Tuesday, October 2, 2018

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 vastly different horse from one ride to the next. She can be a relaxed, happy potato (rarely), opinionated and confrontational to work (occasionally), or nervous, distracted and jiggity (mostly). I have been playing around with ways to promote relaxation and my coach has been helpful as well.

In my own rides I am focusing on two things:
I need to draw firm lines of what I expect and not slack off on those lines. This means mounting block manners are nonnegotiable and pissy attitude under saddle is getting a quick correction every time. This may seem obvious and basic but it is amazing how many little things I let slide under the radar when I don't remind myself to be strict. She is the boss mare in her paddock now, so I need to be diligent in showing her she is not top of the pecking order out of the paddock.

Not just in Shiraz, but myself. I have had some great sessions lately in the indoor on my own. Shiraz has issues going past the large door at one end in particular as that has the most activity outside. The door is closed now for the winter but you can still occasionally hear people walking by talking or horses in the paddock close by. My instinct was to ride 'ready to survive a spook' going by. I tried very hard not to tighten up but I also stayed aware of keeping my legs long and seat deep, reins not too long. This has been a huge fail.

On Friday, I put myself on a 20-meter circle and forced us to go past the scary door over and over. I tried everything I could think of to relax. I put a standard in the center of the circle and focused on it. Then at the trot I worked on correct bend and tried to find a steady rhythm. Every time we approached the door, Shiraz would raise her head and tense. On every off-side to the door she would relax and step longer. With her tensing, I reacted every time with prepping to be safe, adjusting the reins slightly. With her relaxing, so would I relax. Hhmmppphhh.

I decided against all better life-preserving judgement to change the pattern. As we approached the door and her head came up, I lengthened the reins and breathed out. Instead of scooting by the door, Shiraz lowered her head and TROTTED BY RELAXED. fml.

We all know, our reaction to our horse's actions reinforces their actions. But when your horse's action is dangerous, it is near impossible not to react in a self-preserving manner. I need to work on how I react. I mean, I want to live, but there has to be a way out of this cycle of fear begetting fear.

My coach is has been wonderful about helping with this. In our last lesson we worked on finding relaxation.  We started with alternating one circle on the bit and focusing on a specific task like correct bend, outside flexion, working on my two-point, etc. and then one full lap of loose-rein trot, and repeat. As we went, Shiraz started to relax and loosen up over her back. Her steps are naturally so short but after a while her steps were definitely getting longer and posting became easier as she started to use her body better. It proved to be quite helpful in getting Shiraz on board with the remainder of the jump lesson and relaxing us both.

My coach said something I found very helpful at the time:
"It's not about trusting Shiraz. She is young and has moments that you are not going to be able to avoid right now. But trust yourself. You have ridden some pretty freaky moments with a great seat and are not coming off. Trust that you can handle it because you have already proven you can."

The truth is, most of the spooks are ridable and the fact that I am letting anxiety take over and ruin how I feel about riding needs to stop somehow. Anyone have success shutting down anxiety with riding? I have a few ideas to work with (and not just more alcohol, lol), but would love to hear any advice on calming the F down when it comes to spooks.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

War and Peace

I competed last weekend in the Manitoba Equestrian Championships and for the most part things went well. The temperatures dropped 15 degrees for both days of the show with wind and light rain. Most horses were feeling frisky to say the least.

Despite that, dressage proved to be our best tests to date and the combined stadium/xc course went without any issues and was so much fun both days.

If dressage means tight back, short and choppy steps...then we can totally stop practicing now.

Warmups for these was a completely different story. I almost fell off three times: first was when we were standing still and a "surprise horse" came out from behind a building. She did her famous 180 degrees in 0.005 milliseconds with a bolt and I was very surprised I was still on at the end of it.

Stadium and xc were combined to make life easier for organizers.
It was a fun but smallish course--really needed just a few more xc elements brought in.

She also lost her mind because of ponies in her warmup ring. At one point, we had just jumped a cross rail and were looping around to come again when a pony jumped and was heading in our direction. Shiraz could not handle a pony cantering towards her and she cat-leaped into the air and sideways and yet again--how was I still on?

Finally Shiraz lifting those knees!

Many, many more spooks happened (the completely ridable but very disruptive to staying on task type) and then the final marble fell out and she bolted to our warmup oxer with her ears up my nose as I was pulling so hard and then took a flyer that left me up in the air far too long. Sigh. Warmup arenas have definitely been difficult for Shiraz this summer.

