Thursday, March 23, 2017

Review: What the Heart Wants

What the Heart Wants is the first full-length novel written by Canadian author Marion Myles, and it is also the first her romance Heart Series.

The action centres around Elle Roberts, a dressage trainer who has just been blindsided by her boyfriend of three years revealing that he has found the love of his life, and it isn't her. Elle has always had a unique connection with animals and she resigns herself to the fact that she will always feel more comfortable around them than she feels around her fellow humans.

Enter Leo, a stunning black gelding in need of a considerate trainer to get him over his troubled past, and owner Nicholas, stunning and troubled in his own right. The problem? Nicholas has a drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend named Katherine who is Leo's regular rider, and Elle will need to work with her to ready them both for an upcoming competition, all while Nicholas's presence literally makes her feel dizzy.

Can Elle and Katherine work together while they're both into the same man? Will Elle be able to break through Nicholas's barriers to help him get over his past? Is it possible that Elle could ever end up with someone like Nicholas?

While What the Heart Wants is set in the dressage world, it's much more horsey than purely dressage-y. The author is clearly an experienced horse person and there are no obvious errors from an equestrian standpoint. Horses provide the atmosphere for the story and help to propel the plot but this novel is really about the human relationships.

As far as Elle's mental connection with the animals goes, some suspension of belief may be required as it may seem decidedly, in the words of our protagonist, "woo-woo New Ager", but after the first few pages it simply feels like part of the story, whether or not it's something the reader regularly believes in.

The cast of characters is believable, with many of the usual barn personalities present: the devoted barn manager, the non-riding client who acts as barn cheerleader, the worrywart boarder, the straitlaced working student and more. Any horse person who reads it will recognise at least a few characters from their own barn.

I was initially worried that Nicholas felt a little bit like another rich male lead from a popular adult series with a theme of "woman who doesn't have the highest self-esteem meets rich, attractive man", but they distinguished themselves and developed their own story. There is some adult content in What the Heart Wants but it's not the focus of the novel.

Overall, this is a fun novel that horse people will enjoy reading. The pace is quick and the characters will be believable and familiar to anyone who has spent time in the horse world.

What the Heart Wants is currently available in both Kindle and paperback formats on Amazon.

Disclosure: I have received no financial compensation for writing this review aside from a sample or copy of the product to be reviewed. My reviews are always my honest opinion and experience. Readers who use reviewed products do so at their own risk.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Going First

This show season I've noticed one thing in particular that drives in-gates, judges, show management and coaches/riders alike crazy: the first rider of the class who isn't ready on time. This happens in both the hunter ring and the jumper ring, and each time it slows down the day for everyone and makes it extra difficult to determine when the later riders will need to get ready.

There are several possible reasons why you might end up being the first horse into the ring for your class. In some cases you might prefer to go at the beginning, there might be a posted order and you were drawn first, you might have arrived late and the remaining spot is first, or you might have added into the class and as a result you were put at the top of the order. Going at the top of the order can be a desirable thing for certain horses and riders: easier scheduling, an earlier finish, multiple horses with the same rider in one class, a quieter warm-up area, etc.

Keep in mind that in many cases you will still be expected to return to the ring with your horse at the end of the class for a jog or ribbon presentation even if you go early in the order.

In the hunter ring there is no excuse not to be ready when the class begins. The course has already been posted and you should have learned it early in the day, there is no course walk, and if you've been keeping up to date with how the earlier classes are running you should have no problem getting warmed up and to the ring on time. If you expect that there might be a conflict with your trainer or if you're also riding another horse in a different ring, warn the in-gate in advance that you might not be able to make it on time. Without warning, the in-gate won't know whether you've decided not to compete in the class after all, and knowing about the conflict will enable him or her to communicate with the other ring to maintain an appropriate order of go.

When it comes to the jumpers, going first can be a bit more complicated. Ideally, you will walk your course with an earlier class so that you can warm up during your own class's course walk. If you can't walk the course ahead of time, you need to have someone at the ring to hold your horse during the course walk. When you're first in the order, there isn't time to run back to your stall or trailer to fetch your horse after the walk. Look at the course diagram well ahead of time so that you can head right in for the walk without having to learn the pattern at the same time. If your class is the first of the day, keep in mind that you can walk the course as soon as it's set; there's no need to wait until the last minute!

All of your flatwork needs to be done before the course walk, and preferably you'll be able to jump most of your warm-up jumps ahead of the walk, too. Once you complete your course walk (and try very hard not to be the last one left walking in the ring), get right back on your horse and jump a final warm-up jump or two to get back into the rhythm before heading to the in-gate.

