dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Laying It On The Line

Let me start with an helmet update. I was successful in finding a helmet that actually fits my head- Troxel Intrepid. It took a lot of trying on but this is snug all the way around and it was very reasonably priced ($99). 

If you've been following along Carmen has been a bit of a handful lately. Saturday I had a lesson booked and was looking forward to it. The weather was warm and muggy and Carmen was pretty mellow. 

She was behind the leg so much of the lesson was spent getting her in front. What I learned was that I need to be clear that forward is required. A thing I wasn't sure about was that I was to take the inside rein and, when she gave, give it forward so that it formed a loop. I've done this in past with Irish and it worked pretty well but it seemed to confuse Carmen. I have been spending a lot of time with her on contact and flexing her to inside that giving it that much felt like throwing away. But we had some good moments and at the end I had a nice stretchy trot circle. It was a long a lesson and when we were done I was surprised that we had been working for about 90 minutes. 

Cynthia had come to ride Irish. Originally I was planning to ride again but I figured with she had worked so hard that I wouldn't do it. Instead I waited a bit and then brought her up to graze around the edges. She was happy to graze in every area -even her spooky spots. There was not one bit of concern. 

Today I wanted to ride her again. My plan was to keep the session really short - I just wanted her to be forward and soft and I was going to get off. On the ground she was calm but mentally she didn't seem to be with me. I kept working until she seemed to be tuned in and then I got on. My mistake (spoiler alert) was that I was being too 'nice' because I didn't want to work her too hard. 

I got on and we started out okay. The weather was sunny but there was a fresh breeze. As I rode she became fixated on the fluttering greenery and there was nothing that was successful in getting her attention on me. She was fighting the flexing of the inside rein. To be honest I think I taught her that it was negotiable. We had a big spook. I breathed and went back to work. We spooked again. And then again. ON the fourth one she began to spiral around and I was rapidly heading to a wreck. 

I got off and she was completely ignoring me on the ground. I put the lunge line back on and we then I proceeded to work her very hard. I had too- otherwise I was not there. I had to be the most relevant thing in her life and I needed her attention. I had her going forward and then stopping. I deliberately spooked her (e.g. by stamping my foot or waving my arm)  and repeated the actions until she stopped reacting/spooking.  When it was clear that I had her full and undivided attention I got back on. 

And it started all over again but this time I was determined that we were having our 'come to jesus moment'. I did my best to make sure that I was not overly tense or harsh but I was as hard as I needed to be in the moment and then softened when she gave me what I wanted. For example, I asked for a trot and she would pin her ears- I gave a sharp kick and a growl and when she went forward she got a 'good girl'. I was trotting her down the long side and she decided she didn't want to go by the gate and tried to evade by throwing her haunches in. Okay then, we rode haunches in down the long side. When she realized it was work I would ask her to straighten out and we carried on. When she tried to spin and launch I kept the outside rein and raised up the inside to make a wall, kicked with my inside leg and we f**&() went down the long side. When she went by and didn't try to run out on me I gave her lots of praise. 

When she was listening I stopped her and dismounted. Interestingly, I walked her to 'scary spots' and she didn't care. Somehow I have inadvertently given her the idea that when I'm on her listening to me is an option. I need to change that perspective. 

After I hosed her off and let her stand in the cross ties while I tidied up. She wanted to be out with Irish but I figured some patience was in in order. I then gave her her cookie and turned her out. she was very respectful of my space. 

I do not think that I will be looping the rein for her- I think that only confused her and that she needs the contact (not holding). She's also quite fit because after these last 3 rides I'm exhausted and she looks pretty fresh. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Buckle Up

I was feeling pretty positive about my last ride on Miss Carmen and was looking forward to riding today. Cynthia was coming out but I wanted to start early in case we needed more ground time. She was very relaxed on the ground and good when I mounted. As we started walking Irish and Cynthia came up and I was glad to work with her on maintaining attention through LOOK IT'S IRISH! HE'S JOINING US! WE MUST STOP AND GREET HIM BECAUSE I LOVE HIM SO MUCH. 

We settled into work and then I asked for a trot and we got our sideways haunches in/half-pass move. I'm getting good at ignoring that and just riding the forward. Cynthia handed off her crop to me and all issues of forward magically disappeared just by me holding it.

You have to love magic crops.

So now that forward was established we could no longer share the air with Irish and she would swing her haunches at him and pin her ears GET OUT OF MY SPACE YOU NASTY GELDING. I HATE YOU. 


Again back to work with full attention if you don't mind. And she was attentive and forward and listening. We did a serpentine from A to C (A being the safe zone today) and it was fine. Then C to A and all was good until we hit A and something startled her in the woods (bird, brush, cat, troll? who knows) and we did a sharp 90 degree turn and a leap. Followed by another leap and a shake of her head as I tried to restrain her. By the third or fourth one I had her turned and we were trotting briskly along while poor Cynthia worked on settling Irish.

I took a deep breath and returned to work. Except now she's having none of it. None. She's DONE THANKYOUVERYMUCH. YOUCANGETOFFNOW

I, however, had a different idea- which is that we are far beyond the training being about settling in the ring and it's about working. Last year I would have tried to relax her at the walk and then asked for a trot and got off. 

