Wednesday 29 March 2017

Q1 Review and Q2 Goals

I can't believe how fast 2017 has been flying by. It's only two days until the end of Q1 so I guess it's time to look at goals already!

2017 Q1 Goal Review

1. Ride in at least two clinics/lessons
Success! - I rode in the clinic with Sandra Feb 25-26, and had two lessons with D, the new local dressage trainer.

2. Be show-ready at Walk-Trot
Success - our walk and trot work are nice these days, it's just canter work than brings out the tension and running. Cleaning up mane and tail were part of this goal originally but that was when I thought I would be competing at the Carrots and Cocktails shows in March/April/May; however, none of those dates ended up working for my schedule. I now won't be showing until the end of May so Kachina is staying wild and wooly a little longer. 

I love riding this trot

3. Get up to at least first canter stage in the progression plan 
Success - I have gotten to the step where I can get a good canter circle. I am still working on the consistency of some of the steps beforehand, but I've also tackled a few steps lower down on the list so all in all I'm where I want to be. 

Proof we can canter

4. Figure out girth and saddle pad/half pad 
Success - after a lot of trial and error I finally settled on a Prolite girth. This new girth and no half pad are working well for us right now, though I am planning to get a saddle fitting done to confirm. 

The search was long, but I found you!

5. Do some desensitization work with plastic bags and/or clippers 
Success - it ended up staying cold until it was too late to clip, so clipping isn't happening this year, but I did some desensitization work with plastic bags. I want to do more of this though. 

I technically succeeded with all of my goals, but it was a basic level of success, not a resounding success deserving of an exclamation mark. A lot of that was because I was out of town for more than 4 weeks this quarter, and didn't get a lot of ride time. I'm hoping to get more barn time in the next quarter and accomplish some bigger goals!

2017 Q2 Goals

1. Ride in at least two clinics/lessons
I think this is a good semi-permanent goal. I have the next clinic with Sandra in May and then I'll have to come up with something for the second. 

2. Organize a dressage show
Eeep! The date has been set for May so this will happen one way or another. This is taking up a decent amount of my time these days. Insurance and judge are arranged. As of today, the location is finally settled (I think, I hope!). It seems like two steps forward, one step back for each thing, but I'm slowly getting there. 

3. Get up to the "good training test patterns" step of the progression plan (with all previous steps completed)
This is a little bit of a stretch, but I think it's doable, plus I want to get there because...

4. Compete at training level in a show or test day and feel like we are worthy of the level
There is a test day in May and a bronze show in June and I want to compete at training level in both. I actually sent in my entry for the June show last week so I'm hoping we can be ready in time! I really struggled with what to put as a goal related to this. First I had "compete at a show" but I figured that was too low of a bar. Then I considered "score over 65%" or "get a ribbon" or "be competitive" but those are all hard because what if the judge tends low with scores? what if we have a great test but completely blow a couple of double coefficient movements? what if the classes are tiny, or massive? Basically, I just want to walk out of my test and read my score card and feel like Kachina and I finally belong at training level. 

5. Do regular test riding
My last horse anticipated like crazy so I could never practice test riding. Kachina is a very different horse though. If I want to show, riding the actual test patterns at home will help us both. I need to make a conscious effort to do this every week or so. 

6. Get saddle fitting done
This is sort of from my half-pad debate that was a goal from last quarter. Instead of spending a bunch of time figuring out half pads, I'm going to get my saddle professionally fitted. The root reason I'm worried about a half pad at all is because I'm worried that my saddle doesn't fit Kachina as well as I think it does, so time to address that. 

7. Spend time on ground work
Riding is great, but I also need to designate some time to improving Kachina's ground manners.

8. Relax and enjoy my horse
Work is crazy and stressful these days weeks months. Planning a show is a lot of work too, To safeguard my sanity I need to remember to just have fun sometimes. If that means that some of the above goals don't get met, that's okay. Hopefully this will mean some fun trail rides if the weather cooperates.  

I want to see this view again soon

Monday 27 March 2017


On Friday I rode in the outside arena for the first time this year. It took a while after the snow melted for the arena to dry enough to be usable but on Friday the barn owners harrowed it all up and the footing was perfect.

"Hi mom"
No ride media, all photos from afterwards

Kachina can be a high energy skittish horse in general, but being outside or being ridden somewhere different doesn't usually affect her much. Some part of me knows that, but there's another sizable portion of my psyche that is convinced that riding outside for the first time in several months will cause issues, and so that can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy on my sensitive mare. 

