Back In The Tack!

About 10 days ago I decided to get back on Oh So, and so far it’s been going better than I expected. The surgeon didn’t exactly say no, he just wanted me walking 100% first and asked if I could wait until the end of August. I stifled a laugh. If I wait any longer I won’t be able to get to any shows this season, so the sooner I can start the better!

I’d say I’m about 85% back to normal and I just tend to get stiff walking if I’ve been sitting. My range of motion and strength is not quite there yet, but I feel fairly normal when walking once I’m loosened up. Going down stairs is a bit of a challenge, mostly due to calf pain and some pain/stiffness on the inside of my right foot, and that’s been manifesting itself when I ride too.

There were no fireworks or fanfare on the day I got on. In fact, no one was around but the barn owner’s son, who was working on his car. But at about 12 weeks since my accident I wanted to at least try to get on and see what happened.

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I created a custom mounting block by putting the three-step block against an overturned Rubbermaid water trough, and climbed up. I should preface by saying I started lunging Oh So about 10 days before just to get him going and see how he felt. I’ve avoided longing him over the years because of his tendon issues, so it took a few tries for him to remember to stay out on the circle, but he got it pretty quickly and even wanted to play a little in canter, which was hilarious.

I longed him the day I got on just to be safe, and the climbed aboard. He pretty much felt like nothing had changed!

Over the last two weeks I’ve played around with warming up without stirrups, then taking them up, doing some posting trot, doing some canter, taking a break and dropping them, then repeating.

I’ve felt some mild pain, more like discomfort, around the plates and on the inside of my right foot, which has been giving me trouble going down stairs. Overall though, I think it’s just going to be building up endurance, mine and his.

I’m not really riding firmly with my lower leg due to discomfort and lack of strength, so I’m not able to help him in the downwards transitions as much as I’d like, but we’re getting there. Cantering is much better, and I’ve even done some trot poles.

It might be ambitious, but I feel like I’ll be ready to do a dressage show by mid-September. That’s my goal. I’d like to try jumping or at least riding in my jump saddle next week to see how I feel. If I could make it to a couple of events this fall I would be thrilled.

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Thomas comes home tomorrow. I’ve been visiting him a few times a week and watching Dusty ride him. I finally got to see him off property this weekend at Morningside, and he definitely seemed to go better there. He still needs to look at jumps before he goes over, but once he gets the idea he’ll go. He popped up and down the bank a few times and went into the water no problem. Dusty and I discussed that he just needs to learn about where to put his feet or he gets worried. I sense a lot of gymnastics in his future.

Last week I tried a new farrier for him, and I thought he did a good job. It was a quiet, calm experience which is what he needs since he tends to get worried about things involving his feet.

My hope is to utilize some of the things Dusty’s been doing to get him used to things under him and around his feet. Unfortunately he had a minor mounting incident at Morningside where he backed up quickly, but didn’t take off. I’m sort of at a loss as to what to do. It seems so trivial that something like mounting could cause me to want to sell him, but it’s going to be on my mind for a while unfortunately. Even if it happens once out of 100 times, I now realize what could happen.

I suppose I’ll have to learn to ride that out if I want to keep him, but I just can’t afford to get injured again. He is so sweet on the ground and wants to try under saddle, but something upsets him during the mounting process. I will be riding alone the majority of the time, and it’s just scary to think about not having any help.

My friend Meghan will be riding him a bit while I continue to get stronger, so I’m hoping to use the extra time to bond and do some longing and ground work.

Money is extremely tight right now with medical bills and a lack of a roommate, but I hope to have a chiropractor out to look at his back and make sure there are no signs of something like kissing spine that could be contributing to the issue.

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One of my favorite shots from Great Meadow.

Otherwise it’s been a pretty quiet month, which I needed. I covered the Great Meadow International as my first assignment back and hobbled around, but it was nice to see all my friends again.

I fulfilled a bucket list event when I went to Montana for Rebecca Farm. It was pretty incredible. The jumps were works of art and the scenery and weather was to die for. It was a lot to cover NAJYRC and the FEI divisions, and it was all kind of a blur, but I did find an evening to go to Glacier National Park to take a breath.

