dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, November 20, 2017


A few weeks ago I received an email from our Provincial Association inviting me to an awards reception. At first I thought it was a generic one inviting all members but on re-reading I realized that they were saying that I had won an award. I spoke to Ed and we made plans to go (apparently if you need me to go somewhere just send me an email that I have won something). 

I actually didn't know what I had one and when I was sitting there listening to all the awards I thought that I had misunderstood the email and was going to have to explain to Ed that this was a mistake, but hey we had a nice day together. Plus we went to Ikea so it's really a win. 

Then I heard my name. Not once but twice:
Champion for my 'region' and Reserve Champ for the Province in
Training Level for the Provincial Scotia Series

I was, of course quite chuffed about the whole thing (NB: 'chuffed' is a word meaning very pleased).  But not because of the ribbons (although those are very nice and going on my wall) but about what they represent- the work that I put in. 

Back in January i wrote a post about my goals for 2017. I met all of them. Well, except for going to Hobby Horse but we did lots of other things. Carmen and I went off property to show, do clinics and to play. My main goal was to have fun with her and enjoy the experience. As the season unfolded we gained in confidence in ourselves and each other. 

So I will celebrate these ribbons- not because I won, but because I went out there and did the things.  And we totally slayed it. 

And didn't look half-bad either: 

one of my favourite things

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Ah, That's the Spot

There was something I didn't share about the Jacquie Brooks clinic: I won the main door prize! It was a free massage session for Carmen from SoulWay Equine. The owner, Mary, is certified in Equine Sports Massage Therapy.

I couldn't believe that I had won. And the timing was perfect. When you ride a horse that is frequently tense and will throw her haunches in you have to wonder if there's a part that is related to a musculoskeletal issue.  I was pleased with how quickly I was able to arrange an appointment.

Before Mary was due to arrive I brought the horses in and tried desperately to scrub off the muck that Carmen had managed to get on her neck/face. I have never seen equine massage before so I was curious about it.

Mary asked me about Carmen and if I had noticed anything. I said that I find that she gets tight and tense in her lower neck/withers and in her poll. I also mentioned that, when tense, she will throw her haunches in to the right but lately I had noticed that she was travelling straighter to the right (yay). However, travelling to the left and being straight was harder (it's never easy, is it?).

I like Mary's approach to Carmen- she was calm and quiet and constantly checking in to see how Carmen was responding.

Carmen was adorable- you knew right away if something felt good or not. Her face when through so many expressions.
what you doing back there?
Mary did indeed find tension in Carmen's poll as I suspected. Carmen loved the release of it.
oh yeah, right there
Overall Mary didn't find anything glaring or awful. A few muscle knots- a big on in her pecs and in her haunches. She said that these are normal in  training (just like people). Interesting enough there were more knots on her left side (where she was starting to struggle to be straight). Overall, Carmen's left side was tighter. 

When Mary would work a knot, Carmen's face would tighten, her eye would harden and her ears would pin. Mary would back off until she found the right amount of pressure and work at it gently until Carmen's eye started to soften. I know how Carmen felt- massage therapy treatment doesn't always feel great in the moment but it does help release. 


Mary said the didn't see any soreness in Carmen's back. She asked how often I had the saddle fitter out and I explained that I monitor it pretty closely. Carmen is really good at telling me when she's not comfortable. 

Mary recommended that I not ride that day and let Carmen's muscle settle. It was easy to comply with that request because it was a cold, blustery, raw day.

I did, however, take Guinness for a walk. He's a big and incredibly strong dog. Most times he walks on the leash really well but when he's excited he can pull me off my feet and I am just not strong enough to hold him. A few weeks ago I bought him a halti leash:
I quite like it because there is only pressure on the nose if he pulls. Otherwise it is nice and loose. He's had it now for a few weeks and is doing well with it. He takes exception to it at the start and then forgets about it. It's also working for when he decides to bark at other dogs: a quick correction and he stops.

