dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Picture is Worth....

I'm pretty sure that we're experiencing one of the warmest Februaries ever. I know that it's due to El Nino and global warming. I also know that other places are experiencing really nasty weather because of it. But I can't control it so I'm just going with it. 

Last night was cold and the ground was frozen. But it was sunny and I have rubber in my ring. The combination meant that by noon my ring was perfect for riding. I brought out my drag and dragged the ring first. Irish and Carmen watched me carefully. 

After lunch I changed into my clothes and went to get Carmen. Again she came right up to greet me. I put her halter on and led her down to the barn. I left Irish out and told him to behave. He looked at me with an expression of hurt innocence. Who me? I'm the good one, remember? 

I don't like to have the horses used to only way of doing things so I like to mix up whether one is left in the barn or in the field or in the small paddock. 

I was able to get Carmen groomed and tacked up while ground tied. She needed a few reminders but mostly because she was being curious. 

At first on the lunge she was a bit sluggish so I figured I might have a bit of balking with the trot when I got on. So I worked on getting her forward and relaxed. As she worked she stretched out into the bridle in a lovely frame. I love seeing that because I don't use side reins so it's a result of her working properly. 

I got on and we started walking. We did serpentines practicing changes of flexion and bend. After a few of those I asked her to trot. As expected she was a bit balky. I made sure that I didn't lean forward over her withers. That makes her worse. Instead I stayed upright and asked her to go forward. I also gave a couple pony kicks at the right moment. In few minutes she was trotting forward and stretching into the bridle. We went back to figure 8s and serpentines. I realized that she needed more support going from left to right then right to left. After the trotting I brought her back to walk and we did a free walk across the diagonal. It wouldn't have earned me any more than a 6 (from a really kind judge) but I was pleased that she actually stretched down and didn't spook. 

I picked up the contact and we worked at leg yields from the quarter line to the rail. As with most green horses she tends to lead with her shoulder too much. I'm still figuring out how much correction she needs as she doesn't like the closing outside rein if I hold it for a millisecond too long. After a few at a walk I picked up the trot and we tried them again. Not nearly as good or smooth. She wanted to speed up (typical with a green horse) and became irritated that I half-halted her. Before we got too flustered I brought her back to a walk and we leg yielded at the walk on one side. I then picked up the trot and we did at trot on the opposite side. That seemed to help her put it together. After a few of these I could feel her getting a bit tense so we picked up a canter to blow off some steam with simple forward movement. That helped her to relax.  After a few minutes of canter we did another free walk across the diagonal and worked on leg yields on the right rein. It seemed to be easier for her this time and after a few we picked up a canter again to relax. I then brought her back to trot and tried one more leg yield from the centre line to the quarter line- she was perfect. 

It seemed like the perfect end so I asked her to walk. I could see Irish watching us and he was up by troll corner. I gave her some rein and we walked up to troll corner and stood there basking in the sun. I hopped off and as I loosened her girth she blew out gently and nudged me. I undid her flash and let her graze. This is really the first time she's grazed in that spot of the ring without a lot of encouragement. I had to snap a picture: 

I realized that this picture is worth, not a thousand words, but a thousand hours: hours spent on the ground and in the saddle getting her to trust me and accept my leadership. Not because I said so but because I earned it. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Travelling Rider

I've been away this week visiting my son. He just completed his training course in the military and Edand were not missing the ceremony no matter what.  He had a struggle to get where he is and we couldn't be prouder.

Of course travelling in February is always a crapshoot and now we are stuck in the airport waiting for a later flight because ours was cancelled.  This led me to thinking how travelling really brings out whether
You know you're a horse person if:

1. As the plane begins its descent, you find yourself looking out the window for horse farms and riding schools.

2. Once you book your hotel you google map the nearest tack shops.  I found one about 3 kms from our hotel! I infor,Ed Ed and then said 'isn't that a nice coincidence?'  He looked sceptical about the 'coincidence' part.  Most likely because I booked the hotel.  But it was, I swear.  He was good natured about it and came with me. He even helped me pick out a new pair of white show breeches (not to get off track but a couple brands I tried on were see through! Does no one check these things?!). After he commented that he was surprised that I hadn't bought a saddle pad.  ( for reference http://journeywithadancinghorse.blogspot.ca/2014/08/retail-therapy.html).

