dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, March 1, 2021

Of Lions and Lambs

 It's no secret that I dislike February. To me it's a bleak month- too far from Christmas and Spring. The world seems cold and lifeless. I tend to put my head down and just get through it. I was really looking forward to the end of the month and the beginning of March. 

I miss the green

This has been a relatively mild winter and the end of February began to warm up. We had some rain early last week and it melted the ice in my ring. By thursday it was good enough to ride in. Deep in spots but pretty good. The wind was really brisk but Julia and I decided that we were going to ride anyway. Our thoughts were that we could keep it short. 

In the barn, Irish decided to take advantage of the open door and made a break for the 'grass' outside. He did it as I was leading Carmen past his stall so she freaked out but didn't knock into me. While Julia went to get Irish she clearly wanted to go but stayed on a loose lead while prancing in place. Irish was brought back in (Irish: I regret nothing) but Carmen stayed pretty tight. I looked at her being 8 feet tall and decided that lunging might be the way to start. 

Up in the ring she started off quiet enough and then exploded. It was kind of adorable- she never put pressure on the line but she was pulling all the moves- gallop, sliding stop, rear and then some airs above the ground. She was clearly having fun. I am not a fan of flying horse sized kites, normally it doesn't seem to serve much purpose. But this time I let her have her fun moving forward. After a few rounds she settled down into work. 

Pretty pony but LOOK AT MY RING! 
In February!? What madness is this? 

I took off her halter and we did some liberty games before heading over to the mounting block. I was impressed that she stayed with me instead of following Irish even when he passed close. The wind was so high she was definitely on high alert. She had done a lot of trotting and cantering on the lunge so we stayed at the walk. She was pretty good- a bit tight and wary but trying hard so we called it a day. 

Friday it poured but saturday was sunny and warm. (well okay, I know that 5 degrees is not exactly warm, but it's all relative and the sun felt so nice). Carmen was much more mellow. Our lunging was short and when I got on she was pretty good. The issue was me trying to keep her attention amongst all the distractions. Irish was definitely feeling the spring like weather. Julia let him out to canter and he got excited so down the long side she let him out and he opened up into a hand gallop. I swear I heard him yell 'yahoo'. 
It so good to see this old guy feeling like a 3 year old

Carmen got a little irritated with me insisting on her attention and did do a mini bolt on me. I sat up and then put her andalusian butt to work. We cantered a 15 metre figure 8 with a change of lead through trot in the middle. After a few minutes of that she was feeling much better about listening. It felt like a good ride. It was nice to actually school. Usually in winter I am just riding for the sake of riding and not so much working on anything new. 

Sunday dawned gloriously sunny but the wind was fierce. That morning I spent in the barn cleaning up the old hay and putting away the boards I use under the hay to allow circulation. The chickens were fascinated by all this. They were very excited by the underside of the boards. 

 However, by lunch time it had died down quite a bit. Julia came out again and we were very excited to ride. Irish was also super excited and ran away from Julia three times out in the field. He would let her get him almost into the stall and then take off (we lead him with the lead over his neck). After the third time I went out and put a halter on him and we had a discussion about manners. Honestly, every spring he gets a bug up his butt and he acts like a toddler. Carmen was much more calm. 

I keep trying to get a photo of the chickens going under Carmen
and her non-reaction but my timing is off. She really doesn't care about them

To keep the same pattern I did some ground work, then some liberty work and then I hopped on. The ride was lovely. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and it was warm (well 10 degrees, remember I said it's all relative?). It just felt glorious to be outside and sitting on my pony. Who was also really enjoying herself. We played with some leg yields and transitions. We finished up working on some turn on the haunches. It was tempting to ride longer but I didn't want to make her sore so we stopped there. 

March 1 came in like a lion with torrential rain and wind (snow is some areas). But that's okay. March is a month of promise and I am looking forward to it. Let mud season begin. 

her mane is definitely lighter this year

Monday, February 15, 2021

Down the Rabbit Hole

( Warning: this post may get a little transendental)

A couple weeks ago I wrote about Carmen and I playing with liberty work. We had also done a little bit back in August. There was a marked difference between January and August. The difference, I think was me. In August I had a lot of idea and direction and probably put a bit of pressure on her (not that that is necessarily a bad thing). 

