Friday 28 September 2018


This week I attempted my first real jump with Kachina! It even went really well!

No new photos so you get a bunch of randoms
Pretty girl in her paddock

Quick background:
- to my knowledge Kachina has never been taught to jump at all
- the only jumps I've done with Kachina in the past was one obstacle at a cowboy challenge back in February 2016 (which we didn't really prep for and it was in a western saddle and she knocked it down the first few times so it doesn't really count), and a few flying leaps over muddy creek beds on trail rides (which I would have preferred to walk through calmly)
- in August I started weekly lessons with a hunter/jumper instructor at my barn (SC) to try some cross training. We started with walk poles, trot poles, and raised poles. This was our 4th lesson.

I got a hammock stand this summer, it was a great spot to enjoy the nice weather

Nachosaurus! For my 30th birthday I got the best present ever of this amazing chip holder

After doing some trot poles, which Kachina has really gotten the hang of, SC pointed me to a teeny tiny x-rail with a front placing pole. She first had me bring Kachina up to it to look at it (zero cares) and then had me trot to it with me just looking to the far end of the arena and keeping my hands up. SC suspected that Kachina would just trot over it and that is exactly what happened. We trotted over it twice without me doing anything, and then on the third approach SC had me cluck right before the jump (still trotted over, but cantered after). The next time through SC had me cluck and squeeze with my legs and Kachina jumped it and cantered away. We had a bit of a walk break and went over it twice more without me doing anything (trotted over jump, cantered after). That's where we ended the lesson.

For my Dad's birthday we went for a flight in this open cockpit biplane

It was a super productive first jumping attempt. Kachina stayed calm throughout, and seemed to think her way through the exercise and what her feet were doing. She stayed straight and looked to the jump without rushing it. I was talking with SC at the end and we both agreed that it was pretty cool that Kachina would jump when asked but otherwise would trot the obstacle. Especially for a dressage horse that is a good adaptability where I can either jump small obstacles or use them as cavaletti.

Cat in a grocery bag
Cats passed out to an intense level (only time I've seen the white one sleep like that)

I never want to jump high or as a main focus but I like that learning to jump will give us more freedom to try new adventures. Kachina seemed to enjoy it and jumping isn't as intimidating for me as I expected when my horse tackles it so sensibly. SC and I plan to keep working on things nice and gradually so we never add too much pressure.

We were super lazy with the garden this year but got 11 pounds of potatoes!

Husband turned a bunch of the potatoes into this tasty Shepherd's pie

This is obviously entirely too premature but since I love long-term plans, I have my sights set on a few outdoor events for next September. You fellow bloggers introduced me to the concept of a pace and chase and there is fun pace and chase at the Cochrane Ag facility (my favorite place) that has a beginner division where all obstacles are simple logs and less than 2'. There is also a foxhunting club in Calgary where there is no fox, no hounds, but they organize rides at venues where you can ride through fields and trails and all jumps are optional (so can ride around it if it looks too high or intimidating). I saw social media posts about both for this year and they look like fun events that I think of more as "trail riding at trot or canter with a few obstacles" rather than specific jumping events. I am putting absolutely zero pressure on myself when it comes to jumping, we will only do it if it stays fun for Kachina and I, but it would be pretty cool if we could slowly build up to doing something like that. Prix caprilli dressage classes are an option as well.

I need goals and dream to get me through the winter that is coming
(this was last weekend in central Alberta for a wedding)

Thursday 27 September 2018

Broken Rhythm

I had two lessons with Elaine at the end of August. In the first one we worked on a new concept of controlling each foreleg directly with the corresponding rein. This kept Kachina's tempo in check but also really helped to improve the connection and gave me the best canter I've ever had with her. It was a great lesson!

I have no lesson media so instead you get non-pro photos
from my show in July that never got posted
(First set are from my warmup)

The next day Elaine changed focus and was getting me to be pickier with the connection. While Kachina was more green to the idea of contact, a roughly correct frame was good enough, but now she wanted me to give bigger corrections when Kachina started nosing out or getting even a little strong in the contact. The general concept made sense to me but the exact method was creating some resistance and I had to ask Elaine several questions to clarify what we were doing and why. Part of the ongoing challenge is that my feel of Kachina's head position does not match reality so I need to reevaluate what the right position feels like. It was a decent lesson but not as great as the day before.