While I only scratched the surface of what there is to see at the park, it only inspired me to go back again. Now I have a few more weekends before the fall season picks up again with the AEC, Plantation Field, Fair Hill and then my rescheduled vacation, which I desperately want to go on since I had to miss it because of my accident.

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Book Review: New Track, New Life: Understanding And Retraining The Off-Track Thoroughbred

This review originally appeared in the July/August issue of the Chronicle’s Untacked.

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New Track, New Life: Understanding And Retraining The Off-Track Thoroughbred

By Kimberly Godwin Clark

This book came across my desk at exactly the right moment. I’d just picked up my new off-the-track Thoroughbred and was excited to start his retraining. I’ve brought along two other OTTBs in my life—one straight from the track who was quite simple and sweet, and the second who came to me with walk, trot, canter and knowledge of basic jumping, but after reading Kimberly Godwin Clark’s book, I realized there was a lot about the breed that I didn’t know.

Clark has galloped, trained and owned Thoroughbreds for 30 years and has been promoting them for adoption since 2007, both on her own and through her non-profit, Thoroughbred Placement Resources, so she brings a wealth of detailed knowledge.

Before I bought my OTTB, the only time I’d ever been to the track was to watch a race on a summer evening, so Clark’s step-by-step description of how the track works was extremely interesting. She describes the details of everyone’s job at the track, what kind of tack your OTTB wore, and how they were ridden and trained. She then walks the reader through a first trip to the track and what to expect—researching the horse online before you go, etiquette in the barns, evaluating a horse for sale, and how to make an offer.

In the second half of the book, Clark offers advice on everything from how to start a recently retired race horse to what to feed, how to deal with turnout, behavior modifications and when things go wrong.

If you’re new to OTTBs, it’s always a good idea to get help from an experienced person. But before you embark on the journey, New Track, New Life is an educational read to help you have a positive experience with your new partner.

A Thomas Update And Good News From The Surgeon

I haven’t said much about Thomas since my accident, mostly because I’ve only been able to see him a handful of times on the weekends, but also because I’ve had a lot of thoughts floating around in my ahead. Unfortunately I’m a chronic over-thinker, as evidenced by my last post, which is the worst thing I can be in this situation.

I’ve found that just not thinking about him is helpful, which sounds awful and is completely against my nature! I can’t control what’s going on with him, which is hard, so I just don’t even think about it. But I know he’s in good hands with Dustin and Michelle Craig at WestWind Farms in Upperville, learning all about the world.

He’s gone to a couple of local schooling facilities with a group of horses in the trailer and by all reports has been getting on the trailer fine and standing to wait his turn and when he’s done.

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Thomas on May 21.

He did his first cross-country schooling a couple of weeks ago, and went up a bank, through water and over some little logs following another horse. He even left the group to go back to the trailers with no problem. Hopefully I can go watch him soon.

On the flat, Dustin’s been working on getting him to bend in all three gaits, and each time I’ve gone out he’s been more willing sooner to stretch downwards, first in trot and now a little bit in canter. He still wants to fall in on his left shoulder naturally, but it’s getting better.

He needs to learn to relax, so Dustin has been taking him for long hacks and working in the field a bit.

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Thomas on May 29

 

He did have one similar incident to mine with the mounting block where he started moving and felt the mounting block under his feet and got upset, so Dustin let him sleep with the mounting block in his stall for a few days, then had a helper move a short pole under his legs while he walked so he’d have to get used to having his legs get a little tangled up. He worked him over piles of random poles too, and when I saw him after that one weekend I was a little surprised to see him so sensitive to trotting over single rails and small jumps, but he had to take a step backwards to go forward as they say.

He’s going to stay through early August so I can get back in the saddle with Oh So first, then I’m hoping I can get on him at Dustin’s under supervision to see how it goes.

