Saturday, December 22, 2012

I Swear To God This Really Happened As I Was Writing My Last Post

I have to share this with you, because I'm sure it was a once in a lifetime experience. It still feels surreal, like one of those things that couldn't really and didn't really happen - yet it did. Was it the magic of Christmas? Something very special was in the air.
As background, Doug and I are continuing with building our horse facility where we'll host equine events, and rent the facility to others wanting to host events.
I was working on my event plan for next spring / summer / fall. We'll start with clinics in the spring and be up to hosting shows later in the summer, when both stall areas are complete (there will be 20 stalls on each side of the arena).
On a whim, I thought "dream big" and I emailed my ultimate classical dressage hero, the world renowned Arthur Kottas, retired First Head Rider of the Spanish Riding School (home of the Lipizzan stallions). He rode there for 40+ years and along with his amazing riding instruction he's also very highly regarded for his in hand work.
This is what happened - as I was sitting here writing my last blog post a couple of hours after emailing him, my phone rang. Yes, you read that correctly - my phone rang. IT WAS ARTHUR KOTTAS CALLING FROM AUSTRIA!!! As I heard the accented voice identifying who it was, my brain wouldn't process it for a moment. When my brain did process it all I could do was stutter. I was fighting hysterical giggling and babbling, but he couldn't have been nicer or more charming. He was on his way to another country (which now escapes me) later in the day, and was calling to offer me his last available weekend of 2013. I couldn't gather my wits to ask the right questions, but he gave me the dates, told me to take my time looking into whether it would work and he'd hold it for me until he heard back, told me the hours he works and number of students he takes, etc. - all the things I'd need to know for planning but couldn't possibly have gotten my head around asking if he hadn't told me.
So there's my story - what happened to me as I wrote my last post. 
Unfortunately the dates are in June - perfect clinic timing, but they conflict with other dressage events here in Nova Scotia. I'm thinking I may have to see if we can get him for 2014 instead, but I haven't completely given up on the idea yet either. I'll need to get back to him asap (he didn't rush me, but it seems rude to wait). Also, Doug is sooo sick with a cold that he can't really get his head around talking to me about it for a day or two - raging fever and inability to breath don't lend themselves to problem solving and planning. Any advice? 
I couldn't / didn't include this story in my last post, even though I ws in the middle of writing it, because I needed to process what happened. My mind just kind of went blank and I could barely wrap up what I was writing about.
I'm hoping all of you have a great Christmas - lots of love, food, drink, family and especially horse time. Sending you warm thoughts from here in Nova Scotia...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Another Cindy Ishoy Clinic

And various other updates...

Second Cindy Clinic of Fall 2012
I love Cindy's clinic's and this was no exception. I was a little slow off the mark though. Rogo tends to cold bloodedness and he needs a good warm up. We only had the indoor, so we didn't have much of a warm up before getting right to work. We'd just had three of the best lessons performance wise that we'd ever had leading up to the clinic, with our regular teacher Sue Fraser, and I'm going to back up and start my post with those.
Sue has been training horses for 40+ years and it shows - she's incredibly knowledgeable/experienced and intuitive (and I consider this the highest form of thought) when it comes to knowing what each individual horse needs. Rogo had been lugging on me and exhausting me within five minutes of mounting - no bend, no give, pull, pull, pull. After watching this for a couple of lessons she had us do very lengthy walk warm ups, with big exaggerated bends at every corner, on the tangents of circles and on serpentines. Rogo became a new horse! It was hard to believe - he became this lovely, supple, soft, pliable, did I say supple horse that was a pure pleasure to ride. If you want to try this, just stay in a nice marching walk and do 20 m circles and serpentines with strong bends (inside leg to outside rein) at every turn and / or tangent point. When this is working well go to trot, then to canter, repeating the exercise and it should stay the same. Voila - lovely, supple horse going willingly into your hands and forward.
After these great rides I went into the Cindy clinic and didn't have more than a turn or two around the arena at the walk before we went to work at the trot - you can guess what happened. Head in the air, and a jagged egg shape for a 20 m trot circle. This was my fault - I should have gone in sooner and walked around as the other lesson was finishing up. The next day we did this and it was soooo much better. We worked on strengthening our basics and did lots of trot / canter / trot transitions. Rogo finds it harder (probably the truth is that I find it harder) to canter from trot than walk, so we worked on this. Cindy pointed out that trot canter is a great exercise for strengthening the hind quarters and getting the horse to bring the hind legs under. We did the transitions repeatedly on a 20 m circle and they really improved as we worked on them. I worked on staying completely relaxed, preparing him with a half halt, shoulder fore and then aid.
Cindy also made me sharpen up my precision - I hadn't even realized I was slipping to the right when crossing the diagonal.
She was a complete star again about giving each of us extra time, even though it was cold in the barn. She is so generous with her time and knowledge. She's also a kind person who pushes each of us, but never makes us feel bad or nervous. I can't say enough good about her as a clinician who can help improve your ride.
Back to the present - we're working on lots and lots of leg yield from the wall in, and then straight before the end of the arena. This gets him listening to each leg. It's a great exercises and one we really need. Rogo does it better in canter than trot. For some reason his exercises in canter seems to come to him more easily than in trot.
He is finally just beginning to get more forward again. It left when his shoeing got off last May and is just getting good again now. Could it be the temperature?
Okay, that's it for now. I'll be lucky if anyone is reading this anymore I've been such a slacker of a blogger. All I can say is that the facility construction and travelling so far for lessons is taking all my time. Oh yeah, I also just finished my Equine Business Management course from Guelph which also took a lot of time. Those are my excuses and I'm sticking to them.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Some Issues and Getting Them Fixed

Rogo is back at Fraser Equestrian Centre for the winter. He went back the first of October and I've been travelling back and forth for three lessons a week. I usually stay in my living quarters one night a week to save driving time (it's over 3 hours of driving for a round trip).
Things are going really well, but we haven't been without setbacks. His shoeing got off last spring resulting in him taking a 'hopping' step at the trot every so often and I could only walk with him for weeks. That's when the behind the leg thing got started again. To back track a bit, this has been an issue for us since he was backed. Last winter we completely overcame it, to the point that our main focus was getting him to respond to slowing down. Not that being in front of your leg means going fast, but I think you know what I mean...
Then my foot (morton's neuroma) made riding so painful I was off balance all the time, then my saddle needed adjusting and I didn't realize it and all the skin got rubbed off the inside of my legs around the knee. Very painful. I have a WOW saddle and all it needed was a little air in the back and problem completely solved. I can't believe it got that bad before I clued in. Then shoeing off again and more hopping (not good for any horse and without we don't have the first rung of the pyramid). It was all very challenging.
So there you have it - a series of issues that kept Rogo and I off balance for months :(
Anyway, enough of that - I think everything is fixed, as of a few days ago, so it's onwards and upwards.
While Rogo was home for 2 months we back slid, partly because of lack of lessons and partly because of the issues above, so I tried to keep my expectations reasonable when we went back to lessons. Hmmm, me reasonable. Well, okay, I did go through some frustration. Bad, bad dressage rider.
We went in the Cindy Ishoy clinic in mid Oct. I LOVE her clinics. If you ever have a chance to ride in one, do it! We just did training level basics, but it was what we needed. It was a warm, beautiful weekend. Here is the view to the outdoor ring, out of one side of the living quarters in my trailer:

2012-10-26 15.01.21.jpg

Here's the view out the opposite window, gorgeous leaves:

2012-10-26 15.03.50.jpg
 Since then we've got in better balance and we're working on more level one and two - shoulder in, travere, walk/canter/walk, 10 m canter circles. Forward is our #1 goal through out and we need to develop it again to be able to reach our goals. I say 'our' goals, but I'm sure Rogo's goals would be more about hanging out in the pasture, or being brushed and eating apples. Speaking of goals, I keep thinking more and more about wanting to learn to do small jumps. I think Rogo would really enjoy it.
I've been VERY busy with out facility building. The foundation is completely in now. Here's a picture of when it was in progress:
 Photo: The foundation is finished as of today!
 Doug has built a lean to onto the RV he stays in when he's up there. It will be the winter work camp and we just put a new wood stove in it - it will be great to have hot chocolate and Baileys by the fire after  a cold day working outside. Here I am trying it out :)

2012-11-11 17.05.28.jpg
 The arena was supposed to start going up this week, but I learned on the weekend it may be a couple of more weeks before they start. It will be a tough winter, but worth it. I'm starting to plan our events for next year and we're both looking forward to that.
Something odd has happened though and I think it's related to our building and plans - someone I thought was my friend suddenly started sending very negative emails to me, then cut off communication with me, then started generating negativity about me and our facility plans - all with no explanation. At first I was just confused. Now it makes me sad and wary when I think about it, but I try not to. There are too many good things happening to let it drag me down. Also, as I write this, I'm realizing it frees me in a way - I can just let it go and get on with positive work. We'll have the facility and the ability to build the programming we want.

