Giving Back

Hawkins Equine is looking for the next pony super star! Are you a kid or do you know of a kid that would like the opportunity to ride and show an adorable small pony? We are looking to sponsor a deserving and hard-working kid that wants to learn to ride and campaign our ponies! Send us a message and tell us why you should be our pony kid!

 

 

Regumate or How I learned to love the Mare

Two years ago I started a business because I wanted to offer more to my horses.  At first I was so strongly apposed to any sort of medical, herbal, hormonal, ad infinitum alternation of the animals.  When I started using Regumate I thought I might have been copping out or letting necessity trump principals. Like all initial conclusions, I let time, experience and education season it. 

If you have been following, I was bucked off and tore some ligaments in my knee.  Mr. Cook, my deservedly well-respected and well-informed coach, worried about my safety and the opportunities I was missing, spending so much time in the little jumper rings.  He asked me to be open-minded about selling my beloved mare and, wanting to be a good student, I spent my winter months looking into another horse.  Internet land- this is a BIG thing.  I wouldn't consider myself an animal hoarder but, as someone that has a troublesome time relating to other sapiens, I find a great deal of comfort in my horses.  All horses are special little snow flakes. But my special little snow flakes have helped me tremendously with the depression and anxiety of a wretched family history.  To think of letting a companion out of my life so I might become a better competition rider was a serious conundrum.  

A conundrum that again relates back to social depression and anxiety.  I have rarely admitted out loud much less committed to print a long history of serious depression.  This winter I was also trying my best to come to terms with a personal belief battle between the rationalist side of me, believing logic and theory could discuss away emotional imbalances and the sort of empirical materialist believer that all mental states are actually brain states.  The rationalist wanted to think away depression.  The empirical materialist actually started to understand that depression, like colds, cuts or broken ligaments, was a sort of broken brain.  Thankfully a broken brain that medication could fix. For the first time in my life, I started on medication for my depression.  Long-winded I know, but I swear it is related.

In this vain, I started thinking back to Zis.  Perhaps what had been labeled behavioral was actually a physical disfunction. Could having foals somehow change the way her body felt?Could it change the pressure on her ovaries?  Its not as if the damn mare can speak, so I did what any good scientist would do, I tried Regumate and I minimized the variables. What followed: a dramatic improvement on her behavior most importantly a willingness (gasp, desire) to go forward. 

Most horse trainers will think this entire post is silly, certainly Mr. Cook thought my complete refusal to try daily regumate was unproductive and juvenile.  And it was.  Blood, sweat, tears and oh so important time shed with this horse and something so simple could be the difference between clean rounds and not.  But where would I be if I didn't make mistakes, have some courage in my conviction and the good sense to know when I'm wrong. Of all the complicated things in horse training, I'm skeptical.  But a season has taught me to be skeptical of the skepticism.  

Eudaimonia or How I came to do what exactly I do.

Courage, empathy, self-reliance, quick-thinking, problem solving, disciplined, hard-working, ambitious and modest.  I spent my undergraduate education contemplating the Aristotelian abstraction of personal virtue.   Much better horseman have cited sound horsemanship as a form of self-mastery but I haven't met too many of them in the stick-jumpers. 

Weeks ago, a horse and I left the California sunshine.  Left a horse park where movie stars, second-generation coders and stockbrokers spend time in VIP tents and posh clubs.  For them the cost of riding and showing is so easy.  Like skiing, the recreational ride is exhilarating and fashionable.  I am extremely fortunate to share the ring with these riders and am happy to sacrifice holidays, vacations, etc. so I can develop my ponies at this level.  However, as recreational adults or budding children how do we justify the pricey dollar tag and exorbitant time suck?  When its neither glamorous or relaxing to show and train at this level, why exactly do we do it?

My answer came at a schooling show.  As a not so secret insomniac, I hate the one day shows.  Waking up at an ungodly hour (even in comparison to week long shows) the hectic packing of trailer, unloading of a group of horses to hastily school before plopping the owner back on and moving to the next one (HOW DOES ONE SCHOOL 5 HORSES IN AN HOUR, she asked). But all the kids showed up on time, carefully arranged their hairnets and did their best to contain their nervousness as I quietly and slowly recited their course. 

