Friday, 19 January 2018

The Princess

What am I up to with Phantom, you ask?
Not getting enough treats. Nope. Not acceptable.

She has had most of the last 4 months off. Of course, there were the two months of me working nights that I didn't bother to try to ride. But before that, there were a couple of months where she had a cough. There's a good chance she has a bit of heaves starting, but I think it's somewhat seasonal, and her bad time is late summer/early fall. It could be somewhat allergy related also.

So I'm taking my time and plan to focus on fitness more so than schooling. I wear a Garmin running watch when I ride, and have downloaded interval training programs to it. We've had a whole 3 rides since the beginning of November, two of them this week. So I'm starting at the beginning.

This week's intervals are 5 repetitions of 2 minutes of trot and 2 minutes of walk, after 10 minutes of walk to warm up. Next week will be 3 minutes of trot/4 minutes of walk for 4 repetitions, then the next week will be 4 minutes of trot/3 minutes of walk x 4. From there I'll increase the minutes of trot each week, and start to add in some canter.
Because I'm in a Coverall arena the GPS kicks in. Note the lack of circles. Remember - not schooling!

That's the current plan. It will work if I can ride at least 3 times a week, and we still have a couple months of inconsistent weather to get through.
Our invervals. Obviously not speedy!

This is also contingent on her cough/breathing. She has coughed a couple of times during each of the last two rides, but we haven't cantered, and that is when she is usually worse.

I'm going to see how it goes. If she doesn't seem to coping very well with the gradual build up of work then I will have to break down and get her looked at and on some sort of medication.

Of course, the other thing that can stall fitness is soundness. Phantom does have some arthritis in her hocks, and generally gets them injected in April or May every year. By the end of February I can usually start to feel that she's starting to get a bit uncomfortable.

In winter, there is also the Pea factor. As in, the Princess and the Pea.

Phantom very much dislikes being uncomfortable. She quite happily expresses her opinion when she deems things unacceptable.
Cashel Fly Mask - acceptable

The first time that the Pea factor came into play, was a cold day in winter a couple of days before I was trailering out with a friend for a lesson with a dressage instructor who was new to me. I groomed, tacked up, and hopped on. Onto a horse who was not sound. Seemingly everywhere in her body.

I jumped down and threw her on the lunge line to see what was going on. And got to watch her do a huge trot and gallop around me with glee. The same horse who was crab walking very slowly when I was on her.
Lunge line converter - not acceptable

I tried again a couple of days later. Same thing - it was a cold day, she was fine when she walked in, I got on, and she felt horrible. My friend who is a vet tech watched her and said "I see it right front... right hind... now left front.".

After her reaction on the lunge line last time, I figured she's not really lame. She's just not comfortable about something. Our tack was all the same that we usually used. So let's look at her feet.
This clip on a noseband? Not acceptable.
I hopped off and grabbed a hoof pick. Now, because it was so cold, the snow and ice in her foot was frozen solid. When I was getting ready I admittedly hadn't gotten it all out because it was just too frozen. But this time I made sure to get the bottom of those hooves completely cleaned. Then I hopped back on.

And she felt great.

Yep, she had too much snow and ice on her feet. And could not be expected to be ridden in that condition.

So now I know that before I ride in winter I have to pick her feet out completely. I occasionally miss an ice pellet, and everytime I have to get off and find that spot, and she's completely fine afterwards. Princess and the Pea that she is.
Le Tixerant Dressage Girth - best thing ever!

This only applies under saddle mind you. If I just pop her in the arena for a play, there is absolutely no sign of lameness despite me not picking her feet out first.

On my last two rides, she wasn't quite right. On the first ride it was the right front, on the second, the left front. Not lame, just a bit up on that shoulder. I have a sneaking suspicion that I missed some snow from under the rim snow pads she has on. So I tried to pretend it wasn't there. She'll let me know if I'm wrong.

