Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More of Our Favorite Things

As I noted in my last blog post, my husband and I are relocating for his job, and our amazing North Carolina horse farm is for sale.  As I prepare for the fact that we will have to move once the right buyer comes along, I've been filled with gratitude and a little bit of nostalgia about all of the wonderful things we have here on our farm.  That, coupled with the great response I got from readers of the first installment of Our Favorite Things, has inspired me to blog about some more of my favorite things about the farm.  So, without further ado, here are some more things we absolutely love about out horse farm.  (If you haven't read the first installment yet, click here to check it out!)

Trails.  Our farm has access to trails with no need to ride along a busy road to get there.  Hacking on the trails is a fun way to cross-train the horses, and there is usually a neighbor around who would love to give you a tour of the trails.

The beautiful trails are also a great place to walk or hike with your dogs!

Fencing.  Safe, secure horse fencing is a tremendous expense, but it's also an absolute necessity.  I love that our entire property is securely fenced and gated.  We selected Electrobraid fencing for the pastures, and we couldn't be happier with the choice.  It is attractive, safe, secure, highly visible, and virtually maintenance free.  We have solar chargers in all but one pasture, which keep the electric bill low and the fences securely hot.  Our horses respect the fences, and we don't have to worry about their safety.  Win, win.  Our pastures are also designed so that they can be easily and inexpensively divided further into smaller pastures if one wanted to create more paddocks.  Also, even though the pastures are large, the paddock gates are all relatively close to the barn.  This means no long treks to turn the horses out!

Indoor Wash Stall.  Our oversized, 12'x12' indoor wash stall has hot and cold water and is ideal for bathing horses year round.  It also has a convenient sink.  It's big enough that you have plenty of room to work around your horse safely and plenty of space to store your horse bathing essentials.  The hose boom keeps the hose overhead so the horses can't step on it.  This increases the life of your hose and makes bath time a breeze!

Concrete, Center-Aisle Barn.  The 12' wide concrete center aisle in the barn is the ideal place to cross tie horses for grooming, tacking, and shoeing.  It's a great, level place for the farrier to work, and it's wide enough for riders, vets, and farriers to safely work around the horses.  It's also long enough to safely tie multiple horses in the aisle with a big, safe distance between horses.

Turnkey & Low Maintenance.  Our farm is completely turnkey move-in ready for people and horses!  It's also very easy to maintain. The brick veneer and attractive vinyl siding on the house require almost no maintenance, and the barn's metal roof and siding are maintenance-free, too!  

Three-Car Garage.  Our 3-car garage is huge and finished.  It's big enough for our quad cab dually with a long bed, our two other cars, our lawn mower, and all of our tools and miscellaneous storage.  It's just a dream garage.  It's also incredibly well insulated.  It feels heated in the winter and air conditioned in the summer, so it's always comfortable in there.  It's also got high ceilings and is perfectly suited to be finished and renovated in order to expand the size of the house in a budget friendly way.

Country Living, Suburban Amenities.  We love the feeling of living out in the country, but especially love that we are close to shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.  It's really the best of both worlds!  Many country towns don't have access to the creature comforts like cable TV and high speed internet.  We are lucky to have AT&T U-Verse reliable, high speed internet and television available, in addition to satellite television.  Another great benefit of being close to town is that there are plenty of potential boarding, training, and lesson clients for anyone interested in running a professional boarding or training facility.

Storage.  Storage is essential, and our farm has got that covered.  We have tons of room for storage - in the house, in the garage, and in the barn.  The house has large closets, walk-in closets in the bedrooms, tons of kitchen cabinet space, and additional built-in storage.  The barn has a big feed / tack room, an oversized tack locker, and a huge loft for storage.

Amazing Neighbors.  Okay, I know I mentioned them in my last post, but they are so great I have to repeat it!  It's so important to have neighbors that enjoy having horses in the neighborhood, and we love having just such neighbors.  We rarely see or hear them, which helps the farm feel quiet and private.  At the same time, though, they are always available to help when needed.  In fact, on the coldest night of the year, our power unexpectedly went out (a very rare occurrence).  Our neighbor called immediately to tell me that he already spoke to the power company and to invite us over to their house to enjoy the heat of their wood stove.  (Long story short, our power was back on 45 minutes later!)

Possibly the Best Power Company.  While I'm at it, it's worth noting that our rural power company not only provides power at lower rates than the bigger competition, but they also fix outages more quickly, too.  On the rare occasion that we lose power, our power is back on within a few hours at the absolute longest.  There have been times when others in the community (who get their power from the big name company) have lost power for a day or more, while we got our power back on in an hour or two.  Luckily, these occurrences are rare to begin with.  It's just nice that, when it does happen, it's nothing more than a minor annoyance.

We hope whoever buys our farm will appreciate it and enjoy it as much as we have.  If you think you might be just that person, look below for more information on the property.

You can view more information and pictures about our property here.

You can view a virtual tour here.

There are also many pictures on our farm website and our farm Facebook page.

For more information or to schedule a showing, please contact our broker:

Jo Zarnoch
Keller Williams
(704) 400-1701

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Our Favorite Things...

Our beautiful farm is currently on the market.  We had no plans to move, but my husband's company offered him an amazing opportunity to open an office for them in another city.  Although we are excited to embark on our next adventure, there are also so many things that we will miss about our incredible farm here in Crouse.  So I've compiled a list of our favorite things about our farm, many of which I think will quickly make the favorites list of whomever buys it.

