dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, May 25, 2019


Earlier this week I was struggling with feeling depressed. Now, in full disclosure, I've been prone to depression off and on my whole life. When I feel like this I stop and look at my life and see if there's any 'reason'. Usually there is not. Not that there isn't stress or things but my life is pretty good.

What has been going on is the weather. Honestly, it's been rainy, and cold. Or sunny and windy and cold. It's officially the worst spring I remember. It means that I'm not outside much and I really need to be outside. I have been getting frustrated with not being able to do things with the horses. Not so long ago I would have ridden anyway. Maybe I'm becoming a fair weather rider but, to be honest, I don't see the point of riding when the weather is bitter cold and the wind is trying to rip your clothes off.

so much rain

After a cold and bitter Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the weather finally improved on Thursday. Julia met me and we both had a good ride. I noticed that right after, I no longer felt depressed. I felt happy and relaxed and peaceful.

Friday we both had lessons booked with Shanea. But the weather was, yet again, cold and rainy. Like torrential rain. I convinced Shanea to come anyway with promises of supper and a bed so she could do her teaching on Saturday. Ed was sure we were crazy but he cooked a lovely dinner anyway. The rain did indeed stop so we decided to do a joint lesson rather than 2.

Carmen was a bit perturbed, after all she prefers to nap post-supper while waiting for night feed. But she was pretty good anyway and humoured me. When I mounted she was forward and a bit looky but nothing too major.

Irish was a bit wired but I didn't think too much about it. Then the neighbours brought their steers down the road.

And Irish lost his ever loving mind.
he's a sweet horse and can also be real dick at times

Carmen was a bit over the top too but managed to keep it together. I thought about dismounting but she would freeze, stare and then come right back to me. Julia and rode on a circle at the far end and then I moved away to the middle circle. My goal was just to keep her relaxed and forward. She was really coming along, then I heard 'WHOA WHOA WHO'.

I looked up to see Irish having a complete and utter hysterical melt down. I watched Shanea grab the reins and he started to run backwards, trying to rear and hitting the fence. I could picture him and Julia flipping over backwards down the hill. I halted Carmen and jumped off.

 I gave her to Shanea and then went up to Irish and Julia. You see, I have had Irish since he was 3 (he's 19 now) and I know this horse. And I knew exactly what he needed. I grabbed the inside rein and asked him to move forward, directing Julia to kick him forward. He circled around and then I switched direction. After a few circles, I let go and had her take him out farther.

What Irish needs when he's like this is to move. There is no settling him to be quiet, he has to go out and move his butt until his brain falls back in. He began to settle into the work. Not totally settled- he looked very much like a llama.

I looked back at Carmen who was standing beside Shanea with her hind leg cocked and half asleep. 
I think that you need to give this lesson to Julia I said. And I'm happy with what Carmen has done so I'm not going to get back on. But I won't leave, because that would cause even more chaos. 

Shanea agreed that Julia needed the attention. So while they worked I took Carmen out and we practiced our ground patterns, stopping periodically to do absolutely nothing (I have taken  a page out of Linda's book). 

Carmen seemed to enjoy us 'playing'. When I felt 'done' I brought her down to watch Irish and Julia. I decided to take her bridle off and thought I could do it while keeping on her rope halter (which is how  I work with her). Turns out I can't do that and everything ended up tangled (Cynthia is rolling her eyes right now and saying that she's not surprised). So I ended up taking everything off. Carmen stood there while I untangled everything and put her halter back on. She never moved a muscle (but she might have sighed at her inept servant). I then let her over and let her graze around the outside of the ring. 

In the meantime, Julia had Irish's brains back and they had some lovely work. Not that he ever really got over the idea that the cow's went down the road and never came back!' I am assuming that they moved them to the field for the summer. 

I was so incredibly proud of Carmen. She handled everything and I loved that she was the 'good one' even with all the shenanigans. And my depression appears to be gone. 

And I arranged for Shanea to teach me early the next morning before she had to leave. But that's a different post because this one is far too long. 

this is Irish staring at where the cows are.
Carmen is clearly concerned. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Spring is Expensive

Here's a blog post on the theme of 'Horses are expensive'.

Shocking I know.

When I was looking at properties with the aim of bringing Irish home my real estate agent asked me if I was looking to run a lesson or boarding barn. My answer was a resounding 'no'.

I still make the same expression, just not as cute
'I thought you might be looking to make money' he said.
Well, do you know how to make a million dollars with horses? I asked
'No' he said looking intrigued.
'Start with 2 million' I deadpanned.
He looked at me and then started to laugh. Ed looked worried though.

Fast forward and I have my horses at home. I love it. It likely saves me some money.

Spring is really hard on the bank account. There's vaccines, teeth floating, memberships etc.
this is how Ed deals with this time of year
Lessons also start up and I start to travel to places.
not fancy wheels, but mine
I love owning my own trailer. In some ways it's less expensive then paying someone. Although, because I have access to it I probably go to far more many places then I would without it. So maybe it's a wash.