Not gonna happen. 

I left A for the moment and returned to our safety zone- the centre circle and asked her to walk-trot-walk and, you know, BEND. We settled  and then left the circle. At which point she wanted to check out again. 
So we we circled at C (which was the danger place last night and was not-to-be-trusted this morning when we started but now was okay COMPARED TO CERTAIN DEATH AT A.  I breathed and tried to ride with my pelvis but I rode. She picked up a canter and refused to come back. There! deal with that! 
Okay then. Let us by all means canter but with bend. On a circle. 

I sat the canter and rode it. My seat and hands were soft. After 4 -5 circles I started moving the circles down the ring. At first she would speed up and I would slow her. Then she started to think that canter was not so much fun but I kept it up.  I have no idea how many circles were were doing as we slowly spiralled down the ring. She tried to slam on the brakes at R but I gave a pony-club kick and we kept going. When she would try to take off I would do a strong half-halt and then release - at least the inside rein, I kept a hold of the outside rein but would relax my hands. 

Finally we were cantering DOWN AT A. On a circle, with bend and not freaking out. I brought her to trot, and walk and then halt. Right at A. Then I dropped the reins. 

She breathed and looked around. I could see her thinking about it and then deciding never mind.

We then walked and cooled out down at A. I kept my seat calm and my hands soft but we were walking around that circle. I then hopped off. She was hot and sweaty and tired. Good. So was I. I hosed her off and she enjoyed the cool water. I made sure to hose her legs well.  

Every time I ride I always try to figure out what the best thing is to do in this moment. I  know that what I did sounded harsh but I need Carmen to figure out that working with me is the answer and, while she can make her feelings known, it's not her call. I understand that her prey instinct is strong but I need her to transfer that to me. 

I have a lesson tomorrow and we shall see if I made the right call. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Spring is bursting out all over. The combination of rain and warmer temperatures has caused the trees to leaf out. Two weeks ago most of the trees were bare and now they are covered in beautiful young leaves. Leaves that flutter and create dancing shadows.

Last week in my lesson Karen spoke to me about resilience. Basically she said that Carmen was probably always going to spook some times. The goal is to recover quickly and get back to work. To practice being resilient. You don't get to be on this planet for over 50 years without having lots of opportunities to practice being resilient. Transferring that to riding is doable. So when I've been riding I keep that in mind. Overall she's continuing to be markedly calm. She's also being quite affectionate.  But she's still Carmen so there's a streak of the dramatic in her.

This morning was cloudy and foggy but  by the time I came home from work the sun was shining and it was warm. I changed into my riding clothes and got Carmen ready. She was fine in the barn but when we walked up to the ring she gave a big spook at the trees.
Those weren't like that last time! 
I know but we'll be fine. 

I spent my time with the ground work before I got on. She was definitely on guard but I kept in mind my goals to be calm, confident and controlled. It's funny how pretending to be those things helps you to actually be that way. I'm also way better when I have an active thing to practice rather than a passive thing. I felt pretty good about schooling her. Which was good. As we worked away she was being a bit dramatic about things - trotting sideways rather than forward and wanting to stop to poop. but I had picked up the crop at the start so when she stopped I gave her a tap. Two taps later and she walk-trotted off while pooping. Then got annoyed and tried to kick at my leg and gave a buck.

Spanish mares do dramatic very well.
spanish dancer

see the resemblance?

I carried on and she settled back into work. We started trotting up towards troll corner when she gave a series of leaps sideways. But I was prepared and stayed with her. 
no we mustn't 
It will be fine

My heart was racing with that the leaping but I stayed focussed and didn't freak out over what might happen but rode what was happening. When she finally stopped the leaping about I took a deep breath. 
Okay, now let's practice that resilience thing
I realized that at the show I will likely need to deal with this so it's good to practice now. The issue, for Carmen, was that the leaves and grasses were fluttering in the breeze and, because of the time day, were throwing shadows that also were fluttering. 
I didn't stay in that corner but worked through the whole ring. I didn't get the practice everything that I had planned initially but used this opportunity to get and keep her focussed on me no matter what. At times she was less than impressed with this but each time settled a bit quicker and there was no more leaping about. 

When I finished she was sweaty and really enjoyed being hosed off. I put her in her stall and gave her supper. When she finished she was dozing in her stall but wanted to have her face scratched. I rubbed between her eyes while her ears were at half mast and her eyes were soft. I believe that she appreciates that I am in charge even if she wants to negotiate the moment. 

We're getting there. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Carmen Rocks It

If you recall, last Sunday Carmen was spooky, jumpy and reactive. I had a few people recommend Magnesium - Dancing Donkey wondered if she was lacking magnesium and my vet said that it seemed to work for some horses. With nothing to lose I picked up some Quiescence to try. It contains Magnesium Oxide, Magnesium Proteinate and Chromium Piccolinate. If she didn't need it her body would eliminate it. I figured at the worst I had ensured that Carmen had very expensive pee. I started her on Sunday.

As you know I had a successful lesson on Wednesday with Carmen being calmer than she had been lately. With the boost in my confidence  I've ridden three times since my lesson.