Wonderful, Horse-Friendly Neighbors.  Farm buyers cannot underestimate the importance of having neighbors who enjoy having horses in their neighborhood.  Having neighbors who don't enjoy these majestic creatures as much as we do can really create friction and tension.  We are lucky to live in an incredibly horse-friendly community, and we are even luckier that all of our neighbors love horses, too.  Two of our adjoining neighbors have horses themselves, and the others are constantly telling us how much they enjoy having our horses nearby.  It really makes having a horse farm that much more enjoyable.

Convenient Water at Every Turn.  Anyone who has run a horse facility knows that water is essential, but watering horses at a poorly planned facility can easily become an inconvenient and time-consuming chore.  In the barn, we don't have to drag out heavy hoses every time we want to water the horses.  We have hoses at every, single stall to make watering a breeze.  Outside, we have frost free hydrants at every pasture, meaning fresh water is easily available no matter how cold it gets.  All pastures are also close enough to a power source that trough deicers can be used in the coldest months - so we never have to chop ice.  (Plus, it's NC, so we really can't complain about the cold, anyway!)

Professional Arena with Amazing Footing.  We specially designed our 100' x 220' arena to have safe, durable footing and to drain very well.  It's large enough for a full course or jumps or to put an Olympic-sized dressage arena inside. We have meticulously maintained the footing, and we can only hope we find an arena this nice when we move.  As a bonus, the amazing view from the ring makes our time in the saddle even more enjoyable.

The Barn.  We just love everything about our barn and all of the features that make it beautiful and functional.  It has large, matted stalls with fans and insulated water buckets.  Between the oversized tack locker, big feed room, and loft, there is plenty of storage.  The indoor wash stall with hot and cold water makes bathing possible year-round.  The skylights provide plenty of natural light year round, and the insulation keeps it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  The concrete center aisle is easy to clean and a great place for vets and farriers to work.

Easy Trailer Access.  Nearly any size horse trailer can get in and out with no backing required!  Need I say more?

Our Cozy Home.  We love the high ceilings and tons of storage.  We love the natural light and the recessed lighting in every room.  We love the high quality stainless steel appliances in the kitchen and the beautiful tile countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms.  We love having a huge 3-car garage that is so well insulated it maintains a comfortable temperature year round.  We also love that, if we ever wanted to expand, the infrastructure is already in place.  The land beside the house is leveled, and there is a 4-bedroom septic in place.  The deep, 300' well means no worry about having fresh water all the time.

Our Pastures.  Our terraced pastures are designed to drain well, and they really do.  This makes for safe turnout in almost any weather, and it also helps our grass grow really well.  The Electrobraid fencing is durable, low maintenance, and highly visible.  Solar fence chargers keep the electric bill low.

Location, Location, Location.  On a basic level, NC as a whole is simply amazing - great weather, friendly people, and lots and lots to do.  Crouse, where our farm is located, is also a wonderful town.  It's a small, country town with convenient access to all the amenities of bigger cities like Lincolnton, Charlotte, Gastonia, Hickory, and Asheville.  It's close to shopping, dining, and entertainment.  It's close to hiking, camping, skiing, and lake activities.  It's also close to tons of horse shows, the closest of which is only 10 minutes down the road.  It's only 90 minutes to Tryon, home to the Tryon International Equestrian Center and many other show venues.  Our home itself is perfectly located back from the road at the end of a tree-lined driveway, offering peace, quiet, and privacy.  

Amazing Sunsets.  It seems that every sunset here is more beautiful and colorful than the day before, and we always have a front row seat from our beautifully landscaped yard.  From sunset dinners on the patio to sunset rides with a prime view from the arena, we will definitely miss the beautiful views and breathtaking sunsets this property has.

We have had so many wonderful memories here that my list could go on and on and on!  One additional thing our buyers will be able to add to their list of favorite things is getting all of the big improvements we made to the farm, including the riding arena, pasture fencing, and a new HVAC system that has years left on the warranty, at a deep discount. Our loss will be their gain, and we hope that whoever buys our farm will enjoy it and cherish it as much as we have.

Want to read more?  Check our More of Our Favorite Things!

You can view more information about pictures about our property here.

You can view a virtual tour here.

There are also many pictures on our farm website and our farm Facebook page.

For more information or to schedule a showing, please contact our broker:

Jo Zarnoch
Keller Williams
(704) 400-1701

Monday, January 6, 2014

Baby, It's Cold Outside! Cold Weather Horse Management Tips

Winter is upon us!  As a native New Yorker, I have lived through many long, cold, snowy winters with horses.  While my current home in North Carolina isn't as extreme, I still have to battle cold temperatures and occasional ice and snow.  "Cold" is relative, though.  While 10 degrees might not be cold back home in New York, that is a pretty extreme temperature in my current area.  With the cold weather here for a while, here are some of my cold weather horse-keeping tips.

Take Care of Yourself

You can't help your horses if you are sick or injured, so be sure to take care of yourself.  The very young, very old, and those with certain health issues should avoid being outside in the extreme cold.  If you must venture out into very cold weather, be sure to dress in warm layers and never skip wearing a hat and gloves.  You also still need to stay hydrated, even though you may not feel as thirsty as you do in the warm summer heat.

Hydration is Still Key  

Even though it isn't hot outside, it is still important for horses and riders to stay hydrated.  Horses need access to clean, fresh, unfrozen water.  Well-grounded trough heaters and deicers are a wonderful way to ensure that horses have unfrozen water outside.  Heated or insulated stall water buckets are also a great way to keep water unfrozen.  Make sure that your barn's electrical is up to snuff before plugging in heated water buckets and do not use extension cords with heated buckets.

