Tuesday 29 November 2016

Another recap

I was feeling pretty happy about last weeks lessons. So happy, that when Bridget warmed up a little argumentive and braced for my planned flat ride this weekend, I was like, "Oh well, it's the weekend and I want to have fun. Let's just jump instead." And then much fun was had. Since when do I choose to jump school without my coach or an experienced barnmate around to encourage it? This would be like maybe the third or fourth time in history lol. My confidence over fences isn't back 100%, but it's getting better.

So, then Monday happened. Dressage lesson night and time to pay up for all my slacking in the flat work department the last couple of weeks!

Bridget, being the super smart pony she is, was like, "NOPE. Cannot bend left. Ever. At all." Also overheard: "Contact? Round? Are you kidding me?" Next up: "And now that we've established I cannot dressage, it's time to jump, right?"

Cue mini pony tantrum every time we passed  the jump located unbearably close to our 20m circle of dressage remediation. Which, over the course of an hour = roughly eleventy billion times.
We got sweaty
So, on to some bad news: Bridget has become quite particular about the contact, and I'm currently struggling a bit with it, because she's perfectly happy to go everywhere in more of an up and open frame and is bendy enough that the usual tricks of getting her rounder by creating bend, shoulder in, spirals, etc etc do nothing to help.

And, the good news: Bridget has become quite particular about the contact. I'm told this is actually OK and a normal progression for the kind of ride she is- it means she's learning to carry herself more often than not rather than relying on me/the reins to help balance. This is forcing me to ride better and be more conscious of my elbows. No more keeping a steady contact and riding her forward to it...now we're in a bit of a grey area where she's not always in good balance, but she certainly would prefer I follow along quietly. Shes in front of my leg and taking me along most of the time, but not all the time. I'm figuring it out as I go, as is she, but when we get things right, there's some nice things happening. The consistency will come, I hope.

Lilac colored cooler because if you have a pony it's basically a requirement to have girly things in the wardrobe.

And, as a final note, something sort of cool happened towards the end of the ride. I was finally riding better, Bridget was soft and round and had all the impulsion right there.  We've been super strict about Bridget being active and forward this fall, and also really working hard on the canter. So, last night, when I meant to transition to trot, the Midge just sat and pretty much cantered on the spot. Not what I had in mind, but I cantered forward out of that and gave her a big pat - certainly I'll accept that effort from the pony who could barely canter a year ago. Besides....it felt super neat and I'd like to hope that canter will be a real thing in our future :)

Thursday 24 November 2016


Last night's lesson served as a sequel to Monday night's. Same fences set up, but some different courses and some varying heights to keep it interesting.
Midge was happy to hear we were jumping again. Or...she thought I might have treats.
We warmed up, then went to work on the 6 stride line, playing with getting 7 (Midge's happy place), 6 (go Midge go!) and 8 (compress the canter please). We were supposed to trot in, and without a placing pole I found it difficult to get 'the' canter I wanted in a timely fashion. Part me asking at a weird time, part Midge thinking on things for a stride before listening, So we got all sorts of awkward jumps in, but Midge was great about adjusting once she actually got going.

We then tackled a similar course to Monday night. The part that made me nervous was the one stride...coming in uphill on a left turn is hard for us (Midge's right shoulder is the one that I tend to lose and we're all about getting sucked into that corner), plus it was coming into a large-ish oxer...the reverse of Monday where we jumped out over the oxer. EC humored me and put the 'b' part down to a cross pole to start, that way if we biffed the oxer it was NBD.