Okay, enough about the facility - back to Rogo. Cindy Ishoy is coming AGAIN the end of Nov. / first of Dec. Yeah! I'm psyched to work hard to demonstrate improvements when she gets here. We'll focus on forward, getting sharper responses to transitions - hmmm, guess those are related; and for me - the ever threatening to take over, too strong left rein (note to self: let it go already).
I've been missing my blogger community as the  facility buidling is taking up more and more time. Hope you're all having a great fall and getting in lots of riding.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

More First Level Work

Rogo and I have been having a great time, until it got so rainy that riding has been impossible. Here are some updates.
Labour Day Weekend Show
I couldn't have been happier with him. He didn't set a foot wrong, from loading and unloading to doing his tests. Well, let me rephrase that - he did actually set his feet wrong the first time we did Level One test 2 - he did the entire right lead canter routine in left lead! And I didn't notice!! Ugh. On the bright side, he counter canters so easily that the movement was flawless :) He did a perfect 15 m circle, lengthened, shortened and crossed the diagonal, all in counter canter. How embarrassing is that? Luckily I've taught myself not to be embarrassed by our show outings or I wouldn't go :) What I've learned, and it will make a better rider out of me, is that I have to set him up perfectly and aid perfectly to get the lead I want. He is just as likely to counter counter either way - he doesn't have a preference and does both easily. Can horses be ambidextrous? :)
Our scores ranged from 55 for the counter canter test to 64.3 for the next time we rode test 2. He did all his transitions on the mark and rode precise movements. Our negative comments were about rhythm and balance, something I mentioned when preparing for the show. Sue (our teacher) tells me his shoeing is slightly off again, so we'll have to get that fixed very soon.
Here are some pictures from the show:

 I think we're leg yieldingin the above two pictures.

 Clinic With The Judge

I had signed up for a clinic with the judge on the Mon. (it was a long weekend) but ended up wanting to back out because I found her comments on my tests had a nasty edge - not in the constructive criticism vein but in the unremitting there is nothing good about you vein. I'd found someone to take my place, but then got talked out of dropping it. Let's just say I should have dropped it. It was the most confusing and negative riding experience I've ever had. I was called a zoned out robot within my first 30 seconds in the ring, and it went downhill from there.

John MacPherson Clinic

This was a much more positive and instructive experience that we attended last weekend. John has recently returned from a year in Europe and is really on top of his game. Rogo and I rode with one other horse and rider and it went very well. We worked on getting my lower legs quieter (shorter stirrups, taking my legs off and insisting Rogo go forward in rhythm on his own). We also worked a lot on leg yielding across the full width of the arena, in both walk and trot, and cantering when we hit the wall. Rogo does this exercise quite well.
John instructed riders to lean back for down transitions - it gets the horses' hind quarters under them. He also emphasized the importance of a quick response - if a horse is lagging to respond to any aid, i.e. halt, they are also likely to be slow to respond to the rider's other aids. Seems obvious now, but I hadn't noticed this before

Riding Bareback

I've been trying to fit in some bareback rides in an effort to improve my seat. Also, I forgot my saddle at the last clinic, so I had to ride bareback for a day :) . I'm loving it! I'm sure I've mentioned that I once rode Savanah for about 5 months, four times a week, without a saddle. I've only ridden Rogo bareback a handful of times. Anyway, it does seem to be improving my balance and we both enjoy it as something different. We can now canter large and do the leg yield to canter exercise from the clinic. It is so fun, and helpful too.


I haven't done nearly as much as I planned when I brought Rogo home, but we've been out a few times. The most memorable was a nice canter up the beach. Yeah! In the past, cantering on the beach called for an immediate gallop. This time, we had a nice slow canter with no change in rhythm. Yeah Rogo! My friends Maria and Jennifer were with me riding our other two horses Savanah and Dan, and Maria luckily pulled out her phone and got a short video - something to watch in the winter! Here it is:

Tomorrow we return to our teacher's barn, Fraser Equestrian Centre (Sue Fraser) and will be there for the next few months. I'm really looking forward to getting going on our lessons again, and it is definitely time, but I feel a little sick that my bunny rabbit won't be in the backyard anymore :(
But.... soon we'll have our facility built and then Rogo will be with me all the time (should be by spring). Does he have any idea what he instigated? No, but he knows he's loved.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

An On-Line Equine Business Management Course

As part of preparing to open our business I'm taking an on-line course in Equine Business Management offered by the University of Guelph. They have a vet school and a lot of equestrian programs. Here is the link to the on-line certificate program, which offers a selection of good courses. I've received very good recommendations about the program and so far I really like my course (it started two weeks ago). There are people in the course from all over Canada and the US, but also from the UK, Africa, Barbados, etc. I'm getting tons of great ideas! I'm also finding some great resources which I'll share if I think it's something any of you might be interested in. Here's one to get you started - Stable Management Magazine - there are tons of great articles.
An optional assignment for this week's studies was to create a Tagxedo. I'd never heard of such a thing. I did one for our business and had so much fun doing it I created one for my blog. Here is my Rogo Tagxedo:

Would you like to make one? It's easy. Here is the site and just go to 'create', then play with theme's, shapes, fonts. etc., then 'save / share ...' (go to advanced in this area and save as a jpeg). That's it.
I'm going to write an update on our business soon. We just got our building permit application in and things are perking right along.
Also, I have some good updates on Rogo that I want to add to our blog. Here are some teasers :) competing at first level, a good clinic, a bad and ugly clinic and moving back to the training barn.
I'm enjoying all of your blogs. Back at you soon!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Word Verification

I hate, loath and despise word verification. It frequently stops me from commenting. Do people really have that much spam they can't manage?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Getting Level One Ready

