dancing horses

dancing horses

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 In Review

It has been quite the year both personally and globally. I like doing these recaps of the year because it helps me to see the progress that we've made.

First some basic statistics:
# of posts in 2016: 164 which makes an average 13.6 per month. It seems that I had a lot to say. This lines up with what every report card I had in elementary school...

Most popular post (by views): 12 Years- where I shared losing Belle.

The post with the most number of comments: Loss- where I share losing my mother. It's an adjustment to life without a parent. I still find myself thinking about stories to share with her and when I drive in the area where she used to live I want to go and visit. I take comfort that she was ready to go and that she was with her children.

Both of these statistics show the basic kindness of my blog readers and how we can all reach out and try to help one another.

January through March were fairly quiet on the riding front. With the weather riding was sporadic but when I look at my posts from that time they were all very happy and optimistic.

As March moved into April the wheels slowly began to come off and she became increasingly spooky and reactive. I changed up her diet and began giving her a digestive supplement. When I look at my posts from May it was a bit of a roller coaster: things would go well and then not well and it was becoming a bit a spiral but I persevered.

In June everything came to a screeching halt and I wrote about Throwing in the Towel. I was seriously contemplated selling her and my heart was breaking. But I couldn't risk serious injury and riding was no longer fun. I called Royce and he began working with the two of us. The training was expensive and often tiring but so worth it. I believe that he saved both of us. He gave Carmen a grounding in basics and helped me to see what I needed to do to keep her with me. Not that everything was sunshine and roses but I felt like I had the tools I needed to keep working with her. In our sessions I began to understand a bit more of her history and why she would react as she did.

I didn't get to show this year and that was disappointing. But I did ride in three clinics: two with Johanna Batista in May and October and one with Sue Leffler on Centred Riding. I have fallen in love with Centred riding and want to do more.

I took Carmen off site a few times in the fall to my friend's place around the corner and it was fun to play in another ring. I had made plans for Irish and Carmen to there and ride the trails but the weather got in the way and then hunting season started. I did start riding Carmen around the property and even took her out on my own.

In early August my niece came for horse camp. It was so much fun to share our love of horses and I'm looking forward to her returning in the summer. Irish had so much fun with her as well.

Near the end of November I finally found a dressage instructor who travels to my area. Shanea is young and talented and very very good at teaching. She is the icing on my Carmen training cake. With her coming out regularly we are progressing in our training and I'm feeling very positive about where we are going.

Other highlights of the year include my first giveaway: Milestone Post and a Giveaway and winning the Horse Hack blogger contest. I still can't believe that I won to be honest. We went on a  wonderful vacation to Arizona and I got to ride in the desert.

You don't realize all that has happened until you look back and take stock. I've learned that I can grit my teeth and get on with thing but I need a plan and a path. It doesn't have to be completely mapped out but I need to know the general direction. I am proud of what we accomplished this year even though it may look like all I'm doing is just riding around my place.

Currently my rides on Carmen are going very well. She needs much less ground work before every ride. I realized yesterday that what I consider my 'bad' rides now used to be my 'good' rides back in the spring/summer. I'm making my plans for 2017 but that's a different post.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Surprises

First of all I have settled on the new photo header for my blog. Thank you to everyone who voted and commented and especially to CFS who sent me her version (which I really liked). I'd like to share this story with you. It is based on real events and is true, in spirit if not in reality. 

It was Christmas eve on Oakfield Farm and everyone was asleep. 

Or were they?.....Strange thumps and shuffling was coming from the tack room of the barn. 

Irish: Come on Carmen, stop poking your nose into the bins and come over here and help. I can't hold the paper and put the tape on at the same time! 

Carmen: Hold your horses (*giggle, get it?), I'm justing checking the quality of the feed. 

C'mon, I talked Ed into leaving the door open and I promised that we would be good. 

Who's Ed? 

You know, the male servant. 

Ohhhhhh. Okay, here let me hold this down while you put the tape on..

Dang it- now it's stuck to my nose. Humans make this look so easy. 

Well they do have hands. Here, let me help. 

