Sunday, 30 September 2018

Trail Challenge

Brain installation continued successfully this weekend. Sophie surprised me again by being an absolute star at our informal trail challenge.

I took her a little early so I could put her in the round pen to burn off steam, just in case all the obstacles plus the busy arena was a little overwhelming. That was totally unnecessary - she was definitely aware of all her potential new friends and admirers, but the initial energy she was giving off was that she was just curious and excited to see everything rather than scared or overwhelmed.

"They are making weird noises over there, let's go check it out already!"

And so, she marched right up to every single obstacle. My expectations were very low so I didn't really actively ask her for much, I just let her take her time and investigate thoroughly, then proceed at her own pace. Some things she marched right through without much of a look - the assorted poles, the bridge, some hula hoops on the ground.
"Let's go see the tarp thing!"

Other things needed a couple of minutes to process - the car wash tarp, the pool noodle gate. Her least favorite was a pit filled with empty plastic milk jugs. She was quite happy to dig around with her nose and push them out of the way, but really reluctant to step on them fully and it took a little bit before she was ok with walking through and squishing them.

"I am so good at this"

Her very favorite? A toss up between a punching bag type thing and a giant ball - she was killing me by pushing on the punching bag dude and then jumping when it swung back at her. Over and over. And over. LOL. I think this is a toy she needs in her paddock. The ball as well, she was right into pushing it around and chasing it.

I don't know if I can adequately describe how much I enjoyed her attitude today. So curious and brave! If she scared herself she basically spooked in place then wanted to see the scary thing again right away. She handled all the other horses and noises really well and I was very proud that mentally she stayed really tuned into me, especially given her age/greenness and all the crazy distractions. For the second day in a row, she was super polite on the ground and brought zero sass or drama to the table.
Patiently watching the other horses go.

I can honestly say if she was going under saddle I would have had no anxiety about tacking her up and trying the whole course mounted, she was being that brave and sensible.

Someone there commented "T, you always have the quiet, well behaved babies." Again, I was like "The Rotten Banana? We're comparing her favorably to Bridget's sensible self right now?!" I don't think anyone there believed me that she can be a bit of a wild child.
At home enjoying some well deserved treats. She likes apples now!

So, I felt a little like a fake given Sophie 's usual level of drama, but hey, I'll take the compliments she recieved as they were intended in the moment and cross my fingers hard that maybe all the hours of enforcing the rules and taking her places the past few months are starting to pay off :)

This metal recycling dude has been helping to make my horses bombproof since forever. He's NOT horse savvy, so can often be found throwing large metal things into bins or smashing things with his forklift as we go past. He's very nice and I actually don't mind the noise and clutter - it's good training for the horses :)

Friday, 28 September 2018

Growing Up?

Being away last weekend meant Sophie hadn't been out for a couple of weeks. I was expecting a bit of a monster to take out on our walk today, and I was fine with that.

This brain install is a little buggy.

So, I was surprised when she walked politely and perfectly beside me all the way down to the exhibition grounds. Normally she's good for at least one big spook/scoot and some reminding of personal space and not dragging her handler.

Living in her own condo, like a grownup.

She's been separated from Bridget for about a week now, and part of me wonders if she's feeling a little less secure in herself and a little more interested in being besties with whoever will pay attention to her, horse or human :).

I stuck her in the round pen at the main arena and she surprised me by somehow becoming a pony genius since last time and knowing my verbal cues for walk/trot/canter/change direction. I've maybe stuck her in there 3 or 4 times total, and being conscious of baby pony legs, I never "work" her or demand much so it's a bit of a pleasant surprise she's picked it up so easily. 

Trotting around like a grownup.
Still downhill like a baby, tho
I bumped into some friends before we left. I hadn't seen them for a while, so the next thing you know an hour had flown by while we chatted. Pony stood and waited, and then quietly grazed on the end of her lead, just like a patient, well behaved pony, receiving many compliments on her manners. Who is this pony?!

"I am a very good girl, yes?"