If heated or insulated buckets aren't an option for you, prepare yourself to chop ice whenever the water freezes.  When the weather stays below freezing for long periods of time, you should plan to chop the ice from the troughs several times a day.  It is important to not only break up the ice, but also remove the ice chunks from the water so that the water does not refreeze as quickly.  It will also keep the water slightly less cold, which may encourage your horse to drink more.  Soaking feed adds a little bit of water intake, and every little bit helps.  Soaking hay is another great way to get water into your horse, but only do this if it is warm enough that the hay won't freeze before the horse finishes eating.

Filling water buckets with hot or warm water will help them stay unfrozen longer.  Many people are under the mistaken impression that hot water always freezes faster than cold water.  That is simply not true. My husband, an engineer and an expert in fluid dynamics, has explained this to many people:  While hot water can freeze faster than cold water under certain circumstances, it does not always freeze faster than cold water.  Hot water in a horse's water bucket or trough will not freeze faster than cold water in the same bucket, so go ahead and fill buckets with warm water if you can.

I like to give my horses electrolytes in advance of any severe weather.  If I know there will be a big cold snap Monday night, for example, I will add electrolytes to the horses' grain starting on Sunday and continue through Monday or Tuesday.  This encourages them to start drinking more ahead of the cold weather and stay hydrated through the cold snap.

If you notice a horse's water intake decreasing, there are some tricks you can use to increase water intake.  A small handful of sweet feed in half a bucket of warm water is irresistible for most horses.  It will get them to drink a few gallons of water to get to the mushy feed on the bottom.

Make Sure You Have Running Water

Frost-free hydrants are a great way to ensure you have water available during cold weather, but you must remove the hose from the hydrant to prevent it from freezing.  Make sure to remove the hose after using it so that the hydrant truly stays unfrozen.  Turn off your barn's water and drain the water out of the pipes to prevent freezing and burst pipes.  Insulate the pipe around the main water valve with insulation or blankets and never force a frozen valve to turn.  If you are unable to turn off the water and drain the pipes, then leave the faucet running at a steady trickle to prevent the pipes from freezing.  

If You Blanket, Hit the Sweet Spot

Unblanketed horses should be in good weight, hairy, and pastured with access to shelter.  Being turned out allows them to move around to stay warm, a luxury they won't have in a stall.  All pastured horses, blanketed or not, should also have access to a three-sided shed that will provide them shelter from wind, rain, and snow.  They should also have access to plenty of hay.  Eating lots of long-stem fiber from hay keeps horses warmer, promotes their overall digestive health, and helps them maintain a healthy weight through the winter.  If you cannot feed free choice hay, then be sure to feed hay several times throughout the day.

Blanketed horses also need access to shelter from the elements and plenty of hay in the cold.  In addition, you need to make sure that your horses is blanketed appropriately enough for the weather.  You don't want too light a blanket.  A blanket that is too light will flatten down the horse's hair, stripping the horse of its natural insulation, but will not be heavy enough to keep the horse warm.  You also don't want a blanket that is too heavy.  The last thing you want is a horse sweating under a blanket during a cold snap.  That will ultimately chill the horse more.  So, make sure to monitor your horse's comfort under those blankets to be sure you've hit the "sweet spot" that keeps them warm, but does not cause them to sweat.

Even if it is warmer in your barn than it is outside, remember that horses in stalls cannot move around as much to stay warm as horses outside can.  Therefore, if your horses are stalled, you must ensure that they are blanketed appropriately if necessary and have plenty of hay during very cold weather.

Shivering is NOT Okay

I have heard too many people say that it's okay if a horse is shivering because that's just how they stay warm in the cold.  Yes, shivering is the horse's body's way of warming it up when it is too cold, but make no mistake about it - Horses shiver for the exact same reason humans do: Their bodies are otherwise failing to keep them warm.  Shivering is a sign that your horse is too cold and is unable to keep himself warm.  Shivering is as uncomfortable for horses as it is for humans, and a shivering horse should be brought in out of wind, rain, and snow and covered in layers of warm coolers or blankets to warm up.  Shivering for long periods of time will also make your horse muscle sore.

Don't Add Unnecessary Stress During Weather Changes

Horses can be creatures of habit and changes in their routine can be stressful.  While a change in weather is stressful, drastically changing your horse's routine during a weather change only adds to the stress.  Soaking your horse's regular feed with a handful of bran and a serving of electrolytes is a great way to help keep horses hydrated and encourage them to drink.  Changing out your horse's regular grain ration for a pound of bran mixed in with a lot of sweet feed during a weather change, however, is likely to cause more harm than good.  Additionally, stalling a horse that is used to 24/7 turnout in a pasture with buddies and a shed can cause more problems than it prevents.

If a change in routine is inevitable, and sometimes it is, try to plan ahead.  If you know your horse that is used to being out 24/7 will need to stay in overnight due to severe weather, start bringing the horse in for short periods of time a few days in advance, increasing the length of stall time every day.  If you are worried that roads may be impassable for a while, make sure you are stocked up on hay and grain so you won't have to make sudden changes to your horses' feed.

Keep Them Moving

Even if it is too cold or too frozen to ride, try to keep your horses moving.  Turnout, even if it is limited, is essential.  If your horses are going to be confined to stalls for long periods of time due to dangerous footing in turnouts, try to hand walk them for at least 10 minutes a few times a day, even if your only option is to walk them up and down the barn aisle.  This will help keep their gut moving, prevent boredom, and prevent stocking up.