I want to get this down while it's fresh in my mind. I just came in from riding Level One test 1, and I need to add polish. Of course that's the essence of dressage isn't it - getting each gait and figure as close to perfect as we can. I have a ways to go there...
This is navel gazing at it's worst - just a training note to me, so you might want to skip it :)
  • Entry - practice riding the centre line straight, without halting and with halting. Halt and depart from trot. Currently he's getting fairly consistent square halts but they don't always stay straight. Also, for some reason the contact wasn't as consistent today as it has been, throughout the ride. Even freshly sprayed, the flies were bad so it may have been that.
  • I think the two half 10 M circles are good; focus on a nice forward, steady rhythm throughout and moving to the lengthened trot.
  • We need to work more on lengthening the trot. It's something that needs to be built. He has a moderate lengthening and steady rhythm.
  • He's doing fairly well in the stretchy trot circle. I need to remember not to take it for granted and to ride every step. Keep him reaching for the bit, forward and accurately on the circle. Go back to contact smoothly and on time.
  • Make even the first walk step forward and keep him marching, without jigging, across the diagonal in the free walk. Transition to contact smoothly and without a jig.
  • Sit and prepare for the canter three strides ahead - flex to the inside, half halt, aid. Gauge his willingness / forwardness - give the aid early if needed.
  • Practice following with my hands in the canter at all times - more and less for lengthen and shorten as needed. Keep the impulsion up.
  • Don't be afraid that he'll trot when I ask him to shorten his stride in the canter. If I stay relaxed and aid correctly he'll be great.
  • Remember which test I'm riding and don't do the 15 M canter circles in the wrong place!
  • Follow, soft, hands low and lightly half halt as needed in the canter. This could probably be written for every gait, but he is more sensitive in the canter and will slightly lose balance if I don't ride with sensitivity.
The test riding went fairly well. The biggest mistakes were a number of contact and rhythm glitches, which seemed more than normal. I stopped to answer my cell phone when riding and he had to stand in the flies for awhile and we didn't seem to get a good 'flow' back after that. All in all he was good and we just need to keep building on our basics. I'm missing my lessons!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Favorite New Use for Vet Wrap

As you might have read previously, I have something called Morton's Neuroma - a cluster of nerves in the middle of the ball of my right foot that causes excruciating pain when my foot is in the stirrup. Of course this causes all kinds of problems - losing stirrups, grippy knees, tension, even losing my balance on a simple trot circle ... It was very depressing.
The 'cure' for me at this point is probably surgery - riding just keeps the area painful all the time. Once it starts, riding without stirrups doesn't help - it's there and affects everything. I'd have to ride without stirrups all the time. So I decided to look for cushy stirrup pads and went on line to do my research.
Here's the interesting and great part (maybe everyone but me knows about this?) - I stumbled upon a forum where people were talking about cushioned stirrup pads, or stirrup pads to help you keep your stirrups, and someone who exercises horses at a track wrote that at the track they wrap their stirrups in vet wrap to keep their feet warmer in winter and to help avoid losing stirrups.
I tried it and it is like a miracle! Okay, maybe miracle is exaggerating, but it is a wonderful and cheap, cheap, cheap solution. It was instant riding makeover / pain management. The pain is pretty much gone (it was with me on and off the horse, because the stirrup kept it irritated), and I don't loose my stirrups (the pain caused me to be so tense that I'd loose either of them, not just the one with the pain), meaning my riding is better and Rogo can go better, without me losing balance and smoothness. The only thing I had on hand was pink wrap that I bought on sale at a horse expo. Here's what it looks like on the stirrup:
Just make a little pad for the foot bed area, then hold it in place and wrap four or five times around the stirrup. I'll check to see if I can compete with this (I'd use black or grey), but I don't see why I couldn't. Anyway, that's my favorite new use for the duct tape of the horse world.
Rogo is home and I'm enjoying our rides soooo much. He is going well. We're focusing on adding polish to the level one movements of leg yield, trot and canter lengthenings and back to working and the simple change through trot at X needed for test three (this is the area he needs the most work). He aces the counter canter loop, so I only do it occasionally - I'm worried he might counter canter when it isn't wanted because he does it very easily.
We're also continuing some of the things we started at our lessons at Fraser's - shoulder in, travers at walk, 10 m canter circles, etc. and I've had him on one short hack. For the first time we had a nice canter in a field without him trying to instantly gallop. It felt so great to canter along on him through the longish grass. It doesn't take much to impress me :) I should clarify that I love a good gallop on the trail with Savanah, even bareback, but I want to be the one to ask for it :)
Hope to get caught up on my blog reading. I've missed what's going on with my blog world community for too long!
Also, I'd love to know - what is your favorite use for vet wrap? Should we write a book :) ?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I haven't been getting in as many lessons and rides as I'd like. Only two last week :( Developing our new facility is taking a LOT of time and energy.
Maybe it's good for Rogo, because the rides we do have are going well. I'm superstitious so I can't help thinking I've doomed us by writing that. Oh well, here's a bit of an update.
We've struggled with leg yield but haven't worked at it consistently. It's kind of embarrassing because other people seem to get it so easily. Lately we have worked at it steadily, and it's really coming along, to the extent our teacher had us doing canter leg yields for the first time yesterday. Rogo broke a few times, especially at first, but by the end of the exercise he was doing some of them quite nicely - really engaging his hind quarters and filling up the outside rein as he moved laterally. Yeah Rogo!
We've also been doing an exercise that entails doing three 10 m canter circles down the long side, progressing around the ring. They're often more like 11 m, but he does them quite well and will stay at it, working hard. My challenge is to keep him 'straight' on these circles - steering with my inside leg into my outside rein and not letting the outside shoulder pop out.
Another new exercise we've added lately is walking travers. Rogo took to this much more readily than leg yield. I suspect I aid it better, but I don't know why. He does it fairly well most of the time, and sometimes it really flows along beautifully for a short distance in a nice forward and balanced rhythm. He'll even break into a trot and trot it well at times. Of course this needs a lot of work to do it well consistently, but it's starting out in a fun way.
The last new exercise we've added is a three loop canter serpentine, with a simple trot change at the center line. Rogo aced it the first time - perfect shaped serpentines and perfect changes with only two or three trot steps.
Now, just so I don't lead you to believe we`re closing in on level 2, we sure aren't. I've yet to do a leg yield in a test. None of the above are confirmed / consistent. We still need to solidify many aspects of level one. It's fun to try new things and move the bar a little though. We spent sooo many months struggling with just getting a basic canter that it's wonderful to be able to add some new things.
Looking at the above exercises, I see that our teacher is doing a lot of inside leg to outside rein. This makes sense to me. We need to develop more ability and sensitivity in that area.
One last piece of news. I'm bringing Rogo home for August and September! Yeah! It's been wonderful to spend the last few months in lessons and it was essential if we were going to get anywhere (I couldn't do it myself), but I can't wait until I can look out the window and see him in the backyard. Also, with the road construction that's going on it takes a four hour round trip drive to ride, which is exhausting, especially when I'm also working so hard on the building project. I'm looking forward to getting him out on some hacks at home and just having him close.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Horse Fly Management?

Thanks for all of the ideas and feedback for an arena rake. I ended up finding ABI Equine through your feedback and ordered a 6.5 foot TR3. I'll let you know how it works!
My next question - how are you guys managing horse and deer flies? They are worse than usual here this year. Poor Rogo is raw in places. He's ben staying inside in the heat, as do the horses at home.
The only thing I could find recommended is Horse Pal . Has anyone used it, or do you have any tricks for managing horse flies? I find insect repellant does nothing, and my research bears this out.
On the dressage front, Rogo is picking up more energy / forwardness again, so that is wonderful. I'm finally figuring out how to keep him even in a nice contact in the canter. I had been going back and forth from inside to outside rein too much as I worked at developing the right feel. It was much easier with Savanah. I'm not sure why - maybe because he's taller and longer - but he's harder to 'keep together'. It feels wonderful when you get there though :) 
Happy July 4th US friends!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hot and Cold

