Thursday, 12 October 2017

One-Woman Horse

Kachina is a bit of a special snowflake. It has been well documented on this blog that she is both a horse with a questionable history and some tension issues, but also one who I can successfully take on a variety of adventures whether it is trail riding, cow herding, or dressaging.

On the ground, she is consistently difficult for getting her feet trimmed (luckily I have a saint of a farrier who is firm but calm and keeps coming back to try and give her positive experiences). She also doesn't like being tied in her home barn. On the other hand, there are lots of things she is good at. She doesn't pull back, she trailer loads easily, she will stand tied calmly for hours at clinics or shows, she gets along well with other horses, and, she's consistently easy to catch, even in the humongous pasture.... or so I thought...

On Tuesday I got a message from the BO asking if we could move the horses out of the pasture and back to their winter pens because the cows were coming home this week. There are three horses out in the pasture so I coordinated with S and P, the owners of the other two, to get them all moved yesterday so none of them would be left alone. S and P had plans later in the evening so they asked me if they could move all 3 horses at 3:30 in the afternoon. I was still at work so I couldn't meet them at that time but they were happy to move Kachina and I was fine with it as I would be be out there a couple hours later to check on her once she was in her pen.

Well, I got out to the barn at 5pm and S and P were still out there. They had tried for over an hour to catch Kachina and they couldn't even get close. I felt really bad for them but was also surprised. I heard once before that the BOs had trouble catching Kachina in the pasture, but they only try and catch her when they have a tube of dewormer in hand so that made more sense. I also know Kachina wasn't a fan of a strange man peeking inside her mouth at a dressage show tack check. Kachina sees S and P almost as much as she sees me though, so they are neither strangers or people who bring unpleasant things, in fact they sometimes come bearing food. I figured they would have no problem catching her, especially when her buddies were already caught. Not so, apparently she did quite a bit of running. They didn't want to get her too hot and sweaty so when I arrived they were giving her a breather. The other two horses were in the pen and Kachina was standing near the fence staring at her buddies from afar. I grabbed my halter, walked right over to her, and Kachina turned towards me and let me halter her with zero issues, same as always.

I have really mixed feelings about this new piece of information. On one hand it gives me warm fuzzies inside that Kachina has chosen me as her person and won't be caught by anyone else. I also kind of like the idea that it would be hard for anybody to steal or mess with my horse. However, on the other hand it really concerns me. What if someone had to catch Kachina in an emergency? Also there was a blog hop last year about making your horse a solid citizen to improve their chances in life if they ever needed to be sold, this is decidedly not solid citizen behavior.

This development also leaves me with questions:

  1. Is being uncomfortable with other people the reason that Kachina gets so tense during trims? Last week the farrier was out and Kachina was not wanting to cooperate. I had yet another conversation with her trimmer about what I can do to work on this training issue. I've done a huge amount of ground work and handling of Kachina's feet and she has gotten good with me but it doesn't seem to be translating for trims. We hypothesized that the change in routine might be the issue, or maybe she has sensitivity in her soles and gets uncomfortable, so we decided to do have her trimmed twice as often but smaller trims or only fronts or hinds each time, so each appointment is less long and also Kachina gets used to it happening more often. That still sounds like a decent plan, but maybe the root cause is that Kachina isn't comfortable being handled by other people. 
  2. How do I fix this? I feel like the simple answer is get more people to handle Kachina but that's easier said than done. My boarding situation is pretty basic and the owners don't handle the horses regularly. I have some friends I can ask to come out, but I don't want to impose too much, and I feel like this may be the kind of thing that takes a lot of sessions to address. Would it be better to get one person other than me to handle her regularly like a free half lease, or should I try and have a whole bunch of different people just do small things like go and feed her a treat and then retreat? 
  3. Am I reading way too much into this? Lots of horses are tough to catch in a pasture, doesn't mean they're scared of people. This was just one occurrence, so an admittedly tiny sample size, but at the same time it does seem like it might fit with a larger pattern of observations I've made though the years. 


