Monday, 1 April 2019

2019 Q1 Goal Check Up

I decided not to do quarterly goals this year but instead I will do quarterly updates on my annual/ultimate goals. Here's how Q1 went:

Ultimate Goal #1
Be fair to my horse, both on a day-to-day basis and ensuring her future health and happiness

2019 Goal #1A
Make Kachina a more solid citizen so her future is protected in case my circumstances change.

What we've done this quarter
  • We've made improvements in both dressage and jumping under saddle. The jumping definitely helps Kachina become more marketable for either being sold or used in a lesson program. To be clear, I am not planning to get rid of Kachina, this is just to guard against future uncertainty. 
  • Changing up Kachina's bridle has made her easier to bridle which is an important life skill.
  • I did a ground work session with a new horsemanship trainer at my barn. I'm not sure all her suggested exercises will work for us but I got a few solid tips. 
  • I signed Kachina up to have someone catch her 2-3 times a week for the month of April, just to bring her in, feed her and let her out again. Hopefully this will give Kachina positive associations towards being handled by new people. 

2019 Goal #1B
Be fair to Kachina on a day-to-day basis and look after her well-being

What we've done this quarter
  • The cold weather necessitated trimming Kachina in the barn on a day where she would be alone inside. I knew this would be stressful for her so my farrier and I talked and we made the decision to drug her (oral dormosedan) to make it a calmer experience. The meds took longer to kick in than we were expecting but it ultimately worked well. I now have two tubes on hand that can be used in the future if needed. 
  • I listened to Kachina about her growing dislike for the Micklem bridle and set up a new bridle for her which is working very well for both bridling and riding. 
  • I attended hoof and mouth presentations at my vet's education day so I am a more educated owner.
  • I bought some Excel EQ to add to Kachina's diet in the hopes that it might benefit her, jury is still out on health benefits but she does like the taste. 
  • I started ignoring some of Kachina's less harmful behaviour in the barn to make our grooming and tack-up routine less drawn out. It's not that I'm giving up on groundwork, instead I am simply recognizing that spending too much time trying to redirect tense behaviours just adds to the tension and I need to pick my battles. 
  • I've increased my generosity with treats. 

All of the above choices seem to be putting me on a better path. Kachina still has deeply ingrained tension inside the barn but she has shown some improvements like she will now finish 80% of her food in her stall before she paws her food pan away (before it was generally less than 50%).

Ultimate Goal #2
Enjoy horses and riding

2019 Goal #2
Find my horsey joy as much as possible

What we've done this quarter
  • Relaxing some of my ground work focus has made trips to the barn less stressful for me as well
  • I have made the decision to ride more often than doing ground work and riding is really fun right now
  • In a few of my jumping lessons I have requested pole work as I freaking love pole work

I still have not figured out any fun specific winter activities. It was a freakishly cold February and while there is an open field at the barn, I am scared to ride in the snow because of hidden gopher and badger holes. Luckily the end of winter is finally within sight.

Ultimate Goal #3
Make a positive impact to the horse and dressage community

2019 Goal #3
Make a positive impact to the horse and dressage community in 2019

What we've done this quarter
  • Participated in meetings for the CC/ADA and ADA
  • Started some show organizing prep

I've been slacking on this goal this quarter and have done the bare minimum. Time to step it up for the rest of the year. 

Ultimate Goal #4
Work through the Dressage Levels to reach Prix St. George, achieving scores of 63% or higher under high level judges

2019 Goal #4
Achieve a score of 63% or higher at First Level and start schooling Second Level

What we've done this quarter
  • Increased number of dressage-focused rides (compared to Q4 last year)
  • Had monthly clinics with Elaine.
  • Focused on homework between clinics.
  • Videoed some of my rides and determined my weaknesses myself (upper body position and posting mechanic) and took initiative to ask for help on those things.
  • Improved my feel for how round is "round enough".
  • Improved my posting mechanic.
  • Improved my upper body position in the sitting trot.
  • Improved my hand and arm position.
  • Re-introduced shoulder-in
  • Increased number of canter transitions which is making them smoother
  • Improved my containment of the canter (influence on size and path) through canter pole work
  • Made half halt more effective through use of upper leg
  • Improved straightness of centerline halt through use of upper leg
  • Did one flying lead change over a pole (this is not something we are ready to school regularly and I don't want to mess with it but I'm thrilled Kachina showed the ability) 
  • Worked on taking up and lengthening reins more regularly (so that hopefully we can do it in a show without completely falling apart) 
  • Started some low-key counter canter practice by waiting a little longer to come down to trot if Kachina picked up the wrong lead after a jump
  • Started riding tests and test movements again (just in March)

I still definitely need to do a lot more test riding and practice actual test movements but our basics are improving and it is showing in the consistency of our rides these days.

