Monday 30 April 2018

Seize Opportunities: 10 Easy Steps

I am now Vice President of the Alberta Dressage Association (ADA). Wha?!?!?!?

Don't worry, that's not just your reaction, that's mine too. How did this happen? Quick recap. 

Step 1: be a below average low level ammy rider trying to figure out how to get anywhere in the sport of dressage without a trainer (Dec 2015
Step 2: find a trainer three hours away (Feb 2016)
Step 3: after failing to figure out skype/video lessons, organize a clinic in town mostly so I can avoid the cost and stress of hauling my horse to trainer (Nov 2016)
Step 4: organize a few more clinics (once you do one, doing it again isn't nearly so hard) (Feb 2017, May 2017, Oct 2017, Dec 2017)
Step 5: after some idle conversation with new riding friends about having a local dressage show, turn the idle talk into actual investigation about what would be involved in putting on a show (Jan 2017)
Step 6: ask dressage association chapter in next city about whether they would post info about local show on their facebook page, and have that spontaneously turn into me being given a director position on chapter board, free insurance coverage for show, and casino funds to help pay for judge (and yes, they did also post my show on their facebook page) (Feb 2017)
Step 7: organize show at new equestrian venue, which then results in equestrian venue unexpectedly inviting me to join their board too (May 2017)
Step 8: participate in two meetings of dressage chapter board over last year as part of my new role as director and reply to emails as required (not a heavy time commitment at all)
Step 9: reply to email where president of ADA was asking for volunteers from chapter boards to consider running for VP of overall ADA board (ADA acts as umbrella organization for all the individual area chapters). (April 2018)
Step 10: get acclaimed into position at the AGM this past weekend despite clearly stating my lack of experience because there were no other volunteers/nominations. (April 2018)

Bottom line, I didn't become VP because of my great dressage wisdom or having any great connections to the sport (I don't have either), I'm here because I was willing to say "hmmm" in situations where other people might have thought it was too hard and not even tried. I'm still very much a below average low level ammy rider trying to figure out how to get anywhere in this sport. 

It's so so easy to feel imposter syndrome in this circumstance, and I did straight up tell the president that I was A-okay stepping aside if anyone more qualified wanted the position. However, nobody did, and now that I'm here I'm going to add my voice to the direction of dressage in Alberta. We already have some great people looking after the interests of higher level dressage riders, trainers etc., but as an organization we want our membership and the sport of dressage to grow. I can help speak for other low level ammy riders who are just trying to figure out the sport, especially in non-dressage areas, and that has value. An organization really does need a range of voices to best meet the needs of everyone it serves. 

To summarize, I'd just like to encourage all of you to seize any opportunities you come across within your sport. Don't worry about not being good enough, just do it. A lot of organizations don't have as many volunteers as they need and are happy for any involvement. And if you don't seem to have any opportunities to seize: make your own opportunities. You never know what may come from it =)

Thursday 26 April 2018

Mane Event 2018

Any Alberta bloggers going to be at Mane Event in Red Deer this weekend? I'll be there Friday night and all day Saturday so contact me if you want to meet up, or come say hi at the Alberta Dressage Association booth where I will be volunteering from 9-11am on Saturday.

Otherwise, I should have some fun updates next week about watching clinicians, shopping, and the annual general meeting for our provincial dressage association. I'm hoping not to spend too much money, but we'll see how successful I am with that goal =P. I always love experiencing Alberta's vast equestrian community at this giant horse expo.

Photo from Mane Event 2017

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Teach Me Tuesday: Intro to Jumping

Kachina is now boarded at a Hunter/Jumper barn. There are always jumps and poles in the arena and it keeps making me think about taking advantage them with Kachina. Dressage is definitely our primary discipline and that's not going to change, but I just want to play with obstacles a little as cross training. I'm not much of a jumper any more, but I used to jump a lot as a kid, and my lessons last year showed me that I haven't forgotten everything. However, I've never worked with a horse who was brand new to jumping before. What are the best beginner steps to take with Kachina?

