Wednesday, 26 February 2014


There are done things that just don't go together. You shouldn't drink and drive. You shouldn't go to the grocery store hungry. And you shouldn't blog while cranky.

I have had a lot of time to reflect on my ride on Wednesday, and while I admit that I am no doubt the problem, Walker is too.

This behind the bit thing is not something that happens a couple times a ride. It goes on for at least 85% of our ride. It happens 95% of the time while cantering, and 80% of the time while trotting - but only when I'm seeking contact or connection at the trot.

When it comes to the canter, it's an automatic reaction. I haven't even tried to work on connection at the canter. He tucks his head instantly. He does it on the lunge line. He does it on a loose rein. Sometimes I can convince him to come up, but contact must be minimal. Have I done something to scar him mentally at the canter? No doubt I have been excessive with the reins at some time. But I'm not as bad now and I'm extremely conscious about it.

At the trot, he starts out above the bit. Most people picture that as him trotting around with his head in the air like a giraffe like most horses do. In case you haven't been following along, Walker is not like most horses. He never trots around with his head straight up in the air. Never. Period. I actually think he finds it difficult. I've seen him try. Not his thing.

He likes his head low. In a loose rein, his nose drops to the ground. The highest it ever gets is level or a smidgeon above level. We are never going to have that high lovely arch. That's fine. Walkers way of moving works in the QH world. I'm fine with that for now.

When I ask for a trot and have contact, all is well. When I ask him to be more forward and surge into my waiting hands, he's surges forward and then behind the bit. It gets to the point where if I apply leg, he just curls automatically. When he has curled with his nose to his chest, he maintains contact because he kind of has to. In an ironic sort of way, there's usually more contact on his mouth when he's curled up like that than when I originally ask for connection.

I have had two different professionals ride him. Both drove him behind the vertical in a deep frame - not behind the bit, just a deep frame. They were both Western riders and were looking for something different. This is fine for training purposes but I can't ride him like that in a ring. 

This is not to say I haven't gotten him connected before. I have but either it didn't last or circumstances were different.

I appreciate everyone's posts. Getting a dressage trainer into my barn really isn't an option. I have been debating just going to the trainers at the barn despite their Western focus because they obviously will see the problem in this too. I've been planning to get some video and photos soon but I've been waiting for a visit from my mother to do so, since there's rarely anyone around who can take the time to tape me.

He has always been the kind of horse where people don't believe it until they do it themselves. They see me lunge or ride and assume I'm the problem and then ride or lunge him themselves and realize he's actually like that. This is not to say that I am not contributing or that they are unable to fix it. This is just me saying that I thought for a long time that everything was 100% my fault, and it really isn't. It's usually only half me.

I apologize for the long post without pictures or videos. If you made it this far, you deserve a prize. This has just become the most annoying thing I deal with every ride and it makes me feel so absolutely stupid. Horses are good at that.

From Back on Track to Off the Track

If I had written this post yesterday like I had intended, I would have had lovely things to say about bringing Walker back into work after our vacation, and him picking up where we left off on moving forward and blah blah blah.

But this is today.  And today we did not have a good ride.

That horse is going to be the death of me.  I swear.

I started working him going forward as I always do.  We've got this part down.  Really.  We do.  I have taken to carrying a dressage whip to reinforce my point.  He doesn't always have a great big surge of energy when I apply leg, but the gentle squeeze does get me forward momentum.

But we're still getting nowhere in the "on the bit" quest.  I'm starting to think that it was not meant to be.  I think that if I spent half as much energy letting Walker be a Western pony as I do trying to get him to go English, we'd be in the ribbons by now.  Just rollin' in a bed of satin.

But no.  I want to play dressage queen.  And dream about extended trots.  I don't even want to piaffe and pirourette and make my horse dance like a ballerina.  I just want to get him on the goddamn bit.

Instead he practically lives behind the bit.  I've tried it all.  I've tried transitions.  Nope.  He can do those behind the bit.  I've tried lateral work and circles.  He can do those behind the bit too.  I've even encouraged him to go above the bit, should he so desire.  Nope.  Not havin' it.

I may not be the most consistent rider.  I will admit that my hands are not that soft.  I'm not the most effective with my seat.  But the horse is forward, people.  I try to be gentle.  And horse still not on the bit.

There is a part of me that is starting to wonder if I'm getting him on the bit, thinking that he's not on the bit, and then pushing the issue until he gets behind the bit.  I try to ask people but the only response I ever get is "he's in a frame" or "he's ahead of the vertical" or "yes", neither of which is helpful to my quest.  I do not have time to teach my onlookers the difference.

Maybe I'm just overthinking it.  Maybe his version of "on the bit" just feels different than other horses I've ridden because of his background.  Maybe his idea of seeking contact is just lighter because he comes from a background where he was taught to collect on a loose rein.

