Monday 26 March 2018

Kachina the Genius

I am so ready for it to be spring! The snow is finally melting here and it got up to a balmy +8C (46F) yesterday which is the warmest so far this year. Of course it is supposed to snow and go down to -17C (1F) later this week so we're not really done with winter yet.

The first time I've ever caught Kachina napping at her current barn

I am also so ready to move barns. I really think that this will be a positive move and so I'm excited for Friday. Unfortunately, the whole decision process put all the negative parts of where I'm at front and center in my mind so it makes me impatient to move. The combination of that plus craziness at work (I worked 28 hours of overtime just last week) have meant not a lot of riding. Luckily I have a genius saint of a horse.

Yesterday I had a lesson with Elaine. Despite it being my first ride in almost two weeks, Kachina came ready to work and started relaxing and blowing as soon as I mounted up. After a warmup and some work on getting Kachina on the bit, we started a new exercise of square corners at the walk. I've done this before but not recently. However after a few repetitions Kachina started to catch on nicely. The exercise then progressed to doing square corners at the trot, and then square corners alternating with leg yielding (so turn a square turn to the right, then leg yield out to the left, then immediately turn another square corner to the right and repeat). This exercise was done in the area of a 20m circle so it involved quick changes between the different parts of the exercise.

Crappy paint depiction of exercise

This progression was an entirely new exercise to both Kachina and I and it was a mental workout for us both. Elaine was reminding me to keep my upper body straight and side muscles engaged while I switched from using outside aids for the square turn to inside aids for the leg yield, instead of collapsing from one side to the other. It took a lot of concentration but I could tell that Kachina understood my aids better and responded more easily when I did it correctly.

The other thing I had to work on was using the correct aids for getting her shoulder to move over. I first mentioned this way back in this post about riding the dressage simulator, but for years I used to move the shoulder by moving my outside leg in front of girth and using that aid instead of using my outside rein to turn the shoulder. Ever since the simulator I've learned that that is incorrect, but I still default to it when I've got too many things to think about (in case anyone else struggles with this, remember that legs control the ribcage and back half of the horse, reins control the shoulders and front). Part of why correcting my aids has been slow is because frequently I can get Kachina to do what I want her to with the incorrect aids so my instructors don't pick up on the fact that I am doing it wrong. However, this exercise highlighted the reason for why the correct aids are what they are: I couldn't coordinate my legs fast enough to use only leg aids in this exercise and it was making my aids too busy and my body was twisting and getting unbalanced. As soon as I figured myself out and used outside rein for the square turn (supporting with pressure from outside thigh, but keeping outside lower leg back and passive), and then inside leg for the leg yield, Kachina got in a great roll of doing the exercise. Another reason that this is such a good exercise for us is because it automatically had Kachina slow down and rock back while she thought her way through the turns (a nice side affect for a generally speedy horse).

I was already really impressed with Kachina for so quickly picking up on the new exercise while I was struggling my way through it. However Kachina went one step further and showed me why she is such a great horse to learn dressage on: After a few really nice square corners, I got disorganized and moved my outside lower leg forward to ask for the square corner without thinking. The second I did that Kachina dropped down to a walk and it was like she was saying "Come on Mom, I've got this figured out, but that didn't seem right, I'll just give you a minute to figure yourself out". Her response immediately clued me in to what I had done wrong and I was able to correct my aids again for the next corner.

I am so lucky to have such a smart horse with such a good work ethic. Kachina really is a great dressage partner. She's always been good at letting me know when I'm right or wrong, but I love that she's now responding to wrong by slowing down and letting me fix it rather than shooting off.

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Q1 Review & Q2 Goals

So it's still a few days until the end of Q1 but I already accomplished all my goals so might as well do goal review now.

2018 Q1 Goal Review

1. Try training with Elaine
Success! - I went into the month of February with an open mind, and worked hard at learning for the 7 lessons. I also have two more lessons scheduled for when she comes at the end of March (she is planning to come every month now which is great)

2. Research other boarding options
Success! - I talked to horse friends, made enquiries about several different stables, and settled on a move!

3. Continue with Project Magpie
Success! - This isn't complete, but I continued my investigation and found out that the two people who own the horses in with Kachina can't get within an arm's length of her anymore either. This means the problem is larger than just my BO. (Perhaps my SO was able to approach so easily because he smelled like me). My working hypothesis at this point is that something about our current barn is just not working for Kachina and that's a big part of why I decided to move. There's no guarantees but I'm hoping she'll relax more in a different environment.

