Friday, December 27, 2013

December Weather, Or New Use For Full Seats

I know how annoying it can be to hear people complain about winter weather - i.e. we live in Canada, get over it. Too bad. I'm writing about sucky winter weather anyway. If nothing else it will be an antidote to reading one more saccharine Facebook post about a storybook perfect Christmas. 
(Just to set the record straight, I'm happier than I've ever been in my life, and had a great Christmas - don't want my family to think I'm ungrateful - but enough of that already. Let's trash the weather!) Okay, here goes...
I don't remember ever having a December with weather as bad as this year; it usually holds off to January to get this much bad weather, this frequently. It started with days on end of record lows, -20's at night, - teens during the day. Our first year running the new stable + early record lows = frozen pipes, scrambling to find a foal blanket that fits our big foal, and running wires for heated buckets with frozen hands and feet. Yes, but that was a mere blip on the radar. This was quickly followed by multiple snow storms, and then a 24 + hour ice storm. Some people are in their fourth day without power, and we didn't loose power, but why not complain anyway? Here are some of my ice storm incidents:
  • I needed to bring in wood for the wood stove, but the wheel barrow was frozen to the ground. In trying to wrench it free I broke off one of the handles, so no wheel barrow. I decided to put wood in the back of the truck and bring to the wood box (of course the truck was covered in a thick coating of ice). The wood box is outside and opens into the living room. It had four inches of ice on it and was so heavy I couldn't lift the top. I carried wood to the back door, but this entailed walking over a sheet of glass and up steps that had curved mounds of slick ice on them. Just so you don't think Doug was being lazy letting me do all this, Mom and I are at home in Noel Shore keeping the house warm and he's at the horse facility much of the time. (We go back and forth and stay in the same place at the same time a few nights a week.)
  • Christmas Eve Mom and I were going to Five Fires (our arena facility) to spend the night in the cabin, so we could all be together. I went to her house to pick up gifts that were left there, and found that her house was surrounded by a sea of ice, all sloping away from the house. Mom waited in the car while I attempted to navigate to the sun porch door. About half way there I realized there wasn't a snow ball's hope in hell I'd make it standing, so gingerly lowered myself to the ground and started crawling to the door on my hands and knees. Looking back, I can see this is kind of funny, but it wasn't funny at the time :). Even that didn't work. I lost my tenuous grasp on the sloping ice and went sliding down the hill away from the house and came to rest on an ice covered snow bank. By turning over onto my full seat breeches I was wearing I was able to sort of crab walk a bit at a time back up the slope until I could grab a corner of the car. From there I launched a reccy at the other door,  and somehow gained the doorstep and entry to the house. I won't bother boring you with how I managed to get presents from the house to the car, but suffice to say it included presents dropping and sliding off into the icy darkness.
  • On Boxing Day some intrepid natural horsemanship people trailered in for schooling with their horses. We thought the driveway, which goes up quite a hill, was fine. Turns out we hadn't factored in the weight of three horses on a trailer. You guessed it - the trailer went through the packed snow onto ice and got stuck. The horses had to be unloaded and we hooked both the tractor and our 3/4 ton truck to the truck and trailer and hauled it up the hill. I'm very impressed with these people though - it was -12  and they were out with their horses! Luckily we have lots of sand and will keep the driveway sanded.
Don't even get me started on dressing for this x%%^$# weather. Currently I'm in double faced wool long johns, with too tight breeches over them (who needs THAT extra layer two days after Christmas?), Mountain Horse winter riding boots with two pairs of socks, fleecy top, hoodie, and getting ready to put on a long down filled coat and lined leather gloves. I'm not sure I'll ever 'feel' my horse again.

That just about brings me up to date. I'm sitting here as snow falls and the road is completely snow covered. We had a snow storm last night and another one forecast for Sunday. I'm heading to Five Fires and will enjoy some riding - I can't forget my riding goals, the first check in being this weekend.
Hope everyone had a great Christmas and has a very Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

In Defense of Sweet Feed

I'm NOT an expert obviously, and I'm not someone who enjoys spending hours reading the latest horse feed research and comparing feed analysis labels. I do consult our equine vet about feed though, and I'll do the analysis comparisons, to make sure the horses are getting good nutrition and that we're getting good value for our money. 
Also, I want to make clear I'm not advocating sweet feed for easy keepers and horses that could be prone to laminitis - there are some very good reasons to keep them on low sugar diets. What's led me to write this post is the results I've gotten over the past few months in feeding Rogo a product that contains molasses. 
Since coming back to riding seven years ago I've noticed that no one feeds sweet feed. When I was a teenager decades ago, it was standard procedure where I lived (rural Nova Scotia) that horses got pasture only in summer and hay and sweet feed in winter. There's some logic to this, but I won't go into it here. However the 'no sweet feed' mantra became so quickly ingrained when I got a horse again, that I didn't even think about feeding it. 
When I struggled with Rogo's lack of energy and forwardness, for years, I was told that's just his natural personality. I consulted the vet about it on several occasions and fed supplements he ordered in for me. I consulted with an equine nutritionist and fed as she directed for awhile, fed a high protein diet, etc. At one point he was on 16 litres of feed a day. Nothing made even the slightest difference in his energy level.

