Friday, February 18, 2022

A Hunt for new Field Boots: Ariat vs. Dover Riding Sport

I have had my Ariat Heritage field boots for about 5 years.  I ride my one horse about 5 days a week.  I would say I'm somewhere in the middle as far as taking care of them: I always keep them in a boot bag with trees, and usually only have them on while I'm riding not just wearing around the barn (though of course I occasionally do).  However I'm not very consistent about wiping them down or conditioning them, I just knock the dirt off with a brush before putting them back in the bag.  I have dress boots for showing (which I wear on occasion in between just so they don't shrink and so I'm used to them).  

 Being a petite 5'2", "regular" height tall boots off the rack won't really fit me and at the time I got these boots there weren't many options for shorter heights.  They are a 7.5 short height, regular calf.  The calf has always been a touch big, but for schooling I'm not that partial.  They were quick to break in and comfortable from the start, I think I may have used heel lifts the first few rides but don't recall them being painful.  They've held up very well the first 4 years, I never had to replace the zipper or had any noticeable issues.  However over the past few months they've really started showing their age, first with some separation on the top of the boot between the outer leather and inner layer.  And then a wear mark appeared on the inner calf where the bottom edge of my saddle flap is, eventually rubbing all the way through the outer layer!  I'm actually overall quite happy with how these boots worked out, and thought 5 years was a reasonable lifespan for <$300 boots.  However most of what I've read on the internet indicated that the quality of Ariat boots has gone down quite a bit the last few years, so I'm a bit hesitant about getting the same ones.
So sad!

Dover had a recent sale on their Riding Sport brand boots, so I figured why not give it a shot.  At just over $100 I wasn't expecting them to last forever, but hoped that I might get a good year out of them - and a good opportunity to try some brown ones!  

Pretty brown
 Unfortunately did not meet even my low expectations.  From the size chart I thought they might be a bit big, but I didn't expect to easily fit my whole hand inside the top of the boots.  The leather is low grade as expected, but what really turned me off was the almost foam-like inner lining, which I imagine would be pretty sweltering on hot days.  

Weird foam-like inner lining

Regular width calf runs large
So these boots are going back - I have a different, new-to-me brand on order but if those don't work out either I'll probably just go back to Ariat!

Friday, January 14, 2022

A Weight Lifted

This has been a great week.  First, Cupid's biopsy came back clean.  Though we don't know the exact cause why that lump grew, at least it's not a tumor.  For now I will just keep an eye on it for further changes.  Removing it is a fairly minor procedure, but would primarily just be for cosmetic reasons (with a small benefit of avoiding him knocking it again.)  If we have a bad fire season again and I'm not going to be riding or something like that, we may just get it done but it's not urgent.

But possibly even better news it for the last several rides Cupid's finally felt like his old self, no crankiness much happier to go forward.  Whatever was bothering him seems to have resolved.  He's been on GutX for over a month so maybe it was that.  Or just kind of resetting our relationship with contact (taking it away completely for a while then slowly building back).  Or just some other body soreness.  

He feels active and engaged, I don't have to chase him into a canter, and can actually shorten and lengthen his trot a bit.  I'm feeling pretty happy and optimistic for the first time in months!

Saturday, January 8, 2022

A Medical Mystery

Cupid injured his leg in a pasture accident many years ago.  After that accident he formed a slight lump on his leg which I attributed to a popped splint.  It was high enough and forward enough to not interfere with any tendons or ligaments, and never seemed to both him.  But over the past year, that protrusion has been slowly growing bigger and softer, though never with any heat, lameness, or sensitivity.  (And we're talking about a horse who's legs swell up after the most minor scrapes.)  But eventually they got to about ping pong ball size, and though it doesn't seem to bother Cupid I thought we should take a look at what's going on.  I thought it was likely that something chipped off and he was building fluid around the chip.  My biggest fear was bone sequestrum.

To my surprise, the x-ray revealed that the splint bone had never fractured, and his bones actually look great!  Rather the lump is some sort of fluid or soft tissue mass under the skin.

So the next step was ultrasound, which revealed two separate encapsulations, fairly similar in size and consistency though one perhaps a bit more dense. No sort of fluid core or giveaway that it would be an abscess. Possible origin cyst or hematoma.

The vet said if I want to continue, that next step would be biopsy. He cautioned me that it could well be inconclusive, but relatively low cost and not terribly painful to Cupid. I thought it over briefly but I’m curious enough to try it.

So he stuck the biopsy needle into the less dense sac, and we see nothing. After a few moments of suction he gets a small amount of clear fluid (not sure at this point if we got inside the sac or just the surrounding fluid.)  There was some external bleeding as he pulls the needle out. Then he hit the more dense looking one, and again nothing at first then he gets a bit of blood. The two samples are going off to the lab, and we should hear back in about a week but again it may or may not reveal anything. Vet still thinks either hematoma or some sort of cyst possible.  Tumor unlikely, fingers crossed!

