dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Why I didn't Ride

Today was supposed to rain and I figured that I wouldn't be able too. However, it was clear and bright in the morning so I put on my riding gear and headed out to the field. The wind was gusting strongly and blowing everything around.

Carmen came right up to me and I put on her halter and led her to the barn. Irish gave a sigh and followed. He looked resigned when I put the gate up on the small paddock. I brought Carmen into the barn and she was as good as gold, none of the fuss that she gave yesterday. As I was grooming her Irish came into his stall and hung out.

And then he left. Carmen got upset at that but settled right away. I realized that the wind was going to make the arena a very different environment than yesterday. There are bushes, trees, tall grass etc all of which would be in full motion with the wind. I quickly formulated a plan for our work and then shared it with Carmen:
"the goal for today is for you to learn that even if everything is blowing around that there is nothing at all to worry about up there. K?"
She looked at me but didn't venture an opinion.

Sure enough as we walked up and into the ring it was clear that she was really worried about the way everything was being blown. I started with us in hand and then went on to lunging. There were good and bad moments but I was so impressed with how she would come back to me. I worked on being calm and clear. I'm not sure that I succeeded completely but I was trying so I'll give myself points for that. We alternated with in hand and lunge work. Once something really spooked her and she bolted away on the lunge. I didn't move and spoke softly to her and she never pulled against the line and came back to work like a good girl. However, it was clear that she was highly distractible and tense.  I decided that the riding was not a good idea today and I should end on a good note.

When we finished she followed me down to the barn as calm and happy as could be. She was quite sweaty so I took her out and hosed her off. She's funny about the hose- when it first comes on she jumps (even though it's pointed away from her) but doesn't mind being washed. She was even drinking from the stream.

I turned her out and she had a good roll and then settled to grazing. When I walked over the fence rail she came up to say hi.

So even though I never sat on her, it seemed to me that we accomplished quite a bit. Johanna advised me that you should solve all riding problems from the ground. I used to view it as a failure if I didn't ride but not anymore.

At least that's my story
I want to be sure before I tried to ride this movement :)

Saturday, May 30, 2015


Sorry for the lack of posts these days- life has been busy. 

Carmen and I have been slowly working along. I've been trying very hard to not get frustrated but instead to be patient and methodical. Those are two words that are not generally used in describing me, so I guess I can use it as a goal for personal growth. 

Things I'm learning about Carmen: 
  1. She likes soft brushes not hard
  2. she needs space to figure stuff out- if you try to push she will resist but if you give her time she will do what you want
  3. she does not like to be alone 
  4. she needs to develop confidence- in herself and in me. 
  5. she notices everything and anything new
  6. she loves and responds to praise
I've been working her in the ring but so far have only been able to ride her with Irish. Other times when I've had the thought that I might she just didn't feel ready and it seemed that I would be fighting her more than working with her. So I decided to not do battle. 

I've had to talk myself through the idea that we are making progress, even if it's at the speed of a herd of turtles galloping through peanut butter. It's hard when you're an amateur trying to figure it out on your own- it's so easy to second guess every single decision. But, while thinking things through is useful, I can't let uncertainty invade the work or Carmen will have not reason to trust me. 

Yesterday Cynthia cam and rode Irish. After doing some ground work I got on. She stood at the mounting block rather than walking off (see, progress).  We spent some time working on walk and trot. I really focussed on being clear and balanced so that she could find steadiness in me when she didn't have it in herself. I've also put a grab strap on the saddle so that if she spooks I have something to grab and won't grab her mouth. She gave a big spook sideways once but I was able to sit deep and not grab with my legs or my hands and then just carry on with the work. We spent some time following Irish and moving off. After a while we were following Irish and he and Cynthia trotted off. Carmen asked if we should also trot but I said 'no, we'll just walk' and she said 'okay'. With that I halted and hopped off. 

Today I went and brought her in from the field. I closed the gate on the small paddock so Irish was stuck there as well. She did not like being alone in the barn at all but was being okay until Ed started the gas harrow (he was gardening). she was freaking out in the cross ties but I just kept calm and working her and correcting her when she got too feisty. She settled and I tacked her up. In the ring she was being quite reactive to a flowering bush on the side of the hill (it didn't have flowers before so it obviously had evil intentions). 

When it became obvious that she wasn't calming down on the lunge I stopped and asked myself 'what does she need from me?' I asked her to whoa and then I started doing work in hand with her. Within 5 minutes she was a different horse. What she needed was for me to be close enough to provide support and to give her something to focus on. On the lunge she had too much freedom and was getting herself in a knot. After doing in hand work we went back to lunging and she was so much more relaxed and listening. I then put on her bridle and mounted. This time she stood still until I asked her to move off and I didn't have the sensation that she antsy. 

