Wednesday, 26 July 2017


Still working on my full show recap (and show photos!), but it went better than expected! So for nearly Wordless Wednesday please see my weekend ribbon haul!!

7 ribbons from 8 classes, and only two of these were by default! 

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Pushing Through

This has been a crazy couple weeks for me. Work is a key thing that's been challenging lately. Outside of work, many good things have happened, but in such a way that I've been super busy and my stress level has been above what's manageable for me. Something's got to give at some point but I'm hoping I can keep pushing through until Sunday because I have a show this weekend!

Just last month I was feeling really positive about where Kachina and I were at and I had high hopes for this show. Unfortunately, things have gone downhill since then. I've had fewer rides in the last two weeks due to work, life, and heat. Two of the rides I did have were in a clinic that did more harm than good (recaps coming). The separate but biggest problem is that for unexplained reasons, Kachina's ability to canter on the left lead has mysteriously disappeared (that will probably become a post as well). My goals for the show have been substantially downgraded.

This is a show that went poorly for us both of the last two years and I am bummed that it's looking like a repeat again this year. Believe it or not, I've actually rewritten this post already to try and be less whiny, but I'm having trouble getting myself out of this negative headspace.

I'm going to try and focus on the good though. I'm still going to go to the show, try and have fun, and use it as a learning experience. Two years ago we struggled with focus and tension in a new environment. Last year we struggled with tack issues. We might have new struggles this year but I can hold my head up high that at least they won't be the same issues. We do always learn from what goes wrong and that's super valuable. I'm actually really confident these days about riding in new places and I finally know my tack setup is solid.

I'm also grateful for Kachina. She's sound and healthy, which I appreciate all the more because I have some friends struggling with horses who aren't. As well, I recognize that none of our current struggles are Kachina's fault. She's trying for me every ride, and while we don't have everything figured out, I feel like they are struggles we have together as a team, not against each other.

Importantly, while it might not be a great weekend for me individually, this show is shaping up to be a massive success for local dressage. There were a record number of entries for the dressage. So many in fact that I've been working with the show committee over the last couple of weeks to help them arrange for a second ring and a second judge! (That was one of those good but stressful things, and included me driving for 5 hours after work on Tuesday to pick up a second fence). We seem to have hit a point where everything dressage related is growing and feeding off each other, and it has the potential to benefit everyone in the future. I need to keep my eye on this big picture, because for better or worse I am an ambassador of this sport in the area and I need to be a positive representative even if my own rides don't go according to plan.

Finally, no matter what, a weekend of uninterrupted pony time should be celebrated! With that note, it's time to show!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Moment of Panic

I don't want to freak out anyone so I'll say right now, Kachina is fine. She gave me a moment of panic the other day though...

Kachina is out in the pasture for the summer. I love that she has room to move and graze and be a horse. Her pasture summers always help her balance at the canter when she can experiment with moving out by herself. Her feet have also improved hugely since going out to pasture (the spring mud and manure in the pens was making her feet thrushy). So, overall pasture = good, however, there are a few hazards in the pasture that I worry Kachina will get into trouble with. The first is barbed wire, the fencing is well maintained, and I can't really expect a pasture that big to have anything else, but I've seen a few bad barbed wire injuries in horses so it's still on my mind. Second is junk, the pasture is mostly clear, but there is one pile of wooden pallets and a couple tractor attachments that are out there. Third is the texas gate/cattle grate, there's a normal swing gate over it that is normally closed, and there's a horse gate to go in and out beside it, but there's still half of the texas gate inside the pasture. Kachina has never given me any reason to worry about any of the above hazards before. She's generally a sensible horse, has sensible pasture-mates who won't chase her into anything, and the pasture is massive so the horses really have no reason to get close to the areas that might give them trouble (no need to reach through fences for grass etc.). I go out to check on Kachina more regularly in the summer just in case, but I've slowly stopped worrying so much.

Texas gate/truck gate on left, horse gate on right

Well, yesterday, Kachina was more focused on her herd-mates than on me while I was leading her out through the horse gate and she unexpectedly turned and walked right onto the texas gate! I had terrible visions flashing through my head of broken legs or injured tendons as her feet wobbled on top of the round bars. I was half frozen with terror but I managed to get her to quietly back off of it without incident. Underneath my breath I was swearing up a storm and then heaved a giant sigh of relief when all four feet were back on solid ground. I don't know if Kachina was as freaked out as me but she walked calmly and soundly beside me as we made our way to the hitching post.

Despite the weeds, it's still deep enough to do some damage

A new horse was recently added to the pasture herd, she was out with Kachina last year so I know they get on, but I think the change in herd dynamic was what distracted Kachina and she thought maybe she didn't need to follow me as a leader anymore. I spent a good amount of time doing ground work and lunging Kachina that day to remind her that she's still required to pay attention to the human. We've successfully walked through the horse gate without incident many times before, and we'll do it successfully again many times in the future, but I'm going to be even more careful now and not trust that Kachina will always behave sensibly. I still shudder to think what would have happened if one of her feet had slipped through. We got off lucky and I'm supremely grateful!

