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).

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Pasture Sass

Kachina is around halfway through her summer out in the big pasture, and she's getting a little sassy about it. She doesn't resist being caught, but once I have her halter on and I start leading her towards the gate she starts pinning her ears and trying to lead me back to the herd by turning around. Her general ground work even once I get back to the barn has gone a bit downhill as well.



I chalk this behavior up to two related factors: 1. She'd rather be in the pasture than working with me. 2. She is more concerned with her herd relationship with her pasture-mates than she is on the herd relationship between me and her (she forgets I'm boss). I have investigated physical reasons too but there doesn't seem to be any issue on that side of things so I'm just calling it pasture sass.


I know a few people who elect to keep their horses in pens in the summer because they notice a similar pattern if their horse goes out to pasture and they don't want to deal with it. I am not one of those people. My thought process is that I ride only recreationally, and my horse has to be in a pen or pasture for far more hours a week than she is with me, so I want her to enjoy that part of life. Her pasture is a pretty nice place to be if you're a horse: about 120 acres of grass to run and graze, 2-4 friends to be a herd with, good water and shelter, and even the bugs have been at historic lows due to our dry weather. I really can't blame Kachina for liking the pasture more than the arena.

They're a pretty rainbow bunch horses

I like to call this photo "Four Big Butts and a Little Ass"

In the fall the cows will come home for winter and Kachina will have to go back to her pen anyways. I don't want to accelerate that happening, so for now I am enforcing good manners on the ground, like respecting my space, leading at a respectful location, and not biting (she's never come close, but she sometimes thinks about it), but I am trying to ignore the occasional ear pin and not take it too personally.

This isn't just a blue rectangle, look carefully on the left side
and you'll see a huge bird of prey (Swainson's Hawk I believe)
that was circling and screeching above the pasture
Side note: yep, our skies are this clear and blue most days

Does this happen to anyone else, where your horse is less glad to see you when they have a primo living situation?

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Questioning - Clinic Recap Part II

Day one of the clinic was really awesome, but day two was not. Day two felt like the worst riding lesson I've had in probably 10 years. I will admit that I left the clinic feeling pretty frustrated. That's the main reason why these clinic recaps are late, I needed some time and perspective.

After my lesson on Day One, I stuck around to watch a few other lessons and I found out that the "natural curve" lesson was not specific to me, it was more a general theme for the clinic. (Quick recap, by "natural curve" lesson I mean Elaine's concept that when warming up we should let the horse keep their own natural bend in their spine and work on lowering their head and neck by massaging their ribcage with our heel/spur on the side that is on the inside of the bend of the horse. This should be the sole focus until the horse is consistently going around with their poll level with their withers and only then can we start to ask for bend.) In one lesson with a horse who does not like to bring his head down at all, the pair was struggling with figuring out how to do the exercise. Whenever the rider would accidentally change the bend, Elaine started to exclaim how that was hurting the horse's back and "..see how he puts his head up, that's because he's saying 'ow'...". I thought this was taking things too far, like yes you maybe lost the longitudinal softness for a second because of a change in bend, and yes, that's not following the exercise, but just because the horse's head goes up (on a horse who's head is always up) doesn't mean it's a pain response in my opinion. Mild discomfort maybe, pain no.

No clinic media so here are some unrelated photos to break up wall of text
I went to a rodeo last month where they had a really cool procession of heavy horses pulling restored antique carts

I went home that night and I was mulling over the clinic. I was thrilled with how well my ride went and I was excited to have a new tool for encouraging Kachina to relax and stretch down to contact. However, I was a bit dubious too because of the so called accupressure point and Elaine talking about how a horse couldn't change the bend without pain unless their head was consistently level first. I think Emma was right with her comment on my last post though, sometimes clinicians do make up a "story" to go with their lesson, so I chalked it up to Elaine exaggerating her concept to try and make it stick. Also I realized that in general the whole lesson could be boiled down to "longitudinal suppleness before lateral suppleness". In the last couple years I have more focused on using lateral suppleness to get longitudinal suppleness (my go to warm up is all about lateral bend and asking for Kachina to move her haunches, ribcage, shoulders and neck to either side), however I know there is a place for both approaches and we have been stuck a bit lately so maybe it's time to switch it up. I decided that I would give this concept a good try and see where it led.

Clydesdales with chuckwagon

Day two I mounted up and immediately started by explaining my previous warmup routine and asking Elaine how I should modify it to work with her approach. As part of giving the new approach a good try, I didn't want to go against it in my warmup. She told me to just essentially do what we had done in the lesson the day before, walking on the rail or in large figures and using my inside leg to ask Kachina to drop her head and soften over her back. I asked if I could add anything else to it to keep Kachina's mind more focused because that's the benefit of my current warmup, it's more about getting her mind ready than her body. Elaine said I could add some leg yields if I wanted to, as long as I wasn't changing the bend.

A train of three grain carts pulled by a three horse hitch
I imagine this would be tough work if all were really loaded up!

The lesson continued working on the same concept as the day before. Kachina wasn't trying to speed up or move over when I used my inside leg anymore which was nice, but I found she wasn't as responsive to my leg in general and it took more massaging with my heel to get her to drop her head. I thought this seemed like a reasonable learning progression on day two of a new exercise. I kept my leg on until she softened, but she was still softening so I wasn't getting after her about it. Before long Kachina was walking around with her neck at what looked pretty level to me and so I was aiding less frequently. Elaine at some point during this decided that Kachina wasn't listening to my heel at all and asked if I wore spurs. I told her that I had never used spurs with Kachina as she was a sensitive horse and I didn't need them with her. I kept walking around, asking for Kachina to soften from time to time when her head came up, but generally thinking that we were doing the exercise well. Then, Elaine comes and walks at my side and is getting me to ask for more. I feel Kachina tense and grow upwards and realize that Elaine has a set of spurs in her hand and she is applying them to Kachina's ribcage behind my leg! To my knowledge Kachina has never been ridden with a spur, she was responding to my leg how I expected (if I was asking wrong that's on me, not my horse), she is a tense horse with a probable history of abuse, and I can feel her wanting to go up in response to the spur (she didn't actually put a foot wrong, but I could feel something building). Especially as the spur was in Elaine's hand where I had no control over it or even view of it, I was scared that there might be an upwards explosion that I didn't want to ride. I told Elaine that I wasn't comfortable with her doing that. Those were my words: "I'm sorry but I'm not comfortable with you doing that", Elaine responded "okay" and stepped away when asked. I was actually shocked that a trainer had done something like that. Elaine hadn't asked or even told me what she was going to do, she just walked up and started spurring my horse from the ground, after I said I didn't use spurs. I get that using spurs is reasonable on lots of horses, but I feel it's still a dangerous assumption to make and this is only my third clinic with Elaine so it's not like she knows Kachina all that well. Internally I was angry, and a bit frightened about how Kachina might have responded, but the dominant feeling was just shock and surprise so I said nothing more about the incident and kept going. Through me asking a few questions and thinking about it I finally figured out that what looked like a level neck to me from the saddle was actually not quite level, so I needed to ask Kachina to soften more. I feel like this could have been explained more easily though.  

