November 6, 2018

Product Review: Rambo Blanket Liners with Non-Rambo Blankets

Now that I'm into my fifth winter with my somewhat unusual and very thrifty blanketing setup, it's time for a proper review.


Back in 2014, money was tight, and I needed to make a decision on blankets since I was going to take the plunge on full clipping.  I spent a long time that summer trying to figure out the most cost-effective and durable way to blanket my naked pony in the upcoming winter.

I ended up buying a SmartPak Ultimate Turnout Sheet (review here), as well as a 100g, 200g and 300g Rambo blanket liner.  Because I deal hunted, I got his entire wardrobe for under $300.

Connor modeling the 300g liner

The main thing to take away from this is that with 4+ years of experience to back me up on this one, the Rambo blanket liners work GREAT with non-Rambo and non-Horseware blankets.  The Rambo blankets have a metal ring on either side of the neck that you run a Velcro tab on the liner through, but you do NOT need to use that to keep the liner stable.

Connor's liner attaches to his SmartPak sheet only at the back rings of the sheet, and has never shifted.  The only time a liner shifted and got destroyed was when a barn worker forgot to attach the liner clips to the leg strap rings.

The only attachment point, shown here with two liners ahead of a brutal cold snap a few winters ago.

Eventually I ended up buying the SP Ultimate Medium and Heavy in later years when they were on sale, because I thought both I and my BM would prefer legit blankets to my liner setup once I had the money to do it...but I was really surprised to find that that wasn't true. 

Pros of Blankets/Liners

  • The liners are very light and easy to store compared to blankets. 
  • The liners don't get muddy, so there's less dirt in my blanket bag, and I can wash them myself and not risk destroying my washing machine.
  • They're durable.  My set is entering it's fifth winter, minus the one I mentioned above that met an untimely and preventable death.
  • You always hear layering is more effective than one really heavy blanket, and that's super easy with these.
  • The SmartPak Ultimate Turnout has proven to be everything they advertise and more, so it's a great outer layer for this setup. 
  • It's one of the cheapest ways I've found to acquire a whole horse wardrobe that's still good quality and durable enough to last for the long haul.
This being a training barn, Connor's had all kinds of turnout buddies over the years and this is literally the worst thing that's ever happened to the sheet (and it's happened to the heavy as well, which I think is what he's wearing here).  And SP still sent me a new one anyway, overnighting it before I returned the old one since it was his only blanket at the time.

Cons of Blankets/Liners
  • Barn staff can't tell at-a-glance what weight Connor is wearing.  To make this easier, I've written "Connor is wearing his ______ liner" on his whiteboard in the past.  I also labeled all of my blankets and sheets with blanket tags from haltertags.com so they can reach into his neck for the tag and easily see what weight it is
  • ...that's pretty much it.


Anyone else taken this aprpoach to blanketing before?

November 5, 2018

Lesson Wrap-Up: Jumping to Help Our Dressage

Since I hadn't ridden in...a while...I scheduled a lesson last weekend.  Like, yes, I am perfectly capable of reconnecting all my synapses by myself, but if I have the option, I'm voting for some adult supervision.

Also voting for adult supervision, plz.

It actually ended up being super interesting, a jump ride that helped me figure some Dressage things out. Our main focus was the fact that Connor likes to approach jumps with his nose down and his weight on his forehand, which is part of (but not all of) the reason jumping him often feels awkward.

No idea what you're talking about...
Fox River Valley, 2014

Encouraging him to approach jumps with his front end elevated will not only help his Dressage, it will eventually make jumping feel less awkward too.

Awkward?  Nah.
Jump Start, 2014

I had two main takeaways from this lesson.  First, engagement.  I don't know what a collected canter should feel like, and I'm struggling to contain him enough to collect him while still keeping the activity behind.  In effect, I can slow the canter down, but not really collect it yet.

The definition of a strung out canter.  Also, compare this photo to the next one to see how much muscle he's packed on in four years!  Wow.  Penny Oaks, 2014

In a Dressage ride, his underpowered canter feels good, it's easy to ride, and it's getting the job done...for now.  You can do that in the Second Level canter work and still squeak out a 60%.  But that's definitely not the case higher up the levels, so I don't want to get complacent with this, and I'm grateful my trainer is pointing this out to me now so I'm aware of it.

