Sunday, 21 July 2019

Taking It Easy

I did end up taking Bridget to the barrel racing night, only to get there and have just one other person show up. Turns out it was cancelled, and justmyself and the other lady didn't get the memo.

It's been so freaking hot tho. It's maximum effort to commit to anything!

No worries though, we set up barrels anyway and had a blast. The funniest part is we're both English riders without a clue, so much trial and error was involved and descriptors like simple changes, canter pirouettes, and jumper turns were very much tossed around as part of our strategies.

Best pony. She's game to try anything !

Bridget seemed to enjoy herself. A friend of mine took video and pictures, and it looked like Bridget made some shockingly good turns and appeared to be quicker than I thought. Benefits of a pony, I guess! I'll share the media if my friend figures out how to send it to me, otherwise how will you all know it really happened?  ;)

Picture from last week, but pretty sure this was also our excellent and very authentic barrel racing get up, lol
Zipping around and just having fun reminded me of the stuff I like about jumping, and has me motivated to get my jump saddle back out. It will be good practice for me anyway. I still have thoughts of eventing Sophie sitting in the back of my mind.

Dressage pony goals for sure, but I'd like to see if she's brave enough to event a little too.

The remainder of our weekend was pretty non eventful. A few quiet rides around the neighbourhood, a spa day for both girls. Sophie got put out in a bigger field and I let her have a vacation. She's been such a good girl and we've been so busy it seemed like a midsummer week off wouldn't hurt!


Thursday, 18 July 2019

Ponderings/To Do List (And A Lot Of Photos)

On paper, everything is going along pretty swimmingly in my little corner of the world.

I planted a bee garden this year and it makes us all happy :)

I do feel like it's not always 'real' though because a lot of the time I avoid bigger decisions and commitments that need to be made in order to keep the stress and commitment levels to a minimum. The problem with doing that is that of course the to do list things pile up further and further start to feel a little overwhelming. In my case, the 'things' are actually projects and ideas with potentially great returns!

When those feelings of being overwhelmed happen, I usually go for a ride.

I took a vacation day yesterday and rode AND got a picture :)

Realistically, though, I need to be accountable, have a plan and follow through before I find myself feeling trapped and unhappy.

So, where do I start? I think the smartest thing is to look after myself first and get things back on track fitness and diet wise so I am feeling better. It's a lot easier to get all the things done when you're feeling good. I've made this promise before here, so it's a bit embarrassing to put it out there again. News flash: I'm not perfect.

I'm really good at making time for the barn, and I enjoy it too, so I'm 99% certain I'm not going to book a training spot for S this fall and am going to do what I can myself.

Sophie was feeling left out yesterday.

The vintage vehicles the car club guys are nagging me to do something with are going to move to our garage at home, out of sight of of mind (for now)

Needs work

I need to redo my budget and schedule. I've volunteered for a couple for things recently, work is nuts, I want to train my pony, and summer just brings more activities and events to fit in. I find if I have a budget/schedule I get more done and worry less about saying no and prioritizing.

This scenic route commuting needs reevaluating too.

I found a farrier! So, we can cross the whole trimming the horses myself thing off. What a huge relief because I was spending far too many nights reading and worrying, and far too many hours making adjustments and overthinking it. For the record, farrier was not overly impressed with my work, but also she's seen professionals do worse, so small win? LOL

The rest can wait and involve some pretty big things I've been waffling over WAY TOO LONG.

Like building a barn and having the horses at home.
As for current happenings, there is a fun barrel race here Friday night. I may or may not take Bridget...she was a little footsore and very sluggish feeling yesterday so I'll see how she feels tonight before I make the call.

Sophie was also a slug yesterday. It was a bit muggy and thunderstorms were incoming, so I can hope that was the issue...please don't let me be making her dull!

The sunshine and warm weather has returned, so I also have plans of heading to the lake and floating around for an afternoon of not worrying. AFTER I check some items off the list, of course :D

One more garden pic because it's so bright and cheerful!


Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Clinic Recap 2: Notes

At the risk of boring you, I have just a few more things I found interesting from last weekend's clinic. As always, remember these are just my notes and my interpretation of what was discussed :

-Round pens. He was not so much a fan. As soon as he has basic handling he wants to change it up and be out in 'the real world'. Said he sees too many horses that are shut down or sour from  people spending far too long using the round pen as a crutch or using them because they think that's just what you do.