We did some work- all very very basic stuff. Some went well and some did not. She spooked a couple times but I stayed with her and since there was no reaction from me I could feel her develop confidence in me. She then tried to tell me we were done and she really didn't need to trot anymore but I stayed firm and clear until she had a lovely forward trot and carried it for a bit. I then asked for a walk and then a halt. I then introduced the idea of the turn on the forehand (we've done it from the ground) and I could feel her really thinking about what I was asking (rather than all the dangers lurking outside the ring). We did three steps of the turn on the forehand and I got off. 

We walked back to the barn and she suddenly slammed on the brakes. I looked and saw that Ed had set up a screen and shovel (he's been screening some dirt). 

It's fine. I said. She walked a couple steps and stopped. 
It could be dangerous. 
Yeah but I'll protect you. 
Okay, but if you want to get back out to the field we have to through the barn and by the shovel. Let me know when you're ready. 

I stood there calmly for  minute to let her think and then I started walking into the barn. After a brief hesitation she followed.
In the barn I put her in the cross ties and Ed came in. She looked at him and he gave her a pat.
she's starting to like me he looked very pleased. And he was right. she was perfectly happy with us in the barn and could have cared less about where Irish was. We talked about she now seems so content and happy with us rather than worried about stuff. She soaked in the attention and love with her eyes half closed. 


After our ride. Also, her new brow band and bit. :)

Monday, May 25, 2015


As you may recall, Steele is buried on our property. I drive by his grave every day. I have been giving some thoughts as to how to mark his grave. I thought about various options but none felt right. I then remembered what I wanted for when I die: 

your remains are planted and it grows into a tree. Way better than a coffin or Urn sitting on the shelf. 
I had always wanted a Magonolia tree, so today Ed and I went to nursery and picked one up. I planted it beside his grave. 

It will have beautiful, showy, white blossoms every spring and when they fall they will cover his grave.

I think that he would have liked that. It then came to me- "Steele Magonolia" and I had to chuckle. He'd have liked that too.

I am enjoying and love Carmen but I  still miss my beautiful boy. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015


I recently did one of those FB quizzes called 'What kind of Lady are you?' I was curious because I was pretty sure that my grandmother despaired of me ever being a lady at all. In the end I was called 'An Independent Lady":
Naturally, you don't like to be constrained by anything. You love freedom and liberty and you could care less what others may think or say about you. You have a way of spicing up anything and everything you do in life. The amazing experiences you've had make you the best dinner-party guest with the most intriguing stories to tell. Everyone agrees that you are classy in a your own kind of way.
I'm sure that these are as valid as a Magic 8 Ball but it felt correct. While I doubt my ability to be the 'best dinner party guest' (I will however, be an appreciative guest. Just FYI) I do value being able to take care of things by myself. It's not that I don't value help but I want to know how to things on my own.

My birthday was about 2 weeks ago. It always fall around Mothers day (here in Canada anyway). Ed asked me what I wanted and I said 'my own tool box'. He looked at me oddly. Now Ed is incredibly handy around the property but when we were sharing the barn I got used to free access to the tools and such. Now that he has his new garage it's a bigger pain. Plus he hates people messing with his stuff. I explained that I wanted to be able to have some basic tools so I could leave his stuff alone. That got him all excited. Well, 'excited' might be an exaggeration. Perhaps 'slightly keen' is a better descriptor.

Also, in case you're wondering, while I love Ed with all my heart I have long given up on the idea that he will surprise me on my birthday/christmas etc. He really wants to get it right so he prefers to ask.

So on Mothers day I was pleasantly surprised to see a brand new tool box in my tack room and it was full of useful things like hammer,  nails, screwdrivers, screws, etc.

The next day, for my Birthday, Ed gave me my own cordless drill. Now THAT was a surprise.
So now, instead of asking Ed for help I've been figuring it out on my own. I've tightened up my gate, fixed a broken board in my ring and repaired Carmen's stall door. When I came home from work an entire board from her stall door was sitting in the middle of the aisle.  Someone kicked had it out.

Normally I would call Ed to fix it but I figured I could do it.I grabbed my drill and the right screwdriver head. I backed out the screws and then put the board back. I screwed it in but the right side was sticking out a couple inches. I tried to screw it in but it wouldn't move.
I kicked it.
Nothing happened.
I did NOT want to call Ed to fix it. So I backed the screws out again and it slipped into place. I screwed them in and TA-DAH. It was done.

Having your own tools is fun.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nope, I don't have a blanket problem, not me.

You'll recall that I said that Carmen seemed to be bothered by the black flies.

That of course got me to thinking that she needed a fly sheet.

Because I don't want princess to be bothered by nasty, bitey flies.