All in all, there are a lot of costs that all happen in spring that can make it seem that the money is flying out faster then it is coming in.

I would consider that we fit pretty solidly in the middle class. Which means that I do have some discretionary income.

But I'm not a bottomless pit.

Sometimes that means I have to make choices. I don't weigh things based purely on price but, I can't do everything.

And I'm pretty much okay with it.

Although I wouldn't mind having more money, I'm pretty happy with the things I have. And what would I spend my money on anyway? Clothes? Travel? Fancy homes?

I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Soft Touch

Soft is strong, clear is kind~ Nikki Porter

This weekend Carmen and I headed out for our first big event of the season- an 'Ultimate Trail Clinic' by Mike and Nikki Porter. This is the third one of these I have done (recaps here and here). I quite enjoy doing these and so does Carmen.

This time it was Murphy's stable. I had never been there but it turned out to be a lovely place- nicely laid out and easy to navigate. I was impressed with her stall. As a bonus, I got to stay with Paula who audited some of it as well. We arrived friday late afternoon and I got her settled. Part of which included walking her around and doing some ground work in the indoor.
Carmen: why am I here?what's going on? Do you have carrots?

As always we started the clinic with telling our horse's 'story' and our goals for the clinic. There were a lot of people who had done this before and some who show regularly. It was fun to watch them. My goals were quite simple: I wanted Carmen be calm and confident in this new environment. The arena was a coverall with an opening at the far end. Something that she really struggles with. It was also raining. I was excited by all this because it would give me a chance to work her through these things in a supportive way.

I started with Carmen at the far end and we worked on our ground work to get her relaxed and settled. I was super impressed how it well it worked for her in this new place. She was doing really well keeping her focus on me despite the many other horses, people and things going on outside. I was playing with her being tuned into my body by backing, yielding hindquarters and forequarters depending on my language. It felt like a waltz. Once, I was asking her to back and she was distracted by something outside. I asked soft, then a bit harder and then I gave her a sharp tug on the halter and she backed up. Nikki came over (I didn't even know she was watching) and said 'was that a fair increase in pressure? 
Yes I answered.
Because she was paying no attention to me at all, just going through the motions. I increased up high and then dropped right back. If she had been worried about things behind her or unsure, I wouldn't have been so sharp but she was choosing to focus on outside. I think of it like calling her name. 

That makes sense. Most times I ask people and they don't even know how quickly they escalated. 

Fair, I said, look at Carmen and she wasn't worried that I was unfair. (Carmen was standing there quietly, looking at me).

This is one of the things I love about Mike and Nikki. They have tons of knowledge and share it in an open and inclusive manner. They will listen to you and take into account your knowledge (and knowledge of your horse). I hate when clinicians act like you know nothing. They do not, even if it's true that you know nothing.
Carmen: I've totally got this

In the afternoon they set up the obstacles for us to practice in hand. Carmen clearly remembered what was required of her.  She was super cute with the swinging doors. When she went through pushing them open on her own she looked quite pleased with herself. She was also a hit with some of the spectators who thought she was beautiful (clearly people with good taste).

In between the sessions I made sure to take Carmen out to walk her around and eat some grass. I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried about her gut health. I had brought some pre and pro biotic, aloe vera juice and some bi carbonate. I have no idea if any of my things worked but she seemed to be okay.

The next morning I brought her into the arena before anyone was there to let her stretch her legs.

Carmen: you can't see me. 

She wove in and around the obstacles. Funny story: in the video below  you can see the moving platform. At one point, she looked at me, picked up a trot and sailed over it with lovely jumping form. She then trotted off looking really pleased with herself. I laughed 'wrong kind of clinic darling'

We started at 8:30 in the morning with the horses tacked up but in halters. Everyone was to work with their horse from the ground and then get on when they felt ready.  Carmen felt ready pretty quickly. Nikki came up to me and said We know that she likes and understands the obstacles. From what you said it seems to me that the 'work' for you is schooling around them and getting her to listen, using the obstacles as the reward. Which was awesome because that was my thought as well.

As soon as I mounted Carmen turned from self-confident to worried. I am no longer bummed by this. It is simply a transition point for us and what I'm working on. Tristan does talk about this quite explicitly. He says that horses that have a long history of spooking under saddle can take a while before they have the same confidence as with the ground work (or something like that).

Anyway, as soon as we started riding around it was clear that Carmen was most worried about a tarp bag in one corner, the observation lounge, a board leaning against the wall and what was going on outside. It sounds like a lot, I know but it wasn't too bad.

I just worked her through it, helping her to walk up and past things that were 'worrisome' and rewarding her when she did. I gave her rein to stretch into and, while I did use my aids, I didn't try to hold her super tight or strong.

