dancing horses

dancing horses

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Carpe Diem

The weather has turned cold and wintery. I know I shouldn't complain because it's almost December and I do live in Canada....but still I am not looking forward to no longer being able to school Carmen.

On Saturday she was really spooky and reactive. I had to get off and lunge her again. I realized that I hadn't worked out her energy before getting on and it came back to bite me on my behind. Or it was the energy generated by wearing electric orange. When I got back on she was still pretty wired but knowing that I might not have another day for a bit I dug deep and rode through it all. In the end we both survived and we were both sweaty. But it seemed that we had gained something in the process.

Sunday was a winter storm so no riding was possible. Monday was not stormy but pretty raw and windy and I decided that riding was not an option. However, on both days I brought her out and gave her an in depth grooming. She's a bit funny about it- at first she makes grumpy faces but as I go along she relaxes more and more until she's quite relaxed and happy. On Monday when I came home from work I head a nicker and looked over to see her watching me intently.

Today I rushed home from work, unloaded the feed and shavings I had bought and prepared the stalls to bring the horses in. Carmen hung around while I puttered. Irish stayed up in the field - I'm pretty sure that's a trap. 

In the ring Carmen was a bit worried at specific areas but halted as soon as I asked. When I got on she was tuned in and listening. While the spooking is still a work in progress it's getting easier and easier to keep her attention and/or get it back. I was quite happy with the trot work- it was forward and energized. I sat up and thought 'canter' and she lifted into this forward and rhythmical canter I had to smile. We did a few circles with just one baby flail that quickly sorted out. I brought her back to walk and halted and hopped off. I had only been riding 30 minutes but it felt so good. We were both pretty pleased with ourselves.

yes another photo from our last lesson- which is good because
we have another one booked

I'm hoping that we can keep working for a bit longer.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Cynthia found some hunter orange shirts for us to wear while riding. We figured that these will keep us safe when riding. They should also be useful for visibility when riding out even when it's not hunting season.

The shirts are quite light so I was glad I got a large so I could layer. When we were getting the horses ready I had my flannel jacket over top. Once she was tacked up I put it in the tack room and came out beside her.

She jumped sideways.

Carmen: aargh!
Me: whoa! what's wrong? 
Me: It's to keep us safe- you see it's called 'hunter orange'
Carmen: You are not sitting on me wearing that colour! And are you wearing a PURPLE SHIRT UNDERNEATH? 
Me: Well it's more blue than purple....
Carmen: Good lord, do you even look in mirror? This is ridiculous. 

Up in the ring Carmen was on high alert- looking for danger everywhere. She was particularly spooky on the far end by the woods. Very likely there were people hunting or working down there.
Me:  Just breathe. Why are you so nervous? 
Carmen: How can I not be? I have a neon popsicle for a rider. 
Me: *sigh*
Carmen: I mean we're not exactly blending in. 
Me: but..
Carmen: you are like some huge neon sign saying 'all you can eat buffet right here!' If we get eaten I will never forgive you. 
Me: There's nothing out there that's going to eat us. 
Carmen: You poor naive tangerine glow stick there's ALWAYS something looking to eat us. 
Me: like what? 
Carmen: lions, wolves, TROLLS. 
Me: no, none of those things are here. 

Funnily enough, now that I've accepted that this is part of Carmen's make up I don't get as freaked out by the spooking. I just kept working away. The recommended action is to work away from what is scary and gradually get closer. Which is fine except that with Carmen she will fixate on it and the area seems to grow. So I can't always ignore the area because her fixation on it takes over the whole ride.

It's a balancing act. But in the end she was relaxed and blowing.

With the weather she hasn't been in regular work and it's starting to show. She's still young and not sure how to deal with the excess energy so it translate into reactiveness. But we'll get there.

Me: See, we did the whole ride and nothing bad happened. 
Carmen: This time. 
Me: And next time. And the time after that. 

Carmen: we'll see but next time could you dress more sensibly ?
Like when we had that lesson with that nice young lady? 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


I'm happy to report that things are swinging along. I feel that I have a deeper understanding of Carmen these days and no longer react to her moods. If she's cranky in the cross ties I tease her about it and then carry on. It doesn't take long before she relaxes and enjoys the attention.

Cynthia came out this afternoon to ride with us. The weather has turned colder and it was a raw day. I use the ground work to figure out where the spooky spots are going to be for our ride. They now move around so this helps. Today it was up by C. Even so, when we were lunging she was pretty good.

The ride was pretty uneventful. Which is always welcome. She had her spots of distractions/spooking but it was all pretty minor and I just dealt with them. It's weird but I don't give them much thought anymore and it doesn't escalate either. Hmmm.....

My goal for my riding is to give her rein to reach into but it's hard- when she goes behind the vertical or feels 'up' I worry that she's going to spin/bolt. But I'm working on it- give with the reins, ask her to go forward into it. It's coming. We had moments of it and I'll take them because that's how training works- stringing together moments.