This cart was used to deliver ice from the river to home iceboxes

Kachina isn't a very one-sided horse so her natural bend switched a few times of her own volition, and a lot of the time her body was mostly straight and I could only feel slightly which way she was bent. I thought these were good things as I want to promote symmetry. At some point though Elaine starts telling me to hold with my inside rein so Kachina can't bend the other way. She also started using the line that Kachina was saying "ow" because "it hurt her back when she changed bend". This confused me because I absolutely was not asking Kachina to change bend, she was changing bend herself and from the day before I thought that I was supposed to go with whichever bend Kachina wanted to take. Also, in my mind Kachina had been going around for about 20 min with a pretty consistent head set by this point so I thought that meant we'd be able to start asking for bend pretty soon anyways. I started asking Elaine questions because I didn't understand this new development. She said that for Kachina in particular because she's too bendy of a horse I needed to keep the bend the same for a longer time. This was an answer, but I wanted to know why that was the answer, because that's the kind of rider I am. I never got a satisfactory answer but while we were going around Elaine then started saying that not only could I not allow Kachina to change the bend, I couldn't allow her to straighten either, and had me hold her into a substantial bend. I was trying to do as instructed, but it just felt wrong to me, I felt like I was forcing the bend which was not helping relaxation, and my own body felt all twisted as well. Also I am accustomed to there being an "ask" followed by a "release" in an exercise, but this had no release from the bend. In fairness, I didn't do a good job of explaining what exactly I was feeling, I just asked Elaine why I had to keep such bend because it felt wrong to me. I wanted to understand the reasoning for asking for overbend, and I was asking questions to try and figure out what to look for when working on this at home on my own. However, in hindsight, I can see how Elaine might have thought I was questioning her as a trainer.

The "Ranch Girls" doing patterns with flags

She started responding to my questions with more sweeping declarations like "I've dealt with lots and lots of horses like this", "I've trained horses and riders to Grand Prix so don't worry that I don't know what I'm talking about", etc. I really have pretty low tolerance for that kind of thing, because a) you aren't answering my questions, and b) even if you do have the best most universal training method, you only see me and my horse twice a year so that doesn't help anything unless you can explain your method to me adequately. I could see that she was getting frustrated with me, so I right out said "I'm sorry, I'm not trying to question you as a trainer, I just want to understand", she responded to that by spouting out some more stuff about her skill and experience so at that point I just fixed my face into a mask, went quiet, and tried to do what she was telling me, while internally just wanting the lesson to be over. It also didn't help that Elaine repeatedly talked about how Kachina was "resisting" me, or "trying to get her way" etc. while I felt like Kachina was really putting in a good effort for me, it was just that neither of us had a clue what it was we were trying to do.

The rest of the lesson was spent in this exaggerated bend, and it continued to feel wrong to me. We did some trot work and Kachina kept on speeding up, going lateral, and breaking into canter, which Elaine responded to by asking for more bend. It never really got better, and Elaine ended the lesson by saying she wished the clinic had a third day so we could "get" it.

After Elaine started with the next rider and I was released to cool down, I actually spent a little time walking and trotting Kachina without bend just because I felt like we needed a decent note to end the ride on. I got off and I was really pretty upset. I couldn't even bring myself to say thanks to Elaine for the lesson (which I always do for any riding lesson) because I wasn't thankful at that moment and I didn't trust myself to maintain composure if I opened my mouth.

All the bucking horses etc in the back chutes

Over the few weeks since the clinic I've realized that Kachina and I need to be better at bending and stretching down. Kachina keeps her neck fairly upright when riding so when I think she's lowering her head and relaxing her neck, it's not actually as far down as I think, just down relative to normal. Same with bend, I can feel slight bend and so I think that bend is obvious from the ground as well when it may not be. I need to readjust my view and feelings as to what is "enough". However, even if that was part of this issue in the lesson, I still have some issues with how Elaine responded.

Please let me know your thoughts: Where is the appropriate line for questioning a clinician, or trainer in general? Please give it to me straight: was I out of line in my questions and comments, was Elaine out of line, or was it nobody's fault and just one of those bad lessons? How would you have reacted if you were in my situation?

(Spoiler alert, I am signed up with another clinic with Elaine under the premise that this ride was an anomaly/a bad day/an unfortunate misunderstanding. I have had good experiences with her in the past and she is one of only a few clinicians who come to my area so I want to give it another chance, she better not spur my horse again though!)

Friday, 4 August 2017

Natural Curve - Clinic Recap Part I

Please join me in a journey back in time, back to the middle of July when I had a clinic that I haven't blogged about yet, mostly because I needed some time to get perspective. This was a clinic with Elaine, and it fell between my questionably beneficial clinic with Robin and the last show.

I have ridden with Elaine twice before (June 2016 and September 2016). I credit her with pretty much fixing my entire leg position in one lesson, so I was excited to see what we'd learn this time around. It was a two-day mid-week clinic but I was scheduled for evening slots so I was able to haul there after work.

At the start of Day One, I was impressed that Elaine remembered my name and my horse. Clinicians can have a lot of horse and riders pass by their eyes so I never expect to be remembered. Elaine had me warm-up as I wanted while she watched. I did my normal routine of lateral work, getting Kachina to move her hips, ribcage and shoulders in turn at the walk. I then did some circles and patterns around the arena at walk and trot. I was a bit stressed out to have my warm-up critiqued, but I was pleased because Kachina was listening well and I knew we were showing visible improvement from September.

