Monday, March 13, 2017

Product Review: Two Horse Tack Quick Change Halter Bridle

As a distance rider, I am no stranger to beta biothane and biothane tack. While I do own some leather products, I opt to use my synthetic tack 99.9% of the time no matter the occasion.

Like a few other horse bloggers, I was recently contacted by Two Horse Tack with an opportunity to write a compensated review on some of their beta biothane tack. Last year I won a raffle for a THT grooming halter that has been a life-saver during mud season so it was a no brainer to jump at a chance to check out what other products the company had to offer.

Since I currently ride in a rope halter with snap-on headstall combo, I decided to do a review on the Quick Change Halter Bridle with Snap On Browband. The majority of my riding is done out on the trails for hours at a time, so I'm all about functionality, efficiency, and comfort. The Quick Change Halter Bridle offers a lot of functionality since the halter and snap-on headstall can be used separately or together in a variety of configurations. The flexibility is good to have for the kind of riding I do and I like the fact it can be used with a separate rope halter if/when I need it.

Ordering & Arrival
When ordering, I admit there was some hesitation on my end when it came to sizing. The size category descriptions on the store website were not that useful and it doesn't help that Quest doesn't quite fit into any single category with her Saddlebred-head and dainty Arab-nose. However since Two Horse Tack's products are made-to-order, I opted to provide specific measurements when placing my order and kept my fingers crossed that the new set would fit with minimal adjustments.

Less than two weeks after placing the order, I had the final product in my hands. As a freelance artist, I can say from experience that is a VERY impressive turnaround time for a custom, made-to-order item.

Unboxing...!
10' trail reins, snap-on head stall, and halter

My initial impressions were very positive. I requested the set made in my endurance riding colors and the purple beta biothane with orange biothane overlay contrasted really nicely together. The overall construction felt solid, the stitching appeared tight, and there was a decent amount of punched holes for adjustments on both the headstall and halter pieces using the stainless steel hardware. Also I was pleased to see that the halter fastened on with a clip instead of a buckle (which faced outward, yes thank you). I'm not big fan of buckles in general because cold fingers + buckles during the winter = zero fun. I ride in almost every weather so this is the stuff I notice lol

The matching trail reins were a nice add-on and definitely completed the look. The 10ft length is standard for trail riding which works well with Quest's long neck (yay Saddlebred) and can handily double up as a lead line that clips to the halter when I want to hop off and walk on the trail.

Fitting & Test Ride
As the saying goes though, "pretty is as pretty does" so it was time to see how everything actually worked. I had planned to test the tack on the trail but it was absolutely frigid that day so the indoor arena it was for now.

Halter and reins. Also snow covered feet lol
Added the headstall and... DONE

As I had hoped, there were ZERO size adjustments to make on the halter or headstall. Literally all I had to do was attach the bit and we were ready to ride.

I was especially happy to see how sleek the set fit Quest without extraneous stuff and space all over. The beta biothane feels super durable yet it is supple enough to allow the bit to sit naturally on her face instead of pulling it stiffly (and probably uncomfortably) out to the sides. I had that issue with a biothane halter bridle with bit hangers from Running Bear and I sold that as soon as possible.


Unsurprisingly, the test ride was also complete nonevent. Quest went in it happily w/t/c as if it was just another arena session and had no complaints. I was pretty content as a rider too- the reins felt great in my hands and didn't cause any discomfort. I have eczema and depending on how abrasive the rein material is, my hands can get painful rashes. I typically deal with it by wearing riding gloves but it's not an ideal solution in hot, humid, or wet weather. The reins were thinner than what I'm used to but that did not detract from comfort or the fact that no gloves were needed.