Squeaking by with this counter canter right now
IDS Schooling Show, 2018

The lesson's main exercise of ground pole > one stride > really small jump made it obvious what a difference having the right and wrong amount of engagement for an activity makes.

So small it would be considered a cavaletti if Connor wasn't 14hh and shaped like a dachshund.

As my trainer said (paraphrasing heavily here), when he approaches fences with not enough "quickness" behind, he doesn't have as many options to get out of trouble if/when (definitely when) we get a bad spot.  When I had the right amount, I got a bad spot, but it still rode really well.

CJF clinic, 2014

The second takeaway was how much my inability to fold over the fence contributes to our jumping awkwardness.  This post is long enough though, and I need some more time to think through this one before I write about it.  It's definitely one part bad riding, one part defensive riding, and one part my super tight hamstrings.

Penny Oaks, 2014
Anyone else using jumping to connect the dots in Dressage right now?

November 2, 2018

Trrrrrrrrrrrrrrravel

All's quiet here right now.  After three months of not getting out of my pajamas for work, suddenly I'm traveling 2 or 3 days a week for six weeks in a row.  Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Green Bay.  Two of those are personal trips, but it's still travel.

Me standing in front of my parents' old apartment just outside of Kansas City, MO on a business trip last week

This isn't translating into a whole lot of saddle time, of course.  I am SO grateful to have a good BM/trainer who stays on top of blanket changes and puts quality rides on him while I'm gone.  Couldn't do this job without someone like that in my corner.

"Don't mind me, just over here self-entertaining while you're flying around the country."

Even though Connor is staying in shape, I feel like I have to relearn how to ride every time I go out right now.  Try to remember what we were working on last time I rode (the blog definitely helps with that).  Try to remember WTF I do with all these body parts that I swear I knew how to use a couple weeks ago...!

Back on Track season has begun

I could get stressed about that, but instead I'm zen.  This job is still my dream job and it's always going to be unpredictably cyclical like this.  I'm lucky to travel on two weeks notice, most of the time it's more like a couple days notice.  The people that ask me to travel try their hardest not to make me travel if they can possibly avoid it, which is definitely appreciated.  Sometimes you just gotta get in a room with people though.

This is just that adult amateur life, knowing you'd make a ton of progress if you could ride 6 days a week and instead trading hour long rides for 20 minute trips out to snuggle him, pick his feet out, feed him cookies and go home! (The horse is not complaining, really!)

October 27, 2018

Things I've Learned from Bloggers Blog Hop

I like the idea of Roaming Rider's blog hop, although I'm going to take it in a slightly different direction.  There are a lot of bloggers who've influenced me and taught me things over the years.  I've gotten so much from this community, from training tips to saddles, from deep and lasting friendships to winery trail rides in California, that I can only hope to give back as much as I've received.

Winery trail ride

The biggest thing I've gotten out of blogging is that I've stopped comparing myself to others, which might be the opposite of what you'd expect.  But once you watch all of these individual journeys close up and realize that everyone's lives/horses/locations/circumstances are SO different, you realize comparing yourself to anyone but yourself is a waste of time. And instead of comparing, you get the chance to cheer for all of these cool people doing cool things around the world.

Pretty cool.

For this blog hop, I want to talk about the two blogs that taught me about blogging and got me into this community.  My first post on this blog was in December 2009, and I had started reading horse blogs around 2008.

The first picture ever posted on my blog, Baby Shae.  Also the first Welsh Cob and Castleberry Cob that I ever met.

The first blog I found was The Eventing Percheron - yes, the incomparable Brego's original owner.  That was THE blog that started it all for me, so I definitely had a fangirl moment when I would get to ride Brego at JenJ's house six or seven years after first reading that blog.

His head was half as long as my body!
Her blog was interesting, unique and Brego was such a literal character, I loved following their adventures.  It taught me the power of having a unique story to tell. 

How cool was this header picture?!

Her posts gradually tailed off over the years and she doesn't post anymore, but the blog is still out there.

Love you big guy, rest in peace.

The other blog that I started reading about the same time was Eventing-a-Gogo, Andrea's blog, which is now The Reeling: An Unexpected Mareventure


Gogo was another larger than life character, and I loved following their adventures, which were things I could only dream of - east coast eventing, fancy barns with horse treadmills, and a supremely athletic horse that I'd love to think I could ride, but in reality she was way too spicy for my chicken self, haha.