Elaine seemed to agree because she brought me into the center and said that we were going to introduce a new concept now that Kachina was better at bit responses and rhythm which were the focus of previous clinics.

She launched into an explanation of a concept that was almost entirely new to me:
- horses have a natural curve to their spine
- horses can't comfortable change the curve of their spine until they are relaxed over their topline
- when warming up we shouldn't force them to bend against their natural curve until they are relaxed over their back and consistently carrying their head about even with their withers
- massaging the horse's ribcage with your heel or spur on the side that is inside the natural curve (so right side if the horse is bent right) will hit an acupuncture point that will encourage the horse to drop their head and relax over the back
- when warming up you should keep on large figures, and go with whatever side bend the horse picks but keep using the inside leg (relative to the spine) to get the horse to drop their head and relax
- if the horse tries to respond to your inside leg by speeding up or moving sideways, resist the movement by holding with your seat and arms, but don't pull
- work both directions but you will be counter-bent in one direction
- most horses have a side that they like to stay curved to more (I interpreted this to mean the horse's hollow side like Sandra has taught me), however, if the horse naturally changes the bend themselves, go with it and start using the new bend and new inside leg
- only start asking the horse to change bend once they have been keeping their head level and relaxed for a consistent amount of time
- this whole approach is especially important for warming up on show days when the horse may be more tense and may want to be counterbent to the outside to look at things: don't force a change in bend too early

I didn't quite buy the whole explanation (namely the acupuncture point that apparently is conveniently located exactly where your heel falls), but that doesn't mean the approach as a whole doesn't work. I've had good experiences with Elaine in the past and my general philosophy with trainers is to try their approach before knocking it (unless it's something obviously crazy). I was wanting to learn and work on something new and so I was excited to try this.

We started off by trying it at a halt. Elaine stood next to me and when Kachina tried to move she worked with me on developing the feel I needed in my reins and back to hold/resist but not pull. I found it hard but I was glad that this was part of the lesson because I know it's a skill I need to improve. Eventually Kachina (and myself) figured it out at the halt, so we moved onto walk. It definitely took some repetition to show Kachina what I was asking for, and I started out by wanting to pull too much on my inside (relative to the wall) rein when her natural curve was counterbent, but we both really did start figuring it out. Kachina stopped going forwards or sideways in response to my inside leg and she more quickly would move to put her head down. Kachina isn't much of a one-sided horse so she naturally changed the bend a few times and I found it pretty easy to switch and get the softness to the other side.

With this we graduated onto the trot. Doing the same thing at the trot went fairly well for our first attempt, but there were a few times where Kachina would kind of wiggle and her bend would change multiple times in the course of a few strides. Elaine observed that when this happened, my body would collapse into the holes that Kachina was creating by dropping her back out from under me on one side. I've never heard it explained in quite that way before but since I first got Kachina I've characterized her as a "tippy" horse, so I immediately identified with what she was saying. Elaine encouraged me to hold my upper body upright and pretend that I had crutches under my armpits to keep my shoulders level when Kachina "tipped". I really liked this visual and I did find that this made the "wiggly" moments shorter and smoother. Elaine also directed me that within the larger exercise, I should keep riding the original natural curve direction until Kachina picked a steady opposite bend (so don't change with her if she only changes for a stride). I felt like this was a big ambiguous as to when to change or not change, but I understood the basic premise. By the end of the lesson we were able to do large figures in both directions at walk and trot with a pretty steady head carriage (and all still on a pretty loose rein).

I was a little sad that we hadn't addressed the canter at all, but I was overall very pleased with the lesson, happy to have another tool to get Kachina to relax and stretch, and I was excited for Day Two.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Show Recap

A week ago was a nearby All Breed show, where I competed in dressage on Friday and some general performance classes on Saturday. As shown by my ribbon haul, the show went pretty well! I know we can do better, especially in dressage, and there was a lot to improve on. However, we did do better than last year and I'm choosing to mostly focus on the positive.

Thursday


On Thursday I was feeling a bit down in the dumps and pessimistic about the show. Writing this post really helped me to put things in perspective and go in with a better frame of mind though. Thursday evening was a busy night, as after work I had to pack up my gear, trailer to the show, help set up the dressage ring, and bathe Kachina. I didn't have time to ride at the show grounds so I just did a short lunge session instead. While lunging, the left lead that has been giving us issues for the last couple weeks miraculously reappeared. I don't know what changed, but I was really happy. I actually started being hopeful again about how we'd do the following day. 

Friday Morning


Friday morning Kachina was relaxed in her stall, I cleaned tack and did my fastest braid job ever (complete with 15 year old brown elastics because I could not for the life of me find my black elastics or yarn) before tacking up for my 9:35am ride time. The show started at 9am, so I made sure to be on by 8:30am so I could warm up in the arenas before the competition started. Since they had added a second competition ring, there was no longer a designated warmup arena, but I had been told by the organizers that we could warm up around the perimeter of the competition area in the morning and at breaks. 

I mounted up and Kachina walked two steps and then seriously balked. Kachina is a super forward horse and the only times she's balked in the past have been when there's seemingly been a tack issue. This is exactly what happened at this show last year and exactly what I had been convinced would not be an issue again since we just got our saddle fit and tack setup professionally checked. I tried to get her to move forward and she humped her back hard. I hopped off, and reset the saddle. I got back on and same thing. I hopped off again and led her around for a bit to see if she just needed to walk more. I then recruited a friend to come over to the mounting block and lead us if needed. All the while I was internally screaming "not again! not again!" I got back on a third time and she felt fine. My friend led us off the asphalt in case, but I had my normal horse back. I've never known Kachina to be a cold-backed horse, but maybe being in a stall makes her that way? I'm not sure why she was being weird but I was glad it was short-lived. 

