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How to Keep Horses On a Budget

Let’s be real for a minute: having almost any type of pet can get expensive. But make that pet several hundred pounds and the costs just go up exponentially. Anything with the word “horse” in the title or a picture of a horse on it can cost more than double the same item that isn’t marketed to horse owners. I don’t make a lot of money, but have still managed to find ways to have a horse and enjoy her without spending tons of cash. It takes some planning and careful shopping, but it can be done! Here are some tips to cut your horse expenses.

Disclaimer: Check with a veterinarian or a trusted professional before making choices about horse feed, supplements, or other nutritional needs for your horse. Each horse is different, with different needs and workloads. The following is general advice and not meant to diagnose any specific need for your personal horse!

Get a PPE before buying your horse.

If you don’t have a horse yet and are looking to buy one, make sure that you get a vet out to do a pre-purchase exam on any horse you are seriously considering. I don’t care how much you love that big, young Chestnut gelding at the rescue, without a PPE you may take him home and find out two years later that he has a terrible case of kissing spine because you didn’t get x-rays and a vet exam before adopting! If you already have a trainer you trust, take them with you horse shopping to get a second opinion. If you don’t have a trainer, find one with a good reputation and get their opinion before buying. It may seem silly to spend money on a vet exam for a horse you may not buy, but it could save you lots of grief and expense in the long run by catching potential problems before you’re the one responsible for thousands and thousands of dollars in vet care.

Self-care board or exchange board for chores or other goods.

Keeping a horse at home is the cheapest and easiest option for owning one, but sometimes having a horse in your backyard just isn’t possible. When searching for a boarding barn, see if you can do self-care (if allowed!) for a discount or if you can help out with barn chores or by trading some other service or goods for some of your board price. (For instance, if you’re handy with tools you can offer to repair fences or do other tasks around the facility!) Self-care only makes sense if you can afford the gas and time to come out every day, possibly multiple times a day, so be sure to figure that into your planning before committing to it. My best friend and I currently self-care at her parents’ farm, and we take turns coming out to feed the horses and change blankets so that all the running around isn’t just on one of us.

Feed the best quality forage you can afford.

Barring medical issues such as Cushing’s, most horses will do just fine on a steady diet of quality grass. Hay is cheapest in the summer when grass is plentiful, so buy as much hay as you can store during the growing season. Buy the best quality hay you can afford, and feed from hay nets or feeders that are up off the floor to minimize wastage. Just remember that horses are designed to eat from the ground, so try not to feed their hay TOO high. And if using hay nets, hang them high enough off the ground so that your horse won’t get a foot stuck in it! 

Don’t overfeed grain and concentrates.

Horses are designed to forage most of the day, not eat big meals all at once. If you are going to supplement with a feed, make sure that it’s appropriate for your horse’s needs and that you aren’t overfeeding grain and skimping on hay. Feed, supplements, and concentrates can add up quickly, so unless your horse needs “extras”, feed more hay than grains. Never feed horses any food that is for cattle, as it can contain ingredients that are dangerous to horses!

Check tack regularly for wear and tear.

Buy tack secondhand, perform regular maintenance on tack you already own.

Thanks to the internet, it’s becoming easier and easier to find horse tack second-hand. There are groups with thousands of members that are dedicated just to buying and selling used tack, from Western to English, and even Driving tack! If you need a piece of tack, look for it used first before buying new. Not only is it better for your pocketbook, but it’s also better for the environment, too! Also, most tack stores have a consignment section where you can purchase gently used items from other local horsepeople. 

Once you have your tack, be sure to perform regular maintenance on it. Clean your tack regularly to check for signs of wear, leather fatigue, or metal fatigue. Check saddle billets, girths, and bridles for wear. It will be cheaper to keep your tack in good shape with regular cleaning and conditioning than it will be to keep buying new tack. Also, keeping up with tack maintenance will help prevent sudden tack failures that could lead to vet or hospital bills.

Have your horse go barefoot.

If your horse doesn’t NEED shoes, he probably shouldn’t be wearing shoes. Obviously your circumstances will vary, but it will be much cheaper to just pay for a trim whenever the farrier comes out than having to pay for shoes. As a bonus, the horse can’t pull a shoe if they don’t have one on, so you won’t have to pay the farrier to come back out after you find the left hind shoe out in the muddy paddock two days after it was put on!

Clean and repair your own blankets.

Or, don’t blanket your horse at all if they don’t need it. Most horses don’t need a blanket at all unless they are clipped, old, underweight, or don’t grow a good winter coat. So you can save a bundle just not blanketing your horse at all! 

