dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, January 15, 2017

2017 Goals- Doing All the Things

Since Friday, winter has returned to it's normal January temperatures and my ring is now frozen. Since it doesn't look to thaw anytime soon I figured it was time to put my goals to paper, well pixels really.

I am feeling pretty ambitious so I have dubbed 2017 the 'Year of Doing All The Things'. I am likely to get all of them done but I like to have ambitions.

what are you thinking, exactly? 
Since I can't ride I want to maintain my fitness level and possibly raise it. I will keep up with my fitness classes, walk/snowshoe regularly and curl (okay I know that curling is not heavy exercise but every little bit helps at my age).

Continue to grow my relationship with Carmen through spending time with her grooming, doing groundwork, etc.

I also want to take Carmen to another barn if I can for a weekend of work. This is dependent on a)someone letting me come and b) weather being cooperative.


Lessons: As soon as weather permits I want to get back into regular schooling and lessons with Shanea. My plan would be for weekly-biweekly lessons working

Showing- I am going to take Carmen to a few shows come hell or high water. I don't care if all I do is trot her down center line, salute and hop off.  There's a series of schooling shows that I want to go to:
Scotia Series Dressage shows:

  • May 13-14
  • July 8 & 9
  • August 5 & 6
  • Oct 28 & 29
I'm hoping to do all of them but if I get 3 out of the 4 I will be happy.  The location, Five Fires also allows you to trailer in for a day and work in the ring for a minimal cost. I am hoping to do that in April to get her used to the facility. 

There are also a few Gold/Bronze Dressage shows that I would like to go to. The first one in June I may not be able to (I might be away) but the one the end of August should be doable. 

There's a fun show in my local community to raise money for breast cancer. I would like to go to that too and have a bit of fun. It's a western show but low key and fun. I think it would be good for her. 
Irish is ready to hand over the baton 

Hacking: I want to make hacking a regular part of our training. Some on my property and some off-site. A stretch goal would be to join up with members of the Atlantic Canada Trail Riding Association for a training ride. 

Johanna is likely coming back this year and I want to at least one with her. There may be others that are of interest. The goal is miles and exposure. 

These two like each other. 

Hobby Horse Farm has a week 'summer camp' every year. It's a beautiful place. If Carmen and I go we may even join the jumping lessons. What could go wrong? 

This is Irish and I way back at summer camp- I finally got him to go through the water
(despite the danger of crocodiles lurking in the reeds)

I think that Shanea mentioned that she might have some summer clinics too so I shall see what those options are. 

I want Carmen and I to take trips to my other horse friends- for a couple hours or couple days I don't care. I think the more miles she has on her the better she will adapt. 

Whatever else happens this year I want to have fun with Carmen. I want her to learn that the world is not a scary thing and that we can have fun together. Last year was a learning year for us and that required us to be closer to home.  I want 2017 to be our debut into the larger horse community. 

As part of that I am thinking I may kidnap my niece for 2 weeks to a month. There is joy in sharing a love of horses so I hope that it will work out. 

All of this is with the caveat of not overwhelming Carmen or bankrupting myself. I may decide to change up some things but putting it down helps me to be more clear and playful. 

2017 Ready or not, here we come! 

Friday, January 13, 2017

January Thaw

Today was a gift.

After our fabulous and fun ride last saturday we were hit with snowstorm and a large amount of snow. However, the temperatures warmed up starting on Tuesday and it began to rain. Also, because of the warm temperatures there was a fog and that really ate the snow. To be honest I thought that the ring would be too soggy to be of use. This morning, after feeding the horses, I went up to the ring and found that the footing was perfect. There were just a couple puddles but the base was firm.

I sent Cynthia a text saying that the ring was perfect but she answered that she was too busy and couldn't come. We were meeting up later for dinner but I thought that this was a mistake. So I sent one more message:
"I will point out that it's 10 degrees and the sun is shining. 🙂"

"I will just leave that there" I thought to myself but she didn't respond.

