dancing horses

dancing horses

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Whoa Nelly

Sorry for the radio silence- life has been beyond busy with tons to do at work and at home. It seems that I'm just bailing enough water to keep my boat afloat.

It's not all bad- Guinness and I have started Obedience classes. 
Obedience? Now why would I need that? 
And the hay is starting to be baled. We got half of it this week and the rest will be next week. Fortunately Andrew and Alec came to help. 

But there are only so many hours in a day, so something has had to give. 

And that's been the riding. 

Which leads to guilt over NOT riding. 

Anyway, I have come to the realization that I need to slow the hell down. 

What has been interesting is that Carmen appears to have noticed as well. She's pausing when I'm in the barn to snuggle with me. 

So tonight I decided that we were going to go ahead with a lesson. Shanea was supposed to come earlier but I had to cancel because of the hay. Fortunately she was able to fit me in because she's leaving for vacation tomorrow.

I'll save the details of the lesson for a different post but it was just what the doctor ordered. I made sure that I didn't rush to the lesson but spent some time grooming her and being quiet. it was so nice to NOT be talking. 

When I took off her halter to put on her bridle she dropped her head and I gave it a little rub by her her forelock. She closed her eyes and leaned into it. So we spent a few minutes just quietly standing - her completely free and me just quietly rubbing her forehead. It was a true grounding moment. 

Then it was over and I put on her bridle and we went up to the ring. And I already felt lighter. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017


First of all let me thank everyone who commented (here and on FB), sent me messages and just reached out to offer support. It didn't matter that you didn't know what it was about and I was truly touched by all of you. Friday I had to do something was going to be incredibly awful. I felt that it was impossible for me to get through it. But I found strength that I didn't know I had and I made it through to the other side. I don't think that I could have done it at all without Ed but you were all part of it too.

Now that it's done I feel like a huge weight is lifted off of our shoulders. We spent friday hiding on the farm and went out for a nice dinner. Today we went to visit Alec and Ripley (I think I forgot to tell you that Ripley has gone home). Cynthia and Andrew came by in the afternoon and Cynthia and I went for a ride.

I wanted to focus on getting my 'whatever' attitude but without the numbness. And I actually managed to do it. I wasn't able t keep it 100% but I was pretty consistent. And it meant that we were able to school. Removing the emotion from the riding is helming me stay clear in my intent and in my signals. And funnily enough, taking away the tightness is improving my seat.

Once when we were cantering she gave a scoot and sped off a bit out of control.
Whoops I said  Where are we going? 
Carmen:  what is happening with you? Have you been drinking? 
Me: Well maybe one glass of wine before our ride...(note to self if this happens in the show don't ask 'where are we going' out loud). 

I have a lot more to do but today I managed to ride and to have fun. Even when she freaked out at the end because Irish left the ring before us- I still worked her through it and I did not let any dramatics keep me off course. I felt zero fear and that was interesting. Maybe getting through Friday helped that as well.

It will be interesting to see where this takes us.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


There's something personal going that I'm not going to blog about (maybe later but most likely not). Anyway, this personal thing involves something that will be incredibly emotionally painful and draining. And for a brief time today I thought I had a reprieve. The weight lifted off was indescribable. But then it turned out that I was wrong and it came crashing back down.

Poor Cynthia was with me- she had come to ride Irish. I think that if she hadn't been there I would have gone into the house and just hid. But she drove all this way and I couldn't send her back home because I was in some sort of crisis.

But Teresa, I hear you saying, you shouldn't ride if you are emotionally not stable.

And you are correct- it's a bad idea to ride if you are upset or angry or generally out of whack (technical term).

I know this.

And still, I said 'fuck it' and got my horse ready.

Did I mention that Carmen hadn't been ridden since Sunday?

Are you worried about me yet?

Here's the thing- when you have experience with anxiety and depression you learn to shove it all down deep and then put your foot on the trap door.

Which is what I did.

So when I mounted Carmen and she was a bit tense I simply said 'whatever'. I honestly didn't care if I came off.

I sat up and gave her rein and when she sucked back I booted her forward. When she spooked I simply put my leg on and we went.

Carmen became confused. But not in a I don't know what you want way. More like a what's up with you? way.

And she actually tried to meet me half-way. And the 3/4 of of the way. And then we were riding around and it was easy.

In the end it was a very good ride. There was no drama or big spooks. A couple little ones but nothing to write home about.

We rode around the field and I gave her a loose rein and we trotted part of the way.

But the joy of riding was missing. Which is not what I want. I know, though, that the joy will come back.

I just need to figure out how to be all 'whatever' but joyfully.

How hard could that be?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sandbox Games

I want to start mixing things up with Miss Carmen. We're using the ring- although there is still 'dramatic corners' I'm sticking to my plan and working through it.  As much as I love dressage I want to do more than that with Carmen. I do have this idea that we can play at Working Equitation:
We are a long way from this (if ever). But we can take baby steps. I now have 6 poles, two jump standards, 4 cavallettis and a bridge. Time to start making use of them. So on Sunday I put some obstacles in the ring.

