Monday 31 October 2016

The Case of the Carrot Bag

After some early snowfalls, we've had a couple weeks of quite warm weather. I've been trying to squeeze out as many outside rides as possible while I still can.

Antelope in the field across from the barn

On Thursday night, I rode out around the fields alone. First we did some hill work and some work on bending at the walk. Kachina was being good, but when I tried to do the same work at the trot, she started to get a bit tense and fast. That meant I was pretty focused on doing different transitions and figures all over the field to get Kachina relaxed and paying attention. We were making good progress, but the light was fading quite quickly. Suddenly, completely out of nowhere, this massive tractor tops a rise in the field and starts heading straight towards us. The tractor wasn't that close, but it had it's massive headlights on, had two huge arms out to either side, and was driving as fast as I've ever seen a tractor go. Add to that the fact that it was making a noise like a plane taking off as it climbed the hill towards us. I just about jumped out of my skin. That particular field was harvested weeks and weeks ago. I've actually seen a herd of antelope living there over the past couple weeks so it didn't seem like much was going on there. I had a good view of the whole field at the beginning of my ride when I had topped the tallest hills and the tractor hadn't been around then. I had no idea what it was doing to the field at night in late October, I still don't. Anyways, I started to trot Kachina out of the path of the tractor, and then the tractor turned and headed away from us. It was hidden from view by the rise for a little bit, but then it started heading towards us again. I couldn't discern what pattern it was taking over the field so I tried to figure out how to avoid it. I didn't think the farmer would intentionally run us over, but he may not be expecting us to be there and it was dark enough that we weren't super visible. Unfortunately, the tractor was directly between me and the barn. I ended up bringing Kachina over to the closest road and riding back home that way, but it was the long way and it was pretty dark by the time I got back to the yard. Kachina was awesome, she got a little tense, but the tractor definitely scared me more than it scared her.

Solidly dusk when I dismounted

My next outdoor ride was on Sunday. I met my friend S and we headed out to the fields together. We started in the early afternoon so at least we didn't have to worry about running out of light this time. The ride started really well. Kachina was being better at bending her neck instead of twisting her head, and she seemed nice and relaxed.

I reached into my pocket to grab my phone so I could record a time for 2pointober. Unfortunately, my phone was in the same pocket as a bag with a few carrots. The second the bag made the bag rustling sound, Kachina lost her mind. Of course one of my hands was in my pocket as opposed to on the reins, so my control was limited. I managed to turn Kachina but it was more of a fast upwards whirl and I flew off her.

My landing was on dry dirt, and I landed on the side of my leg, which has some extra padding, so I bounced up pretty immediately. It was my least painful fall ever, I didn't hit my head (though I was still wearing a helmet of course), get the air knocked out of me, or even bruise myself. Kachina galloped away as soon as she was free. I was worried that she was going to run all the way home, but thankfully she stopped and let me retrieve her. I gave her some pets once I caught her to let her know there were no hard feelings, I'm sure she was as scared as I was. We were in the middle of a flat section of field and so I wasn't sure how I was going to get back on. S has longer legs and is better at swinging up without a mounting block so she dismounted to give me a leg up. Once I was back on board, I did a few circles and bending exercises to make sure that we had control, and then we carried on with our ride like normal.

Carrying on like normal was a huge success for me. I'm not a rider who falls frequently. In the last 14 years I have only come off a horse 6 times, including yesterday. The last time was when Kachina bucked me off hard while cantering in June 2015, twice in one lesson. I've been lucky in that I've never suffered any serious injuries, but falls for me are usually linked with bucking and result in a huge loss of confidence for me. The last time Kachina threw me, I didn't understand why, and it affected me for months, worrying if she was going to do it again. It was a huge withdrawal from our trust bank and it took a lot of small deposits to build up our balance again. Also, generally after a fall, I want to hang onto the reins for dear life and I stop being able to ride effectively.

Just to be on the safe side, I didn't let go of my reins while taking photos

This time, my shakiness only lasted a few moments and I was able to give Kachina her head and let her free walk. We rode for probably over an hour after the incident and it was a really great ride. Kachina recovered quickly too and was stretching and blowing. Long before we got back to the barn, it was like the fall never happened (well almost, I did avoid rustling the carrot bag for the rest of the ride). I even was able to record a two-point time eventually. Our trust bank has a healthy balance now and this fall didn't put a dent in it.

