Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Ribbons!

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.

Legend:
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)
https://performanceequinenutrition.com/magnesium-101/magnesium-mineral-superhero/
http://www.hygain.com.au/feeding-magnesium-to-horses/
https://www.horse-canada.com/health-and-nutrition/magnesium-supplementation-and-horses/

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.