'Especially the one that was $20' he added
I thought that you saw it.

I consoled myself that it probably wasn't a dressage pad.  After all I had bought breeches and a couple shirts.

Which brings me to

3.  If you leave room in your suitcase in case you get to the tack shop. L,et me just say I left the perfect amount of room.

4. If on vacation you look for horse activities to do: trail rides, shows to watch etc.  Cynthia and I are heading to Arizona with our husbands.  We've scouted out some options to ride in the dessert.  How cool will that be? I've managed to ride in Wicklow Ireland and London's Hyde Park.  The dessert is another bucket list riding destination.  That leaves Spain, Virginia fox hunt (or back in Ireland'
) and the Canadian Rockies.

And lastly

5. You know you're a travelling horse person is you have an actual "bucket list for riding"

Is there anything you would add?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Riding High

I was still high on the Sunday following my lesson. The sky was promising to clear and the temperature was more like April than February.  So of course I wanted to ride. I tried to talk Cynthia into coming out but she was being all adult and responsible.  

I threw in a load of laundry ( just to prove that I was somewhat responsible too) and then threw on my breeches and skipped outside.  Carmen and Irish were at the top of the field but as soon as she saw me Carmen came walking to meet me.  

It didn't take long to get her ready and we headed to the ring like two kids at recess. She was perfect on the lunge. I mean it- I kept waiting for her to get distracted and spooky and it never happened.  I had to fix her at the mounting block because she's too far away.  Typically that unsettles her but today it's no big deal. 

I got on and she sniffed my boot. I think she could smell Lucera.  We started walking around the ring.  I made sure that my seat and hands were following her and then I played with halts by just stilling my seat. It was easy.  I'm amazed at how easy Otis for her to stop perfectly square. A few of those and she became bored so I started leg yielding.  To the right she leads a bit too much with her shoulder but I corrected that. It's easier for her to the left.  I also played a bit to see if i was correct about the outside rein giving her confidence.  Sure enough- when I let it loosen she becomes tense and more likely to spook. Too tight and she tosses her head. I think I found the 'just right' for her (at least that day).  

I asked for a trot and she started a bit balky but her heart wasn't in it so she stopped it quickly. As we trotted I returned to exercise we did at the walk: figure 8 across the diagonal with 10 metre circle at the top and bottom of the 8.  I like it because it works on bend, changing of bend and is just complicated enough to keep her on task.  The first time she spooked up near troll corner.  It wasn't a big one and because I had my outside rein I caught her before she freaked herself out.  On the Carmen Spook Rating Scale it barely registered. We went back and I praised her. The next time she gave a smaller spook and we repeated the above.  The third time I made sure that I pulsed my inside leg and asked her to soften her jaw before the spot and she dropped her head, gave two snorts and completely relaxed.  I did a mental fist pump and gave her a lot of praise.  

I won't bore you with endless detail but we worked on leg yields at the trot and transitions up and down. She got distracted on a 12 meter circle and tried to drop to walk but I kept her going.  We cantered both ways and got a bit too bouncy at first and considered bucking. I gave with my hand (not enough so she could get her head down and BUCK but enough so I wasn't blocking the forward momentum), softened my seat and we carried on.  

It was one of the most in tune rides we've had on our own and it was fabulous.  There were times last year that I had some doubts- not that I doubted my buying her but that I thought I should have been second guessing myself. Somehow I never stopped believing that this horse needed me and I needed her.  know that there will be some bad rides ahead but I believe that she is finally blossoming into the Andalusian horse I knew was in there.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Carmen Resists Temptation

As you may recall I've been working on getting Carmen to ground tie. Not in the  'stay here in this field while I go get this cow to brand' way but more like 'please stand still without being tied to things' way. I just want her to stay in place while I do things with her and putter around the barn. 

