Monday, December 10, 2018

2018 Year in Review - Part 1

And what a year it has been!

I think out of all the years I have blogged, this one by far has been the most difficult. Not necessarily to do with the horses, but moreso dealing with the private details of my life. Losing two furry family members made 2018 very bleak and although the horsey aspect of it was a lot of fun, I can't wait to turn the page on this year and start over with a blank slate.

While I realize that you can't necessarily bury your problems and leave them behind - something about a fresh calendar year, with a fresh and positive outlook is something that inspires hope within me. Loss has been prevalent in Blog Land and in life around me - very unexpected circumstances resulting in death or significant injury seemed to have plagued almost every single person I know (whether personal or as shared grief).

Despite this, I am making it my mission to not taint 2018 as a completely shit-tastic year, because that's essentially what it was. At least for me and mine. I am thankful for those who were there to comfort and offer support during the immense loss and grief my family experienced this year - life is so precious, and the profound sense of loss and sadness that seemed to be lurking around every corner made me once again realize how fortunate I am to have the people (and animals!) in my life that I do.

So before we get started, thank you for being there this year. Thank you for being patient while I grew into a better horse-woman. Thank you for giving me a safe place to write and experience comfort when things did not go well.

And to those still suffering from the impact 2018 left - I promise you, better days are on the horizon. Strength is not a measure of how fragile you aren't - it is a measure of how you keep going in the face of circumstances beyond your control.



The beginning of the year began with a bang - the wheels had been rolling since October of the previous year to send Annie off for training with Trainer K to work on her canter lead and cross-firing issue, as well as immersing her into the life of a "real" horse. Working a young horse from a private barn has it's perks - but one of the downfalls is that Annie never really got to experience a busy boarding atmosphere. I knew Barn C would be a great place for that, especially in the Winter-time and coupling the fact she needed some work with her leads, the formal barn experience would be icing on the proverbial cake.

This was on a majestically cold -20C day.
WHY was I riding?! Haha.
I started the year off enjoying minimal rides on Annie where I could - the frozen ground made it difficult to get any real work in, but I persisted nevertheless. Small questions were asked, and when the days were too cold, I just toodled her around to get out or hand-walked the subdivision with both horses.

Of course, we also celebrated our One Year Annie-versary and it was fun to look back and reflect on what the earlier days looked like. I also reflected back on Annie's age, and how although she got a late start to the world of being a riding horse, it doesn't really "mean anything"!

Being excited for 2018 also meant I started to plan, plan, plan! Somewhere in here before we went to our first clinic of the year, I broke my nose. It wasn't on the blog, but it happened when I went riding during my lunch break (I had fun explaining that one to my boss!).

Basically, the streets were snow-dusted but looked OK and we headed out for a quick ride around the street. Annie had front shoes on with pads and borium studs at the time and after making it 1/2 way around the street, I decided to turn back since I had gotten cold. We walked towards the edge of the road before making out turn and unfortunately, a hidden puddle of ice lay beneath the surface. Annie slipped and attempted to right herself, but went down. I came off over her side and landed on my back, her legs were neatly folded beneath her but were pointed right in my direction. As I scrambled to get up, she also scrambled to get up and basically sucker punched me right in the nose with her knee. The sound of my nose crunching still haunts my dreams.

I intentionally left this one small... should any readers be of the
squeamish variety, haha.
I walked back to the barn with my head bent over as blood basically streamed out of my nose, poor Annie slowly plodded behind me. I managed to get her back in the barn, got myself all cleaned up and got into the truck to see what kind of damage occurred. My nose was already twice it's normal size and the gash across the bridge made me realize I really needed to go to the hospital. I called up my Boss, told him what happened, and drove myself to the ER. I felt fine... until I got there. Waves of nausea and a splitting head-ache greeted me as I waited for the x-ray tech to arrive. Lo and behold, it was fractured.

I spent a few weeks wearing copious amounts of ill-colored make-up (because I have no idea how to "girl" correctly) and being made fun of as my eyes swelled and exploded with colors. It subsided and everything was more or less back to normal by the time February rolled around, although I do still have a left-over scar and a now crooked nose.

Day 1 of the Derek clinic!
The end of January saw us heading to Barn C to take part in the Derek Huget Dressage clinic, a day before Annie was scheduled to start training with Trainer K. It was a good set of lessons - aside from taking my SECOND fall off of Annie. Seriously, January was not a good month, haha. I did not recheck my girth and during a motorbike turn in the canter, I became unbalanced and essentially popped off over Annie's shoulder. Mare proceeded to gallop at full speed with a saddle beneath her belly until Derek, myself, and several spectators cornered her and we undid the girth. We spent part of that lesson re-desensitizing Annie to the saddle (she didn't care), before moving on to face our canter demons that plagued us from the year previous. Despite the fall, we did go on to have a fantastic two day clinic - good enough that I was able to plug away some lessons learned into my toolbox for future rides.


The start of February saw Annie off to training. Trainer K took over the proverbial reins, and was able to glean more insight during our Derek lessons, which is always helpful (esp since she also rides with him). As part of the training process, I set up weekly lessons with Trainer K to help keep me in the loop with Annie's progress, and understand the information Trainer K was giving her.

At Barn C, her new home for the month of February.

Our first lesson started out super, and we found that a lot of the canter baggage is with me vs the horse (isn't it always, haha?). Unfortunately, 1/2 through our fabulous lesson, Annie tried to lay down and roll. She ended up having a mild colic episode, which was kind of terrifying for me (no one ever likes colic). I hung around the barn for several hours before the winter storm caused the roads to worsen and Trainer K told me to head home. Trainer K took great care of Annie for the next week and updated me throughout the first critical 24 hours. I ended up bringing her a bottle of her favorite alcohol as a sign of my gratitude. The winter storms and work made it impossible for me to take care of my horse myself, unless I were to take time off and stay at a friend's place close to the barn.