Some classes went well, others not so well.  Some students fretted with anxiety, joyous to be done with the day.  Others worked hard to take in notes and make thoughtful improvements to the ride so that historical mistakes would stay history.  Though the time in the tack was successful it was out of stirrups that I was most proud of my kids.  The quiet one, the one that barely spoke above a moderate whisper was yelling out the course to a complete stranger before she went into the ring.  The girls were bringing each other water, asking each other questions and helping each other get ready in that never-long-enough time period between one horse and another.  Girls were jumping on tables and cheering after a particularly great round (belonging to some person on a oh so cute pony named, "who cares"). 

I watched one collect her fifth place ribbon as she told everyone pinning ahead of her congratulations.  I watched another tell her pony "Thank-you for taking care of me."  I watched another mentor a younger all day, answer all questions and never loose patience. 

And I realized these riders had found courage, confidence, and compassion from their horses.  I hope I never loose the lesson. 

 

 

 

An unwanted but hopefully informative siesta

My business is a labor of love, an all engulfing lifestyle choice that necessitates the 12 sometimes 14 hour work days.  Though physically exhausting, the lifestyle choices are rather easy to make.  If anything needs to be done around the barn, I will be the first to get it done.  The horses will be turned out, brought in, fed, bathed, ridden.  The laundry will be done, it will be folded.  The troughs, the buckets will be scrubbed.  Sometimes the stalls will be cleaned or rebed.  I never lament these choices for these are the simple, medial tasks that allow me to recognize each nicker, footstep and breath from the ponies in our barn.  

In the whirlwind I neglect the unnecessary but mentally restorative tasks like this blog.  I don't talk much about my back round but at one point I wanted to be a writer.  I moved away from home and went to New York to study journalism.  As uncomfortable as I am talking to strangers is as at home I feel with written words.  This blog, my unrelated literary blog and the plethora of pages filled in the interim give me a quiet ease that I can't easily describe.  

All of this longwinded introduction to distract myself from something so easily weighing in my mind: my right knee and its apparent flimsy meniscus.  For those that know me, this isn't my first stint of knee complications (thank-you mother for bequeathing me with the apparent suckiness of patella).  The immediate concern is my inability to bear weight.  You know, since it keeps me from the aforementioned labors of love.   My secondary concern is the criticism the accident has heaped upon my horse.  

I should begin that it was Zis' matter-of-fact "I just jumped the standards" buck she gave me after our first meaty combination that solidified my assumption that she was my dream horse.  Zis, lovingly called sassypants, is an opinionated and obstinate mare- it took a good year to get her light to the leg (thank-yous go out for so many important lessons on calibration to the leg). In the past, light leg and she would ignore you, spur she would defy you and simply go slower, a slap with the stick and she would kick out and spurn you. But her pure enthusiasm and athleticism over fences kept me hooked.  Every since we began together she has a single buck after fences.  If you find videos of her father, he bucked after fences.  Heck, my absolute favorite PNW grand prix horse gives a haughty kick after a particularly great effort.

But it wasn't her quintessential buck after the fence that finally dislodged me, it was an out of the blue, basically in the middle of flat work to show a blatant state of pissed off that slammed my knee to the ground.  Am I suppose to send her up the road because she pulled a "young horse" and did something naughty? A great cowboy taught me that correct training was as simple as making "the right thing easy, and the bad thing difficult" and I have managed to weave it through my day to day riding.  Zis, you want to buck after a fence, well this bending line to the in and out might be kind of dicy but gosh darn, dig in and lets make it happen.  That put quits to the bucking in a line.  So time will tell with Saturday's antics but it is terrible science to make a generalization from one data point.  In the meantime, there are great trainers and handlers to give me pointers.       

Her blood and fiery temper makes her such a rocket in the ring and I don't think I can coerce her to loose her buck without sacrificing the very spirit that I think makes her great.  Instead of this idea of "fixing" her it is up to me and the people I train with to help channel her fire. With every every fall comes a lesson learned and will take the little bit of rest to continue writing, reading and thinking. 

 

   

Tack, Tad Coffin Style

My first saddle was a thoroughbred exercise saddle.  Not exactly the most comfortable and barely had space for my knee much less a knee roll.  But it was light and little pig-tailed, standing on her tippie-toes Ashley was able to hoist it over the side of a horse, so I was elated.  