The first few times she just didn't get it and was confused. Then she understood what I was asking but didn't think it was relevant. I got to a certain point in the fall where she would stand after the ride (mostly because she was tired). But that was fine- it was all part of the 'make the right thing easy' approach that I like so much. 

I then kinda ignored it over the December-January months. Not on purpose, just that life got in the way. Then last week when I was bringing her out for her groom and she was being very kind to me I decided to work on it again. It only took a couple reminders that I wanted her to stand in this spot and she just relaxed and let me groom her all over. I can tell her to 'whoa', drop the lead line and then do all sorts of things and she doesn't move. 

Last week when we had the 'big thaw' there was a lot of mud so I decided to put some Cowboy Magic in her tail to help repel the mud. I wasn't really think it through as I stood at her hind end and gave a spritz of the bottle. She scooted forward. 
'what the hell are you doing back there?'
'oops. Sorry, just detangling your tail'
'well stop it!'

Carmen does not like to be sprayed. I grabbed the lead line as she headed to her stall and brought her back. I could have put the cross ties on but that seemed like caving. So, holding the lead line loosely in one hand I started to spray her tail. The dogs were quite amused, I'm sure, watching Carmen and I go in a circle. All I wanted her to do was stop but I didn't stop spraying when she stopped. The idea is that she learns that the spray is no-big-deal and if I stop when she stops then she's not learning the right thing. Instead, when she stopped I praised her while I sprayed a few more times and then stopped. When I started she moved again but this time only circled a few times before she decided to stop. The next time she didn't move. 
Clever girl

What I was happy with was that at no time did she pull away. The lead line was completely slack in my hand. 

So the night after my lesson I brought her out to fuss over. It was right before I give the night feed of hay and beet pulp.  She stood and never moved but I could feel her body leaning away. I stopped by her head and she nuzzled my hand and then looked at the hay, then nuzzled my hand and looked at the hay. Her whole body language was saying 'just let me move 5 feet to the hay pile and I won't move a muscle.' 

I understood but asked her to stay where she was. After all the lesson is not to stand as long as it's convenient. She sighed and lowered her head. I went back to picking out her hind feet and she never moved. So after I groomed her a bit I grabbed a small bit of hay and put it where she was standing. No idea if that was a good thing to do or not but I wanted her to have a reward for being so good. 

standing like a trained horse. Also ignoring the BC who thinks he's helping

Sunday, February 21, 2016

I have a Riding Lesson

With  having no arena riding is, at best, sporadic in winter. I had thought that it might be nice to take a few riding lessons on another horse with Karen. But every time we tried to arrange it something, usually weather, interfered. We finally booked it for Saturday. The weather people were starting to predict some not-so-nice weather but I grumbled at the universe to knock it off and the predictions went away.

I am sure that I had no control over the chance in the weather but, frankly, the universe owes me a little slack so I'll take it.

My friend Janet very kindly allowed me to ride her lovely Andalusian mare, Lucera. I've always liked Lucera she's a no-nonense, at times dramatic mare but she knows her stuff. Karen bought her when she was young and she came from the same area as Carmen. Lucena was Steele's escort when he came to live with us.
"it'll be all right. I know her and she seems nice"

the mare knows her stuff
At Red Phoenix Farm the horses are lunged or worked in hand before riding. It allows them to loosen up and to establish the partnership before the ride. It also allows the rider to figure out what to expect. Janet allowed me to work with Lucera to start which was great. It was a bit different for both of us- first of all Lucera knows the Spanish commands and my accent was definitely off. But we muddled through. In the end I was happy with how were doing. 

I then mounted and Karen put us to work. Lucrea is smaller than Carmen but is broader and takes up the leg well. She's also very comfortable. It was fun to ride a horse who knows so much but doesn't give it away for free. Irish is like that too but since I trained him I know how he likes to be asked. Lucera liked to travel with her head out towards the wall and her shoulder falling in. It can trick you into pulling on the inside rein but it can also teach you to use inside leg to outside hand. Like they say you should do in all the dressage books. There was also the weird leg thing that we were riding through a corner. Karen explained that she hates to step in poo (it was hers) so what I felt was her doing everything to not get her feet soiled. 

