Tuesday, January 22, 2019

can't be perfect every time...

Our second full week of exclusively indoor riding went a lot better than the first, fortunately for everyone involved. Mostly I think it's bc I approached the week with a bit better planning. Still tho, being confined to a dusty 20x40m box gets old.

we got our MCTA year end ribbons!! 5th place adult novice rider and 6th place novice horse!
I've been sticking to a near-daily 5-6 day/wk schedule anyway tho. Bc let's be real, when the horse is turned out he's just parkin it at the round bale. And the rest of the time he's boxed up in his stall. But as a fairly high mileage thoroughbred, Charlie benefits from movement.

So in a way I feel a responsibility to get out there and ride him around, even if it's just doing a light walk/trot conditioning type ride in the hackamore for 40min.

prizes included bright white polos that i'm going to have to feel pretty brave to ever actually use lol, and black boot socks that may or may not get co-opted to work socks as needed haha
This approach has actually worked pretty well for the horse too! The stiff bracing resistance I felt the first week in the indoor has given way to a softer more limber horse who seems to enjoy the opportunity to stretch out. I'll take it lol.

Plus at the end of that first week, the horse was so so so excited to be aimed at actual jompies in our lesson, so I figured that would be the perfect reward after this second indoor week too!

Trainer P always likes to ask if there's anything we want to work on in particular, or anything coming up on the calendar. Right now the answer to both those questions is "No." So instead we basically just played around. 

The warm up was useful bc I could talk to P a bit about what I've been feeling lately in the indoor, and what I've learned from getting to ride more with mirrors. Mainly: wow Charlie's really wanting to travel with his haunches in while tracking right, esp at canter. Just more reason to keep practicing that shoulder fore, I guess.

we also won a handy dandy shoe care kit, although the cream is black so isn't going to get used on my new brown pretties haha. got a nice USEA pin too! will probably put that on my jacket lapel assuming i actually join this year lol
Charlie, for his part, actually warmed up really really well. Just further reaffirmation I guess that the horse thrives when being ridden regularly in a variety of frames. Round and on the bit for our schooling rides; and loose long and low on the buckle for our conditioning rides. Too much of one or the other and he seems to lose a bit of flexibility and elasticity.

For this lesson tho, he was really good. Esp in working on shortening and lengthening our trot. Charlie honest to god has what I think is a collected trot now. Finally. And like, it's little. And suuuper round, and suuuper buoyant. We don't hold it for too too long, bc it's hard yo, but then he really picks up and pushes out of it into more of a proper working trot. It's nice!

most of my ribbons are hung in my trailer, but so many of these pretty MCTA ribbons have found their way to my book shelf, naturally along with the blue and red charlie earned at his last two novices this year <3
In past dressage lessons with Izzy, we'd work on going directly from that suuuuper collected trot into her medium. But I found that in practice, that led to the horse anticipating the medium before we could even get the collection. Which made that exercise reeeeally challenging lol.

So with Charlie I'm trying to avoid sling-shotting him out of the collected trot, while still capitalizing on pushing that generated oomph and engagement forward into the working trot. Seems like he's figuring it out tho. And like, finally, after 2+ years of riding the horse he finally has distinct gears in his trot lol. Yessss!

anyway, back to our regularly scheduled brown blurry blobby lesson action shots: like us jumping the final grid element
This was also one of the first times I felt that schooling come into play with our grids. The lesson was pretty straight forward in terms of what we worked on: just putting together a couple single exercises starting with a grid of one strides tracking left.

I was happy to go left too bc we like to drift that way and there wouldn't be any wall to hold us straight. When I remembered to half halt and collect on approach, then really put my left leg on through the grid, the horse jumps really really well: very straight and with a nice bascule.

ooooh haha, not looking entirely convincing on approach to the skinny barrel!!
This would not be a ride for perfection tho lol. Esp since trainer P wanted to set up Round 2 of Skinny Practice!!! Yessss!! Like, I have this whole big long list of technical exercises that Charlie and I need to work on before moving up to T is realistic. A biggie on that list? Skinnies, yo. (And like, a fuck ton of other stuff too but who's counting, eh?)

Plus this week we ditched the V-poles as guide rails and instead used white upright poles -- similar to the flags Charlie will see when actually on course in competition.

and... yea.... houston, we have a problem here.... 
And??? Charlie was soooo good in our warm up! Jumped everything easily on the first try, including another skinny combination of a barrel on its side, one stride to an oxer.