But, if you do blanket your horse, you can clean and repair blankets on your own! There is a commercial blanket wash you can purchase that you use in the washing machine. Taking your blankets to the local laundromat will likely be cheaper than having them washed by a professional blanket person in your local area. Just be sure to use only recommended cleaning agents so you don’t damage waterproofing on your blankets, or treat them with a waterproofing spray after they’ve been cleaned.

You can also repair rips and tears either with iron-on patches specifically designed for horse blankets, with patches meant for tents, or by sewing the rips by hand. We’ve sewn up several rain sheets because Raven is tough on Glory’s blankets and like to rip them up, and have even re-attached broken straps on a bellyband of a winter blanket just by sewing it back on with a heavy-duty curved needle and waxed thread.

If your horse blanket does get a rip and you purchased it recently, contact the store you purchased it from or the manufacturer and see if the damage is covered under any sort of warranty. The previously mentioned winter-blanket-with-the-broken-bellyband was brand new and was still covered under the warranty, so we got a refund for the cost of the blanket and bought a new rain sheet (bonus: we got to keep the winter blanket, so after we repaired it we’d gotten two blankets for the price of one!)

Those are some of my tips for keeping horses on a budget. For more ideas, be sure to check out one of my favorite YouTube channels, The Budget Equestrian

Do you have any money-saving tips for taking care of your horse? Share them in the comments!

Have you seen my merch on Amazon yet?

Birthstone horse shirts are available on Amazon! You can get February-October’s designs on a variety of fits and colors, while taking advantage of your Amazon Prime benefits! I got to see one of these shirts in person just yesterday and I am BLOWN AWAY by the quality. The print looks amazing and the shirt itself is high-quality. Definitely recommend getting a shirt for yourself or someone you know who loves horses through my Amazon shop if you want the best feeling shirt ever!

I will be adding more shirts to Amazon as I can, however the way that this program works is different from other t-shirt storefronts I have. With Amazon, you have only so many design “slots”, and as you sell more shirts you rank up and get more slots. I am currently on the lowest level and only have 10 design slots, so I can’t put up all the months until I open up more slots. This means I have to get more people to buy shirts on Amazon! So if you know someone who would love one of these designs, please share the link with them! I need to sell 7 more shirts before I can get to the next tier, so there’s still a ways to go but I know we can do it.
 

Featured photo created by katemangostar – www.freepik.com
Horse with saddle photo created by topntp26 – www.freepik.com

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Come Tour Our Tack Room!

A tour of our tiny tack room might not be particularly exciting to those who have much larger barns or a fancier set up. But I think our tack room is quaint and that we make decent use of what space we have. Besides, maybe this post can give someone some storage ideas for their own tack room! (Also, does anyone not realize how messy something is until they look at photos? Because that’s what I’m going through right now with this post, but I didn’t have time to straighten up when I was taking these photos. So please know that I share my unedited life with all of you!)

Welcome to our little tack/feed room! This is the view from the door. On the left wall are the cart harness that we use for both horses, extra lead ropes, rope halters, breastplates, and all our light-up riding gear (LED Breastplates, LED tail lights, magnet running lights to clip onto the breastplates, etc). Directly ahead, in the trash cans, are our feed, extra horse treats, alfalfa pellets, and extra bags of feed. You can see Raven and Glory’s feed buckets on top of the middle can in this shot. We keep the feed in here because we have a small space heater in the tack room and the feed that we use has molasses in it, so if it freezes we will be trying to break it up with a chisel!

Now, some people who are familiar with tack rooms might be thinking “why is there a huge tool box in the corner of your tack storage?!” Well, the short answer is that the barn we’re currently at was empty for a few years, and so the tack room and stalls started being used for storage. There are some things still being stored in the barn that we’re not able to move and that we just have to live with. The huge tool box is one of those things. It’s impossible to move it out of there right now, so it gets to stay. We have some silicone mats on top of the toolbox to protect it, and we store our Bluetooth speaker, charging cables for our phones, more extra treats (presents from my parents, because they must spoil their “grandhorse”), and an electric kettle for making warm mash for the horses or hot drinks for ourselves.

Here’s a better shot of the wall with the harness and night-riding things on it. We keep the harness on a holder meant for a garden hose. It holds the breastcollar and the harness saddle perfectly, and we put the other harness parts on a bridle hook to the side of it.

