Thursday, 9 November 2017

A + B = C

If C = a fun 2018 summer at XC events with Shiraz, then A = hard work and B = time...right?
 
Baby Shiraz. Smoochable nose from day one :)
We all know bringing along a baby horse is never as easy as simple algebra, but having a plan and seeing it work with Savvy gives me hope. With phase one of the grand plan accomplished (get Shiraz officially green broke w/t/c), I am moving on to phase two which is to start trailering for arena time and lessons.

Ah, but can you solve this?
Although having this horse in my life since she was just six months old, being on her back and learning who she is as a riding horse is a whole new adventure for us. She's no longer a baby, wandering crookedly trying to figure out why dis human is on her back. Her understanding is still extremely basic, but she now shows a better understanding of this is what humans do and shows a bit more confidence in knowing some of the answers.

Sitting on Shiraz and asking her to horse kind of still feels a bit surreal. She miraculously learnt A LOT in her short stint away at the trainer's and my brain needs to catch up to this new level of ability. I can ask and expect more from her but at the same time I am struggling with not 'knowing' her under saddle. Now that real work is happening I can find out the finer details that just were not showing up in the gradual low-pressure training I had been doing with her this past summer.

Maybe I roll? - Shiraz, many times
Her rides now can be more structured with longer, more focused work. How does she react when she doesn't understand? How far can I push her and what are her go-to behaviours/responses?

I am also just taking note of simple things like what is her easier side? How easy is it to get her straight/bend and what does she tend most towards? And then there are the more subtle things that you feel from a horse like what their back feels like when they are tense versus relaxed.

It is all just so new and I am having quite a bit of fun figuring it all out.

Having a look at jumps we will be using in the somewhat near future!
Now that there is frozen, snowy ground in my backyard, it is time to start trailering out for riding. Our first outing was to the large heated arena. I planned this outing to be a simple introduction to the place and made a plan to proceed as far as felt comfortable. I just took my time with letting her see the place, getting acquainted with the mechanical overhead door opening and closing. I started with leading her around inside and setting a tone for the session. I wanted to show her she can have a brief look at things but her main focus must be on me and rewarded her for staying attentive. I did my best to give her a purpose in all areas of the arena so she could indirectly check out her surroundings without any of it being allowed to be a big deal.

Once I felt like she was settled and ready to work, I saddled her up and began lunging. I wanted the experience to be quiet and relaxed to establish a good first experience for her. I made sure the lunging had plenty of transitions, tons of walk as well as halt and stand quietly for well-earned breaks (and of course stuffed her face with carrots for being such a good girl).

"This place has no 'winter'. I like it." Me too Shiraz, me too.
By the end of lunging she was downright lazy. So really what could I do but hop up and ride?! I kept it all in the centre of the area, away from the automatic door and scary far-off corners, but seriously I was just being over cautious because at this point, everyone had left and I was alone in the arena. I didn't want to push for too much on my first ride in the indoor without eyes on the ground.

I kept it to about a 60-meter circle doing walk/trot and focusing on forward, correct bend and not nagging. I discovered (like with all of my previous horses) she was far less forward in the arena than at home. I also could start to sort out some details about her way of going in working gaits. She felt quite stiff and a bit anxious going right. Going left was fantastic though and it was almost easy to get her shoulders where I wanted and a lovely soft bend off of inside leg to outside rein.

And (*gasp*) riding!
My hour there seemed to fly by. I just wanted to keep going because Shiraz was being so fantastic and it was so much fun to be riding her.

My plan for the next little bit is to trailer over a few more times and ride on my own (if my truck cooperates b/c engine lights are worrisome and putting a sticker over it so I can't see it doesn't seem like a long-term solution) and then start lessons with my coach from last year. I did try to arrange lessons with the girl who worked with Shiraz, but after leaving two messages with the barn manager to get permission to trailer in there, I have still not heard back. I haven't given up on that though and will try to get something arranged, even if it is just for a couple of lessons because the more places I can take Shiraz, the better right?



Monday, 30 October 2017

Shiraz is Back!

Some decisions just weigh on you. When I finally decided to look for help with Shiraz in her training, at first I was excited but that all soon was replaced with worry.

The little hellion.

First of all, would she be mistreated when I was not there? This is a huge fear knowing that there are trainers in my area that are known for things I would never approve of - such as tying a horse's head to a stirrup and leaving them for hours like that. Some trainers are happy to tell you their training plan while others omit parts for obvious reasons. At the end of the day, no matter how many questions you ask and referrals you get, you can't know what a trainer does when no one is looking.

