Friday, August 30, 2019

Spud's New Wheels

Never fear, I come bearing many photos and updates on the world's most favorite mini!

Wait... what is this?
A new cart?!
While Annie has kind of taken over the blog, I have been continuing to get Spud out and about - be it in the cart or being ponied by Annie.

Mid-July I had the opportunity to attend a set of Driving Trials, since a clinic I had entered with Annie that particular weekend had been cancelled. In the end I chose to stay home for a variety of reasons - namely, the first being that I jumped on a once in a lifetime (or so it felt) opportunity to purchase the cart of mine (and Spud's) dreams for a pretty stellar price.

A dang nice view!
I have had my eyes on a Frey Superlight for years now, but since they are manufactured in the US and our Canadian dollar is not particularly strong, it makes things that much more expensive. Add in the cost of freight and shipping, and oof, it becomes a bit too much. Finding a second-hand cart is nearly impossible, and over the last four years, I have only come across one (which was Shetland sized, and would be too big for Spud).

Months ago, I received a message from a woman who owns a driving store in Alberta. She had been keeping an eye out for a used Superlight for me for a few years now and lo and behold, a client of hers was selling a very lightly used cart for a reasonable price.

Is he not the most fanciest, professional pony in the world?
Of course, I reached out immediately and worked quickly on securing transport since the cart was in another province. Alberta Equest managed to secure a ride for the cart to her house, and then offered to bring the cart up during her annual family-vacation to the area. In the meantime, I sold my easy entry and everything fell into place easier than I could have imagined!

Ultimately, the driving trials would have to wait for another time. Which, in a way, worked out well considering there are stipulations on what drivers can and cannot do in trials and had I entered with our usual cart (a regular easy entry with bicycle tires), we would have been limited to trotting all of the elements, as cantering with bicycle tires is not permitted at these trials. It's a matter of safety, as bicycle tires are not as sturdy as metal carriage wheels.

The craziest pone hair.
We've been busy fitting the new cart to him, and it took several drives to get the tweaking juuuuust right. Unfortunately, the shafts are a titch too long for him, but this will easily be remediated by purchasing some marathon shafts instead. I had initially wanted marathon shafts in lieu of the standard shafts, as I like the option of more freedom in the shoulders for the horse, so it'll be a little upgrade for us sometime this Winter or into the new year. For now, it isn't the end of the world, but I'd like to change it for the long-term.

Overall, the cart rides really well and is smoother than my old easy entry, but it is much heavier than Spud is used to pulling. I'd guess the Superlight is a good 50lbs heavier, which will take some getting used to and some careful conditioning to get Spud comfortably and easily pulling it.

Driving in an open bridle - like the ol pro he is!
Over the past few weeks, we've been working on shorter trot sets and are slowly building strength. While Spud is used to being ponied long distances, he lacks the strength conditioning to pull something heavier. So, as an effort to increase strength to the stamina he already has, we've been working very methodically.

It will take some getting used to - the weight makes it impossible for me to load into the back of my truck on my own and it is a bit wider than my previous cart. Despite this, I am beyond ecstatic to have a beautifully crafted cart and one that provides more comfort to both me and Spud!
The dogs approve of the new cart too.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Lynda Ramsay Clinic: Day 1 and 2

I've been MIA, I know. This Summer has been busier than most, and the allure to sit in front of a computer screen recapping rides is very, very low. However, rest assured that we have been quite busy and before I get into even more show recaps, I need to recount our clinic experience with Lynda Ramsay!

The show that was held in early August was a two part series - first being the show, and second being a clinic to work on areas to improve. I had signed up for this clinic months in advance, as Lynda would be judging the BVX later in August, and it would make sense to not only show in front of her ahead of time, but to also take a lesson or two to gauge and understand what she is judging for and why.

One of my favorite photos from the clinic.
Thanks to Alberta Equest for coming, watching, taking media and cheering us on <3 

Our first lesson was the morning after the show - Annie and I headed to the TBC grounds and took our time getting ready. When it was nearing my lesson time, I popped on and did a little trot-around before entering the arena. I knew Annie would be quite tired from the day before, and didn't want to burn her out, especially considering we had another lesson the very next day. She felt pretty good, and I could feel that her headspace was much more positive than the day previous - meaning our chances of having a very tense, bracey Annie would be very, very low.