Pirouette comments: stuck behind and lost rhythm but nicely uphill ;-P

I had arranged to meet fellow boarder and friend S out at the barn, so after we tacked up we walked down to the outdoor arena together. We both mounted up and started walking around the arena. Kachina was a bit up, but pretty good, however S realized that her mare was a tensed firecracker and she opted to hop down and lead her mare back to the barn to grab a lunge-line (it's a bit of a hike). As soon as Kachina realized that her buddy was leaving, she got pretty upset and I felt like I was riding a firecracker myself. I used my trusty lateral work to get her mind back on me: move her hips, move her ribcage, move her shoulders. It took a few more repetitions than normal, but Kachina listened and eventually focused and relaxed. When S and her mare reappeared at the gate, her only outward response was a flick of her ear.

And this photo shows my graceful horse almost biffing it into the fence

While we were on our own in the arena for a little bit, that didn't last long. For most of my ride, Kachina and I were sharing the arena with three other horses, two being lunged and one other being ridden. It's a big arena so there was plenty of room for us all, but that's about as busy as our arena ever is. 

Whinny is a beefcake

Kachina was a bit skittish at times, but for the most part I was really impressed with her. We did lots of walking and trotting (I probably could have cantered but I wanted to make sure the first ride out was a good experience for both of us), and rode around the entire arena (including the scary corner), doing various figures and changes of direction. I successfully worked on our lesson from the last clinic and got inside bend with minimal inside rein use, and a more quiet body on my part. 

As well as being impressed with Kachina, I was also pretty impressed with myself. I was in a situation where I would normally tense up, but for the most part I kept riding my horse and didn't shoot my lower leg or upper body forward (and made quicker corrections when I did). The best part was, when Kachina got a little stuck behind the leg and contact, I immediately added leg and got her to move forward. I know this is a basic tenet of dressage and really of all good riding, but I have been struggling with this for sooooo long! It has been a serious mental block for me to be able to add leg to my extremely forward horse. First I had to teach Kachina that a little leg doesn't mean to start running. Second I had to learn to recognize when I needed leg. Most recently, I have been working on forcing myself to add leg; my conscious mind will know I need to, but it takes a couple circles and much convincing to get that message to trickle down and have my legs actually obey. Friday's ride was the first one where I felt that adding leg was finally becoming my automatic first response when it was needed. I'm sure this is something I will struggle with more in the future, but this ride was a major step forward and that's exciting.


After my ride, me and two of the other boarders decided to let our mares loose in the arena to roll and play (everyone was done riding, and our three mares live beside each other so we know they get along). They currently had a lot of spring energy because they ran and played for a lot longer than normal. It made me even prouder of Kachina that she had behaved so well for our ride. 

It was awesome to get to ride outside in the sunshine again, I'm hoping to do a lot more of that in the coming months!

Hoping to get to ride this trot too!

Wednesday 22 March 2017

Girths, Girths, Girths

In the above post I talked a bit about the beginning of my girth saga. For anyone too lazy to go back and read up (I don't blame you), the short story is that my new saddle that I got in August has necessitated a different girth and it's taken me several rounds of trial and error to figure it out.

From top to bottom:
Girth A - 32" Leather Contoured
Girth B - 24" Neoprene
Girth C - 30" Black Country Anatomic
Girth D - 28" TSF Stretchtec Shoulder Relief
Girth E - 24" Prolite Anatomic

Problem #1: My new saddle requires anatomical girth (there seems to be some inconsistency between the terms "contoured" and "anatomical", but I mean the one where the center is offset from the buckles) because the billets hang behind her girth groove.

Trial of new saddle - you can see billets are pulled forward
when using a straight girth (Girth B pictured)

Problem #2: Kachina is only 15.2hh and narrow. She's well proportioned but her size means that she does have a smaller barrel and shorter heart girth than other horses. I have short legs so this isn't usually an issue, but it means that there is only a narrow range of acceptable girth lengths where the buckles aren't too near her elbow but also aren't interfering with the saddle pad.