I honestly don't know what the difference is between him now and when we practiced skinnies over the summer. But something is definitely different. He clearly recognizes these barrels as "jumps," compared to over the summer when he wasn't so sure why I was aiming him at the random junk blocking his path.

pictured: getting all tangled up with that barrel.... sorry charlie!! :(
Still tho, mistakes will happen. Bc uh. Well. It's ME in the saddle. And Charlie's a damn good boy, but he's green, not a miracle worker lol.

So when we went to string all the exercises together into one little "mini course," I maybe made a few errors in judgement. Namely: coming down the grid tracking left, I knew Charlie was probably going to land on his right lead. Bc he always lands right. Like, sure, when I got my positioning correct in keeping him straight down the grid, he would sometimes land left.

But the odds were still high that I'd need to have a plan for dealing with leads between the grid and the turn to the skinny combination.

he's a goddamn saint tho and somehow still made it out over the next oxer. good boy!!
And I guess I had a plan. Which was basically: just ride the counter canter forward and keep going. Which, eh, it's debatable if that was the best choice. But then there was a damn dog in front of the jump, and I started waffling about whether or not to circle out, and Charlie was kinda distracted by the dog....

I didn't circle tho, and instead made a last ditch effort to get the horse straight by pulling him back onto the line, (spoiler: probably not the right choice there either), and Charlie ended up kinda climbing over the barrel (now sitting on top of risers) and getting it all caught up under his legs through the combination.

our next attempt went MUCH better
This horse is an actual SAINT tho, and managed to somehow get his legs untangled enough to jump clear of the whole mess. God bless ya, Chuck!

And like. Ya know. Obviously I never really want to make those kinds of mistakes that put my horse in a bad place like that. And obviously it's not a safe bet to always be relying on the horse to dig us out of those messes.... But I really REALLY like that he *can* do it, and that he did it basically instinctively.

nice and tidy with that hind end! 
You'll see in the video, but damn this horse has come a long LONG LONG way from his earliest "free jumping" days haha.

Like who on earth would have thought that the horse who ate shit over a tiny cavaletti would turn into this handy little brontosaurus that can jump out of a combination despite having a goddamn barrel all up in his junk?!?!

and still just as excited to be aimed at the next barrel!
And what I liked even more than that? When we circled to regroup and try the combination again? Charlie aced it. Wasn't upset. Didn't second guess the jumps. Listened nicely to my half halt (while meanwhile I remembered to ride the horse straight from my legs instead of pulling, ahem). Just jumped through it easily and without hesitation.

I LOVE that this horse so far hasn't really held a grudge about anything. He just stays focused on whatever next obstacle comes up in his path. Which, in this case, was another skinny barrel on risers, but this time alone in the middle of the long side. 

i wish these pics weren't so blurry bc i just love his eager game face!
Which, naturally, Charlie also locked on to and jumped easily out of stride. Good boy, Charlie <3

This practice is giving me a LOT of confidence about eventually seeing similar types of jumps on course. Like, obviously jumping on a flat surface in a small arena that promotes a more collected stride is very very different from galloping outside on variable terrain. And we all know that once Charlie gets rolling, it becomes a lot harder to get those half halts through to him without resorting to pulling.

wheeeeeeee!!!! he is the absolute most fun, i don't even care that it's just a brown smear of pixels lol
We gotta start somewhere tho, and this feels like a good place. And hopefully all the practice on transitions within gaits etc will pay off once we're out on course too haha.


But for now we'll just keep chipping away in our little dust bowl indoor considering winter looks it wants to settle in and get comfortable, ugh. Spring will be here eventually, right??

Saturday, January 19, 2019

budgeting for horsey hopes + dreams

So today's topic is a little bit like someone telling a story about their dream last night. It's really interesting and meaningful to the story teller, sure, but possibly intensely boring or irrelevant to whomever has to sit there listening.

But ya know. This is my blog. I write about the things I care about, the things that are on my mind. Not trying to be an influencer or go viral or move product or build an audience or whatever. Just sharing my story of living my best horsey life. And hopefully, along the way, using this space as a portal for trading stories and experiences, sharing in the joys and sorrows with everyone else in this wonderful little community.

today's pics all feature charlie eating. just imagine that instead of grass or hay or snax, he's eating money.
so so so much money. 
Obviously often times our own stories are just that - highly specific to our own individual circumstances. And budgets in graphic detail probably fall into that category. I'm going to try to make this relatable tho, at least in some small way.

