dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Doing the Cha Cha

I've been having some excellent rides on Carmen. We've had moments that were not so hot, but overall our work has been very positive. Our ground work is going very well too: 

grazing under flapping laundry without a care
However, Carmen is still what I consider a green horse and it's fall. There was a storm due later that day so Cynthia and planned to ride early. The weather was cool and very windy. During our grooming and groundwork Carmen was her normal self (the new normal that is).  I mounted and we started to warm up. Things quickly went to hell in a hand basket (to quote my mother). I worked through a few spooks, scoots and dekes. I would get her settled for a second and then lost her.

Things began to spiral and I realized we weren't getting anywhere. I brought her to a halt and dismounted. She actually jumped when I hopped off. I put her back on the lunge and she was initially I have no idea what you are talking about. 
She refused to go to track right.
I don't go that way. 
Yes you do. 
The part where you don't go to the right. 

It didn't take long to remind her that she does, in fact, lunge to the right. And by that tree, that patch of grass and away from Irish. In the past if I got off to lunge her more she would be a complete and utter basket case. But not this time. It took about 5 minutes of work for her to get her brain re-booted. I got back on and had a productive ride. Not a great one, but there was no more spooking.

I figured that it was a fatal combination of the impending weather, the shots we were hearing in the distance, the cooler temperatures and the wind.

On Saturday I rode her by herself. I left Irish in the field and he began to run around like a fool. I have to hand it to Carmen, she did not react at all to his shenanigans. However, she was VERY spooky a the far end (opposite to Troll Corner). Hunting season has started and I heard a few shots. I would be surprised if there was more movement in the woods. I decided to do most of our work up that the other end. Things started well and then the wheels began to fall off. By now Irish is settled and grazing (I love older horses- they can be as silly as young ones but for not as long). I thought about lunging again but decided to work through it. I pushed her to go forward and not balk at everything.

I realized that I was getting really tight. Fair enough- she was being quite tight and ready to bolt. Like at the wheelbarrow that's been there since she lived here (I really need a sarcasm font). I kept telling myself to loosen up. I picked up a canter and we began to circle up and down the top half of the ring. I use the term 'circle' to mean a squiggly-not-square-sortof-roundish shape

yeah. like that. 
She stayed with me but wasn't too thrilled about the idea and wanted to keep looking to the outside. We did a few trot-canter transitions which were not terrible. Once I asked for a right lead and got the left (the way she was looking), I asked her to trot but she did a flying change, then a flying change back to left and finally to the right.

I suspect tha tempi changes are not going to a problem for her if I can keep myself together. Overall, the ride took about 90 minutes before we could finish. I am cutting us both some slack for the ride yesterday because learning is never a straight line (no matter what we want).

Today I was determined to be relaxed and calm in our ride. I didn't have a lot of time to ride so I wanted to be careful. I left Irish out again but this time he was not running around.

why are you maligning me? They all know that I'm the good one. 
While you can't really run a hot horse to being calm, it did help that she had a work out the last two days. On the ground she was great. I got on and we walked around. She was a bit looky but I focussed on keeping my seat following and maintaining consistent contact with my hands. I realized that I wasn't paying enough attention to this and it was creating an off and on contact that Carmen hated. I made sure that my contact was the same pressure no matter where her head was (unless she tried to root).  She gave a scoot and I managed to keep both my seat relaxed and not grab with my hands. This made an immediate connection with her and she began to check in with me frequently.

And the result? I hopped off after 20 minutes. Not because she was awful but because she was good.  We even had a couple trot leg yields that were the best yet. That's when I hopped off.

I realized a few things from this weekend.
1. My belief that there will be some testing rides for a while yet was confirmed.
2. I don't have to always feel completely relaxed and calm to ride well. It helps but almost impossible when Carmen is a hot mess. The trick is to not fall into being rough or harsh.
3. She's not as dedicated to being spooky as she used to be
4. I MUST make sure that I have a following hand at all times.

while this looks cute, let me tell you- it's NO  FUN to ride. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lights, Saddle, Action

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.  ~Chinese Proverb
 Work has been a bit, well, hectic, lately. The past two weeks it feels like I barely have time to complete one task before I'm onto the next one. I've been careful to not let this transfer to my work with Carmen. Instead of worrying about riding, I've been focussing on groundwork. I am pleased with how this has been going. On Tuesday, I was even able to put the hula hoop up on her back and haunches and she didn't care.

The last two days  I was in Halifax and really missing the quiet air of home. I kidnapped picked up Cynthia on my way home. Ed had supper ready and after we headed out to the barn. A couple years ago I installed a few solar flood lights to allow me to ride in the dark. Neither horse looked super impressed with the idea of a ride after supper. I wasn't sure how Carmen would be - you know how she is when things change. I suspected that it would be more like an indoor because she wouldn't be able to see anything on the other side of the lights.

And that's just how she was. Carmen was definitely uncertain and she checked in with me a lot. Which was fabulous- before she wouldn't have checked in at all, she would have made her own decisions. Instead she was 'I'm not sure about this. What do you think?' And then she listened to what I was saying. I don't try to convince her that there's nothing out there, I just am helping her to understand that it will be okay.

