Monday, March 19, 2018


After Expo, Ashke got the next two days off, which was great because I was really exhausted. That weekend, which would be exhausting anyway, was combined with our annual Spring Forward moment. I was still fighting a feeling of overall weariness when I showed up for my ride on Wednesday. Amanda told me how incredibly proud she was of Ashke and I and then said "now you get to work on the hard stuff."

I might have gulped a bit when I asked what the hard stuff was going to be. She said, "half-pass, pirouettes, flying changes."

Yeah, all of that.

I have to say that one of the things that has become very obvious to me in the past week is that the injection in Ashke's right hock has made a world of difference in his movement, his focus and his willingness to learn all of the new things we are learning. I was struggling to ride, so Amanda got up for about fifteen minutes to work on the canter to the right. He got better with her up, and then we switched out again so I could try. I felt like a piece of hot wire pulled through a screen trying to finish up that lesson.

The next time I rode, we did this:

That was our second attempt at the canter half pass

He was having a hard time maintaining the bend. We tried it in the other direction.

Ashke wasn't sure at all what I was trying to get him to do and we didn't get the bend.
But he's trying.

Finally, a couple of solid steps to the left.

On Sunday, we rode outside and I am waiting on the photos Amanda's mom took of us. Ashke felt amazing that day. We were riding the canter serpentine with transitions through the walk, one handed, and one of the women watching said we were really close to being able to do a canter pirouette. We worked on a lot of different things, including the canter half-pass, which Amanda said he was finally putting more than two or three steps together in a row.

We are going to work on the flying change on Wednesday, with Amanda showing him what we want, and then I will try to duplicate the movement. His right hind has gotten so much stronger since the last time we tried, that I have high hopes.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Things I Learned

So, the sidepass pole seems like such a simple exercise: one rides to the pole, positions themselves perpendicular to the pole and passes sideways over the length of the pole, with the pole positioned between the horse's front and rear legs, their legs crossing both front and back.

It's so much more than that . . . the poles should be approached at a canter at my level, on the correct lead so that the horse could perform the sidepass in a canter half-pass. It also means that if a rider approaches the sidepass in the parallel position, they should sidepass over the pole that relates to the lead they approach the obstacle on.

Here is a diagram to help visualize the movement.

Not only that, but in the approach to the pole, the horse should approach fluidly, without hesitation, and pass right over the pole. Ashke and I will need to work on it. I had never put together the idea that the lead dictates the pole you should cross over first. The position of crossing the pole should be the half-pass position - shoulder fore, bend in the direction of travel.

I also had a long talk with Ashke. I explained to him that just because I was scared to show, didn't mean that I didn't want to show. I asked him to stop hurting himself right before a show so that I had an excuse to not show. We have come so far in our journey that I want him to be able to show off all of the things he knows and we've learned. I told him I would work on not being afraid and he has to work on being strong, healthy, and capable so that he's not in pain when we are doing a show. 

At this show, there was a wooden gate which could be our nemesis if I am not careful. I made the mistake of riding on Wednesday night when I was tired, sick and pissed as hell at the management of the NWSS arenas (there were supposed to be clinics until late that night and instead, we were kicked out of the arena at 5 pm and there was nothing we could do about it). I shouldn't have been riding. Ashke picked up on my stress and anger and it made him less cooperative. Funny how anger heightens fear, makes us less willing to cooperate, less willing to compromise. CS had to tell me to ride away from the gate because I was beginning to damage my relationship with my horse. She was right and it was the best advice I got during that ride. We finally managed to complete the gate one time and I didn't try it again. Then he lamed himself on Thursday and the gate became a non-event.

To explain: at the level I am riding at, if I can't complete the obstacle, I am DQ'd. The gate is one of the obstacles Ashke knows, understands, and almost could do by himself. My destructive approach on Weds night almost ruined that for us. I was able to remedy the issue on Friday in a clinic, but it wasn't a good scene. Ashke, thankfully, has a huge heart and once he realized the rules had not suddenly changed and I was not demon possessed, he settled right back to his old form. Weds night I was still working under the impression that I was going to DQ at that obstacle.

I said something to the judge about my expectation that we would have really struggled to do the wooden gate. She said in that case I should just unlatch the gate, throw it open, ride through (it was reversed for Intermediate riders) and then latch it closed behind me. I could feel my eye widen and said "that won't DQ me?" She replied that it would be a negative score - most likely a 3 - but it wouldn't be a DQ. These little tips are why you clinic. . . .

