Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas! The Gifts go to the Dogs.

I wish everyone a very happy holiday season! I've been so busy - we are hosting 15 people in our new house for dinner tomorrow - so I don't have any festive photos to share. I did take a picture of my yard with the newly fallen snow several weeks ago which I think is lovely.

Ok, so mostly lovely. It will be better once the
fence height is added to and the trees are back in
leaf! But the neighbours are nice and the
snow is beautiful.

Now, we must not forget our loyal canine companions this time of year! So, a batch of dog cookies extraordinaire were in order for our Hazel, aka Ruckusbutt.

Dog Cookies

1/3 Cup (75ml) butter (or margarine), softened
3 Cups (750 ml) whole wheat flour
1/2 Cup powdered skim milk
1/4 tsp (1ml) garlic powder (optional)
3/4 Cup (175 ml) water, room temp
1 egg, beaten
~you can add around 1/4 to 1/2 Cup of "something else". I add peanut butter because dogs just love it but I only have the natural kind with just peanuts, no salt or sugar. Hazel thinks that's just fine. I also add a tablespoon or so of herbs, usually parsley.

1. In large mixing bowl, cream margarine and flour together.
2. Dissolve powdered milk (and garlic, if using) in water and whisk in egg.
3. Make a well in flour mixture and gradually stir in egg mixture until well blended.
4. Knead dough on floured surface, about 3-4 minutes, until dough sticks together and is easy to work with.

5. With a rolling pin, roll dough to between 1/4" and 1/2" thickness.
6. Cut with either cookie cutters or into rectangles appropriately sized for your dog and put on greased cookie sheet.
7. Bake at 325F (160C) for about 50 minutes.

Cool well and put in storage container. Keeps well for several weeks.

I guarantee these cookies will be gobbled up by every dog.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

For the Love of Food

There is nothing like fresh produce. A feast for all the senses. Over the years, I've been trying to make smarter choices when it comes to the produce I buy. It started by trying to purchase more organic produce, as finances would allow.  As it happened, organic bananas are what really impressed me (try them sometime, the difference is incredible...not that
 bananas are the most responsible choice out there anyway...)  Aside from finances, I didn't go too crazy because the certification and oversight just wasn't there, so you could be paying more but not really know what you are getting. It is still not perfect but there have been improvements.

Then, about three years ago, as my awareness grew and I started looking into things further, I started thinking: do I really need red peppers that were grown in Chile? So I began to pay attention to where things were grown and tried to choose produce that was  either (in order of preference): grown locally, in my province (or neighbouring province, I am close to the border), or in my country. I still purchased limes from Mexico and yes, peppers from Chile or Holland. Don't even ask me about the wine (oh alright, usually Italy).

Ontario is an amazing province for its agriculture but even the southern parts have a fairly short growing season. So I didn't get fanatical, I just tried to make informed decisions. I bought more turnips, beets, celeriac, and carrots during the winter and passed by the peppers more often. The citrus fruit, I rationalized, at least came from the same continent. I still use that rationalization; I really think I need my oranges! And when you think about it, I AM closer to some states than I am to some provinces within Canada.

All this to say that I'm not perfect and, truthfully, I don't aim to be. Our distribution system and, I admit, sense of entitlement do not make perfection a realistic target. But I try. I make conscious decisions 

Things get complicated.  Consider, what has less environmental impact, what is more sustainable:
1) produce grown locally, in the "off" season, in a greenhouse, with the watering systems and fertilizers that need to go along with such an operation, or
2) produce grown further away, in the dirt, likely with less need for 'artificial' irrigation but will need to be transported.

Hmm. Also consider the respective sales agents for these two "products". One is likely a farmers market, the other a big-chain supermarket. And many countries depend on the export of certain products, including us.  Ugh. You can't win sometimes.

And because you can't win, I decided I would just always try to do the best I can. I love food and believe strongly in supporting local farmers for many reasons. I've accepted that these two are sometimes at odds with one another. I made the BEST pad thai a couple weeks ago. There is no way I could do that without tamarind, lime, fish sauce, or palm sugar. Not sure I could give that kind of thing up.

One step in the right direction has been to get regular produce deliveries from a local organic farmer, Bryson Farms. These guys have a great system down. They deliver to your door year round. I've been wanting to get on "the list" for over a year but they had some issues a little over a year ago. Since we were looking to buy a house I put off following up with it until we moved. I've been on a waiting list since July and last week we got our first delivery. Yesterday was our second delivery and I was so excited to get home to see what goodies we had.

Starting from the bottom left, moving clockwise (roughly):
Parsnips, red & golden beets, multi-coloured carrots,
turnips, red & white onions, sweet potatoes/yams,
fingerling potatoes (large & mini), pea shoot micro-greens,
garlic, squash, and full circle with kale beside the parsnips.
There is also a bag of mixed greens between the mini potatoes and pea shoots.

Yum! And we get to do it all again next week!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A little of this...and a little of that!

Nothing super interesting to report, I've just been very busy.

Had an amazing ride last night on Brumby! It was our best yet, the canter work is improving so much. And I think I might actually be developing half-decent hands. I was beginning to wonder if that would ever happen, lol. Ah, riding is so much a lesson in patience (as you all know very well!)

I got to watch Sandi Patterson (long time groom to the great Big Ben, is (or was) barn manager at Jill Henselwood's Juniper farms, and is a well respected coach) give a private lesson this week. It was a pretty neat experience and she is a very nice person. She showed me her method of counting stride lengths between jumps, nothing like learning basics from a master! Lol.

