Friday, 16 November 2018

No Saddle November?

I'm taking a break from saddles. Long time readers know that I've gone through approximately 11 million saddles on B, had two saddle fitters involved, had custom alterations made, and spent ridiculous amounts of money. Yet we don't have a saddle that fits really well. Part of that is due to Bridget's ever changing shape...She's popped out some withers and a more dippy back these past two years, meaning my saddles that fit propane tank pony aren't suitable anymore. She's also quite fussy and never moves out as freely under saddle as one would hope, even with saddles the fitter has thoroughly checked over. In a perfect world I'd have the perfect saddle, and then I would order that same saddle in 2-3 different tree sizes for her, depending on her weight and fitness throughout the year.

Pony grew a decent set of withers in the past year! Some of it is missing topline, some of it must just be age related? My coach was mentioning they can "grow" withers through proper work as well, but I'm not convinced that's entirely the case here, lol

She's recently been making it clear she's unhappy with her current dressage saddle, and until such time as the fitter can take a look, I'm just not going to use it.

Bareback pads are the best invention.

 So, I'm having my own informal No Saddle November :) I have no idea when or how things changed, but I am perfectly confident and comfortable flatting B in a bareback pad. It feels like not all that long ago I felt too tentative to be really effective, but now I'm feeling pretty secure and school all the things I would with a saddle. The only thing that slightly worries me is that I like to warm her up and cool her down pretty long and low, and it's not so easy for me to get up off her back without a saddle. She seems very loose in her back and happy though, so maybe I shouldn't over think it. On the plus side, I am much more conscientious about making good, balanced, transitions, because no one needs to die via being shaken by a crazy pony trot :)

Love this mare, she's so fun.

 Anyway, we're having fun, and thats good, because having fun is basically Bridget's only purpose right now :) Spoiled pony, she's only 10 and basically just has to really work a couple of times a week when I want to practice concepts for my Audrey rides. Other than that, I just try to keep a base level of fitness on her via some light flatwork and stretching in the ring, after which we launch explorations of the neighbourhood trails to keep B entertained. I miss having bigger goals with her, and on my tougher days I want to call myself a quitter,  but this feels right for both of us. She's become a different horse (in a good way!) with the change in work and lifestyle and I'm happier just appreciating her for who she is and not feeling like I have permanent tickets for the struggle bus.

Also very cute.

Fingers crossed all this yoga and bareback riding pays dividends as far as my balance and coordination. I still have goals of mastering canter pirouettes and tempi changes with Ms Audrey, and she does so appreciate it when I can keep out of her way :) We're back at it with a lesson next week that I'm very excited for.

Bridget's other job is helping me tidy the barn

Fingers crossed Ms Sophie proves easier to fit. It would be so lovely to just be able to pop some generic sized, off the rack saddle on a horse and ride!

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Dressage Nerd

I think I've mentioned my goal of making time to study outside of lessons, so that I can optimize my lesson time by hopefully spending more time actually Doing The Things rather than having the concepts explained to me for excess amounts of precious lesson minutes.

It's not that my coach isn't genius at explaining things, because she is. I'm just sometimes a bit slow on the uptake when I'm trying to ride and listen at the same time :)
Luckily, it's very easy to watch videos and read articles from the comfort of my couch, lol

Last weekend's study time involved delving back into the Robert Dover Clinic, reading some excellent notes from a couple of different Carl Hester clinics, watching a few classes from the US Dressage Finals, and finally, watching some YouTube videos of riders I admire, trying to see what aids they're using and how they're using their horses and their own bodies to make it all look so easy. I watched a couple of vlogs from Olivia Towers too, which were super neat because they involved some clips of schooling, test riding, lessons, and what she works on at the gym and in her mindset to help what she perceives her weaknesses to be.

And so, in my lesson this week when my coach asked me to go from walk pirouette to canter pirouette my first instinct was "Oh haha, you're so funny!" Then, a couple of seconds later, I was like "Why not? She wouldn't ask if she didn't think I could." Followed by some further confidence because I had just watched video of Carl and Charlotte introducing pirouettes, as well as multiple US Dressage Final tests with the helpful commentary explaining the good and not so good scores for the movement.

