Broken Bones, and Engineering, Do They Go Together? Do They Explain “Breakdowns” Like Crackerjack This Weekend?

Boyd Martin and Crackerjack

First of all, before someone turns on the fire and starts a screaming diatribe, let’s clear a few things up. I am not a vet, I am not an upper level eventer, the best I have done is a few trainings, I am not a trainer, and I was not there this weekend when a horse was put down. “So then why the hell are you even talking?” Good question.

  • A.) I have a blog, it’s for talking about stuff I wanna talk about, You Don’t Know Me!

    Bees! Because this is my blog and I do what I want.
  • B.) This may actually have something to do with engineering,
  • C.) Safety is a huge part of my life in offshore as well as riding,
  • D.) All of the Above?

“God I hate multiple choice!”  Good news, you aren’t being graded.  “Whew, I was having flashbacks to the SATs.  But really, why are we here again?”  Engineering.  “Well aren’t we just enlightening today.”  Fo reals tho.  So it has been proposed that “breakdowns” among horses could be caused by running/working a horse that may have previous damage that we can’t see.  “This sounds like vet and Doctor stuff, not engineering.”  You are correct however as a person who installs pipe (you know, metal, hard, doesn’t bend) offshore

That black line is pipe and there is 7200ft between the platform and the sea floor.

in a moving environment, think waves, current, hurricanes etcetera, you have to wonder, how do those pipes survive for 20+ years with all that wind, waves, current, and sharks without breaking?  Well we design for it of course!  Fatigue is a big part of design when you have a pipe hanging off of a moving platform.  “Fatigue, a word I know, if I am fatigued, I need a nap, so does that mean your pipes need naps?”  I need a nap but pipes don’t get them, they work 24/7/365 for 20 years.  To better explain fatigue, think of the top of a Dr. Pepper can (this is my favorite but feel free to insert any soda/pop/coke type you like).  You know that tab on the top that you use to open your can that we would always remove as a kid?  “Why was there always someone collecting those?” I don’t know but when you flip that thing back and forth a bunch until it breaks off you are “fatiguing it to failure”. Yes, feel free to go out into the world and use your new found engineering vocabulary to wow your friends.

Who drinks this stuff?

So with pipe, possibly carrying thousands of gallons of oil, we do not want “Failure” but those waves, moving platform, and hurricanes are trying to fatigue the pipe by moving it back and forth sort of like your soda tab.  I won’t bore you with all the deep engineering details but the pipe itself has to pass certain tests, and checks to ensure it has no tiny cracks or holes.  When you weld pipe together, each weld has to pass inspections including x-rays to make sure there are no cracks or gaps.  There is a big focus on cracks and holes, even microscopic ones, as you wiggle, over time the cracks will become bigger and bigger, this is called “crack propagation” until one becomes big enough that the whole thing breaks.  And when in doubt, add more steel, so instead of the pipe being half inch thick we may use 1″ thick walls.  If you take a paperclip and bend it back and forth a bunch of times, you will see cracks in the paper clip, get your magnifying glass out though, they are very small.

There is a tiny crack in that circled area.


“Well this is neat and all but what the heck does it have to do with horses?”  Well, horses have bones, bones are hard, but they get fatigued as well.  The neat thing about bones is, given time and proper nutrition, they can repair themselves, pipes you have to heat up to help the pipe sort of “melt” and fill the cracks or if the cracks are very big, you have to add more material to fill them.  “Last time I checked, bending a bone back and forth really isn’t a thing.”  Correct.

I’m not going to lie, it was difficult to come up with an analogy for this.  Oddly enough, what I came up with is this.  You know, when you are in college out drinking with friends.  “I never drank in college, I am the picture of perfect college student.”  Sure you are, along with all the other college students out there, anyhow there was jerk move we used to pull where you would slam your bottle on top of someone else’s and all the sudden tons of foam would come pouring out of the top and the person had to try and drink it really fast.  It turns out, if you do this 2-3 times (yeah you find out the foam is lacking after the first one but blame the alcohol for further attempts), a bottle will break, usually the bottom one.  It will also happen if you do it too hard the first time but that’s shock loading and we covered that already.

Another issue to consider is eccentric loading.  “Electric loading?  Are we doing shock therapy on our horses now?”  Eccentric, essentially it means off center, think about your old crooked legged horse.  Usually Old Crooked Leg has trouble staying sound, because the joints and bones are not

For the love of Pete, Stahp!

getting used how they were designed.  We have all been there when we hit a nail and it bends.  “I’m lucky if I even actually hit the nail.”  Well if you do actually hit the nail, and it bends, that means either it is a super crappy nail, or you didn’t hit it in the middle of the nail.  You hit it off to one side “eccentrically”, and it bent instead of driving deeper into the fence board you are nailing up on the coldest day of the year just before you go catch the 10 horses running around like idiots.  Sometimes you can bend it back but if its a cheap nail aka lower grade materials that will break sooner, it will never hammer straight.  God forbid you hit it twice and it bends both times, you are probably screwed and should go get bailing twine or duct tape.

