Monday, 30 October 2017

Shiraz is Back!

Some decisions just weigh on you. When I finally decided to look for help with Shiraz in her training, at first I was excited but that all soon was replaced with worry.

The little hellion.

First of all, would she be mistreated when I was not there? This is a huge fear knowing that there are trainers in my area that are known for things I would never approve of - such as tying a horse's head to a stirrup and leaving them for hours like that. Some trainers are happy to tell you their training plan while others omit parts for obvious reasons. At the end of the day, no matter how many questions you ask and referrals you get, you can't know what a trainer does when no one is looking.

Morning sunrise missing one horse
Second, would she actually be able to learn much in just two weeks? Really, my initial excitement was quickly replaced with "what if I just wasted $$$ and I still can't canter her?" Even if she comes home having cantered just fine with the trainer, would I then ruin it with not being able to ride enough days of the week to keep it up, or what if I still did not have the courage to ask for canter regardless?

Fall interrupted
You can see I kind of tend to worry a lot. But in my defence I really care a great deal about this horse and I have big plans for the two of us next year.
So, how did it go? Against all the odds that I had come up with in my head, things went great!

During the two weeks I visited her as much as I could just to spend some time brushing her and shoving treats in her face. Shiraz adjusted very well (quite instantly being totally fine with the two other horses) and made it the entire two weeks without a scratch on her. I was able to watch two training rides; one at the end of the first week and then again half way through the second week.

Even though Shiraz had already had a lot of ground work done with her as well as riding walk/trot, the trainer started from scratch with ground work that sounded along the lines of Buck Brannaman style and then began riding first in a western saddle and working in the round pen. She switched to an English saddle at the end of week one and moved to the large arena as well as took Shiraz on trail rides through ditches, along roads and fields a few times.

When I brought her home, I gave her the day to settle back in. She looked frankly overjoyed to be home. She galloped/ate/galloped for a large portion of the afternoon. The next day I could not wait to get out and ride and see how she would be. My arena is a sloppy, muddy mess so I had to take her out to the hay field.
There was no slipping on the lunge line out there so I hopped on and trotted circles for like what seemed forever. She was up and fast but had a much better ability to bend than when she had left for training. She wanted to keep a very close eye on her buddies back at the paddock but otherwise was behaving well. Finally I asked for canter and just with one kiss she gently lifted into a lazy western lope. I changed directions and tried the other lead which went just as well.
And now all the plans can begin. I have two options for training moving forward:
1.  I can begin lessons with my coach from last year at the huge heated indoor.
Great coach that I found very helpful with Savvy last year.
Amazing, huge, heated arena with tons of room to work even when other people are riding.
A bit farther than I like to trailer on a weekly basis.
Pricey. I can only afford a lesson every second week, but could still trailer over and ride on my own the off weeks.
2.  I can start lessons with this trainer who worked on Shiraz.
I bit closer; would shave off 10 minutes each way.
More affordable. Possibly could afford a lesson every week.
Unknown territory for coaching style.
No idea what arena is like or what equipment will be available (for when we start jumping!).
Usually money wins with me, but I had a very good experience with my coach from last year, so I am still not sure. Now that winter has shown up and my riding arena is not usable, I feel the pressure to hurry up and get something arranged.
Some days (mostly winter days) I wish I boarded my horses at a barn with an indoor...(sigh).

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Last Derby of the Season

Last Sunday was the Manitoba Horse Trials final derby of the year. I was so excited for this one for so many reasons. First, nothing beats the beauty of the park in fall with leaves in full colour and that incredible smell of a crisp fall day. Second, Savvy has been showing more and more propensity to be a reliable partner and choosing to play.

All of the fierce.
Upon getting on for my warmup before dressage, it became apparent Savvy was a bit off. She was pinning her ears at all things forward. Probably cold-backed - we were all tensed up in the frigid temps so I wouldn't blame her. I decided not to even canter in my warmup because this usually worsens her behaviour and then went in for my test.