It was hard to ride soft and relaxed- I felt stiff and tight from a day of sitting followed by driving. My left hand was possessed by demons and was trying to take a death grip. I kept having to think about relaxing my hand, then my hip, then my leg, then my feet were heavy in the stirrups. Rinse, repeat, and ohmygodjuststopit. But patience is required not just with Carmen but with myself. If I'm get frustrated with my crappy riding it's too hard to sort it out. Finally, excruciatingly slowly we both managed to loosen up and relax.

As it got darker she got better- with fewer distractions she was able to listen. Once Cynthia asked me a question and as I was thinking about it she did a perfect trot-halt transition. I realized it was because I hadn't thought about it- I just did it.

We finished up with some lovely canter work and transitions. I was happy to end it after that.

I think Carmen and I are figuring out that we don't have to fight, we don't have to be exhausted and we don't have to be frightened.

I'm also thinking that the money I spent this summer on training  was money very well spent.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

At Least I Tried

After my ride on Thursday I was feeling very good about my plans for the weekend. I had arranged for Cynthia and I to take Carmen and Irish to my friends to go on a hack. I was so excited because I felt were ready and I was looking forward to leaving the sandbox.

Don't get me wrong- I love dressage and all that it entails. But I when I am out in the woods or in a field on horseback I feel my heart expand and my soul give a sigh. It just feels perfect.

But the weather had other ideas. Friday and Saturday were rainy. Today was blustery. Like really really blustery.  Things blowing in the wind is one of Carmen's triggers. So I decided that our first hack off property should not be on a day like today. You can think that I'm gutless but I've worked very hard on establishing a trust relationship with Carmen and I wasn't going to screw it up because I wanted something.

Cynthia came anyway and I figured that a day schooling in the wind would not be a bad idea. When we went out to get the horses Carmen let me come close and then moved off. I shooed her off with the lead line and she immediately stopped and turned to face me.

In the ring I worked her on the lunge for a bit. She was definitely on alert and scooted a few times up in troll corner. However, she was always flicking an ear at me and settled into work. I mounted and we started walking. I was pleased that she felt the same when I was sitting on her as she did when I was lunging her. In the past she would be far far worse. AS we we were working our way around the ring it started to rain.

Me: It's just a shower. It should pass. 
The wind blew harder.
Carmen:  um, you know it's raining right? 
Me: it will pass. 
It began to rain harder. With the wind we were getting pelted by small raindrop sized missiles.
Carmen:  this is impinging on my inner serenity. 
Me: Look, there's clear sky coming...*wind whips rain into my face and Carmen's ears flatten protectively* oh hell. Never mind. 

I bring her to a halt and she immediately moves to put her haunches to the driving rain. I hop off.
Carmen: Thank heavens you came to your senses. 
Irish: if she's done then why am I still working?!

We took the horses back to the barn and untacked them. We had been about 30 minutes. However, it wasn't a total waste of time.

Cynthia and I decided to go to a nearby trail and go for a walk. It was raining off and on but we had jackets and were protected by the wind by the trees. We even encountered a grouse. I was surprised at how friendly it was- someone must have been feeding it. It followed us for a bit chirping. I felt bad that I had nothing for it.

you can see how her markings are excellent camouflage 
excuse me ma'am but do you happen to have any seeds? 
she was very pretty. 
I am not sure if we'll be able to fit the hack in- hunting season starts next weekend and I won't go in the woods. I have to adjust that with the fall weather I may not be able to ride as much. It's this time of year that I start daydreaming about building an indoor arena.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

We Did It!

As you know I've been having some very positive rides on Carmen. It's not that she doesn't spook any more but her heart isn't in them like it used to be. She's very easy to convince now that it's all okay. Yesterday I had a great schooling session on her. Today I was working later so decided that I would ride in the morning. I did my normal routine and around 8:30 went out to get Carmen from the field. Irish was closer so I brought him into the barn. Carmen stayed back in the field, watching, but when I went out to get her she came trotting up and put her head in the halter. As I groomed her and brought her to the ring she was very mellow. And she stayed that way through our walk warm up. 

In fact she was so good that after about 15 minutes I went over and dropped the gate. We walked our and turned to the right. I decided that it was time for us to try our first solo ride around the field. She was a bit tense as we headed out. I breathed deep and kept stopping myself from tightening my thighs and pitching forward. We rounded the turn to the spot that is the most spooky- fields to the right and brush straight ahead. She did a stutter spook and I breathed in and gently tapped for her to go forward. She marched ahead. 

As we went along the far side with the fence on the left,  the woods on the right and the track straight ahead it was very tempting to clutch the reins to keep her from taking off. Instead I aknowledged my (and her's too) nervousness and focussed on following with my seat. My reins were not long but they were not tight and jarring. The whole way down the path she kept her ears on a swivel, continually coming back to me. She would tighten, we would breathe and then relax. 

We neared the bottom of the field and she went into high alert- there were three crows in the grass. Carmen hates crows. I thought about dismounting but instead took a breath and said 
That's okay. We're going to march down there and chase those crows off. 
Are you sure that's a good idea? 
Yes. We can do it. 

And that's what we did. We walked down there and the crows took off. I could feel her confidence build as we 'chased' them. A couple landed in the big maple that we had to ride under. This she was less sure of. I let her stop and think for a second. Then I gently asked her to walk ahead. And she did. We rounded the corner for home and we both let out a sigh of relief. 