So, did Crackerjack have an unfortunate misstep or was it brought on by fatigue, I don’t know if that is something they can figure out or not, and we may never find out.

Now for my safety soapbox.  “Here. We. Go.”  So I have worked offshore, it’s dangerous, things happen, the seas are unpredictable, the weather can be as well.  On top of that, people can be unpredictable, maybe someone didn’t sleep well last night, they have drama at home, or they are inexperienced.  These can all cause bad decisions to be made which can put people’s lives at risk.  “If it’s so unsafe, then why do you do it?”  I like the job, I like the money, and maybe I like the risk a bit?  I mean, I do ride, it’s not like I took up knitting for a hobby.  “Dude, those needles are huge.”  Do you know, in my almost 400days of working on boats or in yards with heavy equipment, I have witnessed no major injuries and no deaths at all.    Why is that?  Well first of all, I think I am a bit lucky, I know people who have died but it was from a heart attack.  Do you know, even after those deaths, there were 2, the company decided that yearly physicals were mandatory to work offshore.  They could have said, “Not our problem those people didn’t take care of themselves.”  Instead, they said, you know, this has caused a major upset on the vessels, you live with these people every day, when they die right in front of you, it will mess you up, BAD. They realize it cost them time and money, and NO ONE wants to make the call to the family.  To them, it’s worth the time and energy to make a change.

One trip offshore, we had some cargo break loose and start moving while

Back before longsleeves were required.

lots of people were on deck, had someone gotten hit by it, it would have badly injured and maybe killed someone.  Why didn’t it though?  Well, we had all had lots of training (I had a week of safety training the week after I started), everyone immediately went to a safe area until the movement stopped and then the cargo was secured.  “Well that wasn’t so bad.  Slowed you down a few minutes.”  Well, one would think that but because it was an incident, the second the deck was secured, tons of pictures were taken and we sailed the half day back to the dock for an incident investigation which took 2 days with a team of 4 guys.  3 days of work time blown and those 4 guys got nothing done in those 2 days as well.  That gets expensive for a company, I estimate $250k-$500k in lost revenue alone.  “No bonus for you this year.”  No joke.

Horizon Drill Rig on Fire.

Lets just not even go into the Horizon/Macondo oil spill.  No, I have not seen the movie, and truthfully, I really don’t want to.

A guy I know that has been working in the oilfield for about 40 years told me when he started, there were no hardhats, you could wear shorts and sneakers, and if you got killed on deck, they just threw you in the freezer and kept going.  It’s not like that anymore.  Any death at all is highly investigated, and generally shared with the entire industry.  Recently an object was dropped from a crane on a boat, no one was hurt, I don’t even think there was major damage, the incident report was about 200 pages. Where are the in-depth reports on what has happened to horses and riders that are injured or die on course?  Someone may say this is too expensive to do, I say when you are losing a $100k horse, it’s too expensive not to.  Let’s not even try and put a dollar amount on a human life.  Maybe we put it back on the companies that insure the horses?  Make their reports public.  Just food for thought.

My proposal would be for any rotational fall, horse death, or rider death, a team of 4 people consisting of a vet, a course designer (not the one that designed the course that the incident occurred), an upper level rider and maybe someone who works for the governing association, work together, find out what really happened, why there was an incident, and make a report that everyone can read and share.  This shouldn’t just be for eventing, any death of horse or rider should be investigated, it may unearth a number of problems that are completely solvable.  Cracker’s may not have gotten hurt because of the course or fatigue of some form, maybe he had a genetic defect in the leg that just finally failed.  Maybe rotational falls are more caused by bad footing on the front side of the jump than by the jump itself.  Maybe that person died because they had an un-diagnosed heart defect and the horse landing on him/her stressed it.  It’s not always clear, but 4 people is all it takes.

Disclaimer: I am not a Veterinarian, I am not a trainer, I am not an upper level event rider, I am not a Doctor.  I have had some training in incident investigation but I am not a professional.

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How Tight Can You Turn, What is High Centering, And Other Trailering Debacles.

Well, I asked for suggestions and I got one in the form of a picture on Friday afternoon.  A “Show Dad” that is regularly seen stuck with us ladies at shows sent me a picture of a trailer in a bit of a pickle.  Apparently someone decided to skip the driveway and turn their truck and trailer down the grass hill, and they got stuck.  Royally.  “I don’t remember us getting that much rain, and where the heck is a hill in Houston, don’t you mean overpass?”  Nope, they didn’t get stuck in the mud, and I was actually in a location NW of Houston that has hills.

“So how does one get stuck if they didn’t get stuck in the mud?”  They did something called high centering.  This happens when part of the vehicle or trailer is stuck on higher ground than the wheels.  You know those blocks they put at the front of parking spaces that everyone seems to trip over?  “Oh god, every time, especially when I am texting.”  So if you have your lowered ’02 Honda Civic parked against one of those and accidentally put your car in drive instead of reverse, then punch the gas, your front tires will go over the concrete block and then your car will be stuck with the front wheels off the ground.  Since it’s a front wheel drive vehicle, putting it into reverse and hitting the gas will just spin the front wheels.  My friend, you have just “High centered” your sweet ride.  “Well poop, now what do I do?  I have to get to the barn for my lesson or my trainer is going to be pissed that I am late again!”  This is where you call a tow truck, they will drag your wheels off that block and depending on what gets torn up in the process, they may just be towing you to the shop.  “Double Poop!”