Over in the far corner of the tack room are our saddles and saddle pads. My saddle is on the top left rack (because I am tall and can reach that rack), extra saddle pads go on the top right. Kennedy’s saddles go on the lower racks. We also put our helmet bags here so that we can grab a saddle, saddle pad, and our helmet and take it all out to the crossties in one trip.

This wall is fairly empty because we moved most of the stuff that was here over to the other wall when we were planning on having our heat come from an outlet heater. So we had to move everything away from the outlet so there wouldn’t be a fire hazard. Then we decided to use the heater we have now, instead, and we’ve just kept this wall mostly clear. Our primary bridles for each horse do live on this wall, however, within arm’s reach of the saddles. Because we are about efficiency and I like being able to grab all my tack at once!

Eagle-eyed readers have probably noticed the curtains in the tack room by now. Yes, those curtains are made with “Horses of the World” fabric, and I sewed them myself! It only seemed fitting to have some of my horse art in the tack room, after all. The curtains are lined with a thermal fabric that blocks out the heat in the summer.

Continuing to turn around toward the right, you come to the tack closet side of the room. To the left is a whip holder with our various crops, lunge whips, dressage whips, and other such things on it. Below those are our pool noodle horses. What? You don’t have pool noodle horses in your tack room?

Last year, a friend of ours wanted to have a pony-themed birthday party, but all our horses aren’t at the same barn anymore. So instead we turned pool noodles, ribbon, googly eyes, and craft foam into “hobby horses” that we could ride during the party. Each one is actually modeled off of our real-life horses and we put a different facial expression on each to reflect that!

The tack closet has items like bathing supplies, extra helmets, quarter sheets, stable sheets, trailering items, road hack safety items (reflective quarter sheets, reflective vests, etc), and our plush unicorn horns in it. On the door is a shoe organizer from Walmart that holds the everyday grooming supplies that we don’t want to freeze in it, like our leave-in conditioner spray, vet liniment, antibacterial wipes, and stuff like that. We also have fly masks, fly bonnets, sport boots, Glory’s extra medicine, paper towels, leather cleaner, and headlamps for checking on the paddock in the dark in the organizer. This keeps our items in the warmth, but also easily accessible since we just have to come one step in the door and reach around the corner to grab whatever we need.

And that is our little tack room! I hope you enjoyed looking around with me. Do you have a cool tack room? Share some images with me!

(Chalkboard in the featured image is from this DeviantArt user: https://www.deviantart.com/boldfrontiers/art/Chalkboard-Frame-824354197 )

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My Riding Ambitions

Usually, at the beginning of the year I have a new riding goal or two to work toward, but this year I don’t really have a new goal to go after. My goals in the past have been fairly simple, like “learn how to canter” or “canter my horse across an open field” (That one ended in a broken helmet, it wasn’t pretty), so probably not the types of riding goals that most people would have. 

I’ve never been very competitive, so showing or going to grand competitions just doesn’t speak to me. Maybe if I’d started riding at a much younger age I would be more interested in shows and competitions, but I’m more interested in having fun with my horse and my horse friends.

That being said, there are a few riding items on my bucket list that I’d love to do!

Riding on the beach

One of my top riding ambitions is to go for a horseback ride on the beach someday. I love to watch videos of people cantering or galloping down the sand on a horse, with the waves crashing in the background, and it’s just so magical to me! So, one day I’d love to take my horse to the beach and have a nice good run down the sand. Maybe not as fast as a gallop, because that’s a bit scary to me, but definitely a nice canter down the beach would be lovely, especially if my horse friends are with me and we can share the experience!

Taking my horse on trail rides

I’m fortunate enough to live in an area with lots of great places to go for trail rides. I live in driving distance of Gettysburg, the C&O Canal, and many parks that have horse trails the public are allowed to use. I get bored riding in the same arena or fields all the time, so going on trail rides would be an amazing thing to do, and we have so many areas around here that are perfect for it! Unfortunately, we are currently without access to a horse trailer, so trailering anywhere for a ride isn’t in the cards at the moment. We are hoping that we can find an affordable trailer this year so that we can take advantage of some of the beautiful parks in the area before our horses get too old to ride the trails!

Learning more about Dressage

When I do need to ride in the arena, I like to ride with a purpose. I try to have a goal for most of my rides, even if that goal is just to not fall off the horse, or to just get one good trot to canter transition in each direction. The instructor I had when I first started learning to ride liked to use dressage patterns, and I always loved that! I feel like practicing even simple dressage tests can improve steering, riding accuracy, and riding gait transitions. I have a goal to make a set of dressage letters for our riding arena so that we can start doing dressage patterns. I have the wood, I just need to paint it. Hopefully, I can get that project done by Spring!

