dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Summer Blues

I know that it's been a long time since I posted. To be honest, like many of you, I am in a bit of a funk. Partly it's simply 2020. The other part has been that there has been a regression in Carmen's behaviour. I wasn't feeling up to writing about it because you will all think I suck. But what's the point of a blog if I can't be honest? So here goes.



She's been quite difficult to ride and we've had a few 'come to jesus' moments.

It's not been fun.

As always, with horses it's a struggle to figure out if something is physical or behavioural. I began her on ulcer meds but it really didn't seem to make a difference.

I won't bore you with details of all my rides. Roughly they consist of good moments with bits that are total shit shows: retracted neck, tight body often followed by a spin and bolt.  Or balking with threats to run backwards or go up. Note: Carmen has never reared on me. She has felt light in front and I've reached forward and bopped her on her poll which put the end to that.

After a particularly frustrating ride I was pretty bummed. I did some deep thinking and I realized that I was giving Carmen power over my emotions. I wouldn't let anyone else dictate my feelings in that way. I knew that I couldn't let that continue or else we would continue in our downward spiral. Also, there has also been lots of good things in our training and I can't just focus on the negative (which is totally against my goals).

I took a step back and began to spend some time grooming her. She responded well to that so there may be a bit of pressure related. It is possible that I was focussing too much on work and not enough on relationship stuff.
the weather is getting warm so I braid her mane to help keep her cool

Shanea wanted me to try lunging her in side reins. I had been resistant because it's easy to teach a horse to lean. But what she wanted to do was to get Carmen to learn to reach for the bit without a person on her back. I tried it during a lesson so that Shanea could help me. What we realized was that as soon as the side reins went on Carmen became tight and defensive. Which makes me wonder if she had them in the past. However, we kept them quite long and with some work she began to reach for the bit.
in side reins- see the umbrella? Shanea brought it for sun shade
and it caused a kerfuffle. So we did some work with it. 
within 5 minutes she went from bolting to being bored with the whole thing.
That is one thing I know how to do with her. 

The lesson was useful because Shanea was able to see the groundwork I do and how calm Carmen is before I get on. At a spot that was perfectly fine on the ground she flatly refused to go by. I had to get quite harsh with her - pressure on until I felt her think forward and then take it off.

I tried it again today and she started the same. This time I loosened the side reins even more and she began to stretch and reach for the bit. It got me wondering if Carmen really has a good understanding of contact. Which is stupid to be wondering at this point in her training I realize but hey, better late than never.

My ride today was also really good. She had one bobble at the same spot as yesterday but i gave her a squeeze and a tap and she went forward and that was the end of it. The ride was really good and every time she retracted her neck I kept the reins out there and put my leg on (or gave her a kick) to send her to the bit. My defence mechanisms tend to kick in when she gets tight because I'm anticipating a bolt and want to stop it. One day I might be over that tendency.
it was so hot yesterday. But I love this movement- she's so light in front (in a good way)

I still don't know if we're getting through this bobble or it's just a temporary truce. But I feel better about things. To quote John Legend:

"What's going on in that beautiful mind?
I'm on your magical mystery ride
And I'm so dizzy, don't know what hit me
But I'll be alright
My head's under water
But I'm breathing fine
You're crazy, and I'm out of my mind
How's your summer going?

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Object Permanence

My rides recently have been a bit, well, mercurial.

I've had rides where she's been sweet and calm and rides where you would think her tail was on fire.

Now it's not unusual for Carmen to get a bit anxious when all the grass and leaves are in and start blowing in the breeze.

I also know that her nature is to be reactive and sensitive. I have zero expectations that one day she'll be completely zen and relaxed. To me, that is as unrealistic as expecting an person with anxiety to 'just get over it'.

from my lesson last friday- starting off tight but trying

That said, I also do not put up with her being a completely irrational during our rides. The trick, of course is to find a balance. I try to figure out where she's at and meet her there so we can work through it.

That works the majority of the time.

better

My riding has improved quite a bit- I say that without arrogance or pride, it's just a fact. So the things that would unseat me or frighten me don't so much now. Shanea tells me to keep my legs on and not back off- that's when she gets me. Carmen has a powerful neck and shoulders and she knows how to use them. It used to be impossible for me to stop her but not so much. Not that she doesn't get away but it's much shorter lived. 

