Ride Like a Man

On any typical, normal day, you head to your barn. You greet your girlfriends, you chat with the female working student, and you all make plans to have a wine evening. Your favorite topic of discussion is obviously horses, but you also talk about husbands, boyfriends, dates. It’s easy to have these discussions because every single one of you is female. 

Author’s visualization of after riding wine and watching party. Source: Purely Poultry

That is all well and good, nothing wrong with chilling with the hens, but where are the males? “Men aren’t interested in riding!” you might say. “This is a female dominated sport!” 

Dominating in sheer mass, yes. But actually dominating? I beg to differ. 

Longines Global Champion Tour 2017 Rankings. The list goes on with men but my screen could only capture the top 6.

Maybe it’s a just a showjumping thing? 

FEI World Ranking in Eventing

Let’s get out of the way the obvious – Dang USA needs to step up their game! But I view this as more of an individual issue, not an issue I really care about. If you want to see USA represented, I am empowering you to go out there and do it yourself. 

But anyway, out of the top 11, 2 are female, Nicola Wilson, and Karin Donckers. Edit: 3 are female. Sorry Gemma Tattersall.

Let’s take one more look…

Source: FEI Dressage Rankings

There are certainly more females there! I missed before that someone is on there twice, but based on my anecdotal experience, I’d say this split seems reasonable for upper level dressage (although I’ve never been there, I’m more of a watcher…creepily standing in the shadows of the bleachers…)

So, looking at this data, it would seem that males dominate jumping sports, and females are well represented in dressage. I’m not really a dressage person, but I know lots of riders are drawn to dressage because it seems “safer.” One of my friends specifically says she does it because she’s fallen off too many times at the jumps. I’m sure you know friends who say the same. Is this why there is such big representation in dressage?

I have another theory though, and I’d love your feedback. When we thinking overall about dressage, we think of it as communication. It’s the rider communicating with the horse, expressed in the movements of the horse. So, the rider in essence, is a horse whisperer. 

Jumping, and show jumping in particular, is speed. There’s technique of course, but it’s strategy. It’s laying out the path, it’s making decisive action. It’s not whispering, it’s commanding. You have to be the captain of the ship, you have to take charge.

So from these rankings, it would appear that women are more drawn to having a connection with their horses, and men are drawn to strategy and taking risks. 

But aside from that, why is seeing a male at the lower levels like seeing a real life unicorn, but at the upper levels, they are dominating? From a logistics standpoint, where are these men even learning? Do they sneak into barns under cover, take a lesson and then vanish into the night? 

When I was growing up, and I’d say I grew up moderately horse privileged, I knew two boys who rode. One was my brother, who was beloved by my instructors, always rode a huge draft named Sampson, took every jump without a thought, and then gave it up and never looked back, and the other was a working student with me, a few years younger, but also played football. I actually have no idea if he kept riding after I left, and I don’t think I ever saw him ride during the time I was there, but he was there for about 2 years. 

So, two males, out of dozens if not hundreds of females. Where on earth are these male riders coming from!? I want to know their life stories, if they ride every day of their life, if they had lessons or self taught, or their mothers were horse crazy and taught them everything. I need a male perspective to figure out what they are doing different than females to dominate. 

I think USA vs other countries in a factor, I think horseback riding is a more popular sport with men in other countries. But since I don’t see them in lessons, I don’t see them in clinics, I don’t see them anywhere, seeming to learn anything, I can only come to two conclusions – Men are natural athletes, and men have a different mindset than women – a mindset I’m thinking comes down to women over think riding, and men under think it. They just go with it. I know that I personally, and others as well, we all want to learn as much as possible, hence the lessons, the clinics, the books, the research. And men just…ride? 

I’d love to know your thoughts. What is your theory, why do men dominate riding at the top levels? 

Continue Reading

The Maiden Voyage

horse in trailer

I had the trailer, I had some time, so it was time to use the trailer. I didn’t have any purpose to go anywhere, but I needed to test it out! 

The first part of my new trailering experience was loading up the dressing room. To someone who already has a dressing room, this may seem laughable, but I had barely anything to put in there. I put my saddle on the rack, the bridle on the hook, water in a jug, a bucket, and my grooming supplies. Then I was at a loss of what else to put in there. It seemed really empty, I guess having very little storage space has made me travel light, but I’m sure as time goes on, it will magically fill itself up completely. Moments before I left, I tossed in my loading halter, the most magical piece of equipment I own, and now I am prepared for any horse that won’t load.