Lynda and I spoke at length about Annie and I's history - going over several highlights and also reviewing some of our trouble spots in our tests. Since some of our transitions were quite rough, I opted to spend the lesson working on those - namely trot - walk and walk - trot. We did work on our canter transitions, some positional corrections, and obtaining some rhythm.

Day 2 media.
I don't have any riding media from that lesson, but I can attest to the fact that it would be like watching paint dry, haha. The boyfriend chose the wrong lesson to watch, as I am sure it felt like an eternity of walking and a few steps of trotting. Despite the boring nature of the lesson, it was a lesson we needed to have and I'm happy we did it.

Some things to remember from this particular lesson:

  • Time your transition appropriately - when she is forward, accepting of the aids and is through the back - simply because she likes to dump herself into the trot-walk transition and ends up inverting her back, bracing her neck and hollows herself in anticipation of the transition.
  • Push her past any falters in the transition - schooling means you don't have to follow through with the transition, especially if you feel she is going to dump herself into it.
  • SIT before doing the transition - do not rush.
  • Sit up and back in the canter transitions - tipping the upper body forward will not help (I know better than this, but our canter PTSD makes me think I'm helping when I lean haha).
  • You do not want that moment of hesitation she has between the trot and walk - push her past that, even if you have to go back into trot again.
  • Keep practicing - we are creatures of habit, so do not be alarmed when things go back to the way they were.
A nicely forward and non-dumpy trot-walk transition.
Overall, it was a good lesson. A bit dry, but we got a handful of really stellar transitions and a clearer understanding of how to make a bad transition better. I made a mental note to ride more transitions on my next schooling rides.

The next day we headed out for our final lesson, and both Annie and I were quite tired, but game to work on a few more items I had in mind.

This lesson we worked on leg yielding, lengthen trot, cadence and rhythm of the trot, shoulder in, riding squares at the trot and canter and of course, more trot-walk transitions. 

And a nice quiet trot - canter transition.
Some things to remember from this final lesson:

  • Ride her straighter (less bend) - even straighter than I think I need to.
  • You want her head, neck, and shoulders to turn as a unit, not singularly. Riding her straight off the aids will help with this (this is where the millions of square turns came from).
  • Inside leg to support her around the turns of the square.
  • Ride her less like a green horse - ride her like the horse you want. If we ride them like green horses, they will stay green.
  •  Shoulder in a bit in the canter to help keep her haunches from drifting inwards.
  • Squeeze of the calves = longer steps and power. Squeeze of the heel = quicker steps. Teach her to understand the difference.
  • If the rhythm in your turns is interrupted, it means the turn was either too tight or not tight enough.
Lynda was a huge advocate of straightness - the front half of the horse should all turn together and not in segments. It certainly made turning and circling much easier, steering the front half of the horse vs attempting to get the shoulders to follow the head. 

Overall, a super lesson and I was pumped when we managed to do a really nice shoulder in on a circle. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

TSC Dressage Show: First Level Debut

I'm a terrible blogger.

There, I said it.

An entire week has passed since our first level debut and it's nearly taking everything I have in me to put pen to the proverbial paper and talk about it. Not because it went terribly, and not because I don't want to, but holy cow these last few weeks have been a literal and figurative shit storm. The hay situation in my area is insane (crop yields are down 30-40%), which left me scrambling to out-source other avenues. And in that time, like a good ol country song, literally anything and everything started to go wrong.

The good news is that we managed to get it all worked out - thank god for friends who move literal mountains to help. The amount of stress and chaos that ensued left me in a particularly bad head-space. I am a planner by nature, so when plans go awry, I have a very difficult time processing the change. I can get myself out of almost any situation, but if it isn't exactly how I planned it initially, I am left reeling.

And the horse show was no different.

Spoiler alert: We went and did the thing.
In the baggiest of white breeches might I add (the
only downside of weightloss, haha!).
I spent several days, staring at the blank entry forms, attempting to decide what to put down. With Annie being side-lined mid-July with a nasty cold, I was left unable to ride much for a good two weeks while she mended. Finally, a week before the show we were able to return to our regularly scheduled program, as the week prior I had been slowly re-acclimating her to work.

In the end, I had chosen to ride three tests - Training 3, First 1 and First 2. The idea being that TL 3 would be a good gauge of the animal I had beneath me, as well as make our first show of the year start off with something "easy".

