copyright- Teresa Alexander-Arab

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Training Ride

Cynthia and I had lessons booked for Friday. The weather was lovely in the morning- there had been a skim of snow but the sun was shining and it promised to be a lovely day. Shanea texted me earlier to make sure- turns out that there was a lot of snow in other parts of the province but I promised her that here was fine.

When I went to get Carmen there were a few clouds and the wind picked up. In the ring I started to lunge Carmen and was immediately flying a 1100 pound kite. She was bolting and trying to fly around the ring. I worked at getting her settled and Cynthia came up to the ring.
whoa- she looks a little excited. 
It also started to snow- hard little ice pellets.
Oh yeah. Just then my phone beeped- Shanea had texted that she was 10 minutes away (love that she does this). I answered that she might be getting on Carmen first. She had offered before and I thought that this might be good for both of us.

I did get Carmen settled on the lunge. Cynthia moved around the ring making noises while I worked on helping her work through it. As Shanea arrived she was pretty calm but I know her to know that there was still a lot of action under the surface.

I put on the ear piece and Shanea got on. I had thought that she might just ride for a bit but she did it for a full hour. It was wonderful- because of the mike system she was able to talk to me as she was doing things and it was very helpful to listen. Carmen was definitely 'up' and ready to run away but Shanea was very good on her timing and clarity so nothing ever escalated.

I watched Carmen go from up and tight to forward and relaxed. By the end her trot was excellent. And I have media to prove it (I did get permission to post these):

starting off tight and looky- I love how she sits back and gives guidance

And I got video of her canter. I love how cadenced this was:

That is not 'noise' in the video- that's snow.

In short- no matter what ride Carmen forward to the bit. Help her to look for it. Don't worry about the chomping when she's tight and nervous, just keep your hands quiet. I followed her around the ring as the weather went from sunny to cloudy to snow to back again. The wind was bitter and I was slowly freezing to death. When it was time for Cynthia's lesson Shanea asked me if I wanted to walk her out. I said that it was okay- she had done a lot etc., etc.

The truth was that I was so cold my muscles were tight and I just wanted to get out of the freaking wind. But then Shanea called me a wimp and I decided screw it- I was getting on. AT the mounting block my leg refused to bend to put my foot in the stirrup. Seriously. But once we got walking the circulation returned to my legs. I couldn't believe how soft she felt. It was fabulous. When we headed to the spooky corner I could feel her back off but when I gave a soft squeeze with my calves she just walked forward. I walked her around for a bit and then hopped off.

While Cynthia rode I hid in the heated tack room. After taking care of Carmen of course. She nickered for Irish a couple times but was pretty calm in her stall. I let her into the small paddock and she just stood there eating her hay. I did see a bit of Cynthia's ride and it looked terrific.

Shanea came into the tack room after to warm up. She was full of praise of both of my horses. She said that Carmen had 'so much potential' and I was all 'I know, right?' and inside thinking (don't mess it up!). She also said that Irish was a great horse who really knew his job and was a great horse to learn on. I felt pride for that because I've had him since he was three. Obviously I had help from many people but I was the one in the saddle.

 That made up for me feeling a bit like a wimp for not getting on Carmen from the beginning. But that was just my pride talking- the truth is I think it was good for Shanea to get on. It allowed me to see worked for her, it allowed Shanea to learn about how Carmen is and it allowed Carmen to figure stuff out.

On a side note she had some issues going to the right but I can't find any sore spots. It also wasn't evident on the lunge. I'm wondering if her saddle needs adjusting. I shall have to get it checked.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Take a Moment

The last little while I've noticed that Carmen's attention is often on me when I'm around.

I've also noticed that she gets a little annoyed if I haven't spent time with her.

Today I came home from work and had a ton of things to do.  I am having company tomorrow and I wanted to get things ready- the house cleaned and things baked and prepared for lunch. I rushed around with the vacuum and dust cloth and then headed out to the barn to do the supper time chores.

As always the horses were down by the barn waiting for me to finish the stalls so they can have supper. Carmen watched me work on her stall. And then followed to watch me do Irish's. When I was done I turned around she had her head stuck in the stall. She gave me a soft nudge with her nose and looked at me.  I gave her a pat and then hurried about my chores.

After dinner I prepared the food for tomorrow and then collapsed on the couch for a rest.

I went out to the barn a bit earlier then usual. Both were watching me over the door. I slipped Carmen's halter on and brought her out. She stood while I took of her blanket. I began to brush her and she showed me her itchy spots. As I groomed her we both became quieter and more relaxed.