You probably wouldn't expect me to have mastered pirouettes in my first attempt from watching video. And, I didn't. There were some nice steps, some trial and error where I lost the shoulder and they got too big or  where I used too much outside aids and they got too small and hopping. But you know what? It wasn't all terrible either. I had a good visual in my head of what I wanted, and how to set it up, and for that, the video watching proved really, really helpful for me.

Taking the feel and tempo I've been learning to seek in collected canter, and combining it with the bend and aids from a walk pirouette, also very cool. EC is great at giving you seemingly non related exercises for months, and then boom you're putting them together and you're accomplishing a thing.

(And, WHOA, did I mention I did my first canter pirouettes!!!I don't know why, but of all the horsey things one could do, canter pirouettes and tempi changes are both serious Goals for me. So, bear with me, because I'm pretty excited.)

Final words of wisdom from EC (paraphrasing):

"As a rider, you get to a certain point where I am not teaching you anything truly new. Now it is just a matter of taking the basics I've taught you, and refining it all."

In other words, her nice way of saying don't over think it. Those canter pirouettes at their simplest are taking the canter I know how to create, adding haunches in, and placing it on a circle.

Once I got the feel, I practiced riding in and out of them as you would in a test. Again, certainly not perfect, or even complete 360s, but oh so fun to play with.

My aids need refining. My timing needs improvement. There are also millions of other little things I will be fixing or working on. But for now, just knowing I CAN Do The Thing is pretty darn cool.

Not sure this mare will ever have a collected enough canter to pull it off, but I'd like to try

I think another excellent goal to carry on indefinitely would be to continue to take advantage of available educational opportunities as much as possible. Kind of a no brainer, really, but it's easy to get lazy and be happy just knowing what you know. I'm finding online resources invaluable in helping me figure out some of the finer points of what I'd like to accomplish as a rider, and I'm finding a lot of the material is really inspiring me with new goals and ideas to try.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Part Two

So...the spa day?

Here's the "after" picture, taken 24 hours later.
Wow, so proud. It's like a mud blanket.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Days Like These

Being away Monday through Wednesday every week means I have a whole lot of things at home I want to catch up on Thursdays through Sundays.

Horse time being one of the main things, of course :)

It kills me that she's still got dapples. I don't currently own a grooming tool that can reach all the way through her winter coat, so we have to chalk them up to genetics.

Moving Sophie to the other farm is one of the best things I've done for myself in a very long time. Of course she is much happier with all that room to roam, but I'm so much happier too, knowing I don't need to worry about her. The barn owners are fantastic and zero drama. They love Sophie.

How could you not? Granted, she can still be a bit of a rule testing menace, but she's very sweet and super friendly. And so cute.

The full board is also a bonus...I notice the difference every Thursday night when I am cleaning paddocks where Bridget is still semi self boarded. Random pony fact, but Sophie eats and poops twice as much as B - my work and my feed inventory needs tripled when Sophie was boarded there!

On the plus side, she's the tidiest horse I've ever owned which is much appreciated. You literally just have to clean one tiny corner of her field. And, did I mention she's cute?

I've got into a routine lately of spending at least a couple of mornings a week with Sophie, then popping back to town for an early lunch, then heading over to Bridget's barn for an early afternoon ride and barn chores. I'm usually done by 2:00 or so, which still leaves daylight for hiking with G or yard work. I'm pretty sure if I was retired something similar would be my schedule every day of the week!

So.Much.Hair. And dirt. And butt highness. I love baby ponies :)

Sophie got a spa day this weekend and got all clipped up, mane pulled, tail banged like she's heading off to a show. She enjoys being fussed over, so I wasn't torturing her as much as you might think. I am regretting buying a two year old because actual showing seems so far off. I still have a whole year to wait before I can even lightly back her!
I went a little overboard with the tail, but I kind of don't mind it for now. 

But, I guess it's a pretty good life when my biggest complaint is that I miss competing :D

Friday, 9 November 2018

Learning The Most

The recent 25 Questions survey that was circulating had one question that I really wanted to write further on:

What horse do you feel like has taught you the most?

My answer was Bridget. Because she's been the toughest horse I've ever dealt with, and yet, on paper, we've accomplished the most together.

I've had a post sitting in my drafts folder for months now, a general outline of all the lowlights that happened through the years - everything from straight up refusing to move to rearing and falling backwards on top of me to going through a phase of refusing jumps so hard she'd fall down. Let's not forget that dressage show where the judge complimented my riding, but followed that up by suggesting I find a slightly more 'honest' horse.
Still having fun, though.

