Thursday 31 March 2016

Things To Think About

- Eventers get better with age. Great article - in short, the average age the top 4* event riders is around 38. The older riders win more than the younger.

Take home message: Keep on keeping on, there's time to get there. In eventing, older might actually equal wiser. Also, there's an added bonus - your elderly body will thank you for staying active throughout your life.  

-Hours, not years.
Me : "I'm never going to get this - I've been struggling with it for a whole year now!"
EC : "OK. Let's be real about this. You ride "lots" - like 5 days a week. So, let's say that adds up to 250 hours a year actively schooling, with maybe 60 of those in a lesson. At your "real" job would you expect to learn anything or make progress if you worked those kinds of hours annually? No? See - you're doing pretty well for the amount of time invested!"

Take home message: If you must keep track, think of it in hours rather than years. Unless you're a pro riding 8 hours a day. Then go right ahead and talk in years!

- It's supposed to be fun. I love this video clip. While not horsey, I find it inspiring. I watch it every time I am feeling down or doubtful about the amount of time and money I spend on this horse thing. This video makes me smile every single time and reminds me of why I do it. Here's a person who I think the world would agree is pretty legendary from a talent and career standpoint. He's got every excuse to be tired and jaded. Yet, he appears to still be just as excited about this record as he was the first time he experienced it.

Take home message: Follow your passions, enjoy the moment, and never, ever be too cool to play air guitar :)

- You probably can't ruin your horse.
"The average adult ammy does not need to worry about ruining their horse. Confuse them? Teach then bad habits? Yes, you can do that! But it's all fixable. And it's certainly not going to happen in a week or two of bad rides! Don't worry so much about potentially making mistakes. Horses are very forgiving and there is no perfect rider." (More EC wisdom)

Take home message: Hard work and consistency will win over time - even if you've made a million mistakes along the way.


Wednesday 30 March 2016

Full Seat Breeches Reviews

It's been a while since I've done a review post, so I thought I would review and compare the pairs of schooling full seats I've bought in the last couple of years. I paid around the same amount of money for each. I ride 5-6 times a week and rotate through these breeches fairly evenly.

Breech: Elation Platinum Full Seat Breech.
Price: $105 on sale, reg $139 through Greenhawk.
Pros: Tech fabric, nice mid weight, comfortable and flattering enough on.
Cons: Stretch a little and can get a little saggy looking between washes.
Looks: They're pretty plain looking and a little 'old school' fit wise - wish they had some more detailing and a lower/wider waistband.
Fit: Average fit, no issues with the sizing.
Durability: I have the black and they faded pretty quickly. Also, they've got a few snags in the material that happened pretty much the first week I wore them. That being said, I've worn them A LOT and give them no special care and they won't die.
Rating: 7/10. Would buy them again, but they'd have to be on a super (like half price or more) sale.

Breech: Tuffrider Full Seats (sorry, can't figure out the actual product name to link).
Price: $99 at the local tack store. Reg $129.
Pros: Tech type fabric, durable for the price. Lightweight, nice for summer. Look cute on.
Cons: Material has no give, full seat fabric started pilling after a month. Seams bind and rub by my knees.
Looks: Cute enough. I have blue like the above and am not honestly sold on the color but that's my problem.
Fit: See above about binding seams, seem big in the waist and small through the knee/lower leg.
Durability: Breech fabric looks like new every time I wash them, but full seat fabric is thin and pilling.
Rating: 5/10.  Want to like them for the price, but they're honestly not that comfortable and I find myself disappointed if they're next in the pile to take to the barn. 

Breech: USG Doreen Full Seats.
Price: $119 on clearance, reg $139 at Apple Saddlery
Pros: Tech fabric, the most comfortable breech I've ever worn, and super flattering/cute.
Cons: Not sold on the buttons on the side pockets. Just an aesthetics thing, really.
Looks: I have the black with pink stitching and love it. Fun, but not "WOW". There's navy with I think dark yellow stitching that's a little more understated and grey and brown colors are also available.
Fit: Maybe a little small through the waist and a bit big through the leg. They're VERY stretchy so I maybe could have gone a size down.
Durability: No issues yet, but these are my newest pair.
Rating: 9/10. Love, love, love these for the price, and want to wear them every day just because they are so comfortable. 1 point off since I'm slightly concerned about how much stretch they have and whether they'll hold their shape super long term.

Breech: Tuscany Pearl Full Seats.
Price: $125 at a local tack store, on sale from $150
Pros: Nice mid weight tech fabric, more structured fit, wide variety of colors. Very flattering on.
Cons: I actually have none. I like these so much I bought a pair in the navy color and then bought a pair a few months later in eggplanty purple/burgundy.
Looks: Understated, basic styling, but modern enough with the wide waistband and the lower rise. The colors are great - every thing from a super dark navy to a white to a bright red if that's your thing. I get the most compliments on these.
Fit: A little on the small side. These are not super duper stretchy so if you're between sizes I'd consider sizing up.
Durability: So far these things are TOUGH and come out of the wash looking like new every time.
Rating: 8.5/10. Love them, and they seem the best quality and the wisest investment of the bunch I've tried...great value even at full price. BUT the cuteness and the comfort of the USG's win by a nose...even if I end up having to replace them more often :)



Tuesday 29 March 2016

Trainer Magic

My ride this morning was equal parts inspiring and depressing. EC put a training ride on Midge over the weekend and coincidentally worked on exactly the same things I worked on the day prior - tons and tons of transitions, asking pony to be straight and not drag her rider around. She said pony felt 'fantastic' and felt she has come along so much since the last ride she put on her, which of course is exactly what I wanted to hear!