Luckily Bridget still thinks round pens are a lot of fun.

- He mentioned having two types of clients: the ones who want to learn in the saddle (and have the ability to train their horses there) , then the second who are maybe more comfortable or capable on the ground for any of a variety of reasons. They are both great ways to have fun and build a partnership. This isn't an earth shattering statement in itself, but it got me thinking. I guess I've always viewed groundwork through the lens of it being a step towards riding and wondered why there was so much of it and so many variations of different exercises based on the same basic training principles. Like, how much do you have to do before you're ready to ride?  Makes a lot more sense to me now, knowing a large part of the client base maybe doesn't have riding as an end goal but still wants new and interesting challenges. (I'm such a dummy sometimes, I am so relieved that my imaginary 10000 step program of groundwork exercises he'd say I should do before I ride doesn't actually exist :)

- On young horses that turn their butts in and even kick out a little (on the longe in in a round pen). He used to discipline that thinking it was disrespectful, but has started thinking if it's just the horse inviting you to play and not being malicious he just ignores it rather than running  the risk of scaring them or shutting them down by working them harder and making things "not fun". If I understood him right, he'd rather you don't react to the playing and just redirect the energy to another task to get focus back.

- Was quite vocal about never chasing your green horse into a canter or even trot. He used to be fairly firm with the transition needing to happen when asked, now interestingly enough he's in line with my dressage coach in wanting the transition to come from first establishing the proper balance and relaxation and waiting. He went so far as to say that a lot of the horses he gets in for training who swap leads or are disunited have issues that could have been prevented. They've often developed a lot of anxiety or tension in the up transition from being pushed, resulting in a loss of quality in the gait, rather than it being a mechanical or strength issue as is often assumed.

- Ask your horse to do the thing, then leg/hand/seat neutral until you want a different thing. Coming from english/dressage land, this is a thing often mentioned here too, but I've been told also to ride every stride, and my lessons are all about second by second suggestions and corrections.  I know I'm not alone - the world is full of people squeezing every stride on an extension or half halting every collected stride, making steering or bend adjustments throughout a circle, etc.  Kind of a change to see someone ask for something like a big trot or a collected canter, or a specific sized circle, then just take his aids off and expect the horse to carry on until he says differently, usually on a totally loose rein. Quality obviously not quite on par with what a dressage judge might look for, but certainly don't think he'd be kicked out of the show either! Having your horse so honest with minimal aids is a worthy goal for anyone.

- Ideal body position on the ground when longeing, leading, asking for turns, lateral movements, has a lot of similarity to under saddle. Makes perfect sense, and yet I never put the pieces together that way, always viewing it as two separate things. For example, on the ground with my longe or lead rope, I have a habit of letting my wrists turn, bend and give, and hunching forward in my shoulders  so I run out of 'room' and my elbows end up behind my back to compensate. Strangely, a similar habit and reluctance to use my arms and shoulders properly often appears under saddle :)


Sunday, 14 July 2019

Clinic Recap 1: Lesson With Sophie

Sophie had her first clinic outing this past weekend and was such a star!

I'm sure I've mentioned before that I don't do a ton of groundwork Natural Horsemanship style, so I had a lot of questions for the clinician! I was also feeling a bit worried we'd be in over our heads. If I'm honest, while some of the things they do are super cool, it's still not something I can see myself wanting to put that much effort into if I can work it out in the saddle or on the trail instead.

I'm so sorry, I took pictures this weekend for everyone but didn't ask for any in return. So, you get some randoms from last weekend instead.

We started with chatting about short and long term goals (not dying when I ride her the first time, then dressage :) and what I've been doing with her. The clinician knows me from previous under saddle and mountain trail clinics with Bridget, but it's the first time he's met Sophie.

Worry number one was eased right away - none of the fancy round penning or rope twirly things were happening. He said teaching liberty and tricks is one thing, getting a horse ready to ride and be a good saddle horse, another. Cool.