Happy mareface, happy me
***
Overall the Quick Change Halter Bridle with Snap-On Browband from Two Horse Tack is a great option for those who want to get as much use as possible out of a single piece of tack. The base price for this halter bridle style with the biothane overlay starts at $80 which is very reasonable for the quality you get. A set of matching reins are $20 extra and well worth it in my opinion. Also if you have any hesitation or worry about sizing when placing an order, I strongly suggest selecting the "Custom" option and including measurements; the tack will be made-to-order anyway and it's just one less thing to worry about.

I hope this review helps folks who are on the fence about trying synthetic tack and/or looking for companies to purchase from. As for me, I've been very impressed with Two Horse Tack so far and will be shopping with them for my future beta biothane tack needs.
Best mareface model.
"This was tough work. I get treat plz" 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

BFF Mounted Archery Clinic

After two years of dreaming and scheming, it finally happened!!


As some of you may remember, back in 2015 I wrote about exploring a new equestrian sport. After getting a quick 101 archery lesson from my friend S later that year, there was little to no mention of mounted archery though because well... I literally hit a wall trying to find an instructor or lesson barn to help me get started. All my searches yielded nothing of viable worth and the timing didn't really work out either since after moving Quest to WSS a couple months later, I had my hands full with preparing for the 2016 distance riding season. 

About a month ago though, I stumbled upon photos on my FB feed of a mounted archery clinic that had just taken place at a barn about an hour away from me. I reached out to the organizers and to my immense excitement, they replied that there were still accepting riders for the next clinic date! One of the organizers, a lady named A, provided me with the clinician's information so I could contact her. S took my interest in the sport seriously and even going so far with offering to accommodate me with a private lesson on her days off. Unfortunately her barn is a 3-hour round trip for me so it will take some logistics and planning on my end to make lessons happen. However in the meantime, I had the clinic to look forward to and hoped it would be a good introduction to see if I really did enjoy it. 

The clinic started at 10am and the drive to the barn BFF took about an hour. I gave myself plenty of time and arrived early to snag a good parking spot and headed over to indoor arena for the day's activities. A, the event organizer recognized me from FB and introduced herself and S, the clinician. While waiting for others to arrive, I started chatting with a girl named E and we hit it off really well. Best of all we agreed to help each other with pictures and video throughout the day so it's all thanks to her (and her bf) that I have media to share with everyone! 


When S finally called us over to get started, the total count was 26 participants which felt like a pretty large number. She began the clinic by reviewing safety rules and then had us get into groups of 3-4 based on the draw weight of the bow we wanted to shoot with. We were given a selection of handmade Chinese horse bows with various draw weights to pick from. E and I paired up with two other ladies, S and K, and we got set up with our 22lb bow and a round of 4 arrows.

The first part of the clinic was focused on shooting skills from the ground. The indoor arena was converted into a mini archery range using a line of hay bales stacked 3 high in 8 separate groups. My group picked out our hay bale target and waited until given the all clear to start. Having only picked up a bow and arrow twice in my life, I was pretty sure I had the least experience out of our group and my hunch was confirmed after watching the other members of my group shoot first.

S made her way up and down the line, stopping at each group to watch and assist. I waited to go last because I knew I'd probably need some help. Mounted archery horse bows are traditionally made with no arrow shelf. It makes a ton of sense if you are shooting at speed with no time to use it and practically speaking, the shelf would probably get in the way since the end goal is to load, draw, and shoot without looking down at your hands. When it got to my turn, I picked up the bow and the lack of shelf completely threw me off. The two times I did archery, both bows had a shelf to work with so I was at a total loss of what to do and fumbled around. When I explained my issue, S pointed out that my hand acted as the shelf essentially. That imagery was apparently all I needed- it was as if a lightbulb clicked on and just like that my next two arrows flew straight and hit dead center. "Nice job!" S praised.

Taking aim
Release and follow through.
 Also when I realized I needed a glove on my left hand
because fletching cuts...oww! 

