dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Slow Dance: day 3 of the clinic

After playing on the course we fed the horses and then headed out to dinner. It was a lot of fun. In many ways this weekend was relaxing and social with horses thrown in for fun.

Sunday dawned cold and rainy. When I arrived at the barn I hitched up the trailer when there was a lull. I have to say that I'm getting way faster at that. Our ride was early but I had a chance to lunge Carmen in the indoor before other rides started. She seemed a lot calmer then the past few days.

When I got on it was clear that she was feeling much more mellow then before. Our walk was nice and slow from the beginning and when she did speed up it was easier to get her to slow down. I needed to work on making sure that my seat bones were weighted evenly. Johanna had us practice leg yields on the circle and I could feel how it helped if my seat was balanced.


Earlier, watching another lesson I heard Johanna say to the rider - "The inside rein is the bending aid, the outside rein is the turning aid' Or something like that. It really resonated with me and I tried to use that in the lesson. I was happy that Johanna didn't have to tell me to get off the inside rein (small victories, ya know).

I was just happy that my horse seemed to be back. She had one spook at the open door but it really wasn't anything and we just moved on.

We did some shoulder in down the long sides of the ring and I could feel the inside hind really start to take the weight and push. It's such a cool feeling.

shoulder in
We practiced lengthening and shortening her stride just by using my seat. That took a little bit to figure out but then it seemed to make sense to both of us.  The trick was not have her speed up but to push more from behind.  That is really hard. Going faster seems easier but is not correct.

The last thing we worked on was leg yielding from the centre line to the wall but with slow steps. It was really hard but it paid off in getting her to really use her hind leg.



What's really interesting with Johanna's lessons is that they can seem really really simplified. And they are but then, everything falls into place and it's 'aha'. But the horse is not stressed (the rider might be if they are like me and are trying to control all their bits and be perfect) and ends feeling happy.

In fact there was a word invented at this clinic: 'Horsegasm: the excited outcry of rider who finally understands and when the horse does the thing'. 

After our ride I leisurely packed up our stuff and loaded Carmen to head home. I was really happy with how we worked through things and managed to have fun as well.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Alls Well that Ends Well

After a successful session on Friday, I was really looking forward to Saturday. I didn't have to come to the barn early because Karen looked after feeding her. When I arrived I went to put her outside in a grass paddock to eat and relax until our ride time. I led her out the barn door when she gave a huge spook and splayed her feet. One landed right on my right foot and hurt like a sonofabitch. I yelled and got her off me. I led her back into the barn to do that again. This time she bolted and got away from me. 

You can imagine that a loose horse is a huge nightmare of mine but I kept calm and asked Carmen to 'whoa'. She was unsure and walked off about 10 feet dragging the leadline. I used my deep 'listen to me now' voice and said 'WHOA'. This time she stopped and waited for me to go get her. Honestly, ground work is so very very important. I realized that Carmen was spooking at a pallet of something  covered in white plastic. I guess that she hadn't noticed it on the way in the day before. I let her go and sniff it and we spent some more time on leading. In fact I did a lot of work on this all weekend- she was just so disctracted and forgetting I was there. Sigh. I guess being horny will do that to a girl. 

After I turned her out I took up Stacie's offer of an icepack and ibuprofen.  Fortunately nothing appeared to be bleeding or broken- just really sore and slightly swollen. 
An ice pack, advil and cookies. Must be a horse event. 
Johanna offered to ride Carmen that morning instead of the lesson. Now I could have ridden (my plan was if it got hard to say in a very whiny voice 'I can't my foot huuuurrrts'). However, I thought that was a great chance to have a trainer on my horse working on things so I jumped at the chance. 

I have media of the ride but I'm not posting because it's one thing for me to put myself on the internet, I'm not doing it to someone else. Trust me when I say that it was a great session for both of us. I got to see how Johanna helped Carmen work through her tightness and issues and Carmen benefited from having a training ride from a classical dressage trainer. It was interesting to watch Carmen's demeanour change from defensive and suspicious (stranger danger is real) to softness and understanding. 

After we ate a hearty lunch and did a tack shop run. Then when the lessons were over Karen tacked up Kalimo for Johanna and I tacked up Carmen to go and play in the Working Equitation course that Stacie had set up. I had lunged Carmen in part of the ring earlier and she didn't care about any of the things. It was the same when being ridden. 

