Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A Comedy of Errors

At the time my last blog post came out on Thursday morning, most parts of my show looked like they were falling into place. Then, things started to seriously go off the rails...

First was my volunteers. I do all the organizing of the show single-handedly and I require competitors in the show to volunteer for an hour each to be a test-runner or help with setup/take-down, but I rely on a few outside volunteers to help me score and scribe, two jobs that people riding in the show can't fairly participate in. Last year I had just enough help but ended up doing the majority of scoring myself so this year I had planned ahead and had double the number of volunteers lined up. I thought I was good but the animals in my volunteers lives decided to intervene. One volunteer got kicked in the head by a horse she was working on (she looks like she'll be okay but out of commission with a bad concussion for a couple weeks). One volunteer's cat swallowed 2 meters of thread so she was stuck at home on medication duty and litter box watch (cat doing fine). One volunteer had to put her elderly dog down on the weekend. Finally, another helper just became a grandmother on the weekend so she couldn't make it either (okay, I guess that one's not animal-related). All were supremely understandable excuses individually but all combined together it put me in quite a bind.

In lieu of related media, here are some photos (and cool video at end)
 of a bull snake I found on my way home from work

I succeeded in calling in a last minute scribe for half the weekend, re-organizing competitors' volunteer times, and getting my parents to help me set up Friday night. I ended up having to do all of the scoring myself but we made everything work.

While volunteers were dropping left and right, my dressage ring also fell through. An organization had previously agreed to rent me their dressage fence and letters (and even encouraged me to do so). They were charging a fairly hefty fee but they said they would help me load and deliver it so I figured it was worth it and agreed. On Thursday a series of messages brought the situation from good to difficult to worse. First, I found that they didn't have a trailer like I thought so helping load/deliver actually meant helping me put it in a trailer of my own. However the pieces were 16' long so they wouldn't fit in my 2 horse trailer. They recommended I rent a trailer which I wasn't thrilled about since it meant even more cost, but it was at least a possibility. Then the next message explained that actually they didn't have anybody to help me load. Well then, that's a lot of money I am spending for zero help, but I can technically load a dressage fence myself, it will just take longer. Finally though I was informed that they didn't even have anyone available to unlock the building where the dressage fence is stored so I couldn't rent the fence after all. Well... nothing. I can't find a work around for that. I guess I need to find a new ring, in a day. Crap.

This was the point I stopped to determine if he was a rattler or bull snake

The really frustrating part was that if this whole deal with the ring had fallen through a week earlier, I would have been fine. I already knew of another ring I could rent, it just involved 8 hours of driving for me which is why it wasn't my first choice. However, the person in charge of the back up ring was now out of the country and I had not made arrangements to get keys from her since my Plan A had seemed fine up until Thursday.

I ended up really really lucky because I knew of a private person who had a ring and she agreed to lend it to me last minute. This same ring wasn't in a state where it could be put up last year but they had fixed it up this spring so it was now usable and available, score! It also fit in my horse trailer so I was able to go pick it up and bring it to the show grounds.

I just stepped near enough to him so he turned around and headed off the road

To top the cake of crap going wrong, I stopped by the trophy store on Thursday to pick up the ribbons I had ordered, and they weren't there. I was told they had the tracking number, they were on a truck, they were supposed to arrive on Thursday but it looked likely that they would actually get in Friday morning. Okay, no big deal, I ordered them to come in Thursday so I had an extra day in case of just this eventuality. Friday morning is totally fine...

Well, Friday I go in again, fully expecting to grab my box of ribbons. The guy sees me walk through the door and gets a worried look on his face. He had forgotten that my ribbons were supposed to come Friday but as soon as he sees me he realizes that the parcel hasn't arrived and that is a very bad sign. Turns out that the tracking number he had been tracking was actually for a different order of ribbons, he didn't know where mine were. I ended up going back and forth multiple times in person and on the phone between the trophy store, the ribbon company, and the parcel service. I was adamant about doing everything in my power to get those ribbons. I had already solved two show-related crises, I could make this work. All people involved were trying to pass the buck off onto each other and I was getting conflicting information so I'm still not sure exactly what went wrong or where my ribbons were, but eventually it was 5pm, everywhere was closed, there was nobody left to call, nothing left that I could do, and I still didn't have ribbons.

