Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Winter has arrived on the farm

Grounded by snow from my lesson today.
So pictures instead!

It is accumulating fast.
And starting to really feel like Christmas around here!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Unlocking Relaxation

Allison Kavey: “Dressage horse spooking at her very
fancy Dressage at Devon ribbon.
This time of year it is not uncommon for many riders to find their horse has transformed from the calm, willing partner they had back in summer to a jumpy, fire breathing dragon as the cooler temps settle in.

I have been enjoying a great deal of progress with Savvy in my lessons at the indoor with an exceptional dressage trainer. However, lately progress has been replaced with exercises in courage and balance as my Ferrari pony spooks and leaps at every little noise/shadow/nothing at all.

On lesson days, the usual routine of trailer in, groom, tack up, hand walk around arena and get to work was simply not cutting it. If all I am doing is surviving a lesson, we really cannot work on more interesting and important work.

So this lesson I came in with a plan. I have so many tools in my tool box, but I just was not employing them!

First, lunge pony at home before I put her on the trailer. This is so important right now because her paddock is frozen and none of the horses have been running or playing around for a couple of weeks now. This allowed her to stretch out, kick up her heels and buck like a maniac.

Second, arrive, groom and tack up with calmness in mind. I decided if I wanted her to be calm, I should reflect that in myself and be mindful of my body language.

Third, ground work. When I brought her into the arena saddled but still in her halter, I set to work with some slow and deliberate tasks for her to focus on. This included standing still while I touched her all over with the carrot stick, backing up with a shake of my finger, yielding the front and hind ends and then sidepassing down the arena wall.

By the time I got on for my lesson, Savvy was relaxed, licking her lips and hanging her head and listening to me!

We proceeded to have the best lesson we have had to date and trainer was completely impressed. There was not one single spook and her trot was 100% adjustable. Half pass and shoulder-in were magical.

This experience really got me thinking. Preparation obviously plays an important role in how our horses perform. How can I prepare my mare for the tasks I ask of her, such as the show atmosphere?

Our horses are athletes and we often train with a direct line approach of teach the task, but as the concept of sports psychology being applied to riders becomes common place, I wonder of the role sports psychology can be applied to the horse. We obviously cannot ask our horse to 'visualize' a relaxed, fluid dressage test, but we can help them to be relaxed and fluid in preparation for the test.

Do you employ relaxation techniques for your horse? I would love to hear what works for you!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Winter Riding

Winter makes for beautiful photos
on the white wonder pony.

The temps have been amazing here for the past few days. If this were winter, I would be so down with that. 

Fancy pony knows she's fancy. ;)

Having my horses home with me is ideal in so many ways.
The daily routine of caring for them, being able to watch their shenanigans out the kitchen window or go sit with the snoozing ponies on a sunny afternoon is therapy all in itself.

Look at me half pass
with the help of my tongue...-Savvy

I love being able to step out to the backyard, grab a pony and ride.

But when I actually want to get down to work on canter transitions, frozen ground and snow equals just...nope. 

So I will continue enjoying a lot of walk/trot exercises at home and save the real work for lessons at the indoor.

Thursday, 26 November 2015


Even though it seems like I am working on the same thing each lesson, I am surprised that each lesson seems so different with new issues, missing some old issues (hooray!) and a different horse showing up now.

We are continuing to work on quietly asking for her to seek the bit with lateral work, engaging the hind end and relaxing over the back and at the poll. Her head position is past the vertical and my contact is focussed on being there in a soft and supportive manner.  I am looking for Schwung where you get a swing in the step from a horse using the hind end and transmitting that power from the back to the front.

As I am riding I try to remind myself to be thinking 'back to front', not 'front to back".

I try to keep this in mind every ride.

On this occasion, her inability to bend left became the theme and really made shoulder-in to the left a total mess. Coming around the corner Savvy just wanted to bend out and skip the corner altogether. My first instinct at this point is to pull her back into the corner with the right rein while my coach gasps in horror, saying "No!!! Left rein open!" I cannot seem to get her to yield to my inside leg effectively though in this situation to make that open inside rein look like a good idea.

We used 10-meter circles in each corner to help get the correct bend before shoulder-in down the long side.

We had a few good runs though and everything to the right was so nice it made up for my exhausted left leg. (Tip: dressage whip is not just decoration and can be used to save left leg. Now to just learn how to hold the damn thing in my left hand.)

