dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, January 17, 2022


 Ah winter. 

It is not my favourite time of year. Don't get me wrong- I can appreciate the beauty of winter. And I do like the concept of seasons. I also know that living where there's winter means that our summers are beautiful and pleasant, not searing and hellish. 

An old photo of our home. It looks different now

But the truth is that looking after the animals in winter is harder. And sometimes unpleasant (old post called 'The 5 stages of Winter" if you are interested) . Now that January has hit winter is full on. We've had a couple storms and dealt with them as per usual. Last friday we had a wicked storm that started as freezing rain and ended as snow. And then the temperature dropped, freezing the snow into a hard mass. 

the snow was good for snowshoeing

Today the temperature began to rise. After a calm morning, a blizzard started at noon. I brought the horses in and stocked up their hay and water on my lunch break and then headed back to work. The temps kept raising and the snow turned to rain. And then became really heavy. Now I knew that this was going to happen and was resigned prepared. After work I went out and grabbed my shovel. I spent the next 30 minutes digging the now softened ice/snow to allow a path for water to run. I then cleaned out the stalls, swept and fed the horses. 

Now when the the weather is bad the chickens leave their coop and make a beeline for the barn. Where they spend the rest of day. The analogy I use is 'teenagers at the mall'. They hang out, squabble, demand treats and generally make it clear that they own the barn and the horses are simply tenants. 

enjoying a sunny spot

While I was doing my chores the girls were clucking around looking at me expectantly. I figured that they wanted to go back to their coop so I opened the barn door. They looked out at the teaming rain and howling winds and flatly refused to leave. I figured that if I waited a long enough they would go. Turns out I underestimated their stubbornness. I believe that I now understand how a chicken says 'no way!' and 'we'll stay here'. 

I realized that I had two choices- let them hunker in the barn overnight. That felt like a bad idea. Carmen concurred. Or I could do it myself. With a sigh I picked up the first chicken- Beth. she's my most gentle and friendly one. The others protested and required me to chase them around the barn. Four times I trudged from the barn to the coop, clutching a chicken under one arm, trying to not fall on the mix of ice, slush and water while the wind buffeted me around. Guinness, ever the loyal side kick traipsed back and forth with me, looking a bit bemused by this new chore. I deposited each hen into the coop and told them to go to bed. 

I believe that he often thinks I make bad decisions

When I finally came in I was wet and chilled and questioning my life choices. 

But not really. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Playing with Fire: 2022 Goals


I've been spending some time thinking about what I want to accomplish this year. Last year was a time to regroup and pull into myself. This year  I feel more motivated to develop goals and to invest my heart into them. I have a good understanding of the pandemic, I am triple vaccinated and I want to stop hiding and go live my life. I am careful- I mask in public, etc; but at this point it feels like Covid is going to be part of our lives for a long time. Maybe we were optimistic to believe that we could contain it.  I saw this a lot on my FB around NYE: 

Screw that. I'm going in and tackling the year. I'm going to be loud and disruptive. Be warned. 

So here are my goals for 2022. some of them are measurable while others are more qualitative. I am quite fine with that. Not everything with meaning can be weighed and categorized. 

1. Unlock Carmen's gaits. I spent a lot of time suppressing Carmen's 'wild side' and as a result her gaits have become short and shuffly. I need to undo that. I understand why it happened- often her bolts arise out of her tension and going fast.  In wanting her to not rush I lost the forward. 

I've been working on getting her to go forward and use her power. It feels like I'm playing with fire. Which is why sometimes it goes too far and we fall apart. But I know I can do it and I need to accept that, as I play with the line of forward/ too much I will go too far. I've had this happen already and no one died, so there's that. 

2. Solidify our second level work. This is a goal that will need #1 to be successful and a lot of help with lessons from Jane:
    a. improve longitudinal and lateral suppleness
    b. carry  more from behind and not load the forehand
    c. improve counter canter and canter-walk transitions
If I can get that solidified I can then start stretching into 3rd level work. 

3. Improve my riding skills: 
    a. improve sitting trot 
    b. be consistent in contact (get off the inside rein)
    c. have consistent lessons and follow up homework.  I am pretty good with this anyway, but I want to have a plan for lessons with the destination in mind. 
    d. make use of my Pivo to improve my riding skills both within and outside of lessons but not obsess.

