Thursday, 22 June 2017

June Derby Recap - XC

The derby format for this weekend included dressage, pace and xc (no stadium) and riders could pick three options. To be eligible for year-end awards, one must include dressage as one of those three. I chose dressage and two xc rounds feeling confident enough not to need to do pace this time.


I had a lot of time after my dressage to relax, change, lunch and beer. I hand walked Savvy around to eat grass and really couldn't wait for my turn at the top of the hill. The course this time included some jumps I would find quite challenging to gallop at. I was torn between two thoughts: One, I could just go around them and resolve myself to having a fun outing despite disqualification. Or two, I could try the jumps. The ever-optimistic part of me was pushing me to remember that magical feeling last month on course. Savvy had really gotten into the game once on course and became a lot more brave than she would be otherwise. Maybe that would happen again and we could sail over the jumps I was worried about?

The course...

Jump 1: Nice friendly old log jump, only made slightly intimidating to me by the width of those ground poles. Savvy reluctantly left the start and proceeded to zig-zag down the hill like a drunk platypus (trying to turn back because she did not want to leave the other horses). The first jump resulted in a stop-and-pop special that unseated me so bad I fell on her neck. Err...no big deal though right? I was sure we would get into a groove soon. I sat up and got her cantering for the next fence.

Our second time out it went much better and Savvy over-jumped it by a few feet.


Jump 2: Large-AF feeder. Cantering up to this I thought, well...I am doing the course twice. Maybe this time I will just go around and let my face recover from the jump 1 smash up...

Second time out I thought I was GOING TO JUMP this. Savvy said no. Three times. So then we carried on around it.

 
To get to jump three we had to go through the bush to the right of this ramp jump. 
 

Jump 3: Savvy was SO worried that the ramp would eat her, and the trees would eat her, and the flags would eat her but we got through and enjoyed another 4-foot effort over a 2-foot log both times out.


Jump 4: This was named the raspberry jump and it scared the crap out of Savvy. I actually thought it looked pretty basic. We made it over the first time with some encouragement, but the second time out, Savvy decided at the last second she would dive right instead of over and took out the red flag.

 
Jump 5: This jump had actually scared me at the previous derby. It was not on our course last time, but it was in our practice the day prior and Savvy had seemed worried about it. I even ended up building something at home that looked like this one to practice with. Our first round this day, she did it very well, but the second time out I was so discombobulated from the duck-out Savvy had done at the raspberry jump, I decided to just go around this one and regroup.
 

Jump 6: A jump like this was so welcomed by this point. Thank you for being simple, #6.


Jump 7: This may not look very big, but just like jump #2, Savvy does not seem to understand how to answer a big, solid question like this yet. We decided to just go around this one both times out.


Jump 8: Are you fecking kidding me?!!  <:(    This is PRE-ENTRY people! I am not even entering. I could have sat down and had lunch at this beastly bench. No and no. Went far around it both times. May have given it the finger in passing.


Jump 9: Now something Savvy and I can do!! We walked peacefully over this log both times, down the bank and off into the field for our last jump.


Jump 10: Of course it is the fecking barn. No. just, no. Went around it the first time, and attempted it once the second time because I am a glutton for punishment. Savvy refused once and I decided to call it quits. I galloped up the hill to celebrate, cry, take stock and pat my grumpy pony.

Take-aways?

1. This course was a bit too challenging for pre-entry level by many of the experienced riders' standards who were there that day. That made me feel somewhat better for not quite being ready for the size and style of jumps we were presented with.

2. I know solid and wide structures like the feeder and barn are tough for Savvy mentally, so time to build more things like this at home and get practicing.

3. Poison Ivy. I took home poison ivy. uggghhh.

4. Savvy is a great little horse. Even when she doesn't want to try, or has hormone issues turning her brain to mush, she is still a reliable girl that I feel safe on and can have fun with while failing at all the things!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

June Derby Recap - Dressage

I left derby day just beat. So exhausted.

