Thursday 29 September 2016

Elaine September Clinic - Days 2 & 3

Day 1

Day 2

My legs were feeling the intensity of Day 1 a bit when I swung into the saddle on Day 2. That was actually a bit of a benefit though as I could easily feel when I was engaging the right muscles to get myself back into the correct position. I worked on keeping my legs there while I warmed Kachina up.

As soon as my actual lesson started, Elaine complimented me on my leg position, and basically said that she didn't need to drill me on it anymore so we'd work on new stuff.

The theme of my lesson on Day 2 was bit responses and having Kachina soften at her poll. This was certainly building off of the first clinic I had with Elaine earlier this summer.

We worked on the same principle of Kindergarten (halt), Grade 1 (walk), Grade 2 (trot), where you can't move onto the next grade until they are doing well at the grade below, and if you lose the softness at Grade 2, you must go back to Grade 1, etc. I have been doing some work on this on my own, and we were able to spend a lot more time trotting this time around (though not ready for canter yet).

In the last clinic, Elaine had me giving bigger exaggerated releases to Kachina when she got things right. This time, she had me give smaller releases and to ask again more quickly. We actually got some really nice circles of fairly consistent contact.

Going between Grade 1 and Grade 2 in the softness exercise meant a number of walk-trot and trot-walk transitions. My leg position was doing pretty well in general, but I would lose it in the transitions, so we worked on that. My tendency is to push my leg forward and sit deep when asking for a down transition, I need to not do that.

For this day, we worked on getting Kachina to give at her poll and be soft in the contact at halt, walk, a slow trot, and the transitions between. Elaine suggested that I work on getting better consistency at these, then build on it by doing the same at a larger trot, transitions within trot, and while doing lateral work. Only once I have those down should I move onto canter. Elaine wanted me to not even try to canter for a few weeks, but to expect soft transitions (no giraffing or running) once I do ask for the canter.

All clinic I tried to get a nice conformation shot... and failed
Her feet are square here at least but that giraffe neck *cringe*
At least she's shiny?

Day 3

Again Elaine was happy with how I was maintaining the new leg position.

The theme of today was the rider creating rhythm.

Last time I rode with Elaine, she had me ride with a very still and almost rigid body. I wasn't completely sure about that concept, but apparently there is the second part to that lesson. First, Elaine likes to get riders to try and ride with stillness, to stop us from completely following the horse's motion. Next, she wants us to re-introduce movement to our position but in a way where the rider is creating the rhythm that the horse should follow, rather than the rider following the horse.

It's like how you can post faster or slower to speed up or slow down your horse, but in a more subtle sense that you should use at all times to set a clear steady rhythm.

There is a difference between pushing the horse with your seat, and just creating a feeling of movement in your seat that the horse follows. We are supposed to aim for the latter one, but it's a fine line and one that I had trouble getting a feel for.

It sounds like such a simple concept, but it's really really hard to not move with the horse. I heard several riders who are better than I also talking about how much they struggled with putting this idea into practice.

This theme was one that I had heard Elaine work on with several other riders over the course of the weekend. I don't think the lesson is a bad one, but on this day I felt like I was riding with a clinician with an overall theme, rather than one who was tailoring the lesson specifically to what me and my horse needed at that time. I get that a lot of clinics work this way, but I was still a little disappointed. It seems that this is a really good lesson for horses who like to vary their rhythm, but Kachina actually has a pretty steady rhythm as long as I am correct in my position and don't screw her up (that's just a very big if at the moment!)

One bright spot at the end of the lesson was where we went back to work on my position a bit more, this time adding in the upper body to the leg position. When my legs are correct, my body wants to curl forward. Elaine had me think about making the front of my body long, and my back short, while still pushing back against an imaginary chair back. This visual really helped me to sit back without arching my back or curling my shoulders. I don't have the strength yet to hold a correct position with my body and legs at the same time for long, but knowing what the completed puzzle should feel like will help me a lot with developing the pieces.

Overall I was very happy with the clinic. I was thrilled to get to work on my position in my new saddle. I have some clear direction on what I need to work on with both myself and Kachina when we're on our own. I really can't ask for anything more from a clinic.