Once our ride was over and I had dismounted, I pulled out the carrot bag to show Kachina. I figured that since I was on the ground and she could see it, she'd be fine. I was wrong. She whirled away and I didn't have a good grip on the reins so she ended up running back towards her pen. We ended up doing a few minutes of desensitization to the bag. She ended up accepting carrots while the bag was touching her nose, but she was still giving it serious side eye. Kachina is generally pretty sensible so I am surprised that the sound of a plastic bag was so scary for her, we'll definitely have to work on that some more.

Suspicious of scary bag holding delicious carrots

Anyways, moral of the story: carrot bags are clearly horse-eating monsters, while giant roaring tractors are no big deal #horselogic

Thursday 27 October 2016

October 10 Questions

Courtesy of L at Viva Carlos

What do you consider “jumping high” for yourself? 
Right now, anything that cannot be walked over. I don't jump, and haven't for a long time. In my youth the answer was 3'9"-4' (sometimes I can't even believe what I used to do lol)

What are your short term goals for riding? Do you think you’ll reach them?

Improve my position and Kachina's connection, bend and suppleness. Compete successfully in Training Level (scores above 65%) in 2017 and introduce all First Level movements. I think those goals are reachable but it's going to take work.

Long term goals for riding? Do you think you’ll reach them?

Ride at Prix St. George. Become a dressage judge. Bring a horse through the dressage levels myself. I don't have a timeline for any of these goals. I like to think I can reach them, but I honestly don't know yet, I'm not close enough to analyze my chances accurately.

How many barns have you been at in your riding career? 

8. That's over 21 years and 4 cities. 

How many different trainers have you been with in your riding career? 

Only counting regular trainers here, not occasional lessons or clinics: 8. 6 of those were as a kid. 

Soaking up some sun, with one eye open and one closed - what a weirdo ;-)

Ever worked at a barn? What did you do? 
Not really, just fed and did chores to cover for vacations a few times.

Scariest thing that has happened at your barn? 

The dump fire. My current barn is less than a mile from a rural dump. The dump was poorly managed (i.e. things like whole propane tanks ended up in there) and it started on fire a few years ago. Dump fires are ridiculously hard to extinguish and it burned for months. The first few days were the worst where a thick plume of black smoke was filling the whole area. The authorities didn't know how toxic that smoke might be and evacuated the area of all people. There was no chance to get the horses out right away and for a couple days we couldn't even get in to check on them. I was so worried about my girl Ellie and actually hiked a couple miles through a back way to get a view of the pasture and make sure she was alive (in hindsight, maybe not the smartest move, but at the time I was desperate). Once we were able to officially get in, the horses were mostly okay, and we moved them all to a safe location for the remainder of the fire (though that location was just a bare 1/4 section with zero facilities, and it was the middle of winter).
Also, while it doesn't affect the whole barn, colic is always terrifying. 

Have you ever given a lesson? What level was the rider? 

I was in 4-H for a few years. I was one of the senior members and so I spent a lot of time teaching some of the junior members about horse care as well as riding. I also volunteered for a few months at a barn as a TA where I taught beginner kids how to groom and tack up the lesson horses. I've never given a paid lesson though. 

What is your opinion on the accuracy of critiquing riders online? 

Individual pictures are so far from showing the whole story so there are a lot of problems with trying to analyze them. That said, not everyone has an instructor they can work with in person and there are some helpful tidbits you can glean by reading critiques. 

What is the ideal height of a horse for you? 

Under 16hh. I'm 5'2" so I don't exactly need a tall horse. Shorter horses are easier to mount, and they are frequently cheaper as well because of supply and demand (I find it crazy how many ISO ads are written by riders who only want a horse over a certain height). I seem to always end up with horses who are 15.2 or 15.3, but there's no reason I couldn't go a hand shorter. 

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Shadow Judging

As part of Cara Whitham's commentary at the Royal West Dressage Day on Sunday night, she challenged the people listening to try judging five of the First Level tests for ourselves. I took up that challenge.

I didn't have the actual test (First Level Test 3) in front of me, so I may have made some mistakes about where exactly movements started and ended, but I got down 22 movement scores for each rider, marked the movements that had coefficients, and put in collective scores. Cara said a few things during the tests, but for the most part I already had a mark down for a movement before she said anything about it, and I didn't make any changes to my scores.