This week I had a ride that was lovely and then a ride where she was a complete and utter cow. And I don't say that lightly. She was fixated on the far bushes and everything I asked was just too much. She was hanging on the bit and using that for leverage to cart me all around. I had to get quite harsh at times to get her to stop (like I'm glad there's no media harsh). 

not hanging on the bit

Before you start thinking that I was picking on a scared horse, let me stop you. Carmen has three spooks: 
#1. genuine startle and frightening. When this happens so looks to me ' OMG, what do we do?' And when I say 'just this' she settles and listening. 
#2. I'm tired and want to stop working. This happens because in the past her behaviour made me back off. It doesn't now and this rarely pops up and, when it does, we work through it pretty quickly. 
#3. Anticipatory: it's like she comes out looking to worry and then, when something happens (like a goldfinch flying by) she will give a big spook and then bolt. In this mood she can become 100% fixated on an area and becomes quite unrideable. 

#3 was what I was dealing with in that ride. I wasn't even trying to get her to go near the area of worry. I was simply riding her in a circle but she was so fixated and I had zero attention. When she couldn't spin and bolt she would hang on the bit. 
From our last lesson, working on half-halts

I picked up a canter on a 20 metre circle and every time she became strong and tried to cart me off I would turn her in a 10 metre circle. After numerous circles (omg, so dizzy) she finally breathed and softened and we could ride. 

I halted her and she waited for me to dismount. When I didn't right away she began to paw. I took my dressage whip and every time she pawed I snapped her on the leg. She stopped and then began to try to pull the reins from my hands. I bridged the reins and still sat. Finally she sighed and cocked a foot. I sat a little longer and then hopped off. 

In the barn I had her ground tied while I got the hose ready. I saw her looking out the open door. 
Go ahead I said, if you leave I'm not chasing you. You are welcome to go find someone else who will look after you better than me. 
She breathed and then said fine, I guess I'll stay. 

What I realized was that our issue was one of attention. Carmen was attending to me when she chose. When she was interested in something else I was far down the list of things to attend to. It was like I wasn't even there anymore. 

The next day I took her up to the ring to do a groundwork session. The goal was simple- to have her attend to me and, when distracted to respond to my request to me. I used her ears as my cue. If the nearest ear flicked to me when I asked I would stop my demands. If she didn't respond I upped my ask. As Tristan would say 'ask a question that deserves an answer'

It was pretty simple, I had her on a circle. when she fixated on something I gently lifted the whip towards her. If her ear flicked, it went back down. If it didn't I immediately stepped towards her, disengaged her hind end and then sent her back. 

It was hard work. I had to be really consistent and very very clear. I played with increasing the pressure but that seemed too gray. So I had it very simple- ask soft, ask strong, get response, stop, rest, repeat. 

Today, before I rode I repeated the work from Monday. Clearly she remembered- her shift of attention  to me was immediate and fast. When I rode I kept my crop with me so when I needed her attention I waved it and her ear flicked back immediately. The one time it didn't I disengaged her hind end and that was that. 

The nifty thing was that by the end of the ride I just had to gently squeeze a rein and her ear would flick back. Even when worried about things, by having one ear on me her tightness and stiffness was not as bad. That's because horses are not good multi-taskers. Of course neither am I. 

It's nice to know that she realizes I'm up there. 

even when watching out for  trip hazards

And one more thing: My son returned from the middle east earlier this month. He had to quarantine for 2 weeks but that was over last week. He and Ripley were reunited and it was so sweet. 


If this doesn't warm your heart you need to seek help


Friday, June 26, 2020

All A Flutter

If you follow me on IG you will see that we have new residents at Oakfield Farm.

CHICKENS

Let me back up a bit. When we first moved to the farm people would say 'are you getting chickens?'
'YES' I would say at the same time Ed would say 'NO!'
I overheard him one day talking to a friend:
Friend: 'Are you going to get chickens?'
Ed: 'Well Teresa wants them but I don't....So you know what that means.'
Friend:  'you're getting chickens'
Ed: 'yup'. 


However, chickens were not a priority, there was so many other things to do. Now Ed is getting ready to retire and we were planning a big trip in September. The plan was that we would build the chicken coop this year and get chickens next.



Of course you know that didn't work out as planned. COVID-19 meant our trip was cancelled (well moved to next year) so I decided I wanted to get the chickens this year. Ed thought that wasn't possible because a lot of people place orders in May. I knew better though and, sure enough, through a FB friend (thanks Sarah!) I sound someone with 2 week old chickens to sell. 

I was so excited to get them- I just love chickens. We're starting with just four little ones. We were so worried that they would die on us. We've borrowed a heat lamp and set up Guinness' dog crate in the garage. We've put a thermometer on the cage that connects to a receiver in the house so we can monitor the temperature. We set up a cage outside for them to enjoy the weather when It's nice. 


They are ISA Browns
The chicken coop is not completed- turns out that COVID-19 has also led to a real shortage of chicken wire.  Every day (when it's nice out) we carry them one at a time to the outside pen and then bring them in at dinner time. 

