halter as my best option. On top of that, he is a tough fit for a halter: he has a whopping big head but an old halter scar on his nose that means if I don’t get just the right fit, the hair on that bump is gone in no time flat; more than 48 hours of rubbing and it’s probably going to open up again.
So for several years, whenever he trashed a halter I would have a cheap breakaway nylon halter in reserve with fleeces and the hunt was on for something else that worked. I found some good one-offs but was never thrilled with the quality, or the fit, or the general handling of them.
Enter this halter. About three years ago, he destroyed a halter just before Hannah and I left for the Area 1 Championships at Fitch’s Corner. I knew I needed a new halter ASAP but didn’t have time for a leisurely tack store visit. I paid a visit to the Bit of Britain truck at Fitch’s (dangerous, seductive place) and came out with this halter, in black. It was a gamble, but when I brought it home and put it on his head it fit perfectly.
And here we are three years later – a record for a halter. It’s faded and beat up, but the only real damage that’s occurred to it is the loss of the extra leather piece from the chin piece – the stub leftover after fitting it to his nose – which doesn’t change the functionality of the halter at all. I’m really, really pleased with it and would recommend it to anyone.
product review

Product Review: Stanley 50 Gallon Tool Chest

Stanley 50 Gallon Tool Chest

Tack trunks are expensive, heavy, and not always large enough. As is often the case, the second you take the word “horse” out of the equation, you can often find something that works better for less in other places.

While the link above is to the Amazon.com page so you can get a sense close-up of what this tool chest looks like, you can usually buy these for way less at a Home Depot or a Lowe’s – mine was $50.

I love this thing. It lives in my trailer, in the front, and holds a TON of stuff. Most often, it stores all my XC gear, as well as a second grooming set and my trailering first aid kit. When I go to shows, I can repack it quickly and efficiently to hold all manner of things – bridle bags, boots, grain, you name it. There’s even a tote carrier included with it that has plenty of space for grooming tools and other small, easy-access things.

The wheels and carry handle make it quick and easy to just roll out the trailer when we get somewhere, and the base is broad enough that it wheels across uneven ground pretty easily. It’s sturdy and solid. The only wear I’ve noticed on mine after 4 years is a small bit of rust on the metal buckles, and that’s because it lives outside 24/7 in my open trailer. Barn friends have theirs in the tack room or in enclosed trailers and they are spotless.

If I didn’t already have a tack trunk that’s something of a family treasure (my great-great-uncle’s wooden tool chest) this would absolutely be my pick for primary tack trunk. If I were to have multiple horses, I would get one of these for each horse to keep all their things together. Love it.