After my trailer was slightly loaded up with supplies, I went to get Berry. She knew something was up the moment I approached the field. (I left her halter on after I fed them), and she was hiding behind Vintage, eyeing me warily. Unluckily for her, Vintage has no need to run from me, so she stood calmly as I approached, and I just nabbed Berry. I will have to do something about Berry though, I feel like she’s getting slightly more obnoxious to catch in the field each time (hence leaving on the halter for easy nabbing).

When I showed Berry the trailer, she sniffed at it and peered in it, but after a moment climbed in. She seemed very willing to give it a chance. 

The ride was uneventful, which is exactly how trailer rides should be! The trailer pulled super easily, and felt so smooth back there. Berry seemed relaxed when we arrived, and only a little bit sweaty. In the old trailer, she sometimes got sweaty, but I’m not sure if that was from a rough ride, or nerves from being by herself. She doesn’t normally get sweaty when she has a friend with her. 

She did get very sweaty from our ride. There were no horses around, just lots of kids playing soccer, and other than checking some things out, we have an uneventful but productive ride. 

“Now that the ride is over, I can stare at that dog!”

On the ride back, I was forced to stop much more abruptly than I would have liked. It wasn’t a slam on the breaks moment, but it was much, much quicker than I like to break with a live animal. Unfortunately, the road the park is on has some pretty quick signal lights and a fairly high speed limit. I knew Berry wouldn’t be happy, and I was right. There was a lot of movement back there, and it felt like she was doing some pawing. I knew she wasn’t hurt because we weren’t going fast enough, but she was one peeved horse. I think Berry has a sense of fairness, and as long as people are fair to her, she is quite amenable. But, this was clearly not fair, and she was letting everyone know. Poor thing.

We continued on, and when we got home and unloaded, Berry was doing the “honk” of a jittery horse. I could see as I unloaded her that the center divider by her head had come loose somehow, and had likely been swinging around for most of the ride. I don’t know if it’s a design flaw, or if it was just loose before, and the abrupt stop caused it to come out. I believe Berry considered this extremely unfair, as I put in the pasture and she trotted around, showing her destain for the ride. Pony also trotted with her, showing equal destain, but that is because he is a meek follower, trying to look cool to the other horses. Vintage ignored them both.

I will just have to test it again, and hopefully, it was just loose from when I was being shown all the options. I feel bad for Berry, and hopefully this won’t have soured her on the trailer. But, luckily I have my amazing loading halter to get her loading up again. 

I decided to show Vintage the trailer too, to see what she thinks.

She thought it was boring.

Overall, first testing of the trailer went great, and I’m excited for more trips! 

Continue Reading

Can You Trust Your Agent?

I saw this yesterday, and it’s both unbelievable and absolutely believable. To summarize – horse agent/trainer is being sued by former horse owner because she sold the horse for $900,000, and told the owner she only sold it for $300,000, pocketing $600,000. It’s unbelievable that someone could think they would get away with pocketing that much money fraudulently and it’s absolutely believable because trainers do things like that all the time. Certainly not to the extent of $600,000, but I’ve heard enough stories to know that trainers will inflate the price of the horse to skim some money off the top. 

They get away with it because of the completely bizarre practice of paying the trainer for the horse, instead of the seller, that the horse world has somehow normalized. Oh, but of course, the trainer found the horse, and I now give all the money to the trainer, and the trainer handles everything! It’s just so simple!

WHY? Why would a horse trainer handle the transaction? Why would the buyer not simply pay the seller, and then pay the trainer directly for their services? How is an adult not able to write a check to the seller and not able to also write a check to their trainer? The purchasing of the horse may have been assisted by the trainer, but the trainer assistance is a separate transaction. 

The only reason I can see for the trainer insisting the check be written to them IS the opportunity for fraud. The less the client knows, the more the trainer can get away with. I imagine it’s not phrased like that to the client though. They probably say something like it’s how they get their fee, or they want to make it easier for the client. Maybe some people are unable to write out two checks, but I seriously cannot imagine being so laissez faire with such a serious transaction. People who are careless with money don’t hang on to it very long, for sure. 

