Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Two lessons in a row now . . .

I rode Ashke through the stuff we have been working on, then handed him over to the Magnificent Amanda. A week ago, she got some solid counter canter and two clean flying changes.

Last night, same process, only this time the flying changes were smoother, cleaner and more prolific. At least a baker's dozen via a figure 8, then a half dozen in a serpentine dance. He is smooth and easy from the right lead to the left and is figuring it out going from left to right. Mostly, Amanda thinks the left to right is a timing thing for him. She also said he understands the aid: shift of her weight, new outside leg back to shift the hips and a half halt and he pops right over. Maybe next week, I will try to get the timing down with him after she reminds him of what we are working on.

He had a puffed chest and satisfied look in his eye at the end.

Also, Pixem is on its way, so the potential for lots of media starts next week. For this week, I am Technical Delegate for the National Championship of Working Equitation in Magnolia, TX. Looking forward to working with some amazing people this weekend.

See you on the flip side.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Show Season 2018

My ribbon display at work.
All from the shows this year.

This is a look back post over this past year, highlight our show season, but also reviewing the steps we’ve made in training, confidence and growth as a partnership. Plus, an evaluation of our overall performance from this year. To start, we need to go back to the end of last year and where I was mentally in this process of learning a new discipline in a brand new, growing sport.

From my post on the last show last year, October 2017:
“I’m at a cross roads right now. I love the discipline of Working Equitation and have been in love with the idea ever since I was introduced to the concept back in 2013. I think it is amazing. I have worked countless hours on improving my riding, and have seen Ashke attains some personal best moments I didn’t think we would ever reach. However, none of that matters when I ride in a show. I scored the lowest score of the season on my dressage test in this show.

I realized standing in the indoor arena at Circle Star watching the wind stream past the open door carrying seed pods and dust from Wyoming, that I’m not having fun. It seems like my goal of achieving a 58% is receding further and further from my reach and I felt dread at the idea of trying to ride the Ease of Handling phase during this show. So many people tell me I should be enjoying this, but I’m not. I’ve lost the passion and excitement I had when I first considered this discipline. It’s not fun any more.”

Sometime after this post, I recognized that I needed to make some changes in both my approach and my attitude when it comes to Working Equitation. First, I acknowledged that despite my protestations to the contrary, I want to do well on my tests, show improvement and advance our skill set. The second thing, Ashke needs to learn to be on the bit, working through the back, and I could no longer make excuses for his behavior. Boundaries. We needed them. So, instead of trying to rush him into lead changes (neither of us was really ready), I worked on correcting the issues that was causing us to get low scores on our tests. I needed to insist and he needed to obey. (He will never be a submissive horse, nor would I want that, however, he can learn to be obedient to my requests.) What I didn’t expect when I set out to change those two things is that we would find a passion for this kind of riding, a desire to work on the things we were doing in our lessons, and the other goals of the year faded away. We have done very little outside the sand box riding this year because I have been obsessed with getting better at the stuff we are working on in our lessons.  It has been a year of discovery and exploration. It has been a year of developing his ability to move through different exercises in our dressage training. It has also been a year of me learning to ride more effectively, to be more consistent in my application of my aids and in learning how to get our of our ride what I want. And more importantly, we began to enjoy ourselves. I could have made the choice to not ride in a show, in conjunction with my decision last fall, but as I began to really enjoy the dressage movements, I wanted to see how that translated under saddle in front of a judge.

We competed in seven rated shows this year. We had one scratch (Expo) and one DQ (July show), with solid scores in all of the shows. Our lowest dressage score of the year was 56.944 at the September show when we were dealing with pain in his left hock. Our best was 62.222% in July. We were consistent and persistent in our approach and I think one of the biggest differences has been in my attitude and approach to showing. I have been actively working on reducing anxiety prior to my show. With our show format this year, the second day I had very little emotional response to the show, powered by my confidence from having shown the day before, and in part by physical exhaustion from showing two days in a room. My scores were a tad bit lower on the second day, which I credit to fatigue and not being as effective in the use of my aids. Ashke is also a little calmer on the second day, since he had worked the obstacles the day before. Our tension as a team seems to effect the dressage scores from my being tense, and from him on the EOH course from being around decorations and obstacles. All in all, I have to put this show season in the win column for both of us. 

In our final dressage test, the thing I see is a horse that is no longer experiencing discomfort. Getting both hocks injected is one of the best things I’ve done for him. He looks comfortable and is no longer using his tail as a sign of his discomfort or effort at doing what he is asked to do. Watching our last test of the year showed me exactly how happy he was to be in the ring. I see so much less tension in my body, and I have worked on the technique to help keep me that way. Thumbs up. Armpits down. Keep the reins short enough to not bounce the contact (still need to work on this in the show ring.) And consistent aids throughout. 