Last year Carmen was a hot, spooky mess in the outdoor. This time she was happy as a clam. It was so much fun to play with the various obstacles. 
Playground  Working Equitatoin course all set up. 

Bridges are not a problem for us. We even trotted over it once. 
Trip-trap over the bridge. No trolls in sight. 
I haven't had a chance to play with the clover pattern around barrels so I have no idea if I did it right. What a great way to practice bending aids and changes of bend. 
Carmen: are we barrel racers now? 
The bull, which you would expect to be spooky was no big deal. She marched rigt up and knocked the ball out of the ring (Stacie had tied it so it wouldn't fall on the ground or blow away). I wanted to get a photo and the second time she was all 'I did this already. Pick something else'. But after a bit she decided to humour me and go with it.
We laugh in the face of danger.
Well, I giggle like a 12 year old and Carmen  tolerates my hijinks. 
The gate was interesting. Picking up the rope and going through was no issue. When I asked her to back up she hit the standard and became convinced I was being stupid. We finally figured it out but it will take more practice.
Carmen: are you sure you know what you're doing? 
There were two blue barrels to do a figure 8 around. At first we walked, then trotted them then finally cantered them. I struggled with keeping the barrel in the center when we cantered but honestly I didn't care- I was so thrilled at our soft and easy going canter.
look at us cantering outside with no fence and no worries.
I also think our match game was on point.... 
I tried the side pass over the pole a few times but it was clear that she was confused so I left it and decided to work at it at home in hand for a bit.  At one point she saw Kalimo a bit ahead and was all 'ooh let's go talk to the cute boy'.  I told her that there would be no dating on this trip, thankyouverymuch.

I am convinced that she loves this stuff. I know I do- but she was no longer cranky or balky. I need to do more of this with her. I can get a bit fixated on one thing but clearly that does not work for her. I also need to put the fun back into riding for me too.

Look at that cheesy grin. My inner 12 year old was very happy.
Note that Carmen has one ear on the handsome stallion in the right corner


Sunday, May 20, 2018

On the Road Again

After my last post I've been thinking about things and also not going to worse case scenario in my head. It's her first heat of the season so it's no surprise that it's bad. She definitely is uncomfortable physically and I get that. I need to figure out how to help her deal. I think lunging her would help her to stretch out and warm up without me on her back.

In the meantime Carmen and I had a clinic this weekend. Johanna was back and I've worked with her every year since I got Carmen. Each time I get a mini-breakthrough. We left around 9:30 on friday. Ed watched me lead Carmen out and then her just head into the trailer. I think that I could point her at it from the barn and she would get on. Ed laughed and said 'what does she need you for?' 'Closing the doors' I said and we were off.

I pulled into Stacie's around 11:30 and no one was there. I sent some texts and found out my stall. However, I put Carmen into the large round pen to chill while I unloaded things and got her stall ready. She was perfectly calm and chill about the whole thing. Remember last year when I worried that she fretted when turned out? That seems to be gone:

totally chill mare
Last year of 'doing all the things' seems to be paying off. Karen and her lovely stallion Kalimo arrived about 15 minutes later. As soon as Carmen saw him she went into full flirt mode. Honestly, young love is tiring. 

For this clinic I had actually scheduled to do three lessons. Last year I would come the day before and get Carmen 'settled'. But this year I decided that it's time for us to up our game. We can now go places and do things right away. 

I free lunged Carmen in the ring first and she was quite settled about everything. When it was my turn I spoke with Johanna about my goals. In my head I had three:

1. figure out what I'm doing that's interfering with the right bend and get a plan to fix it. Centred Riding is great for sorting out those details. 

2. Work on getting Carmen to keep her attention on me even when she's convinced it should be elsewhere. 

3. See if Johanna had any ideas about dealing with the extra spice that comes with her heats. 

Johanna asked me to show me what happens with our bend at walk, trot and canter. Carmen's walk started off tight and fast. As per usual in a clinic situation I totally forgot how to ride and began to fuss too much with my aids. Also, as per usual, Carmen took exception to these aids (can't imagine why). 


