Monday, November 28, 2011

Alien Crop Circles, Tie Downs, and Other Urban Legends

I love a good mystery.  Not an episode of Murder She Wrote type of mystery but, more of the Alien Crop Circles, Lochness Monster, missing sock in the laundry types of mysteries.  Not because I believe the theories proposed would make some of them even remotely believable, but because I enjoy the pure speculation that there may be something out there that is still yet undiscovered (like my tube socks with the toes in them)...still just a itty bit scary.  Heck, lots of people really believe these phenomenon exist.  While I am emphatic that most of the people who believe in these things just need to made aware of the current science, I can appreciate their fervor for what they don't know. Everyone loves a good scary movie for the same reason.   The adrenaline rush.

Perhaps that's what draws some of us to equestrian sports.  Let's face it, there's a small element of danger involved.  (And if you've read my previous blog entries, you know how I feel about minimizing risk as much as possible.)  Horseback riding remains on the top of the most dangerous activities you can do list and I'll leave it at that..for today.

"1200 pounds of raw muscle, power, grace, and sweat between your legs - it's something you just can't get from a pet hamster.." ~Unknown

Which brings me to this next point.  Training/education is the single most important element in minimizing risk.  We've briefly discussed helmets and the importance of buying a steed for your level of riding.  But, if you're like me, once you've reached a certain mastery of your existing skills and are at a point when you want to do more, you might find yourself purchasing a horse that you think is appropriate for your next adventure.  Unless you've gotten yourself a "finished" horse, you'll certainly discover where irregularities have occurred in their training, let's call them mysteries, in which it takes tremendous thought, trial and error, and some shrewdness on your part to figure out.

Today, we'll be discussing one short fall in learning and development that when left unattended can be detrimental to both their and your safety--control--and one of the most common so called fixes--the tie-down.

Without getting into the plethora of questions that need to be asked prior to purchase, or trying out your prospective steed, we'll focus on the more common complaints of lack of whoa and bad headset.  These are the two single issues that when discussing training on a intermediate rider level, can become a chronic source of trouble.   Usually, the first "urban legend" to come to mind for these riders is the addition of mechanical training aids, specifically the tie-down.   The tie-down is a very misunderstood piece of equipment.  At first glance, it would "seem" that the tie down would serve the rider well.  Restricting the head from being thrown.  It would also offer the rider more leverage in which to pull back on the reins to get the horse to stop.  In both instances, this is simply not the case.

I've heard arguments in favor of using tie-downs.  One camp suggests that horses can "brace for balance" with their usage.  Ever see a horse galloping at full speed in a pasture and then quickly roll back, change directions, and run some more without one?  Of course you have.  Balance is simply something that the horse does not lack.  Nature provided them with all the balance necessary to turn on a dime. In fact, put a tie-down on a horse that rears and you will see exactly the opposite effect.  You'll see a horse that looses her or her balance almost immediately.  In this case, not only is a tie-down ill recommended, but it's down right dangerous. Poor riding skills can also be attributed to lack of balance but, when it comes to agility, a horse is born with sufficient balance to turn a barrel, stop a steer, etc., etc.

Another camp suggests that they are necessary because a horse may throw his or her head when ridden.  The question would be does the same horse throw his or her head when there isn't a harsh bit or uncertain hands behind it?  Not usually.  Not unless there is a pain issue unrelated to riding going on.  There are a wealth of explanations for these behaviors that don't include the use of a tie down. What about a poor fitting saddle?  Chiropractic pain issues? Conformational issues?  Etc.  If a horse is high headed, generally speaking, there is something else going on and the use of a tie-down will simply compound the problem and not solve it.  Imagine a poorly conformed horse that has high head carriage naturally being forced to run in a tie-down.  Worse yet, imagine an ill fitting saddle causing excruciating pain, the horse lifts it's head and neck to compensate and then we "tie-down" their head?  Again, down right dangerous.

What about a poorly trained horse that is high headed due to fear?  Think a tie-down will help? Probably not, would be my guess. What about a horse that has had countless harsh bits placed in his mouth with heavy handed riders at the helm?  Certainly that learned behavior of head tossing would be warranted.  Undoing it would require a mild bit or bosal, very quiet  hands, time and more time, and not something to make him or her feel more restricted.  Horses that are not properly desensitized will feel trapped as well and the fear is doubled, tripled, etc. And then you've got behaviors that are problematic.

