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! 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Attitude is Everything

I am a big believer that a positive outlook and positive thinking can transform your riding and your life. If your first reaction to that sentence was to roll your eyes and considering closing the browser, think about it this way:  Most of us have experienced a bad mood or a bad attitude causing us to have a bad ride or a bad day.  We have witnessed other people with bad attitudes miss out on fun and rewarding experiences because they were wrapped up in negativity and completely closed off to a positive experience.  If we accept that a bad attitude can ruin a ride, an experience, or even an entire day, we must also accept that a positive attitude can enhance our riding, experiences, and days.

Don't worry, I'm not going to try to convince you that if you just imagine yourself as a winning grand prix jumper or gold-medal winning Olympian that it will magically happen.  I will, however, say that the path to achieving any goal, whether you want to be a grand prix rider or just want to master sitting the canter, starts with a positive attitude and a belief that you can achieve whatever you put your mind and effort to.  If you keep the following in mind and practice keeping a positive mindset,  your riding and overall attitude can only improve.

You - and only you - are in control of your attitude.  Yes, really.  Your attitude is completely within your control and is not the product of external factors or stress beyond your control.  Once you accept that your attitude is your responsibility, you will understand that you have tremendous power.  You have the power to transform a bad day into a better day and a potentially bad ride into a great one. As I'll discuss later, you will never have everything in life go exactly as you plan.  No one can promise you that.  However, with a positive attitude, you will be able to learn and grow, even from disappointments, achieve your goals faster, and most importantly have fun doing it.

A negative outlook stalls progress.  As I already mentioned, a negative attitude can ruin what can be an otherwise great ride or great experience.  Negativity destroys confidence, stalls progress, and most importantly, makes you miserable!  

Confident people believe in themselves and believe they can achieve their goals.  They believe that they are capable of learning and growing.  None of those qualities is compatible with negativity.  If you have a constant negative inner dialogue, you will always be telling yourself things like, "I have terrible balance," "I'm not strong enough to keep my legs still at the canter," "I'm not brave enough to learn to jump," "I will never ride as well as people who have more money to buy nice horses and take tons of lessons."  How can you be confident in the wonderful, talented person you are when you are constantly telling yourself how awful and disadvantaged you are?   You can't.  

If you are constantly telling yourself how incapable and terrible you are, even if it is only in one aspect of your life, you will never be able to progress in that area.  So if you keep telling yourself that you can't do something - whether it is learning to post the trot or mastering a 5' oxer - you won't ever master it.  Success starts with confidence and confidence starts with believing in yourself.  Think about it, if you really believe you are incapable of doing something, why would you even try?  Start telling yourself that you are capable of achieving your goal and you will be even more motivated to put in the hard work necessary to achieve your goals.  

Perhaps most importantly, a negative outlook simply makes you miserable!  How can you be happy if you are always focused on your negative qualities and on what you think you can't do?  Start focusing on your good qualities and on the things you do really well.  Then, start focusing on your goals and how you will feel when you can add those goals to the list of things you do really well!  

Confidence and success start with you.  Start telling yourself that you are wonderful and capable.  Change your inner dialogue from negative statements to positive ones like, "I feel stronger than I did a week ago.  I'm going to keep improving my balance and my leg strength by doing 5 minutes of two-point every time I ride."  "I felt so confident at the canter today!  If I keep this up, I'll be jumping confidently soon!"

Set clear goals and believe that you can achieve them.  If you take one thing away from this blog, let it be this:  Whether you believe you can or believe you can't, you're right.  

Not only is important to set clear, tangible, attainable goals that cause you to push yourself, it is also important to believe you can achieve them.  If you don't believe you can really achieve a certain goal, you probably won't!  You won't put the work in to achieve it because you will think it is an exercise in futility.  Instead of learning from every challenge and setback along the way, you will frustrate yourself by obsessing over the mistakes you made and over your lack of perfection.  You will make yourself miserable and simply won't work that hard to achieve those goals.  

On the other hand, if you believe you can and will achieve your goal, you will be more motivated to work toward that goal.  If you keep reminding yourself how amazing it will feel when you do achieve your goal, you will understand that every challenge along the way brings a lesson to learn and brings you one step closer to achieving your goal.  If you can visualize yourself actually doing your goal and feeling confident and happy doing it, your motivation and enthusiasm for working toward that goal can only increase.  