(Other Princess and the Pea moments include the time I cleaned her bridle and forgot to put the cheekpieces back onto the winter holes instead of the summer holes to accomodate the extra fluffitude. Two super tense rides later I figured it out. There was the first couple of rides in her new PS of Sweden bridle, that had a clip on the noseband. She went with her head tipped for the whole ride. She loves the Cashel fly masks, any other one I try she removes within 24 hours. I won't mention girths.)

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

1 1/2 Steps Forward

Tuesday night start off much more promising than the previous day for Cisco. There were no hijinks happening in the field, so he came into the barn very relaxed, and stayed that way as we made our way into the arena.

There were a couple of new horses in the arena when we entered. The neighbour was riding one and had another one tied at the end (in the scary end). Cisco did his normal attempt to drag me over to try to make new friends, but otherwise didn't really lose his brain. About the horses at least. He was still spooking at everything at that end of the arena.
Redonkulously cute nose of the mini in the stall Cisco was tied in front of while we were getting ready.

But I had come prepared for groundwork.  I asked him to lower his head as we walked at that end, and he got a click and a treat when he did it. This helped him focus and the stuff down there wasn't quite as scary as it had been before. Still somewhat scary, just not as bad.

I lunged him at the good end, which was my plan all along because I just wanted him to relax for once. But since I had the clicker (and treats), could he learn something on the lunge?

The plan was to click when he dropped his head and softened the underside of his neck at a trot. It didn't take too long for him to offer it the first time. Click, whoa, treat, back out. After a couple more times, I could see that he was really thinking. Unfortunately, my lack of coordination meant that while trying to hold a clicker and a whip or lunge line in the same hand meant that I missed a couple of chances to reward him, and he gave up really easily when I didn't instantly reward him. Then it took a few more circles before he would drop his nose again, and I could click. I did see some wheels turning in his brain, and I think he was starting to get the idea.

The relaxation continued into a bit of canter on the lunge. As in, this was probably the most relaxed I've ever seen him canter. And I don't know if I liked it! His stride was longer, but he was kind of on his forehand and the rhythm was weird. I didn't want to take away from the relaxed mode but inside I was screaming "more forward".
Eating his noms.

After lunging I actually fed him for once (don't worry - he's far from starving). He normally doesn't get anything except hay, and well, a bunch couple of treats. In another attempt to make the scary end the good end, I had brought a bucket of food into the arena before I worked with him, so after I was done working Cisco I hung the bucket up on the gate. And left him alone down there.

He ate (of course!) and stood there until the bucket was empty. He looked around as he was chewing but didn't seem too stressed. I figured that as soon as he was done he would come flying back to me at the other end - which he did. (By flying back I mean trot real fast.)
Chewing his noms and giving everything at the end the side -eye.

This night was the most relaxed I had seen him in a while. If I had thought it would gone that well it would have been a good night for the first ride back. But after the last couple of days I totally did not anticipate he would be that quiet. Hopefully this will continue over the weekend, when I do plan to get on him, but I can't get out the next two days so I might be starting from scratch again. Thankfully the forecast is looking much better so I can hopefully be more consistent for the next bit.

And Three Steps Backwards

Le sigh. I got my hopes up that my few clicker sessions had cured Cisco of his terror in the scary end of the arena. Stupid me.

Tuesday started well. I found my chaps, and the missing black Micklem bridle and black rubber lined reins that I couldn't figure out where I had placed. I still don't know where my balaclava-helmet cover thingee is - the bin that I thought had the helmet cover is where I found a bunch of leather strapwork that I totally don't remember putting in that bin.
It wasn't quite this full when I first opened it, but I found more to add to it while looking for a couple of other things.
I arrived at the barn and made sure my chaps sort of fit and went out to catch Cisco. I walked out of the barn and saw all of the horses in his field running around like idiots. No idea why. So I waited until they had calmed down before going through the gate to catch him.
The tail end of the lunacy outside. I wonder who the instigator was...

When I brought him in he was still a bit up, and spooking at everything on his way in. I tacked him up in a surcingle, bridle and cavesson, as the plan was to lunge then long line to remind him that he knows how to steer.