First:  I set up an 'L' with poles so that there were many options: ride straight through, walk the L forward, back through one branch, back through the whole L. `

Then I set up two jump standards about 10 metres apart. I put a towel on one. Options for this obstacle were: pick up the towel and carry it to the next standard, weave around the standards, do 10 m circles with the standards as the middle (either just one or a figure 8).

Cynthia and Irish joined us for the fun. The first part of the ride was just to warm up and get her listening. My plan was not to focus on just the obstacles but to incorporate them into the ride. We had our issue at troll corner but nope, not playing that game, we're just working here missy. So she soon settled into it.

And we played with the obstacles and she was completely cool with it. Even backing between the poles. I had to dismount once to straighten them because backing in a  straight line is hard, apparently. We even backed the whole L. It became obvious that this will require work.

What was interesting was how I could use these obstacles interspersed with the schooling and how this kept things fresh and different. It helped to keep her attention and minimized the drama.

After a bit I rode over and dropped the gate from her back. I've been working on this for a while. I can pick up the board and slide it forward a bit but she keeps walking and I have to drop it and come back to it. Then we added in walking out and going over the bridge with the work in the ring. This was all fresh and new for her and she wasn't sure at first what she thought about this change.

But it was fun for me and she seemed to get with the program until Irish and Cnythia left the ring. Then, all of sudden troll corner became incredibly scary and she wasn't going there. Like really wasn't going there. As I was riding this out (yes you do go there missy so get your arse up there) my brain was making connections that had only been hypothesized before:

It's not about the trees or the grass or the leaves. It's about feeling stressed in the work and the trees are the excuse. 

Not like 'the dog ate my homework' excuse- I think she gets tight and then things set her off. Like trees blowing. However, I am much better at riding this out and realizing that the tree was not the issue but Irish leaving was enabled me to tackle it better. Instead of focussing on the trees in troll corner I focussed on keeping her working under me no matter whether he was in the ring or not. We went back and forth past the open gate and I ignored it. Cynthia was great about going in and out and Irish didn't care one way or the other.
this is us going through troll corner at our lesson

Once I had her back with we called it a day and headed out to hack around the field. She was relaxed and I was able to ride her with a loose (not free) rein. Which is good- I want her to associate the hacking with relaxation.

Heaven knows we don't need more excitement in our lives.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Friday's Lesson- Lateral Work

I had arranged a lesson with Shanea on Friday. I meant to be up the ring warming up before she came but we had a mix up in the time so I was tacking up when she arrived.  I had brought out my tests from my show for her to review so she read those while I finished getting ready.

It was a beautiful spring day- sunny with a light breeze. Carmen was being quite spooky on the approach to troll corner as the bushes were fluttering in the breeze.  The goal was to get her to ride forward when I ask. Which is something easier said then done. I am getting better at riding her forward and not being tense. But of course I am tense at times - which doesn't mean I don't know that I"m not supposed to be. To honest at this point it's not about being afraid but frustration at times. Again- don't lecture me that frustration has no place in the saddle. I know that too. But being human it will creep in at times.

I realize that I'm making this about frustration when it wasn't really. There were moments. Shanea wanted me to work on free walk and we walked across the diagonal and I tried to give her a long rein but I could feel her getting tighter and her head came up with her neck locked. Shanea asked me to drop the rein and I said 'no'. I don't usually say 'no' to someone coaching me but I wasn't feeling safe in the moment and was not dropping the rein. I don't care if she bolts forward but she's far more likely to drop her shoulder and spin sideways and I didn't want to eat the dirt.

Again, I realize that it's all sounding negative. But it really was a good lesson. We worked on using shoulder fore to keep Carmen focussed and on the aids and not on what she wanted to focus on. For me we're making real progress in getting her to listen even when she thinks she shouldn't.

Shanea took some photos on my phone and here are the good and bad.

Here we are with Carmen being clearly behind the leg. You can see her retracted neck and her hind legs out behind her. I'm sure my leaning forward is not helping. Not tipping forward when she gets tight is a work in progress with me and one that still requires conscious thought. I have the inside rein against the neck so she doesn't duck in (which she really wanted to do). I don't know if this was just before one of her spooks inward but it pretty clearly telegraphs how we look right before that happens.

About 1 minute later and much better. We're in a shoulder fore and she's moving forward. Her hind leg is reaching under her. Her neck is still a bit short but she's reaching for the bit so I'll take it.  The struggle is if I give the inside rein she will turn her head and look at what she wants rather then carry it forward. But as we worked it got better and softer and easier.
 It was an interesting exercise: come out of the corner in shoulder fore, right that for a few strides,  straighten her for a few strides and then ask again. It was much harder at the walk then the trot. Most likely because the forward momentum in trot helps and at the walk there's more time to think about things.  I could feel how this exercise helped her to relax and shift her focus to me rather then other things. It's not a new exercise for me - Karen uses it as well for much the same purpose.

I like this photo. I will be much happier with myself when I let the rein out a bit. It feels like a good length but I think I could give her more. Her weight could be more back on her hind legs but frankly, I would have been thrilled with this photo not so long ago.

 Here we go: relaxing into the work and getting our heads in the game.

I love this one. I think I'm even smiling.

