Shark Saddling

Harley has been a rockstar lately. I told my trainer that while it did take me a solid year to figure him out- we have really been clicking lately and I feel like our rides have actually started to be productive instead of slightly out of control and mostly mediocre.

I think a few equipment changes have made a big difference lately. I bought a used MW Albion SLK High Head dressage saddle when I first started leasing Harley. I never blogged about it here because my mother reads my blog and already thinks that maybe shoveling my money, by the pile, into a fire might actually be a cheaper hobby than riding horses…

I bought it used on eBay so it was a huge and pricey gamble. The model is the same saddle my trainer owns and tends to fit a variety of horses. I had ridden Harley in her saddle before I started leasing him and we decided it should work. The high head model can be somewhat more difficult to find used, especially in the states. I was also in a time crunch since I really wanted to wait until I had Harley before I bought one so I could try it on him, but obviously didn’t want to be stuck for long without a saddle at all.

I think I made out fairly well on the deal. The price was good and upon arrival the saddle was in good shape. The flocking appeared to be in good condition and it looked exactly like the photos. The one thing that wasn’t explained in the ad was that this saddle had, at some point, been at least partially remade. It’s clear that the repairs were well-done, by a reputable place, but I would have maybe liked to have known that before I bought it. Still, it is a very nice saddle. At the time, I had two choices: this one at a very reasonable price; or a new demo model for a great price that was still about a $1000 more than the used saddle. This being a lease horse, I opted to take the gamble and save a grand up front. I don’t regret it. I think it fits Harley about as well as it could without investing some serious coin into fitting this nearly 20 year old orca for his retirement gig!






All jokes aside, go look at that Harley photo again and tell me how in the world you’d go about saddling that horse!!




I did the best I could and hoped I could half-pad the rest. Here is how the saddle fits with just a simple saddle pad:




I like the steep rise of the pommel to fit those massive withers but look at where the balance of this saddle is even with sizable rear gussets- it’s too far back for me. He’s so uphill I would end up in a chair seat leaning forward to try and keep up with him. So I needed a rear riser pad. I have a shimmable ThinLine Trifecta half pad that I like very much except that you really aren’t able to fit very many shims in the pad- at least not enough for me to comfortably sit on Harley. I have been riding with this half-pad on Louie for every lesson and I love it on him. For Harley, I recently bought an ECP shimmable half pad and chuckled as I ripped out and threw away the laughable, completely useless foam shims that it comes with and stuffed in several ThinLine rear shims. This thing is a god-send and is working so well for us. Would I love him to have a completely custom saddle that fits without the use of these pads- sure- but he hasn’t been back sore since I’ve had him and he is moving so well with this configuration.




Here you can see the saddle balance already much improved. I added a TSF girth and Harley is moving the best he has since I’ve leased him. With me in a better spot mechanically as well, I have been much more comfortable and it has even reduced some of the strain on my knees while I ride him. Clearly I still have some latent muscle memory of riding in the “backseat” for so long- either that, or I am part bridge troll…but once I start to realize I don’t have to lean so much, this will be a much nicer picture!!







Types of Athletes

Continuing with the theme of how very different my two paintasauruses are, I’d like to get your advice on some more nuanced coaching of my very different athletes.

I had a fantastic lesson on Louie last Tuesday night and I think I can mostly attribute it to me coming in hot with some energy and a very can-do attitude. I don’t know why I was in this mood but it worked super well with how Louie was feeling that particular night and we had a great ride. Louie is a very interesting ride for me and I think he’s my ideal kind of ride. We are actually a lot alike. He has this internal switch where he can go from relaxed, pokey, bombproof, toddle around on a loose rein babysitter to light, responsive, tuned in, fancy (draft cross fancy) athletic partner. You can have whichever horse you want that day if you know how to flip the switch.

Louie is like a car with a sticky shifter with a strong preference toward staying in first gear. When I find myself getting frustrated with his goofy evasions or general laziness I have to remind myself that we are literally the same type of athlete. I used to pull all kinds of shit to get out of running or fitness tests. I always told myself that I could play smarter and achieve the same success with less effort and, for the most part, I did. Well, here I am being burned by the exact same thought process…I just have to laugh. Just like sometimes my coaches had to get tough on me or creative on me to get max output, I have to do that for Louie. The silver lining is that we are both the type of athlete that is usually worth this extra effort because the resulting performance is really something. Is it a shame that sometimes talented individuals are not born with the work ethic and internal motivation to achieve their own max potential? Sure it is. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be coaxed out of them by someone else willing to put in that effort. Some coaches can’t or won’t do that and they write off these athletes as lazy, soft, and not worth the effort. They’d rather coach a team of athletes that try their best any day. That’s a decision coaches have made on me all of my life. It’s a spectrum, too, it’s not all or nothing. A lazy but talented athlete can still have an incredible amount of grit, it’s just buried in there a little deeper.