More rustling, some mild swearing and then a loud sigh was heard coming out of the tack room. 

Irish: There it's done. 

Carmen: It looks very pretty. She's going to be very surprised. 

Let's go back to the stall. 

Just a second, let me grab a quick apple...


Okay, okay, keep your blanket on, it's just that I'm STARVING. 

Get in your stall while I close the door with my rump. 

*more rustling and the gentle sliding of stall doors. Carmen settles down into the shavings and Irish begins to doze. 


zzzz- much- yes? 

Won't she see that the latches on our stalls are open? 

Nope. Martin said he'd come by later and slide them closed. Now go to sleep. 


Now what? 

I'm glad that I came here even if there is too much snow. 

Yes, me too. 

On Christmas morning I was up and went to the barn. I  opened the tack room door there and was surprised to see a large wrapped present. The tag said it was from Carmen and Irish. I was really curious but I have my priorities and fed the horses and cleaned out their stalls first.   After I turned them out I opened the present:

The box promises that the hose is impossible to kink. We shall see because I have the uncanny ability to tangle anything. However, I love the length of it, how it's all enclosed and that it pivots.
The horses really understand what a farm girl wants....

Friday, December 23, 2016


The past two Christmases have been difficult. Two years ago I was still reeling from Steele's death and last year my mom was terminally ill and I couldn't even see her at Christmas time because I had the flu.

This year also had all the hallmarks of being a lousy Christmas- it was my first without my mom and Belle, my beloved Aussie died a few weeks ago.

But do you know what?

I'm doing okay.

I miss my mom but she was ready to go and her life at the end was hard and painful for her. My brother and  I were able to be there with her in last few hours. I loved Belle and she had a great life with us and died in my arms knowing she was loved.

Ed is being so incredibly careful with me this year- he's become Mr. Christmas and that is not his normal attitude towards this holiday (he doesn't like a lot of fuss). But he knows that I love Christmas. I always have. As I age it's not about the excitement or the presents but about spending time and finding love and laughter with my family. I think I got that from Mom. She loved Christmas too and tried to make it special for my brother and I even though we had very little. But I don't remember having little, I remember playing with my new toy horse and eating the tangerine in the bottom of my stocking. Trust me, it wasn't some Hallmark Movie- we squabbled, were annoyed and all that but that's not what I remember.

In fact I'm doing more than okay.

I came home on Thursday and I don't have to go back to work until Wednesday. Ed had a special surprise for me: he made a dinner of lobster, Caesar salad, bread and shrimp. We ate and had a glass of wine and talked about absolutely nothing special at all. It was the comfortable conversation of two people who have been together for most of their adult life. It was perfect.

I went out to the barn to do the evening chores. I contentedly picked out the stalls, topped up water, refilled hay racks and prepared the night feed. I wasn't hurrying -much to Miss Carmen's annoyance because she was literally starving (dramatic mare is dramatic). d'Arcy was supervising and generally making sure that everything was ship shape.

I slipped out the back barn doors and walked up to the top of my hill, d'Arcy at my side. I stood there looking out at my little farm and breathed in the quiet air and just let myself be still. d'Arcy sat with me, not understanding why I wasn't working but happy enough to keep me company and survey the property.  I realize that being happy is not about the perfect life or family or freedom from grief and pain. It's about absorbing all of that and realizing that the imperfections and loss are because of connections made and love given freely.

Happiness at this point in my life is richer and deeper and has a resonance that wasn't possible 20 years ago.

I breathed in the air of home and it was good.
I usually do a hat photo shoot but this year I was not ready for a photo without Belle
so I am using this card again this year.

Merry Christmas everyone may your year be full of special moments with your family (four and two legged)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lesson Recap- It's all About Straightness

look at us trucking along like we know what we're doing! 

While Cynthia was finishing her lesson I spent some time lunging Carmen and then go on. Her behaviour on the ground alerted me that Troll Corner was the spot today. I walked around doing my best to stay out of the way and keep her marching forward into contact. I did manage to have a looser rein then I had previously been comfortable with. And I didn't avoid the potential spooky spots but instead walked her foward.

