dancing horses

dancing horses

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Contradictions of Carmen

Heads up: this post is going to ramble a bit. It feels like a good time to summarize where Carmen and I are right now and my musings might help me to get some clearer understanding.

 October continues to be a spooky month for Carmen. After a stretch of pretty calm rides I am not sure what has changed. Perhaps her last heat of the year? Or the (theoretically) cooler weather? I feel like I am at a point that I can seperate out behaviour from training and I don't think that it's the weather. She is feeling more twitchy in general which makes me think 'heat'. I may explore using Regumate next year to see if it helps.

Essentially Carmen understands what is being asked of her and if she doesn't understand she will look for the answer. But if it doesn't come soon she will get pissed off and I need to regroup. I have grown to appreciate what riding such a reactive horse has taught me. Irish taught me to sit a buck and Carmen is teaching me to sit a leap. Carmen's bucks are small little things that make me giggle. Her leaps though- those are athletic and strong. Sometimes it feels like I'm being hit by a bus. I have learned that when she tenses to sit up and back and be bold. Not tight and perched like I want to do. I still do the perching thing but now I catch it sooner and sit back. It makes an amazing difference.

My rides on both Saturday and Sunday were 'interesting'. Saturday was with Cynthia and this time she was spooky at the opposite corner to Friday. Sunday I was by myself and the corner had flipped back to K. Sunday was also a foggy day and I noticed that as soon as I got on she was pretty sure that going to the far side of the ring (at A) was a big 'nope'. I don't accept her 'nopes' anymore because in Carmen's world it seems that if I avoid a place it becomes a spot that we never go because that's where bad things happen'.   This is where walking the line between and insisting and not fighting come into play.

Carmen: Irish can you tell if she has a halter or a carrot?
Irish: You are on your own.

After the first couple times by 'A' a squirrel started cursing in the woods and she gave a big leap forward and tried to run away. I know that if I shut down the bolting early I can keep a lid on it. It's like if it works the first couple times then it's an option for the rest of the ride. This time I managed to get her stopped in about 2 strides (go me!). As I'm bringing her back to me I am also speaking to her: it's a squirrel Carmen. My god, it weighs less than a pound. Get a grip. 

 And one point on Sunday after we'd gone past A for about the 20th time she pitched a real fit and tried to run off. I find that this is where I have to be clear about the ask and not get frustrated. In this case I was asking her to spiral down from a 20 m circle to 10 and then leg yield back. An exercise well within her repertoire and one that I find helpful to focus her. This time when we hit the 10 metres she was determined to look at the woods and had a tantrum when I said no. The tricky part is to release as soon as I get what I want and not hang on.  We then picked up a canter and I asked her to lengthen and shorten her stride going to the right while maintaining straightness. I wasn't expecting much - which was good because I didn't get much. That wasn't the point- the point was to say 'hey focus on this please'  And it worked. After that she settled quite a bit.

nope, don't wanna go there. 

What would never have occurred to me is that I could have feisty rides on Carmen and still decide to drop the gate and go for a hack. Saturday was simpler because I had Irish and Cynthia as back up. Cynthia had a jacket hung on a standard outside of the ring and that had caused some issues for Carmen. After I dropped the gate I walked up to the jacket, picked it up and delivered it to Cynthia in the ring. Going out with Irish she is happy to lead or follow- it doesn't matter. I was able to ride with a long rein.  We picked up a trot coming home and Irish had to canter past us (whee I am a race horse!). Carmen just asked 'Should we canter?' and when I said no, we could keep trotting she was fine to let him canter away from her.  Sunday in the woods she started a little tense but quickly relaxed and we walked out and home at a sedate pace. Even by the spider shed.

It seems strange to me that she is so much calmer when there are far more things that can 'surprise' us. My only theory is that she has had no bad experiences in the woods and the demands are so much less so she can chill. I have thought about hacking first but I think I'm going to leave it at the end for now as the 'reward'.

Carmen is starting to enjoy meeting others at the barn. A friend of Ed's brought our his grandchildren for a visit to see the horses. As always, Irish is the greeter for this but Carmen was quite intrigued. One girl just loved her and Carmen let her stroke her face and was quite tolerant of the sudden movements. I think she surprised herself.

these human foals are quite lively aren't they Irish? 
I am liking that I can reach through to her even when she's trying to shut me out. I am liking that I'm not frightened by it anymore. I like that I feel that I can honestly evaluate if I should dismount- not because of fear (although heaven knows I don't want to get hurt) but because it seems to be the smarter choice. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Friday the 13th: Lesson Recap

Yes I know.
Like, who books a lesson on Friday the 13th?

