dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, January 30, 2016


The beginning and end of my days are bound by the care I need to take of the horses.  Plans are made around the care of the horses so that I can be sure that they are taken care of. When there's a storm I make sure that I have buckets filled with water (in case the power fails) and am well stocked with feed and shavings.

Every now and then someone will look at me and say something along the lines of 'that's a lot of work'.  The sub-text is that I must be a wee bit crazy.

And it is work. I could board them out and let someone else do it. And some mornings when I am digging out their doors from the snow or repairing something they have broken I think about it.

But I am never serious. The only reason I would board would be to have access to an indoor. Not because of the work.

The truth is I like it. No not all of it (I'm not that crazy). There are times when it seems like a grind. But in the morning when I step outside and the world is quiet and dark and I'm hit by the stars in the sky I feel my soul lift a bit. Or when it's spring/summer and the sun is just rising and the birds are singing their morning song I smile.

At night when the chores are done and the horses are snug in their stalls munching happily on their hay and I turn out the barn lights I feel a deep contentment that all is right with the world. At least a small piece of it.

My mother is in the hospital. She has cancer and there's nothing that can be done. I don't know if she will be leaving the hospital at this point. It's all very sudden and confusing. But when I go to the barn and do my 'work' I feel an easing in my heart that will help me get through whatever is coming next.

I found this photo a few weeks ago. I took it the morning that Steele
died and totally forgot about it. I quite like it. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Second Ride in the Snow

Saturday night the blizzard, after attacking the east coast of the U.S. took a swipe at Nova Scotia as it headed out to sea. We had about 10 cm of snow dumped on us and it filled in my path.
me when I was about 6 :)

I took the snowblower out and re-did it. It didn't take as long as in the day before so that was good. I talked Cynthia into coming out again on monday to ride. The weather was beautiful- sunny, clear and no wind. It was about 0 C and a perfect day to play in the snow.

Both horses were far more mellow than Saturday. I lunged Carmen but it was pretty clear that she was calm and settled. I asked her to whoa and she stopped and looked at me
Carmen: I don't think this is necessary. 
After a few minutes we walked up to the mounting block and I got on.

The snow was really too deep to do too much so we walked. It was great to be able work on the walk. Normally she's too busy mentally until she's trotted a bit. So having her totally tuned in was fun. Also, she had to really lift herself so I could really feel the back move. That helped me to work on just following the motion.

After we had some paths created in the snow I asked her to trot.
There was so much movement it was hard to stay in balance. Which pissed her off a bit. Rightly so. So I went into a half seat to not interfere with her movement. I can feel the power she has and once we get that harnessed it will be fabulous. I

 don't know why but riding her makes me laugh. Not in a mean way, but in a 'I'm having a ball' way. Even when she's being a brat.

We hardly trotted at all- I didn't want to strain anything. Instead we focussed on bend, flexion and stopping from my seat. We finished with a long walk on free rein all around the ring. She was happy and blowing gently.

I love this mare more all the time.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

It Was Totally Worth It

Cynthia arrived soon after I collapsed started resting on the sofa. After a quick greeting she bustled into the bathroom to change. Groaning, I mustered up some energy and headed upstairs to don my layers.

Now riding in the winter climate can be fun but you need to dress appropriately. You need layers that are warm and also wick away the sweat. Fortunately, science has been working hard for us. I buy my layers most often from sports shops in the  'winter sports' section.

We headed out to the barn and spied the horses at the top of the hill. They could not be enticed down, even with me shaking a bucket of grain. So Mohammed went to the mountain. Carmen came right up to me and then left. That didn't matter- I put the halter on Irish and he came down quite willingly. After closing him in his stall I looked up and Carmen hadn't moved. I wasn't worried. I ignored her and, sure enough, she came flying down the hill and, with a saucy swish of her tail, went in her stall.

It was clear that both horses had a ton of energy. Carmen was good about getting ready and being led up the hill behind Irish. Even though she was giving off waves of excitement she never crowded me or took off.

I started her lunging and she immediately tried to bolt.
I must FLEE
Nope. You must go in a circle around me like a civilized equine. 
You are ruining a good panic
I don't want to fly a thousand pound kite, thank you very much

After that she settled into the work. At first there was just tension in the trot. Then she started to enjoy herself. She was trotting along with energy and clearly enjoying herself. We lunged up and down the ring. After a bit I asked her to 'whoa' and she stopped and looked at me with her ears pricked.
Are we ready do you think? 
Yes. I think so. 