I love the quiet rhythm of grooming. When the horse stands quietly and the human is not in a hurry it is a bubble of peace in a busy day. There's no need to plan or think or fret. You can just be. And horses seems to thrive in that zone. I believe that these moments are as important as riding to building a relationship.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Dancing in the Dark

I wanna dance in the dark and never stop
We gonna light up the night like shooting stars
Whenever you hear the sound don't be alarmed
Move move move
Dancing in the dark

I have a confession to make:
I have never ridden Carmen alone under the lights.

Go ahead and call me chicken. I've called myself that. But the truth is I listen to that inner voice when it tells me that something isn't right.  This relationship I'm building with Carmen was so very fragile at first that I was afraid to shatter it by being careless. In full disclosure- I also did not want to get hurt.

These days though, Carmen and I are gaining confidence in ourselves and each other. Recently, being in regular (and excellent) lessons has helped push us forward as well.

Yesterday, I went to bed with a splitting headache. Today at work it came and went and it was driving me batty. When I got home I decided to stay outside and see if the fresh air would help (spoiler alert- it did). As soon as I pulled up and got out of the car, Carmen was locked on me and her gaze followed me as I went into the house. I decided to put on my riding clothes 'just in case'. I brought in the horses and gave them supper. I then puttered for a bit dithering getting ready.

I decided to tack Carmen up and head up to the ring. She was pretty quiet about the whole thing- although she did take exception that I wouldn't allow her to stick her head in Irish's feed- he never finishes in right away and that drives her bonkers.

It was just dusk when we headed up to the ring, not quite dark. Carmen was good on the lunge so I didn't spend much time on it before I mounted up.

As a dressage training ride it was a nothing to write home about (or blog about ha-ha). But as a confidence training ride it was terrific. As it got darker the spot lights came on (love my solar motion sensing spot lights). Carmen was obviously a bit freaked by it all but her instinct was check in with me and she actually  listened to me: instead of screw you I'm out of here. Enjoy being eaten by a tiger sucker!'.
It was more like "I hope you know what you're doing and if we get eaten by a tiger I will never forgive you but okay, we'll do it your way" 

There was one teeny-tiny scoot and one small spook. She was tense and had a hard time letting go but she listened. And I didn't grab or hold tight her mouth. When I got tight in my seat I relaxed it. In the end we were cantering around the in the circle of lights and I was doing an okay job of rating her speed with half-halts (as opposed to grab and hold).

I decided to end it at that note and not push for more- it seemed that we were pretty much on the edge of what she could handle.

I dismounted and we walked down to the barn feeling proud of both of us. I put her away and she looked at me over the stall door
I was pretty good wasn't I?
Yes you were. 
I totally deserve a carrot, right? 
Yes you do. 
Obviously not from tonight but from our lesson friday

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Friday morning my alarm went off and, as usual, I lay there a few minutes listening to the weather report. "The rain has ended for most of the province. Today will be cloudy with sunny periods but very windy with gusts up to 50kmh".

I groaned. I had a lesson for today and I could visualize the whole thing in my head: Carmen and I flying around the ring like some mad kite and Shanea futilely trying to work with us. In fairness- we all know that Carmen does not like wind. Add to the lack of regular work because of weather and it seemed like it would be a difficult day.

However, there was no way I was going to cancel. Shanea had already demonstrated how good she was at getting us to be calm against our better judgement so maybe she would be of use. She has also offered to ride Carmen if things got hairy. Of course it's not me if I don't verbalize how I feel so I put this as my FB status:
written slightly tongue in cheek
You know you have good friends when they immediately contradict you. My responses were along the lines of "it will be what you expect so expect it to be great"and "breathe" (always good advice for me, it's amazing that I don't pass out regularly the amount of time I hold my breath!) and, when I said that I was going to wear my safety vest "good idea".

Even Ed asked me if I was going through with the lesson. I said 'yes' and he looked dubious- won't she be a bit, well, difficult in this weather? He pays more attention then I realize sometimes.

Since my lesson wasn't until 12:45 I decided to lunge Carmen a bit in the morning to see how she felt about the whole thing. The wind was fierce but it wasn't freezing and the sun was trying to come out. She was absolutely fine and I started to feel more optimistic. I only did about 10 minutes in the ring and then gave her a good groom, put her blanket back on and went around doing my chores. I dragged the ring and did a general clean up in the barn (not that it really mattered with the wind stuff just kept blowing around). I had just finished my lunch when Shanea texted me that she was running a bit early.

I headed out to the barn and brought both horses in. Ed took advantage of that to get the tractor in the small paddock and scrape out some of the mud before winter comes and it freezes. I was feeling a bit rushed and I could feel Carmen feeding off of it already. Damn these sensitive mares. I made myself stop and breathe deeply and be calm. I tacked her up quickly (fortunately she had already been groomed) and headed up to the ring. I led her around and she was more looky then previously. Which was my fault. But the sun was out and the wind was settling down.

