Don’t go the trail alone – get involved!

Even when you board your horse, it can get lonely. Whether you board with one other person, 20 other people, or have your horse in your backyard, it is good to find a community to get involved with. As much as we love our alone time with our equines, it’s good to reach out and find other like-minded individuals to socialize with. There are a number of ways to get involved, even if you don’t own your own horse.

Do you show? Is your horse registered? There are a number of breed associations that you can become a part of. AQHA, APHA, American Warmblood Society and Sporthorse Registry, the Arabian circuit, Morgans, the list goes on and on. There’s a group for everyone and at all levels of competition. Many of the organizations welcome their members to get involved with the regional club – as a board member or a show volunteer, to help with social media or sponsors. All you have to do is call them up or shoot them an email. Go on their national websites and locate your local regional club and subsection of the national organization. You’ll find people all over the world just waiting to welcome you with open arms.

Is the open circuit more your style? Do you find yourself going to all barrel racing shows or do you do cowboy mounted shooting? Or are you just looking for an organization that welcomes everyone? They’re out there! Make a post on Facebook or ask around at your local tack shop. You’ll find a group to get involved in there.

Would you rather be in the woods or at the beach with your horse? All over the nation there are trail riding associations and clubs to join. These clubs plan meet ups and host big trail rides and camping sites so you can all enjoy the outdoors and your horses in a relaxed, fun manner. They can also teach you some neat tricks of the trail about what to pack and be prepared for!

Do you not have a horse? Your local horse rescues are always looking for volunteers. Or maybe you do own your own but have some free time? Almost all rescues have open barn hours or days where they accept volunteers. There’s always hay to be brought in, a barn to be painted, a horse groomed or a fence to mend. These horses and organizations appreciate any time – however short or long – you can provide!

Do you enjoy the show or expo atmosphere, but don’t know how to get involved? Many shows or expos accept volunteers. It’s a great way to meet people and lend a hand! Equine Affaire is coming up in Massachusetts in November and they’re always looking for volunteers! And for a bonus, you get into the expo for free!

No matter what way you get involved, it’s so good for your horse and for your soul to get out and about. Meet other equestrians that love horses just as much as you do. You won’t regret it!

 

A winter of work

It’s been a long, dreary winter. In New England, we have had the strangest few months – with small storms bringing freezing cold and ice amid mild temperatures. I think I have become a pro on the “penguin walk” across sheets of ice both at home and at the barn. We haven’t had tons of snow this year, mostly just ice and freezing rain. Where we board Jim we very fortunately have an indoor arena. I know a lot of equestrians are not blessed with an indoor, but it is definitely worth it when it comes to New England weather.

At the start of the winter back in November, we placed Jim in training 2 days a week with our barn owner. We had a few specific short-term goals along with some long-term goals for our 2019 show season and beyond. Our short-term goals included a complete rework of how we lunge Jim. A year ago, our lunging consisted of a horse who liked to tear around like an idiot, burst out from you when you sent him out, and a horse that tried to break away from you when you went to change the chain set up while changing directions.

Another goal was to teach Jim how to balance himself both while lunging and under saddle. Although very broke, he liked to throw his nose up in the air and go way above the vertical. He rode very hollow and was very heavy on the forehand. He didn’t have much of a concept of engaging his hindquarters and stepping through.

Traffic was another key that Jim needed some work. He can work very nicely around other horses, but sometimes, oh sometimes, those ears went back and the attitude came out. With show season quickly approaching again, that wasn’t going to cut it – especially when it comes to warm up arenas.

Another smaller goal was to put some showmanship and ground handling buttons on him. He actually knows quite a lot in this department, but there’s some finishing work to be done.

And we have our long-term goals which include expanding our dressage knowledge, putting a flying change on him and working on more lateral work.

It’s been four months of training. We have had our setbacks and we have had some amazing progress. I actually love watching Jim learn. He sometimes takes a week or so and has a setback, but once it’s over, comes back even stronger.

One of our main goals – lunging – has come a long way. While it’s not perfect and probably will never be since some of it is just him, we can handle him much better and lunging has turned into teaching moments and not just “go run around like an idiot.” He’s actually not allowed to canter on the lunge line. Lunging work is for paying attention and working his brain. He’s taken to the new lunging rules very well.

Another goal that is coming along nicely is Jim learning how to balance himself. He has actually started to consistently round (when I use my legs!) He’s begun to understand what we are asking of him. He has also muscled up a lot. I can’t wait to take some new conformation photos in the spring!

While we still have some goals in the works, I’m very happy about our winter progress. But the most important part is how much fun we have been having with him. He lights up our life. From letting us put gloves on his ears and take funny photos to how much enjoyment we get riding and pampering and loving him, he has become part of the family. Having fun is what our sport is all about. If you’re not having fun, your passion will die. Every time you go to the barn and every time you put a foot in the stirrup, you should enjoy what you’re doing. The confidence we have been gaining (especially me) working with Jim has been fantastic. And I have my village to thank who are there for us all along the way.

A new set of hooves

As I mentioned in my blog post about saying goodbye to Jack, when one door closes, another opens. While I bid ado to my friend, I said hello to a new one.

Down in the lower barn, at the way end of the aisle on the left sat “Jim.” He had just come to the barn in December as a lesson horse. At 15.2 hands, Jim is a solid black registered Paint. With some white stockings up his leg and a funny backward question mark looking stripe, he also has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known.

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Jim is almost the complete opposite of Jack. He’s 11, broke, he jumps, does barrels, trail rides. You name it, Jim does it. The best part? My husband can also ride him since he’s tall enough and quiet enough.

My barn owner offered us a lease on Jim with plenty of rides during the week. We couldn’t turn it down. There was just something about him. Although my heart is still mending over Jack, I started to get excited about Jim. Thomas and I started thinking about our show season and all of the fun things we can do. I started making plans to go trail riding with one of my good friends around the property because finally, at last, I had a horse I could do it with. My world started turning.

Jim can never be a replacement for Jack. I don’t expect any horse to completely fill his void. Jack left an awful big mark on my heart. But Jim is here to nuzzle my shoulder and remind me of why I love horses. He is the biggest teddy bear I’ve ever known.

While I’m on Jim, I’ve started to relax again. I’ve started to gain back the confidence that Jack had thrown in the dirt. I started to feel more like me.

It’s been a bittersweet couple of months in my life. It’s been hard to say goodbye, but it’s a welcomed feeling to say hello. Jim seems to know I need him. After Jack left the barn, Jim let me pamper him for over an hour, braiding his long, fluffy, unruly mane. He took it like a champ and fell asleep, lower lip drooping. Each day it gets a little bit easier. Every step I take with Jim reminds me I can do it.