Friday, 15 February 2019

Bridle Change



If you were observant you may have noticed Kachina rocking a different bridle in the canter pole media.

See it?

Kachina is fairly fussy with her mouth and has a bit of a strange shaped head (short from nose to poll but wide around the nose, I think she would look very block-headed it it weren't for her markings). Both of these things led me to getting a Micklem bridle for her back in 2015 and mostly sticking with that.

In the Micklem at a show in April 2016

I do like the Micklem in general and would buy it again, but there are a couple things that have been bothering me lately. First, Kachina has been fighting me more to put the bridle on, especially when I go to buckle up the nosebands (though I keep them quite loose). This has made me wonder if she is expressing displeasure over that particular bridle. Second, the Micklem has an integrated flash equivalent. I am not opposed to flashes and I actually like that the Micklem design provides this function without dragging the noseband down as much as some conventional flashes; however, I do think that a flash is a tool and like any tool it is important to sometimes get rid of it to see if the training is improving or if you are starting to rely on the tool as a crutch, i.e. is Kachina actually learning to hold the bit in her mouth or is her fussiness just reduced because of the bridle? Unlike a conventional bridle, you cannot remove the flash component from a Micklem so I had no way to test this without changing bridles entirely.

No way to remove lower strap

With those things in mind, I spent some time cleaning bridles the other day and switching Kachina to my old conventional dressage bridle without the noseband. Why did I remove the noseband? Two reasons: 1) I want to work on bridling with Kachina and it is nice to get some of the extra straps out of the way at least temporarily, and 2) This bridle was from my last horse (an anglo-arab with a very different shaped head) so the noseband really doesn't fit Kachina well. The cheekpieces of this bridle are on their last hole so that isn't a great fit either but I wanted to try the bridle I already owned before buying a new one.

Old photo of Kachina in this bridle
Noseband on loosest hole and everything else tightened almost all the way up

This isn't the first time I've tried a different bridle since first switching to the Micklem. Sometimes changes have been disasterous (like to show western dressage in 2017 as written about here), and sometimes it has been less eventful, but I've always ended up going back to the Micklem. It's been a long time since I last did a bridle experiment though and our training has progressed so it seemed like a good time to try again.

This wasn't a good ride, but I do like how she looks with no noseband

I also put a new bit on the new bridle. I know that it isn't great to change bit and bridle all at once but this new bit is the exact same shape as my old one (a super fat single-jointed eggbutt snaffle), just copper instead of stainless steel, so I felt it was a small enough change. I bought this bit a few months ago and have been meaning to switch it in for a while.

An old pic of my old bit

The first time I used the new bridle I lunged her in it a little to get her used to the feel before mounting up. I did a fairly easy ride to start, focusing on being very mindful with my hands and using my legs and seat wherever possible. Kachina got a little high-headed to start the first time she felt contact on the bit but she settled quickly.

The second time we rode in the new bridle was for my weekly jump lesson. For this particular lesson we did trot pole and canter pole work. I asked my instructor for her thoughts on the new set up and she liked it, she thought Kachina seemed a little more relaxed in the contact and while she opened her mouth sometimes she would then chew and softly close.

I have had a handful of rides with this bridle now and in general I am liking it. In the new set up, especially with zero noseband at all, I am very conscious of the fact that my hands have an even more direct impact on Kachina's mouth. It has made me more mindful of my hands and that is a good thing. Bridling has also been less drama which both Kachina and I appreciate. I will continue to ride in this configuration for a while at least.

Of course, in dressage, one must have a noseband to show (it's in the rules, though the reasoning isn't super clear to me). That means I will be bridle shopping in the near future which may warrant a separate post. In the mean time let me know if you have any suggestions for what would both function well and look nice on Kachina's wide white snout.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Pole Work

While jumping is fun, I must admit that my very favourite jump lessons are ones where we just do work with poles on the ground. I feel like this is the best combo of jumping and dressage. You must go forward and straight towards an obstacle like in jumping but you can keep your position and aids in place for every stride like in dressage.

Sometimes I think my instructor is a little surprised about how much I love pole work because some of her other students grumble when they don't get to do real jumps. We are a good fit though because she has been reading through new pole exercises and has brought out a few really good ones. Here are a couple we have done in lessons in the last month:

1. Overlap Poles
On this specific week my instructor did this same exercise with ALL of her lessons. She warned me it was a hard one and she was right!

