dancing horses

dancing horses

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Coercive Processes

I've been away for work attending a workshop on developing behavioural support plans for children with Autism. I love behaviour- it was my first area of study so many (many many) years ago. What I often see is how similar behavioural approaches are regardless of the species. I am not comparing children with neurodevelopment disorders to animals. I am saying that we are all animals and respond to behavioural principles.
this is the beginning of her response to going into corner:
upright, tight neck, pricked ears, tight back. See how I'm tightening too? 

As I'm sitting there taking in the information I had an 'aha' moment as it related to my work with Carmen. It refers to a process of mutual reinforcement of a negative pattern of behaviour. And I could see how I fell into that with Carmen's spooky behaviour.

Here's how I analyzed it based on this learning:

1. I ask Carmen to trot into corner       (irritant to Carmen)

2. Carmen resists going to corner        (avoidance response)

3. I increase my ask                             (escalation of irritant)

4. Carmen spins/bolts/stops dead/run backwards/threaten to rear          (strong aversive stimulus)

5. I move away from corner to a work elsewhere       (reinforcement to Carmen)

6. Carmen stops behaviour above                                (reinforcement to me)

You may recall that my initial rides on Carmen were fine and then gradually the spooking got worse and worse until we were only able to ride on the middle circle of the ring and that was even getting problematic.

I now see how we were engaged in a coercive pattern where we were both being reinforced for avoiding the corner. This has also creeped into other areas of training (like when things are difficult).

Clearly I didn't mean this to happen (who does? whatever the process is). And we have made huge gains towards this.

It has been a point of frustration to me that the spooking still pops up. Now I see why the behaviour has not been completely eliminated. Every now and then I reward Carmen (who then rewards me) for spooking at the corners.

Behavioural theory teaches us that an intermittent reinforcement schedule is the single best way to solidify a behaviour.

With understanding comes an ability to make a plan. Clearly we are not starting from scratch. But I need to be more proactive about this if I want it to go away.

So I've drafted a plan (I do love a plan) and we shall see how it goes. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Breeches Review

So I may be developing a breeches problem to go with my saddle pad issues. Since January I have bought three new breeches that I want to review. Finding breeches that fit me is difficult- I am long waisted and there is a difference between my hips and waist.

1. Equetech Denim F/S Breeches

I fell in love with these from the photo. It's always a crap shoot to buy online but I ordered them anyway. I ordered size 32 but they run big and were way too large for me. I exchanged them for a size 30 which fits well.


  • made of durable denim so are perfect for riding and barn chores. You don't have to worry about picks or holes (unless you get really carried away with a pitchfork). 
  • High waist to hold 'things' in. 
  • comfortable to ride in
  • the denim has no 'give' so can feel a bit confining in the waist. It helps to give support when riding but not so comfortable for sitting on the couch. 
  • The hips fit well and are even generous. The waist is a bit tight but it's not terrible. 
If you like jeans you will like these. I quite like them and wear them often. 

Another impulse buy (honestly, I can't be trusted in the winter when I cannot ride).  I ordered 32 and they fit perfectly. 

  • the silicone gives a great grip without being over the top
  • I love how they look
  • sightly wind/rain resistant (which is key when you ride on a breezy hill). 
  • They give a bit of slimming effect with the lines. 
  • This is picky but I wish the waist was a bit higher but it isn't that bad. 
  • I wish Horze made a matching shirt. I bought one thinking it would match but it's a different shade of blue. I think if a company is going to make colourful breeches they should have tops that go with it. 
I would definitely recommend these breeches (perhaps in more traditional colour) and will probably buy more. 

When I was at the show I visited Bits N Bridles in the morning to check out the sales. These were marked down significantly and there was no tax. I tried them on (large) and was surprised at how well they fit. I had some concerns about the seat as it felt quite slick. 

  • feel like yoga pants. 
  • despite that they don't show all the bumps and bulges. 
  • The waist is perfect- it hits just at the sweet spot of the belly button. 
  • despite my worries the seat is not slippery at all. I would rate it as more grip then suede and less than silicone. Even when Carmen is bouncing around I don't feel that I'm going to slip out of the saddle. 
  • I rode in them in heat and in cold weather and felt comfortable both times. 
  • not really a con- I'm not sure how well the fabric will hold up- we shall see. 