I did get him forward in the past without it, through weeks / months of training with a very experienced, level 3 instructor who pushed us hard three times a week. When Rogo has time off though, we're right back where we started and honestly I just don't think I could go through that building phase on my own. It's completely physically and emotionally draining and I'll tell you that it literally gives me nightmares and leaves me feeling shattered. 
I've tried every trick in the book - hacking out, cavelleti, treats and positive reinforcement, hill work and it always comes back to the same thing - put the weeks / months into a brutal grind of forcing fitness training or have a horse that lives behind my leg. Neither option was / is palatable to me anymore.
Then, .... I rediscovered sweet feed. I might call it life changing, but that could sound flip. Let me just say I'm in love with it. Rogo is a different horse when getting it. He isn't hot or spooky, and he still needs to build fitness after time off, but he's there with me - a happy partner going forward in his work. 
I first tried it this past June and was very impressed - a happy forward horse even though he'd had most of May off and it was getting pretty hot out. Yeah! 
Okay - I'm going to back up a step and describe the feed - it's a pelleted feed with lots of good ingredients, but it includes molasses. It's billed as a foal, lactating mare and performance horse feed and it claims to be low sugar. I'm here to call the low sugar part bullshit. Molasses is high in the ingredients list (impossible to tell what percentage) and honestly, it's delicious. I could eat it for breakfast with a little yogurt on top. It smells wonderful, is packed with omegas and is a sweet, fatty treat :). 
Rogo LOVES it and he is much more forward when he gets it. While he was off in the summer / early fall with a stone bruise I switched him to a performance version from the same company, that had almost the same analysis but no molasses, and he was dead again when I brought him back to work. Back to the molasses version and back to a horse much more willing to work. He / we still need to build fitness, so the forward has staying power, and as we build it I may decrease the sweet feed and increase the non-sweet feed, but it's been a great thing for us.
Sweet feeds wouldn't be a good option for many horses - most / all readers here know more about feed than I do, so I won't go into too much detail.  I'd definitely say proceed with caution and do your research if you think it might be helpful for your horse. It can be associated with increased laminitis risk, i.e. drafts and ponies may be at higher risk. Also, I'm not happy with the idea that it may increase susceptibility to tooth decay (I'm not sure there's proof it does - many horse feeds as well as grass have high sugar levels). 
I'll conclude with saying we feed a very small amount to our draft cross Savanah (she's one I wouldn't give very much too) and when I posted pictures of her on Facebook recently we got comments that she looks the best she'd ever looked. At fifteen years of age her gaits are the best they've ever been as well - uphill jumping canter, big trot, marching walk. Also, our sweet Appaloosa Dan is back to work after several years off, is also getting a very small amount of sweet feed, and is also going better now than when we stopped work three years ago. 
I googled sweet feed before writing my post to see what pros and cons I'd come up with, and here's the first thing that came up: Sweet Feed Whiskey. So if you buy it and decide you don't like it, there's no down side. You're all set for a batch of whiskey. 
There's my anecdotal information on sweet feed. A decent researcher, let alone a scientist, would shoot holes in my conclusions like shooting trout in a demitasse cup, but I'm sold.

Fire and Ice Dressage Challenge

I created a winter activity that I hope some of you might participate in, to help us all stay motivated over the winter. I created in conjunction with our business, Five Fires Equestrian Centre, but you can participate from anywhere and it costs nothing. It's explained in detail here. In a nutshell, you create three sets of date sensitive goals (dates below), post them in the comments here or on the Facebook group page I created (later preferred, so that non bloggers can participate too) and report back on results. Tell us what's working and not working, how you're training to meet the goals, etc.
I coordinate the communication. At the end I enter all those who complete the challenge and meet their goals in a draw for a $100.00 auditor pass for the Arthur Kottas clinic we're hosting in May.
Obviously it will be a little too far for most of you to attend, but maybe I can come up with a prize for those participating from far away - hmmm, okay I've got it - a $25.00 gift certificate towards an equine related book. Of course if anyone wanted to be entered in the clinic draw after completing their goals, and come  to Nova Scotia for the clinic, that would be wonderful!
Dates are:
  • December 29, 2013 (or close)
  • February 2, 2014
  • March 9, 2014
So come on, help me stay motivated, and share your winter training plans and goals. They can be anything from ground work and fitness to specific dressage figures and movements.
Here are my goals as an example:

Weekend # 1 Goals
  • Comfortably sit medium trot, with good position, relaxation and balance, riding one long side and short side
  • Build fitness (we’re coming back from time off) so that we can do an hour session with consistent performance in all Training Level and Level One work
  • Legs – toes in, heels down, knees relaxed (not gripping)
Weekend # 2 Goals
  •  Smooth and effortless, repeating trot / canter / trot transitions on a 20 m circle – no anticipation or tension
  • Forward canter with good hind quarter engagement
  • Relaxation – straight and marching free walk; an ’8′ stretchy trot circle
Weekend # 3 Goals
  • Comfortably sit medium trot, with good position, relaxation and balance, riding a 20m figure 8 and across the diagonal
  • Trot shoulder in, a full long side with forwardness and good rhythm
  • Exceptional :) collected to medium to collected canter
Bonus Goal (I couldn’t resist)
  • Ride Level 2, Test 1 with a score of at least 60% – I know this isn’t an appropriate show goal, but this is a developmental exercise to help me pinpoint where I am and set my next goals.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pictures, Intro To Mary, Lesson Update

We ran an equine photography short course at our facility the end of October, and I got some great pictures of Rogo to share. His stone bruise was bothering him (before it got equipacked), so there aren't any mounted pictures, but I LOVE these! The photographer here is Naomi Carter. All of the students were very impressive.

