Wednesday 18 August 2021

WW: All Breed Horse Show Photos

 Ack, I still need to get caught up on real posts but the annual dressage show I organize is coming up this weekend and it has been extra busy because it is being featured in an hour long documentary(!) being made for local tv programming. I will do more write ups later but for now enjoy the show photos from the dressage day at the All Breed Horse Show courtesy of The Buckin' Photographer (photos all purchased). 

I'm happy to have photo documentation of Naia's first dressage show! Also I am totally saying these count as my maternity photos (professional photos taken when I was officially pregnant ;-) ) 

Thursday 5 August 2021

All Breed Horse Show 2021 - The Atmosphere

Last last weekend (July 22-24) was a big one for both Naia and I so I am going to break it into multiple blog posts. 

Today I want to talk about all the new things that Naia had to deal with at this show. In hindsight, I could have set her up better for some of them but others were a surprise for me too. 

In a place without many shows, it can be tough to choose the right exposure opportunities for young horses. On one hand, I like to stick with local shows because a) closer to home if need to bail, b) not much point paying $$$ for gas and hotel to get rubbish scores when just giving a young horse exposure, and c) more friendly haul for the horse. However some shows have a lot more challenging set up or atmosphere than others for young horses. This particular show was attractive to me because of how close and affordable it was, but it was a lot for Naia to deal with. I don't think I overfaced her, and it was a somewhat calculated risk after how well she did at this jumper show (which also had a lot of people and atmosphere), but I want to acknowledge everything new that Naia faced as I think it puts important perspective on how she ultimately did. These range from the standard things that she will encounter in many future outings to some bizarre challenges unique to this weekend. 

Aside, for anyone not based in the prairies who is wondering about the shape of the arena or my references to the track, this show was held at our local rodeo grounds, and the layout is primarily designed for chuckwagon races, with infrastructure to support other rodeo events and large numbers of spectators. 

B - Barn where Naia was stabled
W - Warmup Ring
C - Competition Ring

1. Stabling
This was the first time that I have had a stall for Naia away from home and her first time overnight at a show. Overall I think it helped us more than hurt us. Naia seemed much more comfortable in her stall than she would have been tied to the trailer. I also did set her up for success by having a familiar and experienced horse stabled across the aisle within sight of her, only having her stay over one night, giving her a continuous supply of hay, and making sure that she left her buddy more than she left him. However, Naia generally lives out 24/7 in a paddock that is roughly 60'x160' so a 10'x10' stall is a significant downgrade in her space to wander. 

2. Bath
The show grounds was the first time that I gave Naia a full bath including shampoo and conditioner. I know that might sound weird but the wash stall set up at the show grounds is a much safer and welcoming one that the one at our home barn. I have gotten her used to standing in the wash stall at home and have hosed her down a couple times but the concrete at home can be pretty slippery and there is no where to tie so I intentionally waited until we were at the show for a full bath. 

A good shampoo means I finally got the
white hairs in Naia's two-toned tail white

3. Judge's Trailer
We did a practice day at the barn where we had a "judge" sit at a table at C, and Naia did see a judging booth at the hunter show, but at this show the judge was seated in a big elevated trailer with a canopy. It was a nice set up for the judge but was a little scary looking. When I did my laps around the outside of the arena I tried to get Naia to see that it was just people up there (she loves people) but nobody would say anything out loud for me. I totally get that the judge is generally busy finishing the test before, but there were 3 extra people sitting on the trailer as we walked by and so I was a bit disappointed that none would reply when I was talking to them and Naia while going by. When I was a scribe and saw a horse spooking at the judging booth I always made a point to talk calmly to them so they could see we were only people. 

4. Steward
I was grateful for the steward at this show. She actually checked us out both before and after our tests. She was very chatty and moved in a straightforward manner so Naia had zero issue with her sides being touched or mouth opened. The steward may have also saved me because she pointed out that my cinch was super loose before my test. I had tightened it to my normal hole but I think the stress had Naia more tucked up than normal, resulting in a loose cinch. 

5. Flapping sponsor signs
The arena had several vinyl signs zip tied to the arena fences to promote various sponsors. On Thursday night I did take special care to give Naia time to come up and sniff them and figure out that they weren't a threat. 

The five items above are all ones that were great to give Naia exposure to because she will likely experience them all again. But now we start getting into the more show/venue specific things...

6. Long Walk from Warmup to Show Ring
Okay, I will admit that I don't actually know what the norm is in various places for distance between warmup ring and show ring, but this felt long based on my limited experience. In reality it was 0.5km. In the past at this show, the entrance to the competition arena was on the side of the track closest to the barns and warmup ring. However this year they rearranged access so it was on the opposite side instead. That meant that there was a 1/2km walk from the warmup arena, past the back of metal stands, beside portapotties, down a narrow path behind the rough stock handling areas, through a field of gopher holes, down to a narrow gate in the track, and then back along the track to the arena. It probably wouldn't be a big deal to any seasoned show horse but it certainly felt like a challenging walk on a green 5 year old, especially when most of it was out of sight of other horses and there was no mounting block at the hitching ring so leading her wasn't even an option. 

Green - old path from warmup to competition ring
Red - path we had to take this year

7. Footing Extremes
I'm generally not one to fuss about footing too much (mostly because that would just make me crazy), but the footing at the show was definitely one of extremes. The competition ring was nicely harrowed and was fine and a good depth for dressage (though it is track dirt rather than any fancy dressage footing). The warmup arena has a very deep layer of sand so it was one extreme of soft and deep footing. On the other extreme, due to the long walk between the warmup and show ring, I had to do some of my schooling on the track beside the hitching ring. They had flattened and sealed the track to protect it so that was very hard ground that was not unlike riding on pavement, though had the added challenge of being sloped to the inside. The pathway between the two was mostly gravel and while Naia only took a couple off steps, I'm sure it would be quite ouchy to horses with more sensitive feet. 