Jumps, jumps, everywhere

Primarily, I am wondering three things:

1. Is it best to start working her over jumps on the ground (lunging, or free jumping), or from the saddle?
2. What style of jump is best to start? I will keep it low either way, but is X-rail or vertical better? Should I use placing poles?
3. What kind of leg protection should she be wearing, front and back (if any)? I don't generally use boots or polos for flat rides (she never interferes) but I feel like there will be some bangs in the learning process and I'm not sure how much I should protect the front of her legs.

Jumping lesson horse Sunrise last year
(yes I know I am jumping ahead, but I don't have media of better attempts)

There's a ton of things I could improve,
but despite almost 10 years of dressage, I still remember two-point

Relevant information:
- we've worked with trot poles and cavaletti in lessons before (but not frequently), Kachina doesn't always get the spacing right but she understands the basic concept and is game while still accepting influence
- In one cowboy challenge clinic we did a jump obstacle (a pole resting on top of 5 gallon pails), we went over it 5-6 times and while she knocked it over a couple times she always attempted the jump and came back easily afterwards. This is the most jumping we've ever done (and it was in a western saddle).
Cowboy Challenge clinic jump (left of photo)

- Kachina has jumped muddy creeks from a standstill while trail riding (not my choice)
- I've led her over some tiny jumps at a walk and trot since moving to this barn, she tends to bang it the first couple times but then trot over it cleanly, in this situation she will choose to high step over it instead of actually jumping.
- I do own an all purpose saddle that fit Kachina the last time I tried it, so I can either use that or just shorten the stirrups of my dressage saddle.
- the poles at the barn are a combination of wood and PVC, they are nicely rounded but are possibly on the heavier side and take a decent knock to push them out of the cups. There are both regular standards and those small triangular style ones with pole rests (which could be lunged over)
- there are a couple jumping instructors at the barn so I can and will get professional help, but I do want to come up with at least some elements of a plan first

Teach me please! Also, has anyone tried any Prix Caprilli tests? They seem to be getting more common up here and I may want to try one eventually

Wednesday 18 April 2018

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Moustache!

I'm sure you've all seen that amazingness of this page that circulated the internet as while ago: If You Ever Feel Sad, Just Remember That Horses Can Grow Moustaches

That was my first time learning about the phenomenon of moustached equines. As far as I know, moustaches are mostly found in hairy breeds like Gypsy Vanners and Shires. However, this has been sprouting on Kachina's upper lip as of late:

It's not as glorious as some in the article above, but it's definitely there, and it didn't used to be. See below for bare-lipped photos from both winter and summer in past years

Will it grow? Will it shed out with winter hair? Who knows, I sure don't. Monthly Moustache Watch might need to become a thing. (Btw, you officially have permission to laugh at my majestic moustached mare, it is pretty ridiculous lol)

Tuesday 17 April 2018

Teach Me Tuesday: Abscesses

Please teach me: How prevalent are hoof abscesses in horses? What factors make them more or less common in your experience?

This is a topic that I have searched on the internet and read articles about but I still feel like I am missing information that the blogger community may be able to help fill in.

Here's the deal: in blogland I feel like I read about one of your horses developing an abscess every other week. I read about them derailing show and riding plans and they seem like a big PITA, but they are also generally written about in a "abscesses just happen, fact of life" kind of way. This is 100% not an accusation as to be honest I know that many of these horses get a better standard of care than mine does; however, in 22 years of riding and 18 years of horse ownership, I have never encountered an abscess in person (universe, please do not take this as a challenge). Why? Am I just insanely lucky? Is there something about the climate or soil type here, the horses I have owned, type of riding I do, etc. that makes them less prevalent?