The other part is Ashke’s attitude. He likes being in the spotlight. He was bred to show himself off in the show ring and I see a lot of pride and flash in him as we made our way around the ring. Sapphire, who was the first to suggest WE to me years ago, and who has followed our progress without fail, says she could see him having fun in that last test. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Have we turned in the right direction? I think we have. We started the year at Expo, where he hurt himself the night after our dressage ride and I had a serious conversation with him the next morning about how I wanted to show, that yes it filled me with anxiety, but that wasn’t his fault, and that he no longer had to hurt himself to give me an excuse not to go into the show ring. I acknowledged that he was destined to be a show horse and that I would work to get past my anxiety so he could shine.  He has been sound ever since. And with the exception of the September show, I think he has gotten stronger and experienced less pain than in years past.

Perhaps his hesitation and “spookiness” in McCook stemmed from his expectation of pain in the EOH ride. That was the first EOH course we had ridden since the show in September. He might have been anticipating it to hurt and was acting out of self-defense. Or he was just being an arabian with opinions. Either way, I will continue to expose him to decorations, obstacles and outside environments in an effort to work through his snorting, opinion filled behavior. He will develop obedience. We will learn how to do this with an attitude of trust and confidence. When I told Amanda about his behavior in the EOH class, her first response is that we’ve neglected to practice the obstacles. That, and we didn’t have the opportunity to do a dress rehearsal ride the weekend before the show. Both of those have helped in prior shows, so just working the obstacles should help us improve. And I might need to do some “Spook busting” exercises to get him obedient in the face of the unknown. That and consistency are the only things I know to try to mitigate his tension and desire to spook.

I am going to post our first and last dressage test of the year. The videos are shot from different vantage points, so that makes it a little difficult to evaluate, however, the thing I take away is the difference in Ashke. He is more muscled, moves more surely, and is more effective in his movements. He just looks better. 

Expo A-Rated show, March 2018

McCook B-Rated show, October 2018

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Fall Harvest Show: Ease of Handling

Sunday dawned wet and cold, which left me aching all over my body and feeling lethargic. A lot of the Intro riders packed up as we got our horses ready for the Ease of Handling course.  The best part of the course walk through was the sidepass poles, which were set in a line. You approached the obstacle on the left lead, cross the first pole with left bend (in a half-pass position), move almost to the second pole, change bend and set forward into a turn on the haunches, then cross the second pole in a right bend (in a half-pass position). I just find it an elegant obstacle when it is set up that way. I choose the cleanest and shortest lines that made sense to set Ashke up without exhausting his hind end. I had been a little worried about the livestock pen, which was made out of feed buckets (cute idea), but most horses didn’t seem to care. 

We started our walk warm up early, so he could stretch and get moving easily. I did remember to tighten my girth. We did a lot of turning and stopping off my seat with a loose rein. So much of the EOH has to be done in the collected canter that it is a fine line between getting him warmed up and making him too tired to hold himself properly. We did a little bit of sidepass but mostly we just walked and trotted waiting our turn.

Scary ass bull

When we rode into the EOH arena to begin our first circle around, Ashke’s tension shot through the roof. He started snorting and shying at everything: the people in the stands, the barrels, the side panels, the decorations. I felt like the soft, relaxed horse I had was transformed into a tension filled time bomb. I put him in a trot and asked him to relax, with not great results. A year ago, that would have made me tense and upset, but I just figured that was going to be the horse I had on that day. There’s no sense in getting upset about it, but rather I needed to be calm and non-reactive and give him the best ride I was capable of giving. (I do think I need to start working the obstacles more, however). His biggest issues seemed to be the drums in the center back of the arena and the Garrocha pole/bull/barrels. The fact that the first obstacle was the bull didn’t help, but there was nothing I could do but ride him as if none of this mattered, keeping my mind focused on the goal. 

The 3 on the first obstacle was completely deserved. It felt as badly as it looked. He wanted nothing to do with the barrels. He didn’t back as well as he usually did in the bell corridor, which was entirely due to tension, since the little bugger never relaxed. The parallel slalom was absolute crap to ride because he kept spooking at the drums wrapped in the American flag (I know, I find them scary too). On the bridge, that little hesitation was a full body flinch at a flower just like the other flowers he was walking past. Again, he was shifting in the switch a cup. Really need to work on him standing still and square. The pitcher as well. He so didn’t want to walk up next to the barrel and he always shifts when we are there. Our gate in both directions was good, although we can now start to work on maintaining our bend and being on the bit while we do it. His jumps were awesome and I heard from a couple of other people that they were the best in the show. He had no hesitation there. 

