Monday, 19 October 2015

Vale Uno

Uno, as many of you who read my little blog will know, is the son of the massive but gorgeous Rose, by a lovely Irish Sport Horse stallion, Highland McGuire. Uno managed to fracture his knee through the growth plate on the outside of the joint around two weeks of age and was not well managed for the first two weeks following the injury. There's more on that in the posts I wrote at the time in 2013.
After a year of intensive treatment and therapies, including body work, chiropractic work, monthly and sometimes weekly trimming and lots of love, it became clear that Uno's knee had not healed well and he was in apparently chronic pain.

Uno getting a massage from our wonderful friend Tatjana.
He was taken to Canberra Vet Hospital and the amazing Rebecca Walshe gave him a thorough examination, noting initially that his knee joint mobility was extremely limited. He could not bend the knee beyond about a 100 degree angle - no pain shown, it just wasn't happening. X-rays showed the fracture had essentially 'blown out' and a large piece of bone was now sticking out from the side of the knee. He had other changed to the joint that were not particularly obvious on the x-ray but Bec just kept shaking her head and saying, "That's not how the knee is supposed to look!"

I asked Bec what she thought his pain level was like. She and I have made some hard decisions before and I trust her implicitly. She also knows I'm a realist and I don't keep horses alive when their quality of life will be poor. She said his pain is probably quite chronic and as the arthritis in the joint progresses it will become more acute. We talked about managing it, but give his overall sensitivity to drugs (he scoured and became ill at the drop of a hat!), the fact we would just be delaying the inevitable, and the expense involved, it seemed a pretty pointless exercise.

I was taking him home to bury him. I can't describe the sadness I felt at this information. He was really the loveliest person and carried lots of hope and dreams for the future on his bony shoulders!
Uno on his last morning

The photo below shows the knee. The midline is obviously not straight and the 'knob' on the lower left part of the knee is where the bone fragment had come away and was essentially floating out on the edge of the knee.

This hock on the same side as the injured knee was continuously puffy with no heat or lameness shown.
I called the wonderful Robyn Larson-Shelton from Equine Miracles who has been my horses' bodyworker for over six years now. She had helped me treat Uno's initial injury and had worked on him his whole life. It was Robyn that triggered the decision to take him to CEH for a review and x-ray. When I told her the news she was upset but we made the decision to see if the vet who came to euthanise Uno would amputate his off fore and off hind for Robyn to dissect to see what the joints actually looked like. Then Uno could be contributing to learning into the future and his life wouldn't be wasted quite as much as it felt like it already was.

Suzanne from CEH came out with a truly awesome Vet Nurse (who's name I never remember but I love her!). It was a horrible grey cold day to fit our moods. Once Uno said goodbye to my son Ben, and he was put to sleep, the grizzly but unbelievably interesting work of removing the two legs began. Suzanne gave me some fantastic insights into where the foreleg muscles attach into the shoulder, what muscles and tendons move which bones and was really interesting. Thank you, Suzanne, you made a horrible day into a valuable learning opportunity.

As an aside, Suzanne told me donations of horses for learning opportunities is rare and I was somewhat disappointed to know I could have actually donated Uno's whole body to vet science. Something to bear in mind if you need to euthanise a horse....

The dissection of Uno's joints was a revelation and a real confirmation I had made the right choice. His elbow and knee joints showed advanced arthritis - he had the knees of a 20 year-old, not a yearling, and it was clear he would have been in significant, chronic pain. Interestingly, his hock joint also showed evidence of an OCD - osteochondritis dissecans - which is essentially a piece of cartilage that had come away from the joint and was floating around. It can occur through injury.

I have included pics below of the dissected joints for those of you that are interested. They are graphic, however, so don't view them if you don't want to see that kind of thing.
Uno's muscular development was fairly poor and he was always very tense through his neck and withers.
Saying goodbye to his buddy Ben, my 4 year-old son with Down syndrome

Graphic pics

The off elbow joint. You can see the advanced wear of the cartilage and right into the bone. This would have been very painful
The elbow. The pink groove in the joint is simply not supposed to be there.

The hock. Robyn is pointing at a fingernail-sized piece of cartilage missing from the joint.
The knee. The piece of bone on the extreme left that isn't attached to anything is the fractured fragment.
The lower leg through the knee joint. The hole at the top is where the tendon passes.

So, Uno has gone and is no longer in pain. We planted an orchard of fruit trees (lots of apples which he would have loved), and he was joined by his mate Phoebe, our wonderful dog, who we lost to aggressive cancer only a couple of months later.

If you have any questions about the pics you see, please ask away. I will pass them on to Robyn if they're beyond my expertise. Or you can attend one of Sharon May-Davis' workshops on anatomy and ask her!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Hello again!

I can't believe how long its been since I posted an entry on my blog. It's been a long winter and I think I started to run out of things to say! Then, of course, lots has happened, meaning I got all procrastinatey about writing because I imagined it would be a behemoth of a post! So, strap yourselves in....

The last post I started writing was about Uno. I made the decision to put him to sleep a few months ago. He was in chronic pain and would never get better. I will finish the post devoted entirely to him and post it soon - the photos of the joints we dissected are unbelievable. I knew when I saw those photos that I had made the right decision.

On to happier things. Annie and I finally broke through our depressing bout of coming dead last in every event by coming a rather amazing 4th in one of the EvA95 classes at Canberra Horse Trials last weekend. After a great clinic (perfectly timed, I must say!) with Manuela Mclean a couple of weeks before, we finally scored a top ten dressage test. Annie was great and it was one of those weekends where everything just came together.

Showjumping was a little hairy but I think the main problem is I let her get too long and flat as the round goes on - that, and I need to ride her in the Peewee bit! She gets so heavy and dead to the hand when she's jumping. I think she genuinely enjoys the jumping and cantering - she certainly feels happy about it!

One of these days I'll drop some money on a decent photo of us at a comp and post it. :)

We've had some interesting hoof issues lately, though. Annie had to go almost 8 weeks without a trim as our current Wonder Trimmer Shelly went overseas on a much-deserved holiday. While Shelly was away, Annie's feet got a little long, but not too bad, and even more interestingly, she developed two small splints on the inside cannon bones just below the knees. They are gradually shrinking now she's getting her monthly trims, so I am confident the splints developed as a direct result of unbalanced hooves and long toes. Just goes to show how important it is to keep the trimming very regular in our performance horses.

