dancing horses

dancing horses

Friday, July 20, 2018

My Precious

One ring to rule them all.......

A couple posts ago Clover Ledge asked me about I did my ring. I thought I had written about it but I couldn't find a post so perhaps I didn't. 
Banking on the idea that you won't remember either I decided to do a post about how we put in the ring.  

When Ed and I bought our property all it had was a house and a shed. The rest of the land was a large field and woods. 
the view from our bedroom window

 I forget how different it used to look!
Just a lonely house in a field
However, it made the most sense in terms of land, home and cost. After looking at so many properties that had unsuitable home or barn or land (or any combinataion there of) we decided that it was better to build what we wanted.  That first year of owning the house we were living elsewhere and renovating. I walked the land in every weather situation to assess the best place to put a riding ring. In the end I chose the top of the hill (up by the trees in the photo above) because it had the best drainage and there was often a breeze to carry away the bugs.

After the house renovation,  we made plans for the building of the barn and putting in the first paddock then  it was time to get serious about installing the ring. It was difficult to figure out who to hire. It's not like there are a ton of people with 'riding installation' on their website. I did check with one company who had installed for someone else but the quote was rediculous. It literally said "1 riding ring $20,000" I asked him to break that down for me it was listing bringing in fill and drainage etc. and building a road. I tried to explain that the ground already had good drainage an there was no need for a 'road'  but I was a woman and what did I know? Long story short I didn't like him and I didn't have that kind of money laying around so I moved on. 

Eventually we decided to do it ourselves. Which was probably really brave (and possibly stupid) but I wanted the ring and was, quite frankly, starting to sound like Smeagol. 

First we hired a contractor to clear and flatten the area we had identified. I was very clear with the owner that it had to be 70x200' or I wasn't paying him. He assured me it would be. Of course the man came and did it when I wasn't home. Ed told the machine operator that he thought it was short on one end and to fix it but of course he thought it was big enough and went home. When I returned I measured it and sure enough- one side was 70 wide but the other was only 58 and it wasn't quite 200 feet long. I called and the man had to come back. I know the owner was not happy with his worker but I had been clear and he agreed with me. 

such a beautiful site
That was in September. Once it was all flattened we let it settle over the winter. The barn went up in October and Irish came home in December. 
A truly happy day

the house with the barn behind you can see the brown line which was the cleared space of the ring. 
Settling was key for the ring- in the spring when the ground thawed we were able to fill in sinkholes. There really weren't that many and they were not deep. But it would have been expensive if the footing had been put in in the autumn.  

After that we borrowed a spring harrow and dragged it around the clear area to get up all the rocks. We then raked the rocks into piles and transported them away with the tractor. Oh my god, so many rocks. I actually got tennis elbow from the raking and shoveling of rocks. But I did it without whining or complaining. I was building my dream and it felt good to do it myself. I used the rocks as fill for some swampy areas on the trails (that turned out to be genius). One day I was by myself filling in a weird 4x6' depression and I started giggling to myself over what the neighbours must have thought I was doing. Of course I might have just been over tired. 

With the rocks gone, we flattened the area again using a rented roller thing (highly technical term). Then it was time for the footing. I bought quite a few truckloads of sand and managed to get my hands on some rubber. Not as much as I would like but some was better than none. I think it was 2 tons but it might have been 2.5. Using the tractor and a landscape rake we spread it out:

I love the mix of sand and rubber. It keeps the ring useable for a much longer time frame in the year. Even if it's frozen in the morning, once the sun hits it, it often thaws (unless it's been bitterly cold). 

Once Steele was ready to be backed, Ed and a friend put in the fence. It does help it look finished.
the view is nice too

I was right about the drainage- even after torrential rain the ring is fine within an hour. After a couple hours all the puddle are gone competely. The breeze is nice (despite what Carmen thinks about the blowing grass) because it does keep the bugs down. 

For the first two years I had a real war with the grass trying to grow up through (the result of putting a ring a pasture). I did a combination of weed killer, dragging and pulling it out by the roots. Now it cotinues to try to creep in from the sides but I can keep it at bay with the drag. There is no more grass growing in the middle. Although I know that if I am not vigilant it won't take long to come back. 
I love my little chain drag. It has longer tines on one side and is quite heavy. It does a great job dragging the ring for such an inexpensive purchase (about $300). 

I usually drag after rain storm, to not only keep the weeds out but to stop it from drying too hard. The sun can bake the dirt a bit. I really enjoy dragging the ring- I call it my zen garden. Every year I buy a load of sand (this year I needed more to relplace some that had run off with the wet or just distingrated over time). I fill in any bald spots and keep it fresh. 

And that's how Ed and I did a DIY riding ring. It was a lot of work and totally worth it. I don't think I would have the energy to do it again though (at least the rock raking part). My friends tell me I'm a bit obsessed (or OCD)  with it but that's okay- it's mine all mine. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Benefits of Clinics and a Give Away!

In full disclosure, Carol at Dressage Training Journal asked me if I would write a blog post about clinics. In exchange I am getting a free pass to Audit one of the All Canadian Dressage Master Series that Five Fires is hosting this year (in partnership with Jo Duston).

It was an interesting request and one I had to think about. As I pondered I realized that I did have things that I wanted to say so decided to take her up on the offer. However, I am going to be true to myself and not say things that I do not believe (Carole was clear that she agreed with this).

I am a firm believer that a rider will get more out $500 in lessons then spending $500 on a single clinic. However, I also believe that there is a lot to be gained from a clinic whether you are auditing or a rider.

I have done a number of clinics already this year that covered a wide range of skills and from every single one of them I have left with a valuable tool in my tool box.

In many ways having a  regular coach is like having a  family Doctor. Shanea knows Carmen's and my history together. She knows where we've been, what my ambitions are, what helps us and what holds us back. Shanea has worked with us for a couple years now and can bring great insights to our lessons.

Sometimes though, I get bogged down in that history and way of going.

An outside clinician is like a specialist.  A good clinician brings a laser focus to a particular issue/topic that they see in the few minutes of warm up that they watch.  They are able to put aside some of the baggage and help the rider hone in specifically on something that will move them forward. Sometimes they have a way of expressing something that resonates.

