Monday, 18 June 2018

This Horse Guys

My first show of 2018 is in the books! We spent the weekend in Claresholm for the Chinook Country Bronze Summer Dressage Show. It was a busy couple days, showing at Training Level, debuting at First Level(!) and participating in a mini-clinic with the judge.

I was probably overly optimistic a month ago when I sent in entries; we'd done a lot of good training over the winter and I was excited to put it to the test, but this past month was not an ideal prep period for showing. I was so busy with show organizing/wedding/honeymoon/work that I really didn't get out to the barn enough and when I did I had to spend the time working with Kachina on some herdbound ground issues instead of actual dressage (related post in the works). 

Despite the lack of prep, rain, wind, and a sloppy warm-up, Kachina really stepped up and was a champ! I'll do a more detailed show recap later, but I wanted to take today to just really appreciate this wonderful mare of mine. This horse has such a good work ethic. She lets me know when she isn't sure about something, be it my aids or the ground, but she doesn't have any quit in her. If you show her the way, she'll do her best, every time. She showed me that multiple times this weekend.

I know Kachina can't read this post but I hope she knows how much I appreciate her by how many times I told her "good girl!" and by how many cookies I stuffed her face with this weekend =-). Thanks Kachina!

<3 <3 <3

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Why I Organize Shows

Final show organizing post for this year:

Despite the comedy of errors, the show I put on was actually a success in the end. It's a lot of work to put on but I find it really rewarding and I'm glad I did it.

Freshly groomed arena ready for action!

There was a range of kinds of riders this year. Some of the people who entered my show last year came back and many of them had much improved rides and scores this time around. It was great to see the growth from year to year especially as I am good friends with a few of them and know how hard they worked (one friend who recently moved 4 hours away even hauled all the way back to participate again!). We also had a few competitors that I've seen at other dressage shows who made our local show part of their summer competition plan and that was a nice way to feel like my show was legitimate and had what normal competitors looked for. However the group that I was most thrilled to see were the newbies. A couple hunter-jumper riders decided to try dressage and entered a few classes, and I also had a couple riders who were competing in their first horse show ever! It seriously gives me so many warm fuzzies to have people who have never ridden in a dressage show before talk about what a good experience it was and how it is making them look at the sport more.

The perfect warmup for a show like this:
not too busy, not too quiet, and right beside the ring

Another thing that was pretty cool was our spectators. As is the usual at dressage shows, the crowd watching was small and mostly included friends and family of the riders, but there were a few exceptions. In the morning just as we were getting started, an RCMP (police) truck pulled up near the show office and a uniformed officer got out. I was worried that there had been some complaint or concern about permits or something so I went up to talk to her. It turns out that the officer had been in the feed store earlier in the week when I had been buying prizes, she overheard me talking about the show to the cashier and decided to come check it out along her rounds. She ended up staying for quite a while and asked a lot of questions about the sport. Then, later in the day, I had two ladies come to me asking for a schedule of ride times. They were both from out of town, one from Calgary and one from Saskatchewan, but they each ride dressage a little, were in town for the weekend, heard about our show and decided to come check it out. Additionally, a full seven people who do some degree of teaching riding lessons in the area (in various disciplines) stopped by throughout the weekend, some had students competing and some didn't but I was told by a few of them that they would encourage more of their students to enter next year.

The fancy new announcer's booth/show office
Those windows gave me a great view of the action as I scored etc.

Leading up to the show I more than once thought I was insane for organizing a horse show two weeks before my wedding, that may still be true but I'm glad I didn't cancel. I am convinced that skipping a year of this new show would have put dressage in the area back a step, but instead by having it we moved the sport ahead another step.

Some of the prizes

Seeing riders have positive experiences and growing dressage in the area - this is why I organize horse shows for the sport I love so much. Onwards and upwards for next year!

Monday, 11 June 2018

Married and such

I'm now a married woman. That feels weird to write, it sounds way more grown up or something than I actually am. Anyways, SO and I had a pretty kickass wedding on June 2nd, spent lots of time with family and friends from around the world and then jetted off to Maui, Hawaii for a short but sweet 4 day honeymoon. Today is back to work and the real world.

Entrance at reception

The wedding went better than we could have hoped. The dance floor was packed, the food devoured, the weather was perfect, and we were surrounded by smiles all day. I feel like all the time I spent planning the wedding was actually worth it, and it was a great opportunity to get all our friends and family together, but I'm also glad to have that role off my plate now so life can go back to normal. I don't feel like being married will really change anything day-to-day, SO and I have known each other for 11 years, dated for 6.5 and lived together for 5 so the wedding certificate just makes our relationship on paper match what it already has been in reality.

Packed dance floor (chicken dance perhaps?)

I feel like I will have so much free time now that my horse show and wedding are both done for the year! Naturally, I'm hoping to channel a lot of that time into riding (I was smart enough to marry a guy who has no issue with the horse habit ;-) ).

Beautiful and delicious cake (all succulents made from gum paste)
made by my super talented new brother-in-law!

Kachina hasn't been worked much in the last month due to my busyness but I've checked on her regularly and she seems happy and healthy. We are still in an adjustment period with the new barn (and some more recent changes to her living environment at the new barn), which makes the time off both good and bad.


Hawaii!

I have some updates to post and then I really need to get back in the saddle because we have our first show of the year coming up this weekend!

P.S. I could find no practical way of including horses in the wedding, but I did wear my cowboy boots all day (best decision ever, they were so comfortable!)

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?