Tuesday, 20 March 2018

New Adventure: Part III

Deciding to sell our farm was quite a difficult process for me, and then selling Savvy had me on the fence of what we were doing. The next phase of preparing to move off-farm brought a glint of sunshine to my stormy mind and reminded me of the long-term picture.


Next would be determining the future boarding home for Shiraz and I was pretty excited about this part. Having grown up on a farm with horses and then having a farm again as an adult, I have never had the need to board. I must admit I am a bit worried about not having full control over my horse's care. To offset my worries, I tried to make the best choice possible to find a good fit with my personal interpretation of ideal horse care.

The basics I was looking for that were non-negotiable included an indoor arena, safe fencing with shelter, safe hay and friendly owners.

And this would be nice...
After all of these years trailering out to arenas, I am really looking forward to the perk of an on-site arena. I am not sure how all the driving part will pan out as we do not know where our new home will be yet. The only time I consistently ride currently is during our short three months of summer. As long as the ground is dry, I would ride every day. During the winter that is cut drastically to random toodling as I just do not feel safe doing much in poor footing (big horses fall hard and my knee will never forget).

If my new boarding barn ends up not being terribly far, I anticipate being able to ride more than I currently do on a regular basis simply because of not having to deal with outdoor snow or rain and ruined footing. On top of that, I hope to have regular coaching year-round because honestly, it takes a village to get this lady's ass over fences.

My search area consisted of a relatively small area surrounding Birds Hill Park. This area is considered horse country, full of everything from the large boarding businesses to the small hobby farmers. I made and list of every stable with a riding arena and started calling each one for the cost of outdoor board. This reduced my list by half due to cost or facilities not offering outdoor board. I made appointments with the places that were left on my list.

Some of my options in pink. My chosen barn is blue.
(will probably/maybe be living somewhere across the river west of East Saint Paul which is about a half hour's drive)
I had way too much fun looking at places. I love seeing paddock layouts and different barn styles so having personal tours of a number of nice barns was better than a school fieldtrip for me. Some places were surprisingly dumpy while others were over-the-top perfect.

I visited a hunter/jumper barn and was given a tour by the owner who also gave all the lessons. She ended up giving me a 15-minute ground lesson of the 'five hand positions' and, well it was intense. Beautiful place though.

So clean. Note the rubber tile flooring so no one slips.
Another barn I visited was just across the road from the park and was busy with recreational riders getting ready for a group trail ride. Everyone seemed so nice and it was easy to imagine joining that group for a ride if I chose this place. But, the fencing was sketchy and they fed the outdoor horses roundbales (which I know all to well can be dusty because I feed them currently and only fork it in to my horses after hosing it down if I see any dust). I wavered on it for a few days but health and safety trumps fun trail riding potential.

My top contender was a small barn that was really just getting started. The husband who gave me a tour was a sweet older guy who rides dressage and studies natural horsemanship. (WUT?!) The fencing was amazing white poly with electric. (YASS!) There were shelters. The indoor arena was new. (where do I sign?) Problem was, they did not actually have a spot available but *might* have one opening for April or May. (sigh...)

Shiraz' future home.
After many texts and another visit to meet the wife, I have managed to secure a spot for April 1st! (Should I worry that is April fool's day?) It is a damn good thing I will soon have somewhere to train with a bit more intensity as I am signed up for a stadium jumping/xc clinic with Ian Roberts on April 21/22. He is an Olympic level rider. Shiraz and I trip over ground poles and haven't jumped anything since January. We'll be awesome, lol.

Friday, 9 March 2018

New Adventure: Part II

Decisions are easy. Action is a bitch.

Once hubby and I officially agreed selling our farm was a go, I suddenly had some very difficult decisions to make.

Horses. I need them in my life. Having three in my backyard was quite easy considering having our own property and hay field. The cost of boarding x three is not so easy. No matter how I crunched my numbers, I could not make it work. I had to make choices.

Considering I want to move forward with eventing, albeit on a small local scale, I knew right away which horse I was going to proceed with. Shiraz has the size and jumping ability to do well at the level I am hoping to get to some day.

