Saturday, 29 March 2014

Splash

G is currently visiting and I was SO excited for him to meet Checkers and see how well the lessons are going. But, as is the way, we got to the barn and I had a new horse assigned to me AND a new instructor. I was pretty disappointed about Checkers, but since I am a horse crazy kid trapped in an adult's body, I grew fond enough of the new guy pretty quickly (sorry, Checkers!)

"Splash". He's pretty similar to Ginger as far as build goes, but of course his head is much more "noble". He's super cute.
Any time in the saddle is good time, but this lesson was pretty basic and not overly challenging. The instructor was excellent, but it has to be difficult to step in with all new students and horses for just an hour. I feel like she was keeping things pretty conservative and safe while she got an idea of where we're all at. Splash, while totally adorable, is not my favorite horse to ride. He likes to hang a little behind your leg and try to evade you by acting spooky and bulging those big shoulders if you don't keep him forward enough. He wasn't bad, per say, I think I just prefer a more naturally forward ride. He was going pretty nicely by the end of the lesson though, so I'll still give him the benefit of the doubt - it could just be a case of us both getting used to each other. I love his build and height and he feels 'right' size wise when I sit on him - cobby is good!

All in all, if I ruled the world, I would keep the instructor, but ride Checkers (who I would fit with bionic joints so she can stay sound and happy forever :)


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Wednesday Night Lesson

Also, WHY is it snowing sideways tonight? It's supposed to be spring!

Tonight's lesson was alright. Checkers felt a bit stiffer than normal to warm up and I had an angry lower back. The old girl was full of herself though tonight and kept me working. She was ready to go and was feeling pretty sassy. She also thinks she knows EVERYTHING (actually, she probably does) and forward was not an issue. She reminds me so much of Lainey with the super work ethic and the know-it-all attitude. Also the bitchy mare thing, but we ignore that because they are both such good horses. In short, I was pretty sore and grumpy, and she is old and grumpy and knows everything. So we spent a little bit of time being grouchy mares together and arguing about things on the flat. Then on to jumping which went well for the first round, but we changed the second course a little bit so this resulted:

Me: "Checkers....the next jump is over there...HELLO IT'S OVER THERE...."

Checkers: "Last time we were done jumping here and then I cantered down the long side and did a circle. I've got this! LA LA LA I am ignoring you because you obviously don't know what we're supposed to do!"

Me: "Checkers, I'm serious!"

Checkers : "OK." (grudgingly jumps, then tries to veer over to the wall and back to her master plan - I barely keep her on a decent line for the second part of the related distance)


Instuctor is bent over laughing by this point, because she knows what's going on and Checkers is now MAD that we are "doing it wrong".

Seriously though, this horse is worth her weight in gold for a lesson barn. I suspect I could have a super easy lesson if I chose to and could just sit up there and let her do everything for me - for sure the flatwork, but I suspect she can also memorize a course after one go - it's amazing how wise the older horses are. It's super neat to ride a horse who is the exact opposite of Ginger in every way. Frustrating, because I miss my cooperative, light, and athletic girl, but neat. I feel like I micromanage Ginger because she is so unconfident - babysitting her constantly is the trap I let myself get sucked into, which really is only going to perpetuate the problem. So, a horse like Checkers, who has her own agenda, is good because even if I want to be a control freak, she's not always going to let me and I have to trust her to do the right thing. This riding thing is supposed to be a partnership, after all.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Book Review - Real Life Dressage: Training From Novice to Grand Prix



The book is great - straightforward, encouraging, and very insightful.

I love that the overriding theme here is that each horse is an individual and there is no rush - no one training system is going to suit every horse and not every horse is going to progress on a schedule. As the title indicates, this is a book about 'real life dressage' with lots of tips and exercises any rider can use with any horse. This book starts with an overview of each horse Carl is riding, discussing their age, breeding, conformation, and strengths and weaknesses. The following chapters progress through the training levels and use horses from the first chapter that he is training at that level as examples. This book is more interesting than most because the horses are all quite different types, with a few not really being what you'd typically expect to be successful dressage horses. A lot of time is spent discussing techniques that work or don't work for each, but nothing is ever black and white, right or wrong, more like 'this worked for me with this horse, try it if you think it might help you'. I really appreciated the numerous insights into training hot or tense horses. I also quite enjoyed how each horse is encouraged to have their personality shine through.