Monday, 17 July 2017

2017 Mid-Year Goal Review

I like my quarterly goals because I feel like 3 months is a meaningful amount of time to work on something when it comes to horses, long enough to see real improvement but short enough to keep focus (see last quarterly goal post here). I made year long goals for 2017 too though, and I think this is a good time to check in on them and see how they are going.

Red - Not on track, need to step it up if I want to succeed by year end.
Orange - On track or continuous, work has been done but need to keep going
Blue - Completed already

2017 Goals

  1. Keep Kachina happy and healthy - So far, so good, but this can't be checked off until the end of the year and I will keep analyzing to make sure Kachina doesn't need any changes
    • Stretch: build good topline and muscles - Kachina condition isn't bad by any means, but I haven't seen measurable improvement since January. I am working with some supplements now though so we'll see if that helps. Also need to keep encouraging her to lift her back and use her topline during our rides. 
  2. Be able to do a good (good by my definition) training level test pattern - Success! Chinook Country Show
    • Stretch: do a good training level test actually at a show in front of a judge - Success! Chinook Country Show
  3. Start First Level work - Our basics have improved to support the harder work and we've just re-introduced lateral work and trot lengthenings
    • Stretch: be able to do all components of First Level Test 1 and 2 - I think this goal is still achievable but it's going to take work
  4. Get at least six lessons/clinics - I've already blown this one out of the water! So far this year I have had: 1 saddle seat lesson, 2 lessons with D, 2 clinics (4 lessons) with Sandra, 8 hunter/jumper lessons, 1 simulator lesson, 1 clinic (3 lessons) with Robin, and 1 clinic (2 lessons) with Elaine. I'm already signed up for 2 more clinics for sure, plus another couple options on the horizon.
    • Stretch: host and participate in 6 clinics with Sandra in this area and go to additional clinics/lessons too - Unfortunately Sandra's schedule does not allow for this to happen, but I think I've successfully filled the gap with other clinicians, see above (it's also nice that I don't have to organize them all myself!)
  5. Compete in at least one show - Success! Chinook Country Show. Also kind of my own show depending on your definition of "compete". I have 2-3 more shows on my calendar for this year.  
    • Stretch: Get above 65% at a show - We were only 1% away from this at Chinook but that doesn't make it an easy goal to achieve, I'm going to try though.
    • Stretch: Earn a ribbon - Success! Two fancy division ribbons!
  6. Trail ride somewhere new - Not yet, but I am signed up for a trail ride in the Cypress Hills in September
    • Stretch: do a full out gallop somewhere - I still want to do this, but it depends on suitable footing in the field plus me finding some extra brave
  7. Improve my position - It has improved, but it can certainly improve more
    • Stretch: be comfortable bareback or without stirrups at walk/trot/canter - haha, um this is why I needed to review these goals, I have made zero steps towards this one, so we'll see. I do plan on attempting 2-pointober and no-stirrup november though. 
    • Stretch: get to a healthy weight and fitness - sigh, I wish, I am working on it but I'm seriously plateaued at the moment
  8. Continue to do ground work - have made some improvements, need to keep working
    • Stretch: train Kachina to stand still in any situation - this is still a stretch
  9. Do some desensitization work - I did a tiny bit, but want and need to do more
  10. Keep being involved and further develop the local dressage community - Big success! Some of the clinics listed above have been possible due to our further developed local dressage community. We have a semi-active fb group with 58 members now!
    • Stretch: host a local dressage show - Success! It happened, it went well, and it will happen again in 2018!
  11. Have fun - I've been having a lot of fun, especially lately with how well Kachina is going, but this is another continuous goal

I'm happy to see that I've made at least some progress towards all of my main goals (it's only the stretch goals that remain stretches). There's also a nice amount of blue for being only half way through the year. I'm really pleased with how 2017 is progressing, but time to refocus now on the orange and red. 

How are your 2017 goals going?

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Chilling in the Heat

The combination of pushing ourselves at the Robin Hahn clinic and the heat meant Kachina deserved a break from hard work. We've taken it easy for the last week, with some visits where I just hung out with her in the pasture and liberally applied fly spray and treats. Our only rides have been mostly walk.