Annie was well taken care of and resumed regular training slowly to ensure there were no other issues and I was happy to hear she took to it easily. We think the low temperatures and lack of drinking caused the colic episode, but aren't really certain.

Of course, during this time Spud was stabled at a friend's place not far from their private barn. I visited him a handful of times, and found it weird I didn't have to go out every day to feed/check horses/ water, etc.

A good lesson with Trainer K.
We had another lesson with Trainer K, just re-establishing the info she installed in Annie, as well as getting me to be more competent about the canter thing. This was one of the first times (aside from our magical canter in the Derek clinic) where I felt a balanced and rideable canter. It was exciting!

February ended with the loss of my special Shepherd, Ty, who was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy last Summer. With the addition of a wheelchair, we were able to keep Ty's legs strong and I believe it gave him a few extra months with us. Since his diagnosis, we had changed our lives completely to devote to his illness and to ensure he had the best changes for succeeding. He did impeccably well, and even surpassed the Vet's original diagnosis predictions. Mid-February, he let us know he was ready.

The very best dog <3
Surrounded by myself, Jamie, my Dad, a wonderful friend, and our dog Roxy, our vet let him go in the comfort and familiarity of our living room.


I had a difficult time with Ty's passing, and ended up taking a few days longer than planned to go pick up Annie and bring her home. We also had taken Roxy for her luxating patella surgery, which meant yet another drastic life change as we promoted healing and recovery for her. I did bring both horses home a few days into March, after having to chip away at several feet of snow and ice to recover their water trough.

With the immense amount of snow still hanging about, we relegated ourselves to road riding and Annie seemed happy to pick up where we had left off. It would be a few more weeks before the riding arena would be clear (and dry enough!) to ride in. Annie was so happy to be out that a few times, I had to man-handle her to actually go home.

So happy to get out and hack!
As per tradition in March, Riding Buddy and I met up at the TBC riding grounds for an afternoon of jumping. I always forget how much higher Riding Buddy jumps than me, but was able to pull myself together and jump some sticks! Annie got a bit hot, but nothing insane and we were able to have some fun and blow off some steam while still waiting for the great thaw to happen at home!

We also battled the wet weather, as well as some naughty behavior from Annie, and I delved into how frustrated I've been with Annie's weight fluctuations. It all wound up being in one big post: here. There was a lot of revisiting standing quiet, hand-walking and ground-work, as well as undersaddle manners. It always seems after a long winter, the horses are kinda feral.

I was peeing my pants, but Annie had it together lol

Late March, after Roxy's knee recheck, we went and picked up Ella from the animal shelter - which was blogged about months later :)


Late Winter storms continued to roll in and hit us at every moment. It was frustrating, because the horses would be getting a very late start on the year. I made do with what I had tho, and we did a lot of work on her mounting block impatience, as well as her burning desire to charge down the driveway jigging. Five minutes here, ten minutes there, we plugged away at it until it became so redundant and familiar.

Anthony Clinic - good girl.
I had also started Annie on some ulcer medication, as well as ordered a few other prescriptions to dot all my i's and cross all of my t's (it was a very expensive month haha).

We toodled lots during the month of April - with other horses, ponying Spud, by ourselves, bareback... you name it. We were the Champions of Toodling.

I finally blogged about Ella and welcoming her into our family. I also mentioned she was a Foster Dog - a Foster Dog that became an adopted dog a few months later. It was an interesting time, because while I didn't feel ready to give my heart to another dog just yet, Ella was patiently waiting for the day when I'd let her in. I learned a lot from her, and my heart still aches she is no longer with us.

Ella :) 
Mid-April I brought about the "endless circle" for Annie who upped the ante in jigging down the driveway. We did endless amounts of circles every time she tried to walk off or ignore my request to halt. I experimented with quite a few tactics, to see which would be the best for me and Annie. We had some good success, and a mixed bag of failure as well.

We were able to tag on a Karen lesson before our Spring chiro appointment, which was... messy, haha. Annie was FRESSSSH and took a while to settle into the lesson, but once she got the hamsters back on their wheel, she was a solid citizen. We were able to reaffirm that by pushing her past her cheekiness, she settles and stops getting so frantic. I use this often - just sitting along for the ride while she works out whatever little issue she has. The Chiro was pretty happy with how Annie looked, and only some minor adjustments were needing to be made - hooray!

Towards the of the month we signed up for our second clinic of the year - an Anthony Lothian clinic. We had ridden with Anthony last year, and I was familiar with him as an instructor, as I have ridden in many of his clinics in the past. I had a moment of self-doubt after signing up, because we hadn't really done much in the sense of schooling. The snow load from February and March was still hanging around and made it difficult to get anything done. Still, we went and we persisted.

Annie was.... naughty for this clinic, especially on Day 1. She fidgeted while tied and danced around. I went to lunge her and the little witch wound up and clocked me on the thigh with a hind hoof. She was Bad Pony lunged and I was completely mortified. The day didn't stop there tho and we ended up having a very late lesson because apparently I forgot how to turn my horse properly at the canter... Anthony ended up having to lay out poles and literally have me canter through a chute. It. Was. Embarrassing.

Annie, not being naughty.
But, it was also a huge learning lesson. Annie liked to lean against my aids and drift left. I'd over-correct her by pulling her back right instead of just steering. It was a good lesson on being proactive vs reactive.