So there you have it. Three reviews of three different styles. 


Saturday, June 16, 2018


Thank you everyone for you kind words about our show experience. I have found that the real outcome of the show is a leap forward in our self-confidence.

 I also learned that I need to be clear right from the beginning about my expectations and not back down if she's freaking out. The other day I had just started our ride when she began to really lose it down the far end of the ring (far from troll corner). I don't know what set her off but rather then back off I just rode her around the corner. When she started to escalate I simply raised the inside rein and kept it there while pushing her through the corner. It only took a few trips before she was totally fine.

It probably helps that I'm not worried about her 'explosions' anymore. I simply roll my eyes and go back to task. As I've been chipping away at things with Carmen things are really starting to solidify.  One thing I noticed at the show was that what I thought was a good vs not-so-good leg yield was not the feedback I got from the judge. So clearly I wasn't feeling things correctly.

I asked Shanea if we could work on that our lesson on Saturday. I need to have a good feel otherwise I will end up practicing incorrectly.

You will notice that Cynthia is in the background of some of the photos. Remember how she totally abandoned me moved to Whitehorse for few years? Well she's back for a far-too-short visit. Irish was really happy to have her back. She was visiting with me so rode Irish while we had our lesson.

Anyway back to the lesson.

After our warm up we did a lot of leg yielding at the walk. The goal was to have Carmen understand about going over and not over bend to the inside or stiffen. As we worked I would really feel her soften over her back. I also discovered that I'm over weighting the inside which contradicts what I'm asking her to do. I need to weight (just a little more) the outside.

over bent to the inside. damn you left hand! 

We picked up the trot and we worked on getting it forward and flowing before asking for leg yields. 

I lost the shoulder again at the trot and really had to focus my attention. Shanea said that it would be easier to 'feel' at a sitting trot so I went to that. I know that Andalusians have the reputation of a really smooth trot but Carmen's has a lot of push and it's not always all that easy. Within about 10 minutes my abs were screaming at me.

but cannot deny results

Before I knew it, the lesson was over. It was great to have a lesson just focussing on a few key things. It was great that I kept my focus in the ring and cantered on what I wanted Carmen to do. And it was interesting how she kept her focus on me. 

If you were watching the lesson it would probably look really boring. But it was one of those where things just seemed to gel and it left me happy all day. 

Interestingly enough this memory popped up on FB: 

It's easy to forget how far we've come. And it's more fun to plan about where we're going. 


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Day 2 of the Show: A Different Kettle of Fish

To say I was happy at the end of Saturday would be an understatement. I was positively floating wiht happiness. I was proud of both of us and so happy that I decided to show. I was also really enjoying the socializing with old/new friends at the show.

My ride times were also in the afternoon but I didn't take her into the warm up ring in the morning. She was quite tired at the end of saturday and I didn't want to wear her out. In the end that might not have been the best decision but I don't know that it would have made any difference in what happened later (foreshadowing, sorry). Instead I hand walked her outside the barn and let her graze on some grass. I decided to set about 45 minutes aside for the warm up and headed over the warm up ring in plenty of time.
as you can see she seems quite content 

Some background info:
As you may have noticed, the show ring is inside a hockey arena. In the summer it's used as a show venue. That is why it has the appearance of thunderdome a coliseum. The warm up ring is just outside. It's a 20x40 indoor. One door looks out onto a busy highway with the exit ramp right there. It's separated by a chain link fence with weeds growing up around it. On the first day Carmen was a bit unnerved by the horses appearing and disappearing out of this door but she dealt with it well.

The steward is just outside. This time the steward had her daughter helping because she was recovering from a broken leg. On saturday I wanted confirmation about my neck rope being okay. In the rules it allows for a bucking strap or other equipment that is for the safety of the rider. But it doesn't define these and I wanted to make sure that it was all okay. She confirmed that it was fine to ride with the rope but after Carmen was so good I'm sure that she thought I was over reacting.

