Taking a little break this week, I started a new full time job at The Bullet Ranch and I’m not too proud to admit, re-joining the work force is kicking my six. Hope you’re having a great week, we’ll catch up soon!
Taking a little break this week, I started a new full time job at The Bullet Ranch and I’m not too proud to admit, re-joining the work force is kicking my six. Hope you’re having a great week, we’ll catch up soon!
Back in my showing days (dating myself again), the standard of “cool” was measured by the brand and shade of your show saddles. The ideal being a leather so pale it may have been made of vampire skin, given the lengths people went to to protect them from exposure to daylight. While the lighter shades were pretty to a degree, and complimented darker coated horses nicely, it was a bit unrealistic to obtain and maintain such a standard. Just limiting it’s time in the sun was one thing, cleaning and conditioning the leather was a nightmare of worry over whether the products would darken the leather or worse, leave spots if applied unevenly.
As our ring time came to a close, the fashion rules were starting to soften a little, starting with english tack and equipment. Darker shades of brown were becoming socially acceptable without creating a wave of gossip or collective clutching of imaginary pearls.
Fast forward a decade or so, trend-setting riders are going polar opposite and taking to the show pen with the darkest shades of brown and even black. Inspiration strikes Michigan native, Morgan Warda, after pulling together a black on black ensemble for riding and deciding it needed a little something extra. She and fiancee, Michael Jennings, stripped down her 20 year old Dale Chavez saddle and gave it a makeover. The gamble paid off, and the once well-worn saddle was widely praised as looking brand new again. When you consider how much money we’re willing to invest in a key piece of equipment like a saddle (hint, not unlike the cost of a Ford Focus), it’s not at all unreasonable to consider getting a little work done to it, rather than scrapping it and starting completely over.
I had the pleasure of meeting this young business mogul at Quarter Horse Congress last year, through my involvement with the Queen Competition. Long gone are the days of ditzy darlings covered in sequins and talking about world peace. These ladies are hustlers in and out of the arena, and Morgan is no exception. Not long after they transformed her saddle, the requests for work started to come in. Working on one saddle at a time, slowly letting word of mouth do their advertising, they’ve built a steady little business.
Morgan and Mike are the sole employees, and every saddle receives the same attention to detail as her own. Every step is completed by hand, while the entire process is shared between them. Each saddle presents a new set of challenges and new opportunities to develop their skills and techniques. Lead time is usually a couple of weeks or so, depending on the condition of the saddle, and how busy they are at the time. In addition to this, the couple both have full time jobs, and are regulars on the Michigan Quarter Horse circuits.
Q&A with Morgan-
EIM-Are you strictly accepting business from QH/stock breeds at this point, or have you seen business being generated in other breeds and disciplines?
MMW-We have done 2 saddles for people that show Arabians! I think we tend to have more people in the stock breeds simply because that’s where I show and can market. We were so excited to have a new group come in that will show our saddles in a different breed circuit.
EIM-So far, I see black (or dark brown?), is that the end goal for each piece, or are you working on developing a variety of dark shades? Have you been asked to simply strip and refinish anything to it’s original (or close) shade?
MMW-The most popular colors are chocolate brown and black. We have not yet worked on developing a new range of colors; the traditional colors have kept us busy!
We have had 2 cases where an old saddle is brought to us in very poor condition: moldy, dry, discolored. For those we are able to clean and condition the leather, and then put a new finish on it.
EIM-In the process, you mention leather condition is a factor when it comes to the dyes being applied and absorbed, what about amount of tooling; hand or machine?
MMW-Tooling, or lack there of, definitely plays a role in the longevity of the dye. Smooth leather is the most difficult because it allows for more direct leg to saddle contact, which increases the likelihood that dye will rub off. Dye performs the best when the surface area of tooling is added.
Leather quality is the biggest factor. Some saddles actually have a ‘plastic’ feel. I can tell immediately which ones will most likely dye perfectly and which ones will require more work. The overall end result is the same. Wear time is usually different.
After doing over 80 saddles we have seen some never need a touch up for over 4 years, and some that need it after a few months. If there is wear its usually directly under the leg and we have found that it correlates with leather quality. Sometimes, its just the amount of leg pressure people use when they ride.
EIM-What’s been the biggest surprise?
MMW-I’m a statistics girl. I like being able to have a ‘sample’ size large enough to make informed decisions about how we apply dye and how leather is treated for the best result. We are at that point. I can rank almost every saddle brand by how well it will dye based on experience, and I know what we are dealing with before it even arrives at the shop. Its very rare that we have come across a brand that we have not dealt with before.
