dancing horses

dancing horses

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Spoonful of Sugar

Full Confession- I have loved Mary Poppins since I was a child. Loved the books (although I haven't read them in decades) and adored the movie. A couple years ago we went to a local theatre putting in on and it was fabulous. 

I was pretty much laid out after the ride on Sunday (the really flu kicked my butt and I was unable to return to work until Weds). Sunday night Ed asked me why I went.
Weren't you having trouble with her? 
Yes I said but things have been better since I started treating her for ulcers. I explained what I had been seeing and when I thought it all started. He listened carefully and nodded. I said that I was going to call the vet to discuss perscription meds.
It's not like you can stop showing her or going to clinics. 
No. Well (I stopped, thinking that he was asking me), I could but....
No,I mean that of course you're not going to stop going to shows and clinics. 

Isn't he awesome? On Monday I called my vet and outlined what my concerns were. He listened, asked some questions and then agreed that it sounded very plausible that Carmen had ulcers. I had two alternatives 1) take her to the next province to the vet college (a long haul) for a scope or 2)treat and see if it made a difference.

I opted for door #2. Partly to save money, partly to avoid the stress of a long haul (I've never done one before) and mostly to save Carmen the stres of the procedure. My vet was fine with that. Can I just say that I love that my vet returns calls and is willing to consult over the phone with no fee?

Two hours later I had a call that my perscription was ready and Ed went to pick it up.
this represents a lot of saddle pads.....
Ed told me the cost and then shrugged and said 'well it's not like it was optional. She needs it. And I am fortunate, because our vet's stock a 'generic' omeprazole in place of Ulcer Guard. Still it is not cheap. The bottle of Sucralfate is almost $200. The tubes are 4 weeks of treatment (combination of Omeprazole and Aloe Vera).

The plan is: 5 days of Sucralfate (2 doses a day not with meals) and one tube of ucler treatment at least 2 hours from the sucralfate. 

I looked at this and had reservations. You see when I first had Carmen deworming her was an adventure. She was very resistant. I now had her that she tolerated it but I looked at this and thought oh dear. I can see where 5 days of three tubes a day was likely not going to go over well. 

I filled up the syringe they gave with the 50 ccs of Sucralfate, grabbed a halter and an apple and headed out to the field to give her her dose before dinner. It's not that Carmen was bad, she wasn't. But there was a lot of head tossing. That, coupled with the fact that the syringe was too big for me to use one handed and that the liquid was very thin, resulted in both of us being flecked with the medication but I was reasonably sure that at least some had gotten in. Fortunately it has a light vanilla flavour (yes I tasted it, not compltely voluntarily). 

Irish watched this fascinated. I could see him thinking hey, I'm the one who usually gets the special treatment. What's going on here?! 

 The tube of Omerpazole was much easier and she took it without fuss. But I realized that I needed a better method. The vet was clear that she couldn't have it with her feed. Also, there's no way that she's taking it on an empty stomach because she's out grazing all day and has a slow feed hay net at night. Really, other then posibly in the morning, she does not have an empty stomach. And that is not recommended for horses with ulcers anyway. 

Realizing that it tastes kind of sweet in the morning I tried putting in her dish to see if she would slurp it up. She stuck her nose in it and then looked at me with a milky mustache and a quizzical expression. So I dumped her fat and fibre pellets on top and she ate it all. 

That morning I did some more thinking. I realized that I had some hay nuggets that I've been giving them at night (in place of the beet pulp). I've been thinking of transitioning Carmen over to those exclusively but haven't made up my mind. They can be fed as a hay replacement or in addition to hay. They are balanced with vitamins and minerals so you don't have to worry. So that morning I soaked a few nuggets and in the afternoon (about an hour before dinner) I added in the liquid medication and stirred it. I took it out to Carmen and she gobbled it down (don't worry I fed Irish an apple while she ate. He's even more confused then ever now).  My thinking was that if it's okay for her to have it and eat hay, then it should be okay to have it with hay. Feel free to pile on and tell me I'm wrong but I think my logic is sound. And it's not interfering with her taking the Omeprazole treatment

We're on day 3 and I can see a real change in Carmen.  It could be a placebo effect but this is what I see:
  • she's not tearing into her food like before. She used to 'attack' her hay net and feed quite aggressively. You could hear the hay hoop rattle as she pulled on it. Now she nibbles without the franticness. Same with her morning and evening rations. 
  • She's not as uptight and tense. Far more relaxed. 
  • she comes up to me in the field and when I'm walking the dogs rather than ignore me. 
She's just softer overall. Now I don't think that she will become a Magical Zen Unicorn. 

you can find anything with google!