Welcome challenges.  Focus on the positive, even when things don't go your way.  Everything won't go your way all the time, but that doesn't mean you have to spiral down into negativity when things don't go exactly as you hope.  Learning to manage challenges and disappointment is one of the most important skills necessary for success.  So, instead of dreading a challenge, look at it as a great opportunity to learn and progress.  Every challenge, every mistake, every setback, every failure is a lesson in disguise.  

So, try to focus on the positive, even when things don't go your way.  You may often be presented with circumstances beyond your control.  While you cannot control those things, you can control your reaction to them and your attitude about them.  Here are a few examples:  

  • You show up to the barn for your weekly lesson and see you were assigned to your least favorite school horse.  You could be disappointed and focus on all the things you hate about that horse.  ("He's so lazy, my legs will be burning!" or "Ugh, her canter is SO uncomfortable!")  That sets you up to have a miserable lesson.  Even if the horse isn't your favorite, take some time to think about all the positive things you can get out of riding that horse that day -- "He will really give me a great leg workout and make my legs that much stronger!"  "I will get the opportunity to work on relaxing and sitting the canter well on a more challenging horse." 
  • Your horse requires time off for an injury.  Despite the absolute best of care, horses will sometimes injure themselves and require time off.  As disappointing as this is - and believe me, I understand how disappointing this can be - you can still focus on the positive.  You might feel like you are grasping at straws on this one, but try it.  Maybe you have to skip a few weekend shows you were looking forward to.  Instead of focusing on how terrible that is, take the opportunity to spend that weekend doing something else you really like.  "If I can't go to the show, I'm going to spend the day at the beach with my family!"  If your horse is off for a longer period of time, use the opportunity to ride your barn's school horses in lessons and get some experience on different horses.  Look at hand walking as an opportunity to get some additional exercise for yourself and bond with your horse.  Take the hour you'd spend riding and take a yoga class or go to the gym.  I'm sure some of you think this is a big stretch or leap in logic, but I look at it this way:  Your horse is injured whether you have a bad attitude or a good one.  You can either make the best of it or complain about it and be miserable.  The choice is yours.  
  • Bad weather prevents you from riding.  We can't control the weather, so why not look at bad weather as an opportunity?  If you can still make it to the barn, see it as an opportunity to thoroughly groom and enjoy your horse on the ground.  Clean your brushes and tack and catch up on little chores you frequently don't have time to do.  If you can't get to the barn, do something else that you really enjoy, but don't usually have time to do.  Read a book, watch your favorite movie, take a class at the gym, or cook a spectacular dinner.  
  • Your horse misbehaves and your ride doesn't go as planned.  Even the best rider on the best horse has a bad ride every once in a while.  Things just don't always go according to plan.  If your horse is particularly hot or unfocused, try not to get frustrated.  Look at it as a (hopefully infrequent) opportunity to learn to work through an issue successfully.  I tell my students all the time, "ride the horse you have today, not the horse you usually have."  No one enjoys it when their horse misbehaves, but you can still use it as a learning experience and let those experiences help you grow into a better, more confident rider.    

A Healthy Dose of Realism

I'm not writing this blog to convince you that you can defy the laws of physics, turn an unsuitable or dangerous horse into a suitable, safe one, or skip the hard work necessary to achieve your goals.  I'm just saying that you will be much more motivated and much more likely to succeed if you approach all of your goals, especially your riding goals, with a positive attitude and confidence in yourself.
The bottom line is that you have absolutely nothing to gain from a negative attitude and everything to gain from a positive one.  While you might start off having to remind yourself to look for the positive in everything, if you keep it up, it will soon be second nature.  Try it, you just might like it...  You have nothing to lose but a bad attitude!  

On October 1, 2012, this blog entry was also featured on My Virtual Eventing Coach's web site as a Guest Blog.  Read it again here and be sure to check out the rest of the web site for great tips and articles.  Thank you to Lesley Stevenson for featuring this blog entry on her site. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why is Riding Expensive?

The number one question I am asked by prospective clients is, "how much do you charge?"  Now, it's a reasonable question, as everyone has a budget, but I urge people not to use price as the only consideration when selecting a barn and trainer.  While price isn't always an indicator of quality, I would never recommend that anyone select a barn or riding instructor solely because they are the least expensive option.