Our hour long chat resulted in a grand scheme to set up the ultimate trail course. We put together a bunch of fun and spooky obstacles right there, and using the power of social media, we're now hosting an impromptu extreme trail challenge tomorrow at noon! 
Sneak preview of part of it. We're adding inflatable creatures, a water sprinkler, and lots of balloons tomorrow :)

I'll take Sophie down and lead her through, and if time permits I'll bring Bridget later. I think it's going to be a super valuable experience for Sophie. Bridget will probably be bored, lol.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Rainy Day Reading - Dressage Edition

I unearthed not one, but two boxes of riding related books while I was in the basement looking for my extra bottle of saddle soap. I thought they were in storage, so thanks, previous me, for putting those boxes in the basement instead!

With Sophie in mind I did a quick re-read of one of my favorites - Basic Training of The Young Horse with Ingrid and Reiner Klimke. I've reviewed it before, I still love it. If you've got a young horse, you might find it useful. Lots of great common sense insights and lots of tips to help you from handling a foal all the way to riding at their first show.

Next up, one I don't remember reading previously: Elements of Dressage by Kurd Albrecht Van Ziegner. This book ties in really nicely with the Klimke books, and is equally jam packed with useful tidbits.

The book is organized with an introduction, and a description of his training process, which differs a little from the training pyramid you usually see used as an example. There is a chapter dedicated to each of the 10 elements of his training tree:

Similar to the standard pyramid you're probably seen before, but with the order a little different and some of the components broken down into 2 distinct elements to emphasize them more. 

The ten elements make the base or trunk of the tree, and all horses, regardless of discipline, should have a good base. The crown of the tree is the special, discipline specific training.

Notes:

- Start under saddle around 4, first two years under lunge and saddle are basic training. Which, yes, isn't surprising. But, just like the Klimke books, the author goes on to say he'd expect the horse to be going Second level, and confident over all sorts of jumps and terrain (ditches, water), hacking on the trails and in traffic. This is a horse with basic training and at this point should be enjoyable to ride. I'm pretty sure the European definition of basic training differs hugely from what we expect locally :)

- Basic training is basic training...It's not new school, old school, there are no shortcuts. The basics haven't changed since Xenophon.

"Keep your horse happy. Happy horses don't get tense."

"Take your time. Relaxation does not equal fatigue."

-Advocates caveletti and free jumping to help horses learn to use their bodies (emphasis on using their backs to promote relaxation, regularity of gaits, and strength)

-Short rides, forward seat for the first few months. Again, looking to build strong, correct back muscles and relaxation before sitting in classical position.

-Purity of rhythm depends a great deal on riders seat, aids, feel. Riders who cannot follow or feel the motion or deviation in rhythm or tempo best spend time improving their seat on a well trained horse.

-People who are not musical may not hear the difference in footfalls, but they should see it/feel it. Canter beat sounds like "It is fun"

-A lot of discussion throughout the book about 'leg movers' vs 'back movers'. Makes a point quite often that back movers are the correctly trained ones, leg movers should be penalized and have been trained incorrectly.

-Talks a lot about Prix St James test, proposed to be first part of a PSG test (essentially, you would ride them both back to back and get one score.) "Here, the goal is to show that no "tricks" lead to FEI, only solid basic training, whose fundamental elements of submission, throughness and impulsion are highly valued."

Overall, this was an interesting book and well worth reading. I'm glad I picked it up!

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Changes


I've been away for a nice getaway in the Okanagan. I don't even like wine (I know, that's crazy talk and you just lost even more respect for me) but we had a great time and spent a couple of days wine touring and just generally enjoying a lack of real world responsibilities.

Mission Hill was pretty spectacular, but my favorites to visit were the smaller wineries.
Sadly, even in the middle of our getaway, I was getting barn drama texts. It might have actually been a good thing, because I finally realized enough is enough and I can't manage everything all the time. I've made arrangements to move Sophie elsewhere. Exact date is pending, but it will probably be soon. Bridget is beating up on her a little, and the barn owner isn't too keen on Sophie having her own paddock. While I really enjoy having her at the same barn as Bridget, and having so many amenities nearby, the recent move to small winter paddocks isn't working well for Ms Sophie or the barn owner, who I'm pretty sure would love to not have Sophie being generally rambunctious and destructive! I'm also not a fan of being THAT boarder with THAT horse, so I think everyone will be happier.