Try Bitless riding

Glory can be very sensitive in the mouth and she can be pretty picky about her bit. We use a very simple bit that she seems to love, but I’d really like to try a bitless bridle. I think that Glory would be happy without a bit, and she has enough “whoa” and less “go” than Raven, so she might be a great candidate for bitless riding. 

Photo from UltimateBitlessBridle.com

Do lots of fun stuff on horseback!

I would also love to do more fun things on horseback, like obstacle course type things (opening/closing gates, picking up poles and moving them, moving balls around, etc) and I’d even like to try mounted archery! I might eventually take Glory to a fun schooling show, or go on a hunter pace with her, but mainly I just want to have fun with my horse and my friends. That’s the best thing about having a horse, if you ask me!

 

What are your riding ambitions?

 

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Merry Christmas From Liz Staley Studios!

Happy Holidays to you and yours from Liz Staley Studios! I hope that today you get to spend time with your loved ones and that your holiday is filled with laughter and joy, whatever you celebrate. My husband has to work today, so I’m going to spend the morning with my best friend and our horses. 

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My 2019 Gratitude List

It’s hard to believe that we are over halfway through December already! This year has been so crazy that I can barely believe it’s not still April, to be honest, much less almost Christmas.

In today’s post, I’d like to express gratitude for all the many good things I have to be thankful for in this insane year. Though a lot of bad happened in the past twelve months, a lot of good things happened too, and it’s important to recognize that and to say thank you. So, in no particular order, here are the things I am grateful for this year.

  • I am grateful for every single person who has purchased a print, notecards, ornament, or anything else from me, whether it was in person, at The Foundry in Chambersburg, PA, or from any of my online shops. (Etsy, lizstaley.com, RedBubble, TeePublic, etc) Those sales helped get me through some tough financial times this year!
  • I am grateful for every commission that I was given this year. There are five people that are going to get original Liz Staley artworks for Christmas and I’m so excited to find out how they like their pieces. I love doing custom work and creating something special that will be cherished for years to come.
  • I am grateful for my Patrons! I know I’ve said this a lot, but being a Patron is one of the easiest ways to support my art. Patreon provides me with a monthly income that I can count on while also giving those who support my work perks and exclusive content. Some of my Patreon supporters have been with me for a long time and I appreciate them so much and hope I can continue providing them with content for a long, long time!
  • I am grateful for the Barefoot Horse Magazine, who featured me in Issue 23 of their publication. I had a blast writing my story for them and putting together the article that ran in their pages. It was such an honor for me, Glory, and my art to be included in the magazine!
  • I am grateful for my incredible friends from The Foundry Artist Cooperative. I have been there for almost 2 years now and met some amazing artists. One of the best things about the community at The Foundry is that everyone is so helpful and willing to share their expertise. Whenever I have a question or need advice, someone there is willing to help. It’s wonderful to be a part of such a phenomenal group of talented people.
  • I am so, so grateful for my friends who have stood by me and been the most amazing support system this year! I’ve never been someone who has a lot of friends- usually I have one or two close friends and that’s it. This year I have not only made friends with my fellow artists, but I also have a core group of friends who are the most amazing group of ladies I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I could not thank them more for being there for me!
  • I am extremely grateful to everyone who shares my work on Facebook and Twitter. There are those who share nearly everything I post, and I see and appreciate you! Word of mouth is powerful, and things like the Facebook algorithm like engagement more than anything, so all likes, shares, and comments are appreciated because they mean my posts are more visible!
  • I am grateful for my husband. It was a rough year for both of us, but we couldn’t have made it through without teamwork. I hope we can get through 2020 with the same tenacity we showed this year!
  • I am grateful for my family, especially my mom and dad. When things got the roughest, they really helped out. In the same vein, I am so grateful that when they needed help I was in a position that I could provide it. I couldn’t have gotten through the worst parts of this year without my family, so thank you!
  • And, of course, I am grateful for my horse, Glory, and my best friend’s horse, Raven. Glory rekindled my love of drawing horses and set me down the path to the career I’m cultivating right now. Raven has been a serious blessing in my life as well, either by making me laugh or providing a soft neck for me to cry into when I needed it. Big thank you to my hooved therapists!