I have a horse appearance pet peeve - I do not like skinny necks. Sooo, of course I'm completely in love with Rogo's neck. Isn't it beautiful? Of course with Rubenstein 1 as his grandfather (some may feel his neck was too big), it would be very unlikely to get my dreaded skinny neck :). As Rogo's training has progressed his neck has become more graceful.

I want to introduce you to Mary. She's 15 and helping out at our arena facility and riding Savanah and Dan (our Appaloosa, see side bar). She's also taking lessons with Joan! She and I have lessons together - she on Savanah and me on Rogo. It's very fun and it's great to have a riding partner. We can give one another feedback, plan our rides together and keep one another motivated. Also, it's great to have two people to set up cavelleti instead of just me :).

Dan hasn't been ridden in years, but with Mary riding him he's doing great - really loving the attention and going remarkably well. I'll get pictures of them soon.

Mary and Savanah

Mary has been doing Clinton Anderson natural horsemanship with her Fjords (she and her Mom each have one, full sisters, four and five year old mares). Their manners and behavior are amazing! Mary rode her four year old, bitless (reins on her halter), on a 26 km round trip along the road to Joan's house to ask her to teach her - how could Joan (who hasn't taken students in many, many years) say no! Here is a phone picture of Mary and her Mom Joanne riding in our arena. I can't take my eyes off of these horses - they are so pretty, sweet and unique looking.

 Mary, Joanne, Cookie and Spice

Joan is starting Mary from the beginning with our lessons so she'll know how to start a horse in dressage. With our lessons together, this means lots of much needed reviewing going on with me - transitions within gaits, halts, cavelleti. I should say I've asked Joan to teach me to do low jumps, as I think it would be good for Rogo's body and mind and good for my horsemanship. I need to get a saddle for it, so we'll see where that goes

My light bulb moment this week? Cutting my aids for shoulder in by about 90% to get a better movement and stepping under. More practice with that coming up.

And on a completely different note - stay tuned for my upcoming defence of sweet feed :). 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Back In the Saddle

So much has happened, that I just kept putting off writing because there was too much to write about :). Soooo, I'm just going to jump right in and update things as succinctly as I can:
  • Rogo was off for much of the summer and the fall until last week - first a horse fly allergy and then a stone bruise.
  • I've just started riding him regularly again a few days ago, after months off, and it's heaven. As I write this I realize I wasn't motivated to write when I wasn't riding.
  • Our arena facility opened the third week of September - we've hosted a Tom McDowell clinic (Tom is a great horseman from Oklahoma who came all the way to Nova Scotia to give the four day clinic), the Canadian Pony Club Provincial Dressage Championships, a dressage test riding clinic, a provincially sanctioned dressage show that included western dressage, an equine photography short course and weekly Pony Club dressage or jumping lessons. I could write many, many pages about these events but for now I'll just say I'm honored to have the opportunity to watch the events, meet the people and learn from all of them. 
  • One of my best times was sitting around in the evening in our partially finished arena lounge with Level 3 Dressage Coach Susan Fraser and equine photographer Reg Corkum (he was a fashion photographer in Europe for years), cooking, drinking wine, and enjoying discussion about the horse world. We had trailers for each of them to stay the night and Doug and I were staying in our trailer, so it was really fun to kick back and bask in the horse talk - they've known and worked with some of the greats.
That's it in a nutshell - I'm up to date! Bringing me to Rogo :). He's currently equi-packed in his left fore to protect the stone bruise area, and is going quite well considering all the downtime we've had. We're working on getting our fitness back (mostly mine). I'm doing lots of walking, and transitions within walk - slow, medium, fast or shorten and lengthen stride. Then we do trot circles and serpentines, canter large and then some lateral work for just a few minutes. Today I added in just two 10 M canter circles each way and was pleased with how he 'sat' at the end of a long side lengthen in order to go into a nice circle. He went a little wide in the left, but we'll work on it. We're at the new facility, so can ride in or out - it's thrilling to be able to do this at our own place.
The weather is still perfect for riding outside many days - crisp but sunny, with no flies!
Okay, I'm off to catch up on reading. Can't wait to see what's happening with my blog world friends.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bitless Debate

Here's an interesting article on British eventer Mark Smith challenging the requirement to use a bit in the dressage phase of eventing, or I should say, attach reins to the bit. I'm of the opinion people should ride with what makes the horse happiest.
I don't believe bitless is necessarily more comfortable for horses, or vice versa. A lot depends on the horse's needs, the rider, the style of bit, or style of bitless bridle. I'd like to see people be able ride bitless if they want to though, in any competition.
Fairly recently (two or three years ago?), Equine Canada updated rules to allow snaffle bridles all the way through to Grand Prix, unless competing for qualifying scores. Before that they were optional in Third  Level and required from Fourth on. Perhaps bitless will follow.
Any thoughts on this? I'm curious as to what people think.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Before I Forget