Ultimate Goal #5
Become a dressage judge

2019 Goal #5
Make some progress towards my recorded judge application

What we've done this quarter
  • Nothing

I have no progress to report here but that's okay at this point

Ultimate Goal #6
Achieve some competitive success in riding (what that looks like may vary from year to year)

2019 Goal #6A
Earn an ADA Horse and Rider recognition award (63%+ at 3 rated shows)

2019 Goal #6B
Start earning scores towards Bronze Medal (65%+ at Silver or Gold show)

What we've done this quarter
  • See progress for Goal #4 as well
  • EC Horse Recording for Kachina has been completed (requirement for Silver or Gold shows)
  • EC Gold Sport License purchased
  • Payed and signed up for lifetime EC Dressage Award Registration (needed to do before any scores can count towards medal)
  • Planned 2019 show season including Gold shows and more than 3 rated shows
  • Submitted vacation requests at work for Fridays prior to planned show weekends 
  • Discussed level to show at with Elaine

This goal setup really helped me to stay focused on what was important this quarter and I feel like we made some good progress!

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Vet Learning Day

My vet's office held a client appreciation learning day last month and I went for a few hours to watch the teeth and hoof presentations.

The oral health presentation didn't tell me much that I didn't know but it did confirm for me that I will always get my vet to float my horse's teeth rather than the questionable "equine dentists" that travel around (I got taken in by one of these a few years ago despite trying to do my due diligence, they do talk a good game, but I know better now). My vet did the presentation herself and she is clearly up to date with recent research about impact of different types of tools on the health of the tooth and that's something I appreciate.

Presentation was set up in the cattle handling side of the clinic

The foot presentation was very interesting to me. I never did catch the presenter's name but he is a farrier from Florida. As well as working on many competitive horses, he is also the farrier that a few veterinary hospitals refer to for corrective shoeing so he has seen a lot.

I'm in Alberta, so of course cowboy hats were aplenty

He went over a lot during his presentation but these are the points I wrote down that really struck me as new or interesting:

  • No bone in back 1/3 of hoof
  • Hoof wall is malleable, it distorts
  • Heel and toe should be same angle
  • Only finite number of fibers in wall around foot, so any distortion takes fibers away from the heel
  • String line from cannon bone should hit foot at ground level
  • Shoeing is a process, not an event (i.e. takes more than one cycle)
  • Finger width back from tip of frog should be the center of the hoof
  • Shape of foot should be the same at the coronary band and the bottom of the hoof, otherwise there is distortion
  • Hind feet and front feet are generally different shapes (look at photo of front shoe vs back shoe)
Top is hind shoe, bottom is front shoe
  • Navicular is a created problem (horses aren't born with it)
  • Hoof, pastern and shoulder should all be same angle
  • Frog doesn't distort so it is a good reference for straightness and symmetry of foot
  • Natural balance shoe (shoe with corners) causes collateral ligament damage
  • Rocker in shoe is helpful for horse with a "broken back hoof-pastern angle" - gives immediate relief but eventually want to improve shape of hoof
  • Heart bar shoe good for horse with distorted feet and under-run heels
  • Interference can be caused by bad shoeing
  • Front of hoof should be at least 3.25" long from coronary band to ground (because the bone structures etc. need at least that much room)
  • Can't straighten a crooked leg in an adult horse, only when they are very young (talking about windswept horses)
  • A rasp will last about 1 week for a full time farrier
  • It is most cost and time effective to use pre-made shoes rather than making them from scratch
  • Be wary of farriers trained using a 6 week program as it means they can't see cause and effect of shoeing the same horse over multiple cycles. 

At the end of the presentation he did some Q&A and I asked him about his thoughts regarding barefoot vs. shod. His answer was one that I had never considered before. He said that barefoot was fine, but when you have hoof problems that you are correcting with a trim, a barefoot horse will wear down their hoof to "get their problems back" but when you trim and stick a shoe on, the problem stays fixed for 5-6 weeks. You have a much better chance of creating lasting change to the foot when you use shoes. While obviously a bit simplified that was one of the most intelligent and concise answers I have ever heard about the shoes/barefoot debate. I plan to keep Kachina barefoot for the time being as it is working for us but it will give me a better way to assess in the future if we need to add shoes. He also said that he thinks it is fine to shoe only up front or only on the hinds depending on the horse's needs. 

After the talk portion he then did a quick demo trim on one of the vet's own horses.

The crowd watching

Midway through, right feet trimmed, left not touched yet

Overall it was a really good learning day and I'm glad I went! Does your vet or farrier ever put on presentations like this?

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

February Clinic with Elaine

I had another two lessons with Elaine on the last weekend of February.

Since the last clinic in January I have really been working on using my upper legs in my half halt and down transitions, and also using my inside rein more to supple Kachina. Both of those things have been going well.

This time around we added a few new things to work on.

First, we worked on improving Kachina's roundness and uphill balance by keeping the reins very steady and letting Kachina find the softness in the contact herself. When it worked I could feel Kachina slow down and become more deliberate with her steps. Elaine assured me that Kachina was lifting her withers at these moments and loved what it did to her walk and trot. I felt the deliberateness more than the lift so I will have to keep training my feel.

Next, I requested that Elaine help me with my upper body position. I have been pleased with the improvement in my hand and leg positions over the last couple years but my upper body still tilts forward despite years of work. Every time I think it's where it's supposed to be, video or photos prove me wrong.