But seeing her look content and relaxed is lovely. Here's a shot that warmed my heart:

Let me tell you what the big deal is about this photo. Carmen is in a section of the field that she has refused to go into for the last 3 years. She's surrounded on 3 sides by brush and it's blowing. Can you see Irish looking into the next field? That's because there's a giant doe there also eating. Carmen looked at it, shrugged and went back to eating. The dogs are running in and out of the bushes as we walk and she gives zero fucks. She has ventured into this part of the field before but she also zooms away when we come walking by and I've never seen her that far in. 

I have not ridden her. Even if I wasn't sick I wanted to give things a chance to settle. When I do start back it will be light and easy and I will monitor. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Body and Soul

Before I get into the post let me share this:

This was shared on my wall by a friend on FB. It seems that my photo of Irish and d'Arcy is a meme. Which is pretty cool. 

Things have been interesting with Carmen. Every day I see a huge improvement in her attitude and demeanour. And I don't think it's the training (although that is helping).

I think it's the gut medication.

When I think back, the wheels started to come off in early August after we had been at two shows back to back. I think that she has acidosis or ulcers. The medication I have her on is more for symptoms, not for healing so I will call my vet on Monday. I think she will need a round of ulcer meds and then will need them in the summer. In terms of her management I don't know what else I could do in terms of that to help her.  Maybe I'll save that for another post.

I feel guilty about 'blaming' Carmen when I realize that she was trying to show that she was uncomfortable. But she's not always easy to read and guilt is a non-productive emotion so I will try to let it pass and focus on the lesson.

Anyway, I had made arrangements with Tanya and Nancy to go on a trail ride at Coveside. You may recall that I went there last year and had a blast. Now given that last week Carmen was basically unrideable this may seem like a bad idea. But Carmen is generally better on the trail and around other horses and I wanted to add in some fun. Because lately life has not been fun for or with her.

On Friday night I was sneezing a lot but didn't think anything about it. Saturday morning though I woke up with a searing headache, sore throat and achy body.

Oh no.  

I made sure that I rested as much as possible on Saturday- other than taking care of the horses, dogs and doing laundry I rested. Ed was pretty sure I was going to cancel but I was determined to go. I hooked up the trailer Saturday evening and crossed all my fingers when I went to bed.

Sunday I did not feel good at all. But I could walk and decided that I was going anyway. Ed said nothing but clearly had opinions on this. But who knows when this opportunity was going to come again? So medicated, loaded my pockets with kleenex and put Carmen on the trailer.

I met up with Tanya and another young girl (Leah) at the stables. We parked and unloaded the horses. Carmen stood there looking around but didn't move her feet. We put the horses in stalls and then headed back down and got our tack.
can we talk about how adorable this donkey is?
Carmen was fascinated. Irish would have lost his mind. 

When I mounted Carmen in the arena she immediately tensed and felt defensive. I walked her in a few circles while the others mounted (the young'un got on from the ground).  We walked out and headed for the trails. Tanya's young mare was quite excited to be on this outing and pranced around looking adorable.
Suzi 'oh this is so fun, where are we going? What's that over there? Wheee'

As we walked out Carmen became more and more relaxed. Honestly you guys, she was incredible. We walked most of it on a loose rein. Not at the beginning- there were some granite rocks that she was highly suspicious of.

