Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Challenge Accepted

I read a couple blog posts today where bloggers issued some great challenges:

Karen at Contact said:
"So I challenge my blogger friends - challenge yourself! Try something you think is above your level.
Post your results!"

Austin at Guinness on Tap said:
"I want to challenge all of you to get out there this weekend and find your own horse-related joy. That might be galloping on your very own good horse, spending some quality time, or perfecting that lateral movement. In any case, share with me what your favorite things to do with your horse are, and whether you've ever been able to share that with another."

Challenge accepted! I can guarantee that I will not be attempting one-tempis or galloping in the field (the former because we don't even have single flying lead changes yet and the latter because that simply isn't safe when a layer of snow and ice covers the ground and hides the gopher holes) but I will be doing something!

I actually need to think a little on the horse-related joy one, horses and riding bring me so many good emotions in so many ways: peace, contentment, achievement, pride, excitement, focus, love, happiness... I'm not sure what part of horses gives me the most unadulterated joy though. Trail riding in the sun ranks pretty high on my joy scale but I'm not sure if I have a winter equivalent. That's a really good thing for me to ponder and attempt!

One version of horsey joy, no agenda, just having fun in the sun

In regards to trying something above my level, I am signed up for a group session in a jumping clinic this weekend! The clinic schedule and groupings were just posted today and while the riders in my group are friends of mine, they were not the people I was expecting to be paired with as it is not a beginners group. I'm a little intimidated because they all focus on jumping while I am the dressage rider who is dabbling with fences. My weekly jump instructor is the one who made the group assignments though so I am going to trust her judgement and go for it. It'll be a friendly environment but will be a good way to test my comfort level a bit and see what we can do!

Never thought jumping would be a thing we'd do but here we are
This gif is from two weeks ago

Stay tuned for how both of these challenges go!

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

I Drove All Night

This post title is literal, not just a song lyric. Also, while this story hit close to home for me, it is not truly my story so identifying details have been omitted. 

Last night at 7:12pm I got a call from my BO. Thankfully she started the conversation with "It's okay, Kachina's fine" but she then explained that another boarder's horse was colicking and the vet was recommending they haul to the clinic. This boarder did not have their own horse trailer and BO's trailer had been left in another city last week due to really bad roads. I immediately volunteered to come out to use my truck and trailer to get them to the nearby vet clinic. 

Times like this make me really glad that I keep my truck and trailer well maintained, mostly hooked up, and gassed up. I was ready to roll in record time. Thankfully we made the half hour haul to the vet clinic without incident though the mare was in rough shape when we got there. Her heart rate was quite elevated and she was clearly uncomfortable, dancing around and kicking her back legs.The vet sedated her and the dose barely lasted 15 minutes, not a good sign. The local vet did a rectal exam and immediately asked the owners if referral was an option. "Referral" only means one thing around here when it comes to equine medicine, referral to Moore Equine surgical center. Moore's is an amazing place that does fantastic work, but it's also more than a three hour haul and treatment there never comes cheap. It's a terribly tough decision to make on more than one front: Can your horse make the trip or are you prolonging their suffering and risking them going down in the trailer? How much is your horse's life worth to you financially? Do you actually have the required funds available? Is your horse mentally or physically capable of recovering from such major surgery? These are hard questions and there isn't a lot of time to answer them. With the nearest surgery center so far away it usually doesn't work to "wait and see", it's basically all or nothing and you have to decide as soon as humanly possible. 

Even if you want to go for the surgery, logistics must also be considered and that can be a whole separate challenge. Horses rarely colic in the middle of the day on your day off when the weather is nice. Do you have the ability to take time off work on short notice? Will you stay in Calgary during the surgery and recovery or do you have to drop your precious horse and leave? Are the roads safe or are you risking more than you might gain by driving through blizzard conditions or crippling fatigue? Do you have a truck and trailer that can make the journey?  

The people who had to make all these decisions were the owners of the horse, a young teenage rider and her non-horsey mom. They were understandably upset and overwhelmed. I knew I couldn't make any of the hard decisions for them but I really felt for what they were going through.  I had it in my power to at least deal with some of the logistics side of things for them so while the original arrangement was just to haul them to the local vet clinic, I quickly volunteered to haul them all the way to Moore's if that is what they decided. 