Overnight at this clinic, Annie also decided to kick a few boards out in her stall and despite the boards being already half-rotten, I was pretty peeved with her behavior.

The next day she was better behaved at the trailer and stood quietly, thank god. We had a super productive lesson, wherein I steered properly and we even were able to jump some jumps. I was pretty happy with the 180 Annie made in the arena and clambered off happy. We met with the farrier there, since he was already there to trim a few horses. Annie was, once again, a total douche for him and I silently cried to myself in my truck because I had worked so hard over the winter to eradicate the leg yanking and pawing issues she exhibits with the farrier. I also shook my fist at several people who told me Year 2 undersaddle was gonna be Hell.

By the end of April, the snow finally melted (oh my god please don't take this long to melt in 2019) and the arena was ready for riding. I worked diligently on instilling manners into Annie, who continued to forget she could tie without pawing or throwing a hissy fit. We did a lot of ground-work and even took our first solo trail ride of the year. I also continued with figuring out her weight issues and power-pac dewormed both horses.


I started May off with a blog review of my Mountain Horse Venezia tall boots, which have been a happy addition to my tack trunk for nearly a year now. We also did a horse show in early May, which I blogged about later on once I got media for the posts!

Annie showed off more baby horse ADD, which made me want to send her to the glue factory, haha. But nevertheless we persisted and had some good moments. I was able to get in a bunch more hacks to bring up Annie's stamina, and even had time to go out with N and AJ on a warm and bright Spring day!

Many hacks in these trees were had!
I started to get some real schooling done in the ring, which was great and productive. We worked a lot on what we had learned over the colder months and applied it. I practiced more with riding in the large meadow in front of the public riding arena, which seemed to confuse Annie. We started slow tho, and as we progressively used the meadow space to school in, she became more confident with the open spaces.

As per my goals of the year, I took the opportunity to trail ride where I could - on trails I hadn't ever done before. Annie was great, and ponied Spud solo-style like a champ. The trails we went on varied in difficulty, but I liked they weren't just flat-earth plodding. Lots of hills, rocks, and water crossings!

I also went to visit the Boyfriend, who was working away from home, lots with the dogs, so Annie had a lot of down time throughout the year to marinate! I was able to get my butt back in the saddle after a 5 day trip visiting the boyfriend and due to the ring being redone, had to school in the open meadow. It was great for mixing it up, and I continued to mix things up with asking for more - more stretch, more balance, more honest in the transitions. We hacked with N and AJ a few times, as well as trail rode so I could begin to better educate our rescue dog, Ella, with how to behave while I rode. We also met the mascot of the subdivision, an older pig that wanders around as she pleases. It scared Annie, but was a good lesson in leaving things along for the dogs!

I just discovered this trail this year!!
With a family of grizzlies and more construction work on the ring, we were kind of land-locked for a little while in May, but I persisted and ended up starting to leg up Spud. We were only able to wander through a few parts of some trails, as I wanted to avoid the areas the grizzlies had been spotted. Spud proved to be a very tiny appaloosa asshole, and I had to work with him over the period of a few sessions to re-install his fucking brakes.

At long last I received media from our schooling show in early May. We did TL Dressage and a few Hunter courses for fun. She was great for the entire day - stood quietly at the trailer and ate her hay like a big girl and even did pretty decently in the warm up arena. Unfortunately, Annie still felt tight-backed and behind the leg (something we worked tirelessly on all summer), and our scores reflected that. Still, it was huge progress considering our missed leads and exit stage left in the dressage court last year! She was also great for the Hunter courses, even earning us some satin which was fun.

We had fun in the Hunter ring!
We rounded off the month with two more Anthony lessons - whew May was a busy month! We chipped away at that canter again, and had some great success. Our day 1 lesson was quite possibly one of the best lessons I had on her throughout the first half of the year. She felt maneuverable, compliant, and quiet.

Day 2 we worked moreso on her resistance to forward and played a lot with slow/fast buttons at all the gaits. It was a good lesson to remind me that things don't get better unless we work on them! The more we work at it, the more compliant Annie will be become.

Another clinic... haha.


We schooled more in the open meadow, as the construction crew was still busy redoing the ring. I made a lot of time for trail riding and riding out with other friends and other horses - something  and someone different for Annie to see. We rode around in the new footing at the arena while the rails were still off, to test the depth of the footing before the construction crew put it all back together. It confused the horses to be in an arena with no walls, haha.

I also drove Spud more - getting him more attuned and reliable to the bridle and my aids. Much to his dismay, lol. We rode with more friends, while Annie ponied Spud, and altho both horses were young and kind of fed off of eachother, the ride ended quiet and calmly.

Good boy, Spud!
We did a ride at the arena with a friend and Annie was kind of tight and not feeling herself. When I got back to the barn, I did some investigating and found that Annie had punctured her fetlock. Her leg didn't have much swelling when I initially had found it, but it ballooned up the following day. While I was frustrated to lose saddle time because of an injury, I was glad it wasn't very serious and realized injuries carry their own silver linings. You never really practice cold hosing, wrapping, poking ouchie bits, and standing quiet until you have to!

A week later, Annie resumed work and we started with a nice and easy trail ride with a friend. Our second ride was not so easy, as the young horse we rode with was also quite antsy and it resulted in a very large spook and spin I was NOT a fan of, haha. Despite the spin/spook, our school that day in the arena was fantastic, so I couldn't be all that mad!

Bridleless riding - a new thing for both of us!
We continued to hack, mid-June, and there was a brief stint Annie ran a fever due to being revaccinated post-puncture. We did lots of ground-work while I waited for her neck swelling to subside, and once she was cleared by the vet to go back to work, we were off! We practiced a ton of transitions, and this was the very first time I unclipped her reins and rode her home with the reins draped around her neck. This went a step further as I rode her walk, trot, canter in the arena without a bridle for the very first time.