Anyway, when I got on this morning there was still plenty of lingering trainer magic. Bridget felt amazing! So soft and light and swing-y. It felt like I could ask for pretty much anything and we'd just effortlessly float along in a cloud of awesomeness. So inspiring!

 Where the depressing part came in was as the hour went on, I could definitely feel B getting more braced and inconsistent. Since we were mostly doing canter/trot/canter transitions EC said not to worry, pony finds those hard and is still figuring out her balance. The consistency and balance through her hindquarters will come as she gains strength. (That's fine, but EC still has a magical way of making it all look far more put together than I do!) My job is to ride tall, keep my shoulders back, the pony straight, and make the transitions at appropriate times - down to trot when she softens and before she loses balance, back up to canter as quickly as possible. Walk to canter if pony made the decision to break to trot and/or drag me along. I am absolutely not allowed to keep my elbows tight or give in to my terrible habit of allowing my right shoulder forward when pony braces/pulls.

Homework = cantering everywhere, all the time. It should be where I spend the majority of the ride. Now that we have a canter AND steering, AND some adjustability, we need to focus on building Midge's strength and fitness. Also, all those tools we currently have in the walk and trot need to be brought along into the canter! Guess this means our weekly mileage is going to be bigger - Virtual California, here we come! :)

Overall, a great lesson. While I wish I had the talent and know how to make the magic happen on a regular basis, I'm really, really excited. How she feels after a trainer ride is usually where we'll consistently be at in a couple of months. The pony is starting to feel a little like a real dressage horse, and she's getting some pretty cool buttons. Now, I just need to up MY game :)

In other awesome news, Ginger continues to do so well. The regular routine and consistency of the program seems to really be suiting her. Stay tuned, I can't say too much for certain yet, but   there's a deal pending that will be excellent for everyone involved AND keep Ginger at our barn so Midge and I can still say hi every day :)

Sunday 27 March 2016

Beautiful Day For A Ride

On the struggle bus...:)

Actually, it was more good than bad. It's more rewarding when you work hard for it, right?

I'm finding myself more and more resentful of the time I have to spend indoors at my work desk. Although I do enjoy my job (and like to think I'm good at it too), lately the horses have been calling in a big way. So, to say I was happy to wake up on Friday morning to sunshine and a day off with nothing to do but ride would be an understatement - I was up way early and had to force myself to wait until a civilized hour to head out.

Midge and I started with a quick 30min hack, and once again the pony was hot and spooky beyond reasoning. I think she was feeling pretty good about life too! Still, I'll be happy when it dries up and the horses go back to having larger fields to play in, they've all been quite ridiculous lately. It's pretty weird to think that my previously "safe" "quiet" "lazy" pony is currently the hottest/most sensitive thing I've ever sat on.

My timing was great, because by the time I got back to the ring it had cleared out a little. There were still a few people riding though, and Midge seemed to have an uncontrollable urge to show off for them all. I don't know how else to describe it - she just has the odd mare day where focusing on anything but the other horses is a challenge for her, and she has to try to get up in their space and make nasty mare faces every time I get distracted for a second. So rude, but also it's spring, and hormones and all that. She's normally not mare-ish at all, and see above about the turn out situation, so I try not to be too frustrated with her. 
More old pics as filler - I was so much better about taking pics last year!

My ride in the area was one of those ones where things probably looked really awful to start, but then ended quite nicely. 

Midge started out way over reactive to my aids, but also not giving me an option to sit quietly since she was pulling and wiggling and then sucking back and just generally being obsessed with the other horses and everything outside the area. Basically wanting to pay attention to everything but me, then getting wildly offended when I'd remind her we're working. Mares.

Keeping in mind the advice from my last lesson, I did a ton of walk/trot transitions and really focused on riding her forward and straight. She was horribly offended that the running off like a giraffe and popping the outside shoulder game wasn't one we'd be playing, but I tried to remember to just be unemotional about it and let the exercise work for me. The down transitions were also runaway train/llama style and pretty ugly. More about just getting it done, to be honest. I promise I wasn't hauling on the reins, but pony was trying to make out otherwise. I'm not sure in what world raising her head as high as she can and trying to run through the aids has ever got her what she wants, but it seems to be her latest go to evasion. Eventually the repetition worked for us and the pony felt soft and obedient enough to throw in some canter transitions. Those did not go well - I'm not entirely sure how we went from wanting a slightly quicker/more coordinated  response on Wednesday to drama bolting on Friday, but hey, hormonal overachiever ponies? So, we played some more of the transition game. Trot a few strides, get her really round and on a proper bend, ask for canter, and immediately back to the roundest trot or walk or even halt the instant she started running off with me. Wait for her to soften, then right back up to canter.
Actually, here's photographic evidence I have another pony who can do some inspired transitions. B may have learned those 'canter' departs from big sis Ginger!
 And, it worked. The transitions gave me the half halt I needed and we ended up with the best canter she's ever done, on both leads. Once she figured out that nice balance and tempo, she felt like she could go forever. Being greedy, I played with haunches in on the circle, leg yields from the quarter line and shoulder in on the long side (mostly on her stronger side, because I'd had enough fights for one day) Basically asking her to move her body around within the canter. "No problem", said the pony. "I get this now!" Huge breakthrough! It's almost like the light bulb went on towards the end of the ride and she finally started to understand why we've been "so mean" in asking her to carry herself correctly - it really does make things easier for her!
I laughed, I cried. B gives a bow after an epic performance.

