Friday, 28 April 2017

Adventures in HJ Land - Part 4

Week 1, Weeks 2 & 3

Week 4:
I was riding Donny yet again. We didn't do any jumping this week but I did learn two cool new exercises that I think I'm going to try out with my own mare:

Donny ready to go

1: Posting Canter - this is something that I had never done before or even heard of. It's where you post the canter kind of like you would do for the trot, but with one beat down and two beats up, in time with the canter. Because it was such a foreign concept to me it took me a while to get the feel of it. First I was going too fast, and then too slow. Even by the end, I was getting the rhythm more than half the time but I would still regularly lose it for a few strides before figuring it out. Kt explained that this exercise has a number of benefits:
- giving riders a good feel for the rhythm of the canter so they can continue to move their legs with the canter once they start doing more two-point
- preventing riders from getting stiff in their position at the canter
- influencing the horse's canter tempo, the same way you can regulate trot tempo with posting
- is kind of an in-between between sitting and two-point so allows the rider to sit to influence the horse but then quickly get back off their back
- good for building leg muscles
It gave me a totally different feel for the canter rhythm than I normally have because it forced me to really pay attention to the speed and part of the stride. I think this is the part that will help with Kachina because she sometimes seems to have an odd canter rhythm (sometimes lateral steps, and sometimes she feels like she's on the opposite lead to what she actually is), I think paying attention to her stride differently by trying to post it might help me figure out what's going on beneath me and when I need to make a change.

Since I fail at getting any more related media you get a photo of this disgruntled
"driver" that I pulled up next to when I stopped at a convenience store
Not sure if it's funny to anyone else, but I was laughing

2. Count Down Trot-Canter Transitions - I don't know if there is a better name for this, but the exercise where you do 10 strides of trot, 10 strides of canter, 9 strides of trot, 9 strides of canter.... until you get down to a predetermined number (we stopped after 5 of each). I'm familiar with this exercise, and have done it at the walk and trot before, but never at the trot and canter. This is the type of thing that was excellent to practice on a lesson horse so I could get a feel for it before trying it on Kachina. When I started the exercise I was counting the number of strides of trot, but then it would take an extra couple strides to get the transition before I restarted the count at canter. As time went on I got better at getting the transition when I wanted it. It was a really neat feeling because it wasn't causing me to anticipate the transition, just know when to ask for it. Generally, if I tell myself I want a canter at a certain point, like letter K, I will end up tensing up beforehand and Kachina will anticipate and then we either get running or a late transition as I take time to rebalance her. With the stride counting, I wasn't changing anything in the strides beforehand, I was just mentally preparing and then making it happen as I counted "...and 10". I'm not sure how much sense that makes when I write it, but I could feel Donny respond to me better and I think it's a feeling I can probably reproduce with Kachina. I also found it a great way to get a good understanding of the tempo difference between trot and canter. I initially found myself struggling to fix the speed of counting in my head between trot (faster) and canter (slower), but when I figured out the count in my head, I could feel it more clearly in my body. I don't think Kachina is ready yet to work down to 5 and 5 strides, but I think spending some time on trot-canter transitions every 10 strides will be really good for both of us right now.

This was my last scheduled lesson with Kt and Donny. Next week I start another month of HJ lessons with N at a different barn. So far I'm glad I decided to do these HJ lessons. I think there is a lot you can learn from every discipline and I've been having fun while getting a different take on how I approach my rides.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Adventures in HJ Land - Parts 2 & 3

I've been continuing to take my Tuesday night HJ lessons with Kt on a lesson horse.

I'm lumping 2 weeks of lessons into one post because I only took one day's worth of media and also Week 2 was similar enough to Week 1 that it didn't deserve its own post.

(Week 1: See this post)

Week 2

Not too Earth-shattering. I rode Donny again. He was hard to get in front of my leg again. I did a few small jumps. I did some no stirrup work, alternating sitting and posting at the trot, which made me tired but didn't actually kill my legs. The end.

Week 3

I was riding Donny again, but Kt my instructor was out at the other end of the property, and someone was using the saddle I had used the last two times on a different mare. Some of the barn girls were really helpful trying to find me appropriate tack to use, but it involved some running around and confusion. It makes me appreciate the simplicity of normally getting to use my own tack and my own horse.