This post was going to be a lesson recap and it is quickly veering off into sports psychology territory. I’m sorry, read on if you like! I have the unique experience of simultaneously riding these very different athletes and it is exposing many parts of my personality to me that I haven’t really thought about in quite awhile. The talent vs effort argument is as old as time and sure won’t be discussed in full in this simple post. I like to think I am the coach that would put the extra effort in for the type of athlete that needed it. I think I even prefer to coach this type of athlete. It’s not right or wrong- it’s one way of doing things- a personal strategy.

I look at Harley and I feel like he is the max effort guy. The one who gives 110% every time. But EquiNovice, isn’t THAT what you want?? That’s awesome! It is, or rather it CAN be. Sometimes he feels a little bit too much like Rudy. Go watch that movie if you haven’t, it’s a valuable pop-culture reference if nothing else. Rudy gets a happy ending and is finally rewarded for putting in the effort despite the various challenges he faces. For every talented, lazy athlete, there is a Rudy or some kind of iteration that falls more on the effort side of the spectrum. That’s not to say Harley isn’t talented, he’s arguably more talented than Louie, it’s more of an effort in the right direction issue, I think. Coaching this type of athlete requires different methods. I am personally less familiar with helping this type of athlete achieve their success but I would imagine it is much more about thoughtful channeling than harnessing.

One thing is pretty clear, you can’t try to make either one of these types of athletes into the other. You will fail and waste so much effort, time, and emotional resources trying.

Being much more comfortable understanding my own tendencies, I know I am failing Harley in many ways because I am trying and learning to be a good coach for him, but I easily make big mistakes and get frustrated trying to understand what makes him tick. In my head, I see this:


To me, his evasions are in the form of bulldozing off in a million different directions with all the best intentions. I quickly run out of tools to coach this because in dealing with this much more frenetic type of personality I want to yell “Just STOP for a damn second!”  “Think!” and that is exactly the wrong way to help him succeed because that’s me trying to make him into something he’s not (but something I understand better). His answer to almost every question I pose is RUN because he truly thinks that might be the correct answer and all I want to do is rein him in. I have to adjust, but I don’t know how.

Those of you with horses more like Harley, help a sister out! Or if you were the type of athlete who always gave 100% tell me about your favorite coaches- how did they help you? What’s your take on the talent vs effort debate? Will one categorically get you farther or is it more about an adjusted development process on either side to get greatness out of both types? Where is your horse on this spectrum?


Seeing Double

The idea for this post came to me after I sent a photo of my lesson horse, Louie to my mom after my lesson the other day and she wrote back “I’ve never seen Harley’s more white side before” or something to that effect. I realized that for the less horse crazy or even new blog readers it might not be the most obvious that I ride TWO different pinto horses on a consistent basis.

I lease Harley, a soon to be 19 year old, chestnut tobiano Belgian Warmblood. I board him at a dressage barn just outside of town.


I ride a 9 year old dark bay tobiano Percheron cross named Louie in my weekly lessons at an eventing barn an hour an a half drive away.

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They are different in almost every way: Harley is super hot, Louie is very lazy chill; Harley has big tall withers, Louie is much rounder; Harley has trouble growing much of a forelock, Louie has the thickest bangs I’ve ever seen; Harley has a white tail, Louie has a black tail; Harley wears size 5 shoes, Louie wears size 2; Harley is spooky, Louie is practically bombproof; Harley never has a floppy lip, Louie always has a floppy lip; Harley is extremely sensitive, Louie is extremely forgiving; Harley is ridiculously photogenic; Louie simply cannot be bothered to look majestic for a photo.

They are similar in some ways too: Both will eat any kind of treat you offer- not picky AT ALL; both love to get dirty and are near impossible to keep white; both are tidy jumpers;  both have excellent ground manners and are genuinely sweet horses.

Now I’m just going to drop a series of photos of each of these handsome geldings that I hope will help new readers identify who I am talking about in upcoming posts even if I fail to identify my ride!














Dark, sweaty Harley is still not Louie


haha a trick! Throwback to Shadow, the OG tobiano mare who taught me how to ride.


Louie: my lovable lesson horse


Harley’s mini winter mustache


Louie’s treat radar nose


Harley loves cats


Louie does too!


Selfie with Louie


Awkward selfie with Harley

So you see, I’ve got two painted main men in my life right now. They are both great horses who have taught me so much over the past few years. You could even say I’ve developed a “type” maybe this blog should be called “Painted Dressage” instead!


So this week Harley went all “Hulk smash!” on his winter blanket AND a front shoe. Bro, I get it, you want a little break, you don’t have to destroy all the things.