Friday was with Cynthia and Irish. Carmen was very good. She was a bit tight to start but worked out and we had a nice schooling session. After we pulled the tack off and left them to eat the grass growing around the edge of the ring. When we came back to get them she met me at the gate but not in an anxious way, more like a 'oh hi. there you are' way

Saturday was hot and sunny. I brought Irish into the barn. Usually Carmen is stuck to him like a foal to a mare. This time I put Irish in his stall and turned around to see Carmen slowly sauntering towards us from across the field. In the aisle I had her standing there while I groomed her. She exuded mellowness. Ed came in, gave her a pat and then went out. All of a sudden there was a loud noise as he started the snowblower (maintenance)- it backfired and sputtered and roared. Carmen was madly interested but never moved a hoof. Ed came back and said 'Im sorry, did I startle her?"
Me:'nope. she never moved'
Ed looked at her. 'She's really changed, she's not even moving!'

In the ring she kept her mellow nature. Our groundwork session was very short. There was no need to work our way into parts of the ring she was willing from the beginning. She spooked once but it was a normal horse spook, not an 'OHMYGODWE'REGONNADIE" spook.  If I had to describe her over all it would be 'LAZY'. Which was a new thing for us -especially since it was quite blustery.  I had to pick up the crop and tap her to get her moving. Once we got that she was fine. She was struggling with her left lead canter but that is not new. Our right lead is much better so I started with that to help her get her balance. After a good right lead canter I let her walk out and then said "okay, we're going to tackle that left lead canter. All I want is for you to try to stay bent and balanced and not freak out about it" I got a nice trot and then asked for the canter. She picked it up as nice as you please. We did one nice circle and I brought her back to trot-walk-halt and hopped off.

Total time in the ring was 45 minutes.

Today (Sunday) was cloudy and cool (it's raining now). I brought Irish in to the barn but when I turned around I couldn't even see Carmen. I checked her stall to see if she snuck by me. Nope. I walked out and she was cropping grass on the other side of the field. She looked at me innocently.
Are you coming? 
*sigh* I guess so. She moseyed to the barn and entered her stall. Again she was mellow in the barn but less mellow in the ring (of course by now I have a new definition. Two weeks ago I would have checked for a pulse). I've been working on ensuring that she's tuned into me at all times. We did our ground work and she was listening. I mounted and she was teetering on the edge of being tense. I calmed myself and we went to work. She was definitely more looky and potentially spooky but I remembered my lesson and made sure that I was riding every stride and ensuring that she remained flexed to the inside. There were places where that was a bigger discussion. I matched her level of resistance- if I asked her to bend inside and she took the bit and turned to the outside to look at whatever I was insistent. We didn't look so pretty but after doing that twice when I asked softly she came right to me. Because of that we only had a few easy spooks. One big one when Chester popped out of the grass but we rebounded and carried on.

As we were schooling she began to get a bit pissy. I realized that she was tired and figured it was time to stop. Of course we didn't. I have ridden school horses for years. Horses that are not so keen to keep working hard is well within my wheel house. I was asking her to leg yield from the rail to the quarter line and then back. According to her highness I was allowed to ask for leg yields just one way. This idea of leg-yielding-straightening-leg yielding the other way was ridiculous and not to be borne. I growled at her a bit and she gave up and actually listened rather then having a dramatic hissy fit. And then I stopped.

Total time in the ring was at least an hour, possibly longer as I hadn't checked.

After I hosed her off and she was enjoying the cool stream of water. She likes to put her muzzle in the stream. this time she filled her bottom lip with water and then flipped it so it went down into my bra.
hey! I yelled
Carmen looked at me innocently but with a gleam in her eye 'oh sorry, you looked sweaty I was trying to help you cool off' 

I don't know what percentage of this new horse is my work and the supplement but I'll take it. I will do a test to see if her behaviour changes when I take her off but I'll probably wait until after the show.

once we get our stuff together our canter pirouettes will be lovely

Friday, May 20, 2016

Good Grief

It started with me posting a photo on FB.

It was this one from the clinic last weekend:
My friend, Holly is part owner of a Tack Shop. She sent me a message that went something along the lines of "I love you but you need to get a new helmet. Your western style helmet does not go with your stunning Spanish Mare" 

And she's right. My helmet is aging and it needed to be replaced. However, that is easier said then done. I have learned to dread helmet shopping almost as much as saddle shopping.

Today I was at a one day labour conference. These are useful but when I'm at one of these I drink far too much coffee and enjoy too many pastries (apple strudel with chopped walnuts, scones, muffins, sigh). At lunch time I ran out and drove to Holly's shop. I knew she was away at a show but thought I would see what they have.

Can I help you? says this nice young lady. I smiled at her hopefully.  I need a helmet, Holly sent me. 

But, I said I am very difficult to fit. You see I have this weird shaped head. 

She looked at me and smiled. I've heard that before  said that smile. Just leave it with me. 

I tried on my first helmet- too much room on the sides and too tight front to back. Fast forward 20 minutes, numerous helmets and many experiments with padding adjustments and this lovely young lady is no longer looking quite so optimistic. I can see her silently agreeing that I do, indeed, have a weird shaped head. She truly did all she could- we had opened tried all the available options.
I believe that my head is large front to back and medium side to side. 