In the end it was great to work on leg yields, shoulder in, haunches in and even a wee bit of half-pass. Lucera seemed to be enjoying herself as much as a I was. When she was through the back it felt awesome. When she was wasn't it didn't feel too bad either. When we finished she was steaming and I was grinning. I love riding a horse that makes you think. The whole lesson we had a conversation, at no point did she tune me out although a few times she sent beseeching glances at Janet "save me from this insanity". But I didn't feel as out of shape for riding as I thought that I would. 

After we went to lunch at a local place 'The Flying Apron'. As always the food did not disappoint- especially the salted caramel cheese cake. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Horse You Need

I don't believe that people always get the horse they need- I've seen many people with the wrong horse. But that doesn't mean that a partnership can't be forged with time and effort. I've certainly put time in with Carmen since she came home almost a year ago.

Over a year ago my mother was a comfort to me when Steele died. The past two weeks Carmen has been a comfort for me in the wake of her death. I've been spending time n the barn grooming and basically puttering. She has been the most calm and quiet with me that she's ever been. As I groom her she stands perfectly still and enjoys the attention. There is no restlessness or other resistances. I find myself getting calm with her and before I know it time has passed and I feel lighter.

On Sunday I took the horses blankets off and did a photo shoot. They did not disappoint.
Irish still has it. 

does this pose look familiar? Look at the top of the blog
The weather has been warming and, after a massive rainstorm, the snow has all disappeared. Today was sunny and warm. I sent a text to Ed:
Is the ground frozen? 
oh good. So do you think I can ride?
a long pause in the texting
I just checked the ring. It's good. 

This is why I love that man. He actually walked up to the ring to check it for me.

I sent a text to Cynthia and she came heading down. Now I haven't ridden in over a month and Carmen has been a bit feisty out in the field.

She was good in the cross ties and walked beside me but I could feel her energy. At first on the lunge she was quiet and then I asked her to canter. She took off exuberantly. I laughed because I was expecting it. After a bit of cantering she tried to drag me up the ring but I quickly sorted that out. Within 10 minutes she was lunging like I had just done it yesterday.

I got on her and she never moved a muscle. When I first got on she was a bit tense so I just engaged my core and breathed. As we walked along she relaxed into it. I started asking her to bend and give. And she was right there with me. We didn't work on too much but we worked all around the ring (yes even by troll corner). When she became distracted I would ask her to bend to the inside and she did.

I asked her to pick up a trot and she balked a bit. I simply kept steady without getting after her. It was funny- we were gong by Irish and he was balking a bit. Cynthia gave him a tap with the crop and Carmen kicked at my foot. I had to giggle. But after that she trotted forward. We did serpentines and we did better changing to the left then to the right but that was likely me not supporting enough. I realized that I was not maintain the outside rein in the corners. Once I fixed that she settled much more into the contact without fussing.

I was so happy with how she was going that I aded for a canter-  I waited until she was forward and with my seat and then I just asked with a wee bump of my leg. She picked it right up and cantered forward for a few strides. I then felt her hesitate and think about it but I gave her praise and loosened my thighs and she cantered on.

I brought her back to a trot and finished up with a walk on a long rein. I hopped off and let her have some grass.

Later that evening I went back to the barn to put her blanket on and she gave me a nuzzle.

I know the weather won't last but I'm enjoying the moment.

Monday, February 15, 2016

February is the Cruelest Month

T.S. Eliot was wrong.

April is NOT the cruelest month, February is.

Not to disparage TS Eliot (one of my favourite poets) or poetry in general and yes I see the symbolism of why he designated April as cruel but for I respectfully disagree.

You see, I have had horses at home since 2012 and I'm starting to see patterns. The one that is driving me nutty is that February seems to be the time that they break stuff. It is also most typically the coldest month so fixing things outside leads to blue fingers (the air turns blue as well). I think it's the lack of regular exercise and just general winter doldrums but it seems that horses look for things to destroy this time of year.

