Sunday 31 December 2017

2017 in Review


I had a quiet start to the year but then went to Ohio where I met up with Tracy and tried saddle seat riding. I only rode Kachina a few times but we finally confirmed our ability to do decent 20m circles at walk and trot that we had been working towards at the end of 2016.


Miles & Moiya


In February, my plan to organize a horse show started coming together and I reflected on all the ways that dressage in my community had evolved to-date. I had 2 lessons with the new resident dressage trainer D (who ended up only being a resident for 6 weeks) and I started canter work again after taking a break for a few months to solidify some walk/trot basics. There was also a clinic with Sandra (which was the 2nd clinic I organized). Finally, through a chance internet encounter I found out some information about Kachina's past and rough start to life.


I was out of town for two weeks so didn't do a whole lot on the riding front, and was completely inept when I got back. I did finally figure out a girth for Kachina though (which was quite the saga).


I tried something completely different and started a month of Hunter Jumper lessons with Kt on a lesson horse which was my first time jumping in ~14 years. I had some ground work epiphanies and learned about how much Kachina needs to rely on a leader. We also helped herd cows and I went to the Mane Event.

I went over these!


Busy month! This was my second month of Hunter Jumper lessons, this time with N on Sunrise. I coordinated and rode in another clinic with Sandra, where Kachina had physio for the first time and got upset about it (which hurt both of our confidence and took a month to regain it). The major feature of May was that I almost single-handedly organized and ran the first ever dressage show in my area (which I also rode in myself). It was small but a success.

Show documents all ready to go

Box of ribbons fresh from the printer

Our own Hor Concours ride


On the first weekend I scribed at a Gold dressage show and also met KateRose for a simulator lesson. I started Kachina on new feed and magnesium supplement. In the saddle I worked with Kachina to completely change how I asked for canter transitions with mostly good results. I also learned how much weighting my stirrups impacts Kachina and figured out how to use it to help rather than hinder us. We went to the Bronze show where I had my best show to date with Kachina and came home with Champion AA Dressage Equitation and Reserve Champion AA Training Level. At the show I had Kachina's saddle fit assessed and settled on proper girth and half pad. Kachina went out to pasture for the summer at the end of June.

KateRose on the horse robot

Happy selfie after awesome ride!



July started with a three-day clinic with Robin Hahn, where we learned that our lateral work is pretty good, but also the first appearance of Kachina's terrible lateral canter, which took months to make go away and also screwed up our canter transitions (not necessarily related to clinic, just coincidental timing). We then had a bad lesson at a clinic with Elaine, which at the time was really frustrating, but ultimately helped me to figure out what I need from a trainer and what I can and must do myself as a rider. I competed in local All-Breed show, where warmup conditions sucked and my dressage tests were disappointing, but all things considered I was happy with Kachina and how far we had come from previous years. This month we had a couple rides where the problem from last year reappeared and Kachina would balk at moving forward and hump her back at the start of a ride when I got on (cause still under question). Kachina also started to get a bit herdbound in her pasture situation. A friend visited and rode Kachina but neither of us were able to get her to relax.

Ribbon haul looks more impressive than our actual performance

A cherry picked good moment


(This is where my blogging went seriously downhill so apologies for descriptions that don't have corresponding posts). I spent quite a bit of time on the ground and in the saddle to get Kachina over her herdbound issues. Media and reflection from July made me realize that a pulling problem had snuck up on me, so I made myself not use reins for a few rides, it worked really well as a reset and helped me internalize what reins are needed for (controlling the shoulder, steering), and what they are not needed for (pulling, half halting). I gave Elaine another chance by signing up for a clinic, this one was a lot better and I cleared up previous misunderstandings and figured out what she was asking from Kachina and I. I also got engaged, but that wasn't horse related.

A terrible photo that I want to forget but that I am putting here
so I keep learning from it and don't end up looking like this ever again


We continued to work on herboundness, which worked well and included some amazing rides outside in the pasture. I also continued to work on not pulling backwards with the reins and kept working on keeping my body quiet for canter transitions. We had a great time at the Cypress Hill Wish Ride. For our final show of the year we competed at the Lethbridge Wildrose show where I was thrilled with how relaxed both Kachina and I were for our tests, but where we weren't on the bit so we scored a frustrating 59% in all tests. I participated in yet another Elaine clinic at the end of the month. This time our relaxation and tempo had improved enough that we were actually able to work on new things like contact and straightness.


In October the weather turned. The horses came in from the pasture for the winter, except Kachina didn't want to be caught by anyone other than me. The first moisture in months softened Kachina's feet and a trim revealed some hidden deep seated thrush that caused us some issues over the next month (her feet are looking much better now, but I am still rebuilding her trust with having her feet handled from when they were so sensitive). Sandra came down for another clinic. Day 1 was filled with some tension but I learned a few new ground work techniques and in the saddle we worked through things by focusing on keeping Kachina between both reins and both legs with only small changes. Day 2 included physio for both myself (which was really needed for my upper back), and for Kachina (which helped in the short term but made her tighter and more defensive in the weeks to follow - turns out Kachina is not a bodywork fan). Mini-updates here.


In November I barely rode at all, just worked on lunging and ground work while giving Kachina time to have her feet and body go back to a happy equilibrium. More frequent trims and snow helped with the thrush but Kachina told me in no uncertain terms that spraying her feet with apple cider vinegar was unacceptable, and she got more acrobatic about removing her foot from my hand so we went back to basic lessons on foot etiquette. Kachina was more reactive about being touched in various parts of her body that were the focus of physio in October, I respected the messages she was giving me and didn't push things too much. This is also when work started to get crazier.