For example, Cindy Ishoy helped me understand how bend is critical to engaging the hind end and the brain. Johanna helped me be more aware of my seat and how it contributes to Carmen's tension (creating a negative feedback loop) and Mike and Nikki helped me see the importance of attention.

Putting together my learning from the clinics and my my regular lessons has really helped me develop as a rider.

So, while I used to be sceptical about attending clinics,  I have learned that they are like every other learning experience. If I am prepared to put aside my baggage and focus on what is being taught I can usually take something away. Are there less effective clinicians? Of course. I have had some bad experiences and have read of others.

 I think if you are planning to attend a clinic google can be your friend. Auditing is also a great way to figure out if that person's style is right for you. Word of mouth can be helpful but I find that I need to ask for details. Learning that someone loved or hated an experience is not helpful until I understand the 'why'.

Here in Nova Scotia clinic attendance can be hit or miss.  I am not sure why. It could be financial or worry about looking like a fool or just lack of time. I have certainly experienced all of these reasons. I admire the people who put on clinics because it is a ton of work and effort with often little financial gain. I really admire the riders who put themselves on display so that they and others can learn from the experience.

I love that the ones that Carole and Jo are bringing in are all Canadian. Brittany Fraser is from NS (and I think I remember her from my early forays into Dressage but let's not talk about how she's young enough to be my daughter...). I was excited to read that Janine Little has experience with showing and training Friesians and Andalusians! I had not really heard of  Jaimey Irwin but in reading about him, he seems to be a straightforward and honest clinician.  All seem to have knowledge to offer and I am hopeful that I will be able to see all of them.

And now for the Giveaway!

I have free Audit passess to the upcoming clinics:

  • Janine Little Dressage Clinic – July 24, 25, 26
  • Jaimey Irwin Dressage Clinic – August 18, 19
  • Brittany Fraser Beaulieu Dressage Clinic – October 27, 28
  • Jaimey Irwin Dressage Clinic – November 3, 4
To win: 
  • comment on this blog (or on the FB post)  about your views or experiences in clinics (good or bad) or what makes you choose a specific clinic to attend. 
  • tell me which clinic(s) you would like to audit 
I will do a random draw and contact the winners by Saturday, July 21st. Even if you cannot benefit from winning I'd still love to hear about your experiences. 

Happy Riding.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Taking Time

Carmen is not a horse that you can say 'hey, I just have 20 minutes to school so let's go'.

Well not unless you have also like a lot of frustration.
Can't count on this right out of the gate

One of the many things that she has taught me is that I can't afford the time to not take the time.

These days that means working on getting her attention on me.

On Friday I had her in the ring and I spent some time doing the ground work exercises. She was really good but when I mounted I could feel a ton of energy under me.
Basically my FB status summed it up:
Other than one big spook she wasn't 'bad' she just wanted to go. When I asked for a canter she was all 'hell yeah! Let's do this!'  Such enthusiasm was a bit unexpected and it took some faith for me to not try to rein it in.  It was like riding a ADHD rocket:
oh what's that? I should be wary of that. Oh, trot YES watch me go. Whaddya mean slow down? I don't want to slow down, let go of me! Hey, who put that corner there? Phew, it's all right we made it around, sorry about hitting your foot on the post but you really should pay more attention. 

After we went for a hack at the end and I could feel that there was still a lot of gas in the tank.

The next day, Julia was out to ride (she was also there on Friday) and Carmen came out to the ring a lot more on high alert and less interested in tuning in. She was locked on the woods and was not so keen on focusing on me. I actually thought that I might have to get a lunge line but I persisted. And persisted. Finally she gave a big sigh and her whole demeanour changed. It took longer then I would have had patience with in the past. But I recalled Linda's experience and realized that it wasn't about what I wanted, it was about what Carmen needed.

Our ride was not stellar after that (although there were great moments) but I'm positive that taking that time at the beginning prevented me from riding out 3-4 bolts/spooks. I was pleased with my riding too- I managed to not get tense or tight (or not for long). When she gave me the loveliest of counter canter loops I stopped and we stopped there.

Today the ground work took maybe two minutes. She was with me from the get go and that was born out in the saddle. Carmen felt a bit sluggish but came around (pretty sure it's her heat). Julia's sister was riding Irish who's brewing an abscess. I think I rode all of 10 minutes and then we headed to the woods. Irish enjoyed the walk on the soft ground and Carmen led the whole way like a champ while I rode with one hand on the reins (which were looped).

Riding this mare is now FUN. I've waited a long time for that and I'm loving every minute of it. It's totally worth spending time on the ground to set us up for success. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Killing It

This weekend I was at Five Fires Equestrian Centre for a two day dressage show.

I was excited to go- my goals were to:

  1. remember my tests and not require a reader
  2. Not have any major spooks/bolts (especially at the ramp that is for para riders to mount their horse)
  3. ride like I actually know what I'm doing and not get all defensive and passive. 
Friday, just as we pulled into the lot the heavens opened and torrential rain along with thunder started. I was actually okay with this. I remembered last year when Carmen freaked out over being the arena during a rain storm. After I got her all set up I brought her into the ring to do some ground work. She was looky at a few areas but willing to relax by them -including the ramp. 

I tacked her up and went in to ride. She was okay and normally I would ride her very delicately and try to keep her happy. This time I pushed a bit to ask for more. I am no longer walking on eggshells with her. That's when the ramp and 'C' became huge issues. I won't go into the blow by blow but it was a battle. I was not backing down- Carmen had to give me a try. I rode her in that corner until she gave me something and then I rode out. Like most troublesome behaviour, things got worse but I was determined. And surprisingly calm. Finally she cantered through the corner bent and soft and I immediately halted her and hopped off. She was a ball of sweat and so was I. It was warm, humid and we worked hard. At one point my glasses steamed up. 

I hosed her off and thought 'well on the plus side the rain was a non-issue'. 