Look! I even have pictures of the fields at the 'new' barn, because Ginger and Bridget were both boarded there at one point!
I'm thinking they lived there way back  in 2012- 2015, before I moved them to the lower coast where my work is.

     

Sophie is a good girl, she's just very babyish still. She's got a lot of energy and is easily bored, so I think she'll enjoy hanging out in a big pasture with friends to play with this winter. The new place is full board, which is money I don't want to spend, but honestly, with the days already getting shorter, one less paddock to muck and horse to feed and exercise will make my days a lot easier! The new place is pretty short on amenities like riding arenas and round pens, so I'm a bit sad that this move will put a temporary end to taking her out on the trails with Bridget or playing in the arena. However, the care is top notch, and Sophie is only 2.5 and knows all the baby horse basics - a winter off to grow up with lots of pasture and room to run might even do her some good.

Ginger hanging out at the barn, back in the day :)

They both got very round on all that pasture, which is why Bridget will not be making the move with Sophie, lol

Hopefully, I'll be back with proper riding adventure and lesson updates next week. The past couple of weeks have been super busy and while I loved having a mini vacation, I'm really looking forward to settling back into a routine of some sort and getting Sophie moved to her new all inclusive resort.

Hope they're ready for this amount of baby pony trouble :)


Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Horse You Bought


Thank you to Cathryn at Two and a Half Horses for more blogging inspiration!

This blog hop came along with pretty great timing, because facebook reminded me this morning that it's been 4 years since we brought Bridget home!

The horse I bought was not the horse I wanted to buy.

My wish list:

- 15 -16-ish hand been there done that, capable of jumping 2'6ish course and packing me around safely. Solid on trails. Solid basic flatwork. Nice enough for regional showing jumping/eventing, but doesn't have to win. Safe enough for G to handle on his own if needed. Could be older, provided no major vet issues.

What I bought:

A Bridget!

Turns out, what I really just wanted was SAFE. I was visiting Ginger's breeder to look at another horse, and ended up hopping on too young/too small/not trained Bridget, and liking her, even though the steering was non existent, she didn't wear a bridle, and trot was her fastest gear. When I found out she'd only had a few rides before I trail rode her all over the country side I was even more impressed with what a great mind she has.

Sept 2014. She was not a fan of contact or forward. Still isn't TBH, but it's pretty solid now.
I actually still didn't commit for a couple of months, because a super green pony was definitely not on my wish list, but I eventually ended up buying her, with the thought that worst case I could put a ton of trail miles on her and gain confidence for us both, and always resell once I found the 'right' horse. But, here we are 4 years later!

Navigating poles for the first time, fall 2014
First flat clinic, winter 2015

First xc clinic, spring 2016


There have been many great adventures along the way. Who would of thought that lazy pony would turn into my original wish list horse and then some? (albeit at 14hh a little shorter than planned!)
First event, 2016

Dressage show, 2017

XC camp, 2017

Lesson learned - the right temperament is far more important than training, at least for me.

Chillin' at the lake, summer 2018

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Fall Fair Adventure

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before that my hack to the arena can be anything but straightforward. There's a whole lot to see over a fairly short distance.

I've maybe also mentioned that the arena I frequent is part of a regional equestrian park. Membership is cheap, and there's a small show facility, a huge outdoor arena, plus a 20x40 indoor shared with the local therapeutic riding group.

Riding in the outdoor. $50 annual membership is a steal of a deal. They even have nice jumps to use.

Back in the day, the remaining half of the acreage was used by the local agricultural association. There were some barns on site, some fields, a community garden. In other words, a good fit with the equestrian half of the property.

About 10 or so years ago, it was decided to hold a weekly farmers market on the site in summer. Again, a pretty fantastic and complimentary use of the amenities.

That farmers market has grown hugely, which brings us to this weekend's, I hope successful, Fall Fair that closes out the season. The local horse club was encouraging everyone to bring their horses to the equestrian side of the property as part of a sort of open house. As the owner of a pony who loves children and scratches, I thought nothing of popping on Bridget and taking her the 15 minutes or so down the road.