We finished the lesson working on leg yields. It was fun to do. No video (I'll try for next time). Our work on this has changed from 'just go sideways' to controlling where the haunches and shoulders are. She's become much more adjustable it the moment and it's really to feel how a shift here and there and have her adjust in response. 

 Not bad- she's reaching and her hind legs are not too far behind.
 Totally over bent (cut off my inside hand) and so unable to carry herself correctly
But I love this one. 

Overall it was great lesson with lots of things coming together. I was quite happy with it and I've been really enjoying my rides on Carmen. I know that sounds contradictory to what I wrote above but I really am having fun. The times I'm not are now the exception instead of the rule. 

Which is great because we've another show coming up in a couple weeks. 

I can't wait. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Well That's Better

Tuesday was too freaking hot and humid to ride. I decided instead to paint some more poles and try to not drip sweat all over them. 

shortly after this photo it rained. Of course it did- paint AND laundry?
I pretty much cursed myself. 
Wedsnesday was much cooler and a better day to ride. Cynthia joined me after supper. I walked Carmen up to the ring and mounted. Immediately I began to walk her all over the ring. She was a completely different horse this day. Soft and listening rather than stiff and pissy. We worked on changes in bend and transitions. Her leg yields were soft and flowed nicely. She looked at a few things but nother major. I was giving her a walk break walking beside Cynthia and I said "Look at this mare- completely relaxed and happy. This is NOT the mare I rode on monday"

Right then she gave a littel 'eek!' and scooted a few feet sideways. I laughed 'there she is!' And I then put her back on the rail and back to work. (Carmen: it's no fun if you're laughing at me'). 

I began to ask her to half-halt and bring her hind legs under rather then string out. I worked on getting her trot and walk shorter and longer. Not by a lot but she responded off my seat. I then asked her to canter and once we had that going nicely I asked her to shorten it and then let it out. I could feel her figuring out how to shift her weight back rather then string out in the canter stride. And shd didn't break. I asked her to counter canter a shallow loop- no problem. Down the short side I asked her to shorten and then let her out down the long side. I could feel her legnthen (just a wee bit but sitll!) and I gave her a tone of praise. We even practiced a canter sepertine and it didn't suck. 

I was so happy with her and I'm thinking she felt the same. Cynthia dropped the gate and we rode over the bridge and down to the barn. I wanted to hack out but the blackflies became really bad so it seemd better to end at the barn and go have a glass of wine (priorities you know). 

It seems to me that that ride I had on Monday, although hard, was an important lesson for both of us. I need to keep my expectations of Carmen even when she's not sure she wants to play the game. 

Carmen: You know if didn't have so many dogs you'd be able to be faster with my night snack instead of checking on those puppies so much
Me: You're right. If I didn't have the puppy I could probably ride you EVERY DAY. 
Carmen: Neiver mind. 

What do you mean 'not have me'? I htought you loved me!
Of course I do- you are the best of puppies. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Follow My Lead

I came home from work to 36 degree temperatures! I wisely decided to wait until after supper to ride. By then it was a cool 31 degrees and humid. The horses were sleepy in their stalls but Carmen gave a nicker when I came in. I spent some time braiding her mane to help her stay cool and then we headed up to the ring.

We started off fairly mellow with the usual alerting around troll corner. But I wasn't worried and we went to work. Slowly Carmen became more tense even though I was not (I swear on a stack of horseman's manuals!). I could hear small creatures in the brush and I'm suspecting that some dear were circling (they bed down in the tall grass by the ring. What started as a plan for a quiet, short ride quickly morphed into a lesson on listening.

I no longer work on getting Carmen to be okay in spots of the ring. Instead I work on schooling and where is not relevant. It's like a dance where both partners want to lead. That never works well - in dancing or in riding. 

I'm fascinated by how I don't get upset or scared by shenanigans. I guess that is the lesson that Carmen is teaching me. I found myself tonight staying focussed on the plan and I didn't let any mare tantrums deter me from the exercises. If we were working on bend on a 10 metre circle I insisted that we ride the 10 m circle with bend and not speeding up. This is new for us. I have let shenanigans interfere in the past so I'm not surprised that my drawing the line on this leads to some resistance. Resistance is not bolting (yay), more like if I ask her to circle and she ignores my bending aids, if I tapped behind my leg with the whip or gave a kick she would spin away and be all offended. I simply put her back on the circle and carried on, despite the drama.

The sequence of drama with Carmen often goes like this:

I think scary things are over there we should avoid at all costs.
I am NOT going there!
Okay, I will go in the general vicinity
Fine! We will go there but I will be bent to the outside and ready to flee
Stop asking me to bend or I will FREAK OUT. I'm warning you
Okay we bend going through there but I will keep an eye cocked and go as fast as possible
Okay, I am going slow. Are you happy with how you are crushing my spirit?
Hey, they is easy, I don't understand what all the fuss is about.

I rode much longer then I planned but I wanted to finish with her walking slowly around the ring- not rushing. I realized that I was holding her in the pace I wanted but that is not a good plan for the long run. So I asked her to slow and relaxed my hold. If she sped up I asked again and upped the strength of my aids until she slowed and then relaxed again. Carmen needs to be in self-carriage and she cannot do that if I hold her. I have no idea how many times I circled the ring. I was starting to worry if I was going to be late for work tomorrow. Finally she gave me what I wanted- a slow walk and didn't speed up.