To sum it up, Bridget's default answer to most things she perceives as new or potentially work related has always been "NO!" There was always a pretty fine line to negotiating that NO into a maybe, without it escalating into something undesirable.

My moral of that post was going to be that most good horses are very much made through training, and that a lot of the near misses and Very Bad Things were my responsibility for pushing her past her imaginary line drawn in the sand. That the very bad days were far outweighed by days of slow and steady progress and fun outing and adventures.

At the lake, looks like I must be taking a pic for you guys! :)

I keep refraining from pushing the 'publish' button on that post, because no matter how I word it, I worry that it reads as a list of all the bad things about Bridget and my relationship. When, in real life, I feel like we have a really great partnership and I'm beyond happy with her.

I think this was the weekend where she figured out sliding to a stop and bucking on downhill canters or after drop fences was a great way to lose me and I fell off about 2x a day. But again, we still had lots of fun too, this is part of a lovely uphill line the trainer kindly suggested we finish the day with :)

These days, I get frequent comments from my riding buddies about how lucky I am to own such a good horse, one that's always so easy. Don't get me wrong, I'd never argue that she's not good. She's great and she always has been. BUT people seem to equate quiet with 'easy' or 'good' or 'well behaved' and that's really a big assumption. It was just lucky that Bridget's happy place was to stand around quietly because that fits people's expectations of a good horse. Push her outside of that happy place, though, and...well...things used to get a bit 'real', lol

I was not riding nearly defensively enough off this bank lol, pretty sure I end up sitting in the bottom of the gully in a couple more strides ;)

She used to get so angry at being asked to canter

Saying NO to something, back in the day.

This used to be her trotting face, lol - she used to get really pissy about moving faster than a walk. 

Anyway, I like that the question above rephrases it all as something positive: a learning opportunity, a chance to be better, a gift of knowledge to take forward to new partnerships.

This journey with Bridget has definitely taught me so much.

-I've learned that sometimes you can push quite a bit past what should be possible on paper.
-She's not inclined to work any harder than absolutely necessary, so I've learned how to keep it interesting.
-She's not overly motivated to please anyone, so I've had to find ways of making things seem like her idea or or benefit to her.
-She has days where it's just not going to happen. So, I've had to learn to listen to that and be patient.
-She's not super athletic, so I've learned a ton about conditioning and strength building. 
-I've learned about equine biomechanics, about where to place her body exactly, so we can show her how to do everything from lateral work to cantering.
-Mentally, she's very quick to give up. So, I've had to learn to break things down into tiny pieces, and to be quick to reward.
-I've had to learn to be very, very consistent and fair.
-I've learned to be persistent, to not judge progress in a linear fashion.
-I've learned that despite all your best efforts, sometimes things just aren't meant to be. And that it's no one's fault.

So yes, I think Bridget is a horse that's made me a far better rider, trainer, and person. I'm just glad she came in a cute, small, not so athletic package - it was pretty hard to hold a grudge or ever get nervous.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018


Hi! I'm away to the city for work conferences this week, so here's some blog content courtesy of the 25 questions that have been circulating. I'm not sure where it originated, but I'm sending a big thank you to the original poster. I've loved reading everyone's responses!

Why horses? Why not a sane sport, like soccer or softball or curling?
I actually did all the normal kid sports, but I don't know, horses have always been what I've loved most.

What was your riding “career” like as a kid?
No career. I started riding at 11 via a friend by doing barn chores in exchange for a pony. There was zero structure and no adults, so we were basically a pack of wild children on ponies doing a lot of probably very unsafe, dumb things. But it was fun!

If you could go back to your past and buy ONE horse, which would it be?
I'd like to say Audrey, but let's face it, that would have been a disaster. She needs a pro.  I've actually got no regrets, everything has worked out as it's needed to.

What disciplines have you participated in?
Eventing, dressage, trail riding, english hack/pleasure, western show, reined cowhorse a little.

What disciplines do you want to participate in some day?
I'd really like to try mounted archery.

Have you ever bought a horse at auction or from a rescue?
Haven't bought one, was given one 6 month old youngster who was near death due to neglect and that was definitely a rescue, and another one in serious need of an upgrade. Last I heard, both were still living happy, healthy lives as trail horses.

