Posts Tagged ‘mounted games

Boomerang competes at the MGAA MA#1 – bitless and treeless

Over the weekend I packed up Boomerang and headed down south to Maryland to compete in the MGAA Mid-Atlantic #1. It was the first of the mid-atlantic mounted games series for the year and we were excited to attend.

chesapeake boomerang competes in mounted games

Boomer and I were dusting off the cobwebs a bit as typically I give him the winter off due to being pretty busy at my shop – so this was sort of a “getting back into the swing of things” competition for us.

chesapeake boomerang competes in mounted games

Boomer was the only pony at the competition to compete in a Bitless Bridle and Treeless Saddle – and you will also notice our treat bag hanging from his saddle, used when I am clicker training him during competition – because the training is never done.

chesapeake boomerang competes in mounted games

I think one of the common mis-conceptions about treeless saddles is that many people think that without a tree the saddle won’t be stable on the horse’s back. But, all you have to do is watch me play games in it to prove this wrong. All weekend I was leaning off the saddle like a monkey, and vaulting on from the ground.

chesapeake boomerang competes in mounted games

I’m in love with my freeform saddle for so many reason, but mostly because it is the most comfortable ride I’ve ever had, for me and my pony. And as much as treeless saddle are rare in the mounted games arena (in fact I believe you are not allowed to compete in treeless saddles if you ride with the USMGA organization – why, I do not know!) Bitless bridles are probably just as rare.

chesapeake boomerang competes in mounted games

I think with equine speed sports especially probably a lot of people think you won’t be able to control your horse without a bit when it’s in racing mode. Now Boomerang may not be the fastest pony out there, but he wants to run towards the finish line just like the rest of them. Because I took the time to clicker train him a really nice stop, and to respect my seat and leg aids just as much as the rein pressure I am able to successfully compete him in his dr. cook’s bitless bridle.

Many riders in the US now compete in hackamores – yet these have a much different way of steering/stopping the horse by using sensitive pressure points on the nose. Bitless Bridles use painless and even pressure to help guide your horse in the direction you want to go and does not interfere with the horse’s breathing.

And while I personally am an advocate for the bitless bridles I do believe that using a bit or not is a personal decision that most times depends on the horse too. Not every horse may be a good fit for a bitless bridle and I think it just depends on what works best for each animal in the most humane way possible.

You can check out more photos from our weekend of games on our Facebook Page. And make sure you read Ammo’s recap of the weekend’s events here and here.

And finally, here’s a quick video I put together of Boomerang having a blast competing.

We hope to make it to some more MGAA competitions this year – and for anyone who is interested in getting started in the sport be sure to take a look at our upcoming competitions at Iron Horse Farm.

You can read more about mounted games here.

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Warm Days Ahead

It’s starting to really feel like Spring on the farm! As the days start to warm up and it begins to stay lighter longer – I’ve been starting to get the boys back in shape. I clipped Boomerang the other day, and started practicing for some up coming competitions this Spring.

Boomer is feeling fresh, and loving all the attention again. And he couldn’t be happier that we’re running through some of the mounted games races. After all of our fun Blitz and Boomer seem to really enjoy rolling in the dusty dirt.

Blitz and boomer rolling

Blitz and boomer rolling

Blitz and boomer rolling

Blitz and boomer rolling

Blitz and boomer rolling

Blitz and boomer rolling

Minnow is also excited about the added daylight, because it means I can fit some riding in with Boomerang and some trick training in with him.

minnow in the sunset

Even though Minnow can’t be ridden because of his ringbone, he still needs to be exercised. So I’ve developed a “recall” game that I play with him in the arena to allow him to exercise himself at a speed that is comfortable to him.

Much in the same way you might work on recalls with your dog – I send him away from me, then recall him back. As you can see in the video below, Minnow really likes this game and often times goes bucking and running when I send him away.

It’s become a fun way for Minnow to keep in shape, while getting to choose how much he wants to run based on his pain tolerance for that day. I never ask him to canter or trot, but simply let him choose how quickly he wants to play the game.

So what are you doing this Spring to get your horses in shape? Any exciting events to look forward to? I’m still looking for a place to start Boomerang on cattle – can’t wait!

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Camping, Thunderstorms, and Late Night Talks

Last weekend we took the ponies to a mounted games competition in New Jersey. This is one of my favorite competitions of the year, because not only is it a short distance from our home base in PA, but it’s also an event that most of the riders camp at. I love camping, especially when I get to bring along the ponies AND the dog.

camping with ponies

We arrived just as it was getting dark and dropped two of the ponies (Blitz – who came along for the experience and more training, and Jet – my sister’s mare that my mom would be riding for the weekend) at the stables. We bedded their stalls and tucked them in for the night, all while Boomerang waited patiently on the trailer.