On this walk, however, he decided to try some civil disobedience (I think he goes on the internet when I'm not home):

I.just.can't.go.on. Leave me to die
If you look closely you can see his eye fixed on me to see if I'm getting the message. I stood there to see how long he would stay and he didn't move at all. Just played pathetically in the leaves. Finally I had enough and told him to get up and get on with it. That was the end of that. 

For reference this is a photo from his baby days when I first put him on a leash and he realized he couldn't go the way he wanted:
HALP! She's killing me
Dramatic dog and dramatic horse. I wonder if there's a common thread here????

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Product Review: Dublin Performance Tights

Back in October my husband went to Arizona with his brother for a vacation. Ed's brother has a house just south of Phoenix and the two of them love to golf.  Ed is not one to spend time shopping when he's travelling and I took full advantage of this by ordering some things from tack shops in the U.S. Often finding things I want is difficult here (even trying to get it special ordered) and shipping from the U.S. to Canada is expensive.

I placed an order from Riding Warehouse and saw these breeches for a great price:
Dublin Performance Warm-it Silicone Full Seat Tights
I have winter breeches but they are too warm unless it's really really cold. I thought that I could try these and if I hated them then sell them to someone else.

(I should say at this point that I paid for these and am receiving nothing for this review)

They are now my new favourite breeches. I love them. They are the most comfortable breeches I have ever worn. They feel like yoga pants. The cut is high enough to *ahem* hold things in but not so high that you feel like they could be worn as a bra.  I have a 10 inch difference between my hips and waist and my thighs are NOT skinny. These fit like a glove- nothing bagged anywhere. The fabric is soft, with a nice weight. The fleece lining is not heavy.

But Teresa, I hear you say, how are they for riding?

wearing them at the J. Brooks clinic

I wasn't sure what I would think of the silicone- I have heard mixed reviews of people in terms of the silicone seat. However, I found it to be perfect. My seat felt still when I needed it to be and able to move when I needed to move. They are also warm.  I have ridden in them frequently since the Jacquie Brooks clinic. I love how I can stay secure in the saddle no matter what Carmen was doing underneath.  There was no bagging, no pulling, no riding up in the, well, you-know-what. 

I am planning to buy more of these breeches to see if I love the other styles. I have looked and there are no retailers of Dublin in my area. I shall have to see if I can get a tack shop to look at their products. Otherwise it will be on-line. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017


I returned from the Jackie Brooks clinic all inspired. I felt that we had made some leaps forward in our learning and I really wanted to keep going.

Mother Nature had other ideas.

The weather has turned cold and Novemberish. I don't know why it's such a surprise but it really is.

I miss this weather

So I squeeze in rides when I can.

Carmen has definitely noticed the change in weather. She's also very very fit. Not that this is an issue at this point in our relationship. Carmen will likely always notice things and I don't think that she'll ever not have opinions.

Often our rides start off a bit tense and her threatening to spook/run away. At times she will actually spook. And it really doesn't matter. Because, as I stay on task and keep us on the work she comes to me and meets me half-way.

Riding is fun. No more do I have a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. At times I actually laugh at her antics.

Today a young woman named Julia came out to ride Irish today. It was a cold day but fortunately the wind was gone. Both of them had a ton of energy but were using it positively. Every time I looked at Irish he was having fun.  Carmen gave a couple spooks but otherwise was nice and forward.

What I am finding with our rides is that while we might start tight and tense we end soft and loose. Today I played a bit with the canter-walk departs. Those are really coming although Carmen still believe that the 'cue-pin ears-flail' maneuver has more flair. Her canter seems to be so much improved - I think it's because I'm remembering to make sure she's loose and straight and slowing up before I ask.

I'm remembering Jacquie's instructions praise every time the horse even tries to find the answer. It's funny how much that works. Even for things that I know that she knows (and she knows that I know she knows how).

Today I played with the lengthens in canter and trot and she was really stretching out over her topline and reaching. They wouldn't score well in the show ring (yet) but she's getting the idea.  And from the idea we will can build.

