Monday 30 May 2016

I'm So Excited... To Scribe

I love scribing, like I probably love it an unreasonable amount. I gladly travel hundreds of km and pay for gas, food and accommodation, just to sit in a hot car or booth all day writing.

Last year was when I first started researching recognized dressage shows. I knew I wasn't ready to show at the really big gold rated ones myself yet, but I wanted to still go to watch and get a feel for them so I knew what I was working towards. I reached out to a couple of the dressage associations in Alberta to see if they were interested in me volunteering as a scribe. I ended up scribing for 3 dressage shows last year (plus a few hunter/jumper shows, but that's a bit different).

Even though I only scribed for three shows, that was 6 full days of scribing under 3 different judges, including an Equine Canada Senior Judge, and an FEI 4* Judge. I have scribed for almost every different dressage test there is (except for walk/trot): Training, First, Second, Third, Fourth, PSG, Intermediate, Grand Prix, Young Rider tests, Young Horse tests, Young Horse Materiale classes, Freestyles, and even Western Dressage.

You guys, I cannot even begin to explain how much you can learn while scribing. Think about it, you watch hundreds of tests, at all different levels, and you have the judge literally talking into your ear the whole time telling you what was good and what needs improvement. I still have a lot to learn, but scribing has already hugely improved my eye for what a nice movement is supposed to look like, and I can bring that back to my own riding. It has even improved my eye for levels far above that which I ride at myself.

Even if the above was the only benefit to scribing, it would be worth it, but there are so many other benefits as well:

  • Getting to know the judges. When you learn see first hand how fair the judging is, and that the judges want to see you succeed, it helps calm show jitters and puts some extra importance into those comments you get on your test.
  • Appreciation for bigger shows and the judging levels. I like my cheap schooling shows, but I have seen the differences between the judge levels and now I totally see the benefits of paying more to show for a high level judge. 
  • Who's who of dressage. I am the only dressage rider at my barn and do not regularly train with anyone. Spending the whole weekend at big dressage shows is an awesome way to get to know who the trainers are, who the best riders are, etc. Both dressage trainers that I went to Calgary to lesson with were people I first learned about through scribing their rides. 
  • Helping out. Volunteers are crucial to keep dressage shows going year after year. The shows I go to encourage all competitors to take a shift to volunteer as runner, gate person, etc. However, a rider can't scribe in the show they are competing in, so it can be tougher to find scribes. I feel like I am giving something back to dressage by scribing and that feels good.  

Additionally, I kind of feel like scribing is my calling. It's something that I naturally have the skill for. I ride dressage so I know the terminology, I am organized, I have fast and neat printing, and I am good at remembering comments word-for-word. I might will never be the world's best rider, but by George, I can scribe with the best of them! haha

This year I am scribing again. It starts with me scribing all three days of the Gold/CDI 3* show in Calgary next week. I will again be scribing for a FEI 4* Judge and I am excited. It's extra exciting though because this show has been named as an Olympic Qualifier, and there will be three riders there that are Top 12 riders in Canada and are in the running to represent our Country in Rio 2016!

Note: I think these memes are funny but I couldn't find proper attribution. I believe including them constitutes fair use/fair dealing, but if you are the owner I am happy to remove them or credit you.

Friday 27 May 2016

Is Your Horse a Rock Star? Preliminary Results

(psst, the answer is no, no she is not)

Karen at Bakersfield Dressage recently did a post on the book "Is Your Horse A Rock Star?" by Dessa Hockley. See Karen's posts here and here.

The Book

The book categorizes horses into 16 different personality types and tries to give some insight into why they do what they do. When I read Karen's post I was immediately intrigued. I had my last horse Ellie for 14 years and I felt like I knew her really well. I immediately knew if she was genuinely afraid or if she was spooking due to boredom. I knew when to push her and when to back off. Then, I got Kachina. Kachina is a very different horse and one that I sometimes have trouble reading. Especially with our groundwork issues, it can be hard to tell if Kachina is afraid, or trying to test me, and the answer is important to know how best to react.

I'm calling this the Preliminary Results, because I just got the book last night, read all about the eight personality traits, and then read the resulting personality type for Kachina. My plan is to now go back and read all the rest of the personality types plus the tools section and see if I gain any additional insights. 