Carmen got a bit fast in the canter work but that was okay- it gave me energy to use.  My goal was to keep her on a circle, flexed in and steady in contact. That worked for about 2/3 of the circle. But it lost it shape at the end by C. I brought her down to trot or walk,, fixed the bend and then back to canter. As we moved further down she was keeping it pretty well and then had a wee spaz- where she flailed a bit and swapped in back and then sorted it out, all in 2 strides. I think what happened was she cantered over a hoof print hole (made earlier) and was surprised by it. I giggled because it was such a baby spaz moment and she immediately settled. It was kind of like t his:
Camren: 'canter canter, cant- ooh WHAT'S THAT?! Avoid. Avoid. *swap, flail, swap back*
Me: oh Carmen. hee hee hee. 
Carmen: Never mind. It's FINE. Nothing happened. STOP. LAUGHING! 

I was happy at our trot work and our canter as well. It's becoming more rhythmic and flowing. I used Irish to help us around the scary bits but didn't make too big a deal.

I brought her to stop and she was standing all relaxed when my phone rang (I ride with my phone in case of accidents). It was Ed and I told him I would call back once I dismounted. I put my phone away and jumped off. Remember last week when I twisted my ankle?  I had forgotten about it but when I landed it collapsed and I fell flat on my back.
Owwww.  I said.
Cynthia asked if I was okay and was confused as to what happened. Which made total sense because the last time she looked my way we were just standing there.

And the cool thing was that when I fell right at her feet she never stirred a hoof. She didn't even lift her head. Although I'm pretty sure she rolled her eyes. So I'm happy about that training I did with her around falling. Carmen stood there while I stuggled to my feet and followed patiently as I limped back to the barn.

No matter what else happened during that ride, her reaction to my fall made my heart sing. I really feel we're becoming partners.

I'm not really slouching- it's my safety vest riding up

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lesson Recap

Let me start by thanking each of you for the the kind words and condolences following Belle's death. It's been hard and sad but I know it was the right thing to do. d'Arcy was depressed the next day but is starting to perk up a bit. We've been making sure he's with us a lot but monday we go back to work so I hope he'll be okay.

Between looking after Belle and the weather I haven't ridden since Monday. I was scheduled to have a lesson Friday but it poured all day. Same with Saturday. I was feeling a bit frustrated but to be honest I think it was a good thing. I'm not sure that I was emotionally calm enough to be a good leader and Carmen isn't at a point where she can be the comforting one.

Fortunately, I was able to rebook the lesson for Sunday. The day dawned foggy but the sun was trying to come through. I got Carmen ready early because I figured she would need more time on the lunge given the time she's had off. She was cranky at first getting ready but I was expecting that. I've noticed that she gets annoyed if she believes I've been neglecting her. As I groomed her and gave her attention she relaxed and became softer.

I was glad that I had planned some time to work with her on the ground because she really needed it. Not because she was wild but she was definitely tight and spooky. I kept it simple and very black and white- paying attention to me was right and looking around and ignoring me was not. By the end she was focussed on me even with distractions.

The time was perfect for when Shanea arrived. Let me sum up the lesson with one sentence: it was AWESOME. I enjoyed my second lesson as much as my first. It was all about getting Carmen moving from behind and tuning in to what I was asking. She was leery of some areas and I worked on  giving her room to listen but staying supportive.

We practiced flexing and changing the bend on the circle. At first she was all 'what?'  but then figured it out and it went a lot better. From the middle we worked our way out around the ring. Carmen was, of course, worried about certain spots - when this happens her head comes up and her topline gets very tight:
head up, under neck stiff, hind legs trailing and someone
please cut off my hands! 

I'm to keep my elbows engaged and ask her to bend around my inside leg. Unforunately, my hands tend to get a bit uneven as well. But as we worked she would drop and relax. As the lesson progressed that came faster and faster.
hands better(ish) and she's starting to step under
asking her to flow forward and find contact

We worked on the leg yielding and it was improved from last time. As was her straightness on the quarter line.

Our trot work was a lot better as well. She was flowing forward and listening to my aids. Of course it wasn't perfect but she wasn't trying to run away or balk.
I love her soft and listening ears here. And I may be smiling.

being very brave through a spooky corner and I obviously need
to make sure that her head is still there. 
 When we were heading up to C she gave a big spook where she suddenly spun 360 degrees. But she didn't bolt and I was unbalanced but still on. Shanea stayed very calm through all of it and we carried on with the work. Because I had my core engaged I didn't get thrown off the side.

moving forward. I am being a bit defensive in my body but letting her have some rein and
it doesn't look awful.  
I was so happy with how were able to keep on track and build on what we did in the lesson before. I like how Shanea can break things down and is willing to take the time if you don't understand. She never seems frustrated and NEVER seems anything but calm. Even with the few spooks we did.

We finished with a wee bit of canter work- I asked for it so that she could see what we were doing.
I'm a little perched but let's look at the inside hind....

