SPRING AROUND THE WORLD

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While we’re looking out our windows, shaking our heads in disgust at the weather we’ve all come to expect (70 one day, snow the next, followed by a week of flooding, lather, rinse, repeat), I thought it might be fun to take a look at Springtime with horses in a few other zip codes…

 

The Queen’s Household Cavalry on a foggy spring morning

A first outing for the riders at The Spanish Riding School in Viena

Scouting new horses for their herd in the Middle East

A common sight anywhere, and beloved everywhere

The Budweiser Clydesdale midwest hitch, traditionally opens the season at Cardinal Stadium

Young racing hopefuls out for a breeze

and meanwhile, back in Ohio…

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HEALING POWERS

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In celebration of National Viet Nam Veterans Day, I came across the story of Roberto Gonzalez.  While horses weren’t part of the war in Viet Nam, they were very much a part of Roberto’s life.  More to the point, horses were Roberto’s life and eventually, his lifeline.  At 21 years old, Roberto Gonzalez was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam, serving for only a few months when he was shot and left paralyzed in 1970. He spent the rest of his life raising and training horses with his wife, Rosario Gonzalez.

 

In May of 2016, with his health deteriorating, Roberto had one last wish, to see his beloved horses again.  His wish was granted as his two horses, Sugar and Ringo, were lead to his bedside to greet their human.  Roberto passed away not long after their visit, but the memory of their last moments together is a sweet reminder of the healing power of our horses and other animals.  More on his story can be found here:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/24/on-anniversary-of-vietnam-war-injury-dying-veteran-reunites-with-horses/?utm_term=.f4d02ffe524b

 

 

WONDER HORSE

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It’s been a busy week without a lot of time to dedicate to my blog, so rather than leaving you with another out of office, I thought I’d share this story.  Phar Lap, New Zealand born Thoroughbred race horse, had a life that reads like a very exciting novel.  In 1983 there was even a movie about him, and given the arrangement we had with our local video store owner (to call my dad every time he got a new horse movie in), I remember watching it.

 

Check out his story, and should you ever find yourself on the other side of the world in Australia, you can still see him.  His mounted hide is displayed at the Melbourne Museum, his skeleton at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and his heart is currently on display at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.

 

 

https://www.thespectrum.com/story/sports/2018/03/20/dramatic-life-and-times-legendary-australian-race-horse-phar-lap/439831002/

 

 

https://museumsvictoria.com.au/melbournemuseum/whats-on/phar-lap/

 

Until next time, enjoy this and make it a great week!

RIDE OR DYE

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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.

EIM-Biggest oops?

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

 

 

 

 

ISO TRAINER

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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.

GLOBETROTTING

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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.