So, when can a tie-down be used in my opinion?  Rarely, if at all.  I do find them marginally effective when used intermittently as a "check" for the horse, even if its purpose is so the owner can continue to focus on other aspects of his or her training.  But, only for VERY short periods of time.  Personally, when used in this manner there are other pieces of equipment that are way better suited for the same effect, for example, the running martingale.

A horse that has run for years in a tie-down may also need to use them for some extra time as you are retraining them simply because they have developed their way of going with them.  They have learned to rely on the tie-down for comfort.  Their muscles are over developed in some areas and underdeveloped in others. Weaning them off will take some time.  People have been riding with tie-downs for years.  However, I do feel there is a better way most of the time.  Proper training and retraining.  Teaching the horse to whoa first from the ground, then from the seat.  Desensitizing the horse to overhead movement.  Flinging ropes, bags, etc. Switching to a bosal or snaffle and working on circles, figure 8s, transitions.  Teaching the horse to drive from it's hind end rather than carry all the weight on the forehand.  Achieving collection, etc, ground work, ad nauseum.

Ropers and barrel racers are going to disagree with me on this one.  Tie-downs are extremely prevalent in these disciplines. In their case, and this particular horse task performance they appear to have benefit. However, with that said, I don't tend to agree with the majority on this all the time.  I also am not sold on a something simply because "everybody's doing it"or because a good number of people believe in it.  Like the alien crop circles, I'm leery when it comes to accepting the quickest answers or jumping on too many bandwagons.  I prefer to do my own research.  I solve my own mysteries.


You should see the socks in my lint filter!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Honey, Does This Saddle Make My Butt Look Big?

