Friday 29 April 2016

Trailering Skills

I'm not a fan of hauling horses. I find it stressful and tiring because I am always hyper vigilant. I can't handle hearing about trailer collisions or rollovers (especially rollovers) at ALL, because I have such a visceral reaction and can far too easily imagine that happening to me. If I accidentally come across such a story while looking at other stuff on the internet, I must immediately shut my whole browser down so there is no chance of my seeing an image that might become burned into my mind and haunt me for all of eternity.

That said, I have to admit that I have gained some trailering skills.

Hooking Up

I have an extra long SUV (the tank!) with no back-up camera, and haul bumper-pull trailers. That's not the easiest combination for lining the ball up under the hitch. Some of the most competent haulers I know still use one person backing up, and one person signalling, and it takes a couple tries to get it in the right place.

My tank and trailer on the right

I rarely ever have a second person, so I have developed my own system where I can hook up by myself, with only jumping out of the tank 3 times to sight my line and judge distance. It used to take me jumping out 7 or 8 times, and driving forward to adjust a couple times, but now I can reliably do it with only 3 checks (occasionally only 2).

From start to finish, I can fully hook up a trailer in less than 10 minutes, including lining up the tank, and checking lights and brakes.

I can do it in less than 15 minutes even if you give me a truck and trailer that I haven't ever used before.


I certainly must give Kachina most of the credit for this one, as she is generally great at loading. But even when she is at her most resistant, I can load in less than 10 minutes and handle securing all dividers, doors, etc. in a safe, Pony Club approved order, completely by myself.


This is probably the easiest part. I first towed a horse trailer at age 16 (did the driving part, but had my Dad to help with all the other parts back then). Doing gradual acceleration, deceleration and turning takes a bit of getting used to, but it is mostly second nature to me now. I also know exactly how much I have to slow down for at least a dozen rail crossings in the area so that the trailer doesn't bump too much (unfortunately, the answer for the one on the highway closest to the barn is 5km/hour max).

Backing Up Trailer

This was the part that took me the longest to get. For years of hauling, I would fervently hope that I could pull through at my destination and wouldn't have to back up the trailer. I would sometimes park in the furthest edge of the field at shows so that I had more room to maneuver. If I did have to back up in a tight space, I would hope that I had lots of time and that there was nobody watching (please let nobody see me!) because it might take a million corrections and it was very possible that I would make a dumb move at some point and get myself into an even worse position than when I started. I didn't haul very often so I never really got better.

Then, for one year, I hauled to another barn for a lesson every single week. And every week after my lesson, I would have to park my trailer back in its spot, which meant backing it up to a fence between two other trailers. This was absolutely the ideal way for me to learn: I had quite a bit of room to maneuver in front of the spot, but had to eventually get it into a narrow slot. My lessons were late in the evening so by the time I was parking the trailer, my barn would be dark and deserted with nobody to watch me fail. I always unloaded Kachina and put her back in her pen before parking the trailer, so I didn't have to worry about her. The first few weeks, it took a lot of corrections and screw ups for me to park the trailer, and it would still end up crooked. However, as the weeks went on, I steadily got better. I learned how the trailer moved relative to the tank. My number of adjustments slowly went down and I could park it better.

Parked perfectly (though there was no trailer on the other side this week)

The culmination of my trailer backing journey was after the show two weeks ago. I had been driving my friend's trailer, so I had to park it at her barn. After unloading, K's husband jumped in the truck with me to "help" me park and unhook the trailer. I drove up to the spot, and backed the trailer into the space in a line of other trailers, off an awkwardly angled road, on the very first try. I saw a momentary look of surprise on K's husband's face and to me it looked like victory!

I've never tackled a gooseneck, four-horse or living-quarters trailer though, that can be the next challenge!

How are your hauling skills?

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Carrots & Cocktails II - Sunday


Sunday was the big day of the show for me. I had 3 tests - Walk/Trot A, Walk/Trot C, and TOC Training 1.

My ride times for the day were 9:15, 9:37, and 10:26am. The inside ring was open for schooling from 8-8:45am. My plan was to get on around 8:20 and essentially stay in the saddle until after my last ride, so basically 2.5 hours. This plan would absolutely not work for some horses, but it works for Kachina:
A) Kachina loves to go forward and has pretty good endurance and fitness, so tiring her out isn't a concern.
B) She is willing to stand quietly under-saddle, she actually stands better under-saddle than if I'm just holding her from the ground.
C) Lots of time standing around or walking is good for getting her to relax.
D) We need long warm-ups to get our best work.

After our last test

Walk/Trot Warmup

My walk/trot warm-up went fairly well. I again started with lots of lateral work. I then focused on making sure I was using my inside leg, and giving big half-halts when I needed them instead of making half-hearted attempts to stop Kachina from racing.

The show got off to a really quick start and before I knew it we were running 15 minutes ahead of time. I chose to ride when they were ready for me instead of waiting for my assigned time.

Walk/Trot A

In this test, it specifies that trotting must be done posting. That limited how much I was able to regulate Kachina's speed, but we did much better than my Training test on Saturday.

We got 63.8%. Technically I got first out of 1, as the only Adult Amateur Walk/Trot A rider, but when you combine my scores with the Open and Junior categories, I got 1st out of 4. I was also quite happy with our score.