Because of the number of people and limited time, we were only able to get though two rounds of shooting from the ground. E got some great pictures that, aside from posterity, I used to improve my form to make the most of the practice opportunity. I tried to keep in mind the tips S gave to me earlier (draw hand cups the lower jaw, no chicken arms) and also did my best to make adjustments that I saw from the pictures. As with most things, proper form is foundation and muscle memory can be developed so I opted to get that part right first and as soon as possible. My aim wasn't horrendous though and I consistently hit my target.

The most fun thing about being part of a large clinic was watching others learn from their successes and failures. One guy bought his own bow and arrows and he obviously knew how to shoot. There was one hairy  moment though when one person on the far left of the range had an arrow go way high and break a window! The glass got cleaned up quickly though and it was the only mishap for the entire clinic thankfully. 

After shooting from the ground, it was time to introduce the horses!


There were four horses ready for our use that day and we could pick as we liked. I choose a pony named Macaroni with a very sweet disposition to be my partner for this part of the clinic. I liked how quiet he was and he had more whoa then go which was needed for my purposes that day.

S had us mount up 4 riders at a time and we practiced shooting while being lead at a walk. The first round was done very slowly as everyone had to pause at some point in order to figure out how to nock, aim, shoot and reload arrows from our "leg quivers" aka half chaps/boots.


Everyone in the clinic was eager to keep going so in the second round, S allowed us to pick from walk and/or trot and let us tackle the course one rider at a time with our leadline assistants.

Shooting from a trot introduced a whole new set of challenges as we had to figure out how to deal with a two-beat gait and still try to do the whole archery thing while moving. S suggested a half seat, two-point, etc...but we were allowed to adapt with whatever we felt comfortable with. Macaroni wasn't the smoothest or willing mover so I ended up timing my shots with posting and that also helped keep it instinctive and natural. As I get better though, I do want to practice in a half-seat since being able to shoot from a canter/hand-gallop is the final end goal. The leadline assistants were also clinic participants so I helped switch with them to jog horses so they could shoot as well. It was a nice break from standing around and waiting.

I was able to shoot 3 more rounds before the end of the clinic and I found something to improve or tweak each time.


At the end of the clinic, I was still smiling from ear to ear and still just as excited. What a joy it is being able to make what felt like a far-fetched dream come true. For me, I do know this is definitely something that I want to continue doing as an interest and maybe even get competitive one day. The latter is still a pipe dream but mounted archery has been gaining popularity in the East Coast over the recent years. Given enough time, there could even be enough support to set up organized events.

If you ever get a chance to try mounted archery, I totally suggest giving it a go! Done under supervision and with an experienced horse, it's a super fun challenge for the rider and just something different to try.

The smile says it all!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Bareback Boot Camp

The cold and dark winter months have become synonymous with what I call "bareback boot camp". It first started off as a way to get in a quick ride during the week while making good use of  a bay butt warmer but over the past 2.5ish years, riding bareback has become something I make a point of doing every so often for a quick self tune-up.

Away we go

When I first started as an adult beginner, bareback riding played a huge part in helping me develop better balance and seat. Looking back, I really do think it was the biggest thing that got me to improve as quickly as I did. Nowadays, these rides have been honing in on straightness issues that sometimes creep back into my riding. My biggest physical limitation still is tightness that I have on my left side and shoulder which causes issues going clockwise in an arena and some general lopsidedness. It's not horrendous but it is obvious to me. When I do manage to straighten myself out, Quest also straightens out underneath me and I can feel her move out a lot more freely, like she's clicked into a more comfortable gear. This is something that I'll need to keep working on myself and commit to muscle memory.

A few of the canter sets we did earlier this week felt really good though and it is obvious that Quest was enjoying the faster gait. Smart mareface has already figured out this will now be a consistent element of our rehab rides and asked me to GO a few times during that night. We are still in rehab mode though so I had to tell her no but wow, the sass was strong- it seriously felt like she was on rocket fuel lol

Since we added back cantering, I was curious to see how the mareface trotted out. I could have lunged her but I'm a lot more cautious/careful about repetitive small circles nowadays. The arena was totally empty/devoid of helping hands so I made do by propping my phone against the wall and had at it.