Cynthia had a lesson right after me. In the barn Carmen looked once and then settled into enjoying my attention. She was so relaxed and happy that I decided to bring her back to the ring to graze alongside. She was quite happy to graze while Irish worked. 

When Carmen is happy there's a calmness in her demeanour and a softness in her eye that tells me about the horse that she will be. 

Today was just what I needed.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

12 years

I don't know if I've ever told the story of how we came to have Belle. A few months earlier we had put down our 3/4 Aussie Jewel. I was really missing her and d'Arcy (who was 4 at the time) was pining. Jewel was one of the smartest dogs I've ever known. She also wasn't an easy dog. I decided that I wanted to rescue another Aussie in her name. We applied to a breed rescue and passed the interview and home visits. We then had a call that there was a dog that might fit our household. She had spent her early years in a cage being used for breeding. She lived in Maine so Ed and I drove halfway to meet up with the rescue people in St. John, NB. It was a long day but I loved her right away and we brought her home. She came with issues. Belle was terrified of small spaces. It took months before she would follow me into the bathroom and years before she stopped flinching. She was aggressive towards other dogs and boys between the ages of 7-16 made her become very defensive. We worked through all of them. It took a while for her to be able to walk for more than 10 minutes without being tired. Once she became fitter she was your typical bouncy Aussie. 

 Since Monday Belle has not been eating, barely drinking and having trouble breathing. There were glimpses where she seemed to rally and then fall backwards. We consulted with the vet over the phone twice. Today we tried something to ease her stomach. It was an impossible choice- death by heart failure or death by starvation/dehydration. Tonight she drank a bit and then promptly threw it all up. Ed and I discussed that we would give her a few days max. 

Ed left to go to a meeting and she took a turn for the worst. I looked at her struggling to breathe and I saw my mother in the hospital bed with the same struggles. I knew with complete clarity that it was time.

 I called the vets and they said to come over. I tried to get in touch with Ed but couldn't get through on his cell. The staff were more than kind. They helped me carry her in because she couldn't walk.  I sat with her on a mat on the floor waiting stroking her head and talking to her. 
don't worry baby. You will be running free soon. I love you. You are the best dog. 
She put her paw on my hand and looked at me. 
She passed away quietly with me stroking her head. I knew when she was no longer there. 

Belle was 12 years old and had 8 wonderful, happy years with us living the life as a family dog. She loved her people fiercely  and would die to protect them. I am glad that she is no longer suffering. 

The average life span of a dog is 10-13 years. 

It's not nearly enough. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Thank you everyone for your kind words about Belle. In some ways she's better- her coughing is much less so the diuretic is working. However, she's still very lethargic and not eating. The vet has adjusted her heart meds to see if that helps. He's surprised that she's worse than when he saw her. To me it makes sense- people have heart attacks and go to the hospital, some get better and some do not. I can't see why it would be different than dogs.

I am doing everything to entice her to eat. The latest is a some browned hamburger, rice and a splash of my beef barley soup. The look she gave me today makes me believe that she appreciates the irony that I'm giving her her favourite foods and she doesn't want it.

d'Arcy is benefitting from the diet but believes that it really is too much that he can't have hers too. 

There are a few positive signs- she barked at the UPS guy yesterday and got up on the couch today.

But she's not herself.
Which leaves Ed and I trying to figure out what is the best thing to do.

At what point are we no longer giving her time to get better but prolonging her misery?

Despite her start Belle has been loved for the past 8 years. She has learned to run and play and be loved. She always struggled with the idea of sharing toys

A dog needs to run and be happy.
and to plot how to steal sticks when d'Arcy isn't paying attention

I don't know the answer yet but I am getting closer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Not a Slow News Day

Monday was forecast to be sunny and warm. I had some time to use up so it seemed a no brainer to take  the day off.

In the morning during feeding Carmen was as quiet as a mouse. I looked out the tack room door and she was standing at the door quietly and Irish had his head out the by her with his ears pinned. He seemed to be saying 'don't even THINK about it'. I guess he didn't want any more shows in the morning.

On blogger I found out that I actually won Horse Hack's contest! I was surprised and thrilled. I've been perusing the Riding Warehouse website to see what I want. One of the things I like about this contest (aside from winning) was that I found a whole bunch of new blogs! So thanks Aryelle!

Cynthia came out in the afternoon for us to ride. Carmen was quiet during the ground work and when I got on. She became a bit spooky into the ride but honestly it felt less like worry and more like 'I don't wanna'. I worked through it but her transitions were sluggish with threatens to spin. Finally I had enough and we went on a circle at a walk. I asked her to trot and she balked so I tapped her with the crop. She hopped into a trot. A few more of that sequence and she was going forward off the leg like she needs too. After that our schooling got much better. 

Over the weekend my dog had started coughing. I thought that she might have picked up a virus so I made an appointment for her on Monday. By the time we got to the vets she was lethargic but I was still thinking that she had a virus. Turns out that she was in congestive heart failure. I have some drugs for her but I'm not sure how she will do.  Last night I was really questioning if I had made the right decision to bring her home. She couldn't stand on her own and had no interest in food or water. I slept downstairs on the couch with her in case she needed me. I didn't want to leave her alone. Around 5 a.m. she got up and drank. She seems better this morning so I hope she improves. I will not keep her with me if she's suffering.