We marched up to the barn and I hopped off. I was thrilled. In terms of distance it was short and took, what? Five minutes maximum. But from a training perspective it was huge. Back in May this horse wasn't trusting I could keep her safe in the ring! And now we're hacking. (well sort of). 

In the barn I untacked her and gave her a rub that she thoroughly enjoyed.
Me: I'm so happy that I just want to stuff you full of carrots!

Carmen: That sounds like a good idea to me! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Jewel of a Day

Yesterday I kept to my plan of keeping groundwork as part of my routine with Carmen. After dinner I took her into the ring to just work from the ground. She was a bit excited and was looking explosive. I kept my body language very low key but not wishy-washy. It took almost no time at all until she was listening and soft on the lunge line. In areas where she was more tense I was more calm. I was able to ask her to halt and I could walk all around her and she wouldn't move. I unsnapped the lunge line and we walked to the gate. I wanted to see if she would follow me (like she had at my friend's place) and get some carrots. However, all she did was stand at the gate looking tense and defensive. I walked off a bit and waited.
And waited.
And waited.
She never moved.  She was as rigid as a statue. My heart broke a bit at how tense and defensive she looked. Was I ever going to get to her core?

Then I gave myself a shake. Feeling sorry for her or me wasn't going to get us anywhere. I needed to figure out what she needed to relax. I didn't want to free-lunge her. One, my ring is too big and two, I wasn't sure that the whole round pen thing was the answer. I am not confident in my ability to time it right and could end up doing more harm then good.

I needed a different approach. I spent some time casually walking up to her and lingering and then walking away. I gave her a piece of carrot each time. She began to show a bit less tension. I walked about 6 feet away and then crouched down. She looked at me and then slowly blew out and began to lower her head. She came a bit closer, but not too far from the gate. After a few minutes she came closer and then suddenly spun away and went on hight alert. There was something in the next field (deer? cat? grouse? troll? who knows). I slowly stood up as she blew a warning at the field. I walked over to the far end and looked. Nothing. Slowly, I turned and walked back and walked by her. She came with me. Okay then.

I walked a bit up and down and she stayed right with me taking a few nibbles at grass and starting to swish her tail gently. That felt like a breakthrough so I brought her back to the barn and gave her a good groom.

Today was forecast to be a beautiful fall day.

I also had some overtime banked. It was a no brainer to take the time and enjoy a ride.

Cynthia could come as well so we could ride together. I started with a hand-walk around the ring. This helps me to see which parts are going to be the trouble spots. Today it was up in our old troll corner. I mounted and we started to warm up in the walk. The whole focus on the ride was that we were working everywhere and I was going to stay relaxed and not fall into a spiral.

It's not that we had a great start and there were many areas that she was acting like she was going to blow. I kept my focus simple and myself calm. I refused to buy into any of her drama and kept to the task at hand. She gave a couple large spooks and those I dealt with by bringing her back to what we were working on. The spooking was not going to eliminate the task although I might bring it down to something easier (like walking instead of trotting).

She really wasn't sure what to make of all this but in the end I got some of the best canter work ever. We even played with lengthens and she began to enjoy it.

When we were done we left the ring and began to walk down around the field. She led the way. There's this one spot that has an opening onto the wood trail. We've been on it a couple times and I could see her looking at it. I gave her a bit of rein and didn't do anything else. She turned and walked into the woods leading the way. We went a bit of a distance and then turned around and came back out and down to the bottom. There we turned and went back the opposite direction. Irish was leading and I asked Cynthia to trot. We trotted up the field and she was perfectly fine. She did think that Irish was a bit slow (fair). At the top we stopped and walked back down. I gave her a bit of a longer rein.

The weather was stunning and the ride was fantastic. I was feeling deeply contented.

I might actually be getting the hang of this riding thing.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Taking It Home

I had plans to ride on Sunday. I know Carmen well enough to know that she was very likely to be spookier in my ring then at my friend's. By now it's part of her habits. I was determined to keep it clear and simple and to not fall into the spiral of tension.

Cynthia came out to ride and it was a beautiful fall day- sunny and warm (but not hot). This time it was the end at C that was scary spot (the last time it was down by A). I didn't lunge, just walked her around. Cynthia dropped her yellow jacket on the ground and I decided to pick it up and hang it on a post. Carmen inspected it while I did. I explained to Cynthia that I had some ideas in mind with that jacket.

Carmen and I started out walking around. Sure enough, she had her spots that were very dangerous (in her mind). One of those was the jacket (you know the one that we just hung up). I let her check it out from each direction and then we were done. It was time to work. I want her to check things out but not use that as an excuse to always stop.

Seriously this mare makes me think. But I'm so much less tense or worried then I was even a few weeks ago. It feels to me that this behaviour stuff is shedding off and the real mare is emerging. In spots where she would get tense I would relax my legs and seat (it's so hard to not tense in response!)
Once we were coming around a corner at a trot and a strong gust of wind rattled some dry grass- it gave a loud rustling sound and she scooted forward. I brought her down and informed her that that was a legitimate reason and that we were going to go back and take a look. After that she was able to not react.

Near the end of the ride I was able to go all the way around the ring practicing walk-halt-walk transitions. I know that sounds pretty basic but a few weeks ago this would have led to a tense and excited Carmen. Walk-halt was just not enough to keep her brain busy. We went both ways around the ring with a free walk across the diagonal. We then picked up a canter and tried some lengthening along the long sides. Not that it was a real lengthen- but it was longer and she tried. I'm getting better at a following seat at the canter.

