dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Doing More with Less

 Since my last post I've really been reflecting on how to keep things short and focussed. 



One thing I've noticed with the use of my 'bubble' is that I'm better able to reflect in the moment. I signed up for a free 6 video class from Noelle Floyd on fear. Not that I think I'm a generally fearful rider but I do recognize how my tension feeds in to the dynamic. The videos I watched were by Jenny Sussman (as an aside, she was here a few years ago to do a clinic and I really regret not taking it). In one video she said that (paraphrasing here) when we are engaged in a fear/defensive response we lose cognitive ability. She had a breathing exercise that I've been practicing. 

Putting this together with my bubble I realized that because I was emotionally stable I was better able to problem solve in the moment rather than fall back into old habits. It's interesting how stable and consistent our rides are. I find I'm riding a lot in my new saddle and loving how balanced we both feel. 

Each ride I try to figure out what is the 'big thing' and then tackle it.

Tuesday:

Now that spring is really here so are the blackflies. Tuesday was my  birthday  and I managed to squeeze in a short ride after work. Short because the black flies were awful. Poor Carmen was barely holding it together. When she's uncomfortable, Carmen will get tight and off balance. Being off balance makes feel worse and she's far more likely to explode (big spook and/or bolt). My goal is to keep her between the aids and straight. But the flies were insane,  so we rode a short time and I called it. Since then I've been planning rides around the black flies. Early in the day or, if it's warm, at noon is the best time. 

Total time: 27 minutes

Focus: attention to me and balance. 


Wednesday
I took a couple hours off in the morning. Julia joined me and we started in the woods with a hack followed by schooling in the ring. She was pretty keen and with me. We worked on lateral work and adjusting her stride. It was a ton of fun to play with her transitioning forward and back with my seat. 

Total time: 56 minutes
Focus: lateral work and suppleness

Thursday
I took the afternoon off to enjoy some perfect spring weather. This was the first ride Carmen and I had without company in the ring in a while. I wanted to make sure she stayed with me and that I didn't get tight. I really had to call on my bubble but it worked. Her transitions were really sticky- especially the down ones. She was blowing through the aids and falling down into them rather than carrying herself. While I understood the increase in tension because of being 'alone' (even with Irish watching from the field); it didn't mean that she couldn't try. Lots of half-halts and praise for trying. In the end she was able to give some lovely transitions off the seat and without being angry. 

Total time: 56 minutes (including 20 minutes of groundwork) 
Focus: transitions
In the news I have help in the barn now. 
She's kind of slow but she's very thorough. 


Friday

We rode early, but not early enough because half-way through the flies found us. She was definitely engaged but too forward. When she gets like this she pounds her legs down and stomps around the ring. This is not only not comfortable but also hard on her joints. The answer is to shift her weight back on her haunches and carry herself. I played with my seat to figure out how to help her. I found if I could lift the front of my pelvis a little she was able to come up in her withers. Then her HI/SI were so light and fluffy. As well as her transitions. 

We celebrated by having the first bath of the year. 

Ride time: 40 minutes
Focus: lightness and self-carriage
I love the first bath. I promise, she's not as chunky as she looks here. 


Saturday:
Rode early again. It was a beauty of a day. Up in the ring we settled into work pretty quickly. She felt a little tight so we worked on bending and multiple changes of directions: serpentines, circles, transitions. 

Total time: 42 minutes
Focus: Bending

Sunday:
I opted for a late morning ride (10:30). A little groundwork and I hopped on. Everything was right there. In fact our canter-trot-canter transitions on the right were the best we ever had. After a couple I stopped and hopped off. I realized that this was my 6th day in a row riding. 

Total Time: 25 minutes
Focus: check to see if all things were there

Later, Julia messaged me and we decided to hack out in the afternoon. Carmen was not so impressed but I reassured her that it was not the same old thing. We spent about 25 minutes in the woods with her leading the hole time on a loose rein. Then we could hear thunder in the distance and decided to end it. 

Poor Carmen she had a ton of rides this week but she seems to be thriving on it. I turned the horses out in the riding ring to eat the grass around the ring. I joined them later and sat in the corner on the mounting block. Carmen moseyed over and hung out with me. When Irish came over she got between me and him. I won't lie, it warmed my heart. 


Irish is really enjoying the warmer weather

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Solitary

 It was a good thing that I had those two lessons because now everything is closed again and we are to stay in our communities. It must be hard for an itinerant coach like Shanea but hopefully the numbers will start to trend the other way. 

We are allowed to bubble with one other person if we live in a household of 1-2 people. That person for me is Julia. I am not worried- we are both health professionals and we are only together outside and not within 6 feet. We've been riding, with the focus on 'fun first/school second'. We're hacking lots. 

