When Esther Mortimer enters her next CDI, there will be a maple leaf on her saddle pad. That doesn't seem surprising for a rider who was born in Canada and who runs M2 Dressage alongside her husband Harper Mackenzie in Millgrove, Ontario. However, Esther has represented Guatemala since she was a teenager. Switching her sport nationality with the FEI from Guatemala to Canada was a major decision, and a bittersweet one as well.
Why the change? Check out my article in Horse Sport Magazine to learn more.
Forward fixes everything
I haven’t posted much about my own training or progress lately. To be frank, there hasn’t been much progress to post about!
Life got in the way a lot in 2021 & 2022. A busy work schedule, several serious family emergencies, injuries, illness, parenting teenagers, plus the ever-present Covid factor…something had to give. And most of the time, that something was riding. It feels like whenever I was just starting to get back in the swing of things, something else would knock me back down.
And that’s ok. We can’t do it all. All we can do is keep trying, keep moving forward.
Riding in a clinic with Tom Dvorak yesterday reminded me of that. I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, wouldn’t even be pretty, but I did it anyway. When Tom asked what I wanted to work on, I said the most basic of basics: improving my position to improve my struggles with straightness, connection, and thoroughness.
And do you know what fixes most of those issues? Going forward. A lot more forward. For two years I thought I had Ronan in front of my leg and nicely forward. I was wrong. Turns out he has a whole different set of gears I hadn't even accessed yet! That one lesson, in which I felt completely inept and amateurish, resulted in a major breakthrough. Now that I know how truly forward feels on Rony McPony, I'm kicking myself for wasting the last two years, and I know he's thinking, "Finally, she's starting to get it!"
In life and in horses, going forward fixes (almost) everything.
That’s my deep thought of the day 😊
From Winnipeg to Wellington
Canada’s Olympic dressage riders and national team members are household names among followers of the sport. But there’s a new crop of up-and-coming riders poised to enter the limelight that fans should be watching. Among them is 31-year-old Ariana Chia of Winnipeg.
To learn more about Ariana's inspiring journey, check out my article in Horse Sport magazine.
Hi. My name is Alison and I'm a tackaholic.
To some people, that phrase may imply that I have too many saddles, bridles, bridle pieces, halters, girths and more. I prefer to believe that I don't have enough horses. Either way, the end result is that a lot of my leather goods go unused for months at a time. They are stored in Rubbermaid bins, in my tack locker, in my garage, and possibly the trunk of my car. I do clean and condition them all periodically, but probably not often enough. So I reached out to saddler and leather care expert Christian Lowe, to find out the best way to store and protect tack. Here are his top tips:
- The biggest issues you are trying to combat are leather drying out or getting mouldy
- Avoid storing tack for long periods in tack trunks / lockers and bridle bags. They act like a Petri dish. Even saddle covers can pose a problem.
- Ventilation and climate control are your friends. A heated / air conditioned tack room or room in your house are ideal storage locations. Do not store tack in your garage.
- Prepare tack for storage with a thorough cleaning and light conditioning. Completely disassemble smaller items like bridles, and for larger items such as saddles, use a soft toothbrush to clean into all the crevices as much as possible.
- If you use a lot of water during cleaning, (which you shouldn't) allow the leather to air dry for a day before conditioning.
- Check your stored tack monthly. If it feels stiff, condition lightly with a good quality leather balm (it just so happens Christian makes my favourite one).
- If after a month you notice mould developing, find a new storage location. Leather care products containing tea tree oil can help kill mould spores but this is an issue you are better off avoiding, rather than trying to treat it.
- Girths are especially hard to clean. Mould typically grows on the elastic before the leather. Use a toothbrush to scrub all stitch lines and never store the girth over seat of your saddle. Hang it up to let the air get at all sides. If you must lay it over the saddle, do so over the cover or put a towel down first.
- If you must store your tack in a locker, hang some activated charcoal to help with air purification. (I found these with a quick Amazon search).
Christian's advice is very helpful for tackaholics like me. But I'll add my own words of wisdom: if you have too much tack, then buy more horses!
Like most plus-size riders, whenever I see a new article or study about the effects of rider weight on horses posted online, I break into a cold sweat. Not because of the article content itself, but because of the inevitable comments that ensue on social media. They range from the insensitive to the stupid, and often venture into the territory of downright cruel.
So when Eurodressage recently posted an article titled "The Influence of Rider Size on Changes in Equine Back Dimensions, Muscle Tension, and Pain," I clicked with no small amount of trepidation. You can read the article yourself and draw your own conclusions about the limitations of the study design but here are mine: there are a few key points which plus-sized riders (and those who teach them) should take away from this study, even as the study acknowledges it’s hard to make clear correlations from the data gathered.
