Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Logo Contest

Anyone reading this (if anyone is) may or may not be aware that I have a lesson business, known as Graymalkin Stables. Said business is currently in need of a logo, for things like advertising, merchandising, business cards, website design, etc. In order to make things fun, and have plenty of logo options to choose from, I have decided to hold a logo contest. Posted both here, and on the farm FB page and website

1) Logo must include stable name or initials (GS)

2) Must include a horse and a cat

3) Be suitable for use in embroidery, and other mediums

4) Be original art work. (No copyright infringements please) 

5) Be submitted by 2/4/12

6) All entries will be posted on this FB page, and the gs website

7) All entries may be used by GS for advertising purposes

8) Winning entry will receive a free riding lesson and a t-shirt with the logo on it. (A substitute prize may be devised if winning artist is not local or does not want a riding lesson.) 

9) All questions regarding these rules are subject to GS for resolution. Please contact Melissa. 

I hope a lot of you will submit entries, whether you are interested in a free riding lesson or not. Artists of all 
ages are welcome to submit their efforts, and all entries will be posted in a future blog post. 

Finally, a little inspiration to get people started.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Cards and Equine Photography

It has become a common practice for people who have children, or pets, or vacations to take a photo and slap it onto a sliver of photo paper with a brief message (typed in) and print off a bunch and call that their Christmas or other winter holiday card. Now personally, I like my cards to fold so that you can write something personal inside them, instead of on the back for every postal worker on the job to see, but either way you need that iconic (in your own mind) image to start. Of course in my case I have to throw in a horse. I truly believe I don't photograph well without one. They are the ultimate accessory.
The internet has been around long enough that I think everyone has seen or read (at least once) the article or a variant thereof "How to Bathe a Cat." If you haven't, here it is, please enjoy.

Taking pictures of horses is not that bad. However it does take a little bit of skill, a lot of luck, and preferably a camera suitable for action shots, to get a nice photo. The invention of digital cameras (and large memory cards) is a great thing, as you can take many many attempts at getting the right photo and not worry about wasting money developing bad ones and mistakes. I would probably cry if the hundreds or even thousands of blurry, too dark, too early or too late, 1 ear down, eyes closed photos I have taken had to be developed before I discovered how inadequate they were.

So I had help with my Holiday card photo shoot this weekend, and of the close to 100 photos taken, there are probably less than 10 that I like well enough to put on a card. (With some editing.) Now I am not going to blame this all on my horse, who was a very good sport about the sidesaddle, and the wind and the flowy dress, and the multitude of paparazzi in her face. I had my share of eyes closing, talking, weird expressions and parts where I was looking the wrong direction too. But I thought I would try to share some of my insight into what went wrong and what went right.

Weather. We have been what I consider very lucky this year, and have not yet been inundated with the cold, wet, white stuff, some people cheerfully call snow, and I call white misery. Unless it is Christmas day, then I am OK with it for ambiance. That being sad, mud and bare brown trees do not a picturesque card make. But with the help of Photoshop and a tech savvy friend (or yourself if you are the techy one, as I marginally am,) weather is of little importance. You and your horse can be on a mountain with Santa, or on the beach in the surf, it is up to you.
Now I am a little bit out of practice, and I just started working on these yesterday so I apologize for the unfinished state of these pictures, and the blatantness of the photoshop jobs. The finished product will hopefully be much better, but these are for demonstration purposes only.

That said, since background is not much of an issue, the most important thing is to get the right pose, the right light, the right expression, and ears! Ears are a trial and a tribulation well known to anyone who has ever tried to take a picture of a horse. There are different tricks, noises, candies, throwing things to get a horse to put his ears up, but the best recommendation I have is to have 2 people, one in charge of attracting the ears, and the other in charge of snapping the picture once it happens, because it may not last for long. ears could be manipulated in photoshop as well I suppose that is beyond my level of skill.

Or you could add prostheses, but you will note that in the photo above not only is Jack wearing antlers, his ears are up. (Amalia's ears are up also, but that is much easier to accomplish.)

And sometimes you get lucky, and an itchy nose makes it look like your horse knows how to do tricks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Favorite Things (or 10 gifts for Horse Lovers)

I'm not Oprah or Julie Andrews, so don't expect any free giveaways or singing. but I am a connoisseur when it comes to gift giving. I don't do gift cards, so I like to come up with gifts that are fun to give and hopefully fun to receive.

