Saturday, December 28, 2013


Merry (late) Christmas!

Jack was selected to wear the Christmas Hat this year, because Spider and Vinny were totally being Party Poopers.

Thank you all so much for your kind words and thoughts.  It really means a lot to us.  We are still missing our Matilda, but every day gets a little better.  Yesterday I saw the boys playing again, for the first time since Matilda's accident.  It lifted my spirits quite a bit, the atmosphere around here has been so somber.

Horses grieve just the same as we do, they may not shed tears or have elaborate rituals, but their sense of loss is just as real as ours. I was reminded of this by the boys' surprising reaction to the tractor after Matilda's death....

The boys have never cared much about the tractor. I've used it many times in the pastures without them bothering me. But on the first day I drove the tractor into the pasture after Matilda's accident, the boys very quietly walked up and surrounded me. I stopped the tractor, and one by one, they filed up to inspect the bucket.  That's where we had put her body, to get her off the road after the accident, and I guess it still had her smell in it.

They stood side by side and very carefully, very thoughtfully sniffed the entire bucket over.  They would stop periodically to touch each other's noses, and then go back to their inspection.  It was the sweetest, saddest thing I've ever seen.  After a few minutes, I got off the tractor to stand with them in front of the bucket and all four of us paid our respects to our little friend together.

        Matilda was always far too interested in the tractor. I think she would have stolen it and gone on a joy ride if she could have figured out how to work it.

Friday, December 20, 2013


Yesterday we lost a member of our family.  Our little Matilda has died.

Matilda was never easy, she was a pony and a mare and had a double dose of attitude.  But, she was always very kind and careful with the kids.  She never bucked or ran off with them.  She was always so careful around them when they groomed her.  She loved to be groomed, and the kids were more than happy to oblige.

My daughter learning to trot.

My son learning balance.

I bought Matilda when my daughter was just a toddler, so that she could have a little pony to practice her horsemanship on.  Spider and Vinny were too big for her to really learn on.  When my son was born, he learned how to groom and ride on Matty, too.

I wish I'd taken more pictures of them with her.  I was always so focused on supervising and teaching them, I never had time for pictures.

With adults and the geldings she was completely different.  She was a tough little cuss who never took shit off of anybody.  She may not have been very tall, but she was bigger than all of us, and loved to prove it.  I saw her kick the geldings right in the face on many occasions, and she'd give the same treatment to any adult who disrespected her.  She earned our respect, and in return we all earned hers.

The geldings needed frequent reminders.

Matilda always felt that the fences and gates were just suggestions that didn't really apply to her.  We did everything we could think of to keep her in, and we thought we'd finally gotten a fence that would hold her.  She hadn't escaped in over a year.  But yesterday she got out and, for some reason, went out to the road.  She was hit by a car and killed.

Wrong side of the fence, circa 2009.

The driver is fine, thankfully.  They weren't driving very fast.  The car struck her right in the head.  She was killed instantly.

I wasn't expecting to lose her, not like this, not now.  I thought for sure that Vinny would be the next to go.  It's easier when they're old and have lived a full life.  Matty was only around 10 or so years old.  I used to say that, when I got too old to ride, I would buy her a little cart and make her haul me around in it.  I thought that she might even be around to teach my grandkids to ride, like she taught my kids.  Ponies are supposed to live a long time.  She was supposed to outlive Vinny and Spider and maybe even Jack.

I wanted to do a cute little Pas De Deux with her and Spider someday.  

I'm so sorry, Matilda.  You deserved so much more than this.  Your story wasn't over yet.

We all miss you, Matty.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Winter Has Arrived

Last year we had a mild winter here in NJ.  I could have gotten used to that, but it seems we won't be having a mild winter this year.  We've had two snow storms back to back and another one coming this weekend. This weather has made things awfully frozen and miserable around here.

I've been contemplating getting a pair of winter riding boots, something warm, waterproof and suited to abuse.  There are many options out there, and I've pored over the descriptions and reviews.  I had it down to two candidates, but just couldn't decide between them.