Okay, back to the post:

When I mounted and walked Carmen in I could feel that I was on a very different horse from yesterday. She was up and tense and very looky. There was one other rider in the ring who kept coming in and out. Part of me wanted to ask her to stop but common sense prevailed and I said nothing. This was her show too and we just need to learn to deal.

I simply rode Carmen to get her to relax and it was a bit of an uphill battle. She decided that the open door next ot the highway was full of trolls and there was no fucking way she was going there. She balked, I tapped her, she spun away, I turned her back and she threatened to rear. I gave my hands forward and booted her forward. I was glad that this hadn't happened yesterday. Today I knew that she was perfectly capable of handling this ring. I suspect that she might have had too much energy (after all she didn't get her turn out and hand walking is not the same). As things progresssed we had good and bad moments but I wasn't feeling like I was making any progress.  Forty-five minutes was not feeling like nearly enough time. At one point she gave a huge spook and banged the wall. The steward's daughter came to check on me and then in a few minutes they repositioned their chairs to keep an eye on me. (ha, see that's why I have the neck rope).. Which was yet another thing to cause Carmen issues but at this point I was like 'whatever'.

About 20 minutes (maybe) in, Jane came in to warm up on her horse. I didn't even realize she was paying any attention to me until she passed me and said 'Teresa, bend her'
I'm trying! I said
Stop trying and BEND HER. 

Of course.
Jane is now officially my Yoda

I was letting Carmen make too many decsions. I took a deep breath and asked her to bend and then demanded it. And if that sounds harsh you are welcome to come and ride her. The point is to be extremely clear: I want THIS, not that or that or even that, THIS. The trick is to keep the ask up until she does it and then immediately soften. We then started to make progress. The door was still and issue but one we could ride through. More people began to come in and I was able to get Carmen's attention on me. I need to let go of the 'if it pleases your highness could you pretty please consider a bend?'.

I still didn't feel ready for my test but it was time to go in so I took a deep breath and in we went. I walked by the judge and then circled back to go by again. You can clearly see her tension. As I rode the test it felt a bit like a powder keg. After someone asked how it went and I said, she didn't spook but she was spook-adjacent.  After I was a ball of sweat. It took every riding skill I had to keep her with me and on task. To be honest I was proud of myself for doing it (for example at 3:40 she really wanted to shy at A). We kept it together.

Shannea's mom (who was my videographer) came to me in the barn, took one look and said 'it looked a lot better then it likely felt' and she was right:

Our stretchy work suffered as well as our lengthens but otherwise I was happy with it. I'm trying to not bounce in the saddle at the canter but her back was so tight (something I will work on).

In the barn I untacked her to have a drink and a bathroom break and I sat down to catch my breath. I think that she had too much energy and didn't know how to direct it. She's also not fit enough to be ridden three times a day (yet) so I still think I made a good decision to not ride. It's one of those things that are part of the learning process of showing and it is our first this year. Having had the great rides on Saturday helped me on Sunday because I knew that she was completely capapble. She just didn't feel it on Sunday. That I can handle.

My next ride was pretty close and I wanted some time in the warm up so I got her ready about 30 minutes before. I still had no idea of my test scores (there simply was not time to go and get them).

Our warm up this time was 100% better. She was softer and listening. Which is a good thing because the ring was back to being crowded. Jane was in there again and I leg yielded out her way and then back again and she smiled and said 'well done'.
Aside: you know that literary convention where the protagonist is helped by a wiser person who gives the exact right advice at the right time? That was Jane for me at this show. I have no idea if she even realizes how she helped me to stay grounded.

We headed into our last test and I was determined that we were going to put down a good test. My goal was to not stop riding but to be there for her every step of the way.  And it was a good test, despite the tension. Again our lengthens suck but I was happy with the leg yields. We recieved a 7 on our free walk and I was like 'really?' I wouldn't have given it that but I will take it.  I loved our canter transition at A.

You will see at 4:36(ish) Carmen gives a sudden spook coming across the diagonal. To be honest it didn't feel like a true spook but more of a 'I'm done with this shit' spook. (Becasue she has learned that it gets her out of work in the past. Working on the memo that that no longer applies. I think she may go to her union steward). I simply pushed her back to the letter and gave her a tap with my crop to tell her to get her butt forward and we carried on. At the end of the test I gave her a long rein and walked her by the area that she spooked at and she was perfectly fine with it.