I've been wanting to try this again, tackling it the way I did in January- with zero agenda and more about being with Carmen then directing her. The weather took a marked turn towards bitter cold and I didn't even think about doing anything until it began to warm a bit this weekend. Not that we were as cold as out west. At -40 I think I would just become a whimpering blob on the floor.  Our temps were more like -15. Cold as hell but not the ninth circle of hell. 

The farm is pretty though and I'm wondering now, how many literary
references I can put in this post?

Monday is a holiday here in Nova Scotia and since I don't work fridays, it made it a four day weekend for me.  Friday was still pretty cold so I consoled myself with baking a cake. But Saturday was a lovely day. I wanted to exercise Carmen a bit as well since she's not terribly motivated to run around the field on her own. She was eager to go to the ring and seemed to enjoy stretching her legs. I then slipped the halter off and decided to play a bit. 

Guys, this is so cool. Carmen had complete and utter freedom but she stayed with me. Wherever I walked she did. I even played with small circles and large ones. I would turn to her haunches and she would yield her hindquarters. If I 'leg yielded' to the right she would go that way - which makes sense because I was going towards her. But she also followed to the left. 

Carmen's attention was grabbed by something in the next field and I walked up to take a look. She followed behind me. We stood there and she raised her nostrils to sniff. I lifted my head too and sniffed. She looked at me, then totally relaxed. 

Willow hung out with us as well

We went up to the mounting block and she lined right up. I hopped down and left but she didn't follow. When I turned to her she was looking at me with a 'well, are you getting up or not?'. She stood there for the longest time so I went back and stood on the mounting block. I hung over her back and she nudged me with her nose- no, that's not right. stop fooling around. So I tried to get on. But my 50-something body, Carmen's height and the height of the mounting block make it impossible. I did really try and then fell. Carmen just looked at me and sighed. 

We played some more and then I went to the gate and offered the halter so we could head back to the barn. And Carmen said 'no'. Every time I offered the halter she turned away. I walked back to the middle of the ring and she followed. Clearly she wasn't ready to head back to the barn. We did a little more and she finally was ready to go back. 

Sunday I did more with her. I could have ridden but I was just curious to know if the day before had been a fluke. And at first it seemed like it was- she seemed more tense and less engaged. I then realized I was being tight and so I took a breath and began to relax. It was like flicking a switch. She became instantly tuned in. I set my phone up to take a little video. I am sorry for the poor quality but you can see her stay with me. 

I sat down to see what she would do. All she did was drop her nose and hang out with me (you can see Guinness too trying to join in the fun). 

Today was a stunning day weather wise. It was sunny and close to zero with no wind. It felt glorious. This time I tacked Carmen up and we went to the ring. I played with the liberty first and asked her to line up at the mounting block. This is what she did: 

She simply stood there. She didn't leave and she didn't get tense. She napped.  I did more walking around the ring and this time when I came back she lined right up. I didn't even pick up the reins when I mounted. The footing was a bit slick from the melting so we were just able to walk. I spent most of it on a long rein seeing if she would stretch into it. Carmen got a bit excited once by something down in the woods but settled right back. I don't think I rode for long but it was nice to just sit there. 

I never tire of this view

Honestly, I look at the things I'm dong with Carmen and I wonder 'who are you?'.  I feel like I took the red pill and am in a strange new world (at least that's a movie reference this time). I am exploring territories I never really knew existed. And it's so much fun.

 I literally have no knowledge of liberty work. None. All I'm doing is looking at Carmen and reading her body language. I am offering her some things to do but it is totally up to her to make a choice. Right now she's choosing to stay with me.  (Although, I wonder if she will be so connected once the grass comes in around the ring.) I'm taking a leap down the rabbit hole and I have no idea what's at the bottom. 

wish me luck


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Best Winter Barn Coat

 Living in Canada means that winter is a solid 4 months with the shoulder seasons being pretty chilly as well. It has always been important to have gear that can keep me dry and warm when the temps really start to dip. I've had quite a few coats and vests over the years. My biggest peeve with warm winter coats is that they are very heavy and awkward for riding and doing barn chores. 

Last fall I was out shopping with some friends and we went into the Columbia Outlet store (sidenote-I love this store for its quality and prices).  I was looking through the racks of winter coats and found this little gem:

I bought black. Because, horses. 

