Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Obligatory Horses can Survive the Cold Post

 So a lot of North America is cold right now or will be soon. Of course, how cold is cold varies quite a bit place to place. I've seen a few posts about people worrying about their horses so I figured I would do a quick PSA from Canada.



I'm glad I don't live in Saskatchewan

First, healthy horses can survive the cold. A horse's age, condition, amount of hair and what they are acclimatized to will all have an impact, sometimes a substantial one, but horses as a species are suited for winter weather. 

Key things to look after your horse in the cold

1. Make sure they have constant access to unfrozen water. Up here heated livestock waterers are pretty much a necessity, but if you have them, make sure they are working, and if you don't then regularly chip ice or do other things to ensure water supply. 

2. Provide extra forage, 24/7 if possible. A horse's metabolism will generate a lot of heat so keep it well fed. They don't need hot bran mashes or anything fancy, just lots of good quality hay. 

3. Monitor for signs of cold. Check for shivering by laying a hand on their stifle area. See if they are moving around like normal or are huddled in one spot. Horse's do naturally stand together with their tails to the wind if needed so it is not necessarily cause for concern but this behavior shows that a thicker blanket might not go amiss. Put your hand next to the horse's skin to check temperature (either under the blanket or under their hair. See how fluffed out their coat is - horses will fluff out their winter hair to provide a layer insulation when they need it and will flatten it down when they don't. 


This photo was taken when it was only -5C/23F but notice how her coat is flat and shiny, not fuzzy looking, that shows she wasn't cold

4. Don't let your horse get wet. This means two things: First, avoid hard work that will make them sweaty unless you have a heated place to fully dry them off. Second, if there is rain or wet snow provide them with a waterproof blanket or shelter. Also, do not blanket them so heavily that they start to sweat.  

5. Protect them from the wind. Provide them with either a blanket or windbreak to give them protection from the wind. The good news is that wind is typically worse in transitioning weather, it is frequently more still on the coldest days. 


Note the shelters and round bale

If you do all these things then horses can be fine outside in very cold temperatures. I know this might seem shocking to some readers from warmer locations but my horse Naia has repeatedly shown me that she is comfortable in only a rainsheet (no insulation, just protection from wind and wet) down to a temperature of -15C/5F. I let her go naked when the temperature gets close to freezing (0C/32F), as long as it is dry. The thickest blanket I have for her is 300gm. She is wearing that now at -28C/-18F but she seems comfortable and hasn't shown the need for adding a layer underneath or a hood (both of which I have if required). Naia is outside 24/7 but has a shelter, a heated waterer, and a round bale of hay, she is not clipped. Kachina was a horse who naturally ran colder so I would use thicker blankets for her at the same temps, but let your horse tell you what they need. Places North and East of us are currently colder and there are many happy horses there as well, and also horses who never get blanketed (though it is crucial that they are never clipped and have shelter available). 


Old photo, I don't take my gloves off to take photos in -30!

Regardless of how the horses are, this weather is definitely cold for humans so stay warm! 

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Blog Hop: 2020 Summary

 Blog hop courtesy of Alberta Equest

I have been very bad about blogging lately but this blog hop seems to be a good way to start again.

What's the best thing that happened to you in 2020?

Personal: 2020 was my first full year of my new job (I started in summer 2019) and I am proud of how quickly I got up to being a fully functioning member of the team that I like so much. I got an excellent score on my recent year-end review and I am so happy that my efforts have been recognized. 

Horsey: Riding Naia for the first time.



What's the worst thing that happened to you in 2020?

Personal: My Dad getting diagnosed with terminal Stage IV cancer. He's still with us and I am incredibly grateful for a medication that is keeping him reasonably comfortable and giving us more time, but it's really tough to know that our time is still limited, especially since I can't see him in person right now due to COVID lockdown. 

Horsey: Losing riding fitness and skill. I really value all the young horse stuff I have done with Naia but it is hard to go from riding regularly to mostly just ground work for so long. In normal times I would have done some catch riding to get some saddle time but sharing tack and horses didn't seem smart in COVID times. 

What was your biggest purchase in 2020?

Personal: My new to me car, a 2011 Chevy Volt. Not sure if this really counts because it was purchased fully using the insurance settlement from when another driver didn't yield properly, totaling my 2014 Toyota Corolla, but I am really enjoying having a plug-in hybrid now. The Volt has some impressive engineering that went into it.



Horsey: Naia, I bought her in February 2020. 


What was your biggest accomplishment in 2020?