A young woman (I forget her name) was practicing roping and Carmen was like 'oh my god'. She said 'sorry' and I said, 'no, keep going. this is why we're here'. Carmen watched and when she asked to go forward to check it out I let her.  The woman was really nice and dragged it letting Carmen 'chase' it. After that she felt a lot more confident.

Carmen: 'are you going to rope me lady?'
Also, look at my free rein. 
The narrow platform to the octagon caused the most difficulty. She wanted to hurry over it. A woman named Lorraine came and asked if she could help me (see how lovely everyone is?). I welcomed her assistance and she coached us through going one step at a time. This is valuable for us because Carmen and I both tend to rush though things that we're not confident about. 

Carmen: I don't know what you're talking about,
I'm doing it perfectly

We went through the water trough a couple times and then she marched right up to the large tarp bag in the corner and stuck her nose on it. It's interesting how these things make her brave. 

The car is her favourite:

At the end, Nikki was admiring how well Carmen was doing and I asked her if she wanted to try Carmen out. She hopped on without much persuading and both of them looked lovely together. And that is where we left it. 

I was really happy with how Carmen handled the distractions of the clinic. As I watched other people my thoughts kept percolating about the best thing to do. You see we were supposed to ride again in the afternoon in a 'mock show'.  But it felt to me that Carmen had done everything I asked of her and that we really had nothing more to prove. My goals were to have her stay calm and have a good experience. We had that. If I rode int he afternoon I worried that she might feel overwhelmed and tired. 

 I let that thought work it's way around my brain for a while. I wanted to make sure that it wasn't because I was tired.But it stayed with me so at lunch I approached Nikki and told her that we wouldn't be riding in the afternoon. I explained why and she agreed with me. She would have supported me to ride again but I think she wanted to support me in making decisions in terms of Carmen's well-being.

So, instead of riding I cleaned everything up and we headed out early. Carmen was quite happy to be home and in her field. It's easy to second guess decisions but I am not going to do that this year (or not much). My goal is to have Carmen confident and relaxed and that is going to be the lens I use in making decisions.

For our first overnight outing, I'm calling this a success. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019


Spring continues to be elusive. It's a real downer.  I swear if we have one more cold rainy day I am going to look into moving to sunnier climes.

Surprisingly, the grass is growing anyway. Which is good because Irish is real wing nut when it comes to grass.  I have started to transition them on to the back pasture. In the front paddock that I let them winter in, the grass is also coming in but much less.  This helps, so that they are not starting with nothing.

My approach is to let them over to the back field before supper and continue to back it up. Starting this certainly lets me know how aware they horses are of where I am, despite seeming to be oblivious.

cold but still able to eat grass

I come out of the house and walk behind the barn. The horses are in the field with their backs to me. When I come out the other side of the barn they are standing at the gate. Oh Hai.  It's amazing how they can be like silent and speedy ninjas.

Irish always drop weight this time of year, because he refuses to eat any hay. Preferring to seek out any stray blades of grass.

The other day I took Carmen out for a ride. Irish decided that I was taking them for grass. When that didn't happen he pitched a complete and total tantrum: kicking, squealing, bucking etc.

Carmen: is he okay?
Me: yes. Sort of. He's just being a jerk because he wants grass. 
Carmen (hopeful voice):  does that work? 
Me: No
Carmen: *sigh* I figured as much. *shrugs* seems like a lot of work anyway. 

By this weekend they will be over there for the day and things will calm down.

On a happy note, Carmen continues to be a star. Today there was an ATV zooming up and down the road, backfiring occasionally. She was a little worried at first but then forgot about it and settled into work.

after the ride, so very mellow
This weekend we're heading off to a Trail Clinic. It should be a ton of fun. If you are in the Hantsport area stop on in at Murphy's Stable. We'll be there.

Sunday, May 12, 2019


Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we
make happen. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Spoiler alert: I had the best weekend.

It all started with my hack out on Friday.

Saturday was my birthday and I had plans for the day that probably only would seem great to fellow farm/horse owners. Things like cleaning all the old hay and poop out of the small paddock.  I put the horses up in the riding ring to eat the grass growing in around the edges while I did that.  They were happy to oblige and I was happy to get a winters worth of crap out of the way.

The other plan was, of course, to ride. I tacked Carmen up and took her up to the ring. We did a bit of ground work and it was clear she was feeling pretty mellow. My goal, as per my plan this year, was to see where she was mentally and then work from there.

and you know what?
She was right there.

In the past our rides would be like:
Carmen: let's see- the grass is moving so clearly there are monsters lurking...

Me: carmen

Carmen: crap, is that a pterodactyl? where are my exits?

Me: Carmen

Carmen: shit, I have to watch the grass, the trees, the skies. Danger lurks everywhere, better safe than sorry. 