As her engine became more engaged I asked her for a shallow counter-canter loop down the long side. She was a bit surprised that it wasn't a change across the centre line but she listened. It was a very shallow loop but also very balanced. I was thrilled.

Now it was time to play with Cynthia's jacket. I started with her standing by it and I picked up and put it over her withers. We walked to the next post where I hung it up. We did this a few times with me moving the jacket more and more. She really didn't care. Then I walked away and Cynthia moved it when she couldn't see to the other side of the ring. Carmen noticed right away (she notices everything) but instead of being worried she marched right up to it to check it out.

We then dropped the gate and went for a hack. Carmen led the way while Irish walked contentedly behind. We finished our hack in the field walking around the dead tree and walking over it. She was not even remotely concerned.

It really is coming together.

Look at that lean- maybe we could try barrel racing? 

Saturday, October 15, 2016


The longest road out is the shortest road home. ~Irish Proverb~

I know that I usually don't post on Saturday, instead I wait for Sunday and summarize the weekend. However, I am too excited to wait. I have to tell you all about my day. Also, it saves Ed from hearing it in excruciating detail - I'm sure he'll be grateful to you. Also there is no evidence to corroborate this blog post, you will have to trust me.

I had made plans earlier this week to bring Carmen to my friend's place around the corner. I'd been there a couple weeks ago: http://journeywithadancinghorse.blogspot.ca/2016/09/operation-slow-and-steady.html and it went very well.

Now based on the last two days it may not have seemed like the smartest idea in the universe. In fact I had some serious doubts. However, the day dawned sunny (although cold). I realized that while I could back out I had no really good excuse. So I hooked up the trailer and brought in the horses. This time I closed the front of the barn so Irish couldn't see what we were up to and throw a monkey wrench in the loading. I groomed Carmen and she was, frankly, grouchy in the aisle. I did a sharp correction of her attitude and that was the end of it. When I led her out of the barn I did a bit of work with her before taking her to the trailer. She hesitated a bit getting on but I tapped her haunch lightly and she walked right on.

I pulled into my friend's place and there was someone riding her horse, someone watching and guy painting the house. It was quite busy. When I pulled up the person riding stopped and got off. I worried that it was my fault and I apologized when I got out of the truck. She said it was okay, she was done anyway. I had some help getting her unloaded (just someone to lower the butt bar) and Carmen walked off and looked around. She knew where she was and relaxed immediately.

I led her around the ring and she was curious but not worried. My friend has tiny Canadian flags tied on various fence posts. Carmen tried to eat one. She has cones and stumps in her ring (for driving around). Camren was curious. I tacked her up and lunged her up and down the ring. She was a bit looky at the far end- there are trees and grass and ferns and equipment so there was a lot to look at. However, she seemed so relaxed during the lunging that I got on.

We started with a small figure 8 around the stumps. That worked great. I need to get some cones or something for my ring. I just kept everything relaxed and I spoke to her (to make sure I was breathing). I refused to clamp my legs or my hands. Everything I did was to slowly and diplomatically introduce her to the various spots of the ring. The side that has all the trees I would start on the quarter line and asked for two steps of leg yield and then turn to the safe zone. Then it was 4 steps and then we were on the edge. At first, as soon as we touched the rail I would turn her off before she had a chance to swerve. Then I would ask for a few strides down the side and then a few more. Before you know it we were walking and trotting and cantering all over the place.

The painter guy drove down to the barn and set his ladder up against the barn. He climbed up and began to paint the trim. I let Carmen watch and then we returned to work. I hope he doesn't fall off I thought to myself that would spook Carmen and ruin all the work we're doing. Thinking this makes me the worst human being ever a careful and thoughtful trainer.

Carmen was so brave- there are leaves blowing off the trees and two oak leaves attached to a small twig blew in the ring and landed right on her path. Carmen took a deep breath and with only a minuscule hesitation kept going. Yup. That's right- my Carmen faced down the evil leaves and lived to tell the tale.  She was a bit tight in the canter but I refused to clamp my legs on give her a reason to protest, instead I just pulsed my legs and encouraged her softly to go forward.  In one corner she gave a sudden and big spook. At first I thought she had just noticed the cone but after circling around I realized that she had spied a clump of asters growing on the side.

yes, my horse hates small purple flowers.
Photo by my friend Leonara on flickr: https://flic.kr/p/8pRVas
Once I realized what it was I could help her relax by them- first at a walk, then trot and finally canter. I have no idea how long I rode and I wanted to keep going but she was being so awesome I decided to stop. I got off and untacked her while she stood quietly. 

I then put on her halter and we went for a walk around the ring and into the woods a bit. She was curious and a bit tense but fine. She wanted to sniff things she was worried about rather than stand all stiff and defensive. I put her back in the ring and then walked around the outside. I had a bag of carrot chunks. Carmen watched me and I shook the bag. That used to make her take off but now she realizes it means goodies and she came right up. Doing that I was able to get her all the way around the ring without having to lead her. She thought it was a fun game. 