I've got a lovely little Quarter Horse type staying with me at the moment while I ride him and sell him for our local Riding for the Disabled. He's been barefoot probably his whole life (he's 14 and from the Kimberley in Northern Australia where he was a station horse, we're told), but is the most sensitive of all the horses at my place with his feet. He is very short and mincey over gravelly or hard earth while Annie and Andy the dressage pony are quite happy cantering around on gravel. Particularly Annie who now has true 'rock-crushing' hooves after a year without shoes.

I will be very interested to see what Shelly thinks of his feet and what we might be able to do to improve his comfort-level.

Some pics from the last couple of weeks:
Hay-high was a feature of our winter and you'll note both horses standing square and engaging their backs as they eat their hay. This contributed to both horses' strength under saddle.

Annie about a month ago looking fit and shiny as we headed into an unseasonably warm spring.

Annie's dainty hooves post-trim. The near fore appears to be a little later than the off fore and we're keen to see if this will balance up over the next couple of trims. Might be a consequence of the long lapse between trims over winter.

It could just be the way she's standing, but the near looks very different to the off. Might be a bit of both!
So, next comp is Goulburn next weekend - hopefully our last EvA95. We're looking to make the step up to EvA105 at Silver Hills in three weeks. Our super showjumping coach Ben Netterfield managed to slam himself into the ground at speed while paragliding a month ago and will be out of action for the forseeable future (love ya Ben!), so we've been taking a bit of an ad hoc approach to jumping training for the last month. Will see how that pays off!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Our first Prelim at Equestriad April 2015

Well, after a long gap in blog posts, I am finally getting around to adding a few big ones about major happenings in the last couple of months. Annie's first EvA95 and our first appearance at Equestriad in Camden was definitely one of those!

I had never made the trek up to Camden and was assured that, a) it was a real family event and would be perfect to take Charles and the kids to and, b) it's a really great course and a good one to upgrade at. Both were not entirely true but it was still a really awesome weekend of eventing at probably the biggest event in the Southern Hemisphere!

So, with kids in tow, we set off for Camden very early (but not disgustingly so, thanks to a really nice dressage draw time) looking nervously at the weather given it was supposed to rain pretty much all weekend and the maximum temperature was about 29. In April?? Thank god I clipped her the week before!

The event is literally ENORMOUS. We pulled into one end of Bicentennial Park and had absolutely no idea where everything was and, more importantly, where my dressage test was! Turned out it was about 2km away....need some signage, people! But I was fine. It was poor Charles, pushing a pram containing the 2 year old with the 5 year old moaning along behind, I was feeling for!

The humidity and heat when we arrive was quite overwhelming. I was dripping with sweat before I put my jacket on and it really didn't get any better. After warming up by walking the couple of kms to the dressage arenas, Annie warmed up really well - pretty calm to start with. It was interesting that, as we got over to the arenas, she started to get more and more tense. There was certainly a lot to look at, with cross country jumps right next to the arena and lots of people swarming over the cross country course situated a hundred metres from our arena.

I got lucky in that the arena next to ours had finished and I was able to use it to warm up in. After five minutes of lots of transitions and changing direction and gait, I felt like I had Annie's attention back. Then I went over and walked and waited next to the judge's car. Big mistake. She was back to 'tense giraffe' mode after just a couple of minutes of not working. In hindsight, I think that waiting and talking to the judge is a mistake for this horse. It's not a requirement and I think just trotting and cantering around the arena is something worth trying for next time.

So, the test was pretty tense. Not much else to say. Not many 'mistakes' but the whole quality of the test was pretty tense. We did score 8.5 for the free walk, but I have come to expect marks like that for her walk as it is really very good.

Showjumping in the stifling heat was mercifully quick. The course was actually a bit smaller than I would have liked. She's becoming a bit careless about smaller jumps and we had the first jump down which was a bit of a disappointment. It certainly cost us a few placings as the majority of our class went clear. If I'd been in one of the other EvA95 classes it wouldn't have been so bad - for some reason heaps of others had rails! Ah, well.

Off to walk the cross country while the kids and their ever-suffering dad munched on some afternoon tea and watched the EvA80 horses do their cross country, especially the water jump. The course proved to be unexpectedly technical for a Prelim course and would require a bit of jumping, especially for the young horses. I was both really excited to be jumping a course that wasn't 90% logs with the occasional ditch or rolltop, and also a bit worried about just how straight and confident Annie was.

The rest of the very busy Saturday was really fun. Catching up with friends, watching some of the best riders in the country do their thing and then watching the 2* and 3* showjumping under lights that night. What a difference the lights made to the horses (and probably the riders). The rails were certainly falling! We left during the 3* as the massive thunder storm promised by the BOM rolled in. We headed back to the comfort of our outrageously expensive hotel room and left them to it!

Cross country was a complete blast. The footing was very slippery after the downpour overnight, let alone the big rainfalls the area had been receiving over the weeks before. I rasped about 8 notches/hooks into each hoof, front and back, though we don't quite yet have enough wall to really work with in this regard. I'd like a good 8mm to 10mm but we have about 5mm right now. That will obviously change with time!

Annie was a machine. The only hairy moment we had was the little steps early in the course (fence 4ABC) where she was completely distracted by another horse coming down the course on the way out to the flat half and missed the first step to sprawl a bit. But she picked up and kept going. Silly girl.

The going was treacherous in places and many combinations fell or had near misses. The turn from 5 up the hill was simply awful and we had our own near miss there. But as far as technicality went, Annie made it seem easy. The water was ridiculous - heaps of people all over the place, Shane Rose driving a massive piece of machinery right next to the approach for the drop into the water...but Annie, after slowing down to a walk to make sure she got a really good look at everything (despite quite a bit of kicking on my part!) popped down into the water and splashed through to go out over the rolltop, then round the corner (now pulling and being a bit of a tool) to pop over the bounce of logs. Pretty good really.

