Winter Wonderland

"I wonder if it's going to snow today?"

"I wonder it is warm enough to ride?"

"I wonder if I can fit all of these socks and layers under my boots?"

Weather in Nebraska is a special thing, we get extremes and wild variations. For horse owners this can be a perplexing problem. In our current season, Winter, cold weather is an important consideration for the health and well being of the horses as well as the riders. 

In terms of daily life, a horse acclimates to cold weather quite well. It's important to remember our horses have a warmer normal body temperature than we humans have (Normal horse ranging from 99 to 101 degrees F). Their hair grows out long and fluffy in winter, and their body is covered with heat generating muscles. Most all horses living in a stalled situation like LEC can easily endure very cold temperatures, especially if they are blanketed during the coldest times.

Riding and working horses in the winter is when things become both confusing and frustrating. There is no actual veterinary medical recommendation for when it is TOO COLD to ride. The trick with winter riding is to ride at an appropriate level for the temperature you are riding in.  As the temperature drops, the riding should decrease in intensity.  If for example you normally ride 45 minutes of walk-trot-canter if the temperature is below 20 degrees reduce the amount of time you spend cantering, and give your horse more walk breaks. A long warm up walk and a long cool down walk are recommended. For horses who are clipped, or tend on the chilly side a quarter sheet is a good idea for warm up and cool down. 

The reason for the decreased intensity is two fold.  One: to protect lungs from any possible long-term damage. Just as we find it difficult/uncomfortable to breathe outside in harsh cold weather so do our horses. Overworking of your horse in extreme colds may produce problems year round. Two: Maintaining body temperature. When horses work hard they warm up and can sweat. If a horse is not properly cooled down in winter it is possible for them to begin to shiver, get muscle cramps and to feel distressed. To prevent this, NOT riding your horse to a lathered state in extremely cold weather is a good start. Horses who are sweating, or producing steam after a ride should be covered in a wool or polar fleece cooler until such time as the condensation on the horse has burned off.

NEVER put a winter blanket on a wet horse, the sweat or water will leach into the winter blanket and take a very long time to dry out. Horses wearing wet blankets will certainly become very cold quickly.

Riding instructors and horse trainers have varying standards for when they believe it is to cold for lessons and rides. Most instructors usually fall between 20 and 15 degrees F as their limit for when it is too cold to ride. Please heed your instructor's limit. These limits are for the riders, the horses as well as the instructor's health.

All this said, one of the big concerns about cold weather is Colic. Generally speaking horses like people are not as active in Winter. A horse's digestive system is designed to function best when horses are able to move about. Even if it is cold, it's a good idea to at least come out to the barn and hand walk or walk under saddle for 20 or so minutes a few times a week. This helps keep your horse energized mentally and physically. Light working also helps prevent stiffness in their joints.

For the riders: cold weather is dangerous for you as well. Make sure you've got layers on when you come out to ride or groom. Be mindful of your extremities. Try to find thin layers that will work underneath boots. Insulted jeans, and breeches are a nice option. Don't be worried about your fashion when trying to stay warm.  If while riding your hands (in particular) begin to have a burning or tingling sensation IMMEDIATELY get off your horse and run warm water over your hands to help return circulation to areas effected by the cold.

Nebraska's weather presents all horsemen with a myriad of challenges. These very cold days certainly make us all look forward to Sunshine and spring flowers.  Although it might seem a chore to pile on the clothing to head out to the barn its a task well worth doing. In these polar months it's good for you to keep moving and your horse certainly enjoys the attention. 

When You Don't Get What You Want

I really want gold bell boots, for a horse I own who many believe is named "Feet are Gold."  His name is not Feet are Gold but I won't fault you for thinking so.

Horsemanship is a lifestyle riddled with wants. If you're riding Second Level you'd really like to be riding 4th. If you're showing the Grand Prix you want to try out some CDI shows. If your horse is injured, you just want to ride. When first learn riding, you want to be able to post 4 times around the circle on the longe line without missing a beat.