So. Budgets.

My life has changed drastically in the last year, forcing me to adapt and evolve. For starters, I moved house for the first time in a decade. Superficially it might not seem like a big deal -- people move all the time! But for me, it served as a pretty transformational pivot point.

The move allowed me to do a complete inventory of all my junk and decide which material goods actually had a place in my life, and which needed to go away. Especially since I work from home and spend a good deal of time living amid said material goods, it's proved to be a really positive change to only keep what I like. It's, uh, also easier to keep clean haha.

"mmmm this grain is my favorite flavor: expensive!" - charlie, probably
Anyway, the new rent had a pretty major impact on my financial landscape. Which, naturally, sent shock waves rippling through literally every single facet of my existence.

For example? My diet is completely different, since I now spend more time in the grocery store and kitchen, and less time in restaurants, cafes or bars. Being totally honest, the transformation of raw ingredients into something edible and actually tasty has always felt like.... well, a bit of a miracle lol. I'm not a very educated cook. But that's been changing in recent months and it's actually really exciting!

"hm, can i eat you too??"
This isn't a cooking blog tho, haha, it's a horse blog. So back to the point: budgeting for horsey hopes and dreams.

I've been tracking expenses since roughly June, and have obsessively plotted and charted every single dollar and cent that can possibly be accounted for into my handy little excel workbook. And what did I learn? Well, uh, gulp. My horse habit burns through a sizable chunk of my paycheck each month.

So what does that include?

1. Board. This is the biggest line item by far. Charlie's $500 board payment covers twice daily feeding, turning in/out, hay + water, and stall cleaning. Additional surcharges are applied for checking blanket straps in the winter (note: this does *not* cover actual blanket changes...), holding for the farrier, and parking my trailer on the property. This would also include the horse's actual feed too, except I don't like what the farm feeds so.... next!

after this wet nasty summer, the ensuing poor hay crop might as well be literal bales of cash for as expensive as it is!
2. Feed. I buy my own feed, of which Charlie eats a metric fuck ton. Literally a 50lb bag per week. Luckily my feed gets auto-delivered from the local feed store along with the rest of the farm's orders, so this system is kinda "set it & forget it." Charlie's feed program costs an eye-popping ~$110/mo, but he's doing extremely well on it and I'm reluctant to rock that particular boat. There are a couple options for adjustments if push comes to shove, tho.

3. Farrier. Charlie gets his feet done every 5 weeks, with few exceptions (knocking furiously on wood, obvi). In the two years I've owned him, he's spent some portion of the summer in leather pads. And last fall we drilled and tapped his shoes for studs during the competition season, a decision that paid off in a big way with Charlie's increased confidence and security on terrain. All told, the average across the full year with a 5wk cycle rounds out to $130/mo.

"are you food too?? gimme a finger to test and i'll let you know!"
4. Routine Vet Care. This is hard to calculate bc there's just so much stuff that goes into "routine horse keeping," right? Staying fairly high level, I'm counting my vet's wellness plan (spring/fall shots, etc), the equine dentist (every 6mos for Charles!), and the big ticket items I know I'll need over the course of the year, like injections. Averaged to a monthly cost? It's about ~$85.

***

So the above pretty well covers the bases of horse keeping. Different horses with different needs will have different breakdowns, but this is what it looks like for Charlie.

"'scuse me, waiter, this is not what i ordered."
But that's only half the equation, right? Because I'm not just expecting to *keep* Charlie. I'm expecting to ride him, to train and compete and go on adventures. Which, incidentally, aren't free. Who knew!

That leads us to the next tier of budgetary line items, blurring the line between discretionary and necessary haha.

5. Lessons! Weekly lessons with Trainer P are easy enough to budget for, right? In line with my goals for the year, tho, I want to be a little more thoughtful in 2019 about investing in my education as a rider. This means being more diligent about riding with other trainers, like Trainer C and Dan, and fitting in more educational opportunities.

"that's more like it!"
also fwiw i'm still obsessed with this snuggy hood silky bib, charlie wears it every day and has zero rubs!
The current plan is to maintain ~weekly lessons with P, and do one additional (or substitute) lesson / learning experience per month. Tho I'm trying to build enough wiggle room into the entire budgeting apparatus to allow impulsiveness if something cool pops up!

