Friday 18 August 2017

A Day in the Life

Stephanie at Hand Gallop did an updated one of these recently and I decided I would too

6:00am - First alarm goes off, promptly snooze it multiple times

6:40am - Relocate cat so I can roll out of bed, rummage around in piles of clean laundry that never got put away, get dressed, make bagged lunch.

7:10am - Leave for work

7:18am - Arrive at work, wave to security guard, be thankful for short commute and job that I can always be a little late for.

7:20am - Check emails, calendar, figure out what needs to get done today.

7:45am - Morning meeting

8:15am - Work (this varies hugely day to day and is not horse related in the slightest so I will just gloss over this part)

9:30am - Coffee break, aka breakfast time. Most people in my office don't eat breakfast before work and instead make food in the lunch room. On any given day there are eggs poaching, bacon frying, bagels toasting, etc. I keep it simple and generally have a bowl of cereal with milk.

9:45am - Work

12:00pm - Lunch - generally leftovers plus a yogurt.

12:30pm - Work

4:00-5:45pm - Leave work (I technically finish at 3:45pm but I'm frequently a little late in the morning so I always stay at least a little late, if I'm caught up with something the security guard will call me at 5:45 to check if I'm still alive before the gate closes at 6pm. That's my reminder that I should probably leave.

 5:55pm - Arrive home ravenously hungry. Heat up leftovers and turn on the TV/Netflix for something to watch while I eat (I am a huge fan of making massive pots of food that then feed me and SO for 3-4 days, especially since our schedules mean that our meal times only occasionally match up)

6:15pm - Finish eating, but decide I want to finish/watch another episode.

7:00pm - Turn off TV, move cats off my lap, put dishes away, get changed to go out to barn.

7:15pm - Leave for barn.

7:30pm - Arrive at barn, wave at BO as he passes in his truck, otherwise have place to myself. Grab grooming bucket from tack room, put some treats in my pocket and head towards pasture.

7:45pm - Finish hiking out to herd, Kachina's not hard to catch, but I still generally have to walk most of the way out to whatever corner of the field they are in. Loop lead rope around neck and remove fly mask. Put halter on, give Kachina treat (to encourage her to remain easy to catch). Walk back to gate working on polite leading manners along the way. Put down fly mask near gate.

7:55pm - Tie Kachina at hitching post, give quick grooming, fly spray application, and tack up. Lead Kachina to outdoor arena.

8:15pm - Mount up and ride. Start with lateral work warmup and then progress to work of the day, usually consisting of 20m circles and simple patterns but with focus on bend or tempo or my position or transitions.... Finish with short cool down (I try and do many walk breaks within ride so she never gets too hot)

9:05pm - Dismount, lead Kachina around to scoop poop, walk back up to hitching post. Untack Kachina and put tack back in tack room. Measure out maintenance feed and magnesium supplement, bring feed to Kachina to eat while I groom her. Put gentle cream on Kachina's chapped pink lips while Kachina acts like I'm trying to poison her.

9:30pm - Bring Kachina back to pasture, put fly mask back on, smile as she nickers at me for her final treat, set her free. Stand there for a while admiring Kachina's effortless canter as she runs to meet up with the rest of the herd (and fervently wish I could get that canter under saddle), and then watch the herd dynamics for a while as the sun sets.

9:45pm - Put the rest of my stuff away, lock the barn.

9:55pm - Leave barn.

10:10pm - Arrive home. Collapse on couch with SO and discuss our days (his shifts vary but one of them has him get home around 9:30pm)

10:45pm - Feed cats and go to bed.

Sometimes depending on when I finish work and how hungry I am I will go straight from work to the barn and ride first before coming home for supper. I try and do this more in the spring and fall when the sun sets earlier (In the winter it's already dark when I leave work so it doesn't really matter). In the winter I don't have to walk out to the pasture but I spend more time at the barn in general because my cool out/dry time dramatically increases. I also don't ride every day, I average a barn trip every second day when I'm not out of town. Wednesdays are dragonboat practices from May-September (which goes from 5:30-9:30pm), and I do pilates 1x/week October-April. Also some evenings are spent hanging out with SO or cooking my big meals/doing other chores and errands.