In between tests, I was busy listening to Cara talk, so I didn't have time to tally up my scores at the time. Yesterday however, I did total my scores from the night and compared them to the official results. The official results were judged by Doreen Horsey, Equine Canada Senior Judge. Here they are:

Rider        A        B        C        D         E
My Mark 65.294 48.824 57.794 64.412 64.412
Judge's Mark 67.059 44.118 55.441 62.647 61.765

They're not perfect. All of my results are on a narrower spread than the real results (which seems like a common problem for people not used to judging, being scared to give the really high or really low marks). However, I am pretty darn proud of this in general. None of my scores were off by that much, and I had the same class standings as the real judge (except I technically came up with a tie for riders D and E, but Doreen Horsey had them less than 1% apart herself so that's not too bad).

Knowing the difference between a good test and a bad test doesn't mean I'll always be able to ride a good test, not by a long shot. Knowing what the judges are looking for does help in achieving it though. Also, I can guarantee that I would have been much farther off the mark if I had tried this exercise 2 years ago. I'm learning, and that's a good thing.

P.S. I cannot say enough good things about scribing as a learning experience, scribing has helped develop my eye so much.

Monday 24 October 2016

Royal West

Royal West is a major indoor hunter/jumper show that happens in Calgary in the fall. It's 11 days of competition and some classes have serious prize money. I won't elaborate any further on the hunter/jumper portions so I can hide my ignorance at least slightly, but the point of this post is Dressage Day!

This year, for the first time, Royal West included a Dressage Day. It took place on the first Sunday of the show, which was yesterday. The dressage day was organized independently of the other days, but took place in the same great facility with spectator seating, immaculate footing, etc. The dressage portion was registered as a Gold Equine Canada show, and was part of the Tilted Tiara series (I scribed for another one earlier this year).

The venue (there were more people on the side I took the photo from)

To add to the grandeur of the event, and to support the local dressage community, there was a VIP evening organized. During the evening portion of the show, a VIP ticket entitled you to seating at VIP tables, access to a cash bar, free hors d'oeuvres, and most importantly, an earbud to listen to Cara Whitham give live commentary during all the tests.

It sounded like a fun experience so I decided to go watch. I carpooled up with L, a young rider who lives near me and has also been infected by the dressage bug. I frequently end up going to dressage events on my own, so it was cool to share the experience with someone else who was as enthusiastic about everything as I was.

Cara's Commentary

For those who don't know, Cara Whitham is an FEI 5* judge, and has also provided technical commentary for CBC and CTV during the Olympic games and WEGs.

Cara provided commentary on 18 rides, ranging from First Level all the way up to Grand Prix. The classes were arranged in order, so it was really cool to hear her talk about the purpose of each level, what she was looking for, and how it should build on the level below.

Cara was excellent at relating everything back to the Dressage Pyramid. I've really been trying to focus more on the pyramid in my own riding lately so I really appreciated having things broken down that way.

One thing Cara explained was how in Training Level, you are just looking for the first three elements of the pyramid: Rhythm, Suppleness, and Contact. In First Level you add Impulsion and Straightness. Collection is introduced in Second Level. In some ways, that is what the blurbs at the top of the tests say, but some different terminology and extra words are thrown in so I really liked that simple way of explaining it.

My info-graphic, this is how I visualize it in my head now 

Most of the riders in the show did two tests, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening during the VIP portion. Cara had been judging the afternoon classes, so she had already seen all of the horses and riders earlier that day and could jump right into commentary about what she saw as the strengths and weaknesses of each pair.

Cara's comments were interesting, matter of fact, and sometimes bitingly funny. Some gems included:
"I think she was supposed to be doing a half pass there, I won't say any more because that tells you what I thought about that."
"He's not lowering his croup enough in the piaffe, he tries a little but I don't think sitting is his favorite game"
"This rider is very creative with designing her own test around the short end"
"He's going, 'Oh look, I can do lots of changes', that would make the score go quite low, but in a case like that I would say in the comment 'nice tempis, wrong test!'"
"I don't know what that was, but it certainly was not a 15m circle. I think Easter has come very early this year"
(all paraphrased the best I can remember)
She said nice things too, but those weren't as funny or memorable.

There was quite a range in types of horses and level of ability, so many different issues were highlighted through the evening. Two things stood out as general themes though. 1. Self-carriage - Cara thinks that this concept is not properly understood in North America in general. She never wants to see the horse leaning on the reins. 2. Suppleness - at all levels there was at least one horse who was having a hard time with certain movements due to lack of suppleness.