Carmen: I can get behind that goal

4. Continue to work on my partnership with Carmen. I know that I often post our conversations, but I swear we are having real conversations now. I am working on loving her fire and power and not trying to make it go away. This will include going to at least one Trail clinic. 
    a. I know that I have a tendency when I'm riding to not push Carmen on things I know she can do. I suspect that also shows up in my ground work so I want a set of outside eyes to help me with that. 
    b. work on liberty and time together- I am really enjoying that work
    c. go on hacks off-property

5. Push my comfort zones. 
    a. go to shows (assuming there are shows) 
    b. stop micromanaging Carmen as a way to be in control. 
    c. Go to other places for lessons to practice hauling in, working, hauling home and not having the world end. 
Carmen: Control is an illusion

6. Keep working on my fitness:
If I want to be a better rider I need to have control over my body parts. I don't care if I can run 10k or do 100 pushups. But I do want to be able to isolate and control my various muscles. I work almost full time and I have 2 horses to take care of  and home/farm chores. Not to mention the very demanding chickens....I won't ever be the person that works out 2 hours every day. But I can be dedicated to not becoming a full couch potato. To that end, I want to keep doing yoga at least 3 times a week. 

So there it is- the larger goals of what I want to accomplish this year. I suspect we'll have some set backs but I am going to dive head first in and embrace the fire. No more tiptoeing. 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Of Dragons and Divas

 I have ridden more over the Christmas break than I managed for the rest of December. We have been having mild, albeit gray, weather and I've been trying to make the most of it. 

The ground is still pretty soft

Most of my rides have been pretty good. I've been trying to be conscious of the tools Jane has given me and I'm happy to report that they are working. My friend, Cynthia has moved back home and I invited her to come out and have a New Year's Eve ride on Irish. I had been going on and on about how great both horses have been and how happy Julia and I have been with them. 

Guinness turned 5 on New Years Day

Ed and I have decided to convert to solar power and the panels are going on the barn roof. The work crew showed up to start the install that morning.  I am not sure if that played a role but both Irish and Carmen were lit. Irish literally pranced sideways up to the ring while Carmen was her old distracted, fire breathing dragon self. I tried to work her in hand and then to free lunge but she would just bolt to Irish which was no help for Cynthia. I went back and got my lunging stuff and worked her for a while. I rode and we ended on a good place. While Carmen was pretty hot and was feeling her oats (as they say) I was able to ride it out. 

Carmen: Who me? I'm an angel

I heard that a lot of other horses were pretty fired up too. So maybe it was the weather or maybe they sensed the passing of Betty White. 

Julia came out on New Year's day to ride and the horses were in a far different spot. Carmen started off really well. She did get a bit strong and then wired up about the chickens who joined us to forage in brush. Irish spooked which set her off and I just steered her in a circle at the canter until it felt like work.  

I have to confess that I'm enjoying her dragon-ness, especially now that I can ride it rather than cling and hope to still be on when the dust settles. 

Carmen: she just doesn't get my humour

Sunday I was riding by myself so I brought up my Pivo to record the ride. And I was thrilled with the ride. Carmen was calm and happy and really trying to figure out what I wanted. Karen had given me a piece of advice- she speaks out when she thinks something is good so she can look at the video later. I decided to try that and to make when things were not good. I was so excited to check the video but when I dismounted I saw that I had forgot to start it recording. Ugh. 

But I did grab a shot to show her foamy lipstick. 

Nice lipstick

The weather is going to be cold again and riding will slow up but it was a good way to start the year. 

How was your New Years? 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

 Despite all that is happening right now we had a lovely Christmas. 

My two adult children came home. My son brought his dog, Ripley (she's made appearances on the blog) and my daughter brought her two kittens. If you do the math that makes 2 dogs, 3 cats (with our Willow) and 4 adults in one small farm house. You would expect it to be chaos but it really wasn't. We had a great time. 

oooh Christmas

The weather just before Christmas was cold rain followed by plummeting temperatures. The wind was fierce too. I basically resigned myself to not riding and to begin pining for my own indoor. But then the weather turned mild and the ring thawed and I was able to ride both Christmas eve and Christmas day. 