Our ride times were after lunch and Shanea was coming out to coach me through the warm up (instead of a lesson). I was so happy we did that. I can get a little frazzled in the warm up and not know what I should be doing. It was so beneficial to have Shanea's voice in my ear helping me to sit up and ride

When it was time for our first test we were ready. I made sure to walk Carmen by the ramp and when she bowed I put on my leg and gave her a light tap with the whip. Instead of freaking she was all 'oh, right!'  

I was so thrilled with our test- it's not that there were not bobbles, but we she was really trying for me. I may or may not have let out a whoop at the end. Shanea videoed the test from above which is really cool.  

Our final score was 64.81 which was good enough for first place out of a class of 4. Judge's comments "Nice ride. Show more in the forward department...lengthens etc. Bending better L then R. Good job."
Which was fair. I was riding for the consistency not really going for it. 

Our second test was just 30 minutes away so I opted to not dismount but instead spent some time walking her and then doing a short warm up. Shanea gave me some quick tips- and we were in again. It felt even better than the other one:

Our final score was 67.03 which was tied for first place. I lost on the collectives and came second. Still I was over the moon. The judge simply said 'good job Teresa'. 

(I should note that the judge was Roz and Carmen and I had her teach us very early in our time together and she judged us last year so is quite familiar with our progress). 

Shanea couldn't come the next day but I was okay with that- I both wanted her help and wanted to try it on my own.  It was much hotter and Carmen was much more mellow on Sunday. I enjoyed my time with her. While grooming her I stopped and laid my head on her back. She cocked an ear and sighed. The warm up was a bit tougher. Carmen felt like she was less in the mood to play and was a bit spooky around the ring. I stayed on task and kept working her, getting her supple and bendy (bendy is a highly technical dressage term). When she was feeling pretty good I decided to leave well enough alone and I walked her up to the ring. I sat there pretty relaxed and finally I felt her give a big sigh and relax. So I think it was a good call to stop drilling and start chilling. 

When it was our turn I wasn't sure how it went. It felt like it took a lot more work but in some ways it felt smoother. I was working hard to make sure that there we no 'I'm tired' spooks. And there weren't any.  Sorry, no media but others told me it looked really good. Our score was 65.92. But the real prize was the judge's comment: " Some nice stuff here! Keep more focus on your horse's ribs and hindquarters- sit into the ride so you can better effect control of the lateral position and hind end engagement. This will allow her more sit in her step. So essential for a PRE. Love your partnership". 

The last comment made me cry- that someone who hadn't seen us regularly can see our partnership filled my heart to overflowing. #menopausal_moment. 

I thought I had an hour before my next ride so I gave her a rest to pee and drink (and I did the same). I tacked her back up and when I came to the ring found out I had the wrong time so only had 7 minutes before my ride. I shrugged and did a quick walk-trot-canter in both directions and headed to the ring. The truth was Carmen was warmed up and more was just going to tire her out and probably frazzle both of us. I went in determined to make our last ride a good one. 

And you guys- she was there for me. All of her. There was no convincing or encouraging her, she was all 'sure, I can do that leg yield for you. Canter? YES!' There was one funny moment- we halted at X, and then turned down to leg yield right, the third time we turned down centre line Carmen was 'oh, right I know- we halt at X, right? And then I'm done!' I giggled at told her to go forward and she did. No pissiness at all. When we did halt at X I leaned forward and gave her a hug. I was exhausted. She started to walk out 'yup, we're done. Let's go. I need a carrot.'. 

I cleaned her stall and got ready to go. In the final ceremony I had two more first places but hadn't seen my last test yet. I turned in my number and picked it up: 72.34!!!! I was thrilled. The comments said 'WOW! Huge improvement! Now you make me love you more!! Keep it up!!

It was our best show to date. And I couldn't be happier with my girl. I think we had a huge breakthrough at this show. Although, when I was putting my boots back on for the awards I saw her looking at me with a peeved expression 'you better not be thinking of getting on me again. That answer is no. Just no.'  I laughed and told her to relax. 

I obviously need to have more faith in both of us. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Regardez Moi

(look at me)

I'm still processing some take aways from the clinic but I want to share with you the one that seems to be the most effective for us and fits right into the plan I have built for Carmen.

*****Note that this is my understanding and how I am applying what I am learning. If there are errors they are mine and not the clinicians'. If you are interested I would suggest getting someone who knows it to work with you. ***

During the circle time at the beginning Nikki explained that they do not use the term 'respect' anymore when it comes to horses. She said that they instead use the term 'regard'. And by this they mean that the horse is paying attention to the handler and looking to them for guidance. When a horse spooks and runs over the handler or bumps into them it's not becuase they lack respect, it's because they are not paying any attention to them whatsoever.

I heard a small bell go off in my head when I heard this. When it was my turn I explained that Carmen and I had come a long way and I am working on cleaning up the residual issues. I also said that I didn't anticipate that she would have any concern about the obstacles (except maybe the curtain blowing in the wind) but that she would be concerned about the trees/rocks/birds etc outside of the ring.

Nikki told me to head there with her when it was our turn and she would coach me through getting her focus on me. I brought Carmen up to the corner closest to the piles of wood and trees and began to work on the ground work exercises. She was doing (in my mind) really well with them. Nikki came up and watched for a bit and then said- 'she's not really focussed on you though is she?' 
I looked and saw that, indeed, Carmen was attending to the outside.

Nikki explained that Carmen would tune into me for a brief time and then go back to paying attention to the environment. And that needed to flip: she should be attending to me and only briefly looking outside and then back to me.

The exercise seemed to be pretty simple: apply pressure to do something when she was distracted and remove it when she attended. The pressure would start soft and then increase until I had a response. The goal was that Carmen would be focusing on me and, if distracted,. would come back and soon as I moved or gave a tiny cue.  The simplist is to get her to circle around me bent to the inside. Ask with a soft cue (like moving towards her haunch), to whip or hand approaching, to touching to tapping to strong taps. It was clear that at first Carmen required a strong stimulus. Soon though she would be responding to softest of movement.

