Thursday, 31 August 2017

2017 Time Out

When I last posted, I was happy to be finished our show season and eagerly plotting all the schooling I want to do in preparation for next spring. 

But, I've literally done nothing beyond hacking out. I'm tired, and just kind of needing a mental break.

I recently put some feelers out re: breeding Bridget in the spring, and got distracted and went down the path of looking at the breeder's current sales list aka "Why breed when I could just buy the most fantastic and talented foal  I could ever want?" Warmblood/Welsh Cob crosses: they're not only adorable, they're FANCY. So much fancier than what I imagine a purebred from Bridget would be. They cost more money for sure, but so much less risk, and not having to worry about anything happening to Bridget in the process. Should be a win, right?

But, you know what? The money I'd be looking at, particularly the cost of simply keeping him or her until a rideable age? Giving me huge second thoughts. I don't know if I really want to do this riding thing/gamble on a prospect THAT bad. Which led to thoughts of banking that purchase price and monthly budget for 2 or 3 years and buying something ready to go at that point in time. Which, when I did the math, made me think "Oh hell, no, I could never spend that much money on a horse!" And yet, a healthy, sound, youngish, third level or above prospect to replace Bridget is probably going to cost about that much. There's no getting around it. I guess I'm burnt out, because that's led to evaluating what I'm really spending on this hobby as is, not just financially, but time wise too. So many sacrifices!

When someone like me, who lives and breathes this thing and normally has no lack of goals and motivation, starts to question how bad they really want it, I think it means a time out is in order. I need to take a break, step back, spend time and energy elsewhere, and do some other fun things for a bit. Check in with myself, re assess those priorities. Spend some money on all things NOT horses.

Great timing, because I've got vacation planned and a week away starting Friday.

Catch up with you later! :)

Friday, 25 August 2017

Workin' Hard

No rest for the wicked! We jumped right back into things with a dressage lesson last night.

B brought all the energy, but started out by using it for evil rather than good. Super braced against my hand, and wanting to run through the bridle and go faster rather than actually bringing those hind legs under and adding power.

Standard Bridget MO. It's odd to ride because she's actually behind the leg and stuck...yet she's running away with you.

A million transitions later we had polite, soft pony back. A further million transitions beyond that, and we were able to use half halts in the manner they're intended and get down to the real work.

The real work of late consists of all the counter canter, because we have dreams of moving up the levels and apparently it's a thing there ;) Mostly though, it's just a great exercise for building strength and suppleness in the pony. Remember how yucky her true canter was last year? And how long it's taken to get reasonably balanced? Well, we get to do it all over again, only this time in counter canter. I'm envious of all those whose horses are cordinated and balanced enough naturally, but luckily I'm a sucker for punishment and don't mind teaching B how to canter....again,  On the plus side, I know what I'm looking for, and Bridget knows what we want, she's just not strong enough yet to carry herself very long, It will come. For now though, we're permanent members of the renvers thru to transition club!
Best pony awaiting her post ride treats.
I've said it before, but it's worth saying again...for all my joking about the ponypocalypse and pony 'tude, B is remarkably tolerant of all we ask her. Yes, she'll say it's impossibly hard and she truly can't even, and find all sorts of ways to express those opinions, making her quite unreliable day to day, BUT I do feel very lucky in that she's excellent for me to learn on. The fact that this doesn't come easy for either of us, I think means our training has to be very correct and methodical.  I need to learn to ride and ask precisely and effectively, and be able to problem solve on the go too. All good things!

Proof you CAN improve the canter with a lot of hard work. This time last year we were getting 6's on gaits in the collectives, and 5's in all the canter work. Now it's all 7's and 7.5's ! And yes, we can argue it was in there all along, but truly, I think most people would have looked at the "before" canter/tranter/gallopy thing and walked away. Myself included, had I actually been shopping for a dressage prospect when I bought her, lol.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Happy Near Year?

This last event marked the end of the big outings we had planned for this calendar year. There are still a few small, local, ones left on the calendar, but the goal type shows are over and done with for another year. As a result, this time of year feels, to me at least, like Horsey New Year. The show season is behind us, and now we're going to get back into more of a training and learning groove until early next spring, when our competition outings begin anew.

To recap our horsey calendar year, we had a great Fall 2016, then hit a pretty rough patch training wise this past winter. Spring brought some improvement in us both, but also a need for 2 new to us saddles and some budget constraints due to that. It also brought far too much rain, meaning most of our proposed outings were cancelled anyway. Then the weather decided to make up for all that wet and opted for record breaking heat and dryness all summer, meaning even more cancelled shows. My bank account still needed to recover from buying that tack anyway. 