Photo from Eventing-a-Gogo

At the time I was fascinated by the idea of eventing but also was terrified of jumping.  Following along with Andrea's story gave me the chance to live vicariously a life I didn't think I'd ever get a chance to experience.

I loved following the journey of a pair so suited to each other like that, and I've enjoyed following Andrea's journey through barefoot trimming, driving, Dressage, and Western Equitation since then.  This was definitely the blog that made me feel like I wanted to become a blogger myself.  It taught me about the value of good storytelling and giving people the chance to follow along with the ups and downs of a unique journey.

To everyone: Thank you all for sharing so much of yourselves through your blogs and being a part of this community.  Blogging is a big and challenging time commitment, but this community is so cool.  I hope it continues for a long time to come!

October 26, 2018

*Tuscani Dundee


Connor's sire was laid to rest this week.  He was absolutely Connor's breeder's heart horse as well as the foundation of her breeding program.  It's never easy, but it's even harder with the special ones.  She wrote on the Castleberry Cobs Facebook page:

"RIP *Tuscani Dundee. July 1992-Oct 2018. What an honor and privilege to have owned (and be owned) by such a magnificent horse. He truly changed our lives for the good. We have met so many wonderful people and made lifelong friends because of him. He seemed happy until the end when his body began to fail him, and for that I am grateful. He is buried on our farm, between a large Oak and Hickory tree, strong and beautiful like he was. He leaves his legacy through his offspring. If you have a son or daughter of his, or a grand-cob of his, please share a favorite photo (or two) in the comments to honor him. Thank you, Tori Laub for selling him to us. He was a horse of a lifetime."








I wrote a blog post in 2012 about the time I rode Dundee in the Parade of Stallions at the Hoosier Horse Fair.  Even during a thunderstorm, at the State Fairgrounds, being ridden for the first time in a year, being ridden for the first time by me, in front of a crowd with babies in strollers and cowboy hats and tents and who knows what else, he was kind, gracious and focused.


I described him then as "forward, but easily controlled, confident, yet keenly aware of his surroundings."  Just an all around good guy.


Rest in peace, *Tuscani Dundee.  You were so loved, so special and had such a huge influence on the breed in North America.

Product Review: Rambo Blanket Liners with Non-Rambo Blankets

Now that I'm into my fifth winter with my somewhat unusual and very thrifty blanketing setup, it's time for a proper review.


Back in 2014, money was tight, and I needed to make a decision on blankets since I was going to take the plunge on full clipping.  I spent a long time that summer trying to figure out the most cost-effective and durable way to blanket my naked pony in the upcoming winter.

I ended up buying a SmartPak Ultimate Turnout Sheet (review here), as well as a 100g, 200g and 300g Rambo blanket liner.  Because I deal hunted, I got his entire wardrobe for under $300.

Connor modeling the 300g liner

The main thing to take away from this is that with 4+ years of experience to back me up on this one, the Rambo blanket liners work GREAT with non-Rambo and non-Horseware blankets.  The Rambo blankets have a metal ring on either side of the neck that you run a Velcro tab on the liner through, but you do NOT need to use that to keep the liner stable.

Connor's liner attaches to his SmartPak sheet only at the back rings of the sheet, and has never shifted.  The only time a liner shifted and got destroyed was when a barn worker forgot to attach the liner clips to the leg strap rings.

The only attachment point, shown here with two liners ahead of a brutal cold snap a few winters ago.

Eventually I ended up buying the SP Ultimate Medium and Heavy in later years when they were on sale, because I thought both I and my BM would prefer legit blankets to my liner setup once I had the money to do it...but I was really surprised to find that that wasn't true. 

Pros of Blankets/Liners

  • The liners are very light and easy to store compared to blankets. 
  • The liners don't get muddy, so there's less dirt in my blanket bag, and I can wash them myself and not risk destroying my washing machine.
  • They're durable.  My set is entering it's fifth winter, minus the one I mentioned above that met an untimely and preventable death.
  • You always hear layering is more effective than one really heavy blanket, and that's super easy with these.
  • The SmartPak Ultimate Turnout has proven to be everything they advertise and more, so it's a great outer layer for this setup. 
  • It's one of the cheapest ways I've found to acquire a whole horse wardrobe that's still good quality and durable enough to last for the long haul.
This being a training barn, Connor's had all kinds of turnout buddies over the years and this is literally the worst thing that's ever happened to the sheet (and it's happened to the heavy as well, which I think is what he's wearing here).  And SP still sent me a new one anyway, overnighting it before I returned the old one since it was his only blanket at the time.

