dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Cue Rocky Music

 Here we are at the end of November and the weather, with the exception of a couple cold days, has been warm for this time of year. Honestly, I've gone through less hay in November than I did in August when the grass was dead from drought.

 It has been wet though. 

Not that I'm complaining, my ring is in fantastic shape and I am able to ride. I've been trying as much as possible to ride early in the morning because it's basically dark by 5 now. As always, the rides range from awesome to WTF horse? with most being in the middle. 

No shows but Guinness helps me to feel judged. 


I can usually get to a good place in the ride and I'm definitely better at dealing with her spooks and preventing any bolts. I think my brain switching to let's go forward has been helpful. It also helps that I'm very rarely intimidated by any antics.  Carmen is a funny mare- when I'm getting her ready and starting out she's cranky as hell. At the end of the ride she's happy and affectionate. It reminds of me of a kid not wanting to go to school but then having a great day. 

yes, I bought a new saddle pad. In my defense
I didn't have an all navy pad. 

With the second wave crashing on us (we're up to over a hundred cases, gah!) things are shutting down again. I have been getting tighter and tighter so decided to try some yoga videos. I've been actually really enjoying them (Yoga by Adrienne if you are interested) and am already seeing some results. I've done yoga off and on but not for years. every time I come back to it I realize how much I like it. My plan is to stick with it since it's in my living room there really is no excuse. 

Guinness likes to join in

Whenever I can I start the ride (and often end) with a short hack around our property. This requires Julia to be with me but Carmen leads the majority of the time. As you may recall I've been leading Carmen tacked up after a ride to get her used to going out alone. Yesterday was a beautiful warm day and of course I planned to ride. Carmen had also enjoyed her warm morning by trying to get mud into every possible place on her body. 
The very rare pinto Andalusian
Seriously, never buy a gray horse

After a good groom we had a lovely ride in the ring. She was tuned in and listening and things were going great. I could have carried on schooling but after about 30 minutes I hopped off and decided to head into the woods. I sent Ed a text that I was taking Carmen into the woods and might ride her (subtext- come find me if she returns alone). 

We walked in and she was happy to mosey along with me. So I lined her up at a spot where I could get on (she was standing in the stream and I stood on the bank) and swung into the saddle. I did my best to ride the same as when Julia was with me. I was doing pretty good although when I checked my watch my heart rate was 102 which is a bit high for just walking. Carmen was really good- she knows the trail and so was fine going around. 

I had to stop and take a photo

We went around the loop twice and then rode to the edge of the woods where I hopped off and I walked her home. It seemed like a good way for us to build confidence. I'm glad I dismounted because she was a bit tight walking back to the ring. Irish hadn't seen us go (he was napping at the time) but clearly was pissed off to wake up and see we had snuck off. He was definitely wearing his WTF face when we got back. 

This was a big step for us and I swear I could hear Rocky music playing as we were riding. My biggest issue with riding her out alone was that if she freaked out I could be hurt on a tree (they are close) or she could be hurt on the rocky parts if she ran through. Having tools and a plan have really helped me. And her. 

Have you had any major or minor wins lately? 


Friday, November 20, 2020

Escape

 We are now in the second wave of COVID -19 here. Now to be clear that means that there are now 28 active cases in our province which I know will boggle the mind of some of my readers. However, we've been taking this virus seriously since it's beginning and restrictions are ramping up. 

Which means my work has been ramping up. I've been doing a lot of OT and there has not been much time to squeeze riding in. I had a lesson last weekend, then rode Sunday and I didn't have a  chance to ride again until Friday. 

an old photo I used for the #drop_your_beautiful_horse_head_challenge
I love this photo of her

In the past I would have fretted at the lack of riding in terms of the loss of training time. Not anymore. Instead I was just really missing sitting in the saddle and just enjoying the ride. So friday I was determined to ride no matter what. Julia came out to join me and the weather was mild after a midweek deep freeze. 