Morning sunrise missing one horse
Second, would she actually be able to learn much in just two weeks? Really, my initial excitement was quickly replaced with "what if I just wasted $$$ and I still can't canter her?" Even if she comes home having cantered just fine with the trainer, would I then ruin it with not being able to ride enough days of the week to keep it up, or what if I still did not have the courage to ask for canter regardless?


Fall interrupted
You can see I kind of tend to worry a lot. But in my defence I really care a great deal about this horse and I have big plans for the two of us next year.
So, how did it go? Against all the odds that I had come up with in my head, things went great!


During the two weeks I visited her as much as I could just to spend some time brushing her and shoving treats in her face. Shiraz adjusted very well (quite instantly being totally fine with the two other horses) and made it the entire two weeks without a scratch on her. I was able to watch two training rides; one at the end of the first week and then again half way through the second week.


Even though Shiraz had already had a lot of ground work done with her as well as riding walk/trot, the trainer started from scratch with ground work that sounded along the lines of Buck Brannaman style and then began riding first in a western saddle and working in the round pen. She switched to an English saddle at the end of week one and moved to the large arena as well as took Shiraz on trail rides through ditches, along roads and fields a few times.


 
When I brought her home, I gave her the day to settle back in. She looked frankly overjoyed to be home. She galloped/ate/galloped for a large portion of the afternoon. The next day I could not wait to get out and ride and see how she would be. My arena is a sloppy, muddy mess so I had to take her out to the hay field.
 
There was no slipping on the lunge line out there so I hopped on and trotted circles for like what seemed forever. She was up and fast but had a much better ability to bend than when she had left for training. She wanted to keep a very close eye on her buddies back at the paddock but otherwise was behaving well. Finally I asked for canter and just with one kiss she gently lifted into a lazy western lope. I changed directions and tried the other lead which went just as well.
 
Yyyaaasss!!!!
 
Nnnnoooooo!
 
And now all the plans can begin. I have two options for training moving forward:
1.  I can begin lessons with my coach from last year at the huge heated indoor.
Pros:
Great coach that I found very helpful with Savvy last year.
Amazing, huge, heated arena with tons of room to work even when other people are riding.
Cons:
A bit farther than I like to trailer on a weekly basis.
Pricey. I can only afford a lesson every second week, but could still trailer over and ride on my own the off weeks.
2.  I can start lessons with this trainer who worked on Shiraz.
Pros:
I bit closer; would shave off 10 minutes each way.
More affordable. Possibly could afford a lesson every week.
Cons:
Unknown territory for coaching style.
No idea what arena is like or what equipment will be available (for when we start jumping!).
 
Usually money wins with me, but I had a very good experience with my coach from last year, so I am still not sure. Now that winter has shown up and my riding arena is not usable, I feel the pressure to hurry up and get something arranged.
 
Some days (mostly winter days) I wish I boarded my horses at a barn with an indoor...(sigh).


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Last Derby of the Season

Last Sunday was the Manitoba Horse Trials final derby of the year. I was so excited for this one for so many reasons. First, nothing beats the beauty of the park in fall with leaves in full colour and that incredible smell of a crisp fall day. Second, Savvy has been showing more and more propensity to be a reliable partner and choosing to play.

All of the fierce.
Upon getting on for my warmup before dressage, it became apparent Savvy was a bit off. She was pinning her ears at all things forward. Probably cold-backed - we were all tensed up in the frigid temps so I wouldn't blame her. I decided not to even canter in my warmup because this usually worsens her behaviour and then went in for my test.

Sunday morning turned out to be crisp indeed--a little bit too much so with a thick layer of frost on my truck windows.
It certainly was not our best, but considering the slippery frost-covered grass and uneven terrain mixed in with her overall tense demeanour, we surprisingly did all the right things at the right places. I was happy with it. There was no bucking at the canter and her responsiveness for the transition is gradually improving. She was still very fussy and chomping on the bit, but I was so impressed by her actually trying to listen regardless of her tension.

Curled behind the vertical but still trying her best on a very frosty morning and I might be frozen Popsicle on a horse at this point.
I changed for xc (more like put my safety vest over my jacket and called it good enough) and had time to relax a bit and help out friends with their tack up and watch some dressage rounds. I decided to head over to the warmup area about 45 minutes before my go time to settle, spend some more time in stretchy trot to help her relax and watch some other riders go. Our warmup jumps were...interesting. She was still pinning her ears when being asked to go and it was becoming more and more apparent girl was in heat as her sides were becoming more sensitive and suddenly she hated all the other horses around her. She was bucking on the landing of the tiny cross rail which progressed to bucking on the spot when asked to canter from trot. I was starting to wonder if I should just scratch from xc but that thought coincided with my 3-minute warning and I decided, meh, just try my best and be ready to get her head up on the backside of fences, hold on and have fun regardless. They were just starter level jumps after all and I would not be jumping anything outside of our ability.

