copyright- Teresa Alexander-Arab

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Snowflakes come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Complex shapes emerge as the flake moves through differing temperature and humidity regions, such that individual snowflakes are almost always unique in structure. ~Wikipedia~

Carmen is in heat. If memory serves there are two heats that are troublesome for her: the first one in spring and the last fall one.

She's hormonal and horny. Ask Irish if that makes her difficult and he'll back me up. Or at least back up so he's behind me.

Yesterday was warm and humid so I waited for after supper to ride. Poor Carmen was jumping out of her skin. I kept myself on track and tried to keep her with me. And she was trying bot OHMYGODTHERESSOMUCHTOLOOKAT!

She was experiencing all the emotions all at once.

I kept chipping away and we would settle and then unsettle.  Things that were unsettling included ( but were not limited to):
-asters. Those wee purple flowers WERE NOT THERE YESTERDAY
-the wheelbarrow. Sure, it's been there since May BUT NOW IT LOOKS DIFFERENT AND DID IT JUST MOVE?
-birds. I thinks she's hacked my Netflix account and has been watching Alfred Hitchcock movies.
- me patting her, stroking her etc.

And then a fire truck went by and set off its siren right as it passed the ring.


No reaction. She didn't even blink.

So we carried on making what could only be considered circles and transitions if you didn't actually know what those were. We did our Spirograph circle thingy at E and as we approached the gate she came to a sudden stuttering stop.  Her eyes bugged out at - wait for it- two happy little weeds dancing in the sunshine by the gate.

I dropped the reins and let out a loud belly laugh. She flicked her ears back
What? They frightened me 
I laughed and snorted
All right. 
I kept laughing tears streaming
Ok ok, you made your point. 
Oh honey, you are a special little snowflake, aren't you? 
Is that an insult? 
Only if I drop the 'snow'
T We finished our ride- sweaty and tired but with no real disasters

She is my own special snowflake and I bet you all are jealous

Sunday, September 18, 2016


I've been pretty busy lately- both at work and in my personal life. It seems that I consistently over-estimate how much time I have available. As a result I often end the weekend more tired than when I started.

Today it caught up with me. I was dragging from the minute I got out of bed. I know my body well enough to know that when I feel like this and I don't rest I will get sick. So today I decided to slow down. My kids came for lunch and I made a nice light lunch of potato and leek soup, cheese biscuits and blueberry pie. I would normally have rushed to ride before they came and then cooked. But this time I decided to wait.

In the end I didn't ride. Carmen seemed confused by this. Overtime I went outside I would catch her watching me quietly. When I was getting the stalls ready for the evening she came to the door and watched me for a bit. Then she quietly walked in and stood by me. She kept softly blowing on me and hanging out. When I blew back in her nostril and gave her a scratch she seemed satisfied.

Carmen and I have had a busy and intense few months. It seems like a good time to take some perspective. When I rode her on Saturday she was a lot more alert- it took a lot to keep her attention and she was quite 'flinchy' and tense. But we worked through it.

What I realized that I was classifying that as a 'bad ride'.  But a few months ago that would have been a good ride.  No bolting, we were in every part of the ring and finished on a good note.

I can now get reliable transitions and most of them are good. The straightness thing was driving me a bit nutty but up until last month I couldn't even begin to work on it. Now we can and it's improving.

 I am taking her out of the ring and into the big outdoors and no one is dying. I've not yet done it on my own but I'm making plans for others to take us out and into the trails.

I am no longer afraid that I'm going to be hurt riding. Even though I came off not that long ago, the fact that she stopped beside me and waited was huge. Because I'm not afraid I'm able to not enter into the drama.  And frankly, the drama feels more like habit and not true fear. As Cynthia said 'it's not that she won't run away but now she's trying to save you too'.

It's feeling more like a partnership. One in it's early stages but something to build on. She has a ton of talent for lightness and elevation. Now I need to help release it. We're heading to a clinic next weekend and I'm really looking forward to it.

I just have to make sure that I'm feeling well.