If anyone else has had a horse like this, please chime in and let me know what helped or didn't help in your case.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Kick in the Pants

I love riding, I truly do. But, sometimes I need a bit of a kick in the pants to go out to the barn. The abrupt change in seasons hasn't helped. Last night I was enjoying my comfy couch and didn't particularly want to leave the warmth and brightness of the house. As the evening got later I was thinking that I might just go out to check on Kachina and make sure she was staying warm but forgo riding. But... there was a 2ptober baseline score to get!

Cute fuzzy pony wasn't cold anymore

I dragged myself out, found my horse by moonlight, and brought her in to tack up. It was 10pm by the time I finally mounted up but I was really glad I decided to ride because I ended up having a great ride! I focused on staying balanced over Kachina's centre, balanced both side to side and front to back. I also focused on keeping steady light connection with my hands, pushing out my mid-back to keep an upright upper body, and keeping my legs in contact with the saddle and Kachina's sides. Kachina responded well to my focused riding and was quick to soften over her topline. I did some two-point at the trot and then moved onto canter. Kachina amazed me by stretching down and blowing at the canter. I've never felt her relax so much at the canter before so I gave her lots of praise and ended the ride there.

Blurry screenshot of two-point!
(Feel free to critique, but please remember I'm a dressage rider ;-)
also note that while my hands are close to her neck, they aren't touching!)

Checking my time

I had set up my tripod to video the ride but unfortunately my phone ran out of memory so it only recorded the first half. It's too bad that I don't have media of the better moments but either way it was a great ride and I'm grateful for 2ptober for giving me the kick in the pants that I needed!

Two-point gif, not as terrible as I feared!

Btw, baseline time = 2:05

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Shivers

Poor Kachina was shivering when I went to check on her last night. She had been wearing a blanket and was dry underneath, but apparently the weight wasn't adequate to keep her insulated against the nasty wind, snow, freezing rain and ice pellets. She looked pretty miserable.

I brought her into the indoor arena, took off her blanket, let her roll, gave her a good brushing while letting her munch on a double portion of feed. I then put on her heavier winter blanket and hood and did some ground work with her to get her walk and build up some heat before turning her back out. By the time I was done she had stopped shivering and felt pretty toasty underneath her fresh blanket. Here's hoping she stayed warm though the night.

Looking much happier about life

Modelling her heavy blanket - this is actually the first time I've used the hood

I try to keep a pretty close eye on Kachina during changing weather to make sure she's warm or cool enough. She's lived her entire life outside 24/7, is healthy and grows a long thick coat of winter hair (which is already coming in nicely). Sometimes, like yesterday, she surprises me with how she reacts to the cold though. Both horses she shares the pasture with were much wetter but still seemed more comfortable than Kachina. (For the record, it was only around 0C, it was just the wet snow and wind that made it more miserable)

Have you ever had a horse who seemed more susceptible to the cold? Any theories as to what makes them that way?

What are your go-to methods for warming up a chilly horse? (Bonus points if it doesn't involve a heated barn because we don't have that)

Monday, 2 October 2017

Snow

Autumn barely exists where I live, it likes to jump straight from summer to winter.

Exhibit A: Friday was sunny and 28C (82F), today is this:
Hard to see in photo but snow still coming down pretty hard
(and essentially sideways with a nasty wind)

Blergh. On the bright side, I did have a nice fall weekend at a riding clinic, recaps to come. It's also supposed to get back above freezing by Thursday so that's good, but if we get as much rain/snow/sleet as expected then I won't be riding outside again anytime soon. 

Friday, 29 September 2017

2017 Q3 Review and Q4 Goals

2017 Q3 Goal Review


Fall is here again (last year's photo)

1. Ride in at least three clinics/lessons
Success
I rode in 4 clinics, one with Robin Hahn, and 3 with Elaine (well almost, the third one is tomorrow). The success of these clinics was variable, so this won't be a repeat goal, but I rode in them.

2. Earn an ADA Horse & Rider Recognition Award
Semi-success
This award requires scores of 63% or more at training level at three different Wildrose or Bronze shows. As I mentioned when I set this goal, it essentially encompasses multiple sub-goals: compete in at least three shows, do good training level tests in front of a judge, score above 63%. I went to three eligible shows (Chinook show, local show, Lethbridge show), and put down decent tests, but we only scored above 63% at one of those shows. I knew I had blown this goal after the July show so I didn't put as much prep into the September show as I otherwise would have. 
No ADA Award, but I didn't leave the show totally empty handed

3. Confirm canter transitions
Semi-success
I have made a concerted effort to correct my position and aid during canter transitions and that has been fairly successful. During Q3 a new tranter problem cropped up, which I have mostly corrected. All in all I have done some good work on canter transitions but they still need to be rounder and more relaxed. 