It is a bit inconclusive at this time whether the lump could be drained in the field, or need to be fully opened up in a clinical setting.  Right now the lump is more unsightly then problematic, so if the lab results are inconclusive then I’ll have to decide how much to pursue this or just observe for further changes.  In any event the vet said if we are to plan a removal he recommends waiting until dry weather, so we can do some turnout while he heals.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021


The first rains have come, and with it Cupid's first pulled shoe!  It was right at the end of his trimming cycle, hopefully just a single fluke occurrence.  

Despite a little bit of friskiness in the pasture, Cupid's generally the same to ride.  In fact we're still working hard on getting him to move more promptly off the leg, and on me not nagging him all the time!  I'll have to write an actual post at some point but just wanted to at least come on and say all's well.

He's currently in half round shoes


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Barrel Racing with Tracy Maurer

You run at a barrel and whip around it, point to the next one and circle the other direction, whip around the third barrel, and hand on for dear life as you fly back where you started - how hard can it be, right?  Turns out there is a lot more to barrel racing, and clinician Tracy Maurer did an excellent job laying that foundation!  Step 1, tie the horse at the trailer for a quick overview of the sport and running through the pattern on foot!  

Apparently there are a whole lot of different organizations/associations that run barrel races and their rules vary slightly.  For example, under some rules knocking down a barrel is a time penalty but in others it means you get no time.  But there aren't too many ways to get disqualified - going off course; falling; missing your order of go.  Some orgs will disqualify you for any backwards motion, like the horse spooking.  But for this intro-level clinic we were just focusing on the basics, with a primary focus on good horsemanship.  

Tracy explained that usually there isn't much space behind the start timer.  Some of the associations allow you to circle behind the timer (though the highest levels don't); we practiced with the circle to help set us up for our first barrel.  Especially if you're cantering, to make sure you have the correct lead and to establish your bend.  For our practice we started with the barrel on the right side (right lead / circle to right), but the rider can choose either direction.  Tracy placed a cone several feet from the barrel, and she said to start we would think about leg yielding just before the cone (to help establish the bend we want to go around the barrel) and halt with the horse's nose on that cone.  This is so your horse learns to not rush or get too excited.  Then we covered 3 circles, from biggest to smallest the large fast (just to the outside of the cone); half round (mid-way between the cone and barrel); and regular turn (tight around the barrel).  Tracy impressed upon us that if we lose the horse's shoulder through any of these turns then we need to either go the next size up, or drop to a slower gait.  Even just walking it she reminded us to keep our shoulders even; she said if we walk with a dropped or raised shoulder we will probably ride it that way too!  We practiced the entire course around all three barrels and back through the timer line. 

Then we got on our horses and started with the circle behind the start line - I tried to do mine in the middle but Tracy corrected me to do it on the right side so I have a short path to the first barrel.  Then approaching the cone think a slight leg yield and halt at the cone.  Not surprisingly Cupid was good at that part. =)  Then we started on our large fast circle, and when Tracy was satisfied our circle was even, with the correct bend and not falling through the shoulders we went to the half round circle, then the regular turn.  The regular turn started out really good but got egg-shaped on the other side, I think maybe a bit of a magnetic pull towards the gait!  So we worked on fixing that.  And then Tracy said as soon as I got a good circle move on, don't keep drilling it because then it will quickly not be fun for the horse.

Some of the technique is a bit different then I'm used to - a slight raise of the inside hand, and moving both hands towards the barrel.  But there was also a lot that was familiar, such as using the inside leg effectively - timing the cue before the horse picks up that foot, with enough intensity to get a response then leave the horse alone.  

After completing the pattern at a walk, we trotted in, stopped at the cone, trotted the large fast (if you could do it correctly), and walked the half round and regular turn, then trotted off.  Tracy said our halts were quite good, of course we've had plenty of practice halting at X in the dressage court!  Eventually instead of halting at the cone it was more just a half halt.  We didn't get past cantering a large fast, then trotting a half round and walking the regular turn. 

Then we did a little work away from the barrels, practicing spiraling in and out at the trot and canter, then at the walk we spiraled in eventually to a turn on haunches - which Cupid and I struggled with a bit as he moves his haunches a bit too much.  I told Tracy I will try to work on it in hand and she agreed that is a good approach.

We ended with a few last runs around the course.  Cupid was getting a bit tired at this point so we only cantered up to the first barrel and transitioned to the trot at the cone, did the regular turn at the walk, and trotted to the next cone.

At no point during the clinic did Cupid get lit up, which I was super relieved about!  The slow and methodical approach really just allowed us to have fun practicing the same things we usually practice (smooth transitions, responsiveness to rein and legs, proper bend without losing the shoulder, balance, etc) just in a different way.  I don't aspire to actually barrel race because speed isn't really my thing, but it was super fun learning more about it!