This book is written by someone with a lifetime of experience with horses and her interpretation of how different horses act and respond, not an in depth quantitative analysis. I think that the confirmation of her ideas comes from readers who find the same truths in their horses. The fact that Karen, and many of her friends, have found that the descriptions of the personality types fit their horses, gives the book more weight and credence in my mind. Although, I'm going to give it a few weeks to see if Kachina seems to fit the mould or not.  

Reading the introduction, a couple things immediately jumped out at me: driving through Saskatchewan, showing at Spruce Meadows, the author must be from near my area! Just goes to show how small the world is, that a book recommended by a blogger in California is written by a horsewoman living in Alberta :-)

The 8 Personality Traits

Dominant or Submissive: Submissive

Energetic or Lazy: Energetic

Curious or Afraid: Afraid

Friendly or Aloof: Aloof

Categorizing Kachina was actually really easy. Even just reading the headings I could pretty much guess which she was in each category. Reading the detailed sections and doing the quiz at the back of the book just confirmed my initial guesses. It wasn't even a close call for any of them, which I take to mean that she expresses each of her traits pretty strongly (she's not close to the center).

Kachina and Norm, two very different personalities sharing the same pen

So what Personality Type does that make Kachina?

SEAA The Perfectionist

The book has an illustration for each personality type,
this is the one for The Perfectionist. I think it's hilarious
because I'm an engineer, so it totally fits me


Let's break down some of what the book says about The Perfectionist:

 "Ideally they would be born to a confident, caring mother. Their first interaction with people would be imprinting to help them cope with all that life is going to throw at them. They would be handled regularly as babies, weanlings and yearlings. Their education would have a solid base that is built on trust. Their training would be started when they are young and malleable; they would be ridden regularly;... They would find a job that they attach to at an early age, that they can do well and that brings them satisfaction and a sense of confidence."
Well, that's sure not the upbringing Kachina got! Almost the opposite in fact. She had very little training and wasn't started under saddle until the ripe age of 8. She was then started as a trail horse, but didn't get ridden with any regularity or consistency. She was mostly a pasture ornament and went on occasional trail rides with generally a different rider each time. Then, at the age of 12, she came to me and started a whole new career as a dressage horse.

So, Kachina got a bad start in life based on her personality type, what problems could that cause?

"...the Perfectionist gets frustrated and angry and afraid in changing situations. They can decide that they would rather not participate at all. Running away can become their evasion of choice whether out in the field or with you riding them."
"In the negative they may be nervous, suspicious, high strung, worried, fearful, or anxious. Their insecurities abound. They appear to be timid, frightened, even abused."
"Their emotional coping mechanisms are limited. You may pour your heart and soul into them without a lot of warmth coming back."
"...if they have been damaged, the Energetic/Afraid/Aloof says that their evasion of choice is running away from everything. They can be calculating, smart and unforgiving, even holding grudges if offended. They wear their "issues" like badges. The negative ones have been described in such unsavory terms as "paranoid" or "psycho". They have been voted "most likely to leave the relationship," because that is often the only solution that they see available and they often have an unlimited amount of energy with which to do it."
"They do not make friends easily and appear at times to be caught in a conflict of being Afraid and therefore needing the herd while at the same time wanting to be Aloof and alone. They resent their dependence on the herd and on you." 
Well that all sounds just awesome (not). If the above is true, then I should count myself very lucky that Kachina has not developed a serious bolting problem. I think it helps that, to my knowledge, Kachina has never been mistreated. Even though she hasn't been on a regular training program, people haven't taught her to be afraid of them, so she is still willing to trust. Kachina has only ran away with me a couple times, and both times, when I finally got her stopped, she seemed as relieved as I was, like "Mom, why did you let me run away? that was scary".

If you manage to avoid the worst of the negative, what are the advantages of this type of horse? Well, the positive section is a lot shorter than the negative, but here's what it says:
 "In the positive, this horse will want to listen to you and want your support and encouragement with the job. It will be about the job, and they will have ample energy to throw at it. This horse does not tire. He will be happy to repeat patterns and school frequently. As long as you are there for him in the performance, they will give you 120 percent. They like to be good at what they do and will have the work ethic to make it so."
Yep, that fits Kachina. She knows her job on the trail and there her confidence comes out. She is learning her job with dressage and as long as you repeat an exercise enough times, she will understand what she is supposed to do and do it gladly. She doesn't tire, the longer the ride the better.