4. Do regular test riding
Semi-success
A couple shows in the quarter made me do some test riding, but I should have done even more.  

5. Start working on First Level movements
Semi-success
We have been working on "increased thrust", "more consistent contact with the bit", more accurate canter transitions, and some lateral work, so all of that has an eye towards First Level, we haven't been doing much for actual lengthens or leg yields though. 

6. Ride in the Cypress Hills
Success
Not the most challenging goal, but we did it and we did it well :-)
Felt a bit like how crossing the finish at an
endurance ride must feel

We didn't have quite the show season I was hoping for. Part of me keeps expecting us to get past training level and is disappointed when we don't. However, when I look at these goals, and where I was at this time last year, I see that we are still working away and while it might be slow, we are solidifying our foundation of knowledge and skills (both mine and Kachina's) which is good and important work.

2017 Q4 Goals

1. Fight winter blues and re-establish a barn routine
Every fall I struggle with the cold and dark for a while until I adjust (especially the dark). It helps if I dive right into a new routine or focus so that's what I'm going to try. 

2. Start pre-planning for 2018 local dressage show
I've actually already set the date, booked the judge and reserved the venue, but there's a few more things I can do this year to set the stage for a more successful year two. 

3. Actively determine what I can do to improve the local equestrian scene
I have the privilege of being on the board of directors for both the nearest dressage association and for a community equestrian facility. Both of these positions mean I represent a wider group (basically I represent my area in dressage, and I represent English riders in my area) and I want to use that to influence positive growth and change rather than just going along for the ride. To start that means putting thought into what possibilities I see and what my ultimate vision is.  

4. Regularly video my rides
I have a tripod and bluetooth remote setup now. I don't always like seeing video of me but I do learn from it, so I should use it as a tool. This actually ties in well with Goal #1 as it is easier to set up to video in the indoor arena

5. Address ground work from a root cause perspective
To explain this further would take multiple posts so I will do a series on this as I work on it

6. Participate in 2Pointober
I don't want to over-do 2 point because it doesn't help me with sitting back, but a bit is good for my leg position. (and it's a fun contest)

7. Participate in No-stirrup November
I think some no-stirrup work is really what my position needs. I won't be dropping my stirrups for the entire month, but I want to do at least a few rides without them. Does anyone have a formal blog challenge for this?

8. Control the canter
Canter is my ongoing challenge, I have made some good steps so I want to keep the momentum going and keep canter as a focus in Q4. I still sometimes find myself just sitting on Kachina at the canter and hoping that things go okay. Wishing isn't good enough, I need to actually use my aids to influence Kachina and get the bend, track, tempo and shape that I need within the canter. 

9. Regularly work on free walk and stretchy trot
These have been weak scores this summer so I need to do some targeted work here.

10. Develop new training progression plan
Last winter I had a series of steps I was working towards and that helped me stay focused. In the last few months my riding has become more disjointed and it shows. I need to reanalyze where we are at and figure out a plan to move forward. This also involves some thought about what trainers are going to help us. 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Meet Me Under the Stars

Last Thursday I had a crazy day so I wasn't able to go out to the barn until after 9pm. I knew at that point that I wasn't going to be able to ride, but I had to drop off money for my BO so I needed to go out anyways. While I was at the barn I went out to the pasture to check on Kachina. Work and life have been busy and stressful so I haven't seen her as much as I'd like.