I need Shanea to come back and work with us but she's away.

After the ride Julia and I went in the woods for a short hack. She was surprised at how different Carmen was in the woods. As we came up to the barn Irish picked up a canter and so did Carmen. which was fine. And then we were galloping. And then I lost steering. I called to Julia and she slowed up. I didn't mind the gallop per se but I didn't want to gallop into the barn or slip on the grass.

While I may not have much time left for training until winter stops us (although I am still thinking of taking her a few times to an indoor if I can line it up), I am still happy with where we are going.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Handy Man

Let me start by saying that I have the best husband. He has embraced country life with enthusiasm. Which is great because there are often puzzles to solve when owning a farm. 

One such puzzle involves feeding hay. I hate feeding hay on the ground. Horses make a big mess of it and then won't eat it. It's wasteful and difficult to clean up. 

Enter the hay box: 
Steele eating from the hay box that Ed made. 
That worked okay but they pulled the hay out and made a mess. Then when we got a lot of snow it would be buried. That caused some concern with me that a horse might get injured. After the winter of 2015 we ditched it and started again. 

The next attempt was the slow feed hay net suspended between two posts:

That saved a ton on hay wastage and made clean up easy. That worked great for the winter and then in the spring the horses broke one of the posts which led to safety issues. Then they did it again the next spring. 

Back to the drawing board. Obviously more study was required. 

One day this summer I walked into the garage to see Ed building something. 
What are you making? 
This is a garden box for Andy's wife. She wanted one and I said I could build it. 
I circled around it with my mind whirling. I realized that with some modifications this could be the answer I was looking for. 

We talked about it and Ed came up with this: 

It's an elevated hay box. It's large enough to fit a full bale (or more). The hinge makes it easy to lift the hay in. The legs are black because they are painted with some stuff that rubberizes them to keep them from rotting. The whole thing is made out of hemlock which is a great wood for outside. But the  hay doesn't sit there waiting for the horses to drag it out and make a mess. We purchased a slow feed hay net that is suspended between the two arms. 

Carmen modelling. Also, not impressed with how the net is slowing her down.
I'm really really hoping that this will work for us. I may have to put some metal around the edges if they start chewing on it but I'm hoping that they won't.

I told Ed that he could sell these if he wanted. I think he was intrigued with that idea. I will be his agent of course.
(I find him both)


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Jacqueline Brooks Clinic Recap: Day 2 Balancing Point

 I don't care that she broke to trot. I care that she lost her balance ~ Jacqueline Brooks
Standard disclaimer that all errors are mine and should not reflect Jacquie's training
Overnight the temperature dropped from 'unseasonably warm' to 'cold and blustery'.  I was glad that I had thought to throw a winter coat into the truck before I left. At 6:30 a.m. it was cold! I fed the horses I was resonsible for (there was a new one looking at me plaintively but I explained that I didn't have instructions and could not help. Talk about guilt!) and headed back to the house for a warm cup of coffee.

Once it was light out I turned out Carmen and hooked up the trailer. I liked being able to turn her out. I think that it's better for a horse to be able to move themselves when possible. Carmen is not that good at being in a new turnout amd I am hoping that she gets used to it.
such a lovely setting
She was calmer this time but still happy to come back inside. I watched a few rides and took more notes. Jacquie had spent a lot of time in the clinic talking about balance. She talked a lot about building the bridge which holds the rider. The two sides are the front end and the back end. If you push too much and/or too quickly the back end can push the horse onto the forehand and they lose their balance. My understanding is that she believes that the front end needs to be warmed up and loose before you ask for too much behind. She also made the observation that horses get upset at a lack of balance and can be reactive. It sounded very similar to something that Sue leffler (CR coach) said to me as well.  Jacquie said that a horse and rider are like pairs figureskaters. The horse is the man on the bottom holding the woman over his head. If she is moving all around he cannot stay balanced underneath of her and there is no security. I liked that image. 

