dancing horses

dancing horses

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.