Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Equine Germaphobia

Truck owners lament that they get a lot of people asking for their help when moving. As a trainer and instructor, I get people asking to use my tack.

I'm an equine germaphobe. On my horse's behalf, I do not share saddle pads, girths, bridles, bits, buckets, brushes, or any other items of that nature with any other person in the barn. To me, these items are as personal as my underwear. Too often, these items are carelessly passed through the barn, causing transmission of disease and bacterial/fungal infections.

Sure, I've cleaned my fair share of stalls and enjoyed a delicious cookie without washing my hands, but I will never share something as intimate as my horse's girth with another rider. I often shrug and accept my dusty, dirty hands and face, but I use baby wipes to clean my horse's brown spots in between baths. I often disinfect Shorty's feeder, waterer, brushes, buckets, and bits with diluted Listerine.

That doesn't mean that I don't get throngs of people asking to use my stuff. The purpose of this blog entry is not to engage in a penile listing of all of my stuff, but to illustrate. For example, my Matha Josey barrel racing saddle is one of the best saddles for the sport, and I have a rare collector's edition model. Do people want to use it all the time? Yes. I have an Albion dressage saddle with leather so soft and cushiony I feel like I'm riding on a pillow. Do people want to sit in my delicious dressage saddle? Absolutely. Do they want to borrow my Supra Cor pad or try out my Tom Thumb bit? Do they marvel at Shorty's awesome new splint boots or ask to borrow my Back on Track wraps in lieu of using poultice? All the time!

Do I let them? I let a student of mine borrow my western saddle on the condition that she acquire (borrow) a different girth and pad. I'll never let someone use my dressage saddle on another horse because it is flocked specifically for Shorty and the seat is padded specifically for me and my balance issues (the right side has a tad more padding due to an irreversable issue in my hip that causes it to sink unless propped up). I don't, as a rule, share brushes, buckets, scrubbies, sponges, girths, saddle pads or similar items. I will allow someone lacking in first aid supplies (I have two huge trunks of first aid stuff for one horse!) to use a dab of novalssan or some guaze, particularly in emergency situations. One of my students used my bute, 2 grams a day, for ten days. The horse needed the bute, and she didn't have the money to purchase her own (which baffles me- 100 grams is $40!), and I ended up giving her the drugs.

A purchased a pony pad by mistake. Yes, A is the another RIDING INSTRUCTOR at the farm and should be able to pick up a pad and say, "This looks like a pony pad; I should get a bigger one." Nope. The pad didn't even completely fit under her saddle, so she asked me if I would lend her one of my "many saddle pads." Yes, I do have four English pads and two western ones. That way, if one gets sweaty or hairy (usually both), I can fold it up, stick it in my laundry basket, and take the basket home when the thing is full. I usually get one, maybe two, rides from a saddle pad before I decide it needs to be washed. Shorty's back is so sensitive that a dirty, hairy, itchy pad will do us no favors, so I'm somewhat anal in that regard. I routinely switch out polo wraps and splint boots for the same reason, as well as the fuzzy thingies on Shorty's cribbing collar.

I felt greedy for sticking to my usual germaphobia when A asked for a pad, but I did decline to lend her one. Her horse has rain rot because she doesn't brush the mud off of it routinely, and I don't care to expose my horse to it. I straight out told her, in no uncertain terms, was she allowed to use any of my horse's equipment for herself or her horse. I felt bad for turning her down, but there are plenty of extra pads in the school horse tack room that she could use, or she could simply go out and buy a larger pad. Even a cheap baby pad would work.

Yes, I am a germaphobe when it comes to Shorty's tack. I feel like an asshole for it, but I also feel I have to protect my horse's health in every way that I can. I want to help others, but I won't sacrifice the frgaile well being of my special guy. Am I a bad person? Probably. Were we taught in grade school to always share? Yes. I'd straight out open my wallet and fork over all of my cash to a needy person (and usually end up doing so when I see a collection can for Last Chance Corral), but I still can't bring myself to share my tack.

Is anyone else in my wonderful readership also an equine germaphobe? Speak up! I'd love to hear about your ideosyncracies and minor lunacies when it comes to your horse's health.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Angry Student

Yesterday, after my lovely walk with Shorty, I taught lessons for my fellow instructor, A. I've talked about A before- she's the one that used a rusty bit for her horse and punished the mare for not holding still.