On one hand, a lack of ribbons isn't the end of the world. You literally cannot run a dressage show if you don't have a facility, a dressage ring, a judge and a scribe, but you can technically run a show without ribbons. However, on the other hand, the personalization of ribbons makes them one of the things that is most impossible to come up with a last minute alternative for. Also, people who show like their ribbons, and winners photos with ribbons on social media is one of the best promotion tools for a show.


The show went on, and despite everything it was overall a success. There were no ribbons but the karmic gods shined down on me and gave me happy riders and perfect weather (sunny, breezy and 20-26C (68-79F)). I'll post more about the show itself later but basically it was a very stressful few days for me but most things worked out okay in the end.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

My Show 2018

I did a lot of posts about the local dressage show I organized in 2017, so I figured I should update you on what it's looking like for 2018.

First things first, it is happening! This weekend!

Ring set up from last year - we have a fancier, more complete dressage fence this year, hopefully...

I'm excited to announce that we have 19 entries! Okay, admittedly that is a tiny number, but we only had 11 entries last year so it's actually a huge increase. Our entries also span a wider range of levels, all divisions from Walk/Trot to Third Level, and Western Dressage Basic to Level 2 are included. We topped out at First Level last year so this was another thing I was stoked to see.

Despite the increase in entries, people are clearly penny-pinching this year and so most people are choosing to ride fewer tests and many are coming only for one day of the two day show. This means that the total number of tests entered this year is actually slightly fewer than last year. This in turn means that while the show has enough people to run, it's borderline, and financial margins are tight again. I did briefly consider cancelling the show but I think the new entries are a positive sign that this show is helping to grow the sport of dressage in this area. That was always my goal so I am going to follow through, make it happen, and make it the best show it can be.

The best show needs pretty ribbons, these are from last year, picking up the new ones today!

A big change this year is that I tried to incorporate a clinic component, by using the holiday Monday of the long weekend as a post-show clinic with the judge. I actually thought this was an awesome idea that people would be crazy not to take advantage of. Well apparently people are crazy because this was a huge flop. I reformatted things to make it more affordable and on Sunday evening instead, but there are still only 2 people participating (and 1 of them is me!). I'm not sure why more people aren't interested but I need to go with the flow and follow the will of the masses I guess.

I am not showing myself this year. It was way too stressful last year. I am looking forward to taking a lesson with the judge though and hearing what she thinks of our changes since last year.

There were definitely things to fix, but I still like this photo
Unfortunately no showing means no professional pictures of us this time :(
(my clinic lesson is in different location)

I know our canter has improved since this time last year!

Organizing a show in its second year is only about a tenth the work of organizing it for its inaugural year. That doesn't mean it doesn't take lots of hours, just last year was lots and lots and lots of hours! It was so nice to just update the Prizelist as opposed to creating one from scratch, and I didn't have to research venues, ribbon suppliers, insurance, sanctioning etc because for the most part I just did what I did last year. Another thing that is awesome is that the facility we are showing at is further along in its development now so we have water, lights, a sound system, and also a real office with electricity! The power is a game-changer because last year I had to do absolutely everything on paper and this year I can set up a laptop and printer for scoring etc. 

All my neat piles of hard copies last year

The weather is looking great again so fingers crossed that I can make year 2 a good one!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Rewards

Kachina has fear and tension issues, so I've known for years that I want to train her using positive reinforcement as much as possible. I've used treats successfully in teaching her to help put her halter on, pick up her feet, and to lead more politely, but I've struggled with successfully using positive reinforcement in training her to stand quietly. One problem is that it's substantially easier to train a horse to "do" something, as opposed to "not do" something. However another serious barrier has been that no positive reward has historically been strong enough to overcome her tension. When Kachina would stand in the old barn she would be so wound up that me petting her or talking to her had no effect, and she would refuse treats. Kachina is food motivated to a point, but not very strongly. Positive reinforcement only works if you have a reward that your horse is actually willing to work for. Kachina did like to go back to her friends, so every time I would leave her out I would use it as a training opportunity that she only got to be untied when she stood nicely for a minute, she only got to exit the door when she waited for me to go first, etc, but let's be honest, the training applications of that particular reward were severely limited.