Jumper saddle, a bit different from my normal ride ;)

As I started my lesson, I found that Donny was more willing to move forward than my previous lessons. I wouldn't say he was in front of my leg, and he was still a very physical ride, but there was a clear improvement from last time. I don't know whether it is because he has determined I can sorta ride, or because of the weather or some other factor that has nothing to do with me, but I appreciated it. I especially appreciated it because we did a lot of trotting, a lot of cantering, a lot of jumping. As it was I was already completely spent by the end of the lesson, I wouldn't have survived if I had had to spend even more effort on keeping him going.

Kt had me do some posting at the trot without stirrups to start off. It makes me out of breath quickly but I was happy to see that it doesn't cause my balance to go out of whack or my leg muscles to tire. I think she got bored of how much of a non-event it was because we quickly left that behind and moved on.


After a bit of canter warm-up, Kt started to set up fences. To start we trotted through a bounce with just one fence set up and the other two being ground poles. She then added a second fence and then a third. We were still trotting into it, with the goal being to trot in and canter through. However, once there were 3 fences, things got ugly. Donny wasn't really picking up the canter and so the jumps were messy and I was left wondering if I was doing something wrong. There was one particularly bad one where Donny tripped over the second fence and I lost a stirrup and kind of crashed into his neck going over the third fence. After that Kt came to the conclusion that Donny is bad at trotting into gymnastics and she's never really trained him to do that so we should never try trotting in again.

We then tried the 3 fence bounce entering at a canter. The theory was that I should be able to basically point and shoot Donny into the gymnastic and then just work on feeling the rhythm and figuring out my position while he got us through. Unfortunately, the first few times through Donny would take off long and then get progressively longer and longer distances until the third fence was a really awkward leap. It didn't feel nice going through and it wasn't really allowing me to focus on correct feel and position. However, while it might seem counter-intuitive, the botched attempts were good for my confidence. Things weren't going like they should, but it wasn't the end of the world, and I was able to stay on and keep from catching Donny in the mouth or back.

The bounces!
I know they are objectively tiny, but it was still kind of a big deal for this non-jumper :-)

After the bad distances, Kt had me get deeper into the corner before the fence to give me a longer approach, really keep my impulsion, and sit and bump a stride before the first fence. This technique worked and I could immediately feel the improvement in the jumps. We did it a few more times and I focused more on letting him come up to me for the jump and holding my position. We ended after an extra good trip through where I didn't need his neck to support myself at all, and everything felt like it came together nicely. This is by far the most jumping I have done in the last 14 years so that was cool.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

So Mad

Kachina had her annual vet appointment to get her vaccines and float yesterday. Kachina was actually really good at the vet, she stood quietly even before she was given the sedation. She didn't fight the dental work. However, she was clearly offended that someone would stick needles in her neck and a thermometer up her butt. Some mare glare was definitely going on. 

I got the vet to give me her thoughts on Kachina's condition and nutrition. I told her about how it's been a slow road to build topline on her. She said that I can add some protein or fat and that might help, but that she thinks Kachina looks good right now, so doesn't have any concerns from a health perspective. She also noted that with Kachina's build she won't be a horse that ever gets a super beefy topline. I was hoping for a more solid recommendation from the vet when it came to food, but this essentially gives me the all clear to try a couple different options and see what works so that's good too. 

The vet was overall very pleased with Kachina's teeth, she had a couple of small points near her tongue but nothing bad. The vet recommended waiting 18 months before looking at her again. The 24/7 forage with the slow feed net is likely a big part of why her teeth are looking so good. The vet and I both love the nets for so many reasons. 

Kachina got a different kind of sedation this time, I'm not sure exactly what it was but the vet said that it is better for stability and giving them control over their legs sooner, but that it dulls their mind and digestive system a bit longer. It was weird for me because Kachina looked sober but her reactions were delayed which just made it seem like she was ignoring me. We walked outside the clinic to get pictures taken for the Coggins. Kachina had her head up and was walking normally, but when I'd ask her to stop, that message just wouldn't compute as soon as it should have and she was basically dragging me along at a walk a few times. Getting her pointed the right direction to get on the trailer also took a few tries. 