Cons of Blankets/Liners
  • Barn staff can't tell at-a-glance what weight Connor is wearing.  To make this easier, I've written "Connor is wearing his ______ liner" on his whiteboard in the past.  I also labeled all of my blankets and sheets with blanket tags from haltertags.com so they can reach into his neck for the tag and easily see what weight it is
  • ...that's pretty much it.


Anyone else taken this aprpoach to blanketing before?

Read more...

Lesson Wrap-Up: Jumping to Help Our Dressage

Since I hadn't ridden in...a while...I scheduled a lesson last weekend.  Like, yes, I am perfectly capable of reconnecting all my synapses by myself, but if I have the option, I'm voting for some adult supervision.

Also voting for adult supervision, plz.

It actually ended up being super interesting, a jump ride that helped me figure some Dressage things out. Our main focus was the fact that Connor likes to approach jumps with his nose down and his weight on his forehand, which is part of (but not all of) the reason jumping him often feels awkward.

No idea what you're talking about...
Fox River Valley, 2014

Encouraging him to approach jumps with his front end elevated will not only help his Dressage, it will eventually make jumping feel less awkward too.

Awkward?  Nah.
Jump Start, 2014

I had two main takeaways from this lesson.  First, engagement.  I don't know what a collected canter should feel like, and I'm struggling to contain him enough to collect him while still keeping the activity behind.  In effect, I can slow the canter down, but not really collect it yet.

The definition of a strung out canter.  Also, compare this photo to the next one to see how much muscle he's packed on in four years!  Wow.  Penny Oaks, 2014

In a Dressage ride, his underpowered canter feels good, it's easy to ride, and it's getting the job done...for now.  You can do that in the Second Level canter work and still squeak out a 60%.  But that's definitely not the case higher up the levels, so I don't want to get complacent with this, and I'm grateful my trainer is pointing this out to me now so I'm aware of it.

Squeaking by with this counter canter right now
IDS Schooling Show, 2018

The lesson's main exercise of ground pole > one stride > really small jump made it obvious what a difference having the right and wrong amount of engagement for an activity makes.

So small it would be considered a cavaletti if Connor wasn't 14hh and shaped like a dachshund.

As my trainer said (paraphrasing heavily here), when he approaches fences with not enough "quickness" behind, he doesn't have as many options to get out of trouble if/when (definitely when) we get a bad spot.  When I had the right amount, I got a bad spot, but it still rode really well.

CJF clinic, 2014

The second takeaway was how much my inability to fold over the fence contributes to our jumping awkwardness.  This post is long enough though, and I need some more time to think through this one before I write about it.  It's definitely one part bad riding, one part defensive riding, and one part my super tight hamstrings.

Penny Oaks, 2014
Anyone else using jumping to connect the dots in Dressage right now?

Read more...

Trrrrrrrrrrrrrrravel

All's quiet here right now.  After three months of not getting out of my pajamas for work, suddenly I'm traveling 2 or 3 days a week for six weeks in a row.  Kansas City, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Green Bay.  Two of those are personal trips, but it's still travel.

Me standing in front of my parents' old apartment just outside of Kansas City, MO on a business trip last week

This isn't translating into a whole lot of saddle time, of course.  I am SO grateful to have a good BM/trainer who stays on top of blanket changes and puts quality rides on him while I'm gone.  Couldn't do this job without someone like that in my corner.

"Don't mind me, just over here self-entertaining while you're flying around the country."

Even though Connor is staying in shape, I feel like I have to relearn how to ride every time I go out right now.  Try to remember what we were working on last time I rode (the blog definitely helps with that).  Try to remember WTF I do with all these body parts that I swear I knew how to use a couple weeks ago...!

Back on Track season has begun

I could get stressed about that, but instead I'm zen.  This job is still my dream job and it's always going to be unpredictably cyclical like this.  I'm lucky to travel on two weeks notice, most of the time it's more like a couple days notice.  The people that ask me to travel try their hardest not to make me travel if they can possibly avoid it, which is definitely appreciated.  Sometimes you just gotta get in a room with people though.

