Sunday, January 30, 2011

Heat Wave

I've never really been one to check the weather regularly. I figured that there was nothing I could really do about it, even if it was really hot while I was in Carolina, I still had to go to class and go ride. Same with the rain in Portland. I've developed a sort of morbid fascination with the temperatures since I've moved to North Dakota. I guess there's some little part of me that can't believe it's STILL that cold.

Right now, according to the little application on my toolbar, it's -6 degrees Fahrenheit outside. disagrees and tells me that it's -4 with a "real feel" of -27. The high for today is supposed to -1. The low tonight, -12. Seriously?

I've never minded the cold, which is probably why I'm still capable of functioning right now. But "cold" means something entirely different depending on where you're from. I don't mind it hanging around the 20-40 range for a few months out of the year, and 60-70 is about my perfect temperature range. I can't tolerate high heat and humidity almost at all, and end up guzzling literally gallons of water a day trying to cope with it. What I previously though of as "extreme" cold was only uncomfortable to me, and might result in not being able to feel my toes or fingers for a few hours after I came inside, but wasn't much more than an inconvenience.

But that was before I moved to North Dakota.

I still think I could tolerate these temperatures if they were intermittent, or if they only lasted for a few weeks, or a month or two. But the sheer length of the winter here is ridiculous. I've been starting to think that there is no end in sight. And I still haven't figured out a way to keep my fingers at a functional temperature while riding in 10 below weather.

But last week we saw a glimmer of hope! A three day heat wave hit! For three days, the high hovered between 33 and 36 degrees ABOVE zero! I couldn't believe how good it felt. Even if I'd forgotten to turn the heater in my car up to high the night before so it would warm up before I had to drive, it was almost a pleasant temperature when I got in. I wasn't trying to wrap my scarf around my entire face to keep the icy wind off of it, in fact, I left my scarf off entirely one day.

Seizing the opportunity to be able to work for longer before my body revolted against temperatures that no human should have to endure, I decided to introduce Indigo to side reins.

We've been working a lot on lunging and transitions recently, and I've been thinking that she's about ready for the next step. I attached the side reins to my saddle and put her bridle on over her halter.

I feel I should explain that. Her mouth is one of the softest and most sensitive that I've had the pleasure of working with. I do want her to get used to the pressure of the side reins and to learn to step into the contact, but I don't want to desensitize her by muddied cues through the lunge line. I've been working on getting her trained to voice commands on the lunge line, so I don't need the extra power of the bit. On top of that, she certainly doesn't need the added severity and leverage action that comes from running the line over the poll, and, the loose-ring bit I use will pull through her mouth if I only attach the line to the inside ring. So I leave her halter on and attach the line to the side rings of that, instead of to the bridle.

She warmed up well, responding easily to voice commands like normal, so I went ahead and attached the outside side rein, adjusted very loose and sent her back out on the line. She trotted around, and didn't really react. After a few transitions, I brought her back to the middle, reversed directions, and clipped on the other rein. Both side reins were loose enough that they weren't restricting her movement at all, simply getting her used to their presence. Sending her back out, her only real reaction to them was not particularly appreciating them swinging under her neck while she was trotting, but no major reactions.

After a few circuits, I brought her in and removed the side reins. I didn't want to over-work her on the day I introduced them since I didn't want to form a negative association. We'll work on slowly shortening them so that they're actually effective as intended over the next several weeks. I ended the session with a short ride, focusing on stabilization and responding to my seat.

Unfortunately, the nice weather was short lived. The third day the warm weather was accompanied by 50 mph winds, which made driving home on the icy roads an interesting experience. The next day, we were back down to the single digits.

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted, and I'll just keep looking forward to spring. It should only be a few more months away.

Monday, January 24, 2011

She rides dressage!

Sometimes things aren't what you're hoping for, but still work out pretty awesomely.

I had my meeting with the equine director of a local youth home this morning. She's awesomely nice and really fun. We spent an hour just chatting about our experiences and ideas and the program's needs (because we were there for business, after all.). It sounds like we're going to be able to help each other out and we're both excited about the possibilities.

Since the previous director apparently left rather suddenly, they didn't really have time to go searching for another candidate. The woman I talked to worked for one of their other campuses in the state and transferred up here to fill the need. She used to be a certified instructor, but let it lapse since she wasn't teaching anymore. Their other instructor is having knee surgery, so she won't be able to mentor her, which is where I come in.

