Friday, August 31, 2018

Celebrating the Wins

I know, the year is in no way close to over. But as the temperatures cool here in Manitoba and the leaves are beginning to turn yellow already, I kind of get all misty eyed on how far along my little turnip has come along. 
January cantering and loving my pony
In the moment-to-moment of it all, I tend to just see a horse that isn't completely 'broke' yet but one could argue definitely broken because of my lack of attention to detail (hello outside rein, where art thou?), but what evs, lol! In the bigger picture, sheesh! Has this horse ever made me so proud this year!!

Let's review!
At the beginning of this year, lessons started off strong but came screeching to a halt after her first buck with me at canter. Up until that point I thought my very green pony was pretty much perfect and this new development unnerved me. At this point in her greenie stage of training, she didn't really have a clue about rein contact and alternated between holding herself head high or rooting down. She also started out every ride very sticky and took encouragement to get going but would end up in a good rhythm after a few circles. Coach put on some rides at my request when the bucking started but I mostly just avoided the canter from that point on. #winningattraininghorses!

Our first jump back in January
The rest of winter was horrible weather wise, and I was kind of fine not riding. But then when we decided to sell the farm and Shiraz moved to a boarding farm, I dove back in with new enthusiasm. Shiraz was not so enthused -- she was quite unsettled at the new farm and things just snowballed into one very anxious, unhappy horse. Despite that, we survived a clinic with Ian Roberts and I saw a glimpse of my good pony again.

For a very clumsy pony, she sure rocked this scattered pole exercise
 Next up was moving my horse to a new barn and eventing derby success/failures. The jumping part was going well but dressage...not so much. Our first attempt at a judged dressage test resulted in not even getting in the ring due to Shiraz having a meltdown from sensory overload and a rider not exactly supporting her in any way.

But who needs dressage when your horse can do this, right? lol...JK, flat work matters, I guess. 
In June I moved my horse yet again and finally found a good fit for both of us. Unfortunately, my confidence was shot by then and just getting on and walking three steps was a challenge. And so I challenged myself to just do what I could. If it were three steps or 30 steps -- whatever was possible any given day. But I also knew improving Shiraz's confidence in the ring would take a confident rider making her do things so I called for help and got some trainer rides done. This was my magic feather apparently and following just a few training sessions, I was able to trust Shiraz a bit more. I knew I wasn't quite where I wanted to be though and sought the help of a respected coach/eventer, coach P, and had a life-changing ride with her!

Getting off when you are worried for your life is something I firmly believe in and had possibly taken far too much to heart as I was typically hopping off at the first sign of trouble lately. Coach P was the first to say to me, "no, you can't get off" and guided me through my horse's very long panic attack. She took me safely from thinking I was going to die, all the way to schooling Shiraz with authority all over the arena. It was the first true glimpse of the rider I used to be in probably years. I liked it.

And then WILLVILLE happened!!

I'm pretty sure I smiled the whole test.
I'm still flying high over Willville weekend and I may frame that first-place ribbon (out of a division of, ehem, one) because I didn't get an E!!! Whoot-whoot!!

I love this horse.
Coming up next is our local September derby which is not going to have a dressage phase, but will have stadium and xc. Ya, there is the bucking issue to deal with and tons of work on establishing that our new-found confidence is a real thing and grows ever stronger. Shiraz has had her teeth done, and is on treatment for ulcers. So far she is her exact same self which equals moody, spooky mare with emotions but at least a great heart (but a mighty buck).
Cheers to a great summer in the books and fingers crossed for all of you prepping for fall events!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Growing Pains

I typically love the days following a show weekend. Usually my horse seems happy to be home and feeling more relaxed and confident after a weekend expanding the bubble.

Shiraz got two days off and my first ride would be our Wednesday jump lesson. I was a bit hurried as the coach asked if I could start a half hour earlier than originally scheduled but I still took the time to lunge first which resulted in some pretty impressive bucks. There were a lot of people riding in the ring at the time so I felt horrible for disturbing the peace but quickly changed into her bridle and hopped on to join my coach and the other rider in my lesson.

The wild beast taking a nap before her next rampage.
Shiraz felt so tight as if she might buck even in the trot. I did not think much of it aside from feeling frustrated that we yet again were having trouble in a lesson. Over this summer I have learned that while one ride can be a total shit show, the next ride could be amazing and to just roll with it for now because she is green. We attempted to follow the exercises but this day Shiraz was having no part of it and I ended up needing to slow things down. I spoke for a while with my coach (who seemed pretty sure it was a pain issue) and decided to excuse myself from the lesson and work on relaxing Shiraz on my own so the other rider could move on to jumping.

