dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Discretion is the Better Part of Valour

The posts I want to write are sort of colliding with each other so I'm going to mix up the chronology a bit so I can make my posts semi-coherent.

Friday I had a lesson booked with Shanea and, miracle of miracles, the stars aligned that it wasn't cancelled (weather or lack of critical mass to make it worthwhile for her to come here).

The morning dawned sunny and frosty. Our whole farm was sparkly (seems to be a theme these days. Carmen was quite mellow and I spent some time grooming her and enjoying our time. I spent some time doing ground work as well. Our focus is on learning to relax when she's tense. That has been an interesting process and changed what I do with her. By the time Shanea arrived we were quite relaxed and ready to start.

There was a transformation when I mounted and we walked off. Carmen became tense and appeared to be looking for a fight. My theory is that she was anticipating that we would argue about things (like where we go) and that she was going to evade to the best of her ability.

My new approach is to avoid a fight while not also giving in and letting her call the shots. This is really hard.


First of all I rarely back down from a fight. With anyone.

Second of all what I'm asking doesn't seem that difficult. You know things like trotting, straight lines etc.

Third, neither of us win a fight. I might get her to go where I want but then she is so tight and tense and miserable that neither of us is happy.

I have had to push all my drive and goals to the side and work on us achieving harmony and relaxation. So when Carmen starts off appearing to spoiling for a fight (yes I know that she's really not, it's just history) everything I do needs to say 'hey, no need to argue. I'm not arguing'. 

We started off just walking forward with me keeping  my reins at a length for her to reach but to give me control if I needed it.

see- tight, braced neck, short back, stiff gaits
We walked with me keeping a following seat. When she tightened I would make a decision- do I encourage her forward or do I make a decision to turn before it becomes a battle? It all depended on the moment.

The first trot transition was terrible. She shook her head, threw her haunches around and I worked really hard to keep the ask the same rather than increasing the pressure. Finally she went forward and we were riding.

She clearly had some issues with the far side. Shanea had me pick up a circle. When Carmen wanted to bend to keep her eye on the side we decided to make it a gymnastic: circle at trot, as I cross the center line ask for the counter bend and ride it around, then ask for the right bend and carry on. As we did it I was able to make the counter bend strides fewer and fewer.

Go ahead and roll your eyes at me. I honest to god am not scared but I don't want 30 minutes of her arguing with me about bend and me hauling on the inside rein and spurring her guts out. The spooked a few times, I simply rolled my eyes and kept going.

Here's a really good example of what we were doing (also really boring so if you have insomnia I've got you covered):

See how when we change direction she is unsure about the gate (well the halter and lunge line) and then really unsure about the opposite side. I am riding her with support. I wish my elbows were less stiff. It would really help a lot. It's a vestige of my defensive riding. But the third round she has more confidence in what I'm asking and realizes that she's fine.

We then started going down the far side. I like this clip because you can see that she's with me and on the aids, until she's not. I wish that Shanea had kept filming because what you will see is that I just roll my eyes (well you can't see that but it's in my body language) and ride forward. You can see how quick she can be. But I'm happy that she's not spinning and bolting. The jumps I can handle.

And it's worth it because she's starting to trust me again. The ears are on constant swizzle. Which is way better than locked ears.

Honestly, we're doing nothing spectacular and yet it all feels like new territory. I've gone from 'please behave' to 'by god you're going to behave' to 'it's all fine but hey run away if you feel you must'.
so much better- stretching through the base of her neck, relaxed
backand reaching for contact and her stride is free. 

And neither of us feel exhausted and drained at the end of our rides.

That has to be a good thing.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Crown Jewels

I had an amazing lesson to blog about but that will have to wait.

You see I had a number of factors coalesced into making me helpless in the face of temptation.

#1: Carmen broke her turquoise browband

#2: Riding has been near impossible with the weather.

Which leads to me spending more time on the internet. Which leads to:

#3. I stumbled across Canadian Custom Bling Browbands. She makes them herself and will do custom orders/colours.

