Thursday, 23 March 2017

Pony Fitness Week 1

To me, Fridays have always seemed like the start of the week for all things horsey, so I'm starting our fitness diary as of last Friday. If you'll recall, vet opinion number 1 was that B needs to lose weight and be fitter as a first step. The fitness aspect actually caught me off guard a bit - pony is used 6 days a week for at least one jumping and one dressage lesson, plus vaulting classes plus trail rides, 1 hillwork/fitness day, plus additional jump schooling and flatwork. That would have been plenty for any previous horse I've owned (heck, Ginger is very fit on the same schedule right now), but sadly, it's not enough for the Bridgets of the world and we need to step up our game.

I'm going to start keeping better track of our rides and see if we can mark some progress. I do have access to a heart rate monitor and will see if I can start borrowing that to help. I like the idea of using intervals, however we essentially live in the mountains and it's simply not possible to find a space big/flat enough to allow you to trot for 10 min and canter for 5 without footing or elevation becoming serious issues. Our arena is too busy most days as well, so I've sort of given up on keeping to a strict plan that way.

Friday: Jump school. 15min W/T/C warmup, 20 min jumping 2'3 -2'6". Started with single fences, finished with a course of 6 jumps twice (with a short break in between). B was starting to tire and was pretty sweaty.

Saturday: Trail ride. 15 min W/T/C warmup in the arena, 90 min trail ride on some challenging terrain, probably the steepest hills you could safely navigate around here.. Mostly walk, one short canter uphill (about 200m). B can walk all day, but that short canter and some of the steeper inclines really had her out of breath.

Sunday: Flatwork in the arena. She felt tired and a bit stiff, but warmed up out of it. W/T/C 30min. Finished with a ride up the "big hill" (1.3km/0.8mile to the top from the barn, elevation change of 132m/433ft, average slope = 10%, although the final half is the steep part averaging closer to 14%). Walked and trotted until she was puffing, then walked on the contact back down, making her use her bum.  Hard work for ponies.

Monday: Day off

Tuesday: Dressage lesson. 30min walk warmup followed 45min of trot and canter, with a short walk break halfway through. Lots of transitions and getting pony to sit on her hind end. Very sweaty by the end, but never out of breath.

Wednesday: Accompanied one of the eventers out to do gallop sets. We use a dirt road with undulating hills, about 800m/half mile long for the gallop part. It's the flattest suitable road here, but still to steep to use both ways at a canter or gallop, so mostly the girls canter or gallop up and walk/trot down. B did one and felt like she might die, although recovered quickly. So total outing = about 5km, mostly walk/trot on varied terrain, with about 1km of that being canter or gallop (B did a bit of gallop and tried to keep up, but mostly needed to canter it).

Thursday: Repeat of Sunday. Light flat school in the arena and a 3 km loop walking up and down the big hill.

This weekend, we start with a jump school Friday night, have a clear rounds day on the agenda Saturday, plus a trail outing on Sunday. Next week we're back to regularly scheduled lessons Monday and Wednesday, plus vaulting on Tuesday as well.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Short Lesson Recap

Me: " So I had this great idea."
EC: ?
Me: "I'm going to buy a llama."
EC: "And?"
Me: "I'm going to ride my llama. And you're going to be all "Look at you, riding that llama exactly the way a llama should be ridden." "

Changing the goalposts. Working with your strengths. Whatever we want to call it, I think I'm on to something here.

(I actually had a great lesson. We're consistently getting some "jump" in the canter these days which is exciting to feel after a winter of struggle)

Monday, 20 March 2017

A Good Weekend

It finally feels like spring might make an appearance here. This has been the craziest winter I can remember - usually it's a big event if we get snow here at sea level once. This winter we had below freezing temps and snow for a good part of the winter, plus some crazy windstorms earlier in the season.