Never fear, though, Bridget tackled it all in excellent style, and we even bumped the b part up to a little vertical  EC took advantage of my focus on the one stride and left the rest of the fences up at my lesson mate's height rather than lowering them a bit. I overheard one of the barn kids say they were setting to 2'9". So, there's that! I my mind I always think we're such babies (and we really are compared to my barn mates!) and am surprised when the fence heights actually measure to something we could compete at with actual adults. It was only my anxiety holding us back! I'm so pleased with how forward and game Bridget is right now. On the plus side, I think the step back has maybe made her a bit more keen and confident as well. It's certainly working for me, I'm starting to feel excited about some events in the spring again.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Not a Gymnast

I really and truly struggle with gymnastic exercises. My upper body wants to tip forward and I'm not always quick enough to get myself organized for the next fence. Gymnastics, dancing, or really anything requiring a sense of rhythm and coordinated movement...not my thing.  Thank goodness my life ambitions never included being a gymnast, drummer, dancer or anything related :)

In my defense, B is a little tricky too...she loves to try to quit mid exercise, then mix it up randomly and drag you through with crazy over enthusiasm, then gain a mysterious uncontrollable shoulder the next time. For someone like me, it's difficult to keep up with...actively needing to anticipate B's next trick plus ride AND sit up, look up, keep my weight in my heels, wait for the jump, etc etc is more than my tiny brain can handle.
Course du jour

I'm told December is gymnastic month. Yay, can't wait. More pain and struggle coming my way lol Actually, I look forward to it because I've turned into a bit of a chicken about jumping and an entire month of scary/difficult grids, sometimes sans hands and stirrups, will hopefully make me a better rider and as a result,  confident again. Currently I  tend to get nervous and just let Bridget take the wheel, but I'll remind you of this posts second paragraph for why that's not a wise plan :)

How our lesson actually looked...so dark out! This is why I make pretty course maps :)

Height wise, my happy place is currently around 2'3". It's all in my head tho, because Bridget currently over jumps everything like it's a welsh cob Nations Cup at Spruce Meadows....so really we jump everything at around 3'. EC is a genius at sneaking bigger stuff into our courses, so at least we are still progressing slowly there and while the bigger stuff visually seems intimidating on my pony, it rides the same as the small stuff and never feels impossible. I'm also suddenly nervous of tight related distances, no clue why or how that's evolved to be a thing in my head, but EC has radar for that as well and so there is always at least one in our lesson.

The one thing working for me is I'm pretty good at math and geometry. Last night, when I finally thought things through, picked my lines wisely and insisted Bridget stay with me, the awkwardness was gone and even the dreaded one stride rode beautifully.  I don't know why my confidence is wanting to abandon me, but I'm not letting it go without a fight - I'm not ready to stick to dressage quite yet!

Monday 21 November 2016

November 10

How old is the youngest/greenest horse you’ve ridden? 

I've sat on late 2 year olds just so it's no big deal later. Actually ridden, like they're in work? I've ridden 3 year olds that weren't mine. With mine, I've waited until 4 or even 5 to really start them.

How old is the oldest horse you’ve ridden?

When I was a kid, we rode a naughty little pinto shetland pony named Chester up until he was 37. He lived until his early 40's!

Were you scared of horses when you first started riding?

I wasn't the most confident/outgoing kid in general, but horses didn't scare me.
G came to visit and offered to take pics. Proof  I'm not imagining it - I need a fancy camera to deal with our  never ending winter dark here.

Would you say you’re a more nervous rider or a confident rider?

Ridiculously confident with Bridget. Moderately confident on horses I know. Nervous of new horses or ones I've had a bad experience on to the point I don't ride strange horses unless I know them a bit.

Biggest pet peeve about non-horse people around horses?

Dog people who let their dogs run at, jump on, chase or otherwise invade my or my horse's personal space, on or off barn property. My weird sense of humor thinks it would be funny to let Bridget loose on the trail and be like "Oh it's OK, don't worry, she hates dogs but she's usually too slow to catch them. She's people friendly tho!" ;)

A time you’ve been scared for your life (horse related)?

Bridget fell on me a few months ago. The moment I was lying there watching her come down on top of me!
:) At least it's media?

Have you ever fallen off at show? What happened?

That time I was the only competitor in my division in a flat class and the judge joked 'just don't fall off'. Then, someone galloped up my green horse's butt, and...I fell off.

What’s a breed of horse you’ve never ridden but would like to ride?

