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Hobby Horse Inc.

  • The Jennifers

    Suzanne Vlietstra

    I watch a new crop of them each year on my drive to work: impossibly long-legged, beautiful in a coltish way, hair shimmering over tawny muscles, prancing and clowning in small groups as they make their way towards tomorrow. I call them the Jennifers, these yearling Thoroughbred fillies in a five acre paddock. Whether chestnut, bay, or blackish, these young mares seem a natural mirror of the other group of young girls I pass each morning, on their way to junior high school.

    It's been about six years now that I've observed the equine Jennifers, simply enjoying their sinewy beauty, the way the early sun makes their hair shine in a way no grooming, no potion, will ever duplicate. They swirl and twist in little cliques as they dance around their realm, striding out as if they were stepping onto the track, owning the land under their feet and all the world.
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  • Let's Get Loaded: Horses and Trailers

    Suzanne Vlietstra

    There's nothing like loading a reluctant horse into a trailer to draw a crowd. The dramatic combination of a wild-eyed horse, a frustrated handler, and a small dark box-on-wheels induces ordinary folks to step up to watch the horse vs. trailer circus with morbid fascination. Loading a resistant horse in public view can be a frustrating, embarrassing event--unless you're Clinton Anderson, of course.

    If you contemplate horses and trailers, you'll find there's no good reason any horse should ever step into a claustrophobic, dark closet that rocks and bounces. As prey animals, horses like to be where they can see clearly in a large area around them, and they don't like low roofs over their heads either. Hopping in a trailer probably sets off every evolutionary alarm a horse has. Yet, with patient training and preparation, horses do load into these boxes and jounce down the road at their owners' whims. Usually.
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  • The Wonder Years

    Our equine friends are part of our families, and it's tough to let one go when it's time. Here, one tried and true buckskin pony says good-bye to the family he loved and trained for many years.

    Suzanne Vlietstra

    It's never easy to say goodbye to a beloved family pet when that animal no longer can live in dignity and comfort. Over the years, I've had the honor of helping several friends when it was time to make that heart-wrenching but ultimately responsible decision to ask the vet to end the life and suffering of a special horse or pony. I've also found that taking photos of the horse and its family, and sometimes writing a story about the characters, helps ease the passage.
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  • Bareback Summer

    Let’s go riding... like we did when we were kids.

    For some people, it's vacations and picnics, ballgames and fireflies. For me, summer is about riding. Even though I'm long past the age when the end of the school year heralds the beginning of summer fun, I still look forward to this time of year with eagerness that even the horses seem to sense.

    Finally, the days are long enough to fit almost all my duties and pleasures in before dark: work, family, and a little extra time to hop on a favorite mount and go for a spin--even if it's just a few minutes in the arena. As when I was a child, there's something delightful about coming in from the barn at dusk when I'm still warm and satisfied from a little equine therapy. The barn chores are done, the day draws to a close, and I feel and smell like summer. Continue reading

  • How Not to Sell Your Horse on the Internet

    Which horse would you rather own? These are the same horse, taken a few days apart. Make the effort to take good photos!

    14.5 Hand Gledling for Sale, Cheep!
    (Or, How Not to Sell Your Horse on the Internet)

    Caveat Emptor: That's Latin for 'Buyer Beware' and it takes on deep and serious new meaning to me as I cyber-search for a new horse on the Internet. With a hole in my barn and a chunk of cash in my pocket (from the sale of an investment horse), I've joined the legions of lookers trying to find Mr. Right--well, in my case, Ms. Right--from online horse advertising.
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  • Barn Blind

    What equestrian doesn’t dream of a tidy little stable filled with contented horses and good grass to graze on? Fancy or plain, we’re all a bit barn blind when it comes to our own horse housing.

    A phrase familiar to horsepeople throughout the centuries, 'barn blind' refers to someone's unreasoned pride in their own horse--regardless of actual condition or quality. I, however, use the term to refer to my single-minded focus that sets in when I am in the market for horse housing.

    When I was a kid, sans checkbook and income, barns were simply what we had available. For most of my childhood, that was a ramshackle collection of buildings that had been added to and ostensibly enhanced over the years. No box stalls, just a couple covered sheds attached to a garage with room to store a ton of hay and some tack.
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  • Choosing Showmanship Pants

    Your showmanship pants can add to--or subtract from--your overall winning look in the show ring. Here's how to choose wisely.

    Pant Picks
    In local open or 4-H shows, unfaded jeans with heavy starch and razor-edge creases down the leg fronts create a crisp look that's acceptable in showmanship. For breed-specific competition, however, where your goal is to project the ultimate picture of professionalism, fitted show pants are your best bet.

    Opt for show pants that hug your figure from waist to mid-thigh - without fitting skin tight- then fall close to your legs until they flare over your boot tops and end with a hem that just skims the ground. Also, look for simple designs, without pockets or yokes, and consider side zippers for a flatter fit across the tummy and a figure-flattering appearance.
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  • Light Horsekeeping

    “Fresh Powder”
    Dragging the arena after it rains is one of my favorite Light Horsekeeping chores.

    It's Sunday, my favorite day of the week. Instead of just a quick feed and clean for the citizens of the backyard, Sunday mornings are when I do my light horsekeeping.

    It starts in the garden, with shears and a cardboard box for the clippings. Then we move to the horse yard (we being little Joe in his stroller, and, recently, Hunter the kitten) and start with manure. All week, it's been collecting in my fleet of two plastic contractor wheelbarrows, and now, our barrows runneth over. Screened with landscape cloth to keep flies away, both containers make it out to the dumpster today, get a quick rinse with the hose, and return to duty.

    Then, we de-web and blow. With an old straw broom, I knock down the fresh spider webs that have been spun this week, always feeling a twinge of guilt: Charlotte's Web casts a big shadow from my childhood to the present. If the spiders would make their tapestries in trees, or in barns and buildings in the neighborhood that are never used, they would remain undisturbed. I apologize and sweep away their homes, then reach for the fabulously useful barn tool, the shop vac. Reversing the power so it blows, I use air power and the long nozzle to dust the barn's walls and floor, ending up with a spotless aisleway and just one small pile of hay and dust to pick up.
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  • Tacky People

    It's true: I'm tacky.

    No, not the kind of tacky describing a person who uses the wrong fork, forgets to send thank-you notes, and wears mismatched socks (although I may have done all those things on occasion). I mean a person who has a tack room overflowing with the bits, bridles, martingales, sidechecks, surcingles, fly spray bottles, cavessons, fuzzy bareback pads, leg wraps, halters, hackamores, saddles, brushes, splint boots, dented salt block holders, longe whips, cruppers, sidepulls, latigos, and other assorted ‘tackle’ that horse people yearn to own.

    If you're born with the horse-loving gene, as I was, perhaps being tacky is inevitable. It started with the pony Santa brought and the white Johnson rope halter and lead that Brian wore. I still remember coveting the wee English saddle that the neighbor girl brought when she taught Brian to ride. It was a pony-size wonder with fittings to match.

    And then, ponies always lead to the Ben Hur connection: carts and harnesses that would confuse an architect but are no challenge to a horse-mad girl of 12. It's possible I never had the harness on exactly right, or adjusted to Pony Club specifications, but it worked and we hardly ever turned over the cart or broke important bones.
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  • Fly Away Home

    Shu-Fly, don't bother me!

    The corrals are finally drying, and my arena has turned from a rock-hard lot to a soft and dusty horse play pen, with the help of the neighbor's tractor. In other words, it's spring.

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