Thursday 30 June 2016

2016 Q2 Review and Q3 Goals

End of June, so time for goal review!

Q2 Goal Review

1. Kachina dentist appt. 
- this goal should be easy to achieve, the equine dentist is scheduled for April 1st.
Complete - Kachina had her teeth looked at twice, by both the "dentist" and the vet. Not the way I will do it in the future but still counts.

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

3. Kachina chiropractor appt. 
- I've mentioned before my concerns that something is off with Kachina's poll, I've found a local chiropracter but she didn't work in unheated barns in the winter so now that spring is coming I need to book
Complete - had two sessions and now I know that Kachina's mouth/poll thing is behavioural rather than physical

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

5. Hit 63% on a test at a show 
- I have 3 shows scheduled for this quarter. I got 61% at my last show, so I want to improve that by at least a couple percent. I'll be happy with a 63% at any level (walk/trot or training)
Complete - 65.5% at WT in the April show, so more than met this one

6. Show all training level tests 
- I have 3 shows scheduled for this quarter. So far I've only shown at Walk/Trot and Training 1. I want to show Training 2 and 3 to get feedback on them before the recognized shows later in the season.
Complete - so technically I showed T2 and T3 for the first time at a recognized show, but I still did it this quarter

7. Trail ride somewhere new 
- I love the fields and road by the barn, but I want to explore some new terrain. I might haul to my friend's barn to trail ride with her there. Another option I've been looking into is public land in the area with some coulee hills to climb - I've found a couple places that look like they allow access for horses. 
Not complete - didn't get to do this yet this year, but will in Q3

8. Go fast on open ground 
- my usual trail partner is most comfortable at the walk, and I'm fine with that, but I want to speed across the open fields at least once before the crops are planted. 
Complete - I did some trotting on my last trail ride so that counts. No galloping, but one of the fields near the barn is being kept fallow this summer so there's still time!

9. Be confident in canter transitions 
- this ties in pretty closely with goals 5. and 6., training level requires canter transitions that don't look like a giraffe.
Not complete - see here, I'm not confident yet, but I have a game-plan now so hope to get there

10. Get consistently straight halts 
- I feel like this is relatively easy to work on and so I should stop throwing away points here. Square halts would be even better, but I'll settle for straight.
Complete - we actually got some 7s for our halts in the last show

11. Get a lesson 
- I bought a headset that I think will work for Skype lessons, so I'll either try that or haul somewhere for a lesson at least once this quarter.
Complete - the headset didn't pan out, but I got lessons with T and Elaine

Q3 Goals

1. Get a lesson every month
- now that I know T is a good option, I want someone to yell at me about my position on a semi-regular basis

2. Ride in a dressage clinic
- lessons with T are good, but I want some dressage specific help too. Elaine is supposed to come back in September. Otherwise I will haul to Calgary or somewhere. 

3. Achieve quiet, round canter transitions
- I know what the problem is now, so I just have to put in the time and the practice to work on these.

4. Develop a good stretchy trot
- This is both for the stretchy trot circle movement, but also to generally work on getting Kachina to reach out to the bit and not be so tight. Will also force me to be better with my hands.

5. Get 65% on a test at a show
- This is a bit ambitious, but really, if we meet have a nice trot and a nice canter (goals 3 & 4), this should be achievable. 

6. Teach Kachina to be good for bit check
- This hole in our training was discovered at our first recognized show. I need to work with Kachina so that a strange person with rubber gloves going for her mouth isn't a scary thing

7. Go on a group trail ride involving trotting/cantering and varied terrain
- I'm signed up for a trail ride through Writing on Stone provincial park in July, so this should happen then. If the ride gets cancelled or something, I want to arrange an alternative. I have a wonderful trail horse and I want to take advantage of her. 

8. Improve my position and hands 
- Even though this is the last goal on the list, it's the most important. I really need to work on this every ride and get regular feedback so I keep up to date with what I'm doing wrong. 

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Elaine Clinic

Back when I was helping out at a local hunter-jumper show, I heard that a dressage trainer named Elaine was coming to the area to give a dressage clinic. I had never heard of her, but with a selection of exactly zero other dressage trainers in the area, I figured it was worth a try. I immediately contacted the organizers. The clinic was unfortunately already full, but I was put on the waiting list. A couple weeks later I got a call and was told there was an opening for a semi-private on Sunday afternoon. I had other out of town commitments that weekend, but figured that I could come back early Sunday in time to haul out for my ride and I accepted and paid.

(As I later learned, Elaine is a dressage coach and M level judge based out of Manitoba. She has ridden and coached to FEI levels and rode in the Pan Am games)

No related media, so here's Kachina in her
new fly mask to break up the wall of text

Fast forward to the weekend of the clinic. I woke up at 5:30am on Sunday after less than 6 hours of sleep just so I could get back in time for the clinic. However, despite my best efforts, everything throughout the day took just a little longer than it was supposed to, and I ended up being behind schedule. I pulled into the acreage where the clinic was being held at exactly 3pm, for my ride time at 3pm. I quickly parked the trailer, unloaded, did the fastest groom and tack-up job I could, and made it into the arena at 3:10. I felt terrible for being late, especially when it was for my first time riding with a new clinician. I apologized profusely and the organizers and Elaine were nice about it, though they explained that it was a tight schedule so my ride time would still end at 3:45 as per the original schedule (completely fair!). I mounted up and started my ride.