No matter how many times I have tried to write about selling Savvy, I just cannot get out the words. She has been more than just a horse to me in every way. Her strong personality radiates and her ability to connect with people...well, it will just sound anthropomorphic if I try to describe it. During the process of trying to find her next person, I wavered quite a bit. I tried to convince myself I would be happy at starter or pre-entry level indefinitely and just to keep Savvy instead. But I know I am just too competitive deep down. Even though it would surely be fun to run around small courses on the wonder pony, I would regret what might have been working with Shiraz, bringing her up a few levels and pushing myself to become a better rider and move beyond my current comfort zone.

The interest in Savvy was overwhelming. There were people who just wanted a pretty little Arab because they had always wanted one (but had no intention of serious riding). There were barns looking for a lesson pony, and strong interest from pony clubbers. I took her add down after just a day in panic because trying to respond to see many questions and trying to 'sell' her in my responses was impossible. How do you tell someone they are not good enough for your horse?

I worked up the courage to try again but changed my add to be very specific about the type of new owner that would be a good fit. Now, if you are just trying to sell a horse quickly I do not recommend this. It scares off a lot of people. But really, I wanted to scare off people; all the people who would be a bad fit for Savvy. I felt that the right person for Savvy would connect with the add, and she did.

A week later E came to meet Savvy and I could see her immediately connect. E is an endurance rider who is just retiring her horse and looking for that next partner. I could sense she was trying her best to do everything properly: She did a vet check and even held off a few hours before texting that she was sure and made arrangements for picking her up.

Savvy's new frenemies - all boys...
Once Savvy was loaded in her trailer, I couldn't hold back tears. E gave me a big hug and let me know I can come visit when I like. She sent me pictures of her settling in and texted updates and questions.

Although this handsome chestnut is trying his best to make a good impression :)
Fingers crossed E and Savvy make a great team moving forward.

Monday, 5 March 2018

A new adventure?

So you have this basket. It is a fine basket. It is the grand idea of what you want your life to be. And then you start adding eggs to the basket. Each egg is a piece of your dream, perhaps something you worked hard for and achieved or is simply a hope that has not happened yet but you can see it just there on the horizon. You diligently add to this basket, occasionally taking out an egg that doesn't fit quite right but mostly building an impressive pile.

Then you are told you have to hand this basket to someone else. Share your basket. Allow another to carry it for a while. In turn you carry someone else's basket and take care not to damage their eggs.

And then your basket is dropped. No one's fault. The road was rough, uneven terrain with many challenging hills, stones, potholes. Someone was bound to trip and fall. The eggs are broken.

We have lived on our farm for 12 years. It has been a massive undertaking right from the start. The land was bare and the house was... not great. We built everything ourselves: the hay shed plus four other sheds for tractor, garden supplies, tack and feed. We dug swails to drain water. Built fences, took down fences. Built three horse shelters, dug water lines. Built an above-ground pool, deck and sun room addition. Gutted and remodelled kitchen, bedroom and two bathrooms. We bought old machinery to make our own hay and then struggled with constantly fixing said old machinery. We have moved mountains of hay and mountains of snow. We 'split' our tractor ourselves. It was terrifying--I didn't think we would ever get it to fit back together but we fixed it with the help of Youtube and some tractor expert guy from Newfoundland that helped us over the phone.

All the while my husband has hated it. Baling hay was only really fun for him that first time a bale came out of the baler and then he was pretty much over it. Winters here are brutal, made worse by our exposed location. Snow just blows in and leaves us buried. Every piece of machinery breaks, all the time.

So it is time. Time for filling a new basket.

It is shocking, heartbreaking, yet I am excited to see what will come of it. I am humbled that my partner put in so many years of hard labour into my dreams and look forward to now returning the favour.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Risk Hemostasis

I find herd dynamics fascinating and have the perfect setup on my farm to observe much more than the average owner may get to. My horses' paddock is situated directly behind the house with no obstructing buildings or trees. I can see what they are up to right from my home office window, while doing dishes in the kitchen or eating a meal in the dining room.