Once we got home, I had orders to keep Kachina off feed for 2 hours. Kachina was a little offended about being poked and prodded at the vet, but she was really mad that I was keeping her away from her food. Especially since Kachina gets free feed hay, she's usually not terribly food motivated, but yesterday she was doing her darndest just to reach a single blade of grass. I put her in the round pen and we did a bit of groundwork to try and distract her from food. Her reactions still seemed a little slow so I tried to keep the ground work simple and just reinforce concepts that she already knows. She still didn't try to mug me, but she was clearly upset that she wasn't getting the treats she normally does for certain responses. She tried to give me the cold shoulder to let me know that scratches were not an adequate reward. I had to put on the pressure a bit to let her know that walking away from me and turning her back on me was not an acceptable response. She started listening better after that, but her expression was still seriously grumpy.  

Finally, when the two hours were up, I gave her a treat and her whicker was so loud and excited that you'd think she had been starving for weeks. I put her back in her pen and she dove into her hay with gusto. We'll see tonight whether she's forgiven me or not. Poor hard done by mare *eye roll*

Does your horse get mad at you when you have to go to the vet? What's their least favorite part?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Mane Event - Blogger Meet-up?

Hey, as pretty much anyone in Alberta knows, The Mane Event is happening this weekend in Red Deer.

I will be there, to go to the Alberta Dressage Association AGM, as well as to watch clinicians and talk to vendors (but hopefully not buy too much... we'll see how that goes haha).

If anyone else is going do you want to make it a blogger meet-up? I will be there for most of Saturday and maybe some of Friday. Comment below or email me using the Contact Me tab above!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017


I am organizing a dressage show. The more I get into it, the more I have to ask myself how exactly I got myself into this. I'm not a horse professional. I've never organized a show before. I really have no credentials that say I can handle this, but here we are. The bottom line is that no-one else was doing it, so I am.

Surprisingly, it is actually coming together. I finished the prizelist yesterday, submitted it for sanctioning, and released it out into the world. A lot of work went into that prizelist (both writing the thing itself, and all the organizing required in order to be able to list the location, dates, judge, classes, etc.) and I'm pretty proud of it. I actually brought the printed copy of the prizelist into my room last night and stuck it on my bedside table because I wanted to admire it a little longer lol.

Now to see how many entries actually come in!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Boss Mare Swagger

I had a super interesting ground work session with Kachina on Friday. It was a blustery day and Kachina was very up while I was grooming her, so I brought her into the round pen to get her focused. I unclipped her lead rope to work with her at liberty. She started following me around the round pen, but when we got to an area with standing water, she tried to cut me off to stay on the narrow dry path beside the fence. I immediately gave her crap for pushing through my space and forced her to move over. This happened a few times. My corrections did have the intended result of making Kachina respect my space and stop rushing ahead. I noticed something else though: the more times I pushed her off, the more interested she was in following me. This was interesting for a couple reasons. First, Kachina isn't the most people-orientated person. She will generally follow a little bit when she is loose, but then move away in her own direction. Second, Kachina is not the most confident horse. With other things, I've found my best success with Kachina has come from breaking things down into easily understandable steps and using lots of positive reinforcement (praise, treats). On Friday I was using more pressure and less reward, but instead of making her lose confidence and back off from interacting with me (which I expected), it was doing the opposite.

Kachina started off pretty muddy

Kachina's reaction confused me initially, but I soon realized that it was probably because I was behaving like a boss mare. Kachina lives in a pen with another mare, Koanga. The two of them get along well, but Koanga is undoubtedly the boss. Me and Koanga's owner frequently will watch the two of them interact, and see Koanga use her neck posture and pinned ears to push Kachina off a specific part of the hay bale or make her move from one part of the pen to another. Kachina responds immediately to these directions with zero argument, and the next minute they'll be back standing beside each other, no hard feelings. As soon as I thought about it, I could see that this parallelled what I was doing with Kachina at that moment.