Walk/Trot C

This ride was only a couple rides after Walk/Trot A. They were still running ahead so I didn't do much in between the two tests. However, in Walk/Trot C, you are allowed to sit or post the trot. I elected to sit, and it helped a lot. I was able to be better with my position, and I kept Kachina at a nice even, balanced rhythm. If anything, we didn't have quite enough impulsion, especially at the free walk. We'll find that happy medium at some point.

We got 65.5% for 2nd place out of 3 or 4 riders.

Halt is straight (not square)

Free walk - Kachina shows what she thinks of this showing business

Up centre-line

Training Warm-up

Since I hadn't cantered yet, after my test I moved to the outdoor warm-up ring to do a new warm-up for my Training 1 test.

I started by doing some walk and trot work. Out of the show ring, I got a hold of myself and actually rode. Even though my walk/trot tests had gone well, I had not been using my outside aids correctly. With my last mare, I could easily move her out to the rail by using inside rein and inside leg. With Kachina that doesn't work, it makes her speed up instead of move sideways. To get her to yield to my leg, I really need to think shoulder-in and have a connection on my outside rein to push her into. I started doing some exaggerated shoulder-in to help us both with the idea. We were kind of zigzagging down the long side because I was breaking it down into two clear steps: 1) use outside rein to get her shoulder off the wall, 2) use inside leg to get her ribcage to wrap around my leg and keep her on the wall. As soon as I was actually using inside leg to outside rein, Kachina pushed up into the contact instead of racing, she was balanced and adjustable in speed and steering. We were doing circles and straight lines and getting some of the best trot work we've ever had! In a strange arena on a weekend where she was in a bad mood, we were doing it! At this point I hadn't even heard my walk/trot scores yet but I decided then and there that this show was a personal success, regardless of anything else.

This photo is from WT C, not the warm-up, we felt even better than this!
Btw, this feels like a small trot for us, so excited to one day really push her out!

Then we moved onto canter. And I couldn't get the left lead! As bad as our canter often is, Kachina has always been pretty reliable about getting the correct lead, so when she kept getting the wrong lead, I really didn't know what to do about it. It was terrible timing for a brand new problem to crop up! In hindsight, I think the first transition or two was a simple mistake, but then I started changing my aid to try and make the lead more obvious, when in fact I was making it worse (I was using more outside leg and less inside leg, instead of the other way around). I did at least a dozen transitions and was getting the wrong lead every time! It doesn't help that it takes me at least a few strides to figure out if I'm on the right or wrong lead. Just as I was at my wit's end, my friend K walked by. I got her to stop and help me out for a couple minutes. She could see that the problem was that Kachina was falling in so she got me to relax and use a strong inside leg aid. After a couple tries we got it! I only had time to canter once to the right and then it was time to go in for my final test.

Training TOC Test 1

This test was not our finest moment, but I'm impressed at how we did considering the circumstances.

Unfortunately, the canter issues in warm-up made our beautiful trot from before disappear. Our trot was pretty nice going up centreline, but as soon as we started to circle left, I could feel that Kachina was thinking about our earlier canter left debacle and she got fast and crooked. I somewhat remembered to ride and was able to make a reasonable correction at least.

Next came time for our left canter. Our transition was ugly and Kachina threw her head way into the air, but we got the lead! We also cantered perfectly straight down the long side which made me grin from ear to ear (normally we get crooked).

Kachina stretched down nicely for her free walk but she was happy to do a calm relaxed walk and ignored my attempts to get her to march more forward. Also, from watching the video I see that I should get longer reins - during the free walk I have a loose rein, but even with my hands near the buckle, the reins aren't long enough to get that true loop in them.

No extra rein to droop during stretch
(photo from WT C)

The trot work to the right had some nice moments, but was interspersed with some fast and crooked moments.

The unfortunate part of the test that I have to just laugh at, is that I lost my outside stirrup just as I was trying to ask for the the canter transition to the right. I managed to get the transition but it was late and not pretty. I then managed to get my stirrup back, but my foot fishing around confused Kachina so the rest of our canter was crooked and counter-bent. After the terrible canter, she came right back to me though and we actually had a nice controlled trot up centre-line.

We got several 4s and 5s on the test. However, this time around we did get one 7.0 for medium walk, and one 6.5 for part of the trot work. That tells me that when we do things well, our quality is sufficient for training level, we just really, really, really need to work on consistency.

On this test, we got 54.6% for 3rd place (more than 2% higher than T1 on Saturday at least!).


First ever ribbon photo for either of us!

The show had a mix of good and bad moments, but overall it was a learning experience, and that is exactly what I wanted out of this show series.

Also, it depends on the final show in the series, but it looks like I'm in the running for reserve champion for walk/trot which is kind of cool and totally unexpected (I think it's cool that I'm in the running, even if I don't get it, which is why I'm not worried about jinxing it by posting it on here lol).

All the colours!

Our Training level tests had a lot of room for improvement, but those moments in warm-up give me hope for the future. I have a lot to work on at home before the next show!

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Carrots & Cocktails II - Saturday

Sorry for the delay - I took a mini-vacation to Toronto to visit a friend. I figured I would have lots of time to blog during vacation but we ended up cramming a ton of stuff into the short trip and there was absolutely zero down time. It was a lot of fun though.

Anyways, back to the show...
Previous part:

Saturday Morning 

We got to the showgrounds just after 6am. I only had one test scheduled for Saturday: Training 1 at around 9:30am.