The next thing I learned is that the judge counts strides in the obstacle for cadence, rhythm and distance. For example, the number of strides between the single slalom poles. If they are the same number, the score goes up, since that means the horse is striding equally between poles. The same thing applies around the double slalom, the drums, and the figure 8. It is a great indicator of whether or not the circles are the same size. In the figure 8, if one circle is ten strides and the other circle is seven strides, you can tell that the geometry of the circles will not be equal.

The final major thing we worked on was keeping control of the outside hind leg. This has been an issue for Ashke and I for a while now, although we work on it every ride. He has a tendency to swing his hip to the left (probably to protect his right hind) when we start our canter on the right lead. Amanda is constantly telling me to hold his haunches in when we are riding the canter. So, this was not new information, just a different way of looking at something we are already working on.

At the walk, I am really working on getting him to turn off my legs and seat, with minimal hand movement. We aren't ready to move on to practicing tight turns at the trot, but it is something I will continue to work on.

In summary, I think we are at a level that is appropriate for us. I am looking forward with excitement to the opportunity to continue to work on our canter with Amanda, and then transfer that information to the EOH course at our next show. I got lots of positive encouragement and feedback from the trainers and clinicians at Expo, and although Ashke was sore and tired by the end of Saturday (and Sunday) he was able to do most of what we were asking him to do. I could tell his right hind was beginning to struggle when we were making the right lead turns for the double slalom (and he was being incredibly spooky in the big arena due to the green cattle panels stacked against the rail). I was exhausted by the end of the day on Saturday and was not riding as effectively as I could have been. All that said, we have the potential to excel at this level.

It's amazing what a little success can do to both attitude and aptitude . . . .

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


On Wednesday, during the show, I saw one of our new competitors in the warm up arena and was captivated.

SC Desert Whiff

Isn’t he a cutie?!!

I immediately went up and asked the woman about him. She said he was part Egyptian and was out of Thee Desparado. I couldn’t help myself, I went online and looked at the progeny of Thee Desparado, pulling the following pedigrees:

Ashke’s pedigree

SC Desert Whiff

So incredibly line bred. Such a nice head. It was good to watch him move, because it explains so much of what I have been working with in the past six years. Ashke has come so far. It will be fun to watch this new partnership develop this year at our shows. How many people can say there is an uncle and nephew showing in the same shows outside of Scottsdale?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Intermediate A WE Test

Wednesday was pretty stressful. At about 8:30 I took Ashke out and had KM watch him go. She announced him sound, so we planned to ride. About 8:45, I had a panic attack and told J and G that I didn’t want to show. J asked me if he was sound, I confirmed and she told me we were showing. I cried a little bit. Then Amanda got there and I mentally told myself that I would just treat the show like a lesson. We did our warm up in the alley between the big arena and the paddock arena, then cantered a little bit, reinforcing our transitions. He felt solid under me, not very spooky, and was listening well. Way to soon, it was our turn to ride.

I did a couple of things differently this ride. First, I didn’t try to hurry any of the movements. When we did our first canter-walk-canter transition across the diagonal, I thought “take two more walk steps” before we transitioned up. I think in the past the test came at me so fast that I was in reaction mode rather than proactive mode. This test felt slower, mentally, with a little time to prepare for the next movement. I also wasn’t worried about remembering the test. I have been riding the test in my mind for a couple of weeks - visualizing the moments, how he will move, how I will ride, what it will feel like. It helped a lot. 

The second thing I did was not sweat about his reaction to the ring, the judge’s table, the flowers, heavy banging noises in the rafters. We had one pretty solid spook and a bunch of bulging away from the scary thing moments and I just ignored them and kept riding. I think in past tests I’ve spent mental energy on predicting what he’s going to spook at and it’s made him worse. We’ve been working so hard at home to pay attention to what I am asking for and I just rode this test like we were at home. It seemed to help our focus and kept him from getting too tense. 

