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:

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!

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Blog Hop: 10 Questions for September

I can't believe it's been more than 5 months since I last posted. It's not that I haven't been doing blogworthy things, in fact I have been riding lots, have gone to multiple events and have more media than ever.

I fell off the blogging train because of being super busy with work in the spring (like being at work from 6am-1:30am kind of busy), something had to give so I gave my notice and went straight into a new job but adjusting to a new role in a new company has been a different kind of busy. Things have somewhat settled now but being away from blogging is a vicious cycle, the longer it has been since my last post the harder it is to know where to start again.

I have so so many things I want to share but I'm going to start simple, with a nice and easy blog hop courtesy of L.Williams.

1. Favorite quirk your horse (or a horse you’ve spent time with) has?

I know it's not really a good thing and I have been working on having other people handle Kachina but part of me kind of loves how Kachina will walk up to me but is almost uncatcheable for other people. 

2. Three adjectives that perfectly describe your horse?

Hardworking, sensitive, submissive

3. Plan your next ride. What will you do/work on?

I want to do some work on canter transitions and cantering in general where I focus on keeping my seat in the saddle and my upper body back and centered. This has been a focus for the last while and it is helping a ton so I want to keep at it. I also want to go back and reinstall the fundamentals for lengthenings, this is likely to make Kachina over-reactive initially and things will probably get worse before they get better so I wanted to wait until after my last show.  

My go-to canter position: tipped forward, seat out of saddle, lower leg forward
I am working really hard to not do these things

4. Have you ever trained an OTTB? If yes, what was the biggest challenge?

No, though I have ridden a few while horse shopping. They were all quite different from each other. 

5. Have you ever groomed or worked for a professional rider?

No, I think it would be an amazing experience and part of me would love to do it, but a bigger part of me likes the stability of my current non-equestrian career and realizes that what I am doing now is more capable of financially supporting my amateur horse-habit. 

6. Favorite horse and rider combination?

My favorite riders are generally ones who can recreate the same kind of harmony with multiple types of horses.

7. Have you ever ridden a horse at the beach?

I did a beach ride on a horse in Mexico once but I always feel a little awkward riding in those type of tourist trail rides. I would love to ride my own horse on the beach but the 1300km separating us from the ocean makes that unlikely. 

Does a riverbank count as a beach lol?

8. If you could experience the equestrian community (i.e. ride and compete) in another country, what country would you choose and why?

I would ride in Ireland. My family is Irish and I like connecting with that part of my heritage. Plus riding out in the country there is so physically different from here (no snow, no gopher holes, entirely different kind of grass, higher density of horses, etc). I would be scared to encounter traffic on their narrow twisty roads though. 

Who wouldn't want to ride in this idyllic place

9. In your opinion, what is an item of tack that is given unnecessary hype?

Horse boots or wraps for dressage. I understand that some horses benefit from them due to interference etc. but I do not understand why they are so ubiquitous. 

10. What was the first horse you rode called? Are they still alive?

The first horse I rode (sat on would be a more apt description) was one of my cousin's broodmares. I don't know her name. She would not be alive anymore considering that was 24 years ago and she was not a young horse. 

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!