I braided Carmen again. I hadn't planned on putting on her ear bonnet but I made such a mess of the forelock that I figured it would cover it up. From the side she looked like she had a small horn growing out of her forehead. 

I didn't bother about taking her to the outdoor to warm up first. Jacquie said that she preferred we didn't anyway. I simply came in and mounted up. I felt so much more relaxed then the day before which allowed me to be more focussed. 

Carmen pretty much felt the same as the day before and  gave a spook as I walked off but honestly I was just her typical spin away and it was no big deal. Jacquie pointed out the value of the neck strap for a spooky/bolty horse. She explained that I could use the strap for control and not have to hold so much with the reins. This allowed me to push her forward into contact withtou worry about where she would go.

In my ride the night before I had realized how much easier it was to keep her straight. When Carmen gets tense and ready to run away she always drops the inside shoulder. I can use rein to flex her (or actually bring her head right around) but then she drops her outside shoulder and twist her neck and by then I've lost whatever the heck it was I was trying to work on. With the neck strap, when she dropped her shoulder to the right I would pick it up on the left and give a small tug. This got her to pick herself up at the shoulder/wither  and rebalance. This kept us straight and on track. Essentially the rope helped me to steer her shoulders and keep her underneath of me.

The other way we used the neck strap was to lift it up gently when she dropped her neck/chest and wanted to plow down. I could feel her lifting her shoulders, my leg brought the hind leg under and she lifted herself into self-carriage. It was so cool. I have no idea if the videos captured how it felt but it felt awesome.

Carmen and I relaxed much more quickly into work on Day 2 and we could focus on some more things- like straightness, shoulder fore, and canter. With the canter work, Jacquie really wanted the trot to slow up and the horse reach under and then ask. It felt quite exaggerated and I'm sure the idea is with time for that to become and invisible half-halt. Doing it that way really helped Carmen to step into her right lead canter (her 'bad' way) with little difficulty (at around the 1:50 mark):

 I just loved how quiet and calm our canter was. It took a lot of repititions but me to understand about the slowing up first. Jacquie kept saying 'tell her 'whoa'and  I kept saying 'easy'. I think she was getting a little frustrated as to why I would not say 'whoa' like she was telling me. What I wanted to say but it wasn't the time was I have spent a lot of time, money and effort on teaching this horse that 'whoa' has only one meaning : all four legs come to a complete and total stop no matter what gait. It's our 'safe' word. For Carmen 'easy' means 'slow up and come back to me'. That seemed like a lot to try to explain and Jacquie let it go so it was okay. I knew that adding in 'whoa' would only result in confusion. Lots of people who ride english use 'whoa' to mean everything from stop to slow up a bit. I get it and I have no issue with it. But for me I like having 'whoa' mean just one thing and I'm not going to change it at this point.

Some more rigt lead canter:
At the 10 second mark she lifts up into a lovely relaxed canter. I think it was the best trot-canter transition I have ever done with her.  Amd we were straight down the long side- no haunches in!  I loved everything about the ride: how she was listening and we were able to work together.

We finished up practicing walk/canter transitions. I was making the mistake of asking her to canter and throwing the reins away. I was to let her take the reins forward and keep the contact. Once I did that we were able to get some lovely transitions. Of course my phone died before then so you will just have to believe me.

This clinic was a fabulous experience for me. I would do it again in a heartbeat (I would have to save up first). I learned a ton and came away with some new tools and a deeper undestanding of what I need to do. I allowed myself to be pushed and it really paid off. Carmen and I, like every other horse/rider in the clinic finished our lessons having worked hard but we were not exchausted or sour. Carmen was quite pleased with herself and you can see in her demeanour that she was happy.