Since the arena was for once both dry and unfrozen, we had a barn jump school Friday night. In exchange for me hacking her mare Q, best barn mate C has been riding Bridget once a week or so and usually turning it into a jump school. I could tell she's been working hard because I had a great ride on Bridget - forward and fun, with zero hesitation or sucking back. Confidence inspiring for sure! We kept the jumps small, the session short and positive. I think we might turn this into a weekly thing - it's nice to have fun with it and cheer each other on.
Basically, a semi circle of jumps on a 5 stride line to or from a vertical, plus a 1 stride set of verticals. Make up your own course! The blue thing is my attempt at drawing a barrel - it's what we used for the poles to rest on for the narrow end of our 'corner'.

Saturday, it was partly sunny, but with a super cold wind. We went on about an hour trail ride, and had a great time. The creeks are super deep right now, so Bridget was up to her belly in places, but she's brave about stuff like that.  The only weird moment was going up a super steep hill out of one of the creek ravines. We had a newer rider with us, so opted to walk up it...but it turns out it's hard to get enough traction at a walk. Poor Bridget slid back down a bit before she regained her footing. We finished the loop with a nice canter in the sunshine - nothing like a nice trail ride to cheer everyone up!

Sunday, I mixed it up and did a bit of a flat school and then went out for a fitness ride. B was not overly in the mood yesterday so there was quite a bit of attitude about going forward AND being round. So, we got a bit of good work and then headed out on the road. Instead of letting her move out on a loose rein as I normally would, I had her march up the first part of the road in a rounder frame - something she was pretty upset about - here T goes again changing the rules!  Every time she sucked back, she got a reminder to move up, if she ignored/pinned her ears/sucked back further she got to move up to trot, which obviously she wasn't a fan of. It wasn't part of her game plan and turned our fitness ride into a bit more of a challenge - I was planning to let her walk most of the way up the big hill but was dissatisfied to how behind the leg she still was and made her trot quite a bit of it. Poor pony was sweaty and puffing by the time we got to the top. Being Bridget, I suspect the next time she'll be a lot more honest about things - much easier to quietly walk along on the contact than flail about and have to go forward even more. Since I wasn't in the mood to pick more fights on such a nice day, we walked home on a loose rein, much to B's relief. She's become a teeny bit barn sour, which is a bit funny - normally she could care less, now she walks slightly faster on the way home -you know, like a normal horse would. Crazy pony, getting all hyperactive on me ;)

Friday, 17 March 2017

Tough Love

 I knew I was in for it even as I warmed up - EC had clearly reached her limits with the lesson group ahead of me and there was a lot of telling it like it is going on. When this happens, I'm always worried about the prospect of hearing something I don't want to hear, but I also look forward to tackling the big problems - this seems to be the lessons where the big breakthroughs occur if they're going to.

Because I am an ammy adult with no real ambition and would likely cry if someone went George Morris on me, she scaled back appropriately when we started.  Whew.

We started in trot and B felt like there was zero gas in the tank. Even a tap with the stick netted me about half a stride of a slightly more forward trot.

So, EC picked up the lunge whip, walked to the center of our circle, and followed up my leg with a growl and a snap of the whip. And B just about lost it trying to be best, most forward pony ever. From then on, she just needed to cluck from the sidelines and B was like "HELLO!".

So, rather than a tired pony problem,  it seems we have a rider dedication/ pony respect problem. Bridget has zero issue going to work for EC! Ouch, what little pride I have is hurt.

We did some really nice canter work and some great trot work. Tons of transitions, tons of getting pony using her hind leg more quickly, tons of rider needing to ride better work. We were both huffing and puffing by the end - we had a super workout!
Failed barn door vista for Emma. We work until after dark right now.

My homework:

-Hands stay even and still. Imagine they are side reins and don't move, no matter what. Pony needs to move up into the contact and take me along, and she's very,very, particular about the contact right now, even a tiny wiggle is enough to get her to suck back. For now I need to be contrary to my nature and not be soft or giving, she needs to learn to take a better, more consistent feel and she can't do that if I am always giving or taking.

-Outside shoulder stays back, helping outside rein stay strong and steady. Outside shoulder is my nemesis.