In general, hearing the commentary during the show was like scribing but with the added advantage of being able to see more of the test (since I didn't have to write anything down).

Everything Else

The evening had some other fun elements too:

- There were several vendors set up. I resisted the urge to buy all the things, and settled on one reasonable purchase of a beautiful equestrian themed belt made by Cal-Tack, from The Whole Bit. A lot of my breeches have belt loops that are too small for my Mango Bay belts so I needed a slim belt anyways.
So pretty

- The hors d'oeuvres were fancy enough to deserve the VIP label. There were some bacon wrapped sweet potato bites that were amazing.

- Going to these kinds of things is so good for getting to know other people in the Alberta dressage scene. I chatted with a few people I know from scribing, and was able to watch some of the trainers and riders I know compete. I'm kind of socially awkward and not naturally good at getting to know people, but I'm gradually becoming part of the dressage community. I like knowing the organizers of shows, being able to identify some of the riders by name, face and horse, and just generally feeling like less of an outsider when I go to a dressage event. I feel like I have to work harder at this than some people since I'm not part of any dressage barn.

I know this person, and might be going to one of her clinics soon

I didn't get home until after midnight but it was worth it for a great evening.

Have you ever been to anything similar?

Thursday 20 October 2016

Dressage Barrel Horse?

My BO is a barrel racer. She only competes in the local circuits but she is quite serious about choosing prospects, training and racing multiple horses. This summer when Kachina was out on pasture she got to see how fast Kachina can move, and since then she has repeatedly told both me and other people how good of a barrel horse she could be.

Running in the pasture

The first few times that she mentioned it I just kind of brushed it off as a funny joke, but lately I've been thinking about it a little bit...

Please understand that I have no plans to abandon dressage, or get competitive with barrel racing. However, I've always been a big believer in well rounded horses and think that for the most part, doing something different with your horse is good for developing their minds and bodies.

I can imagine dressage principles being applicable to barrel racing. Just think, you do a big ground covering extended canter between barrels, a smooth flying change from 1st to 2nd, do a big half halt and turn the barrel with a canter volte or a working canter pirouette, and then back into extended canter. It might look different from your traditional barrel race, and the canter around the barrel would be slower, but I imagine that the increased control and balance may be useful to get a tighter turn without risking knocking over the barrel. I've seen reference to barrel racers using some dressage cross-training with their barrel horses (like here). Both disciplines strive for good power from the hind end, adjustability, being in front of the legs and on the aids, and sitting ability. I thought that someone somewhere would have tried running barrels on their dressage horse, but the closest I could find on the interwebs was this. It's a fun demo, but the rider clearly wasn't trying for speed so it's hard to judge whether the horse could be viable in a race (and I wouldn't race in dressage tack, I don't feel the need to stand out that much ;-) ).

Slap a western saddle on Kachina and she can blend in pretty well

On the other hand, maybe I could learn the traditional barrel racing approach instead, and later translate that into dressage skills. I'd be a little worried that that would create tension or bad habits that would be hard to reverse later though. Barrel horses are extremely good at what they do and are impressive, but when I see a typical run I don't see many of those training pyramid basics that we strive for in dressage. (Any barrel racers want to chime in and set me straight?)

Some of the winning barrel horses at my barn

In terms of horse type, I know quarter horses are the breed that dominates rodeo events, but one of my BO's most successful barrel horses is an OTTB (which she uses as proof that a horse without a natural aptitude for making tight turns can learn). I can see that big warmbloods would have a harder time accelerating quickly or making the turns tightly enough (and check out draft horses barrel racing here, not the most maneuverable!), but at lower levels there are a few breeds that can be competitive.

I have no idea what breed Kachina actually is, but she's kind of in between TB and QH in type, and on the smaller side at 15.2hh, which probably wouldn't be too bad from a barrel racing perspective. It's a bit of a null point at the moment considering that I can't even do a flying change, but once Kachina has the requisite training, is it possible that Kachina's speed plus a dressage approach would allow us to compete at local barrel jackpots with a decent time? (I wouldn't care about winning, I just wouldn't want to embarrass ourselves lol)

She's always been able to outrun this quarter horse and this standardbred,
even if they got a head start. Neither of them are the fittest though.