6. Competitions! Same story here haha. A major hallmark of my horsey habit is that.... well, I like to do all the things. If it looks like fun, we wanna do it. Ya know? But I've got this handy dandy blog here that's got a recorded precedent from the last few years on what that actually amounts to month by month. Which is helpful haha.

free choice is best choice!! also throwback to when that mio sheet was new and not yet shredded....
One big difference this year, again per my stated goals for the year, is that some of my competitions are going to double in price. Plus there are more required memberships bleh.

So this dollar figure is probably the loosest of the whole bunch, bc it's wayyyyy too early to use anything other than pencil. But the memberships plus some combination of starter and recognized events over the year adds up to almost $2k. Which is a huge amount of money, and doesn't necessarily get any easier to swallow in it's monthly dose of ~$150.

***

"if y'all are partying, you better be passing the chips my way too!"
Whew, ok. Every time I get to this point in my budget workbook, I seriously begin questioning my sanity. I guess this is what they mean when they say ignorance is bliss??

Anyway, you all are horse people too, so you know full well that the above is still missing a few puzzle pieces. Because those are just the expected costs. And yes, my truck is broken out as a separate line item too, but I'm just plain old not including it here. Suffice it to say: that Chevy is one voracious insatiable beast!

And all that says *nothing* about the unexpected expenses. The $900 bc "Oops, the Chevy is overheating!" or the $450 bc "Whoops, turns out Charlie was banging his eye on his water bucket hook and damn I wish I realized this before I paid all that fucking money on the vet call, medicine, and follow up appts!" or the surprise $135 annual vehicle registration that *should* have been expected but wasn't....

"does this bridle come with snax too plz?"
Like. Those are major budget busters. How on earth are we supposed to see stuff like that coming??

I've gone back into as many records as I can remember / find to try to get some sort of historical baseline on how much gets spent on vehicle repairs each year. Or on unplanned vet visits (Charlie's $3k surgery, anyone??). It's hard tho.

Each month I have a little tag in my workbook for the unplanned, and the average there is about $400. Ymmv, obvi, but it's been helpful for me to quantify just how much outflow there is likely to be that I don't see coming, and thus plan what I *can* control accordingly.

flashback to when there was actually grass..... c'mon spring!
And. Um. Wow, yea there's still that whole 'nother elephant in the room here: SHOPPING! But what about shopping? New clothes? All my breeches are sad baggy saggy, what about that? Doesn't my helmet need replacing in the next year or two? What happens if I end up being a terribly shitty stressed out braider and need to outsource that? How am I gonna budget for all those horse show photos?!? And doesn't Charlie want a fancy monoflap jump saddle????

So..... Yea. Idk. I tried haha. Budgeting is hard, yo.

But I'm a firm believer: knowledge is power. Anything can happen with horses -- literally anything, something could happen tomorrow that renders all of the above tragically laughable -- but I'm trying to be as realistic here as possible. And I'll vacation when I'm dead lol.

"mmm this hay smells like dolla dolla bills, y'all!"
What about you? Have you tortured yourself by breaking down all your equestrian-related spending? Were you surprised by what you found? Or maybe you prefer a little mystery?? Have you been in a similar position where you had to get serious about budgeting in order to reach a goal? What worked for you -- any tips or tricks to share? Or maybe if your breakdown looks very different from mine, you want to take a stab at laying it all out in a post of your own?

Monday, January 14, 2019

outgrowing Izzy's shoes

I don't need to tell y'all that Isabel was a very special horse to me. So many of my "firsts" were with her, so many milestones and landmarks. The first horse I truly actually got on the bit. The first horse I jumped 3'. And then 3'3, and then 3'6 (uh, once haha).

The horse who inspired me to buy my rig and dive head first into eventing. Who carried me through all three phases, and took me up a couple levels before I even quite realized it. My first ditches, my first jumps up and down banks, into and out of water...

All of it, ya know? That's a LOT of memories!

pardon the smudged mirror and 100yr old exposed plumbing lol, just look at dem boooooots!!!
For the first 18ish months with Charlie, in some ways it didn't really feel like I was learning a lot. Or at least, learning new things. Obviously every time you restart a new horse, you learn things. I'm not trying to claim otherwise.