Speaking of Perspective:
this is Carmen in May 2015 (approx 2 months after she arrived here)

This is Carmen from July 2016: 

Also, her papers arrived in June -finally and after many frustrating interactions with USPRE. But thanks to her breeder I finally got her ownership card: 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Finding the Happy Medium

On my last post Linda commented that I had found the happy medium between too much control and being safe. I liked how she put it because it made sense to me- Carmen needs to feel support from me but doesn't like too much pressure. Sometimes she requires more pressure to make a point but it can't stay on. I have keeping the idea of a 'happy medium' in my mind for my rides.

On Thursday Carmen was fabulous. She was tuned in and listening and we were able to work on our straightness issue. I tend to sit too much to the left and Carmen tends to throw her haunches in going to the right. The problem with working on it is I can't trust how it feels- because it feels normal to ride over to the left and awkward to straighten up. I just keep correcting it. Carmen and I were having so much fun in the ride that Cynthia even asked if I had given her more of the 'chill' supplement (I hadn't).

Friday was beautiful September day- sunny but not too hot. In the afternoon it became quite windy and that's when Cynthia and I rode. Carmen was much more tense in the ring- wanting to look and freak out about all the wildly waving grass. This was a great time to practice getting the right amount of support. I realized that I wasn't worried about what she 'might do' at all. I was aware but not tight about it. Nor did I stare hard at the same things she was staring at. I would look and then carry on. She kept bulging in her shoulder along the tree side- more outside rein made it worse, with more inside rein and she very happily turned in away from it. My inside leg was getting too tight with trying to help her stay out on the circle.

She was getting tighter and tighter and the trot felt terrible- it was like riding in a wagon over a bumpy road. So I pushed her up into canter and let her reach out and work out some of her kinks. At first the canter was pretty awful- she was so balled up she couldn't go forward and even gave a couple grow hops. I put on my leg and let her have some rein and off we went. It took a good many minutes of canter before I felt her settle into work. With all the work that we've been doing over the summer she's very very fit. She can canter and trot forever and not be out of breath. Did I mention that there was also a helicopter flying around?

Finally she settled and we could work on straightness and suppleness. She was so tight I knew that I had to help her loosen up and now she was ready to tune in to me rather than argue. ( I was also happy that I never argued with her at all, and just stayed pretty calm).  I've been working on leg yields for a while. At the walk they are pretty good now- I can stop her from blowing through the outside shoulder and going crooked. At the trot they are good as long as it is a way she wants to go (like towards the gate). If she's not sure about the way we're going she will either speed up and/or refuse to move over.

Yesterday seemed like a good day to work on this- we started at the walk and when that was pretty good I asked her to trot. As soon as I asked her to move away from my leg she sped up. I realized that she was a bit confused as to what I wanted and I had to figure out how to help her figure it out. Opening the rein to the way I want to go didn't help- she hates that and ducks out. More leg made her go faster and get tight. I finally figured out the timing of inside leg, outside rein, half-halt, repeat. When necessary we dropped back to walk and finished the leg yield. What I didn't allow was for us to zoom to the far end without going sideways at least a few strides. Suddenly she seemed to get it and we were able to get some real trot leg yields (probably a 6 in a First Level test. She can do much better but we'll start there).

I also worked on the 'free walk on a long rein'- now that I feel okay giving her a free rein it was time to help her stretch out. This is fine along the rail but across the diagonal we look drunk.  The trick was to essentially point my pelvis where I wanted to go (say K) and then when the wondered off path give her a gentle bump with the legs. I Think Jane Savoie describes this as making a chute with your legs. I only used a rein aid when I had too. After a bit she figured it out. Interestingly enough she also stopped snatching at the rein.

All our rides with Cynthia end up in a small hack around the fields. This time we went the opposite way. Other then a bit of confusion when we passed the barn (why aren't you getting off), she was fine. Irish wanted to head into the woods so we followed. She was a bit concerned but not too bad. I haven't been brave enough to go on my own yet but I'm getting closer.