Belle was a dog we got through an Australian Shepherd rescue. She spent her first 4 years in a cage being used for breeding. She had no idea how to exercise or be around other dogs. Boys made her react very defensively. But her last 8 years with us have been great for her and she's been very happy.

12 years is not a bad life-span for a dog but it still seems far too short. 


Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Bird in the Hand

This morning I was getting the morning feed ready and Carmen was being very impatient. She will hit the stall door with her feet while waiting and it's hard to extinguish this behaviour because I'm in the room. This morning she was very loud and I stormed out to yell at her. I wasn't watching my feet and I stepped half on the rubber mat and half-off. I lost my balance and my ankle rolled over. In correcting I over-did it and I fell on my ass on the floor. I looked up cursing to see Carmen watching me riveted.
Is that that thing where you fall over and I stop? 'Cause I'm already stopped. Plus I'm hungry. Did you remember breakfast? I hope you didn't drop it. 

Irish was hiding in his stall
Do you know how embarrassing it is to have such a clumsy servant? And what kind of language is that to use? 

If you have any advice on how to eliminate this knocking behaviour let me know.
don't listen to her. I'm an angel 

Working with a young, reactive horse who's also very intelligent requires some planning. I need to make sure that I don't get into something if I don't have the time to finish. This means that sometimes I just lunge or do groundwork or ride just a short time. I try to make every session 'count'. And by that I mean I don't dismount until I get a good moment.

Today I had to ride this morning because we were heading to my son's for lunch. I spent a bit more time then I anticipated on lunging. Not that she was spooky but she was not completely tuned in. I then got on and we did some simple work.

I've become used to the idea that there are certain spots that she's going to be reactive. I realized that I was waiting for her to get over it. Now I don't worry about it. I know that there will be something but I refuse to discuss it unless she makes a big deal. Instead I focus on what I want her to do with her body. Before it would be I want you to into that corner damnit!  And then she would battle me. Now it's I want you to bend on a 10 metre circle. Yes, yes, I know that you're worried, now about my bend...

 Taking this approach makes it more manageable. I can do a 10 metre circle. So when we had our sticky spots I kept with the program, and the breathing and the relaxing my seat. When she tightens I tighten. I have to consciously breathe out and relax. I will take a stronger contact if she's trying to gawk to the outside but I have to give too.

I tried the singing but it just doesn't work for me. So instead I talk. When she gets tense I speak to her. That works a lot better. I had a lot of nice ear work today- by that I mean she's checking back to me to see what I think or what I want.

My goals were simple- transitions off the leg and introduce the idea of lifting her back. We did a series of 10 metre circle serpentines down the arena. Once I had the bend and change in bend working I used my calves to gently ask her to raise her back. And she did- right away. Of course she can't hold it for long but that was okay. It was what we were working for.

I was looking to finish and we were walking on the quarter line and then leg yielding over. It was going well but she was pretty tense going towards troll corner. I kept the focus and she was doing well when suddenly she did a 360. I lost a stirrup but she came to  a halt right away so no damage was done. I backed her up and did some work so she could breathe and then went back to work. All I wanted her to do was to bend going around that part of the ring without tensing and trying to spook into the ring. It took 3 tries and then she did it- walked though the corner relaxed and bent. She had an ear on the corner and an ear on me. When we were through I stopped and hopped off. That seemed like a good spot to finish.

brooms? who's scared of broom? How boring! 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Irish Gets a Tune Up

"You'd find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair. People who haven't red hair don't know what trouble is" ~Anne of Green Gables~

Heaven save me from troublesome redheads. Irish has been a bit of a brat lately. Whenever I take Carmen he runs and carries on like he's a 3 year old. Even Ed commented on it when he looked after the horses this week (I was away this week). He told me that at dinner time Carmen just came in her stall and waited while Irish snorted and pranced and generally ran around like a fool.

While it does my heart good to see him feeling so lively but it's also a bit annoying. So when I had a chance to have Ashley (Cynthia's daughter) ride him on friday I figured it would do him some good.
I lunged Carmen earlier in the morning but didn't ride because I had to go the Remembrance Day Ceremony.
this is my father who was a leading seaman in the Royal Navy

They arrived later that afternoon and we got the horses ready. Irish had a glint in his eye but was well behaved getting ready. Up in the ring Irish was forward but not connected. I was giving her some tips. Obviously, with his arthritis it's not easy for him to connect over the back and he needs a warm-up before getting it together. He also finds it hard so has a few evasions that he learned over the years. All of them are aimed at convincing his rider that he just.can't.do.it.

*Interesting side note- Whenever I transferred my attention to Irish and Ashley, Carmen stopped being fussy. Sigh. One day I'll get the right mix of attention and calmness.