Even more interesting is that as we did this she began to soften all over- her eye started blinking rapidly (a cue that they are processing) and then her whole outline lost tension and she stayed quiet and calm.
she chose to walk on the tarp, I did not urge her at all- I just offered it

And pretty much stayed like that for the rest of weekend. With one exception - in the afternoon of the second day we were in a different corner and there was a large white rock. I simply repeated the focus exercise until she tuned back. What was really cool was that as we progressed through the obstacles in hand I no longer needed to 'baby sit'. I could give a length of rope and simply ask her to step on. She could avoid if she chose but instead she would simply go on it.
under saddle- note the attention is on the rock and she's trying
to bend away. I had to up my pressure to get the bend and then relax (PC Donna)

The trick though, was doing this at home although I could see how it would be of great help.

On monday morning I tacked up (I know, riding the poor pony after the clinic, I'm such a meanie!) and walked her up to the ring. I could see right away that she had very little regard for me- her focus was on the tress/grass/birds. So I repeated what I had learned in the clinic. It took a bit, likely for two reasons:
1. This is new and I'm still learning. It's not about the task, it's about the focus. In the past I was happy if she was out on a circle listening to me, now I needed her to be aware of me all the time.

2. this looking around is ingrained and is not going to disappear magically because I went to a clinic. It takes work.

It took about 10 minutes before I could get the response I was looking for in every part of the ring. Then I got on.
total attention while standing in the water box (PC Donna)

I had to repeat the same things riding into the distracting areas- leg on and rein asking to bend keeping the pressure up until she responded (a 'try') and then immediately release. We rested when she gave me a good try.  Honestly it didn't take long and when she cantered through the problem area without a hint of tension I halted her and jumped off.

I repeated it all last night and it happened even faster. Carmen was standing in troll corner with a leg cocked and not because she was tired.

It's all about us regarding each other- it's not about the birds or the leaves or the grass that rustles. If  Carmen and I can stay together when another horse is pushing a flintstone car behind us and another is throwing a tantrum in front we can totally get this.

We're off to a show this weekend at Carol's.  I'm really looking forward to addressing all the spooky areas. That is my goal for the tests: to have her focus 99% of the time. And to get it back the other .1%.

on the moving platform- NBD (PC Donna)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Cool, Calm and Confident

I am back from a most wonderful weekend.

Carmen and I were off to an 'Ultimate Trail Clinic'. We did one last year and had a blast (well except for the food poisoning). This year my friend Cindy (not the one who rides Irish) brought her pretty cremello morgan mare. I stayed at Cindy's and we brought the horses to the clinic each day. That allowed them to stretch their legs in the field in the evening and be close to home. Summer finally decided to show up this weekend and it was hot. 

I really enjoy playing with obstacles and I was excited to attend the clinic again. I really like how Mike and Nikki approach training. It's all about rewarding the 'try.'

The morning of the first day we all talked about our goals and then worked on groundwork. Nikki helped Carmen and I work on establishing 'focus'. The idea is that Carmen was to have her attention on me and not on all the things that could distract her.

That afternoon we practiced the obstacles in hand. The second morning we reviewed the in-hand work and then did it mounted.
look how hard she's concentrating here

This platform rolled when you walked on it and off it.
she didn't care at all

I was blown away with how well Carmen was. Like totally blown away. She was completely calm, focussed and willing. She enjoyed the obstacles so much and as the weekend progressed began to 'hunt' them. It helped that we used them as places to rest, not just things to practice. Even the tarp curtains blowing around were a non-issue.

Here's Mike explaining how to make the obstacles a great place to be.

So once we established how to do the obstacles I would 'work' in the ring and seek out one of them to 'rest'. Once when Carmen and I were standing on one I asked her if she wanted to step off . She started to and then said 'no thank you. I'm good'.

Her favourite thing was pushing the flintstone car. She really liked making it move and watching the barrels turn. In the far corner there was a 'well'. It was a barrel with a winch attached to a bucket. In the bucket were fake flowers. I would turn the winch and Carmen was intrigued. Then she tried to inspect the bucket. She was sure that there must be a treat in there. I was afraid she would pull out the flowers and wreck it so I quickly lowered it back down. Carmen looked at me:
Hey, bring that back!
No, you are going to eat the flowers.
There's something in there, I tell you. Bring it back, I can find it. 
yes, we are pushing a car past a blowing tarp towards trees

There was a man with a lovely chestnut mare who had a melt down in the ring. She was quite determined that she wasn't going to one end of the ring and nothing was going to make her.  I watched the man ride her and (with a ton of help), deal with her. After I went up to him and explained that Carmen had presented with all the same things that he had dealt with. He looked at me in surprise. I think it gave him hope.

 What I realized is that Carmen is no longer the spooky, uncertain horse she was. She was confident and happy and really relaxed. Despite being in two new places. The location of the clinic was next to a mill- full of equipment, machinery, piles of wood and strange contraptions. She didn't even blink. What she did take exception to was a large granite rock outside the ring. (she still is Carmen after all).   That's what people saw.

On Sunday afternoon we all did a mock show. I asked someone to video our ride. I was surprised to see that it was just 2 minutes- it felt a lot longer. Carmen and I tied for third. :)

I am so happy with both of us right now.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Not-Obvious Gifts for Horse People

I think that Ed is beginning to believe that horse people are weird.

Or maybe he just thinks that I'm weird.

I'm not talking about the gifts that seem logical- like saddle pads, brushes or gift cards for tack stores. I'm taking about the ones that seem to be less exciting to non-horse people.

Over the years I have asked for some gifts that at first glance may seem a bit 'odd'. I know this because when I share it with others they get this look that says 'and you were happy to receive that?'

For example, this is the best ring I ever received (and no I don't view my wedding ring as the best one because the best gift from that Ceremony was Ed and our lives together not the symbol).  Ed and I installed the footing ourselves. He put the fence (with help from a friend) and painted it because I was going to be backing a young horse and wanted a barrier.

 put a ring on it.
A few years ago, shortly after we moved to the farm Ed asked me what I wanted for my birthday (he doesn't like to guess, it stresses him out). Without hesitation I said 'a tool box and my own tools. Including a power drill and attachments'.  He looked at me for a few minutes and then said 'is this a trap?'  Nope, it wasn't. I was thrilled with my tools and love doing small repairs around without bothering him to do it. He used to look worried watching me go and would ask if I needed help. Now he doesn't - he knows I will ask if I'm unsure (but I'm sure he checks out what I've done after). 