We got time penalties, but practically everyone did. I don't think Annie found the going any more slippery than the shod horses with studs in. Overall, I was pretty stoked. Lots to like about this mare!

The only downside I'm noticing from the notches/hooks in the hoof is the need to rasp them off within a day or two. I really couldn't without bringing her wall to short for comfort (and frankly, I don't have the physical fitness!) so the end result is the breaking off of little bits of wall as the 'cleats' succumb to the pressure. It is all cosmetic at this stage, and I'll be interested to see if it's a real problem over time. I'm thinking of using only one hook in each hoof when the going is not too bad, but the going at Camden was awful and I needed all the traction I could get. Watch this space, as usual!

Monday, 4 May 2015

Sydney Three Day Event 2015

Ok it's been a hell of a long time between posts. I've almost been intimidated out of posting again because I have so much to write about!! So, I'm using my whirlwind visit to Sydney Three Day to ease myself back into it....

I was lucky to win a VIP ticket to watch the cross country at the Sydney International Three Day Event over the weekend just gone and decided to drag my erstwhile husband along for a crazy 24 hour trip into 'serious eventing' world. Add on a last-minute decision to take Jedi up to James Arkins' place near Moss Vale while we were just going past and it was a pretty nuts adventure!

That being said, I had a really great experience and came away feeling both energised and inspired to do more and be more. I'll start at the beginning....

Before last weekend, I had never been to SIEC. I know, for those of you reading this who are eventers in the Canberra/Highlands/Sydney region, this seems unbelievable. But, I've never been - it's unbelievably expensive to compete there and I've never felt the need to go to the S3DE before. Which is odd, because I've been to Melbourne 3DE!

So, to actually go to the home of the Sydney Olympics was really exciting. It's every bit as great as I thought, but also a lot smaller than I imagined. And a LOT hillier!

We turned up pretty early on Saturday morning. It has been raining cats and dogs in and around Sydney for the past week or two and the ground was sodden. I was really interested to see how the going would be after so much rain and, while it turned out to be way better than I thought it could be, it was still influential. More on that later....

There was some random showjumping going on in the indoor. Meh....moved on pretty quickly from that! Off onto the cross idea where we were going....wandering....ended up on the road heading towards the steeplechase track looking uselessly at the S3DE site on my phone with only a vague idea of the direction we should be heading! Then, who should come cycling along behind us, but the lovely Sam Lyle. He not only remembered my name (isn't that the nicest feeling when someone remembers who you are when they must meet hundreds of people?), but also gave us directions over his shoulder after apologising for not having brakes on his bike. Luckily, he rode up a hill (which turned out to head up to the steeplechase track), managed to stop and eat the second of two bacon and egg rolls he was juggling as he chatted with me about the event and his horses and all that nice stuff.

Great start to our day. Thanks, Sam. :)

So, we get to see a bit of the course while we're walking up to our rendevous point at the water jump - one of two, as it turned out. The jumps were certainly big, but really nicely built and I was interested to notice that I no longer just stand mouth agape looking at the size of them, but have actually started to work out how one would jump such a thing. The line from 4 to 5 in the 3* looked pretty hairy, for example (a big table to a ditch with a big hedge behind it on an angle). The enormous table as jump 2 in the 2* looked just massive. But doable....

The water jump, when we got to it, was really interesting. It took me a while to figure out where all the lines were for each of the classes (there was a CCI and CIC for 1* and 2* as well as the one 3* class) and they all looked pretty technical, or at least difficult! This is the view of it from the VIP tent where we hung out:

The dude walking through the water with the bike is Shane Rose. The dude in the grey top and jeans is Stuart Tinney. Nuff said.

So, the green and white numbers were the two 2* classes and they had a pretty full-on bounce into the water. Funnily enough, the first half of the riders just made it look easy. Then there was a rash of refusals and near-falls. I suspect the going didn't help as it did deteriorate over the class, but I think a lot of it was psychological. More on that later too...

After helping set up the VIP tent (they weren't exactly ready when we got there!), we headed off to the start, following on behind none other than Mike Etherington-Smith (the course designer and designer of such hallowed grounds as Burghley, Badminton and Kentucky), and Wayne Roycroft (Olympic gold medallist and Australian coach, now TD extraordinaire). I was hyperventilating under my cool exterior!

The course walk was so interesting and I learned an enormous amount in just over an hour with these luminaries of the sport. Say what you will about the old white guys crusted on to elite eventing, they still know a huge amount and it was a gift to be able to hear it from them on Saturday.

Starting with the mounds that Mike had to take out of the course because of the going...(I took no pictures other than the one above. Just goes to show how enthralled I was!). They were just two hanging logs on top of quite prounounced mounds. The ground around them was a quagmire so that's why they were taken out, but I walked the distance for them to show how it should ride (got a gold star from Wayne *blush*) and they talked about how the terrain affects a horse's stride and how riders can tend to override or underride a fence.

Mike talked about the tendancy these days for horses to be over-disciplined and unused to getting themselves out of trouble if a mistake is made. He, like Lucinda Green, thinks horses are no longer being ridden on grass and different terrain that is not a manicured arena, to the detriment of horses then asked to gallop over cross country courses. I couldn't agree more and felt a bit smug about my complete lack of arena work. Which of course has nothing to do with the fact we can't afford to build an arena with a surface....

Then on to jumps 4 and 5, which I had thought would cause carnage but of course didn't at all. When I had looked at it on the way up to the water jump, I had assumed it would be ridden on a curving stride. Not having stopped to actually look at it as a combination, I hadn't seen the straight line that Mike intended the riders to take. When he pointed it out, it seemed so easy, so obvious. Well, not easy....but certainly not impossible or particularly frightening. Just big. BIG.

When Mike talked about the going I was really impressed with how much thought and preparation he puts into it, and I assume all course designers and builders of that level are the same. To Mike, the going is everything. Without good going the whole course is stuffed. And, it wasn't the obvious 'going' that I thought he meant - the hardness or softness - but the consistency of the going. He scoffed at the idea that we were all freaking out about the soft going (as he said, this was pretty good going in the UK!), but he did talk at length about the need for the going to be as consistent as possible throughout the course. That horses get suspicious when the going changes a lot and a suspicious horse is not a good thing!

