Thursday 31 March 2016

Justification for our hobby

You guys! I just figured out the perfect comparison that makes justifying the cost of riding so much easier!

I'm sure we've all felt guilty or felt the need to defend our expensive hobby at one time or another, either to ourselves or to others. Some parts are easier to explain, like we buy show clothes instead of fancy designer jeans, or we choose to spend the weekend at a riding clinic instead of a ski trip. But there's always still the unavoidable fact that we spend hundreds of dollars every month on food and board for our horses and that's a cost we can't skip for a month or easily reduce.

I've heard horse board compared to other sports with monthly costs, like golf memberships, or paying for a spot in a marina for a boat, but that doesn't quite work either. For one, green fees or marina rental isn't usually year-round. Second, comparing having a horse to having a boat doesn't exactly help change the image of a horse being a luxury that only the rich can afford.

Turns out, comparing riding to other sports isn't the answer, we need to compare riding to other addictions! Namely smoking!

Hear me out:

In Alberta right now, an average 25 pack of cigarettes costs $14.66. For a pack-a-day smoker, that ends up being $5,351 over the course of a year, or $446/month. For many people, that's more than the cost of board! Depending on your level of board and location, you may even be able to include your farrier and vet costs into that number.

So, the next time someone asks how you afford to have a horse, just say that it costs about the same amount as being a smoker!

This comparison doesn't end with money. You can use it to defend almost any facet of your riding:

"Riding is dangerous" - yes, I might fall and injure myself, but it's better for you than smoking!

"You smell when you get home from the barn" - which would you prefer, eau de cheval or tobacco smoke?

If you both smoke and ride horses, unfortunately this comparison doesn't work so well. In that case you should clearly give up smoking and stick to the horse addiction (and come on, it's not like giving up nicotine is hard or anything...)

Now go forth and buy that bridle or pair of boots you've been coveting, guilt-free! Muahaha

Tuesday 29 March 2016

2016 Q2 Goals

Sorry for the delay since the last post. My aim is to generally post about three times a week, but for the last week I've been stressed out about work and haven't had time to do much horsey stuff.
Happy Easter! This was the pysanka I made this year

I posted my 2016 goals here, but I've decided to start making Quarterly goals as well. I've seen a few other bloggers take that approach and it seems to work well. A year is a long time to look ahead and know what challenges you'll be working through, and on the other hand, monthly goals are tough if you're not riding 5 days a week.

So, my Q2 (April-June) Goals Are:

1. Kachina dentist appt. 
- this goal should be easy to achieve, the equine dentist is scheduled for April 1st.

2. Kachina vet check and vaccinations 
- no serious concerns, but she's due for her annual check-up this spring

3. Kachina chiropractor appt. 
- I've mentioned before my concerns that something is off with Kachina's poll, I've found a local chiropracter but she didn't work in unheated barns in the winter so now that spring is coming I need to book

4. Scribe at CDI 
- I'm already on the list to scribe at the June CDI/Gold show in Calgary. I'm extra excited about it because it was just announced that it will be a qualifier for the Rio 2016 Olympics!

5. Hit 63% on a test at a show 
- I have 3 shows scheduled for this quarter. I got 61% at my last show, so I want to improve that by at least a couple percent. I'll be happy with a 63% at any level (walk/trot or training)
My goals are score based, not placings based,
but I wouldn't object to more satin...

6. Show all training level tests 
- I have 3 shows scheduled for this quarter. So far I've only shown at Walk/Trot and Training 1. I want to show Training 2 and 3 to get feedback on them before the recognized shows later in the season.

7. Trail ride somewhere new 
- I love the fields and road by the barn, but I want to explore some new terrain. I might haul to my friend's barn to trail ride with her there. Another option I've been looking into is public land in the area with some coulee hills to climb - I've found a couple places that look like they allow access for horses. 

8. Go fast on open ground 
- my usual trail partner is most comfortable at the walk, and I'm fine with that, but I want to speed across the open fields at least once before the crops are planted. 

9. Be confident in canter transitions 
- this ties in pretty closely with goals 5. and 6., training level requires canter transitions that don't look like a giraffe.

10. Get consistently straight halts 
- I feel like this is relatively easy to work on and so I should stop throwing away points here. Square halts would be even better, but I'll settle for straight.