Carmen was definitely feeling energetic. In the cross ties she was a bit cranky but, like Emma says, on a scale of 1-10 Carmen is typically at 11. I mounted in the ring and she pinned her ears and threatened to hump. In the past I would have shortened up the reins and considered getting off to lunge. I would definitely have made Irish go first. 

Now I just drop the reins and sit quietly. 

Carmen: I am going to blow. 

Me: okay

Carmen: I mean it. You are in big trouble. 

Me: do what you gotta do. 

Carmen:  you are no fun anymore. 

I just walked her on a loose rein in circles until Julia and Irish were ready. Then we headed out, Carmen leading. 

Poor Carmen- in our lesson I made
her canter through puddles

We're gaining a ton of confidence on the trail. This time we startled a grouse who startled us. But the spook was a small jump, a stop and then carry on. Another funny thing about the trail is that she knows it really well. When we get to the fork where we can loop again or head to the ring she hurries to redo the loop and hope I go along with it. Often I do. When I do insist we go to the ring she sighs but listens. 


Carmen: seriously, are we eventers now? 

In the ring her energy came out and so we went forward into trot and keeping her mind busy with lots of leg yields, changes of direction, transitions etc. There was the occasional argument- I've learned to stand my ground without emotion so that she figures out the line. The line is not fuzzy. If I ask for a bend and she stiffens against it I add pressure (and spur to be honest) until I get the bend then I soften everything. After a few of these, um, discussions, she gets easier and easier. 

working through


As far as schooling goes it was a good working session. But that wasn't the point. What I really enjoyed was being out, breathing in the fresh fall air and feeling the movement of a horse underneath of me. The stress of the world just drops away and it feels so good. 

I love this mare guys

After Julia helped me with some chores around the barn. One of my chickens kept me company following me around. I don't know where the other three were and I kept expecting her to leave. When I sat down on the trunk she hopped up beside me and we had a little chat. I honestly never expected to find these little creatures so charming. 

should we discuss dressage or
the benefits of more sunflower seeds?

I honestly don't know how people without animals deal with life stress. I find that this little farm and the residents keep me grounded. 

And happy. 


Friday, November 13, 2020

Churning Away

 Carmen is always an interesting horse. She absolutely makes you be present or else. When we came back from our weekend away she was super mellow. I had a lesson booked for the Sunday and I was spending the whole time making her go forward.  But it was a great lesson and we worked on a lot of fundamentals. 

Me: Please go forward, pretty please
Carmen: you should relax more. 

We worked on transitions- keeping her straight and reaching for the bit going into them. Which means that I have to stop trying to hold her in place through them. And also to keep the hind leg active up and down and to not let her plow onto her forehand (riding is hard). 


We also did some half-pass. Our reach is improving. It works better when I don't over think (and micro manage).


Tuesday Julia came out and we went hacking followed by a ride in the ring. Carmen is doing well leading and was still quite mellow. I dropped the rein to take a photo and she decided she wanted to go exploring. Normally I would have gone along but it's hunting season so...no. 

Carmen: I want to go over there! 

Wednesday was Remembrance day so it's a day off. This year was different because we were all asked to not attend any ceremonies. The weather was also incredible- in the 20's. I rode Carmen in the afternoon and she had transformed from mellow-mare to tail-on-fire-mare. Shanea has been having us practice getting her to soften to the inside rein when she wants to pop up her head and hollow.  I realized I wasn't doing that and when I started she began to soften and then I could ride her into softness. We also did a lot of canter. Like a lot. I started riding a figure 8 with a simple change through walk in the middle. 


post ride she needed to be hosed off


Friday (today), Julia came out in the morning to ride. As we started to hack out Carmen was quite tense. Normally I would ask Julia to lead but I don't anymore. I side and ride her forward. This time I didn't give her a loose rein and I warned Julia that she might spin into her so she'd be prepared. But she didn't - I was able to ride her forward and have her soften.