It's a 3-in-1 jacket. The outer shell was waterproof and the inner one had the 'omni-heat thermal reflective lining'. And it was on sale.  I think I paid about $150 for it, which is awesome for a good winter coat. I've had this coat now for about 3 months and I LOVE IT. 

Here I am riding in the inner jacket

It is the warmest winter coat I've ever owned. Most of the time I only wear the inner jacket and I am sweating. The inner coat weighs as much as a light rain jacket. It is ridiculous how warm it is given how little it weighs. I bought a large size and it is quite roomy for riding. My arms do not get pinched and the length is perfect. Most of time when I ride in it I am only wearing a single layer underneath. 

Until recently  I have just used the outer shell as a rain coat. I didn't think it would be waterproof if you were out in a long time in a downpour but today we're having torrential rain and it has kept me dry. 

The few times I have worn both layers have been when it's below -10 (Celsius) and I usually end up having to unzip a bit because I get warm. 

So if you are looking for a coat that is good for riding and for barn chores I would recommend this one. 

it is chicken approved, what more do you want? 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Witch and the Dragon

 Once upon a time (back in the last century) there a witch was born who was different than the rest of her family. You see this witch didn't want to ride brooms. 

It's not that she didn't like brooms but this witch wanted to ride dragons. 

She dreamed of dragons, read about dragons and drew them endlessly in her school books.  Her family thought she would outgrow it but she never did. 

And when she was old enough she began to learn about dragons and how to ride them.  

Mostly. She fell a lot. And had her foot stepped on a few times. 

But she never gave up. 

After years of searching she found her dream dragon. He was smart and inquisitive and devilish. 

They were just beginning to soar the skies when he died, leaving the, now much older witch, shattered and broken hearted. 

The dream of dragons did not fade and soon the witch found herself on a journey with a fellow dragon lover to search for a new dream.  

And she found one- a dragon who seemed as lost as the witch. So she brought the new dragon home and tried to pick up the pieces of her broken dream. 

The new dragon though was different. She was mistrustful and proud and not sure she wanted a witch at all. The dragon had lived in many places and felt that she could only depend on herself for safety. 

This dragon was difficult and the witch realized she was out of her depth.  She wanted so badly to build a bridge to the dragon but it was hard. The witch studied and learned from others and worked really hard. Some days it seemed hopeless and others there were signs of hope. 

Many other dragon riders tried to help the witch. Some advised her to find a different dragon, one that would be easier. And they weren't wrong. The witch considered it many times but in the end she couldn't do it.  

Other dragon riders shared their expertise. Slowly the witch learned some things. She found what worked and what didn't. Things got better. Some days were worse than others but still the bad days were what used to be the good days. 

No witch stays the same; her experiences all shape and cause her to change. To become more of herself and not at the same time.  The witch knew she was changing but wasn't sure how.  But she didn't worry about it. Her rides and approaches were different. She no longer was driven to get the perfect shoulder in or transition. Instead she was looking to help the dragon understand. She began to be clearer in her thoughts and in her directions. 

She stopped doubting herself and became okay with making mistakes. Mostly. 

It was the dead of winter and rides were less frequent. The ground was brown and frozen. Then one day the snow fell. the next morning there was a carpet of snow creating a fluffy universe. 

The witch decided to take her dragon and play in the snow. The witch followed the same routine as always.  In the field she waited for the dragon to come to her and then offered the halter. The dragon put her head in and stayed even when her pasture mate tried to get her to run. In the barn she offered the bridle and the dragon put her head in. 

Up in the ring the dragon dutifully lunged around the witch and then allowed herself to be mounted. The witch rode a few times around the ring and then things seemed to crystallize in her mind. She hopped off and stripped the tack off the dragon. The dragon used her freedom to leave the witch. 

The witch had no plan, she just wanted to be with the dragon with zero agenda.  Instead of being frustrated or upset that the dragon was doing her own thing. Instead she just enjoyed her beauty and delighted in the playing in the snow. 

The dragon was intrigued. No one was chasing her or sending out orders. And so the dragon began to look at the witch and come closer.  When she stayed the witch gently stroked the mare and then turned and walked away. The dragon followed until they were matching steps.  