11. Get a lesson 
- I bought a headset that I think will work for Skype lessons, so I'll either try that or haul somewhere for a lesson at least once this quarter.

Scary eyeless horse coming to attack out of the darkness! 

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Thinking about body movements

I had another pilates lesson last night. I've now finished the 4 week introductory course, and I really like it so I have signed up for another 10 weeks of regular lessons.

I started pilates because I had heard that it was good cross-training for riding. I would have to say I agree. It is very focused on controlled, intentional movements, and core strength. It also involves a lot of stretching which will benefit me as I am not very flexible.

A similarity I have noticed between pilates and dressage is how many times the instructor will say "think about ___" as a way to make us make subtle changes in how we are doing an exercise: "Think about stacking your spine straight up like blocks", "Think about a string pulling your head up to the ceiling", "Think about pulling your belly button to your spine", "Think about pushing your ribs out to the sides of the room", etc.

Does this sound familiar to any of you?
I'm guessing we've all had riding instructors give us some of those "Think about ____" commands. The string out of our head is a riding one too, then there are ones like: "Think about your hands pushing a shopping cart", "Think about tipping your pelvis back to sit on your pockets", "Think about draping your leg around the horse's sides", "Think about lifting the horse up with your seat in the collected trot", etc.

I have no related media, so here are a couple of deer
that I had to herd out of our fence-line at work yesterday

What about other sports?
Riding is the sport that I have spent the most years at, but I have also had coaching in several other sports over my life: swimming, taekwon-do, rugby, skiing, dragonboating, and golfing, to name a few. In my experience, many of these other sports just tell you to do something, rather than to think about doing something.

In swimming: "keep your knees straight when you kick", "lead with your pinky for the arm stroke"...
In taekwon-do: "put your thumb on the side of your fist", "spread your stance more than shoulder-width"...
In rugby: "drive with your shoulder in the tackle", "keep your back straight and level in the scrum"...
In skiing: "keep weight in your downhill ski for the turn", "bend your knees"...
In dragonboating: "look up", "lean out", "make an A frame with your arms to start the stroke"...
In golfing: "look forward", "interlock your pinkies in your grip", "stand a little farther from the ball"...

Now riding does have some of these "do" commands as well, "heels down", "eyes up", "shoulders back", etc. But there does seem to be more things in riding (and pilates) where you have to use some kind of metaphor to figure out how to change what you are doing with your body. In any sport, getting your body to actually do the correct movement can be challenging. I just feel that in riding there is sometimes an extra step to first figure out what it is we want our bodies to do, and then get it to do it. Why is this?

I have two current hypotheses:
1) The first is that the more a sport uses the body's core (by core, I mean everything from hips, pelvis, abdominals, lower back and ribcage), the more we need those kind of "think about _" metaphors. In everyday life we give a lot of commands to our arms and legs to do specific things, but our core is more often used in unconscious ways (like balance). Since our core is not as accustomed to specific directions, we need to think about what we are doing more in order to give it the correct command.
2) The second is that riding involves less obvious motion than other sports. We have to activate muscles or relax muscles without actually moving, and that requires the extra thought to figure out whether we changed the right muscles. If you ask your body to pull a handle towards you, your brain will automatically figure out what muscles need to move to make that happen, and you know you did it right if the handle moves. If instead, you want to increase pressure on a rein and not move your hand, you have to figure out by feel whether or not it worked.

It's entirely possible that both of these hypotheses are wrong, and there's another reason for the difference. Or maybe there isn't any difference between sports at all, and it's all to do with the specific coach or the level you are at.

What do you think? Do you think riding requires more thought about how you are moving your body than other sports? If so, why do you think that is? Do you know of any other sports that require the same kind of thought.

Monday 21 March 2016

Sunday Funday

Yesterday I had a fun day with Kachina. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. 17°C, sunshine, and no wind. This is far from typical March weather but it was a wonderful day to be at the barn.
(Though I hope we get some good rain or snow soon or else it's going to be a scary dry year)

First, we had a good grooming session. Kachina is really starting to shed out and I was covered in her hair.