1. We all know this, but it’s imperative to ride a horse whose size, conformation, and soundness is appropriate for your weight. Check in with your vet and your coach / trainer regularly and ask for their honest feedback whether your weight is making your horse uncomfortable.
2. Ride in a saddle that fits not only the horse, but you as well. While this applies to all riders, it’s particularly relevant to those of us who are large / heavy. There are fewer saddles with large seat sizes on the market, especially in the used market, and not all horses have the back length to accommodate a bigger saddle. Big riders are used to sacrificing our fit for correctly fitting a saddle to the horse, but this study suggests that riding in a saddle that’s too small for the rider may create pressure points on the horse’s back, even when properly fitted to the horse. It’s worth the investment to get a saddle that fits you both.
3. Be prepared to face the uncomfortable truth - your horse might not always be appropriate for you. As age and injuries take a toll on your partner's strength and soundness, or if you weight increases, compromises might be required. This may mean reducing workload and / or ride frequency, committing to losing weight, or focusing more on activities like ground work or long lining.
Just keep showing up
Just keep showing up. Today wasn’t the first time I’ve heard these words of wisdom, but I was reminded why they are perhaps the most valuable words of advice for riders of every level in any discipline.
When things get too busy, too stressful, too cold, or just too hard, it’s tempting to put riding on the back burner and take a little break. Don’t. Just keep showing up.
When every ride feels like two steps backwards, keep showing up. When your mind is spinning from stress at home or at work, keep showing up.
When winter sucks away every ounce of your motivation, keep showing up. When you’re overwhelmed with anxiety or frozen with fear, keep showing up. When you suddenly have a breakthrough, keep showing up. When you hit that goal you’ve been working towards for months, keep showing up.
The only way to make progress is to just keep showing up, day after day, week after week. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
Fit to Ride
Did you make any New Year's resolutions for 2021? If you want to focus on fitness to improve your riding, you're not alone. Even Canada's Olympic hopefuls are hitting the gym and consulting with fitness experts to develop off-horse programs that enhance their performance in the saddle.
Fitness is something my own coach has asked all her students to focus on this year - ALL of us. We come in all ages, shapes and sizes, and with varying degrees of injury and obstacles to overcome, but we can all improve our stamina, core strength, and hip flexibility - essential ingredients for anyone wanting to get better at dressage.
So when Horse Sport asked me to interview Team Canada rider Jill Irving about her fitness regime, the timing was perfect. Jill shared her top 5 tips for staying fit to ride:
1. Train for life, not just for a specific goal or sport
2. Make time for fitness every day
3. Engage your core when you are doing anything
4. Improve stamina with a cardio activity you love
5. Find balance between good nutrition and the occasional reward
For more details on Jill's personal plan and training tips, read the full Horse Sport article here.
In any clinic with two-time Olympian Jacqueline Brooks, two things are guaranteed: there will be lots of laughter, and there will be lots of analogies and images used. From asking riders to picture themselves as the pole in the centre of a carousel horse to imagining they’re riding a roller coaster heading up a steep incline, Jacqueline uses a creative approach to help riders create the feel she is looking for.
Jacquie recently taught a clinic at our barn at was fascinating to watch how she used the same visualization technique with every horse and rider and how it applied to each of them, whether working at First level or PSG. The simple idea of imagining themselves riding down a hill, or up a hill helped every rider improve their horse's balance and self-carriage.
It was so interesting, I wrote an article for Horse Sport about it - you can read it here.
Judges - what are they thinking?
Do you ever wonder what the judge is thinking as you're making your best effort to get through your dressage test without a mistake? Spoiler alert: No, they don't hate your horse, and yes, they can hear you cluck.
Canadian FEI 4* judge Brenda Minor recently shared some inside knowledge with me for a Horse Sport article titled 10 Things Dressage Judges Really (Really!) Want Riders to Know.
What's at the top of her list? Brenda really wants riders to know that judges are on our side. They want us to have a great ride and they love being able to reward great work with a great score. She also wants us to know that judges are human too, and mistakes do happen. In cases where the judge misses part of a movement (due to a sneeze, spilled coffee, flying test papers or any number of mishaps that can occur in the booth) judges are trained to give the rider the benefit of the doubt with a positive score.
Want to know more? Read the full article here:
In 2020, more than ever, it's so important to support our local businesses. That's I why I started highlighting Canadian equestrian products and services on my Instagram feed, and in doing so have discovered some amazing new products and brands!
To help everyone out there buy Canadian and shop local this year, I curated a holiday gift guide for Horse Sport. Part 1 covers tack and accessories, while Part 2 features riding apparel, grooming tools and horse health products.
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.