Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Show Ready

In the spirit of do-all-the-things-before-I-have-to-stop-riding, I am entered in two shows this coming weekend! 

On Friday I showing Intro dressage at my local All-Breed show. They are only offering Intro B and Intro C for English and since we can't do the canter in Intro C yet I am also entered in Western Dressage Intro C and Intro D (both only walk/jog). 

Looking like the QH that she 3/4 is


On Saturday it is halter and western performance classes at the All Breed show so I am whisking Naia off to Lethbridge to ride in the Ride-A-Test Day put on by the CC/ADA. This is technically more of a clinic than a show, but Doreen Horsey is judging. She is the only senior EC dressage judge in Alberta so getting feedback from her and supporting my local dressage club at the same time seems like a major win-win. 

Finally on Sunday I am back at the All Breed Show to compete in walk/trot English Pleasure and English Equitation. I originally had only planned on doing the dressage day of the All Breed Show but they were looking for more walk/trot entries, clarified that it was for either novice riders or novice horses, and waived the late fees for adding classes so we are now doing them. I already have a stall for the weekend so it was very minimal extra cost, and being in the ring with other horses is more good exposure for Naia.

The arena for the All Breed Show, 
it can be a bit spooky with the bucking shoots and grandstands

 

I rode yesterday and ran through 2 of the 3 dressage test patterns that I will be showing this weekend. I have been practicing individual movements for the last couple weeks but these were my first run throughs start to finish. To my somewhat surprise, they were actually pretty good! Sure, we could be quicker to trot out of the first halt, and keep straighter on our free walk diagonals, but those are pretty minor. I mean yes, they are intro tests so they are pretty basic, but I'm still pretty shocked at how ready I feel for these shows. There are so few dressage shows in my area that I generally find I am still trying to fix things down to the wire (not ideal, but if I waited to enter a show until everything was confirmed, I would never get to show). This is Naia's first show season and I was prepared for it to be exposure only and possibly some scratched classes or abysmal scores. She is only 5 and these shows are both at brand new venues for her so that may still happen, but I know we are well prepared and I feel more excited than nervous.

As well as the training being in a good place, I was also able to line up vet appointment, saddle fitting, and hoof trim all leading up to the show so everything is in tip top shape. However, I do still need to wash my show shirt and do a lot of tack and boot cleaning (the disadvantage of showing both English and Western, twice the tack and boots to clean and pack!) so maybe we aren't fully ready after all! 


Monday, 19 July 2021

Matchy Monday: Navy and Copper

 I was super excited to put this set together, it is one of our fanciest outfits, and I love copper.


Saddle pad: Equito Navy Rose Gold 2.0
Boots and Bells: Anky Copper
Gloves: Anky Copper and Navy
Stirrups: Rebel Equestrian


This is my only Equito pad but I love the fit under my saddle and they have some really nice colours so I may need to get more at some point. 

I also got this matchy browband from Dark Jewel Designs from my husband for our recent anniversary (3 years = leather anniversary) but it hasn't made it onto the horse yet

Photo credit: Dark Jewel Designs


No photos of any matchy human accessories. I have a ton of navy clothes in general but no copper and nothing particularly for this outfit. 

Friday, 16 July 2021

Annual Vet Appointment

 Last week I had the vet out for Naia's annual visit. There was one other horse being looked at at my barn at the same time so we were able to split the mileage fee which was nice. Though the vet was early and finished with horse #1 in record time so I didn't even have a chance to groom the mud off of Naia before it was her turn. 

First up was a dental. This was Naia's third dental since I got her. In the first two my vet had noted a bit of a wave and some cavities (or whatever the technical term is for the horse equivalent) so she wanted to keep a close eye on things. The two issues are interconnected because the wave causes uneven pressure on the teeth which then can contribute to the cavities. In some horses this can progress to be a bigger issue, and in some cases it will self-correct as the horse grows. Luckily Naia seems to be in the latter group and this time around her teeth were in better shape. All Naia needed this time around was a really basic float so that is good! She also now officially has all her adult teeth. 