The view out my side door- the grass is still green! 
When I went out to get the horses both started running around the field like fools. I waited until they settled and then went and brought Irish in. He was really puffing hard so I took off his blanket to help him cool off. 

I tacked up Carmen and headed up to the ring. 

But wait I hear you say. You haven't ridden in a week, Carmen is a hot and reactive horse, it feels like spring and it's windy out. Is riding really a good idea? How did the ride go?

Well, gentle readers, it went way better than you might suppose. First of all I started off with ground work. Second I was fully prepared to only do ground work if it seemed unsafe. However, she seemed okay and I hopped on. 

Carmen was definitely tense and ready to be a hot mess. It does seem that I continuing to unfazed by this and just kept riding. A few times I felt myself get quite tense in reaction her tenseness but was able to relax almost immediately. Which is way better. As a result the ride went very well. It wasn't long and it wasn't fancy. All I wanted to do was reinforce the basics and keep it simple. I hopped off quite happy with everything and Carmen seemed the same. 

After I put her away I dragged the ring. Just as I was finished I had a text from Cynthia asking if it was too late. Of course not I said. So she and Andrew came down. While Ed and Andrew constructed things in the garage Cynthia and I rode. 

This time I didn't lunge, I just hopped on. It was a lot windier now. Carmen was very confused by all this and began to have a  mini-meltdown. 
Carmen: Have you lost your mind? We've already done this! 
Me: I know but we can do this again. 
Carmen: I don't think so!
Me: I'm pretty sure. 

After a few tantrums and threatening to spin and run away I pushed her up to canter and let her just go forward and get over herself. That helped a lot and I was able to work on leg yields, serpentines and transitions. We rode everywhere and let her come to terms with the fact that we can use all 4 corners of the ring and not die. 

In the end I stood her in the center of the ring and practiced turns on the forehand. These go better on the ground- usually under saddle she over reacts or ignores the leg cues. This time she responded to the lightest of touches and was super responsive. I was thrilled and gave her a ton of praise. 

She was much more relaxed after this ride and her eye was softer.  

how is being ridden twice in a day even allowed? I'm pretty sure
that it violates my contract. But more treats would be nice...
I will have to do more of this when we start back in the spring otherwise I might run into trouble at a show.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Winter Frolic

Before I had the saddle fitting I had ridden Carmen (in Irish's saddle) and things were definitely on the right trajectory. What was most telling in that ride was that she started being very tight and spooky and I just kept working on the plan. At one point she bolted and I was unable to stop her right away. However I was completely unfazed. I yelled to Cynthia- sorry no steering (we were heading right for them) and turned her in a circle. Once she calmed a bit I kept the canter going up and down the ring until she was ready to slow down and then I kept it going a bit more and then we went to trot and walk. She snorted and blew out and that was the end of her reactions. Somewhere along the line I have become used to her reactions and have learned to ride them. Phew. We had a good schooling session and finished with a hack around the fields. 

Friday we had a bit of snow (about 6 cms) but it was light and fluffy snow so was a bit higher. It was the kind of snow that you can sweep instead of shovel. Cynthia and Andrew were coming that night our curling game (we're in a friday night league) and I sent her a text: "if you stay over we can ride in the morning in fluffy snow".  And that's just what they did. Ed asked me how I could ride if the ring was frozen. I told him that in this kind of snow the ring is the base and the snow is the footing. 

The morning was beautiful- the air was cold but still and the sky was stunning (promising the winter storm that was coming Saturday night). After a couple cups of coffee we got dressed and headed out to the barn. I was looking forward to riding in my saddle now that it fits. 

