dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, September 16, 2019

Calibrating Aids

The rider who leaves a horse on his own in the name of lightness is not working but is just strolling with his horse. The one who pushes and pulls is a wild person.
 ~Nuno Oliviera~

This is not a new thing, but it is one that I have been trying to really focus on in my riding. Remember when you first started riding and the aids seem to be pretty binary- simply on or off? And then as you learn more you realize that it's more complicated then you thought. And then, with more learning is becomes very nuanced and complex.

Add in a sensitive and complex horse like Carmen and you can end up wanting to bang your head against the wall. I have found myself in a pattern of either not giving any aids in case she spooked to riding very heavy handed, again in case she spooked. It is easy to say that both of those things are 'wrong' but I'm learning that the answer is a little more gray than that.

What I've been playing with is the concept of figuring out the minimum amount of aid I need to accomplish what I want. In the past I would take that to mean that I need to be really quiet and soft. Now I have that as the goal and I am playing with how much pressure do I need to accomplish the task.

I am finding it to be a very nuanced game. For example, I have playing with the 20 metre circle and how much I need to do to keep her on the circle. This means that I have to give her room to make a mistake. It's easy (well easier) to micro manage her around the circle but that makes me responsible for everything. And I would like her to take some ownership.

I usually start at the walk and put her on the circle. I have contact and my legs lightly on but let her alone as she travels. If she bulges I put on more outside aids, if counter flexes to look at the outside I put on the inside. The pressure goes up until she responds and then goes back down. It's her job to stay on the circle, I only let her know when it's off.

my mental image

Playing with this has helped me to realize how much I try to micro manage Carmen and how much I don't need to. This is, of course, the approach of 'make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy' made famous (to me at least) by Warwick Schiller.

Thinking of this way has made me feel more confident of adding aids when needed. If I'm going through troll corner and she begins to shorten her stride and retract her neck I might shorten my reins (but not too much, mostly I don't) but I definitely sit up and add leg to get her to go forward. When she does it all goes back down. The trick is, of course, to always start light. How quickly I go up will depend on the circumstance but I try to keep it within a short time frame ( no more than a  few strides).

forward ho

What is interesting is that Carmen is really responding to this. She appears to understand that I will be there if she needs me but mostly she can carry on. We have been getting in fewer 'fights' about things and it's not because I'm avoiding them but because I am being more nuanced. If we need to have a strong discussion about something we do but I'm trying to show her that we don't have to. At least for now. I know that things can change again. But I'm less fearful about those 'discussions' then I have been in the past. Nor do I view them as a failure if/when they occur.

The other thing that I've started doing with Carmen is hacking at the start of our rides not the end. Right now that is only with Julia is riding too. We go to the ring, hop on and then walk out and head to the woods. Carmen has been leading these rides. I generally keep the rein loose- after all it's a stroll for relaxation. If she wants to stop and look at something I let her. Then when I ask her to step forward she does. Yesterday there was a tree across the path (it blew down in the hurricane). We both assessed the situation and I said 'I think we we walk over it on this side'. And with no hesitation she did. If she's tighter or more up (like yesterday) I keep the rein a bit shorter but it's still loose. So is my seat and leg. If she does spook I can get her back easier and with much less drama.
I do love this view. Back when Irish had to lead.
He's now learning to follow (it's good for him)

Starting the rides this way seems to make her much more amenable to the ring work. She is far less looky and spooky in the ring (not completely but whatever, it is Carmen after all).  I think that this breaks the pattern for her of resenting/resisting ring work and lets her warm up her body and mind more gradually. I am going to be brave and see if it works when we're on our own.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Countdown is on!

in one week Carmen and I will be participating in the Canter for the Cure show.  I love that I can combine the sport I love with raising money for a cause near and dear to my heart. The show is shaping up to be a blast.
Carmen: I thought I was done with this showing thing

People are riding freestyles and there is even going to be a costume class. Karen and I will be riding our Pas de Deux in Flamenco dresses.

I’m pretty sure that Carmen will be okay with it.

It has more ruffles then my wedding dress 

We’re also making our 2nd Level debut.  Not that we have any business doing that but I decided to go for it. She is fully capable of all the movements.

It’s not too late to donate and be entered in my giveaway. Just click on the link to the right and it will take you to the post.