When I started riding competitively, my very first trainer, Bobby Vanous took pity on my little body perpetually propelled out of the tack, and gave me one of her old Butets.  I rode in that Butet up until my move to Portland, where the desire to ride professionally inspired me to spend the money on necessary tools.  Everyone in my barn rode in (insert expensive French saddle here) and my boss was quick to suggest that I do the same.  The rep came out, had me ride in a few saddles and a few months later I had beautiful new saddle that supposedly had panels to fit a variety of horses.  

I thought I was happy enough.  My saddle was beautiful and the leather was so delectably soft.  I have always been a bit of an under-rider, more comfortable in the soft half-seat so I thought my inability to sit in the tack was simply my bad habits resurfacing.  I could barely sit the canter, it always felt jarring, like I was constantly fighting to keep my seat-bones underneath me.  I worked a lot without stirrups and eventually got more solid but I always felt like I was forcing myself to sit; forcing and stiffening my spine and thus stiffening against the horse.  

The saddle didn't end up fitting a lot of the horses the way I would like, I ended up spending thousands of dollars on every kind of half-pad in order to accommodate the barn full of withers, shoulders and spines.  With all this excess padding, I lamented a feeling of disconnection between myself and the horse.  I felt like I was always hovering above the horse instead of down and around where one can really feel the horse move. 

I started my own business a few years later and cringed as riders would borrow my saddle and (gasp) leave sweaty girths on the seat.  I kept my eye out for a lesson saddle but nothing looked appealing until a perusal through Gallop's, where an old Tad Coffin piqued my interest.  For a 12 year old saddle, the leather was in good condition, the billets looked pretty intact and the thigh and knee-rolls were pretty minimal.  Everything one could want in a beginner saddle.  My parents had a Tad Coffin exercise saddle and in hindsight my interest was primarily nostalgic because it didn't look or feel anything like the french saddles I had acclimated myself to.  

I took it on trial and I planned on having my kids ride in it- goodness knows, why would I forsake my buttery soft french friend for this 12 year old, grain saddle.  The week went by and kids rode in it but I planned on having a trial on my lesson pony before I bought it.  I can't remember why I didn't ride little Bandita that day but some how this old, hard-looking saddle made it on to my jumper.  And the very moment, I threw it over her wither, she thanked me for it.  Primarily, it is vastly lighter then any other saddle I have recently ridden in.  The lack of extraneous panel padding, seat padding, takes pounds off the horses back and gives the ultimate feeling of close-contact.  Zisel walked and I could feel every ripple of her shoulders, every footfall of the hind as her pelvis rotated her rump up and forward.  She walked in a way that I had not yet felt her walking, she was happily forward and active (and if you know mrs. diva, this is not an activity up until this moment she had taken too kindly).  This engagement continued throughout all of our work and never, up until that moment had I felt this centaur-like connection with a horse.  I loved it but with the sparse thigh and knee blocks and the uber flat seat and pommel I was wondering how in the heck I could possibly jump in it.  

Again, Mrs. Diva is the ultimate test.  When I say she has a superb hind-end I'm not kidding- she kicks and I mean double barrel kicks up and over the standards at almost all jumps.  How I managed to stay with her in my carbon seat-belt is besides me but I really thought the Tad would make it impossible to stick with her much less stay on her.  Here again, the 12 year old tad defied all expectations.  When I needed to sit, I could sit; when I needed to be soft, I could get out and be soft and never for a moment did I get ahead or behind her motion jumping.  She jumped every jump with incredible ease and the Tad gave me confidence to jump faster, higher and much, much wider.  

Long story short, in one ride I became a convert.  I contacted Tad Coffin Performance Saddles via an online inquiry and was surprised when Tad called me the next day.  I was loaned a demo of the new TC2 smart-ride technology and have never looked back.  All of my horses went fabulous, even my very sensitive, long-backed TB gelding was tidy with his front end and had a bascule that could make John French applaud.  I have never ridden better.  With the great connection I could ride even the luggish, stubborn horses with a lot more seat and leg aids eliminating unnecessary and strong hand.  All of my horses are lighter.  All of my horses are happier to work and almost all have found the chiropractor superfluous.