8. Spectator stands
On one side of the arena was the grandstands, a looming expanse of concrete that extended far up, including a roof that cast long shadows across the arena. The entrance to the grandstands is actually sunk down a bit so the horses see about a 4 foot drop directly outside the arena fence on one whole side. The grandstand was essentially empty during my rides on Friday but every sound on the grounds echoed off the empty steel and concrete surfaces. On the other side of the arena were some of those metal stands, the ones that make loud noises whenever anyone moves on them. Of course for the weekend this is where all the spectators were actually sitting. 

I'm only sitting about 1/3 the way up the grandstand here

Metal stands can be seen across the arena

9. Bucking Chutes
We had to walk past both sides of the bucking chutes, both the front side while competing, and the back side while walking from the warmup ring. The chutes were empty so they are essentially just fences and gates, but ones that the horses only get narrow views into so they are inherently a little spooky. 

10. Construction
The horse show has the unfortunate honour of being held every year one week before the stampede starts. That means that every year there are crews onsite preparing for the larger upcoming event by moving large items around, doing repairs with loud power tools, having random equipment like forklifts in random places and the like. This year COVID means a more scaled down stampede so it wasn't as bad as previous years but was still present. I was grateful that they at least weren't doing grandstand roof repairs this year like in past years though! (Imagine riding a test when a person suddenly appears on a roof directly beside the arena, 100ft in the air, and starts using a nail gun in the middle of your ride! Sadly I don't have to imagine it because I have lived it lol). 

11. Chainsaws
There is a very talented local chainsaw artist. I have admired many of her pieces of work around the area but I did have to shake my head a bit when I saw that she was working on a tree directly beside the show barn during the show weekend. I mean couldn't they have hired her to come a different day? The sound of the chainsaw echoed loudly through the grandstand and could be heard clearly in the competition ring. She also restarted after a break right behind us as I was loading Naia into the trailer on the way home. 

Chainsaw work in progress right beside barn. 

12. Drones
Admittedly I didn't actually see any drones until I was done my rides for the day but seeing one fly directly over the arena definitely had me go "are you freaking kidding me!?" 

I have a lot of respect for the seasoned horses who can compete surrounded by chaos and not blink an eye. I would be thrilled if Naia eventually becomes one of those horses. However looking through the lens a five year old with limited off property trips, it was a lot to deal with, and also a lot of things that are really hard to prepare for at home. 

What's the craziest show environment you have experienced? 

Friday 30 July 2021

Survival and Staying in the Ring

You know what is not conducive to good blog recaps? Finishing up a 3 day show weekend and then immediately finding out that your in-laws are coming to stay the following weekend.... when you haven't had anyone inside your house since before the pandemic! My husband and I aren't slobs but let's be real, there was definitely some extra tidying to be done after not having guests in so so long. In particular my home office had been taken over by piles of paper and horse stuff (and I can't just hide the clutter behind closed doors because you have to go through the office to get to the backyard). My collection of clean saddle pads may have also taken up residence on the bed in one of our spare bedrooms, oops lol.

So anyways, full show recaps including media will still be coming but just a short post today to start things off.

You also get one pro show pic today since
I don't have any media from Thursday night

In my last post I was feeling pretty good about the shows, but let's remember that Naia is 5 and has only had 2 off-property trips before this (clinic with AM, and hunter show). On Thursday I hauled Naia to the show grounds. I first did some ground work and lunging with her, and then tacked her up to do a warm-up ride. She was up and looky but I figured that she would settle with more work. However soon after my butt hit the saddle I realized that I needed to downgrade all expectations to just survival. I told myself that even if I had to scratch my classes that just riding in a new place with all the atmosphere of the busy show grounds was great exposure for Naia. I needed to focus above all on giving her good rides and good experiences, even if that meant not getting through the tests we had trained for. For that warm up ride on Thursday Naia was more tense than I have felt her in a long time, and while she was listening to me to a degree, she just was not relaxing. We walked cloverleaf and figure 8 patterns in both directions but I could tell she wasn't ready for trot. Also any time I tried to halt and just park for a minute she started to spin, back up or throw her head up. So, we just walked, and walked, and walked some more, focusing on bend and where her feet were going. We started losing the light so I basically waited until she was settled enough to stand for me to dismount and then brought her back to the barn. 

One advantage of a local show with multiple disciplines is that lots of other horses from our barn were also showing on the weekend, though only 2 others hauled in Thursday night. Luckily it was one of her paddock neighbours that came and was stabled directly across the aisle from Naia. He is an older well-seasoned show horse and as I had hoped his calm presence really helped Naia in the barn so I wasn't too concerned about her overnight. 

I'll talk in more detail about Friday's classes in later recap but I started the day with survival and exposure for Naia as being my primary goal. We went in for our first test and fairly quickly got eliminated because Naia ducked out the open gate at A and all 4 feet left the ring. I've honestly never had a horse do that with me before so I was completely unprepared for it. The judge rang me out but very nicely allowed me to complete the test as she could see Naia was green and a bit freaked out, though as we were going through the rest of the test Naia ducked out at A again! At least the second time didn't matter as much since we were already eliminated. After the first test I now had 2 goals: to survive and stay in the ring! I'm happy to report that for the rest of my 4 dressage tests on the weekend, we achieved both of those goals! Small wins! 

There was video malfunction for start of first test so
this is actually the second time she left the arena!

Tuesday 20 July 2021

Show Ready

In the spirit of do-all-the-things-before-I-have-to-stop-riding, I am entered in two shows this coming weekend! 

On Friday I showing Intro dressage at my local All-Breed show. They are only offering Intro B and Intro C for English and since we can't do the canter in Intro C yet I am also entered in Western Dressage Intro C and Intro D (both only walk/jog). 

