Friday, 24 March 2017

When life gives you ice, just skate

By the end of last year Savvy's training was really coming along. We had W/T/C installed and even started working on walk to canter transitions and it felt like we moved from 'green horse' to 'just about broke'.

Enter winter and very little opportunity to keep that ball rolling and I am a few steps back. I have a feeling we will catch up quickly though, once I am able to ride more than once a week. At the moment I have a wiggly out-of-shape pony who desperately wants the feral life. C'est la vie!

Pro style canter transitions: We know we are fancy.

No jumping happened this past lesson, but we dug in to some very good exercises that really got me paying attention to all the body parts and settled Savvy into a very good working forward mind. We used four poles on a circle and changed up our target on each pole while also changing up what I was doing, i.e. posting to sitting to two-point.

We finished on canter work that was far less dramatic than last week's lesson (just a few funny hops here and there and virtually no ninja kicks fortunately) and left the lesson exhausted (both of us) and super pleased with all of it.

Well deserved roll for sweaty pony :)

My farm has been pretty much a skating rink since February, but warmer temps are in the forecast so I am starting to get hopeful of being able to ride at home again!

My riding arena right now. Kids are the best at making lemonade from lemons!
There is just so much to look forward to this year. I have a jump clinic April 9, then my first show of the year on April 22, and the following month is an eventing clinic.
I'm starting to get so excited!

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Road So Far: First Quarter Review

My overall plan for 2017 has been to push myself (ever so gently) in all situations horse training related.

My game plan for the past few years has been to set myself up for success which involved breaking steps down into smaller peices to not overface me or my horse. It worked. It was a lovely little bubble. Within the bubble a little bit of work could get done safely and my confidence began to return, bit by bit.

This upcoming year though I want to expand my bubble. This is not going to be easy. I know how to keep status quo very well and I am really going to have to push myself to take that extra step. Really that is all I want from myself at this point--just one extra step beyond my comfortable little bubble and hopefully build on that.

A major success -- although admittedly felt more like a giant leap rather than a little step!

Just about three months in and there have been some successful attempts at this and also some fails. My last lesson highlighted where I am at right now. I do have confidence but it is not infinite and old memories from past horses are still affecting me (aka Miss Tea and her crazy reactions when things went wrong). I immediately knew where my anxiety was coming from when I suddenly could not push Savvy through that grid. I was afraid of what has happened to me in the past when pushing an unsure horse, NOT what I really believed Savvy might do.


I am okay with this. Knowing where my fears are coming from is very helpful. I was gutted at first but that feeling like it is not fixable is coming from a different place, a different horse. This is Savvy and we can work through things. Even though she is anoyingly oppinionated and occasionally tells me off, she does trust me and I can honestly say I know I can handle her opinions.

Status quo has been affecting her too. She has been enjoying that bubble I made for us and will have reactions to me expanding our comfort zone. Which means she will question my authority, and wonder if I have lost my marbles but we will adjust to this increase of expectations.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Grids - How I Hate Thee, Let Me Count the Ways...

After last Friday's jump night success, coach and I were excited to get right into jumping work this lesson with a grid.

Knowing Savvy is a sucked back kind of pony and momentum being kind of your friend in a grid, I knew it might pose a challenge for us. Never the less, I dove in and we were basically getting through a cross rail, one stride to a pole, two strides to a vertical. It never felt forward, or straight, or 'pretty' by any means, but I was trying hard and felt like Savvy just needed to get the hang of it all.

At the same time, we were also trying to see if we could make canter more of a thing that happened as it mostly was not happening. Coach asked for some canter circles before we went back to grid work and Savvy decided her answer to my request would be a lightening fast ninja kick. She has done this manoeuvre before on a much smaller scale. This time it unseated me and I thought I was going to get more acquainted with the ground.

No photographic evidence - but many of these manoeuvres later, I am ready for a beer.
Coach was great at helping me to keep breathing, keep riding and just keep asking for forward -- any kind of forward. Every single time I asked her for the canter I would get a ninja kick and after a bit I actually started to figure out how to not get unseated by them and keep riding forward. After getting the canter both directions we went back to the grid.