Fell ponies look super cute and awesome.

Describe the worst behaved horse you’ve ridden?

Lots of babies with bad manners. When I worked at a trail riding business, some of those horses would figure out what they could get away with and could be a bit naughty. Quite a few biters and kickers there, and then there were the ponies! lol
Lovely jump standard

The most frustrating ride you’ve ever had?

I'm not a fan of adult horses with world experience that still tend to get so upset they lose all sense of self preservation. Particularly on trail rides. It's a bit frustrating and not something I'm overly happy or wanting to be patient about dealing with anymore. Fingers crossed, my cob girls so far seem to be quite good at avoiding Darwin awards :)

Thursday 17 November 2016

Too Busy

I continue to fantasize about having the time to focus a little more on horses and riding. Sadly, I am not independently wealthy, nor am I young/talented/fit enough to make that a viable full time option. I suspect there is some middle ground somewhere, a lifestyle where there are enough hours in the day to have a career and personal life  AND learn how to ride and train without compromising. Right now, I don't have it, or even anything close to it. I'm pulled in a million different directions every day, and honestly, I'm feeling pretty burnt out and exhausted.

Blogging does help, it's a great way to organize my scattered thoughts on all things Bridget and riding. While part of me feels sorry for any readers who wade though such dry material, another part of me is glad I've kept this mostly a training diary...there's no pressure to be interesting or entertaining, it just is what it is :)

Anyway, surprise, on to yet another ride and lesson recap! First off, daylight hours and sunshine are sadly lacking in this part of the world come winter. I don't know exactly the last time I was outdoors in the sun, but I know for sure it must have been in September - we've had a very wet and dark fall. I hacked Q mare out in the dark last night and it wasn't the best. Cool weather = hot horses and probably for safety sake I should stick to daylight hours or lighted arenas on her. (She's not being overly naughty, just feeling good.) I'm planning on another lesson with her soon, I enjoy them with her.
Need more of this, please

On to Ms Bridget. Bridget lives in her own pen at night so we can ration her food. By the time I went to grab her last night, she had already put herself to bed in her pen, and was hoping for her haynet, not the halter I was carrying. Poor B!

Our lesson was more of what we worked on Monday night - keeping B straight and in front of my leg every stride, making those hind legs quicker. I don't know if it's the weather or the lack of turnout, or both, but she's been feeling a bit 'stuck' and stiff through her neck and back, which is a bit out of character for her. It's minor, but it definitely requires a longer warmup and some patience. It's been a while since my giraffe pony made an appearance.

In keeping with the theme of being too busy, I'm being too busy as a rider. I feel like I've improved, but I seriously need to work on NOT nagging the pony. I think a good part of B's current fussiness can be traced back to me. (The rest is her thinking moving her hind legs more is a dumb idea ;)

post lesson, about to be tucked into bed for real
Our lesson was actually really good. The funk is definitely real, but the canter is improving every ride right now, which is really exciting. The walk and trot continue to improve in teeny increments. Bridget is getting stronger and fitter, and sharper to react, while I'm learning how to ride it...all very good things!

Tuesday 15 November 2016


Until recently, most of the concepts we've been teaching Bridget (and myself!) have been pretty simple. We've come so far, but 99% of what we do is basic things, day in and day out. Correct repetition of simple exercises in hopes of building a stronger, more athletic pony.
Pretty much this for the first few months. Found via Google images, sorry no idea who gets original credit for this perfect 'Survival Pyramid"

Dressage training scale for comparison.

Now that we're adding collection to a fair part of the ride, things feel a lot more complicated. At least for me, and I suspect for Bridget also. The nuances we're looking for are becoming less obvious to me, which makes life a bit more difficult. Last night, EC put in a trainer ride on Bridget so I could sit and learn by watching. I love having a coach that can and will hop on and demonstrate concepts for you.

