Monday, 4 December 2017

Dark Doldrums

Where has the last month gone? I can't believe it is December already. Sorry for the lack of activity on here.

I have been fighting a losing battle with lack of motivation in the horse department. Work is the main culprit. My supervisor (who left more than 3 months ago) has still not been replaced, and a couple other people in my department have also left since then so I'm trying to fill even more roles than normal, while also being the prime person responsible for preparing for a big upcoming audit. There's also a lot of other crap at work that I will spare you the details of. Stress is high to say the least.

For a few months I was going all out trying to keep on top of things, but the stress was really getting the better of me. To try and avoid a complete mental and physical breakdown I have recently been working to prioritize my health. This means eating right and getting 8+ hours of sleep a night. Good sleep and food have been good for making me a more reasonable person who doesn't transfer my stress onto my friends, family and SO. Unfortunately more hours spent working, sleeping and food prepping means less hours for anything else.

As well as having less time for riding, I haven't been doing much of it because of head space. Kachina is not an easy horse, there is no such thing as even a relaxing grooming session with her because even just being brought into the barn causes tension in her. I can manage that tension but it requires me to be super focused, super present, and super patient. It takes time and targeted work to get her to relax. She also has some recent body soreness that is making things even tougher (as in she does not want me to lift her feet, tack her up, or even touch her, and yes I have been working with my whole physio/farrier/vet team). Compounding everything is typical winter blues for this time of year where the the early sunsets make everything seem dark (both literally and figuratively) My solution has mostly been to give Kachina time off. I go out to check on her and clean her feet in the pen, and then I go home. Sometimes I bring her into the indoor arena to do ground work or lunging, but only if I know I have the time and patience that day to make it a good session (not fair to either of us if I try and train when I'm stressed, worn out or in a rush). It's not ideal, but Kachina is happy in her outdoor herd environment and some time off isn't the worst thing.

Look, I even got a photo of horse! 

Yesterday I actually rode my horse and it was glorious. I decided to put down my to do list and spend the afternoon at the barn with a couple barn friends. Kachina still wasn't happy about having her (properly fitting) saddle and girth put on, but we did some preventative ground work and once I got on she was great. We did some loose rein ambling while I chatted with my friends and then I got some good trot work from her as well as a perfect canter transition in each direction!

Now it's Monday and all the work crap that I buried on Sunday is back. This period of stress and busyness isn't over and I'm not sure when my next ride will be, but it's something I look forward to whenever it happens.

Have any of you gone through similar times when riding has had to take a back seat?

(P.S. In case it wasn't obvious, I did not buy Project Horse, she is still for sale and I hope she finds a good home, but I just can't take on a second at this time)

Friday, 3 November 2017

Project Horse?

So, I saw an ad, and unwittingly, plans are now swirling in my head.

The ad is for a "beautiful, smart, athletic 8 year old mare". It is a terrible sale ad, that explains that they are selling her because she is "too smart for inexperienced kids" even though they "have no trouble with her". It mentions age and colour but there is no reference to training, breeding, height, temperament etc. There are 4 pictures in the ad: 1 is a super weird angle of the dirty horse in her pen, 1 is a side view of the mare wearing a saddle with a kid sitting in it, but the kid is wearing sneakers and a skateboard helmet, and the horse is covered in mud, is standing awkwardly, has a halter on, and is eating hay from a pile on the ground. The other two photos are crooked headshots. Like I said, it's a terrible ad, and if that's all I saw of her I would just keep scrolling by.

However, the thing is, I know this horse. She's boarded at my barn and her pen is kitty corner from Kachina's. She's a sweet mare who always seems interested in people, and I feel so bad for her because her people barely ever come out. And by barely, I do mean barely. This mare has been boarded near Kachina for over two years and I have seen her owners a total of 3 times (and I never had the chance to talk to them so I do not know the owners at all), I've never even seen the horse in the arena or ridden, just visited in her pen. There's plenty of other friendly horses at the barn, and even some other ones who are also ignored by their owners, but I have a soft spot for this one in particular, I don't know what it is, I just like her vibe.

So, I kind of want to buy the mare, work with her for a few months as a project and then sell her to a great home.