Next I got some baseline x-rays done of Naia's lower front legs. This hadn't originally been part of the plan for the day but horse #1 at the barn had xrays done and since the equipment was out anyways I asked my vet to add in a couple shots. I have zero concerns with Naia or how she is going but she is 5 years old and has essentially just ramped up into full work so I figured it was a good time to get baseline rads since she never had a pre-purchase vet check. With previous horses I have seen issues where something is seen on an xray when trying to diagnose a problem and it's sometimes tough to know whether that something is new or if it has been like that for years. This way my vet and I get to have these on file to compare to in the future if needed. The RF looked really nice but we noticed that the LF had a slightly broken back alignment of the bones so I will be showing these to my farrier at Naia's next trim so we can adjust accordingly. It doesn't require any drastic action but good information to have. I follow a farrier group on facebook that highly recommends annual xrays of a horse's feet to ensure that the horse's trims and/or shoes are achieving good palmer angles, boney alignment and sole depth. It's definitely an extra cost but especially when it comes to feet, prevention is a lot better than trying to correct an issue so I'm thinking I might do these baseline x-rays periodically. 

I cropped them and flipped one image to allow for easier side-by-side comparison


As part of the discussion about the xrays, we chatted a little bit about Naia's current age (will be 6 in August) and age when she started work (first ridden just before she turned 5). In this area there is quite a few reiners and cutters who prep for the big futurity money in the horse's 3 year old year. Compared to that, my vet loves the slow progression Naia has had and we are both hopeful that it will help her to stay sound and happy for a long career. That is one element that I really love about dressage, the work starts easy and there is no incentive to rush up the levels before the horse is physically mature enough for the harder movements. I hate to criticize any discipline but I really wish that competition organizers would restructure things so that the big pressure and prizes aren't focused on such young horses. 

DP View - note that stuff at bottom is because I didn't have time to clean her feet
first so there were still sand and pebbles in there


The final step was to get Naia's first Coggins test done. There is one show at the end of July that I am probably not going to, but that requires Coggins so I figured I should get it done just in case, not to mention that it is nice for peace of mind regardless. There have been some outbreaks in Alberta in the last couple years though luckily not in my area. I got those results today and they are thankfully negative. In the spirit of baseline information the vet is also running a baseline chemistry panel on the blood she took so that we have something to compare to if we need to draw blood in the future when Naia is not healthy (knock on wood that we will never need those baseline comparisons!). 

Naia definitely ended up being a cheap drunk for the drugs she got at the beginning for her dental. She was very sleepy very quickly, and trying to lead her even a few steps afterwards to get positioned for x-rays or Coggins photos was pretty hilarious. I definitely should have taken pictures during her dental and drunkest stage but I didn't so here are a couple from post-vet. 

She was sleepy for a while so I gave her a good grooming while she woke up

Shiny girl back in her paddock afterwards


Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Well I Guess That's One Way to Decide

Or how shopping helped me make a major life decision!

When I bought Naia, I did have resale as a possibility in my head. I wasn't buying a horse with the intention of flipping them or selling them, in fact I've never sold a horse before, I just wanted it to be an option. The biggest reason for this was that I was still heartbroken from the sudden loss of Kachina and I wasn't sure on signing up for another long term commitment. I needed to know that if my new horse and I didn't click or if I decided that I needed something different after a period of healing, that there was a reasonable chance that I could sell her onto another good home. I have now had Naia for a year and a half, and while she hasn't made it to heart horse/forever horse status (yet?), she is a good partner and I haven't felt any need to swap her for another horse.

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that my boots looked a little different from normal in the photos from this show 


The other consideration for resale is that I have been trying to get pregnant. I've been trying to get pregnant and struggling with infertility for years so when I bought Naia I didn't know when or if pregnancy might happen, but it did encourage me to shop for horses cheap and young enough whereby I could either kick them out to pasture for a few months as needed, or sell them if that seemed like the right call, rather than sinking significant savings into a top prospect or schoolmaster that I might not be able to make the most of. For the record, I know people have their own comfort levels and risk tolerances so no judgement on differing opinions, but for myself I long ago I made the decision that if I ever got pregnant I would stop riding after the end of the first trimester (when baby is no longer protected by pelvis).  


They had limited stock available so I ended up going with brown, not my preference for riding boots but they work, and I can also see myself wearing these in normal life this winter

I got pregnant before Christmas and was pregnant over some of the winter, at that point Naia was in a pretty critical part of her training so I had made a plan that I was going to have trainer SJ start riding Naia and keep advancing her training when I hit my second trimester. Unfortunately two weeks before that point I had a miscarriage so those plans didn't end up happening. 