So, he watched me lead and longe Sophie and generally just do what I do and was super happy with her. Very complimentary of us both, which I won't lie, was really awesome to hear and put a big smile on my face! I've mentioned here before that I feel fairly confident with what I'm doing at this point, but of course being without guidance there us always that worry in the back of your mind wondering if you're actually being an overconfident dummy and messing it up!

So, we continued on, and the majority of our time was spent on new to us things. Awesome!

I learned how to have her side pass from the ground, away from me, then towards me. We did turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand and got them a lot smoother. Spent a little time doing  patterns, and a lot more time discussing future steps and homework. We finished with him teaching Sophie how to line up with the fence for mounting, and he put a foot on her back and then kind of hung a leg over her. Sophie was pretty wide eyed at that (stranger danger!), but we ended there when she relaxed.

Homework and feedback:

- Build on the turns and sidepassing we learned, always looking at adding more correct steps in a row and having a good flow.

- Keep with the longeing and the transitions within the gaits - he loved that I do that with her and that I  try for balanced up and down transitions too. It's so helpful for improving her response and balance.

- She is more reactive on her right side than the left. Right flank in particular a touchy area. Keep working on that. Asks if she kicks and I said not in a long time, but I do agree if I push her too hard she might still might panic and see that as an option.  It's fun that he picked up on that so quickly.

- Just keep doing what I'm doing. I'm good at it. If I'm unsure, just do what I think is right. I'm not going to mess it up. (Sounds so pretentious to write that, lol...I think what he was really saying is I could be more confident in myself, not thst I'm a perfect trainer! :)

- Don't worry too much about asking for even more responsiveness. She's ready and willing to try and if I want my sharp dressage horse it's cool to have those expectations right from the start. She naturally wants to be that horse anyway, and there is no need to slow her down. This means I need to be hyper aware of my cues and response times too.

-No judgement if I wanted to ride her a little now, but likes the idea of waiting until she's a bit more physically mature. Thought she looks like she's got a lot more growing to do.

- He really, really, really liked Sophie. His take on her:

     -Wants to be light and soft
     -Great attitude
     -Nicely put together, nice mover, so cute.
     -He wishes she came in his size, and  thinks I made a good choice purchasing her          and will have a lot of fun with her.

All in all, a great starting point! Sophie was SUCH a good girl too, and really seemed to enjoy having new and interesting challenges and people to meet.

I audited the remaining parts of the clinic as well, so if you're up for it, I'll post some notes. There were lots of new to me things to ponder, plus a lot of things he mentioned he used to do but doesn't anymore, and why he's changed his thoughts. I found those conversations especially interesting.


Thursday, 11 July 2019

Chatty Ponies

Screaming horses are NOT my thing. The universe laughs at me, because Sophie has the highest pitched, screechiest whinny I've ever heard. And she LOVES to talk to me and anyone else who will listen.

Me, 2 feet from Sophie's face: "Hi Sophie"
Everyone on the farm: "My ears!"

Fingers crossed, with patience and miles this too shall pass.

However, it reminds me of a pretty funny thing that happened the last time I had a chatty, anxious horse.

I feel like I diligently followed all the advice and remained calm and just redirected the focus back to her work by asking a little more or swiching exercises. Basically, just keeping her relaxed and working and focused on me and not worrying about her friends.

However, at some point my smart mare must have still put the pieces together and realized calling to her friends was not something I particularly enjoyed. Yet it was not something she was ready to give up either.

So, she did it really, really quietly instead. Kind of under her breath, mouth closed, starting with what sounded like the tiniest squeal, then kind of fading off ("she sounds like her batteries are running out" one kid helpfully described to me)

It was the saddest, most hopeless thing you've ever heard. And just loud enough that show judges and spectators would be wondering what that noise was and where it was coming from, thus attracting far more attention than standard whinnying.

Please, universe, let me be more successful this time around.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Lucky Me

The other day, I was leading both ponies down the road, one on either side of me. Both were being perfectly behaved and happy to be out for an adventure. It was one of those "wow, life is great! I am so lucky" moments.

Until we got the the part where we cut through the farmer's market grounds with the big grassy field. I'll just put it out there - successfully leading 2 'starving' dry lotted ponies at a time across tall green grass is Expert Level Horsemanship And Pony Training. We're not quite there yet, lol.