Of course if she has one than Irish must have one. I must be fair to both of my horses.

When I had two geldings I couldn't indulge my love of blankets use blankets because they tore them off each other. Carmen, however, is too mature for that.

At that is why I stopped at a tack shop on my way home from work. The sales person was lovely and showed me all the sheets and we discussed their pros and cons. She was happy to enable my addiction.

I left with 2 fly sheets, a fly mask (you can always use an extra one) and a pair of bell boots (they were on sale).

I checked the fit  and they are perfect. Carmen's has a neck attachment and a belly cover. Irish doesn't need that so his is simpler.

Don't they look good?

I also tried the fly mask on Carmen. She's never had one on before so I wanted to introduce her to it slowly. I needn't of worried. She didn't care at all as I put it on her. She just looked at me as though to say 'are you done? Can I have supper now?'

I think I deserve points for not getting her the rainbow one though
It's much sparklier in person.
I think Ed would have killed me. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


If you were at Oakfield Farm last week you would have overheard this conversation:

Ed: When are you going to put the horses over into the grass pasture?

Irish: yeah, when? That's what I want to know!

Me: We have to wait for the grass to be growing well, so in about a week or so.

Irish: A week? I'll die!

Ed: Can you be more specific?

Irish: I vote tomorrow. Tomorrow is good.

Me: I can't. It all depends on how the grass grows.

Irish: Don't listen to her. Listen to me. I'm a horse. I know about these things.

Ed: I need to schedule the backhoe to fix the drainage around the barn. It would help if I had a date that they were in the back.

Irish: Exactly! See, you are holding up much needed repair work.

Me: You book the person and I will see how things come in. I have to wean them over carefully and I want to make sure that the grass is well established. Otherwise it won't last.

Irish: You don't need to wean me. How about I just eat little bits at first?

Me: Really Irish? You will just eat a 'little bit'? Rather than diving in like the contestants on Survivor at a buffet?

Irish: yes. It's called negotiation and I nailed it.

Me: Hmm. Somehow I don't believe you.

Irish: Frankly I'm hurt.

Me: well that's better than you foundering or colicking from too much grass too soon. Plus I don't want to ruin the grass.

Irish: You worry too much. I'm not talking to you anymore. I'm talking to other servant: listen, when she's gone to work and you are home just let us over. She doesn't have to know. It will be between us guys.

Ed: He's pretty convincing you know.

Me: sigh.

By this weekend they should be fully over onto the pasture. Thank heavens. I can't take any more discussions like this one.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

And We Ride

Of course you know that I had to ride today. Cynthia came out with her daughter and we got the horses ready.

The black flies have come out in droves and Carmen seemed to be really bothered by them. I'm not sure if they have black flies in Virginia or if she's just sensitive. She also was not impressed with fly spray so that is something to work on.

I brought up her bridle with the new bit and brow band (sorry no photos). My plan was to work with her on the ground and then proceed to mounting. It is amazing how well the breathing works. Carmen tends to get a bit fast in her gaits which makes her unbalanced. To balance herself she lifts up her head and tenses her back. I worked on getting her to slow by slowing myself and rewarding her verbally when she settled into a more sedate pace. When she does that her head lowers, her back comes up and she flows forward. I want her to learn that that's the gait for her.

We went up and down the ring, stopping for brief breaks and then carrying on. I was just starting to think that it was time to put her bridle on. I asked her to walk and Irish was coming along the rail. All of a sudden she pinned her ears and began to back into him. Whoops. Poor Irish stood there going 'huh, what?' I got after her immediately and sent her forward. She needed to know that that was not a good decision. I prefer to work on that from the ground rather than under saddle so I spent another 15 minutes lunging her and setting her up by Irish (thanks Irish and Cynthia). Because I knew what to expect I could prevent that unwanted behaviour at it's first glimmer- it was all in her eye. As soon as she looked like she was even thinking of Irish (rather than me) I sent her forward into work. She's smart so it didn't take long for her to ignore him again.

Now it was time to get on. As I walked her to the mounting block I made sure that I was breathing. I was perfectly fine getting on and then getting off if I had to. After a few tries, she stood still at the block and I mounted. I asked her to move forward. We walked around and I stayed away from Irish. She showed signs of wanting to follow him but I was clear that that was not in the cards. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.

I asked for trot and she hesitated about going forward. Now with Steele I could have simply given him a small kick and told him to get on with it but I wanted to give her a chance to figure it out. I believe that with Carmen you could easily get into a fight. So as we trotted and walked I made sure that I was being as perfect as possible:

  • sitting up, not leaning 
  • keeping my hands, arms and shoulders soft
  • not gripping with my legs- just gentle nudges when needed. 
  • using lots of praise when she was right.
  • if she was more resistant I did use my voice to growl at her - like I do on the ground. 
  • I kept my post steady and slow so she wouldn't rush. 
I could feel me start to lose her attention so I used the exercise I learned from John in our clinic last year- I picked up a trot for a few strides and then sat to allow her to walk. Repeat a few times, change direction on the circle and repeat. As I did this exercise I felt her come back and begin to relax. 