Unfortunately I have no media of me riding. One girl offered to video for me on the last day, but unfortunately not until after my morning ride time was already finished! I will take her up on her offer next time though :-)

Elaine is coming back on the (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend, but the combination of family obligations and two weeks without riding mean that I'm not sure if I will go to that one. I will definitely ride with her again when she comes back in the spring though.

Even with help, this is the best confo shot we could manage

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Elaine September Clinic - Day 1

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming, and this clinic recap that is now 3 weeks old!

I rode with Elaine once before, but I was only able to get one riding slot that time. On the September Labour Day long weekend, Elaine was back again and I had signed up for all 3 days.

I had originally signed up for 45 minute semi-private lessons. However, the organizers weren't able to find someone else who would fit in with me and so I ended up getting slightly shorter private lessons instead.

Not me riding, but the only non-blurry photo I have of the clinic

Day 1

The first lesson, Elaine immediately dialed into my lower leg. I've been working on improving my upper body for quite a while and I think I've made good progress with that (finally helped by the new saddle), but I have been neglecting my lower leg in trade.

She had a few different points to make on my lower leg:
1. Put my stirrup irons a little further back on my feet (just more on the ball of the foot, mine were a little too much on the toes). Her reasoning was that there's an accupuncture pressure point there that helps your other leg joints too be loose. I'm not sure I fully buy that, but whatever.
2. Loosen my ankles.
3. Rotate my whole leg in at the hip. Focus on making contact with the saddle with the front and side of my thigh instead of the back and side.
4. Divide pressure equally between my inner thigh, inner knee, and inner upper calf when sitting in the saddle. This will feel like pinching with my knee right now as I'm not used to it, but it's not really.
5. Think about kicking the stirrup backwards with my foot to keep my lower leg back
6. Stretch my knee down an inch in the saddle as I post or two-point. This means I will only be fractionally above the seat of the saddle, but that's okay.
7. Keep 50% of the weight of my leg in front of the stirrup iron and 50% behind to keep my leg from swinging forwards or backwards.

If you think that's a lot to change all at once, you'd be right! It was hard mentally and physically. Especially as she got me to spend more than half the time in two point to make it stick. I haven't done much two-point in years and my body wasn't prepared for that!

There were a couple times towards the end of the lesson where I just couldn't keep going and had to grab mane or sit down and come down to the walk for a minute to reorganize. I normally never quit on anything in a lesson and I felt a bit ashamed, but Elaine said that it was better to take a break if I was physically giving out, than to push through and compromise the correct position instead.

There was so much focus on my leg position that we stopped worrying about pretty much anything else. That meant two things:
A) my upper body was leaning really far forward, especially while posting or in two point. Every time that I tried to lean back, my legs would try to go forward, so Elaine had me just focus on getting my legs correct, and said that once they were stronger in that position I would be able get the upper body back to where it needed to be.
B) Kachina got to just trot lots of 20m circles without a whole lot of input from me. This part ended up being really interesting. I've known pretty much from day 1 that Kachina is sensitive to my seat and upper body. Kachina tends to get tense and fast if she feels that my seat is tense or not where it should be. However, I now know that Kachina is also really sensitive to my leg position. At first, she was getting a bit upset because my legs being farther back were confusing her and I think she thought I was asking for canter. Eventually, she settled down about that and had a pretty good trot rhythm, when I was steady that is. Any time that my weight shifted and my legs started to move forward, even just by a fraction, Kachina would immediately speed up. Once I got my legs back to where they needed to be and steadied myself, she would slow down, even with zero rein contact.

Elaine said that she had decided to focus on my leg position because it seemed that my horse was sensitive to it, and the lesson really made me believe it! It was also very interesting to me that Kachina could be quiet and calm when my upper body was forward and my seat out of the saddle, as long as my leg was steady and underneath me. This horse is really going to make a better rider out of me, she won't let me get away with anything!

I am so so glad that I had my new saddle to ride in for this clinic. I still have a lot to improve about my position, but for the first time I really felt like the saddle was helping me to get it right. I was able to turn my leg in more than in my old Jag, and when I was doing things right, I could feel my knee settle in right behind the block. That feeling helps me to know when I'm where I need to be and gives me confidence that I'll be able to work on my leg position when I ride on my own. Elaine complimented my saddle and how it fit us both and it was really great to get some 3rd party approval on my recent buy.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Insider Look into Horse Racing in Ireland

I'm back! I spent the last two weeks on vacation in Ireland and Germany! It was a great trip. My family is in Ireland, I don't get to see them often and I really treasure every time I do. This time had the extra bonus of being the first opportunity for me to introduce my SO to most of my extended family.

