Sunday, 30 November 2014

Walker's new bestie

I haven't had much of a chance to post recently but I thought I would let everyone know about Walker's new best friend.

In the great hullabaloo of my instructors barn shutting down, my instructor needed a place for her retiree. There happened to be a spot at Walker's barn so she ended up moving him there.

Enter Kobi. The 25 year old ex-eventing OTTB with one eye.

Slightly creepy but you get used to it.

Walker was completely intrigued from day one.  Of course, he didn't want to wait for the new horse to acclimatize. He insisted on being best friends immediately. 

He actually went to great lengths to get to Kobi on the other side of the fence. I wish I had caught all of it on camera. He was trying to rip Kobi's blanket off and everything. So we only waited one day to put them together.

Walker thinks that Kobi is great. Despite being older, he has a ton of energy and can gallop circles around my little slow quarter horse. But Walker still wants to be the boss of course and Kobi still lets him. It also works great for Kayden because now Walker doesn't insist that he play with him. Which is fine for the poor old guy.

It has been awhile since Walker has had a friend he loves so much. The two of them are as thick as thieves. 

Every pony should be so lucky to have such a friend (or minion, depending on how you see it)


My barn owner found Walker lying sprawled out in the field a week or two ago.

He wasn't eating grass.

Her first reaction?  He must be dead.

"Oh hey!"
Not dead.
This pretty much says all you need to know about my horse.  And my barn owner really.

Dear Santa

Walker and my cat Chester wrote their Christmas letters to Santa this weekend.  I think most of all, they would each be very excited with treats.  They are a food oriented lot.

Don't judge me.  You know your horse has a wish list too!
On Black Friday, I got some great deals for Walker.  Greenhawk was having a 15% off sale so I popped by to pick up his supplements in bulk.  I've been buying the 1kg package, but I was able to order a 5kg.  It's already cheaper to buy it in bulk and the sale applied as well.  

I also grabbed Walker a stable blanket which was on clearance in his size for $60.  I now feel much more content about our Winter options.  We can combine a few blankets and he'll be plenty toasty.

All in all, I saved about $90 at the sale which makes me one very happy shopper.

The cat is a realist.
And I now have a PO Box in Maine.  Oh, Smartpak.  You thought you could avoid shipping to Canada.  Little did you know that we Canadians will go to great lengths for good deals!

Getting a PO Box was probably the worst thing to happen to my bank account in a long time.  The options are endless now!


Just when I thought things couldn't get worse...

They got worse.

I thought that I would have until probably the Spring to decide on whether or not I was going to follow my instructor to wherever she was going to go, but she just texted me the other day and told me that she is starting lessons at the new barn immediately.  She said that there will still be some horses at the current barn, but if I wanted to ensure a proper horse for me, it would probably be better if I went to the new place.  And everyone in my lesson is gone too...

Oh, and the new place isn't 40 minutes away, it's an hour away.

And lessons are going to be more expensive.

So now my lessons are ending earlier, getting more expensive, and moving somewhere ever farther away then I originally thought.


I feel especially bad for the boarders, and my new friend who just barely bought a new horse.  She told me that if she had thought that the barn was going to close, she never would have bought this horse.  

I do have a few options, but none of them are really desirable.  My instructor can offer me lessons until the end of the month at the current barn, as I already mentioned, or else I can go to the barn that is an hour away whenever I want for the increased price.  Lessons would be on Sundays, which as far as I can tell would pretty much be the entire afternoon by the time you drove and tacked and lessoned.  I might try it every so often but I work on Sundays sometimes and I'm not always around on the weekends.  I can't commit to every Sunday.

Another option, which really intrigues me, is riding her retired eventer Koby.  Koby just moved to Walker's barn as a retirement home.  He is a 25 year old OTTB who has one eye, but he is apparently still rideable.  He seems like a handful (since this guy was her big time eventer once).  Also, until I met Koby, I have actually never met an OTTB in person, believe it or not.  Needless to say, he is a little more full of it than my QH.  Unfortunately, my current barn doesn't have an arena - indoor or outdoor - so our lessons would be in the paddock.  They would also have to be on weekends because it gets dark on weekdays long before I leave the office.  So I have filed the idea in the back of my mind for future consideration.

Unfortunately, this transition period is even more difficult because it's Winter.  All these options are outdoor arenas.  The ground keeps freezing and thawing and then freezing again to ice.  The footing will simply not always be suitable. It's hard to drive long distances in snow storms and the short days limit lesson times.

Winter sucks.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Imbalance for Balance

This past week it rained and snowed and we were unable to ride.  We had a lesson anyway, which can be a nice thing - to be able to focus on our riding without horses.

My instructor had us do a number of exercises in the barn to help us simulate the feelings we should have while riding.