If you can, come and watch. I promise that  I will be posting a video of our ride post show.  Kalimo and Karen will be awesome. Carmen and I will be awesome or awesomely dramatic. At the very least It should be entertaining.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Riding in the Yukon

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time-ride a horse into the mountains. Wednesday Cynthia and I did just that. It was a spectacular ride. The air was so clean and the views stunning. I rode a solid draft (cross?) mare named Feline. She was easy going and felt like an easy chair. Once we both agreed that I knew what I was doing we could relax and enjoy ourselves. I used my iPhone for the photos. Forgive any errors. Doing this from an iPad is a real pain.
Starting out

Along the trail

The view from the top was pretty 

After climbing the mountain, We then rode down to the lake 

I love this photo 

After a brief rest we headed back to the ranch. All told it was a three hour ride.

An old fishing camp

Thursday, September 5, 2019


I never really used to think much about how everything looked on my horses. As long as they were economical and functional I was happy. 

Then I bought a gray mare and a whole world of fashion possibilities opened up. I find myself looking at things and going 'ooh that would be pretty'

When I first started showing Carmen I had a plain black bonnet. It went well because her mane and tale were still quite dark. 
from back in 2017
Carmen is much lighter this year and the black looked a bit stark. At the test riding clinic Libby shared that judges don't like bonnets that contrast too much, it's distracting and can really emphasize if the horse is tilting their head. 

That gave me the push I needed and I decided to order a bonnet for Carmen. I contacted  Fun Bonnets via FB and ordered a new bonnet. I cannot recommend this person enough. She helped me figure out the colours and design (there are so many options).  I opted for silver gray with black cord flanked by two smaller white cords. 

She also explained that there was a ton of orders and there would be wait. I contacted her a couple weeks ago and whined asked if it could be ready in time for the August show. She responded right away and promised I would have it. 

And it's perfect. 

could only get one ear up for the photo

It blends in but ads a bit of contrast. The material is so soft too. I love how it goes with her browband. 

absolutely refusing to put ears up, no matter what. 

And from a distance it's great:

I now want to get more to match some saddle pads.......

If you are looking for a quality bonnet at a good price I would definitely recommend FUN Bonnets!

Also, on another note, my friend Cindy had a few clips of my last ride on Sunday. I was able to put them together to show the last half of the test:

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

I get By

With a little help from my friends.

One thing that I really love about showing here in Nova Scotia is how supportive everyone is. Throughout the whole weekend I could hear happy chatter and laughter in the barn. When one of us was feeling apprehensive or tired the others would encourage them.

tired, hungry and all smiles at the local pub. I've shown with these
two characters for years. 
A few people have sent me supportive messages too since my post about our Sunday experience. I so appreciate it. The truth is, that while I was a bit bummed yesterday, today I am fine. I know Carmen by now and I know her moods. I don't know how far I will get with Carmen but it won't be because I didn't work hard.

on Saturday the judge commented twice about how pretty she was

On Saturday, after dinner we headed back to the barn to check on the horses. Paula offered to clean my stall while I walked Carmen. I took her out behind the ring to the grass. In a few minutes I was joined by Tanya and Ron. Then Sam and Jen. And finally Mel. We all stood around with our horses laughing and talking and getting in touch with our inner (or not so inner) horse-loving 12 year old. Some of us had great classes and others not so much. But on this lovely summer evening it didn't matter.

We should get a picture! Someone said. I took out my phone but taking the photo would mean I wasn't in it. But there was a father and his son in a car watching us. The boy looked excited to be this close to horses. I asked if he wanted to take a photo and he was a bit surprised. In the end the father took the photo and after the boy held on to Suzi (the sweetest of horses despite Carmen's opinion). 

This is why we were here
In this photo are an Andalusian, a Quarter horse, a morgan, an arab, a friesian and a TB/Draft cross. All showing dressage and having a blast. If this was high school they all would fit into various characters:
Suzi (QH)- small and cute- the leader of the pep squad and very popular. 
Raven (Friesian) - the dark, handsome broody guy we all had a crush on
Jake (TB/Draft)- the strong and lovable jock with a heart of gold
Smuggler (Morgan)- the handsome temperamental artist (and possibly sells weed behind the school)
Navigator (Arab)- the serious student who gets perfect scores on all the tests and wins the scholarships
And last, but not least is Carmen (Andalausian) and I am sorry to say that she is the princess who can be the 'mean girl' (but really isn't. Honest guys). Kind of like Cordelia from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It was a fun show, mare tantrums not withstanding. This is a different angle of her spook. I like it because it helps me to see what happened. 


