dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Down the Rabbit Hole: Mind and Body

For many years I did not really understand how closely linked these were with horse. 

Well, that's not completely true.

I totally got how the mind impacts on the body.  A nervous horse will carry themselves with tension, often spook etc. A happy horse goes ahead with a relaxed frame. 


not relaxed

Much of my work over the years with Carmen has been to get her mind relaxed so her body would follow. 

More recently I've come to realize that horses don't have a sense of their mind and body as being separate entities.  I believe that for them, it's a chicken-egg thing. If their body is relaxed then so is their mind and vice versa.  

Not that this is my own discovery. I've been listening to much more learned horse persons than me (Karen Rohlf, Warwick Schiller, Tristan Tucker etc) as well as my own experimentation.  

I think that this is true for all horses but really evident with reactive ones. I think that his true for peoples well. Like when we wake up cranky- it's easy to find things that give legitimacy to those feelings. Even though, on another day, these things wouldn't bother us at all. 

For Carmen, I think she often felt off-balance and that made her feel uncertain and running away seems to be the right answer. My fearful and defensive response did not help this at all. 

With this theory, I have been helping Carmen to find postures of relaxation as a path to get her mind to settle. It is interesting to see it work. If I can help her balance herself, she feels more comfortable and is more relaxed. 

Listening ears

When Carmen is unbalanced (physically or mentally) she becomes tight and impossible to bend. Her hind legs go out behind and she disconnects from her front end- which is often resembling a giraffe and not a graceful steed. 

all of that pictured here from way back

I find that helping her to bring her hind legs out and not allowing her to fling her head up. I struggle with the not letting her fling her head because it feels like I'm wrestling her onto the bit when that is not my intent. The trick, I find, is to release a rein so that there is a place to go. The other key is to not let myself tense as well.  

forward ho

It's all a work in progress. But it's so freeing to not have to convince Carmen that the flighty birds are not a threat but rather that a bend can sort a multitude of feelings. 

Carmen: the most noble of steeds

Monday, July 19, 2021

Inside Out- Lesson Recap

 Julia and I had a lesson on Friday and we really just picked up from where we left off last time. I had been working on my 'homework' of the outside aids (for turning and straightness) and asking her to step under through the transitions. It was a cloudy, foggy morning and my phone lens was a bit fogged up which led to some interesting effects. 

Happy with this halt - both of us look ready for whatever is coming. 

Carmen was in a good place mentally from the start of getting ready and through the whole lesson. We started with a hack that Carmen led on a loose rein. I've been playing with neck reining on our hacks and she's figuring it out. I really want to get her somewhere that we can move out a bit so I'll have to work on it. 

Right from the start Shanea had us counter flexing to get her on the outside aids. In all honesty when we started on this in the past I wasn't convinced that this could help. Mostly because Carmen often wants to look outside for danger anyway. But this time I could start to feel her getting straight and understanding the ask rather than looking out with her shoulder popped to the inside and ready to spin. Instead, I could feel her centre under herself. 

normally going to the left she's overbent to the inside, 
I'm quite happy with her straightness and stepping under here 

From there we then added in asking her to flex and soften to the inside. I could feel her respond and, instead of fighting it, lifting herself and filling the outside. It was super cool and Carmen also seemed to enjoy how it made her body feel. I could feel her back lift up under me. It was amazing to feel the interplay of the outside rein, inside leg to bend and slight flex of the inside ring finger and have her flex and lift. 

At times she would lose the self-carriage and fall onto her forehand and try to push her nose out. Especially during downward transitions. The tricky part was to not let her plow down but not hang on the reins. Convincing my hands that pulling was not the answer was hard but it really helped. If she got to heavy and leaning I would do a sharp correction and then release. Otherwise she will happily put her weight on the bit and drag me around. 

Half-halting right after the transition.
I know she's overflexed here but this is so much better 
than when she would plow down and pull. I also
like how she's stepping under, instead of falling on her forehand

Much better

From there we worked on canter and her left canter was absolutely the best we've ever had. it was soft and forward and malleable. She stayed with me through it all and didn't try to grab control. After that we did some work on the right rein in trot. Again, Carmen was right with me and I said to Shanea "I know that we probably should canter on the right but I feel that she worked really hard and I don't want to make her sore.'  Shanea agree and we stopped with me promising to canter her right lead the next day. By then we had been riding about 90 minutes (with the hack at the beginning). 