These photos serve to keep the size of my head in check
and remind me that I need lessons (because at the end of my last
lesson my first thought was to just go it on my own again)

Elaine's September visit ended up being only 2 weeks later. I was out of town on the Saturday (learning to ride sidesaddle!) but I signed up for one lesson on Sunday September 16th. The first half of the lesson was great. We did figures at walk and trot and transitions and Kachina was showing great connection, balance and straightness, Elaine had only a few small suggestions but for the most part Kachina and I were able to show off the work we've been doing over the past couple months.

The work we've been doing the last couple months is much
better than this work from July
Free walk

After some beautiful trot work, I was giving Kachina a walk break and Elaine and I were talking a bit about how things were going. I mentioned that our canter transitions and connection in the canter could still be hit or miss so I wouldn't mind working on those. Elaine suggested that doing a leg yield (but with more inside bend) during the transition was a good way to unlock her back and keep her topline soft. I had expected focus on canter transitions the same way we had tackled trot transitions back in early days, not a whole new approach, but I was willing to try her recommendation. We started by trying a couple transitions from walk to trot and trot to walk while leg yielding. We did the transitions but adding a new dimension actually made Kachina pop her head up more in the transition so it wasn't really giving the benefit it was supposed to. Elaine wanted me to have much more bend and got me to do a bent leg yield on a circle at the walk. I have never been asked to do a "bent leg yield on a circle" so I was confused about what she was looking for but after asking a bunch of questions gave it my best shot. It was kind of like a counterbent renvers I guess, pushing her haunches out to the outside of the circle but bending her neck to the centre of the circle. Elaine than asked us stay in the bent leg yield circle and transition to trot. That's when the lesson really went downhill.

A decent warmup canter but certainly could be better
Lengthened canter from my First Level test, connection not really there

I asked Kachina to trot and instead of trotting she started pacing/doing some weird gaited thing. Kachina is not a gaited horse but this was not a diagonal trot. The second it started I wanted to stop but Elaine encouraged me to push through and ask for more bend and keep going. The pacing continued. I brought Kachina down to a walk to talk to Elaine because rhythm is so key in dressage and it felt like such a mistake to me to do any exercise that compromised the rhythm so badly especially when Kachina normally has a nice trot. She gave me the speech about how sometimes things have to get worse before they get better and I needed to hold the bent leg yield position until Kachina loosened her back and relaxed into it. She assured me the bad rhythm was a temporary thing and that we needed to do this to get to the next level of work. We did a few more circles of bent leg yield at the walk to confirm the positioning and then tried again at trot. More pacing. Elaine kept getting me to push through it and ask for more bend. We did multiple circles and I didn't feel a single step of true trot. Kachina felt like she sometimes switched between 2 beat pacing and 4 beat trotting but it all felt ugly. Elaine kept saying "Good!" when I got a few steps of more bend and 4 beating and I kind of lost it and started yelling that no, none of it was good, she was not trotting! Despite Elaine's direction to continue I eventually just stopped and essentially said that this exercise was not working and I was worried about what it was doing to Kachina's mind and trot. Elaine insisted that this was a good exercise but backed up a bit and allowed that maybe it was too much too soon, maybe I needed to do more work at walk, or do transitions to trot during a straight leg yield first before one with bend. I just really wanted to get some real trot. I went large around the arena and tried trotting without all of the bent leg yield crap and the trot was still broken. Elaine tried making some suggestions but not going to lie, at that point I was super upset that we had broken Kachina's trot and I essentially just tuned her out and rode my horse. Using the reins seemed to magnify the crappiness of the trot rhythm so I tried to forget about connection and tempo and just ride forward and straight until we had a real trot. We got some real trot but also some crappy pacing/gaited stuff. I praised her and started giving her walk breaks on a loose rein after she gave me a few strides of true trot. During one of these walk breaks our lesson officially ended. I apologized to Elaine for getting upset and we tentatively talked about dates for next month, but I was internally disagreeing with her suggestions to work on the bent leg yield exercise on my own over the next month.

My halts sucked at this show
We can normally trot properly

I've had a few rides since the lesson and have focused on forward and straight. I've been able to get some nice trot work but in each ride the crappy pacing has reappeared at least a couple times. That one lesson has negatively impacted our progression and despite me trying to get over it, I'm upset about it. It reminds me of one friend who's horse developed a prolonged rearing problem from one lesson where the trainer put too much pressure on them. I really hope this is not a prolonged problem.