Let's see...what else has been going on? Oh, we has a fan installed in the bathroom but the electrician couldn't do the whole job so we had to finish it. This involved putting a whole in the roof - yikes!
Everything worked out great though!

I made a yummy vegetarian chilli

And Hazel napped while showing off her lovely teeth!

That's all I have to report. I am going to buy a new pair of breeches this afternoon - woo hoo!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rum Raisin Apple Cake

I used to be a pretty avid baker even though I don't have much of a sweet tooth myself. These days, with fewer people around to feed the results to, I don't bake that often.  It has to be something that really speaks to me. The rum raisin apple cake posted on alpineberry seemed like just the kind of thing I would love and actually eat more than one piece of.

The finished product.
It's not the greatest picture
but still looks pretty tasty!

This recipe is very simple and the cake comes together quickly. I would recommend making it exactly as written on that blog. I did, however, make two modifications you may or may not consider. First, the original recipe says to boil the raisins in water first, then pour rum over the warm raisins. Instead, I put the rum and raisins in a small bowl and microwaved for about 40 seconds.  Then I let them rest while getting everything else together.  The raisins plumped up and absorbed almost all of the rum. It is possible the cake would have been even more moist if I had followed the first steps as indicated.

Second, I didn't have apricot preserves so I used homemade Gooseberry jam instead (I strained out the whole berries). I think you could use just about any jam/preserves successfully. An excellent and easy recipe.

I first discovered the alpineberry blog when looking for the "right" lemon square recipe. I read the description Mary gave and knew I found it. I was right!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

This ad was in my latest edition of Horses for Life. If only Patrik Kittel had this device, all would be well, right?  I like how it makes the whole concept ridiculous. As they say in the article that follows, enough is enough.

Click to enlarge

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Benefits of Video

ETA - I just got an update on Ruby! She was adopted on Saturday, Nov 14th at 11:47am. That is just 2 days after we dropped her off to be spayed. The humane society reported that she was great and they were pleased with the fabulous job we did with her. Yay!! Knowing we helped her get a great start makes it all worth while (even if I was secretly hoping she'd come back to us!)
I finally managed to sort through some video my hubby took last week during a lesson on Brumby. I haven't really looked at it closely yet. Most of it isn't really interesting enough to be blog-worthy but I thought I'd post a short clip anyway.

This is towards the end of warm-up.

Even though they aren't really interesting to put in a blog, I love having my lessons videotaped for my own learning. I have to admit that I usually cringe when I watch myself but I learn so much about how I'm moving and how the horse is moving. Lately, I am finding it very interesting to compare videos from my "old" lesson barn where I've been riding the same horse for over a year, with my lessons on Brumby. The arena may be nicer at Brumby's stable but I definitely have to re-learn some equitation skills on him. It's weird.

For example, my back has been doing very well lately with some new physiotherapy exercises. I am obviously happy about that but it also means a certain amount of re-learning how my body is moving when it feels a certain way and vice versa. I spent one whole ride working on relaxing at the sitting trot so I wasn't bouncing on Brumby so much. Watching the first couple videos, I can see why my instructor told me I needed to make sure I don't relax quite so much from my waist UP, lol. Sitting trot on my Black Beauty at the other barn? I could do it all day, same as always!

Hopefully I can continue to get occasional video support to my lessons throughout the winter.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Sometimes, I wish there was a giant compass in the arena.

This way, when I want to do a 20m circle, I will do a 20m circle! Not a half circle (we seem to like to drift straight on the far side, especially on the left rein). Not a 17.653m circle. 20m. 20 true meters! Really, is it that hard?? Don't even get me started on 10m circles or voltes!

I am pretty good at Math. I actually like algebra & geometry. As a researcher, I am constantly testing hypotheses with statistical analyses. But apparently I suck at circles. Oh, I can ride a nice enough circle alright...if I don't try to think about anything else at the same time :-/

Perhaps I'm exaggerating, perhaps I read too much Mugwump (is that even possible??), but I do know that although my circles may be "ok" they are not balanced things of beauty all that often. I want my silver path, damn it!

All I need is a giant compass. I could set the circumference, draw the line in the sand, and ride it. I would have a path to follow, freeing my limited mental resources to things like balancing, outside reins, bending etc. Yeah...

All I need is a giant compass...

edits - the video on the last post was a bit weird,
it cut off the right side of the screen, sorry.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ruby, Progress, and Generalized Learning.

It has been a very busy couple of weeks! I've been riding a lot and learning a lot. I've felt a little neurotic lately with respect to Brumby. I'll have a great ride and then a not-so-great ride. Then an ok one, followed by a great one again. Not necessarily in that order. Just when I start to seriously think this is not the horse for me, I have one of those great rides that plasters a smile on my face 'til I fall asleep. I suspect these are growing pains.
I am learning so much on this horse already, it is quite exciting. I've read and heard so much about getting the horse soft, round, on the bit, have impulsion, between your leg and your hand know. But I haven't had many opportunities to feel it. Brief moments here and there but not enough to develop a consistently elastic hand.

It seems an interesting learning cycle - in order to learn to have better hands, I needed to feel a truly soft horse. Likewise, in order to keep the horse soft, I have to really have an elastic, following hand. The better he is, the better I am; The better I am, the better he is. I wonder if it's always this way. It makes sense, I think. But I didn't really realize that I would really learn once I got to feel it. I thought I would never feel it until I learned how to ask perfectly.