On another note, this weekend Ed and I are headed to Calgary! We have tickets to the Masters at Spruce Meadows, thanks to our friends Cynthia and Andrew. I am so excited. Any other bloggers going to be there? 

Monday, September 2, 2019

The No Goal Show Recap

I was going to write this post tomorrow but it turns out that I cannot sleep (thanks menopause) so I thought that it might settle my whirling brain if I put some of these thoughts out of my head and onto my blog.
Good Lord Woman, do you ever stop? 
The trip was easy and I settled Carmen into her stall. Her neighbour, Suzi was instantly in love. Unfortunately Carmen did not have the same thoughts.

Suzi: but I'm lovable, everyone says so
Carmen: no. you are not. GO AWAY

I had arranged a lesson with Shanea in the show ring (you can pay for 30 minute intervals). Carmen was really really good. She settled into work and it was a great lesson. A couple bobbles (let's face it- it is us after all) but nothing major and we had some really solid work. 

I didn't ride until mid afternoon which gives lots of time to fret. 

Except I didn't fret at all. Instead I walked Carmen around to let her move, watched some beautiful horses and their riders do some tests and chatted with friends. It felt a lot like camping. About an hour before my ride I took Carmen into the warm up ring and she kind of lost her mind. There were a couple spots she was freaking out about. One was a partially open door, except it wasn't the door. There was a gatorade bottle on the ledge by the door shining in the light. Another spot was this small window that was open on the side of the indoor ring. Carmen was so freaked out by this window that I asked someone to close it for me. Someone also moved the water bottle. Things were better but not great. 

Still I felt pretty ready going into to do my test. And in the show ring Carmen was way better and we laid down a pretty solid test (for us). A couple errors but still, the most consistent we've been. 

I do not recall my score and I'm too lazy to get it out of the truck right now but it was in the low 60's (I think around 64). I thought it felt a bit like a train wreck but other people assured me that it looked good and after watching the video I see a lot that I like. (however, stay tuned for the train wreck). 

I let her have a small break in her stall and then took her back out the warm up. There were still a few freaky spots for her but we worked through them and put in our next test that felt more consistent to me. We scored about the same. 

I will likely review the tests in detail later on this blog (or maybe not) but the judges comments were positive and very encouraging. My favourite was 'tactfully ridden' for one of my 10 m circles. 

That night a bunch of us from the show went out to dinner and had a grand time talking about horses, the show, more horses, cats, horses etc. There may have even been a bit of dancing to a local band. Carmen's antics in the warm up ring were bugging me though so I asked Shanea if she could give me a  lesson the next morning in the warm up ring. I wanted Carmen to realize that she needed to work there and then just let her rest until it was time for the test. 

The next morning was much like the one before except that I had a lesson booked in the morning. I'm so glad I did that because it was so good. Shanea really helped me to figure out how to keep Carmen on task and not kill any other riders. Which was the thing really getting me tense- I didn't care about her antics. I'm used to them. But I didn't want to careen into another rider or freak out their horse when they are trying to get ready for their show. This time there was a coffee cup on the ledge (the horror!) that had her freaked out. Someone moved it but honestly, it could have been anything. Sometimes she's tense and looking for something to fixate on. AT the start of the lesson she was for sale for about $10. At the end she had raised in value to about $40. After about 40 minutes I put Carmen away feeling satisfied that we had worked through her things. 

Shanea and I agreed that a 30 minute warm up before my first test in the morning should be fine given the work she did in the morning. That turned out to be a mistake. Carmen came into the warm up ring and had, apparently, forgotten all the work of the morning. She was spooky in the same spots and doing her spontaneous canter pirouettes. Before I knew it they were calling us to the ring. 

I went in hoping for the best and fearing the worst. 

IWhen we came in she was tense and looking around. She saw spectators in the blue bleachers and kind of lost her mind over them. The judge gave me a little time to show her that they were fine and then rang the bell. 

t was a total and utter train wreck. 

The fun starts at about the 2:25 mark. There's a table she's looking at just outside the ring. It had been there every other time she went in but either she saw it or decided that it was now acting suspiciously.  Then at about 2:59 she spiralled in an and tried to run away from the people in the bleachers. I circled her back and we dealt with that. I am proud that I stayed sitting up and then got her back to canter to carry on. We survived the rest of the test but I knew that it was basically about getting to the end. We scored in the low 50's.

I thought about scratching the next test.