"As with all Submissive horses, SEAA's will need you to tell them what to do.... You need to prove to them again and again that you will keep them safe and not expect more of them than what they can deliver. They need a linear program with very few deviations or distractions."
"With this horse you walk in a circle until he can relax. Once the walk is established then you move up through the paces. As you venture out of the safety circle, if he becomes upset, you return to it and back to where they can find a quiet place to be."
I had already discovered that Kachina does best starting with slow paces and simple exercises.
"As a rider you will need to be quiet and not bombard them with too much information. You will need to be confident in what you present to them as they will pick up every slight shift of emotion or doubt."
She is certainly sensitive. I need to be on top of my own emotions and position, but it also means I can control Kachina with very subtle aids which is a good thing, especially in dressage.
"A job that requires them to be constantly learning and challenged will leave them in constant anxiety. They are Perfectionists, so they need to do well at whatever they are learning. In the beginning stages this can be difficult. That is where the repetition comes in: they need to not just understand a piece of the training program but to have it repeated often enough that they are excellent at it, even if it is something simple like a leg yield."
I have certainly found that repetition is our friend. The more we do the same exercise, the more she figures it out and is happy to do it. I do want to continue to have her learn though as I want to move through the dressage levels and not be stuck at Training forever.
"Triple your time and then be patient."
Our progress since I got Kachina has been very slow but pretty steady. I knew she needed to take things slowly to start as her job description had changed completely, but I had hopes that we'd be able to speed up the program once she had the basics down. I guess we'll have to see. I feel like patience is my best attribute as a rider though, so if she needs time I can deal with that.
"This horse will need to be protected by the rider and should be able to listen and perform if they are competing or working at something they like. They will have endless energy to put into your sport. If you are dominant, bold, and confident with a nurturing side, you could have a successful partnership with this horse. If the romantic notion of having a one-man horse appeals to you, this horse could be the one for you." 
I'm not sure that really describes me as a rider, but maybe I can be that.


Apparently, the best job for a Perfectionist is something like endurance riding. The book actually doesn't really give any other options. Most of the personality types list multiple sports that the horse could do well at, but not the Perfectionist.
"It is doubtful if this horse would perform well in any arena sport, unless they have that ideal, perfect upbringing." 
Well s***, there go my dressage dreams! No, I'm not serious. I think this book is interesting and I may use it to tweak my training approach, but Kachina is doing well in general with dressage so I'm not going to throw that away completely just because of this. :-)

Arena work isn't so bad

Thursday 26 May 2016

I Can See Clearly Now The Rain Has Gone

After 5 days of solid rain, the skies finally cleared last night (okay, I mean Tuesday night, I wrote most of this post yesterday) and I went to see Kachina. I had hurt my leg on the weekend so that coupled with the rain meant that I hadn't been out to the barn for a few days.

Blue sky! 

Kachina seemed glad to see me, she actually walked over and poked her head over the fence towards me which is not her usual MO. The pen she's in is actually higher ground than most of the pens and generally has good drainage, even it was a sucking mud pit after all the rain though. Shockingly, Kachina was pretty clean besides her legs.

Kachina and pen-mate, muddy pen
Hi Mom!

On the walk towards the barn, we had a necessary discussion about polite leading manners and how she is not to pull ahead of me and cut me off. Kachina was pretty amped up and by the time we got into the indoor arena, I had rethought my plan to ride. I'm not saying I couldn't have ridden, but I only had time to ride or do turnout/groundwork, not both, and I could see Kachina needed to run. The footing in her pen isn't exactly ideal for getting her exercise so I can't blame her.

I turned her loose in the indoor arena and she proceeded to do several laps at the trot and canter. She keeps getting more and more comfortable at the canter at liberty which is always exciting for me to see.

Of course I didn't get any pictures of her cantering

After she got her runs out and came to see me, I did some ground work and grooming. Ground work is something that I consistently need to work on with Kachina to have her lead and stand politely. She seems to be a lot happier to take directions from me when I'm in the saddle versus on the ground. Kachina is never very comfortable in the indoor arena and I haven't been in there for a couple months now, so that compounds the problem. She always has a tendency to get ahead of me when leading. She doesn't pull on the lead rope, she just will walk ahead of me and then turn in front of me like she's lunging around me while I'm walking. I've learned several exercises to try and get her beside me, but I haven't yet found one that works in all situations. This time, as I walked around the arena, I would regularly stop and get her to quietly back up a few steps. She was still walking a little too far ahead of me but at least this got her to tune into me better so she would stop the second I did and automatically take a step back so she was more at my side. I called that a success and left her back out after cleaning the mud from her legs and feet.