Don't you hate those three sided mirrors in Department store dressing rooms that have harsh, bright white lighting?  You know the ones.  You walk in with a new outfit (that just happens to be your color AND on sale) and you're feeling good.  You walk out questioning body image and needing a good therapist.  Good market research is priceless.  Hence, why some department stores have cleverly put in slimming mirrors, soft warm lighting, and sized their clothing lines so that a true size 10 is marked size 8 on the rack.  KA-CHING!  If it makes you feel good, you're more likely to buy it.  That's the bottom line.  
There's another bottom line that I think is more important but, often completely overlooked.  What happens when the shopper brings home that new outfit only to find out it doesn't quite look as good it did in the dressing room?  Does she return it?  Does she complain about the quality?  Bad mouth the store?  Worse yet, does she become depressed and blame herself for eating that extra piece of cheesecake for dessert? The aftermath is usually not pretty. 
I think the same holds true for saddle fitting.  Over the last several years we read more and more about proper saddle fit for the horse.  What a relief! Countless horses lived their lives out with white saddle marks, saddle sores, and a variety of physical ailments prior to this and it was just a shame that so few considered their comfort.  Due to the concerted effort by proponents of natural horsemanship to correctly size the saddle to the horse, new designs in saddle trees, and the advent of flexible ones, our horses are now more comfortable than ever.  A quick google search will show that there are resources everywhere about correct saddle fit.  A rider can purchase wither pads, inserts, and high tech pads that can help alleviate saddle sores and pressure points further adding to comfort and leaving a little more room for saddles that don’t fit exactly perfect. It's a huge step in the right direction.  Conversely, there is very little written about proper rider fit.  Until recently, saddle size has only been about personal preference.  Which would be fine if everyone rode properly in the saddle and all horses rode comfortably (and well) under saddle.  This is rarely the case.  
I’ve spoken before, in these blogs and elsewhere, to many people that express problems they’re having with their horse and or riding.  As a giant proponent of groundwork, I almost always ask how their horse is on the ground and if they are able to do everything with ease in the round pen or on the ground first before I mention more training, chiropractors, and other issues that may impede performance.  But, another thing occurred to me recently, as I remembered the difference in my own riding and control when I moved to a larger seat size.  I had owned a cute Billy Cook barrel saddle that I thought was pretty nice...until I warmed up a horse for George McGuire.  (George is a quiet old cowboy that is well known in Southeast Oklahoma as an incredible horseman, former bull and bronc rider, and tell it like it is horse trainer.)  He had an old Billy Cook roping saddle that had a 16” seat.  My first thought was how well this horse was coming along.  My second thought was how comfortable I was in his saddle and how I didn’t look all squeezed into it.  It took only moments to realize that my saddle was hampering my riding and consequently, it was also hampering my horse’s performance.  
His horse wasn’t trained any differently than mine.  In fact, his horse that day was very green.  We had done all the groundwork/breaking together. This particular gelding had even less saddle time than mine and my filly only had about 6 or 7 rides up to that point. The horse was comfortable, relaxed, ready to build brains.  I was comfortable and in the proper riding position to give effective cues.  I quickly swapped saddles out on my horse and lo and behold, my filly moved like a horse that was comfortable and ready to learn.  It couldn’t be that easy, so I thought?  
Being an information junkie, I had to do some research and find out about proper saddle fit for the rider.  One of the best articles comes from the Utah State University Extension Office.  You can read the entire article here.
I’ve highlighted a few diagrams that I think speaks volumes about how a rider is supposed to fit in a saddle. 
~Photo Courtesy of Utah State University Extension Office
Now, for the sake of time and space, I am going to oversimplify the process of fitting the rider to the seat.  Different disciplines require different saddle cantle heights,  higher or lower swells, deeper or lower seat pockets, and more, but, these things aside I still believe that many riders are riding in saddles that don’t fit well.  This doesn’t even include the important elements of stirrup length, leg position, or correct posture as essential components in considering fit. 
Take a good look at your position in your saddle next time you mount up.  And ask yourself at least these questions. Better yet, have someone take a picture of you in your saddle on your horse and look closely at your position then answer these questions. 
Are your legs hanging naturally so that your shoulder, point of hip, and heels are all aligned? 
If not, can this be remedied (comfortably) by an adjustment in the stirrup length? 
If yes, great. 
If not, check to see if there only three or four finger widths between the swell and your body.  
If there’s not, your saddle may be too small.  
If there’s more than four finger widths, your saddle may be too large. 
Are there about four finger widths behind your butt and the cantle? 
If not, your saddle may be too small.
If there’s more than that, your saddle may be too big.  
“A seat that is too big will put the rider’s seat behind the stirrup position causing the rider to ride behind the horse’s motion. If the seat is too small, the rider will be uncomfortable as there will not be enough room for the seat or legs.” ~Utah State University Extension Office
Finally, imagine your saddle is that stunning outfit.  It looks great in the tack store.  It’s the perfect color.  You love the leather.  It’s a size 14.5”. You’ve convinced yourself that it fits you and your horse but, once you get it home you feel like you are constantly falling forward despite the fact that it is the exact gullet and tree your horse was fitted for.  At that point, do you complain about the saddle company? Vow to never shop at that tack store who sold it to you again? Do you go through several trainers, an equine chiropractor, or worse yet, do you sell your horse because he or she just isn’t measuring up to your expectations under saddle? 

Training, schooling, and riding horses is difficult enough without poor saddle fit as a factor? We think you can eliminate this as a possibility quite easily with just a little time and patience.  Why not, instead, try a different saddle?  One that fits both you and your horse?  See if that makes a difference.  Sit in a few saddles at your local tack store.  Talk to professional saddle fitters. Try out your friends’ saddles and different makes and models.  Measure the distances between you and the swell and you and the cantle.  Look at your position.  Listen to your horse.  And in no time, you’ll be riding around in a saddle with the perfect seat size.  And as for me.., a larger saddle did make my butt look smaller. :) 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Botulism, E-Coli, and Bucking