I have to admit, it's a great place to isolate

I've been riding a lot in my spanish saddle.  I was also successful in getting a matching bridle and girth. I got them from Dark Horse saddlery in Alberta. I definitely would recommend using them. The owner was very patient as I tried to figure out what to order and if it would match. I did end up getting a bridle that was a little lighter but I couldn't justify the cost of the others. I think that the bridle will darken with time/use. The leather on the girth is amazing. The bridle is less so but that was expected with the price point. 


Anyway she looks pretty good in it. 

Carmen: I will tolerate this

I bought the saddle thinking that I would ride in it occasionally. But I find it very comfortable and find myself riding in it more and more. Carmen seems to move really well in it too. 

Carmen: I look good in everything. Also,
why are you backing up? I shall come closer. 

This spring things are different. Except for that ride where she flat out bolted on me, she's been very open to working with me. It struck me the other day how relaxed she is over all- in the field and stall. Not that she can't tense up but that's not her norm. I also realized today that I have no idea when she came into heat this spring. Usually I know because of her behaviour. I had suspicions but nothing too firm. Which is a good thing. 

Our canter work is really coming along. Today I was playing with simple changes on a figure 8. I can feel flying changes being right there. We had a couple of canter-walk 1 stride- canter. A few tries and then we ended it.  

Right now I'm watching my plans for the summer come into jeopardy. And that sucks. But at least I have Carmen home and we can keep playing. 

Carmen: you know what's fun? Snacks. 
Snacks are fun. 




Friday, April 30, 2021

Calm Amidst the Chaos

And the 'worst blogger' award goes to......

Argh, sorry. Just insert the usual excuses of being busy, and tired and just...ugh.. dealing with covid (not having it, but working in health care trying to keep things going. 

Since coming back from our weekend away I've been having some really excellent rides and lessons. I'm finding that channeling the bubble is getting much easier. I'm also getting great use of my new saddle. If she feels 'up' or I'm unsure I use that one and it's really increased my confidence. This saddle is so comfortable and I love where it puts my leg. I've never been a person who's had multiple saddles or bridles to use so it feels like I'm living life large. 

The last two lessons have been really good. They have been focused and then done. Which is what Carmen prefers. She's not a horse to enjoy a lot of repetition. I'm enjoying the way we're zeroing in on getting her to sit back on her haunches and even collect at the various gaits. We start with just going forward and soft. 


I've been using the bubble and it's definitely a game changer. If I forget to do it and Carmen begins to get reactive I work on building it around me. 



Since then Carmen's reactions have really settled. Probably because I'm not entering into the spiral of doom.  One of my struggles I have is that in lessons I try too hard. Which creates tension and pressure. My other horses have tolerated that in me, but not Miss Carmen. She has zero interest in going along with that shit. Shanea is noticing too and is commenting on improvements in my hands and seat. 

It's not that things are perfect, but that the blips are less and last for a shorter time. I took some screen shots from a video:
Not sure what was bugging her here but definitely 
there were opinions. 

Four strides later

So we are working along. My life is pretty much work and riding. We're dealing with a surge in COVID and things are a bit tense. One of the variants has shown up (maybe more than one) and people were careless with not self-isolating and having parties. It's so annoying. We even had a 'Freedom Rally' in our small town. Honestly, if you are pissed at having to wear a mask you are not a freedom fighter you are a whiner and should sit the fuck down. Because of people like you more people are in hospital (some will die), churches are shut, non-essential business have been forced to close (and may not be able to survive) and people are unable to see their families. 

Sorry, not sorry for the rant. When I am done work, chores and riding I have little energy left over. What energy I have I save for riding. Now that weather is better we're dong more hacking and Carmen is even starting to lead. 

nice bend but what the heck is my right hand doing? 

I'm keeping things short and sweet. I'm operating on the theory that 20 minutes of good riding happening often is better than longer rides that are less frequent. We'll see if I'm right. I think all those years of lessons have indoctrinated me into the 'hour' idea. But that's pretty arbitrary. 

In my last lesson (and likely my last one for a bit with the shutdown) Carmen and I were working on collecting and letting out the canter. She gave me a really really good try on her right (her bad way) I was just planning to tell Shanea that we should stop when she said 'I think we should stop right there'.  So we did. 

trying so hard

I celebrating by doing a first wash of her tail. It's hard to tell when it's really clean because she has a mix of colours but it feels better now and less grotty. 

It's a lot of work but very pretty




Sunday, April 18, 2021

Riding in a Bubble

 A few weeks ago I had made plans to go visit Karen with Carmen but it didn't happen because there was a snow storm. We made a new plan for this past weekend and this time the weather cooperated with sunny skies and warmish temperatures. 