It was lovely to get away and spend some time in a bubble out of the larger world. I didn't hear any news and it was wonderful. Instead it was a weekend where I spent some time with some lovely horse women and my lovely girl. We had fun and learned a ton. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Jacqueline Brooks Clinic Recap: Day 1, Moving Outside of My Comfort Zone

This ain't no old lady sport ~Jacqueline Brooks~ 
Sorry guys- this is going to be a long post.

I was up nice and early on Friday morning. I dressed and tried to be quiet going down the stairs (not easy in an old house). Outside the air was calm and quiet. When I came into the barn Carmen gave me a soft nicker. I fed her and the other two horses (riders in the clinic who were staying farther away. This way they wouldn't have to be up at the crack of dawn). After doing my morning chores I headed back into the house where Julia had some delicious coffee brewing and was cooking bacon.

I had asked to be later in the schedule to ride for Friday because I wanted to watch a few rides first. While I like to go first in many things I have learned that it's helpful to watch a clinician I am unfamiliar with for a bit first. That way I have a sense of what she's looking for and her teaching style. About an hour in I sent Cynthia a text: 'OMG, She's an AMAZING teacher'.

I am going to review a few of the concepts I learned before I go into my lesson.
The standard disclaimer applies: What I am writing is what I understood Jacquie to be teaching. If you disagree or think what I say is wrong that falls back to me. I am doing my best to fully understand what she shared with us but you cannot hold her responsible for my understanding (or lack thereof).

1. Jacquie spent a lot of time building the riders understanding of the 'bridge'. To build the bridge the horse needs to have his shoulders free and loose and then bring their back up. She started everyone on getting the shoulders relaxed and warmed up. Jacquie described the shoulders as being two pillars with the neck and chest in a sling. As the horse warms up, the shoulders become elastic and are able to move up and down. Horses will get stuck in the shoulder and stop their back. If their back is not moving then they can't really bring the legs under to carry themselves.

this man is leaning on the cart and all his weight is on his front arms. He is unbalanced and could easily fall
2. 'Push the shopping cart': I struggled with this a bit but my understanding was that this was an analogy to help the rider keep the horse from falling forward onto the shopping cart. We were to visualize that the horse was pushing the shopping cart but he/she was not allowed to drop his head into and lean on it:

this woman  has her weight on her legs and is balanced over her core
 Funnily enough I can't find images of horses pushing shopping carts so the above will have to do. Jacquie had various riders visualize pushing the cart with their horse's chest/neck/forehead depending on what she was trying to accomplish.  What I think this helped with is the idea of keeping the horse's shoulders up and moving and staying straight. Lifting the head and neck (and not worrying about contact or frame) moves the balance up and then the push from the hind legs won't push the horse onto the forehand.

3. Everything on the training scale comes after balance.  The more the horse is balanced the quieter  your aids can be. A heavy rein always means a loss of balance. Engage your own core and bring your elbows back to help the horse find his balance.

4. 'Tell her 'good girl". I heard that a lot over the weekend. As soon as the horse did what was asked (even a little bit) they were told they were good. Mistakes were fine, 'just bring them back and show them what you want'. 

Those were the key things I came away with in my notebook. I had turned Carmen outside for a bit when another rider came in and told me that she was getting agitated. I went out and as soon as she saw me she called and ran to the gate. I brought her in and spent some time grooming her and decided to braid her. As I was braiding her mane I could feel her relax.  When it was time for us I took her down to the outdoor ring to lunge her and warm her up. She was not a fan of the far end of the ring- there were bushes, grasses and trees. Carmen took one look and was nope.nope.nope.  I used the time to do ground work and get her focussed. I didn't mount until Shanea came down with her horse. I just walked her around the far end (away from the scary spot) and worked on relaxation. I didn't believe it was time to address the far end. 

I should mention that it was a warm day. When we came up to the indoor the far door was open. Carmen and I took one look at the far end with the waving grass and trees and said 'uh oh'. It turns out that I said that out loud. Julia asked if I wanted them closed and I said 'nope, we will deal with it'

I started at the end far away from the open door. There were some issues with the ear piece as well- trying to get them to sync with two ear pieces so we ended up riding without it. By then, with the door open, seeing all the auditors and Carmen being tight I kind of lost my brain. I was having a really hard time getting myself organized.