 In the ring she started off quite tight and her focus was about 50 feet outside of the ring. I just keep asking for her attention. Carmen is really good at convincing me to back off the inside leg because she won't bend but speed up. Now I just keep up the pressure until bends. This is not really Carmen's fault - it's mine because I would back off the pressure and she thought that was the answer. So I can't get angry or frustrated, I just need to be consistent. When we had that established, I worked on her going into the bit- not laying on it or curling away. Once we were coming down by the back of the ring when her head shot up- which made her hit the bit and then get really pissed about that. But if I raise my hands she's gone. So I keep the hands where they are supposed to be and let her figure it out while I ask her to go forward. 
random photo: one of my chickens is laying freckled eggs. 
I think it's pretty and delicious. 


And then she was like butter. We worked on SI to HI and it was so smooth. Her ears were soft and listening and it was all so smooth. I then asked her to half-pass and she was just 'bam, let's go. It just flowed and we went from one side of the arena to the other. I stopped there and called it a day. 

Megan wrote this really great blog post on the importance of training. I loved it. Carmen will always be a bit, well, dramatic. She definitely trusts me but that doesn't make her easy.  The key is to put patterns and responses in along with the trust so that we can keep building.  I have learned that sometimes I just have to grit my teeth and do the thing. I have to trust that my ask is in her wheelhouse and help her figure it out. 

from the lesson but still buttery soft and forward




Saturday, November 7, 2020

Self-Care



 Like most humans these days I've been finding myself running on an increasingly low fuel tank. I value and love my job but lately it's been draining me quite a bit. I ended the week feeling quite stressed and drained. I must have sensed that I needed to refuel because last week I arranged to spend a day away with some of my dearest horse friends- Karen and Stacie. 

And it was just what the doctor ordered. I spent friday morning getting ready but refusing to rush. We arrived at the barn by mid afternoon. Carmen walked off the trailer and looked around "oh, I'm here again'. 


Approximately 3 minutes after getting off the trailer


I may or may not have plotted to kidnap this cat

This was not a clinic weekend. (Technically it wasn't even a weekend- my plan was to just stay over one night. ) It was just some *cough* mature *cough* women getting together to just have fun and enjoy our ponies. 

Friday evening Karen and I rode together. Carmen was experiencing many many many feelings. Often all at once. But where before that would make her unrideable, now it just makes her require more finesse and clarity. It wasn't necessarily a great ride but it was a good one and she was really trying. At the end Karen and I switched horses which was fun. I love riding Kalimo. This let me feel the turn on the haunches- something that Carmen and I are struggling with. Carmen decided to throw some things at karen and so had a longer workout than Kalimo. 

Kalimo: that mare doesn't know who she's dealing with

That night Jim cooked a feast for Karen and I. It was delicious. I might have been responsible for drinking 2/3 of a bottle of wine. You would be surprised to know that I slept really well that night. Saturday morning I didn't have to go to the barn because the women working there took care of Carmen. It felt very luxurious to sit there and eat french toast while Carmen was being taken care of. 

The weather the last few days has been stellar. Saturday was warm and sunny so I rode Carmen outside while Karen helped me from the ground. Carmen had fewer emotions and the ride was less energetic and more focussed. 

Carmen: I think we should be napping 
not working in this sunshine


Carmen went back out to enjoy some grass and Stacie rode her lovely black mare. Then Karen rode Kalimo while I helped from the ground. I took Kalimo back to his field and Carmen was nickering non-stop and he was looking intrigued. I guess that explains all the emotions. 
This is the look of a mare who doesn't 
really know what she wants but she's
pretty sure that Kalimo is the answer


After we all sat in the tack room and chatted about horses. Then we went for lunch at the most adorable general store/restaurant in nearby Maitland. It was delicious.

from their FB page

After lunch Carmen and I headed home. I am sitting here typing and feeling restored and refreshed. Sometimes you just need to unplug from the universe and play with ponies. No matter how old you are. 