Instead I took her back to the warm up ring and spent the 45 minutes before my next test riding my horse. And I mean riding. I was taking no guff from her at this point. Jane was also in riding her warm up (you may recall that Jane is my Yoda, often appearing when I need her the most to give some words of wisdom). This time Jane say Carmen sucking back behind the contact and getting tighter and tighter. 'make her heavy' she said. What she meant was to push Carmen into the contact so I had something to work with. It really helped. Every time Carmen sucked back I booted her forward.

Honestly, letting her suck back seems to be the root of a lot of my problems. I don't mind letting her hesitate if there there is something worrying her, but at some point we need to move forward.

I went in determined to school the crap of out my final test. I didn't care if I fell off. I do not think that there is video (if I find some I will share it). But I did exactly what I intended. I kept a short rein and my legs on. They never came off. She tried one deke but I took a firmer hold of the outside rein and booted her back. For our last canter lengthen I sat up through the corner and put my leg on. let's go I said, we'll worry about the corner when we get there. Carmen pinned her ears but went.  It felt like we did a hand gallop down the side.

She was a hot mess and tense and broke a few times but our score was a 60. Again the judges comments were encouraging and she wrote to not get discouraged, just keep working away.

My friends and fellow competitors were so encouraging to me that they kept me going. By now a few things are clear to me:

  • Carmen is consistently difficult on the third day of a show or clinic. I think it's because of not being turned out and an excess of energy. 
  • Carmen needs an hour warm up. There's no point in trying to 'conserve' her at this point in her training. I need to work her and, hopefully, with time she'll understand the job better. 
  • Things can go to crap and I am still sitting up. This is huge for me. 
  • Carmen still believes that submission is a thing to be negotiated. And I don't mind being tactful but she doesn't get to say no. Can someone explain that to her please? Thanks. 

Despite how it all ended, I did have a lot of fun at the show. I think it would have been worse had I set goals because I wouldn't have met them. Instead, I dealt with what I had.

keep calm and canter on
 (photo from saturday, PC J. Scrimger)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Nothing to Prove

You may recall that, this spring, I was complaining bitterly of the weather. It seemed that we had never ending rain and cold. Then in July it became hot and we've have very little rain. The pastures are dry. But we're finally getting some rain thanks to Tropical Storm Erin.

I was a little worried that it would make trailering to the show nasty, but it's supposed to blow over by early Friday. This morning the sky was an eerie orange colour. Just before I let the horses out the heavens opened with a torrential downpour. At which point, both horses decided that they were fair weather horses and I was cruel to open the door and expose them to the elements.
Me: okay, off you go to frolic in the fields. 
Irish: In this hurricane? 
Me: um, it's just rain. Summer rain.
Carmen: this is ridiculous. I cannot endure such conditions. I demand hay in my stall. 
Me: But your ancestors roamed the plains in weather much worse than this. 
Irish: um I was born on a cattle farm.....
Carmen: *ahem* I believe you will find that I am descended from the noble baroque horses who roamed the deserts. 
Me: You were born in Virginia...
Carmen: you're the one who brought up ancestry 
Me: well yes...bu-
Carmen: and I was simply pointing out the flaw in your reasoning.
Me: *sigh* yes. you are right. 
Carmen: *looking smug*
Me: Fine. But I'm not putting hay in your stalls so you will have to decide- shelter or food. 
Irish: she's getting mean in her old age.

fields empty of horses
Of course they went out and I'm pleased to report that no one dissolved in the rain. 

Mid-Morning the rain stopped and I was able to pack the trailer and bathe Carmen.  I always reach a point in show prep where I wonder what I'm doing and why. I realized that it has more to do with the work involved in getting ready then about the show itself. 

I also realized that I am looking forward to the show. 

I also have a long standing history of setting goals for a show. So as I puttered I tried to think of what I wanted to accomplish. It's not like there weren't lots of options. I thought of scores, nailing our lengthens, being accurate in my tests etc.

But I couldn't settle on any of them. That's when I realized that I really didn't feel a need to set a goal.

Summer is almost over and we've worked really hard. There have been ups and downs and even some sideways.

But I no longer feel the need to prove anything- to myself or others. Not that anyone every gave me the impression that they were judging me (well except the judge of course). Everyone has always been very supportive and kind.

So we will go to the show and we will have fun. I will connect with my friends at the show. Carmen will be good. Or she'll be dramatic. I will deal with whatever happens and I will count myself lucky to have such a great weekend.

Actually, I lied. I do have one goal:
Please stay clean tonight Carmen.
Pretty please.....