Thursday, 14 September 2017

Shadow Days

When you start waking up already anxious before you even have time to make the morning coffee, let alone contemplate all the trials and tribulations in your life, you know there is a problem.

Thank you to those who gave advice and/or support. After my vacation and approximately one month off for Savvy, I suddenly found myself terrified.

Of what, I wasn't quite sure.

True, Savvy had gone a bit feral and had really slipped back in her jumping form and confidence, but really that was not worthy of causing this level of anxiety. She may be a complicated ride, but not a dangerous one at all.

It took a step back for a bit and sorted through what the heck was going on.  All the things that I have been dealing with (mostly involving my mother who has dementia) had kind of snowballed lately. I needed to put things in better perspective and let go of worrying about all the little things that did not need immediate attention. I forgave myself for not being able to do it all and do it best (best of who, I couldn't tell you).

Carrots are a girl's best friend.

And with the wonder pony, I grabbed up great advice to break things down and build back up slowly. I am happy to report Savvy is doing great and every ride is getting easier for me. We are still only at about 2 feet but there is real progress happening and we are almost back where we left off in July.

Grid work has been useful for helping Savvy remember what to with her legs (seriously horse, it was only a month!) and helping me focus on body position, counting strides and NOT grabbing mane (I seem to have developed a bad habit of grabbing those flowing locks of Savvy's like its my security blanket).

We have graduated to a nice little course of seven jumps that I have set up in a way that I can change up the order and work on different approaches.

Nine more sleeps until the Manitoba Equestrian Championships! I am really starting to look forward to it and I think Savvy and I are going to do just fine.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Feeling Scared

Where did my confidence go? I am really struggling right now just to jump cross rails. Hell, just riding circles in the arena, I am paying too much attention to Savvy's ears and preparing for spooks than actual good riding.

I realise I am only five rides in from a month away from jumping, and it will most likely return with work and time. But damn, I was looking at 2'3" like it was no big deal. Now cross rails (could it even be 12"?!) get my stomach flipping.

I can blame a lot of things: time off, cooler weather, Savvy doing her best leaping llama after the jumps and spooking again after a summer mostly spook free. Working with a pony with too many opinions who is not specifically talented in the direction I am taking her.

This pic makes me laugh, but I remember that day I felt like Savvy and I could have jumped anything in front of us.
Basically it comes down to keeping it familiar. The more we jump, the better Savvy goes and the more confident I become. So I need to keep this in mind and not allow time to slip past in between rides. Easier said than done sometimes but necessary if I ever hope to leave starter level in the future.

Part of me thinks maybe I can just stay in starter level for ever and have fun over little jumps. Honestly though, I cannot wait for the day that starter jumps become boring but first they have to stop looking huge. I know this would be easier if Savvy were more athletically inclined in the jumping department (not to mention less dramatic and possibly taller if I were to be honest about all my niggling worries). Working twice as hard for the most basic of levels is humbling and slightly humiliating. But we are all struggling in different ways.

I do feel proud of how much I have accomplished with Savvy this summer, even if it really does not look like much from the outside. I am also encouraged by how much Savvy seems to enjoy being out on the cross country field when I am riding well and she is not overfaced.

So, for now I will continue training for our September event (even if it takes a few shots of Jack Daniel's pre-ride for the next little while) and keep pushing myself back to our July level of jumps, one inch at a time if need be.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Way Leads onto Way

A whole month off. A recipe for creating setbacks in Savvy's progress most definitely. Late July and most of August were filled to the brim with life as it goes, i.e. haying, house renos, prepping for a dream vacation and then heading off to New York (!! :D !!) for an entire week.

This city had it all for me - I loved all the people (so freakishly friendly), all the restaurants (because food is always on my mind) and all the horses (everywhere!) to get my fix while missing my own ponies.
I am quite sure Savvy enjoyed her time off as well. In fact, she most certainly acted like she might want even more time off the first time back into riding this week. I mean, not standing still while I tried to put on the saddle kind of gave me a hint she was not interested in work. Trying to dive out the gate on our trot circles every single pass was a bit of another clue, and then the full three circles of crowhopping when I asked for canter kiiiinda drove it home. Savvy was hoping she could be feral now.

Shamelessly smelled the nose of this blond-haired pony like a crack addict trying to get a hit.
Being a sympathetic soul, I made our first ride easy and short (except for the bucking - I made sure not to reward the crow-hop-canter and made her stay in it until she finally switched to broke horse canter and kept it for a few circles).