And Midge. Like all good ponies, Midge does things on her own schedule. As for me, well, life. I admit to being distracted and while I've been consistent about putting the saddle time in, my efforts at improving just haven't been as focused as they were last year. Still we HAVE improved. We've improved hugely, just not in the results based/moving up the levels way I had originally set out as goals. 

But you know what? I really have very few regrets about how things have played out. We made it to our interior BC eventing camp in the spring, we made it to a combined test, a second XC clinic, a multi day dressage show, and most recently, a 'proper' event in the city. We even fit in local dressage and hunter/jumper shows - not bad for being very limited by scheduling and finances.

Showing a level or two or three (lol) below what we school at home has been huge for me. Our biggest problem at shows has been my nerves, so just going to shows where I really truly don't worry at all about fence heights or dressage tests or moving up has been great for my confidence. I can ride in the moment, think through what I'm doing and make appropriate adjustments. Weird stuff can happen and I can handle it. We've had some great show results this year, and that's also been huge for me. As an adult who didn't show at anything beyond local level or have regular coaching until recently, I've been feeling like I really don't belong and pretty overwhelmed at the bigger shows. I still feel that way at times, but looking around and knowing we've competitive against some really nice pairs has made me feel a bit more like we're actually, just maybe, right where we need to be and not just freakishly lucky sometimes :)

Moving forward, we train and learn as much as we can. We plan for next season. We're still working hard on that counter canter. I need to up my game on left lead transitions. We'll keep working on reliably unlocking her neck and back when she's tense/we're in a show environment. Also, keep enforcing that she has to go to work in the show arena, just as she does at home. I'm going to keep riding other horses as much as possible, and keep working away on my jump position and confidence. We're still exploring breeding options for Midge in spring 2018. I still feel like dressage is not her true happy place, but I'm confident that we keep enough variety in her routine (we still have jump lessons, fitness rides, hacks, and vaulting too every week) to keep her interested for another season before she hopefully gets a time out to be a baby mama.

On our schedule next: Dressage % Day Sept 23. (local club show)

Monday, 21 August 2017

CVES Horse Trials

Whew, where to start?

I'm using up all my vacation time horse showing and this weekend added to the tally. Campbell Valley is a 'proper' three day event, with dressage on Friday, XC on Saturday, and show jumping on Sunday. Because we needed travel time and time to settle in, we left on Thursday morning, and arrived early afternoon.

G came this year, which was such a treat, it's not very often we have the same days off work! Campbell Valley is a Metro Vancouver park featuring some historic farmland and green space with some equestrian amenities and multi use trails. It's not an actual show grounds, so camping there with horses isn't normally something you're allowed to do. G and I found a nice little spot on the edge of a field to camp in - shady, quiet, and cool, which was much appreciated. I also upped my camping game this year by buying Midge a tent of her own. She loved it and it kept her so much cooler than last year.

Thursday evening we had a dressage lesson, but Midge was way too keyed up. There's a little hog fuel track around the rings, so nixed the dressage practice and just cantered around that for a bit while I just generally enjoyed having a very fresh and forward pony.

My ride time for dressage was first thing (8:45am) Friday morning. I really didn't sleep well because I had a bad attack of nerves. So weird because I've been doing so well with that!

Once again, I got in trouble with the tack check. I had no idea that spurs with moving parts are not allowed below Prelim. So, since my roller ball ones were the only ones I brought - no spurs for my dressage test! A potential recipe for disaster. Luckily, while we definitely felt the effects of a not-quite-so-sharp Midge, she stayed fairly honest and steady and put in a nice test. The canter work in particular is getting hugely improved - someone got 7's and 7.5's on her canter work, and a 7.5 for gaits in the collectives! There were a couple of low points - one icky transition up, and one down, for 5.5's and for the high marks, she got 8's on her walk. The rest of the marks were all 6's and 7's for a score of 67.5%, which in Canadian eventing = 48.8 penalty points. The put her in 6th place out of a division of 25. I was thrilled!