Saturday morning dawned and I was able to sleep in a bit, thankful that the show organizers scheduled me mid-morning, which also left me able to escape the brunt of the afternoon heat. I pulled Annie out and rolled up her braids (as I had bathed her the day previous), which looked very sad and unfortunate. Professional braider I am not.

The ride to the grounds was uneventful, save for a moment when we turned into the grounds and Annie jostled a bit. When I unloaded, I found that she had stepped on the section of reinforced metal along the bottom wall and had cracked off a small portion of the side of her hoof. Well done, mare. She was sound tho, and aside from the hoof looking a bit odd, we were ready to rock and roll.

Taking our time to warm up.
I had a good buffer of time before my tests, so tied Annie and left her to eat hay while I went and retrieved my number and show package. She stood quietly at the trailer, and I tacked up and got myself ready.

I had wanted to get in and have a maximum 30 minute warm up, as I know sometimes Annie requires a bit more warm up and each and every minute is precious in those circumstances. Unfortunately, despite feeling pretty confident when we went around at a stretchy trot, the wheels fell off the wagon and I no longer had a quiet, compliant mare.

The cross-firing was back with a vengeance and it felt like literal eons before we got it sorted out. We spent 80% of our warm up at the canter, reaffirming and reestablishing that #toobadsosad. I had no real input, other than insisting she continue to canter, and throw a circle in here and there. The carrying on, crookedness and tail snapping was all of Annie's own accord. We had no steering, we had no bend, and we had no rate-ability.

Truthfully tho, I did get flustered with her a few times, but I just felt so over the entire situation and it felt like it would never end.

It did end tho, and we had some beautiful canter that was adjustable, not crooked, and not angry. I couldn't help but muttering, "See, now you wasted your time and wasted my time in the warm up." as we took one lap of walk before getting back to work on the remainder of items I had wanted to school before heading into the ring.

Me, to Annie: "Is your thinker installed?"
A friend from Alberta, who is local to the area, was up visiting and had come to volunteer at the show and cheer us all on. She had been watching the entire situation unfold in the warm up ring and as we wandered out of the ring to find some shade before our tests, she simply stated, "Wait... what."

Annie is a weird one. When she gets tense or nervous, she resorts to cross-firing. And when she does, she looks like a 10/10 lame in the hocks, back, and knees horse. There is literally nothing I've found to be helpful when she does this, so I just sit there, asking her to keep bending (as much as I can), asking her to keep cantering, etc. Eventually, she realizes I am not going to argue back (in a perfect world... on this particular day, I did argue back, which only made the entire thing last longer) and settles back into a working role. The crookedness is magically fixed, the tail stops spinning, and she softens her face and back.

She's confusing, but hey, she's all mine.

We were able to sit and relax in the shade for about 10-15 minutes before it was time to wander into the large jump arena where they had set up the Dressage court. Annie has been in this arena a million times over, but this would be the first time a Dressage court and judges booth would be set up in it. I took my time and trotted down the long side towards the booth before shifting gears into a walk, as Annie gave it a little stare. Aside from the short glance, she kinda went, "Oh, this is new. Cool."

The bell rang and we headed down past A for our first test of the day.


^Also, shoutout to Alaina at Alberta Equest for being
the real MVP for test calling and videoing at the same
time. You go girl.

We've barely ridden this test in mine and Annie's relationship together - 1 and 2 were our "safer" choices given the lack of steering and erm.... leads over the past two years. Things have started to melt together, so I felt like this show was a good opportunity to up the ante, especially considering I had big plans to play around with First Level at the BVX show at the end of August.

This test overall felt good, but I did a terrible job of the serpentines - our area has been used to the BC Dressage tests, which are very different from the USEF/EC tests. We have never ridden EC tests before, so it was a bit confusing for me since I was going off of memory of previously ridden BC Training Level tests.

We had a few dumpy transitions, a few "meh" moments, most of which were due to my lack of preparation. Annie felt good, although a bit waffly in the contact and behind the leg (mostly due to our very... theatrical warm up).  I knew it was going to be a long day for her when she wasn't as snappy off my aids in the canter transition by C-M, and it proved to be true when she dropped to trot during our 20m circle and then again after our second 20m circle. Maybe she shouldn't have played up so much in the warm up??