So disappointed, yet happy, thrilled even, all of the feelings.

I came into the weekend expecting it to be like the last one - a fun, doable challenge. It was not that at all.

New course designer - completely different challenges. So many more larger obstacles.

But let's start at the beginning. Dressage.

Pre-test smiles
I kept my promise to myself: Show up early, get ready early and warm up really well for dressage. Savvy was very amped up and we certainly needed time to loosen up. I got tons of fantastic stretchy trot and over-tracking walk after about 15 minutes of work. Then canter; good transition, a bit unwilling to stay in gait. Trying again resulted in bucking. Hmmph. More trying, more bucking. Back to trotting and stretching to get this new funk out of her before our turn and a lot of mental work in my own mind to try to forget the bucking happened.

My turn to go--spooked at storage trailer beside ring. Spooked entire way along bush beside one side of ring. Prayed judge would not honk her horn for me to go as I was walking past her car. Finally time to head in.

Entry Test #1:

1. A enter working trot. Proceed down centre line without halting. Track right.

What really happened: We entered working trot, wiggled left. wiggled right. Four-leg-stop-spook-snort at a patch of dirt just past X. Carried on, tracked right.

2. B circle right 20m diameter working trot.

Nope. Forgot to circle. Carried on at trot down to A. Judge honked horn. I thought I was eliminated and started to leave. Judge called me back and told me my mistake. Started over from centre line near X at working trot. This time circled at B and it was decent.

3. Between F and A develop working canter.

Or not if you don't want to Savvy. Oh, three strides of canter? Thanks so much for participating pony.

4. A circle right 20 m diameter working canter.

Oh right, canter. Let's try again. A few more strides and at least the right lead. Good pony. Now where on earth were we supposed to go next...?

5. Between K and E develop working trot.

Already there bitches. We are so on point.

6. C medium walk.

*kick,kick,kick*  "F*$&#ing keep walking PONY!!" - side eye to see if judge's window is rolled down...oh, thank god it is up. <Savvy pins ears at me for daring to ask her to keep walking>

7. MXK change rein free walk on a long rein. Between K and A medium walk.

March pony! We are going to get across this box today. *so many more swear words...*

8. A working trot.

Doing the trot. No smiles, just want it to be over. Savvy half trying, half looking for escape routes.

9. B circle left 20 m diameter working trot.

Done and done.

10. Between M and C develop working canter left lead.

Running in to canter, got it!

11. C circle 20 m working canter. 

Keep going, keep going! <Savvy humps back and pins her ears> please don't buck, I will give you carrots if you just friggen canter, good girl! oh crap...trotting.

12. Between H and E develop working trot.

Ya, we know.

13. A down centre line. X Halt salute.

Thank god it is over.

The judge was SO generous. (I love you judge, thank you for being so kind, xoxo).


She never even mentions my swearing <3
At this point in the day I discovered Savvy was in heat. Her sides were very touchy, she was so distracted, emotional and crabby, and her answer to everything was "no". Not exactly the horse I needed for the challenges to come, but I am nothing if not optimistic at this point!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Bird's Hill June Derby


 “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,

Much beer was had this weekend. I giggled up banks and face-planted on manes; sailed over logs and stared down at a dead-stop at large coops.

video

The fine movements of dressage were peppered oh-so-generously with curse words as I pony-club kicked and held on for spooks.

There were moments of pure courage as we galloped our course, and just as many moments of cowardice as I steered wonder pony around large benches without even attempting them.

I learnt I am not so graceful coming down banks, or hanging on for those dead-stop to deer leap-style jumps, but I can kick on and try again, and enjoy a hard day because of great friends to share it with.


So much to learn, experience to gain, alcohol to purchase.

We will keep showing up, taking the leap, holding on for the stop, and smiling through the finish line because of that feeling out on course. It is irreplaceable.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Dedication, or Lack Thereof?

I am trying to prepare this week for the weekend derby. The weather has other plans though. It just keeps raining.