Not the most attractive boots ever, but lots of spare room in the calf, and I ordered a larger foot size too, to accommodate either swollen feet or thick wool socks


That brings us to now, where I am happy to announce that I am pregnant again! Since SJ is now gone, my previous plan is no longer viable, so I began to consider whether I should sell Naia. Naia is a 5 year old registered part Friesian with good conformation, a great mind, and who now has a pretty decent training foundation. In addition, the horse market in Alberta is super hot right now. I don't know if it is a response from slow sales last year or some other phenomenon but there has been a noticeable increase in the demand for horses which has driven up prices, made sales happen quicker, and made people more willing to travel to more rural locations to look at horses. I could probably easily sell Naia now for around 3x what I paid for her (still just talking 4 digits though). But just because I could likely sell her, should I? 

I had actually started a post discussing various pros and cons for selling Naia and was still considering it. Then one day I had a good ride but was frustrated by the fact that my boots and breeches were uncomfortably tight (I haven't gained weight yet but have had swelling in my feet and lower legs and some bloating). Without much thought I found myself going online to Fuller Fillies and ordering a pair of oversized breeches, stretchy calf socks, and oversized boots with a flex panel. I figured that they would be useful both during the rest of my first trimester, and when I started riding again after giving birth. I chose the rush shipping option, and when they arrived a few days later I realized that I had essentially bought maternity breeches and maternity riding boots (my first "maternity" purchases of any kind)! It was then I realized that my subconscious had already made my decision about Naia for me, clearly I wanted to keep her and keep riding as much as possible. I figured that was as good a way to make the decision as any so I've stopped debating it and Naia is staying put. 


Finally, the photos in this post might make more sense to you lol.
Plus the breeches were purple (violet)! I've never had purple breeches before. I purposely sized up though so they are currently too big for me.


After waiting so long and having one miscarriage I am a bit paranoid about this pregnancy, but if everything goes well I will hit the end of my first trimester in the first week of August. I have 2 horse shows and clinic planned for my final weeks of riding (do all the things while I still can!) and then Naia is going to get a bit of a vacation. I will still visit her periodically and I have some ground work and lunging plans for throughout my pregnancy but I plan to play it by ear for how much I feel capable of through pregnancy. Naia is at a pretty good point in her training right now where the concepts she does know are solid enough that I think she will be able to come back pretty easily after an extended break. 

Friday, 9 July 2021

The Elephant in the Room: Canter

I am so so happy with how Naia's training is coming along. She is a relaxed and steady partner who I can ride indoors or out, in new places, in various patterns. We can steer around gopher holes, confront sheep, keep working when a friend leaves, and even win ribbons. I am only 30-some rides in and in many ways I am astounded by Naia's progress. 

However, I do sometimes feel like there is an elephant in the room or weight on my shoulders related to one thing we can't yet do: canter. Naia has not yet cantered with a rider. Having a horse going w/t/c under saddle is both such a basic and such an enormous milestone at the same time. I waffle between wanting to push the canter and wanting to take my time so I thought I would do a blog post delving into some of my thoughts. 

Much beauty

Such grace


First, Naia doesn't have a great canter. When I went to look at her before buying her it was in a snowy/icy pasture. I was determined to see that she could canter before I bought her, so I did chase her enough that she picked up a few strides of canter on a straight away, but the situation didn't give me the opportunity to see any more than that. Those few strides were at least a true 3 beat canter so I figured that was good enough (let's remember, Naia was a steal of a deal and I was sick of horse shopping so we were very much in a situation of "good enough"). Since bringing her home, Naia's canter has never wowed, but has oscillated between a prongy-disunited canter that makes me wince, and a reasonably balanced 3 beat canter that is perfectly acceptable, if not awe-inducing. 

Me, trying to put 4 year old Naia who doesn't really lunge, through her paces in a snowy pasture, success was mixed


At first I only saw Naia's canter at liberty. Naia would generally like to be as close to her people as possible, so it took a lot of ground work and lunging before I had trained her to stay out on a circle reliably enough to use the long lunge line and work her in a circle big enough for a young horse to canter on. Unfortunately my barn does not have a round pen suitable for canter work (it is tiny and has crappy footing).  Even at liberty though, Naia much more frequently chooses the trot. 

Sometimes even a pretty nice trot


It was only March of this year where I started to work regularly with Naia on cantering on the lunge. Initially, picking up the canter was a lot of work, for both Naia and me. I love that Naia has such positive experiences with people and has no fear of the whip, but that does have the disadvantage that even much chasing and whip waving doesn't result in much reaction from her. Because it was so hard to even get a canter transition I instantly rewarded her for even a step or two of canter to make it clear that that is what I was looking for. That approach did succeed in giving us a much more prompt and reliable canter transition, but it also inadvertantly taught her that she got praise and cookies when she stopped after just a stride or two of canter. 