Instead we had a ride that I can only describe as a conversation the whole time. She jumped once and then walked up to see what it was (a bird). Once she stopped to survey the next field. I looked too and said oh look carmen- it's a bald eagle! Isn't it beautiful? (yes, literally I said that).
She looked and sighed and carried on. We went everywhere and she was great.

I found a spot that was perfect and decided to stop. I could have kept going (I had things I would have liked to school) but I'm trying to find a good spot to end. I find that this is helping her look to be good because it is rewarded (not sure if that makes sense, but it does to me). After I sat on the deck and cleaned tack.
strutting. I know she above the vertical but she's taking me
forward with energy and I will take it. 

Saturday night Ed and I went out to dinner with some good friends. It was so much fun to eat and drink and talk and laugh.

I had also booked a lesson for 8:30. Shanea had wanted 8:00 but I negotiated later because I knew I was going to be out late. The morning was windy and cold (although sunny). I was sorry because I figured that my ride would be very different. Shanea arrived early and I was still tacking up. I refuse to rush because it never works out. I was also a little tired from partying.

Carmen blew me out of the water: she was exactly the same as the day before. In fact, she was better.

She was walking around all confident and easy going.

Like who is this mare?

here she is doing a free walk down the side that created so much emotion in the fall:

Compare that to this from last fall:

We worked on simple walk-trot-walk transitions. Keeping her with me and supple over the back. It went very well. I was losing the bend in the corners and Shanea advised me to use my inside leg and my outside knee to keep the shoulder from falling out. It worked like a charm.

We found a good spot to end and stopped. Carmen was pleased with herself. I was pleased with her and Shanea was pleased with both of us.

I love how much fun riding is becoming. I love how relaxed and affectionate Carmen is getting. I can place my hand on her neck and she immediately relaxes.

 I know that treating the ulcers was a major piece of this. But taking the pain away was only part. I needed to work through the loss of trust and habits that have been in place for a long time. I credit working through the TRT stuff with a lot of this. I can see her confidence growing and it makes my heart glow.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Embracing the Zen

This morning I put Carmen on the trailer and we headed to Coveside to ride the trails with Nancy. I ended up being a bit earlier than anticipated and they were still cleaning the stalls. But, because everyone is so nice, they let me throw her in a stall anyway.

My plan was to quickly park the truck and then take her out of the way. I figured we could practice our ground work in a new setting. But when I got back to the barn Nancy was there so we decided to quickly tack up and get going. Carmen was hilarious.
Carmen: no, I can't go yet. Look they are just bringing the hay. Go have coffee or something. 

I was mean and took her out anyway. We did a bit in hand and then she lined up at the rock wall so I could get on. As soon as I sat in the saddle she was raring to go.

C'mon. Let's get this show on the road! 

I had her wait for Nancy and Beau and then we headed out.

These rides are so good for our confidence level. Carmen clearly had tons of energy and I gave her the rein and let her go.  I let her look at things and praised her when she passed scary things.
how we spent 95% of the ride. 

Up until now we've been following Beau, but shortly into the ride she passed him on a hill and kept going.

Me: I guess we're leading now

Nancy: Great! 

This was so exciting because it's been one of my goals for Carmen. I even had been working on a plan. This plan did not include that she would decide to do it.

I spent the whole ride letting her make choices. Sometimes she lead. Other times something seemed too scary and we let Beau go first. This was particularly true when we went through the section where we had encountered the grouse before.

We passed (and were passed) by gators, cars and other machinery at parts.

She could have cared less. The first time she had one ear on me and one on the gator. I just left the rein long and stayed relaxed.

In one section a squirrel ran up a tree. She leaped sideways and then went back to riding (although she did send it a dirty look).

She also stopped at the top of a hill to look through the forest. I let her look and determine that there were no bears, wolves or grouse and then walk on.

When we got back to the barn we were greeted by the donkey. He's gelded but thinks he's still got it. I also think that Carmen is in heat because he was quite interested in her (unlike before).
Hey girl, did it hurt when you fell from heaven? 

Donkey: 'Can you take me to vet? 'Cause I broke my leg falling for you'

Carmen: ....

Donkey is your name google? Because you are what I'm looking for

I put Carmen in the stall which had some hay in it, much to her delight. As she hoed into it the donkey put his head up.  Hey, is that salad for two? 

Carmen: um, Mom, what is he doing? 
I don't think I want to date a donkey. Or anyone, really. 

I brought the truck around and when I opened the back he looked like he wanted to hop in.

When I brought Carmen out she hopped right on and we hit the road.

I love that we are doing so many fun things this year. And I love the confidence we are gaining in each other. Even when she jumped I was able to immediately let the rein go and carry on.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Choosing to Stop and Smell the Roses (a sort of blog hop)

This is a loose blog hop based on Emma's post here. I'd advise you to go and read it- it's well written and spot on.
hey, got any carrots?