The exercise had the poles set up like this:
The coloured lines are poles, the thin grey lines are the paths you could take over the poles

Three lines of poles were set up where the ends of them overlapped just a little bit. The overlap width was very narrow, barely the width of a horse. Trying to take the 2nd or 4th path where you passed over all 5 poles in one line was an extreme test of straightness as even the tiniest wiggle would allow the horse to swing their foot around the end of the pole instead of over it. You also had to be very careful to not overcorrect or one zig would make you zag off the end of the next pole in the line. Kachina and I really struggled with this exercise, but that's what made it so awesome, it showed us a weakness and a measureable way to work on it. The first time through I think we only made it over one pole (Kachina was being a good trail horse and smoothly sidestepped the obstacles without losing her forward energy). First I had to go down to a walk and convince Kachina that I actually wanted her to step over the poles even though she could weave around them. By the end of the lesson we could go over 4 of them at a trot but we never did successfully hit all 5. I definitely want to do this exercise again!



2. Canter Poles

I have done trot poles quite a few times but until recently I had never done canter poles with Kachina, so one night I asked if we could tackle them in our lesson.

Stretching to make the 12' spacing

My instructor set up one line of poles on the quarter line, and another on a short diagonal. The canter poles were set for a standard 12' canter stride which is a big canter for Kachina's 15.2hh size. She delivered though and stretched out to make the distances. The big bounds to make it over the poles had a tendency to push me out of the tack so I really had to focus to keep my shoulders back and my hands up and forward. After a few times down the quarter line poles in both directions we tried the short diagonal. We don't have flying lead changes so I asked my instructor what to do about leads and she encouraged me to just let Kachina flow through and see what she did. On the very first try Kachina bounded through and switched leads herself over the last pole. She got lots of praise for that and we ended the lesson there. Best of all we got it on video!


I also have screenshots for those of you who don't like video.





I need to work on keeping my butt in the saddle even when she leaps over the poles

In our last lesson we revisited canter poles again. This time we reduced the spacing a little bit. Even though this was only our second time doing canter poles, Kachina was already much more relaxed about it. A couple times Kachina would switch leads with her hind end over the middle pole so I had to keep my seat plugged in and my weight back more to keep her on the correct lead. The lesson led me to have some great trot-canter transitions and forced me to influence her canter more and those things are exactly what we need in our dressage work these days.

My instructor promised that we can do some work with poles for shortening and lengthening soon and I am so excited for that.

Have I mentioned how much I love pole work?

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Show Season Prep

I have officially started looking at 2019 shows and how they might fit into my calendar. I feel hesitant to plan a whole year in one go because that is just inviting the universe to interfere with my plans, but I at least have a list of options that I can assess as things get closer.

I work a compressed work schedule where I get every second Friday off, and it just so happens that this year almost every show lines up with my regularly scheduled Friday off, that is not how things usually work and I am taking it as a good sign!

I currently see the show season unfolding in 3 Stages:

Stage 1 Early Season

- April 6-7 Carrots & Cocktails I
- April 26-28 Mane Event (not a show but it is a horsey weekend)
- May 4-5 Carrots & Cocktails II
- May 5 CC/ADA Wild Rose Show I
- May 18-19 My Show (I will ride Hors Concours if I can, might as well take advantage of the feedback when I will be spending the weekend with a judge)

These shows are Wild Rose rated shows. I don't mind so much how I score at these shows but I want to ride at at least a couple of them to force me to show prep early in the season and fine tune my tests.