Carmen was pretty pleased with herself. When I dismounted she stood there absorbing the praise and then had a big pee. I was impressed that she kept working even though she clearly had to 'go'. I was also happy to find out that she will pee when she needs to. 

I love this photo- it looks like mixture of strength  and softness

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Not Trying

 Well it's been a bit busy here on the farm. 

First of all- the baby swallows survived and left the nest.  I really enjoyed watching the parents teaching them to catch bugs in the air. It was hilarious and adorable all the same time. Now it looks like the parents are working on batch #2. 

In other  news we now have our year's supply of hay in the barn. As always, it was a hard grind and I have hay stashed everywhere. But it also feels so good once it's all in there. And the barn smells heavenly. Our second batch was delayed because of weather so it's a bit more dried out then I like but I figure feeding that over the summer will be fine. The chickens are having a grand time climbing the hay. Ed called me at work one day to tell me that he was in the barn stacking when he heard a loud protest. He took down some hay to find that one of them had climbed into a crevice and was blocked in. After that she kept yelling at him. Thank heavens she protested otherwise we'd have never known she was there until we found her carcass half-way through winter! I have Ed convinced to demolish our little shed (that's dilapidated anyway) and build a new, bigger shed to store more hay. 

One supervisor and one quality control officer

Dealing with weather and hay meant that I was not able to ride as much as I wanted. Despite that Carmen has been pretty good overall. Definitely more energy. Interestingly enough that she will threaten to spin/bolt etc but has not followed through. I suspect it's because I'm not backing off but riding forward. 

The other day I was riding her by myself and caught myself thinking 'I wish that I could hack her alone'.  I then realized that hope is not a strategy and I started thinking more about it. I realized that Carmen was never going to send me a memo: 

Dear Servant, 

I wanted to let you know that I am ready to be ridden by myself in the wild. Please let me know your response at your earliest convenience.  

        Yours Truly, Carmen

I realized that I had done a number of things to help her learn about this: hacking out leading and following, learning to deal with spooky things etc. So after a good ride, I put her rope halter on over the bridle and led her down the path. Halfway through I tied the lead so it wouldn't dangle and asked her to line up. We walked around and then headed back. I hopped off before the end and led her home. I plan to do more of this- taking my cue from her behaviour in the ring. I want to have her look at the hack and the relaxing end to a schooling. 


Might we actually be getting somewhere? 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Hot and Cold

 Last week we were hit with the heat wave that has been burning up most of North America. It was brutal- with the humidex temps were in the low 40's. For a province that tends to be cool in summer and temperate in the winter it was hard. 

smart cat found the coolest place to sleep 

I managed to get up early and ride before the heat become unbearable. I was hoping that Carmen would be a bit quiet, it being so hot and all. Instead she was all 'I am a horse of the desert!'  And then had regrets when I was all 'Okay then, let's go'. But we had some really good work and she definitely enjoyed the hosing off after. 

why yes it's humid, why do you ask? 

We had a bit of an adventure with the barn swallows as well. I came in one afternoon and found the three babies on the floor of the barn, prostrate with the heat. I was so upset (I get very attached to the creatures who live on my farm- in case that wasn't obvious). I called the local animal rescue 'Hope for Wildlife' and asked what to do. While I was doing that I was trying to keep the chickens away from the babies. 

actual footage of me and the chickens 

The woman asked me to try to get them up off the floor in the new nest (since I couldn't reach the one that they fell out of) and give the parents a chance to look after them. If the parents abandoned them we could arrange a pick up. Ed and I got them up and I set up the barn so that the chickens couldn't get in but the parents could. I was really worried- they looked so weak and helpless. However, they rallied and the parents started looking after them. It was fun to watch them up close (but not too close). 

Every day they were a little stronger. Mom and dad worked hard at trying to get them to fly. I heard one in a bit of distress and saw that she/he was clinging to a hay stalk trying to get up on top of the hay but unable to manage it. I gently put my hand underneath and lifter her up to the hay. She looked at me for a second and then flew off. 

Yesterday they were on their perch in the morning and, before I was done my chores, flew off. I'm sure I'll see them around but I was happy that they survived. 

Honestly, I feel like their aunt at this point. 

Then, just like that the weather broke and it became cold and rainy. Like 13 degrees cold. But it's hard to complain because we needed the three days of rain that followed that scorching. I didn't ride in the rain and this week we're getting our hay so I doubt I'll get much riding done. It will be a relief to have the hay though. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Focus on the Positive

 Sometime, between spring and now, Carmen has gotten pretty fit. Which is, of course, a good thing. 