Sunday morning turned out to be crisp indeed--a little bit too much so with a thick layer of frost on my truck windows.
It certainly was not our best, but considering the slippery frost-covered grass and uneven terrain mixed in with her overall tense demeanour, we surprisingly did all the right things at the right places. I was happy with it. There was no bucking at the canter and her responsiveness for the transition is gradually improving. She was still very fussy and chomping on the bit, but I was so impressed by her actually trying to listen regardless of her tension.

Curled behind the vertical but still trying her best on a very frosty morning and I might be frozen Popsicle on a horse at this point.
I changed for xc (more like put my safety vest over my jacket and called it good enough) and had time to relax a bit and help out friends with their tack up and watch some dressage rounds. I decided to head over to the warmup area about 45 minutes before my go time to settle, spend some more time in stretchy trot to help her relax and watch some other riders go. Our warmup jumps were...interesting. She was still pinning her ears when being asked to go and it was becoming more and more apparent girl was in heat as her sides were becoming more sensitive and suddenly she hated all the other horses around her. She was bucking on the landing of the tiny cross rail which progressed to bucking on the spot when asked to canter from trot. I was starting to wonder if I should just scratch from xc but that thought coincided with my 3-minute warning and I decided, meh, just try my best and be ready to get her head up on the backside of fences, hold on and have fun regardless. They were just starter level jumps after all and I would not be jumping anything outside of our ability.

Omg, no touchy! And lets both look down at this to ensure no jump goblins are hiding.
It was funny, I think Savvy is starting to get what a start box means because once in there, a switch flipped in pony. She came out a bit hesitant about forward but after a few strides, gave in to my request for 'go' and pricked her ears at the first fence. She jumped it very nicely with no funny business on landing and my confidence meeter swung from like a 3/10 to a solid 7/10. Savvy was quite looky for most of the course but man, did she ever want to GO. We had an unfortunate spook and refusal at fence 3, but turned and got it fine on our second attempt. Another refusal happened at fence 6, but it was more of a loss of control issue long before the jump and I decided to circle and improve our approach. Most of the course I felt like I was holding back a pocket rocket and interrupting her rampage with obstacles along the way. Considering her mood in warmup, I was very happy we had completed the course with only the few issues.

Then I had time to sit in my truck with the heat blasted over lunch to thaw my frozen limbs. My next and final entry for the day was 'follow the leader' moving up to Pre-Entry from Starter level. My leader would be a wonderful training-level rider who was happy to set what ever pace I felt comfortable with. I told her to just go at a relaxed canter and I would yell if I needed her to wait. There were quite a few jumps in this round that I had never jumped before - and not even lunged her over, but there is something so comforting about following another horse (especially if that horse jumps all the things).

Flying over the last fence and Savvy using just her ears this time to check for jump goblins
Unfortunately horses were feeling frisky. You would think Savvy would be settling by this point but wild ponies be wild! The lead horse was also feeling the frisk and there were a few spots the rider had to circle her runaway beast to let me catch up. The first two jumps were quite simple logs, but fence 3 was the red barn that I have had all the feels with throughout this summer: some success and plenty of fails with, but this time we flew over it. At this point Savvy temporarily lost her mind and I had to skip the next fence due to out-of-control flailing Arabian. We jumped everything else though and with occasional circles and trotting, both of us riders survived our wild ponies (although later that day this rider would have to bail off during her xc round because her horse literally took off on her and she could not regain control).

None of my xc was pretty. From a technique point of view, perhaps it was a fail but really my main goal at this point has been canter safely between the jumps and get over all the jumps without falling mostly WINNING, lol! My biggest takeaway from this year is to relax and not to demand perfect from myself - Savvy and I are learning, we are improving and there is all the time in the world for working on technique.

Xc season is over for this year here. It has been one heck of a year of learning for both myself and Savvy. She has been a fun and mostly safe horse to learn with. But how am I going to make it six months until my next xc?!!!!

Friday, 13 October 2017


I did a thing and omg I am so happy about it! Yet also feel a bit guilty, like I am skipping a step and not paying all my dues.

But wait, lets back up a bit.

I have had a pretty great year with Savvy but in the shadow of that was a horse in need of training. Shiraz.

I did put in a lot of work with her this year and as a result, she has exceptional ground manners. She can stand ground tied for grooming and saddling. I can move her around at the mounting block one foot at a time and then get on without her trying to walk off. We have got a pretty good walk/trot under saddle...and no canter.