I don't know if we'll ever actually do it, but it's something fun to think about. It would also be social and convenient as there are a heck of a lot more barrel racers in my area than dressage riders. What do you think, should I give it a try? If any of you take your dressage horses to a barrel race, please send me results and video!!

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Inside Leg

So we've covered how I need to work on inside bend with Kachina and let go of my outside rein. In conjunction with that, I need to be able to use my inside leg, because if I have a loose outside rein, and I'm asking for inside bend, I need a way to keep Kachina out and not turn on tiny circles. However, I've discovered another hole in our training: I can't apply inside leg without outside rein or Kachina will take it as an aid to go faster.

Kachina used to think that using any bit of leg in any situation meant faster. I did a lot of lateral work with her to get her to realize that one leg on meant that I wanted some part of her to go sideways rather than forward. We start every warmup with exercises to isolate and move her hip, ribcage and shoulder in both directions. We've done leg yields at walk and trot. Basically, I thought we had this issue solved.

Unfortunately, I guess all of past my leg yielding work was done while using outside rein (because I apparently always use outside rein). I don't need to put much pressure on the outside rein, but if it's there at least slightly, I can get Kachina to yield sideways with my inside leg as much as I want and she will stay relaxed and in the same rhythm. However, if I let go of my outside rein while I put on my inside leg, we get an instant trot instead.

In the grand scheme of things, I don't need to go around with a floppy outside rein. However, this hole in what we can do shows a gap in Kachina's understanding, and that needs to be addressed. Also, right now I need to exaggerate release of my outside rein so that I stop relying on it and so I can keep the aid for inside bend clear.

I need some advice though: How do I avoid teaching Kachina to blow through her outside shoulder if I am asking for lateral movement without my outside rein? Any suggestions?

P.S. Sorry for lack of media, I need to rope someone into take pictures of me riding someday soon.

Monday 17 October 2016

Quality Inside Bend

First off, I do get the irony of writing a post about inside bend right after the post where I finally put it out there that I want to get to Prix St. George someday, it's not exactly a high level concept. However, part of me becoming a better rider is focusing on basics.

Post ride rolls are an important part of Kachina's day

Up until a couple years ago I only had a cursory knowledge of the dressage training pyramid. I am now trying to incorporate it into my riding more and more though.

Rhythm 》Relaxation 》Connection 》Impulsion 》Straightness 》Collection

Rhythm and relaxation are things that I have spent a lot of time with Kachina on. Someone else may have been able to make improvements more quickly, but these aren't things that things that are naturally easy for Kachina. Her number one tendency was to get fast and tense whenever something happened. Over time we have made lots of small steps that have added up to big improvements. My recent changes to my position were a final piece in the puzzle. There is no doubt that we will have revisit rhythm and relaxation again in the future, but for now we can consistently achieve them in each ride and it's time to move up the pyramid.

Moving up the pyramid right now means both connection and straightness. Improved connection is my goal, but we need correct bend and straightness to make that happen.

I'm well aquainted with the concept of getting connection using the steps of 1. Get inside eye, 2. Push with inside leg... 3. ..into outside rein. With past horses I have ridden, step 1 has essentially just been a cursory check, and most of my focus was on 2 and 3.

I did some analysis with Kachina and found that we have a serious hole in our training when it comes to inside bend. I can get Kachina's inside eye, but not always with a correct soft bend in her neck. Sometimes she tips at her poll, sometimes she braces in her upper neck, and sometimes she does almost an S bend with her whole neck. I am now focused on fixing this.

A serious part of the problem is my inability to let go of my outside rein. Using outside rein has been so drilled into me, that I find it so difficult both mentally and physically to use less outside rein and more inside. One factor is that my last horse Ellie would get seriously pissed and even buck if I used too much inside rein, so she essentially taught me to ride off the outside aids. Also, before I got Kachina's rhythm steadier, I needed the outside rein quite a bit for speed control.

I need to make myself let go of the outside rein so that I can make the aid for proper inside bend extra clear to Kachina. I've only been focused on this for a few rides so far, but I think it's already working. It's going to take a lot more work but I'm stoked that I discovered an issue and a path forward on my own.

Working on inside bend equals soft foamy lips

Friday 14 October 2016

The Big Big Picture

Note: This post shares some similarities and even a similar title with Megan's excellent post from yesterday. Megan is essentially my hero and a great inspiration, but this post has actually been hanging out, mostly complete, in my drafts folder for the last couple weeks.  

