Higher Standards Leather Care – a product review

I discovered Higher Standards Leather Care online a while ago, after reading rave reviews on the Chronicle of the Horse forums. I bought myself some of the soap, but as I wasn’t riding much, never really got a chance to use it. However, now that I’m over here, and with so much gear to clean, I figured it was a good opportunity to buy some more and really test it out.

First item – and I’m almost ashamed to post this because of how bad the “before” picture is – my riding boots. They were used as my work boots for the first week or so that I was here, so they had to endure mucking stalls, riding multiple horses, and trudging through mud and snow all day. As you can see, they were in pretty bad shape.

An amazing before-and-after shot… I’ll never let my poor boots get into such bad condition again!!

I started with the Sweet Cinnamint saddle soap, and even the caked on sweat and dirt came off relatively easily. The soap smells delicious, and really cuts through all the grime more effectively than most leather cleaners I’ve tried before.
The really brilliant part though is the leather balm. These boots are the waxed, waterproof Ariat Bromonts, so they never really had a great shine to begin with, even when I used boot polish on them. The leather balm has totally erased the scuffed toes and spur strap rubs, and has brought out a beautiful shine to the boots.

Next challenge was a pretty grimy old Devoucoux work bridle. The bridles here get used on at least a few horses a day, and while they do get wiped down with saddle soap each afternoon before they’re put away, they’re never really super clean.

Before shot of bridle

Again, the soap cut right through all the dirt and sweat, and the balm softened and conditioned the leather beautifully.

During….

Here is a great comparison with an almost identical bridle that had been cleaned with Leather New on the left, and the Higher Standards bridle on the right.

And the after shot. The difference between the two bridles is pretty incredible!

I also cleaned and conditioned my saddle, but unfortunately I seem to have deleted the before photo off my phone. The soap and balm worked wonders on it though, and really brought the richness of the leather colour back out – it had looked a fairly dry orange colour previously.

So in conclusion – I’m totally converted. This stuff is the whole package – homemade, with natural ingredients, and seriously effective. The scents of the soaps are gorgeous too – I have the Lavender Vanilla at home, and the holiday edition Cinnamint is just so delicious. The balm even makes your hands feel amazing when you’re using it! No more greasy, grotty hands to deal with after cleaning tack.

This stuff is absolutely worth trying out… I doubt I’ll ever go back to regular store-bought leather products again! It’s very easy to purchase through their Etsy store, and the prices to ship to Australia are very reasonable.

http://www.higherstandardsleathercare.com

https://www.facebook.com/HIgherStandardsFarm

https://www.etsy.com/shop/HigherStandardsFarm

One year on – a tribute to Freddy.

Today marks one year since I lost my darling Freddy. I know that we all love each and every one of our horses dearly, but I truly believe that sometimes one comes along who really captures your heart like no other – and Freddy was that kind of horse.

I loved everything about Freddy, even though we had plenty of ups and downs. There were times when he misbehaved and let me down, just as there were times when I misjudged situations and let him down. We made a lot of mistakes, but slowly began to learn from them. I’m sure many people wondered why I persevered with a horse who could be so unpredictable, just as others wondered why I hadn’t managed to achieve more with such a talented horse. He just made me so happy, and I enjoyed every minute I spent with him – from the adrenaline rush of galloping cross country, to quietly enjoying the scenery on a fabulous ride out, or just hanging out with him and finding his favourite scratchy spots.

I think my most cherished memory of our time together was winning the NSW Equitation Championships in 2012. While eventing will always be my number one passion, to be rewarded that day for my riding, presentation and our partnership is something I’ll always be proud of. He tried his little heart out for me that day, and when the judge told me she wanted to buy him for her daughter, there could never have been a price that would have made me want to part with him.

My darling boy and our treasured trophy rug – looking exhausted from all that good behaviour.

It has been a long year of ups and down while I’ve tried to come to terms with losing him so unexpectedly. There seems to be some misinformation about what actually happened that day. I guess this might be a good opportunity to clear that up, because it’s not really the most pleasant topic to have to try to explain all the time.

Fred was heading to my coach’s farm while I went interstate for Christmas. On that morning, we spent a couple of lovely hours just hanging out, waiting for him to be picked up… He had a bath, extra breakfast, and then I sat in the paddock with him while he grazed next to me. I had no idea it would be the last chance I had to spend time with him – but it was such a beautiful morning.

The last photo I ever had the chance to take – one of my favourite moments with Fred.