Normally, our ride down the road looks like this. Yesterday, this was all angle parking, with cars parallel parked on the other side of the road, for about a km!

Until I realized the farmers market and fall fair has drastically grown since the last time I paid attention! Apparently the parking was inadequate. It can get a bit busy on the road on a normal weekend, but there were cars parked on both sides of the road most of the way to where I board. Those cars were full of screaming children, barking dogs, and adults who apparently don't use their mirrors. Oh yeah, and a van with a wheelchair lift the owner thought nothing of using just as Bridget walked by. Let's not talk about the people who thought honking their horns or passing with inches to spare was appropriate.

We got closer, and apparently they hired a rock band? A super loud rock band, playing AC/DC of all things! Not what I picture when I think farmers market, but hey, whatever works!

Oh, and guess what else they had? TRAINS! STEAM TRAINS!With whistles! Right next to the road. Again, when I think agriculture, I think train rides, don't you? And food trucks, because obviously pad Thai, sushi and tacos are farmed locally.

Although, it would be cool to grow a taco tree ;)

Eventually, we made it to safety and rode into the equestrian club grounds, and...nada. Ghost town. No trailers, no horses. Where are all the horses that were coming? Finally, I see a friend way off in the corner of the outdoor stabling. And her horses don't look happy. The closer I get, the more I can hear why. The neighbouring band is LOUD. Like, can't hear yourself talk loud.  Serious props to her for showing up and sticking it out.

I ventured back to the arena and put in a normal flat work ride, made more fun by the band getting ever louder playing 70s and 80s hard rock. I think at 2am on a Saturday pub night they might have sounded not too bad!
I'm not sure, but it sounded like a few people there had a morning rum or ten

 Bridget attracted quite a large crowd of children. Apparently the club had advertised a horse show? LOL, B was the only horse there, but I guess kids don't care, a pony is a pony and one is better than none.
Throwback to when I leant her out for vaulting. She loves kids :)

So, I'm left wondering, did everyone else bail when they saw how crazy the place was? Or did they just not show up at all?

Also, B is the best pony. Rock bands? Loose dogs? Herds of screaming children? TRAINS? Navigating a narrow road full of irate people trying to parallel park? Not the country petting zoo experience I promised her, but she didn't seem to mind.

By the time we headed home and the ambulance with sirens and lights came up behind us, I was pretty much just laughing...seriously how much more ridiculous could it get? I feel like Bridget was pretty much rolling her eyes by that point too, like whatever, stupid ambulance, your siren is very rude.

How far we've strayed from the original small farm market and agricultural club! Also, it's pretty surprising how many people out there are truly clueless about horses, particularly as you'd think farm markets and fall fairs would attract people who are possibly more outdoorsy/farm friendly and they were definitely still breaking pretty much all the common sense rules.

Oh well, I actually think Bridget had fun! It's not too often she gets out to an afternoon rock concert, I guess ;) Still, I think we'll be giving it a hard pass next year, lol.





Thursday, 13 September 2018

Table Manners



Ridget is unimpressed with this development
We've gone straight from fire season to winter rain, so the ponies are already off pasture and in their sacrifice paddock. Neither are pleased with this development. I think the banana pony might be losing teeth, since she's gnawing on anything and everything right now. In an effort to limit the damage and appease the barn owner, we reintroduced hay nets in hopes of keeping her busy longer. Sophie thought that was just great, Bridget was PISSED and thought it was completely unfair.

Sophie: "Oh, this looks lovely. Thank you."
Bridget.


Lol at B taking her frustrations out on the hay net, while Sophie reaps the rewards


Poor B. It's a struggle. Also, it's mud season again, so you probably wont see a clean palomino pony until next spring.





Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Just Dressage

Another Monday night, another Best Lesson Ever.


