A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What are these words coming out of my mouth?

I'll make you a deal......

Yeah, that's what I said.  My dear friend Leah owns this horse Poco.  For a few weeks now, I have been working with him to improve his behavior.  Now, I've known Poco for a while, almost 4 years to be exact.  My first ride on him resulted in pies.... as a repayment for getting thrown.  After that, we had many struggles and issues of "you WILL do what I want you to, and you WILL be nice about it".  I put 30 days on him back in the day.  I just put almost 30 more on him.

Poco's story is the perfect example of novice rider buying too much horse.  Leah fell in love with the idea of owning a horse, and with out a horse buddy to walk her through it, she bought the exact wrong one.  Head strong, sensitive, flighty, reactive, and belligerent!  Poco was a work of art.  And yet, conformationally he's not bad at all.  A nice shoulder, a good back, a tad short in the neck, and not a single bit of "foof" to him.  This is a work animal!

Leah worked hard to make him the horse he has become.  I can't count the number of calls I got about "what do I do now?  You won't believe what Poco is doing!".  Yeah, he is a real piece of work.  And since last fall, he's been spiraling downward.  One slip and he's taking advantage, making another slip up, so he gets more of an advantage.  This is what Poco does.  He's not a novice owner's horse. 

But he's one of the strangest horses I've been around.  I can put him with any strange horse, dominant or submissive, and know that he won't kill them.  I know that a kid could lead this horse around, or get him to do anything from the ground (now).  Riding, oh that's a WHOLE different story!

As you've seen from our recent work outs, Poco is BORED.  Just bored silly.  He hates circles.  He is tired of being ridden and just working for no goal.  Challenge him, and he revolts... while he loves every single second of it.  And sensitive!  Oh, a slight shift in posture, and he'll give me a side pass.  If I even think "back" he's backing up.  And this horse has an ENGINE on him to die for.  Of course, he also blows through the bit, and not only hangs on my hands, he pulls against me.  With that short strong neck of his, it makes for a great upper body work out.

So, this morning, I'm dragging my lazy butt out to the barn, to be met by Leah.  She says "I've come to a decision, I'm putting Poco up for sale".  Oh my!  It was only yesterday that I had the most amazing ride on him.  I found myself thinking that I missed riding a horse like this.... strong, yet responsive.  Willing, yet a challenge.  The last time I rode a horse like that was.....

.... when my darling Ash was his age.  Ash, my ultimate horse, my ideal of perfection..... he reminds me of her, in all her/his emotional turmoil and glory.

I found my mind spinning, and possibilities flashing in front of my eyes faster then I could even put a name to them.

Poco is Scorch's bud.  They play hard, but play well.  Scorch is a stallion, so he can't exactly be kept with the girls, and I have way too many girls, but he needs a friend as strong and eager to play as he is.  I want to trail ride with Scorch, and he'd need a buddy, a nice gelding buddy.

Jae wants to ride, but we have nothing that suits him.  Jae doesn't like the tall horses, but he's all leg, so needs something to fit.  He loves the feel of Keeley, but she's aging quickly.  Poco is enough horse to hold Jae and take up his leg.  While Jae's a novice rider, he doesn't really count because of years riding dirt bikes.  Poco can tolerate his mistakes, and is smart enough to cover for him... and those 2 adore each other!

Poco is only going to get slower from here.  I need a nice wide body horse for the more advanced, yet heavier riders.  A horse willing and mentally able to joust.  I'd have to train that horse of course, but wasn't it only yesterday that I said Poco would be a perfect horse for it?

And trail rides!  I hate trail riding.... only because I hand off my quiet safe and sane horses to the newer riders.  I always take the green or problem horse, because I know I can handle it.  I mean, I train horses for a living, I should be the one of the "iffy" horse.  And hence trail riding is always so much work.  But with Poco, I would have a horse that's too much for most people, and yet not that much for me.  A fun ride, a relaxing ride. I could TRAIL RIDE again!

All that and more passed across my brain.  And I felt my lips loosen, I heard my voice, and I realized I was saying it, "I'll make you a deal".  The deal I offered wasn't that great, and Poco is worth much more to ME then the dollars exchanged.

"Done" she said.  And he was mine!  MINE!

Ok, mine and hers.  I mean, Poco will always be part Leah's horse, and there's nothing that will ever change that.  Oh I have plans for him, and we get to see how the big boy does with me.  He's a great size, and a nice ride, but we have some work to do still.  My one concession..... A slight name change!  The Pokey Pony will no longer be referred to as Poco, mistaking this wonderful draft cross wanna be for a descendant of the Poco Bueno lines...(and before you think I'm picking on those lines, I have at minimum 3 Poco Bueno lined horses) But instead, he will from now on be known as Poko, the Pokey Pony!  My darling P Loco!

I admit, I'm still partially in shock.  Who would have thought that I'd make a deal on a horse today?  I'm supposed to be selling, not BUYING.... but oh I can make all the right excuses!  And it's not like he's really leaving Leah either, since she's over so often.  He's still in her family, just as Daltrey is still in mine.

I made the deal with out even thinking it all the way through.  I made it on the spur of the moment (and I NEVER do that with horses!).  And I can't say I will regret it one bit. 

Hehehehe, but Poco is going to have to get used to his new outfit......
Because he's going to be a dressage pony for a while!

Friday, February 25, 2011

A return to life as we know it!

Ah, a normal day!  My father returned home from the hospital today, complete with stitches in his leg.  Yesterday a tree fell on my car and shattered the back window.  And then today... things are back to normal!

Cruz can't seem to understand left.  He will stop, back, and do just about anything else, except turn his head to the left.  So today we did some stretching work, and in hand stuff.  Nothing complex, just I pull on his halter to the left, and he turns his head.  Add bridle and repeat.  Massage neck, check back, and repeat some more.  I THINK he has it now.  Right is no problem, just left.  If he doesn't have it tomorrow, then I'll just work around it, and see if he's one of those that learns better with a rider.  I've had one of those before.  In all the many horses I have worked with, I've seen ONE (That would be Leah's Jazu).

And speaking of Leah's horses..... I had an absolutely amazing ride on Poco!  As you can see from the image above, I completely dressaged him out.  Check out the bling on that boy!  He's in Scorch's tack... which fit him perfectly, and looks very stunning on him.  There was NO LUNGING first.  I simply climbed up, and away we went.  Poco was good at first, but a bit confused.  

He'd ask me "what's with all the leg on the side?" and then move away from it.  I'd praise him (because that is exactly WHY the leg was on his side) and we'd move to checking other things.  Did you know that Poco will half pass?  He's not too bad at it either!  Now, he's not really sure what it is or why he's doing it, but he's willing to try if I ask nicely.  We did a ton of things, from haunches in to collecting and extension work.  Now, don't get me wrong, Poco isn't GOOD at it (yet) but it's working his mind.  With all these aids coming at him, he had to constantly THINK. 

What made me laugh, is that I completely blew his mind by asking for a figure 8.  Sideways.  Poco informed me that is NOT how we do things, so I quietly kept asking, and he gave in, so I praised.  That was our turning point.  From then on, he would try what he thought I meant, and actually WORK with me.

No, he was not perfect.  Yes, he tried the "I'm going to veer out of the gate" move a number of times, but he never once pinned his ears or threatened me.  I had an almost willing partner!  We did halts, yo-yos, and other physical conditioning stuff.  And Poco was right there working for me the whole time.  It was a GOOD RIDE!

And then the Walkers.  Beaudreaux was up first today.  We started out with better then normal ground manners.  From there, it went downhill a bit.  Lunging, he kicked out at me twice!  That resulted in more and harder working.  He refused to reverse constantly.  Now Beaudreaux is not the best at reversing, but he normally will make an effort.  Today, he wanted NONE of it.  When I went to get on him, he did the whole head shake thing.  See, he does this thing where he loosens his lips, and nods his head really really fast, making his lips flap.  Normally Black Boy does this!

Yes, I checked the horse to make sure I had the right one.  These were all tricks that BB uses!

But, after some long stretchy walk work, he started being better.  Not good, but better.  He was all over the place under saddle, and after only a short time (15 - 20 minutes I'd guess) his back started sagging from being tired!  Yep, I wore Beaudreaux out with little more then walking and some light lunging.