We all know what happens when we leave food out on the counter uncovered and without proper refrigeration today. Our ancestors learned through trial and error, and well, the hard way.  They got sick. Many people lost their lives due to the powerful toxins that were, until microscopes were invented, invisible to us.  Discovery is inherently difficult by nature and can be quite volatile. And, unfortunately, we don't always connect the dots quickly.  Often our attitudes and beliefs prevent us from anticipating an outcome that we would rather not have happened. We procrastinate, make assumptions, arrive at the wrong conclusions, or just flat out make excuses for grave occurrences.  With regards to toxins, like Botulism, E-Coli, etc.,  we discovered that you can't eat spoiled food and subsequently, we developed ways to store it, cook it, preserve it.   Invention is born out of necessity.  Seems simple.  Shit goes wrong. We come up with ways to fix it.  And we now focus on prevention/education.  We teach children to put food away, clean utensils and work surfaces, use antibacterial cleaning agents, etc. This learning curve took an exhorbanent amount of time, sacrifice and seemingly, a blatant disregard of high risk choices that have hindered change in a meaningful direction. 

So what is the correlation with bucking, you say? Aggressive horses, bucking horses, horses that bite and kick are all life threatening.  In fact, I'd take my chances eating a month old slice of pepperoni pizza long before I would ride a stud that is a known bucker with a penchant for breaking bones and leaving riders in the dirt.  I see many people on the verge of getting injured or worse yet, killed, because they haven't seen, experienced, or been made aware of the problems associated with riding poorly trained horses. They haven't made the correlation between the dangerous horse (uncooked pork) and getting injured (sick).  On the surface the uncooked pork looks fine.  It smells ok.  It doesn't look dangerous.  Like the horse, it's perfectly normal looking until.... 

The prevention and education in the horse analogy is horse training and rider awareness.  While today, I won't focus on rider awareness, per se. I will say that part of being a good horseman is understanding when not to mount up and when to go back to groundwork.  I'm advocating that riders need to understand that a horse is not trained simply because he or she hasn't injured anyone to date. It takes only one time for that to happen.  And, I don't want to hear that you're safe because you wear a helmet. The helmet campaign associated with horseback riding is just one factor in a whole litany of factors needed to ensure safety. It's like saying that you only have to cook the pork a little bit in order to ensure you won't get sick.  I also abhor the argument that people "trust" their horses.  I trust my horse will do exactly what a horse will do in any situation, and know that would take far to many lifetimes to predict than human fragility allows.  I'll take a well trained horse over a well trusted one every. single. time. They aren't synonymous. Riders shouldn't trust horses in every situation. As much as they mean to us, they are animals that react like animals at any given time. (Ask me my opinion on the use of the terms bombproof, broke, and kid-safe). 

If your horse won't flex on the ground in all directions with ease (vertically, horizontally),  won't whoa verbally (yes, verbally) on the ground, won't back verbally or with just a slight jiggle of the lead rope, won't lead through, won't allow ropes, sacks, etc. to be thrown all over him or her, won't transition through gaits with simple cues--verbal and on the lunge line; won't stand ground tied for some time, won't keep their eyes on you when you are working them, etc., etc., etc. then your horse is not ready to ride safely under most expectations. Like the uncooked pork, it's an unfortunate chain of events waiting to happen.  Sure, you might be able to get away with it several times.  In fact, you might never get sick from that pork chop but, then again there is that one time when you will be puking your guts out and it will dawn on you that maybe you should have invested in that thermometer or, at least, shouldn't have eaten it. 

Spoiling takes on another meaning as well when it comes to horses.  If your horse is pushy or, you can't control his or her feet or, they pin their ears at you, or they bite or kick or, they crowd your space without you inviting them in, you might be unintentionally allowing the horse to think he or she gets to make the decisions and it also means your horse is not ready to ride.  These are common behaviors and it happens more time than you think.  Most of the time, owners don't even recognize their horse is learning these types of behavior.  What is that verse about love covering a multitude of sins? Anyway, one thing you can do is educate yourself, take stalk of your attitudes towards horse compliance and your beliefs on whether any particular outcome can happen to you.  If you're amenable you can find a trainer who will show how to correct and prevent these habits from forming. They can show you the right amount of energy needed to take control again and at least set you on the path to discovery. They can also show you what types of exercises/evolutions would work best for you and your horse and how to ensure your horse is making progress.

