November 25, 2023

Product Review: Piper Heavy-Weight Winter Tight by Smartpak (New 2023 Model)

*tap tap* Is this thing on? I haven't done a product review in so long, it feels weird. Oh well, here goes. These are on sale this weekend for Black Friday so I wanted to get this out ASAP.

Pictured in the background: my Jurassic Park fence extension I had to add because my 42lb rescue mutt can jump my 6ft privacy fence without touching it. Good times.

Over two years ago, I reviewed the Piper Heavy-Weight Winter Tight by Smartpak, and concluded that they were the best winter tights I'd ever found, except that the sizing was tricky. Well, that turned out to be an understatement. In both the XS and S sizes the damn things stretched out as I wore them and slid down, like, over my butt! I ended up only keeping one pair and only wearing them with my Underarmour 4.0 under them as protection.

1.0's, from the original product post. Baggyyyyyy.

I wasn't alone - the reviews were full of people saying the same thing. It seemed that no matter what body type you were and what size you chose, you would eventually moon someone while wearing these. Which is a shame, because I have never found another pair of winter tights that are warmer, more comfortable or more functional.

I am happy to report they finally came out with a new model, the Piper Heavy-Weight Winter Tight II by Smartpak, which changed nothing except the fit, and it does seem to have solved the "moon" problem, at least for my body type.

I got dressed up in a ridiculous outfit just for some legit product photos of these for you guys, please appreciate, lol. Shirt by Equestrian Stockholm, hat from the Royal.

Let's get the big thing out of the way first: they didn't change a single feature. Still the same silicone dots, still a cell phone pocket on both sides, still heavy velour? inside material, still yoga pant-like outside material.

The inside is SO DAMN WARM.

These are all great things. In winter, I want comfort, warmth (REAL warmth, this is Indiana we're talking about), and as little fuss as possible, and both the old and new models smash all that out of the park.

What did change: sizing. I am not quite 5'1 and an hourglass-shaped body-by-CrossFit 120lbs with most of that being in my butt and thighs (holllaaaaa hit a 185lb back squat last week with that butt and thighs!). 

In the 2.0 model of these tights, I can barely get the XS on. Even over my calves! 


That said - I am wearing the XS in all of these photos, because they do stretch as you wear them. And they don't fall down. THAT said - I would struggle to put my Underarmour 4.0 underneath the XS. But that's okay. 

Hear me out - even though I can barely get them on at first, XS IS THE RIGHT SIZE FOR ME. If you buy these and try them on and worry they're too small at first, don't panic. Wear them around the house for an hour and see if you change your mind. You probably will.


Bottom line: These are such good I-live-where-it-actually-gets-cold winter tights, and they have so little competition for being as good as they are that I do recommend giving them a shot if you live in a cold climate, but sizing is tricky and keep in mind that they do stretch as you wear them. I recommend trying your regular size and not panicking when they feel too tight at first. On some body types, especially if you size up, they may still fall down. But not on me!

What: Piper Heavy-Weight Winter Tight II by SmartPak - Full Seat

Sizes: XS-XXL

Colors: Black, Grey

Price: $82.95 with discounts available for USEF members and supplement auto-ship members (currently $59 with code BF2023 and the USEF discount stacked)

Disclaimer: Bought these with my own hard earned money, and I am not affiliated with nor being compensated by SmartPak in any way.

November 20, 2023

Oh It's Like the Stars Aligned (I Can Feel It)

Two weekends ago, Connor and Disco's breeder Lisa and I found ourselves road tripping to Canada to attend the Canadian Royal Winter Fair for the first time since 2019. And this time, I was going to see MY OWN horse show in it!

Disco in the big big world

I was so glad Disco's lessee was able to enter him this year. She was on the fence about it when he went through a growth spurt this summer, and I told her that I supported whichever decision she made, but I was secretly hoping she would enter him. I didn't care how he placed, but the atmosphere of the Royal is like nothing else, and would be great for developing the brain of my future show horse.