I think a big part of this is the other lesson horses. Sometimes they provide feedback that makes you think you're doing something wrong, when really they are very resistant. My usual lesson horse really resists going round. I can get him there sometimes if all the stars are aligned :) But this wasn't only a lack of skill on my part because the same riding produces very different, positive results on Brumby (usually!).

It was partly a lack of skill on my part though! I know this because now, somehow, the way I am influencing my old faithful school horse is changing. On Monday he softened. He was relaxed, in my hand, but not leaning. I was so proud of him! My instructor's response? A long, low "yeeeaaaah!" and then "I knew this would happen." I had to laugh.

Another difference- getting leads! I'm told my Black Beauty's previous owner sold him because he couldn't get his leads over fences or do flying changes. Ever. From what I'm told, she schooled him so much and so hard that I'm convinced SHE is the reason he never got them. He is a very sensitive soul, that horse. So I don't stress on him about his leads. If he doesn't get it we do a simple change and move on. I've actually noticed improvements in this area for a few months but two weeks ago my hubby gave me video proof. It looks crappy from the viewing lounge, but you can see the exercise well enough.

I know, it probably doesn't seem like anything special but for him, it's huge.

We also said goodbye to Ruby Tuesday today as she went back to the shelter to be spayed and then put up for adoption. She left us completely house-trained, with some good basic training, and well socialized. She is a superstar and I'm sure she will do great in life. I can't wait for an update though! Our house is not the same without her.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Make-ahead Meals

I prefer to make my own food or, better yet, have husband make it. We rarely eat out. This preference creates a challenge when life gets busy. I once stood in line for 10 minutes at Kentucky Fried Chicken (fast food place) only to walk out the door before ordering. I just couldn't do it. I went home and made a pizza from scratch, crust and all. It barely took longer than my 10 minute line-up, no joke.

Now, I cut myself a little more slack in the summer. My husband is out of town every summer for typically at least a month and I have a much harder time cooking for one.  So I have a few prepared meals I will buy.  I strongly prefer planning well so that it doesn't come to that and I like making meals in advance.

Today, I made a large lasagna and enough cannelloni for 3 dinners. Sasha also got in on the action and made pork tenderloin wrapped in puff pastry with a mushroom-cream sauce wrapped up with it. You'd think we spent hours and hours doing this but each of us took under an hour each. We also made our dinner for tonight in between...but that was just grilled sausages :)

I only took sporadic pictures since I was pretty busy :)

Here is some of the prep work for all the dishes.
I like to do all the prep at once, I find it saves time.

In the back there are two bowls with chopped onion and garlic, one for me and one for Sasha. Working clockwise, the bigger white bowl has cooked spinach for the cannelloni and lasagna, barely visible is a measuring cup with dried morel and porcini mushrooms soaking in boiling waterfor Sasha, the plate has zucchini and mushrooms for the lasagna, and the cutting board has mushrooms for the pork tenderloin.

On the stove, I have tomato sauce and ground beef sirloin. To the beef, I have added some onion, garlic, basil, oregano, crushed chilies, kosher salt and pepper. I also add a spoonful of tomato sauce and a couple tablespoons of tomato paste.

After the beef was cooked, I transferred it into a bowl and used the same pan for the zucchini and mushrooms (also with onion & garlic). Once those were nicely browned, I was ready to assemble the lasagna. I layered like this:
Tomato sauce to cover bottom
A little sauce; zucchini & mushrooms

I was using dried noodles that don't need to be pre-boiled but do better if there is more liquid in the lasagna.  After layering the noodles, I also drizzled some of the liquid that comes off the spinach and also some of the mushroom soaking liquid over them. Better to add flavour at the same time! I often will add a splash or two of red wine but didn't have any I was willing to part with today :)

I then wrap the dish in plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil and freeze it.When I'm ready to make it, I defrost it, I remove the foil and plastic wrap, put the foil back on and bake it for about an hour. Keep an eye on the moisture level in there. If it has been 40 minutes and it's really liquid, remove the foil. About 10 minutes before you think you want to pull it out, add grated mozzarella and Parmesan to the top and allow to cheese to brown (you might need to broil for a minute). Remove from oven and let rest for at least 10 minutes. It's hard to wait but it's worth it!!

On to the next...

Assembling the cannelloni. I REALLY must remember to get a piping bag! It would make this so much easier and faster. I did try using a ziploc baggie with a corner cut out but it only lasted for about 10 fills before breaking.

The filling is ricotta cheese, spinach, and red pepper. Again, I put some sauce on the bottom of the dish and place the filled shells on top. I didn't get any mid-way pictures because my hands were covered in filling!

Here is my completed work. The white dish of cannelloni was already put in the fridge for tomorrow night's dinner. I thought I got a picture of the lasagna before wrapping it up but I was wrong.

Finally, here is what my hubby has to show for his efforts (one of them was already wrapped up good when I came in for a picture).


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

I was pretty into putting on a good Halloween for the neighbourhood kids. It's the first Halloween in a long time where I am living in a place that kids will come. Our last place was a duplex near downtown and before that I was in graduate student housing in univeristy. So I made the front yard creepy, I put on lots of make-up (I almost never wear makeup on the weekend), a scary hat and a witch-like costume.

Me with one of my props.