When we got to the water (photo above) he talked about the 3* jumps. They're the red, white and blue houses at the top of the picture, designed to be jumped on an angle, then down over the fish and exit to the right of the picture. It looked quite difficult at first glance, but when Mike explained the line he had in mind when he built it, the question looked completely doable. As long as you got the right line, and your horse did not deviate but jumped where you put it, the line to the fish was easy. Make a mistake and you will pay.

The other thing I learned at that jump is about the distance between two angled jumps. When I walked it (I became Wayne's designated walker after my gold star effort at the first jumps), I said it was one short stride. Not so, says Mike. When walking the distance between angled jumps you must ignore the front and back of the jumps but look to the middle of the effort. That is, don't think the stride is short because it'll ride pretty normal. And he was right. When the horses started coming over it, as long as they were placed in the spot Mike saw as the sweet spot (somewhat to the left of A which put you in the middle of B then on down to the fish), the one stride was easy. It was only when horses came in too far right they struggled.

The last lesson was at the second water jump. For the 3* horses, this was a big brush-type fence up the hill, then on down the hill to turn a little and jump over a hanging log on an angle out from the drop into the water, then two or three strides to a skinny in the water, then two or three to the bank up out of the water, then one stride to an angled narrow brush and away. The two things that struck me out of the conversation with Mike and Wayne at this combination were: a) the importance that big fence way up the hill has in preparing the horse for the water jumps down the hill, and b) the idea that this combination was essentially gridwork for the horses.

Wayne talked about using the spread fence further up the hill to open the shape of the horse up and provide some momentum down the hill. He says the tendency for riders to slow and hold the horses coming down the hill means they actually wash a lot of impulsion off when they need to keep a forward, active stride coming into the jump over the log into the water. It's not just a drop off a bank. The horses needed to jump over the log which means they still needed a bit of power. Interesting. He even talked about the shape the horses make jumping a jump like this and how that feeds into the design of the jumps.

The idea of treating a 4-element jump in water as a gridwork exercise was a bit revolutionary for me. It takes the complexity out of it and gives me some exercises to do at home. All combination fences are just gridwork when you boil it down. An opportunity for the horse to be left alone but kept straight and just pop through.

So much easier said than done!

Watching the horses go around the track was inspiring. I had a great little chat with Wayne and felt like a contender....heh heh. Annie can definitely do this one day and I'm starting to feel like maybe I can too. One day!

The going was quite interesting from a barefoot point of view. I am starting to work out the best and worst surfaces for the barefoot horse to gallop and jump on. Frankly, I don't think barefoot is a detractor from a traction perspective as the horses' hooves basically dug right into the grass/soil/mud and not having shoes on would have made no difference. Studs are helpful but I think the hooks I rasp in would be equally good. I will need to start really planning for soft going before events and making sure there's lots of wall available to rasp deep notches in.

But on hard going, barefoot beats shod hands down. The concussion caused by shod hooves is so damaging to the horse's legs and joints and barefoot is clearly preferable on hard ground. In slippery conditions like dry summer grass it's hard to see how anything would help - studs wouldn't pierce the hard ground and barefoot notches are probably more effective but there's not much that can stop the sliding once it starts.

Interestingly, Peter Gillis, a TD of note, who was doing the course walk with us, mentioned that horses actually need to slide a little when they gallop and the trend to put massive studs in is actually causing injuries and fatigue. Mike E-S agreed and said that, when horses are used to galloping and turning on different surfaces, slipping is really not something that concerns the horses. It's only the horses that have little or no experience off a prepared surface that really struggle. Noted.

So, look out for a few more posts coming by the end of the week. There is news! Some good, some very sad.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Canberra Horse Trials Feb 2015

I finally have the hindsight to write a decent post about last weekend - and it's only Wednesday! It sure was a fun roller-coaster with some real good bits and some....bits that need work. :)

Dressage, stressage, how can I crack thee? Annie and I arrived at Equestrian Park around dawn on Saturday. We had an 8:56am draw for the dressage and I needed to plait. I've never had much success in plaiting the night before - I always need to redo half the bastard things and that seems a pointless waste of time. So, I just do the job lot on the morning of - it only take 45mins to an hour, so it's not too onerous.

Plaiting done, and Annie looking very pretty, we head off with half an hour before our test. I thought that would be plenty of time, but in hindsight, I think this popular thing of going for a quick ride first, then back to the float to finish getting ready, then back out for a proper warm up before doing the test could be the way to go. She was actually lovely in the warm up. The first time Annie had been amongst so many horses trotting and cantering around with me and she handled it like a boss.

So, I thought (stupidly and naively), we might pull off a passable test that may land us mid-field. Ha! No. As soon as we started to head down from the judge's car to A, Annie got her tension on and started channeling her giraffe self. Things only got worse. There was an error of course, some head-throwing and stuffing around and rising frustration and disappointment until the final halt. And, you guessed it, we were coming last after dressage. Again.

Having had a few days to deconstruct and analyse the test, I think a couple of things are at play. One, I'm really a competitive person. I don't really event for 'fun' - I want to win, deep down. I go to events to improve and work my way up to win. That's my aim, if I'm truly honest. And Annie is a potential winner - very frustrating. So, I put the pressure on in a big way, both on myself and, by proxy, on Annie. Stupid, pointless pressure and I need to work on that.

Secondly, Annie is very inexperienced, and may have some associations with the dressage arena that produce tension. I don't know, but I do know that she and I have only done a test twice now. That should be a big reason to just go for a calm, unhassled test, not the win.

So, while we were coming last, when I looked at my test and my score, things weren't that bad. We got two 7s, for example, and we can do better, and will do better!

Showjumping was a bit rushed as I just went back to the float, changed saddles and rode her down to the course thinking there'd be a few people down there warming up. There were five horses there. And I hadn't walked the course. Ahh.....ok? So, I learned the course and warmed Annie up in about 7 minutes and you wouldn't believe it but we pulled off a clear round. Good girl Annie!