Next, we went on our first trail ride of the year, a two hour walk down the tractor track near the barn. We went with my friend S and her standardbred mare. Kachina was awesome. She was relaxed, listening, and in her best babysitter behavior. We worked a bit on transitions between medium walk and free walk and Kachina was stretching down in a nicely active walk.
View between the ears

It'll be another couple months until this greens up

Finally, S and I let Kachina and her two horses loose in the big outdoor arena to play. The three horses share a paddock together so there's no worries about them fighting. We call them the three amigos. The outdoor arena is a fair bit bigger than their paddock and has better footing, so they enjoy the opportunity to roll, run, and play. S and I enjoy watching them rip around.

The three amigos
A good roll was first on the agenda - shedding is itchy!
Synchronized rolling
Straight from rolling to full speed
When I got Kachina, she would never voluntarily canter, even when loose.
It makes me so happy to see her now offer a lovely balanced canter by herself.
Hi Mom
Not sure what this is lol
This is about as much as Kachina ever kicks up her heels, she's too sensible
Snack break
And they're off again

What we did on Sunday might not improve our dressage scores, but it builds Kachina and I's relationship and we both had fun, and that's just as important :-)

Friday 18 March 2016

Tack Room Tour - Western Tack

Continued from

I'm a dressage rider, but I also have western tack.

I rode in 4-H for four years in high school, and started western at that point. I've always been an English rider at heart, but western has it's uses. For one thing, they tend to look at you funny if you show up for moving cattle or cowboy challenge in a dressage saddle. For another, I essentially care less about my western saddle than my dressage one, so I'll use it if I'm going on a trail ride when it's raining or snowing. Finally, I'll admit that I don't mind the extra security of having a horn to grab I feel like the ride might get hairy for whatever reason.

Western Rawhide Western Saddle, Model 1475

As I mentioned before, when I first bought Kachina, I took her in the trailer to a huge western tack store (Irvines) before I even hauled her home. I brought in my old western saddle to get some trade-in value. I was willing to spend up to $1000 extra for a saddle that would fit and be comfortable for both Kachina and I. Other than it fitting, I really didn't care about type of saddle, appearance, new or used, etc. I don't do my most serious riding in a western saddle so didn't have a reason to be picky. Kachina is certainly narrower than your average quarter horse so I figured we would need semi-quarter horse bars. That's also what her previous owners had used on her. Besides that, I'm no expert in fitting western saddles so I pretty much relied on the expertise of Irvine's staff. I told the lady what I was after and she checked the used section for me first. There was only one saddle there with semi bars, she got me to sit in it and it felt pretty good (much better than my old one had), so we brought it out to the trailer and unloaded Kachina to try it on. The saddle fitter was actually surprised and impressed by how well it sat on Kachina and "locked" into position. She said we couldn't get much better of a fit so we ended the saddle search there. After some consultation about the value of my trade-in saddle, I walked away with only being $300 out of pocket.

The saddle is made by Western Rawhide out of Winnipeg, Manitoba. I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know how to describe it further. The details of different kinds of western saddles are mostly lost on me. The 1475 Model doesn't seem to be offered by Western Rawhide any more.

My only problem with this saddle is the stirrups. I find that after long trail rides my feet go numb and my knees hurt. I've been "training" my stirrups to rotate forward by sticking a shovel handle through them in the tack room, that's helped but it still isn't perfect. I may get a local saddler to replace the stirrup leathers and put in a nevada twist/texas roll, and/or switch out the stirrups themselves.

Western Saddle Pads

I have two pads that I use together. First is a 100% wool thin blanket that I put directly against the horse (like this one). Second is a thick, foam filled pad (sorry, couldn't find a link to anything quite the same). The top pad is essentially a cheap western pad. It's made of synthetic materials and nothing fancy. However, the top pad is soft and padded and I have the bottom layer to make it breathable and sweat wicking. I've had these pads forever. They are functional and I love the colour.

Professional's Choice SMx Comfort-Fit Western Cinch Shearling Chocolate

I have a nylon cinch with sheepskin lining. It works well, no complaints.