Omg, no touchy! And lets both look down at this to ensure no jump goblins are hiding.
It was funny, I think Savvy is starting to get what a start box means because once in there, a switch flipped in pony. She came out a bit hesitant about forward but after a few strides, gave in to my request for 'go' and pricked her ears at the first fence. She jumped it very nicely with no funny business on landing and my confidence meeter swung from like a 3/10 to a solid 7/10. Savvy was quite looky for most of the course but man, did she ever want to GO. We had an unfortunate spook and refusal at fence 3, but turned and got it fine on our second attempt. Another refusal happened at fence 6, but it was more of a loss of control issue long before the jump and I decided to circle and improve our approach. Most of the course I felt like I was holding back a pocket rocket and interrupting her rampage with obstacles along the way. Considering her mood in warmup, I was very happy we had completed the course with only the few issues.

Then I had time to sit in my truck with the heat blasted over lunch to thaw my frozen limbs. My next and final entry for the day was 'follow the leader' moving up to Pre-Entry from Starter level. My leader would be a wonderful training-level rider who was happy to set what ever pace I felt comfortable with. I told her to just go at a relaxed canter and I would yell if I needed her to wait. There were quite a few jumps in this round that I had never jumped before - and not even lunged her over, but there is something so comforting about following another horse (especially if that horse jumps all the things).

Flying over the last fence and Savvy using just her ears this time to check for jump goblins
Unfortunately horses were feeling frisky. You would think Savvy would be settling by this point but wild ponies be wild! The lead horse was also feeling the frisk and there were a few spots the rider had to circle her runaway beast to let me catch up. The first two jumps were quite simple logs, but fence 3 was the red barn that I have had all the feels with throughout this summer: some success and plenty of fails with, but this time we flew over it. At this point Savvy temporarily lost her mind and I had to skip the next fence due to out-of-control flailing Arabian. We jumped everything else though and with occasional circles and trotting, both of us riders survived our wild ponies (although later that day this rider would have to bail off during her xc round because her horse literally took off on her and she could not regain control).

None of my xc was pretty. From a technique point of view, perhaps it was a fail but really my main goal at this point has been canter safely between the jumps and get over all the jumps without falling off...so mostly WINNING, lol! My biggest takeaway from this year is to relax and not to demand perfect from myself - Savvy and I are learning, we are improving and there is all the time in the world for working on technique.

Xc season is over for this year here. It has been one heck of a year of learning for both myself and Savvy. She has been a fun and mostly safe horse to learn with. But how am I going to make it six months until my next xc?!!!!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Cheating?

I did a thing and omg I am so happy about it! Yet also feel a bit guilty, like I am skipping a step and not paying all my dues.

But wait, lets back up a bit.

I have had a pretty great year with Savvy but in the shadow of that was a horse in need of training. Shiraz.


I did put in a lot of work with her this year and as a result, she has exceptional ground manners. She can stand ground tied for grooming and saddling. I can move her around at the mounting block one foot at a time and then get on without her trying to walk off. We have got a pretty good walk/trot under saddle...and no canter.


Every time I got up the nerve to even think about trying, I just couldn't commit to asking for the canter. All I could see in my mind was how talented she is at bucking on the lunge at canter and wondered if I could actually stay in the saddle if that happened. It is silly because Savvy bucks plenty and I trained her from scratch and managed to be brave enough to get it done. But somehow this is different in my mind. Shiraz is bigger and bucks bigger. I am farther from the ground. I have enough injuries, thank you very much.

I was, however, committed to her training progressing this year -- with or without me -- so I started researching training options. I found someone who is a great fit for Shiraz (lets call her M) who is originally from Germany. She studied first dressage, then natural horsemanship as she travelled the world working at various barns, and now here she is competing in barrel racing and training horses at a local barn.

I was a bit worried terrified about trailering Shiraz over there and did not sleep at all the night before. I seem to have bad luck on 'first' outings like the time I first took Savvy to my lesson barn and ended up getting kicked in the face. She loaded fine though and I drove her over to the barn she would be spending the next few weeks at. She unloaded politely and simply looked around interested but calm (thank you Mule!).

Hello new horses!
I met with M and we took Shiraz over to the arena to show her where my horse is at currently and talk about training goals. Shiraz was on her best behaviour and M was impressed with her manners and ground work knowledge.

Then we put Shiraz in her paddock to meet some friends over the fence and I felt a rock in my stomach as the realisation hit me that I had to leave her there.