It was only somewhat fun though. Most kids were surprised I was even dressed up and I freaked the first few kids right out because I was being spooky. I didn't try and spook the young ones but the older kids should have had fun with it...shouldn't they?  They all just seemed to want their candy without any of the fun. I was disappointed!

I was also disappointed we didn't get more kids.

This is me reading reading blogs
while waiting for more kids.

I have way too much candy left despite giving multiples per child. I've eaten way too many already :-/

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New experiences lead to new meals.

I had a pretty interesting experience last week.

Turns out I'm a pretty good shot!

After that, I needed a good meal as I was outside all afternoon and it was pretty cold. I had chicken breasts but didn't know what to do with them. Chicken can get a little boring, so I looked up a recipe to try something new. The chicken recipe is modified from 'The Best of the Best" from the Best of Bridge series.

Honey Mustard Chicken served with Mushrroom-Rapini steam-fry and Quinoa.

2 skinless, boneless breasts
1/4 C. honey
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 C dijon mustard
1 tsp curry powder
pinch cayenne powder

Note: I don't really measure anything, so these measurements are approximate. You can easily adjust the quantity for more or less chicken or to your taste.

Place chicken in ovenproof dish and pour a little less than half the sauce on top (start with the "nice" side up). Bake in a 375*C oven for about 15 minutes. Turn chicken over and glaze with sauce again, reserving just enough to glaze lightly one more time.  At this point, it's good to scrape some of the reduced sauce from the bottom of the dish, mix it with the new sauce and baste over top, the colour and flavor is better. Bake another 15-20 minutes. Turn once more, mix some more new glaze with the carmelized glaze in the pan and baste over top. Bake for another 5 minutes or so (I turned the oven up a touch just to brown the top a little more but this could differ for you, I'm still not used to my oven!)

Mushrooms and Rapini
Onion, garlic, mushrooms, rapini

Saute onion and garlic in a little olive oil plus a small bit of butter. Add mushrooms (+ salt & pepper) and saute over high heat until browned. Lower heat. Add rapini and cover for 2 minutes. Toss everything together and serve immediately.

Prepare Quinoa as directed (2:1 ratio is usually good).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Planning the ride.

I've been really sick for almost 2 weeks. I am finally starting to feel a little more like myself so I hope to be back to normal by the weekend. Despite this, I have managed to have some pretty good rides lately. A few at my old lesson barn and a few on my leased horse at the new place.

I am starting to get used to the new guy. In fact, my lesson last Friday felt awesome! It's really exciting to feel like you are making progress.  As awesome as that ride was, it hasn't taken me long to realize that I need to start developing some kind of plan when it comes to my non-lesson rides. Yes, I am one of those people that mostly rides in lessons so I'm used to being told what to do! When I'm not in lessons I am on green horses where it's pretty easy to know what to work on, or I ride on trails where you are always moving forward to some destination or other.  It is somewhat strange because he's not MY horse so the long-term goals are somewhat fuzzy. But I do need goals, otherwise I think I will just putz around and it won't be much fun.

So, it looks like I'll be trying to give myself more structure so that I feel like I'm making progress. This week - riding without stirrups!  I have to say, I consider my sitting-trot skills to be pretty good. I can sit well, without bouncing, on almost anything. Almost :)  Brumby has the biggest trot and unless he is very collected it is very bumpy. I guess that will be my stage 2 of getting used to him!  Hopefully I'll have something more interesting soon...

Do you plan your rides? How do you go about deciding what to work on and when?  If you don't have a plan, how do you keep the rides interesting?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

We teach our dogs well

It appears our little foster dog, Ruby, has learned to fit right in.

The thing is, we tried really hard to NOT let her on the furniture. I always keep foster dogs off the furniture to make it easier for the new owners once the dog is adopted.  Ruby is pretty determined that she deserves to be a couch dog like Hazel though.  It's hard not to agree!

When you're this beautiful, you get away with a thing or two.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ruby Tuesday

Meet my latest foster dog, Ruby Tuesday, aka Ruby.

Since she was a stray and didn't respond at all to the name the shelter staff gave her, we were told we could re-name her if we wanted. My husband, being a geologist, was throwing out various rock and mineral names. While "Trondjhemite" is unique, it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, lol. Besides, you just KNOW that it would be shortened to Mite. No thanks.

Then he said "Ruby" and the little pup tilted her head a little. Not so much that I think she was named that before or anything, but she liked the sound of the word. That's good enough for me! Well, almost. I have named her "Ruby Tuesday" after the Rolling Stones song and of course we call her Ruby mostly. In 24 hrs she already responds to it well and we don't even use it very much.

Ruby is probably a Doberman mix but I think it's entirely possible that she is a black and tan coonhound mix, especially given her size. She is only 4-5 months and her paws are twice the size of Hazel's. So far, she is very sweet and learns extremely fast. She is eager to please and likes treats but isn't so food-motivated that she's nuts about it.  Overall, I think she has a very calm demeanor wrapped in puppy energy. Reminds me a lot of Hazel at that age, actually. 

It's fall and all Hazel cares about are the squirrels and
rabbits that are everywhere preparing for winter.
Ruby is trying to decide if it's safe to go for the ball, I think.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Foster Dog

I finally have a new foster dog on it's way! I had to say 'no' to 2 - one because of the broken arm and another because of the move to my awesome new house :)  Then, the humane society had a quarantine due to potentially fatal bacterial breakout. I will pick up the new foster dog tomorrow afternoon. You can bet I'll have pictures :)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I can't really think of a good internet name for my leased horse, so I'm going to call him Brumby on here...he looks about as far from  an Australian Brumby while still being a horse as it gets. But he may act like one. I was going to ask the owner how she feels about me blogging about him...but honestly, it feels weird, so I'll wait until we know each other better.