The first thing I noticed about Elaine was her powerful skills of observation and multi-tasking. There were three of us riding at the same time and she seamlessly transitioned between helping us all, and noticed an impressive amount from the corner of her eye. Despite my late start, and the fact that I was only doing the one session (it was a three-day clinic), after less than a circle around the arena, Elaine had figured out enough about my riding level and my horse to see that we would fit with doing the same things as the hunter-jumper rider who was riding at the same time (the third rider was a western rider who was working on different exercises).

Elaine's teaching style seems to be to call riders into the center of the ring, talk about and work on one concept, and then send us out on the rail to work on it while she observed and made corrections. Then, bring us back into the centre to explain the concept further or introduce a new exercise.

It's a Rambo Fly Mask Plus. I mostly got it to shield Kachina's white face from
the sun (she was getting some sunburn on her lips and around the eyes)

The first thing we talked about was rider position. She said that at early stages of riding, we are all taught to follow the horse's motion with our bodies. This is good up to a point, but once you reach a certain level, you should instead try for a much stiller position. She explained that there are two reasons for being stiller: 1) is to give a quiet place to encourage the horse to lift their back up into your seat, and 2) is to reduce the position "noise" so that the horse can more easily recognize subtle aids that you give. She wanted us to walk around keeping our bodies as still as possible and not following the motion. She said that it would feel like we were being unnaturally stiff and it did. I feel like this is something that is going to take more than one lesson to figure out but it was a concept that I hadn't heard before and I'm intrigued by it. Have you ever been told something similar?

The other positional thing we worked on in conjunction with the stillness, was a specific way of leaning back. You've probably realized by now that tipping forward is my worst habit and one I've been working on stopping for years. Elaine reached up and touched us both on the mid back, just below the shoulder blades, and told us to push back against her hand. Then, we were to keep that feeling as we rode, like we were pushing backwards onto a chair back in that part of our back, just enough so that we could feel our mid and upper abs engage. I LOVE THIS! I could immediately feel exactly what she meant and could feel that it put me where I needed to be. Previously, I've tried telling myself to lean my shoulders back, but then I would find myself arching my back too much. So then I'd tell myself to lean back and curve my lower back out, but that would use my lower abs and make me hold my shoulders stiffly. By instead just getting that feeling of pushing against a chair back in my mid-back, it gets me to lean back without all the other problems. I will definitely be using this!

Elaine also got me to shorten my stirrups by one hole.

It's the perfect length to cover her nose, here's
hoping she doesn't immediately destroy or lose it

After we had worked on rider position, we worked on getting our horses to have lateral bend and longitudinal suppleness. This is pretty standard in the world of dressage so wasn't earth shattering, but it was still a great exercise. Continuing the trend from my lesson with T, I realized that I need to not be afraid of using a bit of inside rein to get the inside bend (my last horse Ellie would buck whenever I used too much inside rein so she got me in the habit of using my outside aids much more, but I've taken that too far now). A new concept Elaine gave me to work with was to watch the poll. When I'm asking Kachina to supple and drop her head, she will first move in the poll and as soon as I see any movement there, I need to immediately release. Elaine explained that the aid is to direct, but that the horse will respond within the release. If I release when I see a little movement in the poll, she will take that release and drop her head into it. I could really see that this was working awesomely with Kachina and she was dropping her neck down and out. This is exactly what I need to work on with Kachina because she tends to get tight and short in her neck. I need to watch the poll, and give frequent big releases to get that suppleness and stretch.

Throughout the whole lesson, we worked with the kindergarten-grade 1-grade 2 concept. Halt is kindergarten. A horse must first learn an exercise at halt, only when they can successfully do it there, can we move onto Grade 1 (walk). Then we progress to Grade 2 (trot). If at any time we lose the exercise, we need to bring them back down to the previous grade. I.e. if they start getting hollow at the trot, bring them back down to walk to try again. If they are still not getting it, go back down to halt. I was able to get some really really nice work from Kachina at halt, walk and trot, but we never moved up to Grade 3 (canter). (Also, it was a tiny arena and there were 3 of us riding, so that was probably a factor too).

Overall it was a great clinic. The organizers already have plans to have Elaine back in early September and late October. Everyone in the first clinic gets first dibs on spots for the future clinics so I'm going to try for all 3 days next time.

I'm also so so proud of Kachina! With me being late, it was a hurried stressful start. But Kachina marched right into an arena she had never been to before, with all strange horses, and wind and rain pummeling the roof and she still got right to work for me. Our partnership is really starting to come together and that makes me so happy.

Friday 24 June 2016

Reining Lesson #1

I've been struggling with canter leads on Kachina. 95% of the time we get the correct lead, but sometimes we don't. We kept getting the wrong lead to the left at a show in April, but it was just that one day so I chalked it up to an anomaly. Then, we got wrong leads in both directions at our most recent show. At this point, I knew I needed some help to figure it out.

Getting wrong leads is one thing, but what makes the problem worse is that I can't immediately tell if we're wrong or right. With other horses I've ridden, I was able to immediately feel that something was "off" when we picked up the wrong lead. However, with Kachina, she seems to have a strong ability to vary her balance and bend regardless of what lead she's on. I'm guessing this will be helpful when we eventually need a counter canter, but for now it really messes me up. Sometimes, we will be on the correct lead, but the bend and balance are such that we feel "off" and I think we're wrong. Then, other times, she'll be on the wrong lead but she'll be balanced and bent correctly and it feels beautiful. That means, it can take me a half circle or more to figure out for sure which lead we are on, and I've even had to resort to leaning forward to check her shoulders/legs a few times. Leaning forward and looking down is obviously not helpful to a nice quality canter, and it's hard for me to school correct lead departures if I can't make a correction in the first couple strides. I knew I needed a lesson to help me. I also wanted to see if I could get softer upwards transitions without head flailing and hollow running.