Western Headstall

I first bought this western headstall because I was going to a 4-H show and needed a western bridle but I didn't want to spend much money and this is the cheapest one Lammle's had.
The cheapness shows, it's far from the prettiest bridle around, and the browband is always sliding around. However, it's got some good elements: The leather is solid and flexible. The headstall is so simple that it's easy to fit over a halter for trail rides. Finally, the bit clips are awesome! They are just like the clip on the end of some lead shanks. Not the prettiest thing in the world, but super functional. Changing between bits is super easy. Also I had a while when Kachina was pretty resistant to bridling, and the fact that I could put this bridle on in two parts (put the headstall over her ears, then put the bit in and clip it on) was really helpful while training her to be better at bridling. I'm afraid I don't know what brand it is.

Split reins drive me a little crazy so I use an extra pair of dressage web reins with my western bridle.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Guess the Breed

Kachina is grade. Most of the grade horses I know are horses with known parents, but someone along the line lost the papers or forgot to register them. Kachina does not fall into this category, she is a true unknown. The people I bought her from had taken her as a trade for another horse, based on a photograph and the fact that the lady had a thing for black and white pintos (this is a weird way to acquire a horse in my mind, but to each their own). They got her as an unstarted 8 year old who they knew nothing about. I in turn bought her 4 years later because I liked her movement and temperament.

I've never been overly concerned with breeds or bloodlines. I respect people who do care about those things, I've just never felt the need to myself. It doesn't bother me that Kachina is grade. I feel she is a nice individual horse, she is full grown so I don't need to know what her parents look like to see how she'll turn out, and she's not a resale project. BUT... I'm still really curious as to what her breeding is.

So, I turn to the blogosphere and ask you...

What breed (or mix) do you think Kachina is?

If you want to give an unbiased guess based on appearance only, stop reading now and comment below. If you want all the information available, keep reading.

I don't know anything for sure, but here is some information that may or may not be relevant:

  • I live in Alberta, probably at least 90% of grade horses here are mostly or fully quarter horse. I think this is mostly just because quarter horses are more prevalent and often cheaper, and people are more likely to keep track of the papers of more expensive horses. 
  • There is a fairly large number of registered paint horses in Alberta (APHA). APHA horses must be from quarter horse or thoroughbred bloodlines (or a mix), but most in this area are strongly quarter horse type.
  • Based on her colouring, Kachina has a frame overo gene. Her 4 white legs may indicate another overo gene as well. 
  • Frame overo genes have been documented in quarter horses, mustangs, and thoroughbreds. I haven't been able to find out whether it can be from other breeds or not. 
  • Despite the four points above, Kachina does not look like or move like any quarter horse I've ever seen.
  • Kachina is 15.2hh at the withers (lower at the croup), and takes a size 72 blanket. 
  • She was bought from near Innisfail, Alberta (though that's not necessarily where she was born). 
  • Kachina is a registered Pinto, but the Pinto registry is weird as it accepts any horse with enough white regardless of breed. She was registered by the people I bought her from and no sire or dam are listed. 
  • One dressage clinician was convinced that she must be a dutch warmblood with Art Deco lines based on how she moved and looked, but I'm not sure that makes a lot of sense (because Art Deco is a tobiano, among other reasons) 
  • She has no brands or freeze marks anywhere
  • She isn't gaited
I don't have any data to back this up, but if you asked me to name the dozen most common breeds in Alberta (not including drafties or ponies), I'd probably go: quarter horse, thoroughbred, paint, arabian, canadian warmblood, appaloosa, hanoverian,  trakehner, other warmblood, standardbred, friesian, andalusian.

Let me know if there's any other information that you think might help with your guess (how hard her feet are, size of her head, etc). 

I look forward to seeing what you think. I'll probably never know the answer for sure, but even knowing what people *think* she looks like will be cool to know. 

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Carrots and Cocktails I Photos

Show recap here

As promised, here are some screenshots from my ride videos:

Halt, Salute

See how we're pretty much pointed towards E? Ya, that's not how you're supposed to do it
Next attempt: straight but not square
Nailed it!

Free Walk

This is a decent free walk
This is also a decent free walk, but then she started trotting
This is not a decent free walk at all


This is good for us
My position could be a lot better here, but it could be a lot worse too
Legs off, not really riding, need to work on that
Ignore the rest of the photo, just look at the tail!
Training 1 - more impulsion at trot (also more tension)


This was actually the moment of our canter transition...
... but we looked a lot more reasonable two strides later