 I went into the barn to talk to my friend. We chatted for a bit and when I came out Carmen was napping contentedly in the sun. She walked right on the trailer and we came home. This time I put her lead line on and unfastened the trailer tie. I went around she was leaning on the butt bar so I asked her to step up. I lowered the bar and she stood stock still. I moved the center divide over and walked up and we quietly backed up. 

She was happy to be back in the barn but not in a hurry to leave it. She hung around and I put stuff away. 

I am so happy with my girl. These short trip and back home are going to be so good for her. I have hope that she's growing up and seeing her napping shows me the horse she can be. 

There's the fire breathing dragon

and Carmen the serene

Friday, October 14, 2016

Chasing Trees

Remember in my last post when I sad that it didn't seem to make a difference in Carmen if she had a few days off? Well that may have come back to bite me on the heinie. 

I came home from work on Thursday. I wasn't feeling great but I wanted to do some work with Carmen so I decided that I would lunge her and if I felt up to it I would ride. She seemed mellow enough in the barn but on our way to the ring she went to full red alert. Her head shot up and she began to get quite excited. 

When we were in the ring I realized what had caught her attention. Last monday the remnant of Hurricane Matthew looped back up to Nova Scotia and met with another system and created a storm that was dubbed 'Aftermatthew'. It resulted in power outages and flooded some communities in Cape Breton. We didn't have any real effects of it but it seems that it blew down a birch tree beside the ring. I'll give you one guess as to where it was. 

Yup. You got it- Troll Corner. It had her totally freaked. So did the arena drag because it was in a new spot. So we spent some time on ground work. 

A lot of time. When she settled I decided to mount and see what we could accomplish. In terms of dressage training we didn't accomplish much. But I did manage to work with her, insisting that her attention stay on  me and that looking all over the place outside of the ring for monsters was not what we did anymore. Not that she completely agreed with me. Somehow I managed to skirt the line between confrontation and insistence. I wasn't always relaxed in my seat but I managed to get it back each time. A few times she threw some mini-spooks which I ignored and carried on but a few times she did some big instant spooks I told you that I dont-go-there! I backed her up and then carried on. 

I finally had her relaxed enough (which is not quite the same as relaxed) that I could walk her towards the scary end and we practiced leg yield to the rail, halt, turn on the forehand and back the other way. It was coming along until Ed came into the next field on the ATV dragging the aerator. I realized that that might be one thing too many so I found a good spot and dismounted. 

Overall I was pleased that I dealt with everything without getting tight and upset and there was no bolting. 

If I really want to trail ride this horse we need to deal with fallen trees.

I remember Royce saying that the best way to get a horse over fear of something is to have them follow it. He says that they believe that they are chasing and it's retreating from them which lessens the threat. 

 So this morning I went up and dragged it out. Carmen came trotting up in the field to watch. It was about 15 feet long and difficult to wrestle. but I dragged it into the field and dropped it. Irish led the way to investigate and Carmen came up as well. 

I swear this was very threatening yesterday

I picked it up and started dragging it around the field. 

She followed us around for a bit. I went in to the barn to get her tack ready. when I came back out they were grazing away from it. I put on Carmen's halter and led her to the tree. She followed and then stopped. I asked her to step over it and she did. 

I locked Irish in the small paddock while I rode. He threw a hissy fit but I was pleased that Carmen ignored him. She seemed happy to see the tree gone. This time the opposite side of the ring was scary. We went to work and I repeated all that we had done the day before.  It seems to work when I don't focus on what she's worried about but the task at hand. While she might appear to want to make decisions about things like where we go (or don't) or our gait she's not really happy about it. I have to be very firm at times but in the end she feels more secure and confident. That means that when she tried to slam on the brakes going by the wheel barrow I gave her a tap with the crop to get her forward. Part of me wants to to face the scary things front on but that's too much for her so I take a less direct approach. I felt good about where we ended up. She seemed okay too. 

The tree is still in the field. It will likely move around the field and end up inside the ring in a few days.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Checking Progress

Between family dinners, weather, work and now not feeling well, I haven't ridden since Sunday. I am trying to deal with the guilt of not riding.

 Does anyone else struggle with that inner voice that says things like you're not riding your horse and so she's going to go backwards and you suck as a trainer.? It's insane but at some point it became engrained in me that if I wasn't working my horse regularly I wasn't serious.  And for me, 'regular' means 5-6 days a week.  Now my rational brain realizes that a few days of not riding will be fine. There actually is not a link in how well Carmen is in the ring and the last time I rode her. Of course that would matter if it was a long time.

Anyway, I spent today cleaning out my photo bank. Which got me looking at photos of me riding Carmen since she arrived. I think I see progress:

April 2015 (she arrived March 2015)
Sept 2015

May 2016 (Johanna Clinic)

July 2016 (Centred Riding Clinic)

October 2016 (Johanna clinic)

When I look at this I see softer rider (although with tons still to work on) and less tense and happier horse.  I could be delusional but I'm happy with where we're going. I also have some blatant fail photos but decided that no one needed to see those. 

Monday, October 10, 2016


This weekend is the Canadian Thanksgiving.  We had our big family dinner today. It was wonderful, because for the first time in a long time both kids could come. Ed's sister and mother came as well as a friend. I did a lot prep yesterday (dessert and rolls were baked) so today was pretty easy. I Not only did we have the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potato casserole and cranberry sauce but Ed's mother brought her traditional Lebanese food include Tabouleh, kibbeh, hummus and her home made pita bread.  loved the flow of chatter and laughter floating through the house as we ate. And ate.