Turns out that I would. I never even thought about the date- I was only concerned about the weather and it was going to be beautiful. The night before I had thought that I would ride but I was too tired. Instead I decided to do some ground work. I took her out of her stall and right up to the ring.

But she was off. Just a wee bit, but still not right.

I checked her over and then noticed her right foot. I picked it up and saw that her shoe was twisted and partially off. She must have caught it fooling around in the pasture.


I called my farrier but I wasn't holding a lot of hope since he lives far away. He told me to remove it but I wasn't comfortable with that. But I remembered a friend who does his own horses and sent out a plea. He came the next morning to remove, straighten and reset the shoe.  I am eternally grateful to him for doing that. (note to self- see if you can learn how to do this). Even better was that Carmen did not seem the worse for having a twisted shoe.

I get on Carmen about 15-20 minutes before Shanea arrives to do a warm up. Carmen was a bit spooky at the far end of the ring (down by K). Little sparrows were flying around feasting on late fall berries.

Well I saw little sparrows. Carmen saw small winged velociraptors.

I was doing a walk leg yield when Carmen spied Shanea walking up the hill towards us. She suddenly wheeled to the left and tried to leave. I have figured out that to deal with this I need to bring her around but opposite to the way that she tried to leave.

Other then that our lesson went really really well. The goal was to get her forward and relaxed through her back so that we could get her working from behind. Not that those are completely discreet things- they are very inter related.

Shanea complimented me on my inside hand- it no longer crosses over the whither when she's tight or trying to bulge in. I thanked her and told that it still took a lot of conscious effort to not do that. Unfortunately my inside hand is still rogue in the canter- it wants to take too strong a contact. It will also do that at the trot but I'm really struggling with it at the canter.  I believe that it's a hold over from when she would gawk to the outside and then bolt. It was to try to keep her from looking out.  Which is not a bad thing but it's adding to her being crooked and not helpful.

We did a lot of work on the canter getting it forward and straight. Carmen wanted to fall to the inside down the side by the trees so Shanea had me turn her down the quarter line and leg yield her over to the rail to keep her straight. Which is why my leg was back in this photo below. Probably too far back but look at her stepping through:
see me working on keeping that left hand forward?
It's not easy. 

see- too much left hand and causing a head tilt. sigh. 
The canter is our homework to work on being straight. 

We also did some work on the stretchy trot. Getting Carmen to stretch over the back without falling on her forehand or jerking the rein from me is not easy. My task was to not let her go too far- just enough to keep her balance. It really forced me to use my seat to keep her balanced and not let her get fast. We had some really nice stretches, as well as some crappy ones. But it seemed that we were starting to figure it out. 

not bad- just a bit behind the vertical, I need to encourage her to get her nose out more
The nice thing is that I don't worry about giving her rein even when she's up. Not that she won't spook but I don't worry about it and so my seat stays relaxed and so she rarely does. 

Our trot work felt really really good over all. Shanea has me riding her forward into contact and this helps me to not pull to get the contact. The more she seems to suck back the more I urge her forward and give her a place to go. That positive ride gets her mind on me and not on whatever she's worried about. 

not a bad shoulder fore, I like how she's listening and moving softly

more push from behind (compare to below)

not quite through here- she's not so sure she wants to trot to where the birds are 'lurking'
you can see her tighten her top line and step shorter

going forward with confidence

We finished by playing with some trot lengthens. Because of my rogue inside hand I was interfering with the flow and giving her a head tilt. But still she tried.  
We did have a couple really good lengthens (for her level of training) where she coiled up with her hind quarters and then stretched out and really elongated her frame. 

It was a great lesson. As I was cooling out Shanea said 'I wish you should see your smile right now'. 
I love the trajectory we're on right now. It's so much fun. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

We're Going and We're Going to Have Fun Damnit!

Years ago, when the children were small, I made plans for us to go the beach for the day. Alec asked if he could invite a friend and I said sure. After he phoned he came and said 'Kyle* says he wants to go to the lake not the beach' (*name changed to protect the not so innocent).

I explained that we were going to the beach and that Kyle could come or not but I wasn't changing my plans. Then Amanda's friend wanted to play video games rather then go to the beach. Before I knew it I was embroiled in this discussion and getting more peeved by the minute. Finally I snapped "We are not going to the lake, we are not playing video games. We are going to the BEACH and WE ARE GOING TO HAVE FUN. Now get.in.the.car'. 

Perhaps not my best parenting moment. But once we got to the beach much fun was had and everyone was happy. 