I understand that the cost of riding does deter some people, and a lot of people, especially beginners, simply don't understand why riding is so expensive, aside from knowing that horses are large animals that are expensive to feed.  I can assure you that it isn't high because I'm trying to gouge clients to get rich.  I am also not trying to justify unreasonably high rates with this blog entry, as mine are in line with average prices in my area.  I do, however, want to explain why reputable, safe facilities like my own are usually not the cheapest options.

Putting aside the cost of purchasing a farm and the countless hours and expense I have invested in my own training with some of the top riders in the country, there are several other reasons why riding at my barn and at other respectable facilities isn't "cheap."

Safe, Quality School Horses are Expensive.  First and foremost, in horseback riding, the horses are the most important part of the equation.  Safe, healthy, sound, well-trained school horses that can patiently accept different riders on them every day are difficult to find and expensive to acquire.  I go to great lengths to find safe, appropriate school horses for my students, and I don't sacrifice soundness, a good mind, or good training for the cheapest option.  While they may not be the fanciest show horses around, they are experienced, well-trained horses with a quiet, safe disposition.  They also have the patience to deal with beginner riders and the athleticism to allow more experienced riders to also learn on them.  They have no vices like regular bucking, rearing, bolting, excessive spooking, or refusing or running out on jumps.  While they aren't the most expensive horses on the planet, they aren't inexpensive to acquire or maintain.

Our school horses work hard and deserve the
best care possible. Here, one of our school horses
is having his legs iced after giving a jumping
lesson to an advanced student.
Proper Horse Care is Expensive.  Properly caring for any horse is expensive, and I don't scrimp on care for any of my horses.  My school horses receive the same quality veterinary, dental, and farrier (hoof) care as my show and pleasure horses, and I wouldn't accept anything less.  My school horses work hard.  They must be well-maintained to stay healthy and sound so they can continue teaching my students to ride for years to come.  They receive all their vaccines on time, have their teeth floated once or twice a year as necessary, see the vet when they have any health or lameness issue, and get regular hoof care.  Those that need shoes get shoes and aren't kept barefoot just because that is less expensive.  Ailments are treated immediately and thoroughly and, if necessary, they get time off to heal an injury or illness.  They are never expected to work when they are lame or sore.  They are fed high-quality hay and grain as necessary and not just whatever is cheapest.  Lesson facilities should not only be places where students learn to ride; they should also be places where students learn proper horse care and horsemanship.  As such, I hold my program to high standards and always keep in mind that my barn should be a model for my students.  Other "good" barns do the same.

My School Horses are Not Overworked.  My barn is not a lesson factory.  I don't teach dozens of large group lessons, and I don't expect my school horses to work for more than 2 lessons per day.  When they do work two lessons in a single day, they are never expected to give back-to-back lessons.  I also arrange it so that they don't have to give two advanced or jumping lessons on the same day.  If one of their lessons is with a more experienced rider, the other will be a lower-intensity beginner lesson.    Lesson barns should have and stick to a school horse policy dictating the amount and intensity of the lessons their horses can do.  There are unfortunately some barns that expect their school horses to give 4 or 5 or more hour-long lessons in a day, sometimes with multiple lessons scheduled back-to-back.  While fit horses can certainly be expected to work hard, expecting a horse to do that many lessons with that many different riders in a single day can take a physical and mental toll on the horse.  I want my school horses to be sound, fit, and willing partners for their riders, not sore and ring sour from being overworked.  I will not sacrifice the physical and mental well-being of my horses simply to make more money per school horse.  Additionally, all of my school horses get at least one day off per week.  This is essential to their physical and mental well-being.

I Ride My School Horses at Least Once a Week.  School horses that are ridden only by beginner and intermediate riders can quickly get sour and develop bad habits.  I school each of my lesson horses once a week to give them a tune-up and to make sure they aren't developing any bad habits.  Yes, this is one less lesson each horse can teach in a week, but it makes sure that the horses are safe and appropriate mounts, so my riders can have the best learning experience.

My School Horses Get Dignified Retirements.   My school horses have a valuable job and work hard for a living.  When the time comes that they can no longer work on the school line, I give them a dignified retirement.  They are never taken to auction and are never sold or put in any position where they could be sold to kill buyers for slaughter.  They aren't shipped off to a cheap facility with questionable care or turned out and expected to live on only pasture with no regular attention or care.  (Note that there are many reputable retirement facilities out there, and I don't knock any barn that sends its retired school horses to a quality retirement farm.)  My schoolies stay here, where they are given proper care and attention for the rest of their lives.  While it is certainly a cheaper option to take them to an auction (where they risk being sold to kill buyers), that is not an option for any of my horses.