In a way, the wants keep us going. Want is a kin to "I wish" or "Someday I will."  However, I do as an instructor, barn owner and a rider hear "Want" in another tone. This want is said in the key of defeat. "I JUST WANT THE DAMN HORSE TO GET IN THE TRAILER."  "All I want is to ride outside."

Want is as much about frustration as it is about dreams. In both cases sometimes the WANT(s) of horsemanship get in the way of the HAVES. I want gold bell boots, but I have perfectly good black ones, and a horse "Fidergold" who goes just fine with or without them.  Instead of wanting more for his feet or wanting more people to understand how to say his name, I should be more focused on the fact that he's an incredible horse, great teacher and I'm lucky to have him.

I'm lucky to have any horse. This whole sport starts out with WANT...and I think in the race for improvement we sometimes forget to stand in  awe of how far we have come from when we merely wanted and now we DO.

When challenges inevitably arrive at the barn: injuries, learning plateaus, frustrations I like to remember and list to myself the things I have going for me and my riding. It's my coping strategy. First diagnose the Want: Why do I want this? What is this want? How far away from achieving this goal am I? What is the frustration the word WANT is demanding? What can I do to fix this? 

And after that: gratitude. "Well, I WANT to ride in the clinic but I'm rehabbing Bling. I'm grateful to be riding him, and I'm learning a lot about our training as we recoup." Perhaps gratitude is a search for a silver lining, but it's a helpful salve in times of heartache. If your horse is injured you may want to ride but don't blind yourself to the fact that because of an injury you can improve your relationship with your horse. An injury is a good time to bond and build trust between horse and rider. Perhaps when you're not so focused on riding goals you now have a chance to talk to more people at the barn and really connect to a great new friend.

Want is not all bad. We can't let the dreams of tomorrow blind us to the greatness of today. The heartache of the moment likewise shouldn't defeat you forever. The next time you WANT so badly, stop, give yourself a second and realize first, how much you already have. The gratitude for what is now in your life will certainly help make the road to achieving your "Want" much more joyful.

Calling all Hunter Jumper Riders: BIG NEWS

Exciting news everyone! After a years long search, Lincoln Equestrian Center is pleased to announce we have hired an in-house Hunter Jumper Trainer, Taylor Schmidt. Taylor hails from Chicago, currently resides in Omaha and will be available for lessons starting August 19, 2017 $45.00 per individual lesson, $35.00 per 2 person group lesson.

We are very excited to finally be able to utilize all of our equipment and to have an experienced person on hand to assist those already in the barn, and in the Lincoln Metro area with their riding. Our mission at LEC is to make people's goals possible through great horse care, facilities and instruction. Taylor is part of that mission.

Taylor comes to us as a graduate of Kansas State University, where she received a degree in Animal Science. At KState she was a member of the very successful NCAA Equestrian team.  She has an extensive show record including championships at : Maclay Regional Finals in Kentucky, WEF, Hampton Classic. She qualified for, and competed in all major Equitation Finals 5 years running.

She will be available for lessons on weekends. Taylor is a talented rider with lots of experience and she would love to help you grow your skills. Whether you are showing the circuit or just starting out she is here to assist you in achieving your Hunter Jumper goals. Haul-in lessons are welcome.

Contact Margo to arrange lessons at margoreham@gmail.com

Taylor 2.jpg

Taylor Schmidt

 

Welcome to LEC!

HOrsemanship: A Beginners Guide

Strictly speaking “horsemanship” is a term that simply means: the art and practice of riding horses.  However, many (including myself) would argue that horsemanship is a broader term, extending beyond simply riding. In my mind horsemanship is a skill set which encompasses the competent handling, management and riding of horses. 

