Friday, 28 April 2017

Adventures in HJ Land - Part 4

Week 1, Weeks 2 & 3

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

Donny ready to go

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Adventures in HJ Land - Parts 2 & 3

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

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

(Week 1: See this post)

Week 2

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

Week 3

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

So Mad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Mane Event - Blogger Meet-up?

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 April 2017


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

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

Now to see how many entries actually come in!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Boss Mare Swagger

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

Kachina started off pretty muddy

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

Kachina and boss mare Koanga

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

Following me

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

As soon as I walked away

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

She's like a different horse from the photos above

Licking and chewing

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

When I left the second time

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

Following me in the big arena

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

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

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

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

Shake shake shake

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Trouble with Photos

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

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

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

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

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

A bit better trot

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

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

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

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

Left lead canter

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

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

More left lead canter

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

And right lead canter

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

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

Pats after a good ride

She has to put up with so much ;-)

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Four Days

I have been out to the barn the last 4 days in a row and ridden the last 3! I know that is the norm for some of you, but my life rarely allows me to go that frequently, especially when it's not a clinic or show weekend, so I'm pretty happy!


I brought out my fancy new brushes to give them a try. Kachina is shedding in full force and was muddy besides. I started off planning to ride, but ended up just giving Kachina a good long grooming session until the sun went down. Usually grooming is not our most fun activity, but for once the wind was calm so I wasn't getting hair in my face, and Kachina was content to stand and didn't start pawing every 5 seconds. I'd like to give the new brushes credit, but I think Kachina was just having a chill day because she was more patient than normal even when I started the grooming routine with our regular shedding blade. I even combed out her mane and tail at the end. It was really nice to be out there spending some quality time with my horse on a warm evening, surrounded by a beautiful sunset sky. I probably should have taken some photos but I didn't.

So you get another photo of fancy brushes


I met fellow boarders S and P out at the barn for a ride. We had wanted to go for our first ride of the year out across the fields, but it was crazy windy so we ended up riding in the indoor arena instead. Kachina's walk and trot work were really good so I did a bit of canter work. We got the wrong lead a couple times to start but we ended up getting nice circles in both directions. I made good on my Q2 goals and practiced some test riding (WT A and Training 1). The walk/trot test patterns went well, but I threw in a couple extra circles to prepare for the canter transitions in the training patterns. However, we did succeed at exiting the circle and getting a good straight long side of canter so I was happy with that. After cantering, I tried doing some leg yielding with Kachina at the trot to get her mind back. She was rushing and reverted back to being convinced that any leg meant go faster. As soon as she gave me a few sideways steps without speeding up I let her be done. When we were all finished riding, S, P, and I let our mares loose in the arena. The rides must have used up their extra energy because they all rolled and then just came over to be caught instead of running or playing.


One of the new boarders had messaged me about wanting to meet up so we set a time to both go out and work our horses together. It was a bit windy, but not near as bad as the day before so I tacked up for a ride in the outdoor arena. Kachina started out very tense and spooky. The neighbour's horses were milling about behind a nearby windbreak, and the neighbor on the other side kept revving his motorcycle engine, so there was a lot of giraffing and distraction on Kachina's end. I kept working on moving Kachina's hip and ribcage at the walk until she started relaxing and paying attention. She still lifted her head up to look at the other horses for a couple strides every now and then but we got some good walk and trot work. I practiced some stretchy trot and worked on transitions by shortening and lengthening my reins. It wasn't perfect but the fact that we worked on stretchy trot during a tense day was a good step for us. I then cantered both directions. The transitions weren't really on my aids, but she gave me some really nice steps of a balanced round canter so I immediately gave her a loose rein walk and ended on that note.


One of my university friends came to visit from out of town. I took him out to the barn to meet Kachina. It was his first time being up close with a horse (city kid ;-) ). I tacked up Kachina and brought her to the outdoor arena with my lunging gear. I first lunged Kachina on her own, and then when I confirmed that she was listening, I threw my friend up on her for a short pony ride. I kept them on the lunge and just did some walking in both directions. I could tell Kachina had to think about whether she was supposed to listen to me or him so some of her responses were slow, but she was genuinely trying to be good and I was really proud of her. I grabbed some photos and then he dismounted and I got on.

