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Slowly but surely……


He’s beginning his transformation….


From yak, back to pony.

Look at all that hair on the ground (and that’s just from a regular ol’ curry brush)! It’s coming off in droves right now. Just got myself a SleekEZ, to save my arm. Can’t wait to try it out!

Another thing: His roached mane finally flopped over! Yay! Looks like there’s a good chance we’ll be able to have braids for the first horse show in June. Thanks, BioMane!


Building a Barn…Someday

So, big news!

My husband and I have purchased some land in the country, and in the next couple years we’ll be building out there and putting our house in town on the market.

The main goal with moving outside of town is to eventually build a barn and be able to bring the pony home there (at least for the warm months…not going to go all crazy and build an indoor arena).

The building process will likely take several years and be heavily DIY and cash-flow dependent, and it will be an extreme exercise in patience and discipline. But as you can imagine, I am already obsessively day-dreaming about my future barn. I couldn’t even fall asleep last night because I was laying there thinking about the different styles of stall doors and trying to decide between them.

We are documenting the whole process over on this blog as we go. Most of the posts up until now have been about clearing a building site and designing the house, but stay tuned in the future when there will be posts about building the barn and creating the pastures, etc.

In the meantime, I am compiling a “wish-list” for the future horse barn, with features I either definitely want it to have or that I want to research further. I’ll share that list below.

I would REALLY appreciate hearing from anyone out there who has built a barn, is building a barn, has thought a lot about building a barn, and/or who boards at a barn that has features you’d put in a barn of your own. What things do you considered “musts”? Anything important you overlooked that you wish you had included? Do you have experiences with or opinions about any of the things on my list? 

Future Barn Wish-List:

Compact footprint

  • 36×38 or thereabouts
  • At least one side (the side with stalls/run-ins) will have an overhanging roof, to keep rain and snow away from the base of the barn and to provide a shaded area in the summer. Considering doing the overhang on the other side too, for parking trailer/equipment.

Torn between Monitor and Gable styles

  • Monitor provides a beautiful raised-roof center aisle and the ability to put windows and fans up there for increased air flow and natural light, but you sacrifice a loft area, and there would likely be exposed beams (not as easy to clean).
  • Gable style provides a nice loft area for storage or living space and has a quaint exterior appearance, ceiling downstairs would be lower but can be fully finished so there aren’t exposed beams for cobwebs and dust to collect on.
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Modern monitor barn
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Gable style. I could live here!


  • Three 12×12 stalls with the option to remove one wall to create a large “double stall” if necessary
  • Dutch doors on exterior side to covered run-ins/small paddock that attaches to larger pasture(s)
  • Interior doors, ideally with mesh panels (to aid air-flow and provide a comforting open-concept for the horses)
  • Consider stall skins instead of rubber mats, or if budget allows, look into a Stable Comfort system.
  • Auto-waterers or buckets in stalls/run-ins? I am torn.
    • Auto-waterers are expensive, a bugger if they break, and tricky in cold-climates/unheated barns. I also don’t like how you can’t tell how much a horse is drinking.
    • Buckets are more work, and a fire-hazard (if heated).
I love this set up.

Insulated and heated tack/feed/water room

  • Consider feed room being separated off from tack room to reduce dust.

Grooming/wash stall

  • Floor graded towards center and large center drain that can be removed and cleaned easily OR drains out the back with floor graded towards the back and use a long steel drain.
  • Tankless heating system for water (supply an endless supply of hot water but don’t constantly heat water. They only heat water when it’s needed so have a very low energy factor. Many of these heaters are designed for outdoor installation which eliminates the need for venting.)


Center aisle

  • Wide enough for trailer/truck/tractor to drive through (12’-16′?)
  • About 4 inches higher than the stalls (to keep bedding in the stalls)
  • Rubber pavers if budget allows, or concrete with rubber mats
  • Drainage
  • Lots of outlets (especially on stalls if there will be fans or heated buckets)
  • High ceilings (12’ if possible but 10′ works too)
  • Ceiling fans
    • Check out Agrifan by Northwest Envirofan. They are economical to operate (maximum 1 amp draw), and come with solid-state speed controls and a 3-year warranty.


  • Gutters and downpours (rain water collection?)
  • Add drainage pipe to remove water from barn footprint, take water to a clean filter area/grass field away from barn (USDA NRCS has money for conservation plans and can help cost share your conservation projects. Call and ssk for info on the EQIP program.)
  • Consider shade and drainage when deciding the orientation of barn/stalls/run-ins
  • Mud management (gray stone?) system for entryways/pathways

Fire detection system & fire-extinguisher(s)

  • Consider separate but conveniently located building for storing hay and shavings (hay can self-combust…very dangerous)

Nice natural light, ventilation and airflow throughout

  • Consider windows to create cross-breeze, sky-lights. etc. to achieve this. Positioning of barn will also help keep barn warm in winter and cool in summer.
  • Consider screen doors/windows to control flies but allow us to open the doors and windows in the warm months.

