Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Buying Time

Thank you all so much for your feedback. Man, did it ever feel better just typing my woes and reading different views of the situation.

For now I am going to stay put (paid for board until the end of May so giving myself that window of reflection) and see what I can learn about the extent of this issue. I have asked the previous BO if I can come back for June 1st, so that is in place if that is what I decide.

I took Shiraz for a hand walk down the path directly off Shiraz's new paddock. It heads right into the park and to the xc course.
I talked to the BO and he was very kind and open about what he knew of it--that two of the horses had longstanding chronic issues but more had only started coughing just this spring. A vet was out and suggested the very dry spring we are having is increasing dust in general plus there could be a pollen component. He described his hay feeding practice and was not open to watering down the hay as there were just too many horses/hay piles and he could not add that to his chores.

Heading further into the park the path lined with wood shavings much of the way.
I am considering buying a watering can (no hoses reach that back paddock) and watering down the hay piles in Shiraz's paddock when I am there, with the BO's permission. Would that be securing my position as that boarder? Probably? Do I care as long as my mare has less dusty hay when possible? Nope.

For now, we are loving the location.

Next time I may try riding this path. Hopefully I can coordinate going with some other riders.
I am dreading the deadline of telling either new place I am leaving or old place that I am not coming back after all. Either way a bridge will probably be burned.  

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Boarding is B*$%@#*t.

Losing my mind. This is going to be pure "this is how I am feeling/what the fuck have I done" vomit. Sorry.

Stress in every corner doesn't help, but indecision tends to plague me, compounding every problem.
Two weeks ago Shiraz was so spooky I was afraid to ride her. In fact I did not ride most of the week leading up to the derby. After about two weeks of just feeling like maybe it was not a good fit, I decided to remove Shiraz from that barn and move her to one that had been recommended to me.

New home!...?...:'(
I needed to know--is this just how Shiraz was going to be at this age/stage in training or was it just a bad fit for her? We all know I am not the bravest rider and I was feeling on the verge of losing confidence.

So I moved her. The new barn is great. The property backs onto the park. I can ride to the xc course. There is a xc coach on site. Shiraz is completely MELLOW and my first ride on her there was FANTASTIC. Not one single step of jig. WTF?!!!


The hay is always round bales. I checked the hay on my tour. It happened to be a very good bale (super clean and fantastic grass mix) and the BO does not put the bale in the paddocks but tractors in servings. I know from personal experience round bales are typically dusty and would fork in servings rather than drop a bale into the paddock. Unfortunately on bringing Shiraz there, I noted the piles of hay tractored in were actually very dusty. Ya, round bales can be hit or miss. Some are horrible and some are great, even from the same field baled on the same day. My own hay shed is full of that proof. But more alarming was that four out of six of Shiraz's pasture mates have very bad chronic coughs.

Me, sitting on a bucket, weighing pros and cons of being at a great barn where my horse seems so happy and relaxed after I had to wash her nostrils out because of the thick coating of dirt lining them after her breakfast, considering her likelihood of developing COPD.
 I looked at the horses in her paddock on my tour. None of them happened to be coughing at that moment. Standing there, on day one of dropping Shiraz off, listening to the other horses wheezing and hacking over their hay piles I just about cried.

I'm so disappointed, sad, feeling foolish for jumping in to do best by my horse and just making things worse.

I am feeling a lot of horse community pressure. Very important people recommended this move and disapproved of my previous barn. It did not cause my initial move, but it is making me worry about switching back to my original barn choice if they will have me. I cannot find another option that I can afford in the area. I hate that I have to chose between physical health and mental wellbeing. Knowing that the quiet Shiraz is still there, I have hope she will settle in with time if she goes back. I mean, why the hell wouldn't she? Right?

Lady, I can't even look at you. Just pick a place and let me be. -- Shiraz, most likely.
Anyone else muddle things up in the name of trying to improve your horse's situation? Or have a horse be nuts at one place but happy in another for no obvious reason?

Friday, 11 May 2018

Derbies and Baby Horses

Straight to the point: My sweet little mule is possibly definitely the best baby horse to ever trot on four legs and tranter over 2 foot logs.

So fierce over her first fence of the day!
Shiraz was a total star for last weekend's derby and I was not expecting any of it. I mentally prepared myself for a spooky, jigging horse that *might* be able to complete the pace round I had entered and most definitely would be skipping a lot of jumps in the two following starter rounds I entered subsequent to pace.