What I loved about this post as it kind of hit on what I've been thinking about these days. This year I'm really focusing on letting go of the 'I should's. You know what I mean:
I should ride more/longer
I should be working on our groundwork
I should be .....

It's not that I shouldn't be doing those. But I realize that as I think of the 'shoulds' it's because I don't feel like it at that moment.

Don't get me wrong, I haven't lost my desire to ride. But I'm trying to not force myself. Carmen, for one, doesn't respond well to it. Also, I am far more likely to become frustrated because I really don't want to. Which we all know, she doesn't respond to well at all.

So when I am spending more time puttering, grooming, and just frigging enjoying my horse.

I'm liking this move from the Type A person to the Type B one.

Now when I ride and work her, I enjoy it more. I'm also enjoying the grooming and just being with my two horses.

Carmen: grooming is always good

And things are feeling different with Carmen and I. She's choosing to be with me more and more when I'm out puttering.

On sunday I fell down the stairs and bruised my tail bone (it really hurts). I figured I could be okay. Turns out I was wrong. I realized as soon as I settled in the saddle that there was no way I could ride effectively.  So I spent 5 minutes walking her on a long rein and encouraging her to be brave by going toward the things she was worried about. I then hopped off and she gave me a curious look Wait, that's it? 

I took her back to the barn and untacked her. I then put on her halter and we did some walking around the house and back. I let her out into the paddock and then refilled the hay bag. Irish dove in, but Carmen kept following me around blowing in my ear. It was kind of adorable.

Today I really wanted to ride. Julia joined me too. Ed came into the barn and asked if it would be okay if he went around pounding the fence posts (a chore that has to happen every spring as they get loose with the frost coming out of the ground). My gut said 'no' but my mouth said 'sure. It will make things lively but that's okay'. 

the downside of increasing confidence- far more
likely to tear the tractor apart. 

I realized I wasn't worried at all. If we couldn't work on 'dressage' things, we could work on being okay with seeing a tractor and a man wielding a large mallet. It was an opportunity, not a barrier.

And you know what?

She was fine.

Like fine. Curious, a bit looky but nothing major. On the Carmen spook/tension scale she was 1. When she was tense I gave her rein and invited her forward. Every time she answered my ask.  

My tail bone was still sore and so I was riding carefully.

Call me crazy but I think she was looking after me.  She was so steady in the bridle. Our trot was really slow at first (think western jog). But we warmed up into a nice, soft trot. The walk-trot transitions were easy. I also had 3 trot poles out and she was reaching and stretching over them.

After 30  minutes my butt was done so I stopped. I am not sure what this all means for my riding/showing/horsemanship. I am still in love with dressage and will keep pursuing it. But not with the same intensity or drive.  I am curious to see where it takes me.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Feelings, So Many Feelings

After working with Carmen I let her back out to the paddock to relax before the lesson.

It was an interesting lesson.

She started off with lots of energy and looking around. What is interesting is that the areas that were NBD during our groundwork, continue to cause some anxiety when being ridden.

This is definitely habit and one that doesn't get me too bent out of shape.

We walked around and then picked up a trot. I am sure that her saddle needs some adjusting (I have a call in) and so I let her warm up to it. Carmen was still getting herself distracted, the work in the ring was not keeping her occupied enough.
getting distracted by the equipment outside the ring.
Still looking pretty though
So Shanea asked me to do a 4 loop serpentine. I was riding it and Shanea kept telling me to turn sooner and I was getting confused. Finally she said 'think of it as 10 m circles'. And then I knew I had to stop.  See, my ring is 60 m long so to do a 4 loop serpentine it's at the 15 m marker not the 10. Once we cleared that up we could work through it.

As we worked Carmen's energy picked up and she was ready to go. She picked up a canter when I didn't ask but I let her roll with it and we flowed along. It allowed me to work on our trot-canter-trot transitions.

After a brief break we went back to trot and I asked her to cross the ring at B she balked. I put my leg on and she gave a big buck. It honestly seemed like she felt I was being too hard and I'm sure my balance was on the front of the saddle and pinching her.

So I just laughed, brought her back to walk and let her get more comfortable. Clearly, she had feelings and one of us had to be zen. I spoke about what I thought was bothering her and we decided to take it down a notch.

We worked on some leg yields at a walk. As we worked, Carmen began to relax. And then wanted to go forward into trot. I waited a bit and then let her roll forward.

Leg yields from left to right were easier then right to left.  She likes to lead with her haunches so worked on that. Here is Carmen expressing her feelings about being made to go to troll corner.

But we worked through it. Carmen can get quite fast and unbalanced so I've been working on that.
In this video you can see that she's speeding and falling out of balance. I turned her into a 10 m circle and slowed her down. From that she's more balanced and, funny enough, less spooky in the corner.

But we finished with this leg yield:

This is the one we finished on.