The first jump was classic Nadia mistake - take off before the horse, forcing her onto her forehand and chipping in a stride at the last minute. Very messy. I told myself off silently and sat up for the remaining 8 jumps and, lo and behold, they all came on a good(ish) stride, forward and pretty confident. Lesson learned. Again.

I managed to give Annie a hose and put her away with enough time to walk the course and grab a little lunch before heading off to start judging an EvA95 class for the afternoon. By now it was heating up and I was starting to drip with sweat. It had rained buckets in the days leading up to the event so the ground felt like it was sweating too. Urgh.

The cross country was a great little course. Very straightforward (as it should be at this level) with no surprises but enough interesting jumps to keep us both thinking. Should be fun, I thought!

Off to my Prelim class to do a bit of quality judging. :) It was a good field, some really sweet tests and hopefully people got something out of my comments. I've become very philosophical about my comments. For most riders, I'm sure they honestly don't give a shit what I write - they just want the marks. And I am also sure I penalise things that other judges might not, and vice versa. That's the most frustrating thing about judging as both rider and judge! So, I try not to get too prescriptive and focus on just one thing that might get them higher marks. Who knows how that goes down, no one ever tells me!

By the time we were finished, Annie and I were well ready to go home and have a big sleep! Massive day on the Saturday for both of us.

Sunday dawned much like Saturday - hot and, for Canberra, steamy!!

We had a great cross country run. Very forward but controlled, no fighting and zero stops or even hesitation really. I have been working on my fitness and my weight (the 5:2 diet is going great!), so I was really happy when I got to the end of the course without feeling like I was going to pass out, able to remember to unclip my vest before I got off(!) and walk Annie back to the float. She still had a bit in the tank too, so I was happy with that. I need to start doing some hill work with her but with no hills at our place it will take some organisation.

After our super jumping rounds, we'd managed to move up to 13th from 26th. A great predicter of the future and a credit to our new partnership. I've decided to keep her at Intro for Berrima just to get us to the point where it feels easy, rather than just good. Then, fingers crossed, move up to Prelim for Camden. Woohoo!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Lucinda Green 2015

Wow, I'm unbelievably knackered. I have completely hit the wall and am barely able to raise the energy to move my fingers to write this blog, let alone go lock the chooks up or yell at my kids when they get out of bed!

What a great clinic! Yet again, Lucinda showed what a world-class trainer she is and made 21 riders very happy Vegemites at Canberra for two days. I am still a little amazed more people aren't beating down my door to go to her clinic since she is pretty much a game-changer for all of us. We are now, if we choose to forge ahead with her somewhat simple yet seriously effective method of training cross country, on the path to have the cleverest and most confident cross country horses around. And I, for one, will be forging!

Lucinda works on a pretty straightforward principle; it's the rider's job to get the horse to within 3 or 4 strides of the jump on a good line, at the right pace and in balance, then it's the horse's job to pick the take-off spot and jump the jump. Sounds easy? It actually is. When you leave your bloody horse's mouth alone on approach to the jump and train it to be in front of your leg and obedient to the bit. That's the hard part, I guess!

Organising a clinic is not a picnic, and I put in a shitload of work to make sure it ran smoothly, that the riders who had paid a comparative fortune to attend got the most bang for their buck, and that Lucinda was well looked-after. With a lot of help from my amazing husband, I think we ticked all three boxes. In return, I met some great people from as far away as the Hunter Valley, Melbourne and Sydney. Less than half the participants were from the Canberra region - says a lot about Lucinda's reputation outside Canberra.

The groups all had different issues to work on which was really great for those watching. The baby horses had trouble with line and go. The Intro/Prelim horses (like Annie) had problems with their riders! The Prelim horses worked on finesse and the PreNov/1* group had the most problems of all! It's so interesting what the first day of Lucinda's clinic (nominally called showjumping but really a skills session to set you up for the next day) shows up, especially regarding the gaps in training and especially in the horses moving up the grades. A lot of the more experienced or senior horses had real confidence issues, problems with stop and go, problems with the connection they had or didn't have with their rider. Fascinating.

Lucinda dealt with every combination individually, giving every single person and horse the time and attention to work through whatever was the core issue. She is a big believer in giving a horse time to work out the problem of the obstacle you're asking him to jump - learning to 'read' it. As she says, you can't give a paperback to a young child and expect them to speed read it in the way a teenager might. Slowing things down, coming back to trot if necessary (and the PreNov horses showed just how big a jump you can get over with ease from a trot!), and giving the horse enough rein to stretch its neck out and READ the jump, are all things she really hammered. It worked a treat too, with horses that had previously looked harassed or even scared looking comfortable and like schoolmasters.

Amongst all the excitement, Annie and I had our lessons and I couldn't be more over the moon about that horse. She really showed her potential over the clinic and Lucinda was effusive about her too, which of course makes me even prouder! Annie is starting to look like a grown up horse now, building a little topline, getting more confident, using her back and core a bit more. She tried so hard to go where I pointed her, reading those jumps as quickly as she could and just trusting that my hand will always allow her to look but my legs will always give her the answer if she questions!

She was just super and Lucinda had us jumping down the PreNov water, over the Prelim jumps and feeling like we could do anything. Such a great feeling on a new young horse! Such a great advertisement for the Irish Sporthorse (got lots of enquiries about her breeding), a breed Lucinda knows a great deal about.

Annie bravely leaping out over the barrels.

And putting an enormous leap back in!

Totally lost my knitting but tried to keep Annie in my 'tube' of legs.

She never really got the hang of just jumping normally over the barrels.

But I did get better at riding it!

But look at us stylin' over the prelim ditch to house!

And the second time over was even better. I'm over-releasing but she jumps so powerfully I get thrown back in the saddle so I think I feel I need to throw the reins away to make sure I don't catch her mouth. Need to work on that!

There was a lovely horse and rider from the Hunter - a very conflicted thoroughbred and his rider who had been together for four years and had only just been able to come out without the horse getting so dangerous, rearing and bucking, that he had to be simply led back to the float. There was a lot of confusion in the horse and Lucinda was convinced Andrew Mclean would be of great benefit. I talked at length with his wonderful rider (who could, coincidentally, sit anything!) and described the basics of learning theory to him. He sounded really interested and I hope he can get somewhere with his talented horse. After four years, he deserves it!