Grey skies, windy days and frisky ponies. At least they are exercising themselves?
Although practicing in the rain is smart, looking out my window trying to spot my horse hiding in the shelter from the downpour, I am finding that the balls to go saddle up in it seem to be missing.

Hahaha, not me.
And then when it is not raining (we seem to be getting brief windows of sunshine before another heavy cloud opens upon us) my arena is mostly tilled dirt or grass and very slippery. I have ridden at these times, mostly running through my dressage test at a walk and imagining in my head where trot and canter should be. But I have only lunged any faster gaits because I know what it feels like to be on a horse that slips and falls, and my knee with a torn meniscus will always remember.


The great news is I am not terribly worried. It is what it is. Really, Savvy is becoming a pretty dependable beast these days and a week off of serious riding or jumping isn't going to hurt us too much for the derby. Although I really wanted to give our best effort in dressage this time.


While Shiraz and Meyla have covered themselves in mud head to hoof, Savvy has stayed so clean. She knows how it would hurt my soul...shit, now that I have typed this I bet she is rolling...
I am told the footing at Birds Hill holds up really well in the rain as it is mostly sand everywhere so I am only mildly freaking out about not having shoes with studs on Savvy for the wet ground. Still, I am betting I will be riding cautiously if I feel any slipping.

How much do you want to bet it will be raining during my dressage test on Sunday? :)

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Holding Gains

When I sat down and created my goals list back in January of this year, I had a picture in my head of how I hoped the year would unfold.


I had a plan laid out before me with lessons to teach Savvy to jump and a few shows to test the process. Now at the half-way mark (how is it possible the year is half over?) it feels like a good time to take stock and perhaps reevaluate things.

Back when we started in the winter, this little cross rail was such a big deal.

Savvy has exceeded my expectations in every way so far. With all of this work towards something so challenging as eventing, our courage and trust in each other has truly blossomed. Really, it could have been a train wreck. Nervous rider + uneducated pony usually does not equal bounding success. I think the key part of this whole thing actually working so well thus far has come down to one simple thing: the making of a plan with gradual, logical steps. Oh ya, and a very forgiving horse. :)

Three months into our jumping training and first show of the year.
I am at a point right now that I can saddle up and head out for a gallop out through the neighbour's back field with both of us relaxed and happy. (Actually truly galloping without soiling my big-girl panties!)

I can bop around any new jump I set up in my arena and feel comfortable at 2'3". (Still some pre-jump nerves in the idea of jumping, but not at all in the approach to jumps, FTW!)

So now that Savvy is a jumping pony/XC derby eating machine (because one derby means we are pros now, right? haha!) I feel like I have ran the course of my previous plans and now need to sort things out. I almost feel like I could lose some of what has been gained if I don't stay on top of things right now. Sure, Savvy is figuring things out and I am in a great place, confidence-wise, but it feels too new and nothing is set in stone.


Galloping off into the sunset. :)

On top of simple maintenance of where we are at, we certainly have plenty of new problems to work on as well; Savvy's jumping confidence has increased and we have 'graduated' to the new issue of rushing at fences. To tackle this, I am taking a bit of advice from Doug Payne's book "The Riding Horse Repair Manual". I will be working on grids to improve myself and the simple small vertical on a circle for Savvy. We also have a lot of work to do with adjustability of her canter in flat work which should really help. I am not too worried about the rushing at this point. Her new-found commitment to jump the jump will be rewarded and my goal is to work with the speed regulation in a way that does not punish her on the approach in any way.

So for the remainder of the summer I will create my own little lesson plans as I am going sans coach for a few months. Flat work will be transitions, adjustability and straightness. Jumping will be grids and all exercises that google will find me for pace regulation.

Can't wait to be back here!
Our next derby is in a week and for the days left between now and then, I will be mostly working on our dressage test while also conditioning with our daily gallops. It is nice to feel like jumping does not need to be the focus right now. I know Savvy can handle what we will see at the derby and I can think more about what happens between the xc jumps this time.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Shiraz post!