Which really proves that mom is always right

As you know, Carmen has been a bit of a dingbat lately. So putting her on the trailer to go out for a trail ride might not have seemed like the smartest move. 

I didn't care. We were going. 

And we were going to have fun. 

As always, Carmen loaded and unloaded just fine. As I took her off of the trailer a young woman said 'oooh'. I looked up to see her looking at Carmen with unabashed admiration. 
'Do you want her?' I asked, 'Because yesterday she was FREE'. 
Everyone laughed in sympathy. Horse people, they just understand. 

I groomed Carmen before we left so all I had to do was throw on her tack. 
do not let this expression fool you- she was completely relaxed in the stall,
just not happy that I was interrupting her snack
Nancy and I headed to the trails. The fall colour is hitting it's stride and the woods were beautiful.

Add caption
Carmen started off a bit tight and tense but soon relaxed with a happy expression and a long rein. I could feel the tension that had built up between us dissipating. We walked, trotted and cantered along the trails. Nancy and I chatted lightly. We both love going into the trees. We went into a big field and walked by some houses. Carmen could have cared less about the back yards, she was too busy giving some white rocks the stink eye.

On the way back we stopped to play in the hunter ring. As soon as we entered the ring Carmen gave a big spook at some decorative flowers. She was back to the tense, tight spooky horse of yesterday. I just kept working her. There was one moment when I was cantering and then she took off towards Nancy but there was a jump in the way and I was all 'No no no! We are not jumping that!' I managed to steer her around and got her back to control.
I took this driving out- this is the ring we were playing in
As soon as we were back in the woods she gave a big sigh and relaxed.
So happy here

I shouldn't be surprised but I am. It just seems weird to me that the ring is the scary place but the woods are fine. But I am happy that we both love going in the woods.

A post shared by Teresa Alexander-Arab (@teresaalexanderarab) on

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Drama Llama Ding Dong

oh oh oh oh
I got a girl named Drama Llama, Drama Llama Ding dong
She's everything to me
Drama Llama, Drama Llama Ding dong
I'll never set her free
For she's mine, all mine

Today was the day we were having Thanksgiving dinner; the kids were coming and so was Ed's mother and sister. I had everything planned to the minute so that I could squeeze a ride in before everyone came. I was prepared for Carmen to be a bit of a idiot after yesterday but she was really mellow in the barn. 

However, up in the ring she began to ramp up again. Now, in her defence, it was very blustery and the  biting flies are fierce this year. In my defence, it's been windy lots of times and the flies, while nasty, don't seem to be a real problem when she's grazing.  However, there was this one big gust of wind and we found ourselves in a maelstrom of leaves. 

This was the final straw for her. Clearly I was crazy and she was having none of it. I spent some time trying to get her to pay attention to me and NOT let her gawk to the far field. This just pissed her off. 

Now I could totally ride this out and work through it. But I didn't have time. Instead I dismounted and headed to the barn. There I removed the stirrups from the saddle, hooked up some side reins and headed back up to do ground work. I don't normally lunge in side reins but I wanted ot make it clear that she doesn't get to look to the outside and that, yes, she CAN actually trot forward with a proper bend. I know that she's had them before and she was perfectly fine with them. They really weren't tight- they just came into play when she tried to llama or turn to the outside. 

I'm glad that I did that because it was a faster way to get her tuned in. After lunging I did some basic ground work of yielding her quarters and shoulders, leading and ground tying. Now the mare that just .could.not.horse was able to stand like a rock while I flipped the lunge whip all around her. 

And I had time to come back to the house, shower and finish cooking. 

I had been neglecting the ground work lately (bad me) because I've been enjoying the riding so much. Clearly I need to make it a priority again. 

Tomorrow we're heading off property to go for a hack in the woods. And I am not worried about it. However, I'm ready to get my not-drama-llama back. 

Hopefully by tomorrow. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017


This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada. I love having a long weekend- since I don't work on Fridays having Monday off is wonderful. The weather has been beautiful allowing me to get a lot done.

this is the view on my morning commute. Don't hate me

I am enjoying my rides on Carmen. I forgot how much I enjoy just schooling. Cynthia came out on Thursday and we had a short ride followed by a hack in the woods. Carmen led the whole way without a blip.

Saturday was warm and sunny- a perfect morning. I washed towels and hung them on the line and then went and got Carmen ready to ride. She was perfect. It was one of those rides where everything aligns and it all seems so effortless- leg yield, shoulder in, trot poles, walk-halt transitions, simple changes. We were just in sync. I dropped the gate and we headed down into the woods. She was alert but clearly happy. As we came out of the woods I asked her to trot up the hill- she dropped her head, lifted her back and power trotted up the hill. I dismounted feeling completely happy. Carmen seemed pretty happy as well.