Back when I had geldings this proved to be not so good for me. Geldings tend to play MUCH more than a herd of mares ever will, which meant watching much play fighting and high-speed chases that would give me a panic attack on muddy days. More than once (four times) I had to head outside and help a horse get his legs out of the fence after running like a fool and then slipping and falling into the fence. I have never had to pluck a mare's legs out of a fence.

But mares definitely come with their own set of troubles. Like opinions.
With the mares I currently have, Meyla, the bison Icelandic, is the leader. She is confident and methodical. Savvy came in second and as I have written in past posts, there has been a great deal of difficultly keeping Savvy from getting hurt because she continuously pushed to take over leadership. Shiraz came in third and was happy to hang out beside Meyla, treating her like a mom and trying to stay away from Savvy.

A shift has been occurring in the back yard of this little farm for the past month though. It started as a slow rumble and then the full quake hit. Shiraz has successfully moved from third in the pecking order up to second. And Savvy is putting up with it.

This drop to third has changed Savvy's overall demeanour. She seems resigned to it. She has not once gone after Meyla since this happened.

And she has no injuries! Not one new cut in three weeks!!!

So I should be happy. But now there is possibly a side effect to this power shift that involves a particular horse in training.

Last week I was excited to write about the fact that Shiraz had learned to jump. I couldn't wait to get back at it and so arranged for another lesson a week later. We worked on raised trot poles for a while which proved to be quite challenging (OMG Shiraz and I almost ate dirt a few times tripping through a small line of three raised poles!) but then we moved on to cantering over regular poles to a jump that was not up yet. We worked on coming at this line from a tighter turn (quarter line to jump line that was still only all ground poles) helping her and myself figure out how to sit back and get Shiraz off her forehand. This all went very well.

Then coach made a cross rail and asked us to come at a canter. She begrudgingly picked up a canter.

And then she bucked.

Lets all just pause and take this in for a moment.

My sweet, docile mule gave me the finger hard. I know I should have considered this an "I don't wanna" buck, kicked on and got to work. No big deal. My other horse Savvy has bucked tons of times and I was completely fine giving her a smack with the crop and carrying on. But I didn't. And I watched my brain fall out of my skull and run away to hide under the bleachers.  Because I was now wondering if she would give me the buck I have seen on the lunge line which is fucking huge and the reason I sent her to a trainer for learning to canter. I immediately hopped off and I asked my coach to ride her.

So ya, I'm apparently now that girl. I'll own it.

Shiraz proceeded to throw in bucks with trainer too, but mostly just did what she was told with a lot of attitude.

So I know. I have told myself all the things. She is young. She is unbalanced. She is lazy and is feeling a bit full of herself these days as she matures.

I felt like I needed to force myself to look at this with some sense of reason. Many of you are out there riding young horses that do scary stuff and just dig in and get it done. Some of you don't even think this shit is scary!

I rode today. I specifically mounted telling myself ride with grit. No anger. No fear. Just train the fucking horse. Slippery conditions be damned, I worked on asking for three strides of canter (on a straight line to be safe from slipping) after a very thorough warmup and working on turn on the forehand, haunches, halts, walk/trot transitions, et cetera. And yes, she bucked almost every time. And you know what? I was fine. I could sit it. I could hold her head up to keep it from becoming dangerous. And I got one canter finally without a buck and ended there.

Sigh. horses.

Friday, 12 January 2018


How would one expect to start off a lesson with a green 4-year-old? But with canter/trot transitions over poles, of course.
One very tired pony after our lesson. <3
I might have warmed Shiraz up possibly five minutes before coach threw down two poles and said, okay, lets start with canter. In days of yore that right there would have had my heart racing because fresh greenies might, you know, have some sillies in there? I guess I'm mutating into some sort of 'rider who can do things' because I said, "Sure" (and I meant it (WTF?)).