I just came in from a ride, and I have to write this down before I forget.
  • If I want to do a canter / walk transition - don't just prepare with a half halt and then give the aid as his canter stride is high in front. Be patient and decide beforehand where I'll do it, then for at least five or six strides give myself over entirely to feeling his rhythm. Once I'm completely 'into' his rhythm, give the walk aid. He invariably walks, usually in a nice forward, uphill way, but occasionally he almost wants to halt which I don't want at this stage. Interestingly, as soon as I go into the 'feel' mode he starts to prepare himself with slight collection and a high degree of responsiveness to my aids, even though in monitoring myself I couldn't ascertain that I was doing anything. As I think about it now, I know that what I was 'doing' was completely relaxing and following, 'lisening' intensely but softly to him. This is the part I really want to remember - wouldn't it be great if I could develop that connection more and more?
Just to clarify, I always try to ride with an 'acknowledgement' of his rhythm. He listens to my aids to shorten or lengthen as I give them in time to his rhythm and I've finally gotten my hands fairly quiet and following in canter. This was something different that I just discovered. Of course I want to develop it so the aid can be given at anytime I want, and so that it's intuitive, but it was interesting to experience how waiting and totally relaxing into him made such a difference, and how his best response by far is to this almost imperceptible preparation. I think I often try too hard.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Lessons With Joan

Warning - this post jumps all over the place - can't seem to get it organized. Also, there's some repitition from previous posts but it seemed context was needed...

Okay, setting the stage - I'm sitting at my computer looking straight out at our home riding ring (foreground) and the bay. The sun is setting and it looks like this:

Just had to share that as I feel so lucky to live here. Now, to dressage training :)
My riding has been rather sporadic for months. When Rogo was in the valley this past winter I was too busy to ride more than once a week for the last few months he was there. Sue Fraser, my teacher / his trainer rode or lunged him twice a week. Then, when I got him home there was so much rain that riding time was in short supply.
Then, for about a three week window I was in heaven - My old riding teacher Joan was able to teach me again!  She taught me as a teenager 35+ years ago, then gave me lessons for a year and a half on our draft cross Savanah when I came back to dressage after 30+ years away from riding. She didn't give riding lessons anymore, but for some reason she offered me lessons and I jumped at the chance. Here's a picture of me with the saintly Savanah, coming home from a bareback ride on the beach last fall:

[With Joan as our teacher, Savanah and I were Training Level high point champions for our Provincial circuit the summer we competed. I could write a book on Savanah and my admiration / love for her, but then I'd be off on yet another tangent. She belongs to Doug, my husband, and he went on to take lessons with Joan and also earn many first place ribbons with her.]
During this time while Joan taught me on Savanah she and I decided that I'd buy a young warmblood and together we'd train this horse through the levels - me riding, she teaching (Joan can't ride anymore due to arthritis). Well, that didn't happen. Joan coached me through a completely uneventful backing process and then life intervened. She had to deal with family health issues and there wasn't any time to teach. I floundered, trying to teach him myself (having never ridden a warmblood and just inexperienced over-all), I took bad lessons, I acquired bad habits, etc. 
We really didn't get into good lessons until the fall of 2011 when I took him to Fraser Equestrian Center (check out their camps - they're wonderful). We made a lot of progress there, but it's close to a two hour drive one way, and it exhausted me, especially with trying to work on our facility, so I brought him home in May. (We're happy that Sue and Jane Fraser will give clinics at our facility, and a teacher who was trained by them for many years will give lessons.)
But..... our facility wasn't ready and I needed lessons badly, so I turned to Joan, knowing her life was calmer now. She'd said she'd never teach again but I had to ask and she didn't let me down - she agreed to give me lessons again! She is a classical dressage purist, an inspiration, a perfectionist, a walking encyclopedia of dressage history, ... can you tell I'm over the moon?
Different people teach differently and learn differently and Joan's teaching style suits me very well. I'd describe it like this:
  • She talks to me while I'm sitting on my horse in front of her, explaining the background of the exercise. This can cover some or all of the following - the purpose of the exercise, what body parts it gymnasticizes, which riding master in history 'invented' the exercise, debates that have occurred about the exercise throughout the history of dressage, how the movement may have evolved, what movements it leads to, which 'schools' (i.e. German, French, Dutch) prefer which methods,
  • She explains the aids for the exercise in detail. She covers timing for the aids - when the aid(s) should be given in relation to foot falls, what the exact sequence of aids is and why (if there's debate about this in the sport she explains why she does it the way she does),
  • I practice the aids while sitting in front of her and she adjusts where needed,
  • I go ride it and she calls out corrections, 
  • I come back and she critiques and makes suggestions,
  • Lastly I'd note that she's an extreme perfectionist and very serious about dressage, but she's also very encouraging.
Some people learn better with other styles - being intensely instructed as they ride, being pushed hard, getting a lot of information about what to do as they do it. I find it difficult to process information that quickly and to develop my own feel. I completely understand and respect that others are the opposite. This would actually make an interesting post - learning styles and how they relate to dressage. I suspect most healthy type A dressage riders :) have at least a smattering of knowledge about different learning styles, but how does this relate to three D learning so to speak? Anyway, Joan and I are a good fit, and good friends too.
She is doing a review of the basics with me, which is great since I didn't have lessons for a couple of months and before that only rode once a week. We're working on my equitation. The main training focus is transitions, both within and between gaits. We're also working on half halts. Rogo and I have / had the habit of doing a little hesitation when doing down transitions. Joan is getting me to practice precision and timing my aids to get him to do uphill down transitions that are forward and that maintain his rhythm. Rogo is catching on quickly and I love how it feels. 
Part of our last lesson was spent practicing straight, square halts. Here are a couple of pictures:

 Stepping into it

 Straight, sqaure, motionless, on the bit and ears listening - good boy!
 Joan's explaing the finer points of the halt: "think forward motion"

 And a couple of random shots:


We're also practicing half halts and when to give the aids for up transitions. This is good work for Rogo. At Fraser's, thank God, Sue instilled forward as the basis for everything else (without it you can't do anything) and the work on transitions builds on that. It keeps Rogo busy and thinking and doesn't give him time to start 'plodding'. To be honest, he hasn't demonstrated a desire to go there anyway, even in the heat. This is the first summer I can say this. Maybe he's grown up a little?
I'm very happy with him. He could be further along as an eight year old (where did my baby go?), but considering we've only been in good lessons for less than two years he's doing great. 
Anyway, there we were, having wonderful lessons with Joan, when bam - horse fly season hit with a vengence week before last. They attack Rogo viciously. He gets huge, bleeding sores and they cover his girth area. This year he's started to panic when they appear. I've had to stop riding except just before dark, when I can sometimes sneak in a short ride:(. If anyone has a solution please tell me, but I've pretty much decided there is no solution.
That's my Rogo update. Here's a picture of our little herd I took on the weekend:


Coming soon - our new foal! Here's a sneak peak:

Bliss Point, taken last week at 6 weeks (by Bellisimo M, out of EM Diotima)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Five Fires Equestrian Centre, Our New Facility

In my last riding post (the one before the FEI Quarter Horse link) I said I was going to write about the facility we're building in my next post. Then the idea of doing that seemed so over whelming that I haven't posted since :). So here goes. It may be a little too honest, but so be it. I think to simplify things, I'll write it as an 'interview' to myself.
Q - Why did you decide to build an equestrian facility?
A - My husband Doug and I decided in 2011 that we'd build an equestrian centre. It wasn't on our radar until then - it was just something that evolved because we couldn't find a boarding barn and dressage lessons that we were happy with close to home, so we decided we'd build one. My volunteer work with Nova Scotia's dressage group had led me to recognize that there wasn't a good competition facility in the Province, so I thought "let's do that". If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you may recall it was on a wish list as I sipped wine and dreamed at the start of 2011.
Q - What are you building?
A - We bought a 135 acre parcel of land that is very accessible from all over the Maritime Provinces, and we're building a 220 ft. by 80 ft. indoor riding ring that will have a kitchen/lounge/viewing room, tack room, office and show office (riding area is 204' X 80'). The facility will have 40 stalls, an outdoor ring, large parking lot and turn out areas. Next year we'll install RV hook ups, and over time we'll add trails to link into the power corridor that runs along one side of our property (this will access many, many miles of trails).
Q - Tell us a little bit about the construction experience.
A - I could write a book on this, but I'll try not to :). Here's the evidence that Doug and I are crazy, or that Doug and his brother Greg (who's helping us build it) are heroes and I'm delusional. We are building the facility ourselves. Yes, you read that right - hammers, nails, staging, lumber.... Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but not much. 
We're using Nova Scotia companies as much as we can (almost exclusively) and we selected Treeline Project Management to put up the frame and roof for our Britespan arena. We've hired trades as needed, i.e. an excavator, an electrician. But... Doug and Greg, with me as a helper, framed it in, put the metal siding on the sides and ends, built kick walls, put in the windows and doors (from Metro Windows and Doors, owned by family members) which are one of the nicest features, and we're in the process of building the stables and stalls, constructing the outdoor, parking lot and turn outs, running water lines etc.
This (building the facility) is an all consuming task. There's no energy or time left for anything else, and it goes on for months, and months, and months... This is why I seldom blog anymore. I don't do anything anymore except ride and build. There are dark days when it seems like, and I truly believe, in my mentally and physically exhausted state, that it will never end - that this is my life, I'll never be rested or have fun times again. There have been many difficulties and also we've probably had the worst year for building, weather wise, in the last 50 years. We've had record setting flooding, record setting cold snaps, record setting heat waves,...
Then there are the good days - I get up at 6:00 am to ride, so I can still work at the site, and the birds are singing and the sun is shining and everything works. I get to the site and the guys have things laid out and the radio is on and the coffee is made and it's all coming together and I can see, as clearly as if it were right in front of me, how great it's going to be - the space is huge and the light is magical and it's a dream come true - not something I can even comprehend.
I wanted to include pictures to show you the progress, but if I wait to get the energy to do that this will never get written. There's an album on the Facebook page I've created for our business if you have time to look. If not, I'll describe the building a bit - it's got a fabric roof, with a somewhat Gothic shape. It's sided (ends and sides) in charcoal grey with white trim. There are many, many windows in the front and a large half round window in the back. The stalls are in lean to buildings on the side of the arena.Here's a couple of samplea from the winter:

Doug, winter 2013

Greg and Carol, winter 2013

Q - What are your plans for the business?
A - We'll put on equine events - competitions and clinics, of various disciplines. Because dressage is what I know, that will initially be more of a focus. Here is our Events page from our website. We'll put on our own events, and rent the facility to clubs and individuals who would like to put on events as well. 
The most exciting event? A year from now, Victoria Day weekend 2014, Arthur Kottas, former Chief Head Rider at the Spanish Riding School, is coming for a four day clinic!!!