Last night's concept: Getting B absolutely straight and even on both reins, and really pushing from behind. It's very subtle, but in walk and trot she does tend to swing herself from side to side (a tiny case of the wiggles) rather than really powering forward. It's so subtle that I can feel it a bit intermittently in the saddle, but from the ground I can't see it in the walk at all. At the trot, you don't notice anything until she is using herself super correctly, and even then the difference is that her trot goes from nice to a little bit nicer. She's got a good natural trot, nothing fancy, but correct. If I can get her hind legs a bit quicker and add that tiny bit 'more' to it consistently we could build a better trot.  But, the improvements will be in little increments as she builds strength and balance. Nothing like the big changes that we used to be able to accomplish with a greener Bridget working on baby things. Honestly, last night as I watched, for over half the ride I was thinking B looked tight and rushed and a bit of a mess, but then some changes became evident and I could see the method to the madness. B was suddenly going as well as she does on a good day, but with a little more 'sparkle'.

EC, as always, has a plan stretching far into the future. She motivated me to be super disciplined by casually mentioning we need to start thinking about half steps but in order to introduce that as an easy concept for her we need her a tiny bit straighter and more balanced. If we don't ensure the trot is perfectly balanced now, we will run into trouble with piaffe/passage. Goals, we've got them.

I have no idea how my cobby little pony does the things she does, but I sure appreciate her willingness and this opportunity for me to learn so much with her.

Thursday 10 November 2016

Measurable Progress

So, last year at this time, my coach set up the following "simple" exercise:

Circle of Death.

And it kicked our butts. Even just as poles on the ground, even at a trot. As X poles, the difficulty was multiplied exponentially. Cantering it was obviously not a thing, and we were doing good to stay on a sort of circle and stay in canter for one jump, maybe every second one at our very best.

This year, we again started in trot, again just with poles on the ground. Alarmingly, B decided she simply could not bend right and the poles were far too exciting, and it got a little weird pretty fast. I really got on her case about bending around my leg and staying out on the circle, and things started to smooth out. Up to canter. Much inside leg required as she loves to fall into the right, and this exercise serves to highlight any issues like that.  But, we did it. Easily, with no issues.

Next, repeat to the left. This is B's more challenging direction as she tends to pop her shoulder and fall out if I'm not super on it. She was being a bit rude and running through my outside aids, so EC suggested riding her counterbent and really, really sending the message that she needs to keep that shoulder where I ask. And it worked! (Also with noting, later on in the ride EC commented on how well B was going now that I was using my outside rein so well, so "counterbent" to me might actually mean "straight and between the aids" to the rest of the world.)

Next progression: raise the poles into cross rails. Instructions: choose your path on the circle and set a pace, sit lightly and quietly out of the way, pony needs to figure the rest out herself. Unlike last year, this was pretty much no big deal. We cantered around on 4 strides and B kept a nice regular pace with zero difficulty.
Re - using part of our course diagram from last weekend

Final challenge: 2 turns on the circle, then out across the diagonal, over a large vertical, loop back and come back to our circle for two turns in the opposite direction. I thought for sure this one would catch us out since the vertical was right where B loves to accelerate downhill towards the barn. Ideally you'd like to keep your "circle of death" canter the entire way, or at least be handy enough to find it again on the long side coming back into it. But, although I let her speed up a stride or two before and after, I had zero issues bringing her back.

So, I'm feeling pretty good today about how maneuverable and adjustable our canter is becoming. Of course there is always room for much improvement  (stopping the whole falling in/out thing requires a little too much rider "help" for my tastes)

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Treats and Rewards

*Not a post about rewarding the pony with treats, not something we do here since Midge is incapable of being polite about such things for any length of time*

Instead, a post about recent riding and training breakthroughs, also my current treat-yourself-to-online-shopping addiction :)

On the riding and training topic: We're starting to reliable half halts in the canter, and to the right we can even get a few strides of collected canter! This is huge because it's taken pretty much forever to get the pony cantering along in front of the leg. First she needed to learn to canter, then how to turn in the canter, then how to shift her weight back and move her body where I ask. Two years of regular work! The next time I go shopping I will be tempted to look for a canter above all else :) Also, it's taken forever for her to realize any tiny ask for more hind end activity does not equal stopping...half halts are sometimes even tricky in trot, since there are days when she'd rather ignore your leg and suck back behind the contact or else move up quite sharply, but drag you along. Baby stuff. My pony still has no work ethic and is forever looking for a reason to quit, but somehow we're making progress. At the moment, the canter is going better than the trot, which I will take as a compliment to our hard work on it.
Sturdy drafty pony is not built for elegance.