My Facility is Not Overcrowded.   I keep the numbers at my barn low for a reason.  First, this makes sure that the horses have enough turnout space and my pastures don't become overgrazed.  Second, this allows me to make sure that every horse gets the time, attention, and care that it needs.

My Facility is Well-Maintained.  A lot goes into keeping horse facilities clean, safe, and well-maintained.  Please note that a good barn does not necessarily need to be "fancy."  Fancy and well-maintained are two separate things.  While they can go hand-in-hand, they don't always.  Properly maintaining horse facilities is both expensive and time-consuming.  The cost of maintaining pastures (bush hogging, fertilizing, over-seeding, spraying for weeds, and applying lime when necessary) can run into the thousands of dollars each year -- and that is assuming we do most of the work ourselves, which we do.  Building and maintaining a ring with excellent footing takes time and expense, as does proper manure and pest management.  Managing biting insects in warmer months is also expensive and time-consuming, but essential for proper sanitation and the health and safety of horses and humans.  Add in repairs and normal wear and tear on the facility, and the cost of upkeep keeps rising.  Additionally, tack, riding gear, and farm vehicles must get proper care and regular maintenance to keep them functional and safe.  While all of these things are expensive, they are also absolutely necessary to maintain a safe, functional facility for our horses and riders.

Fuel is expensive.  I know everyone is sick and tired of hearing about how expensive gasoline and diesel are these days, but the price of fuel directly impacts the cost of keeping horses and maintaining a barn.  My truck, tractor, and 4-wheeler, all of which are necessary to run the farm, all require some type of fuel to run.  The cost of fuel also impacts the cost of even locally-produced hay and grain because the machinery used to produce the feed runs on gasoline and diesel.  It also impacts the cost of veterinary and farrier services because these professionals must travel to farms to provide their services or the horses must be hauled to them. We do as much as we can to cut our fuel costs and conserve fuel, but gasoline and diesel are essential to our business.

Most barns, like my own, try hard to offer affordable services, while still maintaining a high standard of care for their facility and animals.  I completely understand and respect that riding is a luxury and everyone has a budget.  I also want to stress that there are many reputable, responsible barns out there that take the same great pains to keep their facility, their animals, and their riders healthy and safe.  Asking the cost of lessons and/or boarding is certainly a reasonable and very important question to ask when looking for a trainer or a barn.  Just make sure that you also take into consideration the experience of the trainer, the treatment and lifestyle of the barn's horses, the training and temperament of the barn's lesson horses, and the time and attention given to maintaining the farm's facilities when making your decision.  I also always encourage people to visit a prospective lesson barn before committing to a lesson to meet the trainer and see the facility and horses in person.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Surviving Stall Rest

The dreaded words many horse owners hate to hear – stall rest.  Whether it’s a week, a month, or several months on end, stall rest can be stressful and frustrating for horses and owners alike.  Here are a few tips to help make stall rest a little bit safer and less stressful.  As the reasons for a horse to be on stall rest vary, please check with your veterinarian before making any changes to your horse’s diet and routine. 


          Break the Boredom

While it is tempting to give your stalled horse toys to keep him occupied during stall rest, be careful that the toys won’t cause your horse to be too active.  Most horses are on stall rest to limit their movement; therefore some toys (like “grazing” toys) may actually do more harm than good.  Before giving your horse a boredom breaker that requires a lot of movement, check with your vet to make sure it won’t be detrimental to your horse’s recovery. 

One of the best ways to limit your horse’s boredom while on stall rest is to keep him or her occupied with plenty of hay.  If your horse is prone to being overweight or eating too quickly, try a small-hole hay net, like a Nibble Net.  These hay nets slow down the horse’s consumption of hay and keep them occupied longer.  


A few simple changes to your horse’s diet may help keep him healthier and happier while on stall rest.  As always, be sure to make any dietary changes slowly. 

First, I like to wet or soak the hay of any horse on stall rest, especially a horse that is used to being out on pasture.  Grass has a high water content (much higher than hay), so wetting the hay helps replace some of the moisture lost by not grazing.  This helps keep the horse properly hydrated, and hydration is essential to keep the horse’s gut moving and prevent colic.  Certainly, many horses will adjust their water intake when not on pasture, but wetting the hay is just one more way to make sure your horse is getting enough water.  Also, be sure to monitor your horse’s water intake every day and call your vet if you fear your horse is getting dehydrated. 