First, we worked on it while posting because that's where I can feel myself that I get thrown out of whack. Elaine had me think about pushing the top of my head up into a shelf above me. That's such a simple visual but it's exactly what I needed! Somehow being told to "straighten up", "shoulders back" or "think tall" would tend to make me arch my back too much, but thinking of "pushing" into something above me had me think "up" + "strong" and that seemed to be the trick to having me keep my upper body straighter while still keeping my core engaged properly. This also tied into me holding the reins more still and letting Kachina find the release herself. As an overcorrection from my previous pulling, I now try to release too much to Kachina and I do so by compromising my own arm and upper body position. I can keep my position much better if I focus on keeping my elbows by my sides. It did feel at times like I was too stiff in the contact but Elaine said it only feels stiff in relation to what I was doing before, I still naturally have some elasticity in my arms and that's all I need so that's the feel I need to look for right now.

The other part of posting that we focused on was resisting the movement a bit by slowing my posting. Elaine had me think of tightening a screw to stiffen my hip joint and that was another good visual for me. Doing that had an immediate effect on Kachina and her trot slowed. We even did some work of posting into walk, where I kept slowing my posting down until we were walking.

Next we worked on sitting trot. I know where my upper body should be in the walk so I assumed that my upper body was correct if I recreated that feeling at the sitting trot. Wrong! Elaine had me lean back, lean back, and lean back some more before she let me know that I was straight. It honestly felt like I was leaning back in a beach lounger. Correct at the trot feels MUCH farther back than correct at the walk. I don't know why this is but that doesn't really matter. What matters is that I know the feeling I am looking for now. Having my upper body in the correct place made my legs swing forward a bit and I lost some of the pressure in my stirrups but that's okay for now. Once my upper body position feels more natural I can go back to fixing my leg. Part of the reason I can't get both correct right now is likely due to my tight hip flexors so I need to work on those. I haven't done a lot of sitting trot lately but my seat still knows how to absorb and go with the motion so it didn't feel too bad.

During the lesson, there was quite a bit of time where I was 100% focused on my position and didn't have any brain power to use on what Kachina was doing. That meant we lost the bend a few times etc. but for the most part Kachina went around very nicely even while I wasn't actively riding. I guess this is what is meant by "baseline gaits" and it seems like ours are improving.

All of these things were covered in the first lesson. The second lesson didn't add a whole lot but helped me both clarify some of these concepts in my mind and also helped me to cement the new position feelings into my body so I could recreate it on my own. We didn't even canter that weekend (which I was a bit disappointed about) but it was still very valuable.

At the end of my second lesson I took a few minutes to ask a question I have been wanting to ask for a while. I started by saying that it was a great weekend and I really appreciated working on these basics. I know that basics are so important but ultimately I do also want to show and compete. I asked Elaine what level she saw me showing in 2019. I was careful to not lead the question by including my hopes, I wanted an honest answer even if it wasn't what I wanted to hear. Secretly I feared that Elaine would tell me that we were finally ready to show Training Level, after all our lessons include a lot of 20m circles. I was pleasantly surprised when she said that we had come a long way since she first saw us; she could see us at First Level now and that Second Level wouldn't be too far away. I think that may of been a slightly optimistic response but I will take it and work to make it a reality!

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Short and Sweet

I am a rider who generally has fairly long rides. They average about 53 minutes long. Throughout the years I have found that Kachina does well with long warmups, multiple repetitions, frequent long walk breaks and a long cool out, all of which adds up to a long ride. I don't ride every day and my rides do have a lot of breaks which limits the physical and mental demands. Kachina has a great work ethic so the long rides don't bore her or burn her out, and they give her time to release the tension she naturally has.

Last night I got to the barn later than normal so I only had time for a quick ride before the arena lights would automatically shut off and plunge us into darkness (it's happened to me before, it's a very effective way of making sure boarders don't overstay their welcome lol). It was a good ride, we worked on getting Kachina rounded and lifted and I worked on both my posting mechanic and my upper body position in sitting trot. We did all of that in 25 minutes.

The best ears
(It's blurry because her walk is pretty forward and active
and over her back even during cool out, can't complain about that!)

I looked at my watch after our first bit of really nice trot and realized that we were only 8 minutes into the ride! Progress seems glacial sometimes but the fact that Kachina and I could achieve similar quality work to our last lesson in only 8 minutes speaks volumes to how far we have come. I still like long slow warm-ups but we no longer need them. Mentally and physically Kachina knows her job and comes out ready to do it. My own aids are more effective and I need less time to communicate to Kachina what I am asking from her.