After watching Ashley struggle I couldn't take it anymore. She was here to have fun, not deal with difficult redheads. I called to Ashley "Do you want to trade horses?"  In a few minutes we were swapping horses and I settled into the saddle.

Irish cocked an ear back. 'uh oh'. 
Yup. Just remember you asked for this. 

We walked off and Irish was sluggish and behind the leg. He was also greatly interested in the far field, what Carmen was doing and, oh are those birds? What are they doing?

I settled my hands and asked him to trot with a gentle tap of the heel. Nothing. I gave a stronger cue and he shuffled his feet a bit. Okay, I gave a nudge and then a smack with the whip. He leaped forward. We spent the next few minutes remembering that it's easier to go with a small cue. Once he was forward and all 'yes ma'am' I then asked him to connect his front and back. Irish sometimes feels like a slinky toy

Meanwhile, Carmen and Ashley were having a great time. She was a bit spooky but Ashley dealt with it well and they ended up in a happy place. It was fun to sit on Irish again and once I got him together we had some half-decent lengthens across the diagonal. Once he fell in line our transitions were crisp. We finished with a canter serpentine with simple changes and he was totally with it. 

Today when I went to ride Carmen I brought Irish in and put him in the barn so he couldn't tear around. Irish can pull off the best expression of injured innocence but I am immune to his witchcraft and left him inside without a qualm. 
Don't believe her. I'm completely innocent. 
Irish has always been a character but he's blossomed since coming home and I wouldn't trade him for the world. Except maybe tomorrow. Ask me tomorrow. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Clothes Horse

By some miracle I've made it to the final of Horse Hack's blog contest. For the final round we (me and hellomylivia) were asked write about how to save money with horses. If you click on the link above it will take you to my entry.

Which brings me to today's post. Carmen needed a new rain sheet. I had been making do with one that I had for Steele. Last year it was a close fit- this year it was definitely a bit small. A couple weeks ago I was on the Pleasantridge website looking for sales. I found a 1200 denier rain sheet for 89$. The catch was that you could only pick the size, not the colour. I looked at what the options were and figured that a grey mare could pull off anything.

I really like the horsewear blankets- they are reasonably priced and wear very well. I placed the order for that (and some other things). Today I was lunging Carmen when a truck pulled up. We went down and signed for the item and then carried on with our work.

In the barn Carmen was curious about the box:
A present for me? Can I eat it? 

I opened it up and found that we had received the black one. I was very pleased with the fit.

Do I look good? Check the box again, I'm sure there should be cookies in it. 
A little black dress never goes out of style. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016


I was so excited after my lesson on Friday to ride again on Saturday. The weather was crisp but sunny. I had a lot of chores planned so decided that riding first would be a good idea. I brought Carmen in and she was quite snuggly in the barn. As we walked around the ring she walked by my side and was mellow and calm. Her focus was not on the outside of the ring but on me. Even when Irish started to fool around in the next paddock.

I mounted and we began to work. My brain was whirling with everything that I had done the day before. As we kept going I felt things started to come apart bit by bit.

I thought more desperately so that I could put it back together.

Carmen gave a big spook and then threatened to do more. I was losing her. As my brain began to work harder I heard Johanna's voice in my head as clear as bell: You are making it too complicated. Keep it clear and simple! 

Aha, in trying to recreate the lesson I was being too complicated and she didn't know what I wanted. Carmen does not like to be confused and she reacts by becoming spooky.

I took a deep breath and cleared my brain. What do I want? 

I want a 10 metre circle with bend. 
I want to stay straight on the quarter line. 
Not so good but understood and she was coming back to me.

We practiced some walk-trot transitions on the circle and she began to breath out softly. I kept my mind in the moment and what was needed and it all improved.

I headed up the quarter line and asked her to leg yield. On the second line it was soft and obedient and not worried about the corner. As soon as we hit the corner I halted and jumped off. We were both very happy.

Today Cynthia came out to ride. As we got into the ring we could hear ATVs in the woods. Then two shots rang out. Sounding really close. That was it for Carmen. She went into high alert and was quite worried. So was Irish but less so. After a bit of ground work with her I decided that I was not going to ride but instead to focus on keeping her calm and listening from the ground.

And it went really well. She stayed with me fairly well. A few times she tried to run off (once again birds in the brush). But mostly she listened. I spent some time helping Cynthia to get Irish relaxed (I've ridden him through that stuff a million times). While I was talking Carmen just hung out with me relaxed. We went back and forth from work to resting and she stayed with me.  Even though there were lots of ATVS and noises in the woods. I will be happy when hunting season is over.

I knew that I had to be clear with Carmen but this weekend really brought it home to me. This horse cannot tolerate me if my brain is whirling or not focussed. I guess that this is my next life lesson.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Positive Spin

It's funny how things can turn around.

If you've been following my blog for a while you know that I had been looking for someone to get regular lessons from here at home. To be honest I had given up because everyone was too far away- it wasn't worth it for them to come just for me.