"I'm sorry" she says "Maybe when Holly is back she can help you" 

I returned to my conference just as they were starting back up. Lunch was put away which I figured was fine since I had eaten far too much already. But I saw that there were still desserts left so I grabbed on to drown my sorrows. Since there was no lunch there's not much I could do about it is there?

If anyone has suggestions for helmets made for weird shaped heads and do not require me to sell a kidney in order to afford it, please let me know!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Finding My Mantra

After our last ride and our panic attack I didn't just write a whiny blog post. I also sent an SOS to Karen. My message said "I need help blah blah". What I meant was "Carmen is going backwards. I'm totally screwing everything up and I suck as a rider. This is what happened last year and it's starting all over again and all that work I did last year was useless because she still doesn't trust me"

I have too many thoughts sometimes.

gratuitous vacation pic to illustrate my staring into the abyss

The stars aligned and she was able to get her on Weds to help me out. I felt that I needed help in the ring because she was spooking at the grass and stuff fluttering around. We made the arrangements and I decided that I would give Carmen and I a few days off (as recommneded by you guys, thanks!).

So you know how your car can make this strange noise but when you take it to the mechanic it stops? Um, yeah, well that's what happened. In the ring Carmen was very relaxed and attentive. Not stressed at all. Karen arrived and I explained what had been happening. I said that I was thinking of scratching from the show, not because I was worried about our performance but because I didn't want to have a wreck and ruin the confidence and trust that we had been building.  Karen told me to park that for a moment and thengave me some things to think about:
1. You cannot will yourself to be calm. It's a state and requires practice. She asked me how I was feeling when Carmen was spooking at stuff. I told her frustrated, worried and annoyed.
2. training is not a straight line. It's forward, back, sideways, forward
3. I need to think of three words that describe how I want to be when she spooks. I chose: Confident (that I ride through it), Calm (not worried about what will happen next), Control (in control of my body).

I then mounted and we went to work. We practiced my following with my seat and controlling her pace. Since I had been working on that it wasn't too bad. But we moved it up a notch and I need to ride so that Carmen's attention is on me at all times and if it's not I'm can't wait for it to come back. I need to keep her flexed to the inside and I need to ask her to lower her head. I wasn't being persistent enough- when she objected I was backing off. I can't be harsh but I can't back down either. I need to be in charge. That meant that sometimes I was a bit strong on the inside rein asking her to flex- but that was fine as long as I released when she did it.

Carmen spooked twice during the ride- once Karen did deliberately so that she could see what happened. It startled both of us but we got it back. The second was in our favourite -troll corner.

Carmen and I practiced shortening and lengthening her stride (not by much just to get control), we did frequent changes of direction and practiced our shoulder in. It took a long time but I finally felt her trying to figure out what I wanted. We practiced some canter. It was a bit awful but that's okay- we did it and I practiced the flexion. She struggled with that but that's a balance issue that will get better.

I was able to keep Carmen going - it wasn't always pretty but it was successful. I was able to ride her past leaves and grass blowing without her even thinking of running away.

We ended and Carmen was tired. Karen asked me how I felt about going to the show now. I said that I was feeling better about it. She expressed the idea that for personalities like Carmen and I it's better for us to get out and doing stuff sooner rather than later. Even if all I did was ride down the centre line, salute and scratch. She had an excellent point.

So it looks like we're going. If you see us there and I look like a wreck feel free to remind me of my mantra:

calm, confident, controlled.

If that fails give me wine.

Princess has moves, that's for sure. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Can I Count That as a Win?

Warning- this might be a bit whiny but I'm trying to not lose heart. My last two rides on Carmen have been less than stellar. Yesterday I rode her in the evening. The bugs were terrible and she had a hard time focusing on me. Fair enough- it was a struggle for me too. When I brought her in the ring she was very distracted and disrespectful of my space which I fixed immediately. I didn't get on her until I had her full attention. Even so she was definitely tense in  the corners. But I stayed calm and we rode through it all. 

This morning I rode her early as there was to be rain later. On the ground she was fine. I mounted and she was immediately tense. I could get her to relax with my body but only for a bit. It took a lot of work and persuasion to get her into all 4 corners and to work without slamming on the brakes. There was one giant scoot that caused me to tense my legs and grab but I'm cutting myself some slack on that one. I did manage to get relaxed.  I stayed with the plan and kept working away. We finished on a good note and I dismounted. I was happy that I worked through it successfully but discouraged that I had to work through it at all. 

I believe that I'm on the right path but am feeling a bit frustrated and am worried that we're going backwards. I have started her on a Magnesium supplement and we'll see if that makes a difference. I suspect the increased calories with the grass is not helping and I've cut back on her feed. 

I also heard back from the show secretary which was essentially if I withdraw my entry and re submit she will still charge the incomplete entry form. And she won't process my entry until she receives my check. She does have my class list and my information- she's missing the signed 'person responsible' page, the photocopy of my memberships and my stable request. I still don't know what happened. That's fine. What hurt my feelings was that she did not trust that I would bring the check with me. The reason that hurt is that I started this organization and it was all about supporting people in the sport. When it was almost driven into the ground I came back and a group of us brought it back from the brink of bankruptcy. I left the board after Steele passed away because I didn't have the heart for it. They asked me to come back this year and I agreed.  I have put hours of my time and miles on my car working for this organization and it seems to not matter at all. I didn't volunteer in order to get thanks or praise but it still seems a bit cold to me. But whatever. I've been through worse then not being trusted. But I'm wondering if maybe the universe is telling me I shouldn't go to the show? 