Today was another beautiful day but I waited until the afternoon to ride. I had a lot to do so was planning on just a short ride. Carmen however, had other plans. She was spooky and tense and clearly not so in the mood. Gone was the soft and willing Carmen of yesterday. However, also gone is how this used to get me tight and tense. Instead we just worked. And worked.

Here's an example:
I had set trot poles on the center line. The plan was to trot over them to C, turn left, trot back, turn right. As soon as I started down the center line Carmen went into Llama mode, fixated on C where clearly danger was lurking. She was so fixated that she tripped over the poles because she wasn't watching her feet and then got pissed over the whole thing. I asked her to halt at C facing the letter and we had a five minute discussion that no, I did not mean sideways. I then stepped the exercise down a bit- doing a figure 8 each time approaching C and changing directions. First at a walk, then a trot. Then we did the poles which she executed perfectly.

She did a bolt when we were doing a shoulder in and as I rode it I found myself rolling my eyes. In the end our ride was 90 minutes. Which is a big difference from the 30 minutes I had planned. But I wasn't getting off until she was listening. I refused to believe that she was scared because this was home and yesterday C was fine. Today she just had a bee in her bonnet.

After I gave her a bath. I figured it was my last opportunity. She was completely relaxed and I dropped the lead line while I soaped her up and then hosed her off.

Before I would really bummed and think that it meant that nothing had changed. Instead, I realize that there are just bad rides. It's not about whether a ride is bad or good. It's about whether I can handle the good and the 'bad' and just figure out what she needs.

On another note I found one of my flickr photos being used for article on how to take photos to sell a horse: Horse Nation: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Bucks

Kind of cool.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Feisty Redheads

hard to believe that this face could be bad
Irish has had very little riding this spring/summer. Mostly because he's been unsound (those dang feet). But it's have a negative impact on his muscle and topline. Not that I expect him to look how he did 'back in the day' but I know that horses need to keep moving to keep going.

Last Saturday I had just finished a good ride on Carmen and was back in the barn. Irish was looking at me with a grumpy face. He's been a bit cranky lately. So I decided to take him out for a short hack. I figured I nice little spin in the woods might help him to feel less restless and grumpy.

I also felt that it would be good for Carmen to be the horse left, rather then the horse leaving. She was less than enthused about that idea but I was impressed. Other then a few forlorn whinnies she didn't have a total melt down.

I tacked Irish up and hopped on him right outside the barn. He was on high alert and do his best Llama impression as we walked up the hill. To be honest I'm more worried about his tripping then doing anything to unseat me so I let him have some rein as we marched up. As we headed around the outside of the ring he stopped dead. Guinness had left his favourite toy there on our morning walk (he likes to take it with us but sometimes gets distracted).
this all that remains of the jolly ball but he loves it
Irish took one look at that red thing laying in the grass and decided that it clearly dangerous and did a spin-bolt. Except that it's Irish and he's older and unfit and not that coordinated so it was the slowest spin-bolt in history. Kinda like a person sprinting with a walker. I was laughing so hard as I brought him around again. When Irish was younger the technique I used to get him past spooky things was to  walk him towards it and halt before he was going to stop. And then ask him to go forward, then stop until we were by it. As soon as I did it the first time he totally knew what I was doing and marched right by the ball (although he gave it the stink eye). 

We headed into the woods and played on the new trails. It took a while for him to relax. 
does this look like a horse happy to be in the woods? No, it does not-
it's the look of a horse convinced you've taken him to a bear infested wilderness
There was a big rock on one of the trails that caused some snorting (even though he has been by it a dozen times before). But it felt good to get him out and moving and as we walked he began to enjoy it a bit. 

We finished up back at the barn and I turned him back out to enjoy the grass. I might be biased but I think he looked much less grumpy then when we started. 

And one more photo of Guinness- he's turning into a very handsome dog. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Gaining Ground

I have already written about Friday's ride in which Carmen was a bit up but totally listening.  On Saturday she was bit more up but still responded really well. I honestly thought that I might get a big spook or two but it didn't happen.

On Sunday I had a lesson booked for late afternoon. As always, I was excited to continue our work. I had Carmen ready and up in the ring ahead of time so I could warm up before Shanea arrived. Up in troll corner Carmen began to have a melt down.