Within a month my new TC2 is a few weeks away from being shipped and I have never been so impressed with the craftsmanship, the development and the service of a company.  I have called Tad constantly with fitting questions, padding questions and every type of inquiry and he will spend hours on the phone as he hammers away in his shop.

Check out the new smart-ride technology to learn about the best technology I have found for horses!

Horsemanship

Online and in the grandstands- all we hear are lamentations of the lack of horsemanship in today's horse community.  Really, what were we to expect.  Rated horse shows reward the expensive, beautiful horses.  In the struggle to be competitive, families are forking large sums of money into their child's equitation mount and with crossed fingers traveling from show to show to get enough points for indoors.  Timid adult beginners seek out big-eyed, well-bred young imports for their walk-trot lessons simply so they can hold their own in the battle of the beautiful in the cross-ties.  As the amateur horses are becoming more and more expensive of course professionals and parents don't want their youngsters to handle them.  The inexperienced cannot be trusted to hand-walk, to wrap, or to lunge their horses for the deathly fear of making mistakes and ultimately ruining a valuable horse.  How are horsemanship skills to flourish?  

 

The horse sale integrity manifesto

When available I will pick up my phone, always.  If not available, usually teaching or riding where I never carry a phone to distract me,  I will get back to you within 24 hours.  

I will treat your horse as if it is my own.  She will live inside a comfy stall, full of kiln-dried pine bedding.  She will constantly have Eastern Oregon hay.  She will have clean buckets of water. She will have good-night treats and wither scratches.  She will be groomed meticulously and lovingly.

I will ride and work your horse as if she were in full training- five days a week of flat-work, gymnastics, hill-work and cross-country schooling.  She will be trained to carry herself, to be balanced and obedient.  From these sold basics, she will be confidant in her job and happy in her work.  She will be a pleasure to ride and to be watched ridden.

Your horse will be aggressively marketed.  All print and online ads will be updated to represent the most current level of the horses training.  Your horse will be fairly represented, always clear on the rider suitability, soundness and natural talents of the horse.

You will get weekly as well as monthly emails detailing the progress of training as well as relevant video and picture links.  Updates will list all possible leads and queries.  

You will be notified of any needed farrier, dental or veterinary work.  Permission to ascertain recommended work will be acquired before completion of said work (unless of course, in case of dire emergency) 

You will get a bill of sale.  All monies tendered will be delivered to you directly.

I will make recommendations for shows, clinics, etc. only upon the necessity to solidify the horse's likelihood of sale.  Your horse was sent to me for reasons of selling and I will do my absolute best to make decisions upon the horses care, representation and campaigning only on the basis of completing the sale.  

You are welcome to pop in during any business hours to see your happy, well-cared for horse.  

 

 

Explanation, Demonstration, Critique, Allow the student to Practice.

This week has been an exciting one.  Several new students have started with me and a few of the older ones are changing the program a bit, goals are getting bigger and lessons are getting tougher.  From both the new and old students I am reminded of the importance of patience.  Patience for oneself when starting a new exercise, patience in dealing with our horses and most importantly patience in teaching our students.  Though not always from the equestrian world, I have a lot of practice in teaching.  I was a math tutor in high-school, I was a writing assistant in college and both a tutor and freshman teacher in graduate school.  I had all sorts of students- the super-eager, twenty minutes early to class to review notes kind, the glazed eyes, I don't need to know calculus kind and every variation in between.

My teaching philosophy doesn't vary much across the academic and equestrian world.  Heck, I even use my model as a means of communicating and training with my horses.  As such, the central tenant is always to take responsibility for the progress, plateaus and decline in my students.  I believe that students and horses want to be good at what they do, in short they want to learn.  If students are not correctly completing the exercise, they are not obstinate, lazy or untalented they are simply confused or uninspired by my teaching.  In other words, there is noise in the channel and it is my job to go back, rethink my explanation and try again.  

Each time I sit in the saddle or stand in the middle of the ring, I am constantly reading my students.  I am asking myself if they actually understand.  I am determining what motivates them, what makes them back off and I tailor each lesson to develop the strengths as much as the weaknesses.  As I do this, I determine the limits of my teaching and I too find ways to grow.  