I could hear an argument for the trainers being guaranteed their fee by handling the transaction, but I will counter with, trainers aren’t stupid. If they’ve been running a horse business they know exactly how to bill for all the services they render to their clients. They aren’t afraid of not being paid any more than they are afraid of not being paid for regular training or board. Someone could just as easily skip out on a training bill, so it’s not like there’s a higher level of risk. Besides, if the trainer so clearly doesn’t trust the client, why should the client trust them? 

It’s dumbfounding to me that this is normal. It circles back to other thoughts I’ve had, that some people just assume everything their trainer says is golden light, shining from the heavens, and their trainer would never take advantage of the hero worship of their clients. But, they do. From the lesser things like showing up late to lessons but ending on time, all the way to billing for things they didn’t do, trainers will take advantage. 

Don’t get me wrong though – I know not all trainers are like this. I would venture to say the majority of trainers just put in an honest day’s work, and may occasionally and accidentally slip up, just like normal people everywhere. Most are true professionals and treat their clients with respect. I hope all of those trainers are blessed with the proverbial money tree in their backyard, and a barn that never runs out of hay.

 What do you think? Would you, or have you, paid your trainer directly for a horse owned by someone else? I would love to hear the pros and cons of this. 

Continue Reading

Have Trailer, Will Travel

adam julite

I have a new trailer!!! My excitement levels are almost maxed out! 

I have not been able to use it yet due to lack of time, but I cannot wait to use it. It’s almost shocking to me how much not having a trailer has affected my horse activities. Granted, I don’t board, so it’s just me here at home, all alone… who would have thought such a thing would lead to a lack of motivation?

Seriously though, having a trailer is freedom. I can’t believe there was ever a time where I thought to myself, Nah, I don’t need a trailer. A trailer is a requirement for me to be able to do anything with my horses. I need it for lessons, I need it for trail rides, I need it to meet up with friends – I need it for every reason!

Luckily, I have a husband who understands this need, so as soon as I saw this great deal, he swooped down on it. We talked about my needs/wants, made sure this is the one for me, and it was done. All mine! Thank goodness for very understanding husbands!

Like a bird of prey swooping down upon an innocent woodland creature.

This trailer is a 2017 Adam Julite with a dressing room and Rumber floors. It’s a two horse straight load bumper pull. I debated getting a gooseneck, but I’ve heard stories of people who don’t find a gooseneck as easy to hook up as a bumper pull. They are definitely easier to pull, but I don’t want anything that makes hooking up difficult. Sure, I could probably learn, but why learn something new when I already know some other stuff. I mean, really

Keeping notes of how pristine it is, likely won’t last long.

I have wanted Rumber floors since I knew they existed, and that has been the biggest delay in finding a new trailer. They are relatively new, so most used trailers don’t have them. Only certain horse trailer brands carry them, and you better believe there’s an upcharge for them. Rumber floors are basically rubber lumber instead of wood, they are maintenance free, and (the primary reason I wanted them) they are much more comfortable for the horse to ride on. They are shock absorbing, protecting those legs, and they keep out significantly more road heat than traditional wood floors. 

No sawdust needed in there! (Actually not supposed to be any in there). They are supposed to last about 30 years, and the only maintenance is hosing/power washing them. I’m excited to try them out, and hopefully, they live up to all the hype!

This trailer has a dressing room, which is so ostentatious, I don’t even know if I can handle it. My old trailer did not have such luxury. It was just the two horse stalls, and then I stuffed some stuff in front of their heads, and the tack in the backseat of the truck. I mean, it worked, so I could have kept doing it. But now I’m going to learn how to put stuff in a trailer dressing room, and my heart might explode from having such power. 

Only one downside to the dressing room:

THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! WHAT’S THE POINT OF HAVING A DRESSING ROOM NOW?!

Now to plan some fall adventures and take full advantage of this beautiful weather! 

Continue Reading

More Stubert

His name is now Stubert, as you might have guessed. I mean, it was Stu, but then one day Dave called him Stubert out of nowhere, and I think I laughed for like 10 minutes. So Stubert it is. But only on formal occasions, he will still go by Stu in casual settings.