Whew... only 6 months down and we did a heck of a lot! Stay tuned for Part 2 :)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Winter Mode Engaged... Sort Of

It hasn't snowed here. That's just frost.
Lots and lots of frost.
Will I ever catch up on my ride recaps?

Probably not, haha.

Although, in some ways, it's not hugely necessary to recap every single ride right now. The lack of sunlight and cooler temps means that ring rides are finally non-existent, and the real "training" rides have more or less stopped. We do hacks where possible around the subdivision, as well as hand-walking and ground work. But other than that, it has quietened down in preparation for the winter season (which is disturbingly late, might I add... not that I should complain).

For the last few weeks, Annie gets ridden 1-2x a week where I can manage it. Which, is a stark comparison to the 4-6x a week schedule I managed most of the year. Since she had her shoes pulled two weeks ago, she is a bit more sensitive over the rocky areas in the subdivision so I've avoided any kind of real planned rides while I wait for her to adjust a bit more and have since been busy slathering keratex religiously on her hooves.

She's done pretty well tho, and I'm quite surprised how decent her feet are compared to when I first bought her. I debated long and hard about leaving her shod throughout the winter, but found the option to go sans shoes was much more appealing for a multitude of reasons. So... that's the direction we took.

I forgot that I had taken all my saddle pads home, so had to dig out
an old half pad. Ignore how fluffy and filthy she is, lol.
The day Farrier came to do the horse's feet, I took Annie out for a ride beforehand to expel any excess energy and to also get in a good ride before the weekend's torrential downpour touched down. The ride itself was great - we did quite a bit of trot work, as well as leg yielding which went really well. Annie felt good, although weak and a bit unbalanced from not being in consistent work. I didn't mind it tho, and appreciated her level of try as we practiced a few transitions and lateral work.

Most long-time readers know I've struggled with Annie and this particular farrier. We did switch to a farrier that had worked much better for Annie, but unfortunately, this farrier battled fires near his home and hasn't been able to fit us into his usual rotation. I do look forward to seeing him again next year though, because we did really enjoy him.

To be fair, there is no real difference in the farriers. For some reason, Annie just prefers the one and the current one she has shown issues with has done nothing to warrant suspicion from Annie. It's just the way she is, I guess. Despite all of this - Annie was foot perfect (no pun intended, haha). No dancing, no yanking her feet away, and no pretending to be afraid of him!! It's something I have worked so diligently and hard on all year, and making some small adjustments to the way we arranged the appointment certainly made a huge difference in Annie's demeanor and overall cooperation, I think.

This is huge for us
In the past, the Farrier had always wanted Annie's head pointing into the barn and haunches facing out - she is typically tied to the side of the tack room stall and almost always keeps her nose pointing out (the opposite of what Farrier wants). I wasn't sure if this was the source of her fidgeting (to try and see what is out there, or because she feels unsafe with her butt exposed??) but worked hard to implement some mock Farrier work to our routine. I'd pretend to bang in nails, hold her feet similarly as the farrier would, mock-rasp them, etc.

I never had an instance of resistance, and if I did - it was her yanking her foot away. Which, was easily corrected verbally. But for the Farrier, it was not that simple. Any verbal correction (a small "hey" or "quit") was met with Annie shying and spooking away from him. It was one of the weirdest things I've ever seen, because Farrier had never ever hit her or shown any aggression. He spent a lot of time going slow, petting her, giving her breaks, etc. Nothing seemed to work.

I started to think that maybe I was also part of the problem. During appointments, I could feel myself getting nervous Annie would be bad for the Farrier, and that nervousness would escalate as the wheels fell off. And we all know how horses mirror our emotions. So, on our last appointment of 2018 I simply tied her like I usually do, and stepped out of the way. Farrier had to wear a little head-lamp to get enough light in the barn shadows (the light in there isn't the best to begin with) but otherwise worked around Annie.

She no longer spooks at the kids playground, so that's good, haha.
And it worked.

I can't say this is "cured" or that there won't be instances of poor behavior in the future, but it gave me a lot of hope.

The farrier issues was another reason I opted to go barefoot this Winter - although it wasn't the main reason - to give Annie a short, productive, and positive appointment. Typically it works well for the first two feet and then it goes downhill from there. We'll work back up to having both fronts shod and possibly all four, pending how she feels returning to full work next year. All in good time and all that.

For the most part tho, Annie and Spud are fully immersed into Winter mode.

Why the long face, Annie?
We've pursued some short hacks since having her shoes pulled and she's been pretty stellar. A bit more spookier than usual and more interested in her surroundings, but it only really lasts for a few minutes before she settles and realizes its all business as usual.

The temperature has plummeted over the last few days, which meant the horse's water heater finally got turned on for the very first time this season. It's been an interesting change - typically we have several inches of snow at this point, but it seems as though the snow has prolonged it's arrival year after year. While I certainly won't complain about the lack of snow, I am hesitant to participate in any form of celebration, as I fear the snow will hit later in the season and stick around well into the Spring.

The kids and I took a chilly -10C walk around the neighborhood
meeting scary fake moose, haha.
Anyways, weather stuff aside, I am enjoying the time with the horses. I did a quick little hand-walk with the two ponies yesterday, which left me in stitches when Annie and Spud decided to be downright terrified by a fake light-up moose in someone's front yard. It took a few minutes of cajoling before either of them believed that it wouldn't kill them, and they finally sniffed noses with it.

Annie was pretty hilarious. It took her several sniffs before she thought about it all vs just reacting and spooking. On her last sniff, she looked at me like, "Oh... it's fake."