Unfortunately I guess my courage was all used up because I just could not give Savvy the support she needed once the middle pole became a jump as well and we just could not get through it. Ugh.

At that point coach lowered the middle cross rail as low as it could go and I pulled myself together and got through it. After about five attempts, it felt good enough to quit there. Good news for me because I pulled a muscle in my hip from Savvy's fancy moves trying to canter and it was really starting to hurt by this point.

Is it just me or are grids really hard? Is this what everyone in jump lessons is doing? (Am I just particularly horrible at this?/What is wrong with me?/Maybe I should stick to dressage.)

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Time of my life

I had the opportunity through the barn I am lessoning with to sign up for one of their jump nights. There is a lot of interest in these and there turned out to be full groups booked every hour starting at 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm. I was lucky enough to get a spot at 8:00 which would work around everything else I had going on that evening, i.e. taking my daughter to gymnastics, making supper for the crew and getting nighttime chores done early as hubby had to work late that night.


It would have been so easy to just say nope, not this time as it was all so difficult (not to mention freezing outside at -20 that day) but I decided to dig in and make it work. Savvy and I really need to learn how to jump and at this point have never strung together more than two little cross rails let alone see a full course set up in an arena!

Not only would this be good for jumping practice, but also exposing her to a more busy atmosphere with other horses and people everywhere.

Ooohhh, what's this?! Could that be Savvy snapping her cute little knees?!! :)

I really was not sure what to expect for my time slot. I did not know how many riders would be with me or just what the format of it all would be. Upon entering the arena I decided to just lead Savvy around and let her see all the jumps/horses/people and sniff the things while I waited for my coach. The jumps were amazing and there were many different styles and colours to see. The only thing that was really an issue at first was a Christmas tree leaning on a standard, but after a few passes by it she was fine.

It turned out that this particular jump night was a bit more full than usual ones, so the organiser had to put me in a group that was maybe slightly more advanced than me. This meant no ground rails to start with, but my coach was awesome enough to put one jump down to ground rails for me to get warmed up quickly while the rest of the group started with cross rails.


Our first jump would be a cross rail following the ground rails on the outside line. Lets just say it was a total stall out as she ignored my leg and came to a stop before the jump and sedately stepped over. I had to laugh and came around again with better success the next time through.

We quickly moved on to cross rails and my coach introduced us to each jump on its own and then started stringing pieces together to build our confidence. My coach did a fantastic job of keeping us progressing and not overfacing us. She was right there at each jump to help us through and I actually never felt afraid at any point (that right there is huge for me!).


We had our first bit of trouble when the cross rails went to verticals and Savvy just really was not sure that was a thing horses could do. We had a refusal at our first vertical but again, coach was right there and put the rail down so Savvy could step over and our next go around was fantastic!

Soon enough Savvy realised that yes she could jump and really started to show a bit of spunk and became more forward. This really helped turn her hop-overs into much more fluid jumping. I actually started to feel like maybe this is all really possible and we can do this whole eventing thing in the future! She even started offering canter after a few jumps which felt incredible.


By the end of the hour I was able to piece together the entire course. For our very first time doing this, I just could not believe how well Savvy had done. Both my coach and I were blown away with how she took it all in, figured out the game and improved steadily throughout the evening.

Back in the barn untacking and going over it all with my friend who had come to watch, film for me and provide much needed moral support, I couldn't help just bursting into tears. I know a course of tiny verticals is no big deal for most of you, but I finally accomplished something I had been working towards for so long. All I have wanted was to toodle around small fences, have fun and feel safe and I really haven't up until this night. It was everything I had wanted right there and I just couldn't hold myself together finally getting it.

All I can say is I love this horse. She is not easy, but she gives back as much as I put in and truly deserves her Wonder Pony nickname.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

EVENTING BINGO!!!!