We still have standing problems sometimes in the new barn, but I'm pleased to say that Kachina is now in a situation where food rewards actually work.

The other day I brought Kachina in for a thorough grooming and shedding session. She was settled for most of the time, but when a horse in a nearby stall left to go for a ride, leaving the barn door open behind them, she became extremely distracted and kept turning towards the door and pawing. I stood on her opposite side, and whenever she looked away and started pawing, I cued her flank and asked her to move over and look back towards me. Whenever she looked back to me she got a treat. When her attention stayed with me for a moment she got another treat. We spent a solid 10 minutes repeating this. Initially it took multiple cues for her to push her haunches over and stop pawing, but she always took her treat when offered (a big deal by itself). After enough repetitions she started actively wanting the treat (but I stay firm on no mugging rules), and when her attention would drift she would just swing her head towards the door instead of her whole body, and I could redirect her attention to me before she started pawing. We ended the session on this positive note and I returned her to her pen.

Since then we've repeated this same exercise a few times. The layout of the barn is useful for me because she always want to pay attention down one end of the alley so I can stand on her other side to reward her for re-directing focus to me. Some days have been better than others, but I have been able to get some positive response each time. We have a lot of steps remaining to transition this refocusing exercise into consistently standing quietly, but I have hope that we'll get there now that we actually have a functional positive training tool. 

Has anyone else struggled with clicker or reward-based training with a horse who wasn't food motivated enough?

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Injured

So you may have realized that the content in this blog lately has not actually included riding my horse. There's a reason for that. Kachina is sound and healthy, but unfortunately I am not. I injured my upper back a few weeks ago and I can't seem to shake it. There's no serious damage, my spine and spinal cord are intact and functioning. Best diagnosis we can come up with is that my back was tight from my computer job and then when Kachina jerked her leg in a certain way while I was cleaning her foot it pulled the muscles and made them angry (super scientific anthropomorphism, but that's basically how my physiotherapist explained it). If it was just muscular I should have been good in a couple days, but my nervous system got involved and so I have nerve pain when I move but also when I sit or lie down. It hurts when I do too much but it also hurts when I do too little, it's really hard to find the right balance. Some days are better than others but it's not going away completely yet. I had to miss a couple days of work when it was really bad and there were some days I couldn't go anywhere (partially because I couldn't drive if I couldn't look left). Some physio treatment and some kinesiology tape have helped, especially with improving my range of motion but it seems to a certain degree I just need to wait it out. I'm physically and mentally exhausted from not getting good sleep for the last two weeks (night is the worst, I just can't get comfortable in any position). Suprisingly enough, running 10km felt easier on my back than sleeping. Since activity isn't bad for it, riding isn't 100% off the table but even I recognize that it's hard to protect myself from another unintended jerk when working around such large animals, so I've mostly been steering clear of the barn and not doing a whole lot when I am there. I'm trying to treat this right because I know way too many people with chronic back pain and I don't want to join that group. Hopefully I'll be back to normal soon, yesterday was a good day so fingers crossed. Has this kind of injury happened to anyone else?

Monday, 7 May 2018

Horse Expo Recap

Last weekend was a busy one, so let's finish the recap! (Sorry, bit of a monster post)

Friday

In the morning I took Kachina to vet for scope - and as I already wrote about, no ulcers!

At around noon I left to drive up to Red Deer. I took my beast of a truck because I was delivering a custom tack cabinet to my friend and fellow dressage rider Pam in Red Deer. I can't believe I haven't blogged about this yet, but my SO got into woodworking and started making and selling tack trunks and cabinets, he's gotten really good! (I help with the design side but construction is all him). I'll definitely have to post some photos of other ones he has built.