Maybe I'm just incompetent or crazy.  Probably one of those.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Attitude Adjustment

Ok, L and Hillary - you win.  I bought Walker BoT quick wraps and a BoT saddle pad.  I put the quick wraps on for 30 minutes, and when I felt his legs afterwards, they were shockingly toasty.  I am converted!  I can't wait to spend more money.  I want all the things!

Other than that, Walker got a major attitude adjustment today, courtesy of my barn manager.  He was back to being a jerk on the lunge line after his mini-vacation.  He reared again, and so naturally, I assumed that he was still sore.  But then the barn manager asked if she could have a go with him... and well... he is not sore.

She worked the sassypants right off him.  And while I love a good tune-up any day, I think the most impressive part for me was standing back and watching my horse move.  Somehow you don't really get a good vantage point when you're the lunger, and boy can that pony move.

I whine harp a lot about how Walker is soooo western pleasure and he's sooooo slow and he's never going to be forward, etc. etc. etc.  But he was bookin' it on the lunge line today, with a gorgeous extended trot at one point, and leg yields to rival any fancy pants dressage horse (the leg yields were part of his "I don't want to go forward so I'm going to walk sideways and forward to see how you will react" spiel).

Anyway, I was extremely impressed so this came at a good time.  I was starting to feel down about our future again when he was coming up sore/lame.  It was a good reminder that the talent/potential is there.  I just need to harness it.  

For the record, I also think that he was sore last week.  I suspect that he was sore and then when he saw how I treated him, he decided to see how long he could milk it.  Last week I continued to ride him and work him, and he was still extremely unwilling, so I still think there was definitely something going on.  Today, he seemed fine.  Maybe the farrier is right.  Maybe it was just a matter of needing his feet done.  

Tomorrow we ride in my new BoT saddle pad! I can't contain the excitement!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Go Canada Go!

We interrupt your regular equine programming to bring you this short announcement:

Canada is kicking butt in Olympic hockey!  Gold to the women's team on Thursday and the men's team are on their way to the gold medal game after beating USA today.  Sorry my American friends!  We do love our hockey!  GO CANADA GO!

My office actually broadcast both games for us in our boardroom, which made for an exciting end of week.  According to the news, today was the least productive day across Canada all year.  No shocker there.  

In Walker land, we are currently on a mini-vacation.  I asked the barn manager to lunge him for me to see if she thought that I was crazy, but much to my surprise, she agreed with me that he seems off.  Well, in her words, she said it's either "attitude or soreness".  Funny how the answer to all of Walker's problems always includes attitude to a certain degree.

I was all set to call the vet but then the farrier convinced me to wait until he did Walker's feet.  I swear that man is telepathic.  I can imagine him driving along the highway when his spidey senses start tingling and he thinks, "she is going to call the vet [and the vet is going to tell her to do the opposite from what I have told her]".  Seriously.  I haven't talked to him in months.  And he calls me ten minutes before I call her.

He came out today and ended up pulling Walker's elevated pads.  I'm not quite sure why and intend to give him a call, especially since during our last conversation he was all about the pads.  I suspect that he found a ton of thrush under there because we've been battling it in his hind feet as well.  

Every time he talks to me, he wins me over with his rational conclusions and silver tongue.  Then he disappears like a fairy godmother.  Who knows when I'll hear from him again.  

Oh well.  I don't care if he bibbidy bobbidy boos his way to soundness.  I'll take it.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Ordinary Equestrians I Admire

There are a lot of equestrians I admire - Ian Millar, Reed Kessler, Buck Brannaman, Jane Savoie, etc. (my admiration knows no disciplines).

But there are a lot of everyday equestrians whose names you don't know that I also admire.

Like my friend, K.  She works two jobs and approximately 65 - 70 hours a week.  She comes to the barn five days a week, does groundwork for about an hour and a half, and then rides for an hour.  She's currently working two horses.

Or my barn owner.  We may have our differences, but he still amazes me.  He wakes up at 5 a.m. every morning, comes to the barn for 6 a.m., works two horses, and gets to work for 9 a.m.  Whenever he trains horses, he likes to train two at a time because apparently one is not enough work.

Or the sulky drivers at the racetrack down the street.  They fascinate me.  They are out working their horses every morning at 8 a.m.  This would not be so spectacular if I didn't live in the Maritimes.  I mean, snow.  Need I say more?  I assume that the track gets plowed, but these men drive sulkies, not sleighs.  Yet they are out there in all types of weather, and when I drive by in my car, all I can think is, "wow, those ponies are fit".

What makes a good horse person, you ask?  Hard work.  Determination.  Resilience.