Why am I doing what I'm doing with horses and riding?

A big part is that I'm having fun. I love riding. I like working with Kachina. I'm happy, and enjoying the journey is important.

This is supposed to be fun, and it is :-)

However, I do also have a goal (actually two connected goals) in the back of my mind. 

I want to someday train a horse from start to finish (not that a horse's training is ever "finished", but you know what I mean), and I want to someday ride at the Prix St. George level. These goals don't necessarily have to be met on the same horse. I have no timeline attached to these goals, I just want to achieve them sometime in my lifetime.

These goals were in the back of my mind when I bought Kachina. I don't think that I am going to fully reach either of my goals on Kachina, but she is a stepping stone. 

That makes it sound like I think of Kachina as just a guinea pig, and that's not the case. I think that we learn from every horse though and every horse is a stepping stone to what you can achieve with the next one. I got one horse to first level, starting second level (my last horse Ellie). But before I can get a horse to PSG, I need to get a horse confirmed at second, and then a horse to third, and then a horse to fourth. Those steps might be achieved with 2 different horses or with 10. Either way, hopefully each time I will learn more, learn how to handle different horse personalities, learn how to do things in a better way, learn how to be a better rider and a better trainer. Also, hopefully each time I get a little faster at getting the basics and going through the lower levels, because unfortunately horses don't live long enough for me to get to PSG at my current glacial pace.

First level-ish

A major reason that I chose Kachina is that she seemed like an ideal horse to learn with (though if she had been 5 years younger that would have been even better!). Kachina is old enough and sane enough whereby I wasn't scared of her and I don't need to be as worried about making mistakes with her as with some greenies. However, she is hot enough, talented enough, and new enough to dressage whereby I get to develop skills that I will someday need on a younger dressage prospect. I think she also has the ability to move up at least a few levels before she gets too old (almost entirely dependent on my ability to ride and train her).

The girl has some natural talent

My big picture goals mean that I am trying to train Kachina and myself with the upper levels in mind. I see a lot of people (especially AAs) who never go higher than Training or First level. That's fine if that's their goal, but there are significant differences between using First level as an end goal, vs. training through First level as a step towards FEI levels. I'm sure it will happen at some point anyways because I don't know what I don't know (unconscious incompetence), but I want to reduce the number of times where I have to completely relearn something (about engagement, straightness, my position or aids etc.) because I cobbled together something that kind of worked at lower levels but wasn't correct enough to build further from. E.g. Earlier this year I found out that for most of my life I used an incorrect aid for canter, it worked decently enough for Ellie and I up to Second Level but it guaranteed us issues when trying to add canter lateral work or flying lead changes into the mix (which was probably why I struggled for so long and never fully succeeded in getting lead changes confirmed on her).

I don't have a regular trainer to take lessons with, and that's hard, really really hard. I've considered sending Kachina away for a few months of full dressage training so we can make better progress, but I need to keep the big picture in mind. The way I'm doing things is slow, but as long as I'm fair to my horse (this part is important), that's okay. The way I'm doing things is the way I will learn. I will try and do as many lessons as I can with Kachina, but if she goes away to learn things without me, it won't help in the long run.

The other part of the equation is who I take lessons with and learn from. The people I initially learned dressage from taught me a lot, but none of them had ever ridden past 3rd level themselves. In the last year I have worked harder to find opportunities to watch and ride under upper level riders so that I can learn from them, and hopefully learn the things that it takes to get to that point.

That includes scribing

In the mean time, I will keep working away at training level and the dressage pyramid fundamentals while visions of tailcoats dance in my head.

That's my big picture, what's yours?

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Positive Reinforcement

I give treats to Kachina for good behavior.

Last December I was having a lot of ground work issues with Kachina and decided to try Clicker Training. I asked for a clicker and some books and videos for Christmas and was going to use that formal technique. We did a few targeting sessions with mixed results. With Clicker Training, you are supposed to wait for a horse to offer a response by themselves, and then click and reward it. First you reward for a behavior anywhere close to what you want, and then you get more and more specific until they figure out the precise thing you want. It's a really cool concept, but it means that it can take quite a while to introduce multiple concepts, especially with some horse personalities.