I know this is a stupid plan because:
1. I cannot afford two horses for anything more than a temporary period of time
2. I've never sold a horse and it's entirely possible I will become attached and then have two horses forever. This could also happen if an injury or behaviour meant that I couldn't in good conscience sell the mare. I cannot afford two horses forever.
3. I've never seen the mare outside of her pen so I know very little about how she moves and what kind of training she has
4.  I'm not a horse trainer
5. I barely have enough time for one horse, not to mention two
6. It takes a lot of skill and luck to avoid being burned by buying and selling horses, and I don't know that I have either

These are serious and big things and so I should probably just walk away now, but...

Reasons why I am maybe convincing myself that this isn't a stupid plan:
1. Her current terrible ad and lack of recent work does not bode particularly well for her getting a good home right now
2. Her price is low enough that I feel like I could realistically tack a couple thousand on to it once she had a few months of regular work, maybe a couple clinics and shows under her belt, and an ad with photos of her clean and actually doing something, and she would probably be more desirable at that point than she is now, even with the higher price. A couple thousand is what it would cost me to board her for 5 months while I work with her so those aren't bad numbers.
3. I know it would make me a better rider to ride more than one horse (especially because from the ground I can tell she has a really different personality from Kachina).
4. 8 is a really good age, even if it takes me a year or two to put some training on her she will still be marketable at that point (see, this plan is already escalating from 5 months to 1-2 years, it's got a mind of its own)
5. Even though the ad shows nothing close to a conformation shot which is normally a big red flag, this mare is actually put together pretty nicely. She is a decent height (probably around 15.2-15.3hh), with balanced proportions, good legs, an uphill build, no obvious blemishes and a fine head (those last two can't be said of Kachina)
6. While coming out ahead or even financially is the goal, I'm okay selling her for a loss if I need to, as long as I get to have some fun with her and then find her a good home
7. I like her

The bottom line is that she's a nice horse who maybe doesn't have much of a future right now. If someone else sees her potential under the literal dirt and wants to make something of her then that's great. However, if nobody else steps up, this might actually be an opportunity for me to improve her lot in life. As much as I would love to help out every poor horse I see, I am not financially able to do so. However this is a case where I may be able to help out a horse I already have a connection with, and a horse who has the potential for resale. Plus I do think that it would be good development for me as a rider and horsewoman to work with another horse.

To be clear, Kachina isn't going anywhere, this would be buying a second horse, not replacing the one I already have.

I'm not completely irresponsible, so there are a few things I would absolutely want to check before writing a cheque:
- does she have papers? (not a deal-breaker if no, but would affect price)
- confirmation of foaling date (if she's older than 8 that may change things)
- can she walk/trot/canter with true gaits? how nice of a mover is she?
- is she relaxed under saddle? (I already have one tense bundle of nerves, don't need two)
- can she respond appropriately to leg and rein aids? (doesn't need to be super educated, but I know from Kachina that the timeline will go up exponentially if these basics aren't correct)
- can she pass a vet check?
- can I use any of my existing tack on her? (requiring a new saddle changes the costs of this plan significantly)

All of these questions should be fairly simple to get answers to, but I'm still not sure if I should even take that first step of contacting her owners. The ad has only been up for a week at this point so I think I will wait at least a few more weeks to see if anyone else good nabs her first (someone who is maybe actually looking for a horse ;-) ), but in the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts. On a scale of 1-100, how crazy of an idea is this? Have you ever bought a short term project that worked out?

Finally, if you think this horse sounds nice and want to buy her yourself (and save me from having to do it), let me know and I'll send you the link to her ad.

P.S. I was out at the barn the other night and went up to the mare to look at her with a more critical eye. Kachina spotted me and came up to the fence and started nickering at me, I think she was jealous and it was pretty adorable (and another indication that Kachina has firmly adopted me as her person).

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Mini Updates

Hello, I'm still here, still riding and doing horsey things, just not being great about blogging about them or getting any kind of media. Here are some mini-updates about things I haven't written about yet:

Clinics
Despite a bad lesson with E in July, I decided to ride with her again in August and things went much better, so I then had another clinic with her in September as well. There are things to be desired about her communication style but I can't argue with results and her method is doing good things for me and Kachina so I plan to keep riding with her.
Then, at the end of October I hosted and rode in another clinic with Sandra, my all time favorite trainer. Lots of insights to write about from this clinic too.

Shows
In the middle of September I competed in a one-day show. I scored a disappointing 59% and change in all three of my tests! It wasn't a bad show by any means and I got some productive feedback but I really wish I could have broken 60%.
Show planning for 2018 is already underway.