I left that ride worrying that my horse had ulcers/painful teeth/ misaligned spine/or some bone disease affecting her hocks/hips (and most likely all of them at once) and her well-fit saddle probably needed replacing too.

Then I came out the next day armed with ulcer treatment, a flashlight to try and see her back teeth and a stool so I could reach all the spots to give her a complete massage. I took her out to ride first to watch for triggers to her behavior. Except there were none. She was a fucking saint.

The next two days I also came out to ride; one day they were working on a new fence using a circular saw to cut boards and randomly moving the tractor just through the trees which has been her trigger in the past for extreme spooking. The following day the hydro company parked the truck on the road right beside her 'scary corner' and was working in the ditch there. Shiraz was completely fine with it all.

So what is going on? When I look back on all my lessons with this coach, Shiraz has only been calm for one lesson. Of course she is going to think something must be wrong with her! When I ride on my own I can take my time, warm up slowly and adjust the plan as I go to help Shiraz be calm and comfortable. Lessons tend to be at a busier time at the barn so the atmosphere is different. I am less relaxed too which does not help. Then add in a faster warm up and Shiraz loses some marbles.

I am still treating for ulcers and teeth will be done next week (I had already planned on doing her teeth this fall regardless). But honestly I think Shiraz is just a sensitive young snowflake that is expressing her lack of confidence. When I slow things down she can be very relaxed and happy to play.

I don't want to avoid pressuring her; she needs to learn to put on some big-girl panties and deal just as I have. I just feel like I need to set her up for success by making sure the pressure is fair. So I have asked coach if I could be switched to a private flat lesson for the next little while so we can work on more simple exercises at a slower pace and build back up to jump lessons as we go.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


I tend to be pretty sucky about driving far for anything. I'm sure I get it from my dad. We grew up on a farm outside a small town a couple of hours' drive from Manitoba's largest city, Winnipeg. He would take us to the 'big city' only once a year because to him, two and a half hours was a very big deal. And now to me, ya, that's far.

The eventing derbies being held in Carroll, MB would be a three-hour drive so to me, hauling a horse all that way and being away from my family for three days was a HUGE deal. It felt a bit selfish to leave hubby and kidlets for that long to play with my pony but that was just mom guilt talking. I squished that thought and packed extra wine just in case mom guilt showed up over my weekend of pony time!

 Willville weekend was supposed to be a sanctioned event, but due to some difficulties it was down-graded to simply derbies. There would be dressage, stadium and xc with awards given at the end of each day. 
On Saturday shiraz was great right from the start in warmup and I had a lovely loose trot and could canter right lead but left lead she would buck. If you recall, our only other previous attempt at a judged dressage test resulted in us scratching because I could not get her in the arena due to spookiness and I had gotten off. This day though, getting in the dressage ring was not a problem, although she was very worried about the judge's booth. Our dressage test was amazing (meaning we stayed in the ring and did the correct test, lol) except for left canter circle--I couldn't get the canter. The judge was so nice and asked us to school that canter circle again during our test as well as after we were done. It was really hard for Shiraz because not only was it her hard lead, but it was also right at the judge's booth that she was trying to stay away from. I managed to get a bit of canter though while schooling it, along with more ugly.

I do believe that is a pony *inside!* a dressage ring
We made it through stadium although it felt messy (I think we had one rail down?). I was so determined not to get eliminated so each fence was going to happen, hell or high water. At fence 4 she really wanted to spook at something in the bushes beside the fence and nearly side-passed too far right for the jump to happen. Luckily this was starter level and the jumps were only 2 feet high. She was basically at a walk at that point and I made her jump from a walk. The rest of the course went much better from that point. I'm sure Shiraz picked up that this was happening  no matter what and decided to get on board with it.

Cross country she was beyond perfect--cantered the whole thing, jumped everything and seemed happy and forward doing it. The best feeling in the world is a happy horse taking you to the fences!! And wouldn't you know, the left lead canter happened out on the field with no issues, humph.
We ended up winning 3rd for that day out of 4 riders in our division. Getting a ribbon was just a bonus to the huge win of completing each phase. Sunday it was only me in the division which meant if I didn't get eliminated I would win, lol!! Easier said than done because Shiraz was VERY spooky on Sunday. I was expecting her to be more of a 'been there, done that' attitude so it was disappointing but I just went with it and schooled her like it was all no big deal and tried to ignore the scoots and spooks.