We took a walk break for a few minutes. I lost her attention again so I asked her to trot and she was quite resistant. I don't know why- perhaps it's being in heat -Irish was going by behind us as well, perhaps because it worked before to end the session, perhaps she plain didn't want to. I'm positive that the saddle was fine as she wasn't doing what she had before and it felt more like a question rather than an 'ow'. I did my best to keep myself the steady and calm centre and rode the circle. She tried to turn off the circle but I opened my inside rein and asked her to stay in (now I know an opening rein is somewhat controversial but in her case it worked). 

Then all of a sudden her back softened, she lowered her head and we had the smoothest, loveliest trot going. I rode it for 2 circles (telling her that she was awesome), asked her to walk, halt and I hopped off. I wanted her to think about that part and I didn't want to jinx it. I will likely push for more later but this seemed good to me. 

I think we were both happy with our session. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015


So Johanna left and Carmen and I were on our own.

Don't get me wrong. I learn best by applying new learning to situations on my own. It's not necessarily the best way to learn, it's just how I learn.

I gave Carmen friday off and contented myself with just grooming her.

Saturday Cynthia came out and we worked both horses in the ring. I kept focussing on the key points of Johanna:

  1. slow even breaths
  2. clear intention
  3. be sure of what you want
We did some lunge work up and down the ring. There were a few spots that she was a bit hinky about- by the mounting block and the corner right across from the mounting block. I didn't make a big deal about it, I just kept breathing and being sure. She relaxed more and more. When she seemed very calm I allowed her to check out the block and then we headed over to the spooky corner to rest and graze. We then returned to work. 

Overall I was quite pleased with both of us. But I knew that the true test was sunday: on that day we were loading up both Irish and Carmen and going to see the saddle fitter. 

Sunday dawned gray and bit rainy. I fed the horses and let them out for a bit. Once the truck and trailer were parked up we got the two of them and brought to the trailer. 

Now Irish has always been a fabulous loader- I throw the lead line over his neck and he walks on calmly. Except for today. Today he went on half way and then 'nope, not gonna' and he backed off. 
'what the heck?" I put the lead line back on and sent him back. He tried to back off and I slapped him on the butt and then closed the butt bar. He then began to fuss and throw himself about. 


Carmen was not at all convinced that she wanted to get on if Irish was so upset. I focussed on being calm and breathing just bringing her on. For the me, the trick on trailer loading is to have all the time in the world. She was getting a bit upset so I stopped and gently stroked her nose. 
It'll be fine. Don't worry. 
And with that she hopped on and stood like a mature horse. 

The trailer ride was just over 2 hours but they were fine the whole trip. We took them off and into the indoor arena. Carmen was quite excited and was very nervous about the opening that was halfway up the arena- it was a small observation room. I hooked on her lunge line and just kept working her. And breathing. 

Seriously- I slowed my breathing so much I was starting to get lightheaded. Slowly and surely she began to come back to me. I gave her opportunities to come to me and gradually she settled. I had her and I slowly walked off while she followed like a puppy. She then stood at the scary opening with all the calmness of a seasoned horse. I love how quick she learns. 

I won't go into all the details but her saddle was adjusted and I rode in it. At first she expected it to hurt and fussed but settled very quickly. I was thrilled with the outcome. I also bought a new bit and she got a new browband- a V-shaped one with bling (heaven help me - I have realized that my fashion choices are much broader with a mare). 

We left her and Irish to relax in the indoor for a bit before heading home. they were having fun cavorting around. It was also clear that Carmen was in heat. Nothing like having a stallion visit to jumpstart things. 

When it was time to come home Irish walked on and tried to back off again. I broke all the rules but I stood behind him saying 'I don't think so. You keep your ass on that trailer or you have to go over me.' He made the right decision and stayed on. I closed the butt bar. 

Carmen was again uncertain and fussed about it for a few minutes. I stopped and took a deep breath. I stood beside and spoke to her. To be honest I don't remember what I said but it was along the lines 'we're going home. I need you to hop on and it will all be fine. Let me know when you're ready'. I then walked on and she followed right behind. 

Again both horses were good coming home and the trip was uneventful. So Carmen has learned that she can get on a trailer and go somewhere and it's all fine. 

Once home they unloaded quietly and calmly. I let them out into the grass paddock and they dove into the grass. 