Stage 2 Core Shows

- June 15-16 Claresholm Bronze Show
- July 19-21 All Breed Show (Dressage Day on Friday July 19)
- July 20-21 Cochrane Wild Rose Show

All three of these shows I have attended in the past and I use as a barometer of my progress from year to year. I would love to be confident in First Level tests for this part of the season and these are the shows that I have the highest goals for scoring at. (I am sad that the Cochrane show switched its date this year so still need to decide which show I want to do that weekend)

Ready to go up centerline once again


Stage 3 Gold Dreams

- July 6-7 Tilted Tiara I
- July 26-27 Tilted Tiara II
- Aug 30-Sep 1 Alberta Dressage Provincials

I have never competed at a Gold Show but I hope this will finally be the year. I need to compete at Gold or Silver shows if I ever want to become a judge or get my (Canadian) bronze medal, both of which I do. I won't ever reach those goals if I don't at least try. I have a lot of self doubt about showing at this level because it is a lot of money and Kachina and I historically don't have very good test scores, however I also know that I am feeling better about my riding than I have in a long time and it's worth at least putting these shows on the tentative plan. If I do these shows I may drop down to Training Level at least partially (Training Level scores are part of what counts towards Canadian Bronze Medal). Provincials are basically a complete pipe dream but you never know!

Stage 4 Bonus

- Aug 24 CC/ADA Wild Rose Show II

This is part of a new Chinook series with some of the above shows and you get a participation award if you attend 3/4 shows so you bet I am going for that! What this show looks like will vary depending on how my season goes, it could either be one last chance to redeem my show season, prep for Provincials, or a chance to get some feedback at Second Level before I go into another winter of training. Either way I hope to be there.

Bottom Line

It is 8 weeks until show season starts, I have work to do!

If you will be at any of these shows let me know!

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Making the Gold Plunge

I just renewed all of my memberships for the year (I know we are already a month into 2019 but when the closest show is still two months out, there's really no rush)

My memberships are:

Alberta Equestrian Federation (AEF)
- $50 for annual individual membership
- Bare minimum to participate in a lot of clinics, schooling shows etc (for insurance purposes)
- I use the AEF Wild Rose sanctioning model for the show I host and they are always a pleasure to work with and keep on finding new ways to reduce costs and add value for horse riders in the province so I don't mind giving them my money at all

In the absence of related photos, please see this screenshot of actual temps
from last week and the forecast for this week (note lows in blue).
It's shaping up to be a cold February. 

Chinook Country Alberta Dressage Association (CC/ADA)
- $40 for annual membership which includes membership in overall Alberta Dressage Association
- This is my local area group and the group that I am also on the exec for. The CC/ADA has been nothing but helpful with my efforts to grow the sport in my area so this is another membership I feel good about

Equestrian Canada (EC)

Now here is where things change.

EC Membership is required to compete in rated shows but other than that I don't see as much direct benefit from the EC as from AEF and ADA. In the past I have done the bare minimum with my EC memberships which means a Bronze Sport License. This costs about $50/year once you add in their extra charges for amateur status and a physical card.

I like Bronze and Wild Rose shows, they still use the same rules, tests and frequently even the same judges as higher level shows, but they are both more affordable and more approachable. However I have known for a while that sooner or later I will need to progress to competing at Gold or Silver shows. Equestrian Canada only formally records scores for shows Silver and above so you need to compete in those if you want your scores to be counted towards any awards or any judging applications. I understand it on one level, but it also kind of seems like a money grab and makes me understand why the number of entries at Gold Shows has been sharply reclining in Alberta in recent years, so much so that multiple long-running shows were cancelled this year.

I finally decided to take the plunge this year and upgrade my membership. I've wanted to get scores at Silver/Gold shows for a few years now, but each year I worry that I won't be ready and figure that I will upgrade my license right before a gold show if my riding is going well enough. Well apparently that is a bit of a defeatist attitude and it means I haven't made it to a Gold show yet. This year I decided to put faith in myself by putting the money up in advance so that I will be motivated to be ready for those shows. (If you are wondering why I skipped Silver and went straight for Gold it is because the only Silver shows in Alberta are both far away and early in the year so I'm not willing to do that haul in the winter).

The best conformation photo I have, so the one I submitted for the horse recording

As the first year of pursuing my Gold License, here's what I had to pay:

1. Gold Sport License - $175
2. Physical Card - $5 - I guess I didn't have to do this, but I wanted a physical card, makes me feel like a more serious athlete lol
3. Horse Recording plus Activation (not needed for Bronze shows) $82
4. Dressage Rider Award Registration - $50 (I am a bit pissed off that you have to pay an extra $50 just to be eligible for your scores to count for awards or medals, but at least it's only a one-time fee)

I had to dig up Kachina's bill of sale and registration for the horse recording,
check out both the skinny, leggy photos of Kachina from 7 years ago and the
oddity of the Pinto registry where you can register a horse with so little info

What about you? Is showing at a recognized level important to you despite the extra costs or do you prefer less formal shows? What makes the difference to you?