We continued on with the travers to shoulder in to travers exercise of last week. Having done a little studying in the meantime, I felt a lot more confident and less confused about where to put Audrey's feet. It's really not complicated at all...to recap, the horse maintains the same slight "C" shape bend in both, you just move the front end or back end to the inside track depending on which you're doing. My brain does not do well with left/right directions somehow, so lateral work tends to happen by feel rather than step by step thought processes, which makes for poorly written blog recaps!


- Tip I found useful for both: ask for the same amount of bend and energy and hind leg activity you'd ask for on a good 10m circle.

An added complication: EC told me to grab "bigger" spurs before I got on. "Longer and pointier but not TOO long and pointy" I think were her exact words, lol. I grabbed the "TOO long and pointy" ones, obviously, because they all seemed long and pointy to me, so I was feeling pretty aware of my leg. As was Audrey, lol.

On a related note, she went from sleepy when I got on to pretty darn lively as the ride progressed :)

Bridget being lively this summer, and now helping break my wall of text.
But it was really, really good. Audrey was happy to show off her moves and add some extra flair to a pretty boring exercise (for her, lol) The trot was getting pretty darn passage-y feeling, and that added stepping under and elevation makes it pretty easy to move her body around. So fun!

The canter got a little "western" when I accidentally goosed her with my outside leg when she started to drift. It's frustrating, I know better, and yet at least once a ride I fail to use my inside seatbone and outside rein effectively, panic when I lose her, and go straight to yelling with outside leg. One day I'll learn for real!

We finished up with nice canter work in both directions, alternating having her move out a little, then bringing it back to shoulder in or travers and putting it on the same 10m circle exercise as the trot work. The canter was rougher for me geometry wise, and I had so much horse it was a bit of a novelty for me, but I felt like we got there and ended at a good place.

Given my concerns with the spurs and Audrey being so ramped up, I was glad we didn't push me by experimenting more with flying changes tonight. Surviving one mini rodeo and fixing it was probably a wise place to leave things for me, lol.


So, even with some challenges, it was Best Lesson Ever because the energy and amount of forward she brought to the table was incredible - a feel like nothing I've ever experienced. There were a couple of times I rewarded her by asking her to move out of lateral work to a straight line and the power on tap there was pretty exhilarating! Like an airplane taking off.

Which brings me to yet more pondering. People at our barn are often like "Oh, I don't jump/event/barrel race/whatever. I just do dressage." Like it's the lesser, safer thing to do.

I'm just going to put it out there: If the amount of athleticism, energy, forward and power required to do upper level dressage well is anything like what I've been experiencing on Audrey - holy crap, "just dressage" riders have some serious guts. There's a fine line between brilliance and crazy in some of those horses, I bet.  It's incomparable to anything else I've ever done, and at least for me, a bigger adrenaline rush. I wish I was a better writer so I could give you some sort of apt comparison to sports cars, coiled springs, airplanes, bounce grids, whatever. But I've got nothing. Just some advice:

If you ever get the opportunity to ride an upper level horse, try it.

I'm pretty sure I'm now well and truly addicted to dressage. Not exactly where I thought my life's equestrian adventures would take me way back when, but here we are :)

Actual picture of us post lesson ;)





Monday, 10 September 2018

Even More Musing

Because apparently the poo picking pondering never ends.

- I hate screaming baby ponies. I have no idea why I didn't do this sooner, but I gave Sophie a hay net when I took Bridget away this weekend. Not a peep was made, problem solved. Such a simple solution. She is a pony after all, so of course food is more important than your best friend possibly dying and never returning  leaving for a ride ;)

"Oh hi, that awful screeching wasn't me!  I was just happily standing here! Promise!"

- After months of drought, the rain has returned. 3 days in and I'm already over it and booking winter beach vacations.
The barn here is fine...but as you can see, this barn is pretty old school and most of the stalls don't have an in/out or a window. Currently, it's still pretty warm, so they're staying out. Even in winter, I tend to leave them out with a blanket as many nights as possible as I think they're happier.
B says "Leave me out, please!" Finishing her fall cleanup of this overgrown paddock is worth getting a little damp for.