(Side note: Kachina gets hay out of slow-feed net 24/7, both home and away. I love this system for multiple reasons, but an added benefit is that I don't need to worry about leaving extra time to feed and let her eat in the morning since she had hay all night)

A bit blurry, but one of my new favorite photos of us
(hay net in background)

I was happy to see that Kachina had drained 3/4 of her water bucket. I was even happier to see that the cut looked good. No heat and no swelling.

Grooming came next. I had a mountain of dried mud to remove as a first step, so I knew it was going to be a long process to get her show-worthy. Kachina was in full-on shedding mode at the last Carrots & Cocktails show. I had hoped I would have a summer coat to work with by this show. Kachina chose to start a whole new shedding phase just in time for this show though. Luckily, it did make getting the mud off easier as the hair just came out with it.

The indoor arena where the show was being held was open for schooling from 7-7:45am. By the time 7am rolled around, Kachina was pretty antsy in her stall so I decided to walk her down there in her halter and do a little lunging in the ring if it wasn't busy. (The mud was gone by this point, but we still had a lot of grooming left to do).

Kachina was pretty up and looky on the walk from the show barn to the arena, but once I got inside she got very quiet. The arena only had one other horse walking so I did a bit of lunging at just the walk and trot. Kachina seemed nice and relaxed at the walk. However, when I went to trot, she was reluctant to trot and kept pinning her ears. I started freaking out that her leg was hurt, or that she had tweaked her back or something during the commotion in the trailer. I watched her super carefully at the walk and trot in both directions, and did some palpation and stretches to check out her back and neck. Verdict: totally sound and no pain anywhere that I could find. I decided to continue grooming and tacking up, but that if she seemed sore at all when I got on I would call it and scratch.

It turned out that Kachina wasn't injured but was in heat. She's usually fine when she's in heat, but I think the combination of her hormones, being in a stall, and all the new horses around made for a bad mix. She was well behaved under-saddle but was just in a super pissy mood for the rest of the weekend - pinning her ears, kicking at the stall, throwing a fit whenever I walked away from her, etc. None of it was dangerous behavior, just really annoying, and made me a bit embarrassed to be the owner of "that horse" in the show barn.

The mare is not amused

I finished grooming and braiding Kachina. She looked okay, but I was sad I couldn't bathe her, as without water I couldn't get her perfectly white and sparkling. I am determined to find a way to bathe before the next show. I tacked up and mounted in the outdoor warm-up with 40 minutes to go before my test - right on schedule.


The warm-up was so-so. I love my current warm-up routine of getting her to move her hips, ribcage, shoulders, and neck. It was a massive warm-up arena with several other horses but I was able to get her focused on me almost immediately and get her supple and relaxed. Unfortunately, once I moved up to trot and canter work, we had some steering issues. I would say that she was falling through my leg, but that isn't accurate since the problem was that my leg wasn't there. Things were okay at the walk, but as soon as we were trotting I could not get myself to put my leg where it needed to be. Without my leg doing it's job, I was doing all sorts of wrong things with my seat and rein, and we were unbalanced and running. Not ideal. I went back to walk and did a few successful straight halts and medium walk to free walk transitions before it was time for my test.

Warm-up ring in background

Training Level Test 1

My test was almost completely opposite from last show with what was good and bad.
The good: straight halts (not square, we're focused on straight right now), decent walk, no breaking into trot from free walk (I actually thought it was a nice free walk, but the judge disagreed), right canter transition (not objectively good, but good for us)
The bad: all trot work (running, not using my inside leg so bad geometry), left canter (she started on the wrong lead so I had to bring her back down to get the correct lead)

I didn't get any media of this test since my friend was warming up her horse at the time (probably a good thing, it wasn't pretty!). I did get video on Sunday though

After the test, I mounted back up in the warm-up ring and got one decent trot circle each direction so we could end on a good note and I could convince myself that I can in fact ride. Then I was done for the day, before 10am, that felt really weird.

We got dinged pretty bad for the rushing in the trot and rhythm mistakes so ended up with a disappointing 52% and 7th in the class. I was pretty devastated when I first saw my mark, but I gained some perspective over the weekend. 1. It didn't feel like a good test, so I shouldn't have expected a good mark. 2. I Know we can do better. 3. The judge was fair but she certainly didn't shy away from using the whole marking scale, when you looked at the score-sheets, the marks for the weekend ranged all the way from 43%-75%! and there were several marks in the 40s.

Rest of Saturday

For the rest of the day, we:
- watched a bunch of other riders go, including some super nice training level rides, and even a few FEI TOC rides.
- checked on the horses regularly, where Kachina was eating and drinking well but let me know how pissy she was still feeling
- went to 3 tack stores where I succeeded in buying nothing! I'm proud of myself
- at one point on Saturday I was sitting outside in the sun eating icecream in a t-shirt, while letting Kachina graze. In contrast, yesterday it snowed all day. That's April in Alberta for you!
- went to bed early, it was glorious (especially after only about 5 hours of sleep the night before)

Grass for Kachina, ice cream for me!

Monday 18 April 2016

Carrots & Cocktails II - Friday

This past weekend was my second show of the year (and Kachina's third ever show). Lots happened at the show so I'm going to break it down into a post per day.

The show was Carrots & Cocktails II, the second in a series of unrecognized dressage shows at a lovely facility in Calgary. We went to Carrots & Cocktails I last month (here and here).