Shanea arrived then and we had a chat. Now during our lessons, I hand her my phone and she takes photos as we go. I usually end up with over 80 photos that I could make a stop action movie of. How she does that and teaches I don't know but it's great. I keep the photos and study them. I post a few here and on FB but I use them to see how I'm doing. Last lesson I saw far too many photos of me having a tight rein:
When Carmen gets tight she shortens her neck and goes behind the contact. I go looking for it by pulling back. I'm also preparing for a leap/spin/bolt so it's also self-self-defense. While it's understandable that I do that, it actually is not helpful and will not get Carmen to stretch into contact. Instead I will have a horse who is short and tight in front. I'd been working on it a bit on my own but I really wanted to focus on it in this lesson. When I told Shanea what I saw she completely agreed (in fact she looked relieved that she didn't have to break it to me- such is the life of a riding coach). With that I mounted up and we went to work.

And it was fabulous.

Not everything and not all the time but there were far more good moments then bad. We started on the circle and Shanea talked me through using my seat bones to swing with her back (that's a familiar comment for me too). It was all about positive energy- giving Carmen a task to do so that she didn't have to worry about anything else. We worked our way into the spooky areas.

And it's not that she didn't spook- she did a few times. But they were what I would consider 'normal' horse spooks- ones like 'ack what's that? oh it's okay?phew'  vs 'oh my god trolls we must flee and confuse them by random changes of directions'. The wind died down, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day.

Rather then recap here's what we worked on (as I remember):
-When she gets short and tight don't tighten the rein- put the leg on to get her to go forward and follow the bit.
-Ask her to come down to the bit: not in a forced frame but to bring the alert status down. As soon as she does reward
-use her energy to go forward from behind. Getting her hind end in gear makes it easier for her to focus and carry herself.
-sit up and use my core so that I am a source of balance for her, especially when she's flailing.
- let her have rein, oops not that much she took advantage and pulled, use your elbows/core to keep her from pulling your forward.
-when she bulges her shoulder in, straighten her on the outside rein and use you knee to direct her over, not your hand crossing the whither....

I could feel her lightening and stretching into contact. Her back came up and she worked from behind. the trot, when it was good was like we were floating.

Carmen is wary of the spot we're heading and her head is coming up - but look- slack in the reins and I'm urging her forward. Look at that hind leg reaching under. A few minutes strides later and she's relaxing and looking for my hand: 

There was a this one moment when Carmen was not thrilled with where we were working and did not want to trot forward. I kept the rein contact light and used my legs to ask her to push forward from behind and she went into passage. It was cool and funny and fun to ride all at the same time. We just kept asking her to flow and finally she went like the training level horse she is. It's nice to know that it's in there though. 

Anyway this post is long enough so I will end it with a few of my favourite shots from the lesson:

my absolute fav of the day. 

Later I had to confess that my ride had been awesome and I had maligned poor Carmen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Carpe Diem

The weather has turned cold and wintery. I know I shouldn't complain because it's almost December and I do live in Canada....but still I am not looking forward to no longer being able to school Carmen.

On Saturday she was really spooky and reactive. I had to get off and lunge her again. I realized that I hadn't worked out her energy before getting on and it came back to bite me on my behind. Or it was the energy generated by wearing electric orange. When I got back on she was still pretty wired but knowing that I might not have another day for a bit I dug deep and rode through it all. In the end we both survived and we were both sweaty. But it seemed that we had gained something in the process.

Sunday was a winter storm so no riding was possible. Monday was not stormy but pretty raw and windy and I decided that riding was not an option. However, on both days I brought her out and gave her an in depth grooming. She's a bit funny about it- at first she makes grumpy faces but as I go along she relaxes more and more until she's quite relaxed and happy. On Monday when I came home from work I head a nicker and looked over to see her watching me intently.

Today I rushed home from work, unloaded the feed and shavings I had bought and prepared the stalls to bring the horses in. Carmen hung around while I puttered. Irish stayed up in the field - I'm pretty sure that's a trap. 

In the ring Carmen was a bit worried at specific areas but halted as soon as I asked. When I got on she was tuned in and listening. While the spooking is still a work in progress it's getting easier and easier to keep her attention and/or get it back. I was quite happy with the trot work- it was forward and energized. I sat up and thought 'canter' and she lifted into this forward and rhythmical canter I had to smile. We did a few circles with just one baby flail that quickly sorted out. I brought her back to walk and halted and hopped off. I had only been riding 30 minutes but it felt so good. We were both pretty pleased with ourselves.

yes another photo from our last lesson- which is good because
we have another one booked

I'm hoping that we can keep working for a bit longer.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Cynthia found some hunter orange shirts for us to wear while riding. We figured that these will keep us safe when riding. They should also be useful for visibility when riding out even when it's not hunting season.