We ended the lesson with another canter attempt and succeeded getting it without getting too playful or rushing the trot to get into it.

Covered in stains and too cold to bath - can I just lesson with the blanket on so no one sees? :(

Overall a great ride--and to top it off, it was a snowy, windy day and the fabric arena occasionally flapped and snapped unexpectedly but pony did not loose her marbles!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


When I started to delve into the world of dressage this summer I noticed something that all the serious riders seemed to have that I did not.

To go along with all the beautiful, massively tall horses and their pretty little upright riders were saddles I had not really noticed before, or at least hadn't given any thought to.

Just look at that...knee roll. uhm.

I sadly looked down at my 15-year-old dressage saddle and thought about the possibility of cosmetic surgery to perk up the knee rolls. A bit of a boob job for saddles. Can they even do that?

can I have this please

At first I wanted to throw my saddle on the fire and get myself one of these saddles with giant knee blocks. Riders just look so perfect in them!

After 2 months of shopping I was discouraged. Feeling thwarted in my cheapness. Maybe even angry a little. Why on earth do dressage saddles have to be so much more expensive than all-purpose saddles?

And then my stubborn side pipes up and declares "I shall force my body to be so damn awesome in position, I don't NEED knee blocks!"

And then I found this...
Knee blocks you can just put in!

My saddle is not made for these but how hard is it to add Velcro people?!

Now to find a sale on them. ;)

Sunday, 15 November 2015

A new normal

I have been having so much fun with Savvy for the last few months, but I have been avoiding something in my mind. I knew what I needed to do, but I wasn't sure if I could officially face it.

Sophia knows fun.

Even though I have always had multiple project horses on the go, Miss Tea was my number one girl and I envisioned quite a future with this amazing horse.

If you are a believer in "you may not get what you want, but you get what you need", then this might be the case with what I have gone through with her. She was the young horse I was supposed to be starting right at the peak of my anxiety issues. Just leading a horse out of the paddock could reduce me to a shaking mess. I had the heavy decision to get better or get out of horses, and chose to dig in and get better. We worked through everything starting with horse agility (basically a horse style obstacle course with the handler on the ground) and being able to venture out together without the added stress of having to ride was huge for both of us. Working on the specific tasks was a perfect distraction for my fear.

With my confidence growing and Miss Tea turning into a decent, safe mount, we started low hunters and it was amazing! Unfortunately the super fun cross rail classes at a trot never seemed to evolve into great canter rounds and so we struggled.

One show this summer where we dug in and made it all work a few rounds.

I have been avoiding writing about Miss Tea for a while.  I am not riding her anymore and I was not sure if I was ready to say that to anyone out loud or in type. People may not understand and think I am giving up. I am in a way, but not a bad way. I am too stubborn to ever give in without a fight.

The problem is simple. Miss Tea cannot canter and I am not interested in holding her together every stride so we don't fall down. Which she does. Fall. Down. The last time she fell was so bad I fell off right in front of her and she cut her lip.

Balance issues are a part of a green horse's development. Ups and downs happen all the time and falling off horses happens. I am fine with that. But knowingly getting on a horse with downhill conformation and known clumsiness (proven not medical by chiropractor/vet/farrier), not improved with 2 years of canter focused work I think is just not fun.

And life being strange and wonderful as it is, came Savvy when I was strong enough to handle a bigger challenge in personality, but a walk/trot/canter like its no big deal. No tripping. No holding together. Just soft hands and a smile on my face.

Savvy says just keep passing the treats and we will keep having good times, or she will eat my boot.

 We have cantered four times now in her training and so far so good! Today's canter was a lot easier to initiate, and we lasted 3/4s of the arena both directions. This is fun.

And this is what Meyla thinks about it. Pony knows fun.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Redirection is always in season

I recall in a conversation with a friend of mine at the beginning of this summer that I may have said "dressage seems a bit...dull" as she was asking me if I wanted to join her at the Give-It-A-Go dressage clinic and show in July.

My thoughts were all on Miss Tea and jumping, because you know, jumping! Fun, exciting, challenging.

And then I quite accidentally met an incredible horse woman who trains horses and coaches, specializing in dressage.  I loved her perspective on horses and training. I thought getting into lessons with her would be a great help in bringing Savvy along.