AND, in case your wondering, gadgets won't help train your horse.  There aren't any quick fixes. Tie downs, harsher bits, and other new inventions may help a little in the interim but, without you actually taking the initiative to *discover* the problems yourself, understand the issues, be aware of the dangers and the roll you play in it, or you may find yourself no better off than those folk who use a public rest room then eat without washing their hands.  

So, we're back to finding information and/or getting a trainer.  Good information is not easy to find and not all trainers are worth the time and money, but don't stop looking for one who is.  Find someone who has a record for positive training results. Not a friend of a friend of a friend who started some colts.  Go to sites like the NRHA, AQHA, APHA, etc.; attend shows, clinics, etc. and ask around.  Read.  The hard work has been done for us already.  There is a plethora of information out there. And there is a better way then just hoping the problems won't rear their heads in unexpected circumstances, or that they will go away over time as the horse ages.  Carpe Diem! (Seize the day!)  You can learn to be the trainer.  Afterall, no one trainer knows everything, and with enough dedication, initiative and information you can educate yourself.  All of the greats learned from other greats and continue to learn. Don't get discouraged.  Discover and invent ways to get the results you need and when you feel you aren't ready to mount up, then solicit professional help.  Maybe you just need a few minor changes but, for the safety of yourself, your horse and others, really preview what can happen if your horse isn't ready to ride.

So, tonight when I eat my pork might take a while to cook, be a little tougher or be a little harder to swallow but, I probably won't get sick. 

Next week's blog we'll be discussing crop circles and transitions.  :) 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tack or Tact?

The History of Tack is one that is well documented but, still lacks definitive proof of exact inventions and usage. The first "saddles" (and I'm using that term loosely) appeared about 4000 years ago. They were nothing more than hide or some other type of cloth to help make riding more comfortable for both the rider and the horse. I imagine they weren't too particular with the name of the saddle maker or if Western Pleasure Penelope down at the arena had the same make and model. Of course, as the use of these cloths became more widespread, different groups of peoples were able to make improvements and the evolution of the saddle began. 

I was intrigued to find out that a "frozen Scythian tomb from the 5th Century B.C. uncovered a saddle cover intricately decorated with animal motifs made from leather, felt, hair and gold. As expert horsemen, the Scythians used cushioned saddles and girths and may have had leather stirrups".  (Dressage Today Magazine, January 1996)

The Asians are accredited with the first "saddle" mounted on a wooden frame.  In 200 B.C., "This primitive saddle tree kept a rider's weight off the horse's tender, sensitive vertebrae, preserving the animal's well-being and prolonging his usefulness." (DTM, 01/96)  

Photo of a Saddle on display at the Inner Mongolian Museum

There's more to the history, but you get the point--that saddles evolved over time.  

Ok, so why the history lesson?  The original purpose of having a saddle and using tack was comfort.  Quality tack is comfortable.  The leather is soft and pliable.  The padding is thick and luxurious.  The fittings and hardware are smooth and hold up to usage.  And it's built to last. 

Some tack is cheaply made. Worse yet, it fits your horse poorly and can often lead to physical problems such as pressure marks, saddle sores, and lameness.  Not to mention, it's hard to ride in!  But, not all inexpensive tack is horrible.  Which brings me to the purpose of this article.  

The key is finding the best quality tack you can afford and choose the tack that fits your and your horse properly.  Used is a perfectly acceptable option.  

Equally annoying to me is tack that is touted as simply the best.  Kudos for the saddle maker or the manufacturer for building such great brand recognition but, shame on the rider that will criticize another rider for not having a "name brand" saddle or "name brand" piece of tack.  Name brand provide some peace of mind as far as quality control goes; however, there are literally hundreds of independent saddleries in the US and abroad that produce far better quality tack that just doesn't have name recognition.  You'll see this if a saddle maker is new to the business, or just doesn't have the marketing know-how.  And the tack is usually VERY pricey but, there's more than one reason why. 

Don Leson Saddle

For the most part, people don't get into saddle making to make a fortune.  It's a labor of love--handcrafting the leather.  When an independent saddle maker is putting his or her name on that saddle, they are doing it with pride.  Often times, these handmade independent saddle makers will charge more and rightfully so.  Don Leson is a saddle maker whose name is synonymous with quality. However, it's not a mainstream saddle. Not many would recognize that brand; the base price for one is about $8000 with no bells and whistles. 