Horsemanship in my mind covers: knowledge of breeds, colorations, markings, standard brands and anatomy of horses. Knowledge of all pieces of tack, how and why they are used. A functional ability to manage a horse through an endless array of situations: loading in a horse trailer, riding, leading down a barn aisle, familiarization with new places, hand grazing. A horseman should also know equine first aid, the equine digestive system, giving a horse a bath and basic biomechanics…

This is a short list. Because identifying suitable hay, changing tires, mucking stalls, providing and maintaining proper housing, riding correctly, training horses, communicating with vets and farriers, and the entire giant subcategory of "horse showing"  also appear on this list.

When you own a horse you need to know A LOT of things relating to the animal you own and ride, apart from simply how to pilot your steed.  Horsemanship is a broad ranging topic. Becoming a competent horse person is quite the undertaking.

There are many styles of horsemanship.  Traditional, natural and all things in between. Between disciplines and styles of riding and driving good horsemanship means something different. Truly, there is a broad spectrum of expectations.  All of them are hoping to achieve the same thing: happy healthy horses, and good safe riding.

There are a few things a person needs in order to become a true and competent horse person:

1: Time.  Spending time in your riding stable around horses and horse people is important. Becoming aware of the rhythms and patterns of horses and how things are done. Becoming part of the local culture and of course time enough to become fully comfortable around horses, and the situations that present themselves as part of horse life.

2: Observation. A lot of time the best way to learn about horsemanship is through simply watching. Observe horses and observe horse people. Watch what other riders and trainers do, then see if you are capable of emulating what they do. Posture, timing of corrections and asks. What do horse people wear (gloves are a good example)? Observe horses moving and how they act when they are in turn out, when they are in their stall. Watch other people ride, both in clinics, lessons and just for fun. What does posting look like or asking for a lope off? Head set, over-stride. Observe your horse’s reactions to things and the environment and the interactions you share with them.  If a horse is scared or nervous, what makes them better? What makes them worse?  Watch and see. 

Observation includes listening as well. The equestrian world is filled with its own special vocabulary. Listen to how seasoned horse people communicate, pick up the lingo, the special terms and when they are used. 

3: Mentors. If you’re new to the sport or looking to increase your skill, after spending your time in the barn, and observing things, also find the person or people whose horse skills you most admire and refer to them, if possible for help and advice. “If this was your horse what would you do”  Watch how they wrap legs, or handle a spook. Watch how they get a stubborn horse into a trailer or how they lead and handle their horses. Horsemanship is a skill which has been handed down for millennia. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from people who know more than   you. All horse people get a large portion of their information by asking for help. 

4: Education. Where possible seek out reputable educational materials and experiences. Take riding lessons and askyour instructor or mentor to help you learn how to do things you are unsure of. Read books and magazine articles from reputable sources. Be wary of self-published books, miracle cures for problem horses and guarantees of expertise within short periods of time. Be mindful that ANYONE can post videos on YouTube and the technique you may be watching on YouTube is perhaps dangerous, improperly done or just simply ineffective. 

Good books and magazines have the information you are looking for. “What does the bit do?” “Why do I need to change my posting diagonal?” Becoming a good horseman is primarily an experiential endeavor but a wealth of knowledge can be had from publications. Reading and watching videos can communicate the same concepts you are learning but in a different or more in-depth way. 

Reputable Sources include: (magazines) Equus, Practical Horsemanship, Chronicle of the Horse. (Books) Pony Club Manual of Horsemanship, Complete Equine Emergency Bible, International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.

5: Find your own Style. You don’t have to be a horseman like Buck Brannaman. You can be and should be your own horse person. It’s okay to meld natural horsemanship techniques with more traditional methods. So long as it’s safe, and effective develop the style that works for you and be confident in how you do it. The shared language between on rider and one horse may not necessarily work exactly the same for another rider and a different horse. 