When it was our turn Shenea had us start on a circle at S (halfway between the safe zone and troll corner). The idea was to walk her forward and ask her to stretch into contact. When she bent away to gawk and spook at the corner I would bend her around my inside leg and ask her to march into even contact. 

The overall focus of the lesson was on straightness and evenness. I had to be even in my contact and be able to help her be even in her body. I've gotten too good at bending her to the inside and I'm losing the straightness. At times it felt like I was counter bending her and I think thtat was true at times; but mostly I've just gotten used to her being crooked and so straight feels wrong. 

Argh- why is good riding so hard? 

When Carmen is feeling resisitant (because she doesn't want to go to a certain area and/or move forward) she will immediately go crooked. This makes controlling her directiong a lot harder and increases the chance of a big spook/escape. A few times I really really really wanted to cross my inside hand across her whither but I managed to overcome my rogue hand. I learned to make sure that my outside rein kept the shoulder straight and sometimes I even had to move my inside leg back to stop her flinging her haunches around avoiding the contact. 
starting out- could we be more tight?

Shanea is vey patient and as we worked away at the walk and trot I gradually got the feel of the her being straight and then how to correct crookedness and, finally, how to prevent it happening. Mostly because there are very specific spots in the ring where she's more likely to go crooked- the corners and at S (specific right? She doesn't like that letter of the alphabet!). 

I am getting much better in keeping even contact and not grabbing. Carmen spent a lot more time this lesson stretching over her back and into contact. And once she figured this out it became easier and easier to get/correct. We went from multiple strides of stiffness to just a couple in the spooky spots. 

The other focus was on me using my 'upper core' to half-halt. Thank god for Zumba because I now actually have some semblance of a core. I have a tendency to collapse my middle when I'm trying to sit deep -I guess I'm working off the theory that it will lower my center of gravity if I look like a sack of potatoes! But I could definitely feel the difference in Carmen when I sat up and used my core. I guess it's fair that both of us have to use our cores...... 

When Carmen was a bit resistant I was to make my point and then relax so that she learns to seek the relaxation. It really worked well for her (and me) once we got our rhythm.

If I'm recalling this correctly, Shanea is fine with the 'smaller' trot and prefers it to be slower and then build as she warms up and pushes from behind. She calls it a 'baby' trot. As Carmen relaxed and focussed on the work I could feel her stretch over the back and reach. The trick is sustaining- if she goes too low she loses her balance and falls on her forehand. If she lifts her head too high she gets tight in the back. So it's all about finding the sweet spot so she can find her balance and learn to carry herself.
stretching more and I'm trying to give with my hands- she's just about to take it too far but this is not bad
early trot workI like her reach here. Still a bit tight but that's troll corner
behind us and she's trying swing away from it
Keeping her straight at the trot was a struggle- between getting her forward to the 'scary spots' and keeping her straight it was not easy. I had to straighten her then give her room. That's not easy with a horse that can drop and spin on a dime. However, Shanea pointed out that if she was straight and even in contact then it was hard for her to duck out. And it turned out she was right. Riding through troll corner- straighten before we go in, give her inside rein to come around and half-halt with my core. Oh, and if she throws her haunches in put them back. SO MANY BITS & PIECES TO MANAGE!  

so much better

We actually managed to spend time on canter. Up to now, almost every lesson I've had on Carmen (barring Royce) we rarely trotted. And if we did it was just a short time. So it was nice to be able to work on that. I asked Shanea if she wanted me to start with the left lead because that's the easier one. Nope. She wanted to start with the harder one. The goal was this: get her straight, ask for the transition, ride it forward and straight.

Easy, right?
First of all, Carmen was beginning to figure that all the forward and straightness stuff was work and really it all should be done by now. Shanea broke it down for us so that we would canter for a few strides and then return to trot. Re-establish straight and ask again. As first Carmen was not so thrilled but as we worked forward and I rewarded her for going and it began to become fun. And we actually cantered all around the ring. When she scooted away from the side I was to keep her straight and not worry about getting her back over.

she really wants to swing her haunches in but hey- we're even in contact. 