Now, I think that much of his bad was from being sore.  We're having weird weather changes (65 yesterday, 50 today, and 70 tomorrow) which is making MY old bones ache.  But, he's also been in hard work for a while now, which means that his muscles are sore.  I can't say which one, or combination it is, but I'm sure that's his reason.

And my last horse up for the day, was Black Boy.  Here's where things get really weird.  All of those habits Beaudreaux did, I normally see from BB.  And yet, I pulled BB out, tied him up, groomed him, tacked him, and he never fidgeted!  Then I went out, and climbed on him with out any lunging at all.  And he was amazing.  I had some nice walk work, good stretching, and amazing moments of gait.  He was dead on perfect!  About the only issue we had was when I asked for the gait the first time, and he wasn't sure if I meant it.  I asked again "louder"  (a harder tap) and he went right into it.  Now, because he's a horse, and my idea of perfect is how hard they try, not how well they necessarily succeed, I have to admit that we did have some gait issues.  I could get a whole lap of the arena in gait, but more then that and he'd start to break.  And more then that and he was sucking for air.  He's rather out of shape!

All in all though, it was a great day!  Every one got a little extra love, and um.... that crazy P Loco, he got some "yard time" to go with it.  All in all it was a kinda weird day.

BUT.... I also have to brag a bit.  I've had these schooling chaps, that I haven't been able to fit in for a couple of years.  Just to make it an even better day, I decided to try them on, and THEY FIT!  Oh, happy dances for me.  Ok, so schooling chaps are not the prettiest thing ever to be seen in, but they are warm, they are functional, and they make me stick to the horses like glue.

Since I busted my half chaps recently (blew out the zippers) this was a very pleasant surprise.  And of course, who doesn't like clothing to prove that you're getting slimmer? 

I'm a very happy girl!  And now, tomorrow we have pretty much perfect weather, and I'm going to have FOUR good rides (I hope). 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Training updates delayed (Updated with the full story)

 My apologies to my clients, friends, and everyone else...

My father had a rather brilliant accident today, and is currently at the hospital.  I may be delayed in updates.  I will catch up as soon as possible though.


After getting a bit of work done in the morning, I took some time off around lunch to do the necessary running around for the farm.  Picked up 1400 pounds of grain, some hay, some minerals, a few odds and ends, and returned home.  Then I realized that my dog was low on her seizure meds (as in she didn't have enough for that evening!).  With my truck filled with so much stuff, and only 2 hours until the clinic closed (and at least a 30 minute drive there) I decided to just borrow my parent's SUV.  Grab the meds, and I'd be home with plenty of time to work my last 2 horses.  I wouldn't get to my own horses, but that's ok.

Moose and I headed out to the clinic while Jae stayed to get some work on the barn and empty the truck out.  Now, I'm a paranoid ninny, and I NEVER leave my horses at home with out a means to make it to the vet in a hurry.  (this all ends up making sense)

Well, I grabbed the keys from my mother, loaded up my dog, and away we went.  I didn't exactly SAY that I left Jae and my truck behind, because silly me... I figured it was obvious.  It wasn't, and I'm not sure why I thought that, but I did.

So, we get the meds, I got Moose weighed (He's 128.7 pounds, I figured he'd be so much bigger then that) and I headed back home.  As I went to turn onto the main highway, my phone rang.  It was in my back pocket, and I was sitting on it.  Since I can only do 10.5 things at once, and driving is at LEAST 8, and Moose is probably 2, I felt that digging around for a phone call was a bad idea.  A few seconds later a good song comes on, I cranked up the music, and Moose and I were jamming out to a relaxing drive back.

As I get closer to home, my phone rang again, and this time I was where I could grab it.  It was my father. 

Dad: Where are you?
Me: A couple blocks away, why?
Dad: I hurt myself and need to go to the hospital.
Me: Almost there, only a minute or so away.  WHAT did you DO??
Dad: I cut myself with a saw.

Ok.  Not good.  I drove past the barn, with Jae on the back side up on a ladder.  Rolled down the window and said "Dad tried to kill himself, I'm not sure how bad" and turned the corner.  Pulled up in the yard, with the truck as close to the door as possible.  I looked up to see my mother running FAST across the boy's paddock back to us. 

We're a lazy family.  We only run for one reason: blood... lots of blood.

Got the meds, got my wallet, got the dog, and went inside.  Dad is on a chair with blood all over, holding something on his leg, and the dogs are everywhere trying to help too hard.  Poor Hobo was SO upset that his play toy wasn't happy.  He was being a total pain in his concern.

Did one of those "how bad is this in a glance" assessments, and began moving.  I called dogs as I went to grab first aid supplies.  Locked dogs in any room I could, got towels and bandages as I was moving through.  Mom is back inside by this time, and just shaking from adrenaline.  I told her to calm down, and breathe.

Huh, "cut himself with a saw".  That is really a rather vague thing to say.  Instead, he lacerated his leg with a circle saw.  Luckily, the guide was set to only about an inch deep, but there across his thigh was a 6-8 inch laceration, and yep, it was an inch deep.  The medial side of the injury was right in the area of the femoral artery.  This falls under "seriously not good".

Luckily though, there was no arterial blood apparent.  The wound wasn't bleeding nearly as bad as I expected, which was another good sign.  My father takes blood pressure medication....so it wasn't all rosey.  Blood pressure medication slows clotting, and means he's going to bleed even worse.

One pressure bandage later (clean rag and vet wrap) and he was ready to head to the hospital.  Not sure why they hadn't called 911, but dad did NOT want a ride on an ambulance.  I asked why they didn't take my truck.  I got blank looks.  Come to find out, they didn't even know Jae was still there and working, let alone that the truck keys were available.  They had waited for me to get home thinking they had no other ride!  Ok, fine, what ever, just get him to ER.

Mom headed off to the ER.  Jae and I headed out to take care of everything else.  With a storm coming in, we had tools to put up, horses to care for, and Jae was still working on the barn.  AHHHH!  Not enough hours in a day!  The first thing we did, of course, was head out to where dad cut himself.

Our first concern was making sure that we had a basic idea of what had happened (because dad was in shock) and I wanted to make sure the doctors at the ER had some basics.  Oh boy.  Lets just say he did a very bone headed and unsafe thing, and the scene proved it.  He's in SO MUCH TROUBLE when he gets home.  Luckily, there was little there that a doc couldn't figure out by seeing the wound. 

I didn't get Poco or Cruz worked, but we did get all the horses in, fed, and all the tools and feed put away.  Around 9pm we stopped to eat, and finished up around midnight.  The whole time I was updating family and friends, and getting updates from Mom.

My father got lucky.  He got SO lucky.  The guide depth on the circle saw had been set at about an inch depth.  The blade only protruded this far from the casing.  The blade was dull, missing a few teeth, and rusty.  My father was in a very unsafe position while using the tool, and he appears to be holding the blade guard open.  When the dull blade hit a more dense area, the blade bounced back at him.  Because he was holding the guard open, it didn't fall across the blade, and so instead cut the human leg under it.  In most cases this could have resulted in him lacerating his leg to the bone - or worse cutting it off - except for that little guide being set to only an inch deep.

In the end, my father received 3 units of blood to replace what was lost.  He got a total of 17 sutures, many of which were complex sutures (they closed multiple layers of tissue).  Of course, he also got a tetanus shot, and a night at the hospital.  24 hours later, we're waiting to see if he will be released to come home today.

So now, my rant:

People, power tools can be DANGEROUS!  Please do not circumvent the safety features on them, even if you think it will make the job easier.  If you can't do it the way the tool is designed, then re-evaluate what you are doing!  This could have been a life threatening or even life ending accident.  A cut to a major artery can cause you to bleed to death in as little as 3 minutes!  Is it really worth THAT just to get the job done 5 minutes faster?

And thank you so much for every one that sent thoughts of concern.  Daddy will be ok.... and I am SO thankful for that.  I just can't believe his good luck with the guide setting, and that he still has a leg to hurt.  I admit, I'm a bit shocked, and a bit not (my father is known for not always doing things safely) but VERY happy that this was just a "minor" incident.  It could have been so much worse.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's February, I should be expecting this!