Looking like the QH that she 3/4 is

On Saturday it is halter and western performance classes at the All Breed show so I am whisking Naia off to Lethbridge to ride in the Ride-A-Test Day put on by the CC/ADA. This is technically more of a clinic than a show, but Doreen Horsey is judging. She is the only senior EC dressage judge in Alberta so getting feedback from her and supporting my local dressage club at the same time seems like a major win-win. 

Finally on Sunday I am back at the All Breed Show to compete in walk/trot English Pleasure and English Equitation. I originally had only planned on doing the dressage day of the All Breed Show but they were looking for more walk/trot entries, clarified that it was for either novice riders or novice horses, and waived the late fees for adding classes so we are now doing them. I already have a stall for the weekend so it was very minimal extra cost, and being in the ring with other horses is more good exposure for Naia.

The arena for the All Breed Show, 
it can be a bit spooky with the bucking shoots and grandstands


I rode yesterday and ran through 2 of the 3 dressage test patterns that I will be showing this weekend. I have been practicing individual movements for the last couple weeks but these were my first run throughs start to finish. To my somewhat surprise, they were actually pretty good! Sure, we could be quicker to trot out of the first halt, and keep straighter on our free walk diagonals, but those are pretty minor. I mean yes, they are intro tests so they are pretty basic, but I'm still pretty shocked at how ready I feel for these shows. There are so few dressage shows in my area that I generally find I am still trying to fix things down to the wire (not ideal, but if I waited to enter a show until everything was confirmed, I would never get to show). This is Naia's first show season and I was prepared for it to be exposure only and possibly some scratched classes or abysmal scores. She is only 5 and these shows are both at brand new venues for her so that may still happen, but I know we are well prepared and I feel more excited than nervous.

As well as the training being in a good place, I was also able to line up vet appointment, saddle fitting, and hoof trim all leading up to the show so everything is in tip top shape. However, I do still need to wash my show shirt and do a lot of tack and boot cleaning (the disadvantage of showing both English and Western, twice the tack and boots to clean and pack!) so maybe we aren't fully ready after all! 

Monday 19 July 2021

Matchy Monday: Navy and Copper

 I was super excited to put this set together, it is one of our fanciest outfits, and I love copper.

Saddle pad: Equito Navy Rose Gold 2.0
Boots and Bells: Anky Copper
Gloves: Anky Copper and Navy
Stirrups: Rebel Equestrian

This is my only Equito pad but I love the fit under my saddle and they have some really nice colours so I may need to get more at some point. 

I also got this matchy browband from Dark Jewel Designs from my husband for our recent anniversary (3 years = leather anniversary) but it hasn't made it onto the horse yet

Photo credit: Dark Jewel Designs

No photos of any matchy human accessories. I have a ton of navy clothes in general but no copper and nothing particularly for this outfit. 

Friday 16 July 2021

Annual Vet Appointment

 Last week I had the vet out for Naia's annual visit. There was one other horse being looked at at my barn at the same time so we were able to split the mileage fee which was nice. Though the vet was early and finished with horse #1 in record time so I didn't even have a chance to groom the mud off of Naia before it was her turn. 

First up was a dental. This was Naia's third dental since I got her. In the first two my vet had noted a bit of a wave and some cavities (or whatever the technical term is for the horse equivalent) so she wanted to keep a close eye on things. The two issues are interconnected because the wave causes uneven pressure on the teeth which then can contribute to the cavities. In some horses this can progress to be a bigger issue, and in some cases it will self-correct as the horse grows. Luckily Naia seems to be in the latter group and this time around her teeth were in better shape. All Naia needed this time around was a really basic float so that is good! She also now officially has all her adult teeth. 

Next I got some baseline x-rays done of Naia's lower front legs. This hadn't originally been part of the plan for the day but horse #1 at the barn had xrays done and since the equipment was out anyways I asked my vet to add in a couple shots. I have zero concerns with Naia or how she is going but she is 5 years old and has essentially just ramped up into full work so I figured it was a good time to get baseline rads since she never had a pre-purchase vet check. With previous horses I have seen issues where something is seen on an xray when trying to diagnose a problem and it's sometimes tough to know whether that something is new or if it has been like that for years. This way my vet and I get to have these on file to compare to in the future if needed. The RF looked really nice but we noticed that the LF had a slightly broken back alignment of the bones so I will be showing these to my farrier at Naia's next trim so we can adjust accordingly. It doesn't require any drastic action but good information to have. I follow a farrier group on facebook that highly recommends annual xrays of a horse's feet to ensure that the horse's trims and/or shoes are achieving good palmer angles, boney alignment and sole depth. It's definitely an extra cost but especially when it comes to feet, prevention is a lot better than trying to correct an issue so I'm thinking I might do these baseline x-rays periodically. 

I cropped them and flipped one image to allow for easier side-by-side comparison

As part of the discussion about the xrays, we chatted a little bit about Naia's current age (will be 6 in August) and age when she started work (first ridden just before she turned 5). In this area there is quite a few reiners and cutters who prep for the big futurity money in the horse's 3 year old year. Compared to that, my vet loves the slow progression Naia has had and we are both hopeful that it will help her to stay sound and happy for a long career. That is one element that I really love about dressage, the work starts easy and there is no incentive to rush up the levels before the horse is physically mature enough for the harder movements. I hate to criticize any discipline but I really wish that competition organizers would restructure things so that the big pressure and prizes aren't focused on such young horses. 

DP View - note that stuff at bottom is because I didn't have time to clean her feet
first so there were still sand and pebbles in there

The final step was to get Naia's first Coggins test done. There is one show at the end of July that I am probably not going to, but that requires Coggins so I figured I should get it done just in case, not to mention that it is nice for peace of mind regardless. There have been some outbreaks in Alberta in the last couple years though luckily not in my area. I got those results today and they are thankfully negative. In the spirit of baseline information the vet is also running a baseline chemistry panel on the blood she took so that we have something to compare to if we need to draw blood in the future when Naia is not healthy (knock on wood that we will never need those baseline comparisons!). 