This fly mask is now lost somewhere out there, thanks Kachina

Favorite ear view

On Friday I met up with a couple fellow boarders for a ride around the pasture. In case anyone is under the impression that Canada is always cold, it was 36C/97F during my ride on Friday! I decided to use my western tack because I'm signed up for a Western Dressage class at my next show and it's been quite a while since I last used it (also partly because I was running late and didn't have time to change, and it's easier to ride western with my dress pants). I was lazy and didn't swap out the bit on my western bridle (it had a loose ring double jointed snaffle on it, we usually ride in a single jointed eggbutt), and so Kachina had a few minutes where she tried to tell me that the different tack meant she didn't have to listen to me. I think the heat reduced her desire to fight because she acquiesced pretty quickly. We went on to have a lovely relaxed hour ride. Kachina was so chilled out that I actually had to encourage her forward to keep up with the other horses!  It was a great day to just enjoy the summer sun and the beauty of the prairies. The only thing that broke the peace and quiet was my saddle! My western saddle squeaks a lot more than my dressage one!

I really appreciate the wide open spaces we have in this part of the world

Mid-ride selfie!

Towards the end of the ride, I broke off from the other two and did some walk and trot circles with Kachina. I love how good Kachina is on the trail, but I want to make sure that she is listening to me as leader and realizes that she can give me some real work and be away from her buddies even though we aren't in an arena. It took a few of repetitions for her to steady her rhythm and not bounce between rushing and stopping, but I got the message across in the end without getting her too overheated (as soon as she gave me one 20m circle of decent trot I let her be done). I need to do some more rides in my western saddle because my position wasn't nearly as solid in it.

My trail buddies

Kachina looks like a black horse when the right parts of her are hidden
(also I envy the bareback skills of guy in foreground,
he sometimes goes months without using his saddle)

I hope Kachina enjoyed her mini-vacation because this week is another clinic and next week is our next show! 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Supplements Blog Hop

There has been an unofficial blog hop floating around about supplement use (e.g. Dream Big, DIY Horse Ownership). Normally I'm not a big supplement feeder, but Kachina is actually on a couple things right now so I figured I would chime in.

First off, a little about my attitude towards feeding horses. I feel like lots of good quality forage and good water supply are the foundation of what's needed. I only add in extra stuff when I see a hole or have a specific reason to do so. This means that Kachina was fed no supplements until the start of June, I wasn't against them, I just didn't have a specific need. Also, my current barn doesn't feed supplements so it's on me to source and feed them myself (which I absolutely can, but it was easier when I didn't have to). 

Here are the two extras that I have added into Kachina's diet recently and the reasons for them:

1. Hi-Pro Feeds Step 5

Dose: 1 scoop (about 2 cups), every time I'm at the barn (so about every second day). 

I don't know if it's this common everywhere, or just here because many of their mills are in Alberta, but Hi-Pro Feeds Step program is readily available and extremely popular. They have 8 steps of feed for different needs and different life stages of horses. I fed their senior mixture to a past horse. 

Kachina is a good keeper, not too easy, not too hard. I have been happy with her energy levels and general body condition pretty much since I got her. However, I have struggled with developing her topline. It's improved since I got her, but very very slowly. First I worked on the side of correct work, and tack fit, but eventually I decided I needed to look at the nutrition side of things to make sure that wasn't holding us back. After consulting with a few people and a very knowledgeable feed store in town, I decided to try the Step 5 horse feed. Step 5 is advertised as a maintenance feed. It's not supposed to do anything crazy, but just has a balanced combination of things, with protein (10%), fat (4%), fiber (10%) and a mix of vitamins and minerals. The theory is that this won't give Kachina too much excess weight or energy (hot horse needs no help), but will help fill in any gaps from her forage so she can develop some more muscle and pad her topline. There are several other things we can try depending on how this works so I will assess in another few weeks. Bonus: The kibble shape and size makes it work well for me to put a handful in my pocket and use them as treats. Other bonus: this is very affordable feed especially at the low amount I am feeding. 

2. Magnesium Oxide

Dose: 10g every time I'm at the barn (about every second day), top dressed onto Step 5 feed. 

We all know Kachina can be a hot and tense horse. My trainer Sandra suggested I try MgO, as she knows a few other horses like Kachina who have been greatly helped by it. Magnesium is used by the body to help contracted muscles relax. Also, while there isn't much supporting science, it has been used in calming supplements for quite a while with many anecdotal success stories. The MgO I bought isn't part of any brand name mix, just a simple white powder of MgO. I wish it had more research behind it, but everything I read suggested that while it might not help, this dosage of magnesium shouldn't hurt anything either. After the very un-relaxed clinic, I figured it was worth a try. I don't know if the MgO is the reason why, but I have had some super excellent rides since I started feeding it in early June. I am going to keep her on it for a while (at least until after my next show), but at some point I'd like to take her off it to test whether I see a change in her behavior or not.

Some links related to Mg in horses for anyone interested (I had more but I didn't save them)

Monday, 10 July 2017

Bend and Supple - Clinic Review Part II

Part I here

Day Two

The clinic schedule moved around for day two and three so my group was now in the middle of the day. This had the disadvantage that it was very hot out, but had the advantage of being after a break so I could get in more of a warm-up.

