Horse Lovers Rejoice! Our Homes are Finally Trendy!



Well, at least that is what the article in last Friday’s newspaper said.  All things equine are turning up in various home collections according to the author.  How lucky are we that we are finally on the leading edge of home decoration?!  Finally Elle Décor will be knocking on our doors to do a photo shoot for their next issue.  Guess I’d better break out the broom and sweep up the stray horse hair that has escaped from the lint trap of the dryer.  Suppose I’d better neatly roll that pile of polo wraps that came out of the dryer last week.  Hmm, is that mud and/or manure that I tracked home from the barn?  What is that intoxicating aroma that Yankee Candle will want to use for their new campaign…horse/manure/sweat/leather cleaner?

Oh, pul-lease.  Hello?!!  They obviously must not shop in the same stores that we do.  I have never had trouble finding equine-centric home furnishings to adorn my home.  As far as I know, my fellow horse-crazed friends also have no problems adorning their homes with equine inspired décor.

Of course, I don’t think the home decorators would agree with some of my equine “décor” or the amount of equine related knick knacks that are strewn about the house.  They are probably of the notion that one or two horse things are more than enough to evoke a feeling for the room.  Any good horse junkie will tell you that one horse is never enough.  Horses like to live in herds, so the more the merrier!

With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite items:

1) The print I bought at an auction to support the Virginia Dressage Association about 6 years ago.  I think it looks like Ike.  Maybe it was a sign.


2) A vase from my mother with horse hair used to create the pattern.


3) The perpetual award that I was presented at my dressage chapter’s banquet in January.  I get to keep it until the end of the year.


4) The painting I saw at a wine festival.  My awesome stepdaughter, who was there with me, called my husband and insisted that he buy it for me. 🙂



And now a few things that “decorate” the house that would probably make a designer cringe and declare that I have committed some designing faux pas:

1) The “feed bag sculpture” that adorns the family room.  [Purina discontinued the feed I use as a supplement, so I stockpiled 15 bags while I researched a replacement.] As you can see, the sculpture has shrunk and we’ve now added a winter blanket to enhance the pile.


2) The toothbrush holder.


3) The ribbon “curtains.”  I’m running out of window space!


4) My eyeglass stand.


5) The boot corner.  No, there is not a closet available to hide them…


Then there are the other items that also decorate the house from time to time – various bridle pieces, bits, and reins, Ike’s saddle when it needs a good cleaning, sweaty saddle pads, clean saddle pads, show clothes, mail order boxes from various tack stores.  If I wanted an immaculate home, animals would not be part of my life…I will take the dirt and clutter.  It is a small price to pay for the joy they bring to my day.

Would love to hear what some of your favorite “designer-approved” items are as well as those cringe-worthy items you possess.





A Fond Farewell to my First Tall Boots


There is sad news to share.  My very first pair of Ariat tall boots finally said, “Enough!  We just can’t do the day-to-day grind anymore.”  My husband had to cut me out of the right boot because the replacement zipper decided to go full GI Joe kung fu grip and not let go.  The original zipper is but a faded memory, and the boots just aren’t worth salvaging with a third zipper (that is if you can find anyone around here who will replace a riding boot zipper).

I still remember purchasing the boots in 2005.  Back then, I was naïve enough to think that $300 was a lot of money for a pair of riding boots; I now stand corrected and wish that the $300 boots available today fit my leg.  I brought these shiny specimens home and lovingly took them from the box and thought, “How pretty!  I’m never going to let them get muddy/stepped on/dirty.”  Bahahahaahahahahaaa.  Yeah, right.  These poor boots were finally designated my everyday boots about 2 years ago which meant that they received as much love as my doormat.  I see it every day, step all over it, but don’t spend much time cleaning it or maintaining it.  I’m pretty sure the dirt and grim has been holding them together for the past 6 months.

Fear not for my feet.  There is an identical pair of Ariats waiting in the wings to take over daily duty.  They still have a fighting chance to be used at schooling shows IF Ike can keep his hooves away from my feet, and I can take 2 minutes to wipe them down at the end of the day…My current show boots are a pair of DerDau’s that make my leg look like it is a mile long.