This test wasn't my favorite of the day, but it was a good "warm up". Getting us in the ring, dusting off a bit of the show nerves (this was our first show of the year!) and get acquainted with the letters again. It may sound silly, but my brain fell out of my head trying to figure out the serpentine, even after asking about it several moments before heading into the ring. Ah, the joys of nervousness I suppose!

Longtime readers will be super pumped to note we scored an 8.0 on our 20m canter circle - this movement (among others!) had proven to be the kiss of death in previous tests... not anymore!

The judge was quite generous in her scoring, and we garnered a very surprising 69.30% and placed first, as we were the only entrants.

We had a short 10 minute break before First 1, and I opted to park in the shade instead of schooling again. It was getting hot and Annie was already tired. I read through the next test a few times, visualizing the test and figures in my head, hoping that I could ride a bit better and more proactive.


This was a pretty nice test and a great foray into our first "First"! We had some minor pilot errors, namely the half circle from B to X (which I overshot, and you can see a slight smirk and head shake as we tip-toed over X). Annie felt good though, and while our lengthens were non-existent on this day, I definitely pushed her for more and instead of arguing, she went to work and tried. I can't really ask for more than that! It just didn't feel like she had much gas left in the tank, and instead of poking her along with my spurs, I just went with it.

The free walk was a little "meh", but the swing in her hips was really nice. We had some issues with being proactive in this test again, but it's moreso pilot error than Annie. The commentary for this test was along the lines of "prepare sooner" and "show more".

Everything was kind of conservative on my end, but at the same time, I'm super proud we did the test and we nailed all of the elements without any theatrics or unscheduled hiccups.

For this test we earned a 68.10%, which again, I felt was quite generous, but was pleased to see the comments reflected some of the things I felt when I rode it. We scored third out of three in this test, with the highest score being 70.9%. So, I was pretty fricken proud that not only did we make it through, but we hung tough with the rest of the riders.

There was an hour and a half break between First 1 and First 2, so I was able to unbridle, loosen the girth and tie Annie to the trailer for a snack. She went for a very long pee, which I thought may have had something to do with her lack of forwardness, and had a sip of water before refueling herself in hay.

As the next ride time approached, I wandered back over and took my time readjusting tack and taking a little walk about. I had zero intentions of schooling, simply because I knew the horse under me was beyond dead. The big fuss in the warm up ring zapped all of her extra flair, so I tried my best to conserve the horse I had and hoped the pee break and refuel station did it's job.


We did a little lap of trot before heading in, and once it got underway I remember feeling pretty happy with this test overall. The test started off with a bang, and we lost a little of it during our lengthen once again, but managed to recover good enough for a decent enough leg yield. She felt super sticky tho, kinda like squeezing frozen molasses out of a toothpaste tube.

We did two bigger oopsies in this test which cost us quite a bit of marks. The first was our change across the diagonal, wherein I did not prep for our right lead canter soon enough and Annie picked up the wrong lead. We recovered well enough to score a 7.0 on our 15m circle tho, so I can't be too upset with that! Our second oops was near the end - I was in my own little world and part of this test is similar to the BC Dressage tests we previously used so I kinda fumbled once I realized we were supposed to be trotting at M. Poor Bannie was slammed abruptly from canter to trot as I tried to get my shit together. Oops, sorry Bannie.

Again, the commentary on this test was "show more", but I can't be too upset with it. Annie went out and she tried even though she was tired. The couple of errors we had were my own and I'm sure had she been a little less tired, it would have been that much better.

We scored a 66.3% on this test, and I kinda kick myself for the silly mistakes. But, that's how it goes and I was still super pumped to see we placed third out of four. We were a bit lower down the totem pole in regards to this particular test, but everyone was quite close throughout the competition, save for a handful of tests.


Overall, I am completely blown away by this show. We still have a TON of things to polish, rework, and remediate, but I finally feel like we can chip away at the difficult stuff without getting a ton of pushback from my partner. As silly as it sounds, it finally feels like there is a partnership there, and although we had a wheel come off the bus in the warm up, it didn't rear it's ugly head all day long.

I happily took my ribbons home and displayed them, cherishing all of the hard work and dedication it has taken to get to this point. And Annie received a literal boatload of carrots for being a pretty awesome partner, and for carrying me through my very first set of First Level tests!