I lunged Carmen first and she was a bit silly. However, it was not too serious and I only lunged her for a few minutes. At first she was a bit a 'up' but calmed down after a bit. Irish was feeling quite perky and his whole face was proclaiming 'yay, let's have some FUN'.  The first time Cynthia asked for a trot transition he hopped straight up in the air and launched into his trot. It was adorable. I told Cynthia that when he was younger and did that it was accompanied by a squeal. 
most adorable snow horse ever

I don't know why I get so excited about riding in the snow but I do. It's like I'm a kid again and I'm all "look at me, I'm riding a horse in the snow and it's AWESOME'.  The footing was perfect. I simply went for a ride and wasn't worried about schooling or training- it was all about the fun (I did continue to reinforce being straight though). After a bit Carmen began to blow and relax and then, oh my god, actually began to enjoy herself. I grabbed my phone and took some photos of Cynthia and then hander it to her to get some photos of us. 

ignore crappy position and look at adorable chestnut ears and the view
I lost all track of time but we finally called it a session and dismounted. Both horses were looking pretty cheery. I took Carmen to a spot where we normally have a graze after a ride and she immediately dove into the snow to grab some of the grass. 

We turned them out and went into the house. Ed was making brunch (bacon and eggs and toast) and I realized I was starving. 

Later Ed and I headed into Halifax to meet up with our kids and go to a Mooseheads Hockey game. We went to the nearby pub for lunch and then the game. Amanda and I bought matching Mooseheads hoodies. It was a good game but unfortunately, Ed and I had to leave the game early because the winter storm started a bit earlier then expected. It took longer to drive home but as long as you went slow it was okay until just about the end. I was happy to get home. (and to the driver of the pickup that drove on the wrong side of the road to pass the line of cars following the snow plow - you are an asshole). 

After I gave the horses their evening care I came back and made myself a hot chocolate and baileys and reflected on my day:
  • riding in the snow
  • lunch in the pub
  • hockey game
  • driving in snow
  • hot chocolate and baileys
Does it get more Canadian than this????

Friday, January 6, 2017

In Which Ed and I Go For a Walk in the Woods and d'Arcy finds a Treasure

The day I had the saddle fitter in was the last warm day- the ground is frozen and my ring is not useable. It's snowing out my window right now but I hope that we might get enough so I can ride. Fortunately I dragged the ring on Wednesday so there wouldn't be any ruts.

However I digress.

It is a good time to think about my goals for 2017 (I swear that there's a post coming). One of my main goals is to do more hacking with Carmen and make more use of my property. Today Ed and I headed into the woods to mark out trails to cut.
part of my woods, not all is this 'open'
I have about 10 acres of woodland and I want to cut out numerous paths that loop back on themselves so that I can use them as part of my regular training. Today seemed like a good day- the ground was hard and the leaves were off so it was easier to see paths.

d'Arcy, of course accompanied us. As we were in part of the trees I spied something that shouldn't be part of the woodland landscape. It turned out to be a jolly ball. When Steele was young I bought this in a desperate attempt to keep him from getting into trouble and eating all my fence posts. At some point it disappeared. What I think happened was that Belle stole it (she was notorious for taking and hiding toys) and hid it in the woods. There likely is whole cache of balls in these woods too. d'Arcy was thrilled.
this dog is so easy to make happy
Ed and I managed to get some trails mapped out so that he can start to cut them down. We might rent a woodchopper and use it to make some footing. I'm kind of excited about the whole idea. 

On the way back to barn the  horses were outside eating hay and I decided to see what Carmen thought of the ball. I know that I have been doing lots of work to get her to be more relaxed about new things. When Rachael was here Carmen wanted to play with her paper and stuff so I know she's getting less worried about stuff. I stood outside the fence and slowly lobbed the ball into the paddock but not at the horses. 

Carmen looked at it and took a step towards it and then stopped. Irish gave a sigh and went over to check it out while she watched. 

He gave it a good sniff and then went back to his hay. He does take his job seriously. 

Carmen came up and gave it her inspection. 

This seems so mundane but in the past her response to anything new was always 'no'. I like to see her gain in confidence. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


I've been beginning to suspect that Carmen's saddle was not fitting quite right and that is might be pinching her a bit. She's entering her 7th year and is starting to fill out. And being the fussy sensitive mare she's not going to tolerate much. The difficult that arises is that Carmen can be resistant for many reasons: wind, mood, fear of a spot, finding it hard, etc so it's not always easy to pinpoint the cause.