Yesterday I went out to bring them in for supper and saw that they had snapped off one of the fence posts holding the hay net.


oh gosh darn it, you frisky horses and your hijinks I said. Or something like that.

I hauled it inside and checked over the two innocent looking equines. they looked fine and as surprised as me.
Irish: We were just standing here minding our own business when it just snapped. Seriously. Lucky we weren't injured. 
Carmen: I could have gotten a concussion. I think I'll file a JOHSC* report.
Irish:  I mean, how hard is it to be pole? You just have to stand there. Must have been depressed if you ask me. 

I untangled the hay net muttering to myself. My fingers were getting too cold to move and my eyes were watering.

I rigged up the hay net to one post but was not happy with it. Today I was home so I kept an eye on them. Sure enough, within a couple hours they had it ripped and hay was everywhere.

I brought it inside to see if I can repair it. As I threw it grumpily on the floor I said to Ed, I think that when we are rich we will board the horses for the month of February and go south. 

I expected him to try to cheer me up but instead he said ohh I really like that idea. 

keep your eyes peeled for exploding posts

*JOHSC = Joint Occupational Health and Safety

Sunday, February 14, 2016


First of all I want to thank all of you for your kind words following the loss of my mother. I know I didn't reply to them all but I read them and was touched by the kindness.

It's been a bit of whirlwind with the funeral and then the following up with all the things that must be done following a death. I decided that saturday I was going to hide at home all day. And that's what I did. I puttered around the barn and around the house. Mostly around the house because the temperature has plummeted and being outside is not any fun at all.

I'm glad I took the day off because it became apparent that I'm not functioning as well as I thought-my brain was chasing squirrels all day. Last evening when I getting ready to bring the horses in I realized that my frost free faucet was frozen (try saying that 3 time quickly). When it's cold I usually turn it off inside the heated tack room so that the outside has no water to freeze. I did turn it off inside but I hadn't left it wide open. There must have been just enough water in it to freeze. So I boil the kettle and spend some time fussing with that. Finally the water came out. In the meantime I'm cleaning the water buckets and bedding the stalls and the horses are pacing impatiently outside because, hello, it's suppertime!

I (finally) feed them and head back to the house to hide from the cold. Later that evening I come out to give them their night hay, top up water buckets, pick out the stall and give them their night time feed. It's a mix of soaked alfalfa cubes and beet pulp. I use it in the winter to keep weight on Irish. He gets most of it and Carmen gets a small bit. Last year she wouldn't eat beet pulp. this year she gobbles it down like me with a bowl of chips. I prepare it at supper time and give it later.

As I was checking on them I realized that they were a bit cold. I got out the heavier blanket for Irish and put it on him. I put Carmen in the cross ties and put a wool layer under her blanket. She stood there trying to see what I was putting on her. I went into the room to get their feed and then  I realized that with the fussing with the tap and such I  completely forgot to soak the beet pulp and cubes.

I quickly grab the stuff and put it in the dish and then head to the house. Carmen was nickering at me while I was in the tack room and watched in disbelief as I left.
Carmen: where are you going? 
Me: sorry. I'll be right back I need to get this ready. 
Carmen: but I'm starving! 
Me: yes, yes, I'm sorry. I'll come back. I promise. 
Carmen: humph. 

I come into the house with the bucket and Ed wants to know what I'm doing. I explain it and he asks (quite reasonably) why I didn't do it in the barn. I look at him and say 'because I didn't want to stand in the cold waiting for the kettle to boil when I could it in the house and be warm'. He concedes my point.

So forty-five minutes later I trudge out to the barn with the now ready evening meal.
Irish: it's past time
Me: Yes, I know. It was a mistake, okay? I'm sorry. 
Irish: You know I don't like to mess with the schedule. 
Carmen: Plus I'm dying over here. 

I quickly give them their feed and head back into the house. I'm changing into my PJs when I remember that I hadn't turned on the water buckets (I have heated water buckets).

damnit. I head back downstairs, throw on my coat and head out the door. Ed is looking at me confusedly.
Where are you going. 
I forgot the buckets. 
I head out and into the barn which surpasses the horses.
Carmen: now what?
Me: never mind. I'll just be a second. 
Irish: I think she's losing it. 

