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!

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Meet The Fences Derby Part 1: Saturday Lesson

I am still smiling! Even with all of real life burying me alive right now, all it takes is a peek at my weekend pictures to lift me back up.

I'm going to steal a moment right now and fill you in on the first day of fun!

As part of the Manitoba Horse Trails spring derby, participants were offered field time on Saturday of an hour and a half with either your own coach or one assigned to you. I was really lucky to be assigned someone who not only was a highly respected and sought after coach, but who I ended up doing well with style-wise.

First small field
My lesson was with three other people; two of whom were mostly inexperienced and the third riding an absolute school master. It turned out to be a great dynamic for all of us to get comfortable over little jumps and have help 'following the leader' on more difficult obstacles with the school master in our group.

My time spent acquainting her to the park was well spent as she settled in and I was able to hop on right away and warm up with no issues at all. She was a bit up, but still had no problem moving forward and freely over her back in a steady trot and canter prior to starting any jumps.

The first jump we would try was the smallest one in the park, a large log directly on the ground. C was immediately in my good books when she asked us to first come up to it and walk over. Definitely my speed for Savvy's and my first xc obstacle ever.

Saturday lesson video of first two jumps
I felt good jumping it at a trot from both directions and then canter. My challenge at this point was to learn to sit up a bit and ride more defensively. Changing posture habits is always a difficult task, but more so as an over-thinker, I think balancing the assertiveness to commit to the jump while physically preparing for the worst will be a struggle.

After a few jumps in the first field, we moved on to a second larger field and working on some more log jumps but with the added difficulty of it being on a slope. C taught us about how to shift our legs and upper body according to ground slope and the importance of keeping our shoulders back and head up at all times.

Second larger field from the top of the hill (much higher and steep than the picture suggests).
Next was a two-tiered bank. I thought it would be easy--haha! Um, well it is not as easy as I imagined. Going up took some encouragement and coming down took a lead horse. Savvy stepped gently up when finally convinced and LAUNCHED down in massive dear leaps. We landed straight though, so staying on was not an issue at all. Her second time down was entirely different with a gentle slow-motion step down for each step.

Our last jump would be a barn. I almost typed 'adorable little red barn' just now, but really I was seeing 'huge, beastly, way too high and wide' red barn. I was shocked it was part of the Pre-Entry but C was giving me the look that I better practice it because it just might be part of my course the following day. Two of the other riders in my group chose not to even try it. The rider on the school master popped over on her massive 16'3" hand horse NBD.

The hill taken from about half way up, with line of barns at the top and me contemplating life before jumping it.
I was mildly freaking out, but not entirely because of the jump. Actually, everything had been going so well up to this point I was thinking it might go well. Except this jump was at the top of the hill right beside the busy park road. None of the other jumps were. Still no big deal, except the fact that a bike race was going on and gaggles of cyclists were zipping by and Savvy was loosing her marbles from it. Every approach I was trying turned into a prancy/counter-canter/trotty/hoppy mess with her eyeballs on the road instead of the jump. How do you approach the biggest jump of your horse's life (it was 2'6" tall and just about as wide and Savvy has only gone up to 2' so far) while she can't even 'horse' her way up to it?

Enjoy this fugly moment I finally get over the beastly red barn. (Please be kind in your thoughts, it was a massive challenge both mentally for me and wonder pony).

I was so proud of us both regardless of fugly moments! Our efforts were rewarded at the end of the lesson with heading over to the water and trotting in and out, cooling off the ponies and letting them paw and splash.

Sunday would be derby day and after such a fantastic lesson, I was feeling so excited for it! (even though thoughts of a red barn in my course had me slightly concerned I might get eliminated...)

Monday, 15 May 2017

Meet the Fences: Manitoba Horse Trials Derby

Who does eventing? I DO!!!  :)

This was quite an incredible weekend and I just can't wait to tell you all about it! Life however is crazy right now and I have zero time to put a real post together.

All the details are coming, but for now here is evidence I was IN A XC FIELD JUMPING THINGS!!!!!

My very first official xc jump evar!
Happy Monday everyone! (wow, there is a lot of exclamation points in this tiny regrets! ;P)

Monday, 8 May 2017


Back when I bought this scruffy little 3-year-old I never would have imagined she would be the incredible horse she has become, although I really foolishly hoped so.
Woah, what was I seeing in her when I bought her....
In the beginning she was just a side project and a possible future pony for my kids if things worked out. Around the time I was going through struggles and uncertainty with Miss Tea I decided to focus on Savvy and get her training under way.
The state of her hooves when she first came home.