All of this had only taken around 10 minutes so it was still 20 minutes before the show start, but I was devastated to find the arena closed. Some wires must have gotten crossed somewhere and they never had opened it for warmup. This was actually terrible, because the only place to warmup was on the short end of the chuckwagon track. The ground hadn't been harrowed so it was rock hard, and it was an awkward shape and the track was sloped towards the inside of the track. A long warmup is critical to get Kachina relaxed and focused. Our walk work was okay, but Kachina got upset every time I tried to trot. This is where I think my recent saddle fitting was worth every cent, because I was able to tell myself that the tack was fine and that it was just the sloped hard track or something else that was the issue. This kept my level of nerves down considerably (if I think my saddle is the problem I start visualizing Kachina bucking me off). I found a flatter section to work on, but it was a high traffic area so my warmup was pretty disjointed. I was finally able to do some trot work, but I didn't feel safe or comfortable cantering there. It came time for my test and I was pretty bummed that my first time cantering under saddle since Monday was going to be in my test, especially because I hadn't ridden a successful left canter in a couple weeks. 

My first test was Training Level Test 3 in Ring 1. Since this test has the left lead canter come first, and the left canter tour is the longest amount of cantering in Training Level, it was not an ideal test to do with an unknown left lead! My stress came out as tension in the saddle which Kachina of course picked up on, but we went in, did the test, and got correct leads of true canter in both directions! It wasn't our best test, but given the situation, I was thrilled! We ended up getting 58% for 5th place out of 8. We got dinged pretty hard in spots for our tension (both mine and Kachina's), but the judge in this ring was the same one as for my show in May, and she commented on our improvement since last time (though the score was only 1% higher). 

I had 45 minutes until my next test so we did some more walk/trot work and some standing around before going into Ring 2 for Training Level Test 3. Kachina was a bit jazzed and I felt like my best chance of a good ride was not to micro-manage her too much, this resulted in a few issues like a head tilting and some lack of bend, but Kachina was more relaxed and it was a pretty decent test. We scored a 62%, which was high enough to score 2nd place out of 8 adult riders!

Halts have been a weak point for us previously, but they were
good this show and all scored between 6.0 - 8.0
(All English photos from T2, no photographer in the other ring)

We did have some nice moments

I was super pleased with this diagonal but the judge thought it needed more energy

Proof that we had a left canter! It was above the bit at times though

I brought Kachina back to her stall to untack and let her chill for a while until it was time to put on my western tack for western dressage! 

Friday Afternoon 


I wanted to do more than two dressage tests at this show and I own a western saddle. Those two things pretty much sum up the entirety of my thought process when I decided to enter two western dressage classes. I generally just use my western saddle for trail riding and I've never shown western dressage before. In hindsight I maybe should have thought that decision through a little more. Some thoughts about showing western:
- bringing two sets of tack to a show is heavier and more annoying than just packing english tack. This should be obvious, but clearly I didn't even consider the basics of my choice. 
- jeans and a western shirt are far more comfortable than english dressage show clothes, especially in the heat
- the majority of time I ride in my western saddle I just walk, that was obvious at the show as my seat wasn't as solid in my western saddle and my posting sucked. 
- The twist of my western saddle is wider than my dressage saddle, I'm essentially never sore after riding, but I was for a few days after Friday. 
- I have a very sensitive horse, I know this. I should have realized that putting on a different saddle and a different bridle was going to affect her way of going and I shouldn't have assumed that we could just ride like normal but in different tack. Kachina was tense and I was unable to ride effectively.

Kachina's face does look pretty sans noseband in a western headstall

As well as the tack issues, the morning had unfortunately taught Kachina that in warm-up we walk and trot, and in the show ring we canter. This meant that I got some nicer trot work from Kachina in warm-up, but she was anticipating canter like crazy in the tests themselves. I know that pulling on Kachina's face is the opposite of helpful, but when she kept wanting to canter I couldn't stop myself. She also kept going into her lateral trot and canter which I want to shut down quickly. We ended up doing a decent amount of our tests with me leaning forward and pulling on the reins, and Kachina was gaping her mouth open and had her head in the air. It was not a pretty picture. We also cantered (loped) a couple times when we weren't supposed to. Somehow our test scores weren't that much worse. We got 58% in Western Dressage Basic Test A, and 57% in Western Dressage Basic Test B. That was enough to earn us another 2nd and another 5th place ribbon.

I bought a couple "bad" photos for learning purposes
Here you can see my bad leaning and pulling, I know I shouldn't do this
and I am working really hard on it! This was one of our worst moments though.

Counterbent tense hollow lateral canter
I know this is not the right answer of how to ride this, but can anyone tell me what is??

I'm still holding a bit too much but some of our canter was decent

I thought our free walk was pretty good, but this only earned us a 5.5
I actually have a post in the works on this because it seems like I'm missing something


In general I had mixed feelings about Friday. On the negative side, I know we can do better and I was disappointed that we didn't put in better work. I also knew my own riding was substantially to blame so I was mad at myself. It also sucked that I missed out on qualifying for the Alberta Dressage Awards by 1.5% (needed a 63%). On the other hand, we had issues going into the show and we overcame them to put in a decent performance. Kachina came to play and her left canter felt great. Also, I had a couple people I know come up to me and comment on how far Kachina had come from previous years which was really nice to hear. I think the warmup situation contributed to scores going down across the board so I felt we had earned our ribbons and I was happy with them.

This is the first time I've adequately gotten photos of the beautiful EDA Designs custom bonnet
that EventingSaddlebred sent me from one of her blog contests!
It worked well at this show to keep away the little bugs that were everywhere,
and I love how the light blue piping picks up Kachina's eyes! 

Saturday


Saturday was English general performance. The morning started with over fences classes so I didn't ride until after lunch, leading to a luxuriously relaxed morning. The competition was also only in one ring on Saturday so I had a much better warmup in an actual arena with actual footing!

My first class was Senior English Pleasure. It was a fairly big class with 12 horses. Kachina was pretty good, but she did break into canter from trot directly in front of the judge, so I was unsurprised that we didn't place. Also, while Kachina's canter felt great, it is a big ground covering canter so we were passing many of the other horses which doesn't scream "pleasure".

Next came Senior English Equitation. This class had the following pattern:


I practiced the pattern three times in the warmup ring and each time Kachina did awesome with it (we changed leads through trot). When the class rolled around, the heat of the day was starting to build so the judge decided that we would do the pattern only with no rail work. When it was our turn we picked up the left lead when we were supposed to be cantering on the right lead, and the pattern was set tightly enough that we didn't have enough time to fully correct it. The rest of the pattern was good enough that we got a 5th out of 6 though (the person who placed behind us missed her left lead).