Anyways, her students are, for the most part, obnoxious and unaccustomed to greulling equitation work. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for playing games, going through obstacle courses, and having fun on horseback. However, I also believe in correct positioning and balance for maximum enjoyment. Are you having fun if your upper back hurts because you are stiff? Do you think the horse has fun when you hang on the reins? The answer is no.

So, I decided to introduce them to equitation class 101. Of course, they rolled their eyes when I asked them to drop down into their heels, bring their shoulders back, and look where they were going. One girl, whom I've mentioned before, whined when I asked her to soften her death grip on the reins. "But A TOLD me to do it THIS WAY."

"Do you think Jazzy looks happy right now?" I asked. "Earlier, you complained that Jazzy isn't listenining to you. She doesn't want to turn because there's too much pressure in her mouth. It hurts her to turn because there's nowhere for her head to go. When she leans on the reins, she is asking you to soften your hand. Your rein length is fine, but your hands are too rough."

The student continued to whine. "If I give Jazzy too much, she will buck me off."

"I seriously doubt that."

"You don't know Jazzy at all!"

"Ummm... excuse me? I've been teaching here for four years, and I've ridden Jazzy many times. She is a total sweetheart, and would never hurt one of her riders. If she bucked with you, its because she's telling you to be gentler with your hands."

After much whining, I got the student to loosen up... a little. I even got her to follow Jazzy's head with her hand a bit through an elastic elbow. Sadly, that all came to a halt when Jazzy, an old Arabian mare, stumbled a bit. Instead of absorbing the small stumble, the student ripped the reins, not once, but FOUR TIMES.

I can't remember exactly what I said, but I made her dismount. I will not have an abusive student in my class, and I'm more than happy to entertain phone calls from angry parents. I stick to my guns, and, strangely, my boss trusts my judgement.

I sent the student out of the arena and had her sit in one of the lawn chairs nearby to watch the rest of the lesson. Two minutes later, she asked to come back in.

"Not unless you promise to be nice to Jazzy. If I see you pulling too hard on the reins, I'll take you right back off again."

Instead, the student decided to make phone calls on her cell.

The rest of the lesson went well. One of the students, who is a bit older and more mature than her classmates, asked to switch to my lesson day to learn more. As for the angry student? For the sake of equine everywhere, I hope she learns to be more patient.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again...

It felt great to sit on my horse again after so much time off! The vet declared Shorty ready for light riding, which is good enough for me. We started very slowly, due in part by Shorty's stifle arthritis. Today, I hopped on with my trusty bareback pad and hackamore and we walked in big circles in the arena.

Normally, a horse that had five weeks off, particularly an OTTB, would be breathing fire. But truly, Shorty didn't have his time completely off. We did lots of ground work, got out of the stall often, and even had the opportunity to put him back on turnout with SMBs, provided he was cold hosed/iced before and after his romp outside. Certainly, he did not spend five weeks couped up in his stall, but instead got out just as much as he would if he were completely sound.

However, his activities were monitored closely, and the swelling, heat, and tenderness is completely gone.

Last week triggered a chain of events that led me to think about a new way to help Shorty. Bear with me: on Thursday, I broke my glasses. They're flexon, apparently indestructable, but I've broken five pairs of them in twelve years. All weekend, I had duct tape, and later plumber's putty, holding the fragile frame together. On Tuesday, my eyes were checked, I picked out a new frame (since I break flexon no matter what, I opted for cheap plastic frames this time), and they told me to come back in a few hours to pick up my newly-made glasses.

Normally, I would have gone home and come back, but the starter on my car is shot. I try not to start the old girl more than is absolutely necessary. I hold my breath when I start my car if I'm running errands or filling up on gas, because I never know when it will refuse to start.

Anyways, I decided to walk around downtown. I walked over to Borders. After browsing through the literature and historical non fiction sections, I headed over to the horse section. There, amid titles of "My First Pony Book" and "Horsekeeping for Dummies" was a spiral bound manual on equine massage. Massage you say? Intrigued, although slighly put off by the steep $30 price, I ended up purchasing the book and a few others, including "Centered Riding 2." Heck, my Managerial Economics book was $230.