We'll see. I have until June 4 (the closing) to decide. If I withdraw after that I need a doctor's or vet certificate. Sigh. 

On a positive note this is a present that I got from Ed. I love it- it's powerful and light weight. Much better then the power drill that I was using. 

A girl needs her power tools

Saturday, May 14, 2016


I'm making full use of my Fridays off.

I spent the morning dragging the ring (previous rain had compacted it a bit) and using the drag to level out the front paddock. The horses are now in the grass field so we need to re-seed the front one. The chain drag helps to level out the divots and break up the manure piles.

I then planted a Rhododendron that a friend had given me in memory of my mother. It will be a brilliant pink and she will love it.

Cynthia came in the afternoon and we got the horses ready to ride. Right away I could see that Carmen wasn't feeling it. In our ground work I had to work to get her attention and she was very 'looky'. I started to think 'oh crap' and then I thought 'wrong attitude. I can use this to practice what I had learned last weekend. If I can't get her to be calm and listening here then I have no business going to a show'. 

With that in mind I mounted. She was tense and walking around and I kept repeating internally 'calm. calm, I am calm. Calm. I'm f-ing calm' (note- putting the F word in front is counterproductive so I dropped it).

Anyway I could feel it working. I was trying to get more control over how my body was reacting to her reacting. I realized that I had done this in the past but by accident so I didn't know what I was doing. Now I had a sense of it. She was really thinking about major spooks at certain parts of the ring but I used my seat and eyes to keep her with me. While she never truly relaxed until the end she never truly left me either. We did every corner of the ring too.

I practiced my walk-trot transitions keeping them light and soft. There was much less balking then before. I find when she loses her rhythm if I sit it's easier for both us. Rising trot with a loss of rhythm tends to throw me forward which she objects too (so does some rather tender bits of my own for that matter). Overall I was pleased with how I didn't lose the connection with her even though I was working harder for it then she was.

Unfortunately Cynthia did not have as easy a time. Irish's head shaking has started again (I was kind of hoping that it wouldn't but there you have it) so she had to go and put on his U.V. mask. It helped but not a lot. I hope that I don't have to explore some medications for him but I will if I have to. We shall see.

After riding and then feeding I had a quick shower and we went out to dinner. It was lovely and I was starting to fall asleep in my supper. Later that night I had an email that my show entry was incomplete. I was so annoyed because I had all the paperwork assembled (and it's a LOT of forms) but somehow missed putting it into the envelope. So now they are going to charge me $25 incomplete forms fee. Which I will pay but am arguing because technically entries haven't closed so I could withdraw and re-send without the penalty. But whatever. It's annoying but not life changing.

So it was a busy day- I  may not be able to keep up the pace but for now I will enjoy it.

random vacation picture from Sedona

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Take Aways

The worst part of a horse event is the packing up and going home. That's when I wish that I had an entourage. I got everything ready and then Karen helped me load Carmen on the trailer. She was resistant at first. It was hard to blame her-there were three handsome studs in the barn so why would she want to leave? I took the pressure off of loading and spent a couple minutes leading her around and then we headed back to the trailer. With a couple taps of the crop she hopped on and we hit the road.

She was as good as good getting off. Even with Irish calling his head off. Poor Irish- he was so happy to see her he didn't know what to do. I let them both out into the field and Carmen trotted off quite happily. Irish stayed within 5 feet of her the whole time.

We took Monday off. Well by 'off' I mean that Carmen loafed around and relaxed. I went to work and then my fitness class. Tuesday I relaxed by grooming the horses and finishing putting stuff away.

Wednesday was my Birthday. It was a great day - there was Chocolate cake at work and after I got Carmen ready to ride while Ed cooked supper. The flies had started and Carmen was quite restless in the barn. I corrected her and told her to stand she was

Up in the ring she was quite chilled. After some good ground work I took a deep breath, repeated what I needed to remember and got on.

Here's what I learned- it's a lot easier to be calm at home. However, it was breezy and stuff was blowing around. When I felt Carmen get tense I practiced my calm demeanour and I learned another thing- it actually can work for me even without Johanna on the ground. We went into every part of the ring and practiced our transitions. Because she's in heat she was not so sure about the moving forward- I stayed calm and clear and did not get too strong in my aids. It took pretty much 2 minutes and the discussion of moving forward was gone. Plus she figured out that there are less flies when you trot then when you walk.

We were even able to keep trotting a circle when a big raven landed in the ring. Carmen hates crows and ravens- they freak her out. Except this time. This time it was an ear flick and done.

To be honest I don't know how long I was riding. I totally lost track of time and then realized I was hungry. Carmen was easy and relaxed in the barn and happy to get her supper too.

In the barn I saw that the barn swallows had returned. I was happy to see me and while he peered at me from the rafters I said 'welcome back. I was worried about you'. Yes I love my barn swallows.  On the way back to the house I saw that the magnolia that I had put on Steele's grave was blooming.