 I had given my whip to someone when I started because she was so forward. Carmen was so far behind my leg it felt like we were going backwards. I could not get her forward. Why I didn't ask for my whip back I have no idea. None. I was trying to push my shopping cart but it was like pushing one with the brakes on and one wonky wheel. 

I am going to share some videos of my bad riding. Nicole was very kind and used my phone to take some videos. There are more on my youtube channel (if you are now bored watching paint dry feel free to check them out). 

On the plus side- look at us go by the far door. So that's a win. Ignore the stiff backed rider on the stiff backed horse. 

At one point I was so out of it that Jacquie was telling me to use my right rein and I kept hearing 'left' and of course Carmen and I were getting more out of sync and I'm sure Jacquie was frustrated when I realized. I felt like an idiot. After that things got better. 

Jacquie suggested that Shanea and I use a neck strap. I have never ever used one. The idea was that by using the strap I can affect how Carmen engaged her shoulders and lift her head without using a ton of rein. It also really really helped with preventing her from dropping her shoulder and dekeing away from things. It was, in some ways, like neck reining. 

Better flow. 

I have to say that we ended in a good place: I was able to get her forward off the leg and we were both much happier.

After the ride my brain was a bit of a mess. My memory was that I was really really awful and Jacquie was not happy with me. When I watched the videos later I realized that she was clear and consistent and gave me lots of praise (when I earned it). I wasn't horrible but Carmen and I were certainly not at our best. Jacquie is an Olympian and I am a middle aged AA making a ton of mistakes and seemingly unable to listen. How she kept her patience I have no idea. (In full disclosure I was the person who would get an exam back at university with a 97 and look for my mistake. In some ways I am Hermione Granger).

 I was outside of my comfort zone that my brain was in a bit of whirl. Between the shopping cart (with the wonky wheel), trying to stay on task, having an audience (albeit a kind one) and riding with the neck strap I was struggling to get things into a framework. So I am happy for the videos to reflect back on. It allows me to see what following Jacquie's instructions really helps. I am sure I will use them frequently. I watched some more lessons- which helped.

It was wonderful to watch horses and riders transform. Every one of them finished off so much better then they started. Jacquie maintained the same energy level from beginning to end. The first and last rider has had her full and undivided attention. Even more telling was how happy the horses were at the end. Despite working hard the horses looked loose and pleased with themselves. So did the riders.

After the rides were done a bunch of people (along with Jacquie) left to go to a local restaurant for a cocktail. I declined. To be honest my introvert self was a bit overwhelmed. I also needed to do something.

When everyone was done I quietly tacked Carmen up and took her back to the ring. Now before you judge me on this- I was not being goal driven. I realized that I needed to take what I had learned and see if I could make sense of it when I could do it at my own pace. Later that night Jacquie overheard me talking about it and was curious as to why I rode Carmen again. I explained that I wanted to see if I could figure out the neck strap and cart on my own.
"why? that's what I'm here for'
'Yes, but I only have you tomorrow and then I'm going to have to see if I understand what I thought I understood. Riding tonight helped me so that tomorrow I can get the most out of the lesson. (Jacquie looks at me quizzically) It's how I learn."
With that she let it go.

It was the right call. I was able to quietly ride and focus on how things felt without the performance anxiety. I picked up the neck strap and put it down to play with how it worked. I used the mirrors to practise being straight. During the lesson Carmen was really throwing her haunches right (as she does when tense. I am sure I contribute to it as well). In that ride I was able to find my centre and we re-connected. After 20 minutes I hopped off and felt more satisfied.

That night we had a potluck. I sat around a large round table with other women talking horses. We laughed and shared and drank wine or beer. It was a perfect way to end the day.

I am sure that Jacquie is plotting to buy Carmen and take her away to the olympics. :D