4. Issue Prizelist for Show
Success! - Prizelist issued March 10th, and I also helped with another prizelist for our area dressage group. 

I'm happy with my goals from Q1, I could have added more but I think having just these four helped me focus on what was important and make some positive strides forward.

2018 Q2 Goals

1. Settle into New Barn 
This means going out more frequently to reassure Kachina that the move doesn't mean I've abandoned her. It also means keeping a close eye on Kachina's weight and mental state to see if the move is actually benefiting her. Some short term upheaval is possible but if things don't improve within this quarter, I need to be prepared to make additional changes. 

2. Improve my Relationship with Kachina on the Ground
This is a key reason why I am moving barns. I am already's Kachina's person, but I want her to learn that things like extended grooming sessions can be enjoyable, not just something to endure. Even if we have less arena time we should be able to use the heated barn and stall for some simple bonding time. 

3. Hold 2nd Annual Dressage Show
This is scheduled for May 19-21, and it's looking like we're in decent shape compared to last year, but it's still going to involve a lot of work. 

4. Test Ride Every Two Weeks
Show season is coming and test riding helps us with showing so this needs to be added back into our schedule. This will consist of Training tests initially but hopefully include First Level tests by May or June. Our circles or diagonals might need to be a little wonky if there are jumps in the way but even a rough approximation of the pattern should help. Ideally I would like to do this weekly, but every two weeks at minimum. 

5. Work on Canter Lengthens
I know we have trot lengthens, and we've lengthened canter before successfully, but I haven't done much structured work yet on going forward and then coming back in the canter without losing anything else. This is the key thing holding us back from First Level right now so I want to work on it.

6. Get Married
I know, I know, not a horse goal, but I'm putting it on the list so I remember not to get too ambitious with equestrian pursuits. 

I had to re-write this list a few times. There are a few shows in Q2 that I would like to attend and I was making related competition goals, but I think with the barn move and the wedding I need to chill out and see how things go. If we end up showing great, but I don't want to put too much pressure on either of us. At the same time though, I don't want to drop these goals completely, so I present a new bonus category:

2018 Show Season Goals (Stretch)

All of these are stretch goals (because only so many show dates, and horses wreck plans), but something for me to aim for within Q2 or Q3 (show season is Apr-Sept)

1. Debut at First Level
This is a tough one, because I know we aren't 100% ready, but I'm also convinced that I could keep working to improve at Training Level with Kachina for literal years if I don't push for us to move up. I think we're at the stage where we could get through a First Level test without embarrassing ourselves and I also think working on lengthens and leg yields will ultimately improve our connection and other basics. I won't rush anything that will put us backwards training-wise (and I know we're not ready to tackle the shallow canter loops in 1-3 yet), but at some point we need to move onwards and upwards. 

2. Score Above 65%
This can be at training level, but I believe in the meaning behind dressage scores and I want to prove to myself that we are putting in acceptable work. 

3. Earn an ADA Wild Rose Award
This involves getting scores of 63% or higher at 3 different shows at Training Level or First Level.

Monday 19 March 2018

2018 Event/Show Plan

It's that time of year again! It's not getting warmer yet but the days are getting longer and shedding season has begun so time to start planning show season!

Here is my tentative plan of shows and other equestrian events I want to hit this year. If any of you are in the area let me know! Bold events are the ones Kachina will be coming to as well, non-bold are unmounted (for me at least).

CC/ADA Lethbridge Dressage Show I
April 14
AEF Wild Rose 
Lethbridge, AB
One day dressage show - this is a little soon for comfort so I haven't quite decided if I am entering yet, but I'd like to support the show and it's super affordable so if hauling weather looks decent I will use it to knock the dust off and show Training Level

CC/ADA Cypress & Medicine Hat Dressage Show
May 19-21
AEF Wild Rose
Dunmore, AB
This is the show I am organizing so I will most definitely be there. I would love more people to come to this show (wink wink, nudge, nudge). This year we are doing a 3-day format, show on Sat/Sun, and clinic with judge on holiday Monday. I will leave my horse at home for Sat/Sun so I can run the show, but then I plan to participate in the clinic myself.

Pre-show organization from 2017

Box of ribbons! but none for me

CC/ADA Summer Dressage Show
June 16-17
EC Bronze Dressage Show
Claresholm, AB
I am planning to enter two Training Level classes each day plus one First Level class each day. This may be my debut of First Level and will be with feedback in mind more than wanting to be competitive.