002I still walk like Frankenstein in these boots, but they were comfortable to wear in the saddle from day 1.  You might be wondering why a dressage queen like me selected a field boot.  Well let me tell you – I tried on every make and model of field and dress boot available in my size that the closest tack stores had to offer.  Some hit me in the wrong place at my knee.  Some would fit in the ankle and be too big in the calf.  Others would fit in the calf and ankle could do a cha-cha with all the extra room.  I also found that dress boots were very uncomfortable across the top of my foot – they created an immediate pressure point that was not going to get any better.  If and when I really have to have dress boots, I will cast my net wider or go custom.  For now, I am very content.  There is an elastic panel that runs parallel to the zip that gives the boot a custom feel through the lower leg.  I have warned Ike to steer clear.  I promise to take very good care of these.

Still have not worked up the nerve to put my old boots in the trash.  It seems a shame that I can’t find a use for the leather.  Anyone have a puppy that needs a toy?

Look Out Hilda, Here Comes Ike

"Don't worry Mom, I'm going to be awesome."

“Don’t worry Mom, I’m going to be awesome.”

Well, the time has finally come; we leave tomorrow for our first outing of the year.  And did we pick a schooling show, a local clinic, or just a ride to another farm?  Heck no, we are headed up to Boyds, Maryland to the scenic Wyndham Oaks Farm for the USDF/Nutrena Region 1 Hilda Gurney clinic.  I must have lost my mind when I sent my application.  I’ve seen the list of other riders.  We are the pair that was selected to represent the beginning of the journey up the training scale.  I can only hope that I make Ms. C, my husband, and my parents proud.  I can only hope that Ike is the gentleman we know he can be rather than the spooky goof who runs from birds.

We had one last tune up with Ms. C today.  She put us through our paces.  We are as healthy as we can be and as fit as we can be after the wretched winter we endured.  We focused on the proper bending on circles; I’m still bad at letting Ike’s outside shoulder head in the opposite direction we are traveling.  Unconsciously my outside hand and rein creep over Ike’s topline to try to fix the problem.  Bad rider, Bad Alison.  I have to constantly remind myself not to do that and to use my outside leg.  My inner thighs are still protesting as I write this. [Note to self – remember to pack the Advil.]

Ike still has not finished shedding and the temperatures just aren’t quite warm enough for a full bath.  I’ve done my best to make him look more presentable and less like a wooly mammoth.  The bridle path still needs some final prep, but my arms ached from trying to reach the necessary height to get the job completed.  Could someone please tell Ike to stop growing?

The trailer is packed, the tack is clean, and my new boots are polished.  A few hours of work in the morning and then let the adventure begin!!

Monkey See, Monkey Do

"Oh, hello.  Were you hoping to ride today?"

“Oh, hello. Were you hoping to ride today?”

It can be said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; however, when your role model isn’t exactly clean-cut and at the top of the honor roll, you worry about his influence on a younger generation…yes, I’m talking about the less than stellar guidance that Cigar is providing to Ike.  I worry that Ike has been led astray by his older brother.

Even Ms. C has commented that perhaps putting Ike in the paddock adjacent to his brother wasn’t our best decision.  Ike used to quietly graze or eat hay in his paddock.  If he was startled, the worst he would do was stand at the gate and stare at the house until someone came to rescue him.  Since moving in next door to his brother, he now takes flight around his paddock, bucking like a banshee and sliding up to the gate like a reining horse.  The boys also think it is fun to casually walk to the far end of their paddocks, turn, and gallop to the other end.  It doesn’t seem to matter who wins as the game is repeated over and over and over until it is time to get funky.

Ike used to be a neat horse.  Rarely did I have to remove much dirt and his coat was always shiny and his mane tidy.  Well, those days are O-V-E-R.  As you can see in today’s photo, he has been taking his brother’s advice and spends his time wallowing in the mud.  Today, it took me more than 30 minutes to remove enough dirt to ride without embarrassment.  Once mounted, I found some funk I missed up behind Ike’s ears.  Thankfully, no one but me would notice it at that height.  Now that the temperatures have risen, wearing a blanket is out, so mud removal is a daily activity.  All this dirt makes me miss my polo wraps with the pig faces on them; they’d be quite appropriate these days.