I need to work on those two obstacles as we go forward. Thankfully, we have six months to address the issues with Amanda’s help. I just need to get Little Yellow Jacket to the barn to practice with the Garrocha. He did feel so much better at the canter and in collection than he did two weeks ago, so I am pretty sure we are on the correct path as far as addressing the issues with his hocks.  The other thing that really stood out to me was that I didn’t get upset. I was expecting a lower score for sure and was pleasantly surprised at the 60.50%. As Amanda said when we discussed it during our lesson this week, our bad rides are still better than our good rides were a year ago, so that is some awesome progress. And in watching the video (thanks J) I can see some really good moments. Plus, the bad moments don’t look as bad as they felt. 

After the EOH, the course was reset, we did a quick walk through and then we started the Speed round.

We did not race speed. I knew before the round started that I 1) had qualified for the National Show in 2019 if I didn’t DQ during the speed round, and 2) could not win my division (there were only two of us), so I opted to keep him in hand, let him move a little faster where I could but not push. So, we didn’t canter the bridge (not going to risk injuring his hock with a slip), we didn’t race through like we have in the past and just in general went a little more carefully. Perhaps I am maturing some what. There is always next year and although there is competition, I was looking for a personal best under this judge (got it) so I was happy.

After the Speed round, we did awards and took down the arena obstacles, packed up the camper, hitched the trailer and loaded the stuff up. I had Ashke in his BOT with a turnout sheet over the top for wind proofing and rain proofing. He walked on the trailer like nothing, but as soon as he was in he began to shake. I don’t have any idea why. He wouldn’t take a treat from my hand and seemed very out of sorts. We gassed up and hit the road. About twenty minutes later we had to pull over and check the trailer because he was shaking so hard it felt like we had a broken axle or flat tire. Everything was fine, he was shaking less when I went to him, and when we pulled out he seemed better. We made the drive home in four hours and when we pulled into the barn area all of the horses whinnied at him. Several times. Came out of the barn into their runs to whinny at him.

Fall Harvest Show

High Country Working Equitation’s last show was in McCook, NE as a joint effort with the Nebraska WE group and the Kansas WE group. This was a brain child hatched at the Andalusian World Cup a year ago, and the four women involved in putting it together worked diligently via phone and email to make sure it went off without a hitch. The facilities in McCook’s Kiplinger Arena were awesome, with nice stalls, RV hook ups on site, nearby hotels and a great arena. The show ended up with 25 riders, of which six were from Colorado, and the rest were from Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Texas. It was a two day show, with dressage in the morning on Saturday, EOH for Intro on Saturday afternoon, and the EOH/Speed rounds for the other levels on Sunday. 

McCook is about four and a half hours from Denver, plus you lose an hour from the time zone change, which is a very comfortable drive. J and I loaded the camper, hitched the trailer and loaded Ashke for the drive over. He traveled very calmly and without much movement on our way to McCook. The temps on Friday were in the upper sixties, so not too bad. He was in his BOT mesh cooler and leg wraps for the trip. We unloaded him, snuggled him into his stall with a big pile of shavings, which he promptly peed in, and proceeded to get settled in. A group of us set up the dressage arena late on Friday afternoon, and everyone was given an opportunity to school inside and outside the arena. I was able to run through my dressage test, in bits and pieces, plus get him comfortable over the bridge before the end of the evening. We did dinner at the Coppermill, which was very tasty, if not a bit expensive for such a small town. We had 18 people with us for dinner that night, which was pretty amazing. 

Coppermill dinner

We started at 9 am the next morning. I waited until the intermission to get Ashke saddled. It was a bit cooler on Saturday and I wanted to give him plenty of time to walk as part of our warm up. The footing in the warm up area was my only disappointment in the weekend. It was okay for walk and trot, but I wasn’t happy with how it felt to canter in the area, so we waited to canter until we were in the holding/warm up part of the big arena right before our ride.  He felt like he was moving okay from a physical stand point, but I would have been happier if he had been a little looser in the back. 

Dressage Test

With the exception of losing my stirrups in the medium trot, not pushing for a bigger medium canter to the right and our last transition, all of which were miscues on my part, I was really happy with the test. He was listening and there was no big issue with his response to my requests. He was a little tense at the end of the arena by the judge, but for the most part he was right there with me. This is the best dressage test we’ve ridden for Tarrin as judge. He is getting very solid and I was very pleased. 