Right in front of my hotel every day.
The second ride was a bit better. Well, at least our warmup was great. W/T/C was legit although not very well put together but really I was just looking for correct answers with relaxation and understand we have some muscle to redevelop after a whole month of no work. Then I tried some jumping (if you call teeny-tiny cross rails jumps. She could not. Every jump was a stop-and-pop mess regardless of leg on, eyes up, shoulders back, crop at the ready. I looked for one decent jump to end the session on and ended it there.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art did not disappoint (what a HUGE place!). Thank you, Degas.
Our third ride back was the charm though. Perhaps Savvy let go of her dream of being a legit pasture puff and resigned herself to the whims of her owner? W/T/C was drastically better and jumping was almost horse-like rather than trapped deer.

And of course Central Park had plenty of horses. These ponies quietly plodded by us while we enjoyed feeding (many) rats pieces of french fries.
Normally the end of summer for me would be the end of shows. However, this year with eventing there are two more events to look forward to, plus a hunter/jumper show in November.

September 23rd and 24th I will be representing my team at the Manitoba Equestrian Championship on team East at starter level. My performance this year was not exactly team-making material, but they were short on starter level riders so they got me! Hahaha...ha. So I will keep on training at home and hopefully arrange a xc schooling day before the MEC championship to confirm we can get over all the starter level xc jumps.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Little of This and That

I have been on a bit of a riding holiday these past few weeks. There is an event coming up that I would have loved to attend but it overlapped with our pre-booked family vacation so I will sadly be missing it. Instead of riding, I have been busy with a never-ending hay-making saga.

My husband and I have a 20-acre hay field we cut and bale ourselves. In previous years we used an ancient small square baler with a hay rack towed behind. I would stack the bales as they came out of the baler and then we would unload and restack in the hay shed. Our field makes about +/-900 bales and the waggon holds about 90 bales so that was a LOT of stacking. To help ourselves manage this, we would cut smaller sections and do it over the summer rather than all at once. Add in a full-time typing job and my tendinitis issues with my hands have made this a dreaded process.

Last year we decided to buy a round baler (not ideal for horses to eat from round bales, I know, but I planned to fork off hay to them from the round bale rather than let them eat directly from it to avoid the dust issue). The baler we bought however was terrible with many parts not working properly. It made horrible bales and we ended up making as many small squares as we could before finishing up the field with the round baler.

This year haying started off with braking the square baler, then fixing it, then braking it again. Then switching to the round baler wherein we broke that too. Then fixing the square baler (still working--knock on wood) and buying a new round baler. We have done one 'trial' section of rounds with it and so far it is wonderful! The baler is much easier to operate and makes fantastic bales, so fingers crossed we do not kill this one too. Our back yard is starting to look like a farm machinery graveyard.

I have snuck in short rides here and there, mostly on Shiraz and also convinced the kids to ride a few times. Shiraz has been coming along so nicely this summer and the progress is really fun right now. Every time I get on her, she seems noticeably better than the last time. I have started to introduce leg yields at walk and trot and although she is no where near as laterally talented as Savvy, she is getting it and improving every time.


Savvy has shown she is starting to be a great kidlet packer too and tolerates carrying around a tiny (but bossy) little girl and doing her best not to pass out from boredom.

He prefers to ride bareback because Meyla is 'soft and fluffy' :)
Meyla has also been introduced to a riding crop by his determined little rider, and the idea of 'keep moving forward" has greatly improved.

Mostly though, we have been enjoying summer and trying to take it easy when we can. Hopefully this new round baler will help future summers be less work, more play for us all.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

XC Schooling. I think I can.

I don't always ride well -- no, seriously it is true! But when I do, it is magic.

Getting more brave every successful lesson.
Following my disappointing moment of fear/abandon ship/xc fail in my last derby, I immediately set to work trying to find a coach that would be taking a group out for xc schooling. Fortunately I found a great coach with a small group of lower level riders to head out with right away.

I love this coach. She is very hands-on experienced with xc, has a great eye for rider and horse and is fair in analysing and verbalising what she sees.

Pre-lesson pow-wow
She had been at all the past derbies and had the opportunity to see us do well, as well as the not so good moments. She noted that Savvy perhaps was struggling more with taking in all of the landscape rather than the jumps and showed me how to ride to the jump in a way that would help her focus on what we were coming up to. I was mistakenly reacting to all of her fussing and looking by getting very busy with my hands and really losing the battle of trying to manage her mach 5 brain. Instead, she advised me to get her at the pace I wanted well ahead of the jump, and then ride her straight and hold her that way with my legs, thinking leg yield rather than correct with my hands and look up and beyond the obstacle. Think straight!!