We finished the lesson with a cooling out trot getting her stretch (but not too far). It felt amazing and while we would lose it, those times were shorter than when it was good. 

I was very happy with the lesson and all that we seemed to accomplish:
  • working in all parts of the ring
  • moving forward into contact
  • letting go and asking her to move forward and trust that she will (she did, which is when Shanea said 'look at you two trusting each other').
  • Straightness is critical. 
Shanea explained that Carmen has a powerful hind end and will have a powerful reaching shoulder but she hasn't yet really developed the muscle to control it. But with work and keeping it simple she will get there. 

I was definitely feel the work out in my muscles and I'm pretty sure that Carmen did too. When I came out that evening to do the evening feed she was laying down. That's not uncommon- she often is but she's never stayed laying down around me, instead always leaping to her feet. This time she didn't and when I peeked in she was watching me calmly and peacefully. 

I have no idea how often we'll be able to work but I'm happy with where we are and I'm working on my plans for 2017. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


I had a lesson today and it was so very good that I'm still a bit high.

I am so tired that I can't write a full post so here are some teasers:

Why am I here? I thought we were done for the winter.
What's Irish up to? 
Not being a total fool I figured a young, athletic, somewhat prone to spooking mare probably needed a lunge first. Spoiler alert- it was no big deal. She doesn't look as fat as I was afraid she would be getting given that she refuses to leave the slow feed hay net and exercise. Apparently if there is no grass there's no point in moving.

We did quite a bit of work on cantering (which means that we actually worked through other stuff and could spend time at the canter):
uphill canter. 
I was trying to encourage her forward but not hang on to her month. At least I'm not collapsed over her neck....

Shanea brought us a present so I have my first official 'Carmen' ornament on the tree. I have an Irish and a Steele one so I was pleased to have this. She is such a good instructor I'm really enjoying our sessions.

Quote of the lesson "Look at you two trusting each other". (hey it's not easy).

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Farm Tour

You see another variation of the header I posted earlier. I took some of the feedback and took another shot at it. I also sent the photos to CFS who kindly offered to play with them.

Since all my plans to ride have been thwarted- first by snow, then by freezing cold and now by rain,  I decided to share some photos of my farm. I walked around a bit before the freeze taking some photos.

Our house is somewhere between 90-100 years old. It's true farmhouse and we had to re-do the main floor from the studs up:
Kitchen when when we bought it
a few weeks later
after- accessorized with a dog...


the deck we added a year ago- I love it because now I can  sit in the sun or shade.
The structure on the right is a pergola that the grape vine grows on. 

Those two trees in front are old oaks. I don't know how old they are but I love them. When no one is looking I talk to them. 

We built the barn and the garage. The barn was first of course. It's a simple 36 x 36 design, but I love it. There is only one thing I would change and that is to put windows in the sliding doors at the front- when I have to close it up with weather there's not a lot of light in the barn.
you can see the stalls on the right of the building opening up into a small paddock
After we built the barn I climbed the hill across the road and took a photo of our property. This was before the garage or back fields were fenced. The riding ring is up at the top but is just a flat surface at this point:
You can see the next property over- our line follows the bush/trees
Looking up from the lower field towards the garage.

The other day I stood on the mounting block in the ring  and tried to take in as much of the farm as I could: 
Note that Irish is watching me, d'Arcy is watching Irish and Carmen is guarding the hay 

You can see the path between the front and back fields- this allows us to access the ring easily and to drive the tractor. To the right are our woods. My plan this spring is to start carving some trails. We have about 10 acres cleared and 10 acres of woods. I posted this photo on FB with the caption "everything I love is in this photo (including Ed, he's in the house)." I realized my error but figured that my kids don't monitor my FB activity. Man, I was wrong. My daughter pointed out that she was not in the house. Busted.  I responded that photos of her were so technically... However, the caption should be 'I love everything in this photo'. 

So sorry for no really fascinating stories but I hope to have some better material soon.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Blog Hop: Christmas Ornaments and a Poll

Let me start by thanking everyone for their kindness on my last post. I truly appreciated each and every one of them. Taking that day was good for me. I woke up on Thursday feeling much better. Writing has always been cathartic for me and it does help. 