It wasn't a horsey vacation, but I did manage to squeeze in a little bit of cool horsey stuff!

For the most part, my family is not into horses. The exception is my cousin who breeds and raises racehorses! He is quite a bit older than me and lives 6500km away, but we've always been able to connect over horses. In fact, the first time I was ever on a horse was when he lifted me up to sit on one of his broodmares bareback when I was 7 years old. I always love visiting his farm in the Irish countryside.

Look at how beautiful the countryside is!

Note, the racing my cousin is involved with is all steeplechases and hurdle races, (the jumps in hurdling are smaller than in 'chasing). This is common in Ireland, but is significantly different from the kind of (flat) racing I am used to seeing. We watched a couple races on television, and while the falls are terrifying, it is an impressive and exciting sport to watch.

My cousin currently has a few broodmares, 4 yearlings, and 2 horses in active work (he's just a small mixed farm with some horses as well as cattle). We got to visit them all. He had sold a few two and three year olds just a couple weeks before our trip. He aims to sell many of his youngsters at that age, and only keeps a few to when they start racing. Apparently a lot of people in the UK use Ireland as a place to find young prospects.

First, we visited the yearlings out in the pasture they share with the cattle. There were two geldings and two fillies. Apparently more good races for fillies are starting to appear in Ireland. All four were friendly, rambunctious youngsters.

My cousin then took us to visit a couple local training outfits. At the first stop, the guy we went to see wasn't there, but it was cool to see a facility where they train all sorts of horses, from racehorses to pony hunters. We watched part of a jump lesson and it was cool to see that it wasn't too different from what I might see at home.

The arena - more horses came in after this photo and there was such a range of shapes and sizes
The yard at the training barn
In most places there were big stalls like this in stone buildings that were open to the outside on one side

Next, we went to visit the training facility where my cousin's horse Jed is kept. Jed is a five year old and won 1st place at a hurdles race in early September. As my cousin and uncle said, it takes a lot to get a horse to the winning circle, and it doesn't happen often, so you have to celebrate when it does. They're very happy with Jed and are hoping he goes on to more success in the future. Jed is absolutely racing fit but was a calm gentleman in his stable. I of course had to get a photo with the champion. After I visited Jed, he went on to win another race the week after!

Me and the winner Jed!

The other horse that my cousin has in work hasn't raced yet, but they are preparing him for his first point to point race. This is a longer race over fields with more jumps. It seems that the point to points kind of work like a jr. league to the hurdles and steeplechases. If a horse does well in a point to point, that says good things about their future potential, and it can also be a good way to sell them.

This up and comer horse is a big guy at about 17.1hh. His size meant that he was slower to develop and took more time to get fit. He's now 6 (I think?) and is finally ready to race. He lives at the farm, and a local rider comes in regularly to give him conditioning rides. I got to watch one of his rides which consisted of a short warm-up followed by 6 laps of the front field at a fast canter/slow gallop, three in each direction. He's a beautiful mover and just eats up the ground while making it seem effortless.

I won't pretend that I know a lot about horse racing in Alberta or North America in general, because I don't. However, several aspects of the Irish racing scene surprised me:

- colts are pretty much all gelded early before racing
- there isn't much focus on races for 3 or 4 year olds, many horses don't race until they are older
- not all horses in training live in stalls, they can also be out on pasture
- training rides take place down country lanes, around grassy fields, and in arenas, as well as on the track
- racing horses are usually just hauled to the track for race day and return home that same night
- jockeys come in more varied shapes and sizes - none of them are fat, but some are surprisingly tall

I follow some bloggers who ride OTTBs and I couldn't help but think how the above must help to produce horses who can better adapt to life after the track. (If you have experience with OTTBs in North America I would love to hear your thoughts!)

It was super cool to get the opportunity to see some of what goes on behind the scenes of horse racing. It certainly makes me want to watch more races!