This is certainly not one of those cookie cutter type books that tell you to teach your horse to do x a certain way before progressing to y - his approach is much more fluid and forgiving than that. I really like that the welfare of the horse is very front and centre in this book. It seems like every other page has a reminder that your horse needs to be fit in order build up the ability to do the exercises over time - even 'novice' things like stretching or canter work need to be worked up to gradually in order to keep your horse sound and confident. There are also lots of suggestions for getting your horse fit and keeping them interested and happy - everything from plenty of turnout and time off to hacking to conditioning work like eventers use. His advice to do lots of slow hacks with the hotter horses to encourage relaxation and lots of galloping and forward work with the naturally lazier, slower ones to get them more enthusiastic is great.

There is a LOT of technical information in this book, but it's worded quite simply and the numerous photos make it easy to understand. The riding in the photos is obviously amazing and definitely something to aspire to. I'll definitely be returning to this one in the future.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Saturday Barn Day

I spend all week working in a cube in a downtown high rise in a large-ish city. I catch a bus, then a train to get to and from work since parking is at a premium. My view out the window is of the brick wall of an adjacent building. Not exactly what people envision when I say I work for Alberta Parks. My friends are more apt to picture me doing horseback patrols in the mountains. I can't fool anyone into thinking the city life is for me, least of all myself.

To say I miss the farm life and look forward to getting out to the barn would be an understatement. (We won't even talk about how much I miss G and Ginger and our life at home or I'll get all sad and depressing on you) I'm finding riding time means way more to me than it has in a very long time - a very good thing since I came pretty darn close to being burnt out forever with all the drama of last winter and I have no idea what I would do long term to fill the big hole left in a life without horses.

So, in my "Saturday Barn Day" excited and happy frame of mind OF COURSE I had a fun lesson.
We did about a half hour of no stirrups, and I was too happy to be riding to even care that Instructor Lady was on a mission to make us work. (Besides, Checkers has the bounciest trot ever so it almost feels like I'm cheating part of the time - it's harder to sit that big trot nicely than post it/two point without stirrups)
Terrible pic of us both, but the only one I got today. Also, it would appear my helmet is now too large with my shorter haircut but no matter, I am HAPPY even if Checkers is not lol

I was happy to see we had a new jump course set up and I even managed to remember the course and plan my turns well in advance. Opposite to my previous lesson, I had a little trouble keeping Checkers active enough so we were getting a bit stuck at the base of the jump now and then, and of course since she is so honest that means a huge jump to get us out of the mess I got us into. Not pretty, but we got it done without any getting left behind too badly by yours truly. Second round was much better - Checkers woke up and I had a better idea of the pace we needed and was ready for the extra exuberant jump over the 'scary' mini oxer, so it was smoother. I still trot into the fences if I'm feeling like I need more time to get myself organized, but am managing to canter a lot of it in a somewhat respectable manner. Checkers is a pro and she gets her leads every time which is awesome. The fences seemed a little bigger today as well - no cross rails at least! Nothing compared to what the 'cool' people do though, the jumps are between my knees and my hips and since I'm like 5'2" that means they're tiny. I'm excited because this was the first lesson where I felt like I was really starting to ride the jumping part of the lesson rather than faking it and letting Checkers look after me. Last time I felt confident over jumps was in some clinics with Lainey 3 or 4 years ago. This is FUN!

Still no word from Welsh Cob lady - I don't want to nag her, so I'm going to super impatiently wait for her call and check my emails hourly.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Spring!? Where?