Feet
Kachina's feet were super super dry and hard this summer, so while they looked okay, now that things have been getting wetter and softer we've been unearthing some issues. Kachina has remained sound but she has some thrush issues that seem to have been simmering under the surface (our farrier has been unearthing spots in fresh sole during trims). We have drastically shortened her trimming cycle so we can clean up her feet a little every couple weeks and I have been treating them in between. Kachina only marginally coped with foot handling at the best of times, so now that we are poking at her hooves more often and her soles are more sensitive too, she is not impressed. This has led to ground work sessions reminding her about manners and how yanking her feet away when she feels like it is not allowed. Some days I only have time to deal with her feet and her manners and then I need to go home instead of ride. I think things are improving but I will find out more at her next trim next week.

2ptober
One of my goals for Q4 was to participate in 2ptober. I completed my baseline but I didn't two-point again for the rest of the month and didn't submit a final time. I feel bad about copping out, but the truth is that I had good reasons for it. As I mentioned, treating Kachina's thrushy feet was a priority for October. Also, last October two-point was useful to isolate aids and get my seat out of the way, but currently with our training progression Kachina actually needs me to be super present in my seat, legs, and rein contact which I can't do if I'm focused on two-point times. Also, for my own position I need to focus more on sitting right now. I want to send out giant congratulations for all of the winners and participants in 2ptober though, you guys rocked it!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

One-Woman Horse

Kachina is a bit of a special snowflake. It has been well documented on this blog that she is both a horse with a questionable history and some tension issues, but also one who I can successfully take on a variety of adventures whether it is trail riding, cow herding, or dressaging.

On the ground, she is consistently difficult for getting her feet trimmed (luckily I have a saint of a farrier who is firm but calm and keeps coming back to try and give her positive experiences). She also doesn't like being tied in her home barn. On the other hand, there are lots of things she is good at. She doesn't pull back, she trailer loads easily, she will stand tied calmly for hours at clinics or shows, she gets along well with other horses, and, she's consistently easy to catch, even in the humongous pasture.... or so I thought...

On Tuesday I got a message from the BO asking if we could move the horses out of the pasture and back to their winter pens because the cows were coming home this week. There are three horses out in the pasture so I coordinated with S and P, the owners of the other two, to get them all moved yesterday so none of them would be left alone. S and P had plans later in the evening so they asked me if they could move all 3 horses at 3:30 in the afternoon. I was still at work so I couldn't meet them at that time but they were happy to move Kachina and I was fine with it as I would be be out there a couple hours later to check on her once she was in her pen.

Well, I got out to the barn at 5pm and S and P were still out there. They had tried for over an hour to catch Kachina and they couldn't even get close. I felt really bad for them but was also surprised. I heard once before that the BOs had trouble catching Kachina in the pasture, but they only try and catch her when they have a tube of dewormer in hand so that made more sense. I also know Kachina wasn't a fan of a strange man peeking inside her mouth at a dressage show tack check. Kachina sees S and P almost as much as she sees me though, so they are neither strangers or people who bring unpleasant things, in fact they sometimes come bearing food. I figured they would have no problem catching her, especially when her buddies were already caught. Not so, apparently she did quite a bit of running. They didn't want to get her too hot and sweaty so when I arrived they were giving her a breather. The other two horses were in the pen and Kachina was standing near the fence staring at her buddies from afar. I grabbed my halter, walked right over to her, and Kachina turned towards me and let me halter her with zero issues, same as always.

I have really mixed feelings about this new piece of information. On one hand it gives me warm fuzzies inside that Kachina has chosen me as her person and won't be caught by anyone else. I also kind of like the idea that it would be hard for anybody to steal or mess with my horse. However, on the other hand it really concerns me. What if someone had to catch Kachina in an emergency? Also there was a blog hop last year about making your horse a solid citizen to improve their chances in life if they ever needed to be sold, this is decidedly not solid citizen behavior.