-Fitness for all. I want to be stronger. B needs to be fitter. As per first vet, (the original vet who saw her last year) there's currently nothing wrong with B other than being too fat! Also, of note, several of the other horses in the barn have started coughing a bit, so either we have had a mild virus circulating or the new batch of (gorgeous looking/smelling) hay is a bit dusty.  Things to consider, anyway. So, part of our current prescription is lots of fitness work. Sad in a way, because we already do focus so much on pony fitness, but challenge accepted, I added extra trot and canter into our fitness ride tonight, and will start timing the intervals more diligently. I might also consider adding a second ride per day to her schedule as life permits.

-Pony weight loss. As mentioned, B is living in a grazing muzzle during the day and is pretty sad about it. I'm still on the fence about the thyroxine. She's actually not currently a terrible weight *for her* but I concede she is the typical Thelwell pony and she could stand to lose a few if we want to pretend she's a sport pony:)

-Don't listen when B tells me she is tired/dying. She's a pony, and as such cannot be trusted when exercise is involved.

Personal goal:

Start planning and laying out budgets for shows and clinics this year.

I'm listening to advice and we're going to (literally) work our butts off to try to get to the eventing camp the third week of April, and follow that with an event 2 weeks later if all goes well. The clinic will tell us whether or not we're on the right track fitness and health wise, so after much consideration I've decided to drop the second opinion/specialist vet appointment the week before and reschedule it for after (should we see issues).

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Random Updates

We're still here. I took a much needed time out and went home for a few days to relax with G and do a little property hunting. We're still half-heartedly eyeing up farm properties, but more and more I find myself thinking the right one simply doesn't exist in our area. (semi level, non swampy land, 10+ acres, agricultural zoning and ability to run a related business - hard to find in our wet and mountainous area). I'm finding myself wishing instead to have a nice cottage on the lake or beach and to just board the horses out. It feels a bit weird after all those years of having the horses at home and always wishing for a larger farm. I still love the day to day on the farm, but my current level of boarding freedom, especially being able to leave for a few days with no issues is something I'm getting very used to! Maybe this is my midlife crisis - instead of wondering about changing long terms views on jobs or marriages, I'm pondering horse farm related things. Typical!

From A bit of an adventure as it's a short boat/water taxi ride from 'civilization' (in quotes because I'm not sure our neck of the woods is properly considered civilized on even it's best day), but I'd love to wake up to this. And, who am I kidding, first order of business would be to build a small area for Bridget so she could visit and  I could ride on this beach.

As far as actual real horse plans, we still have none. B had her first vet appointment and sadly was told she needs to lose weight as of yesterday. So the grazing muzzle has been put on. In typical pony fashion, she figured out how to get it off in about 10 minutes, so now it's been adjusted and it takes her a while longer to scrape it off enough to eat. Not sure this is a viable long term plan, a grazing muzzle AND hay net? Way too easy for her to 'accidentally' catch the muzzle in the netting and get it off.. Also, I'm not nearly heartless enough because this morning while I was feeding B was all tapping me on the shoulder with it like "Hey, check this out, I have this thing stuck on my face and I can't eat! Surely this is a mistake, please take it off, don't you love me?" Science would say I'm imagining that conversation, my emotions say otherwise :)

We also recently got a prescription for thyroxine, which after some google searching has me too scared to use on her. So we'll await our second opinion. I am still, however, tempted to use it on myself (joking, sort of...I'm fantasizing about a 'miraculous' weight loss and energy boost to aid in my enjoyment of the beach time dreamt about above)

Dressage wise, B is cruising along and in a really good place. Trainer rides and a new saddle for the win! I'm contemplating calling this the year of all things dressage showing and not getting overly invested in trying to get us prepared to event. We'll see...the pony is doing great in our jump lessons too, I'm just worried about the vet stuff and finding a new jump saddle in a reasonable time frame. Also, for a number of reasons, an eventing season here is way m more expensive than a dressage one, so that adds to my is tight given our saddle purchasing and vet visits. Too bad dressage is not as fun as eventing!