Love how our legs move in sync with each other lol

I probably should have taken off her blanket for the video so she could move completely unencumbered but it suffices for my needs. It was a good excuse to practice doing a trot out too. Quest is a pro at it now (she was totally clueless when I first got her lol) but practice makes perfect.

Although bareback riding is great and all, I am really looking forward to having daylight when I leave work- we will finally be able to fit in some trails during the week.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Advantage

The weather in my area has been unseasonably mild the past couple weeks and thus far, we have been spared our annual dose of snow. The latter means that the trails have been clean and clear of the usual seasonal hazards and prime for some good riding!

Sad attempt at trail riding selfies
  
This past weekend Quest and I revisited Mine Trail and led A and Mel on their first outing there. I had a ton of things planned right after the barn so I intentionally wanted a short and simple ride.

After a few minutes out, we walked by a section of trail I mentally dubbed the “junk yard” because of the random trash we always see dumped there- from empty buckets, plastic trash bags to rusting mini fridges. It makes me angry to see litter and I know for a fact that it also bothers other people because I’ve seen some of the junk “magically” disappear…only for more stuff to take its place. Ugh. I’m planning to make and post no littering sign. Not sure how effective that would be but it may somewhat deter the usual suspects.

For the most part, Quest could care less about the junk but sometimes the objects on the side of the trail were odd enough that they caused the sideways eye and snorting and sometimes even a full stop. On this particular day the new item was a shiny pleather 2-seater couch that was tossed end over end, laying on its side.

I felt Quest wanting to stop and told her to keep walking forward past it. She kept moving, giving it as much berth as possible though. The entire time I kept her facing the obstacle and used my “outside” leg to gradually move her a little closer to it.  Once past it, I rewarded her with a “Good girl” and a quiet pat and we walked on.  

A, who was riding behind me, said“Don’t worry, that also made Mel look.” Her comment made me wonder how different people would view and handle a horse's reaction to something spooky. IMO, of all the spooks a horse could possibly have, giving something a look is highly preferable to the huge number of other reactions possible…e.g.; drop shoulder, spin, bolt. Of course ideally, we all want a bombproof horse/unicorn that doesn’t spook ever at all but we are interacting with flight instinct animals. 

For me, I am okay with my horse expressing her concern/curiosity in a safe way by looking but when I give the “Okay, I see it too and it’s fine- keep moving” cue, I expect her to listen and cooperate. Depending on what/where the object is and how she is that day, we might stop and do the “touch it” thing but lingering at stuff sometimes causes more angst for Quest. The whole, move along-nothing scary here mentality usually works best for her.
 
On the way home we stopped by to say a quick hi to Rori.
I liked her purple blanket haha

The rest of the ride, for us at least, was rather uneventful. It was mareface’s second time on those trails, she was just as game as the first time and led the entire way. We did short little trot stretches where the trail was flat and clear and Quest clearly enjoyed moving out. She was feeling really good and I couldn’t help smiling to myself. 

When we got back to the barn, I untacked and let her soak up the sun for as long as possible before putting her blanket back on.  Of course mareface took this opportunity to go for thorough dirt mud roll  (she even rolled uphill, I couldn't help but be impressed) so I had to brush her out again before re-blanketing when I left the barn. I felt a little bad because the weather was so nice but the ridge gets windy at night and then it POURED buckets of rain and sleet the next two days.

Muddy, sun-sleepy mareface
Still pretty cute despite the mud

Last night I went to the barn to get a rehab ride in. Midweek nights are typically busy at the barn since the in-house trainer uses those as lesson days for his adult students. The indoor arena is a decent size but it does feel too crowded with more than 5 horses. Fortunately for me it was a non-lesson night and there was at most 2-3 others in the ring at one time and we all did our own thing. I got Quest cleaned up- she was covered in mud thanks to all the rain – and tacked her up in the bareback pad. We warmed up at a walk and started doing our trot sets. She was feeling really good so I cut the trot short and decided what the heck, let’s do a little canter. And off we went.