“How do I keep from doing this?  I don’t have time for this!”  How about not being a moron?  Just kidding, you pay attention.  If you have a truck where the ground clearance is higher than the cement block or whatever hill/obstacle you want to go over, you are fine.  A good rule of thumb for hills is, if it’s not paved, don’t try it…Also kidding.  Actually if you see a sign like the one shown here, your trailer just may hit the railroad tracks because you begin to go downhill with the tow vehicle before the trailer is at the top of the hill on the other side.  One way to avoid this is if the flat part on top of the hill is wide enough to get the front tires of the truck and the back tires of the trailer on it, and the hill on either side is not too steep, you may just make it.  However, if you have low ground clearance on your truck and/or your trailer, even this might not help you.  Realistically, if you see the road sign and you have a very long tow rig, you may just want to go a different way.  Also, look at the road, if there are a lot of scars on the road from other vehicles, that is a good signal that it may not be a safe route for your rig.  If you have no option, go very slow, have someone watch as they may be able to help you.  If you get stuck, call for help, the more “stuck” you get the more damage you will do.

Back to the stuck trailer from the weekend, what you can’t see behind the rig is that the 2 roads come together in a very tight turn.  I can make it with my truck and little trailer if I swing wide but I have a 2 horse bumper pull not a 4 horse with living quarters.  I imagine this person thought they could maybe swing down the hill and miss the tight turn.  “Hello High Center!”  Yes.  So how much room does one need to basically do a U-turn?  Well I have a 4 door long bed truck so the longest combination you can buy in a truck.  I also have a bumper pull trailer, those tend to follow the wheels of the tow vehicle, where a gooseneck will fall/cut in some.  Just my truck needs 28′ to “bust a uie”  an 18 wheeler with a 53′ long trailer needs 66′ and that is from “curb to curb” and that is only if you practically jackknife your 18 wheeler.  Truthfully, you would think it was a lot more but the wheels on an 18 wheeler turn more than most standard trucks

A 2 lane country road is about 18′-20′ wide so the only thing making a u-turn on that might be your Honda Civic.  So for my truck without a trailer, I need 3 lanes to be able to do a u-turn, an 18 wheeler needs at least 4 lanes (realistically more like 5) and a lot of room for the trailer to “fall in” to prevent what you see in the picture.

Know the height of your trailer, make sure you don’t go under a bridge or power lines that will damage your trailer, especially if you have things that stick up like an A/C unit or a hay pod/rack.

Close the drop down windows on your trailer if there are not hard bars to prevent issues like in the picture.  I knew a lady that this happened to her going down the road and another that this happened when they had stopped and were unloading for the day.

Getting stuck in the mud is a fairly regular occurrence at eventing shows, if this happens, don’t panic, and do not stomp on the gas attempting to just fling the truck out,

My truck and trailer setup.

it will only bury you deeper making a giant rut and it will make it harder to pull you out.  If you have already loaded the trailer, unload the horses and get them out of the way, preferably in a stall somewhere.  Contact the office or the property owner, they can use their tractor or their truck or whatever they have to pull you out.  I got pulled out by a fork lift once.  If you know it’s mushy and that you may have trouble, try moving the truck and trailer to solid ground before loading tack, equipment, and horses.

How to use a Trailer-Aid.

US Rider is like AAA for horse people, I have it because I haul alone often and I know how to change a tire but those lug nuts can be impossible to break off.  Also, if you don’t have a Trailer-Aid, I highly recommend them.  No idea what that is, well, when you get a flat on your trailer, it is a little ramp that you drive the good tire up on so you don’t need a jack.  Its plastic, light weight, and easy for anyone to use even alone.  Pro tip: undo your lugnuts before driving up the Trailer-Aid…yep forgot to do this the last time I had a flat.  Luckily we were at home so no one saw.

Notice how much the back wheels of the trailer fall inside the circle.

So if you would like to find out how much room you really need while turning a circle with your truck an trailer, there is this excel spreadsheet, you will have to measure your truck and trailer, you may be able to find most of the data online for your truck like the turning circle.  All of the dimensions are in mm so you will have to convert everything, don’t worry if you type something like “250 inches to mm”  in google, it will convert it for you!  It gives you a turn radius so if you want to know how big of a circle drive you need to build, take that number and double it, I found out I will need a 28.5′ radius for my truck and trailer configuration which means if I want to build a cul-de-sac, I need 57′ across circle to make the turn, and that is if I execute it just perfect so I would go 65′ as a minimum.  You can decide if you want an island too using the “inside radius of corner” number, make sure to double it as well.  In my case, the island can be no bigger than 22′ across or my trailer will run over the curb or grass.  Again, I am not a perfect driver so I would go with 17′ or less, even just skip the island all together.

Calculations for my truck and trailer pictured above.