Okay Mom, I'm done, let me show you where the door is so you can put me back

Monday 23 May 2016

Horse Community

May Long Weekend: the modern equivalent of a rain dance whereby Canadians across the country go camping or pursue other summer activities in order to make rain or snow fall from the heavens.

This year it was rain, lots of much needed rain, considering that the whole province has been tinder dry and our North is on fire. Despite it being a crappy weekend for outdoor pursuits, I don't think anyone is truly upset.
Note: when I say "lots" that is extremely relative, we've had a couple inches of rain, but we only average about 12" of rain in a whole year so it's significant for us

I was going to go camping and trail riding with Kachina, but ended up staying home. Instead I spent all of yesterday volunteering at a local hunter/jumper schooling show.

I was the judge's assistant for the day. That gave me a variety of tasks to do. I was the whistler, timer, walkie-talkie communicator, scribe, division champ calculator, and fill-in announcer.

My view from the judge's booth

The rain resulted in a last minute switch from outside to inside, but the show was very well organized and ran smoothly for the most part.

This is the 3rd hunter/jumper show I've volunteered at in the past year. I'm friends with the organizer which is one reason, but I also feel like volunteering is important to help the horse community and to generally be involved. There are very few local shows, so generally most of the hunters/jumpers will ride themselves and riders from other disciplines are needed to help. The show desk and in gate were manned by two other dressage riders.

Meeting those other dressage riders was a highlight for me. Previously I knew of only two other dressage riders (riders who focus on dressage as their main discipline) within 100km of me. Now I know of four total: myself, my friend K who wasn't around this weekend, P a lady who I met once before but got to know a bit better yesterday, and A who is a 3rd level rider that rides on her own acreage and I just met for the first time. I exchanged contact information with both P and A, so now I have other people to potentially haul to clinics and shows with.

Kachina, pre-mud

Speaking of clinics, I found out that another jumper facility is getting a dressage coach in to give a clinic in the middle of June. Unfortunately, the clinic is already full, but my name is at the top of the waiting list and they are already planning a second clinic.

All in all, it was a good way to spend a Saturday. We are all part of the same horse community and it pays to build connections across all disciplines. Also, as the hunter/jumper judge said so eloquently, "jumping is just dressage with sticks in the way".

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Chiro Doubts

Last night was chiro appointment #2.

After a second appointment and a longer chat with Dr. A, I'm now torn on the process.
(Kachina was better at standing this time, but my hands were still too full for photos, sorry)

The Good:

- Dr. A has a lot of training and experience, and watching her work I am pretty confident that she is not doing any harm
- Apparently Kachina had slightly different issues this time around than appointment #1 which means the original issues are being improved, it just is a bit of a process to have the issues change and then go away
- There still is a chance that the chiro work will make her weird mouth gaping thing go away
- Even if it doesn't make the mouth thing go away, I will know I tried the vet/vet/dentist/chiro routine and can chalk it up to a behavioral thing rather than a physical issue
- Chiro may help Kachina to be more balanced and help prevent arthritis and other degeneration
- She and my vet have a good working relationship
- I like Dr. A, and she has the same opinions as I do about science vs. quacks (she once dumped a client who did an exorcism on their horse to try and cure it, true story!). Some chiropractors seem to have the attitude that conventional medicine is bad and chiro/alternative medicine can cure everything, whereas Dr. A feels that chiro works hand in hand with doctors and vets and she is only focused on the musculoskeletal system.

The Bad:

- A big part of my earlier skepticism about human chiro has been that it seems like some chiropractors will tell you that you need repeat appointments all the time and you can never stop. I had hopes that I was wrong about this chiro dependency, but it sounds like Dr. A recommends continuing chiro appointments at least every month or two after these initial adjustments, indefinitely. That would be one thing if Kachina had a major issue or was in regular pain, but that seems way overkill for a horse who is generally in great shape, is not in pain, and has excellent range of movement. My view of all medical things is that while regular treatment for some chronic conditions may be required, many conditions should be able to be "fixed" whereby you don't need the doctor/dentist/chiro/vet/therapist/... again until a new problem arises

