2019 has been an incredible year of growth in all aspects of my life, but the purpose of this blog is horse-stuffy, so i'm going to sink my teeth in there.
Looking back, I started January 2019 with the ongoing and ever-reoccuring struggle of lack of motivation, and the guilt that it causes. I had Sierra boarded at a friends private farm that had a very small un-heated indoor with questionable footing. As such, we were limited to w/t only because Sierra physically could not Canter in it due to the size and uneven footing, and we were forced to limit our ride times due to the weather and working in a cold indoor. I was cautious not to cause her to sweat much and although we had a heated place to tack up and untack, it wasn't conducive to our health to work hard in the frigid temperatures. I rode until an average -20, but kept sessions short and spent a fair bit of focus on walk. Overall, I feel like we still managed to get a ton done. I feel like during that period I really got to know Sierra and I really began to lay the foundation for a correct connection in the bridle vs. her 'fake frame' that she had when I first bought her. In January I spent roughly 3.6 hours in the saddle which seemed like a success at the time, and in some regards it was but looking back it seems unreal to me given that i'm currently averaging more that in a week.
In February 2019 we had our first Field Trip of the year as well as our first Saddle Fitting appointment. I once again averaged about 3.5 hours in the saddle that month but otherwise hit my stretch goal of hauling to the local indoor (where she is currently boarded). I hauled Sierra in to do a little bit of show prep as our first show of the season was fast approaching and my nerves, continually growing.
March rolled around, and our first show together was looming near. Field Trip #2 of the year was on March 1st in preparation of our first show on March 2nd. I decided to haul Sierra to the local indoor where the show was, ride her hard (smart) and stall her overnight (extra smart). Sierra rode lovely considering the busy arena, and settled into her stall like an old pro, but by the next morning she was wound tighter than a fish around a tree. Needless to say, we had a horrific show and I nearly ate dirt and hung up my helmet right then and there. In hindsight, it's really funny to look back. I took my horse to her first show (with me) with less than 3.5 working hours in the month, and had a horendous experience - NO SHIT ALAINA! Oy Vey. Who lets me make these decisions?!
Following the show, Sierra had a week off while I licked my wounds and she had her teeth done. The weather was slowly beginning to smarten up (ha, or so we thought) and we were able to hack out a little bit. The year prior, Sierra hacked out fabulously; alone or in a group she was excellent but this time, especially with other horses, she began getting fractious after some time. It seemed as though ever since the show things went south. Sierra came home and had dropped a TON of weight and spoiler: All of our rides afterward felt like disastrous arguments, in and out of the ring. I had concluded that even though I dismounted at the show with a 'ah well' smile, in the days that followed I became disappointed and consumed by the defeat. I decided that I wasn't allowing myself to ride in Part 2 of the Show Series at the end of March if I couldn't change my tune, because it wasn't fair to Sierra.
I sort-of changed my tune (I guess), and I decided (literally the day before) to go to the show for redemption. I need a guardian angel or something, I swear. Anyway, the show came on March 30th and we were off on Field Trip #3 for the year. Much like the first show, I decided to go in on Friday afternoon and stall her overnight. This time I decided I was going to try some "Good As Gold" Paste - a tried and true natural calming supplement that worked wonders on Kidd. I was too pressed for time and unable to ride at the facility on Friday, but I put Sierra in her stall (same barn, slightly different stall) and unlike the previous show she was an absolute lunatic. She circled, screamed, pawed and bit the walls for 3 hours, even surrounded by horses. I was mortified, and gave her the recommended dose as Good as Gold to try and get her to relax for the evening. Some hours later, she had settled some but still not to her usual self. I concluded watching her was giving me more anxiety than it was worth, so I left the barn around 9PM and when I arrived the following morning around 6:45 she was quietly laying down and snoozing. Thank god - maybe there was hope for us after all. Given that her tummy was empty, I chose to give her a dose of Omeprazole to see if it helped her. I picked her stall and gave her about 45 minutes before returning at 7:30 to feed. I was taking things one step at a time and still undecided if I would even ride in the show, but I progressed to the point of deciding to ride in the warm up. In the warm up, she seemed excited at the sight of jumps but overall worked quite well and suddenly I was feeling much more confident. At this show, there were only two other people in our division; two little girls on their adorable ponies.. Lucky for me, Sierra is obsessed with all things small, and I had hoped they would keep her calm in the ring when the classes began. We managed to win both our classes but Sierra still became fractious towards the end, though it was a vast improvement from the few weeks prior. Things were starting to look up going into April.