I walked her up to the mounting block. It was a black blob sticking up above the snow. In the past this would have had her flying backwards. Instead she marched right up to check it out. After a good sniff she declared it safe and stood there while I got on.

Once I got on I could feel the energy underneath me but it felt like good energy, full of bounce, not tension.

Her immediate idea was to follow Irish which I quashed. Then she thought she should look out for snow trolls but I wouldn't allow it. She was listening fairly well but at B she gave a big spook. I was anticipating that so used the energy from the spook to pick to up a forward trot and go to work.
At first she was fine with that and I was happy that we skipped the balking. But it was there:
Carmen: hey wait a minute. I didn't want to trot
Me: you started it. I just went with it. 
Carmen: But I don't think I want to trot
Me: too late now. 

There was a bit more of discussion but as soon as she yielded I praised her
oh there's a good girl. 

It's funny- as soon as she is praised, she immediately relaxes and become cooperative. It has to be genuine praise. I know it might sound stupid but if I just say 'good girl' she ignores me, unless she's actually done something worth praising.

It was so much fun playing in the fluffy snow. I wasn't worried about training- just having a good time. We rode around letting the snow fly and enjoying the sunshine. Irish was hilarious- his whole demeanour was like a puppy given a new ball. He was wanting to zoom around the ring. Cynthia did a good job keeping him contained without shutting him down.
alas, I have no photos of us but here's one of d'Arcy that shows how Irish was feeling

I was thrilled with Carmen. This was our third ride in January and she was not crazy or out of control. Instead she was listening and being my partner.  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Taming the Beast

No not these ones:
"what do you mean by 'beast'???
I mean this one:

It all started because I realized that the snow was staying soft and fluffy. Which means that it's good for riding. I mentioned this to Cynthia and we decided to try it today. As I was puttering this morning I thought that it might be a good idea to clear a path to the ring. 

I tried the tractor first but I realized that that wasn't going to work because of the hill I have right out off the barn. So I read the instructions and got our snow blower started. I naively figured that since it's 'self-propelled' all I had to do was steer. 

It's kinda like wrestling with a bear. A slow, ponderous and not inclined to work bear. It's not very maneuverable and my start was very slow. I couldn't really get it clear the snow going up the hill so I grabbed the shovel and cleared that path. Still I had to go forward, reverse, go forward, reverse. 

Slowly we made our way up the path. I gradually figured out how much pressure it needed to keep gong and when to stop and reverse. About half-way it occurred to me that it might just actually be easier to shovel it. But by then I was feeling stubborn. 

Irish and Carmen watched in horror as this snow flinging monster with me behind it cursing approached them. I don't know if they thought I was driving it or trying to wrestle it to the ground. At times I wasn't sure myself. 

There was some squealing, some running around, some flinging of snow. 
Not all by the horses. 

I kept advancing and soon the end was in sight. About 2/3 of the way I realized that if gently wiggled it back and forth a few inches it propelled a lot easier. The easiest way to do that was with my hips against the handle. 

I really hope that no one saw me. I have no idea how that might have looked to casual passerby. 

I finally made it to the end and did a dance of triumph, like I just scored a touch down (which pretty much sums up all my knowledge of football). I then turned around and came back down. It was so much easier with the down hill and the mostly cleared path. All I had to do was widen it. 

When I put the snowblower back in the garage I was a sweaty and exhausted.

I hope that it was worth it. 

I started down by the barn

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Winter is No Longer Coming

It's here. 

Wednesday was the first winter storm of 2016. It was a lot of ice and snow so we woke with no power. I decided to go to work because there wasn't a lot of snow down. Plus I could have coffee. So I gave Ed a kiss and wished him luck waved goodbye.  Our road hadn't been plowed yet but there were tracks that I could follow in. 

Really glad that I didn't encounter a vehicle coming the other way using the
same track as me. 
Saturday was initially forecast to be a bit of snow and mostly rain. However, things shifted and we spent most of the day in blizzard conditions. I stayed mostly inside cooking and watching Netflix. I felt no desire to exercise because I figured I would get plenty of that Sunday morning. Fortunately we didn't lose power. 