Rogo has me completely mystified. After telling you how forward he'd become, and how I could hardly hold him in at the schooling show and test riding clinic, he completely died on me at our Equine Canada bronze show a couple of weekends ago. In Training Level test 3 he literally went slower and slower, while I kicked and whacked him, until he gently and softly came to a complete halt. It wasn't bracey or balky feeling - just a slow winding down to nothing. He blew through three moves with this (he was supposed to be cantering as he trotted slower and slower and then stopped) and the rest of it wasn't much better. I noticed in the warm up that he was losing energy, but this was beyond! We ended up with a 49 and I think that was generous.
His shoeing had gotten off and thus his gaits weren't good prior to the show. I barely rode him for 2+ weeks and then at the walk. The day before the show the third trip from the farrier put everything right. It's amazing what shoeing can do. So that night I decided to go and off we went, getting there late. I also rode Level 1 test one and it wasn't much better 51.5 and NO energy.
The next day he rallied for a 64.8 in Training Level 3, and a tie for first which we missed out on because of the collective marks. Then he completely stalled out again, getting 55 on Level One test one. 
I'm not sure what was going on and I porobably never will. I hadn't thought we'd be in top form after the time off, but I wasn't expecting that either. He still doesn't have the forward he'd had, but it's better. We (I?) had tons of fun at the show, so it was a good weekend anyway.
Meanwhile, MY foot got so painful I could hardly ride and had to cancel going in the Cindy Ishoy clinic this past weekend. Turns out I have Morton's neuroma, a very painful condition where the nerves in the ball of your foot become irritated and putting your foot in a stirrup is agonizing. I got so I couldn't keep my foot in the stirrup. A cortisone injection seems to have fixed it for now, but it may come back and may need surgery :(
Here are some pictures of the show. I think he looks better than we were :)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Seriously Needing Your Advice

I know I don't deserve it. I've been a terrible blogger. I'm way behind on my reading and commenting (and don't think I don't miss it - I do). But here's the thing. We really need to buy an arena rake right now. We need it to rake and level the turn outs we're building for our new facility, and when it's (the facility) built the rake will be used for raking the arena. From personal experience and also from the survey I did in 2011 I know that footing is the # 1 thing people are concerned about when picking a facility. Soooo..... there are hundreds of products on the the market. We have a small John Deere tractor (32 horse power). Do you have any advice for me regarding what the rake capabilities should be? Do you have any advice for me regarding a rake to buy (links? product specs?)? Here are a few things I've learned that I should think about, just as examples:
  • We need to be able to host different disciplines, and this requires different depths of footing. Also, we've had an inquiry about dog agility and they want a fairly firm footing. So a rake that enables custom 'finishes' is needed
  • It is very labour intensive and time consuming to hand shovel the built up footing along the side of the arena back into the worn 'track'. A rake that could pull the edge back into the track would be very appreciated.
You guys are the experts and you've never let me down! I've learned so much from you. If you have any thoughts / ideas on things we need to keep in mind for a rake, or a product to recommend, please let me know. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Meet Our New Broodmare

I've been incredibly busy working on the horse facility / business Doug and I are starting, so blogging has taken a back seat for the time being :( We're clearing the site, working with an engineer on the arena (a change is coming there), promoting the business for 2013, etc., etc. If you've been reading for a while you'll know this business first entered my head in early 2011, as a means to afford an indoor for ourselves. I wanted a good place to ride and take lessons with Rogo, and our other horses, in the winter. Having our own place seemed like the only solution. Having it make enough money to pay for itself was the next objective, so here we are.

Our business plan calls for the following services:

  • facility rental (indoor and outdoor) for small (starting with 40 stalls) competitions and clinics

  • a small amount of boarding

  • breeding

  • dressage and jumping lessons from Sue Fraser, level 3 Equine Canada coach, and dressage lessons from Jane Fraser, FEI rider and reknowned clinician 

When I write it out like that, it seems like a lot, but it all fits together nicely in a synergistic package in our business plan. We got financing through Farm Credit Canada, so it made sense to them :) If anyone is interested in our equine business planning approach I'm more than happy to tell you about it in detail. Just send me an email - with the subject line 'business planning' so I won't think it's spam :)

Anyway, back to the mare. We bought her in partnership with my friend Alison Kelland, also a dressage rider who has successfully bred very nice warm bloods for years.

Her name is SPA/EM Diotima (Donnerschlag Melodie/Matrose). Here is the sales write up for her:

Diotima is an Elite Hanoverian mare. Prior to importation from Germany, she received her “1A” prize and gained “SPA” (states premium candidate) status. After producing her first foal in the USA, she completed all requirements to acheive her “EM” status. She embarked on a very successful showing career in hand, winning another “1A” prize and Reserve Grand Champion of the Mid-Atlantic Hanoverian Breeder’s mare show in 2007. In 2008 she showed at Dressage at Devon to place 3rd out of 16 in the Broodmare class with a score of 80.7%, placing just behind Iron Springs Farm’s Rabiola (2006 Grand Champion and 2007 Reserve Grand Champion at Devon) and Hilltop Farm’s Cha Cha (2008 Reserve Grand Champion at Devon) and just ahead of M.Ecloir (Grand Champion at Devon in 2002). In 2008 Diotima ended the year in 5th place for broodmares competing in USDF shows. In 2009 at Fairhill I and II she was Champion Mare and Champion Mature Horse at both shows. Diotima’s sire Donnerschlag was a successful Grand Prix competitor, as well as producing many successful Grand Prix horses such as Dr. Snuggles, Don Androsso and Donnerwind. Diotima is completely sounds and could be ridden. She is very fertile and catches on the first try with fresh or frozen semen.

I'm educating myself on Hanoverians, so I hope you won't think it's patronizing if I tell you Elite is the highest rating for mares. I'm thrilled that we were able to find such a nice mare, and one we could afford together. She is in Ontario and I'm in Nova Scotia. She has an April 2012 foal by her side (already sold), so we won't ship her to NS until the fall, after the foal is weaned. We'll try to breed her soon though, so I'll keep you posted on that.

Here is her picture:

 That's my news. Hope you like her. I CAN'T WAIT to meet her!!!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Test Riding Clinic

Rogo and I rode in a test riding clinic last weekend, and rode Level One, test one. We scored 60+, as we did at the show, and got some great pointers. Once again Rogo was VERY forward :), so I'm going to have to work on getting more response to half halts and down transitions.
The big learning things from the clinic and this test were:
  • on the 'at E circle left 10 m to X, circle right 10 m to B', I was riding the first half of the circle too small and the second half too big. Watch for C as soon as I start to turn and ride to the center line for the half circle.
  • Rogo can do a straight entry and square halt, but often cocks one leg, ruining what would be an 8. I have to keep my legs lightly on to keep him ready, but not enough that he starts to fidget - a fine line :)
  • on the entry - and I have to relearn this every show - make SURE I'm lined up with C. I tend to go to the left, and drift left as I proceed, but straight on the center line is well within our range, so don't give it away.
We do fairly well at showing a difference before and after lengthenings in trot and canter, but we need more practice coming back from lengthened canter. Rogo would prefer to keep the bigger gait, and I can't be sure he won't just keep going when he heads down the long side :)
Given his exhuberance in canter, I'm happy to say he doesn't break to canter in the trot lengthening, which is odd, because when we school he always wants to, and continually tries to, canter all the time once he's cantered.
Our big downfall was that in left lead canter he switched his back legs (disunited?). It felt rough so I looked down and saw his front legs were correct, so I kept going. A stride or two later it was smooth again, so I forgot about it and continued on. Apparently when it went smooth, he switched in front as well, so now he was in counter canter, which I carried over to the next movement getting 2's on two movements. He counter canters so smoothly and easily that he'll go right into the corners, turn across the diagonal, etc. effortlessly. I know I should feel it, but when the roughness disappeared and I had just glanced down a second before to ensure his front legs told me his lead was correct, I just didn't realize. I'll have to develop a better feel for this.
Here are some pictures:

And here are some adorable puppies, Lucy and Ethel, trying to figure out how to get cute and tired Andrew to keep playing with them :)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Schooling Show