That is definitely not a comprehensive list of everything I have to be thankful for this year, but It’s a pretty good list (I think so, anyway!). What are you grateful for this year? Let me know in the comments!

Me with Glory, Thanksgiving 2019
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My Favorite Horse Event – PA Horse Expo!

I have been to a lot of great events, but one of the best horse events, in my opinion, is the Pennsylvania Horse Expo. Held near the end of February/beginning of March, the Horse Expo is four days of everything horse-related. Because of the date it’s scheduled every year, it’s also perfectly situated right between my birthday and my best friend’s birthday, so we use it as a birthday trip for ourselves each year.

The PA Horse Expo takes up the entirety of the Harrisburg Farm Complex. In addition to tons of vendors in the main hall (the main reason we go, to be honest!), there are workshops, demonstrations, shows, an entire section of the show where breeds are showcased, and more. It’s a bit crazy how much there is to see!

Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, PA

We mainly go to shop, because there are so many booths of horse things and there’s always something that we need. In the past few years, we’ve actually started creating a list before the Expo of things that we’re looking for, and then we attempt to stick to that list. Last year (2019), we managed to stick closely to the list aside from one pair of alpaca socks that I bought. Side note: those socks are absolutely my favorite socks to wear while riding and if that vendor is there again in 2020, I’m going to stock up on a few more pairs of socks!

We only ever go one day out of the four days that the Horse Expo runs for, but one day is enough if you’re just going to look at the vendors and buy a few things. We usually have time to visit all the vendors we want to visit and go take a look down through the Breed Row before we leave. Most days it is VERY crowded and it can be daunting if you’re like me and don’t like crowds. In 2019, however, we arrived close to opening on Sunday morning and it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it normally is, so we were able to move around without being crushed by the crowds. It was a really nice experience and we had great fun taking our time looking around the booths.

Since we were at Horse Expo in a less crowded time this past year, we actually got to talk to more of the vendors, too. Because of this, we spent some time at the Sidesaddle booth, asking questions and getting to try out sitting in a real sidesaddle! It was great to be able to talk to these amazing ladies and inquire about this method of riding. I have a lot of thoughts about Sidesaddle riding, maybe I’ll do a blog post about those at some point? (I know we took photos of me sitting in the sidesaddle, but I can’t find it. Will add back here if I do find it!)

Vending at the Horse Expo is on my artist bucket list, of course. I know I just said that it’s very crowded and I don’t particularly like crowds, but I’m actually okay with crowds if I have a table between me and the throng- discovered that from doing lots of conventions over the past few years! I would love to take my art there and connect with new people one of these years. I don’t know if I have enough product just yet to fill a booth at Horse Expo, and I’d hate to not have enough stuff. But it is something that I desperately want to do at least once because I think I could really branch out at such a large event.

Plus, why wouldn’t I want to spend four days at one of the largest horse events on this coast of the United States? So hopefully, one year, I can be a vendor at the Pennsylvania Horse Expo and see this dream realized. It would be an amazing experience and I’d love to do it some day when I have the money and the product to make it worth it.

 

Vendor room, from http://pafarmshowcomplex.pa.gov/

If you’re in this area of the country and want to spend a day or two going to workshops, demonstrations, and meeting other horse lovers, I can’t recommend the PA Horse Expo enough. Maybe one day, I’ll see you there!

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10 Valentine’s Gift Ideas for Equestrians

 If you have an equestrian in your life, you might be wondering what to get them for Valentine’s Day! Equestrians can be hard to shop for, because it seems that some of them have everything (and, more frustratingly, some of them need everything to be JUST THE RIGHT SHADE of their riding color!) but hopefully this list can give you an idea or two for the horsey person you love.

Note that this article has affiliate links that help support this blog. Clicking one of the links below and purchasing an item will give me a small percentage of the sale.

1. Fashion Scarf (with horse design, of course!)  Any equestrian will appreciate something warm to wear since our sport puts us outside in the cold a good bit of the time. But how about a nice scarf to wear while we’re not at the barn? So many of my clothes are “barn clothes” that I feel like I have nothing to wear when I want to dress up a bit, and I’m sure other equestrians feel the same way sometimes! This lovely fashion scarf has a delicate and subtle horse pattern in colors that would be easy to match to any outfit.


2. Hand-painted wooden memory box  A memory box can be small enough for some tail hair and a few other tiny mementos, or large enough to put a halter, show ribbons, and horseshoes inside. This hand-painted memory box is made of willow and crafted by artist Susan Lordi. It includes a lovely sentiment on the inside and is big enough for a tail hair bracelet and a few other small items, such as jewelry or bridle charms. Would be a beautiful way to store jewelry and baubles or to fill with keepsakes of a cherished equine friend!