I was really happy to see that the snow fence experiment was a success- there was a good 10 feet of clearance before the drifts started. That made is so much easier in the morning. 

also under the ground is the weeping tile we put in this summer (another skill for the resume)

I opened the doors and Irish came prancing out. He was excited over the snow and seemed to want to frolic. 

Carmen was having none of it. 

She stayed in her stall looking out suspiciously. 

Irish: Hey it SNOWED! *snort*
Carmen: I see that. I don't like snow. 
Irish: No it's fun. See! You can prance around and make it fly. (prances around like a 3 year old)
Carmen: Last year it tried to kill me. I don't trust it. 
Irish: Aw, c'mon. It's not too deep. I promise! 

With that Irish trotted off to have a roll. Carmen looked at me. 
Carmen: I'm not sure it's safe. 
Me: You will be fine. 
She came out to the spot where it was clear and looked ready to stay put. 

I left her to figure it out. I had to get my coffee before we got to work. While Ed plowed I shovelled all the snow away from the doors. I was not going to have a repeat of last year where we had rain back up to the barn and have no escape. I made sure that there was as little chance as possible for ice to build up or a flood to happen. While I did that Carmen slowly made her way out to the field. While she didn't look impressed she seemed to realize that she was not going to die. 
it's not quite as deep as it looks from the angle I took the shot. 

After my work was done I put on the snowshoes and went for a hike. I love the quiet of the woods after a snowfall.  

When I came out later Carmen was back in the small paddock. She kept nickering when she saw me. 

Don't worry girl. We'll make a Canadian of you yet. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Continuity Continued

In my last post I was talking about how I learned how connected is everything we do with horses. That was brought home to me on Monday. While there is discrete learning of specific skills that can be taught in isolation,  you can't isolate the learning to respect and trust.

Let me explain.

Sunday night we had a warm spell and a LOT of rain. Monday morning dawned clear, warm and, most importantly, the snow and ice was washed away.  It seemed that the start had aligned because no only was the weather nice I had a day off.

I brought Irish in the barn while I worked with Carmen. There was a fair amount of mud in the small paddock and I didn't want him to throw a tizzy and either hurt himself or pull a shoe.

Carmen was as good as gold in the cross ties while I groomed and tacked her up. I got myself ready and we headed up to the ring. I was well aware that I had not ridden or even lunged her for 10 days (January 1). A few times she got a bit in front of me and I moved her back each time. In the ring we walked the entire perimeter. I focussed on staying calm, clear and consistent. I expected her to walk beside me and tune to me not what was going on outside.

After we walked the full ring I moved her out to lunge. Overtime she shifted her attention to the outside I asked her to tune into me. I let her move out in her gaits but not be wild. I felt very calm and centered and made sure that I kept that feeling. I wasn't looking to tire her out- I was looking for her to be ready to tune into me without me having to do all the work. After going up and down the ring I asked her to whoa and she stopped and looked at me intently.

I'm ready. 
Okay then let's go. 

I brought her up to the mounting block. She stood still while I got on, got my seat organized and picked up the reins. Only after I asked her to walk off did she move. She walked off and I tried to get a feeling of where her mind was. I asked her to loop and change direction several times so that she was tuned to me and not outside. Every time I felt her shift her attention I asked her to flex to the inside with her jaw and ribs.  Each time she did I made sure to praise her. When I felt her tense up I made sure that my thighs, seat, arms and shoulders were relaxed. I kept contact but I did my best to be quiet with it.

I asked for her to trot and I met her usual balkiness at going forward. I kept my thighs soft and made sure my seat followed while I asked. I kept the trot sitting because her rhythm was so off that posting made it worse. I switched direction and kept asking. Finally she gave me a real trot. We trotted for half a circle and I asked for a walk. I didn't want her to think that it was all up to her to decide when we trotted and for how long.  As always, once I get her forward it stays that way.  I'm hoping that we can work this initial resistance so it disappears forever.

