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It's That Time of Year

By Margaret Freeman, April 03, 2014


An "orange" horse?

Our barn migrated back from Florida this week.  The horses went out on a short turnout the first day, longer the next day with some longeing, and they’re getting closer to a regular turnout and exercise schedule.  All this caution is well-considered in terms of their stomachs, muscles and brains. After a couple springs here, I now think of it as an Orange Alert.

I’ve lived my life mostly north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but here in the South, when hooves cut through the top layer of grass, it’s all bright orange clay.  Clay not only sticks to the remnants of winter coats more tenaciously than dirt, it also stains.  It’s as if grey horses that live outside want to become camouflaged as their chestnut companions, while the chestnuts lose their white markings.  I watch the orange shades change with the weather – right after it rains, it’s as if some of the horses are sporting their college colors as graduates of Syracuse, Clemson or Tennessee.  The longer it’s dry, the more the clay turns to dust and the horses become a diluted tea shade. 

Last year, a local horse group gave a presentation for newbies to the area.  They discussed some interesting areas of horse health I hadn’t considered.  One was the difference in local grasses and forages from what horses might have eaten in other areas and the differences between fresh grasses and hays.  What really caught my attention was the idea that horses used to footing of dirt or sand in other regions might not sense that clay is more slippery.  It was pointed out that horses new to clay-based pastures can be prone to soft-tissue injuries.

The news came too late for me.  Right after we moved from New York, my mare injured her stifle in the pasture, and we lost six months of work.  All is fine now, but I’m reminded that her paddock in Florida was mostly sand – sand so deep that it took six of us half an hour to find a lost shoe.  I was shocked the first time I cleaned her hooves there to see her shoes so shiny they looked like aluminum, but it was a constant abrasion from sand.  Within two days back in NC, her shoes were again the normal steel shade.

Windy seems to be behaving herself in the pasture so far, but I have my fingers crossed.  Of course, her attention is also drawn by all that glorious fresh new grass that she didn’t have last week, so her pasture time will be increased gradually.

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Fashion at the Tack Shop

March 27, 2014

People who manufacture and distribute products for U.S. tack shops generally concede that certain trends, particularly those concerning fashion, catch on first at the far sides of the country and then work their way over the next couple years toward the center.  If you want edgier fabrics, colors and designs, look first in Florida and California.

I was in Welly World last week visiting my mare and saw my vision of a rhinestone cowgirl in the person of a well-known dressage rider.  She was wearing stretch denim breeches with lots of bling and  tooled cowboy boots.  I presumed the boots were made for walking and that she’d change to her regular tall dress boots for riding.  No cowboy hat, though, just a regular ball cap with a pony tail port. She looked great and I envied how she could rock those breeches – I consider myself fashion forward just riding in denim, and no way am I going to plaster bling across my hips.

Since we all tend to be locked in our own little worlds, I was surprised recently when I was reading a mystery novel by C.J. Box set in Wyoming and he matter-of-factly referred to Ariat cowboy boots.  I didn’t realize Ariat boots were commonplace in the Western world as well.  I just thought they made my absolute favorite paddock boots plus other stuff for English riders.  Then, I pulled into a feed store in Florida and there was a huge display of Ariat western boots, right next to the Wrangler clothes and Stetson hats.  I felt rather silly.  Why wouldn’t Ariat make western stuff?

Another trend I’ve noticed in a lot of tack shops is that often a full range of consumable products, like supplements and sprays, is no longer being carried there.  One tack shop owner told me she simply couldn’t compete with online and catalogs for those types of products any more.  Tack shops are turning to fashion stuff to keep sales up, especially when space Is limited, which then becomes a problem for anyone who needs to pick up a quick product on the way to the barn.  One tack shop I know has kept their regular range of products but opened up an attic to higher-end clothes.

Speaking of higher-end, I have this thing for Joules clothes, although I try to resist until they go on sale.  I’d only thought of them as riding stuff available at tack shops, but then I saw them at Harrods when I was in London in 2012.  Recently, I found out that Neiman Marcus also carries them here in the U.S.  When you look at Joules clothes, there’s little about them inherently for riders, except maybe for some of the polo and eventing motifs.  I am not sure if Joules is something that started for riders and then has edged out to the general clothing world, or vice versa. 