This is what our hollow flailing canter transitions look like,
nobody wants to see more of these
All photos from Chinook show

Unfortunately, as is the ongoing theme in this blog, I don't have a dressage coach that I can regularly lesson with. Fortunately, getting correct leads is not something specific to dressage. My barn owner T is a former reiner turned barrel racer. She knows next to nothing about dressage but is an accomplished horse woman so I scheduled a lesson with her. I've never seen T ride anything much other than working the barrel pattern (her reining days were before I met her), and I haven't seen her give anything more than a super beginner-type lesson. I wasn't sure what to expect but figured that at the very least she could be my eyes on the ground and tell me whether the lead was right or wrong so I could develop a better feel for it. I ended up being super impressed with how much T helped me in that lesson.

She first watched me warm up and we talked a little about the differences between reining and dressage. We had a little bit of a laugh at how slow dressage is compared to reining, like the fact that I won't need walk-canter transitions until next year. Then we got to work.

She first really got after me about getting inside bend. I've been too focused on inside leg to outside rein that I was using my outside rein too much and getting her counterbent in her neck. When I thought my reins felt even, my outside rein was always shorter, so T got me keep loosening my outside rein and holding my outside hand slightly forward. My concept of even is clearly skewed so I need to feel like my outside hand is super far forward with a loose rein to get back to where I need to be. Thankfully, this habit is only a month or two old so it shouldn't be too hard to kick it at this point.

Next up was working on keeping my hands quieter and "in a small control box". To avoid tipping to the inside, I've told myself for a long time to pick my inside shoulder up. That part is good, what is not good is when I pick up my inside hand with the shoulder and move it so much that I'm starting to cross it over the neck. I practiced picking up my shoulder with leaving my hand where it was and I could immediately feel the difference.

What is my left arm doing?!
I think I was trying to stop her falling in at this moment,
but clearly I'm doing it wrong *face palm*

Leaning back was another theme. I know this is my problem but I still need reminders. A new visualization she told me was to "imagine there is a stick with wet paint in front of your chest and you don't want to stain your shirt".

Sit up! 

Then we got to the canter transitions. On the very first one, we got the correct lead but it was fast and had head flailing. T immediately got me to try again but with quieter aids. My response when the wrong lead issue first came up was for me to ask for canter every time with super obvious leg aids to make it clearer which lead I wanted. With T's help, we figured out that this was the exact wrong response. My strong aids were causing Kachina to flail and lose frame, and that coupled with my lack of inside bend was causing her to pick up the wrong lead. Instead, I need to make sure she is nicely set up, and that I can see her inside eye, and then give a super quiet canter aid. If I do that, I will eliminate the flailing and get the correct lead every time.

Like almost everything with riding, this is easier said than done. We can do lovely circles at the walk, but as we go up in speed, I find it harder to use my inside rein and inside leg and to not pull on the outside rein or tense up. I need lots and lots of practice and lots of being yelled at from the ground to build the correct muscle memory and start doing the correct thing automatically. I have a road map though and that's awesome. Our last canter transition of the lesson was actually round and quiet so I know we can do it now!

I've named this post Reining Lesson #1 because I have plans to do many more lessons with T in the future. The tough part is that we both have busy schedules and are usually free at different times so scheduling is tough. However the lessons are super cheap and I don't need to haul out for them so that makes it easier to do them more frequently.

After those previous photos showing me at my worst,
had to include one that looks at least halfway decent ;)

Have you ever had a horse that you had trouble telling leads on? Have you ever taken lessons with someone from a completely different discipline?

Thursday 23 June 2016

Chinook Country Dressage Show

Okay, finally the rest of my show recap...

So, how did the show go after our roller coaster start?

The Show Overall

- the facility was lovely - the barns and indoor arena were great. The outdoor warm-up arena was very sloppy on Saturday morning, but the crazy wind and sunshine dried it out in record time, so by the afternoon it was actually nice footing (seriously, I couldn't believe that it did days of drying in only a few hours, it didn't look like like the same ring at all)

This wasn't even the windiest part of the day, but check out Kachina's tail and my show coat

- the show was very well organized. The organizers were very friendly and everything ran smoothly.
- my volunteer duty for the show was super easy - just over an hour long shift as runner, and we only had to carry the tests about 20m because they had set the scoring office up really close to the judge
- it was a small, low-key show. Last year it was a bigger show, but renovations at the facility caused them to downgrade from a Gold show to a Bronze show and limit the number of entries to 40. Since it ended up being the weekend right after the big Calgary Gold/CDI 3* show, it was less popular and there were only 22 of us entered in the end.
- It was a perfect first introduction to a recognized show. Watching other rides, I could see that there were a lot of inexperienced horses and riders at this small show, and so our issues didn't stand out in a bad way. The judge assigned a lot of low scores where they were called for, but she was patient and understanding.

Our Rides

- before this show, Kachina and I had only shown Walk/Trot and Training Level Test 1. This show didn't offer Walk/Trot so it ended up being a forced move-up to all of Training Level. We rode T1, T2 and T3.
- since I wasn't able to ride much before the show, our first time doing some of the movements from T2 and T3 like the stretchy trot circle and the trot loops was in the warm-up at the show! This is not how things should be done. I feel bad that I wasn't more prepared, but Kachina did quite well with both movements as a first time (we've done the concepts before, just not the exact movements)
- it was far from perfect, but there were a few times in both the warmups and our tests where I made smart choices as a rider to make a correction or change an exercise. In the past I have reverted to being more of a passenger in a show environment, so I'm glad I'm starting to be able to change that.
- canter transitions were a low point of the show. We got our leads on Saturday, but the transitions were very rushed and hollow and involved some head flailing. On Sunday, we had head flailing and wrong leads. In my T2 test on Sunday, we got the wrong lead going both ways!