Then my friend Cindy (not to be confused with Cynthia) got herself a new horse. Her older mare was retired (the four of us used to play together) and she had said that she was 'retired' as well. Ha! True horsewomen don't really retire until they are too crippled to ride. I saw that Cindy was posting photos of her riding her new mare (a lovely Canadian cross) in a lesson. She told me that this person was very good and that she travelled to Bridgewater regularly.

 I let that information percolate for a while, but on Thursday I messaged Cindy to get some more information. A little research and I realized that this person, although young (to me) had done quite a bit of training and had a reputation of being good with young horses. I thought I would send an inquiry. I messaged her on FB (because that's how you connect these days!) to see what was possible. Next thing I knew I had a lesson booked for the next day at 2:00. I was impressed- she certainly didn't let the grass grow under her feet!

I had already made plans to ride with Cynthia but my ring is big enough that she could ride while I had my lesson. In the morning I drove to Greenhawk (about an hour away) to exchange my helmet. Troxel has an exchange policy for when the helmet is in an accident. I paid $25 and had a brand new helmet (the exchange cost depends on the age of the helmet). After making the exchange (and picking up a few other things of course) I picked up Cynthia and brought her with me.

The weather was being very weird- rain, sun, cloud, wind all came and went like trains in a station. I dragged the ring and then got Carmen ready. I wanted to lunge her first. Carmen was grumpy in the barn and didn't appear to be too thrilled about getting tacked up. To be honest I was nervous- starting with a new person can be nerve wracking. Cynthia noted amusingly that I was heading out 20 minutes before my lesson but I couldn't help myself.

In the ring Carmen was being very very good. I could see the work that I had done yesterday paying off. Even when a stroller went by on the road- we watched it go without any drama. Doing the ground work not only works to settle Carmen, it works to settle me too. You need to be focussed and clear and that helps empty the mind of anything but what you are doing.

Shanea arrived right on time (a real plus in my book. My god I'm sounding old!). We talked about Carmen and our history together (we had also done that in our earlier communications). Carmen ignored us and Shanea noted that and then started to 'play' with Carmen. This got her intrigued and she gave her a sniff and then looked at me.

I put on the ear piece (I do like having a FM system when riding) and mounted. Shanea noted how nice it was that Carmen stood so quiet while I got organized. And we started out lesson.

***usual disclaimer that I am telling you my interpretation of what Shanea was telling me so any errors are likely mine****

We started off at the walk and as I began the warm up Shanea started giving suggestions. I won't go over the whole lesson in detail, but, you guys, it was wonderful. I really liked Shanea's style- she was calm and low key and put everything in a positive light. When I made a mistake she corrected it gently and explained to me what the issue was. There were so many similarities to Karen, Roz, Johanna and Sue that everything she said fit right in. Once I realized that I could relax into the lesson. There was no 'just make her do it' or 'don't let her get away with that'.

Here are some highlights:
Keep my reins in line with her mouth- if her head goes up - go up with it so I'm not fulling down and then ask her to come with me.

The 10 metre circle is my friend. In places where's she tight and tense ask her to bend like we're on a 10 metre circle to get her focussed back on me. this gives her something to do rather then telling her to NOT do something:
we're going through troll corner and I'm asking her to bend around
my leg. See how she's listening even though tight? 
She's building her topline so she will carry herself and then lose it. That's baby horse stuff and normal. Don't worry about it but do ask her to come back.

coming back to me after lifting her head but note the tongue- I found that funny

Shanea picked up on my rogue left hand right away. When I don't have a connection with the rein I start to do all sorts of weird things with it- rotate the wrist, cross the neck etc. As soon as I get the connection it's okay. But I need to feel the connection with my elbows not my hands. Johanna says shoulders but it's all the same idea. She also picked up that it's easier for Carmen to the right then to the left. 

Carmen will give and follow the bit nicely and then she gets a bit strong and tries to take over. The trick is to get the stretch but not let her take over- a gentle bump with the calves and a half-halt with the seat sorts that out.  

The outside rein is my friend- it will help to get Carmen to free up her shoulders. 
here she's coming against the rein trying to bulge away from the
spooky spot but I love how her leg is reaching forward. I can also see
how much more I need to build up her hind end

Carmen gave one spook - up in troll corner she spun and went away. I sat up and said 'ooh' (I was caught off guard and the ooh was involuntary). She slammed to a halt and we carried on. However, as we progressed Carmen's ear were swivelling back and forth and she was totally tuned into me (and me to her). Shanea said 'She's got her satellites going. We now need floppy ears'.  I could feel Carmen's mood shift from grumpy to happy. 

We worked on the quarter line keeping Carmen perfectly straight and I had a chance to feel how many small adjustments that requires. 