3. Sterling Silver Horseshoe Pendant with Rose Gold Heart Jewelry is almost always a good Valentine’s Day gift, and this lovely sterling silver pendant is beautiful and horse themed! Rose Gold has become very popular in equestrian items in the past few years, and this pendant includes a little rose gold heart at the top of the horseshoe, making it a great way to show your love for the horse lover in your life. 


4. Swedish Chocolate Horses filled with assorted Truffle flavors Chocolate is a favorite for Valentine’s day, and these little Swedish candies are shaped like horses. They come in various types and flavors, but the ones in the link are various truffle fillings. Yum! 


5. Gift Horses Soy Candles With scents like “In the Tack Room” and “Rescues Love Peppermints”, these candles will remind the horse lover of the barn, no matter where they’re at! These candles are made in the U.S.A. and are high-quality soy wax. They are eco-friendly and non-toxic.


6. Horse Wine Bottle Holder I’m not a drinker, but I know a bunch of my fellow horseback riders are, so this one is for them! This fun and dynamic horse sculpture doubles as a wine bottle holder and is a definite conversation starter. Pair it with a bottle of your equestrian’s favorite wine for a whole package gift! 


7. Love Horses Bracelet These cute bracelets are fashionable and they very blatantly say that the wearer loves horses. They come in a few different colors, so hopefully, you’ll be able to match your equestrians riding outfit color! OR just get black. You probably can’t go wrong with black!


8. Hold Your Horses Book This book is full of humorous nuggets of wisdom that will touch the hearts of everyone, young and old, who loves horses! The author, Bonnie Timmons, is an award-winning illustrator who loves horses (and that makes me love her instantly!)


9. Horse Coloring Book Owning, riding, and working with horses can be really stressful. Coloring is a great way to deal with stress! And this coloring book has 40 horses to color, so you can de-stress from your horsey life by looking at drawings of horses. What could be better? 


10. Horse Notecards Equestrians need to write notes to the barn manager, to their trainer, to the hay guy, and to the farrier. These notecards, drawn and sold by me, are perfect for any correspondence- not just ones related to your hooved best friend. With these cards, the equestrian in your life can send their letters in style! Comes in a set of 12 or 8, complete with envelopes.
I hope this list gave you some ideas for a great gift for the horse lover in your life. Share what you’re getting your equestrian in the comments! 

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Fear of Stirrups: How I Conquered My Anxiety and Got in the Saddle

I have anxiety. 

I was officially diagnosed with it about two years ago and started taking medication, but looking back on my life, I’m pretty sure I’ve always been extremely anxious. As a child, I remember reading a science book and then being terrified that the sun was going to blow up and we were all going to burn up and die. I was scared during fireworks displays on the Fourth of July that bits of smoldering fireworks were going to drop on my head and burn me. School turned me into a wreck if we had to answer questions in class or read out loud because I was terrified I would mess up and make myself look like an idiot in front of my classmates.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve had anxiety my entire life and no one really noticed. I was a crybaby, and anti-social, and a scaredy-cat, and any other manner of mean name you could call a child who has anxiety and no one is willing to open their eyes to that fact. 

As a child, I always wanted to have a horse and learn how to ride. That dream didn’t start coming true until I turned 30, and suddenly I had the opportunity to work with horses and learn how to ride. Learning to ride at 30 years old is not easy, let me tell you. First of all, most people at that age know very well that they can die at any moment, thank-you-very-much, and so I didn’t have the luxury of learning during that fearless time that young children have. Though sometimes I wonder if, because I have had anxiety since a very young age, I ever had that “fearless and immortal” period of my life at all. 

“Even with medication, all these falls started making me anxious.”

Anxiety on Four Hooves

One of the first times I ever got in a saddle without someone else checking the girth (the strap that holds the saddle to the horse) for me, the horse walked away from the mounting block while I was just starting to get on, the saddle slipped, and I fell under the horse. During a riding lesson at another barn, I went to get on a lesson horse who wouldn’t stand still at the mounting block at all and I ended up going right over the other side and falling. Before I had another couple of falls in the past year and a half of riding, ninety-percent of my horseback riding related falls were while I was trying to get in the saddle.