Another quiet month on the horse front as work took up more and more of my time. Early in the month I took Kachina to the vet to rule out any medical reasons for her girthiness and body soreness. We did have Sandra down again for a short one-day clinic where we skipped the horse physio and had a productive lesson where we worked on the same things as the last clinic in October, but this time with more success and less tension. I also discovered more of the extent of Kachina's problem with other people and devised a plan to tackle it.

I enjoyed doing this write-up because it reminded me that despite the stagnation of the last few months, we actually accomplished a lot in 2017. I'm excited to see what 2018 will bring!

Saturday 30 December 2017

Year End Horse Costs

Stephanie over at Hand Gallop has done a couple of these posts, including this recent one, and Karen at Bakersfield Dressage also shared her spending from 2016 so credit to them for the idea. I've been keeping pretty meticulous records of all my financials since 2012 anyways so figured I would share some of my horse costs as well.

I feel like I need to have some sort of disclaimer or defense here about why I spend so much on horses, but if you are reading this blog then you probably already know how deep this passion goes and how expensive it can be. Horses cost a lot of money, there's no denying that, but they fill in as exercise, entertainment, social life and addiction all in one, and I'm not about to cut this important part of my life out.

How much did it cost for me to keep a horse and ride in 2017?

Short answer:  $10,849.98cad (all prices here are listed in Canadian Dollars) (and yes, that is exact to the cent ;-) )

Long answer:

Here's my breakdown:


Stable Board - this should be fairly self explanatory and is the biggest category by far, as expected. Board for me is outdoor board for Kachina in a pen with shelter and automatic waterer, good quality hay, use of facilities which include a round pen, outdoor and indoor arenas, and tack room. It also includes an extra $30/month for storing my horse trailer at the barn. In the summer Kachina goes out into the pasture but my board rate is the same so this is a very consistent cost throughout the months and added up to $4828.

Farrier/Vet - I'm lucky that Kachina is barefoot and is relatively healthy (knock on all the wood!!!) so for 2017 this category included 7 trims, and 2 vet appointments (the first one was our regular spring visit for floating and vaccinations, the second was in December to check for not-quite-rightness) for a total of $653.

Riding Lessons/Shows - I kind of wish that I had lessons and shows split up, but I started tracking it this way in 2012 and it's tough to change it now. In 2017 for $2575 I went to 3 shows plus a charity trail ride, and attended 4 clinics and 11 other lessons. This category also included the costs of all my annual memberships (a total of $185). For the past 3 years I have essentially signed up for every clinic I could because they were so few and far between. I love that (slightly) more options are becoming available in my area, but now I need to start being smarter about where I spend my money to get maximum benefit.

Horse Event Organizing - this was a new category I created this year to keep track of all the money flowing in and out of my account related to organizing my dressage show. I've also been tracking costs for the Sandra clinics I coordinate under this heading as well. I can definitively say that I am not making any money from all the work I put into making these events happen, but it does allow me to get relatively good "bang for my buck" for events that I participate in myself (and reduces my travel!). In 2017 I spent a net total of $493 of my own money on the show plus 4 clinics with Sandra.

Horse Misc. - this includes everything else. It includes any new breeches, tack or saddle pads I buy, but it also includes supplements, flyspray, treats, etc. Trailer maintenance and improvements are also included, and a significant chunk of my miscellaneous spending in 2017 was spent on replacing tires. My last set lasted me 11+ years so I really can't complain. On the other hand, I really need to stop buying girths and saddle pads!

Overall I'm pretty content with my horse related costs for 2017. It's a lot of money when you add it all up, but none of the numbers shocked me and it's pretty on par with my 6 year average. Compared to other years I spent more on lessons and shows, but less on tack and vet bills so I can live with that.

Friday 29 December 2017

Project Magpie

Kachina is relatively easy for me to handle. She'll paw when tied, she's a bit girthy, she'll sometimes try and walk off while bridling, and she is particular about what I can do with her feet, all of which are ongoing projects, but I can do a lot with her, including but not limited to:

- walk up to her anywhere and anytime
- have her stand still for me to throw the lead rope over her neck and she puts her head down for me to halter her
- touch her all over, including girth area, face, ears, mouth, etc., either loose or in halter
- have her stand either loose or tied for me put on and take off blankets
- have her lead politely from both sides at walk, trot, halt and back up
- on the ground have her move forwards, backwards, hip over or shoulder over on command
- lunge around me in both directions at all gaits, either in just halter or full tack
- follow me at liberty 
- respect my bubble, even when her herdmates are around
- pick up all 4 feet for simple cleaning (she sometimes draws the line at thrush treatments or whacking off ice balls)
- I can tack her up, she won't necessarily be motionless but we can get the job done and she's not dangerous (i.e. she pins her ears when I tighten girth and I sometimes need to circle her around a few times to get her to stand for bridling) 
- ride (which is obviously a big category in itself)
- load her into trailer day or night by myself 

Some of the above are things that I've never had a problem with (like catching), and some have taken a lot of focused practice (like leading). Overall though, on a day to day basis it seems to me like Kachina is a basically trained horse who knows how to be handled by humans. Except, that's not actually true, because she knows how to be handled by me. Other humans are a different story.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to regular readers because I've talked about her possibly abusive history here, and her problems being caught in the giant pasture by other people here and here, but the issue is bigger than I first thought and we officially have a hard to catch problem with other people. Last week as I was driving out of town it started raining. The rain wasn't in the forecast and so Kachina wasn't dressed accordingly. I messaged my BO and asked if she would mind putting on her rainsheet for me. Blanketing isn't a service usually provided by my barn but this was a one-time special circumstance thing. BO agreed and I continued on my travels, confident that Kachina would be taken care of. Unfortunately, I got a message later from BO saying that she couldn't catch Kachina, even in the relatively small pen.