I was so happy with both of my last two rides. The first one because she was so calm and the second because she wasn't but we worked through it without too much drama. Earlier this year I had observed how much happier and calmer Carmen was in the barn. That disappeared under saddle but it's not starting to come there as well. I'm no longer feeling a complete lack of trust in me- instead she's tuning in and trying to figure stuff out.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Plugged in

I tossed around lots of titles for this blog entry and in the end settled on this one because it seemed to be the most relevant to our ride today.

After our very busy weekend I gave Carmen two days off. It worked for me too because I two very long days at work. Yesterday I spent some time grooming her. Today I came home from work with the plan to ride. It's been very windy (what a surprise) so I had a bit of an expectation that she would be a bit more spooky.

In the barn she was very mellow and when I started with her bridle she reached down and picked up the bit. We walked to the ring and I tried to keep myself steady and calm. When we got there I saw that a big piece of paper had peeled off one of the sonotubes. This was a big deal last year. I walked up and picked it up. She gave a snort and then checked it out. I put it under a rock to anchor it outside the ring.

 After my work at my friend's place I realized that I needed to give her space and not try to hold her too much. This is incredibly difficult as I know how fast she can spin and leap.

As we started our warm up I made sure that my seat was engaged and helping to set the piece. I find this difficult (although it's getting easier)  because it requires balance and just the right amount of tension to follow and support. Gah. the more I ride the more I realize how freaking hard it is.

She was starting to repeat our usual warm up of 'I'll be nice for about 3 minutes and then find what's really scary and start to fixate on that. From there I start to fixate on it too and then we start to argue.

Nope. Not gonna buy into this. Not this time. 

I decided to not engage and rather then tighten her rein agains the next I held it there but she had room- this gave her nothing to fight. Well not much anyway.  She gave a couple scoots and I stayed focused on following her with my seat but restricting the fast, choppy movement.

And my god. It worked. And it worked at trot and canter. It wasn't magic but it was pretty darn close. the more tight she got the more I tried to keep my seat plugged in to the saddle and follow the movement. When ever she stretched into the contact and lifted her back I gave her rein and let her reach. When she tightened and hollowed I shortened the rein but kept my hands on her neck so that I could give her some room but not be left with no escape.

The other aspect was that I had to refuse to fixate on things that she decided were spooky. Instead I stayed on task and kept asking her to transition/bend/go forward- whatever it was that I wanted to work on. Again, magic. This helped to break the feedback loop that we have.

And what do you know- we were able to do honest-to-god back to front transitions instead of spazzing leaps and leg yields that felt like leg yields and not drunken staggers.

We worked our way down towards troll corner. She was tight but walked right into the corner, giving a sigh of relief when we passed it.
that's my girl, they will write songs of your bravery. Songs!
hmm, I detect sarcasm
Who me? 
Yes- EEEK!  we scooted forward.
Well maybe they will write silly songs

possible trolls but checking with me as to what to do

We finished up on a good note and I dismounted.

I was happy that we had managed a stress free and confrontation free ride. Neither of us was freaked out or dripping in sweat. Instead, because I stayed plugged in I could get her to plug in too. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Operation Slow and Steady

I'm two minutes from having a nap but am also too excited to sleep until I tell you about my weekend.

As you may recall I had Irish and Carmen grazing in the ring earlier that day. When I tacked up Carmen and brought her up it was apparently completely new and she had never been there before and didn't know what I was talking about. 

She was practically vibrating whenever she looked up at Troll Corner. I did my ground work and got on. I decided to treat it like I had earlier- every part of the ring was work except for that far part. We would have beautiful work until she felt she was too close to that area, at which point she would turn into a stiff-as-a-board pony with a jarring trot (my teeth rattled).

I just kept working and we got closer but not up deep. I wasn't too worried, I knew I had to just stay the course.

That night Cynthia and I had a 'date night': we went out to dinner and then saw a theatre production of Beauty and the Beast. It was fabulous.