Naia definitely ended up being a cheap drunk for the drugs she got at the beginning for her dental. She was very sleepy very quickly, and trying to lead her even a few steps afterwards to get positioned for x-rays or Coggins photos was pretty hilarious. I definitely should have taken pictures during her dental and drunkest stage but I didn't so here are a couple from post-vet. 

She was sleepy for a while so I gave her a good grooming while she woke up

Shiny girl back in her paddock afterwards

Wednesday 14 July 2021

Well I Guess That's One Way to Decide

Or how shopping helped me make a major life decision!

When I bought Naia, I did have resale as a possibility in my head. I wasn't buying a horse with the intention of flipping them or selling them, in fact I've never sold a horse before, I just wanted it to be an option. The biggest reason for this was that I was still heartbroken from the sudden loss of Kachina and I wasn't sure on signing up for another long term commitment. I needed to know that if my new horse and I didn't click or if I decided that I needed something different after a period of healing, that there was a reasonable chance that I could sell her onto another good home. I have now had Naia for a year and a half, and while she hasn't made it to heart horse/forever horse status (yet?), she is a good partner and I haven't felt any need to swap her for another horse.

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that my boots looked a little different from normal in the photos from this show 

The other consideration for resale is that I have been trying to get pregnant. I've been trying to get pregnant and struggling with infertility for years so when I bought Naia I didn't know when or if pregnancy might happen, but it did encourage me to shop for horses cheap and young enough whereby I could either kick them out to pasture for a few months as needed, or sell them if that seemed like the right call, rather than sinking significant savings into a top prospect or schoolmaster that I might not be able to make the most of. For the record, I know people have their own comfort levels and risk tolerances so no judgement on differing opinions, but for myself I long ago I made the decision that if I ever got pregnant I would stop riding after the end of the first trimester (when baby is no longer protected by pelvis).  

They had limited stock available so I ended up going with brown, not my preference for riding boots but they work, and I can also see myself wearing these in normal life this winter

I got pregnant before Christmas and was pregnant over some of the winter, at that point Naia was in a pretty critical part of her training so I had made a plan that I was going to have trainer SJ start riding Naia and keep advancing her training when I hit my second trimester. Unfortunately two weeks before that point I had a miscarriage so those plans didn't end up happening. 

Not the most attractive boots ever, but lots of spare room in the calf, and I ordered a larger foot size too, to accommodate either swollen feet or thick wool socks

That brings us to now, where I am happy to announce that I am pregnant again! Since SJ is now gone, my previous plan is no longer viable, so I began to consider whether I should sell Naia. Naia is a 5 year old registered part Friesian with good conformation, a great mind, and who now has a pretty decent training foundation. In addition, the horse market in Alberta is super hot right now. I don't know if it is a response from slow sales last year or some other phenomenon but there has been a noticeable increase in the demand for horses which has driven up prices, made sales happen quicker, and made people more willing to travel to more rural locations to look at horses. I could probably easily sell Naia now for around 3x what I paid for her (still just talking 4 digits though). But just because I could likely sell her, should I? 

I had actually started a post discussing various pros and cons for selling Naia and was still considering it. Then one day I had a good ride but was frustrated by the fact that my boots and breeches were uncomfortably tight (I haven't gained weight yet but have had swelling in my feet and lower legs and some bloating). Without much thought I found myself going online to Fuller Fillies and ordering a pair of oversized breeches, stretchy calf socks, and oversized boots with a flex panel. I figured that they would be useful both during the rest of my first trimester, and when I started riding again after giving birth. I chose the rush shipping option, and when they arrived a few days later I realized that I had essentially bought maternity breeches and maternity riding boots (my first "maternity" purchases of any kind)! It was then I realized that my subconscious had already made my decision about Naia for me, clearly I wanted to keep her and keep riding as much as possible. I figured that was as good a way to make the decision as any so I've stopped debating it and Naia is staying put. 

Finally, the photos in this post might make more sense to you lol.
Plus the breeches were purple (violet)! I've never had purple breeches before. I purposely sized up though so they are currently too big for me.

After waiting so long and having one miscarriage I am a bit paranoid about this pregnancy, but if everything goes well I will hit the end of my first trimester in the first week of August. I have 2 horse shows and clinic planned for my final weeks of riding (do all the things while I still can!) and then Naia is going to get a bit of a vacation. I will still visit her periodically and I have some ground work and lunging plans for throughout my pregnancy but I plan to play it by ear for how much I feel capable of through pregnancy. Naia is at a pretty good point in her training right now where the concepts she does know are solid enough that I think she will be able to come back pretty easily after an extended break. 

Friday 9 July 2021

The Elephant in the Room: Canter

I am so so happy with how Naia's training is coming along. She is a relaxed and steady partner who I can ride indoors or out, in new places, in various patterns. We can steer around gopher holes, confront sheep, keep working when a friend leaves, and even win ribbons. I am only 30-some rides in and in many ways I am astounded by Naia's progress. 

However, I do sometimes feel like there is an elephant in the room or weight on my shoulders related to one thing we can't yet do: canter. Naia has not yet cantered with a rider. Having a horse going w/t/c under saddle is both such a basic and such an enormous milestone at the same time. I waffle between wanting to push the canter and wanting to take my time so I thought I would do a blog post delving into some of my thoughts. 

Much beauty

Such grace

First, Naia doesn't have a great canter. When I went to look at her before buying her it was in a snowy/icy pasture. I was determined to see that she could canter before I bought her, so I did chase her enough that she picked up a few strides of canter on a straight away, but the situation didn't give me the opportunity to see any more than that. Those few strides were at least a true 3 beat canter so I figured that was good enough (let's remember, Naia was a steal of a deal and I was sick of horse shopping so we were very much in a situation of "good enough"). Since bringing her home, Naia's canter has never wowed, but has oscillated between a prongy-disunited canter that makes me wince, and a reasonably balanced 3 beat canter that is perfectly acceptable, if not awe-inducing. 