Sometimes being an adult kind of sucks. We're under snow warnings right now while G is at home in BC contemplating mowing the lawn. I want to pack my bags and head home (Not to mow the lawn though, I'm thinking more go ride Ginger on the beach and then hang out on the deck with a daquiri and watch G mow the lawn. I'd maybe even be useful and put a couple of beers in the fridge for G)

This is in G's neck of the woods this week. Hope you're not planning on swimming!
(Killer whales are hunting porpoises super close to shore)
Long story short, I didn't ride tonight. The weather forecast made me nervous for the drive home from the barn. Also, this working for a living thing involved being in meetings all day. I am an insomniac, and I can tell you right now there is money to be made by recording certain business meetings and selling those recordings as a sleep aid :)

We did discuss a bit of this at our meeting. Parks + horses has my vote as a very good thing.
Also since I am working for parks, a weekend riding in the Rockies is on this summer's bucket list. Can I pretend it's work related? So much better than swimming in orca infested oceans, right G? :)


Next lesson is Saturday. Welsh Cob breeder had to cancel last weekend, so I'm hoping she'll be up for a visit this coming weekend. The tack store is having a sale on Saturday as well. I'm currently HATING my Mountain Horse field boots. So, so pretty when I was using them as my 'good' boots. I am sad to say that the love affair has come to an end. They are incredibly, uncomfortably, unwilling to break in as everyday riding/barn boots. I keep thinking just one more ride and they'll break in and be awesome like my old pair, but no, they just make bigger blisters and make me walk like a robot since the ankle will not move and they come up about an inch behind the backs of my knees and WILL NOT DROP. I'm going to do the sane thing and buy some half chaps to ride in for now so my body heal from the damage done from walking the whole 100' or so from the barn to my truck the other night in those stupid boots.







Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Baby Ginger

I recently got in touch with Ginger's breeder and she sent me these pictures of the ever so cute Ginger as a foal.






Hey G, I think I want a baby!
........welsh cob :)






For the curious, the breeders web site is www.sugarlaneponies.com
It looks like they've scaled back in recent years. I bought Ginger from Carrick Farm so never got to meet any of the lovely Sec D's they used to breed at Sugarlane, although I do recognize some of the names from other welsh sites. I wish I had done a little more research sooner, the farm is actually located just outside of Vancouver, so we're in the area quite often. Too funny that in all of Ginger's travelling she's ended up living fairly close to where she was born.










Saturday, 15 March 2014

Lesson Recap #3: Banishing the T-Rex



Checkers is shedding and saying spring is due, already!
My lesson was fine. I'm getting more and more comfortable riding a big horse again and that big stride is starting to feel like the norm rather than "Whoa, how did we get here quite so quickly?!"

We did a whole lot of two point at the walk and trot, and a bunch of sitting trot and circles/serpentines to warm up. Only a little bit of canter work to warm up since we go one at a time for that - the indoor is only so big with 3-4 of us in there plus the jumps. As mentioned Checkers has a huge stride so it's a relief to just take a turn and not to have to continously navigate around the other horses. No points for originality at this barn though - it was the exact same lesson as Wednesdays, including the jump course. Since Wednesday night's lesson wasn't my finest hour I was OK with getting a second chance.

I was happier with my riding. I do feel like I'm getting more and more confident and that's the key to everything, really. I know there is a capable and decent rider inside me but it's been a little hard to find her of late! I'm already at the point where mentally I'm starting to feel pretty darn good about things (thank you, Checkers!) - now it's a matter of making my body believe it and forget being quite so tense when things don't go exactly to plan.

Takeaways from the last couple of lessons - like many, when I feel overfaced/tense up I drop my hands and my heels creep up. Both are really easy for me to see and feel that I'm doing, because it does actually feel awkward to ride like that and puts me in a weaker position. So, my hands have turned into a visual reminder for me to relax. And yes, I can remind myself I need to relax and it works lol - I envision what I must look like with little T-Rex arms clamped uselessly to my sides:

T-Rex, sorry, but you have no place in riding either
Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Book Review: The Faraway Horses

Since I have time on my hands these days to read, I thought I might reinstate some horsey book reviews to this blog. So, last night, I went to Amazon and did a search for 'horse' in the Kindle section and sorted them according to rating. The first book on the list that seemed to suit my mood was "The Faraway Horses" by Buck Brannaman.