Carmen, as a grey horse, can wear anything. She is my first mare. And I find myself being drawn to pretty things for her. I especially like her in purple.

I saw this on her FB page and was smitten:
I mean, can you even resist this? 

I sent a message to see how much it was. Turns out that it was $105 CAD delivered. That seemed reasonable. So I sent her a e-transfer and within 3 weeks this arrived.

I knew it was going to be pretty but the quality of it was even better than I anticipated. It came with extra jewels and care instructions. She will even repair it if you mail it back to her. 

Of course I wanted to try it out on her. I put it on her bridle and tried to take some photos in the barn. 

Me: C'mon, Carmen put your ears forward so I can take a photo. 
Carmen:  I don't want to. 
Me:  Fine. Let me get a close up. 

ignore grumpy mare ears
I decided to get Shanea to help. I figured she could take a photo when I was riding. 

At least now her ears are forward. I have to say that she looks great in her new tiara. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Clinic Adventures: So Much Learning (and food)

When I wasn't catching up with old friends, meeting new friends and eating a ton of food (really, so very much eating), I actually sat and watched Cindy Ishoy teach a bunch of riders. And I tried to absorb all the knowledge I could. Now I'm going to try to write it out to help me rember and have something to refer back to.

Standard Disclaimer: as always, these are my interpretations of what I saw and heard. If you think it's brilliant then Cindy gets the credit. If you think it's incredibly wrong then it's my fault- I probably misunderstood.
from back in August when the weather was hot

There were a variety of horse breeds and levels. Cindy gave every single one her undivided attention. It seems to me that Cindy does not care if you have a fancy horse or not or if you are the best rider in the universe. She cares if you are willing to work.

The lessons were 45 minutes and each minute was fully used. It's not that there were not breaks, there were. But they were short and then back at it. The work built over the course of the ride as the horse and rider warmed up. I am not sure, given where Carmen and I are right now, whether that would have been good for us or not.  Either way, we were not ready for the clinic and I was happy to audit.

Each ride I watched had the same principles of targeting straightness, forward, rhtyhm etc (i.e., the dressage pyramid). How these were targeted depended on the horse and rider. So one rider might be working on straightness through a serpentine while another through tempi changes. Cindy is so full of little wisdomes that struck a chord with me that I started writing them down. I think that they apply to pretty much any level:

  • don't micro-manage. Nothing pretty comes out of it. In other words, don't try to control every single part of the horse, let them figure it out.
  • Give and let him figure out his balance.  This was said to riders doing legnthens, half passes etc. I interpreted this to mean that we shouldn't use the reins (or heaven forbid the curb, she said a few times to get off of it) to hold them in a frame. The frame comes from self-carriage, which comes from balance. 
  • Don't worry about mistakes. Every GP rider and horse team has made thousands of mistakes. This probably relates to the micro managing above. 
  • There's a gymnastic correction for every mistake. I really liked this idea. Cindy would use shapes and patterns to fix if the horse was losing their balance or contact. Rather than pull or be sharp. Use the exercise to help the horse understand. 
  • It's not strength, it's timing: I think I heard this the first time with a rider working on changes. But it also came up with other maneuvers. It helped me to think that when an aid is not successful is it resistance? confusion? my timing? I suspect that it's often the last one. 
  • Bend - if I heard that once I heard it 1000 times. Along with Outside rein. 
  • Soften inside rein. I'm glad that I'm not the only one who struggles with this. Circle going to crap? Pull on the inside rein, it will fix everything! It was also helpful to me to see how letting go made things so much better. 
  • Use shoulder not arm to take back. Using the arm creates too much tension.  It has no give and horses pull against it. Using the shoulder is softer and more fluid. While I don't claim to understand the mechanics of it, I could see the difference. 
  • Don't give away contact when you ask for forward.  This I know and understand. Yet still it's hard to avoid. The idea is to soften but not throw the contact away. 

me, not throwing the contact away.
Evidence that sometimes I can get it right 

Other things I noticed:
  • Cindy made great use of bending exercises: circles, trot loops, serpentines. Many of the horses would try to not engage their hind end and the riders were to keep it together so that the horses pushed from behind. 
  • If the rider struggled in the half-pass she would have them half-pass a few strides then leg yield and then back again. Or vice versa. I don't know why she chose which sequence but it worked- I could see it. 
  • If the horse was escaping through the outside shoulder Cindy had riders move their hands to the 'inside' (Not really inside, they didn't cross the withers). It worked to keep them straight. 
  • A lot of transitions were to be ridden through bend. Which was really really hard. Again it was nice to see that it wasn't just me. 
  • If the half-pass is going wonky, slow the shoulder don't try to speed up the haunches. That upsets the balance. 