*sniff; spook; snort*
*goes in for second sniff; spooks; dances in place*
*sniffs and actually thinks about it*
*looks at me; deadpan face*

Spud had initially not really cared about the fake moose, but fed off of Annie's insecurities and was also convinced the moose meant imminent death.

The hilarity in it was that I had just done some in hand and desensitization work with Annie before our walk, and she seemed less than enthused with the "spooky" things I came up with. But sure, I guess fake moose is much scarier than a bucket loudly falling off your butt.


Makes total sense to be afraid of a fake moose.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

2018 Season By the Numbers

I did this fancy infographic last year and loved doing it, so I figured  why not do another one for this year?!

I wanted to keep most things the same in both graphics, but did change up a few little things where needed. Comparisons are always fun, and in trying to keep with tradition I wanted to showcase just how much we accomplished this year.

Enjoy :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

That Time I Thought We Ruined a Children's Playground

The Thursday afternoon following my birthday held much promise in the weather department. So much so that I left work early and was able to put a ride in on Annie before having to pack for Quebec. Earlier in the week we had gotten an unfortunate phone call that the SO's grandmother had passed away after a short battle with health complications following a stroke. It wasn't necessarily a shock, as we knew her health had drastically declined over the period of a few short weeks. The SO had wanted to go both for the respect to his grandmother's memory, as well as the inevitable catching up with relatives he hadn't seen in a few years. Nevertheless, it took a few tense days to arrange everything - flights, place to stay, arrangements for the animals.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding our visit, it was lovely
to meet his extended family and wander the streets viewing amazing architecture. 
Despite things coming down to the wire, I managed to get everything squared away relatively quickly and managed to enjoy a quick, but brisk ride on Annie before leaving Saturday morning.

Of course, when I got there, Annie was sweating pretty good in her blanket. Immediately, I thought the worst and figured she was colicking, so I ripped the blanket off and threw a cooler on. She was sweating along her chest, had no temperature, was bright/ alert, and was happy to eat treats from my hand. Her gut sounded normal and after taking her for a little walk up and down the driveway, I started to piece the puzzle together.

Had a taken a mental second and wandered into the paddock to check Spud, I would have noted he too was sweaty.

Mostly photos of our trip to Quebec.
This was a beautiful church.
And the paddock featured many skid marks and dug up grass/mud from what could only be thundering hooves.

The temporary termination of rain and inclusion of warm temps had both horses feeling pretty damn spry, and the leftover hoofprints made me believe they were playing a pretty good game of tag...

With that sorted out, I felt much more comfortable to ride. Especially considering Annie was bone-dry by the time I was finished fretting.

We mostly kept at the walk - letting her stretch into the buckle before picking her back up again. She has understood the concept of stretching down into the reins, but as Anthony pointed out in one of our clinic rides, she needs to get more acquainted with the idea of stretching into my hand. I alternate between stretching on a free rein and gradually taking up a feel on her mouth. The idea is to get her even on both reins (the Anthony-ism of "fear which rein you cannot feel!" ran through my head) and to have her realize weight in my hands isn't a bad thing.

This house was super cool - and for sale!
Of course, it's taken some practice, simply because my t-rex arms don't give to her in the same way a longer armed rider would. The idea of "rowing a boat" has helped to move my upper arms with her.

Mostly though, we walked. 

There was a short stint we did some trot sets, as well as a few canter loops on the dirt road. She had picked up the opposite lead of what I was asking, so we turned back up the road to re-affirm what I had wanted.

Towards the end of the summer we were working on simple changes on diagonals and straight-aways and had a lot of good success, but every now and then she'd get confused. I'm sure my lack of fitness has something to do with it as well, so I made a mental note to be more aware of my seat pressure and body positioning when asking.

The old signs are so cool too.
Like the rides previous, Annie came to a tentative walk as we rounded the corner where the new playground is. This time there were no kids, so I thought "hey, what a good time to desensitize my mare." 

We got closer and I noted the playground's footing seemed to be some kind of rubber compound. The "fall friendly" kind of stuff. I didn't want to ride around the play-structures just in case Annie decided to spook or something, so got her close enough (which took some cajoling because DEATH IS IMMINENT) and let her relax a moment before dismounting and decided I'd hand-walk her through the structures. 

It went pretty well, as the only issue seemed to be the playground footing. It weirded Annie out a bit, as it gave considerably under her weight. Truth be told, I had heart palpitations when I saw just how much the ground gave under Annie and thought I had ruined the footing. We had initially eased our way onto it, because I knew the footing was rubberized and when her hoof first sunk down I immediately backed her off of it. My mind raced with, "I wonder how I'm going to explain that I was just desensitizing my horse?" and "Shit, this is gonna cost a pretty penny."

I had to set her down in the ditch to remount.
She was skeptical of the playground still.
"I got my eye on you" - Annie
And even as those thoughts raced through, the footing just sprang back into place. I guess it's just really spongy?

Needless to say, I won't be hand-walking much around the park for fear of ruining the footing somehow, but it was still a good experience for Annie and I. When the grass grows around the park, I do intend to hack her around it a few times for desensitization's sake. 

What can I say, I put my horses in weird situations. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Birthday Ride

Thankfully the miserable, wet weather subsided just in time for my birthday on Remembrance Day. I had given Annie a very light lunge a few days prior to that, just to shake our non-existent routine up a bit. The re-addition of the neck-stretcher seemed to confuse her at first, but she quickly relaxed into the contact and even offered some nice stretching despite the ground being quite wet and slippery.