So, the sheet is made for bumper pull trailers, but, you can cheat it for a gooseneck, just set the “rear overhang” to 0 and length excluding hitch would be your floor length, and length including hitch would be from the hitch to the back of your trailer.  It will not be as precise but it will give you an idea of what you need.  If I leave the trailer dimensions for my trailer, it tells me I need 62′ across circle to make a u-turn and the island can be no bigger than 19′.  Again, these calculations produce perfect numbers so you would want more like 67′ and 15′ at best, especially on those days when you get home from a horse show and are super tired.  What this also means is, when you want to make a u-turn on a road you will need about 6-7 lanes to make a u-turn.  Maybe practice your backing up.

Also, on a day when you have time, take your truck and trailer out to a field, set up soccer cones, and practice u-turns to see how much room you need, then practice backing up!  Set up cones and try and back into them, kind of like learning to parallel park in driving school back in the day.  Give yourself room to mess up but don’t make it too easy.  You can even go to an empty school parking lot or something and practice there.  It’s important that you gets used to handling your trailer so pretend that the cones or the paint stripes are a wall or solid object and practice driving around them.

One final tip, if you have a straight load trailer.  Put the heavier horse on the driver’s side or if you only have one, always put it on the driver’s side.  “I have ALWAYS heard the opposite!”  Well there is some debate because if you do get side swiped when passing oncoming traffic then your horse is on the “safe” side.  However, most roads are built to slope to the outsides, especially 2 lane country roads, you will notice the highest point is usually in the middle of the road, this is for drainage purposes.  Thus putting your horse on the left side of your trailer helps put the weight on the high side and less likely to pull you off the road, especially in slick situations.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional horse hauler, I do not work for US Rider or get any kickback from them, if you purchase an item from an Amazon link, I will receive a small percentage which helps support the site.

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Tragedy While Traveling, Accident At The Barn, A Conundrum At The Show! Are You Prepared With A First Aid Kit?


Drama Llama Ding Dong. Can Anyone Escape Barn Drama?

It seems that a lot of barn drama is going around right now, it seems like a plague at least locally.  Maybe it has to do with the stress left over by Hurricane Harvey, maybe it was because Friday the 13th fell in October, maybe it’s because we recently had a harvest moon, or you know, because it’s Wednesday.

Drama comes in many flavors, between boarders, between a client and trainer, between the horse caretakers and trainers, between trainers and farm owners, between horse caretakers and farm owners.  The list goes on and on and on.  I have seen it all, in one form or another.  If you are new to the equine world, maybe you have managed to miss the drama or have only seen one of these.  Sometimes there is drama that a boarder will never know about, this is usually the drama involving trainers, horse caretakers, and/or farm owners.  Those that have been around for years have seen it all.

“Why the heck is an engineer writing about drama?  Engineers are boring, they don’t understand drama.”  You are right Engineers are pretty boring folks, but as an engineer who has spent 40 days straight stuck on a 250′ long boat with 48 other people (only one other person was an engineer), I have learned to handle drama.  “Holy Gilligan’s Island, that ain’t no 3 hour tour.”  Nope, and let me tell you, when the seas are rough and you can’t work, drama ensues.  Add a little sleep deprivation because you got stuck working Midnight to Noon, all kinds of shenanigans happen.

Some people love drama, some people cause it on purpose, some people thrive on it.  To be honest, I like to hear about it but I HATE being involved.  Generally, I tend to avoid drama.  It’s pretty easy for me to stay out of barn drama since my horses are at my house, the biggest drama I have to deal with is that a possum got in the chicken coop and roughed up one of my hens or the horses kicked down a gate and are running around like idiots.  I still haul in for lessons so when there is drama, I get to hear about it.

I have had my share though, I have been at a number of boarding barns in my years.  Boarders having screaming fights over whatever reason.  Caretakers not showing up for work after a night of partying.  Farm owners having unreasonable expectations of trainers or boarders.  Trainers playing favorites among clients, I see this a lot.  Trainers charging unfair prices, there is a lawsuit going on right now involving a trainer and a fraudulent horse sale.

“All the Drama, what is a girl to do, add more drama?”  No, do everyone a favor, don’t add to the drama.  “Why doesn’t everyone just avoid the drama and get along?  Sing some Kumbaya, hug, and go ride our ponies.”  That would be nice, unfortunately, when you get a lot of people attempting to exist together, it just doesn’t work out.  Kind of like that college roomie you couldn’t stand.  Working offshore has given me tips for minimizing drama.  When you work, eat, hang out and spend 24 hours a day in a small area with the same 50 people, you either learn to play nice or you get kicked out.  Here are a few tips that I have picked up over the years:

  • Less people mean less drama, one barn that I was at, the trainer was the farm owner and the caretaker.  There was very little drama.
  • Find a barn that fits your care standards, this will save a lot of drama between you and the farm owner.  If you feel that only plastic fencing is safe for your Fluffy Pony, then find a barn that has that.  “I can’t afford those barns…”.  Then be realistic, either lower your expectations or reconsider horse ownership.
  • More to the point above BE REALISTIC.  If you are paying $200 a month, don’t expect the red carpet to be rolled out when you park your ’98 Honda Civic in the parking area.  If you are paying some of the lowest board in the area, you may have to clean up debris in the pasture, or make a few improvements to your horses stall to make it safer. (always get permission first)  The more you pay, the nicer the place should be and you can expect the farm to ensure the pastures are clean and inspected.
  • Move-in condition is what you should expect- in other words, if you move into a place that has wire fencing, don’t expect the owner’s to replace all of it with wood because you said it was safer.  Even if they say they are going to replace it, don’t trust it, things happen, money runs out, they get too busy.  You may be able to negotiate a lower rate and tell them that you will pay more once the fence is replaced or whatever is fixed up, but this is no guarantee that it will happen.  Be ready to pay if they hold up their end of the bargain…
  • Avoid problem people.  If you know someone is difficult to get along with, minimize your exposure to them.
  • If you are having a problem with another boarder, talk to the farm owner or your trainer first, they may have a way with dealing with it that will prevent more drama.
  • If you are having issues with a farm owner, remember they own the place, they are going to run it how they want to, because they own it.  If you have concerns you should talk to them but most of the time, it’s not going to change.  If they want your opinion, they will usually ask for it…
  • If you are having issues with the trainer, you should talk to them, also read this post as it will help clear a few things up.
  • If you are having issues with the caretaker, you need to talk to the person that hired the caretaker.  If the farm owner hired them, that is who you should talk to.  Same goes if the trainer hired them.  Whomever hired them has trained them to do things a certain way, and for a reason.  Discuss with the proper person so that things are handled correctly to avoid conflicts.
  • “Borrowing” happens.  I hate it as much as anyone else, if you keep your stuff locked up and don’t share the combo, then no one can borrow your stuff.  That fly spray you leave hanging on the stall, it’s going to get used, just be ready for it.  If it’s a major problem, talk to the barn owner or trainer about maybe doing a communal fly spray situation.
  • Don’t go into areas you aren’t invited into, if there are 2 locker rooms, only go into the room that has your locker.  You have no business being in the other room and you will look suspect.  Same goes with owner/trainer tack rooms.
  • Be courteous, clean up after your horse and yourself.  If you pull your horse’s mane in the middle of the barn aisle, sweep up the hair.  If your horse poops in the cross ties/wash rack, clean that up.  The only way you get out of this is if you are at a super swanky barn where they have someone to do that for you but 90% of us are not at that barn so clean up.
  • Follow the rules!  The rule may be stupid, it may be annoying, it may be an inconvenience, but it’s still the rules and they have them for a reason.  If you hate the rules where you are, move to a different barn, if you can’t afford a different barn, see above comment about being “realistic”.
  • Just because you take lessons from a trainer does not mean you have a right to use their stuff.  They may loan you something but after using it for a few weeks, maybe a month, you need to purchase your own and return the borrowed item, unless an arrangement has been made.  Never take/borrow anything of theirs without prior permission, this includes things like fly spray.
  • Do not judge anyone else’s riding/training.  If you want to know more about what someone is doing, ask questions, NICELY, in a friendly tone.  If there is something that you think is dangerous, if appropriate, ask them about it, if you aren’t sure, ask the trainer or the farm owner and let them deal with it.  Try phrasing things like: “Hey, are you ok?”  “Can I help?”  “I’m worried this may not be safe for (Insert horse’s name).”  “I am worried about your safety, I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
  • If you have a super spooky horse, instead of picking a fight with someone because they are spooking your horse, either ride at a time when there aren’t many other horses around, find a different area to ride, or use it as a “training tool”, work through it.  If your horse spooks at an inanimate object in the barn, do not move or remove the item, get your horse used to it, if you don’t have the experience, then ask your trainer for help.
  • Gossip happens, (it happens big time offshore) be ready for it.  Don’t do things that are worth gossiping about.  If someone sees a male and a female walk out of a closed tack room, it’s getting talked about, or speculated about.  It could have just been a conversation between friends, but it’s going to go through the barn like wild fire.  By tomorrow morning, the couple will have been having an affair for the last 3 months and the guy is going to leave his wife tomorrow.  I would say don’t gossip or spread rumors, but let’s be honest, it happens, it’s part of being in a barn.  However, don’t spread untrue stories, leave the fake news to Facebook.
  • Just like they say in kindergarten, treat everyone how you would like to be treated.

You can’t always prevent or avoid barn drama, but you can minimize your exposure by being nice, communicating concerns, and sometimes you just have to let things go.  Don’t allow the barn politics ruin your ride, you are there to relax and have fun, so get out there and have some fun.  If the politics are constantly causing problems, maybe it’s time to find a new barn.

Disclaimer:  I am not a licensed therapist, I didn’t even take psychology in college, I am just an observant person who has been stuck in High Drama situations.

Shout out to my fellow Houston Civil Engineer friend who sent me a message, good luck with your new “Fluffy Pony”!

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Interval Training, There is an App For That. Here’s Why You Need It No Matter What Discipline You Ride.