I spent a few months trying to do things the formal way, but I didn't want to quit riding all together so I split my time between doing Clicker Sessions and getting Kachina groomed, tacked up and ridden the normal way. In the Clicker sessions I was still at the stage of getting Kachina to follow a target around, and had not gotten to the point where I could get her to stand for tacking up with the clicker. However, I still had to get her tacked up. I started just giving her treats when she was good for not pawing, letting me put the bridle on, etc. It seemed to help.

Eventually I dropped the Clicker and the formal technique and just started to give treats as rewards for good behavior. I figured that my method of giving treats might not be the best, but at least it was better to be consistent than to have two different sets of rules.

This year so far I have used treats in conjunction with pressure and release and other traditional cues to improve Kachina's groundwork skills.

Here are some examples:

1. Treat after halter is fastened - has changed her from coming up to me but walking away when I paused to fumble with the halter, to putting her nose into the halter.

2. Treat when she stops when I do while leading - has changed her from charging ahead of me to paying attention to where I am and following (she also politely whickers at me when she thinks that she's done well)

3. Treat when I'm done picking her feet and she was good - has changed her from swinging her butt away from me and yanking her foot down prematurely, to standing still and letting me finish. This has also translated to her being better for the farrier which is awesome.

4. Treat when bridle goes on - this one still needs improvement, but her head stays lower and her feet move less than they used to

5. Treats for braiding - she used to be super squirrely for this process so I taught her a routine of stand for quik braid spray, get a treat, stand for one braid to be finished, get a treat. Now she is patient when I take my hands away and just turns her head for her reward.

6. Treats for sprays - she used to be spooky about any kind of sprays - fly spray, show sheen, quik braid, etc. and would try and run sideways. I started giving her treats whenever she would stand for a second while spraying and now she knows that they aren't going to kill her.

7. Treats for standing patiently - this one is a little tougher to quantify, but whenever she spends a while standing in a stall or standing tied without pawing or getting fussy, she gets a treat. It has cut down on the shenanigans. Also, this means she gets extra treats at shows and clinics so she learns that being away from home has rewards.

Now big disclaimer here, this method would absolutely not work for some horses and might cause dangerous mugging (the more formal Clicker Training method is carefully designed to avoid this). However, Kachina never ever goes for my pocket where the treats are, and understands that treats come for good behavior, not anytime she wants. If she offers a behavior she thinks she should get a reward for, she will look at me, or whicker, but is very polite about it. Any hint of pinned ears etc. and no treats are given. It also ends up that I sometimes don't have pockets on me for treats, or run out, so sometimes she gets pats and "good girls" instead of treats and the good behavior holds.

Kachina isn't a horse who is super food motivated. She gets to eat hay or graze 24/7. She enjoys getting treats, but I think she most enjoys the treat as a reward and being comfortable that she came up with the right answer, rather than just the food itself. Kachina is the epitome of a submissive horse. If you give her no cues or leadership, she is more likely to get anxious and start pacing rather than to offer different behaviors to try and get a treat (like what the formal Clicker method wants). My more informal treat method seems easier for her as I use traditional cues to ask her for a particular behavior, but I use a combination of release of pressure and a treat to tell her that she got the right answer.

Do you use treats for training? How do you do it?

Monday 10 October 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! This post is short and late because I spent the day cooking and hosting a big turkey supper at my place.

Even though Canadian Thanksgiving is more than 6 weeks earlier than American Thanksgiving, it doesn't stop the snow. Today was our first major snowfall of the year. I fought icy highways to go check on Kachina in the morning. There's no hay in the pasture and the snow was enough to make grazing difficult so I brought Kachina and her pasture buddy to their winter pen. I was hoping she would get to stay out a while longer, but it was only a matter of time until this day came. Kachina looked thoroughly unimpressed with the weather when I showed up, and once I moved her she dug into her hay with gusto, so I don't think she'll miss the pasture too much.

The mare is displeased

Anyways, she should be comfortable now. For that, and so many other things, I am thankful :-)

Friday 7 October 2016

Crushing Winter Blues

I've read a few recent posts from bloggers in Texas and other southern states talking about how they are happy that summer's death heat is over and they can finally enjoy being outside again. Up here in Canada, I'm facing the opposite problem.

We had a lovely summer, and I did a lot of riding outside, but now I'm facing that coming to an end. I live in Southern Alberta, so we get chinooks and other welcome reprieves from cold weather, but the fact is that from October to April, inclusive (yes, more than half the year), any week has the potential to be cold and miserable. We will get some more nice days, and I will try to take advantage of them as much as possible, I just can't count on them. 