Don't Forget Your Barn Cats and Dogs

Remember to make plans for your barn's small animals during cold weather.  They, too, need to stay warm and have fresh, unfrozen water.  During extreme temps, consider confining barn cats to a well-insulated tack room or garage so they can stay warm.  If confining them is not an option, provide them with warm blankets and beds in their indoor sleeping areas so they can snuggle up to stay warm.  Small animals are safest indoors during extreme temperatures, so please bring your pets inside if you able to!  If you aren't, please make sure they have appropriate shelter, unfrozen water, and plenty of beds and blankets to keep them warm.

Common Sense is Key!

As with everything, using common sense is key to managing animals in cold weather.  Keep a close eye on your horses and other outdoor pets and monitor their feed and water intake.  Call your vet with any questions or if have any concerns about your horse's health.  As much as possible, plan ahead for severe weather and don't overexert yourself in extreme temperatures.

Stay warm!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bridging Goals and Success

The bridge between goal setting and successful completion of your goal is built of discipline and effort. This is exactly how good riders get good -- They set goals, they work with the right professionals to devise a plan to achieve those goals, and then they put in the hard work necessary to get there.

Eliminate Excuses

Even riders with exceptional natural talent do not become great without hard work and discipline.  They didn't skip working in 2-point or perfecting their flatwork because it was boring.  They didn't skip working without stirrups because it was difficult.  They put in the hard work necessary to get good.

Yes, riding should be fun.  If you don't enjoy it, it simply isn't worth the time, effort, and expense.  That said, to become a safe, effective rider, you have to spend a little time working on exercises that improve your strength, balance, and seat, whether or not you enjoy those particular exercises.  The great Muhammad Ali once said, "I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit.  Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'"  Now, I don't expect your experience to be quite so dramatic, and I certainly don't want you to hate every minute of riding.  However, to become really good at something (like riding), you have to put in some hard work that you might not enjoy - like two point and working without stirrups.  It doesn't matter if you hate it.  It doesn't matter if you don't want to do it.  If you want to get good, these are the things you need to do to get stronger, fitter, and better.

The 5-Minute Rule

I'm not asking you to spend an entire ride in two point or posting without stirrups or working on whatever exercise you really need to work on.  I'm asking you to dedicate 5 minutes every time you ride to the exercise you most need to work on.  You need to spend that whole 5 minutes concentrating on and giving your best effort to it, but then you can get on with your ride.  These 5-minute sessions will really add up if you get in the habit of doing it every time you ride.  If you ride 4 times per week and do 5 minutes of two-point every time you ride, that is 20 minutes of two-point per week.  You will start to see results quickly this way.

The catch?  You can't phone it in.  You have to actually spend 5 minutes working on the exercise.  If you trainer says you should be doing 5 minutes of no stirrup work, then you need to be working at your level without stirrups for 5 entire minutes.  If you are a more advanced rider, that means those 5 minutes of no stirrup work should be at the trot (posting and sitting) and at the canter.  It doesn't mean you cool down by walking without stirrups for 5 minutes.  If your trainer says you should be working in two-point, that means you need to spend 5 minutes actually in two-point.  Spending 5 minutes trotting around the ring and doing two-point only over a pole or two doesn't count.  You need to spend 5 minutes in two-point. It is okay if you cannot hold two-point for 5 straight minutes at first. You can break it up into shorter sets throughout your lesson, but it has to add up to 5 minutes of two-point.

"But I hate it," you whine.  Do it anyway.  It's worth it.  This is where discipline comes into play.  Do the things you have to do not because you want to, but because you should do them.  I promise, you will hate it a lot less two weeks from now when your strength, stamina, and balance are rapidly improving.  You will hate it even less as it gets easier and easier for you to do.  And, it's only 5 minutes of your ride.  Just 5 minutes that will payoff tenfold.

I'm telling you that 5 minutes a ride can significantly improve your strength, stamina, and balance.  You'd be crazy not to just try it for a few weeks!  Start today and see results even sooner.

Do Your Homework

I used two-point and no stirrups work just as examples of the types of exercises your trainer may be suggesting you do to improve your riding.  Your trainer may suggest any number of exercises on and off the horse to improve your riding.  You may find some of these exercises boring or difficult, but trust that they will help you get to a higher level of riding.

If your trainer gives you homework, do it!  It can only help you get better.  We don't ask you to do these things for our own amusement.  The exercises good trainers assign you can and will significantly improve your riding ability.  If you just put in the time necessary (usually 5 minutes a ride) to practice correctly, you will start to see results quickly.  Once you are feeling the results of your hard work, you will be even more motivated to do your riding homework and put in the time necessary to improve.  Even if you don't have lofty competition goals, you should still strive to be the safest, most effective rider you can be.  Put in the time and you will reap the rewards.

Remember, you can't phone it in and expect good results.  You can't half-do something and expect good results.  The only way you will see good results is by putting in your time every ride and giving your best every ride.  Make every ride count.  

Oh, and PS - I assure you I (and other trainers) can easily tell whether you have or haven't done your homework.  The results (or lack thereof) will be obvious to us.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

I've said it before and I'll say it again - practice does not make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.  This just means that practicing something incorrectly doesn't help you improve.  This is one of the reasons why I don't advocate most riders spending long periods of time on one type of exercise like two-point.  The longer you spend on an exercise that tires you or tries your patience, the more likely you are to get lazy about it and fall into bad habits to compensate for being tired.  If you are practicing bad habits, then it will take even more work to break those bad habits.