The day rounded out with Road Hack and Show Hack. Both are rail classes. Road Hack asks for walk, trot, strong trot, canter and hand gallop. Show Hack asks for walk, walk on a loose rein, collected trot, ordinary trot, extended trot, collected canter, ordinary canter, extended canter. The gaits were mixed up in order making for some challenging transitions.

In Road Hack, Kachina cantered a few times in the strong trot (not her fault, we've only just re-introduced lengthens), but her hand gallop was on point. We placed 5th out of 6 again. In the Show Hack, Kachina was awesome! I could feel clear differences between her collected, normal, and extended gaits (talking more about the shortening and lengthening of stride and frame, uphill engagement isn't a requirement of this class, it's not dressage). We definitely rock more at lengthens and collection is our weak point though. I had a pretty big smile on my face while we were doing our extended canter/hand gallop! The show ring is the perfect size that you can ask for some speed and still feel safe about it so I was having fun. Show Hack was a smaller class, but the people in it with me were the riders who had been dominating all day. We ended up with 4th place out of 4, but I am still proud of my ribbon because I felt it was our best class of the day.

Kachina with her ribbons

Sunday was Western general performance day, so after our last class on Saturday we packed up and went home.

I have lots to work on but the show was overall a positive experience. I am proud of Kachina, I had fun talking to and cheering on other friends who were competing or volunteering, the dressage day had a whopping 96 rides which is a massive accomplishment in this area, several people expressed interest in the May 2018 dressage show that I will be putting on, and I can't complain about our ribbon haul! Also the show helped to highlight our current weak points so I know what I should be focusing on in the next couple months. August is a surprisingly quiet month on the equine front but I am happy to just put in work at home and prepare for the show and clinics that are scheduled for September.

More work to do with Miss Moose-head

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Ribbons!

Still working on my full show recap (and show photos!), but it went better than expected! So for nearly Wordless Wednesday please see my weekend ribbon haul!!

7 ribbons from 8 classes, and only two of these were by default! 


Thursday, 20 July 2017

Pushing Through

This has been a crazy couple weeks for me. Work is a key thing that's been challenging lately. Outside of work, many good things have happened, but in such a way that I've been super busy and my stress level has been above what's manageable for me. Something's got to give at some point but I'm hoping I can keep pushing through until Sunday because I have a show this weekend!

Just last month I was feeling really positive about where Kachina and I were at and I had high hopes for this show. Unfortunately, things have gone downhill since then. I've had fewer rides in the last two weeks due to work, life, and heat. Two of the rides I did have were in a clinic that did more harm than good (recaps coming). The separate but biggest problem is that for unexplained reasons, Kachina's ability to canter on the left lead has mysteriously disappeared (that will probably become a post as well). My goals for the show have been substantially downgraded.

This is a show that went poorly for us both of the last two years and I am bummed that it's looking like a repeat again this year. Believe it or not, I've actually rewritten this post already to try and be less whiny, but I'm having trouble getting myself out of this negative headspace.

I'm going to try and focus on the good though. I'm still going to go to the show, try and have fun, and use it as a learning experience. Two years ago we struggled with focus and tension in a new environment. Last year we struggled with tack issues. We might have new struggles this year but I can hold my head up high that at least they won't be the same issues. We do always learn from what goes wrong and that's super valuable. I'm actually really confident these days about riding in new places and I finally know my tack setup is solid.

I'm also grateful for Kachina. She's sound and healthy, which I appreciate all the more because I have some friends struggling with horses who aren't. As well, I recognize that none of our current struggles are Kachina's fault. She's trying for me every ride, and while we don't have everything figured out, I feel like they are struggles we have together as a team, not against each other.

Importantly, while it might not be a great weekend for me individually, this show is shaping up to be a massive success for local dressage. There were a record number of entries for the dressage. So many in fact that I've been working with the show committee over the last couple of weeks to help them arrange for a second ring and a second judge! (That was one of those good but stressful things, and included me driving for 5 hours after work on Tuesday to pick up a second fence). We seem to have hit a point where everything dressage related is growing and feeding off each other, and it has the potential to benefit everyone in the future. I need to keep my eye on this big picture, because for better or worse I am an ambassador of this sport in the area and I need to be a positive representative even if my own rides don't go according to plan.

Finally, no matter what, a weekend of uninterrupted pony time should be celebrated! With that note, it's time to show!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Moment of Panic

I don't want to freak out anyone so I'll say right now, Kachina is fine. She gave me a moment of panic the other day though...

Kachina is out in the pasture for the summer. I love that she has room to move and graze and be a horse. Her pasture summers always help her balance at the canter when she can experiment with moving out by herself. Her feet have also improved hugely since going out to pasture (the spring mud and manure in the pens was making her feet thrushy). So, overall pasture = good, however, there are a few hazards in the pasture that I worry Kachina will get into trouble with. The first is barbed wire, the fencing is well maintained, and I can't really expect a pasture that big to have anything else, but I've seen a few bad barbed wire injuries in horses so it's still on my mind. Second is junk, the pasture is mostly clear, but there is one pile of wooden pallets and a couple tractor attachments that are out there. Third is the texas gate/cattle grate, there's a normal swing gate over it that is normally closed, and there's a horse gate to go in and out beside it, but there's still half of the texas gate inside the pasture. Kachina has never given me any reason to worry about any of the above hazards before. She's generally a sensible horse, has sensible pasture-mates who won't chase her into anything, and the pasture is massive so the horses really have no reason to get close to the areas that might give them trouble (no need to reach through fences for grass etc.). I go out to check on Kachina more regularly in the summer just in case, but I've slowly stopped worrying so much.

Texas gate/truck gate on left, horse gate on right

Well, yesterday, Kachina was more focused on her herd-mates than on me while I was leading her out through the horse gate and she unexpectedly turned and walked right onto the texas gate! I had terrible visions flashing through my head of broken legs or injured tendons as her feet wobbled on top of the round bars. I was half frozen with terror but I managed to get her to quietly back off of it without incident. Underneath my breath I was swearing up a storm and then heaved a giant sigh of relief when all four feet were back on solid ground. I don't know if Kachina was as freaked out as me but she walked calmly and soundly beside me as we made our way to the hitching post.