I had my first real ride (second actual ride) on Brumby Friday evening. It went well. I obviously still need to get used to him before I feel like I'm riding him well. His shape is very different from what I'm used to and I can feel the muscle memory is just not there like it is on my usual mount. I find it okay going down in size, but going up - especially width, is harder. Suddenly, I feel like I'm pinching with my knees. Overall, the ride was pretty good and I got a sense of just how nice he will be to ride once we find our groove.  Some really amazing canter. We took it really easy since he had only been to his new barn for 4 days. I felt good.

Sunday was my next ride. I decided to ride outside since the weather was not too bad. I thought it would give him a chance to look around areas he probably hadn't been yet. I was in the mood for an easy hack.  There is a nicely groomed 1/2 mile track so it was perfect for my goals for the day. 

I expected Brumby to be very interested in his surroundings, since it was all new to him. He was actually very spooky at a few points. I tried to just keep him moving while also letting him look around a little.  Once, he grew roots at one of the 2 scary spots. Since he was already stopped I let him look around while I made sure to relax even more. I asked for forward and got it, although tentatively.  After several steps he spooked again and reared. I'm not talking a little hop, I could see my brand new polo wraps at eye level! Pretty :-/

I brought him down like I've read about 100 times but never had to do. All is well and somehow we are walking forward again. I thought perhaps I pulled on his mouth when he spooked, thereby encouraging a rear. I really didn't think so but was willing to give the horse the benefit of the doubt at first. Then it happened again. This time, I was SURE I didn't pull. I brought him down again. I wasn't really sure how to balance not letting him get away with this behaviour with not being in danger. This was my third time on his back and I didn't want to push him too much in case he really exploded.

I stayed calm throughout, that is one thing I know I'm good at, but disappointment was in the background. We did some nice forward trot and transitions to more collected trot, walk and halt. Mostly okay.  I finished the ride on a good note. As soon as I untacked, I hand-walked him to the "spooky spots" and gave him some carrot pieces when he relaxed. 

Perhaps I should have hand-walked before riding? I thought I was taking it pretty easy on him while also trying to just get forward movement. I spoke to the owner and she didn't seem to think it was weird, she said she wasn't surprised. Um, I was!! This is what worries me most of all. Combined with his poor ground manners, I think this horse is spoiled.

I am fine with a challenge but I'm not dealing with a rearing habit (I would if it were my own horse but not if I'm paying to ride it!!). I felt secure the whole time and was not afraid. Although I did kinda say "Wholy shit" to myself on the way home, lol. We'll see how it goes.

I hope to get new pictures soon. This is from the test ride.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Help with comments and photos

I'm wondering if any of you can help me. I have a hard time posting on some blogs. It just doesn't let me. It's always the ones with the drop-down list where you choose your posting ID (google account, wordpress, openID, etc.). I've chosen google, no luck. OpenID, which should work according to blogger, no luck. I've tried all kinds of things over time and always get frustrated and give up...until I build up enough patience to try again. Has anyone experienced this before?? Better yet, has anyone fixed it?!  Kate and Golden Pony Girl - right now you are two blogs I can't comment on :(

Now, on to some neat pictures. I can't take credit - my hubby took these while I was riding Edgar. I made him come with me since it was the first ride and his owners weren't home. Click on image for larger version.

Praying Mantis

Marbled Orb Weaver

Banded Orb Weaver. 
I love how he made his web among
the daisies - such perfect camouflage.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Things I've learned

Three days until my first lesson on the horse I'm leasing!!!  I have my first real ride on him on Friday and I've arranged my coach to give me a private lesson. I'm hoping this will help get me started on the right foot and give me some confidence that completely left me in the test ride. I still find it interesting that I completely blamed myself for the test ride not going super well.  While I think it's important to always look to how I am influencing the behaviour of any horse I ride but I also think it's important to be able to recognize when it's something else. It's not always a good thing to blame yourself when it means that you are missing what is really going on. Food for thought.

I had another "duh!" moment last night in my lesson.  The horse I usually ride, the beautiful black gelding, has a very hard time going round. I have learned that I have more success when I don't even think about that at all but just ride him as best I can. Of course, that makes sense because if I am riding properly, well balanced etc., it makes it easier for him. Still, he rarely is truly round but I wouldn't say he is hollow either. Last week, we had some moments that I felt were truly indicative of progress in this regard. We were both so much more balanced and soft. Then, last night, I was having difficulty with a particular exercise. We were cantering 10m circles and then through poles set up in a half-square. The circles were ok but I just wasn't getting the square as balanced as I wanted. He even broke to trot once. Eek.  I stopped to re-group and talk to my instructor. I was asking about my legs, I suspected that was where things were going wrong.

You know how sometimes the things that people say in passing actually ends up being spot-on?  Yeah. I had asked about my outside leg and my instructor commented that she wouldn't use outside leg because that would be confusing to the horse. Oh. ... OH!  I realized I've been way too active with the outside leg. It started because this horse is so long and stiff he tends to bend with his front end only, so I do a little extra stabilizing with the outside leg to keep those hips from swinging out. But there is a big difference between a supportive leg and an active one! I didn't even realize I had started to over-use it. We did the exercise again and it was so much better.  I felt pretty stupid and I am actually a little embarrassed to be admitting it on the internet :)  But what the hell, it's all about improvement, right?  I wish I had photos, but my husband (aka photographer) is out of town again. Oh well, we are back in the indoor and photos don't look very nice in there anyway. A very worthwhile lesson, I'd say.