So, while you spend your five minutes on your homework assignment (or on each assignment), concentrate.  Be aware of your position, your balance.  If you have an issue with keeping your heels down, be aware of what your feet and legs are doing throughout the exercise.  Don't just go through the motions of the exercise.  Pay attention and do the exercise correctly.  If you have an issue leaning to the right when you canter to the right, spend your 5 minutes of no stirrup work being aware of your balance and trying to keep your weight properly distributed as you trot and canter both directions.  Spend your 5 minutes really working on the issue you are trying to improve and you will see results even faster.  As you see results, you will be even more motivated to stick with it.

Good Habits Make Great Riders

Experts say it takes an about 21 days to establish a new habit.  I say give yourself 30 days to make sure the habit sticks.  So, if you find it difficult or boring to do your homework (or get in your daily cardio exercise or get up earlier than usual to workout before work or school), just make yourself do it for a month.  If you can do it for a month, it will soon just be a normal, tolerable part of your routine.  If it is difficult in the beginning, keep reminding yourself that it will get easier.  I promise you that it will, as long as you stick with it.

I'm sure every rider has heard all about their "bad" riding habits.  Maybe you don't keep your fingers closed on the reins or duck to one side over the jumps.  Just as "bad" habits can limit your riding, good habits can only help your riding improve.  Start establishing healthy, good habits and watch your riding, your fitness, and your overall attitude improve dramatically.

The Best Riders Enjoy Riding

I can hear some of your groaning as I write this blog.  Getting good at something requires a lot of hard work and that isn't usually easy.  However, I assure you that I still want you to enjoy riding and life, have fun, and be happy.  The best riders really love riding.  We are most dedicated to the things we are passionate about in life.  While you may go through some metaphorical growing pains as you start to establish good riding habits, you will wind up stronger and happier because of it. You will be able to enjoy riding even more because it will become easier.  You will feel stronger, more balanced, and be able to enjoy your horse even more.

So, add a little discipline to your life.  People cringe when they hear that word because it has a negative, unhappy connotation.  Change the way you think about discipline.  Think of it as something that will help you achieve your goals and help you be happier, healthier, and better.  Discipline is your friend.  If you are disciplined where it counts, your life can only improve.  You can only become happier, healthier, and stronger.

And with that, I have to get out of this chair and go ride!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Meet Butters the New Barn Cat

When my brother and sister-in-law rescued this adorable cat named Butters, they were planning to keep him for life.  Unfortunately, when they realized he was not cut out to be an indoor cat (the only safe option where they live), they were heartbroken that they had to find him a more suitable situation.  My husband and I offered to let him come live on our farm, and it wound up being a win-win situation for everyone.

A couple of weeks ago, we met up to pick up Butters and move him to his new home on our farm.  At first, Butters wasn't quite sure what was in store for him, but he settled quickly into his carrier for the drive to his new home.

To help him settle in safely, we kept Butters secured in our feed room for his first couple of days on the farm.  We wanted him to get used to the smells and sounds and learn that the barn was his safe place.

Even though he had a comfy bed and lots of toys, he chose to hide in the corner for the first day.

After a day or so, he came out of hiding to curl up in his soft bed.

After a couple of days, we started to let him out for short periods of time to explore the barn and the rest of the farm.  At first he didn't want to go very far.  He just stood in the feed room and watched everything from the doorway.

Eventually, he decided to brave the big, scary barn aisle...

            And even explored the great outdoors.

He wasn't at a loss for places to hide, though.

As the days went on, he got braver and braver, exploring the entire farm.  


As he got even braver, he decided that the farm equipment makes a great playground.  

Now that he is all settled in, I wonder if he is perhaps a little too brave sometimes...

Yes, this is Butters walking along the rafters...  
Butters was brave enough to walk right up to Beau to sniff noses.
He is a little too brave sometimes

Butters with our OBC ("Original Barn Cat") Newton.

He has made a lot of friends and overall seems very happy here... almost as happy as we are to have him here!  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Raise the Bar: Expectations and Goal Setting

My last couple of blog entries focused on having a positive attitude and overcoming fear.  In those blogs, I touched briefly on the power of positive thinking and goal setting.  In this blog entry, we will explore establishing high expectations for ourselves and setting goals in more detail.

Expect More of Yourself

Sam Walton said, "High expectations are the key to everything," and I wholeheartedly agree!  If you have low expectations of yourself, then you lower the bar for yourself.  When you lower the bar for yourself, you put a ceiling on your achievements.  You cap them, and you put a limit on your success.  We can only rise to the level of our expectations, so by having low expectations of yourself, you choose to limit your success.  If you expect little of yourself, you give yourself permission to be less than you capable of being.  You give yourself permission to be less than your ideal self.

I expect a lot of my students - I expect first and foremost that they try their hardest.  I expect that they wear proper attire.  I also expect that their horses are properly and thoroughly groomed before and after lessons.  I expect that their tack is clean and well-kept.  I expect students riding my lesson horses to clean their tack after their lessons, ice the school horses' legs after hard work, and do any other necessary after care after their rides.  I expect them to clean up after themselves and to double-check that their horse has hay and water when they put them back in their stalls.  I expect that they push themselves in their lessons and give their best efforts.  I expect that they have a positive attitude and are respectful of me, others, and the animals on my farm.  I'm confident that not every student would do these things if I didn't have clear, consistent expectations.  While all of these are basics in my book, I have been to some barns where the expectations aren't as high.  The vast majority students and boarders at those barns don't take it upon themselves to do more than is expected of them, and the care of the horses, tack, and barn suffer as a result.  At my barn, however, every, single one of my students quickly rises to my expectations and becomes a better rider and better horseperson because of that.  The only issue is that I can't be in their ears every day, setting all of their personal expectations for them.