As we headed into the woods she let out a big sigh and her ears got floppy. I was able to let her walk out on a long rein.
honestly this property and trails are amazing

I occasionally had to take back the reins- she was striding out so well she wanted to pass the leader. And over bridges- just to make sure that I had her between leg and hand. But she walked over them with total aplomb. Which was great for Suzi because it helped her to just follow us over.
see my left hand on my leg? the other hand is on the buckle.
(I have my safety vest under the red vest making me look bulky)
PC Tanya
There was a lot of hills which was great for working her back and hind end. At one point we were below a public trail and a bike went by. Carmen looked at it Oh hey, a bike and then carried on. The things she did look at were cautionary and not near death experiences. Between being ill and the medication I was unable to be tense which likely helped a lot. 

I don't know how long we were gone. An hour maybe? When we got back to the barn all of us were very happy. The weather was cool but the colours were lovely. 
Suzi looking happy and wondering what her next
adventure is going to be. Carmen is in the stall next to her
eating all the hay she can stuff in while we get ready to leave

When I got home I realized that I was going to pay for this morning. I am now feeling even worse and my body seems rather pissed at me. 

But that's okay. 

My soul is happy. 


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Glimmer

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
~Martin Luther King Jr~ 
Thank you everyone for listening to me vomit up all my frustration and disappointment yesterday. I was bouyed up by all the support and positive advice I received. Thank you for not saying that I suck (that's what my internal voices are for).

I have been thinking about the groundwork and how to make it meaningful so that she learns to tune in rather than shut down. I like N's idea of doing patterns in hand and googled a few on my break at work today. I can see how it would add focus for me and her.

Today I was in the city all day which makes for a long day. In the morning as I walked the dogs Carmen came over to the fence to greet us as we walked by. Clearly she is not viewing me in a negative light. The same thing happened when I came home and walked the dogs again. I prepared the stalls and fed the horses (I'm making some changes to her feed too but that is probably a different post).

After we ate I decided to take her out to the ring to do some work. Since the dogs had been in all day I decided that they could come with me. It was getting dark and was quite windy. I figured that and the dogs might make things interesting.

My goals were simple:

  • respect my space
  • respond to my directions
  • focus on me 
I started with the leading up to the ring. I made sure she followed along and did not try to graze (confession: I've been letting that slide). At first I took her to the centre and asked her to walk a circle around me. She was ignoring me and looking into the next field so I firmly increased pressure and she trotted off.  After a few minutes of lunging and changing directions I asked her to walk beside me and the discussion about 'where' her spot was really short. We alternated between me sending her off to work on the edge of the lunge line, to leading, backing up, turns on the forehand and haunches. 

There was an overall difference in our work this evening. She was softer. The corrections we able to be lower in intensity. There's a lot of possible reasons for this:
  • the stomach meds are working
  • the dogs added security. She definitely wasn't worried about them even when Guinness was trotting at her heels (we're working on what he's to do when I work the horses. He's like a young child 'mom, mom, MOM'). 
  • the work I did sunday
Clearly I have altered too many variables to identify one #no_scientific_method #throw_everything_at_the_problem. Probably some combination is working. I brought her down by the barn to do some ground work there too. At first she just wanted to graze and became annoyed by my asking her to turn her attention to me. But after a short discussion she stopped even trying to graze and kept her attention on me. Not in a 'oh my god why are you so mean' way but in a 'what do you want' way. 

Either way, this feels like the right path. We shall see. 

Irish looks so good in the fall foliage

Monday, October 8, 2018

This Post Has No Title

It's not that I couldn't think of a title but because all of them sound too freaking depressing:

  • Starting Over (used that one before I think)
  • Ground Zero
  • The Wheels are Off the Bus
All of them can be summed up with 'what the hell is wrong with my horse?'

I almost didn't write this post but I decided that my goal to be honest here should be honoured. I am not posting all my thoughts or everything that has happened but this is it in a nutshell. 

So from that you may gather that things are not going well. 

That is an understatement. 

I vaccinate between giving up and formulating a plan. 

The 'issue' is going around the ring. As you know, Shanea has been putting on some training rides and I've been following up. The rides are stressful for Carmen but they shouldn't be. All we are asking her to do is:
  • leg on means go
  • walk/trot/canter in all parts of the ring. 
  • do not bolt
Honestly, given where she is with her training those are well within her wheelhouse. 