I just love watching them. They are so adorable scratching in the dirt, fluffing their feathers and doing little flights. 


Their feathers are coming in but still have down on their heads; making them look like little vultures. 

or velociraptors

The second day we had them I had to bring the tractor out of the garage. I knew it would startle them but thought that they'd be safe in the cage. I started it and, sure enough, they startled. I left and was doing my chores when I got a text from Ed: "why are there only 2 chicks?'

I dropped my pitchfork and ran to the garage. Somehow, two of them managed to squeeze through the bars of the crate and were hiding under Ed's work bench. he managed to get one but the other was way back in the corner. I moved some stuff, grabbed a bucket and crawled as far in that I could get. I managed to scootch her into the bucket, peeping like mad. As I turned the bucket up and began to pull it towards me a paint bucket fell off the shelf into the bucket. A loud SQAWK!  came from the bucket and then silence. 
Shit. I killed it. 

I pulled the bucket out and lifted out the paint bucket. Two bright black eyes peered at me. The paint bucket only fell part way in so I put her gently into the cage that end then wrapped chicken wire around.  Fortunately she seems to be fine. But what are the signs of a concussion in a chicken anyway? 

With any luck we'll have some eggs this fall. 

I'm sure you're wondering if they have names. 

Of course they do. But I needed to figure out some good names. I played with some cute names but nothing was really coming to me. Then one day I was laughing at one of them who is quite bold and she ran at me flapping. 

I realized that her name was Jo. 

Another one is quite shy and often hides. Her name is Beth. (maybe she's not shy, maybe it's a head injury but I don't know which one was stuck under the bucket. 

There's a pretty little one that has blonder feathers than the other. Her name is Amy. 

And the last one is Meg. She just bustles around and minds her manners. 

Pretty sure that you have guessed the theme- Little Women. I loved that book growing up (still do really) and if you haven't seen the most recent movie you should- it's really well done. 

Carmen is a little wary of them but Irish is curious. Of course he takes his role as official farm greeter very seriously. 
Welcome little ones 



Sunday, June 21, 2020

Hot Stuff

This week we had a heatwave roll through. The temperatures were higher than what we typically get in July. My thermometer was registering at 37 at one point (98 Fahrenheit).  I had a lesson booked for 1:00 on Friday. Shanea texted me to see if I still wanted to do it and I said yes.

I know it was super hot but in my defence, Carmen doesn't mind the heat as much as I do. We also did a lot of walk breaks. Shanea gave a lesson focussing on being precise and clear in my aids. Carmen has been a bit tight and reactive earlier in the week. I even started her back on some omeprazole and it has made an improvement. With the rain we had the week before and then the heat I think that the grass has changed.

It was super hot but she looked good

Anyway, the goal was to have her soft and bending and responsive to the aids. Through the ride Carmen would get tight and hard on the bit and my job was to bend and soften her. If she barged through and got hard and fast I was to half-halt and, if that didn't work, halt. A couple times she tried to spin and bolt. The spin was successful but not the bolt. It was helpful to be reminded to keep the aids fluid and not just hang on the bit in the futile hope that she would magically soften and come through.

not bad here
It was very much a bread-and-butter lesson but it was very useful. I believe that there can never be too much time on the basics. We did a lot of shoulder in. A lot. But it kept her straight on the aids and decreased the chance that she would spook. 

 One thing that has been a bit of an issue is to keep her balance through the canter-trot transition. Like many horses, the tendency is to fall on the forehand and plow through. But these are getting much better. Of course we could only do a few and then break. 



We also did a few trot half-passes. Well we tried anyway. Which is better than not trying.

not a bad reach with her front and I'm not all over the place



We finished with a little walking and then stopped. When I dismounted I realized how hot I was. Carmen enjoyed her hosing off quite a bit. The next day I rode earlier and it was a pretty good ride.

Carmen was pulling a bit of stuff but nothing major and I kept her one the aids. After the ride I hosed her and then Irish off. The poor guy was really minding the heat. Later that day I was filling the water trough and the horses were standing nearby. He looked so hot, I turned the hose on him, starting with his legs. He stood there and then turned towards me and then the other side so I could hose that off too. Carmen even let me hose her off without leaving.

The heat wave ended on sunday. I don't really want it to be that hot every day but I did enjoy sitting on the deck reading and sipping some iced tea.




Monday, June 15, 2020

Namaste

Julia and I made plans to ride again on Saturday. Which would mean that Carmen was being ridden 6 days in a row.

Carmen: my god woman. What are you thinking? Somebody send help! 