There was more. Also lots of food. Sue makes the best baked beans I have ever had. Between the learning and the eating (and thievery) it was money well spent. If you have a chance to audit or ride in one, do  it.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Clinic Adventures: That Time I Tried to Steal a Trailer

This weekend I was off auditing a Cindy Ishoy clinic. I was really looking forward to it. Not only was I going to hang out with my horse friends and learn a lot but I was getting a weekend away. I really needed a break after the last 3 weeks of endless rain and crazy work.

Shanea had signed up to bring her mare and I was excited to see them go. I didn't arrive until noon on Saturday (I wanted to ride first). When I got there I found out that Shanea was having trouble getting here. The trailer that she had lined up had been damaged in a recent wind storm. People were trying to figure out a solution but it sounded confusing.

So I called Shanea and she said that she had found a trailer but needed a truck. Paula and I spoke and she got a truck (Susan volunteered her dually). Next was to get a ball. Paula got that and we jumped into the trailer on our rescue mission.

When we got to the farm where the trailer was we saw two trailers but no one was there. I called Shanea and she thought that it was the white one. I looked at both and the gray one had a lock on it.
So Paula and I decided to risk taking the white one.

Paula was nervous to back up so I backed the truck up while waved her hand to direct me. Paula is small and the truck was tall so all I saw was her arm. Clearly she trusts me.

Alas, when we got everything aligned it turned out that the ball was too large.

So that's how I ended up NOT stealing a trailer.

Fortunately though Shanea still got her lesson. Cindy agreed to travel to Julia's arena (who kindly offered it up for Shanea).

The moral of the story? How about:

  • I'm clearly not meant for a life of crime?
  • There is no way to stop really determined horse women? 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sensitivity and Presence

On my last blog post N recommended Tristan Tucker on Youtube. Since then I have become obsessed. I am not all they way through his videos but he has a set on 'The Vertical Mare". When I watched it I was all THAT'S CARMEN!
The rider talks about being passionate about dressage. Her horse went for training and came back unrideable. The video clip of her riding reminded me so much of Carmen and I too. I loved watching his teaching style and nature with the horse.

In this he talks about how 'high and sensitive horses' do not always know how to control their body and relax. That the mare will need to learn how to control her body when she goes into tension. Watching this mare was like watching a bay warmblood version of Carmen. Looking at the owner really wanting to do the right thing and working really hard reminded me of me (but alas I am not that thin or pretty).

I know the danger of watching a video and thinking that you know how to do it. However, a lot of his things are very familiar.  Slightly different variations but it all the good quality groundwork. On sunday. My goal was simply to have her stand relaxed, then walk behind me maintaining the same direction and then, if all went well, to have her bend and relax (turn on the forehand/haunches).

 Carmen moseyed up to me in the field and I put on her rope halter. We headed up to the ring and I asked her stand. She was curious as to what we were doing but the standing and walking is pretty familiar to her. The bending around me she knows but me keeping the ask until I felt the tension ease is knew. It was easier on the left than the right. Which is fascinating because she is also far more spooky on the right rein.

The idea, as I understand it, is to help the horse to figure out how to control their body and learn that they have the tools they need to relax. A few things he said stood out to me:
'she has a lot of feeling in her body. When it doesn't feel good it's not going to look good and it's not going to feel good for you (the rider).
'it's not the thing- it's that knowledge of what to do with herself when she's faced with that kind of pressure'. 
'it's not that we look to wave a magic wand. it's a restart to help her trust the process of receiving and accepting knowledge.'