The breeder continues to do things to and with him, and she graciously provides photos. 

Some serious side eye to vaccines.
“I guessed being jabbed by needles isn’t that bad.”
“Ewwwwwww, what is this foul substance!?”

As his time on the breeding farm starts dwindling, it’s feeling more and more real that I actually do own him. From basically the day I signed the check, I’ve still been telling people I have 3 equines. Then I’d have to stop and correct myself. No…there’s actually 4 of them. But other than moments of excitement, there have been times where I completely forgot he existed. It just didn’t seem real.

But now, as the paddock is almost ready, and the days are getting cooler, it feels very real. So real that I’m planning out his first year with actual dates and events, as opposed to just vague ideas. He’s coming home in early Dec, and I can’t wait!

I have additional news that adds to this excitement, but I’m going to wait on that big announcement. It’s coming though! 

Continue Reading

Stupendous Stubert

I haven’t seen Stu in a while, but his breeder has been sending me updates of the important baby work he’s been doing

Here he is walking

He’s been in baby training, learning very important things. 

Learning how to be a good equine citizen
Preparing for future towel situations
He will be prepared for future noodle situations (Somehow saved as a gif, messed up the color!)

And then the extremely important hula hoop. This will definitely come up in the future.

He’s such a cutie!! He looks like he’s become so big, and the breeder said he’s such a good egg. He didn’t care at all about the scary new options at all. Took it all in stride!

The days are going by so fast, and he’ll be home before I know it!

 

Continue Reading

Baby Steps

I took advantage of the long weekend to make the trip to visit my baby Stu. I can’t believe how much he’s grown since I last saw him! I think that mainly his joints have thickened. They look a big stocky now. 

The trainer has worked with him a few times, but nothing extensive. I went down mainly just to hang out with him and get to know him on the ground more. First up was the awkward standing, like the start of a date where you don’t know what to say. 

foal
“So you like eating and drinking things? That’s cool… I like those things, too.”

Then it was grooming time. I don’t know how many times he’s been grooming in his short life, but I’m sure I could count them on one hand (or one finger.) But he wasn’t at all sucpicious (like Pony was when he was a baby) and liked the grooming. He especially liked his belly being scratched.

After grooming, we got a quick tutorial in how to teach the foal to lead, and we worked on that. He was not happy with this at first, especially since it meant leading him away from his mother, but he gave into the pressure and just went with it. Mostly at a snail’s pace. 

foal training
I’m one of those mothers that is shocked by their baby doing the most basic of things.

After Stu allowed himself to be led around, his mother decided it was in her best interest to follow Stu. So I led the slowest procession ever around the ring. I don’t know how long we worked on this but it felt like a while. It was time to release them and let them go be foals again. 

Stu and Olivet are pasture mates, with several other mare/foal sets, but it seems they are getting along very well. Olivet definitely seems to be setting herself up as boss mare. 

foals
He seems content to let her be leader.

Olivet seems HUGE. Like, I thought Stu had gotten bigger, but Olivet is a giant. I don’t think it shows very well in the picture, but she is much bigger than Stu. Which makes sense as she’s 6 weeks or so older than him. But she’s just big in general. Watching her nurse off her mom looks strange because it looks like a small horse nursing off a normal sized horse. 

big foal
Look at this mare, breastfeeding her child in public!

In addition to hanging out with them, the breeder gave vaccinated them and showed us how to inject. I’ve had to do it multiple times before, and Stu reared up at the first vaccine, so I declined to practice. D’Arcy did it though and gave Olivet a clean injection in the neck. 

One day, I will ride this tiny baby.

It was fun to spend time with them, and sad to leave them. It’s tempted to bring them back early, but we just aren’t ready yet. A few more months to get through, and then we will see them every day. 

Stu should be getting gelded, and his hernia fix in the next few weeks. The breeder is going to arrange everything so it won’t be another reason to visit, but I’ll probably see him again in early October. I’m looking forward to it!

Continue Reading

Barn Plans

I am very, very excited to share my brand new barn plans! WOOOOOO!! My mother came out to take some measurements of the existing barn, and based on my vague description of what I would like, has come up with a plan that brings everything together. 

Behold!

