dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, August 21, 2017

Clinic Recap: Leaving our Comfort Zone

Be willing to step outside your comfort zone once in a while; take the risks in life that seem worth taking. The ride might not be as predictable if you'd just planted your feet and stayed put, but it will be a heck of a lot more interesting. Edward Whitacre, Jr.
In my last post I let everyone know that Carmen and I were headed to an 'Ultimate Trail' clinic this weekend. My goal was to continue to work on my relationship with Carmen. Essentially I wanted to replace her 'NO' when exposed to new things with curiosity.

I was looking forward to the clinic but I also had some concerns:

  • I did not know the clinicians- but they came highly recommended so I figured it would be okay
  • This was a western clinic and I'm showing up with my dressage horse and tack would people think I was weird. Well no, not that, I am weird, but that I was a snob or didn't belong. I needn't have worried. Everyone was so welcoming and open I had a blast. 
  • Getting hurt. We were doing obstacles in a strange place. Carmen freaking out is not off the table and that had potential for me to be hurt. 
Let me just say that this clinic was an incredible experience for Carmen and I. It pushed out of, not just our comfort zone but out of our patterns too. If you have a change to take a clinic from Mike and Nikki Porter (Facebook group) do it. I loved their approach to teaching- it was systematic and measured. Each step built on the one before. It was all about giving the riders and the horses the support they needed to be successful and then upping the ante. 

In the morning we all meant (there were 15 of us) to talk about our goals, the horses, and the Porter's philosophy of training. It was a great group of people all looking to enhance their relationship with their horse. There were green riders and experienced horses, experienced riders and green horses and everything in between.  Then we were divided into groups based on our experience. Carmen and I were in the first group. We started doing ground work:

yes that is Carmen and I with a rope halter (loaned) and a
'carrot stick'. I never knew what it was and I ended up buying it despite the stupid name

It was fun to do this. We actually ended up waving flags and rubbing tarps on her and she was unfazed. Interestingly enough she was sticky about moving her shoulders and I realized that when I lose her under saddle it's through the shoulders too. So that's something to work on. Nikki and Mike went around to each person and coached them. Sometimes taking the horse to demonstrate something and then handing it back to the handler. It was pouring rain all day and Carmen began to react to the rain outside the ring. Mike came over and helped me to deal with that in a way that was stress free. I was so impressed with the philosophy- it was all about asking the question and giving the horse time ot figure it out. The pressure was to be as light as possible and build until you got what you wanted and then release immediately.

no my horse doesn't have bangs, it's just the angle.

In the afternoon we tackled each obstacle in turn. In the 20 x 40 arena  there were a number of obstacles and seven horses. It was crowded but it all worked out fine. The obstacles included:


  • a curtain of dangling sparkling strings (think vegas)
  • a teeter totter
  • water box
  • A frame bridge
  • a narrow platform connected to a square platform then a 90 degree angle to a taller, narrow platform
  • a cow attached to a bar : the horse pushes the bar with their chest and move the cow around the circle
  • a fred flintsone car that the horse pushes
  • a large circle to use for ground tying

There was a lot of coaching and helping. To be honest Carmen did great. She was uncertain about a lot of them but gave them a try. The biggest issue was with her letting herself go off of them and/or trying to hurry them. The hurrying is legit- I too felt the pressure to get over them before something 'bad' happened. But the idea is that the obstacles are a place of rest and the horses should stop and relax.

(The photos I'm showing of the ground work are actually from Sunday but illustrate what we were doing in a halter and headline)

This water box had a floating piece of plywood in it so that when horses stepped on it, it sunk and water came up through the holes. We started with it empty, then with water and then with the plywood. You can see that Carmen is uncertain but trying it. Which was the word of the day.

 Here's the teeter. It started as a board on the ground and then add the bar underneath. Carmen was not a fan but honestly it was more about what was in front of her.  Which is what I figured out- she would become fixated on the far side- there was an open door (behind a gate) with grass and then a road that was above us.

Working on the platform. We started by walking straight ahead and then doing the turn. Initially Carmen kept walking/falling off- usually toward me. Mike figured out that it was because she letting her attention wander and not taking any responsibility for where her feet were. He took her from me and did maybe 30 seconds of ground work and then took her over and she walked perfectly. That was an eye-opener for me. What I realized that when Carmen is distracted she abdicates her own responsibility and then becomes annoyed because she gets in a mess. And I buy into the idea it's too hard rather then expecting her to take some ownership. So we spent a lot of time walking on, stopping, walking a step, stopping. If she jumped off she was worked a bit and then put back on. 


now this is a horse taking responsibility for her feet
The vegas curtain was just fine. She was intrigued by the flintstone car and the bull and seemed to really enjoy it.