Early first rides.
She was surprisingly easy to work with despite all of her opinions and we happily dove into dressage lessons. This was a year well spent on details of connection, posture and straightness. These tools have been invaluable to me moving forward with a very eh, elastic pony that can very easily be anything but straight.

Dressage was fascinating. I soaked up every bit of information I could and discovered great horsemen/women such as Walter Zettl and Karen Rohlf.

Give-it-a-go dressage show
But I was missing jumping. Savvy had never really taken to it up to this point and either would smash through or awkwardly step over with no form. Despite her lack of natural talent, I thought it was worth a try to see if she could learn so off we went for jumping lessons.

And it turns out she can jump! sometimes...
It hasn't been all daisies and roses with steady progress; more like one step forward, two steps back. However, the pony is learning and after every apparent set back it is like she is taking it in and figuring it out, and well, just improving so much! Along with her, I feel myself learning and becoming more confident as well and it is just a really place to be right now because in five days we will be attending our first derby!!

Savvy jumping all the weird makeshift jumps at home like no big deal. :)
I am preparing myself mentally to ride this weekend like it is a clinic. Show up to learn and take notes. Saturday morning is in fact a lesson with a very sought-after coach I was fortunate enough to get assigned with. Then Saturday afternoon I am volunteering to help set up flags on course (I am thinking familiarity breeds relaxation, right?). Then Sunday will be derby day with dressage followed by my pace and xc rounds. I can't wait!!!

Monday, 1 May 2017

A Walk in the Park

In 13 days, I will be attending my first derby.

This involves a "Meet the Fences" the first day where you get an hour and a half of coaching on the xc field and then on day two there are three options of your choosing between dressage, a pace round through xc or xc with the jumps. If you are entering for year-end awards, you need to choose dressage and xc plus third of your choice. If not, you can chose what ever you like.

I may be mad to sign up for this but I will certainly have a method to it. Step one was get Savvy jumping jumps and begin to build up our strength. Just cantering one circle in lessons had Savvy and I huffing and puffing but now we can do four circles before dying, so winning! As for jumping, Savvy just improves every lesson and I am so proud of the little fluff bum for making the effort.

Step two, get to the park.

Emm mom, this is not our riding lesson barn... -- Savvy
So much to desensitise to and anxiety to deal with. Where to start? For this challenge the good old "when introducing something new/hard, break it down into easier steps" trick. Riding in the park is obviously scary as hell but what about taking my horse for a walk?

Ground work is well within my comfort zone regardless of how crazy my horse gets because redirecting a horse from the ground does not get me too worried. Heading to the park for a lovely stroll with my pony seemed like the best idea to:
#1. Find the xc course because this park is huge and I was not even sure how to get to it (and the map is dumb).
#2. Let pony sniff some jumps, see all the scary things and just chill out and eat some grass in the soon-to-be derby location.

This day exceeded all my expectations. If you have not taken your pony on a walking hike, I highly recommend it! (Although my feet would have preferred if I had ridden my horse instead by the end of it, Next time better shoes!)

Upon heading out from the parking area, I only had a vague idea of where to head to. I knew the xc field should be in a southeast direction and there should be a horse path, but I wasn't seeing one.

I crossed a road, heading off through a field and only mildly felt encouraged when I came across a small sign with arrows and a horse on it. Savvy was doing great at this point, although slightly excited about the car traffic close by and slightly perplexed looking as to what was going on.

We continued through tree paths and fields and had some interesting encounters with giant rocks. Savvy lost her shit at the first big rock, puffing up and arching her neck like only an Arab could. I filmed the second one but it was no where near as hilarious as the first.

I started to feel like there was no path to be found in the direction I needed and decided maybe I should be heading back in the direction of my trailer. At this point I crossed the road for a different view heading back and in so doing discovered the old xc field. Not exactly what I was looking for but decided to head over and check it out.

There was some really interesting but huge obstacles in this field. There was absolutely nothing small enough for me to lunge Savvy over except for one really old drop off wall. Still, it was fun to wander through and show Savvy all of it.

Heading back, Savvy was a star. She had gotten over everything and looked so relaxed and content to wander with me, eat grass along the way and didn't even worry as cars passed as we walked back along the road.

This was the best idea for both of us. I am glad I had a chance to feel out being in the park on my own without the stress of trying to ride a nervous horse.

For my next step, I plan on heading back to the park with Savvy saddled up. I will still head out leading her, but work on riding in the spots that feel the most comfortable to do so.

As long as the weather continues to be so wonderful, I feel like we might be ready to go by May 13th!