I loaded Carmen up in the afternoon. She was a bit nervous about it but loaded obediently. When we got there she still seemed a little tense and I joked to Karen that I suspect I would be paying for this. However, she was really good in the arena that night when I rode. I made plan to have a lesson the next day with Karen and was excited. 

pretty chill here 

When I put her back in her stall she was pretty good until Kalimo came in. She became quite aggressive looking at him through the bars of the windows (they are up high, not at eye level). They have been beside each other before and I figured she would settle. The next morning we didn't need to hurry. There was barn help to feed and muck the stalls. Honestly, it felt like a vacation. We arrived shortly after eight and I was shocked to see that Carmen was a ball of nerves. Her stall looked like she had a rave in it the night before. And she was coated in dried sweat and ground in manure from the stall. 

Guinness: let me re-enact how Carmen looked! 


I was pretty sure that she would be at red alert during our ride. As I began to groom her and work out all the muck she began to relax and settle down. I tacked her up and took her into the arena to start out ground work. Like the night before I did all of our ground work with her at liberty. I really enjoy that because it lets me know how connected we are. After the ground work I mounted and began to walk around. 

Karen came in and asked how she was doing. I said "she's nervous but trying really hard to listen". I know I said more words than that but I don't remember them now.  "And how are you doing?" Karen asked me. And I was at a loss for words. I mumbled something about being the same as Carmen. 

So Karen had me rate myself on a scale of 1-10 where 1 was comatose and 10 was super-excited. I put myself at a 8. My task was then to walk Carmen around, not worrying about what she was doing but to focus on getting myself a little lower on the scale. She had me visualize my energy flow and I told her it felt all knotted up. As I rode I was to visualize the knot being worked at by my fingers loosening it up. That worked - as I went around I could feel myself begin to loosen up and relax. 

When I got a level 6  Karen asked me to construct a bubble around myself. I was to make it all around me and make it impervious. That meant that no matter what was thrown at me my emotional level did not change. Mostly what was being thrown at me by Carmen. 

After Karen explained why she had me to this (I know it's out of sequence but it will make more sense if I explain it now). Karen noted that I was putting all my focus on how Carmen was feeling and then letting her dictate how I felt. This is so true that it's ridiculous. I've been working on not falling into the emotional spiral with Carmen but it's hard (the mare is pretty committed to her feelings at times).  

This was hard but I put my imagination to work and created this clear bubble around me. When Carmen wold get tight and think about reacting (like to the many cats that were popping in and out the arena).

Yes this is the horse that BOLTED from Willow the week before
what you can't see are the kittens in the stalls bopping around

It was interesting to have myself in a bubble and still being aware of what was going on. I wasn't ignoring her but rather keeping myself in the eye of the storm. Occasionally, Karen would ask me to visualize the ball of tangled energy being untangled and 'show' it to Carmen. I pictured it at the base of her neck and every time I did that her neck softened and lengthened. 

By not worrying about what Carmen was worrying about I was able to ride softer and better. After our ride we went out for lunch and then spent the afternoon cleaning tack. It was a fun way to spend a day. 

On sunday morning Carmen was much better and her stall looked more typical for her. Even better she wasn't crusted with sweat and manure. 

Carmen: don't believe her- I'm never that dirty! 

In our groundwork she was very forward. Not in a tense way but she was playing with me. It was fun. Our ride was a repeat of the day before with a little more demand. I was thrilled with how she and I were able to work together.  




This bubble thing is a game changer I think. 

We left before lunch and were home early afternoon. Ed had cleaned out the small paddock for me while I was gone. 

It warms my soul to see the winter's accumulation of hay, poop and muck gone








Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Good Enough

 


I am a few posts behind and I had intended to post about my weekend. And then I saw a shared post on FB that won't leave my head and I realized that I need to have to get it out of my head and onto the internet (because that will make everything better, right?). 

Danny Hill of Tamarack farms is at it again. I unfollowed Danny after his racist bullshit last year. A recent post was shared about women and riding. I won't share it all (you can find it if you like) but in a nutshell:

  • the top women riders are impressive athletes who work out (duh)
  • most women he knows don't' work out 
  • if women want to be better riders they need to be stronger. 
  • men don't need to be stronger they need to be softer
And my first thought was 'can we fucking stop telling women that they are not good enough'. First of all any rider in the top of their field work out in other ways than horses. That's their job. Charlotte DuJardin has an amazing fitness schedule: she rides 9-11 horses per day, works with a personal trainer 3-4 times per week, does cardio twice a week, has massages, acupuncture etc. Good for her. It's what I would expect for any elite athlete. It is what they are supposed to do and their schedule reflects that. 