Every time I got up the nerve to even think about trying, I just couldn't commit to asking for the canter. All I could see in my mind was how talented she is at bucking on the lunge at canter and wondered if I could actually stay in the saddle if that happened. It is silly because Savvy bucks plenty and I trained her from scratch and managed to be brave enough to get it done. But somehow this is different in my mind. Shiraz is bigger and bucks bigger. I am farther from the ground. I have enough injuries, thank you very much.

I was, however, committed to her training progressing this year -- with or without me -- so I started researching training options. I found someone who is a great fit for Shiraz (lets call her M) who is originally from Germany. She studied first dressage, then natural horsemanship as she travelled the world working at various barns, and now here she is competing in barrel racing and training horses at a local barn.

I was a bit worried terrified about trailering Shiraz over there and did not sleep at all the night before. I seem to have bad luck on 'first' outings like the time I first took Savvy to my lesson barn and ended up getting kicked in the face. She loaded fine though and I drove her over to the barn she would be spending the next few weeks at. She unloaded politely and simply looked around interested but calm (thank you Mule!).

Hello new horses!
I met with M and we took Shiraz over to the arena to show her where my horse is at currently and talk about training goals. Shiraz was on her best behaviour and M was impressed with her manners and ground work knowledge.

Then we put Shiraz in her paddock to meet some friends over the fence and I felt a rock in my stomach as the realisation hit me that I had to leave her there.

Uh, mom? What is going on? - Shiraz
I hate giving up control over how my horse is trained and cared for. Will they even tell her what a good girl she is?!! But. I think this is good timing to just get her out there, learning and experiencing and growing up a bit mentally. If all goes well, this should put her at a good training level for me to start taking her to lessons at the indoor that I took Savvy to last winter and continue solidifying w/t/c and possibly get started jumping in a few months.

So, would it be weird if I went there every day to check in on her and give her cookies?

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Riding the Wave

One of the best side effects post competition is how great the rides at home are afterwards. How can you still be afraid of a cross rail after just galloping around a xc course and conquering all the MASSIVE 2'3" jumps on course (hahaohmygoshbutweren'tthosejumpsbig?!!) Well, you can't. Lets just say I am very happy to be back to this place and ready to tackle some issues.

Namely curling behind and unsteadiness. It is killing our dressage scores. When Savvy is anxious, she gets busy in the head. It is how she soothes herself: wiggling, bobbing, rubbing her head on her legs, chewing the bit like a beaver through trees. When she relaxes, it mostly goes away. But show environments are never a relaxed situation.

So I have been working on ways to help her relax through a bit of French classical training I learnt last year watered down and mixed in with my own trial and error ideas. For example, at a walk, on the long side I will get her very straight then elevate the bit in her mouth and then ask for head turned in slightly (working our way up to 45 degrees) but with very straight head (so the bend is truly neck, not pulled over nose) and continue walking with straightness through her body and release. I am hoping these quiet flexion exercises will relax the muscles in her neck and poll and help the overall issue of head wiggles.

Next, I am shutting down this curling behind the vertical. Low and behind the vertical seems to be her favourite place to be so for now, I just want her poll high and I will be very careful not to fuss with her in any way as long as her head is up.  It is not a heavy handed issue--she is so light on the bit, a feather could make her curl. It seemed to begin after we had been practising long and low. She discovered she loved it down there and wants that to be her new forever home. Sorry girl! Head up and get your ass to work, literally.

Our next derby is about a week away. Having competitions so close together is fantastic! All the benefits from our last xc may actually still be with us for this next one. It will be great going in with some momentum rather than just hoping we can make it through starter.

This derby is set up a little differently--we could pick dressage, pace, xc and a new class called "follow the leader" where you get to do a xc round following a buddy horse and rider. I have decided to do dressage, starter xc and then do a pre-entry course following someone. It will be great to have a go at some bigger jumps without the stress of worrying about scores or the big 'E' as this round is unjudged.

Now if I could get some of these good vibes to rub off on Shiraz. Her training has been less than fun lately, but that is for another post.