Last year's show in Claresholm went well for us so here's hoping for a repeat

Battle River Ride for Stars
July 13-15
Charity Trail Ride
Brownfield, AB
I loved trail riding with Kachina in Writing on Stone park and the Cypress Hills, this seems like a great opportunity to explore the dramatic Battle River valley with her, and blogger friends! (Peace & Carrots)

Medicine Hat All Breed Show
July 20
Open Show
Medicine Hat, AB
This show is actually July 20-22 but dressage day is on Friday and so I will likely go for the one day and then go up for Event #6 on Saturday. I want to compete here but they had a really bad warmup situation last year so I will find out about that before entering

Masterclass with Charlotte Dujardin
July 21
Calgary, AB
Auditor tickets are purchased! This should be a good event and I know lots of other people going which makes it even better!

Cochrane Dressage Show
Aug 4-5
EC Bronze Dressage Show
Cochrane, AB
I have wanted to compete at this show for 4 years but haven't succeeded yet, here's hoping for better luck in 2018! I really want to try and have acceptable First Level tests by this point in the show season. 

Dressage Judge's Clinic
Aug 24-26
Judging Clinic
Calgary, AB
I eventually want to pursue becoming a recognized dressage judge. It's a long process with several requirements but this is one step along the way. Even if I have to retake the clinic again once I have my recognized test scores etc. I am still super excited to learn about dressage from the judge's perspective. I think it will make me have a better eye and be a better rider. I am already registered for this!

Cypress Hills Wish Ride
Aug 8
Charity Trail Ride
Cypress Hills, SK
I did this last year and want to do it again, hopefully with less drought/smoke this time.

CC/ADA Lethbridge Dressage Show II
Sept 14?
Details TBA
This will likely be the last show of the season so a final chance to accomplish any goals I missed out on in previous shows. 

Looks like a good year to me!

Friday 16 March 2018

Wiggly Horse

Wait, in a horse blog you are actually supposed to occasionally give a ride or training recap? Haha, sorry, it's been a while. Here goes:

My 7 lessons with Elaine in February can mostly be boiled down to a single central concept: Kachina is a "wiggly horse".
Gifs from lesson with Elaine
I don't know if you can see the "wiggles" in any of these, I can't really, but it's still related media

First off, this kind of categorization is what I see as being one of the fundamental reasons why clinics are important. In clinics or shows, the clinician or judge doesn't have time to go into all the little reasons why you and your horse are special one of a kind snowflakes, they have to have some way of classifying your key problems and putting you in a box. I used to not like this categorization (especially with my last horse Ellie who would always be worse away from home and we'd get put in the the "spooky" category almost every time, even when I'd rather be working on other things). However now with Kachina and in this stage of my riding, I love it when someone classifies me and my horse. I can work on lots of things with Kachina myself, and deal with a lot of the day-to-day minutiae, but as a single-horse amateur, it really helps me for a trainer to come along with a 30,000 foot view, look at me and my horse and where we fit into the pyramid or training progression, and then tell me what our biggest problem is or what category we fit into. Of course ideally they also go into how to fix the issue, but even just being categorized is super helpful for me because it gives me a new outside perspective and helps me to figure out what I need to work on and how to tackle it when all that "special snowflake" individuality is added back in.

The previous boxes that Kachina and I have been put into have mostly been in the realm of "sensitive horse" or "needs better equitation". These are both true, and both interrelated. For example: Kachina is a sensitive horse, which used to make her jump forward when I touched her with any leg, so I would ride with legs off which was poor equitation and continued to make Kachina over-sensitive to leg -> solution: ride with legs where they are supposed to be and teach Kachina difference between different kinds of leg pressure. There are a lot of examples. Kachina reacts to every single little thing I do with my legs, my seat or my hands so I need to learn to be correct and steady in my position, and very intentional with any aids I give. For dressage I don't want to shut down Kachina's sensitivity because it's ultimately a good thing, I just need to up my game so I harness it correctly.

Over the last few years I have done a lot of work while being cognizent of these "sensitive" and "equitation" boxes. Of course I won't ever be done work in these areas, but I was stoked to find out that we've progressed to the point where those aren't our biggest problems anymore. Instead Kachina got the new title of "Wiggly Horse".

In reality, wiggly is probably an issue we've always had, in the past it was likely just eclipsed by our problems with sensitivity and equitation. Elaine was actually really pleased with the improvements I had made to my seat, my hands, and Kachina's education in the contact. At this new stage, the "Wiggles" became the next #1 issue to tackle.

So what does it mean to be a Wiggly Horse? The way I understood Elaine's description is that it is the opposite of steady, both mentally and physically.