Note: Somehow I misnumbered and ended up with 11 ideas. I like all of them and spent too much time to want to delete them, and the ponies are wanting breakfast anyway, so insert obligatory Spinal Tap reference about things going to 11 so it is better, and enjoy.

11) Breyer Stirrup Ornaments

This year's Winter Belle ornament in 13th in the series. A miniature version of the yearly Breyer Holiday horse, the stirrup ornaments set themselves apart from other more generic horse ornaments with the framing stirrup component. These ornaments can be found at most tack shops and anywhere Breyer's are sold. And if you're a completest like me, don't worry, previous year's ornaments can be found on eBay.  

A runner up in the ornament category is the Trail of Painted Ponies. If you've never seen these, they practically need a blog post of their own, but for now. Here is a picture.

10) Hand Painted items with "your" horse

In the past I have found eBay to be a useful site again for finding artists who like to make some extra holiday or anytime money by painting your horse (or dog, or cat, or child, or pet rock) onto a variety of items, including Christmas Tree ornaments. These come in a variety of styles and levels of skill, so look closely at any sample photos of their work, as your mileage may vary. They generally need a high quality photo to work from, the more detail, the better.

This year I have discovered that if you have those high quality photos and want a more accurate rendition of your equine friend you can purchase photo ornaments. Now in searching I discovered that many of these were flat ornaments, and not the traditional round ball type. But they are out there if you look hard enough. For example, these look very nice. I also found a website that claims it is "easy" to do your own. I am not sure I believe them, but you can decide for yourself by clicking here.

9) Stuff in "your color"

In the horse world most people have the same things for their horses, brushes, blankets, pads, crops, etc. And no matter how diligent you are about labeling, things can easily get misplaced or "borrowed." So I adopted a color scheme. Almost everything I own (horse related) is purple or some shade thereof. This makes things at a glance more easily recognizable as "mine." And matching is always fun, a saddle pad and polos that go together is great, just like when your bra matches your undies. (OK, maybe not.) So if the horsey someone you know has a favorite color, or print (zebra for example) find something fun and useful in that shade.

8) Stephens gel-eze pad

I don't have one of these, but since it utilizes 2 technologies that I have been a big fan of for my own comfort, I have been wanting one for quite some time. A combination of sheepskin (like my Bearpaw boots) and gel cushioning. (I live in Dr. Scholl's sneakers with built in gel heel cushions.) It is a little bit pricey, coming in at a bit under $200, but for a horse's comfort, it just might be worth it. I'll let you know if I ever get around to getting one.

7) Back on Track products for people and horses

I adore Back on Track products. The long wave infrared radiation technology is a wonderful invention and their products are a boon to equines and humans alike. My horse currently has the polos, exercise boots, and sheet, and my father has the gloves. If I could I would wrap us all up like mummies in BoT products for hours at a time as we are all decrepit and arthritic. Anything that can make our horses or ourselves more comfortable and fluid is a boon to our rides and therefore makes a great gift.

6) A little bit of bling

To me, the holiday season is all about sparkle. Shining lights, glittering ornaments, tinsel and glossy wrapping paper just to name a few. So what better present than a little bit of shine for our equestrian lifestyle. Now western riders have always been about the bling. I have seen western costumes so studded with swarovski it is a wonder they can move. At the very least they are protected from snipers since they are practically wearing armor. (Though with all that shine they'd be easy targets, but I digress.) Lately English riders of all ilks have been getting into the game. Dressage riders have their showy browbands, and there are a variety of crystal encrusted stirrups and spurs and whips to be had if you know where to look. While some of this can be quite pricey, there are inexpensive options out there if you look around.

Also on eBay for the crafty, I have seen blank browband channels so you can design your own. Just be very careful and make sure your design is  secured adequately and is flexible enough to conform to the horse's shape and movements.