Who likes riding a fun little *broke* spotted pony? I do! Who has an untrained bay horse waiting in the paddock to be trained?      ...I do.   :P

Ground ties in exchange for cookies and scratches.
With all this fun I am having on Savvy, sometimes I have to give myself a nudge and remind myself Shiraz still needs training.

But once I pull her out of pasture and get to work, all the excitement and hope for the future seems tangible. Guys, she is just so gorgeous! I love this sweet, goofy bay horse. And although I am not looking forward to the hard parts that come with training (like dealing with early canter work), there is a great deal of the process that I love.

I few times the idea of sending her off to a trainer has crossed my mind. But. Every time I start thinking about who I would send her to, how would I ensure they would only do techniques I approve of and be considerate of her as a living creature and be fair in their training, I have to laugh at myself. I could not expect anyone to care about my horse like I do. Training a horse to me is not just A, B, C checked off a list of things to learn. It is building a relationship with trust at the base and building a thinking horse that wants to try for you. What I am looking for with Shiraz is not something I can get at a trainer's.

Word 'canter' means leap like frog, right? - Shiraz most definitely.
So now that her body is ready, it is time to get back at it.

I have only ridden her a couple of times this spring since her winter off to finish growing. These first few rides have gone well and she is quickly getting back to where I left off last fall. She seems a bit too uncomfortable to just walk under saddle and keeps wanting to slip up to trot (which is so fricken smooth, omg!) so I will just keep working on relaxing her with simple questions that she can figure out and build her confidence.

Lots of pets for a very good girl.
At the mounting block I have been taking my time to create patience and politeness. I will get on and off the mounting block, adjust tack, pet her all over, get on and off, etc. all in the goal of setting up the mounting block as a quiet place where she must stand and wait. Most horses tend to learn the mounting block is simply for the rider getting up and get anxious about standing there. I want Shiraz to know it means rest and wait no matter if I get in the saddle or not.

Once I get in the saddle, I tend to ask for something other than forward. Sometimes we will just stand and do flexion exercises, or perhaps back up a few steps, leg yield, turn on the forehand or haunches. So far it has been working very well and she stands patiently at the mounting block and waits for my question without trying to walk off as soon as I get up.

Apparently I tilt my head left when I ride, ugh.
It has all been going really well so far. I am still dreading asking for the canter this summer as she bucks like a pro bronc on the lunge line at canter. I will be doing as much prep before then though to help it go as well as possible.

<3
My goal is to get her off the property a few times this summer, perhaps take her to an indoor arena a few times. I would also like to take her to the park for some hand walks. I am also considering bringing her to a few lessons with the coach who helped me with Savvy this past winter and spring. I am excited to see where we end up in a few months!


 


Friday, 2 June 2017

A Whole New Vibe

There has been a huge shift in things since my derby experience. I knew it would be a great building block in her training but there is a definite trickle effect happening. Everything is just a little bit easier in all aspects.

Feeling pretty sure we could maybe do this.

Heading off to a lesson for example would previously involve some stomach flips on route and then a careful routine of settling in at the arena before mounting up. This time? Ha! Savvy and I were relaxed and I happily hopped up without all the usual prechecks as to her mental state. Kind of a "my horse is broke--lets get to work" attitude.

Learning curve struggles
The biggest shift is Savvy's jumping confidence. I feel like we have turned a corner on this front. Now when we approach a new fence, she knows her responsibility to jump it. Up until now, it seemed like she did not really believe that some things were meant to be jumped. We certainly went through a rough patch where she would need to stop and evaluate the situation and no amount of leg or crop could change her mind. Conquering that little pre-entry xc course initiated a shift in both our minds--I know I can ride her to the jump with purpose and she knows she can do the thing once we get there.

Discovering hard does not = impossible
I made a simple course yesterday with a couple of new jumps and planned to do our flat work and possibly try one or two jumps and see how it went.