Once Pam had filled it up with all her stuff

My friend and I then went to check out the Mane Event for a few hours that evening. We checked in with the dressage association booth and found out that it was pretty much directly across from the Dubarry booth. I was scheduled to volunteer at the dressage booth for a couple hours on Saturday so I made an offhand comment that I was lucky none of their boots fit my calves or else the proximity could be hazardous to my bank account. That's when Pam (who has similar size calves to me) said that she had tried on Dubarrys that fit her so they would fit me too. I was skeptical, because I had been looking for new winter boots this year and had looked on the website and the dimensions listed for their Extra Fit Galway boots still didn't sound wide enough for me. Pam dragged me over to the booth to try, and my leg slid perfectly into the boot. My first thought was "crap, this is going to be an expensive weekend!" haha. I took the boots off to think about them overnight, and we did some more wandering around to find other shops we wanted to go back to on Saturday.

We had missed the dressage presentation earlier in the day but we went to a very interesting talk about concussion protocols by Equus Physio. The whole "concussions are bad, wear a helmet" spiel is well ingrained in me, but this went much further than that. As well as having information about return to sport schedules for people recovering from a concussion, they also went through the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool - 5th Edition (SCAT5) that was developed by a multi-discipline, international group. The SCAT5 gives you tools to help even non-medical professionals evaluate whether someone has suffered from a concussion or not. As a show organizer and the mandated first-aider for my dressage show, this really interested me. Equestrian Canada has developed rules about not getting back on a horse in competition until you have been cleared by a medical professional if a concussion is suspected. The problem is, how do you know if a concussion is suspected? The EC wording is pretty vague. Last year I had a plan in place where if any rider fell and appeared to hit their head, I would send them into town to be evaluated. However I had a niggling worry in the back of my head about what would I do if one of those falls happened where the rider comes off and hops back up immediately in a way where it's hard to see or determine where they made impact. I've seen those types of falls before and the adrenaline involved can make it tough to determine whether or not the rider actually hurt themselves. The SCAT5 gives me a tool to objectively test the fallen rider's memory, balance, motor control etc. before making a determination. It's not foolproof, especially without baseline data for the individual, but it's better than nothing. I would still err on the side of caution and send someone to see a doctor if there were any questionable results, but this tool can give me some measure of confidence to allow a rider to continue if the fall really was a minor one. I'm glad to be armed with more information but please let nobody fall off at my show! I don't want to have to put this plan into action!

Saturday


Saturday was a busy day. I volunteered at the dressage association booth from 9-11am, had the executive meeting for the ADA from 11am-2pm, and the Annual General Meeting from 2-4pm. These meetings are where I was acclaimed as new VP and also got to discuss lots of what is going on with dressage. It was really interesting to hear the reports from each area group and what different regions are trying (there is a lecture series that has been successful in Edmonton that I really want to try in my area). We also got a report from the Equestrian Canada/Dressage Canada world (the Dressage Levy Symposium in Langley BC in November sounds fantastic!). A major message I would like to put out there from these meetings is: Please become a member of your local dressage group and volunteer if you can. I'm sure this applies in places other than Alberta, but we as an organization want to contribute to the sport as much as possible and we are willing to change direction based on feedback from members as required, but we need members and volunteers to do so. It's quite likely that your dressage association does more than you think they do, it's not just about rated shows.

I love discussing dressage, but I was pretty tired after 7 continuous hours of it. I appreciate that they schedule the meeting for the weekend of Mane Event so we don't need to make a separate trip, but it's a lot to cram into a day. I met up with Pam to watch the next dressage clinician segment: Diane Creech on Basic to Medium level dressage. I didn't learn any brand new concepts but it was still a good session. The things I most took away from it were:


  1. My eye and knowledge for the sport is improving. There were multiple times when Diane was trying to get a horse to move forward and was telling the rider to "Go on, go on!". In those moments, even before Diane spoke, I could see that they did need more impulsion and forward. As a somewhat tentative rider who doesn't like excessive speed myself, I have historically been bad at spotting when a horse needs more go, but my eye is getting better.
  2. "Don't think it's hard" - this was a phrase Diane used a few times during 15m canter circles, counter canter etc. I really liked it. I could really see that the riders were tensing up and riding differently when they were attempting a movement at the upper end of their capability. It would be so much easier to execute the movement if they could just "Don't think it's hard". It's one of those concepts that is simple in theory but really hard to execute. I'm going to try it in my own riding though.  
  3. Everyone has bad days. The Mane Event is an extremely challenging environment to clinic in. There are thousands of people, big metal bleachers that people are clinking up and down on throughout the whole time you are riding, and many other distractions. I give huge props to anybody who decides to bring their horse. One of the demo riders in this particular session is a EC Dressage Judge, one that I have shown under before, judges fairly, and I have a lot of respect for. She was riding a young horse who had very little off-property experience and it showed. She was using a German martingale to constrain some antics, and tension also came out in the horse through a busy mouth and some sideways scoots. The thing is, I know that feeling. I know it really well. In fact I remember in detail how demoralized I was when I had a ride exactly like that at this show. I remember reading my low score and how much I wanted to explain to the judge that I'm not that bad of a rider, my horse isn't that uneducated, we can do better, we do do better, it was just a bad day. The rider that I was watching have a bad day right then, and the judge who I had wanted to explain myself to a couple years ago were the same person! In that moment, I realized: she already knows. Just because you understand the sport of dressage, just because you know what you are supposed to do to ride your horse back to front in a relaxed way, doesn't mean that you can physically make it happen on every day in any situation. I've always beat myself up about how I know dressage better than I can do it. If I understand something in my head, why is it so hard to just make my body do it? I finally figured out that I'm not the only one with that problem. Coming to that realization felt like a giant weight lifted off my shoulders. I'm still going to work as hard as I can to be a better rider, but I don't need to feel so damn embarrassed and guilty when I have a tough day. 

After watching Diane Creech, we spent the remaining part of the day shopping. I always love wandering though all the booths at Mane Event. Some of it doesn't apply to me, like Western gear, or stuff related to keeping horses at home rather than boarding, but I like seeing all the new products and at least knowing what exists if my circumstances change in the future.


I hemmed and hawed about the Dubarry boots, but I was actually looking for boots like that last year (ones that could be worn to work and social events but that could still handle mud and snow) and couldn't find any that fit me, in any budget. It was a lot of money but they did fit nicely and the quality was evident. My friend Pam also kept trying to talk me into it, in fact she made such good arguments that she unintentionally talked herself into buying a pair too! Besides, I had been budgeting for a course of ulcer treatment for Kachina if she needed it, so that made the cost of the boots seem reasonable #canjustifyanything ;-) .We both ended up with a purchase and got champagne to celebrate! I felt like such a high roller in that moment lmao.




Other than the boots the only other thing I bought was another Horze Blair collared short-sleeve sunshirt. I have 3 of these already (2 long sleeve, 1 short sleeve) that I absolutely love and use equally as much for work as for riding. They had a beautiful new plum colour and so adding it to my collection was a no-brainer.


Sunday


Sunday I left Red Deer bright and early to go up to Edmonton for a 10km run. If that news surprises you, that is understandable. I am not really a runner. But for a multitude of reasons it was a pretty big deal for me to complete this 10k. After that I met up with some friends in Edmonton and made the long drive home.


Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Ulcer Free

On Friday I got Kachina scoped for ulcers.

Kachina's diet and living situation don't make her a prime candidate for developing ulcers, but multiple people have suggested I investigate or treat her for them based on her tension and girthiness issues. Her girthiness has changed a bit recently and I really wanted to know if there was a physical explanation. I know a lot of people decide to use ulcer treatments without scoping, but Kachina isn't consistent enough in her behaviour to determine if a change happens due to treatment so I really wanted to scope. My normal vet doesn't actually own a gastro-scope, and neither does my usual back-up vet, so I had to wait until last week for an appointment with the vet who does have the right equipment (but I feel really lucky that my area has multiple good equine vets to choose from).