But with Charlie, for a long time it felt like my own education was kinda stalled. That instead I was refining and improving the skills and knowledge I learned from Isabel while Charlie got up to speed, vs expanding my own horizons.

charlie thought they were O.K., would have been better with treeeeets plz!
That most definitely started changing in a big way this past summer. Mostly because Charlie truly settled into his job. He understands the parameters, and happens to quite like the game.

And his appetite for big jumps has quickly plunged me into a whole new world of learning lol. I like it!! It's exciting to feel like we've entered into this new chapter where I'm finally growing and learning again as a rider -- tackling new challenges and pushing my limits.

they match my saddle lol! also, E we see you back there tryin to hide behind charlie's brontosaurus neck!!
Which is a good feeling I'm clinging to right now haha, considering winter finally arrived in force last week. The ground froze solid overnight, despite having been rivers of mud for the last few weeks. Meaning some of the plans I hoped to squeeze in are now put back on ice (literally lol).

Which is fine, right? Off season isn't exactly the time for going balls to the wall.

d'aww, charlie does da trot <3
And we just finished our first full week of exclusively indoor riding. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the indoor. Very very very grateful. But damn, it is small. It is the size of a small dressage court: 20x40m. Add in some other horses and a couple jumps and it feels about the size of a shoe box.

Considering the horses weren't really moving around much in turnout in the mud, and definitely aren't moving around now that the ground is frozen, it's really not enough space for the Charlies of the world who would like very much to blow off some steam lol.

still trotting. forever and ever in the tiny dusty 20x40m indoor
That's ok tho. Our schooling rides over the past week kinda got progressively worse and worse with each repetition, as Charlie seemed to realize that we're stuck in the indoor now.

But then this weekend when we were back in the same ring, but this time for our jump lesson? Homeboy perked WAY UP when he realized I wasn't going to be torturing him with ever more collection and lateral work lol.

oooooh but charles sees a jompy!! just look at those giant ass ears haha
We didn't do a whole heck of a lot - a simple two stride grid up one long side, ridden in both directions. A deceptively large hog's back oxer across a diagonal. A one stride grid of barrels on the other side. But Charlie ate every last bit of it up with enthusiasm, good boy!

so gung ho over the skinny barrel haha
And actually, about those barrels. While in many ways Charlie's training over fences has surpassed Isabel's now, there are still superficially some things she did that loomed for Charlie. Specifically?? Jumping those damn upright barrels haha.

oooooh but hey yo, check that big boy out!!!!
You might remember that Isabel and I tackled those bad boys the February after I broke my leg (three years ago now.... wow time flies!). And I was practically sick to my stomach about it. So nervous, but oh how Izzy sailed over the barrels!! Even when we biffed it the first time, she came right back on around for a second shot and was perfect!

flashback to 2/2016 when izzy jumped the barrels too <3 <3 <3
Stuff like that always kinda feels like a fluke to me. Like maybe we just got lucky, but that if I tried to recreate the moment surely we'd run into trouble.

third and final attempt, nice and tidy charlie!!!
But actually, this time around when trainer P mentioned bringing in the barrels, I was excited! Like, a little unsure about how Charlie would react considering the last time we tackled skinnies was.... not altogether convincing lol.

But he was easy as pie over the single barrel laid on its side, and then again for the one stride with both barrels on their sides. So when that second barrel went upright? I kinda figured we would just sail over. And he totally did!


We had to repeat it a couple times (all in the video) since we weren't straight the first time, and knocked both the guide poles the second. But each time Charlie felt eager and drawn in toward the big barrel -- like he wanted to jump it and wanted to get it right.

ha does he look happy??
Sure, we had guide rails plus the wall to help keep us straight and on track, plus a first jump to help us get to the right spot. Still tho, I was so proud of the big guy. It's a good start haha. He's such a professional about this stuff!

And while I'll always be grateful for the memories Isabel gave me, it feels important that Charlie is growing out from under her shadow.

Hopefully we can keep up those feelings of excitement and momentum through the wintry indoor season, ugh lol. Tho hey, has anybody else noticed how much longer the days have already gotten??? Just a matter of weeks until spring, eh?? Sorta kinda???

Saturday, January 12, 2019

tall boot shopping: Euro-style

Shopping for tall boots is a little bit like shopping for a saddle in some ways.