Our cross country ride was again super early - 8:15 am. I slept well and wasn't too worried, it was pretty much the same course we did last year: a little palisade jump, a water option, some log piles, and just a whole bunch of simple logs set on various terrains and angles. Midge wiggled and wobbled pretty much the whole way around the course - she was really spooky which I didn't expect. I guess the decorations were scary? And the jump judges? And the photographer? And the spectators? LOL, you never know what you're going to get with the pony. It was still fun, even though Midge was absolutely convinced the water = a place to rest and have a drink and we slowed to a crawl through there. We had no jump penalties, but accumulated a bit of time as Midge just isn't built for galloping (or even fast cantering) 1.6 km on terrain. Also, the water was a bad choice, lol, It was at the end of the course and I should have known the temptation would have been too much for her :) Somehow though we still were the 4th fastest time of the division and moved up two spots to 4th place. Crazy, right?
She thought this one was super spooky...its at the end of a big uphill heading away from the stabling, there's an announcer and scaffolding off to the left, plus people watching just over the lip of the hill when you land. Also, it had little fake mushrooms around it, lol

Show jumping on Sunday wasn't until 3:00, and my nerves got to me big time. All day to wait around isn't my thing, I guess. Also, I had zero expectations of a ribbon or being competitive, until suddenly I was in 4th place and desperately wanted to stay I was working myself up over that. So silly.

Midge had zero gas in the tank and it was hot, so I got on with 10 min to spare, walked around a bit, galloped one lap, then jumped the warm up jump and went in the ring.

Again, Midge was backed off and spooky. I rode pretty boldly for me but jumps 1-2 were still a bit less forward than I would have liked, but OK. Jump 3 came up on a short 5 stride, so I really booted Midge forward to get the pony 5. Jump 4 was a little wall (she hates those) on a 4 stride and I could feel her backing off even as we cleared 3. Since I had all the adrenaline in the world going on, she got a timely smack on the bottom and then gamely galloped up to it. The rest of the course rode fine - I cut all the corners and galloped everything I could because everyone had said the distances and course rode better that way. And so it did! Midge went double clear and well inside the time! The course designer guy came over later to compliment our round. So proud of Midge!

So, in the end we moved up and got a pretty 3rd place ribbon. And prizes, so many nice prizes. They spoiled us with a really nice saddle pad, a full set of jumping boots, a box of Omega Alpha products, and some horse cookies.

On a related note, Ginger and her rider got 5th place in an equally large Entry division! Go cobs :)

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

$900 FB Pony Hop: Dealbreakers

Thank you, $900 Facebook Pony, for a topic that ties in nicely with yesterday's post about riding all the horses offered to me.

Her question:

Any dealbreakers that make you not even want to ride a particular kind of horse?

Shut your little ears, Midge. No ideas to get out of work here....none at all....

Yes! Rearing scares me. Not so much the -"I'm green and not sure where else to go" kind, but the kind that's learned and means business. Nope, no thanks, not getting on that.

Somewhere in this novel of a post from our last show, I mention helping out a rider on the XC field whose horse went over on her. What I'm not sure I conveyed well enough was the horse literally jumped up off the ground on her hind legs before slamming down on her back. Like when a person tries to do a backflip and doesn't quite pull it off. No idea if it was intentional, but it was fast and athletic and horsey didn't look overly not something I'd ever be into riding.

Midge reared and fell on me once, I think last winter? She was being quite braced and fussy and running through my hand. I thought maybe incorporating some backing up might be useful. Midge thought maybe popping up a bit might be a good alternative, and...Midge being Midge, totally misjudged the footing/her athletic talents and kind of slipped and fell over on her side in slo mo. And, learned her lesson and never, ever thought about rearing again. I also learned mine, so if she's being really silly and tough, we just move into canter and incorporate some lateral work there to burn off steam and get her less heavy. 
Pic from around that time frame. Midge is often opinionated, but never mean. Sidenote: I see so much progress since then!

Another type of horse I'd never get on are the ones that are tricky and just beyond my abilities. There's one I know that I try to avoid even handling on the ground. He's very much into testing boundaries and will get very dangerous about it and really doesn't mind upping his game when you discipline him. I don't think he's inherently nasty, I think it all probably started as playful intelligent gelding games that scared someone and got him out of work.For whatever reason he now is who he is and I'm not interested in trying to play the game. He goes great for a couple of riders in the barn, but I've seen them have some pretty epic showdowns with him too, and yeah, the stuff he tries out is way above my abilities, not to mention could seriously hurt someone like me. 

Final category: Baby's first rides. Used to be OK with this, now if they're not mine I'm not going to. I like to know they've been productive members of equine society for at least a little while first.

And, in all honesty, I'm not very brave on new horses. Never have been. So, any time I'm on a horse that I don't know super well and they feel too fresh or like there's bit of a buck in there, I get off and lunge a bit. Obviously they don't fall into the 'never ride' category, but a 'don't ride sometimes' one for sure!

Monday, 14 August 2017


Is the spice of life and all that.