She is looking to hire me on a temporary basis to get her teaching hours in. She'll be paying me for my supervisory skills as well as my expertise and feedback as she gets back into the swing of teaching. She's looking to get certified at the end of March, so she's going to have to boogie. If she didn't have the horse background that she does, and if she hadn't been an instructor before and was used to working with the disabled population, I wouldn't agree to mentor someone in that short amount of time. Yes, you can get your 25 hours of supervised instruction, but there's a lot that you need to learn and absorb before you're ready to teach solo, and as your mentor, I'm the one who has to sign off on it and say "Yeah, you're totally ready for this". I'm not going to do that until I know that a candidate is totally and completely prepared.

So that's the not what I was hoping part. I was really hoping that I could mentor her for now, and then they would hire me on as an instructor part time for the summer, but they don't have the funds to pay for more personnel than their director, everyone  else is volunteer. Since the ranch is a large non-profit organization, that's not surprising. She did encourage me, if I wanted to, to come out and volunteer after she gets certified. I'm thinking I probably will if I have time, because it's good to stay in the industry, even if I'm not actually employed. And you never know, funds might appear at some point in the future...

The best part though? (I mean, besides the OMG I have a job in the horse world again thing, which is pretty amazingly awesome) She's a dressage rider. A classical one at that. There is hope out here. She used to breed Swedish Warmbloods and is a certified equine massage therapist (always wanted to do that!). On top of that, she's really nice and seems like a lot of fun.

Overall, I am so incredibly excited for this endeavor!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I got an exciting phone call this morning!

I have the day off and have been spending the day trying to neaten up the house a bit and spending some quality time with my dogs. My phone rang later in the morning and it was the director of a local therapeutic riding program associated with a center for youth at risk. They've recently hired a new director of the equine programs and she found my name in the NARHA (formerly the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association) directory.

Apparently, the previous director has moved on to another opportunity and this woman has been hired in her stead. She was previously certified as an instructor, but her certification lapsed five years ago, which means that she'll need to start the entire process over again if she wants to teach at a NARHA approved center. Their other instructor recently blew out her knee and is having surgery in March. Which is where I come in. As a certified instructor (and, particularly, one who has a college degree) I am qualified to "mentor" new instructors, which would allow her to get her certification again. She is hoping to attend an On Site Workshop and Certification in March, so she's going to have to boogy to make the requirements (25 supervised teaching hours) in time. She also might be interested in having me join the team for their spring and summer session to teach.

I am SO excited about this! I'm happy and grateful that I'm in a position where I can have my own horse and train and ride her, and Indigo is a joy every time I work with her (even if the cold sometimes cuts those training sessions short!) but I miss teaching in a way that I can't even describe.

I'm meeting with her in person at the riding center on Monday and I'm already so excited and nervous I can hardly sit still. I am really really hoping this will work out so I can get back into the EAAT (Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies) world. It's been too long.

And, I can't lie, a little bit of extra income while saving for a wedding wouldn't be a bad thing either! Mostly it's about the horses and the riders though, I swear! I'll update after Monday after our meeting with how things went.

I can't wait!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tutorial: How to Make your own Polo Wraps

Most people in the horse world know what polo wraps are. They're pretty universal throughout different disciplines, whether you ride dressage, jump, teach beginners up-down lessons, or work on perfecting your jog for western pleasure, polo wraps serve the same purpose: to support the tendons in the lower legs and offer protection against interfering or otherwise thunking their legs against something.

Of course, just because something is functional doesn't mean that it can't also be FUN! But finding fun polo wraps that you can purchase... well, it's not always easy. The basic polos that you can buy on Dover Saddlery come in black, white, hunter and navy. Higher end ones seem to only be available in black and white. Boring.

Thankfully, Polos are one of the easiest DIY projects you can find as far as horse items, since they're basically just a long strip of fleece with velcro on the end. The only tricky part is cutting the fleece dead straight to make sure that you don't create any pressure points. The best part? Fleece is available in LOTS of fun colors and patterns!

Here's the Fabric that I chose for mine:

Bright! Colorful! Fun!

Now, I personally do not like tutorials that skip steps or assume that you understood something or will figure something out for yourself. So this may seem overly detailed to some, but if that's the case, then just skim over the parts that seem simple enough. I'd also recommend that you read it all the way through before beginning to make sure you understand all of the steps and how they lead to each other.

For this project you will need:
  • 3 Yards of anti-pill fleece in a color/pattern of your choice
  • 1  yard of 2-inch wide industrial strength velcro - NOT the kind with the adhesive backing. It will gum up your sewing machine!
  • Sewing Thread
  • Sewing Scissors
  • Measuring Implement
  • Pins
  • Sewing Needle
  • Flat, clear surface to spread fabric out on (I used our spare bedroom floor)
Things that will make your life infinitely easier but are not necessarily required
  • Sewing Machine
  • Seam Measuring gauge
  • Tape measure
Alright, lets get started. But first off, I need to introduce my assistant, Puzzle.