Christmas eve and Carmen was listening for Santa's bells

In between that I baked (cookies, chocolate cake, cinnamon buns, peanut butter balls) and cooked (full Christmas dinner) and made cocktails (I made a wine cocktail with San Pelligrino and orange juice it was delicious and then a mudslide with kailua and baileys).  We are all so full right now. 

My family was very good to me this year. My son got me the third book in a series that was autographed by the author. That was exciting. My daughter bought me an ice cream maker! First of all I love ice cream. If I ever turn down ice cream there is something wrong with me- take me to the hospital right away. When I was a child we visited some friends and they made ice cream with a churn and snow. I was shocked- I didn't know you could make ice cream and it seemed like magic to me. 

wizardry- turning cream and chocolate into ice cream

My first attempt was chocolate with salted caramel chips. Spoiler alert,  it was delicious- velvety and rich chocolatey. Now I'm scheming for all the things I can do with this.....

Speaking of possibilities - Ed bought me a Pivo! If you aren't familiar, a Pivo is a 'smart tripod'. You download an app and connect it to your phone. then when you ride it videos and follows you around.  I tried it out for my Boxing day ride (yes, I rode 3 days in a row!) 

 I used a gorilla pod on one of my jump standards in the middle of the ring. 
 note the best mare standing while I set this up

It did lose me once but otherwise worked as advertised. Here's a clip of some of my pre-ride warm up:

Our rides these days tend to be around 30-45 minutes. The ground is not perfect and I don't want to make Carmen sore. I like to use winter to keep it light and fun. I find that she's really listening to my half-halts. 

white horse on a dark background definitely helps

ears forward for the camera!

not her best side but still pretty good

I am excited to use this for lessons. I won't use it for every ride on my own but will use it periodically to help me stay on track. It's supposed to be able to be used for a remote lesson so I'm wondering if I can make that work. 

I have had Christmas' that were truly awful. So it was nice to have such a nice, low key one that was about the simple pleasures: family, food and ponies.  And lots of love. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Winter Solstice

    In the winter
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
~Mary Oliver~

The shortest day of the year fell on December 21. Here it was a beautiful winter day. The kind of day that people who say 'I love winter' are talking about. We had a fresh fall of snow and it was light and fluffy. The sun was shining and the air was warm. As we get further into winter those days will become like hens teeth. 

There are days that, for me, feel more special if I get to sit on the back of a horse. Winter solstice is one of those days. It marks the transition from fall to winter. It also marks the beginning of more sunlight. 
I know that with winter coming riding is going to become scarce but the times I do ride are about having fun and enjoying my horse.  The snow provided the perfect footing in the ring and so I tacked Carmen up and off we headed to the ring. 

I'm not a fool and, mysticism aside, lunging first seemed like a good idea. And it was- there was a fair amount of snow falling off of trees that made life pretty exciting. Once I was on we simply puttered around the ring.  My only goal was to enjoy the beautiful day and soak up the sunshine. I drew lines where I needed to but otherwise we simply puttered around walking and trotting. I wanted to focus on my own clarity of intent and signals so that I wasn't making it muddled for her. 

After about 30 minutes I hopped off. It had been fun and I needed to get onto more mundane tasks. The weather since then has gone to back to horrible winter weather. The kind that make you long for life in warmer climes. The thing to hang onto is the knowledge that better days are coming. 

poor exhausted Carmen just can't horse anymore

Sunday, December 19, 2021

A Slow Start and a Strong Finish: 2021 Recap

 It's a snow day and I felt that this was a good time to recap my year and see how I did on my goals for 2021. 

It's looks pretty in the snow

Except  I couldn't find a post about goals. 

Did I go a year without goals? That doesn't sound like me. But the world has been super weird so, maybe? 

And then I found a post about my goals. In March. But it wasn't really a clear listing of my goals. Which probably speaks volumes about where I was back in March. To quote myself: 

"I think that the goals I have this year is to explore our relationship and see where we go. And to see how that impacts on our dressage stuff."

So I guess I can say that I achieved my goal. Yay me. 

All kidding aside, I think I did spend a lot of time working on Carmen's and my relationship and it really paid off. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I felt a little untethered this year and it was hard to figure out what to focus on or to make plans since they often needed to be changed. 

We played a lot with liberty this year. It has been eye opening to create a connection without relying on the line. I learned that if she's not connected with me when she's loose there is little point in getting on unless I want to spend a lot of time getting her attention. So I almost always give her a little time free. If she leaves we play with that and if she stays then we're good to go. Still on my most favourite videos. 