So that's our recap. I felt like the meanest/most inadequate rider ever for the first part of the ride. It was really ugly.  But oh boy, did a little rider discipline and patience get us some nice results in the end. EC put a ride on her yesterday and I'm very interested to hear her feelings on things. My ride was very much the worst of the worst followed by the best of the best:)

I've been otherwise preoccupied this weekend, and am a little sad to have missed out on the xc schooling and combined test at MREC, but hey, tomorrow is another day off work and the sun is supposed to be shining! The countdown is on for our spring clinic too, so I'm pretty spoiled and shouldn't be envious :)

Also, in virtual adventure land, we're getting awfully close to the Oregon border, even after a detour to get us back on Hwy 101...I figure we started there at Mile 0, so we might as well continue on!


Thursday 24 March 2016

Adapting to Change

I went into tonight's ride having already mentioned to EC that Bridget has been feeling quite defensive this past week and it's been really hard to get her working properly. Unsurprisingly, I could see EC keeping an extra eye on us in our warm up.

More not so great randoms from the past couple of weeks
As I suspected, she saw a lot to fix, and the first part of our jump lesson became a dressage lesson instead.

Because EC is magical, I had my happy and soft pony back within about 15 min. The trick was lots and lots of transitions and of course finding that happy place between pony being behind the leg/bit and running away like a giraffe. 

The jumping went great after that, the only concern being some late-ish canter transitions as the pony was getting tired.

Dinner, her favorite time of the day
Take homes (and there were lots of them):

- "More" does not equal faster. "More" on a Midge pony also will never equal the "more" you've felt on a big warmblood. I sometimes ask for more (a bigger trot mostly) and Midge gets panicky because she simply can't :( 

- Although she'll never be a big/fancy mover, she is very correct and very good through her back.

- Soften my elbows. 9/10 when she is fussing in the bridle it's because I'm not being elastic enough.

-She is one of the most sensitive horses in the barn, even more so than Ginger.  Respect that, appreciate it, rather than finding it frustrating. We can use it to our advantage.

-Don't be so hard on myself, we've come a really long way in a short period of time.  Remember when just getting a right lead canter or trotting a  x rail was an achievement? :)

 -She's more advanced now. I need to be more disciplined and insist on timely and correct transitions, and correct that right shoulder drift every.single.time it happens.

- Jump schools - are exactly that. Don't get in the mindset of riding courses/just getting to the fences, be in the mindset of a dressage ride where I take the time to circle or correct if needed. I would NEVER let her drag me around on the flat, so why do I allow it before a fence?

-Pony is very good at evading contact. However, if she is above, I can probably assume I need to check my elbows and slow down, if she is round but nothing is there, I need to ask her for forward. NOT big, dramatic changes, just check in for a stride or two. Don't worry about where her head is so much, work on getting the feel that I am almost too slow, but have enough power and impulsion that if I ask for an up transition it will be there immediately.

-We've messed with her mind a little by adding collected work, so it's to be expected that she is questioning where I want her to be in all gaits.

-Be very aware of insisting she  keep her body exactly where I ask it to be, but also be aware of not asking too much as she's still building strength and it's hard for her.

-Straightness, straightness, straightness. On the circle, to the fences, through the lateral work. Her head stays directly in front and in the center of her shoulders at all times, no exceptions. (This is a big one for me, too often my go to when she pops her shoulder or twists her head is to pull on her nose rather than pushing the shoulder around and her momentum forward.)

-Unsaid, but implied through all the above: I need to back off and be more tactful/patient. This is a different, more educated  pony than the one we started with a few months ago. Essentially, adapt your riding to the changing pony !

Love, love, love the coaching here. There's some stuff in there that could have been presented harshly, but it was presented in a positive and encouraging manner. Above all, it's super honest and fair and she's great at giving you a plan and some tools to improve.

Sunshine-y ride through the neighbourhood


Tuesday 22 March 2016

Choo Choo!

All aboard the Midge Express!

I googled 'horse train' and found this awesome illustration. (Via pinterest)

Last night's lesson was less than wonderful, but it's my own fault. I really needed to spend some time up the coast with G, and I didn't coordinate for anyone to ride Bridget in my absence. Three days off and then throwing her into a jumping lesson was a recipe for a HOT pony. I can't be frustrated because it's my own doing, plus she's sorta fun when she's being ridiculous!
Reconsidering her outlook on things in the round pen this morning
 My lesson ended up being mostly about reminding her it's not cool to pull me around and run through my aids. Also not cool to then have a mare sulk and decide to use not going forward at all as Option B. Rules are for losers, says Ms B. Better to be wild and free and jump all the things from a gallop! "Half halt with your outside rein! Again! Harder!" says EC. I know I was trying, because my fingers got chewed up in a big way. It's OK, I still had fun and didn't need those fingers anyway ;)

Still, lots of great moments throughout, particularly near the end. I do prefer B to be a little on the muscle rather than stuck behind my leg. In a perfect world neither would happen, but we are imperfect so I can live with pushy pony for now while we work towards better things. I never feel nervous or afraid with her, so the odd slightly out of control jumping lesson is just another ride that I know we will improve on later.

Puddles made for fancy trots
I followed my ride up this morning with a little round pen session...The Midge has some serious sass these days and the easiest way to curb it is to make her tired and sad via trot/canter transitions in the round pen. I'm glad I did because there was some VERY rude pony tude on display. I have never met a horse with as much self confidence as this one. Even after everyone/all the horses tell her she is not all that, tomorrow is a new day and she's ready to try to prove she's the boss all over again.