Buckle up- I think it's going to be a wild winter. Right now it's -15 celsius with the windchill making it -30. We rarely get this level of cold here and never in December. It's going to +`12 on Sunday. But since Global Warming is being denied by political leaders I guess it can't really be happening. 

Fortunately I don't have to work today so I've decided to hide inside. I will bake cookies later and wrap some Christmas presents. This makes blog fodder hard to find but fortunately Viva Carlos is hosting a blog hop asking us to share our Christmas Ornaments. 

One thing I didn't tell you about my location is that there are lot of Christmas tree farms here. The trees grown here are sent all over the world- including the U.S. If you live on the east coast you might actually have a tree that was grown here. This makes Christmas trees pretty inexpensive.
Our tree this year- we paid more than usual- $30
Of course I have horse Christmas ornaments. I took a few photos of them to share but I have a lot more than I'm putting here:
My little grey pony Breyer ornament

did you notice this was not a horse? I like to buy an ornament when I travel.
that way when I hang it on a tree I remember where I've been. This is from Australia: a Kookaburra. 

Add caption

I bought this as local art gallery- there's a lot of folk artists here and I loved this workhorse. 

Now for the poll. This has been an a bit of an internal struggle for me whether to change my header photo. Part of it is that because it's of Steele, but mostly it's because I loved the photo. So I combined my two favourite photos of my two dancing horses. I wanted an opinion whether I should keep it. If you have a third option put a comment on my blog. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


How do you know if you have it? 

I think I've written this post about dozen times. And I keep deleting it.

Today is the 2 year anniversary of Steele's death and it's hitting me hard.

To be honest I think it's the accumulation of losing my horse, my dog and my mom all in 24 months. Today I had to be in meetings all day for work. In some ways it was good but it was a real struggle to leave. Part of me was convinced that one or both of the horses would be dead when I got home.

I knew that thought was crazy.

Except I was sure it was true.

It was a long drive home. And of course the horses were fine. After I fed them I sat in the barn breathing deeply and letting the quiet munching soothe my nerves.  I know that my losses pale in comparison to others. I am often quite annoyed with myself that I am still so bothered by everything.

I used to think that resilence = bouncing back. Like memory foam, if I were resilient I would retain the same shape.

Now I'm rethinking that concept. Maybe it's about getting back up and going on with my new, slightly battered shape.

I think that December 14 has become my 'Day of Mourning' for the loved ones that I have lost.

I will be better tomorrow but today I'm giving myself permission to be quiet and remember what was.

Now Comes the Night
When the hour is upon us
And our beauty surely gone
No you will not be forgotten
No you will not be alone
And when the day has all but ended
And our echo starts to fade
No you will not be alone then
And you will not be afraid
No you will not be afraid
When the fog has finally lifted
From my cold and tired brow
No I will not leave you crying
And I will not let you down
No I will not let you down
I will not let you down

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Snow Ride or Carmen thinks I've Lost My Mind

We had our first snowstorm of the year on Monday. I ended up coming home early from work and I was glad I did - the roads were terrible. The horses were hiding in their stalls when I came home but the wind was blowing the snow into the barn so I closed the doors.

The storm ended late in the day and I opened the doors to let them back out while I cleaned stalls. Irish hopped out and inspected all the snow before having a roll. This was Carmen's reaction:

um, excuse me, there has been a huge mistake, I am a horse of Southern Climes..

When I cleaned her stall Carmen hung out with me. She followed me into Irish's stall when I cleaned that out. I then shovelled out where the hay nets are hung and she was velcroed to me. She looked very relieved to go back in for supper.

Cynthia came out today to enjoy the first ride of the year in snow. Carmen gave me her less then impressed look as I tacked her up but I told her it was going to be fun. A crust had formed on the top so it wasn't light and fluffy like I hoped. I lunged Carmen for about 2 minutes when I realized that she was very unlikely to take off. I hopped on we walked off. Because of the snow she was really lifting her hind legs. We walked around the ring and I gave her a longish rein and asked her to move into the bit.