The witch was thrilled. They walked softly around the ring with no other goal than being together. The witch then stood on the mounting block and held out her arm. The dragon knew that this was the signal to line up to the mounting block. But she was free and didn't have to. The dragon thought for a minute and then, slowly and carefully, lined herself up so that she was beside the mounting block. The witch patted and rubbed her in all her itchy spots. 

Now, if this was a fairy tale of princesses and castles the witch would have mounted the mare bareback and bridleless and they would have ridden off to the sunset. But this is not a fairy tale. 

The witch could see that the dragon was uncertain and worried. So instead of mounting, she rubbed her some more and then hopped off the block and they walked to the gate where the dragon slipped her head into the halter and the witch and the dragon walked quietly backed to the barn. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Chilling Out

 Clearly I am in contention for the title of 'most negligent blogger'. 

It's January and riding/training is slowing down. The weather has been relatively mild (for January) but my ring froze shortly after my New Years Day ride and just thawed this past weekend. I've been okay with the downtime- after all I've done a lot of schooling this  year. 

Sunday Julia came out to ride and, just as we were heading up to the ring, the heavens opened and the rain came thundering down. We untacked them and were just putting the tack away when the rain stopped and the sun came out. Deciding we would regret it if we didn't, we took the two longsuffering equines  horses out and tacked them back up. During our ride it rained off and on but Julia and I ignored that. 

Carmen not so keen on working in the wet, wind and cold
and hoping that I appreciate her forbearance. 

When I do ride I am trying to keep is quiet and simple. I don't see the point on riding hard when I might not be able to ride for a few weeks after. I think it's hard on the horses. Especially a horse like Carmen. So my rides are more about enjoying the moment. 

I have an understanding of Carmen now to know that I can't let do all the dictating because she will decide that she gets to make all the decisions. 

And honestly, she doesn't always make good ones. 

So the rides are quiet and if she ramps up I deal and then we go back. I'm getting so much better at not spiraling into the negativity.  For example, yesterday I was riding with Julia and we were just warming up on some long rein 10 metre figure 8s. I like this exercise because it gets her bending and responding to the aids as well as using her body well. It's not always pretty but we work at it and then go on to the ring. Yesterday was quite windy (we had a massive rainstorm the day before) and she was a bit amped. I had the long rein asking her to circle and she was fixating on some waving grass and getting tight. I wasn't joining her in that and then Irish went by letting out a big fart as he passed. 

Carmen gave a big shy, almost unseating me and began to run towards the gate. I grabbed some mane and hauled myself back in the saddle while cackling loudly. I never touched the reins. Carmen came to a halt and gave me her grumpy ears while I continued to giggle hysterically. 

I don't care how old you are, a loud horse fart is funny. And a horse that spooks at said farts is even  funnier. 

the recent thaw made it possible to scrape 
out all the frozen poop that had accumulated. 
Farm life is so glamourous. 

Anywho, we carried on. When Carmen got tight I got soft. I've started doing yoga and I realized how tight everything in my body is. There is no way that Carmen did not feel that. Now that I'm getting looser, I'm also getting more control of my parts and it's easier to move them independently. 

Yesterday we were riding down the rail and she began to get tight and bulge toward the inside. I put on my inside leg while lightening my outside one. She immediately softened into the bend. I think in the past I was tightening both without realizing it. 

I've been working calmly and quietly and not so worried about we go as long as we go nicely and together. 

Guinness would like you to appreciate his 
balancing skills. He works hard to get his toy like this. 

I've been playing with focus in the saddle too. Rather than working on getting a good shoulder in I'm working on her attention. 

 On the ground I can get it pretty easily now: when she's distracted I just need to move to get her to focus back on me. If she doesn't respond I ask her to do something (usually yield her hindquarters), when I have her attention back I stop.

 Getting her attention under saddle has been much harder. She is able to stay riveted on whatever else has her attention and be annoyed with me for bugging her. I've been asking for her attention by picking up the rein (or asking for more bend if we're in motion). She doesn't get to ignore my ask- I simply up the pressure until I get a response and then drop it. The mistake I used to make was to not commit to it- if she really resisted I would drop the demand. I think that made it frustrating for her because I wasn't clear. 