 I looked over and I realied that she was looking at the trap we had in the empy paddock. Now let me back track a bit and explain that after FOUR (count 'em- FOUR)  run-ins with the porcupine Guinness has not seemed to learn his lesson. So Ed hired a guy to bring out a humane trap to catch and relocate the porcupine. It might not be fair because it's Guinness' fault but he's strong enough to break away on the leash if you are not expecting it and, often I let the leash drag. I could see that the trap had been sprung since I had checked it in the morning. Inside was Chester (my cat) and he was not looking so impressed. I thought that I could carry on and get Shanea to let him out. I was quite happy with how I was riding through her antics. She was not impressed and thought I was crazy but there was no big bolt or spook on her end  and no grabbing on mine. But then Shanea texted that she was running late and I started to feel guilty.

I dismounted and Carmen and I walked out of the ring, into the paddock and up to the trap. She was hesitant but followed. I let Chester out and he took off with an accusatory meow. Carmen then proceeded to check out the trap.
Hey, did you know that there are apples in this? 
Why yes, as a matter of fact. 
How do we get them out? 
We don't. They are for someone else. 

We walked back to the ring and back to work. She wasn't super impressed with that idea but settled in soon enough.

Shanea arrived shortly after and we talked about my goals. I said that I really want to work on lengthens. I'd been playing with them but wanted some help. The first step was to get Carmen marching forward in the walk. She was nice and forward and reaching for the bit. Her back was soft and swinginging and it felt great.

And then the trot. I had put down my crop but had to pick it up becasue she was not interested in trotting right now, thankyouverymuch.  It didn't feel like she was tired or sore, just that she was not really sure that she should go forward. So I picked up the crop, asked her to go forward and then gave her a tap behind my leg. She kicked at the whip and then went forward. Going to the right, Carmen tends to lean her weight to the inside and you feel like you are always pushing her over to the outside. The crop behind my leg really helped with that. After a few times of her getting irritated with it she began to realize that it was just an aid, like every other aid. And then she started to relax and listen to the inside leg to outside hand and the crop was just there to refine.
yay for hind leg engagement

I have to say that I had some of the best trot work I've ever had with her. As I got her onto the outside rein and going around the circle I could really feel the push from the hind leg into the bridle. At times she would get heavy or behind the bit but that was just her trying to figure it out. We both could feel how much easier everything was and the spooky corner just disappeared. Not that she wasn't aware of it- she totally was but by riding her forward into the hand and not stiffening it became not important.

We did some work at the canter as well. Going to the left was much better but it's all about the straightness. So to the left it's pretty easy to keep her straight and when her haunches do come in, it's easy to get her out. To the right is much harder. I had to feel like I was almost counter-flexing her to get her straight and aligned. She wasn't counter-flexed, but we've both gotten used to the feel of her being over bent that it felt weird. She was not so sure she liked it at first but then we could both feel how much better it was. Certtainly, our trot-canter transitions have improved a ton. I have to remember to not take back when she curls but to push her forward and let her take the bit. Not so easy when you have a horse that was a bolter and much harder to the right. Even she got a bit confused 'what are you doing? You're supposed to hold me in!'  But it was so much better as we progressed.

curling behind


honest to goodness uphill canter
Finally we began to work on some baby lenghens. At first just around the outside and really it was just a tiny amount- looking for her to stretch out her frame. We then went across the diaganol: balance and shorten through the corner and ask her to go out.   The first time she was crooked and nothing happened. The second time I over did it and she broke to canter. Which is no big deal and I just rode it for a few strides through the turn and then brought her back. However, she began to think that that was the idea and got angy when I said no. Carmen likes to know the answer and gets upset if she doesn't understand the question.

So I brought her back, regrouped and made sure I had her straight out of the corner and simply gave some rein to move into and put on my leg lightly. And by heavens she lengthened out her frame and pushed from behind. It was awesome. She could only hold it for a few strides but that's okay- that's a strength thing and can be worked on.
reaching but not quite understanding the question

Trying and falling on forehand- My posture is not helping

curling behind

We were both very tired by the end and I don't know about Carmen but I was so happy. We had some great work and moved closer to being able to show First Level next year. There was a time that the whole cat-in-a-trap thing would  have made her impossible to deal with. But not now. Now it's just a blip.

 I felt like I rode better-more in control of my core and hands. A few times I caught my rogue left hand trying to cross the whithers but at least I'm starting to notice it. Carmen wasn't perfect- she really wanted to dive towards Shanea and get some love. She also expects that if we stop at the gate I'm going to open it and leave so I have to work on that. Even though I never open it and leave. Mares.