I went to the show with my friend K and her mare. K just bought a new trailer and she was excited to try it out, so the plan was to use her truck and trailer and sleep in her truck-bed camper. (We tried her truck and camper last time, but her truck doesn't have enough power to pull my heavy trailer, she bought a much lighter aluminum trailer)

We both worked on Friday, but K really wanted to have one last ride at home before leaving for the show. We had arranged that I would go out to my barn right after work and pack up my stuff, K's husband would meet me at the barn with their truck and trailer at 4pm, I would load up my stuff and Kachina and drive to K's barn, at which point she would be done her ride and be ready to load up her mare and stuff.

It was a good plan, but you know how that goes...

I thought that I could leave a bit early from work and have time to give Kachina a quick bath before K's husband arrived. Unfortunately I was stuck late at work and didn't have time. Of course, our only good rain of the year so far happened the day before and Kachina was absolutely crusted with mud.

Not shined and show-ready

Time for Plan B: K's husband arrived early and we were able to load everything in record time, so I figured K would still be riding by the time we got to her barn, and I could give Kachina a quick bath there while we were waiting.

After we finished loading, he went to start the truck and it made some unpleasant noises. K's husband knows his trucks and figured that as long as we made a pit-stop to top up the oil, we should be okay. It's his truck and I'm not too familiar with diesels so I took his word for it. We started pulling down the driveway...

....and the truck started spewing thick smoke. Halfway down the long driveway, K's husband made the call "We better take your truck." We couldn't even turn the truck and trailer around, so I had to unload Kachina, walk her all the way back to the barn, grab my tank (it's a massive, dark army-green SUV, we call it the tank), unhook K's truck, hook up the tank, transfer everything from the truck and camper into my tank, walk back to grab Kachina, and bring her down the driveway to load up again. We did all of this with pretty impressive speed and efficiency but needless to say, we weren't ahead of schedule any more. Still, it's good the truck gave out in the driveway, rather than halfway down the highway! The show grounds don't have a wash rack so I resigned myself to going to another show without bathing.

We also had another problem, we didn't have anywhere to sleep. Our plan had been to sleep in the camper on the show grounds, but we didn't have the camper any more. If I had known we were going to use the tank, I could have removed the third row of seats and packed an air mattress to fit inside, but it was too late to do those things at this point.

Luckily, enroute to Calgary, we were able to call and book a hotel that was a decent rate and only 15 minutes from the show grounds. Having the hotel room ended up being nice; actual beds and an opportunity to shower were appreciated.

Hauling up to the show went smoothly for most of the way. I stopped for gas halfway there and we did a full check of the horses and trailer then, everything looked good. Later, close to our final destination, I was slowing down for a red light on the outskirts of the city and there was a big commotion in the back of the trailer. It only lasted about 30 seconds and then the movement and noise settled down again. Unfortunately, I was on a multi-lane road with lots of traffic so my only real choice was to continue on the remaining few kilometers to the show grounds. As soon as we got out, we could see both horse's heads through the window slits so everything seemed okay. Then we went to unload and found that the angle divider between the two horses was open!

Being a new trailer, we hadn't realized that there was an extra step required to lock the pins in place, the divider had seemed fully secure when we left, but we must have hit a bump in the right way to allow it to come loose. We figure that must have happened right before or during the commotion we heard. I feel so so lucky that the horses calmed down so quickly and that there wasn't a more major wreck.

Both horses hopped off the trailer and walked soundly into their stalls. I gave Kachina thorough check to make sure she was okay, and found two cuts on her left hind under the dirt. I grabbed a bucket of water and washed the area down to get a better look. There was a curved scrape on the side of her cannon bone, it was mostly just the hair taken off with a little bit of blood. There was also a small spot on her pastern, it seemed to be from where a previous scar had been torn off.

Sorry for crappy photo, but here's the cut

Thankfully, K's mare was completely fine, Based on the shape and location of Kachina's cuts, I'm guessing that Kachina swung her left hind out to the side when the divider opened, got into K's mare's space, and got stepped on.

The cuts themselves felt warm, but the overall leg seemed okay and there was no swelling. Kachina didn't show any signs of pain and didn't mind me poking it. After the area was clean, I applied some derma-gel and fervently hoped everything would stay good overnight (It did, she's fine).

By the time I had taken care of Kachina, unloaded gear, parked the trailer, unhooked the truck, driven to the hotel, and prepared for bed, it was after 11pm.

My last thought of the night was: "Hopefully we got all of the bad luck out of the way today and now the rest of the show will go smoothly!"

Friday 15 April 2016

First Bareback Ride

I recently bought a bareback pad (

I had my first ride on it last Friday. EventingSaddlebredStyle made a good comment on my last post where she suggested I start small and try my first ride bareback in the arena, after I had already worked Kachina. That's a good suggestion, but it's not what I did.

I've talked about how I've been building up my trust bank balance with Kachina. Even though bareback scares me a bit, I decided I trusted Kachina enough and I would just go for it. Meaning, after not riding Kachina for a few days, I threw on my bareback pad and went for a 75 minute trail ride down the road with my friend S.

Short story: I survived! =D

That smile says "I'm still alive!"

Longer story:

Getting on was a challenge. I was pretty happy with how the bareback pad fit and the girth was nice and grippy, but I don't think you can ever stop something without a tree from rolling sideways on the horse if you put too much weight on one side. My first time mounting actually worked pretty well, the stirrups helped just enough. Unfortunately, once I was on, I discovered that the stirrups at their shortest hole were still too long for me and I had to get off to wrap them.