In watching the test, there are things to work on . . . . We need to use our corners better; we need to return to the rail on our canter circles; I need him a little more warmed up at the left lead canter in order for him not to break on that canter circle (this is typical behavior for him - that right hind is not as strong yet as the left and sometimes it is hard for him to keep it under him). The hock injections should help and going forward we can work on strengthening that right side. We definitely need to work on improving the canter - especially the visual difference between the collected canter and the medium canter. I’m not upset by what we did in the test, because we haven’t had a ton of time to work on it. We now have about 12 weeks to really focus on the medium trot and medium canter to refine and develop the difference visually. We also need to work on him bending more. I don’t know why we were so counterbent going into the 10 m circles, but I think it was in part due to overall tension and me not wanting to ask him to bend.

I have a tendency to ride differently in the show environment than I do at home. I need to ride the same way regardless of where I am at. . . .  It’s not fair to him that I’m riding differently. I was able to hear Amanda’s voice in my head a few times during the ride. I just need to do that more. I need to insist that he remain focused on what we are doing, not in a mean way, but by riding with my seat and legs. it’s so easy for me to forget that I have seat and legs. I didn’t drive the canter like I should have, didn’t support the collection the same way I do at home. So, the main focus of my goal is to ride the same at a show as I do at home. HA!

The things I was very happy with were his reinback. He is actually picking up his hind feet rather than dragging them in the reinback. This is a huge, huge improvement. His halts were solid and square to me. The last halt of the test I thought was one of the best halts he’s ever given me. He stopped on his haunches (I didn’t get thrown forward) with no trot or walk steps. And halted square. His leg yields looked awesome to me. And I had not moments in the test where I was worried about what I was supposed to do next (didn’t forget anything). His canter transitions across the diagonal were very, very good and he felt (and looked) very comfortable doing them. I was so very pleased.

The final score was a 57.222, the highest dressage score I’ve ever received (and proof positive that we should be riding at this level). I won the class. I was bouncing up and down with excitement. The one phase that I dread above all others was one where I finally rode a solid, respectable test. I had great hopes in improving that score in the EOH test the next day. I had a very good likelihood of winning at least two of the three phases and winning the show.

Alas, Ashke puffed his left front fetlock banging on the metal wall between his stall and the one behind him. He was off at the walk, so I scratched. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Welll look at what showed up today.
It wasn’t there yesterday, but this explains why he was getting worse with work.

Not the only thing going on with him, but at least part of the answer we were missing.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Trails Again

 Very excited Poneh.

 Gorgeous day!!

Stunning sky

Bit of a canter on the canal

Hind leg movement at the trot

It was a gorgeous day for a ride and Ashke felt wonderful.

On Sunday, when I tried to do my lesson, he was off on the left front. Not horrible, but enough. Could be diagonal pair from the right hind, but I think it much more likely he is a bit sore. We are pushing eight weeks since our last shoeing. I opted not to push.

Farrier does his feet today. Keep all the things crossed that he comes sound after the shoes are replaced.

I really, really just want to cry.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


For years now I have worried about Ashke . . . . I don't think it's possible to get a horse in the condition he was and NOT worry. It has taken years to get him where I feel he is strong and sound and fluid. The past six months have been golden and I haven't hesitated to try things I have been afraid to try. Our step up to Intermediate A has been a testament to his development and health.

All that has crashed and burned in the past two weeks. We have had a set back in our progress.

In our evaluation of Ashke's movement, both Amanda and myself believe that the release of pain in the right hock has affected how Ashke swings the right hind leg. Amanda says that there is not as much twist in the hock and I can see from the tracks on the ground that he is now stepping into his front foot print or even over stepping the front by a couple of inches. Before, his hind hoofprint was to the outside of his front hoofprint and now the hind hoof is coming down on top of the front hoofprint. The leg is swinging forward instead of inside to the outside.

That is all great news . . . however . . . it means the muscles are being used in ways that they haven't been used in the past and all of the strength and support we've developed is no longer as functional as it has been.

He's a little off. Not head bobbing lame, but sore. This is especially visible during our right canter lead and he's not able to collect his canter the way he's been able to over the past month. At this point, I'm not sure I am going to show him in our first A-Rated show next week.

I will ride this weekend, hopefully out on trail on Saturday, and then a lesson on Sunday. We will make a decision at that point if he is able to do the work we are needed to ask him to do. If the answer is maybe or no, we will skip the show. I can still ride in the clinics and enjoy Expo without pushing him to perform in the show. The last thing I want is to ride him in a show where we are both tense and trying to hard if he's not a hundred percent.