I was happy with this lesson and how we dealt with things. It seemed to me that Carmen is learning that I will  listen to her when she tells me she's not comfortable- mentally or physically. Which is allowing us to work through it. I am being less intense, which is also good.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Dealing with Distractions and Other Spooky Things

First of I am so excited that I won Equine Pilots Foal Pool! Also, the filly is stunning.

I had a lesson arranged for Friday afternoon. I spent the morning doing chores around the farm. Winter is hard on things and there are always things to fix and clean up. I also got the stuff out of the shed to take up to the ring.

looks precarious but it actually worked out. 
Before my lesson I brought Carmen into the ring to play with some of our groundwork exercises. With TRT the idea is not to desentize horses but to teach them to deal with pressure and stress in a positive way.  I have been moving the actives closer to the side of the ring where we have 'issues'.  The goal is to break the habit that has developed there.

Not to bore you with this stuff but it will become relevant for the lesson post that is coming later.

  I set up a simple tarp (which is actually an old horse blanket with all the straps and hardware cut off) between two cones. This was no big deal, which I expected. I'm enjoying watching Carmen take to my questions as puzzles to be figured out. I would say that she's enjoying them.

I then grabbed the plastic bag on a stick. First I did some work with the bag to make sure she remembered. Then I stuck it in the cone and asked her to go through. The idea is that she goes through without me leading her- instead she leads herself.  I am her coach, not her boss in these exercises.

You see that she hesitates and I give her time to figure it out. I am also really working on my body language to be low key and relaxed. You may notice a certain dog who also acts as a distraction. Guinness kept coming in to see if I was done and we could play.

Going on the right rein is a bigger question for her then going on the left. Which tracks with under saddle too. I can also see how she feels good that she figured it out and dealt with it.

I then took the bag out and added the flag. The flag is her least favourite thing. She doesn't like things that flap. I did work with her with just the flag and then added it to the cone.

You can see that this creates more tension and uncertainty. I don't get upset when the gives the 'wrong' answer. Nor do I try to correct it. Instead we regroup and try again. I give her time to think and then increase the demand. Once she did it pretty well both ways I stopped. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be 'better'. Each time we try she starts off at or better than the last time.

I was very happy with her and how she dealt with this. We finished with practicing her draw to the mounting block. I love this so much. The idea is that, rather than being made to stand at the block, we  teach the horse to stand themselves there. Carmen has been pretty good about standing while mounting but with this I find her very relaxed and happy to stand there until I ask her to move.

You can see that the grass is a distraction. Hard to blame her there. After two trials I let her go to graze and relax while I put stuff away.

Here she is grazing in 'Troll Corner' with not one concern.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Early Morning Rides

The two lessons I've had this spring have been very positive lessons.

While that makes me feel very optimistic.

It also add pressure to apply the lessons to my regular schooling sessions.

Or, you know, even find time to school. Between work and weather it's not been easy.

 I need to get back into the swing of regular training. Not in a drilling sort of way (I'm determined to not do that) but for consistency.

I managed to squeeze a ride in early Tuesday morning before heading for a day of meetings.  I really like riding in the mornings. I find that I am more focussed. Julia came to join us as well.

As soon as I mounted I felt that Carmen was energized but in a good way. I even joked that I hoped she would use her energy for good instead of evil.

It seems to me that Carmen is figuring out that work does not equal pain. And so she's feeling much less defensive and interested in figuring out the questions.

And it's not that she isn't wary about the far side but the reactions are definitely going down, rather than up.

After riding for about 35 minutes I was happy to end it. She had done everything I asked. Her transitions were prompt, our leg yields were smooth and there was minimal spooking. Even our haunches/shoulder in were pretty straightforward.

I walked her over to the rail and we opened the gate. She was all 'yeah, I've got this'. We headed out for a lovely hack through the woods. Irish was also quite happy to be back at it.

It was a great way to start the day.

Turns out that I like to do it in the morning.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Rhythm is Gonna Get You

It's not news that I really want to get back into the training swing. Last week I sent a text to Shanea and we arranged for a lesson today.

In the morning I did some groundwork and TRT method. I had been doing a lot of thinking about 'troll corner' and how to help Carmen learn to relax. I was watching a video where Tristan was answering questions about horses having a spooky corner. He said that there really is nothing to teach them in terms of not reacting to specific stimulus because there usually isn't one. Instead it becomes a habit in which the horse gets tense in a particular spot. Then the rider builds tension and this results in a reaction to any stimulus (like a bird).

I did some pondering and got an idea. Carmen has learned really well to relax to the various 'toys' I use (flags, clappers, plastic bags etc) so I decided to use that learning to set up a lesson for Troll corner. I started in a comfortable spot - near the gate. And then took her over to troll corner. Interestingly she actually did explode in response to the bag. But quickly fell back into understanding the task. Soon she was relaxed and mellow.