I ate the delicious support that Ed had cooked and then spoke with my children.

It was a good day.

yes, I know that my helmet is loose. I need a new one
But I still like this photo of us. :)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Clinic Report Day 3: Coming Together

Throughout the whole 3 days Carmen was clearly enjoying her stay. She was friendly with people and nickered every time she saw me. The facility was beautiful- a stunning view of the river and right next to a golf course. I told Ed that it was perfect for us (assuming we had that kind of money!). The people were so much fun- everyone loved their horses and wanted to do their best by them. It was a great way to spend mother's day weekend. Especially this mother's day- it help me to not dwell on this being my first Mother's day without my mother. I was staying with friends that I hadn't seen in a while. It was great to reconnect and catch up on what is going on.

Even though I was enjoying myself I was tired. It's funny how tiring a clinic can be-Carmen and  I have certainly worked much harder physically but mentally it was very tiring. It's hard to change how you think about things. It was also inspiring. I was starting to feel like I was getting the tools I needed to take Carmen to places and progress in our training.  I knew that I could never expose Carmen to everything but I was flailing a bit to try to find the way to help her trust me and believe it was okay.

I had asked in Johanna would ride Carmen - I was hoping that she could give me some insights. While Johanna is quite willing to ride other horses she told me that, in her opinion,  I needed to ride her and she needed to help us work together.

I repeated what I needed to remember:

  • breathe
  • be calm in my body
  • direct with my seat 
  • soft shoulders 
crap. What was the 5th thing? Oh right - look where I wanted to go. 

When we came into the ring the far door of the arena was open and a tractor was parked there. Carmen reacted right way. I was asked if I wanted the door shut and I said, no, I wanted to see if I could use what I learned effectively. 

On the ground Carmen was pretty good but wanting to keep close to me. Johanna suggested that I get a cavesson for lunging. That's hard here because they are all very heavy and Carmen does not like them. She suggested that I look for a lighter one (like a serretta). anyway, she helped me to get Carmen out on the line and taking contact. Carmen started to mouth the bit- normally I would lighten up thinking I was upsetting her. Turns out that was a good thing- she was chewing and relaxing her jaw. Learning that was already worth the price of admission. 

I got on and Carmen was a tense (nothing new there). Johanna kept directing me to breathe and calm my body and I was REALLY trying. 

okay, so we're flowing and I'm soft in my shoulders but she's tight. 
Breathe slower
Calm you body

Goddamnit I thought If I get any calmer I'm going to fall of the freaking horse and be in a coma. 

I was totally sucking at this and getting annoyed with myself.
you are riding better Johanna said.
no I'm not! I can't even remember to breathe. 
No, you are doing much better, now we are working on details. 

I went back and tried some some.
And I then had a epiphany.

I wasn't being calm. I was being brave. 
Riding certainly takes bravery and I'm pretty good at throwing myself into things. So the message I was sending Carmen was that 'sure it's scary. Let's GO GET IT!' 

Being the sensible mare she is, she was reacting with 'HELL NO.'

I took a deep breath and tried to get myself into a calm state. And then I felt it. My body felt calm. Carmen immediately relaxed.

I asked her to trot and she leapt forward.
That was too strong Johanna admonished me.
Right. Regroup, deep breath, and trot. All it took was the lightest lift of my seat. Because she's in heat she was not so thrilled about the trot idea. But she didn't get too pissy about it. We trotted for a while and switched direction. I would lose it and then get it. It was coming together. I asked Johanna if I could work on transitions. They were so much lighter and easier then before. I was getting better on controlling her speed with my seat. I realized how light an aid that she actually needed. She was getting into the groove of it so I asked her to canter. She lifted into the lightest and flowing canter that we've had yet. I did a couple circles and then brought her back and ended it.

obviously lots to work on but still we're more harmonious

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Clinic Report Day 2: All About the Give

By the next morning Carmen was in full heat. I am not surprised- with three stallions in the barn it was inevitable. However, I was so impressed with how quickly she settled in to the barn and seemed to be enjoying herself immensely.

I watched some lessons and then took her out to crop some grass before tacking her up. I was careful with our ground work and then mounted. I was trying to put into practice the 4 things I worked on the day before. I was happy because I was finally beginning to feel effective with my seat and I felt that I could finally feel her hind leg movement with my seat. I was frustrated because I could only keep 3 things in my head at one time so I needed reminders with one of them. But I found that Johanna was very patient and had no expectations that I would be anywhere near perfect after one lesson.

I find that I could control her gait and bring her back from rushing- I was struggling with preventing her from rushing. I understood that this is all part of the learning process and I was trying my best to ride with her. Carmen started getting fussy in her mouth and Johanna asked me about it. I explained that she did this when she was tense.

Johanna called me to her and showed me that Carmen was telling me that my shoulders were too tense. I couldn't feel it at all and she spent some time helping me to feel that I wasn't truly moving with Carmen's motion.

I love this photo- it shows the team work that was happening
 Once I was able to get it sorted with some help I went off at the walk and tried to keep my shoulders soft so that we were in sync. And with that Carmen stopped fussing in her mouth.
Great I thought, now there's more to remember. 

