Monday, January 19, 2015

2015: The Year of Learning

So I'm sure not many have noticed, but it's been a while.

So hi! Long time, no blog. Not much has changed, Z and I are still working on our mutual distaste for dressage and mutual over-exuberance for jumping. This post, however is going to be less about her and I and more about just myself.

I am officially declaring this the year of learning. And I'm trusting all of you to hold me to the commitments I make here. I'm hoping that if I put these ideas and goals onto the internet, it will force me to go through with them.

The learning doesn't necessarily just encompass horse-related things; it also includes my university education.

That being said, I really want to invest in my equine education this year as well. I have spent a lot of time these past few years disgruntled by the opportunities presented to my friends in the horse world. I'm declaring now that I'm putting my big girl pants on, building a bridge, and getting over it. I am going to seek out opportunities that work with my current life situation and just be a sponge for information. I want to learn as much as I possibly can, not to win more, just to know I'm growing as a trainer.

This plan will *hopefully* start with taking the crazy drive to Aiken to audit the William Fox Pitt clinic at Stable View. I will literally drive overnight to attend that. I genuinely think the education would be that worth it.

After that I'm planning to audit more local clinics and hopefully save up and ride in a few. Since the Maryland Horse Expo was so early, I'll try to hit the Harrisburg one later this year.

*Warning: this is going to get more introspective and personal now.
In addition to trying to squash some minor jealousy toward my friends, I've spent a lot of time trying to impress people and spend my time and energy trying to bring people into my life and make them stay there, when I should really be fostering the relationships I already have with people who want to help me on my life's journey. Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to shut in and mot put myself out there outside of my comfort zone, I just know that, at least until I become a better judge of character, I need to become okay with the fact that not everyone will like me and not everyone is destined to lift me up and be in my life for a long time.

Focusing on myself and my horse and genuinely investing in my education on all fronts is the best way I see to improve and find my happiness in this sport again. I don't feel unhappy with the industry or my involvement in it, I just know that I have to revive that fire to compete and better myself. rather than allow myself to become complacent. I decided several years that I would work to make a name for myself in this sport, no matter the amount of literal blood, sweat, tears, and bruises. I realize now, that it's not so much about making a name for myself, as trusting in my path and doing everything I can to make the most informed decisions in and out of the saddle.

So all of that rambling aside, here's to a fun, educational, and successful new year!

P.S. To address my lack of posting, I am, again, going to try to include you all in my journey with Z, but I won't make any promises regarding consistency. That being said, I do want to share my education and personal experiences with anyone interested as it happens. So let me know if y'all are up for this crazy roller coaster with me. :)

Monday, August 25, 2014

First Novice Wrap Up and Reflection

Z officially has her first Novice under her belt, adding to her flawless show jumping record and adding to her near flawless cross country record.
We have essentially been doing a complete overhaul of the stang's dressage this past week, so I kind of knew what to expect when we went in the ring. She did just about as great as we though she would, ending up with a 36 and change. Definitely not bad, since we've been working so incredibly hard all week on keeping her more consistent and forward into the bridle. I am so pumped to really get our twinkle toes shining.
Jumping is definitely Z's strong suit, but she has become significantly more opinionated in recent weeks about how she thinks she should jump. Typical mare. :) Our warm up was not really what I wanted, but since I got down to warm up so early, I got the chance to give her about a ten minute break before popping over a few more warm ups and then going into the ring. As long as I kept her in front of my leg, I was able to have a near foot perfect stadium round. She was completely clear, we just have to continue to work on rideability. She did so excellent. I always try to let her see any jumps that look scary, are part of a combination, or have strange lines to them. This course had two lines that I was very worried about because they had shorter approaches and the ground was a bit uneven and slippery.
After stadium I just got that totally unbelievable adrenaline rush that comes with preparing to go cross country. And let me just say, my girl rocked it. I really let her gallop since the course was fairly spread out. We don't have a lot of hilly terrain to consistently ride over, so this was a good opportunity to feel her out over hills. By the second big downhill gallop, she was rocking it. It's unbelievable to ride a horse and physically feel her figuring things out in each phase. She is also the only horse I've ever taken to a show that doesn't really care where she is. She's the exact same horse on and off property.
I want to send a huge thank you to my incredible trainer, Desiree Bene, and Rachael Stillwell for giving me more help and opportunities this year than I ever thought possible. I may not have done a whole lot of shows this year, but I've felt more prepared than ever before and have had more fun than ever before, thanks to you guys. :)
The plan moving forward is to possibly hit another unrecognized Novice and then do the recognized Novice at Radnor in October. Wish us luck!