It was cold today.  Not as cold as many places, but cold.  I want to say high was in the mid to upper 50s, but honestly I'm not sure.  Jacket glove and hat weather though!

My friend Rachel decided to come "help" for the day.  I don't know if she knew what she was getting into!  I gave her a Rico, and a set of clippers, and said "make the hair go away".  She and Rico got to spend a few hours together having quality time.  And now, Rico is nicely tucked in a blankey in the barn.

BB and Beaudreaux, I'm going to skimp on typing out all we did, because I already told their owner.  I did learn something new today though.  BB informed me that he has ESP.  If I look in a direction, he will head that way!  It's the subtle shift in my body position that he reacts to.  NICE!  Beaudreaux was a wonderful boy today as well, and they are getting better about being separated for work outs.  They are getting used to this working thing, and coming along VERY nicely.  I think BB even decided that it's ok to be affectionate with me!  YAY!

Cruz had a ground driving lesson.  He proceeded to show me that he has trouble grasping the idea of left.  When I put pressure to turn left, he would stop, or even back up.  We had a bit of a physical demonstration (me standing beside him, stretching my arm over his back to turn his head away from me, and praising the smallest effort) and he started to get it.  I went back to actually driving him (walking behind him with lines through the stirrups to his bit) and when I asked him to go left, he did.  Ever so slightly, but he made the effort.  Some love and lavish praise later, and I started getting a real left turn from him.  Right and woah were great.  I didn't work on backing up yet, because I didn't want to confuse the poor kid after he made the break through.

Tomorrow, Cruz and I will repeat this, and if he's doing well, then up I go again, to see if he will lead and turn.  He's SO close, but it's always best to be sure of the foundation rather then rushing through to the "fun" part.  I did have to desensitize him to the stirrup leather sound again.  He hates that noise, and gets all jumpy.  Every time he gets spooky though, I keep at it, and just ignore his antics, and as soon as he stops, I quit and praise him.  I'm sure I look like an idiot walking beside a spooky horse slapping the stirrup leather, but it works.  He's also getting used to "stupid human tricks" and relaxing more.  Now, he's still a bit twitchy, but he's better.  I actually have more moments of true relaxation and him enjoying it, then we do of "I'm being still but I'm SO tense!".

Of course, there's Poco.  hehehhehehe.  After spending the night with Scorch, and almost all day with the boys... and running a LOT, I took him out and got some quick work done on him.  I was quickly losing daylight, but I got it done.  He was tired when we started, and REALLY tired when we finished.  I admit though, I whimped out.  After a head shaking session with BB that pulled a shouler/neck muscle, and some work with Doodles resulting in aching seat bones, and a ride on Cayenne yesterday resulting in sore inner leg muscles (you know, the ones that push in down by your knee?) and cold that just wouldn't quit... I decided that a tired Poco was good for now.  Truth be told, it was really a tired Heather!  Oddly though, Poco was....good.  Hmmmmmmm.

I did sneak in a ride this morning on Doodles.  Lately, he's been pushing his limits.  When Leah rode him this weekend, Doodles was just not good.  He's been reverting to his hollow back self, and some other bad habits.  I put a quick 30 minute ride on him, got him working properly again, and tuned up some habits he was trying to get.  Doodles is one of the lesson horses that is known for packing the true novices, so you can imagine the chances he has to get sloppy.  He's also recovering from one of his ulcer bouts (he gets meds, and special everything for it, but flare ups tend to make him lose weight and muscle tone FAST).  So, while we're working to pack the weight back on, I'm hoping to stretch him up, and get the muscle building properly.  He's officially on "light duty", so our little ride was good for his mind and body.

And poor Rachel.  I'm sure she has white, red and black hair in places she never expected!  It'll now be all in her car, all in her shoes....but Rico looks great!  I mean, there's still more horse to shave (I'm on my back up clippers, because my main set, the loudest clippers in the world, died on me) and one day I'll break down and buy a true super uber set of power clippers.  I keep saying that, and I keep not doing it!

And sadly, I learned that there was a quake in New Zealand, right in the town one of my horse friends lives in.  I haven't heard a word from her in hours, nor has any one else I know.  So here's hoping that all is well down there.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I have figured out why those Olympic riders are so skinny!

Every muscle in my body is telling me it's been over used!  (That's Poco's fault).  I think this type of exercise is good for me though.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

The past couple of days I have passed out early, and hit the barn as soon as I had coffee in my system.  I LOVE this weather, and I love this time of year.  I'm sure I'll say that so much people will want to start strangling me, but it's really true.

The Walkers, Black Boy and Beaudreaux have been very nice lately.  Of course, remembering yesterday's lessons perfectly, after riding every one again today, well... some things get murky.  Lemme see if I can get ya up to speed though.

Beaudreaux is willing and cooperative.  He's still anxious when tied, but getting SO much better every day.  He is a bit buddy bound to BB, but besides a few whinnies, nothing bad.  He's actually better when he's working and away from BB then when BB is working and away from him.  My poor farrier is still playing catch up from the snows, so we'll see when I can get him out.  Talked to the owner's daughter today, and made a plan to pull the shoe, since the other front is also loose, and then even if my farrier can't get out tomorrow, I can still get riding in.  But all in all Beaudreaux is a champ!  I hope I'm not jinxing myself, but I am betting that he'll be ready to go by the end of the month.

I have to say though, Beaudreaux will do just about anything I ask for just a hug and a "good boy".  I'm really shocked at him, and how much he tries to please.  I do think he's going to be a saint in a very short time. Now he's sadly out of shape.  After about 5 minutes of anything faster then a walk, he's dripping wet.  I'm trying to build up his muscles to get him able to hold a gait, but that means a whole lot of walk, gait, walk, gait type of work.  At this time, he's been very willing, and happy to do what I ask of him.  His gait is all over the place, but it seems like when he stops fighting it, the gait falls right into place.

Black Boy, or BB, is on again off again.  One day he's good, the next, he's not as good, then the next he's brilliant.  Much of this is just testing me.  I have been working with both to look inside their mouth, and right now that seems to be what they are the worst at.  BB though likes to play mind games, and will very easily tune me out.  He has no problem with pulling evasions, and like, drifting left while I say straight, or trying to push through the bridle, as opposed to accepting the contact and collecting up into gait.  Again, nothing bad, but the types of things that I can easily see making a less stable rider get very nervous.  Now, BB's ground manners are coming along great though.  He still swings around and does silly stuff when tied, and he's some what heavy to lift the hinds at times (when he's distracted looking for Beaudreaux) and other minor issues.  It's just a whole lot of "I don't wanna do that NOW" type of attitude from him.  He'll DO it, but he doesn't LIKE to do it when asked all the time yet. 

I haven't had anything severely bad yet, but BB is definitely testing me. I have made sure to work the boys at alternating intervals though.  My mother told me that she always gets BB first, then Beaudreaux when she brings them in or out, and I told her to stop that, so they don't get in a habit.  What I've been doing, is catching the horse that is the furthest away from me.  I figure that will encourage them to COME to me, and discourage running away.  Granted, so far, both are in my pocket ponies.
The my little Cruz.  Poor Cruz had a slight melt down today.  It was cooler, cloudier, and a bit breezy when I worked him, which meant that he was a bit jumpier then he was yesterday.  The baby boy about jumped out of his skin 3 times just tacking up!  I'm using an English saddle with him right now, because it's the best fit.  I do have a western that fits him, but it weighs a TON, and I'd rather limit the weight the poor baby has to deal with.  Lemme tell ya, I'm not some itty bitty girl!

But, after he got tacked up, we did some ground work, and he was fine with that.  The stirrups flapping were no biggie, the wind catching the saddle flaps and lifting them didn't phase him.  But then, the mounting block.  Oh my!  Today, it was a monster, and he did NOT want to step up to it.  I use the mounting block with young horses because it's easier to get them used to weight.  I can slowly lean/lay on them, with out the pull of stepping up from the ground.  But, Cruz said that he did not want to be near it, and it was strange looking today (while yesterday it wasn't a big deal at all).  We did some ground work to drive him beside and around it, and after about 5 minutes of that, suddenly his brain kicked in!  He was like "oh, what's that, can I sniff it?  Can I lick it?  Can I PAW it?"  Well, with the way he acted before, I was like "sure bud, you kill that block all you want".  After that, he was ok.  But then, the next issue.....