As April approached, Vida was very heavily in foal and I knew my time spent at the barn would be very limited. Between that and the drastically improving weather, I decided to bring Sierra home. The year prior, Sierra lived in solitude in a private paddock and seemed exceptionally content. She never whinnied, never paced, and never caused any issues.... 2019 was proving to be very, very different. Within three weeks I caved and kicked Sierra out to the pasture with the other horses. Prior to that, I spent a lot of time doing groundwork and just riding bareback and in a halter in the roundpen. I was determined to find the hole in our relationship and mend it before it was blown wide open, but despite her engagement and exercise routine, I couldn't handle the whinnying at all hours of the day and night.
By mid April, Vida was very close to foaling and on April 19th Amara was born. The days leading up and following were spent at my in laws farm ensuring everything was going to plan, and I was not willing to bring up a feral baby so I spent countless hours around Amara which didn't yield for much time spent in the saddle. It worked out relatively well because due to Sierra's annoying screaming disrupting my precious sleep, I caved and turned her loose in the field with the others. Naturally, she was injured within a week and even though she remained stoic and didn't show any lameness, I chose to give her some time off until the heat and swelling subsided. It was at this time that I realized something needed to change - my horses were outnumbering me and my availability too much and I needed to rehome someone. I waffled for some time on Sierra vs. Kidd. Kidd had his own bag of issues, but I knew him inside and out. We could show without worrying what was going to happen, and he had been my dude for 8 years. Sierra was new and suddenly an absolute fucking basket case that I had no idea how to ride... seems like a no brainer, right? Evidently not, because I chose to sell Kidd pending a successful basic PPE given his previous lameness issues.
In May/June, a good friend had a client interested in Kidd so I arranged a PPE which he passed and I agreed to sell him. They traveled to try him out and hit it off right away, even taking him to one of our shows as a last-minute late entry and won her class! She took Kidd home and to my knowledge, they are getting along wonderfully still to this day. My friend who helped organize the sale also gave me a lesson on Sierra when she was up and it was our first of the year. I was still battling with Sierra's weight since she lost so much at the First Show and trying to figure out where we went wrong. Our relationship seriously did a 180 in one day, and I couldn't put my finger on it. Suddenly she felt like a horse I rode, not 'my horse', and I didn't like it. I saw her personality less and less, and her anger and frustration more and more. I had the saddle fitter take my saddle a month or so prior and we determined we could not safely press the tree to Sierra's measurements so we sold it and began the slow and painful process of a new custom saddle that fit both her and I, and I slowly plugged away with Sierra at home; hanging up my bridle (and along with it, my expectations) and riding more bareback in a halter in the field trying to re-establish some fun in our lives.
As July rolled around, my Saddle Fitter came up with a few demo saddles to try. This year was nothing but rain and as such I was limited to walking in the field as it was unsafe to do anything more. Neither of the two saddles I tried really hit home despite being lovely, so I decided to hold off until she had more demo's available. In the mean time, I purchased a side-pull because i'm #lazy and didn't want to keep tying my lead rope as by this point, I was riding almost entirely bareback in a halter in the field at a walk; toodling around at a leisurely pace and just moving her around off my legs. We began venturing our way to the trails which didn't really yield to successful rides as the two loose horses in the pasture thought it was fun to gallop up her butt. I bailed several times, but refuse to say I fell off - It was intentional and I landed on my feet every time :P
In July one of my co workers was also starting her Animal Communication course and she needed case studies so I volunteered. She pin-pointed a lot of really intriguing and accurate things, though some that weren't quite so. Regardless it was neat and I have no idea how legit it was but regardless, it was different! By the end of July, my Saddle Fitter also had a new demo saddle in stock so she brought it plus the other two back up for round two. Once again it was so wet all I could do was walk around on the grass directly behind my barn because this time even the field was too wet, but after much consideration I chose the Frank Baines Adagio, and we began the process of ordering a custom saddle. Following this, we went on holidays and got a much needed beak from everything before our return in early August.