I set the table with my mother's silver so that she was part of the meal as well. I realized that gratitude is a choice. I could be sad and upset that my mother is not here or I could be grateful that I had a mother who loved me. I continue to miss Steele and I'm grateful that I have Carmen. Irish has many health problems but he's still here and happy. I have two happy children and Ed and I still love each other. I am grateful for my friends and that I live in this beautiful country.

And yes, I have had some wine but not that much. I choose to live my life dealing with the negative and looking for the positive.

What are you grateful for?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Horse Play

Yesterday was a busy, pony filled day. My friend Karen brought her stallion for the day. She's entering a fun show (it's a fund raiser for a para-equestrian rider) and there's a freestyle costume class. She had her music and costume all picked out but needed to work out the bugs in a full size ring. The plan was that we would work on that and also Cynthia and I would have a lesson.

The morning was a perfect fall morning- the trees are putting on a good show this year.
I love where I live (at least when it's like this and not buried in snow)
I spent the morning cleaning up around the barn, like you do when company is coming (the house remained dusty because I have my priorities). I took some soup out of the freezer to thaw (curried butternut squash) for lunch and prepared some cheese biscuits.

Karen arrived with her trailer and Kalimo just looked around like 'oh here again?'.
Irish and Carmen realizing that this day is gong to be a bit different
Irish, as always was a bit excited. Carmen joined in but I had closed their stall doors so that they couldn't get in the barn and create a ruckus. Once she realized that there was nothing to see she gave a shrug and headed back out to the field to eat. Irish was all 'where's my friend, I can't see my friend, LET ME IN'. 

Shortly after we had Kalimo in his stall I brought in Carmen to get her ready. I had her ground tied and she wanted to go see him but was actually pretty good about the correction. I could have cross-tied her but I wanted her to learn that she's to stand even with temptation (admittedly a hunky, handsome man is quite the temptation). 

I reviewed with Karen what we were working on and things I had noticed: 
  •  I tighten my left hip when I put on my right leg and I was working on keeping them separate
  • that when she tightens I try to loosen up and make sure I connect my seat to her
  • bending. especially to the right. 
  • generally working through any spookiness and keeping on task. 
So we went to work on a circle around her. As typical in a lesson at my place we were both a bit tight and Carmen was being stiff. It was breezy and I was trying too hard. So first we calmed me down and then worked on calming her down.  We worked all over the ring and areas where Carmen was worried about she still had to work. She had definite opinions about that  (mostly 'no') but I was to stay on task. Karen observed that she wasn't super tight about it all and some of it was just a game. There were a few big spooks but we just went back to work. When she was distracted I was to not let her swing her head to look for something to be scared of and it was okay for it to not be pretty. I needed to hear that. The trick was to let go after I brought her head in. We did a lot of sitting trot and walk-trot transitions, some leg yields and then we were warmed up. 

We practiced some shoulder-in at the trot and that was.just.too.hard at first but we made it. I'm still not asking for enough bend so I need to figure that out. Karen asked me how she was with haunches in and I said enthusiastically 'oh she rocks that. Because it's also her evasion she's really good at it'.  Except for today of course. Today was impossible. We practiced shoulder-in-straighten-haunches in. It was okay on one side of the ring (barn side) but the other side was frying her brain quite a bit. I was just about to suggest to Karen that we come to the middle and do a bit of canter when she said "come on to the center and we'll do some canter work'

So we did. At first Carmen was all tight and bound up but I pushed her on and encouraged her to stretch out and she started to blow out her tension. We then cantered around the ring a few times and then practiced canter-trot-canter transitions without falling on the forehand. By now she's feeling tired (finally) and so am I. But that's okay- I wanted to keep going. Once we had a few good transitions we stopped and I walked her out. I was so excited to have a lesson that was on dressage stuff and not about my ring. It was good for Carmen and it was good for me. I have no idea how long we rode but it was well over an hour.  

I ran into the house and began to cook the biscuits and warm up the soup. Nothing like a warm cheese biscuit from the oven after you've worked your butt off. 

We then played with Kalimo and worked out the freestyle. I was following Karen around the ring holding up her phone so she could hear her music. Kalimo took the crazy lady in the middle all in stride. Once we thought that we had it worked out Karen rode it from beginning to end and I took the video so she could play it at home. I also got to see her ride two tempis for the first time! And it's on video! 

Then Cynthia got Irish ready. Their lesson was wonderful and I loved watching Irish use himself correctly. He had a lot of fun too. However, when they first went up to the ring Carmen pitched a fit. I grabbed my camera because it wasn't too often that she puts on a display. When I came into the field she ran right at me 'OHMYGODSHE'SSTEALINGIRISHANDI'MGONNADIE'. I got quite a few photos- Princess can move when she wants to. However, she calmed down pretty quickly and spent the rest of the time eating. The pony has her priorities. 
lots of power in that hind end
After Cynthia's ride Karen loaded Kalimo on her trailer and left. Neither Irish or Carmen lifted their heads. I like that they are getting used to horses coming and going. Cynthia and I met up with our husbands for dinner and it was all I could do to not fall asleep in my plate. 