It was through talking with guys like that, and Lucinda too, that I am reminded how lucky, DAMN lucky, I am to have grown up with the Mcleans and their approach to horse training. It is second nature to me to train my horse to stand, to be clipped, to load and float well, to not swing its head around or stuff around when tied up, to lead easily without charging off in front or dragging along behind, to be saddled without biting, the put its head down to receive the bit or have the halter taken off, to stand to be mounted and not just walk off as I'm getting on.... Forget the riding stuff, I am amazed how many people seem to just assume their horse will be either well-behaved/quiet or it won't with no input from them. I am damn lucky to be in a position to know to train that stuff and to know how important it is. It's a lot of work but it's bloody worth it - especially when I have to deal with other people's poorly-trained horses and I realise how easy mine are in comparison. Easy? No, just drilled!

Anyway, enough of the soapbox! The clinic was simply brilliant and it was, again, an unbelievable pleasure to be breathing the same air as Lucinda Green. I still have to pinch myself when I see her there the first morning I pick her up - it's like seeing Meryl Streep or Glenn Close. She's RIGHT THERE! LUCINDA FREAKING GREEN! You know that feeling, right?

Next comp, Canberra in 2 weeks. I'm going to take Lucinda's advice and bring Annie on nice and slow. She's a big girl and needs time to harden and fill out and I want to avoid injuring her. Lucinda thinks if I can nurse her through the next two or three years, she'll be coming out guns blazing by 7 or 8 years old. And Lucinda said, Annie will take me as far as I want to go. It also turns out, Lucinda is a bit fan of barefoot, but also quite in awe of those who do it. She just doesn't see how it's possible. I'm guessing that's a common view in the elite equestrian world. I wonder if anyone's ever competed at WEG barefoot before.....Annie get your guns!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Wallaby Hill Feb 2015 - Annie's first outing

Wow - what a great weekend! Not just the riding, though that was great. But the event itself. It really has to rate as the friendliest, most picturesque and well-organised events on the calendar. Or, as a very seasoned volunteer told me, "The one they spend the most money on." She has a point.

So, we arrived with half an hour to plait up and hop on. Not the best way to kick off, but the plaits got done and off we sauntered to the dressage. Annie was quite distracted - she was looking at EVERYTHING - but not at all stressed. It was the nicest change to be sitting on a horse that wasn't losing its little mind and leaping and cavorting about. She even pulled out a fairly nice test, considering. I got tense just before we went in, so Annie did too. Not ideal, but a pretty common mistake. We got a very respectable 62.7% for a horse that resembled a camel for most of the test!

Showjumping followed very quickly on my dressage but I actually got to walk the course for the first time in about a year! It was a pretty straightforward course, as it always is (should be?) at this level. I was slightly concerned about the atmosphere for young Annie - it's quite an arena, with spectators along one side and dense bush along the other. Lots to look at!

Annie pulled out a very green but clear round and I was very proud of her. Looking at the couple of pics of us jumping on GeoSnap I am appalled at my position. It looks like I've gone back to throwing myself forward on her neck as she hesitates when she's looking at the jump. I should be sitting up and being defensive. Lucinda Green will beat that out of me tomorrow, I'm sure!

I put young Annie away with lots of hay and water to hang out in her yard while I sucked down a delicious steak sandwich (with the lot) and fanged it over to my arena to start a long 4.5 hour stint of dressage judging. I can honestly say, though, it was one of the most enjoyable sessions of dressage I have judged in the longest time. I had a great penciller who was funny and experienced and the quality of combinations I judged was quite astounding. Even the lowest score was around 52% and the highest was a fabulous pair who got over 80% - that's an average of 8 per movement. It was a very good way to spend the afternoon. Even got a TimTam or two for my troubles.

It was pretty hot on the Saturday, but cooled down overnight (not too cold, mind, just nice) and we were all putting jumpers on when the sun went down. I got a surprise, and very welcome, invite for dinner at some lovely friends' truck and, after a great BBQ, a cold beer and a chat, we slumped off to bed at a very rowdy 11pm! I even got to have a shower. I can't tell you how good that felt after such a hot day sitting in the car!

Sunday dawned even hotter. It topped 30 degrees by 11am and that's seriously hot for the Southern Highlands. The cross country was riding well, though, and Annie had no real problems. She never feels like she's thinking about stopping, or even slowing that much. I have decided to keep my gear very simple on her - a PeeWee bit and plain cavesson noseband for cross country, no spurs, no whip, just heels and a bit of a click to encourage her. I feel like she's quite sensitive, underneath all that heft, and she's slowly relaxing and getting comfortable with me. So, while it can feel a bit risky going out on course without a backup to your aids other than a big pony club kick, it seems to be paying off.

Annie just ate it up. We had to trot some bits (the changes from grass to sawdust to black sand to dirt were very offputting to Annie!), including the little bank, just to give her time to see things. But she can sure gallop and was jumping out of her stride pretty well by the last half of the course. Intro is great because there are really little or no technical elements to the jumps and the horses can learn to jump out of their stride a bit before they have to start working out the jumps too quickly.

We came in clear and under time, a result I haven't managed since I had Assegai. It wasn't pretty - she still jumps very greenly, launching herself over the jump and pushing me hard back in the saddle, but she jumped very willingly and boldly. I was stoked.

The only downside? I was so excited when I got over the finish I leapt off without unclipping my vest and promptly blew the canister. At least I know it works, right? But then I couldn't figure out how to deflate it so I just had to struggle out of it and carry it back to the float like a blow-up doll. Everyone looked at me with sympathy. I couldn't figure out if they were thinking, poor love she must have had a fall, or, stupid idiot didn't unclip her vest.....

All in all, a smashing start to our partnership together and Annie was just a pleasure to take out. I got lots of compliments about her so I mustn't be the only one who likes Annie Pannie. :)

Coming up, the much-anticipated Lucinda Green clinic. Will keep you posted!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Manu Clinic Part II - at long last

Well, I needed a week to really think about the last lesson I had with Manu. It was an intense hour, in the end, with some highs and lows. We started as with the first lesson, really locking my hands onto the base of Annie's neck and providing stability and rewarding correct head carriage and softness in the contact.