This is a tale of two determined souls setting off on a journey full of struggles, testing each to their limits and bringing them together in a partnership that might just be unstoppable.

Disclaimer**NO ANIMALS WERE INJURED IN THE CREATION OF THIS STORY AND NONE OF IT IS REMOTELY TRUE (probably).

The ever creative Emma at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing has come up with the brilliant idea of Eventing Bingo. You can see her blog for more details for the best blogging game evar!!!

For the following story, I am using the winning path on my bingo card with the following:
1.  In first place after dressage
2.  Cheap rail in stadium
3.  FREE SPOT
4.  Your horse was 'THAT' horse in warm up
5.  Went swimming on xc

First, let me introduce you to the main characters:




Wendy:

Not quite middle-aged mother of three (that bit is true) who has realised her dreams of eventing success and is moving up a level from Intermediate to Advanced and attempting to make the Olympic team (haha, not true).










Savvy:

A plucky little Arab cross who can do so much more than any would expect.
Talent for DAYS and attitude to match (very true). Her canter pirouettes are on point and advanced level palisades make her yawn (maybe?).












Now we did not get to this day by accident. Many years of intense training in combination with a lucky windfall of money from LotoMax culminated to create the perfect opportunity for me to arrive at the Olympic qualifier, this year being held in Flin Flon, Manitoba.

As I drove up to the venue with horse trailer in tow, I could not help but feel the butterflies begin to stir in my stomach. I fought hard to relieve my nerves as I found Savvy's stall and tried to relax into the motions of settling in the night before our big day.


Once Savvy was safely tucked in for the night I was happy to run in to some friends I had competed with over in Boorghley the previous year. Nerves were high for us all but after a few mimosas we all relaxed into stories of past glories and funny mishaps. I knew it was only a matter of time before they got around to the retelling of my mishap from last year. I was three-quarters the way through on cross country approaching a jump with a deep ditch in front of it. Savvy was moving at a very good pace and I was feeling very optimistic of our placing. As we reached the jump and Savvy was about to take off, a bunch of ducks flew out from the ditch. Savvy's reaction was to jump even higher and as she landed on the other side, I was no longer with her. At the apex of the jump, she had been so high as for my vest to get caught on an overhanging branch and there I was, dangling in disbelief.

The embarrassing stories continued, but I had to call it an early night because I knew tomorrow would require my all. My dressage time was 9:00 am which meant a very early morning for me and Savvy.

 
The early morning turned into a bit of a rush after I slept through my alarm and arrived at the barn an hour later than I had hoped. Nevertheless I hurried through getting ready and headed over to the warm up area. Sleeping in meant missing the earlier quiet time I was hoping for. It was much more busy but I found a spot to at least practice our halt.


Upon entering that dressage ring Savvy felt like magic. All the outside world disappeared as we completed our personal best test. Every movement felt like perfection and we were really working as a team. Still, with our early go time I would have a long wait to hear how our scores would compare to the rest of the field. It would not be until just before stadium that I would discover Savvy and I were in first place after dressage!!


The high continued as we completed our round in stadium. Savvy was so adjustable and our round felt fantastic. I had not heard her touch any rails, so imagine my surprise when I discovered we had 4 faults. I just could not believe it, the rail on the fourth jump had come down. It was such a disappointment to have a cheap rail in stadium because Savvy had gone so well. Luckily many other riders were having trouble in stadium so we still had a chance.

After stadium, I was tied for the final qualifying spot. All I had to do was make it around xc and I had a chance to be on the Olympic team!

The cross country test was massive! Many of the obstacles were intimidating and required an aggressive ride to survive. Savvy was established in a good pace and she was eating up the jumps. The biggest test was yet to come with a huge jump down a bank into the water, with a massive log jump coming out of the water and a hairpin turn to a skinny and back up the bank. This would not only be physically draining, but very technical and would require damn good riding.

As we approached the bank I was feeling confident and knew we were going to kill this! But wait! What is that in the water...