In fine Annie fashion, she was quite at ease with the exercise - so much so that every time a "good girl" or "ye-ES" left my lips, she slammed herself back into a very quiet and... leisurely-like walk. I had half-expected a lap or two of mach 10 trotting... or at the very least some sassy head shaking.

Truth be told tho, Annie has never lunged or ridden out fresh as a porpoise surfing the waves. She can be giddy and quick, but it typically never amounts to much more than a slight head wag or glee-filled squeal.

About as excited as she got, lol.
I'm pretty glad she doesn't feel compelled to test her wings tho, because I don't know how talented my sticky-seat is anymore. We have had our share of several bucks, and mild rearing tantrums tho, so I can't say it is all peaches and roses... and for all of those occasions I have managed to keep my breeches firmly seated in the saddle. Of course the time I didn't double check my girth in my first clinic of the year, I fell off due to equipment malfunction vs misbehaviour. And when I broke my nose not even two weeks before that (oh yes, I broke my nose... one day I will blog about that), it had everything to do with ground conditions and nothing to do with the horse.

So for that, I am thankful.

Thankful for my (mostly) earth-bound horse, haha.

I started off my birthday weekend right - playing hooky from an afternoon at work and instead, heading out to catch a ride on my mare! The air was cool and mild, and despite an evening's worth of rain, the skies were clear and held a promise of sunshine throughout the weekend.

As we set out for a ride, Annie wandered out quite content and relaxed. We hadn't hacked out since Hallowe'en, which meant things that had (very mildly) changed (and some things that had been there for years...) were scary. One or two spooks and then she settled into the routine with ease.

It was a nice quick ride around the block, and I was able to throw in quite a few walk-trot-halt transitions. She feels weak, but willing, which I'll take any day of the week. A nice long, strung-out canter down the dirt road and I felt on top of the world, hah. Of course, that canter came to a screeching halt when the new playground they had just built came into view.

Several kids were out playing and at one point, I contemplated hopping off and leading her past. She stood and stared for a while before being urged to continue on. A large hunk of machinery (painted a very offensive red color to Annie's mare mind) gave her the heebie jeebies, but we stealthily passed it before it could reach out and grab us, haha.

Surveying her kingdom - in search of things that have changed.

Once we passed the threshold of the machine, Annie snorted loudly and blew out a long sigh. It's tough being a flight animal around inanimate objects.

Three days later it was my birthday, and N excitedly texted me that she was ready to ride.

I headed out to the barn and tacked up a very quiet mare before heading out. She has been pretty good about leaving the barn - once or twice she has reverted to trying to drag me down the driveway, but the addition of treats when I mount up and whenever we stop has mostly curbed that habit. It's a silly thing, I guess, but it works for us.

I hop up, feed a treat, adjust myself and turn on the Equisense. Ask her to walk out. Ask to halt, feed a treat and then we head out. Sometimes I ask her to stop again randomly along our route, and other times I let her reel the reins out of my hands until my fingers stop at the buckle.

This ride was a little more animated than the previous, as Annie was very happy to see AJ. I had brought Spud along to pony, since I hadn't gotten any kind of indication Annie would be bad. I was right, and she was a peach.

As evidenced, two peaches!
Unfortunately, the day was so nice that the subdivision was abuzz with activity. Early into our ride, we had to pass the super scary playground - on this particular day, one of the moms had sent a message out on the subdivisions facebook group that there would be a scheduled playdate. Right for when we wanted to ride, haha.

No biggie - I see it as an opportunity for desensitization anyways.

What I did not expect tho, was the absolute hoards of kids, dogs, strollers, parents, wagons, cars... oh my goodness. A young girl furiously biked up behind us with a wagon attached - it bounced and ricketed along the asphalt before she slowed and asked kindly, "Is it OK if I go past you?" I smiled, nodded, and watched as both horses surveyed the contraption with mild curiosity.

They were, however, much more interested in the playground. A few dogs came darting over, barking and carrying on. Their owners were quick to contain them tho, so no harm no foul. Several young children sprinted from the playground, shouting, "HorSES!!!"Their parents rounded them up before they could get to us, which I wholly appreciated.

Unrelated media. This is Annie running away from the gaggle of children, lol.
Annie was tense and nervous, her muscles flinching and her eyes wide. I just nudged her onwards and let her stop to look when she needed to. The bustling activity in what was once a very quiet part of the subdivision will take some time to get used to, I imagine.

From there, we wandered up the dirt road and Annie fell into pace quietly as we left the screaming kids behind. It did not last long tho, as two young girls on an ATV came absolutely fucking screeching down the road. I took to the wider bend of the road, ensuring that they would see me in time. They saw me, but they did not slow down.

The horses both flinched as water from potholes sprayed and the machine roared. I called out angrily, "Hey!" but neither seemed to look back.

For the most part, recreational vehicles are very respectful of us and I wasn't so sure where these young girls' manners were. I was glad they had gone past though, and carried on quietly before the soft roar of the ATV motor started back up the road....

This was taken literally a few minutes before she came
barreling up behind us...
This was after she had passed us the first time.
They had turned around and were headed back my way.

This time I KNEW they knew I was there. They had passed me a few lousy minutes before, they saw my horse's reactions and they KNEW I would be on the road.

A family of four had started to walk down the road as well, and I groaned inwardly as we closed the distance between one another. We had just passed eachother as the two girls on the quad squeezed in between the distance, cranked the ATV over to the side of the road /I/ was on, and proceeded to splash through the remaining puddles.

I fucking lost it.

"What the fuck?!" I called after them.

Annie fidgeted beneath me and shied, which I don't really blame her.

The one girl turned her head back and laughed, continuing to blast away.