What does your day look like? Do you keep a pretty consistent schedule or change it up depending on what else is going on or how hungry you are? #planninglifearoundfood

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Three Years

On August 15th 2014 I bought and brought Kachina home, so Happy Gotcha Day Kachina! Also Happy 15th Birthday! (kind of - because I don't know her foaling date but she was 12 when I got her so she's 15 now)

Years of 4-H record books taught me to annually analyze my horse's market value (anyone else do this?). That makes this day a little tough because the reality is that her age makes Kachina less valuable now than she was a year ago (or two, or three), and we don't have enough of a training progression to counteract that. The people I bought Kachina from did a good job with her, but over time I've realized that the limited training they did with her more just covered up holes in her knowledge instead of filling them in. It's apparent that Kachina did not have the best start in life and we've stumbled into multiple holes of tension and lack of understanding. On paper, we are in a similar place as we were 3 years ago, Kachina is still a great trail horse, but in the arena we are still a pair with hopes that training level dressage will be achievable soon. Off paper, we've both gone back to the beginning (several times) and we've built up a more solid foundation to grow from. I do believe that Kachina is a more educated horse than she was, and I'm definitely a more educated rider than I was, and that's important to me.

While I know the reality of the market for a 15yo grade horse at Training Level, I feel a lot more positive when I look at the prospects for Kachina staying with me. We may be at Training Level, but we've gotten here with an eye to building the tools we will need to progress farther. It hasn't happened yet but I do believe once we solidify a few more things, First Level isn't THAT far away. Even if progression remains slow, there's no rush (except for my eagerness). Kachina may be 15 but she's fit, healthy and sound with no sign of slowing down (knock so much wood). You never ever know with horses but it's entirely possible that we have another 10 years of full work to get where we want to get. The best part is that we're having fun now and I don't see that changing. Here's to the next year!

Monday 14 August 2017

Free Walk

In the last show I had the good learning opportunity of doing 4 tests in the same level (okay so two were training level, and two were western dressage basic level but they are basically the same) in front of two different judges on the same day. By looking at the scores this should give me a pretty good baseline of what we can do acceptably and what needs work. I actually was super nerdy and started a spreadsheet categorizing all movement scores and coming up with graphs etc. but that's a post for another day.

There were certainly some movements where I could see/feel the problems for myself and 100% agreed with the judges' criticisms (e.g. canter transitions). However, there was one movement that I thought was a strong point but yielded us marks that were surprisingly low to me. That is the free walk.

Kachina has a good clear four beat walk. She was a forward moving trail horse before I got her and that pretty much means she can free walk with the best of them. She generally has clear overtrack and the walk feels marching and like it's going somewhere. In past shows we have sometimes bungled the free walk by breaking into trot for a stride or two (usually my fault). This summer I have done a lot of practice going from free walk to medium walk and back again which has reduced the breaks in gait considerable. I also have sometimes had the comment that I need to give her a looser rein. I generally hold the reins near the buckle, but the fact that Kachina does stretch out her neck a lot and that I have short arms means that we don't always have a lot of slack (and I don't want longer reins because they would be too long most of the time). At this show I made a particular effort to correct this lack of rein loop by holding my arms as far forward as they would reach.

In general, I was happy with our free walk at this show. I did five free walks in total (Western Basic Test B has two), and I was saddened and confused to find out that our free walk marks and comments were:

5.5 - more stretch more rein
5.0 - allow horse to stretch
6.5 - keep straight on track
5.5 - not enough stretch
5.5 - show more stretch

For a movement that always has a double coefficient, those scores hurt. Also, the comments suggest a serious and consistent deficiency, but one that I don't understand (except for the comment about staying straight, I know we did a bit of a zigzag on that one).

I don't have any video, but the photographer did capture multiple photos on the short diagonal of free walk that earned us a 5.5 and the "not enough stretch" comment (note, I did get permission from the photographer to use these watermarked proofs):

I feel like I look a little silly with my arms so straight like that, but to my eye I see a horse who is giving a significant stretch and a rider who is allowing the stretch. The judge clearly did not agree. I feel like I must be missing something (especially with similar feedback from both judges). Can you please enlighten me as to what is wrong with these photos and/or what the judge is looking for in the free walk?

For comparison sake please look at this image to see what a more normal head and neck position for Kachina is (and how long the rein bight is).

Thursday 10 August 2017

Pasture Sass

Kachina is around halfway through her summer out in the big pasture, and she's getting a little sassy about it. She doesn't resist being caught, but once I have her halter on and I start leading her towards the gate she starts pinning her ears and trying to lead me back to the herd by turning around. Her general ground work even once I get back to the barn has gone a bit downhill as well.