Checking on Kachina was easier said than done though. It was pitch black outside, and there was a new moon so no light from anywhere. The pasture is massive and my flashlight doesn't come close to reaching the fencelines. I tried listening for the horses but I couldn't hear anything other than the breeze. I would have had to serpentine all over the pasture to locate the horses so I just did a couple passes and then gave up. I turned off my flashlight and stood in the middle of the pasture letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. I decided I would head home soon, but I took a few moments to star gaze. One thing I love about my barn is that it's far enough away from the town's light pollution and has phenomenal night skies. With no moon, and no clouds, I could see every constellation I know, millions of other stars, and even the milky way. As I stood there admiring the beauty above me, I heard the slightest of sounds and looked down. I could just see a dark shape on the edge of my vision and started walking towards it. As I got closer I could see that it was Kachina. She had walked far away from the herd and was watching me. I went up to her and gave her scratches while checking her over for any nicks or bumps. She's teddy bear soft right now with her winter coat starting to come in. We enjoyed a few silent moment together and then I walked back to my car. It may not seem like much but it meant a lot to me that Kachina came to seek me out across the pasture away from her buddies. Moments like that always make me feel peaceful and grounded, and confirm to me that horses are good for my soul.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Cypress Hills Wish Ride

On Saturday (two weeks ago) was the Cypress Hills Wish Ride. This was the 4th year for this charity trail ride but it was the first year I've been able to attend.

Pre-ride

The ride takes place on a historic ranch in the Cypress Hills. The Cypress Hills are a cool area. They are one of the only places in Canada that were not covered by glaciers in the last ice age. It means that the landscape is a high elevation plateau of forested slopes surrounded on all sides by grass prairie. Despite being a relatively small area, the hills are home to some cool plant and animal species including the highest concentration of cougars anywhere in North America. I've been to the Cypress Hills before to hike and boat, but this was my first time riding there.

All watermarked photos courtesy of Randy Feere, photos used with permission

Loved this scene painted on the barn

The main building (with mess hall etc.)

The day started early with the drive out there. The plan was to go with my friend and her daughter, but they had to cancel at the last minute so I ended up on my own. The ranch is fairly out of the way, as in 40km from the nearest pavement out of the way. The trip had very little traffic but I got to see white tail deer, mule deer, antelope, coyotes and a ridiculous number of birds of prey along the way (no cougars, despite them being around, it is super rare to actually see one). When I rounded the last hill I was surprised at how many trailers were at the ranch. In all about 85 riders participated, coming from all over Alberta and Saskatchewan (the people parked next to me were camping and had travelled over 7 hours!).

After registration and a late breakfast, we tacked up and got ready to leave. I elected to ride in my dressage tack, both because I am more comfortable in it than in my western saddle, and because it was forecasted to be a hot day and I figured my english tack would be a little cooler for Kachina. Most of the group was riding western but I saw three other English saddles. There were also several people wearing helmets which I always love to see.

Before leaving we had to get a group picture. As you can probably imagine, getting 85 horses and riders arranged in a neat tight line is a difficult undertaking. Kachina was a champ, but it was taking forever and I was worried that I was reaching the end of her patience for standing still. The photographer was up on the hill across the valley to get us all in frame and he finally snapped a few shots. I was super ready to get the ride started, but then they decided to get some drone footage of the group. Yes, take a huge number of horses in a strange environment, put them close to other horses they don't know, have them stand until they are impatient, and then fly a drone over them, that sounds like a great idea! (voice dripping with sarcasm if you didn't catch it). I was getting a little nervous as the drone came towards us but at least they had some sense and ended up keeping it a comfortable distance away and we all lived to tell the tale. Finally it was time to be off!

The result of the whole picture taking ordeal

Overview of the ranch base from scary drone

The ride was organized so that there was a 4 hour loop option and a 1 hour loop option which was really nice for accommodating multiple experience and fitness levels of both horses and riders. I went with the 4 hour group. Our trail had some pretty intense hills early on and I started to worry about how much Kachina was sweating. We had ridden for two hours just a few days before so I knew she was in decent shape, but we don't have hills around our barn so this was certainly more intense. Her respiration was okay though and she seemed to do recover whenever the group stopped for a break or to let slower horses catch up. A breeze also picked up later in the day which helped keep things cooler.

