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)