I've never had a pair of winter riding boots before, despite living in NJ for 15 years.  I've always made do with my pair of old paddock boots, thick woolen socks and gaiters (half chaps, for you East Coast folks).

But, my paddock boots are nearly 20 years old now.  I got them when I was a teenager.  They were the first pair of English style riding boots I ever owned.  Obviously, my paddock boots never went into the show ring.  Back in the day, my tall boots were expensive and precious.  I wore my tall boots for shows, and shows only and my paddock boots for schooling.  

As time went on, I got a little more solvent and could wear my tall boots for training, too.  But, when winter came, my tall boots would not accommodate thick socks and thick breeches, so my good old paddock boots and gaiters came out. And that's how my old paddock boots became my winter boots.

My good old boots.
We've had several cold, wet and nasty winter days here and I've been spending them cleaning my tack.  As I was cleaning, I spied my good old boots sitting under a saddle rack.  I pulled them out, looked them over, cleaned them, oiled them and water-proofed them, and reminisced about all the horses those good old boots had known. 

Those boots have been placed in the stirrups of more horses than I can remember.  They've also been in the stirrups of many horses that I do remember, the horses who made me. They've been with me from when I was a just a stall mucker and catch rider, to barn manager and sale horse rider, to farm owner and amateur.

I knew then that I wasn't getting a new pair of winter riding boots.

Today I put on my thick winter breeches, then a pair of thick wool socks, and then put my good old boots on my feet, just where they belong.  Those old boots still have a few more winters left in them.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Dying Art of the Leg Yield

Nobody does leg yields much anymore. They're only called for in First Level now, and only at trot.  I've talked to people who believe leg yields shouldn't even be practiced once you're done with First Level, and others who didn't even know that leg yields were possible at canter.  To each their own, I suppose.  If you're getting things done without them, then I guess you don't really need them.

But, for myself, I had a bit of an epiphany about leg yields in my last lesson....

I use leg yields quite a bit, at trot and canter, because they're very good for getting Spider to be sensitive to my leg. I don't have a lot of strength in my legs, and I'm rather short, so I need my horse to be sharp off my aids. Leg yields are excellent for that. I especially like to ride up and down the driveway, leg yielding between the cherry trees.

Very fun.

 In one of my lessons a month or so ago, my trainer had suggested an exercise where you half pass, then leg yield in the same direction, then switch back to half pass, rinse, repeat, until you get to the end of the arena. So, if you were tracking left, it would be: half pass left, straighten, leg yield left, half pass left, repeat until you run out of space. Then you change direction and do it again tracking right.  (It took me two explanations and then my trainer drawing the exercise out in the sand before I understood what I was supposed to do, so I apologize if that description stinks.)

The idea behind this exercise is to get Spider's outside hind leg working.  He likes to let it wander out and do its own thing.  On a horse with a back as long as Spider's, this causes problems.  If that outside hind is not engaged and pulling it's weight, it feels like you're riding two guys in a horse suit.  

Not very fun.

The half pass-leg yield exercise is fun, though, and does help Spider engage.  We've been working on it in pretty much every ride.  Spider even adds his own little flair to the transitions, a sort of happy little "jump" as he goes from one to the other.  I like to imagine he's doing Jazz Hands as he transitions between the leg yields and half passes.  We mostly do it at trot, but have been practicing a bit at canter, too.

In my last lesson, the one where I had my epiphany, my trot work was quite nice, but the canter was falling apart a bit.  My outside aids just weren't sharp enough, and I was trying to ride two guys in a horse suit.

At one point my trainer yelled "Leg yield!".  I dutifully leg yielded, but it seemed like an odd request.... until he yelled, "No!  Leg yield from the outside aids!"


Suddenly, it all came together.  The outside aids are a leg yield!  This is why we train leg yields, why every Classical text emphasizes leg yields and why the First Level horse is required to perform them.  Once I started thinking about my outside aids in the same way I think about leg yields, my canter improved.  Now, I wasn't actually doing a leg yield, but I was thinking leg yield and that made all the difference.

And that's how the sad little leg yield that nobody ever pays attention to saved the day.....


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