I was finally able to stand up close to him this week without my wheelchair, and he seemed friendly, but I wonder if he even remembers me? He definitely seems like a different horse, and it’s only been 7 weeks or so. I’m hoping as I get back to the office in the next week or two that I can visit him more often and start bonding again.

I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about him, so for now I’m going to keep him. He’s just overly sensitive and will need a lot of time, which is the exact opposite of what I wanted, but so it goes. Slow and steady wins the race. It has definitely become a new learning experience for me. Hopefully I can take some of the groundwork techniques from Dustin to use in the future.

As for my recovery, I was surprised to get permission to start fully weight bearing last week. My X-rays looked good, so I’m on the move with crutches and ankle braces that look like lace up high tops. I was also given permission to go to Rebecca Farm in July, so I’m super excited about that.

Great Meadow is first though, and I know I’ll probably be a bit lame, but there’s going to be less walking there. I’ve got a few weeks to get my endurance and strength up. I’m mostly just sore at the end of the day, and stiff in the morning. I’ve started outpatient physical therapy in Leesburg twice a week, so that should get my mobility back.

I’ve been able to groom Oh So a bit standing up, and we’ve both been enjoying that. Here’s some photos from the last few weeks!

 

 

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Product Review: Saddlebox Monthly Subscription Box

I’m always up for trying new products, so when I discovered Saddlebox, a monthly subscription box for horse lovers, I was excited to try it.

I’ve been a subscriber to A Horse Box for several months, and I enjoy getting a box of surprises in the mail each month! I’ve found a few new brands that I enjoy through my monthly boxes and have received a lot of old favorites too.

Saddlebox retails for $37.95 a month and contains around $60 worth of products. Each month subscribers will receive 6-8 products for horses and humans. A percentage of the proceeds goes towards helping “rescue abused horses,” but the portion donated and names of the charities are not listed on their website. They do have a page that suggests places to donate to though, so I’m guessing those are the organizations that will benefit.

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The Products

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Horse-Shaped Hand Soap

Each Saddlebox will contain at least one item for riders. There’s nothing special about this unscented soap, but it would look nice on a bathroom countertop!

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Kiss My Horse Sample Set

I love sample sizes for traveling and testing products. They’re especially good for sensitive horses (and humans) too so you can make sure the product doesn’t give yours an allergic reaction.

I was surprised to find out that Kiss My Horse is a brand from the makers of Mrs. Conn’s soap-filled sponges, which I’ve received twice in my A Horse Box.

The kit contains a shampoo, conditioner and detangler. I haven’t used the samples yet, but wow, they smell good enough to eat! Sort of a mix of coconut and pineapple…very appropriate for summer.

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Bridle Bites Horse Treats

Saddlebox features a different recipe of their homemade brand of treats each month. Rocky got to be the tester, and he gives them two thumbs up! They contain flour, molasses, cinnamon and frosting.

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Epona LOVE Curry Brush

This wooden brush retails for $11.99. It can be used as a mane and tail comb or a massager on the body, and it also helps loosen hair, dander and dirt. No complaints from Oh So!

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Epona Sponge

This appears to be a smaller version of Epona’s Scrubby Sponge Sack. It contains a sponge inside, which can be replaced. I’ve used the larger version before, and it’s definitely better than a regular sponge due to the textured fabric that helps work the shampoo into the coat. It’s easy to hang dry too, making it a must for bath time.

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Herbsmith Liniment (sample size)

Made with witch hazel and Chinese herbs, this natural liniment smells nice due to a small amount of menthol. I’ve tried it before from A Horse Box and liked it. It’s not too tingly for Oh So’s sensitive Thoroughbred skin.

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Spurr’s Big Fix Filly Cream Moisturizer (sample size) 

Spurr’s sells several products for horses, cattle and dogs, including a hoof spray and wound ointment. I’d never heard of this brand, but it seems a little pricey for full-size items. The all-natural moisturizer included in the boxcan be used on horses or humans and has a light citrus scent. I couldn’t find directions for use on horses, but I think it might work as a leave-in conditioner on manes and tails.