While I am not convinced that it's ulcers I have started her on medication because I figure the anxiety she's showing is going to lead to them. 

Shanea and developed a plan where she would come Thursday evening and ride Carmen and the next morning I would ride in a lesson.  Thursday night was awful. It all started with geese flying over head honking.  Carmen would not give in. All she wanted to do was fight and Shanea is very good at not fighting. After 90 minutes she began to show some submission. At 2 hours I told Shanea it was time to get off. It seemed to me that we had gotten as much from Carmen as we were going to. 

Friday morning was cold and breezy. Carmen was a twitchy mess in the barn. After walking her around the ring we both acknowledged that riding would be foolish. I went and got my lunge line and took off her bridle. After some ground work she began to relax and seemed rideable. 

Shanea got on and again, Carmen was full of feeling and thoughts. Most of them involved the word 'no'. 

This is literally the best she became: 

On Saturday I took her up to the ring with just a halter and lunge line. I had no intention of riding until I was able to get her relaxed in the ring. It took a while but I got there. I then put on her tack and got one. The rideable part of the ring had been reduced to 1/4: essentially X to C and down the long side to B. The rest of the ring was nope. I rode her encouraging her to go to these places and I won't go into all the boring detail. Essentially I kept up pressure and then relaxed it when she gave. The was bolting, spinning, head shaking, etc and I rode through it all without feeling at all afraid. 

But honestly, it's depressing: 'yay, you can go to F without losing your mind, just being super stiff'. 

I think that there are many things playing into this dilemma:
1. I no longer am riding with Irish and so she's feeling less secure. 
2. fall weather
3. the grass (with the cooler weather it gets higher in sugars). 

Today I took her up to the ring in a saddle and halter. I hung the bridle on a hook but I really wasn't planning to ride. In reviewing the ground work I could see some holes in what I was doing. I am not sure how to phrase it all so bear with me:
  • Carmen is not truly giving me her full attention. I can get it but really, to her mind, I am not important, even when harassing her (her words) with the lunge whip. 
  • she will run through me rather than give way. 
  • I give up too soon. 
  • Carmen needs to learn how to manage her emotions without me having to force her. I can bully her into things and 'make' her do it but that won't pay off in the long run. But I also can't let her just make all the decisions about how much we do or where we go.  I know I'm not explaining it correctly but Warwick Schiller explains it that we can't truly control a horse until they learn to control themselves. 
  • no matter what happens though Carmen does not act aggressively towards me
  • Carmen is used to throwing her shoulders around and getting away and having that door shut is pissing her off. 
I was determined that I was going to give Carmen the room to make some decisions but try to set it up so that the release was in the relaxing. If she wanted to run away I let her run but controlled where. I would offer her rest and she could accept it or not. If not I let her go and directed her feet again. If she stood I left her alone. As you can see she has figured out how to stand but not to relax:

I don't have video of later because it's really hard to train and video. However, she clearly began to understand as we went on and, as her focus shifted to me she began to relax. I finished by asking her to walk just behind me, close to the rail. She was not allowed to lag behind, step behind me or pass me. It was amazing how this 'simple' exercise stretched her capacity. She tried first to come behind me and put me between her and the rail. I used my lunge whip to put pressure on her to come back to the rail. She would then try to push past me and circle around. Before I would let this happen but not this time. I used my whip in front of her face to stop it. I would not let her pass and if that meant that she was hit in the face because she walked into the whip so be it. She tried to bump me with her shoulder but regretted that life choice rather quickly. 

I know that this all sounds harsh but when I watch Irish with her, he does not let her pass him even when she really really wants to. And she completely accepts this, although not always happily. 

I am not riding her right now because there's no point. I will continue to do groundwork. I am also trying to figure out where to go next. 

I do know one thing- this cannot continue. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Working on the Base

This is Gaucho III- Carmen's sire. If you watch it you will see some similarities to Carmen. I can see the same reactivity and sensitive nature that she has. 