On top of the spooks, Shiraz started to develop an attitude on day two. She was pretty sure we were done after the Sunday morning dressage and was not happy about being brought out for more after lunch. There was much pouting, sass, angry ears and sucking back in that final warmup but we got through it, and wouldn't you know, it all disappeared once out on course.

Dressage--winning because we stayed in the box (and got both our canter leads!!!)

Yet out on course she was a saint.

This was our final competition of the year and I'm left with a mixed bag of feelings. Shiraz is definitely starting to get the game of xc and even humors me in the sand box. But, there is so much work to do in getting her to understand I am fully in charge when riding, even in a busy warmup arena.

The easiest, most relaxed part of our day out on the fun little starter level course.
I must admit, I am relieved there are no more shows on the horizon. I have put in a lot of riding time/training rides/worrying about my horse/$$$$$ these past few months and I am ready to just not for a bit. I think Shiraz would agree it is time for a break. This horse. ugh. I am not sure whether to shower her with carrots or call the glue factory for a pickup. One thing is for sure, I will be very happy once the "green horse" phase is thoroughly passed.

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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Three steps back, One step forward

July seems to be slipping by far too fast. I am disappointed about not entering the July derby even though it was the right decision to hold back and focus on Shiraz's training right now. The good news is training has all gone really well, possibly even better than expected.

My daughter has been asking to come to the barn to ride (!!<3!!:D)
After my trainer ride there has been quite the turn-around in Shiraz. I'm still skeptical going into each ride but again and again I manage to ride in a way that Shiraz interprets as effective (no small miracle! good pony!), and I have moved on to working on real things besides spook management.

The trainer is still scheduled to ride once a week, I am riding most of the other days, plus I have a once-weekly jump lesson with coach B, with a couple of other riders.

It has felt so good to work on details and be absorbed in the flow of it all. Despite the success though, not all rides have been good, and yet others have been phenomenal. I mean, one day I was happy to plod along on my sweet, happy pony doing w/t/c with long flowing strides activated from behind and the next day she was a tight little firecracker that jigged and wiggled the first half hour of the ride.

Honestly I would like lazy, ploddy pony to show up just once to the scheduled jump lesson. My coach doesn't even believe she can be that horse yet 'cause she's never seen it.

On my own I have been working on very low-height grids and lots of ground poles. Whether Shiraz picks up her feet and thinks versus step on all the poles/knock down the jumps is all hit or miss still. She does not seem bothered by whacking into poles or tripping and almost eating dirt. I am not exactly sure how to address this besides continuing to put in the work and rewarding her when she makes good choices. I am seeing a pattern though in her training where she tends to shut off her brain when shown new things, bobble through throwing out wrong answers, hoping the question will just go away. Then a shift where she starts to show obvious signs of thinking first and suddenly gets the exercise and does the thing. I am hoping as she matures this whole tendency to "shutting off" to new things will happen less as her confidence increases.

Rushing jumps is her new thing this week in our jump lesson. It was our first time cantering to verticals with no ground poles and she became far too worried about how to get from A to B. Her solution was just bulldoze through at mach speed and ignore my half halts completely. I am not too worried about it though and know she just does not have enough grid time under her belt with placing poles helping her to see a take-off point.

I thought I was half halting like crazy up to this but...

We will keep on practicing grids and single jumps with the placing poles and the eye/muscle memory for where to take off will come. When I am riding grids on my own I am trying to practice giving her the pace and line, and then leaving her alone so she can think about her feet for herself - not always easy when you are riding a horse that comes into a line of poles making bad choices.

At any rate, I am really happy where we are at. Just this past January I was riding a very green horse that had no concept of anything beyond w/t/sometimes canter/sometimes buck. I am kind of amazed how fast she has come along in such a short time. I have decided to enter Willville Horse Trials in August. As it is an EC sanctioned event, cost will be much higher than our local derbies. It is also about three hours away. I don't trust my older truck for that kind of trek so have found someone who will trailer Shiraz for me. I'm already feeling 'mom guilt' though -- three days away from hubby and kids, spending way too much money on my 'little horse hobby'...It's going to be awesome!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Making Plans into Action

First of all, thank you everyone for your kind words. This has been such a difficult time, I have not been able to talk much about her without falling apart. I think it was good for me to write a little bit about my mom and remember those times.
In the past two weeks I only saw my horse once, just to hang out and let her eat grass in the yard and shove many treats in her face.