In short, it didn't work well this time. Annie was coming round but getting very heavy, leaning on my hands and exhausting me. I kept telling Manu she was heavy and she finally asked if I wanted her to hop on to feel what was happening. She hopped on (and looked tiny!) and I noticed a couple of differences in what Manu was telling me to do versus what she was actually doing. What she was doing was definitely working so I wanted to understand and imitate!

Essentially, to me, Manu's hands weren't still as much as she was asking. And her aids were given in much quicker succession than I was giving them. So, when Annie pulled or resisted the bit, Manu brought her hands back and off Annie's neck a little (not massive movement, mind, but definitely not just still), slowing her. Then, as Annie obeyed and lightened, Manu would immediately release her fingers and push her forward, not taking a few seconds to push her on like I did.

In a few minutes, Annie was traveling forward round and soft. So I hopped on and started doing what Manu had done. Needless to say, it wasn't what Manu actually wanted and we had our first true miscommunication in years and years! It wasn't bad, just that I felt that Annie was feeling a bit trapped or restricted by the theoretical hands vs the freedom and relaxation offered by the actual hands. If that makes sense.

The lesson wasn't helped by the bloody peanut gallery of helpful souls who felt the need to chuck in their two cents' worth. As much as I find it hard not to comment myself in other peoples' lessons, I do get pissed off when spectators feel fine with giving me advice when the coach I actually paid for and want to hear from is RIGHT THERE. Nuff said.

I rode Annie again a couple of days after this lesson and started experimenting with some hand positions and found that Annie still got tense and resistant against a short rein and tight hold. When I sat up and let the rein out, Annie would round and blow and move forward really nicely. In fact, she would even do some lovely round transitions! So, I thought I would just keep doing what worked. We'll see if that works, anyway. It's a lot easier, to be honest.

Next post - Wallaby Hill! Our first event.  :)

Monday, 2 February 2015

Manu Clinic I of 2015 - Day One

It's been a weird week of weather around Canberra! More like autumn or spring than the height of summer! Mild days with a cool wind and downright cold nights! I've even had a rug on Annie and Jedi overnight....darn climate change.

The first day of Manu's clinic was supposed to be a rare jumping lesson with Manu but my lovely lesson-mate (not a seasoned jumper, by any means!) didn't have an appropriate horse to ride so we decided to just make it a dressage lesson after all. Turns out to have been a really good idea.

The main issue I've had with Annie has been her head position and bit acceptance. A lot of the bit acceptance has improved, but she still wants to throw her head up at the first change in anything - speed, gait, direction, length of stride. Manu had two very important things to work on for the whole of our lesson. Warning, we didn't make it out of trot!

The first thing Manu wanted me to focus on was the length of Annie's stride in walk. Her walk is big and long, naturally, but she is really too big and long right now and this unbalances her, causing her to raise her head to balance. Because I've been fighting that rather than fixing the length of her stride, tension has established its nasty self and cemented a hollow way of going.

So, lesson one, creeping. Lots and lots of creeping walk. I'll come back to that.

The second big focus was my hands. Manu wanted me to shorten my reins and put my hands down at the base of Annie's crest, essentially cementing them there. I have quite a range of motion in that position - opening my fingers, right up to cocking my wrist down and even putting my little fingers inside the reins to shorten my reins quickly. So, the idea is to provide a real anchor for Annie to work off and a consistency of contact despite her head tossing.

The creeping walk is literally, at least to begin with, as slow and short as I can get Annie to go. Manu didn't want me to pull or move my hands. The idea was to, instead, pretend I'm lifting a bag of feed, switching on my core rather than using my back to pull back. Additionally, when Annie slowed and creeped I released with my fingers to reward her, then closed them when she inevitably got faster at the release of bit pressure.

After about 15 minutes, Annie was doing a very nice creep and had dropped her head, rounding and blowing with relaxation. Manu had me 'dream' longer strides (Annie can be a bit reactive to my legs) every time Annie dropped her head and soon she was doing a lovely 'gooey' medium walk. Time to trot.

There was a lot of tension initially as Annie trotted. Lots of head chucking, trying to run through my reins and really resisting the creeping trot. It was obviously very hard for her as she almost groaned with effort! Every time she got a bit too extreme with the head tossing and resisting I brought her back to the creeping walk by lifting my bag of feed. Then, when she dropped her head and relaxed, asked her to trot. Soon enough, she was wanting to reach down and out, blowing, really swinging through the back and working properly.

Manu had me coming up the centreline and using indirect turns to move her across to the outside track, similar to a leg yield but from the rein rather than the leg. It has the benefit of encouraging straightness and really solidifying the indirect turn. Annie was smashing it (Manu did several of her famous and very cute 'yey's). Got all proud.

Frankly, Annie wasn't the only one absolutely stuffed at the end of this lesson. The hand position does mean I'm leaning more forward than I'd like and using my core to slow and stop is quite hard! I thought I had a good core but, as with all things, there's always room for improvement! I was concerned with my body position as I've been working so hard on NOT leaning forward for so long, but Manu said two good things: 1. My position is a lot better than I seem to think. 2. I'm not riding a Grand Prix horse so I can't ride like a Grand Prix rider! Yet. :)

Annie got a lot of compliments from my mates at the clinic and I'm really looking forward to this year with her. Her hooves coped great with the arena (woodchip and mulch) but she's still very sensitive over anything with rocks, meaning her soles have a lot of building up to do.

Day II installment tomorrow!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Into the swing of it

Well, it's been a very promising start to 2015. Apart from the highly unusual rainfall (we're up over 300mm for January alone and it's not even the end of the month yet!), and the lovely hot days with luscious tropical storms in the evenings, Dragonwood has been kicking off. I took some long service leave and already managed to finish the arena fence (just painting to go now) and get Annie going pretty darn nicely.

Our first clinic for the year with Manu Mclean starts in a few days and I'm excited to see what Manu thinks of our progress. Annie's coming quite a long way in the last month or so after a couple of weeks off over Christmas and regular work of 5 to 6 days a week. Here we are at a little cross country training last week:

She was really super for her first time out on a XC course with me. Not much spookiness and a very willing attitude. I'm very excited about our first comp in just over a week at the fabulous Wallaby Hill!