I chalk this behavior up to two related factors: 1. She'd rather be in the pasture than working with me. 2. She is more concerned with her herd relationship with her pasture-mates than she is on the herd relationship between me and her (she forgets I'm boss). I have investigated physical reasons too but there doesn't seem to be any issue on that side of things so I'm just calling it pasture sass.

I know a few people who elect to keep their horses in pens in the summer because they notice a similar pattern if their horse goes out to pasture and they don't want to deal with it. I am not one of those people. My thought process is that I ride only recreationally, and my horse has to be in a pen or pasture for far more hours a week than she is with me, so I want her to enjoy that part of life. Her pasture is a pretty nice place to be if you're a horse: about 120 acres of grass to run and graze, 2-4 friends to be a herd with, good water and shelter, and even the bugs have been at historic lows due to our dry weather. I really can't blame Kachina for liking the pasture more than the arena.

They're a pretty rainbow bunch horses

I like to call this photo "Four Big Butts and a Little Ass"

In the fall the cows will come home for winter and Kachina will have to go back to her pen anyways. I don't want to accelerate that happening, so for now I am enforcing good manners on the ground, like respecting my space, leading at a respectful location, and not biting (she's never come close, but she sometimes thinks about it), but I am trying to ignore the occasional ear pin and not take it too personally.

This isn't just a blue rectangle, look carefully on the left side
and you'll see a huge bird of prey (Swainson's Hawk I believe)
that was circling and screeching above the pasture
Side note: yep, our skies are this clear and blue most days

Does this happen to anyone else, where your horse is less glad to see you when they have a primo living situation?

Tuesday 8 August 2017

Questioning - Clinic Recap Part II

Day one of the clinic was really awesome, but day two was not. Day two felt like the worst riding lesson I've had in probably 10 years. I will admit that I left the clinic feeling pretty frustrated. That's the main reason why these clinic recaps are late, I needed some time and perspective.

After my lesson on Day One, I stuck around to watch a few other lessons and I found out that the "natural curve" lesson was not specific to me, it was more a general theme for the clinic. (Quick recap, by "natural curve" lesson I mean Elaine's concept that when warming up we should let the horse keep their own natural bend in their spine and work on lowering their head and neck by massaging their ribcage with our heel/spur on the side that is on the inside of the bend of the horse. This should be the sole focus until the horse is consistently going around with their poll level with their withers and only then can we start to ask for bend.) In one lesson with a horse who does not like to bring his head down at all, the pair was struggling with figuring out how to do the exercise. Whenever the rider would accidentally change the bend, Elaine started to exclaim how that was hurting the horse's back and "..see how he puts his head up, that's because he's saying 'ow'...". I thought this was taking things too far, like yes you maybe lost the longitudinal softness for a second because of a change in bend, and yes, that's not following the exercise, but just because the horse's head goes up (on a horse who's head is always up) doesn't mean it's a pain response in my opinion. Mild discomfort maybe, pain no.

No clinic media so here are some unrelated photos to break up wall of text
I went to a rodeo last month where they had a really cool procession of heavy horses pulling restored antique carts

I went home that night and I was mulling over the clinic. I was thrilled with how well my ride went and I was excited to have a new tool for encouraging Kachina to relax and stretch down to contact. However, I was a bit dubious too because of the so called accupressure point and Elaine talking about how a horse couldn't change the bend without pain unless their head was consistently level first. I think Emma was right with her comment on my last post though, sometimes clinicians do make up a "story" to go with their lesson, so I chalked it up to Elaine exaggerating her concept to try and make it stick. Also I realized that in general the whole lesson could be boiled down to "longitudinal suppleness before lateral suppleness". In the last couple years I have more focused on using lateral suppleness to get longitudinal suppleness (my go to warm up is all about lateral bend and asking for Kachina to move her haunches, ribcage, shoulders and neck to either side), however I know there is a place for both approaches and we have been stuck a bit lately so maybe it's time to switch it up. I decided that I would give this concept a good try and see where it led.

Clydesdales with chuckwagon

Day two I mounted up and immediately started by explaining my previous warmup routine and asking Elaine how I should modify it to work with her approach. As part of giving the new approach a good try, I didn't want to go against it in my warmup. She told me to just essentially do what we had done in the lesson the day before, walking on the rail or in large figures and using my inside leg to ask Kachina to drop her head and soften over her back. I asked if I could add anything else to it to keep Kachina's mind more focused because that's the benefit of my current warmup, it's more about getting her mind ready than her body. Elaine said I could add some leg yields if I wanted to, as long as I wasn't changing the bend.