So, raise your own bar!  Establish higher expectations for yourself.  Know that you are capable of being great, of being consistent, and of working hard, and then expect those things of yourself.  Setting higher expectations isn't about being a perfectionist or being flawless.  It isn't about never making mistakes, and it isn't about chasing some impossible, inhuman standard of perfection.  It isn't about being a miserable workaholic.  It is, however, about thinking highly enough of yourself to know that you are capable and deserving of great things and that you are willing to put in the work to live up to those expectations.

As you set up higher expectations of yourself and begin to hold yourself accountable to those expectations, remember to squash your negative inner dialogue and replace it with a more positive inner dialogue, as I discussed in the previous blog entries, "Attitude is Everything" and "Unleash your Courage and Conquer Fear."  Remind yourself frequently that you are great, consistent, and hard-working, and make that your reality.

Goal Setting

With your new, higher expectations of yourself, it is time to start setting some goals for yourself.  When it comes to riding, your goals should be realistic, but should also push you.  They should push you to expand your comfort zone and to work a little harder.  Make your goals ones that you will feel extremely proud to accomplish.  When you write your goals, write them in the present tense, as if you have already accomplished them.

Your goals should be specific, concrete, and measurable, and they must have a "due date."  Why?  So you can hold yourself accountable!  Your goals should be worded so that an objective observer would be able to determine whether or not you have reached them.  While having a goal like "I want to feel more comfortable cantering" is a worthwhile aspiration, it isn't something measurable and quantifiable.  An objective observer would not be able to tell if you achieved your goal.  You should aspire to be more comfortable cantering, but you need to decide upon a concrete, specific goal that will aid in getting you more comfortable at the canter.  For example, "Six months from now, I would like to be able to canter without stirrups both directions in balance and with a correct position."  Some additional examples:

  • Instead of "I want to be more confident jumping," think, "I am able to jump a 3'6" course with correct distances and a solid, correction position.  Due Date: October 11, 2013."  
  • Instead of "I want to get over my show nerves," think, "I have six shows under my belt and am showing in the 2'6" hunter classes.  Due Date: April 11. 2013."
  • Instead of "I want to improve my horse's flat work," think, "I have six dressage shows under my belt and achieved a high score of 65.00%.  Due Date:  April 11, 2013." 
  • Instead of "I want to get fitter," think, "I am 20 pounds lighter and able to run a 5k without a walk break.  Due Date: February 1, 2013."  
Obviously, these are just general examples, and you need to tailor your goals to your specific situation.  The goals above may be appropriate or inappropriate for you based on your current fitness level, riding level, and horse (or school horses available to you).  As I discussed in my last blog entry - "Unleash your Courage and Conquer Fear." - you need to take your current abilities, limitations, and fitness level all into account as you make your goals.  

Now that you are ready and pumped to set some goals, let's get started.  I think the average rider should have at least 4 riding-related goals:  A short-term riding goal, a long-term riding goal, a short-term fitness goal, and a long-term fitness goal.

Why short and long-term goals?  Simple!  First, your biggest, most challenging goals will take time.  These long-term goals are usually your most exciting and fulfilling goals, but they take a lot of time to achieve.  Your long-term riding and fitness goals are those that take six to twelve months to reach.

Your short-term goals fulfill a couple of purposes: First, they are "baby steps" to get you to your long-term goal.  They can function as "mini" goals or steps that keep you on track for your long-term goal.  Second, they help motivate you and build your confidence.  Every time you accomplish a goal, you feel a sense of achievement, which motivates you to set even bigger and better goals.  Accomplishing your short-term goals, which I recommend are ones that take two to six weeks to achieve, will keep you motivated and enthusiastic about your long-term goals, which may seem unreachable at first.

Why fitness goals in addition to riding goals?  Because, last time I checked, riding is a sport.  You and your horse both need to be fit.  Your horse's fitness is taken care of by your riding regimen and turnout time.  You, however, need to seek fitness outside of just riding.  Set a short-term goal to get you motivated and pumped about your fitness and then set a long-term goal to keep you going.  Remember to keep your fitness goals specific and measurable, whether it be losing a certain amount of weight, losing a certain number of inches from your measurements, or reaching a certain workout milestone (e.g., running for 30 minutes without a walk break, running a 5k under a certain time, swimming a mile without a break, walking for 45 minutes 6 days per week every week).  If you have been out of the workout loop for a while, your first short-term goal could just be establishing a new habit - e.g, doing 45 minutes of cardio 5 days a week for four weeks straight.  Whatever your level of fitness, set goals that are realistic, but will push you to work harder and get even more fit.  You can do it, and your riding can only improve as a result.

Ready? Set Goals!

Now you are ready to start writing your own goals.  I literally mean that you should write down your goals in your journal or on a piece of paper, somewhere you can see them frequently.  Remember to make them concrete and measurable, to write them in the present tense, and to give each goal a due date.  Your short-term goals should take two to six weeks to achieve, and your long-term goals should take 6 months to a year to achieve.  You should also re-write your goals every couple of weeks, not just to keep you on track and keep you motivated, but also because your goals may change as you continue on your journey.  Also, every time you achieve a short-term goal, you should immediately write out a new one to keep you on track to your long-term goal.

So, spend a few minutes thoughtfully crafting and writing out your goals, and then start on your path to achieving them.  Stay tuned for future blog entries on developing the habits and discipline necessary to follow-through and achieve all of your goals!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Unleash Your Courage and Conquer Fear

There inevitably comes a time in every rider's life where he or she has to deal with fear.  Whether it is pre-performance jitters at shows or full-blown terror after a bad fall, fear can prevent us from doing our best and steal the fun right out of riding.  Us mere riding "mortals" are not alone, though. I have learned from some of the top riders in the nation and the world, and you may be surprised to know that even some of the best riders admit that they have experienced fear.  So, what separates the seemingly fearless, brave riders from those who struggle with confidence issues?  As I'll discuss in more detail below, the answer is action.