5) Tack Trunk

Who hasn't kept their horse stuff in a Rubbermaid container, or the back of their car, or some other inconvenient and inelegant location at one point or another? And who doesn't secretly long for the shiny wood box that holds all of their horse gear neatly and in one place? I know for some of us this may be a magic box if it fits everything (like a Tardis, bigger on the inside than the outside) but a nice tack trunk is a wonderful gift. There are plenty of places to buy them. Or if you have woodworking talent, there are plans on the internet to make your own. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some designed for travel, some can hold saddles, the options are limitless. (Well except for the bigger on the inside thing, I think the laws of physics limit that.)

4) Charitable donation to an equine rescue or sponsor a horse

What do you get for the horse lover who has everything? Or maybe the don't have everything, not even a horse, but they can't take on one right now? Tis the season and charity is always a good option (no matter what time of year.) Running a horse rescue is a huge time commitment and it is always a struggle to make ends meet. Vet bills are always cropping up when least expected, and the price of everything is currently through the roof. Now personally, I am not a fan of giving money to charities, because so much of the money donated ends up going to "administrative costs." But in this case, there is another option. Donate a bag of feed, or a supplement, or some hay if you know where to get it. Or donate your time. Rescues are always looking for knowledgeable help, even if the only knowledge you can provide is the ability to tell one end of a pitchfork from another.  There are too many rescues out there to list, all fighting the good fight, whether they are saving one horse at a time, or 80. A simple internet search will find one close to you. Once you find one you can contact them and determine what their needs are. You don't want to show up with the wrong kind of feed.

3) Unique or Collectible Tack

Maybe the horse lover in your life has a unique equine hobby, like riding or collecting sidesaddles, or costume recreation, medieval jousting, or some other esoteric branch of equestrianism. In that case, you could purchase antique or collectible equipment or paraphernalia. However, if you are going to do this, I suggest you use caution, or consult with an expert before you purchase. A lot of these hobbies have very strict requirements or opinions on the quality, suitability and authenticity of the items used. For example, the side saddle pictured above is beautifully carved and would make a nice display piece, but isn't great to actually ride in for a variety of reasons.

2) Equestrian Getaway

If you hate winter and being cold like I do, this is your dream gift. Getting away somewhere warm and sunny (with no snow!) And still being able to ride. For those who like the snow, or live somewhere more temperate there are snowy places to go if you need a fix of the cold white stuff. There are a variety of tour companies (Equestrian Vacations, Equitrekking, and Hoofbeats International to name a few) to help you get the most out of your riding vacation, whether you want to combine it with a wine tour in France, a castle tour in Ireland, just ride on the beach, or train with an expert in a particular discipline while in a scenic locale you can find something for everyone. And I have seen tours that offer options for non riders, if you want to bring the less than horsey hubby along. (But who am I kidding, bring along a friend who will gallop through the hills with you.)
As a side note, I have not been on a vacation with any of the companies mentioned above, but if they (or anyone else) would like to give me a free trip I would be more than happy to give them a review or several reviews on this blog.

1) A Pony!

This one speaks for itself. And if you don't have room for a full sized horse, minis fit well under the tree.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lyme disease and why grooming your horse is really important

I am glad I didn't promise to create a post every day. As you might be able to judge by the title, I have Lyme disease. Again. So between the aches and the fatigue I just wasn't inspired to post. But thanks to the wonders of doxycycline (blech awful drug, almost as bad as the disease...but it does work) I am feeling better now.

Now this is the 4th time I have had Lyme's, so I know the signs, and can basically tell when I need to start taking medication. I have a lot of typical symptoms, sore throat, congestion, joint aches, general fatigue, and a couple of others specific to me (most notably an intense craving for salt.) I don't know who is reading this blog, so in case you aren't from the Northeast I will mention a little bit about Lyme. The ever handy Wikipedia gives a description here. Lyme disease is a tick born disease, carried by deer ticks.

Aside from checking yourself for ticks frequently, it is important to know that other animals, including dogs, cats, and horses can suffer from Lyme also. Now this comes to the second part of my title, "Why grooming your horse is really important." And by important I mean crucial. Now the obvious answer to that is not the answering I am looking for. Yes, we need to check our horses and other pets for ticks, and a good time to do that is during grooming. But I have something else in mind.
A horse is covered in fur. So one of the indicators of Lyme disease, the bullseye rash (see above) would be impossible to see/find on a horse. How do you know if your horse has general fatigue and muscle aches? Is there anyway at all that a horse can tell you he has a sore throat? Some things you can tell when riding, if you ride the same horse, and know how they usually behave. In extreme cases they may even become lame. But some things are much easier to observe if you know your horse. And the best way to know your horse is to spend time with them. Not just riding, but interacting on the ground. Learning what they like and don't like. Does your horse have sensitive skin and prefer softer brushes? Or does he have a thick coat and like hard brushes that give a good scratch? Are they comfortable having their faces and ears brushed? Where are the ticklish or the itchy spots?