Some of the 4 hour group, taking a breather after some intense hills


I only took my phone out during flatter sections
Best mare
Mid-ride break






Basecamp visible in distant right, this was on our way back 

The ride was a little more challenging than I was expecting with the cobblestone sized rocks and steep hills, but Kachina proved to me again what a fantastic horse she is. I have a pet peeve about when people let their horses run up hills and there were several riders like that in the group. Kachina listened to my suggestions about pace, and used her hind end to power up hills at a walk and carefully collected herself on the down slopes, giving a solid lead to horses behind and not getting upset when any horses ahead sped up. There were a few hills steep enough that I was grabbing fistfuls of mane and wishing I had a breastcollar, but my saddle stayed in place and all was fine. The only incident on the trail came when we had to cross a strip of dark water and black sucking mud that was about four feet across. Kachina is usually okay with water, but I know she doesn't like deep mud and she hasn't seen it in a long time because we literally haven't had rain in months. Kachina wanted no part of stepping in that mess. We didn't have a choice though so I wrapped my hand in mane and kept gently encouraging her forwards. Kachina ended up doing a flying leap from a standstill and we cleared the whole thing. I was unseated a bit but thanks to my fistful of mane I stayed with her and we continued on like nothing happened. While it wasn't the ideal response, I really can't blame her for wanting to avoid that kind of nasty footing.

Love this photo



Kachina still seemed to have lots of go in her when we got back to camp, but I knew it was a tough workout for her so I quickly stripped her tack and fetched her water which she ignored in favour of grass. I gave her a good grooming and before long she was looking pretty sleepy. I just chilled out with her for the next couple hours, offering her water periodically. I wanted to give her a good break before the trip home. She eventually took a good drink. I had been prepared to leave at anytime depending on Kachina, but she was super relaxed at the trailer and had her hay bag so I decided to stay for the supper and raffle draws. We were treated to some great food and great music. The event was also a great success on the charity side, raising over $34,000 for the Children's Wish Foundation.

The photographer took lots of shots as we were arriving back at the end of the ride




Sweaty pony post-ride
You can lead a horse to water...



Sleepy pony

Totally chilled out at trailer

After supper I quickly loaded up and hit the road. We were able to get back to the main highway before the sun set which was perfect timing. Overall it was a great day and I look forward to participating again next year!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Blog Hop: Truck and Trailer Set Up

Clearly I am woefully behind in blogging, so thanks to Eventing Saddlebred Style and Confessions of a Dressage Barbie for a nice easy blog hop to get back into the swing of things!

My set up is a 2000 Ford Excursion and a Goertzen 2 horse angle, step up, stock style bumper-pull trailer with a front tack room.

Ready to hit the road

The horse trailer I bought new years ago for what was a way better deal than I realized at the time (many years later I could sell this used for pretty much what I paid for it). Goertzen was a semi-local trailer manufacturer that mostly made flat-bed and utility trailers. They apparently made a brief foray into horse trailers and that's when I got mine. It's solid steel and heavier than the majority of two-horse trailers, but it's also simple and well built. I've never seen another one exactly like it. The Excursion was my parents, it actually still is, but they haven't needed it since they got rid of their camping trailer so I've taken over the maintenance and insurance costs (and my Mom appreciates that it isn't taking up space in front of their house any more). 

Things I love:
- Both are fully paid off, and despite their age are in good condition.
- I've had them forever so I know the ins and outs of them in detail (and can also maneuver them like a boss).
At a clinic with really tight parking,
I had to back into this small space between
 trucks to turn around
(only about 1' of clearance on other side too)
- Truck has keypad locks, super useful when at a horse show.
- Huge tack room, I can fit 4 portable panels in there plus hay, water buckets, mounting block, muck bucket, and still have room for my big tack tote. 
- Stock windows. The trailer has big open stock style windows. While they aren't ideal for winter hauling, they give great ventilation in summer, it makes the trailer nice and bright so horses like getting in, and I love seeing the tip of Kachina's white nose in my sideview mirror while I'm driving so I know she's okay. 
Nose always at window
- Generous 2-horse size, haven't met a horse who hasn't fit yet. 
- Well made and solid. I don't have to worry about any of the metal components denting or breaking no matter what a horse throws at it. 
- Divider. There's a divider between the two horse compartments and after experiencing some failures with spring and pin systems in other trailers, I love how it closes with a simple but foolproof u-bolt. Also, my divider can be pinned fully open as well which gives me a lot of flexibility (like for transporting furniture instead of horses). I was surprised to see how many angle haul trailers don't have this capability.
- Trailer is cheap to maintain. I've had to do some work to the trailer over the years, replacing the jack, rewiring, etc., but the trailer design is so simple that everything has been cheaper than expected to do. Also they put some fantastic bearings on that thing because I've had them inspected a few times and the maintenance guys are always shocked that they are factory originals because they look brand spanking new. 
- Excursion has lots of storage, as an SUV with fold down seats, there is lots of room for clothes and tack inside. 
- Tack room floor, I like that the tack room floor is rubber mats and that there is no lip on the door, makes it easier to both lift heavy things inside and sweep out hay.