 

 

  

A practice pony for Paige

Before I had finished signing my name on the final page of our farm lease agreement I already planned on finding a lesson pony.  I didn't exactly have a line of kids waiting outside my gate but I have never been one to slowly (dare I say rationally) take on new adventures- in other words, if I am going to do it, by all means, I am going to leap.  

Bandita was not originally on my radar but there was something enticing and even endearing in her expression.  She was wonderfully quiet and satisfied to be curried and rubbed, there seemed to be no exhaustion of her patience in the cross-ties.  The likelihood of a suitable kids horse ended there.  She didn't stand for the mounting block.  She was awkward and uncomfortable to steer.  With a long back, she was not naturally balanced and fell so much to the inside I swear if I had reached my hand out in her canter I probably could have touched the ground.  

But she always looked me in the eye and a great jockey told me he choose his starts by simply looking the horses in the eyes; "The ones that return the gaze are too smart to lose."  So I bet all my money on little Bandita and brought her home.  

WIth no other horse have I made so much progress so quickly.  I do not say this as a tribute to my talent (really, I take no credit at all) but merely the intelligence and willingness of this little paint mare.  She is not the typical show pony, she was bred and branded on some ranch in Idaho where she probably roamed with cows.  She probably grew thick hair and drank from streams as she spent a good chunk of her life grazing the open land.  She makes a funny contrast parked next to a Holsteiner who is as beautiful a show jumper on paper as she is in the ring.  But little Bandita traded in a western saddle and in two days has balanced transitions.  She can lengthen and collect.  By god, she can even canter.  On top of this, she is the cutest little mover.  She will lift her little belly, come right into my hand and carry herself with as much poise as those little Farnleys my mom is always going on about.  We even jumped!   

In short, Bandita is a fabulous testament to the power in one's willingness and desire to learn.  It doesn't matter the natural shortcomings in conformation or social status, our trajectory is more a matter of personal effort and determination then fate.  We are proud to have Bandita in the family.   

When in doubt, perfect prep.

It was a slight blow when Rob Gage suggested a kid to use perfect prep to on of the readers on style my ride:

This is not to say that I believe that animo acids and herbal supplements that take off extra, unnecessary jitters don't have their place.  However, when trainers blindly suggest behavioral modifications to horses they aren't familiar with I can only assume that modifying the horse is becoming the only remedy trainers are capable of doting out.  

It is even more upsetting that Gage looks at that unbalanced six year old obediently toting his rider around the big eq ring and thinks such a heavy horse in need of a few half-haults is wild and unmanageable.

Young kids are eager to learn how to ride, I hope we have more to offer then this.  

 

Big Red

I have always had a thing for redheads.  My first horse was chestnut- she was a lovely mare with boundless heart and inexhaustible patience.  She was the horse that I took across the country: there was no show she didn't win and no clinician who didn't admire her.  And all of this packaged into a cheeky chestnut mare who still doesn't come up to anyone or stand for anything.   It was Basil who taught me that great horses are eccentric.  Great horses are testy, opinionated and cannot be fit into boxes.  

Several years later, I met Red.  Aptly named, he is a fiery 16.2 off the track thoroughbred that was in training with my old boss.  Then he was sulky, backwards and severely aloof.  His trot was jarring, stiff and uncomfortable and his canter was a never ending game of dodge the head that came flying at you with the first step of every stride.  To say I did not enjoy riding him was an understatement- he was the first horse I got on so I could 1. get it out of the way. 2. be fully refreshed, hydrated and strong and 3. be comfortable knowing that no one except the curious stall cleaners would pop their head in the arena thus leaving me free to growl, kick and look like a complete yahoo as I did everything in my power to get the horse to go forward.  At this point in the story it is important to note that he squealed at all up transitions.  

I was told he would never jump and yet after several deer-like leaps over poles, Red smoothed out.  Poles turned into cross rails eventually got raised to verticals, spread to oxers and ultimately filled with boxes, brush, coops, roll tops, etc.  He starting knickering as I walked by, looking for me after I left.  He became my trusted partner.  