This development also leaves me with questions:

  1. Is being uncomfortable with other people the reason that Kachina gets so tense during trims? Last week the farrier was out and Kachina was not wanting to cooperate. I had yet another conversation with her trimmer about what I can do to work on this training issue. I've done a huge amount of ground work and handling of Kachina's feet and she has gotten good with me but it doesn't seem to be translating for trims. We hypothesized that the change in routine might be the issue, or maybe she has sensitivity in her soles and gets uncomfortable, so we decided to do have her trimmed twice as often but smaller trims or only fronts or hinds each time, so each appointment is less long and also Kachina gets used to it happening more often. That still sounds like a decent plan, but maybe the root cause is that Kachina isn't comfortable being handled by other people. 
  2. How do I fix this? I feel like the simple answer is get more people to handle Kachina but that's easier said than done. My boarding situation is pretty basic and the owners don't handle the horses regularly. I have some friends I can ask to come out, but I don't want to impose too much, and I feel like this may be the kind of thing that takes a lot of sessions to address. Would it be better to get one person other than me to handle her regularly like a free half lease, or should I try and have a whole bunch of different people just do small things like go and feed her a treat and then retreat? 
  3. Am I reading way too much into this? Lots of horses are tough to catch in a pasture, doesn't mean they're scared of people. This was just one occurrence, so an admittedly tiny sample size, but at the same time it does seem like it might fit with a larger pattern of observations I've made though the years. 


If anyone else has had a horse like this, please chime in and let me know what helped or didn't help in your case.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Kick in the Pants

I love riding, I truly do. But, sometimes I need a bit of a kick in the pants to go out to the barn. The abrupt change in seasons hasn't helped. Last night I was enjoying my comfy couch and didn't particularly want to leave the warmth and brightness of the house. As the evening got later I was thinking that I might just go out to check on Kachina and make sure she was staying warm but forgo riding. But... there was a 2ptober baseline score to get!

Cute fuzzy pony wasn't cold anymore

I dragged myself out, found my horse by moonlight, and brought her in to tack up. It was 10pm by the time I finally mounted up but I was really glad I decided to ride because I ended up having a great ride! I focused on staying balanced over Kachina's centre, balanced both side to side and front to back. I also focused on keeping steady light connection with my hands, pushing out my mid-back to keep an upright upper body, and keeping my legs in contact with the saddle and Kachina's sides. Kachina responded well to my focused riding and was quick to soften over her topline. I did some two-point at the trot and then moved onto canter. Kachina amazed me by stretching down and blowing at the canter. I've never felt her relax so much at the canter before so I gave her lots of praise and ended the ride there.

Blurry screenshot of two-point!
(Feel free to critique, but please remember I'm a dressage rider ;-)
also note that while my hands are close to her neck, they aren't touching!)

Checking my time

I had set up my tripod to video the ride but unfortunately my phone ran out of memory so it only recorded the first half. It's too bad that I don't have media of the better moments but either way it was a great ride and I'm grateful for 2ptober for giving me the kick in the pants that I needed!

Two-point gif, not as terrible as I feared!

Btw, baseline time = 2:05

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Shivers

Poor Kachina was shivering when I went to check on her last night. She had been wearing a blanket and was dry underneath, but apparently the weight wasn't adequate to keep her insulated against the nasty wind, snow, freezing rain and ice pellets. She looked pretty miserable.

I brought her into the indoor arena, took off her blanket, let her roll, gave her a good brushing while letting her munch on a double portion of feed. I then put on her heavier winter blanket and hood and did some ground work with her to get her walk and build up some heat before turning her back out. By the time I was done she had stopped shivering and felt pretty toasty underneath her fresh blanket. Here's hoping she stayed warm though the night.

Looking much happier about life

Modelling her heavy blanket - this is actually the first time I've used the hood

I try to keep a pretty close eye on Kachina during changing weather to make sure she's warm or cool enough. She's lived her entire life outside 24/7, is healthy and grows a long thick coat of winter hair (which is already coming in nicely). Sometimes, like yesterday, she surprises me with how she reacts to the cold though. Both horses she shares the pasture with were much wetter but still seemed more comfortable than Kachina. (For the record, it was only around 0C, it was just the wet snow and wind that made it more miserable)

Have you ever had a horse who seemed more susceptible to the cold? Any theories as to what makes them that way?

What are your go-to methods for warming up a chilly horse? (Bonus points if it doesn't involve a heated barn because we don't have that)

Monday, 2 October 2017

Snow

Autumn barely exists where I live, it likes to jump straight from summer to winter.

Exhibit A: Friday was sunny and 28C (82F), today is this:
Hard to see in photo but snow still coming down pretty hard
(and essentially sideways with a nasty wind)

Blergh. On the bright side, I did have a nice fall weekend at a riding clinic, recaps to come. It's also supposed to get back above freezing by Thursday so that's good, but if we get as much rain/snow/sleet as expected then I won't be riding outside again anytime soon.