Second, make sure to adjust your horse’s diet to keep him or her at a healthy weight during prolonged stall rest.  If your horse was active prior to stall rest (working regularly and/or getting a lot of turnout), you may need to reduce or eliminate the amount of grain you are feeding.  Reducing grain not only helps the horse maintain a healthy weight, it may also help to keep the horse calmer.  While individual needs vary, even my hardest keeper needed only a ration balancer and free-choice hay to maintain a healthy weight on long-term stall rest, whereas he needed upwards of 6 pounds of high-quality senior feed and 1 cup of oil in addition to free-choice hay when in full work.  When possible, I like to replace grain with a ration balancer (such as Triple Crown 30% or Blue Seal Sunshine Plus) or a pelleted vitamin/mineral supplement so I know the horse is getting all of the necessary nutrients its body needs.

If your horse is prone to ulcers or tends to stress when confined, ask your vet whether a daily maintenance dose of UlcerGard or an ulcer preventative supplement is warranted.  I prefer to spend the money on a preventative than have to treat a full-blown case of ulcers and the other issues (like colic) those ulcers can cause.  Alfalfa is rich in calcium, so adding some alfalfa hay, pellets, or hay cubes to your horse's diet can also help buffer the gut.  Because alfalfa is rich in calories, though, some horses may not be able to maintain a healthy weight on stall rest if their diets include significant amounts of alfalfa.   

            Hoof Health

When wet shavings and manure pack into your horse’s feet, they create the perfect environment for things like thrush and white line disease to thrive.  To avoid this, bed deeply and clean your horse’s stall thoroughly at least twice a day.  If you can clean it more often, that is even better.  Pick your horse’s hooves after you clean the stall, to remove all wet shavings and manure.  Treat any thrush or white line disease at the earliest signs to avoid serious infections.
Exercise and Hand Grazing                 

Follow your vet’s guidelines for exercise and hand-grazing.  If possible and agreeable to your vet, break up hand walking and hand grazing into shorter, more frequent sessions so your horse gets out of his stall more than once per day.  Pay close attention to the footing outside and avoid hand walking and hand grazing on slippery surfaces or in mud, especially if your horse is recovering from an orthopedic injury.  Rehabbing a horse on stall rest, particularly one with an orthopedic injury, should be done very slowly.  Better to go slowly in the beginning than have your horse strain or re-injure itself, leading to even more stall rest. 

   Sometimes, Drugs Are Your Friend

Hopefully your horse will adjust well to stall rest and won’t require any medication to keep him calm and safe to handle.  Unfortunately, some horses do not deal with confinement as well as others and may become difficult to handle or become a danger to themselves or their handlers.  As much as we may want to avoid it, some horses on long-term stall rest will require a long-acting sedative to keep them calm enough to heal without worsening the injury or causing undue stress.  Still more horses may need a shorter-acting sedative so they can be safely hand walked or ridden while on stall rest. 

If your horse becomes difficult to handle or if you fear your horse is getting so excitable that he may worsen his injury, ask your vet about sedatives that may be helpful.  Always ask about the potential side-effects and make sure to remind your vet about any medications your horse is already taking. 

While stall rest is often unpleasant for horses and owners alike, the above tips may help make stall rest a little less stressful for your horse.  Hopefully your horse’s stall rest sentence goes by quickly and your horse makes a full recovery!  With some extra precautions and a bit of patience, you'll be back in the saddle in no time.  


Monday, July 9, 2012

Home Remedies to Help Stretch Your Horse Dollar

Properly caring for horses can quickly get expensive.  If you are like me, you are always looking for ways to save money without sacrificing the quality of care you provide for your horses.  In this week's blog, I've compiled a list of some of my favorite "home" remedies for horse care that may help you stretch your dollar.

Listerine® or its generic equivalent is probably my favorite home remedy.  It can treat mild to moderate skin infections like rain rot and can also treat mild thrush.  When conditions are ripe for the development of skin crud or thrush (i.e., wet), I will spray some Listerine® on my horses' legs and on the soles of my horses' hooves to prevent infection.  Note that you should use the plain brown-colored mouth wash, and not any of the flavored alternatives.