All riding photos are from Day 1, so not our best work and not directly
relevant to the content of this post

The heat plus warmup plus second time in the new arena combined to make for a much more relaxed Kachina. I got some lovely work out of her before the lesson so I ended up parking her in the shade. We all spent a fair bit of time parked in the shade on day two while Robin worked with us one by one. Bend and suppleness were the theme of the day. We took turns getting lateral bend at walk and trot, then shoulder-in at walk and trot, and then bending at canter, all on a circle. Kachina did really well for all of the exercises. She was soft and steady in the contact and responding to my aids nicely. She did start tilting her head a few times though which Robin told me that I should take responsibility for because it means one of my reins is too tight. Even our canter was much nicer than day one. Some of the other horses and riders in my group were having a lot more trouble getting the bend and softness so Robin spent more time with them then me.

I was thrilled with how good Kachina was on day two. As well as being awesome under saddle, she also stood tied to the trailer like a champ. I felt it was a good lesson for confirming that we are on the right track, but again I didn't feel like I learned a whole lot.

Semi-conformation shot - I'm pretty happy with how Kachina is looking these days

Day Three

After a pretty soft day one and two, Robin really ramped it up for day three. We had over 90 minutes of lesson on this day and ran through a lot of different exercises. Many of them were well outside Kachina and my comfort zone, but we are ready for a bit of pressure and I think it was good to try some harder stuff. I also felt like Robin focused on me a bit more in this lesson so it balanced out with the extra time he had spent with the other riders on the first two days.

Here's everything we did with Robin's feedback:

Warm-up - walk and trot figures around the arena
Robin was very impressed with the quality of work Kachina was giving me and was happy with the decisions I was making.

Walk shoulder-in on a straight line
Good. This was actually solid.

Walk haunches-in on a straight line
I haven't actually done this with Kachina yet, though I was planning to introduce it soon. It only took to the end of the first line for Kachina to understand what I was asking and respond appropriately. Kachina went into it much more smoothly on just the second attempt. We didn't have quite enough bend or angle (three tracks instead of four), but Kachina stayed soft and we had the right idea. It was a new exercise for all of the other horses as well, and none of them could quite get it to work.

Walk half-pass
Say what? My dressage career has never gone above second level so I've never even attempted any kind of half pass before, and Kachina certainly hasn't either. I was a bit wary of the whole "clinician comes in and tells riders they can do higher level movements" phenomenon, but Robin's reasoning was a) sometimes horses/riders can actually more easily get the feel for haunches-in by thinking half-pass and b) even if it's not a good half-pass, it's not a bad idea to briefly introduce the idea of the aids to the horse earlier on (it doesn't mean you have to keep working on it). I felt that was a fair idea so we gave it a shot. Kachina and I certainly find haunches-in easier than half pass, and we struggled a bit to move over in the right direction while maintaining the bend. Kachina really tried for me though and we did get a few half-decent steps.

Walk leg-yield
After the half-pass exercise (which nobody did well), Robin stepped it down and went back to the simpler leg-yield. For the other riders he had them just move in one direction to start, but on our line Kachina moved over so willingly that he had us go right-left-right-left all on the same line. I think our straightness could have been better, but Kachina moved over willingly and stayed very soft through the changes of direction. It's been a while since I've done leg yield with her so I was very happy with her.

Trot leg-yield
Like walk, we were directed to do a full zigzag x2 of leg yield in trot. We almost ran out of room, but again Kachina moved over willingly and stayed soft in the changes of direction. For the first time through I used a direct inside rein to ask for the appropriate bend. This worked well, but Robin got me to do it again by instead moving both hands over together to change the bend (so a slight opening rein on one side and a slight indirect rein on the other). This change in the rein aids made for a much messier leg yield zigzag, so I stopped and asked him why he wanted the change. He explained that he thought Kachina was showing great suppleness and was almost ready to start working on half-pass and so I should start introducing that kind of rein aid so I could eventually use it for half-pass zigzags.

Lengthened trot
After all the lateral work, our horses were all getting a bit bunched up so he had us all go out on the rail to get our straightness and forward movement back. He had us do some lengthens on the long side. Kachina gave me a few nice lines of lengthen, but she also broke into canter a few times. Breaking is a new problem for us, but they were smooth transitions so I didn't get after her for it. Her head popped up a few times too, probably because we haven't worked on lengthens in a few months (again I was planning to reintroduce these myself soon). Despite the bobbles Robin commented about her trot quality and her strong potential for the extended work. I've always felt that Kachina will be naturally talented when it comes to lengthens/mediums/extensions and every trainer I work with seems to agree. We haven't done much of it yet but I look forward to the day when we're really ready for it.

Trot and canter on circle
After the lengthens we went back to working on a circle and taking turns. With the other riders he did more focus on the lateral work, but Kachina and I just did some basic trot and canter, just to the left though. I was pleased to have an opportunity to practice my canter as its far from confirmed and we're at the point where we just need to do more of it. Kachina did well, and I was better at pushing her forward when her canter started to get slightly lateral, this worked well.