What with the shenanigans earlier in the week and the lesson the day before I figured that she might be a little body sore. So I decided that the ride would be just at a walk (unless Carmen felt differently).

I have learned to love these rides and I call them 'yoga rides' because they are about stretching and flexibility, not cardio or muscle building.

Carmen: well that doesn't sound too bad. Although, I do a lot of stretching out in my field you know. 
Me: reaching for grass and rolling are not the same thing. 
Carmen: oh...are you sure?
Me: pretty sure
Carmen: fine. *sigh*
                                                Carmen fulfilling her life goals right here


Not surprisingly, Carmen was borderline cranky getting ready. I checked her over carefully and couldn't find any soreness on her back or neck so I figured it was more about being pulled off the field. And expecting to work.

Julia and I planned to hack first, which is exactly what we did. Carmen was really mellow about the whole thing and I let the reins go long. There is this one spot on the trail with a fork and Carmen stopped for a rest. I left the reins long while Irish went to the left. I was curious as to what she would do.  Instead of turning left to follow Irish she headed right. I laughed, because I realized that she knew that if we went to the left and out the bottom of the hill we head back to the barn she was done. Sure enough, when we came out by the manure pile she wanted to go straight and was resistant to going left back up the hill. But she didn't fuss too much.

Carmen: drat. Foiled again. It was a good plan too. 




In the ring I really focused on myself- keeping my legs long, my seat soft and engage and my hands following. We started with some lateral flexion through circles and leg yields. Carmen finds lateral suppleness easier than longitudinal. As we worked, I maintained contact but invited her to stretch to the bit rather than me gathering her up. She gave a few hard looks at her normal spooky spots but didn't spook once.

I then worked on transitions walk-halt-walk with the aim of zero rein pressure, just seat. Of course, sometimes I needed to add rein but that was last. I also worked on shoulder-in/haunches in using just my seat. This was easier to the left than right but she was trying. Mostly, she responded to closing my outside rein to straighten up and not be  disconnected. sometimes we failed but mostly it was good. As I gave rein she stretched into the bit and everything felt so soft.


this used to be impossible for us

I played with the turn on the haunches and I think I got a few good steps behind. We finished with walk half-passes. Carmen felt lose, relaxed and over the back- exactly my goal.

That work done we headed back out for another hack. I had Carmen lead for a bit until I felt that she was too worried and then we let Irish take over. Immediately she went from ears forward and tight to soft and floppy.

Carmen: I like him in front, I don't have to keep so many eyes peeled for danger. 

This time we went to the right and past the manure pile and out the bottom of the hill. Irish went into high alert and, just as we went to turn up the driveway, a loud banging came from across the street behind the trees. Irish gave a huge spook and his eyes were as big as saucers. Carmen gave a jump too and I was thinking uh oh. 

I shortened the reins and then started to coach Julia through Irish's shenanigans. He really really really wanted to bolt up the hill and was not impressed with not being allowed to. Interestingly enough, as I talked to Julia, Carmen just relaxed and plodded up the hill while Irish jigged sideways.

This is what is so weird about this horse. This birds and trees by the ring as super scarey and she resists my input. But when things are genuinely scary and spooking is totally legit she listens to me and relaxes. Not that she would have done that 2 years ago- I'd have had to hop off.

It was a good ride, both of us had stretched and used our core and we felt good.




Friday, June 12, 2020

Not Sloppy Seconds: Lesson Recap

If all had gone according to plan, this would be the first show of the year. Of course, this is not normal times. 

wait, what irresponsible person just lets her horse graze free?
I honestly thought I'd be more upset about it. Turns out I am okay about it. I do miss all my friends though and maybe by the time of the second show I'll feel different. For now, though, I'm enjoying working with Carmen. 

Well, sort of. 

You see, earlier this week Carmen became really spooky with all the stuff that comes with it: tension, bolting, refusing to listen. I had two very horrible rides. Both times we ended up in a, well, not exactly good place, but a better one anyway. 

I did a lot of thinking about it and realized that it might be feed related. I have had to put Carmen on a diet because she has been putting on weight. I was worried about her vitamin needs and so I put her back on the supplement I had her on earlier. I thought with the reduced intake of feed it would be okay. But it really is not. So I stopped it. 

Today I had a lesson booked and Julia came out to ride with us. We started with a hack (just like the last rides) and it was clear that Carmen was much more settled. We did the whole hack on a loose rein.  We arrived back at the ring at the same time as Shanea. I explained what we had been dealing with and then we headed out to work. 

The purpose was to keep her with me. Because she was so much better that was a lot easier than it had been. Not that we were without issues. 


