dancing horses

dancing horses

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