Our crazy weather in December, in case you were wondering how we got rain last week.
Please note circled values (a Difference of 48C/86F in 2 weeks)
This is why blanketing here is a nightmare

It didn't rain much so the horse was ultimately fine without her sheet but it was a bit of a wakeup call for me. If Kachina can't be caught by a competent horse-woman in a confined area, then what happens if Kachina ever needs veterinary attention when I am out of town or otherwise unavailable? What happens if something happens to me and Kachina needs a new person? Being hard to catch in a giant pasture is one thing, having the same thing happen in a pen makes it a totally different scale of problem in my books. Hence Project Magpie, a new focus to teach Kachina to be approached and handled by other people (Magpie is one of Kachina's nicknames due to her colouring and the fact that I saw the biggest flock of magpies in my life on the day I bought her, also I think equating this project with a cunning and cautious wild animal is appropriate). I don't necessarily need Kachina to walk up to any and every stranger, but I need her to be catchable by at least someone else. 

Step 1: Tell friendly other boarders at the barn that they are welcome to go up to Kachina and pet her and feed her treats if they want - Complete, this conversation happened a few weeks ago, these people really wanted to share horsey love but were being respectful of not wanting to touch other horses without permission from their owners, I haven't seen them much since so I'm not sure how much this is happening. 

Step 2: Recruit my SO to come out to the barn for a series of visits to interact with Kachina in pen - In progress. 

Visit #1 with SO consisted of him feeding treats over the fence and then approaching Kachina by himself (with nothing in hand) after I had finished working with her (I was standing outside gate and talking to her). She didn't walk away but she did flinch when he went to pet her neck, and her body language showed that she was on-edge. We will slowly progress to him trying to catch her while I am out of view. 

I will see how SO does with her before I decide on Step 3. Maybe it will go well and I can just repeat Step 2 with a few other people. Maybe I will need to send Kachina for some offsite training or find a different boarding situation for her where she gets handled more. I will also have to see whether she will lead politely etc. for other people once they do catch her. Project Magpie is going to be a big goal for 2018 as I think it's necessary for Kachina to become a solid citizen.

Wednesday 27 December 2017

Happy Holidays!

I hope you all had very Merry Christmases and that you have a Happy New Year!

I had a great multi-stage Christmas consisting of a weekend with the future in-laws, flying out to spend a few days in Vancouver with cousins and family that spanned 3 continents, and then back home for Christmas day with my parents, brothers and SO. I feel incredibly thankful for my diverse and growing family and that I got to see so many of them in the last 2 weeks.

Work is still crazy and shows no sign of slowing down. My department consists of 4 people and I am currently the only one left (1 quit, 2 on medical/stress leave, it's not a good trend). Despite that, I am doing my best to compartmentalize and find joy and relaxation where I can, which is going reasonably well. I am recognizing that some things might slide but it's not the end of the world. I got a couple week extension on one of my work deadlines but shortened my vacation, I shoved Christmas presents into gift bags instead of wrapping them all with pretty paper, I've been visiting Kachina more than I've been riding, and I'm only writing blog posts when the I get the opportunity, that's what balance in my life looks like these days.


(you can get a photo with my eyes open or Kachina's eyes open, you apparently can't get both :-P )

While I've been quiet on the posting and commenting side, I do still read a number of your blogs when I get the chance and I appreciate hearing about all of your life and horse happenings. I make no promises but my plan is to write some year end wrap up posts to summarize all the stuff that I haven't written about from the past few months, and then hopefully I'll be able to start out 2018 in present tense.

Christmas treats and visits

Monday 4 December 2017

Dark Doldrums

Where has the last month gone? I can't believe it is December already. Sorry for the lack of activity on here.

I have been fighting a losing battle with lack of motivation in the horse department. Work is the main culprit. My supervisor (who left more than 3 months ago) has still not been replaced, and a couple other people in my department have also left since then so I'm trying to fill even more roles than normal, while also being the prime person responsible for preparing for a big upcoming audit. There's also a lot of other crap at work that I will spare you the details of. Stress is high to say the least.

For a few months I was going all out trying to keep on top of things, but the stress was really getting the better of me. To try and avoid a complete mental and physical breakdown I have recently been working to prioritize my health. This means eating right and getting 8+ hours of sleep a night. Good sleep and food have been good for making me a more reasonable person who doesn't transfer my stress onto my friends, family and SO. Unfortunately more hours spent working, sleeping and food prepping means less hours for anything else.

As well as having less time for riding, I haven't been doing much of it because of head space. Kachina is not an easy horse, there is no such thing as even a relaxing grooming session with her because even just being brought into the barn causes tension in her. I can manage that tension but it requires me to be super focused, super present, and super patient. It takes time and targeted work to get her to relax. She also has some recent body soreness that is making things even tougher (as in she does not want me to lift her feet, tack her up, or even touch her, and yes I have been working with my whole physio/farrier/vet team). Compounding everything is typical winter blues for this time of year where the the early sunsets make everything seem dark (both literally and figuratively) My solution has mostly been to give Kachina time off. I go out to check on her and clean her feet in the pen, and then I go home. Sometimes I bring her into the indoor arena to do ground work or lunging, but only if I know I have the time and patience that day to make it a good session (not fair to either of us if I try and train when I'm stressed, worn out or in a rush). It's not ideal, but Kachina is happy in her outdoor herd environment and some time off isn't the worst thing.