Life with Carmen will never be boring but there was also some very good work in our session tonight as well. The leg yields were excellent and she's starting to adjust her bend with the softest of aids- when she choose to. The trick is to convince her to let me lead.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Best of Weekends

The warmer summer weather appears to be arriving. Since it is being so lovely I will forgive it for being late. This weekend is also Ed's annual golf trip. Every year he and a bunch of his friends go to Prince Edward Island for 5 days of golf and food and probably beer.

This year I invited Karen to come with her stallion for a 'horse weekend'. She checked her calendar and decided it was doable. She also brought her husband, Jim with her. I was happy to have them both and spent friday getting things ready. And by things I mean vacuuming and begging the dogs to not shed for 24 hours, checking that the toilets were clean (and then cleaning said toilets) and running to grocery story and throwing some steaks,  potatoes and ice cream in the cart. I baked two blueberry pies- one for a fund-raising supper and one for us.

Oh and I also dropped Ripley off at the vet's to be spayed. She did well with the surgery and is not ramming her cone into everything around the house. The horses snorted a bit at the mobile satellite dish running around the barn but have decided that I've clearly lost all sense and they should just roll with things.

After torrential rain on Friday, Saturday dawned clear and sunny. I quickly dragged the ring and go the stalls ready. Karen, Kalimo and Jim rolled up around noon closely followed by Cynthia.  After a bit of puppy chaos and many cries of  'ouch' as we were pummelled with Ripley's cone we settled down for lunch and then the really important stuff of riding!

Carmen and I went first and Karen gave me a little lesson. It was great- Carmen was being all snotty about troll corner and Karen agreed with my approach which was- we are going there so deal with it. In between the snotty bits we had some lovely work where she finally softened over her back and decided to play the game with me. We were trotting down the long side in a haunches in when Karen called 'and now half-pass to the center line'. 
"um what? I said
'you can do it- give it a try. 
So we did. It wasn't anything to write home about except that oh my god I am half-passing my horse and she's trying to do it, look at us DOING THE THING'. I tried a few more times and it got better.

The neat thing about Carmen is that the lateral work is easy for her when she's relaxed. I was happy with my ride and Karen complimented me on my seat and that's it's improving. One funny incident- I cantering Carmen down the long side and she was trying to fall in toward the center, so I put my leg on and asked her move back out. Which she did, but too far and my foot hit a post and got knocked out of the stirrup. Which made Carmen spook and jump so I lost the other stirrup. At this point my knees clamped on and I started asking her to come back to me. I also tried telling my knees to let go and it would be better for getting her under control but they yelled 'screw you, we want to live!'.  But we got everything back under control and went back to work.

Cynthia had a lesson on Irish and then I tacked up Carmen again. She gave me a bit of the hairy eyeball but we had a plan. See, Karen and Kalimo were joining us in the ring because Karen and I have this idea that we could do a Pas de Deux Tango. It's for a fun costume class in October and is also a fundraiser. The first part was to see if they could work close together without issues. To be honest we weren't expecting any but it was good to check. We started at opposite sides of the ring and then worked closer.

Carmen did not care that there was a stallion in the ring with her. She was more fixated on the certain death lurking outside the ring. It was a bit of a hassle but once Karen and I started trying out different moves and seeing how they worked we all forgot about the wind and started to have fun. Carmen and Kalimo have different striding so t that was fun to work out. However, since it's a 'mood' piece we're not too worried about matching the footfalls.

I put Carmen away and then came back up to the ring to help Karen work on her piaffe. That was fun to do and she had some lovely steps. By the time we were done we were all very tired. We fed the horses and it was time for us to eat. Unfortunately, Cynthia had to go home. Next time I may just take her car keys and make her stay.

And here's the best part:
Jim cooked.

I know, right? My house guest made us dinner!

You see, Jim is a master chef and my two course meal of steak, potatoes and pie were not sufficient. So he took over. I told him to rummage through my kitchen and do whatever he wanted.

And that is how, after our ride, Karen and I sat on the deck sipping cold drinks while Jim brought out some tortilla chips and salsa. Followed by roasted red peppers stuffed with tuna and cream cheese, an asparagus egg dish (can't remember what it's called) and then BBQ steak and potatoes. Fortunately my pie was not terrible -although ice cream fixes everything.

The next morning Jim then made breakfast. Seriously. I have never really wanted to 'steal' another woman's husband before but honestly...Not that I want to trade in Ed. But now it looks like I want' two husbands and it's getting weird so I'll stop now.

Karen and I rode early before the heat. Carmen was completely different then the day before- mellow and easy. We worked out a few more moves and some played really well. Others not so much but it was fun to stop and chat it out and try again. There was one moment when were trying this canter pattern and forgot who was inside and who was outside and the horses were like 'oh oh, where are we going? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WOMAN WE'RE GOING TO CRASH' But no one crashed and we figured it out. The horses may have rolled their eyes though....

It was a busy and exhausting weekend. But so much fun! It's wonderful to have fun while riding. I don't have a lot of friends but those I do have are amazing. Spending time with them is what makes life richer.