Things I don't love:
- The Excursion is terrible when it comes to fuel consumption. It costs me about $120 for fuel for every 300km I haul (and most of my trips are 300km one-way)
- Trailer is heavy, which really doesn't help the whole gas consumption thing. Also means I will always need a heavy duty hauling vehicle. 
- Tack room isn't sealed. Dust and rain can get in through the door, hay and urine can get in from the horse compartment, so all my gear has to be in weatherproof totes.
- Nowhere to sleep. I love the idea of those gooseneck "weekender" trailers. I don't need a bathroom or kitchen but a place to put a mattress would be awesome to save on hotel costs. 
- Saddle stands. The saddle stands are not well designed and my saddles always fall off during transit. This basically makes them a waste of space because I have to put my saddles elsewhere. I'd like to replace these eventually.
- Tack room door ices up. The tack room door has tight clearance on the bottom and so when there is any bit of ice outside the door, I cannot open it at all. 
- No outside hitching rings. I can tie to the window column, but it's higher than ideal. Also nowhere to tie a water bucket. This is also something I may look at getting installed. 
- 100km/h vibrations. Something about the natural harmonics of the truck and trailer means that it shakes a bit at 100km/h. It's done this forever and I've looked into it a few times and nothing is wrong with the vehicle. Everything is fine at 90km/h or 110km/h, but it sucks sometimes when I'm stuck in a line of traffic going 100km/h.
- Excursion suspension. One known con for this model of vehicle is that it has really harsh suspension. I have to slow down a lot for potholes and railway crossings to avoid shaking Kachina and I around too much

Overall I think the love list wins by a long shot. The last time I was at the Mane Event, I was looking around at all the horse trailers that were for sale. Some had some nice features, but in general there wasn't a single one I liked better than my own trailer (and they were all $$$), so I think this one is going to be with me for a long while. I might want to eventually upgrade to a more fuel efficient pickup truck with a truckbed camper, but that's not in the budget anytime soon. 

What features of your hauling set up do you love or hate?

Thursday, 7 September 2017

So Behind

Sorry for the couple weeks of radio silence. I have so much to write about but not enough time to write it! So here are some super quick recaps:


Angel Glacier on Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park

Horse: I looked at media, decided I had to do a hard reset on myself to stop my leaning/pulling habit in it's tracks, took a clinic, did some serious thinking about what I need in a trainer and what I am now capable of by myself, figured out that Kachina was getting a bit herdbound which initially bummed me out but then I made and implemented plans to tackle that head-on, got some posture help, had some great field canters. This weekend I am going trail riding in the Cypress Hills which has been a long-time dream so yay! Then Sept 16th I am signed up for a small dressage show which I don't feel prepped for so eek!

Our easy hike

One of the 7 lakes we visited, all had crystal clear water
A very scenic walk to the washrooms through our campground

Life: I really can't complain about the weather here considering everything going on elsewhere (my thoughts go out to all affected by the wildfires, floods and hurricanes), but the heat and smokiness has made me hide inside some days. At work, my boss quit out of the blue so things have been crazy and are likely to remain so for the forseeable future. I had a wonderful week's vacation in Jasper camping, hiking and canoeing with friends, which also included a proposal from my SO and a "yes" from me (don't worry, this blog won't be turning into a wedding blog or anything like that, but wedding planning is taking up some of my blogging time). For anyone wondering, yes, I did consider the horse show schedule when deciding on a wedding date ;-)

Not the actual proposal moment, but a photo of us at one of my favorite hidden lookout points

A massive blue reservoir we passed on the way home

Friday, 18 August 2017

A Day in the Life

Stephanie at Hand Gallop did an updated one of these recently and I decided I would too

6:00am - First alarm goes off, promptly snooze it multiple times

6:40am - Relocate cat so I can roll out of bed, rummage around in piles of clean laundry that never got put away, get dressed, make bagged lunch.