On the way to the farm, a tyre blew out, causing the float to fishtail and tip up onto two wheels. Fred hit his head on the wall, and went down. Initially, he seemed to be fairly unscathed aside from a relatively minor head wound, so we thought he was going to be ok. However, he was cast against the wall of the float, and even with a number of us trying to get him up, we just couldn’t get the leverage to help him onto his feet. The vet had been called immediately, but unfortunately shock set in before he arrived, and Freddy passed away.
It was just one of those truly freak accidents – the road and weather conditions were perfect, and the float was being driven well within the speed limit. Even in hindsight, I don’t know that there could have been anything done to prevent this from happening, aside from avoiding putting him on a float ever again… obviously not a logical option for a horse who regularly travelled for competitions, training and socialising.
All credit must go to my amazing instructor, who managed to avoid what could have been a far more serious accident, and I’m so grateful that she wasn’t injured as well. Absolutely everyone involved had only his best interests at heart – sometimes it seems that terrible things are just inevitable.

This will be the last time that I write about Freddy. While I will never stop missing him, I’m learning that holding onto grief does absolutely no good – it won’t bring him back, and it certainly doesn’t make it hurt any less. So rather than dwelling on what I have lost, I just want to focus on the happy memories we created over the years.
Losing him was certainly the most traumatic experience of my life, but I am grateful that indirectly it has allowed me to travel and experience different parts of the world, and I will certainly never forget everything he taught me.

Rest easy my darling Freddy – thank you for lighting up my life.


Am I the only one who enjoys pulling manes?

I’ve pulled about 20 manes over the past couple of days, and everyone else in the barn seems to feel sorry for me. Truth be told, mane pulling is probably one of my favourite grooming jobs – I love the satisfaction you get from the instant improvement in the appearance of their necks. Plus, once you get into a rhythm, you can just zone out and ponder all those important things like the meaning of life, or which flavour Ben and Jerry’s to try next. Of course, it’s not quite as relaxing when the horse is trying to throw you into a wall or bite your arm off, but thankfully most of the horses here are pretty civilised.

One of the babies starting to look much more like a performance horse than a paddock pony.

Clipping, on the other hand, is a complete ass of a job. It requires far more concentration, not to mention the personal physical discomfort.. especially when you’re unprepared and not dressed appropriately. I washed my clothes twice and took two showers, yet I was still itchy when I got dressed again the next morning.

Another job which isn’t so fun is picking out feet each time you bring a horse in from the paddock. When I arrived, I wondered why there was a hammer stored with the hoof picks, which were all bent out of shape. Now that I have become well acquainted with the awful icy lumps that pack themselves into hooves and involve a military operation to remove, I understand why hoof picks need to be hammered back into order. Definitely one of the more dangerous and frustrating aspects of a snowy winter!

One nasty, icy hoof

One bent hoof pick – and handsome Casarino checking it out.

Three cheers for Dover!

With the risk of a broken ankle increasing every time I stepped foot outside the barn in my riding boots, I was getting a bit desperate for some real winter work boots. I’ve developed some serious pain in my Achilles’ tendons, assumedly from trudging through the snow in unsuitable footwear all week. Ironically, I’m sitting in my room icing my ankles right now… I may as well just go outside and stick my feet in the snow!

The benefits of working in a barn… There’s always a spare ice boot lying around!

Luckily for me, the girls from the barn decided it was time for a shopping trip. We headed down to Delaware last night to check out a couple of tack stores. After all those years of online shopping, being in an actual Dover store was pretty exciting. Got myself some Ariat Brossard boots, lots of winter gloves and socks, winter breeches, fleece tops, vests and a really nice Joules 3-in-1 jacket. The girls even talked me into buying hairnets so I can really fit in with the Americans and wear my hair up under my helmet. I did manage to pull off the hair-over-the-ears thing when I rode today… And I have to admit, it actually serves a purpose in keeping your ears warm! They might make a hunter princess out of me yet.

All the strenuous shopping left us pretty hungry, so we headed to a cute little restaurant we’d passed earlier to get some dinner. Unfortunately it was quite a bit nicer than we had anticipated, and our breeches, boots and barn jackets earnt us some pretty dirty looks. The poor hostess very carefully avoided offering to take our coats for us, haha. Even though we were probably sending off an interesting aroma around the restaurant, the food and the service was fantastic. Definitely a place to go back to… Though a shower and a change of clothes will be on the cards for next time.

All is going well at the barn, I’m settling in well to the pattern of riding and working. We’re still stuck indoors because of all the snow and ice, with even more snow predicted tomorrow. True Prospect Farm has become incredibly popular over the last few days, with dozens of people either riding over from neighbouring properties or trailering in to use the indoor arena. It can get a bit wild with so many horses in the arena at once – especially when you’re on young horses! It’s certainly a good learning experience for them though.

Trailering in to use the indoor… Not a bad view from our living area!

The view from my room… Visitors getting in some late afternoon riding

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for a week… Part of me feels like I only arrived a day or two ago, but then I’m also feeling pretty well at home, as though I’ve been here for much longer. I’m missing my friends and family back home, but I am certainly in a happy place here right now 🙂

Heartbroken!

Ok so the title might be a little melodramatic, but I am pretty disappointed. One of the things I’d been most excited about ever since deciding to come to the US was the opportunity to take advantage of the online shopping, without the ridiculous international shipping rates ($75 shipping for a $25 polo? I don’t think so!!). I was most looking forward to being able to shop through SmartPak, who don’t ship to Australia at all.