For instance, we practiced walking the catwalk of the barn aisle.  As amusing as this became (especially with our sole male lesson goer full-on strutting), the idea was actually to show us a couple things.  First, it showed us how our horses should be moving - with stretched out limbs, not short choppy strides.  Second, it simulated the feeling we should have in our lower backs and hips - the swinging, figure eight movement that we often force or resist while riding.

Another exercise we did was a contact one.  One person wore the bridle (this was picture-worthy, but alas, I have no proof) with the headstall around our necks and our hands on the bit.  The second person got into riding position behind and drove the first person.  This also went downhill. Think fake horse race down the aisle.

Anyway, the point was also twofold.  The horse had to react to the rider - slow down if contact got too heavy and speed up if contact got too light, or of course, turn if it was uneven.  This was difficult as the horse and frustrating as the rider because it really showed our unevenness.  The horse was also blind since we weren't facing the rider.

About the point I insisted on cantering my fake horse down the aisle, my instructor took over being the horse and me and my partner got to see how bad we really were for contact.  I learned that I am way too heavy in the hands (which I already knew).  She kept backing up into me before we ever got started, and I realized that I am probably about 10x too heavy.

Of course, we are all uneven too.  And I learned that in order to fix those imbalances, we had to be imbalanced.  This last point really threw us all for a loop but it made more sense when she showed us.

For instance, I am stiffer and less fluid in my left hand, so she made me pick up a noticeably stronger contact with my right.  To me, it didn't feel balanced at all, but as the horse, she felt more comfortable.

Similarly, when we practiced standing on the ground in riding position, she had me almost bend more to the right.  My right knee blocked out my right toe, but I could still see my left toe.  She said that it might feel like I was bending to the right, but from face on, I was actually more straight in the lower legs.  In other words, when I'm riding, my left side is more stiff and to compensate, I need to put more weight into the right.

For me, I think the most useful portion was the contact part.  I knew that I was heavy, but I didn't realize that I was that heavy.  Especially considering that I was less heavy in our fake situation than I normally am when I ride.  It left a lot to think about.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Battle of the Disciplines

I believe that there is not enough appreciation among horse people for each other's disciplines.

At this point, I feel like I have had exposure to quite a lot of them.  I have ridden Western Pleasure with Walker.  I have ridden with both a Hunter and an Eventer trainer, the latter of whom also focused a lot on Dressage.  One previous instructor of mine was a Reiner and another was a Cow Penner.  I have a friend that barrel races.  I have ridden her racer, watched her shows, and talked for long hours about the discipline.

Baby, I have seen it all.

And guess what?  You are all right.

Velvety noses: the equestrian symbol of love

The entire time I have been riding - both when I rode as a kid and when I started again as an adult - there was a serious hate-on between barns, between instructors, between disciplines.  I'm not just talking English vs Western here.  No.  There's a lot of Western Pleasure vs Barrel Racing, Eventers vs Hunters, etc etc etc.

My friend is currently in a bad situation where she moved her barrel racer to a WP barn.  She is excited to learn some WP training techniques because she thinks they will be beneficial for her new four year old.  That being said, she's a barrel racer and has no intentions of showing WP any time soon.

There is an instructor at her barn who is all over her.  And I mean, crazy all over her.  She pretty much told her the other day that everything she did was wrong, she was going to ruin her horse, and she would be better off not riding.

Yeah.  I kid you not.  Needless to say, my friend is no longer interested in learning anything about WP.

And sadly enough, this is not uncommon for me.  Many of the barns in my area have a full on hate for eachother.  They think the others are nuts, and since I have ridden or had exposure with quite a few of them, I am perpetually told how lucky I am to have escaped from my last barn/instructor/discipline.

As I have mentioned time and time again, I am really enjoying my current lessons, especially the lunge lessons.  They have really showed me what it will take to ride Dressage/Eventing and the way my body needs to move to do it.

It makes perfect sense.  And you know what else?  I'll be damned if I do that on Walker.

That just won't work for him.  End of story.  No more discussion.  He wasn't trained that way.  He doesn't move that way.  He shouldn't have to.  Maybe some horses could make that change, but he's not one of them.

And furthermore, the way I ride Walker is not wrong.  When he's on - when we're on - he moves beautifully.  He can collect.  He can use his body just as nicely as the horses do in my English class, and we accomplish those goals in a completely different way.  And he looks different for it.

Similarly, my friend has time and again explained to me the grueling training that she does for barrel racing. No.  She doesn't just hop on her horse like some yahoo and take off at dangerous speeds around barrels, health and safety be damned.  She works hard.  She trains her horse just like anyone else.

The things I learn from my Eventing instructor make perfect sense.  They make perfect sense for Eventing.  But the things I have learned from my other trainers make perfect sense for those disciplines too.  There is not one right way or wrong way to do things.