I know first hand how much colic can suck. I know how minor cases can strike fear into your heart of what might happen and also know how nasty hard-to-treat cases can masquerade and hide how serious they are until it is too late. I know how devastating a loss from colic can be. Four years ago my heart horse Ellie colicked, but unfortunately by the time it was clear that it wasn't a simple impaction, surgery wasn't a viable option. She was bad enough that she likely wouldn't have survived the trip and a full torsion was suspected which even surgery may not have been enough to get her to recover from. I knew then and I still know now that if referral had been an option in that scenario I would have taken it. In contrast, this horse colicking yesterday was an excellent candidate for surgery if they could get there soon enough, but finances and logistics were the problem. These people standing in front of me were not people I knew well, but I knew they had no access to a truck or trailer that night and I knew the mother was exhausted from a long day, if they weren't given a way to get to Calgary they would have to wait until morning and the local vet strongly felt that morning would be too late. I was careful not to pressure them one way or another but I made it clear to them that my truck, my trailer and myself were at their disposal if they wanted to have the choice of surgery for their horse. 

The decision to head to Moore's was made around 8:45pm. We got to the equine hospital around 1am. After an intake exam and thorough discussion of all the options with the vets there, we left around 3am leaving the mare in the capable hands of the clinic staff. I arrived back at my house at 6:20am which left me just enough time to shower and pack a lunch before I had to get to work at 7:15am. 

The owners have been updating me throughout the day as we are in this together at this point. The mare was treated medically for the first few hours but went in for surgery early this morning. The surgery went well, they did not have to cut into the intestine but they did need to remove it and squeeze out both gas and blockages. There could still be complications but as of this writing, prognosis is good and it seems the trip to Calgary was the right call. 

Am I tired today? Yes. Was it worth it to drive all night to help a horse and family I hardly knew? Yes. There are so many crappy situations in this world that I feel powerless to change. This was one crappy situation where I could help and I'm so glad I did. If this mare makes it home, seeing her and her girl together will be all the reward I need, but if the colic karma gods are watching, please take note. I know that in choosing a life with horses I will be up against the colic monster again myself at some point and any mercy is appreciated. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Thankfulness and Positivity

I have a clinic recap to come from this past weekend. It was the second clinic in a row that I came away from frustrated and dwelling on lines crossed, but in very different ways. I need to write about it because it is having an impact on me and my overall riding story. However, I don't want to dwell on negativity. Also, Canadian Thanksgiving was just over a week ago. In the spirit of thankfulness and positivity I want to put out a post today with 10 things I am grateful for.

I am grateful for how well deer coexist with humans in my town

Yep, that's how close this one was to my car

1. Kachina got a trim yesterday where we were able to get all four feet trimmed in 45 minutes without stressing out Kachina, the farrier or myself. This is a huge win considering Kachina's recent backslide in terms of foot handling. I completely changed my approach a few weeks ago and this showed that I am on the right path. Her feet are also looking much better this year compared to last year.

2. The weather has been spectacularly warm and beautiful this week. I thought our nice weather was over for the year and so this has been a pleasant surprise.

This was October 3rd, but today feels like summer again

3. I am dreading winter far less this year compared to past years. Boarding at a barn with heat, stalls, and good lighting makes the cold and dark so much less oppressive.

4. With the incoming winter weather, the barn has started to get busier in the evenings. That in addition to the weekly group jump lesson that I just started means that Kachina and I are less frequently alone and we are both enjoying that.

5. There are some perks to the new barn that I wasn't expecting, for example I don't have to haul Kachina for her fall dental work because my normal vet is scheduled to come out for a full day of dentals at my barn, all I had to do was add her to the list and then come out to hold her.

6. We had both my parents and my in-laws over to our house for Thanksgiving supper this year and I felt privileged to be able to host. Cooking and baking for a crowd gets more enjoyable and less stressful each time I do it.

I made a banoffee (banana toffee) trifle for dessert!

7. My husband has always wanted a hot tub and we recently got one. I wasn't sure how much I would like it but it's actually pretty awesome for warming up and relaxing after a long ride/evening at the barn.