The most surprising thing for me is the tiny details that separate the different saddles. There are features that set them apart, and sometimes affect dying- even among the highest end saddles.
MMW-KNOCK ON WOOD! So far no oops…but we take the time to fill out a form before starting the dyeing process that indicates what color it should be and if there is any damage to the saddle when it arrives. All tack is also labeled with a tag.
My biggest fear is somehow dyeing something the wrong color, but that’s what the form is for!
As a competitor myself, I understand the connection people can have to their saddles. This practice has given people a chance to affordably revitalize older or well worn show saddles instead of buying a new one. As much as we would all like to buy new, it’s not always possible. It was this realization that our name Revitalized Saddles was penned. -Morgan Warda
When you reach the stage where you decide it’s time to call in some help, does it come on over time, or pop up out of the blue? Usually it’s a realization you’ve come to gradually, often after attempting to troubleshoot on your own. There’s nothing wrong with taking the first step in admitting you need backup, but then what? Ask friends? Scroll endless social media pages? We really don’t have a formal record-keeping/certification agency in the US for Horse Trainers, so what’s step #2? I recommend an honest conversation with yourself and anyone else in your family the decision is going to affect.
Start by asking, “what do I want to accomplish?” The question itself is simple, but it can generate dozens of sidebar conversations. Things like what discipline(s) do I want to ride, or whoever the trainer is going to be for? Does the horse need the training, do I, do we both? Hint, the answer is always both. Are we just hoping for better cohesiveness as a team, or are we planning to haul a circuit for points? Will a 30 day tune up do the trick, or are we looking at a long-term commitment? Do I leave my horse there or haul in for lessons?
That second step can be a doozy, but necessary. Take your time and lay all your cards out on the table. Make a list or chart to help explain your plan and process, so as you’re speaking with potential trainers, you’re asking them the same questions and looking for the same information. Once it’s all sketched out, the really painful question follows, “what am I willing to invest?” Referring to both financial and time investment, you have to have a budget in mind of how much you can afford to spend, including fuel to and from, and extras if you’re boarding with them, hauling with them, expecting them to work with you at shows as well as at home, if they’re showing your horse for you, etc. It’s a bit like a travel sports league, if you’ve got kids, do they have to go with you, or are they the one receiving the training? Will others have to tag along for the sake of convenience, and how will it impact your home life? Again, being 100% transparent and honest with yourself is the only way to make sense of it all, and know going in, that whatever you plan to spend, will likely only be a baseline figure.
When factoring your investment, you’ll be asking, for how long? Is it a matter of shipping a young horse off to get started, so you’ll then finish it at home, or are you planning on making a career with the horse and staying linked to the trainer for a duration? If the trainer has a large client list, how often are they really there training your horse, and is it worth considering keeping them home during downtime/off season to save money? If you’re considering a long term relationship, does the trainer have what you need from them today, and tomorrow?
You’ll also want to consider how you’ll all get along. Do they teach in a way that makes sense to you, and can you learn from it? When you arrive at a crossroad, do they have the skills needed to help you understand and/or work through a problem in a way that you’re comfortable with? What are they like, simply as humans? How do they treat their horses, other pets, family members? Do they present you with a professional version of themselves, yet behave another way when they think nobody is watching? You’re about to spend a lot of time with them, it’s important to know who they think and work, and if it meshes well with your ways and personality. Don’t hire a drill instructor if you aren’t comfortable being yelled at, but do give them the opportunity to do what you’re hiring them for. At the end of the day, you’re the boss, you’re writing the check.
Look at their track record. In the chosen discipline you’re interested in, are they helping to produce successful horse & rider teams? Are the horses as responsive to their owners as they are to the trainers? If you need the help and they can provide it, that’s great, but be sure you aren’t just paying them to learn how to manage your horse, leaving you sitting in the stands to watch. Horse don’t know who is or isn’t really a trainer, to them, a trainer is anyone who picks up a lead or swings a leg over their saddle. You have to be the voice of reason and make the best choices for them. Anyone can order business cards from Vistaprint with the words “horse trainer” on them, but it’s still your investment, so be sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
The best way to start your search is to attend an event where the trainer is at work, or visit a barn where they’re training, without going into the fact that you’re looking. Quietly observe from a distance and up close, get feedback from current and past clients, but still form your own opinions and trust your gut. If they seem like the might be a good fit, introduce yourself/your rider and ask for a meeting. If there’s something that doesn’t sit right with you, regardless of feedback, don’t try to force it, there are plenty of them out there to choose from, and the right one is out there. Take your time and do your homework.