Luckily for me, Cigar has yet to influence Ike as far as his training.  For that, I am eternally grateful.  It took 7 years for Cigar’s “meteoric” rise to First Level.  Ike’s progression has been just a wee bit faster as he has reached First Level after only 2 years.  His work as of late has been stellar.  Perhaps it is the fact that his rider has finally caught a clue coupled with the fact that Ike has gained muscles in all the right places.  We have been working hard to get ourselves ready for our first outing of the year which is now a little over a week away.  Our lessons with Ms. C are very focused.  “Where is your outside shoulder going?”  “Is it going where your horse is going?”  “Half halt!”  “Again!  He didn’t hear you.”  When I ride on my own, I try to replay the lesson in my head to replicate the correct positioning.  Where is my pocket-sized Ms. C to carry with me?

Our riding isn’t the only thing getting prepped for next weekend.  The trailer was inspected, and the short in the braking system was fixed.  I finally replaced my stirrup leathers; the ones I purchased in 2006 were starting to show their age.  New polo wraps have been purchased.  Ike has his stall reservations made and has his health certificate.    My new DerDau’s made their first appearance at the barn.  I still walk like Frankenstein in them, but they were comfortable to ride in from the very first ride.   They have a spiffy new bag to protect them.  My new Ecogold saddle pad ( arrived.  It is lovely.  I now want a whole stack of them.

The weekend promises to be a nice one.  We can only hope next weekend is as well.



Ride Every Stride

Ike and I had an incredible lesson with Ms. C yesterday.  The weather cooperated.  Ike cooperated.  The evil vulture flock was nowhere to be seen.  My body cooperated, i.e., the ankle pain was almost nonexistent.  And the new DerDau’s made their first appearance at the barn and made it home with no hoof impressions or other permanent damage.

As Ike and I are getting back into regular work, I’m realizing my biggest problem…not my only problem…..but the one that plagues me and many other average riders.  We do not ride every stride.  People like me ask their horse for a particular gait, and then we become passengers.  Here comes a corner, but at the last minute, we move our hand and hope that our horse is wise enough to know to turn rather than jumping over the dressage arena.  If you ask a professional, they will tell you that they give a small half halt a stride or two before the corner and then again coming out of the corner.  Those pros are always planning ahead and staying 5-6 strides in front of their current position.  I, on the other hand, hit cruise control, get distracted by a butterfly/bird/cat, and then realize Ike has flattened and fallen on the forehand.  If I were a dog, I’d be the one who……………..Squirrel!!!……………… get the idea.

During my lessons, Ms. C keeps me on task and focused on the exercise.  This spring we are working on transitioning to First Level.  In order to do that, we need to achieve a consistent connection at the walk and trot.  If I can’t keep it in those gaits, the canter will be darn near impossible, but ultimately we need it in the canter as well.  Ms. C has us working on a 15 meter circle with numerous transitions.  No longer will a half-ass transition be accepted.  Do it again until you get it right.  To not repeat it only tells Ike that what he did is acceptable.  But for full disclosure, sometimes the mistakes are on my side of the equation.  My aids were too loud which caused Ike to misinterpret my request.  Do it again Alison.  Be a little more subtle.

Bending is the other important skill that we are trying to improve.  I was thrilled yesterday when Ms. C noted that Ike was bending much more consistently.  Interesting, Ike has been out of work for the better part of two months…how is it that we are better?  Ah, his rider has a purchased a vowel and is now understanding how to properly bend her horse while on a circle.  Yes, I occasionally over bend Ike’s body or let the outside shoulder lead us astray, but I can keep all of Ike’s body parts working as one more often than not.  We were doing so well yesterday that we even attempted the canter.  The best we could do was 5 or 6 strides before Ike said, “too hard to maintain.”  Five or 6 strides is still better than no strides or looking like Scooby Doo.  Even harder to achieve was the canter to trot transition with Ike in the proper bend – someone still allows her reins to get a bit long while cantering so that there is no connection in the down transition.  Add that to the list of problems to fix.