8. Kachina has been taking to the jump work really well and it's a great change of pace. I think the cross training is good for Kachina but even better for me mentally.

Blurry screenshots

Look at her rocking back on her hind legs

9. There might not be as many options as I would like, but I am in a position where I can make some choices about who I do or do not want to ride with instructor-wise and I need to appreciate and utilize those choices.

10. The recent clinic did have some good components: I now have a walk to canter transition and a better trot to canter transition. I also have a better feel for when I am using my elbow or wrist in the contact which will hopefully help me to self correct and use my elbows more consistently.

11. The gross lateral trot and canter have not reappeared for a few rides even when upping the intensity. I hope we can keep them at bay permanently.

12. Two pairs of breeches recently died completely (after many years of use) - this might sound like a bad thing but I have forced myself not to buy breeches so many times because I had 4 workable pairs and as much as I wanted new ones I couldn't justify it. Now that I am down to 2 pairs I have a legitimate excuse to buy the nicer, more technical, prettier breeches that I have been lusting over. (Also pretty sure group lessons is also a good excuse to up my riding outfit game).

13. The colder weather has given me a reason to bust out the Dubarry boots I splurged on last spring, I <3 them.

14. My horse is sound, I am sound. I too often take this for granted. My heart goes out to all of those in blogland who are struggling with injuries or illnesses. 

Hey look, I made it past 10, life is pretty good!

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Jumping Video

As promised.. jumping media!

This video was taken on Kachina's second day ever jumping! And it was also the first day that we did more than one jump in a line. We had a couple biffed attempts but several nice ones as well and this one looks pretty good considering how green to jumping we both are!

Monday, 1 October 2018

2018 Q3 Review & Q4 Goals

2018 Q3 Goal Review

1. Bring Kachina into Barn 5 Days/Week
Fail - I have other commitments in my life and I just have to admit that I cannot commit to being at the barn 5 days a week regularly. I did make sure to work with Kachina in the barn as much as possible though. 

2. Test Ride Every Two Weeks
Semi-success - I did this for the first half of Q3 but then show season was over so the priority was gone

3. Develop a Good Stretchy Trot
Semi-success - We worked on this and I improved it a bit but it's still not "good". On the bright side, I rode another horse with a great stretchy trot and now I understand what I am working towards. 

4. Commit to a Weekend of Stall Time for Kachina at home
Semi-success - I tried this but it wasn't very successful. New approaches are in progress. 

5. Go on Two Trail Rides
Semi-success - I did a nice trail ride in Cochrane during the show but the charity trail rides I had planned on in Battle River and the Cypress Hills didn't work for various reasons (work, sick husband, swollen ankle). Trail rides at the new barn haven't really happened because I haven't had people to ride with (I could do it on my own but not as much fun). 

6. Canter/Gallop in Fields
Fail - I don't even have a good excuse, I just didn't do this

7. Participate in Judge's Clinic 
Success - my one and only full success this quarter! I did this and it was super informative.

2018 Show Season Stretch Goals

All of these were stretch goals (because only so many show dates, and horses wreck plans), but something for me to aim for within Q2 or Q3 (show season is Apr-Sept)

1. Debut at First Level
Success! - I showed First Level at two shows. I didn't quite break 60% but a couple 58s and a couple 59s shows we are on the right track and now need to work on refining everything. 

2. Score Above 65%
Nope - This didn't happen, but I did score 64.4% at Training Level at a Bronze show and it was the highest score for the level so I'm not completely disappointed. 

3. Earn an ADA Wild Rose Award
This involves getting scores of 63% or higher at 3 different shows at Training Level or First Level.
Nope - We only went to three shows total and only got a qualifying score at one of them. Will have to try again next year!

2018 Q4 Goals

1. Keep Working with Kachina on Tension in the Barn
Consistency is important but there's no point continuing with a specific plan for a whole quarter if it isn't helping. I will commit to keep working on this but the exact approach and results may need continuous adjustment
Current plans
- Starting group lesson next week so Kachina learns that we can have company in barn
- Changing feed schedule of magnesium
- Modified headstall to focus on bridling
- Specific order of tasks in barn

2. Keep Working with Kachina on Foot Handling and Trimming
This is very interrelated with number 1, however it deserves extra focus. Some degree of pawing etc can be tolerated when I am saddling Kachina or grabbing a broom etc, but she simply must be able to deal with having her feet handled or it will create a hazard for herself, me and any farriers.