Later when I picked up my tests I was happy to see that I had marginally better scores then Saturday. This garnered us two more red ribbons for first place.

Test 1-1: 63.52. A smattering of 6/6.5 and 7s. One 5.5 for the transition to canter at C where she was all balled up.
Comments: Think forward in all transitions. Forward into clear rhythm. 
Gaits: 7    Impulsion: 6   Submission: 6.5    Riders Postion: 7     Riders correct/effective aids: 6.0

Test 1-2: 64.53. A smattering of 6/6.5 and 7s. One 5.5  for the transition to canter where she spooked. The comment said 'disruption'. I love that description!
Comments: Show bend and position through the body. Upright balance.  
Gaits: 7    Impulsion: 6.5   Submission: 6    Riders Postion: 7     Riders correct/effective aids: 6.0

And, just like that, our show was over. I am so very happy with how it went. There were bobbles but we recovered. My fears were not realized- clearly we are able to do this thing. Now it's about making it more solid. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Fear of Flying

“I have lived my life according to this principle: If I'm afraid of it, then I must do it.” 
― Erica Jong
Thanks everyone for all the love and support from my previous posts. I know that I didn't respond but I read and loved every comment.

I suspect that my show recap will be at least two posts . This should allow me to not be ridiculously  too long (at least that's the plan). This will likely result in me skimming over some details that might find their way back into the blog another time.

Before I was getting ready to leave I was really second guessing going to the show. By friday morning I was flooded with dread. Carmen was clearly picking up on my vibe and was doing everything in her power to tell me that my negativity was making her upset. I realized it and knew I had to get myself under control.

Despite all this she loaded well. I used the time I was driving to reflect on my emotions. I used some strategies I learned from 'Brain Training for Riders'. Essentially I kept asking myself what I was afraid of until I got to the truth.  As I worked through the scenarios in my head: It started with Carmen spooking and getting rung out or falling off. But that wasn't what I was really afraid of. As I worked through the asking myself 'so?' I got to the bones of the matter:
what if all the changes I have seen in Carmen are just superficial? What if, when the rubber hits the road, it all unravels and I haven't really made any difference at all?

Of course if someone said that to me I would see it as foolish. But we are all so good at believing that we're total fakes. Once I faced that it was easier to deal with. By the time I unloaded I was feeling much more positive and I had a clearer idea of my goals:
1. to have a spook free ride
2. to ride Carmen in a supportive and clear way
3. to figure out our show routine

  I could immediately see the results of my mood change in Carmen. I set up her stall and we hung out for a bit until it was our turn to ride in the ring. (The show allows competitors to book time in the ring on Friday at 5$ per 30 minutes. I booked 2 slots and it was from 4:30 to 5:30.) I was stabled in the area of Shanea (she hadn't arrived yet) and with the gang at Fraser Equestrian Centre (the ones who hosted the Cindy Ishoy clinic I did). It was a great group to be with- so relaxed and helpful. I watched them set up chairs, shelves and even a carpet and again felt like a red-neck dressage person (note- that was me, they never gave me that impression).

I walked Carmen around the venue and was even able to walk her in the ring. When it was time to ride I tacked up Carmen and we headed to the ring.

And she never put a foot wrong. Everything I asked her to do she gave 100%. She looked around but was not spooky at all. I rode through one of the tests and she was perfect. So I hopped off. The ring person told me that I had another 30 minutes but I said that I was good. Another rider was done and wanted more time so I gave mine to her (she paid me later although she did not need to).  I was so happy with her that I realized my goals had been realized before I even actually showed.
You can clearly see how wild she is

My first ride wasn't until 2 on Saturday so that morning I tacked her up and just walked her in the warm up ring. My goal was to walk her until she relaxed and then stop. It didn't take long for her to chill out and when I dismounted I'm pretty sure I heard her say 'that's it?' 