Small distance between elbow and bottom of saddle flap

Problem #3: There are limited numbers of anatomic girths available. Also almost all of them have several inches of leather between the buckles and the end of the girth, this is all well and fine from a padding point of view, but it completely fills up the aforementioned range on my horse's barrel, so if the buckles are far enough away from her elbows, the top of the girth is still interfering with the saddle pad. I've also had to contend with the fact that a lot of the anatomic girths are $$$.

Problem #4: Apparently Kachina is also picky about her girth. However, she's not immediately reactive, instead I have to try a new girth for an extended period of time to figure out what her opinion about it is. (This is also really inconvenient for the purposes of exchanges).

Combining the above issues, plus the fact that shipping in Canada can be slow, you might now realize why it took me 7 months (!) to find an appropriate solution (I bought my new saddle in August 2016).

So, in case you are a person struggling with similar issues, here are my brief reviews of several different girths (and most of them are now for sale, contact me if you're interested, possible discount available for bloggers, will ship at buyer's cost):

Girth A - 32" leather padded contoured dressage girth

- It has no brand marked on it but it's a good quality girth
- really soft leather padding
- great durability
- no elastic
- has leather guards behind the buckles but they aren't excessive, so the entire girth end to end is shorter than the 30" Girth C
- this was the first dressage girth I owned, I bought it for my previous mare Ellie who had a larger barrel, it was always on the long side for Kachina but was okay with my old saddle. I also love this girth, it is really nice quality leather and has a nice shape and feel to it. Unfortunately it is definitely too long for my new saddle and also doesn't have the anatomic shaped I need.
- For Sale, $100cdn obo

Girth A in action with the old Jaguar saddle

Girth B - Kieffer (I think) 24" neoprene contoured dressage girth

- no elastic
- easy to clean
- super basic
- fairly straight, small contour
- buckles located on end of girth (which is good for problem #2 above)
- I've also had this girth for a long time, I got it cheap and it was my back-up in case my other girth ever had a catastrophic failure. This size was actually pretty good on Kachina with my new saddle, but the fact that it is straight caused it to pull my saddle forward.
- For Sale, $40cdn obo

Girth B after a ride, has pulled saddle forward onto shoulder

Girth C - Black Country Saddles 30" anatomic leather dressage girth

- no elastic
- has offset so good if your horse has a forward girth groove
- I got this used so it is a few years old, can't find a link
- as seen in photo, the leather goes substantially past the buckles, making it a longer girth than the measurement would suggest
- a friend was selling this used soon after I got my saddle, pretty much as soon as I figured out that I needed an anatomic girth. It's too long for Kachina but worked well enough to use while I was figuring out a next option. The leather is a little stiff right now, but it's a good saddlery brand and I imagine it would be a nicer girth with some good leather conditioning (which I haven't done yet).
- For Sale, $100cdn obo (what I paid)

Girth C in action - keeps saddle where it needs to be

Girth D - Total Saddle Fit 28" Stretchtec Shoulder Relief girth

- has the leather lining option
- large offset to keep saddle back
- wide elastic panel in center for horse comfort and to prevent gapping
- a lot of bloggers swear by these girths
- I had really high hopes for this girth: it has a large offset, I had heard good things, I thought Kachina would like the elastic, I figured the 28" would be a good size. Unfortunately, the combination of the elastic and the pieces of leather that come past the buckles mean that the 28" is still too long (also it actually measures more than 28" buckle to buckle). Also, even though other horses are big fans, Kachina did not like this girth. I rode in it for a couple months and she slowly got more girthy. I like the idea of the elastic panels but the execution didn't work for me (or my horse). I also didn't like how stiff the girth was from the velcro between the main girth and the lining material.
- For Sale, $150cdn obo (I know I didn't exactly give the girth a glowing review, but these girths are pricey and are in relatively high demand so I still think this is a fair price)

Stretchtec girth at clinic in September

Girth E - Prolite 24" anatomic dressage girth

- This is the same shape and technology as the much gushed about Fairfax girth (the one that the Olympic equestrian teams from Great Britain used in the London Olympics), but it has a synthetic outer instead of leather, and is less than half the price. This isn't a cheap imitation though, there is Prolite material inside the Fairfax version, and Prolite makes their girth under the same intellectual property. It seems to be hard to find in North America so I was shocked when I stumbled upon it on Greenhawk's website (for what is actually a decent price when you look at what the mark up generally is on tack from England).
- Offset to keep saddle back
- soft edge design that has been scientifically developed to allow the muscles to move under the girth
- other cool science
- soft padding
- no elastic
- after the Total Saddle Fit 28" girth was too long, I ordered two sizes smaller on the Prolite girth (because I had finally wised up to the issue of the leather overhanging the buckles). Unfortunately this went too far the other way and the buckles ended up sitting in a really bad spot for Kachina's elbows.
- Sent back and exchanged for a larger size (see below)