At the stage of just asking for a couple strides of canter and not worrying about lead


To counteract this new problem I had to go back to basics and teach Naia that "good girl" meant she was a good girl, but that she could still stay out on a circle and keep moving forward when she got that praise. And unfortunately not all praise comes with a cookie any more. 

Another issue is that Naia would much rather pick up her left lead than her right. She reliably gets the left lead when circling left, but she's about 50/50 with leads when going to the right. Unfortunately that 50/50 isn't consistent day to day, it is more like some days she mostly gets the correct lead, and some days she can't get the right lead at all. Part of the issue is that she likes to be counterbent to the outside while travelling to the right so I need to do more work on asking for and maintaining inside bend. 

Still the wrong lead here but a little more in control


Currently we are at the point where I only praise for correct lead, and I am pushing Naia to maintain canter for one full circle on the lunge. Both getting the correct lead and maintaining the canter are hard for Naia so it is going to take a lot of practice, but it is also hard on her physically right now so I am careful to only ask for a little at a time, and I do tend to skip canter entirely when it is over ~32C (90F) which has been a lot in recent weeks. 

Then there's the times we don't even get a recognizable lead


So that's where we are for cantering on the lunge, how does that tie in to cantering under saddle? This is where there are a couple ways I could go:

On one hand, I can be pretty confident that Naia isn't going to buck or run away with me if I canter under saddle (that would probably count as too much work for her lol) so maybe I should just do it. Realistically I will maybe get one or two strides of canter and then she will break back to trot. I can ask for the canter on a long side and so getting a certain lead won't matter much. Maybe combining a little canter on the lunge with a little canter under saddle will improve her canter skills more quickly. I feel like this is probably the approach to choose if one was a pro rider with a perfect seat. 

Occasionally her canter looks pretty decent!


On the other hand, I can see on the lunge that Naia is still just starting to develop her balance at the canter. Unbalanced horses can do unpredictable things and so for both of our good it seems beneficial to give her more time to figure out the canter before I ask her to do it with the weight of a rider. This is compounded a bit by the fact that I am not great at staying in a balanced position while asking for a canter. I'm actively improving my seat but I definitely don't want both of us unbalanced at the same time the first time we try for 3rd gear (go back to the very first photos in this post, that is not balanced). Clinician trainer AM gave me the guidance that a horse should be able to maintain 4 circles of canter on the lunge before they will be able to maintain 1 circle of canter with a rider and we are still a long ways away from that. It might not be necessary to be able to do 4 circles of canter on the lunge before doing it under saddle, but it doesn't sound like a bad plan either. Additionally, I have only just started lateral work under saddle. Since Naia struggles with leads already it would be useful for me to have more control of the positioning of her haunches before cantering under saddle so that I can have some influence on what lead she picks up. 

The final factor is fear. I admit that cantering Naia for the first time gives me a little bit of anxiety. However even this fear leaves me torn between the two options, because part of me wants to just go ahead and get the first canter over with before it becomes a bigger deal than it already is, while another part of me thinks that max preparation is the best way to wrangle any fear. 


This looks rideable


Once my trainer SJ found out she was leaving, we made a plan to have her do some training rides and lunge work to get Naia started with canter under saddle in the 6 weeks before she left, but then after only one ride (where no canter happened) SJ unfortunately broke her foot and couldn't work with Naia anymore. She has now officially moved far away so that unfortunately is no longer an option. 

I know this is a decision I need to make myself ultimately, but what would you do in my situation? How soon have you introduced canter under saddle to your youngsters? Would you just canter the damn horse already?  

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Fine Tuning

On Sunday I had a lesson with SJ, the last one since she is leaving this week (which I am still really sad about). Unfortunately there is zero media from this lesson but it was a good one! 

Our lesson started with some remedial mounting block work as Naia tried to knock me off the block to start by scratching her face on me, and then tried to walk away. I can line her up nicely with the mounting block when she is wearing a rope halter, but the sending and yielding signals still aren't so great with the bridle. She likes to line herself up so her shoulder is beside the block instead of the stirrup, and getting her to just take a single step forward without leaving entirely is surprisingly difficult. SJ showed me some techniques to use but this is going to take a lot more practice to get reliable. 