So what did you do this weekend?

not from this weekend. I really need some new photos!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Firm But Fair

Once the poles were dry I moved them up to outside of the ring. We had saved some rubber pallets and I grabbed one to hold them- it worked perfectly.

The first time I rode Carmen I made sure that she saw the poles and had a chance to inspect them. However, she decided that they were a whole other kettle of fish once I was mounted.

In fact she decided that going anywhere near them was not in her job description. In the past I would have been discouraged that, yet again, something was interfering with my training. Instead, I realized that this was an opportunity: given that at the show she was resistant to going to certain places (like anywhere near the evil sunbeam) this was my change to practice getting by such things in a safe location. So we did.

It's also easier to be brave when Cynthia and Irish are in the ring with us.

Princess was not so happy about it but I refused to let myself get drawn into the drama so we were able to work through it. There's no magic- just understanding and persistence.

from a lesson early in May. Note: none of the photos are from that ride)

I don't make her confront the poles but I don't shy away either. But she's starting to realize that I will persist the same as I do on the ground and that my expectations are the same. Carmen started to be calmer and then it started to rain.

Heres's a good time to point out that Carmen used to freak out being ridden in the rain. Whether it was the rain hitting her delicate little booty or the sound of the rain on the leaves and trees or some combination I do not know. But to be honest I had avoided riding in the rain.

But not this time. This time I decided to keep going. It wasn't a cold rain and it wasn't blowing like crazy. Carmen again had her doubts. Especially going by the trees. But I didn't have any doubts and we worked through it. I was quite pleased with her.

The next day when I mounted up we walked around the rail and she walked without hesitation by the poles. Until we got beside them. It was like she suddenly realized 'oh right- those evil things'. She cocked her head at them and slowly (probably so I wouldn't notice) walked 2 steps sideways and then halted, quite pleased with herself. I couldn't help but laugh at her. I gave her a pat and that was it for the poles.

She was so calm and collected through the whole ride. I finished with working on the stretchy trot circle. The first time she didn't stretch too much.  But as I repeated the exercise she seemed to suddenly understand what was asked and stretched out beautifully. I halted her, gave her lots of praise and hopped off.

Carmen will probably always be a bit reactive. She's teaching me to be not-reactive but not back away. And she's responding to the discipline. It reminds me of one of the many things that Royce taught me: that you have to be firm and clear. Horses, he told me, don't mind if you're firm as long as it's fair'.

It appears that Carmen agrees with him.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Family Reunion and Puppy Mayhem

If you follow me on FB then you've probably already seen the photos. If you recall when Guinness arrived he travelled with his brother. Judy and I connected to coordinate the pick up and we've stayed in touch. Saturday she let me know that she and her family were coming to my town to pick up a new vehicle and could we get the brothers together. That sounded like a great idea so we did.

I think I would have recognized Lando (G's brother) anywhere- they have very similar markings. Guinness is more sturdy and Lando more refined. I swear that they recognized each other and they were off. There was a bit of worry because Lando ran into the field and the horses were charging around. First of all, you know my history of dogs chasing my horses. Second of all I am fairly sure that Carmen would try to kill any dog that threatened her. I didn't want Lando to get hurt. Guinness stayed well back- he has a healthy respect for the horses.

After that it was pretty much puppy mayhem. I had Amanda (my daughter) keep Ripley and d'Arcy in the house until the two boys had sorted themselves and then let her out. She was not sure what to make of the interloper. After a while they did wrestle and Ripley did her usual flip and Lando found himself on his back. Guinness just lays down when she comes- there's no beating her in wrestling. There was the occasional deeper growl but generally all went well. We did what any proud parents do- we compared our children and agreed that we each got the best puppy.

But really, let me just show some photos:
Guinness has not been around children before- I was impressed with how good he was

hey G- you could share that frisbee (Guinness in front)

Lando on the left, Guinness on the right

Lando: Ha! I got the frisbee and it's now mine

so this is a farm? I like it! 

I was going to crop this but love the story instead- it takes 3 people and
a border collie to get these two quiet enough for a photo (for about 3 secs).
Guiness is in front
The three young children seemed to enjoy running around. The girls both wanted horse shoes so I gave them some to take home. They had also brought a brush and really wanted to groom a horse. Like really. Once the dogs had played enough, Amanda put ours in the house and Lando went into the car. I brought Irish in and he did his favourite job of being 'my little pony' for two little girls who were thrilled to give him brushes and pats and carrots.
Irish takes this role of horse ambassador very seriously.
(yes I know his boots are mismatched. I need to get to the store)
So all in all a great time was had by all. Guinness had a hard nap after his brother left. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Throwing in the Towel: One Year Later

Today is the anniversary of a turning point with Carmen. Feel free to read if you like but in sum I realized that Carmen was becoming dangerous for me to ride and I was done. Done with all of it. I called in a trainer and if it didn't work out I was going to sell her. My rant to Ed was:
I've put in fucking hours and hours. I've worked, taken lessons, worked some more and we're still at the same fucking place we were last year. I'm done. I want to show. I want to ride and not worry that I'll be dumped. I want to have some fun AND I WANT STEELE BACK. I'm tired of mourning him and my mother and dealing with shit. 