That’s sort of what’s happening with Ariat now, especially since the company was purchased in part by the Fisher family that founded Gap.  The Ariat designs for clothes are nearly as seductive to me as Joules, and much of it now isn’t necessarily designed for riding.  My feet love their boots, so I hope that core market isn’t ignored as they explore other fashion worlds to conquer.               

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App Hygiene at the Barn

By Margaret Freeman, March 19, 2014

Horseback riding is pretty much an anachronism – a sport, a lifestyle, an obsession, but no longer necessary to the daily functioning of general society, even if it remains necessary to the daily functioning of those of us who love our horses. Dressage is even more so, a throwback to the Renaissance, so maybe it’s no surprise that I’m often more comfortable with 19th century concepts than those of the 21st, including the whole tech thing.  At times, I really hate to admit how important technology is to us as horsemen, except maybe when it comes to diagnostic equipment.

I finally decided to give up my dinosaur flip phone a few weeks ago in favor of an iPhone, surprising family and friends since I’d never shown any interest in any of their techie communication goodies.  However, it became clear that if I wanted to see more videos and photos of my mare in Florida, I needed to get with the program, so to speak.

Just about everyone I know warned me they need to recharge their smart phones daily. But, practically the first thing my IT guy -- aka husband Henry – taught me about my new phone was how to close background apps in order to save battery time.  He made the really interesting point that this background app thing is a particular problem in remote areas, like the cell-phone hell where my barn is located, especially if the phone is hooked to your body and you’re moving around doing barn work or riding.  The phone itself is searching for a cell connection but so are all those apps running in the background that you don’t need.

Interestingly, the phone companies don’t let you in on this background app issue.  Someone pretty much has to show you, and it’s different with each operating system.  It’s really easy with the latest iPhone system.  With my new phone, all I have to do is click the home button on the front twice:  The screen reduces and all the background apps appear.  I just swipe them up and away.  I now do this before I get out of the car when I get to my barn.  I generally get two days on a charge, often longer.

You can find out how to erase background apps on your particular smartphone by looking on YouTube, of course.  However, look for the most recent videos, because the systems keep changing.  There are other ways to reduce battery bleed, such as lowering brightness, and those can be found as well.   Here's a video that shows the most recent version for the iPhone. 

 I’ve become obsessed with my iPhone.  Wow, I can check sports scores and email pretty much anywhere I want.  I haven’t ventured very far from home yet, but if I get lost I presume my phone will find the way home much more easily than bread crumbs.  And it’s even helping me lose weight!

Entering the great new world of apps that came free with the phone, I insert every calorie I consume on a 12-week plan to lose 20 pounds.  If I forget, phone seems to wave its naughty-naughty finger at me. At 6 pounds and counting, maybe it’s too soon to celebrate, because I blogged about my weight-loss goals a couple years ago and my very public plan went down in flames.  However, I am still determined to keep the vest points on my shadbelly from popping up from my stomach when I show this spring, and it’s going to take very bit of those 20 pounds and maybe even more to reach that goal.

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Helmet Saves Another Top Rider

By Margaret Freeman, March 13, 2014

Silva Martin’s serious head injury last week brings to mind again all the horrors that friends and admirers of U.S. Olympic dressage rider Courtney King Dye experienced four years ago.  It appears now that Silva will recover completely.  And Courtney broadcast the wonderful news last month that she had given birth to her first child, despite the many physical challenges she still faces.

Silva’s a German-born dressage rider, married to Australian eventer Boyd Martin, and they’re now both naturalized American citizens and USEF riders.  The culture in Europe has not been to wear safety helmets in day-to-day riding, although Silva has stated that after Courtney’s injury she started wearing a safety helmet full-time.  Indeed, her helmet likely saved her life and certainly prevented even more serious injuries.

Likewise, two other U.S. Olympic dressage riders have credited helmets from saving them from devastating injury. Debbie McDonald augured into the ground headfirst in 2011 and recovered, while Gunter Seidel broke his pelvis when he was suddenly bucked off but didn’t suffer serious head trauma in 2010.