What courage isn't.

Despite what you may think, courage is not the absence of fear.  To think that courageous people never feel fear is a fallacy we have created to justify our own fears and insecurities.  We tell ourselves that brave people are just wired differently or are so skilled at something that they never even think to be fearful.  This way of thinking only serves to keep us terrified and prevents us from growing and progressing.  As I discussed in my last blog - "Attitude is Everything" - a negative inner dialogue can have an enormous impact on our confidence and consequently our performance.  Telling yourself you are incapable of being brave is a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

What courage is.

So, if courage isn't the absence of fear, what the heck is it?  I define courage as measured action in the face of fear.  When faced with fear, a brave or courageous person plans and takes action, while the "scared" person simply remains paralyzed by their fear.  Notice that I didn't define courage as just taking any action in the face of fear.  You can do a lot of reckless things in the name of acting "brave" that just ultimately serve to increase your fear, not assuage it.  Bravery isn't insanity.  Bravery also isn't over-confidence.  It is measured action in the face of fear. 

By following these three steps, you can be well on your way to discovering your hidden courage and conquering your fear. 

Step # 1 - Honestly Assess Yourself and the Situation. 

While riders at every level experience fear, you cannot alter reality simply by thinking positively and acting bravely.  You must assess your current ability (not your past or future ability), your horse's temperament, and your horse's current level of training honestly in order to hatch a plan to kick your nerves and move forward positively.  (Note, if you don't have a horse of your own, then you should evaluate the suitability of the lesson horses at your disposal.)  As you delve into this assessment, take note of the things you can change and the things that are truly outside of your control.  Accept the things that are out of your control, but accept responsibility for the things you can change.

You need to ask yourself some tough questions when you are doing this assessment.  Why? Because some fear is justified and a sign that a big change is necessary.  Other times, it is just a blip on the radar of our riding careers that makes us sit back, take stock, recommit, and push forward.  To determine the difference, you need to ask yourself three questions: 
  • "If I could overcome my fear, would I still want to do this?"  You first must decide if you truly want to pursue the thing that brings you such anxiety.  For some people, the fear might be just riding in general.  For others, it might be showing, jumping, trail riding, or cantering.  You have to decide if it is worth it to you to put forth the effort to overcome your fear.  There is no wrong answer.  It is just as admirable to decide a change of course is necessary as it is to commit to overcome your fear.  It may be that  you really don't want to jump and just want to focus on dressage.  Or, maybe you really do want to jump and just need to hatch a plan to improve your skill and confidence.  Only you can make this decision. 
  • "Is my horse [or are the horses available to me] suitable for me and my goals?"  This is one of the toughest questions to answer.  Not every horse is suitable for every person, and not every horse is suitable for every job.  If you are a casual rider who just wants to ride a few days a week, do some trail rides, and pop over some cross-rails occasionally, then a hot, spooky horse that requires an intense program is a bad match for you.  If you want to compete seriously over fences, then a horse that hates jumping or isn't sound enough to stay in intense work isn't for you.  If you tend to be a timid rider, a strong or hot horse or a horse with behavioral vices isn't for you.  There is no shame in admitting that your horse isn't a good match for you.  While this might be a tough decision to make, as we are all attached to our animals, look at it this way: If you aren't the right match for your horse, then you and your horse will both be better off with new partners.  If you don't have your own horse, but rely on school horses for lessons, then you need to evaluate if the lesson horses at your disposal are appropriate.  They should be well-trained and patient, with no behavioral vices.  If the horses are sour, lame, hot, or otherwise unsuitable for their jobs, it is time to find a new riding school with more appropriate horses for you. 
  • "Do I have the appropriate support system in place?"  As I often tell my students, even the Olympic team has a coach!  Some people feel that, once they have reached a certain level, they no long require regular instruction.  While I think everyone can benefit from regular lessons from a good instructor, I realize that isn't realistic for everyone.  If you have reached a place where you are dealing with fear, though, it is time to make sure you have the right coach on your side who can help you overcome your nerves.  Just as every horse isn't suitable for every rider, neither is every trainer a good match for every rider.  You should ask yourself if your trainer's style and ability is contributing to your fear, or if your trainer is a good person to help you overcome your nerves.  Hopefully, your trainer is not a contributing factor and he or she is a good person to help you face your fear.  However, if you feel that your trainer is contributing to your fears by over facing you or matching you with inappropriate horses, it is time to have an open dialogue with him or her about your fears and the best way to combat them.  If that isn't enough, it may be time to move on to someone whose style meshes better with you and who is able to help you move past your fears.  You need someone who is both patient and able to push you to slowly expand your comfort zone.  You also need someone experienced that you can trust to help you make safe and appropriate progress.   
These are difficult questions to answer.  You may not have the right answers to all of them right away.  Do yourself a favor, though, and take the time to think about them carefully and thoroughly, taking a few days if necessary.  Once you are satisfied that you have answered those questions thoroughly and honestly, move on to step #2. 

Step # 2 - Set a Goal and  Create a Plan 

The next step on your journey to conquering fear is to decide on a goal and hatch a plan to overcome your fear.  There is absolutely no shame in admitting you are fearful!  Talk to you instructor openly and honestly about your fears and concerns and decide on short- and long-term goals that will help get you back on track.