He didn't want me to stand NEXT to him.  He kept trying to put me in front of him.  I stepped beside him, and he'd turn to face me, so I'd move him off.  Wash, rinse, repeat a few times.  Eventually he figured out that didn't work, so let me stand beside him nicely.  THEN, I flapped the stirrups against the saddle, and THAT was scary.  *sigh* babies!  But we worked though it all, and ended up with me stepping up into the stirrup, laying over him, loving on him... from both sides, and him being a good boy about it.  The best part about how he acted today though, was that he was being "bad" not truly scared.  He was intentionally evading the work, which to me says we've made a HUGE step forward.  I did manage to get all over him, and he took my weight and walked a few steps with out any hassle at all.  But, with that said, he had more trouble with bridle commands from his back, and got confused.

So, Cruz heads back to ground driving.  His previous sessions were .... half hearted?  Basically, I tried to get him used to the bit, and taking pressure on it during our ice storms.  That means there wasn't that much walking and turning, and definately nothing faster.  Well, today he said that it wasn't enough, so I'm stepping him back to ground driving.  Cruz is a smart cookie, and I think that in a day or 2, we'll be back in the saddle, and progressing faster then before.

And Poco.  Ah, Mr. Pokey Poney!  All I have to say, is Leah, your horse WORE ME OUT!  I lunged him until he was nice and wet, but not quite dripping.  I had to fight to get him to pay attention to ME and what I asked of him.  He kept trying to go to Lala land.  He'd go through the motions, but when I gave a command, he didn't hear it, because he was mentally on a beach some where drinking margaritas.  Silly gelding.  So up went the jump.  Ok, it's not much of a jump, but Poco can't ignore it or he runs into it.  Yeah... he ran into it a few times today.

At one point, Poco decided that he was SICK of this game, and ready to quit.  I asked him to reverse, and he turns to me and says "NO, screw you!".  Uh,  I don't think so BUD.  I asked again, giving more dominant body language, and then touched his shoulder with the end of the lunge line.  I think "tap" might imply too hard of contact.  Poco blew up at me!  He reared and glared at me.

Now, I didn't think horses were all into the glaring and facial expressoins... but Poco isn't normal.

Needless to say, I worked his little hiney off!  As soon as he realized that type of attitude got ME up in HIS face, and I was not about to back down, Poco got very pleasant.  Heh, like THAT will get him out of working... HA!

I put on reins, grabbed my head wear, and climbed aboard.  Ok, there was some on again and off again, because I don't know what midget rode in my saddle last, but my legs weren't THAT short.  Worst of all, Poco did NOT want to just STAND for me.  I had to get Jae to hold his head while I got on and off.  I finally got adjusted, and asked him to step out.  Oh boy did he.

It took almost all of my strength to hold that big boy back.  Poco is a tank of a horse, and when he decides to lean into the bridle, you feel it... arms, back, abs... feel the burn!

After a few laps, Poco realized that I can outride him, and he started working with me... mostly.  I'd get about 75% good, to 25% evasion.  But in this case, evasion is better then threats.  I started making him think about what we were doing, and um... Leah, I kinda dressaged your horse up a bit.  He's really GOOD at it too!  But I asked for round, and to accept bit contact, and to bend... and then I had his brain working with me.  Well, until we got close to the gate that is.  At that point, it was all about "let me out".

I finished up with Poco with a whole lot of Standing and waiting.  He hated that.  I had to work to keep him from moving off, so I wasn't resting either.  By the time I was done, I was jello in the legs.  But Poco didn't buck me off, and he didn't kill me... but I'm pretty sure he doesn't really like me any more! 

I also have been working on clipping Rico, and cleaning up the other horses.  I had planned to bathe Quagga today, but it didn't happen.  I just ran out of time (i.e. daylight).  But, I am happy to say that while I did all my pony work, Jae finished the barn siding on the arena side!  I can't tell you how happy I am about this.  Not only is it covered, but it's also painted, and it looks.... LOVELY!

Sadly, I left my phone inside, and didn't get a single picture!  I do try to remember it, and I work hard to get pictures because I know that the horse's owners always like to see their babies.  So, tomorrow, I plan to do better.  But for today, I hope a simple update is good enough. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

It happened, it finally happened.  The stars have aligned just right, and I was able to actually work today!  Ok, so I also have to admit that I'm a weee lil bit sore now too, but it's a good kinda sore.  I'm also super exhausted.

To me though, that just is an excuse for more coffee!

I woke up at the crack of 10am.  How embarrassing is that?  Completely slept through my alarm, and all the horses had already been fed, watered, and even turned out before I even crawled out of bed.  But crawl I did.  A couple of cups of coffee, and away I went.

Quagga met me in the barn wanting to know if it was his turn to play today.  Had to break it to him that no, it's not his turn.  He's a filthy boy though!  Would you believe that he's supposed to be a WHITE horse?  All of the color in his mane and tail is from the MUD he's been playing in.  I'm terrified to try to wash him.  I bet it's stained.  I often get asked if he's a perlino because of it.  Nope, that's a fewspot Appaloosa there... covered in mud.

Then there was this cute lil face!  Cruz was done with breakfast and ready to go.  I threw a halter on him, and chose to do him first today.  He was of course a sweet heart for me, but with the lovely weather (yep, almost 75 out today) and a nice breeze, he was a bit full of himself.  We spent about 20 minutes with tacking up, complete with saddle, and bridle, and then lunged fully tacked.  He did GREAT!  Ok, he was a bit more spunky then normal, but nothing bad, just zingy.  I asked for a trot, and I got a TROT (since he's not gaiting yet) and when I asked for a walk, I got a nice big stepping walk.  The canter was where I expected some drama, but besides a moment of "what's on my back", nothing.  I ended up his session with a trip to the mounting block, and a good lean over and flapping of the tack.  Every thing got flapped.

Poor baby Cruz does NOT like flapping.  Every wham and bang he'd flinch in place, but never more then that.  As he relaxed, I would pet him, and love him, and then try to be a bit more scary.  Didn't take him long to fake being calm, but it's mostly an act.  He's not TRULY at ease, he's just playing at it because he knows it makes people happy with him.  Tomorrow I hope to swing a leg up and over.  As well as he did today, even with that much time off for weather and footing, I'm really impressed with the foundation work he has on him.

And then there was my other victim!  Doesn't that face just say "who, ME?".  Yeah, Poco was not super thrilled about any of this.  He huffed and he puffed, and he went in circle after circle.  He pulled and he yanked, and went in more circles.  When he FINALLY decided to be calm and attentive, I lunged him out to cool him off.

Working with Poco is a whole lot of "I really am more patient then you".  Poco so wants to have me give up and let him rest.  But no way!  I'm lunging him in a bridle right now, so that he can't pull away from me and yank me around like he did last time.  Now, that doesn't mean he's easy to work with at ALL!  He's still Poco, and he's still trying to out think me, and out maneuver me.  Basically, he just wants everything his way.

I realized though, that Poco has become something strange.  He's not a BAD horse, but he's also not a GOOD horse.  He's just a LOT of horse.  I am sure that Poco won't kick me.  I know he won't bite me, but I also know that if he can push the rules to their limit, then he sure will.  And that's kinda how today way with him.  I asked, he did... barely.  So we kicked it up a notch.  I expected him to PAY attention to ME, not everything else in the world, and he didn't want to.  I was snubbed, ignored, and blown off, until that boy was sucking wind and dripping.  Granted, as warm as it is, it didn't take very long to drip.  Can't wait to see how tomorrow goes.

And then there was the Walkers.  Beaudreaux was first.  He did not really want to stand there to be groomed up, but he would stand sideways, like this, fine.  The whole time, Black Boy was SCREAMING at him.  Beaudreaux was a gentleman when I was close, but as soon as I stepped away, he'd swing over to the other side.  This is the type of "not good" that these boys do.  Nothing bad, but not quite good.