Monday, November 2, 2020

The Not Disastrous Lesson

I've been able to ride Carmen pretty consistently these days and that feels good. I have een seeing a boost in my self-confidence and that is definitely transferring to her. When Julia comes to ride with us we always start with a hack and often end with one. I've been getting Carmen to lead the whole way. Usually I see how she feels and will often have Irish start and we take over partway through. But I've decided that if I want to be able to hack out alone then we need to lead. By now she's pretty familiar with the trail. While there might be some hesitancy at the beginning I give her time to think while encouraging her to go forward. My reins are usually long although sometimes I will choke them up a bit for safety. 

 Carmen seems to be enjoying the lead and I find her striding out more and more, leaving Irish behind. Irish, interestingly enough, seems okay with being last. In the past he hated being behind and would rush. Now he's just ambling along enjoying life while Carmen is moving ahead. The other day we even trotted back to the barn with Carmen in the lead and she was very rideable. 
I stopped to take a photo and she turned
around to have a chat with Irish. I'm pretty
sure that he's telling her she's doing it wrong! 

In the ring I'm continuing to work on the clarity. Sometimes I find myself starting to baby her a bit but then I catch myself and we go to work. I've embrace the 'when in doubt go forward' mantra. If I ask for bend and she ignores me while motorcycling around the ring I will be insistent (thankyou spur). The response to my bending aids are getting more ingrained and, imagine that, we're getting less spooking. 

All of this is background for my lesson on Sunday. 

We had arranged it for Sunday afternoon. I had been able to ride Carmen Weds, Thurs and Saturday. She was full of energy but pretty good (except for saturday when I had to work her a bit harder to get the softness I wanted). Sunday was a cloudy day and by afternoon the wind was up quite a bit. To be honest, I expected the lesson to be a disaster. I figured she would be completely freaked out by everything blowing around and that it would be an hour of trying-to-get-half-decent-trot-on-a-circle-and-don't-die  sort of lesson. 

Frankly I was hoping it would rain so I could cancel. But it didn't rain so I took Carmen up to the ring a full thirty minutes before the scheduled lesson to do groundwork. While I was up there Shanea texted that she was running a bit late. 

FYI I was not wrong- Carmen was on full alert and ready to flee at every leaf flutter and bird call. I took a deep breath and knew that the work we did would have to focus on her realizing that the most important thing to pay attention to was me. So that is what we did. I had her do work on the lunge- sending her forward, interspersed with quieter exercises of paying attention to what I was asking of her (like going into an imaginary box or keeping two eyes on me when I asked). By the time Shanea came we were both a little tired - mentally and physically. I told Shanea that I was expecting this to be exciting and she did not disagree with me. Nonetheless I mounted and off we went. 

We started with a series of 10 metre circles up and down the ring. I like this exercise because it asks her to bend left then right. It helps to soften the body and get things flowing. Usually I do this on a pretty long rein but this time I had it a bit shorter. Shanea wanted me to be more insistent with my bending aids and to not accept her stiffening against my leg and pushing into me. This helped to get her really soft.

 From there we went to riding a 4 loop serpentine with a 10 metre circle at the rail.  I liked this exercise because it had us travelling the ring but not enough time for her to get too straight and stiff. We then did it in trot. At first it was not pretty. 
Not pretty


 Then it was pretty in spots then just ugly in spots. What was interesting was that as we worked  I could feel her looking for me rather than arguing. A few times something startled her and, rather than flee, I could feel her reach for contact and ask what we should do. My answer was always to carry on and she did. 
better- see how dreary a day it was? 