I contacted the saddle fitter and she said that she could come on Wednesday. I took a vacation day because I really wanted this sorted out. It turns out that I was right:

This is the same sized gullet that was in her saddle. You can see that it's tight on the shoulders.

Here's the next size up:

You can see that it fits much better. The saddle flocking needed adjustment as well. 

Carmen took this fussing all in stride. After all, princesses are used to people waiting on helping them.

We had a lot of rain the night before and it only stopped about an hour before Rachael came. The ring was very mucky but when I mounted I could feel a difference immediately. My seat felt really secure and balanced. Rachael commented that my body was in alignment and I really didn't have to do anything but sit there. Carmen strode right out and she seemed to feel more balanced and relaxed. After that there were just some minor adjustments to the flocking and she was done.

Rachael took new tracings and I was thrilled to see that she was much more even then she had been at her last adjustment. This means that I'm working her correctly (insert happy dance).

I cannot say enough about my Kent and Masters saddle.

It is good quality leather, wool flocking and very reasonably priced. I find the seat incredibly comfortable. And most importantly I am not saddle shopping because we can change out the gullet. That makes it invaluable. I would much rather have a collection of gullets then a saddle collection. Instead of looking at spending thousands I'm spending a couple hundred. Plus I have a happy horse which is priceless.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Ringing In The New Year

Happy 2017 everyone! I so looking forward to this year and all the promise it holds.

We've celebrated New Year's eve in many ways- dances, parties, dinner out, dinner in, take out etc. My favourite way is to have a quiet celebration with friends or just at home with my critters. This year Cynthia invited us to her house and I was able to get a sitter for the night (thank you Joanne!).

We both had a lesson in the afternoon which is a great way to spend the day. The weather was just warm enough to thaw out the ring enough to ride in- it was borderline even after I dragged it but it was okay. Carmen and I rode first. I was happy to demonstrate that we'd done our homework and she walked off quite calm and relaxed. She was worried about troll corner but that didn't stop us from using the whole ring in our work.

I've been riding Carmen in Irish's saddle and she's doing much better- it's wider then hers but needs some padding underneath. Don't worry- the saddle fitter is coming out this week.

We worked on walk-halt-walk transitions. The idea was her to move squarely into the halts and stop off into contact from behind. I need to release so she has a place to go. Once she learned that she could step forward from behind and didn't need to lift her head and lead with her front legs she began to try to figure out where her head should be.
almost square but balanced and listening

From there we worked on walk-trot-walk transitions. Those are interesting depending on where in the ring I want them- sometimes she's so focussed/worried about outside the ring that moving forward is an issue. The solution is to ride shoulder-fore and ask her step through and around my inside leg. The hard part is that I need to not be stiff when I do that (self-defense mechanism in case she spins-bolts) but once I figured this out it got a lot easier. I ignored what was bugging her outside and just kept asking her to come to me. 
Trot to the left
One ear forward, one ear back and reaching with her hind leg. Not all the photos looked like this but more then we used to have. Now if I could just get my hands even!

I have included this sequence because I think it sums up where we are right now (and I find it funny): 

Here we are trotting a circle, she's soft and listening (I'm looking down but that's because my helmet liner is slipping over my eyes!). 
And then: 

And that's our rides these days- la-la-la-SQUIRREL-OHMYGODISITARMED-la-la-la. And that's WAY better then when we were scanning for squirrel snipers all the time. 

Then it was time for canter work. Carmen is stickier to the right and does not want to be straight so we're working on that. But she doesn't like to do things she's not comfortable with and takes some convincing. I would worry about it except that our canter issues happen in very specific parts of the ring so some is physical strength and some is mental (this is where I swing my haunches in).  Still it's coming a long way:

I'm not really hunched- my puffy vest is blowing back but I am trying very hard to not fling myself up on her withers in some mistaken belief that this is helpful. Both her ears are up and she's taking more forward so I'm happy. 

Her canter to the left is much easier. And this photo shows the difference: 

Of course this was farther into the lesson and she was much looser and listening. I love how uphill it is. 