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The Horse Lovers Guide To Massage (book)

I’m not a fan of hard copy books these days, but this looked interesting enough. It’s a quick read about basic massage techniques, equine anatomy and how to find a massage professional. There’s a coupon code for 20% off any e-course, and a link to a free video series that goes along with the book. I don’t read a lot of books personally, so I don’t think I’d want to get one every month.

Overall, I think the selection of items was quite good. I think trial-sized items are good, especially if you have one horse. Things can start piling up quickly! A Horse Box sends 5 items a month for $25 in comparison. I don’t want to get a book every month, and if Saddlebox could maybe replace that with another full size item, I might be inclined to subscribe. But for now, $37.95 is a bit too pricey for me.

I do like the idea of donating proceeds to charity though, so if I could afford it, I’d probably try a few more boxes.

The company just started in May, so this is their second box, and I’m sure they’ll refine things as they go along. I like the idea of having a theme each month too. They’re offering 10% off for life for new subscribers, which brings the cost down to about $34 per month.

Disclaimer: Saddlebox contacted me and sent a box to try for free.

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Finding A Purpose

I just passed the three-week mark since my accident, and I’ve had (way too much) time to reflect on what happened and what’s next.

Since I began riding as a kid, I’ve never gone more than two weeks without being on a horse, and now I’m looking at mid-July for the next opportunity.

Unable to weight-bear for now, I feel like a totally useless blob. I’m unable to groom (except one side of the minis!) or bathe the horses, or mess around in the barn. I can’t exercise, go shopping, visit with friends in person or travel.

I feel like I’ve lost purpose without riding in my life. Each day blends into the next, and I just feel like I’m wasting time. All I’m able to do is work, then stare at a screen some more, either reading a magazine on my iPad or watching TV. I’ve taken to eating my lunch outside and sitting in my wheelchair in the barn while watching my mom feed and turnout the horses but that’s all the horse time I’m getting.

I’m such a type A, always-busy kind of person that having all this time is no fun! I plan my life by the hour. Before my injury I was actually getting mildly burned out with traveling so much, but I’ve realized I thrive on that. I’d much rather be standing out in the freezing cold rain at Jersey Fresh than sitting on my butt in the house.

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Dusty riding Thomas on May 21.

I’ve had time to think about what I want to do with Thomas, and I’m just not sure. I went to see him at Dusty’s last weekend, and he was settled back into living in a stall for half the day. He worked on stretching him in walk and trot under saddle and did a little bit of canter. He said he’s been hacking a lot and just getting him to learn to relax. When I saw him go he looked quite tense, but I’ll give him that considering he’s in a new place with a new rider being asked to do hard things like bend his body much more than I ever would have thought to ask.

I’ve found that unfortunately with boarding and my budget, there’s always one thing that you have to sacrifice, and for me that’s hacking. I have access to two gravel driveways that make for a 20-minute loop, but I’ve been hesitant to do the whole thing on my own. And it seems Thomas is the kind of OTTB who needs a lot of hacking to learn to relax…see my conundrum?

Luckily I have two friends that will be moving in on June 1 so I’ll hopefully be able to have some help, especially when it comes to getting on.

If it was up to me, I’d do one to two just-hacking days per week. I’ve alway tried to vary Oh So’s work days, but he’s at the point now where although he loves hacking, if I can’t for a week, he’s fine.

Before the accident I was getting increasingly frustrated about not having regular flat lessons wth Thomas. With Bear and Oh So I got regular lessons so I felt like I had guidance, confirmation I was doing the correct thing, and most importantly, a plan.

I’m often told to believe in myself more than I do, but I still believe I need help. Ironically, Heidi, who isn’t able to travel to me right now, had made some time to come do both horses on the day I fell. That would have been my second flat lesson in 5 months, which thinking about it is insane. But Lisa didn’t think he was ready to start traveling yet over the winter, then I got busy with traveling, and it was never “the right time” either  because of weather or taking Oh So to a show.