Dressage Equitation

- Dressage Equitation is a new program by equine Canada. This is the first show I've seen with it offered but I decided to give it a whirl.
- The division involves two parts - a flat class with everybody, and an individual test. The scores from the two parts are added up to come up with the overall placing.
- The flat class was on Saturday afternoon, and we rode our tests for it on Sunday.
- There were only two of us entered into the Dressage Equitation. Since you don't need 15 minutes to judge a flat class of two people, the judge used most of the time to give us feedback. She almost made it into a mini lesson by telling us what to work on. She wanted me to post the trot instead of sitting, shorten my stirrups a hole, and really try and encourage Kachina to stretch down. As she said herself, it was a very unconventional way of holding the class, but I really really appreciated the feedback.

Judge talking to us in the Dressage Equitation flat class

Our Scores

- There were a couple talented pro riders who were at the show to give exposure to their very nice young horses at low levels, a couple of these got marks in the 70s. However, in general, marks at the show were low. In the AA Training Division, marks ranged from a low of 40% to a high of 63%. Mine were low too, I'm a bit embarrassed to share my scores, but I think it's important to share both the good and the bad
- Training Level Test 1 - 55.9% (general tension throughout) - 3rd/4
- Training Level Test 3 - 60.5% (I was actually pretty happy with this, both the test and the score, I reached my goal of scoring a 60% at a recognized show) - 2nd/3
- Training Level Test 2 - 54.2% (blew both my canter leads) - 2nd/3
- Dressage Equitation Training Level TOC - 58.7% (blew the right canter) - 1st/2


- bag of carrots - everyone got a full bag of carrots when they checked into the show office, Kachina appreciated them
- money prizes - just $10-$25/class but I'm not used to that so it was cool!
- hair clip - I took my $15 3rd place winnings from one class and used it to buy a new hair clip

- silent auction - there was a silent auction to raise money for the club, I bid on a few different things and ended up coming home with a stock tie and a book

Pre-tied, I like my old traditional one,
but hard to tie nicely if I don't have a mirror

- fancy ribbon! - between the flat class and the TOC, I was Grand Champion of the Dressage Equitation division, which came with a very nice ribbon :-) (Which I was extra stoked about because there were no ribbons for individual classes, only for division champs)


In general, I'm glad I ended up going and not turning back for home on Friday night. There's definite room for improvement but most of it is on my end with how much prep I do and how I ride. The scores might not fully reflect it but Kachina was a champ. I'm gaining a lot of confidence with her in new places and learning how to read her to see what she needs. I'm excited to work on things at home and come back better to the next show.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Catching Up and Video

Sorry for the lack of posts. It's been a busy couple weeks. I have a lot to catch up on here. My drafts folder is full of started posts, but still working on finishing them. I also have very little related media, so many of those posts are going to be a wall of text, sorry.

Speaking of media, I do have two videos that my mom took at the Chinook Country Show. The files seem to be somewhat corrupted so I can only watch a few seconds at a time before it freezes. Attempting to move it onto my computer has also not worked, any attempt to copy or upload it has so far failed. This might be a blessing in disguise though, as watching parts of the videos makes me wince. There seems to be a disconnect between what I've been feeling and what is actually happening. I knew we had things to work on, but things look substantially worse than I thought they were. There are moments of really obvious counterflexion and hollowness. And my position... I thought I had been improving, but I was shocked to see how much I was leaning forward, and how far forward my lower leg was swinging.

Part of me is wishing these videos didn't exist and I never had to see them. But, the smarter part of me knows that watching them is invaluable. It allows me to see where my problems are and help me to correct them.

Luckily, I've already done a few things since the show that I think are going to help me improve. I'll hopefully get those posts up soon.

I've read about the love-hate relationship that other bloggers have with video, and I totally get it. Here's hoping that the next time I see video of myself, I will be happier with what I see.

Do you have many videos of you riding? Do you love them or hate them?

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Roller-Coaster Start to a Show

So this past weekend Kachina and I were in a show. Our first recognized show, and we were woefully unprepared. Entries for this show were due a full month in advance, I posted about entering back in May here. At the time, four weeks sounded like plenty of time to work on all the things we needed to learn and improve on. Those four weeks ended up being filled with a lot of work and life obligations that left little time for riding. It's unfortunate, but that's life. Also, scribing, while educational, took away two weekends of me being able to work with my own horse.

The preparation and the show itself started with a roller-coaster of good and bad


The bad:

- My last ride on Kachina was more than a week before the show
- I had hoped to leave work early on Friday to get ready and leave for the show, instead I had to stay late
- When I finally got to the barn (with no time to bathe), Kachina had some of the most giant manure stains ever
- I was going to arrive too late to school in the arenas
- One of the highway turnoffs had confusing signs, so I ended up on a different highway from what I was supposed to be on, resulting in an extra 40 minutes of driving
- As I was pulled over checking the map, I get a text from the SO telling me that there was a blue bag hanging at the front door - my blue coat bag that held my show coat, stock tie and pin, hairnets, and all my gloves! I had carefully put everything I needed by the front door, but had apparently missed transferring it all into the truck *face palm*
- At this point, it was dark and raining, I was tired and I was seriously considering just giving up and turning back home

The good:

- Kachina and I made it to the showgrounds safe and sound
- The facility was nicely set up and it was easy for me to find Kachina's stall and unload everything
- My mom decided to come watch me at the show the next day and I arranged for her to bring my missing coat and supplies
- I got a second wind and stayed up a while longer to work on the manure stains and brush out her mane and tail
- My cheap motel room had a super comfortable bed

The bad:

- I only got to take advantage of the bed for a little over 5 hours

Saturday Morning

The good:

- Kachina was nice and relaxed in her show stall
- With the help of Braid-eez braiding wires and Quik Braid spray, I was able to make my nicest dressage braids to date
- I taught Kachina to stand still for braiding and spraying (she didn't like the Quik Braid) by introducing a game where she would get half a cookie after being sprayed, and then get the rest of the cookie once each braid was complete. After only about 3 braids she was standing nicely, and politely turning to look for her cookie each time I took my hands down from her mane.
- My mom arrived with my show coat just in time for my first class of the morning
- The show had a fun warm-up class in the morning called "Let's Get Rockin'" where all riders could go into the show ring for a flat class to walk/trot/canter and let the horses see the flowers, judges table etc. Everyone in the class was named a winner of some made-up category (tallest horse, loudest snort, etc.)

The bad:

- In Let's Get Rockin', I won for "Best Rodeo", not exactly the title I was going for *rolls eyes*. I used the fun class as a start to my warm-up, but she wasn't ready to canter so soon (usually we do lots of slow and lateral work before cantering) and she showed her unhappiness by having feet leave the ground in dramatic fashion (I'm not even sure whether it was bucking or crow hopping or what exactly but it wasn't pretty)
- After the "rodeo" Kachina was all kinds of tense and kept balking and not wanting to moving forward - I think it's because the saddle had shifted forward a little and felt weird to her, but the class was still going on so I couldn't get off and fix it in the moment.
- Kachina spooked at the plastic bag when the judge was handing out treat bags to all the winners
- My mom, the one who barely ever watches me ride and is a super nervous nellie about horses was there to see the whole thing
- After the Let's Get Rockin' class, the only place to warm-up was an outdoor ring that was super super sloppy from all the rain

The good:

- I didn't fall off in Let's Get Rockin', and I was able to control Kachina enough whereby we didn't endanger anybody else
- I'm glad I didn't end up spending a bunch of time bathing Kachina or polishing tack, because the warm-up ring meant that there was mud splattered on Kachina's legs and belly, all over my girth and on my boots all the way up to my knees by the time we went in for our first test
- despite the sloppy appearance of the warmup ring, after cautiously testing it, I found that Kachina still had good traction so I was actually able to walk/trot/canter
- we were able to shrug off the morning's issues, do our regular warm-up routine and get some good work (this is a HUGE win for me because previously that kind of incident has really shaken my confidence)

The bad:

- the tension returned when I went back inside for my first test of the day (Training 1). Kachina was hollow, rushing, and wouldn't bend right, especially at the canter. I was tense too which was a big part of it
- being my first recognized show, the steward's tack check was a new experience. Kachina did not want that gloved hand anywhere near her mouth and was throwing her head straight in the air no matter how gently the steward approached - definitely something we'll have to practice at home!

The good:

- despite the tension, it was an obedient test (by that I mean that the movements weren't good, but at least we did the right things in the right places)
- we got correct leads for both the canters
- there were some nice movements that we got 7s on
- really, considering our lack of prep and everything else I was really happy with how Kachina did

We had a few hours break before our next test so I untacked Kachina, fed her mountains of treats, and put her back in her stall to chill until the afternoon.

Monday 13 June 2016

Weird Mouth Thing

Kachina frequently has her mouth open. After over a year, a couple vet visits, a couple teeth floatings, a few bit changes, a couple chiropractor appointments, and a lot of observation, I think I finally have an answer:

It's a stress behavioural thing. 

I'm glad I did all the steps to rule out physical discomfort. I would have hated to think something was causing her pain, but now that I know it's not physical, I can look at it in a different way. 

An early photo of her mouth open while riding her a month after buying her

I've been really watching Kachina lately and trying to see if there are connections between the times she opens her mouth (is it when she's asked to collect? is it always when she goes to the right? is it when the halter is putting pressure on her face? etc). Turns out, when Kachina is relaxed, thinking, listening to me, and following directions successfully, she doesn't do it. When she's in a new place, tied away from her friends, being asked something she doesn't fully understand, or isn't been given enough direction, she does do it. 
(This may seem obvious, but really, it isn't obvious until you figure it out)

As an example, one day recently I was working her in the indoor arena. There was nobody else inside and rain was making lots of noise on the roof so it was a little scary. When I was lunging her and clearly telling her what I wanted by giving aids for commands she knows, she was listening to me and relaxed, and her mouth was quiet. Then, my phone rang and I had to answer it (I generally ignore my phone when I'm at the barn, but this was an exception). As I was talking, I let her circle me a bit more aimlessly because I only had one hand and not my whole attention. Pretty quickly, Kachina realized she didn't have a solid leader to follow any more and she started getting more anxious. She kept staring off at different things and changing direction, and her mouth went into that characteristic gape.

Mouth gaping while loose in the arena
This is an excellent discovery. Kachina isn't super expressive with her ears or body, and since she has blue eyes, you always see the whites. That makes judging her mood tougher than with lots of other horses. Now that I know open mouth means stress, I can use it as a signal to adapt my training. Gaping her mouth doesn't let her get out of work, but if I see she's getting stressed, I can bring the exercise back to something she understands and can be successful at. 

