Tuesday 30 January 2018

Confidence and Getting Back On

No, this isn't a post about getting back on after a fall. There's been a lot of good stuff written about that already. This is about the more mundane, but sometimes equally challenging task of getting back on after some time away from the saddle.

On Friday I rode for the first time in six and a half weeks. Six weeks is a relatively minor period when you compare it to people who give their horses winters off, or those who leave horses for a prolonged period before getting back into riding; however, since I started riding at the age of 8, six weeks is about the longest I ever go without sitting in a saddle. I have had a small handful of riding gaps that long and they have been for a variety of reasons: horse rehab (x2), backpacking trip to Europe, extended field work for job, being between horses, and ground work bootcamp. This time was just due to a wicked combination of me being sick, having a major audit at work, the holiday season, and brutal cold weather. Since Dec 10th I have been out at the barn a number of times to check on Kachina or do quick lunging or groundwork sessions, but I didn't have the time or energy to actually get in a proper ride.

So, on Friday, I had some nerves about mounting up. I was surprised at how quickly my confidence had eroded. Of course it didn't help that Kachina was being a brat in the barn while I was trying to groom and tack up. I did a bit of lunging first as a precaution and while Kachina was spicy, she was also listening. I knew I needed to get back in the saddle at some point so I forced myself to climb aboard and breathe. I relied on my riding mantras for the first few minutes to make sure I wasn't transmitting my nerves to Kachina: "sit deep, legs quiet but on, forward thinking hands, maintain bend, don't trap with my hands, breathe". It only took a few minutes for the majority of my nerves to dissipate and for my relaxation to become real instead of faked. I was so proud of Kachina because before long I was able to get right back into some of the exercises we had been working on before the break. She immediately remembered what I was looking for and didn't seem to have lost any ground at all. Mindful of the cold weather and our reduced fitness levels I kept the ride to 30 minutes of just walk/trot, but I got off smiling.

While my confidence as a rider only took one ride to rebound this time, it got me thinking about how much harder it might be to battle nerves after a longer gap. If I end up being earthbound for 6 months at some point while growing a tiny human, how tough is it going to be to get back on after that? Of course in that instance I'd have a changed body to deal with as well. What would it be like to get back in the saddle after a serious injury or prolonged illness? How does the type of horse you have make a difference to the seriousness of breaks? For some horses who need a very structured program, getting back after even a week or two off might be a lot more challenging.

If any of you have stories about gaps in riding and how your confidence was affected I would love to hear them.

Thursday 25 January 2018


So, everyone knows that the best way to prepare for a month of twice-weekly training (the most instruction I've ever had in my life) is to go into it completely unprepared with an unfit horse and unfit rider, right? right?

Starting this Saturday I will be having two lessons a week with Elaine for a total of 4 weeks while she is in the area. Unfortunately, I am still in rough shape after a month of being sick and having a super demanding work schedule - I thought I was getting better but pilates class last night just about killed me and I generally think of pilates as my "easy sport" (I'm in a class with my middle aged parents, so if I can't keep up there's an issue). Kachina has been mostly sitting around losing fitness as well. A combination of the weather, my schedule (including being out of town for the last 5 days), and my sickness means that I have not even ridden yet in 2018!! We have done some good ground work and lunging (Kachina is finally comfortable again with me handling her feet so that's a win) but we are whole-fully unprepared for the work that will be heaped upon us shortly. At least we haven't been practicing our bad habits either?

While physically this is not the start I had hoped for, I am really looking forward to this month of training. I feel like my mind at least is in a good place to give this training a really solid try. I'm not going in with a list of specific problems or show deadlines that will direct the lessons. I instead want to learn as much as I can, soak up knowledge, work on my homework each week and figure out how to generally become a better rider and better trainer for Kachina. I really hope this month helps me to figure out some goals and a broad training plan for the rest of the year because I would appreciate the direction. Bring it on!

Friday 19 January 2018


In the last few months I've been thinking about barns and trainers, and how neither of them are ever perfect so we go with lesser evils or those which meet our needs best at a certain point in time.

With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to discuss what imperfections we are willing to live with when it comes to our trainers and barns. Do you put up with some flakiness for an instructor with a great eye? Do you forgo bathing your horse for a place with great hay? Are proximity and cost near the top of your list or will you spend more time and money to get the best? On the other hand, what's non-negotiable for you? Let me know if anyone wants to do a bloghop on this and I can set up a linky thing.