Even with medication, all these falls started making me anxious. Since they happened mostly when I was getting on the horse, I began to get seriously terrified of not having my girth tightened enough that my saddle wouldn’t slip when I got on. Getting in the saddle when there was no one there to hold my horse was also a nightmare, because what if I tried to get on and they walked off without me firmly sitting down in the saddle?! The horror!

It got to the point where I would double and triple check my girth before getting on the mounting block. Then I would play a game called “The mounting block isn’t the correct distance from the horse”, and I would go down and up the mounting block several times, adjusting its position until it was perfect. Then I would stand on the top of the mounting block, staring at my saddle as though it were a firing squad. Eventually, I might get in the saddle, or I might just call it quits and decide not to ride at all. 

We got a VERY tall mounting block eventually at the barn I boarded at, and that made things a little bit easier. I could put my horse (a rather short Morgan mare) next to it and literally swing my leg over and sit down, no stirrups required. And since there were no stirrups required to get on, I could be reasonably sure that my saddle wouldn’t slide and deposit me on the ground underneath an animal with four hard hooves and that spooks easily. 

But this didn’t really solve my anxiety. And things just became worse when the person who owned that mounting block left, taking my salvation with them. 
I got a breastplate, figuring that even if it wasn’t actually designed to stop a saddle from rolling side-to-side, it would be enough of a placebo effect that I would be able to calm my anxiety and get on. But even with the extra piece of tack to give me peace of mind, the anxiety was still there. 

“Yes, anxiety about being anxious! I truly am a mess!”

I soon realized that the anxiety was stemming not just from fear of the saddle slipping, but also from the fear of the horse walking away before I could get in the saddle, AND from my embarrassment about my anxiety. Yes, anxiety about being anxious! I truly am a mess! I knew that I was going to have to get over this and get on my horse like a normal human equestrian is supposed to, not climbing down onto the horse’s back like I was doing a squat in the gym. (Besides, the taller mounting block only allowed me to do that if the horse was as short as my personal horse, and not many of them are. If I rode a taller horse, I was out of luck and HAD to use the stirrup to get on!)

I was in a bind. Nothing I’d tried had worked yet, but I was determined that I was going to stop having so much anxiety about an activity that I truly love and I was going to teach myself to get over this and stop being stared at while I climbed into the saddle like it was my first day of riding. By now I had been riding for almost five years and this just seemed silly. But I was lost on how to make myself not anxious when even buying a piece of tack that was supposed to help me didn’t help at all. 

The answer came to me one day when I was going through TED Talk videos on YouTube. I’ve been in a huge “personal development” phase this year and I randomly stumbled across an interview with Mel Robbins conducted by Tom Bilyeu on how to stop procrastinating and stop being anxious. I watched the interview, enthralled with the simplicity of this technique. And it really, really is very simple. If you don’t have time to watch the interview or don’t know about Mel Robbins’ “Five Second Rule”, let me sum it up.

In the Five Second Rule, you give yourself a task that you need to start. Let’s use getting out of bed since it’s her example in the video. So you say to yourself, “I am getting out of this bed now,” and then you count backward from five to one, and you start that task. It helps squash procrastination because you have a set time limit to start the task, and it kills anxiety because five seconds isn’t enough time to second guess your decision. A simple “5-4-3-2-1” seemed… TOO simple. 

But it was worth a shot when everything else had failed me, right?

I was eager to try this technique and was going riding with some friends the next day. I told myself that I was going to make sure my girth was tight, then I was going to do my countdown and get in my saddle- and I was going to use my stirrup to do it like a normal equestrian! 

“5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1!”

The next day came and I repeated my plan over and over again to myself as I tacked up. I made sure my girth was good and snug and that my helmet was on, and I went to the mounting block. I made sure to adjust the mounting block back a little further than normal so I would have room to use my stirrup. Then I got to the top step, adjusted my reins, put my foot in the stirrup, and said “Five, four, three, two, one!” 

Boom! I was in my saddle! I was giddy over this little victory, could my stirrup worries be over with, finally? I had to get down at one point during that ride to adjust something in the arena, and I used my countdown to get on using my stirrups again. Two for two, I was on fire! Then my friend asked if I wanted to ride her horse for a few minutes because I had never been on him before. This horse is significantly taller than mine, and I knew I was going to have no choice but to use the stirrup for this one. Another countdown and BAM! I was on a horse that I’d never ridden before, and I’d used a stirrup to get there, and I hadn’t fallen off! I was over the moon!