Of course scoping her stomach meant that I had to keep Kachina off food and water for 12 hours previous. The food part I expected, but I didn't realize until the day before that you have to withhold water as well. Kachina lives in a pen with an automatic waterer so she had to spend the night in a separate isolated area which made me feel like a terrible horse-mom (I really need to work on making Kachina more confident when she's alone).

She ultimately survived and we hauled to the vet clinic Friday morning. This vet generally likes to keep horses awake for the procedure so they can swallow the scope more easily, but Kachina was pretty stressed out from her night alone and her general Kachina-ness so she had to get a double dose of sedative for vet to get the scope near her. Once the sleepiness set in, it was smooth sailing and we got a pretty good view of Kachina's stomach which appeared completely ulcer-free! (Sorry, zero media as I was busy supporting Kachina's head)

Doing the test in the first place may have been a bit excessive, but I think the $200 was well worth it for my peace of mind. Now that I have ruled out another physical problem I can more confidently address the training side of her issues. Also I am so glad that I didn't pay for a course of ulcer treatment without the test. In my mind that practically equals free money! (Which gave me perfect justification to spend it shopping at Mane Event...)

Has anyone else scoped for ulcers and not found any?

Monday, 30 April 2018

Seize Opportunities: 10 Easy Steps

I am now Vice President of the Alberta Dressage Association (ADA). Wha?!?!?!?

Don't worry, that's not just your reaction, that's mine too. How did this happen? Quick recap. 

Step 1: be a below average low level ammy rider trying to figure out how to get anywhere in the sport of dressage without a trainer (Dec 2015
Step 2: find a trainer three hours away (Feb 2016)
Step 3: after failing to figure out skype/video lessons, organize a clinic in town mostly so I can avoid the cost and stress of hauling my horse to trainer (Nov 2016)
Step 4: organize a few more clinics (once you do one, doing it again isn't nearly so hard) (Feb 2017, May 2017, Oct 2017, Dec 2017)
Step 5: after some idle conversation with new riding friends about having a local dressage show, turn the idle talk into actual investigation about what would be involved in putting on a show (Jan 2017)
Step 6: ask dressage association chapter in next city about whether they would post info about local show on their facebook page, and have that spontaneously turn into me being given a director position on chapter board, free insurance coverage for show, and casino funds to help pay for judge (and yes, they did also post my show on their facebook page) (Feb 2017)
Step 7: organize show at new equestrian venue, which then results in equestrian venue unexpectedly inviting me to join their board too (May 2017)
Step 8: participate in two meetings of dressage chapter board over last year as part of my new role as director and reply to emails as required (not a heavy time commitment at all)
Step 9: reply to email where president of ADA was asking for volunteers from chapter boards to consider running for VP of overall ADA board (ADA acts as umbrella organization for all the individual area chapters). (April 2018)
Step 10: get acclaimed into position at the AGM this past weekend despite clearly stating my lack of experience because there were no other volunteers/nominations. (April 2018)

Bottom line, I didn't become VP because of my great dressage wisdom or having any great connections to the sport (I don't have either), I'm here because I was willing to say "hmmm" in situations where other people might have thought it was too hard and not even tried. I'm still very much a below average low level ammy rider trying to figure out how to get anywhere in this sport. 



It's so so easy to feel imposter syndrome in this circumstance, and I did straight up tell the president that I was A-okay stepping aside if anyone more qualified wanted the position. However, nobody did, and now that I'm here I'm going to add my voice to the direction of dressage in Alberta. We already have some great people looking after the interests of higher level dressage riders, trainers etc., but as an organization we want our membership and the sport of dressage to grow. I can help speak for other low level ammy riders who are just trying to figure out the sport, especially in non-dressage areas, and that has value. An organization really does need a range of voices to best meet the needs of everyone it serves. 

To summarize, I'd just like to encourage all of you to seize any opportunities you come across within your sport. Don't worry about not being good enough, just do it. A lot of organizations don't have as many volunteers as they need and are happy for any involvement. And if you don't seem to have any opportunities to seize: make your own opportunities. You never know what may come from it =)