When our lesson was done, I could not have been more pleased with Ike’s work.  Grumpy horse is being pushed out by happy horse; it doesn’t hurt that Ms. C gives Ike a goodie during the breaks in our work.  Still trying to figure out why the rider doesn’t get a goodie as well.  It might help with my focus on the lesson and not on the squirrels. 🙂



Yes, there is very exciting news from Ike’s Centerline Adventures!  Well, I should say that I am beyond giddy at the news;  Ike was nonplussed and continued to munch his hay and enjoy the unseasonably warm day.

I guess I should back up first.  Late last year, I received an e-mail from USDF (along with every other USDF member) announcing that Hilda Gurney would be the clinician for the USDF Adult Clinic Series (  She would be in Region 1 in April 2014.  Riders interested in being demonstration riders were invited to apply.  What the heck, I said to myself, go ahead and apply.  It cost nothing to send in the application.  How many other opportunities will you have to have a lesson with a former Olympian?

So I gathered up all the necessary information for the application:  Ms. C’s recommendation, my show record, and my clinic history.  I scoured all the videos that we’d taken over the past year and culled the best out of the bunch – one of a Training Level test, the only one I had from our one First Level test, and some leg yield video from a lesson.  In early January, I emailed the video links to USDF and mailed my completed application.

Then a week after I mailed it, I was launched and the snow began to fall with regularity.  Phew,  good thing I had some decent video already.  And then the wait began in earnest.  And we waited, and waited.  In an e-blast from the USDF Region 1 director, it was noted that there was a record-setting number of rider applications (37).  Oh, hmm, our chances seemed slim.

And this morning, there was an email from USDF with the subject line, “USDF Adult Clinic Region 1 Selected Riders.”  My stomach did a flip flop as I pressed the button to read the email…would we be on that list?  And there it was under the bold heading – Selected Riders  – Alison Thompson on Commanders Eisenhower!!

EEEEEEKKKK!  I read it three or four times and squealed like a little kid on Christmas morning.  The dogs went crazy as I jumped up and down.  I stared at the screen for another minute before I grabbed the phone to call my husband.  “Guess who was selected for the Hilda clinic?!”  He was thrilled for me.  My second call of course to was Ms. C.  She was very excited for us as well.

Now there is a real deadline for getting out of our wintertime lax schedule.  There is much to be done.  Ike needs to get back into the working mindset.  I need to get myself back into riding shape.  The new boots need to be pulled from the box and broken in before April 12th.  There is no way I’m showing up with my pathetic schooling boots.  Need to get the trailer inspected.  Should check the pads and white polo wraps to make sure they are presentable.  And there is the matter of Ike’s hippie mane that needs to be tamed.  I also suppose that the goat hairs should be trimmed and all the mud removed from his legs and tail.

The list will continue to grow, but tonight we celebrate!

You Know You Are a Horse Junkie When…


1) It is 107 degrees with the heat index and yet you still put on your riding pants and black leather boots and give it a go.

2) You can count on two fingers the number of pedicures that you have ever had, yet your horse gets their hooves done every 5 weeks.

3) The equine family member also gets a set of very expensive shoes every five weeks along with their pedicure, but you have had the same pair of riding boots for the past 10 years.

4) Your horse has buttery soft leather bridles and halters, has a custom fitted leather saddle…you have “pleather” shoes and purses or you have a nice leather purse that you bought second hand on eBay.

5) The nutritional content of your horse’s feed is analyzed and scientifically calculated to increase performance.  You eat whatever you can find in the cabinet or whatever you can purchase from the fast food restaurant that happens to be on your way home.

6) Your tack is immaculate, stalls are cleaned on a daily basis, and water troughs scrubbed as soon as a little scum is noted.  In your own home, you can write your name in the layer of dust on the furniture and their is a small dog’s worth of dog hair lurking under the sofa.