How it sits on belly

Buckles too close to elbow
(was pinching when she bent body)

Girth F - Prolite 28" anatomic dressage girth

- see above for info
- this is the girth I've finally settled on. It is a little too long and interferes with the saddle pad slightly (without half pad), but it's only a little long and I really like it otherwise. Also, if I add a halfpad or fleece girth cover, that might make the length better. (In case you are wondering, the shape of this girth means that I couldn't go 26" or the buckles would still interfere with Kachina's elbows)
- It keeps my saddle in place and Kachina has become less girthy in the time that I've been using it. I call that a major win.
- Super soft and supple, nice shape.
- Really easy to clean - the official cleaning instructions are to dunk it in a bucket of soapy water and use a nylon brush! Though be aware that the girth does absorb moisture so leave lots of time for the girth to dry before you next need it. I'm generally a leather traditionalist, but girths always get dirtier than other tack so this is one piece of tack that I'm happy to have synthetic.
- Not for sale but I highly recommend you get one of your own!

Sorry, crappy photo, but shows the longer Prolite girth

Monday 20 March 2017

Fair Weather Riders

Thanks all for your opinions on my last post. I appreciated all the feedback.

Today is the Equinox, which means that it is officially spring. That date never really runs true in this part of the world. We'll definitely have more snow and cold snaps until May at least. However there is at least a hope of spring now. The days are getting longer. The cold snaps aren't quite as cold. There are windows of nice weather... and the fair weather riders start appearing at my barn.

I board at a quiet barn. There are more boarders and horses than the quietness would suggest though. I think there are around 26 boarded horses at my barn, owned by about 20 different people. That number fluctuates from time to time but is based on the last conversation I had with the owner. Despite those numbers, there are only about five of us that are long-term boarders who actually do stuff with our horses regularly throughout the year. I am used to coming out to the barn and being the only one there.

How the arena frequently looks... empty

Some of the boarders have had their horses at my barn for years but never ever come out, except to drop off more board cheques. I do not understand why people pay hundreds of dollars every month to board their horse and then don't do anything with them. I also feel sorry for the horses. The pens at my barn are a generous size, when supplemented with riding and other exercise, but they aren't designed to have a horse spend their entire life in them.

The people who never come out are one group of people who puzzle and frustrate me. The other is the group that comes out only occasionally in nice weather and do questionable things with their horse.

One of these was out yesterday while I was grooming Kachina. Their horse has been boarded in a pen near Kachina's for about a year, but this is only the third time I have seen them. I will be one of the first to admit that there is more than one valid way to work with a horse, and you can't know the full story as a bystander. However what I saw them do looked like a recipe for disaster. There were two adults and about 5 kids of varying ages. They had the horse tied up very loosely to the fence (lead rope almost touching the ground), had a western saddle on top of a very muddy horse that didn't look groomed at all, and had a kid in the saddle on the horse while the horse was tied up. The only saving graces were that they did have a helmet on the kid who was mounted, and it wasn't long before they untacked the horse and put him back in his pen (still muddy).

A trail ride with the regulars (plus one of the new boarders from last year)

Then there are the new boarders. Every year we will get some new boarders that I might see frequently for a few months but then they quit coming or move elsewhere. We have three new boarders at the barn in the last month. The first is a lovely lady who has been riding for years and looks well matched with her horse, and I hope they stick around and become regulars. The second I haven't met yet. The third arrived yesterday. She and her boyfriend and dad had come out to meet the lady who had hauled their new horse to them from another city.  I am trying very hard to reserve judgement until I know more, but I see some warning signs. First, I overheard part of their conversation and the horse is being adopted from an adoption agency. I don't know what type of adoption agency, but if the horse was a mustang, neglect case, or off the track, they are going to need some special care and training. Second, the new owner was asking the lady what the adoption contract included and what the buy back clause meant. I'm pretty sure that's something you should understand before you get to the point of having the horse delivered. Third, it seemed like the lady from the adoption agency was also supplying tack etc, the owners didn't have anything of their own that I could see. Fourth, the new owner kept on literally running over to look at her new horse in his pen, and she couldn't figure out how to carry the saddle and needed help. Fifth, the boyfriend and dad didn't seem horsey at all. It all screams first-time horse owner with no trainer or good support system and a horse who may need an experienced hand.