If I can hold it together with my position I know that First Level is well within our grasp. I'm wondering if I can access an indoor for this winter to keep us going.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Blessed Be the Broodmare

Blessed are the broodmares in the field,
Patiently carrying their heavy load
Without complaint waiting for the big day,
When they, without a sound, lay down in the straw

Carmen with her dam, Adurina
Carmen's dam, Adurina, passed away this week from a twisted bowel. She was one of three mares imported from Spain as part of a group of Cobra mares.  I remember meeting Adurina when I was in Virginia to try out Carmen. After we had reached a deal and I was getting ready to head back to the hotel I went into the paddock to see Carmen again. I was greeted at the gate by a mare who was clearly in charge. She was not aggressive or even pushy. She simply looked at me calmly and wanted to know who this person was coming into her herd. I gave her a greeting and, after a sniff, she let me go by and watched as I went to greet her daughter. I remember thinking at the time that I hoped Carmen developed this same level of confidence and presence.

We often talk of stallions but the mare is as important, if not more, as the stud. She not only needs a good conformation and movement but she needs to raise her baby as well. I know that many believe that the mare passes along her temperament. I am not a breeder so I do not know if that is true or not but it seems that a mare is critical to having a quality horse.

This video is a sale video for Carmen (Charlante is her registered name). You can see that Adurina has quality movement.

Karen, Adurina's owner is understandably devastated to lose her mare. Not only was she a foundation of her breeding program, she loved her. These horses, they work their way into our hearts and leave such a hole when they go.

God speed Adurina. I will be forever grateful for the gift you gave me.

Friday, September 29, 2017

That Horse

I don't want to curse myself but I think that Carmen is becoming 'That horse' (*hurries off to knock on wood*).

You know what I mean.

That horse that you can leave for a week and then ride.

When the weather changed from hot and humid summer to brisk and cool autumn.

Without lunging. Even though you consider it. Like seriously consider it and then decide that it's too much work.

Although to be cautious you do some ground work first and you walk around the ring to check for trolls. And find potential trolls down by the trees and grasses blowing in the wind.

But you shrug and get on anyway.

Not because you're crazy (the voices assure you that you are fine).

But because you know it will be fine. Not necessarily spook free but still you believe it will be fine.

So you get on  and as soon as you settle in the saddle you smile. Because you're home. Where you belong. Riding That horse.

You spend some time at the walk just getting things loose and supple. There's a spooky spot but it's not that big a deal. You can feel that your horse is on edge and could go either way. Which way is up to you. So you sit up and ride. And as you work you get into the feel and rhythm: is the hind foot reaching under? Are we too bent on the leg yield? Can we lengthen a bit? How about a canter depart? Oops that nasty piece of grass totally tried to grab you- let's go back and show it we're not afraid.

And then, because enough has been done in the ring, you drop the gate not really sure that you are going to do it. Like really- it's been a week and it's blowy and cool and still you are thinking that going into the woods would be a good idea?

But Carmen knows and letting her choose she goes to the right towards the woods and around the field. And then to the right into the woods. Just then a bunny hops across the path and she stops- uncertain as to whether it's safe. Or whether we should go back. You let her collect herself and then ask her to walk in because 'it's a bunny and mostly harmless'.

And you walk into the woods and along the trails that you have cut out of the woods- mostly around deadfall, through some mud, by the old spider shed, old wagon and manure pile, out to the fence and back up to the barn. Going uphill Carmen lifts her back and powers up, coming to a halt outside the barn.

You dismount. Still smiling.

Because you have 'That horse'.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Bit Review- Stubben Golden Wing

I have been away since Friday which is why I have not been blogging. I was travelling to Toronto for a conference and used the opportunity to go and visit my sister and her family as well. I rented a car to get her place and I have to say that travelling on the 401 through the middle of Toronto is not for the faint of heart.

Anyway, I had been planning to write this review for a while and now seems like a good time since I don't have any riding to report on.

Let me start by saying that no one would consider me a tack collector. I use the same bridle for schooling and showing (although I switch out the brow band). FYI, for those who say 'But Teresa, you have an awful lot of saddle pads don't you?';  forget it-  I have decreed that saddle pads don't count.

I don't tend to change up bits unless there's a problem. For a long time I had been riding Carmen in a jointed, loose ring bit with a peanut in the middle. She was going well in it but I was wondering if the loose ring part was exacerbating some of her issues. Essentially what was happening was that Carmen would spook and/or run out of the bit and it would pull through her mouth and create more issues by pinching. I was looking for a 5 1/4 double jointed egg butt but only found ones that were lots of money. Did I mention that I am frugal? I will spend money to get what I need but I couldn't understand why the size I wanted was always over $200.