We worked on some shoulder in and then half-pass at the trot. This is coming along nicely, especially to the right. I struggle with helping her to be correct and not have the haunches lead. I think I need to study some videos to see what a really correct lower level half-pass looks like to help me; so if you know of any links feel free to send them my way. 
A lot to fix but look at that reach


And then, squeee, we introduced canter half pass. These were very baby ones but so much fun. Going to the left seemed easier than the right but she was also tired by then and got a little strong. Looking at the video I can see how big my smile was. I didn't even know I was smiling but I was having so much fun. 

really trying






It's not like these are stellar movements. What was making me smile was how hard she was trying to figure things out. And I was thrilled that my prediction did not come true. Carmen seemed to find calmness in the work and became less worried than everything else. 



she got a little excited going right and tried to launch into space

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

On Tuning In


 I'm going to be honest-way back in the day I never really did a lot of thinking about trying to read what a horse was telling me. Oh, I knew about the big things in terms of ground manners- personal space, lead from the left, etc. But I never really thought about what the horse was telling me before I ever climbed on his (or her) back. 

Of course, once you know better you do better. And I know a lot more than I did even 10 years ago. And in the past 5 years I have learned even more. 

I've learned to pay attention to how the horse responds when I go to halter them. Irish is pretty easy going and you can walk up to him and throw a rope over his neck to lead into the barn. Carmen is a bit trickier. She sometimes walks right up, sometimes hesitates. When she hesitates I don't push because that sends her even further away. And that sets up a dynamic that I do not want. Instead I create a whole 'no big deal' vibe with my body and usually spend some time scratching Irish or even sitting on the ground. I'm trying to not get into chasing her. If she moves away we can get into the game of 'can't catch me' and it's not what I'm looking for. It has happened to me and I have a lot of thoughts as to why it did on that particular day but that's a different blog post. 

In the past I would go up to a horse (barn or field), put the halter on and bring them in. I still do these things but it's different. Now I hold open the halter and wait for Carmen to put her head in. Interestingly enough she does 9/10. Sometimes she puts her head in and then flinches out. I refuse to do it up then- I just wait (now in the field I do have the rope over her neck so that I can keep her close). I do that with the bridle too. I won't let her put it on angrily. 

this is her skeptical face but she's pretty relaxed

During grooming I try to observe carefully to see what she's thinking and feeling. Is she relaxed? tense? distracted? hungry? (often hungry). It helps me understand what I may need to do to support her. Sometimes I realize that I might just be lunging and then making a decision to mount. 

 I've noticed that if I let her push me a bit or act cranky, up in the ring she's also a lot more resistant. If, however, I correct her behaviour in the barn, she responds much better in the ring. It seems that I am establishing the rules of engagement before I climb in the saddle. 

Carmen can be quite dominant at times on the ground. She doesn't push into me at all but she can pin her ears, be snarky and, occasionally, snap her teeth. I need to respond to that clearly and quickly that some things are just not acceptable. I tend to ignore the pinned ears (mare face). If she snaps I make her move around me in the aisle.  I do this until I see a change in her attitude. I am not angry nor am I harsh but I am not soft either. I try to do it to the point to get what I want and then relax everything. Back in the obstacle clinic Mike asked me a really good question (paraphrasing here): 

Mike: When is Carmen the most engaged and willing in her work? 

I thought a few minutes. Then said: 

To be completely honest, it's when I'm really clear about what I want. Even if that means I'm being harsher than I like. 

Exactly! he said (or something like that) horses like things to be clearer more than anything. 

I do groundwork before every ride. Sometimes it's short, other times it's the bulk of our time. Mostly it's in between. I'm looking for her to be engaged in the work and trying to find the answer. She's pretty smart and can start to offer things before I ask so I try to make sure I vary it a bit. Otherwise she can be obedient but tuned out. I'd rather her be less obedient but tuned in. 