When it was time for the lesson I mounted and we walked off on a long(ish) rein. She looked askance at the far side but didn't get explosive or balky.

Shanea came soon after I mounted and we began to work. The exercises were simple enough. First just walking and reaching forward. Inside leg to outside rein is apparently still in fashion.

that is us walking through troll corner. 
We then picked up trot and doing a serpentine exercise: each time we returned to the rail we were to do a 10 metre circle. 
like this. First we did 3 loops, then 4

Initially Carmen and I were a real mess. Straightness and the correct bend were elusive little buggers. So was rhythm and attention. 

Fortunately, Shanea is patient and I am stubborn. Slowly the exercise began to flow and we got into the rhythm of it. 

At times things were distracting to Carmen. Did I mention that Ed decided that this was the perfect time to use the tractor to grade the driveway? I could have texted him to stop but it seemed to be a little distraction so I let it go. 

Here's a video of the work:

I don't know where we were in the ride that this was taken but I know it got better and better.

It felt lovely to find us working forward and her swinging over the back.  We gave her rests when she was good to help her understand the lesson.

OMG, are we actually straight? also check out those ears! 

At the end we picked up a canter. The exercise was to pick up canter at A, 15 m circle between F & B and then across the center line, transition to trot at X, 10 m circle to regain balance and then across the ring, picking up the canter on the center line.

Our left lead was fabulous- forward and effortless. We even did a bending line and she was awesome. To the right was a bigger struggle, but that is no new for us. I have to say that it was far better then when we started last year.

We ended after a few minutes of canter and we walked out on a long rein.

It felt so good to have this second lesson of the year go so well. I have a lot of things for us to work on but it feels good.

Irish and Julia also had a lesson and they looked great.

such a cute redhead

Friday, April 26, 2019


I wish that the rain would stop.

But as the saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

I hate not being in a regular ride schedule. Work has been really busy too which makes it harder.

Everyone wanted some extra attention from me when I was home.
Note the canine waiting patiently. 
But that's enough whining. Today was sunny and I was determined to get some quality work in.

In the morning I took Carmen up to work on our ground patterns and learning how to deal with pressure. She did really well. Even when I attached the flag to one of the posts in the riding ring. She didn't want it to touch her (it was flapping quite hard) but wasn't frightened or nervous. The goal is for her to learn how to be calm and seek a relaxed posture when stressed, rather than building on the stress and exploding.

just in case I hadn't notice him nobly waiting for me. 
I didn't ride her after our ground work session. Instead I turned her out. I could have ridden her but I am conscious that there is only so much learning to go in before it can be not productive. So I turned her out and went to have lunch.

After a couple hours I brought her out and tacked her up. She was being good until one of the neighbours raced this frankenstein tractor down the road. It was the frame of an old tractor with a different engine on it.

In the ring we did a little in-hand work and then I mounted. Right away she began to get super tight and balky. I tried to help her ride it through but she began to escalate a bit.

But it didn't seem like she was frightened, it felt more like she didn't want to work.

would rather look for snacks
To test this theory I picked up my crop. I asked her lightly with my leg to walk on and she shook her head and gave a little hop. I gave her a smart smack with the crop behind my leg which she kicked at and then went forward. After one other little discussion that was the end of that. I'm thinking I was right.

I spent the rest of the ride just helping her find a soft and relaxed posture. When she did, I let her carry it for a bit and then gave a break. When she got all twisty I kept myself centred and balanced and let her find me. I wasn't worried about what she going to do- I was confident I could ride it out. 

Carmen began to relax when the tractor came back. 

We stopped to watch it and then I asked her to go. With a sigh she gave me a lovely relaxed trot. We trotted a figure 8 and she was great. I then saw the tractor coming dragging a cart with a  flat tire. I halted and called it a day. 

In all we worked about 35 minutes. Which was okay given that we are just getting back to work. 

I am hopeful that that this work on showing her that life is better when she relaxes is going to pay off. 

I just need to work on my own patience. 

I need to take a page out of Guinness' book

Monday, April 22, 2019

In the 100 Acre Wood

On Saturday I had a grand adventure planned for Carmen and I.

Well, not 'grand' so much as 'fun'.

Part of my process goals this year is to do things without worrying about perfection or even perfect control. So I arranged to meet up with Nancy and hack at the barn where she boards. It's the one with absolutely stunning trails.
just as magical with other characters...

I gave myself some extra time for loading, just in case. But I didn't need it, although clearly a bit tight she walked right on. At the stable we were greeted by two small goats. Nancy asked how Carmen would be with them. The truthful answer was I don't know. The other half of that answer was that I wasn't all that worried.
I grabbed a photo of the adorable goats at the end of the ride

The cute little goats were very curious and were climbing on the ramp of the trailer as I dropped it. Carmen gave them the hairy eyeball but seemed unworried. She unloaded and headed into the barn. She always seems so comfortable there. Part of me would love to leave her there for a week to get used to all the things.