However once I was actually on board, our lesson felt surprisingly advanced. Here's what we worked on:

Initially Naia was a little too eager to go forward so I did a number of halt transitions. SJ had me fine tune my halts by timing my breathing with the aid. When I breathed into the halt our halt was faster and more balanced and happened mostly off my seat. I also practiced shifting my weight, swinging my legs, and taking my feet in and out of the stirrups while standing so that Naia would wait for me to actually cue her before she started walking forward again, rather than doing it the second I shifted in any way.

No riding photos so enjoy this dramatic sky over the barn one evening


To up the difficulty and get Naia's brain engaged, SJ had me do shallow serpentines on the long sides of the arena, focusing on getting a nice bend in both directions.  

Next we worked on stretching. I had previously introduced Naia to a stretch aid at the halt whereby gentle but steady pressure wide on the bit rings cued her to drop her head, doing it both from the ground and from the saddle. Today I introduced that concept at a walk for the first time. Before long Naia was quickly giving me a good stretch down whenever I asked. I alternated periods of stretch with riding her with shorter reins in a more shortened upright frame, getting her used to riding in various neck positions with soft contact. This stretch cue is something that I was first taught right before losing Kachina and in hindsight it is something that was really missing from my training and a key reason why stretchy trot was so hard for me on previous horses. Hopefully I won't repeat the same mistakes with Naia (but I am sure I will make some new ones). 

We then did some work on 3 speeds of walking, asking Naia to slow down or speed up her walk speed. Putting this exercise together with the one above gave me some moments of a lovely forward free walk.

I was pretty happy with Naia's turning but SJ had me fine tune my turning aids by using a more supportive outside rein and making sure that my hips rotated with my shoulders in the direction I wanted to turn. As soon as I focused on this I could feel that Naia's balance improved and the last ounce of her falling out on the turn disappeared. 

It was a hot day (35 degrees C) so I kept the trot work to a minimum but at the trot Naia was maintaining her circle and tempo nicely so I was able to focus on my posting position in the western saddle (I use it for trail riding etc so I've never been great at trot or canter position in my western saddle).

When not at the barn I do enjoy my hammock in the backyard

 

I finished off the lesson by showing SJ our newly acquired ability to do baby turn-on-the-haunches and sidepass and she gave me some simple tips for making these new exercises clearer for Naia.

Overall it was a great lesson but I was amazed at how much of what we were working on was fine tuning of concepts that Naia is already pretty solid at. This was only Naia's 33rd ride ever so I am pretty shocked but pleasantly surprised that she is already at this point.    

Monday, 5 July 2021

"Ride Her Like She's Broke"

 A reoccurring trend in my training with Naia is that I will be taught how to introduce certain aids and concepts to Naia and we will break things down into teeny tiny steps until she learns the concept, but then at some point I need to just "Ride her like she's broke", meaning just use the aid like I would with a normal trained horse. 

Almost without fail, every time I treat Naia like she's broke, she responds excellently and I'm reminded that she does know things. However I frequently get too in my head and keep riding her like she is super green. 

The first example I can remember was a simple halt to walk transition. To ask Naia to walk my process had been to first make sure to hold my hands forward to give her lots of rein, then squeeze with my leg, being ready to follow it up with a bump and a cluck. Then one day I was chatting with some other people in the arena so was distracted, while still talking I asked Naia to walk without thinking and it was one of her best transitions yet. My trainer noticed it as well and remarked on it. In hindsight, I asked her to walk on like I would have with Kachina, keeping a normal contact with the reins, and using my seat together with a light squeeze of my legs.  

Random photo to break up wall of text


The same thing goes with turning. Initially I introduced the aid by using only my inside rein and opening it wide, I would ask for a bit of turn, then release, then ask, then release. Now, I notice that my turns are much more precise if I support with my outside rein and focus on keeping my center of gravity in the middle of the saddle while looking where I want to go (I think using the big opening rein would sometimes throw my balance off a bit). So basically, she turns better if I ride her like she's broke. 

In these cases, my muscle memory is my friend and my brain is my enemy. If she is struggling with something like turning, my head will focus back to early lessons and I will break it down into even more basic steps, instead of using the more advanced balanced combination of aids. If I turn off my brain, I will instead default to the way I have asked a horse to turn a million times which will usually work better. 


Using some outside rein, but I need to bend my elbows more here


Because of this, I have actually made a point to do several of my rides with Naia while listening to an audiobook or podcast. Focusing on listening to something has the dual benefits of making me more relaxed, and also making me default more to muscle memory. 

Do you ever find you ride better when you get out of your own head a bit?