The horses calmed in a matter of seconds, which I was grateful for. But I more or less was pissed because had it been a young child on a horse (or perhaps me on a younger/greener horse??) it may have not ended well.

A very dirty Annie to break up my wall-o-text-rage!
I work hard to desensitize my horses to noises, a variety of engines, and strive for positive interaction between myself and recreational drivers. I have only had a handful of instances that left a sour taste in my mouth, and this was one of them.

If you want to splash through the puddles, and I happen to be on that side of the road, why not give me 60 fucking seconds to move?

Horses, as trained as they are, are unpredictable and stupid. It was a cold, crisp Winter day and I was riding a young horse that hadn't been out in a while. It was the perfect recipe for a disaster.

And while I understand there are inherent dangers, there is no need to be a blatant jackass. There have been situations where I was trying to ride a very hyper and excited Suzie down the road and as I was trying to dismount (for safety), a car rocketed past me as she was fucking cantering sideways. Like... what?!

I have been known to purposely walk in the middle of the road, to discourage drivers from speeding past or weaving around us as we ride.

The instances are few and far between, but holy cow that made me mad.

Annie on auto-pilot.
I met up with Nicole not long after, and the first words out of my mouth were "Where did the fucking kids on the ATV go?"

We did attempt to find them, but a lot of the homes aren't build close to the road and I had no desire to wander up long, winding driveways. I posted a scathing message on the facebook group and most shared my worries... although no one seemed to know who the kids were... so maybe they weren't from the subdivision.

I managed to calm down and forget about the stupid kids and soon N and I settled into an easy flow of conversation. Annie was quite animated, as I mentioned before. She wasn't naughty, but certainly more hyped than usual. Her steps felt bolder, quicker, and stronger. Her head was set higher, her ears more attentive.

There was one part where she spooked hard at something and nearly tripped over her own feet. Once recovered, she seemed quite embarrassed. I told Nicole, "I thought for sure we were going down." Oh, mare. (as a sidenote, our equilab tracked the spook as a canter, haha).

Our whole red speck of canter, haha. You can see it on the lower
portion of the map.

It was a pleasant ride tho, and as we headed towards the dirt road to split off in our respective directions, N asked if I wanted to split up before the playground. I shrugged, declared it a good desensitizing experience and pursued onwards.

Of course, AJ was quite hesitant to walk past the playground, as he hadn't passed it yet haha. This in turn made Annie also unsure. "We passed this before, but my BFF says it might be dangerous soooo... I'll just wait thanks."

Both horses did eventually wander on by and much to Annie's displeasure, we turned around and walked passed it again to get home, hahaha!!! You would think with each pass, the kids would get used to us walking by but no... each time they ran frantically towards us, arms outstretched like zombies. The parents did a great job at containing them tho, and we didn't end up with any squished toes.

It was a great way to end the weekend and I was very happy I had the opportunity to ride, as most years it has already snowed and the roads can be quite iffy once ice forms, or I am working and unable to make it out before nightfall.

This year, I got lucky with a day off and good weather!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Addressing the Thought Process

The time for planned ring rides and schooling has more or less come to a close. Our final ring ride of the season was back in early October, and since then, we've more or less stuck to the wider, well-lit trails, or the paved subdivision.

It's not to say that we have completely eradicated schooling from our roster tho, because our ride three days ago featured many leg yields, stretchy trots, backing, and little canter sets.

That canter has come a long way... 
While the ring is a good place to hammer out various instructional scenarios, we make do with what we have as the daylight fades... quicker and quicker and the days are much more crisp and cool.  That being said, hacking twenty minutes both ways to the ring isn't really a high priority, especially since we managed to keep up with 2 ring schools per week for a better part of the year.

20 mins there... 20 mins back...

That's a lot of walking.

For now, I am happy to meander and educate when the necessity strikes me. Annie has lost a subsequent amount of fitness, and I feel pretty OK with it. She's done a lot this year - our Equilab tracker reads over 450km, which is wildly inaccurate for our year, considering I did not download the app until the end of March. Many clinics and shows were not accounted for, as well as the month long training Trainer K put on her.

It's been... a busy year.

I do spend time with the horses - I see them every single day and we've worked quietly on clicker training, showmanship, light lunging, hand-walking, ground tying, etc. We stay busy, even if it's just a few moments of the day.

Forward Annie, FORWARD :) 

The rides I've put on Annie have been mostly pleasant, and I'll start to break down those rides into more meatier posts, but in the interim I've been slowly learning to appreciate the time off. There was a time before this I'd panic and worry if she went unridden for several days. Nowadays, she seems much more mature and ready for those days off, whereas before it was almost imperative to keep the lessons short and consistent. As the months have changed, she has readily accepted being practically untouched for a week and then pulled out for a ride sans preparation of any kind.

It's been a good feeling, and makes me even more excited for next year. Reliability is a difficult thing to come by, and now that she understands the questions being asked and can produce an answer without needing micromanaging or urging from her rider (me), she's become much more pleasant to ride. The education she received is starting to become a "normal" thing that is "no big deal". It's become part of our regular routine and it makes me happy to see all the frustrating moments I spent drilling things into her is finally paying off.

Of course, I still revisit the concepts every now and again because... horses are horses, haha.

Just this past weekend we worked (unintentionally might I add!) on standing tied quietly. When Annie is particularly fresh, she fidgets. It's not leaning back on the tie-ring, gonna break my halter fidgeting... it's just little ADHD shuffles. And it absolutely drives me insane, haha.

All the times I tied her and walked away to do chores have finally started to sink in. She is curious and attentive by nature, so doesn't immediately cock a leg, but she understands the basis of pressure and what it means when she is tied, which I am glad for, especially since she attempted to pull back a few times last year.