All of sudden I felt a sudden and sharp shift in her attention. I looked at there was a cat hunting in the next field. I could feel her getting ready to freak out. I softened my seat and asked her to flex. I trotted her away from the cat and asked her to whoa. At that point I let her look at the cat. I then picked up the reins and we went back to work. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: And trot on
Me: no, we're trotting 
Me: nope. we're circling, time to bend. 
Carmen BUT...
Me: and bend,
Carmen:...the cat
Me:  good girl
Carmen: I am good. except that cat is worrying me.
Me: Of course you are.
Carmen: look at us go. I can leg yield
Me: perfect
Carmen: But..the..cat...
Me: yes the cat it's over there. We're here, leg yielding. Awesomely. 
Carmen: .....

And after a while the cat was no big deal. There was no spook, no arguing, just questions and answers and working together.

I finished with some walk-halt-walks that were without any snatching of the rein. She was smooth in her halt, stayed in contact and then walked into it. For the first time ever.

I dismounted and rubber her forehead while she closed her eyes.

What made this a good ride was not my skill in riding. It was all the work I did the day before in the barn and the work I did in the ring before I mounted.

If I wasn't aware of how it's all connected, I certainly was now. Not that I don't think riding is important. It is.

But it's not the only road to Rome.

Monday, January 11, 2016


When I used to board my horses I wasn't all about the riding. I groomed and fussed and did some work with them. But it's fair to say that I spent 90% of my time in the saddle. I believed that it was the riding that led to progress.

However,  the experience of a yearling and having horses at home has taught me that this philosophy was false.  It is everything that we do with horses, no matter how small that is the training. Riding is part of this but the other thing I've learned is that riding is a mix of physical and mental. 

A few days ago my farrier came to trim the horses. We had pulled Carmen's shoes the last time and I was pleased with how she had done barefoot and I was hoping that he was too. We did Irish first and he was his normal well behaved self. Carmen was agitated in her stall- the result of not being in steady work I thought. I let Irish go outside and went to get Carmen. She was good for getting her halter on but tried to barge past me. I made her go back and do it again, politely. The temptation is to to not correct because the farrier is there and he's waiting. But I know that when she's like that I have to be sure that she is under control with everything, no matter how small. I promised Paul that if she was a problem I would bring Irish back in. I stood there and held her. I won't lie and say she was perfect but she was pretty well behaved. A few time she tried to grab her foot back but when corrected she lowered her head and stood there quietly. Her feet were done quickly and looked fine so no shoes required.  

When we were done I led her to go outside and she tried to go bolting by. Nope. I don't think so. Back in we went and I stood in the door until she no longer wanted to go by me. I then led her out and took her halter off. She was very polite. 

Yesterday, I brought Carmen in to the barn with the idea of a nice groom. The activity was the groom. The point was to have her stand patiently in the cross ties while I worked on her. When I first brought her in she was very restless in the cross ties- pawing, moving around etc. In the past I would have picked up on her agitation and gotten agitated myself. Instead I stuck with the plan. When she moved away I put her back. Quietly, but firmly. I did it repeatedly and did not let myself get frustrated. I realized that she was trying to keep her eye on Irish (who, by the way, didn't care and was meandering about in the paddock quite happily). So I went into Irish's stall and closed the sliding door so she could no longer look outside.

She was not impressed. But as I kept working she settled. After a thorough groom I brushed her mane until it was like silk. I then played with braiding it. By then she was settled and calm. 
not too bad for our first time. Belle is just thankful that she doesn't have hair that can braided.
Then I went to work on her tail. It was a bit of a mess and required a lot of conditioner to get the knots and mud out. I then trimmed it so it would stay out of the mud. 

When I was done she was quiet, calm and relaxed. Even without exercise. There is always something to learn.

How that translated into under saddle work I will save for the next post. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

This and That

So I have not been able to ride since New Year's day and that sucks.

I know that it's just been a week but I really miss having regular saddle time.  But until the weather breaks (or I win the lottery and build an indoor) I have to suck it up. I am thinking of taking some lessons over the winter to keep my skills semi-intact.  I am trying to not count the days until spring.

Random adorable photo:

here's a photo of Carmen as a yearling. She always had presence

I've cut Carmen's feed in half. Since she's not getting worked regularly she does not need the extra energy or calories.  She is not impressed. She finishes her feed and then looks at me to say 'is that it? the mice get more from the grain that Irish drops'

I shrug and try to avoid eye contact.

In the meantime I am sending in my money for various memberships so that we can show this year.  I am also planning on a couple trips off the property and maybe work on hacking out.