Black, black, bit of blue and black, hmm. I think we need a colour. Any suggestions?
Funny how riding with a purposeful mindset and not messing with things right before the jump really helped Savvy lock on to the jumps better. We were still having ugly distances, but our line and steadiness was much improved.

We all know I have struggled to ride with commitment at a level that clearly helps my horse know what has to happen. Even when I think I am riding a bit aggressively, I am always surprised to see in video that I still look a bit backed off. This was still the case with video from this schooling day, but I can see some moments of actual riding, so yay for improvement. I am happy to say we had not a single refusal in this lesson - even with two jumps that scared the crap out of me.

First was the raspberry jump we had struggled with at the June derby, and the feeder which we had never actually made it over before -- just one purposeful ride-around and three refusals at that derby.

Raspberry jump: Looks so innocent but has been trouble for Savvy in the past...

We had no trouble at all with the raspberry jump this time, and the feeder was a success on the first try, even though the coach felt Savvy had come to it saying "Yes, got this" while I was riding a bit of a "hell no". Haha! Got to love an honest coach, and yes, she was very right on that one.

Savvy had no trouble with this (although I am still working on my feelings about it).
There were definitely nerves getting in the way at some points, but for the most part I really just had a ton of fun and felt like it was a great experience for Savvy to help her realise the jumps were no big deal.

Savvy was being so game for the whole thing--when pony is good, she is fantastic. And it may have even helped me with the same issue as well, but I still need more good rides like this one to really feel like I can trust Savvy headed at the bigger jumps.  No worries! We've got time.


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Fickle Feelings

I had a nice long break between the xc and stadium to stew in my thoughts. Enjoying a lovely picnic with my kids in the box of my truck, and taking in the smells and sounds of the beautiful park around us, I found the perspective I was searching for.

I decided to ask to be dropped to starter level for stadium which would max out at 2'3" (pre-entry was 2'6" with tons of fill) and moved forward with the plan to ride what ever horse Savvy would present as on course and school each moment to my best ability. Just take each challenge as it comes. Breathe.

It was outrageously hot out by warmup time. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to just putter around with Savvy and allow her to take in the sights in the different area jumping would be in. The plan seemed to be working out nicely and Savvy was happy to stand quietly in the shade while I watched other riders in the higher levels. Although the flat work I had done was lovely and relaxed, our first attempt at a warmup cross rail resulted in a refusal. This time though I laughed it off, trotted around and made her pop over.

The course was made up of decorative pony club jumps and standards. For my level however, there would be no fill or flowers. The first jump was a cross rail and the rest were verticals with the last jump being an oxer. None of it looked like it would pose a problem as long as I could set my nerves aside and ride properly.

Once on course, Savvy had a good look at #1 but I got her over. Then #2 and 3 rode very well. Approaching #4, Savvy spooked at a dog running outside the arena about two strides out and ended up refusing. My mindset changed and basically I felt like enough already and made her get over the jump. For the rest of the course I was determined to make every jump happen. By jump #6, Savvy's mindset changed as well. I felt her relax and start approaching the jumps like she knew her job--really it was funny how we both shifted into competent horse and rider through the course. The rest of the jumps felt really nice. Even on the last jump, Savvy was about to have second thoughts because it was a bit more wide and higher than the rest but I kicked on and she jumped it nicely.

That course just felt so fun. I couldn't have cared less about the one refusal and this round was all about building back some confidence lost.

Heading home that evening I was definitely feeling much better, but still a bit at war with my emotions over quitting in xc. I felt like I had a choice in how to view the day, yet my emotions did not agree with my head. By morning I had resolved to make dressage count. I could say 'meh, what does it matter at this point' or I could make every effort because I chose to believe it mattered.

I put in a hell of a lot of time, money, sweat, tears, joy and passion into horses, so guess what?
It matters.

Being an overthinker truly is not fun, but sometimes it works in my favor. I can talk myself out of a funk just as easily as I put myself in one. By morning I was back to believing in this little hobby of mine and pulled out the white gloves. The ones my husband had bought me and I had never worn because none of my dressage tests had 'mattered' enough for white gloves.

All the fancies :)
Savvy got an early morning second bath and braided before getting back on the trailer for our 9:50 ride time.

I started the warmup ride at 8:30 and went through all the suppling exercises. The biggest problem in past tests (besides Savvy being too nervous) has been my own lack of riding because I was worrying about a nice seat and good equitation.