Mentally, she is a bit all over the place. Anytime one thing changes, it means a whole new ball game. We might be going around at a nice tempo in a nice frame, but changing direction or having me correct my leg position so it's 3 inches further back take us right back to square one and we need to re-establish the tempo and frame from scratch. I think a lot of horses are like this to a certain degree, Kachina just has it to a bit more of a degree, especially in combination with her physical wiggles.

Physically, she is always changing how her body is, especially with her back. An advantage is that she isn't stiff, but she goes too far the other way. Elaine observed that she really likes to drop one side of her back which moves her rider off centre. Elaine saw this happen to me several times, especially during lateral work, but she realized it happened even more often when she rode Kachina herself for the last lesson of the month. Kachina's movements directly work to unbalance her rider but once the rider is unbalanced she uses it as an excuse to hollow, speed up, etc.

I was fascinated to hear this categorization of Kachina. When I first got Kachina I described her as a very "tippy" horse. She would react strongly if I ever leaned to the side to check girth, open gate etc. and even during normal riding I would sometimes feel like she was about to tip over to the side. I remember the "tippy" feeling unnerving me, but I think I chalked it up to her being a narrower horse with less muscling and over time I stopped feeling it. Again, curse of the one-horse ammy because the "tippyness" probably never went away, I just got used to it and stopped realizing that it was abnormal. It also makes sense that the tippyness is just due to her dropping her back out from one side or the other. I do notice that when Kachina rests a back foot while I'm on her, it feels like her whole back drops out from under me and I usually need to put more weight in the opposite stirrup to stay centered. I never connected the dots though and figured out that she was wiggling me out of position while I was riding. All the circles where I couldn't get my inside leg on make a lot more sense when I think of how hard it is to use leg when your upper body is out of position.

So how does one ride a Wiggly Horse? I have to be the steady one. Mentally, I need to establish that the rules always stay the same by being super super consistent. I also need to be careful about why and how I make adjustments (and this makes equitation work even more important because I need to stay in the right position, constantly correcting my position will make her more wiggly). Physically, I need to not let her tip me when she moves her back. Firming up my sides, imagining my spine and shoulders as the letter T, and visualizing crutches under my armpits were all useful visuals for keeping my upper body steadier and straighter. Also, if I need to rebalance my weight, I need to do it with my thighs, not my stirrups. Finally, I need to improve my recognition of the issue and work on feeling what her back and my seatbones are doing rather than just blindly following the motion.

I love having homework!

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Moving On

Thanks for your supportive comments on my last whiny post. It helped me to gripe online because that allowed me to think through the problem, get perspective and move on with life.

In the last couple weeks I've visited a few barns that I thought were possibilities but turned out to be not what we are looking for for one reason or another. So yesterday I went to visit a place that I initially thought was not going to work, and it turns out I'm really glad I did. The main reason why I almost discounted this place was that they have an active lesson program and I didn't think I would be able to get any arena time. I've lived that life in a different lesson barn before and I didn't want to repeat it (ask me about the rage I used to experience when 12-12:30 was the only boarder ride time on a Saturday and I would bring my tacked up horse to the gate at noon on the dot to find a tractor harrowing). This place does still have lessons every weeknight from 4-8pm, but they have made a few key changes recently that improve my ride prospects substantially: a) the arena now closes at 10pm instead of 9pm, b) I'm allowed to share the arena with private lessons now, just not group lessons, c) they have greatly reduced their number of lessons on weekends.

I have given my notice and I am officially moving March 30th! (So I will be paying double board for a couple weeks but it will give me the Easter long weekend to help her get settled). I know that this new place is going to have its own challenges but overall I'm really excited for the change.

Old photo of my new barn!
Yes, I am moving from Western-World to Hunter-Jumper-Land

I could give you a pro/con list, but in the spirit of moving on and getting out of my funk, I'm just going to share the positive changes that I am looking forward to:

- Kachina has been really relaxed in the barn when I've hauled here for clinics/lessons in the past
- Heating!
- Indoor plumbing including hot water!
- Staff will feed supplements
- No extra charge for Elaine to come and coach me (which is good because she is planning on coming every month now)
- Kachina will be on outdoor board but I can pay for the part time use of a stall to help her cool out after a ride, etc.
- I won't be the only dressage rider! (Okay, I only know of one other dressage rider here, but still!)
- Much more active barn, Kachina will see other people much more which will hopefully help her trust issues
- Cavaletti or pole work is an option

Kachina's past visit to new barn aisle

Last time we rode at new barn

I will make sure to do a new barn tour post once I officially move.