Let me repeat that, my bareback pad which very much comes as a one-size fits all deal, and presumably is designed for at least some use by children, has stirrups that are too long for me. I wasn't even wanting jumper length stirrups or anything, I ride western and dressage so I am used to riding with a long leg, but my toes could barely reach the stirrup on their shortest hole. Sadly, I think the problem is more to do with my height (or lack thereof) than it does with the pad's design. My friend's 11 year old daughter is the same height as me now. (For the record, while I'm occasionally jealous of other riders and their long long legs, I'm generally fine with my shortness, I just think it's funny). My SO is a full foot taller than me and regularly jokes about me and my family being hobbits haha (I counter back that he's a giant).

After wrapping the stirrup leathers (stirrup nylons?) around the stirrup, I got back on. And then found that the stirrups were a bit too short. I really didn't want to dismount and mount again so I decided they were good enough and off we went.

To start it felt weird. I did not feel comfortable, and was sitting tense and awkwardly. I couldn't help myself from perching forward a bit. Kachina must have thought it felt weird too, she was a bit tight and unwilling to move forward to start, but she adjusted fairly quickly. I wouldn't say I ever completely relaxed, but through the course of the ride I was able to let a lot of tension out of my body, sit straighter, and move with Kachina more.

This was during the first half of the ride,
I was still leaning forward too much, got better later

I was a little too aware of how hard the ground looked, and how if I fell off, I'd never be able to mount from the ground so I'd be in for a long walk home. It sure made me keep my heels down and sit evenly on Kachina's back! One thing I'm really proud of though is that I didn't keep a death hold on the reins. I sure wanted to, but I think I was pretty successful in keeping loose contact with Kachina's mouth and not transmitting 100% of my tension to her.

We mostly just walked, but I did survive 3 small spooks (truck, pheasant, and.. nothing?), going up and down ditches, and a few times where she started trotting when the wind picked up at the end.

Overall, Kachina was super well behaved for me though. I was so so happy with her. She got a ton of pats, "good girl"s, and a whole pocket full of treats when we were done. I may have given myself a pat on the back too.

I'm looking forward to doing some more bareback rides throughout the spring and summer!

Thursday 14 April 2016

Bareback Pad

I don't ride bareback often, never have. I've watched that scene in The Black Stallion with envy, but practical purposes have mostly kept me in the saddle:

A) I'm super short, my horse is not. Mounting without stirrups, even with a block is no small feat. The last time I tried it with Kachina, I sort of kicked her in the rump, and she freaked out with me only half on and it ended with me hitting the dirt twice (my second attempt didn't go much better)

B) Both Kachina and my last horse are/were hot horses and staying slow is far from a guarantee

C) Both Kachina and my last horse have/had very prominent withers and aren't exactly the most comfortable backs to sit on.

D) I'll admit it, I'm kind of a chicken and don't want to fall off.

Her topline has filled out a bit since this photo, but still, look at the withers

But, I want a more secure, independent seat, so I want to ride bareback to help me develop one. If I know I have a strong seat, that should help me with D), as well as pretty much every other part of my riding.

I've been considering buying a bareback pad for literally years, but I couldn't justify the cost to myself. Also, most pads I saw in person had at least one feature I didn't like, and the shipping for buying a bareback pad online is generally ridiculous, especially to Canada.

On Friday, I was passing by a local store that sells tack on my way while doing other errands and figured I would just stop by to grab some more treats or look around. This is a bad idea. Never go to a tack store without a definitive plan of what you will or will not be buying. I know this, yet I did it anyways. This store generally sells nothing in the way of Dressage tack or attire so I figured that would help keep my wallet in check.

I walked in the door and was immediately told by a smiling saleswoman that it was "Customer Appreciation Day" and everything in the entire store was 20% off, that day only! Danger Danger! I immediately knew I was in trouble and was going to end up spending more time and money than I had planned...

It wasn't my intention, I swear!

I walked to the back of the store, and right at the entrance to the tack section was a bareback pad... I looked at the bareback pad, I put it down.... I looked at other stuff, I looked back at the bareback pad.... I picked up a dressage saddle pad that was on clearance, and with the extra 20% off was dirt cheap (one of the only dressage pads I've ever seen there, probably why it hadn't sold and was on clearance).... I looked towards the bareback pad again, but walked the other direction and grabbed some treats and a bottle of Quick Braid spray..... I took a long look at the bareback pad, but decided that I wasn't happy with the "girth", a nylon strap that was sewn onto the pad on one end and had a weird clamp thing on the the other side. I convinced myself that even at 20% off, it wasn't worth buying a bareback pad that might slip off because it had a stupid girth. I was safe, I was going to make it out of the sale mostly unscathed!

Lettia Coolmax Pro-Series Dressage Pad

... of course you already know that's not what happened. At the last minute, I saw another bareback pad hidden under some saddles. This pad was same as the other one, except it was $20 more and came with a removable neoprene real cinch, and would connect to my normal western cinch if I wanted to swap it out. I couldn't argue any more, and made my way up to the front to pay.

Triple E Deluxe Bareback Pad

I know using a bareback pad isn't the same as riding truly bareback, but it's sure a lot closer to bareback than using a saddle is. Also, see point C) above, padding is required.