Watching Shanea work with Carmen has been eye opening. What has become clear is that her warm up is all about relaxation.  It's not that I didn't know that Carmen needed to be relaxed for our work to be good. It's that I actually didn't understand how to teach her to look for relaxation as the answer. 

Here's a good example: 
from back in August
Carmen is going forward but her neck is locked, she's camping the bit and her toppling is rigid. Not that we are in that state all the time. We are not. But it seemed to be out of my control whether she was relaxed or not. 

I would say that it depends on her mood. Some days she wanted to play and others she didn't. 

We can debate whether relaxation should be on the bottom or second step but to me they are so closely entwined that it's a moot discussion. I had this idea that relaxation would come as we worked. As she understood the job and got used to the ring. I kept waiting for her to get there on her own. 

But it appears that it is a difficult concept for Carmen. One technique is to 'work' her through it. And that does work but it's tiring and not pleasant for either of us. So we have dialled things back and are working on the second part of the pyramid- relaxation.

My goal in my work with Carmen in between Shanea is to not screw things up continue the work as best I can. And it starts in the barn. Saturday I was alone again and I was torn about working with Carmen. I decided that I could work her and decide if I was going to ride or not in the ring. 

As I was getting her ready I felt that old familiar knot in my stomach. And she was being restless- looking around, moving her feet and generally being annoying. I know that we were feeding off each others negative energy. 
definite negative energy

 I was putting her bridle on and it felt more like a wrestling match. 
no. I said. This is not the way to start. 
I took it off and stood there with her. She was completely free to go (if she chose). I stood there and just breathed until she brought her head to me. Then I put on the bridle and it was so much better. We headed to the ring and I walked her around on the line just breathing and feeling the ground. 

Carmen was startled by something (butterfly, bird, ghost troll..... who knows?) and leaped sideways. I stopped and looked at her and she was standing completely still and braced. I stood still and breathed. After what seemed like a long time she gave a sigh and looked at me. I then walked on.  I lunged her and she was fine. I decided to get on and see how things would go. 

It's not like I was perfect. But I did the whole ride at a walk asking her to find relaxation. My only ask the whole ride was for her to step forward into contact in a relaxed way. when her head came up I would put on my leg and pulse the inside rein. If she fell in our out I straightened her out. It took a while but I finally had her walking relaxed in every area of the ring. I then halted and got off. It felt like a good ride. 
the smaller hunter ring. I love this place
On Sunday I spent the morning with Tanya watching a hunter/jumper show at Coveside. It was lovely weather and some really lovely horses and ponies. It was fun to catch up with some old friends too. In the afternoon I tacked Carmen up and she was much more relaxed. In the ring I repeated the same things but this time introduced trot. Relaxation came and went. When it came I tried to be quiet and ride it forward. When it wasn't relaxed I asked her to bend and give without getting tight or upset. When I had her stretching into contact and swinging back in every corner of the ring and then I dismounted. 

It seems so simple but is more nuanced then I ever appreciated. 

Poor Johanna. I think that this is what she's been trying to get me to understand for a long long time. Sorry Johanna, sometimes I'm a really slow learner. 

see- she can be relaxed

Saturday, September 29, 2018


The good news is that this week we finally we had the rain we so badly needed. The bad news is that it interfered with a lesson I had booked mid-week. It was rebooked for Friday which was supposed to be dry but dawned dark and rainy. It was supposed to clear up so I reassured Shanea that it would be fine for 11.

Which it sorta was. Foggy and misty is fine, right? My farrier also called the night before and said he wanted to come in the morning to do the horses. Which meant that my morning got a whole lot busier.

Before 11 I took Carmen up to the ring to do some lunging and other ground work. I also let her graze in the 'spooky areas'. When Shanea arrived I explained my idea of having me walk beside her and do what I do from the ground if Carmen acted up. She thought that it was a good idea. I am not sure if it worked or not. Carmen was much better over all so maybe it helped?

Anyway, Shanea mounted and asked Carmen to walk off and do some small circles. Suddenly she hopped off. "I'm not happy with how's she feeling, I want to start over." 