I tend to just do ground work or let Kachina loose in the arena on days where feel like I don't have enough time to ride, but I think I need to re-evaluate that, turns out we can have a great ride even when we are short on time.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

My Wish List

My company's profit sharing plan is finally going to have a payout this year. 2018 was the first year in 5 years where we made enough money to trigger a bonus. It won't be life-changing money but I am excited for a little extra cash in the near future and of course I am already plotting horse related things to do with it. I absolutely cannot buy or do all the things so I will have to make some tough decisions, but for fun, here are some of the things I am dreaming of:

New Bridle

The Micklem is no longer working for us and my only other bridle is a hand me down that really doesn't fit Kachina well so this is high on the list. Of course bridles have a huge price range so do I get something cheaper but serviceable so I still have money for other fun things or do I get a bridle to rule all bridles? Bridle shopping will likely have a whole separate post

Gold Shows

This doesn't satisfy my grabby hands or give me instant gratification the way a purchase would, but I have avoided gold rated dressage shows in the past for financial reasons and I could put this money towards a larger show fund for 2019. Part of me thinks this would be a great use of the money as it would give me a great goal to work towards in my riding. However, on the other hand, a show is only one weekend (which may go badly), but a saddle pad is forever ;-)

Saddle Pads/Matchy Matchy Stuff

I have a saddle pad addiction and this would be a purely indulgent purchase. Btw, I discovered the group Saddle Pads Anonymous on FB and it is amazing! Some contenders:

Back on Track navy saddle pad
- A nice navy pad (which would match my existing fly hood) plus potential cold back relief in one!

Equestrian Stockholm Ice Blue
- a brand I discovered on FB page, this saddle pad plus this jacket plus this ear net plus these polos. (update, since first starting this post they are already sold out of this shade but I have some feelers out for used ones)

PS of Sweden Emerald
- This pad plus matching accessories, I have always been partial to a nice deep green

Saddle Pad Monogram Emerald Dressage

Ogilvy Baby Blue
Image result for ogilvy baby blue dressage

BR Event Dressage Pad

You may notice a trend of pale blue here, that is because I think it will go amazing with Kachina's eyes.

These are some of the top possibilities but I actually have a bunch of browser tabs open at the moment showing so many different pretty pads and I am still far from making up my mind.

Matching riding shirts - I don't normally ride with boots or polos on Kachina so matching shirt to saddle pad is key!


Trailer Camera

Horse Fitness Tracker - Equisense, Equestic or equivalent. I like the design of the Equestic, but I'm not great at always wearing my human fitness tracker so I have to ask myself if I would really use the horse one enough to benefit from it.

Pixio or Soloshot Camera


I currently have 5 pairs of breeches that fit: 1 pair are my show whites, 1 black riding tights, 1 green winter breeches, 1 fun fox head full seats, and 1 brown knee patch breeches. This is workable but since some of them are specialized I would really benefit from one more pair of multi-purpose (everyday plus clinic) breeches in a conservative colour. Bonus if breeches match saddle pads etc. I also could use a second pair of show breeches especially since I mostly compete in two-day shows. I don't want to buy too many breeches though because I do hope to lose weight eventually. 

My brown breeches are Horze Grand Prix and those are by far my favourite pair so this is likely the style I would go with.


Horseware Blanket Liners - I appreciate some other blogger reviews and I think adding a liner would make my blanket collection more flexible and versatile especially now that I'm clipping.


I already devote a fairly large budget to becoming a better rider, but some extras I could buy would be

Mane Event clinic with Jaimey Irwin

Mary Wanless Books or DVDs

Other educational books or videos

What would you get if you were me?

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Cold Weather Pause

I live in Alberta, this is not a place where you can be a fair weather rider if you have goals and want to progress. Winter pretty much lasts 6 months of the year so we make use of warm clothes, good winter boots, indoor arenas, horse blankets and coolers, and go and ride anyways.

These temps are not fun though

Look at the ceiling that the vapour from nearby industrial facilities is hitting,
you can actually see the temperature inversion in the air

There are limits though. In the last two weeks we have had 7 days with temperatures below -30C (-22F). At those temperatures I haven't felt like it is fair to ride Kachina. She has a bib clip and we have an indoor arena to work in but she does not tolerate staying in her stall to dry off and so I don't want her to get hot or sweaty when she has to go back outside in that degree of cold. I have been out a few times to make sure her blankets are warm enough, give her a chance to stretch her legs by turning her out in the indoor arena, etc. but the hard work will wait until it warms up a little bit (there is a big difference even between -20 and -30C).

I spent one day doing some much needed TLC on Kachina's tail

We've all been lounging around and doing a lot of eating,
me on the couch, Kachina at the round bale
She is happy to see me even when her eyelashes are frozen ice

The last time I was out to check on Kachina I brought our dog Aegir to the barn for the first time (it was a quiet part of the day so I wouldn't disturb people). Unfortunately it is going to take a lot of work to make Aegir a barn dog. He seemed to think that he had to protect me from the large horse monsters and was barking and lunging at them when they came to the fence. We walked around a bit and he eventually calmed down when passing horses but he still wasn't relaxed enough to actually meet them and I had to lock him in a stall to go get Kachina. He did help me carry my saddle pads to the barn from the car though!

Pro-tip, buy a dog big enough to keep your saddle pads out of the snow when
you are carrying a bag of feed

This past weekend was the Family Day long weekend and my husband and I went to visit my in-laws to go ice fishing! We didn't catch anything but we did see a few fish under the ice and it was a cool experience (my husband used to go regularly with his dad but this was my first time trying it). It was kind of nice that the weekend was so cold because it meant I wasn't as sad to miss out on a long weekend of riding.