It's been quite the year. There are numerous posts about the ups and downs we experienced. I had to park my ego at the gate and listen to other perspectives. I had to be brave and ride even when I didn't want to. I did hours and hours of ground work.

And where are we now?

Carmen ground ties. She self-loads into the trailer and she whoas when I ask her to. She understands what I'm asking her for and it doesn't freak her out anymore.

And she's still dramatic. And will test me. But I'm not as worried about it anymore.

Today I rode her after the farrier left. The wind picked up and was gusty. I figured it would keep the bugs away. I had just finished tacking her up when I heard rain on the roof.
Me: Is that rain? 
Carmen:  Yes. Too bad. You will have to untack me. And I was so looking forward to it too. 
Me: It looks like it's just over the barn and no where else.....
Carmen:  and I requested that it be larger...
Me: Pardon? 
Carmen:  Oh, nothing I was just talking to myself.  Now where were we? Oh yes, you were about to untack me and turn me back out. 
Me: I think that it will be fine. Let's risk it. 
Carmen:  Darn it. 

 The leaves are now in and the grass is tall around the ring. This means that there are lots of things that move and potentially spooky. And she was. Spooky that is.

But this time instead of me feeling helpless to work through it and scared that I would be hurt I just rode her through it. I am refusing to avoid any part of the ring and I am sticking to the plan. I am better (not perfect) at not buying into worrying about the same things that she is. So if she's all 'ohmygod what is hiding in the grass?! We're all going to die" I refuse to worry about the grass too (as in ohmygod she's going to freak when we go by that grass!"). Instead I focus on what I was asking
Hey, we're going into the corner and you need to be bent around my inside leg, not gawking out of the ring".

I'm not afraid to make my point either. I ask lightly but will use as strong an aid as required to make my point.  And then let go. I don't get upset - although I might get momentarily flustered. The ring is the ring and she has to work in there. It's not about making her tired or bullying.

So my ride today was full of energy and some spooks (but no bolts) and we finished on a good note. And no one died.

And no towels were thrown.

If we ride here we can ride anywhere

Monday, May 29, 2017

Forward Ho!

Sunday dawned as yet another cold, misty day. I mean seriously mother nature- it's almost June could you warm up already? I had a list of chores I wanted to get done. Starting with planting the two willows. As I was digging the holes in the wet dirt I was longing for a back hoe attachment for the tractor. but in the meantime I figured it was exercise.

I had a lesson booked with Shanea for 1:25 (I know, oddly specific, right?). I got on Carmen about 15 minutes before she arrived. Right as I was tacking up the sun came out so I grabbed my black fly hood. Cynthia bought them at Lee Valley and they are great- they fit right over the helmet and keep them from swarming. Shanea arrived and teased me about the hood. In about 5 minutes she headed down to the tack room to borrow Cynthia's. While she was gone something spooked Carmen in the grass beside the ring and she did a mini-bolt. Because I had her bent around my inside leg I was able to go with her. I just pushed her forward into canter and rode it out. It's funny- I get the adrenalin surge but not the fear anymore. Not that I don't tighten but it's not fear it's me trying to prepare.

Anyway the lesson was all about bending and going forward. I finally was able to do truly understand how to ride a figure 8 properly. Which seems foolish but there you have it. Our struggle is about controlling the forward. In some ways it's a happy problem. Remember when Carmen used to resist going forward and would throw in her haunches, pin her ears and just be pissy? Yeah, me too.

Now I have a horse that wants to go forward. But it can get over the top and then she loses balance. Especially at the canter and T-C or C-T transitions. I had to really figure out my seat to half-halt her instead of using the rein. We got there and things seemed to fall into place.

here I am riding in my 'veil' but it really works!
Admit it- you are jealous....

All in all it was good lesson. I was happy with how we worked together and dealt with whatever was in the grass (there was something there - I could hear it too). Shanea remarked that Carmen seemed to be enjoying the work now. I have to agree. It's not something that she dreads or feels negative about. I may not be the best rider in the world (understatement of the year) and I've had a TON of help but I feel proud when I see how she enjoys coming to work. Even if she makes me work for it. 

All in all it was good lesson. I was happy with how we worked together and dealt with whatever was in the grass (there was something there - I could hear it too). Shanea remarked that Carmen seemed to be enjoying the work now. I have to agree. It's not something that she dreads or feels negative about. I may not be the best rider in the world (understatement of the year) and I've had a TON of help but I feel proud when I see how she enjoys coming to work.  Even if she makes me work for it. 

After my ride I put the finishing touches on some poles that Ed had got for me. Last week I painted them white and yesterday I painted the stripes. I need some more but this will be a good start. 

they look good - as long as you don't look too closely. 
I'm not sure that I can have too many like that but all in all it was a good day. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Catching My Breath

After Friday's rest I was ready to tackle the weekend. I was glad that I had taken the time to let my batteries recharge because we had some farm chores to do. Fortunately my daughter, Amanda, came out to help by puppy sitting. Otherwise the weekend would have been a lot harder.