This particular bareback pad also comes with stirrups. I know that makes it even more like cheating; however, the stirrups are easy to completely remove. My plan is to ease into bareback riding by first using the stirrups as a bit of extra security, and then taking them off once I gain some confidence. Buying a pad with stirrups was important to me because of point A) above. Even once I get to bareback pro level (someday, maybe), I'll probably still need to connect the stirrups to get up. (Note - the pad will slide to the side if you put your full weight in the stirrup, but you can still use it as a half step while jumping off the block if you support with your hands on the withers and off-side)

Now if only I can figure out a feature that will solve issue B)....

Do you ride bareback? Do you use a pad or prefer to go au naturel?

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Annual Vet Check

On Monday this week Kachina had her annual vet check and vaccinations.

No photos from the vet, but we took a road trip this weekend so here are some of a place
we stopped for a hike - it has the super original name of Red Rock Coulee for obvious reasons

The vet I've used for the last couple years is on an extended leave, so I had to find someone new to go to. I thought about going to a different vet at the same clinic as my old vet, but my vet was the only one there who specialized in horses. Instead I tried out a new clinic. Dr. W has been practicing for a few years in the area and I've heard good reviews from a number of horse owners. She just built a new clinic just down the road from my barn so I decided to give her a try.

Part of the badlands, it looks pretty desolate and dead from a distance

I arranged to leave work a bit early and got to the barn with just enough time to throw Kachina in the trailer and haul to the clinic (I love that Kachina is so good with loading). Of course it's calving season, so once we got to the clinic we waited for a full hour while Dr. W dealt with a prolapsed cow. Fortunately it was a beautiful day, so I sat on the bumper with a book to read while Kachina got a lesson on standing in a trailer quietly (she's usually good when the trailer is in movement, but she gets impatient once we stop, it was good to let her chill in there for a bit before unloading). I never mind when I have to wait for a vet, I know that when a vet is helping me in an emergency, someone with a regular appointment is probably left waiting too,

Mini hoodoos

This was a pretty routine appointment but essentially had 3 parts:


I talked about Kachina's recent visit with the dentist here. I thought that getting the dentist to look at Kachina was the right decision at the time. Unfortunately, since then I've learned that A) it was kind of sketchy considering he sedated my horse and legally isn't supposed to do that, and B) the equine dental accreditations he had don't mean as much as they seem to. 

As soon as I learned those things, I wanted Kachina's teeth checked by an actual vet. The vet disagreed with the dentist's approach of "balancing the mouth" and thought that too much had been removed from the incisors. Essentially though, she's fine, the teeth will grow back, and we can do a proper vet float next year. Despite the questionable parts of what he did, it seems the dentist did do a good a good job of taking off any sharp edges so nothing more needed to be done.

I'm really glad that no permanent damage was done, but I've definitely learned my lesson and will be even more careful in choosing equine "professionals" in the future. 

Some interesting landforms


 Kachina was due for her annual vaccinations. Rather than having a set list of shots I want, I always discuss things with my vet each year to determine what they think makes sense. This year, that was:

West Nile + EWT (West Nile virus, Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis viruses and Tetanus)
My understanding is that the encephalomyelitis (sleeping sickness) isn't too much of a risk, but West Nile has been an issue in our area in past years. It's really dry so far this year so mosquitoes and West Nile might not be too prevalent but better safe than sorry. Also Tetanus is always good to vaccinate against.

Though a lot of the area looked dead and dry,
there were a surprising number of flowers blooming when you looked carefully

EIV/EHV (Flu/Rhino)
Since I do take Kachina to shows and events with other horses, this is smart to get. Actually one of the venues I am showing at this year requires it so that was an added reason.

We climbed halfway up this to stop for lunch

This was a new one for me. My last horse Ellie had strangles when she was young, so the vets didn't recommend that she get the vaccine. Even Dr. W said that she hasn't recommended this in the past, but last winter she saw a number of cases of strangles in the area so now she does. I've seen first hand what strangles can do and I don't know Kachina's history of exposure or resistance so I decided to go with the vaccine. Kachina hasn't actually had it yet though. Dr. W recommended that we book a separate day for the Strangles vaccine, because the virus in the vaccine isn't completely dead and some of it gets airborne, so if it gets into the needle pricks from the other vaccines it can cause bad sores. We'll go back for this in two weeks.

Pretty tiny white flowers

General Health Exam

Dr. W also did a general check up on Kachina.

Her temperature and heart rate were good. Gut sounds were normal. I mentioned Kachina's habit of gaping her mouth and tipping her head, so Dr. W did a quick check of some muscles in Kachina's face and neck, everything seemed even on both sides and Kachina didn't react to pressure at certain points so those are good signs.

These red boulders are scattered around the area from when this used to be a large inland sea

The only thing that the vet was concerned about at all was the colour of Kachina's stool. She thought it was darker than she would like. I could see it was dark but didn't feel that was abnormal for Kachina. Dark stool can be the result of blood in the GI tract, so the vet thought ulcers may be a concern. However, Kachina has hay 24/7 in a slow feed net, and doesn't lead a high stress life so that doesn't quite add up. Tape worms are another thing that may cause the dark colour, but all the horses at the barn get dewormed 4 times a year and the last one was fairly recently. She recommended I keep an eye on it but didn't think any more serious steps were needed for right now.


Since the appointment, I've been paying much more attention to poop colour. It seems to me that even though Kachina's is dark, it matches with the colour of most of the rest of the horses at my barn. I will continue to monitor it, but I wonder if there is higher iron content in the water or hay or something that is resulting in that darker colour.