The saddle went on like a breeze, with only one step over (which is good) and he stood like a rock for the girth to be tightened.  The bridle was pretty easy to put on, and nothing memorable happened there.

After that, we headed into the arena, to do some lunging.  Well, previously, lunging has been about a lot of egg shapes, and ovals.  Today, as soon as I asked BOOM, he was going in a circle.  I had to stop and check the horse!  Some one traded me out for a pro in ground work!  The first time I asked him to reverse, he stopped and was a bit confused, but a gentle reminder had him doing that like a pro too.

Interestingly, at one point, I saw a trot, a pace, and a lovely running walk, all within one lap.  WHAT?  That's not what a gaited horse is supposed to do!  As he got more and more tired though, he kept falling into a better gait.  I think that much of his problem is due to lack of muscle, and will be self correcting - if I'm reading him right.

Unfortunately though, just as I was cooling him out, and about to try to climb on.... he pulled a shoe.  He over reached, and clanked his own foot, resulting in the shoe mostly off.  The shoe came off with no damage to the hoof, so now I have to see how quick I can get the farrier out to replace it.  He should be able to work lightly in the tilled arena though, but my farrier will let me know later tonight if I need to hold off.  Hopefully we will have him reshod ASAP.

Now, after that, I had to get out Black Boy.  Except for the pink bit strap, doesn't he just look lovely?  And you won't believe this, but we're back to taking the bridle pretty nicely.  Ok, not perfectly, as he does try to get tall, but the head shakey thing (like nodding yes really really fast) only made an appearance while I was brushing him out.

We did have a nice long lesson on standing quietly to be tacked up.  BB likes to fidget.  Front, back, left, right, it's like he just can't stand still.  The third time he almost backed into me, while pawing, I had enough.  I went to grab the dressage whip (like a riding crop, but often a bit longer).  Now, I use the dressage whip to TOUCH the horse.  This way, I can stand behind him to move his hips, and when he paws, I can still touch the bad leg, and correct him immediately.  No smacking and whipping of the horses allowed, unless a human life is in danger.

Interestingly though, he saw my lovely bright purple dressage whip, and STOPPED.  Insta-perfect!  Huh, why didn't I think of that before?  Well, I even set down the whip, and he was STILL perfect.  This tells me that it's not nerves, it's a tantrum, and he knows better.

So, we went out and did some lunging.  Now, don't laugh, because you might hurt his feelings, but um.... I didn't get to ride him either!  Because I wore him OUT!

Can you see the lather?  That's BB's chest!  All I did was ask for a nice walk, gait, and a touch of canter on the lunge.  After so long of not working, I wanted to see how "fresh" he was.  About 20 minutes into the work out, this horse was just dripping sweat, panting (and I didn't push him hard) and quite the tuckered boy.  I spent almost as long cooling him out.  I guess 2 weeks of NOTHING really took it's toll on him (plus he did have a bit of time off before that).

Poor BB was just dripping, his head, his neck, and every spot of him I could see was sweaty.  He got walked out, brushed out really well (both to dry him, and to massage the muscles) and then loved on.  Because, did I mention that he was PERFECT?  Yeah, dead on.  He reversed, he picked up gaits when I asked, he stopped when I asked...

Did some one sneak in here and take my horses?  Does this mean that tomorrow they will all be super bad?  Well, I'm sure not about to complain at ALL, I'm just really bummed that BB tuckered out so fast, and Beaudreax threw a shoe.  I really expect to have a WONDERFUL weekend though, with these boys, and I'm so happy to be back at work!

I also managed to fit in the first bath of the year.  Rico is now a 3 color horse again, as opposed to simply being "pasture brown".  Tomorrow, I clip.  Ok, so I was supposed to clip today, but um... SOMEone slept through her alarm this morning.

And here is proof that it's spring.  Yep, that was taken on my way back inside this afternoon.  The grass is getting green!  There's not a whole lot of it yet, but it's almost visibly growing.  Every day this week, I have seen more and more green stuff everywhere.  I am SO happy!  I really hate winter, hate the cold, and just LOVE spring and everything that comes with it (flowers, foals, etc).  Hopefully, my daffodils will be blooming soon!  That's the ultimate sign that spring has sprung.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spring is on it's way!

We have had the most amazing weather lately!  Temperatures in the low 70s, with clear skies and gentle breezes.  Sadly, we needed a few days of this to dry everything out.  Yesterday I tried to get the arena in shape, only to come close to getting my tractor stuck in the mud.

So, instead I have been working on a few "farm improvement" projects.  The barn yard is now gently sloping, with grass seed planted, and ready to grow.  The siding on the barn has been fixed and what is there is now painted, with more ready to be added in the next few days. 

And the horses, well.... they have been getting comfortable!  I haven't had to big "shed out" start yet, but I can tell it's about to.  Every one's coats are dull and gross looking, and I'm sure a good hot day, or a nice bath, and there will be hair everywhere.  Tonight, I am planning to attempt to clip down one of the wolliest of the bunch, Katy.

My training clients have been wonderful.  Of course, since they all love their horses more then any self imposed schedule!  Poco and Cruz spend some time together, and get along great.  Cruz gets along with just about any one.  While Poco is neurotic, he's wonderfully sweet with other horses.  It's only humans that he has a problem with.

Black Boy and Beaudreaux are starting to show their true colors.  They are a little bitty bit spoiled, and a whole lot out of work.  Both are wearing shoes, which means that slippery mud is even more slippery.  We have been getting back into the habit of handling them (since we can't really do a whole lot more in the muck).  Beaudreaux has decided to start pacing when he's at liberty (running loose in the pasture).  I've done some work with him to see if it will be easily corrected, but gait issues are rarely fixed on the ground, and of course, Beaudreaux is no exception to this rule.  I can hope though, right?

But Beaudreaux is my lover boy.  He always is ready to get a hug and a kiss, and even comes when I call his name.  He gives Jae fits, because he completely ignores him, but is as willing as a puppy (on the ground at least) for me.  In the last couple of days, he has started being a little less perfect, doing such things as walking off when I head to him with a halter, or swishing his grain around in the bucket and spilling it.  Nothing bad at all, but signs that he's comfortable here.

Beaudreaux has been the better behaved of the 2, but I have this feeling that he doesn't have as many hours on him as Black Boy.  I can't say why that is, but Beaudreaux just seems a bit younger, and reminds me of the kid who waves his hand in the air saying "ME, oh MEMEMEME, Pick ME!". 

Then there's his partner in crime, Black Boy.  Black Boy is supposedly a one person type of horse, and the way he acts, I can actually believe it.  He's very nice on the ground, but he is not a lovey dovey horse like Beaudreaux.  He also has a great ability to be "bad" with out doing anything really wrong.  Things like nosing the bucket as I'm pouring grain, or refusing to stand still when I tack him up, lift his feet, or do most anything with him.  Standing still is not something BB really likes to do.  I have been warned that he might rear, so, I am going to be pushing him a bit harder then Beaudreaux, to see if I can set him off, and then desensitize him to it.

BB (since Black Boy is a handful to type) is the leader of the bunch.  When Beaudreaux is with him, then both are stinkers, but as soon as they are separated, Beaudreaux is a gentleman.  Makes perfect sense, but it also means that I am going to be riding these boys together.  The goal is for them to be novice friendly mounts.  I don't think they are that far off.  Mostly they are just lazy and out of shape.

Now BB just started refusing to take his bridle 2 days ago.  I was warned about this, and we laughed, because until then he had been a doll about it.  Now, he's trying to pull the "I'm taller then you" or the "I can lock my teeth" tricks.  As soon as he realizes that I'm not going to be mad at him, and I sure won't beat him, but I do have more patience then him, he gives up.

So, during the last few LOVELY days, while the arena has been gross and nasty, I have been doing nothing but grooming, tacking, and basically in hand work with every one.  Ok, Mr. Poco got ignored, but most of that is because being ignored is what he needs the most!

Cruz is doing much better about all of those terrifying things that go bump on my place.  So far, he doesn't mind the vehicles driving past, or the normal day to day sounds, but touch him when he isn't expecting it, and he'll still flinch.  He stands in place, and doesn't bolt, but he's just a timid guy by nature.