I admire hard working individuals in all walks of life, but I think that it's the back breaking, sweaty, grueling conviction that makes you stop and say, "yep, there's a horse person." Whether you have a groom that tacks your horse up for you or you keep him in a shack in the back yard, we each of us only get somewhere by swinging that foot over the saddle and doing the time.

You know something's wrong when...

Lately Walker has been pretty bad going to the right.  He drifts into the centre, he sometimes picks up the incorrect lead, and his leg yields out to the rail (to the left) are horrible.

This isn't surprising.  It's his right front that is worse than his left, and his hind right is stiffer than his left making it difficult for him to cross over.

However, you know when you get that sneaking feeling that you should not simply chalk something up to a lack of fitness and a little stiffness...

Well, Saturday I decided to almost exclusively work Walker to the right.  Don't get me wrong.  We warmed up in both directions, and we ultimately worked in both directions.  But we worked primarily to the right because I'm a slave driver I wanted to see if I could get some good quality work in.

Walker was not impressed.  I mean, he was so unimpressed that a couple times he actually tried to change directions on his own.  I'm not talking an hour of work in one direction here, people.  I'm talking a 25 minute ride total - warm-up included.

Then tonight I decided to just lunge him.  Once again, I lunged him in both directions but worked primarily to the right.  And he reared on the lunge line.  Facing my head, of all things.  

I was shocked since I've only ever seen him rear once (with another rider on him) and he has never even threatened to rear on the lunge line before.  But there was something about the way he reared.  He was extremely calm. It wasn't a crazy "oh my god I can't contain my energy" rear and it wasn't a "flipping me the bird" rear either.  It was more of a slow, assertive "we are done this now" rear.  

It soon may be time to xray those toes again...

Meanwhile, in Canada:

I went to bed and there was pavement on the ground.  I woke up to that.  In the course of three days, some cities here got 80 cm of snow (2.6 feet).

You southerners can just take your sunshine and shove it.  

Friday, 14 February 2014

Happy Valentine's Day, Saps

Today was a whirlwind day.  Between an impending snowstorm (that eventually fell through) and some crazy life drama, I came home from work and really just wanted to crash on the couch.  In fact, I was all set to do just that when I thought, nope.  I have to see my Valentine.

And he was waiting for me with his velvety soft nose to give me kisses.  I mean, who needs a man when you can have this:

Me and my Valentine

I hope you all got to be with your loved ones today - horsey or otherwise!

PS: I found out today that I passed the bar exam.  I guess I might end up a lawyer after all.  Thank god.  'Cuz lord knows my Valentine ain't cheap.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Just another day at the looney factory

On Sunday I wasn't really feeling good, but I felt compelled to go to the barn.  I decide, you know what, I'm going to just get on my horse without lunging.

I love my horse for being the kind of horse that you can do that with.  While everyone cautioned again and again that this was a horrible plan since the horses have been a little wild lately, I just threw my leg over and Walker ambled off at a turtle speed.

Let's be honest.  The one time this horse has ever been fresh, he had been on stall rest for 9 months.

Gorby Guts devouring his apples
We worked a lot on lateral moves as I had promised and also on circles.  Although I'm happy with how forward he has been going large, he loses impulsion in the corners and on circles.  So we worked on a 20 metre circle to remedy that.

The circle also gave me the chance to work on lateral movements because I constantly had to leg yield him in or out to stay consistently on the circle.  He was ok but not as light as I wanted him.

We also worked on actual leg yields.  I was really happy going right - like I wish I had videotaped it happy.  Going left was a whole lot of just crossing the diagonal and screw the leg yield.  Meh.  Next time.

Then the lady who I have been helping brought her horse into the arena.  She started lunging while I was riding, and her crazy ex-racehorse standardbred mare managed to rip free of its halter and took off careening around the arena.

No big deal.  Just an angry Walker-hater mare galloping at us with its teeth bared while I'm riding my horse and its owner is chasing after it.

Once again, I say: "Thank god I have a sensible horse".  His response to this was like, "What is wrong with that mare" and continued on about his business until I got to a place where I could dismount safely (i.e. not be run over) and help her catch the horse.

Just another day.

PS: Check out Hillary's contest.  I want soap.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

A Case of the Mondays (and Tuesdays)

Monday Walker was still a little winded, so we had a short ride, all trot, no canter.

On Tuesday, in an effort to nip this in the butt, I decided to lunge him and then ride bareback.  I knew that if I rode bareback, I wouldn't work him as hard because I would be working myself much harder so that I didn't fall off.

We did a little jogging and some cantering.  Nothing too exciting.  It has been awhile since I've done any bareback work, and needless to say, my body was feeling the burn pretty fast.

On Wednesday we got our weekly snow storm.  I'm not even kidding.  It has snowed every Wednesday for about a month.