Me, trying to put 4 year old Naia who doesn't really lunge, through her paces in a snowy pasture, success was mixed

At first I only saw Naia's canter at liberty. Naia would generally like to be as close to her people as possible, so it took a lot of ground work and lunging before I had trained her to stay out on a circle reliably enough to use the long lunge line and work her in a circle big enough for a young horse to canter on. Unfortunately my barn does not have a round pen suitable for canter work (it is tiny and has crappy footing).  Even at liberty though, Naia much more frequently chooses the trot. 

Sometimes even a pretty nice trot

It was only March of this year where I started to work regularly with Naia on cantering on the lunge. Initially, picking up the canter was a lot of work, for both Naia and me. I love that Naia has such positive experiences with people and has no fear of the whip, but that does have the disadvantage that even much chasing and whip waving doesn't result in much reaction from her. Because it was so hard to even get a canter transition I instantly rewarded her for even a step or two of canter to make it clear that that is what I was looking for. That approach did succeed in giving us a much more prompt and reliable canter transition, but it also inadvertantly taught her that she got praise and cookies when she stopped after just a stride or two of canter. 

At the stage of just asking for a couple strides of canter and not worrying about lead

To counteract this new problem I had to go back to basics and teach Naia that "good girl" meant she was a good girl, but that she could still stay out on a circle and keep moving forward when she got that praise. And unfortunately not all praise comes with a cookie any more. 

Another issue is that Naia would much rather pick up her left lead than her right. She reliably gets the left lead when circling left, but she's about 50/50 with leads when going to the right. Unfortunately that 50/50 isn't consistent day to day, it is more like some days she mostly gets the correct lead, and some days she can't get the right lead at all. Part of the issue is that she likes to be counterbent to the outside while travelling to the right so I need to do more work on asking for and maintaining inside bend. 

Still the wrong lead here but a little more in control

Currently we are at the point where I only praise for correct lead, and I am pushing Naia to maintain canter for one full circle on the lunge. Both getting the correct lead and maintaining the canter are hard for Naia so it is going to take a lot of practice, but it is also hard on her physically right now so I am careful to only ask for a little at a time, and I do tend to skip canter entirely when it is over ~32C (90F) which has been a lot in recent weeks. 

Then there's the times we don't even get a recognizable lead

So that's where we are for cantering on the lunge, how does that tie in to cantering under saddle? This is where there are a couple ways I could go:

On one hand, I can be pretty confident that Naia isn't going to buck or run away with me if I canter under saddle (that would probably count as too much work for her lol) so maybe I should just do it. Realistically I will maybe get one or two strides of canter and then she will break back to trot. I can ask for the canter on a long side and so getting a certain lead won't matter much. Maybe combining a little canter on the lunge with a little canter under saddle will improve her canter skills more quickly. I feel like this is probably the approach to choose if one was a pro rider with a perfect seat. 

Occasionally her canter looks pretty decent!

On the other hand, I can see on the lunge that Naia is still just starting to develop her balance at the canter. Unbalanced horses can do unpredictable things and so for both of our good it seems beneficial to give her more time to figure out the canter before I ask her to do it with the weight of a rider. This is compounded a bit by the fact that I am not great at staying in a balanced position while asking for a canter. I'm actively improving my seat but I definitely don't want both of us unbalanced at the same time the first time we try for 3rd gear (go back to the very first photos in this post, that is not balanced). Clinician trainer AM gave me the guidance that a horse should be able to maintain 4 circles of canter on the lunge before they will be able to maintain 1 circle of canter with a rider and we are still a long ways away from that. It might not be necessary to be able to do 4 circles of canter on the lunge before doing it under saddle, but it doesn't sound like a bad plan either. Additionally, I have only just started lateral work under saddle. Since Naia struggles with leads already it would be useful for me to have more control of the positioning of her haunches before cantering under saddle so that I can have some influence on what lead she picks up. 

The final factor is fear. I admit that cantering Naia for the first time gives me a little bit of anxiety. However even this fear leaves me torn between the two options, because part of me wants to just go ahead and get the first canter over with before it becomes a bigger deal than it already is, while another part of me thinks that max preparation is the best way to wrangle any fear. 

This looks rideable

Once my trainer SJ found out she was leaving, we made a plan to have her do some training rides and lunge work to get Naia started with canter under saddle in the 6 weeks before she left, but then after only one ride (where no canter happened) SJ unfortunately broke her foot and couldn't work with Naia anymore. She has now officially moved far away so that unfortunately is no longer an option. 

I know this is a decision I need to make myself ultimately, but what would you do in my situation? How soon have you introduced canter under saddle to your youngsters? Would you just canter the damn horse already?  

Wednesday 7 July 2021

Fine Tuning

On Sunday I had a lesson with SJ, the last one since she is leaving this week (which I am still really sad about). Unfortunately there is zero media from this lesson but it was a good one! 

Our lesson started with some remedial mounting block work as Naia tried to knock me off the block to start by scratching her face on me, and then tried to walk away. I can line her up nicely with the mounting block when she is wearing a rope halter, but the sending and yielding signals still aren't so great with the bridle. She likes to line herself up so her shoulder is beside the block instead of the stirrup, and getting her to just take a single step forward without leaving entirely is surprisingly difficult. SJ showed me some techniques to use but this is going to take a lot more practice to get reliable. 

However once I was actually on board, our lesson felt surprisingly advanced. Here's what we worked on:

Initially Naia was a little too eager to go forward so I did a number of halt transitions. SJ had me fine tune my halts by timing my breathing with the aid. When I breathed into the halt our halt was faster and more balanced and happened mostly off my seat. I also practiced shifting my weight, swinging my legs, and taking my feet in and out of the stirrups while standing so that Naia would wait for me to actually cue her before she started walking forward again, rather than doing it the second I shifted in any way.