I also never followed up with some thoughts about Edgar. It's quite simple really. So simple, I didn't really think that it would be something to pass along. Edgar is pretty green and doesn't work under saddle very often. Therefore, he is still learning to balance a rider. On top of that, the riding area is a field with uneven footing. So it's important to go slow and build his balance and strength.  Occasionally at the trot Edgar will start to lose his balance which is evident by the way he starts to rush and get even more on the forehand (yes, it's possible, lol). In the very beginning, it went from increasing speed to bolting pretty quickly. I think the bolting was mostly an evasion of sorts - he would get unbalanced and anxious and bolting was a way out.  (Side note: he also used bolting to try to get out of work. I noted the difference back in the spring but didn't blog about it specifically. You might remember when I made him keep running after a bolt, beating him at his own game, if you will. I didn't do that until I was sure he was simply being a brat, as opposed to me pushing too hard, and I think that is why it worked so well. That was the last time Edgar bolted with me. I do not think it would have worked so well if I did that while the balance was still the root cause.)

All that to say that you need to be patient. I did a lot of walk-trot-halt transitions, varying the order and duration of each. I had worked up to short canter sessions just before I broke my arm. I always made sure to transition down from canter while he was still balanced so that he could stay calm and build both strength and confidence. I suspect that the riders his owner had out to replace me weren't as patient and likely rushed him to trot and canter when he wasn't ready and/or balanced. So, he bolted with them. I honestly think it's that simple. Of course, part of it could have just been his Fjord brain knowing what he could get away with ;)

I also think it's interesting that he didn't try anything like that last weekend, even though I hadn't ridden him since early June.  I was also (again) careful to pay attention to when he started to come undone.  Hmmm, I guess I'm not terrible at distinguishing some rider issues from horse issues. Then again, even my husband could tell when he started to come undone, lol.

Well, that was much longer than I intended!  Tonka has found the container of catnip and is batting it around the house. Guess I'd better give him a little. Off to "drug" the cat and walk Hazel.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The horse does all the work

I am really, really sick of hearing this. I just had one co-worker make this joke as we were standing around this morning. I laughed because I know full well this person knows how physically intense riding can be. But then another co-worker piped up and said “that’s what I think” with such a superior tone as to suggest her opinion is the only one that is possibly correct. I have to admit, someone shamefully, that I was instantly angry. I refrained from showing it as best I could and I managed not to say anything too rude. It doesn’t help that this person was already getting under my skin lately with her my-opinion-is-the-only-truth approach. So I was already sick of it and then that just hit too close to home.

Why do so many people assume riding is so easy? I’d love to see any one of them do squats on a moving “base” for even a few minutes, let alone on and off for an hour. Or maintain core tension for an entire hour while simultaneously not being tense and operating your limbs independently of one another, also on a moving base. Or balancing all your weight on the balls of your feet and calves, using lots of inner thigh, while said moving base throws itself through the air over obstacles. Not to mention helping balance the horse. Or even more challenging (for me) is keeping the horse “between” your seat/legs and hands with a soft, following hand, a relaxed seat, while performing lateral movements. This gets me exhausted faster than just about any activity I’ve ever done, and my usual favorite activities are cross-country skiing and rock climbing!!

I said that it sounded about as silly as saying that riding a bike isn’t exercise. WHOA! That got a strong reaction! But your legs move when you ride a bike, they said. How dare I suggest something so ridiculous? I had to laugh. Then, I couldn’t stop the sarcasm, “Oh, you’re right, your legs don’t move or do any work when riding a horse.”

Ok, so I was at work and had to maintain my cool, but I was really pissed off. To me, it’s simply ignorant to suppose your opinion is right about something you have never experienced. And it’s not just here; a lot of people seem to be very set in this idea. I know, I shouldn’t let it get to me but it just makes no sense whatsoever. Even worse are those who have gone on one trail ride and therefore “know” what riding is like.

Sorry for the rant but I really needed to get that out. Now, I am going to try to turn “frustrated Friday” into “Fun Friday”…I get to go to an interesting presentation this afternoon.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Have you ridden a Fjord lately?

I haven't been up to ride Edgar since just before I broke my arm at the beginning of June. After the arm was ok to ride again, I was hesitant to continue riding Edgar at first. It was my closest experience with "fear" and riding. I wasn't really afraid but I WAS reluctant to risk getting hurt again soon after my month off. Time off is HARD. I hate being limited in what I can do.

While I was recovering, Edgar's owner tried to find another exercise rider. It didn't go so well. Many clearly weren't experienced enough and she didn't let them try him. A couple were ok, but couldn't handle him. One girl seemed to be a good enough rider but when he bolted on her, she couldn't control him. His owner was considering selling him to a home that could actually make use of him. She just couldn't do it though.

My wrist got better but I was still reluctant to get back into working with Edgar. It is very slow going when the work is so far between. It is also difficult since there is no indoor arena or outdoor ring to ride in. I ride in a hay field.

I felt like all the responsibility for his riding was up to me. To be honest, I wasn't up for that task. It is selfish to say but there just wasn't enough in it for me. I had to drive 30-40 minutes to walk-trot around a hay field?? It was hard to motivate myself to go.