Warmup was a bit of a disaster to start. She was so tense (which is pretty common at home but this was particularly bad, wtf?) all we could do was stilted pony trot. I set up the four poles on a large circle and attempted to work through it and get her softening. After finally getting some moments of relaxation, we started canter on the same circle and wheels fell off in all directions. She could absolutely NOT do her right lead, ever, at all, right leg must have fallen off kind of bad.

For the first time ever, I looked at that barrel and thought 'small'. Also, I need to make more standards.
So of course I abandoned flat work and just went and had fun with jumps because, obv?

Savvy came to this in front of my leg and happy to do her job. :)
She was great. Right leg reappeared and now could do that lead. AND, jumped all the new jumps without even hesitating. She is a beast.

I was kind of sure the tires would get a side eye, but were not an issue at all!
Why can't we flat work at home? Maybe I should reverse the program, jump first and flat second, haha. I don't know. The only time we can do trot/canter work in a relaxed manner is away from home. Hopefully the hot summer weather that surely is on its way will help me out so I can work on quality at home. For my next derby I really want to put in a greater effort in our dressage test. Perhaps now that we know how to derby, we can try to be a bit competitive next time. 

Monday, 29 May 2017

And then there were three...

As of last fall I made the decision to no longer board other people's horses and my backyard became all mine again.

Three is definitely my magic number <3
Wonderful for me, but the backyard fencing that was designed for multiple separated groups was no longer needed. Also, I had a round pen that I never used taking up valuable real estate and so this spring I set to work dismantling fencing. Lucky for me, I enjoy working on fences almost as much as riding. Am I strange? Yes. But the work is just so satisfying. I would think it is much like the enjoyment people get from interior design - creating a layout for form and function and seeing the beautiful end result. Then add on the fabulous feeling you get from a hard day's work. Now if only my hands would hold up to all the abuse. I have been suffering with tendinitis since March when I began dismantling fence lines.

Before...goodbye tiny arena!
There is more to do, but at this point I have the round pen down as well as the paddock fence line that was along it. Now I have a massive arena which allows for so many options with jumps and open space to still do flat work. Next I will be taking down some of the paddock divisions and upgrading some of the fence lines that might not keep my Houdini horse Shiraz inside the fence (she has no fear of limboing her way through wire).


After - entire space has been tilled.  The footing changes from tilled dirt, some sand from old arena I had purchased, and then tilled grass that needs many more passes with the tiller but it rides nicely.
I have also started working on making cross country jumps, but trying to come up with lighter, more portable options so I can change things up easily. My first fence completed is this ramp style jump. It turned out not too bad--I can lift it and it simulates a ramp jump nicely.

The old reused wood is quite um, rustic to say the least. I will be painting it brown to look more like the ramps we saw on the xc course at the derby.
However, I did not get to test out the new jump this weekend because of sore ponies. My horses had their spring shots on Friday and both Savvy and Shiraz had neck swelling mixed with mild flu symptoms all weekend. Poor ponies, but today both are much improved so I think after a few more days off, I will be back to riding again.
In other news, I was fortunate enough to sneak away from husband and kids to take in a couple hours of an eventing clinic at the Birds Hill xc park. The clinician was Chelan Kozak who has competed for Canada in the Olympics.


A friend of mine had a spot so I went to audit. Despite constant light rain, it was a great clinic. The group I watched were all at an intro level so the basics of body position as well as the importance of line and pace were covered. I really had wished I could have brought a horse but couldn't afford it at the moment. Auditing was quite useful though and I will just have to practice what I have learned at home.

Now to make more xc style jumps!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Derby Day!!

How can I even describe to you all of the excitement and happiness I had waking up to this day?!

 
My course walk with C would be at 8:00 a.m. and I arrived to the park with time to spare. The day before I had come back to the park after my lesson to volunteer with course setup. It had given me sort of an idea of where my jumps would be, but really with all the different levels we were putting up and doing it out of order, it was really jumbled in my head by the end and I did not know my course route.  
 