What was your FIRST favorite horse breed – the one you loved most as a kid?
I had a book of all the horse breeds and I remember there was a black horse in there that I thought was perfect. 

Look! I found "the" picture. He's a Nonius!?
If you could live and ride in any country in the world, where would it be?
England. Two of my old barnmates are there working as riders and it just looks amazing.

Do you have any horse-related regrets?
So many. I wish I could keep them all. I wish I could take back all the dumb stuff I did when I was young and stupid.

If you could ride with any trainer in the world, ASIDE from your current trainer, who would it be?
I really like my current trainer but I'd never turn down a lesson with Carl Hester or Ingrid Klimke

What is one item on your horse-related bucket list?
Some kind of epic multi day horseback travel adventure. I'm eyeing up a South American one currently, but can't decide which country.

If you were never able to ride again, would you still have horses?
Of course!

What is your “biggest fantasy” riding goal?
Riding Grand Prix dressage in a horse I trained. Eventing at Training would be goals for me too.

What horse do you feel like has taught you the most?
Bridget. I know that sounds weird when she's pretty non dramatic on paper, but I've had more challenges and wipe outs on her than all the other horses in my life combined. The zero work ethic thing with the default "no' answer to everything new has taught me a ton about breaking things down into tiny steps, and keeping it interesting. Also, being persistent.

If you could change one thing about your current horse/riding situation, what would it be?
I'd have something I could actively compete on while I'm waiting for Sophie to mature. I'm concerned I'll go back to being very nervous for shows if I take a big break from them. I am very lucky to have lessons on Audrey, though!

If you could compete at any horse show/venue in your home country, where would it be?
We technically checked all those off the bucket list the past few years, but I'd like to go back to TBird and earn a little redemption - we didn't have the best outing! Out of country bucket list show I could reasonably travel to with my barn remains Rebecca Farm, although the Del Mar dressage shows look intriguing too.

If you could attend any competition in the world as a spectator, what would be your top choice?
Blair Castle. My gram was from very near there so it would be fun to mix a little family history sightseeing with some beautiful countryside and UK eventing, and also catch up with some friends based near there.

Have you ever thought about quitting horses?
All the time - it's a very tough and expensive hobby to make happen in this part of the world. These days, my horses are pets and I'd be unlikely to sell them completely, but I do consider it in the context of removing myself from the horsey world by not training or competing and just having backyard pets.

If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the horse industry, what would it be?
Eliminate mistreatment of any animals.

What’s the dumbest horse-related thing you’ve done that actually turned out pretty well?
All of it. Logically, just having horses with my available time and finances is kind of stupid. But hey, I make it work, and I'm happy.

As you get older, what are you becoming more and more afraid of?
Being bankrupt due to horses/vet bills ;) Serious answer: I'm more accepting of change and risk the older I get, so strangely enough, I'm much more at peace with myself and much braver now than I've ever been.

What horse-related book impacted you the most?
Books are actually what got me hooked on horses. I read all the Billy and Blaze books in Grade 1 or 2 and just thought horses were the coolest thing ever and that I needed to see one in real life. I read a book about the most amazing Irish Setter in the same time frame and wanted one, but that didn't stick ;)

What personality trait do you value most in a horse and which do you dislike the most?
Like: forgiving, wants to please
Dislike: lack of a work ethic

What do you love most about your discipline?
Dressage: feeling like the horse and I are totally in sync.
Eventing: pushes my boundaries.
Trail riding: relaxing getaway.

What are you focused on improving the most, at the moment?
My fitness/weight.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Weekend Photos

I've had a nasty chest cold for about a week now, which sadly means I've missed two Audrey lessons with EC, plus I've been taking things pretty easy in my own barn life.

I've been failing at gym time, but very much winning at reading and watching all the riding and training books and videos I had queued up over the summer.

Still, as always, there are some photos and small adventures to share with my two horses.

Bridget's face when I hooked the longe line on her bridle :D

Going to work

I left her alone for 2 seconds after

And this is what she did. Ponies! :)

Was NOT going to ride this home bareback, lol

Barn door vista for Emma

Sophie seems like she is growing again
So friendly

So close, yet so far on the black background portrait, lol