Rogo and I went to a training show last Mon. and I'm quite pleased with him. I took him the night before and he was very calm and relaxed - no upsets or stress about being in a new place. I was able to ride him in the show ring and ran through a test quite nicely in a very relaxed manner within minutes of going in.
I tacked him up the next day and was on him 50 minutes before our first test, so he'd have lots of time to get acclimatized and warm up. In the warm up ring he was so laid back I only worked for a few minutes, then went to talk to my friends and watch the rides from his back. He stood quietly with no fuss.
When it got almost time to ride I did about ten minutes of warm up, then took him down to the ring, where you can ride beside the dressage ring while on deck. It was here that I realized I'd badly miscalculated - Rogo was suddenly on fire. I don't think I was passing tension on to him as it was the most relaxed I've ever felt at a horse show. Having said that, I'm sure that as I prepared to go in I did feel 'up' for it. What ever the reason, Rogo wanted to GO. I practiced lots of trot halt while waiting to go in and then rode the test, hoping for the best. Honestly I was holding him with everything I had and half halting every stride to keep him under control. He wasn't spooky at all - horses were running in a field right bedside him, there were lots of new sights - but he was all about going forward. Can you believe this is the same sleepy horse I had a year ago? My friend Alison asked me afterward if I'd been holding him strongly, as he exploded into the canter, and that was a good word for it :). We came away with 63+ and third place out of six, missing second place by tenths of a point. Second went to Alison, doing a great ride on her just turned five home bred warmblood at his first show ever. Very impressive!
Then..... we did First Level test one. I had been within a hair's breadth of scratching two days before, because of the canter issues I've been having with him for months (trying to run off, refusing to canter, etc.), but we went for it. This time I warmed up much longer and again he seemed very calm, but again, once the bell rang and I picked up the reins he was soooo strong. It was all I could do to hold him through riding the test. He did a nice consistent test except for trying to gallop out of the arena during his first canter circle. We recovered quickly, receiving a 2 for the maneuver :) I later learned. He got 60 + for fourth out of eight or nine entries. His mistakes were all about impatience to go forward - jigging at the end of a beautiful free walk, trot steps thrown in when he was supposed to be walking, late transitioning from canter to trot, etc.
These things, the impatience to go forward faster and being too strong, will all get better with practice and experience, and I think the nice forward will be a very good attribute then. I was really happy with him and it was a really fun day with lots of dressage friends, laughs, sunshine and a beautiful facility. Can't wait to do it again!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Three Good Things About Todays Ride

I want to start writing this little list at least once a week to counter my tendency to be negative with my riding. I can be very hard on myself and today it was too much - Rogo is doing much better in so many areas and instead of being happy and pleased about that, I zeroed in on what wasn't working as well and almost let it ruin my ride. This is wrong from several perspectives:
  1. It blocks my ability to ride well and learn
  2. It can be draining to the teacher who is putting so much intense focus on helping us improve
  3. I miss the good points, and the opportunity to praise and encourage my horse
  4. I suck all the fun and enjoyment out of something that I love
So, here goes, the first of what will be a regular feature - What Went Well In Today's Ride:
  1. Rogo's contact was steady most of the time
  2. He lengthened stride nicely in trot, while staying round
  3. His canter work was much, much better than even a week ago - transitioning onto the correct lead when asked each time, carrying it well and doing his figures, rounder
One area for improvement - sometimes he gave a little hop when we were trotting. I need to make sure I'm not too strong with my inside rein when he is doing this, and push him out with my inside leg.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sometimes It's Not My Fault, and Sometimes It Is

I tend to put all of my thinking into one camp or the other, so this is to remind me not to do that. In my last post, I tended to think that because Rogo had been off for a week while I was away, he'd regressed in his training. Hmmm. He probably did a little bit, but I'm not being nearly careful enough to check that my own riding hasn't regressed while I've been away. It definitely does - I fall right back into bad habits - gripping with my knees and thighs, too much inside rein. Rogo's gotten so sensitive now that those things completely throw him off. Put that together with his down time, and we have problems. I need to remember to take responsibility for coming back with correct riding when I've been off, instead of assuming I'm picking up where I left off.
On the other hand, at other times I'll blame myself and maybe I shouldn't. Yesterday Rogo decided he was scared of a blanket hanging on a line. Hanging blankets are a long standing fear of this big, brave boy; don't know why. This led to a lot of high headed, nose pointing skyward with inverted back kind of work in the outdoor ring. I was doing lots of transitions and trying to stay quiet instead of grabbing at him and keeping my hands busy trying to fix him. It wasn't working and I felt my self growing more and more frustrated and discouraged with myself - "why can't I ride better than this?". Then Jane came along and said "Good job Carol. Keep working on the transitions with quiet hands." What? How can she walk by and see my horse's nose pointed skyward and say good job? It changed my perspective and I dropped the idea that I had to 'fix' him completely in order to have a successful ride. Quietly working on transitions that day was enough. He'd get over it. We did go on ot have some fairly good canter work with much improved transitions although the anticipation was back. No biggy. We'll get it.
So there it is - dressage isn't black and white despite our glorious show clothes :), it's shades of grey sometimes.

Friday, May 11, 2012

So much to do, so little time...

A lot has been happening. Doug and I went to Mane Event in Red Deere (across the country from us), to research products for the horse facility we're building. While we were there we went to visit Spruce Meadows to see how it was laid out and managed - not that we're building anything like that :) - but you can learn a lot from seeing a well run facility at any scale. If I ever get the pictures downloaded off of my phone I'll post some. While at Mane Event we watched a Cindy Ishoy clinic (who I've clinic ed with this winter) and various western clinics. It was fun!
Back home, I'm riding four or five times a week, which is pretty much a commitment of a whole day if driving from home, and if I stay down I work on my computer from my trailer. When I'm not staying in my trailer, Doug often stays in another trailer at the building site (one of us has to be home to look after the horses, dogs and cats at home), so it was nice to get away together. I work on the site when not riding, so it's all out nose to the grindstone but crazily enjoyable.
Back to riding - we've been working on improving all of our basics, but the canter has been a bit of a thorn in the side. When he does it, he does it beautifully, so balance isn't an issue. After my week away he tried running off in the canter again, refusing to canter (for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, backing up, whirling, etc.), constantly taking the wrong lead, and generally making things difficult. Irritatingly (to put it mildly), I know I could resolve this more quickly and even greatly reduce it if I had more finesse in setting up the canter and riding him into it with balanced hands once going (I still tend to hold the inside too much if not vigilant). I'm writing this because I want to remember it and how I dealt with it. At my teachers instruction, when he refuses to canter and backs up, etc. I just keep asking. Kicking and a few whacks with the whip come into play too. If he gets heavy and tries to run off, pull him up hard. Pull him up if he even tries to get strong. We have to get him past the running off concept.
Anyway, we got back on track and the last two lessons he went really, really well.
Two lessons ago we did trot / canter / trot on a circle and although it needs a lot of work it was a very good exercise. I was pleased with Rogo. We did some walk / canter / walk too, and he seems to find this easier oddly enough. Maybe my aids get too muddled at the trot? We finished by focusing on me not throwing him away at the end of a lesson - falling to of our last canter and then slouching into a walk where he snatches the reins and I give them. Sounds very sloppy as I write it, but I slide into that very easily. So we did several practices for ending the ride - nice, engaged transition to trot from canter, staying on the circle, same with trot to walk, and then slowly feed him the reins after he's walked forward in a balanced manner.
I want to recount yesterday's lesson in some detail, as I learned some new things and got great responses from Rogo. It may sound like things I've written about before, but they came together in a much improved way.
Jane was teaching us and she had us do lots of trot / walk and trot lengthen and shorten. She is really good at picking a key element you need to work on and working through it in the lesson. In this lesson I began learning to give much lighter aids to Rogo. I'd ridden Savanah a lot more lightly than Rogo, and I noticed when I could manage to ride him with light aids he went much better, but I wasn't able to get him there most of the time. Jane reminded me to keep my knees off of him in the down transition from trot to walk and to LIGHTLY resist, increasing hand resistance and using my back as needed. He's so forward and strong that I had often had to really grab and pull to get a down transition and as you know, that is wrong. I'm learning a new style of riding, so bear with me if this sounds very elementary. I'd been told to half halt the outside to bring him into a down transition, but Jane had me use both elbows (not hands) as lightly as possible and only increasing the pressure if I need to . This seems much more natural to me than trying to bring him down with a strong outside rein. It only took two or three repetitions and Rogo was coming back to a lovely engaged walk as light as a feather. He'd already mastered the walk trot from a quick light aid in our last lesson with Jane. Once Rogo was responding quickly, in a relaxed manner in the trot walk transition, Jane had me prepare for the light walk aid, then instead of walking to very lightly and with the same relaxed leg / knees (no gripping)  put my outside leg back and ask for canter. It worked every time - transition into a nice canter on the correct lead with no fuss. All of this is stuff most people know - light aids and half halt to prepare (in this case thinking about preparing the walk aid worked very well for our canter half halt). The way it was explained and executed yesterday really brought it together for us though. Rogo had begun to anticipate badly once the canter work started. After fighting with him to canter, he'd canter nicely, but then wouldn't do his other gaits. One canter and that's all he'd want to do. Any attempt to trot or walk was a series of hitching hops as he continually asked "should we canter now". I know he was trying to be helpful and I didn't get mad at him about it. I just couldn't fix it. I did try mixing in a lot of other things, doing trot walk a lot between canter, walking on a long rein after the canter, but it didn't seem to help. Yesterday there wasn't any anticipation. He'd walk, trot and canter when asked, without trying to figure out what was coming next. I loved it. He probably did too - no gripping legs muddling the messages and lighter hands on his mouth. Horses are very forgiving!
After this Jane generously spent time teaching me feel in the contact. I can keep Rogo round most of the time now, but she coached me in doing it more lightly. I need to keep my hands still and push him into them. I had been doing a lot of outside half halts to get him into contact. I'm still somewhat confused by this and what to do when, but it will come. She and Sue tell me we're transitioning to a stage in Rogo's raining where the aids can be lighter and it's a learning curve for me to keep up with the changing feel. So many things to learn, so little time...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Short and Sweet