I really liked the movie "Buck", and am not adverse to reading training type books, so I really wanted to like this particular book. I read it in one evening, but somehow, I left a little disappointed. The writing isn't going to win any prizes, but I liked that it "sounded' exactly like what you'd expect a quiet, no nonsense cowboy type to say. I hated the editing of the book though - in a roundabout way you'd end up back where you started, but not without more a few diversions along the way. It's more like you're sitting around a campfire listening to someone tell a lot of stories rather than one continous biography. Maybe I needed to have a couple of beers to get in the mood for some storytelling rather than expecting a novel :)

There's also an intangible 'something' in this book that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Full disclosure - we have more than a little common ground in the way we grew up so I could just be recognizing things in myself I don't like or would rather not think about. I liked who he was in the movie - in the book, not so much. The man is obviously very talented, accomplished, and genuine, so I'll just leave it at that.

As far as actual horsey content, it's there - lots of training and handling tips albeit on a pretty basic level. That being said, I have a feeling this is a person who is able to easily break even complicated things down to their most basic and simple and most of the tips that seem simple get a lot more difficult once you try to apply them both in and out of the saddle.

Overall, I think I would have been happier picking up a training book rather than a biography. I have several friends that loved this book, but it wasn't my favorite, at least at this point in my life.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Impossible is Possible

After a long warm up, tonight's lesson featured some more experienced riders and a slightly trickier course. We're still only talking 2' or so, but with a bounce, a two stride, and lots of bending lines. Checkers was feeling really good about life and kept it interesting for me! I won't blame her, though - after the very first over exuberant jump, and another approaching much too quickly for my liking, I pretty much went into panic mode and forgot anything I ever thought I knew about riding- and the course! Of course Checkers was thinking fetal position with clamping legs and droopy reins meant GO, and our first round was pretty embarrassing, even for me. We did it, but it wasn't pretty. Poor Checkers.

I had time to stew on that for a bit while the other riders took their turns. I was torn between being nervous, between telling myself I'll never be a good rider, and hating myself for both of those feelings. Fun times! Luckily, hating myself for being so ridiculous won out and I went out determined to make the second go a good one, if only to redeem some of Checkers' pride. So, we had a nice round. At this point, I won't win any prizes for style, but it felt smooth (and safe) and unlike the first round, I never once felt like we weren't on the same page and couldn't get it done.

I'm already feeling slightly torn about the instruction at this particular barn. The instructor spent the majority of the lesson talking to her friends, and sucking up to the one really experienced girl in the lesson (planning show schedules, etc). For now, I'm actually OK with it because 1. I really like Checkers and 2. At this point, I just need to get out there and ride and get some experience jumping.

I think with more 'intense' lessons, especially if I'm already feeling a little overwhelmed, the constant feedback can get me really burnt out and discouraged - I see it as a running commentary on all the things I'm doing wrong rather than being excited about improving those things. This particular instructor gives you a task ie a course of jumps and only steps in with major corrections if you're really having trouble or something unsafe is happening. Otherwise she's just super positive and encouraging. For now, I think that will work for me.

So, although tonight was a bit of a mixed bag and I could beat myself up like crazy for panicking and freezing up, I'm choosing to be proud of myself for getting past the initial nervousness and finishing on a good note, particularly when Ms Checkers wasn't quite as easy as the last time out.

Next lesson - Saturday. And, more importantly, visit to the Welsh breeder on Sunday. It's going to be a great weekend :)

This boy lives there - can't wait to meet him!
www.stonecountryfarm.com

Saturday, 8 March 2014

In Which I Get My Butt Kicked By 6 Year Olds

As the title above states, I had a super fun lesson, but those kids are freaky good!

First off, I'll introduce you to Checkers The Wonder Horse:

Checkers says hi. Sorry for the terrible photos. Chestnut TB mares have more important things (like world domination) on their minds than posing for photos.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I rolled into the barn for my first lesson this afternoon. The barn and the grounds look well cared for, but a little run down. After accidently mistaking the boarding barn for the lesson barn and meeting a couple of rude people, I wasn't thinking anyone was overly friendly. After seeing the general state of chaos that was the lesson barn, I was feeling distinctly uneasy. Luckily, things turned around from there. Everyone there made me feel completely at home, especially the little 6 year old girl who very seriously made sure that I had everything I needed and didn't need any help. She was also quick to inform me that Checkers is the nicest lesson horse. Too cute. She then proceeded to outride everyone, on what appeared to be a not so easy pony. Crazy, I tell you.