Four months in and I am completely rerouted. I am hooked.

I bought the book "Dressage In Harmony" by Walter Zettl. I even intend on reading it.

I am searching for deals on white breaches.

I thought about bedazzling things. (anyone have success making their own jeweled browband? I need to talk to you.)

Like this?
Or this?
 How did this happen?! Have you ever found yourself pursuing the least expected because of a horse?

Monday, 19 October 2015

Savvy and the 'c' word

We did it!  After a whole summer of prep (avoidance/fear/lets just walk/trot for ever!) the perfect opportunity presented itself to finally ask for canter.

Cutest pony ever.

We all know I have serious baggage around the 'c' word from a two-year long shit storm of canter problems with Miss Tea. We also know as riders we can't carry baggage around and place it onto other horses, but fear is a difficult thing and if it were so easy to set it aside, I think a lot more people would be trying bungee jumping.
But as I said, the perfect day presented itself - warm, no wind, happy calm pony, and months of great walk/trot work, so I decided it was The Day!
Working on shoulder-in at lesson last week
The very first try was lovely! Attempt #2, 3, and 4 resulted in crow hopping -- not excessive or difficult to ride out of -- and attempt #5 she cantered well again so I left it there on the good note.


Happy Monday everyone!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Savvy Progress

My magical wonder pony is the joy of my life right now. What started out as a side project of training a little grey mare (when I could find the time) has now turned into a full-time passion and I am finding myself lying in bed pleasantly ruminating previous rides.

Having found an exceptional dressage coach has definitely been the key to bringing Savvy so far this summer. C is a kickass horse trainer and gets the best out of a horse the long, hard route of careful and correct training -- no shortcuts allowed. But on top of this, she also shares in my belief that above all we need to care about our horse's experience and shape their training to be interesting and fair.

Our last lesson was quite a test for wonder pony. It was cold, windy and raining and we were the only ones in the arena. Spooky mare was spooky. Luckily she is far less spooky in trot so after a few minutes of white-knuckling it around at a walk, C had us get right into trot work and we both relaxed a bit. There were still spooks, but short explosions were immediately redirected into forward and back to work with not too much difficulty.

No lesson pics - just pretty pony

Our lateral work has been amazing as of late, but this night she was a bit too nervous to get soft and I found it very difficult to get her haunches moving with her forehand. Instead, she would often pop the shoulder and curve her neck to the inside too much. C was trying very hard to get the concept "when in doubt, release" into my head. I really struggled with release on a spooky horse, but when I did, she went so much better.

After half pass and shoulders in work, C had us do a new exercise of trotting a figure-eight, except cutting straight down the center of the circle and focusing on:
1. Asking for the change of bend softly but timely.
2. Straight like its my job on that straight line.
3. Keep her shoulder from falling in on the circle back.

We did this on a 20m circle (to be honest, more like 25ish m oval)

My first go at it, Savvy and I were literally fish-tailing it on the straight line. I got my shit together though, and we steadily improved. Then C asked us to ask for walk in the straight line and then back to trot. This progressed to asking for just 4 steps of walk and back to trot, then 3 and then just 2. It was a great exercise, which seemed so simple in concept, but had a lot going on for us at this point in Savvy's training.

In a week and a half we have a dressage show! It is being held at the super fancy equestrian centre that I took Miss Tea to in the spring. We will be doing test Walk/Trot A, Walk/Trot B and one equitation class. So excited!!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Running away to join the circus...

Last night I went to see the much talked about show, "Odysseo by Cavalia".

The entire production is quite the undertaking. They travel and build a magical wonderland 'big top' which sets the stage quite literally for what to expect inside.

Pictures from the Cavalia website

Within the first moments of starting, the tone is set with calm, quiet horses meandering with their humans. Such a simple-appearing seen, but full of subtle cues and constant interaction between horses and people.

There is plenty of wow factor intermixed with subtle, quiet moments to take your breath away.

There were many horses that clearly loved their job, and of course a couple of horses that would rather go back to the stall. Considering the quantity of tasks and number of horses on stage at a time, I actually expected more moments of lost attention or horses trying to exit stage right!