The hamsters in his brain were still spinning on their wheel on the walk over to the arena. There was someone else riding when we entered, and she was riding at the scary end. I took Cisco down there to twirl him for a few minutes and he was totally opposite from the day before. Spooky, bolty, head up, wanting to get the f out of there. And that was with another horse riding around him. Ugh.

We stayed down there lunging for a bit until it got a bit better. I think part of the problem was that it was a bit windy outside, and there were a few creaky noises coming from some vents. That and being up from running around outside.

The other person left just as I was getting ready to long line. He was a bit of a twit while I was getting him set up, but surprisingly good once we got going. He steered really well, he mostly stopped when I wanted, he was a bit mouthy with the bit but wasn't rooting down. It went better than I hoped (and expected).

That was it for him. He got swapped out for the feminine grey model.

Phantom is a little, um, Rubenesque. Her normal girth is a very stretchy Le Tixerant girth that she is quite happy with. Because it is so stretchy, I usually can only get it on the bottom couple of holes when I put the saddle on, and then tighten it to about the 5th hole on each side. Today, I put it on the bottom hole on the right, and tried to pull it up on the left. Wasn't going to happen.

So I grabbed the Pro-Lite girth I picked up for Cisco to go with the new, still-to-come short flap saddle (hopefully arriving within the next week or so). It fit, probably a size bigger than ideal, but it would work.
I wasn't sure she would like it, but no complaints.

The bad thing about this girth is that there is no elastic. And since I'm so short, I have a really hard time tightening a dressage girth while I'm in the saddle (I'm a pro with a long girth). So through most of my ride I kept slipping to the right. Oops.
Time to do something with that mane.

But overall Phantom was pretty good through the ride. I'm starting her back lightly, using a interval training type of program. I have a running watch that I have downloaded a couple of workouts to so it's nice and easy.
The temperature in the arena was just under 0.

I was dressed okay for my ride - long johns, winter fleece breeches, chaps, a long sleeve merino base layer shirt, a fleece hoody, my helmet with the ear warmers in, and a neck warmer that I could pull up around my jawline. I was comfortable through the ride, but cold afterwards.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Hug Your Pony Today

We had a tough day at the barn yesterday. We lost a horse to the dreaded twisted gut.

In the 3 years she owned him, Leo took his teenage owner from starting over itty bitty jumps to winning a pre-training event this past summer. He was almost 7 years old. His family will be heartbroken over the sudden loss.

I hope Leo is in a big grassy field, with lots of space to gallop and all the fence posts to crib on that he wants.

Remember to hug your ponies. These fragile creatures sometimes leave our lives far sooner than we want them to.

Monday, 15 January 2018

First Step to Riding Again

The weather has finally changed for the better. Another 30 degree shift in less than 48 hours meant that Saturday afternoon we hit a beautiful 0 degrees celsius. The sun was shining and it was a lovely day.

And I was stuck inside at work until dark.

I made it out to the barn in the evening to let the ponies loose in the arena with the thought of getting rid of the sillies before getting a few rides in over the next few days. Phantom of course totally obliged, and had a couple of good spurts of speed with a whole lotta head tossing and joyous rollkur through the downward transitions. She's going to put her neck out one day.

I was hoping that Cisco would be happy to zoom around as he goes back to work this week. Despite the fact that he was super spooky in the barn and on the way to the arena, once in there he was pretty chill. We did some more work with the clicker and treats at the scary end and he hung out for a bit down there checking things out and sniffing the ground (significant improvement). When I finally decided to chase him a bit, I literally had to chase him. He was not overly ambitious at all.

Cisco got fig cookies for the first time. By the 4th cookie, he decided that he liked them.

The forecast for Sunday kept getting colder as the week went on. On the morning of, it was supposed to be not too bad in the morning at about -9, but get colder through the afternoon. I had a lesson to teach in the morning, so by the time I got out to the barn it was about -13, with a windchill of -17. I decided that I was just going to lunge Cisco in tack. I was cold after standing while teaching and was not wanting to do more than one horse. 