 But I kept at it and slowly it seemed to make more sense. The truth is that I jokingly referred to Johanna as our marriage counsellor- she always seems to help us communicate. This time I was able to get her to trot with just the thinking (like I had tried the day before). Because she was in heat she was a bit sticky about going forward. But because I was able to be more effective with my seat I could ride it out and not have it escalate. I might have been frustrated with myself but I recognized that I was doing the best sitting trot on her that I have ever done. It was really cool to be able to feel like I was riding the hind end.

 I was starting to realize how truly sensitive this mare is.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Clinic Report Day 1

The first day was all about creating a safe space.
(Forgive any errors-I'm typing this on my ipad).

In the morning Carmen walked right on the trailer with no fuss. She got a bit agitated when she realized that Irish wasn't getting on but settled as I drove off.  She really trailers well. At the end she was not sweaty or upset.

I needed help to convince her to go into the barn but once in her stall she settled in.  There were 3 stallions at the clinic and one became quite excited.  At first she was all "meh" but later was talking to him (by day 2 she was in full heat).

I was excited to get her ready and have our turn. Carmen's  ground work went really well. She was worried but tuned into me for safety rather then go into flight mode. She was shifting at the mounting block but finally stood for me to get on. 
Her walk was quite quick and I was struggling to slow it down. 
" this is where I struggle to not have backwards energy in my riding"

Johanna asked what I wanted from the clinic. I've done enough clinics that I should be good at answering this question but I get paralyzed by it. So in a moment of blinding honesty I said  " to be perfect". JOhanna laugh red and said "let me get there first and I'll tell you all about it"   
I said I wanted for us to have a good experience and have a way to keep Carmen calm and not over react. I explained about her spinning and bolting when she freaks out.  Johanna spent the rest of the lesson working on four things:
1. Breath: keep it slow and steady
2. Use my pelvis to give her direction: I can control her pace with my pelvis but only if it's open and relaxed enough to work with her back, not against it. 
3. Calm my body: create a calm and safe space for Carmen. It starts with me and she is less likely to run away because I'm the safe zone. 
4.  Look where you are going -I tend to look at Carmen not ahead.  But it can't be too far ahead and it must be soft eyes. 

It's amazing how hard it was to keep my brain clear and focused on those four things but I could feel her working.  She began to slow down and tube into me.   We would lose it and get it back.  I could only keep2 or 3 things in my consciousness and needed reminders for the ones I was missing. Most often it was my eyes. 

We did some walk- trot transitions and there was a lot of flailing.  Johanna told me to "Just think trot" but not do anything else. I did a walk circle thinking "trot".
And another. 
And another. 
"I'm thinking trot!" I called to Johanna. "That's ok, just keep thinking". 
A few more circles of me fiercely thinking and Carmen becoming a bit bemused by it all.  Johanna finally said "okay you can ask with the smallest movement of your ankles". 
"Oh thank god!"I thought and moved my ankles lightly against her side. She moved forward into trot thinking "oh thank god".  Our rhythm was all over the place and I found sitting easier.  At first I was fighting clamping my legs but slowly it came together. I figured it out how to use my seat to control her speed.  

Johanna then left the ring for us to play with this new approach. I appreciated the chance to try it without adding more.  

We finished at the end of the ring which had the spectators, jumps , a snowblower and therapeutic riding stuff.  All very spooky.  We walked down and she gave a spook.  
We went through that end almost a dozen times with me not pulling but breathing and being calm. Each time it was better until she blew a d walked by - both of us were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.  And exhausted. Carmen lowered her her head and snuggled against my hip while I rubbed her neck and head. 

In her stall she looked quite pleased with herself.  We both were happy. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

No Turning Back

Yesterday I had a 'what have I done?' moment.

You see I'm leaving in about an hour for a 3 day clinic. I'm taking Carmen in our new trailer and we'll be having lessons from Johanna Beattie Batista (Johanna's FB page). She helped us last year but she did it here.

I am not sure while I'm freaking out about this- in the past I would be excited but I'm feeling nervous and I'm not sure why. I just find that I have been far more anxious about the horses since I lost Steele.

But I refuse to let that stop me. I will battle through the anxiety and replace it with positive experiences. I also may vomit.

So my goals for this clinic are:

  • be absolutely brilliant ride without tension and stay focussed on supporting Carmen (also not ride like a hunchback monkey)
  • introduce Carmen to the idea that we go away without Irish and do stuff and it's all okay
  • Learn some new exercises and approaches to our training- especially what to do when she's melting down. 
  • have fun with like minded horse people

I will try to write up what I learned at the clinic so that I can refer back to it. 

I also sent in the forms for our first show in June. EEP. 

Is it okay to drink wine before I ride? Even if it's in the morning? 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Battle of the Bag

There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two. ~ Bertolt Brecht

A couple posts ago I wrote about my campaign to own the ring. I had no expectations that it always be smooth. Which is a good thing because Sunday was not as successful as Saturday. It was a sunny day but there was a cold wind blowing and we all know how Carmen feels about wind.

Our lunge work took longer that had been typical - it took a lot more work to keep her attention and I wasn't going to get on until I was sure. She was quite agitated in our old 'Troll Corner' so I did a lot of work there. Before I mounted I did some in hand work in that corner. It was simple work- turn on forehand but I wanted her to tune into me and not be gawking around. I was not going to settle for being second fiddle.