Kachina is a horse that likes routine. I use this to my advantage a lot by using a consistent warm-up routine etc. However, sometimes it's not possible to do things in the normal way, and I want Kachina to be adaptable, so I also mix things up every now and then. Sunday was a perfect example of that; I knew that having my friend ride would mess up Kachina's routine, but I did it anyways. When I mounted up I could tell she was a bit tense from the extra thinking. I was patient with her but still put her to work and started my normal warm-up. It took her a while but eventually she settled down and gave me some good work. We got a really nice canter transition in each direction that actually happened on the aids! The canter itself was faster and more unbalanced than the day before though. The best part of the ride though was when she gave me a few good circles of stretchy trot AFTER the canter work! Generally she gets more tense and fast after we've cantered, so to be able to keep a steady trot rhythm on a looser rein was huge for us. Her stretch isn't consistent and she doesn't hold it, but she was reaching down every few strides and I'm happy with that plus the relaxation for now.

And I got media on Sunday! Will share more next post

Friday, 7 April 2017

Adventures in HJ Land - Part I

As mentioned yesterday, I am taking a few months of hunter/jumper lessons. My first one was this Tuesday.

My horse for the night was Kt's gelding Donny. Donny is 14 years old, he competed successfully in the hunters when he was younger, but some arthritis caused him to retire early into a life of low level lessons. 

Grooming and tacking up a horse that is not mine was a weird experience for me. I had to think twice about a few things, like doing up a long girth, putting on front sport boots, picking out feet with shoes. None of it was an issue, but it made me realize how very accustomed I am to Kachina and my own tack set-up. 

Sitting in the saddle with jumping height stirrups felt surprisingly natural. I think a big help was that Kt is a similar size to me and she let me use her own $$$ fancy CWD saddle instead of the ancient Stubben that she generally makes lesson students use. The CWD fit me well, and while it is a fairly open seat, so is my own saddle. 

What was a big shock to me, was riding a horse that required leg! Donny has some good training and
has the capacity to go forward, but he makes you work for it. In the way typical of lesson horses, he will pretend to be a lazy horse who putzes around on his forehand, unless he is made to do otherwise. I sometimes wish my own horse was a little less hot, but this lesson really showed me how good I have it with Kachina where I don't need to work so hard to maintain forward momentum. I can ride Kachina for an hour with no fatigue, but just a few laps with Donny at the trot started getting me out of breath. I'm not as riding fit as I thought! As well as needing to use leg to keep Donny going, I found it was a lot more work to post when I didn't have that natural impulsion to bring me up out of the saddle. 

Donny's canter was also hard to ride. Kt warned me that the saddle made it hard to sit the canter so I might want to be in a light seat. However, Donny's canter is so slow that I found it tough to hover. We only did a couple canter transitions each direction this week. I am hoping to get to do more canter transitions in these H/J lessons though because I know I am bad at having my position fall apart in the transition and Kachina needs me to learn how to be steadier. 

We then moved on to trot poles. Kt had me start by posting through them, and then start using my two-point. As we repeated the exercise, she moved the trot poles up into raised trot poles, a small cross rail, and finally up to a 12-18" vertical. Donny knew his job better than I did and stayed steady over the obstacles (though he still needed constant reminders to not slow down). I worked on squeezing before the placing pole, sinking into my heels, keeping my knees away from the saddle, and closing my hip angle. 

The jump!
(media fail, this is the only photo I got from the lesson)

As soon as the jump became a jump, I automatically started doing a neck release. My center of gravity was too far forward for the first few jumps until I started thinking about sticking my butt towards the cantle, but Kt said she appreciated how I stayed off his mouth and kept my seat off his back.   

One thing that I found interesting was Kt's feedback on my leg position. In dressage, I have been told to think about putting my knee against the saddle to help turn my thighs more forward and onto the horse. I've also been drilled about keeping my toes pointed forward, and told that my left leg is better than my right leg. My lesson with Kt was the opposite. She thought I was squeezing too much with my knee, and that my right ankle looked lower and more relaxed while my left ankle was stiff and too forward (she called them my Cinderella leg and my ugly sister leg lol). Clearly this is one area where I will have to be careful to compartmentalize good jumping leg position from good dressage leg position. 

All in all it was a good lesson. I was kind of expecting to slowly work up to a small jump by the end of the month, so getting to jump a little in the first lesson was a pleasant surprise. I said as much to Kt afterwards and she said that she thought I had it under control so there was no need to wait. It's nice to know that I remember some of the basics from my years of jumping as a kid (I stopped jumping at around 14). She also assured me that some no-stirrup torture is coming ;-P

In other news, look what my awesome SO got me for our anniversary!...