All that new leather. Fun detailing and accent options. Prices that range from "economical" (bunny ears fully intentional) to exorbitant. From off the rack to fully bespoke, and everything in between. And, naturally, multi-dimensional fit issues.

mmmmm boooots
At least with tall boots, it's generally a little bit easier for us to decide whether we can live with the fit of our boot, vs testing out various saddle fittings on the horse.

my first pair of brown euro boots - the mondonis. not a great shot of them in action, but a damn good shot of izzy <3
Personally, I tend to be a bit of a boring shopper. Virtually all of my tack is second hand. Like my PS of Sweden dressage bridle that used to belong to Aimee's Courage, before passing to Isabel and eventually Charlie. Or my Mark Todd jump bridle in the Dy'on style, passed down from Amanda's own big brown awkward-but-awesome Charlie.

my second pair, the HKMs.  yep i wear my brown boots with my black tack. sue me. 
Likewise, my Bates Caprilli jump saddle was purchased for Isabel (luckily it's a better fit for Charlie than it ever was for Iz), and my Hulsebos dressage saddle was custom made for my trainer P's well-loved giant old thoroughbred Torb.

Essentially everything else Charlie wears was either purchased on the cheap (I thank my lucky stars every day that the horse has very very decidedly specific tastes for elastic fuzzy girths haha) or purchased used.

L: Just Togs Kensington; R: Just Togs Buckingham
For instance, his Kentucky cross country boots and all of his bits (Herm Sprenger and Myler) are all high quality, and all purchased second hand.

Actually probably the only high-end piece of Charlie's gear that was purchased "new" are the Stubben Maxi-Grip stirrup irons I picked up at the Kentucky Horse Park last year. Bc I fully admit to being a bit of a stirrup iron junkie haha. But even those were acquired for a song after I bargained with the reps for the floor demos...

L: Mondoni Whitehaven; R: Eq Lusso Valente
When it comes to my own attire.... Well. It's safe to say I'm not exactly up to date on the latest trends haha. All my breeches are pretty old at this point, saggy and worn out. Desperately in need of updating.

But I'm one of those shoppers who can't bear to replace an item until it's totally and fully done-zo. Esp bc.... let's be real, I'm pretty hard on my gear and I don't take the best care of it anyway.

L: Horka Lizz; R: Horka Tiffany
Tall boots therefore are sorta an interesting item in my lineup. I prefer tall boots to chaps. And I happen to like them brown, thankyouverymuch. But I also want them priced around ~$200 or less, available in my size off the rack, comfortable enough for all day wear, and good enough quality to last around 2 years.

And during those 2 years? Those boots are gonna take a beating. They *will* trudge through the deep mud in Charlie's field, and be worn in the rain or for 10hrs at a time, and must survive long droughts between cleaning and conditioning.

L: Horka Sarah; R: Brogini New Capitoli
Shopping for those specifications (brown, my size, and ~$200) in the US has been.... basically a non starter. The two biggest options you see available are the Ariats and the Mountain Horse boots, but neither fit the budget. If you go outside the US tho??? It's a whooooooole 'nother ball game haha.

L: QHP Shiva; M: QHP Verena; R: QHP Sophia
Idk why. Maybe bc US equestrian style has been so fully co-opted by hunter jumper equitation? Maybe there just isn't enough demand?? Who knows. What's for damn certain tho is that if you start browsing around other retailers, esp those in the UK and Europe, right off the bat you can start filtering boot options by color.

who doesn't love that moment of bated breath before you open the box - hoping they're not duds!
And there are WAY more brands. Like, all sorts of brands I've never heard of (tho again, nobody is accusing me of being a well-versed style maven #fulldisclosure), at pretty good prices.

I got my start with overseas boot shopping with my Mondoni Kingstons from Divosa. Those were good boots that served me well over the years. When they finally finally died (probably long after most other reasonable people would have discarded them haha... actually, ok, I admit, they're still in the trunk of my car just in case of one of those days when, 'oops I need a pair of boots!'), I found myself immediately fed up with shopping the standard US retailers and brands.

first impression? *not* duds lol, and actually not orange at all either!
Nothing my price, and nothing that looked quite right size-wise. In fairness, my calves were at that time pushing the limit of what's reasonable to expect off the rack. But I was determined. And, uh, also broke haha. So back to browsing overseas again.

leather is soft, details are nice! elastic panel also key haha
To be honest, I don't know a lot about overseas retailers - it's not like I had a catalog of them to browse through, ya know? Turns out, tho, when you start googling some of those less-familiar boot brands (like Brogini, Mondoni, Horka, HKM, QHP) -- maybe looking for reviews or size guides - other retailers start popping up in your search results.