Then we drove Boomer up to the campsites where we set up his portable corral from Travel n’ Corrals. This was the first time I got a chance to use the corral at an overnight competition – and also the first time he had ever seen it. And did I mention it was dark by this point?

boomerang travel n corrals

We unloaded Boomer and put him in the corral while we set up the tent. He looked around for a second and went straight to eating his hay. I was pretty amazed at how he acted like everything was no big deal. His friends (who rode in the trailer with him) got dropped off somewhere else and now here he was up on the top of a hill next to a campsite, in a corral he had never seen, with not a single horse in sight…..just quietly munching his hay. Pretty cool pony.

boomerang travel n corrals

Well, he was pretty cool until about 1am when he ran out of hay. Ha. Should have known it would be too good to be true.

With his hay gone I think he looked around and realized “what the heck, where am I and what happened to my friends?” His ear piercing whinny woke me instantly. I think he would have eventually stopped calling too – had his big brother Blitz not heard him a mile away in the stables and called back. And yes, it was DEFINITELY Blitz – he has a VERY distinct whinny. Every hour or so they would call back and forth to each other – if I only knew what they were saying! At one point I even heard Boomerang lay down in his corral – yet continue to return Blitz’s calls. He wasn’t frantic, he didn’t try to escape (not that he could – these things are really well built) or do anything horrible – he was simply having a late night conversation with his big brother….on the other side of the facility!

boomerang travel n corrals

Hindsight, I probably should have set the corral up closer to the barns so that he could at least see another horse. But regardless of the fact that he stayed up all night talking I was still proud of how he handled the situation I put him in.

Not only was the corral a new thing for us at this competition, but it was also the first time I got to compete with my treeless saddle. I wish I had some pictures to share, but since my mom and I were both riding together we had no one with us to take pictures. If only somehow I could train the Dachshund to do it! Hummm. But, the saddle was awesome! No slipping, and both Boomerang and I were SUPER comfy in it. I even got to do some full out vaulting into it without any problems. I really wish I had gone treeless years sooner – I’ll never go back!

In between competition sessions my mom worked on training Blitz to tie (without his friends around). Blitz has progressed in leaps and bounds with all the training my mom has put into him, but he still has one major issue they are working on. His separation anxiety. He has a real problem leaving his friends and being alone.

This is what well behaved horses look like when they tie:

ponies tied to trailer

And this is what naughty Blitz looks like when he ties without his friends around:

ponies tied to trailer

Blitz spent a lot of time working on tieing in the woods by our campsite. It was very tough for him not to have his friends around – but my mom thinks she hopefully made some breakthroughs with him.

tieing ponies

With high-hopes of working even further on Blitz’s training on Day 2, we were instead hit with a nasty Thunderstorm on Saturday night. Camping proved to get a little wet – but atleast we were nice and toasty in the tent with our little heater named Ammo the Dachshund. Ammo is such a trooper, he’ll put up with pretty much anything – and any situation. Thunder & Lightning is no problem for this guy – I think he might sleep through a tornado if no one woke him! Camping Console is your best guide if you have plans to go camping.

ammo the dachshund

Sadly when we woke up the next day the competition had to be canceled. With no end in sight for the storms, they were forced to pin the divisions based on standings from the previous day. But we still came home with a second place finish!

ammo the dachshund second place

We packed up and headed home – only to be hit with one last road block just minutes from the farm. Luckily Peco was nearby and able to help us out before the ponies got too hot in the trailer. And next time I’m going to REALLY try to remember my rubber boots so I’m not stuck wearing soggy sneakers all weekend!

fallen tree

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Treeless Saddles & Gymkhana Events

I’ve had the SAME english saddle since I was about 14. That’s 13 years for anyone counting. Most people would have upgraded long ago, but since I’ve been riding ponies since I was 5 (and still do) the saddle was a good fit for them. For me though? Not so much.

My 13 year old english saddle

Only, I didn’t really notice how ill-fitting my saddle was until recently. I didn’t know that it could be better – for me & my ponies. The soreness in my legs after a weekend competing – mostly due to a saddle that was too small for my 5’10” frame.

I honestly never really thought much about upgrading my current saddle until after the Extreme Cowboy race competition with Boomerang this winter. Since we had begun doing more western type maneuvers I began to really notice how much my current english saddle was throwing me forward. I felt the need to sit deeper (to stay on through Boomer’s super spins), but when we broke to the canter my saddle pushed me into a two-point position.

I didn’t really want a western saddle, because although what I do is more akin to western speed sports, I still like to occasionally do dressage, or some jumping. And I later learned that Boomerang is too short backed to take an adult sized western saddle anyway. Getting another (larger) english saddle would work, but I would still be thrown forward.