Another event that I'm pretty excited about is an equine photography course with Reg Corkum. Reg was a successful fashion photographer in Europe for years, before returning to Nova Scotia and becoming an equine photographer. He shoots some of the most prestigious horse shows in North America and we have him right here in NS!
I'm also introducing western dressage classes to the dressage shows we'll host. We're hosting Scotia Series dressage, a provincially sanctioned series that is new this year. It's a developmental series and I hope to see some new people trying dressage.
We'll offer Equine Canada shows in the future, but I'm really put out with Equine and Dressage Canada (this would take a whole post and is quite interesting), so haven't even renewed my license yet this year.
We're also establishing a small Hanoverian breeding business. We acquired a wonderful Elite Hanoverian mare (imported from Germany several years ago) last summer. She's in foal to the amazing Bellisimo M. Isabel Worth, winner of more Olympic and World Cup medals than anyone in history, recently noted the Bellisimo M mare she's currently riding, Bella Rose, is the best horse of her life, so this could be a pretty fancy foal! Okay, this is sounding like a sales pitch, but I can't contain my excitement. The foal is due May 30!!! I'll pull myself out of my work mode to post pictures and video I promise.
Q - What's the best thing that's happened so far?
A - That's easy! I met a wonderful woman, Valerie McDermott, who started Five Fires Pony Club. It's a great group of parents and kids and there are already 17 members, even before we have a facility!! Annnnd, there are five boys in the club! I love this group and feel incredibly fortunate to be involved with them. We'll offer them a lesson program and meeting space in our lounge, and generally create a warm and welcoming space where these young equestrians can meet and have fun.
Q - Any closing remarks?
A - We've got a crazy busy summer ahead of us, but things are going well now. I appreciate telling you about it - hope it wasn't commercial, but I can't write about my life without writing about this. You'll note from my riding comment above that Rogo's back home now. He came home the first of May. My next post will be back to dressage training :)
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Beautiful Appendix Quarter Horse Doing FEI Level Work

Brittany and Spiderman ride at the barn where Rogo is. I thought you might enjoy this video, as it's an Appendix quarter horse who does beautiful work at the FEI level. Brittany has trained him under Sue Fraser since Training Level. I hope she achieves her dream.
Riders in our province of NS have to travel thousands of miles to compete to get on a national Juniors or Young Riders team, so needless to say, not many make it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Massage For Rogo, and Second Level Is 'Hatching' :)

Poor Rogo hasn't been getting his due, either in writing or riding (by me). I don't want to miss this part of his development, so I better get it down.
We've been having some great rides lately, as second level gaits begin to emerge. I haven't ridden above first level before, so it's all new to me, as it is to Rogo. I'm filled with wonder and awe at seeing new gaits and movements begin to appear, almost as if by magic. I sometimes think I get how a horse is trained to walk, trot, canter. Turn, halt and rein back. What is truly amazing is the way the training can just keep growing, and growing and growing. I wouldn't trade this experience for a higher level horse any day. Participating in his development isn't to be missed. I wonder if this gets old to trainers who've trained many horses, or if it always maintains a trace of magic?
Here are some of the things that have come up recently, and the observations I'd make about them:

Rogo Gets His First Massage

Rogo had a two hour deep body massage, from a well known therapist, Allen, who flew in from Alberta (the full name escapes me - this was done at Sue Fraser's barn where he's in training and I wasn't there when it happened). I was cynical going in, but now I'm a believer. Although Rogo had been going well and wasn't overtly sore anywhere, Allen diagnosed that the right side of Rogo's back was sore. He said either the saddle wasn't right or I was really weighting the right side too much. Well, that struck a chord. As I mentioned in the past, I have something on the ball of my right foot called Morton's Neuroma. It's an incredibly painful 'ball' of nerves (currently the pain is under control thanks to a cortisone injection). To make a long story short I do weight my right stirrup far too much, and I think it's caused Rogo a sore back and me a sore foot. I'm very good a disguising this to the naked eye though - if you look at me I look nicely straight in the saddle. I know this from mirrors and also because various very good instructors don't mention to me to stop weighting the right foot. As a matter of fact, it's never come up in a lesson from anyone, despite the fact I literally bear down on it at times (I'll realize I'm doing it when the pain in the ball of my foot on the stirrup gets unbearable). The weighting doesn't translate to leaning. I'm very good at putting my weight solidly into my right seat bone and down into my stirrup, while sitting perfectly straight :).
The good news? After the treatment Rogo was beautifully forward (he's been forward again for a while, but this was even better). Also, he's been difficult to get into the outside rein when doing should in on the right rein, but after the treatment he was much improved. This still needs lots of practice to be 'perfect', but it is coming. Another improvement was suppleness / ease of bending on the left rein (he's always bent more easily to the right). I'm thinking that if I'm weighting the right side most of the time, then he gets conflicting messages when making a turn on the left rein - the reins are saying go left, the inside leg is even 'on' in the sense I lay it against his side, but the outside seat bone and stirrup are weighted, saying turn right. This would explain a lot of issues we've had.
One last observation about our post treatment ride - the 10 m canter circles were wonderful. By turning my body and looking where I was going, and with Sue constantly reminding me to stay off my right stirrup, he'd do lovely 10 m circles almost from just my seat and legs. 