Does this look like a horse who has trouble lifting her back and engaging her hind end?
I didn't think so

- Dr. A has room for a limited number of horse clients and so she only likes to work with people who will bring their horses regularly. It sounds like if I only want to come occasionally, that's not going to work.
- It's $90 a session, which I was fine with for the initial three sessions which I thought might help fix an issue, but $90/month forever is a bit different.
- I was asking more questions this time (why she was doing something differently than last time, what was she feeling, what would cause these things, etc), and her answers weren't totally satisfactory. It seemed like this might have just been because she was more focused on Kachina than on my questions, but I like to understand.
- She has zero understanding of what I do with my horse. I understand that dressage is not the best known of horse disciplines, especially in this area; however, it sounds like she was shown one video of a high level dressage test where the horse was angrily flicking its tail and someone explained to her that dressage movements caused a pain response in horses and that the sport was about making them do unnatural things. That Is So Not What Dressage Is!!  I did explain to her that goals like relaxation, harmony, having the horse balanced, etc. are fundamental to the sport of dressage. I told her that the test she saw may have been a bad one, but that is not the norm or the goal of dressage. I'm not sure I explained it in the best way but I think she now gets that dressage isn't full out evil. However, it would be nice if I had a chiropractor who understood how I expect Kachina to move her body, and clearly that isn't the case.

What Now?

When I initially signed up for chiro, I essentially committed to three appointments. My current plan is to continue with that and go to #3 next week. After that, I will take at least a couple weeks to ride and assess whether I notice any clear changes or improvements with Kachina. If I do see a clear improvement, and then it subsequently goes away, I will consider going back for a re-adjustment. E.g. if her weird mouth thing fully goes away for a few weeks, and then starts again. Otherwise, I will consider this to have been an interesting experiment that I will not continue further.

If you have any thoughts on the subject, please feel free to share because I'm not sure what to think at this point.

Monday 16 May 2016

Switching Sides

It's commonly discussed that horses have a good and bad side, or stiff and hollow side. But what happens when those sides seem to switch?

Generally, going to the left is Kachina's hard way. The left is the the direction where I fight to get her to turn and where she has a tendency to be counter-bent to the outside. However, on my last ride, it was the opposite. Kachina did really well to the left and we struggled a lot more getting the bend to the right. 

I did wonder if our recent chiropractor appointment had caused this change, but she has had other rides in the past where randomly she would go better to the left (like at the first show this year). I like to think that the switching means that Kachina and I are fairly balanced so each side has good days and bad days, but I have no idea if that is actually true. It could also be that our problems to the right and the left are caused by completely different issues and she does have a consistently stiff side.

Have you ever experienced having the left the bad side some days and then having the right be the bad side on other days? Any thoughts on the reason?

Friday 13 May 2016

Chiro Time

Yesterday Kachina saw the chiropractor. This was a first for both of us.
(Disclaimer, because chiropractic care is new to me, take all my descriptions with a giant grain of salt)

You get flower pictures from my garden instead
Love the little wild pansies, even if they are technically weeds
They were the first things to bloom in my garden this year

I've mentioned before that Kachina has a tendency to open her mouth and twist her head. She does it when I ride, but she also does it in a halter, so it's not a bit problem. I've had two different vets and an equine dentist look at her and they didn't find anything. It may just be a behavioral thing, and if it is, that's fine. However, I want to fully rule out any pain or physical reason, so I figured chiro was worth a shot.

Flowers under snow a few weeks ago

We hauled to the local rodeo grounds to meet with Dr. A, who is both an animal and human chiropractor. I learned my lesson with the equine dentist, and did a full check of her qualifications and what they include. Dr. A has a huge amount of training under her belt and has the certification that actually means something. She also is firm in her opinion that chiro must go hand-in-hand with vet care, it's not a replacement for vet care, I appreciate that.

Robin on our fence

I expected that the session would take place in a stall, but we ended up doing it in the open space outside in front of the barn. That meant my hands were pretty full holding Kachina so I wasn't able to take any photos.

More wild pansies

Kachina was pretty well behaved, she didn't seem to mind anything the chiropractor was doing. However, standing is not her forte and so there were a few times where she moved off and some circling was required to get her to stand again. Dr. A didn't make a big deal out of it and was patient which I appreciated.