Also, now I can see that Kachina gets stressed out by not having a leader. Before, I was confused because Kachina would open her mouth even when I turned her loose in the arena to move around on her own terms. That's something that many horses love and so I didn't expect it would cause a negative reaction. Now, I see that if Kachina doesn't have a good idea of what exactly is expected of her in a situation, she gets stressed out. (The horse personality book also got me thinking about Kachina's needs as a submissive horse so that was helpful too)

See mouth again, you can kind of see how she crosses her jaw a little when she does it
Considering how often it happens, I have surprisingly few photos showing it

This also makes sense with how Kachina is better behaved under saddle than in ground work. When I am on her back, I am a clear leader and she is willing to relax and follow my direction. When I'm on the ground, I don't always have the same focus. (And she generally gapes her mouth less while I am riding compared to on the ground) Also, I don't have as big of a figurative toolbox on the ground compared to in the saddle (because I never needed it with past horses), so I'm not as confident and clear in my directions. Before, I would switch between different approaches on the ground because I didn't know which was the best method. Now, I am going to stick to one approach and be really really consistent with it so Kachina understands what the expectations are. 

I'm excited to use this new discovery to try and cut down on stress for both of us and move forward with our training. :-) Maybe eventually, we'll build her confidence enough whereby the weird mouth thing goes away completely!

Friday 10 June 2016

Dressage Judging Levels

Continuing on the theme of dressage rules: My experience scribing has made me take a closer look at judging. Especially as I've been witness to some judge training.

Do you know what the letters after the judge's name mean on the prizelist? I didn't until I looked into it. So, FYI, the judging levels (source: Equine Canada Dressage Rules 2016 found here):

The three amigos at supper time
(their round bale with econet had to be taken away until the rain stops)

Recorded (r)

Requirements to become:
- competed at Second Level and achieved 60% or higher at 3 different recognized shows under 3 different judges
- completed 12+ hours of scribing at silver or gold shows (any level) and have a scribing form signed by the judge (I've already completed this requirement)
- attended and received a positive assessment at a recorded judges' clinic in the last year
- passed the Dressage Canada judges' examination
- have five references, two of which are current judges (the rest must be dressage sport license holders)
- audited with a senior or FEI judge at two separate 2-day shows
- judged at two schooling shows

Can judge:
- any level at bronze shows
- up to second level at silver shows
- up to first level at gold shows

Don't have pictures specific to this post, so here are some random ones of Kachina

Basic (B)

Requirements to become:
- be a recorded judge
- three scores of 60%+ at Third Level
- judged at 5+ recognized shows judging up to and including second level
- 12+ hours of scribing at Third Level or higher
- attended and received a positive assessment at a Basic judges' clinic in the last year
- passed the Dressage Canada judges' examination
- five references, two of them judges
- audited for 3 days with Senior of FEI judge at Second Level and above

Can judge:
- any level at bronze shows
- up to Intermediate 1 at silver shows
- up to second level at gold shows

Rocking the windblown locks

Medium (M)

Requirements to become:
- be a Basic judge for 2+ years
- three scores of 60%+ at PSG (if you can't do this, there's an Apprenticeship Program you can do instead with a bunch of other requirements)
- co-judged at 2+ Gold shows at Training to Third Level
- senior judge at 5+ Silver or Gold shows at Third and Fourth Level
- co-judged at 4+ shows with Medium or higher judges up to Fourth Level
- shadow judged at Third and Fourth Levels at 2+ shows (shadow judging is where you judge the class but you just compare your results to that of the real judge and your scores aren't counted)
- 12+ hours of scribing at FEI levels
- attended and received a positive assessment at a Medium/Senior judges' clinic in the last year
- passed the Dressage Canada judges' examination
- three references, two of them judges

Can judge:
- any level at bronze shows
- any level at silver shows
- up to fourth level at gold shows

Here's a random photo of an antelope, because why not

Senior (S)

Requirements to become:
- be a Medium judge for 2+ years
- three scores of 62%+ at Intermediate 1
- submit a video of you riding at IA, IB or I2 to be reviewed by the Officials Committee
- judged 10+ days of Gold shows at a minimum of Third and Fourth Level
- co-judged 4+ shows of PSG and I1
- co-judged 2+ shows of Grand Prix
- shadow judged Grand Prix three times
- judged 2+ regional or provincial Championships at Third and Fourth Level or higher
- attended and received a positive assessment at a Medium/Senior judges' clinic in the last year
- passed the Dressage Canada judges' examination
- three references, two of them judges

Can judge:
- any level at bronze shows
- any level at silver shows
- any level at gold shows

Antelope have nice trot movements too, maybe we should start antelope dressage

FEI 3* and Beyond

Requirements to apply:
- be a Senior judge for 2+ years
- judged 9+ Grand Prix classes including 50+ horses
- shadow judged 2 Grand Prix classes with 2 FEI judges
- attended and received a positive assessment at a Medium/Senior judges' clinic in the last year
- obtained sponsorship letters from two FEI judges, at least one from outside Canada
- attendance at an FEI clinic for dressage judges
All of the above just makes you eligible apply for nomination to the FEI, there's no guarantee of acceptance

After that, the rules are controlled by the FEI. The two remaining judging levels are FEI 4* and FEI 5*


It takes a lot of work to become a judge, especially at the higher levels. However, all that work means that the quality and consistency of judging increases when you have judges of a higher level. I've seen first-hand how much thought FEI judges put into their scores and comments and I now see the value in paying more to show at a competition with Senior or FEI judges so that I can get that quality of feedback. 

One thing I found really interesting is that many FEI judges have day jobs completely separate from horses and do all of this on the side. 