There was a bit check person in the warm up/hold area that checked bits after our rides. When I went to get off, my saddle slid completely sideways. In straightening it out, I realized that I had not tightened the cinch prior to my ride. Shows that I don’t balance off my feet. And that I am really lucky.

Saturday afternoon we opted to set up the EOH course and run Intro EOH. That was about half the riders. After the EOH was completed, the women in McCook hosted our group with soup, salad, cinnamon rolls, and wine. 

The food was yummy and the company was awesome.

Bed looked really good when we got there at the end of the day on Saturday. I fell asleep to the sound of rain on the camper roof. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018


I am not cut out to be a world traveler. It took the better part of a week to feel better and I am still dealing with some residual exhaustion. On top off everything else, Tristan's Camry (my old car) was diagnosed with terminal hybrid battery failure, which initiated a scramble to find him a reliable ride he could afford, while still going to school full time. And as much fun as car shopping is, it is also very stressful. My overall stress was added to by the political turmoil and triggering events of the Kavanaugh sessions, which has left me with a mix of anxiety and rage and depression.

T went with me to the barn one night and this is the sight I was treated to when I walked out.
Some men climb mountains . . . .
He is such a source of joy in my life.

None of that contributes to a calm. peaceful demeanor when riding my poneh. Last night's lesson debacle was no exception. Poneh did not want to horse, but rather wanted to spook (granted something did fall off the rail on the far side of the arena) at all the things, including the jump standards in the middle of the arena. I rode through it, because I do not have a submissive or obedient horse, especially when there is wind outside and rain on the roof. I figured it was good practice for our next show, which is in place we've never been before. We worked through it and had a productive ride in the end, but it was a good thing Amanda was in my ear, because she brings calm to the situation.

"He is looking for a fight with you up front, don't give it to him." 

"If he wants to be silly, ask for more work."

 "Push from your seat and legs, don't argue with your hands." 

T sitting in his first car.
Golf GTI 2.0T S
Black and Red.

This week might have been better if I could have ridden homeboy a little more. He is feeling pissed that his wife has left him (Ardee moved to a jumping barn where her rider could actually, you know, jump on the regular) and the boy who was moved in next to him has been removed due to excessive running, rearing, biting, and general mayhem. Maybe someday Ashke will be next to a gelding he won't want to mess with. He received his rabies vaccine on Friday morning last week and ended up with swollen hind legs. I couldn't ride on Saturday, but did put him in quick wraps for a couple of days. I rode Sunday, briefly, and then not again until Weds night. It's no wonder he was a bit put out by the expectation of good behavior last night.

 Not just swollen, but hot and swollen.
This leg tends to hold the swelling because of the scar tissue from his degloving incident in 2016.

Right hind.
Two of the horses that got rabies had a reaction.

Tuesday night the farrier reset his shoes. I am proud to announce there is no WLD at all on the right front. None. First time I can say that since I brought him home. The left has two very tiny spots on the upper quadrant, about an inch off the toe on either side. It is so minimal I have hopes that he will be completely done with it by our next shoeing. I figure this is the last of the damage he had when I brought him home. Now if I could just get him to grow in a soft luxurious mane and tail (instead of brittle and thin) the years of neglect wouldn't exist any more.

This dog brings me such joy. She loves finding a stuffy and carrying it around with her to irritate her sister.

This weekend marks our last show of the year. Tarrin is judging, so that will be a good indicator of how well he is doing and if we have improved this year. Amanda and I have been talking about what we can hope for next year and it will depend on how easily Ashke takes to proper lead changes. I expect that I will continue to show at L4 (Intermediate A) next year with the goal of doing so one handed. I think it would be a good thing to continue at this level until I am comfortable with the medium canter and medium trot (still wrapping my head around the difference). Now that he is moving so easily at the canter, we need to really put some canter miles on to increase both of our fitness levels and ability to maintain that gait without losing our balance or frame. We know how to plow around the arena on the forehand, but need to learn how to maintain the canter for a longer period of time. It's not that we aren't fit, because he is in good shape and can trot for days, we just both need to work on our stamina at the canter without either of us needing oxygen at the end.

Tuesday night when I was at the barn to meet the farrier, we had a visitor in our indoor. The barn owner wanted to keep it in the barn, but it found it's way out through the pigeon hole in the top rafters before Wednesday morning. It was doing a great job of terrorizing the pigeons.

 Pretty sure it was a juvenile Great Horned owl.

She was a little freaked to be stuck inside, but she spent most of Tuesday flying from beam to beam.

Wish me luck this weekend. I should have a write up and video next week.