Always happy to see this beautiful face coming to meet me at the gate <3

Before the large break from riding I left off in not such a great place with Shiraz. Her spookiness while riding was really becoming an issue. I had been doing a lot of ground work and we were solid with that--she could be completely relaxed and capable of doing anything I asked in any part of the arena. Unfortunately as soon as I mounted and tried riding simple trot circles, she would spook at all things outside of the arena. Some spooks were simple and easy to ignore and carry on, but others were much more difficult to ride such as her drop back/spin 180 degrees and bolt routine. It is easy to say just ride on like it never happened, but once I tip over into the scared zone, that is difficult for me.

So coming back into riding I decided to find help. I decided to ask the trainer I had sent Shiraz to last year for canter work if she would be able to come over and do some training rides. Luckily she agreed!

The first training ride was last Thursday. She brought her western saddle with her in case things got interesting. I told her about all the issues I was having and what areas of the arena were the biggest issues. She took Shiraz right to the most troublesome spot and began ground work and worked her in circles probably about 50% more intense than I would typically ask for. It was very cool watching her work. The trainer remained calm and soft, and could get Shiraz's full attention and "yes ma'am" reaction without appearing aggressive.

Meet Jose, the cutest Welsh pony that shares Shiraz's paddock. His tiny 4-year-old rider is even cuter :)
Trainer then mounted up and repeated the small circles and figure-eights in the same area. She wasn't doing anything fancy or groundbreaking--just demanding good shape and an active trot. Not once did Shiraz flick an ear to the outside of the arena.

So basically it is not my horse. Its me. (fall on floor crying like a 2-year-old WHYCANTIRIDEBETTER?!?!WAAAA!!!)

But then the good news is, its me. I can fix me. (sigh)

In talking with the trainer, the takeaways were basically demand more from Shiraz and get her attention every step right now. She is young and in that oh-so-fun teenage phase and will be questioning whether she really has to listen. She suggested setting up lots of activities to focus on rather than boring large circles where her mind can easily shut me out. So, lots of poles of random heights and distances, changing up what I am asking for often and demanding better of what ever it is I am working on. For example, if I am asking for bend into a corner and it is not quite what I was looking for, then circle back and make that corner better so Shiraz starts to understand she has to participate fully and kindda bending with a popped out shoulder is not going to cut it.

I came back the next day on my own to ride. I was certainly a lot more messy and obvious in my attempts to keep her attention. Annnddd, there was still some ear action to the outside of the arena (we have a relationship with established sloppiness that will take work and time to change) but I am happy to say I was able to ride her with much more intention and NOT ONE SPOOK. Yaasss!!

Shiraz was so chill after the ride that I had no worries letting my daughter get up for some leading around.

I am going to have trainer back a few more times over the next few weeks and also plan to start back with the Wednesday lesson group for jumping.

I know this year in her training isn't going to be all daisies and roses, but I am feeling cautiously optimistic about liking riding again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The long, slow goodbye

The hardest week of my life.

On June 18th, my mother had a stroke. On June 24th she left us.

My grampa holding me on the white pony, Fury and my mom holding my hand.
Holding her hand for six days, crying, hoping. Coming together with family, fighting with said family, letting go and coming together again and again. Singing, brief sweet moments of laughing (forever cherished). And then flooding relief.

My mom's horse Princess as a yearling and me derping hard front and center, lol
I wanted to honor her here because she was a horsewoman. She is the reason I now ride.

She grew up with horses as I did. Her parents always had many. My mom rode and trained many horses when she was younger. By the time I came along, she no longer rode much at all but ensured her daughters did.

She was a perfect show mom. Sewing western show clothing for my sister and I, making sure we were entered in every town fair we could drive to. She never tended to our horses at shows: even as a little girl I was responsible for unloading my pony and getting her settled in a stall, feeding, watering, grooming.

At home I was allowed to 'play' with the horses on my own from a very young age. Either hanging out in the pasture with the herd or taking my pony off on an adventure with my little backpack of snacks for the journey--my mom allowed us to learn horse behavior and discover how to stay safe independently.

Mom had a special connection to my horse Shiraz. Even as her dementia progressed and she could not always remember 'that brown horse's' name, she would tell people about how Shiraz would stand quietly and let her pet her nose endlessly.