Manure management system

  • Interfaces easily with barn and pastures
  • Covered (to reduce run-off)
  • Composting



  • Light fixtures in each stall and at 4’-6’ intervals above the aisle
  • For safety put light fixtures at least 8 feet off the ground and house them in wire cages so horses cannot reach and break them
  • Run wires through conduit to be sure they are rodent proof
  • Look into EquiLumination lighting (they specialize in green energy-efficient lighting alternatives using T-5/T-8 technology. Their lights run on only 234 watts and last 50% longer.) The EquiWet 200 model is safe for wash stalls and wet locations
  • Another “green” option is Tubular Daylighting Devices (TDDs) which use reflective rooftop domes to capture sunlight and redirect it through reflective tubes into interior spaces. They can be installed without structural modifications while ceiling-level diffusers spread light indoors (a 10” tube lights a 13’x13’ space).
  • Using energy efficient fixtures can qualify for individual tax credits, and reimbursements of up to 75% of your purchase may be available through new state energy plans or the local power company.
  • To save money and be environmentally conscious any outside lights should be on a timer or motion sensor to reduce energy use.

I’m not going to get into pastures and fencing and all that yet, because that is a whole ‘mother post and this one is long enough already. If you made it through all that, congrats! Ha!

And again, I would love you forever if you would share your thoughts on this, your experiences and insight. Thank you!!



Demo Riding for the USDF L Program

Phew! What a weekend. My brain is full. It was such fun and educational experience, auditing and demo riding in the USDF L Program.

A big thank you goes out to North Woods Dressage Association for this opportunity, and for all the work it took to put together such a well-organized event.


Any excuse to ride at the luxurious Spring Hill Farm is a good excuse, but this was an especially good excuse. Not only did I learn a ton but it was a blast!

On Saturday, I hauled Clay the 2 hours to Duluth, got him settled in, and then went over to the nearby community center where the lecture portion of the program was taking place.


Auditing the lecture gave me so much insight into how exactly a judge scores a ride, and what factors go into each scoring decision. It also opened my eyes to just how difficult judging is!! Holy smokes. I am sure it gets more comfortable and natural with experience, but being deeply observant, unbiased, fair, and confident in your eye is not easy.

On Sunday, the future judges had the opportunity to practice what they learned the day before on real, live horses & riders. Clay and I suited up and headed into the lion’s den. 😉


Truthfully, I was glad to be in my comfort-zone of the saddle rather than sitting in the “judge’s booth”. It had to be hard to make quick observations, say your comments (into a microphone!) and announce the score you gave in front of everyone (much easier to be the one riding, in my opinion. ;)) But everyone did such a great job putting themselves out there and trying this new, hard thing.

Who wouldn’t want to ride in this arena whenever they had the chance??

The S Judge teaching this session was the wonderful Debbie Riehl-Rodriguez, who was so encouraging and not intimidating. She put all of us demo riders at ease immediately, and was fair and kind with her critiques.

I was so grateful for her compliments of us. We did test 2-1, and ran through most of the main elements of Second Level for the audience. She loved Clay’s walk, his alert expression, and his honest effort on the things that are still sticking-points for us.

This experience was great practice in taking criticism and riding through some nerves and distractions (something I’m not inherently good at) in front of an audience. It was also a good gauge of where we are in our Second Level readiness coming into the 2018 show season.

Last year we just dipped our toe into the water at that level, only showing 2-1, but this year I want to be able to do all three tests respectably, with Third Level in our sights. There is much work to do yet, and our biggest challenge is maintaining the fitness level required for a more uphill balance and collection, but overall, this weekend highlighted for me that we have in fact had major progress in several areas since last summer.

Clay was, as usual, a trooper and conducted himself like an old pro. I couldn’t love him and his no-drama attitude more. My only regret is that I wish we could have presented a little better canter.

He really does have an excellent canter, but it’s the area where we’re the most inconsistent. Some days it’s brilliant–like, makes me want to cry tears of joy–and others, it’s like what we brought at the clinic, which was not as truly uphill as it needs to be, was tense and a little quick, and there was resistance in the transitions.

But, we got the job done, had fun with it, and got there and back safely–which is always my biggest anxiety and the thing I’m most grateful for once we’re nestled in back at home. Nothing like a good field-trip at the end of winter to help shake the cobwebs off.


Year End Awards

I wasn’t able to attend the NWDA banquet this year, so my friend picked my year-end awards up for me, and today I finally got around to collecting them from her (thanks Britt!)

Aren’t they pretty? I think they do such a nice job with the awards (thanks NWDA!)

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Ribbons and trophies are definitely not why I show, but getting these purdy little reminders that hard work pays off is a nice shot in the arm…Especially right now, towards the end of a long, dull winter full of dutiful, nit-picky schooling rides in our cold, dark arena. It’s easy to lose steam this time of year.

I am proud that I gained the First Level scores for that Mastery Award during the show season where I was only a few months postpartum (2016), and then the following season when I had my hands full with a one-year-old (2017). AND we debuted Second Level at the same time, and didn’t completely suck (hence the Premium Achievement Award).


Thank you, Mr. Clay, for being the bestest poneh.