Skeptical of the bales but happy to try anyways!
We had a "Meet the Fences" on Saturday with a coach for an hour and a half and it started out pretty much as I was expecting. Shiraz was tense and a bit worried about the other horses in our group, especially when they trotted or cantered up behind her which resulted in some fantastical spook/flails. I tried to ride like it was all no big deal though and stay relaxed, clear in my aids and help her feel supported.

Just the prettiest though :D
What I found cool though was that she relaxed more and more as we began to jump things. By the end of the lesson we had jumped everything coach had asked us and Shiraz was feeling like her sweet, lazy, lovable self - something I haven't seen much of since she has been at the new boarding barn.

Less effort and sloppy knees but happy horse as she relaxed in the field. 
This left me feeling much more confident about what was to come on Sunday, but I still had no idea how Shiraz would feel about heading out on the field on her own.

A little luck sewn on because I was feeling I would need it. :)
Sunday was an early start as I was second on the order of go for my pace round first thing in the morning. It did not leave much room for settling in time but we headed off on our pace round at a stiff trot and stayed in that trot for the entire round. And we lived, so success!

Heading out onto the field on our own with random jump judges scattered about, I could almost hear the wheels in Shiraz's brain turning trying to figure out what the hell we were even doing.

The best pony acting like an old show pro on derby day.
We had a short break before our starter round which was just enough time to finish settling in and get comfortable over the warmup cross rails. We headed out again at the trot and Shiraz did a great job of listening to me and jumped every fence on course. The toughest part was heading through the trees to move into the second field that we had not practiced in the day before, but she listened to me through her fear which was very cool to ride.

Video of Saturday practice

For my final round I did the starter course again. This time we cantered everywhere it felt doable and Shiraz was starting to discover the game. She was much more relaxed and I could feel she had a better idea of what the plan was.

Six years ago I started shopping for a baby that could some day take me over xc safely. Five years ago I found her and it has been the LONGEST wait watching her grow up. But here we are and she can do this crazy sport! It is just such an exciting moment to see the dream become reality and also such a relief that I chose the right baby for me (because buying a baby can be such a gamble). This was a great start to the derby season to say the least and I can't wait for the next one!

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Ian Roberts Clinic Day Two

Day two started off with a bit of excitement. Not five minutes after I arrived, a horse broke away from the trailer and headed off to the paddocks full of fancy warmbloods. I went to help but soon it looked as though the owner had it under control so I returned to get Shiraz out of the trailer to tack up.

Love it when a clinician takes time to pet your pony. Also, ahem... forgot to put on my halfchaps in the loose horse kerfuffle. Just look away.
Unfortunately the paddock horses thought this was all very exciting and were tearing around. Just as I had started saddling up, the entire herd came thundering back right to where I had parked my trailer. Shiraz was surprisingly good. I held her while she danced on the spot but that was all she did and then returned to eating grass.

Helping Shiraz through the scary ditch because OMG the GROUND IS NOT FLAT. ugh.
I planned to lunge, lead her over some jumps at the walk to loosen tight back muscles and then hop on to warm up. After getting on, Shiraz was nervous but tons better than the day before. Soon we were able to trot in choppy, tight-backed circles but at least it was forward and she was trying.

Connected next to the outdoor sand arena was a second grass arena with cross-country style elements such as a large ditch, bank and small rectangle ditch and that is where the clinician was waiting for us. We started with an exercise in transitions. On day one he had us using our legs in a squeeze, imagining we were lifting our horse up off the ground and minimal hands to come to a stop from a walk, or transition down from a trot to a walk. Today we worked more on this as we finished warming up. I got called out for bending at the wrist over and over which has been a life-long problem I cannot seem to rid myself of. I swear I might duct tape my wrists and be done with it.

Canter-stepping over cross rails for life.
We then got to go through the large ditch from multiple directions and eventually Ian added a small cross rail at the top of the long side. We started with coming through the ditch and jumping out, following by jumping into the ditch.

Ya, I have watched too many videos of horses leaping over little ditches to ride this particular introduction.
Next was the small rectangle ditch and Ian told us to go on the buckle to let our horses really look and assess. He asked if I wanted to go first and he took Shiraz's rein. I asked if I could get off and he kindly said sure. So Shiraz got to investigate the pit of death without me and eventually stepped in once she realised grass was in there for the eating. So I hopped up and we all went through many times before heading over to the bank.

