Monday, 16 April 2018

Can't Talk Now, Riding Horse

Oh yes I am! I sort of knew that having my horse at a barn with an indoor would be good for me and Shiraz, but guys! I am riding a lot!

And with a lot of riding comes a LOT of rolling. Love that derpy lip :)
And what happens when you ride a lot? Progress, that's what. It has only been two weeks but I have already had three lessons, and ridden 6 other times on my own. That is more riding right there than all of January, February and March combined.

I told you about our first lesson which was all sorts of tense. The great thing from it though was we worked through to a very good place by the end and it left me feeling quite confident that I could manage the same on my own.

Instead of riding videos, enjoy this incredible floating horse head
Every ride following that lesson was a bit better than the last. Shiraz completely stopped the tail swishing/ear pinning half way through the week and by my following lesson we were able to have a regular walk (without any jigging!) right from the start.

I think this is the most excited I have ever been about being able to ride a horse on a circle at the walk and trot.

My first two lessons were with my trusted Pine Ridge coach K, but the third was with M -- new to me on-site instructor who is certified for western and english (and personally rides western). I had a chance to ride with her earlier in the week as she has her horse boarded there as well, and I talked about where Shiraz was at training-wise and what I hoped to work on. I told her a bit about the bucking that had shown up in the canter and that I was really still not terribly confident about it.

Sweaty pony wishing I would just stop with the pictures and take her outside already.
So at the beginning of the lesson M gave me an overview of what she would like to work on, including rollbacks, trot poles widely spaced down one side of the arena and playing with the barrel racing pattern, all tricks to encourage Shiraz to want to canter on her own. The thought being if canter is her idea, perhaps the bucking would be less likely.

The verdict? Success! We actually ended up cantering many times (for brief moments of 3 to 10 strides) and all of those moments were drama free. I also found that working on things in a completely new way was quite refreshing and good for both of us. Even though Shiraz was very 'up' and jiggy for most of all of the lesson, I did not find it worrying and we were still able to focus on the tasks.

An earlier ride on our own *trying* to walk but girl loves her springs
We still have not jumped anything though. My jumping/eventing clinic is this coming weekend...I am still optimistic that I will get over some cross rails before the weekend though. And to be honest, I am not worried about Shiraz's ability to make it over little jumps. My main concern is her being settled enough for me to ride. If she has enough marbles for me to walk and trot, then everything else should be just fine! :)

Thursday, 5 April 2018


My farm has not sold yet so for the time being I'm not going anywhere. We have done everything we can to the house to prepare for selling, but as for how the yard looks, it is a waiting game for snow to melt (the back yard is still a couple feet deep in snow currently). But a certain fluffy yak has packed her little grooming bags and relocated.

The best part of this whole new adventure is having Shiraz at a boarding stable with an indoor -- and that has happened this past weekend! I brought her on Sunday, lunged in the arena and showed her all the things, then lunged again on Monday.

Tuesday I had scheduled a lesson with my coach K from the previous indoor I had been trailering to. She was gracious enough to agree to drive over to the new place and continue our lessons. It possibly may have been a bit ambitious to schedule a lesson that soon, but I wanted to hit the ground running and make up for a failed winter plan of making progress with Shiraz.

Look how relaxed she looks just lunging...hhmph.
I was a bit worried how she might be for her first ride in the new arena with sounds of construction of the new barn being worked on. To make matters a bit worse I showed up late and literally was running to get my horse, scrape of the mud and tack up. I lunged a little in a rush and then jokingly made a prayer to the riding gods to keep me alive for this lesson.

The "Why have you brought me here" look
Turns out that prayer deserved a bit of sincerity. Shiraz was tense and could not mentally comprehend how to step forward in that state. Rearing felt strongly imminent. K had us just work on a 20-meter circle at the walk which once I got her unstuck from where I had mounted it was a pretty intense jig. We worked on trying to find a walk and K had me count out loud "1,2,3,4" over and over and K threw every tool she knew at us to help us both relax. At one point some random person opened the arena door without calling out first and spooked us both hard: Shiraz did this very gymnastic move and I yelled a swear word, and the poor guy looked a bit shellshocked (ohmygod I need to stop with the swearing with spooks! Perhaps I can train myself a random word for those surprise moments like..."CABBAGE!" or "UKULELE!").

Shiraz thinks her new boyfriend is perfect! He does whatever she tells him to.
Finding a true walk was just not happening so K had us go up to trot and still counting out loud. There was much tail swishing, head snaking and pinned ears in response to my leg. K had me "forget my hands" and just ride her with my legs and seat. I literally was to put my hands on her neck and not use the reins for anything (although I had contact). This was the magic feather for me and I settled in to thinking in the moment.

My yak post ride -- she worked out her angst through much rolling in the straw
It was incredibly cool to see that I could settle her head movements with my legs. Every time Shiraz wanted to suck back, or drift to the exit, or throw her head around in a fit, it was completely fixable with inside leg, outside hip bone and eyes focused on the next spot in the circle. Bit by bit I could feel her back unknotting and I allowed the reins to lengthen until she was trotting with her head stretched down and she started breathing. This state took 45 minutes to get and I am so happy to say that I spent most of the ride completely relaxed (except for that first 10 minutes of jiggidy jig--that space right there I was certain we were all going to die).

It was a great lesson--yes we just trotted a 20-meter circle basically for an hour but there was a lot accomplished. Shiraz was throwing every doubt question at me and with K's help I was able to answer all of those questions plus show her that dirty threats (like telling me she wanted to rear or buck many times) were not an option. And the best part, it was done with soft but consistent focus and leg support rather than a harsher correction.

I am looking forward to my next ride on my own. I will definitely be spending a lot more time doing ground work before I get on so hopefully she will not be that tense for the next ride. But, even if she is, I think we'll be okay.

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!)