Freeform Classic BTF Treeless Saddle from Saddle Up

But I learned there was another option. Treeless. I actually would have never known what a treeless saddle was if it wasn’t for my facebook friend, Kali from Pony Pros. She runs a program in Oregon for kids and adults where all of the horses are ridden bitless and in treeless saddles.

If you are unfamiliar with treeless saddles they are basically the same as an english (or western) saddle but they do not have a rigid tree inside of them. I did a lot of research into them before hand. I learned about the importance of making sure the treeless saddles do not rest on the horses’ spine, I looked at tons of different manufacturers, I even drove Boomerang to Delaware to test out the closest treeless saddle I could find. Treeless saddles are big with endurance riders as they are not only comfortable for the rider, but they also free up the horses’ movement – but in my area many tack shops didn’t even know what I was talking about when I asked if they carried treeless saddles.

I finally narrowed down my search to an online shop located in Virginia (about as close as I could get to Pennsylvania). For the next few weeks I emailed back and forth with Paulita Neff from Saddle Up about what I was looking for, the features I needed, and the issue I had with my short backed pony, and my extremely tall self (I’m really too tall to be riding these 13 hand ponies).

I finally decided on the Freeform Classic BTF.

When it arrived a few weeks later, admittedly I had some doubts. Is a treeless saddle really going to stay on my pony’s back when I lean to pick objects off the ground during a mounted games competition? Am I going to like it? Is it really worth spending that much money on a saddle?

Boomerang competeing in his new treeless saddle

The interesting thing about the Freeform saddles is that not only can you change the actual seat position, but you can also change where the stirrups hang from – so you can make the entire seat totally customizable to you. It took me a few days of riding in the saddle and making adjustments to the position of things to get it to the right fit to me. I ultimately ended up putting my seat as far back as I could (I’d actually prefer it a little further back, so the saddle would fit my leg better – but because my pony is so short backed I can’t do this, the perils of riding a pony when you are tall), and I placed my stirrups a little more forward to have a more “western” seat in the saddle.

Boomerang if very happy in his new treeless saddle

After a few rides, and many adjustments, I was hooked. I felt like I was riding on a pillow. Transitioning back to my old english saddle made me feel like I was riding on a board – I couldn’t believe I had actually spent 13 years in that thing. And after ordering a pony sized dressage girth for Boomerang (the smaller the girth the more stable it makes the saddle), leaning off to pick objects off the ground was no problem. And I had no slipping of my saddle.

Comfort Dressage Girth from Just for Ponies

I also picked up a new pair of stirrups, as the leathers are somewhat wider and didn’t fit my conventional safety stirrups (a must for a saddle that doesn’t have stirrup bars). These from HorseLoverz fit perfectly, and I love the fact that they sit at a better position to easily find them at a flat out gallop (after vaulting onto your pony at a games competition of course).

Coronet Double Safety Irons from HorseLoverz

One of the best parts about the new saddle is that Boomerang’s spins have gotten quicker and faster. The treeless saddle has freed up his shoulders and he is much more agile. My mom even tried it out on Blitz and he began picking up his once sticky right lead immediately (because his shoulder had freer movement).

Over the weekend we took the ponies to their very first gymkhana event. Here’s a short little video to show how it went:

The ponies were fantastic and I felt really secure in my new saddle. And after a day of being in my saddle I didn’t have a single sore muscle or sore spot anywhere – due to my super comfy new saddle.

I’m excited to test it out in the mounted games arena as well as on the trail too (although we have practiced some gaming in it at home). Here’s a few shots from our day at the gymkhana…

Boomerang was very well behaved considering all the commotion around, and the fact that the horse flies were eating him alive. It’s great to be able to expose the ponies to so many different things, it makes them so versatile.

Stay tuned, because Sunday was a day of firsts for Boomerang and Blitz, as we also took them swimming for the first time! Pictures are coming soon!


Special thanks to Paulita from Saddle Up for being so patient with me as I asked a million questions about treeless saddles!

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Iron Horse Farm – video tour

Some of you might know that in 2009 we moved the ponies into our farm, Iron Horse Farm. My parents waited 20+ years until they were able to build the farm of their dreams. And while the farm never seems to be quite complete (we always have projects going on) – it is definitely a place our whole family cherishes.

My talented brother Taylor recently made an updated farm tour for our website while he was home visiting from North Carolina. (and he’s also working on a new video for the painting ponies!)

Check it out:

Isn’t it fantastic! You can see my mom working Blitz in the video with her dog Trooper – as well as Boomerang and Minnow (and our other horses Jet – black mare & Nitro – the grey). Sadly I wasn’t out at the farm the day he shot – or perhaps I would have made him capture a few pony tricks for the reel. But regardless, my brother is an super talented filmmaker – he shot this in one day! Amazing right?

So if you are in need of some video work – be sure to check out his website Depthink. (he will travel!)

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