Monday, August 4, 2014

REVIEW: One K Defender Pro Suede ad Leather Helmet

(Scroll Down for a quickie review)
So aside from neglecting the blog, I've been crazy busy with Z, clients' horses and teaching. In the midst of that, I've left my helmet at various farms roughly a million times. I try not to use my skull cap in the summer since it has ZERO ventilation and already may or may not smell like something died in it (sorry, Dan Clasing for letting you wear it...) So I have been using my inexpensive IRH helmet, which also has no ventilation, but is newer and therefore smells significantly better. I had been planning on purchasing an actual replacement for my old dressage helmet for some time, but was waiting for a great deal, as "new" mustang still means new items for her during this first year. At the Maryland Horse Expo this past Spring, I was able to try on the One K helmet with the Swarovski crystals because, let's be real, I can't get enough of bling. On everything. I mean everything. Anyway, while I knew I wasn't able to buy one that day, I did fall in love with the fit, though with my big head, they didn't have the XL there. The Large still fit quite well, but they come with lots of padding (as I will delve into later), so I at least came away with a better idea of sizing. just held their 5th Annual International Helmet Awareness Day a few weeks back, so most tack stores held great sales on helmets., a personal favorite of mine, had every Charles Owen under the sun on sale, and they had a few less expensive options (which I happily recommended to most of my lesson students) along with the Defender Pro Suede helmet. I literally squealed at the opportunity to get my favorite helmet for roughly $150 off.

Now, my specific needs in this helmet were, first and foremost, a proper and comfortable fit. Then, I wanted to be able to jump with a vest on without having the helmet pushed down over my eyes over every jump. I also wanted to be comfortable putting my hair into the helmet and stay (relatively) cool while riding. This helmet WAY exceeded my expectations in every aspect. It comes with incredibly fluffy padding, which really helps those like me with hard to fit heads. My head is long front-to-back, but short side-to-side, so the padding is breaking in just how I need it. It was even a bit tight the first few days, but now it fits like a glove. Before writing a rave review, I wanted to do plenty of jumping with and without a vest, and I'm pleased to report that the helmet doesn't move! It doesn't squeeze your head like a juicer, it just molds perfectly to your shape.

As far as looks go, this helmet is simply gorgeous.Often because I have to buy such a large size, the helmet ends up looking like a mushroom on my head. So while, yes, this helmet is awful large in size, it doesn't feel like it looks incredibly huge. The vents are placed in classy, understated ways on the helmet that enhance, rather than hinder, the overall aesthetic. It keeps up with the more modern fashion of dressage and jumping purposed helmets without overdoing anything.

Specs: There are several styles of the Defender Pro (the helmet with the retractable Sun Shield as I have).
The matte style comes in black only and goes for $279.95 and comes in S-XXL.
The gloss finish also only comes in black and has sizes from M-XL and costs the same.
The suede finish comes in navy (M-XL), black with silver matte vents (S-XXL), and black with black matte vents (S-XXL) and costs $299.95
Finally, the suede and leather finish comes in black (my helmet) and navy (both M-XL) and costs $329.95.
(All pictures courtesy

Quickie review: This helmet rivals many of the (in my opinion) overpriced helmets on the market. The company offers other styles without the Sun Shield at an even more budget-friendly, competitive price. I am not surprised to see them popping up more and more at various shows. They are incredibly comfortable and feel sturdy and protective, without sacrificing impeccable style. I definitely recommend these to anyone showing at any level. The generalized sizing is also helpful since the helmets are not carried in every tack store as of yet. You all know how much I emphasize safety when riding, but I also know style is so important to so many riders. This helmet will definitely keep you comfy while getting noticed anywhere and everywhere. No compromising comfort or style for safety.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

REVIEW: C4 Belts

Over the past few years, I've become a bit of a belt freak. I have to stop at every belt rack, tack store or not, to find the best wide belts to fit my belt loops for schooling and shows. Now, I wear belts every day, with every pair of pants, so I am pretty rough on all of my belts. My favorite belt, the "trainer" buckle I got for Christmas from the Makeover, has taken quite the beating from it's daily use (not the buckle, just the leather belt). So when I started casually looking for a new belt for show season, C4 Belts started popping up everywhere I looked.
I'm so excited for C4 because that's what they seem to be doing in every facet of their market. Just a few days ago, they posted a picture of members of OutKast sporting their belts! They have sponsorships with eventers, surfers, musicians, pop culture icons, you name it, they probably know someone, and with good reason.
With a huge expanse of bright, fun colors, there's something to coordinate with every outfit. The buckles are interchangeable, too, so you can buy infinite combinations to match anything and everything. They even have a "randomize" option which I totally recommend. I dare you to find a combination that doesn't look great. The belts themselves are made from "Thermoplastic Elastomer" plastic, so they are waterproof, washable, stretch-proof and won't dye your white dressage pants! They're even recyclable, (but if you ever want to get rid of one, just lemme know, I'll take them off your hands). Perhaps the coolest part about the belts themselves is that their size is 100% customizable. You just remove the buckle, cut the end with no holes to the desired length, and put the buckle back on! Even I could figure it out.
I've seen a lot of eventers purchase the belts as grab straps, or as I like to call them "oh sh*t straps". I think it's an awesome idea. The bright colors will coordinate with XC colors, and they wont get "lost" the way leather straps do on darker horses.
C4 might seem like a strange name for a belt company, feeling more at home on an explosives label, but the name has solid backing. "Choose your Color, Choose your Cause" is the company slogan (Get it? There are 4 C's, C 4?). At least 10% of the proceeds from every belt sold goes to a charity of your choice! The four charities to choose from right now are the Boys and Girls Club of America, Captain Planet Foundation, Human Rights Campaign, and Best Friends Animal Society.
So not only are you doing yourself a favor by buying a C4 Belt, you're also helping an organization that can always use the financial help
I really hope I can turn more people on to these belts. (I don't get anything from it, so I'm genuinely supporting this brand.) Good luck shopping! And if you buy one, post it on Instagram and tag both C4 (@c4belts) and me (@nicolebarbye) so we can check it out!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