I stayed overnight with Cynthia and came home in the morning. She was coming shortly and we were both going to ride. I really wanted to tackle the corner. I had some Omega Alpha 'Ultra Chill' and I decided to try it. When Cynthia came we got the horses ready and I headed up to the ring before Irish and Cynthia.

Carmen did not care a fig for that corner. At all.
So I got on her and she was-well- fine. Relaxed and easy going. And stayed that way throughout the ride. She was responsive and alert but not panicked and we worked the whole ring with no issue. Yay. That's what I wanted. I didn't want it to always be a fight- I wanted her to figure it out without the drama and hysterics (from either of us).

It was stinking hot and humid and after 50 minutes I was ready to fall off. So we went for a hack around the field and she led again. We even trotted for some of it.

That was all very exciting because I had something special planned for Sunday: A road trip!

I hooked up the trailer and got it all packed for the next day.

The day dawned foggy and drizzly. Oh no you don't! I thought.

My plan was to trailer to a friend house. She lives about 5 km away from me so it a short jaunt. the other nice part is that she does not have an indoor. She has an outdoor with trees all on one side.

When it was time to leave Carmen self-loaded. Without Irish having to be on first. I was thrilled. I closed it up and we made the trek. I let Carmen settle on the trailer while I chatted with M. Her two mares were quite excited and there was a lot of calling and prancing going on. She has a welsh cob that I plan to steal some day and a beautiful warmblood as well.

I had a sort-of plan. The goal was to work with Carmen on the ground and only ride if it seemed that it would be a good idea. I was fully prepared to only do ground work. I started by walking her around the ring. She was looky but listening. The ring was great: M drives her cob so she has cones set up and flags attached to fence posts and even umbrellas.

After walking I hooked up the lunge line and we went to work. I was so impressed with how well she listened to me despite there being horses nearby and then not as they were led into the barn. M. had her cob tied to the outside of the ring and groomed her well we worked and then took her inside.

I also walked Carmen along the outside of the ring and down a short trail that she was concerned about when in the ring. She was so well behaved and, while reluctant, did not refuse to follow me.

I decided that it would be great to ride. So I unhooked her from the line and let her chill in the ring while I got stuff organized.

don't leave me! 
While I organized M went in and played with Carmen and the umbrella. 
You can see that she's sort of concerned but not really. 

I tacked her up and got on. As soon as I mounted she tensed and M noted that her eyes got hard. I used to take lessons from M (before she retired) so it was helpful to have her there to help. She stood in the centre and reminded me to relax and let her move forward. Slowly Carmen began to unwind and listen. There was just one scoot. What I found was the same thing as at home- she wasn't bothered by any of the things in the ring, just the trees and leaves fluttering around.

I rode her for maybe 15 minutes and when she was soft and relaxed I stopped and got off. It seemed to me that we had accomplished quite a bit today. I untacked her and cooled her out walking around the ring. I then let her loose and went and chatted with M for a bit. Carmen nibbled some grass, peed, and then started running down to the far (scary) corner and looking at it hard, then turning and running away. I was pleased to see her challenge it.

What i realize is that if think of her as a 4 year old (which is where she is in her training) it's much easier. I said as much to M who agreed. She also observed that I can be a bit intense.
who me? Next you'll be saying that I am ambitious. 
She laughed.  I just might. but you are also dedicated and are willing to put the time in with her. Not everyone would be. 

Carmen walked right on the trailer to come home. When I pulled up to the barn I decided to try unloading her by myself. I haven't done that yet. I undid the butt bar and then went up to her head and  asked her to back off. She stood until I told her to come off. Irish was happy to see her return.

I was so thrilled with everything:

  • I did productive work on troll corner
  • I travelled off property and back by myself
  • Carmen learned that she can travel out and life is okay. 
  • Carmen can self-load and unload with no fuss
I'm calling this weekend a win. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Quirky Carmen

In keeping with the 'my horse is weird ' theme let me tell you about her and the CHASM OF TERROR.