Look, I even got a photo of horse! 

Yesterday I actually rode my horse and it was glorious. I decided to put down my to do list and spend the afternoon at the barn with a couple barn friends. Kachina still wasn't happy about having her (properly fitting) saddle and girth put on, but we did some preventative ground work and once I got on she was great. We did some loose rein ambling while I chatted with my friends and then I got some good trot work from her as well as a perfect canter transition in each direction!

Now it's Monday and all the work crap that I buried on Sunday is back. This period of stress and busyness isn't over and I'm not sure when my next ride will be, but it's something I look forward to whenever it happens.

Have any of you gone through similar times when riding has had to take a back seat?

(P.S. In case it wasn't obvious, I did not buy Project Horse, she is still for sale and I hope she finds a good home, but I just can't take on a second at this time)

Friday 3 November 2017

Project Horse?

So, I saw an ad, and unwittingly, plans are now swirling in my head.

The ad is for a "beautiful, smart, athletic 8 year old mare". It is a terrible sale ad, that explains that they are selling her because she is "too smart for inexperienced kids" even though they "have no trouble with her". It mentions age and colour but there is no reference to training, breeding, height, temperament etc. There are 4 pictures in the ad: 1 is a super weird angle of the dirty horse in her pen, 1 is a side view of the mare wearing a saddle with a kid sitting in it, but the kid is wearing sneakers and a skateboard helmet, and the horse is covered in mud, is standing awkwardly, has a halter on, and is eating hay from a pile on the ground. The other two photos are crooked headshots. Like I said, it's a terrible ad, and if that's all I saw of her I would just keep scrolling by.

However, the thing is, I know this horse. She's boarded at my barn and her pen is kitty corner from Kachina's. She's a sweet mare who always seems interested in people, and I feel so bad for her because her people barely ever come out. And by barely, I do mean barely. This mare has been boarded near Kachina for over two years and I have seen her owners a total of 3 times (and I never had the chance to talk to them so I do not know the owners at all), I've never even seen the horse in the arena or ridden, just visited in her pen. There's plenty of other friendly horses at the barn, and even some other ones who are also ignored by their owners, but I have a soft spot for this one in particular, I don't know what it is, I just like her vibe.

So, I kind of want to buy the mare, work with her for a few months as a project and then sell her to a great home.

I know this is a stupid plan because:
1. I cannot afford two horses for anything more than a temporary period of time
2. I've never sold a horse and it's entirely possible I will become attached and then have two horses forever. This could also happen if an injury or behaviour meant that I couldn't in good conscience sell the mare. I cannot afford two horses forever.
3. I've never seen the mare outside of her pen so I know very little about how she moves and what kind of training she has
4.  I'm not a horse trainer
5. I barely have enough time for one horse, not to mention two
6. It takes a lot of skill and luck to avoid being burned by buying and selling horses, and I don't know that I have either

These are serious and big things and so I should probably just walk away now, but...

Reasons why I am maybe convincing myself that this isn't a stupid plan:
1. Her current terrible ad and lack of recent work does not bode particularly well for her getting a good home right now
2. Her price is low enough that I feel like I could realistically tack a couple thousand on to it once she had a few months of regular work, maybe a couple clinics and shows under her belt, and an ad with photos of her clean and actually doing something, and she would probably be more desirable at that point than she is now, even with the higher price. A couple thousand is what it would cost me to board her for 5 months while I work with her so those aren't bad numbers.
3. I know it would make me a better rider to ride more than one horse (especially because from the ground I can tell she has a really different personality from Kachina).
4. 8 is a really good age, even if it takes me a year or two to put some training on her she will still be marketable at that point (see, this plan is already escalating from 5 months to 1-2 years, it's got a mind of its own)
5. Even though the ad shows nothing close to a conformation shot which is normally a big red flag, this mare is actually put together pretty nicely. She is a decent height (probably around 15.2-15.3hh), with balanced proportions, good legs, an uphill build, no obvious blemishes and a fine head (those last two can't be said of Kachina)
6. While coming out ahead or even financially is the goal, I'm okay selling her for a loss if I need to, as long as I get to have some fun with her and then find her a good home
7. I like her

The bottom line is that she's a nice horse who maybe doesn't have much of a future right now. If someone else sees her potential under the literal dirt and wants to make something of her then that's great. However, if nobody else steps up, this might actually be an opportunity for me to improve her lot in life. As much as I would love to help out every poor horse I see, I am not financially able to do so. However this is a case where I may be able to help out a horse I already have a connection with, and a horse who has the potential for resale. Plus I do think that it would be good development for me as a rider and horsewoman to work with another horse.

To be clear, Kachina isn't going anywhere, this would be buying a second horse, not replacing the one I already have.