A train of three grain carts pulled by a three horse hitch
I imagine this would be tough work if all were really loaded up!

The lesson continued working on the same concept as the day before. Kachina wasn't trying to speed up or move over when I used my inside leg anymore which was nice, but I found she wasn't as responsive to my leg in general and it took more massaging with my heel to get her to drop her head. I thought this seemed like a reasonable learning progression on day two of a new exercise. I kept my leg on until she softened, but she was still softening so I wasn't getting after her about it. Before long Kachina was walking around with her neck at what looked pretty level to me and so I was aiding less frequently. Elaine at some point during this decided that Kachina wasn't listening to my heel at all and asked if I wore spurs. I told her that I had never used spurs with Kachina as she was a sensitive horse and I didn't need them with her. I kept walking around, asking for Kachina to soften from time to time when her head came up, but generally thinking that we were doing the exercise well. Then, Elaine comes and walks at my side and is getting me to ask for more. I feel Kachina tense and grow upwards and realize that Elaine has a set of spurs in her hand and she is applying them to Kachina's ribcage behind my leg! To my knowledge Kachina has never been ridden with a spur, she was responding to my leg how I expected (if I was asking wrong that's on me, not my horse), she is a tense horse with a probable history of abuse, and I can feel her wanting to go up in response to the spur (she didn't actually put a foot wrong, but I could feel something building). Especially as the spur was in Elaine's hand where I had no control over it or even view of it, I was scared that there might be an upwards explosion that I didn't want to ride. I told Elaine that I wasn't comfortable with her doing that. Those were my words: "I'm sorry but I'm not comfortable with you doing that", Elaine responded "okay" and stepped away when asked. I was actually shocked that a trainer had done something like that. Elaine hadn't asked or even told me what she was going to do, she just walked up and started spurring my horse from the ground, after I said I didn't use spurs. I get that using spurs is reasonable on lots of horses, but I feel it's still a dangerous assumption to make and this is only my third clinic with Elaine so it's not like she knows Kachina all that well. Internally I was angry, and a bit frightened about how Kachina might have responded, but the dominant feeling was just shock and surprise so I said nothing more about the incident and kept going. Through me asking a few questions and thinking about it I finally figured out that what looked like a level neck to me from the saddle was actually not quite level, so I needed to ask Kachina to soften more. I feel like this could have been explained more easily though.  

This cart was used to deliver ice from the river to home iceboxes

Kachina isn't a very one-sided horse so her natural bend switched a few times of her own volition, and a lot of the time her body was mostly straight and I could only feel slightly which way she was bent. I thought these were good things as I want to promote symmetry. At some point though Elaine starts telling me to hold with my inside rein so Kachina can't bend the other way. She also started using the line that Kachina was saying "ow" because "it hurt her back when she changed bend". This confused me because I absolutely was not asking Kachina to change bend, she was changing bend herself and from the day before I thought that I was supposed to go with whichever bend Kachina wanted to take. Also, in my mind Kachina had been going around for about 20 min with a pretty consistent head set by this point so I thought that meant we'd be able to start asking for bend pretty soon anyways. I started asking Elaine questions because I didn't understand this new development. She said that for Kachina in particular because she's too bendy of a horse I needed to keep the bend the same for a longer time. This was an answer, but I wanted to know why that was the answer, because that's the kind of rider I am. I never got a satisfactory answer but while we were going around Elaine then started saying that not only could I not allow Kachina to change the bend, I couldn't allow her to straighten either, and had me hold her into a substantial bend. I was trying to do as instructed, but it just felt wrong to me, I felt like I was forcing the bend which was not helping relaxation, and my own body felt all twisted as well. Also I am accustomed to there being an "ask" followed by a "release" in an exercise, but this had no release from the bend. In fairness, I didn't do a good job of explaining what exactly I was feeling, I just asked Elaine why I had to keep such bend because it felt wrong to me. I wanted to understand the reasoning for asking for overbend, and I was asking questions to try and figure out what to look for when working on this at home on my own. However, in hindsight, I can see how Elaine might have thought I was questioning her as a trainer.