Here's mine:


- Good hay
- Safe fences
- Indoor arena (for winter)
- Decent arena availability
- Safe place to ride outside
- People I trust to notice if something is wrong with my horse (colic etc) and let me know
- Big pens, paddocks or pastures - room for my horse to move
- Other horses
- A place I feel welcome to come (this is a bit ambiguous, but I've seen situations before where it's someone's more private place and it feels like going to someone's house uninvited)
- Parking for my truck and trailer (extra fee okay)
- Place for my stuff (this can be a locker, shared tack room, or even just access to my trailer, but I'm not going to have my saddle etc. live in my car)

Imperfections I do/will deal with
- No indoor stabling
- No heating
- No plumbing
- No trainer
- Annoying lights
- Annoying boarders
- Being the only one in my discipline
- No wash rack
- Having to arrange vet/farrier etc. myself
- No blanket service
- No extra feeding

Indoor arena is a must

Trails to ride and fellow boarders to ride with are certainly nice, but negotiable


- Fair to horse
- Teaches me something new that I can see benefit of at clinic/lesson and that I can work on at home (this includes explaining stuff to me well enough that I can work on it by myself)
- Does not intensify my own bad habits (e.g. I know I can be a timid rider who can have a tendency to overuse the reins. I rode with one instructor who got more scared than I did when my horse misbehaved, and another who wanted me to ride more with my hands, I stopped riding with both)
- Doesn't seek to belittle or embarrass riders (no GM for me)

Imperfections I do/will deal with
- lives in another city
- requires hauling out
- can get lessons with only a couple times a year
- different discipline
- no formal training
- cannot figure out or remember my name
- difficulties scheduling
- always late
- "eccentric"

My non-negotiables for a trainer is a very short list. I will ride with a lot of different kinds of trainers, however value plays a role as well: I will pay and travel a lot more to lesson with a Grand Prix dressage trainer than I will to a local reiner who is just helping me with leads. I've benefited from both though and believe you can learn things from a wide variety of trainers.

Not required, but huge extra points if trainer will come to me!

I think location and availability of options in your area is an important component of what imperfections you are willing to put up with as well. Out of necessity I have to be more flexible about training in my area because there are so few choices, but there are enough boarding locations around here for me to be firm about things like an indoor arena that might be luxuries elsewhere. What's your take?

Wednesday 17 January 2018

WW: Winter selfies

Its hard to take selfies when its cold, dark and your phone is half frozen, but we try! (It was -27C at time of photo, but now a balmy -2C yay!)



Nose won't fit

Eh, good enough!

Also, not horse related but my brother makes sweet art out of metal and he now has an Etsy shop to sell some of his sculptures:
Putting them up for sale was a big step for him and so any views or shares would be much appreciated! (shipping outside Canada is an option if you message him or me)

Thursday 11 January 2018


This is the current weather here:

(That's -20F and Feels Like -36F for you American folks)

I know there's been a lot of posts going around about how cold is too cold to ride. The answer is this. This is too cold to ride. I will go out to the barn after work, check that Kachina is still feeling warm under her hair and blanket, then I will feed her and go home to my warm couch. I am still fighting off a nasty flu that is on its third week so I am intentionally being a weeny about the cold and not subjecting my lungs to it any more than necessary. Next week is looking a lot warmer though so I am excited for that. Stay warm everyone :-)

Wednesday 10 January 2018

2017 Q4 Review and 2018 Q1 Goals

2017 Q4 Goal Review

1. Fight winter blues and re-establish a barn routine
Success - not going to lie, it took a while, but it happened. Unfortunately I have been sick for the last 2 weeks which has put me back again.

2. Start pre-planning for 2018 local dressage show
Success - Venue and Judge and Date are set. The show is well positioned relative to other events in the area,  and I have been working to get the word out. 

3. Actively determine what I can do to improve the local equestrian scene
Semi-Success - I've been thinking about this, but rather than some master plan I've realized that this is more of an ongoing thing to see where I can contribute as things come up. 

4. Regularly video my rides
Fail - I didn't ride a whole lot this quarter but there's no reason why I couldn't have videoed my rides when they did happen

5. Address ground work from a root cause perspective
Success - I've been working to figure out the reasons behind Kachina's behaviour and address it accordingly. E.g. I realised that pain and fear was the reason behind Kachina's regression with having her feet handled so I've been working with her on it in a very low pressure way. 

6. Participate in 2Pointober

7. Participate in No-stirrup November

8. Control the canter
Success - I'm finally at the point where I feel comfortable cantering every ride and I feel like I'm riding the canter instead of just being a passenger

9. Regularly work on free walk and stretchy trot
Fail - in clinics I realised that Kachina needs a better understanding of contact before I can get her to seek the contact in a stretch

10. Develop new training progression plan
Semi-success - as I wrote about in a Note on Goals, I figured out that I want to develop this with a trainer instead of my own.