I'm not completely irresponsible, so there are a few things I would absolutely want to check before writing a cheque:
- does she have papers? (not a deal-breaker if no, but would affect price)
- confirmation of foaling date (if she's older than 8 that may change things)
- can she walk/trot/canter with true gaits? how nice of a mover is she?
- is she relaxed under saddle? (I already have one tense bundle of nerves, don't need two)
- can she respond appropriately to leg and rein aids? (doesn't need to be super educated, but I know from Kachina that the timeline will go up exponentially if these basics aren't correct)
- can she pass a vet check?
- can I use any of my existing tack on her? (requiring a new saddle changes the costs of this plan significantly)

All of these questions should be fairly simple to get answers to, but I'm still not sure if I should even take that first step of contacting her owners. The ad has only been up for a week at this point so I think I will wait at least a few more weeks to see if anyone else good nabs her first (someone who is maybe actually looking for a horse ;-) ), but in the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts. On a scale of 1-100, how crazy of an idea is this? Have you ever bought a short term project that worked out?

Finally, if you think this horse sounds nice and want to buy her yourself (and save me from having to do it), let me know and I'll send you the link to her ad.

P.S. I was out at the barn the other night and went up to the mare to look at her with a more critical eye. Kachina spotted me and came up to the fence and started nickering at me, I think she was jealous and it was pretty adorable (and another indication that Kachina has firmly adopted me as her person).

Thursday 2 November 2017

Mini Updates

Hello, I'm still here, still riding and doing horsey things, just not being great about blogging about them or getting any kind of media. Here are some mini-updates about things I haven't written about yet:

Despite a bad lesson with E in July, I decided to ride with her again in August and things went much better, so I then had another clinic with her in September as well. There are things to be desired about her communication style but I can't argue with results and her method is doing good things for me and Kachina so I plan to keep riding with her.
Then, at the end of October I hosted and rode in another clinic with Sandra, my all time favorite trainer. Lots of insights to write about from this clinic too.

In the middle of September I competed in a one-day show. I scored a disappointing 59% and change in all three of my tests! It wasn't a bad show by any means and I got some productive feedback but I really wish I could have broken 60%.
Show planning for 2018 is already underway.

Kachina's feet were super super dry and hard this summer, so while they looked okay, now that things have been getting wetter and softer we've been unearthing some issues. Kachina has remained sound but she has some thrush issues that seem to have been simmering under the surface (our farrier has been unearthing spots in fresh sole during trims). We have drastically shortened her trimming cycle so we can clean up her feet a little every couple weeks and I have been treating them in between. Kachina only marginally coped with foot handling at the best of times, so now that we are poking at her hooves more often and her soles are more sensitive too, she is not impressed. This has led to ground work sessions reminding her about manners and how yanking her feet away when she feels like it is not allowed. Some days I only have time to deal with her feet and her manners and then I need to go home instead of ride. I think things are improving but I will find out more at her next trim next week.

One of my goals for Q4 was to participate in 2ptober. I completed my baseline but I didn't two-point again for the rest of the month and didn't submit a final time. I feel bad about copping out, but the truth is that I had good reasons for it. As I mentioned, treating Kachina's thrushy feet was a priority for October. Also, last October two-point was useful to isolate aids and get my seat out of the way, but currently with our training progression Kachina actually needs me to be super present in my seat, legs, and rein contact which I can't do if I'm focused on two-point times. Also, for my own position I need to focus more on sitting right now. I want to send out giant congratulations for all of the winners and participants in 2ptober though, you guys rocked it!

Thursday 12 October 2017

One-Woman Horse

Kachina is a bit of a special snowflake. It has been well documented on this blog that she is both a horse with a questionable history and some tension issues, but also one who I can successfully take on a variety of adventures whether it is trail riding, cow herding, or dressaging.

On the ground, she is consistently difficult for getting her feet trimmed (luckily I have a saint of a farrier who is firm but calm and keeps coming back to try and give her positive experiences). She also doesn't like being tied in her home barn. On the other hand, there are lots of things she is good at. She doesn't pull back, she trailer loads easily, she will stand tied calmly for hours at clinics or shows, she gets along well with other horses, and, she's consistently easy to catch, even in the humongous pasture.... or so I thought...

On Tuesday I got a message from the BO asking if we could move the horses out of the pasture and back to their winter pens because the cows were coming home this week. There are three horses out in the pasture so I coordinated with S and P, the owners of the other two, to get them all moved yesterday so none of them would be left alone. S and P had plans later in the evening so they asked me if they could move all 3 horses at 3:30 in the afternoon. I was still at work so I couldn't meet them at that time but they were happy to move Kachina and I was fine with it as I would be be out there a couple hours later to check on her once she was in her pen.

Well, I got out to the barn at 5pm and S and P were still out there. They had tried for over an hour to catch Kachina and they couldn't even get close. I felt really bad for them but was also surprised. I heard once before that the BOs had trouble catching Kachina in the pasture, but they only try and catch her when they have a tube of dewormer in hand so that made more sense. I also know Kachina wasn't a fan of a strange man peeking inside her mouth at a dressage show tack check. Kachina sees S and P almost as much as she sees me though, so they are neither strangers or people who bring unpleasant things, in fact they sometimes come bearing food. I figured they would have no problem catching her, especially when her buddies were already caught. Not so, apparently she did quite a bit of running. They didn't want to get her too hot and sweaty so when I arrived they were giving her a breather. The other two horses were in the pen and Kachina was standing near the fence staring at her buddies from afar. I grabbed my halter, walked right over to her, and Kachina turned towards me and let me halter her with zero issues, same as always.