OMG, I Think This Is Collection
On one recent ride, we were practicing 10 m canter circles, and as we came off the circle and onto the wall to continue down the long side I mentally prepared for him to try to surge ahead. He always gets stronger as he straightens for the long side and I waited for this to happen, but it didn't. I know I'll look back on this and cringe with embarrassment, and wish I hadn't written it, but I want to be honest too in remembering this experience - I didn't know what was happening. He lightly stayed in exactly the same tempo, with the exact same small length of stride, as he'd had on the 10 m circle. I was thinking "should I kick him forward", "why is Sue saying very good when we seem to be stalling", and so on. Pushing him forward didn't seem to be the thing to do, because it wasn't laboured. It was slower than I'm used to on a straight line, and the strides were small, but it was light and easy and bouncing - no pushing required. Dare I say it? I was almost to the end of the arena when I thought "OMG, we're doing a collected canter!". Of course he's been able to lengthen and shorten in the canter for a while now, but that's not the same. Now he's learning to use his hind quarters, and developing the strength to use them, and it's a beautiful thing :). To do this I need to remember to quietly and consistently continue my light half halts, in time with his rhythm, as we come out of the circle.

I'm Down to Riding Once A Week :(
This is the least I've ever ridden since I came back to riding seven years ago. The facility we're building is taking so much time, I can only get down for a lesson once a week (it's 1.5 hours each way). Until now Rogo had only been ridden a handful of times by anyone but me. Now he's in training with Sue. It will be good for him, but I miss him like crazy. It will be worth it in the end though, because when the facility is finished he'll move there and I'll be with him all the time. This was the only way to get a a good indoor and good lessons close to home.

And that's a good segue into my next post. I want to update you on the facility and the events we have booked already for this summer. I hope you won't think I'm going commercial on my personal riding blog. Almost all my readers are too far away to attend our events anyway. I just want to tell you about the facility and what's happening, because it's strongly tied to this blog and also because I've come to feel I 'know' many of you who I comment back and forth with and I want to tell you about it.

A final note - I got several spam comments after my last post. If it happens this time too I'll have to initiate comment moderation, but never the hated word verification! I wonder why spam filtering isn't working...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Makes Horses Addictive?

I think about this all the time, so wanted to write about it, but every sentence, phrase and word I attempt to write sounds like a tired cliche. The questions, about myself and others, come easily:
  1. What drives us to take on a responsibility that requires us to go into -15 or colder weather, several times a day, sometimes for weeks on end, to feed horses, make warm mashes, and clean stalls, even when we can't ride because of the cold?
  2. Why would a sane person, when so fortunate as to retire at 50 (potentially enjoying many years of riding), risk it all and work like a dog to be able to have even more horses and more horse activities?
  3. Why do young mothers (and fathers) go to the barn night after night -  taking lessons, training horses, spending money that's needed for many other things, tired out after a long day's work, and with many other activities clamouring for their attention?
  4. Why do we (often daily) work to the point of shaking with exhaustion and tie up ALL of our money, for those elusive moments in the saddle when it all clicks?
  5. Why do we keep riding when we go through periods of such fear that even thinking about riding makes us throw up?
  6. Why does a physician ride a gorgeous 17 hand five year old, when her doctor has told her if she falls he won't be able to put her back together?
  7. Why, instead of a relaxing vacation, do we pack up trailers and go to (what can be) the stressful world of a horse show? 
  8. Why do we get back on our horse 3 days after breaking ribs in a fall, barely able to catch a breath because of the pain, when our doctor has told us to wait 4 to 6 weeks?
  9. Why are we smiling as we shovel shit?
It does seem to me that there are similarities to addictions, as we sacrifice so much for our fleeting fix, but I have no idea how this works.
I don't have any answers to the questions I pose, I just have an awareness of a happiness that would be emptiness without the horses. These phrases come to mind when I think about what horses give me:
  • A soaring, transcending joy
  • A deeply, all encompassing, loving peacefulness 
  • A communion with another species that I experience as spiritual
I told you it would sound like tired cliches. I'll keep trying...


Saturday, January 26, 2013

It's Cold, No Really, It's COLD!

For the first time since I came back to riding seven years ago I took the week off from riding. I may have taken a day off here or there from cold, but never a week. I'll ride when it's -20 C. Either I'm getting old or turning into a wimp. Hmmm, maybe both... Just so I don't sound too callous, my -20 rides have been in an arena, bareback and mostly walking.
I don't ever remember this happening before, but Savanah and Dan (our two horses we have at home) won't drink. I know cold reduces horses' desire to drink, but they have heated buckets and they were barely touching them. Doug came up with the idea of pouring a gallon of warm water over just a handful of bran, and the Appaloosa loved it! He hovered that water like a shop vac. Savanah, the draft cross, kept smacking it with her lips and getting frustrated, but now she's learned to drink it down to get to the bran at the bottom. So that's what we're doing four times a day - a gallon of warm water on a handful of bran. So far so good, but I can see why they call this colic weather.
On a completely different topic, our indoor arena frame is up and the roof is on. Here are a few pictures:

Doug, just as the building is getting started. Treeline Project Management from here in Nova Scotia is the contractor. We've managed to use all local companies so far!