Leg yield
Lengthen trot

This issue really made me step back and consider to what degree we should trust trainers. We all ride with trainers because they are supposed to know more than us. That means sometimes they will give us unfamiliar exercises or teach us things that don't initially make sense, that's how we learn. Sometimes we do improve by pushing through something that doesn't feel right (i.e. every position fix ever where at first it feels way too extreme until your muscle memory adapts). On the other hand, trainers aren't infallible, and we as riders know our horses the best. To what level should we trust what our trainers are telling us and at what point do we need to listen to ourselves and our horses and go a different route? I don't think there is a simple one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on what level of rider you are, how well you know your trainer, how well your trainer knows you and your horse, how well your horse accepts pressure, etc. Elaine has taught me a number of times and her training has definitely created positive change in both myself and Kachina. I had and still have reason to trust her judgement, but in this instance I wish I would have put a stop to the exercise sooner. I think in the future I am going to use the dressage training pyramid to guide my level of trust. Rhythm and Relaxation/Suppleness are the bottom levels and key to everything else. If what a trainer is asking me to do is ruining the rhythm or relaxation for more than a couple strides then I want to learn a different approach of doing the exercise. It doesn't mean I'm not willing to work with that trainer any more, it just means I'm going to stop and ask for a different way in those instances. (As an aside, I believe a mark of a good teacher (of any subject) is one who has multiple ways to tackle an issue, if a trainer repeatedly can't give me another approach then that is when I would seriously consider not working with them anymore)

Do you have a line in the sand of where your willingness to follow a trainer ends?

Friday 14 September 2018

Blog Hop: The Horse You Bought

This has been an interesting blog hop to read on other people's blogs (and let me just say, some of you have made some seriously impressive gains in relatively short periods!). I wasn't going to participate myself because as per my last couple posts, I'm not feeling very good about how things are going with Kachina right now. But then, I actually read Cathryn's post that started this blog hop and I realized that is exactly the point of the post. The times we are struggling are precisely the times we need to look back and see that in the big picture progress has still been made, no matter how slow or small it seems. With that in mind, here we go.

First off, I will admit now that I did not do a super good job of assessing Kachina before purchasing her. When my long-time mare Ellie succumbed to colic, I entered into the horse shopping process with a lot of thought and care. I read ads, watched videos, and drove thousands of km to see a whole lot of horses in person. At each trial I wanted to see the horse do everything from being caught, groomed, tacked up, and ridden at all three gaits. I found one promising horse that I wanted to buy, a gelding named Wilson, but my trial ride had to be cut short due to losing light after sunset (it was at an acreage with no outdoor lighting). I did the responsible thing and set up a time for the following weekend to try riding him again and have a vet check him out, but another buyer snapped him up before my second visit. In the weeks that followed, I regretted that my efforts to be smart and cautious had cost me a nice-seeming horse so I maybe got a little more impatient with horse shopping and a little more cavalier with my trial procedure.

When I tried Kachina I discovered that she was inexperienced, had had a late start, and knew nothing about dressage. However I saw solid conformation, 3 reasonably good gaits, sensitivity to the aids, and a mind that tried to figure out what I was asking for. Luckily the conformation, gaits, sensitivity, and mind that I saw on my trial have proved to be true, and ultimately make me glad I bought her. I may have missed some warning signs though...

I've always been a sucker for her trot

I thought I was smart at seeing through horse sale BS, but in hindsight I realize that while Kachina's previous owners weren't straight up dishonest (except about her height, 16.1hh my eye!), they weren't super forthcoming either and were a bit crafty in how they presented her. For instance, it had been rainy the week I tried her so they said their home outdoor arena was soggy and asked if we could meet at a nearby community indoor arena. I was thinking about my last mare who would be spooky especially in new places and figured it was actually a great opportunity to see how Kachina was away from home, it never even crossed my mind that she might be better at the new place than she was at home. Maybe the seller's excuse of a soggy arena was true, but since Kachina has proven again and again that she is better behaved on the ground away from home, it seems a little convenient that that is where I was shown her. Also, while Kachina has never been hard for me to catch, she has been hard to approach for other people. Looking back I realize that I never saw Kachina being caught on her trial. On my trial I did assess how she was for standing, feet cleaning and bridling, but I only saw her do those things at a new arena, not at home. I never asked for a second test ride because I didn't want to risk someone else buying her first. I did do a vet check but the sellers met me at the vet clinic and I hauled Kachina to my barn directly from there (so again I never saw her at home). Basically, the problems I am having now were likely problems when I bought her as well (and according to my records, bridling and feet handling were the first problems that popped up once I started working with her).