I put in my first order earlier this week, excited to take advantage of True Prospect’s Barn Saver Shipping… Honestly, this is like all my shopaholic dreams come true. However, my order was declined because they won’t accept international credit cards 😦 I explained my situation to them and the answer was still no. So unfortunately I’ll be having to take my business elsewhere. I’m not sure they realised exactly how much money I’d saved to be able to spend with them… I have a pretty long list of wants and needs!!

The top of the list is a couple of good pairs of winter boots… Since the snow has melted a bit and frozen again, I’ve done a few extravagant Bambi-on-ice impressions today. I have to give credit to my trusty Ariat Bromonts, they’ve kept my feet entirely dry and surprisingly warm while spending hours up to my ankles in snow over the last few days. However, as riding boots they’re just not cut out for the slipperiness of the ice, so I need some more specific work boots that are more suitable for snowy conditions.

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Hopefully I can make it to a tack store one afternoon this week if we manage to finish work early enough. Otherwise, it’s back to online shopping… Just anywhere but Smartpak!

The trouble with accents

I really didn’t expect my accent to be such a challenge over here, especially considering the high concentration of Australian ex-pats in the West Grove area. Apparently I sound pretty funny though, especially when I try to introduce myself… Everyone seems to pick up on an AR sound instead of an O in Cobie, so a number of people now think my name is Carby. It must have been so bad when I first arrived, that my first visit to Starbucks in NYC resulted in this:

It’s pretty funny though, and I do give people a good laugh when I say weird Australian words. I think I might have to become one of those annoying people who develops an American accent after a short visit, just so people can understand me.

I’ve had a really quiet day for my first day off. I stayed in bed most of the morning reading Dover saddlery catalogues.. I am sooo excited to go on a shopping trip! Then I spent about 4 hours cleaning the bathroom and kitchen in our living area… While the barn is really organised and spotless, the living area seems a bit neglected, so my obsessive compulsive tendencies kicked in a bit. If I’m going to be here for 3 months, I want to use real appliances and cookware.. And not live on microwave pizza served on paper plates with disposable forks!

I’m not sure whether I’m going to come home skinny from all the physical work, or fat from all the ridiculous food here… Hopefully all the stall mucking will outweigh my new addiction to pop tarts 😉

Snow day!!

So I knew that snow was forecast for this weekend – but today certainly surpassed expectations! It began to snow at about 10:30 this morning, and it’s still falling now. While I’ve been to ski fields, and seen the occasional snow flurry at home on rare occasions, I haven’t seen snow fall this like before – everything looks like something off a postcard. I’ve been wandering around in awe all day, while everyone else is groaning… I’m sure I’ll be sick of having to work in the snow soon enough, but for now I’m just going to enjoy it!

We had a mad dash to bring in the morning turnout horses, and most of them were barn-bound for the rest of the day. I was surprised that we still turned out a few horses overnight – I guess they breed them a lot tougher over here! Everyone went out in a couple of extra rugs… argh, blankets, I’ll get it right one day… and they all seemed pretty happy to be out, with a couple dropping and rolling as soon as we let them go.

Amongst all the excitement, I had three horses to ride today. Definitely no jogging on the outside track in this weather, so we stuck to just trot schooling in the indoor. My favourite of the day was a gorgeous WB gelding named Bones – not only is he a big smoochy teddy bear, but seriously nice to ride. I’m currently plotting how to sneak him back home without anyone noticing.

Bones says nope… definitely not going out there!

I’ve actually noticed that in just two days of riding in front of mirrors, my position has already improved. It’s amazing what you can pick up on when you’re able to constantly monitor and adjust what you’re doing. A set of arena mirrors is definitely on the shopping list for when I get home!!

I met Phillip today, after he’d returned from the USEA convention. He is lovely and polite, and I’m so excited to be learning from him. He saw me ride, and didn’t drag me off the horse and send me back to the airport, so that’s positive.

We had planned on going out for dinner and drinks tonight, but even though the roads had been ploughed, we didn’t really have a suitable car available for getting off the farm and driving into town. There’s always another night – and secretly I didn’t mind just heading inside to warm up and let my poor muscles relax a bit. They’re not quite used to this kind of workload anymore! I’ll definitely need to get myself to a tack store to buy some more suitable winter work boots.. I ended up on my butt after slipping down a snowy ramp today. But a few good old-fashioned shopping trips have been planned ever since the day I decided to head over here 😉

I’m starting to get to know the barn routine a bit better now, it certainly helps that the place is so well organised. While most things are pretty similar to back home, there are always the subtle differences that are required in any barn. It’ll take a while to learn the preferred ways of doing things – but hey, learning is what I’m here for! Tomorrow is my day off for this week, and I’m looking forward to having the chance to just sit and watch some of the horses being ridden… Hopefully some of those good riding skills will rub off on me 🙂