A quick update. I'm very excited. Rogo and I did 10 M canter circles today, our first ever. I'm thrilled with this turn of events. We've spent the last few months (since last fall) fixing the incorrect riding I'd been doing without a teacher and today was the first day we started new things. It's a milestone! He didn't get them 100% pf the time, but he got some of them and gave it a good try. Can you believe that just a month ago he'd never come round in the canter? We still don't get consistent roundness in canter but it's there more often than not and this latest development will help both of us. I need to get my 'feel' just right in order to support him in this and he needs to sit, focus and work with me. It's really good for both of us.
We also did 10 M trot figure eights (he did them smoothly) and worked quite a bit on leg yield. For leg yield I need to remember to bring him into it using my outside rein to keep him very straight. I've had a tendency to come off the turn leading to a leg yield with his shoulder out and then we're doomed to incorrect movement with the forehand leading and shoulder staying out. By bringing him into the leg yield with a strong connection to the outside rein he'll stay straight. It makes a big difference if I move my hands together to the inside. This gets me off of the inside rein (which I have a tendency to hold too much in leg yield) and using an indirect outside rein. This works well for us.
That's my short and sweet post. A great lesson and happy with my boy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Who Decides?

After doing well at the Cindy Ishoy clinic and the lunge lessons, Rogo's canter got 'off' again - he started trying to wheel and run off, refuse to canter, etc. I wish I had video of it because I think part of the reason is that I'm not keeping a good, consistent contact with the correct feel. It felt right to me, but Doug was watching and said I lifted my hands and got tense as it happened. I was riding on my own (not in a lesson), so Sue and Jane helped me get it back on track.
Sue had me do repeated walk / canter / walk transitions with only a few steps of each. That way he didn't have time to get strong and try to take off, and I had to really focus on my aids. He did this really well and it immediately fixed the running off problem. We were both too busy and focused to get in trouble!
In our next lesson we worked on equitation and aids, particularly in walk / trot transitions. I was popping out of the saddle when I asked for walk from sitting trot and we practiced and practiced until I learned to sit on my tail bone and keep my knees off during the transition (I'd squeeze with them when asking for walk and push myself out of the saddle). We practiced asking for trot with just a quick 'signal', not a continuous driving aid until I got it. Rogo caught on quickly and was soon doing beautiful transitions to trot with just a quick, light feel from my legs. I also needed to remember to maintain a good outside contact throughout the down transition. By the end of that exercise it felt great and I think looked a lot better.
Then we moved on to canter. All of the work on transitions and contact had us prepared, and although the contact wasn't as steady as it could have been, he did canter nicely and obediently and the previous problems were gone.
Next we had another lesson outside - his second for this year and first with the dressage ring set up. Any guesses on what he did? Yup - he tried repeatedly (and succeeded a couple of times) to run out of the dressage ring. I'm glad we weren't at a show! Sue told me to correct him every time he even started to feel strong. This seems self evident, but I hadn't been doing that. I only corrected him if he got really strong and / or tried to take off. She pointed out that he knows his stuff (the dressage exercises we work on) and he has to learn obedience. Hmmm. Now there's an idea. I'm not being sarcastic - I really hadn't fully processed this. Yes, he does do well at his current level of training when he's behaving - I hadn't quite processed this. And yes, he very much needs to learn obedience. He's getting stronger and more confident as his training progresses and his belief that he can decide where to go needs to be curbed. It's dangerous if left unchecked. So that's a priority goal for me for the next few months - I decide where we go, always.
I stayed all night in my trailer and we had another lesson again the next day. He was sooo good! He didn't even look outside the arena for the whole lesson and he went through all of his exercises and figures with flying colors. What a good boy. We were riding with Christine and Ziggy, so maybe he took his cue from them :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lunge / Equitation Lessons

I had two back to back lunge lessons, Mon. and Tues. Today I am sore! But in a very good way. The lessons were both on Rogo and he was a very good boy - willing, responsive and easy going.
I want to capture my insights and what I leaned while it is fresh in my head.
  1. I'm still (again?) weighting my right seat bone more than my left. I've fixed this before. How does it keep slipping back in???
  2. my whole right side is slightly off of where it should be when I'm going to the left. My right shoulder wants to turn out instead of staying in line with Rogo's shoulder. To fix it I have to turn it in until the sensation is that it's turned much too far in (it really isn't), and I need to think to turn it with every stride at this point or it goes right back out. My right leg, going left, continually creeps too far forward so that I end up somewhat blocking Rogo's shoulder. This means if I put my inside leg on to push him into the outside rein I'm also blocking him from going into that rein. Of course of all this is inter-related and each misalignment feeds / reinforces the other. The good thing is that when I fix it there is a gratifyingly immediate response from Rogo - he stays on a nice bend / circle much more easily and my poor lunger doesn't get hauled around trying to pull him through four corners of a square :)
  3. I'm still holding with my knees at times, although this has improved quite a bit. The result of letting go and keeping them off of him is a beautifully forward and happy horse, swinging along in his trot. I mentioned in an earlier post that it was my coach constantly saying 'forward' and building the muscles and muscle memory that finally got us forward. That is only partly true. Another big factor was freeing Rogo to trot forward by taking the tension out of my body and getting my knees out of his shoulders. I thought he was soooo sluggish in trot, but now I could almost say he is sensitive in that blocking him or holding tension in my body immediately slows him, and puts tension in his back. This is true to a startling degree and I wouldn't have known it if I hadn't felt it. Practicing the 'right' and 'wrong' way on the lunge really brings it home and reinforces what I'd already strongly felt. My teacher would get me to tense my body and / or grip with my knees and instantly I could feel Rogo's back stiffen and his gait go slow and lose it's nice rhythm. Then she'd get me to relax and take my knees off and in about two or three strides he'd be back to a beautiful rhythm and forward trot. 
  4. I need to lightly let my leg, with heels down, come on and off Rogo with each walking step.
  5. I need to bend and unbend my knee more when posting, so that my leg doesn't go forward as I rise. I need to really keep the weight in my stirrups so that I don't grip with my knees, as well as putting my leg lightly on as I sit and off as I rise. 
  6. I need to give my upward transition aids as a light signal that lasts one stride, not as a hard, driving aid that stays on until I get a result. If it doesn't work get my rhythm back and repeat until he understands.
  7. Sit very tall and weight my stirrups in sitting trot. Don't lean behind the vertical. Relax and follow him. Also, it's okay if my legs move some; trying to hold them still will make things worse (this is for both rising and sitting).
  8. Remember to weight my stirrups more (hmm, a theme?) in canter. Relax and follow him with my legs instead of pushing him. Apply all the previous (body position).
Those were the main things I learned. Now to get practicing. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Our Second Cindy Ishoy Clinic