We did some leg yields. Shanea didn't want a big cross over for those- instead she wanted to focus on staying straight in her body and gradually moving over so that she was actually 'filling' the outside rein and moving properly. Otherwise she leads too much with her shoulders or her haunches. It took a bit for me to figure it all out and then translate to Carmen but once we got it, I could feel it right away. The cross over will come but it has to come from straightness- otherwise she will overbend and be crooked which will make everything else much harder. 
heading towards the scary wheelbarrow monster thing
(it also had a broom on it) 

We then tried it at a trot. First we just trotted working on forward and softness. Often if I trot late in the ride she's a bit resistant and she was but it didn't last long. 
I love this photo- one ear forward, one back, reaching under with her hind leg,
I'm sitting up (I could be back a bit), following with my hands and smiling. 

In the spooky areas I was to do ask for a 10 metre circle bend and channel the energy positively (if that sounds familiar, it should I've been told that by Karen and by Sue but it's harder to do then it sounds).  
yay, look at the leg yield
Carmen and I did some of the best leg yields we've ever done- no tension or resistance. We did them to the left and then to the right. I think Shanea said that I would get more benefits from the left in terms of straightness but I may have that wrong, will have to check. When we switched to the right Carmen was thinking we really ought to be done but she did go back to work without too much drama which made me happy. After two nice leg yields we stopped and finished up with practicing the stretchy walk on a circle. 

There were so many reasons why this lesson shouldn't have gone well:
- the weather changed multiple times - wind and cloud, then sun, then more wind, then sun. it was bizarre
-tension in me riding with a new person
- just the past few days and how spooky she's been. 
But it didn't. We both ended up in our happy place. 

Having Irish helped at the beginning but we both forgot he was there after a while. Cynthia said that Irish was waiting for some attention and was a bit miffed that he didn't get any. 
HELLO?! can't anyone see my awesome trot back here?! 
Shanea was very positive about Carmen, me and our partnership. She kept using words like teamwork. She was also very keen on praise and letting Carmen know she was good. She noted that when I left Carmen in the barn to go get the money that Carmen was looking for me even though she and Cynthia were there. 

These are the kind of rides I want to have so I'm looking forward to more lessons. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Anatomy of a Fall

I've been thinking a lot about my fall on Wednesday.

Of course I have- what's the point of being me if I can't completely dissect something in my mind to glean every possible piece of information?

The truth of it is that a big spook like that that comes out of no where can feel like a betrayal. Now, before you get you fingers ready to type about all the reasons why I'm wrong and why the fall was all my fault anyway, save your energy. I'm not saying that it was a betrayal, I'm saying that it feels like one.

Could I have sat it out if I was ready? Maybe. It was a pretty fast drop-the-shoulder-and-leap-sideways move. I was literally hanging in the air before I knew what hit me. She wasn't being tense at the moment, nor was she being looky. I was doing what I have been told I have to do- which is relax the rein and let her go.

My ride later that day was not so great either. Just as Cynthia and I were getting the horses we heard the noise of a tree falling and both horses took off galloping towards the barn. We went to look but couldn't see what was going on. This put the wind up the tails of both of them. For Irish it leads to some initial tension but once his energy is put to use he settles. Cynthia did a good job with him.  I had to lunge Carmen for a long time to get her settled and then in the ride I was pretty defensive. But I did get some good work from her and called it a day.

The next day I was pretty sore- my shoulders, neck and hip were not happy with me at all. Of course by then I had spent the night pretty much going over everything. I did not want to ride in my physical and mental state so decided to do a ground work session.

I wanted to work on setting up some spooky things outside the ring and working on that. I also wanted to deal with the pulling back when I come off- I don't want her running off- especially if we're out of the ring.

I grabbed an old broom I had and brought it up to the ring. I chose the broom because I can lay it down or stand it up and it's visible but portable. I also took Cynthia's advice and let the dogs out. They stay out of the ring and pop up randomly in the grass. I attached the lunge line to her halter and then fastened a chain lead up and over the nose band of the halter and tied it to the lunge line. The main aid is the line- if she bolts or tries to drag me that's when the chain comes into play.

When we started she was pretty defensive- her whole body language was one of wariness and she hadn't even seen the broom yet. I think she was expecting an intense work out. I started off slow and easy- I wasn't gong to ask her to run into exhaustion but I did want two things: go forward when I ask and stop when I ask. Those are the non-negotiables. The key one being to stop. I need her to figure out that when something is a bit freaky the right answer is to check it and maybe stop to look- not to run away.

The first time she spied the broom she slammed on the brakes. I let her look for a second and then asked her to go forward. She tried to run past and I made her stop. I didn't keep her working at the location of the broom but up and down the ring- towards and away from it. This is because she can get pretty fixated on something and it affects the work in the other area of the ring too. It wasn't about the 'broom' but about the listening. The dogs were ambling about outside. Periodically Belle would disappear in the tall grass and I would call her and she'd come popping out. Excellent. Irish even tried to help by running around his paddock. Later, he added in squealing.