And best of all, I'm officially dry today!  As of tomorrow morning, the arena is ready to go, and I will be back in the saddle again!  Now, I admit, I've been out of the saddle for about 2 weeks now, and I know that every single muscle will need a reminder, so I'm going to be riding one of my own first.  After that, we'll see who tries to kill me!  My plan is to actually get ON the walkers (and oh I am so looking forward to that!  They look like they have such lovely gaits to ride) and then do a touch of refresher with Cruz, and start adding weight to him.  If he takes it well, then I might even get led around on him.  Keep your fingers crossed.

And of course, P. Loco, well.... I'm going to wear him OUT.... then go for a lovely ride.  With weather in the mid 70s, a light breeze, and sunny skies, I am planning to make sure every last muscle in my body aches from RIDING.

Of course, all plans are subject to change at any time, depending upon the ponies, and what the boys need.  I just have to say that I feel like I've been slacking off.  It's so weird to have client horses here, and to not DO anything with them.  I won't take the risk of hurting a horse just for some feelings of needing to "work", and I'm pretty sure their owners would not thank me for it either, and yet, here we are 16 days into the month, and I'm still trying to get the first ride on all of them.  At least every one is settled in nicely though, which will help make it all easier to get back into a routine.

Now today for me started off with a bang.  My father broke down on the way to work, and Jae and I had to go rescue him.  This meant waking up at farmer's hours (before dawn, and I don't DO before the sun!) and then going back to get the car off the side of the road.  And of course, there were the normal driving around town things, to get more diesel fuel for the tractor, and more food for the horses. 

Jae is going to be welding on the last of the "pearlin" (not sure how that's spelled exactly) and then putting up the last of the siding.  Once that is painted, my barn will look a bit less like a rusty old tin can! From there, I'm sending him to fence the main road, expand my "long pen" into a second arena, and then cross fence the main pasture.  Oh that might sound easy, but that's his work schedule for the next month, and I won't be shocked if he doesn't finish before April!

Around here, Spring means that the work kicks up a gear.  I love this time of year!  From landscaping, to starting youngsters, the only thing I will be missing is foal watch.  I didn't breed any horses for this year, so there won't be any late nights waiting to meet my newest herd member.  Of course, I will be making up for it, by putting 6 mares in foal to O.  Hopefully that means 5 new Sugarbush foals and a Stonewall!

And I'm preparing to start videos of each horse.  I've got a couple of songs picked out for special horses - oddly not of any particular genre - and that means full bathing and new photo shoots!  I'm only having one little problem... the same problem I have every spring.  There just aren't enough hours of daylight in a day!

Expect many updates now that we're back into full swing, and I am hoping to be able to include pictures with each one, although no promises.  It's kinda hard to take photos of a horse while I'm working a horse!

But I'm thrilled to be back working.  I can't even explain how happy it makes me to know that first thing tomorrow morning (since Nita's job is morning feed) I will be tacking up a horse.  There's no life better then this in my opinion.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Selling Horses, the "little bit more" version (Pictures)

So, I guess it's a sign that spring is around the corner.  Horse inquiries are up (for both directions, as you might have noticed in my last post) and my pictures are out dated.

This, is Sugarbush KatyDid, the only Sugarbush Draft Horse I know for sale (full disclaimer here:  I am advertising this horse as an agent of Everett Smith the breed founder).  I believe this picture was taken around July of last year, but could be mistaken.  As you can see, she's long, weedy, and obviously young.  She was a 3 year old there.  But this picture still gives you a good idea of what she looks like.  So, I figure that today (due to comments both here, emails and FB) I would talk about what makes a "good" picture of a horse.

I think we've all shopped Craig's List at some point.  It's kinda like an accident scene, you just can't look away!  It's also one of the best places to test out advertising methods that I know of.  I do it!  If I'm not sure what will appeal to a buyer, I toss up a CL ad, and see how many hits it gets (because I can check how many views leads to people going to my website via my website host) and how many people even send email inquiries.  Different horses need different marketing.  Some horses should be sold based on their "huggability" while others on their performance abilities. 

Now, I'm not saying to lie about a horse!  That is not what I mean about marketing at all.  But when you're selling a horse, you need to appeal to the type of people that would be best for a horse.  So, don't market your well trained warmblood to the reiners!  Dressage riders want to know about a horse's gaits.  Endurance riders want to know about a horse's soundness.  Family pet owners want to know about predictability and affection.  Now, there's a ton of cross overs.  As an example, some dressage riders want to know about predictability and affection too, but they have to have good gaits in order to excel.

And of course, many people don't really KNOW what market they are in.  Some one might claim to be a dressage rider (Yeah, I'm picking on dressage riders today, just because I am one too) but not care at all about progression, and in reality be more of a family pet owner who happens to do dressage for fun.  There's nothing wrong with this, but they are hard to market for.  This is what I mean about testing ads to see if the horse is really appealing to who you want.

And seriously, what's the very first thing we all look at when checking out horses?  The pictures!

Now, lets assume that you've managed all of the necessities from the basics post yesterday.  You have a horse that is well fed, well cared for, and well mannered and trained.  (If you don't have this, then you can't really sell your horse.  You have to FIX those problems).  When thinking about what picture to use, you have to plan ahead and actually get pictures specifically for ads.  Unless you just get lucky, and have a handful of amazing pictures already sitting on your computer.

A good sale picture shows a clean horse.  This is where it gets tricky!  Brushed isn't always enough.  For me, I spend at least 2 hours grooming before a picture session, often as much as 4 or 6 hours to get it just right.  The first thing I do is check out the hooves.  Any cracks, chips?  Too long?  If there's nothing obvious, then you're good to go.  If there is, you HAVE to fix this.  People DO look at the hooves in the pictures, and it says a ton about the owner.

Next, and with it being late winter, hair.  Is your horse a walking teddy bear?  Can you even SEE the horse through all that hair?  No, you don't have to shave him, but you can clean him up a bit.

Check out the beard on this filly!  Her head looks plain and coarse with it.  Now, after looking at her everyday, you'd probably never notice, because those moments of beauty are what stick in your mind, not the overall shagginess of her winter coat.

But, it's easy to take clippers, or scissors, and trim up her beard to be presentable and to frame her head.  It does nothing to harm her, doesn't remove her ability to be protected from the winter, but it does make her look more "finished" and presentable.

I usually recommend that the beard, excessive fetlock hair (because they do need some there for the water to drip off their legs) and the excessive ear hair is trimmed up.  You don't have to clip inside their ears, but folding the ear over (edge to edge), and trimming away anything that hangs more then 1/2 inch outside that sure doesn't hurt the way the horse looks.

Once you have trimmed up your horse, then you clean the horse.  If it's warm enough, then BATHE it.  If the horse won't bathe, you have a handling problem, and need to fix it, or accept that you will lose a lot of money due to "lack of training".  This is just how buyers are.  If you can't bathe the horse, you can still clean it up.  There are many dry cleaners out there (the products, not the stores that do your laundry!) and if it's really bad, you can always spot clean. 

The easiest way to spot clean in winter, is to brush out the hard packed dirt with a stiff curry.  Then use a stiff bristle brush, and get the chunks away from the skin.  After that, grab a medium bristle long fiber brush (a dandy brush some call them) and get as much dust off as possible.  At that point, you use a wash rag - damp, not soaked - and wipe down the area.  You do not want to be dripping water all over a horse in winter, but you do want to clean the horse.  When you are done, it should be damp to the skin.  At this point, get a dry towel, and "buff" the spot until it's dry.  Then groom the horse normally.  Yes, you get to groom the whole horse all over again.  Just remember, that elbow grease adds a TON of shine.

Here is a properly groomed winter horse.  Note that it's NOT show perfect, but is presentable.
No caked on mud, no beard, and his fetlocks are shaped up.  Now, I can point out a zillion problems with this picture (background being one of the worst) and I took it!  The color of the sky is too bright, and his blanket bleeds into it, and the pale halter makes that effect even worse.

So Choose your back ground carefully!