I haven't tacked Cisco up with a saddle and bridle since the beginning of November. So I'm trying to be smart about getting ready to hop back on him again. (Unlike the Bad Eventer!)

Sunday was lunge in a saddle and bridle day. He was a twit coming into the barn, super spooky again, and was a twit about standing while getting tacked up. I'm sure it took like 4 minutes to do up his noseband as it was head up/head down the whole time. But we eventually made it into the arena.

I decided to lunge down in the scary end. Mostly because there were too many poles set up in the happy end and I was too lazy didn't want to move them.

The work that I have been doing with the clicker training in the scary end has paid off. There were a couple of pigeons on the fence down there that were a bit scary as they flew around, but Cisco was so much better than he was last fall. He still looked and cranked his head to the outside and dropped his shoulder in, and there was one spooky bolt, but he kept going forward, and for the most part did so in a relaxed manner. He seems to be getting much better about continuing to go forward when worried, instead of stopping and just immediately saying "nope".

I was super happy with how he lunged. Hopefully the clicker work will cross over when I am sitting on his back.

Tomorrow - long lining in the hopes that he remembers how to steer.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

I'm Not Horsing Today


Tomorrow isn't looking good either.

I have tomorrow off. Maybe I'll clean my house?

Naw - pretty sure it will be a Netflix day.

(It's supposed to be much better this weekend - just need to get through tomorrow.)

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Snow Suit Season

I have one more busy day at work, and then things slow down a bit and I can get some riding in. Except that the weather isn't cooperating.

We are under a snowfall warning. Starting in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, we are expecting 10-20 cm of snow by the end of Tuesday. That's 4-8 inches. I appreciate that it's not nearly as much as the east coast has gotten recently. But also blowing in with this snow is the cold. The temperature drops through Tuesday, and the high between Wednesday and Friday is forecasted to be -22 celsius. Lows in the -30's. Way too cold to ride.

I trudged out to the barn on Monday night to dress the kids up in their snowsuits. They both got a liner added to their blankets, and since they have partially nekkid necks, I also added hoods.

Pony Grandma did a fantastic job of tailoring Cisco's hood to fit him better. It no longer looks like a turtleneck.
What it looks like now.

What it looked like before.

And that was it for my visit. Other than the obligatory cookies, of course. Quick visit in the hope I could get to bed early.

I just realized I should have brought some tack home to clean. Oops. Maybe I will just curl up on the couch on Wednesday (my day off) and watch some of the footage from the Horsemastership clinics on USEF Network and learn something. That, or binge something new on Netflix.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Yay! A Ride!

Yay! I rode my horse!

On Friday night I hopped on Phantom for the first time in two months. It was a super short ride, because I needed to be able to walk the next day, but hey, it was time in the saddle!

I hopped on and she was ready to go. I had hoped to do some lateral work on a long rein as part of my warm-up at a walk, but as soon as I touched her with my leg or asked her to flex laterally she was all "I trot now" and would jog. Once we got the first trot out of the way she was okay to walk.
Phantom managed to snag herself a snack as I was leading her to the arena. It hung out of her mouth for the whole ride. Also, note the amount of fluffitude.

She felt pretty good - a little stiff to start, but worked out of it quite quickly. We did a few short trots, mainly just working on not dropping her right shoulder when I changed direction. I threw in a couple of leg yields both ways, she started to reach forward and down, and I called it a day. She gave me a good effort, and I couldn't feel my thighs anymore due to the cold.
After we untacked, she spit out the hay and wouldn't eat it. It was too slobbery.

I'm going to have to figure out how to dress for riding this winter. It was only -9 celsius. I had merino wool long johns under my breeches, and the front of my thighs were freezing pretty early in the ride. I've been scouting online for winter breeches, but I also have that no-spend thing I'm working on. I have my old full chaps somewhere in my garage, so I think I'll have to dig them out.