Other gifts that have excited me include: 

  • Jump standards and poles
  • A retractable hose (I'm terrible at winding up hoses without tangling them beyond hope)
Add caption

  • Letters and a mounting block for my ring: 
love letters 

it's been perfect
I would have said that Ed has gotten used to weird requests but I surprised him yesterday. He came home from work and had a lot of stuff in the car. I was helping and reached for a box. 
'that's heavy' he said
'what's in it?'
' you bought pylons for me?!'
'yes. I bought you pylons'
'oooh THANK YOU! How did you know? I don't remember telling you.'


I turned and looked at Ed who was staring at me with a quizzical look on his face. 
'You honestly thought I bought you pylons? And you were excited?Those are for the fire department' (Ed is chief of our local volunteer fire department). 

My face fell. 'Oh. Right. I totally missed the sarcasm.'

I then brightened up 'if you bought new pylons for the deparment that does that mean you have old pylons?'

He sighed. 'If you want pylons I will get you pylons.'

Notice that he didn't even ask why. 

What about you? Have you asked for/received any gifts that might seem to be unusual? 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Staying Inside the Box

Friday I had a lesson with Shanea. It was the first time riding since I was away. I warmed up before Shanea arrived and Carmen seemed pretty mellow.  However, right after Shanea arrived and we started the lesson the wind picked up and there was a sudden gust that sent a  little dust devil in the arena. Carmen took exception to this sudden mini-tornado in her ring and decided that was the area that we were never ever ever ever going.

So, 'yay?'

At least that gave me a chance to work on the idea that we go places and while I'm willing to support her, I'm not willing to let her make those choices.

When we were walking down towards the area she tried to balk, then to spin. When I kept riding her forward she leaned back on her haunches and spun away. I can quite appreciate the athleticness of the maneuver.  Shanea even commented that she was being a bit 'difficult'.

What Shanea noted was that when Carmen was being resistant she was throwing her shoulder against me and then I over-correct which puts Carmen all out of alignment and both of us are unbalanced.

My Task was to keep us inside the box: essentially her shoulders and haunches aligned and underneath of me. Even when she's flinging herself around. It's not easy - she's getting fitter.

But so am I.

Here we are are heading through the 'nope' corner. See how her neck retracts? This is what makes it hard to not ride with a super short rein.

Shanea was talking me through using shoulder in as an exercise to help with this. It allows her to be 'away' from the scary place but use herself.

 And it does work. This is us a while later riding towards the area where the little dust devil erupted.

It was a 'hard' lesson both mentally and physically. I had to keep my self aligned with my seat relaxed. Mentally because I had to be aware of Carmen's attention but not buy into it or fall into a self-defensive posture. 

But it was so worth it. 

I could feel her relax and come to me each time things went a bit awry. There were definite discussions but each time we came together.

We then went on to some canter work. My task was to keep Carmen straight under me. Which is really really hard, especially going to the right. She tends to throw her haunches in. Shanea had me canter down the quarter line and stay straight. Carmen headed over to the rail and Shanea said 'no, don't leg yield, stay straight!'. 

 I called out "This is not my idea, Carmen is doing it'. Which is a total cop out but honestly it was impossible to keep her on the line. We worked at it and things started to come together. Not perfect. But definitely better.

cantering is easy. cantering straight is hard
Sometimes Carmen would get strong and run through the bridle. When that happened I was do a small circle until I felt her balance back under me and then carry on straight.  It was exhausting but I can feel what Shanea was heading for. And in the end I had a lovely flowing horse. 

look at us go

I rode a twice since that lesson and each time there was a discussion but nothing major. I was able to practice what I needed to. 

Today Cynthia came to ride with us. The husbands were working on a shed down by the barn but this was a non-issue. After a good ride we  headed out into the woods for a hack. I've not done a lot yet because I've been riding alone a lot. And by 'alone' I mean that Ed wasn't home on the farm. I didn't want to head out if he wasn't around. Irish was being a bit tight and spooky but Carmen was completely mellow. In fact, she lead for a lot of it. I just made sure we were inside the box even though we were out of the sandbox. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Coercive Processes

I've been away for work attending a workshop on developing behavioural support plans for children with Autism. I love behaviour- it was my first area of study so many (many many) years ago. What I often see is how similar behavioural approaches are regardless of the species. I am not comparing children with neurodevelopment disorders to animals. I am saying that we are all animals and respond to behavioural principles.
this is the beginning of her response to going into corner:
upright, tight neck, pricked ears, tight back. See how I'm tightening too? 

As I'm sitting there taking in the information I had an 'aha' moment as it related to my work with Carmen. It refers to a process of mutual reinforcement of a negative pattern of behaviour. And I could see how I fell into that with Carmen's spooky behaviour.

Here's how I analyzed it based on this learning:

1. I ask Carmen to trot into corner       (irritant to Carmen)

2. Carmen resists going to corner        (avoidance response)

3. I increase my ask                             (escalation of irritant)

4. Carmen spins/bolts/stops dead/run backwards/threaten to rear          (strong aversive stimulus)

5. I move away from corner to a work elsewhere       (reinforcement to Carmen)

6. Carmen stops behaviour above                                (reinforcement to me)

You may recall that my initial rides on Carmen were fine and then gradually the spooking got worse and worse until we were only able to ride on the middle circle of the ring and that was even getting problematic.

I now see how we were engaged in a coercive pattern where we were both being reinforced for avoiding the corner. This has also creeped into other areas of training (like when things are difficult).

Clearly I didn't mean this to happen (who does? whatever the process is). And we have made huge gains towards this.

It has been a point of frustration to me that the spooking still pops up. Now I see why the behaviour has not been completely eliminated. Every now and then I reward Carmen (who then rewards me) for spooking at the corners.