The "Ranch Girls" doing patterns with flags

She started responding to my questions with more sweeping declarations like "I've dealt with lots and lots of horses like this", "I've trained horses and riders to Grand Prix so don't worry that I don't know what I'm talking about", etc. I really have pretty low tolerance for that kind of thing, because a) you aren't answering my questions, and b) even if you do have the best most universal training method, you only see me and my horse twice a year so that doesn't help anything unless you can explain your method to me adequately. I could see that she was getting frustrated with me, so I right out said "I'm sorry, I'm not trying to question you as a trainer, I just want to understand", she responded to that by spouting out some more stuff about her skill and experience so at that point I just fixed my face into a mask, went quiet, and tried to do what she was telling me, while internally just wanting the lesson to be over. It also didn't help that Elaine repeatedly talked about how Kachina was "resisting" me, or "trying to get her way" etc. while I felt like Kachina was really putting in a good effort for me, it was just that neither of us had a clue what it was we were trying to do.

The rest of the lesson was spent in this exaggerated bend, and it continued to feel wrong to me. We did some trot work and Kachina kept on speeding up, going lateral, and breaking into canter, which Elaine responded to by asking for more bend. It never really got better, and Elaine ended the lesson by saying she wished the clinic had a third day so we could "get" it.

After Elaine started with the next rider and I was released to cool down, I actually spent a little time walking and trotting Kachina without bend just because I felt like we needed a decent note to end the ride on. I got off and I was really pretty upset. I couldn't even bring myself to say thanks to Elaine for the lesson (which I always do for any riding lesson) because I wasn't thankful at that moment and I didn't trust myself to maintain composure if I opened my mouth.

All the bucking horses etc in the back chutes

Over the few weeks since the clinic I've realized that Kachina and I need to be better at bending and stretching down. Kachina keeps her neck fairly upright when riding so when I think she's lowering her head and relaxing her neck, it's not actually as far down as I think, just down relative to normal. Same with bend, I can feel slight bend and so I think that bend is obvious from the ground as well when it may not be. I need to readjust my view and feelings as to what is "enough". However, even if that was part of this issue in the lesson, I still have some issues with how Elaine responded.

Please let me know your thoughts: Where is the appropriate line for questioning a clinician, or trainer in general? Please give it to me straight: was I out of line in my questions and comments, was Elaine out of line, or was it nobody's fault and just one of those bad lessons? How would you have reacted if you were in my situation?

(Spoiler alert, I am signed up with another clinic with Elaine under the premise that this ride was an anomaly/a bad day/an unfortunate misunderstanding. I have had good experiences with her in the past and she is one of only a few clinicians who come to my area so I want to give it another chance, she better not spur my horse again though!)

Friday 4 August 2017

Natural Curve - Clinic Recap Part I

Please join me in a journey back in time, back to the middle of July when I had a clinic that I haven't blogged about yet, mostly because I needed some time to get perspective. This was a clinic with Elaine, and it fell between my questionably beneficial clinic with Robin and the last show.

I have ridden with Elaine twice before (June 2016 and September 2016). I credit her with pretty much fixing my entire leg position in one lesson, so I was excited to see what we'd learn this time around. It was a two-day mid-week clinic but I was scheduled for evening slots so I was able to haul there after work.

At the start of Day One, I was impressed that Elaine remembered my name and my horse. Clinicians can have a lot of horse and riders pass by their eyes so I never expect to be remembered. Elaine had me warm-up as I wanted while she watched. I did my normal routine of lateral work, getting Kachina to move her hips, ribcage and shoulders in turn at the walk. I then did some circles and patterns around the arena at walk and trot. I was a bit stressed out to have my warm-up critiqued, but I was pleased because Kachina was listening well and I knew we were showing visible improvement from September.

Elaine seemed to agree because she brought me into the center and said that we were going to introduce a new concept now that Kachina was better at bit responses and rhythm which were the focus of previous clinics.

She launched into an explanation of a concept that was almost entirely new to me:
- horses have a natural curve to their spine
- horses can't comfortable change the curve of their spine until they are relaxed over their topline
- when warming up we shouldn't force them to bend against their natural curve until they are relaxed over their back and consistently carrying their head about even with their withers
- massaging the horse's ribcage with your heel or spur on the side that is inside the natural curve (so right side if the horse is bent right) will hit an acupuncture point that will encourage the horse to drop their head and relax over the back
- when warming up you should keep on large figures, and go with whatever side bend the horse picks but keep using the inside leg (relative to the spine) to get the horse to drop their head and relax
- if the horse tries to respond to your inside leg by speeding up or moving sideways, resist the movement by holding with your seat and arms, but don't pull
- work both directions but you will be counter-bent in one direction
- most horses have a side that they like to stay curved to more (I interpreted this to mean the horse's hollow side like Sandra has taught me), however, if the horse naturally changes the bend themselves, go with it and start using the new bend and new inside leg
- only start asking the horse to change bend once they have been keeping their head level and relaxed for a consistent amount of time
- this whole approach is especially important for warming up on show days when the horse may be more tense and may want to be counterbent to the outside to look at things: don't force a change in bend too early