I have been lusting after Leistner brushes for over a year so I'm super happy to finally call them mine! I've only used them once so far, but if you want reviews, check out $900 Facebook Pony and Sprinkler Bandit

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Something Different

Do you remember D, the new resident dressage trainer who had moved to my area? I took two lessons with her (here and here). My lessons with her weren't life changing in what I learned, but the idea of an actual regular trainer I could lesson with had the potential to be a game changer. However, right from my first conversation with her I had an inkling that she wasn't going to stick around for too long. Unfortunately, I was right. Even more unfortunately, she only lasted 6 weeks (no, we didn't scare her off that fast, she moved back east for other reasons). I was out of town for 4 of the 6 weeks she was here, so those two lessons I took with her was all I could do.

A trot lengthen from my second lesson with D

This means that my area is now without any resident dressage trainer again. It makes me really glad that I started organizing the regular clinics with Sandra. I am always amazed at how much Sandra can teach me and Kachina in a clinic, and I love her training approach. However, no matter how amazing they are, two days of instruction every three months can only do so much. I had budgeted for doing semi-regular lessons with D this year, so I have a modest pool of money to go towards lessons. Last week I decided to use some of that money on a couple months of hunter/jumper lessons.

Me pretending to be a hunter rider on Miles in Ohio

Specifically, for April I will be doing lessons every Tuesday with Kt at Barn A on a lesson horse, and for May I will be doing lessons every Thursday with N at Barn B on a lesson horse (the two different barns is mostly related to availability). Both Kt and N are friends of mine who have teaching certifications and active lesson programs. They both focus on hunter/jumpers with both their own riding and their students, but they also appreciate dressage and I respect their methods.

To be clear, I have no intention of changing disciplines and leaving dressage. Taking H/J lessons may seem like a strange decision, but there were a lot of factors that went into it:
1. I can't take regular dressage lessons
2. Clinics with Sandra generally focus on my training approach with Kachina. I need some regular lessons to focus on me as a rider.
3. My discipline experiments in Ohio made me see similarities between different kinds of riding, and showed me how fun it could be to do something different.
4. I was talking with my Irish cousin recently about his work to start his young steeplechasers over fences, it made me really want to try jumping again.
5. Even though I want to try jumping, Kachina is doing really well with dressage right now and it isn't a good time for me to mix things up too much with her. Also, if I ever do want to jump her, I need to be less green over fences myself.
6. It will make me a better rider to ride different horses.
7. There are some exercises that I can't easily do on Kachina that will make me a better rider (no stirrup work, no rein work, etc). In fact, I decided to lesson with Kt after hearing her explain some of the crazy no-stirrup torture she likes to give her students (I may well regret that decision!).
8. It's crazy how relaxing a lesson seems to be when you don't have to worry about hauling your horse. It also doesn't take all evening which is nice.
9. You. I follow a lot of blogs that have directly or indirectly talked about the benefits of regular lessons. You've made me want to try it!  

Some of my cousin's youngsters who will grow up to be fantastic jumpers!

Have you ever taken lessons in a different discipline? Or ridden a lesson horse even when you had a horse of your own to ride? Did it help you?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Teach Me Tuesday: Horse Feed

When it comes to horse feed, I am the most basic of basics. I believe that the most important part of horse diet is lots of good quality hay or forage. I've also been taught that unless your horse is in heavy work, or you are having some kind of issue, most horses don't need anything more than hay and access to salt and water.

Kachina is currently on that basic diet. She lives outside. In the winter/spring she is in a pen with a round bale of hay in a slow feed net, so she can eat small amounts throughout the day. In the summer she lives in a huge pasture of about 120 acres of mixed native grasses. In either place she has constant access to water through heated automatic waterers. She also gets free choice salt/minerals, though that can be a little less regular at times. The final part of the puzzle is treats. I use treats as positive reinforcement so she gets a couple good handfuls during grooming, tacking up, putting away etc.

Round bale and shiny (ungroomed) horse in decent condition
(photo from May 2016)
Her diet is working for her, she maintains a good, steady weight, and she has good quality hair and feet, with no health problems. However, I am considering adding something else to her diet to help ensure she is getting complete nutrition, and also to help support muscle growth. Correct work and saddle fit have been developing her topline a bit, but it has been slow and I want to ensure that it isn't being held back by diet-related reasons. 

What would you suggest I add? I would welcome both specific product suggestions, links to useful nutrition articles, or general advice about re: carbs/fat/protein etc. 

Early summer grazing

One important note is that my barn does not feed any grain or supplements. This gives me a lot of flexibility in what I buy, and I can mix things to whatever proportion; however, since I will be feeding myself, it needs to be something that only requires once a day feeding, and that can be missed on days I can't make it out to the barn.