2018 Q1 Goals

1. Try training with Elaine
Elaine is coming back for a clinic at the end of January and is actually staying in the area for a whole month to train with people. I have signed up for twice weekly sessions. This is a super unique opportunity for where I live and I want to take full advantage of it. 

2. Research other boarding options
I'm not totally happy with where Kachina is boarded right now, I don't honestly know if there is a better option but the first step is to actually look and find out

3. Continue with Project Magpie
So I've discovered that my non-horsey SO (who Kachina doesn't know that well) can walk straight up to Kachina and throw a rope around her neck with no drama. I'm not sure why my BO can't do the same so I need to try and figure that out with more investigation. 

4. Issue Prizelist for Show
This also involves figuring out all the details that go into it, but at least I can copy a lot of the stuff from last year.

That's all, keeping the goals simple this quarter

Monday 8 January 2018

2017 Goal Review and 2018 Goals

2017 Goal Review

Goals re-written with comments added in bold
  1. Keep Kachina happy and healthy - Semi-success - Kachina had a vet check recently and she is objectively healthy, but something is not quite right and she sometimes seems uncomfortable, investigation ongoing
    • Stretch: build good topline and muscles - Semi-success it's not better than it was but not worse either
  2. Be able to do a good training level test pattern - Success! 
    • Stretch: do a good training level test actually at a show in front of a judge - Success! It even happened at a rated show and got us a ribbon!
  3. Start First Level work - Success - At a couple clinics this year we did prove that we are capable of the lengthens and lateral work in First Level so I'm counting this as a success, but for the most part we are still plugging away at the all the fundamentals which we need to improve consistency of for any level
    • Stretch: be able to do all components of First Level Test 1 and 2 - Nope - I wouldn't sign up for First Level Test 1 yet, we have some of the pieces but they aren't together yet (but this was a stretch goal so it's not a fail that I didn't reach it)
  4. Get at least six lessons/clinics - Success! This year I had so many lessons! 2 with Danielle, 4 with Kt, 4 with N, 2 with Judge, 3 with Robin Hahn, 6 with Elaine, and 7 with Sandra! 
    • Stretch: host and participate in 6 clinics with Sandra in this area and go to additional clinics/lessons too - Semi-success - I was only able to organize 4 clinics with Sandra but I made up for it with other stuff!
  5. Compete in at least one show - Success! I competed in 4 shows, my own one in May, Bronze show in June, local show in July, and Schooling show in September
    • Stretch: Get above 65% at a show - Nope, my top score was 63.7%
    • Stretch: Earn a ribbon - Success! multiple ribbons including fancy ones!
  6. Trail ride somewhere new - Success! - We had a great time at the Cypress Hills Wish Ride!
    • Stretch: do a full out gallop somewhere - Semi-success - we did canter out in the fields a few times but I wasn't confident enough in her balance to go full gallop yet
  7. Improve my position - Success! Always more room to improve but I know my position is better than it was at this time last year
    • Stretch: be comfortable bareback or without stirrups at walk/trot/canter - Nope, still not here yet
    • Stretch: get to a healthy weight and fitness - Semi-success - I'm a few pounds lighter and a bit fitter than I was, but still a long way to go
  8. Continue to do ground work - Success - this requires constant work but I have been putting in the time. Our leading and lunging are much better now. 
    • Stretch: train Kachina to stand still in any situation - nope, I can get Kachina to do most things, but getting her to not do things is still a challenge
  9. Do some desensitization work - Success - not a lot, but we did do some with plastics bags etc. She is getting a bit braver about exploring weird things now.
  10. Keep being involved and further develop the local dressage community - Success! We have a local dressage community now! 
    • Stretch: host a local dressage show - Success! It happened and it was even good!
  11. Have fun - Success! Not every day is fun, but I've had some truly fun times with Kachina this year. 

Overall I would call this year a success! I liked having both goals and stretch goals. I made most of my normal goals and even met quite a few stretch ones. 

2018 Goals

As mentioned in my Note on Goals, my 2018 Goals are going to be a little different. I also broke things into a few sub-categories so that I'm focused on more than just riding goals.