I realize that one book will not give me the tools to practice on other horses, but I am comfortable with doing some of the lighter stuff with Shorty. Effleurage, or gentle, downward strokes, is meant to warm up muscles and encourage proper drainage. The idea is, the light touches slowly increase circulation before and after exercise. So, before hopping on today, I spent about fifteen minutes switching between superficial and deep effeurage. I didn't feel any knots or hot spots, but found a few sensitive spots (or rather, re-discovered them because I've found them while grooming many times). As I did this, Shorty looked worried that I would try to pull his mane (I don't anymore because he knocks me off the chair gladiator-style and gets very aggitated), but eventually he started to fall asleep in the aisle. I also did some stretches. Shorty loves carrot stretches from side to side, and I gently shook hands with him and stretched out his hind legs as well.

I rode around at a walk for twenty minutes. He seemed very stiff to the right, but moved nicely off my leg. Many joked that Shorty would be a ball of nervous energy after so much time off, but he was completely quiet and, actually, somewhat bored with the whole thing.

After our ride, I groomed Shorty very well, did more stretches and another fifteen minutes of effleurage. As I get a further in the book, I may try some of the other princples as well. Again, I would never administer massages to other horses without a lisence, but I feel comfortable giving Shorty's muscles some attention before and after rides to increase his comfort.

We will probably work at the walk for the remainder of the working week and hopefully start trotting again by the weekend, maybe as early as Friday. We'll see how Shorty feels.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

American Riding Instructor Certification

I figured I would pass this along, since I've received a lot of questions about my ARIA certification in dressage. For one, I was primarily a western rider for twelve years, and have only truly ridden dressage for four; why did I go after dressage certification first? Well, the answer is simple: dressage applies to everything jumping, western, barrels, reining, trail riding... you name it. Maybe I'm being a little cocky here, but I didn't feel challenged going after western certification, because I knew I would probably be able to get it, but obtaining dressage certification would require me to work a lot harder. So, that's what I did. Plus, I really want to work towards high certification with the United States Dressage Federation.

Here's some more info on ARIA, for anyone else interested. There are several degrees of certification, much like BHS.

What is ARICP?

Established in 1984, the American Riding Instructor Certification Program (ARICP) is a program offered by The American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA) to recognize and certify outstanding teachers of horseback riding who instruct their students in a safe, knowledgeable and professional manner.

Who is it for?

ARICP Certification is meant for the serious, above-average instructor who teaches safely and in a professional, competent manner, with high standards of honesty and integrity. Minimum age and experience requirements apply for each level of certification.

How does the certification procedure work?

ARICP certification is an important aspect of an instructor's career and requires that candidates make it a priority. The certification process is accomplished by evaluating the instructor's qualifications and teaching ability through written and oral testing, and, at Levels II and III, by a video submitted by the candidate. Instructors meeting the standards for a particular level will earn certification at that level. ARICP offers certification to instructors in three levels of experience and in 14 teaching specialties. To ensure that ARICP-Certified Instructors' standards remain high, re-certification is required every 5 years. This also gives the instructor an opportunity to upgrade his/her level of certification and to add new teaching specialties.

Where is the certification testing held, and what is the fee?

The testing is conducted at one-day test centers held throughout the year at different locations around the country. The fee is $595.00. When a group of at least 6 instructors at a single location desire ARICP Certification, special arrangements can be made for testing at their site. It is also possible to test individually by appointment at ARICP's office in Bonita Springs, Florida. The fee for private testing is $795.

What are the advantages of being an ARICP Certified Instructor?

ARICP Certified Instructors have nationally recognized credentials. Their employment prospects are improved. ARICP Certified Instructors are listed in the nationally-distributed ARICP Directory of Certified Riding Instructors and on our Web site.

ARICP Certified Instructors may obtain insurance discounts through several major insurers. ARICP Certified Instructors also receive the quarterly magazine Riding Instructor.

How do I apply for Certification?

Program size is limited, so it is important to apply early in order to assure yourself of a place. You should register at least 30 days in advance. Late registrations will be charged a surcharge for mailing materials overnight. You may register online or mail in a form or call 239-948-3232. You may charge your fee to your Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express card.

So, what has my ARIA certification done for me? Well, when working with inexperienced, distanced, and arrogant colleagues, its good to have a certification to back you up. My Saturday lessons are packed, and even my miser boss is giving me more free rein to make decisions (my boss is a subject for a whole different post... maybe a series.) Even though I went from the top of the game, NBHA world finalist, Quarter Horse Congress champion to a lower level dressage rider, I feel like I know more about riding, and teaching, than ever before... and this is just the beginning. I do hope to go for advanced level certification with ARIA in dressage, maybe western too, and possibly jumping. We'll see.