 I don't particularly recommend sewing with a cat in the room as they're very good at getting in the way and not all that helpful. But if I shut Puzzle out of the room he stands there and paws at the door and cries the whole time, so he got to "help" me with this project. He's sitting next to my personal favorite sewing scissors. They're easy to hold, fit my hand nicely, and keep their edge relatively well. I don't remember the brand, but they're pretty easy to spot at your local fabric store.

Start out by laying the fabric out on the floor or large table or whatever cutting surface you prefer.

Matt doesn't really like having his picture taken, hehehe

You're going to cut the fleece into five inch by nine foot strips. If you bought 3 yards of fleece, this would be the length of the fabric. I'm going to explain how I went about cutting it, but if you know how you want to do that, you can skip to the picture of four strips of fabric laying on the floor.

Fold the fabric in half lengthwise so that the selvages (those are the edges that the lady at the fabric store didn't cut) are matching. 

As you can see, the selvages are kind of ugly, especially on fleece. So you need to trim them off. Do this carefully so you don't end up with a jagged edge which could create uneven pressure on your horse's leg. 

There, nice clean edges. 

Next, you're going to measure five inches (5") in from the edge. Put a pin there. 

You could also use a ruler or tape measure for this if that's what you have.

Fold the edge over 5", putting the pin in the crease of the seam.

You should now have four layers of fabric. Measure the fold all the way down the length of the fabric to make sure the strips will be perfectly straight, then pin in place. 

Cut along the edge, releasing the folded strips from the rest of the fabric.

Now cut along the fold, which will give you four separate strips. 

Separate the strips and lay them out. Admire them. 

You can see here that I didn't get the selvage entirely off of all of mine. I don't care too much as you can't see it unless you're looking really close, but if you want them to look really professional, make sure you trim all of the icky off. 

At one end of each strip, fold the corners in to form a point. Pin them down.

Repeat on each strip. Stitch these down.

Cut your velcro into six inch (6") lengths.

You may have to fend off a kitten though if he thinks that velcro is fun new toy.

There we go.

Separate the hook side from the fuzzy side. Pin the hook side to the point, lining the edge up with the bottom of the folded edge. Stitch this down securely.

Here's how I did it. 

Now pin the fuzzy side of the velcro to the OPPOSITE side of the strip size inches (6") below the bottom of the hook side. Stitch around the outside.

Repeat on each strip, clip your threads and you're done!

To roll them, put the velcro together and roll into it on the inside. This will ensure that the velcro will be on the outside when you put it on your horse's legs.


These fit my 15.2hh paint mare almost perfectly. I made another pair for a friend who has a very leggy 15.2hh thoroughbred mare and they were just right for her as well. If your horse is very tall and leggy, though, you might want to make them a little bit longer, or if you have a squatty little pony they'd probably need to be a bit shorter. The easiest way to do this would be is if you have a set that you know fits, measure those and you can figure out what length you'll need. Otherwise, you might have to experiment a little bit.

Okay, now the logistical side of things. Making your own polos is simple and you can get some much more fun colors and designs than are easy to find normally. Fleece, however, is rather expensive, as is velcro. 

At JoAnn's fabric, Blizzard anti-pill fleeces are normally about $8.99/yard or more. Since you need 3 yards of it, that brings you up to $26.97 just for the fabric. The cheapest polo wraps available on Dover are $10.90 and just over eight feet long. 
The great thing about fabric though? It goes on sale fairly frequently. As I'm writing this, JoAnn's fleece is on sale, normally $9.99/yard, is down to $4.99/yard, which is the price I bought my fleece at. If you're really savvy, black Friday fleece went down to $2.99/yard. Also note that out of three yards of fleece, you can get three sets of polos. So, at $2.99, you'll spend $8.97 on fleece, which puts you at $2.99 a set if you make all three. Add in the cost of velcro, and you're still saving a decent amount of money.

A few notes on polo wraps. It might make sense to try to buy only a single yard of fabric and piece them together to get a nine foot strip, but the seams will create pressure points on your horse's legs which need to be avoided. 
It is also imperative that the wraps be applied with even pressure to prevent cording or the possibility of a bowed tendon. If you are unfamiliar with wrapping, have an experienced horse person show you how to wrap them and check to make sure your pressure is correct before working your horse in them. Always make sure that your polos are secure and won't come loose while you're riding, when your horse could get a hoof caught on them. 
Polos are also not the best choice if you're looking for heavy-duty protection against impact, for example if you have a horse that wings in and has a history of serious interfering. Protective boots would be a better fit in this case. Polos are also not appropriate for trail riding if you'll be going through water, since the fleece might slip or sag when wet.

I'd love to see pictures of your polos after their finished!