In news related to Midge's diet/her current levels of dissatisfaction, my saddle has started sliding up on her shoulders as the ride progresses. This creates an angry giraffe pony, which obviously isn't our goal. The good news is that EC is pretty sure once B loses the extra weight, my saddle will go back to staying where it should. In the meantime, I'm going to be riding with a crupper, and Midge stays in her pony diet 'prison' letting her frustrations with life build. We're seriously uncool right now, lol.
Still thinks she's all that.


Monday 21 March 2016

Your Horse...

Inspired by this article at Horse Junkies United...

Things I've heard lately...

Your horse...
Ate an entire bale of hay last night. (Bridget, obviously)

Your horse...
Stood quietly alone for the farrier to trim her (go Ginger go! :)

Your horse...
Tore her blanket in half...again. (oh, Gingersnap!)

Your horse...
Should be in a contest for cute ponies (Bridget)

Your horse...
Is really pushy when I feed. (Bridget)

Your horse...
is two toned? (Bridget, and a barn dad unfamiliar with what a clipped horse looks like)

Your horse...
Looks like a Clydesdale crossed with an Arabian (Ginger)

Your horse...
Wanted to be in front, but then gave up halfway up the hill. She let the other horses go on without her. We made fun of her. (Again, Bridget, obviously)

Saturday 19 March 2016

No Show

Less than a month into my proposed show season, and we have a couple of cancellations. The dressage show we were going to attend this weekend has been cancelled through no fault of my own. Click here if you want to read a very sensationalist and dramatic news story why lol, Must have been a slow news day since this was front page, breaking news.

pics from 2015 to break text again. rest assured, her treat face is still the same as it was a year ago
The date for the (MREC - different barn/city) show the following day was shuffled to Easter weekend, which made me reconsider that as well - all those transport and ferry fees for 1 day of showing, on Easter weekend, a week and a half prior to our big 5 day outing to the interior of the province for the spring eventing clinic series. Hmm, as I may have mentioned in a previous post or two, I'm not independently wealthy and compromises must be made.

 So, the next couple of weeks will remain a little slowish. Looking forward, as mentioned, mid April is eventing camp, which I am beyond excited for. Then the third weekend in April is a clear rounds day at the local club. May through Sept is busy, busy, busy. So, we will take the remainder of March and all of April to hopefully be even more prepared for the show season,
rest up, little pony

As far as ride recaps, my last couple of rides have been nothing great. We're back to giraffe pony and rider who can't seem to find the right balance between pony being behind the leg and wiggly or forward and running through the bridle. I gave up and went for a hack instead the other day. That proved a wise choice, since the sun was shining and warm, the trees were getting their first leaves, and it was just generally a nice day to slow down and appreciate what a nice corner of the world we live in. Spring is here, for real!
a more accurate representation of the size of her belly than one might think

Fitness wise, I've been keeping to the plan and feeling great. Midge has been keeping to the fitness side of things, but she's hangry all the time and it's not been easy for her. She's had to be put in lock down at night so the barn doesn't run out of hay so she will lose weight, and she thinks it's torture to stand there and watch everyone else have free access to the feeder 24/7.


Thursday 17 March 2016

The Song Remains The Same

It seems that rather than alternating jumping lessons with dressage, we're now doing "dressage week" followed by  "jumping week". This actually makes more sense in that we can focus on concepts a little better and really reinforce things in my head (and Bridget's!)

 Ms Bridget was a little disappointed not to be jumping, but showed up to work anyways. Good pony! We worked on a lot of the same concepts as on Monday, neck rope included. In addition to our leg yields and transitions, we added in some shoulder in on the quarter line at trot, then expanded that concept into canter. Midge was a star, and by thinking shoulder in on the circle I think for the first time we were truly straight in the canter on our 20m circles. Of course we added in some spirals,( because what could possibly go wrong?! )and luck was on my side, pony has the concept and we did our first 10m canter circle ever. It wouldn't have scored great on a test, but the fact she tried and totally has the idea of sitting behind and lifting her shoulders over totally made my day. Go Midget! 

As we walked around on a loose rein after our ride, it also became apparent pony now totally steers off my seat. That's been such a long time coming , it's been sort of there for a while but hasn't been an immediate response thing until this week. I wonder if the neck rope thing has somehow helped her to really make the connection.

Some of my homework this week is self imposed: being very conscious of riding FORWARD into a steady contact - even when I think Bridget is forward and pushing from behind there is another gear in there I should be asking for. 

As for "actual" homework: lots of shoulder in on the quarter line focusing on having pony straight in her neck, but bent slightly through her body.  Bendy pony is very bendy, so straightness is our forever homework. For Monday: practice cantering our jumps on a super straight line of my choosing, insist on a good rhythm, pony working from behind. When I think the canter is pretty slow and powerful, it actually needs to be slower and bigger. We're sort of speed demons these days!