I am not saying that being physically fit in other disciplines will not make you a better rider. I've been experiencing great gains with my foray into yoga. 

But you know what? I have time to fit that in. Not everyday. Sometimes it's a struggle to do it 3 times a week. I also work and have other responsibilities.  When I was younger and had children at home my time was extremely tight. I had time to either ride or do another type of exercise. Guess what? I chose riding every time. I still choose that. 

 It is well documented that women, in addition to working at a paid job, carry more of the load at home as well. 
workin' it


We don't need some old guy mansplaining why we will never be good enough because we're just not trying. 


Let me tell you that you are GOOD ENOUGH: 

If you are a young women working long hours and can fit in riding horses 
If you have a family and find time to sit in a saddle and enjoy yourself
If you are retired and are loving having time to groom and ride your horses
If you are a student struggling to work part time, study and still engage with horses
If you work out 6 times a week and are a badass weight lifter (looking at you Nicole)

Because at the end of the day what the Dannys of the world think is of zero consequence. What matter is whether you are happy and your horse is happy.  

AA women make up a huge component of the horse world. We bring the money and the love of the sport. We are the grassroots and it is time for people to begin to respect that. 

Anyone who can't respect that can piss off. 

who said you aren't good enough? 
I'll teach them to not pick on my servant! 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Spring Tune Up

 Spring has arrived early this year and it's time for the usual spring activities. 

the grass is a little greener every day

I already did the usual saddle fit visit (including the purchase of an additional saddle). The next thing was the annual vet visit.  The visit includes the annual vaccines, teeth floating and general check up. I like my vet- she always wants to know how they've been and listens carefully.  Carmen has been (as usual) remarkably sound this year. I knew she needed her teeth done and I told the vet that I would bet that her left needed more work than her right. It turned out I was right. 

drugged and getting much needed work

Irish needed some work too. He needs much less tranquilizer than Carmen. After she was done the vet had her assistant stay with him in case he fell. Every time I looked in his eyes were closed and he was snuggled with the vet tech. Then the vet needed her help so I went in to take over. As soon as she left his eyes were wide and he went looking for her. Turns out he was just enjoying the snuggle and wasn't drugged any more at all. 

Since the vet visit I also started Carmen back on her probiotic. I had stopped it to see if it made a difference. Funnily enough the spooking/bolting has disappeared since then. I'm also making sure to not tighten and tense when she does so that's likely helping too. 

Carmen: I don't know what you're talking about, I'm an angel

With spring the horses are starting to shed. 

Everything I own is covered with horse hair. 
Just like Guinness


I've been riding more and also just enjoying being outside. Julia and I even had our first hack of the year. It was short and wet but it was great to be out of the ring. 

totally not caring she's standing in a stream





Monday, March 29, 2021

Leather and Lace

 So, I, um, did a thing a couple weeks ago. 

I don't know if anyone remembers but a few years ago I started searching for a western saddle for Carmen. That was when having a 'holy jesus' handle seemed prudent. I tried a few second hand saddles but her andalusian build didn't seem to work with any of them and I gave up. (I know I could have spent a lot of money to get one that fitted but I decided to drop it). 

Then I went to Rachael's and had a chance to ride in her Dom Vaquero saddle. I began to idly look for one but, not surprisingly, there weren't a lot (or any) around for sale. Buying online was a risk I didn't want to take. I decided to leave it up to the universe. Or I gave up. 

Then Rachael decided to move to Portugal and put up one of her spanish saddles for sale. I messaged her to see if she thought it would fit and we arranged for her to come and try it. 


Carmen: What is going on here? 

It turned out that it fit and I decided to buy it instead of the new Mac Book I had been planning to buy.  It doesn't have wifi but isn't it pretty? 

It's a Marjoman Protrera Royal 

Rachael made me some matching leathers to go with it. I picked it up the day after my lesson and decided to try riding in it. Rachael had assured me that it would hold me nicely in place should there be any antics. I found that the stirrup leathers a bit too long so my foot was not firm in the stirrup. However, it felt pretty balanced.  Carmen was being a bit up but not too bad. Julia was riding with us which helped. Then, when we were down at the far side of the ring I spied Willow (my cat) down in the field. Carmen gave a look and then took off on me. I totally lost my stirrups but the saddle worked as advertised and I didn't feel like I was coming off at all. I got my balance back and we walked down to look at the cat. I wonder if that was what set her off the other day? (although I will say that I have seen Carmen chase Willow out of the field, so WTF horse?). 

My plan is to use it when she seems 'up', in the obstacle clinics and trail rides. I think it looks good on her. 

Carmen: I look good in everything

Of course, all my tack is black so I need a matching bridle and girth. I figure you guys could help me source some matching equipment (the colour is 'hazelnut' fyi).