I don’t feel super upset that I can’t see Thomas right now, but I am pretty unhappy that I can only see Oh So a couple of times a week and that I don’t have anyone to keep him moving on a regular basis. He tends to get in trouble/become feral when he’s not messed with most days. Plus, who knows how many more years I have with him? He’s being going great this spring, and now this!

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Thomas and Dusty working on bending.

I’m not sure why I don’t feel that way about Thomas…I think part of it is that I know he’s in good hands and being ridden every day. But I almost feel like if I just let Dusty sell him now, I wouldn’t be too upset over it. I just don’t have that emotional attachment yet. To be honest, without flat lessons, I was feeling kind of lost and unmotivated. The first year seems to be the hardest part of training an OTTB, and a lot of it is just going through the daily grind of tension, trying to stay on or survive a spook, and without guidance, I wasn’t happy.

It was nice when I visited him. He was certainly more friendly to me than Oh So, who was being fussy and probably thinking, “Who is this amateur (my mom) grooming me, and when do we get going?”

He put his head down, and I fed him tons of carrots in his stall. I didn’t want to scare him too much being in the wheelchair!

I thought we’d gained trust in each other before the accident, but now I don’t trust him. If I decide to sell him when he comes back, I’ll still have to ride him, so I might as well keep him right? Otherwise I’d have to start over and potentially go through all of this again, bringing my next horse up from the start. It just seems silly that something as trivial as mounting could cause this apprehension from both of us, especially when we haven’t even begun the hard stuff like his first cross-country schooling or his first oxer.

If I don’t sell him, then I wonder, will I be scared getting back on the first time? How long will it take for this to all become a distant memory? Will I always look at him as the horse who did this to me?

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Lucky and Oliver have been keeping me company.

If he’s an overthinker/worrier and I am too, does that make a good match? Do I want to deal with tension and the frustration again like I did with Oh So in the dressage? Or do I need to just get over myself, buck up and deal with it?

He’s obviously a quality horse, but how slow will I have to go? I’m not in a huge rush, but he is now 8, and I told my trainer I didn’t want to take two years to get to beginner novice again, but it looks like he’s going to take more time. I’ve been literally aching to compete on a regular basis since Oh So got injured in 2013, and every time I come close, something comes up with his soundness. Maybe I’m just antsy because I interview so many people about how easy their horses were to bring up the levels. Maybe they’re lying to me about the hard parts?

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Rocky enjoys nibbling on my boots.

I miss the thrill of competing, and I think I tend to thrive on regularly showing so I can improve myself by getting into a rhythm. I just feel like I’m hanging on by a thread here, and I’ve felt that way for awhile, even before the accident.

What’s really killing me is Facebook. Seeing photos of how amazing people’s weekends are and what exotic place they’re traveling to makes my heart really tinge with sadness and envy. I’m mad about missing my vacation, and I’m mad I can’t be out enjoying my horses. I should stay off it, but literally, what else is there to do?!

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Oh So is not happy about this situation.

So here I sit (literally because I’m unable to stand), waiting to start walking and hoping I can make it to Rebecca Farm and Great Meadow in July. I’m slowly ticking off the days, one by one.

Highs and Very Low Lows

Sitting here on a hospital bed in my parents’ living room, I really can’t believe what’s transpired over the last four days.

I just got back from a great trip to Rolex on Sunday night and got a text from my dressage  trainer telling me she could make a rare trip to my barn to do lessons with both horses on Wednesday afternoon.

I finished work early and was super excited to have a lesson with Thomas, considering we’ve had one flat lesson since I bought him.

I decided to do him first, and did out usual routine tacking up and going out to the arena. I haven’t been lunging him a lot lately, and he’s been going well under saddle. We’ve had two outings, one more successful than the other, but that’s OK.

I went to get on, and he started moving off, so I stopped him, turned him around and walked him back up to the mounting block. Heidi stood by his head to distract him and I put my foot in the stirrup. No sooner was I on that he whipped backwards, half rearing, and then he took off crow hop bucking.