This is the routine that others will be expecting of you, and you will throw off the timing of other riders' warm-ups if you don't promptly walk up to the in-gate following the course walk.

Unsure of when you might be expected to go first? If you're entering a mini prix, classic or any other class with a posted order day-of, expect to be put at the top of the order of go. Any time there is a drawn/posted order you could potentially be first, so check the order well in advance if you can. Lastly, if you don't sign in early for a class that's running as a sign-in rather than as a posted order, the remaining spots are likely to be near the beginning of the class. In this case there might be more leeway for moving the order around depending on the particular horse show, but you will likely be expected to go early if possible.

That being said, if you aren't sure where you will be in the order, always assume that you might have to go first and enjoy the breathing room if you end up being able to take more time to get ready. Having everyone arrive at the ring promptly is something that everyone on the showgrounds will appreciate, and it will make for that much less "hurry up and wait" for all.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

How to Fold a Sheet

Have you ever envied the aisles of perfectly folded, square sheets presented by many show barns? All it takes to accomplish this yourself is a little bit of practice and a few easy steps! These instructions make the process seem longer than it really is; once you've practised it a few times you should find that each step can be done in one fluid motion, leading to the next.

Even for casual at-home blanketing, folding your blankets squarely means that they will take up less room, one blanket won't get caught on another, and proper folding will contribute to a professional look.

As with most aspects of the horse world, you are likely to find some variation in technique at different stables and with different types of sheets, but this is a good folding technique to build from.

For ease of photography these first steps are shown on the floor, but you should hold the sheet yourself throughout the process, off the ground.

First, grab the front edge of the blanket at the top seam with one hand, and the back edge of the blanket at the top seam with the other hand. Bring both hands together while giving the blanket a flick so that it folds in half along the top seam with a straight fold. Shift your hands so that one is now holding each end of the doubled top seam.

Don't worry about the top seam matching all the way along, especially if the blanket is fitted along the back; this would result in lumpy folding.

Bring your hands together again so that the top seam is folded into four layers. Remember to give the blanket a flick as you fold in order to get straight, wrinkle-free folds!

You should now have the main body of the blanket folded into four even layers, with the shoulder area hanging free.

Double the folded section of the blanket over one arm while you grab the front buckle area with your free hand and fold it behind the quartered body so that the shoulder area is at the bottom of your folded blanket, lying against your arm.

Facing the blanket bar, flip the blanket so that the back seam is facing down (note that a blanket with writing on it will need to be rotated the other way so that the writing doesn't appear upside down). Fold the blanket over the bar, allowing the blanket bar to catch the shoulder area and straps without allowing them to fall free over the back of the bar.

By flipping the blanket upside down, the bar catches the straps and doubles them over under the blanket. This creates a much neater appearance and prevents long straps from getting caught as doors open and close.

For other blankets:

  • For a high-necked blanket, fold it the same as you would a regular sheet but grab from the wither area, not from the actual front edge of the blanket.
  • For embroidered sheets or prize coolers, practice until you find the best places to fold in order to display the writing properly. This might result in uneven quarters, which is fine as long as you can still tuck certain areas under in order for it to hang neatly.
  • For turnout blankets/sheets without a seam, it remains very important to grab from where that seam would have been in order for a square shape to result.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Review: Chasing the Wind

It's always comforting when there's clear proof near the beginning of a horse novel that the author is a horse person. Hannah Hooton is without a doubt a horse person, as evidenced by a passage in her new novel Chasing the Wind in which one character can only offer an injured human bute or horse bandages, because what sort of rider drives around with a human first aid kit in their car?

Chasing the Wind is the fifth and final book in Hooton's Aspen Valley series. As with the preceding novels, Chasing the Wind can be read as a stand-alone book, though readers of the entire series will have an even greater appreciation for the stories told about each set of characters featured previously.

At the beginning of Chasing the Wind we find new character Lucy Kendrick posing as a reporter on her way to shadow champion jump racing trainer Jack Carmichael. Her arrival coincides with a terrible tragedy in Jack's life as well as the beginning of a series of mysterious racing offences affecting Aspen Valley runners, both of which threaten to destroy Jack's career and his marriage. Is this the end of Aspen Valley Stables? Will the entrance of charming Irish jockey Finn O'Donaghue cause Lucy to blow her cover? What is Lucy hiding and for what purpose is she at Aspen Valley?

While the novel deals with a nearly unthinkable tragedy and its after-effects, Hooton has mastered the art of writing about difficult topics in a way that allows the reader to appreciate what each character is going through without sacrificing the enjoyability of the book. While tragedy is central to the plot, there are also several mysteries running through Chasing the Wind, as well as romance, both old and new. 