Remember an individual saddle maker is paying top dollar for the tree, the leather, etc. because they aren't buying it in bulk and because they're looking for certain qualities in the components that large companies sometimes dismiss.  They're manufacturing the saddle by hand without automated processes and have to literally complete every step of the saddle making process the old fashioned way.  The attention to detail and quality control is superior to most of your recognized brands. And at the end of the day, the comfort is really there.  Like I stated before, they are usually more expensive but, it's an heirloom piece that will last several generations if it's cared for properly. 

So, shop around.  A good tack shop will discuss your needs, conduct saddle fitting, discuss your budget and help you find a saddle that will work for you and your horse.  And for the rider who feels compelled to brag about their $800 headstall and breast collar or criticize you for your unknown brand name saddle or headstall, ask them if they know the difference between tack and tact? Tell them you do and you're comfortable with that. :) 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Justin Bieber's Hair Does Kinda Look Like a Mane

David Cassidy was my Justin Bieber.  I also vaguely remember wanting to marry Leif Garrett.  Thankfully, that never became a reality.  After seeing him on Celebrity Rehab, I'm quite certain I lucked out. Gah. I also remember that I would trade any Donny Osmond, Leif Garrett, David and Shaun Cassidy marriage proposal for a horse.  My bedroom walls were adorned with those great extra large Teen Beat Centerfolds.  By all appearances, I was normal.  Only my parents knew I was a crazy horse lady in the making. For hidden in my top dresser draw was a notebook filled with hundreds of my drawings and poems about horses.  I even owned all of Barbie's Horses.  Truth be told, I cared little for Barbie, but, her horses spent their days living on my night stand. I think I was around 14 when I started wondering why none of my friends wanted to play Barbie is a Horse Ranch Heiress anymore.

Book reports in school were also quite predictable.  If it wasn't about horses, it wasn't on my list of books to read.  I think I know more about Chincoteague Ponies that most historians.

When that day finally came and I could own a horse or two or eight horses (who's counting?), I was instantly transformed into a 10 year old girl.  I was so excited, I came close to passing out.  I'm wondering now if that raw emotion is what today's tweens feel for Justin Bieber?  Maybe they just don't know about horses?  No, that's just can't be it.  Perhaps we're now growing up much more quickly than we did in the 70's? Urban sprawl decreasing available pasture land? A vast and elaborate conspiracy by video game companies? Ok, I'm searching for answers.

This month, Northern Tack is running a contest that I'm sure will put my mind at ease about today's youth.  Entrants just have to tell us in 350 words or less why they love horses more than Justin Bieber.  They can go to our site CONTEST PAGE and fill in the submission form. The winner will make me feel like I'm 10 all over again.  And we'll give them a free Mountain Rope Halter ($21.99 Value) and 40% off of any purchase less than $50.00.  Wait.  Who's the winner here?  First, I didn't have a messy divorce from Leif Garret and now this.  Life is Good.

Valhoma Mountain Rope Halter ($21.99 Value)

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Horse Ain't No Einstein, Ma'am.

Remember math class as a youngster?  Everyday's lesson built on the lesson before.  Teachers (good teachers) know that incremental learning helps to build skills that are solid.  Skills that can be expanded and explored.  Teachers do this so students can progress and move onto subjects like algebra and--oh, I don't know--quantum physics.

We see it in every profession, not just in the schools.  The "it" I am referring to are the fundamentals.  Homes are built on good foundations.  Great musicians have a deep and vast understanding of all types of music--another great example of fundamental understanding.  Similarly, responsiveness in horses is also achieved through the same fundamentals.

Foundation building takes time, repetition and patience.  Seems simple, right? Wrong.  As a society, we tend to rush into everything.  From new trends to quick fixes.  This line of thinking can sometimes lead to holes in training.  Rather than go back and review the basics, we look for quick fixes to remedy the quagmire we've gotten ourselves into.  We say go back to square one.  Find out what day you and your horse played hooky on and do some make up work.