The ice was a solid 2' thick

It was a busy day on the lake despite the cold

Driving back to shore

Winter is far from over but the forecast for this weekend is a more average -10C so that will be nice, especially because we have another clinic with Elaine coming up this weekend. Hopefully this cold weather pause will end soon and we can get back to show season prep!

I hope everyone else had a good weekend or long weekend!

Friday, 15 February 2019

Bridle Change

If you were observant you may have noticed Kachina rocking a different bridle in the canter pole media.

See it?

Kachina is fairly fussy with her mouth and has a bit of a strange shaped head (short from nose to poll but wide around the nose, I think she would look very block-headed it it weren't for her markings). Both of these things led me to getting a Micklem bridle for her back in 2015 and mostly sticking with that.

In the Micklem at a show in April 2016

I do like the Micklem in general and would buy it again, but there are a couple things that have been bothering me lately. First, Kachina has been fighting me more to put the bridle on, especially when I go to buckle up the nosebands (though I keep them quite loose). This has made me wonder if she is expressing displeasure over that particular bridle. Second, the Micklem has an integrated flash equivalent. I am not opposed to flashes and I actually like that the Micklem design provides this function without dragging the noseband down as much as some conventional flashes; however, I do think that a flash is a tool and like any tool it is important to sometimes get rid of it to see if the training is improving or if you are starting to rely on the tool as a crutch, i.e. is Kachina actually learning to hold the bit in her mouth or is her fussiness just reduced because of the bridle? Unlike a conventional bridle, you cannot remove the flash component from a Micklem so I had no way to test this without changing bridles entirely.

No way to remove lower strap

With those things in mind, I spent some time cleaning bridles the other day and switching Kachina to my old conventional dressage bridle without the noseband. Why did I remove the noseband? Two reasons: 1) I want to work on bridling with Kachina and it is nice to get some of the extra straps out of the way at least temporarily, and 2) This bridle was from my last horse (an anglo-arab with a very different shaped head) so the noseband really doesn't fit Kachina well. The cheekpieces of this bridle are on their last hole so that isn't a great fit either but I wanted to try the bridle I already owned before buying a new one.

Old photo of Kachina in this bridle
Noseband on loosest hole and everything else tightened almost all the way up

This isn't the first time I've tried a different bridle since first switching to the Micklem. Sometimes changes have been disasterous (like to show western dressage in 2017 as written about here), and sometimes it has been less eventful, but I've always ended up going back to the Micklem. It's been a long time since I last did a bridle experiment though and our training has progressed so it seemed like a good time to try again.

This wasn't a good ride, but I do like how she looks with no noseband

I also put a new bit on the new bridle. I know that it isn't great to change bit and bridle all at once but this new bit is the exact same shape as my old one (a super fat single-jointed eggbutt snaffle), just copper instead of stainless steel, so I felt it was a small enough change. I bought this bit a few months ago and have been meaning to switch it in for a while.

An old pic of my old bit

The first time I used the new bridle I lunged her in it a little to get her used to the feel before mounting up. I did a fairly easy ride to start, focusing on being very mindful with my hands and using my legs and seat wherever possible. Kachina got a little high-headed to start the first time she felt contact on the bit but she settled quickly.

The second time we rode in the new bridle was for my weekly jump lesson. For this particular lesson we did trot pole and canter pole work. I asked my instructor for her thoughts on the new set up and she liked it, she thought Kachina seemed a little more relaxed in the contact and while she opened her mouth sometimes she would then chew and softly close.

I have had a handful of rides with this bridle now and in general I am liking it. In the new set up, especially with zero noseband at all, I am very conscious of the fact that my hands have an even more direct impact on Kachina's mouth. It has made me more mindful of my hands and that is a good thing. Bridling has also been less drama which both Kachina and I appreciate. I will continue to ride in this configuration for a while at least.

Of course, in dressage, one must have a noseband to show (it's in the rules, though the reasoning isn't super clear to me). That means I will be bridle shopping in the near future which may warrant a separate post. In the mean time let me know if you have any suggestions for what would both function well and look nice on Kachina's wide white snout.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Pole Work

While jumping is fun, I must admit that my very favourite jump lessons are ones where we just do work with poles on the ground. I feel like this is the best combo of jumping and dressage. You must go forward and straight towards an obstacle like in jumping but you can keep your position and aids in place for every stride like in dressage.

Sometimes I think my instructor is a little surprised about how much I love pole work because some of her other students grumble when they don't get to do real jumps. We are a good fit though because she has been reading through new pole exercises and has brought out a few really good ones. Here are a couple we have done in lessons in the last month:

1. Overlap Poles
On this specific week my instructor did this same exercise with ALL of her lessons. She warned me it was a hard one and she was right!