Unless I am asked for help, or I see outright abuse, I try to keep my opinions to myself. However days like yesterday get my judgy muscles twitching. How do you deal when you see things like that? And do you do anything for horses when they have absentee owners?

In lighter news, I had a great ride on Kachina.

Friday 17 March 2017

Show Venue Opinions Needed

I'm still working hard on organizing a first ever dressage show in my local area. Some things are coming together, but I recently found out that the arena I was going to hold it at isn't actually quite long enough to put a standard long dressage ring into it. In some ways this is a blessing in disguise as it gives me an easy out from some other stuff that I was getting sucked into with holding it at that location, but it does leave me scrambling to decide on another suitable venue this week before I have to submit the location details to the insuring body.

There are three potential places to hold the show that meet the size requirements. None of them are ideal and they all have their own pros and cons. Please keep in mind that these are literally the only three options in over 100km so I'm going to have to put up with some cons. If you could look at the below info on each and tell me where you would prefer the show to be held if you were competing in it, that would be super awesome.

Image Legend
Excuse my crappy paint drawings, but the images show a birds eye view of the facilities showing the basic layout of the arenas.
Black lines - outline of arena fences or buildings
Red rectangle - place where I could fit competition ring - 20m x 60m
Blue outline - locations available for warm-up

Location F

This is a local boarding barn that also rents out its arenas for events (though usually more roping jackpots than dressage shows).


  • Cost: $300/day
  • Has beautiful indoor arena but it is 17' too short to fit a full 20x60m ring in it, could be used for warm-up
  • Outdoor arena is large enough to fit two 20x60m rings, so could fit standard competition ring plus warm up area side by side
  • Well maintained sand footing both indoor and outdoor, but designed for reiners so a little deep
  • Has indoor aisle for tacking up etc but no indoor stalls
  • Two plumbed washrooms inside barn
  • They have some portable box stalls that they say they can set up outside for stabling but I haven't seen them and don't know how good they will be. Also have option of pens for stabling, but they would be beside boarded horses. Cost for stabling would be $20/horse/night
  • No obvious option for show office, would probably need to bring my own table/tent
  • No place for spectators (it's a dressage show so I'm not expecting a big audience, but the other two locations have some bleachers while this place has nothing)
  • Overnight camping is possible for additional fee
  • Can cancel due to weather or lack of entries but will lose $125 deposit
  • Hard to find location for non-local people 

Location D

This is a new public arena. The board has plans to turn it into a world class location for equine events, but this is just phase 1 so it's mostly an empty plot of land with one really nice outdoor arena. 

  • Cost: $500/day
  • Outdoor arena is large enough to fit two 20x60m rings, so could fit standard competition ring plus warm up area side by side (same length and 10' wider than outdoor arena at Location F)
  • Excellent brand new footing with a fancy arena groomer that they can use to set the ground to the specifications I want
  • No indoor barn or buildings
  • Porta-potties are maintained and available for show
  • No availability for stabling currently, can just tie to trailer right now. They do have plans to put in 20-40 pens with waterers this spring but don't know yet if that will be complete by the date of show (depends on when ground thaws). If permanent pens are not complete, there is option to rent panels to make temporary pens, but I am waiting to hear how many panels are available and if there would be an additional cost. 
  • Trailer available to use as a show office
  • Overnight camping possible for additional fee
  • No problem with cancellation due to weather
  • Just off major highway so good location for everyone
  • The board is really excited to have this place used for multiple kinds of events so even though they aren't super established yet they are willing to work with me in multiple ways to make this work. In turn, as it is a growing public facility, I would like to support them if I can. 

Location S

This is the local stampede grounds. They operate as a business and use the facilities to run their own annual events (stampede, all breed horse show, chuckwagon races). It's a big facility and they rent out their buildings regularly for banquets, trade shows, weddings etc, they will rent out their arenas as well but to my knowledge nobody ever has before (I'm friends with a lady on the board who can't remember the horse parts ever being rented, and the events coordinator had to go to the general manager to find out if it was possible). 