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Race Horse PTSD

Cupid is so easy going most of the time, people can't believe he's an ex-racehorse.  He's great on trails, my 2.5 year old rides him, etc.  But every so often something can set him off and he reverts to racehorse mode.  It happens so rarely that when it does happen it catches me off guard.  Today was a foggy day, which can make him a bit more looky but usually nothing too bad.  Nevertheless I decided to ride in the covered arena, where he is usually less distracted.  The covered arena is higher then the paddocks and pastures by it, and with the trees and outbuildings around it you can only catch occasional glimpses of the horses outside.  However, we could definitely hear them, and one of the pastures was playing hard.  When Cupid gets excited, 3 things happen:

1) His tail shoots straight up in the air.  This is a dead giveaway something is about to happen!

2) He has to face the excitement, no matter what.  He will pretzel himself if needed to accomplish this.

3) Apparently the ground around us turns to lava, and Cupid must keep his feet off the ground.  He prances like he's on his way to the racetrack.

I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit I decided to hop off.  I know he probably wouldn't do anything that would get me off, but I hate trying to ride out #3!  I tried doing some in hand exercises to get him to refocus, but #2 made it difficult.  

But just as quickly as it began, the horses outside settled down and Cupid did too.  I got back on him, trotted around and he was a perfect gentleman.  We cantered and even jumped a small vertical, mostly just so I can prove to myself that we my original plan for the day included doing some jumping.  Even though it was a bit of a long spot I didn't really feel the need to correct it, but I think it was good we did it.  The rest of the ride was very uneventful.  We did a lot of circling and bending around the jumps at the trot, and did a few walk to canter transitions.  

Today I had the lunge cavesson on, but I did actually get a proper side pull.  It's by thinline, and just all leather (no hard core) with metal rings for the bits.  But I put it on my western headstall with split reins and just didn't want to deal with that extra length while jumping.  But we've had a few good rides with it, and have been practicing our neck reining which is actually going well.  We've gone through most of our training level dressage tests, I think it helps to have something familiar because even if Cupid isn't totally certain about the cue he can fall back on following a familiar pattern! 

Thinline Side Pull, on my old western headstall
We have an appointment with a western saddle fitter coming up.  I don't mind being the odd man out in an english saddle when I'm cattle sorting or doing trail trials, but I also wouldn't mind having a western saddle that fits both Cupid and I because why not.  If we find one that fits, we may even try a little showing of some variety.  I was a little disappointed to see that for western dressage, while you can use certain bitless bridles if I understand correctly the side pull isn't allowed. 

Thursday, September 30, 2021


We originally planned to do one more show this year, but showing is never our top priority and with the way things have been going I think it's safe to say we can scrap that plan.  Instead we're just going to take it a bit easy and just have fun while we figure out if Cupid needs any maintenance, medical help, or maybe just a bit of a break.  So I decided to try riding him bitless for the time being.  This will help take the pressure off trying to ride him a certain way (I can't try to make him "on the bit if there is no bit!) and hopefully we can work on some other skills in the meantime like riding him more off my seat and legs; I can work on my strength in two point without any help balancing on the reins; and it's easier for me to focus on keeping my elbows by my side and hands closed when I'm not trying to maintain contact.  

I don't have a real bitless bridle.  I've ridden him plenty just with a halter and lead rope but I don't like how much the halter moves on his face, often ending up almost over his eye or just awkward.  But I thought we can start with my lunging caveson.  (I did order a leather side pull, which I now got but I realized I need a bridle with shorter cheekpieces, mine are already at the top hole for a bit.)

Riding him in the caveson has been going better than I expected.  We've been having fun cruising around the property, doing more jumping, practicing opening and closing gates.  Cupid's been a really good boy.  Our first ride in the caveson was a foggy day, deer jumped out by us, and there was some tree trimming going on.  I thought to myself that he is finally becoming more like my childhood horse that I could ride anywhere, when it occurred to me that he is still younger than Dee when I first got her.  I never really appreciated that before, and it makes me optimistic that we still have many good years ahead of us.

I was starting to think maybe we're dealing with a hock thing because for a few rides the biggest problem area was having to chase him into the canter.  Once he picked it up it felt okay, but the transitions were not prompt at all.  Then I realized, we are used to the transitions with contact on the bit not a stretching frame.  I decided the easiest place to work on this might be the round pen, and decided to try it from the walk not trot.  As expected, the right lead was easier but the transitions were smoother and definitely more prompt so I think I just need to be more clear in my aids.

We've been loping around small courses, and Cupid seems very happy to be jumping and my confidence is getting better as well.  This jump combined several things I don't like: the stone wall; it's skinny (usually we have 2 of these wall panels side by side); and no upright standards to funnel through.  Our first time over it I kind of caught Cupid off guard on the approach, I think he was looking at the crossrail next to it and I almost bailed but managed to straighten him to it.