7) Heaven forbid if your equine prince or princess not have their saddle pads and polo wraps washed after one use.  You use the “sniff test” to determine if you can squeeze another day out of your t-shirt and jeans.

8) There are more expenditures for horse-related activities in your checkbook than any other category.  As such, your horse’s budget is larger than that for your mortgage, car and food.

9) Weekends are planned around your horse shows.  Weekdays are planned around riding, vet appointments, feed store, and trips to the tack store.

10) The number of bookmarks for horse-themed websites and tack stores is far greater than all other bookmarks combined.

11) You can quote every horse show within a 50 mile radius over the next 6 months.

12) You have a credit card that is maintained just for emergency vet bills.

13) The hair care products used for your horse’s mane, tail, and coat are top of the line.  You purchase store brands.

14) The interior of your car is tan to better hide the barn dirt.  The upholstery smells of lederbalsam, horse sweat, and hay.  The smell is permanent.

15) The vet, farrier, and trainer are all on speed dial on your phone.  They are the only numbers committed to memory.

16) It is your birthday, but your horse gets more gifts than you do.  The same is true for Christmas.

17) Most of the artwork in your home includes a horse.

18) There are more photos of your horse(s) on the laptop than of any other occasion.

19) Horse show ribbons are an acceptable alternative to curtains or wall decorations.

20) You realize that all 19 things on this list are true, but you wouldn’t trade your horse or the lifestyle for anything.

Think Spring!

004As I write this, winter storm Nemo is invading New England.  I hope everyone is safely at home and all their animals are also sheltered from the blowing snow and wicked cold.  Virginia was spared and my emerging daffodils, peony tips, and Rose-of-Sharon buds are thankful.  Seeing my flowers begin to return to my garden beds reminds me that spring is not that far away.  If we can make it through February, any winter weather that decides to visit in March usually doesn’t stick around all that long.  Good thing since I’ve seen some dressage schooling shows on the calendar for March, and by April, winter is just a memory and we can look ahead to pretty days spent at the local show grounds.

I’ve spent some time looking at the available shows and trying to plan Ike’s second show season.  He spent his inaugural year doing Intro classes at licensed and schooling shows and then transitioning to Training Level only at schooling shows.  Because of the classes and shows we entered, I didn’t have to empty the pocketbook to obtain my USEF Membership, my USDF Participating Membership, Ike’s USEF registration, and Ike’s USDF registration.  Since our goal for the coming year is to qualify for the USDF/GAIG Region 1 Dressage Championships, I had to bite the bullet and empty the checkbook to get us street legal for licensed shows.  I’m now scraping together the funds to enter the necessary shows in hopes of qualifying.  I’ve also got my checklist of things to get done before our first scheduled outing on April 29, 2013:

1) Get the trailer inspected.  The inspection sticker expires this month, so hopefully the weather will cooperate and it will get done so that we are safe to travel.

2) Clean out the trailer dressing room.  I’m really not certain how the chaotic state happened, but every time I open the door, I cringe.  Okay, I lie, I KNOW how it happened, but I’m just in a deep state of denial that I actually let it happen.  I am so anal about everything else at the barn that it is so wrong to let the dressing room exist in such a state.  Unfolded blankets, a Christmas gift bag with trash, unidentifiable packages of stuff, and none of it where it should be.

3) Try on my show clothing.  Need I explain why this is necessary?  I did already purchase a new pair of white gloves for this year.  The ones I have been using since 2007 are the color of dirty street snow and it is time for them to retire.

4) Condition and polish my boots. Dreadful, but necessary chore.  I’m seriously considering paying the local shoe repair place or a Marine to do it for me.

5) Tame Ike’s mane.  Yes, there will be a spa day coming up soon.  I openly admit that I am not proficient at pulling and thinning a mane.  I compare it to plucking my eyebrows,  I do the bare minimum to prevent unibrow for fear that I will overpluck and be left with bare skin where hair should be.  My greatest worry is that I will pull too much mane in one place and not enough in others leaving no alternative but to roach it and pray for quick regrowth.