Ground tying like a boss. Our work at home really paid off here

she kept trying to eat the car 

sure I can do this weird thing that you humans are asking of me. 

I was so excited by the end of the day and thrilled with how Carmen and I just handled everything. Not without bobbles but we didn't stand out as the 'problem team' we were just like everyone else- struggling in some things and doing well with others.

That night I met up with Paula (I was staying at her place) and Cindy Ishoy. Cindy was giving a clinic at Paula's barn. We went out to dinner that night and then went to bed early. Shortly after going to bed I began to feel ill. Then really ill. I spent the next few hours with my body completely rejecting the meal I ate. I was freaking out over getting ill at someone's place (have you ever tried to vomit discreetly? It's impossible) and about Sunday. How was I going to ride? How would I get Carmen home? Could I stay there an extra day? Who could I call to come and help us trailer home? The vomiting stopped around 1 a.m. and I fell into an exhausted sleep. The next morning the storm seemed to have passed but I felt like wreckage washed up on the beach. Pretty sure it was food poisoning. I had a piece of toast for breakfast and went to the barn. I decided to just take it as it came and leave if I needed to. 

I wasn't sure if I wanted to ride the obstacles even before I was ill but Mike gave me a pep talk and told me that they would be there to help. So I did it. Carmen and I were rushing the obstacles. She wanted to get them over with and I wanted to complete them before a disaster. Mike made us slow down and use them to rest. After letting herself fall off  the platform Carmen I repeated the exercise of before: is she fell/walked off I put pressure on her to work off the obstacle and then on the obstacle to rest. So the choice was hers- stay on and relax or fall off and work. She's a smart cookie and figured that out.  

Here we are doing our Vegas Show Girl Routine. We rode through and backed through it as well. 


Riding the connected platforms- Mike helping her know to step up on it- not jump off. 
 Resting on the taller platform. I am thrilled. Carmen is seeing if I have been drinking.

It's not enough to go over the bridge- you have to look pretty too. 


Doing the teeter like we're supposed to.

The water needs a little explanation. Carmen was VERY uncertain about walking in it with the board submerging. Nikki was helping me through it. The idea was to close the escape to the left and right and let her rest right before. I was getting tense which was not helping at all but I wasn't doing it on purpose. We were both worried about it so of course she wasn't going to go. This is so similar to what happens when she gets tight that I was happy that it happened - but only because of the ending. I ended up dismounting and leading her through. Then I got on and walked up to it. I started talking to Nikki and when she relaxed I asked her to go through and she did. See my smile. After we got through it everyone clapped and I may have done a fist pump and cheered.

It was huge for us- this box represents the trust that this mare has developed in me. Nikki said 'do you see what happened? You talked to me and took all the pressure off, then asked her to do it and it was no big deal'. And yes, I did know- I had done that on purpose. I needed to get my head out of the box (so to speak). 

After the box I did the other obstacles and she rocked them and I hopped off. I figured that was enough for that session. We had lunch (I ate very little) and then there was a 'show' in the afternoon. We had to do a pattern with all the horses outside. I volunteered to go first- I always volunteer to go first but I was also starting to be really tired and waiting in the hot sun did not appeal to me. Carmen was not happy about her new best friends leaving so we trotted a bit to get her head back on me and then did all the obstacles. All of them. She struggled with the ground tie and me leaving so far but otherwise we made it through. After I got off and joked that I had won so they could all go home now. Turns out I came second and won a prize! 

Thank god that Caelen was there - she helped me pack up and hit the road. Driving home I hit the wall. I had really pushed myself today - mentally and physically. I was done. I pulled in the driveway and unloaded Carmen. Caelen offered to clean the trailer (love this girl) and I went into the house and fell on the couch. And promptly fell asleep! 

I had so much learning from this clinic but that will have to be a different post because this one has gone on long enough! 

I will just finish with saying that my mare is amazing. 

*all photos in this post were taken by Judith Scrimger, photographer extraordinaire. The conditions for photos were terrible yet she pulled it off. 

34 comments:

  1. this is amazing - i love the pics and the progression of Carmen's expression as she learns not just how to tackle each obstacle, but actually seems to be learning how to go through the whole problem solving process as a whole. which, i suppose, is exactly the point of exercises like these.

    also i'm revising my previous statement on feeling like charlie maybe isn't as good of a horse for this type of stuff compared to isabel. bc i learned this week that he's still just as likely to get upset and defensive when he's confused can't figure out the correct answer to a problem, as evidenced by a minor meltdown he had when i tried (and failed) to close a gate while mounted.