The shirts are quite light so I was glad I got a large so I could layer. When we were getting the horses ready I had my flannel jacket over top. Once she was tacked up I put it in the tack room and came out beside her.

She jumped sideways.

Carmen: aargh!
Me: whoa! what's wrong? 
Me: It's to keep us safe- you see it's called 'hunter orange'
Carmen: You are not sitting on me wearing that colour! And are you wearing a PURPLE SHIRT UNDERNEATH? 
Me: Well it's more blue than purple....
Carmen: Good lord, do you even look in mirror? This is ridiculous. 

Up in the ring Carmen was on high alert- looking for danger everywhere. She was particularly spooky on the far end by the woods. Very likely there were people hunting or working down there.
Me:  Just breathe. Why are you so nervous? 
Carmen: How can I not be? I have a neon popsicle for a rider. 
Me: *sigh*
Carmen: I mean we're not exactly blending in. 
Me: but..
Carmen: you are like some huge neon sign saying 'all you can eat buffet right here!' If we get eaten I will never forgive you. 
Me: There's nothing out there that's going to eat us. 
Carmen: You poor naive tangerine glow stick there's ALWAYS something looking to eat us. 
Me: like what? 
Carmen: lions, wolves, TROLLS. 
Me: no, none of those things are here. 

Funnily enough, now that I've accepted that this is part of Carmen's make up I don't get as freaked out by the spooking. I just kept working away. The recommended action is to work away from what is scary and gradually get closer. Which is fine except that with Carmen she will fixate on it and the area seems to grow. So I can't always ignore the area because her fixation on it takes over the whole ride.

It's a balancing act. But in the end she was relaxed and blowing.

With the weather she hasn't been in regular work and it's starting to show. She's still young and not sure how to deal with the excess energy so it translate into reactiveness. But we'll get there.

Me: See, we did the whole ride and nothing bad happened. 
Carmen: This time. 
Me: And next time. And the time after that. 

Carmen: we'll see but next time could you dress more sensibly ?
Like when we had that lesson with that nice young lady? 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


I'm happy to report that things are swinging along. I feel that I have a deeper understanding of Carmen these days and no longer react to her moods. If she's cranky in the cross ties I tease her about it and then carry on. It doesn't take long before she relaxes and enjoys the attention.

Cynthia came out this afternoon to ride with us. The weather has turned colder and it was a raw day. I use the ground work to figure out where the spooky spots are going to be for our ride. They now move around so this helps. Today it was up by C. Even so, when we were lunging she was pretty good.

The ride was pretty uneventful. Which is always welcome. She had her spots of distractions/spooking but it was all pretty minor and I just dealt with them. It's weird but I don't give them much thought anymore and it doesn't escalate either. Hmmm.....

My goal for my riding is to give her rein to reach into but it's hard- when she goes behind the vertical or feels 'up' I worry that she's going to spin/bolt. But I'm working on it- give with the reins, ask her to go forward into it. It's coming. We had moments of it and I'll take them because that's how training works- stringing together moments.

Carmen got a bit fast in the canter work but that was okay- it gave me energy to use.  My goal was to keep her on a circle, flexed in and steady in contact. That worked for about 2/3 of the circle. But it lost it shape at the end by C. I brought her down to trot or walk,, fixed the bend and then back to canter. As we moved further down she was keeping it pretty well and then had a wee spaz- where she flailed a bit and swapped in back and then sorted it out, all in 2 strides. I think what happened was she cantered over a hoof print hole (made earlier) and was surprised by it. I giggled because it was such a baby spaz moment and she immediately settled. It was kind of like t his:
Camren: 'canter canter, cant- ooh WHAT'S THAT?! Avoid. Avoid. *swap, flail, swap back*
Me: oh Carmen. hee hee hee. 
Carmen: Never mind. It's FINE. Nothing happened. STOP. LAUGHING! 

I was happy at our trot work and our canter as well. It's becoming more rhythmic and flowing. I used Irish to help us around the scary bits but didn't make too big a deal.

I brought her to stop and she was standing all relaxed when my phone rang (I ride with my phone in case of accidents). It was Ed and I told him I would call back once I dismounted. I put my phone away and jumped off. Remember last week when I twisted my ankle?  I had forgotten about it but when I landed it collapsed and I fell flat on my back.
Owwww.  I said.
Cynthia asked if I was okay and was confused as to what happened. Which made total sense because the last time she looked my way we were just standing there.

And the cool thing was that when I fell right at her feet she never stirred a hoof. She didn't even lift her head. Although I'm pretty sure she rolled her eyes. So I'm happy about that training I did with her around falling. Carmen stood there while I stuggled to my feet and followed patiently as I limped back to the barn.

No matter what else happened during that ride, her reaction to my fall made my heart sing. I really feel we're becoming partners.

I'm not really slouching- it's my safety vest riding up