  • Cost: $600/day
  • They have the massive rodeo arena but that costs $1600/day which is out of my show's budget so the above cost is for rental of a smaller sand arena in the in-field plus a portion of track to use for warm-up. 
  • Sand arena is a little deep but has pretty good footing. This is what would be used for the competition ring. It is almost exactly the size of a 20x60m so won't have much extra space around it. 
  • Track area is a decent size but the ground is sloped towards rail and it's a bit of an awkward shape. They say that they can work the ground for me but for the venue's own horse show last year, the track area was rock hard and didn't make for a very good warm-up area. In fact many locals were complaining about it.  
  • Plumbed washrooms available but they are a bit of a hike from the areas we will be using. 
  • Stabling: this is the only venue of the three that has an actual show barn of stalls. It's a bit old but would be perfectly sufficient. Cost for stabling would be $20/night and includes shavings. 
  • Outdoor roofed booth available as show office. 
  • Overnight camping possible
  • No problem if I want to cancel due to weather, however they might also cancel on me to protect their footing if they deem it too wet. 
  • Located inside town so it's central and easy to find, but also kind of annoying to get to with a horse trailer

General Notes

This show is being planned for May 20-21 in Alberta, that means that there is a decent risk of snow, but it could also be beautiful sunny short sleeve weather, or anything in between. When I picked the date originally, it was in consideration of using a facility with both an indoor and an outdoor arena (the location that fell through). Now I'm faced with only an outdoor option so that's something to think about. 

My goal with this show is basically to break even with cost, so cheaper facility rental will mean cheaper entry fees. 

Insurance is being done through the Alberta Dressage Association so is not a factor in the decision between these locations. 

All venues are rented out in a way where they set it up for me, but then they hand over the figurative keys and leave me to my own devices to run the show how I see fit. 

I'm aiming for a two-day show but have an option built in to drop it down to a one day show if we don't get enough entries. All venues are cool with that plan. At this point I could decide to do a one-day show from the start which might get rid of some of my stabling problems. 

This show is being designed to appeal to mostly low level riders, either those new to dressage or with fairly green horses. It's basically one step up from a schooling show (no sport licence required and low key atmosphere, but Medium judge and pretty ribbons).

My current thoughts are that I'm leaning towards Location F because it's cheaper and the indoor warm-up area is a nice option especially if it's an ugly day, but I'm leaning towards Location D because its a good place to support and good people to work with, but I'm leaning towards Location S because it has the best stabling, which basically means I'm super torn! What would you do?

Thursday 16 March 2017

How Not To Do Things

Work is/has been crazy for me, and I was out of town again too, which meant that Kachina got a full two weeks off after the clinic. It's not ideal for sure, but Kachina doesn't generally do too badly with time off so it's not the worst thing either.

I went out yesterday to get back into things, and I present you with the steps you should absolutely not take to give your horse an effective training session after time off:

Step 1 - Get Your Car Stuck
- in the last week we had over a foot of snow, followed by warm temperatures that caused it to disappear last night. I went to park in my normal spot at the barn and found that the gravel had been replaced with deep sucking mud underneath what looked like an innocent puddle. My car still bears the mud splatters from the desperate fight for freedom.

Flying home on Monday

Step 2 - Let Your Horse Get Loose
- I had to go to my trailer to grab out a shedding blade while Kachina was tied at the hitching post. On my walk back to her, I watched in slow motion as Kachina started tossing her head. The quick release knot in the lead rope held firm but the knot holding my rope halter closed slowly slipped out. I was walking slipping and sucking as fast as I could through the mud but I couldn't get there in time. Kachina made a dash for her friends and hay the second the halter fell. She galloped back to her pen, sending all the horses she passed into a frenzy. Luckily nobody else was around and I caught her again without incident.

"Uh-Oh guys, she found me and she doesn't look happy"
Note: snow replaced by mud

Step 3 - Give Mixed Signals While Lunging
- I didn't have a whole lot of time, so I just brought Kachina into the indoor to lunge her in her halter (now tied extra securely). We were just getting in some productive work when the line got caught under Kachina's foot and she jerked herself to a halt. She was clearly wondering what she did to deserve such an unpleasant yank and she spent the rest of the session trying to keep 5 feet away from me while I tried to convince her that it was okay to move out. 