3. Experiment with other Disciplines
I have a lot of respect for well-rounded horses and riders and think cross training has many potential benefits. I feel like Kachina now has a solid enough base of dressage that we can do more branching out into other riding styles without confusing her too much. For this fall/winter I am taking lessons at my home barn so Kachina and I can learn the basics of tackling poles and small jumps. Hopefully that will lead to some fun new adventures next summer.

4. Make myself a Riding Road Map/Progression Plan to follow 
I used a Progression Plan from December 2016 to June 2017 and it helped keep me focused on what to work on during my rides. At that time I used it primarily because I didn't have a lot of access to lessons. Now, I do have more potential for lessons and clinics, from multiple people, but I'm at a point where I am not sure if I'm getting the value and direction I want from those lessons. It was good for me to take a leap of faith and fully try a trainer's approach for a while but now I want to re-take a more active role and be less of a passive student. I think having my own new Progression Plan in head will help me determine what I can work on myself and what I need help with so that I can better choose the type and frequency of lessons that will contribute positively to Kachina and I. 

5. Try Clicker Training Again
I tried clicker training previously with limited success. I am a big believer of positive reinforcement but Kachina isn't super food motivated so shaping behaviour by rewarding progressive attempts to volunteer the behaviour didn't get too far. Instead I have used food to reward Kachina for correct answers to traditional aids (e.g., I ask her to halt while leading, she gets a treat if she halts nicely). Being at the new barn gives me new options to set up clicker training scenarios though (like using a stall which I didn't have before) so I think it deserves another shot. I also want to make the reward praise plus treat instead of just treat because I have learned that Kachina values knowing she got the right answer more than just the food itself, and I may have missed that part on my first attempt.

6. Improve my own Fitness/Strength/Weight
My weight has crept up again over the summer and I want to get it back under control. I can be a more effective rider if I am in better physical shape. 

7. Have Fun
Progression and training is important but things will be a lot easier and more enjoyable all around if I make sure that barn time can be fun for me and fun for Kachina as much as possible. Hopefully group lessons, experimenting with jumping, and clicker training can all be fun. If they aren't fun then we will try other things that bring out joy in both of us. 

Friday, 28 September 2018


This week I attempted my first real jump with Kachina! It even went really well!

No new photos so you get a bunch of randoms
Pretty girl in her paddock

Quick background:
- to my knowledge Kachina has never been taught to jump at all
- the only jumps I've done with Kachina in the past was one obstacle at a cowboy challenge back in February 2016 (which we didn't really prep for and it was in a western saddle and she knocked it down the first few times so it doesn't really count), and a few flying leaps over muddy creek beds on trail rides (which I would have preferred to walk through calmly)
- in August I started weekly lessons with a hunter/jumper instructor at my barn (SC) to try some cross training. We started with walk poles, trot poles, and raised poles. This was our 4th lesson.

I got a hammock stand this summer, it was a great spot to enjoy the nice weather

Nachosaurus! For my 30th birthday I got the best present ever of this amazing chip holder

After doing some trot poles, which Kachina has really gotten the hang of, SC pointed me to a teeny tiny x-rail with a front placing pole. She first had me bring Kachina up to it to look at it (zero cares) and then had me trot to it with me just looking to the far end of the arena and keeping my hands up. SC suspected that Kachina would just trot over it and that is exactly what happened. We trotted over it twice without me doing anything, and then on the third approach SC had me cluck right before the jump (still trotted over, but cantered after). The next time through SC had me cluck and squeeze with my legs and Kachina jumped it and cantered away. We had a bit of a walk break and went over it twice more without me doing anything (trotted over jump, cantered after). That's where we ended the lesson.

For my Dad's birthday we went for a flight in this open cockpit biplane

It was a super productive first jumping attempt. Kachina stayed calm throughout, and seemed to think her way through the exercise and what her feet were doing. She stayed straight and looked to the jump without rushing it. I was talking with SC at the end and we both agreed that it was pretty cool that Kachina would jump when asked but otherwise would trot the obstacle. Especially for a dressage horse that is a good adaptability where I can either jump small obstacles or use them as cavaletti.