Monday 12 March 2018


In lieu of related media, please enjoy these pictures of
life size horse models and armour in the Tower of London
Wooden horses are circa 1685-1690 

For the last year I feel like I have been pretty positive about how much my area is improving when it comes to dressage and riding: horse friends, clinics, dressage show are all things that I didn't have here before but I do now and they are growing and getting better. However, lately I've been in a funk about how much we are still lacking.

In December a local instructor and one of my friends moved away to take a working student position with a big trainer in another city. Just last week I learned that one of my AA dressage friends is moving to another city as well, a place where she has already procured boarding for her horses at a dressage-specific barn that sounds totally drool-worthy. I am beyond thrilled for both of these friends for the positive changes they have made in their personal and horse lives, but it also makes me feel a bit sorry for myself to be the one left behind.

While things are slowly improving here, they are still miles behind many locations. One thing that makes that abundantly clear is the boarding options. I'm actively looking for a situation where Kachina would be happier, but it's a matter of choosing a lesser evil rather than a truly good option. I am being realistic in my hunt and trying not to hope for too much, but even my fairly basic list is hard to work with.

- indoor riding availability
- good horse care (with a really low definition meaning that someone will notice if my horse is bleeding or colicing)
- constant water supply
- hay in front of her for most of day (either via round bale, slow feed net, or just reliable feedings)
- decent sized pen/paddock/pasture with safe fencing (okay with almost any type of fence including barbed wire, as long as it is in good repair)
- a place to groom my horse where she can see or smell other horses

Of course there are other features of a barn that I would love but so far I haven't even been able to find a place that meets these basic requirements. I honestly don't know how I can whittle down these priorities farther, they really are pared down already. Notice that price and location aren't in the priority list? Even being willing to pay a bunch more and drive a bunch more don't help me find a better place and that really sucks.

I know I'm being whiny, but I'm really struggling to kick this funk. Once I'm in a funk like this I get discouraged by all things horsey and that makes me not want to ride, but of course riding is my happy place so not riding just makes me more depressed, and it's a vicious circle. I'm super stoked for longer days and warmer weather though (relatively, it is still Alberta, but I was driving with my windows down today because it was a sunny -4C) and I hope spring fever might be enough to break me out of this funk. In the meantime any pep talks or words of wisdom would be appreciated.

Thursday 8 March 2018

Throwback Thursday (Way Back)

I was backing up my old computer onto an external hard drive this weekend and found some super old photos of me riding:

Circa 1995, the first time I ever sat on a horse (one of my cousin's broodmares)
It was clearly pure joy from the very start

2000 - the summer I got my first horse Ellie

2003 - when I started to show on the local open circuit and did a bit of everything,
including barrels...

... and jumping

2004 - English pleasure

2004 - man, I was a dorky teenager

2004 - Western pleasure (this summer was the first time I started riding one handed,
we weren't very good at it yet) this photo also shows how out of our element
we were in the classes we competed in. I didn't realize it at the time but looking back
I can recognize how ill-equipped we were in knowledge and training, as well as attire

2004 - polo clinic in 4-H

2005 - a downed wire just about sliced Ellie's pastern in half
so we had a summer with a cast and rehab

Circa 2003, one of my favorite photos of Ellie and I

Circa 2005, finally slightly less dorky but still just as horse-crazy

2006 - 4-H show where we kind of looked half competent in both disciplines

In fall 2006 Ellie and moved off to University and that started us on a whole new path of discovering the horse world outside of our bubble, including eventually dressage (it didn't exist in my area at the time of these photos so it was a totally foreign concept to me)

Friday 2 March 2018


Sorry readers, there's been a lot of walls of text up here lately. Part is that it's just been too cold to take my fingers out of my gloves to operate my phone, then there's the fact that my horse is a fuzzy dirty beast who is not at her most photogenic. I've also just been lazy with getting photos actually transferred from phone to blog. However I do realize that media is kind of important so here you go! (No promises that these images won't be reused in following posts)

Cooling out after a lesson (it's easiest if I let her walk around on her own)

Frosty pony

Close up of her ridiculous floofy frosty forelock

Kachina somehow managed to scape her face,
 or as my friend put it "remove her eyebrows"
Not sure what happened but she didn't seem any worse for wear otherwise

Gifs from a recent lesson (choppiness is gif not reality)

Consistency in trot is coming

Canter still big and a bit unbalanced but transitions improving

Practicing the ever important "chase cat" test movement

Change of direction without losing rhythm or frame