Fall grazing (Kachina with a bit of a belly after the summer)

Some additional information:
- She is currently on a general mixed hay. It is mostly grasses with a little bit of alfalfa within it. I'm not sure exactly how that compares to some of the other types of hay available throughout north america, but I do know that Alberta hay is generally considered to be good quality hay (the only issue is when droughts mean there isn't enough of it). The pasture is all grasses (and weeds), no alfalfa. 
- She is in light work, only being ridden 2-5 hours/week and nothing terribly strenuous
- She doesn't need any more energy. I would say her energy levels are pretty good right now, but tending towards high, so something calming wouldn't be a bad thing
- Kachina is going to be 15 years old this year, but she doesn't act like a senior horse in most ways. I haven't ever seen even a hint of any joint stiffness etc.
- I can fix her salt/minerals separately if need be, but I wouldn't be opposed to an all-in-one type of solution. 
- Her haircoat is good, but it could probably be better
- I'm in Canada, so SmartPaks is out. Whatever I get needs to be available in Canada. If it is stocked by Peavey Mart, UFA, or Co-op Agro that would be ideal, but I'm also open to ordering online.

Please help :-)

Monday, 3 April 2017

Progression Plan - March Update

I made a progression plan in December to try and keep up the forward progress we were making. I'm finding that this is a great tool to keep my rides focused so I'm going to give regular updates on where we're falling on the list from month to month:

Grey - achieved previously
Green - achieved last month
Yellow - working on currently

Good = relaxed + rounded topline + even rhythm + slow tempo (not overly slow, but not running) + correct bend in neck and body + acceptance of bit (eventually this definition will expand to include more, but this is what it means right now)
Consistently = means the movement is confirmed enough that we can achieve it every ride, even when it's a "bad" day, it doesn't have to happen on the first attempt though 

  • Good walk work - achieved in 2015
  • One good 10-15m trot circle - achieved in late 2015
  • One good 20m trot circle - achieved in spring/summer 2016
  • Consistently (every ride) able to get one good 10-15m trot circle - achieved in December 2016
  • Consistently able to get one good 20m trot circle - achieved in December 2016
  • Multiple good 20m trot circles - achieved December 2016
  • Consistently able to get multiple good 10-15m trot circles - achieved December 2016
  • Good trot circles with good walk-trot and trot-walk transitions - achieved December 2016
  • Consistently able to get multiple good 20m trot circles - achieved January 2017
  • Consistently able to get good trot circles with good walk-trot/trot-walk transitions - achieved January 2017
  • Good Walk/Trot test patterns (circles, large arena, diagonals, transitions, direction changes, etc) - achieved February 2017
  • Consistently good Walk/Trot test patterns - achieved March 2017
  • Good stretchy trot circle - achieved January 2017
  • Consistently good stretchy trot circle with transitions in/out - working on it, this is mostly on me because I don't want to give up all my rein on tense days
  • Good trot circle with a few strides of lengthen/added impulsion - achieved January 2017
  • Consistently good transitions within trot - working on it, when it's good it's really good, but still has tendency to race and counter-bend some days. 
  • Good canter circle - achieved February 2017
  • Consistently good canter circle - working on it, we've been doing a lot more cantering but I still don't canter every ride. 
  • Good trot-canter/canter-trot transitions - working on it, still has a ways to go though
  • Consistently good trot-canter/canter-trot transitions
  • Good Training test patterns
  • Consistently good Training test patterns
  • Add more strides of lengthened trot - achieved February 2017
  • Consistently good lengthened trot diagonals
  • Good trot leg yields - achieved February 2017
  • Consistently good trot leg yields
  • Good canter circle with a few strides of lengthen/added impulsion
  • Consistently good transitions within canter
  • Good long side of lengthened canter
  • Consistently good long side of lengthened canter
  • Good First 1 & 2 test patterns
  • Consistently good  First 1 & 2 test patterns.

There's only one green highlighted item on the list for March, but I'm still happy. It takes a lot longer to confirm a step than it does to achieve something once. Also, the "bad" days are getting fewer and farther between, which is a great thing, but it means it sometimes takes a while for me to see whether we can do something on a bad day or not (requirement to check off the "consistently..." list items). On my last ride, I test rode walk/trot patterns on my third outside ride of the year, in an absolutely insane wind, and with the neighbour's horses galloping up to the nearby fenceline. I am so proud of Kachina for keeping her mind on me and giving me such good work in those conditions. She is really turning into such a great horse and my heart swells with pride.

As always, I'm not going to rush anything because correct basics are so important. However, if I could complete all of the four yellow items in April that would be amazing.