I'm still a little giddy :) over Rogo's progress, and how he went at the clinic last weekend.He's really come a long way over the winter. The clinic was perfect for 'crystalizing' our winter gains and setting the stage for spring.
The weather couldn't have been nicer. We got a pet sitter for the pets at home and Doug and I stayed in the trailer at Fraser Equestrian Center Thursday and Friday night. It was 26 C. on Thur.! We were sitting in the trailer Thur. evening with a friend, sipping wine and chatting, with the door and all the windows open. This would be extremely unusual for May, and unheard of for March.
Thur. I had a lesson and Fri. and Sat. I rode in the clinic. Thur. was Rogo's first lesson outside for the year. He was very exuberant about that!

He managed to control himself except for this one minor hop that Doug caught on film (now if I could just learn to control my facial contortions). After about twenty minutes of not getting much from him but "I want to canter now", Sue suggested I lunge him. He just wanted a good gallop in each direction for about two minutes and he was fine. Here he is blowing off steam. Check out the bare arms - it was hot!

Then he settled down for a good lesson on basics - nothing fancy for out first day outside.

We did walk and trot circles and serpentines, and canter circles, working on bending and suppleness.
The clinic started the next day and I was nervous. I'm not sure why, because it isn't a competition, but I was a little on edge. I wanted Cindy to see what a good boy Rogo was, and we are at this crossroads right now. In my mind it could have gone either way - he could have been great, or he could fight the contact throughout the ride and try to run off in the canter.  It's only been in the last week approximately that he's gotten steady in the contact and (mostly) stayed with me in canter. Even my last post is lamenting the canter work, but that has improved by leaps and bounds since then, no pun intended :)
Cindy starts each lesson by asking the rider what they are working on. I told her where we were and then we went right to work in trot, circling at each end and then doing serpentines. She told me to shorten the reins several times. After he got warmed up we did sitting trot on a circle and did a lot of trot walk transitions. I found I could sit to the trot better on this day than most days, as I could at the last clinic. Can I dig deep and find this ability when she isn't there? I hope so. Doug was watching and told me it looked good.
Cindy also reminded me several times to keep my outside hand down and she had me hold the strap on the front of my saddle with my outside hand from time to time, in order to get the feel of the steady, low outside hand. She had me really reinforce, as Sue does, the right bend. At first it felt to me like I was over bending him, but I soon felt him get lighter and more responsive to the right.
We did an interesting 10 M trot circle exercise - start at the first letter of the long side doing a 10 M circle and on the letter side of that circle do a straight line to X (it's a 40 M ring), do another 10 M circle and on the open side of that circle do a straight line to the end letter and 10 M circle again. It calls for lots of bending and straightening. Cindy reinforces the importance of the training pyramid and we heard lots about rhythm and suppleness throughout the clinic.
About half way through the first lesson I was trotting along and it dawned on me - we were doing it. I mean we were staying forward, keeping a good rhythm, Rogo was using his hind quarters and keeping a good steady contact with the bit, we were focused and following instructions - Yeah! We weren't going to blow it! I had a lovely young dressage horse under me and we were going through a great lesson without any undue difficulty. This is huge for us and really as I write this I'm thinking I need to break open some bubbly soon to celebrate.
The canter work went well. He transitioned, took the correct lead, steered easily, went into corners and did circles, crossed the diagonal and transitioned to trot nicely with a good corner, etc. The second day Cindy had us do more walk trot on a circle and then sit the trot and canter as we crossed the center line of the circle. Rogo aced it every time.
For leg yield we circled at the end and then did sitting trot up the center line and leg yield to the wall. We did much better with me sitting. We did lengthened stride in the trot, either down the long side or across the diagonal and Rogo did his best lengthening yet. 
Here are a few pictures of the weekend. I have some video too which I'll post soon so that I'll have a record of where we are.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When He's Good He's Very, Very, Good and When He's Bad He's ...

I should warn you that this post is an unabashed, unapologetic ode to Rogo, who isn't exactly an angel in many people's eyes (I'll explain that in a bit). This winter has been a turning point for him/us. It's been one of the most challenging times of my life, and he hasn't been easy, but it's worth it many times over. As you know, we've been at Fraser Equestrian Center for the winter. There are two big, game changing, developments:
  1. Rogo is forward - as you may remember, I've struggled with Rogo being super lazy in the trot. He just wouldn't go forward no matter what - kicks, whips - nothing worked and it felt awful to try that way. You may be cynical and credit the spurs you see me wearing now. I can tell you that didn't get him forward. I wore them for weeks before there was a difference. The thing I believe made a difference was a coach who made me push him forward until he built the muscles and the muscle memory to go forward naturally. For weeks Sue would tell us every few strides, "more forward". Now if she mentions speed at all she is telling me to half halt on the outside to steady him (slow him a bit and get him on his hind quarters). When I mount, Rogo is raring to go and the first part of the ride requires a lot of half halts to keep him from running. He actually jigs :), so be careful what you wish for. He is so forward he had to have his feed cut in half and he is still an energizer bunny. How could you not love that? The other day Sue said to  me "he's gone from a diesel to a sports car and he's not going back". So, that about sums it up - after two years + of lamenting lack of energy / forwardness I've got a young horse with a go button. Heaven. 
  2. The second big development, and of course hand in hand with the first, is that Rogo is developing roundness. He's been flopping around on his forehand for 2+ years and now he's learning to use his hind quarters. I can't describe how happy I am, how amazing it feels, that he's driving from his hind quarters. This is kind of flaky of me, but I'm so impressed and amazed by the feeling that I am literally dreaming about riding him almost every time I fall asleep. Keep in mind this is my first warm blood and first time starting a horse, so having this power develop is very big to me. It's a sensation I'd describe as having a powerful motor driving you forward. Rogo is big boned and has a strong jumper influence in his pedigree. When those hind legs start coming underneath him and sending us forward it's a feeling like I've never known before. I love it and I love knowing it's only going to get better as he develops. 
My niece flew in to visit my Mom who just had a hip replacement (thus I've been off blogger for a week) and she took the videos you see here with a phone. The quality isn't good but at least it's something for the record I want to keep (glare is from back door being open - it was 17 that day!). The first is just a short clip but you'll hear Sue referring to Rogo's power (he's been wanting to go, go, go). He isn't fast here; as a matter of fact I've slowed him to the point that he's slower than usual. Just for the record, once he gets warmed up and into the lesson he's all business. This isn't a spooky energy, it's a forward energy.
The next is of him doing 10 m circles down one long side and (supposedly) leg yielding up the other side. He pokes his nose out and goes on his forehand during the leg yield (he does it okay sometimes, but not in this instance), but he went like this all the time last fall. Anyway, this is pretty average fare for someone doing dressage, but it's big to me! (You'll see Brittany and Spider at the end. Spider is schooling PSG and he's spooking at my niece in the corner videoing. I think Spider is an Appendix Quarter Horse and he's very talented. He does very well in competition. I don't know how to edit it out.)