And even more, love the variety

Dr. A started by rubbing some pressure points on Kachina's hindquarters which immediately made Kachina lift up her whole back quite dramatically. Apparently she showed good reaction and range of motion. Dr. A then started work on the back end of her spine. She explained that Kachina was pretty good in the lumbar area, but was off in her sacrum. Her sacrum vertebrae were apparently tilted to the side, which allowed her to spine to bend right but not left (this would match up with Kachina's tight and loose side while riding). She did some adjustments there. Kachina was also apparently quite tender in the tail head. After working on the back end, Dr. A moved forward. No issues were found in the mid-back or shoulders, and just one adjustment was needed in the withers.

White lilacs in bloom

Dr. A then came right up to the head and worked the rest of the way back from there. Kachina was out in her C1 vertebrae so that was adjusted. It sounds like with poll issues, the C2 vertebrae plus something in front of the C1 can also be out, but with Kachina it was just the C1 so that's good. Dr. A then got Kachina to bend her neck in each direction and she found something out in her mid-neck.

Dr. A finished by doing a tail pull and putting pressure on her jaw in a way that is relaxing for the horse. Kachina must have thought it felt good because her eyes started to droop and it looked like she was going to fall asleep!

Purple lilacs - they smell amazing

The overall verdict as I understand it, is that the mid-neck and C1 issues could explain her weird mouth opening. The front end issues are probably a result of her overcompensating for the sacrum area being out.

These tulips were such a nice surprise
(we moved into the house in fall last year, so didn't know they were here)

After the adjustments, we were standing there chatting and Kachina had 6-7 big yawns back to back so it seems like the chiro work did something for her. I'm going riding this afternoon so I'm interested to see if I feel any differences.

No idea what these are, but they're pretty

Dr. A has a policy that for first-time patients she likes to do a minimum of 3 appointments, so we'll be going back next Tuesday for #2. My plan is to do the 3 appointments and see how that goes. What I'm not sure of is how often follow-up appointments should be going forward, or if follow-ups are required, any suggestions?

Sweet little white flowers

Thursday 12 May 2016


Well it's official, I just sent in my entries for the first recognized show of my season.

Claresholm Bronze Show, I'm looking at you, June 11-12th, 2016!

I've been thinking about it, and even though it's been 7 years since I started to change my focus to dressage, this will be my first recognized dressage show ever!

When I started dressage with Ellie, we lived in an area with some really good quality schooling shows so I just did those (I also didn't fully comprehend the differences between recognized and unrecognized shows at the time). Then, with work, founder, moving, and changing horses, I was sidelined from showing for three years. I tried to do one Bronze show towards the end of last summer but Kachina came up lame right before it and I had to scratch.

Anyways, I am entered now so the pressure is on! I have four and a half weeks until the show, so a fair bit of time, but also a lot to work on!

Sorry, no new media, so posting this photo again because I like it

The real challenge is that I've mostly been showing Walk/Trot this year so far, but this show doesn't offer Walk/Trot so I am making a forced move up to Training level. I think it's good actually, gives me a little more motivation to really work on that canter because I know we can get it better.

I'm entered in Training 1, Training 2, Training 3 as an AA (Adult Amateur). I'm also going to try out the Dressage Equitation class!

Have any of you done Dressage Equitation before? This is the first show I've ever seen it at, and my understanding is that it is a fairly new program started by Equine Canada. It seems like you do both a rail class with other competitors, and get your score from that added to your score from a Training Level test that you do separately. I'm not clear on all the details though so if you have any more information please feel free to share!

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Horsey Snuggles

Riding is my happy place. It's where I can fully focus on the horses and push aside any of the other stresses in my life.

Any horse related activity is good, but they aren't all equal. Working hard on bending the horse's ribcage around the inside leg, or adding energy into the collected trot is one kind of therapy. However, for certain situations, nothing beats being able to hug the neck of a special horse and breathe in their horsey smell. For me, that's truly good for my soul.

My last mare Ellie was great at that. I had her for 14 years and she got me through a lot of crappy stuff - middle school bullies, first crush drama (no judging, I got Ellie when I was 11 haha), more serious breakups, moments of not knowing what to do with my life, a disease diagnosis, and even the deaths of family members.

The late, great Ellie

In the saddle, Ellie was not above bolting or trying to buck me off. But on the ground she was solid and I could always count on quality time with her.