Becoming a knowledgable horseman takes time and effort, but it’s worth it! In horses there is no end to the opportunity for expanding your knowledge base. Just when you think you have seen everything and done most everything something brand new crops up to challenge what you know. Horsemanship is something you can take pride in, and that pride will carry over into the rest of your life. Giving you more confidence than before you started your great journey.

Life with Horses

A study was released this year from Sussex University in England which showed that horses can recognize human emotions. To any person who lives with horses or has had a horse for a considerable amount of time likely would exclaim "duh" upon seeing this news crop up in the headlines.  Of course they can! Most everyone has a story of coming out to the barn after a hard day and getting a snuggle or a whinny from their horse.

The reason for this is *Spoiler alert* in large part due to the fact that equine and human have been working together for thousands of years. Over that period of time our horses have learned what our faces, body language and tones mean. Just as we have learned that pinned back ears and snarling muzzles are trouble, they two can recognize a scowl and prepare. 

Humans and horses have existed as a partnership for thousands of years. Across the globe, from China to Chicago there is now and has been: horse culture. Every place is a little different or a lot different but the motives and the feelings are probably pretty universal across the globe. There is something inside of horse people that just connects with this other species. Lord knows human beings have tried to replace equines as work machines and to remove them from our lives but despite, trains, bicycles, cars and mopeds there is no replacement for a horse. 

For me it's the feeling. Simply being around my horses, especially if it happens to be quiet makes me feel very complete. I own 5 horses, and they are all very different animals, with distinct personalities. Some are more independent than others. Some more confident. Some kinder but all good and pure souls. Horses simply are who they are when they are with you. They are genuinely themselves and for this I am usually always grateful. 

I like the first breath I take when I sit down in a saddle on my horse. The moment of connection. The exhale that says "okay, now we're gonna do something together." The first thing I do when I sit down on the saddle is to thank my mount "good boy" because gratitude for the experience is a daily occurrence.

We humans and they horses we are tied together, truly bonded. Somewhere along the line there was a horse and a human someplace. They looked at each other in the eye and they made an unspoken pact "I will take care of you" they both said in their own way. And from there I think, al the rest of it must have began. 

Every day, literally every single day I am excited to see my horses. I have been riding horses for over 30 years and I still every day get excited to ride. I dream about riding. I feel the riding in my body when I watch students move. I do not dream of my car, and no matter how badly I may want a Vespa I'll still never love it so much as I do any horse I've ever owned. 

The connection that can be cultivated between one human and one horse is incredible. Man and horse, we elevate each other to something greater than we would be on our own.

 

It Takes all kinds

It will be 3 years ago in June when Zack and I took over Lincoln Equestrian Center. We had plans to renovate and ideas about what it would take to manage and own such a facility. And dreams, lots and lots of dreams. You have to be a dreamer to be a part of the professional horsemanship world.

There is a lot of advice out there about how to run and manage a successful boarding facility. Things like, cutting costs where you can, managing labor, offering events and specials. One bit of advice was to specialize in one particular type of riding. Apparently, it's a GOOD idea to limit your barn to English or Western. Jumping, or Dressage. Barrel Racing or Reining. It's easier to advertise and market to your target demographic, and supposedly it cuts down on the much despised "Barn Drama." Apparently English and Western riders, according to the Internet are like the Jets and the Sharks. Misunderstanding about the various disciplines apparently creates problems.

Zack and I never adhered to this piece of advice. Yes, certainly, get the best deal on hay you can but maybe just maybe you can build a community of all different types of horse people without the drama. We set out to do exactly that, build a community. Over the past 3 years we've had all different kinds of riders from across a range of ages, and specialties, and not yet have we had a Jets and Sharks dance fight break out in any arena between English and Western riders.

...what we do have is diversity, of horses and of riders. Dressage Queens riding with Barrel Racers. Pleasure riders mingling with jumpers and instead of there being a divide based on tack we at LEC have found harmony because regardless of the shape of your saddle, and if you affix it with a cinch or a girth we are all horse people.