I was thrilled for my day and can't wait until tomorrow. 
She's filling out nicely too! 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mediation (warning- this is a really long post)

Carmen and I had Couples Counselling over the past few days.

Let me explain.

As you know, Carmen and I have been having good sessions and bad sessions. Sometimes explosive sessions. I've been feeling that we're in a bit of a spiral but was unsure how to approach it.

However, a few weeks ago my friend Karen had kindly offered to bring me Johanna Beattie Batista for a few days. Karen wanted to get her stallion out and about (more on his visit in another post). I had thought that it would be all about working out a saddle fit and riding.

I was wrong.

Karen and Johanna arrived Tuesday late afternoon. After a brief conversation and looking at saddles we brought Carmen up to the ring and I began to lunge her. It was not our best work but it wasn't our worst either.

Apparently, Johanna asked Karen if she thought I'd mind if she took over. Karen assured her I'd be fine. I didn't know this at the time, of course. But when Johanna asked if she could take over I readily agreed.

I watched Carmen and Johanna work together. Initially, Carmen was quite resistant to anything Johanna asked and threw a few tantrums. Quietly and imperceptibly I watch Johanna work with her until she was calm and quiet. Johanna then asked me to come back. She was very direct. (by the way I like direct).

You are making it too complicated for her. She is not a leader and she needs a leader. You need to make it simple. There was more but I won't try to quote her as I'll get it wrong. Instead let me tell you what she explained:
I was being too tense and excited which was making Carmen worry. I wasn't providing enough leadership, which was making her worry more. I wasn't a safe haven, instead I was a source of stress for her.

All of these comments sunk into my soul like stones. I spent the next 15 minutes (I think it was fifteen) lunging Carmen with Joanna telling me to breathe slowly. And more slowly. And more slowly. I tried to breathe. Have you ever tried to breathe with someone telling you to? It's hard.

That night I did a lot of thinking. I realized that Johanna was correct- I was being too tight. I knew that I had not been like that with Steele. I realized that I was holding my emotions in tightly and they were leaking out all over the place like sand being held too tightly. I spoke to Karen and she gave me some ideas for grounding. They helped but what I needed to do was to try to prevent my pain over Steele ruining my relationship with Carmen. It wasn't her fault. I realized that overtime I was up by the ring my brain was dwelling on the field that was where Steele ran to get away from the dogs. If my attention was on that no wonder I couldn't be a leader to Carmen.  gave myself a shake and got ready for our next lesson.

Johanna spent the next two days helping Carmen and I communicate.

The next day our lesson was late in the afternoon after work. Breathe I told myself over and over. I loved that Johanna let me start and stayed on the side lines. She gave instructions but let me also have the space to try to figure it out as well.

I love the story that this tells you. This is the beginning- Carmen and I clearly want to talk to each other but aren't sure how. As a result we are both tense and a bit wary.

 A lttle later on. We are much more relaxed. My breathing and easing my shoulders is having an obvious effect on Carmen. Look at her head - it's lowered, her back is not stiff and her tail is relaxed. Her eye is soft.

As we moved down the ring Carmen suddenly reacted- which made me react which made her try to run away. Quick as a wink, Johanna was in there and took over.
See that expression ?  she said. (it was is known as a classic mare face- hard eye, stiff nostril and essentially haughty.
yes I said.
That spells trouble. You can't let her get that look. 

Great,I thought, how the hell do I do that? 

Within 2 minutes Johanna had Carmen back on the job. She gave her back to me. I went back to work breathing, being clear in my intentions. Carmen began to stop at one point and I simply told her to trot on- oh okay she said and that was the end of that.

Here I am helping her to canter on. I'm not looking straight at her but ahead so that she doesn't feel threatened. But I still had to know exactly what she was doing and breathe and relax.

It's kinda like juggling.
Only harder. Cause your juggling balls might suddenly drag you off somewhere.

When I had Carmen stop Johanna told me to 'gather her in'. With my back turned I slowly gathered up the lunge line. Carmen slowly came up behind me and stood waiting for me to indicate what were doing next.

(What we were doing next was ride but that's for an entirely different post.)

The next day I was off. I let the horses out for a bit and then put a halter on Irish to take him out to graze. Normally when I do this Carmen throws a fit, even if we're just 20 feet away. This time she went to her stall, whinnied once and then stayed in there. After about 15 minutes she calmly moseyed out and began to graze well away from us. I was amazed.

then it was time for our next therapy session lesson.

The pictures speak for themselves:
This was the start of our work. You can see that both of us are much more tuned into to each other and more relaxed about the whole thing. 

My favourite photo- look at her stretching over the back. She is fully tuned in and not at all looking around. Look at my body posture- I am calm and centered.