Behavioural theory teaches us that an intermittent reinforcement schedule is the single best way to solidify a behaviour.

With understanding comes an ability to make a plan. Clearly we are not starting from scratch. But I need to be more proactive about this if I want it to go away.

So I've drafted a plan (I do love a plan) and we shall see how it goes. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Breeches Review

So I may be developing a breeches problem to go with my saddle pad issues. Since January I have bought three new breeches that I want to review. Finding breeches that fit me is difficult- I am long waisted and there is a difference between my hips and waist.

1. Equetech Denim F/S Breeches

I fell in love with these from the photo. It's always a crap shoot to buy online but I ordered them anyway. I ordered size 32 but they run big and were way too large for me. I exchanged them for a size 30 which fits well.


  • made of durable denim so are perfect for riding and barn chores. You don't have to worry about picks or holes (unless you get really carried away with a pitchfork). 
  • High waist to hold 'things' in. 
  • comfortable to ride in
  • the denim has no 'give' so can feel a bit confining in the waist. It helps to give support when riding but not so comfortable for sitting on the couch. 
  • The hips fit well and are even generous. The waist is a bit tight but it's not terrible. 
If you like jeans you will like these. I quite like them and wear them often. 

Another impulse buy (honestly, I can't be trusted in the winter when I cannot ride).  I ordered 32 and they fit perfectly. 

  • the silicone gives a great grip without being over the top
  • I love how they look
  • sightly wind/rain resistant (which is key when you ride on a breezy hill). 
  • They give a bit of slimming effect with the lines. 
  • This is picky but I wish the waist was a bit higher but it isn't that bad. 
  • I wish Horze made a matching shirt. I bought one thinking it would match but it's a different shade of blue. I think if a company is going to make colourful breeches they should have tops that go with it. 
I would definitely recommend these breeches (perhaps in more traditional colour) and will probably buy more. 

When I was at the show I visited Bits N Bridles in the morning to check out the sales. These were marked down significantly and there was no tax. I tried them on (large) and was surprised at how well they fit. I had some concerns about the seat as it felt quite slick. 

  • feel like yoga pants. 
  • despite that they don't show all the bumps and bulges. 
  • The waist is perfect- it hits just at the sweet spot of the belly button. 
  • despite my worries the seat is not slippery at all. I would rate it as more grip then suede and less than silicone. Even when Carmen is bouncing around I don't feel that I'm going to slip out of the saddle. 
  • I rode in them in heat and in cold weather and felt comfortable both times. 
  • not really a con- I'm not sure how well the fabric will hold up- we shall see. 

So there you have it. Three reviews of three different styles. 


Saturday, June 16, 2018


Thank you everyone for you kind words about our show experience. I have found that the real outcome of the show is a leap forward in our self-confidence.

 I also learned that I need to be clear right from the beginning about my expectations and not back down if she's freaking out. The other day I had just started our ride when she began to really lose it down the far end of the ring (far from troll corner). I don't know what set her off but rather then back off I just rode her around the corner. When she started to escalate I simply raised the inside rein and kept it there while pushing her through the corner. It only took a few trips before she was totally fine.

It probably helps that I'm not worried about her 'explosions' anymore. I simply roll my eyes and go back to task. As I've been chipping away at things with Carmen things are really starting to solidify.  One thing I noticed at the show was that what I thought was a good vs not-so-good leg yield was not the feedback I got from the judge. So clearly I wasn't feeling things correctly.

I asked Shanea if we could work on that our lesson on Saturday. I need to have a good feel otherwise I will end up practicing incorrectly.

You will notice that Cynthia is in the background of some of the photos. Remember how she totally abandoned me moved to Whitehorse for few years? Well she's back for a far-too-short visit. Irish was really happy to have her back. She was visiting with me so rode Irish while we had our lesson.

Anyway back to the lesson.

After our warm up we did a lot of leg yielding at the walk. The goal was to have Carmen understand about going over and not over bend to the inside or stiffen. As we worked I would really feel her soften over her back. I also discovered that I'm over weighting the inside which contradicts what I'm asking her to do. I need to weight (just a little more) the outside.

over bent to the inside. damn you left hand! 

We picked up the trot and we worked on getting it forward and flowing before asking for leg yields. 

I lost the shoulder again at the trot and really had to focus my attention. Shanea said that it would be easier to 'feel' at a sitting trot so I went to that. I know that Andalusians have the reputation of a really smooth trot but Carmen's has a lot of push and it's not always all that easy. Within about 10 minutes my abs were screaming at me.

but cannot deny results

Before I knew it, the lesson was over. It was great to have a lesson just focussing on a few key things. It was great that I kept my focus in the ring and cantered on what I wanted Carmen to do. And it was interesting how she kept her focus on me. 

If you were watching the lesson it would probably look really boring. But it was one of those where things just seemed to gel and it left me happy all day. 

Interestingly enough this memory popped up on FB: 

It's easy to forget how far we've come. And it's more fun to plan about where we're going. 


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Day 2 of the Show: A Different Kettle of Fish

To say I was happy at the end of Saturday would be an understatement. I was positively floating wiht happiness. I was proud of both of us and so happy that I decided to show. I was also really enjoying the socializing with old/new friends at the show.

My ride times were also in the afternoon but I didn't take her into the warm up ring in the morning. She was quite tired at the end of saturday and I didn't want to wear her out. In the end that might not have been the best decision but I don't know that it would have made any difference in what happened later (foreshadowing, sorry). Instead I hand walked her outside the barn and let her graze on some grass. I decided to set about 45 minutes aside for the warm up and headed over the warm up ring in plenty of time.
as you can see she seems quite content 

Some background info:
As you may have noticed, the show ring is inside a hockey arena. In the summer it's used as a show venue. That is why it has the appearance of thunderdome a coliseum. The warm up ring is just outside. It's a 20x40 indoor. One door looks out onto a busy highway with the exit ramp right there. It's separated by a chain link fence with weeds growing up around it. On the first day Carmen was a bit unnerved by the horses appearing and disappearing out of this door but she dealt with it well.