Powering his way up the iconic ramp from the first floor to the second floor of the Horse Palace

I mean, spoiler alert, he looks amazing right now and ended up being the 2 and under Champion Welsh Cob and Reserve Champion Youngstock. 

Pro photo legally acquired, all other photos by me

But the real victory was the way he conducted himself. While he is very much a two year old - still learning how to emotionally handle being bored and anything within reach is still a toy - he wasn't bothered by a single thing the entire weekend. And there were a lot of Things.

Like, I stood there watching as he was tied to the wall for an hour in a busy show aisle with a mare next to him while he got groomed to perfection, never screaming or looking around wide-eyed. Just a little bored.

I even learned a little about proper Welsh show prep. Here's Disco getting his feathers hair sprayed and teased out! I sent this to Mary and she just sent back a picture of Andis clippers, lol.


Or also, he got a bath in a little enclosed bathing room with horses of all genders on either side, "didn't even need a chain. Not for that and not for anything the whole time," according to his lessee.

One of the bathing rooms at the Horse Palace

He stood down by the in-gate before and between his classes for over an hour, and only got fussy when every single horse there went into the ring for a BIG C/D mare class. In fact, that was the only time he screamed the entire time.

I was handling him at that time since his lessee was in the ring showing her mare, so when he got fussy, we started handwalking around and around the bleachers that line the show ring. He immediately settled and focused as soon as we started walking, even though we were walking past and through a true circus:  past big black Percherons with their dinner plate-sized shoes, past strollers, through crowds of distinctly non-horsey spectators, past tractors bigger than he's ever seen, past video cameras, past horse carts and wagons of every shape and size, past little old ladies in wheelchairs that inadvertently backed directly into our path.

I could not have been more proud of him. It was like he was born in a busy indoor show facility and that was all he knew, even though it was his first time in an atmosphere like that. I STILL have never seen this horse afraid of anything the entire time I've known him. He has retained that natural confidence and curiosity that I love so much, and that I desperately wanted after dealing with (and loving <3) Chicken Little for the last decade.

Even though I fiercely love Chicken Little, being afraid of everything made showing him interesting at best and terrifying at worst, and I am ready for something with some confidence.

Although it would have been easy to forget given his behavior, Disco IS still a stallion, and I gave everything the appropriate amount of space and applied an appropriate amount of situational awareness to every situation while handling him. Even with a well-behaved stallion, you can't ever stop being more aware of your surroundings than you would be with a gelding or mare. But as I walked him around, I couldn't help but get excited for his future. With a brain like that, and with movement like he's starting to show...well, it's exciting to think about.

It was like he knew I was watching when at one point during the judging he took off down the long side in what was supposed to be a trot, but instead he gave the most delicious three strides of slow, powerful, in-hand collected canter like it was the easiest, most natural thing.

I couldn't help but think how right it all felt. It feels so right for Maude to have him right now, to be getting to live her dreams with him, building her breeding program with him, and giving him experiences that I couldn't at home and training that I am not qualified to give (such as harness training, which he has already started in-hand). It really does feel like the stars aligned.

The Canadian dream team

Disco's ribbons

See you in a year, little buddy.

November 4, 2023

It's Not You, It's Me (But It's Also You)

One of the things I was hoping to get out of having Encore around was perspective. See, I regularly rode nothing but Connor for 12 years, except Aeres. I don't have a lot of experience "dating" different horses. And Encore is a very different animal from Connor and Disco - from a different "side" of Lisa's bloodlines, with far different movement and temperament.

But I had no idea just how much perspective riding Encore would give me in the end.

Connor always went clear, but boy did he make it interesting. Fox River Valley Pony Club HT, 2014

A fellow Welsh Cob enthusiast who is currently competing two very different types of Cobs in Dressage told me recently that she's found it really beneficial to ride both. It helps you understand yourself as a rider, and when it might not be you. And that got me thinking.

Penny Oaks, HHP, 2015

I spent the better part of a decade internalizing Connor's every inability to learn something new, every time he didn't respond to my aids, every time I thought "why is this so hard", as a failure of mine and mine alone. He would take the world by storm with a better rider, if I just handed the reins to my trainer, if I just wasn't so bad at riding, if I just wasn't such a slow learner, if my body just wasn't so crooked.That was my internal monologue.