The overall layout:

barn layout

One outside view:

Another outside view:

Not only is my mom an awesome mother, but she’s also an architect and business owner of JSW Residental Design. She’s pretty awesome, so I’m happy to refer anyone looking for a building plan to her. Her email is jsw.residentialdesign@gmail.com.

I’m so excited about my new barn, and I can’t wait to get started!! But, right now the timeline is looking like this:

  1. Finish clearing smaller paddock
  2. Level space for shed to be installed
  3. Install shed
  4. Install electric band fencing

The priority is basically making sure that the babies have a place to live over the winter. I don’t know how long this barn will take to build and I don’t want to risk them not having a home. 

When we are confident the babies will have a place to live we will start on putting in posts for this extension. I’m just hoping we manage to start on this before the ground freezes!

Continue Reading

Horse Professionals and Customer Service

I read an article a few months ago, Is My Relationship with My Trainer Normal? It annoyed me greatly at the time, and I thought about it again recently as I’ve been searching for a new trainer, and customer service has been on my mind a lot. 

To me, this article basically amounts to a trainer saying, “Stop talking and give me money.” Trainers don’t have to be responsive, they don’t have to give you the attention you are paying for, and you are expected to foot the bill for them to show your horse without complaint. If you don’t think you are improving, well, that’s just because you don’t understand the subtle intricacies of horse training, and aren’t qualified enough to look beyond A+B is still equaling C. 

I may not be “Expert Horseperson, knower of all things equine,” but I am still moderately knowledgeable Courtney, and even if I don’t know everything horses, I know how I’m expected to behave in a professional environment. I know that I can’t push off my boss’s requests, ignore clients for other clients, and charge them for things not previously agreed upon. Why do trainers get away with this behavior? Poor customer service is rampant. People fall into this business because they like horses, and rank people low on the priority list. 

In my years of working with horse professionals, I have been annoyed by many things that I kept my mouth shut about. I showed up for a scheduled lesson, started riding, but when my trainer came in, she started reworking her footing instead of teaching me. 45 minutes went by before my husband took over working with her footing so I could get my lesson. One big name trainer, who I was so excited to work with that I bought 8 lessons up front, ended up being on her cell phone the entire time. I have a video of her staring at her phone while still telling me I was doing a great job. I never finished out the lesson package. There’s the chronic lateness. I show up on time, trainer doesn’t show up until 15 minutes later. Lesson still ends at scheduled time. Or, changing my private lesson to a group lesson without consulting me, and still charging me the same private rate. 

One of my favorite stories is when I paid for a lesson for my mother in law. I was a working student with this trainer, and therefore, I guess she thought I had “sucker” written across my forehead. She gave my MIL a 10-minute lesson, barely did anything, and asked my MIL if she felt sore. My MIL said she did feel a little sore (as expected of a brand new rider taking their first lesson), so my trainer had her get off and tried to charge me for a full half hour. Sorry, that’s not happening. I was so enraged, I fought that one. 

Most recently, I took a trial lesson with a new trainer, and I really liked him. After specifically asking him the best way to reach him, I emailed him to schedule a follow-up lesson. No answer. I messaged on facebook, no answer. He saw the message, I could see that. But still, no answer. 3 weeks later, he finally replies that he just saw the message, so sorry! But nothing else. Do you not want my business then? I find that hard to believe based on your Facebook advertising. So why are you putting so little effort into customer service? 

Customer service can make or break other businesses. Look at Yelp reviews of any random store or cafe. Uber drivers go above and beyond to get a good rating. Social media users are inflamed by anything they think is low-quality customer service. Yet, horse professionals get away with it because “that’s how it is.”

I know good horse people are worth their weight in gold. They help us understand our horse’s brain, they help us achieve our riding goals. But I think the true marker of a professional is someone who has the complementary skills of business sense and customer service. Yes, this is a horse business, but in the end, it’s a people business. The horses don’t pay the bills, the people pay the bills. 

This means, my horse doesn’t care if you’re 15 minutes later. But I, who has a meeting after this lesson, and needs to allow for enough time to get my horse and I cleaned up so I can get there on time, do care. I care a great deal. That meeting is what makes me able to afford this hobby, and it is (sadly) a higher priority than the lesson. 