After watching a bit Johanna stepped out into the ring to help us both calm the hell down. Our first task was to slow the walk. That turned out to be really hard. However, Johanna explained that she needed to slow in order to use her hind end. This is not new information for me- I know that Carmen can be fast and behind the leg. I struggle with how soon to ask her to slow down- I wonder if I can let her settle. However, I learned that I need to tell her from the beginning what I am expecting and be clear. Of course that makes total sense. 
no media of the ride so here's a photo of a cat I wanted to steal.
Her name was Buffy and I've always wanted a cat named Buffy!
Once I was able to get the walk slow I was then to use my seat bones to help her take longer steps behind. I could really feel how that worked. This is why I love these CR lessons- it's all about the fine details of the seat. 

We then went on to trot. At first Carmen's trot was terrible - not unusual for when she's in heat. I really think that it feels uncomfortable to her. Once again it was all about slowing her down. Essentially I needed to be clear in my intent, use my seat bones properly and not over think things (who me?).

Funnily enough, working this way I was able to actually sit her trot and not bounce all over the place.  I know that Iberian's are believed to be easy to sit but that's not completely true. Carmen has quite a bit of push in her stride that makes it difficult- especially if she's tight. 

In terms of the right bend it turns out that I keep my right side turned too far back on a circle so that my body is opposite to the turn I want. So that became a focus. Honestly it was hard to fix- I've been riding like that for so long that when I changed it felt all off-balance and wrong. 

I was really happy with our first lesson. I became aware of things and had a plan to address them. 

We were off to a good start. 




Thursday, May 17, 2018

Feeling the Heat

This is an up and down sort of post. Which is a bummer giving how well things have been going.

I gave Carmen two days off this week and then rode her Wednesday late afternoon. She seemed perfectly fine until about 5 minutes into the ride. She had started a bit tight and tense but that is not unusual. But over time she completely disintegrated. It started with a few spooks and that got bigger and bigger and would not settle.

I tried everything I knew but she was becoming dangerous- I was sure that she was either going to launch me or fall down rather than stop bolting. So I hopped off and trudged down to the barn. I was feeling very very frustrated. On the way down I had to get quite firm about her leading manners. Like 'get out of my personal space and you do not get to run me over' firm.

flashback to the show debacle last year

 I put on side reins and lunge line and we headed back up to the ring. I don't normally lunge her in side reins but I wanted something to stop her from flinging her head so high.  After a few times of trying to bolt and/or change direction her brain finally began to return to her head. I worked her through all the normal spooky spots just like I had in the past. Once she seemed rational I took off the lunging equipment and got back on. She still never settled but remembered her manners. We worked mostly at the walk, a little at the trot. I figured that physically she had already worked enough- I just wanted to make a point. I did not dismount until she was listening to me- not the voices in her head.

After the rides I had been having I was quite bummed. However, I did know that she had started into heat- I can always tell by the strong smell of her urine (it will make your eyes water). There was nothing new in the things that startled her but the degree of her reaction was over the top.

This morning I rode her again. I was a little wary and brought the lunging equipment with me. But I didn't need it. While she was obviously tight and The Carmen I had been riding was back. We were able to practice actual things like 'transitions' and 'leg yields' rather then 'steering' and 'brakes'.

I much prefer this ride

So I'm not sure what to think about this. Is it hormones? If it is what do I do? I've tried the supplements and they have never worked (at least not in any way I could tell). Is it behavioural? Was Mercury in retrograde? Was it one of those things? I don't care (much) if I have this ride every now and then but if it happens at a show I'm screwed.

Any suggestions?

Or wine?

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunny Days

Who cares about the clouds when we're together? Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather
~ Dale Evans~


The weather this weekend has been fantastic- instead of cold and windy the sun was actually shining and the winds were quiet. I had arranged for a lesson this morning and it was calm and sunny. 

Spoiler alert: the lesson was one of the best we've ever had. 


Carmen met me at the gate and practically shoved her head into the halter. I groomed her and took her up to the ring. She was in a lovely and mellow mood. When Shanea came I explained how our rides have been going (well). 

The lesson was fantastic not because we were particularly brilliant but that we were actually able to spend the whole time working on things like leg yields, transitions, half-halts, etc. It was the nit-picky focussed lesson that I love (see meant for dressage). 

 After a walk warm up we picked up a trot. As always the first trot totally sucked but after we got her going her trot was lovely. I love riding her when she's like this- her back is up, she's soft in the bridle and just so adjustable.