Showing did not happen at all this past year. And that made it hard to stay focussed on movement goals. Which might have been a good thing. But it doesn't matter if it was or it wasn't- it's just what happened. 

I bought a new saddle this year. Who can forget this little Spanish beauty

That saddle gave me a solid seat, which lead to me get lots of confidence and letting my seat improve. turns out that if you are not afraid of being launched you can really let your seat be soft and your legs hang. I have transitioned back into my 'regular' dressage saddle and had to lengthen the stirrups one hole. I still use that saddle though. If Carmen is up or we're on a trail ride I bring it out. I am so happy that I purchased it. 

In June we headed out to Karen's for a weekend of fun and ponies. I mean, are there fun weekends that don't include ponies? (#kiddingnotkidding). I had a few breakthroughs with my seat and energy that weekend thanks to Karen. I also had a major breakthrough with Carmen getting into the wash stall. 

After a pretty quiet July, August was a very busy month with lots happening. 

Karen and Paula came for the weekend and Paula and I learned a lot. Horses have given me a lot of wonderful things, not the least of which is some very good friends. I have met some wonderful people that I would never have known (or unlikely to meet anyway). 

Guinness loves Paula

I I went to a  trail clinic  at a very busy lesson barn. The first one I booked was cancelled, but late summer a spot opened up in another I jumped on it. I am glad that I went. Carmen really enjoys them and is often the chillest horse of the group. Which is both hilarious and humbling. It was also incredibly hot and I almost melted. I also got to use my spanish saddle which worked really well with the obstacles. 
Carmen: what's next? I'm ready!

In late august I started taking lessons with Jane and things really took off after that. I felt like our learning curve just took off. I loved how Jane just 'got' Carmen and knew what we needed. A lot of the learning is going to find its way into my goals but honestly, it has been incredible how much I'm learning and how well it's working for us. 

This gave me far more confidence to take the Test Riding Clinic in September. It was a great experience, mostly because Jane was there to coach me through stuff. Attending this clinic made me excited over the idea of showing again. I rode in my Spanish saddle so I could be confident (have I said how much I love that saddle?). 

October was mostly lessons and having fun riding, by myself or with Julia. I took a lesson almost every week up until the last of November. Carmen had a Mast cell tumour removed off of her left ear and she was brilliant through the surgery and the recovery. You wouldn't even know that it happened. Unfortunately, the weather turned to crap and I haven't been able to have a lesson since my last one. 

In December our collaborative book was published. It was a leap of faith to participate in and I'm so glad that I did. I think that that often the best experiences involve taking a risk. 

I know that the year is not over yet but I'm not expecting any big news between now and December 31. It's amazing how much I did do this past year, given the state of the world. I'm trying hard to keep a positive outlook for 2022. How was your year?

I don't know about it being 'epic' but it 
definitely finished stronger than it started

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Still Standing

 This date is always hard for me. 

my all time favourite photo. d'Arcy and 
Steele are gone but Irish is still here

I guess anniversaries always are. While I wouldn't blame you for thinking it's been 7 years are you still honestly crying over it? the answer is yes, I sometimes still cry over the loss of my horse. 

For the record I still cry over the loss of my dogs and family members. Even friendships that I've lost. The older I get the more I allow myself to feel sadness for things that are, well, sad. 

Writing the book chapter this summer was hard. I had numerous tears and had to leave it for a bit and then come back to it. Editing it was really hard. I wanted to just leave it alone. It felt like I was picking a scab. But it also felt cathartic. Re-writing about it allowed me to deal with emotions that I simply was unable to handle at the time. It allowed me to see how much love there was and to appreciate that part of my journey. 

 Looking back on my history with Carmen also helped me to put it in perspective and I realized things that I hadn't before. I found these photos five years apart and I love the difference: 



 It seems fitting that the books arrived the day before the anniversary of Steele's death. It feels right. My story is now out there and there's no way to stop it. I know that it was on my blog but that still felt within my control. I could delete it whenever I wanted. And it's part of a larger work of women who found their way with horses despite everything. It's a good project to be part of. 

For those of you who ordered a book from me- those will be sent out this week. Shirley, at Ride a Good Horse, won the draw for a free copy and I will send it out this week too.