Depending on your answers to the above questions, your plan might be to spend a few weeks going back to basics and working on your seat.  If your soul-searching has revealed that your horse is really not appropriate for you, your plan might be selling your horse and looking for a more suitable match.  If you were riding a less-than-stellar schoolie, it might be riding a different school horse for a while or finding a barn with more appropriate horses for you.  If you had a bad fall and jumping gives you near-panic attacks now, it might be time to go back and work hard on strengthening your position on the flat first, then over ground poles, then over small jumps, slowly expanding your comfort zone and working back up to your prior level of jumping.  There is no "one size fits all" plan.  This is why the self-assessment is so important.  You cannot properly plan to overcome your nerves if you don't understand and accept the source of them and don't have the proper support system in place to help you. 

Step # 3 - Mind Your P's

The key to success in anything, including overcoming fear, lies in the 5 P's.  Okay, I know that seems like a lot of P's, but they are extremely important and we've already touched on one of them. 

Plan - You've made a plan, now it is time to commit to it.  A plan is not action without follow-through.  So, once you have a plan you're comfortable with, you must commit to it.  Committing to your plan means that you will put in the hard work necessary to succeed and that you and your support system will commit to evaluating your progress along the way.  As you evaluate your progress along the way, you may find that your plan needs occasional tweaking. 

Patience & Pushing Yourself - It is imperative that you balance these next two P's - being patient with yourself and pushing yourself to expand your comfort zone.  Both are absolutely necessary, but if you tip the scales in one direction or the other, you will set yourself up to fail. 

First and foremost, you must be patient with yourself and not get frustrated with the amount of time it takes to overcome your fears.  It is normal to be excited and enthusiastic after setting a goal and making a plan to achieve that goal.  I want you to be excited and enthusiastic, but I also want you to temper that with a little bit of patience.  You need to give yourself the time it takes to get over your fears and develop your confidence.  You will have good days and bad days at first.  Don't let the bad days get you down - they are all part of the process of growing and improving.  Be patient with yourself and it will pay off. 

At the same time, you must also push yourself.  Don't use patience with yourself as an excuse to stay only within your comfort zone.  Eventually, you need to push yourself to expand your comfort zone.  You cannot grow and achieve without pushing yourself.  This is an area where it pays huge dividends to have the right support system in place.  You need an experienced trainer who is capable of assessing your abilities and understanding your fears.  He or she must also know how and when to push you forward on your journey.  While I advise going slowly to overcome fear so you don't wind up increasing fear, you do have to push yourself.

So, don't be so patient that you stall your progress and never expand your comfort zone.  At the same time, don't push yourself too hard too fast so that you run the risk of increasing your fear. 

Positive Thinking & Visualization - As I discussed in my last blog - "Attitude is Everything" - you cannot accomplish your goals without thinking positively and having a good attitude.  Apply the tips from that blog to your commitment to your fear-annihilation plan.  Change your internal dialogue from self-defeating thoughts like, "I'm so terrified I'll mess up today!" to self-motivating thoughts that focus on the things you already do well and confidently like, "I'm so excited to trot today!"  If you're really grasping at straws, then even think, "I'm really excited to spend time at the barn and get to groom my favorite horse."  Whatever you do, don't show up for your ride or your lesson focusing on the things that scare you.  That will just make you tense and nervous even when you are operating entirely within your comfort zone.  Fear is powerful.  At first, you will have to actively and consciously make yourself change your thoughts from ones of fear and nervousness to positive, confident ones.  If you commit to doing so, however, it will slowly become second nature. 

I also want you to take positive thinking one step further and start to use the power of positive visualization.  Oh great, you're probably thinking, a bunch of self-help crap! Wrong.  It's a bunch of self-help crap that really works.  Top athletes and sports psychologists have long known the power of positive visualization and have used it to calm nerves and improve performance for decades with incredible results.  Still not sold on it?  Think about it this way:  Every time you feel fear, you are playing a negative visualization in your head.  You are seeing everything that either went wrong in the past or could go wrong in the future.  If that didn't have power - negative power - you wouldn't be so fearful.  You can flip the script on yourself and start replacing your negative visualizations with positive ones. 

Every day, spend just 5 or 10 minutes alone, eyes closed, quietly visualizing yourself riding confidently.  You can even do this lying in bed at night before you go to sleep.  Visualize every step and feel calm and confident while you are visualizing.  Start with things you do confidently at first to get a feel for it, but you really need to work up to visualizing yourself doing whatever it is that scares you (cantering, jumping, showing) confidently and calmly.  Feel how the horse moves, feel your strong position, feel calm, and feel confident.  Feel like you are having fun - that is, of course, the goal - to enjoy riding!  Banish negative thoughts and feelings from your mind and just feel yourself riding confidently and calmly.  Visualize everything being done perfectly - your perfect horse, your perfect position, your happy, calm, confident attitude.  Repeat this process before you ride to replace the negative thoughts and fear in your head with calm, confident thoughts.  If you spend time doing this every day and repeat it every time a negative, fearful thought creeps into your mind, it will pay off tremendously. 

Perseverance - Finally, commit to persevere.  As I said before, you will have good days and bad days on your journey.  If you commit and persevere, you will start to have more good days than bad days, until every day is a good one. 

So, if you're experiencing fear or attempting to overcome any obstacle in life, take action!  Honestly assess yourself and the situation, set a goal, and hatch a plan.  After that, commit to the 5 P's: following your plan, being patient with yourself, pushing yourself to expand your comfort zone, positive thinking and visualization, and perseverance.  With a little belief in yourself and a commitment to put in the hard work, you can do anything you set your mind to!