My teeny tiny stadium course! Isn't it adorable?
The dressage test this day was a diferent one I had not even read over before that morning and it turned out to be much harder so I asked for a caller. Despite being spooky, Shiraz did okay in the test AND I got both canter circles!!

By stadium though I think Shiraz was just done with work. We were the last rider on the list and all the other horses were back at the barn. Once we started stadium, Shiraz was trying to bolt back to the barn after every jump. It may have looked like a hot mess, but I made it through without any refusals or getting tossed with just one rail down.

I was still quite optimistic for xc because of how good she was the day before on course. Nope. After jump #1 she tried to bolt back to the barn and after jump #2 she bucked hard so I trotted alllll the way to jump #3 across the field (lol ,took foreeevvvver!!!). She then seemed to get back in the game and we cantered the rest without problem. Soooo we managed not to get eliminated and a pretty red ribbon!!

When they said pose by the car I had to really hold back and not lie across it like a pinup girl! Lol, no shame
Shiraz surprised me overall with how she handled the weekend though I am worried about the bucking. I can ride them okay even though they are slightly bigger than a crow-hop, but want to know why this is happening and how to get rid of it. Besides that issue, my flying potato is basically the best horse ever and is very close to unicorn status in my heart.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Death by cow

It has been a very busy week for me riding wise. First up was a jump lesson in the indoor.

I have been avoiding the indoor with Shiraz. Even though she has been going nicely lately in the outdoor, the indoor remained an issue with the large overhead doors on both ends open for the summer. Shiraz had issues with outdoor noises and random people/horses passing outside. I really just wanted more good rides under my belt before tackling it but rain on lesson day forced me to get to it sooner.

Shiraz was tense but I managed to get her trotting out and mostly listening. Drama llama had too many feelings though and in her distress picked up a new bad habit: flinging her head up and down in intense protest of her lot in life. Even once we started jumping the head toss did not let up. The good news was Shiraz was at least giving fabulous jump efforts that impressed coach B.

She ended up throwing in a buck on our approach to the jump line at one point. I was not surprised and felt she was just trying to deal with her tense back muscles. I had to pull up and reapproach which then went fine.

After the lesson Shiraz got a day off and for my next ride I decided to ride in the indoor. It was empty of jumps and freshly harrowed (<3). I focused only on relaxation and rhythm, and eventually achieved it after about 45 minutes of trot circles and serpentines. I loved it.

Then on Monday I had arranged a lesson with one of our local derby organizers. My hope was to get Shiraz out to somewhere new and get more experience before the Willville derby later in August. She is a talented rider and coach that I admire so I was thrilled when she agreed to give me a lesson out at her farm (she has built her own xc course!).

This proved to be a lesson I desperately needed. As I warmed up in her outdoor sand arena, coach P asked me about any issues I was having. I told her about the spooking and noted that particularly when Shiraz catches sight of something through the trees at my barn, that she gets very distracted/emotional and has done a very nasty spin and bolt. I also told her everything I have been doing to get past this so far.
As we started doing basic flat work I was actually pleasantly surprised with how Shiraz was feeling. She settled in quickly to the new space and felt relaxed. And then there were cows.

This coach's arena was located beside a bush and in that bush was the path a herd of cows used to get back and forth from barn area to pasture. We did not even hear them; Shiraz and I both spotted movement at the same time and I pulled her up fast as her eyes bulged out of her head. I told coach P I was going to get off. SHE SAID NOPE.

I sat there kind of hunching into to fetal position and coach P said get her feet moving. I just couldn't at first; instead I said goodbye to my friends who had come with me to watch. I swore. I told my pony about all the carrots that would be in her future if I lived. Then I tried to make her move.

First it was mostly flailing, trying to bolt, trying to rear, then we got some walking happening. As I dealt with her fit and expanded the area we could handle, I started to feel more and more confident to handle it. Soon we reclaimed the whole arena and I was able to make Shiraz ignore the bush and trot forward, albeit now head bobbing with her anxiety.

It couldn't have been a better lesson for me. I was so happy to have ridden through it. By the end Shiraz was back to relaxed and I was able to ride along while coach P gave my friends and me a tour of her xc field. It was only a little disappointing that I didn't get to jump at all. Luckily though coach P invited us back when we can to get xc time with her.

And yes, Shiraz received many carrots once we got back home.

Avoiding Rabbit Holes

The drive to Shiraz's boarding barn has been accompanied with an all too familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. Shiraz can be a va...