Maybe we can do an informal study by all answering the following questions:

How many years of horse ownership do you have? 18
In those years, how many abscesses have you experienced? 0
Breed of horse? Anglo-arab for 14 years, Grade paint/QH/TB for 4 years
Shod or barefoot? 2 years shod, 16 barefoot
Indoor or outdoor board? Outdoor, sometimes pen, sometimes pasture
Type of riding? Primarily dressage now
Average rides/week? 2-3
Climate type? Cold semi-arid
Soil type? Brown loam
Any other foot issues? None currently but have dealt with founder and thrush previously

Please teach me about your abscess experiences. And for anyone dealing with one now, I'm sorry for your luck, I hope you have a smooth and quick recovery.

Thursday 12 April 2018

A Positive Sign

Despite the good looking video of Kachina chilling in the barn aisle in my last post, I had a few days where Kachina was pawing more again and I was wondering whether I had made a mistake in moving barns. There weren't any serious problems, just some annoying things related to the change like my halter going missing, figuring out the schedule of the new barn, and feeling awkward about not knowing everyone at the barn.

However on Thursday I had my farrier come out to trim Kachina and it went really well!

Good things:
1. It was snowing and miserable outside that day and it was awesome to have a heated barn with good lighting to be able to do the trim in

2. Kachina was the best she has ever been for the farrier! That's not to say she was perfect, because she wasn't. She still tried to jerk her leg away a few times but less often than normal and there were relatively long stretches in between misbehaviour where she would relax.

3. It wasn't just my (possibly biased) opinion. We've been using the same trimmer for the last few years and have been working closely with her on treating Kachina's mistrust in having her feet handled. Farrier agreed with me that this was Kachina's best behaviour for a trim ever so far!

4. The last year was a bad year for feet and Kachina's frogs and soles are currently shedding like crazy, but the new stuff underneath looks clean and healthy so hopefully we can keep the thrush at bay this spring. New barn removes the manure from their pens more often than old barn so that should also help.

Standing like a proper adult for her manicure

It's official, barn move was a good decision! I can't believe how much weight that lifts off my shoulders.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Real Talk

I've mentioned many times on here about how Kachina's ground manners can be problematic, about how she had a rough past, is an insecure horse, has trust issues with other people, and some things like trimming her feet need to be done with a lot of tact. I haven't been hiding these issues, but I know I'm not the only blogger to not reveal exactly how bad a problem is until they are on the path to fixing it. That means now is the time for some real talk and deep honesty. This is how bad the problem was:

Exhibit A
Video of Kachina standing tied in my old barn.

This is the same barn that she has been in countless times over 3.5 years. A barn where she has never been hurt in and a barn that does not house horse murderers (despite what she may believe). This wasn't feeding time or a storm or any complicating factor. This is 100% a representative sample of what Kachina was like the majority of times that I tried to tie her inside the barn or arena. Note the stress pooping, the pacing, the pawing, the nervous jaw opening/nose wrinkling (a unique tell for Kachina), the shifting of the weight, and the continuous alertness. She respected the tie and wouldn't pull back but aside from that she would get herself into such a cycle of tension that she would just tune me out. If I tried to restrict her movement in any way (including holding a hoof), her tension would escalate even more. 

Exhibit B
When I moved barns, Kachina was at over twice her normal trimming cycle. Is this bad? Yes, she absolutely needed a trim and she got one last week, but before you rake me over the coals for horse neglect please know that she has good feet, is barefoot, in light work, and her feet grow slowly especially over the winter; in short, she looked like a horse due for a trim, not a neglected founder case. 
Why has it been so long since her last trim? Because the weather and footing has made trimming outside impossible for the last few months, and see Exhibit A for why trimming inside the barn is not an ideal option. Could we have gotten it done? Yes. Could we have gotten it done without undoing several months of work in improving her trust in the farrier and having her feet handled? No. I simply had to choose her mental health over her physical health in this instance. (If it had gone any longer my Plan B was to haul her to vet clinic to drug her for trim). 