Saturday I rode again with the lady I helped out last week.  We rode together this time, and I encouraged her to trot for almost 30 minutes (which is about 20 minutes longer than last week, and 30 minutes longer than she would have trotted on her own).

When we were done our ride, she told me that she loved riding with me and that I gave her the confidence she needed.  Which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Then she gave Walker an apple as a treat and I'm sure he felt all warm and fuzzy inside too.

Walker didn't work that hard on Saturday because I was trying to make sure that we weren't in her way, but after she left the arena, I did a little cantering to see where he was at with the huffing and puffing.  Three circles going large in each direction was enough to have him puffing, but I can't forget that I also lunged him hard before we rode.  He has always been one to pant while he canters anyway.

The three (well, six) circles was a good baseline though.  Perhaps I'll use that to help increase his fitness level, if that's really the problem.  I am starting to think it's a combination of still being out of shape (which is understandable since he's only been back to consistent work for a month or so) and also the weather.  It has been fluctuating a lot here.

Now I'm off to the barn again today.  I'd like to get him as responsive off the leg laterally as he has become going forward.  Dare I dream!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Lazy Crazy

Walker was lazy crazy on Sunday.  I can't explain it other than that I put him on the lunge line, and he was completely fine - not fresh, not contrary, nothing.  But every so often, for random reasons I couldn't explain, he would take off like a rocket ship, buck or do something mustang-like, and then totally go back to jogging like a WP horse.  

Under saddle, he was panting to the point that I was nervous.  At one point, he actually took a giant intake of breath as we were cantering - we had, after all, cantered one half of the arena.
He's definitely out of shape, but I don't recall him panting this hard the other day.  He only got a couple days off.  Usually he breathes heavy at the canter (because lord knows how hard it is to do work), but then calms down once we slow down.  On Sunday he continued to breathe heavy after I stopped cantering and was really puffing during our forward trot session.

Needless to say, I only rode for about 25 minutes because it seemed imprudent to push too much.  Maybe it was just a fluke or the warmer weather.  I'll have to keep an eye on it.

I also ended up giving an impromptu riding lesson on Sunday.  Because lord knows I'm oh so qualified for that (*imagine that said with extreme sarcasm).

One of the ladies wanted to get on her horse and didn't want to be alone in the arena, even though we were all in the barn.  To give you context: she is just a beginner rider and owns a four year old off the track (although never raced) standardbred which she acquired greenbroke as a two or three year old and who has had one year of professional training.

Need I say more?

To the horse's credit, I actually think she's fairly beginner-safe, but she's extremely forward, which really isn't this lady's thing.  She takes lessons on another horse and is very diligent with her groundwork, but she doesn't ride her very much.  

She's also the heartless wretch mare that beats up Walker in the field.  She has attitude a plenty.

In terms of helping her out, I think she really just wanted reassurance that the horse wasn't going to freak out or take off if she squeezed her legs too tightly.  Of course, my response to every slight misbehaviour is "boot her!" which she does not do.  But I did help her get her trotting a bit around the arena, which she seemed appreciative of.  A good ride for all, I guess.

Missed a Spot

When I moved into my apartment in May, I was most excited about the storage room.  Why?  Because I was going to turn it into a tack room extraordinaire!

And I did.  In fact, for months, the rest of my apartment stayed a disaster while my tack room was pristine.

After I wrote the bar, my mom came to visit, and she pretty much cleaned and organized everything in my apartment.  Everything but my tack room of course.  And for good reason.  Because it looked like this:

Which is me saying that I think I have a day of cleaning/organizing ahead of me soon.  

In other news, my ride on Wednesday was a success.  I decided to scrap all the bad vibes that came out of Tuesday and just work on something completely different.  I decided that while I am super excited about how forward he is getting off my leg, he is still being lazy about his lateral movements off my leg.  Forward, yes.  Sideways, no.  There's still a whole lot of kicking going on.

Ironically enough, I did not necessarily solve these problems but ended up solving my problems from Tuesday.  Isn't that always how it goes?  Because my brain was focused on something else entirely, I was able to get Walker to canter nicely in both directions, although of course the weakness persists slightly to the right.  

I'm actually so happy with Walker's progression.  There was a time when you would have to kick at every stride with big Western spurs on to get this horse to move his butt.  Now I can gently drape my legs on his side and he will go.  It's so easy to get caught up in the next step in your training that you don't realize all the progress you've made so far.  

So cheers to Walker.  He drives me to drink, but perhaps he doesn't get enough praise for being a totally awesome, incredibly intelligent, level-headed and lovable pony.  And he's cute to boot!

PS: Don't forget to check out SheMovesToTexas for her breeches giveaway.  Apparently it is unacceptable to wear breeches to the grocery store :P