It means that if I’m paying $60 for a lesson, I want your full (or if a group, divided) attention for the duration of it. Sure, you can take a breather (ideally when I take one too) or if something literally takes only a minute, go for it, but do you really think there is any situation that I would be happy to pay for you to play on your cell phone for the majority of my lesson?

It means communicating with me where you think my riding is going. If you can’t offer up the plan of my riding progression, I will assume you don’t have one. If you can’t tell me why I’m doing something in a lesson, I’ll assume you don’t know. If you don’t know, I certainly don’t know. Teachers and professors are expected to have a syllabus, do you have one? I wouldn’t expect an actual paper, divided up by semester (or lesson, haha) but I know trainers follow a basic formula/progression of the steps of building a rider, and if you can share your plan, I’ll know I’m on the right course with you. 

In that same vein, it means a two-way conversation about our roles training the horse. If you toss out that you should show my horse for me, yeah, I’m going to be a bit annoyed. First off, I pay for lessons so that I can ride my horse. It’s my horse, it’s my dreams, it’s my goals. If my goal to take my horse into a 3’9″ hunter derby, why would I pay you to do it? I don’t care if it’s the first time the horse does it, again, it’s my goal to take my horse into a hunter derby. What have I accomplished by having you show my horse? Yes, I get it, it needs “miles” or whatever. How about, I’ll pay the show fees to ride my own horse for miles, because that’s the point of buying my own horse. For me to ride. If the trainer thinks that I’m not ready for the derby, well, that’s the entire point of being in a training program, isn’t it? For me and horse to prepare for things like that? If I’m not actually ready, why would I go to the show in the first place, let alone pay all the fees for someone else to do it?

I know not all horse professionals rank customer service as a low priority. I’ve talked with some trainers that make my heart sing at how much they do care about providing excellent customer service. In that group, even some of the Big Name Trainers I contacted consider customer service a priority. I reached out to one BNT about lessons, she emailed me back within 10 hours with her cell phone number so we could talk directly. My friend recently reached out to (author of a recent amateur article) about a lesson. She didn’t have the contact information so she just contacted the sales page. It wasn’t her, but they brought the message all the way to her, and then her secretary reached out with information. It was maybe a three days total response time, and they provided updates of where the message was along the way. These are two both highly talented riders and trainers, but they understood the importance of customer service. 

Making customer service a priority would not be difficult. The trainers themselves need to set a new standard and decide to respond to all messages within a timeframe or at a set time, lessons will be on time, they will not be on their cell phones, and they will give all paying clients the attention they pay for. Basic things. But right now there’s no incentive for them to do this. Amateurs allow customer service to be a low priority because “that’s how it’s always been done,” and articles are published telling them they should just expect this kind of treatment. I think we should set the standard and insist on good customer service. I’ve personally decided I’m sick of putting up with bad customer service, and I will not patronize any barn that makes it a low priority. In the future, I plan to call out bad customer service as I see it. Not publicly, and not in an attempt to embarrass, but to tell them how it affects me personally, and why I need to be at a barn that puts a priority on good customer service. I will give my money to trainers and professionals who view our relationship with professional respect. 

I’m not being difficult, I just want a respectful relationship with my trainer. I will do my part to respect their time, not bother them with unneeded messages, make sure my expectations are clear and pay on time. 

I hope others will join me in insisting upon good customer service, and maybe we can change the industry for the better. 

Continue Reading

Stu’s First Trim

I, unfortunately, wasn’t there for it. Luckily his breeder was happy to pass along photos. What a little cutie!

I commented that he seemed to be taking it well… she said yes, he’s sedated. Well, that explains it! 

In Stu related news, it seems his hernia is getting bigger. I could wait to see if it fixes itself, but I’ve decided just to get it fixed when he’s gelded. I’ll be making the appointment for sometime in September/October. The vet was talking to me about the easiest/quickest way to do it. It basically amounts to banding up the hole. Literally taking a super tight band, pushing up the intestines, and popping the band over the excess skin. The band holds the intestines up, and eventually, the little bit of skin dies and falls off. I knew of banding use from when my family had sheep. Their tails and testicles would be banded, and eventually, fall off. Sheep are born with tails, if you didn’t know. 

Otherwise, nothing new to report on the Stu front!

Continue Reading