Compared to 2016 and 2017, I feel much more prepared and “ready” for this coming show season. My mind feels clearer (“mommy brain” is real and horrible. Ugh. Thankfully the cobwebs cleared when my daughter stopped nursing), I feel more fit, and Clay feels really good as well.


We have a few more months to buckle down before the first one, but I am chomping at the bit! Bring on the shows. 🙂


Zooming Backwards

I am a demo rider for the USDF “L” Program judges training seminar that is happening this weekend up in Duluth, MN.

This is exciting for several reasons…I get to audit the session for free, it’s a great learning opportunity, and it’s another excuse to ride in that fabulous arena at Spring Hill Farm.

In preparation, I dusted off the ol’ 2-1 test for the first time since last summer, totally expecting it to feel mighty rusty. But, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it felt!

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I guess a winter of nit-picky schooling has done us well. Clay definitely feels stronger and more balanced in the canter portions, we have a more powerful trot lengthening, and the shoulder-in is pretty darn good most of the time (as long as I don’t rush the set-up in the corner).

The sticky part continues to be the simple changes…Clay stays on the bit and obedient about 60% of the time. The other percent is kinda ugly. He comes above the bit on the downward transition and bucks through the upward transition (flying changes are going to be so fun…) Merp.

I’d blame it on my saddle, but actually the gummy pad I have been using lately is vastly improving that issue. I guess we just need to work a little harder. 😉

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Lack of a camera-person= awkward selfies with your pony.

Actually, one of the big keys for a successful simple change is for me to go into the transition thinking shoulder-fore. I have to be careful not to take that thought too far, or he’ll bend in the neck too much and we’ll lose our straightness, which really bites us on the upward transition. But a little thought of shoulder-fore as we go from canter to walk really helps Clay stay round.

The other part of the test I need to drill a little bit more before the weekend is the halt-and-backup. Ugh. Why is getting exactly four steps so hard? Our halt is great, no problems there. And if I ask for only three steps back, we’re golden, but if I ask for four….well Mr. Eager Beaver wants to keep backing up forever and ever.

Something about that 4th step gets him stuck in backwards mode. Forward aids suddenly seem to mean “go backwards faster!” Last summer at the shows I always only did 3 steps back because that’s where we were at and that’s that. Ha!

I’ll leave you on the edge of your seats with this cliffhanger: Will Clay and Tonia be able to take only 4 steps back this weekend in their demo ride?? (Spoiler: Probably not, but we’ll try to be as cute as possible while we’re zooming backwards!)

Looking forward to this learning opportunity, and will have lots to share about the experience afterwards I am sure. Stay tuned. 🙂


Abby’s Progress

As I’ve mentioned, I’m not really teaching lessons this winter. But every once in a while my 15-year old student Abby calls me up and asks for a jumping lesson.

She has only had about four lessons with me over the past couple months but she rides on her own in-between pretty frequently. I’m extremely happy with her progress, especially with such sporadic lessons.


She’s lucky enough to be riding a seasoned three-day event horse (Piper), who is a total schoolmaster at the lower levels and can also do “hunter stuff” with his eyes closed. He belongs to the barn owner, who evented him through Prelim, and now generously lets him be used for lessons with certain students.

As you can see in these sweet photos, they are already developing a beautiful bond…not the easiest feat with a stoic horse like Piper, to be honest, but Abby’s gentleness and calm energy wins every horse over.


On Piper, Abby is able to really focus on herself and make adjustments without worrying about the horse. It’s a big change from the mare she had been previously leasing, who was less of an auto-pilot horse, but both horses have been really important and complimentary pieces of Abby’s education so far.

She went from jumping 2′ courses on the other horse, to doing a 2’6″-2’9″ oxer (and making it look easy) in just a couple lessons on Piper. Height isn’t everything, of course, but the fact that I can raise them just shows how her confidence is growing.

Her equitation has improved in these winter lessons a lot, because she can ride less defensively and really commit to her two-point and release. Her eye is getting better as well, and Piper’s canter is very adjustable, so she can play with adding and subtracting strides down a line (or over ground poles when she’s riding on her own).

It doesn’t hurt at all that she’s also taking dressage lessons at another barn with a great trainer. Really proud of her for recognizing the benefit of dressage, as well as the benefit of riding with more than one trainer. Too many people get stuck in a “safe zone” of one discipline or one trainer and never branch out or challenge themselves.

It’s so rewarding and fun to teach students like this, who have the passion, work hard in between lessons, always try their best, and most of all are compassionate and empathetic partners to their horses.

Very nice work, Abby! I am a lucky trainer!


6 Years of This Blog Thing

My first love…a baby Fjord named Loki…More about him in the link below!

Recently WordPress alerted me that this was my 6 year anniversary of blogging. I thought I’d share a link to that first post, from back in February 2012. 🙂

Before I had this all-horses-all-the-time blog, I wrote a different blog about just my life in general. There’s a story on that old blog about that cute Fjord pictured above. I’ll warn you, it’s kind of a tear-jerker (in a happy way), so you might want a tissue handy if you plan on reading it. 😉 Here’s the link.

There’s some Monday reading for ya. Happy riding (and writing, my fellow blogger friends).