We had a couple spooks (evil birds) but just dealt with it and moved on.  My left hand continues to go rogue on a regular basis but this time it wasn't so bad. At least I could tell when I was making her tilt her head and fix it.

Our trot lengthens are coming along- as long as I don't let her get super fast.
heading into troll corner


I need to stop leaning forward.....
I am sure that we will get the comment 'needs more' but I'm okay with where we are right now- she's figuring out to lengthen her frame and reach and that's all we need right now.

I had been practicing my leg yields and Shanea noted an improvement- especially in my turns down the quarter line. I'm doing much better with turning her off the outside aids and not pull her around by the inside.   We struggled a bit turning down by A because she had decided that she needed to keep her eyes on the birds. This required a bit of discussion but finally we got our crap together and did a half decent turn.

a bit over bent to the inside but not terrible

As we worked I could feel the leg yields becoming smoother and cleaner. When this horse is mentally with me,  riding her is easy. She is just so adjustable and smooth. Carmen got lots of walk breaks and praise and she lapped it all up.  Once we got our leg yield sorted it literally became point and shoot.

As Carmen became tired the head tilt on the right rein came back with a vengeance and I was really struggling to figure out how to fix it. I brought Carmen back to a halt and talked it over with Shanea. One thing I love with Shanea is that she's always willing to stop and regroup (or at least doesn't get annoyed with me when I need to do that). She told me that it was because Carmen was trying to lean on my hands rather than carry herself.  Her advice was to straighten the outside shoulder and not hold the inside rein. That really worked and we were able to carry on.

After a walk break it was time to work on canter. And it was some of the best canter work we've ever done. The transitions were easy- up and down. For the first time I was able to consistently do a half-halt in her canter without pissing her off or causing her to break (or both).  

I cantered her down the long side and through the corner (despite the evil birds). We turned onto the diagonal and transitioned to trot at X with zero issues. I even was able to get her to lengthen her stride without falling to the inside. We practiced the counter canter loop and it was so good that we ended there. 




thanks to Olivia to help me figure out how to make a gif! 

I was so thrilled with this ride/lesson that I couldn't stop gushing. In retrospect what made me happiest was how in tune Carmen and I were. It showed me how much potential we have together. I am feeling much more optimistic about my show plans. Even if we crash and burn at a show I know that we can do this. 
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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Life is Good

This is going to be one of those optimistic and happy posts.

My rides on Carmen are getting better and better each time. I'm hoping that it's my perseverance and lack of fear. Each ride there has been a discussion but each time it's 'one and done' and we can move on.

For example, on Friday, after our walk warm up I asked her to trot. As we headed up to the mounting block she began to balk and spook at it. I asked her to go forward with increasing pressure until she went by. And that was it.  I wouldn't normally 'force' a horse at something that was spooky but we had been by that block numerous times already (not to mention that I used it to mount) so I couldn't accept that it was spooky when we were trotting.

I'm enjoying the work that we are playing with- the leg yields feel smoother and easier.

The transitions are coming. Today she was lovely warming up at the walk once I sorted out slowing her down.  I asked her to trot and she balked. After a few failed attempts (I just cant trot and you are mean)  I picked up the crop. All I did was ask for a trot like I had been and Missy just trotted off like it was no big deal. Hmm. I ended up carrying the crop for the ride and never ever used it.

working on the half-halt in our lesson last week

Earlier this week we were in the ring with Irish and Julia. Irish was being a bit difficult about the concept of bending- in fact he was doing his best to convince Julia that he had no idea what she was talking about- no one had ever asked him to do that. I had finished my work with Carmen so I sat on her and coached Julia through it with Irish. She really enjoyed the idea that we were bossing Irish around and not working ourselves. Even when I wanted to demo something on her she was all 'yes, let's show them how awesome we are'.  It was kind of adorable.

We're schooling the figures for First level and all are within her wheel house as long as she is attending to me. Every time it goes to hell it's because she's tuned in to other things. I set up trot poles and the first few times through she was looking at the far end with her head up and back dropped. Needless to say it sucked. After trying different things I settled on trotting her through, halting, doing a turn on the forehand and trotting back. A couple times over and she realized that lifting her back and lowering her head made it much better.  I praised her and she seemed quite pleased that she had figured out the answer.