Saturday morning I dragged the ring and set up trot poles. After walking the dogs and my normal barn chores I tacked up Carmen to ride. The weather was cool and it started to drizzle but I shrugged and carried on. As expected Carmen was energized and a bit spooky. But it didn't seem to be fear to me - it felt more like she didn't know how to use her energy so she used it by spazzing. I put her up to a canter and she immediately began to blow and relax.

It wasn't an 'easy' ride but it was one where I had a chance to put all my tools to work. With the rain she was not happy- she doesn't like the noise I think. What I was really struggling with was not tensing when she got very tight and tense. After a few flails I realized that I had to focus on not holding my breath. I began to take in deep breaths every time she began to speed and get fast. I actually couldn't attend to other things or worry whether my seat was following or my hands were perfect. I just breathed.

It's amazing how hard riding and breathing can be. But we got there and finished on a good note. I rode for about an hour and we did a lot of trotting and cantering. But she wasn't even sweaty.

Mare is getting fit. Her servant better step up her game
 After my ride Ed and I got the tractor and utility trailer set up. We wanted to clean out some garbage dumps we had found in the woods. I don't understand why people in the past just dumped stuff in the woods but they do. We filled 12 garbage bags and had a pile of metal and tires. Here are some snippets of conversation:
Ed: I found a shoe. I really hope that there's no foot in it. 
Me:  ummm
Ed:  I think I watch too much TV
But we both checked the shoe carefully before picking it up. 

Ed: OW!
Me: Are you okay? 
Broken Glass
Did you cut yourself?
You need to go to the house and wash it out right now. 
It'll be okay
No. You need to wash it so you don't get an infection from bacteria on the glass
It could turn septic. 
What's the worst that could happen? 
You could lose your hand. 
 I could learn to get by with one hand. 
You should know that I am NOT helping you to pee. 
I'm sure I can manage it with one hand

After we went to the nursery and bought two weeping willow trees. There's a spot that gets wet and swampy and I wanted to plant something that would drink up a lot of water.  

That night we went out to dinner with friends and I ordered the steak and scallops special. I was STARVING.  I had a good sleep that night. Which was good because there was more stuff to do on Sunday....

Friday, May 26, 2017

Rain Delay

I had planned originally to give Carmen Monday off but the weather was too nice. Cynthia joined me and we had a nice ride. Carmen was tuned in and we were able to practice our learnings from the clinic. Tuesday it rained so I let her rest but Wednesday was lovely so Cynthia joined us again.
someone doesn't care about the rain, he has toys and
is ready to go

Carmen was more spooky and energized. Cynthia observed that a day off is not always a good thing for Carmen. She is right- Carmen is a horse that gets better the more she is worked. But I cannot ride her every day so we will adjust our training accordingly. Also, missy is becoming quite fit and is willing to trot and canter for a long time without getting out of breath.

It wasn't a bad ride by any standards. I had to be a bit more firm in her spooky spots because there is no way that I'm going backwards. I refuse to avoid any parts of the ring. The biggest struggle was not in getting her to Troll Corner but to not rush. I was walking her out and it was becoming an issue. I finally ended up doing a 'wedding march': walk, stop, walk,stop until she finally decided that she should actually walk slowly. I've introduced a wee bit of counter canter- just the most shallow of loops. She finds it easy- until she stiffens worrying about the corner- then she loses her balance and breaks to trot. I don't worry about it- it will come.

I had booked a lesson for Thursday. Next week is not looking good for riding with work commitments. I had Carmen up in the ring doing some lunging and groundwork when it started to rain. It didn't look like a sprinkle so I quickly called Shanea and she said that it was pouring where she was so we decided to rebook. So it was a short session but still a good one.

Today was my day off and also a day of torrential rain. To be honest I was okay with it. I was feeling a little under the weather and I believe that my body is telling me to slow down. I can get a bit intense and my body will shut me down if I don't listen to it. So I spent the day puttering and reading. I think I needed it.

I can return to work refreshed and ready to get back in the saddle.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dancing on Sunshine

Over the last four weekends Carmen and I have been away three times. Each time we have gotten better. This weekend was a clinic with Johanna Beattie Batista.  We travelled on Friday and had lessons Saturday and Sunday.

I waffled about a lesson on Friday but I was concerned that it would be all about Carmen's reactivity so I decided to use Friday to school her in the ring. 

I needn't have worried. She was actually mellow and relaxed getting ready and was very very good in the ring. There's a lot to look at both in and out of the ring. Inside there are stalls on one side holding equipment for ring maintenance and for therapeutic riding. Outside there's a vast expanse with trees, grass, horses, a river and golfers. It's not that she was 'fine' with all of it. She wasn't. But she went along with me saying that it was fine and we were able to actually work all over the ring with a few minor spooks. 

After our ride she and I explored

After a pleasant evening of pizza and chatter I went to my friend's place to stay and we had a great chat. I fell asleep almost immediately. My lesson was at noon so my morning was beyond civilized for a horse event. Karen fed Carmen so I could relax over coffee and then head to the barn. Carmen was happy to see me.

The wind was wild all weekend. Like gale-force winds. I couldn't lunge her outside to warm up so I decided that we would have to do it in the lesson.