The red boulders (technically concretions) are impressively large and round

Overall I was impressed with Dr. W. She was friendly, competent, explained things clearly, and liked Kachina. Her facility was also very nice. 

I was also impressed with Kachina. She stood very nicely for the whole appointment and got lots of cookies.

Inside a broken concretion - the rings indicate age kind of like a tree
The boulders formed in the ocean by sand rolling around a small piece of
organic material in the centre and they grew and hardened over time

Thursday 7 April 2016

Riding Other Horses

I don't ride many different horses.

Yesterday though, I took a kid that I volunteer with on a guided trail ride and I rode one of the place's regular trail horses. She was a very sweet chestnut mare who clearly knew her job and could've carted around even a complete beginner with no problems.

I've had Kachina for a year and a half and in that time I've only ridden three other horses (two lessons on a schoolmaster, one time where a friend and I switched mounts for 20 minutes, and yesterday). Before that, I had the same horse for 14 years and rode even fewer other horses!

Not my usual ears!

I love the relationship and feel you can build when you work with the same horse consistently. Yet, I feel like I would be a more capable rider if I had more experience riding other horses. Specifically, different kinds of horses. Both of my horses have been hot and sensitive. I know ways to deal with that personality (somewhat), but it means I can have a tendency to ride defensively and with very quiet aids.

My showing friend has a horse who is almost polar opposite to Kachina. We joke about the differences all the time. When she was talking about needing spurs and a whip, and having canter being such a workout to keep her mare going, I realized that is a totally foreign concept to me. I have literally never needed to work on getting a horse more sensitive to my leg.

Dramatic Sky, Dry Prairie

Do you feel like you have any holes in your riding experience due to the horses you have or, maybe more importantly, haven't ridden?

Also, how do you ride differently when you ride someone else's horse compared to your own?

For myself, I find that if I am just borrowing a horse for a ride, I tend to be a less proactive rider (less worried about details of bend, contact etc.). I think it's because I don't know what is normal for them or how they were trained and I don't want to mess with them too much. However, I'm also a braver rider on other horses. With my own horse, I don't want them to buck me off etc. because I know I'll need to deal with it later. On other horses, I'm more like "go ahead horse, do your worst". I particularly found this when I was test riding horses when I was looking to buy. I really wanted to know what would happen if I made the horse go into the scary corner, etc, to judge the horse's personality, so I pushed any issue I came across. I was honestly surprised to find I had that kind of courage in me as a rider and I've been trying to harness it a little bit with my own horse since then.

All my other photos are of the kid, which I probably shouldn't post,
so here are some deer exploring town instead

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Going with the Flow

On the weekend, I had made plans to go on a trail ride with a barn friend. Halfway down the driveway we passed the owner's horse making a complete racket inside a parked trailer, and both of our horses understandably got a little tense and quick. This was going to be the first outdoor ride of the year for my friend on her horse, and this rocky start did not help her confidence. We tried circling and then continuing on, but that self-perpetuating cycle of nervous energy being transmitted between horse and rider had been activated and wasn't going to go away. Kachina and I were able to get it together pretty quickly, but I totally know from experience what my friend was feeling and it's a tough cycle to break. We decided to head back and do an arena ride instead.

Even though it wasn't the original plan, it ended up being a great arena ride for both of us. We both did lots of walk figures and worked on relaxation, but I also did some serious work. Kachina and I did 20m circles and diagonals in a lovely trot that wasn't rushing. I was able to have a conversation with her about how inside leg means bend instead of speed. We cantered both directions and it wasn't terrible (hey, sometimes that's an accomplishment ;) ). I was also so so proud of my friend for staying in the saddle and working through it.

Good pony! (Sorry, no new media)

Today, my showing friend (different person) texted me about showing both days of an upcoming schooling show, instead of just the Saturday as we had originally planned. I said sure.

What's my point? Do I even have a point? Yes, actually I do. My point is that I feel comfortable just going with the flow and changing plans with Kachina, and that's an awesome feeling. For a number of years in my riding lifetime, I was a rider who lacked confidence on a very high strung horse. Despite how fiercely independent I tried to be, I was the one who sometimes needed other people to change what they were doing to accommodate me and my horse. Or, at the very least, I had my hands entirely full with my own horse problems and couldn't be much help to anyone else. Now that the tables have turned, I so appreciate that I can be the accommodating one to other riders and their horses, and I don't mind doing it in the slightest.

This is not to say that Kachina and I are perfect at tackling everything, far from it. But I know we can keep ourselves in control and not add fuel to the crazy horse fire. We can change where we're riding, or our show plans last minute and be okay. I'm really proud of how much confidence I have gained in Kachina since even last fall. This kind of trust in a horse isn't something that comes easily to me and I've put in a lot of rides and work to get here. I hope we can continue to build on this trust bank through the year ahead.

Monday 4 April 2016

Dentist Day

Kachina saw the dentist on Friday.

Kachina before, no idea what is in store for her yet


I've had Kachina for a year and a half, and her teeth have been looked at twice in that time before now. Once was at the pre-purchase exam (just looked at, nothing done), and one float last spring. Both these times were by vets. In her float a year ago, the vet had some sharp points to take off, especially on the bottom molars poking into her left cheek, but I was told there was nothing major.