I remember going horse shopping in Germany in the late ‘90s.  Since I wanted to travel light, I wore paddock boots on the plane and took half chaps instead of full boots in my carry-on bag.  My one concession to bulk was my safety helmet, even though at that time I didn’t always wear a helmet.  But, I was planning to test-ride green-broke 3-year-olds, so I figured the helmet was a good plan.

I thought my half chaps might be considered a little weird, since they weren’t yet all that common in the U.S.  But, to my surprise, I saw half chaps all over the place.  It was my helmet that got the occasional odd glance.  Even riding babies and jumping high jumps, the Germans were mostly bare-headed, and that practice still continues to a certain extent.  In the meantime, due mostly to publicity from Courtney’s accident, the U.S. last year became the second country in the world (after Canada) to mandate helmets in dressage shows run by national federation rules.

What you do at a show and what you do at home, of course, are two different things.  My own helmet epiphany came later in 2010 as I was packing for my first FEI-level show in several years.  I had purchased a new top hat for the occasion, but at the last moment I left it behind and took my regular safety helmet.  I just admitted to myself that a show was going to be a more likely environment for sudden unauthorized acrobatics than my own back yard.

I grew up riding horses without a helmet.  I rode a bike to school every day without a helmet, and I roller skated up and down my street without a helmet.  Folks in my age bracket express wonder all the time that we somehow survived childhood without helmets, knee pads and even car seatbelts. But, maybe there is a story to be told there that we really have no way to tell.  We don’t have any figures on head-trauma injuries from that period. Certainly, Pony Club statistics have shown that traumatic head injuries and deaths have declined steeply in riding disciplines where safety helmets have been mandated.

I am a huge fan of Silva Martin and her lovely mare Rosa Cha W, who is her current team candidate (and yes, I have a soft spot for dark bay mares).  I am looking forward to seeing both of them competing again together as soon as possible.          


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Freestyles for 2014

By Margaret Freeman, March 04, 2014

The show season – the one where I ride, not the one where I judge, which is year-round – is starting to call to me.  I have the new Carolina Omnibus, and shows here have already started. Since my mare is still in Florida, I won’t be entering anything before April, but a girl can dream.


The USDF added Training Level freestyles last year.


With a limited number of available weekends when I can show, I have to plan ahead.  I really want to enter Int. 1 freestyles this year, but I may have to choose between freestyles and straight tests once I really know which shows I can enter, if I can’t fit in all my goals to qualify for year-end awards and regionals.

I also have to decide if I am going to resurrect my successful lower-level freestyle music or come up with something new – a time-consuming (and potentially expensive) prospect.  In olden times, I did my own freestyles on cassettes, but professional editing makes such a difference that I always turn to good help there now.

Watching the Olympic skating last month also whetted my appetite for riding my horse to music again. I have always been interested in the music that skaters choose, since in some ways its similar to music selected for dressage freestyles.  However, with horses we have greater limitations because there are only three rhythm options (walk, trot and canter for a specific horse’s gaits), while skaters can set their own rhythm.  If the music doesn’t match the horse’s gaits closely, it’s disconcerting to the judge (not to mention the horse!).  The ice dancers stuck very close to the rhythm and tempo of their music, of course, but the singles and pairs not so much – however, when the choreography precisely underscored a jump or spin it seemed to me the whole artistic effect was enhanced. 

That’s a problem with dressage freestyle choreography, as well.  Even when riders chose the right tempos for their horse, and perhaps also music with dramatic phrasing, they don’t always clearly ride to the music, more as if they are riding to the letters of the arena than listening to the music at all.  They may be technically proficient, but the artistic score suffers.  But, since it’s obviously harder to hit a musical “mark” at the same time the rider is correctly performing a difficult movement, the technical score goes up when that happens, a win/win for both sides of the score sheet. 

While I was watching (and listening) to the skaters, I couldn’t help thinking what I might be doing with my horse if I was riding to that music:  a flying change in place of a double axel, or a pirouette in place of a twirl.  Okay, done with winter and time to dig out the iPod again.  I also have a copy of my freestyle on CD that I play in the car.  Changing lanes in time with the music is sorta like a half-pass, right?                  

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