The exercise had the poles set up like this:
The coloured lines are poles, the thin grey lines are the paths you could take over the poles

Three lines of poles were set up where the ends of them overlapped just a little bit. The overlap width was very narrow, barely the width of a horse. Trying to take the 2nd or 4th path where you passed over all 5 poles in one line was an extreme test of straightness as even the tiniest wiggle would allow the horse to swing their foot around the end of the pole instead of over it. You also had to be very careful to not overcorrect or one zig would make you zag off the end of the next pole in the line. Kachina and I really struggled with this exercise, but that's what made it so awesome, it showed us a weakness and a measureable way to work on it. The first time through I think we only made it over one pole (Kachina was being a good trail horse and smoothly sidestepped the obstacles without losing her forward energy). First I had to go down to a walk and convince Kachina that I actually wanted her to step over the poles even though she could weave around them. By the end of the lesson we could go over 4 of them at a trot but we never did successfully hit all 5. I definitely want to do this exercise again!

2. Canter Poles

I have done trot poles quite a few times but until recently I had never done canter poles with Kachina, so one night I asked if we could tackle them in our lesson.

Stretching to make the 12' spacing

My instructor set up one line of poles on the quarter line, and another on a short diagonal. The canter poles were set for a standard 12' canter stride which is a big canter for Kachina's 15.2hh size. She delivered though and stretched out to make the distances. The big bounds to make it over the poles had a tendency to push me out of the tack so I really had to focus to keep my shoulders back and my hands up and forward. After a few times down the quarter line poles in both directions we tried the short diagonal. We don't have flying lead changes so I asked my instructor what to do about leads and she encouraged me to just let Kachina flow through and see what she did. On the very first try Kachina bounded through and switched leads herself over the last pole. She got lots of praise for that and we ended the lesson there. Best of all we got it on video!

I also have screenshots for those of you who don't like video.

I need to work on keeping my butt in the saddle even when she leaps over the poles

In our last lesson we revisited canter poles again. This time we reduced the spacing a little bit. Even though this was only our second time doing canter poles, Kachina was already much more relaxed about it. A couple times Kachina would switch leads with her hind end over the middle pole so I had to keep my seat plugged in and my weight back more to keep her on the correct lead. The lesson led me to have some great trot-canter transitions and forced me to influence her canter more and those things are exactly what we need in our dressage work these days.

My instructor promised that we can do some work with poles for shortening and lengthening soon and I am so excited for that.

Have I mentioned how much I love pole work?

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Show Season Prep

I have officially started looking at 2019 shows and how they might fit into my calendar. I feel hesitant to plan a whole year in one go because that is just inviting the universe to interfere with my plans, but I at least have a list of options that I can assess as things get closer.

I work a compressed work schedule where I get every second Friday off, and it just so happens that this year almost every show lines up with my regularly scheduled Friday off, that is not how things usually work and I am taking it as a good sign!

I currently see the show season unfolding in 3 Stages:

Stage 1 Early Season

- April 6-7 Carrots & Cocktails I
- April 26-28 Mane Event (not a show but it is a horsey weekend)
- May 4-5 Carrots & Cocktails II
- May 5 CC/ADA Wild Rose Show I
- May 18-19 My Show (I will ride Hors Concours if I can, might as well take advantage of the feedback when I will be spending the weekend with a judge)

These shows are Wild Rose rated shows. I don't mind so much how I score at these shows but I want to ride at at least a couple of them to force me to show prep early in the season and fine tune my tests.

Stage 2 Core Shows

- June 15-16 Claresholm Bronze Show
- July 19-21 All Breed Show (Dressage Day on Friday July 19)
- July 20-21 Cochrane Wild Rose Show

All three of these shows I have attended in the past and I use as a barometer of my progress from year to year. I would love to be confident in First Level tests for this part of the season and these are the shows that I have the highest goals for scoring at. (I am sad that the Cochrane show switched its date this year so still need to decide which show I want to do that weekend)

Ready to go up centerline once again

Stage 3 Gold Dreams

- July 6-7 Tilted Tiara I
- July 26-27 Tilted Tiara II
- Aug 30-Sep 1 Alberta Dressage Provincials

I have never competed at a Gold Show but I hope this will finally be the year. I need to compete at Gold or Silver shows if I ever want to become a judge or get my (Canadian) bronze medal, both of which I do. I won't ever reach those goals if I don't at least try. I have a lot of self doubt about showing at this level because it is a lot of money and Kachina and I historically don't have very good test scores, however I also know that I am feeling better about my riding than I have in a long time and it's worth at least putting these shows on the tentative plan. If I do these shows I may drop down to Training Level at least partially (Training Level scores are part of what counts towards Canadian Bronze Medal). Provincials are basically a complete pipe dream but you never know!

Stage 4 Bonus

- Aug 24 CC/ADA Wild Rose Show II

This is part of a new Chinook series with some of the above shows and you get a participation award if you attend 3/4 shows so you bet I am going for that! What this show looks like will vary depending on how my season goes, it could either be one last chance to redeem my show season, prep for Provincials, or a chance to get some feedback at Second Level before I go into another winter of training. Either way I hope to be there.

Bottom Line

It is 8 weeks until show season starts, I have work to do!