Overall, this show did not disappoint. I left the show wishing it were not the middle of the night so I could play with the horses. I can totally see Savvy and I galloping around bridle-less, me in a long flowing princess gown, jumping jumps, fancy piaffing and passaging all over the place...hahaha!...Maybe we could.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Training Shiraz: Part 2

"You cannot build a dream on a foundation of sand" [T. F. Hodge] and so it is with horses, the solidity of their initial training can create a base from which great things can someday be achieved...or at least allow me to putter around safely on my pony!
Weaving cones, combining pressure and drawing, and inviting her to think about the task and be more aware of my body language.

I have continued all of the yielding work from before, and I am now adding in drawing her towards me.

Backing from pressure and then drawing her back

I have been working on lots of ground work, being mindful to push her to improve yet not over-face her with anything. Instead of just simply making her do the things, I am trying to set her up to think and problem solve.

When I send her on a circle I am giving her the task of maintaining the circle until I invite her to stop. Love how she is already starting to stay on task with a loose line and keeps her inside ear on me waiting for her next task.

A little fun at the beginning of trot work!

We have been practicing parking at the mounting block with me leaning over her back and working on both sides equally. Now is the time to get up and begin working on one-rein stop!

Shiraz being a super star at the mounting block.

I worked on one-rein stop for a while on both sides. I am looking for not just the stop, but yielding her head and flexing her neck with softness.

I finished up with basic turns where I am asking with my leg and seat, but use the stick to help her make the connection. So far so good!

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Dressage Day Two - magical pony belated update

Better late than never! Slow and steady progress has been happening with Savvy this summer. The Give-It-A-Go Dressage weekend we attended was incredibly useful, presenting Savvy with all sorts of new experiences.

This nose.
Day one was all about just taking it all in and hoping Savvy would settle a bit. Day two would be the fun show with our dressage test scheduled for 1:00 - perfect for an entire morning of warm ups, down time and show prep, i.e. braiding!!

The morning went all as planned and Savvy was really starting to relax and begin to realize I was indeed on her back asking her to do things.

By the time it was our turn to ride the test, I felt as ready as I could be. Savvy is so green yet, my goal was to simply do the test accurately - as in walk/trot/stop in the right spots. And we did! No spooks, no attempted escapes over the little fence.

We are working on properly riding into the bit and because she is soft, responsive and can curl behind the bit so easily, I am taking my time with that and trying to ride her in a way that helps her seek the contact. Right now it is just a lot of head bobbing mixed with fleeting moments of lovely, but we'll get there!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Training Shiraz: Part 1

I am having so much fun with this sweet little 2-year-old! Not all horses are the same, we all know. What I ask of a young horse is pretty much determined by where their mind and body are at. When training Miss Tea, her body was not ready for a rider until she was 4 years old. Her mind at 2 was happy to learn, but was easily overwhelmed. Savvy was also not ridden until she was 4--although her body developed nicely for the weight early, her mind was...well lets just say we are now at 6 years old starting to see she might actually have one.

Shiraz is pretty much blowing me away with her stable mind, ability to stay on task and interest in learning something new. I am not about to let that boat sail and I am jumping right in on showing her all the things.

I have discussed what she has done up until now in an earlier post. Now it is time for some more serious ground work which will be the foundation of all her future schooling. I like to think of it as teaching her the alphabet. All the ground work I am starting with will be the letters we need to make whole words later. Much of the early training techniques I will use, I have learned from Glenn Stewart, a natural horsemanship instructor in Canada. I have mixed that knowledge with my own experience working with horses and have come up with a plan of action that works for me. Horses and people are all different, so it is good to be flexible. If one thing is not working, I am always open to try something new.

Poles help us both work on straightness in the backup
I am starting with basic yielding. I want to be able to move all parts of her body independently with different types of pressure. I am not just looking for a yield, but asking for her to use her body correctly with each step.

Yeilding her forehand - looking for outside front to cross over and put weight into haunches for turn

I will do this type of ground work with her not just now but later in her training to keep her on track with correct use of her body as well as maintaining respect and softness.

Sideways - looking for straightness, crossing legs closest to me over the others. A tough one!
Not surprisingly, Shiraz is doing incredibly well with all I am asking of her so far. She is so laid back, my biggest problem is getting her soft and reactive. She has really lovely natural carriage and conformation; she pretty much walks like a ballerina and it is easy to get the correct movement so far.

Practicing mounting block parking...ya, the you think I got on? ;)