Monday 12 September 2016

See You Later, Alligator

I am busy with non-horsey things and will have spotty internet access for the next couple weeks. I had hoped to have a queue of blog posts prepped and scheduled, but the truth is that I've had too much else to do and just don't have the time right now.

It'll be silent around here for the next two weeks, but know that I will look forward to reading all of your posts and adding my own once I return.

See you later, alligators
(gold star for whoever comments first with the appropriate response!)

Friday 9 September 2016

My Horse

Kachina is finally becoming more of my horse. I've owned her for two years, but our bonding was kind of slow. I had my last horse for 14 years so getting used to a new mare was a bit of a challenge. On Kachina's end, she never really had a specific person in her life before me. Don't get me wrong, we've gotten along fine and have had a lot of fun together, I just didn't feel like there was a special bond.

Kachina's pasture - still so green!
(things are never this green in Sept, it's been a wet year!)

Over this past summer we've turned a corner. I've slowly been getting a better understanding for why Kachina acts the way she does in certain situations. With that, I've learned what she needs from me and how to give her the better consistency that works for her, and so she's been getting to understand me better too.

The view of the barn from the hill in the pasture (I'm not even at the far fenceline)

It's been a gradual evolution, but a conversation recently showed how far we've come. I was talking to the BO and I found out that she can't catch or even approach Kachina in the pasture. When she was feeding, she had thought Kachina's flysheet looked soaked with sweat so she was trying to check on her but couldn't get anywhere close. She explained the situation to me and so I went out to the pasture, wondering what might be wrong. Kachina was at the far end of the field so I had to hike a bit, but as soon as Kachina saw me she trotted right up to me. It turned out that Kachina was perfectly dry and fine (her black and white pattern shows through the sheet slightly which makes it look like the sheet is dark with moisture over her back and lighter below - but I appreciated the BO's concern). Kachina doesn't always trot to me, but she usually comes to me at least a bit, and never runs away. I didn't know that she wasn't like that for everyone (okay, I knew that they had to chase her into a corral for the last deworming, but I figured that she just saw the tube coming). I'm not thrilled that Kachina is hard to catch for other people, but the huge difference shows that she sees me as her person and different from the other people she sees on a regular basis (BO isn't exactly a stranger to her).

Such an unmanageable horse ;-)
Also you can see here why someone at first glance might think her back was wet

I've become Kachina's person, and I realize that she's become more fully my horse. I think that's pretty cool :-)

I mean she's kind of funny looking (and has no eyes apparently),
but she's my funny looking horse =)

P.S. Clinic recaps still coming, sorry for the delay.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Monocular Vision

Most people who work with horses knows how their left and right brains can work somewhat independently. We've all seen our horses' ears focused in two different directions. We know that the same exercise or a spooky object in the opposite direction can be a whole new ball game.

When it comes to horses' eyes though, if you're anything like me, you learned back in the day about how horses can see with monocular or binocular vision, but you never really thought about what that means. I think I always just kind of chalked it up as horses having really good peripheral vision. In fact, monocular vision means that a horse can point their eyes in two different directions! And I caught it on camera! 

I took this photo of Kachina on the weekend. I happened to zoom in and was like "that looks funky...", then I realized what I was seeing and nerded out a little a lot.

Look at her eyes.... Her left eye is looking forward, directly at me, while her right eye is clearly looking at something off to her side in the distance. Her ears are split the same way. 

Indication of monocular vision on horse with two blue eyes

I even looked online and couldn't find any other photos that show this as clearly. I think Kachina's blue eyes make it more obvious as to where her pupil is than the more common brown eye and dark sclera. Pretty cool!

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Long Weekend in Numbers

Hope everyone had a good Labour Day Long Weekend! I spent it in the best way possible: at a dressage clinic!

Weekend in Numbers:

380 - km of driving over 3 days (barely anything compared to normal!)
20 - minutes spent in two-point in my first lesson, my dressage legs aren't used to that!
14 - clinic participants
10 - failures to get a conformation shot, at least

Some of the outtakes

8 - the stirrup hole my stirrups were change to
7 - pocketfuls of treats given to my awesome mare
3 - number of lessons I had this weekend
3 - times I got stopped at rail crossings for 100+ car trains

You know it's a big train when there are 6 engines at the front!