-My old mare Josie used to be terrible about getting herd bound. She couldn't be trusted to not run through fences and/or injure herself. 20 years later, nothing has changed - poor girl has navicular and still gets so worked up if her paddock neighbour leaves that she basically cripples herself from the pacing. Shes being PTS very soon, and I find it strange/sad that in all these years she never learned to cope or figured out that her buddies always come back (or that there are other pony
neighbours to make friends with!).

- I was telling G about how a person drove thru a 4 way stop on my way home. "They just half halted and kept coming!" He didn't question my use of "half halt", so either he wasn't listening, or he knows what I meant. We might officially be an old married couple.

Also, I'm 99.9% sure we've inadvertently taught the cat to pose for pictures, which pretty much screams that we're childless/ spending too much time at home ;)

-The ponies were both handfuls this weekend, but I had very little anxiety over it. I feel like a huge part of conquering my nerves was not only having the knowledge to deal with situations, but having the physical riding skills. I wasn't good enough to always handle drama before, and I knew it. So, maybe less of a confidence problem and more of a actually-my-brain-is-being-pretty-smart-about-my-chances realism? Whatever the case, a good part of my drive to be better is knowing I have a Sophie pony to train who will likely be a challenge for my skill level. I do not want to go back to being nervous!

Rainy day adventures with B this past weekend. We had a couple of nice trail rides, and an excellent dressage school.

-WEG! Who is going? Who is planning to watch? What are you most excited for? I signed up for FEI TV and am pretty excited for the dressage and eventing. Even tho I have a love/hate relationship with anything over about prelim level eventing the equestrian world is small and I've got minor connections I want to cheer on. I'm hoping to watch the combined driving and show jumping too...plus some of the para dressage.


Saturday, 8 September 2018

Musings

AKA Things I Ponder As I Pick Poo

- I've been having some really fun rides on Bridget lately. She's forward, sharp off my leg, and she feels good mentally and physically. She feels like she wants to be my dressage pony. Except no, we've been down that road where I get all excited and I think our struggles are solved and B wants to do dressage for real. I'm promising us both to continue to keep it fun and light. I can still learn a lot on her without pushing things.

-Audrey has been teaching me a lot about riding. I wonder if Bridget is going so much better because I'm more effective and blocking her less with my body.

- On the topic of blocking: I'm not sure coaches emphasize enough how important it is to be "loose" in the saddle. I know my brain is always translating "shoulder back" to holding it there, or "use your core" as being solid/strong. I'm lucky in that my coach is more concerned with effectiveness and what works for your body and horse rather than her students looking like the traditional equitation picture, but I still was holding my body where I thought it should be. Audrey is teaching me that if I can't be perfect, being slightly too loose is better than holding tension anywhere in your body.
Bridget is getting a slight winter fuzz already!

- You really can make a better trail horse thru dressage. B mechanically has a good walk, so we never wanted to change that. What did drive me nuts was that if left to her own devices, her walk was more of a slow meandering path that was not getting us efficiently from point A to B. We worked hard on getting her moving out in the ring. I've been noticing since we moved home that if I let her move out at that same free moving, steady pace on the trail we're usually ending up way out in front of everyone rather than the meandering along behind that used to be the norm prior to EC's help. Riding with the same group of people again has made the difference super obvious. I like this confident pony who now goes places happily and with a purpose. It is such an improvement!
From last weekend. Nothing in front of us except a few wasp nests, lol

- B's dressage saddle...I really like it. I was kind of "meh" about it at first, but a few weeks ago my hip was bugging me so I lowered the stirrups a couple of holes. Total game changer...I feel like my leg can just hang and I'm not fighting anything. I'm finding myself getting on and kind of sinking in to the saddle and feeling pretty comfy! The seat is still a bit big for me and the flap too long, but I can live with that when the balance of the saddle puts me in the right spot and it feels so close to the horse. That being said, I'm not sure I'd like this saddle on the Audreys of the world - I do enjoy the security of the thigh blocks on hers!
Nothing fancy - it's a 10 year old Jeffries Elite in a wide tree. I'd highly recommend trying if you've got a cob shaped horse and are shopping on a budget- they're British made and IMO equivalent quality to County of the same vintage for about a quarter the price I think due to not bring repped or trendy here.