So, aside from the ground work stuff, how is the horse I bought different from the horse I have now?


The horse I bought could not even fathom cantering on a 30m circle. She had only been cantered out on the trail or in fields and so when I test rode I got her to pick up the canter on the long sides but she couldn't maintain it around the short end. At the vet check they tried to get her to canter while loose in a round pen but she was convinced she couldn't do it so they had to just assess her at walk and trot. She ran into all canter transitions.

Early canter transition

The horse I have now is capable of nice canter transitions (sometimes), can do a balanced 15m canter circle, and volunteers the canter when at liberty.

Most recent canter photo I have, but not even our best


The horse I bought did not understand contact. Period. At all. She was only ridden on a loose rein, or a tight rein to keep her speed in check.

At her trial, I think the photo speaks for itself (not me riding)

The horse I have now readily accepts contact with the bit and has finally progressed to understanding full connection, not just contact.

July 2018, and we've made some breakthroughs since then

Suppleness and Balance

The horse I bought was good at the walk but at trot and canter she was inverted, hollow, and lacked balance such she had only one gear: fast.

Early days, either inverted...
...or curled

The horse I have now can work in a rounded frame (though we are still working on stretching) and is balanced enough to work in a variety of trots and canters.

Working on stretch

Lateral Work

The horse I bought had never done lateral work, but from the first day I rode her she was good at figuring out that leg pressure in different locations corresponded to different parts of her body

The horse I have now can do leg yield, shoulder-in, and travers, all at walk and trot, as well as turn on the forehand and a primitive turn on the haunches (not going to lie, I haven't done much work on any of these, lateral work just comes easily to her)


The horse I bought had only been ridden outdoors and really wasn't ridden that much. She was unstarted until she was 8 and after that she was mostly a pasture ornament, only going on occasional trail rides. Even with some refresher work shortly before she was listed for sale, I estimate that she may have only had about 60 rides total when I bought her.

Trial ride - she was always good at this

The horse I have now is reasonably seasoned. She has been ridden regularly for the last four years, she has travelled to several clinics and shows. She has experience in multiple disciplines, being primarily a dressage horse now but one who also still goes on trail rides, tries cowboy challenge clinics, attempts general performance classes, occasionally herds cows, and is starting to get some cursory pole and jump lessons.


Cowboy Challenge


Show Record

The horse I bought didn't have a show record.

The horse I have now has the following accomplishments on her record:
- competed in 13 shows total
- high scores of 65.5% at Walk/Trot, 64.4% at Training Level and 59.0% at First Level (yes, I know they aren't that high, but we use shows to learn rather than waiting until we are confirmed at the level, the scores still show we are capable)
- 2016 Walk/Trot Reserve Champion for Carrots & Cocktails show series
- 2016 Claresholm Bronze Show Dressage Equitation AA Grand Champion
- 2017 Claresholm Bronze Show Dressage Equitation AA Grand Champion
- 2017 Claresholm Bronze Show Training Level AA Reserve Champion
- 2018 Claresholm Bronze Show Dressage Equitation AA Grand Champion
- 2018 Claresholm Bronze Show First Level AA Reserve Champion
- 2018 Cochrane Bronze Show Training Level AA High Point Champion

It's been a slow process, far slower than I had hoped. I feel like I haven't come as far as I should have in 4 years, and Kachina definitely doesn't know as much as she should for being 16 years old, but at the end of the day the horse I have today is more educated than the horse I bought. That's something worth recognizing.

Thursday 13 September 2018

Keep Going

Thanks so much everyone for the responses on my last post. Sorry for not replying to individual comments before now (but will do so in the next couple days). I've been mulling things over a lot in the last couple days. I'm still trying to figure out a solid plan of approach to move forward, but I am going to move forward.

I had an absolutely dreadful day at work on Tuesday. Like my boss made me cry kind of dreadful. I wasn't in the right state of mind to ride or do serious work but I went out to the barn to just spend some low key time with Kachina. One of her paddock-mates is a pest (she tries to chase Kachina away so she can get all the attention) so I  took Kachina out of the paddock but instead of going to the barn I just spent some quiet time with her in the grassy area outside the fence. I let Kachina graze a bit and then did a bit of ground work there. I handled her feet, asked her to move away from pressure, and practiced leading, stopping, leading, stopping. Things weren't perfect, sometimes when I wanted Kachina to stand she would keep rotating until she was facing the direction she wanted to face, sometimes I had to remind her to focus on me instead of the grass, and it took some repetition to get her to stop when I stopped, but it was still a calm and productive little session.