I have really mixed feelings about this new piece of information. On one hand it gives me warm fuzzies inside that Kachina has chosen me as her person and won't be caught by anyone else. I also kind of like the idea that it would be hard for anybody to steal or mess with my horse. However, on the other hand it really concerns me. What if someone had to catch Kachina in an emergency? Also there was a blog hop last year about making your horse a solid citizen to improve their chances in life if they ever needed to be sold, this is decidedly not solid citizen behavior.

This development also leaves me with questions:

  1. Is being uncomfortable with other people the reason that Kachina gets so tense during trims? Last week the farrier was out and Kachina was not wanting to cooperate. I had yet another conversation with her trimmer about what I can do to work on this training issue. I've done a huge amount of ground work and handling of Kachina's feet and she has gotten good with me but it doesn't seem to be translating for trims. We hypothesized that the change in routine might be the issue, or maybe she has sensitivity in her soles and gets uncomfortable, so we decided to do have her trimmed twice as often but smaller trims or only fronts or hinds each time, so each appointment is less long and also Kachina gets used to it happening more often. That still sounds like a decent plan, but maybe the root cause is that Kachina isn't comfortable being handled by other people. 
  2. How do I fix this? I feel like the simple answer is get more people to handle Kachina but that's easier said than done. My boarding situation is pretty basic and the owners don't handle the horses regularly. I have some friends I can ask to come out, but I don't want to impose too much, and I feel like this may be the kind of thing that takes a lot of sessions to address. Would it be better to get one person other than me to handle her regularly like a free half lease, or should I try and have a whole bunch of different people just do small things like go and feed her a treat and then retreat? 
  3. Am I reading way too much into this? Lots of horses are tough to catch in a pasture, doesn't mean they're scared of people. This was just one occurrence, so an admittedly tiny sample size, but at the same time it does seem like it might fit with a larger pattern of observations I've made though the years. 

If anyone else has had a horse like this, please chime in and let me know what helped or didn't help in your case.

Thursday 5 October 2017

Kick in the Pants

I love riding, I truly do. But, sometimes I need a bit of a kick in the pants to go out to the barn. The abrupt change in seasons hasn't helped. Last night I was enjoying my comfy couch and didn't particularly want to leave the warmth and brightness of the house. As the evening got later I was thinking that I might just go out to check on Kachina and make sure she was staying warm but forgo riding. But... there was a 2ptober baseline score to get!

Cute fuzzy pony wasn't cold anymore

I dragged myself out, found my horse by moonlight, and brought her in to tack up. It was 10pm by the time I finally mounted up but I was really glad I decided to ride because I ended up having a great ride! I focused on staying balanced over Kachina's centre, balanced both side to side and front to back. I also focused on keeping steady light connection with my hands, pushing out my mid-back to keep an upright upper body, and keeping my legs in contact with the saddle and Kachina's sides. Kachina responded well to my focused riding and was quick to soften over her topline. I did some two-point at the trot and then moved onto canter. Kachina amazed me by stretching down and blowing at the canter. I've never felt her relax so much at the canter before so I gave her lots of praise and ended the ride there.

Blurry screenshot of two-point!
(Feel free to critique, but please remember I'm a dressage rider ;-)
also note that while my hands are close to her neck, they aren't touching!)

Checking my time

I had set up my tripod to video the ride but unfortunately my phone ran out of memory so it only recorded the first half. It's too bad that I don't have media of the better moments but either way it was a great ride and I'm grateful for 2ptober for giving me the kick in the pants that I needed!

Two-point gif, not as terrible as I feared!

Btw, baseline time = 2:05

Tuesday 3 October 2017


Poor Kachina was shivering when I went to check on her last night. She had been wearing a blanket and was dry underneath, but apparently the weight wasn't adequate to keep her insulated against the nasty wind, snow, freezing rain and ice pellets. She looked pretty miserable.

I brought her into the indoor arena, took off her blanket, let her roll, gave her a good brushing while letting her munch on a double portion of feed. I then put on her heavier winter blanket and hood and did some ground work with her to get her walk and build up some heat before turning her back out. By the time I was done she had stopped shivering and felt pretty toasty underneath her fresh blanket. Here's hoping she stayed warm though the night.

Looking much happier about life

Modelling her heavy blanket - this is actually the first time I've used the hood

I try to keep a pretty close eye on Kachina during changing weather to make sure she's warm or cool enough. She's lived her entire life outside 24/7, is healthy and grows a long thick coat of winter hair (which is already coming in nicely). Sometimes, like yesterday, she surprises me with how she reacts to the cold though. Both horses she shares the pasture with were much wetter but still seemed more comfortable than Kachina. (For the record, it was only around 0C, it was just the wet snow and wind that made it more miserable)

Have you ever had a horse who seemed more susceptible to the cold? Any theories as to what makes them that way?

What are your go-to methods for warming up a chilly horse? (Bonus points if it doesn't involve a heated barn because we don't have that)

Monday 2 October 2017


Autumn barely exists where I live, it likes to jump straight from summer to winter.

Exhibit A: Friday was sunny and 28C (82F), today is this:
Hard to see in photo but snow still coming down pretty hard
(and essentially sideways with a nasty wind)

Blergh. On the bright side, I did have a nice fall weekend at a riding clinic, recaps to come. It's also supposed to get back above freezing by Thursday so that's good, but if we get as much rain/snow/sleet as expected then I won't be riding outside again anytime soon. 