Canter in both directions was lovely- smooth and flowing. I decided to try the counter canter loop. The first time she did a flying change in the middle and then fell off balance and into a fast trot. No big deal- we just regrouped and picked up the canter and I made sure that I was supporting her and it was lovely. I gave her a pat and a walk break and then tried it on the right lead. Despite this being her 'bad' lead she totally rocked it. I was happy and called it a day.

trot to walk transition

I'm feeling very positive about our trajectory right now. We're not perfect by any stretch but we're so much better then we were. She's stronger and I'm getting better and sitting up. I get excited about riding and schooling rather then feeling like I have to gird my loins. 

Next week is clinic with Johanna and I'm very excited. I have some position things that I want to focus on and Johanna is great with that (she's a level 2 centred riding instructor). 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Lesson Recap: Installing Adjustability

In the vein of filling the weekend with all things horse, I arranged a lesson for Sunday afternoon. In the morning I dragged the ring and then Paula rode. Her mare was excellent. While they rode I picked rocks out of the ring (it's been a bad year for those smaller rocks that can bruise feet).

Shanea was actually ahead of schedule so she texted me and I hurried to get ready. I was happy that Paula offered to take video (which is why this post is so late- I was struggling with getting clips of the ride). I have some clips from the ride and hope to make more for other posts.

I told Shanea that I wanted to figure out what level we were going to show at. The first show is June 9-10 and I wanted to get my entries in before it filled up. She thought that showing First should be doable. I had concerns that we were going to crash and burn in the ring. Shanea then pointed out that Carmen does better when her brain is busy which is an excellent point. I also shared that our rides have been a mix of 'great': forward, soft and listening and 'awful': spooky, bolty, stiff.

We started at a the walk and getting Carmen to be forward. The idea is to use her nervous energy in a positive way. I get that. I really do. Riding that is a different kettle of fish, especially when the energy wants to flow backwards. Carmen took exception to the chair that Paula had brought up and flew sideways a few times. Other spooky areas include the mounting block (you know, the one that has been there for three years and the one that I just stood on to mount her. Yes, I am being sarcastic), and  the small velociraptors birds flying in and out of the trees along the ring (because finches are not to be trusted, clearly).

Here we are heading into 'Troll Corner' and clearly Carmen is not keen about that idea. She kicks at my leg when I asked her to go forward and everything tightens. Riding her forward is the answer but she can also spin and bolt sideways so I have to talk my body into it. I know that I tense too but at least I'm not grabbing. Look at the difference in her body between tense and relaxed- it's quite marked.


As we worked she began to relax more and more. On our leg yields I was riding her haunches first going to the left. I couldn't even feel that so it was something that I had to work on to really feel it. I found that every time we came up by C she would tense her whole body through the turn and it made the leg yield more difficulty. I finally brought her to a halt and said 'Can we please get the brain back in the head and not in the field?' After that things got better.

 Honestly, it felt more like habit then fear. I am not accepting that there is anything in or around the ring that she should be afraid of (excepting Ed popping up with a sledge hammer or other unusual occurrence).

I'm making this lesson sound like it was a struggle. But really, only parts of it were. Most of it was quite nice. I'm really happy with how her canter is coming, especially to the right. It's feeling less like mad flailing and more balanced:

We practiced some lengthens. These are not great yet but Carmen is definitely getting the idea of stretching her topline. Being an Iberian horse she's not going to have the same lengthen as a warmblood. And I'm okay with that. But she has potential to do so much more - it's just a matter of practice.


Things really improved as we progressed. I love this lengthen trot across the diagonal to shortened trot and then canter transition: 


Shanea had us do an exercise to help Carmen understand a half-halt. We did trot-walk-trot transitions. As we progressed the walk part was progressively shorter until it 1 stride then almost a stride. I could feel how this was helping her shift off her forehand and into her hind. And this was our trot at the end. 

I felt a lot better about sending my show entry after this lesson. I'm also feeling that I'm getting into the swing of things in terms of a training schedule. I've been able to ride a lot in the past 10 days and we're both getting fitter. Carmen is getting far more adjustable in her strides and in her mind. I'm feeling less floppy and grippy (although there are times when my left hand should be removed).