No riding photos so enjoy this dramatic sky over the barn one evening

To up the difficulty and get Naia's brain engaged, SJ had me do shallow serpentines on the long sides of the arena, focusing on getting a nice bend in both directions.  

Next we worked on stretching. I had previously introduced Naia to a stretch aid at the halt whereby gentle but steady pressure wide on the bit rings cued her to drop her head, doing it both from the ground and from the saddle. Today I introduced that concept at a walk for the first time. Before long Naia was quickly giving me a good stretch down whenever I asked. I alternated periods of stretch with riding her with shorter reins in a more shortened upright frame, getting her used to riding in various neck positions with soft contact. This stretch cue is something that I was first taught right before losing Kachina and in hindsight it is something that was really missing from my training and a key reason why stretchy trot was so hard for me on previous horses. Hopefully I won't repeat the same mistakes with Naia (but I am sure I will make some new ones). 

We then did some work on 3 speeds of walking, asking Naia to slow down or speed up her walk speed. Putting this exercise together with the one above gave me some moments of a lovely forward free walk.

I was pretty happy with Naia's turning but SJ had me fine tune my turning aids by using a more supportive outside rein and making sure that my hips rotated with my shoulders in the direction I wanted to turn. As soon as I focused on this I could feel that Naia's balance improved and the last ounce of her falling out on the turn disappeared. 

It was a hot day (35 degrees C) so I kept the trot work to a minimum but at the trot Naia was maintaining her circle and tempo nicely so I was able to focus on my posting position in the western saddle (I use it for trail riding etc so I've never been great at trot or canter position in my western saddle).

When not at the barn I do enjoy my hammock in the backyard


I finished off the lesson by showing SJ our newly acquired ability to do baby turn-on-the-haunches and sidepass and she gave me some simple tips for making these new exercises clearer for Naia.

Overall it was a great lesson but I was amazed at how much of what we were working on was fine tuning of concepts that Naia is already pretty solid at. This was only Naia's 33rd ride ever so I am pretty shocked but pleasantly surprised that she is already at this point.    

Monday 5 July 2021

"Ride Her Like She's Broke"

 A reoccurring trend in my training with Naia is that I will be taught how to introduce certain aids and concepts to Naia and we will break things down into teeny tiny steps until she learns the concept, but then at some point I need to just "Ride her like she's broke", meaning just use the aid like I would with a normal trained horse. 

Almost without fail, every time I treat Naia like she's broke, she responds excellently and I'm reminded that she does know things. However I frequently get too in my head and keep riding her like she is super green. 

The first example I can remember was a simple halt to walk transition. To ask Naia to walk my process had been to first make sure to hold my hands forward to give her lots of rein, then squeeze with my leg, being ready to follow it up with a bump and a cluck. Then one day I was chatting with some other people in the arena so was distracted, while still talking I asked Naia to walk without thinking and it was one of her best transitions yet. My trainer noticed it as well and remarked on it. In hindsight, I asked her to walk on like I would have with Kachina, keeping a normal contact with the reins, and using my seat together with a light squeeze of my legs.  

Random photo to break up wall of text

The same thing goes with turning. Initially I introduced the aid by using only my inside rein and opening it wide, I would ask for a bit of turn, then release, then ask, then release. Now, I notice that my turns are much more precise if I support with my outside rein and focus on keeping my center of gravity in the middle of the saddle while looking where I want to go (I think using the big opening rein would sometimes throw my balance off a bit). So basically, she turns better if I ride her like she's broke. 

In these cases, my muscle memory is my friend and my brain is my enemy. If she is struggling with something like turning, my head will focus back to early lessons and I will break it down into even more basic steps, instead of using the more advanced balanced combination of aids. If I turn off my brain, I will instead default to the way I have asked a horse to turn a million times which will usually work better. 

Using some outside rein, but I need to bend my elbows more here

Because of this, I have actually made a point to do several of my rides with Naia while listening to an audiobook or podcast. Focusing on listening to something has the dual benefits of making me more relaxed, and also making me default more to muscle memory. 

Do you ever find you ride better when you get out of your own head a bit? 

Friday 2 July 2021

The Importance of Pockets

Holy crap guys, I am never riding without pockets ever again! 

I am a very big fan of pockets in general, but especially when I am working with horses. I could get started on a giant rant about the complete gender inequality regarding pockets in most clothing, but I'll try to keep focused on the equestrian side for this post. 

For the show last weekend, I was riding in a new pair of beige breeches in order to blend into hunter land. I didn't have enough notice to order a pair online so I bought the only pair of beige breeches that fit me in the whole city and had zero choice (it seemed lucky at the time that there was a pair that fit, but maybe I should have just worn my whites instead). Anyways these breeches had only 3 things going for them, that they fit, they were beige, and they were decently priced (bought them used). They were Kerrit's winter breeches which were completely unsuitable for riding in 30 degrees C, they had a super unbreathable full seat, but worst of all, they had no pockets! 

They looked decent but not sure I'll be wearing them again

Normally I ride in Horze Grand Prix breeches, I have them in white and navy in full-seat, brown and green in knee-patch, as well as a black winter pair. I also have one pair of ROMFH breeches in grey. All have pockets on both sides that are a decent size. I do occasionally ride in sweatpants or leggings that don't have pockets but only when it is cold enough for me to ride in a sweater or vest that has pockets instead.

Internet images of Horze breeches

What do I use my pockets for? 