I may never get to the top levels of judging, but I am interested in pursuing my recorded status at least. I think it would be interesting and another way to be involved in the dressage world. Just scribing has improved my eye considerably so I feel like going through the judging program will help me develop a better understanding for the movements and make me a better rider. I am currently just showing at Training Level so it'll be a while until I get my scores at Second Level and am even eligible, but something to keep in mind for the future.

Is judging something you would ever consider doing?

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Scribing Overview

This past weekend I scribed at the CA/ADA Black Tie CDI3* and Gold Dressage Show at Rocky Mountain Show Jumping in Calgary.

My view from C

An important unwritten rule of scribing is that what is said in the judge's booth, stays in the judge's booth (except what gets written down on the test). I cannot share specific details, but I do think it is fair to share generalizations from the weekend and from my experience scribing as a whole.

I scribed for three days and scribed for the following classes:
- CDI Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Freestyle
- CDI Intermediate
- CDI Prix St. George
- Third Level
- Fourth Level
- FEI Young Riders
- FEI Junior Riders
- FEI Young Horse
- FEI Materiale
- Prix St. George
- Intermediate
- Grand Prix

It was super cool to scribe for the FEI levels, but I wish I could have scribed some Training Level rides to pick up some tips more directly relevant to my own riding.

At this show, I wrote down scores all the way from 0.0 to 8.0 (there was one show last year where one person got a 10.0, but not this time).

It was a beautiful facility in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains

The Judges

There were six judges at the show: three FEI 3* judges and three FEI 4* judges. They represented five different countries. I will do a separate post on what is required to get certain judging levels but these are very qualified folks.

Even at this level, judging is not all these people do. Some of them are dressage coaches and clinicians, but some of them hold down day jobs unrelated to horses like lawyers and psychologists.

You can see me in the background writing
Photo credit: Quantum Photography (, used with permission

Dressage judges are human and not perfect, but they work very hard to be fair and consistent. In this show, there were many classes with more than one judge around the ring. If the judge's scores were considerably different for the same ride, they were concerned and took the time to review the tests and discuss the reason for the discrepancy. Sometimes there is a valid reason for the difference though - you see different things sitting at B compared to at C.

Judges work hard (and so do scribes). When you are in that booth, you have to be focused 100% of the time. Every second between riders is spent determining the collective scores and comments for the last test. Judges don't get many breaks, and the ones they do get aren't long. When the bathroom is on the other side of the showgrounds, a 15 minute break is nothing.

CDI Award Ceremony

What we should all know as riders

When you do your loop around the ring before the bell, the scribe is probably trying to read your number to reference it with the day sheet. Passing by the judge's booth/table/car etc. in a direction where your number is visible is appreciated, or you can say your number to the scribe if you want. Also, some of those insert style bridle numbers are pretty impossible to read from a distance.

Judges generally try and ring you in as soon as you do one loop of the outside. However, sometimes the test before you may have been a difficult one and they need an extra minute to figure out the comments or double check a rule so if you're left doing multiple laps that could be why. Likewise, if you try and say hi to the judge on your loop or after your final salute that's cool, but don't be offended if they are otherwise occupied.

We need more dressage judges. However, to become a judge or upgrade, you need to do some auditing and shadow judging at recognized shows. Having a judge in training at a show can slow things down a little, but it is important so please be patient if it takes a little longer to get your test sheet back.

Judges want you to succeed. Even if they seem harsh, it is out of wanting you to know what needs to improve. When something goes wrong in a test, they are probably wincing right alongside you.

Don't worry so much about breed bias. Just like everyone else, judges may have their personal opinions about what kind of horses they like or dislike, but they're good at being objective, it's their job. I've heard judges say that they aren't a fan of X breed as the horse is entering, but then turn around and give out 7s and 8s if that X breed horse does a movement well.

On your test, the individual comments on the movements are designed to help you know what to improve for next time. If you have a bad score, there should be a comment to go with it, but many good scores don't have comments. Judges also do this to help save their scribes from writing so much (we appreciate it). If you get an 7.0 or higher, that means good job, don't expect a comment saying the same.

CDI Victory Gallop

The training scale and object of dressage are hugely important. The majority of comments (and reasons for not getting higher marks) relate to these fundamentals: More engagement, more fluid bend, more balance, poll up, tight through neck, more over back and into bridle, more uphill, tension, restricted, rhythm mistake, tempo change, behind the vertical, mouth open, resistant, etc. These are the comments that I end up writing over and over again so be aware. That said, if you're in a 4th level test and your horse can't do clean changes, you're going to get some seriously insufficient scores.

If you ever get nervous about showing, just be grateful that you aren't showing at a CDI. Riding in front of 5 different judges at the same time looks intense!

Lovely facility, lovely weekend

The rest of my weekend

I spent time chatting with a lady who was auditing. She was showing me videos of the $125,000 usd FEI prospect sale horses she rides in her position of head trainer at a breeder in Florida. Let that sink in a little, $125,000! In turn, I was showing her videos and photos of my no-name little grade pinto at training level. It was kind of surreal. (She thought Kachina was cute and a nice mover though!) We exchanged contact information and I may try and clinic with her the next time she's in the area. 

Another judge saw me scribe and recruited me as a scribe for a show in July. 

I used my short lunch breaks to shop. I ended up buying two new show shirts/sun shirts. I also sat in expensive saddles so we'll see where that goes. 

Karen Pavicic is currently ranked #2 in Canada and has a real chance at competing at the Rio Olympics with her lovely mount Don Daiquiri. She was riding at the show and I got to scribe her tests and even got her autograph after. 

There were wasp nests in a couple of the judge's booths. I do not like wasps (aka, they pretty much terrify me, but I am better than I was in that I can now prevent myself from screaming when they get close, which is probably a good thing considering the circumstances)

I know it's small, but there were still wasps!