It was fascinating. As we worked slowly and calmly I could feel the tension leaving her body as we worked. It honestly wasn't long at all. I think we worked maybe 15 minutes and then headed back to the barn.  I made sure I was totally in the moment with her and pushed away those stray thoughts that intrude at the best of times.

Likely this is resonating because it's pretty much where I landed with Carmen- that I need to help her understand and seek to relax. I'm thinking this will help me make the connection.
totally relaxed getting her tail brushed
(not from sunday but how she was)

Carmen is a sensitive mare and I'm just beginning to truly learn what that means.

After our session, I was puttering in the barn and Carmen was hanging out in her stall munching hay and by all appearances she was focussed on the highly important job of eating hay. I was definitely in my own little world, and while I had been relaxed I began to think about my week.  I walked down the alley thinking of something work related. I moved my hands in a slight gesture and she immediately reacted- her head came up and she came to the door to look at me. I thought she wasn't paying attention but she was clearly aware of me. I took a deep breath and relaxed the tension out of my body and she relaxed right away.
you okay mom?
yes', sorry to startle you
It's okay. But you wouldn't have a carrot on you would you? 

Clearly I need a reminder to park my distractions at the barn door and focus on being truly present.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Taking the Time

Emma at Fraidycat Eventing wrote a post that really resonated with me. It was based on an article by Matt Brown on 'A Case for Not Focussing on Your Goals'. Both are well worth reading but I loved the switch in perspective on goal setting. The point is that having highly specific goals can take the fun out of riding and actually make us less happy. It creates a dissatisfaction with ourselves (and our horses) that is counterproductive to development.

It fits me to a T. I am a goal oriented person. That is my nature and my comfort zone. However, the downside is that it makes me push myself and Carmen. Carmen does not like to be pushed. In fact, I am slowly learning that fighting with her leads no where because she will not give in. Ever. However, if I can soften and relax and then invite her to soften and relax we get farther.
a photo to break up the wall of text

This quote from Matt also really made a lot of sense:
"Process goals are more conducive to actually feeling fulfilled on your journey towards a goal, and oftentimes are more useful in the actual accomplishment of your goal. Process goals consist of things that are within your control. They have mainly to do with your attitude, your behaviors, your thoughts, your level of effort and your actions. When we focus on the things we can control we can take ownership of our path, and we can make progress in any situation regardless of our circumstances."
I finished this year upset at how the wheels had fallen off our training. We have gone backwards. I wanted to be regularly schooling second level by now, not getting her trust back. This perspective is helping me realize that I need to let go of my drive to achieve the perfect leg yield or walk-canter transition and focus on the process of getting Carmen back to me.

I've been approaching our sessions with the focus of helping her seek to find the relaxation. I can make Carmen go into the spots of the ring that she is worried about (although even that is debatable as she will fight and fight and fight). The trick is getting her to seek to relax in these spots.

I start in the barn, taking my time getting her ready, helping her to stretch and relax and just have both of us 'present'. It's hard for me to not just get right at it. But rushing makes her tighter. We head up to the ring and I repeat my stretches. It's interesting how she can be loose in the barn and then gets super tight in the neck just by being in the ring. She actually finds it difficult to stretch her neck around without moving her feet. I don't worry about, I just keep asking and letting her know that I get that she's trying.  Sometimes relaxing during ground work comes quickly and sometimes it doesn't. It drives me nuts that I can't hurry it along but I'm more accepting of it now.

Once she's relaxed I get on. And it starts again. I've gotten much better at not tightening my seat or hands and letting her walk forward. I slowly start spiralling out checking to see where our areas of resistance are. Sometimes it's really frustrating because she's freaking out at everything (yesterday it was Chester our cat chasing mice in the next field). Sometimes I have to dismount and start again. I don't let that bum me out because I'm working on the process goal of getting her to relax rather then doing perfect transitions.

