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


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


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. 

Friday, 29 September 2017

2017 Q3 Review and Q4 Goals

2017 Q3 Goal Review

Fall is here again (last year's photo)

1. Ride in at least three clinics/lessons
I rode in 4 clinics, one with Robin Hahn, and 3 with Elaine (well almost, the third one is tomorrow). The success of these clinics was variable, so this won't be a repeat goal, but I rode in them.

2. Earn an ADA Horse & Rider Recognition Award
This award requires scores of 63% or more at training level at three different Wildrose or Bronze shows. As I mentioned when I set this goal, it essentially encompasses multiple sub-goals: compete in at least three shows, do good training level tests in front of a judge, score above 63%. I went to three eligible shows (Chinook show, local show, Lethbridge show), and put down decent tests, but we only scored above 63% at one of those shows. I knew I had blown this goal after the July show so I didn't put as much prep into the September show as I otherwise would have. 
No ADA Award, but I didn't leave the show totally empty handed

3. Confirm canter transitions
I have made a concerted effort to correct my position and aid during canter transitions and that has been fairly successful. During Q3 a new tranter problem cropped up, which I have mostly corrected. All in all I have done some good work on canter transitions but they still need to be rounder and more relaxed. 

4. Do regular test riding
A couple shows in the quarter made me do some test riding, but I should have done even more.  

5. Start working on First Level movements
We have been working on "increased thrust", "more consistent contact with the bit", more accurate canter transitions, and some lateral work, so all of that has an eye towards First Level, we haven't been doing much for actual lengthens or leg yields though. 

6. Ride in the Cypress Hills
Not the most challenging goal, but we did it and we did it well :-)
Felt a bit like how crossing the finish at an
endurance ride must feel

We didn't have quite the show season I was hoping for. Part of me keeps expecting us to get past training level and is disappointed when we don't. However, when I look at these goals, and where I was at this time last year, I see that we are still working away and while it might be slow, we are solidifying our foundation of knowledge and skills (both mine and Kachina's) which is good and important work.

2017 Q4 Goals

1. Fight winter blues and re-establish a barn routine
Every fall I struggle with the cold and dark for a while until I adjust (especially the dark). It helps if I dive right into a new routine or focus so that's what I'm going to try. 

2. Start pre-planning for 2018 local dressage show
I've actually already set the date, booked the judge and reserved the venue, but there's a few more things I can do this year to set the stage for a more successful year two. 

3. Actively determine what I can do to improve the local equestrian scene
I have the privilege of being on the board of directors for both the nearest dressage association and for a community equestrian facility. Both of these positions mean I represent a wider group (basically I represent my area in dressage, and I represent English riders in my area) and I want to use that to influence positive growth and change rather than just going along for the ride. To start that means putting thought into what possibilities I see and what my ultimate vision is.  

4. Regularly video my rides
I have a tripod and bluetooth remote setup now. I don't always like seeing video of me but I do learn from it, so I should use it as a tool. This actually ties in well with Goal #1 as it is easier to set up to video in the indoor arena

5. Address ground work from a root cause perspective
To explain this further would take multiple posts so I will do a series on this as I work on it

6. Participate in 2Pointober
I don't want to over-do 2 point because it doesn't help me with sitting back, but a bit is good for my leg position. (and it's a fun contest)

7. Participate in No-stirrup November
I think some no-stirrup work is really what my position needs. I won't be dropping my stirrups for the entire month, but I want to do at least a few rides without them. Does anyone have a formal blog challenge for this?

8. Control the canter
Canter is my ongoing challenge, I have made some good steps so I want to keep the momentum going and keep canter as a focus in Q4. I still sometimes find myself just sitting on Kachina at the canter and hoping that things go okay. Wishing isn't good enough, I need to actually use my aids to influence Kachina and get the bend, track, tempo and shape that I need within the canter. 

9. Regularly work on free walk and stretchy trot
These have been weak scores this summer so I need to do some targeted work here.

10. Develop new training progression plan
Last winter I had a series of steps I was working towards and that helped me stay focused. In the last few months my riding has become more disjointed and it shows. I need to reanalyze where we are at and figure out a plan to move forward. This also involves some thought about what trainers are going to help us. 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Meet Me Under the Stars

Last Thursday I had a crazy day so I wasn't able to go out to the barn until after 9pm. I knew at that point that I wasn't going to be able to ride, but I had to drop off money for my BO so I needed to go out anyways. While I was at the barn I went out to the pasture to check on Kachina. Work and life have been busy and stressful so I haven't seen her as much as I'd like.

Checking on Kachina was easier said than done though. It was pitch black outside, and there was a new moon so no light from anywhere. The pasture is massive and my flashlight doesn't come close to reaching the fencelines. I tried listening for the horses but I couldn't hear anything other than the breeze. I would have had to serpentine all over the pasture to locate the horses so I just did a couple passes and then gave up. I turned off my flashlight and stood in the middle of the pasture letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. I decided I would head home soon, but I took a few moments to star gaze. One thing I love about my barn is that it's far enough away from the town's light pollution and has phenomenal night skies. With no moon, and no clouds, I could see every constellation I know, millions of other stars, and even the milky way. As I stood there admiring the beauty above me, I heard the slightest of sounds and looked down. I could just see a dark shape on the edge of my vision and started walking towards it. As I got closer I could see that it was Kachina. She had walked far away from the herd and was watching me. I went up to her and gave her scratches while checking her over for any nicks or bumps. She's teddy bear soft right now with her winter coat starting to come in. We enjoyed a few silent moment together and then I walked back to my car. It may not seem like much but it meant a lot to me that Kachina came to seek me out across the pasture away from her buddies. Moments like that always make me feel peaceful and grounded, and confirm to me that horses are good for my soul.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Cypress Hills Wish Ride

On Saturday (two weeks ago) was the Cypress Hills Wish Ride. This was the 4th year for this charity trail ride but it was the first year I've been able to attend.