My mom's passion for horses spilled over to me and all three of my sisters. She never forced us, but also never asked us if we wanted to have a horse or go to shows :) It was just a given; life in my family includes horses.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Derby Weekend: Day Two

You would think that a sport like cross country would be a sketchy choice for a confirmed anxious rider. I mean, galloping over uneven terrain at solid jumps takes a certain level of insanity confidence and hopefully skill?

As I have neither skill nor confidence, what exactly am I doing?

To be honest, I am having a blast when I'm out there. And at starter level 2'3" jumps it is pretty okay not to have much skill. Really, just point your horse at the little log and even if it doesn't go well, at least your horse can just walk over it if all else fails.

Blurry screen shot but definitely smiling!
So going into Sunday's derby I was feeling pretty optimistic (perhaps even hoping to be a little competitive!). Well, that was until dressage.

We warmed up rather well and I was feeling kind of excited. This would be Shiraz's very first judged dressage test. My goal wasn't lofty -- just try to find a good trot and concentrate on correct test. As we began walking around the outside of the dressage ring for our turn though, things unravelled quite quickly. The temporary ring had been set up tucked into the corner of the cross country field next to the trees. The wind was blowing and the branches were making usual branches-in-the-wind noises. Shiraz seemed pretty sure the forest was full of bears. She started prancing on the spot and I began to struggle to get forward and up seemed like a possibility. Then we came around the corner (still outside the arena trying to do the usual lap before the bell) and in her prancy state she decided people in lawn chairs trying to watch some dressage were actually wolves about to eat her alive. As she unravelled I just could not. I hopped off before it got any worse and scratched from dressage.

In a slow walk of shame, I led her back to my trailer and deliberated over whether I should scratch xc too or just hope for the best. I waivered a few minutes but heck, I was here. I knew xc would probably be okay. I was going to do the thing.

Coming in hot! ...or mildly lukewarm, lol!
I had entered two starter rounds of xc. The first went really well, but we trotted quite a bit in the beginning. She handled every jump really well and galloping cantering slowly up the hill to the final jump and finish line, I was just so pleased with Shiraz and glad I had made myself do it. Our second round was even better and we were able to increase the pace a bit.

After completing the starter courses and seeing Shiraz do so well out there, I can really get a picture of how things will be once we are through this green stage. She is a good horse. I just need to be patient, and pace myself for my own confidence-sake and keep building on what we have.

In my happy place, and I think Shiraz agrees :)
I was considering meandering through this summer without a clear-cut itinerary. To heck with that. I need a plan. Charts, graphs, a support team. All of it. I do better with goals and coaching.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Derby Weekend: Day One

As per usual, our derbies consist of a "meet the fences" practice day followed by derby the next day with dressage and xc. On Saturday the plan was 11:00 a.m. group lesson on the cross country field, then take pony back to the barn and come back for my volunteering slot at 1:00 to paint xc jumps. Unfortunately when I pulled in at 10:00 a.m. I was told my coach had something come up and my lesson would not be until 1:00.

Practicing in the cross ties. Wiggly pony is not amused, but patience is a virtue she needs to learn.

Alrighty then, I really did not want to ride anyways so no big deal. The day was starting out cool with a misty-rain so I left Shiraz in the trailer and headed off to help set up flags for the derby. It was good in the end - I got my mind off being anxious for a bit, although I was wearing my paddock boots and half chaps and they were soaked through in no time.

It mostly stopped raining by lesson time. I had saddled up and lunged Shiraz by the time everyone else in my group arrived. They all rode their horses down the hill to the second field while I led my pony following behind. Coach was fantastic assessing the situation even though I said I was doing great with a big smile plastered on my face. She gave the group a talk about not leaving any horse behind, to be mindful of other riders, aware of green horses and buddying up when we change locations.

Look! It's Savvy on a distance ride! <3 Her new owner sent me this yesterday. She is doing really well with her new job and her owner loves her. How could she not though right?!

Shiraz has not had much experience riding with other horses and she gets occasionally worried about other horses coming towards her. It is especially worse when a horse is cantering near her - she will do this little on-the-spot freak out and scoot sideways. At one point a rider came up too close behind us and she kicked out at them. I gave her a firm whack with my crop for that one. Ugh, mare.

As I kind of expected (and really hoped for), Shiraz settled nicely once we started jumping. We covered just about every starter jump out there and she never hesitated. It felt fucking fantastic. We even went through a deep ditch which a lot of the other horses were having trouble with.

By the end of the lesson, I was feeling much better about the derby, heck really about riding in general and my future with this horse. Perhaps I might just eke out a bit of fun this weekend after all? 

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...