|Livin' his best life at Grandmas
In returning home and seeing all my horsey friends as well as catching my breath from my crazy life, I caught the bug to get my shit together. The summer of toodling bareback was lovely, but it was time to get back to work. Conveniently upon our return, the weather smartened up but hay wasn't ready to harvest so it opened up about a week of average (but warmly welcome) riding weather. I was without a dressage saddle at this point, so I was limited to my Close Contact saddle. Sierra did not adjust well to going back to work, and we had some really tricky, frustrating rides. She clearly enjoyed our 15 minutes of walking around right behind the barn and did not want to go back to having to actually use herself properly, respond to aids, and so on. As time went on, I began to up the ante after the first couple days, but Sierra was getting extremely tight in the back in the Canter, extremely crooked, and was kicking out at my legs and sucking back when I tried to correct her. She was also getting extremely hot after the canter to the point she wouldn't even walk afterwards. I was developing a crook to my own body, and I decided to work on a bigger figure and incorporate some hand galloping into our rides to get her in front of my aids, have a little fun, and burn a little steam. It was fun, but didn't necessarily work in the way I had hoped and before I knew it, it was time to cut the hay so she was put on the back burner again for several days.
By mid august, the hay was put up and I was back in the swing of things. The weather had been hit or miss and we had a few more outings coming up, so I hauled Sierra to the local indoor (where she is currently boarded) for our 4th Field Trip of the year. She hadn't been there since earlier in the year and while she acted normal, after passing E/B towards the scary end, her ears perked up and the tension came in full force. We spent a lot of time trying to work through and establish some sort of relaxation and for the first time in a while, she actually felt like she was trying. I called it a win and made plans to haul her in again a few days later and she was much better behaved, and much more relaxed for Field Trip No. 5. A friend had also hauled her reiner in, and we rode together which likely helped Sierra some, and it was nice to catch up with her. She had a lot of infertility issues, something I have low-key been dealing with for nearly 4 years, and we talked at length about the various processes, trials and tribulations. Overall, it was a fantastic trip to the arena.
A few days later, Field Trip No. 6 was knocking on my door as we planned a surprise barn-night for a friends birthday. I was a little nervous knowing there would be several horses in the arena, jumps set up, and so on but overall Sierra was lovely. She seems to almost do better with a few other horses in the ring, even if they frazzle me. Now if only we could carry that into the show ring!
At the end of August, we had another little show (Field Trip #7) and it was probably the best show we had attended so far, but it still felt like we were barely managing to keep it together. Unlike our past shows, this was the flats at our Jumper Jackpot so there was a lot of spooky stuff in the arena - normally she doesn't bat an eye at anything, but on this day she was particularly worried about things. She was surprisingly semi-relaxed at the scary end, until she got spooked then damn near refused to even go down to that end after that; when I was able to get her down there, she made sure to scoot out of it every. single. time. We managed to come out with some ribbons again, but I was incredibly frustrated.
Following that, I decided to haul 2.5 hours away to a neighbouring province to attend a small, random little show I had never heard of just so I could get her in the ring again. The show wound up kind of being a disaster due to weather delays and so on, but she warmed up quite well on the grass around the trailers (no warm up ring), but things went to hell in the show ring once again. The day was getting very late and I hate quite a drive home, so I decided to scratch my last class, take what good I could away from it, and head home. I cried a fair bit on the way home as I chowed down on my hard earned chicken nuggets, but decided to push on as I have been doing all year. I also decided that I needed to find a coach/trainer.