I use bending and focus exercises to help with this. We do a lot of small circles. I ask her to go forward with leg pressure but I don't go over the top. I've left the crop in the barn. If she stops to look at something I let her and then ask her to walk on. After a few times I then encourage her to keep going. If we're trotting and she breaks to walk or starts to freak out at a certain spot I bring her back to walk and ask for a simple bend. If I can't get the bend I then insist that if she's going to do a shoulder out she does a proper one. If she spins away and refuses my aids I will back her up to where I want to be and then drop the reins to let her breathe and process.

my goal is to get her this relaxed

It's hard for me when she's being really resistant because giving in teaches her the wrong thing and fighting just spirals. I try to help her find the spot of where we can give to each other. Sometimes I get it wrong. It feels like I'm getting it right more though. If I have to 'wrestle' her somewhere (which can happen when she decides 'fuck it, I'm out' with minimal warning) I always halt and let her breathe. I give the reins and let her take the opportunity to bolt if she wants. She doesn't.

I work where she is comfortable and then ask her to extend out of her comfort zone and seek to relax. The way I do that is to insist she stays under me and I give the rein so that she can run if she chooses. She doesn't often take that option but she will stiffen under me. When I feel her start to seek the bit down when I give, I carry forward a bit with lots of verbal rewards (and pats). When we're there and she understands what I want I end the session pretty soon.

I have no idea is this makes any sense or if it sounds like I've lost my mind. I do believe that helping her seek relaxation will pay off in everything else.

One of my favourite sayings at work is 'You can't afford the time to not take the time'. I'm applying that to my riding and trying to be okay with how much time it takes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Minor Miracles

With the rain, snow, wind and deep cold I haven't ridden since Monday. I miss being outside and I miss riding.  This photo has been popping up in my FB feed.

(borrowed from Dancing Donkey's post)
Clearly this is true. 

It also makes me want to find this pithy person and make them lug water, shovel snow and battle winds to look after my ungrateful precious equines. Then I want to pummel them with snowballs while hysterically shouting 'here's your joy! Do you like it? Here have some more'

*ahem* I might need some help. 

Anyhoo, Sunday actually turned into a very pleasant day. The sun was shining, the wind was gone and the snow had melted. I couldn't believe that it was actually a)sunny, b) not freezing and c) there was no wind. It seemed like a minor miracle.

I spent the morning get some chores done around the farm that I had put off when it was miserable out. The dogs and I walked numerous times and they 'helped' me with my chores. 

We are the best helpers. We don't even know how you get stuff done without us
Now throw the ball you're holding over your head. . 
I dragged my ring, breaking up a few ice patches and then headed out to the field to get Carmen. When she saw me she came moseying up to me. This time I didn't have to lift her ears up to get the bridle on her.

During our ground work she was very calm. I am seeing a clear difference between her quiet because she's shutting me out vs calm because she tuning into me. I mounted with a clear goal- I want to get her relaxed and forward. 

Under saddle she started off well but was a bit looky at some areas but responded well to my leg and seat. I focussed on keeping my weight aids clear and my seat relaxed. It was kinda funny- she would be calm, then rigid then relax almost in spite of herself as I asked her to. 

Carmen became quite worried down at the far end and I let her stop and look. When she let out a breath (probably because I wasn't forcing her) I said 'hey do you want to go and take a look?' As soon as I said that she walked forward. I was taken aback but then realized that I say this to her all the time on the ground when she spooks at something and then I walk forward and let her follow. Could it be that this has transferred. 

I am also liking working on keeping her straight rather then off-balance trying to steer her back with the reins. It keeps things simple and changes up the discussion. 

Carmen has finished her ulcer medication and she is a whole different horse. Brighter, curious, friendlier and easier to ride. She is still sensitive and will spook but I'm not getting the really scary feeling that her brain has gone. Carmen spooked a bit and worried a bit but given that she hasn't been ridden for 6 days it seemed very reasonable. 

We worked on transitions and a bit of shoulder/haunches in. We played over poles and around cones. And when she was nice and relaxed we did a bit more work and then I hopped off. I don't want to push her and make her sore- that's not fair since we're not in regular work right now. I figure just working on relaxation and forward is good enough for now. 

looking towards the scary trees