Not gonna lie, I could have done up-banks all day :)
Going up banks may be my new favourite thing. All the thrill of jumping without the backside downward arc to ride correctly. Going down a bank: worst thing ever. First we walked down which was okay, but then trotting down I grabbed the neck strap and every *%&#ing time I flew forward on the landing and almost fell off. What was I doing wrong? Anyone catch my fatal error? Ya, grabbing the neck strap. Apparently the force of impact from a bank while holding the neck strap yanks you forward and best wishes to you to stay on the horse. You can see just how little I am able to think during the process of a jump as it took me FOUR attempts plus some post-jump contemplating to figure it out.

You're welcome. No shame.
At the end we strung it all together in a very small course and by then Shiraz was so relaxed. It was nice to feel THAT horse again. It has been a long while since she has been completely relaxed to the point where she could stop and just stand still while I am riding.

So our first derby is May 5th and 6th. Do I feel ready? Not really but you all know that's just not my style. :)

Friday, 27 April 2018

Ian Roberts Clinic Day One

I am falling so behind in basically everything right now! It has just been a blur of house showings (which means constant frantic house cleaning because a family of four plus animals can destroy a house in minutes) all the while trying to do real life with kids, meeting the demands of an ever-increasing work load and sneaking off to visit my horse.
My fluffy yak pre-body clip :) So. much. hair.
 Have you ever headed into a clinic with a clinician you did not know? I have been to enough clinics to know that the experience can greatly depend on the style of the clinician and how that meshes with you personally. Honestly, I just need a clinician to simply be nice. I do not learn from tough love--I am more likely to crumple into a fetal position and cry.

Post-clip pony! Do not look too closely--the clip is sketchy :P
So when I found myself on a horse that was possibly doing a magnificent piaf (if only this was a dressage clinic!) mixed with canter sidepass, I was happy to discover Ian Roberts was indeed nice.
He took Shiraz by the rein and led us around some scary things just to get her moving forward. That was enough support to get us both a bit more settled and I was then able to get Shiraz trotting around with the rest of my group.

Trotting through the scattered poles with some pretty cute springs!
Once everyone was warmed up, we started with an exercise over scattered poles. This was geared to getting the horse thinking about their own feet. We were to ride on the buckle and allow the horse to lower their head and figure out their own path. We progressed to riding down the row of poles with our eyes closed to emphasise our role of setting direction and pace, and then leaving their horse alone to do their job.

Settling and thinking while I leave her alone.
Then we tied in a log jump with the pole exercise. Shiraz settled nicely and I noticed the more we jumped, the more relaxed she got.

Heading towards the first jump of the day (AND happens to be the biggest jump we have done together!! What is that, like 2 feet high?!! HUGE!!!)
I was impressed with Mr. Roberts' ability to quickly assess a horse and rider, know how far to push and give clear instructions without making anyone feel overfaced or stupid.

The result for me was a feeling of pushing past my boundaries and seeing real advancement in Shiraz while not ever really feeling like what we were doing was too difficult.

By the end of clinic day one, I was completely exhausted but smiling from ear to ear because we had done the thing, no one got hurt and best of all there would be a day two!!

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

No Whoa Woes

The trajectory of Shiraz's nervousness at the new barn *felt* mostly in a decline towards better rides, but for the last week prior to our clinic there was a bit of a resurgence of a very unhappy horse.

By the end of all these recent rides I had a horse soaked in sweat but still chugging like the energiser bunny and me using endless small circles to slow her down. She seems completely incapable of standing still and no amount of one-rein stop, circles or go-forward-until-you-are-exhausted seems to work because there is no exhausted (at least not after a full hour of hard work).

As long as we kept trotting she was really quite fine, so we trotted...
In my lesson last week with K, she was quick to point out my horse actually looked more nervous than she had the week prior. And... she was right. We went into trot to work on getting her thinking with inside bend, switching to outside bend as well as spiralling in/out on a circle and 15 minutes later Shiraz was still spazzing out with tossing head/tense shortened stride/chomping on the bit and basically acting like the world was ending and why were we all not running for our lives.

K and I both have never seen Shiraz this tense. She asked if she could get on and feel what is going on. Hell yes, please.

My first jump since January!
After playing around with trying to walk, attempting to stop and barely trotting safely (Shiraz needed her feet moving but at the same time was too tense to be in front of the leg, i.e. wanting to rear rather than extend her stride). So canter it was. A lot of canter. I cannot even say how long the canter was, but enough for Shiraz to be covered in sweat and have foamy white dripping off of her. K brought her down to a walk and Shiraz was STILL trying to jig. So more cantering.

Lesson with M went really well. And who knew slightly raised poles could essentially feel just as exciting as 2'6"?! lol!
I got back on at the end and she felt much better, but still like she could go for miles.