Step 4 - Lock Your Keys in the Barn
- After leaving Kachina out and cleaning up, I had just shut off the lights and locked the door to the barn when I realized that my purse and my car keys were still inside.

I'm hoping all of my ineptitude stacking up in one day means that I can appear at least halfway competent for the next few rides. Sorry Kachina. 

Tuesday 14 March 2017

February Sandra Clinic - Next Steps

As I mentioned in my last post, Kachina and I are now further along than at the November clinic. Of course that meant I needed to get a whole new list of things to work on that match up with where we're at.

1. Stay Centered and Make Small Movements - this is probably the biggest change I need to make. For my back to basics fall/winter, I was making some aids overly obvious, especially an opening inside rein. That was okay for a while to make things really black and white for Kachina, but we're now at a point where my big movements are more of a liability than a help. I need to really focus on staying in a neutral centered position with my hands close together and making minimal aids when I need them. Think of moving my fingers instead of my whole arm.

2. Lessen Contact on Inside Rein - this goes with #1. Now that Kachina understands inside bend, I shouldn't need much inside rein to get it. Only touch the inside rein to get her inside eye and then ride more inside leg to outside rein. (I need to be careful with this progression that I don't use so much outside rein that Kachina starts counterbending again)

3. Fix My Position Every Time Kachina Gets Tense - my position is improved (yay!), but I still lose it by tipping forward and shooting my legs off whenever Kachina starts getting tense and running. This doesn't happen nearly as much as it used to, but after each incident of running I need to remind myself to immediately bring my body back into position. The faster I can make these corrections, the sooner I will build the correct muscle memory.

4. Canter but Keep it Chill - I only started back cantering two weeks before the clinic (after 4 months of walk/trot back to basics work). We can get beautiful trot work early in a ride, but whenever Kachina starts thinking about canter (like when I sit the trot or after we canter once), she gets faster and loses focus. Sandra likes what our canter looks like (in comparison to last year) and agrees that we are ready to work on it (I'm really happy to have a second opinion on that), but I need to keep it chill. I should do a bit of canter most rides if I can, but I should skip it if I can't get her relaxed first. I also asked Sandra about our canter transitions. Right now it takes us a couple strides for the transition to develop. Sandra said not to worry about that yet, as long as it's done out of a good quality trot (no racing allowed). That sounds like a plan I can work with.

5. Canter Spirals - since starting back with the canter, I was just doing simple 20m circles in canter. Sandra suggested though that doing a bit of spiraling in and out between 15m and 20m circles would help to improve the canter. It does help me to enhance the inside bend and get my inside leg on better which improves the balance of the canter.

6. Moving Canter Circles with Straight Lines - in training level, you do a 20m canter circle followed by a long side. I need to practice that straight exit out of the circle. However, if I need to I can go back into another 20m circle instead of doing the whole long side at once.

7. Keep Straighter in Leg Yields - I really haven't done many straight leg yields lately, more spiraling between smaller and larger circles. I think because of that, I was aiming for too much bend in the leg yield. Sandra got me to think about keeping Kachina almost fully straight and then she actually was pretty happy with the leg yield we produced.

8. Physio - Sandra is a registered physiotherapist as well as a dressage coach. She offers an option in her clinics for riders to get an off-horse physio assessment as part of their lesson. I ended up choosing to that option for my Sunday lesson. Sandra had noticed in previous rides and even when I walk that my right toe turns out more than my left. She examined my legs and determined that my ankle is fine and that the turning out originates in my hip (which is apparently the easier problem to address). For the most part I am quite symmetric from left to right which is good. However I am tight in my hip flexors and especially in my hamstrings. Sandra sent me some exercises to work on at home to help stretch out my tight spots. Another cool thing about the physio option is that I can submit the receipt to my health insurance and get part of my lesson paid for!

I told Sandra that I am shooting to compete at training level this year with hopefully a move up to First near the end of the show season. She seemed to think that was a reasonable plan. I still have a lot of work to do, but I'm starting to get excited for show season now!

Overall it was a great clinic and a great weekend. I wasn't able to fill the clinic completely which made the facility charge a bit more expensive, but Sandra seemed happy to make the trip down for the 18 lessons that were scheduled. 5 of us went out for supper together on Saturday night and shared a lot of laughs with a lot of horsey conversation. I'm already looking forward to the next clinic in May!