With Spring around the corner, a lot of us are thinking about Spring Break and making travel plans. Not having kids in the house, we tend to lean a little more on binge-watching shows on HGTV like Caribbean Life and Island Hunters to feed our hunger for travel. It got me thinking though, my ideal travel combines crystal-turquoise waters and white sand beaches, and horses. With a quick Google search and the aid of a couple great websites: Hidden Trails http://www.hiddentrails.com/index.aspx and Equitours http://www.equitours.com/ I was able to discover that you can find horseback riding adventures on six of seven continents! My apologies to those of you hoping for a romantic, snowy ride across Antarctica. Not happening, there aren’t even horses there right now, just these guys…
… and they’re totally laughing at you for thinking you could go to the bottom of the world and take a horseback riding tour.
I’m pretty sure we’re all familiar with the adventures available in North America, namely the cattle drive and mustang roundup variety. There are facilities that cater to all level and manner of rider, so nearly anyone can participate to a reasonable degree. But, one I didn’t think about was exploring our Native American Reservations on horseback. We can cover a lot of ground here in the US alone, beach rides, mountain rides, desert rides, and none of it even requires a passport!
Head south to Central and South America for latin flavor in your horse and your view. Throw a leg over a smooth-gaited Peruvian Paso and tour ancient Mayan Ruins or tropical rain forests and jungles.
Due East your rides can stretch along the Scottish Highlands aboard a “utility vehicle” of a Clydesdale, native to their country. You can ride from castle to castle in the manner of Tudor-age ladies and gentlemen, you can tour Italian vineyards, and even visit the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna (though I don’t think they permit “guest riders?” lol) From beaches to mountains, from lush forests to arid valleys, Europe offers numerous breathtaking options.
Keep heading East into Asia, where the first horses were tamed and used as work partners for humans. Expeditions across mountains, world-renowned wilderness ranges and the intrigue of ancient religion combined to create an adventure-friendly tourist destination. From stunning beaches to lush forests, Asia will present you with an exciting horseback experience.
If a safari is on your vacation bucket list, Africa provides every opportunity. You can travel for miles without crossing fence line or roadways, the wildlife you’ve only ever seen at a zoo serves as your travel companions on your trek. As much as I love the idea of strolling through plains among zebras and giraffes, going to Morocco and sleeping in a tent under the stars like in the land of “a thousand and one nights” sounds pretty amazing too.
Travel to the other side of the world for an authentic bush-riding adventure. Australia and New Zealand offer unique terrain and wildlife, and let’s not forget this kind of riding experience…
… just kidding! No matter how many times I watch The Man from Snowy River, when Jim charges Denny up and over the edge of that mountain, then barreling down it’s insanely steep cliffs, my heart and lungs stop altogether. More likely you can expect to see breathtaking images more like this in your camera roll, ones that won’t leave you clutching your chest in panic.
I didn’t research the cost of vacations like these, I hated to ruin the magic. But one thing’s for certain, it would be worth every penny, and you’d never stop talking about it.
I hope you and your horse(s) and other loves enjoyed a sweet Valentine’s Day yesterday! I spent a little extra snuggle time with the pups, and had a great dinner with my love.
This week I’ve needed to spend more time focused on my search for a full-time career opportunity. It’s always interesting weighing out my skills and values against what’s available. Interesting… and exhausting. But, the right gig is out there for me, looking for me too, we’ll meet soon enough!
Have a great week, enjoy any spring-like weather you might be having, and keep spreading the love every day, not just Valentine’s Day, the world sure seems to need it right now…
At the risk of dating myself, “when I was showing horses” there were only a few divisions on the Quarter Horse circuits; Youth, Amateur and Open. The Youth was broken down by age, usually around 13-14 there was a split of over/under, but that was about it. Once you turned 18, whether you’d been showing your entire life, or just started, you stepped right off the board into the deepest depths of competition in the Amateur world, or scarier still, Open. The Amateur classes often packed with showmen who’s made careers of competing and who’s names you’d been reading in the Journal and show programs for as long as you could remember. The Open classes were essentially moats filled with crocodiles, all the Trainers and their top horses intent on snagging every available point and dollar available to them.
I did manage to transition into the Amateur pen with minimal bruising. In spite of not having been a “name” rider on the Youth circuit, I was able to maintain my Novice standing for long enough to get settled in and even make a nice circle of friends, many of whom I still talk to. If memory serves, at the end of my Quarter Horse show career with Buddy, I believe I had officially “noviced out,” meaning I was in the deep end from then on with all the big guns. Very. Intimidating. To be honest, until the AQHA started making changes to their division structures, that was enough to keep me from thinking I’d ever want to try showing the circuit again.