This is just that adult amateur life, knowing you'd make a ton of progress if you could ride 6 days a week and instead trading hour long rides for 20 minute trips out to snuggle him, pick his feet out, feed him cookies and go home! (The horse is not complaining, really!)

Read more...

Things I've Learned from Bloggers Blog Hop

I like the idea of Roaming Rider's blog hop, although I'm going to take it in a slightly different direction.  There are a lot of bloggers who've influenced me and taught me things over the years.  I've gotten so much from this community, from training tips to saddles, from deep and lasting friendships to winery trail rides in California, that I can only hope to give back as much as I've received.

Winery trail ride

The biggest thing I've gotten out of blogging is that I've stopped comparing myself to others, which might be the opposite of what you'd expect.  But once you watch all of these individual journeys close up and realize that everyone's lives/horses/locations/circumstances are SO different, you realize comparing yourself to anyone but yourself is a waste of time. And instead of comparing, you get the chance to cheer for all of these cool people doing cool things around the world.

Pretty cool.

For this blog hop, I want to talk about the two blogs that taught me about blogging and got me into this community.  My first post on this blog was in December 2009, and I had started reading horse blogs around 2008.

The first picture ever posted on my blog, Baby Shae.  Also the first Welsh Cob and Castleberry Cob that I ever met.

The first blog I found was The Eventing Percheron - yes, the incomparable Brego's original owner.  That was THE blog that started it all for me, so I definitely had a fangirl moment when I would get to ride Brego at JenJ's house six or seven years after first reading that blog.

His head was half as long as my body!
Her blog was interesting, unique and Brego was such a literal character, I loved following their adventures.  It taught me the power of having a unique story to tell. 

How cool was this header picture?!

Her posts gradually tailed off over the years and she doesn't post anymore, but the blog is still out there.

Love you big guy, rest in peace.

The other blog that I started reading about the same time was Eventing-a-Gogo, Andrea's blog, which is now The Reeling: An Unexpected Mareventure


Gogo was another larger than life character, and I loved following their adventures, which were things I could only dream of - east coast eventing, fancy barns with horse treadmills, and a supremely athletic horse that I'd love to think I could ride, but in reality she was way too spicy for my chicken self, haha.

Photo from Eventing-a-Gogo

At the time I was fascinated by the idea of eventing but also was terrified of jumping.  Following along with Andrea's story gave me the chance to live vicariously a life I didn't think I'd ever get a chance to experience.

I loved following the journey of a pair so suited to each other like that, and I've enjoyed following Andrea's journey through barefoot trimming, driving, Dressage, and Western Equitation since then.  This was definitely the blog that made me feel like I wanted to become a blogger myself.  It taught me about the value of good storytelling and giving people the chance to follow along with the ups and downs of a unique journey.

To everyone: Thank you all for sharing so much of yourselves through your blogs and being a part of this community.  Blogging is a big and challenging time commitment, but this community is so cool.  I hope it continues for a long time to come!

Read more...

*Tuscani Dundee


Connor's sire was laid to rest this week.  He was absolutely Connor's breeder's heart horse as well as the foundation of her breeding program.  It's never easy, but it's even harder with the special ones.  She wrote on the Castleberry Cobs Facebook page:

"RIP *Tuscani Dundee. July 1992-Oct 2018. What an honor and privilege to have owned (and be owned) by such a magnificent horse. He truly changed our lives for the good. We have met so many wonderful people and made lifelong friends because of him. He seemed happy until the end when his body began to fail him, and for that I am grateful. He is buried on our farm, between a large Oak and Hickory tree, strong and beautiful like he was. He leaves his legacy through his offspring. If you have a son or daughter of his, or a grand-cob of his, please share a favorite photo (or two) in the comments to honor him. Thank you, Tori Laub for selling him to us. He was a horse of a lifetime."








I wrote a blog post in 2012 about the time I rode Dundee in the Parade of Stallions at the Hoosier Horse Fair.  Even during a thunderstorm, at the State Fairgrounds, being ridden for the first time in a year, being ridden for the first time by me, in front of a crowd with babies in strollers and cowboy hats and tents and who knows what else, he was kind, gracious and focused.


I described him then as "forward, but easily controlled, confident, yet keenly aware of his surroundings."  Just an all around good guy.


Rest in peace, *Tuscani Dundee.  You were so loved, so special and had such a huge influence on the breed in North America.

Read more...