On the other hand, Edgar's owner is an amazing person. I really like her and she could really use some help. I've said it before but it bears repeating - life threw some curve balls to this family that resulted in delaying her plans with the horses that she had waited so long to purchase. I'm not going into details out of respect for her privacy but trust me, society owes her a debt of gratitude. I also really like working with Edgar. He is such a people horse, even if he is a trouble-maker :)

I had a nice long talk with Edgar's owner. I discussed with her my dilemma about wanting to work with him but also my commitment to improving my riding and wanting to move up in that respect (hence leasing a Hanoverian :) ). She can't bring herself to sell him just yet. It just isn't "safe" enough. I agreed. She has been longing him and doing other groundwork, so at least he's getting something. She decided to just let him be a lawn ornament for the next few years until she can dedicate herself to him. We also said that I would come up whenever I can, no pressure as to how often. Something is always better than nothing (as long as that something isn't making him worse, of course!)

So I went up to ride Edgar today. The last time anyone has been on him was me, back at the very begining of June. I expected some protest and bucks, maybe even bolts. But I approached getting ready as if he and I did it every day. His ground manners are so much better than in the spring! He was still playful and knocked everything off the ledge in front of him BUT he wasn't pushy with me at all.

Under saddle, he was awesome! Not one single step wrong. I was amazed. I also forgot how nice his trot feels. I could sit to it all day.
I've figured out what the main "blow-up" issue is, I think. I realized it long ago but never really put it into words, I just rode and adjusted accordingly. Now, I feel I have to be able to describe it to others. Stay tuned for my revelation, I am just too tired tonight to type!

Why am I so tired? We did a lot of stuff around the house this weekend. Along with battling grape vines that have taken over, I painted the shed.
Notice the rust. It looked worse in real life.
Also, the roof was almost completely bare of paint.

Rust be gone!The (almost) finished product. I have to say
I love this shed now. All I need are the ponies :)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Search for Lease, continued.

I had pretty much decided not to lease the big boy I talked about in my previous post on lease-hunting. His owner was looking for a more advanced rider and basically a co-trainer. I know I didn't ride all that well that day for a number of reasons but I am sure I wouldn't disappoint her if she watched me a few more times. It was worrying me so much...what should I do??...and finally, after my lesson on Monday, I came to a decision. I was talking to a couple other women I ride with about my dilemma. One made it clear - if you are that stressed and worried, move on! It's clearly not the right situation. It really could be that simple! I made up my mind to keep looking. I felt so relieved.

But then...

I didn't have a chance to email the owner right away, so I waited until the next day. I got home from work, walked the dog, and made dinner. I finally sat down in front of the laptop with the sole purpose of emailing the owner to say I was going to pass due to different wants/needs.

But there was an email from my instructor waiting for me. Turns out, the horse's owner just figured out in the last week that her boy was reacting to the saddle! Turns out he's been progressively getting worse in some ways with respect to behaviour but she thought it was a combination of the current leaser and having new people try him out. I've read enough about saddle fit issues to know that they can be incredibly subtle, yet serious, but very hard to identify as the saddle. This saddle "fit" by all reasonable standards but still was pinching him. It took some time before the owner was able to see real evidence pointing to the saddle. Of course, she feels terrible but is happy that she can now do something! I like this owner :)

So, we've agreed to try things out for October and then re-assess. I feel 100% better about the situation and am very excited for the opportunity. It looks like my riding is about to change considerably!

Alright, you guys with nice horses --- any tips, stories or anything really, that you can tell me about the transition from school horses to privately owned, nice horses? I'm told it will help my riding immensely. I have a hard time seeing how it's different, in a way. I know the horse will likely respond better, but people seem to tell me a fairly big transformation occurs.

I hope to update on Edgar (the Fjord I haven't really talked about since I broke my arm in June) soon. I've been putting off blogging about him! I am hoping to see him on the weekend so I might even have new pictures.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It's that time of year!

Harvests are coming in like gangbusters, the markets are overflowing with fresh, ripe, gorgeous fruit and vegetables. This is my time of year. I've always loved fall; at one time probably partly because my birthday is in fall, now in-spite of it ;) Incidentally, I found my first real Grey hair a couple weeks ago. It seems a bit odd to me but I've befriended it. I kinda like seeing it sparkle when I blow-dry my hair. But I digress.

The box of tomatoes we bought this morning.
Harvest time means doing our best to preserve some of that summer goodness, to be enjoyed later. Last year was very successful, almost too successful because this year we decided to make even more salsa and hot pepper jelly! It was pretty hard to ration ourselves as the stocks started to dry up, so naturally we want to do more.

To do more, we need a LOT of produce.
So far, that means we've decided on 4 batches of salsa (2 extra spicy chipotle, 2 tomato peach) and 2 batches of red pepper jelly. Oh, and then today we saw the blueberries and will probably do more blueberry jam. We usually do a few types of jam but I don't really eat it so it doesn't make sense to do a lot. I DO eat the blueberry though.

I am sure we will put up some beets, chili peppers and maybe turnips in a week or two.

Prepared ingredients for
the tomato-peach salsa.

This is only 2 batches of salsa.
Not bad for a night's work!

Now, a recipe. This is adapted from Bernardin's website.