As a quick aside, I've had a few people lately (NOT bloggers, of course) make comments like "Well of course you're having good rides/progressing... you take two lessons a week...I wish I had that kind of money/ must be nice to be you" or "Wow, you have horses, must be nice to afford that lifestyle!" Which would be fine if I DID somehow how some huge bank account and no day job and a miraculous amount of talent. Envy me all you like then! :) But since I don't live that lifestyle, I'm annoyed. Please, could you notice how hard I work instead of assuming I am magically blessed somehow? I normally respond: "Technically, I don't have the time OR money! I love it, so I make a lot of sacrifices and work very hard to afford and budget time for it." But really in my head I'm thinking "Wake up! Don't assume others are somehow luckier or wealthier than you! If you REALLY want it, get to work, make it happen! Stop making excuses!" But since that would violate several of my self imposed barn etiquette rules I stick with answer option A and keep my head down and keep on working

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Dressage Lesson and Helpful Tricks

I know you're probably sick of hearing about how happy I am with the coaching at the current barn, but I can't help talking about how great it is! I did a quick google just now so I could sum up EC's background a little, and now I'm feeling thoroughly intimidated. Long story short, her relevant credentials would be a blog post in itself. The lady is way overqualified to be teaching me! Thank goodness she's friendly :)

 I am learning so much and feel like my riding has improved more in the past few months than in my entire life before that. (Changing my riding that much is a serious accomplishment in itself and probably should go somewhere near the top of her list of accolades ;) )

In all seriousness,  I've had good coaches and not so good coaches in the past, but I've never found that happy place where the instructor is super experienced/knowledgeable AND able to communicate that knowledge well AND able to adapt the teaching style to the student's needs/goals. 

OK, I'll stop gushing now. Promise. On to a lesson recap...

But first, a pic from last spring to break the text

As the tile of the post would indicate, tonight was dressage lesson night. EC was inspired from a recent clinic and had a trick waiting for us in the form of a rope tied in a loop.

I know, your mind is blown, right? Right now you're so grateful you read this much insight, so many great tips! OK, ok,  I'll explain - it really is a helpful tool :)

The idea is simple enough. I'm sure we've all had to do the riding crop under the thumbs thing to remind you to keep your hands level and together at some point in our education. Same idea, adjust your reins to the appropriate length, pick up rope goes around pony's neck, but hold it like the curb rein on a double. The idea is to keep some tension on the underside of the neck rope. It works kind of like the whip under the thumbs, with the added bonus of making it impossible for you to pull back on the reins. Also, you still get a little independent motion of your hands, so it's a little closer to 'real life' riding. Then, focus on going forward into the contact, forward into the down transitions, NO pulling back on your reins, ever! Use your seat to slow the pony :) For me, it was also a great reminder to keep my hands up and in front of me. I saw it in action and actually begged her to teach me with it in our lesson. I knew it would help in the canter when my inside hand gets all weird.
I did a google search for neck ropes and came up with a ton of weird and wonderful things... this pic is closest to what we're talking about although the reins here look like they're being held in a way that would make life difficult. Via pinterest

And, it worked. The left lead canter was actually pretty good, and that's our really tough side. In general, Midge felt super fussy in the contact at first, but since for once I knew it wasn't me, I didn't get weird about it and just kept pushing her forward. When she was soft and forward, the instructions were to the same as a normal ride - imagine you're pushing a shopping cart ie: hands up and forward a little. And voila, by mid ride I had a soft, amazing, fancy pony! I also felt like my position gradually got more solid - I wasn't as inclined to hunch my shoulders forward since the whole idea of keeping a light tension on the neck rope sort of forces you into keeping your shoulders back and seat in the saddle/core strong.

We played a little with really collecting (like almost trotting in place collected, so amazing), then extending the trot, also the whole straightness thing which will be our nemesis forever. We can go straight in a straight line or we can bend like a banana and drift all over the place. Straight on a circle? So difficult. EC took pity on me and had us do about a million leg yields...2 to 3 steps over - then straight and forward. Repeat, alternating direction/bend. So helpful and much more friendly than entire circles. Most amazing moment? Leg yield through that super slow, collected trot to a canter transition. It created a transition well beyond Bridget's norm and would rank up there as one of the best I've ridden EVER. So cool.

So, we had a great ride. I wouldn't pin that all on the neck rope. The Midge was being extra responsive to my seat and legs and still had some forward thinking due to our recent jump schools. I could see the neck rope thing not being as helpful if she was greener or in a mood, ie when exaggerated aids might be necessary. As a remedial tool I'd still highly recommend if you've got busy/'disobedient' hands and/or a fussy in the contact pony, or maybe just need a reminder to make those transitions off your seat. For someone like me on a green pony, it was a super cool way to really feel how things should be as far as my aids and position and having pony properly on the bit. Worth a try - especially for the price point of FREE - everyone must have a rope or some baling twine or a spare set of reins somewhere in the barn!


Tuesday 15 March 2016

Virtual Travels Weeks 9&10

In virtual travel news, Midge and I journeyed for 11 hours, or about 142 km/88 mi* in the past two weeks. That's slightly less than our norm, and short of our new fitness regime goals,  but I really, really, needed the 4 day vacation I took with the ever awesome G last weekend!

Our virtual miles have now taken us through Seattle, through to the Federal Way, WA area. I was tempted to detour to Vashon Island, since I hear it is very horse friendly, but I think for now we'll keep on heading south down the West Coast.

Perhaps as the miles add up, one day soon we will both be slightly less puffy (and fluffy!) :)

Check out our travel website/mapping app here.

*Midge also got ridden by WS while I took a time out, so she's still on task and probably put in 30-40 k or so without me. She's badass like that.