I recognize that sometimes I missed early signs of her attention shifting requiring a bigger shift and it can feel pretty yucky amping up the pressure to get a response I want, especially if I missed/ignored the early signs. But not working it through it does not work with a horse like Carmen who is pretty dominant herself. So I accept that I made a mistake while I am doing a correction and making sure I'm not feeling a lot of negative emotions about it. It's along the lines of 'yes, I know I missed your worry about that particular goldfinch but now I'm asking you to bend this way and it will all be fine.' 

An exercise I have been doing is incorporating the focus work into my rest. It looks like this: 

1. Drop the reins and wait for her to relax. Carmen's attention shifts to something else 

2. softly pick up one rein

    - if her ear flicks back and she softens I will drop it again

    - if her neck tightens and she resists the contact while keeping her ears fixated on something else I increase the ask until she softens and bends (similar to the bit flexion exercises but I'm looking for attention, not her nose on my boot). Drop the rein and repeat/ 

Carmen is really picking up on this and it takes much less work to get her attention. I have to make sure that nothing in my body tightens.     

In the past I would get frustrated at the lack of riding and I do miss it. However, I am okay with taking it easy right now and working on our relationship at this point. It feels like this work will pay off when we can start back at regular training.  

at least the winter sunrises are beautiful

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The New Girls in Town

 I didn't want to stay with just three chickens so I contacted the person we got our girls from. She had some that she was willing to part with a couple of Amberlink hens that were a few months older than ours. Ed and I arranged to pick them up early Thursday morning. 

(I know I replaced one hen with two. I believe it's called 'chicken math'. In all seriousness I thought it would be less stressful if they had a 'friend' from their previous home. No idea if that is true or not.)

Now you can't just throw new chickens into an established flock unless you want some fireworks. The recommendation is that you slip them in at night when everyone is sleeping. Ed wanted to know why and I said "well chickens aren't super smart so when they wake up they are like 'oh hi' and forget that they are new."  

Of course that's wrong. The theory is that overnight they new chickens take on the smell of the coop and it helps to make them familiar. (I think I got that right). That left us the whole day to keep the chickens separated. I set up the empty stall for them with water and feed. The front of the stall is mostly barred with an opening at the door. I covered that with a horse blanket and figured that they would stay in there for the day. 

Where on earth are we? Somebody call the police

Ed and I checked on them throughout the morning and they seemed fine- eating, drinking and generally being chickens. That afternoon I was getting a glass of water at the sink and when I looked out the window I saw a white chicken walking down the driveway.  Shit. 

I threw on my rubber boots and quilted flannel shirt and grabbed some bread. My three girls came running to me when they saw me but the escaped chicken was more wary. I began to throw bread cooing here chick chicks. She was having none of it but did come close enough to grab a piece before taking off. 

I went to the shed to grab my old dressage whip to help me herd the escaped prisoner  chicken. This shed has hay and the chicken feed stored there. when I got there I saw the other chicken hiding in the hay. She tried to blend in and look innocent but, since she's not brown, I knew she wasn't one of my 'girls'. 

One thing at a time I thought; so I closed the shed door to lock her in, ignoring the squawk of protest. 

Using the dressage whip I herded the loose chicken to a spot where I could grab her. Just as I got her a delivery van showed up. The deliveryman looked at me - holding a chicken in one hand and a dressage whip in the other. his smile faltered a bit. 
Deliveryman: Um, I have a delivery for you. 
Me: (trying to look totally casual) yes, thanks. Just put it right there- (gestures with whip to spot to put box)
Chicken:  help. I've been kidnapped. Please rescue me, call the police. 

The deliveryman put the box down and left quickly. 

These are the things you don't think  of when you dream of your own farm. 

I put the chickens in the barn and shut up all the doors. This meant that the horses couldn't go into their stalls but that wasn't a big deal (Carmen: says you). 

The chickens spent the rest of the day with the run of the barn. 
I almost made it

I wonder if there's a window up here I can open

That night Ed and I tiptoed into the barn, found the sleeping chickens and snuck them into the coop. The next morning I got up early to open the coop into the run. I wanted the chickens to have a space to escape if there was a ruckus. 

So far it's been pretty quiet. My girls are ignoring the two new ones but there's been no fighting that I've seen.  