7:10am - Leave for work

7:18am - Arrive at work, wave to security guard, be thankful for short commute and job that I can always be a little late for.

7:20am - Check emails, calendar, figure out what needs to get done today.

7:45am - Morning meeting

8:15am - Work (this varies hugely day to day and is not horse related in the slightest so I will just gloss over this part)

9:30am - Coffee break, aka breakfast time. Most people in my office don't eat breakfast before work and instead make food in the lunch room. On any given day there are eggs poaching, bacon frying, bagels toasting, etc. I keep it simple and generally have a bowl of cereal with milk.

9:45am - Work

12:00pm - Lunch - generally leftovers plus a yogurt.

12:30pm - Work

4:00-5:45pm - Leave work (I technically finish at 3:45pm but I'm frequently a little late in the morning so I always stay at least a little late, if I'm caught up with something the security guard will call me at 5:45 to check if I'm still alive before the gate closes at 6pm. That's my reminder that I should probably leave.

 5:55pm - Arrive home ravenously hungry. Heat up leftovers and turn on the TV/Netflix for something to watch while I eat (I am a huge fan of making massive pots of food that then feed me and SO for 3-4 days, especially since our schedules mean that our meal times only occasionally match up)

6:15pm - Finish eating, but decide I want to finish/watch another episode.

7:00pm - Turn off TV, move cats off my lap, put dishes away, get changed to go out to barn.

7:15pm - Leave for barn.

7:30pm - Arrive at barn, wave at BO as he passes in his truck, otherwise have place to myself. Grab grooming bucket from tack room, put some treats in my pocket and head towards pasture.

7:45pm - Finish hiking out to herd, Kachina's not hard to catch, but I still generally have to walk most of the way out to whatever corner of the field they are in. Loop lead rope around neck and remove fly mask. Put halter on, give Kachina treat (to encourage her to remain easy to catch). Walk back to gate working on polite leading manners along the way. Put down fly mask near gate.

7:55pm - Tie Kachina at hitching post, give quick grooming, fly spray application, and tack up. Lead Kachina to outdoor arena.

8:15pm - Mount up and ride. Start with lateral work warmup and then progress to work of the day, usually consisting of 20m circles and simple patterns but with focus on bend or tempo or my position or transitions.... Finish with short cool down (I try and do many walk breaks within ride so she never gets too hot)

9:05pm - Dismount, lead Kachina around to scoop poop, walk back up to hitching post. Untack Kachina and put tack back in tack room. Measure out maintenance feed and magnesium supplement, bring feed to Kachina to eat while I groom her. Put gentle cream on Kachina's chapped pink lips while Kachina acts like I'm trying to poison her.

9:30pm - Bring Kachina back to pasture, put fly mask back on, smile as she nickers at me for her final treat, set her free. Stand there for a while admiring Kachina's effortless canter as she runs to meet up with the rest of the herd (and fervently wish I could get that canter under saddle), and then watch the herd dynamics for a while as the sun sets.

9:45pm - Put the rest of my stuff away, lock the barn.

9:55pm - Leave barn.

10:10pm - Arrive home. Collapse on couch with SO and discuss our days (his shifts vary but one of them has him get home around 9:30pm)

10:45pm - Feed cats and go to bed.


Sometimes depending on when I finish work and how hungry I am I will go straight from work to the barn and ride first before coming home for supper. I try and do this more in the spring and fall when the sun sets earlier (In the winter it's already dark when I leave work so it doesn't really matter). In the winter I don't have to walk out to the pasture but I spend more time at the barn in general because my cool out/dry time dramatically increases. I also don't ride every day, I average a barn trip every second day when I'm not out of town. Wednesdays are dragonboat practices from May-September (which goes from 5:30-9:30pm), and I do pilates 1x/week October-April. Also some evenings are spent hanging out with SO or cooking my big meals/doing other chores and errands.