Thursday 9 March 2017

February Sandra Clinic - Off to a Good Start

I organized and rode in another local clinic with Sandra on Feb 25-26. It went really really well. Sorry for the slow updates about it though.

For my ride on Saturday, Sandra had me pick up the trot to start the lesson as soon as I had warmed up at walk. I was able to set Kachina up for a nice soft transition and we did a few circles and long sides in each direction in a rythmic relaxed good quality trot that had zero racing giraffe tendencies. Best of all, this wasn't an anomoly, this is our new normal for trot work. Sandra normally jumps right in to giving suggestions and gives a steady stream of information throughout the lesson, but she was uncharacteristically quiet as I did my opening work. She then proclaimed with a smile "Okay, you're good, I don't need to teach you anymore!"

Not the best photo but I wasn't able to get much media
At least I'm not leaning forward for once?

Of course she did end up teaching me a lot in the two days of the clinic as she always does. The wheels started to come off the bus when we added in canter work and it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns (lessons learned post to come). It was a super awesome feeling though to come into a clinic knowing that I've worked hard on my homework from last clinic, being able to execute some beautiful trot figures, and have my coach immediately recognize how far we've come.

She ended my second ride on Sunday with the comment "you are definitely on the right track". I don't think there is anything that I could have been happier to hear.

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Progression Plan - February Update

I made a progression plan in December to try and keep up the forward progress we were making. I'm finding that this is a great tool to keep my rides focused so I'm going to give regular updates on where we're falling on the list from month to month:

Grey - achieved previously
Green - achieved last month
Yellow - working on currently

Good = relaxed + rounded topline + even rhythm + slow tempo (not overly slow, but not running) + correct bend in neck and body + acceptance of bit (eventually this definition will expand to include more, but this is what it means right now)
Consistently = means the movement is confirmed enough that we can achieve it every ride, even when it's a "bad" day, it doesn't have to happen on the first attempt though 

  • Good walk work - achieved in 2015
  • One good 10-15m trot circle - achieved in late 2015
  • One good 20m trot circle - achieved in spring/summer 2016
  • Consistently (every ride) able to get one good 10-15m trot circle - achieved in December 2016, this took a long time, but the clinic in November gave us the final keys and we finally got there and were able to move on
  • Consistently able to get one good 20m trot circle - achieved in December 2016
  • Multiple good 20m trot circles - achieved December 2016
  • Consistently able to get multiple good 10-15m trot circles - achieved December 2016
  • Good trot circles with good walk-trot and trot-walk transitions - achieved December 2016
  • Consistently able to get multiple good 20m trot circles - achieved January 2017
  • Consistently able to get good trot circles with good walk-trot/trot-walk transitions - achieved January 2017
  • Good Walk/Trot test patterns (circles, large arena, diagonals, transitions, direction changes, etc) - achieved February 2017
  • Consistently good Walk/Trot test patterns - working on it, still need to add in some smaller circles on bad days. 
  • Good stretchy trot circle - achieved January 2017
  • Consistently good stretchy trot circle with transitions in/out - working on it, I can get good stretchy trot in lots of rides now, but still not on the really bad days. 
  • Good trot circle with a few strides of lengthen/added impulsion - achieved January 2017
  • Consistently good transitions within trot - working on it, when it's good it's really good, but still has tendency to race and counter-bend some days. 
  • Good canter circle - achieved February 2017
  • Consistently good canter circle - working on it, we've been doing a lot more cantering but I still don't canter every ride. 
  • Good trot-canter/canter-trot transitions - working on it, still has a ways to go though
  • Consistently good trot-canter/canter-trot transitions
  • Good Training test patterns
  • Consistently good Training test patterns
  • Add more strides of lengthened trot - achieved February 2017
  • Consistently good lengthened trot diagonals
  • Good trot leg yields - achieved February 2017 - this hasn't been a major focus for me but Sandra really liked a few of our leg yields at the February clinic so I guess this gets to be green!
  • Consistently good trot leg yields
  • Good canter circle with a few strides of lengthen/added impulsion
  • Consistently good transitions within canter
  • Good long side of lengthened canter
  • Consistently good long side of lengthened canter
  • Good First 1 & 2 test patterns
  • Consistently good  First 1 & 2 test patterns.
I'm reasonably happy with our progress so far this year. My plan for the next month is to work on consistency for the things we can do well sometimes, so not add in any new steps until April.