Despite the weeds, it's still deep enough to do some damage

A new horse was recently added to the pasture herd, she was out with Kachina last year so I know they get on, but I think the change in herd dynamic was what distracted Kachina and she thought maybe she didn't need to follow me as a leader anymore. I spent a good amount of time doing ground work and lunging Kachina that day to remind her that she's still required to pay attention to the human. We've successfully walked through the horse gate without incident many times before, and we'll do it successfully again many times in the future, but I'm going to be even more careful now and not trust that Kachina will always behave sensibly. I still shudder to think what would have happened if one of her feet had slipped through. We got off lucky and I'm supremely grateful!

Monday, 17 July 2017

2017 Mid-Year Goal Review

I like my quarterly goals because I feel like 3 months is a meaningful amount of time to work on something when it comes to horses, long enough to see real improvement but short enough to keep focus (see last quarterly goal post here). I made year long goals for 2017 too though, and I think this is a good time to check in on them and see how they are going.

Legend:
Red - Not on track, need to step it up if I want to succeed by year end.
Orange - On track or continuous, work has been done but need to keep going
Blue - Completed already


2017 Goals

  1. Keep Kachina happy and healthy - So far, so good, but this can't be checked off until the end of the year and I will keep analyzing to make sure Kachina doesn't need any changes
    • Stretch: build good topline and muscles - Kachina condition isn't bad by any means, but I haven't seen measurable improvement since January. I am working with some supplements now though so we'll see if that helps. Also need to keep encouraging her to lift her back and use her topline during our rides. 
  2. Be able to do a good (good by my definition) training level test pattern - Success! Chinook Country Show
    • Stretch: do a good training level test actually at a show in front of a judge - Success! Chinook Country Show
  3. Start First Level work - Our basics have improved to support the harder work and we've just re-introduced lateral work and trot lengthenings
    • Stretch: be able to do all components of First Level Test 1 and 2 - I think this goal is still achievable but it's going to take work
  4. Get at least six lessons/clinics - I've already blown this one out of the water! So far this year I have had: 1 saddle seat lesson, 2 lessons with D, 2 clinics (4 lessons) with Sandra, 8 hunter/jumper lessons, 1 simulator lesson, 1 clinic (3 lessons) with Robin, and 1 clinic (2 lessons) with Elaine. I'm already signed up for 2 more clinics for sure, plus another couple options on the horizon.
    • Stretch: host and participate in 6 clinics with Sandra in this area and go to additional clinics/lessons too - Unfortunately Sandra's schedule does not allow for this to happen, but I think I've successfully filled the gap with other clinicians, see above (it's also nice that I don't have to organize them all myself!)
  5. Compete in at least one show - Success! Chinook Country Show. Also kind of my own show depending on your definition of "compete". I have 2-3 more shows on my calendar for this year.  
    • Stretch: Get above 65% at a show - We were only 1% away from this at Chinook but that doesn't make it an easy goal to achieve, I'm going to try though.
    • Stretch: Earn a ribbon - Success! Two fancy division ribbons!
  6. Trail ride somewhere new - Not yet, but I am signed up for a trail ride in the Cypress Hills in September
    • Stretch: do a full out gallop somewhere - I still want to do this, but it depends on suitable footing in the field plus me finding some extra brave
  7. Improve my position - It has improved, but it can certainly improve more
    • Stretch: be comfortable bareback or without stirrups at walk/trot/canter - haha, um this is why I needed to review these goals, I have made zero steps towards this one, so we'll see. I do plan on attempting 2-pointober and no-stirrup november though. 
    • Stretch: get to a healthy weight and fitness - sigh, I wish, I am working on it but I'm seriously plateaued at the moment
  8. Continue to do ground work - have made some improvements, need to keep working
    • Stretch: train Kachina to stand still in any situation - this is still a stretch
  9. Do some desensitization work - I did a tiny bit, but want and need to do more
  10. Keep being involved and further develop the local dressage community - Big success! Some of the clinics listed above have been possible due to our further developed local dressage community. We have a semi-active fb group with 58 members now!
    • Stretch: host a local dressage show - Success! It happened, it went well, and it will happen again in 2018!
  11. Have fun - I've been having a lot of fun, especially lately with how well Kachina is going, but this is another continuous goal

I'm happy to see that I've made at least some progress towards all of my main goals (it's only the stretch goals that remain stretches). There's also a nice amount of blue for being only half way through the year. I'm really pleased with how 2017 is progressing, but time to refocus now on the orange and red. 

How are your 2017 goals going?

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Chilling in the Heat

The combination of pushing ourselves at the Robin Hahn clinic and the heat meant Kachina deserved a break from hard work. We've taken it easy for the last week, with some visits where I just hung out with her in the pasture and liberally applied fly spray and treats. Our only rides have been mostly walk.

This fly mask is now lost somewhere out there, thanks Kachina

Favorite ear view

On Friday I met up with a couple fellow boarders for a ride around the pasture. In case anyone is under the impression that Canada is always cold, it was 36C/97F during my ride on Friday! I decided to use my western tack because I'm signed up for a Western Dressage class at my next show and it's been quite a while since I last used it (also partly because I was running late and didn't have time to change, and it's easier to ride western with my dress pants). I was lazy and didn't swap out the bit on my western bridle (it had a loose ring double jointed snaffle on it, we usually ride in a single jointed eggbutt), and so Kachina had a few minutes where she tried to tell me that the different tack meant she didn't have to listen to me. I think the heat reduced her desire to fight because she acquiesced pretty quickly. We went on to have a lovely relaxed hour ride. Kachina was so chilled out that I actually had to encourage her forward to keep up with the other horses!  It was a great day to just enjoy the summer sun and the beauty of the prairies. The only thing that broke the peace and quiet was my saddle! My western saddle squeaks a lot more than my dressage one!

I really appreciate the wide open spaces we have in this part of the world

Mid-ride selfie!