Monday 14 March 2016

Weekend With The Ponies

I am so motivated right now! I've been putting in productive rides every day. I don't know exactly what the catalyst has been in the past few months (great coaching, inspirational barn mates, fun pony to ride...lots of happy things to choose from) to change my outlook but I'm as enthusiastic now as I was when I was a kid. (That's obsessively crazy enthusiastic, for the record)
Pouring rain, all weekend long. Story of my life lately :)

I've been having good rides lately. I don't have any new exercises or real breakthroughs to share . I think it's just been a matter of putting in the time and being patient, trusting that what we're doing will pay dividends. Consistency, discipline, boring stuff like that. Midge's canter is really coming along, and as a result, jumping feels much more fluid and easy. Dressage wise, she's getting more and more adjustable, and has a really solid grasp of where I'm asking her to put her body. She's starting to be confident and relax and look for the contact again, so I'm hopeful the giraffe pony is once again slowly leaving us. Her work ethic is also much improved lately, perhaps because I've been popping her over the odd jump as a reward. Nice round, light canter? Here's a jump for you! Heavy, steamroller canter? So sorry, no jump this time. Amazing how her canter has improved so quickly this week lol.
Seriously need to hire a pro photographer. These pics won't work for a sale ad!
Go Ginger go!

In Ginger news, she's doing so well it seems a shame to sell her somewhere new. She's jumping tiny courses with her riders and looking good in her flatwork too. She's super brave to the jumps, even more so than Bridget! She's thriving with the busy schedule and honestly, IMO, still the better prospect of the two of them. She's attending the eventing camp with a next month, and I'm excited about that - I think she's going to love cross country! Honestly, it's getting harder and harder to not want to hop on her for a weekly lesson and/or make some big long term goals.  Therefore, I need to take some new pics and video and renew her ads. Dreams are great, but the reality is I absolutely cannot keep and ride two ponies, and I've been down this road before. Much as I adore Ginger, the Midge is more suited to my present needs...



Friday 11 March 2016

The Fitness Plan

As mentioned, Midge and I are both in need of a better fitness regime. We're already pretty active, but let's face it, we're both naturally more of the strong sturdy build. If three day eventing involved pushing things around a complicated pattern, then walking for a day or two, then carrying/throwing heavy objects on the last day, we'd win tomorrow. Also, we could smash things. We're both quite talented at that. It's unfortunate, but being graceful and running and jumping all the things does not come easily to either of us.

Since walking around smashing stuff is not a recognized equestrian sport (and we both not so secretly aspire to be graceful and agile and jump all the things) we need to get a little more serious and have a plan. 

Random images of the ponies to break the text again today...
Currently, I ride 4-5 times a week. Two lessons which are guaranteed to be a workout, but the other three days are pretty unstructured...we might jump a bit, we might do flatwork, we might hack out. For myself, I walk/hike about 3-4 hours a week. Again, sometimes that means mountains, sometimes it's walking to the store. 

Here's the new plan: 

AM: T - Run 30min
PM: Dressage lesson 1 hour, warm up 15 min. Total 1:15.

AM: T - Barn chores 1 hour
         Bridget - lunge w/ side reins 20 min
Lunch: T - Walk 45 min
PM: T - Run 30 min

AM: T - Barn chores 1 hour
PM: Jumping lesson 45 min, warm up 30 min on trail (hills!) Total 1:15.

AM: T - run 30 min
Lunch: T - walk 45 min
PM: Hack Bridget 1.5 hrs ( 30 min W/T/Canter warm up in arena, 1 hour walk/trot mostly steep rocky roads)

Depends. If travelling home, need to ride Bridget in the AM before work. Arena ride, mix jumping and flat, lots of canter intervals. If not, I run in the AM and it's Bridget's day off.

Either myself or trainer/working student ride Bridget out on trails, 1 hour. Canter work in arena, .5 hour. Total 1.5 hours.
T also goes hiking, about 1.5 hours.

Jumping if I'm not away, if I am this is Bridget's day off.
T goes hiking, about 1.5 hours. 

I know this schedule is vague on the details, but I'm super limited by working full time, daylight hours, and existing commitments. I'm out the door at 6:30 on weekdays, and don't get home until 7:30-8:00. There's not a lot of time left in my days for things like the gym or trailering the pony to a XC field for gallop sets.

Because Bridget is still green, I can't have a definitive plan and say things like "5 min intervals of trot then 3 of canter x 5" because the canter transition might suck and then we hop on that bus for 30 minutes and turn ourselves into sweaty messes struggling for that instead.

The big change for me is adding running back in 3x a week in addition to the current 4 hours of walking/hiking. Also, forcing myself to be consistent and not skip days! Thank you, earlier sunrises and longer spring days!

The big change for Bridget is bumping up the rides to 6x a week, and also being more structured about how we plan and approach them. Currently, I average about 5.5 hours/week of saddle time. Our new schedule bumps that up to just over 7. Also, again thanks to the longer days, we can fit in some hills out in the neighbourhood as a warmup some weeknights. We're going to introduce gallop intervals in the arena and be mindful about keeping the cardio a priority. 

Also, no more gorging on hay, and grain has been cut back (Bridget). No more weekend dinners out (unless they are healthy) or triple mochas in the morning (T).


Thursday 10 March 2016

No Quarter

Last night's lesson took place in the middle of a giant storm. 80km/hr (50mph for our American friends) wind gusts and torrential rain blowing sideways - it felt like we were in a high pressure car wash. My barnmates and trainer are super tough. Nobody cancelled their lessons, even though just getting to the barn was a slightly hazardous affair - flooded roads and downed trees everywhere. At least we are nearing the end of storm season so the weaker trees that were going to block the roads and knock out power have mostly fallen already or at least been trimmed back by the hydro crews.