Monday, 11 February 2019

The Story that Horse Costs Show

I love reading other people's posts about horse costs or budgeting strategies because I track all my spending to a detailed degree and like seeing how other people's methods and costs compare to mine. CobJockey had a great post recently (I started to comment on it but my comment got too long).

Instead of doing a whole post about my detailed costs for 2018 or my budgeting strategy, instead I am going to a numberless post showing how the relative amounts of my spending through the years tells the story of changes in my horse ownership and riding.

I have been a horse owner since the year 2000, and have kept financial records since 2002 (when I joined 4-H and started doing record books). However my current method of tracking via excel started in 2011 when I finished university. 2011 was a partial year of tracking which screws up annual averages so the below will go from 2012 to 2018.

As can be seen in the following graph, I split my horse-related spending into the following categories:
- Stable Board (exactly what it sounds like)
- Farrier/Vet (also exactly what it sounds like, also includes other horse health stuff)
- Riding Lessons/Shows (includes clinics, regular lessons, entry fees and stabling for shows, anything educational)
- Horse Event Organizing (I organized my first clinic in November 2016 so started this category in 2017, this is where I put in all the expenses and revenue for setting up clinics and shows where I am the organizer, this cost can vary hugely from month to month as money comes in and goes out but the annual net amount absorbs the swings and is overall small)
-  Horse Misc. (everything else, including treats, supplements, tack, riding clothes, horse equipment etc.)

Two types of costs that are horse-related but aren't included here are:
- gas and vehicle maintenance tied to hauling horse (grouped in with my general gas and vehicle costs)
- hotel costs for horse shows and clinics (grouped in my vacation category)



As you can see, the relative amount of each category changes quite a bit over the years, those changes can all be tied easily to things that happened in my horse world:

2012
- board high because I was living in Edmonton and boarding at a super awesome barn that was a bit on the pricier side (but still super good value for what it was)
- horse misc. and riding lessons/shows low because I worked all the time, often out of town, and couldn't do any lessons/shows. Also I hadn't discovered blogging yet and so didn't know all the tack ho stuff I was missing out on lol

2013
- large horse misc. costs largely due to purchase of my horse trailer
- farrier/vet costs increased because my mare Ellie foundered in March and we spent the year getting her back from that
- small lesson costs because I signed up for weekly lessons one month before Ellie foundered
- board costs decreased because halfway through the year I moved to a different part of Alberta with less fancy barns/cheaper board

Horse trailer = worth it

2014
- This was the year that Ellie died from colic which influenced every cost category: board dropped from being horse-less for a few months, vet costs high due to both colic treatment/euthanasia and pre-purchase exam on Kachina, horse misc. costs high because that includes the purchase price of Kachina plus getting new halters/blankets/etc.

Still miss her, she is far more than a blip on my spreadsheet

2015
- Board and vet/farrier costs stabilized to new normal for new location
- Green bar growing because took weekly lessons with KD for most of the year before she stopped teaching, I also attended a few clinics and went to a couple small unrated shows
- Horse misc. included no single huge purchases but a lot of small-medium stuff as blog reading made me start living the tack ho life (purchases included stuff like new breeches, sparkly browband, ogilvy halfpad, etc.)

I've never actually been able to use this sparkly browband
(it doesn't fit my Micklem bridle) but I still love it!

2016
- Board costs increased due to high hay prices
- Spent some extra money in farrier/vet category for a horse dentist and chiro, both of which were disappointments
- Green category saw weekly lessons replaced with a few pricier shows and clinics
- Horse misc. cost high largely due to purchase of my Stubben saddle, girths for new saddle, and portable panels for Writing on Stone trip

New saddle = also worth it

2017
- Board and vet/farrier costs stabilised again
- Continued to do a few shows and attended more clinics (with both Sandra and Elaine) to contribute to the green category, I also did two months of jumping lessons on lesson horses
- The small piece of purple reflects a huge amount of effort and cost to organise 4 clinics and my first ever show, luckily I was able to recoup most of the costs and was only out a few hundred dollars from my own pocket.
- I was finally able to get the horse misc. category under control, though I don't think I'll ever be able to go fully back to my budget days of 2012 and earlier