Personal: Surviving. It's been a tough year in multiple ways and some things have suffered due to stress but I'm still keeping on keeping on. 

Horsey: Training a green horse. I have had help in being taught what to do, but I've done most of the initial starting of Naia and have learned so much about young horses along the way. This is a bucket list item for me to train a horse from start to finish and it's quite the journey (which is still very much in progress)

What do you feel COVID robbed you of in 2020?

Personal: The number one thing is time with my Dad and family. I didn't visit my family in person for months in the Spring of 2020 because I wanted to do the right thing related to COVID, but when we found out he had cancer it felt like so much lost time. I did get to see him regularly in the summer but I can't again now with the second wave. 

Horsey: Honestly, losing Kachina and buying a youngster meant that I wasn't going to be showing in 2020 anyways and I was still able to get lessons until recently so I don't feel like I got robbed much in the horse world. 

Were you subject to any COVID Impulse Buys in 2020?

Personal: Amazon clothing

Horsey: I bought way to many saddle pads but that's mostly because of my saddle pad addiction and overtime money burning a hole in my pocket, can't really blame COVID for that

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Abrupt Transition

There is currently a special weather statement issued for Southern Alberta, warning of an "Abrupt Transition to Fall". It is aptly named since what else do you call a sudden swing from +30C to 0C within 48 hours, but I've never seen this particular weather statement before and found it a little comical. 





The more I thought about it, the more I realized, "Abrupt Transition" is a perfect way to describe the last year of my life, and it's even more appropriate since it can be an equestrian term as well. In dressage, you always strive for smooth transitions: finish your last movement, prepare your horse for what is coming next, and smoothly move from one thing to the next. I've been struggling to blog because I was behind, but I wanted to fill in the story in a sequential logical way that was easy to follow. I wanted to give adequate weight to things that were important at the time, even when later learnings or events made it seem irrelevant. That might make for a better blog, and a nicer transition, but sometimes life doesn't go that way and you have to deal with the "abrupt transitions". I still want to publish some of the drafts in my folder, but first you get to experience some abrupt transitions as well while you get caught up to where I am today. 


Abrupt Transition #1
June 2019
I changed jobs. It was a positive move but created an abrupt change in my day to day life as well as my career goals. 

Blogging completely fell off after this move as I was using my spare focus to get up to speed in my new role and company. I did however continue to ride lots. All the puzzle pieces that compose the entirety of this blog and my attempt to understand Kachina and dressage started to fall into place and our rides and partnership were better than ever. We made the leap to gold, went to our first Gold Rated dressage show, and got a personal best score of 68%. I was really excited to keep things going.

(I will forever be grateful for this photo. Maura Reynolds, a talented photographer and new horse show friend I made last summer captured this image during our Gold Show, while I was walking out of the arena after what I knew was our best test ever)


Abrupt Transition #2
November 2019
Kachina died. Yep. I still can't write this without choking up so you get the short, emotionally detached version. I was in Mexico for a good friend's wedding when the barn owner found Kachina colicking. I was out of the country but my amazing barn friend, non-horsey family, barn owner, and a whole team of vets stepped up in a big way, with me constantly in communication with everyone. She initially seemed to be responding to treatment but the next morning she took a sudden turn for the worse, we now know that this was the point when her intestine twisted into a torsion. We got her on a trailer to the nearest equine surgery center, but it was a 3 hour haul. She was brought into surgery almost immediately, after he had a look and had her stabilized the surgeon called me, said that there was a lot of damage, she only had a 50% chance of survival, did I want him to continue? I told him yes, please try. She made it through surgery but that night she collapsed and started having trouble breathing so the vet who was right with her had to immediately put her out of her suffering. 

(Recovery room after surgery, last photo of Kachina alive. We all celebrated when she finally stood up after surgery as that was one major hurdle, but we knew she wasn't out of the woods yet)

While I am somewhat comforted by the fact that we did absolutely everything possible to save her, losing Kachina, especially while I was helplessly far away and unable to even say goodbye was absolutely crushing. I sat in an alcohol fueled daze in the sun for the next few days and came home to an empty halter, some saved pieces of mane, and a gigantic vet bill for a dead horse (Disclaimer: I 100% believe that vets deserve to be paid whether it is a good outcome or bad outcome, they fully informed me of the risk, I am privileged to be able to maintain an emergency fund large enough to pay for colic surgery, but it still sucks). 