DVCTA Combined Test at Windurra-Full Breakdown

After spending a shockingly short amount of time (only a whopping fifteen minutes) trying to get Z on the trailer, we headed out to Boyd and Silva Martin's beautiful facilities in Cochranville, PA. Upon arrival, I was able to follow my plan of a nice, relaxed warm up. I wanted to just ask for a free/stretching walk until she relaxed enough that I knew she would be more consistent in our other gaits. I only did a fairly short trot warm up, asking for stretches and some leg yields. Just enough that I knew she'd be relaxed and between my legs for the test. We also did a short canter, which actually may have been our best canter work to date. Hehe. Anyway, we had about 40 minutes to warm up, and I didn't want to do anything that might tire her brain out, so I probably walked for 25 minutes of that, which turned out to be wonderful.

Let me interject now, that as soon as we got to the warm up, I realized that our dressage test would be performed in Windurra's dressage ring. The one with the full length mirrors that run the whole length of the "C" side of the arena. At that moment, I completely lowered my expectations for the test. There was no way for us to ride around the ring before our test, so I knew she was too green to even get close to the mirrors willingly. When we were able to start our test (Beginner Novice Test A), we went down center line and she stopped about ten meters from C, turned around and decided, "none of that, mom. take me away from here. NOW." The judge had seen our warm up, so she allowed me to restart the test and marked it as a test error. For that second chance, I am eternally grateful. I spent the rest of the test asking for more where I knew I could and just praying she wouldn't take off at the judge's end. The judge commented afterward on how much I laughed down at her end. She said it was refreshing to see someone handle a young horse with such a sense of humor. To which I responded, "how else to you handle a young horse?" We actually got 7s on a whole lot of our movements, so it was a really incredible learning experience for both of us and she is definitely better for having done it.

Onto jumping. It's definitely her stronger suit. I only did a short warm up, getting her in front of my leg and jumping out of a stride. I think we're going to experiment with bits this week as she pulls quite a lot after fences, so I'd like to find something just a hair stronger to get her lighter before we can switch back. :)
The course was pretty straightforward, except for one offset two-stride that was five strides after a scary oxer with these big fake boulders as fillers. This was the only line I was even a little bit worried about, so obviously most of my focus throughout the course was preparing. As we turned to the scary line, Z saw the arena entrance and thought she was done, so she broke to the trot. This meant we didn't have quite the quality of gait I would have liked going to the oxer, but she also has such a strong jump that I just had to do my best to not let her run out. She didn't, and somehow, we made it through the line. Unfortunately, since I was so focused on that line, I completely forgot about the last jump, which meant that I broke to the trot, thought I was finishing, and hen had to circle back once I remembered. By the way, I called it in my course walk that I was going to forget about it. (I know, cursed myself) But my baby was wonderful, came right back into it and jumped the last jump the better than anything else that day. :)

Sidenote, it only took us about two minutes to load on the trailer to go home! And we even made a stop at my aunt's house which was so scary, lol. My little mustang though, was a perfect angel, posing for pictures from inside the trailer and calmly eating her hay.

I'll have a blog post/review at least once this week and a post after our very busy two days next weekend!
Until next time... :)

Monday, April 21, 2014

New Year, New Goals.

As most of you already know, I have opted out of this year's PA Makeover. Unfortunately, I just have too many other commitments that I am eager to see through.

The good news, though? More time for Z! I have spent much of the last month or so building a plan for Z and I to compete throughout the spring, summer, and fall. We have managed to get out cross country schooling several times, and each time she becomes a smarter, braver, more exciting prospect. She thrives off of her training time. This past winter was especially brutal, so, while our training continued (thanks mostly to the miracle of indoor arenas), the weather made both Z and I a bit grumpy and unmotivated. Recently, with the arrival of T-shirt days and much less rain/snow, we've really buckled down and fixed some problems we've been encountering thus far.