Towards the end of the ride, I broke off from the other two and did some walk and trot circles with Kachina. I love how good Kachina is on the trail, but I want to make sure that she is listening to me as leader and realizes that she can give me some real work and be away from her buddies even though we aren't in an arena. It took a few of repetitions for her to steady her rhythm and not bounce between rushing and stopping, but I got the message across in the end without getting her too overheated (as soon as she gave me one 20m circle of decent trot I let her be done). I need to do some more rides in my western saddle because my position wasn't nearly as solid in it.

My trail buddies

Kachina looks like a black horse when the right parts of her are hidden
(also I envy the bareback skills of guy in foreground,
he sometimes goes months without using his saddle)

I hope Kachina enjoyed her mini-vacation because this week is another clinic and next week is our next show! 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Supplements Blog Hop

There has been an unofficial blog hop floating around about supplement use (e.g. Dream Big, DIY Horse Ownership). Normally I'm not a big supplement feeder, but Kachina is actually on a couple things right now so I figured I would chime in.

First off, a little about my attitude towards feeding horses. I feel like lots of good quality forage and good water supply are the foundation of what's needed. I only add in extra stuff when I see a hole or have a specific reason to do so. This means that Kachina was fed no supplements until the start of June, I wasn't against them, I just didn't have a specific need. Also, my current barn doesn't feed supplements so it's on me to source and feed them myself (which I absolutely can, but it was easier when I didn't have to). 

Here are the two extras that I have added into Kachina's diet recently and the reasons for them:

1. Hi-Pro Feeds Step 5


Dose: 1 scoop (about 2 cups), every time I'm at the barn (so about every second day). 

I don't know if it's this common everywhere, or just here because many of their mills are in Alberta, but Hi-Pro Feeds Step program is readily available and extremely popular. They have 8 steps of feed for different needs and different life stages of horses. I fed their senior mixture to a past horse. 

Kachina is a good keeper, not too easy, not too hard. I have been happy with her energy levels and general body condition pretty much since I got her. However, I have struggled with developing her topline. It's improved since I got her, but very very slowly. First I worked on the side of correct work, and tack fit, but eventually I decided I needed to look at the nutrition side of things to make sure that wasn't holding us back. After consulting with a few people and a very knowledgeable feed store in town, I decided to try the Step 5 horse feed. Step 5 is advertised as a maintenance feed. It's not supposed to do anything crazy, but just has a balanced combination of things, with protein (10%), fat (4%), fiber (10%) and a mix of vitamins and minerals. The theory is that this won't give Kachina too much excess weight or energy (hot horse needs no help), but will help fill in any gaps from her forage so she can develop some more muscle and pad her topline. There are several other things we can try depending on how this works so I will assess in another few weeks. Bonus: The kibble shape and size makes it work well for me to put a handful in my pocket and use them as treats. Other bonus: this is very affordable feed especially at the low amount I am feeding. 

2. Magnesium Oxide


Dose: 10g every time I'm at the barn (about every second day), top dressed onto Step 5 feed. 

We all know Kachina can be a hot and tense horse. My trainer Sandra suggested I try MgO, as she knows a few other horses like Kachina who have been greatly helped by it. Magnesium is used by the body to help contracted muscles relax. Also, while there isn't much supporting science, it has been used in calming supplements for quite a while with many anecdotal success stories. The MgO I bought isn't part of any brand name mix, just a simple white powder of MgO. I wish it had more research behind it, but everything I read suggested that while it might not help, this dosage of magnesium shouldn't hurt anything either. After the very un-relaxed clinic, I figured it was worth a try. I don't know if the MgO is the reason why, but I have had some super excellent rides since I started feeding it in early June. I am going to keep her on it for a while (at least until after my next show), but at some point I'd like to take her off it to test whether I see a change in her behavior or not.

Some links related to Mg in horses for anyone interested (I had more but I didn't save them)
https://performanceequinenutrition.com/magnesium-101/magnesium-mineral-superhero/
http://www.hygain.com.au/feeding-magnesium-to-horses/
https://www.horse-canada.com/health-and-nutrition/magnesium-supplementation-and-horses/

Monday, 10 July 2017

Bend and Supple - Clinic Review Part II

Part I here

Day Two


The clinic schedule moved around for day two and three so my group was now in the middle of the day. This had the disadvantage that it was very hot out, but had the advantage of being after a break so I could get in more of a warm-up.

All riding photos are from Day 1, so not our best work and not directly
relevant to the content of this post

The heat plus warmup plus second time in the new arena combined to make for a much more relaxed Kachina. I got some lovely work out of her before the lesson so I ended up parking her in the shade. We all spent a fair bit of time parked in the shade on day two while Robin worked with us one by one. Bend and suppleness were the theme of the day. We took turns getting lateral bend at walk and trot, then shoulder-in at walk and trot, and then bending at canter, all on a circle. Kachina did really well for all of the exercises. She was soft and steady in the contact and responding to my aids nicely. She did start tilting her head a few times though which Robin told me that I should take responsibility for because it means one of my reins is too tight. Even our canter was much nicer than day one. Some of the other horses and riders in my group were having a lot more trouble getting the bend and softness so Robin spent more time with them then me.

I was thrilled with how good Kachina was on day two. As well as being awesome under saddle, she also stood tied to the trailer like a champ. I felt it was a good lesson for confirming that we are on the right track, but again I didn't feel like I learned a whole lot.

Semi-conformation shot - I'm pretty happy with how Kachina is looking these days

Day Three


After a pretty soft day one and two, Robin really ramped it up for day three. We had over 90 minutes of lesson on this day and ran through a lot of different exercises. Many of them were well outside Kachina and my comfort zone, but we are ready for a bit of pressure and I think it was good to try some harder stuff. I also felt like Robin focused on me a bit more in this lesson so it balanced out with the extra time he had spent with the other riders on the first two days.


Here's everything we did with Robin's feedback:

Warm-up - walk and trot figures around the arena
Robin was very impressed with the quality of work Kachina was giving me and was happy with the decisions I was making.

Walk shoulder-in on a straight line
Good. This was actually solid.