If you will be at any of these shows let me know!

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Making the Gold Plunge

I just renewed all of my memberships for the year (I know we are already a month into 2019 but when the closest show is still two months out, there's really no rush)

My memberships are:

Alberta Equestrian Federation (AEF)
- $50 for annual individual membership
- Bare minimum to participate in a lot of clinics, schooling shows etc (for insurance purposes)
- I use the AEF Wild Rose sanctioning model for the show I host and they are always a pleasure to work with and keep on finding new ways to reduce costs and add value for horse riders in the province so I don't mind giving them my money at all

In the absence of related photos, please see this screenshot of actual temps
from last week and the forecast for this week (note lows in blue).
It's shaping up to be a cold February. 

Chinook Country Alberta Dressage Association (CC/ADA)
- $40 for annual membership which includes membership in overall Alberta Dressage Association
- This is my local area group and the group that I am also on the exec for. The CC/ADA has been nothing but helpful with my efforts to grow the sport in my area so this is another membership I feel good about

Equestrian Canada (EC)

Now here is where things change.

EC Membership is required to compete in rated shows but other than that I don't see as much direct benefit from the EC as from AEF and ADA. In the past I have done the bare minimum with my EC memberships which means a Bronze Sport License. This costs about $50/year once you add in their extra charges for amateur status and a physical card.

I like Bronze and Wild Rose shows, they still use the same rules, tests and frequently even the same judges as higher level shows, but they are both more affordable and more approachable. However I have known for a while that sooner or later I will need to progress to competing at Gold or Silver shows. Equestrian Canada only formally records scores for shows Silver and above so you need to compete in those if you want your scores to be counted towards any awards or any judging applications. I understand it on one level, but it also kind of seems like a money grab and makes me understand why the number of entries at Gold Shows has been sharply reclining in Alberta in recent years, so much so that multiple long-running shows were cancelled this year.

I finally decided to take the plunge this year and upgrade my membership. I've wanted to get scores at Silver/Gold shows for a few years now, but each year I worry that I won't be ready and figure that I will upgrade my license right before a gold show if my riding is going well enough. Well apparently that is a bit of a defeatist attitude and it means I haven't made it to a Gold show yet. This year I decided to put faith in myself by putting the money up in advance so that I will be motivated to be ready for those shows. (If you are wondering why I skipped Silver and went straight for Gold it is because the only Silver shows in Alberta are both far away and early in the year so I'm not willing to do that haul in the winter).

The best conformation photo I have, so the one I submitted for the horse recording

As the first year of pursuing my Gold License, here's what I had to pay:

1. Gold Sport License - $175
2. Physical Card - $5 - I guess I didn't have to do this, but I wanted a physical card, makes me feel like a more serious athlete lol
3. Horse Recording plus Activation (not needed for Bronze shows) $82
4. Dressage Rider Award Registration - $50 (I am a bit pissed off that you have to pay an extra $50 just to be eligible for your scores to count for awards or medals, but at least it's only a one-time fee)

I had to dig up Kachina's bill of sale and registration for the horse recording,
check out both the skinny, leggy photos of Kachina from 7 years ago and the
oddity of the Pinto registry where you can register a horse with so little info

What about you? Is showing at a recognized level important to you despite the extra costs or do you prefer less formal shows? What makes the difference to you?

Monday, 11 February 2019

The Story that Horse Costs Show

I love reading other people's posts about horse costs or budgeting strategies because I track all my spending to a detailed degree and like seeing how other people's methods and costs compare to mine. CobJockey had a great post recently (I started to comment on it but my comment got too long).

Instead of doing a whole post about my detailed costs for 2018 or my budgeting strategy, instead I am going to a numberless post showing how the relative amounts of my spending through the years tells the story of changes in my horse ownership and riding.

I have been a horse owner since the year 2000, and have kept financial records since 2002 (when I joined 4-H and started doing record books). However my current method of tracking via excel started in 2011 when I finished university. 2011 was a partial year of tracking which screws up annual averages so the below will go from 2012 to 2018.

As can be seen in the following graph, I split my horse-related spending into the following categories:
- Stable Board (exactly what it sounds like)
- Farrier/Vet (also exactly what it sounds like, also includes other horse health stuff)
- Riding Lessons/Shows (includes clinics, regular lessons, entry fees and stabling for shows, anything educational)
- Horse Event Organizing (I organized my first clinic in November 2016 so started this category in 2017, this is where I put in all the expenses and revenue for setting up clinics and shows where I am the organizer, this cost can vary hugely from month to month as money comes in and goes out but the annual net amount absorbs the swings and is overall small)
-  Horse Misc. (everything else, including treats, supplements, tack, riding clothes, horse equipment etc.)