Yesterday I showed a picture of Scorch looking lovely.  Well, here's an example of how the back ground can totally ruin a picture (this is rather embarassing!)
Yeah, every farm has their junk area... mine just happens to be next to the temporary house (man do I hate that ugly mobile).  And while it's ok to have it, there's no need to show it off when trying to sell your horse.  No matter HOW lovely the horse is, the viewers will never get over the junk they see and come to look. 

Now, compare that to this:
Later, and he's shed out, but same paddock, different angle.  Both pictures show a coming 2yo, and both were taken alone, just for my own records.  This picture of Scorch grazing could actually be used to sell him, although it's not the best.

Ideally, you want to have the horse standing, head up, and be able to see all 4 legs to some degree.  I'm going to pick on Arden now, to show you a few problems that many people overlook when posting pictures of their own horses.  It's normal to "know" what your horse looks like, and to assume that everyone else does as well.  But, a weird angle, or a shifted leg can send off red flags to a viewer.  The horse could look lame or deformed.

Taking a picture looking DOWN on a horse makes the horse appear shorter to the viewer.  When you "know" the horse, your mind automatically adjusts for the distortion, but if you've never seen the horse before, you get the wrong impression. 
If the horse is in mid step, the flexion of the joints can make the horse appear to have a problem.  Check out Arden's right front knee?  Does it look swollen to you?  It's not, she's just trying to take a step, but would YOU drive an hour or more to see this lame horse?
And really, the camera not only ads pounds, but also... a funky neck!  Because she's looking and stretching toward me, her head and neck are strangely distorted.

Here, the lift of her head makes her neck look scrawny, and disproportionate.  While I really like her back and legs here, the crazy neck just ruins the whole image for me.

And of course, the simple act of lifting her head can easily cause her to look ewe necked.  Look at the under muscle bulging, and the weak top line of her neck!  This horse hasn't been trained at all!

And yeah, it takes a few times to get it right.  Since this picture was for my own records, and not to sell the horse, I felt free to do a bit of photoshoping.
Not perfect, but the best of what I had, and doesn't make her look like a broken down nag.  Decent back line, good legs, a well shaped neck.  I did edit out my truck behind her though, because it was just too distracting to me.

Now in my horse ads, I prefer to use one conformation shot, like the above.  Most buyers want to be able to give the horse's overall build a "look over" before even talking to the seller.  No one really likes calling strangers, and we all know that horse people are inherently crazy, so make it easy for them.  If they can see the conformation of your horse, they will look.  If it works for them, then they might call, and if it's obviously not what they want, then they won't waste your time.

Remember, it's not about how many people are calling.  If your horse is obviously not what they are looking for, then don't waste their time, and they won't waste yours.  Allow people to rule out your horse based upon the right reasons, a good conformation shot, a good video of the horse's movement, and an honest description of the horse.  I know that I often feel like the more people call, the better I am doing, but that's rarely the case.  Many of my horses have sold to the first person to call me.... after sitting on the market a while.  Most of my horses sell within the first 5 viewers. 

Now, a good conformation picture is great, but most people will ask for additional pictures in their first contact.  Have some ready!  I like to have a good head shot, a nice image of the horse working at the level of its ability (babies playing, or being led, 2/3 year olds lunging, and mature horses being ridden).  Again, remember that the impression of the image matters!
THIS is not a way to show that your horse can lunge well!  Oh yeah, she's LOVELY there, and it's the kind of thing you look at, but it's not the kind of image that will sell your horse. (I mean, check out her balance, and control in that rear!)

Thy something like THIS instead:

Nice, forward, supple, with her ears forward.  She shows that she's working well, listening, and a pleasure to be around.

I also like to have some "emotion" pictures.  These are the ones you'd like to make into a poster and put on the wall.  Manes and tails flying, beautiful form, but not really something that tells you a lot about a horse.  Here are a few examples:

As you can see, you can't tell a lot about the horse from these pictures, but at the same time, most people find these pictures appealing for some reason.  That makes these a great supplement for when the viewer wants additional images.  I try to send 4 pictures off with each inquiry.

I won't bore you with tons of images of what not to do, but remember this.  If your buyer can't judge the horse's conformation (neck, back line, hip angle, shoulder angle, pasterns, etc) from the image, then you are wating their time, UNLESS the image shows that the horse can obviously do the job (such as "in motion" pictures at the event, we see this in barrels and reining all the time).  When you're trying to sell your horse, images are there to give the buyer information, and since you've already told them the horse's color (or should have) they should be able to get more then that from the picture.

Just remember, it takes a lot of bad pictures to get a good one.  I usually bring in about 200-300 images on my camera in order to pull out 2 or 3 that will work.  If you don't have a fancy dancy SLR camera, then find a friend who does!  It really does pay for itself.  I've found that spending one entire day preparing a horse often makes me an average of $1000 on the sale.  It really is worth it!

Friday, February 11, 2011

How to sell a horse (basic version)

Ok, the weather has been disgusting.  I haven't been able to do much with horses in all this mud.  I've kissed, I've hugged, and I have hauled feed/hay/water to them all, but nothing really "fun" like riding.  In my "free time" I've been catching up on other business work.  Like making cool SDHR items at Zazzle!

Design a personalized gift at Zazzle.

Sales from these items are funding our educational programs.  From breed information and fliers to helping make people aware that the breed even exists.  Ok, and truth to tell, some of the stuff is kinda cool just to have.

But, I digress.

I have also been inundated with "will you buy my horse" requests.  Because I'm basically full up (I have room for ONE more, just one... and if I have something returned or needing a home....) I'd like to have that spot open.  I've had many responses to this.  From, "Oh, ok" to "what do you mean you don't want MY HORSE!!!!!!".  First off, pissing me off is NOT a good way to get me to take your horse.  Sorry.  Secondly, do you really want me to have your horse if I don't WANT it?

So, I got to thinking about people selling horses.  What is so hard about this?  Ok, yeah, the market is NOT good.  It's decent (here) but not great.  But time and time again, I hear the same thing.  Now, for most of my readers this will not apply, but I have to vent a bit.  Who knows, maybe someone will learn something.

First off, when selling a horse, you must advertise it.  Some where.  Doesn't matter how much that advertising costs, you just need a way for people to learn that the horse even exists.  This is the MAIN problem I am seeing with people who are desperate.  Our conversations go something like this:

Them: I was wondering if you'd be interested in a lovely horse?
Me: No, I'm sorry, I don't have room for any more horses.
Them:  Can you help me sell it?  I can't feed it any more, and it has to be gone by the end of the month!!11!!!1!!
Me: Well, where are you advertising the horse for sale?
Them: I can't afford advertising!!!11!!1
Me:  There are places, such as Craig's List, Horse Clicks, and many websites that offer a free ad, most of them allow at least one picture.  (include list of links)
Them: But I don't have any pictures of the horse!!11!!1
Me:  Then you might want to consider getting some.  They are the best way to advertise.  

Ok, so see, there's a train wreck waiting to happen (now in truth, I put about 5 people into that one "them" above).  First, no advertising, and not even an effort to advertise.  Yet this is someone that is online, and surfing the web (because they found MY website somehow).  I know that it's believed that advertising is expensive, but believe me, it pays off if you do it right.  If you don't know what you are doing, don't spend a lot of money.  Try out a bunch of cheap places, and test ads.  Run many different ads, from the "facts only" to something with more heart. 

One thing I do before writing and ad for a horse, is to go and PET the horse.  Being with the horse reminds you of all its good qualities, and some of the bad ones.  You have it all right at the front of your mind.  For me, I write the verbiage about my horses pretty much just like I would when I'm telling a friend about the horse.  Then I go back and edit for proper grammar.  I try to keep a personal feel about my horses, so when you read the ads, you can feel what it's like to have that horse as yours.  Let the emotions show (if they are good).

Now, that whole grammar thing.  It's important.  Nothing is a turn off to a buyer like multiple misspelled words, or, as shown in the conversation above, "leet" speek, or textese.  Saying "U R" instead of "You are" makes you the writer look like a moron.  Sorry, but it does.  Using numbers for letters, makes you look like a moron!  I don't want to know how much your horse H4TES water.  It's not cool, it makes you look like a little kid pulling a prank, and the only responses you will get are other kids, and spammers.  And of course, avoid the !  and ....   both are horrible habits I have.  But that's why you re-read the ad before you post it.  Take out all but one exclamation point, and remove every single ellipses.