Trailer tire needed air badly before I headed out for my lesson. No big deal, its only -25 C outside!! >:/ ugh.
So I picked up trot and headed over the first pole with a sharp turn to the second pole, asked for canter over it and then worked on cleaning up our downward transitions. We did a variety of directions, switching up canter/trot or trot/canter, both directions and then it was on to a cross rail.

This time it was a very small cross rail with one trot pole in front. We came in and stepped over it like champs. humph.
And this happened. Major accident left me sitting at a standstill for 25 minutes and I ended up late for my lesson. Sorry coach!!
Coach was determined to see my horse actually jump so she raised the cross rail a few cups higher. This time through, Shiraz sort of half jumped, half stepped. Of course I cheered out loud like we just became real jumpers and were now ready for the Olympics. Funny thing though, something clicked in Shiraz's brain on that half jump. I felt a completely different horse coming around to try again. Suddenly on the next approach her ears were pricked and pony was LOCKED ON, and then she jumped for real!

Guyz! Dis not stupid stuff in my way--dis is JOMPIESSS!!!!!--Shiraz, for realz.
Those five strides out from the jump, feeling that shift in her brain, it was pretty cool. Shiraz just discovered jumping with a rider was possible (and she felt pretty excited about it!). Coach was just as jazzed as I was. Poor fuzzy pony needed a walk break though, so we worked at a walk doing shoulder-in, haunches-in and lead yield until both Shiraz and I were so frustrated I thought she might end up tossing me in the dirt and I would not blame her. Lateral is HARD. We then called a truce and came back to jump the cross rail a few times from a canter. Both our moods magically improved exponentially.

This was just all too much fun to go two weeks until our next jump lesson, so I ended up booking another lesson for next Thursday. What's money right? (Face palm to forehead/baloney sandwichs for everyone!)

Monday, 8 January 2018

Accepting the Challenge

Last year around this time I heard of a challenge being held by Northwood Farms and tucked away the idea of signing up for it the following year. I then completely forgot about it until I saw the facebook signup reminder.

Look at that sweet fuzzy kissable nose :)
The challenge consists of completing 40 horsemanship hours (of anything you consider valuable time spent with your horse such as ground work) and 30 rides within the designated 12 weeks. Sounds easy right? They opened up registration for just two days and those that made the deadline are locked in to share the next 12 weeks with other participants from around the world in this journey.

I considered signing up for a few reasons; one, riding at home in winter basically sucks and motivation of any kind would be appreciated. I also liked that the group, even though more of a natural horsemanship crowd, was open to any type of riding, any type of horse, and no teaching/critiques/opinions are allowed. You simply record your horse time and share what you wish with the group, get to read a lot of great personal stories and offer/receive support to stay motivated.

So I am in.   What can I say, I'm a joiner.

On days like this, we both are going to need some motivation. Lucky carrots are all the motivation fur baby needs.
Of course, it is still the honeymoon stage but I think this may be the gentle push I need to get in extra riding time on those winter days I would rather just not be out in the cold. I had my first ride of the challenge on Sunday. I felt a bit of real progress with Shiraz on the home riding issues that I wrote about in my last post. After lunging I took her out in the hay field where the snow is much less deep and started working on riding a square in each direction.

She began as her usual jiggy self but I focused on staying soft and as correct as I could be in my aids and she settled a bit. I focused more on my own body position in the corners and kept things very slow and precise, with half halts before the corner to prepare and not over-using inside rein. I then expanded the square into a figure eight but still square shaped and added halts to the pattern. After half an hour of squares, Shiraz was soft, blowing out and making her weird moaning sounds that she does when she is relaxed (she is a strangely vocal horse).

We have been very lucky to get a break in the weather this week. It kind of has me thinking about taking Shiraz for a walk in the park. Hopefully I can find time while the weather is cooperating in the next few days. Otherwise, my next off-property trip is my lesson this Thursday which I am really looking forward to as it means more learning to jump practise!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Home Court Disadvantage

Winter can really stick a wrench in a regular riding schedule. All I really want to work on are canter transitions and baby horse jumping exercises but my arena full of snow is just too slippery.