Interval training, it’s so hot right now.  Some of you may have heard of it, especially if you are a jogger or a crusty old eventer like me.  Back when I was a kid it went something like; you and your friend head out to the back pasture on ponies, race each other for a bit, get yelled at by the trainer, continue to race ponies but going the other direction, and then come back to a scolding but still happy because ponies and galloping happened.  In reality it should follow something like this:

  • Warm up at the walk, trot, and canter
  • slow gallop for 3 minutes one direction
  • walk for 2 minutes
  • slow gallop for 3 minutes the other direction
  • walk for 2 minutes
  • slow gallop for 3 minutes the first direction or split it for both directions

As your horse gets fit, you increase the gallop time and maybe the walk time.  However, the walk time is always less than the gallop time.  This is the best way to get your horse fit for things like Cross Country, but it can be beneficial for your jumper, dressage horse, heck even your reiners, barrel racers, roping horses, or anything else that needs to be fit for bursts of energy.

How does it work?  It raises the heart rate for a short amount of time (while you canter or gallop), allows it to recover some (during your walk), and then raise it again (back to the canter or gallop).  You can get very scientific about it and use heart rate monitors and go to a target heart rate, maintain it for so many minutes, then rest until it recovers to a certain point and then do it again.  Essentially the more fit you are, the less time it takes to get your heart rate to drop.  There is a lot of this done in endurance riding.  They have vet checks along the way to make sure your horse is not being over stressed, if it takes your horse too long to recover at the vet checks, you are eliminated.  Long format eventing involves some of this too.

If you are looking for a good way to exercise your horse without having to use your brain, this is a great way to do it.  “Oh man I had a bad day at work, bring on the mindless riding!”  Either set a timer on your watch or your phone and go have a good ride.

“Well this is all nice, but you mentioned an app?”  We all love apps, we have loads of them for all kinds of things so why not use it to your advantage.  I have one called “Running for Weight Loss” it’s free.  “Are you saying my pony is fat?  Poor Fluffy Pony, you aren’t fat, you are fluffy.”  Sure, “fluffy”.  There are many interval running apps available so try them to find one you like.  This one lets you set levels like beginner, intermediate, and advanced.  It will let you put personal information in too.  Then it gives you options for days of the week assuming you “run” 3 times a week.  If you look at the options, you can select a different type of training plan I chose 5k which gives you 30 min work outs.  Then you hit start and it actually tells you when to walk and when to run.  That will set you up on a walk/run interval, and it will buzz or talk to you when you need to change your speed.

As you get further in the workouts they will add in short bursts of “sprint” so maybe you gallop a bit faster during this time.  Modify your speed to fit the work out.  One that I did said “Jog or Light Run” I don’t exactly remember but when I heard that, I trotted.  If your horse isn’t in super great shape, you can trot when it says “run” and canter when it says “sprint”.  If you are out on a trail, it will track you on a map and show you where you walked, trotted, and cantered, and how far you went and at what speed.  You know how they sometimes post a speed at shows, like you may see 325m/min on the course map, well you can actually find out what that speed feels like.  If you are in the ring it shows a bunch of circles on top of each other, so not super helpful.

If you plan on doing some interval training, prior to starting, you should assess your horse’s fitness, it’s not fair to go galloping your horse in an intense work out if he has been hanging out in the pasture the last few months.  Talk with your Trainer, they can help you figure out how fit Fluffy Pony is.  Also take into account where you will be riding, if your horse is fit to ring work, hills will be challenging so take it easy if you are headed out on hilly terrain.  One of the nice things about my neighborhood is that I have a creek at the back that I can take the horses in for exercise, it’s belly deep in some spots, but working in water can be very difficult and tiring so ensure you take that into account as well.

The take away message is, there are tools out there that will help your pony and possibly you, get fit.  As with everything, you must use all tools wisely and be sure you are not hurting your horse in the process.  Once you get the hang of it, interval training is an easy and beneficial solution to the “I don’t know what to do today when I ride.” disease that we all get sometimes.

Disclaimer:  I am not an equine fitness professional.  I do not work for or receive any benefits from running apps.

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Coaches, Trainers, Riding Instructors, Customer Service Representative?

Last week I shared a funny post on my Facebook page about How to Make Your Trainer Hate You. It was quite funny but still kind of truthful, you know, full of sarcasm. “You, sarcasm? Do you even know what sarcasm is?” Well apparently someone knows about sarcasm. I’m sure we are all guilty of 1 or 2 of those but hopefully not all. “So, what is the point of this article?” Well there was an interesting comment at the end from a reader. Paraphrasing, it went something like “When will someone write about things trainers can do that make clients like them?” Then they continued to wonder what happened to customer service, etc.  “Let us massacre this plebe with our words on the interwebs.”  Before you call the angry mob take a breath and really think about this comment.

I have been riding since I was a kid, the trainer was second to god, it was a given.  This commenter did have a point though, I mean we are pouring our hard earned dollars into this trainer’s pocket.  “Yeah a lot of our hard earned dollars, for all the abuse!”  Put the pitch fork down, the more I thought on it though, it didn’t sit right.  Why is that?