I didn't quite buy the whole explanation (namely the acupuncture point that apparently is conveniently located exactly where your heel falls), but that doesn't mean the approach as a whole doesn't work. I've had good experiences with Elaine in the past and my general philosophy with trainers is to try their approach before knocking it (unless it's something obviously crazy). I was wanting to learn and work on something new and so I was excited to try this.

We started off by trying it at a halt. Elaine stood next to me and when Kachina tried to move she worked with me on developing the feel I needed in my reins and back to hold/resist but not pull. I found it hard but I was glad that this was part of the lesson because I know it's a skill I need to improve. Eventually Kachina (and myself) figured it out at the halt, so we moved onto walk. It definitely took some repetition to show Kachina what I was asking for, and I started out by wanting to pull too much on my inside (relative to the wall) rein when her natural curve was counterbent, but we both really did start figuring it out. Kachina stopped going forwards or sideways in response to my inside leg and she more quickly would move to put her head down. Kachina isn't much of a one-sided horse so she naturally changed the bend a few times and I found it pretty easy to switch and get the softness to the other side.

With this we graduated onto the trot. Doing the same thing at the trot went fairly well for our first attempt, but there were a few times where Kachina would kind of wiggle and her bend would change multiple times in the course of a few strides. Elaine observed that when this happened, my body would collapse into the holes that Kachina was creating by dropping her back out from under me on one side. I've never heard it explained in quite that way before but since I first got Kachina I've characterized her as a "tippy" horse, so I immediately identified with what she was saying. Elaine encouraged me to hold my upper body upright and pretend that I had crutches under my armpits to keep my shoulders level when Kachina "tipped". I really liked this visual and I did find that this made the "wiggly" moments shorter and smoother. Elaine also directed me that within the larger exercise, I should keep riding the original natural curve direction until Kachina picked a steady opposite bend (so don't change with her if she only changes for a stride). I felt like this was a big ambiguous as to when to change or not change, but I understood the basic premise. By the end of the lesson we were able to do large figures in both directions at walk and trot with a pretty steady head carriage (and all still on a pretty loose rein).

I was a little sad that we hadn't addressed the canter at all, but I was overall very pleased with the lesson, happy to have another tool to get Kachina to relax and stretch, and I was excited for Day Two.

Tuesday 1 August 2017

Show Recap

A week ago was a nearby All Breed show, where I competed in dressage on Friday and some general performance classes on Saturday. As shown by my ribbon haul, the show went pretty well! I know we can do better, especially in dressage, and there was a lot to improve on. However, we did do better than last year and I'm choosing to mostly focus on the positive.


On Thursday I was feeling a bit down in the dumps and pessimistic about the show. Writing this post really helped me to put things in perspective and go in with a better frame of mind though. Thursday evening was a busy night, as after work I had to pack up my gear, trailer to the show, help set up the dressage ring, and bathe Kachina. I didn't have time to ride at the show grounds so I just did a short lunge session instead. While lunging, the left lead that has been giving us issues for the last couple weeks miraculously reappeared. I don't know what changed, but I was really happy. I actually started being hopeful again about how we'd do the following day. 

Friday Morning

Friday morning Kachina was relaxed in her stall, I cleaned tack and did my fastest braid job ever (complete with 15 year old brown elastics because I could not for the life of me find my black elastics or yarn) before tacking up for my 9:35am ride time. The show started at 9am, so I made sure to be on by 8:30am so I could warm up in the arenas before the competition started. Since they had added a second competition ring, there was no longer a designated warmup arena, but I had been told by the organizers that we could warm up around the perimeter of the competition area in the morning and at breaks. 

I mounted up and Kachina walked two steps and then seriously balked. Kachina is a super forward horse and the only times she's balked in the past have been when there's seemingly been a tack issue. This is exactly what happened at this show last year and exactly what I had been convinced would not be an issue again since we just got our saddle fit and tack setup professionally checked. I tried to get her to move forward and she humped her back hard. I hopped off, and reset the saddle. I got back on and same thing. I hopped off again and led her around for a bit to see if she just needed to walk more. I then recruited a friend to come over to the mounting block and lead us if needed. All the while I was internally screaming "not again! not again!" I got back on a third time and she felt fine. My friend led us off the asphalt in case, but I had my normal horse back. I've never known Kachina to be a cold-backed horse, but maybe being in a stall makes her that way? I'm not sure why she was being weird but I was glad it was short-lived. 