Consider this, horses are not that different from people when it comes to focus.  They rush.  Every horseman's who's ever had a horse can tell you that a barn sour horse is one that's in a serious rush to get home.  They fight the bit, they have high head carriage and they aren't  balanced...all negative movements that result from poor choices either by the horse, or by the rider or by both. Schooling your horse in the basics with the mildest bit you can, over time, results in a more responsive and consistent horse later on.  Schooling not only teaches your horse new skills that can be built upon later, but it also prevents problems later on as well.  Hopefully, at this stage of the game, the rider has also resolved the importance of their own education.

Plain O-Ring Snaffle Bit from as low as $7.49 from
As  tack store owners, we hear a litany of reasons why Joe Rider is looking for a bit with more bite for old Bucky.  We're frank.  Bucky may need a new bit, but it just might be a plain o-ring snaffle and more training.  If you horse doesn't "whoa" on a lunge line, why would he "whoa" in an arena with the distractions of loud music, the noise of the crowd, and all the new smells he is going to encounter? You've heard the old adage about horses being afraid of two things, things that move and things that don't.  Truer words...

The same argument can be made with respect to collection.  A collected horse (read more about collection here) is a horse that is accepting and responsive to the rider's cues.  If your horse is hollowed out, throwing his head, and heavy on the front end, he's not responsive and/or the rider isn't giving the proper cues.  Achieving collection isn't going to happen by escalating from bit to bit.  It is achieved through proper training for both the horse and the rider.  I've seen plenty of horses ride with perfect collection in nothing more than a rope halter.  It can be done. Watch Stacy Westfall's famous 2006 Championship run on youtube.  No bit.  Beautifully executed routine.

If either one of these horses sound like your own, instead of buying a new bit with more "bite", why not consider schooling again?  Go back to the basics.  Go back to the arena with a trainer who might be able to pinpoint when and where things went awry for you and offer suggestions to correct it.  Many times, negative habits can be turned around with just several positive sessions and a good snaffle bit.  Other times, maybe a different bit is more appropriate or preferred by your horse.  You both have to be comfortable.

Northern Tack has a great selection of bits.  More importantly, we're committed to helping you pick out one that will work for you and your horse by discussing your needs.  You can call us toll-free at 855-667-8225 and we can discuss bitting options for you along with some suggestions that will have your horse doing arithmetic in no time.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Northern Lights--Real Maine Bling

It's always been somewhat of a mystery to me why some people who live near the beach rarely enjoy it.  It's so peaceful and beautiful.  And despite all it's beauty, we groan and moan at the tedious nature of cleaning out sand in the backseat or hanging up wet beach towels.  Perhaps it the hustle and bustle of everyday life or perhaps the fact that it's just accessible and that accessibility is the perfect incubator for procrastination.  Truth is we overlook so much of nature's beauty on a daily basis.  It's a shame.  Thankfully, in Maine something so magnificent, so enormous gets our attention that we just can't look away.  Northern Lights.

(Photo Copyrighted Rob Diadone)

They're called Aurora Borealis. The Northern Lights are caused when the sun emits electrically charged particles form solar flares.  The Earth's magnetic poles acts like (you guess it) a magnet and draws those particles to the polar regions.  When the particles engage the atmosphere, the different atoms react uniquely depending on their composition giving off beautifully vibrant colors like purple, blue, red and green. You can read more about the Northern Lights in Maine here.

The Northern Lights always get attention.  And they should.  That's why we named one of our more affordable tack sets after them. Most everyone has bling on in the ring.  There are some super talented crafters making really beautiful headstalls and breastcollars these days.  But, like the beach, they just get overlooked or more times than not, they just aren't affordable.  Tack sets with genuine Austrian Swarovski Crystals can reach up to $800 or more online--not that they aren't worth every penny--they are.  Each piece is a one-of-a-kind work of art and, rest assured, some serious time went into production.  But, let's face it, $800 buys a whole heck of alot of hay in the winter in Maine.  We make choices.

The Northern Lights Set has both the cowgirl bling factor you need to stay competitive in the ring without the hefty price tag associated with it.  And it's beautiful.

The stones have the same purple, blue, red, and green hues you see in the real Northern Lights.  People will stop and take notice and appreciate its beauty.  And maybe you'll find the time to go to the beach.