Well I finally figured it out.  It doesn’t sit right, because it isn’t.  Those of us that started to ride as a kid, our trainer/coach was an adult, we were taught to do what the adult says, always.  Lately I am not so sure that this rule is taught but that’s a different soap box for a different day and different blog.  So us kid riders took for granted that our trainer was someone we looked up to and respected.  But what happens when you ride as an adult?  Your trainer becomes a friend or possibly someone who works for you, I mean, you are paying them for a service.  In theory this makes sense but there is one thing that I think people forget.  Hold on to your hats ladies (and gents), here comes a big “light bulb” moment.

Crossfit is very popular right now, people actually pay to go to crossfit.  People also go to gyms and pay for personal trainers.  These people aren’t generally nice to you, they push you, they drive you to do better, they yell, they make you do things you don’t think you can or should do.  I see posts all the time about people “hating” their personal trainers/dietitian/insert person who is not nice to you yet you still pay them, yet people still go back.  Why?  Because you see results.  “I lost 20 inches off my waist!”  “Look at my toned arms and abs.”  Etc.  These people don’t take you to the weight lifting machine, have you sit on the padded bench, hold your hand and say things like “Is this bench comfortable for you?  Is the atmosphere enjoyable for you?  You look great today, why bother working out.  Let’s just chat for the next 30 minutes and you can go home.”  No, they tell you to get on that bench, and start pumping iron, and when you say it hurts or you are tired, they say “Good, now do 30 more reps.”

Ladies and Gentleman, Your horse trainer is no different than a personal trainer or a crossfit coach.  Be honest, you don’t take lessons because you want to trail ride, you take lessons to become better, compete at shows, even win.  You only become better/win by being pushed, by doing one more lap of stirrup-less posting trot, or by them sneaking a jump up one more hole while you aren’t looking so you don’t spaz because you are now jumping 3′ instead of 2’9″.  The better the trainer, the tougher they can be because in reality, they don’t need someone who stands around and whines the whole lesson, they can fill your spot with someone else that is ready to put in the work to get the WIN they are looking for.  Essentially you are paying for the privilege of having Ms. Olympic Medalist yell at you, just like any other coach or trainer.  Those trainers want a barn full of winners, they are competitive, they didn’t win a gold medal because they like sitting on the couch watching TV all day.  The more winners they have, they more valuable they are, and the more clients they attract.  So if you want to ride with a top notch winning barn, tighten your boot laces and put your big girl panties on, you are about to go to work.

An example of this would be professional sports coaches, I might see them smile once at the end of a game they won, or I may never see them smile.  They are not holding the player’s hands telling them it will be ok, they will win next time.  “Those players are getting paid gazillions of dollars, I am paying my hard earned cash.”  True, but their goal is to win games, you do that by being a better team than the other team.  You only get better by being pushed and working harder than the other team.

“But riding is supposed to be fun… I do it because I enjoy it.”  My suggestion to you, pick a less competitive barn/trainer.  If you don’t always want to put in the hard work required by Mr. Olympic Level Trainer, then maybe riding with Mr. Local Show Trainer is more your style.  Maybe you don’t always win at the show but you have a lot more fun.  If you are super competitive and want to win at nationally rated levels, you better buck up and suck it up and do what Ms. Olympic Level Trainer says, heck, and if you are on a budget and still want to win, then you better do what Ms. Local Show Trainer says.

For the ones paying for their own lessons with money they earned (aka the adults):  That being said, personality conflicts do exist.  If you just aren’t getting along with your trainer, after half a year to a year of trying (give it some time, all relationships need work), then maybe it’s time to find a new one.  This doesn’t mean the first time Mr./Ms. Trainer says something you don’t like, or asks you to do something you don’t want to, or even yells at you because you are probably being unsafe.  Changing trainers is fine, it happens, however if you find yourself going from trainer to trainer every year or two, it’s probably not the trainers that are the problem…

For the record, I still talk to the trainer I had when I was a Pony Clubber and got to spend a Saturday with her recently, which was so great!  My Hunter/Jumper trainer I have been with off and on for about 11 years now.  My eventing trainer I have been with off and on for almost 9 years.  I say off and on because I was doing jumpers for a while, then I tried to event Emma, that was a hot mess, so then I went back to jumpers, then got Lily and am doing jumpers and eventing with her so I go to shows with the corresponding trainer.  And no I don’t say “Well my other trainer said such and such.”  They also know each other, are cool with each other, and know that I am not going to cause drama, they have both had me exclusively at one point or another.  This is not an easy balance, I do not recommend this arrangement to anyone.  It takes the right personality and a very good understanding of how the horse business works.  *If you have not been taking lessons for at least 10 years, you aren’t ready.*  Yes, I do have bad days, I always try and let the trainer know, if I am in such a bad state I will not be open to learning, I cancel the lesson (which includes still paying the fee as necessary) and I go trail ride.

Disclaimer:  I am not a trainer, I do not teach riding lessons.  I have taken hundreds of lessons in the last 25 years.

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Why You Need To Know About Harbor Freight and Few Other Frugal Horse Tips.