I could definitely see Carmen's tension and how she was being over-reactive but I wasn't sure what her plan was. It turned out that her plan was to walk Carmen back to the mounting block  and ask her to relax and get back on. She repeated this two more times when I saw Carmen give a big sigh at the mounting block and release the tension. I never would have thought of that.

The goal was to have Carmen go forward in a relaxed manner- accepting the contact without chomping. It was interesting to watch the process. You can really see when she's tight in her neck and back. Even her lips are tight and curled back from her teeth. I saw it come and go and finally it was just gone. Carmen's stride became swinging and her ears went floppy.

Do you ever watch someone ride your horse and think damn, that horse is stunning? I could see how well Carmen can move. Shanea started playing with her lengthens and,  holy crap, that mare can stride out when she's being ridden but a really good rider.

Shanea just asked for a few strides and then patted Carmen.

What I didn't see was an unhappy horse. I didn't see a mare who hated dressage or was sore. I saw a sensitive mare being ridden with tact and finesse and enjoying what she was doing.

Then it was my turn to get on. I could feel a difference in her right away. She back felt so mobile and I had to really focus on moving with her. Carmen was forward and felt powerful. When I look at the videos of my ride I can see that I'm not terrible but I need to really loosen my shoulders and stop riding so defensively. I think I might have been putting too much pressure on her. Even though I didn't intend to I might have been pushing her more then she was comfortable. I need to find a happy medium.

I think I need to a centred riding lesson. I need to work on myself. I'm not going to a place of self-hatred but more of self-realization. Carmen has a ton of talent and I need to buckle down myself to ride her.

And in today's cute video here's one of Guinness. When I drag the ring he 'heel's beside the tractor until I stop. Then he gives me his toy so I can throw it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


So I've been doing a lot of thinking and analyzing.

(okay, at least try to act surprised at that!)

I am not really any further ahead then I was before but my head is much calmer.

I really want to get in this space not the other one

I also spoke with Shanea and reviewed the ride. She didn't think that I made any mistakes and she felt that sending her forward was the only answer. We discussed safety and I said that I was going to work on ground work until Shanea came again (Ed is away so I am literally all alone). 

I was 99% convinced that Carmen's responses was not based on fear but decided to test it a bit. Carmen is really good with the ground work so I decided to introduce a distraction- I let the dogs be out while I worked with her. 
 I figured that this would accomplish 2 things: 
1. help me work her through being distracted
2. get the horse and the dogs used to being together and no one dying. (#1 goal of working with animals: avoid death). 

I expected the ground work to go well and it did. She gave zero cares about the dogs, even when they wandered into the ring. And, even more importantly, when they moved around in the tall grass. 

this is the most tense she got. Guinness is in the grass behind her. 

I decided to finish with getting her to stand and throwing the ball for Guinness. I used to do this with Irish when he was a three year old and it helped a lot. After startling a few times (but nothing big) she yawned and chewed and cocked a leg. 

I took her down to the end of the ring that has been causing all the issues and see if she would graze. Carmen will not graze if she's tense. She just stands there rigidly looking around. If she's less tense she will bite the grass and then raise her head quickly to look around. You can see the tension in the way she chews. But when I offered the grazing she sighed, dropped her head and went to work. 

Guinness wanted me to throw the ball and Ripley (my son's dog) was hunting mice in the grass. I called Ripley to see how Carmen would react (and to make sure that the dog didn't wander too far). You can see the explosion in the video below:

See it was so fast it was almost like she didn't react at all. 

I threw the ball for Guinness down in the grass that she was acting so terrified of the last few rides. Once again look closely because you might miss her reaction:

I feel vindicated on my hypothesis that her reactions are not being driven by fear. She lunged fine as well so I have ruled out discomfort (well largely but I don't see any glaring reason to get the vet out). 

Which leads me to believe it's more about evasion then anything. 

I know that I can get her to do almost anything from the ground but translating it to under saddle has not been so smooth. So Shanea and I are planning to try to combine the two to see if we can get Carmen over this hump. 

I'll let you know how it goes.