Ultimately neither of these things are a big deal because even though it is supposed to snow this weekend, the coldest part of the winter season has ended and he will be fine with his sheet. Plus, thanks to that same reason, blankets are on sale or coming on sale soon at most retailers. This is great because I won’t have to rush out and get him a blanket and I’ll likely be able to find a deal on one and not even have to use it this season. Who knows if he and I will still be together next winter, but at least I’ll be able to return him to his owner with blankets.

I met my friend at the barn on Sunday afternoon to have a pony playdate and another mutual friend came out to join us. Dumb me tacks Harley all up and then goes to pick his feet and darn it, sprung shoe. I untacked him, gave him a cookie, and made him come hang out in the arena with us while we took turns on my friend’s magical dressage haffie.




After one and a half days of having to stand in his stall all day while all his buddies got to go outside and play, the farrier came and reset his sprung shoe. All it cost me was my lunch hour yesterday and a couple of rides. Harley considered the cost to be very high, indeed. When I got him out of his stall for the farrier he screamed like a ninny for 20 minutes because he couldn’t see his herd. Once they *finally* listened to him came around the corner to watch the farrier work, he calmed right down and mostly snoozed through the shoe resetting. Either that, or the Be Calm I smeared all over his nose started to work…


He was delighted to go back out in the pasture and surprised me by not immediately rolling in the mud. He had the decency to wait until I went back to work.


He had to remind everyone who’s boss when I turned him back out despite throwing a loud tantrum when he couldn’t see his friends. But now when they want to come stand by him…whoa…gimme some space, man! He chased my friend’s pony away from that little hay pile right before this photo was taken. His bark is usually worse than his bite. He is mostly in to mean glares and swinging his big butt around. Me too, Harley, me too.

I’m hoping to ride him tonight and we’ll see how much mud he has managed to smush into his mane. But after earlier this week, I’ll be pleased as punch if cleanliness is the only casualty!!

State of this Union

Man, how the hell have you all been? Notice anything different around here?

I have been doing my best to keep current with reading all of my favorite blogs but it’s been a minute since my last post. The theme has been “survival mode” over here on my side for several months now at work. It’s stressful and exhausting. I have been riding somewhat regularly thanks to a ridiculously mild winter here in Southern Indiana.

I cleaned house a little bit around here and I’m trying a new template and a sweet new EquiNovice logo that Genny made for me as a part of the blogger gift exchange! I love it, and this old blog was well overdue for a facelift! I hope you like the new style but if for any reason you don’t, or if something didn’t transfer into the new template well, I hope you’ll comment and let me know.

My handsome lease horse Harley has been good, but a little all over the place in terms of dealing with the season. He is a very sensitive horse with a dizzyingly busy mind. We have some amazing rides where he is tuned in and focused and then, for reasons I can never put my finger on, he will be spooky, completely disengaged, and frustrating to deal with both on the ground and under saddle. It’s a coin-flip which one I’ll get each night but I try to roll with it and not make my agenda the law all the time. If he is worried from the moment I pull him out of his stall, I might not ride that day- I’ll tack him up and lunge him instead. I’m trying to stick to a schedule in case some consistency and routine will help.

He’s super healthy and everyone always comments how great he looks around the barn. They can’t believe it when I remind them that he is almost 19. The only way you can really tell is when he sometimes takes a bad step behind or starts out quite stiff in his hocks, especially the right. He is due for injections but he has been sound the whole time I’ve had him and the work he does with me is much lighter than what he had been doing with his owner.

Genny sent him some delicious gingerbread treats and he LOVES them. He isn’t picky at all about treats but it was obvious he liked these more than most. Immediately after I gave him the first one he started nosing me and licking my arm for more. I have been diligently rationing them but he ate the last one last week.




So in addition to the logo and the fancy treats, Genny also got Harley a blanket tag that I decided I wanted as a bridle tag instead, and some yummy scented candles for me!


I’ve had a couple short work trips already this year and in true Harley fashion he maimed his face in protest of my absence…again. I thought it was fine when I first saw it, though it was dangerously close to his eye. Upon closer inspection and a gentle attempt to clean up some dried blood I was rewarded with a gush of smelly pus. Perfect. Thankfully, it did clean up really well and once I opened it and cleared it out it started to heal from the inside out and is almost completely healed up now. STAAAAHP trying to rip your face off when I leave town!!!



For every spooktacular shit show, we have wonderful, productive rides that end in bareback cool downs and much fun is had. I cantered Harley bareback the other day and it was definitely a trust exercise, but it went really well and no people or ponies were harmed.


fancy prancing looks best with some lipstick

He is by far the most complicated horse I have ever ridden. The minute I think I have anything figured out, he comes out and acts the opposite. Our 1-year Leaseaversary is fast approaching and while I wouldn’t say we are the best match there ever was, he has been a huge bright spot in an otherwise pretty dark year last year and I know that having him to ride; dote on; worry about; play with; care for; throw money at; or even just snuggle has made all the difference!