I picked up the broom to move it and when I lifted the broom part over my head she gave a big leap. I've worked on her fear of brooms in the barn. With Carmen it could be that one time someone threatened (or hit her) with a broom. That would be all it would take for her to see the threat. Or it could not be that at all. It doesn't matter. I knew what to do with this- which was to walk forward 'chasing' the broom. That settled her right away and I could swing it around like some mad witch with no reaction at all.

So the broom moved around, the dogs were being dogs and Irish was being a bit of a toad (but in this case a useful toad) and through all this she became more settled and relaxed and less defensive.

I then added in her yielding to pressure. When I come off (the count is now 3 in case you were wondering) and I try to hold the reins she's reacting to the pressure and trying to run away. I started with me switching direction and having the halter exert pressure. Initially she resisted but quickly started following. I would expect that because Royce did a lot of work on that.

When that was pretty established I added in the falling piece. Carmen was walking around me in a circle when I suddenly yelled 'whoa' in a panicked voice and went down to my knees. She stopped to look at me and I praised her- this is the reaction I wanted. We did a few at the walk and then the trot and then the canter. When that was good I added in flailing arms. Thank god no neighbours could see this scene:
Beautiful grey mare trotting in a circle around trainer. Trainer suddenly yells 'WHOA', falls to ground waving arms like a lunatic and falling to ground. 

yeah, like this
But she got it- she would stop and look at me and wait for me to get up. I then added in sudden flailing and falling with no 'whoa'.  That took a few minutes but she got it. 

what are you doing? are you okay? Should you be doing this if you can't stay up? 
She and I were in a much better place at the end then in the beginning. Which gives me more things to think about....

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Horse Hack

Thanks everyone for your support. I am sore today but doing fine.

On another note, I was nominated fora blogger contest at Horse Hack.

It's been great- I have found some awesome more blogs to follow. By some miracle I made it to the top 4. This round required us to answer some questions. If you are interested clicking on the link above will take you to my answers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Angry Birds

I have a much needed few days off this week. I want to use them to get organized for winter and to, of course, work with Carmen. The weather is becoming cooler but today was promising to be sunny. Cynthia wasn't sure if she was coming or not so I decided to ride first thing. If she came I would ride Carmen again and if not, I would ride Irish.

On the ground Carmen was tuned in a listening. She has been more wary of the woods side of the ring (opposite to troll corner) but worked well there. I mounted and we went to work. I started with the focus on a following hand and then my seat. I'm finding that having a soft, giving but there contact seems to make her more tuned in. As we warmed up in the walk and then the trot I could feel her coming more and more over her back. She would reach for the bit and then lose it and then find it again.

We were gradually working our way down the ring - I would push her to go a bit further but not to the point of where we would lose connection. After about 15 minutes of this I was going down the long side (next to the trees). My hand and seat were following and she was soft, her back was swinging and she was reaching for the bit. It was fabulous.

And then she was gone from under me and I was in the air.

I had time to think what the fuck? when I landed hard on my back.  I tried to hang onto the rein but she ran backwards, dragging me and I fell again and hit the back of my head on the ground. I sat up and she was standing about 10 feet away looking at me.
worth every penny but now I have to replace it. shit. 

I sighed and got up and led her around where I thought the spook happened but she was fine. I went up to the mounting block and got back on. If I was a perfect rider I would be calm and relaxed and able to let it go.

But I'm not perfect.  I couldn't figure out what happened so I was (I think understandably) feeling wary. On another horse I might consider to have been a dirty deke but I don't believe that Carmen has that in her. Something had definitely spooked her. I figured it was a deer. I decided to stay up at the top, safe zone, and work some more before venturing down the further way. Carmen was also different. We did some fairly crappy work at the top when she decided to check out. I completely lost all connection with her so I dismounted and put her on the lunge.

She was a total basket case on the lunge- trying to bolt. I don't believe in chasing on the lunge but I do believe in reinforcing listening so we went up and down the ring reinforcing the whole 'you must listen to me' thing.

When we were there I took off the lunge line and mounted again. The goal was to get her tuned in and listening. I wanted to get her back to the work we started with. When she was being a twit about the side where she spooked I stayed on task (bend means bend damnit). Finally I had a real back-front walk, trot and canter and some smooth transitions.

We cooled out at a walk (but no I did not give her a long rein) in the area of the spook. Suddenly, she slammed on the brakes and lifter her head. I looked and saw what had spooked her- small little sparrows flitting amongst the brush eating the rose hips and chokecherries. I think when we were trotting by one must have flown out and gave her a start. Which is fine- except for the sideways leap.

Sparrows?!  I said incredulously. You were frightened by small woodland birds? What the hell
She was riveted.  You do know that you have military blood in your veins, right? 

I had her stand there for at least 5 minutes, watching the evil little bastards sweet song birds flit amongst the leaves.

So I realized that we will need to work on the spooking at things outside of the ring. I have the spooking at things inside well covered- she won't react at all. I have to figure out how to tackle the outside of the ring stuff. I may call Royce to come back and help me with that, we'll see. 

In the meantime, Cynthia called and she's coming out so I guess I'm riding again. 
Wish me luck.