But, when we consider it in the context of riding and handling other horses, it not only keeps life interesting, it:

- Keeps me honest. Those bad habits Midge (somewhat) tolerates? Yeah, other horses are like "WTF are you doing with your outside seatbone?!"

- Keeps me sane. Although it would be a pretty spectacular event to see, thankfully all the horses in the barn don't tend to have a bad day at once. There's always one good apple to brighten my day!

-Helps me learn. Each horse is different, each requires a different ride. The ability to "read" each horse and feel the tiny changes needed to adapt to and bring out the best in each is a big goal, but a worthy one, I think.

-Gives me confidence. Getting a bit outside my comfort zone on a new horse is good for me!

-Helps me narrow down my own personal preferences a bit more. Although it's a bit of a running joke in the barn that I love every horse I get on, some are definitely more 'my type' than others.

-Makes me appreciate Midge. It's getting to the point where we're very tuned into each other - all the hours spent have built up a pretty solid partnership - it's cool to feel those results.

Like here - we did some gymnastics the other night and Midge totally aced the angled one stride with the super narrow line. She also, somehow, consistently made it ever so slightly bending between because..pony, and because the striding was working better for her. Smart, but also I had no doubt she'd be OK with this, even tho it was a first.
In short, if someone offers you you a riding opportunity and A: You have the time, and B: The horse is unlikely to kill you, just go do it!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Lesson Recap

I had to reschedule my lesson this week, and unfortunately that means I missed out on a jumping lesson and was there for a dressage one...again.  Between prepping for the dessage show, and our super smoky weather, I havent jumped at all in a while. I noticed my jump saddle still had my day pass from our xc schooling that was on July 22nd, so yeah, I better make some jump schooling a priority soon since I'm going away to an event next week!
They made a neat poster this year.

At any rate, our lesson was still a good one, and tied in nicely with the discussion Jen at Cob Jockey started about how reliant (or not) we all are on our trainers.

In the 2 years I've been riding with EC, she has always been very hands on and eagle eyed, giving me stream of consciousness feedback and directing me for the vast majority of the lesson. Lately, though, there's been a real shift in that.

It started gradually in our lessons leading up to the dressage show, but I really noticed it at the show, where before the classes where she normally warms us up she was like "You've got this. Don't underestimate yourself,  you know what you need to do." And after " That was well done, are you happy? Did it feel good to you?" Since I'm notoriously bad about having show nerves and being my own worst critic, I chalked that up as an effort on her part to sort of let me be and give me confidence, plus, she was incredibly busy riding and teaching and being a mom so I wasn't really expecting anything anyway.

Tonight, though was more of the same. She started out by outlining what she'd like to see me to accomplish in the lesson and the things she felt I could work on with Midge.

In relation to yesterday's post, all three of these pairs of breeches are labelled the exact same size. And yet...

Then, she sent me off with a "go get started, feel where she's at tonight,  and just do what you feel you need to" Ummm...OK?

So, off I went, creating the Midge I wanted in walk, where it's easiest. Then adding in some trot transitions, insisting she stay in the same round and forward mindset. I added in some suppling exercises to get her softer in the poll, and then some transitions within the trot...collect, move out again, now do that in a shoulder in position to get her hind end more active, etc, etc. Back down to walk and added in some walk pirouettes to remind her about keeping her shoulders up.  I kind of got lost in my own little world, and failed to notice the trainer feedback was...fairly non existent.

Until she was like, "There, that's enough. That's exactly what you want, now let's see if you can create that same feeling in the canter" "OK", I thought, "here comes the lesson!" And, yes, there were a few more tips and tricks shared since the left lead canter is still a bit difficult to really get her round and sitting. But generally, overall, the vibe was more "hanging out with a helpful, more experienced riding buddy" than "you are in a lesson and must do as I say". I'm not 100% sure how I feel about it, to be honest, it's a pretty big shift from when we were getting direction every second of the ride. The negative part of me wonders if she's just given up up me...this was honestly my main thought at the start of the ride because it was rough...Midge wasn't pleased about working in the heat.
"it's too warm for riding, right?!"

But then, it turned into the best ride ever. Midge became forward and really pushing, and we got a few really nice medium trot transitions and some really lovely moments in canter where she was coming forward and back just off my seat...big progress for headstrong, unbalanced ponies!  I'm pretty familiar with the program at this point, so maybe the silence was just because there really wasn't much to add. Also, EC is nothing if not professional and good at her job. So....IDK, the jury's out. I'm pleased that I do, indeed have all the tools and judgement to meet current lesson goals fairly independently. But it felt weird to be focusing more and relying more on myself rather than the outside input I'm now so used to.