Carmen walked out not sure what to attend to- the snow, the potential monsters, the crazy person on her back.... In the spooky corner I felt her bunch up, thinking to spook but I didn't move and the tension melted away. Never mind. 

It's much less fun to spook when the ground has a grip on your feet.

We spent about 30 minutes just walking. The snow was making her really lift her hind legs and slow down- that made it really easy to feel the timing of asking her to bend. It was fun to play at just a walk and bend.

The air was cold but the sun was shining and the snow was beautiful. These type of days make winter enjoyable.  As we marched around the ring I could feel Carmen starting to enjoy the experience with me. She developed a forward rhythm and marched into contact.

humans are crazy, aren't they Irish?
Yes, but these ones are basically harmless. 

I might be having fun but not sure I want to let her know it. 

I love the first snow ride of the year.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Location Location Location: ASSFS Blog Hop

A Soft Spot For Stars is hosting a blog hop. The idea is that bloggers share about what life is like in their neck of the woods. So far I've read about California, the mid west, BC and South U.S. I love hearing about other places and thought it would be good to represent the East Coast of Canada.

Cost of Horse Keeping: 

  • Hay is mostly timothy and/or a mix with orchard grass. We pay $2.50 for a square bale of timothy which is a steal I know. The down side is that no one delivers in this area so we have to go and pick it up off the field. It's usually the hottest day of the summer. But it does allow me to reject hay bales that I don't like. At most we can two cuts of hay a season which makes it difficult if the weather doesn't cooperate. Some years (like this one) the hay is fabulous and other years not so much. I've never seen fresh alfalfa as an option- I buy dried cubes for Irish over the winter to help me keep his weight on. 
  • Boarding- it varies quite a bit. I've paid anywhere from $250 to $500 over the years. There are places that charge a lot more (for very good reasons). I would say that $500 would be the minimum for an indoor and for someone to break even on costs. 
  • Property- it does depend on where you want to live in the province. We paid around $145,000 for 20 acres and then added the fencing, barn, garage and riding ring. We also renovated the house. We would sell it for a lot more now (not that it's for sale).
our home. I realized that I needed to take some photos of the property

  • Lessons- they vary. I currently pay $65-$70 depending. Clinics are more expensive because of the cost of bringing clinicians in. I spent quite a few years searching for regular instruction and it was quite frustrating. Fortunately I found someone and I hope she'll keep coming for a few years yet. 
  • Feed is pretty reasonable. A bag of Fat N Fibre costs about $21 and Irish's rolled oats $14. Beet pulp is around $20.
Nova Scotia is a small peninsula stuck into the Atlantic Ocean which keeps our weather somewhat temperate. Our summers are usually 20-25. We have some days/weeks that will get much hotter then that but rarely is it truly too hot to ride. Winters vary in terms of the amount of snow. In 2015 we had a ridiculous amount of snow:
the day Carmen came home (in march) you can see her disbelief as to where she landed
Last winter was pretty mild. I don't know what this winter holds. Typically our temps are around 5 to -10. There's a few weeks in January/February where it is very cold. Riding is very difficult in winter here without an indoor. I don't mind taking Jan/Feb off but hate stopping in December and not being able to start in March. I'd love to build an indoor but I doubt that it's financially feasible.

Riding Demographics: 
NS is a nice mix of English: hunter, jumper, dressage; Western: pleasure, games, western dressage; Competitive trail and driving. In my immediate vicinity it's pretty much Western. I'd love to try to build a riding community (where discipline doesn't matter) in our area, I'm just not sure how to go about it.

The nearest tack shop is about an hour away. The local feed store is pretty good for farm supplies and some basic items.

Shows for dressage are not that far away but I wish I lived closer to others who enjoyed the sport. The community is small and pretty supportive which is nice. Recently there's been interest in some fun shows which is nice too.

I love living in NS- I love the beauty of the scenery and the quieter pace of life. My house is 20 minutes from the ocean:

In the end I don't think I would trade my life here but ask me again in February. My answer might be different.