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! :)

Thursday, 5 April 2018


My farm has not sold yet so for the time being I'm not going anywhere. We have done everything we can to the house to prepare for selling, but as for how the yard looks, it is a waiting game for snow to melt (the back yard is still a couple feet deep in snow currently). But a certain fluffy yak has packed her little grooming bags and relocated.

The best part of this whole new adventure is having Shiraz at a boarding stable with an indoor -- and that has happened this past weekend! I brought her on Sunday, lunged in the arena and showed her all the things, then lunged again on Monday.

Tuesday I had scheduled a lesson with my coach K from the previous indoor I had been trailering to. She was gracious enough to agree to drive over to the new place and continue our lessons. It possibly may have been a bit ambitious to schedule a lesson that soon, but I wanted to hit the ground running and make up for a failed winter plan of making progress with Shiraz.

Look how relaxed she looks just lunging...hhmph.
I was a bit worried how she might be for her first ride in the new arena with sounds of construction of the new barn being worked on. To make matters a bit worse I showed up late and literally was running to get my horse, scrape of the mud and tack up. I lunged a little in a rush and then jokingly made a prayer to the riding gods to keep me alive for this lesson.

The "Why have you brought me here" look
Turns out that prayer deserved a bit of sincerity. Shiraz was tense and could not mentally comprehend how to step forward in that state. Rearing felt strongly imminent. K had us just work on a 20-meter circle at the walk which once I got her unstuck from where I had mounted it was a pretty intense jig. We worked on trying to find a walk and K had me count out loud "1,2,3,4" over and over and K threw every tool she knew at us to help us both relax. At one point some random person opened the arena door without calling out first and spooked us both hard: Shiraz did this very gymnastic move and I yelled a swear word, and the poor guy looked a bit shellshocked (ohmygod I need to stop with the swearing with spooks! Perhaps I can train myself a random word for those surprise moments like..."CABBAGE!" or "UKULELE!").

Shiraz thinks her new boyfriend is perfect! He does whatever she tells him to.
Finding a true walk was just not happening so K had us go up to trot and still counting out loud. There was much tail swishing, head snaking and pinned ears in response to my leg. K had me "forget my hands" and just ride her with my legs and seat. I literally was to put my hands on her neck and not use the reins for anything (although I had contact). This was the magic feather for me and I settled in to thinking in the moment.

My yak post ride -- she worked out her angst through much rolling in the straw
It was incredibly cool to see that I could settle her head movements with my legs. Every time Shiraz wanted to suck back, or drift to the exit, or throw her head around in a fit, it was completely fixable with inside leg, outside hip bone and eyes focused on the next spot in the circle. Bit by bit I could feel her back unknotting and I allowed the reins to lengthen until she was trotting with her head stretched down and she started breathing. This state took 45 minutes to get and I am so happy to say that I spent most of the ride completely relaxed (except for that first 10 minutes of jiggidy jig--that space right there I was certain we were all going to die).

It was a great lesson--yes we just trotted a 20-meter circle basically for an hour but there was a lot accomplished. Shiraz was throwing every doubt question at me and with K's help I was able to answer all of those questions plus show her that dirty threats (like telling me she wanted to rear or buck many times) were not an option. And the best part, it was done with soft but consistent focus and leg support rather than a harsher correction.

I am looking forward to my next ride on my own. I will definitely be spending a lot more time doing ground work before I get on so hopefully she will not be that tense for the next ride. But, even if she is, I think we'll be okay.