Cynthia and Irish had their lesson while I walked her around cooling off. She felt so nice and soft and relaxed it was awesome. I was able to watch a bit of the lesson- I love Irish he tries so hard to be good and he enjoys lessons. 

After our rides we tidied up and then headed to Cynthia's. And this is where I lost my brain. Ed was already in the city and I completely forgot that he got a lift. It wasn't until Cynthia pulled into the driveway with me in the car that I realized we had no vehicle to get home with. Roh-roh. Ed's mom came to the rescue (she lives close to Cynthia) and we were going there for lunch the next day. 

The guys had picked up some prime rib steaks to grill and we had a delicious dinner and wine. We actually made it to midnight (but I went to bed at 12:05). The next day I slept in until 9:30! I don't remember the last time I slept that late. We had a lovely lunch at Ed's mothers and then borrowed her car to go home. That night Ed and I had popcorn for supper because we went to see Rogue One. 

All in in all it was a great way to start 2017 (well minus the senior moment). 

What did you do? 


Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 In Review

It has been quite the year both personally and globally. I like doing these recaps of the year because it helps me to see the progress that we've made.

First some basic statistics:
# of posts in 2016: 164 which makes an average 13.6 per month. It seems that I had a lot to say. This lines up with what every report card I had in elementary school...

Most popular post (by views): 12 Years- where I shared losing Belle.

The post with the most number of comments: Loss- where I share losing my mother. It's an adjustment to life without a parent. I still find myself thinking about stories to share with her and when I drive in the area where she used to live I want to go and visit. I take comfort that she was ready to go and that she was with her children.

Both of these statistics show the basic kindness of my blog readers and how we can all reach out and try to help one another.

January through March were fairly quiet on the riding front. With the weather riding was sporadic but when I look at my posts from that time they were all very happy and optimistic.

As March moved into April the wheels slowly began to come off and she became increasingly spooky and reactive. I changed up her diet and began giving her a digestive supplement. When I look at my posts from May it was a bit of a roller coaster: things would go well and then not well and it was becoming a bit a spiral but I persevered.

In June everything came to a screeching halt and I wrote about Throwing in the Towel. I was seriously contemplated selling her and my heart was breaking. But I couldn't risk serious injury and riding was no longer fun. I called Royce and he began working with the two of us. The training was expensive and often tiring but so worth it. I believe that he saved both of us. He gave Carmen a grounding in basics and helped me to see what I needed to do to keep her with me. Not that everything was sunshine and roses but I felt like I had the tools I needed to keep working with her. In our sessions I began to understand a bit more of her history and why she would react as she did.

I didn't get to show this year and that was disappointing. But I did ride in three clinics: two with Johanna Batista in May and October and one with Sue Leffler on Centred Riding. I have fallen in love with Centred riding and want to do more.

I took Carmen off site a few times in the fall to my friend's place around the corner and it was fun to play in another ring. I had made plans for Irish and Carmen to there and ride the trails but the weather got in the way and then hunting season started. I did start riding Carmen around the property and even took her out on my own.

In early August my niece came for horse camp. It was so much fun to share our love of horses and I'm looking forward to her returning in the summer. Irish had so much fun with her as well.

Near the end of November I finally found a dressage instructor who travels to my area. Shanea is young and talented and very very good at teaching. She is the icing on my Carmen training cake. With her coming out regularly we are progressing in our training and I'm feeling very positive about where we are going.

Other highlights of the year include my first giveaway: Milestone Post and a Giveaway and winning the Horse Hack blogger contest. I still can't believe that I won to be honest. We went on a  wonderful vacation to Arizona and I got to ride in the desert.

You don't realize all that has happened until you look back and take stock. I've learned that I can grit my teeth and get on with thing but I need a plan and a path. It doesn't have to be completely mapped out but I need to know the general direction. I am proud of what we accomplished this year even though it may look like all I'm doing is just riding around my place.

Currently my rides on Carmen are going very well. She needs much less ground work before every ride. I realized yesterday that what I consider my 'bad' rides now used to be my 'good' rides back in the spring/summer. I'm making my plans for 2017 but that's a different post.