Kachina is the opposite. In a lot of ways, she's a horse that I can trust more while riding and do more with. However, she's not a horse who has much patience at all with standing. We've done a lot of work with groundwork and we're improving, but there's a number of days where it's a bit of a fight to get her groomed, saddled, bridled, and led into the arena. The fun doesn't usually start until I mount up. Even in her pen, Kachina is happy to come and say hi or be caught, but she'd rather do a lap of the area instead of standing around for pets or scratches.

On Sunday night, I was having a tough time. I had been feeling sick all day. I had just found out that a couple of my good friends are moving far away. I was stressing out about work. It had been a long, tiring weekend out of town (filled with horses, but not with my horse). I just really wanted some horsey snuggles with Kachina. And you know what? She stepped up. She started walking towards me the second she saw me. She was happy to hang out and let me hug her neck and breathe in her horsey scent. She politely ate all her treats. And she stuck around until I was ready to let her go.

Happy to hang out

Ellie was definitely a heart horse and can never be replaced. Yet, I'm starting to gain a bit of that connection with Kachina and that's pretty awesome. This weekend showed me that I was craving time with My horse, not just any horse time. The ten minutes of horsey snuggles with her made everything else seem okay. Tonight we'll go back to trying to get her bent around my inside leg.

Bonus, semi conformation shot
- I'm really happy with her weight and condition right now
P.S. this is after a week of no grooming, so that shine is all her

How about you? Is it all about the riding for you or is the personal connection with your horse an important piece of the puzzle? How long did it take you to form that bond with your horse? Was it immediate or did it slowly grow over time?

Monday 9 May 2016

Reserve Champion!

This weekend was the third and final show in the Carrots & Cocktails Dressage series.

I showed in the first two shows (I and II), but I elected not to enter the third show because it's only been three weeks since the last show and a trip to Toronto plus a couple of really busy weeks at work mean that I haven't been able to ride much in between. Also, these shows are super well organized and are at an awesome facility, but they are the most expensive shows of my show season. I didn't feel like it made sense to spend $400 on entry fees and gas to be given all of the same test comments as last time.

I still went to the show though, just not with Kachina. My friend was still showing so I went to help her drive (she can't haul herself yet) and be groom/test reader/moral support/etc.

Anyways, at this final show they announced the Champions for each level from the average of all three shows, and I was there to pick up my Reserve Champion ribbon! Even though I didn't show this time, my scores from the previous shows were high enough to get me second place overall. Yes, it was for the Walk/Trot division, but this is Kachina and I's first year of actually showing together so I'll take it! I neglected to take a close-up photo of the ribbon yet (blogger fail) but it's super pretty and my first tri-colour.

Official Champion photo: credit Carrots & Cocktails, RMSJ
That's me, standing behind the super cute Champion Fjord

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Coggins Test

Sigh of relief: Kachina is negative for EIA.

I know that Coggins testing is pretty standard in some areas, but around here I only really knew of people getting it done in order to cross the border with their horses.

Lately however, there has been increased concern about Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) in Alberta and Saskatchewan. There have been a few cases of the disease found in the more northern parts of the provinces, and several shows have recently made the move to requiring a negative Coggins test submitted with entry forms.

For anyone who doesn't know, EIA is a very contagious horse disease with no cure. A horse can be a carrier even if they don't show symptoms, and they will carry it for life. Therefore, a positive Coggins test is essentially a death sentence. All animals testing positive must either be euthanized or live in a very strict quarantine area for life. (note: the Coggins test tests for EIA, that confused me at first)

Photo credit: Flickr star5112 (creative commons)

Because of the increased awareness this year around EIA, I got my vet to do a Coggins test on Kachina at her recent appointment. I knew it was the responsible horse-owner move (plus it is now required for one of my shows this year), but it still started the internal panic cycle. I've only had Kachina for a year and a half, her history is a bit unknown, and she's never been tested before. While I know that the disease is still pretty rare, all of this made part of me terrified that somehow the test would come back positive. Kachina is perfectly healthy, but that's not a guarantee that she isn't a carrier. The last few days have been stressful waiting for the results. Even when I talked to the vet office today, it felt like the tech was taking far too long to actually say the result. Thankfully, the final word was negative! I can now take a deep breath and set the panic button to off.