Here is Carmen not sure about listening, but she's
really trying (also may change her mind later)

This year I've really started to pay attention to my communication (or interpersonal skills if you like) with Carmen. I've been working really hard to eliminate the thoughts that start with or include things like:  I hope/why can't you/that's too hard/don't. All of those mean that I'm not sure and then how can she be. So if she makes a mistake in our ground work (like ignoring me or overreacting by moving 8 feet when I only asked for 1) I just stick with the plan and keep working. 

I'm trying to make this work for me under saddle. This includes me doing my damndest to eliminate my own tension that my body does independently when it suspects we may be in danger. But also not accepting refusals or doing something different than what I ask. Clearly I also need to look at myself- was my ask appropriate (i.,e does she understand it and did I ask correctly). 

whee- if all else fails go forward

Last week I was in a lesson and Carmen was fixated on the C end of the ring (the day before that was the bestest spot in the world, today it was full of death and despair). We were working away from it but she was becoming more and more obsessed with it making the work pretty shitty. I decided to march us down there to deal with it. It was not pretty but we did it. 

After Shanea was talking to me about working away from the spooky spots and working towards them.  And I agreed with her. Sort of. You see, sometimes when Carmen becomes obsessed with a spot the area in which she can work productively will shrink and shrink and shrink until you are stuck standing at one part of the ring and even then she's not so easy. I have found that when she's like that tackling it head on with 'this is what I want' (mostly bend and not racing like a fool) we can get to a good place. I don't know if Shanea believed me and I'm willing to be wrong but this is my experience. 

Sometimes  I believe I have to tackle things head on. Other times I can be more subtle. 

I see posts of people asking what do when their horse does something and the advice is so varied I'm not sure how they sort it out. The problem is that it depends on so many things that there often is not a simple answer. It depends on the context (windy day, mare in heat or sore, construction next door, etc), the horse's general demeanour (is this totally new or a part of their pattern although perhaps more extreme than typical). I believe that there literally is no one answer for all situations. And that may be where we struggle as a horseperson. I know I do. Now I am far more comfortable to make a decision and then later have to revise. At least I made a decision. 

 

no desire to be a flat squirrel

I don't know if this post really makes any sense. It does in my head so I hope I was clear. 

relaxed post ride


Thursday, October 22, 2020

October Reset


A few weeks ago   I began to suspect that Carmen's saddle needed adjusting. Carmen is usually quite sensitive to changes in her saddle fit, and will let me know with general crankiness under saddle and resistance to canter. However, it's also not that behaviour from her points specifically to saddle fit vs being in heat, or it's windy or birds are occupying the same space time continuum. 

Nevertheless I was feeling pretty confident that the saddle was creating some issues. It looked to me like it was too big in front. Back in March/April (I really can't remember or have blocked that time), we had to put in a bigger gullet. But she's lost weight since then and I thought that we needed to go down a size. 

Carmen: did you just call me fat? 
Me: who me? Never! 

While I waited for her appointment I put some extra padding under the saddle and we were able to get by. Rachael and Emily from Callan saddlery came Wednesday. Fortunately I was able to take some time first thing in the morning. Turns out I was right. Her saddle gullet was too big so we had to go down a half size. Not, of course, to one i owned so I had a to buy a new one. I think I pretty much have the full collection by now.  Not that I'm complaining, because replacing a gullet is a lot better than buying a new saddle. I did trade in an small one I had for Steele for a discount so that helped. 

After many days of rain, drizzle and fog, today was an unseasonably and warm day - it seemed perfect to ride. I booked a lesson for friday and it seemed a good idea to help Carmen realize that her saddle was comfortable. At first she was pretty sure that trotting was going to hurt but after a few minutes she relaxed and we were able to get some good work in. 

After I put on her rope halter and took her for a walk in the woods. It's all part of my plan to get towards hacking out alone. I wondered if she'd balk but she walked along quite content with this new activity. My plan is to walk her in hand and then as we progress mount her part way through. 
clearly stressed 

I'm hoping to continue to enjoy good weather for a while yet. I don't feel done yet.