Friday 29 September 2017

2017 Q3 Review and Q4 Goals

2017 Q3 Goal Review

Fall is here again (last year's photo)

1. Ride in at least three clinics/lessons
I rode in 4 clinics, one with Robin Hahn, and 3 with Elaine (well almost, the third one is tomorrow). The success of these clinics was variable, so this won't be a repeat goal, but I rode in them.

2. Earn an ADA Horse & Rider Recognition Award
This award requires scores of 63% or more at training level at three different Wildrose or Bronze shows. As I mentioned when I set this goal, it essentially encompasses multiple sub-goals: compete in at least three shows, do good training level tests in front of a judge, score above 63%. I went to three eligible shows (Chinook show, local show, Lethbridge show), and put down decent tests, but we only scored above 63% at one of those shows. I knew I had blown this goal after the July show so I didn't put as much prep into the September show as I otherwise would have. 
No ADA Award, but I didn't leave the show totally empty handed

3. Confirm canter transitions
I have made a concerted effort to correct my position and aid during canter transitions and that has been fairly successful. During Q3 a new tranter problem cropped up, which I have mostly corrected. All in all I have done some good work on canter transitions but they still need to be rounder and more relaxed. 

4. Do regular test riding
A couple shows in the quarter made me do some test riding, but I should have done even more.  

5. Start working on First Level movements
We have been working on "increased thrust", "more consistent contact with the bit", more accurate canter transitions, and some lateral work, so all of that has an eye towards First Level, we haven't been doing much for actual lengthens or leg yields though. 

6. Ride in the Cypress Hills
Not the most challenging goal, but we did it and we did it well :-)
Felt a bit like how crossing the finish at an
endurance ride must feel

We didn't have quite the show season I was hoping for. Part of me keeps expecting us to get past training level and is disappointed when we don't. However, when I look at these goals, and where I was at this time last year, I see that we are still working away and while it might be slow, we are solidifying our foundation of knowledge and skills (both mine and Kachina's) which is good and important work.

2017 Q4 Goals

1. Fight winter blues and re-establish a barn routine
Every fall I struggle with the cold and dark for a while until I adjust (especially the dark). It helps if I dive right into a new routine or focus so that's what I'm going to try. 

2. Start pre-planning for 2018 local dressage show
I've actually already set the date, booked the judge and reserved the venue, but there's a few more things I can do this year to set the stage for a more successful year two. 

3. Actively determine what I can do to improve the local equestrian scene
I have the privilege of being on the board of directors for both the nearest dressage association and for a community equestrian facility. Both of these positions mean I represent a wider group (basically I represent my area in dressage, and I represent English riders in my area) and I want to use that to influence positive growth and change rather than just going along for the ride. To start that means putting thought into what possibilities I see and what my ultimate vision is.  

4. Regularly video my rides
I have a tripod and bluetooth remote setup now. I don't always like seeing video of me but I do learn from it, so I should use it as a tool. This actually ties in well with Goal #1 as it is easier to set up to video in the indoor arena

5. Address ground work from a root cause perspective
To explain this further would take multiple posts so I will do a series on this as I work on it

6. Participate in 2Pointober
I don't want to over-do 2 point because it doesn't help me with sitting back, but a bit is good for my leg position. (and it's a fun contest)

7. Participate in No-stirrup November
I think some no-stirrup work is really what my position needs. I won't be dropping my stirrups for the entire month, but I want to do at least a few rides without them. Does anyone have a formal blog challenge for this?

8. Control the canter
Canter is my ongoing challenge, I have made some good steps so I want to keep the momentum going and keep canter as a focus in Q4. I still sometimes find myself just sitting on Kachina at the canter and hoping that things go okay. Wishing isn't good enough, I need to actually use my aids to influence Kachina and get the bend, track, tempo and shape that I need within the canter. 

9. Regularly work on free walk and stretchy trot
These have been weak scores this summer so I need to do some targeted work here.

10. Develop new training progression plan
Last winter I had a series of steps I was working towards and that helped me stay focused. In the last few months my riding has become more disjointed and it shows. I need to reanalyze where we are at and figure out a plan to move forward. This also involves some thought about what trainers are going to help us. 

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Meet Me Under the Stars

Last Thursday I had a crazy day so I wasn't able to go out to the barn until after 9pm. I knew at that point that I wasn't going to be able to ride, but I had to drop off money for my BO so I needed to go out anyways. While I was at the barn I went out to the pasture to check on Kachina. Work and life have been busy and stressful so I haven't seen her as much as I'd like.

Checking on Kachina was easier said than done though. It was pitch black outside, and there was a new moon so no light from anywhere. The pasture is massive and my flashlight doesn't come close to reaching the fencelines. I tried listening for the horses but I couldn't hear anything other than the breeze. I would have had to serpentine all over the pasture to locate the horses so I just did a couple passes and then gave up. I turned off my flashlight and stood in the middle of the pasture letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. I decided I would head home soon, but I took a few moments to star gaze. One thing I love about my barn is that it's far enough away from the town's light pollution and has phenomenal night skies. With no moon, and no clouds, I could see every constellation I know, millions of other stars, and even the milky way. As I stood there admiring the beauty above me, I heard the slightest of sounds and looked down. I could just see a dark shape on the edge of my vision and started walking towards it. As I got closer I could see that it was Kachina. She had walked far away from the herd and was watching me. I went up to her and gave her scratches while checking her over for any nicks or bumps. She's teddy bear soft right now with her winter coat starting to come in. We enjoyed a few silent moment together and then I walked back to my car. It may not seem like much but it meant a lot to me that Kachina came to seek me out across the pasture away from her buddies. Moments like that always make me feel peaceful and grounded, and confirm to me that horses are good for my soul.