The steward is just outside. This time the steward had her daughter helping because she was recovering from a broken leg. On saturday I wanted confirmation about my neck rope being okay. In the rules it allows for a bucking strap or other equipment that is for the safety of the rider. But it doesn't define these and I wanted to make sure that it was all okay. She confirmed that it was fine to ride with the rope but after Carmen was so good I'm sure that she thought I was over reacting.

Okay, back to the post:

When I mounted and walked Carmen in I could feel that I was on a very different horse from yesterday. She was up and tense and very looky. There was one other rider in the ring who kept coming in and out. Part of me wanted to ask her to stop but common sense prevailed and I said nothing. This was her show too and we just need to learn to deal.

I simply rode Carmen to get her to relax and it was a bit of an uphill battle. She decided that the open door next ot the highway was full of trolls and there was no fucking way she was going there. She balked, I tapped her, she spun away, I turned her back and she threatened to rear. I gave my hands forward and booted her forward. I was glad that this hadn't happened yesterday. Today I knew that she was perfectly capable of handling this ring. I suspect that she might have had too much energy (after all she didn't get her turn out and hand walking is not the same). As things progresssed we had good and bad moments but I wasn't feeling like I was making any progress.  Forty-five minutes was not feeling like nearly enough time. At one point she gave a huge spook and banged the wall. The steward's daughter came to check on me and then in a few minutes they repositioned their chairs to keep an eye on me. (ha, see that's why I have the neck rope).. Which was yet another thing to cause Carmen issues but at this point I was like 'whatever'.

About 20 minutes (maybe) in, Jane came in to warm up on her horse. I didn't even realize she was paying any attention to me until she passed me and said 'Teresa, bend her'
I'm trying! I said
Stop trying and BEND HER. 

Of course.
Jane is now officially my Yoda

I was letting Carmen make too many decsions. I took a deep breath and asked her to bend and then demanded it. And if that sounds harsh you are welcome to come and ride her. The point is to be extremely clear: I want THIS, not that or that or even that, THIS. The trick is to keep the ask up until she does it and then immediately soften. We then started to make progress. The door was still and issue but one we could ride through. More people began to come in and I was able to get Carmen's attention on me. I need to let go of the 'if it pleases your highness could you pretty please consider a bend?'.

I still didn't feel ready for my test but it was time to go in so I took a deep breath and in we went. I walked by the judge and then circled back to go by again. You can clearly see her tension. As I rode the test it felt a bit like a powder keg. After someone asked how it went and I said, she didn't spook but she was spook-adjacent.  After I was a ball of sweat. It took every riding skill I had to keep her with me and on task. To be honest I was proud of myself for doing it (for example at 3:40 she really wanted to shy at A). We kept it together.

Shannea's mom (who was my videographer) came to me in the barn, took one look and said 'it looked a lot better then it likely felt' and she was right:

Our stretchy work suffered as well as our lengthens but otherwise I was happy with it. I'm trying to not bounce in the saddle at the canter but her back was so tight (something I will work on).

In the barn I untacked her to have a drink and a bathroom break and I sat down to catch my breath. I think that she had too much energy and didn't know how to direct it. She's also not fit enough to be ridden three times a day (yet) so I still think I made a good decision to not ride. It's one of those things that are part of the learning process of showing and it is our first this year. Having had the great rides on Saturday helped me on Sunday because I knew that she was completely capapble. She just didn't feel it on Sunday. That I can handle.

My next ride was pretty close and I wanted some time in the warm up so I got her ready about 30 minutes before. I still had no idea of my test scores (there simply was not time to go and get them).

Our warm up this time was 100% better. She was softer and listening. Which is a good thing because the ring was back to being crowded. Jane was in there again and I leg yielded out her way and then back again and she smiled and said 'well done'.
Aside: you know that literary convention where the protagonist is helped by a wiser person who gives the exact right advice at the right time? That was Jane for me at this show. I have no idea if she even realizes how she helped me to stay grounded.

We headed into our last test and I was determined that we were going to put down a good test. My goal was to not stop riding but to be there for her every step of the way.  And it was a good test, despite the tension. Again our lengthens suck but I was happy with the leg yields. We recieved a 7 on our free walk and I was like 'really?' I wouldn't have given it that but I will take it.  I loved our canter transition at A.

You will see at 4:36(ish) Carmen gives a sudden spook coming across the diagonal. To be honest it didn't feel like a true spook but more of a 'I'm done with this shit' spook. (Becasue she has learned that it gets her out of work in the past. Working on the memo that that no longer applies. I think she may go to her union steward). I simply pushed her back to the letter and gave her a tap with my crop to tell her to get her butt forward and we carried on. At the end of the test I gave her a long rein and walked her by the area that she spooked at and she was perfectly fine with it.

Later when I picked up my tests I was happy to see that I had marginally better scores then Saturday. This garnered us two more red ribbons for first place.

Test 1-1: 63.52. A smattering of 6/6.5 and 7s. One 5.5 for the transition to canter at C where she was all balled up.
Comments: Think forward in all transitions. Forward into clear rhythm. 
Gaits: 7    Impulsion: 6   Submission: 6.5    Riders Postion: 7     Riders correct/effective aids: 6.0

Test 1-2: 64.53. A smattering of 6/6.5 and 7s. One 5.5  for the transition to canter where she spooked. The comment said 'disruption'. I love that description!
Comments: Show bend and position through the body. Upright balance.  
Gaits: 7    Impulsion: 6.5   Submission: 6    Riders Postion: 7     Riders correct/effective aids: 6.0

And, just like that, our show was over. I am so very happy with how it went. There were bobbles but we recovered. My fears were not realized- clearly we are able to do this thing. Now it's about making it more solid. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Fear of Flying

“I have lived my life according to this principle: If I'm afraid of it, then I must do it.” 
― Erica Jong
Thanks everyone for all the love and support from my previous posts. I know that I didn't respond but I read and loved every comment.

I suspect that my show recap will be at least two posts . This should allow me to not be ridiculously  too long (at least that's the plan). This will likely result in me skimming over some details that might find their way back into the blog another time.