I then won a gift card from Riding Warehouse. Looking at their page I found the Stubben Golden Wing:

It looked like it combined the flexibility of the loose ring with the stability of the eggbutt. I did a bit of research and the Stubben website claimed:
  • 100% pinchless.
  • Wings position the bit correctly regardless of head position.
  • Cheek plates bear on the sides of the mouth providing an indirect rein effect to correct resistance to the direct rein.
  • Sweet copper promotes better acceptance.
  • No nutcracker effect and no palate pressure
I figured that the gift card made it much cheaper and if i didn't like it I could always sell it. I also double checked to make sure it was legal for dressage.

I've ridden in this bit for a few months now. Carmen seemed to like it right away and there was far less fussing with the bit. I liked the shape of it and it curved to conform to the horses mouth. At times i have found it to be almost too mild if she's in a mood to take the bit and go but that rarely happens anymore.

And it looks fancy. I get a few comments when I'm out at clinics and shows- people are curious about it.

I find that Carmen is very willing to take up contact with this bit and it seems to stay very stable. I am  not a gimmicky person but I think that this is well designed and made. I can see where it would be a great bit to start a young horse. If you are looking at bits I would seriously consider this one- the price is very reasonable as well: US: Riding Warehouse for $83.95, Canada: Bakers Saddlery for 84.95 (the only place I could find with the 5 1/4 size and not the 4 in 1 gag). 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Changing Patterns

If you've been reading along you will see that I have had a lot of 'wins' with Carmen this season.

We have had a successful show season and each clinic I went to added a bit more into our training.
definitely doing more of these clinics next year
Having regular lessons with Shanea has been invaluable. I do believe that to progress you need to have a consistent trainer so that things build slowly. 

If I had to think about who has changed more this year - Carmen or me, I don't think that I could choose. I have had to be more conscious about it for sure. 

It's hard to change patterns though and it takes serious mental effort on my part to not fall back into tensing and grabby hands when I feel that she's a bit spooky. I have been determined to not break my left wrist and put the rein against her neck when I feel that she wants to fall in. At times you will even hear me say that to myself over and over. Putting the rein against her neck was a temporary solution for when she would bolt to the inside. Now it just encourages her to drop her shoulder and not carry through the corner. 

Interestingly enough our bigger issues continue to be our ring. Which makes sense given that's where we had really set patterns of behaviour. I am finding it easier and easier to not tighten and grab when she tightens. When I do I catch myself and relax my seat. I inevitably find that she relaxes when I do that. 

see- no trolls here

Changing my mindset about troll corner has been a real turning point. I don't think I would have seen the pattern if I hadn't taken her off property and encountered the same issues in the same corner. Knowing that has helped me to ride more boldly and clearly into it and expect that she will carry on. 

Not that she does always. Last night we were cantering up on the right lead into the corner and then we were going to the right and sideways (canter half-passes are not going to be an issue). I didn't tense or get upset but I don't let her choose the way we go so I pulled her around to the left to go back. Somewhere in there she did a flying change (good girl)  and we cantered back to the left. My mindset/tension never changed. It was just a blip- oh where were we? 

Our rides are not exciting or anything to truly write about. We're working on our first/second level stuff and the only thing that's a bit of struggle is the trot lengthens. Last night I felt she sit back on her hind end and lengthen a bit in the trot. It was't a big one but she received lots of praise for it. 

Our rides are short and easy these days. I try to get a few things established and then end. We go into the woods on a regular basis. Even when she's more excitable (like last night with the breeze and cooler weather) she is still trying to listen and figure out what I'm asking. Rarely do I get the sense that she's completely tuned me out. She may be distracted but will come back with a leg aid or my voice. 

Changing patterns is hard. But it is possible. We're living proof. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Out And About

The lesson with Shanea was not the only fun thing I scheduled. Saturday I had made some special plans to meet up with my friend Nancy. Let me back up.

A few months ago when I was struggling with Carmen, Nancy had sent me an email suggesting that we get together and ride the trails are the place where she boards. Her horse, a big beautiful warmblood named 'Bo' was a great companion horse because he was just always so calm. I contacted the owner of   Coveside Stables to see if it was okay with her that I haul in. I used to ride a horse there a long time ago and she remembered me. She couldn't have been more kind about letting me come.

I really wanted to take her up on but with one thing and another it didn't happen. Last week I sent her an email to see if she was free Saturday and she was! The owner was also okay with me coming and so it was all scheduled.