The ride takes place on a historic ranch in the Cypress Hills. The Cypress Hills are a cool area. They are one of the only places in Canada that were not covered by glaciers in the last ice age. It means that the landscape is a high elevation plateau of forested slopes surrounded on all sides by grass prairie. Despite being a relatively small area, the hills are home to some cool plant and animal species including the highest concentration of cougars anywhere in North America. I've been to the Cypress Hills before to hike and boat, but this was my first time riding there.

All watermarked photos courtesy of Randy Feere, photos used with permission

Loved this scene painted on the barn

The main building (with mess hall etc.)

The day started early with the drive out there. The plan was to go with my friend and her daughter, but they had to cancel at the last minute so I ended up on my own. The ranch is fairly out of the way, as in 40km from the nearest pavement out of the way. The trip had very little traffic but I got to see white tail deer, mule deer, antelope, coyotes and a ridiculous number of birds of prey along the way (no cougars, despite them being around, it is super rare to actually see one). When I rounded the last hill I was surprised at how many trailers were at the ranch. In all about 85 riders participated, coming from all over Alberta and Saskatchewan (the people parked next to me were camping and had travelled over 7 hours!).

After registration and a late breakfast, we tacked up and got ready to leave. I elected to ride in my dressage tack, both because I am more comfortable in it than in my western saddle, and because it was forecasted to be a hot day and I figured my english tack would be a little cooler for Kachina. Most of the group was riding western but I saw three other English saddles. There were also several people wearing helmets which I always love to see.

Before leaving we had to get a group picture. As you can probably imagine, getting 85 horses and riders arranged in a neat tight line is a difficult undertaking. Kachina was a champ, but it was taking forever and I was worried that I was reaching the end of her patience for standing still. The photographer was up on the hill across the valley to get us all in frame and he finally snapped a few shots. I was super ready to get the ride started, but then they decided to get some drone footage of the group. Yes, take a huge number of horses in a strange environment, put them close to other horses they don't know, have them stand until they are impatient, and then fly a drone over them, that sounds like a great idea! (voice dripping with sarcasm if you didn't catch it). I was getting a little nervous as the drone came towards us but at least they had some sense and ended up keeping it a comfortable distance away and we all lived to tell the tale. Finally it was time to be off!

The result of the whole picture taking ordeal

Overview of the ranch base from scary drone

The ride was organized so that there was a 4 hour loop option and a 1 hour loop option which was really nice for accommodating multiple experience and fitness levels of both horses and riders. I went with the 4 hour group. Our trail had some pretty intense hills early on and I started to worry about how much Kachina was sweating. We had ridden for two hours just a few days before so I knew she was in decent shape, but we don't have hills around our barn so this was certainly more intense. Her respiration was okay though and she seemed to do recover whenever the group stopped for a break or to let slower horses catch up. A breeze also picked up later in the day which helped keep things cooler.

Some of the 4 hour group, taking a breather after some intense hills

I only took my phone out during flatter sections
Best mare
Mid-ride break

Basecamp visible in distant right, this was on our way back 

The ride was a little more challenging than I was expecting with the cobblestone sized rocks and steep hills, but Kachina proved to me again what a fantastic horse she is. I have a pet peeve about when people let their horses run up hills and there were several riders like that in the group. Kachina listened to my suggestions about pace, and used her hind end to power up hills at a walk and carefully collected herself on the down slopes, giving a solid lead to horses behind and not getting upset when any horses ahead sped up. There were a few hills steep enough that I was grabbing fistfuls of mane and wishing I had a breastcollar, but my saddle stayed in place and all was fine. The only incident on the trail came when we had to cross a strip of dark water and black sucking mud that was about four feet across. Kachina is usually okay with water, but I know she doesn't like deep mud and she hasn't seen it in a long time because we literally haven't had rain in months. Kachina wanted no part of stepping in that mess. We didn't have a choice though so I wrapped my hand in mane and kept gently encouraging her forwards. Kachina ended up doing a flying leap from a standstill and we cleared the whole thing. I was unseated a bit but thanks to my fistful of mane I stayed with her and we continued on like nothing happened. While it wasn't the ideal response, I really can't blame her for wanting to avoid that kind of nasty footing.

Love this photo

Kachina still seemed to have lots of go in her when we got back to camp, but I knew it was a tough workout for her so I quickly stripped her tack and fetched her water which she ignored in favour of grass. I gave her a good grooming and before long she was looking pretty sleepy. I just chilled out with her for the next couple hours, offering her water periodically. I wanted to give her a good break before the trip home. She eventually took a good drink. I had been prepared to leave at anytime depending on Kachina, but she was super relaxed at the trailer and had her hay bag so I decided to stay for the supper and raffle draws. We were treated to some great food and great music. The event was also a great success on the charity side, raising over $34,000 for the Children's Wish Foundation.

The photographer took lots of shots as we were arriving back at the end of the ride

Sweaty pony post-ride
You can lead a horse to water...

Sleepy pony

Totally chilled out at trailer

After supper I quickly loaded up and hit the road. We were able to get back to the main highway before the sun set which was perfect timing. Overall it was a great day and I look forward to participating again next year!