She was definitely tenser under saddle and I had to work hard to keep her attention. I also had to make sure that I stayed soft and did not grip with my hands or thighs. Overall she did really well. We were well into our work and I had been working into her spooky/looky areas. We were doing a circle up by troll corner when there was a gust of wind and she leapt sideways.
Shit I thought with the first leap (her footprints were about 10 feet in from the rail where we had been). But with her second leap I had naturally opened my posture and draped my legs down. I got this I thought and brought her back to me as we landed and then carried on with the circle. I was not freaked out or worried - that made me happy.

She slammed to a halt at C and I suddenly saw what was causing all the trouble. At supper I was explaining it to Ed:
Me: so when she stopped I saw that there as a piece of a plastic garbage bag stuck in the tree and it was flapping in the wind. 
Ed: So did you get rid of it?
Me: Nope. I decided to leave it. 
Ed: Really? Why? 
Me: Because I can't take care of every possible thing that will startle her. At some point she's going to have to figure out that I won't put her in danger and she has to trust me. 
Ed: That makes sense. Maybe leave it until she doesn't react and then get rid of it. (Ed is worried about the littering aspect of it which makes sense).

So left it and we worked through it. She was not happy and tense but she stayed on the circle and did not stop anymore.

I'm counting that as a win.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Wheels in Motion

I've been anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new trailer. It was completed last week and arrived yesterday. It was cutting it close to have it ready for going to the clinic but we're under the wire. Ed and I drove to get it today. 

Ask me if I slept last night? 

Hint: I did not. 

Ed and I went to Wallace McNutt trailer sales this afternoon. I have to say that I loved dealing with them. They were helpful and professional and made it all so easy to drop a bunch of cash on the horse's new limo:

I had some trouble lining up to hitch it but it's a different perspective then my own, plus there were people watching. That's a sure recipe for failure. Anyway, I drove it home and I have to say it towed nicely. Obviously more heavy then my previous (european) trailer but once I got used to it, it handled well. 

Belle checking out the tack room
The tack room is not huge but it will hold a lot. Especially once I get it customized. 

I loved the hardware and how substantial it all was. Everything fits together nicely and it all locks. 

Lots of room for the horses and there's ventilation in the top and the side windows. It's also insulated so it should be great in the summer.

Now I have to get it packed up for this weekend. I see more sleepless nights ahead.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Owning the Ring

Now that I have Carmen working in the whole ring I am determined to not relinquish any territory. I remember my frustration with only be able to stay on the centre circle last year and how nutty it made me.

Carmen is a bit looky in some spots which makes total sense- my ring is on the top of the hill with fields, trees and bushes. As spring wears on the bushes will be covered in rustling leaves and the grass will grow tall. My thoughts are that if we keep working away at it as things are growing we should be able to avoid the idea of trolls. I hope that I am right but it's my only theory. I could cut the tall grass around the ring but I don't want to. First of all the birds use it to nest and feed. Second I can't keep Carmen in a bubble- she needs to learn how to deal with spooky things (not by spinning and bolting).
Not an option:
also, how on earth did they do this? 
So we lunge up and down the ring. I don't pay particular attention to the spooky areas- instead I focus on the work we're doing and ignore that there are any spots that would be problematic. If she spooks I will ask her to do something in that spot and requires attention on me. My theory being that if she was attending to me fully then she wouldn't be thinking about all the things that could kill her outside of the ring.

I only get on when I'm 100% convinced that I have her full attention. Sometimes this is 5 minutes and sometimes it's 20. My goal is to not have to dismount and lunge some more. When I get on I take up contact right away. Carmen does not like to be left 'dangling'. I can let her down on a long rein once she's working with me but if I start that way she becomes agitated. Not that she won't fuss a bit about the contact if she's wanting to look around. We usually start with circles and figure 8s in the middle and I work towards the far ends. This is working as we're getting into the ends pretty quickly.

Yesterday, Chester the Kitten (well teenage cat) was hanging out with in the ring with us. Ashley was riding Irish and I was working with Carmen.  When I was riding he would appear here and there and then he disappeared. I was coming around the short side to cross the diagonal (this was late in our ride) when Carmen spooked and spun sideways. Ouch- it wrenched my back a bit. I brought her around the circle and we came back and she did it again. This time I was ready so no wrenching. We came back again and Chester popped out of the grass and hopped down the ring. As Cynthia pointed out it was a legitimate spook. But I was happy that there was no huge panic about it- she listened to me and once she saw what it was she relaxed immediately.

What I was thrilled about yesterday is that we actually catered everywhere in the ring. It was not pretty and my position was terrible as I was trying to convince her to keep cantering straight ahead. I decided that looking pretty was not my goal- just getting it done. We finished with us cantering down the long side past the gate. As we were going I kept saying 'we are cantering past the gate. Oh yes we are. Come on you can do it'.  And we did. I brought her back to trot and walk and we cooled out. We were both a little sweaty.

Owning the Ring campaign is moving ahead. The next one will be 'Owning the Outside of the Ring'.

Is it ridiculous that I am still thrilled when I ride? I feel like a kid sometimes: "I rode a horse today. Yay"