I was thrilled with our progress. And I was able to focus on Carmen and not the field behind us.

After lunch Karen and Johanna left (I will tell you about her stallion too but not right now). My friend Cynthia had come to watch and she got Irish ready to ride. Poor Irish had been feeling a bit left out of the clinic excitement.

When Irish left Carmen hung out with me in the barn. She would whinny softly if she couldn't see me but when I answered she was happy. After I cleaned a bit I put her halter on and we wandered up to the ring. She softly cropped grass while Cynthia rode. I had a loose lead line and even leaned against her for a bit. She didn't move away. After a bit we went into the ring because I wanted to talk Cynthia through riding a square. While I described what to do and coached her through it Carmen stood behind me happily and calmly waiting for me to decide what was to happen next. She occasionally snuffled the back of my shirt and my neck.

As I felt happiness and peace settle into my heart I could swear that I felt two noses on my back but when I looked back it was just Carmen. Looking at me softly.

hi she said. I'm here. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sometimes all you can do...

is throw your hands up in the air with exasperation.

Let me tell you why.

My morning routine is pretty consistent- feed, muck out, open doors to paddock. Irish is on his usual mix of oats and a vitamin. Carmen gets a mix of oats, vitamin and Fat N Fibre. I added the F&F as she wasn't gaining as much as I'd like. Both Irish and Carmen tend to leave a wee bit in their bins. When I let them out they switch stalls and finish off each others feed. I was finding it amusing. Since I wasn't worried about either getting fat I let it go. I even decided to try adding a bit of F&F to Irish's feed and see how he tolerated it.

That's the background. This morning I did my usual feeding. giving Irish some F&F in his feed. But Carmen wasn't eating. She just stood there looking at me.

oh oh. 
I carried on mucking out but she didn't eat. .I put in some of the 'good hay' (second cut) but she wouldn't touch it. I checked her gut-there were sounds but now I'm starting to worry. Irish, in the meantime is munching away happy as a clam. I muck out his stall. Carmen would take a bite but stop.
I put on her halter and led her outside. As soon as she hit the grass her head went down and she ate like a starving creature. I let her graze for a bit to see if she would stop.

Irish is watching us from his stall and is NOT amused.
Hey! that's not FAIR! I want grass. I'm the senior horse I should go out first!

After a few  minutes I brought her back in. She ate a bit more, but not much. I decided to see what would happen if I opened the doors.

As soon as both doors were open Irish went into her stall and cleaned up her feed. She went into his and dove into his feed. With a sigh, I added more to his bucket.

Explain to me why Irish's food is better even though it's the exact same thing?!

I think that she's trying to drive me nuts.

So tomorrow I will feed and leave them in to finish up.

Carmen: why is she muttering?
Irish: just don't worry about it. She does it all the time. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Dr. Jekyll & Ms. Hyde

Many years ago I used to think that lunging was about burning energy. I have learned that it's not really about that. It's about getting a horse's attention and obedience (for lack of a better word). A hot horse will always have more in the tank (even if it kills them). So, for me, lunging is not about working the body primarily but about the mind.

This was brought home to me this weekend.

Dr. Jekyll:
Saturday was a sunny, although cold, day. I wanted to work with Carmen in the ring before we left for our big date in the city so I did my chores fairly quickly. I wanted to test her a bit with some new stuff so I brought in a cavaletti and a old blue horse blanket.

I brought her in, snapped on her lead line and we headed up. Irish was loose in his paddock and followed us up. Carmen followed like a nice broke horse. As soon as we came to the ring she noticed the blue blanket but didn't do anything. As we went to work she was completely focussed and 'on'. We lunged by the blanket- I didn't ask her to go near it, just work with it near by. After a bit she ignored it. I lead her over the cavaletti and then lunged her over. It was all no big deal. She obeyed every command and I could find no fault.

We finished up with her following me over the blanket.

To say I was thrilled was an understatement. I let her graze and then brought her to the barn. She stood in the cross ties without fuss (even though Irish was no where in sight) and when I turned her out she was reluctant to leave.

I felt really really satisfied with our session.

It's a good thing that I didn't have a crystal ball....

Ms. Hyde

Today was hot and sunny. The temperature more than doubled since yesterday. My friend came out to ride Irish. I wanted to try some different padding under the saddle but didn't plan to 'ride'. I wanted to repeat the ground work from yesterday and then walk her out with me riding.

The horse I had today was NOT the horse that I had yesterday. She was distracted, spooky and unable to listen. There was lots to distract- cars on the road, waving grass and an ATV in the next property. But all these things she's had lots of time around since she arrived. She bolted twice on the lunge line but I just kept working with her asking her to come back to me. I worked on ensuring that the wrong answer led to more work and the right answer led to a break. And it seemed to work. After a long time she finally seemed to be tuned in.