Unrelated, but mini at the barn was adorably napping in the sun

The vet I used last year is on a leave of absence so I knew I would need to find someone else for this spring anyways. When a boarder at my barn said she was getting an equine dentist in, I decided to add Kachina to the schedule. I've generally always used vets for dental work for all of my horses, and have been fine with that. I like that vets have clear standards of schooling and accreditation and so I trust vets. However, Kachina does have something going on with her jaw/poll where she gapes her mouth and tips her head (explained here), so I wondered if a specialist would see something that the vet didn't (her last float didn't make any difference in the behavior).

The Appointment

The dentist at work

The first thing the dentist explained was how vet dentistry differs from his dentistry: vets tend to focus more on the molars (back teeth) and floating down sharp points and hooks, while he's more focused on the incisors (front teeth) and balancing the whole mouth (in addition to smoothing out any sharp points).

The dentist explained that for horses who don't graze all day, the molars still get worn down by chewing hay and other feed, but that the incisors aren't slicing off bites of grass and so they don't get the same amount of wear. Because of this, the incisors can get overgrown and actually separate the jaw enough that the molars aren't in full contact with each other. In his approach, he grinds down the incisors a bit every year to make the whole mouth more balanced. He checks how much the molars are in contact, by sliding the jaw slightly to the side with the incisors touching, and seeing at what point the molars engage.

I had never heard this particular theory before, and I know that on past floats, vets have seemed to focus more on the molars than the incisors. However, his explanation did sound logical. I'm always more than a little dubious about "alternative" approaches to anything medical related, human or horse, when I haven't seen sound medical studies supporting it (and many ridiculous theories can be made to sound "logical"). In the end though, I decided that this dentist was accredited and clearly knew more about teeth than I do, and I trust the judgement of the boarder who brought him in, so I would let the dentist do his thing.

"Help me Mom!"
despite the appearance, she was heavily sedated

I was fairly impressed with the professionalism of the appointment. The dentist had an apprentice equine dentist working with him. They both did a thorough examination of Kachina's mouth before starting any work. The two of them discussed what they were seeing and the reason for each step they were doing (though much of it was in specialized jargon that I only partially understood). They gave Kachina frequent breaks where they closed the speculum and lowered her head. All tools were washed before and after use.

Much of what the dentist said throughout the appointment was more for the apprentice's benefit than mine, but this is the gist of what I was told:
- since Kachina has had vet dental work before and hasn't had her incisors shortened before, they needed to have a lot removed to balance the mouth (if I get the same dentist to do her again next year, much less will need to be removed then)
Shortening the incisors -
a photo half way through to show how much got removed!

- Kachina's long incisors also met on an angle (back to front, not side to side) which meant that she couldn't slide her jaw forward or back without opening her mouth - the dentist felt this would certainly explain why Kachina would gape her mouth open, especially when asking for collection as that requires forward movement of the jaw
- the fact that Kachina's incisors were keeping her jaw farther open would explain why Kachina seems to have a preference for a thicker bit - now that her teeth have been done, she may change to wanting a thinner bit since the space is smaller
- her molars were in pretty good shape with not much for points or hooks - the vet last year did a good job with that
- her molars did show some uneven growth on the left side compared to right side, which may be due to the mouth not being balanced after the last float
- her teeth are consistent with age 13 (When I bought Kachina, I was told she was foaled in 2002, but since she has no papers and has some mystery to her past, I got both the vet at the pre-purchase check, and this dentist to check her teeth to confirm) - if anything, her teeth may indicate she is slightly younger (coming 13 this year instead of coming 14)


I am very interested to see whether this dental work will make a difference to how our rides go and whether it will reduce or eliminate her mouth gaping. However, I was a little alarmed at how much of her incisors were removed.

Drunk pony afterwards
(she was leaning into the rope to try and get to that one tiny clump of grass)

After the appointment, I did some checking on the internet about the techniques used by the dentist. Unfortunately, research into equine dentistry is limited, and there seems to be a fair bit of debate between who should be doing various equine dental work (vets or dentists) and how much work should be done on incisors. Additionally, outside of vets practicing dentistry, the schools and organizations that accredit equine dentists don't seem to be strictly regulated (I didn't know this until after the appointment unfortunately).

However, the things that reassure me are:
- The dentist did go to school, and has almost 20 years of full-time experience with dentistry
- He is certified with multiple equine dentistry associations
- My fellow boarder and a few other people I know have used him for years and swear by him
- He did a full inspection of Kachina's mouth before starting any work, and he clearly put thought into every step he took and stopped to re-check her bite at several points during the procedure (this is a biggy!, he wasn't just grinding things willy nilly)
- I didn't see any indication of pulp exposure (cutting into the red nerve part of the tooth)
- Kachina seemed comfortable eating as soon as the sedation wore off
- I went out the day after and Kachina seemed happy and I had really good ride
- Horses teeth generally grow 3-4mm/year, that's about how much was removed, so not a huge chunk in the grand scheme of things, it just looked like a lot!

I'm still a bit dubious about how much tooth was removed, and will withhold judgement until I see how things go over the next month or so. Kachina is also due for her annual vaccinations so I will get a vet to check her teeth and give me an opinion as well.

Sobering up

Your Turn

How often do you get your horse's teeth done? Who do you get to do them, vet or dentist? Do they grind down the incisors?
How do you make sure that you're doing the best for your horse when there are different opinions between experts and you don't know enough yourself to judge? (this could also be the case for the barefoot vs. shoes debate etc.)