The first day the two new girls hid in the coop all day. 
Keeping watch 

Guinness and I were returning from a walk and I spied Beth on the nesting box outside peering in the window at one of the white chickens. They looked like they were playing peekaboo. It was hilarious but by the time I got close enough to take a photo she left. 

Now one is venturing out and one is still staying close to the coop. Which is fine. I see them eating by each other without squabbles. 

Nothing like a picnic of barley sprouts to bring chickens together

I expected egg production to drop but we've had 4-5 eggs per day since they arrived. Beth is exploring other home options- I think she thinks that's she's ready for her own place (I spied her in the hay shed today, no eggs though): 

Now I just need some names for the new girls. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Looking in the Rearview Mirror

 First of all, THANK YOU for the kind comments and support following the loss of our chicken. It was a hard day and caused a little regression. It also let me see how far I've come in terms of my resilience.  I am doing well although I'm having recurring dreams of the horses outside of the pasture. I am sure those will fade. 

I really wanted to write a goal recap before the end of 2020. But I am late and that will have to do. 

Overall I am counting 2020 as a success from the equestrian standpoint. Sure I didn't get to any shows but I had a lot of other highlights that I didn't even miss the shows in the end (although I did miss my show friends). 

Without further ado here's the recap on my 2020 goals:

1. Increase our confidence and trust in one another: 

    A.  Increase Carmen's tolerance and confidence in dealing with the unexpected.
    B. Increase my confidence and trust that Carmen can deal with the unexpected.

We both have increased confidence. I worked really hard to not let my mind go to the worst case scenario but to focus on the positive. And it really helped. I honestly feel that Carmen is quite self-confident most days. I will also say that a large chunk of her bolting/spooking this year was more about work avoidance than actual fear. 

The proof? Two big things this year were the obstacle clinic and the solo trail ride we did. 

A collateral gain of this is that I have more confidence in myself to deal with things and I don't worry so much about her feelings in the sense of fear.  when she's agitated I soften and try to be supportive rather than tense for the bolt and shorten the reins. 

2. Actively choose my emotion when I'm working with the horses.

This is a work in progress but I'm a lot farther down teh road than last year. I can remember when I felt like a victim to Carmen's emotions. I realized that I do this with people too- feed off their energy and let it dictate mine. It's not easy to work on this but it sure does pay off. 

It's not that I'm never frustrated or that things don't spiral. But it's rarer and of shorter duration. If I don't feel in a good place emotionally I don't ride. And by 'in a good place' I mean having the resources to deal with what comes up. There are times when I'm tired or less than chipper but I still ride. And times when I just don't because I have nothing. Then I groom and spend time puttering with the horses. 

3. Increase Carmen's adjustability- 

This is definitely improving. I can put my leg on softly and feel her stretch out in her stride, or I can still my seat and feel her come back. She is understanding the work and trying hard to listen. In fact, lengthening and shortening her stride is my 'go to' exercise when she's feeling amped up and like she's going to 'blow'. It helps her settle down. 

there is a lot more to improve with this and she probably could have come farther (especially with a more talented rider) but I feel that I worked within her zone. 

4. Improve my seat.

Honestly, I feel this is one of my bigger improvements this year. I am so much better at staying with her and in the saddle. The Better Balance Clinic helped a ton! I've been working on the concepts and each time they make more sense to me. The 'ground and grow' is so helpful to not pinching my thighs and leaning forward. 

last year

this year

 I've also been working on my own fitness which helps.  I got a ton of help in my regular lessons with Shanea. She was able to help me understand when things weren't working whether it my ask or Carmen's emotions causing the difficulty. 

5. Support horse events by volunteering. 

Well, *gestures vaguely with hands* you know. 

6.  Do things that are fun.

My 'fun' plans definitely changed this year. But honestly, the things I did were super fun. I think 2020 taught us to really enjoy the time we could get because who know if it would last. I spent a lot of time with some friends in early February at all the lobster events. When things shut down me would meet over zoom and now we get together in our small 'bubble'. I hacked more on my property than I have a in a long time. 

And who could ever forget the epic BEACH RIDE? Not me that's for sure. A lot of my epic horse moments involve Karen in some way. I don't want that to ever change. 

this? oh, this is just me riding an Andalusian stallion on a beach