It was our first canter in almost a year and it made me realize how I much I missed riding my mare <3 It’s been awhile for both of us so it wasn’t 100% pretty I’m sure but we managed. Her left departs were great, the right we had to do a couple times until we got it clean though that is likely more my issue (lopsided back muscles due to mild scoliosis) than hers.

Quest has been blasting around in pasture on her own for months but we are now cantering again undersaddle. Hopefully this means we are entering the last phase of mareface's rehab and though it took a long time, I think taking a super conservative route has paid off well in our case. Fingers crossed we’ll be back to unlimited work in a month or so, in time for spring trail adventures!  

Friday, January 20, 2017

Art Away

As my blog title kind of implies, riding and art are two hobbies that I spend a lot of my time and funds on. Riding is really more of a “lifestyle” than a hobby of course but for all intents and purposes! Well at the end of every year, I do a clean-up of my laptop and archive the year's folders on an external drive. When I got to my art folder for 2016, it was only a handful of files thick...An extremely sad sight to behold. While I do doodle and sketch a lot (as evidenced by my Instagram posts), the overall time spent doing finished art is few and far in between. For someone who could be found scribbling away every spare moment she had this is a huge departure from the norm.

Since I started riding a little over 3 years ago, the amount of art I produce has tapered off to almost nothing. More riding is certainly a not bad thing at all (and I'm not going to be riding any less!) but it does take away from the overall "budget" of free time that I usually had spent on art. Hence one of my resolutions for 2017 to re-balance the time I spend on other miscellaneous things (mostly Netflix shows, oops) so I have more time to draw this year.

I did not set any hard fast goals in terms of “must produce X number of pieces per month” but since this IS a horse blog, I’ll aim to do a few equine-themed things so I have subject appropriate content to post here. To start things for 2017, here is a custom t-shirt I made for myself a few weeks ago.

With my little art studio corner nook in the background

I have been searching for more clothing in my ride colors and really wanted something custom. Problem is I've never been hugely impressed by the endurance/Arabian horse designs I’ve seen on the market and the cost for a shirt or hoodie on online printing websites was a bit much for just a single, 1 item order. 

My solution? Go DIY. I started off by brainstorming and doodling lots of rough concepts. After picking out my favorite, I used mareface as the lovely horse model and rendered the final design digitally using Photoshop. My fellow artists might contend that Illustrator would have been better program; I would agree but I LOATHE using vectors and would have had to teach myself how again.

After I got the graphic correctly sized for a shirt of my size and printed out on paper, I used an craft blade to create the stencil. The rest of it was just mixed acrylic paint, lots of patience, and a good music playlist. This was really a test piece to learn from but I think it came out rather well. It was nice little project to start off the creative year and a simple, cheap way to liven up a plain t-shirt- I think the entire project cost me less than $5 total as I had most materials already. I think it's within the scope of most DIYers if they wanted to give it a try- the hardest part was being careful with gradually applying paint in the smaller areas. No heavy handedness!

The best thing about this design though is I can totally reuse it for making decals/stickers (comes as no surprise I already have the materials for that? lol) or even adapt it into a personal logo of sorts. To be honest, I have a simpler design in the works for the latter but this one did come out pretty nice...hmm!

That aside, my next art projects will probably be mostly digital portrait-style paintings.

Speedpaint portrait I did earlier this month of my parents' JRT, Jamie 

I'll probably do one of Quest (whenever I snag a picture of her that I like enough to actually paint) first so I can see how much time it takes me to put something out of quality for the respective cost but I'm planning to open up for a few commissions drawing other people's critters. I've gotten quite a bit of interest from FB friends since posting Jamie's portrait on my page so that was very encouraging. I'd love to have art commissions become a bigger part of my life again!