2 - hours that Kachina stood perfectly in the barn at the clinic so I could watch other rides
2 - tight maneuvers required to get my trailer turned around in the small driveway of the host barn

Halfway through one maneuver - backing up between two other rigs

Not a whole lot of room to spare
(the other side was equally close)

1 - great clinic - ride recaps to come

Thursday 1 September 2016

Mail Week

I was trying to cut down on my spending on horse related stuff... then I bought a saddle, and then as if that wasn't enough, I totally fell off the wagon and acquired several more things...

I had a fantastic mail day earlier this week, with a box from Total Saddle Fit and Apple Saddlery coming on the same day! (slightly less awesome, I had to pay extra duties on my Total Saddle Fit package - take note Canadian friends) Last week I got a parcel from Ogilvy, and my tracking number from EDA Designs says that their delivery should be in my hands shortly!

The best kind of mail

Here's what I got:

Total Saddle Fit

1. Total Saddle Fit Shoulder Relief Stretchtec Girth - 28"
- My new saddle requires an offset girth to stop it sliding onto Kachina's shoulder, I also needed a smaller girth length, and I wanted elastic because Kachina has been getting more girthy. All of this added up to a whole lot of justification for a new girth. This was the priciest item I bought by far, but I'm hoping it fits what we need.

How many people get this wrong that they need to put it so prominently?

2. Total Saddle Fit Hat
- Bonus free item - yay!

Apple Saddlery

3. Horseware Mio Fixed Neck Fly Sheet - 72"
- The insects were pretty good for most of the summer, but in the last couple weeks the mosquitoes have gotten insane. Case in point: On one short ride, that wasn't even at dawn or dusk, I got 18 bites through clothing even though I was wearing deet. I just can't keep up with enough fly spray applications on Kachina, especially with frequent storms to wash it off. I decided to go the fly sheet route instead. Here's hoping it doesn't get destroyed too quickly. Really it only needs to last a couple months here before it gets too cold.
- Also, yes, my horse is tiny and only takes a size 70-72" blanket, luckily those are frequently the sizes on sale when all the normal sizes sell out! That was the situation in this case. It seems the short blankets are still designed for horses with very long necks though!

The key to the perfect flysheet model shot:
darkness (boo for shorter days!), glowing eyes, and a donkey cameo obviously!

4. Horseware Rambo Plus Flymask - Cob Size
- I already had one of these in horse size, but the velcro is on it's tightest and Kachina still gets out of it every time. Hoping a cob size will stay on better. This is partly for mosquito protection and partially for sun protection.
- Turns out that horse size is too big, but cob size is slightly too small, darn you Kachina and your awkward head!

It fits, barely, we'll see if it'll work
Also, fyi, Kachina doesn't have a giant neck tumour,
the flysheet neck is just too long and bunches up

5. Lexol Sponges
- These are my go-to sponges for tack cleaning, my old ones are getting ratty so figured I would throw a couple more in the cart.

6. Stubben Hamanol
- My unicorn is the newest and nicest saddle I've ever owned. I want to do right in caring for it, so I got the manufacturer's recommended oil/conditioner.

7. Horze Bamboo Socks
- I only have a couple pairs of boot height socks and I find them tight and uncomfortable. Figured these were worth a try.

The whole Apple Saddlery haul


8. Ogilvy Dressage Baby Pad in green and silver
- My parents bought this for me for my birthday last month but it just came in! I had an unhealthy obsession searching for a nice coloured dressage pad. I'm picky about pad fabric and fit, but all the white, grey and black options were too boring and don't look good on my horse if she's not perfectly clean (which is almost never). Green is our colour, and it matches my Ogilvy half pad, so yay. I've ridden in it a couple times and really like it so far, but no photos yet, sorry.

EDA Designs

9. EDA Designs Custom Fly Bonnet
- This was my prize for losing the worst in EventingSaddlebred's Olympic Contest! EventingSaddlebred was great about coming up with an alternative prize that worked better on this side of the border. I haven't quite gotten my hands on this yet, so I'll include photos and more info when I actually get the package, but it's so close to being mine that I decided it should still be included in this list.

That's a long list, but luckily I didn't have to pay for 3 of the items, and the rest I think were pretty justified purchases. I still need to lock away my wallet for a while to save it from more losses though =-P