Horse days are so much fun. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Autumn Light

[T]hat old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air ... Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year's mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.” 
― Wallace StegnerAngle of Repose

I love Autumn- the light, colour and smells are heavenly. If you have never been to eastern Canada I always recommend September-October. It's our most beautiful time.  It's also a great time for riding- the weather is cooler and the bugs are gone. We've had another gift lately as well- the wind that was pretty relentless all summer has quieted down. This week we've had a return to warm days but the nights are still cool.

I have been having some pretty great rides on Carmen these days. Now that I'm not contending with constant tension and spooking we're able to focus on building our understanding. I'm becoming far more aware of my own body and how it's contributing to our melt-downs. Now, as soon as she tenses instead of thinking 'oh oh I better be ready' I think 'oh I better let go' and I breathe deep and relax my legs and seat to be with her.

It really does work like magic. As soon as I do that I get an ear back, listening. 'do  you see that? what should we do?'  she seems to be asking. And it's not like she doesn't still spook. Yesterday she gave a big one and leapt sideways (most likely culprit is a butterfly) but she stopped as soon as I said 'whoa' . I took a deep breath and then went back to what we were working on. I let it go so she let it go.  She will sometimes keep the tension while we walk by stuff but I don't grab on the rein and  she doesn't run away. I will reach down though and grab a handful of mane or the strap I have across my saddle.

Royce had told me that I was contributing to it and I felt frustrated because I didn't really understand how or what I was doing. Now I do and it's opened up a whole new way to ride. I am finding tension in my body I never knew I had and I'm working on letting it go. Carmen is pretty good at letting me know when I'm tensing too.

The 'scary' side of the ring is flipping around- one day it's at C, then V then A.  That's okay. While I don't ignore it I don't try to confront it either (most o the time). I try to slowly work our way to spots that are scary and she relaxes. If I can't get her mind off a spot and she's so fixated that we can't work on anything I will get her to confront it (usually by backing her into it). Essentially I try to listen to her and figure out what she needs.

She's so much better with Irish in the ring. That used to irk me (why can't she just do the dressage thing?) but now I use it to my advantage. I know that I get to more places quickly and so can work on all sorts of dressage type stuff.

Cynthia came out today and Carmen was so mellow. We spent time at the walk bending, turning, leg yielding. I love that I can work her at a walk without her freaking out now (even if Irish isn't there). When I first asked her to trot she was a bit slow but I didn't get after her strongly, instead I kept asking her to move forward and soon she was trotting like a real horse. Not that I won't tap her with the crop, I will but I have to be sure that I'm not causing it by holding the rein or squeezing.

Bending to the left is easy for her- bending to the right not so much. I need to figure out how to help her with this without pulling on the rein. Some of this I caused because of my tight left hip and stronger left leg but I'm working through it. I got some of the best forward canter from her today. Cynthia even called out 'oooh nice!'  She cantered forward to the 'scary corner' and around. That was our left lead. To the right we struggled a bit more but finally hit our stride.  Once I had a nice right lead canter going I brought her back to trot, then turned up the centre line to halt at X. It was not a square halt but I was okay with it- it was prompt and soft. She just moved after. That's okay- we don't halt at X a lot.

After I dropped the gate and we went out to hack around the field and in front of the house. That was the first time we went that way and she wasn't so sure. I kept myself soft and just held a bit of rein and, you know what happened? Nothing. Just a wee scoot and we were back together. We went back around the other way around the field. Irish wanted to go into the woods so we followed along and meandered amongst the trees. She was not so sure but she was listening and it was all okay.

blurry iPhone photo but proof that we did it 
I really want to take Carmen out on the trail with some calm and seasoned companions. It will do us a world of good. I put a call out on FB to see if anyone wanted to babysit us.  I also need to make some trails and clean up my woods. Now that the bugs are gone working in the woods will be much easier.

It's funny- I am not working as hard as I was when riding but when I dismount my muscles feel tired and stretched. It's much harder to ride without tension I find.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Meditative Dressage

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” 
― Thich Nhat HanhStepping into Freedom: Rules of Monastic Practice for Novices

Carmen has been slowly feeling better with her medication. I've been riding since the clinic- going slow and letting how she feels guide me in how far to push.

And, you guys, the rides have been so good.

I had no idea what was getting unlocked in me on the clinic weekend but it is paying off in spades.

What is this miraculous transformation that has turned Carmen into a magical unicorn you ask?

It's me.

What finally made it home to me from the weekend clinic was that I MUST provide a relaxed anchor for her to grab onto when her brain is whizzing in a thousand directions at once. I do that by my breathing and making myself consciously relax. Obviously this is not a new thing- but it seems to have finally sunk into my body. Before, even when I was trying to help her relax I was tense and tight. Not so much from worry (although sometimes) but because when I'm really concentrating I stop breathing and tighten up. Which is fine when I'm studying for a test or writing my GREs but not so helpful when working with a sensitive, reactive princess.

Carmen has definitely noticed. When she gets excited and tight I breathe deep and drop my legs. I spend a lot of time sighing- making sure that my breathing is coming and going slowly. I use my seat to help guide her pace. I love how that is working.

What Camren is doing now is flicking her ears back and seeing what I'm asking. I am not trying to break through the white noise of her brain, she's seeking out my input.

It's not that she doesn't spook at all- she has. A grand total of twice in the past 10 days. Both times I was able to stay calm and relaxed so she could relax with me. We're not fighting- there are discussions of course.