You may remember the donkey too. He was not to be overshadowed by two hooligans.

love that nose
It didn't take long to get ready. I asked Carmen to line up by the rock wall (which she did like a champ) and we were off. Carmen was exactly as I expected- up and a bit tense but not melting down. I gave her a long rein, relaxed my seat and we followed Beau and Nancy. 

And we stayed on the long rein for the whole trip. A couple times I shortened the reins to prevent a potential crash but I never held her. Even when we went by a small 'sculpture' of rocks piled on top of each other. Carmen looked, said 'meh' and carried on. 

tempting to trot/canter here but the ground was still a bit soft. 

When she wanted to stop and look at things I let her.

The trails wind through woods and up to fields. There are lots of hills (big and small) which are great for conditioning.

Can you see the view behind me? 
I look at these photos and I love how solid a horse she looks this year.  She has filled out nicely, I think.

Shortly after this photo (I think) we were walking back along an open area when all of a sudden all hell broke loose. A grouse flew off in a great flap, Carmen said EEEK  and spun and I tried to say 'whoa' but am pretty sure it came out as 'ARGHHHHHH.

Even the redoubtable Beau jumped. Nancy was perfectly calm of the four of us. After her jump Carmen turned back to watch the Grouse flap off. 
Carmen: WTF?
Me: god I hate those birds. 

My heart was pounding- mostly from the bird. They get me every time (I call them heart attack birds). We both took a deep breath and I dropped the rein and we walked on. Carmen was keeping a suspicious eye out but didn't become a basket case. 

Frankly I don't blame her.

that tail! Believe it or not I've trimmed it 3 times this winter

We finished back at the barn tired and happy. I loaded Carmen and we headed home. She spent that day and the next being very relaxed and mellow. 

I think it was a great idea to head out so soon in our riding season. It's all part of the plan to mix things up and keep them interesting.

Friday, April 19, 2019


I was relieved to feel back to normal on Thursday. The nice thing about a migraine is that it feels so good when it's gone.

Okay that might be a little too 'glass is half full'. But still.....

It also corresponded to the weather stabilizing into a sunny day. Julia has moved to the area and we arranged to meet up and ride.

Carmen was a bit tight when I brought her in but that was okay because I already planned to lunge her first anyway. I figured that if she was stiff then being able to move without me on would be good for her back.

It's been interesting looking at my work with her through the lense of helping her to deal with pressure in a way that builds her confidence. As I start back I'm squashing all the 'I should' thoughts. Ones like:

I should be working on leg yields,
I should be working on lengthens
I should be working on perfecting transitions
I should be working on getting ready for second level
I should be working on _______

Not that I don't want to work on all those things but that if that becomes my focus I will fail. I am trying to keep with my 'process goals'.

So I'm trying to gauge her internal pressure and ride accordingly. It took a little time lunging her for me to feel that she was in the right head space. But when I mounted she stood stock still and moved off when I asked. I could feel her walking fast and tense and I tried to use my seat to keep her slow. Without Karen to guide me it was much harder to do. I could tell that she was much more comfortable in the bridle so I was glad I had her teeth done.

As we walked on I just focussed on staying calm and not tight. As we worked she began to blow and relax. As she did that I began to ask for more things: trotting, going by her spooky spots, bending etc. When it fell apart we regrouped and began again. Every now and then she sent me the message that she was thinking of freaking out. I would relax more and just stay the course.

There was this one point where she gave a big shy. I sat up and she came to a stop herself and then began marching towards what had spooked her. Honestly, this is the first time she's ever done that. I gave her rein and let her march towards the rail with a loose rein. She looked over the fence, sighed and we then went back to work. I loved that she dealt with the startle herself. I literally did nothing but sit there. As for what spooked her I think it was the song birds (Carmen: um they were velociraptors) that were flying madly about. (Carmen: trying to attack us. And they were armed).

After that we were able to work on walk-trot transitions, a little leg yielding and even some canter. We took some breaks and each time she would just drop her head and relax. I let her have the rein to do that. If she took off I figured I would get enough warning to be able to take up some rein.

Friday was supposed to be rainy all day but there was a patch of clearing in the middle of the afternoon so Julia came out and we took advantage.

Irish: Two days in a row? What madness is this?
In the morning I had hitched up the trailer to check that it's all good to go this year.

nice to see this set up again
 Of course the horses noticed and I think that contributed to some extra tension on Carmen's side for our ride. She was definitely more tense and not so sure about life. It was also really windy, which never helps. I kept on task and made sure that she had things to occupy her brain rather than random dangers lurking in the woods. We managed to end on a good note with her being relaxed.

clearly there is danger lurking there. Also, it didn't seem that
foggy when we were riding (PC Julia)

So there's a lot to do but it feels like it's in the right direction.