So I took her over to the mounting block and asked her to stand. This took two tries (red flag that I should not have ignored).

I got on and we started to walk. She didn't seem bothered by the saddle but she was not impressed with the idea of being steered. She wanted to jig and gawk and generally was being annoying. I kept trying to occupy her brain with lots of changes of direction. She gave a big spook and we did a one rein stop. As we walked on Irish was in front and he turned left. I turned right.

That's when she threw a hissy fit. I'd love to describe all that happened and how I reacted but frankly I can't. All I know is that I had a leaping, spinning, twisting creature underneath of me and how I stayed on I have no idea. I was sure I was coming off at least 3 times but always managed to stick. We finally came to a stop.
"Are you okay?" asked Cynthia.
"yes. But I wasn't sure that I was going to stick."
"me either"

I realized that I hadn't truly had her focus or attention. So now it was time to get it.

I dismounted and put the lunge line back on her. Suffice it to say that I worked her butt off. The task was to do what I say, when I say it. She tried to follow Irish and bolt off again but I was having non of it.
We were working. Now.
And I was as clear as I had to be to make my point. This meant that if I said to move and she didn't I smacked her with my whip and got her feet moving. She did not take to this. But I wasn't beating her around (don't call PETA). I was making sure that there was no doubt what I wanted and no doubt as to who's opinion mattered in this moment.

I would give her opportunities to stop and rest but if she walked off her butt went back to work. Finally she stood still, looked at me and bobbed her head. I don't know what that head bob means (if it means anything) but whenever a horse has done that to me it always seemed that I had their attention and respect. I then started walking making sudden and random changes of direction and stopping. Her job was to stay with me. She became distracted once and tried to move off. Back to work we went. It didn't take long for her to say 'okay okay. I got it'. 

We went back to leading. This time when I stopped I backed up. I wanted her to back away. She didn't so I tapped her on the foreleg with the tip of my whip. when she didn't move I smacked it. She backed up. After doing this 3 times when I stopped she stopped, when I stepped back she stepped back in perfect sync with me.

By now Cynthia and Irish were long done work and were sitting there in the sun. I walked over, took off the lunge line. I had one more point to make.

I led her away from Irish and to the mounting block. She stood still when I got on. We spent 30 seconds walking and halting and then I got off. As I stood there talking to Cynthia she nuzzled me.
So much for worrying that a horse won't like you if you're firm.

We walked down to the barn with me stopping periodically and backing up. She was perfect.

She was also sweaty. I figured it was as good a day as any to see what she thought of the hose. I brought her out and turned it on. She got immediately tense but as soon as it touched her she sighed and relaxed. She quite liked it and was even drinking out of the stream. I had grazed her while she dried off and then we went into the barn. Just as we walked by a few hay bales tumbled down and landed on some feed bags. Carmen spooked in place. I could tell that she wanted to run but knew she shouldn't. I gave her a pat and put her away.

There are lots of potential reasons for why she exploded on me today: saddle, weather, Irish, the alignment of the stars. I may never know. It could be that she just wanted to test and see who was truly in charge.  But I needed to make my point- she needs to be clear as to who can be bitchier- it's me.

I'm also glad that some help is coming this week to help us get on the right path.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Suck it up Princess

Yesterday I started this whiny, complainy post.

I then deleted it because who wants to listen to my first world problems?

Yes, I'm frustrated- I want to ride but have to wait to get the saddle sorted. I've been super busy at work but it's not felt productive and there's a million things I have to get done around the farm. Menopause may be contributing to my mood as well (I've never done well with hormonal changes).

So yesterday I wallowed. Today I gave myself a shake. I can whine or I can get on with it.

Today I will lunge and do a lot of ground work with my girl. How can that not be useful? I know I love to ride but I think I need to learn this lesson.

I will get some chores done.

I will visit my mom and have a lovely chat.

And tonight Ed and I have a big date in the city- dinner and a play with good friends.

And in a few days there's going to be a beautiful Andalusian stallion, a spanish riding instructor and a dear friend coming for a visit. She's also bringing saddles so perhaps one will work temporarily.

I will allow myself to vent but if you hear me turn whiny you have my permission to tell me to get over myself.
keep calm and canter on

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Photo Shoot

A local photographer contacted me on FB and asked if he could come and take some shots of the horses. I agreed and we set up a date and time.

It was nice to chat with him and watch him take shots of the horses. He commented that Carmen seemed to really like to pose. I agree- she was quite cooperative. Here are a few photos that he very kindly gave me (and gave permission to use on the blog):

sweet face


And this is my favourite of all:

It was interesting- I was at a meeting at work and a person that I don't know very well or have seen in awhile said to me "you seem different. You seem happy"

And I realized that she was right.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Saucy Red Heads

The weather this weekend was beautiful- warm and sunny. Not "its not bitter cold so I'll put on four layers so I can sweat and convince myself that it's warm" but actual t-shirt weather.