She was... a very noodly pony, haha.
Still tho, there are all these little intricate details of Annie's life that are still budding and growing. There will be instances where we will have to revisit old concepts to build back consistency and understanding, which is just kind of part of it all. It is hard not to think that your world isn't crashing around you, especially when in reality, only one piece of the puzzle is falling apart.

I've been trying to change my thinking, especially when it comes to Annie. A few readers have noticed the difference in the way I address issues and how I talk about them (and Annie). I'm sure there will be difficult moments - frustrating moments, even. But they don't last for long. And if Annie has taught me anything, it is that humble humility is a requirement when working with baby horses.

I try to take things at face value now, instead of falling down the dreaded "what if" rabbit hole. Most frustrations don't last for long, and if they do, it is because the frustration is a building block onwards to success and consistency.

Our very first ride together.
The tune of my posts have changed because one day I woke up and realized that all of the issues I have ever blogged about or carried on about have slowly melted away. Remnants of the issues may linger, which they often do when something becomes habit, but for the most part I have been able to suss out the issue on my own, enlist the help of a willing individual, or have known when I'm in over my head. And while reaching out and asking for help felt like a blow to the ego, it made me realize that sometimes we build things up in our own head (and in our mare's head) to make them much more frantic and scary than they really are. Sometimes it takes an individual with no history to bridge the gap and fine tune our connection.

It's been a very humbling year - both in learning to eat crow a bit, and also to trust in the plan I set in motion when she first stepped off that trailer. It can be hard to trust in yourself, because the process is non-linear and there really isn't a book for every single horse and rider pairing.

The year of 2018 has been challenging, rewarding, and a bit like the ebb and flow of waves on a beach. Sometimes we have to re-draw the words in the sand again and again until it becomes second nature, and sometimes we have to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the waves.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Things My Horse Does Now

Aside from the regular training and being able to do the whole "walk/ trot / canter" thing, there have been some things that have taken time to establish and it's been an interesting process to see how they have developed. Some are the nature of things with baby horses, and others just make me laugh at how long it finally took the light-bulb to switch on.

I am excited for next year - to see where we go and for the journey to get there.

1. Accepting the Bit
When I first got her, she was a bit difficult to bridle. Mostly just tossing her head, refusal to open her mouth for the bit, etc. I knew it was just a baby thing, so I started out slow and combined the use of treats to help her have a more pleasant experience. Unfortunately, it didn't really help much, and it often ended with me having to use my fingers to poke her tongue.

Her teeth were in great shape too, so there was no real reason for the hesitation. I thought she'd catch on after she was fed copious amounts of treats. But instead, it kinda confused her because she didn't understand how to eat treats with the bit in her mouth, haha. So, I just stuck with alternating treats and my finger on the side of her gums.

And over a year later? She gladly accepts the bit when I offer it.

She also finally has accepted the neck stretcher, which has become a
large part of our lunging routine (when I do lunge, which isn't often).

2. Stretching
I had tried several times before to get Annie to stretch - her first year undersaddle it was a battle and a half to even get her to extend and elongate her neck downwards. Which, yanno, is fine. She was a baby and such, so I get it. It was only earlier this year I was actually able to get some decent stretching out of her and REAL stretching. She also learned she could stretch and trot, without falling on her face, haha.

She also finally learned she can stretch out on the trail and on the lunge. More often than not, after a few moments of looking around, scanning her surroundings, she'll sigh and drop her head before plugging along quietly.

No media of our hill work - so here she is being cute in a
home-made hackamore, haha.

3. Going Faster Than a Walk Up Hills/ Down Hills
For the longest time, I only walked Annie up hills on the trail. As a young rider, I used to gum-boot it up a few of the bigger hills and it led to my mounts charging up any hill we could find.. which, isn't always a good idea. So I made it my mission to teach Annie to first walk before any other gait. Except... I kinda forgot to teach her she could trot and canter up hills, lol. The first time we trotted up a hill, she kept slowing to a walk, like, "This is hard work." By the end of this year, we have done enough canter sets in the trail along the fairgrounds that she can canter up AND down inclines with no issues. Her first canter down a hill was exceptionally hilarious.

An updated picture from last week.
She is disgustingly dirty, so ignore that, lol.

4. Eats
It took a lot of time, stress, and money to suss out this issue. When I first got Annie, she was uninterested in grain, mash, and even her hay. She preferred to stand at the front of the paddock, staring down the street for hours on end. I'd show up at the barn to her untouched raised feeder (that Spud cannot access), and it would frustrate the heck out of me! I tried leaving hay out (I typically have it in a slow feeder net) so she wouldn't have to nibble through the net, but it didn't seem to matter...

I consulted with two vets (which we all know are 6+ hours away), and made several adjustments throughout my ownership of Annie, including a physical exam with a traveling vet last Fall.

I did manage to find things that helped - the myoplast for one - but nothing could consistently keep the weight on my mare. After utilizing expensive ulcer medication that didn't do much for the either of us, I ended up reaching out to Bloggers (link here) and dug into OTTB groups on Facebook to learn more and try to get to the bottom of the problem.

Long story short, I started from the beginning and scrapped my whole feed plan after it was costing me hundreds of dollars a month. I power-pac dewormed both Annie and Spud, as well as added a product called Elite Three to her diet. I completely eradicated all of her grain, and only have her on beet pulp and supplementary alfalfa cubes. She also no longer stands at the side of the barn, staring down the driveway for hours on end. Almost every time I am at the barn, she is stuffing her face with hay, which delights me. I'm not sure which change evoked the increase in her appetite or interest in hay, but either way... I'll take it!