Equal Parts Listerine®, Ivory Soap, and White Vinegar make a fantastic scrub to treat skin infections like rain rot.  Put the mixture in a spray or empty shampoo bottle and shake well before use.  Wet the affected area, and scrub the mixture thoroughly into the skin.  Let it sit about 5 minutes and then rinse thoroughly.  Fore more serious cases, you can let it sit a few minutes longer before rinsing, but never more than 10 minutes total.  After thoroughly rinsing, dry the area as well as you can.  Moisture makes these skin infections worse, so do your best to dry the area after treatment.  Repeat every other day until the infection is gone.  On the days you don't scrub the affected area, you can spray straight Listerine® onto it.

A Mixture of Listerine®, Witch Hazel, and Baby Oil in a 2:2:1 ratio makes an excellent topical spray for itchy tails and itchy skin.  Tail rubbing can be a sign of parasites or a dirty sheath or udder.  If you've ruled those out, however, try spraying this mixture on the dock of the tail, making sure it wets the skin.  If you don't have all these ingredients, you can try using just witch hazel to soothe the itch or just Listerine® to treat any skin infection that may be developing.  You can use this spray daily or as needed to give your horse some relief.  Please note that frequent, persistent tail rubbing and itchy skin may be a sign of allergies, assuming you have ruled out parasites and a dirty sheath or udder.  You should consult your vet if you suspect that is the case.

Generic Triple Antibiotic Ointment made for human cuts and scrapes can also be used as a wound dressing for your horse's cuts and scrapes.  Just note that it doesn't replace a product like Swat for keeping flies out of cuts and scrapes during bug season.

Wintergreen Rubbing Alcohol makes a wonderful, inexpensive liniment.  Apply full strength to your horse's legs and hard-working muscles after riding or dilute in water and sponge onto your horse for a refreshing post-workout brace.  It can also be used under standing wraps.

(Left) Oliver, one of my school horses, getting proper post-workout care after a jumping lesson, including having his legs iced and rubbed down with wintergreen alcohol. 

Protect sensitive pink noses from
sunburn with sunscreen or Desitin

Sunscreen (the kind made for humans) is great for preventing sensitive pink noses from getting sunburned.  Buy no-name brands or whatever is on sale, and apply before turnout or riding.

Desitin® or its generic equivalent contains zinc oxide, which also works extremely well to prevent sunburn.  It tends to last longer than sunscreen and doesn't wash off as easily in water troughs.  It can also be applied to already-sunburned or blistered noses to soothe and prevent further burns.

Above & Below are the same horse.
This is why I love Ivory Soap!

Liquid Ivory Dish Soap makes an excellent, inexpensive, mild shampoo for bathing.  It can be used full strength or diluted in water to stretch your dollar even more.  If you have a palomino like my hunter, Beau (left), who loves to roll in the mud, you will quickly learn to appreciate the savings!

Cheap Human Hair Conditioner works great to condition tails after bathing.  Stock up on generic or on-sale conditioner instead of spending extra money on horse-specific brands.

Baby Diapers are great to use as a hoof wrap when treating an abscess or protecting a hoof from a lost shoe until the farrier comes.  If treating an abscess, first pack the hoof with Animalintex, ichthammol, or poultice.  Then, wrap the hoof in the diaper and secure with vet wrap over the entire hoof.  For turnout, cover the entire hoof with strips of duct tape over the vet wrap.

(Above) A hoof wrapped with a diaper and vet wrap.

(Below) Under the bell bot, strips of duct tape added to
the top and bottom of the hoof add durability to the hoof wrap.   

Baby Oil or KY Jelly can replace harsher, more expensive sheath cleaners.  Apply as you would any other sheath cleaner, and let it sit for a few minutes to loosen smegma.  Then, rinse thoroughly as usual.  

Olive Oil can be used in a pinch if you are out of leather conditioner or saddle oil.  While I don't use it exclusively to condition my tack and I don't think it is necessarily less expensive than most saddle oils, I have used it with good results when I am out of leather conditioner or saddle oil.  

I will note that I frequently use products specifically designed for horses, so I am not always reaching for the "homemade" substitution.  That said, over the years, I have found that these common household products can be effective and often cost-efficient as well.  Remember that none of these suggestions is a substitute for proper veterinary care.  Be sure to consult your veterinarian if you have any questions about your horse's health.