Uh, mom? What is going on? - Shiraz
I hate giving up control over how my horse is trained and cared for. Will they even tell her what a good girl she is?!! But. I think this is good timing to just get her out there, learning and experiencing and growing up a bit mentally. If all goes well, this should put her at a good training level for me to start taking her to lessons at the indoor that I took Savvy to last winter and continue solidifying w/t/c and possibly get started jumping in a few months.

So, would it be weird if I went there every day to check in on her and give her cookies?

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Riding the Wave

One of the best side effects post competition is how great the rides at home are afterwards. How can you still be afraid of a cross rail after just galloping around a xc course and conquering all the MASSIVE 2'3" jumps on course (hahaohmygoshbutweren'tthosejumpsbig?!!) Well, you can't. Lets just say I am very happy to be back to this place and ready to tackle some issues.

 
Namely curling behind and unsteadiness. It is killing our dressage scores. When Savvy is anxious, she gets busy in the head. It is how she soothes herself: wiggling, bobbing, rubbing her head on her legs, chewing the bit like a beaver through trees. When she relaxes, it mostly goes away. But show environments are never a relaxed situation.


So I have been working on ways to help her relax through a bit of French classical training I learnt last year watered down and mixed in with my own trial and error ideas. For example, at a walk, on the long side I will get her very straight then elevate the bit in her mouth and then ask for head turned in slightly (working our way up to 45 degrees) but with very straight head (so the bend is truly neck, not pulled over nose) and continue walking with straightness through her body and release. I am hoping these quiet flexion exercises will relax the muscles in her neck and poll and help the overall issue of head wiggles.


Next, I am shutting down this curling behind the vertical. Low and behind the vertical seems to be her favourite place to be so for now, I just want her poll high and I will be very careful not to fuss with her in any way as long as her head is up.  It is not a heavy handed issue--she is so light on the bit, a feather could make her curl. It seemed to begin after we had been practising long and low. She discovered she loved it down there and wants that to be her new forever home. Sorry girl! Head up and get your ass to work, literally.



Our next derby is about a week away. Having competitions so close together is fantastic! All the benefits from our last xc may actually still be with us for this next one. It will be great going in with some momentum rather than just hoping we can make it through starter.


This derby is set up a little differently--we could pick dressage, pace, xc and a new class called "follow the leader" where you get to do a xc round following a buddy horse and rider. I have decided to do dressage, starter xc and then do a pre-entry course following someone. It will be great to have a go at some bigger jumps without the stress of worrying about scores or the big 'E' as this round is unjudged.

Now if I could get some of these good vibes to rub off on Shiraz. Her training has been less than fun lately, but that is for another post.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

My Flying Unicorn

Thank you everyone who has been so encouraging and wished me well for the Manitoba Equestrian Championships this past weekend! It must have worked--I had the BEST weekend!


Friday night right after supper I was planning to trailer over, register and settle my fluffbum into the barn. Around 5:30 p.m. a massive thunder storm rolled in and put me back a few hours, but no worries--my teammates were already on site and had my stall bedded up and waiting for me when I got there. Savvy quite surprisingly was being chill about all of it. She loaded well in the rain and then happily settled in her box stall. I am sure she was just happy to be out of the rain and asking no questions.

And how awesome is this?! A local farmer donated a truck load of carrots for the event. Savvy approves. 
The weekend for the eventers would run Saturday morning Dressage (starting with the highest levels and working down to starter) with cross country in the afternoon. There would be no stadium as the sand jumping arena on site was being used by the hunter/jumpers. Sunday would be an exact repeat of Saturday's schedule. There were two riders for each eventing level representing teams east and west. The four of us starters spent the entire weekend together and supported each other through all of it. Really we felt like just one starter team rather than rivals of east and west.

We decided to colour match - team east being orange and team west wearing green
Luckily Saturday morning it was not raining and I arrived at the barn quite early to feed and get ready. I had plenty of time to prepare until I didn't. Despite our best efforts, all four of us ended up heading over for warmup with only about 15 minutes to ride before the first of our group would go in for their dressage test. Savvy was a bit nuts--snorting, arab tail up and prancing around the warmup ring in a floaty trot. I managed to get her responding nicely though and headed over for my test. Unfortunately heading over to the dressage ring was enough excitement to unhinge the wonder pony again and our test ended up being a bit...interesting. Entering at "A", Savvy was at a fabulous trot until she actually noticed the letter A and did an all-four-feet-out spook. I had to laugh and then got her back into trot and began the test.