Monday 25 September 2017

Cypress Hills Wish Ride

On Saturday (two weeks ago) was the Cypress Hills Wish Ride. This was the 4th year for this charity trail ride but it was the first year I've been able to attend.


The ride takes place on a historic ranch in the Cypress Hills. The Cypress Hills are a cool area. They are one of the only places in Canada that were not covered by glaciers in the last ice age. It means that the landscape is a high elevation plateau of forested slopes surrounded on all sides by grass prairie. Despite being a relatively small area, the hills are home to some cool plant and animal species including the highest concentration of cougars anywhere in North America. I've been to the Cypress Hills before to hike and boat, but this was my first time riding there.

All watermarked photos courtesy of Randy Feere, photos used with permission

Loved this scene painted on the barn

The main building (with mess hall etc.)

The day started early with the drive out there. The plan was to go with my friend and her daughter, but they had to cancel at the last minute so I ended up on my own. The ranch is fairly out of the way, as in 40km from the nearest pavement out of the way. The trip had very little traffic but I got to see white tail deer, mule deer, antelope, coyotes and a ridiculous number of birds of prey along the way (no cougars, despite them being around, it is super rare to actually see one). When I rounded the last hill I was surprised at how many trailers were at the ranch. In all about 85 riders participated, coming from all over Alberta and Saskatchewan (the people parked next to me were camping and had travelled over 7 hours!).

After registration and a late breakfast, we tacked up and got ready to leave. I elected to ride in my dressage tack, both because I am more comfortable in it than in my western saddle, and because it was forecasted to be a hot day and I figured my english tack would be a little cooler for Kachina. Most of the group was riding western but I saw three other English saddles. There were also several people wearing helmets which I always love to see.

Before leaving we had to get a group picture. As you can probably imagine, getting 85 horses and riders arranged in a neat tight line is a difficult undertaking. Kachina was a champ, but it was taking forever and I was worried that I was reaching the end of her patience for standing still. The photographer was up on the hill across the valley to get us all in frame and he finally snapped a few shots. I was super ready to get the ride started, but then they decided to get some drone footage of the group. Yes, take a huge number of horses in a strange environment, put them close to other horses they don't know, have them stand until they are impatient, and then fly a drone over them, that sounds like a great idea! (voice dripping with sarcasm if you didn't catch it). I was getting a little nervous as the drone came towards us but at least they had some sense and ended up keeping it a comfortable distance away and we all lived to tell the tale. Finally it was time to be off!

The result of the whole picture taking ordeal

Overview of the ranch base from scary drone

The ride was organized so that there was a 4 hour loop option and a 1 hour loop option which was really nice for accommodating multiple experience and fitness levels of both horses and riders. I went with the 4 hour group. Our trail had some pretty intense hills early on and I started to worry about how much Kachina was sweating. We had ridden for two hours just a few days before so I knew she was in decent shape, but we don't have hills around our barn so this was certainly more intense. Her respiration was okay though and she seemed to do recover whenever the group stopped for a break or to let slower horses catch up. A breeze also picked up later in the day which helped keep things cooler.

Some of the 4 hour group, taking a breather after some intense hills

I only took my phone out during flatter sections
Best mare
Mid-ride break

Basecamp visible in distant right, this was on our way back 

The ride was a little more challenging than I was expecting with the cobblestone sized rocks and steep hills, but Kachina proved to me again what a fantastic horse she is. I have a pet peeve about when people let their horses run up hills and there were several riders like that in the group. Kachina listened to my suggestions about pace, and used her hind end to power up hills at a walk and carefully collected herself on the down slopes, giving a solid lead to horses behind and not getting upset when any horses ahead sped up. There were a few hills steep enough that I was grabbing fistfuls of mane and wishing I had a breastcollar, but my saddle stayed in place and all was fine. The only incident on the trail came when we had to cross a strip of dark water and black sucking mud that was about four feet across. Kachina is usually okay with water, but I know she doesn't like deep mud and she hasn't seen it in a long time because we literally haven't had rain in months. Kachina wanted no part of stepping in that mess. We didn't have a choice though so I wrapped my hand in mane and kept gently encouraging her forwards. Kachina ended up doing a flying leap from a standstill and we cleared the whole thing. I was unseated a bit but thanks to my fistful of mane I stayed with her and we continued on like nothing happened. While it wasn't the ideal response, I really can't blame her for wanting to avoid that kind of nasty footing.

Love this photo

Kachina still seemed to have lots of go in her when we got back to camp, but I knew it was a tough workout for her so I quickly stripped her tack and fetched her water which she ignored in favour of grass. I gave her a good grooming and before long she was looking pretty sleepy. I just chilled out with her for the next couple hours, offering her water periodically. I wanted to give her a good break before the trip home. She eventually took a good drink. I had been prepared to leave at anytime depending on Kachina, but she was super relaxed at the trailer and had her hay bag so I decided to stay for the supper and raffle draws. We were treated to some great food and great music. The event was also a great success on the charity side, raising over $34,000 for the Children's Wish Foundation.

The photographer took lots of shots as we were arriving back at the end of the ride

Sweaty pony post-ride
You can lead a horse to water...

Sleepy pony

Totally chilled out at trailer

After supper I quickly loaded up and hit the road. We were able to get back to the main highway before the sun set which was perfect timing. Overall it was a great day and I look forward to participating again next year!