Every year I ride through the winter and it's really not that bad. The barn I board at has an indoor arena (a necessity), and I have good boots and and clothes for dealing with the cold temperatures (barn and arena aren't heated). However, most years when the first cold weather hits I go through a period where I just want to huddle at home and not face the elements. This problem is compounded by the fact that for the last couple years, Kachina has been much spookier and anxious inside than outside, so riding and even grooming/tacking up becomes less fun. 

Not quite ready for this yet (photo from last year)

The growing darkness is also depressing. Being at a higher latitude means that we have such long days in the summer, but in another month I will be catching Kachina in darkness even if I go straight out from work.  

This year, I am determined to crush the winter blues and ride as much as possible. It's the kind of thing where once I'm out at the barn it doesn't seem so bad, so I just need to get out there and do it. 

My goal for October is to go out to the barn 5 days a week, rain, snow or shine, whether I feel like it or not. I'm also going to use 2pointober as motivation and try and work on my position as much as possible. Who's with me?! 

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Fall Photo Shoot

One evening this week I went out to the barn just to hang out with Kachina, no plans of riding. Kachina and her buddy K were at the far end of the pasture and I hiked out to see them, pockets filled with treats and apples from a fellow boarder's backyard tree.

Kachina was supremely suspicious of the apples. She ate a few bites after I demonstrated for her, but she made it clear that she prefers the pellets.

The pasture grasses are turning red and golden, and the sunset light was just perfect, so I decided to do a little impromptu photo shoot.

It's a very big pasture, I'm lucky that Kachina will walk towards me when she sees me

Sunset over the barn

This is what a soft calm blue eye looks like

Her nose is turning from pink to white - a sure sign that fall is here

Kachina felt the need to take a break from being so photogenic :-P


Coming to investigate me to see if I had any more treats

K, Kachina's pasture buddy, is such a stately, beautiful mare

I like the tail mid swish

Looking at the sun and dry ground in these photos is bittersweet, it's snowing outside my window right now!

Tuesday 4 October 2016

2016 Q3 Review and Q4 Goals

September is over (how did that happen so quickly?!), so time for goal review!

Q3 Goal Review

1. Get a lesson every month
Semi-success - I got a lesson from T in July, and a clinic with Elaine in September (3 lessons!). I didn't have any lessons in August, but I spent a lot of the month saddle shopping and that improved my position just as much as any lesson! 

2. Ride in a dressage clinic
Success - Elaine clinic in early September

3. Achieve quiet, round canter transitions
Nope - we did get some nice transitions this quarter but I realized that we still have more foundation work to do before really focusing on the canter.

4. Develop a good stretchy trot
Success - it could certainly be better, but we have one now and we didn't before

5. Get 65% on a test at a show
Nope - I only had one show this quarter and the dressage day wasn't a good day for us. I changed my focus from showing to schooling which I talked about here.

6. Teach Kachina to be good for bit check
Semi-success - I got Kachina to be a lot better about me sticking my hands in her mouth, but once I decided that I wasn't showing any more this year I kind of stopped practicing this. I need to add rubber gloves and strange people to the mix to get Kachina used to that.

7. Go on a group trail ride involving trotting/cantering and varied terrain
Success (huge success actually) - We spent 3 days in Writing-on-Stone riding the most challenging terrain I've ever attempted, and I've done a few group rides around the barn including trotting and cantering. 

8. Improve my position and hands 
Success - this is another one where I still have lots of work to do, but there's no question that my position has improved since June with the combination of a new saddle, a few lessons, and a lot of practice. 

In general I think I used the summer well, taking advantage of the nice weather to go places, ride out, and just generally enjoy my horse. There were also two major awesome but unexpected things that happened this quarter: getting my new saddle and having Kachina go out to pasture. I'm sad that the days are getting shorter but I think we're in a good place to do more arena rides inside and really focus on solidifying our dressage fundamentals.  

Q4 Goals

1. Participate in 2pointober
2. Solidify my new leg position
3. Get softness from Kachina in all gaits and transitions within gaits
4. Practice test riding and all test movements
5. Re-introduce trot lengthening
6. Get correct bend more consistently at all 3 gaits
7. Improve hand/arm position and steady soft contact
8. Get Kachina to stand inside for grooming and tacking up
9. Ride in a lesson every month