Walk haunches-in on a straight line
I haven't actually done this with Kachina yet, though I was planning to introduce it soon. It only took to the end of the first line for Kachina to understand what I was asking and respond appropriately. Kachina went into it much more smoothly on just the second attempt. We didn't have quite enough bend or angle (three tracks instead of four), but Kachina stayed soft and we had the right idea. It was a new exercise for all of the other horses as well, and none of them could quite get it to work.

Walk half-pass
Say what? My dressage career has never gone above second level so I've never even attempted any kind of half pass before, and Kachina certainly hasn't either. I was a bit wary of the whole "clinician comes in and tells riders they can do higher level movements" phenomenon, but Robin's reasoning was a) sometimes horses/riders can actually more easily get the feel for haunches-in by thinking half-pass and b) even if it's not a good half-pass, it's not a bad idea to briefly introduce the idea of the aids to the horse earlier on (it doesn't mean you have to keep working on it). I felt that was a fair idea so we gave it a shot. Kachina and I certainly find haunches-in easier than half pass, and we struggled a bit to move over in the right direction while maintaining the bend. Kachina really tried for me though and we did get a few half-decent steps.

Walk leg-yield
After the half-pass exercise (which nobody did well), Robin stepped it down and went back to the simpler leg-yield. For the other riders he had them just move in one direction to start, but on our line Kachina moved over so willingly that he had us go right-left-right-left all on the same line. I think our straightness could have been better, but Kachina moved over willingly and stayed very soft through the changes of direction. It's been a while since I've done leg yield with her so I was very happy with her.

Trot leg-yield
Like walk, we were directed to do a full zigzag x2 of leg yield in trot. We almost ran out of room, but again Kachina moved over willingly and stayed soft in the changes of direction. For the first time through I used a direct inside rein to ask for the appropriate bend. This worked well, but Robin got me to do it again by instead moving both hands over together to change the bend (so a slight opening rein on one side and a slight indirect rein on the other). This change in the rein aids made for a much messier leg yield zigzag, so I stopped and asked him why he wanted the change. He explained that he thought Kachina was showing great suppleness and was almost ready to start working on half-pass and so I should start introducing that kind of rein aid so I could eventually use it for half-pass zigzags.

Lengthened trot
After all the lateral work, our horses were all getting a bit bunched up so he had us all go out on the rail to get our straightness and forward movement back. He had us do some lengthens on the long side. Kachina gave me a few nice lines of lengthen, but she also broke into canter a few times. Breaking is a new problem for us, but they were smooth transitions so I didn't get after her for it. Her head popped up a few times too, probably because we haven't worked on lengthens in a few months (again I was planning to reintroduce these myself soon). Despite the bobbles Robin commented about her trot quality and her strong potential for the extended work. I've always felt that Kachina will be naturally talented when it comes to lengthens/mediums/extensions and every trainer I work with seems to agree. We haven't done much of it yet but I look forward to the day when we're really ready for it.


Trot and canter on circle
After the lengthens we went back to working on a circle and taking turns. With the other riders he did more focus on the lateral work, but Kachina and I just did some basic trot and canter, just to the left though. I was pleased to have an opportunity to practice my canter as its far from confirmed and we're at the point where we just need to do more of it. Kachina did well, and I was better at pushing her forward when her canter started to get slightly lateral, this worked well.

Canter-Trot transitions on diagonal
Next, Robin singled me out to demonstrate an exercise of going across the diagonal doing three strides of right lead canter, then three strides of trot, then three strides of left lead canter, three strides of trot, etc. Kachina are still working on being able to get a single canter transition on a 20m circle so this exercise was way above our ability level. I wonder whether I should have explained that and asked for something simpler, but I decided to just go for it and give it a try. It wasn't pretty. The straight line and quick changes meant I couldn't set Kachina up well for the transitions so there was some running, head flinging and hollowing. I also wasn't caring enough about which lead we were going for which is on me. Robin seemed to expect that the first one was a fluke and that we should be good at this, so he had us repeat it a total of four times. On the last one, I actually got two nice (for us) canters on the leads I was aiming for, which still kind of shocks me. We ended it there, though I kept her cantering for a circle after the diagonal just enough to get Kachina to relax into the canter a little and for me to convince myself that I hadn't ruined the gait by asking for too many transitions. I think the haunches-in work earlier really had Kachina listening to my outside leg in a better way which was cool. I could tell that the exercise kind of fried her brain though and I felt bad for putting her in that situation.

Walk Pirouettes
We slowed it down again and all did some work on walk pirouettes. Robin wanted us to focus on having the bend in the direction of travel, but he wasn't being fussy about the hind legs crossing or swinging out behind. I kind of struggled with this because I wanted to learn the feeling of a correct walk pirouette but I wasn't given enough information to know what she was doing with her legs on any given attempt. Different attempts had quite different feels to them but I'm still not sure which one I should be aiming for. I don't want to wreck this movement so I don't think I'll do any work on it until I have a more focused lesson on it.

We ended the day with a bit of a chat while our horses chilled in the shade. Robin had positive things to say about each of us and our horses. He was the most positive about Kachina though. He said that on the first day he had doubts about whether Kachina had the temperament for dressage, but that the last two days had showed him that she does, especially with how I ride her, and that with her movement and talent gives her potential to go high in Canadian dressage (he went on a few tangents during the clinic about Canadian/North American riders and how we shouldn't try to emulate those "strong German men", just because they dominate the sport doesn't mean they do things the best way. I'm not sure whether there is some bitterness there, or whether he just wants to see Canadian dressage evolve on its own instead of trying to copy other countries). I have some skepticorn feelings about his praise, because clinicians don't make money and get repeat clients by telling them they suck, but it was still nice to hear.

Kachina was pretty happy to get back to the pasture after clinic rides

Final Thoughts


Overall I had mixed feelings about the clinic. On the plus side, it was good exposure for Kachina, we pushed ourselves and I'm really happy with how Kachina stepped up and responded. But on the minus side, I used two days of banked overtime hours and a few hundred dollars and I'm not sure if the amount of learning was worth the cost. I don't think Robin is a bad clinician, I think I'm just getting pickier about who I train with as I get more educated as a rider and learn what approaches work best for Kachina and I. On the other hand I don't want to close myself off to new methods and clinicians because you never know when something will click. All in all, I got to spend three summer days on my horse instead of at my desk and that's something to celebrate.