Irish and Carmen have been soaking up the sun. The grass is also starting to turn green.  The pasture needs more growth before they can go on it. This doesn't stop them from searching out every stray blade that pokes its head out.  It's a 'hunt and peck' approach to grazing that shows how dedicated these creatures can be.

The hay that I put out is pointedly ignored.  'It's so last year' they seem to say.

I started taking them out for some hand grazing on the lawn.  Today, after Carmen and I were done in the ring I brought her out to graze.  She dropped her head and focused on her task- stuffing as much greenery into her mouth as fast as possible.  She stopped once- Ed let the dogs out and d'Arcy came to see us. When she saw him, Carmen stepped ahead of me. I was going to correct her but I realized that what she was doing was putting herself between me and the dog.  Bless her heart- trying to protect me.

Irish was not impressed with being left in the paddock.  He swung his head, he kicked out, he paced and tried to dig under the fence.  Carmen ignored him completely.  After 15 minutes I put her in the field and called Irish.  He came up running, brushing by Carmen to make her move.
I let him at the grass and then put him back in his field. For the rest of the afternoon, every time we walked anywhere near the field he ran to the gate waiting for us to let him out.  He became progressively annoyed when we didn't open the gate.  He would return to his hay pile, angrily snatch at his hay and glare.

At supper time I headed out to feed them they were hanging close to the barn as usual.  I put fresh hay in Carmen's stall and she came in to say hi.  I went to get Irish's hay and spied him outside Carmen's stall.
'Don't even think of it' I growled.
With a defiant look he kept in her stall and she took off.  He followed her out and chased her into the field.

Muttering, I filled Irish's hay rack.  I stepped outside and Carmen came back. She gave me a look and ran into her stall. I closed her door.  When I turned Irish was there looking at me.

'You know sometimes you can be a real ass'
He made this noise with his nose- frankly it sounded like a raspberry to me.

Friday, May 1, 2015


It is so important. If you can truly listen then you can get the information that  you need. Perhaps not all of it, but often enough.

Carmen and I are working on our communication.

Enough generalities, let me tell you about our session tonight.

After work I was pleased to see that the weather was nice enough for me to work in the ring. I went out to the field and Carmen came striding right up to me. I gave her a pat and then brought her and Irish back to the barn.

I put her in the cross ties and began to groom her. I've learned that she prefers soft brushes so I made sure that I used the ones she liked. I tacked her up and headed up to the ring. I started as usual with our leading work. I took her up to the new mounting block so that she could see it. We then started our work. The plan was to check and then work on her listening to my directions. I was pleased that she walked off like I asked. After a round I asked for a whoa. She ignored me so I repeated the command and gave a jerk on the lunge line. She stopped suddenly throwing up her nose and looking at me all affronted. We repeated this a few times. I stayed calm but clear. After 3 tries when I said 'whoa' she stopped and threw up her nose (anticipation) but this time there was no jerk. Just a 'good girl'. After a few more of these she realized that listening the first time was important.

We then moved on to trotting and cantering up and down the ring. At one she point she clearly told me that she was worried about the old blanket in the corner. I stopped her and we walked up to it and stood there. After a minute she was grazing by it. So I decided that it was time to move on.

Once our lunge work was done I brought her up to the mounting block. She thought that it would be okay to drop her head and graze. I explained that no, that was not the idea.  I got on and we started off. I realized that while she was clear about my leadership on the ground she was less clear about it when I'm mounted. That's okay, I know what to do there- lots of changing of directions, praise and clear 'asks' helped her to focus.

When I asked her to trot off for the first time- to the left she hesitated a bit and then trotted off. However, her rhythm was all over the place as was her head. In the past I would try to 'make' her find the right spot. But Steele taught me that that was backward thinking. Instead I focussed on keeping myself steady - where my hands were, keeping my posting the same and basically using my body to tell her to find me. She found me, lost me, found me, lost me and then found me and we flowed forward into a lovely rhythmical trot. It was lovely. After a bit I brought her to walk and we changed direction. I asked her to trot and she gave a hop and pinned her ears. I did the same as I had done to the left and it got better but not great.  It seemed to me that she wasn't saying 'no, no, no' but 'ow, ow, ow'.

I think that my saddle is just not a fit for her. I will have to wait for the saddle fitter appointment (although I have one more half pad to try). I know that pushing the riding if she's not comfortable will do far more harm than good. I just have to exercise patience.

I count the session as a success as we were both able to listen.