Luckily for me, and others like me, either very new to the show world, or perhaps after a longer hiatus than they’d have liked, the class structures are far more forgiving.
Classes are now leveled based on the points accumulated by the horse or rider, to keep them competing against those with similar levels of experience and performance. Eligibility is based on points and awards accumulated through the show calendar, November 1 through October 31. In addition to the levels beginning with Rookie and carrying out through Levels 1, 2 and 3, there are even additional break downs for age with the Select Amateur Division, for riders 50 and over, as well as Equestrians with Disabilities. Their focus on inclusion grows with every passing year, and it’s great to see more and more people who might have thought they couldn’t ever, not only competing but succeeding.
The latest headlines I’m reading about in the Equine Chronicle http://www.equinechronicle.com/walk-trot-classes-coming-to-all-aqha-l1-championships/ share that Walk-Trot classes for Level 1 competitors will be available. This is another fantastic was for those just getting their show legs under them to experience competition without feeling like they have to have every gait down pat.
With more and more opportunities becoming available to everyone with an interest in showing, we’re quickly running out of excuses to not try. Okay money, yeah, that’s a big one, but it doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as you’d think. The last year we hauled for a point title on the Ohio circuits, we did it on a budget. We didn’t haul with a trainer, we had our own trailer and Dad served as all team members; driver, groom, photographer and coach. We never got stalls or hotels, we were veritable “nobodies” but that never slowed us down. My outfits were store-bought pieces decorated by myself and a glue gun with the only real investments being core items like chaps, hats and boots.
For more information about Divisions and Levels within the AQHA, you can browse their website: https://www.aqha.com/journal/resources/exhibitors/find-your-level/ Before you talk yourself out of it, thinking you’re not enough or your horse isn’t enough, find a local show and check it out. You’re going to find that you actually have a place there, just like everyone else. Even if you don’t find a class or level that feels like the right fit, give it time, there’s bound to be one for you coming soon!
We watched the movie, “Down the Fence” this week on Netflix. I’d only heard about it recently through social media, but it was about horses, so I was intrigued. It’s fantastic in my opinion.
The film follows a year in the career of several Reined Cow Horse trainers. They’re all known and respected in their own rights, but what I really enjoyed was the connections between them. One was a man who’d witnessed several decades of success in spite of a health issue that he was told would have “ended his ride” many years ago. Another was an up and coming young woman who’d studied under other great trainers, and was trying to forge a path of her own. In spite of horse showing being a sport enjoyed by men and women, this particular discipline has long been considered a man’s world, only adding to her trepidation of making a name for herself.
I can relate to her concerns. Shooting and firearms are also a sport enjoyed by men and women, but you still come across the few salty old guys who express shock and disapprove of a woman doing anything but cooking, cleaning and raising the kids. I encountered a group at a rifle camp I attended last fall. When overhearing the men in the parking lot asking what all these women were doing there, a member of the outfit I was there with bristled up and engaged him in a verbal spitting contest. I had to shake my head. Because we’re establishing that we not only belong in that world, we’re equals, we have more to prove. When I’m challenged, I’m quick to explain that there’s no need to worry, I’m not a woman, I’m just a shooter like they are. Then I shut up and let my skills do the talking, for better or worse.
This was one of the parallels I really liked watching the movie. Seeing the pride in the faces of those who taught the ones coming up in rank. Vidal Sassoon once said, “if you don’t look good, we don’t look good.” It applies everywhere. I have a responsibility to my students, and if they fail, it’s more likely as a result of my failure than it is theirs. If they succeed, it reflects the effort I put into their success with them. All of this stays in the back of my mind as I prepare for my first “solo flight” teaching this weekend.
I think we’re all in a constant state of both learning and educating. If you ever find yourself thinking you know everything about something, you’re probably in big trouble. As humans, I think it’s our nature to want to pass along what we’ve learned, it is evolution. I’m fortunate to have some great instruction in my life, starting with Papa, and with the addition of Coach, both of whom are always seeking their own new education.
Admittedly, my thoughts are a bit scattered this week. But I keep coming back to the messages in the movie, and how they apply to my life, how far I’ve come, how I can use it to help others, and how far I have to go. One of my favorite teachers was my Buddy, who would have been 30 tomorrow. Wow. I call him my true north, for always keeping me on the right path, and I believe he continues to do so from the heavens.
I think we can learn something from everyone we meet, even if it’s just what not to do. I also think taking in all that learning without sharing it is selfish. What fun is it if we keep it all to ourselves?