Annie's feet are really quite impressive at this stage, considering it's only been three months since we pulled her shoes off. Here are her two fronts at the most recent trim a few days ago:

They look small and you can clearly see, even in these photos, the ridge of hoof halfway down the wall. This signifies the drastic change pulling her shoes off and changing her diet. The hoof capsule has definitely 'released' or expanded but the hoof angle has become a little steeper as the laminae connection is strengthened and tightened. Her movement has changed noticeably and she now lands heel-first in front rather than on her toes.

She's now on a fairly modest diet of Micrbeet (unmolassed sugarbeet pulp), Lucerne chaff, Hygain Ice, MSM and Equilibrium. It seems to be working for her and she's maintaining weight without getting hot. As the work goes up I will increase the Ice and Micrbeet and give two feeds a day once winter kicks in, I think. She does seem to need a bit of feed as she's only just got good rib coverage and the other horses are in quite good condition. Then again, none of those lazy buggers are working for a living!

She's coping very well with different terrain, though remains sensitive post-trim for a week or so. My new wonder-Trimmer, Shelly (also a Bowe graduate), has been taking Annie's toes back a little further each trim to encourage the correct break-over and help the hooves get the correct shape back. Her toes are still a little Manolo Blanik, but we're getting there!

I'm really happy with our progress, though the training is challenging! Annie is very used to her giraffe way of going and it's been slow-going encouraging her to come down and round. She's quite into long and low, though, so I'm using that as much as I can to help her engage her core and develop some topline. She can cope with about 10 minutes total of 'real' work where she's engaged and round, and intersperse that time with a bit of tension and giraffing. I think as she gets stronger she'll cope with more consistency.

She's really rather gorgeous, though, and I've absolutely fallen for this lovely girl.

Lucinda Green hits Canberra in two weeks and I'm very excited! The clinic is full and I'm winding up to get everything ready, hoping I can give the participants value for money. There will be a blog each day for those tragics into that sort of thing! With pics!

Heidi the reluctant broody is now finally in foal to the amazing Contenda. That will be a lovely foal, fingers crossed. And, after much soul-searching and indecision, Rose has been retired at the ripe old age of 5. After watching her putting her ears back as she walked down a hill, I realised that her elbow joints really are quite sore and there is really no point pounding her around a dressage arena when she's only going to get worse. She's the most lovely horse and I couldn't do that to her.

Rose went off to Highland Blue Diamond to get in foal and, if luck holds, we should get a positive pregnancy scan in a couple of weeks! Eek!

So, in the meantime, bring on Wallaby Hill where I have the most insane Saturday of driving two hours, plaiting up, dressage, showjumping, then 4.5 hours of EvA95 dressage judging, then walking the XC course and collapsing onto my little bed! Here's hoping Annie is a good girl and stands nicely in her yard for the day!

I'll keep you posted. A big year looms large!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

2015 is kicking off!

Well, already 2015 is looking a 100% better than 2014. After a lovely Christmas and New Year period, with no riding for a couple of weeks and lots of family, friends, drinking and eating, I'm back at work (blah) and riding Annie (yey!). I've really fallen in love with the big moose and look forward to my rides with her.

She's looking pretty nice now:
We had a great lesson with Ben Netterfield yesterday (just got his Level 3 Showjump Coach accreditation - woot!). Just need lots of practice but she's doing very well. I have to go back and read my first posts about her to remind myself of how green and stiff she felt only a couple of short months ago.

I went through my plan for the year with Ben and was pleasantly surprised when he actually thought it sounded more than feasible - positively conservative!! The idea is to do EvA80 at Wallaby Hill and then at Canberra, and if all goes well, up to EvA95 at the next 3 or 4 events to take us through to mid-year.

There's a bit of a break from June to about August, so I'm considering giving her a big break then since she really only had a couple of weeks off over Christmas. Then, I told Ben I was contemplating a EvA105 by the end of the year, all going well. He thought I could do one before then. Cool!

I think Berrima is the best event to upgrade so the November event might be the one to do our first EvA105. I really think we can achieve that goal. Just lots more work and fun ahead. The next 8 weeks is pretty hectic, with lessons, clinics and Wallaby Hill on the horizon.

Annie's hooves have been adjusting remarkably well to barefoot. Below are two hooves pre- and post-trimming to give you an idea of the changes and quality of her hoof:
Near fore pre-trim
Near fore post-trim
Front feet post-trim

Rear feet post-trim
 You can see the ridge about 1.5cm from the coronet band that shows the massive change in hoof brought about by taking the shoes off and changing her diet. I'm still amazed by how good they're doing. Best transition yet! I think a big part was the time of year. A hot dry summer with lots of work plays a very positive role in the hoof's ability to grow strong wall with cohesive laminae.

Given the dry lead-up to Christmas and the fact we have too many horses, we made the decision to put the whole herd in a sacrifice paddock with large bale of hay. We also invested in a large slow-fee bale net to cover it in. It worked remarkably well and stretched the time it took for 8 horses to eat a bale from 3 days to more than 5, with vastly less wastage.
Uno (left) and Rose (right) with the rest enjoying the first bale and figuring out how to munch through the net.

The net in action.

All that's left when we used the net. Less than half a small bale's worth. Amazing difference.

A new bale ready to go with net in place.
But dry this summer has not entirely been! We've had an enormous amount of rain over the past 6 weeks - 175mm just for December, and already over 100mm for this month and we're not even halfway through yet! Dragonwood looks pretty gorgeous though, and I got some great snaps:

Our flooded dam at sunset

A couple of rare guests at sunset - always welcome on our place

Yet another gathering storm
 We also welcomed a dozen little chicks last week. One hatchling from a very large and stupid broody Australorp that survived only by being put under the fabulous Broody (below), a Silky of amazing mothering skills. I brought home the dozen day-old chicks from a breeder and just put them under Broody, who adopted them ferociously. Very funny watching her trying to stuff them under her wings!

It's been a great start to the year. Next installment coming right up!