Canter-Trot transitions on diagonal
Next, Robin singled me out to demonstrate an exercise of going across the diagonal doing three strides of right lead canter, then three strides of trot, then three strides of left lead canter, three strides of trot, etc. Kachina are still working on being able to get a single canter transition on a 20m circle so this exercise was way above our ability level. I wonder whether I should have explained that and asked for something simpler, but I decided to just go for it and give it a try. It wasn't pretty. The straight line and quick changes meant I couldn't set Kachina up well for the transitions so there was some running, head flinging and hollowing. I also wasn't caring enough about which lead we were going for which is on me. Robin seemed to expect that the first one was a fluke and that we should be good at this, so he had us repeat it a total of four times. On the last one, I actually got two nice (for us) canters on the leads I was aiming for, which still kind of shocks me. We ended it there, though I kept her cantering for a circle after the diagonal just enough to get Kachina to relax into the canter a little and for me to convince myself that I hadn't ruined the gait by asking for too many transitions. I think the haunches-in work earlier really had Kachina listening to my outside leg in a better way which was cool. I could tell that the exercise kind of fried her brain though and I felt bad for putting her in that situation.

Walk Pirouettes
We slowed it down again and all did some work on walk pirouettes. Robin wanted us to focus on having the bend in the direction of travel, but he wasn't being fussy about the hind legs crossing or swinging out behind. I kind of struggled with this because I wanted to learn the feeling of a correct walk pirouette but I wasn't given enough information to know what she was doing with her legs on any given attempt. Different attempts had quite different feels to them but I'm still not sure which one I should be aiming for. I don't want to wreck this movement so I don't think I'll do any work on it until I have a more focused lesson on it.

We ended the day with a bit of a chat while our horses chilled in the shade. Robin had positive things to say about each of us and our horses. He was the most positive about Kachina though. He said that on the first day he had doubts about whether Kachina had the temperament for dressage, but that the last two days had showed him that she does, especially with how I ride her, and that with her movement and talent gives her potential to go high in Canadian dressage (he went on a few tangents during the clinic about Canadian/North American riders and how we shouldn't try to emulate those "strong German men", just because they dominate the sport doesn't mean they do things the best way. I'm not sure whether there is some bitterness there, or whether he just wants to see Canadian dressage evolve on its own instead of trying to copy other countries). I have some skepticorn feelings about his praise, because clinicians don't make money and get repeat clients by telling them they suck, but it was still nice to hear.

Kachina was pretty happy to get back to the pasture after clinic rides

Final Thoughts

Overall I had mixed feelings about the clinic. On the plus side, it was good exposure for Kachina, we pushed ourselves and I'm really happy with how Kachina stepped up and responded. But on the minus side, I used two days of banked overtime hours and a few hundred dollars and I'm not sure if the amount of learning was worth the cost. I don't think Robin is a bad clinician, I think I'm just getting pickier about who I train with as I get more educated as a rider and learn what approaches work best for Kachina and I. On the other hand I don't want to close myself off to new methods and clinicians because you never know when something will click. All in all, I got to spend three summer days on my horse instead of at my desk and that's something to celebrate.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Expensive Exposure - Clinic Review Part I

This week I rode in a three day clinic with three time Canadian Olympian Eventer Robin Hahn.

First group of the day with Robin

I hadn't ever ridden or audited with Robin before, but clinics are few and far between in these parts and I knew the organizer so I figured it was worth trying it out and signing up for a flat group. 

I ended up being placed in the "Advanced Flat" group with three other riders. I felt a bit nervous about that, since I don't think a training level pair who recently rediscovered how to canter really counts as "advanced". It worked out in the end though, as the only other flat group, "Beginner Flat" really was full of beginners, and I fit in decently with the other intermediate riders in my group. 

The clinic was only about a 40 minute haul away. I had the option of using a pen there, but it was a hot week and Kachina is better at drinking at home so I elected to haul her back and forth each day instead. 

Day One/Auditing/General Thoughts

On Day One my ride time was scheduled for late evening so I drove out in my car sans horse to watch (and be jump crew for) the morning groups. Watching the first sessions made me glad that it was a three day clinic because he did need a while to get familiar with the riders and horses. It seemed like the few riders who had ridden with him previously got more meaningful suggestions early on.