Kachina and boss mare Koanga

I tried to channel my inner boss mare more. I found that if I tried to walk with a confident boss mare swagger, Kachina was less likely to crowd my space or get ahead of me in the first place. I also started asking for Kachina to move in different ways at random. Boss mares don't necessarily have discernible reasons for their demands, and they don't worry about doing things in a repeated or sensible order, so I shouldn't stress about those things either. I told Kachina to move her shoulder to the right, then her hip to the left, then follow me, then stop, etc. In between my demands though I would take all the pressure off and just let Kachina chill. Kachina responded really well. She listened to me, and when I took the pressure off she was happy to stand or walk behind me in a relaxed manner with her head down and lots of licking and chewing.

Following me

Around this time, I saw another boarder had arrived. It was a decent time for a break so I left Kachina loose in the round pen and started walking away to go talk to him. I had only gotten about 40' when I heard a noise behind me and turned around to see Kachina doing her best giraffe impression and running around the round pen. I stood there for a minute watching her while Kachina alternated running, bucking, and tossing her head over the fence to look for me, her buddies, anyone.

As soon as I walked away

I wondered whether something other than my leaving had gotten her so worked up so I walked back into the round pen and started another round of boss mare behavior, pushing Kachina off and then releasing the pressure and having her follow me. In less than a minute, Kachina was back to her relaxed state.

She's like a different horse from the photos above

Licking and chewing

I went to leave again, partly to check if the last time had been an anomaly, partly because I still wanted to ask the other boarder something. As soon as I left she again hollowed and started running around in a tense way. This time I kept going and started talking to the other boarder, but turned so that I could keep an eye on what my horse was up to in the round pen. She did a fair bit of running, and only stopped to shove her head over the fence to look at the cows or other horses. I even saw her back feet go 10 feet in the air a couple times, which is unusual for Kachina. I wanted to see if she would calm down after a few minutes. She slowed down a little, but she never fully settled. After my conversation I went back to work with her again, and once more she was licking and chewing within moments of my return.

When I left the second time

I was amazed at the massive differences in Kachina's behavior. I leave Kachina tied all the time when I go to grab tack etc. She sometimes starts pawing, but she never freaks out, and she will sometimes be tense and pawing even when I'm with her, so I didn't think it had to do with my presence itself. I think it boils down to leadership. Kachina is a submissive horse and just really wants to have another horse or person to tell her what to do. In certain situations like being tied, she is (mostly) okay with being left alone because she has learned what is expected of her. However, in the round pen, she had too many options of what she could do and it stressed her out that she wasn't being told exactly what to do. By channeling my inner boss mare, I was being a more confident leader than normal in her eyes so she was happy to hand over the leadership reins to me immediately when I was around.

Following me in the big arena

I wanted to test this theory a little further, so I led her down to the outdoor arena. The footing in the round pen isn't great, so I don't go in there much. I use the outdoor arena much more. Sometimes when I don't have time for a ride, I will let Kachina loose in the outdoor arena to stretch her legs. She usually runs up and down the one fenceline a few times before stopping at the gate and whinnying for her friends. This time, I let her loose, but instead of leaving her to her own devices, I continued being boss mare. That meant I worked on having Kachina yield away from me with her shoulders or hips, and I also made my own rules and told Kachina with pressure that she wasn't allowed to eat the grass that was sprouting around the edges of the arena etc. In the bigger space, Kachina wasn't quite as tuned into me. She moved her shoulders really well, but there were times that I tried to move her hindquarters and she didn't seem to understand the question. I think it was mostly a matter of needing to make my body language clearer though. Kachina followed me a fair bit, but she wouldn't follow me once I crossed the line into the "scary" half of the arena. However, despite the bobbles, I felt like my theory was further supported because while I was being boss mare, she didn't run or call out to her friends once. Even when I took the pressure off, she was happy to stand and chill. It was the most relaxed I've seen her at liberty in the outdoor arena. I even took off my coat and flapped it around to do some desensitization work with Kachina and she was far less spooky about it than I would have expected.