I took a couple months to mourn, catch riding here and there, before I started to think about my next horse. I had planned on having Kachina for a long time so I didn't even have a starting point for a wish list. I looked at horses of a wide variety of ages, breeds, training level and price points. But you know what also sucks? Shopping for a horse in January in Alberta. Driving hundreds of km in winter conditions, and half the time ending up looking at a hairy horse in a snowy pasture while the sun was already setting was not the best way to evaluate potential mounts. Only one of my stops actually included a heated indoor arena. I quickly got sick of the process but I couldn't imagine being horseless until the spring, so the next promising horse I found a Kijiji ad for I took a chance and brought my trailer to go see her. 

Abrupt Transition #3
February 2020
Welcome Naia. I ended up the owner of a 4 year old Friesian x Paint cross who wasn't started under saddle (don't worry, I will give her a much more detailed intro in a future post). 

Buying Naia gave me a much needed horse outlet and launched me into a whole new world of baby horse training. I wasn't totally impulsive and did in fact have a very talented trainer on board to help me learn all the things. I was doing all the training myself, but was taking lessons every week to learn what to do with her. 

(This was Naia's ad photo, I really liked how she was put together)

Abrupt Transition #4
April 2020
Pandemic and deferred Turnaround. The pandemic is news to nobody. I did remain fully employed throughout which I am grateful for. The pandemic didn't impact my life as much as others, except for the decision of my company to move our turnaround from Spring 2020 to Fall 2020. I work at a big plant, and once every 4-5 years we shut down for about 7 weeks to do a major overhaul before we run 24/7 for the next 4-5 years. This type of turnaround has 12-18 months of busy planning before it and then 7 weeks of very long hours to actually do the work. When I was hired into my new position, it was immediately busy with pre-turnaround work. I had planned 2020 around a super busy spring, followed by a super chill summer when turnaround was over. In April we got the news that the turnaround was being moved to the fall due to COVID-19, that meant a busy spring and summer changing all of our plans to adapt to a pandemic and a busy fall executing the work. 

Abrupt Transition #5
June 2020
My Dad was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Suddenly work didn't seem so important. Evenings were spent with my family as much as possible. I don't feel this is the place to go into family details, but suffice to say that my Dad is currently stable but he still has Stage IV cancer and any time we have is a gift that needs to be treasured. 

(My Dad wanted to see the milky way so I made it happen, now is not the time to put off any joy, photo credit to my brother)

Abrupt Transition #6
August/September 2020
Summer to Fall. It might still be 33C outside right now, and our below freezing temps are still a couple days away, but I have to recognize that summer is already over. My work turnaround has already begun and I am now working 72 hour weeks for 7 weeks. The time to enjoy the last vestiges of summer is already past. Any dreams for the summer that I used to have, of relaxation, of moving up to First/Second level with Kachina, of travel, of a canoe trip with friends, have all been dashed one by one by the series of developments that has been this past year..... except one. In February I made a plan that I was going to ride Naia by the summer, and I did! 

(Ride #1! Thankfully uneventful as we had done a lot of foundation work leading up to it)

My baby horse now has 4 rides on her. Naia is on vacation and getting fat these days but she is young and we have lots of time to pick up where we left off when turnaround ends. The prospect of time with her makes fall and winter seem not so dreadful. Here's to planning for smooth transitions ahead where we can, and dealing with those abrupt ones as best we can when we need to.  

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Permanent Record

The results from the Gold show I competed in last month were finally posted. In Canada only Gold and Silver rated shows have results published on the Equestrian Canada website. This was the first Gold show for both Kachina and I so we didn't really officially exist before.

Screenshot from Equestrian Canada website


I am excited that I am starting to build this permanent record and I am also thrilled that it includes some of my best test scores to date.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Wordless Wednesday: Snow

It's easy to grumble about snow and cold weather, especially when it comes this early, but the truth is that I am at peace with the change in seasons. I honestly feel like I made the absolute most of this summer and the transition from shows and doing all the things to quiet sessions at home working to further our training doesn't sound so bad


Friday, 20 September 2019

Dressage Volunteer of the Month

Earlier this month I was named Equestrian Canada's Dressage Volunteer of the Month. Here is the press release:
https://www.equestrian.ca/news/sfFajwZe3dNpdq9gX/siobhan-o-connor-named-dressage

A fellow member of the CC/ADA (Chinook Country area group of the Alberta Dressage Association) was the one who nominated me and I had no idea until people who had seen the mass email from Equestrian Canada started congratulating me on Facebook (to be fair, someone from EC had emailed me to give me a heads up the day before but it was the weekend and I was busy trail riding my horse so I didn't see the email until the next day). I think it's a little funny that they say the photo was provided by me because it wasn't (but I don't mind).