  1. Cell Phone - I ride on my own a lot so I like the security of riding with my phone on my person so that I can call for help if needed. I also frequently listen to audiobooks or podcasts while at the barn so keeping my phone on me keeps it within range of my bluetooth headphones. Finally, it does allow me to take the occasional between the ears or post-ride photo. 
  2. Horse Treats - I do use quite a bit of positive reinforcement so I like to always have some treats on hand to use as needed. 
  3. Dressage Tests and Order of Go - this is specific to shows but I like to review the pattern right before going into ride my test, particularly as I generally ride multiple tests in a day and there often isn't time to go back to the barn or trailer in between ride times.  
  4. Gloves - I am slowly getting more used to wearing gloves but it's been a process so I still find myself taking them off for buckling up bridle straps or other fine tasks, it is nice to have somewhere to shove my gloves when I take them off. 
A common sight of me at shows, doing last minute review of test, thanks to my pockets

Anyways, at the hunter show I did not have pockets. It was a bit of a pain all morning but the worst part was when I was trying to load Naia back in the trailer at the end of the show. For one, I didn't have a place to stash treats and the trailer is still new so I try to give Naia lots of food rewards for being in the trailer. Not having a place for my cell phone also became an issue. Naia was pretty worked up being taken away from the other horses so I felt like I needed both hands free to work with her. After she started barging into or away from me I knew I needed to take a step back so I called my trainer SJ for some advice. While I was talking to her I was just working on having Naia do some ground work near the trailer (backing up, parking, etc) but not asking her to actually load. I put my phone on speakerphone and rested it on the back corner of the trailer so I could hear SJ while using both hands to work with Naia. Well at one point Naia barged past me to get on the trailer, and stepped up with her hoof directly on my phone!!!! My phone does have a case and a screen protector but neither is very heavy duty so I was sure my phone was a goner. I am not sure whether I am just super lucky or whether Samsung phones are really that tough but amazingly my phone doesn't have a single scratch on it! However it was definitely a close call and I am never riding without pockets again! 

Do you find pockets as necessary as I do? 

Wednesday 30 June 2021

Wordless Wednesday: Professional Show Pics

 Photos purchased from Penny Lane Photography

(Description of show here for anyone who missed it)

Monday 28 June 2021

Surprise Hunter Show

Naia and I participated in a last-minute hunter/jumper show on Saturday, in the illustrious trot poles division!

I wanted to see how last week's clinic went before planning any other away trips, but after the clinic I saw that a local hunter/jumper barn was holding a show this weekend. The clinic had gone pretty well but Naia is definitely at the stage where she will benefit hugely from lots of short trips in the trailer. I saw that the show was offering a trot poles division and I figured that hauling to a barn 30 minutes away and trotting over some poles in a new arena would be great exposure for Naia.

The entry form was pretty light on details and I'm a definite stranger to hunter land so I sent the organizer a bunch of questions which she very nicely answered: 

  1. Am I eligible for trot pole division with my green horse or is it for children only? I was welcome to show in trot poles, but would be the first adult to enter
  2. Can I show in dressage tack for trot pole division? Yes. 
  3. What's the warmup situation like? They had a warmup arena that would open at 7:30am. 
  4. What time does the show start and is trot poles the first division? 8am and yes. 
  5. Is it okay if I get there at or before 6:30am? Yes, and she provided me with detailed information for trailer parking since I would likely be the first to arrive. 

With the relevant answers provided, I decided to go for it and I submitted my late entry (the options for late entry into hunter/jumper shows are nice for situations like this!)

My preparation for this show was substantially less than for the clinic last weekend, but I did do a ride at my home arena where I set up a pattern of trot poles and made Naia trot them without walking them first. I also contacted my friend who has a small tack shack of consignment gear to get a regulation length crop (my dressage whip would be too long), and some beige breeches. My friend's tack shack is based out of the same barn as the show so when I picked up my new gear I took some extra time to walk out to the show arena and trailer parking field to get the lay of the land. The night before the show I brushed Naia's mane but did not braid or pull it. I traded out my pretty beaded browband for a plain one, and loaded up the truck and trailer. Finally, I pulled out my white show pad, show jacket and show shirt, all of which haven't been used since 2019 (but thankfully still fit!). I knew we weren't going to be the most huntery pair there, either in appearance or way of going, but we would technically meet the rules and I hoped show the judge that we made some effort, even if I wasn't going to subject my mare to a braid job in the dark (the barn lights are on a timer, she is turned out so I couldn't braid the night before, and as it was I left at first light in the morning). 

Getting the lay of the land included seeing whether there would be mounting blocks to use

The morning of the show I woke up early (though may have snoozed my first alarm), got out to the barn, and since I had prepped everything else the night before, all I had to do was catch the horse and load her. It took a bit to load but I took my time and kept consistent with the steps I had practiced and Naia acquiesced before too long. We got to the show grounds close to 6:30 so pretty in-line with my original plan. As expected we were the first ones there. I unloaded Naia and immediately led her around to show her the portapotties, the trailer of colourful jumps, the outside of the arena, the check-in tent, etc. Naia was brave and curious with investigating the strange sights. However we also were completely mobbed by mosquitoes so we fled back to the trailer to douse both ourselves with repellent. This is also where I started to think that the show was a very bad idea. 

(All photos from day before show)
Important to investigate scary portapotties!