Ed, at my request, had mowed down the tall grass on each side of the ring. I was concerned about deer bedding up at C and and bunnies moving in at A.  Carmen could care less about the mowing at A but is completely unhinged by the open path now up at Troll Corner.
Carmen: OH MY GOD- the trolls have built a road! We must flee. 

I am pleased with how I am not freaked out by this. This is Carmen and I shouldn't be surprised- she was doing well with that part of the ring but now it's changed. I'm simply doing what I had done before- making that area the 'rest' area.

Yesterday Cynthia rode Irish with us. I did some lunging up by the Troll Highway and just was clear that her main worry was me and not mythical beasts that cannot possibly hurt her because they are not real.

During our ride she was okay- tense but okay. I kept my seat engaged and did my best to not tighten up and perch in the saddle. If she gets tense and I get more solid in the saddle she calms down. She's also making me more aware of how frequently I've been dropping contact on her. She does not like that. She did a couple mini bolts but I was able to stop them quickly and back her up. Throughout the whole ride her ears kept checking in with me which is exactly what I want. We had some wonderful trot-canter-trot transitions that were actually straight.

I used Irish to help her walk up around the chasm and that helped a lot. I then rode her over to open the gate. She was fine letting me open it from her back but tried to go right out and became irked that I wouldn't let her. We then spent some time walking, trotting and cantering up past the gate until she gave up on trying to dive out. Then we marched out with Irish behind. I turned right for us to go around the path and she took the lead.
This should be interesting I thought but decided to let her do it.  I figured we could switch up to her following if necessary. Irish was surprised but followed along nicely enough. Carmen was more alert and I could feel that she was a bit on high alert. But we walked the whole way and it was all fine.

Me: So let me get this straight- walking by the woods with the wind blowing is perfectly fine but mown grass by the ring is terrifying? 
Carmen:  DON'T JUDGE ME!

So today I put her and Irish in the ring to eat down the grass that's trying to move in. This is Carmen and Irish grazing quietly by the Chasm of Terror.

see how scary that tall grass is? 


Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Last week I decided that I want to spend one session a week just on groundwork. I wasn't planning on that day being today. The heat and humidity has returned so I figured that this would help me. Carmen was fine being tacked up. I saw that my sand delivery had arrived (I buy a load every year and move it up to the ring to replenish the sand as needed). I thought that Carmen would be a bit spooked by it but you can see her reaction below:

'why is this sand on my grass?'

On monday I asked Ed to mow down some of the grass around the ring- I was pretty sure that bunnies were trying to move in there and I didn't want them tunnelling under the ring. Carmen was fine except that the grass down in troll corner kinda freaked her out. I did some work with her but she stayed tight. I knew that I could get on her and work through it but it would probably be a big battle that wore us both out. Instead I went back to the barn, untacked her, put on her halter, the lunge line and grabbed the chain lead as well and headed back up. 

We started by working around the path Ed had carved in troll corner. She was kind of freaked out about it and kept trying to blow by me. I just kept calm and had her focus on me. I had to put on the chain shank so she didn't drag me around. I kept the lunge line so in one sense it was like a double rein- the easy lunge line with the chain as back up. Finally I had her walking calmly (although not happily) around and around and around the path. 

We went in the ring and played some more with her staying tuned in - and she was fine. I played with the hula hoop and she was all 'whatever'. I even could lay it over her back with no issue. 

We then headed out and went to far side to play on the second path. She really didn't care. So we went walking around the field in and part way into the woods. She followed me calmly, looking around and now worried.

looking around, alert but not worried
We need up at the end of the driveway and out on the road. No big deal. We walked up by the ditch and across the front of the house. I couldn't resist snapping a shadow selfie: 
she's just walking calmly along on a loose line. 
In the barn she was relaxed and it seems that she enjoyed her walk.

I finally realized that Carmen truly is a good horse in most circumstances. It's the ring. sigh. I know, I know- that has been pretty obvious for a long time. But I guess I truly didn't believe it until tonight. I always figured that how she was in the ring she would be everywhere.