And me!

I stood back by the road trying to get it all in - it's 220' long.

I had Mom up to see the arena.

   Okay, now the roof is on and Doug and his brother Greg have taken over. Here's Greg building the kick wall (with his adorable Levi).

Two days ago we had a site meeting with our engineers and it was around -18. We weren't long heading into the work camp, seeking the comforts of the wood stove.

And here's a video on Facebook of putting up trusses.

Back at ya when I have some riding news to report. Stay warm everyone!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Several Firsts

Well I've had a week of wonderful firsts. I'll start with the subject of my blog, and one of my favorite subjects, Rogo.

1. Rogo - first time forward AND light
This happened in my lesson last Thur., Jan. 3. You may recall I struggled with Rogo from age 4 to 6 to get him forward, before achieving it last winter in my lessons with Sue Fraser. She rightly pointed out we had to get that and contact before we could do anything else. When we did get forward, it often came at the expense of control :), with Rogo sometimes taking off and generaling blowing through my aids. I'd have to use a lot of strength and innumerable half halts to steer him when he was forward.
He lost the forward again in the spring when his shoeing got off and he was off work, followed by the summer heat. We're just getting it back now. Will we keep it through the summer this time? Time will tell.
There was an amazing new development with it last Thur. though - he was sooo forward, but light as a feather. What a wonderful feeling! I've always had to really push him to do his 10 m canter canter circles, but that day he soared around them. I had to fight the urge to grab hold of him to steer, and concentrated on just steering with my seat and legs, with a little bit of rein.What an incredible feeling to have all that energized power springing under you, yet responding to your lightest aid. I was laughing and calling out to Sue how incredible it felt. I couldn't stop going over it in my head for hours, woke up in the night thinking about it and generally felt euphoric for at least a couple of days. I guess this means he's become a grown up? At seven it's time :)

2. First time doing my whole lesson in sitting trot
I did sitting trot with Savanah, but it was much easier with her. She was consistently round and her stride isn't as powerful. I find it so much easier to ride properly, time/ give aids, etc. sitting, but with Rogo it's been a struggle to sit. We do a few minutes at the end of each lesson, but on the forward but light day :) I sat all the trot work except a couple of long side mediums. His shoulder in and travers came more easily, but that was no doubt part of the forward but light phenomena as well.
When I rode the next day we did some good work, but the lightness wasn't what it was the day before. I know it's there now though. He showed me what to work towards.
The issues we need to focus on currently are the left bend and listening to my left leg, and also to keep his shoulder from leaning out on the right rein. We're doing lots of circles and serpentines, and lots of bending. I'm going to return to and keep lots of bending in the walk warm up. It seems to be the right thing for him.

3. First Piaffe
Yes, you read right - piaffe. It happened today, but not with Rogo. I was riding Doug's wonderful draft cross mare Savanah. I lover her SO much. She hadn't been ridden since the fall, with all of the other things we have going on, but I couldn't resist today. There's about 6 inches of snow on the ground and big flakes were floating down through the sunshine. I put her bridle on and off we went for a bareback ride. I love riding her bareback - she's wide and comfortable, and I feel very safe with her. Today she was very happy to be out for a hack - her snorting was so continuous that it sounded like a gigantic cat purring. As we headed for the woods and I realized how excited and energized she was I began to question the wisdom of no saddle :). I trust her though, and tried to come up with some exercises we could do to keep her busy.
It occurred to me that conditions were perfect to ask for piaffe. She passages frequently in the field, so I thought she could do it. I wanted contained energy, so this was a perfect plan :). I've never piaffed, but thought I'd try clucking while holding with my seat and lightly on / off with my hands to match the rhythm I wanted. The first time I asked she did a couple of steps and I was amazed. I asked again and she shook her head - it didn't male sense to her to be asked to go forward but stay in one place, but she tried a couple of steps again. I lavishly praised each try. The third time, a light bulb had come on with her. She knew what I wanted. She tucked her hind quarters, elevated her forehand and swayed from side to side in slow, rhythmical trot steps. Wow! She did eight steps and then I asked for walk. I was so happy and excited! I came home and Mom came out on the steps and said she'd been watching out the window and that Savanah looked like a Lipizzan stallion. Mind you Mom is biased, but not crazy, so I have a witness :) I'm going to see if she'll do it again so I can get some video. 
Doug and I are talking about breeding her and jokingly arguing over which one of us gets her foal. She just upped the ante on that argument :)
Here are a coupld of pictures of her from today, looking decidedly UNlike a Lipizzan stallion:

 I'd like to enter the above in the hairiest chin contest. Can anyone beat it?

My adorably hairy girl. Don't worry Savanah, I don't like shaving my legs in the winter either.

4. First truss up on our arena - here comes Five Fires Equestrian Centre.
 The first truss went up on Jan. 3. I'm pretty excited.

Happy New Year Everyone!