Shiraz has been an absolute saint at the indoor, but I have only been able to afford the time and money to get there once every two weeks. At home I have a different horse. She keeps all her attention on her buddies over in the paddock and basically llamas around spooking at her shadow, acting like the arena is going to swallow her whole and I do not exist.
So laid back - why can't she be like this at home?!!
It is a bit hard to reconcile this in my head. Every time I get on at home, I think of the horse I have at the arena -- one that feels like old faithful really, steady beyond her young 4 years. Then she reminds me that no, she is definitely a baby horse and cannot walk a 20-meter circle without flailing, scooting and pleading to be back with her buddies. I am not too worried about it though. Savvy is also a bit more challenging at home than she is at an indoor arena.

It feels like a good 20-minute trot set of serpentines and lateral work would help so much but it is not an option at home. Unfortunately right now the ground conditions do not allow me to increase to trot and canter to work out her tension. And, lunging doesn't seem to help how she is under saddle; she can appear relaxed from lunging and then becomes tense all over again once I get up to ride.  So, it is time to become a bit more creative.

Completely soaked after a lesson. I might consider bringing a blowdryer to lessons because waiting for a sweaty horse to dry before heading out in -20 takes a LONG time.
What I can do based on ground conditions at home:
  • Lunging: She seems to be okay doing walk, trot, canter on the lunge and only slips when she gets nutty and starts gallop/bucking. She also handles lunging over smaller jumps okay if I am very careful to give her a straight canter on the landing to avoid slipping.
  • Riding: Basically can only walk, but can handle trot and maybe canter if only going straight. (This may seem over-cautious but I have been on a horse that slipped doing a 20-meter circle in the snow at a trot. All four legs went out from under her and we came down hard. So I will remain forever cautious.) 
What I want to accomplish:
  • Fitness: I need her to be able to handle the demand put on her at our indoor lessons.
  • Retention of training: She is pretty great at the indoor, but she is still very green and I want to not just hold onto what she knows so far, but actually progress as well before spring.
  • Establish a better leadership role: The fact that she tunes me out at home and spends so much time keeping an eye on her buddies speaks volumes for what she really thinks of me at the moment. When she is forced into relying on me, like at the indoor, she is willing to look to me for guidance but at home I am definitely not her first choice.
Winter heating pad hack ftw! I hate putting a cold saddle on my horse. This seems to work great! I also stick my bridle under there so the bit gets warmed up at the same time.

Lunging is a easy way to keep her fitness up but does nothing for her training or our working relationship. I think adding poles and cavaletti into the lunging may be a good way to address that. There are endless variations I can do with this and should certainly grab her attention and get her thinking about where her feet are.

Even something as simple as this three pole lunging exercise set at canter strides has proven to be challenging for my baby horse. She hasn't quite figured out that she can adjust herself to avoid the poles... Also, yes those are tiny snowmen decorations, because why not.
Second, it is time to pull out some of my horse agility obstacles and put them to use again. This includes tarp, curtain, barrels, bridge, hoolahoops, makeshift gate and 'scary' objects. Working on these tasks really help build a language and encourage the horse to think and seek answers, and honestly it is a lot more fun than simple pressure and release ground exercises. I did a lot of this with Shiraz when she was a baby, but most of 2017 I have not done any of it as I was focusing more on riding her.

Finally, with riding I will help her stay focused with lots ground poles, keeping at a walk mostly and working on relaxation. I would be thrilled right now with a flat, relaxed walk (right now she can only jig at home) and two ears on me.

Seeing how great she is at the indoor now is so encouraging. That horse is in there and it feels like time, training and maturity will help bring out that quiet horse on a more consistent basis. For now though I will have to keep working on it and try to stay patient. We'll be out doing all the fun things in just a few months. In past years I have found all the road blocks Manitoba winters provide frustrating to say the least. This year so far I am just not letting it get to me. I have two really great horses that I love to bits, and I feel confident that what ever progress that does not happen now will be made up for in the spring.