In case you want to see a close up:


There were good moments too- in fact far more good than bad. Although this capture makes me laugh: 

if dressage doesn't work out maybe we could be a cutting team

Shanea had me use shoulder fore while riding serpentines and she became supple and quiet. 


It was a great feeling to have things work. 
nice halt. I'm giving her a pat for being such a good girl

We practiced our walk-canter transitions. To the right they were really good. To the left she became a bit frazzled with anticipation and worry. So I stopped and let her set her rabbits free. I then picked up the reins and we started again. After a few walk-trot transitions I asked her to canter. She would get flat and lean on the bit. Shanea had me practice cantering from the halt. It was cool to practice it and feel the lift. 


Carmen was being so good that we decided to finish up with practicing turn on the haunches. I hate to say it, but I am just not getting it. I was getting frustrated so I asked Shanea to hop up and work on it with Carmen so that she could figure it out and I could see it. 

Carmen: what is this bullshit? I thought I was done
It was good to watch Shanea work with her. I was relieved that it wasn't easy (does that make me a bad person?) but it was interesting to watch them work through and see Carmen start to understand. I took some video to study. 

It was a really enjoyable lesson and a lot of fun was had. I think I am okay if this year is all about the schooling and not showing. 

Carmen: How much schooling are you planning on?
I'm exhausted and clearly wasting away to nothing





Friday, June 5, 2020

Excuse Me While I Get Off My High Horse

I've been really struggling with what to write these days. I have some things to write about but they all seem so trite right now. Like anyone with a scrap of morals, I was appalled to see white cops murder a black man in broad daylight; seemingly oblivious to the crime they were committing. (also, if you want to argue with as to whether it was a crime, just fuck off).

honestly, why is this even a bone of contention? The fact that it
has to be said and that others react negatively to it says more about them and
the reason as to why it has to be said in the first case 
I am a middle aged white woman (or I am if you believe that I will live to be 112 lol, but whatever). while I have faced many challenges because I am female (from the ridiculous to the irritating to the downright frightening and everything in between), I have not had to deal with people viewing me as a threat because of the colour of my skin.

So I haven't written anything. I wasn't sure what to write or even if I had anything new to say.

Or if I had the right.

Because I am older (and hopefully more mature) I let things simmer in my mind a bit to see what comes out. Then I saw a post on FB by Lysette. She is a black equestrian hunter jumper rider. She also has this beautiful horse that I'd love to see her do dressage with, but I digress......
feeling the need to break up the text with an old photo. 

Here's the story. And yes I am about to call out an old white equestrian named Denny Emerson. Hang on, the why will become apparent in a moment. You see, Danny wrote a post on his FB page decrying the lack of diversity in the horse world and how we should all do better. It was nicely written and spot on.

Except it turned out to be just that. You see, Lysette challenged him to reach out and do more with his platform to highlight black equestrians. it was apparent that that made him uncomfortable and he responded that he really didn't know any black horse people. So she challenged him again (politely) and he basically told her to shut  up or he would block her. If you want to see it- here it is:


I'm pretty sure he missed the total irony of his telling a young black woman to shut up while he was decrying the racial bias in his sport. 

This post is not to encourage anyone to pile on Danny. I am writing it because I think it underlines that words are not enough. And that we are uncomfortable as white people doing more. Maybe because we don't know what to do. Or because we worry we'll do the wrong thing? Or we're old and tired. There are many reasons. None of them really any good. 

Like the meme going around says, it's not enough to be non-racist anymore. We have to be anti-racist. 

I always say that I more happy with the 'wrong' answer from Carmen than no answer. Because that means she's trying. So I need to do the same. I often say that Nova Scotia is largely white. And maybe it is. But also I need to recognize that we still a very segregated province with the majority of our black citizens living together in neighbourhoods. Either because we forced them to or for safety (likely both).  I grew up in a culture that was subtly or not-so-subtly racist. I recognized the more obvious ones but missed a lot of the small ones. 

When I think back, I knew only one black equestrian. I never thought about it before. If I had I think I would have reached the conclusion that it was because of the disparity of population. Clearly that is wrong. white people are not more likely to lovely horses than people of other colours. That makes no sense. I think that we need to reach out to encourage others to explore their love of horses. 

I also need to stop saying 'we'. That distributes the responsibility and dilutes it. I need to do more. I need to work actively to make the world a safer place for others. And, in total honesty, I don't really know how. Where do I start? I do know that I am no longer going to look the other way at racist comments, jokes or barbs. 

I am going to do some thinking about this and seek out ideas from others. 

________

I also want to say that Lysette has no idea that I wrote this post. I am going to reach out to her and if she wants me to I will take it down.