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!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Shadow Days

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

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

Of what, I wasn't quite sure.

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

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

Carrots are a girl's best friend.

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

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

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

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




Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Feeling Scared

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Monday, 28 August 2017

Way Leads onto Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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