Summary: It was bad. I've never totally given up but I have to admit that this winter was rough (summer is easier because she is 500% better when I can tie her outside). It was physically and emotionally exhausting every time I would come out and have to deal with an anxious horse to groom and tack up. I developed ways to get it done as quickly, easily, and safely as possible but it was never relaxing for either of us. The barn is supposed to be my place where I can relax and recharge from a stressful day, but I had to keep myself home when I wasn't 100% in the right mind frame so that I wouldn't lose patience with Kachina. I generally think patience is one of my strong suits as a horsewoman but even I was struggling.

Before you ask "did you try _________?", the answer is Yes. It's been almost 4 years guys, I tried everything. I exhausted my own training toolbox, tried working with 5 different trainers at various times, and even exhausted every approach from good old google that sounded remotely worth a try. Besides the training side of things I also looked at food, supplements, had multiple vet appointments to rule out physical problems, etc.

(Note that these problems were totally related to standing still inside. The second I would start to lunge or ride Kachina she would blow out her tension and give me great, focused work. But of course you have to stand still sometimes to put on the gear required for lunging or riding. Also, visits in the pen were fine and chill, but there's only so much you can do out there when it's freezing.)

After trying so many other things, I eventually decided to move Kachina. I sometimes ask myself why I didn't decide this earlier, but I truly wanted to address the root of the issue and I felt like moving was just going to hide the problem. Finally though I realized that you can only work to make a horse braver and more comfortable if you convince them that they are always safe and slowly expand their comfort zone. In the winter in my old barn, Kachina didn't have a comfort zone. You can't expand a comfort zone if one doesn't exist. I realized that I need to build lots of good experiences to teach Kachina that standing inside a barn is okay, and then gradually expand that to include barns and areas that make her uneasy. This means I needed to find a barn where Kachina is naturally comfortable in. That's where my new barn comes in. This is a video of her standing in the new barn during her very first day there after the move:

The problems aren't solved. I still need to do a lot of work with Kachina. She is reasonably happy in one barn aisle but the one on the other side of the arena is currently a no-go zone. At least we finally have a starting point to build from though; that's worth a lot. 

Monday 9 April 2018

In the Meantime

I have some important posts to share, but they require media, media which is on my SD card that is being very temperamental right now. Hopefully I will be able to recover it, but in the meantime, here's a quick update and some photos that were stored elsewhere.

Last photo of the 3 amigos together at the old barn
(they weren't very cooperative at posing and it was too cold to wait around)

We moved barns on Friday March 30th, just as a snowstorm was starting. It was a miserable day to haul but we succeeded in doing so uneventfully. I had carefully planned the move for the 30th so I would have the whole Easter long weekend to spend at the barn, unfortunately those plans were derailed by a last minute visit by my soon to be in-laws. I still snuck away a couple times a day to check on how Kachina was settling in, but the visits were shorter than I would have liked. I also got a new role at work effective March 27th (in addition to my old role, not instead of) so that is also making life extra crazy (I've known this was coming for quite a while but the exact date was pretty fluid until suddenly it wasn't).

Hauling through town to get to new barn
(luckily we hauled early enough in day that the snow was just beginning to settle on roads)

Kachina is currently in a pen by herself but she will be moved to a larger shared pen in a couple weeks with one sweet older mare who should be a good match for my submissive girl. I actually like that she's in a private pen to start as it's been easier to monitor her food intake etc. Even from day 1 she was eating well and found her new waterer immediately so that has helped a lot with my peace of mind. In her temporary pen she has a neighbor on either side, one of whom is quite grumpy. Kachina spent the first few days in the center of her pen, avoiding the shared fencelines, but she has since relaxed a bit and isn't as bothered by her neighbor's pinned ears and lunges. We've also had a few good rides. That's one nice thing about this new barn, we've done enough clinics here that the indoor arena is already old hat and we were able to pick up under-saddle work right where we left off.

Her temporary private pen with barn/arena in background
(I am taking picture from inside her shelter at back of pen)

It's early days and we're still both adjusting to the routines of the new barn, but I think it was a positive move to make overall. More on that in posts to come.

Mid-morning snoozing while I stood guard for her