Seriously, folks.  The outside world thinks we're crazy enough.  We should really be having eachother's backs.
Just a WP QH and a old pro Dressage Queen hanging out together.
Take a page from their books, kids.  We can all get along.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Born Under an Unlucky Star

I have believed for awhile now that there are cosmic forces at play which do their best to make sure I can not have, ride, or enjoy horses.

But now Walker is going to make a full(-ish) recovery and lessons have been going fantastic.  In fact, I feel like I've learned more about position and the correct use of my body in the last month of lessons than I ever have .

However, one thing I have decided is that Walker's English days are done.  All that I'm learning from my current lessons are counter intuitive to the way I need to ride Walker.  He just won't have any of it, and that's perfectly acceptable.  He enjoys Western, and I think that together we are going to try some new ventures - not just WP, but maybe some trail, and he's going to do therapeutic riding.  Besides the fact that although he is improving, I still don't believe that he will ever be able to show too competitively without risking his soundness.

This is fine though because of my current lesson program.  My instructor is great.  She is cheap.  She gives me opportunities galore.  They are a barn family in no way I have ever seen it before, and they were welcoming me into their family before I even rode there.  They go to clinics together, shows together, and they hang out together on the weekends.

And now the barn is closing.

Yep.  The barn owner has decided he is going to shut it down come next November.  But given that Winter is a horrible time of year and they would like to show next year, my instructor is on the mad hunt for a new facility now that will accomodate all of her lesson horses and all of the boarders who want to stay in the family.

I mean, no big deal, right.  She just has to find a completely empty barn in Atlantic Canada for about 15+ horses.

Anyway, surprisingly enough, she found two barns, one which is big enough for all the boarders and one where she can put her lesson horses.  Both barns are about 40 minutes away.

What does this mean for me?  It essentially means my lessons are done.  They have decided to move any day now.  Within the next few months hopefully, but you never know.

Riding at the new barn would mean two things.  One, that I would no longer be riding with the people I ride with because almost every single one of them have their own horse.  They would be at the boarder barn.  That means I would ride with the children.  And when I say children, I mean kids under the age of 12.

Two, riding lessons on a weekday would be out of the question.  I realize that a lot of you travel that distance, if not more to the barn, but I would never make it.  I work late almost every day and I find it a hassle as it is to get to the barn that is 10 minutes away.  Riding lessons on the weekend would be possible but infrequent at best.  I'm simply not around every weekend.  Sometimes I'm working, sometimes I'm travelling, sometimes I'm just playing catch-up on the week.  And that is the time I always use to go visit my horse.

My instructor has offered to teach me lessons on Walker, but of course he can't be jumped and I'm fairly adamant that I'm going to let him be a Western horse for multiple reasons which range from his unsuitability for English to his soundness (and my desire to keep him that way).

So that, as they say, is that.

I will try my best to join her lesson program at the new barn, but I am not too optimistic.  My other options for lessons are also relatively undesirable (non-English barns or else barns that are too far away or else instructors who need me to have my own horse who can do those things).  So I guess I better enjoy the time I have, which isn't much.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Lesson Recap: My body doesn't move like that

Last week, we got to jump, which was the first time I've jumped in almost all year!  Which I really just realized as I was trying to hold some sort of semblance of two point over crossrails.

We started out with just poles, went up to crossrails, and after knocking them down and looking like a lunatic, we went back down to poles until we could be trusted to keep our heads on straight and go back up to crossrails.

Mostly I think I was just thinking too hard, trying not only to get my two point, but to do my two point properly - the way we've been working on with our leg position.

It was good to jump again though, even if I did it in the dark on the back of a 16-year old Canadian whose stomach was maybe the size of a round bale.

This week we did another lunge lesson, and although it is nice to jump, I am finding the lunge lessons amazing.  I'm learning so much about my body position not just in the saddle, but outside.

For instance, my instructor mentioned that I seem to twist my left leg out making my left side less strong and causing a shooting pain in my hip when I sit correctly.  But of course this makes perfect sense because I actually walk with my left leg twisted out.

This week I had a serious revelation about the length of my stirrups, which have pretty much been wrong for two and a half years.  I've always been fine with the length in a Western saddle, but when I was taught the proper length of the stirrups for an English saddle (ankle height or above ankle, depending), I was lifting my legs up a bit to find where my ankles should be.

Which means that this whole time, my stirrups have been too short because I wasn't properly letting my legs fall down long.  Talk about a world of difference when I was actually able to stretch my leg to the proper position.  Mind.  Blown.

I am starting to get a little nervous about Winter though.  For one thing, I almost froze to death on Monday.  I was clearly unprepared for the weather.  It was that kind of cold where you just want to lay down in a snow pile and die - you know, not to be dramatic.  Anyway, it is dark all night now and soon the ground will freeze.  There's no indoor arena and I don't know what our options are going to be.  Hopefully she has something planned.