Not impressed with the coat, but not freaked out about it either

I'm a bit disappointed in myself that it took me so long to get to this realization, but I'm really glad that I've unlocked another piece to the puzzle that is Kachina. I don't naturally like to be bossy, so this lead mare role is going to take work on my part. I'm excited to see how I can use this technique to work on some more ground work training challenges though. I just have to keep practicing my boss mare swagger!

And then Kachina's hind legs fell off ;-P
(I let her roll at the end and captured some funny looking shots)

Shake shake shake

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Trouble with Photos

On Sunday, my friend J from university drove down to visit me. We went out to the barn which was his first time interacting with horses. J has a fancy camera and an interest in photography so he volunteered to take photos of my ride, I happily agreed!

I actually strangely like this mounting photo.
I bet you wish your barn had a mounting block this classy ;-P

At least I remembered to smile at the camera a few times
Walk warm-up

As I'm sure you've noticed, most of my media consists of poor quality blurry video screenshots so I was excited for some good photos. The problem is, they aren't "good" the way I wanted them to be. J gave me 162 jpg files from my ride. The photo quality is great: properly focused, centered, fast shutter speed so no action blurs, enough megapixels to be able to zoom in without losing the quality, etc. However, they don't show the nice picture I was hoping for.

This was when I just started my first trot circle,
Kachina is distracted and fast so I'm reverting to my fetal position tip
(though I'm actually pretty proud of my leg position here)

A bit better trot

Problem 1: Reality
There are some things that a photo can't lie about. I cringe when I look at my position in several of the photos. Either I am leaning forward, have my leg too straight, or am doing weird things with my hands. While this doesn't make for photos that I want to share everywhere, it does give me good feedback to improve my equitation (#1: sit the heck back!). Another thing that the photos show is that Kachina was opening her mouth a lot more than I thought, especially at the canter. Kachina used to gape with her mouth a lot but I thought that issue was mostly solved now; apparently we still have some work to do (Kachina's mouth thing is something that I've talked about before, it's a tension thing, not a contact thing or discomfort thing. I promise that I'm not yanking her face off, but some of the photos looked like I was so I couldn't bear to post them and the photos in this post are somewhat carefully selected).

Work dat a$$ - Kachina's normal "big" trot

Distracted by the camera shutter
The shirt, saddle pad and barrel colour matching was totally unplanned lol

Problem 2: Timing
I could see J holding his camera during my whole ride so I figured he was taking photos evenly spaced throughout. It turns out though that he took the majority of the photos early on. In hindsight, this makes perfect sense from a non-rider perspective; he captured me walking, trotting, and cantering, and after that he figured I was just doing more of the same. The quality of the work was a lot different from start to end though. Kachina started out fairly tense and it took her a while to focus, but she felt really good by the end of the ride. I believe that my riding and position would have been better towards the end of the ride as well (I automatically revert to my bad habits when I feel Kachina tense). I'm especially bummed that there is zero photographic evidence of the amazing stretchy trot that Kachina gave me right before our cool-down.
The other part of timing is related to the exact moment. As riders we all know that certain moments of the stride look better than others. In a video we can screenshot the right moment, but that's much tougher when taking photos. A lot of the photos from Sunday aren't at the best angle or moment to get a representative idea of the quality of her gaits.

Left lead canter

I have lost my leg position completely, and need to be more forward allowing with my arms

I just included this photo because I think it's cool that you can see the details of her feet

More left lead canter

I'm aware that I'm complaining about the firstiest of first world problems. I really appreciate J taking photos for me. His photos are technically awesome, and there's no way he could have known what a good moment is supposed to look like from a dressage perspective. It's also nice to have some canter photos since I don't have many of those. I'm just sad that the photos didn't reflect the good work that I felt during my ride that day. I really hope there are some show photographers at the shows I go to this year (and that we can look our best in front of them).

And right lead canter

This was one of the final trot photos taken (though still only about halfway through ride),
not the best angle but you can see she is starting to get softer and rounder

I've seen so many great photos on other blogs, how do you get those? Are all your photos naturally amazing or are there a lot of outtakes for every good one? Do you have magic photo fairies held hostage in your tack rooms (if so, how do I get me one??)

Pats after a good ride

She has to put up with so much ;-)