Tuesday, 12 December 2017

How to solve a problem named Savvy

Or alternate title: Stop hurting yourself you stupid cow.

Look who needs to be separated. Surprise, surprise it is none other than Crankenstein.
The transition into winter has been hard on all of us. Short blustery days and dark coming far to early makes finding horse time a bit tricky, especially without an indoor or at least outdoor lighting at home. I have been trailering out with Shiraz once a week to the indoor arena. Besides that, I am able to spend some time in the backyard on my lunch breaks. Unfortunately I have been using that time to do barnyard chores that are easier done with daylight rather than riding much.

Savvy is feeling the neglect. With little to no grazing time due to snow covered paddocks, combined with less time spent occupying her busy brain with people time, she has become, er, less than pleasant to her fellow paddock family.

She has always been adamant that she should be leader and pushes our beastly little pony constantly trying to take her spot as queen 'o the land. And, she always loses.


For the past few weeks though, it has been escalating to the point that every morning I was preparing myself mentally for what new cut she would have that day. The carnage was getting too much for me. And pony? Never a scratch. Savvy probably couldn't kick hard enough to get through pony's buffalo coat.

A new mark for every day of the week.
 I considered putting shipping boots on her back legs at night (as that is when most of her injuries would happen), but that would not solve whatever damage she could give back. In Savvy's frustration with losing to Meyla, she would then take out on Shiraz who she is above in the pecking order.

My only solution at the moment is separating them. I don't like a horse to be on their own, but there are shelters in both paddocks and they can hang out over the fence. It is frustrating to have to separate my little herd. The paddock space the three of them had is huge and there is never a lack of food to fight over.
To make up for showing you gross injury pics, here are my kitties being super cute.
The fact that Savvy has to be so relentless in her pursuit for supremacy over all is problematic, but it also leaves me in awe that she accepts my role as her leader. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

Becoming a Working Pony

Don't you just love it when life keeps popping up road blocks that get in the way of your meticulously devised plans?

Truck is still problematic in its functioning capabilities.

Coaching was unreachable/unavailable at times I was able to ride.

Snow. just. snow.

No problem, I am inextinguishable.

When I finally got out last week with Shiraz and over to the indoor, she showed me that on her second visit here that the overhead door was old news, other horses coming and going were okay and rolling in sand is her most favoritest thing of all things.


I still had no lessons arranged at this point, but miles of any kind are our friend. I started out the same as her first visit since that worked so well to set a relaxed mood for the session. I am hoping to set up an 'outing routine' that helps her feel more like she knows what to expect even when at new places. She is pretty laid back but still very young-minded and occasionally has slow meltdowns. Even though she is showing me she will probably be fine, I would rather take steps at prevention, cause that's how I roll.

So at the arena I walked her around, then saddled up and lunged. The last time I rode at the arena, it was more just to get up in the saddle and see if she would be okay. This time I was able to settle into a bit of work, knowing she was totally fine with the environment. I played around with contact and bend. She has no idea how to use her hind end yet, but as she relaxed into work I was able to encourage a much better step under from behind at the walk and trot. Circling to the right is hard and bending almost nonexistent, although I did manage to get her to soften and move off my inside leg for moments of our circles (usually in the same spots of the circle as she tensed or relaxed based on parts of the arena she was worried about).

We cantered as well which was heavenly. I don't want to compare, but I will! It's just that Savvy's canter is SO much work. First of all, it took so long to get her to that point and even now that she 'knows how', it is the kind of canter that has a great deal of up and down to it and is a real workout to ride. I mean, it is a gasping for air, burning core muscles kind of ride because there is so much movement to follow. And Shiraz just steps into a smooth, gentle rocking horse canter and I could probably have tea time up there and not miss a beat.  
This week I finally made contact with my coach and had our first lesson. We worked over four poles on a circle and got some great bend happening, even on her tougher side after a while as Shiraz started relaxing into the exercises. Her clumsiness improved throughout as well - after a few bad steps on poles she started to realise that paying attention to her feet was a good idea.

A few people in the eventing group locally mentioned breastplates were a good idea on xc. Do we look legit now?
Pony was worked hard and near the end of the lesson I was having a hard time even getting her to trot any more. Poor girl. She's going to need some massage and stretching after this lesson.

After I got home, I realised I had spent the whole time in my lesson listening to my coach, not worrying about spooks or anything. It was such a great feeling to just sink into full concentration of my positioning, her steps and shape, being lost in the work completely.

I am hoping the weather cooperates this weekend to take her for an outing in the park. I have this grand plan in my head of getting hubby to come along and bring our dog so we can have a lovely walk in the park together, but so far we haven't been able to make it happen. Fingers crossed I can make this happen while the snow is not too deep for hiking.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Big Picture

At the beginning of 2017, I had a fluffy, opinionated pony that mostly could not even canter without telling me where I could stuff that nagging leg of mine. My hope was by the end of this year I would have a more obliging partner who could make it safely over the small sticks in a xc field. The verdict? Well, still so many opinions but sticks have definitely been jumped!


Sometimes horse training can feel like spinning wheels in mud. It is awesome when you can see real progress happen, but sometimes the improvement is too slow to see in real time. I admit to getting occasionally frustrated when I can't see the progress. For me, looking at one big goal compounds that frustration. I have to break things down into steps and I try not to look beyond each smaller goal until it is completed. This way I can enjoy small successes and stay motivated to keep on chugging along.

And so at the beginning of this year I set to work designing a realistic training plan for Savvy and I. Not only did Savvy have much to learn, but I wanted to push myself as well to ride more assertively and build up the courage bank account.

There were so many moments this year I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone and loved it!
I was starting out with a pretty awesome little horse and there was a working relationship already in place. Even though Savvy is quite a handful to negotiate with (omg SO many opinions and happy to tell me ALL of them) I still felt safe working with her and approaching work that she was not particularly designed for.

Really when it comes down to it, I would not recommend teaching a horse to do something they are not particularly talented at. But with that said, I am so glad I pursued teaching Savvy to jump and diving into very low-level cross country courses with her. Even though all of the work felt so much harder than it needed to be, at the end Savvy appeared to enjoy it and I had the time of my life!

Even our dressage improved, though I must admit little attention was paid to the importance of flat work...
With all the work I put into making this year happen, I felt it deserved a bit of reflection. So, I decided to piece together a few of the highs and lows of 2017 with Savvy and her training (please forgive my horrible video editing skills!) Enjoy!

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?