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    1. Closing agate is trickier then it appears. I agree that this sort of clinic is not about the obstacles but about learning to try

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  2. Food poisoning is just awful . . . hope you're fully recovered soon!

    Trail obstacles are a lot of fun, and a good way to improve your horse's confidence and your working partnership. The horses seem to be pretty proud of how much they can do!

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    1. I feel much better! I had a blast.

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  3. What a beneficial weekend you two had! Sorry the illness had to add to your worries. That was bad timing. I stopped participating in horse shows and clinics when it became apparent that some emergency was always going to try to block me from reaching my goals. Horse shows and clinics can be stressful enough without unexpected accidents and illnesses making an appearance. I'm glad you were able to finish out the second day. The clinicians sound great.

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    1. Thank you. It was really beneficial

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  4. Wow! Congrats, that sounds like a super fun and productive weekend. Love the pictures, look at all that trust Carmen has in you!

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  5. That clinic sounds amazing. I totally understand the not paying attention to her feet then getting mad when she ends up in a mess. That is Gem 100%. You two have come so far with your relationship!

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    1. It was amazing and I can totally see that being Gem- that's what happens when she doesn't see the first fence I think - she's not taking responsibility.

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  6. Love this! It looks like a really fun (but scary) opportunity and so cool that you guys did so well!

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  7. This experience sounds phenomenal. My favorite tidbit from the post is this, "...when Carmen is distracted she abdicates her own responsibility and then becomes annoyed because she gets in a mess. And I buy into the idea it's too hard rather then expecting her to take some ownership." That really resounded with me because I realized my horses have all done that a time or dozen. Seeing it in words though gives it more power and the ability to be solved for me.

    Huge congrats on tackling the water/board obstacle. I love Carmen's expression of uncertainty as to why, but giving it her best for you.

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    1. I am glad that you found my experiences useful. That was a huge learning for me as well!

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  8. I absolutely LOVED reading this recap! I'm so excited for you and Carmen! (well, minus the food poisoning).

    I also loved your takeaway at the end with the water, how talking to Nikki helped you relax and then get through it. When I was trying to get Ruby to do the teeter totter under saddle the weekend before last, we were really struggling, and I was annoyed, because she was so good about doing it in hand. Finally I gave up and I was talking my friend through a training problem she was having, and without paying attention I pointed Ruby at the teeter totter, and she walked right over it! Clearly I was the problem in that situation, haha.

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    1. It's amazing. I need to figure out how to do this conciously!

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  9. I've never participated in a clinic like that with obstacles. It looks like a lot of fun and a lot of beneficial things were learned. Carmen is an amazing mare I think she did really well and learned a lot. Gad you're feeling better, it must have been exhausting to participate after being sick the night before. Congrats on coming in second with your dressage horse!

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    1. It was exhausting. I feel a lot better but not 100% yet. I'm very proud of both of us. :)

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  10. I a just so happy for you and Carmen. What an amazing clinic and it looked like a lot of fun too!

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  11. I am thinking of putting on a trail obstacle clinic this fall, so this post was helpful to me. I want to do a ground work portion first and I suspect *most* horses will be a little sticky about moving their shoulders :)

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    1. I'm glad to hear that Carmen and I are not alone. And the groundwork part was so valuable for what came next.

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  12. Oh this is so great. Well, not the sick part. I am glad you were able to participate on Sunday. Good for you for getting out of your comfort zone and thinking outside the box. More tools for your tool box!

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  13. Sorry you were sick. The rest of the clinic sounds really cool. I've been wanting to do one of these types of clinics for a while.

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    1. Do it! I think you would love it. There are even outside 'natural' trail course now. I might do that too.

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  14. This is fantastic! I love this type of clinic, because it really helps build that trust. I have been the lone dressage rider at a "western" clinic and have always been embraced as well. I love hearing how well you guys progressed over the weekend and you even won some satin, but sorry to hear about the food poisoning! :-( You are a trooper to have finished out the weekend!

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    1. Thank you. I really wasn't sure if I would make it but I did.

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  15. Thank you for sharing this! That last photo is the best of all. We can see what a team you are, what a thoughtful horse Carmen is, her concentration, and how low-stress the environment is. We should all be so lucky to do such a course with our horses. I mean, look at Carmen's face!

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    1. Aww. Thank you. She really did try.

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  16. Oh, I love that kind of work with my horses! You learn so much more communication than just straight riding. And, the great thing is, it translates to the riding, too! Yay!!! Love it, love it. I'll have to share some of those obstacles with my trainer for her winter clinics.

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    1. It does translate into the riding. That's the next post!

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