Her forelock is a bit ridiculous - her fly mask in the summer rubs most of it out, so it grows back super fluffy in the winter.
It will probably be the end of the week again before I manage to get in another ride. The first part of the week I'll be very busy with work, then the weather changes again and we're in for a short deep freeze again.
I think it was about +3 today. Gotta love the 30 degree difference in 3 or 4 days that we get on the Prairies.

Oh- and the owl appears to be getting braver. He's flying a bit lower when there are horses and people in the arena - the person who was in the arena before me said he seemed to be just above the jump standards. He wasn't quite that low when he flew around when I rode, but seeing a large bird soaring above you as you are riding is a bit disconcerting! And rather cool!

Friday, 5 January 2018

Owl Pics

No barn visit on Thursday, so nothing horsey to report. But I did manage to take a few (slightly) better pics of the owl on Wednesday!

He stayed above the overhead door, so he wasn't being terribly exciting. It is dark enough in the arena, that my lens (which isn't very fast) had a hard time getting a decent picture. I used my 70mm - 300mm lens, and still had to crop to get a usable sized picture. Because of the darkness I had to have a high ISO setting, and there is quite a bit of noise in these pics. (Camera geek talk - basically, it was dark, so the pictures aren't as clear as I would have liked.)

I was informed by a teenage boy that it is a Great Horned Owl (apparently they teach this stuff in school). It's obvious because of a white marking on his neck, or something like that. I just learned from Google that it is the Provincial Bird of my province of Alberta. Huh. Who knew?

Apparently he was in and out of the arena a few times in the summer when the doors were left open. (At least it's assumed it is the same one.) He is picking off the pigeon population that we can't seem to get rid of in the arena, so he is very welcome to stay for the moment. Although the stupid pigeons don't seem to be too concerned about him - I guess one was seen standing right next to him!

Hopefully he sticks around for a bit, at least until he eliminates all of the pigeons. It's kinda cool being in the arena with him flying above your head!

Thursday, 4 January 2018


The plan is to start riding this weekend. I should be over the fairly mild case of the plague that I have by then.

One of the things that I needed to do before getting the ponies going again was to clip them. Phantom currently looks like a polar bear, and Cisco tends to break out in a sweat with just a little bit of stress. I don't have time to ride two horses and wait for them to dry in the evenings.

So today was clipping day!

Phantom is never a problem to clip - I've been known to ground tie her while clipping. This was Cisco's first time to be clipped. I've done some homework in getting him used to the clippers so I was hoping that it would pay off. Which it totally did. He was a rock star!
It's hard to see on him, but it's a modified Irish clip.

Extra gold stars for him for having to put up with me trying to figure out why my clippers weren't working. I had taken the medium blades for my Lister Star body clippers in for sharpening a couple of months ago, and this was the first time that I have used them since getting them back. They weren't cutting well at all. They kept getting caught in his hair. I kept trying to adjust the tension, and reset the blades a couple of times, and no change. They gave me a couple of good clips, just enough to get my hopes up, but they were pretty useless on Cisco. 
Pony went poof. 
I was wondering if they weren't working well because Cisco seems to have really fine hair. Maybe it was too fine for the clippers? Nope. I had the same problem on Phantom.

I pulled out the fine blades that had come with the clippers but I've never used. They worked perfectly fine on Phantom. So it appears that the medium blades either weren't sharpened properly or are damaged. Grrr. I don't know of another place in town that sharpens blades, so I might have to go back to the same place.

Phantom's modified Irish clip.

They are both done - I'm not saying how well they are done, but it will do the trick.

And should you ever clip your own horse, go to the dollar store and pick up a set of disposable coveralls. ($4 at Dollarama in Canada) You know, the paper haz-mat type suit? Totally worth it - no hair all over my clothing!

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Warm Ears

I had hoped to pick up my parcel from Apple Saddlery yesterday that contained the Hands On Grooming Gloves. It's sitting at the post office, but when I arrived she had a huge pile of parcels to process, and mine was in that pile. I tried to look for it, but couldn't see it. I'm hoping I get a notification before I head out to the barn to clip later today.