Some riders seeking shade during a jumping session

Robin has a very different teaching style from recent clinicians I've been too. His approach (especially on day one) seems to be to tell you what exercise to do, then get everyone to do it a few times and single out one good thing and/or one bad thing from each run-through. I can see how this would be a good system for some riders, providing feedback and encouragement in a way that isn't too overwhelming (and in fact I heard from a few riders who absolutely love his approach). However, it means there is a lot he isn't saying, and that was driving me crazy. I get that you can't fix everything at once, I really do, but personally I prefer a clinician to tell me "first focus on A and B, and then once that's confirmed you will add in these other components to work on improving C, D and E", rather than them just ignoring C to E completely. Give me the whole story so I know how a step fits into the bigger picture. Basically, I saw some pretty glaring issues that weren't being talked about at all because they weren't the first thing on the list.

Another difference was that I generally like riding with clinicians who are very rider-centric i.e. they look first to how the rider's position and aids need to be fixed with the theory that that will impact the horse's way of going positively. Robin was more focused on getting the horse to do a certain exercise, and even said a few times to use whatever aids you need to to make it happen. I'm also used to trainers who see where the riders are at and then choose exercises to meet that. Robin seemed to decide on an exercise in advance and then find a way to modify it or change the focus so that everyone could get something out of it (I actually thought this part was pretty cool).

This line of bounces was used as an exercise by almost every group on day one

While his way of teaching was different than I generally like, I did like his approach to training. Through the course of Day One I pieced together that he really likes horses to be soft and light, and his answer to a lot of things is to get the horse to relax by unlocking them laterally. Rarely pull on both reins, instead use one rein and get them to bend and soften. This is the type of work that really works for Kachina. He also is very strict about forward, and is a proponent of using a stick when you need it instead of kicking harder or using spurs (though stick should always be behind the leg, and shouldn't be a punishment, just an aid that they can see and hear as well as feel). The forward message makes sense to me, but it's not an issue that comes up with Miss Kachina.

Day One - My Ride

My first ride was more than a little disappointing. There was nowhere on property to warm up other than the main ring, and my group didn't get to go in until 10 minutes after our start time. Kachina does best with long slow warm-ups, especially in new places, because it's about getting her comfortable and relaxed, not actually just warm. The arena was filled with lots to look at including a full course of jumps, a speaker system, and yellow caution tape on one end where they had taped off some fallen branches (Kachina was much more wary about the tape than the branches). Kachina was certainly very looky and a bit up.

I love big dogs and the clinic location was home to this awesome,
massive, and very friendly Great Pyrenees

We started our warm-up but it wasn't too long until Robin started instructing. It was a group lesson but he took turns giving us individual instruction and I was first up. He got me to do a few circles and figure 8s at the trot at one end. Kachina was still a bit suspicious of the yellow flappy stuff but this went quite well considering, so Robin didn't have much to say. He then got us to canter. Well Kachina's tension and lack of warm-up showed and to say our canter wasn't great is an understatement. I thought she was cross-firing but I later saw from a small bit of video that she was just cantering laterally instead. It didn't look great but it felt even worse. We tried to canter three times to the left and it was the same each time. Afterwards I realized that based on this evidence, Robin probably just thought my horse had a crappy canter (at the time I was surprised that he was kind of glossing over the fact that it wasn't a true canter and just telling me that we needed more practice).

Yep, I know this looks bad, trust me I felt its terribleness
Thank god that this isn't actually her normal canter

Robin sent me down to the other end to work by myself for a bit while he took turns with the other three riders. Down on our own I did lots of trot figures with Kachina and got her nicely relaxed and focused. I then cantered her both directions. It wasn't our best canter, but at least it was true. I then walked her back up to join the rest of the group. I never did get any more one-on-one instruction from Robin, and a confusion with the time meant we ended 20 minutes early. The late start plus the early finish resulted in our 90 minute session being cut down to less than an hour. I didn't feel like I learned a single thing from Day One, but it was still good for me and Kachina to go to a new environment, work through some tension and get some good trot and canter work. As per the title of this post, it was essentially some expensive exposure. 

However, despite the poor lesson, I had seen from the morning groups that he takes a while to get into the swing of things with a new pair so I was hopeful that days two and three would improve. 

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Pasture Canters

The last of the late cow-calf pairs finally left last week so the big pasture became Kachina's home for the summer again. We're both pretty stoked about it! (And check out that canter!)

P.S. This is my first time playing with gifs so please let me know if it isn't working

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Happy Canada Day!

No horse related content today, but Happy Canada Day! For those of you who don't know, today is the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation. We have a lot of ways we can improve as a country (improving our treatment of First Nations people, doing more to fight climate change and environmental degradation as we develop our natural resources, etc.). While I will keep working to make this country better, for the most part I feel pretty darn proud and lucky to be Canadian. We have a beautiful land from sea to sea to sea. In general we are an inclusive country that accepts and celebrates differences in culture, religion, race, gender, sexual preferences and opinions. I think that's especially important in today's divisive world. We also benefit from a degree of prosperity, peace, and stability that so many people in the world don't have access to. Today will be spent celebrating on our backyard deck with friends. Those friends and fellow Canadians include folks who came here from Hong Kong, Ireland, Congo, and England, I think that's pretty cool.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Q2 Review and Q3 Goals

Q1 Review and Q2 Goals

First off, how is 2017 already half over already??? Craziness!