In focusing on this, I was not riding in a way that Savvy needs at this point--she is no where near invisible cues so what the hell I have been thinking riding like this, I really do not know...

And the test:

In this test Savvy rode like I have never felt her go before. We could not ride a straight line to save our lives, yet there she was, going straight as an arrow down centre line at a lovely flowing trot. She actually cantered in the right spots and held it for the right amount of time. Of course there was some unsteadiness and dodging behind the bit, but no where near like our usual. Really if the judge knew just how bad we can be, she would have definitely given this pony a gold star for her performance today. 

We struggled a bit on the free walk which is usually our best part of the test--Savvy just wasn't interested stretching down much but her strides were long, flowing and active. Our halt is also something Savvy usually excels at, but this time she stopped a bit oddly and I pushed for one more step to square things up a bit. From the comments I guess I would have been better off holding the original halt and not fussing.

To compare, this is score is a full 10% higher than my last attempt at dressage.

This strong test worked wonders for the negative feelings left over from the day before. Savvy and I are improving. And jumping will improve, eventually.

Monday, 17 July 2017

At War with Myself

The mental game with horses and this sport of eventing really kicked my ass this weekend. We completed our first formal three-phase event. My past two derbies consisted of dressage (with the ring made on the site of the xc field on grass), pace and xc. For this weekend the event was partnered with a pony club rally so we had access to the barns, large grass jumping ring for stadium and formal sand dressage ring. There would even be a jog up for the vet on the first morning.

Passing the jog test and my unicorn looking majestic as fuck.

My schooling work at home the few weeks prior to this weekend had some lovely breakthroughs. I had finally created a true half-halt with Savvy and the lightbulb turned on in her lovely little brain wherein she now understood what I was actually doing with my body and what it meant for her in the big world of horse responsibilities.

With this new understanding of half-halt comes more control of her trot and canter and suddenly we have new quality. It is a completely different trot that I can ask for immediately and refine in real time rather than the previous need to 'work her out' of her pony trot to the more relaxed trot. Canter is also improved, but not quite so dramatically. There is still rushing at canter but I can elevate her shoulders much more than before and feel some semblance of control now, so progress!

Doing our homework and yes, I even jumped the red barn twice :)
This would be our first event without pre-event xc schooling. Considering how challenging our last xc was, this was certainly not ideal. Logistically, the organisers had to place events backwards to what you would expect: First was xc Saturday morning, then stadium Saturday afternoon followed by Dressage Sunday morning. This again so not ideal considering how I was feeling about xc. Jumping at home was going really well, but our last event left me with no warm and fuzzies what so ever.

I planned for the longest warmup possible with trot and canter sets, a couple of cross rails then break, rinse, repeat. Savvy had plenty of nervous energy to let off and my nerves were not helping but by the time it was my turn I thought we were in a pretty good place. Most of my course would be inviting logs with the odd difficult test sprinkled into a very short course of nine jumps.

As hubby was working, my kids got to spend the whole weekend with me at the event. I was so lucky to have my own cheering crew/grooms! lol.
Savvy immediately refused the first simple log but on second try she went over. The next fence was also a log but maybe a full 2'6" made bigger by the wear on the ground in the take-off and landing spot. She refused this too, twice. At some point coming up for my second try at this fence my brain just checked out and anxiety took over. I was shaking so bad I simply took that second refusal as a definite nope for me. I could not stomach the idea of doing this seven more times on this course and decided to call it quits. I pulled up and exited stage left. About 20 seconds after that decision, I truly regretted it.
What to do with a 7 and 9-year-old when you need to head out on xc? Give them a cooler full of snacks, a blanket and tablet to play on and they hardly notice you left...
I was just gutted. Every worst negative thought one can have about themselves as a rider was making rounds in my head. All I could do was try to not look how I felt as to not ruin the morning for my friend who was warming up for her turn. Perhaps that was a blessing. Otherwise I might have headed down the bush path to have a good cry.

For the next few hours all I wanted to do was pack up and forget this whole crazy idea of eventing. It was really difficult, but I forced myself to look at it for what it was--a learning experience. My horse and I are doing our best and anxiety will happen. I will have refusals and will remember how stupid it was to quit. I will move forward with plan B's, C's and D's if necessary at next events and know that this is a great group of riders who won't mind me schooling on course, skipping fences or changing levels. It does not have to be all or nothing and perhaps most importantly: I do not have to be good at this as long as I keep it fun.

Still, I was mostly feeling like why bother...but stadium would change all of that.