And to be fair to him, it was both largely my riding that built that horse, AND he was the horse I needed at the time. Safe enough to be safe, spicy enough to be fun but not scary, he helped me conquer some fear I had developed in college and taught me how to enjoy riding again. He gave me experiences I had only dreamed about as a kid - winning an event, running XC, getting a neck ribbon, learning collection.

Jump Start HT, KHP, 2014. BN feels massive on the back of a 14hh pony, for the record.

But Encore has shown me that Connor is also just naturally a difficult ride as a sporthorse. When I first got Connor, a clinician told me that it "just seems to take a long time for things to get from your aids to his brain to his feet", and that never changed over the years. And even though Encore is nowhere near as educated as Connor, things have come more easily for me on a horse with more of an engine, more reactivity to aids, and quicker feet. I can be a more subtle rider.

Hamilton County Dressage Show, 2016. Photo by Paul Wood Photography.

There was still one thing I couldn't figure out though: Why had Aeres, who is a very similar horse to Encore in terms of movement and bloodlines, but much more trained than either Encore or Connor, not given me this same realization that Encore has?

Aeres, November 2020

It took a wise friend on a similar therapy journey to mine to help me figure it out: "You were in a different place at the time. Emotional awareness matters so much," she said. And it hit me. 


Baby noodle's first show ever, June 2012

It wasn't in my vocabulary at the time to ask myself if I was happy or to stop to compare Aeres and Connor or to ask myself if maybe I wasn't always the problem. At the time, I threw myself 110% into horses, and specifically competing, as an escape from other things, even though I didn't realize that's what was happening until many years later. Self-flagellation and blaming everything on my bad riding were easy to reach for, while asking myself how I felt about something and giving legitimacy and validity to my own feelings was so difficult I didn't even know it was an option.


The good news - Connor doesn't need to be a sporthorse to make me happy. He makes me happy standing in his stall and nickering at me, and trail riding, and being the horse I can pop on bareback and drink a glass of wine on on a cold winter night. And I'm grateful for the personal growth and perspective it has taken to appreciate him for who he is, and to appreciate myself for what I am, and to know much more clearly what makes a good match for me under saddle at the stage of riding I'm at.

Thanks, Encore.

October 26, 2023

Encore's Life Lately

Mr. Encore...I am so damn proud of this horse and his transformation my heart could burst. I actually can't believe how dramatically his personality has changed after two months on ulcer treatment and a teeth float, plus some time, a consistent routine, and a job he understands and likes.

We finally found a bit he likes, and unfortunately it's my Herm Sprenger single jointed nathe that was recalled because it can snap in half, buuuuuut since I won't be using it for too long with him and he adores it, I'm rolling that dice for now

Encore with his owner, who is a REEEEEEALLY good farrier.

It has been such an honor and a privilege to be a part of this horse's story. To see the anxiety wrinkles leave his eyes. To watch him go from so jumpy and anxious I had to tiptoe around him, to being able to handle him like a normal horse, throwing things around while tacking him up and not thinking about spooking him.

He strongly prefers mane pulling to scissors. Who knew? Literally fell asleep for mane pulling but gets shuffly and big eyed at the sound of the scissors.

He's now solidly walk/trot under saddle, reaches for the bit when I bridle him (I had to chase him around the wash rack and corner him to bridle him the first month I had him) and can steer well enough that we can ride with another horse in the ring (anyone that has started a baby can understand that milestone!). 

Spending time at me and Leah's baby tying station (better known as The Wall of Knowledge, Patience and Wisdom) after his ride while I'm riding Connor. He has to be hard tied (with a twine safety of course) because he knows how to untie quick release knots, go figure #cobthings


He's finding activities he enjoys. He absolutely loves ground poles and loved free jumping so much, he went around and around the jump chute, the right direction and the wrong direction, over and over, without any encouragement from me and Mary. No fear in his eyes, just a glowing excitement and honestly pride.