Midget was not overly pleased to be pulled from her dinner to go out in such weather, but honestly, neither was I :)

Our lesson was a rehash of Mondays lesson - lots of smallish (2'3" - 2'6") jumps set up all over the arena and instructions given to find a nice canter, establish a rhythm, and ride the line I choose at the pace I choose.
More randoms from last weekend

This proved a lot trickier than Monday's ride. Midge was backed off and felt tired, so finding the balance of pushing her along without it turning into her dragging me proved elusive. We could gallop along on the forehand, or I could take my leg off and we could lose all energy and grind to a slow halt. As a newbie to jumping, I find having to push her along hard to ride and prefer the days when she's forward and taking me to the jumps. Also, the random objects blowing across the arena kept me a little too distracted - after Ginger it's hard to believe plastic chairs and pool noodles blowing across our line aren't going to cause some sort of excitement- so I frequently forgot to look at where we actually needed to be and ended up with awkward wiggly lines to our fences.

bigger jumps than this, same bad riding :)
To give the pony her due, she jumps anything you point her at (including that random pool noodle that blew/floated in our way) so what could have been an awful lesson was just sort if a "meh" one - a few crappy distances and a bit of an inconsistent pace through the courses. 

It's easy to get discouraged in the moment, but seriously, we barely had a canter at all a few months ago , and now we are cantering entire courses - the adjustability will become more consistent as she gets stronger and I get a better feel for the canter I need in our jumping lessons. Still, I am impatient and want to be a better rider right this instant!

On the super plus side, we have ZERO excuses not to put in a decent ride under any weather events - if we could jump a course today, we're good for anything!

Tuesday 8 March 2016


Bridget warmed up last night feeling a little sluggish - surprising considering she'd just had 3 days off. Not so surprising when EC mentioned the grate accidentally got left off the slow feeder the night prior and piggy pony ate 62 pounds of hay (an entire bale) overnight.

Photos from a recent neighborhood tour - loving the longer days that allow for daylight rides after work!
When I mentioned my disappointment with our recent show weekend, EC replied "You'd better not be disappointed in Bridget! She did awesome!" (She's a huge Bridget fan, in case you hadn't guessed) For the record, I was actually sad about my riding, so EC got right to work 'fixing' me. She's awesome about trying to keep things fun for us, but sometimes I feel like she goes a little too easy on me - her approach is generally as long as I'm riding safely and pony is being ridden fairly, pretty much anything goes. Since I want to be better than that, last night was all about reminders to keep my heels down and my hands up in front of me. Also, getting the pony truly in front of my leg and uphill/light in the contact, which makes it less likely I'm going to cheat and hunch my shoulders/bury my hands. So cool that Midge has come along far enough we can start picking on my bad habits while she just does her job :)

Acreages with ocean views, maybe I will win the lottery one day and move here.
Our actual lesson involved figure eights over some small verticals and oxers. Lots of nice long approaches, and a focus on keeping a consistent rhythm in the canter, and riding nice straight lines. Midge was super and figured out right away what lead she needed, changing over the fence. A treat because we were really able to find a nice rhythm and get things flowing very nicely entirely in canter, rather than spending our corners doing simple changes through trot. Her canter felt the best it's ever been, I so wish we could find a way to get that energy in our dressage tests!

Bridget felt very out of shape and was puffing quite easily. I'm thinking  it was  the warmer weather and the 60+ pounds of hay consumed rather than a return of her COPD symptoms, but we'll keep a close eye on her.

I sat down a few days ago and made up a proper fitness plan for the pony and I, so here's hoping we'll both be thinner and fitter this spring!

Monday 7 March 2016

Show Planning

Planning for a show season is new to me and I'm finding it super difficult. Normally, my options are quite limited and I just attend whatever is on offer locally. Last year I think that included a couple of shows in the fall, a cowboy trail challenge thing, and a few clinics in the winter/spring. Not overly exciting, and easy enough to just sign up the week before and attend if it worked for me.

My new barn however, has a mind boggling amount of things on offer - someone from the barn is going somewhere pretty much every weekend from now until September.The options are essentially unlimited, but with most of the events on offer being a minimum of an overnight trip away,  future planning is kind of necessary. Also, lots of $$$$ and time off work would be helpful!

Video stills from the weekend since my phone does not want to share entire videos with my laptop
The pony is still quite green and we're not guaranteed she'll show up to work, and her rider is also unreliable at best. With that in mind, spending big $ on travel and entry fees becomes a little worrisome. I know with horses anything can happen no matter how well prepared you are, but really, I'd like the odds of paying for a weekend on the struggle bus to be a little lower than they are at present :)

So, with all that in mind, here's our tentative schedule for the year:

*March 19: Southlands Dressage, Vancouver BC
*March 20: MREC 2 Phase Event, Maple Ridge, BC
April 14-17: HTBC Spring Clinic, Johvale, BC
May 7: SCEC Hunter/Jumper Day, (my super not so secret home, BC)
May 13-15: Southlands Dressage Show, Vancouver BC
May 28: SCEC Dressage % Day
*June 11-12: Aspen Farms HT, Yelm WA
June 18: SCEC Clear Rounds Day
*June 30 - July 3: Topline Horse Trails, Salmon Arm BC
July 16-17: MREC Horse Trails, Maple Ridge, BC
July 19-25: Rebecca Farms, Kalispell, MT (NOT planning on riding, just attending with barn & cheering on our girls going 1*)
Aug 12-14: Campbell Valley HT, Langley, BC
Sept 17: SCEC Hunter/Jumper Day
Sept 24: SCEC Dressage % Day
October 1-2: MREC Horse Trials, Maple Ridge, BC

* = Maybe going, might switch out for something else. I'm not committing until closer to the day/we know where we're at training and riding wise.