I am happy to report that I now have very little anxiety while getting in the saddle. I can’t say that it’s completely gone, because I often ride a friend’s horse bareback and that horse walks away from the mounting block like she’s just been kicked in the butt the second you get on her back. But when I’m on my horse I use my stirrup and I don’t get anxious about it. I know now that even if my saddle slips a little, I’m good enough that I can still get on without falling. Those little baby steps and a five-second countdown gave me the confidence I needed to get through the anxiety and start enjoying the beginning of my rides. 

I still have a long way to go with my anxiety, even when I’m riding, but I know that I can get there. And I know that because I conquered my fear of a silly little thing like putting my foot in a stirrup. 

Have you ever had an anxious reaction to something that you knew was silly, and if so how did you deal with that anxiety? Have you ever used the five-second rule to deal with your anxiety? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments or on Facebook! Or you can email me to connect too.



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Marwari Horse Process Video

Video of me working on the Marwari Horse drawing. In this video I use a lightpadto trace the sketch onto the map page with Copic Multiliner pens. Then the large areas of base color are added with Copic Markers. I use Fantasia Artist Premium Colored Pencils to add additional shading and highlights over the marker. The real-time on this drawing was about 90 minutes (not including the initial sketching of the horse, which I didn’t film).

Thanks for watching, and don’t forget to check out my other blog post with more information about the Horses of the World series!

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The Story Behind The Horses Of The World

I’ve gotten a good bit of attention locally for my Horses Of The World series. This series of art is very special to me and is one that I really enjoy working on. As I write this blog post there are 20 completed horse breeds. 

In this series, I use mixed media to attempt to tell the story of horse breeds and where they come from. Each breed of horse is drawn on a vintage map page from a page of the Goode’s World Atlas by Rand McNally (11th Edition, 1960). I pick the map page to draw on based on the area of the world the horse breed originates from- so the Arabian horse, for example, is drawn on the map of Saudi Arabia. I use this as a way to tell a story about the horse breeds that we all love but may not know where they originated from in the world. 

I create these pieces of art by first researching the horse breed I want to illustrate and then checking to make sure I have a corresponding map page. The first eighteen horses in the series were sketched directly onto the map pages, but recently I have started sketching on plain paper and then transferring the sketch to the map via a lightbox instead because sometimes it’s difficult to see the sketch overtop of the map lines, especially on particularly busy maps, and I have a difficult time with the inking process. Once the sketch is complete, the drawing is inked with waterproof and alcohol marker proof Copic Multiliner brush pens. The inked lines are allowed to dry for a while and then the coloring process begins!

Coloring occurs directly on the original map. I use a variety of materials to add the color to the horse drawings. White/gray horses get a light coat of white acrylic paint as a base, usually from a white paint pen. Darker colored horses get large areas filled in with alcohol markers (Copic or Spectrum Noir, I have both kinds). Then additional shading, highlighting, and details are added with colored pencils. Horses who had paint used on them have any lines that were painted over touched back up with the same inking pens as before since the paint tends to wash the ink lines out when it goes over them and I like for the inking lines to be bold and dark! 

This series of drawings is very important to me. I have loved horses ever since I was very young, but I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and there was nowhere around for a young girl from a middle-class family to do anything with horses. I remember pony rides at various events on occasion, probably especially at the Maryland Renaissance Fair, and one of my cousins had horses on their farm when we were younger so at Easter and Christmas we would sometimes get pony rides there as well. But I never had the opportunity to actually learn to ride, or to have a horse of my own. So instead of being around horses in physical space, I was with them mentally. I read every book on horses at my local library, and read every book with horses in it that I could find at thrift stores or flea markets. Horses were the first subject that I could draw fairly well. I remember having a How To Draw Horses book that I studied almost religiously. I would doodle horse heads on everything. I couldn’t be around horses in real life, so I was with them in my mind and in my art.

Eventually, as I grew older, I gave up on the dream of ever actually being around horses, or owning one, or riding them. But I still would stare at a field of horses as we drove past, or watch horses in movies, or make sure my character had a horse in a role-playing game. All of that changed when I turned 30. I had just quit my day job to make a go at being self-employed, and I was looking for some sort of volunteer opportunity. I had been collecting My Little Pony figures over the past few years and decided that I wanted to find something horse related. I stumbled across a local riding school looking for volunteers to help with their summer camp, and no experience was needed! 

I volunteered and that was the beginning of horse madness. Through all of this, a friend I had who owned a horse realized that I liked horses. Two years later, her horse became my horse. Glory and I have been together for five years now and she is my constant muse and source of stress relief. I wouldn’t trade her for anything!