As for the actual lesson, we started with about 20 minutes of flatwork. I found the dressage-y bits (leg yield, 10m circles, serpentines) pretty straightforward and easy. Checkers is older and pretty front heavy - not so light and bendy, so she's a lot of work to keep up through her shoulders and bending properly and not rushing. I was seriously wishing for Ginger or even Lainey and mentally hating on poor Checkers just a little. We did lots of sitting trot, dropping stirrups, two point, all that hard work sort of stuff. I was huffing and puffing, but the kids were ready to try it bareback, no word of a lie.  I'm slightly confused about some of it, being a newbie to the whole hunter thing. The instructor kept asking me to bend forward from my hips which is opposite to the whole dressage get-your-butt-in-the-saddle and sit UP and ride thing I'm used to being nagged for. Also, I suspect I should have just let my horse cruise around on a looser rein, more western style. It's interesting.


Finally we took turns jumping a small course. I opted to trot most of it, being a nervous newbie. This is where Checkers gained her wonder horse status for me. I've never been so lucky to ride a completely honest horse that knows the job and takes care of her rider. You literally just line her up with the jump, ask for more or less forward, and she takes care of the rest. Amazing. (It's not a bad reflection on any of my other horses, just that they were either hot or inexperienced (or both) and needed more babysitting, I think. I got the idea that jumping is very hard work and possibly a bit beyond me. Checkers quickly showed me differently.) I got into the idea of cantering the last bit of the course, then took a break and got to try it again, with a little combination and slightly higher fences. I was grinning ear to ear when I pulled her up, and loved on her a whole lot while I cooled her out. I'm seriously hooked.
She's so cool that the sun shines out her head.

 Welsh Cob breeder is super busy this weekend, so I'm going for a visit next weekend. G went and visited Ginger yesterday and sent me some pics of her looking all happy, which was such a nice surprise. I seriously love them both :)

Meanwhile, Checkers and I have another date this Wednesday night.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

All Signed Up!

Today, I figured out how to get my commute to work down to an hour, didn't make a fool of myself while at work, AND I found the grocery store on the way home. Yay me! Also, more importantly,  I'm scheduled for a riding lesson this Saturday!

I've signed up to take a couple of lessons a week at a hunter/jumper barn. Trust me, I was super tempted to look into some of the absolutely amazing dressage barns around here, but I feel like my formal experience over fences is really lacking. ( Truly, I haven't quite given up the dream of being all awesome like CobJockey and eventing Ms Gingersnap). Also, Spruce Meadows isn't that far away from here.... (ha ha). In reality, rather than planning my grand entrance in the international ring, the conversation went more like this:

Instructor Lady: "What sort of experience do you have?"
Me: "I'd guess I'm a solid intermediate rider on the flat, but I'm pretty novice when it comes to jumping"
Instructor Lady: " Do you mind riding with kids?"

I'm a giant kid anyway, so I'm not deterred in the slightest. There really aren't any instructors local to me on the coast with any sort of credentials to teach jumping, so this is my big opportunity to get some legit instruction on a regular basis. I'm also hoping jumping lessons will get me out of my dressage-trail rider comfort zone and help me to accumulate a healthy serving of riding courage.

Also...I may or may not have found a Welsh Cob breeder about a half hour from my home. Is a visit in order? Oh yes, I think so! (G - better lock down that bank account while you still can! :)

Updates (with pictures!) this weekend, I promise.







Still Here!

Leaving G and Ginger again so soon was/is way more sad and stressful than even I anticipated. I phoned G the other night and told him I am never ever leaving home again! (OK, maybe for vacations or horse shows and things but that's IT!:)

The new job is all important and stressful, finding my way around a new city is stressful, and the super cold snap I came here to kinda sucks too. You know what all that means, right? HORSES. I need them ASAP to maintain my sanity! So, turns out my stress levels are good news for you, horsey blog readers. I have my short list of lesson barns picked out and hope to make some visits this coming weekend. Horse time can't come soon enough!