Now these are important things to know about any horse you are riding. If for example you are going to ride a new horse for the first time, you can learn a lot about the horse from its behavior while being groomed. A horse that is ticklish by the girth might be very sensitive to your leg. Some horses don't like to stand still while being groomed and might be full of energy when being ridden, and some practically fall asleep during the process, so they might be quiet and safe for beginners. Once you've worked with and groomed a horse a few times, you begin to notice patterns and quirks in their personalities. If you take them out to their paddocks, and watch them out there you can learn even more. My current horse is a beach baby. She likes to splash in the water trough and lay out in the sun. Conversely she hates the cold, she is miserable and grouchy all winter long. I ride her in a wool quarter sheet to try to keep her happy. My previous horse was the complete opposite. He loved the snow. Give him a pasture full of fresh white stuff and he was romping and bucking and rolling like a kid on a snow day.

For beginner riders it is especially crucial to spend time with horses on the ground. Key signals can be learned, ear position and what it means, tail swishing, etc. If you don't know how to handle an animal from the safety of the ground, how can you reasonably expect to do so from atop their backs?
Once you have your horses general personality and behavior down, you have to learn to be observant of changes. If you have a horse who is usually nudging you and begging for treats and attention in the stall and suddenly they are facing the wall and standing still a lot, this could be a sign of something wrong. If your horse normally loves being groomed and suddenly they are ticklish and snapping then they could be in pain. (Now some horses just don't like being groomed, so if it is their normal behavior to complain about it, then that is their normal, be observant if they suddenly stop acting that way.)

A better understanding of your horse's personality and behavior will help insure a happier and healthy horse and make you a better rider.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Horses in Norse Mythology

So I saw the movie Thor last night. I admit freely that I have in my time been something of a comic book geek. I adore the X-Men, and since their movie, most of the Marvel superhero movies have been very well done. I really enjoyed the movie, and Chris Hemsworth made a nice piece of Norse god eye candy. There were also a couple of fun scenes where they got to ride horses, flat out across the rainbow bridge. So I decided to post about horses in Norse mythology.
Now being the comic book/X-Men geek I am, the first thought that came to mind was Valkyries. In New Mutants, Danielle Moonstar (Psyche, Mirage, Moonstar, pick your code name) became a Valkyrie on a trip the New Mutants accidentally took to Asgard, when the winged steed Brightwind chose her. So on the assumption that this bit of comic book lore was based at least partly on fact, I went exploring.
So while, according to Wikipedia and several other websites, the Valkyries did indeed "fly" there seems to be no evidence, other than a few modern artistic renditions that the horses of the Valkyries had wings. In fact I have not found much about them at all, other than this snippet here .
A Valkyries horse was created from air, and when they traveled to Earth, frost and dewdrops would fall from their manes onto the ground. The Valkyrie was also Odins messengers and when they ride forth on their errands, their armor causes the strange flickering lights known as the “Aurora Borealis” or Northern Lights. 
The part about the Northern Lights can be found in Bulfinch's mythology, but I can't find what his source material for that assertion was. As for the bit about the dewdrops, I cannot find source material.
I have also discovered that many sources and translations believe that they did not ride horses at all, but rather  wolves. Also that they were associated with either Ravens (traditional carrion eaters, which could easily be associated with battlefield mythos) or Swans, when their "Choosers of the Slain" moniker became more romanticized as they were thought to be selecting the fallen warriors to be taken to Valhalla and help Odin when Ragnarök arrived.