As September came, I was riding a lot at home - averaging 5, but often 6, times per week. I had begun using a product called "AFX" before getting on as well as a padded bonnet, and it was making a world of difference. For the first time ever, Sierra was stretching in the Canter, not getting hot and rattled after Cantering, wasn't sucking back or kicking out and was going absolutely lovely. I was seriously really enjoying riding her, and the moderate temperature, consistent weather and fall colours did not disappoint. Most of September was pretty quiet, although we were grinding away, we took a few weeks to just enjoy ourselves as best we could and we were bangin' out some really fantastic rides. The final show of the season was just around the corner, and I was determined to give it 110% leading up to it so there was no excuse if we dropped the ball yet again. Also in September, we brought Lass, our Clydesdale mare, home.
The Fall Finale is a show my club puts on and it's arguably the biggest all-english show within a 6 hour radius. It's the show everyone looks forward to at the end of the year, and people usually come to win. It was also the final leg of the Jumper Jackpot Series our club put on, so I entered the same classes I had in August and hopefully at least find a little improvement to be proud of. The show came, and it was hectic and stressful but by far our best show. For the first time this year, I felt like I actually earned some of the ribbons we won, and while it kills me to be showing in the Walk/Trots, I was happy that this show felt slightly more controllable and less jesus-take-the-wheel-y. Much to my surprise despite missing one of the double-header Jumper Jackpot Series events, we managed to win the Walk/Trot High Point for the Series as well as the Top Thoroughbred at our Year End Awards Banquet.
The Final Field Trip (#10) of the year was a clinic with Jessica Kerschbaumer in October. Jessica is an Eventer, but our club brings her up 1-2x per year for flat/jumping clinics. I had put myself in the flat/trot poles group as I just wanted to work on the flat aspect, and Cathryn from Two And A Half Horses was up visiting and able to watch my first lesson. Much to my surprise, Sierra felt much like she did at shows. She was hot, tense and fractious. She didn't seem particularly interested in doing the things I asked, and didn't seem willing to understand the exercises. Sunday seemed a touch better, but overall the clinic still just felt a little lack-lustre and I was sad to be coming off a bit of a 'high' from the Fall Finale and ending the season with yet another disappointing outing. After all, this horse was competing when I bought her and by now, I was surely convinced I ruined her. I really, really needed to get more serious about finding committed coach/trainer within reasonable driving distance. I had found a few, but it was time to speak to some references and make a plan for the new year. A few days before the Jessica Kerschbaumer Clinic, I got my new saddle too!
After vetting my potential new trainers, I settled with confidence on Carol Ann Bennett. We had spoke at length regarding sending Sierra her for training so that she could give her a little tune-up, get to know her and therefore be able to coach me better, and she encouraged me to try and arrange a clinic with her in November which I managed to pull off on short notice. Carol Ann came up and we had an absolutely incredible weekend of ass-kicking and I walked away from that clinic with a newfound inspiration, motivation and confidence that was seriously lacking in my life in the past few years. In November, Amara also went to her new home with a Jr/AM Hunter rider.
Overall, 2019 was a heck of a ride. I feel like we bounced from one end of the spectrum and back again several times, and Sierra has been extremely perplexing to try and figure out. She has been one of the most challenging horses I have likely ever had, and we have a serious love-hate relationship. While I respect that things can't always be sunshine and daisies, her ability to do a 180 in her mentality and level of safety is confusing, not to mention the fact that things that used to never bother her (like paddock board, the far end at the arena, solo trail rides, etc) are suddenly huge issues and she cannot do the things without losing her absolute noodle. I have a lot of pondering to do, but Sierra is still on track to go down to Carol Ann's barn for some training in the new year and we will see where that road, and life, takes us as we look forward to 2020!
From my funny farm to yours, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!