I've also figured out that when I put on my right leg I tend to clamp my left as well. That's what was pissing her off. I've been figuring that out and also getting her to cut me a bit of slack. The first time post clinic that I asked her to trot right she would throw in her haunches but as soon as i went left that stopped. I spent some time asking for a bit a right but switching direction before she had a chance to really pitch a fit. That worked and she seemed to forget about it. But going by the gate she began to throw her haunches around- I reached back and gave her a tap with the crop and the discussion ended right there.

Tonight she was very mellow to start. We were working away - she would get tight- I would breathe and we carried on. I'm becoming very aware of my own tension and trying to relax. It's occupying my brain so I can't worry about what might be worrying her. We finished with a walk around the field- I hand walked her. I'm hoping that i will safe enough to ride her but I figure the hand walking will help.  I have ridden her out of the ring and down around the barn. It was cool to be practicing 10 metre circles around a tree and having her blow out and relax as we did it.

We're starting to feel like dance partners and that is so cool.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Irish and I Plot to Steal a Pony

Remember a little while ago I went to visit a friend and ride Carmen in her ring? Well this weekend she brought her Welsh Cob pony to my place.

I love Welsh Cobs and I really hope that I can have one some day. In the meantime I'm enjoying blogs of the fun others have with welsh cobs (such as T and Cob Jockey). M drives Maggie and she wanted her to experience new places.

what is not to love? 
They had arrived before I got home and I drove in to see Maggie being ground driven around my yard and my two darlings quite excited by the whole thing. There was a lot of prancing. Irish is hilarious- except for here, he's always lived with a bunch of other horses. But whenever he sees a new one he loses his mind.

Carmen danced around for a bit and then decided that it was all very boring and went back to grazing.

Irish couldn't take his eyes off of Maggie:

He just had to show off his fancy moves:
is she looking? I think she's looking? I better show off my fancy trot.
And LOOK- we have the same colour bell boots- it must be fate. 
When the cart was hooked up he almost fainted. 

OMG, she's so talented

Me, I was much cooler. I was just trying to figure out how steal her. I mean how much fun would this be?

I don't think that Carmen shared our enthusiasm:

Irish: Isn't she pretty?
Carmen- she's kinda short
Irish: Short and perfect. And look at what she can do.
Carmen- meh, it's not that impressive. Look, she can't even see with those things on her bridle. 
Irish: maybe she's going to live here! 
Carmen: No. Just no. 
Irish: it would be so much fun. We could all play together. 
Carmen: There's not enough room...
Irish: we have that extra stall and...
Carmen: no, there can only be one grey mare on a farm. 
Irish: Really? 
Carmen: Yes. It's a rule: grey mares (big ones, not little teeny ones) are so perfect that only one can be on a farm. 
Irish: but she's so cute. Look mom is smitten too
Carmen: I see that. I shall explain to her later how she's wrong. I require all of her attention. 
Irish: but....
Carmen: NO

Poor Irish and I. Her owners loaded her back into the trailer and took her home while they could still get away we watched with a tear in our eye. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Clinic Takeaways

I wanted to sum up the key things that I learned from the weekend so that I don't forget.

1. Carmen is easy to trailer. She gets on easily (the off I'm hoping was an aberration as it was the first time). When I'm towing she's quiet and easy. when we stop she's not sweaty or stressed.

2. I am getting more confident and relaxed with the trailering. I lost my nerve after losing Steele. It didn't make sense to me at first (after all it wasn't a trailer accident) but I realized it was more about vulnerability and my feeling of not being able to control everything. However, as I do it more I'm getting my mojo back.

3. (and keeping with trailer theme) I need to remember the basic safety rules and wear gloves when loading and unloading.

But I did actually take away some riding tips too:

4. despite appearances, travelling alone, being without Irish and have her schedule disrupted does impact on Carmen. I need to treat her for ulcers before we go away- I'm not sure but I'm thinking at least a week.

5. Breathing is key for keeping Carmen relaxed in the saddle. I tend to hold my breath when I'm thinking and that makes for tense muscles. I've been practicing breathing deeply at work, in the car etc. Lately I'm very well oxygenated.
gratuitous vacation pic illustrating fresh air 
6. I need to be aware of tension in my body. Here's what happens- Carmen sees something and tenses. I tense in reaction getting ready to ride out whatever is going to happen. And so the spiral begins.  Now frankly it's freaking hard to NOT tense when you think you might be at risk. Breathing (see above) helps. I've been practicing this in our ring and, OMG, it actually works. But it takes concentration to ensure that my seat, legs, hands, shoulders etc are not tensing.

7. Outdoor rings are not Carmen's favourite thing. I've now had her in 3 different outdoor rings and she's been spooky and looky in all of them. Strange as it sounds, it makes me feel better. This means that it's not just MY ring (i.e., I haven't ruined my horse). I can work on the rest. 

8. I need to ask by tapping my legs, not by squeezing. As she gets more tuned in to me she's more sensitive and i need to do less. sigh. This riding stuff is hard. 

And lastly, somewhere along the line this summer Carmen has decided that I am her human. When I was in the stall with her at the clinic Karen commented I love how connected you two have become

I stopped and reflected and realized that was true. And that was probably the best takeaway of all.