As you can see, I've got quite a few local (SCEC) shows on the agenda. They're really cheap to attend, well run, and the competition level is pretty high. What's not to like? Oh wait, missing out on some of the destination type shows, that's what :) But let's be honest, neither myself or my pony is a superstar in the making, so for now we are all about keeping things affordable and fun! This season will be all about getting as many cheap miles as possible at Starter and Pre-Entry, (2'3" and 2'6" divisions for our American friends :) and putting in some respectable dressage tests at first level.
My original plan was to try to attend one 'away' show per month, and then as many local shows as possible. I think I've got as close to that as I feasibly can. I'm pretty excited.

If you see us out and about, come say hi! We're friendly, I promise :)

A reminder of what we look like! With my lack of media over the past few months, you're excused for forgetting :)


Saturday 5 March 2016

Working hard

I got pictures, and they're of the very disappointing sort. But, HEY, I FINALLY GOT RIDING PICTURES! ;) I think it's something to do with my crappy riding  the lighting in our ring, but very few of our recent pictures or video are even remotely blog worthy.
Dark and shadowy, but hey, it's something :)
I'm currently on a nice mini vacation from work. Originally we had planned to be somewhere warm and sunny, but life got in the way, so here I am up the coast in our little house hiding from the wind and rain. At least there are beaches and an ocean nearby? Maybe a margarita might help.

Since I am extremely motivated right now on the horse front, I caught the later ferry home in order to fit in a ride first. I missed my jumping lesson this week, and as mentioned in my last post one of my current goals is to get the canter more balanced. There are moments when it is really nice, so I'm crossing fingers hard we're almost there. The easiest way for me to keep Midge's canter motivated outside of a lesson is to pop her over the odd jump. This also attempts to help me sit quietly and keep those disobedient heels down.

Figure eights today, over the x, then around and over the little oxer to our right, then across the diagonal to the same set up on the other end of the arena. I can feel EC shouting at me to carry my hands in front of my body.

Terrible pic, but the only one timed where we are actually jumping something.

All the canters. Again, not a great picture/moment in time, but you can see we don't need an entire area to turn anymore and the motorbike turns are more upright these days. Softness is coming too, there were some dressage worthy moments sprinkled in to the mix. I might even have some video coming!

Not the best ride, not the worst. I'm stuck in a bit of a rut and feel like it's been a while since things have felt really good. It may be time for a trainer ride!

Friday 4 March 2016

Lesson Recap - Reevaluating Things

Will the good or evil pony show up for our lesson?

Monday night's lesson was a no go; I was simply too tired after the weekend and suspected Midge might be glad of a day off too. We rescheduled, opting for a quick hack on Tuesday, followed by a lesson on Wednesday.

Although our test comments over the weekend were generally good, there were of course some things consistently mentioned for us me to work on.  Obviously, the pony was looky, I was nervous, and there were comments re: getting Bridget rounder and softer through the back. Those I accept, but aren't something I'm overly concerned with as we have lovely work at home and I think it's just a matter of us getting confidence via more show miles. The following two points are the ones I'd really like to work hard on improving this season:

- Stop nagging the poor pony. (No, the comments didn't actually say that, but reading between the lines re: pony having great forward energy and rider needing to just sit and use seat and core more to contain it, I think that's what was being said in the kindest possible way) Tough in the moment, as Bridget wanted to rush, then suck back behind the leg/wiggle/look at everything, but in general still a fair assessment. This is the first 'push' ride I've ever owned and it still feels weird. No excuses though, I want to be as quiet as possible up there regardless of what horse I'm sitting on!

- Canter is unbalanced/hurried. This one is self explanatory and a work in progress.

With those in mind, we tackled our dressage lesson. My lesson mate was working on counter canter loops, which was actually quite complimentary to what we're working on with Bridget: control over the shoulders and hindquarters through transitions. We started with a shoulder in on the circle, then moved out around the arena. Next, we added in some haunches in, then started alternating moving the shoulders and haunches while keeping the  pony's neck straight and her body on the proper, consistent angle. Tricky, when you're switching between bends. In relation to my above goals, I really concentrated on letting the pony carry me, and trusting her to hold the position and tempo on her own.

Finally, we carried the above exercise into the canter. Bridget is starting to learn how to carry herself and is finally getting strong enough to move her shoulders and haunches around in the canter. Pretty exciting stuff!
If nothing else, I am winning at growing luxurious pony tails. I had no idea it was so long until I saw this pic - time to bang it like a proper british pony.
At some point in the past few months, my riding goals have gone from just wanting to be effective/safe and have a fun hobby, to wanting to actually be good at this. I have some long term goals that have been floating around in my head for years now, and I currently have zero excuses for not pursuing them. EC is on board with that plan, so expect a lot of rider/horse management boot camp type posts in the near future - we're about to start addressing some of my terrible riding habits and push my comfort zone in a big way. I'm also going to ride some horses other than the pony. After this many years, you can expect these changes will be painful.  I have no idea if any of my goals will come to fruition, but that's not the point. The point is that I don't want to look back on life and have any regrets or what ifs. Here goes nothing....;)