Tense pony, tense rider, but at least feeling fancy :)
Most of the test I simply tried to keep her with me as she was trying to look all around at the new view this arena had. She was really curled behind the vertical but I just was not able to push her up as she did not have the relaxation in her back and neck to be able to carry herself. So instead I focused on making the best of what horse I had and tried to make up points on accuracy in transitions, straightness and bend where applicable and enjoy the floaty trot this crazy pony was giving me.

Might have had this smirk on my face for most of the test, because pony was being so fun!
After dressage I imagined we would have time to relax and have lunch before trailering over to the cross country field. That did not happen though. As this event was so big, the parking lot was packed. Most of the rider's trailers were blocked in and there was a bit of an issue of how to get everyone to the cross country field. We could ride if we wanted to, but it would be about a 15-minute ride along the park road with tons of traffic going by. I was fortunate enough to be able to get my trailer out, but once I got my horse over I was asked if I could go back and get one more horse that did not have a ride. It all worked out though and I still had enough time to get ready for my turn on xc even though I had missed lunch.

Fence #6 - to me, this is both massively tall AND wide.
Really I had no idea how it was going to go for me and Savvy. Would she try stopping? Would I lose my marbles? Would the canteen still have taco salad in a bag when I got back?

Emma at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing had a timely post last week that was exactly what I needed hear and to address in my xc:
"The test is when you're out in the field and on the ground doing the work and things get hard. How do you respond and react?  Our response has to be to push forward with an infectious and relentless optimism."

Fence #7 - My very first up-bank!!
And so I was determined to handle whatever might come and if things got ugly, just make it a damn good training moment and carry on.

We actually managed to canter out of the start gate and although Savvy felt a bit sticky at fence #1, she jumped it fine and suddenly all my worries lifted and I knew this was going to be a fun ride.

Fence #1 - She is my flying unicorn :)
Savvy was ON and wanted to GO. Coming up to fence #2 she was a bit wiggly. She seemed to consider having second thoughts but I added leg and told her I was very sure we were going over and she obliged. We ended up having a  bit of a stuttered jump but I was just happy I had convinced her to play. The next few jumps were much better and I honestly felt like we were flying around the course and perhaps I was going too fast (haha, although upon seeing my video I did not look fast at all!).

Cantering through the bush over to the next field was no big deal (even though in the past, going through the bush typically was scary for Savvy). Our next jump had me worried but Savvy galloped up to it with ears pricked and no hesitations. She was getting hotter as we went and at this point we were headed right towards my trailer on top of the hill. Savvy really wanted to blast up that hill and it took a lot to get her down to trot for our very first up-bank. She had no trouble with it at all though and I was surprised how nice it rode.

The path through the trees to get to #8
Next was a tight turn and through a narrow path in the trees to #8 which was simply to ride through a big ditch. From there, we went back to the first field and finished over one more simple fence and a long gallop to the finish line.

The final fence on course.
I was so proud of this horse! This course felt incredible. Not just because she jumped all the things, but because of how we both handled it. When Savvy was not sure, I had the guts to ride and help her out. She is a strong-minded mare sometimes and feeling her listen to me and look for reassurance is pretty amazing. I am glad I had the courage to be the rider she needed. Yes the jumps were teeny-tiny for the most part but right now it has very little to do with height and more to do with building trust and technique. I need to know when we are coming at a solid fence, Savvy is going to put in her best effort. And Savvy needs to learn that if I point her at a fence, #1: I mean it. #2: It is doable and she can trust me.

A super tired fluffbum after xc. She was trying to eat and sleep at the same time.
As it turned out, the next day we woke up to poring rain. We did ride dressage as it had let up a bit by the ride times and Savvy and I did slightly better than the day prior. Cross country however ended up being cancelled but none of us minded. Everyone in our starter level had a great round on Saturday and we were happy with leaving it at that.



We are getting close to the end of one pretty amazing season. I have one more event in October which will be another fun derby that I will compete starter level in. I am looking forward to getting another 'good experience' under our belts before we transition into winter lessons at the indoor. It will be a looong time before we get out on xc again after the October derby!


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Count down is getting REAL!

Most of this past month horse-wise has been frustrating and filled with uncertainty. But every ride brought Savvy and I one step closer to me feeling pretty secure and capable of a starter level event without embarrassing myself.


For the record, I was always capable. - Savvy most likely
I was thinking, yyyaaaa...we can do the MEC event this weekend. I'm sure it will go fine.



But now I am getting excited!!!!

OMG if this sweet little duo can make it over the sticks, so can I!!!

MEC Y'ALL!!!!!! There is something about getting my ride times emailed to me that just makes it all very real, imminent and awesome!

Forecast for this weekend: rainy and cold. I don't even care. I am going eventing!