Two types of costs that are horse-related but aren't included here are:
- gas and vehicle maintenance tied to hauling horse (grouped in with my general gas and vehicle costs)
- hotel costs for horse shows and clinics (grouped in my vacation category)

As you can see, the relative amount of each category changes quite a bit over the years, those changes can all be tied easily to things that happened in my horse world:

- board high because I was living in Edmonton and boarding at a super awesome barn that was a bit on the pricier side (but still super good value for what it was)
- horse misc. and riding lessons/shows low because I worked all the time, often out of town, and couldn't do any lessons/shows. Also I hadn't discovered blogging yet and so didn't know all the tack ho stuff I was missing out on lol

- large horse misc. costs largely due to purchase of my horse trailer
- farrier/vet costs increased because my mare Ellie foundered in March and we spent the year getting her back from that
- small lesson costs because I signed up for weekly lessons one month before Ellie foundered
- board costs decreased because halfway through the year I moved to a different part of Alberta with less fancy barns/cheaper board

Horse trailer = worth it

- This was the year that Ellie died from colic which influenced every cost category: board dropped from being horse-less for a few months, vet costs high due to both colic treatment/euthanasia and pre-purchase exam on Kachina, horse misc. costs high because that includes the purchase price of Kachina plus getting new halters/blankets/etc.

Still miss her, she is far more than a blip on my spreadsheet

- Board and vet/farrier costs stabilized to new normal for new location
- Green bar growing because took weekly lessons with KD for most of the year before she stopped teaching, I also attended a few clinics and went to a couple small unrated shows
- Horse misc. included no single huge purchases but a lot of small-medium stuff as blog reading made me start living the tack ho life (purchases included stuff like new breeches, sparkly browband, ogilvy halfpad, etc.)

I've never actually been able to use this sparkly browband
(it doesn't fit my Micklem bridle) but I still love it!

- Board costs increased due to high hay prices
- Spent some extra money in farrier/vet category for a horse dentist and chiro, both of which were disappointments
- Green category saw weekly lessons replaced with a few pricier shows and clinics
- Horse misc. cost high largely due to purchase of my Stubben saddle, girths for new saddle, and portable panels for Writing on Stone trip

New saddle = also worth it

- Board and vet/farrier costs stabilised again
- Continued to do a few shows and attended more clinics (with both Sandra and Elaine) to contribute to the green category, I also did two months of jumping lessons on lesson horses
- The small piece of purple reflects a huge amount of effort and cost to organise 4 clinics and my first ever show, luckily I was able to recoup most of the costs and was only out a few hundred dollars from my own pocket.
- I was finally able to get the horse misc. category under control, though I don't think I'll ever be able to go fully back to my budget days of 2012 and earlier

Even small events involve a lot of costs

- Board increased when I moved to my new barn in March 2018. I am finding the extra cost worth it for the heating, plumbing and camaraderie.
- The growth of the lesson/show category mirrors the increased options available to me now. It includes almost monthly clinics with Elaine, the judging clinic, and a few months of weekly jump lessons in addition to my normal show budget
- The purple category shows up below the x-axis in this bar because I actually made a little money on my show in 2018 (which I am saving to feed back into the show for 2019)

The extra lessons did have some pay off!

Part of the reason I shared this post is to show that cost tracking is not just good for budgeting purposes, you can graph and trend many parts of your life to help understand how your life changes over time. An increase in a cost category is not necessarily a bad thing if you understand why it increased and if it added value into your life. The horse part of my life has become more fulfilling in the last few years and while that comes with a higher price tag I am willing to pay it (and I've decreased vacation spending etc. to compensate). I'm still hoping to avoid any major horse-related purchases for the next few years though.

Some other of my financial management thoughts (ymmv)
- Excel is a great financial tracking tool: most people have it, it gives a lot of flexibility for how you want to track things and endless options for graphing. Also while it means your trends aren't available on your phone, also less likely to be hacked or data mined.
- try to keep cost categories as consistent as possible from year to year so you can see trends
- net worth is an important indicator of how well you are doing financially overall, I monitor this monthly but year-to-year comparisons are most important
- make use of comments to indicate why certain costs are abnormally high or low (e.g. I can look back and see my cat related costs jumped in March because that's when one of my cats had dental surgery)
- if you are Canadian, make use of TFSAs, they are much more flexible than RRSPs but still have tax benefits. Especially if you are in a career where you expect your income to grow over time, it's smart to maximize TSFAs early in your career and then pay more into RRSPs later on when you are in a higher tax bracket
- Emergency fund, emergency fund, emergency fund. I built mine up before saving for anything else and try to keep four months of expenses in it to guard against both job loss and things like colic surgery
- Instead of using separate savings accounts for every goal, I keep one general "medium-term savings account". Medium-term to me means 2-15 years, so basically all savings goals minus retirement. I paid for Kachina and my horse trailer out of this fund because I knew both purchases would happen sooner or later and started saving in advance. I look at my future goals and plans for each 5 year period and use that to determine how much I need to auto-deposit into this account. I like grouping everything together because a) you don't always know when things will happen i.e. will you need a new horse or a new car first, and one account gives more flexibility for life to happen, b) I get higher interest on higher balances, and c) it is easier for me to make sure I am not exceeding TFSA limits if there are fewer accounts to look at

How do your costs from year to year match up with changes to your riding and horse-keeping lifestyle? Have any thoughts on my financial management ideology?