My expedition with both ponies in tow was actually to test whether Sophie will be OK stalled at the fairgrounds by herself for a couple of hours. I have a clinic this weekend I'm taking her to, and I thought it would be nice to stick around after our session and audit a bit. So, I put her in a stall and took Bridget for a ride out of her line of sight. Not to worry, she screamed a couple of times for us, then seemed content hanging out and munching her hay. It might be a different story in a busier clinic environment, but I'm glad we tested it out and she had a good experience. I wouldn't expect her to be frantic or overly stressed, but she can be quite vocal and I don't want to distract everyone from their learning.

"Go away already! This hay is mine!" 

The remainder of our outings this past week were my standard trail rides on Bridget. We got out 3 times, and saw our first bear of the year up close. It was on a spot where the trail is quite narrow and close to the lake edge - the bear opted to run towards the lake, and I don't think any of us were pleased with him being sort of cornered there. We took our time and he got out ahead of us, only for us to catch up and startle him again a kilometer or so later. Poor bear by that point headed for the hills as fast as he could go, and the horses were feeling quite brave and proud of themselves! I was pretty grateful to be on Bridget. She told me in no uncertain terms that we needed to be Bear Aware and was very careful to kerp everyone safe.

No pictures of the bear as it really was a little dicey, but this picture from the following day shows what I think Bridget looked like when he was running away. 

Sophie's accomplishments for the week include successfully being at the show grounds 'alone', plus some further adventures in wearing tack and longeing like a grown up pony. She's giving me a lot of hope for the future. She's not the fanciest mover out there, but she's correct and decently balanced. She's naturally able to collect and extend and has a good awareness of where her feet are. I have hopes we won't have to teach her where to put her feet so she can canter (cough, cough, Bridget. We love you but please never again do I want to face that ;)

Sophie's balanced enough to canter right on the longe and even shorten and extend when she's feeling silly. To the left is harder for her, but she figured the lead out quickly and can now canter a circle or so before her balance starts to get iffy and I transition her to trot before the wacky lead changes can start. I have goals of helping her figure it all out on the ground/longe before anyone gets in the saddle, but we'll see. Right now it's me picking away one day at a time and my timing and experience is what it is.

Then best thing about this whole experience so far is that I have help handy when I need it, but so far I'm enjoying things and finding her really easy to work with. I want to learn and improve how I train and for me this is a very good way of doing so. 


Sunday, 7 July 2019

Quirky Bridget

I almost never put Bridget in the round pen, but with the arena being resurfaced it's been the easiest way to get her moving on the days I would normally longe her.

I've noticed something weird.

Somebody's watching me

Since she stares me down and then gets confused if I ask her to keep moving, I'm wondering if at some point in her distant past someone did the whole NH game where you reward and release pressure when they look at you?

With Bridget's work ethic, once or twice of that would have been enough, lol. Anyway, for whatever reason, this pony is big on eye contact in the round pen :)

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Trail and Road Etiquette - What Do We Think?

Recently, with nicer riding weather here, there have been a ton of awareness type videos and posters being shared and distributed by our local equestrian community, mostly via facebook. Lots of guidelines for sharing the roads and trails, usually focusing on educating other users.

I think education is great. I think sharing roads and trails with everyone is great. Making everyone safer, also obviously a great thing. This website has some good tips and rules for sharing the road.

Seems reasonable?

I hate to say it though, but to me a lot of the equine-centric materials being distributed come across as entitled and honestly, unfair to other users. Ditto for some of my fellow riders, who I've seen in person being quite demanding of other users. Just one example, but I know people who ride three abreast down the middle of the road and expect traffic to wait for them. I guess they can do it, but it doesn't seem overly safe or like good PR for equestrians. I recently ran into a group of lovely ladies who had been told off by a rider whose horse was scared of their dogs, so thought the appropriate thing to do upon seeing me coming was to hide themselves and their dogs in the bushes next to the trail :D

Bear with me, I have a few thoughts on being a responsible and fair user of shared outdoor space:

- If I am taking my horse out in a multi use space, I think the respectful thing to do is ensure my horse is as prepared and safe as possible for that. I realize I am incredibly lucky to own Bridget, who is level headed in most situations. I'm doing my best to make Sophie just as solid, but it she doesn't turn out to be reliable, I will certainly be getting help and/or making decisions about when or if we share trails with other users. 