As we splashed down into the water off the bank, a mother swan and her chicks were swimming by. The mother swan went into some sort of wild protect her babies mode and came after poor Savvy!

It all became a blur of splashing water, panicked horse, violent water fowl and then <splash!>.

NNNOOOOOOOOO!



My Olympic dreams came crashing down like the water splashing down in the pond I was now in. I had not planned on going swimming on xc.


Even though my dreams were washed away I was so excited to watch my good friend receive first at the awards ceremonies. It was a tough course and I was very proud of my horse at this event. We may have been beaten by water fowl yet again, but my Olympic dream perseveres and I know we will get there, some day.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Little fish in a big pond

I have <mostly> been on track so far with my plans to trailer over every week to the heated arena with an actual lesson every second week. Even though it was -17 degrees today, I still managed to make myself get there. I was motivated by my plan of action which was to make the most of a big empty arena and let Savvy loose to explore and settle in while I set up ground poles to do some fun little exercises.

 
To my surprise when I opened the overhead door to the arena, there was a large group of reiners having a lesson at one end and some very fancy warmblood dressage horses at the other end. I know practising riding with other things going on is great, but I must admit my heart sank a bit.

I proceeded to tack up but decided to just leave the halter on and lead her around in the arena and feel things out a bit. The reiners were practising spins (seriously how does the horse not just fall over dizzy from that much spinning?!) and Savvy thought this was freakish behavior.

I headed down to the dressage side and although I was at least with my people, I was definitely odd horse out. Amongst the sleek massive pure bred dream horses was my filthy little fluff bum.

Winter is not her best season...
I picked a corner and went about some simple ground work to get Savvy's marbles organized and then hopped on for general toodling and mostly just staying out of the way.

Although in the summer she transforms into quite the dream horse herself :)
The good news is Savvy was listening very well and staying calm even when the reiners started to do gallop/slides. The bad news is her cough came back once we started doing trot work. I knew it would probably still be around but hoped otherwise. I kept things easy for her to avoid aggravating her lungs and mostly just worked on her shape at the walk, leg yields and the like.

Next week there is a jump night that I have signed up for and I am really looking forward to it. Fingers crossed her cough is improved enough to have some fun!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Breakthroughs

So, funny thing I am noticing so far with my lessons with a new coach. She is super young, just starting out with the whole coaching thing so I wasn't expecting much, but that was fine because I just wanted access to the jumps. But now we have had two breakthroughs, the first being how to ride Savvy out of her evading behind the bit and now yesterday she got us through a real proper haunches-in! Savvy and I have never been able to do it and she had us getting it on the second try! wtf?

"Carry me mom." or possibly "Why do you do these things to me?!" - Savvy
AND she had me cantering like no big deal (I haven't cantered on her since last October) half way through a lesson and here's the best/weirdest part: When I first asked Savvy to canter she blew up and bucked all over the place, but Coach had zero reaction, like no big deal and just asked me to canter again. I think because she was all 'whatever' about it, then I was too and just tried again and got it and it was great.

Could this mean I am actually coachable? I don't know. It's early days and all...

Funny, that corner was super spooky to her when we were riding, but on her own it is a lovely spot to hang out...hm.
Yesterday's lesson was #3 of this year. It had been postponed a week because wonderpony had picked up a bit of a viral infection the week before. Her symptoms all quickly improved but she was left with a bit of a cough. I gave her a bit of lunging to see how bad the cough was before deciding to take her to the lesson and she seemed fine. Unfortunately once we got riding at the lesson, her cough was pretty bad and after the little bit of canter it was obvious we would have to just keep at a walk for the remainder of the lesson, hence the quiet, slow work of my nemesis, haunches-in!

It was our first proper ride in the new-to-me Thorowgood all-purpose. What a comfortable saddle! I love how it holds me in the right spot with a lot less effort than my previous saddle. No jumping practise this time but well worth the trailer ride over. Now that I have heard her cough with work, I think she is going to need more time off. Hopefully it will be resolved in a couple of weeks and we can get back to training!