What does your day look like? Do you keep a pretty consistent schedule or change it up depending on what else is going on or how hungry you are? #planninglifearoundfood

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Three Years

On August 15th 2014 I bought and brought Kachina home, so Happy Gotcha Day Kachina! Also Happy 15th Birthday! (kind of - because I don't know her foaling date but she was 12 when I got her so she's 15 now)


Years of 4-H record books taught me to annually analyze my horse's market value (anyone else do this?). That makes this day a little tough because the reality is that her age makes Kachina less valuable now than she was a year ago (or two, or three), and we don't have enough of a training progression to counteract that. The people I bought Kachina from did a good job with her, but over time I've realized that the limited training they did with her more just covered up holes in her knowledge instead of filling them in. It's apparent that Kachina did not have the best start in life and we've stumbled into multiple holes of tension and lack of understanding. On paper, we are in a similar place as we were 3 years ago, Kachina is still a great trail horse, but in the arena we are still a pair with hopes that training level dressage will be achievable soon. Off paper, we've both gone back to the beginning (several times) and we've built up a more solid foundation to grow from. I do believe that Kachina is a more educated horse than she was, and I'm definitely a more educated rider than I was, and that's important to me.


While I know the reality of the market for a 15yo grade horse at Training Level, I feel a lot more positive when I look at the prospects for Kachina staying with me. We may be at Training Level, but we've gotten here with an eye to building the tools we will need to progress farther. It hasn't happened yet but I do believe once we solidify a few more things, First Level isn't THAT far away. Even if progression remains slow, there's no rush (except for my eagerness). Kachina may be 15 but she's fit, healthy and sound with no sign of slowing down (knock so much wood). You never ever know with horses but it's entirely possible that we have another 10 years of full work to get where we want to get. The best part is that we're having fun now and I don't see that changing. Here's to the next year!

Monday, 14 August 2017

Free Walk

In the last show I had the good learning opportunity of doing 4 tests in the same level (okay so two were training level, and two were western dressage basic level but they are basically the same) in front of two different judges on the same day. By looking at the scores this should give me a pretty good baseline of what we can do acceptably and what needs work. I actually was super nerdy and started a spreadsheet categorizing all movement scores and coming up with graphs etc. but that's a post for another day.

There were certainly some movements where I could see/feel the problems for myself and 100% agreed with the judges' criticisms (e.g. canter transitions). However, there was one movement that I thought was a strong point but yielded us marks that were surprisingly low to me. That is the free walk.


Kachina has a good clear four beat walk. She was a forward moving trail horse before I got her and that pretty much means she can free walk with the best of them. She generally has clear overtrack and the walk feels marching and like it's going somewhere. In past shows we have sometimes bungled the free walk by breaking into trot for a stride or two (usually my fault). This summer I have done a lot of practice going from free walk to medium walk and back again which has reduced the breaks in gait considerable. I also have sometimes had the comment that I need to give her a looser rein. I generally hold the reins near the buckle, but the fact that Kachina does stretch out her neck a lot and that I have short arms means that we don't always have a lot of slack (and I don't want longer reins because they would be too long most of the time). At this show I made a particular effort to correct this lack of rein loop by holding my arms as far forward as they would reach.

In general, I was happy with our free walk at this show. I did five free walks in total (Western Basic Test B has two), and I was saddened and confused to find out that our free walk marks and comments were:

5.5 - more stretch more rein
5.0 - allow horse to stretch
6.5 - keep straight on track
5.5 - not enough stretch
5.5 - show more stretch

For a movement that always has a double coefficient, those scores hurt. Also, the comments suggest a serious and consistent deficiency, but one that I don't understand (except for the comment about staying straight, I know we did a bit of a zigzag on that one).

I don't have any video, but the photographer did capture multiple photos on the short diagonal of free walk that earned us a 5.5 and the "not enough stretch" comment (note, I did get permission from the photographer to use these watermarked proofs):






I feel like I look a little silly with my arms so straight like that, but to my eye I see a horse who is giving a significant stretch and a rider who is allowing the stretch. The judge clearly did not agree. I feel like I must be missing something (especially with similar feedback from both judges). Can you please enlighten me as to what is wrong with these photos and/or what the judge is looking for in the free walk?

For comparison sake please look at this image to see what a more normal head and neck position for Kachina is (and how long the rein bight is).