Most of the time. 

However, I find a fit Carmen who's also in a snit quite difficult as she's very will to canter all day and bounce around like a fool. Not that she's doing that a lot but I can definitely feel the muscle there. 

On the other hand, when the work is good, it's amazing. As long as I can keep my core engaged and my seat following we do well. But it's tiring. 

Sometimes I feel like all I need is a lance

Last week Julia and I had a shared lesson again. I do enjoy this format- it gives me time to think through things and try them on my own. Plus I get to see Irish go and that's always fun. In the end we had been riding for about 90 minutes. Before you mount a rescue mission- the first 20 minutes were spent hacking in the woods and then 10 warming up in the ring before Shanea arrived. 

warm up trot

I'm trying to make sure that I identify the things that are going well. It helps to create the positive, forward flow rather than being stuck in the 'I suck swamp'. In riding it's easy to focus on what is not going well. Especially if you received lessons from those who believe that teaching was all about the yelling. Shanea is good at helping me see progress. 


Funny thing is that research shows that optimism has positive impacts health and performance wise. Here's a link if you want to read more. 

So as we go into summer here are the things that are going well: 

1. Carmen's canter is much improved. On the left it's light and fluffy and very malleable. On the right it's straighter, and when it's not, she responds to me straightening her. 

2. I am riding in my bubble and, 95% of the time, it's successful. I do not fall into the emotional whirlpools that were so easy in the past. 

I love her current weight right now

3. Battles are short(er). It's not that Carmen does not argue or have opinions. To be honest, if that happened I would think that she was dying, or I was. But I'm so much better at dealing and dropping it. For example, the other day we were hacking out and I asked her to lead. She balked a bit and then tried to spin back to go home. I just turned her in a circle and released the pressure when she was facing the way I wanted. I didn't then put Irish in front. I just sat up and rode forward. 

Irish: they'd be lost without me

4. I'm more consistent: in my riding, my direction and in my expectations. I have dropped 'hope' as a strategy (as in 'I hope she doesn't spook by that bush') and am more like: 'we're going forward and by that bush and then leg yielding to X and then halt'. 

5. I'm riding better- my shoulders and hands are more following and I'm vertical much of the time. In fact, at Karen's she noted that I was leaning back too much. 

6. I'm learning to feel when she's on her hind end and when she begins to tip forward. 

What's going well with you? 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Carmen and the Pit of Certain Doom (aka the Wash Stall)

I could have discussed this in my previous post but it felt like it needed it's own post. I have no photos of this so I will include random photos to break up the wall of text. Also, you will have to believe me. 

I don't know if you can see the streaks of red on her but it's not blood. 
She's been rolling in the wild strawberries- so now we call her
'Strawberry Shortcake.' Stacie called her my 'scratch and sniff horse'

At Stacie's barn they have a lovely wash stall. Not that I have photos of it- you will just have to believe me. It's large, has a rubber mat over the drain and and has hot & cold running water.  Of course that it is lovely is just my perspective. 

Carmen views it as an abattoir.  I know she's not alone in that. It's interesting to me that horses who are stalled and cross tie in aisles view the wash stall as the place of certain death. 

In our past visits getting her used to the wash stall has not been a priority for me. But it's summer and hot and this seemed like a good time to work on it. My learning over the years has really changed how I target this sort of thing. In the past (many years ago) my approach would have been to solve it in a single session and lots of pressure. But when you know better you do better. I have learned that stopping at a small success leads to gains much faster and fewer holes that need to be fixed. 


After our ride I untacked Carmen and then went over to the wash stall. Her initial response was (not surprisingly) nope, nope, hell no. 

I just stood there, if she pulled back I kept up pressure on the rope halter and released as soon as she gave even a hint of forward. The key is to time the release at the 'forward' and not the back. During the release I'd let her relax and then gently ask for a bit forward. Clearly it wasn't simple or straightforward. She would come forward, relax, go back, try to go sideways, try to drag me. Through it all I was super calm and not worried or rushed. 

Finally, when we had one hoof in the stall I took her away and we went outside so I could sponge her down. 


After our ride we tried again. Paula recommended using carrots. Which is not a bad idea, although I want her in because it's okay not because of the carrot because it might leave a hole. But it did help consolidate the idea of a positive experience. 