Now, dressage has never been my favorite to work on, as is the case with many eventers. Z, though, has brought out the passion in me. I now look forward to my hard schooling dressage days just as much as my jumping days. She is such a quick learner and is so strong and fit right now. She handles her workload very well and tackles every new movement with sensibility and careful thought. (Of course, as with many younger horses, she has days where she completely forgets that she has four feet and that they all need to move when she trots or canters.) She has given me the tools to improve myself more than I ever thought a green horse could.

Her jumping, as you'll see in video below, is just stupendous. She's really begun to take charge and think about where she is going and how to get there. She actually would probably be pretty content to just lope around a hunter course, but, like I said, she thrives on dressage and was really born to event. Her jumping style is so naturally even and powerful that her technique has improved by leaps and bounds pretty quickly. We've done a lot of grids, which has made her a very independent, (perhaps too) strong jumper. Now, we actually have to ease her off in front of a jump, not because she rushes out of control, just because she is very sure of where she would like to take off and how she would like to get there. :)

My goal this year is to do at least one novice event before the end of the year. Next week, April 26th, we will head to Boyd Martin's Windurra Farm for a Beginner Novice combined test. The following weekend we will do a demonstration at Caitlin's (Halona's mommy) rescue celebration on Saturday and the Intro division at Fair Hill's Unrecognized Horse Trials. After that, I'm hoping to move her up to Beginner Novice at a full event, but first we'll have to tackle some more water complexes. That is her ONLY hang-up. Ditches and banks were nothing, first try. She is so smart, she just genuinely does not understand big water complexes (though she is the ONLY horse I've ever had that will lead and ride through big puddles. LOL) Once I'm confident with her at the water, I have no doubt in my mind that she would kick some sport horse butt at Beginner Novice! :)

Until next time... (and next time will hopefully come sooner than this time. Hahaha.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2014 PA Extreme Mustang Makeover

The East Coast got some great news yesterday. The Mustang Heritage Foundation announced three new 2014 Makeovers. While the 'stangs will not return to the DREAM Park this year, they will be taking over the Mountain Springs Arena in Shartlesville, PA (roughly two hours from me here in south Jersey)!

The BLM and their mustangs are making headlines again as the overpopulation of holding facilities (specifically the long term holding facilities) becomes more highly publicized. With 49,000 in holding and more still being rounded up, something's gotta give to get these horses out of holding. In the facilities, because the horses are not handled directly, it is near impossible to give medical treatment as necessary or take proper care of any issues the horses may have. Hopefully, because the MHF has been able to do these Makeovers and have the funding to grow the program, the horses will begin their new lives in humane, caring homes. The PA Makeover will actually even have a youth division in which (from what I understand) the youth competitors will adopt their yearlings right off the bat, then do the competition at the end, where they can choose to reassign them if necessary. The adult competition will go pretty much the same as it has been, with the mustangs being randomly assigned and the placed during the adoption auction following the competition.

This year, I have been blessed with so many incredible opportunities, along with preparing to go to Rowan University in the fall to complete my Bachelor's. However, I would absolutely love to do this makeover, that way I know that I would be getting one more out of holding. These horses do not deserve to be in holding and it is our duty as horse trainers to help them begin new lives. My problem, however, is finances and land. I do not have a my own farm, the farm I used last year is not available, and I cannot afford to pay board for another horse this year. Z is in active training in preparation for her first full year as an event horse. I will only be able to do a Makeover this year with the help of generous sponsors.

I am not asking for lifetime sponsorship of any kind, but I am in need of the facilities required for a mustang from some time in May to the last weekend in August. According to the BLM requirements, the "facility can consist of a corral/paddock/stall/round pen. Facility must be a minimum of 400 square feet (20 feet x 20 feet) and have fences at least 6 feet high. Facility must be sturdy and constructed of materials such as poles, pipes or planks (minimum 1.5 inch thickness) without dangerous protrusions. Barbed wire, large-mesh woven, stranded and electric materials are unacceptable for fencing...Shelters must be a two-sided structure with a roof, well drained, adequately ventilated and accessible to the Mustang. The minimum two sides need to block the prevailing winds and need to protect the major part of the bodies of the horse." This is the most difficult part of getting the mustang. Ideally, in addition to a location sponsor, I am also trying to find a hay/feed sponsor. I fully realize that good hay is extremely scarce right now, and I know that for a feed sponsor, I would have to go to the corporate level. If you or anyone you know has any idea of local facilities that would be willing to take in a mustang, please, don't hesitate to put them in contact with me through email ( Thank you so much for reading this much, I know I'm asking a lot in very tough times, but I appreciate all of the support I have received over the last year with the mustangs.