Johanna wanted to know my goals and I told her that it was to work on Carmen stretching to the bit. She watched me ride and then immediately stopped me to fix my seat. It turns out that I wasn't letting my pelvis move correctly with the movement: forward and neutral. Instead I was moving it neutral and back. This was preventing Carmen from using her back correctly. I practised it at the halt and then we walked off. 

Carmen immediately became calm in the bit and then began to stretch to it. 

see how she's retracted in the neck and tight through the back? 
Can you see the difference in this one? He's stretching forward and taking a gentle contact

Johanna also taught me to not hold my elbows at my side but just in front of the vertical. This makes it easier to follow the movement with my shoulders. And it really did make it easier. But it was hard to remember since I've spent so much time being instructed to keep my elbows at my side.  I like Johanna's teaching style. She stops you to explain something then tells you to go and experiment with it. As you do that she will call instructions to tweak it or comment if you are doing it right. It's very specific feedback and without a lot of extra verbiage. Just the way I like it. 

I have to say that I had the best walk and trot work with Carmen. She felt truly forward and as light as a feather. In fact it was hard for us to control her power. It was like I had unlocked her and then it was too much for her to handle. When I asked her to canter it was immediate and forward and, wow. just wow. 

It was just the right lesson at just the right time. Through all of it Carmen was tuned in and attentive. I may or may not have laughed and smiled with delight when we nailed our transitions. 

Day 2 was the same with some more work on things like bend. I realized that when I ask her to bend she speeds up. I  had been letting her go fast and then try to get the bend. That was wrong. I needed to slow her down and get the bend. When I did that it was much easier for both of us to travel correctly. It was interesting because the wind was even worse than the day before and it was colder. Carmen was more worried about the sound of the wind hitting the arena (I don't blame her) but as we worked she tuned in and we both forgot about it. 

The exercise was simple- but doing it correctly required focus, timing and using my body properly. I left the clinic with just the homework I was looking for and knowing that I had to key to unlock her acceptance of contact. There's more photos and probably more to write about that will find it's way into the blog. But the photos speak for themselves. 

Someone asked me what happened to Carmen. I said that she was becoming the horse that was always underneath all the insecurity and reactivity. 

Now we can start dancing. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Going to the Dogs

I will have a clinic update with photos, I promise.

But not tonight. (spoiler alert it was awesome).

I wanted to give you a quick update on some other, non-equine events.

My son is away for work and we are looking after his puppy, Ripley. She is the same age as Guinness.

I'm not gonna lie- adjusting to having TWO puppies was not easy.
Guinness: Help! She's killing me. 
Ripley: RAWR
Me: sigh
The first week drove us nutty. While I was dealing with one the other would get into trouble. I was getting really frustrated- I had arranged my life around work, farm chores, training Carmen and training Guinness. I didn't know how to fit her into my routines. Ed and I learned to work together. After one day I looked at him said "Thank god we didn't have twins".  He looked at me in horror at the very thought.

Things are better now- they are used to each other and much less wrestling is happening in the house. Ripley is a sweet puppy but she is energetic and sleeps much less than Guinness. She loves to follow us around the house and watch what we're doing.

We have no idea what her breeding is. I am sure that there is some hound in there based on some features, plus she 'roos'. If you have any guesses let me know. I'm thinking of getting some DNA testing while she's here.

from the front

side view
Guinness is growing up to be a very solid dog. He needs lots of sleep but he's growing a ton. He still is sweet and smart. I have us signed up for Level 1 obedience. It should be interesting. 

d'Arcy is handling it well, although the cats think we've lost our minds. He's taking on the role of old, experienced dog who is not going to take any guff from these young whippersnappers.

I may or may not be counting the days until my son returns. In the meantime I am learning to enjoy life with two puppies. Mostly. 

Guinness- I got the stick
Ripley: no, you're doing it wrong. Let me carry it.
Let go!
No, you let go! 
Me: sigh

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Please Ma'am- I Want Some More

Since Carmen and I have come home our rides are going so well.  The last two ones I walked her up and hopped on. I did not need to lunge or work her 'through' anything.

I think we have an understanding of each other. I am fine with her worrying but the listening is non-negotiable. She is still not above spooking when she feels that she has done enough work. I'm doing the 'spooking leads to more work' approach. I have confident that I know the difference between a genuine 'EEEK' vs a 'eek I cannot possibly work anymore'.

But now that I'm not spending 40 minutes working on getting her attention I need to figure out what do now. I realized that yesterday I was feeling a bit frustrated because our transitions were not 'through' enough for me.

I then realized that 2 weeks ago I was trying to get her to steer reliably.

Turns out I want more. I'm feeling much more relaxed with her even when she's being a bit tense or spooky. And when she does spook (which is now much rarer) it doesn't take much to get us back. Our canter work is much straighter too.

And she's happier. Not always and sometimes she gets a wee bit cranky. But it's not really serious and I try to listen to her. It's feeling like a partnership.

So the timing is great for the clinic I'm in this weekend. It's with Johanna and I am hoping that she can give us some exercises and homework. Last year we could only walk - turned out to be saddle fit.  Then I can start back again with Shanea- we've been having some scheduling difficulties.

Dressage- it sucks you in and makes you want more and more. 
I'd say wish us luck but I really mean wish us a great learning experience.