Cat in a grocery bag
Cats passed out to an intense level (only time I've seen the white one sleep like that)

I never want to jump high or as a main focus but I like that learning to jump will give us more freedom to try new adventures. Kachina seemed to enjoy it and jumping isn't as intimidating for me as I expected when my horse tackles it so sensibly. SC and I plan to keep working on things nice and gradually so we never add too much pressure.

We were super lazy with the garden this year but got 11 pounds of potatoes!

Husband turned a bunch of the potatoes into this tasty Shepherd's pie

This is obviously entirely too premature but since I love long-term plans, I have my sights set on a few outdoor events for next September. You fellow bloggers introduced me to the concept of a pace and chase and there is fun pace and chase at the Cochrane Ag facility (my favorite place) that has a beginner division where all obstacles are simple logs and less than 2'. There is also a foxhunting club in Calgary where there is no fox, no hounds, but they organize rides at venues where you can ride through fields and trails and all jumps are optional (so can ride around it if it looks too high or intimidating). I saw social media posts about both for this year and they look like fun events that I think of more as "trail riding at trot or canter with a few obstacles" rather than specific jumping events. I am putting absolutely zero pressure on myself when it comes to jumping, we will only do it if it stays fun for Kachina and I, but it would be pretty cool if we could slowly build up to doing something like that. Prix caprilli dressage classes are an option as well.

I need goals and dream to get me through the winter that is coming
(this was last weekend in central Alberta for a wedding)

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Broken Rhythm

I had two lessons with Elaine at the end of August. In the first one we worked on a new concept of controlling each foreleg directly with the corresponding rein. This kept Kachina's tempo in check but also really helped to improve the connection and gave me the best canter I've ever had with her. It was a great lesson!

I have no lesson media so instead you get non-pro photos
from my show in July that never got posted
(First set are from my warmup)

The next day Elaine changed focus and was getting me to be pickier with the connection. While Kachina was more green to the idea of contact, a roughly correct frame was good enough, but now she wanted me to give bigger corrections when Kachina started nosing out or getting even a little strong in the contact. The general concept made sense to me but the exact method was creating some resistance and I had to ask Elaine several questions to clarify what we were doing and why. Part of the ongoing challenge is that my feel of Kachina's head position does not match reality so I need to reevaluate what the right position feels like. It was a decent lesson but not as great as the day before.

These photos serve to keep the size of my head in check
and remind me that I need lessons (because at the end of my last
lesson my first thought was to just go it on my own again)

Elaine's September visit ended up being only 2 weeks later. I was out of town on the Saturday (learning to ride sidesaddle!) but I signed up for one lesson on Sunday September 16th. The first half of the lesson was great. We did figures at walk and trot and transitions and Kachina was showing great connection, balance and straightness, Elaine had only a few small suggestions but for the most part Kachina and I were able to show off the work we've been doing over the past couple months.

The work we've been doing the last couple months is much
better than this work from July
Free walk

After some beautiful trot work, I was giving Kachina a walk break and Elaine and I were talking a bit about how things were going. I mentioned that our canter transitions and connection in the canter could still be hit or miss so I wouldn't mind working on those. Elaine suggested that doing a leg yield (but with more inside bend) during the transition was a good way to unlock her back and keep her topline soft. I had expected focus on canter transitions the same way we had tackled trot transitions back in early days, not a whole new approach, but I was willing to try her recommendation. We started by trying a couple transitions from walk to trot and trot to walk while leg yielding. We did the transitions but adding a new dimension actually made Kachina pop her head up more in the transition so it wasn't really giving the benefit it was supposed to. Elaine wanted me to have much more bend and got me to do a bent leg yield on a circle at the walk. I have never been asked to do a "bent leg yield on a circle" so I was confused about what she was looking for but after asking a bunch of questions gave it my best shot. It was kind of like a counterbent renvers I guess, pushing her haunches out to the outside of the circle but bending her neck to the centre of the circle. Elaine than asked us stay in the bent leg yield circle and transition to trot. That's when the lesson really went downhill.