6) Work on my half halt.  Practice centerlines.  Improve our up and down transitions.  Work on my half halt.  Improve our stretch down trot.  Learn half halt timing.  Perfect our circles.  Square halts.  More half halts.  Hmm, there seems to be a preponderance of work on my end in this entry.

7) Do something really nice for my husband.  Without his support, I would not be on this journey with Ike.  Without him, Ike and I would be hacking to shows.  Without him, shows would be lonely.  He is our greatest cheerleader.

8) Organize my paperwork.  All our necessary registration paperwork, rule books, vet certificates are shoved into a file box.  It is all in one place, but that place is my home office and that will not help me when I’m at a show scratching my head while trying to remember membership numbers or test patterns.  Guess I need to accomplish task #2 or fear losing this paperwork in the chaos.

9) Measure my whip.  How awful it would be to put in the ride of a lifetime to only have it negated by a whip that is 1 centimeter too long.

10) Take time to breathe and just spend time with Ike.  While time in the saddle is important to success, I believe the real partnership bond forms with time spent out of the saddle.  The new spring grass will be here soon enough.  I will steal some time to find a quiet spot at the barn and let Ike graze while I stroke his neck and back and remind him how lucky I am to have him in my life.

You Know You Have a Problem When…

019Just the other day I had to admit to my husband that I might have a teeny tiny little problem with boots.  He smirked at my deliberation on Facebook about what to do with my windfall Smartpak gift certificate.  Should I be practical and buy essentials or splurge and buy another pair of boots??  Bet you can’t guess what I decided to buy.  I had the full and loving support of my friends who also provided some additional boot choices for consideration.  I still maintain that my riding boots really shouldn’t count when determining if I am just a lover of the boot or someone who requires an intervention.

My riding boot collection includes two pairs of Ariat tall boots- the really good pair that only make an appearance at licensed shows and the pair that have seen better days but are still serviceable, my Mountain Horse winter boots, my brand new and oh-so-pretty Dublin Pinnacle boots (thanks Smartpak!!), my rubber boots, and my paddock boots which I don’t think really qualify as real boots since they only cover my ankles.  My “fashion” boot collection has a fair number of pairs (I dare not reveal the actual number to protect the guilty) with the crown jewel being my Frye boots that joined the family a year ago.

I will be the first one to admit that what boots I wear won’t make one hill of beans difference in how I ride.  My feet might be warmer with my winter boots and I might look just as cute as I can be with my new Dublin boots, but I will still struggle with my half halt timing and Ike will still lean on my right leg with that strong right shoulder.  Too bad that they aren’t magic boots like Cinderella’s glass slipper.  Slip on your “glass boot” and magically be transformed into a Grand Prix rider who has their bronze, silver and gold medals and numerous national titles.  If you believe that, I’ve also got some magic beans to sell you that will make your horse move like an Olympic mount.

My Olympic contender has been full of himself my past two rides.  It could be youthful exuberance or more likely due to the charming children on their four-wheelers and the Wizard of Oz worthy winds that have returned to the mid-Atlantic.  Dear charming children, must you rev your engines every time you ride by my horse?  When your four-wheeler won’t start one day, I will claim to know NOTHING about why not.  I do not know how that engine doodad ended up in the manure pile.

Half halts and sit trot have been my saving grace with these rides.  Thank goodness Ike is really starting to understand what a half halt is even though I am still not fully understanding why I cannot perfect my timing.  Being able to work in sit trot for longer periods of time has allowed me to keep a steadier feel of Ike’s mouth (read – better connection) which has helped my half halt efforts.  Staying in the saddle also helps me better catch Ike’s efforts to bolt when the engine’s rev or the wind gusts…doesn’t help every time, but more often than not I can shut down the go before it happens.  There is that split second before the explosion when there is the stiffening of the muscles as they prepare to spring into action.  If I am paying attention and can feel that moment and half halt or even down transition, Ike will obey the request.  He might not like it, but he will do it.

Although the winds will continue to blow over the next three days along with some snow flurries and the neighborhood children will be out terrorizing the horses, I will be in the saddle sporting one of my many pairs of boots and attempting to master the ever elusive half halt.