I am super honoured and humbled by this award. I have worked hard at building a dressage community in my area but there are so many other deserving people who should be recognized as well. I especially want to recognize that all the people in the CC/ADA have been amazing and have provided so much support, often without me even needing to ask. The CC/ADA is based in Lethbridge which is a couple hours away from me, their area technically includes the whole southern part of the province but in practical terms their sphere of influence was much smaller. In early 2017 I approached them about the show I was trying to organize, wanting to see if we could cooperate to cross-promote our shows. At that time all I was really hoping for was some help in spreading the word about my show, but they came back and offered so very much more. Not only did they promote my show, they made it an official CC/ADA show which meant I could use their insurance and tap into casino funding from the club to help pay for the judge. They also invited me onto the board in the newly made position of representative for my city. That support has continued and they have also helped me in other ways over the last three years. I enjoy spending time with all the ladies at our AGM or when I go to shows in Lethbridge or Claresholm. I could not ask to be part of a better team so thank you!



Thank you also to the blogging community. Starting this blog has been a great way to organize my thoughts and it really encouraged me to get more involved and volunteer. Sometimes I would start writing a post complaining about how I couldn't do something and that would turn into me figuring out how I could.

The view from C - volunteering as a scribe is always worth it! 


I don't know if many people are nominated each month for this award. It is a nice program to provide recognition though (it came with a certificate, an EC pin, and a $25 gift certificate to the EC website) so if you know any good volunteers in your area please consider nominating them. Even if I didn't have much competition for this award I am honestly prouder of this than I would be for a riding award and I will treasure it.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

A Re-Introduction

Hello, I am your friendly neighbourhood writer of AutonomousDressage, I know it's been a long time since we last met so you may not remember me :-P

My name is Siobhan and I am an amateur rider in my early thirties, struggling slowly through the dressage levels with my 17 year old grade pinto mare Kachina. Slowly is a key trend around here as I got Kachina in 2014 and we are still not done with Training Level (we showed both Training Level and First Level this season). However in that time I have learned so much about the sport of dressage. Way back in 2012 I was schooling 2nd Level on my first horse Ellie, but looking back there were a lot of holes in my understanding. When I got Kachina after Ellie passed away, I learned that I had really been a one-horse rider and I had to acquire a whole new set of tools for working with Kachina, especially because, while Kachina is sensitive and tries hard, she was pretty green when I got her and almost all of her riding experience was on trails. I called my blog AutonomousDressage because I didn't have access to a regular trainer and had to figure out a lot of things on my own. There is still no regular dressage trainer in my area so creativity is still sometimes required but over the years I have been able to connect with some great clinicians, other dressage riders and not-for-profit organizations that have been of tremendous help. There is now a fledgling dressage community in my area and I hope to see it continue to grow.

Kachina and myself at the CC/ADA Summer Dressage Show in June 2019

I've previously gone by SarahO on this blog but Siobhan is my actual name. Siobhan (pronounced Shi-vawn) is not exactly phonetic so for years I've used a pseudonym of Sarah for little things like Starbucks orders, booking taxis, restaurant reservations, etc. I chose to use Sarah on this blog as well, partially for simplicity, and partially for anonymity. I grew up in the time where kids were told to never use our real names or locations on the internet and that has kind of stuck with me. I of course share photos and real stories about my riding life so I'm not fully anonymous, but I initially liked that people would have to do more of their own homework/already be part of the local horse scene to figure out my identity. I started reading blogs to get training tips and insights into dressage when I was sorely lacking in education opportunities. I started this blog to be able to participate in the blogging community. I still have somewhat mixed feelings about how much one should share with the internet (and will continue to be careful about some aspects of my life), but I've also seen the power of what communication and making connections can create. Through reaching out to horse people, in real life and on Facebook, I have made many new friends, found out about clinics to ride in and organized a few of my own, became part of the Alberta Dressage Association, and I also successfully started the first dressage show in my town which has now run for 3 years and counting. As my dressage profile has grown in real life and as I have started to feel closer to some fellow bloggers, the partial divide between my two identities has started to feel more awkward and less comforting. I've been thinking these thoughts for a while now but a recent press release about me and some soon-to-be-published recognized scores of mine are the reason for making this change at this time (blog posts about both are coming!). I want this blog to be an extension of who I am in real life, not just a separate semi-anonymous depository for horse stories. So with that in mind: Hello, I'm Siobhan, writer of AutonomousDressage, nice to meet/re-meet you!