2017 Q2 Goal Review

1. Ride in at least two clinics/lessons
Success! - I had a total of 8 hunter/jumper lessons in April and May, a clinic with Sandra May 13-14, and a simulator lesson June 2nd, so I'd say this goal was a resounding success.  

2. Organize a dressage show
Success! - It was a lot of work, but it happened and it was even successful :-) 

3. Get up to the "good training test patterns" step of the progression plan (with all previous steps completed)
Semi-success - We did get "good training test patterns" checked off, but still working on a couple of previous steps. Full summary in my Progression Plan - June Update post. 

4. Compete at training level in a show or test day and feel like we are worthy of the level
Success! - We competed at training level at the Chinook Country Bronze Dressage Show, scored up to 64%, had scores solidly in the middle of the combined field of Open/AA/JR riders, and came away with AA Reserve Champion at the level!

5. Do regular test riding
Success! - We practiced test components and full tests much more than I've ever done before, and I think it really paid off at our show. 

6. Get saddle fitting done
Success! - I had a saddle fitting done and my current set up doesn't require any changes! 

7. Spend time on ground work
Success! - I made some breakthroughs in ground work with my Boss Mare Swagger. I still need to figure out how to be more effective in certain situations, but we have spent time on it and improved. 

8. Relax and enjoy my horse
Success! - I've had some fun trail rides this quarter, but also even our focused dressage rides are becoming more enjoyable now that the pieces are coming together. 

I am seriously blown away by how well this quarter has gone! The slow work on basics over the winter is really paying off and things are coming together. Now I need to find the right balance between shooting for new goals but not pushing too hard or fast. With that in mind, I am making the following goals, but I'm going to continually re-assess and slow down if anything starts to go south. 

2017 Q3 Goals

1. Ride in at least three clinics/lessons
I'm already signed up to ride in clinics with Robin Hahn and Elaine Banfield in July, I need to find something else for August or September

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. I got my first score at the Chinook Country Bronze Show so now I need two more. This is a bit of a stretch goal because there are a very limited number of eligible shows and sometimes life happens, but it's a good goal nonetheless. This goal essentially encompasses multiple sub-goals: compete in at least two more shows, do good training level tests in front of a judge, score above 63%. 

3. Confirm canter transitions
They are currently the best they have ever been, but I need to keep working on them and solidify them instead of losing the progress I have made. 

4. Do regular test riding
This helps us so I need to keep doing it.

5. Start working on First Level movements
Not willing to touch the canter loop yet, but we should be able to work on leg yields, lengthenings, and smaller circles. 

6. Ride in the Cypress Hills
This is a beautiful provincial park that is equestrian friendly (and less intense than the mountains). I've been meaning to go riding there for quite a while now so I want to make it happen this summer.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Progression Plan - June Update

I made a progression plan in December to try and keep up the forward progress we were making. I'm finding that this is a great tool to keep my rides focused so I'm going to give regular updates on where we're falling on the list from month to month:

Grey - achieved previously
Green - achieved last month
Yellow - working on currently

Good = relaxed + rounded topline + even rhythm + slow tempo (not overly slow, but not running) + correct bend in neck and body + acceptance of bit (eventually this definition will expand to include more, but this is what it means right now)
Consistently = means the movement is confirmed enough that we can achieve it every ride, even when it's a "bad" day, it doesn't have to happen on the first attempt though 

  • Good walk work - achieved in 2015
  • One good 10-15m trot circle - achieved in late 2015
  • One good 20m trot circle - achieved in spring/summer 2016
  • Consistently (every ride) able to get one good 10-15m trot circle - achieved in December 2016
  • Consistently able to get one good 20m trot circle - achieved in December 2016
  • Multiple good 20m trot circles - achieved December 2016
  • Consistently able to get multiple good 10-15m trot circles - achieved December 2016
  • Good trot circles with good walk-trot and trot-walk transitions - achieved December 2016
  • Consistently able to get multiple good 20m trot circles - achieved January 2017
  • Consistently able to get good trot circles with good walk-trot/trot-walk transitions - achieved January 2017
  • Good Walk/Trot test patterns (circles, large arena, diagonals, transitions, direction changes, etc) - achieved February 2017
  • Consistently good Walk/Trot test patterns - achieved March 2017
  • Good stretchy trot circle - achieved January 2017
  • Consistently good stretchy trot circle with transitions in/out - working on it, this item is annoying me because we had what I thought was a consistently good stretchy trot circle and were working to improve transitions, but now thanks to media I've realized that what I thought was a stretch isn't good enough
  • Good trot circle with a few strides of lengthen/added impulsion - achieved January 2017
  • Consistently good transitions within trot - I've been focused on doing more training test pattern riding, so I haven't worked on lengthened trot recently
  • Good canter circle - achieved February 2017
  • Consistently good canter circle - achieved June 2017
  • Good trot-canter/canter-trot transitions - achieved June 2017 (The Best Ride)
  • Consistently good trot-canter/canter-trot transitions - working on it, we've had clearly reproducible good transitions in several rides now, but it hasn't stood the test of a "bad" ride yet
  • Good Training test patterns - achieved June 2017
  • Consistently good Training test patterns - working on it, we had multiple good tests at the show, but I can't say it's consistent until we accomplish it several times at home too
  • Add more strides of lengthened trot - achieved February 2017
  • Consistently good lengthened trot diagonals
  • Good trot leg yields - achieved February 2017
  • Consistently good trot leg yields
  • Good canter circle with a few strides of lengthen/added impulsion
  • Consistently good transitions within canter
  • Good long side of lengthened canter
  • Consistently good long side of lengthened canter
  • Good First 1 & 2 test patterns
  • Consistently good  First 1 & 2 test patterns.