  1. Increase Kachina's trust in other people so she can be caught and handled by someone else
  2. Keep Kachina happy and healthy
  3. Develop plan for Kachina for if/when I might be grounded (lease? liberty work? need to think about this)

Horse Community

  1. Organise a second local dressage show
  2. Be an active participant of my area dressage association
  3. Be an active participant of the community equestrian facility board
  4. Attend a dressage judging clinic (this should happen in August and I'm super excited!)
  5. Audit a clinic 

Dressage Riding

  1. Have Kachina and I improve in dressage through methods that build our cooperation and trust
  2. Improve my position and hands
  3. Test ride regularly to determine weaknesses
  4. Video my rides at least once a month and critique them myself
  5. Compete in at least one show (level TBD)
  6. Ride a First Level test that feels good (this can be at home)
(These are essentially my goals to make sure that I'm on the right track with a trainer, if the training isn't helping me then I need to make a change)


  1. Have fun
  2. Experiment again with clicker training
  3. Go on trail rides with friends
  4. Canter or gallop out in the fields
  5. Figure out how to mount from the ground (I know using a mounting block is better for the horse's back, but I need a solution for trail riding in bald prairie #shortpersonproblems)
  6. Settle on a boarding situation (I've been considering a change and need to figure out the best option for both Kachina and myself)

Stretch Goals

  1. Show at First Level
  2. Earn above 65% at a show
  3. Place in a competitive class

Well there you have it. In some ways it's a lot of goals but I think they are good things to keep me focused and moving forward in a year with a lot going on. 

Friday 5 January 2018

A Note on Goals

I have been putting a lot of thought into goals for the new year and the new quarter. Coming up with personal and work goals seemed relatively simple, but I kept hitting a mental wall when I tried to define my equestrian goals. I'm no stranger to goals, I make goals regularly and I usually have enough of a plan in the back of my head that when I sit down to write out goals they come to me pretty quickly. It took me a while to figure out what the disconnect was this time but I finally realized the two big questions that make goal setting hard this year:

1. Do I want to follow my plan or a trainer's plan?

I'm a super independent person and rider, especially in the years since I've started dressage. I ride by myself 90%+ of the time and generally everything from making goals to coming up with a show schedule is done as a solo exercise. My independence has helped me become a better rider in some ways, teaching me to think through training issues and come up with solutions on my own. I'm also the person in the world who knows my horse best and that's important. However, there is still so so much for me to learn and having a trainer is invaluable with learning new techniques and proven approaches.

The whole theme of 2017 was becoming not so autonomous anymore. I took a lot of lessons in 2017, more than I have most years, but I lacked a lot of structure with the lessons as they were taught by several different instructors and the timing of the clinics was a bit haphazard. I feel like I am still adjusting to the new paradigm of there actually being dressage in my area, and therefore I didn't get as much out of the lessons as I could have. I didn't actively ask myself or the trainers about how working with them might fit in with my pre-existing goals, and I was sometimes torn in rides at home about whether I should work on what I the "homework" prescribed in my last lesson or whether I should focus on what I myself saw as most important that day. I don't want the same thing to happen this year.

This year, there will be even more opportunities for me to learn from dressage trainers and I want to make the most of that. There is one trainer I am planning to work with on a more regular basis starting at the end of January. She has proven that she knows what she is talking about and has a fairly structured progression of basics that she works with her students on. If I'm going to work with her I think I need to be willing to listen to her priorities. I can have goals of what I want to achieve with Kachina but I need to give up a bit of control as to how or when we get there.

2. What's the end date/goal?

The second problem with goal setting this year is that part of my life plans will likely interfere with my riding in a big way. I am getting married this summer and both me and my SO want to grow our family after that happens, as in have kids, as in try and get pregnant. I do really want kids but the idea of having them is tough from a rider standpoint. I'm actually surprised that I know of so few people who have tackled the whole baby and horse thing considering how much of blogland and my real life equestrian scene is populated by women in their 20s and 30s. I don't have a whole lot of examples as to how this might go.

There's two components to the having kids thing. First is the pregnancy itself. I feel like I will probably want to follow the medically recommended approach of stopping riding in the second trimester so I am trying to mentally prepare myself for being grounded for 6 months. The tough thing is that I don't know when exactly that 6 months will start, it could be in the second half of 2018 but could be longer. How long do I have? What can I accomplish before then? What's the best plan for Kachina while I'm grounded? Also, how long is it going to take me to rebuild my core muscles afterwards? Second, there's the baby itself. I like to think I will be one of those people who will be back riding a few weeks after giving birth, but I know having a baby is a pretty profound lifestyle change so I'm trying to not be too rigid in my plans (which is really hard for me!). I know I definitely still want horses in my life, but I'm not sure what exactly that will look like so I am trying to be realistic and realize that competitive goals might take a backseat for a while.

Neither of these subjects are truly problems. I am stoked to have a trainer that needs to be considered in making a plan this year, and I feel super lucky that my life is so full with love, family, career, and horses that fitting in everything is the issue. I just wanted to provide some clarity to myself as well as you about why my goals might look a little different this year. Have any of you dealt with these goal complications before?