Even small events involve a lot of costs

2018
- Board increased when I moved to my new barn in March 2018. I am finding the extra cost worth it for the heating, plumbing and camaraderie.
- The growth of the lesson/show category mirrors the increased options available to me now. It includes almost monthly clinics with Elaine, the judging clinic, and a few months of weekly jump lessons in addition to my normal show budget
- The purple category shows up below the x-axis in this bar because I actually made a little money on my show in 2018 (which I am saving to feed back into the show for 2019)

The extra lessons did have some pay off!

Part of the reason I shared this post is to show that cost tracking is not just good for budgeting purposes, you can graph and trend many parts of your life to help understand how your life changes over time. An increase in a cost category is not necessarily a bad thing if you understand why it increased and if it added value into your life. The horse part of my life has become more fulfilling in the last few years and while that comes with a higher price tag I am willing to pay it (and I've decreased vacation spending etc. to compensate). I'm still hoping to avoid any major horse-related purchases for the next few years though.

Some other of my financial management thoughts (ymmv)
- Excel is a great financial tracking tool: most people have it, it gives a lot of flexibility for how you want to track things and endless options for graphing. Also while it means your trends aren't available on your phone, also less likely to be hacked or data mined.
- try to keep cost categories as consistent as possible from year to year so you can see trends
- net worth is an important indicator of how well you are doing financially overall, I monitor this monthly but year-to-year comparisons are most important
- make use of comments to indicate why certain costs are abnormally high or low (e.g. I can look back and see my cat related costs jumped in March because that's when one of my cats had dental surgery)
- if you are Canadian, make use of TFSAs, they are much more flexible than RRSPs but still have tax benefits. Especially if you are in a career where you expect your income to grow over time, it's smart to maximize TSFAs early in your career and then pay more into RRSPs later on when you are in a higher tax bracket
- Emergency fund, emergency fund, emergency fund. I built mine up before saving for anything else and try to keep four months of expenses in it to guard against both job loss and things like colic surgery
- Instead of using separate savings accounts for every goal, I keep one general "medium-term savings account". Medium-term to me means 2-15 years, so basically all savings goals minus retirement. I paid for Kachina and my horse trailer out of this fund because I knew both purchases would happen sooner or later and started saving in advance. I look at my future goals and plans for each 5 year period and use that to determine how much I need to auto-deposit into this account. I like grouping everything together because a) you don't always know when things will happen i.e. will you need a new horse or a new car first, and one account gives more flexibility for life to happen, b) I get higher interest on higher balances, and c) it is easier for me to make sure I am not exceeding TFSA limits if there are fewer accounts to look at

How do your costs from year to year match up with changes to your riding and horse-keeping lifestyle? Have any thoughts on my financial management ideology?

Friday, 8 February 2019

Recent Jumping

I have been continuing with my weekly jump lessons. We have been keeping things easy and low key so I don't have any large increases in height or technicality to share with you. That's fine by me. I feel jumping has been positive for me and Kachina but it still scares me a little and I'm glad we are taking things slow. That said, since jumping my first jump with Kachina in October, we have progressed a little bit. Things we have done:

- lots of trot poles
- canter poles
- single fences
- fences up to 18"
- mini oxers
- bounce
- 1 stride combination
- 2 stride combination
- 4 stride combination
- mini gate
- mini course of up to 4 fences










Thursday, 7 February 2019

Joining the Cold Party

My area has remained relatively unscathed by the arctic fronts that have been chilling North America over the last couple weeks, but we are joining the party now. The temperature has been dropping the last couple days and we woke up to this this morning:


In fact the radio said the windchill is closer to -50C (-58F) (the wind is almost non-existent but when it's this cold, any air movement makes that windchill plummet). That's just downright nasty.

Kachina is wearing a warm blanket with hood but I really hope she makes good decisions to stay warm (she has a shelter, free choice hay, heated water, buddies to huddle with and room to move to warm up). I will be out to check on her right after work (it is supposed to be warmer by then anyways) but my thoughts are definitely with her this morning.