Of the Aspen Valley novels I've read, Chasing the Wind is easily my favourite. Not only is the horse subject matter as accurate and engrossing as ever (Hooton has a talent for making racing scenes in particular come to life), but the depth of characters and skilled storytelling make it a great pleasure to read.

Those in the hunter/jumper world will appreciate mention of certain jump training exercises shared between the jumping disciplines in addition to the captivating human stories intertwined with those of the horses who share their world.

Chasing the Wind is a highly recommended read for the adult horsey crowd and can be purchased at the following links:
Barnes & Noble/Nook

Disclosure: I have received no financial compensation for writing this review aside from a sample or copy of the product to be reviewed. My reviews are always my honest opinion and experience. Readers who use reviewed products do so at their own risk.

Friday, January 29, 2016

How to Fold Back a Quarter Sheet

When riding in cold weather, a quarter sheet can help to keep your horse's muscles warm and prevent chills during cooling-out periods. For the rider, a square quarter sheet can lead to bunching at the girth or losing the feeling of the leg against the horse's side. A quarter sheet with a cut-out for the leg can solve this problem, but a square quarter sheet can easily be folded back to achieve the same result.

Those who worry about the security of the quarter sheet when not using the girth loops might feel better after viewing photos or videos of Thoroughbreds during morning gallops where a folded quarter sheet stays put even at speed.

I always recommend using a saddle pad under your quarter sheet. Saddle pads are much easier to clean than most quarter sheets, especially if your quarter sheet is made of wool, and your horse will always be happier in clean equipment. The area under the saddle will accumulate the most sweat and hair, needing more washing than the areas covered by the quarter sheet alone.

Don't use your thickest pad as the quarter sheet will add a small amount of extra cushioning and you don't want to alter your saddle's fit.

Start by placing the saddle pad just ahead of where the saddle will eventually sit, where you would put it if you weren't planning on using a quarter sheet,

Lay the quarter sheet over the saddle pad, lining up the front edge of the saddle pad with the front edge of the quarter sheet.

Place your saddle over the quarter sheet, smoothing any wrinkles so that they lie behind or beside the saddle rather than under it.

Lift the front of the saddle and fold the front corner of the quarter sheet back under the sweat flap, ensuring that the seam does not end up under the panels where the rider's weight could make the bulk of the seam uncomfortable for the horse. If you would like to be able to move your leg further back, simply change the angle of the fold.

Lift the sweat flap on each side to check that the fold is smooth, without wrinkles.

Check the saddle placement. If it needs to be moved back, grip the back of the saddle pad through the quarter sheet while shifting the saddle with your other hand to ensure that everything moves together without bunching.

All that's left is to attach the girth and everything will be held together by the pressure of the saddle and girth together. This set-up also allows the saddle pad's billet straps to be used if desired because the quarter sheet is folded away from that area.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review: Touch of Gold

I had the pleasure of answering a few questions by e-mail from author Vivien Gorham earlier this year, so I was very interested to read and review her first novel after it was published this fall.

Touch of Gold tells the story of Jamie, a thirteen year-old girl who, following her parents' divorce, has moved with her mother from Halifax to a small Nova Scotian town. There she discovers a palomino mare in a field by the road who appears to need a friend as much as Jamie does. Just as Jamie befriends the horse's widowed owner and begins to bond with the mare, she learns that "Peach" will soon be sold to the formidable owner and trainer of Tamarack Stables, a nearby show barn. Will Jamie, new to the horse world, be allowed to maintain contact with her equine friend? Could the more experienced riders around Jamie's age at Tamarack Stables accept her presence there and even become her friends?

Upon receiving my copy of Touch of Gold, I was struck by the beautiful cover and layout. The overall length and short chapters will appeal to the pre-teen demographic who won't feel overwhelmed by the book. The main character is the type of independent, goal-oriented teen who will resonate with readers even if she doesn't always make the wisest decisions.

The story is accessibly written to appeal to a wide range of readers while maintaining enough twists to keep things interesting. I would have liked to see a few of the secondary characters fleshed out more but given the ending of the novel, I wonder if we'll be reading more about some of them in a future novel.

Overall, Vivien Gorham does a very good job of expressing on the page the relationship between a horse and rider or handler, as well as the comfort that horses can provide for us. Each horse has a distinct personality, and many of the different human personalities often present in the horse world are included in the story.

More experienced show riders will notice a few minor horse show mistakes such as a rider wearing white breeches and white gloves for a hunt seat equitation class (beige breeches and dark gloves, please!), or a rider being awarded four faults for a refusal in a hunter class, but these small details don't detract from the story and can easily be remedied in future novels by some more exposure to the hunter/jumper world.