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I remember seeing the saddle below me and thinking I was coming off backwards, but somehow he got me off to the right. I heard some crunching, and knew I’d done at least one of my ankles, but Heidi and I weren’t sure how I fell. I must have landed on my feet and collapsed because nothing else hurt, and my helmet didn’t even have dirt on it. He continued around the arena bronc bucking until his hind ankle boots came off. WTF?

I thought my ankles were just sprained, but then I couldn’t get up, so we called the ambulance.

It was discovered that I have two broken ankles, and I underwent surgery on Thursday to put screws and plates in. I’ve never broken a bone in my life, let alone had surgery. Why did I have to do both?!

Of course, as it seems to be the case with my horses too, the doctor said my injuries were highly unusual.

So now I’m faced with a difficult few months. I have to be cared for completely by my parents, who thankfully don’t live too far away, but I’m essentially on bedrest for at least 2 weeks.

I’ve had to cancel my big European vacation later this month that I’ve been saving up for since last year, I’ve scratched Oh So from his dressage show this weekend and need to find someone to keep him going a little, and I’ve decided to send Thomas for training for two months. I’ll also be missing a few upcoming work trips in which I really needed the overtime pay.

I really have no idea what set Thomas off. I thought we had moved past the mounting issues, but if he’s going to react that violently, then I don’t think I want to deal with it. Hopefully we can get that sorted out while he’s away, but I’ve lost whatever fragile trust I had in him. He’s very sensitive, and I’m sure he didn’t mean to do what he did, but it happened, and I’ve been badly broken because of it.

Before all the drama, Oh So and I had a lovely ride at the Loch Moy Starter Trials. I was so excited to try for a full show season this year, now I likely won’t be getting back in the saddle for 12 weeks!

I’ve never been out of the tack that long, and this is by far the most serious injury I’ve ever had, and I am not looking forward to wasting half of my summer. So, I’ll be a little pouty and whiney for the next few weeks. I hope I’ll be able to see the silver lining in all of this, but right now it pretty much just sucks.

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GRC Photo

Product Review: Shires Stormbreaker Lite Sheet and Jersey Cooler

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Before I won a trip to the Longines Wellington Masters last year, I’d never won anything in my life!

Then one day this winter I randomly entered a contest again on Practical Horseman’s Facebook for a Shires blanket, and I won!

I’ve never tried a Shires brand blanket, having always been loyal to Weatherbeeta and Rambo’s various brands.

I was sent the Stormbreaker Lite Sheet in black/tan with a standard neck. It features 1200 denier waterproof material with shoulder gussets, adjustable chest clips, a wither relief pad, cross belly straps and cross leg straps.

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Front view of the light sheet.

I’ll admit I’ve gotten so used to the single tail strap on my Amigo blankets that cross leg straps were mildly annoying, but they’re certainly something I’m used to from Weatherbeeta blankets.

The front chest straps were a nice touch. I tend to adjust those on the buckle end to get the right fit and then only use the snaps end for quick on and off.

I only tried the blanket on Oh So, who’s a 78″, and it fit true to size. The shoulder gussets aren’t a necessity for him since he’s very narrow-chested, but they certainly didn’t hurt.

Since I got this late in the season, I was only able to test it out a few times in the pouring rain, and he was dry underneath after spending all day outside. I can’t speak to the wear and tear yet, but with about a month’s use it still looks good.

He was in need of a new sheet anyways, so we’ll see how long this one lasts! The sheet retails for $134.99 and comes in sizes 69″-84″.

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Shires Jersey Cooler

I also received a nice jersey cooler in my prize pack. I tend to use half fleece, half mesh coolers during the winter, spring and fall because Oh So runs hot, so I think Thomas will be using this the majority of the time.

It’s also came in black/tan, but is available in navy. It’s quite simple, with cross belly straps, a tail cord and a simple buckle front chest closure.

The outer jersey alter is quite smooth, so nothing stuck to it, and the underside was fleece to keep him warm. It was quite smart, and I think I’ll be using this a lot for trailering.

It comes in sixes 69″-84″ and retails for $62.99, making it a good value for a smart looking cooler.

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Front buckle of cooler