Shopping wise....I've been super bad. I love my new Asmar coat so much and I wanted a new warm vest to ride in (my current one is shedding down feathers everywhere), so I looked to see what the Asmar line have. They have some very expensive things, but then I found this at 50% off and in Canadian dollars (so like 75% off the original price), so I ordered it as a treat to myself, along with some composite stirrups:

Asmar Ascot vest

I didn't hear anything for over a week, then I got an email that they were actually sold out. So boo to that. I'm cold all the time, so I went online and found this substitute from another store. A blessing in disguise, because this vest was on sale for like $40, and I think from the pictures I like it more:
Horseware Hexham vest
Plus, with the money saved, I ordered a pair of winter breeches on sale.

Then, a couple of days later...I get an email. "Oops we actually DID have the Asmar vest in stock and are shipping your order to you now."

So, that's the story of how treating myself to a new winter coat spiraled out of control and I spent about $450 in the space of a month on a coat, 2 vests, some stirrups, and a pair of breeches. I never been that great about spending money on 'things' so I'm feeling super guilty. On the plus side, I will be warm and dry this winter!


Monday 7 November 2016

No Stirrups November Level 10

I have a confession: I was already skeptical of the footing on our planned foxhunting route this weekend, so when I woke up to pounding rain, I made a sleepy game day decision and crawled back in bed. Im burnt out from real life anyway and needed a quiet weekend. But with that, my annual chance at foxhunting is gone for another year.
I need this for work.

By the time I woke up "for real" I was feeling pretty sad about the situation. I felt better when I got to the barn and it turned out none of our group braved the conditions. Then, the girl that owns Q mare and I came up with a consolation prize...a fun, hunting themed jump course in the indoor Saturday,  followed by a lengthy trail ride with plenty of gallops Sunday. Pretty much the same as hunting, right? (Yeah, I know, not really, but points because we tried?)

Because I think we were both feeling a little guilty,  we set up jumps as follows:

Yep, that's a circle of death on a 20m diameter, a bendy line, a one stride away from the gate, and Bridget's barrels of doom. Pretty much a low light reel of the things we've failed at this past year. Oh and it's no stirrups November, so that's fun.

Long story short, we've improved since last year. The level of fail was moderate and involved me picking a bad line once or twice and Midge powering through anyways. Much better than previous incidents of crashing into the arena wall (circle of death), rider falling (bendy 2 stride), stops (one stride away from the gate), and pony fall (barrels of doom, spooked and lost footing). I look forward to lesson nights this week, so we can get some coaching to help us be even more solid.\

Just a little trail ride

Our hack was a rainy, mucky affair, but fun and I thought a good opportunity to clock up some easy no stirrups miles. But, it's pretty slippery and rough out there right now, and creek crossings and hills that are doable in the summer are pretty intense right now. There are a couple of gullies in particular that had me wishing for stirrups - the ground was so treacherous and the horses both wanted to do it Man From Snowy River style, which was....interesting. Q mare in particular bounced and bronc'd up AND down a couple of them, and B wasn't much better. They're feeling quite fresh at the moment! I was very glad we opted out of the hunt and instead were able to cut things a bit shorter and pick the most reasonable routes home that we could. Still, it was a 2.5 hour adventure and a good workout for all involved.
Post ride treats being requested


Saturday 5 November 2016

Stubborn Together Blog Hop: Couples Therapy

Piccolopony,  awesome blogger and the owner of one of Bridget's soulmates, Katai, asks us:

How does your current (or past) trainer manage the partnership/relationship between you and your horse(s)?