All of this had only taken around 10 minutes so it was still 20 minutes before the show start, but I was devastated to find the arena closed. Some wires must have gotten crossed somewhere and they never had opened it for warmup. This was actually terrible, because the only place to warmup was on the short end of the chuckwagon track. The ground hadn't been harrowed so it was rock hard, and it was an awkward shape and the track was sloped towards the inside of the track. A long warmup is critical to get Kachina relaxed and focused. Our walk work was okay, but Kachina got upset every time I tried to trot. This is where I think my recent saddle fitting was worth every cent, because I was able to tell myself that the tack was fine and that it was just the sloped hard track or something else that was the issue. This kept my level of nerves down considerably (if I think my saddle is the problem I start visualizing Kachina bucking me off). I found a flatter section to work on, but it was a high traffic area so my warmup was pretty disjointed. I was finally able to do some trot work, but I didn't feel safe or comfortable cantering there. It came time for my test and I was pretty bummed that my first time cantering under saddle since Monday was going to be in my test, especially because I hadn't ridden a successful left canter in a couple weeks. 

My first test was Training Level Test 3 in Ring 1. Since this test has the left lead canter come first, and the left canter tour is the longest amount of cantering in Training Level, it was not an ideal test to do with an unknown left lead! My stress came out as tension in the saddle which Kachina of course picked up on, but we went in, did the test, and got correct leads of true canter in both directions! It wasn't our best test, but given the situation, I was thrilled! We ended up getting 58% for 5th place out of 8. We got dinged pretty hard in spots for our tension (both mine and Kachina's), but the judge in this ring was the same one as for my show in May, and she commented on our improvement since last time (though the score was only 1% higher). 

I had 45 minutes until my next test so we did some more walk/trot work and some standing around before going into Ring 2 for Training Level Test 3. Kachina was a bit jazzed and I felt like my best chance of a good ride was not to micro-manage her too much, this resulted in a few issues like a head tilting and some lack of bend, but Kachina was more relaxed and it was a pretty decent test. We scored a 62%, which was high enough to score 2nd place out of 8 adult riders!

Halts have been a weak point for us previously, but they were
good this show and all scored between 6.0 - 8.0
(All English photos from T2, no photographer in the other ring)

We did have some nice moments

I was super pleased with this diagonal but the judge thought it needed more energy

Proof that we had a left canter! It was above the bit at times though

I brought Kachina back to her stall to untack and let her chill for a while until it was time to put on my western tack for western dressage! 

Friday Afternoon 

I wanted to do more than two dressage tests at this show and I own a western saddle. Those two things pretty much sum up the entirety of my thought process when I decided to enter two western dressage classes. I generally just use my western saddle for trail riding and I've never shown western dressage before. In hindsight I maybe should have thought that decision through a little more. Some thoughts about showing western:
- bringing two sets of tack to a show is heavier and more annoying than just packing english tack. This should be obvious, but clearly I didn't even consider the basics of my choice. 
- jeans and a western shirt are far more comfortable than english dressage show clothes, especially in the heat
- the majority of time I ride in my western saddle I just walk, that was obvious at the show as my seat wasn't as solid in my western saddle and my posting sucked. 
- The twist of my western saddle is wider than my dressage saddle, I'm essentially never sore after riding, but I was for a few days after Friday. 
- I have a very sensitive horse, I know this. I should have realized that putting on a different saddle and a different bridle was going to affect her way of going and I shouldn't have assumed that we could just ride like normal but in different tack. Kachina was tense and I was unable to ride effectively.

Kachina's face does look pretty sans noseband in a western headstall

As well as the tack issues, the morning had unfortunately taught Kachina that in warm-up we walk and trot, and in the show ring we canter. This meant that I got some nicer trot work from Kachina in warm-up, but she was anticipating canter like crazy in the tests themselves. I know that pulling on Kachina's face is the opposite of helpful, but when she kept wanting to canter I couldn't stop myself. She also kept going into her lateral trot and canter which I want to shut down quickly. We ended up doing a decent amount of our tests with me leaning forward and pulling on the reins, and Kachina was gaping her mouth open and had her head in the air. It was not a pretty picture. We also cantered (loped) a couple times when we weren't supposed to. Somehow our test scores weren't that much worse. We got 58% in Western Dressage Basic Test A, and 57% in Western Dressage Basic Test B. That was enough to earn us another 2nd and another 5th place ribbon.