A decent warmup canter but certainly could be better
Lengthened canter from my First Level test, connection not really there

I asked Kachina to trot and instead of trotting she started pacing/doing some weird gaited thing. Kachina is not a gaited horse but this was not a diagonal trot. The second it started I wanted to stop but Elaine encouraged me to push through and ask for more bend and keep going. The pacing continued. I brought Kachina down to a walk to talk to Elaine because rhythm is so key in dressage and it felt like such a mistake to me to do any exercise that compromised the rhythm so badly especially when Kachina normally has a nice trot. She gave me the speech about how sometimes things have to get worse before they get better and I needed to hold the bent leg yield position until Kachina loosened her back and relaxed into it. She assured me the bad rhythm was a temporary thing and that we needed to do this to get to the next level of work. We did a few more circles of bent leg yield at the walk to confirm the positioning and then tried again at trot. More pacing. Elaine kept getting me to push through it and ask for more bend. We did multiple circles and I didn't feel a single step of true trot. Kachina felt like she sometimes switched between 2 beat pacing and 4 beat trotting but it all felt ugly. Elaine kept saying "Good!" when I got a few steps of more bend and 4 beating and I kind of lost it and started yelling that no, none of it was good, she was not trotting! Despite Elaine's direction to continue I eventually just stopped and essentially said that this exercise was not working and I was worried about what it was doing to Kachina's mind and trot. Elaine insisted that this was a good exercise but backed up a bit and allowed that maybe it was too much too soon, maybe I needed to do more work at walk, or do transitions to trot during a straight leg yield first before one with bend. I just really wanted to get some real trot. I went large around the arena and tried trotting without all of the bent leg yield crap and the trot was still broken. Elaine tried making some suggestions but not going to lie, at that point I was super upset that we had broken Kachina's trot and I essentially just tuned her out and rode my horse. Using the reins seemed to magnify the crappiness of the trot rhythm so I tried to forget about connection and tempo and just ride forward and straight until we had a real trot. We got some real trot but also some crappy pacing/gaited stuff. I praised her and started giving her walk breaks on a loose rein after she gave me a few strides of true trot. During one of these walk breaks our lesson officially ended. I apologized to Elaine for getting upset and we tentatively talked about dates for next month, but I was internally disagreeing with her suggestions to work on the bent leg yield exercise on my own over the next month.

My halts sucked at this show
We can normally trot properly

I've had a few rides since the lesson and have focused on forward and straight. I've been able to get some nice trot work but in each ride the crappy pacing has reappeared at least a couple times. That one lesson has negatively impacted our progression and despite me trying to get over it, I'm upset about it. It reminds me of one friend who's horse developed a prolonged rearing problem from one lesson where the trainer put too much pressure on them. I really hope this is not a prolonged problem.

Leg yield
Lengthen trot

This issue really made me step back and consider to what degree we should trust trainers. We all ride with trainers because they are supposed to know more than us. That means sometimes they will give us unfamiliar exercises or teach us things that don't initially make sense, that's how we learn. Sometimes we do improve by pushing through something that doesn't feel right (i.e. every position fix ever where at first it feels way too extreme until your muscle memory adapts). On the other hand, trainers aren't infallible, and we as riders know our horses the best. To what level should we trust what our trainers are telling us and at what point do we need to listen to ourselves and our horses and go a different route? I don't think there is a simple one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on what level of rider you are, how well you know your trainer, how well your trainer knows you and your horse, how well your horse accepts pressure, etc. Elaine has taught me a number of times and her training has definitely created positive change in both myself and Kachina. I had and still have reason to trust her judgement, but in this instance I wish I would have put a stop to the exercise sooner. I think in the future I am going to use the dressage training pyramid to guide my level of trust. Rhythm and Relaxation/Suppleness are the bottom levels and key to everything else. If what a trainer is asking me to do is ruining the rhythm or relaxation for more than a couple strides then I want to learn a different approach of doing the exercise. It doesn't mean I'm not willing to work with that trainer any more, it just means I'm going to stop and ask for a different way in those instances. (As an aside, I believe a mark of a good teacher (of any subject) is one who has multiple ways to tackle an issue, if a trainer repeatedly can't give me another approach then that is when I would seriously consider not working with them anymore)

Do you have a line in the sand of where your willingness to follow a trainer ends?