Watching her relaxed body language reminded me that this horse is not tense all the time, she is just tense in certain situations. I was actually impressed at how chill Kachina stayed even when her paddock-mate was running the fenceline nearby and even when a chorus of coyotes started howling in the next field over. This horse has the ability to calmly think through situations and that means we can work on building up to tackle the problem areas. I'm still mulling things over and still trying to figure out the next approach to try. I really appreciate all of your thoughtful suggestions and I am considering which of those we can put into action and what makes sense as an ordered progression. The important thing is that through reading your comments and taking a step back to observe my horse, I have realized that she is not beyond hope, I think that fear was what was really bothering me. It's not going to be easy, I don't think there is any magic solution, but we are going to keep going. Thank you.

Tuesday 11 September 2018


In a lot of ways things with Kachina are going well. We've had some great rides and lessons. We are doing new things under saddle, both progressing in dressage, and trying out some pole work for funsies and Kachina is a willing partner who is learning quickly and trying hard. I have lots of posts I could/should have written about that side of things. But after every high under saddle, I come crashing down from the simple act of asking Kachina to stand in the barn so I can untack her (the pre-ride routine is just as bad). She wiggles, paws, screams, poops. My willing partner is replaced by a tense bundle of nerves who can't think about anything other than getting out of the barn and back to her buddies.

Tense pawing horse at old home

Please see this post for review of the problem and potential causes. (I really can't fully summarize it in a couple sentences, but basically Kachina is fine at other places and fine when I'm doing anything with her that involves her moving (lunging, riding, ground work), but standing at home (wherever home is) is a major problem. I expect this is related to past trauma, herdboundness, or both).

As an update from that post: I've tried using her stall and getting her to just chill, she doesn't. Instead she works herself into a sweat in the stall. She has only been in a stall while I've been on property so it's not every day, I've debated switching her to indoor board so she is inside 12 hours every night but I'm not sure if that will help or make things worse (right now no other horses are on indoor board so she would be alone). Trying to handle her feet in the barn has also regressed, so much so that I had to cancel a trim appointment because I wasn't willing to subject my farrier to that. I've also had to start putting hoof boots on during the grooming process so that Kachina doesn't get sore from wearing down her hoof with pawing (that happened a couple times). She also has completely disregarded my location and swung into me a couple times (I shut that down hard because I know that could get dangerous quick). I dread having to put the bridle on or off because it is not a smooth process and it takes everything I have to keep her from leaving or throwing her head in the air while avoiding the bridle hitting her in the eye or teeth. To remind you, she knows how to have her feet handled etc, because she can do it well when we are away from home or working in a round pen etc., the root cause seems to be the standing inside at home.

Tense pawing horse at new home

Moving one foot at a time isn't even enough at times

I know asking for help on the internet is not ideal but that's where I'm at. It gets harder and harder for me to keep working with her on my own when I'm not seeing any clear improvement. Also I know emotion has no place in horse training and I'm starting to get more emotional because it's so difficult to see her this way. This is beyond the ability of any professionals I have at my location, and since the problem is related to home, sending her off for training seems like it would have limited value. It may work if I send her off for multiple months so that training place becomes home and problem redevelops, but that is a significant cost both financially and in losing all riding progress and access to her for that long. I'm willing to do that if required but I want to see if there's any other solution first. Finding the right trainer who has dealt with this type of problem before is also tough.

So, does anyone have any ideas for me? Specifically, has anyone had experience with a horse like Kachina and what did you do? What was your solution with the hardest-to-stand horse you've ever encountered? I'll take any advice I can get, but hearing "this is my typical way of dealing with training horses and I've never had a problem"-type of comments isn't super useful. Many horses are fairly willing to just stand, Kachina is not that horse. There is a level of tension here that changes the equation considerably. For example, I know a common solution is to give the horse the option between moving=work, standing still=chance to rest, but Kachina will choose to work all day (downside of a seriously non-lazy horse). Help?

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Jumper Horse

I say jumper because despite complete lack of height being tackled, clearly not well dressed enough to be a hunter!