So instead I will show you my latest craft project - helmet ear warmers!

It's been years since I've ridden in an unheated arena over the winter. Technically the arena is heated - but the heaters aren't working, and they aren't the priority at the moment (the joys of buying a property as-is that has been vacant for a few years!). My ears and my jawline get frozen really easily. I usually do the hunter-hair wings of hair over my ears in winter, but this year I think I might need more.

I whipped these up in probably 15 minutes. Unfortunately, it came together so fast that I forgot to take pictures for a tutorial. But they were super simple to make, so if you have any sewing skills you can probably figure it out.

Pony Grandma has mad sewing skills, so I raided her stash and the total cost to me was free. Thus I can continue my resolution of not spending any money.

I used a double layer of polar fleece. I made a paper pattern of the shape of my harness over the ear area, and cut out 4 pieces of polar fleece. For my Troxel helmet the shape is pretty symmetrical so I didn't have to worry about a front and back, other helmets might be different. Make sure you add enough for a seam allowance.

I stitched a square of the soft side of Velcro onto one piece for each ear. This will go on the outside.

Then I got an idea of where the stiff side of the Velcro straps would need to be placed by fitting it against the harness. I left them attached to the big square and cut them long enough so that they could be stitched in when I stitched the two layers together.

Next was to stitch the two layers together.  I took one of the pieces with the Velcro attached, and a plain piece, and pinned them right sides together. I stitched them completely along the two sides, and across the top I just stitched in a bit from the corners, which left an opening along most of the top to be able to flip it through once stitched.

I tested it before closing the hole and discovered that it kind of slid down along the harness when installed. This helmet has a liner that the stiff side of Velcro sticks to, so I cut a short piece and stitched it into the top seam when I stitched it closed.

And voila! Cozy ear warmers!

I plan to make a set for my One K helmet which I'm pretty sure has a different harness shape so I will try to remember to take pics along the way!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018


I don't know if Cisco's savior has arrived, or if he has a new nightmare.

The weather finally started to improve on New Year's Day. It slowly warmed up through the day, and is expected to continue to warm up overnight and through the next day, to just below freezing. It's going to feel like shorts and t-shirt weather after the deep freeze we've been in.
Forecast for the next few days. That's in Celsius!

I made it out to the barn mid-afternoon. The plan for the day was to chase the kids around a bit in the arena with the hopes that they would burn off some sillies and thus I won't die when I hop on later this week. Unless I die because of the head cold I have first. (It's actually not that bad, I'm in the snotty-constantly-blowing-my-nose phase.)

When I entered the arena with Cisco I immediately noticed a bird flying across the ceiling. But it was definitely not a pigeon. It was way, way bigger. And it was kind of gliding.

Was it an owl? I've seen one out in the yard a couple of times.

It parked itself on the top of the overhead door track at the end of the arena, and I used the camera on my phone to zoom in to take a picture. Yep - it's an owl.

Crappy cell phone pic, but definitely an owl.

Then I looked up to the ceiling for the pigeons - I didn't see any! The owl has eliminated the feathered rats. Of which I quickly saw the damning evidence.
The remainder of a pigeon.

I'm pretty sure Cisco noticed the owl when we entered the arena. But because he's so quiet, and you don't hear him at all, even when he's flying, Cisco didn't seem too concerned about him. I'm not sure if Cisco will chill in there now that one of his stresses has been eliminated, or if a bird of prey will be the cause of more spookiness.

Apparently Owl has been in the arena for over a week, and he hasn't been a problem when people are riding. I know lots of people get creeped out by birds, but I am not one of them. It's kind of cool to have him flying soundlessly above me. 

I'm sure he won't stick around for too long now that his food source has disappeared. Unless there are a whole lot of mice in there that I don't know about.

(I will take my good camera out on my next visit and hope that he hasn't cleared out yet. Hopefully I can get better pics!)