Monday 2 May 2016

Horse Keeping Style

There is a huge variation in how horses are kept around the world. I don't think there's necessarily a right answer, and I am willing to modify any of the below if my horse ended up having different needs. This is how Kachina lives right now though:

Home/Living Conditions

Kachina lives in a pen/paddock with two other horses. She is outdoors 24/7 but has a shelter to use if she wants. The pen is 45'x60' so is big enough for them to trot around.

Ideally I would love her to live out in a big pasture. However, the barn I am at only has one big pasture, it is full of cattle at the moment. In the summer, the cows go out to community pasture and horses get the home pasture. However, Kachina still doesn't get to go out there because one of the barn owner's geldings lives out there and he is pretty aggressive. My last mare lived out there because she could stand up for herself, but Kachina would probably get run through a fence and I won't risk that. The lack of pasture space for Kachina is the biggest con about my current barn, but the pros outweigh it for now, and it does have larger pens than the two other places I looked at.

Width of pen, shelter, round bale in econet


Kachina has 24/7 hay in the form of a slow-feed net on a round bale in her pen. The hay is mostly grass hay but has a bit of alfalfa in it.

I like the slow-feed net for the following reasons:
A) she maintains a good weight
B) I don't have to worry about her being the low horse in the pecking order. Since the hay is there 24/7, there isn't the same competition for food
C) I don't have to worry about pulling her away from her food if I come out to ride at suppertime
D) I have a smaller slow-feed net that I take to shows and so I'm not disrupting her usual way of feeding.
E) Supposed to be better for ulcers, teeth, etc.
F) She has hay at all times if she needs extra to keep warm in the winter

All the pens have access to an automatic heated waterer. There is a salt block in her pen, and the owner of Kachina's pen-mates throws in some Hoffman's Horse Minerals in a couple times a week that Kachina has access to.

Otherwise, that's all. Kachina doesn't get any other kind of feed. At one point she was getting a tiny bit skinny so I supplemented with some senior feed after rides, but she's looking good now so I just let her live on hay.


I have a heavy weight winter blanket for Kachina and a rain sheet. I use them when required, but that doesn't end up being very often. I use the winter blanket when it gets consistently below -15C. We had a super mild winter this year though so that was only for a few days (I still can't believe that winter is over, it almost feels like it never came!). She wore the winter blanket more last year. I use the rain sheet for bad combinations of cold rain and wind chills. We don't get much rain though so that also doesn't happen very often.

January 2015

For the rest of the time, Kachina has her natural hair coat. I used to blanket a lot more when I lived farther north, and with my last mare who didn't grow as thick of a winter coat. Kachina grows great winter hair though. Also, where I live now, we get large and fast swings of temperature. It can be -10C at night and warm up to +15C the next day. My barn doesn't blanket, and it doesn't make sense for me to come out multiple times a day to change blankets. I know that Kachina can much better regulate her warmth by flattening and fluffing her own hair, so I let her do that. She also has two other horses to stand with and a shelter to use.

Naked fuzzy pony
(when they get to the bottom of the round bale, they rip the hay out of the bottom)

For the reasons above, I don't clip. With how Kachina lives and our climate, she needs her winter coat. It does mean that I sometimes need to spend 2 hours cooling her out and drying her off after a half hour ride in the winter though.


Kachina is barefoot all around. She has great feet. I can even ride down gravel roads with her barefoot and she is totally fine. If she needed shoes I would get them, but she doesn't so I am very happy to keep her barefoot.

Back feet, mid-trim

Reasons I like barefoot:
A) don't have to worry about her losing or twisting a shoe
B) she can eat out of her slow-feed hay net and I don't have to worry about her getting a shoe caught on it
C) less snow pack in the winter
D) cheaper

I am looking into the option of hoof boots in case we want to go trail ride in the Rocky Mountains.

Vet/Health Care

Kachina gets dewormed four times a year (by the barn).

She gets annual dental work, vaccinations, and a check up by the vet.

Chilling at the vet clinic, waiting for vaccinations
Her blue eyes look freaky in lots of photos, but this blue/red combo is new

She doesn't regularly get any chiro or body work, but I am getting a chiropractor to come look at her this spring for the first time.

I feel like my horse-keeping style is pretty bare-bones compared to some of the bloggers I read about. How does your horse-keeping style compare? If your horse gets extra care (e.g. custom shoes, indoor board, etc.), is it because your current horse has a special requirement for it, or would you do the same with all horses? What would you do differently if you had no constraints on where you keep your horse?