I flip the switch for the buckets and leave them to their muttering. It's a good thing I wasn't doing anything critical, like brain surgery or, you know, riding.

On a happier note- this photo popped up on FB page from one year ago:
This was me trying Carmen for the first time. I like that it showed up on Valentine's day because this marked the start of my heart healing.

Happy Valentine's everyone.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


My mom's funeral was monday. It was sweet and simple- just the way she wanted it. I gave the eulogy which was incredibly hard at times.

After the funeral Ed and I couldn't stick around because a blizzard was bearing down on us and we had to get home ahead of it. We made it just as the snow was starting. I was exhausted and slept quite well.

I know it doesn't seem right but I was pleased that there was a blizzard. This meant that today I had lots of physical things to do. Horses express themselves through movement. I find that I am very similar. To have to sit still when I have lots of emotions swirling around is torture. It's not that I can't be lazy- I'm as lazy as the next person and probably lazier than some. But I didn't want to sit around. I wanted to work.

While Ed plowed the driveway with the tractor I shovelled. It didn't last long enough so I began to clean up the hay pile. By this time of the year it's not as neatly stacked as it should be. I also observed the horses.  Carmen is seeming to turn into a snow horse- I find her playing in it but when she sees me looking she tries to get all dignified.
yes there's snow on my nose, so what? 
Belle is less impressed with deep snow

I came into the house and Ed was resting. I asked if there was any more shovelling to do. He looked at me quizzicly and said 'I don't think so'. I still was feeling restless so I grabbed my snow shoes and headed out. The snow was deep and powdery- which is great for cardio. I realized that I'm a bit out of shape for snowshoeing. But stopping to catch my breath also allowed me to take in the quiet around me. 

The quiet, the woods, the clean cold air all started to help me do what I probably needed to do- which is just breathe.

There is a lesson in this for my life and my life with horses. I shall see if I can learn it. 

Friday, February 5, 2016


My mother passed away on Wednesday. I was at work trying to get things in order to take time off with her when my brother called and told me that she wasn't expecting to last much longer.
I sent a few quick emails and then headed home. My brother had suggested that I wait until he had a chance to get there and assess the situation but I couldn't stand it. I threw some clothes in a suitcase and headed to the hospital. It's over an hour away and I didn't want to wait.

Mom was afraid of horses but loved that I loved them. When I was graduating from University she asked me what I wanted as a gift. I told her that I wanted to take the adult riding program at a local riding school. Mom thought that that was a bit strange but she paid for the intro program. I never looked back and she seemed pleased that I loved it so much.

Mom enjoyed reading my blog and said that the horses were part of her family too. She loved my stories of our adventures and really liked the funny ones. After ready of our rat adventures she would laugh and say 'poor Ed!!!' 

 When Steele died she was devastated. She wanted to give me money for a new horse 'when I was ready'. I didn't want to accept it but she insisted. I realized that it meant a lot to her and so I accepted it. She joked that she now had a vested interest in Carmen and that she was expecting big things.

I was glad that my brother and I could be with her. I was dozing in the family room for bit when he woke me and told me she had gone. I am glad that her suffering is over but I haven't come to terms that she is actually gone. I find myself thinking that I'm going to phone or that there's something I need to tell her and then I realize that I can't do that anymore. I honestly thought that we had more time but don't we always? The truth is that we will lose our parents and that is how it should be. I would much prefer for my children to lose me than for me to lose them. I know that's how my mother felt. I also know that in the end she was ready to go. I know all these things. What I feel I'm not sure yet. The loss of someone who has known you your whole life is one that cannot be summed up in a few trite words. There is a gap in my life and yet there is not. What is missing is her person but it also feels like she's just in the next room. I'm sure that this will take a while to work through.

I'm sure that she's being greeted on the other side by my grandparents, her best friend Mae and Steele. She might even go for a ride.