I believe that many young readers would be delighted to receive a copy of Touch of Gold and delve into Jamie and Peach's story.

Touch of Gold, written by Vivien Gorham, is available in Canada from bookstores, Nimbus PublishingChapters/Indigo and American and international readers may pre-order online from bookstores, Amazon and Book Depository; release date February 2016.

Disclosure: I have received no financial compensation for writing this review aside from a sample or copy of the product to be reviewed. My reviews are always my honest opinion and experience. Readers who use reviewed products do so at their own risk.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Equine Nutrition Interview, Part 2

This is the second part of our equine nutrition interview with Meredith Kahn, courtesy of O3 Animal Health, makers of Equine Omega Complete. Part one can be read here.

SRR: Do horse owners tend to over-feed or under-feed supplements?

MK: While forage alone does not meet the energy demands of a working horse, supplementing on top of added grain depends on the horse in question. What is their work level? What is their medical history? Although additional supplementation can be necessary, horse owners, in general, tend to over-supplement. In fact, over-supplementing is becoming a more frequent and costly problem. Concentrate feeds and fats supply additional energy for equine athletes on top of high quality forage. Commercial feeds designed for working horses typically supply a balance of the appropriate vitamins and minerals and often include pro and prebiotics for added digestive support. Additional supplementation varies from horse to horse. In order to avoid to doing more harm than good, veterinarians and equine nutritionists should be consulted before any extra supplements are added to your horse’s dietary regimen.

SRR: What should owners look for in a supplementation program?

MK: With the help of a veterinarian or an equine nutritionist, owners should design a supplementation program that fits their horse’s specific needs. While horses in general do not require much additional supplementation, this is an area that can be shaped specifically around an individual horse’s requirements. For example, putting weight on a highly stressed or geriatric horse. After investigating for a possible pathogenic condition, you can increase the caloric density of the diet by offering a high quality forage and concentrates with added fat. This option does not make sense for all horses. For example, increasing the dietary fat content of an overweight horse or a horse in ideal condition would cause more harm than good. In the case of the “hard keeper,” an explicit dietary regimen that includes added fat is designed specifically for that horse to help promote weight gain.

SRR: Is there such thing as feeding too much fat to a horse?

MK: Horses cannot really overdose on fat. In fact, the upper limit of fat inclusion in the equine diet has not been established for all sources of fat. Nevertheless, there is a point where fat will no longer absorb efficiently or horses will no longer accept it based on palatability and texture preferences. The truth is, there is no set limit for horses in general, as every horse is different. Some horses tolerate rice bran or flaxseed over fat in an oil form. Others will develop loose, greasy feces with low levels of fat added to the diet, while some can tolerate high quantities of fat without any apparent digestive complication. Despite there being no set limit for fat inclusion in the equine diet, a general consensus of rations below 230 g fat/kg dry matter is considered acceptable.

SRR: How do good fats differ from bad fats in their effect on the horse?

MK: The effect of different fat types begins at the cellular level. While both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are required in the diet, horses are naturally adapted to a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids compared to omega-6 fatty acids. Every cell in the body is surrounded by fat. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete for incorporation into the cell membrane. In fact, the composition of the cell membrane is a direct reflection of the fatty acid content of the diet. With more omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, and, thus, the cell membrane, the membrane increases in flexibility, fluidity and permeability. Increased flexibility and fluidity of red blood cell membranes promotes more efficient blood flow and oxygen delivery, while cells with a more permeable cell membrane are better able to regulate the exchange of nutrients and waste products.

Once inside the body, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids have hormone-like properties. Essential fatty acids are cleaved from the cell membrane and act as precursors to biological mediators known as eicosanoids. Omega-6’s are precursors to eicosanoids that promote blood clotting, inflammation and immune system responses, however if these processes get carried away, they can actually become more harmful than helpful. The diet must therefore contain the correct proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in order to keep these processes under control.

SRR: Is there any other nutritional information that you wish more horse people were aware of?

MK: When in doubt, ask a professional. Every horse is different. The diet should be designed around each horse’s specific needs. It is important to start with a good base: high quality forage and water. Then depending on your horse’s work load/condition you can begin to increase the caloric density of the diet by adding in a concentrate feed. Again, this should be tailored to your horse’s specific requirements. Always consult an equine nutritionist or your veterinarian before adding in a new supplement or changing your horse’s feeding program. The horse has a unique system, specifically designed for processing forages in the hindgut. While their systems can tolerate a variety of other feedstuffs, it is important to carefully evaluate your horse’s diet in order to avoid any unnecessary nutritional complications.

Thank you very much to Meredith Kahn and O3 Animal Health for making this interview possible!