I have been spending time in the barn tidying and trying to organize stuff. Poor Carmen- there is always a plastic bag somewhere. She's becoming less freaked out by them but not too impressed. She will get over it. She is very willing to approach a flapping bag when it contains carrots so I trust that we will get to the other side.

I dewormed both her and Irish today. Initially it was a bit of a battle to get her to take the wormer but each time it get easier and easier. Today I simply slipped on her halter in the paddock and gave it to her. There was no fuss.

I will be spending the winter working on all the other things to make her a solid citizen and keep our relationship going.

But I still miss riding.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

First Dance of 2016

We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance ~Japanese Proverb

I finally began to feel better on New Years Eve. Which was good because Ed and I had plans and I was NOT going to change them. Our friends Cynthia and Andrew came down for a visit and we went out to dinner. It was a very nice 5 course dinner (with one exception but the restaurant made it right in the end so that was good). After we even managed to stay up past midnight to welcome 2016.

The first day of 2016 dawned clear and cool. But not freezing. Cynthia made her famous home made biscuits (okay they might not be famous but they should be so it's almost the same thing). There's nothing like fresh baked biscuits and homemade jam to start the day.

We then put on our riding clothes and headed out to the barn. The horses, of course were at the top of the hill and watched me walk all the way up to them.
Me: you could have walked down to meet me
Irish: I figured you needed to warm up

I love riding in the snow. It's not always possible here because our weather often turns it to ice and it's not safe. But today was a good day. Carmen was cute lunging in the snow. It was about 3 inches deep and she was really lifting herself trotting through it, snorting and looking at it. She wasn't so sure that she actually wanted to walk. But when she seemed settled I took her over to the mounting block and got on. She now is perfectly behaved at the mounting block and will not move until I tell her to. This time she moved off with some enthusiasm and decided that we needed to follow Irish.

Nope I said. She began to fuss a bit about this and I could feel her tensing and I could feel myself getting light in the seat as my thighs tensed up. What are you doing? I said to myself. This is not what she needs.  With that I loosened my legs, put my butt in the saddle and engaged my core. Ah. There she was- she came back to me immediately. And so I rode. I realized that that I had to make sure that her attention was on me 100% of the time. As soon as I felt/saw her get distracted I brought her back to me by asking for a bend, a turn, a transition.

As always, our first few trots were balky. Carrying me while navigating the snow was just.too.hard. But I kept asking and we finally figured it out. The trot felt very different as she was really using her hind end. Irish was full of himself as well. I looked over and he was having a ball. He was really using his hind end as well. As a result he was not quite as 'fast' as usual but he was far more correct. Cynthia took off her sweater and it fell on the ground. Of course Missy noticed right away and thought that it might be evil. But I insisted that her attention needed to be with me and not on the thing. I was pleased to see that she listened.

Then Andrew came up to watch the entertainment. Of course she saw him coming right away but I kept us working while I chatted with him and she settled back. Irish meanwhile was all OHMYGOD, WHAT IS THAT? There's life in the old guy yet.

It's pretty bad when Carmen and I are the calm ones.

We finished up with our floaty trot that is like riding the edge of a wave- you're not sure if it's going to crash or carry you further. I love it. And I'm starting to figure it out a bit. Carmen was quite pleased with herself and very happy to have my attention back. I'm realizing that she needs my attention. with my illness and Christmas she was not happy being neglected. So even though she was challenging me at first, she liked that we were working.

I was so disappointed that I couldn't ride on Christmas day. But having this ride on New Years Day made all that disappointment go away.

After we put the horses away, we came to the house where the guys had made brunch. After a ride out in the fresh air bacon is a welcome treat. We even made Mimosas to go with it. It felt very decadent.

At supper time when I brought the horses in I puttered happily in the barn listening to them munch their supper. Before I headed in to the house I leaned over Carmen's door watching her happily chewing on her hay. She left her hay and came over to the barn. We stood there together for a few minutes. She blew gently on my cheek and then returned to her hay.

I headed into the house and Ed and I left go see Star Wars. I have to say I enjoyed it (I was a bit apprehensive after the travesty of I, II, III). There were some things that were disappointing -like the villain looking like the lovechild of Gollum and Voldemort (however no spoilers!) You know you are geeks when you and your husband are discussing it passionately on the way home.

It was nice to start the year with such a lovely day.

first portrait of 2016