Before I was getting ready to leave I was really second guessing going to the show. By friday morning I was flooded with dread. Carmen was clearly picking up on my vibe and was doing everything in her power to tell me that my negativity was making her upset. I realized it and knew I had to get myself under control.

Despite all this she loaded well. I used the time I was driving to reflect on my emotions. I used some strategies I learned from 'Brain Training for Riders'. Essentially I kept asking myself what I was afraid of until I got to the truth.  As I worked through the scenarios in my head: It started with Carmen spooking and getting rung out or falling off. But that wasn't what I was really afraid of. As I worked through the asking myself 'so?' I got to the bones of the matter:
what if all the changes I have seen in Carmen are just superficial? What if, when the rubber hits the road, it all unravels and I haven't really made any difference at all?

Of course if someone said that to me I would see it as foolish. But we are all so good at believing that we're total fakes. Once I faced that it was easier to deal with. By the time I unloaded I was feeling much more positive and I had a clearer idea of my goals:
1. to have a spook free ride
2. to ride Carmen in a supportive and clear way
3. to figure out our show routine

  I could immediately see the results of my mood change in Carmen. I set up her stall and we hung out for a bit until it was our turn to ride in the ring. (The show allows competitors to book time in the ring on Friday at 5$ per 30 minutes. I booked 2 slots and it was from 4:30 to 5:30.) I was stabled in the area of Shanea (she hadn't arrived yet) and with the gang at Fraser Equestrian Centre (the ones who hosted the Cindy Ishoy clinic I did). It was a great group to be with- so relaxed and helpful. I watched them set up chairs, shelves and even a carpet and again felt like a red-neck dressage person (note- that was me, they never gave me that impression).

I walked Carmen around the venue and was even able to walk her in the ring. When it was time to ride I tacked up Carmen and we headed to the ring.

And she never put a foot wrong. Everything I asked her to do she gave 100%. She looked around but was not spooky at all. I rode through one of the tests and she was perfect. So I hopped off. The ring person told me that I had another 30 minutes but I said that I was good. Another rider was done and wanted more time so I gave mine to her (she paid me later although she did not need to).  I was so happy with her that I realized my goals had been realized before I even actually showed.
You can clearly see how wild she is

My first ride wasn't until 2 on Saturday so that morning I tacked her up and just walked her in the warm up ring. My goal was to walk her until she relaxed and then stop. It didn't take long for her to chill out and when I dismounted I'm pretty sure I heard her say 'that's it?' 

Soon enough it was time to get ready to warm up for real. I was surprised at how busy it was- there were horses and riders everywhere. I tried to stay out of the way while we walked our warm up and I kept having to stop or change direction suddenly. I found myself apologizing to everyone and said 'I am trying to stay out the way'. Jane, who was riding (I've taken lessons from her and she's an awesome rider) rode by me and said 'Don't apologize. You have as much right to be here as everyone else. Hold your line or you'll never get warmed up'.  I realized she was right and started to ride more pro-actively. It wasn't easy and Carmen and I had a small collision in the ring- just one of those 'oh crap' moments where our legs banged but no one was hurt and Carmen just had a little spook from it. After that she decided that I was clearly not being careful of us and took it on herself to look after the both of us. She paid careful attention to where everyone was and pinned her ears if a horse came too close. It was kind of adorable how she decided to step up and take care of things rather than freak out.

The show was a bit behind so we ended up riding about 20 minutes later than the time. which was too bad because we were ready on time. However, that's showing for you and we need to figure out how to keep ourselves warmed up but not exhausted. When I realized we were so late I did a lot of work at the walk to keep her supple but not tired.

And then it was our turn. I stood outside the ring trying to breathe and keep centred. I had arranged for a friend to read for me (thank you Tanya). I had the test memorized but wanted to be able to focus on Carmen and not trying to remember the next movement. It was a great idea.

Here's the video of the test if you want to see it. From a dressage perspective it was fine. From my goals perspective it was incredible. You can see Carmen and I truly working together to lay down this test. She didn't even think of spooking but you can see her ear asking me a question every now and then. A friend posted on my FB post: "Everytime her ear flicked back to you I think my heart melted 💕, you guys were so in tune with each other it was a pleasure to watch. She handled the arena like a pro."

There were some bobbles but nothing earth shattering. When I turned down centre line and sat up, squared my shoulders and rode at the judge like we were Amazons. When I halted I was so happy with her that I actually patted Carmen before saluting the judge (oops, but he just smiled).  I was thrilled with how we did.

My ride times were scheduled close enough that we would only have time to quickly untack and have time for a drink and bathroom break (both of us). I figured that my second time would also be 30 minutes late but it turned out that the judge caught up so it was just 15 minutes late. That didn't give me much time to warm up for the second test but that was fine because she was tired and I didn't want to over do it. I didn't think we did as well but my test scores belied that.

I didn't have time between rides to get my sheets or see my scores. I was okay with that because it wasn't about the score. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I saw our scores:

First Level Test 1: 62.96  which was in keeping with a lot of scores at the show (highest was 70ish). A lot of 6.5s with a few 6s/7s  and one 5.5 (walk transition). Our collectives were:
Gaits: 7          Impulsion: 6.5          Submission: 6        Riders position and seat: 6.5   Riders Aids: 6
Comment: Ask for stretch over the back into contact. Steady contact.  

First Level Test 2: 63.59 (surprised it was a bit higher).
Similar distribution as above with more 7s and two 5.5s (related to developing working canter and then the trot transition. I really went for the lengthen and the transitions suffered.
Gaits: 6.5 (walk)           Impulsion: 6.5         Submission: 6.5             Riders position and seat: 7  Riders Aids: 6
Comment: Ask for more lateral suppleness for a straighter horse. 

All of these comments were totally fair and tell me where to go. They were enough to qualify me for two firsts. It turned out that I was the only AA showing First Level 1 & 2 at Bronze so the placings are based on scores rather than competitors. Which is perfect because I was really only challenging myself.

I was so proud of both of us- it really felt like a true partnership. This photo sums up how I felt.