And then there's pictures! 

Pictures are very very important.  This is your horse's first impression on people, and in many cases it sets what they think about the seller too.  Here's an example:

This is Sweetie.  She's my own personal Moose-horse.  Here in the above picture she looks wormy, un coordinated, and well, not pretty.  This isn't a BAD picture, but knowing the horse, it's really not a way to show her in a good light.  She's filthy, she's not prepared for a picture, and she looks like an unhandled mutt.

Compare that to this:
Same horse, less then 2 months later.  This picture is taken at a level below her back (yeah, I had to bend over) she was groomed to the last inch of her life (and no winter hair hiding her beauty).  She is standing up, and presented as if she's worth a million bucks (to me she is!).  While her summer coat is not nearly as impressive looking as her winter coat (she's much whiter all over in summer as you can see) overall she looks, well... like a horse and not a moose.

And here's yet another picture:

This one is about a year later.  It's not professional at all, but it gives a feel for the horse.  She just looks SWEET in this picture.  I would use this as a supplemental image for emotion in an ad.

Also consider how the setting of the picture makes your horse look. 
Here is Scorch being lunged by me.  Notice all the crap in the back ground?  Notice how he's NOT working with me?  Notice how my fat butt is the first thing you see (and then that whip)?  This picture was taken when I asked Scorch to reverse, and he didn't wanna!  He does not look like a lovely well mannered colt at all here, instead he looks like a black hair rampaging monster.  Only a few seconds later, my photographer (mom) got this picture:
Working nicely, well rounded, behaving.  No human, no junk, and a lovely clean background that compliments his coloration (he's not lost in shadows).

Same camera, same photographer, same session.  The only difference was which angle the picture was shot, and how the horse was acting at that moment.  Seriously, which horse would YOU think about buying?  The top picture makes me think "$500 at best".  The bottom makes me ... raise the price a bit. 

And like I said, I'm talking about the basics of advertising your horses and getting them noticed.  These are the 'must haves' not the "fancy farms only" type of things.  You have to have a horse at a decent weight.  You have to have decent foot care on the horse.  I mean seriously people, if you aren't willing to spend money on your OWN horse, why the hell would any one else want to give you money FOR it?  Buyers expect that the horse is fed, farriered, vetted, dewormed, and can be touched.  If you can't do this with your horse, then you can not sell your horse.  I know in years past you could sell just about anything, but not now!

If your horse is rank, can't be approached, sure, you can advertise it, but do NOT expect the horse to sell.  If you want money for it, then put some time into it.  If you just want the horse gone, then offer it up for FREE!  Because trust me, some unhandled piece of testosterone that needs to be gelded with no papers, and no training who is related 5 times to some horse 9 generations back... is not worth a small fortune.

Things that lower a horse's value:
1. Testicles (unless the horse has a HUGE show career already).
2. Pregnancy (again, unless the mare has an amazing show career).
3. Ribs showing
4. un handled, or lack of training
5. lack of papers, or papers with some obscure registry like the grade horse assoc.
6. lack of age.  If it's too young to ride, for about 75% of the buyers out there, it's too young to buy.  The day and age of selling weanlings is long gone.  I can't think of ANYone that is making money doing this.

Most people sell their pets.  They aren't breeders, they just have a bad time, or life changes, or something that makes them think their horse would be better off somewhere else.  If you are (or want to be) a breeder, then you had better be running the numbers.  It costs a lot to produce a foal, feed and care for the mare, feed the foal until its weaned and handled, and then MAYBE you can sell it.  At that time, the chances of getting your money back are pretty slim.  I mean, why would someone want YOUR horse over all the others out there? 

So, if you're breeding, you have to then start thinking about getting the horse old enough to train.  Hoping you either know how to train, or have a buddy, or can afford a trainer.  Then hoping that your horse will be valuable enough to make its "cost" back.  If it's not gonna do that, then why bother making them?  It's often cheaper to just buy horses and give them away to strangers!

Now, I'm not anti breeding at all.  Hell, I'm a breeder!  My point is that people some how expect the rules to change for them.  It's like "no one can sell horses right now, but I'm going to breed 100 crappy foals, do nothing with them, and ask 5k each!".  Uh, dream on.  Won't happen.  For those of us in the industry, who are trying our best to do it right, we KNOW we often will lose money.  We usually have something else we are striving for.  For me, that's saving the genetics of the Sugarbush Draft Horses.

Oh, and a word to the wise on giving away horses:  References!  I ask for 3 references MINIMUM.  And yes, I do call them.  I have to have 2 professional references (vet, trainer, farrier, massage therapist (for the horse), dentist, barn owner, and such) as well as one personal reference that doesn't need to know a thing about horses (friend, co worker, neighbor, etc).  If they do, then great, but they are a "character reference" allowing me to see what type of personality the new owner has.  Are they really what they said they were?  When you put them all together, you usually get a great idea of the person you are giving a horse to.

And if your potential new owner is new to horses, they can still have these references.  A vet, even for small animals will give you an idea of their base care ideas.  Do they own a farm, or will they be boarding?  If boarding, it should be set up before they get the horse.  If they own their farm, who will they turn to when they have questions later?  A horsey guru they know?  Then get the guru's number.

Oh yes, and the last, and MOST important thing.... contracts!

It doesn't matter if you whip it up at home.  Have the deal in writing, with everything spelled out, and clauses in case of bad things.  Selling a horse on payments?  Better have a repossession clause.  Leasing a horse, make sure you get regular updates, and put it in the contract!  Giving away a horse, ask for first right of refusal and/or notification of any change of ownership (with contact information for the new owner).  You don't HAVE to use those clauses.  But if you ever do need them, well, it's not pretty when you don't have them.

And now that I have that off my chest, I am going to go back to making more fun things for the SDHR store, and completing the SDHR webpage 2.0.  I've got more work to do to it, but so far things are coming together.  I think the new Sugarbush Website will have tons more information, and be much more user friendly.  I just had to get this off my chest.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ok, this is, you know... Texas?

Yep, that's green grass peeking through.  But now, the white isn't so white, and it's all turning to mud quickly.  We got powdered ice on Tuesday, snow of Friday, it's Sunday, and it's supposed to "sleeze"  (Snow, sleet, drizzle) AND on Tuesday night and Wednesday, we are getting... MORE SNOW!

WHAT?!?  This is Texas, land of the hot summers, and no winter!  I want my 100 degrees thank you (I actually like it until just before 100).

I kinda feel like I'm in an episode of the twilight zone.  Someone moved us to Ontario, and forgot to mention it.  I mean....this is like REAL winter!

So far, we had the pipes freeze, like, well under the ground.  That lead to one of the faucets breaking off.  Which of course allowed us to see that the PVC used wasn't really PVC.  It's electrical conduit.  Yeah, that kinda explains so much of our freezing problem!  So Jae now has to dig up ALL the pipe that runs from the main to the barn, and replace it.  I decided this could wait until, you know... normal weather.

BB (Black Boy) and Beaudreax (I'm gonna have to steal that name for a future horse) have been saints.  Grain, ok.  Move so you can clean my water?  Ok.  Let you pick out my feet?  Ok.  Be nice and easy walking out on the ice.. ok.  I mean, they are wonderful.  Granted.... I'd much prefer to RIDE them.  The last few days I have gotten the best shows of their gaits.  WONDERFUL movers.  Both are well settled in, and act like they have been here foreever.

And Cruz.... he decided to settle in with a bang.  One night he's nice, but still just tense.  The next morning, he is all "ok hug me, I love you, and is that grain for me?"  He's much more relaxed, and started to ask for attention now!  We've also gotten to work with blankets, and scary things (throwing ice out of the buckets... scary!).  He's a doll.  And again... I'm so frustrated because I can't ride.  I'm living on what used to be an ice rink, and is now a mud wrestling pit!

So, needless to say, not a whole lot of fun or interesting things happening. Now, could someone please turn on the outside heater?  Thanks!