dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, May 25, 2019


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

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

so much rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Spring is Expensive

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

Shocking I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I'm not a bottomless pit.

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

And I'm pretty much okay with it.

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

I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Soft Touch

Soft is strong, clear is kind~ Nikki Porter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carmen: you can't see me. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The car is her favourite:

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019


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

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

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

cold but still able to eat grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 12, 2019


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

Spoiler alert: I had the best weekend.

It all started with my hack out on Friday.

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

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

and you know what?
She was right there.

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

Me: carmen

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

Me: Carmen

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



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

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

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

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

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

She was walking around all confident and easy going.

Like who is this mare?

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

Compare that to this from last fall:

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 10, 2019

Embracing the Zen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: I guess we're leading now

Nancy: Great! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carmen: ....

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carmen: grooming is always good

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you know what?

She was fine.

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

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

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

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