I'm so, so, lucky in that I've found a coach that works for us the vast majority of the time. There are definitely days when I find it all beyond frustrating, where I just want to go back home with pony in tow and cruise the trails for life, but I seriously can not argue with either my coach's  resume or the results she gets from us. I've learned more in the last year than I ever have, and its solid, positive stuff I'll probably use for life.

Relationship wise, she's very good at being realistic about expectations, but also encouraging you to be the best possible you. That goes for both horse and rider. On a Bridget and T specific level, she is always encouraging me to ask for and expect more from Bridget. She thinks Bridget is pretty awesome, and is not quick to blame the horse for anything, so usually it's me that is expected to step up my part of the relationship a little more! I appreciate her honesty, it very much helps to keep me motivated and confident. I think without this specific coach, I'd still be motivated and have goals, but be quite vague about how I was going to get there, and also would lack the confidence to ask Bridget for as much as I should. Progress would be very slow and I'd likely give up at some point, believing we just weren't capable of getting to a higher level.
Famous Bridget. Sorry, so nerdy, but amused me too much not to share.

Ginger wise, I'll forever appreciate my coach listening to my musings last year and basically responding with "Life's too short. I can teach you both, but I'd rather teach you on the horse you're having fun with right now." The decision to focus on Bridget has been a very wise one, and I respect that she never came out and said "Silly person, for your goals Bridget is the one with the talent and mind you need!" Instead, she just set out to prove her point re: Bridget's awesomeness, worked to increase my confidence, and found Ginger a super little lease rider in the meantime. Ginger is doing really well, I do ride her from time to time and enjoy it, but I'm cool with the status quo and I've never been pressured to ride her or sell her or basically make any decisions until I'm ready. Lately, I'm pretty much all aboard the "breed Ginger to Cardi" train, partly because I like the idea, but mostly because I trust my coach's  judgement and expertise. If she thinks it's a good plan for my future prospect, I'm in.

Thursday 3 November 2016

No Stirrups November

I've been really struggling to stay positive this fall. A bit of it's the weather, maybe the shorter days. A lot of it's work related, mostly other people's problems, agendas, and work politics bothering me more than they should. The dynanic there has changed immensely in the last year or so, with no signs of the pendulum swinging back to a better atmosphere any day soon. I've been fantasizing about walking out, throwing my meager possessions in the truck and waving goodbye. See ya later, hope you don't mind being miserable without me, I'll be busy sleeping in and hanging out with my husband (when I'm not at the barn!) Quite a satisfying fantasy, really.

TBT to video stills of Midge and I having fun on XC last spring. Happy times :)
 I'm very lucky in that if it does get to the point where I'm "done" with this particular job, I do have lots of other options on the table, including the above. But the option weighing in itself is a stressful thing!

So, last night I went to the barn, and spent some time hugging B and Ginger (neither are cuddly, Bridget tolerates it, Ginger is now likely traumatized by my excessive feels and neediness ;)

My lesson was average, some bad, some ok, and some good. I like average lessons, because they help give me a structure for when things aren't going perfectly, but aren't so bad that there's no redemption.

Our lesson was once again on the flat, and as my post title would suggest, done without stirrups. Since I am in dire need of a dressage saddle, riding sans stirrups in my jumping saddle is actually easier, there is no fighting to keep my leg and seat in the right place. A few pieces of the canter puzzle became available to me simply because I could place my body where I wanted so easily. Pretty cool.

This should be the place where I tie all my rambling thoughts together with an analogy about fighting vs making things easier on yourself, or even dedication and hard work bringing results, but yeah, personal life at the moment is not that simple and won't be solved by horses. What I do know is the barn and the ponies are keeping me sane and I look forward to and enjoy lesson nights very much. Also, a few more paycheques will bring me closer to affording a dressage saddle for Xmas. Priorities :)