Tomato Chipotle Salsa Ingredients
9 cups (2250 ml) chopped seeded tomatoes, about 5 lb (2.3 kg)
6 cups (1500 ml) chopped, seeded red peppers, about 2.5 lb (1.2 kg)
1 to 2 cans (each 215 g) whole chipotle peppers
1 pkg (115 g) BERNARDIN Salsa Mix
2 tbsp (30 ml) brown sugar
1 cup (250 ml) red wine vinegar
1/2 medium onion
*Notes: I also add about 4 dried hot peppers (grind them up) and use red peppers that are considered mild-hot called 'crimson reds'. I have a high tolerance for heat and I find the salsa mellows in heat after canning. I only use one can of chipotles in adobo (including seeds!) though, I don't want my salsa to taste only of the chipotles.
  • Wash, seed and coarsely chop tomatoes and peppers. Measure 9 cups (2250 ml) tomatoes and 6 cups (1500 ml) peppers. Place in a sieve to drain off excess liquid.
  • Press chipotle peppers and sauce through a sieve to remove seeds or chop whole peppers.
  • In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine chipotle puree, BERNARDIN Salsa Mix, brown sugar and red wine vinegar. Add tomatoes and peppers; mix well. Stirring frequently, bring to a full rolling boil.
  • Ladle salsa into a hot, sterilized jar to within 1/2 inch (1 cm) of top rim (headspace). Using nonmetallic utensil, remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rim removing any stickiness. Center SNAP Lid on jar; apply screw band securely & firmly until resistance is met -- fingertip tight. Do not overtighten. Place jar in canner; repeat for remaining salsa.
  • Cover canner; bring water to a boil. At altitudes up to 1000 ft (305 m), process –boil filled jars 20 minutes.* Remove jars without tilting. Cool upright, undisturbed 24 hours. After cooling check jar seals. Sealed lids curve downward. Remove screw bands; wipe and dry bands and jars. Store screw bands separately or replace loosely on jars, as desired. Label and store jars in a cool, dark place.
  • Makes about 6 x 500 ml jars.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Today I went to test ride one of the horses I might lease. This nice boy is a 6 year old Hanoverian gelding. He is 16.2 and although my usual horse is the same height, this horse feels SO much bigger!

I was pretty nervous riding in front of his owner. It felt like a test! I didn't expect to be quite so self-conscious and I don't think it helped my riding at all! It was just my luck that today my back was also really hurting, so that didn't help. I've had back pain for the last few months and it's totally related to work - the more I have to sit at my desk, the more problems I experience. When I was doing physio for my wrist, I got some good ideas on how to help my back. It's been working well, but today I woke up sore.

Here we are just warming up.
This boy has a great trot. He's testing me in this picture, checking to see if I really want him to a) work nicely soft & round and, b) stay on the rail. My reins are too long and my stirrups are too short for flat work; that means I am back a bit too far in the saddle. Grrr.
No wonder he was testing me!

Here we are in canter and I think it's better looking , though my reins are still too long. His owner had told me how the previous rider to try him cranked his head in rollkur style and she wasn't really thrilled with that. I think that made me ultra careful not to ask for too much. Since I've never seen him go, it's hard to know how to ride him. I also lack confidence and was unsure of myself, grrrr!This is probably the nicest horse I have ever ridden, even though I didn't give him the best ride. I honestly think that within a couple rides I would be much better with him. I just hope his owner sees that! He gave a few playful bucks and I was surprised at how hard it was to keep his head up when he decided to drop it! And even his little bucks felt very powerful. It was nuts. I didn't have a problem staying on and keep him going but I also think I should have been able to stop him before he did it.

I wish I had more confidence in my ability but somehow I convince myself that I suck. Maybe I need to show next year to get an objective opinion! I hope his owner saw enough good stuff to still consider me but I wasn't sure how to read her after my ride. We'll see, I guess.

I am trying another horse on Wednesday. This is really harder than I thought it would be!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reality check...but for who?

I mentioned a few posts ago that I was considering leasing a particular horse. I've actually been thinking about it for awhile, not only that particular horse but leasing in general. I was especially interested in that guy because I think we would both benefit and he is just one of those horses you feel a special affection for. Unlike my other love Justine , who needs someone more skilled at training than I am, this boy needs regular work, thoughtful exercises and refining. I can do that.

I got a quote for half-leasing (3 rides/week) at the stable where I take lessons. It varies depending on the horse but I was given an initial estimate (minimum). I was very surprised at how high the amount was. I've also been looking at other stables, on the internet etc., so that I know what is out there. I am a researcher, it's what I do. To me, it seems high when compared to other available leases too. To be fair, I haven't seen a perfectly comparable situation so it's hard to say if it's fair.

I would like your opinion! I know it will be hard with different countries etc. but I would like to know if I am being unreasonable, or if it really IS a lot to ask for a lease.

The main base price is (at minimum) half the price of board. That's $350 Canadian.

That doesn't include lessons and I would want to do at least one/week. Add $176.

That's $526/month for 3 rides/week, one in a lesson. On top of that, I would have to pay half of all farrier costs AND vet costs! So I'd be looking at at least $550/month but likely more. Ok, seriously, to me one reason to lease a horse is that you can ride more without the commitment and worry over vet bills!

Consider also that if I were to take 3 lessons per week at the same barn it would cost me $528/month. So it actually costs less to have qualified instruction for the same number of rides! I find that seriously odd.

What do you think? Am I just naive?

Now, some photos just for fun.
Hazel loves to run
the jump fields.
My pretty girl.
Warming up.