Soon enough it was time to get ready to warm up for real. I was surprised at how busy it was- there were horses and riders everywhere. I tried to stay out of the way while we walked our warm up and I kept having to stop or change direction suddenly. I found myself apologizing to everyone and said 'I am trying to stay out the way'. Jane, who was riding (I've taken lessons from her and she's an awesome rider) rode by me and said 'Don't apologize. You have as much right to be here as everyone else. Hold your line or you'll never get warmed up'.  I realized she was right and started to ride more pro-actively. It wasn't easy and Carmen and I had a small collision in the ring- just one of those 'oh crap' moments where our legs banged but no one was hurt and Carmen just had a little spook from it. After that she decided that I was clearly not being careful of us and took it on herself to look after the both of us. She paid careful attention to where everyone was and pinned her ears if a horse came too close. It was kind of adorable how she decided to step up and take care of things rather than freak out.

The show was a bit behind so we ended up riding about 20 minutes later than the time. which was too bad because we were ready on time. However, that's showing for you and we need to figure out how to keep ourselves warmed up but not exhausted. When I realized we were so late I did a lot of work at the walk to keep her supple but not tired.

And then it was our turn. I stood outside the ring trying to breathe and keep centred. I had arranged for a friend to read for me (thank you Tanya). I had the test memorized but wanted to be able to focus on Carmen and not trying to remember the next movement. It was a great idea.

Here's the video of the test if you want to see it. From a dressage perspective it was fine. From my goals perspective it was incredible. You can see Carmen and I truly working together to lay down this test. She didn't even think of spooking but you can see her ear asking me a question every now and then. A friend posted on my FB post: "Everytime her ear flicked back to you I think my heart melted 💕, you guys were so in tune with each other it was a pleasure to watch. She handled the arena like a pro."

There were some bobbles but nothing earth shattering. When I turned down centre line and sat up, squared my shoulders and rode at the judge like we were Amazons. When I halted I was so happy with her that I actually patted Carmen before saluting the judge (oops, but he just smiled).  I was thrilled with how we did.

My ride times were scheduled close enough that we would only have time to quickly untack and have time for a drink and bathroom break (both of us). I figured that my second time would also be 30 minutes late but it turned out that the judge caught up so it was just 15 minutes late. That didn't give me much time to warm up for the second test but that was fine because she was tired and I didn't want to over do it. I didn't think we did as well but my test scores belied that.

I didn't have time between rides to get my sheets or see my scores. I was okay with that because it wasn't about the score. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I saw our scores:

First Level Test 1: 62.96  which was in keeping with a lot of scores at the show (highest was 70ish). A lot of 6.5s with a few 6s/7s  and one 5.5 (walk transition). Our collectives were:
Gaits: 7          Impulsion: 6.5          Submission: 6        Riders position and seat: 6.5   Riders Aids: 6
Comment: Ask for stretch over the back into contact. Steady contact.  

First Level Test 2: 63.59 (surprised it was a bit higher).
Similar distribution as above with more 7s and two 5.5s (related to developing working canter and then the trot transition. I really went for the lengthen and the transitions suffered.
Gaits: 6.5 (walk)           Impulsion: 6.5         Submission: 6.5             Riders position and seat: 7  Riders Aids: 6
Comment: Ask for more lateral suppleness for a straighter horse. 

All of these comments were totally fair and tell me where to go. They were enough to qualify me for two firsts. It turned out that I was the only AA showing First Level 1 & 2 at Bronze so the placings are based on scores rather than competitors. Which is perfect because I was really only challenging myself.

I was so proud of both of us- it really felt like a true partnership. This photo sums up how I felt.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Exceeding Expectations

In case you were wondering how things went.

Im happy that a picture says a thousand words. That's great because I'm too tired to do more then pour a glass of wine before heading to bed.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Rock and Roll

The tack is cleaned.

The boots are polished.

The trailer is packed.

Here we go.

Carmen not looking terribly motivated to leave her field

 My boss asked me about the show this weekend and I said that Carmen and I were going to be rock stars.

The only question was whether we were the rock stars that put on an epic performance or the ones that wreck the hotel room.

Ride times are: Saturday 2:16 and 3:29/ Sunday 1:06 and 2:35. Is it wrong that I'm disappointed that they are not in the morning?

Wish us luck.