If you haven’t ever been into a Harbor Freight store, you need to find one.  None near you?  Good news, they are online too.  “Why do I need boat stuff?  What do I need from a Harbor store?  I’m not near a beach, heck I don’t even have a pond.”  Well my friend, they have things that can be useful for horse people for CHEAP. (Some of the pictures now have links!  Look at me being all awesome with the interwebs. “Loooooooser!”)

Anyone have a magnetic stud holder/bowl?  Smartpak has them for $17, Harbor Freight has them for $3-$4 Check it out here.

Need barn rags?  Try these red shop rags, 50 for $13.  Forget washing nasty barn rags, just toss them and get a new one.  They have white terry cloth ones too.

Extension cords? 25′ long for $9, almost a $1 cheaper than most places.

How about zip ties to strap down those electric cords?  100 fun colored ones for $2.50.

Need a giant pedestal fan for the barn aisle, they have a 30″ fan for $150.  Go ahead, cool off your barn aisle, tack up areas, heck even put one in the barn hang out area.

They have a staple gun to hang up your tack curtains for $8.50, it has better reviews than the expensive one.  Don’t forget to get your extra staples too, they have scads of them.

This hose nozzle is $22 on Smartpak’s site.  I prefer the $8 version…  They also have hoses, splitters, and other sprayers if you need those too.

Need a way to move hay around, they have these handy carts good for hay and lots of things.

If you have a tack trunk, this can be used in the bottom of the trunk and brush boxes to help protect the wood from drips and spills.

A few other things to check out

  • Pet Supplies
  • Kitchen Stuff (yes those are $1 scissors)
  • Solar Panels
  • Toys, yes that is a wagon
  • All the lights, solar, flashlights, head-lights(the kind that strap to your head), shop lights, battery powered lights, garden lights, shed lights, the little circle battery powered lights that work great in tack lockers.
  • Magnets for finding that screw you dropped in the pasture.
  • Ramps to get your golf cart into the trailer.
  • Grease to grease the ball on your horse trailer, and a mini grease gun to go with the tiny tubes, because who doesn’t love mini stuff.  They have the full size ones too if you are into that.
  • Emergency Impact Wrench for roadside tire changes, just try to get those lug nuts off.
  • Can you say Trailer Mirror?
  • Car trunk organizer aka trailer organizer.
  • They have pop up canopies for $70 but Academy has them for under $50
  • Masks, for all those reasons we should be wearing them but don’t, like painting or cleaning questionable areas.  At 40 cents each, you can afford to throw them away.  They sell them in a 50 pack too…
  • Megaphone, because your trainer can’t scream across the property at you to put your heels down.
  • Cheap sunglasses that your horses can break all day long, instead of your cute Smucci(you know, knock of Gucci) glasses.  These are less than $2.  Alright, they aren’t super cool but they work, and you wont cry when they get stomped on.
  • Hooks for tack and stuffHooks for barn cleaning tools.
  • Look around the site with an open mind, you never know what you will find that you can use.  If it’s something you can find at Lowes or Home Depot, check here first, it can save you big.
  • Warning: it is cheap, the things may break sooner so if you know you need heavy duty, go for a good brand, if you just need to use something a few times or are bad at taking care of your tools, go cheap, its easier on the wallet to replace.
  • Pro Tip: Harbor Freight has coupons regularly for free stuff, right now you can get a free flashlight with any purchase.  If there is something you can wait a bit for, you might just catch it on sale or free!

Back when I was in college, it was a big deal to go to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night and do stupid stuff with your friends, including dressing up in the random ridiculous clothes, riding the bikes, playing with the balls, riding in the carts, and generally getting scolded by the staff.  I don’t even know what is going on in that picture, it was late…  We did find a number of things that could be used at horse shows though.  This list doesn’t include the obvious like fans, tools, first aid stuff, and extension cords.

  • Hairnets, they don’t last long but they are crazy cheap and will get you through a weekend.
  • Clear and black hair elastics that can be used for braiding
  • yarn and hooks for braiding
  • Suave shampoo and conditioner for baths, some even have Mane & Tail.
  • Sponges for tack and ponies (check the Auto department for pony sponges)
  • Boot cream and polish
  • boot laces for paddock boots and sometimes tall boots
  • Endust, works like show sheen, I have been told Pledge is too greasy
  • Polo shirts
  • brushes in the cleaning section, regular hair brushes can be used on manes and tails
  • buckets
  • A cleaning caddy can make a great brush caddy
  • Challenge yourself next time you are at Wal-Mart or Target to see what things can be used at your barn or next horse show.  Take your barn friends, do a scavenger hunt or just see who can make the longest list.  We did this at camp one summer, lots of fun.

FYI now is the time to buy fly sheets/masks/wraps, sun shirts, and summer riding gear.  It’s all on sale right now to clean out for the fall and winter stuff.

What topics would you like to see the Engineering Equestrian cover?  I am open to suggestions

Note:  All prices are based on whaty can be found on the website at the time this article was written and are subject to change.

Disclaimer:  I do not work for Harbor Freight or any other store mentioned above, these are just stores I patronize.

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