In the morning I loaded Carmen on the trailer. Actually she loaded herself and I had to hold her back - as soon as she saw the trailer she was all 'let's go!'  and did not take kindly to my telling her that she needed to wait for me. The ride was short and I pulled into the gates.

the view leaving the property
Coveside is probably the most beautiful facilities I have ever seen. It overlooks the Chester Basin so the views are incredible. There are rolling hills, many rings for dressage and jumping. They have a large barn and attached arena plus extra barns and buildings for storage. Every year they put up temporary stalls for their shows. And best of all they have built miles of trails. All impeccably groomed and only for horses. I didn't take a lot of photos but check out their website and you will see what I mean.

I pulled up to the barn and unloaded Carmen. She walked behind me into the barn on the rubber pavers and into a large, beautiful stall and looked around as though to say 'finally'.  I turned around to get my stuff but it was already out- Nancy and one of the workers had unloaded my saddle, bridle etc for me. I then parked the trailer in the parking lot and came back to the barn. 
barn and arena
Nancy introduced me to the guy who helped and then to Rose- 'all grown up'. I knew Rose when she was young it was great to see what a lovely young woman she had grown into even though I can't believe all that time had passed. 

After a brief chat we tacked up the horses, went into the indoor, mounted and walked out of the indoor (red door in the middle of the photo above). I didn't walk her around or lunge her. I just got on and off we went. 

And we hit the trails. Bo and Nancy were perfect companions. They ambled along in front of us at a nice steady walk. Carmen was amazing. She was obviously looking around and a bit excited but normal horse excited. Not stiff or spooky at all. 
those ears- one was on me at all times
I let her have a bit a rein and we just walked. I loved the woods trails- they were so varied in the type of tress. Some had a lot of ferns others were mossy and still more with strewn with pine needles. I told Nancy that I expected to see a hobbit at any moment.  My inner 12 year old was over the moon and kept giggling. There were numerous wooded bridges and I wasn't worried. The first one she was a bit spooky once she realized that there was something underneath. By the third one she was all 'meh' a bridge.  At one point we came close to a public trail and Nancy called 'hello' to a couple walking above us (most likely to warn the horses). I called hello as well and Carmen didn't even blink. 
Nancy took this with her phone. I wore my vest to be safe

We went up and down hills which was a great way to work her hind end. There were some rocks along the path that Carmen looked askance at but, again, it was just normal horse ('are these okay? I will go by but will keep my eye on them in case they turn to be rock trolls' ) behaviour. 

We then came into a huge field and the hay had been cut so it was free to use. Part of me wanted to go for a gleeful gallop but I restrained myself. Next time I told myself, this is all about making it low key and easy. Nancy and I chatted the whole way. We both agree that riding out is the most fun part of riding. Her little West Highland Terrier kept us company- occasionally going off to hunt squirrels. Carmen was completely not bothered by this little white terrier popping up in various locations. I loved watching her run around being all terrier like. She was definitely less white when we were done. 

and then with my phone. Pretty sure this was my expression the whole ride.
Carmen "could you calm down please, it's embarrassing'
We ended up coming out near the front gates and by the dressage court. We headed back into the woods and came up to the barn. I think we were gone between 60-90 minutes. I put her back in the stall. Nancy hosed Bo off and turned him out while I went to get the trailer. Carmen was not too impressed when I came back My friend! Where's my friend? But settled as soon as there were people around.  The ride home was uneventful. I hosed her off at home and turned her out to catch up on all the grass that she missed. 

it's not fancy but it's my slice of heaven

 As I was cleaning out the trailer Ed came up and said "How was it?"
"OH MY GOD I HAD SO MUCH FUN" I may have been squealing. I was definitely grinning.

He smiled and said "you have been saying that every time you come back. You are having a great summer with her and I am glad. You earned it".  This is why I love this man.

It may sound silly that I was so excited about trailering off property, riding out and then returning. I know lots of people do this all the time. But two years ago I considered it a good ride if there were fewer then three bolts in a ride. Last year we spent hours on training to get her rideable. I will be eternally grateful to Royce and how he helped us. This year I wasn't even sure I should show and look at how that turned out. I will be eternally grateful to Karen, Johanna and Shanea for getting us ready for that. Last year I would not have believed that I could have done something like today without a lot of lunging and 'managing' of Carmen. Yesterday I hopped on and said 'let's go, this will be fun'. And she believed me.

I am finally getting to do all the things I love on a horse that I love and for me that is truly special.

Thank you Nancy for taking me and Jackie for letting me enjoy your beautiful property.