I bought a couple "bad" photos for learning purposes
Here you can see my bad leaning and pulling, I know I shouldn't do this
and I am working really hard on it! This was one of our worst moments though.

Counterbent tense hollow lateral canter
I know this is not the right answer of how to ride this, but can anyone tell me what is??

I'm still holding a bit too much but some of our canter was decent

I thought our free walk was pretty good, but this only earned us a 5.5
I actually have a post in the works on this because it seems like I'm missing something

In general I had mixed feelings about Friday. On the negative side, I know we can do better and I was disappointed that we didn't put in better work. I also knew my own riding was substantially to blame so I was mad at myself. It also sucked that I missed out on qualifying for the Alberta Dressage Awards by 1.5% (needed a 63%). On the other hand, we had issues going into the show and we overcame them to put in a decent performance. Kachina came to play and her left canter felt great. Also, I had a couple people I know come up to me and comment on how far Kachina had come from previous years which was really nice to hear. I think the warmup situation contributed to scores going down across the board so I felt we had earned our ribbons and I was happy with them.

This is the first time I've adequately gotten photos of the beautiful EDA Designs custom bonnet
that EventingSaddlebred sent me from one of her blog contests!
It worked well at this show to keep away the little bugs that were everywhere,
and I love how the light blue piping picks up Kachina's eyes! 


Saturday was English general performance. The morning started with over fences classes so I didn't ride until after lunch, leading to a luxuriously relaxed morning. The competition was also only in one ring on Saturday so I had a much better warmup in an actual arena with actual footing!

My first class was Senior English Pleasure. It was a fairly big class with 12 horses. Kachina was pretty good, but she did break into canter from trot directly in front of the judge, so I was unsurprised that we didn't place. Also, while Kachina's canter felt great, it is a big ground covering canter so we were passing many of the other horses which doesn't scream "pleasure".

Next came Senior English Equitation. This class had the following pattern:

I practiced the pattern three times in the warmup ring and each time Kachina did awesome with it (we changed leads through trot). When the class rolled around, the heat of the day was starting to build so the judge decided that we would do the pattern only with no rail work. When it was our turn we picked up the left lead when we were supposed to be cantering on the right lead, and the pattern was set tightly enough that we didn't have enough time to fully correct it. The rest of the pattern was good enough that we got a 5th out of 6 though (the person who placed behind us missed her left lead).

The day rounded out with Road Hack and Show Hack. Both are rail classes. Road Hack asks for walk, trot, strong trot, canter and hand gallop. Show Hack asks for walk, walk on a loose rein, collected trot, ordinary trot, extended trot, collected canter, ordinary canter, extended canter. The gaits were mixed up in order making for some challenging transitions.

In Road Hack, Kachina cantered a few times in the strong trot (not her fault, we've only just re-introduced lengthens), but her hand gallop was on point. We placed 5th out of 6 again. In the Show Hack, Kachina was awesome! I could feel clear differences between her collected, normal, and extended gaits (talking more about the shortening and lengthening of stride and frame, uphill engagement isn't a requirement of this class, it's not dressage). We definitely rock more at lengthens and collection is our weak point though. I had a pretty big smile on my face while we were doing our extended canter/hand gallop! The show ring is the perfect size that you can ask for some speed and still feel safe about it so I was having fun. Show Hack was a smaller class, but the people in it with me were the riders who had been dominating all day. We ended up with 4th place out of 4, but I am still proud of my ribbon because I felt it was our best class of the day.

Kachina with her ribbons

Sunday was Western general performance day, so after our last class on Saturday we packed up and went home.

I have lots to work on but the show was overall a positive experience. I am proud of Kachina, I had fun talking to and cheering on other friends who were competing or volunteering, the dressage day had a whopping 96 rides which is a massive accomplishment in this area, several people expressed interest in the May 2018 dressage show that I will be putting on, and I can't complain about our ribbon haul! Also the show helped to highlight our current weak points so I know what I should be focusing on in the next couple months. August is a surprisingly quiet month on the equine front but I am happy to just put in work at home and prepare for the show and clinics that are scheduled for September.

More work to do with Miss Moose-head