Tacking up and warming up did not go to plan. All of the other entries in the trot pole division were students at the host barn so they were getting ready at the barn (which is super far from the show arena), and Naia didn't have any other horses near her. The area was super quiet when I was trying to get her to used to seeing the sights, but once I started trying to groom and tack up spectators started arriving, tents were moved, the sound system was being tested, etc. All normal show stuff but it just happened at exactly the wrong time so Naia was in a bit of a tizzy at the trailer and it took way longer to tack up than it should have. The check in tent didn't open until after I was tacked up so I had to stop there on the way to the warmup arena, and unfortunately the (very nice) volunteer at the tent didn't have her glasses so it took fooorrreeevvveeer for her to find my entry form and number. I regret that I was a little short with the volunteer but my stress level was rising by the second as the time before the show ticked away. This meant that we didn't get to the warmup ring until just before 8am, instead of 7:30 like I had planned (I would have loved to be riding before the commotion started but the warmup arena didn't open until 7:30). Even getting to the warmup just before 8am would have been okay, since I had already done a ground work/lunging warmup and I was 6th in the order of go so I had a little time, except literally right after leading Naia to the warmup ring, all 5 of the other trot pole entries left the warmup arena as a group to go to the show arena. No other divisions were warming up yet so poor Naia who had finally seen other horses, had to deal with being completely deserted by all of them! Understandably she got a little upset so I regretted my life choices some more and took the time she needed to do some more ground work before mounting up. At this point I figured I might have to scratch my first class and just do my second class, but I was at the show already so I might as well try and do at least part of the thing. 

I thought this tent right beside gate to the show arena might be an issue but fortunately it was not

Once I got on, I only had time for a couple circles of walk and trot in each direction before I had to ride over to the show ring. Naia felt pretty good once I started riding though so I figured I might as well try for my first class, it's not like a trot pole class requires a lot of warmup. At the show ring it became apparent that there is a huge difference in the number of spectators between a hunter/jumper show and a dressage show. A big part was the number of children competing, which meant a gaggle of parents, siblings and grandparents attached to each one. Also Alberta has only recently allowed increased numbers of people for outdoor events so I think a lot of people were just excited to go do a thing. For a local show there was actually a lot of atmosphere with people milling around and sitting on camp chairs. Of course the majority of the people were not horsey and were pretty terrible about moving out of the way of horses. I was terrified that Naia would step on someone as I inched closer to the board to learn my courses (they hadn't been posted when I had been by the show ring earlier). Luckily Naia loves people and was okay with the commotion, especially once she was back beside the other horses. I had time to watch one other person go before it was my turn for my first class. 

We walked into the show ring for our first class, trot poles hunter, I showed Naia the fancy wheelbarrow/flower display, and I didn't pick up the trot until halfway into my circle. We then proceeded to trot our trot poles course. She was looky and wiggly in places but was willing to listen to me. I didn't care at all about my equitation but instead focused on giving Naia clear aids and releases. I clucked when I needed to and also loudly exclaimed "good girl" when she gave a good effort. I didn't think it was pretty in the slightest but we went over all the right poles in the right order and I was very happy with her. When I brought her back down to a walk Naia was willing to blow and stretch out and I was happy to see that doing the course had helped her to relax rather than amping her up. 

Show ring prior to show but already set up for trot poles

The same order of go was repeated for the second class so I was the 6th rider out of 6. In between my courses I kept Naia near the show ring with the other horses and alternated standing and walking her around. I was a bit appalled at how little room the spectators gave me but was thrilled with how Naia was handling the atmosphere. At this point I also looked at the ribbons the volunteers were setting up to see if we had a chance of earning one. I could see that they had ribbons to 5th place and since I was in a division of 6 people and I knew a couple had gone off course, I was excited for the prospect of a 4th or 5th place ribbon as a souvenir from Naia's first show. 

We went in for our second class, trot poles equitation, and repeated the same thing as the first class except with a different order of jumps. This time around I focused on keeping Naia a little straighter and my position a little more centered, but my prime goals remained to go over all the poles in the correct order and give Naia a good experience. 

Good experiences include feeding lots of cookies at and after show

After my ride, they seemed to be taking a while to figure out the placings so I started riding Naia back to grab my halter. However halfway there I heard the announcer call for us to come into the ring without our horses. I didn't have any support people at the show and I wouldn't have wanted to leave Naia unattended at the trailer even if I had had time to get her back there (which I didn't), so I dismounted and led Naia with me into the arena, hanging back behind the kids so we wouldn't trample anyone. It turned out that 3 out of 6 people had been eliminated from my first class (1 from falling off, 2 from going off course), and I ended up with a second place ribbon which I was a little surprised at but pleased. However the more surprising part was that even though there was only 1 elimination in my second class, the judge pinned me in first place!  The trot pole division was only 2 classes so my 1st and 2nd places won me the division champion award which came with a pretty ribbon, a purple grooming kit and some other miscellaneous goodies. I was especially excited for the Quic Braid because I use that but it isn't sold locally and ordering spray bottles in the mail isn't always the best idea. I was honestly shocked that we had done so well and was a little embarrassed about winning against children, but it was a pretty cool way to celebrate Naia's first show! 

Pretty ribbons!

Unfortunately, the hardest part of the whole experience was when I had to take Naia away from the horses and people and back to the trailer. She just isn't used to the trailer being our home base yet and it didn't help that a row of round bales separated the trailers from everything else going on. It also sucked that the early divisions were mostly horses who live at the barn so there weren't many horses around the trailers. It took some work to get Naia to stop barging into or away from me and listen enough for me to safely load her in the trailer. I was tired and hot (it was already pushing 30 degrees C by 9am) and struggling at the time. However in hindsight I know this is just part of Naia needing more miles and to go to more places. I also need to feed and tack up at the trailer as much as possible at home so she starts associating it with being "home base". I did succeed in loading Naia and we left the show grounds at 10am. That gave me just enough time to unload Naia at home and switch vehicles before driving two hours for a meeting of my area dressage group that started at 1pm. (Did I mention that I planned this whole show thing while knowing that I already had afternoon plans? No? Probably because I recognize that I am a little crazy and didn't want to broadcast it too much lol. I really wasn't sure I was going to pull off the plan and was prepared to scratch the show or the meeting if I needed to but instead I had a very busy but successful Saturday!) 


There was a show photographer and I pre-purchased a set of 10 photos but I haven't seen them yet so will do a separate post when I get them (probably at the end of the week). As I was leaving the show the photographer did tell me that my horse was very photogenic so I'm hoping that means there are some good ones!