He even went to a show. I opted to take him instead of Connor to our annual Welsh show and truly had no idea what kind of horse I'd get. I expected him to be jumpy and anxious in a new place, and had no idea if he would get on my strange trailer at 6am in the dark. I'm fairly positive it was also his first experience with a ramp, too.

BLESS my barn owners for putting these ridiculously bright flood lights over the parking area. They're so bright we get complaints from neighbors if we leave them on all the time, so we only use them when we need them, but when we need them they are GLORIOUS.

I did not anticipate that he would march right onto the trailer, stand quietly on the trailer for 20 minutes while I found his stall, settle into show stabling without a peep, calmly eat hay all day without screaming once, and trot in-hand like a damn professional in the show ring. But he did all of that, and boy was I proud. You'd have thought he horse showed every weekend, and in some respects he put my own horse to shame with his good behavior, lol.

Full siblings Castleberrys Encore (left, age 5, gelding) and Castleberrys Electra (right, age 6, mare) (Castleberrys Ffafr ap Culhwch x Rhosyr Ebony by Gwenllan Brenin Mon)


On top of all of that, his ability to learn things forever the first time I introduce them leaves me with my jaw on the ground at times. Especially coming from Connor, who had to learn something, sleep on it, learn it again, and then would slowly internalize it over time, the fact that I can teach a new concept to Encore and it's just immediately, permanently installed that very day is truly mind-boggling.

So, he's not officially for sale yet, but he's also not NOT for sale if anyone knows anyone that is looking. He is kind, sweet, snuggly but respectful of your space, always takes care of his person, constantly asks his human for guidance, knows where his body parts are and how to move them, and learns SO quickly. He's sensitive and reactive in a fun way, but never stupid, and will take a pro or a confident ammy in a program very far someday.

October 23, 2023

Disco Update

Just because Connor and I are exploring sports other than Dressage and eventing doesn't mean I don't have big plans and dreams for those sports in my head. For this reason:

All photos from his lessee

There was a time when I wasn't sure Disco was growing up into what I want, and I wasn't sure if I was going to sell him to his lessee or not. But as he's grown up, his most concerning conformation faults have softened significantly, and some time spent with Encore have convinced me that yes, I am keeping Disco.

Owning a baby for the first time is hard. I never know what is going to stick around permanently and what is "just a phase", both from a temperament and a conformation perspective. But finally I can say, at the age of 2 years and 6 months, that this is a horse I can see going far in something with.

A little "growthy" here, which is why she has chosen not to show him at the Canadian Royal Winter Fair this year. Thankfully he is doing most of his growing out and not up these days.


Is he a warmblood-style 10 mover destined for the Olympics? Of course not, but I can take this kind of movement pretty far:

And this is still an awkward two year old! Can't wait to see what he looks like in four years.

He has a lot more foreleg reach than Connor and knows how to sit and push from behind - especially in the canter, which I have no good media of but have seen glimpses of from behind his broodmare harem while cantering together.

Praise be, the potato might eventually sprout a wither.

Disco also has retained his incredible brain. His lessee can't gush enough to me about how easy he is to handle, even when she's taken him to a show or during breeding season. She's sent me videos of a ten year old boy trotting him in hand, of her one year old sitting in a stroller next to him while he hand grazes with mares in their field behind him, of him being ponied off a gelding in a rope halter, of him being bellied off the mounting block and of wearing a harness for the first time.

None of it surprises me, every stallion I've known of Lisa's has always been kind and easy to handle, but it's still wonderful confirmation that he's going to be a good citizen for our co-op when he comes back.

Best of all, in every photo and video she's ever sent me, I've never seen a single image of him with a worried look in his eye. The world is a wonderful and interesting and not threatening place to Disco, and I'm so here for that attitude.

So, it will be another year before I see him again (assuming he shows at the 2024 Royal, I'm planning on making the trip) and another eighteen months before he's back in the States, and possibly even longer before he's back in my barn because I plan on sending him out for training immediately when he returns, but the wait is worth it. This is my horse for the future.