It was a lovely sunny weekend for horse showing, but it was hot. I got a little sunburnt, but just on my right arm where it was sticking out into the sun to write comments. I was staying in a camper with my friend so didn't have access to a shower or air conditioning all weekend. Getting home on Sunday night to my house with its plumbing and real bed was awesome. 

Mountains in the distance

The show gave out volunteer gifts. As a scribe, I was given a very nice scarf... a winter scarf, during a weekend that was approaching 30'C! I had to laugh. It is a nice scarf though, I look forward to wearing it... in about 5 months from now. 

Monday 6 June 2016

Dressage Rules

My weekend scribing had me thinking about rules of dressage, both before and during the show. I will write up a recap of my weekend, but first, enjoy some rule-related posts (warning: most people may not find this as interesting as I do ;) )

There are some things in the dressage rule book that I'm sure most of us are aware of. For example, whenever I'm thinking about buying a new piece of tack or show clothing I check the Dress, Saddlery and Equipment chapter to make sure it's show legal. There are other rules or guidelines that I think are less well known though. Here are some I found during a recent perusal of the rule book (all excerpts in purple are taken from the Equine Canada Dressage Rules 2016 found here):

Object and General Principle of Dressage

Always worth looking at the big picture: 
1. The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education.
As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the athlete.
These qualities are demonstrated by:
The freedom and regularity of the paces;
• the harmony, lightness and ease of the movements;
• the lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating from a lively impulsion;
• the acceptance of the bit, with submissiveness/throughness (Durchlässigkeit) without any tension or resistance.
2. The horse thus gives the impression of doing, of its own accord, what is required. Confident and attentive, submitting generously to the control of the athlete, remaining absolutely straight in any movement on a straight line and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.
3. The walk is regular, free and unconstrained. The trot is free, supple, regular, and active. The canter is united, light and balanced. The hindquarters are never inactive or sluggish. The horse responds to the slightest indication of the athlete and thereby gives life and spirit to all the rest of its body.
4. By virtue of a lively impulsion and the suppleness of the joints, free from the paralyzing effects of resistance, the horse obeys willingly and without hesitation and responds to the various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious balance both physically and mentally.
5. In all the work, even at the halt, the horse must be "on the bit". A horse is said to be "on the bit" when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace, accepting the bridle with a light and consistent soft submissive contact. The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the athlete.
6. Cadence is shown in trot and canter, and is the result of the proper harmony that a horse shows when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion and balance. Cadence must be maintained in all the different trot or canter exercises and in all the variations of these paces.
7. The regularity of the paces is fundamental to dressage.

This is why I love dressage. The fact that these lovely concepts are the core of the sport is something pretty awesome IMO.

The halt:
The halt must be shown for at least three seconds.
Not everyone seems to realize this. Even if your halt is perfect and square, you'll be marked down if you move off too soon. Read the rest of the sections on the paces and movements too though.


In a movement which must be carried out at a certain point in the arena, it should be done at the moment when the competitor's body is above this point, except in transitions where the horse approaches the letter from a diagonal or perpendicular to the point where the letters are positioned. In this case, the transitions must be done when the horse’s nose reaches the track at the letter so that the horse is straight in the transition.
I had wondered about where to do the transition on those across the diagonal movements, now I know!
The scale of marks is as follows:
10 Excellent
9 Very Good
8 Good
7 Fairly Good
6 Satisfactory
5 Sufficient
4 Insufficient
3 Fairly Bad
2 Bad
1 Very Bad
0 Not executed

We know the numbers, but sometimes a reminder of their meanings is useful. There's a pretty big difference between a 4 and a 5.

Penalization and Error of Test

- each error of course must be penalized
- first error is -2, second error is -4, third error results in elimination (new for 2016, in some FEI tests, your second error will get you eliminated)
- the judge may or may not ring the bell when an error occurs, but it will still result in penalization, see below

Error of course. When a competitor makes an "error of course" (takes a wrong turn, omits a movement, etc.) the judge at C rings the bell. The judge at C shows the athlete, if necessary, the point at which he/she must take up the test again and the next movement to be executed and then leaves the athlete to continue by him/herself. If ringing the bell would unnecessarily impede the fluency of the performance, it is up to the judge at C to decide whether to do so or not. One example of this would be if an athlete made a transition from medium trot to collected walk at V instead of K. Another example would be a canter pirouette on centre line ridden at D instead of L. In principle, a competitor is not allowed to repeat a movement of the test unless the judge at C decides on an error of course (rings the bell). If, however, the rider has started the execution of a movement and attempts to do the same movement again, the judges must consider only the first movement shown and, at the same time, penalize for an error of course.
a) If the bell is not rung and the same error occurs again because the same movement is required to be repeated in the test, only one error is recorded.
b) If an athlete performs a rising trot when sitting trot is required, or vice versa, the judge must ring the bell and warn the athlete that this is an error that accumulates if repeated, leading to elimination at the third occurrence.
The decision as to whether or not an error of course/test has been made will be that of the judge at C. The other judges' scores will be adapted accordingly.

Error of test
- these are other mistakes that result in -2 but they can't cause you to be eliminated:
 Not taking the reins in one hand at the salute
 Early entry before signal
 Entry between 45 and 90 seconds after the signal

- voice is a special case. The use of voice is to be penalized, but instead of it being an error that results in -2 for the test, the judge is supposed to mark down the score for the movement itself. i.e. if you had a really nice transition that would have been an 8.0, but you clucked, then it would go down to a 6.0 instead.