- I think it's unreasonable to expect the world to leave me alone in a big happy horse riding bubble. I'd expect pedestrians, trucks, cyclists, ATVs, and motorcycles to want to (politely) overtake me. I expect people to make mistakes and have bad days, for the weather to do crazy things, for strange situations to arise. My horse and I need to be ready for that, not just happy and safe in perfect circumstances.
All alone in our happy bubble...for now.

- Even though I *could* ride somewhere and there are no signs explicitly telling me not to, it doesn't mean I should ride there. I think I've mentioned before, there are some trails I simply don't ride. For example, the local mountain bikers put a ton of work into a few downhill spots and it seems very unfair for me to dig it up with horse hooves and risk damaging their bridges, etc. We also share our crown forests with active logging and resource interests - again, just because theoretically it's crown/public land, is it really a wise choice to ride through active areas during working hours and force the operators and drivers to shut down and wait for me?

Last year there was some facebook drama from equestrians upset at how busy the swimming beaches at a local lake...'their' lake access to be precise. I tend to keep riding past if people are there picnicking and swimming, it seems safer. The land is public, and it's only busy for a couple of months out of the year.

- Communicate. Let other users know your intentions, wave them past, smile, say hi. Thank them if they've stopped to let you pass on the trail or given you extra respect on the road. It's so easy to get into a zone and take things for granted.

I don't know, maybe some of the educational stuff is just trying to err way on the side of caution and be super safe by saying things like motorized vehicles shouldn't ever pass horses, bike riders need to stop and get off as you pass, etc. I feel like if I didn't have horses, though, I might be a little resentful of the lengths we ask others to go to just to share a trail.

Thoughts? :)


Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Updates On My Labrador Retriever

Sophie was kept busy this week! With the cooler weather earlier in the week she was feeling quite feisty and showing off her moves. Sadly, no pictures as I needed all hands on the wheel. I'll just say she's more than a nice enough mover for my goals and seeing the difference that extra energy made in her movement was pretty exciting for me. Also, she definitely knows verbal trot and canter cues, so I can be firmer about them being prompt from my voice on her lazier days.

Knows her words

We also got out for some trail walks, with and without Bridget. She was super good the day my husband came with me and led Bridget while I led Sophie.  I try to simulate a real trail ride as much as possible and have them alternate leading the way. I also encourage G to take Bridget far ahead and out of sight, or far behind and trot to catch up to us...all things good trail horses need to be solid about. I was feeling pretty rough that day and the steep hills were hard for me, so I felt proud that she happily matched my pace and didn't fuss at all about what anyone else was doing. Best moment of the day was that my husband historically prefers to lead Bridget because she just follows along with minimal input, but when we traded on the last bit heading home he didn't want to give Sophie back because she was so polite with him. Progress!

She's still living life in the round pen. I had great plans of both ponies spending the summer on pasture, but Sophie took too much of a liking to scratching her butt on the fences and breaking them, and Bridget's weight exploded. Both their feet kind of fell apart too...Bridget's especially. Being easy keeping ponies, I feel better about keeping them on minimal 24/7 pasture and feeding low sugar hay instead of taking my chances with the super rich pasture currently on offer. I have had people say I'm crazy because pasture is free food, but I think the $50-$100 of low sugar hay each month is worth the peace of mind.

So round.

The interesting side effect of Sophie having her own condo is that my friendly pony is now extra friendly. On one hand, I feel bad because she's likely a little lonely. On the other hand, there are lots of other horses on the farm for her to talk to over fences, and there are people around all day. I fee like its really helping her mature - she's way less silly and distracted by the other horses and a lot more confident in herself.

I got her this ball thingy that dispenses bits of her grain as she plays with it. Best investment ever, she plays with it for hours.

I'm there a minimum of 5 days a week and she gets a good grooming and an outing on those days.  The huge benefit to me of her living alone is that she's super tuned into me. Since the first day I met her I've been her self appointed best human friend, and that bond seems to be extra strong right now.

Has feelings about me making het wear a bit tho.

She gets SO excited when my truck pulls in, and of course follows me everywhere. Its pretty cute. Who needs a dog when I have two extra people oriented ponies?