If you've been keeping track you may have noticed that I didn't do one of these in May. May was busy with organizing the show, but it was also a month of breaking things down and building them back up. All of the green items from June have been multiple months (or years) in the making. 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Last Minute Learning

In a perfect world, I think horse showing should involve demonstrating the movements and skills in front of a judge that you've already polished at home. There might be some work involved in getting your horse to perform their best in a new environment, but the basic blocks should ideally all be there already. That's never how showing works for me and Kachina though. We always seem to be figuring things out right until we go into the ring.

No new media, so just going to pepper this post with progression shots of our
canter from over the last year
This one is from June 2016

In the case of the Chinook show, there were three pretty major things that I learned only the week before the show!

February 2017
(Canter was good this day, but not at reproducible stage yet)

1. Good Canter Transitions
We've been working on these forever, but it was only a week before the show that I was able to put together the feel from my HJ lessons and simulator lesson to ask for canter with only my leg and get a round balanced transition on demand. I talked about it in The Best Ride and it was a super major breakthrough

February 2017

February 2017 - Air time

2. Determining the Correct Lead
I've been riding for twenty years, so it sounds ridiculous to say I couldn't tell when my horse was on the correct lead. The reality is though that I couldn't. I can tell what lead most horses are on, but something about Kachina's canter stumps me. I think it's a combination of the fact that she's got a pretty even canter (not big uphill or downhill movements), that she can be equally balanced/unbalanced on the correct lead vs wrong lead, that she has big air time, that her outside foreleg reaches quite far forward, and that she sometimes switches in and out of a lateral canter or a canter that has legs going in some other strange not-canter sequence. Whatever the reason, Kachina sometimes picks up the wrong lead and I couldn't reliably notice and correct it soon enough. This really killed me in a few shows last year. I did a bunch of online reading and found one article that suggested feeling for which of my legs was hanging farther forward (on the left lead, your hips will be twisted such that your left leg is further forward). I've never heard of this technique before but I tried it out two days before the show and it worked like a dream. I've been using it ever since and now I'm much more confident about which lead we are on. We ended up getting 100% of our correct leads at the show and I loved not second guessing myself in the show ring.

March 2017 - Even (especially?) at liberty Kachina subscribes to the concept that
leads are optional constructs that don't need to be followed

April 2017

April 2017

3. Staying on the Rail
Kachina will sometimes be interested in something outside the arena and will counter-bend and fall in. This is generally exacerbated at shows where there is more to look at, and we're riding more straight lines than we do at home. In my last ride before the show, there were some spooky branches hitting off the arena wall and we had the same kind of issue, so I took the opportunity to practice solving it. In the past, my technique has been to really focus on re-establishing inside bend and then using inside leg to push her out. This frequently requires me to circle to get the message through which is obviously not ideal in a test. I started experimenting with other options, playing around with both my position and hers. It turns out that I can effectively keep Kachina out on the rail by just slightly stepping on my outside stirrup. In fact, I can leg yield Kachina all the way from the 1/4 line to the rail by changing nothing else and just stepping on my outside stirrup. I was shocked at how immediately responsive Kachina was to this small change. I think that in the past I've inadvertently slightly weighted my inside stirrup while trying to get inside bend and that's why I've struggled to get her to push out. It was an eye-opening discovery for sure and one that I have been using in all sorts of situations ever since. Having a sensitive horse can be both a blessing and a curse.

April 2017

I'm still proud of how well we did at the show, but it was partly just by fluke that we were able to figure out these things at the right time and make use of them when it counted.

June 2017

In theory I like the idea of schooling one level above where you are showing, but I also think showing is valuable experience and there's not always a level below Training Level so for now we are showing at the top of what we are capable of.

June 2017

Are you always confirmed at a level before you show, or does anyone else fly by the seat of their breeches and figure it out last minute?