 Now, for the 'when he's bad' part - Rogo is very strong minded and he hasn't been, shall we say, 100% in favour of roundness and using his hind quarters. This manifests itself in the canter where he will suddenly, with no warning turn on a dime and veer off course, trying to leave the ring (and succeeding on occasion) and / or getting very strong/fast and refusing to turn. He'll also take the wrong lead which he'd never done before and even went through a phase where he'd try to refuse to canter. Generally anything to create a little chaos and avoid the intended work plan. It has taken all of my perseverance to stick with it. I feel bad because if anyone else is riding it is a little disconcerting to say the least, but I'm not giving up so it is what it is. It's gotten a lot better but it still isn't great.
So even though he's missed over a month (sarcoid surgery) out of the last four months, he's made great progress over all and even the 'bad' is getting better.

We have another Cindy Ishoy clinic coming up in a couple of weeks and I'm really looking forward to that. I'm also looking forward to catching up on my blog reading again. Dear knows what I've missed. Coffee and horsey blogs are on the horizon...

    Friday, March 2, 2012

    Winter Horse Keeping At Home

    This is the first winter we've kept horses at home for a few years. We've been boarding all three of them for the last few winters so we'd be able to ride them in an indoor over the winter. This year just Rogo is boarded and Dan and Savanah are at home. Doug and I love having them here. It feels empty when there are no horses in the back yard.
    They've had a very easy winter. There's been a lot of ice and I've been driving so much to ride Rogo (a round trip is 3.5 hours) so this translates to time off for Savanah and Dan. I must say though, it is very tempting to jump on furry Savanah bareback for a heated seat ride.
    We've done a few things differently this winter than we did other winters when we had them home. One of the biggest differences was that we rarely put them in. In the past, after about the first week of Oct., we'd lock them in their stalls every night and let them out in the morning. This year they may have been put in for the night about five times - only when it was REALLY cold or it was raining or snowing. They can go in on their own and we clean and bed their stalls everyday, but we don't lock them in. We're basing this on research reports we've read that it's healthier for them. This is very easy for us to do, because their stall doors open onto their turn out. They have heated buckets in their stalls and we can feed them in their stalls or throw hay outside on nice days.
    I'm thinking about offering outdoor board as an option at the facility we're building. I'm curious about how people do this when the turn out isn't attached to a barn. I know that run in shelters are required, but how about water? I guess it would be necessary to run electricity for heated water tubs? And I wonder if it's standard to give free choice hay to horses kept outside 24/7? This would work for Dan, but Savanah can't have free choice hay. We tried it one winter and she ate steady and blew up like a beach ball - decidedly unhealthy. Also, we put our horses in when it rains or is below -15 or so (depending on the wind). Do some people leave them out regardless of the temperature? What about blankets? Savanah is like a wooly mammoth, hates blankets and they would be counter productive. Dan doesn't get nearly as thick a coat and loves his blanket - he gets in a snit if we're late getting it on him and then is happy and sweet once it's on. If they're out 24/7 how could you be sure they were dry under their blankets, that they weren't over-heating, etc.? I wonder if it would end up being more work than keeping them in a barn at night, because you'd still need to carefully monitor and check their needs, but it would be harder to do.
    One of the other big changes we made was switching to haylage. We thought we had an agreement with our hay supplier to sell us hay all winter, as required. This solves the need to store large amounts, but mid winter he told us he'd sold all the hay. Not a good system it turns out. So we switched to another supplier who had only haylage. This is out first time using it. It was strange in that the the horses wouldn't touch it for about 36 hours (we still had hay left and gave them that). Then, they started gradually picking at the haylage we'd put out and fairly quickly they couldn't get enough of it. Now they love it. We feed a little less than hay as it is higher in calories. The up side of haylage is that it isn't dusty at all - I love that. Now they are completely on haylage (after a period of easing them onto it), are the same weight as before and look great. To be honest I think I should have done a little more research, but I asked horse people I trusted, read what I could and proceeded. It wasn't new to Dan as he was fed haylage when he was at Joan's. It was new to Savanah though and I need to be careful with her as she's colicked in the past and also she's a very easy keeper. I suspect she could get laminitis easily. One option would be to get the haylage analysed at the agricultural college so we'd understand the calorie and nutrition content, and plan from that in consultation with our vet. Great intentions but since it's working out I haven't made time. We'll have to figure out something else as the weather warms up because haylage can mold quickly once it's opened (in the cold weather it hasn't been a problem) and with only two horses eating it it is likely to mold before a round bale is finished once the weather gets warm.
    Here are some pictures I took with my phone today. You can see that spring hasn't come to Nova Scotia yet.

    Here is Savanah eating her haylage and looking very happy and hairy :) I wish I had a better picture of her face. She truly is wooly and I think it's quite beautiful. For comparison purposes I included this picture Maria Casey took of her in the fall (below). What a difference!

    Then there's Dan munching away, and a picture from my office window so you can see how wintery it still is.
    I'm very interested in hearing about how you manage horses in the winter and anything you do to make the job easier.

    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    Rogo's February Riding / Training

    In re-reading my last post I seem to be obsessed with staying warm. That fits.
    Back to Rogo's training - I didn't get to have a lesson today. Sue (trainer/teacher/ barn owner) texted this morning that it was -16 and too cold to ride. We had a good Feb. though. He is figuring out working from his hind quarters and is less anxious about it.
    His feed was cut back before his surgery due to his bucking episode (the only one he's ever had since being backed), and he still has lots of energy and forwardness without the drama.
    Due to the fact that he got very rebellious about being asked to canter in a rounder frame, we are still doing mostly training level work. On one hand this is discouraging given his age and time we've been at it, but on the other hand he is a different horse, which is very encouraging. After two years of dawdling along (check my energy level labels) he is beautifully forward - this alone is revolutionary. The other big change is that he is moving in a rounder fashion, using his hind end. Both of those things are fundamental to progress and I think must take a lot of effort and work on his part. He needs to move his balance from front to back and that can't be easy. It accounts for the canter issues I think.
    So the status is that training level is all very good except that he is still bracing / resisting a bit during the first canter transition or two, and he may be difficult to steer some days in canter until he is warmed up, i.e. staying on a good circle.
    I half halt to address the bracing. (There are lots of different half halts. I'm calling this a half halt for lack of a better term, but it isn't my usual.) It seems counter intuitive but it works. He's bracing, sucking back, and grabbing the reins. I take and give on the outside rein until he stops grabbing the reins and softens. I immediately give the canter aid and it usually work. After he's done one or two transitions they are better. Some days, once he's warmed up, he'll canter from a walk with a light ask.
    To address the steering on a canter circle issue (wanting to go straight instead of on a curved line) I need to remember to use a strong outside rein and if I need it, to use my outside leg, even giving a kick if he is really wanting to get strong, or a tap on the shoulder to reinforce the turn. As we work at this he goes with lighter and lighter aids. As soon as he starts working with me I have to go as light as possible, because once he is steering okay, continuing with heavy aids makes it go bad again. And the heavy aids can cause or at least reainforce another avoidance issue - getting faster (too fast).
    He'd been cantering fine for a long time, without any of these issues, but he was on his forehand. Getting him to rebalance more to the hind end caused us to encounter these training issues, but over all things are better - the quality of the canter when he 'gets' it is much better than before we had the problems.
    We won't move ahead until things are really solid and it will make it easier in the long run.
    He is advancing in some areas - he is doing ten meter trot circles, some leg yeild and some shoulder in.
    We worked on ground poles a couple of times in February and that was fun for both of us. He did really well and it helped him get past his anxiety - yeah! We couldn't do too much cantering over poles though - he wanted to gallop. It will take more work but we enjoy it.
    So, the big gains are in re-balancing more to the hind quarters and more forwardness. Those things are huge. He's a good boy to work so hard, especially with the health problems he's had this winter (sarcoid - things are still looking good on that front). I'm very happy with him.