So? We have lots of contributing factors that could be causing this. The move on its own is an adjustment, but there may be other things adding fuel to her fire:
1. Hay. This has changed from mostly grass hay to a higher alfalfa content. This alone could be giving her added energy she is not accustomed to feeling.
2. Supplemental feed. Barn owner wanted Shiraz to have more weight and suggested a different supplement which she has now been on for a week. The protein content is not higher than her previous feed and it is designed to add fat without sugars. I really did not want to make another feed change during her adjustment to a new home since she was already getting used to new hay, but I found it hard to say no considering Shiraz had dropped a lot of weight in her first week.
3. Paddock buddy. Her new best friend is a gelding--the first gelding Shiraz has ever been with in such close quarters. There may be a hormonal component adding to the fun.
4. Arena. It is a smaller arena with a lot of outside noises (barn construction) that really grab her attention and set off a lot of increased anxiety.
5. Teeth. I had skipped her teeth rasping during her spring vet appointment because she had a lot of needle pokes all at once and I did not want to add mouth pain to her woes. I have noticed her behaviour is a bit worse under saddle with a contact on the reins so will be getting her teeth checked the next time the vet is at the barn.
6. Every other health issue under the sun that my imagination runs tangents on.

Really when I list everything, of course she is out of sorts. If it was not for the pressure of a clinic in a few days, I might have simply backed off and let her settle and adjust to it all. But, in an attempt to have a horse with intact marbles on the weekend, I brought over some of my own hay to reduce some of the alfalfa in her system and added some magnesium in a (too little, too late?) attempt to settle her.

I also decided a neck strap would be a smart add-on and practised using it in case pony goes up instead of forward.

Finally, I evaluated my goals for the clinic and use all my tools for preventative rather than reactive damage control. This meant planning on riding Shiraz at the boarding barn before heading to the clinic. Then, plan to be early and give her plenty of time to settle with no rushing and show her the new location. Lunge as much as it takes. Be clear to the clinician if I were to become worried. Having this plan outlined really helped me stay calm and positive heading into the morning of clinic day one. Only time would reveal if it would help Shiraz.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Can't Talk Now, Riding Horse

Oh yes I am! I sort of knew that having my horse at a barn with an indoor would be good for me and Shiraz, but guys! I am riding a lot!

And with a lot of riding comes a LOT of rolling. Love that derpy lip :)
And what happens when you ride a lot? Progress, that's what. It has only been two weeks but I have already had three lessons, and ridden 6 other times on my own. That is more riding right there than all of January, February and March combined.

I told you about our first lesson which was all sorts of tense. The great thing from it though was we worked through to a very good place by the end and it left me feeling quite confident that I could manage the same on my own.

Instead of riding videos, enjoy this incredible floating horse head
Every ride following that lesson was a bit better than the last. Shiraz completely stopped the tail swishing/ear pinning half way through the week and by my following lesson we were able to have a regular walk (without any jigging!) right from the start.

I think this is the most excited I have ever been about being able to ride a horse on a circle at the walk and trot.

My first two lessons were with my trusted Pine Ridge coach K, but the third was with M -- new to me on-site instructor who is certified for western and english (and personally rides western). I had a chance to ride with her earlier in the week as she has her horse boarded there as well, and I talked about where Shiraz was at training-wise and what I hoped to work on. I told her a bit about the bucking that had shown up in the canter and that I was really still not terribly confident about it.

Sweaty pony wishing I would just stop with the pictures and take her outside already.
So at the beginning of the lesson M gave me an overview of what she would like to work on, including rollbacks, trot poles widely spaced down one side of the arena and playing with the barrel racing pattern, all tricks to encourage Shiraz to want to canter on her own. The thought being if canter is her idea, perhaps the bucking would be less likely.

The verdict? Success! We actually ended up cantering many times (for brief moments of 3 to 10 strides) and all of those moments were drama free. I also found that working on things in a completely new way was quite refreshing and good for both of us. Even though Shiraz was very 'up' and jiggy for most of all of the lesson, I did not find it worrying and we were still able to focus on the tasks.

An earlier ride on our own *trying* to walk but girl loves her springs
We still have not jumped anything though. My jumping/eventing clinic is this coming weekend...I am still optimistic that I will get over some cross rails before the weekend though. And to be honest, I am not worried about Shiraz's ability to make it over little jumps. My main concern is her being settled enough for me to ride. If she has enough marbles for me to walk and trot, then everything else should be just fine! :)