The jump saddle is STILL pending. I have a line on another one to try (thank you LiveLaughRide!), but best case it won't be here for a couple of weeks. We're borrowing a saddle for now that sort of fits, and I'm tempted to ask if I can borrow it for the upcoming XC clinic. That's a big ask, though, so in typical T fashion I'll worry about it a little more first, I think :)

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Accentuate The Postive

I don't know what gives the last few months, but I've been on a bit of a low emotionally, and am struggling to be the happy, positive self I strive to be,

No doubt, some of this is just life. It's challenging at the moment, and we are past due for some good things to happen. I'm worried about my friends who are going through some tough times. My insomnia has made a return visit. Life is just harder without sleep. And let's not forget the weather. We've had an exceptionally cold/dark/wet winter, even for the west coast. Some of my worries are over Bridget's heath and tack and the associated finances. Her cough is better, but still noticeable. The vet has postponed our appt again. I'm reluctant to purchase a jump saddle until I know the diagnosis, cost of the vet bill and future maintenance, if any.. Selfishly, I have a lot of sadness over missing sign up deadlines for events I've been planning and looking forward to since last year.

Some of what's hurting me is how I currently choose to handle and approach things. Luckily, my approach to life is something I am in control of and can change! First step, admit things are tough and sucky and most of it is beyond my control. Done. Second step, I think it's time to make note of and focus on all the positive things happening and progress made this winter in pony land!

1. Pony kisses

2. We finally have a saddle that fits us both decently. This was an epic win, give our collective conformation :)

3. Bridget is going fabulously in said saddle. Like the Bridget of old, and putting in some really great work.
4. Unlimited trails to explore

5. My own riding has made some big breakthroughs,  Our little tackless interlude really helped me re-find my center of balance and refine my aids. The lessons on Audrey confirmed that. and gave me some new tools and a feel for where I want Bridget to be in a month or two.

6. On a related note, it's seriously difficult to nag with your leg riding bareback on a round pony. Also, no tack to pinch makes for a happy, free moving pony. So, B is now much sharper off my leg and our forward issue hasn't been a thing for weeks.
7. Ginger. We like Ginger.

8. We have all the dressage tack, we have a big set of dressage goals and an entire series of dressage shows we can still attend if eventing/jumping turns out to not be our thing this year.

9. Our long term plan was always dressage anyway. Eventing is for fun and at the levels we jump, we don't need to follow a program, per se. It will wait for us to pick back up whenever we're ready to get back out there.
10. B's life satisfaction is easily achieved

11. A lighter competition and clinic schedule means $ saved. $ saved means more money for fun things in the future, or the jump saddle of my dreams. More importantly, it means less stress over potential upcoming big vet bills.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Testing, Testing

Thanks to everyone for the kind thoughts on yesterday's post. I will be sure to pass them along.

Yesterday brought us an opportunity to test out how Bridget is feeling after some time off, and a whole new set of tack.

I was told my lesson was still on the schedule. I won't lie, I felt awkward and selfish about it, because my riding problems are so not important in the grand scheme of things.

However, it's not all about me, so I decided to not overthink it and just take things at face value. If the lady wants to teach, I'll show up for my lesson and give her all the teaching opportunities she can handle ;)

And so we had a really great ride. Maybe even the best ever. Bridget likes her new saddle, I was able to use what I had learned on Audrey, and we had some fantastic canter work. As always, there is much fine tuning necessary...the saddle isn't sitting quite level and makes my life a bit difficult. (Also, my habit of not letting my legs hang makes my life difficult ;). But still, B offered up some really nice work where she was straight in her neck and stepping under in her body, pushing right up into the contact. Like cantering up a hill, only in the ring. A tricky thing indeed for my wiggly, behind the leg pony.

EC suggested she ride B 1x a week temporarily to really confirm our new expectations for the canter work and transitions. The idea is there, but quite frankly B really makes you work for it, and while I luckily have the timing and feel to make it happen, as the ride progresses I wouldn't say I have the fitness, patience, or discipline to insist on perfectly correct every time and things can get progressively sloppy. I feel conflicted about adding to EC'S workload. I feel conflicted about not being the only regular rider of the pony. But, I know this a good thing that will be a positive for everyone.