Close up of Sleipnir on Tjängvide image stone
Disappointed, I went looking for a more verifiable Norse horse, and found Sleipnir. I can find many historical sources that reference Odin's 8 legged steed. Sleipnir, a grey horse, depicted as the son of Loki, is said to be the best of horses. (As is only fit for the Allfather of the gods.) Sadly, in the movie, Odin does not ride, so Sleipnir is not present. Then again, there were not any Valkyrie about either.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Kentucky Derby

This is my Kentucky Derby post, very much belated. (What can I say? It is that time of year. When everyone with any sense wants to ride, so the lessons pile on.)

I have no idea how most people pick their favorites for the race. (Or for any race for that matter.) I know there are different variables and calculations and odds that can be factored in, but my methods are not nearly so scientific. In fact, my methods (if you can call them that) are as whimsical as any derby hat.
This hat and many others located at Dee's
I pick the pretty horses, the elegant names, and occasionally I pick by jockey. So this year I had 4 horses I was rooting for.  Midnight Interlude is just a lovely name. I always wonder why some people can think of wonderful elegant names for their horses, and others pick "Mucho Macho Man"? Seriously? Then during the post parade I decided that I really liked Decisive Moment (I've always been a sucker for a black horse.)
Decisive Moment
And then there is Calvin Borel. It isn't often that a jockey captures my attention. I'm not a sucker for a sob story, someone doing it for their mom in Mexico who has some dread disease or whatever. But I do enjoy people with an affinity for horses. And when Calvin Borel won the Derby with Mine that Bird (another astonishingly silly name) and switched onto a filly, Rachel Alexandra, for the Preakness and then won, well that cemented him in my mind as one of my favorite jockeys ever.
Calvin Borel on Rachel Alexandra
And of course lastly, had to give a nod to Pants on Fire (possibly the worst name in the field) because of Rosie Napravnik. Hard to be female and not give a girl credit (same as a filly) for competing with the boys. 
Now of course, I will be rooting for Animal Kingdom in the Preakness, because I would love to have a Triple Crown winner. No horse has won the Triple Crown in 33 years. The last horse to do it, Affirmed, was in 1978.  2011 marks the tenth anniversary of Affirmed's death (at age 26 from Laminitis.) So it seems an auspicious year for another winner. 
As a side note, 6 of the 11 Triple Crown winners were chestnut. Including Affirmed. Man o' War was also a chestnut, so perhaps a fiery coat is a good sign for Animal Kingdom. I do wonder however, which jockey will get to ride him in the remaining races. His regular rider, who did not ride him in the derby, due to an injury, or the rider who rode him to a win in the derby. It is sure to be a tough call for his owners and trainers. (He is owned by a conglomerate of some sorts known as Team Valor.)

Animal Kingdom


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame

So yesterday I went to the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, NY. I had no idea that such an historic and influential piece of Harness Racing history was only an hour from where I live. I don't intend for this post to go on and on about the entire history of Harness Racing. There is too much. What I will say is that you should go to the museum yourself and see all there is to see.
We went there on a weekday afternoon during the school year, so we had the place nearly to ourselves. Admission is free, but they do have a gift shop, so it is only polite to purchase at least a little something. The only other visitors were a camera crew shooting a documentary. There was no rush to hurry along, or annoying loud or bored children to be avoided. We spent 2 and 1/2 hours just browsing, taking pictures(allowed and encouraged) and reading the extensive placards along the exhibits.
The museum is also quite family friendly with many interactive features. There is a Standardbred auction game, where you "bid" on young horses, trying to match the price they actually sold for without going over. A 3D simulator ride, meant to make you feel like you were driving in a race. (But the perspective was off, or rather kept changing, sometimes you were the driver, sometimes the horse, and sometimes you were facing into the oncoming horses...it was a bit odd.) There is also a talking animatronic horse head. (He was a little creepy, I nicknamed him the Terminator Horse.) The horse head had several different speeches that he made when you walked close enough to set his motion sensors off.
There are also several fun photo ops. You can sit in an actual sulky. (And wear actual jockey silks according to the tour girl) Or you can put your head on top of some jockey cut outs. Very silly. The sulky one has a fake horse attached to it, which was nice. The seat on the sulky is actually very comfy.
The museum guide also gave us a brochure and told us that while the track doesn't hold regular meets any more they will be having racing 3 Sundays in June, and all of July 4th weekend. I will be definitely attending one day, so I will report back on that.