There was much less flailing and she came in half-way and totally relaxed. So I left it at that. 

Ripley: what do you mean this is a horse trough? 
I thought it was my swimming pool

After our ride I almost decided to leave it because I was so pleased with everything. But then I remembered that I had decided this year to not treat Carmen as a baby but as a grown horse that is fully capable of understanding asks. 

This time when I brought her close she hesitated and put one step in. Then another. Then all of her was in and she looked around. 
Carmen: huh, this is not so bad. Why did you make such a fuss about it? 

I asked Karen to hold her and I used a bucket and sponge to wash her down. I didn't think that she was quite ready for the hose. She stood there perfectly relaxed and enjoyed talking to Karen while I gave her a wash. 

I was thrilled at how well we worked through this ask. It really is not different than the other work I've been doing with the obstacles and other things. Stopping after a short session with a small success has been working well for us. And I don't think that we're unique. Sometimes I don't stop right away but go away from that ask and do something else, returning to this later. For a horse like Carmen who hates drill work with a passion she responds well to this. 

Sometimes I feel like I'm making it up.  

But that is okay, because I'm pretty good at being able to evaluate the data and change as needed. And Carmen is really good at giving me feedback as to my performance. 

Incorrect. Try again. 

Monday, June 21, 2021


 Last weekend Carmen and I hit the road and travelled to Stacie and Karen's for a weekend of horses and fun. 

It did not disappoint. Friday was a slow morning and I took my time getting ready. I then brought the horses in to chill for a bit before loading Carmen and leaving. They definitely knew something was up and when I opened her stall door, Carmen was at the back and looking at me like 'nope, uh oh, I don't want to go anywhere'. I didn't go and get her, instead I relaxed at the door and sent her a visual of where we were going. She relaxed and put her head in the halter. 

All ready, the chickens were curious but I made sure there were no stowaways

Once we arrived she was fine. I let her be outside for a bit and then brought her in for dinner. She was able to have a double stall and when I put her in she looked around and then back at me in surprise. 
you got an upgrade I told her. 

I rode her that night and she was really good. Looky at all the usual suspects but open to listening to my perspective. There was this one funny moment when an orange cat came by the door and both froze looking at each other. It was a good ride and we were able to work on our usual things. 
This view is stunning. And possibly full of tigers

After a wonderful breakfast we headed to the stable. there was a bit of traffic jam with a snapper stopped in the middle of the road. I got out to herd her across and she was not happy. 
git along little dinosaur

We let the horses out while we cleaned stalls and then I had a lesson with Karen and it was really good. Karen noted that my seat was much better in the new saddle. We worked on me finding my seat bones. Which sounds silly but it turns out that they are not as far back as I thought. An exercise she does (a centred riding exercise I think) is to put two balls under your seat bones and ride for a bit. It feels weird (understatement) but when they were removed I could really feel my seat bones. Carmen definitely noticed. It worked really well on my sitting trot but messed up our canter transitions a bit. I think that Carmen was used to me popping out of the saddle during the transition, now I was sitting and asking her to use her hind legs. She had some feelings about that. 
so many feelings. Also note me NOT pulling

We had a some really nice canter though as well. One of them happened when we were cantering up the far side and we approached the long side a black cat leapt up from behind the kickboards. Carmen did a double take at the black cat with the yellow glowing eyes and almost lost the plot. We did a circle while I reassured her that she was a brave mare and we cantered on by. 

Carmen: WTF is that 

cantering on by soft and easy

Guys, this is huge. In the past that would have been it- Carmen would have melted down and refused to go anywhere near that corner.  Instead we just carried on with the lesson. 
I have no idea what is going on here but two of
the three of us are pretty enthused while one is resigned

We also go to play with Karen's 3 year old filly and watch Kalimo be his stunning self. Paula and Karen (another Karen) joined us for the morning and then we all went for lunch.  

The next morning we rode early before it got too hot and so that we could head home before lunch. Carmen was lovely that morning. She had a ton of energy. This place was so good for her- there was lots going on- cats popping out of all sorts of places, scolding starlings (one even tried to attack Kalimo, Carmen watched that and then said 'told you birds were dangerous'), horses being  led out to the field etc. And she dealt with all of it. 

still not pulling

These weekends are becoming so important to my well being. They are relaxed and yet feel like I accomplish a lot with my horse. It's fun to share and laugh and eat (so much delicious food).