In the show ring we are rather inconsistent, the testament that we both have so much to learn.  But he is forward, happy and fluid in his movement.  His mouth is so soft and I merely have to think of movements and he performs seamlessly.  Some of my most happiest of times are galloping him through the back fields of sherwood forest- our friends all blown past, several lengths behind.  

I constantly remind myself of the discipline needed to make great horses but I never want to destroy the fire, attitude and quirks that separate the good horses from the great horses.   

Fallibility or How I learned to love the mistakes.

I had finished school, moved to Oregon and began riding again.  At that point I lived for the enjoyment of those moments in the saddle, the peace and reformation that was created in each second coexisting with a creature far superior in stature and power.  I might have been crooked coming into the bending, but by god did I want to jump that giant oxer! Because I enjoyed my work I was "undisciplined" and because I did not fear for my appearance or the perception of my mistakes, I was "unprofessional."  Incorrectly, I was told to associate professionalism with infallibility; professional riders aren't crooked, they don't miss distances, they don't ask for help and most certainly they do not display weakness.

I became paralyzed with the anticipation of all possible mistakes that I was incapable of feeling in the moment.  I developed a distrust of my feel and my instincts and became an insufferable and stiff partner to the horses that had to tote me around.  This is to say that it has taken a lot of courage to venture off on my own and I don't take the responsibility lightly.  However, being the sole captain to this venture I now have the freedom to define my OWN responsibilities, to chisel out what exactly I believe an equestrian professional to be.

On the forefront, I demand an entire uprooting of the concept of the faultless professional, a concept that presupposes that equine professionals are free from the need to push boundaries and continually educate themselves.  I demand that professionals challenge themselves.  They must seek out horses that teach them the art of patience and proper training.  They must clinic, lesson and show continually.

These professionals, unabashed to challenge themselves to clinic with George or move up in height, are the inspiration to their riders.  It is our responsibility as equine professionals after all, to teach our students that struggle and adversity is a necessary part of the learning process.  It is this devout love of learning and overcoming challenges that builds confidence and character, in ourselves, in our horses and most importantly in our students.   

Commitment to Education

As far as education in all things equine, I am never satiated.  There are always new products to research, new horses to ride and riders more seasoned then myself to question.  I remember oh so many years ago, following my mom's then TB trainer down the aisle incessantly asking him question after question, "why are the horses wrapped," "why can't they drink when they are being hand-walked, "why does X horse go with a pony?" ad infinitum.  It never stopped.

It is a professional responsibility to ensure that the education never stops, for ourselves and our riders.  It is our responsibility to take lessons, to talk to people we respect about what is going on in their heads and in their barn.  It is our responsibility to seek out inspiration, to read books and articles.  Most importantly, it is our responsibility to practice.

After all, this is a highly mental sport.  And when properly educated we are able to make conscientious training decisions without fallible emotion or bias.

The beginning..

It is terrifying and exciting to venture off into the world. Will and I are starting an equine marketing, sale and training business. Will has created fabulous barn and business advertisement spreads for magazines and press releases. He is also quite crafty with graphic design and created the chic logo for our company. I have been working with horses since I was old enough to throw my leg over them. If you would like, you can follow our page. I plan on utilizing it as a springboard for education and communication amongst riders. I spend the majority of my non-saddle time reading from professionals across all disciplines and philosophies. I would very much like people to share ideas they come across, articles they feel strongly about, products they believe in, etc.

Announcing Hawkins Equine, LLC

We are putting the final coding into the new website and blog. I think it is important that the horse community has ample dialogue on training methods, barn schedules and the programs and habits that engender positive horsemanship skills and practices. After all that is what my business is about- maintaining happy horses that are confident, relaxed and fit both physically and mentally. When I look around the show rings I am looking to align myself and my business practices with individuals that show longevity and consistency. I look for barns that are full of horses that have had long successful show careers and horses that look relaxed and peaceful. When you scratch beneath the surface of barns like this you find training programs that do not include drugs, gimmicks or gadgets. 

I am thrilled to begin this journey. I believe very much in my core concerns, horse welfare and solid horsemanship practices, and I hope by opening up discussion on unethical horse purchasing practices, unfair training expectations, over medicating...( I could go on for quite some time) fellow riders will take control of the management of the horses and begin to expect more from the professional community.