The adventure at hand - pink star is the start box
 
 
I was happy to confirm, most of the jumps were inviting logs of various sizes and numbers with a simple ditch half way through, one up-bank and the grand finale being THE BARN.
 
After the course walk I had plenty of time to get changed for dressage and prepare, perhaps too much time because I ended up putting off saddling to hang out with friends and hand graze Savvy. By the time I got dressed and tacked up, it was actually time for my dressage round and I ended up rushing up the hill to the dressage area just in time to not warm up, but simply circle the dressage ring and then go in for my test. She was tight and prancy, but I remembered at least where I was going and what to be doing. Honestly, it was a mess. I goofed. Lesson learned--pay attention to the time.
 



I also had plenty of time before my pace round which was after lunch. This time I planned much better and took Savvy out for a good warmup out in the field. The pace round would be a timed run of my Pre-Entry XC course, but without jumps.

Standing on top of that hill waiting for my count down was incredible!!!! I was the first rider to go and there was much 'woohooing' (mostly from me!!!--no shame!!) and I might have woohooed all the way down the hill once I started 'cause that is just how cool I am. :P

I mostly trotted around my pace round and tried to canter in some places that felt good. Coming back up the hill at the end and going through the finish was just as amazing and I had just enough time to wish my friend luck as she headed down the hill for her pace round.

I then had half an hour to catch my breath and consider running to the trailer and calling it a day before my XC round. My stomach started to flip and I was wondering how I would have the stamina to do the course with jumps, cause this sport is some serious cardio! This time I might have been a bit more quiet in the start box (and possibly a shade of green) and then headed down hill to fence #1.


Fence #1
 
This was an inviting (but a bit big/wide) jump that I had to pony club kick for a lovely hesitate-and-pop sort of deer leap maneuver.  We cantered away and headed through the bush over to fence #2.


Fence #2
Fence 2 went much better with no hesitation on Savvy's part and fence #3 was just as good.


Fence #3
However, there were a lot of spectators sitting along the trees that we did not see until coming to fence three and it was difficult to get Savvy's attention for the quick turn right we would need for fence #4.


Fence #4
I ended up needing to really push her to fence 4 but we made it and she was happy to head back to #5 which was in the direction of her trailer.


Fence #5
It was about at this point in the course that Savvy started to discover the game. It was so fun to see her little ears scanning the jumps in front of her and it was like she was seeking them out and enjoying it!

Fence #6
Fence 6 looked big to me in the course walk but was nbd to jump and we headed back through the trees to the ditch. This was a great moment to breathe and regroup as we walked down and trotted through the little meadow.

Fence #7
We got right back into an energetic canter and sailed over jump 8!

Fence #8
Jump 9 turned out to be the logs to the right of this ramp that had been numbered incorrectly and proved just as easy as all the rest had.
Fence #9
 After fence 9 I turned for home with a long canter through the field and then up the hill to the tiniest of step ups for #10!

Fence #10
 My plan all along was to skip the last jump. My thinking was that if Savvy did well with the simple course of logs, I should end on that good note for her first event. Right up until about 15 strides out, that still was my plan. I have no idea what came over me at that last moment when I decided 'f*%$# it, hold my beer--we got this!' and Savvy was game for it! We approached that barn perfectly and she flew over it like a pro.

Barns don't scare us!!

Hell yes, I cried!

My only two pics from derby day taken by a wonderful unknown spectator. Eehh, might have grinned from ear to ear the whole course...

Best wonder pony <3
Never could I have imagined just how fun this sport would actually be. I am hooked.

We ended up placing fourth overall for Pre-Entry. I had the slowest time in xc but my dressage score raised my placing (which I could not believe considering how bad I thought our dressage was!). Considering we cantered the whole xc course which felt fast to me, I was surprised to have time penalties. Going faster than we did is really going to take some more fitness for both myself and Savvy. The next derby is in a month and I can't wait to do it again, but this time knowing so much more!