In this manner, I discovered the HKMs I eventually purchased from Tackville in 2017. Being real, these weren't really my favorite boots from an aesthetic perspective while I was shopping. The color was meh, they were dress boots when I would have preferred field boots, and they seemed kinda boring. BUT. The calf dimensions looked good.

they're gonna be a bear to keep clean but idc
And they were good! Those boots actually lasted a lot better than I would have expected, and were super comfortable. I wore them for everything. Trail riding. Trekking through the fields. Lessons. Competitions. All of it. But sadly, after about 18mos, the zipper (clogged with dirt, no doubt) finally bit the dust. Sadness!

I wasn't expecting a new boot purchase so soon, but them's the breaks. It works out tho bc considering the HKMs had been priced like the tall boot equivalent of Target skinny jeans, it wasn't really all that heartbreaking financially when they bit it.

the website made it seem like they could turn out pretty orange, esp with that 'airbrushed' patina effect. the color is nice tho! as is the leather. it should condition well.
This time around, I knew the shopping would be a little bit easier, mostly bc my calves are smaller again (finally, thank the lort). While I did do a cursory search of Riding Warehouse, Smartpak and Dover (just in case!) I didn't waste a lot of time there. It was right back out to the euro outlets, looking for my next pair of euro trash boots haha.

My searches took me back to the Familiar Divosa and Tackville mentioned above, but also further afield when a google search brought up Derby House.

it's a nicely made boot with attractive details and mostly pleasant materials for the price - but still a cheap zipper that will need to be handled with care lest it go the way of the HKMs.... #gonetoosoon
The thing I love about all of these retailers is that most of their sites have search filters for all the right features: foot size, calf size and color.

I'm an almost unbelievably standard US 7 in women's shoes, and have found this conversion chart fairly helpful. I'm also back to being just on the cusp between a regular and wide/full calf, generally choosing wide and not regretting it. And of course, as I previously mentioned, I'm interested in brown boots plz. lol...

they fit!!! #catapproved
This time around there were endless temptations. Mondoni has a knock off variation of the Mountain Horse Sovereigns, for instance. Horka had quite a few options on Tackville that looked nice, tho alas not exactly in my specifications. Brogini also had a couple that looked intriguing, and Just Togs had an option with silicon grips on the calf that were miiiiighty cool haha.

roomy in the foot bed, fitted through the ankle and calf, and actually a nice height (will get better pics eventually i promise)
I decided to take a little risk tho and go light. Cognac light, to be specific. On one hand, they could have shown up being pumpkin orange. On the other hand tho, presuming they were actually truly leather as advertised, they'd probably darken with oil if needed.

Plus, idk, I dig the detailing. So. The QHP Wide Sophias won my red rose this time around ;)

And? I like them! And they fit!

and obvi the best part of unboxing??
They were listed as a UK 5 / EUR 38, and the foot bed is slightly roomy but comfortable for my US 7 feet. The wide calf zipped up both boots on the first try (with breeches on), tho obvi I was a little careful haha. And the height is good - the backs of the boots don't dig in behind my knee, but meanwhile the Spanish top is pronounced enough that I'm not worried about dropping too far.

The leather is also a lot nicer than I expected - quite soft and not at all plastic-y like the HKMs were. These are definitely the nicest of my euro boot collection thus far, at $220 shipped (remember, US buyers don't pay the VAT included in prices when shopping over seas). Shipping took a slow-but-not-interminable 11 days.

cats in boxes!
So this isn't really a review of the boots, per se, considering they're brand new and unproven at this point lol. But in terms of reviewing the process? I give it 5 stars. Buying my tall boots from overseas retailers has been a resounding success, and clearly something I'm happy to repeat.

From a budgetary, fit, and style perspective, I'm very happy to be able to consistently find boots that satisfy my wish list. And this way it's easy to get boots that nobody else (in the US, at least) is wearing without having to go custom.

Have you purchased tack, gear or attire overseas? Did the experience leave you feeling satisfied and eager for more? Or did it turn you off? Or maybe you've had different experiences depending on what (or from where) you purchased?

Are you like me when it comes to shopping, frugal to a fault? Or maybe you swing the full opposite direction, investing whole hog up front so you never have to revisit the same well?